Photographs and Memories

Author's Notes: *The story takes place during the early 1980's.

*The poem "Remember Me" is based on dialogue from an episode of Little House

on the Prairie-author unknown.

*The song "Times of Your Life" was written by Paul Anka.

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The men of Station 51 had finished their morning chores and were now all

sitting around talking and enjoying a cup of coffee. The conversation

encompassed many subjects. Chet Kelly saw an opening…and took

it.

"What is this, almost April? You know what I find amazing, is Gage is going

on five months without a scratch…not even a cough."

Johnny smiled wanly, he knew that wasn't really true…the last couple of

weeks he'd been feeling tired and a little run down with some headaches…but

he had kept that to himself. Roy hadn't even said anything to him, so he was in

the clear…or so he thought.

Johnny wasn't really feeling well so he wasn't in his usual kidding around

mood, when he replied, "Jealous Chet…that I can stay out of trouble and you

can't?"

Being curious, Chet asked, "What are we talking about here Gage?"

"Just what I said, Chet. I'M not the one who broke my arm falling off the

ladder, planting a water bomb…I'M not the one who sprained an ankle,

jumping down from the Engine… and I'M certainly not the one who's had

latrine duty for the last two months."

When Johnny mentioned latrine duty, everyone laughed at that…except Chet.

"He's got you there Chet."

Looking at his friend, Kelly asked, "Whose side are you on Marco?"

Before Marco could respond, the alarms sounded, calling the Squad into

service and putting an end to the discussion.

Returning to the station from yet another run, it was now three in the

afternoon. Roy and Johnny had been on a series of back-to-back calls since

late morning. The engine was out, but the guys had left lunch for them in the

fridge. Johnny sat right down at the table, while Roy got out the food and

glasses for drinks. Johnny had his elbow on the table with his head

resting on his hand, and staring off into space.

"What do you want to drink Johnny?"

After receiving no answer, Roy went over to Johnny and snapped his fingers. "Wake up Junior."

Johnny was clearly startled. "Oh, I'm sorry. Whatd'cha say?"

"Drink…what do you want to drink?"

Johnny thought for a moment, then answered, "Uh…iced tea's fine."

Roy grabbed the pitcher of iced tea from the fridge and joined his partner

at the table.

"What's wrong with you Johnny? You've been zoning out on me all day."

John looked wearily at his friend, as he softly answered, "I…I really don't

know."

Puzzled, and a little concerned, Roy asked, "You don't know…whatd'ya mean,

you don't know?"

Placing his arms on the table and leaning forward, Johnny said, "I mean, I

don't really feel bad or anything. I guess I'm just tired…look, forget

it…I'll be okay."

Johnny wanted to drop the subject, but as they finished eating their egg

salad sandwiches, Roy was eyeing his partner suspiciously.

Realizing that Roy was watching him, Johnny said, "You can stop watching me

Roy, I told you, I'm fine."

Getting up and going over to the sink, they quickly did their dishes and

were sitting on the couch watching TV when the engine returned. When the

guys walked into the kitchen, they all noticed Johnny.

"Tough runs?"

Wondering what his friend was talking about, Roy asked, "What do you mean

Mike?"

"He's talking about your partner…sleepin' beauty over there." Chet said,

nodding in Johnny's direction.

Roy turned to see his partner, sleeping soundly next to him.

"Oh, I didn't even realize that he had fallen asleep…I guess he's just

tired. We've been going non-stop all day."

Trying not to bother Johnny, the guys quietly grabbed some coffee. As

Captain Stanley came into the kitchen, he also noticed his junior paramedic,

asleep on the couch.

"Is he alright?" Hank softly asked.

Shrugging his shoulders, Roy replied, "Says he is Cap."

"Meaning what?"

Before Roy was able to answer, the alarm sounded and the engine was called away to

a trash fire. Being startled awake, Johnny jumped up, thinking they had a

call.

Catching his partner by the arm, Roy shook his head. "Johnny…that's not for us, just

the engine."

Johnny sat back down, and rubbed his eyes, but didn't say anything.

"What's wrong Johnny?"

The junior paramedic was starting to get annoyed with his partner's nagging questions.

"You sound like a broken record, for God's sakes. I said I was okay, I'm

just a little tired."

"You fell asleep."

Johnny was surprised, and said, "I did? I only closed my eyes for a

minute."

Shaking his head no, Roy said, "Try 30 minutes partner."

Johnny sighed and got up from the couch and headed out of the room.

"Where ya going?"

Johnny's level of annoyance was growing, as he said, "The bathroom. Is that

alright with you?"

Roy said nothing…he just watched as his partner left the room. Johnny

went into the bathroom to splash some cold water on his face, but being gone

longer than his friend thought he should be, Roy went into the bathroom

to check on him.

Seeing Roy come in, Johnny immediately got annoyed. "Jeez, can't a guy have some privacy?"

"Johnny…"

Turning to look at his friend, Johnny asked, "Are you gonna follow me around

like a guard dog for the rest of the shift?"

"I'm…what's going on with you Johnny?"

"Nothing. I told you, I'm fine."

"But…"

Johnny was getting exasperated as he stopped his friend.

"Look, I'm not sick…I'm not nauseous or dizzy…and I don't have any aches or

pains."

Of course, he wasn't telling the whole truth. He was starting to get a bad

headache as he spoke.

**Well, no pains except for the one I'm getting in my head**

"Then what's the problem?"

"I DON'T have a problem, Roy. Apparently, YOU'RE the one with the

problem."

"You're not making any sense, Johnny, something's obviously wrong. You've

been zoning out on me all day long, you've been lethargic, and you just fell

asleep for half an hour when you thought it was only for a minute."

Wanting to get this conversation over with, Johnny tried to end it by

saying, "Look, the shift is over in the morning. I'll go home and go to

sleep for a few hours and I'll be as good as new."

He looked at Roy and rolled his eyes, knowing what Roy was about to say.

"Don't say a word Roy…don't say it."

"Johnny, I'm worried about you. There, I said it."

John looked at his best friend and then walked out of the bathroom. Moments

Later the alarms sounded.

"Squad 51, respond with Engine 46…man trapped, 1587 Canyon Road…1-5-8-7

Canyon Road…timeout 1650."

Grabbing the mic, John responded. "Squad 51 responding, KMG365."

When they arrived on scene, they were met by Station 46's Captain Marsh. He

pointed to a tower.

"He's up there fellas. He was going to jump, but changed his mind…now, he's

too scared to come down."

Roy asked the Captain what the young man's name and age was.

"It's Steve and he's in his early twenties. One of his buddies over there

called for help."

Roy looked up at the tower. "How long has he been up there?"

"About an hour." Came the captain's reply.

Roy glanced at his partner and said, "Let's go Johnny."

They got their equipment and started the high climb up. When they got the

man down, he was taken away in a police car. While they were putting away

their gear, Roy noticed Johnny breathing a bit more heavily than usual, and starting to

perspire.

"You alright Johnny?"

Johnny didn't want to have this conversation again. Because they were in

public he kept his tone normal.

"I'm fine Roy."

He wiped his forehead with the back of his hand and paused for a moment

before he spoke again.

"Are you going to overanalyze everything I do?"

John got into the squad and closed the door.

Captain Marsh turned to Roy, after accidentally overhearing part of their

conversation.

"Everything okay?"

"Yeah…I guess. Thanks for the help Cap."

He got into the squad and turned to his partner, addressing Johnny in a

serious tone.

"I'm really worried about you Johnny."

"Look, if you promise to stop badgering me…I'll promise to see a doctor if I

still feel tired."

"When?" Roy continued.

"Roy…no more…please. Can we just go back to the station?"

Roy put the key in the ignition and started the squad, but before he put the

gear into drive, he took another look at Johnny, who looked away. They

rode back to the station in silence. When they arrived back to the station,

it was 5:30, and as Johnny got out and made his way out back, Roy went into

the kitchen where Mike Stoker was preparing dinner.

"Hey Roy, dinner'll be ready soon." The engineer informed his friend.

"Thanks Mike."

Captain Stanley came out of his office and went to the kitchen, noticing

that all of his crew was there, except for his younger paramedic.

"Where's John?"

"Out back, I guess."

Chet responded before Captain Stanley could say anything.

"Gage must be in one of his moods."

"That's not nice Chet." Marco replied.

Defending his friend, Roy said, "Actually Marco, he's not too far off the

Mark. Johnny's been in a funk all day. I tried to talk to him, but he keeps

telling me that I worry too much. I guess I'll just give him some space…see

what happens."

"You don't think it's anything serious, do you Roy?"

"I don't know Cap. That's the thing, he won't talk about it."

Meanwhile, Johnny had fallen asleep while sitting on the hood of his Rover,

his head resting on the windshield. Chet had been in the process of setting the

table, when Micky McGraw, a firefighter from C-Shift stopped by the station.

"Hey guys."

They all greeted him, as Mike asked, "What brings you by at this hour?"

Micky smiled and said, "I left something in my locker Mike. Oh, by the way,

Roy…what's your partner doing asleep on his car?"

Roy just looked at Micky. "He's kind of having a bad day."

After dinner the guys played some cards…everyone but Johnny. He claimed he

was too tired and not in the mood so he spent most of the evening on the

couch looking at the newspaper but unable to concentrate enough to actually

read it.

After a light night with runs, the guys were all in the locker room changing

to go home.

"See everyone in two days." said Johnny.

Roy looked at his partner and said, "Remember what you promised."

Johnny looked back at Roy, annoyed and raising his voice. "Will you

get off my back!"

He slammed his locker door shut and stormed out of the room. Chet was more

than a little concerned.

"Something's going on. I don't remember ever seeing Johnny like THAT before."

"What are you going to do Roy?"

"What CAN I do Marco? I'll see you guys later."

Heading home and going into his apartment, Johnny surveyed the disaster area

that it had become as he dropped his duffel bag on the floor and sat in the

recliner for a rest, before he started to tackle the cleaning.

As the phone started to ring, it took several times before Johnny realized

it was the phone and answered it.

"Hello?" he answered, still groggy from having been asleep.

Hearing his partner's voice, Roy was immediately concerned.

"You alright Johnny? You sound terrible."

"I'm fine Roy, I fell asleep. What time is it?"

"6:30 PM."

"6:30? I blew the whole day."

Hearing Johnny's surprise at finding out what the time was, concerned Roy a bit, but he didn't say anything about it.

"Well, how about if I come over and pick you up…we'll go out for a bite

to eat?"

"Thanks Roy, but I'm not really in the mood." He paused for a second.

"I'm...I'm sorry about exploding on you this morning in the locker room. I

don't really know what got into me. I'll see ya at work in a couple days."

Roy was disappointed, but replied, "Okay Partner, I'll see ya at work."

After getting off the phone, Roy thought to himself. **I know what got into

you…you're sick or something's really weighing heavily on your mind**

Two days later and after dinner, Captain Stanley was in his office while

Chet, Mike, and Marco were out back shooting some hoops. Back inside,

Johnny was drinking a cup of hot cocoa at the table while Roy was at the

sink washing the dishes.

"Johnny, you gonna dry?"

After receiving no answer, he called his partner, again.

"Junior…hey…Johnny, you gonna dry?"

John, who was in deep thought, heard Roy's second try at getting his

attention. "I'm sorry. Yeah."

Getting up, he went over to the sink to dry the dishes. The rest of the

crew came back inside and started watching television. Roy eyed Johnny

suspiciously, still convinced there was something wrong with his partner.

"You alright?"

"Yeah…I'm fine."

"What are your plans for our two days off?"

John was only half-listening to his partner as he replied, "Uh…I…I don't

know. Why do you ask?"

"Well, it's Joanne's birthday and we're having a special birthday dinner for

her on Saturday night…just me and the kids. How about joining us?"

"Uh…yeah…sure. What time?"

"5:30…at the house."

Johnny smiled, and nodded his head. "I'll be there partner."

The two paramedics finished the dishes and made their way over to their

friends.

"What are you guys watching Marco?" Roy asked.

"The Lakers game…they're playing the New York Knicks."

"Johnny, you wanna watch the game?" Roy asked his partner.

"Nah, I'm not really in a TV-watching mood. You watch Roy, I'm going to go

outside for some fresh air."

"Okay."

Roy acknowledged his partner and watched as he left the room. Johnny went

out back and assumed the familiar position of lounging on the hood of his

Rover. Fifteen minutes later, the alarms went off, calling the engine to a

fire. After the engine left, Roy went out back to see what his partner was

up to.

"Hey Johnny."

Johnny opened his eyes when he heard his name. "I was just resting my eyes.

What brings you out here?"

"You do partner. The engine left, I figured I'd see what you were up to."

As John sat up, he rubbed the back of his neck, and said, "Yeah, I heard

them leave. Boy, I could use a good massage…I'm getting really stiff."

"You okay?"

Johnny looked at his best friend and rolled his eyes. "Don't start

Roy, I'm not in the mood."

The alarms went off a few minutes later, sending the squad on a run.

"Squad 51, respond with Engine 36, man down…Harbor Road, cross street

Wainwright Avenue…Harbor Road, cross street Wainwright…timeout 1905."

The two paramedics ran inside, Roy responded on the mic. "Squad 51

10-4, KMG365."

After they arrived on scene, they were met by Captain Stevens.

"Witnesses say a bicyclist lost control and went down the side of the cliff.

He's about 150 yards down."

"Come on partner, let's get our gear."

While the two paramedics were getting their gear out of the squad, Captain

Stevens continued to update them on the situation.

"I don't think he's conscious, we've tried contacting him on the

microphone…he hasn't responded or moved."

Roy and John repelled down to the victim and minutes later their equipment

was sent down in a stokes. After examining their victim and contacting

Rampart, they got him collared, splinted, and on a backboard. When they

returned back to the top, Roy noticed Johnny again breathing heavily, but decided not

to say anything about it…for fear of starting another argument.

"Johnny, you want to go in or drive?"

"I'll…I'll go in the ambulance."

"Okay, I'll meet you at Rampart."

Their victim was loaded into the waiting ambulance and Johnny climbed in

with him.

After helping out in the treatment room, Johnny decided to wait for his

partner in the lounge. Getting comfortable on the couch, he started to doze

off.

"Hey Dix." Roy greeted.

"Well, hello there." The nurse smiled at Roy. She always enjoyed seeing

him and Johnny.

"You seen Johnny?"

"No, but I just got back to the desk. Try the lounge."

Roy went to the lounge to find his partner. Seeing him on the couch, he

called Johnny's name.

When he received no answer, he went over to him and gently tapped him on the

shoulder. Startled, Johnny jumped.

"Easy Junior…didn't mean to scare ya. You alright?"

Rubbing his eyes, John replied, "Yeah…fine, I'm beat that's all. Let's go

back to the station."

They grabbed their supplies and walked back to the squad. Once inside,

Johnny rolled down his window part way.

Roy started to think back over the last few weeks and sensed a pattern to

Johnny's behavior.

"What's up partner?"

Johnny shrugged his shoulders, and replied, "Nothing, I'm just tired. I

figured the air would keep me awake."

They rode back to the station in silence. When they got back, Johnny looked

at his watch.

"9:30…I'm gonna head to bed. I'll see ya later Roy."

Roy nodded at his partner, and said, "Okay Johnny."

Johnny headed to the dorm and laid down on his bed, still in uniform, too

tired to undress.

"Roy, where's Johnny?" The engineer asked.

"In bed, Mike."

"Gage is in bed at 9:30?" Chet replied in disbelief.

Chet was really surprised. Usually, he and Johnny were the last ones in for

the night…although, that hadn't been the case for at least a month or so.

"Chet, lay off." Marco didn't want Chet starting on Johnny when he wasn't

around to defend himself.

Sometime in the middle of the night, John had gotten up to get a drink of

water, and while he was up, he got out of his uniform and got his turnouts

set up next to his bed.

Friday morning arrived, marking the end of another shift. The wake up alarms

sounded, signaling one hour left of the shift. Everyone got up and headed to

the kitchen…Chet started the coffee brewing.

"Hey Roy, where's Johnny?"

Roy turned around and found his partner wasn't there.

"I don't know Cap. I thought he was right behind me. I'll go check."

When Roy checked the dorm, he saw his partner sitting on his bed, his head

in his hands and massaging his temples.

"Johnny…you coming?"

"Yeah." John's voice was strained.

Roy walked over to his partner, concerned. "Johnny, are you alright?"

The paramedic tried to sound reassuring. "I'm fine Roy. I'm just really tired."

He gingerly got up out of the bed.

"Look, Johnny…if you're not up to coming over for dinner tomorrow night, I'd

understand…Joanne would too. You look like you'd be better off spending

sometime relaxing in bed."

"No, it's okay Roy…I'll be there. I'll get some rest and be as good as

new."

He smiled at Roy and patted him on the back, and said, "Did I ever tell you

Roy, you worry way too much." He headed out to the kitchen to join the rest

of his shift-mates.

"Hi pal. How you doin'?"

Too tired to talk, Johnny gave short answers to the questions that were

asked of him.

"Fine Cap."

Hank looked at his young paramedic closely. "You sure? You look

exhausted."

"Positive."

After an hour, B-Shift arrived, and the rest of the guys were changing to go

home.

Johnny smiled at his partner. "Roy, I'll see ya at 5:30 tomorrow."

"Sure thing Johnny. Get some rest, okay?"

"I will." He turned and slowly walked out.

A few minutes later, Mike came up to Roy, and said, "Roy, Cap wants to see

you in his office."

"Okay, thanks Mike."

Roy finished changing and headed to his Captain's office.

"Cap, you wanted to see me?"

"Yeah. Come on in…have a seat."

Roy went in and sat down as Hank closed the door behind him.

"Everything okay?" The senior paramedic hesitantly asked.

"Well, that's what I'd like to know Roy."

Not sure what his Captain was talking about, Roy asked, "What do you mean?"

"I mean between you and John?"

Roy was confused. "Yeah…why?"

"You guys seem a little distant. You two are the strength of this station

and…"

Quickly stopping his Captain, Roy said, "Whoa Cap, I assure you that

everything's okay between us. Johnny's been tired lately and I guess things

seem a little awkward because I'm the one who's doing all the talking…as amazing as that sounds."

"Is he okay?"

"He says he is. Don't worry Cap…I'm keeping an eye on him."

Roy didn't want to alarm his Captain more, by expressing his own concerns

about Johnny. He decided to keep them to himself for the time being.

"Anything else?" Roy asked, curious as to whether or not there were other things on his captain's mind.

"No. Enjoy your days off."

"Yeah. You too Cap."

When Johnny arrived home, he got right into bed, and promptly fell

asleep. Arriving home, Roy missed the kids as they left to catch their bus.

"Hi honey."

"Hi Jo." Roy said, kissing his wife.

"Is Johnny coming for dinner tomorrow night?"

"Yeah, he'll be here."

"Good, I'm glad. Hungry…I can fix you some breakfast?"

Roy was worn out from the combination of a busy shift and the constant

worrying about his partner.

"That's okay Jo, I'm more tired than hungry. I'm going to go take a nap."

Joanne sensed her husband's weariness. "Is everything okay…I

mean, is there something you're not telling me Roy?"

Roy managed a small smile for his wife, as he replied, "No, everything's okay."

**I hope**

Johnny had managed to sleep straight through the day and into the night.

Despite all the sleep he got, he woke up on Saturday morning feeling like he

had the world's worst hangover.

Getting out of bed, he dragged himself to the bathroom and into the shower.

He stood under the showerhead with the water as hot as he could stand it.

In the middle of shampooing his hair, he was hit by a sudden wave

of dizziness and nausea. He braced himself against the wall until it

passed.

Once he was rinsed off and cleaned, he carefully stepped out of the

shower…he was still feeling a little unsteady on his feet. Grabbing his

towel he dried off and slowly made his way back to the bedroom. He got

dressed and combed his hair and after brushing his teeth, he decided to try

to eat a light breakfast.

It was now 10 in the morning and he decided he'd go out and buy a gift for

Joanne, and maybe some flowers too. He grabbed his jacket, as he was

feeling a little chilled, and his keys and headed out the door. Sitting in

his car, he took a deep breath before putting the key in the ignition. He

willed himself to keep it together…at least until he came back home from Roy

and Joanne's later that evening.

