Author's note: Thanks to my Beta Readers, Mary (aka Maryilee), and Keith Pelletier, and to Patricia Embury for answering some specific medical questions. Another thanks to MJ for editing and originally posting my first Fanfic! Special thanks to Audrey for giving this story another home at .com/
Disclaimer: Emergency! was a great show, and I grew up watching it in its original run. It later inspired me to become a volunteer EMT with our local fire department. However, I did not invent it and I don't own the copyright. This is purely for fun!
This had not been a typical Friday night for Johnny, but he had to admit he had enjoyed himself. He stared into the glowing embers in the fireplace for another minute, and then carefully eased his way out of Roy's favorite recliner. He didn't want to wake Jennifer, who lay sound asleep in his arms despite her best intentions to stay awake until her parents got home. He stood up stiffly, and then carefully laid the three-year old on to her sleeping bag next to her brother.
Chris had already fallen asleep, after vowing to read in his sleeping bag with a flashlight all night long. They were, after all, "camping out," even if it was just in the Desoto's living room. The evidence littered the room: popcorn on the floor, an empty bag of marshmallows on the hearth, and a fresh stain on the carpet where Johnny had tried to mop up Jennifer's spilled hot chocolate. As Johnny tucked her in, he placed her favorite blanket against her cheek, just like she likes it, he thought fondly. He cautiously reached into Chris' sleeping bag and retrieved the open library book about dinosaurs and the dimming flashlight.
Man, I love these kids. He had known Chris since he was a toddler, and Jennifer since the day she was born. He couldn't imagine feeling a closer bond to any children, other than his own some day -- maybe. Roy is one lucky guy.
Johnny was cleaning up the "camping" mess when he heard the rattle of keys at the front door. He looked up at the clock and saw that it was almost midnight. He must have been asleep longer than he had realized. Oh ,well. He considered it a victory just to have both kids asleep when their parents got home! The mess, well…
"How was the big night out?" he whispered to Roy and Joanne as they quietly slipped into the house. The last thing they wanted to do was wake up the kids. Chris would sleep through anything, but Jennifer was a notoriously light sleeper.
"Our night was nearly perfect," Joanne said with a sidelong glance at Roy.
Roy shifted his weight from one foot to the other, and looked slightly uncomfortable. "Come on, Joanne, you don't need to tell him."
"Johnny, your partner here must have checked his watch twenty times tonight, thinking we should call and check on you and the kids!"
Johnny smirked at Roy's embarrassment. "Roy, I'm hurt," he said, trying to sound offended, but then he chuckled. "Tell me, who were you worried about, me or the kids? We had a great time 'camping out,' although I admit I had to talk Chris out of actually trying to pitch your tent in the living room. I'll have you know that Jennifer is quite the little camper, too, not to be out-done by her big brother. I think he fell asleep before she did."
Joanne resumed, "Anyway, Johnny, I kept telling Roy that if you two trust each other with your lives everyday on the job, then we can certainly trust you to watch our two children for a few hours!"
Johnny laughed, and then became more serious. "To be honest with you, I don't know how you ever let them out of your sight without going crazy. I watch them sleeping there and… well, you know." Johnny cleared his throat, surprised at the sudden onslaught of sentimentality. Changing the subject, he sheepishly looked at Joanne, "Um, I am sorry about the mess, Joanne – you don't even want to see their bedrooms." Then he brightened. "The good news is that I think they might sleep in for you in the morning."
"Jenny's usually up at the crack of dawn," Joanne mused, thinking how great, and strange, it would be to actually sleep in on a Saturday, or any day for that matter.
"Listen, I'm glad you two had a good time – for an old married couple. I'll let you enjoy the rest of your evening now." Johnny grabbed his coat, wallet, and keys and headed toward the door. "See you in a couple days, partner. I'm going camping outside tomorrow."
Roy clapped him on the back, "Thanks again, Johnny. Enjoy the days off. See you next shift."
They watched their friend hop into his Land Rover and back out of the driveway. The taillights slowly disappeared down the street. Roy held his wife in a warm embrace, and let out a contented sigh. They hadn't had a nice evening out, alone, in a long time. Together they gazed at their children sleeping peacefully. Neither needed to say a word.
Two uneventful days later found the partners back at work. Since it was Roy's turn to cook, dinner was going to be something simple -- hamburgers. Roy noticed Johnny frowning in thought as he set the table. Johnny had seemed preoccupied at times during the day, but Roy had not pressed the issue. His years working with Johnny had taught Roy to back up a step when it came to Johnny's "moods" and "cause of the day," for his own sanity. As close as the two partners were, Johnny's temperament could be exhausting, to say the least. Roy knew that whatever was bothering the younger man would come out eventually, and that then he'd probably be wishing it hadn't. His thoughts were prophetic.
