The characteres are not mine. I am not making a profit from this and am doing it for entertainment only.
Please send reviews this is my first effort at writting Emergency Fan Fic.
It was a cold and rainy day in normally sunny California, but Johnny Gage didn't care. He was in a grrrrrreat mood and was actually looking forward to going to he got out the Land Rover, he looked over by the hose tower and said a cheery good morning to the sparrows that were taking their morning bath in the growing puddle. In response, the happy birds ruffled their feathers in the water and flipped their tail feathers at the paramedic. Johnny giggled, opened the door and entered the kitchen of Station inside, he quickly took a bear claw from the plate of donuts and munched on it as he took the time to start a fresh pot of coffee. Johnny smiled as the aroma started to assault his senses. He shoved the rest of the bear claw into his mouth, giggling again as he thought how much it did NOT look like an actual bear claw. He was still giggling and chewing as he walked through the locker room doors to join the rest of the crew.
Johnny awoke with a smile the dream he had had was so real but reality quickly set in. How can I face them? What am I going to do now?
All too quickly the events of the last 2 months played out in his head.
2 Months Ago:
It had started out much like his dream. He was in a great mood. The sun was shinning and the birds were playing in puddles from last nights storm. Johnny was happy because the forecast was for good weather for the rest of the week.
As he entered Station 51 he heard shouting. It seemed not everyone was having a great day.
"CHET!!! How many times have I told you to leave me alone? You've gone too far."
Roy was never one to yell. But obviously this was not a normal morning for him. He was on the tail end of a double shift. He was soaking wet and looked worn out.
Johnny entered the bay as Chet made a hasty retreat. Roy walked slowly back to the locker room. His shoulders slumped. Johnny followed without saying a word. He knew he needed to wait to talk to his partner when no one else was around.
"Roy? Are you ok?" He sounded so pensive that Roy almost laughed.
"No…not really. It was a bad shift." He sat heavily on the bench as he started to strip out of one uniform and into another.
"Do you want to talk about it?" Genuine concern poured from his friend but Roy wasn't ready to feel better.
"I'll…I'll be ok just cut me some slack today. I really don't want to have to deal with any of yours and Chet's silly kid games."
Johnny was taken aback. He hadn't done anything yet he was immediately being criticized by his partner. Johnny decided to try to ignore his partner's foul mood. But the words had left their mark. Johnny was always a sensitive man. His life had been tough and he tried to create a façade of being a tough guy but it was just that a façade. Very few were allowed into his inner circle. Fewer still were privileged to see the real John Gage. Roy was one of the few. That had made his words sting all the more.
Johnny said nothing more as he readied himself for roll call.
The shift continued on with no improvement in Roy's attitude. He continued to berate Johnny at any given moment. The others on the shift had noticed as well but didn't know what to do about it. Johnny tried to hold his head up and ignore his friend, his best friend. But as the day wore on and the attacks became more cruel, Johnny's resolve began to fade. He began to wonder if he had done something wrong. Had he misjudged Roy so much that now things previously said in confidence may become public information in the form of ridicule. It seemed to Johnny to be headed in that direction.
Roy's attitude didn't improve over the next couple of shifts. When no one else was around, Johnny's fears seemed to start to come true. Comments about Johnny's childhood and his step-father became part of the ridicule. Johnny became more withdrawn. Cap had noticed but hadn't been privy to what was happening between he and Roy. By dinner on the fifth shift the tension in the station was thick enough to cut with a knife.
As they sat down to dinner it became apparent that one of the crew was not going to be joining them, again.
"Roy, where's your partner?" Captain Hank Stanley was always concerned about his men. Johnny was the youngest and thinnest. He shouldn't miss a meal.
"Not my day to baby-sit. He's a big boy, if he wants to eat he knows when we eat."
Cap was shocked by Roy's bitter response. Maybe I better go check on Johnny. Something is definitely wrong. None of the men had noticed Johnny standing in the doorway. Nor did they see him turn to leave. They sat with their mouths open shocked at Roy's attitude.
Johnny heard Roy clearly from where he stood in the doorway. It felt like a knife being stabbed into his heart. How could I have so misjudged these people? He didn't wait for anyone's response. But even if he had he would not have heard one, the other men didn't know what to say. Johnny merely turned and walked out of the house and into the back lot. He climbed the hose tower and laid down on the roof. This was his place of solitude. He watched as the sun set and the star began to shine. Peace surrounded him but his heart still cried.
Cap went to the dorm room but didn't find any sign of Johnny. He walked into the back lot and again no Johnny. He looked up to the hose tower but was unable to see the young man lying on the roof. He didn't know what was going on but what he did know was that he needed to get to the bottom of it before it got any worse. Just as he started to climb up the ladder of the hose tower the klaxon sounded.
*** Station 51, Station 110, Ladder 10 … Respond to a structure fire 110 Almeada. Possible Rescue…***
Hank quickly made his way to the microphone and replied. By the time he had acknowledged the call Johnny was in the squad and ready to go. Hank passed the sheet to Roy, who passed it to Johnny. Then he crossed in front of the trucks to take his spot on Engine 51.
A quick prayer along the way was said by all. But Hank added to his normal prayer. Please God, let them work as a team. As the team I know them to be…let us all come home safe.
The fire was rolling when they arrived. The structure was a 6 story commercial building with fire showing on the 4th and 5th floors. Above the levels of fire were the trapped victims.
Roy and Johnny quickly departed their rig and began to grab their rescue equipment. Johnny grabbed the rescue rope as well as his normal equipment.
"ROY JOHN Engine 110 said the east stairwell is still relatively clear. Get going and be safe… you haven't much time."
They acknowledged and quickly made their way into the building. Johnny led the way with Roy only a few yards behind. As they made their way to the fifth floor they heard a loud explosion. Both were knocked to the ground.
"HT 51 to Engine 51"
"Go ahead Roy. Are you both OK?"
"I can't get through there's been a collapse in the east stairwell and it is impassable. No sign of Johnny."
Cap's brow wrinkled up. They were now out of communications with Johnny and had no idea if he had survived the explosion. They had also lost their only somewhat clear passage to the victims. But in the back of his mind it also registered clearly that Roy seemed undaunted by this turn of events.
"Return to the squad. We have to find another way to get up there."
Roy did so without question…without objection. Chet, Marco and Mike had been prepared to go after their fallen comrade. They had even been prepared to take off after their other comrade when he refused to respond, return or fought the decision of the Cap. But what none of them were prepared for was the blasé attitude Roy portrayed. His willingness to accept what had happened without question.
What is going on? Roy what's wrong with you? What happened in there? John, pal, hang on help is on the way.
Roy exited the building and doing what he was told went to the squad to await further orders. Hank had watched and was concerned but his focus was on the building, his men who were still fighting the fire, the victims and one missing firefighter.
"Engine 51 to Command"
"Command go ahead." Hank was relieved to hear McConnikie's voice.
"Chief we have a firefighter missing in the east stairwell. No confirmation if he is trapped by the collapse or just cut off."
Johnny picked himself up. His ears were ringing and his vision blurred slightly as he rose from the floor. He looked around and realized he was cut off. He assessed his injuries and decided he wasn't hurt too bad. He knew his primary goal was to reach the victims and get them to safety.
Johnny made his way up to the sixth floor and completed his search. He then went up to the roof. There he found three victims. Johnny made his way quickly to his victims and assessed them for injuries. They all appeared to be uninjured.
Now the question was how to save them…
The fire was slowly getting under control. But still there was no sign of Johnny or the victims from the roof. The ladder truck was set and ready to go but the problem was it only reached the 4th floor level. Ladder 10 had positioned a firefighter on the tip but there was little hope of him being able to enter the building.
"OK everyone remain calm. I need to go assess the situation."
"What do you mean can't we just go back the way you came up?"
"No" Johnny replied. "There was an explosion and the stairwell collapsed. Sit tight. I'll be right back."
Johnny made his way to the edge of the building and slowly began to circle the roof top. Hoping against hope he would be able to come up with a plan to get his victims to safety.
As he neared the west side of the building he could see the ladder tip. An idea sprang to mind and he astutely formulated a plan to save his victims.
He returned to his victims. Mary was about 45 and appeared athletic. Joe was 50 and clearly hadn't seen a gym in years. Last but not least was Billy, at 18 he was the youngest and most athletic or them all.
"You are going to have to trust me on this. I have a plan to get you out but you are going to have to be calm and do exactly what I tell you." He looked around the group and they were all listening intently. They had been on the roof for 20 minutes and all they wanted was to get to safety. As they nodded Johnny continued. "There is a ladder over there. I am going to lower each of you down with this rope to that ladder. There is a firefighter on the tip and he will help you get down. We need to be quick about this. So let's get moving."
The first thing Johnny needed to do was get the tip man's attention. He took the bag the rope had been held in. He had removed all of the rope and the carabineers. He walked to the edge and dropped the bag with a hope and a prayer. It landed on the tip man's head.
Brigman was secured on the end of the ladder, he was wishing he would be able to enter the building and try to find not only the missing firefighter but the victims as well. He was just considering his options when he felt a thump to his head. He grabbed at the offending piece of trash when he recognized it as a rope bag. He looked up and saw a firefighter leaning over the edge. He couldn't believe it. He grabbed his HT and informed command.
Johnny saw the firefighter look up and give him the thumbs up. He made it over to his victims and began to prepare them to be lowered. As both Mary and Joe were heavier it was decided that Billy would be the last to go and would help with lowering the others down.
Mary was secured on the rope and moved to the edge. Johnny had given Joe instructions on how to help her over the edge while he and Billy prepared to accept the weight.
Mary was over the edge and frozen by fear. Slowly John and Billy walked there way to the edge lowering Mary to the ladder. Brigman couldn't believe his eyes at first but then prepared to accept his first victim. The catch was easy and Mary was helped to the ground by Marco who had joined him on the ladder. As Marco walked Mary down the ladder, Chet prepared to go up for the next victim.
Hank had watched as the first two victims were lowered to the ladder. He worried about John but so far everything seemed to be going well.
Johnny and Billy lowered Joe down to the ladder and then raised the rope up once again. John secured Billy to the rope and prepared for the shift of weight as Billy lowered himself over the edge. This time he wouldn't walk the rope in, he sat down on the roof and braced himself against the retainer wall at the edge. He would feed the rope down and make sure Billy was safe before he considered how he too was going to escape.
Billy landed on the tip and was escorted down from 10s. When he finally made it to the ground he was met by Captain Stanley.
"Son, are you alright?"
"Yes…but that man. He was hurt. I didn't realize it at first but…" He showed Cap his hands covered in blood. "It's not mine."
A shiver ran up Hank's spine. His young crewman was trapped, injured and out of reach. Hang on John. I'll figure something out.
The thought had barely hit when he looked up and saw John make his way to the edge.
John tied the rope off to the most secure object he could find, a vent shaft. He gathered the rope and attached the carabineers and prepared to lower himself over the edge. The dizziness from earlier came back with a vengeance as he peered over the edge.
The roof was softening and he knew time was running out. It was his choice to make. Go over the edge and pray for a controlled decent or wait for the roof to give and fall uncontrollably into the depths of the fire. He chose the rope.
Hank peered up and saw John waiver at the edge. He knew John could be headed into shock but the real question was what were his injuries?
Johnny threw the rope over the side and lined it up with the ladder. After hesitating for a moment he was able to get his head together. Can't lose it now. Almost there… Can't screw up again…
Slowly he made his way down the side of the building with only a few feet to go to the ladder he began to feel lightheaded and weak. His grip slipped and he fell the last few feet striking the ladder.
Brigman watched as the firefighter made his way down the side of the wall. Something wasn't right. He was weaving and kept shaking his head. As he got closer Brigman could see the blood dripping off the turnout coat. Preparing to help the injured firefighter he was almost caught off guard when the injured man fell onto the tip. Brigman grabbed at the man and managed to secured him onto the ladder.
Hank watched as Brigman held onto Johnny. Once secured Brigman yelled down that Johnny was unconscious but alive. Hank watched and waited. But he didn't wait quietly.
"Engine 51 to command."
"Go ahead 51."
"We have a code I. He is being brought down now. We do not know the extent of his injuries at this time."
"Engine 51 standby Squad 110 is on the way. Ambulance is standing by."
It was a relief as the Animal and Brice approached. What was disconcerting to Hank was the missing part of his duo. Roy had never bothered to come over as his partner was lowered down. As Hank allowed himself the luxury to think for a moment he realized that Roy had never approached him since exiting the build. Nor had he called to ask the condition of his partner.
This is it…I don't know what's wrong but this can't continue.
Quickly Brice and the Animal removed Johnny's gear. Only the occasional groan was heard. As Brice removed the turnout coat he found the injury.
"Notify Rampart. Victim has a laceration to the left thorax approximately 6 inches in length. Possible fractured ribs, with bruising noted to the right side. VS to follow."
Animal made the proper radio report and was happy to hear Dr. Brackett on the other end. "Squad 110 to Rampart. Come in Rampart."
"Go ahead 110 this is Rampart."
"Rampart we have a code I. Victim is a 27 year old firefighter who was trapped on the roof of a burning building for the past 20 minutes. Patient was apparently injured during a collapse prior to becoming trapped on the roof. Patient fell approximately 8 feet and struck the ladder during his rescue. He is unconscious but responds to painful stimuli. Patient has a laceration to the left rib cage approximately 6 inches in length. Bruising and possible fractures to the right rib cage. No other apparent injuries at this time. Standby for vitals."
"Squad 110... How much blood loss do you approximate?"
"That's hard to determine…his…um…his turnout coat is pretty well saturated. Vitals are BP 90/50, resp 10, pulse 100, lung sounds shallow with possible decrease on the right side."
"Start IV ringers and normal saline. Place patient on O2 NC 6 lt. Monitor and transport immediately. Do you have an ID on the patient?""That's clear Rampart IV ringers and normal saline. O2 6lt nasal cannula. Ambulance on scene we will be transporting momentarily. Doc, the patient is John Gage."
Rampart was prepared for Johnny's arrival. Dr. Brackett was awaiting his arrival in room 3. Dixie met the ambulance and directed them.
Johnny was more alert now but was experiencing nausea and lightheadedness. As he was moved to the room he had to close his eyes hoping to stop the increasing nausea. Slow deep breathing did not appear to be helping. He hoped it would go away but as he was moved on to the ER gurney hope was lost.
Dr. Brackett noticed the pallor, quick breathing and knew the nausea was about to win. He helped Johnny sit up as Dixie brought a basin. Kel slowly rubbed Johnny's back with one hand while he held the other hand on his forehead.
"Easy Johnny. Slow your breathing down… do you think you can lay back now?"
Johnny didn't say anything because he didn't trust himself. He leaned back and concentrated on slowing his breathing down. The finally he replied, "S-so-sorry…" He sounded so pitiful that Kel was taken aback.
"It's ok. Do you feel any better now?"
"Y-yes. Can you make the room stop tu-turning. That would help a lot." He tried to grin but it just wasn't up to par.
"Well, let's see what you have going on here and we'll try to slow the room down for you. Are you still nauseated?"
"Ye-yeah, a little."
"Did you get knocked out or strike your head?"
"No and I don't know. I remember the ceiling collapsing. I felt a twinge in my side but decided I needed to get out of there before it collapsed further. When I got to the roof I was so focused on getting the other victims off the roof that I kinda forgot I was hurt. Well…that was until I started over the edge. I think I fell a few feet when my grip slipped. Next thing I knew I was in the ambulance with Animal." He left the question of where Roy was out. He wasn't sure he wanted to know the answer right now. Roy probably blamed him for the ceiling collapse. He couldn't deal with that right now.
"From what I was told you passed out. They weren't sure if it was before or after you slipped. We're going to get some x-rays and then we'll see what we are going to do with you. That lac will take some stitches. I'll have to put you on some antibiotics as a precaution since there was a delay in treatment. Does anything else hurt?"