He decided to go to the jewelry store. Joanne, although she liked jewelry,

never bought herself anything. All the money she and Roy had, was spent on

the kids and on the house. He'd buy her something nice…kind of a thank you

to her for making him feel like a part of the family.

Stepping inside the store, he was immediately drawn to a bracelet. The

bracelet was silver and turquoise and it reminded him of a bracelet his

mother wore when he was a child. Satisfied with his choice of gift, he paid

for it and had it gift-wrapped. He walked down the street to the florist

and got a bouquet of Joanne's favorite flowers…roses, carnations, and

daisies.

Arriving home after shopping, he was exhausted. He put the flowers in a

vase with water and the gift on the kitchen table. Kicking off his shoes,

he collapsed on the couch and fell asleep.

He was woken up by a knocking on the door, but he was in such a haze, that he

barely heard it. He debated with himself as to whether or not he should

answer it but his conscience won out, and as he dragged himself to the door,

he was greeted by one of his neighbors.

Mrs. Johnson was an elderly widow who lived next door to Johnny. Not having any family close

by, she adopted Johnny as a grandson.

He tried to give her a smile as he greeted her. "Hello Mrs. Johnson."

She looked at him closely. "Hello Johnny. Are you okay dear?"

"I'm fine, I guess I dozed off. What time is it?"

"I believe it is almost 4:30. I'm sorry I woke you up…I know how hard you

work and you must be exhausted."

"That's okay, I should be up anyway. What can I do for you?"

"I wanted to know if you'd like to come over for a home cooked meal this

evening?"

Johnny smiled at the kindly woman, and replied, "Well, since you're such a

great cook, normally I'd say yes, but I have plans tonight. My partner Roy,

it's his wife's birthday and we're having a dinner for her."

"How wonderful. I'm sure you'll have fun. He's such a nice man."

"Can I take a rain check?" Johnny asked with a hopeful smile.

Gently touching Johnny on his arm, she said, "Of course Johnny, you tell me

when."

"I will." He again smiled at her and kissed her on the cheek.

"Johnny…please get some rest…and eat…you're getting much too thin."

Johnny had to chuckle. He was even getting it from his 75-year old

neighbor.

"Okay Mrs. Johnson, I will."

After she left, Johnny got ready to head over to Roy's. He changed into

something a little dressier, grabbed the flowers and gift, and headed out.

Arriving at Roy's house he was greeted warmly by the whole family.

"Hi partner, glad ya made it." Roy smiled at his friend and shook his hand.

**Yeah, I barely made it** Johnny thought to himself.

Johnny smiled genuinely. "I couldn't pass up seeing my two best girls."

He hugged Joanne, and as he handed her the flowers and gift, he wished her "Happy

Birthday Jo."

"Johnny, you shouldn't have."

"I wanted to Jo. You can open up the gift later."

"Thanks Johnny. The flowers are beautiful…all my favorites." She kissed

him on the cheek.

Jennifer waited patiently to see her favorite Uncle.

"Uncle Johnny, I'm glad you came." she said, as she hugged him.

"Me too Jelly Belly…me too."

Chris hugged his Uncle and gave him a high-five. "Uncle Johnny, guess

what?"

"I couldn't imagine Chris. What?"

"My friend Pete and I are gonna be on TV. We were picked out of our entire

school to be interviewed on "The Dave McCarthy Show'."

"Really…what's the topic?" Johnny asked interestedly.

"Kids who have parents in public service…Pete's Dad is a cop. Isn't that

cool?"

"Very cool Chris." Johnny looked over at Roy and grinned. "You know, your

Dad and I were on TV, once…'The Tom Jensen Show'. We did a fire

demonstration, and one of the stagehands got electrocuted during the

broadcast, and we helped him…it was all caught on TV."

Of course, John left out the details about how they were tanking on the show

until the guy went down.

Now eating, the conversation was lively. Sitting there, Roy thought to

himself.

**This is the Johnny I'm more used to…talkative and smiling**

"How is everything Johnny?" Joanne asked.

"Joanne, it's fabulous. I assume YOU made dinner."

Roy smiled at his partner, and replied, "You assume wrong Johnny…*I* made

dinner."

"You?" Johnny was very surprised.

"Hey…my cooking skills aren't THAT bad."

"Roy, how come you don't cook like this at the station?"

Roy smiled mischievously, as he replied, "Because…then they'll expect it

every time."

After thinking for a moment, Johnny said, "You're right, they would. Good

point."

After dinner was finished, the kids helped Roy clear the table.

As John started to get up, Roy said, "I got this partner, you keep the

birthday girl company."

Johnny sat back down. "So, how did you spend your day Jo?"

Joanne smiled, as she recounted her wonderful day. "The kids made me breakfast in bed…Roy set up a bubble bath for me, while he took the kids out for a few hours. When they

returned we had a leisurely lunch and spent the afternoon looking at some

old photographs. Wait till you see some of the pictures we found."

Johnny smiled his classic crooked smile. "Sounds like you had a

great day."

"I did. I'm glad you came Johnny, it's been awhile since we've seen you.

Everything alright with you?"

"Yeah…fine."

When Roy and the kids returned, they were carrying Joanne's birthday

cake…strawberry shortcake. They all sang Happy Birthday and she blew out

the candles.

She opened up her gifts. Chris gave her a wooden jewelry box that he had

made in woodshop class, Jennifer made her a ceramic vase and Roy bought her

a new dress, with the help of Hank's wife Suzanne.

"Guys, these are beautiful gifts…thank you so much."

"Mom, you forgot Uncle Johnny's gift."

Looking, but not seeing the gift, Joanne said, "I did, didn't I Jen?"

Johnny's mind was somewhere else, he hadn't even noticed that his gift

wasn't at the table. Chris had gone and brought back the missing gift.

After Joanne opened the box, she was flabbergasted. "Johnny, this bracelet

is so beautiful."

Johnny regained his focus and smiled. "I'm glad you like it

Jo, it reminds me of a bracelet my Mom had when I was little. Anyway, I

thought it was beautiful and would look great around your wrist. Happy

Birthday!"

After eating cake, the kids went to the den to watch TV while the three

adults retired to the living room.

"What are your plans for tomorrow Johnny?"

"I don't know. I was thinking I'd spend some time with my neighbor Mrs.

Johnson. She wanted to make me dinner tonight, but I told her I had plans. She's probably lonely. I think her husband died around this time a few years back."

"Yeah, then you can tell Chet that you spent the day with a great gal."

The two paramedics laughed.

"That's very sweet Johnny."

Johnny sighed, and replied, "Well, it's like that song says, Everybody Needs

Somebody Sometime."

The three friends talked for a while about all sorts of things. Before too

long, Johnny dropped out of the conversation…this was not lost on either

Joanne or Roy.

"Johnny, you alright? You look a little pale."

"I'm fine Jo. I guess I'm just getting tired."

"Want some coffee?"

"No thanks Roy, I'm good." He looked at his watch. "It's almost 9:00. I

better be going."

The kids came up to say good-bye to Johnny.

"Hope you had a good birthday Jo…you deserve it."

"I did Johnny. Thank you for the beautiful bracelet." She commented as she clutched her

wrist wearing the bracelet. "It means a lot to me…I'll always treasure it."

She kissed him on the cheek.

"Don't be a stranger Johnny…you're family, you know."

Johnny smiled, as he said, "Yeah…I know, and I appreciate being included.

Well, good night."

"I'll walk you out, partner."

As they approached Johnny's Rover, Roy looked at his partner, and said,

"Make sure you get your rest. I don't want you getting sick…then I end up

with Craig Brice."

"Don't worry about me Pally, I'll be fine." John started to get into his

car, but turned back to Roy, and said, "Oh, Joanne said something about some

old pictures."

Roy smiled and nodded his head. "Yeah, we'll look at them on another day. Go

home to bed and I'll see you on Monday."

"Okay, sounds good. Roy…thanks for inviting me."

Back inside, Joanne was clearing the table of the dessert plates when Roy

came back in.

Looking at Roy, Joanne said, "Poor thing…Johnny looks exhausted Roy. He

looks like he's coming down with something."

"Maybe." Roy continued to have concerns about Johnny and his health, but so

as not to worry his wife, he chose not to voice them.

Back home Johnny went straight to bed and fell right to sleep. He slept

through the whole next day.

When Monday morning arrived, 51's A-shift assembled for roll call…minus John Gage.

"Roy, where's your partner?"

"I…I don't know Cap."

Just then Johnny came walking into the bay area. "Sorry I'm late Cap."

"Shouldn't he get latrine duty Cap? I mean, it's only fair…the rest of us

showed up on time."

"Chet…mind your own business!" John's tone was very serious.

"What's the matter Gage…get up on the wrong side of the bed this morning?"

Captain Stanley put an end to it. "How about if you BOTH be quiet. Chet,

you have latrine duty for two more weeks…courtesy of the Phantom. John, you

have dish duty."

They got through roll call without further incident. Everyone was now in

the midst of doing their chores and Roy and John were checking their

supplies.

"You wanna tell me what happened Junior?"

John looked wearily at his partner, and said, "There's nothing to tell Roy…I

overslept." He then tried to change the subject. "I had a good time on

Saturday…Joanne really liked the bracelet?"

Roy smiled, he knew exactly what Johnny was trying to do.

"Yeah Junior…she liked the bracelet a lot. Something tells me that she'd

like anything YOU gave her. When it comes to my wife and daughter…YOU

can do no wrong. *I* on the other hand…"

In the middle of checking the supplies, Johnny's nose started to bleed.

"Damn it."

**Oh man…not again**

Roy looked up to see Johnny holding his nose, and blood dripping out.

"Johnny, stay put." He pushed him down on the squad's running board and

rushed to get some tissues. "Here." He handed Johnny the tissues.

Johnny took the tissues and used them to stop the bleeding.

Roy eyed his partner with concern. "Johnny, does this happen often?"

John looked back at his partner. "No." He knew he was lying to his best

friend, but if he had told the truth, Roy would be more worried than he

already was. "I'm okay Pally, thanks."

Making sure the bleeding had stopped, Johnny headed to the bathroom to wash

up.

Wednesday morning arrived and it had been a very long shift. When the two

paramedics weren't on a run by themselves, they were out on a run with the

engine and Johnny had barely made it through the shift. For three days, he

had really been dragging and the other members of the crew were starting to

get worried.

While changing to go home, Johnny was moving very slowly and appeared to be

quite pale. The rest of the crew quickly changed and said their

good-byes…they knew Roy was going to talk to John, and wanted to give them

privacy.

"Johnny…how long are you going to keep denying that there's nothing wrong?

You're exhausted and pale…you just haven't been yourself…for quite a few

weeks now. You have NO idea how worried about you I am."

Johnny's face and tone grew serious. "Have I been doing badly on the job?"

"No, but…"

"I've been doing my job…just leave it alone."

"Johnny…"

"Look Roy, I'll admit that I am tired…but other than that, I'm okay. Don't

worry about me, I'm fine."

"I do worry about you Johnny, you're my partner and partners look out for

each other."

John sighed in exasperation. "Well, THIS partner is going home. I'll see

you in a few days."

Without giving Roy a chance to respond, he walked out. On the drive home,

Johnny was hit by a severe case of nausea and when he got back to his

apartment, he ran to the bathroom and vomited. Soon after, the nausea was

accompanied by the chills and a fever.

He put on a tee shirt, sweats and a heavy sweatshirt and headed to bed,

shivering. Able to sleep for a few hours, he woke up feeling very thirsty.

Going into the bathroom for a drink of water, Johnny caught a glimpse of

himself in the mirror…he was startled at the reflection staring back at him.

**Oh man, what's happening to me**

Reaching into the medicine cabinet, he took out the bottle of Tylenol, took

out two tablets and swallowed them down with water. He put the thermometer

in his mouth and sat down on the toilet seat, with the lid down. A few

minutes later, he took it out and read it.

102.7...Johnny was alarmed at how high his fever was and going back to the

sink, he put the thermometer away and splashed some cool water on his face.

Starting to get worried at the severity of his symptoms, he briefly

considered calling Roy and "fessing up" as to how badly he was really

feeling. However, as quickly as that thought came to him, it left him. Johnny decided to

just tough it out for a few more days…then he'd consider talking to Dr.

Brackett.

Totally spent, Johnny went back to bed and fell asleep. Around 7 PM Roy

tried to call his partner, but received no answer.

"Maybe he's sleeping honey…or trying to and doesn't want to be disturbed."

Roy was clearly concerned. "I don't know Jo, I'm really worried about him.

You saw him when he was here on Saturday and he's been like that for a few

weeks."

Joanne let out a breath, and said, "Roy, I care about him too…but he's a big

boy…and a paramedic. If something was seriously wrong, I'm sure he'd be

smart enough to call for help."

Roy looked at his wife. "You'd think so, wouldn't you? You don't know him

like I do."

Johnny had slept through most of the next two days. His fever went down to

101, but he was still feeling rotten and couldn't keep anything down. At 3

PM on Friday, Johnny was lying in his recliner when the phone rang, but not

anxious to talk to anyone, he let it ring.

On the tenth ring, he finally picked it up.

"Hello?" he said, expecting it to be Roy.

"Hey Johnny, its Mike."

John tried to pull himself together. "Hey. What's up?"

"Not much. How are you doing?"

"I'm okay." Johnny wanted this phone call to be over in the worst way.

"Really? You don't sound so hot."

"I'm fine Mike. I'm just resting…you know, taking it easy."

"Johnny, don't get mad…but we're awfully concerned about you."

Johnny tried to swallow his pride. "I know and I appreciate it.

It's nice to know that people care about me, but, I'm doing okay, no one

needs to worry about me Mike."

"But we do."

Johnny tried not to lose his composure with Mike. "Look, I'm a paramedic

and I think I know how to take care of myself. You can tell that partner of

mine and everyone else, that I'm doing fine. I'll see everyone tomorrow."

"Johnny…"

"I'm tired okay, and I don't want to argue about this. I'll see ya in the

morning."

He hung up the phone, leaving a stunned Mike Stoker to wonder what was

really going on with his friend.

Miraculously, Johnny was able to pull himself together enough to go to work

on Saturday morning. His temperature was down to a manageable 100.2, and

despite some nausea and a slight headache, he appeared to everyone else to

be feeling better…everyone else, but Roy.

Johnny arrived early and was at the table reading the newspaper when

his Captain entered the room.

"Good morning Cap." A seemingly chipper Johnny greeted his captain.

"John, good to see you feeling better. We were really getting worried about

ya pal."

"Yeah, well…I'm okay. I've been saying that all along."

When the guys all entered the squad room a half-hour later, they were all

surprised at how relaxed Johnny appeared to be.

After roll call, the two paramedics were checking their supplies and the

squad.

Roy eyed his partner suspiciously. "I don't buy the act Johnny. You can

fool the others, but not me…I know you WAY too well."

Johnny played dumb with his partner. "What are you talking

about?"

"Come on, Johnny…this is ME you're talking to."

In the middle of their exchange the alarms sounded, temporarily saving Johnny from this current round of grilling.

"Station 51…MVA, San Diego Freeway, exit 110…San Diego freeway, exit

110…timeout, 0845."

Captain Stanley responded, "Station 51 10-4, KMG-365."

Arriving on scene, the crew surveyed the accident. There were two cars that

had collided…a blue sedan and a brown sports car. After gathering their equipment, Roy went to the brown sports car, while Johnny went to the blue sedan.

Johnny was able to work his way into the car and as he started to examine

his victim, she started to come to. He started talking to her in a very calm voice. "Hi there, my name's Johnny, what's yours?"

"Angie." Her voice told of how scared she was.

Johnny flashed her his trademark-crooked grin. "Angie, everything's going

to be alright. I want you to try to relax and take slow breaths. Where do

you hurt?"

"Kind of all over." She gasped out.

John continued to ask her questions to ascertain what her injuries were.

Meanwhile Roy was helping his two victims, a 45-year old male and his female

passenger.

The woman didn't appear to have any serious injuries and was telling Roy

that she thought her boyfriend had had a seizure of some sort. With the

help of the rest of the crew, the two paramedics got their victims out of

the damaged cars and were examining them.

Roy was on the bio-phone contacting Rampart.

"Rampart, this is Squad 51, how do you read?"

Dr. Brackett's voice was on the other end. "Go ahead 51."

"We have three victims of a two-car accident. Victim one is a male, 45

years of age, may have suffered some sort of seizure at time of accident...he is

currently unconscious...victim two is a 42 year old female, no injuries

noted, some abrasions on the face...third victim is female, 22 years of age.

Stand by for additional information."

After giving Rampart the additional info, they received their treatment

orders and were now getting ready for transport.

"Johnny, you'll go with me?"

John smiled at Angie, and replied, "Sure thing."

They loaded up the three victims and Johnny climbed in after them. "Meet ya at Rampart Roy."

As the ambulance left the scene, Roy found himself distractedly thinking

about Johnny's mood swings over the last few weeks. His thoughts were

interrupted by his Captain's voice.

"Roy, we're going to head back now. See you later."

"Yeah. See ya later Cap."

Hank started to walk away, but turned around. "Roy…everything okay?"

Roy looked blankly at his Captain, and softly replied. "I don't know."

Not elaborating on his statement, the paramedic turned and headed back to

the squad.

At the hospital, after helping out with Angie, Johnny went to the lounge.

He was watching a rerun of "The Price is Right" on the TV, when Roy came into the room.

Johnny saw the concerned look on his partner's face. Trying to diffuse

the uneasiness, he commented on the game show he was watching.

"Some of these people don't have a clue Roy. Two thousand dollars for a set

of dishes?" He punctuated the remark with a laugh.

Roy turned off the TV and stood facing his partner. "Johnny, we have to

talk, NOW."

John somehow knew that he was 'found out', but he wasn't ready to go there,

yet.

Johnny spoke softly when he answered. "Roy, there's nothing to talk about."

"Johnny, you've been avoiding this topic for weeks."

Pleading with his best friend, Johnny said, "Roy, just give me a few days."

"Then what?"

Roy saw a look on his partner's face…a pleading look that told him not to

push.

Roy let out a breath. "Okay Johnny, you win."

Throughout the day Roy and John were kept busy with multiple runs. Johnny

remained mostly quiet, and although that only made Roy's worry increase, he

didn't bring up the one subject he wanted to talk about…Johnny's health.

The guys had finished supper, and while Marco was doing the dishes, everyone

else was watching TV.

Chet tried to break the ice with Johnny who wasn't exactly being the most sociable. "Hey Gage, you remember that sweet little thing…Heather? You know, the chick you dated last year."

Johnny wasn't in the mood, but played along. "Yeah, what about

her?"

"She's getting married. I think he's a football player for the Rams." Chet

let out a laugh. "He broke his arm playing a game of pick-up basketball.

Anyway, he goes to Rampart and who's the nurse that takes care of him?

Heather."

"What's the guy's name, you twit?" Hank asked, wondering who the football player was that Chet was referring to.

"Oh…Sam…Sam…Sampson…Pete Sampson."

Again the alarms went off, sending the squad on a call.

"Squad 51, possible overdose…2115 Ashford Drive…Sunrise Apartments…Apt.

7A…2-1-1-5 Ashford Drive…Sunrise Apartments…Apt. 7A…Timeout 19:25."

As Captain Stanley responded on the mic, Roy and John took their places in

the squad.

Arriving on scene at the apartment complex, they were met by Vince.

"The girl's sister thinks she tried to kill herself, she's pretty scared."

The paramedics got their equipment and hurriedly followed Vince into the apartment.

"It's my sister Stephanie…she's not moving. You gotta help her." The young girl pleaded.

Roy tried to reassure the girl, as he said, "We will. What's your name?"

"Denise."

"How old is your sister?'

"Twenty-two. She's been really depressed lately. I…I tried to get her

to talk to someone, but…but she wouldn't."

Upon reaching their victim, she was indeed unconscious, lying on her bed.

As Roy started to take the girl's vitals, Johnny looked down on the floor

and saw an empty unmarked bottle of pills and an empty bottle of vodka.

Johnny held up the empty bottles for his partner to see.

"Roy." Johnny turned to the girl's sister. "Is she on any medication?"

The girl shook her head, and replied, "No. I…I…have no idea what pills she

took. Is she going to be okay?"