Johnny set the last fork on the table, pulled a chair out, and sat down heavily. "Roy, I've been thinking…" John started, right as Chet entered the room.
"That is big news! Careful you don't strain something," Chet quipped, not able to pass up such an open invitation for insult. "Good thing we have a paramedic around, just in case."
Johnny shot Chet a glare, then he directed his gaze back at a tired-looking Roy.
Oh boy, here it comes, Roy thought as he flipped the burgers over in the pan.
"Roy, you consider yourself a lucky man, right? I mean, you're happily married, you have two terrific, healthy kids, you've got a great job, not to mention a great partner," he added with a crooked grin. "You consider yourself pretty lucky, don't you?"
"Yeah…" Roy agreed skeptically, not sure where this newest topic of Johnny's might head.
"Well," continued Johnny, "isn't it funny that the word 'lucky' can mean different things depending on what you're talking about?"
"I'm not sure what you're getting at," Roy admitted, knowing he might regret making the admission.
"Think about it, Roy. The word 'lucky' can mean...well, 'fortunate' like you are – some might even say, 'blessed,' -- but the word can also imply that you're just...well, 'lucky.' You know what I mean?"
Marco looked up from the magazine he was thumbing through and joined in, "You mean, 'lucky', like things in your life just happening by chance?"
"Exactly. That's what I said. I mean, think about it, Roy. You can't say it was just 'luck' that you married Joanne and had two great kids, but we still say you're 'lucky,' right? You see what I mean?"
"Hmm, I never thought about it quite so much. Why the sudden interest in philosophy, Johnny?"
"Don't sound so surprised. I'm a deep thinker, Roy. I'm a deep thinker."
Chet snorted. "Something sure is getting deep all right." He plopped down on the couch beside Henry and started petting the lethargic basset hound's ears. "Isn't that right, Henry?"
Marco stifled a laugh and Mike tried to hide his amusement behind the sports' section of the newspaper. Marco got up and grabbed a soda from the refrigerator and joined Johnny at the table.
Johnny continued a little louder, ignoring Chet as much as possible. "In case anyone is interested -- I was just trying to decide if I'm lucky or not. Do I have good luck? Or do I have bad luck? Or does it even make any difference?"
Roy sighed. It was definitely going to be a long evening. He found himself almost wishing they would get another run. A cat up a tree would be perfect; just not a black cat… not with Johnny on a "luck" kick! He tried to pay attention.
"I don't believe in luck, myself," Marco offered.
Captain Stanley entered the room to see how dinner was shaping up. "Ah, smells good, Roy." No secret ingredients, and not fish.
Roy took the opportunity to try to shift the focus over to the captain. "How 'bout you, Cap? You've been in this business the longest… would you say Johnny is lucky or unlucky?"
"Yeah, Cap," Johnny interjected. "I've had more than my share of freak accidents, wouldn't you say? But it's not like I'm careless or anything --"
"Disaster magnet," Chet muttered under his breath.
"Disaster magnet? What's that supposed to mean, Kelly?" Johnny was indignant. He took a deep breath, regained some composure, and then he turned his attention back to his captain. "Like I was saying, Cap, am I unlucky because I've had a few accidents? I mean, the rattlesnake, the hit-and-run, the cave-in, and the monkey virus… Need I go on?" Exasperated, he added, "And I'm not even 30 yet! Wouldn't you call that bad luck?"
Cap opened his mouth to respond, but Johnny cut him off as he continued his one-man debate.
"Or, am I really a lucky guy – because I've survived all those accidents without any permanent damage? Well, true, I don't have a spleen any more, but… I'm mean, the doctors always tell me how 'lucky' I am. You know, 'Nine lives' and all that."
Captain Stanley waited a few seconds this time before attempting to speak. "You want to know what I think? I think 'luck' is just an expression. I like to think life isn't based on luck, John."
"That's all I'm trying to figure out," John conceded, sounding slightly defeated.
Chet couldn't resist the chance for a dig, "I'll tell you what kind of luck Gage, there, has. DUMB luck!"
Johnny gave Chet his infamous "pained" look, and the words, "Shut up, Chet!" died on his lips as Mike Stoker surprised everyone with actual commentary.
"I don't think luck has anything to do with it, Johnny. Maybe everything happens for a reason, and sets off a chain reaction we never see." All the guys stared at him. Suddenly self-conscious, he concluded, "Just a thought," and he went back to reading the newspaper.