"No just a headache. It was really hot up there. I could use a glass of water and a couple of aspirin."
"Let's see what happens with the x-rays. As soon as they are taken I will start sewing you up. Sit tight I'll be back in a couple of minutes."
45 minutes, 25 stitches, 2 liters of fluids and 6 x-rays later Johnny was feeling pretty good. He never mentioned Roy and for some reason Dixie and Kel thought it best not to ask. Johnny was sitting upright on the stretcher when Cap entered.
"Doc says you're going to be fine. I'm glad to hear that you had me worried. I guess you'll miss a couple of shifts because of the stitches?" Hank was trying to keep the conversation light. Reality was he'd been very worried about his youngest crewman. Johnny was like a little brother to him and the rest of the crew. He hated to see him get hurt but he seemed determined to make Hank grey before he was 35.
"Sorry about that…it looks like I'll miss the next three shifts."
Hank didn't know what to say. Johnny was quiet, reserved, and refused to meet his eyes. This was not his John Gage. John Gage was a vibrant, funny, compassionate man.
"Cap…I'm sorry I'm kinda tired. Dixie said she'd give me a ride home when her shift is over. I'll get my truck tomorrow if that's alright?"
"Sure…John…if…if you need anything… anything at all call me."
"Thanks but I've put you through enough. I'll be fine. Cap I'm…ah…tired. I think I'm gonna try to catch a few before she drags me out of here."
"OK but call me. Day or night…just remember we are here for you."
Johnny was about to answer yeah right but thought best of it. He actually fell asleep
Hank returned to the station with a heavy heart. Something was amidst. He went straight to his office upon his return. Roy was in the kitchen. The others were so disgusted with him they didn't bother to go into the kitchen. Instead they busied themselves in the bay.
"Mike…come in here please." Cap yelled out into the bay.
Mike found Cap sitting behind his desk. Piles of paperwork laid all over his desk.
"Close the door." He waited for the door to be closed then continued on. "Mike do you know what's wrong with Roy and Johnny? I don't mean to put you in the middle but I would like an objective opinion before I talk to Roy."
"Cap none of us have any idea. He's been…mean. That's the only word to describe it. Just downright mean to Johnny for the past couple of shifts. He won't talk to any of us. We've all tried. As for Johnny… he's not talking. You know he hasn't been coming to meals for the past 3 shifts. He keeps to himself and away from Roy."
"OK. Thanks for being so candid. Will you send Roy in."
Mike went to get Roy. Hank wondered what was going on. He wasn't sure talking to Roy was going to work but he had to try.
"Roy close the door and have a seat." Again he waited for the man to comply before he continued. "So do you want to tell me what happened out there today?"
"I don't know what you mean. We went in as ordered. The ceiling collapsed and I was cut off from Gage. You ordered me out to the squad. Then I waited there to be told what to do next."
"Did you know your partner was hurt and trapped? Did you care?"
"Yeah I heard. But what's new. John is always goofing off and getting hurt. So what's new?"
"Roy." He tried to remain calm. After taking a deep breath and exhaling he finally was able to calm enough to continue. "Roy. I don't know what's going on with you and John but what I saw out there today has me concerned. You are off duty as of now. What ever is wrong you need to fix it and get a release from Dr. Brackett before you will be allowed to return."
"Is that all!" Roy raised his voice as he stood and prepared to leave. As soon as Hank nodded he was out the door and headed to the locker room.
Hank shook his head as Roy left the office. He had never heard Roy speak in such a manner to him before. It had given him a shake. Something was seriously wrong. Hank picked up the phone and called Rampart. He needed to talk to Dr. Brackett. The squad was out of service and he would call headquarters for a replacement for DeSoto as soon as he was finished with the Doc.
The phone rang several times before Dr. Brackett picked up. "Hello, this is Brackett."
"Kel, it's Hank. Do you have a minute?"
"Sure Hank. I guess you want to know how Johnny is doing?"
"Yes. But I need to talk to you about Roy as well. You'll be seeing him soon. I just sent him home."
Kel was surprised and concerned. "Is he hurt?"
"No. I… Kel I don't really know what is wrong with him. Something isn't right. I don't think he is fit for duty. He… he never even asked how Johnny was. He didn't care that we didn't know what happened after the explosion. Kel, he never even walked over to watch or help with the rescue. But even before this call, he wasn't acting right. I was going to pull him into the office when the call came out."
"Hold on a moment Hank. I have seen some things here as well. I meant to talk to them but never had the opportunity. Dix and I talked about it but neither of us could put a finger on it. How has John been around the engine house?"
"Withdrawn…quiet. He doesn't eat with us. I'm not sure that he has been eating at all. He keeps to himself. Mike and I talked earlier. He said the only way to describe Roy's attitude towards John was mean. Kel, I've seen it. It's not like Roy… but he won't talk to any of us. Neither will John. He hasn't said a word positive or negative. I can't say that he has changed how he tackles the job. He is still great on calls. It's just back in the house where he's… different. But Roy's attitude is affecting how he does his job. If he isn't showing concern for his partner then he doesn't need to be here."
"Well, first thing I am going to do is keep John here for the night. He was shocky and has finally fallen asleep. He has a mild concussion and a couple of cracked ribs on his right. I'll be wrapping them soon. I think I am going to run a couple of additional test as well. He really can't afford to miss meals. I need to get an accurate weight and glucose level before I'll discharge him. We'll see what happens with the additional test before I will give you or him a possible release date."
"Thanks Kel. I'm worried about him…heck, both of them. Something's gotta give but not caring about what happens to your partner is not acceptable."
Kel agreed. He didn't know what had happened but it was obvious that Roy needed help. The question was, was this a medical or a physiological issue. He knew he would have to wait to examine Roy before he could figure out a course of treatment.
Johnny had been sleeping for 20 minutes in the treatment room when Kel reentered. Kel watched him sleep for a moment. He looked tense even in sleep. He walked to the examine table and shook Johnny's shoulder to wake him up.
"John…John, I need you to wake up."
Johnny woke with a start. He flinched under Kel's hand and gasped at the pain it caused him. Kel saw the reaction and wished he could ease all of John's pain. Johnny shut his eyes tighter as he took slow shallow breathes trying to breathe through the pain.
When the pain had eased Johnny opened his eyes and saw the concern on Dr. Brackett's face.
"S-sorry Doc. I…I guess you startled me. So…ah…when can I go home." Johnny feared he wouldn't be allowed to go home now. He didn't want to stay in the hospital. He just wanted to be alone.
"John, we are going to run some more test on you. Your ribs are going to need to be wrapped. This should help ease the pain and keep you from damaging your ribs any further. Also, you have a mild concussion. When I was examining you earlier I thought you looked like you had lost some weight. I want to get a hand on this quickly. You haven't had any stomach problems have you?" Kel hoped Johnny would speak up and tell him what was going on. He knew better than to take a direct approach with this subject. If Johnny knew Kel had talked to Hank he would become defensive and Kel would never find out what was going on.
"No…ah…my…stomach has been fine. I…ah…I just haven't had an appetite lately." Johnny never looked Kel in the eye. He played with the blanket and stuttered through.
Kel waited a moment thinking about how he wanted to continue. "Is there something I need to know?" John shrugged. "John I am going to order a series of test to see what is causing this. You look at least 5 to 10 lbs under your normal weight. It's important to keep your weight up. Can you think of anything that has changed in the past couple of weeks? Have you been sick or anything that I don't know about?" John continued the silent treatment and nodded once again.
Silence permeated the room until Kel broke the silence. "John, you are my patient and my friend. Tell me… as your friend… what is going on."
"Noth…" His instinct to say nothing was overwhelming. But he knew two things, Kel was a friend (or at least he hoped) and if he didn't give some sort of answer Kel would run all kinds of test. "I don't know. I… I've had a lot going on. I guess I just haven't been eating…right."
"Okay John. What's been going on? Maybe I can help."
"I…I…I d-don - - don't know. It…it's all my fault. I just can't…" Johnny closed his eyes and looked away. He didn't want to talk about it. In his mind he was the cause of all of the problems. He wasn't even sure when the problems had started. Roy was mad at him and he just wasn't sure what he had done wrong. If he knew he would have apologized. Even the other guys at the station knew it was all his fault. That's why they won't talk to me and why they haven't said anything about what has been happening at the house.
Kel walked out of the exam room feeling like he had accomplished nothing. John was upset, silent and now had completely shut him out. Kel walked to the lounge and poured himself a cup of coffee. Dix followed a few minutes later.
"Kel, are you admitting Johnny?"
"Yes. I need to order some additional test. I want a blood glucose test run and repeated in the morning. I also need you to get a weight and check his last admission record for his weight. Do a full blood workup on him. And Dix…go sit with him. See if he will talk to you. I tried. He shut down. Dix…Hank called earlier. Something is going on with Roy and Johnny. This could be affecting his health. We need to get this cleared up before John gets sick."
"I'll see what I can do."
Dixie entered the treatment room and turned the lights down. She could tell by Johnny's breathing that he was awake. She slowly walked over to the table and placed her hand on his head. Johnny turned to look at her. Neither said a word.
Slowly Johnny's breathing changed and his head shook slightly. Johnny was crying. Dixie held him and never said a word. When he finished crying Dixie continued to stroke his hair. Minutes passed and still not a word was spoken. Dixie knew she needed to start the test and see if she could get Johnny to open up further and tell her what was going on.
"Johnny…shh…It's going to be okay. Let's get the labs drawn and then we'll talk." She didn't say any more and left no room for Johnny to refuse.
Labs were drawn and then she weighed Johnny. With Johnny safely back on the exam table she called and ordered up Johnny's previous records. Once that was complete she returned her attention to him.
"Johnny," said Dixie. The concern in her voice prompted Johnny to look at his friend. "Johnny, talk to me. Tell me what is wrong. I know you and Roy have had problems lately. I've noticed. Johnny…John. Please let Kel and I help you."
"Dix…I don't know what's wrong. It's my fault. I just don't know what I did to get him… them mad. It's like ev… everything else. I…I've screwed up everything. It…it's always my fault. I don't…" Johnny closed his eyes again and turned away.
Dixie didn't know what to say. She looked at Johnny and sighed. She ruffled his hair and left him alone.
Dixie found Kel in his office. She brought in the reports she had just received and the latest test results. She handed the files over to Kel as she gave a summary report.
"He's down 10 lbs. His blood sugar is 62. Kel, he's so upset. I don't know what is going on and neither does Johnny. He cried for a while but…but when he started to talk he rambled and then he shut down again."
"We need to get him settled into a room. Start an IV of D5W and let's get him started on a broad spectrum antibiotic. His temp is up and I want to get it under control before it gets out of hand. As for his emotional state lets give him a sedative so he can get some sleep tonight. Give him 5 mg of valium IV push. See if you can get him some food. I don't care if we have to get someone to go down the street. Get him to eat something. I'll call Hank and see if he can stop by in the morning."
Dixie left to get Johnny settled and to get the new treatment started. Johnny said nothing as the new IV was established. Kel turned to the phone and called Hank. It was arranged to have Hank come by in the morning. He would be able to be there at 10 am. They would meet with Johnny at that time.
It seemed that everyone was worried about Johnny and Roy. Everyone except Roy. He arrived home and opened a can of beer. Roy was not normally a drinker but Joanne had notice over the past week that Roy was drinking a lot more than normal.
"Roy, honey, what is it? Did something happen at work? Are you hurt? Is Johnny ok?"
Roy turned angrily toward Joanne and yelling. Fortunately the kids weren't home. "Nothing's wrong. I'm not hurt. Stanley sent me home. I have to see Brackett before he'll let me return. I'll see him tomorrow."
"Nothing… I … nothing."
Once Roy situated himself on the patio, Joanne called the station. Capt. Stanley answered.
"Hank, Joanne. Roy just got here. I know he'll be angry if he finds out I called but he's so angry now. I don't know what to do. What happened?"
"Joanne, there was an incident today. Johnny is in the hospital. He's going to be ok. But I had to send Roy home. He needs to see Dr. Brackett before he can come back. I'm sorry Joanne but I can't tell you anything else."
"Thank you. Roy didn't tell me about Johnny. Please call me if anything changes with Johnny."
"I will. I am going to see him in the morning. You can call me at home tomorrow after 1."
The night was quiet for everyone. The station had no calls. Dr. Brackett and Dixie were able to get home and get a good nights sleep. Johnny had a peaceful drug induced night as well. Morning came quickly. Hank knew it was going to be a long day. He was not looking forward to his meeting with Kel and John.
Shift change was quiet. Marco, Mike and Chet kept to themselves except to give report to their counterparts. They wanted to go see Johnny but were told by Hank that they couldn't until late afternoon. "I'll call if there is any change. But otherwise don't plan on going until later in the afternoon."
Hank headed to the hospital to meet with Kel before going to see Johnny.
Kel sat in his office. The latest labs on Johnny were back. His blood glucose was remaining level. The IV antibiotics weren't working as well as he had anticipated. Johnny's temp had risen to 102.6F. The antibiotics were changed and now they began to look for the site of infection. Once the valium had worn off John began to have a restless fever induced sleep.
Johnny was now getting alcohol baths and cold compresses as his temperature continued to rise. A nurse was staying by his side. At 9 the fever finally broke. By 10 am he was becoming coherent. The attending nurse called report to Kel as Hank arrived. He motioned for Hank to have a seat as he took notes.
"Good morning Hank. I was just getting report on John. He had some complications. We had to change his antibiotic and have been working on getting his fever to break since 6. It finally broke about an hour ago. He's starting to come around now. Let's go on up and see if we can get him to talk."
"Sounds good. He's going to be alright isn't he?" After Kel nodded Hank continued. "Joanne called me last night. She told me Roy was angry when he came home and didn't tell her what was going on. He also never mentioned Johnny getting hurt. Kel that just isn't like him."
"I know. Let's go see John and then we can decide what to do to help Roy."
They entered the room to find John sitting upright. He was on O2 and still had the Ivs running. He looked to the door when it opened. He was confused but knew they were there to help.
"Morning John. How are you feeling?"
"Morning Doc, Cap. I…ah…I'm ok…kinda sore…but ok."
"That's about what I expected. How's your breathing?"
"Ok, I guess. The oxygen is helping." His cheeks were flushed. It appeared the fever might be returning.
"Hank if you could step out, I'd like to give John the once over."
"Doc, it's ok. I don't care if he stays." Hank walked over to the bed. He placed a hand on John's shoulder and gave it a squeeze. John looked up to the face of his Captain. He looked for reassurance and wasn't disappointed. Cap had been a father figure to him.
"Sure John. Ok let's get started." Kel started the exam. The bruising was more prominent but otherwise no further changes were found. He increased the antibiotic and would have to wait until later to see if the fever was abated.
"Looking good John. We'll see how this new antibiotic works. If all goes well and we don't have any further complications you could be out in a few days. I want to see you gain at least 5 lbs before I will release you. We are going to have to put you on a high calorie, high carb diet."
"I want to go home. I'll put the weight on but I don't want to be here."
Kel knew this was coming. He wanted to argue with John but decided to change tactics. "John, can you tell us what you remember of the fire yesterday."
Johnny took a deep breathe. He explained to them both about the explosion and getting cut off. He concluded with the climb down to the ladder. "After that I don't remember much but bits and pieces. You probably know better than I do."
Hank looked down at John and gave his shoulder a squeeze of reassurance. "John, can you tell us what has been going on the last few shifts. Don't deny it because I know something is going on. I need to know."
"Cap…I don't know. I screwed up as usual. I…I…I don't…" John shook his head. He didn't know what to say. He hadn't figured it out for himself and now he was expected to explain it to someone else, to two people he respected.
"Do you know what is going on with Roy?"
"I happened…he's mad at me. I just don't know what I did. I have tried. I wish I knew then maybe I could try to straighten it out. I'm sorry Cap. It's all my fault. I'm sorry…sorry."
"You have nothing to be sorry for, You didn't do anything. Roy is the one with the problem. It's going to be alright."