Johnny looked at the girl. "Your sister's very sick."

Roy contacted Rampart about their victim and received their treatment

orders while Johnny started the IV.

"Where are your parents, Denise?" Roy asked trying to gain some more information.

"They live in Pennsylvania...I already called them. Can…can I go to the

hospital with her?"

"Sure. You can ride up front."

Vince met the ambulance attendants outside and led them back to the

apartment. Loading the victim into the ambulance, Roy rode with her.

At the hospital, Roy was talking to Dixie after helping out in the treatment

room.

"So, how's Johnny?" Dixie asked nonchalantly, but yet with concern.

"What do you mean?"

"He…he just doesn't seem right lately…you know, like that spark of his isn't

there. Don't tell me you haven't noticed Roy…you guys are always together."

"I have Dix, but every time I ask him if he's alright, he says that he's

fine and that I'm being a worrywart…then we get into an argument about

it. In fact, it almost came to a head this morning."

"What happened Roy?"

Before Roy could answer, Johnny walked into the ER.

"Hey partner."

"Hey. How's the girl?"

"She's not doing too well. They're still working on her."

Johnny's face grew serious, as he asked, "What makes people do that to

themselves?"

Of course, he had firsthand knowledge of suicide. His older brother Gavin

hung himself after their parents' death in a car accident…that was almost

twenty years ago.

Dixie looked sympathetically at Johnny and answered. "I don't know Johnny. I

guess they're so unhappy, they'd do anything to take away their pain and

misery."

Roy looked over at his partner. "Ready to go Junior?"

Johnny nodded his head slowly. "Yeah, let's go Roy."

**You didn't call me Pally…what's wrong with you Johnny**

"See you guys later." Dixie smiled at the two paramedics.

"Bye Dix." Roy answered and gave her a look that said 'I'm really

concerned and I don't know what to do.'

On the way back to the station, Johnny remained very quiet. Roy tried to perk

up his partner by picking up the conversation where Chet had left off.

"So, how long did you and Heather date for Johnny?"

"Huh?" Johnny replied, not really paying attention to what Roy was saying.

"Heather…the girl that Chet was talking about before…how long did you two date?"

"Oh, I don't know…a few dates. She told me that she couldn't handle the

stress of dating a firefighter…all the worry and all." Johnny laughed softly. "At

least…at least she was honest with me."

The next day, after a morning run, Johnny decided to have a little chat with

Dr. Brackett. He wanted to do this before Roy came back to the hospital

looking for him.

"Doc, you have a few minutes?" asked Johnny, making sure that no one was around to see him talking to the doctor.

"Sure Johnny. What's on your mind?"

"Actually, if you don't mind, I'd like to talk to you in your office."

"Okay."

Dr. Brackett led John to his office and closed the door. He signaled for

the paramedic to sit down, then he sat down on the edge of his big oak desk, facing him.

"Alright Johnny…you have my undivided attention. What can I do for you?"

Johnny was having a hard time saying what he wanted to. He had been in

denial about being sick for so long, he wasn't sure if he was ready to admit

it yet, but he knew he needed to.

"Doc I…I…I've been feeling kinda lousy these last few weeks. I'd like to

get myself checked out…but not here at the hospital. I'd like to keep it

private, if you don't mind."

Dr. Brackett was immediately concerned. "What kind of symptoms are you

having Johnny?"

Johnny told him all about the headaches and nausea, the vomiting, the

tiredness, dizziness, and the nosebleeds.

"I guess I'm gettin' a little nervous…not to mention my partner is too."

Brackett let out an exhale of air. "When do you go off shift?"

"Tomorrow morning."

"I have a friend who can probably see you as soon as you get off duty. Dr.

Peters, he's a good friend of mine. I'll give him a call…check in with me

later, Johnny."

"Thanks Doc."

Dr. Brackett noticed the stress and exhaustion that were clearly etched on Johnny's face...a

sure sign of how much this must have been bothering the paramedic.

"I won't say anything Johnny."

Johnny nodded his head. "Thanks." The paramedic got up but quickly turned around.

"Oh, by the way…how's that girl that we brought in last night?"

Brackett shook his head, and replied sadly, "Not good Johnny, she's in a coma."

Nodding his head, Johnny left Brackett's office without saying anything else,

hoping his partner wasn't around and no one noticed him coming out of the

doctor's office. Dr. Brackett made the call and set the appointment for his young friend.

When Johnny made his way back to Dixie's desk, Roy was nowhere to be seen.

Softly speaking, Johnny asked, "Dix, you seen Roy?"

"No Johnny, I haven't." Dixie paused for a moment before continuing.

"Johnny…is everything okay with you?"

Johnny was taken aback by the nurse's question.

"Uh…yeah. Why?"

Dixie shook her head before looking worriedly at the paramedic. "Truthfully, you haven't been yourself. I haven't seen that old Gage charm for a while now."

John shrugged his shoulders. "I don't know. Business has been

pretty busy lately, I guess I'm just tired."

Dixie had her thoughts that there was more to it than that, but did not

voice them. Roy had finally arrived.

"Miss me partner?" Roy asked with a smile.

Johnny returned the smile. "What do YOU think? I've had Dixie

keeping me company. Who else's company would be better?"

Dixie smiled at John's answer. Curious, Dixie asked Roy why he was delayed.

"It was kind of strange, for some reason there was a lot of traffic. I hope

it clears up if we DO have an emergency."

"Well, you're here now Roy. What do ya say, we head back? I'm sure Captain Stanley has some chores waiting for us."

"Sounds good Junior. See you later, Dix."

"Bye guys."

As the paramedics left, Dixie's eyes stayed on Johnny.

**I hope you're okay Johnny**

Once in the squad Johnny was quiet again.

"Penny for your thoughts partner."

Johnny let out a little chuckle before he answered.

"Only a penny? I asked Brackett about that girl we brought in last

night...he said she's in a coma."

There was silence for a couple minutes, then Johnny hesitantly asked,

"Roy…you ever thought…well, thought about…suicide?"

This line of questioning threw Roy for a loop. He looked at his partner

questioningly.

"No. Have you Johnny?"

"Nope. It's a pretty selfish thing to do, if you ask me."

Roy sensed that there was more to this conversation than Johnny was letting

on, but he didn't want to pry. After a few minutes of silence, Roy looked

over at his partner…it had been the most tired that he'd seen Johnny in

awhile. He was about to say something, but changed his mind.

Returning to the station, they were met by Mike and Marco.

"Thank God you're here."

Roy looked at Marco, concerned that something serious had happened.

"What's wrong Marco?"

Mike jumped in. "It's Chet...he's driving us crazy. I think this

is the most obnoxious he's been in a while."

Shades of the old Johnny came out. "Oh yeah…how can you tell?"

"What's he doing?" Roy was curious.

Marco rolled his eyes. "He apparently got a delivery this

morning...a book that he was waiting for."

Johnny let out a slight laugh. "Yeah, 1001 ways to be a jerk. Where is he

now?"

"He's on his bed, reading his book." Mike replied.

Walking out of the vehicle bay and into the dorm, Johnny saw

that Chet was right where Mike said he was. He thought about starting in

on Kelly…but he just didn't have the energy for it. Turning around, Johnny

headed back to the squad room.

When Johnny came into the room, Marco asked, "Are you going to do

something Johnny?"

John looked at Marco and shrugged his shoulders. "Nah, he's not bothering anyone."

Marco was exasperated. "Now he's not. You should have seen him a little

while ago…you can't let him get away with it."

Johnny was rather annoyed and his voice was tinged with a small amount of

anger when he responded.

"Why is this on me? I wasn't here…you two were." With that, Johnny turned his back on his friends, and wearily plopped down onto the couch.

Mike sensed Johnny's annoyance, but didn't know why he was so upset.

"What's that about Roy? Normally, he would have been all over Chet."

Roy looked at his two friends sadly. "These aren't normal times." Roy went over to his friend who was seemingly deep in thought.

"Johnny, you alright?"

"I'm sorry I snapped out there. I…I...just can't stop thinking about that

girl in the coma."

"Are you sure that's all that's on your mind Johnny?" Roy asked doubtfully.

In the middle of their exchange, the phone rang and Captain Stanley answered

it in his office.

Before Johnny could reply to Roy's question, they were interrupted by Captain

Stanley coming over to them.

"John, you have a phone call. You can take it in my office."

Johnny's brown eyes met his Captain's as he hesitantly got up off the couch. "Thanks Cap."

Once he stepped inside the office, he closed the door and sat down at his

Captain's desk, almost afraid to pick up the phone.

"John Gage here." He was momentarily startled when he heard Dr. Brackett's

voice on the other end.

"Johnny, I'm glad I caught you. I called my friend, Dr. Peters, and he said

for you to come over as soon as you get off shift in the morning."

Johnny was speechless, he felt like now that he admitted that he was

sick…things were happening too fast.

"Uh...yeah…thanks Doc, I'll…I'll be there. What's the address?"

"1224 Western Boulevard. Go into the building's lobby, they'll tell you what

floor to go to."

"Thanks Doc."

"Johnny…"

Before Brackett could finish his sentence, Johnny cut him off. "I

gotta go Doc…bye."

He hung up the phone without giving the doctor a chance to say anything

else.

Johnny sat at the desk for a few minutes longer to gather his thoughts…he

knew that Captain Stanley knew who was on the phone for him...he wondered

what to tell Roy when he asked about the phone call. He also knew it would

be hard to lie without tipping off his Captain's suspicions.

He decided to call Rampart and ask about the girl in the coma...that way

he'd have an out. After speaking to one of the nurses, he found out that the

girl had taken a turn for the worse and was not expected to make it. This

bit of news upset Johnny terribly and it only made him think of his deceased

brother and his own mortality. From that point on, Johnny became extremely

quiet and had a real sense of sadness about him.

Going back out to the squad room, the rest of his shift-mates noticed the change

in his demeanor. Roy was immediately concerned.

"Johnny…who was on the phone?"

Johnny spoke very quietly. "Uh...it was Brackett...that girl…she's…she's not

expected to make it…she...she took a turn for the worse."

Roy felt badly, after all, the girl was only twenty-two years old. But, he

wasn't sure why his partner was taking the news as badly as he had. For the

time being he chose not to say anything. It was at this point that Chet

chose to come out to try some more of his new material. He was about to toss

out a few barbs directed at his favorite pigeon, but was smart enough not to

when he caught the pained look on Johnny's face.

"What happened?"

Captain Stanley spoke up. "The overdose victim from last night isn't

expected to pull through. Johnny just got the call."

It was times like this that Chet showed his true colors. "I'm really sorry

guys. I know how tough it is for you when you get news like that."

Roy smiled at Chet in appreciation. Johnny said nothing but walked away, he

wanted to be left alone. He felt like his life was spinning out of

control...and he was the only one to blame. He went to the dorm to be by

himself.

No one else quite knew what to say. Captain Stanley looked at his remaining

men, as he spoke.

"I guess I'll start lunch. I'm making my clam chowder. If there's any left

Roy, why don't you drop some off to Dr. Early."

Roy smiled at his Captain's suggestion. "Good idea Cap."

It was Hank's clam chowder that helped Dr. Early in his recuperation after

having heart surgery a few years ago. Ever since then, whenever Hank made

the chowder, the paramedics dropped some off at the hospital for him.

As Hank prepared lunch, the four men, minus Johnny decided to play cards to

determine dish duty...Mike lost.

"Hey Stoker...make sure those dishes sparkle like Big Red."

Mike glared at Chet, as he said, "To take a page from Johnny's book, go play

in the freeway, Chet."

Chet put a hand on his chest like he was wounded. "Oww, that

hurt Mike."

The other three firefighters rolled their eyes. Before too long, Hank was

done preparing his chowder and called his men to the table for lunch.

"Someone want to get John?"

Without question, they all knew that Roy would be the one to go. He quietly

walked into the dorm and saw that Johnny was sitting on his bed writing. It was a

letter…one that he would end up rewriting several times over the next few

months.

"Johnny...it's lunch time, Cap made his chowder. You coming?"

John looked up at his partner and shook his head before quietly responding.

"No. I'm not very hungry. Tell Chet he can have my bowl."

Roy knew enough that when his best friend was in this mood, to leave him

alone.

When Roy got back to the kitchen, four pairs of eyes looked expectantly at

him.

"Is he coming Roy?"

"No. He said he wasn't hungry Cap."

"What's he doing?" Chet asked.

Chet was getting almost as concerned as Roy was.

"He looked like he was writing something." Trying to lighten the mood a

little, he added, "He said to give Chet his serving of chowder."

Chet looked at Roy, and said, "Give it to Dr. Early."

The meal was eaten in relative quiet...each man lost in his own thoughts.

After lunch, Mike got started on the dishes, Marco offered to help

him...Stoker accepted. Chet was lost without having Johnny around to trade

barbs with. He started to go to the dorm, but was stopped by Roy.

Roy shook his head. "Just leave him alone Chet...he's not in the mood."

"I wasn't going to do anything."

"Well, maybe not, but he's better off being by himself right now...trust

me."

Chet was disappointed, but backed off.

The afternoon and early evening were very quiet. Captain Stanley stayed

mostly in his office catching up on paperwork, while Chet, Marco, and Mike

went out back to play H-O-R-S-E with the basketball. Johnny continued to

stay in the dorm after passing on supper as well, and Roy, concerned about

his partner's physical and mental wellbeing, stayed inside to watch

TV...and to keep an eye on his friend.

After going to bed, it had been a busy night...a heart attack, two MVA's,

and a house fire had kept the guys hopping. It wasn't until 4 AM did they

all get back into bed. As the wake up alarms sounded, the weary men slowly

rolled out of bed and put on their turnouts.

As Roy sat up in his bed, he looked over at Johnny's bunk and noticed his

partner wasn't there. When they all made it to the kitchen, they found

Johnny sitting at the table drinking a glass of water. Roy studied his best

friend for a moment…there was a sense of melancholy about him. This latest

observation really worried Roy.

The others were surprised to see him already up.

"Hey Gage…the least you could have done was to…"

Before Chet could finish his sentence, he saw Roy's hand go up and a look

that told him to shut up.

"Hey Johnny."

"Hi Roy." The junior paramedic wearily replied.

"You're up early partner."

"Yeah, well…I couldn't sleep." Johnny's voice reflected Roy's observed

sense of sadness in his partner.

"Coffee's on Cap."

Looking over at the firefighter, Hank smiled appreciatively. "Thanks Marco."

After the coffee was done brewing, Marco poured everyone a cup of coffee.

"Johnny?"

Johnny looked at Marco and shook his head. "No thanks."

"Gage not drinking coffee…what's the world coming to?"

It was at that point that Roy realized that he hadn't seen Johnny drinking

much coffee in the last few weeks. A few thoughts crossed his mind, but he

didn't want to think about them.

When the clock read 8AM, and B-Shift had fully arrived, Captain Stanley released his shift from duty. They went to the locker room to change to go home.

"Breakfast Junior?"

Roy was hopeful that his partner would agree to go out with him. This

so-called funk that Johnny was in, was really starting to scare him.

"Sorry Roy, maybe next time…I got some stuff to do." He smiled weakly at

his partner. "I'll call ya later, okay Roy?"

"Yeah sure."

Johnny closed his locker and left without saying anything else.

"You okay Roy? You look…upset."

"I'm worried about Johnny, Marco…he…he just hasn't been right. I'll see you

guys later."

Roy left and went home, leaving the others to talk amongst themselves.

"You guys don't think anything really serious is going on, do you?"

The normally quiet Engineer spoke up. "Chet, when was the last

time you saw Johnny THIS quiet…or Roy this upset?"

Chet thought for a moment. "I don't know…it's been a long, long time."

"Don't ask me why, but I have a hunch that we'll have some answers soon."

Marco replied.

The three firefighters briefly looked at one another and continued to get

ready to go home.

Johnny sat nervously, waiting for his name to be called.

"Mr. Gage, you can go in now."

Johnny got up and followed the nurse into the exam room. Upon entering the

small room, he was handed a gown.

"Please put this on, and I'll be back in a few minutes."

Before leaving the room, the nurse looked back at Johnny and smiled.

Johnny slowly undressed and put on the gown. Looking out the window, he

noticed that it had started to rain…matching his mood and the way he was

feeling…gloomy. He turned around at the sound of the door opening.

The same nurse walked in…she looked to be in her mid-thirties. Shehad brown

hair and blue eyes. Johnny thought she was quite pretty, and if the

circumstances were very different, he probably would have tried to ask her out.

She motioned for him to sit on the exam table.

"So Mr. Gage…what brings you here today?"

"Please, it's John…or Johnny."

Johnny paused for a moment and then continued. "I…I've just been feeling

kinda lousy the last few weeks. Headaches, dizziness, nausea, some vomiting…I've had a

few nosebleeds, too…and I've been kinda weak and really tired. But for me, the worst

part is that...I've had trouble focusing."

The nurse smiled at him reassuringly, as she asked, "What is it that you do

Johnny?"

"I'm a firefighter/paramedic. It's…it's not good for me to be losing my

focus…I NEED my concentration."

As she proceeded to weigh him, take his vitals and temperature, she said,

"Okay, well just try to relax. 101.4. How long have you had a fever?"

"I don't know…off and on for a few weeks." Johnny was getting very nervous.

The nurse smiled at him again, and touched his arm. "The doctor

will be in shortly."

As she left the room, Johnny was left with his thoughts. His anxiety

level grew with each passing minute as he sat on the exam table looking down at

the floor.

"John."

As Dr. Peters walked in, Johnny quickly observed him. He was about 6"2 with

brown hair and had what Johnny would describe as a very kind face. He

looked to be about 42. The doctor extended his hand…Johnny took it.

"Dr. Brackett told me you'd be here today. I can understand you not wanting

to get checked out at Rampart."

Johnny smiled weakly at the doctor. "I appreciate you seeing me. I…yeah,

I…I wanted some privacy. At Rampart, everyone knows everyone's business."

The doctor smiled knowingly. "I get the picture." He read Johnny's chart

and looked up.

Johnny looked back at the doctor worriedly. "It's not good, is it?"

"John, let's not go jumping to conclusions. Let's run some tests first."

He listened to Johnny's heart and lungs, asking him to take several deep

breaths. "Your lung sounds are a little diminished." Next he palpated

Johnny's abdomen and felt his neck and glands.

"How much do you normally weigh?"

John shrugged his shoulders, and replied, "Around 175 lbs."

He took a deep breath and exhaled…he knew he was down about ten pounds.

"I'll be right back. We'll start with some blood work." He touched Johnny

on the shoulder and walked out of the room.

Two minutes later, he returned with the same nurse.

She smiled at him. "This won't take long."

Johnny let out a chuckle. "You might think it's silly, but I'm not a

big fan of needles…and I know, I'm a paramedic."

"I'll be gentle." She swabbed down his arm and inserted the needle to draw the necessary vials of

blood. "Okay, all done." She left to get the blood samples ready for the

lab.

"I'd like to run some more tests…a CT -Scan and some x-rays. What's your

schedule like?"

"I'm off tomorrow."

"We have the equipment downstairs so I'll set up the appointment for you.

How's 9 AM tomorrow?"

Johnny softly answered. "That's fine."

"John, we'll get to the bottom of this. I'll see you in the morning, Suite

412." He looked at Johnny sympathetically. "Try to get some rest, okay?"

He patted Johnny on the shoulder and left.

Johnny got dressed and headed home in the pouring rain. As he was driving, and

the rain was rolling down the windshield, tears were doing the same down his

cheeks. After pulling into his parking space at his apartment complex, he

continued to sit in his Rover, his head and arms resting on the steering

wheel…the tears still falling gently down his cheeks.

After sitting in his car for ten minutes, he grabbed his duffel bag and made

his way to his apartment. Once inside, he dropped his bag on the floor and

went into the bathroom, where he drank a cup of water, then undressed to take a shower.

An hour later, he was in his recliner curled up under a blanket and watching

TV. He had been sleeping soundly when he was hit suddenly by an

overwhelming urge to vomit. He ran to the bathroom and just made it there

in time…kneeling down and his head hanging over the bowl. After

getting it out of his system, he rinsed out his mouth and went to lay down in

his bed.

While Johnny was sleeping soundly in his apartment, Roy was in the kitchen

at home, staring at the phone…practically willing it to ring.

