By Lizabeth S. Tucker
"Hey, Cap? Can I ask a favor?" John Gage stuck his head in his boss' office doorway.
"Depends on what it is, John," Captain Hank Stanley replied, too acquainted with his paramedic to agree without first hearing what the favor would be.
Johnny grinned. "Nothing big. I've got to drop off the Rover for some engine work and I need a ride home. Roy and Chet have plans; Marco and Mike live across town from me. You have to go right by my apartment on your way home so I thought you might help me out. I'd really appreciate it."
"No problem, John. I'll be glad to do it. How are you going to pick your car up when they're done with it?"
"Charlene's going to take me there." At his captain's puzzled look, Johnny explained. "She's one of the stewardesses who live on the first floor of my complex."
Stanley nodded. "Fine. We'll leave in," he consulted his watch, "fifteen more minutes if that's alright with you."
"Sure, Cap. Thanks a lot."
The older man shook his head in fond amusement. John Gage was a constant wonder to Stanley, a brilliant firefighter and paramedic who was amazingly forgiving of others, rarely holding a grudge more than fifteen minutes. This tolerance kept fellow firefighter Chet Kelly alive after stunts that even Stanley would have felt needed retaliation. One joke in particular had left John with no choice but to get the haircut their Chief had long desired. Hank Stanley would never tell the young paramedic that he now looked barely eighteen, but every time he saw John, Stanley had to hide a smile.
Johnny sang along with the song on the radio, his arm hanging outside his car window. Captain Stanley was following in his own car, keeping the Rover in sight through the busy morning traffic. The auto repair shop was just two blocks ahead when Johnny glanced up at the rear view mirror once again to verify that his boss was there. He saw a garbage truck come tearing out from a side street, ignoring the stop sign and plowing into Stanley's car, just behind the front passenger door.
Johnny swerved to the side of the road, ignoring the blaring horns of commuters. He tore out of the Rover, his heart in his throat. "Cap!" he screamed, running back to the wreck.
He headed to the driver's side, finding his captain slumped sideways, half over the steering wheel. Stanley's wavy dark hair was mussed, his eyes closed. There was blood splattered on the spider- web cracked glass of the driver's door window. Johnny took a deep breath before reaching inside the car to check his captain's pulse. A sigh of relief escaped as Johnny found one, thready but there. "Okay, Cap, okay. We're gonna get you some help. Just hang on for me."
Johnny looked around for assistance. He saw some men standing outside a warehouse garage. He shouted for them to call the fire department and pulled open the driver's side door. He carefully checked for broken bones, feeling a slight give around the ribcage. "Cap, can you hear me? Cap?"
"Hey, mon, it wasn't my fault. He should not have been in my way. I had right to come out." The driver's protests died when Johnny glared at him. He threw his hands up and retreated to his truck.
There was little that Johnny could do except keep watch over his boss, looking for signs of trouble with his breathing until help arrived. Without his equipment, he was as helpless as a private citizen with first aid training. He found himself murmuring encouragement to the unconscious man.
It seemed hours later before Johnny heard the sound of sirens, but he knew it was just 20 minutes, a good response time. The squad pulled up behind Captain Stanley's car, shutting their siren off, but keeping the lights on to warn other drivers of their presence. The two paramedics got their equipment and quickly walked to where Johnny knelt by the car.
"Johnny? What happened?" Paramedic Raul Menendez of Squad 16 was startled to see Gage on site.
"He…Captain Stanley…he was following along behind me. This…garbage truck came out of the alley, slammed right into him." Johnny gave them all the information he could regarding Captain Stanley's current medical condition. "He hasn't regained consciousness since the accident."
Paramedic Joey Mead gently put the collar around Stanley's neck. "He's got a nasty bump growing on his forehead, Johnny."
"Yeah, I know. There's also some glass embedded in his face." The ambulance arrived. The three men helped remove Stanley from the car, slipping him onto a backboard, just in case of a possible back injury. Johnny climbed into the ambulance with Joey. "I'm going with him, Joey. This was all my fault."