The three men talked for another 30 minutes. Johnny gave them no more information and appeared to be getting tired. Kel and Hank left the room and went back to the office. Roy was to be in later in the day. Kel would work on solving that mystery next. As for Johnny, it was going to be a couple of days before he could be released at minimum. The question came down to whether or not they held him til he gained the weight back.
Johnny fell into a restless sleep. He awoke screaming 45 minutes later. Kel and Hank had been drinking coffee in the cafeteria when the page came through. When they entered the room Johnny was coughing and having difficulty breathing.
"John, calm down and try to take some deep breathes."
"Can't…… breathe…… hu--hurts……ch--ch--chest hurts……c--ca--n't…" Breathing had become to difficult, John could not speak further. His breathing was ragged and he was quickly tiring. Kel watched as John weakened.
A sedative was ordered and an intubation tray. Kel began his exam and discovered that the previously cracked ribs were now broken from the force of the coughing. It appear one had punctured the lung. There were no lung sounds on the right. Kel called for a chest tube.
"Alright John, try to slow your breathing down. You have a pneumothorax, we are going to have to do a chest tube. It will get easier to breathe in a minute. You know the drill." Kel talked calmly as he prepared Johnny for the chest tube. Hank had grabbed onto Johnny's hand and held tight. Normally Roy would have been by his friend's side but this was not normal times. "Ok, hang on you'll feel a pressure and then maybe a sharp pain but then you'll be better. Sarah increase his oxygen. Put him on a nonrebreather 15 lt. Here we go."
Johnny tried to prepare himself but couldn't hold back the low scream when the pain hit. Quickly the pain was gone and his breathing improved. He still held a death grip on Hank's hand but as his breathing improved his grip released. His heart rate decreased and his respirations deepened. His color and pallor improved. His friends stood by his side. Kel ordered new chest x-rays.
Hank remained at the hospital through the afternoon. He called the rest of the crew and informed them of what happened. They set up visitations so Johnny wouldn't be alone. When Hank called Roy's house he spoke with Joanne.
"Joanne John has had a complication. He's going to be fine but they had to put in a chest tube. The guys are coming over to sit with him but I wanted to let you know. Is Roy around?"
Joanne took a deep breathe and said a quick prayer for Johnny. She called Roy to the phone. He was still bitter and quiet.
"Roy, it's Hank. I'm here at Rampart. I thought you would want to know Johnny's had some complications. He's developed an infection and now has a chest tube. The other guys are coming in to sit with him." The silence filled the phone line. "Just thought you would want to know." Again nothing but silence. "Have you set up an appointment with Dr. Brackett?"
"NO! I'll get to it. Just lay off." With that he hung up the phone.
"Kel, I hate to do this. I thought I could take care of things but… I just got off the phone with Roy. He still shows no interest in what is happening to John. What concerns me more is his erratic behavior. I asked about his appointment and not only did he yell into the phone, he then hung up on me." He ran a hand over his face. "Please help him. I can't get through to him and I don't know how to help him."
"Hank is this the first mood swing you have seen?"
"Me…Yes…but Mike told me he had seen some things before John was hurt. He was turning on John. It makes no sense."
Kel was worried about his friends. His concern was increased 2 hours later when Roy walked into the ER.
Dixie saw him first. He was unshaven and looked as if he hadn't slept in a week. She escorted him into an exam room and called for Kel. She got his vitals while they waited. She was just finishing when Kel entered. By passing pleasantries Kel requested the vitals upon entering the room. He noted the appearance and attitude exuding from his patient.
"BP is up 160 / 95. Pulse 110. Respirations 36. Temp 101.2. Lungs clear."
"So, Roy, what's going on? None of these values are within normal range."
"Nothing. I'm fine. Just aggravated at having to come in here."
"Well, you can stick to that story and then we will spend the rest of the afternoon running test to find out exactly what is going on with you." When he again was met with silence he turned to Dixie. "Ok, I want a full chem pan. Get him into a gown and then I want to examine him. I'll be back in a couple of minutes."
Johnny was resting more comfortably. He tried to sleep as much as possible. He didn't want to face his crewmates. It was easier to act like he was sleeping than to try to deal with the emotions of his shift mates.
Kel and Dixie checked in on him as often as possible. Mike, Chet and Marco filled in for the rest of the evening to give Cap a break. They sat quietly and kept watch on their friend. None of the men knew what to say to Johnny to make him feel better. The absence of Roy was tangible. There was no getting around it.
Roy was subjected to every test possible. No medical cause was found to explain his erratic behavior.
Before a psyc consult was called in Kel wanted too try one more time to figure out what was wrong with his patient, his friend. He needed to remind himself that this was not just some patient but also a good friend. He needed to be tactful but he needed to get to the bottom of the problem.
When he entered the exam room he found Roy fully clothed and still angry. "Roy, let's go to my office. We need to talk." He hoped the more relaxed atmosphere of the office would help relax Roy. Quietly they entered and got comfortable. Roy relaxed slightly but was still on edge.
"Roy, your test results have all been normal. The only thing out of range were your vital signs. This could be caused by the stress of this situation or by the anger you are trying to hold in. Roy, as your friend tell me what I can do to help you. What is going on with you?"
Kel thought he was going to continue to get the cold shoulder but suddenly there was a shift in Roy's attitude. Roy's shoulders dropped. He looked at the floor and took a slow deep breathe.
"Doc…Kel…I … I don't know what's wrong with me. It's like I can see myself saying things and doing things but it's not me and I can't stop myself. I can't even tell you for sure what started it."
"Hank and I talked. Now before you get angry he was worried about you. He told me you started to behave like this a couple of weeks ago. Did something happen at home or on a call?"
"OH GOD!!!" Roy started to cry. Roy had been trying to figure out what was going on on his own but had no luck. Suddenly it hit him like a brick. He shuttered at the thought. I've been pushing him away. Will he ever be able to forgive me? Oh God, what have I done? He didn't deserve this, he's had too much of this in his past. Roy didn't even realize he had started to cry.
"Roy talk to me. What's going on? What happened?"
"Kel until just now I didn't realize. I worked an overtime shift a couple of weeks ago. It was a bad shift. Not really worse than others Johnny and I have had but…" The crying subsided. Kel knew Roy wasn't going to continue, unlike Johnny Roy needed to be pushed to talk.
"Roy what happened? Talk to me…let me help."
"Do you remember the construction accident we had. We worked for 2 hours to get them out. When we finally got to them the one was already dead. The other worker was conscious and kept telling us to help his friend…his best friend. He kept going on and on about how it was his best friend and he hadn't heard a word out of him in 15 minutes. We were that close and still too late. He watched his friend bleed out and there was nothing he could do. I started thinking about Johnny and all of the crazy things that have happened to him, to us. I wasn't with him when he got bit by that snake. I couldn't get to him when the trench collapsed. It was all too close. Too close to home. I don't know that I made a conscious decision but I didn't want to go through…I don't want to be that guy. I wanted to… God I don't know what I wanted. I just…" He began crying again. His breathing increased. He was feeling dizzy and nauseated.
Kel immediately recognized what was happening. Roy was hyperventilating and getting ready to pass out. He moved to Roy's side, to steady him, to calm him and to push his head between his knees. He spoke softly and grabbed a bag for Roy to breathe into. After a few minutes he had calmed and his breathing had improved.
"Better now?" A nod from Roy was all that was needed. "Ok, now we know what started this, we can try to get through it. First, I want you to speak with a counselor. I will get a friend of mine to talk to you."
"Kel I would rather just speak with you. I don't…I couldn't talk to someone I don't know."
"I'll agree with this but you will not be permitted to return to work until I feel you are ready. And I want to start you on a mild antidepressant at least until we get you back to normal. You will not drink and before you blow up at anyone you will call me. If you don't agree to this you will be referred to a counselor. There are no choices here."
"I think talking to you is all I need to do. But, I'll take the pills. Can I ask you something?"
"How's Johnny? I've been afraid to see him. I was kind of an ass to him these past couple of weeks. I didn't want to care and yet it was killing me to try to distance myself from him. He just kept coming back. No matter what I said or did, he came back. Heck, I even yelled at Cap. I need to do some heavy apologizing starting with Johnny if he will agree to talk to me. I don't know how he can be so forgiving but I hope he can be just one more time."
"I think you are on your way already. Johnny has had some complications. He developed an infection and we are trying antibiotics to kill it. His cracked ribs fractured and one punctured his lung. We had to put in a chest tube. He's resting but he's withdrawn and has lost weight. We need to keep him calm and get the fever under control. He's been on the new antibiotic for the past few hours. I should see a change in the next few hours. Would you like to go see him while your prescription is being filled?"
Roy was nervous about seeing his partner. He wanted to see his friend, he needed to see his friend but did Johnny want to see him?
Johnny appeared to be asleep when he entered the room. Mike was sitting by the bedside reading a book. When the door opened he looked up to see Roy looking in and hesitating. "Roy are you here to relieve me?"
"Uhh…well…I…I just ne…wanted to stop in. But I guess he's sleeping."
Mike could tell something was different about Roy. Had he not been so hesitant Mike would not have wanted Roy to be near Johnny. But looking at him he had a sense that something had changed for the better. Roy looked like he cared. Mike knew Roy would want a few minutes alone but would never ask, so he needed an excuse to get Roy to stay with Johnny. Maybe, just maybe Roy and Johnny could work out there problem. "Could you sit with him until I get back. I would like to go to the cafeteria for a coffee and sandwich."
"S--sure. I can do that."
Mike waited in the hall. He hoped he had made a good enough excuse to keep Roy in the room with Johnny and to give him some time alone. But he didn't want to go far just in case Roy went off the deep end.
Roy paced at the foot of the bed. He glanced at the chart and all the tubes leading to his friend. It was as if he was just seeing Johnny for the first time in a long time. Still hesitating he began to talk to Johnny without looking at him.
"God Johnny. I wish you were awake but maybe I can talk to you better right now that you are asleep. Kind of a dry run. I talked to Kel and I am going to get some help. I have been such an ass to you and Joanne. Hell, I've been an ass to everyone. It started when I worked the overtime shift…" Roy continued on and poured out his heart to Johnny. He explained why he had reacted the way he had and expressed his deepest fear and apology. In his mind this was a dry run. Had he paid attention to the bed and to Johnny he would have known that Johnny was awake and listening. "Johnny you are my partner, my best friend and more of a brother to me than my own family. I was scared to admit I might lose you and then spent the last few weeks driving you away. Then the explosion…oh my God Johnny…I just stood there and then did exactly what Cap said. I didn't even register what was happening. It was too much to handle. Then he sent me home and Joanne and I fought and I got drunk and Cap called and I yelled at him and…and oh God Johnny I am so, so sorry for not being here for you. I didn't want to feel… I just figured it out. God you even help me when you're sleeping. I didn't want to watch you die. I never realized that I was so scared. I owe you and a lot of people apologies. I…"
"Roy!" Obviously Johnny had called his name several times before he raised his voice. "Roy look at me." He waited before he continued. "Would you come over here, please? It's ok. It was my fault. I pushed. I'm sorry. I should have tried to listen and helped you. I'm sorry."
"Johnny, I never gave you the chance. I don't exactly know how long you have been awake but I think I just figured out what my problem has been. You have been a friend to me when I didn't want you to help. You have continued to help me when I didn't want you to help. YOU have nothing to be sorry for. It wasn't anything you said or did that caused me to be this way. It was all my fault. Can you ever forgive me?"
"Of course, that's what friends and brothers do."
They sat and talked for another hour before Kel and Mike reentered the room. The difference they saw was extreme. Roy and Johnny were both smiling. Johnny was eating, his fever was down and shortly they would be able to take the chest tube out.
Hank Stanley was working in the yard when Roy arrived. Mike had called the night before and told him about the late night visit. Hank was happy to hear this. He didn't expect Roy to show up at his home but was happy to see him. "Come on in."
"Can we talk somewhere?"
Hank stopped by the kitchen and grabbed two glasses of ice tea. They continued on out to the back porch. "How are you doing?"
"Cap…I came here to apologize to you. I know I have been a jerk and disrespectful to you both as my captain and my friend. I am sorry for everything. I've already talked with Johnny and Joanne." Roy went on to explain what had been happening with him and that he had agreed to treatment from Kel. "Cap besides apologizing to you, I wanted to thank you for sticking by me and pushing me to go to Kel. I hadn't even realized what was happening until I started talking to him."
"Roy, we all have calls that affect us. Those calls that change how we look at our families, our friends and even strangers. They will stick with us for the rest of our lives. But you have to keep some perspective and hold on to your family a little tighter. You will only make yourself miserable and alone if you try to push everyone away. If you run into this again remember we are here for you, talk to us, let us help you."
"Thanks Hank. I'll be in touch. I know I will be out at least the next couple of shifts. I'm sure Kel will let you know what happens."
Over the course of the next two weeks Roy met with Kel regularly. He felt better and had tried to make amends with his crewmates. Kel was pleased with his progress and released him to return to work.
Johnny was preparing to be released from the hospital after fighting the infection and recovering from his collapsed lung. His appetite had returned but the weight was not returning as quickly as they had hoped. Kel went to see John once more before releasing him to go home. It was shortly after lunch when he slipped into the room.
John was not in bed and at first Kel thought nothing of the fact that John was in the bathroom. Nothing until he heard the distinct sound of Johnny retching. He didn't say anything as he sat on the bed and waited for John to come out of the bathroom.
Johnny sat on the floor next to the toilet as his stomach finally settled down. He knew he should say something to Kel but he wanted to go home. He thought he had put up a good front and he was due to be released. He hadn't been able to put on any of the weight he had lost. He had taken to putting a book or two in the pocket of his robe when they weighed him. He hoped it would at least keep him from showing that he had lost even more weight. Fortunately he had picked a novel that had some weight to it. It had actually made it look as if he had gain a little weight. He knew he shouldn't be scamming his way out of the hospital but he couldn't stand the thought of staying any longer. The frequent bouts with nausea and vomiting were taking their toll on him.
He wetted a cloth with cool water and rinsed his mouth out. He washed his face off and looked into the mirror. He saw the circles under his eyes and hoped no one would notice.
"Please just don't let them notice. I just want out of here. I promise I'll behave. I want to go home."
His hopes were about to be dashed as he stepped out into the room. He saw Kel sitting on the bed and paled as the realization that he had been found out. There was no need for words he knew the jig was up.
"Do you want to tell me about it?"
"Lunch didn't agree with me." He sat back up in bed and looked down at the blanket. The cool clothe on the back of his neck. He felt miserable.
"Is this why you haven't been regaining the weight?"
When he didn't get an answer he decided to press on. "How long has this been going on?"
Again no answer. Kel was beginning to grow more concerned. "John, have you been bringing up blood?"
"NO…no I'm sorry I didn't mean to raise my voice. Doc, can I go home now?" The pleading look in his eyes almost broke Kel's heart. He was desperate. He wanted out. But his health had to come first.
"Let's talk about your vomiting and your weight loss. How long has this been going on?"
"Alright already, I've been sick a couple of times over the past few weeks. Not a big deal. I just want out of here. I'm sick of the food, sick of being poked and prodded. I want to sleep in my bed and get a good night's sleep without being woke up to be asked if I need a sleeping pill. I want real food, not the crap they throw on a plate and call food here."
Kel listened to the tirade and choose to ignore everything that was unimportant to the current problem. "So, how often are you vomiting and did this start before you were injured?"
John sighed. He knew he wasn't going to be able to bluff his way out. This only left him with being honest and hoping Kel would still release him. "It started before the accident. A few times at first. Now it seems like every time I eat it comes back up. I figured it was because I wanted to get out of here and to some real food. I promise I'll behave and try to put the weight on if you let me go home. Please…"
"I know you aren't happy about being here. I can appreciate it. But we need to find out what is going on with you. Have you been having symptoms of an ulcer? Does anything not make you sick? Have you been taking anything for it?"