"Roy, what's going on…why are you so nervous and uptight?" Joanne asked her husband worriedly.

"Jo…I…I can't really talk about it."

"Can't…or won't? Does this have something to do with Johnny?"

"Jo, I'm not going to get into it now."

"Why are you staring at the phone…if it has something to do with Johnny, why

don't you just call him?"

"I can't, okay? Just leave it at that."

"Did the two of you have a fight or something?"

"No, we didn't. I have my reasons…just please let it go.

As the evening passed and Roy waited for a phone call from his partner, he

became increasingly concerned.

At 8:30 PM the phone rang…Roy jumped up to answer it.

"Hello?"

"Hey Pally." Greeted a voice on the phone.

Roy was relieved to finally hear Johnny's voice on the other end.

"Hey Junior. How are you?"

"I'm okay. How about you?"

"Fine." He was also relieved that Johnny sounded good…even relaxed. "What

did you do all day?"

"Ah, the usual. I did some laundry and some cleaning. I took a nap for

awhile…nothing special. How about you?"

"Not much. Joanne took pity on me…the rain and all." Roy hesitated a

moment before continuing. "Johnny, I'm not afraid to tell you…I was really

worried about you this morning…you scared the hell out of me."

"I'm sorry Roy. I was having a rough morning and I was tired…

couldn't fall asleep last night. I'm okay now."

Roy really wanted to believe that…but didn't. However, he kept that thought

to himself.

"What do you have planned for tomorrow?"

"I have some errands to run in the morning, but if you're free in the

afternoon, we can get together then."

"Sounds good partner. Why don't you call me when you get done with your errands."

"It's a plan. Good night Pally."

"Night Junior."

Roy was glad that Johnny called…he promised he would and he did. But Roy

wasn't convinced that his partner's troubles were behind him.

The next morning Johnny found himself once again nervously waiting in a

doctor's office. The thought of undergoing additional tests scared the hell

out of him. However, it wasn't the tests themselves that scared him, but rather the

results.

Dr. Peters came out to greet Johnny. "John, how are you doing today?"

"I guess I'd be lying if I said that I wasn't nervous."

"Well, these tests shouldn't take too long." The doctor replied with a reassuring smile.

Johnny changed into a gown. First he underwent the x-rays…pictures were

taken of his skull, chest, and abdomen. After the x-rays were taken, Johnny

was placed into the CT-Scan. Lying on the table as it was slid into place,

his anxiety level was through the roof.

As Dr. Peters saw the images of Johnny's skull, his eyes opened wide at what

he saw. Turning to the scan specialist, he sadly shook his head. They

both acknowledged the sight before them on the monitor.

Johnny had a tumor the size of a plumb, on the right side of his brain. As

they scanned his chest and abdomen, they found that he also had some growths

on his lungs. The blood tests would later reveal that the brain tumor was

indeed malignant and that it had spread to his lungs.

After the CT- Scan was completed and Johnny was helped down from the machine,

he was led back to the exam room to get dressed. Before too long, Dr.

Peters joined him, as Johnny looked at him trying to find some kind of

reaction from the recently completed tests.

"So what do ya think Doc?" Johnny asked.

Dr. Peters had his poker face on, so as not to let Johnny know how worried

he really was.

"John, I need to go over the test results with my colleagues...and we're

still waiting for the results of your blood work. We won't have a final

answer for a few days."

Johnny was somewhat frustrated with the doctor's response to his question.

In his mind, he already knew what the test results showed…he also knew what

Dr. Peters really meant was that he didn't want to confirm anything until he

let Dr. Brackett know what was going on first.

"Until then...what?" Johnny asked with frustration.

"You just sit tight and as soon as I have all the results, I'll let you

know."

Johnny nodded his head slowly. "Thanks Doc."

They shook hands and he left the office, heading to his Rover. He remembered

that he had told Roy on the phone the night before, that he'd call him and

they'd get together around mid-day for lunch. The truth of the matter was that he

really didn't feel like going anywhere but home.

Thinking if he backed out on meeting Roy, his partner's sense of concern

would only escalate, so Johnny knew there was only one thing he could

do...put a mask on his emotions. After sitting in his Rover for a few

minutes, he decided to find a pay phone and call his partner.

Roy had been in the kitchen polishing his work boots when the phone rang.

"Hello, DeSoto residence."

Johnny did his best to sound upbeat. "Hey Pally."

"Junior. You're done with all your errands already?"

"Uh...yeah. I got an early start."

"Want to come over for a while?" Roy asked hopefully.

Johnny didn't feel like facing Joanne, so he hesitated in answering.

Sensing his partner's hesitation, Roy quickly added, "Joanne's at the

supermarket."

"Okay, I'll be over in a few minutes Pally."

"I'll be here Junior, see ya soon."

Fifteen minutes later Johnny pulled up to Roy's house.

Roy greeted him at the door. "Hey partner. How ya doing?"

"I'm fine." Johnny answered, trying not to tip off to his best friend, just how rotten and miserable he was really feeling.

As he answered his friend, Johnny knew Roy was eyeing him, looking for signs

that he wasn't being honest about how he was feeling.

"Come on in. Can I get you anything to drink?"

"A glass of water would be great."

After the two friends made their way to the kitchen, Roy handed Johnny a

glass of water.

"I told Joanne that we'd be going out for a few hours. Hungry?"

Johnny tried his best to smile, as he replied, "Sure. Where would you like

to go?"

"How about Patsy's Diner? My treat."

"Sounds good Pally. I'll meet ya there."

Being a little surprised, along with being worried, Roy hesitantly answered. "Ah…sure."

Roy had assumed they'd go over in one vehicle, but he was just happy that

Johnny agreed to go...he hadn't remembered seeing his partner eating very

much lately.

At the diner the two friends were sitting in a booth when the waitress came

over to take their order. The waitress was very pretty. She had long wavy

brown hair that she wore back in a ponytail and very beautiful green eyes.

Smiling at the two men, she was ready to take their order. "What can I get you fellas?"

Roy ordered a hamburger, glass of orange juice and coffee. Johnny ordered a

BLT sandwich and a glass of milk. After receiving their order, the waitress

smiled at them and left. Roy noticed Johnny's lack of reaction to the

pretty waitress. This was a red flag to Roy, signaling that all was not well

with his partner…after all, even Roy noticed how attractive she was.

"The waitress sure is cute, don't ya think Johnny?"

"Huh?" Johnny's mind was clearly somewhere else.

"The waitress...she's very pretty."

Hardly looking back at her, Johnny softly replied. "Yeah, I

guess."

It was obvious to Roy that Johnny had something on his mind…it wasn't like

him to let a pretty face go completely unnoticed. When their food came, Roy

started to eat right away. After a few bites, he observed John just staring

at the plate before him.

"Johnny...aren't you gonna eat?"

"I don't know Roy, I guess I'm not really hungry. I'm sorry that I'm not

better company for you."

Putting down his hamburger, Roy took on a serious tone. He wanted to get to

the bottom of why Johnny had been acting so strangely. First he seems okay,

then he doesn't, and it made no sense to him. Roy feared that there was

something seriously wrong with Johnny. The last few brief conversations that

he'd had with his partner left him feeling more and more like that was the

case.

"What's going on with you Johnny?"

"Roy...not now...not here…please." The junior paramedic pleaded softly.

"Johnny, do you have any idea how worried about you I am…do you? Every time

I see you or talk to you...you seem to be feeling worse...and are further

away."

"How can I not know? You never let me forget it."

Johnny understood Roy's concern. They'd both have some answers in a few

days...until then, both paramedics would remain in their current state. Roy

would stay worried...Johnny would stay evasive and defensive.

"I'm sorry, Roy. I..." Johnny paused for a moment, unsure of what to say

next. "I gotta go...I'll see you at work in the morning."

He pulled out a ten-dollar bill and put it on the table. He left without

giving Roy a second look.

The waitress came back to the table. "Hey, where did your friend go? He's

really cute."

Slightly smiling at the comment, Roy said, "He had to go. Would you mind

packaging this food to go...and I'll take the check please."

"Sure thing sweetie."

Johnny felt terrible for running out on his best friend, but he was

Exhausted, and feeling overwhelmingly stressed out. He went back to his

Apartment, and sprawled out on the couch. Before closing his eyes, he briefly

considered calling out for his next shift...but decided against it.

Meanwhile Roy arrived back home and was greeted by his wife.

"You're back early Roy, I thought you wouldn't be back till later. Is

everything okay with Johnny?"

Roy didn't know how to answer that question.

"Uh...he had some things to do, so after we ate, he left to run his

errands."

Joanne noticed Roy holding the two styrofoam containers.

"You had leftovers…isn't that unusual, especially where Johnny's concerned?"

"I guess he had a big breakfast. I'll put these in the fridge...the kids can

have them later."

After studying the x-rays and reviewing the CT-scan results, Dr. Peters

called Dr. Brackett at Rampart.

Kel picked up the phone. "Dr. Brackett here."

"Kel, this is Dave Peters."

"Dave. How...how did Johnny make out yesterday?" Brackett's voice was

filled with apprehension.

"I'm sorry I didn't get back to you sooner. I examined him yesterday...and

ran some additional tests this morning."

Dr. Brackett heard the seriousness in his colleague's voice…he knew it

wasn't going to be good news, but he asked anyway.

"It's not good news…is it?"

"I'm afraid not Kel. If you and Dr. Jackson can come over to my office

sometime in the next day or two...I'd like you to go over the results with me…so we're all on the same page."

"Sure…I'll...I'll be in touch. Thanks for calling Dave."

"Kel, I know this fella is important to you...I'm sorry."

Agreeing, Kel replied, "He's important to a lot of people...thanks for your

help."

The next morning Johnny arrived at the station early. He was feeling lousy

but did his best to hide the fact. C-shift was still out on a run, he was

thankful for that. He had been sitting on the couch relaxing when Captain Stanley

walked into the room.

"John."

He was surprised to see his paramedic there so early, especially given how

Johnny had been feeling during the last shift.

Johnny tried to sound upbeat, despite how he was really feeling. "Hey Cap."

Even so, Hank heard the tiredness in the paramedic's voice.

"You alright pal?"

"I'm fine Cap."

Hank wasn't totally convinced, but didn't press the issue.

"Okay. But if...if you didn't feel up to snuff, you'd let me know…right?"

Johnny didn't really feel like talking, so he kept his answers as short as

he could.

"Of course, Cap."

The rest of A-shift arrived and Roy went into the locker room, expecting to

see his partner there.

"Hey Roy."

"Hey Chet. Have you seen Johnny yet?"

"Nope, I just got here. Marco, Mike...you guys see Johnny?"

They both shook their heads no, and after changing, the four of them went

out for roll call.

It was then that Roy saw Johnny sitting on the couch. "Good mornin' Junior."

"Mornin' Pally."

As Captain Stanley was about to start, the engine and squad came back.

Charlie Dwyer came into the kitchen.

"I hope it's a quieter shift for you guys, we've been going non-stop all

shift. This morning we got called out to a fire at 4 AM…we're just getting

back now."

The guys on A-shift looked at each other. They were all hoping for a quiet

shift. After roll call Roy and Johnny were checking their supplies.

"Johnny, what happened to you yesterday...where did you run off to from the

diner?"

Before anything else could be said, the alarms sounded and the squad was

called away to their first run of the day...a woman down call. Arriving on

scene, the paramedics were met by a young woman.

"Thank God you guys are here."

Johnny looked at the woman curiously. "What seems to be the

problem?"

"It's my neighbor, Mrs. McCarthy…she's 87. I check on her every morning, and this morning when I rang the bell, there was no answer and

when I looked in the window...she was lying on the floor."

"You have a key?" Roy asked the woman.

"No." The woman replied sadly.

Vince pulled up to the house and joined the paramedics at the squad. After

Roy told him what the situation was, he broke the window, and then Johnny

climbed in and unlocked the door.

Roy looked up at the flight of stairs. "She must have fallen down

the stairs."

Roy set about examining the elderly woman, while Johnny called in to

Rampart. The elderly woman started to come to. Roy smiled at her.

"What…what happened?" came a soft voice.

"You fell down the stairs Ma'am. Can you tell me where you hurt?"

After gathering all the information from their victim, Johnny called in the

added info to the hospital. When Mrs. McCarthy was ready for transport, Roy

went in the ambulance with her as her neighbor rode up front.

As the ambulance drove away, Johnny was putting away the equipment.

Vince came over to him. "Johnny, I've been meaning to ask you, have you been

feeling alright lately? You haven't been looking so good."

"I...I...uh, yeah. I've just been kind of tired. I'm fine Vince." He smiled

at his friend. "Thanks for your concern though, I'll see you later."

He drove to the hospital to meet up with Roy, however, not wanting to meet

up with Dr. Brackett, he decided to wait for Roy in the squad. After

helping to get Mrs. McCarthy settled in the treatment room, Roy went to the

lounge for some coffee. He had been deep in thought when he heard a woman's

voice.

"Roy, how's Johnny doing?"

"Oh, hi there Dix. Johnny? Uh...okay, I guess. I'm not sure he's...he's

been kinda quiet lately."

"Yeah, I've noticed."

Roy looked at his watch. He knew that Johnny should have been there by now.

Brice stuck his head in the door.

"DeSoto, Gage wanted me to tell you he's waiting for you in the squad."

"Uh...thanks Brice."

Dixie looked at Roy with concern. "Why's he waiting for you in the squad?"

Roy sighed and shook his head. "I don't know Dix. I'm having a hard time figuring him

out lately."

He finished his coffee and got up to go.

"See ya later Roy."

"Yeah." Roy answered lifelessly.

As he approached the squad, he noticed Johnny sitting inside the cab. His

head was back, resting on the back of the seat.

"Hey Johnny…tired?"

"A little bit. Roy...I'm really sorry about yesterday. I...truthfully my

stomach was feeling a little queasy and I just didn't want you more worried

than you already were."

It wasn't the entire truth, but it wasn't a total lie either. Roy knew

there was more to it than his partner was letting on, but he didn't push.

"So, how are you feeling now?" Roy asked curiously.

"I don't know...a little blah I guess. I'll be alright Roy."

Roy went on the radio and made them available.

The rest of the shift went quickly. Station 51 was kept busy, much to the

dismay of the crew, and like C-shift before them, they too went on an early

morning fire call and came back after the end of their shift.

When they came back they were all exhausted, but no one more than Johnny, he

appeared to be dead on his feet. This was a fact that wasn't lost on anyone,

especially the two B-shift paramedics.

Adam Wright, the senior paramedic on the shift spoke, what everyone else was

thinking.

"Johnny...you okay buddy?"

Johnny sighed, as he replied, "I'm fine Adam...just wiped out. This whole

shift has been one big blur."

He turned and headed to the locker room…he knew they'd be talking about him

once he left the room, but he was too tired to care.

"Roy, is he okay? He looks horrible." Asked the second B-shift paramedic.

"It was a rough shift Andy. We're all exhausted."

As the A-shift crew changed to go home, Roy kept an eye on his partner.

"Johnny...you gonna be alright to drive home?"

"I'll be fine Roy." He closed his locker and picked up his bag. "I'll be in

touch."

Johnny left to go home.

At the same time Johnny was arriving home, Dr. Brackett and Dr. Jackson went

to meet with Dr. Peters about the results of Johnny's tests. In his

office, the three doctors went over the test results.

Dr. Jackson, an oncologist at Rampart shook his head sadly, as he spoke.

"There's no question, Johnny's got a brain tumor. Based on his blood work

and the growths on his lungs...it's almost end-stage, and I'd say…I'd say

4-6 months."

Dr. Brackett nodded his head in agreement. "These test results

don't lie, do they?"

"I wish they did Kel. Johnny's one of your paramedics isn't he?"

"Yeah...one of the best…and he's...he's only 31." Kel let out a big breath.

"Boy, this is quite a blow."

"I'm sorry Kel, but it's like you said, these test results don't lie. I wish

the results told a different story…from what you've told me, John Gage is

quite a young man."

"He is. Thanks for joining us Steve."

Dr. Jackson nodded his head. "I wish there was something more

that I could do."

He shook hands with the other two doctors, then left.

"I'd like to break the news to Johnny on Saturday morning…we can go to his

apartment."

"I'm with you Kel. Based on your rapport with Johnny, I think maybe you

should take over his case…he's going to need a lot of support over the next

few months."

"That might be a good idea. I'll meet you at your office at 8 AM."

"Okay Kel."

Softly speaking, Kel replied,"Wish it was better news."

They shook hands, then Brackett headed back to Rampart...with a heavy heart

and the burden of knowing Johnny's "secret".

It was a rare occasion, but Johnny was actually hungry. He had been sitting in

his kitchen enjoying some scrambled eggs and toast when he heard a knock at

the door. He looked at the clock and wondered who would be at his door at 9

AM on a Saturday morning.

He got up slowly to answer it. Opening the door, his heart fell to the

floor when he saw the two figures standing there.

He quickly gathered his composure, and said, "Come on in."

The two men entered the apartment and sat down on the couch.

"Johnny…we have the test results."

**Well...the moment of truth is finally here…I think I might be in trouble**

Dr. Brackett's voice was very serious and the infamous twitch in his mouth

started. Johnny looked at the two doctors and let out a small laugh.

"I know it's not good news. I mean...when do doctors make house calls these

days? And not only is there one doctor here, but two."

Dr. Peters started to speak. "John, I asked Dr. Brackett to come here with

me today…"

Johnny cut Dr. Peters off before he can finish the sentence, and said, "To

soften the blow, right?"

"No John, I wanted him here because he knows you better than I do…and you're

going to need all the support you can get."

For a few moments there was silence, then the doctor continued.

"You have a brain tumor…inoperable…and unfortunately, it's started to spread.

You have some growths on your lungs, that's why you've had some

breathing issues lately."

Johnny looked at the two doctors in disbelief, slowly digesting the news. He

swallowed hard before responding.

"I…I knew it was gonna...be bad, but…"

"Johnny, I'm sorry…Dr. Peters and I have been over all your test results,

and I even consulted Dr. Jackson, a colleague in oncology and there's no

question about the results."

"Are…are you saying...how...how long?"

"Six months Johnny...maybe." replied Dr. Brackett.

Dr. Peters slowly got up. "John, I'm going to go. Dr. Brackett

has agreed to take over your case...I felt that it would be better for you.

I...I hope that's okay."

Johnny was speechless. He opened his mouth to say something, but the words

wouldn't come out.

"John, I'm sorry the news wasn't better."

Johnny was still in obvious shock when he regained his voice.

"Uh, yeah…so am I. Thanks for all your help, Dr. Peters…I...I appreciate

you taking the time to see me."

Johnny finally looked at Dr. Peters and made eye contact.

"If you ever need to talk John…I'm available…don't hesitate to call."

"Uh...yeah…thank you."

Dr. Peters gently touched John's shoulder before he shook Dr. Brackett's hand.

"I'll let myself out."

After Dr. Peters left, Dr. Brackett got up from the couch to sit closer to

Johnny.

"Johnny?"

"I'm...I'm still here Doc."

"I know it's a lot to digest Johnny. Do you want to talk about it?"

"Uh...the...the headaches and vomiting..."

"Yes Johnny, it's all part of it. The trouble focusing, the mood swings, the

dizziness, and the extreme tiredness…it's all from the tumor." He paused for

a few moments. "Johnny, you're going to become very sick, there's no other

way to say it."

"Can...can I keep working? Being a paramedic means everything to me."

Dr. Brackett looked at Johnny sympathetically, and softly spoke.

"Johnny."

"Can I or not?" John's voice took on a note of desperation.

"Johnny, it's not advisable."

Almost pleadingly Johnny asked the question again. "Can I keep working?"

Dr. Brackett was at a loss. "I can give you two weeks Johnny. Your symptoms

are already taking its toll on you."

John repeated what Brackett just said. "Two weeks." He nodded his head in

agreement with the doctor. "Thank you."

Dr. Brackett sensed there was something else weighing on John's mind.

"Johnny…what else do you want to know?"

John was hesitant to ask the question, afraid of what the answer would be.

"If…if I had come in sooner…would it have made any difference?"

Dr. Brackett shook his head sadly. "No Johnny, you've had this brain tumor

for several months."