The off-duty paramedic hunkered down on the jump seat, checking Stanley's vitals once again, ignoring the other man's half-uttered protest.
At Rampart, Head Emergency Room Nurse Dixie McCall barred Johnny from the treatment room. "You're not on duty, Johnny. You'll have to wait outside. Shouldn't you call someone?"
"Yeah. I'll call Roy," Johnny said, watching Dixie disappear inside. "I'll tell him how I almost got our captain killed."
Johnny wandered down the hallway, never noticing when one of the nurses would smile at him. He pushed his way into the doctor's lounge, heading for the telephone on the far wall. He dug in his pockets for change and slipped the coins into the slot.
Roy's phone rang and rang. Johnny finally hung up. It seemed that his friend hadn't returned from taking his daughter to the dentist. Retrieving his change, Johnny tried calling Mike Stoker. As engineer, Stoker was essentially next in the chain of command for A-Shift at Station 51.
"Uh, Mike? This is Johnny."
"Yeah, Johnny. What can I do for you?"
"I've got…some bad news. I…Cap was in an accident."
"What kind of accident?"
"A car accident. He was broadsided by a garbage truck. He's at Rampart."
"I'm not…I don't know. He's unconscious, has some facial cuts. There are some broken ribs, too. I don't know for certain what else, Mike. Dr. Early is checking Cap over as we speak. I…I tried to call Roy, but he doesn't answer."
"You've already called his wife?"
Johnny froze. It had never occurred to him to contact Emily Stanley. "Damn! I didn't…I haven't…I didn't think of that."
"John, I'll do it. And I'll pick her up and bring her to the hospital. I think we should call the guys as well, just in case it is bad. Can you do that or do you want me to?"
"Sure, I can call 'em," Johnny replied before hanging up. He gently banged his forehead against the wall. "Stupid, stupid, stupid."
The pounding in his head almost caused Hank Stanley to keep his eyes closed. It was only the urging of a gentle voice that he recognized as belonging to Dixie McCall that gave him the impetus to pry them open.
"Well, hello, Hank. Welcome back to the land of the living."
Dr. Joe Early's jovial voice came from the other side and he tried to turn to face him. A sharp pain in his neck and the doctor's order not to move came at the same time.
"You need to stay as still as you can, Hank."
"We need to check you out more thoroughly, but it looks like a concussion, some blunt force trauma to your shoulder from hitting the driver side door, a couple of broken ribs, some glass shards in your face, and possible whiplash might be it."
"Lucky." Stanley hoped to keep the pain down to a minimum with single word answers.
"Yes, I'd say so. Now if you can hold still a little longer, we'll take some x-rays to verify my diagnosis. Then we'll give you something for the pain and pick the glass out of your face."
"And I know a paramedic who will be very relieved to hear that you're not seriously injured," Dixie said softly, aware that Hank was struggling with a fierce headache.
"John? Not hurt?"
"No, Hank, he's fine, just feeling a little guilty."
"Let me…see him."
"Not until we're done with you, Captain." Dr. Early touched the lanky Midwesterner on the shoulder before moving out of the way of the x-ray technician.
"Don't worry, we'll let Johnny know you're okay," Dixie assured the ailing man.
The x-ray technician arrived, ending all conversation. Dixie and Early backed out of the treatment room, becoming caught up in the sudden influx of victims of a massive car accident, the promise to tell Johnny forgotten.
Mike Stoker strode quickly into the waiting room, searching for John Gage. He finally spotted him standing against the far wall, staring blindly at the floor, his hands shoved into his pockets. As Stoker moved closer to the paramedic, he could see spots of blood on Johnny's ivory shirt. Mike bit his lip at the reminder of his captain's injuries. "John?"
Johnny didn't respond until Stoker touched him lightly on the arm. "Huh? Oh, hi, Mike."
"How is he?"
"I don't know, nobody's come out here yet. I tried to find Early or Dix, but they're working on a MVA and I can't find them. Carol said to be patient, Cap's being x-rayed. She'll come get us when something's known." Johnny looked past Stoker. "Where's Cap's wife?"