"No. No and yes. I just want to get out of here and relax. Maybe then it will correct itself. Doc, I'm serious about wanting out of here. I can't stand being here any more. I need to get away. We've tried it your way, now please let me try it my way."
"John, have you been hiding anything else?"
"NO! Sorry, I have been up front with you about everything but the vomiting. Please Doc let me go. I'm sorry I didn't tell you but I was afraid you wouldn't let me out of here. I haven't gained back any of the weight in the last two weeks even with all the stuff you have done. I'll work on regaining the weight. But I can't stay here any more. Doc…Please. I have got to get out of here. Let me go and I'll come back in a week or two and we can see where I am."
"I can't release you for duty until you have gained back the weight. I want to weigh you again and then we will sit down and discuss you doing this on your own. John, as your friend, is there anything going on that we need to discuss. How are you really? Not just medically but how are YOU?"
Johnny's shoulders seemed to slump. He wanted to talk to someone but he wasn't sure that Kel would separate being his patient from being his friend. They hadn't ever really had this situation before. Kel seemed to sense what Johnny was thinking. He tried to reassure John.
"Just friends now. I'm worried about you. I want to know what is going on and what can I do to help you. I'm not your doctor right now and unless you are going to tell me your are going to hurt yourself, anything… anything you tell me will be just between us as friends. Let me help you."
"Kel…I… I wish I could tell you but I really can't. I'm not trying to hide anything from you. I don't really know. I want to get better. I want to get back to work. I want out of here. This place is depressing me. It keeps pointing out that I'm not right. I know I have really screwed up lately but I need to fix some of that… I need to get back to… Kel, I want to be normal again. My normal. A guy the other guys could trust… could…"
"I know the last couple of weeks before you were hurt were rough. Roy was hard on you and said a lot of things he wishes he hadn't…."
"But that's just it he did say them. He did believe what he was saying. You can't come up with that if it isn't how you really feel. I told him I forgave him but… I can't forget… not now… maybe later. I questioned myself, our friendship and our partnership. Now I have to get that back and no one can help me with it. I need to get away from everyone and every thing and find me again. Maybe I'll be the same guy when I get back. Maybe not."
"What do you plan to do if Dr. Brackett releases you." Trying to make light of the situation and at the same time keeping this between friends, it worked. Johnny relaxed some more and for the first time in over a week smiled for real.
"Well… if Dr. Brackett releases me I am going to go away. I want to go to the mountains and camp for a while. It is always so peaceful there. There is a lake I like to camp by. I can walk, hike, fish and relax. There is enough wildlife in the area that I can bring a minimum amount of supplies and still eat well. I wish I wasn't going alone but… I can't call any of the guys from the station."
"It sounds great. Would you consider a friend going along with you. I have some time coming to me and have been trying to get away from it all."
"Do you like to fish, hike and camp?" Johnny looked at him skeptically.
"Sounds like a dream. I haven't done it in years. Maybe it will get me to relax. Dix swears I am headed for health problems myself if I don't get away and relax. I think Dr. Brackett would agree with me. So what do you say?"
"When can we leave?" A small smile crossed his face.
Kel returned to his office and made arrangement to leave immediately. He needed to call Hank as well and let him know what was going on.
"Hank, Kel. I just finished seeing Johnny. He's lost more weight, I discovered by accident. He hadn't said anything and wasn't planning on it either. He wants to get out of here and at this point I think keeping him here will only make it worse."
"So… what do you think I should do? I assume you aren't going to release him for duty."
"No actually, he and I are going camping."
Kel explained that he was going to accompany John on a camping trip, as a friend not as his doctor. He went on to explain that the trip was going to help John and himself. The advantage was that he was a doctor and would be able to be there if needed.
"Hank, I know this is unusual but I think it's what he needs. I'm not sure he will call any of you so I decided to call you myself. He's pretty confused right now. I get the feeling that there is more going on than I know but maybe he'll open up once he is out of here. Maybe this will help him get back on track."
"I don't care what it takes, I just want to see him better. If this is what he needs then I'm happy for him. We miss him here at the station. It's not the same with out him. He really gives this place life. All of the guys are walking around in a funk, not just Roy. So, what ever you think will work you have my support."
Shortly after Hank hung up the phone at the station it rang again. This time it was Johnny.
"Station 51... Captain Stanley."
There was a pause but Hank thought he knew who it was so he waited. "Cap…it's Johnny."
"Hi John. How are you doing?"
"Well…ah… I'm going to be released from the hospital today."
"That's great John. We really miss you. Do you need a ride home I can call Emily to come and get you."
"Ah…no…ah…that won't be necessary. Cap…I'm leaving town for a while. Can you tell the guys? I'll call you when I get back. I just can't talk to… them right now. I'm sorry…I….I'm sorry."
"That's fine John. I'll let them know. Is there anything I can do to help? I hope you find the peace you are looking for John. You are a fine man and one hell of a paramedic firefighter. We all miss you. You know we will do anything to help you."
"Thanks Cap. There's nothing you can do right now. Dr. Brackett…Kel is going to go with me so don't worry. I'll be fine. I think this is exactly what I need."
"Ok. If there is anything you need…call me. Otherwise have fun and keep safe. Call me when you get back. Maybe you can come over for dinner with me and Emily. It's been a long time since she has seen you."
Johnny tried to choke back his emotions. His respect for Hank Stanley was amplified by the words and sentiment Hank had bestowed upon him. He wished he could say more but he couldn't…he didn't trust himself not to lose all control.
"Yeah…ah…Cap…I…ah…I got to go. Thanks I'll call you as soon as I get back. Please tell the guys and don't worry, Doc is going with me. I think just to keep an eye on me but that's alright. I guess I don't have a choice. I…sorry…I'll call. Thanks again. Bye." Without waiting for a goodbye or a reply Johnny hung up the phone.
"Guys gather round." The men of A shift had always been a tight group, he knew it was going to be hard for them to understand that Johnny was leaving and didn't want any further help from them. "Men, I just got off the phone with Dr. Brackett and Johnny. Johnny is going to be released from the hospital."
Before he could continue a chorus of "that's great" and "when will he be back" echoed around the room.
Cap put his hand up to hold off further comments. "Hold up. He's leaving town with Dr. Brackett. He'll be gone at least a week and then he's going to call me. Before you start with me on this, Dr. Brackett agrees with John that this is a good thing. He's going with John and assures me that everything is fine. We need to give him space for a while. So that's what we are going to do." Lord, help him and keep him safe. We all feel a little lost without him here.
Kel entered the hospital room to find Johnny sitting in the window looking out. He was so absorbed he didn't notice Kel entering. He startled when Kel announced himself.
"Sorry didn't mean to startle you. I'm ready to go when you are." He barely had the words out of his mouth when Johnny headed to the door. His bag was packed and sitting on the bed. Without further ado they headed out. First stop was to Kel's place to pick up his things for the trip. Then off to Johnny's. Kel had not camped or fished in years it was going to be up to Johnny to help in those areas.
As soon as he arrived home he went straight to the closet and removed all of his camping, fishing and repelling equipment. Once that was packed he returned to pick up his clothes and some food items. He opened the cabinet and removed 7 one gallon jugs. He filled each with water and filled each canteen with water.
Fortunately Johnny had enough supplies for both Kel and himself. He was looking forward to getting away. He only hope that Kel would remain his friend and leave Dr. Brackett at Rampart.
Kel was looking forward to the trip. Dixie had been trying to get him to take a break and relax for months. The idea of hiking, fishing and camping was exhilarating. But his concern for his patient and friend tempered his enthusiasm. He had his back pack packed with everything he thought he would need. But unlike Johnny's bag he carried medical supplies that he thought he might need. Dixie was happy to fill out his requisition form for everything he requested.
His hope was to have a peaceful trip but he wanted to be prepared incase something came up with Johnny. He wished Johnny had agreed to more testing but he knew the depression and being cooped up in the hospital was not helping. Hopefully he wouldn't have to delve into his bag but better safe than sorry.
The drive was quiet. Music played on the radio but little to no conversation took place. Kel began to wonder if this was such a great idea. He had hoped Johnny would begin to relax and open up. But so far he hadn't seen a change.
As the mountains came into view Kel noticed a change in Johnny. Subtle at first but as the mountains got closer he could see Johnny truly starting to relax. A slight smile crept across Johnny's face. Kel breathed a sigh of relief maybe this was just what the doctor had ordered.
"Kel I think we can make it to the camp site before dinner. It's only about 5 miles. Easy hike with only a slight incline. It will be a good place to set up for tonight."
"Sounds good. How far to the lake?"
"It's only another 5 miles. It's a harder climb. We will have to get an early start tomorrow if we want to hit it by early afternoon. That way we can get some fishin' in and maybe we can have a fish dinner."
"You seem to have it all planed out. Let's get going."
Johnny had been right on the money. It was an easy hike and they had the camp set up before dark. Johnny started to set up the camp site while Kel helped out wherever he could.
"Kel, could you gather some wood. We are going to need to get a fire going pretty soon so we can have a hot dinner."
"Sure John, I'll be right back."
While Kel set off to gather the wood needed, Johnny finished setting up camp. When Kel returned he was shocked to see how well organized the campsite looked. He should have known with as much camping Johnny had done. The pit was set with a spicket hanging over it. A small kitchen was set up with plates, pots and pans. And no Gage campsite would be complete without a coffee pot. Kel smiled, God I know I needed to relax but I didn't realize how bad I really needed it. Thanks Dix, wherever you are. Now if only Johnny… God please help my friend.
Johnny had the pot on the fire and dinner started. It smelled great and Kel was really looking forward to it. He was surprised to see what a good and efficient cook Johnny seemed to be. All the jokes about Johnny's cooking hot dogs and hamburgers all the time did not leave him to expect Johnny could really cook. It was a simple stew but Kel couldn't believe that anything that smelled that good could taste bad.
Johnny served up the first plate to Kel and took a smaller helping for himself. The first bite seemed to melt in his mouth. It was excellent. "Wow, Johnny this is really good. Where did you learn to cook like this?"
"Well…ummm…it….ah….I …I kind of had to learn on my own. It was that or starve." Johnny cocked his head and didn't say anything else for a moment. Just as Kel thought the conversation was over Johnny took a deep breathe and began to speak again. Kel sat quietly listening. Something in Johnny's manor made him think this was going to be a serious conversation. "Kel, I…I know you are my friend…but you have to…to understand. I…I don't talk about my pass much. As my doctor… I … I always thought you … you would figure some …some of it out. I don't like to look back… I don't like to remember it much less talk about it." As he had spoken Johnny had dropped his eyes to the ground. Now he once again cocked his head and looked Kel in the eye for the first time. "You understand, don't you?"
"Yes, I do. If you ever want to talk to me as your doctor or just as your friend I'll be there for you. I've suspected but have never wanted to say anything. To be honest I wasn't sure you would come back to seek help if I had."
With a little huff and a grin Johnny replied, "You were right on the money with that one Doc. Thanks. Maybe some day … but not tonight." Johnny turned to his plate and began to eat. He made it through about half his plate when the nausea struck.
Kel watched as a light glow of sweat broke out on Johnny's forehead. Johnny set the plate down and drank a little water, he hoped it would calm the nausea but it didn't. Within moments Johnny was on his feet and headed into the woods. Kel sat back at the fire.
He could hear the sound of retching. He hoped Johnny was alright but knew he needed to give Johnny a few minutes. This has got to stop. He is down 12 pounds already. I'll have to re-hospitalize him if this keeps up.
Johnny returned a few minutes later. He grabbed his plate and cleaned it off without saying a word. He washed his mouth out with a little water and then turned towards the tent. "Doc, if you don't mind I am going to head to bed. Do you think you can take care of things here?"
"Sure John. I'll clean up and make sure the fire is out before I turn in. Anything else I can do?" Kel hoped Johnny would understand he meant more than just with the dishes.
"No Doc. I just need to rest. Thanks. For everything."
It was the first time he had called him Doc on the trip. He knew then that Johnny knew he could distinguish when he was the doctor and when he was just his friend.
Johnny was asleep by the time Kel entered the tent. Johnny had unrolled his sleeping bag before he had gone to sleep. Kel was glad, he hadn't wanted to wake John up if he didn't have to. He knew Johnny would be tired. It had been a long day.
Kel looked over to the sleeping figure next to him. Johnny seemed to be resting comfortably. Kel resisted the urge to take the sleeping man's vitals.
Kel awoke an hour later. At first he wasn't sure what awoke him but then he looked over to his tent mate. Johnny was tossing and turning. His breathing was starting to accelerate.
Kel felt awkward listening to his friend. Nothing Johnny said made sense.
It was hot. Too hot. He knew he needed to pull away but he couldn't. Something was holding him. He could feel the burn on his back. It hurt but he knew not to cry. Strongbow wouldn't be happy until he cried. But he didn't want to give him the satisfaction. The pain became to much he started to whimper. Then…
"No…please….I'm sorry…it's all my fault…I'm sorry…sorry….please….please stop…I…" The scream that followed made Kel jump to his friend's side.
"Johnny. Johnny, wake up. Johnny…" Kel shook Johnny's shoulder as he spoke hoping not to startle his friend to badly. It didn't work. Johnny tried to get away but succeeded only in hitting the side of the tent. His eyes were open but unfocused. "Johnny, It's me Kel. Come on now, wake up."
Slowly Johnny became aware. His breathing slowed but then caught. The nausea had returned. He bolted out of the tent. Kel knew he had nothing to throw up and listened for only a moment as the dry heaves continued.
Johnny was bent over behind a tree as Kel approached. As he had in the hospital he rested one hand on Johnny's back and another on his forehead. He could feel that Johnny's temperature was elevated. He was glad he had brought supplies with him. After a few minutes he guided Johnny back to the camp site. Quickly he rebuilt the fire. Then he pulled out his back pack.
Without saying a word he wrapped the BP cuff around Johnny's arm. 160 / 90 - Kel shook his head. He took Johnny's wrist and checked a pulse. Pulse 140. Respirations 40. Shaking his head again Kel knew he needed to get this under control fast. Grabbing a paper bag he handed it to Johnny.
"John… Breathe into the bag. Slow and easy. Concentrate on my voice." He continued to monitor Johnny's pulse as he spoke, calmly, slowly and with more comfort than Johnny realized he could have. Kel watched as Johnny slowed his breathing, his pulse lowered. Now the question was what was the blood pressure. He pumped the cuff again and slowly released the pressure. 140 /80 - better but not good enough.
"That's it" Taking the bag away from Johnny. "How are you feeling now?"
Johnny shrugged his shoulders. "Do you have a headache?"
Slowly he shook his head. "I want to take your temp first but I'll give you some aspirin after that, okay?" Johnny obediently opened his mouth and accepted the thermometer. 100 degrees F. "Ok, here are a couple of aspirins. But I want you to eat a little bread with this. I don't want to upset your stomach any more than it already is." Johnny nodded and began eating the bread. He followed it up with the aspirins and a little water.
"You want to talk or try to get some more sleep?"
"Sleep. We have time to talk…later."
The rest of the night was quiet. Johnny acted like he slept but had really only gotten a little here and there. In the morning he got up set up the fire and made coffee. Kel awoke to the aroma of the coffee drifting into the tent. As he crawled out of the tent he stretched and growled. This startled Johnny once again. He jumped and grimaced as he grabbed at his ribs.
"Sorry about that John. You alright there?" The concerned Doctor Brackett had returned.
"Just caught me by surprise. I'll be fine." He looked down at the ground before he went on. "Sorry about last night. I…sorry."
"No problem John. You feeling any better this morning?"
"A little. The headache is gone."
"Can I check you out just for my peace of mind?" Johnny just shrugged.
Without pretense Johnny submitted to the exam. He didn't want to cause any more trouble. In his mind the words of Roy echoed. "Baby-sit." Here he was once again in need of care, in part due to 'childish nightmares'. Why? After all these years, why? I just want to go back to the way things were. Spirits help me, I've lost control and need direction.