Johnny laughed wistfully. "Up until the last month and a half or

so, I've felt fine. Everyone always thought I was...was accident prone…I had

a stretch of five months where I didn't get injured at all…maybe…maybe if I

had...or had had a concussion, you would have caught this thing sooner."

The irony wasn't lost on Brackett…he wished he could make his friend feel

better, but knew he couldn't.

"Maybe Johnny. If you ever need me...day or night. I...I know in the

beginning, I wasn't one of your biggest supporters...of you or the paramedic

program, but that was almost ten years ago. Since then, you've become one of

the best in the business and a fine man, Johnny."

Very softly, Johnny replied, "Thanks Doc…it means a lot hearing…you say

that."

"When are you going to tell Roy?"

Johnny felt like he was hit with a lightning bolt. He was so overwhelmed at

hearing the news, that he had forgotten about Roy.

"I...I guess the sooner the better, huh? I'll take care of it." John paused

for a few moments. "Doc, do me a favor…don't tell anyone about

this…I'll…I'll do it...you know, Dix, Early and Morton."

"Whatever you want Johnny. Take care of yourself, okay."

As both men stood, Johnny said, "I will Doc…thanks for everything. But I…I

do have another question."

"What's that?"

Hesitating for a moment, Johnny asked, "Why...why can't you operate...and

remove it?"

Not wanting to answer his friend, but knowing that Johnny deserved to know

the reason why, Kel told him. "We can't Johnny because..."

After telling Johnny the reason and seeing that he was going to break down,

Dr. Brackett took a page out of Dixie's book and gave Johnny a warm

embrace...Johnny didn't pull away. The need to comfort the young paramedic

won out over his more clinical, professional side. The two friends stood

there, with Johnny finally breaking down and crying, in Kel's arms.

As Dr. Brackett finally left John's apartment to head back to Rampart,

Johnny was still reeling from the news of his terminal illness. As he sat on his couch, his head in his hands, the words were still vivid in

his mind…inoperable…tumor…cancer…spread. He wasn't sure what to do, but he

knew sitting around his apartment at this point was not the thing to be

doing.

After regaining his composure, he decided to go to the one place that would

enable him to escape, even if only for a few hours…the mountains. He grabbed

his jacket and a canteen filled with water and went out to his Rover. During

the hour and a half drive to his destination, his thoughts were

single-mindedly on one thing…how would he break news of his illness to his

best friend.

Upon reaching his destination, he parked his car and got out. The view from

up there was spectacular and the air was clean and crisp. It always made

Johnny feel better to be at his "special" place. He'd been coming to this

very spot in the mountains for years…the first time was when he was 18, and

first came to Los Angeles…he was now 31.

For over two hours, he sat and thought, memories both good and bad flooding

his mind. He thought back to his childhood on the reservation in Montana,

the accident that claimed the lives of his parents, and the suicide of his

brother Gavin.

He remembered coming to LA and deciding to become a firefighter. Smiling to

himself, he remembered that fateful day...when he met Roy and signed on to

be a paramedic. All 31 years of his life passed before him, but then his

mind remembered what brought him to this spot in the mountains now...the

news from five hours ago...that he was dying and had roughly six months left

to live.

Taking another swig of water from his canteen, he decided that the time had

come for him to break the news to his best friend…he drove back to town,

stopping at a pay phone to call Roy. He nervously inserted the dime into the

slot and dialed his best friend's phone number. After three rings, Roy

picked up.

"Hello."

"Roy?" John's voice was strained.

"Johnny…where are you?" Roy asked worriedly.

Roy was very concerned when he heard his partner's voice on the other end,

especially how badly it sounded.

Johnny tried to keep his emotions controlled, as he replied, "I...I need to

talk to you Roy."

"Sure, why don't you come on over. Joanne and the kids are at her mother's

for the weekend."

"Okay. I'll...I'll be over in a few minutes…thanks."

"Johnny, what's..."

Before Roy could finish, John had hung up and all he heard was a click and the

dial tone.

After getting off the phone, Johnny made a pit stop at the liquor store. He

bought two six-packs of Budweiser, and a bottle of Jack Daniels…he knew telling Roy was

going to be difficult and hoped alcohol would dull some of the pain.

Pulling up to Roy's house, Johnny was consumed by a feeling of dread…he knew

how his partner would take the news...he knew for himself, how difficult

hearing the words "inoperable brain tumor" were. Johnny sat in the car,

gathering his thoughts. After five minutes, he knew there was no prolonging

the inevitable…Roy was his best friend and needed to know. He took a few

swigs of Jack Daniels and stepped out of the car.

He put the bottle in his jacket pocket and carried the bag with the beer in

it in his arms as he slowly made his way to the front door. He was about to

ring the bell when the door suddenly opened…he found himself face to face

with his best friend.

Opening the door, Roy said, "Hey Junior, come on in."

"Thanks Pally. Ah…Roy, can we go out on the deck?" Johnny's voice was very

serious.

Roy wasn't sure what was going on, but he noticed the bag that Johnny

carried. "What's in the bag Johnny?"

"A couple six-packs."

Roy didn't say anything else but followed Johnny out to the deck. As Johnny

sat down on one of the chairs, he motioned for Roy to do the same.

"Beer…Johnny, what's goin' on?"

Johnny handed one to Roy…he took the offered beer,

thinking he might need it.

Johnny looked around the deck as he opened a beer, and smiled. "I

remember when…I helped you build this deck. You remember?"

Roy wasn't sure what his partner was getting at, but answered quietly.

"Yeah, I remember. I did thank you, didn't I?"

Johnny let out a small laugh, as he answered. "Yeah, you thanked

me…you agreed to keep being my partner. Actually, I did get a lot of

free dinners out of the deal."

Becoming more nervous, Roy replied, "Yeah, you did, and we were glad to have

you…you also became a HUGE part of this family. Look, I'm not afraid to

say this…Johnny, you're scaring me. What's going on?"

Johnny ignored his friend again, as he continued. "I remember when we met and I…I

became a paramedic. That was the…the best thing I…ever did."

By now, Johnny was starting to have a hard time controlling his emotions,

and he knew that Roy noticed it. And he also knew that no matter how long he put

off telling Roy about his tumor, he knew that he would have to tell him

eventually, but knowing how his friend would react, he just finally forced

himself to say it.

Looking at him sadly, Johnny softly said, "What's goin' on...I just found

out that I'm...I'm dyin', partner...THAT'S what's goin' on."

Roy just sat there, looking at his best friend…stunned.

Johnny finally broke eye contact with his best friend and looked out over

the yard…Roy reacted exactly like Johnny knew he would…with disbelief.

Johnny finally heard Roy speak.

"Ah…Junior…what did you…I thought I just…I think you need to…need to run

that by me…again…and slower this time…A LOT slower."

Looking down at his hands, Johnny took a deep breath, and speaking barely

above a whisper, he said, "I have a…a brain tumor…it's cancer…they

can't…they can't operate."

Getting up, Roy walked away from his friend. He still couldn't believe what

he was hearing…his partner couldn't have cancer. Making his

way over to the other side of the deck, he leaned on the railing, and after

a moment, he was finally able to speak.

"When…when did you find out?" Roy softly asked.

In the same soft voice, Johnny replied, "Today…just before I called. I had

talked with Brackett a few days ago, after a run, while I was waitin' on

you…told him what was goin' on and how I'd been feelin'…he set me up with a

Doctor Peters…a pretty nice guy…and I had some tests and…and they both came

by my apartment today and…and told me the results."

Not turning to look at his friend, Roy asked, "How…how long did they

say…you've got?"

Roy couldn't believe that those words had just came out of his mouth…he just

knew that Johnny would have plenty of time…there was still so much more that

he knew that Johnny wanted to do in his life…he wasn't ready for his best

friend's answer.

Not receiving an answer right away, Roy asked, "Johnny…how long?"

"Six months…maybe."

Upon hearing that, Roy quickly turned. "Six…six months…maybe…I

thought they just found it."

Johnny could hear how upset his best friend was, as he said, "Roy, calm

down. They DID just find it…but…Brackett and Peters said that…that I've

had it for…several months."

Roy repeated what Johnny just said. "Several months…but how is that possible

Johnny?"

Johnny didn't know what to say.

Laughing quietly, Johnny replied, "It just happens Roy."

Roy was confused. "Johnny…?"

"You know how everyone thinks I'm accident prone? Maybe if I had gotten hurt

sometime over the last few months, they may have gotten to this thing

sooner."

"Well, not that I'd have wanted you to get hurt, but is that what Brackett

said...that he could have found it sooner...if you had?" Roy asked.

Johnny knew what his friend was thinking, as he softly and sadly said, "No

Pally…he said that...it wouldn't have made...made any difference. I was

kinda hopin' that same thing.

There was silence for a few minutes as Johnny allowed Roy some time to think

about the implications of what he had just been told.

After a few minutes Roy spoke up. "Johnny, maybe the doctors made

a mistake. Maybe…"

Interrupting his friend, Johnny said, "Roy, don't you think Brackett went

over the results several times…don't'cha think *I* asked that? He and Peters

even called in an oncologist…there's no mistake Pally…I'm dyin', that's all

there is to it."

"Johnny..."

"Roy, you think I WANT to die? I don't. It means leaving behind all the

people I care about…it means leaving the department…and everything I've

worked so hard for. It means…leaving YOU behind." Johnny replied in a very

soft voice.

The two friends sat quietly for a moment, as tears came to both their eyes.

Quietly, Roy started to talk to his friend. "When are you

gonna…tell the guys?"

"I guess Monday. But I have to call Cap and set up an appointment with

Chief Houts, then I have to talk to Dixie, Early, and Morton…I told Brackett

that I wanted to be the one to break the news to them."

Almost reading Roy's mind, Johnny told him the next bit of news.

"Brackett is letting me work two more weeks."

Roy repeated the last sentence, almost choking on his words. "Two weeks."

"Roy, I know it's a lot to ask...but do you think we can hold off telling

Joanne and the kids? I'm...I'm just not ready to go there yet, and telling

the guys is going to be hard enough. I also have to face Rocky."

Rocky Ramirez was a very close long-time friend of Johnny's.

"Yeah…yeah, of course…whatever you want Johnny."

Roy thought for a moment. "The way you've been so tired and

zoning out, the mood swings..."

"That was all part of it Roy…but…I wasn't completely honest with you these

last several weeks. I had other symptoms...but I didn't want to worry you

more...and I was scared."

Roy looked questioningly at his partner, urging him to go on.

"There were more nosebleeds than that one time…the headaches were really bad

at times, not to mention the dizziness and nausea. There were several times

at home that I got really sick with vomiting and a high fever."

"But you didn't want to worry me." Roy repeated softly.

"Roy, don't be mad at me...I had my reasons. I told you, I was scared."

"Johnny...you're my best friend, don't you think I would have wanted to

know? I was ALREADY worried sick about you."

"Roy...whether or not I had been honest with you about how I was feeling, it

wouldn't have made a difference in the outcome. I'm still dying…I only have

six months to live...IF I'm lucky. But…Brackett also told me…"

Seeing his partner's hesitation, Roy nervously asked, "Told you what?"

After taking a drink of beer, Johnny softly replied, "He told me that…the

cancer has spread...it's also...in my lungs. That's why I...I have some

trouble breathing. He also told me that I'm…well, I'm only gonna get worse

and…I don't know if…if I can deal with that."

Roy was still trying to absorb the initial news of Johnny's brain tumor, and

now here was his partner telling him that the cancer was already spreading.

Roy's voice was very soft when he responded to Johnny's last statement.

"Johnny...I promise you, somehow, some way…we're going to get through

this…together. You won't be going through this alone."

Johnny looked sadly at his partner's blue eyes with his brown ones, and as

their eyes met, Johnny felt himself losing the battle with his emotions.

Sobbing, he choked out, "I don't…wanna die Roy...I still have so…so much to

do in…my life."

The normally 'in control of his emotions' Roy DeSoto was heartbroken at the

sight before him, as he embraced his best friend and they cried

together...not only for the things that would be lost…but also for the

things that would never be.

After several minutes of gut wrenching sobbing, the two friends sat quietly.

Johnny took out his bottle of Jack Daniels and started to drink it…Roy

looked at him knowingly and started another beer, and within 30 minutes,

Johnny was so numb that the reason he was out on Roy's deck was forgotten.

Roy had a pretty good buzz going himself, but not enough to dull the pain.

Johnny started to mumble, as he said, "I don't want to die...don't want to."

Roy could only look at Johnny, as his partner started to succumb to the

alcohol and the obvious pain of knowing that he was going to die.

Seeing that his friend was about to pass out, he helped Johnny inside the

house and onto the couch where his friend could sleep it off…Johnny passed

out as soon as he hit the couch. After covering Johnny with a blanket

so he wouldn't get chilled, Roy then sat in the chair next to the

couch…watching over his best friend and wondering what his life would be like after Johnny was gone.

As the hours went by, sleep still would not come to Roy, so he continued to

sit and think. The one thought that kept coming back to him was…what would

his life be like without Johnny in it. He tried to picture himself working

with a new partner…he didn't think he could do it.

Roy briefly considered drowning himself in some alcohol, but he knew it

wouldn't really help because no matter how bad HE was feeling, he knew

Johnny was feeling worse…after all, his partner was the one who was dying.

Roy also knew that he'd have to stay sober, as Johnny would need his support in

the morning.

Taking another glance at Johnny, Roy decided to make some coffee, so he

quietly got up from the chair and walked to the kitchen. While getting the

coffee ready to brew, he thought back over those last few weeks…Johnny had

virtually stopped drinking coffee, and now he knew why…the caffeine in the

coffee only made Johnny's headaches worse.

That morning last week when Johnny seemed so sad, Chet had made a comment

about Johnny not drinking coffee. Roy, having thoughts of his own that

morning, considered the possibilities of why Johnny wasn't drinking

coffee...it turned out those thoughts that he had had…were true.

After pouring himself a cup of coffee, he sat down in the kitchen and

replayed the last month in his head…it all made sense now. But despite

knowing that it wouldn't have made a difference, he mentally beat himself up

for not getting Johnny to a doctor sooner.

Finishing his cup of coffee, Roy went back to the living room where he once

again watched Johnny sleep. Looking up at the shelf in his line of vision,

his gaze rested on two framed photographs…the first picture was a picture of

Johnny, Joanne and the kids.

The picture had been taken last summer when the five of them spent a weekend camping.

Johnny was thrilled that he was finally able to convince Joanne to join

them. The second picture was of all the guys taken five months ago when the

guys threw Hank a surprise 45th Birthday Party at his favorite

restaurant…both pictures conjured up such wonderful memories.

Between Joanne and the kids and the guys on the crew, Roy wondered how

Johnny would break the news to them all. For sure, he knew what all of their

reactions would be.

Looking out the window, Roy realized that the sun was starting to come up.

He was caught in deep thought when he heard Johnny stirring on the couch.

"Johnny, you okay partner?'

Starting to sit up, but suddenly stopping and grabbing his head, Johnny

replied, "Ahhhhh, my head…what did I do last night?"

Looking up and seeing Roy and the look in his eyes, brought the memory of

the previous night back to his mind. Somewhere between being hung over and

physically exhausted, Johnny was in a haze, and as he slowly sat up on the

couch, the reason he was at Roy's and feeling this way came flooding back to

him.

Through sleep-filled eyes, he looked at his partner and softly said, "Please

tell me that this was just a dream."

"I wish I could Junior."

John took in Roy's appearance. "You look as bad as I feel. Are

YOU okay?"

Roy smiled sheepishly, and replied, "I didn't get much sleep last night…I

was..."

Johnny nodded his head in acknowledgement. "I know, you don't have

to say it, it's written all over your face."

"Johnny, can I get you anything…hot cocoa or orange juice?"

"A glass of water would be great."

"No problem. I'll get it for you."

Roy went to the kitchen and came back with the water, handing it to his

partner.

"Thanks."

"Johnny, I've been thinking. Why don't you call Cap this morning. That way I

can be there when you tell him, he can come here."

John looked at Roy wearily. "I don't know if I have the strength to do this,

right now." After a few moments he continued. "You'll stay with me while I

talk to him?"

"You're my best friend Johnny…I won't leave your side, unless you want me

to."

John relaxed somewhat as he said, "Let's call him this morning."

"Johnny, why don't you take a shower. Maybe you'll feel better."

"Maybe I will. When are Joanne and the kids coming home?"

Looking quickly at his watch, Roy replied, "Probably around supper time."

"Roy…I do want to tell Joanne...but not now. I…I…"

"You don't have to explain Johnny, you tell her on your own time."

"Roy, she's going to know something's wrong, she's going to see it all over

your face."

Realizing that his best friend was right, Roy said, "Well…you let me deal

with that, okay? Go take your shower, I'll make some breakfast, and

then you'll call Captain Stanley."

An hour later, the two friends were sitting down to breakfast, with Johnny

dreading the phone call that he knew he had to make.

After swallowing his last bit of toast, Johnny pushed himself away from the

table. "Well, here it goes."

He dialed Hank's number and waited for someone to pick up. After four rings,

he heard a voice.

"Stanley residence. May I help you?"

"Uh...yeah. Suzanne, its John Gage."

"Johnny, how nice to hear from you. Hank and I were just talking about you."

Johnny was surprised to hear that, but knew that it really wasn't a

surprise…Hank had been as concerned about him as Roy was.

"Uh…I'm…I'm sorry to be calling on a Sunday morning, but I need to speak to

Hank."

**Hank...the guys NEVER call him Hank...something must be wrong**

"Ah…sure, let me get him."

John's heart started to beat faster in anticipation of talking to his

Captain.

"John, what's up pal?"

There was silence for a few moments as Johnny gathered his thoughts.

"Johnny?" Hank repeated.

"Cap, I…I need to talk to you. I know it's a lot to ask, but do you think

you can come to Roy's?"

Hank immediately sensed all was not right with his paramedic.

"Sure. I'll be right over…is everything okay?"

"I...I can't get into it right now…just come over."

Hank could hear the anxiousness in John's voice. "Okay pal, I'll

be over in thirty minutes."

Johnny got off the phone.

"Well, he's coming over. Should be here in a half hour."

Roy looked sympathetically at his best friend. "You needed to do

this Johnny, you do know that?"

"Yeah, I know that…but it doesn't make it any easier. How do I tell Captain Stanley,

who's been like a father to me, that I'm…I'm…about my tumor…how?"

The two paramedics sat in silence for the half hour waiting for Hank to

arrive. They were both startled when the doorbell rang. Johnny looked at

his partner as though he were about to walk the tightrope without a net.

Roy got up to answer the door. Greeting his Captain, he sensed Hank's

uneasiness.

"Hi Cap, come on in."

"Roy, what's..."

Before Hank could finish his sentence, he saw Johnny on the couch and took in

the younger paramedic's haggard appearance.

Johnny addressed his boss with one word. "Cap."

Hank went to the living room, taking a seat in the chair that Roy had

occupied for most of the night.

"John, what's up pal? You…you didn't sound so good on the phone...and

frankly, you look even worse than you sound."

Before telling Hank the news, Johnny took another look at Roy to draw some

semblance of strength and calmness from him.

"Cap, I...I got some bad news yesterday…and I needed...needed to tell you

because it...it impacts my career with the department."

John paused to collect his nerve, and while doing so, he took in the

extremely worried look on Hank's face.

"I'm...I'm...I...I have a brain tumor…I...I...the doctors are…giving me six

months."

Johnny's heart was in his throat. The news left Hank more than a bit

stunned.

"John…are...are you sure? I mean...they...they make mistakes all the time."

Johnny numbly nodded his head, and said, "That's the same thing Roy

said...no Cap…there's no mistake. Brackett told me yesterday morning and

there were two other doctors that were brought in on the results." John

paused and took a breath. "Brackett's letting me work two more weeks."

Despite his bouts with paranoia, Hank was as in control of his emotions as

they come, and even he was on the brink of losing it after hearing the news

of Johnny's illness.

"I am so sorry John. I…I wish…"

Hank was too emotional to finish his sentence, as he looked back and forth

between his two paramedics and pictured how difficult it must have been for

Johnny to break the news to his best friend.

Deep in thought, Hank was brought back when Johnny started to speak.

"Cap, I need you to set up a meeting with Chief Houts."