"She stopped in the ladies room to 'freshen up'."
"Oh." Johnny resumed staring at the floor, sighing.
Stoker gripped the other man's shoulder, squeezing it in support. "Johnny, you were there. How did it look to you?"
Johnny shrugged. "Outwardly, he looked pretty good. He definitely has a couple of cracked ribs. I'm more concerned over the fact that he never regained consciousness on the way to the hospital and the possibility of internal injuries." He stopped speaking when his captain's wife appeared at the end of the hallway, walking quickly to where the two men stood.
Emily Stanley held her hands out to the paramedic. "John, are you alright?"
He nodded. "Yes, ma'am. I'm sorry about…"
"Gage! What the hell did you do to Cap?" Chet Kelly's angry voice cut into Johnny's apology.
They all saw the paramedic turn white and, without saying a word, turn and walk away quickly.
"Mrs. Stanley?" Nurse Carol's voice interrupted the pending argument.
"Yes, I'm Emily Stanley. How's my husband?"
Carol's smile said it all. "He's going to be fine. Dr. Early would like to speak with you about Captain Stanley's injuries. If you'll just follow me."
Pressing Stoker's hand and murmuring thanks for his assistance, Emily followed the black nurse to Joe Early's office.
Stoker watched as his captain's wife disappeared through the door, and then turned his glare on Chet. "Were you dropped on your head as a baby or did you have to develop this level of stupidity?"
"Uh," was Chet's brilliant reply.
"Johnny's very upset about Cap getting hurt while doing him a favor. Your smartass remark didn't help."
Chet sighed, then nodded. "I guess I overreacted. I was outside when Gage called. Melissa took the message. She wasn't clear about what happened. What did happen?"
Stoker explained the circumstances as best he knew from speaking with Johnny. "So, as you can see, it wasn't Johnny's fault. Even if he thinks it is."
"He's been with Roy for too many years. I'd better go talk to him." Chet walked toward the emergency room entrance, knowing Johnny would need open space around him to cope with his emotions.
It took Chet awhile before he found his coworker clear across the parking lot, leaning against a concrete divider. He settled himself next to Johnny, unconsciously mimicking his friend's position. No word was spoken for several minutes.
"I never wanted this," Johnny said quietly.
"I know." Chet kicked at some pebbles. "I didn't mean it."
"Yeah, I know."
The sun moved slowly across the sky, finally shining on the two men before Johnny sighed, standing up straight. He brushed at his rear to remove the concrete dust from his slacks. "Let's go in."
As they walked back to the emergency room entrance, Johnny nudged Chet's shoulder with his own. "Thanks."
Chet flashed Johnny a smile. "No problem."
"Your husband is in here, Mrs. Stanley. Remember, he suffered some minor facial lacerations so he'll look a little rough." Carol smiled reassuringly before pushing open the treatment room door. "We're arranging a room for him now. You can stay with him until then."
Emily stood in the doorway, looking at her beloved husband who was currently sprawled on his back on the examination table, his eyes closed. She murmured her thanks to the nurse before moving to his side.
She gently brushed his hair off his blood-speckled forehead, pitted by glass fragments. "Hey, Tiger. What's the other guy look like?"
Hank opened his eyes, smiling. "Hi, beautiful. It looks worse than it is."
"I certainly hope so. I've spoken with Joe Early. He said, due to the concussion, you have to stay overnight for observation."
"Yeah, that's what they told me. I'll be out at least one shift as well because of these ribs," Hank said, touching the tape wrapped around his torso. His shirt was in tatters, flung onto the counter, next to a white cervical collar.
"What about the collar? Joe mentioned whiplash. Why aren't you wearing it?"
His mouth twisted into a pout. "I don't like it."
One eyebrow raised, Emily simply stared at Stanley.
"Em, it hurts," he whined. "I can't move my head when I'm wearing it."
"I believe that is the point, Henry Stanley."
"Aw, Emily," Stanley replied, knowing that he had lost the argument. "I can't wear it to work."
"Dr. Early told me that you probably wouldn't have to wear it more than a week. That will mean, at best, only one or two shifts off duty."