Kel started taking John's vitals. Blood pressure and pulse were back to normal. Temp was down as well. Kel smiled. "Thanks. Everything looks good. I was a little concerned after last night."
"Sorry about that…thanks." Quickly changing subject, "We need to get packed if we are going to get any fishing in today. Have some coffee while I start packing up the tent." I need to prove that I can take care of myself. I can't appear weak.
Before Kel could say anything more, Johnny was off and cleaning out the tent. Within 15 minutes the tent was packed and the bags were ready to go. Only thing left to do was finish the coffee and put out the fire. Then they were off.
The hike was tougher today but Kel was enjoying it. As Johnny had predicted they made it to the lake by mid afternoon. The site almost took Kel's breathe away. They sat by the lake side and enjoyed the view. Johnny had a campsite picked out and quickly set up camp. Within an hour they were back to the lake and fishing.
All conversation had centered on the hike, the fishing or the campsite. Kel hoped John would open up after dinner. But for now he was happy just fishing. It had been a long time and he truly was enjoying himself.
Within a couple of hours they had enough fish for dinner. They headed back to the camp site and Johnny started to clean the fish. "Kel can you gather the wood again. I'll get the fish cleaned and start dinner."
"Sure do you need me to get anything else?"
"No that's all for now." Quietly he returned to cleaning the fish. By the time Kel returned Johnny was ready to start the fire.
"John, you are full of surprises. Once again this is delicious. So I have to ask you, why do the guys all think you can't cook?"
Johnny tried to suppress a smile. "Well…you see…ah…I love to cook. But the guys, well, they can be… a bit critical. I like to cook fish but Cap won't eat fish. I like stews but never seem to have the time to get it right at work. We always seem to get a lot of runs on the days I have to cook. So I fall back on the easy and simple. I…I ate a lot of hot dogs… and hamburgers when I was growing up. If I could cook over an open pit I would probably try other dishes but I don't think anyone would go for that."
"So, you just let them all think you can't cook. I know you had me fooled. But Roy and Chet have gone camping with you, haven't they let out your secret?"
"I typically don't cook with them. They...ah…don't have a clue because they always cook. I make the coffee and provide the spices and clean the fish but that's about it." He shrugged his shoulder and looked away. "It's ok with me. I guess they think that's all I eat at home also. I know that's why Roy has me over to his house so much. You know to make sure I get a home cooked meal and all that stuff."
"How on earth have you kept him from knowing for all these years?"
"Same as the guys. I never get the chance to cook for them because they're afraid to give me a chance. It's ok really. I'm use to people not giving me a chan… I mean it doesn't bother me to have others cook if that makes them feel better and more comfortable."
"I get the feeling there is a lot more to you John Gage than meets the eye. I hope you let me see a piece of the real John Gage."
Although Kel had meant it as a joke, Johnny obviously didn't take it that way. For a brief moment there was a look of anger in his eyes but quickly the veil fell and the hurt that Kel thought he saw was gone. Johnny didn't want anyone to see the real him. He was afraid that if he let anyone too close they would turn on him. Roy had been an exception and now he counted himself fortunate to not have said too much.
"Well, I guess we better eat up and get cleaned up. I am going to do some hiking tomorrow. You can join me if you want or you can stay here and fish. It's up to you."
"I guess I will decide in the morning if that's ok with you?"
"Sure. Let's get to work here."
Quickly they got the camp together and got ready for bed. Johnny ate a little more tonight and it looked like maybe he was going to keep it down. No sooner had that thought crossed Kel's mind then Johnny made a dash to the woods. It wasn't as bad as the night before and he returned to the camp without saying a word.
Kel finished up and headed off to bed. Again, Johnny had his sleeping bag unrolled. He looked to his friend and again resisted reaching over to take his vitals. He quickly feel asleep and hoped for a peaceful night.
But that wasn't to be. Kel was awoken by Johnny's nightmares. He wanted to stop the nightmare before things got out of hand.
"No…please…I'm sorry…" Johnny continued to repeat this mantra, growing more and more agitated as time passed.
Reaching over to shake Johnny's shoulder Kel started his own mantra. "Johnny, wake up. Your ok. Your safe. Come on now. It's me Kel. Wake up." Again the soothing words were repeated. Johnny slowly clamed. Finally he relaxed and again fell into a deep sleep. Kel hoped to not wake his friend but the doctor in him was calling. He reached for his bag and carefully got out his supplies. Carefully he applied the BP cuff and took Johnny's blood pressure and pulse. A little elevated but…I can live with that for now. I need to get him to open up. Something else is going on. But what?
The rest of the night was uneventful. Johnny was a bit restless but slept soundly. In the morning he again awoke early and started a pot of coffee. This time he also made breakfast.
Kel awoke to the smell of pancakes and coffee. Unlike the day before he announced himself as he came out of the tent. "Gooooood morning."
"Morning Doc. How'd you sleep?"
"Great, must be all this clean air. I have to thank you for letting me tag along. I can't believe how much better I feel. I'm sure I've said it before, but I don't think I knew how stressed I have been. Maybe Dixie was right, but don't tell her I said that."
Johnny relaxed as he saw the smile come across Kel's face. "Well, today I plan to take a little hike. It's only 6 miles to the summit. It's not a hard hike and I should be back by night fall. If you want to come along you are more than welcome or you can stay here and try to catch dinner. It's up to you. I… So what do you say?"
"12 miles round trip! Ok, I understand why you stay so fit. I think I will just stay here, fish a little and maybe read a little. I brought a book with me. It will be my day of rest."
"Sounds good Doc. I should be back by 7 at the latest. Have a great day. If you wouldn't mind gathering the wood again for dinner. I'll clean the fish you catch and bring back some berries for dessert."
"Great. Have a good hike and stay safe."
"I'll leave you this map. I marked the route I am taking, just in case but I don't expect you to need it. The path is clearly marked and the weather is suppose to be great today. I made a lunch for you it's in your pack. I'll leave after we finish breakfast."
This is what I needed. A little exercise and the peace of the forest. Spirits help me. I thought I finally found a place to fit in, a place to stay. I don't want to have to move on again. But I won't stay where I am not wanted. Help me make a decision. Point me in the right direction.
Johnny sat at the edge of the summit. The view of the valley floor was impressive and humbling. Quietly he sat and listened for the spirits to give him direction. He listened to the birds and watched as the animals played. Filled with peace he decided to return to camp. Maybe he would find his answer elsewhere.
The hike back to camp was easy going, all down hill and no strain. He continued to listen to the birds and watched the wildlife around him. The stress of the last few weeks had not relinquished their hold on him but had loosened up.
His mind wandered as he walked. Had he paid more attention he would have seen or remembered the dip in the path. Losing his balance he fell once again striking his ribs as he hit the ground. The pain nearly took his breath away.
He laid on the path panting, trying to relax. He knew he wasn't far from the camp and needed to get back to the camp and to Doc. Determined to get back Johnny slowly regained his footing and made his way.
Kel couldn't believe what a great day he was having. He fished, read and relaxed. God, thank you. Thank Dixie. I really needed this. I feel refreshed.
As the sun started to set he gathered the wood needed for the fire. Once he returned he started the fire pit and waited for Johnny. He had plenty of fish for dinner and had already cleaned them. It had been a long time since he had cleaned fish but he was a surgeon he could handle a knife.
The sun had set and still no sign of Johnny he was just starting to worry when Johnny entered the camp.
Looking a little rough Johnny had finally made it back to camp. The fire looked inviting and he was glad to be back. He hurt and wanted to do nothing but lay down.
"Doc…I think I need your help." He knew he heard the groan in his own voice. He wished he could have hidden it better. But he knew it was no use even trying. He needed help.
Kel heard the pain in the voice of his friend and moved to him quickly. It was obvious Johnny was in pain. "John what happened?"
Quickly and with difficulty Johnny relayed his story. "Doc, my ribs, I…I think I messed them up again. It…it hurts Doc."
"Come over here and have a seat. Let me check you out and see what's going on."
A quick exam proved that Johnny had managed to re-fracture the ribs. Fortunately they were stable and after wrapping the pain decreased. Blood pressure and pulse were within normal range, for that Kel was thankful. His temp was once again up. Just a low grade fever but still it concerned Kel.
"If you didn't want to cook tonight you could have just told me." Kel smiled and Johnny relaxed a little. If Kel was smiling and making jokes then he obviously wasn't too bad off.
"Sorry Kel. I guess I wasn't paying attention. I can still cook. Just give me a couple of minutes."
"I was just kidding John. Tell me what spices you want me to use and I'll cook. I can, believe it or not."
"Sure. Thanks. Sorry about all of this."
Dinner was served and it was good. John ate a little more and though he became nauseated again he managed to hold his dinner down. At least for a while.
About an hour after dinner John once again walked into the woods. He was sick again but didn't vomit. Slowly he returned to the camp. "I guess things are looking up. I've managed to keep my dinner."
"Good. Let me get a set of vitals on you and recheck your ribs. I'm glad to hear you're starting to keep some food down. How do you feel otherwise?"
"Headache…just a dull ache. I think I need some sleep."
"How 'bout I give you something to help you sleep tonight?" Kel knew it was a shot in the dark but he hoped John would take him up on it. Johnny needed a good nights uninterrupted sleep.
"Sure Doc. That might not be such a bad idea." Johnny resigned himself to the idea that he had once again become a patient. His room was different but he was still under Dr. Brackett's care. "How long do you want to knock me out for?"
"Not knock you out. Just a mild sedative to help you relax and get some rest. You haven't been sleeping well and you are starting to run a fever again. I just want you to relax and sleep. Let's get this under control."
"Sure Doc. What ever you say? Let's just get this over with, okay."
"Here take this. It's just 2 mg of valium. Just enough to make you relax. I wouldn't lie to you." Kel could see the defeated look in Johnny's eyes. Defeat and mistrust. He wasn't sure where it was coming from but he could sense it.
They sat around the fire and Johnny did begin to relax. He felt kind of numb. The tension and lack of sleep combined with the valium were beginning to weaken his reserves.
"Do you feel like talking?" Kel hoped he could get Johnny to talk. He knew this may be his only chance to push.
"What do you want to talk about?" Johnny was hoping to keep this simple until he could fall asleep.
"Oh, I don't know. How about what has you so tied up in a knot? That might be a good start."
Well so much for simple and easy. But… "Are you asking as my Doc or my friend?"
"Great…I guess I kind of told you that eventually we could talk. Now is as good as ever I suppose. You've already guessed about some of my background. So I won't go there. I would rather not remember and don't see where talking about it would change anything. I haven't had the easiest life but I'm not complaining. It's just the way it was." He took a deep breathe and slowly let it out. "I've been on my own since I was 13. I only stayed with my Aunt Rose for about a year and then moved on. She was great to me but well, it's not like she really wanted to be saddled with an angry kid. I continued to go to school and graduated. I used her address but I didn't stay there. I moved around. Camped a lot. Stayed with friends or on the street. It wasn't that bad. I made due."
"How…did you live? Or eat?"
"I was tall and lanky for my age but that made people think I was older. I worked odd jobs and did whatever I could to make a little money. I made enough to keep clothes on my back and most of the time able to eat. Sometimes I had money to stay in a cheap motel. Most times I was just happy to get a hot meal. It was cheaper to buy groceries and cook for myself. That's how I learned to cook. When I couldn't get stuff to make I… anyway I survived. Ate a lot of hot dogs because they were cheap and I could eat them cold."
Johnny stared off into space for a few minutes before he continued. "I am use to people walking away, to… to not being wanted. I guess when all of this stuff with Roy started it just brought back a lot of my old insecurities. He was pretty brutal with some of the things he said. I've told him a lot about my past. Well maybe not a lot but a hell of a lot more than I've ever told anyone else. I didn't understand what was happening and was afraid he would use my past against me. I don't like people to know too much about my past. I'm not proud of a lot of things I did and don't want…don't want to be judged for what I had to do to survive." He stopped there and looked to Kel for understanding. He feared seeing loathing or disgust but instead he was met by concern.
"John, I'm sorry for what happened to you but it only makes me prouder to be your friend. You have a strong heart and strong will. I don't know that I could have survived. You should be proud of what you've become even if you aren't proud of where you've come from."
Yawning Johnny wished the sleep would have over come him sooner. As it was he could barely remain sitting up. "Doc…I…I need to lay down."
Kel helped John to the tent and got him settled. He unrolled his sleeping bag and took another set of vital signs. Everything was within normal ranges except his temp. Kel tried to get Johnny to take some aspirin but he was sound asleep.
Johnny awoke the next day to the smell of coffee. He felt relaxed and rested. As he started to sit up and stretch he felt the pain in his ribs. A groan escaped him before he could stifle it. Kel opened the flap before he could get his breathing under control.
"Easy there. Let me help you up and check those ribs again. How's your head?"
"Thanks. My head is better just a dull throb. My ribs on the other hand are aggravating me."
"Let's get them re-wrapped."
After re-wrapping the ribs and having breakfast it was time to get on with the day. "So what's the game plan for today?"
"Relax and fish. Don't think I'm up to any hiking today. How's that sound to you?"
"Perfect. I can't believe how good the fishing is here. I even threw some back yesterday."
"I've been coming here for years. You can always get enough to eat which is what I like about this spot. There's nothing better than fresh fish."
The day progressed and went smoothly. Johnny laid down for a nap in the afternoon while Kel read his book. They had caught enough fish for lunch and dinner. Kel had the fire going and was just starting the fish when Johnny awoke.
"I'm going to go down to the stream to clean up before we eat if you have everything handled here."
"Sure, I left a towel and the soap down there. The water was a little chilly but it felt great."
A dip in the stream and feeling much cleaner, Johnny headed back to the camp. "Doc, could you re-wrap my ribs again. I really would appreciate it."
"Not a problem John. Have a seat and we'll get you taken care of."
Dinner came and went. Johnny was starting to feel nervous. "Doc about the other night…"
"John, as your doctor and your friend, relax, you have nothing to worry about. Do you want to continue our conversation from last night?" Kel hoped Johnny would open up some more.
"I guess." He took a deep breathe and stared off. He just couldn't look Kel in the eye. "There are some things that I don't and wont talk about. I've never even said anything to Roy. My dad died when I was 4 and my mom re-married when I was 7. Life on the reservation for a half-breed was tough. I wasn't accepted anywhere. I wasn't even accepted at home. Strongbow, my step-father, made life even more difficult. He wasn't that much better to my mom. He was a big man and I wasn't big enough. He was a…a…drunk. A mean drunk. When I was 12, he killed my mom and himself in a drunken rage. He… he … Anyway that's when I went to live with Aunt Rose. It wasn't easy to live with me then. I was angry with everyone, every thing and with the spirits. I couldn't understand why my mom was taken from me. I thought I had paid enough to keep her safe but I was wrong. It took me a long time to realize it wasn't my fault. But I had learned to push people away and hide my past and my present. No one ever found out that I was homeless. I got my GED and started the fire academy… as soon as I was old enough."
"John, how old are you really?"
"Doc…I…." Johnny shook his head. If anyone found out he could be kicked out of the department.
"John, I won't report you if that's what you are afraid of. This is more out of curiosity."
"Doc…I…I don't want to lose my job. If it ever comes out I could get f…fired for lying on my application. I needed a job to support myself. I had wanted to be a fire fighter for years. The motel I went to…that I stayed at…it… caught fire one night. I managed to get out but I lost what little I had. I watched as the fire fighters fought to save it. They couldn't. But, that was when I decided I had to do whatever I had to do to become a fire fighter. I fudged my birth certificate and started the academy. It was the first time I lived with a roof over my head and three meals a day, every day since I was 13. I…I felt safe for the first time in years. I put on some muscle and weight. I can't imagine not being able to do what I do."
"John, I promise I won't report you but how old are you right now? Obviously you are not 27 like I thought you were."