Marco nodded, and then added, "I know I couldn't do this job if I thought we all depended on luck." He absently fingered the St. Christopher medal he wore on the chain around his neck.
Johnny opened his mouth to make another point when the klaxons sounded. He helped Roy shut off all the burners as they listened.
"Station 51, Station 36, Engine 110. Structure fire. 2114 Edgemont. 2-1-1-4 Edgemont. Cross street, Pearson, time out seventeen-fifty-seven."
Cap calmly responded, "Station 51, KMG 365."
Station 51 arrived at the scene first. Smoke hung in the air as they entered the residential neighborhood. Neighbors were beginning to gather across the street from the burning home, exchanging worried looks. An orange glow was occasionally visible behind the smoke that billowed out of a broken window in the daylight basement.
As the engine rolled to a stop, an elderly man rushed up, waving his arms and shouting hysterically, "My neighbors -- I think they're still in there! I called when I looked out and saw all the smoke coming out the laundry room window, and nobody has seen them come out."
Captain Stanley confidently issued assignments to his crew. "Masks and tanks. Kelly and Lopez – grab an inch and a half and go inside and cover that northeast corner of the lower level. Gage, Desoto, over here! We have possible victims." He turned to the anxious man. "Sir, do you live next door?"
"Yes! Right there." He pointed to the house on the corner. "I saw Scott and Cheri go in a couple hours ago, and their car is still in the driveway! They must still be in there! I don't see them anywhere," the man panted, obviously very distressed. "They've been through so much… you've got to get them out of there! Things were finally getting better… You've got to help them. Please hurry!"
"Okay, sir, we're sending in some men. I want you to try to calm down. Is it just the two of them?"
"Oh ,God… and maybe their niece! She's over there all the time… just a kid! I saw her over there earlier. I don't know! Please," he pleaded.
The captain placed his hand on the man's shoulder reassuringly and guided him away from the engine. "We'll do everything we can, sir. Now, please go across the street and wait over there, where you'll be safe. We'll do everything we can."
Reluctantly, the man crossed the street and joined the other neighbors who had gathered to watch, their shock and concern evident.
Hank turned his attention to the two paramedics. "You guys go in through the front door and make a quick sweep, starting with the lower level. We could have two, possibly three, victims. One might be a child – their niece. Kelly and Lopez are in there and they'll buy you as much time as they can, but you know these older homes can go fast. Go." He then updated L.A. "L.A., Engine 51. We have a two-story split-level dwelling, heavy smoke showing. Engine 110, hit the hydrant at the corner of Pearson and Edgemont and supply Engine 51. Engine 36, what is your status?"
Johnny and Roy finished securing their air packs, tightened the chinstraps on their helmets, and headed in the front door. They went down the half flight of stairs to the daylight basement of the split-level home. They systematically checked each room, starting in the back. They were relieved when they didn't find any victims in the back rooms where the fire had started, and they worked their way forward. Thick, black smoke made it difficult to see up the hall. They negotiated the way upstairs and again started methodically searching the back rooms. The invasive smoke billowed up through the vents.
Outside, a bewildered couple approached the scene, their eyes wide with disbelief and alarm as they stared at their fire devouring their home. The woman looked about seven months pregnant, and she stood with her mouth open, her eyes fixed on the sight before her.
Without thinking, the man started to sprint toward the front door. "Oh, my God…. our house!" He heard his wife shout his name, and he stopped when he felt Captain Stanley's firm grip on his arm.
"Whoa, there, let us do our work. Are you the owners of the house?"
The man's face conveyed a mixture of emotions: helplessness, anger, shock. He struggled as the reality sunk in, his response delayed, "We used to be," he answered, stunned.
"Is there anyone in the house?" the captain demanded.
"Just the two of us," the man echoed, pulling his wife closer, protectively. Tears streamed down her face.
"We had just finished the baby's room. What on earth happened? How could this happen?" the woman asked, dazed.
"We probably won't know for a while." Cap asked again, "You're absolutely sure there was no one inside the home, correct? Your neighbor mentioned a niece?"
"No. We just walked her home. We weren't even gone that long! We all came outside when we heard the sirens. I can't believe this. Everything is gone. Everything."
"Be glad you're both safe." Captain Stanley held his radio up and issued a new set of commands.
Roy heard the handi-talkie squawk to life. He listened as Cap's voice came across. "Interior crews, Engine 51, evacuate the structure. Repeat: Evacuate the structure. Engine 110, sound evacuation signal. Kelly and Lopez head out, and cover the east corner." Their priority now was containment; they needed to prevent the spread of the fire to the neighboring homes.
