The final chapter-many, many thanks to all those who have read and reviewed. I have one more story to finish posting, Disbelief, and then all my Emergency stories will be listed here. I don't plan on writing anymore Emergency, but I'm still working on new stories in other fandoms. Thanks again for all the support.
Through Dixie's influence, Johnny's room at Rampart was assured complete privacy, with only a push on the call button bringing anyone in. The door was closed, and inside Johnny sat up in his bed, facing his partner and his psychiatrist.
Johnny had requested that Roy be allowed to stay, and Dr. Gould had readily agreed, recognizing the close bond between the men. He also knew that Johnny would need all the support he could get.
"John, the time has come. You must be completely open and honest, and while this will be painful, the result will allow you to finally heal. Are you ready?"
Johnny swallowed. "I guess," he said.
Dr. Gould leaned forward. "Go back to the accident. I know that you believe that you, at least indirectly, caused it because of your pressuring of the woman to drive faster. We have already addressed part of that issue. What we need to do now is to look at the little girl." Gould paused, noticing Johnny's immediate tension.
Roy watched, transfixed. Gould had asked him to sit near Johnny, to the side of the bed out of the direct line of vision. There, he was close enough to touch his friend without interfering in the flow of memories.
"The little girl," Gould continued. "You have said that she was already dead when you got to her. I asked you before how she died, and you didn't give me a direct answer. Today is the time when you face what happened to her." He sat back, waiting for Johnny to begin.
Her face appeared before him, smiling gently, golden hair waving as though caught in a light breeze. He blinked hard, but the face remained, and he prepared himself for the horrific transformation.
"I see her," he whispered, his eyes flooding with moisture. "She's beautiful, but she's going to change."
"Why does she change, John?" Gould inquired, his voice barely audible.
"Because…of what I did to her." Johnny choked back a sob. "She shouldn't have died."
"How does she change?"
Johnny felt the first tears slip, and he quickly swiped them away. "Blood. Everywhere. Her head…her head…oh God…" He stopped, unable to speak for several moments. Gould waited, watching as Roy silently held a box of tissue toward his friend. Johnny pulled out a handful and wiped his face.
"What happened at the accident, John? You said before that you tried to help the girl, but she was already dead. What happened when you tried to help her?"
Johnny lowered his hands from his face. "I can't—"
"Yes, John. You must remember. This is the only way you can heal."
"Doc, please—" He again wiped his face, his breathing rate increasing as he felt a growing panic. "I can't do this!"
"Tell me, John. You can do it. What happened when you tried to help her?"
Johnny glanced at Roy, who had moved closer to his bed in his concern. "Roy," he gasped, having difficulty catching his breath.
Roy reached out to touch his arm. "Slow your breathing down, Johnny. You're hyperventilating. Take deep, slow breaths."
Johnny tried to accommodate his partner, but suddenly the vision of the girl forced its way into his consciousness, and he was assaulted by a bath of blood.
"No!" he cried, involuntarily flinching backward with his hands raised. "I'm sorry! Please…"
"What happened to the girl, John?" Gould broke in relentlessly. "What did you see?"
Roy stood up, half expecting Johnny to pass out from lack of oxygen. "Johnny, breathe! Come on, now. Take deep breaths." He turned to Dr. Gould. "We need to stop this. He can't handle it."
Gould frowned. "Roy, he needs to face it. I know it's difficult, but he's never going to recover if we don't go through this."
As the men spoke, Johnny managed to calm himself a bit, and he placed his hand on Roy's arm.
"It's okay," he said breathlessly. "Just give me a minute."
"Take your time," Roy told him. "Everything's okay."
The trio sat for perhaps five minutes, Gould unobtrusively watching his patient, Roy also trying to observe without being obvious, and Johnny staring down at his hands, his chest still heaving, his eyes still filling with tears. It was Johnny who signaled a return to the session by sighing heavily.
"Ready, John?" Gould asked.
"No," Johnny replied, but his expression indicated that he knew he had to continue.
"Okay, now let's go back to the girl. You said she was bloody. Was she thrown from the vehicle?"
A sharp intake of breath indicated Johnny's torment. "N-not exactly," he stammered.
Gould pursed his lips as a sudden scenario presented itself. "The tin that flew from the truck. Did it hit the little girl?"
Johnny gasped. "I can't…Doc, this is so hard."
"I know it is, but you have to go through it. You have to face what happened. Did the tin hit the girl?"
One sob broke from Johnny's throat. "Yes," he whispered.
"Did the tin mutilate her?"
"Yes…" Johnny answered automatically, not bothering to staunch the tears.
"Was she decapitated, John?" Gould asked softly.
Johnny nodded, his shoulders shaking.
"And you tried to help her?"
"I didn't know…what had happened. I couldn't see…" Johnny spoke through ever increasing sobs. "I thought…I could help her…I didn't know…"
He stopped, grabbing more tissue, but Gould pushed further.
"So then what happened? After you found out she was decapitated?"
Johnny stared at him, then shook his head. "No…" he whimpered.
"You're almost there, John. What happened next?"
"Doc, I can't do this!"
"Face it, John! You're strong enough to get through this, and we're here for you."
Johnny took a deep, shuddering breath. "I…kinda…lost it. I fell…against the car."