"I…I'm 2...22. I've been with the department now for 6 years and…and… Doc, Roy doesn't know. Only Aunt Rose did and she died about 6 months ago."
"Well, at least now I understand you better. If you ever need to talk, I've an ear to listen."
"Doc…Kel…I want to thank you for everything you've done. I don't know what I'm going to do when I get back. I want to return to 51 but… Kel I don't know if they really want me. I'm suppose to call Cap when I get back."
"John, I can't tell you what to do. But I can tell you what I saw while you were in the hospital. Hank and the guys were by your side the whole time. Sleeping or awake they were there. I don't believe for a moment that they wanted to be anywhere else. John, they care. Roy has been talking with me for the last few weeks. He really wants to work things out between you two. Give him a chance to explain. You guys are like a family. And in all families there are occasions when you don't get along. But you are still a family."
"Ok Kel, I'll give it a try. But for now, I want to sleep." Without another word Johnny turned in for the night.
Johnny watched as the sun rose over the lake. The rays glistening off the lake. The colors filled the sky. Johnny sat with a smile on his face and feeling more relaxed than he had in months. He knew it was time to head back but he wanted to savor one more sunrise before they started back.
After breakfast they broke camp and started back. Only one more night of camping and they would be headed back. Johnny had been feeling better and Kel was glad to see him eating and sleeping without further difficulty.
The drive back to town found Kel still relaxed but the closer they got the more tense Johnny became.
"John, it's going to be alright. Relax. As your friend I am telling you, you have nothing to worry about. As your doctor I want to see you on Friday and see how you are doing. We need to see where you are with your weight and how soon you will be able to return to work. I'm guessing with your ribs at least another week. But let's play it by ear."
"'kay Doc. Thanks for coming along. I had a great time and was really glad you were there both as my friend and my doctor. I guess you are headed back to work?"
"Yes, tomorrow. But I don't think I have felt this good in years. Dixie was right again." They both smiled and Johnny began to relax again. "Thanks again for letting me come along. And just because we are back doesn't mean things have changed. Call me, my friend, if you need to talk or whatever."
Johnny headed home after dropping Kel off. First things first, I have got to get laundry done and get everything put away. Then I'll call cap.
By 6 pm he couldn't put it off any longer. He knew the guys were on duty and hoped Cap would answer the phone.
"Station 51, Private Kelly"
"Ah, hi Chet. Is Cap available?"
"Hey Johnny. Yeah Cap's here. How are you? How was the trip? I guess your back, when are you coming back. The phantom is having pigeon withdrawals." Kelly continued to ramble on without giving Johnny a second to reply. Everyone had heard who was on the phone and wanted to know how Johnny was doing. Cap moved to his office and picked up the extension. "Chet, take a breathe and hang up."
Having heard the click Hank continued. "Hi John. How was the trip?"
"It was great Cap. Just what I needed."
"How are you doing?" John could hear the concern in his voice. It gave him a warm feeling.
"I'm good. A little sore still but good. I have an appointment with Dr. Brackett on Friday and should be able to let you know then about when I will be able to return."
"That's great. It's been way to quiet around here without you. What do you say to dinner tomorrow night? Em has been looking forward to it."
"Sounds good Cap. What time?"
"Well, we won't eat until 6 but why don't you come on over around 5. That will give us some time to catch up before dinner. You can tell me about your trip."
"Okay Cap. I'll see you at 5."
Hank sat back and thought about his short conversation with John. He seemed fine but was surprised that John hadn't asked about the guys. He wondered if things were better. He hoped Johnny was doing as well as he sounded.
Johnny was on time which surprised Hank. Em was in the kitchen when the bell had wrung. The door opened and there stood Johnny with 2 bottles of wine in his hand. "I…ah… wasn't sure what we were having so I brought white and red wine."
"That's great. Come on in. You look good. How are you?"
"Fine. The fishing was good. It really helped to get away."
"Well, let's go have a seat on the deck. Would you like something to drink, beer, wine?"
"A beer thanks."
They sat and talked about the trip to the mountains. Johnny seemed reserved but happy about the trip. Hank was glad Kel had been along when John told him about re-injuring his ribs.
"Sounds like you had a good time. It's been awfully quiet around here without you. The guys are really looking forward to you coming back." I should have known it was too good to be true. It looked to Hank as if he had just dropped a huge load onto Johnny, the shoulders slumped and he averted his eyes. "John, what's going on? You aren't sick or anything are you?"
"No Cap, not sick. I…I talked with Kel while we were gone. I guess I need to talk to you about some of this as well." He looked up but again lowered his head before he continued. "Cap, I don't know about coming back to 51s."
"Why John? I know you and Roy were having problems but Roy has been working on it. He really wants to talk to you. He knows he screwed things up but he is sorry. He's been moping around since you were hospitalized. I know he came to talk to you in the hospital, I guess I hoped you had worked everything out."
"Cap he did. And I know I told him it was ok but…I…Cap I don't know what to do. He dredged up a lot of stuff. I don't know that I can put myself through…"
Emily came out to tell them dinner was ready. She could tell she had interrupted but didn't realize what. Johnny quickly got up so as to avoid the conversation. Dinner was quiet with light conversation. It seemed the old Gage appetite had returned and for that Hank was grateful. After dinner Emily excused herself hoping Hank and John would be able to finish their conversation.
"Let's go back out to the deck. It's a nice night and I think we need to talk. Go on out I'll be there in a minute." Johnny nodded and headed out. He wasn't looking forward to this but knew like Kel, Hank needed to understand.
Hank came out about 5 minutes later with a pot of coffee and a couple of cups. Johnny was thankful for the coffee and the easy going manner Hank was displaying. He had always thought that if he had had a dad he would be something like Hank. He only hoped he could gloss over some things.
"Ok, so let's talk. Why don't you want to come back? We all want you to but I will help you anyway I can."
"It's a little more complicated than that."
"Can you tell me about it? I get the feeling this is pretty serious."
"I guess I have to talk to you. It's just hard. I…I'm not comfortable with talking about… about stuff. I guess I should…should have talked to you before…before I got hurt. But I…I thought you and…and the guys….well I thought you all felt the way Roy did." Johnny rushed the last words out hoping to not have his feelings confirmed. He was afraid they would be. He flinched when Hank began to speak.
"John," he started and paused when he saw Johnny flinch. "John, talk to me. I'm sorry I didn't recognize how bad it was before it was too late. I would have put a stop to it sooner. I wish you would have felt like you could have come to me."
"Cap, it wasn't that I couldn't come to you…well, not like what you think. I didn't want to talk to anyone. I thought I had failed somehow. I kept trying to fix it and it just kept getting worse. I thought I could deal with it. I mean…I didn't…"
"John take a deep breathe. Talk to me. It's going to be alright."
"Ha. I wish I could believe that Cap. I…I've really tried…tried to fit in. I just want to do my job. But, if the guys I work with don't trust me or feel like they have to 'baby sit' me then how can I trust them. I heard Roy…I…I was in the doorway. No one said anything. They agreed with him. How can I go back to… I just don't think I can put myself in that spot. Can you understand? I've been there before. I can't do it again."
"I understand but I don't think you do. It wasn't that we agreed with Roy. We were shocked and didn't know what to say to him or to you. I didn't have enough time to try to fix things before you got hurt. But I have talked with Roy. He's trying to get his stuff together. The rest of us just want to get a chance to make it right with you."
"Cap, it's happened before. I just want to go back, even if it was just a lie. I'm ok with living the lie. I…I just want to…"
"John, it wasn't a lie. Things got messed up. We can fix it. Together." He paused for a moment and then went on, "I get the feeling there is still more going on here. You want to let me in on it."
"I've talked to Kel. A little. I don't…Cap I don't want to make excuses. Life is life. For some it's harder than others but that's just the way it is. Mine hasn't been a cake walk. I've worked hard to get to where I am. I'm not proud of some of the things I've done but I did what I had to do at the time. Now, well now things are better. I want to go back to doing the things I love. To be happy."
"How can I help you?"
"Cap. I don't know that you can. I still have a little time. I have to see Doc on Friday. I doubt he is going to release me for at least another week. I'll come back but…I make no guarantees. If I still feel like this I would like you to honor my request for transfer. Is that a deal?"
"Sure John. Let's wait to see when you get released. But in the mean time if you need me call. I know I've told you this before but on duty or off I'm here for you. As your friend I want to do whatever I can to help you. Will you talk to me before you make a final decision? See if there is something I can do to help to make it better."
"Thanks Cap. And Hank, I might take you up on that, I just hope it isn't more than you bargained for. I better get going. Tell Emily thanks again for dinner. It was great. I'll call you again in a couple of days and let you know what Doc says. I appreciate everything. Please tell Emily I'm sorry for running her out."
"Your welcome. Any time you need to talk, day or night, call me. Emily understands, your family. Em knows how important that is to me. I didn't have a lot of family growing up. You guys are my family."
"Thanks. All talk to you later." Without saying anything further John left.
Hank thought a lot about their conversation. He had always thought Johnny probably had a rough childhood. He had seen scars and how Johnny reacted to certain calls, almost as if it hit a little too close to home. Now with what little he had said and how he behaved tonight his suspicions seemed to be confirmed.
Friday came quicker than he had thought it would. He entered Rampart ER and went to Kel's office. He knocked and heard Kel inside.
"Come in." Kel looked up with a smile when he saw Johnny walk in. "How are you feeling? I can't tell you how great I feel."
"I'm glad to hear it. I'm ok. I…ah…I went to Cap's for dinner the other night. I tried to talk to him but it was…It was easier to talk to you. I just don't know how to talk to Cap. He wants to help and I want to talk to him but it's all lies. I can't keep lying to him."
"Ok. First thing first let's get your exam done and then we'll talk about the rest of this. Okay." When Johnny nodded in agreement Kel continued. "How have you been feeling?"
"Better. Still a little sore but the ribs seem to be a lot better. "
"How about the nausea and vomiting?" Kel could tell this was going to be like pulling teeth.
"Better still get a little nauseated but I've been keeping my meals down…for the most part."
Raising an eyebrow, "For the most part?"
"I do better with bland foods. I had bar-b-cue the other night and I think the sauce was a bit much for me. Other than that, I've been fine. Really Doc, I'm not lying to you."
"You may need to ease into the spicier foods. Let's get you weighed and see where you are with gaining the weight back. How have you been sleeping?"
"Oh, ok. I've been a little restless. But I have been sleeping and napping during the day. No more headaches."
"Good. Let's get going and then we'll talk. I'm only here for you today. I am not actually on the schedule."
Johnny felt guilty about that statement. Doc was giving up his day off to work on him.
After the exam they went back to Kel's office to wait for the blood test results and to talk.
"Would you like a cup of coffee?"
"That would be great." He joined Kel at the coffee machine and fixed himself a cup. "So, how am I?"
"Have a seat. So far the test look good. Your blood pressure and other vitals are good. Lungs are clear. No fever. Your ribs seem to be healing well. When is your next shift?"
"Tomorrow. And then we go back on Monday."
"You've gained enough weight back to be released but I don't want you to stress your ribs. I'd like you to miss the next two shifts just to make sure those ribs are healed."
Without flinching Johnny agreed. "Ok, let's talk. You didn't even argue. So what's going on?"
"I guess I'm nervous about going back. I want to get back but I'm nervous about going back to 51s."
"I assume you talked to Hank about this. So what did he say?"
"He said he would honor my request for transfer if I come back and decide it isn't working for me. I tried to talk to him. I think he would understand. It's hard. So much has happened, so much has been said. I want to believe it's where I belong. I thought it was but…"
"John, as your friend I will support you in what ever you decide to do. But I think you need to give it a chance and talk to Hank. He may understand more than you think. I know you haven't been completely open with me but even if you told him half that much he would understand. You need to trust us John. We wont turn our backs on you. You may have lost your family a long time ago but you have found a new family. We just aren't from the same blood line. But I don't think we could care any more if we were."
"You're right. Maybe I'll give him a call and meet him for a drink somewhere where we can talk. Would you like to go along? It might help to have an ally. "
"I don't think you need one but I wouldn't mind going if you want me to. Tell you what, why don't I give him a call and we can have dinner and a few drinks at my place. We won't be interrupted that way."
"Sounds good. When would you like to meet?"
"I'll give him a call and work something out. I'll call you at home later. Do you think you can help me make the dinner? Maybe you can surprise him with one of your dishes."
"Ok. Call me and let me know. I'll figure something out for dinner. Do I need to bring my own pans or do you have some?"
"Funny. I have them. I'll call you later and give you the rest of the test results then. I don't expect anything to come out of it. Glad to see you are doing better. You better stop by and see Dixie before you leave. She's missed you."
"Ok, I'll do that. Talk to you later."
The phone rang a few times before it was picked up. "Stanley Residence."
"Hi Kel. What can I do for you?" Suddenly it struck him that Johnny was meeting with Kel today. "Nothings wrong is it? I know Johnny had his appointment today. He's ok isn't he?"
The concern Hank showed for his friend made Kel feel good. "He's fine. I'll be sending his release over to the department later today. I want him off the next two shifts but then he should be released without restrictions. Actually, the reason I was calling is to invite you to dinner at my place. Johnny wants to talk to you but he needs some privacy. He also wanted a little moral support. I don't know if he's told you flat out but he's nervous about returning to work. I think this would go a long way to help him get over those fears. Also, it might help you with understanding him. You know how he is. We are going to have to let him lead. He can't be pushed about this. He talked a little while we were gone. I don't know how much he will open up but try not to be surprised or judgmental. He is an amazing young man."
"Ok, I work tomorrow. What is your schedule like? What do you say to dinner on Tuesday?"
"Tuesday it is. That will give John a couple of days to figure out what he wants to say to you. I'll try to talk to him about stopping in to the station between now and then. But I wouldn't be surprised if he doesn't."
Johnny arrived at Kel's at 3:30 pm. "I've got everything I need. I need to get started if you want to eat by 6."
"Sure, no problem. So what are we having for dinner?"
"You are just going to have to wait and see. You both can be surprised."
"On a more serious note. Do you know what you want to say to Hank?"
"I've been thinking about it for the last 3 days. I can't tell him everything. If he knew my age he would have to report me and then I would lose my job. I can't let that happen." While he talked he started to work on the dinner. Cutting and tenderizing like a chef. He was at ease in the kitchen and you could tell he enjoyed cooking. It appeared they were going to have a roast with all the side dishes. "I don't really know what to tell him. I…"
"John, let me be candid with you." Johnny nodded. "You don't have to tell him details about the abuse you suffered. But maybe you could tell him enough for him to understand why you are so upset by what happened with Roy. If he realizes the trust you laid in Roy was damaged and the concern you have about Roy speaking out of turn, maybe that would be enough. Did you go to the station?"
"No, I couldn't. I parked across the street but I didn't go in. Doc…Kel, I don't want to whine to him. Cap has been good to me. I don't want to… Doc, I haven't been sleeping or eating well since we made this 'appointment'. Every time I fall asleep I dream of… Anyway, I'm tired and just want this over."
"John are you going to be able to make it through tonight?" Johnny shrugged his shoulders and continued with preping the dinner. "I'm concerned about you. You need to sleep. Why don't you lay down on the couch for a while before Hank gets here?"
"'Kay Doc, I'll do that as soon as I put this in the oven."
Johnny had been asleep for about 45 minutes when Hank arrived. "Hank would you like a beer before dinner?"
"Sure. Kel, is he okay?"
"Yes, just hasn't been sleeping for the last few days. He's nervous about talking to you. I have to check the dinner. I'll be right back."
Hank stood watch over Johnny as he slept. Hank had told Johnny he was like family. A younger brother or even a son. He knew he was to old to be a son. At 34 he wasn't even 10 years older than John. But Johnny had always appeared to be younger. As he slept without stress and his guard down he barely looked 20 much less going on 28.
John appeared clam and relaxed at first but then something changed. Slowly he shook his head from side to side. Then he became more agitated. "Nooo….please…..no….I'll be good…..please, don't…..no….it hurts….please….no, please Strongbow….I promise I'll be good…."