"Uh...sure pal. When?"

"I was kind of hoping we could do it tomorrow. I…I want to give him my

resignation…effective in two weeks."

When Hank heard Johnny say the word 'resignation', he realized the finality

of the situation. He was losing not only one of his top

firefighter/paramedics, but a man who was like a son to him…as well as a

very close friend. Hank was still pretty choked up when he started to

speak.

"I'll call the…the Chief…when I get home."

Johnny let out a breath. "I appreciate it Cap." John paused for a moment.

"I'd like to tell the guys after meeting with you and Houts."

Hank could only nod his head.

Trying to control his emotions, Johnny spoke softly. "Cap…I...I

want to thank you…for everything …the support you've given me over the

years…as my Captain and as…my friend…the times you've listened to me and…all

the times you've guided me… they've meant everything to me…you've been a

great leader Cap…thanks."

Hank's voice was full of emotion, as he spoke to his paramedic…his friend.

"John, you're an extraordinary person. You have a great heart and a warmth

about you…I'm gonna miss you pal…51's not going to be the same without you."

Johnny gave his Captain a big Gage smile.

"Don't worry Cap...I'll still come by and keep Chet in line for you."

Slightly smiling, Hank replied, "I'm counting on that pal. Well, I better

get going…I have a…a phone call to make."

As Hank got up from his chair, he said, "I'm here for you John."

Turning the tables on his Captain, John gave Hank a hug. "I'll be okay Cap."

Before leaving, Hank turned to look at Roy, who had virtually said nothing

the whole time.

"I'll see you both at the station in the morning."

After their Captain left, Johnny sat back down on the couch.

"You did fine Johnny. I know how hard it was for you to tell him the news."

"Roy…you...you got any…Tylenol or something…I really don't…feel so good…my

head is really…really killing me."

Roy became worried, seeing how pale his friend was becoming and the pain

etched on Johnny's face.

"Just sit back and relax Johnny, I think Joanne has some Tylenol in the

bathroom cabinet. I'll be right back."

Johnny nodded and sat back on the couch and leaned his aching head back. Roy

went to get the bottle of Tylenol, and after coming back, he handed two

tablets to his partner who swallowed them with a gulp of water. After a few

minutes of just resting with his eyes closed, John slowly got up.

"I better get going Roy."

"Johnny, if you don't feel well...maybe you should lie down for a while."

"I'm okay Roy. The way I feel…it's not GOING to go away, but I'll be

alright. Thanks for everything."

"Johnny…"

"Roy, I'll see you in the morning." Pausing for a moment he smiled weakly

and added, "You better get rid of the empty beer cans…Joanne'll think I've

corrupted you. See you tomorrow."

As Johnny started for the door, Roy put his hand on his partner's shoulder.

Turning to look at his partner, Johnny smiled and reading his friend's mind,

said, "I know Roy...if I need anything...call you. I will. Tell Joanne

and the kids I said hello."

Once Johnny left, Roy went about straightening up the house…the last 24

hours playing vividly in his mind. He wondered to himself how tomorrow would

play out, after all, the men of 51's A-shift were a close bunch, and Roy

knew that none of the guys would take the news of Johnny's illness very

well, especially Chet Kelly.

Once John arrived back at his apartment, he ran to the bathroom, after

battling another bout of nausea. Rinsing his mouth out at the sink, he

decided he'd call his good friend Rocky Ramirez and see if he could come

over.

John called Rocky, who agreed to come to Johnny's apartment…Rocky knew that

his friend hadn't been feeling well of late, but like Roy, kept his concerns

to himself. Johnny had left his door unlocked and when he heard a knock at the

door he yelled for the person to come in…he knew it was Rocky.

When Rocky came into John's apartment and saw him sitting in his recliner,

he immediately knew something was wrong.

"Hey Johnny."

"Rocky…glad you made it."

"Johnny, what's going on? You didn't sound so good on the phone, and now

that I'm standing here looking at you...you look like hell."

John sat looking at his friend for a few moments.

"Have a seat Rocky. I...I have some things to talk to you about."

Rocky was getting increasingly alarmed, and the seriousness in Johnny's tone

of voice and the obvious discomfort that was etched in his friend's face,

only made him realize that his concerns were not unfounded.

John stalled as long as he could but knew that he'd have to tell Rocky about

his illness...much like he told Roy and Captain Stanley.

"Rocky...I...I got some bad news yesterday...from Dr. Brackett...I'm...I'm

sick...I...I have a brain tumor."

Rocky was stunned at the news, but realized by his friend's expression that

there was more to it.

"And?"

John swallowed hard a few times before he spoke again.

"And…the doctors...are giving me...six months...the...the cancer already

spread to my lungs...and Brackett's giving me two more weeks to work."

Like Roy and Hank Stanley before him, Rocky was equally shocked by the news.

He hadn't known Johnny as long as either of them, and was definitely not

as close to him as the other two men were...but hearing the news of his

friend's illness didn't hurt any less for him.

"Johnny...I'm sorry. I...I…what can I do?"

John looked straight into Rocky's eyes. "I...I have to ask you a

big favor."

"Anything buddy...anything at all."

"I want you to become Roy's new partner." Johnny said matter-of-factly.

Johnny's request was met by silence. Rocky knew what the implications of

this request meant.

"Rocky, you're the only person that I would trust to work with Roy on a

permanent basis. Roy means a lot to me. If you were his partner, I'd know that he was being looked after…and that's very important to me."

"Johnny...are you sure...I mean, this is really what you want?"

John nodded his head, and replied, "Yes, and I know it won't be easy...for

either of you. But, I know in time the two of you will become good

friends...you're the only one that I'd entrust Roy's life to...the only one.

Would you do that for me?"

Rocky was overwhelmed. He was touched that Johnny felt that way about him to

ask him to do this. He and his partner Alexi Le Monnaco were together for

five years and got along well, but he knew that he'd have to do this for

Johnny.

"Yeah, I'll do it Johnny."

John let out the breath he was holding.

"Thank you Rocky. I...I feel better knowing you'll do this for me...for Roy.

I have a meeting with Chief Houts and Captain Stanley first thing in the

morning...I'd like to tell them about our arrangement, if it's okay with

you."

"Sure. I...I guess I better talk to Alexi."

"Is he going to be okay with this? I know the two of you are really good

friends."

"John, I think what you're doing is very admirable...to care so much about

Roy, that you'd go to such great lengths to make sure he's okay. Alexi will

be fine…besides, the two of us never came close to havin' the bond that you

and Roy have."

Rocky looked at his friend with concern, as he asked, "Are you going to be

alright Johnny?"

"I'll be fine. I intend to make the most of the time that I have left."

The two friends embraced and Rocky left to go home and call his partner.

At 6:30 PM Joanne and the kids arrived home from their weekend with her

mother. After greeting their father, Chris and Jennifer went to their

rooms.

Joanne embraced her husband. She sensed that something was weighing on his

mind.

"Honey, you alright? You seem...pre-occupied."

Roy tried to hide his emotions, which he was usually able to do..."built-in

insulation" as he once told Dixie, but Joanne knew him too well.

"I'm okay Jo. I guess I'm just tired."

"Did Johnny come over...you know, to help you with yard work or other

projects?"

Roy's breath caught at the mere mention of his partner's name.

"Uh...yeah. We...we putted around in the garage and had a few beers."

"Roy...these last few weeks, I gotta say, you really haven't been here…your

mind seems like its miles away. Something is wrong, isn't it?"

"Jo...I…I can't get into it right now. Please drop it."

Joanne looked at her husband and she could see the worry written all over

his face. She knew that if something was physically wrong with him, he'd

tell her. She also knew that if it was work related he'd tell her. There was

only one other thing that could be bothering him…something to do with

Johnny. Although she didn't like to see her husband struggle mentally, she

respected his wishes and dropped the subject.

"Okay…but I'm here…if you wanna talk about it."

Johnny was exhausted…breaking the news to three of his closest friends had

been overwhelming to him, and after washing up in the bathroom and taking off

his jeans and shirt, Johnny got into his bed without another thought about

what lay ahead for him and promptly fell asleep.

For Roy, sleep simply would not come. After trying to fall asleep for an

hour, he got up and went downstairs, going to the living room where he

had watched his best friend sleep on Saturday night and where Captain

Stanley had received the news of his paramedic's illness, Roy sat down in his

chair. He knew he was being selfish, but the one thought that stuck in his

head was that in two weeks he'd have a new partner. He couldn't imagine

anyone but Johnny beside him in the squad...but now, it was a sure thing

that that would indeed happen.

The next morning Johnny rolled out of bed at 5 AM, showered and got into his

uniform. He wanted to get to the station early, to face Chief Houts and

Captain Stanley.

Roy on the other hand was sitting up in bed, wide-awake after getting

virtually no sleep. He knew Johnny would be getting to the station early

that morning and decided that he'd try to get an early start as well. He got

out of bed and went into the shower. When he got out, Joanne was

wide-awake.

"You okay Roy? I know you didn't get much sleep last night." Joanne was

starting to get concerned about her husband.

"I'm fine. I think I'm going to get an early start."

Sitting up in bed, she said, "Let me fix you some breakfast."

"I'm not hungry Jo."

He too got into his uniform and after saying good-bye to his kids and wife,

decided to hit the road.

"Roy...call me tonight."

Roy knew that his wife was worried about him. She never requested that he call

her before.

"I will Jo." He kissed his wife and left.

Pulling into the parking lot, he saw that Johnny's Rover was already there.

Going into the station, he saw that the squad and engine were both out.

Walking into the locker room, he saw Johnny sitting in his locker with his

feet on the bench and his head in his hands.

Roy sat quietly on the bench and softly spoke. "Johnny, you alright?"

John looked up, and softly said, "Nothing I can't handle. How are you doing Roy?"

"Been better, I guess. I feel terrible and I'm NOT the one who…"

Johnny jumped in before Roy could finish his sentence. "I told Rocky

yesterday."

"How did it go?" Roy asked, full well knowing just how difficult it must have been.

"I guess as well as could be expected."

Their conversation was interrupted by Captain Stanley's voice.

"John, if you're ready to do this...Chief Houts is waiting in my office."

"I'll be right there Cap." Johnny got down from his locker and closed the

door.

"Johnny..."

"It'll be okay Roy…like pulling off a Band-Aid...quick and painless. I'll be

back."

Johnny walked to his Captain's office and knocked on the door. When the door

opened, he entered slowly and sat in a chair facing both men.

Looking at Chief Hout's face, he wasn't sure how much Hank had told the man.

He decided to tell him the whole thing.

"Chief...thank you for coming. I won't beat around the bush, even though I'm

not sure what Captain Stanley has told you…but I'll just come right out and say it. A

couple days ago I was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor…the doctors

are giving me roughly six months. Dr. Brackett is giving me two weeks…to

keep doing the job that means everything to me, but I'd like to tender my

resignation from the department, effective in two weeks. In closing I...I

would just like to tell you how honored I've been to serve in the

Department. I've enjoyed my time working at this station, and under the

leadership of Captain Stanley."

Johnny was very nervous and spoke quickly, barely taking a breath between

thoughts.

Chief Houts looked at the paramedic with compassion.

"John, I am truly sorry to hear of your illness. On behalf of the Department

I offer you my prayers and good thoughts. You've been a good firefighter and

a fine paramedic, one of the best I'm told…a tribute to the hard work and

dedication that it takes to do the job. You're a fine man John, and we're

going to miss you."

"Thanks Chief, that means a lot coming from you."

Johnny paused and lowered his head before continuing.

Looking back up at the Chief, Johnny said, "There is one other thing…and I

know it's not standard procedure...but it would mean a lot to me if this

could happen. My partner Roy…he...he's my best friend and I know the coming

months are going to be very hard for him…I'd like it very much if Rocky

Ramirez, a paramedic from 46's would become Roy's permanent partner. He's a

good friend of mine, and frankly the only person that I'd entrust Roy's life

to. I already spoke to Rocky, he has agreed to this, if you'll approve it."

Chief Houts looked at Johnny and nodded. "It is against procedure, but I

will allow it…it's very honorable for you to do this for your partner. I

will make the arrangements for that, myself. Anything else?"

Johnny softly answered, "No."

Handing them over to the paramedic, Johnny reluctantly signed the paperwork

that would effectively end his tenure with the LA County Fire Department,

wiping away tears, as he did.

"Hank, John…I'll see myself out. And again John…I'm so sorry."

"Thanks Chief." Johnny softly replied.

They shook hands and the Chief walked out, greeting the other men who were

nervously sitting around the kitchen table at the news that he was in Captain Stanley's office.

Johnny and Hank stood there for a moment after the Chief left, not really

knowing what to say to each other.

Finally, Hank spoke, asking the only thing he could.

"John, how you doing pal?"

"Well, truthfully I feel better knowing that the Chief is allowing Rocky to

come here. I'll be alright Cap, I don't want anyone's pity."

"Chief Houts has taken us out of service for the next hour and a half. Are

you going to be able to do this John?"

"I have to. Chet, Mike, and Marco are family...they need to know."

When John came out of the office, the guys were surprised that he was the

one in there with both men…but as Hank came into the kitchen behind him, the

others caught the serious look on his face.

Chet was the first one to speak.

"Cap, is Gage in trouble or something? We just saw Chief Houts leave."

"I wish that were the case pal. John has something he wants…needs…to tell

you guys."

Chet, Marco, and Mike looked over at Roy, who quickly looked away...that

told the guys all they needed to know...something was wrong and Roy knew

what it was.

As the men all took a seat at the table, Johnny started to speak.

"Well, I know you've all been worried about me and I'm sorry that I've put

you all through that. I decided to see a doctor last week and they ran a

bunch of tests. I found out the results on Saturday morning…Brackett came to

my apartment. I...I have an inoperable brain tumor."

After Johnny mentioned his inoperable brain tumor, the room became deathly

quiet and still. The three men who were hearing the news for the first time,

were in obvious shock. Afraid to hear John's next sentence, Chet was the

first to speak.

"So you're going to do chemotherapy or radiation, right? I mean they caught it in time

and they'll…they'll just shrink it or something."

Johnny was afraid to continue…he knew that what he was going to say next

would devastate his friends, especially Chet, who was a lot closer to Johnny

than either of them would ever admit to. Johnny started to speak again, but

stopped.

"There's not…my mouth's dry. Can someone get me a glass of water?"

Roy stepped over to the sink and got his partner a glass of water and

brought it to him.

"Thanks partner." After taking a few sips, he continued. "Well, Chet...I…I

wish that were the case. I'd rather get sick from the chemo, then…well, the

truth of the matter is that…the doctors are giving me six months...I'm…I'm

dying."

There it was…Johnny had said it and it was now out in the open. He could

see that Chet was having an extremely difficult time coming to terms with

his news, as his friend's voice got loud and his Irish temper was only a few heartbeats

away from surfacing.

"Gage, that's not funny. What kind of joke are you trying to pull on us?"

The other men all looked at Chet with concern. Johnny let out a breath and

continued speaking in a soft voice.

"I wish it were a joke Chet, but the truth is, it's very real, and I've been

dealing with this news all weekend. The...cancer spread...to my lungs, but

Brackett's letting me work for two more weeks. Houts was here this morning

to accept my resignation. That's...that's my news. Now, you all know the

truth...I'm dying."

The harsh reality of Johnny's situation set in, and after a few minutes,

Mike spoke up.

"How...how are you handling everything?" The engineer asked sincerely.

"It's hard Mike, but I'm okay. I...I get some really bad headaches and some

nausea, but I'm fine. Marco?"

"Johnny...I...I don't know what to say. My grandmother would be able to say

something to comfort you...but I'm...at a loss. I guess...you're in God's

hands now...he'll take care of you."

Johnny silently laughed at his three friends' reactions. They all reacted as

he knew they would…Chet got angry, Mike was calm and direct, and Marco

brought up his grandmother and God. He was grateful to have these people in

his life.

"Yeah Marco…I think he will…in fact…I KNOW he will." Johnny softly

replied.

After a few minutes of silence, Hank spoke quietly.

"We've been stood down for 90 minutes. Why don't you guys try to…to relax

for a while. Chet, I'd like to see you in my office."

Chet was very subdued, and quietly answered, and said, "Coming Cap."

Getting up, he followed his Captain back to the office. After Chet went to

Hank's office, Johnny also left the room. Mike looked sympathetically at

Roy…being as shocked as he was, he had forgotten about how rough this must be on

him.

"Roy…I'm…I'm sorry. This must be really difficult for you too. I can't

imagine how YOU must be feeling."

Roy smiled weakly at the engineer, and answered, "Just trying to hang in

there."

"Shouldn't you go to Johnny, Roy…at least check on him?"

Shaking his head, Roy replied, "He needs to be alone Marco. If I know

Johnny, he's sitting on top of the hose tower, and no matter how badly we're

struggling with this…Johnny's got it a lot worse, he still has to break the

news to Dixie and Joanne."

Meanwhile in Captain Stanley's office, Hank was trying to gauge whether or

not he'd need a replacement for Chet.

"Chet, you alright?"

Hank was very concerned. The firefighter was getting pale and was very

quiet.

Chet spoke quietly. "Johnny's dyin'…it...it can't be

true…he's...he's...nothing keeps HIM down…nothing."

Hank let out a deep breath…he was convinced that he'd have to yank Chet off

duty.

"Chet...I think you need to go home...I don't think you should work this

shift." Hank paused and then continued. "You don't have to pretend anymore,

it's obvious to all of us what Johnny means to you."

"Uh...okay Cap, that...that might be a good idea."

"Are you going to be alright to drive? I can have Roy take you home in the

squad."

Chet was still reeling from the news and in obvious shock.

"Johnny's…really gonna die?"

Hank was still pretty numb himself, as he softly replied, "Yes

Chet…he...he's sick...and he's only going to get worse."

"Six months...six months for a…a life time." Chet was on the verge of

breaking down.

Hank made a phone call to get a replacement for Chet.

"Okay Chet, you sit tight."

Captain Stanley went out to find Roy…he found him sitting on the couch,

drinking a cup of coffee. He could see that Roy was still in shock himself.

"Roy."

"Yeah Cap?"

"I'd like you to take Chet home in the squad. He's not doing so well right now…and I

took him off duty."

"Okay."

Hank looked around the room to see where everyone else went. "Everyone

alright?"

Roy answered softly. "Cap, I don't think any of us will EVER be

alright."

"Where's John?"

"Hose tower I guess, I assume he's thinking about Dixie. He's gonna tell her

today...and Early and Morton, too."

Chet slowly made his way back into the kitchen and walked over to his

friend.

Looking at Roy, he quietly asked, "You...you don't mind taking me home?"

"Not at all Chet. Why don't you get your stuff and meet me at the squad."

Chet nodded his head and quietly retreated to the locker room.

"If Johnny's looking for me, tell him that I'll be right back."

Hank nodded in acknowledgement. By the time Roy had made his way to the squad,

Chet was waiting for him.

"Come on pal...let's get you home."

During the trip to Chet's apartment, the two men sat in silence.

Pulling in front of the building, Chet got out. "Thanks Roy. Tell

Johnny..."

"I will. Take care of yourself."

"You too."

When Roy got back to the station, he was met by Charlie Dwyer. He

immediately thought that something had happened to Johnny, since Dwyer was a

paramedic and sometimes replaced Johnny.

"Hey Roy."

"What...what are you doing here Charlie?"

Charlie was a little confused as to Roy's reaction to him being there. "Since I'd put in for some OT, I'm filling in for Chet. What's going on, Roy?"

"Where's Johnny?"

"In the kitchen the last time I saw him. Roy, what is it…what's going on?"

Roy looked at Charlie…he wanted to tell his friend the news, but felt it was

Johnny's place to do it.

"Nothing Charlie. Let's get a cup of coffee."

Entering the kitchen, Roy saw Johnny sitting at the table, looking at the

paper, and trying to act like everything was okay.

"Hey partner."

Johnny looked up slowly. "Hey, how's Chet…is he gonna be alright?"

Still worried about Charlie finding out, Roy nodded his head. "Uh

yeah...probably just a bug or something. He…he said to tell you that...that

he'll be thinkin' about you...uh, when he...he uses his new electric blanket

that you gave him last year."

