Hitting almost every light as it turned green, Roy thought he set a new record for getting to Rampart from the station. He pulled into the first open parking space he found in the visitors' lot and sprinted into the hospital.
Conversing near the nurses' station, Dr. Brackett and Dr. Early glanced up as Roy rushed in.
"Hey Roy, where's the fire?" Early asked with genial humor.
"I'm late. I was supposed to be here two hours ago," he explained, catching his breath.
"I'm sure John will understand," Joe said kindly. Roy appreciated the thought but knew it wouldn't be true.
"How is he doing today, doc?"
Brackett smiled. "Remarkably well. Very un-Johnnylike."
The past five days had flown by for Roy as he lived in a continual loop between the hospital, work, and home. As Dixie had predicted, John had slept through the day after the accident, but Roy still sat by his side, watching his partner sleep, absently looking at some out-of-date magazines, and generally processing what had happened. It wasn't until later that evening that John gradually returned to consciousness.
"Dark," John had murmured. "Too dark."
Roy had leaned over the small bedside table and turned the lamp on its lowest setting.
John's mouth was so dry his tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth. Roy quickly had gotten got him a drink of water.
"I'm right here."
"Thanks…" John was back asleep.
Today, as Roy rushed passed Dixie in the hall outside John's room, she raised a perfectly arched eyebrow at him.
"He was expecting you this morning," she said quietly.
Roy entered the sick room noiselessly. The curtains were still drawn, but sunshine outlined the edges casting odd streaks of light across the bed. In the silence, Roy could hear John's steady but still rough breathing.
"Hey," Roy said a little out of breath himself.
Johnny regarded his partner stonily. "Hey."
"How are you doing?"
"OK. Are you just going to stand there or are you coming in?" John asked sullenly.
"I'm coming in," Roy answered.
His unhappiness on full display, John asked, "Why weren't you here this morning?"
The visitor's chair squeaked as Roy pulled it across the linoleum closer to the bed. "I had to stop by the station. I'm sorry I'm late."
Roy tried to muster some cheer he didn't feel. "Brackett told me that you're doing better than expected."
John brightened. "Yeah. I'm not feeling too badly."
"Good. That's real good." Johnny's sudden smile told Roy he had been forgiven, the younger man's sometimes-mercurial mood swinging like a pendulum.
"So are you feeling rattled?" John teased.
Now it was Roy's turn to be upset. Even though the room was dimly lit, the dirty look he shot his partner was perfectly clear. "Not funny, John."
"Jeez, why are you so touchy?"
Because I let you down. Because I wasn't there and you could have died.
Roy flicked some nonexistent lint off his pants. "No reason."
"Has there been any word on what caused the collapse?"
"No, and it might take months to figure out. But I did hear someone say it might have something to do with grout not being applied between sections of vertical columns."
John cleared his throat. "Well, I just wanted to say thanks. For saving me. Again." He emphasized the last word dramatically. "I think I tried to tell you before, but I was kind of out of it. I wanted to make sure you knew."
Roy felt as if the weight of the entire collapsed garage was on his shoulders. He bowed his head. "I didn't," he confessed.
"You didn't what?"
"Save you. Murray and Blackburn got you out."
John frowned. "I know."
Lost in thought, Roy stared at his hands intently. "They deserve your thanks, not me. Not this time... Wait a minute…what? Y-you know?" he stammered. "You know that I didn't rescue you? Then why are you thanking me?"
"OK, strictly speaking, you didn't physically bring me out of the garage. So what? You still saved me."
Roy shook his head. "I have no idea what you're talking about."
Exhaling slowly, John began to explain. "I know it sounds crazy, but you were with me the whole time. In the garage. I saw you and heard you and talked to you."
"How hard did you hit your head?"
"I know you weren't really there," John snapped, "but it was like you were! You told me I was going to be fine. And I believed you." He added, "I always believe you."
The words kept tumbling out. "You said I should hit the beam to make noise. You droned on about boring stuff to keep me awake. You told me not to worry, that I would be OK, that the guys were coming. I know without a doubt that it was having you—or a version of you—with me that kept me going when I wanted to give up." John's voice shook a little, but he quickly got it under control. "Listen, in the station that day you said that since I'm a disaster magnet, I could keep getting into scrapes because you'd always be there to get me out." He shrugged. "You just found a different way of doing it this time, that's all."
"Are you saying I'm in your head?"
Eyeing his partner carefully, John nodded slowly. "We do spend a lot of time together. And you are pretty bossy. I guess you've worn off on me."
To John's relief, Roy smiled a little. "So I'm like your voice of reason? That's a pretty big responsibility, Junior. I don't know if I'm up for it."
Johnny rolled his eyes. "I do have some common sense, Roy."
"Well, you can't blame me after you say you're having conversations with me when I'm not there."
John became quiet. "I wonder—was I conscious and just talking to the darkness? Or was I unconscious and dreaming the whole thing?"
"You had to be awake some of the time, because you were hitting something metal. I heard you myself." Noticing the sadness creeping up on his partner, Roy said, "Maybe while I'm in your head I can figure out how you think!"
John snorted and said in his self-deprecating way, "Well, I'm glad someone will finally appreciate what a tough job it is to be me."
"To tell you the truth," Roy chuckled as he stood, "I'm not sure I really want to know what goes on in that head of yours. It could be scary."
"Hey, where are you going?" John called out.
"Relax, I'm just going to get a cup of coffee, since I'm going to be staying for a while," he replied.
"Yeah." Roy paused as he opened the door. "In fact, it's safe to say I will always be here for you—apparently in one way or another. You know, in the we're-going-to-be-best-friends-forever kind of way."
He looked over his shoulder at Johnny, who had eased back on his pillow and closed his eyes, a big grin splashed across on his face. Roy smiled, too.
"Always," he promised softly.