Johnny continued as Hank stood in shock. He and the other guys had dealt with Johnny and his nightmares before but nothing like this. He slowly came back to reality and approached Johnny.
Placing a hand on Johnny's shoulder, Hank wanted to calm his friend. It a low calm voice he started talking to him. "John, it's ok. Time to wake up. You're safe. Johnny, son, it's alright. Wake up."
Johnny had started to calm and respond to Hanks voice. "Dad?" He awoke with a start. He was confused and looking about but then settled his eyes on Hank. "Cap?" Suddenly, it all came back to him. "I'm sorry. Didn't…didn't mean to still be asleep when you got here. Sorry." Johnny had shifted his eyes down to the blanket that covered him.
"It's ok. Looks like you needed the rest. How are you?"
"I'm, I'm alright. Kel! Kel!" Johnny was trying to get up but was tangled in the blanket. Kel came around the corner quickly when he heard Johnny call. "Kel, where's your bathroom?" Pointing down the hall and shouting directions after him, Johnny made it just in time.
"Hank, wait here please. I'll check on him." The retching could be heard from down the hall. "John. John. I'm coming in."
The site that greeted him was pitiful. Johnny was dry heaving over the toilet, one hand on the tank and the other wrapped around his middle holding his ribs. Kel wetted a clothe and placed it on the back of Johnny's neck. "Easy John. Slow your breathing down."
Slowly Johnny started to relax. He sat back onto the floor and closed his eyes. Kel stayed by his side until he was ready to get up. "You okay now?"
"It was so real. I was right back there. 8 years old and scared to death that Strongbow was going to kill me. I can't even remember what I had done wrong."
"Let's get you cleaned up and back out to the couch. I know you hate this but I want vitals on you. How many times since Friday have you done this?"
"Just this once. Really, I haven't been sleeping much but this is the first time I've been sick."
"Ok, think you can stand up?"
"Sure." Determinedly, Johnny stood on his own. Swaying a little on his feet he grabbed the sink to steady himself. "I'm ok. Please, I'll be out in a minute. And Doc thanks again."
"I'll step out but I'm going to wait in the hall."
It was only a couple of minutes later that Johnny exited the bathroom. Together they walked down the hall. Hank still stood by the couch. The blanket had been folded and laid across the arm rest. Hank looked worriedly at Johnny as he approached.
"John, why don't you have a seat. I'll check on the dinner real quick and then we'll get you checked out."
Without a word Johnny sat on the couch. He sat with his eyes closed and not speaking. Hank slowly sat next to him. Johnny pulled away but then relaxed. Kel returned shortly and noted the tension in Johnny's shoulders.
"Ok John. Let me check your vitals. How are your ribs?" Kel wrapped the blood pressure cuff around Johnny's arm and began pumping it up.
"They're sore but that's all. Sorry to put you to work on your day off, yet again."
"Not a problem John. I just want to keep a close eye on you, make sure we don't have something trying to creep up on us. Blood pressure is up a little but not like before. How's the stomach?"
"Fine. I'm fine, really. Just embarrassed is all. Can't believe after all these years…." Remembering Hank was there Johnny stopped talking.
"It's alright. Some times old memories can come back with a vengeance. Veterans call them flashbacks. They are so real you think you are right back in the moment."
"Flashback. Well, that about sums it up. I sure felt like I was in the moment. Sorry Cap. This isn't what… I… Can we quit talking about this for a few minutes. Kel, do you mind if I get myself a glass of water."
"Sure. Dinner is almost ready. I need to get it out of the oven. Hank, why don't you have a seat at the table. We'll be there in a minute. What would you like to drink with dinner? Beer? Wine? Milk? Water?"
"Water is fine. Do you need any help?"
"No, we'll get it. Just have a seat and relax."
"Johnny, you going to be alright?" The more Kel watched John the more concerned he became, Johnny was edgy, pale and couldn't hold still. Kel was afraid the Johnny could seriously be headed for a nervous breakdown.
"I don't know Doc. I need to feel normal again. This is killing me. I feel like I'm going crazy. I just want to know why after all these years this is all coming back to haunt me. I've tried to be a good person. I tried to please the Spirits in the hopes that things would get better. But past lies and stuff…they keep coming back. Do you really think this is the right thing to do? Cause I just don't know anymore."
"John, you are normal and you're not going crazy. It's tough but think of all you have been through. Talking to Hank is not going to be a problem. He just wants what is best for you. We all do. If it gets to be too much for you just tell me and we can end this. But I think it will help you to tell him. I know you respect him, now you need to trust him. Let's have dinner and then we can sit and talk. How's that sound to you?"
"Doc, just stick by me tonight. I really want this to work out the way you say but… I've not really opened up to anyone."
"Kel that was great. I haven't had roast in a while. I'm glad you invited me. Maybe I could get the recipe for Em."
"Cap, I think that's a bad idea. You remember how Joanne reacted about Mike's spaghetti? Maybe you should just leave well enough alone."
"You are probably right. But thanks again. It was good."
"No problem, but I.." Kel never got to finish his sentence as Johnny interrupted. "Thanks for everything Kel. I really appreciate all that you've done for me."
"You're welcome John. Why don't we go to the living room and talk. I'll get the coffee and meet you right there."
Hank rose and headed to the living room as suggested. Johnny was a little slower to follow. His nervousness was not lost on Hank. His concern only grew as he thought of the tough times Johnny had had in the past. He only wanted what was best for his family. He hoped this evening would help him to help John.
Quietly they sat and waited for Kel. It was only a couple of minutes but they were uncomfortable minutes for both of them. Kel had hoped they would start without him but no such luck. Johnny sat fidgeting on the couch and looked anxiously to Kel as he entered the room. Quickly he served the coffee and sat down to get everything started.
"So Hank, John here wants to talk to you. He and I have spoken and I think it is in his best interest to explain everything to you."
"John, I want to help. I know things got out of hand but I think we can work through them if you give us all a chance. The guys are worried about you. They didn't know what to do before and they want to make it up to you."
The silence was deafening. Hank and Kel looked to Johnny for a response but it didn't seem as if there was one to come. Finally Kel moved to sit next to Johnny.
"John, it's going to be ok. Just start with why you are worried about going back."
Johnny sighed but never looked up. "I guess that's as good a place as any. I tried to tell you before I can't work somewhere where the guys don't trust me. What Roy did and what I thought you all believed…well, that made me think you weren't…that you didn't trust me to do my job or even me just as a person. This is not a job to be in where people don't trust you. It only leads to someone getting hurt."
"John, I trust you with my life and with the lives of my family. You are a fine man and a great paramedic firefighter. I have the utmost respect for you and your abilities. I've thought a lot over the past few days, weeks really. Never in my time with the department have I had the pleasure to work with a man such as yourself. I've watched you grow over the past 3 years and mature into the person you are today. You except responsibility and have an ability to deal with situations that most people your age haven't a clue how to handle. What can I do to make you believe that we all trust you?"
"I don't know. Cap, I… You know I have always had trust in you and the guys. But Roy and I have always been tighter because we have worked so close together for so long. I…I told…I…"
Kel watched as Johnny started to become agitated. He needed to keep him focused and talking. "John, I think Hank understands why you are closer to Roy and would have talked to him about things you didn't share with him and the others. It's natural."
"Thanks. When all of this was going on with Roy I got worried that he would use things I had said to him against me. He did when you all weren't around but it was only a matter of time before he was going to say stuff in front of you. Cap, I talked to Kel while we were camping." Hesitantly he continued, "He had guessed some things but… Cap, I don't want to lose your respect and I don't want to lie to you. All this stuff that has happened has brought up a lot of stuff from my past. I lived through that once I can't do it again. I don't have the energy to do it. Like I told Kel, I just want to do my job and be happy."
"John, you don't have to tell me anything you don't want to. Your past is just that, your past. I know the man you are today. No matter what Roy did or said, the guys and I have not changed our minds about you. As far as I am concerned if anyone is to transfer it should be Roy. He disrupted the whole house. I can't make any guarantees, but like I said I think we can work it out and get it back to the way it was. If any thing comes up, come to me and we will get it worked out. So, what do you day?"
"I want to give it a try. Doc released me to come back next shift." John looked up and met their eyes briefly. "Cap, about before, I…ah…I've been having a little trouble sleeping. I don't want to disturb everyone. Would…ah…would it be possible for a while for me to…ah…to sleep on the couch in your office? I'm going to keep talking to Kel but it would help me if I didn't have to worry about waking all of you. Hopefully the office will keep me from waking you."
"If that's what you need then of course. Is there anything I can do to help you? John, as your friend, I would like to help. Can I ask you a question?" Johnny simply nodded. "Who is Strongbow? You called out his name earlier when you were having your nightmare."
"Cap…Hank… I have a lot on my plate right now. I need to deal with some things. Kel has offered an ear. He knew some before we talked. S-Strongbow was my…my step-father. We didn't have a great relationship. He and my mom were killed in an accident when I was 12."
"What about your father?"
"He died when I was 4."
"My God, John I am so sorry. I didn't know."
"No one knew. Not even Roy. Roy knew my parents were dead but he doesn't know when or how. I just didn't know how to tell people. It was easier to just not talk about my childhood than to remember. And I'm sorry I still don't feel comfortable talking about it right now. Maybe some day, but not today. If you'll excuse me, I…I'll be back in a minute."
Johnny exited the room and Hank and Kel knew this was the end of the conversation. Kel was glad John had told Hank some of what he felt. He hoped it would be enough for his young friend to have some peace when he returned to work.
"Kel, is he alright to return?"
"Yes. I wouldn't have signed him off if I hadn't felt he could do his job." He paused but then he continued. "Sorry, I'm worried about him. But not from a job performance stand point. He will have no physical limitations on his return. It's going to be up to you and your men to fix the rest when he returns."
"I'm sorry I didn't mean to infer you were signing him off too soon. I'm worried about him as well."
"Just keep an eye on him. He's going to need his friends more than he realizes."
Hank spent the next 3 days thinking about Johnny and his situation. He could tell there was more to the story than what Johnny was telling him but he thought he could help his friend. He called Mike, Marco and Chet and invited them to his house for a quick crew meeting. When they arrived they got down to business.
"Men, thank you for coming. When we return to work tomorrow Johnny will be joining us. Now before you start asking a bunch of questions let me just talk to you. I met with John the other night. He's doing better, ribs are healing and over all he is in good health." The guys all sat anxiously waiting for the other shoe to drop. If Johnny were fine and returning to work then they would not have been having a meeting. The fact that Roy was not present didn't sit well with any of them.
"I was not privy to everything that was going on between Roy and Johnny. I am asking you all to keep an eye on them both. And in the future come to me before things get out of hand. I will not tolerate this kind of behavior again. Do I make myself clear?"
Everyone was in agreement. No one had felt comfortable with what had gone on but they didn't know what to do about it. It wasn't anything physical so they didn't think it would be so harmful.
"Further, the Phantom is to stay away from John. He's had a rough time. I want him to get his feet wet and get back into the swing of things before you pull any pranks. Is that clear Kelly? Or you will be on latrine duty for the next year."
"Yes sir. Cap, is Johnny really alright?" He didn't even try to hide the concern he felt for his friend.
"Physically he is fine. But I want you to give him a break. He's had a lot going on beyond what was happening at the fire house. I just want to give him a little break and let him get some things settled. I'm not asking you to treat him any different but if you see anything going on between him and Roy let me know."
"Cap, I wasn't happy with the way Roy was behaving. I have noticed a change in him over the past couple of weeks. I don't want to see what happened, happen again." Mike was usually known for his quietness. This situation had obviously affected him as well.
"Neither do I. I would not tolerate this between any of you so let's help to make sure nothing happens like this again. We have all worked hard to get to where we are, let's not allow it to be screwed up by anyone."
A round of yes sirs followed. They continued to talk and enjoy each others company. All looking forward to having the whole crew back together again.
2 months. I can't believe it's been 2 months since I last worked a shift here. Spirits help me get through this day.
Johnny sat in his truck and waited til the last minute to enter the station. 2 months didn't seem like so long ago now that he was standing here. He had only spoken to Roy a few times since that last shift. John had spent the last few weeks talking with Kel. They had become good friends and Johnny felt fortunate for that friendship. Now it was time to face the rest of the guys.
Quietly he made his way into the locker room and got changed. He waited in the bay to line up with the rest of the crew. As soon as the guys made their way to the bay they saw John standing there waiting.
"Hey welcome back." "Glad to see your back." "It's been too quiet around here, glad you're back."
Roy lined up next to Johnny and put his hand on Johnny's shoulder. "Welcome back partner."
"Thanks everyone. Glad to be back." He seemed to be ok but Hank saw the slight flinch when Roy had put his hand on John. He hoped everything would work out right.
"Alright gentlemen. We have a lot to do today. John, welcome back. We are all glad to see you are doing so well. Mike you have the engine and bay. Chet and Marco there's hose to be hung. B crew had a busy day. John you have the dorms. Roy you get the latrine. I'll be cooking today. John when you are done with the dorms you can come help me in the kitchen. We need to look at the preplans on the new mall. Let's get to it."
The morning was slow and all the work was getting done. By 11 am everyone was back in the kitchen and looking for lunch. John was sitting on the couch with Henry as everyone else filed in.
Lunch was uneventful. Afterwards the guys decided to play basketball. Johnny stayed behind. He didn't want to risk hurting his ribs again. At least that was his excuse.
He laid in bed reading for a while. He really wanted a call.
Two shifts later and he was still waiting for a call. The atmosphere around the house was a bit strained. Johnny wanted to find out if this was going to work out and if they could get back to where they had been but up to this point they hadn't had a fire or a rescue. Johnny could feel his pulse race as the tones dropped. It had been a while and the excitement was there. He loved his job and the challenges he faced on every call.
Station 51, Station 110, Ladder 10, Engine 36, Battalion Chief, Respond to a First Alarm Fire. 6529 Clark Street. Possible Persons Trapped
The call had finally come in. John knew now was the time to find out if he could truly stay at Station 51. Did the guys trust him or not? Soon he would know.
They arrived on the scene of total chaos. People were screaming and crying from every direction. The structure was a 5 story brick apartment building. There were still people on the 5th floor.
"Engine 51 LA strike this out as a 2nd Alarm with rescue. Engine 110 hit a hydrant. Ladder 10 set up on the North side. Engine 51 and Squad 51 are making entry. Engine 36 check in upon arrival."
"Marco and Roy make your way to the 4th floor. Chet and Johnny hit the 5th. Make it quick men, we don't have much time."
John grabbed his rescue rope and draped it over his shoulder. The he and Chet headed to the 5th floor dragging the hose behind them. Chet carried the hotel pack to be attached once they ran out of hose to extend it's reach.
Arriving on the 4th floor the smoke started getting thick. The heat turned up a notch as the arrived on the 5th floor. The flames from the 4th and 5th floor combined to make a hot miserable search. John and Chet had worked situations like this before. They knew what to do. Unlike working a search with Roy, John felt the need to tell Chet what we was going to do.
"HT 51 to Engine 51. Arrived on 5th floor beginning search now."
"That's clear HT 51. Be careful. We have a report of 5 persons missing."
"That's clear." Placing the handy talkie back in his pocket he turned to Chet. "I'll check the right. You check the left. Be careful."
"Sure Johnny. You be careful too."
Roy and Marco had fount the seat of the fire on the 4th floor. They were trying to put the fire out as quickly as they could. No victims had been found in their search. 36s crew joined them to put the fire out.
Meanwhile on the 5th floor it was a different story. Chet found 2 victims and Johnny the other 3.
Chet helped the two adults make their way to the stairwell. Johnny had his hands full with the three kids. Chet continued to man the hose as Johnny carried one child on each arm and the third hanging on his back.
"Chet, we have to get them out of here. Can you cover us?"