Johnny let out a small laugh, obviously understanding the cryptic message.

"I'm glad."

Charlie looked around the room, observing everyone's faces and the extreme

quietness.

"Is Chet alright…is he sick or something?"

Johnny looked over at Charlie and sighed…he knew that Dwyer needed to know,

after all, he was Johnny's friend too.

"Charlie...I'M the one who's sick. I have an inoperable brain tumor and

I...I told everyone this morning."

Charlie was too shocked to respond.

Johnny continued. "I'm afraid Chester B. didn't take the news very well...or

so I've been told. That's why YOU'RE here."

Shocked and surprised, Dwyer softly said, "Johnny…I'm sorry."

Hey, it's not YOUR fault Charlie. I'll be alright."

Johnny turned to Hank. "Cap, put us back in service. I don't think sitting

around is doing any of us any good. I have two more weeks to do this

job...and I intend to do it to the best of my ability."

"John, you're sure pal?" Hank asked with uncertainty.

Johnny looked around at his friends and exhaled. "Yeah. We'll

get through it guys, I promise."

"Alright then, I'll put us back in service."

Hank went to the radio and put Station 51 back in service. Five minutes

later the alarm sounded.

"Squad 51, woman down…2228 Wesley Street…2-2-2-8 Wesley Street…time out

0910."

Captain Stanley responded on the mic and handed Roy the address slip.

Arriving on scene, they were met by a rather attractive young woman…sick or

not, Johnny noticed her as he flashed her a big smile.

"Hello there. Someone hurt?" He asked, still trying to be professional.

"Yeah, it's my roommate Jill. She fell off the treadmill and hurt her

foot."

"What's YOUR name? Johnny asked curiously.

"Kat...it's short for Kathy."

Roy was both amused and relieved at his partner's reaction to the attractive

young brunette. It meant that Johnny was NOT throwing in the towel just yet.

The two paramedics followed Kat into the house, where she brought them to

Jill...another very attractive young lady.

Johnny couldn't suppress his grin.

"Hi Jill. I'm John Gage and this is my partner, Roy DeSoto."

"Hi fellas. I...I hurt my ankle...stupid treadmill. I feel like such a

klutz."

Roy, in typical fashion tried to re-assure the victim. "Don't

feel bad, it happens to all of us."

With that comment, he looked over at Johnny who had had his share of 'episodes'

over the years.

"Just stay still, we're gonna take a look at that ankle."

As soon as Roy touched it, she flinched.

"Uh, I think it might be broken. We're going to have to splint it."

"I was afraid of that. I'm...I'm in a friend's wedding in two weeks...boy,

am I going to look stupid."

Johnny took her vitals and after calling in to Rampart, they got her ready

for transport.

"Can I go with her?" Kathy asked.

Johnny smiled, and replied, "Sure, but you'll have to ride up front."

While loading Jill into the ambulance, Roy looked at Johnny, and asked,

"Want to go in or drive?"

Johnny shrugged his shoulders. "Makes no

difference."

Roy then realized that Johnny was going to break the news to the others when

they got to the hospital. He made the decision for him.

"Johnny, you drive. I'll...I'll meet you at Rampart."

John just nodded his head and went to the squad.

Arriving at Rampart and after helping to get Jill settled in the treatment

room, Roy pulled Dr. Brackett to the side and softly spoke.

"Doc…Johnny wants to tell the others when he gets here."

"How's he doing?" The doctor asked with concern.

"You...you know Johnny…I'm...I'm scared Doc…and if I'M scared..."

Brackett exhaled. "Get the others and go to my office…I'll be

right there. Have Dix get Dr. Drake to cover the base station."

"Okay." Roy replied, and left the room.

Brackett turned his attention to the young woman with the broken ankle.

"Just relax, okay? We're gonna get some x-rays of that ankle."

Jill nodded her head and tried to relax, as Brackett went to the phone to

order the test. Out in the hall, Roy found Dixie.

"Hey Dix. Dr. Brackett wants to see you, Doctor Early and Dr. Morton in his

office...and for Dr. Drake to cover the base station.

Dixie nodded in acknowledgement, but sensed something was wrong.

"Roy...where's Johnny?"

Roy didn't answer right away...finally he spoke and said, "He...he should be

here any minute. He was right behind me in the squad."

Out of the corner of his eye he saw Johnny coming towards him. Johnny

greeted Dixie without his usual exuberance.

"Hey Dix."

"Johnny."

After making quick eye contact with his brown eyes...Dixie knew there was

something seriously wrong. Dr. Drake came to the base station, bringing

with him Early and Morton. While Dr. Drake monitored the radio, the others all

went to Brackett's office.

Arriving at his office, Brackett met them at the same time. After

everyone sat down, he acknowledged Johnny with a look.

"Everyone, please have a seat…Johnny's got something he wants to share with

us. Johnny..."

Johnny looked at Roy before starting. Exhaling a breath, he began telling

his friends the news.

"Well, it's no secret that I've...I've been feeling pretty poorly lately. I

had some tests run last week and on Saturday morning Dr. Brackett and Dr.

Peters confirmed the results. I...I have an inoperable brain tumor, which

unfortunately has already spread to my lungs. I only have a few more months

to...to live."

The office was silent as they all digested the news. After a moment, Johnny

continued.

"Dr. Brackett is letting me keep my job for two more weeks. I already met

with the Chief and told all the guys. I just wanted you all to

know...and…and to tell you thanks for everything you've done for me over the

years. You're all special people and I'm...I'm gonna miss you."

Dixie immediately broke down in tears. She had been the only female that

he'd had to face so far, but he knew breaking the news to Joanne would be

even tougher.

"Oh Johnny." She went over to him and embraced him warmly, the tears

streaming down her cheeks.

Returning the hug, Johnny tried to comfort her, as he quietly said, "I'm

alright Dix, and everything's going to be okay...I know that."

"How can you say that Johnny?''

"Because it's true. I might be dying, but I'm not dead...YET. I

guess I've accepted it...nothin' else that I can really do...but I still

have some living to do...and I intend to do that."

Johnny lifted Dixie's head, dried her tears and gave her a gentle kiss on

the cheek. Doctor Early got up and walked over to the young paramedic.

Placing his hand on Johnny's shoulder, Joe spoke. "I wish you the

best Johnny. I know it's not much to say…but at the moment it's all I can

think of. If you need anything, let me know…I'm here for you."

"Thanks Dr. Early, I will. And it means a lot to have your support." Johnny said, with a small nod.

Mike Morton spoke up. "Johnny...I know we haven't always seen eye

to eye...but...I...I'm here for you, too. I just want you to know that."

He let out a small chuckle. "Thanks Mike. I always knew, deep

down you had a good heart."

Saying that put a small smile on Dr. Morton's face.

Johnny took another look around the room, and said, "Well, thanks...to all

of you. I'll be okay." He glanced over at Roy. "I still have a job to do

so…I'll see you guys later."

He quietly left the room and went to the men's room to splash some water on

his face...the stress of it all was starting to get to him. All eyes turned

to Roy, but as he looked back at them, all he could do was shrug his

shoulders.

"It's the fifth time I've sat through hearing this...and it doesn't get any

easier."

Dr. Brackett looked at Roy with concern, and said, "Roy...if you EVER need

someone to talk to...I'm always available."

Roy let out a sigh. "I appreciate it, Doc. I do know one

thing...no matter how badly I'M feeling...Johnny's feeling a lot worse."

Roy acknowledged the rest of the group and left to go find his partner.

Dixie tried to compose herself, as she asked, "Kel…you're sure you…you

didn't make any mistake? Johnny's...so young."

"Dixie, I wish I WAS wrong. Believe me, I'd give anything to be wrong on

this one. I know how fond of Johnny you are…we ALL are…but no, I didn't

make a mistake. Doctor Peters and myself checked and rechecked the

results…Johnny's sick and in the next few months…he's only going to get

worse."

Feeling a bit uncomfortable and feeling like he was intruding, although he

was asked to join them, Mike Morton excused himself.

"I...I better get back to the base Station. Dr. Drake may be needed else

where."

He quietly left the office, leaving the other three to discuss Johnny's

future.

After closing the door to Kel's office, Mike Morton leaned up against the wall and

let out a breath…still in disbelief of what he had just been told.

**Oh Johnny…this can't be happening man…not to you**

After pulling himself together, the young doctor knew the only thing he could do for

Johnny now, was to be there for the young man if and when he needed him.

He slowly made his way back to the base station to try to get back to work.

Back inside, Kel and Joe could see how the news had affected Dixie.

"I...I better get back to work myself." Dixie softly said.

"Dix, why don't you take the rest of the day off?"

Although she was still very upset, her professional side once again kicked

in.

"Kel, now what kind of message would that send to my nurses? I'll be

fine…excuse me."

She walked out of the office and to the ladies' room to freshen up a bit.

Joe Early looked at Brackett. "Kel, how bad is Johnny…really?"

Leaning back in his chair, Kel replied, "Well, for the time being he's not

doing too badly. He's been experiencing headaches, nausea and vomiting…and

as you can see he's also been extremely run down. The fact that he wants to

and is still able to do his job is a tribute to his great strength and

courage. In the coming months, he's going to have a lot of issues…where the

tumor is located, he's going to lose most of his sight and he's going to

have left-sided weakness. He's already experienced mood swings and loss of

focus."

Momentarily looking down at his hands, Joe looked back at Kel. "I

guess surgery to remove the tumor isn't an option?"

Shaking his head, Kel sadly replied, "No unfortunately it isn't. Johnny

asked me that…but again, due to the location, I told him if we DID

operate…and he somehow survived the surgery, that he'd probably wind up in a

coma. He didn't like the sound of that so he's gonna pass on that."

"Well, I'm glad that he didn't want to have the surgery. But it's already

spread?"

"Yes. He's got several fairly large growths on his lungs, and after talking

it over with him, he decided that surgery was not an option there, either…I agreed

with him."

"That means some pretty serious breathing issues down the road, doesn't it?"

Brackett nodded his head. Dr. Early looked at the calendar on Brackett's

desk.

"Five months...Johnny's been injury free for five months. If he'd had a

concussion or rib injury at some point early in that time, would we have

spotted the tumor in time?"

Dr. Brackett looked at his friend sadly. "I don't know Joe, maybe…maybe not.

Johnny asked me the same question and I...I truthfully don't think it

would have made a difference."

"Dixie's right you know…Johnny is so young. I wonder how Roy is really

dealing with all this."

Brackett let out a sigh, and said, "You saw him Joe. He might be calm on the

outside, but if I know Roy...and I do, it's destroying him. Believe me,

Joe...I wish this WAS all a mistake. It's going to be hard on ALL of

us...but we owe it to Johnny to be strong."

The two doctors looked at each other as they both contemplated what the

future would be like for all of them without John Gage in it.

"We better get back to work too Joe."

By the time Roy made his way back to the base station, Johnny was nowhere to

be seen.

"Carol, you know where Johnny went?"

"Sorry Roy, I haven't seen him."

Sharon, the student nurse came over to Roy. "Hi Roy. Johnny wanted

me to tell you that he's waiting for you in the squad."

"Thanks."

He weakly smiled at the two nurses and went out to the squad. Arriving

outside he spotted his partner leaning against the vehicle, in obvious deep

thought.

"Hey Junior."

Johnny looked up at his partner and softly spoke. "Roy...I didn't

think it would be THIS hard. Maybe...maybe I should just have told

everyone that I'm sick and need to take time off…it would have been be A LOT easier

than telling them the truth."

Roy exhaled loudly as he replied, "Johnny...these are all people who care a

lot about you and like it or not, you owe them the truth. You did

fine...you did the right thing."

"Then why does it hurt so much…why is my heart in my throat?"

Gently touching his friend's shoulder, Roy replied, "Because Junior...you're

human...and you care an awful lot about these people too and you don't like

seeing them hurting over all of this."

Not wanting to talk about it anymore, Johnny suggested that they should make themselves available.

"Okay."

They both got into the squad slowly, as Roy glanced at his partner before

grabbing the mic.

"Squad 51 available from Rampart. Returning to quarters."

Drained from the morning's events, the two paramedics rode back to the

station in silence.

Arriving back at the station, they were both relieved when they saw that the

engine was out.

"Roy, I'm gonna go lie down for a while."

"Okay Johnny."

Roy resigned himself to the fact that Johnny was no longer the same person

that he once was...even just a few weeks ago. He tired easily, he was more

quiet and introspective...and he was dying. The days of the DeSoto-Gage

partnership was coming to an end…Roy got a big lump in his throat just

thinking about it.

Roy got himself a cup of coffee and sat down on the couch. He found

himself thinking about the events of the past weekend...how both his and

Johnny's lives had changed in the span of 48 hours. He had been deep in thought

and didn't hear Captain Stanley calling his name.

"Roy."

He finally got the paramedic's attention on the third try.

"Hey Cap, sorry."

Walking over to his friend, Hank asked, "You alright Roy?"

"I'm trying to be."

"How'd it go at Rampart…did Johnny break the news?"

"Yeah, he did...it was rough."

"Where's he now?" Hank asked, taking a seat at the table.

Before Roy could answer, Johnny came into the kitchen.

"Hi everybody."

"Hey Johnny, I'm making tacos for lunch."

Johnny smiled at Marco. "Sounds good."

Surprised, Roy asked, "You're hungry Junior?"

"Roy...I DO have to eat…yeah...I'm hungry. Of course, I may regret it

later, but Brackett says that I need to eat to keep up my strength."

Before anything else could be said, the alarms sounded.

"Station 51, Station 46, Engine 110 structure fire…1509 Waverly

Avenue…1-5-0-9 Waverly Avenue…timeout, 12:15."

As the crew made their way to the bay and the vehicles, Hank responded on

the mic. "Station 51 responding, 10-4 KMG-365."

Pulling up to the scene, the paramedics saw that it was a restaurant fire.

When they got out of the squad, a panic-stricken man met them.

"You gotta come quick...one of my workers is trapped in the walk-in

freezer."

Captain Stanley approached the paramedics to find out what the situation

was.

"What's going on Roy?"

"Cap, the manager says there is someone trapped in the freezer."

"Okay. Roy, John you guys go in…Charlie, Marco follow them in with a line."

Johnny asked the man the name of the trapped worker.

"His name is Carlos. He's one of my prep cooks."

Roy and Johnny entered the building with Charlie and Marco behind them. They got

to the kitchen and found the walk-in freezer. Trying to open the door, they found it to be stuck.

Roy banged on the door, calling out Carlos' name.

"Carlos...Carlos, can you hear me?"

As Roy called out the man's name, Johnny just happened to be looking up when

he noticed a trap door on top of the freezer.

"Roy, there's a trap door up there. Give me a hand and I can get up and see

if I can open it."

He took off his air tank and went to the top of the freezer, with Roy

hoisting him up. Trying to open it, Johnny realized it was stuck.

"It's no good Roy."

Easing Johnny back down, Roy took off his gloves to work the radio. He

informed Captain Stanley of the situation.

"Cap, we need a crow bar and probably the stokes and equipment."

"10-4 Roy."

Rocky Ramirez happened to be one of the men who was sent in with the

equipment. He handed the crow bar to Johnny who was able to pry open the

trap door.

"All right…it's open."

He looked down in the freezer and saw the worker lying unconscious next to a

couple of crates.

"Roy, he's unconscious so we're gonna need a backboard. I'm going down."

Johnny slowly lowered himself into the freezer, then he started to examine

the victim.

Roy hoisted Rocky up to the top of the freezer so he could relay info to Roy

who called it in to Rampart. Establishing contact with the hospital, Roy

shouted out the treatment orders. After much effort, Johnny got their

victim strapped to a backboard and with help from Rocky, they got the man

out of the freezer. Once Johnny was back on ground, he was breathing very

heavily and shivering.

Roy grabbed one end of the stokes, Rocky the other, and Johnny carried some

of the equipment. Outside, while Roy and Rocky prepared the victim for

transport, they noticed Johnny hunched over trying to catch his breath and

becoming very pale.

The two paramedics looked at each other with concern. "Uh, Johnny...why don't you

ride in with me. Rocky'll take our squad in."

Johnny was still trying to catch his breath. Captain Stanley was observing

his paramedic too and was getting worried.

"John, I think you should go in and get yourself checked out."

Johnny was gasping between words, and as he tried to speak. "For

what…for... Brackett to...tell me...what I...I already know…I'm okay…

I'm…I'm just cold…Roy, you go in and I'll follow…behind in the squad."

Roy reluctantly went in the ambulance, while Rocky helped Johnny load up the

equipment back into the squad.

"Johnny...how...how did it go this morning?"

"Fine…it went fine…Chief Houts…approved your transfer."

Rocky nodded his head, and softly answered. "Good."

"I better get…going…Rocky I'll…see you later."

After Johnny left, Hank walked over to Rocky and placed his hand on Rocky's

shoulder.

"Hard, isn't it Rocky?"

"Yeah Cap, it is. I still can't believe it. Johnny's the last person

I could have ever imagined this happening to. It just doesn't seem

fair."

At the hospital, Roy was waiting for his partner's arrival. When Johnny

didn't come right away, he started to get concerned, given the state that

his partner had been in when he left him. Roy was leaning against the desk, deep

in thought when Dixie approached him…she had a worried look on her face.

"Roy."

"Oh, hi Dix."

"Need any supplies?" She asked, trying to keep her composure.

He handed her the requisition form. "Uh...yeah. Here's what we

need."

Even though she was looking at the paper, Dixie's mind was really on her

friend.

"How's Johnny...I mean REALLY?"

Roy shrugged his shoulders. "I don't know…I guess...I guess as

well as can be expected. How would YOU or anyone else be feeling under the same

circumstances?"

Dixie nodded in understanding as she quickly gathered and handed him the

requested supplies.

"Here you go Roy."

"Thanks Dix, I'll see you later."

On a hunch, Roy made his way outside and sure enough, he saw Johnny sitting

in the squad. He locked up the supplies and slid in to the driver's seat. He

looked over at Johnny who still had on his turnout coat, and although his

breathing seemed to have returned to normal, still appeared to be quite

pale.

"Ready to go Junior?"

"Yeah Roy, let's go home."

Roy noticed that although he still called Johnny, Junior...his partner

seemed to stop calling him Pally and this observation was a little unnerving

to him. He reached over to the mic and made them available.

"Johnny..."

John looked over at Roy with tired eyes, and softly said, "No Roy, don't say

it…don't say anything."

Arriving back at the station, Johnny got out of the squad without saying

anything. Roy could only sit and imagine how his best friend was really

feeling. Seeing Roy still in the squad, Captain Stanley came over.

"Roy, everything okay?"

Roy looked at his Captain without saying anything. The look in his eyes

conveying the message that "no, everything's NOT alright, but what can we

really do about it?"

"We left you guys some lunch in the oven."

"Thanks, but I'm not really hungry...and I don't think Johnny is either."

He got out of the squad and headed to the dorm...knowing that he'd find his

partner there.

Sure enough Johnny was sitting on his bed, his knees bent, arms wrapped

around his knees, and his head down resting on top. Roy quietly approached

his partner and sat down on his own bed, facing Johnny.

"Johnny."

Johnny lifted his head and softly spoke. "Roy, I don't think I can do this.

I want to...but...but it's like...like someone came and…took all my

strength away from me. This job...it means everything to me...but I just

don't think I can do it anymore. I care about you and the guys too much to

let my physical limitations put you all in danger…I can't do it...I won't."

Wanting to convince his best friend that everything was going to be okay,

Roy said, "Johnny, you're...you're just having a bad day. Two weeks...two

weeks..."

Interrupting his friend, Johnny replied, "Roy...a bad day is when I'm running

late for work...or when I break a shoelace...getting into it with Chet.

This...this is...I'm...I'm dyin'...that's all there is to it. My

days...they AREN'T going to get any better…just a lot worse.

Roy...if...if it's okay with you, I just want to be left alone."

Roy was hurt and scared that Johnny felt this way...but he also knew that

eventually Johnny would regain his positive attitude and a sense of peace.

Wednesday morning arrived, signaling the end of the shift. It had been a

long one, and left Johnny exhausted. In the locker room changing to go

home, Mike, Marco, and Charlie were talking about their plans for their days

off.

"So, what are your plans Johnny?"

"Not much Roy."