Johnny lifted his head at Roy's call. He couldn't make out the details of his partner's muffled words under the mask, but after working together so many years, Roy's body language was clear as he waved that they were being called out. Johnny knew not to question the order; it meant that either the people had been found or the house had become dangerously unstable. They heard the engines sound three long blasts signaling the evacuation. Roy headed down the short flight of stairs, and Johnny started to follow him out.
As Johnny walked toward the stairway, he saw the floor begin to sag. Come on…two more yards. Despite his best efforts to defy the laws of physics, the spongy floor disintegrated under his feet. He toppled backwards, his air tank slamming into his back as it hung up momentarily on the flooring, knocking the wind out of him. As he slipped through the hole further, the ragged boards scraped against the left side of his neck, then his jaw, shoving his air mask painfully up and to the side. He grabbed at the edges of the rent in the floor desperately, hoping to pull himself back up, but it merely slowed his rapid descent through the weakened floor. He felt a sickening snap in his right leg as he landed, then the explosion of pain left him drowning in blackness.
Chet and Marco worked their way forward, through the oppressive smoke toward the stairway to the front entry, exiting right behind Roy. Visibility was practically zero. They wouldn't know until later that Johnny lay helpless just a few yards away, as the house continued to burn.
Roy cleared the building and headed over to his captain to shift his role from paramedic to firefighter. He saw Chet and Marco come out and head around the side of the house, but no Johnny. Roy spun around, checking the area for any sign of Johnny. He felt a sudden wave of panic.
He heard the Cap speak into his radio, "Engine 36, bring up another inch-and-a-half and assist Engine 51's crew." He turned to Roy, "Desoto, you and Gage grab an inch-and-a-half and join Lopez and Kelly on that east side. The fire has broken through to the second floor and it's moving forward. Desoto, where's Gage?"
"Cap, he hasn't come out yet. He was right behind me." Roy instinctively started toward the house to go after his partner.
"DESOTO! Hold it, pal!" Cap shouted.
"Roy, Squad 36 is just pulling up. Let me get you some help or they'll be in there looking for two downed paramedics. The whole second floor has gotten involved."
Roy stared at the house with sick dread, willing Johnny to come out. Come on, partner. Come on...
Johnny felt a soft cool hand touch his face lightly. He gradually came back to awareness, and tried to make sense of his situation, but his foggy mind wouldn't cooperate. I'll just rest here a little longer, he told himself. He allowed himself to drift.
The small hand patted his face again. "Uhn… wha..." he groaned, wishing he would stop spinning. Johnny forced his eyes open slightly, and reality started creeping back. With awareness came the pain. His back and leg felt like they were on fire, and each breath brought fresh agony. Ribs again… figures, dammit. He could hear nothing but the roar of the fire… or was the roar coming from inside his head? It would just be easier to let go… rest… He felt the pat on his face a third time and realized that his eyes had closed. Don't do this, Gage, he thought, concentrating on the touch of the hand. He blinked his heavy eyelids slowly, and focused on the face that hovered inches from his own. He began to cough as the acrid smoke assaulted his throat and nose. He automatically repositioned his air mask and then stared at the most beautiful face he had ever seen in his life.
Deep brown eyes peered into his, and a small child's voice innocently asked, "Are you a real fireman? I found your fire hat." She smiled at him proudly, her eyes twinkling, quite oblivious to the looming threat of the fire. "It was on the floor." She placed the large helmet on her head and pointed to the floor. "Right there!"
John struggled to sit up, disjointed details of his situation coming back to him, but his oxygen tank held him down. In a panic, he surveyed the room, spotting the dim hole in the ceiling above him through the billowing black smoke. He realized the fire had gotten into the space between the two floors.
Typical, he thought, remembering his fall, if there's a hole to be made, my foot is right there volunteering… Man, I've got to get us out of here. Roy had the handi-talkie, so Johnny couldn't radio for help. He suddenly realized that he didn't know for sure if Roy had made it out.
Frustrated and in pain, his confused mind raced. He realized the extreme danger that both he and this little girl were in. She can't be more than three...about Jennifer's age. John fought the blackness at the edge of his vision, which threatened to take over his senses. He shook his head, trying to clear his mind. Get her out of here, his mind screamed.
The little girl sat on her knees at Johnny's side. Her hands rested on his turnout coat, and she continued to stare at him, strangely unhurt and unafraid. She didn't even seem affected by the smoke.