"Fine. If they can find a replacement…"
"Hank, you constantly tell your men that they shouldn't work when they are injured. If you try to, what sort of example will that set?"
Hank reached up and pulled his wife down for a kiss. "You know something, hon, I really hate that you're always right."
"Remember that the next time we argue," she replied before kissing him again.
"Yes, ma'am." Stanley's meek agreement was ruined by the twinkle in his deep-set eyes. They exchanged a few more kisses before he asked after his paramedic. "How's John?"
Emily went to the back wall, pulling a stool to the table. She carefully swept her skirt down before settling on it. "Worried and feeling a little guilty, I imagine. Chester didn't help matters."
"Chet rarely does. What did he do?"
"He asked John what he did to you."
The door opened, revealing a hospital aide pushing an empty wheelchair. Everything was forgotten in the bustle of moving the injured man from the table to the chair, awakening aches and pains that had Stanley gritting his teeth. His wife patted him on the arm as they moved through the hallway.
Emily Stanley stayed with her husband for a few more moments in the hospital room, watching as a nurse tweaked the bedcovers, then provided some pills for him to take.
Stanley scowled at the woman. "What are these?"
"This one is a muscle relaxant and the small one is pain medication."
He grumbled some more, reluctantly taking the medicine. "I don't like pills."
"Yes, dear, I know." Emily patted his hand once more, explaining to the nurse. "He's always had a hard time swallowing pills."
"I can understand that," the young woman said sympathetically. "I have the same problem."
She explained how the bed operated and where the call button was located. "Mr. Stanley, you just press the button if the pain gets too bad."
"Cap'n," he slurred, already feeling the affects of the pills.
The nurse giggled. "You don't have to call me captain."
Emily smiled, but corrected the young woman. "No, he means that he is Captain not mister Stanley. He's with the fire department."
"Oh, my. Well, I'm sorry, Captain Stanley. Now you just close your eyes and get some sleep. You'll feel better after you rest."
Emily Stanley returned to the waiting room to find Johnny and Chet talking quietly with two young nurses and Mike Stoker watching with a smile. He looked up and caught Emily's eye, nodding slightly. "Boys, Hank is probably going to sleep. I'll stay around here for a while longer. Why don't you all go home and do the same?"
"How will you get home, Mrs. Cap?" Chet asked, knowing Stoker had driven her to the hospital.
"Hank's sister is a volunteer in the gift shop. She'll give me a ride after work. I'll be fine. I promise to call if I need you."
Chet and Stoker agreed, telling her that they would be back later in the day during visiting hours. With a wave to Johnny, the two firefighters left. Johnny bit his lip, scuffed his shoe on the floor, then looked up at his captain's wife.
"Ma'am, I'm sorry."
"For what, John?"
"If I hadn't asked Cap for a favor, none of this would've happened."
"Now, John, you know very well that Hank would've come the same way on his drive home. If you hadn't been there, who knows how bad it might have been." She moved to take the young man in a gentle hug. "It was an accident. You of all people should know that some things can't be avoided. Hank will be fine."
"Okay. Are you sure you can get a ride home? I have to call a cab anyway, we could go together."
"No, John, Caroline will drive me home. You don't have to worry about me. I'm going back up to sit in Hank's room for a little while longer. Do you have enough money for the taxi?"
"Yes, ma'am." Johnny gave into an impulse and leaned down to drop a quick kiss on her cheek. "You need anything, you call me first. Okay?"
"Yes, dear, I will. Go home!" she ordered.
She watched as Johnny loped down the hallway, heading for the nurse's station. Emily could hear him greet nurses and doctors and the sound of his chuckle at something Nurse Carol Williams said to him. Relieved, she headed back to her husband's room, to keep watch while he slept.
Standard Disclaimer: No, I don't own the show, the concept, the characters or anything else Emergency! related. That pleasure belongs to Universal Studios and Mark VII Productions. I certainly don't make any money off this pastime. As always, thanks to Audrey for beta reading. Medical and fire department boo-boos are my own.