"Yeah Johnny, I'll follow right behind you. Let's get moving."
"HT 51 to Engine 51"
"Go ahead HT 51"
"Cap we have 5 victims. No injuries. Smoke inhalation. Chet is going to cover our escape."
"That's clear. Engine 51 to HT 51 B"
"Engine 51 B go ahead."
"HT 51 B. We have John and Chet bringing down the victims. If the fire is out on 4 advance to 5 and take over the line from Chet."
"That's clear. Advancing to 5 now. 36s tagging along to 5"
Chet and Johnny exited the building without incident. Quickly Johnny and Squad 110s crews had the victims taken care of and on their way to the hospital. Johnny remained on scene.
"Good job, John. Grab Chet and head back up to start the overhaul. Be careful. There are reports of soft flooring. The fire is out so let's get this done and get back to quarters."
Chet and Johnny quickly gathered their tools and started back to the building. They were only 15 feet away when the explosion occurred.
Stanley was keeping accountability for his men. 4 men were in side on the 5th floor. 2 were approaching the building. Ladder 10 was set up and running a master stream. It seemed as if everything would go off without a hitch. But that was all about to change.
Stanley was watching Chet and Johnny approach the building when the explosion occurred. Both were picked up and thrown about 20 feet, landing with an audible thud.
Stanley ran to his men. They laid on the ground not moving. Stanley feared what he would find.
Chet laid curled up in a fetal position. His right arm was at an unnatural angle. Johnny laid a few feet away and began to stir.
Oh Spirits, not again. Awareness came to Johnny at the same time as the pain. Johnny shook his head and tried to focus. He saw the fire coming from the building and then the memories came back. "CHET!"
"He's over here John. Just lay still, I'll be there in a moment. Let me take a look at Chet first." Stanley grabbed his HT. "Engine 51 to Command, we have two Code Is. Request additional squad and ambulance. We still have 4 men in the building."
"That's clear 51, LA did you copy."
"LA to Command we copied direct. Additional Ambulances and Squads are being dispatched. ETA 10 minutes."
Johnny became more aware of what was going on. He heard Caps report and knew he needed to help. Slowly he made his way over to Chet. "Cap, can you get our bags. I'll take care of Chet. I'm going to need the splint box as well."
"John, you shouldn't be moving around. Just hold still and we'll get someone to check you both out."
"Cap. I'm okay. Sore but nothing broken. I think I just got the wind knocked out of me. Please, let me take care of Chet. I need to do this."
"Ok John but I want you checked out as well as soon as another squad gets here." Stanley got up to gather the needed equipment. He glanced back at Johnny and felt reassured that at least for the moment he appeared to be doing ok. He truly did not look hurt, more stunned.
Johnny continued to check Chet. "Obvious broken right arm. Head injury, blood on right parietal. No blood from the nose, ears or mouth. Breathing is good. No other obvious fractures. Looking good Chet." Johnny performed a sternal rub and elicited a response from Chet. "That's good Chet. Now come on and wake up for me."
Cap arrived back in time to see Chet respond. "How is he?"
John gave his report and asked for the bio phone. A medic Johnny did not know from 36s arrived. "Can you get me a set of vitals while I contact Rampart." He nodded and did as requested. "Rampart this is Squad 51 do you read?"
John was happy to hear the calming voice of Dr. Brackett. "Go ahead 51."
Johnny gave his report and received orders for the splint and IV. He and Andy, Cap had found out the young man's name, quickly got the treatment underway. The ambulance arrived on scene and Johnny asked Andy to ride in with him. He still had two crew mates that weren't accounted for and he needed to help them.
Johnny was ready to go back in. "Cap, any word from the guys inside?"
"Yes, Jim called out said he wasn't hurt. The others are injured but he didn't think anything was life threatening. We are going to access them with the ladder set up on the north side. We'll get them out. You need to get checked out yourself."
"Cap, I'm fine. I need to do this. I'll get checked out when I get to Rampart. Promise. But, sir, I need to be here."
"You're not hiding anything from me are you? I don't want to risk your life when I have plenty of people to help them."
"Cap, I'm just sore. But I feel fine. Can I go now?" The pleading look in his eyes got to Cap.
"Go. Be careful. We'll talk later."
Johnny made his way to Ladder 10. Brigman was ready to ascend the ladder as Johnny approached.
"I need to get up there. Are you guys ready?"
"Yeah, we're ready. You can start up. I'll follow to help bring them down."
"Sounds like we've got one that will be able to help us. The other three are hurt but I don't know how bad yet."
Quickly they ascended the ladder. Johnny accessed the building and found the men. Marco was holding his ankle. Roy was laying on the floor holding his shoulder. Jim was helping his partner to sit up. Phil was holding his ribs. They all looked pretty good. "Ok guys, we need to get you out of here fast. Jim, let's get you and Phil out of here first."
Johnny and Jim assisted Phil to the window. "Brigman I need you to come in here. We are going to load Jim and Phil onto the ladder. Then I need you to get Marco down. He's got a bad ankle. Other than that he appears to be ok."
With a practiced ease they loaded Jim and Phil on to the ladder. They watched for a moment as the two men descended. Shortly they returned to the ladder with Marco. Brigman stepped out onto the ladder and then Marco was eased out. Again Johnny watched for a moment to make sure the guys were safely descending. He returned to Roy's side and started to get him ready to move.
"Ok Roy. It's your turn. Are you ok to walk?"
"Yeah John. I am. But you're going to have to help me up."
"No problem. Let's get going." He helped Roy up and got him to the window. "Roy, I'm going to get out on the ladder first. Then I'll help lead you down." Roy nodded and when his time came he too climbed onto the ladder.
About half way down John noticed Roy was slowing down. "Roy are you ok?"
"Can you make it?"
"I…I don't think so."
"Alright Roy. Hang tight. I'm going to come up behind you." He ascended the ladder and then climbed beside Roy. "Is anything else hurting? Ribs? Stomach?"
"No just the shoulder."
"You know this might hurt. Do you trust me?"
"With my life." Johnny sighed. The sincerity in Roy's voice made him realize things were getting back to normal. Without another word, Johnny gripped Roy around the waist and loaded him onto his shoulder. Slower now he made his way down the ladder. When he touched ground he was winded and thankful for Brigman coming to help with Roy.
Brigman carried Roy over to 47s medics. Johnny had stayed behind sitting on the running board. Stanley had watched as Roy was brought over and grew concerned when Johnny was not by his side.
Johnny sat on the running board trying to catch his breathe. The muscle spams had not released. He had made it down with Roy but couldn't go any further as his back tightened up. With his head down he didn't see Stanley approaching.
Stanley placed a hand on Johnny's back but pulled his hand away quickly when Johnny pulled away with a hiss of pain.
"John, I thought you said you were alright. What's wrong?"
"I was. Cap I twisted my back when I was getting Roy off the ladder. I just need a moment. Everyone looked alright. Marco's ankle is swollen but I don't think its broken. Phil probably has broken ribs but seemed to be breathing alright. Roy may have a sprained shoulder. It's sore but I didn't see anything that made me think it was broken or dislocated. Cap, could you help me to the ambulance? I'd like to ride in with Roy."
"Sure Johnny. I want you to get checked out. You did a fine job getting everyone out and taking care of Chet. Now it's time for you to be checked out."
"Thanks Cap. I will. I just nee…ugh…need the spasms to stop."
Stanley reached over and helped Johnny up. Slowly they made their way to the ambulance holding Roy. "Cap, can you put me up front. It will be easier for me to get in and out. I don't want Roy to worry but this way I can keep an eye on him."
"Ok John. Easy does it. Let's get you settled and I'll let Tom know you're up here. Call me as soon as you know anything."
"Tom, can you step out here for a minute." Tom complied without question. "John Gage is up front. He doesn't want Roy to worry. He twisted his back getting Roy down off the ladder. Make sure he gets checked out. He was also involved in the explosion that injured Chet Kelley earlier. Take care of them. Their good men, good friends."
"Captain Stanley I'll take care of them. Can you give me a minute to check on Johnny? Just sit with Roy for me. He's resting. I just gave him some morphine so the pain should be about gone."
Hank got into the back of the ambulance as Tom made his way up front.
"John, how are you doing?"
"Tom, it's been a long time. I'm ok. Back hurts, keeps spasming. How's Roy?"
"He'll be fine. You didn't get knocked out earlier did you?"
"No, just got the wind knocked out of me. Sore all over, sure to have a lot of bruises. It's really just my back, knew it as soon as I twisted to lift him off the ladder. Had to get him down though…I'll be ok. It's easing up now that I'm not moving so much."
"Ok John, but as soon as we get to the hospital we're going to get you checked out. I'll call in and let them know that you are on the way. Are you hurt anywhere else?"
"Really, I'm ok. It's just the spasms. Don't call it in. Roy will hear and that won't do him any good."
"Alright John. But I want you to tell me if anything changes. If we have to stop the ambulance then so be it but I don't want you to compromise your health any further. You did an incredible job getting him down the ladder. Now, let us take care of you. Deal?"
"Deal. Let's get going. Don't tell Roy I'm up here. If he ask tell him…tell him I am taking care of someone."
Tom wasn't happy with the turn of events but saw no way of getting around it. The ride to the hospital was quiet. The ambulance driver kept an eye on Johnny and updated Tom. He seemed to be doing alright. When they arrived at the hospital Tom escorted Roy to a room and gave Dr. Morton a report. He then pulled Dixie aside.
"Miss McCall. I have John Gage out in the ambulance. He needs to be seen. But he didn't want it called in because of Roy. I don't think he will be able to walk in here. Can you get a doc to come look at him and I'll try to get him out of the ambulance?"
"Sure, Kel was just getting off but I think he will hold over for Johnny. You go see if you can get him in here and I'll get Kel. How was he hurt?"
"He was knocked down and got the wind knocked out of him in the explosion that hurt Kelly. But he was ok and continued to work. He went up and helped evacuate three injured firefighters, including Roy. When Roy couldn't make it down the ladder, Johnny carried him. He twisted his back and it started spasming. He says it hasn't eased up but doesn't have any other complaints. He was insistent upon not letting Roy know and of riding up front. Capt. Stanley had me look at him before we left. He wanted him checked out and Johnny agreed."
"Go get him and put him in treatment room 4. We will meet you there." Dixie quickly made her way to Kel's office and relayed what she had been told. They met Johnny as he was brought into the treatment room.
Johnny walked with great assistance into the treatment room. His breathing was slow and even. He tried to remain relaxed but the spasms were unrelenting. He looked up into the concerned faces of his friends, Kel and Dixie.
"Couldn't get into the wheel chair. Sorry. I… ah… I'm gonna need help getting up on the table." He looked sheepishly at the ground. He hoped they wouldn't comment on how much pain he was obviously in while Tom was present. He didn't want Tom to feel bad.
"Sure John. Let's get you up here and get you checked out. Anything other than your back bothering you?"
"No. Back is all. Honest."
Once settled and report was given by Tom to Kel it was time to get down to the business of checking out Johnny. Vitals were taken and were reasonable for someone in pain. No other injuries were found. Once it was determined that no other injuries were present Kel gave orders for 2.5 mg of valium and 2 mg of morphine IV push. Johnny felt better just knowing the pain would end soon.
"John it doesn't look like you tore anything but you definitely strained your back. When do you go back to work?"
"We go on three tomorrow. Not scheduled to be back until Saturday."
"Ok. Take it easy for the next couple of days and see me on Friday morning. Then I will release you for work if everything checks out alright. How is everything else going? Do you think you are going to stay at 51s"
The meds were starting to help. The pain had already abated. Johnny looked up and smiled. "I wasn't really sure until just a little while ago. Everything seemed so mixed up. Everyone has been tense and I know I was the cause of it. But then… Chet and I were working side by side and it seemed right. The explosion happened and I didn't know where Roy was… I was worried about him and the others. I knew Chet was ok so I went back to see what I could do. Cap trusted me and my decision to go back. We got everyone out but Roy started having problems on the way down. I asked him if he trusted me. You know it takes a lot of trust to give up your hold on a ladder when you're hurt and relinquish your only safety hold. He told me he trusted me with his life… He really meant it. I could tell. I don't think I will ever forget what has happened but I think I can come to grips with it now knowing he can trust me and I think I can trust him again."
Kel and Dix stood silently listening. When Johnny finally finished Kel spoke. "That's real good to hear John. I know this is only the first step but sometimes you have to give people a chance."
Johnny drifted off to sleep. The drugs finally taking full affect. As Kel looked on he was happy to see his friend sleep peacefully with a smile on his face. He know it wouldn't be long before Hank would be there. With four of his men in the hospital there was no doubt Hank Stanley would be there as soon as he possibly could to check on his family.
45 minutes after the last of his men arrived at Rampart Hank Stanley entered the ER. Kel had waited and gotten updates on all of 51s men. Everyone was stable and would be back to work within a few weeks. Chet would be out 6 weeks with his broken arm. Marco and Roy would be out a couple of weeks for their sprained ankle and shoulder, respectively. Johnny was resting comfortably and could leave as soon as he got a ride.
Hank was happy to hear all of his men were doing so well. He agreed to come back and pick Johnny up on his way home. The chief had called in replacements for everyone including Mike and himself. They were going to have to take the truck back to the engine house and would be back as soon as possible. Joanne was on her way to pick up Roy. Marco's brother was on his way to take Marco home. Mike would take Chet home. Johnny was going to go home with Hank. He just didn't know it yet.
Hank entered the treatment room and thought Johnny was asleep. When the door closed, Johnny turned to look at who had entered. He smiled at Hank and was glad to finally feel better.
"John, how are you doing?"
"Much better Cap. I'm sore don't get me wrong. But I haven't felt this good in a long time. Thank you for pushing me to come back to 51."
Hank wasn't sure what Johnny was talking about but he went on to explain himself. Hank was happy to see his family healing. Sore, wounded but healing in the ways that truly counted.
"How are Roy, Marco and Chet?"
"Everyone is doing fine. They are all waiting to be picked up. John, Kel doesn't want you going home alone and with Roy being injured he doesn't want you going home with him. He's concerned that you will push yourself to help him and end up injuring yourself. I have already talked with Em and it's been decided that you are going to come home with me. Unless you object and then you will be going home with Kel. But you need to let us help you. So what do you say?"
"Are you sure I'm not putting you out at all? I could go with Kel if it would be easier on you and Em. He can keep an eye on me if that's what you want."
"We are more than happy to have you. Em was hoping you wouldn't turn us down. I will need to get b ack to the barn and get my car, I can pick you up in say an hour."
"Couldn't I just ride back with you now. I would be able to get my stuff out of my locker."
"I'll check with Kel but I don't have a problem with it."
And that was what happened. John, Mike and Hank returned to the engine house. The others were picked up by their families and everyone was home safe and sound.
It took 6 week before everyone was able to return to work. The men were slowly returning and with their return came a return to normalcy. On their first days off they scheduled a bar b que at Hank's. All of the guys from 51 were present as were Dixie and Kel. Things were finally right.
Johnny stood to give a toast. "Everyone could I have your attention for a moment." Chet was just about to make a smart remark until he saw the serious look on Johnny's face. "I…I just wanted to say a couple of things to all of you. If you could bare with me for a moment." He paused and a pin dropping could have been heard. Johnny was not one known for speeches unless he was ranting. But never serious speeches. The waited patiently for him to continue.
"It's been a rough few months for all of us and I wanted to take a moment to thank you. I know I… I can talk a lot without really saying anything but I… When I went camping with Kel I did a lot of thinking and talked with him more than any of you. I told him about losing my family when I was just a kid. But I have a new family now. Maybe it's not one of blood but one of loyalty, trust and friendship. Blood relative are stuck with you because you are born into their clan. But all of you have become family to me. We have spilled blood for each other and you have stood by me when I needed you the most. I want to thank you. You are truly my family. And I thank God and the Spirits for sending you into my life."
No one knew what to say. They each got up and formed a circle around their friend, their brother.