"Do you drive the fire truck?" she asked expectantly. Her high-pitched voice helped him focus on what he had to do.
Johnny concentrated. Although it was painful to breathe already, he pulled his air mask off so the little girl could hear him better. The smoke immediately stung his nose and throat with a vengeance. "My name's…Johnny… I am a real…. fire fighter… going to get you…out of here. What's --" He stopped short and squeezed his eyes shut, trying to block out the pain in his leg as it started to spasm. Oh, man… Breathe… He inhaled more of the oxygen mixture from his mask, which helped. "What's your name… sweetheart?"
"Katie." She watched him. "You have an owie," she commented, gently touching the blood on the left side of his jaw.
"Don't you… worry… about that… honey." He didn't have the strength to sit up with the heavy air-pack strapped to him, so after taking another breath of the clean air from the mask, he laboriously eased his way out of his bulky coat, leaving it and the air tank under him. A wave of nausea coursed through him as more stabbing pain ripped through his body. He gasped, which brought on painful coughing. The smoke was getting thicker, and it burned his throat. He concentrated on the tunnel vision that threatened to close in on him, determined not to lose consciousness. He motioned her over so that he could give her some air, but she ignored him and stood up, holding the helmet on her head with both hands.
"Come play with me!" Katie called as she scampered to the doorway and disappeared around the corner, into the smoky blackness of the hall. "Come play!"
Johnny's heart pounded. He tried to call out to her, to call her back, but his voice was nothing more than a wheeze.
"Come on, Johnny!"
The sound of Katie's voice helped him fight his exhaustion and pain, but also fueled the rising fear he was trying to suppress. Hold it together, Gage… You can lose it later. He could feel his heart racing, his breath coming in shorter gasps. Breathe. Johnny tried to call out to her one more time but the attempt just triggered uncontrollable coughing. He realized Katie couldn't possibly hear him and that he would have to go after her. He closed his eyes momentarily, steeling himself to move, knowing it was now or never. He took a few more breaths of air from his mask. A little straight O2 would be real nice about now. He could see an orange glow through the hole above, and flames taunted him. The fire was winning. He knew the rest of the ceiling wouldn't hold forever. Now or never is right.
Johnny gritted his teeth and eventually got his fingertips around an edge of the doorframe. With a much-needed surge of adrenaline, he inched his way out of the room, pushing with his good leg. It felt like his other leg was being torn off. He could feel himself dripping with sweat, his breaths coming in gasps mixed with coughing. Keep going… keep going. Finally in the hallway, he leaned against the wall, readying himself to go just a little farther. His mind became fully absorbed with the task of locating the little girl. Just get her out of here in one piece, Gage.
Katie's voice drove him. "Come to my room! See my toys!" she beckoned, her voice somehow floating over the chaos around him. Johnny heard a groan from above, followed by a thunderous noise, and Johnny felt himself propelled across the hall as the room behind him practically exploded with the force of the upper level crashing down.
The room he had just exited was gone. His whole body shook from the exertion and the knowledge that he had missed being crushed by mere seconds. He felt, rather than saw, a doorway to his right, and he clung to the frame. He bit into his lip as he struggled to pull himself to a sitting position in the doorway. Tears of pain mixed with his sweat as he tried to force the pain back. His hand came in contact with something metal. Relief washed over him briefly when he saw his helmet, and heard Katie's voice closer. He blinked the sweat from his eyes and squinted through the murky haze. He saw her half way between the door and the window of her bedroom, playing with a soft blue and green stuffed rabbit. If I can just get over to that window…
"Honey… " he rasped, coughing.
She jumped up happily and approached him. "Want to play with my rabbit? See? He can dance," she sang sweetly as she demonstrated, swinging her toy by his arms.
Johnny produced a wan smile, which disappeared as his world went in to slow motion. The roar in his ears intensified and his field of vision constricted rapidly. His body was shutting down, and he realized he wasn't going to stay conscious long enough to make any difference.
This little angel wasn't going to survive.
His energy reserves were gone. His luck had run out. He leaned his back against the wall, trying to steady himself as the room spun wildly. He was going to fail her. In a final effort, Johnny blindly reached out and pulled the little girl close as he slowly sank the rest of the way to the floor. He instinctively curled up around her, hoping to at least protect her with his body and provide her some small feeling of comfort. Even in his own terror, his heart ached at the thought of her feeling scared. Johnny felt her snuggle into his arms… just like Jennifer… He choked back a sob as he placed his helmet back on her head, and then he surrendered to the merciful darkness -- not hearing the voices urgently calling his name.