Johnny covered his face with his hands. "Her head…oh God! It was under the car! I didn't know! I didn't know it was there! I touched it! I didn't know!" He collapsed, sobbing uncontrollably, and Roy, almost as overwhelmed, stood next to him, his own eyes tearing, his arm laid across Johnny's shoulders. Dr. Gould also stood and approached Johnny.
"It's okay, John," he said. "You've done it. You've got it all out. I know it hurts, but now you control the dreams. You control the memories. Now that you have faced your nightmares, you can work on understanding that the accident wasn't your fault."
Johnny slowly managed to compose himself, and after several minutes he looked up. "But…I couldn't help her…"
"You tried, though," Gould said, leaning forward in his chair. "You gave your best effort. You did everything you could to help her, and if she had had any chance at all, you would have been a part of her rescue. But it just wasn't meant to be. Sometimes we just have to accept that."
Johnny pulled the last of the tissue from the box. "I guess…I think I understand," he whispered hoarsely.
Gould patted him on the shoulder. "That's the beginning, John. Now that you've faced the accident and the aftermath, you can work on your understanding of the whole picture. You've been trying to swim upstream against the memories, but now you can swim with the flow. We'll continue to meet, but once your hip heals up, I think you'll be back to work."
Johnny caught Roy's eye, and his partner's encouraging smile seemed to herald the beginning of new healing. He smiled through his tears. "That sounds real good, Doc. Real good."
Johnny stood in the shower, his face raised to the warm water pelting his skin, and for the first time no unbidden image of a bloodied girl appeared.
He opened his eyes and looked down at his healing body, blotched purple and yellow. He touched the scar in his groin where his blood had spurted uncontrollably. He shifted his weight and felt a twinge from his hip.
And he smiled.
Roy had called last night, inadvertently awakening his friend who had dozed off on the couch. They had chatted about incidentals for a few minutes, and then Roy had zeroed into the purpose of his call.
"Tomorrow it is then," he had said.
"It'll be okay, you know."
"The guys are looking forward to seeing you."
Johnny had sighed through his smile then. "Roy, I'm okay. Really. It'll be good to be at the station again, if only for a visit."
"Yeah. Well, I'll be by to pick you up. Ready for those early hours again?"
"No, but I'll be waiting."
He turned off the water and stepped out of the tub. His body still ached as he leaned and bent to dry off, but each day was better. He yawned. A nightmare had awakened him, and he'd taken a while to drift back to sleep. He hadn't had a nightmare for three days, so he figured the stress of returning to the station had brought it on.
Although he wasn't officially returning to work for another week or two, he had requested permission to stay at the station for the shift. Kind of getting back in the saddle before he really needed to. Besides, he was about to go crazy just sitting in the apartment with nothing to do but stare at the TV. At least at the station he could share in the camaraderie of his friends. And Roy could always use some help with the log if they could beat Brice to it. He smiled. Even Brice would be good therapy for him.
After dressing, he headed for the kitchen. The coffeepot stood ready; he'd turned it on before his shower. Coffee and toast with a little butter awaited him, along with a vitamin. The vomiting had basically stopped, but he was still plagued by recurring nausea. A bland diet with vitamins was all he could handle for now, but he was beginning to be tempted by spicier offerings. Soon enough.
He'd just finished his toast when he heard Roy's knock. He went to the door, limping slightly as he made his way through the living room.
Roy came in and grinned at his partner. "You look good! No more cane?"
Johnny held up his arms. "Nope. I can walk with the best of 'em now. Well," he allowed as his balance wavered, "almost the best."
The senior paramedic shook his head. "It's amazing," he said somberly. "I mean, if you'd asked me a month ago…well, I don't even want to go back. But it is amazing."
Johnny looked at him. "Roy, I wake up every morning with that very same thought. It's hard to believe that I almost…" He cut himself off, blinking and swallowing. "Well, you know," he said, his voice thick.
"I do." Roy patted his friend on the shoulder. "Come on, partner. Time to go to work!"
"You bet, pally!" They both paused awkwardly, then left the apartment.
Three days after Johnny's return to work, the station was called out for an accident on the 405. Roy and Cap both tensed when they heard the location, and Johnny hesitated ever so slightly before climbing into the squad. The accident involved two cars, one of which lay upside down. Vince met the paramedics.
"They were speeding," he said, regret in his voice. "No one survived in this car," he went on, gesturing to the upturned car. "But the other—"
Johnny didn't wait for more. He sprinted to the crushed vehicle, his heart pounding, his mouth dry. He heard his own voice whispering, let me help someone…let me help someone…please…
An elderly woman sat in the driver's seat, a seat belt across her lap. She turned to Johnny, her eyes wide with fear.
"My granddaughter," she cried, fluttering her hands in the direction of a girl in the seat next to her. "She's bleeding! Help her!"
Johnny felt his stomach lurch. A young girl, slumped unconscious, her blond hair stained with blood that oozed from a large laceration on the side of her head.
She's just like the other girl…the other girl…
"Johnny?" Roy's voice broke through his thoughts like a beacon of sanity. "You okay?"
Johnny looked up to see his friend's face searching his own. I won't let him down. "Yeah, I've got her." He reached through the window and probed the girl's neck.
"She's got a pulse!" The jubilation in his voice caught Roy's attention, and he met his partner's brief smile. "She's alive," Johnny said, and the partners both knew that the road to recovery had just surmounted its first hill.