Knowing that he needed to tell Joanne, Johnny paused for a moment, then

said, "Monday morning...at the end of the next shift, I want to come over to

tell Joanne. I...I see what this is doing to you and…and she deserves to

know what's going on...it's not fair to either of you. We can tell the kids

another day...that I'm sick and needed to take a leave of absence."

"Okay Johnny." Roy said softly, nodding his head.

"See you guys Friday."

As Johnny left, the guys all wished him well.

Once at home, Johnny climbed into bed and fell right to sleep. However, after

sleeping several hours he was awakened by the reality that he could hardly

breath…unable to do anything else, he called 911. Arriving at Johnny's

apartment were the paramedics from 51's B-Shift, Andy Clarkson and Adam Wright.

Johnny's landlady unlocked his door when there was no answer.

Once in the apartment, they went to Johnny's bedroom where they found him

conscious, but struggling to breathe. Right away, they put the O2 on him and

he stopped struggling, but he still wasn't breathing normally. Adam, the

senior paramedic took charge of the situation.

"Johnny...can you hear me?" He asked in a calm voice.

Johnny could only nod his head.

"I need you to relax. Can you do that for me?"

Again Johnny nodded his head.

As Johnny's breathing started to even out, his body started to relax. They

took his vitals and contacted Rampart. Brackett was very concerned when he had

heard who the victim was. After giving the paramedics their treatment

orders, he called Roy at home.

After Roy got off the phone, Joanne knew something was seriously wrong.

"What's wrong Roy?" She asked very worriedly.

"It's Johnny...he's being taken to Rampart. He...he was having trouble

Breathing…Brackett thinks it's pneumonia."

Roy didn't want to go into all the other stuff...that was for Johnny to tell

her, in his own time.

After starting the IV, the paramedics got Johnny ready for transport. Adam

rode in with Johnny...concern on his face, oblivious to Johnny's terminal

illness. At the hospital, Johnny was taken into a treatment room and

examined by Dr. Brackett. The O2 mask was switched to a nasal canula.

"Johnny, how are you feeling?"

Johnny's voice was weak and strained, as he softly answered. "At least I

can…breathe now."

Hearing that brought a slight smile to Brackett's face.

"We're going to take x-rays Johnny ...but I'm pretty sure what you have is a

pretty nasty case of pneumonia. It was made worse by your weakened state and

your lung issues."

"I guess that freezer…rescue and the…the water rescue yesterday…didn't help."

Brackett put his hand on Johnny's shoulder. "No, probably not.

Just rest Johnny, x-ray will be here shortly."

Before leaving, he took a quick glance at Dixie, who hadn't said anything up

to that point.

Dixie put a thermometer into Johnny's mouth and started cooling his face

with a cold compress. Doing this made her think back to the time Johnny

almost died from the monkey virus. She knew he'd recover from the pneumonia,

but beyond that...she was scared. She took out the thermometer.

"102.4" She said softly.

The x-ray tech arrived and was ready to take pictures of Johnny's chest.

"Johnny, just try to relax. We'll have you feeling better in no time." Kel

told his friend.

"Dix…Roy…was Roy called?"

"Yes Johnny, Dr. Brackett called him. By now, he's probably in the lounge

waiting to see you. I'll be back in a little bit."

She bent down and kissed his forehead. John nodded his head as he gently

grabbed her arm.

In a whisper, Johnny said, "Dix…tell Roy that…I'm okay…and for him…not…not

to worry."

"I will Johnny, just rest."

After leaving Johnny, Dixie headed to the lounge. Going in, she found Roy

waiting anxiously on the couch.

"Roy..."

Quickly getting up, he nervously asked, "How is he?"

Remembering what Johnny had told her, she said, "He told me to tell you that

he's okay, and not to worry…although I know you won't do that. Right now he's

getting some pictures of his chest taken. How are you doing?"

"Me?" Roy asked with surprise.

Roy was surprised that his friend was asking about him…after all, Johnny was

the one that was sick.

"Yes Roy...YOU…we haven't really had much of an opportunity to talk. How

are you handling things?"

"I'm doing the best I can, but it's not easy Dix. I look at him and…and I

think how unfair it is for him to be going through this...and I picture my

life without him in it…and it's…it's so empty…and…"

Seeing Roy's hesitation, Dixie nodded her head. "I know what you mean. Well, we still

have him...we all just have to make the most of the time we have left with

him."

Roy was overwhelmed at hearing what Dixie had just said, put into words.

"Roy, I'll let you know when you can see him."

The paramedic was too choked up to speak and could only nod his head. An

hour and a half later, Johnny was resting comfortably in his room. Roy

entered the room quietly and sat down in a chair next to his partner's bed.

Johnny stirred from a light sleep and turned his head to see Roy sitting

beside his bed in a chair.

"Hey Junior."

"Pally." Johnny's voice was weak.

Roy was somewhat relieved when he heard his partner calling him 'Pally'.

"You okay, Johnny? You really scared me."

"Sorry...didn't mean to. I...I don't know what happened."

"That's alright partner. Just close your eyes and rest...I'm not going

anywhere."

Johnny smiled weakly at his best friend, and softly replied, "Okay...don't

mind if I do...I'm so...so tired."

Before too long, Johnny's eyes were closed.

Roy could only sit and watch as his partner slept. He took in Johnny's

appearance, he was pale and looked exhausted. It was another two hours

before Johnny woke up again and turning his head, he noticed Roy sound

asleep in his chair. Watching his partner sleep, he thought to himself how

difficult the last several days must have been on his best friend.

**I may be the one dying...but he's the one who's gonna be left behind**

Dr. Brackett entered the room to check on his patient. Seeing Roy asleep in

the chair, he talked quietly to Johnny.

"Hi Johnny. How are you feeling?"

"I'm okay Doc."

Brackett looked at Johnny's chart, and said, "Your fever's gone down to 101.

I'd say you'll be out of here in a few days."

Johnny looked up at Dr. Brackett, and asked, "It's over, isn't it?"

Kel knew what Johnny was asking, he just didn't have the heart to tell his

young friend that the job he loved so much was ending.

"What's over Johnny?"

"My career...it's over."

"It looks that way Johnny. I'm...I'm sorry it ended this way for you…you

were one of the best."

Roy opened his eyes and was startled when he saw Dr. Brackett standing at

Johnny's bedside.

"How's he doing Doc?"

"Holding his own, Roy. Get some rest Johnny and I'll see you guys later."

After Brackett left, Johnny pushed himself up in the bed.

"Tomorrow...I want to break the news to Joanne, tomorrow."

"Tomorrow Johnny…are you sure?"

"Roy...I'm...I'm scared…I...I need to tell her 'cause if...if anything

happened...and…and she didn't know the truth..."

"Johnny, there's...there's still a long way to go."

Starting to become upset, Johnny shook his head. "No, there isn't Roy…Brackett said

MAYBE six months…I'm...I'm not guaranteed ANYTHING…and I want her to

know…she deserves to know."

Calming his friend, Roy placed his hand on Johnny's shoulder.

"Okay Junior, calm down. All right, we'll…you…can tell her tomorrow."

Johnny was relieved that he made the decision to finally tell Joanne about

his illness. After telling Joanne, all those he was closest to would know

about his illness...except Chris and Jennifer. He would tell them he was

sick…the rest would come later.

The door opened, making the two paramedics look up. Walking into the room

carrying a dinner tray, was Dixie.

She tried her best to look happy, even though she was anything but. "Hi, fellas. I have some dinner for you Johnny…Dr. Brackett insists on you eating something."

"Ah Dix...I don't know…I feel kinda..."

"Does your head bother you Johnny? I can give you something for it."

"No, it's not too bad. I'm...I'm just not hungry."

Roy suddenly remembered that he never called Captain Stanley or any of the

guys…and Joanne would want to know what was going on too.

"Uh, Johnny…I...I better get going. I have some phone calls to make. Captain Stanley

doesn't know you're here...and I know he'd be upset if I didn't tell him."

"That's okay Roy, you go home. Give Jo and the kids my love."

Hearing that brought tears to Roy's eyes, as he softly replied, "I will

Junior…Jo and I will be here tomorrow."

"Thanks Pally...for everything."

Roy smiled at his partner and patted his shoulder. "Tomorrow." He looked at

Dixie with a knowing look. "Bye, Dix."

"Bye Roy."

He took a last look at Johnny before leaving…it still hadn't totally sunk in

yet that he was going to lose his best friend.

After Roy left, Dixie completely turned her attention to her patient. "John Gage, you really need to eat...or Dr. Brackett will keep you here even longer."

Johnny sighed and allowed Dixie to feed him some of his dinner...he was too

tired to do it himself.

"Dix...what if I can't keep it down?"

"Johnny, we'll deal with it if it happens. Right now, I just want you to

relax…let me do all the work, okay?"

Johnny smiled, knowing that it was just like Dixie to pull this with him.

After finishing a little more than half of the meal, Johnny pleaded with

Dixie to stop.

"No more Dix. I really couldn't eat any more."

Dixie sighed. "Alright Johnny. I'll come by later and see how

you're doing, okay?"

He weakly smiled at her. "Thanks Dix, I know I never was the

best patient."

"Oh, I wouldn't say that Johnny."

"No? I would. Hey, do me a favor…keep an eye on Roy for me...I worry about

him."

Dixie smiled at her favorite dark-haired paramedic, and said, "It's just

like you guys, he's worried about you...you're worried about him."

Knowing what Johnny really meant, the smile faded, as Dixie tried to control

her emotions. "Don't worry Johnny…we're ALL gonna

keep…an eye on him…he's as special to us…as you are. Get some rest."

Turning away from her friend, Dixie left Johnny's room, wiping her eyes.

She didn't know how any of them were ever going to get through this.

As the door closed, Johnny softly whispered to himself. "Thanks

Dix...I won't have to worry about Roy now. Just take good care of him."

Knowing his best friend would be looked after, Johnny closed his eyes to try

to rest.

When Roy got home, he updated Joanne on Johnny's condition and called Hank,

Rocky, and the other guys, including Chet, to let them know the latest

developments.

After hanging up the phone, Roy was met by Jennifer's worried face. "Dad, Uncle Johnny's sick, huh?"

"Yes Jen, he's got a pretty severe case of pneumonia."

"Is he going to be okay?"

Roy hesitated before answering her, but finally replied. "Yeah.

He should be going home in a few days."

"Maybe he could stay with us for a while." She suggested with a hopeful expression on her face.

Roy smiled at his daughter, it was just like her to suggest something like

that. When it came to Johnny, he and Jennifer had this amazing connection

from the start, and with time, that bond only grew stronger. She and Chris

would be absolutely devastated once they received the news about their

Uncle.

"That's a good idea Jen. I'll ask him, but don't be disappointed if he says

no, okay?"

"Okay Dad."

As Jennifer walked away, he thought to himself that despite the fact that

she was his biological daughter...she was more and more like her Uncle

Johnny every day… that put a smile on his face.

The next morning, after the kids went off to school, Roy and Joanne got

ready to visit Johnny. After a restful night, Johnny was sitting up in bed

visiting with a couple of very pretty nurses. When Roy and Joanne walked

through the door, a smile came to both of their faces when they took in the

scene...it was vintage Johnny.

Holly, a pretty redhead greeted Roy and Joanne.

"Johnny, we better get back to work. We'll stop by later."

She smiled widely at him, and left with the other nurse.

Joanne went over to Johnny and kissed him on the cheek. She took in his

haggard appearance...it was a far cry from how handsome he usually looked.

Johnny and Roy exchanged knowing looks.

"Joanne..." he motioned for her to sit next to him on the bed.

"Are you sure Johnny?"

Johnny nodded and said, "Yeah."

Once she was sitting down next to him, he took one of her hands in his.

"Jo...I...I need to tell you something."

Johnny's face grew very serious and she got a cold chill down her spine.

"What is it Johnny?" Her voice was filled with apprehension.

Johnny took as deep a breath as he could manage and slowly exhaled. Not wanting

to lose his nerve, he tried to get it out as quickly as he could.

"Jo...I'm...I'm sick…and the...the doctors ran some tests and…and they found

something…I ...I have a brain tumor...it's inoperable…and the cancer...it

already spread to my lungs…they say if...if I'm LUCKY…I have…six months."

Joanne took a moment for the news to sink in.

"You're...you're..." She couldn't get out the word.

Johnny finished her thought, saying it in a very soft tone. "I'm dying

Jo…I...I wish it weren't true…but it's out of my hands."

Joanne completely lost control of her emotions, as both men knew that she

would. As Joanne started to sob inconsolably, Johnny put his arms around

her in an effort to comfort her. Roy could only watch as the two most

important people in his life, were crying in each other's arms.

After a minute of watching the scene unfold, Roy too, was overwhelmed with

emotion and left the room. A short while later Johnny lifted Joanne's head

up, and like Dixie before her, he dried her tears. He then realized that Roy

was no longer in the room.

Trying to calm her down, he started to talk to her in a soothing voice. "Jo, listen to me."

She looked at him, trying to blink back the tears.

"Jo, I need you to be strong...for Roy. I don't want you to worry about

me...I'm fine...take care of HIM."

He paused for a moment to think about what he wanted to say next.

"The next few weeks are going to be difficult for him. I...I'm not going to

be able to work anymore, even though Brackett had given me two more weeks to

work, but then I go and get pneumonia...so, this is it for me. The next

shift...Roy...Roy's gonna have a new partner."

Joanne looked at him, half questioningly, half with concern. She knew what

this meant...her husband's life would now be in someone else's hands. Over

almost nine years, she AND Roy grew to trust Johnny implicitly.

"His name is Rocky Ramirez and he's a very good friend of mine...I trust

him. In fact, he was the only one that I WOULD trust taking my place

beside Roy...it's gonna be okay Jo...I promise."

Not trusting herself to speak, but doing so anyway...Joanne spoke. Her voice

was still full of emotion.

"Does...does Roy know yet?"

Johnny shook his head and replied, "No. I'm...I'm gonna tell him when he

takes me out of here in a few days, but I'd appreciate it if you didn't say

anything to him about this. I...I think he realizes that...that I'm done

working, but we haven't talked about it yet. He has no idea about Rocky

being his new partner. Can you do all this for me…be strong and not say

anything to him?"

Joanne looked at Johnny and nodded her head. 'Who's...who's

going to be strong for YOU?"

Johnny smiled and said, "I have my family...you, Roy, the kids, and all the

guys. I told you, it's gonna be okay."

When Roy had left the room, he went to the waiting room on the floor. After

spending 30 minutes by himself, he felt composed and decided to head back to

Johnny's room...he also figured he had given his partner enough time to talk

to Joanne. Roy opened the door to Johnny's room slowly, and found the room

was very quiet…Johnny was in bed with his head back on the pillows and his

eyes closed. Joanne was still sitting next to him on the bed, her hand

holding Johnny's.

Hearing Roy come in, they both looked up.

"You two okay?"

Johnny opened his eyes and turned his head towards Joanne.

Joanne nodded her head and softly responded, "We're okay Roy."

"Is there anything I can get for you Junior?"

Johnny sighed, and softly answered, "I'm...I'm okay Roy."

"Magazines or anything?"

"Nah...I'm too tired to do anything but just lay here."

Roy saw how drained Johnny looked and decided that he and Joanne should

leave and let him get some rest.

"Johnny, you get some rest. Jo and I will see you later."

Johnny nodded his head. He was still very pale and running a fever, and knew

that he'd benefit from sleep, even though he really wanted his friends to

stay.

"Thanks for comin'."

Joanne kissed him on the cheek, as she started to speak to him.

"Johnny..."

"I know Jo...if I need anything...call. I will."

As his partner's eyes started to close, Roy took Johnny's hand in his and

bent down to whisper in his ear.

"Be strong Junior...please be strong."

Johnny opened his eyes and looked into Roy's eyes, and softly responded,

"I'll try Pally."

As Roy and Joanne were leaving Johnny's room, they saw Hank Stanley walking

towards them. The two men shook hands and Hank and Joanne embraced.

"How is he Roy?" Hank asked in a very serious tone.

"Holding his own." Roy sensed Joanne needed time to be alone to digest the

latest news. "Jo, why don't you take the car and go home, I'll catch a ride

from someone."

"You sure Roy?"

Hank spoke up. "I'll bring him home Joanne."

"Thank you Hank."

"You'll be alright Jo?"

"Yes Roy...I love you." They kissed and Joanne headed for the elevator.

"Let's get some coffee in the cafeteria Cap, Johnny needs to rest for a while."

While sitting in the cafeteria, Hank noticed all the emotion etched on Roy's

face.

"Johnny told Joanne?"

"Yeah...it was rough. I...I couldn't even stay in the room."

Roy paused before continuing.

"Cap, you mind if I take the next shift off?"

"No, of course not. If anyone's entitled to, it's definitely you Roy."

"Oh, it's not really for me Cap, I want to help Johnny when he gets out of

here. Hopefully, Brackett will spring him in a couple days."

"So, how is he Roy?"

"Well considering the circumstances and how he was when Andy and Adam got to

him yesterday...he's actually doing okay."

"And how are YOU doing?"

"Me?"

Roy was still baffled that everyone seemed so concerned about how he was

doing.

"I'm okay Cap...for now. In a few months...it'll be a different story."

The two men were continuing their conversation when they were spotted by

Dixie. Carrying a cup of coffee and a piece of apple pie, she approached

them.

"Hi fellas…mind if I join you?"

The two men greeted her and asked her to join them. Roy knew Dixie was

upset...the only time she had pie with her coffee was when something was

bothering her.

"How's Johnny?" She asked, her voice full of concern.

"Still kinda weak, but I think he's mostly just really tired."

"I mean, mentally Roy."

"Alright, I guess...probably better than most of US."

Looking at Hank, she asked, "How are the rest of the guys handling things

Hank?"

"I think they're all still trying to digest things Dixie."

After talking for 15 minutes, Dixie headed back to the ER, and Hank went to

see Johnny, leaving Roy in the cafeteria to ponder his thoughts. Hank

approached Johnny's door just as Dr. Brackett was leaving the room.

"Dr. Brackett, how's...how's John doing?"

"He's doing much better, I took him off the O2 and he's resting comfortably.

He should be going home in a couple days."

"He's not coming back to work, is he?"

Looking down at the floor, then back up at Hank, Kel sadly replied, "I'm

afraid not Hank…he's too weak and his illness is only going to get worse.

Why don't you go in to see him, he's awake."

The two men nodded at each other, then Kel left to go look in on other

patients. Entering the paramedic's room, Hank took in Johnny's pale

appearance. Hearing someone come in to his room, Johnny looked up…he smiled

when he saw it was his Captain.

"Hey Cap."

"How ya doin' pal?"

"I'm okay." His voice was still strained. "Cap..."

Hank sensed the hesitation in Johnny's voice.

"I just saw Dr. Brackett and he says you're doing better and that you'll be

out of here in a couple days."

"I guess...Cap...I...I won't be able to finish my duty with the Department.

The pneumonia took care of that for me. I...I feel like I'm letting you

down."

Hank sat down on the side of Johnny's bed. He couldn't believe that his

friend could even think that he was letting him down.

"John...you could NEVER let me down…or any of the other guys for that

matter. For what you've accomplished in your career...I couldn't be prouder

of you."

Johnny smiled warmly at his Captain. "Thanks."

"Does…does Roy know?"

Shaking his head, Johnny said, "No, not yet. I'm…like I told Joanne, I'm

gonna wait till I get outta here before I tell him…not that it's gonna make

any difference, he isn't gonna take THIS news any better than he did about

my can…my tumor. But…we'll get through it Cap…somehow, we will."

Hank sat there for a moment, amazed at the positive attitude that his young

friend had. He saw the way that Johnny had handled the news from the moment

that he found out about his illness…he wondered, if he were facing the same

thing as Johnny was, if he would have that same positive outlook on the

situation...he had his doubts that he would.

"We ALL will. We're all here to help in any way that we can, Johnny…I hope

you know that."

Trying to change his position in bed, Johnny said, "I know Cap…and I really

don't know…how I'd ever…get through this…without all of…my friends."

Hank could see that Johnny was getting tired, just by the way he was

breathing…he knew he needed to go to let Johnny get some rest, but Johnny's

sudden change in his respirations also scared the Captain. Just as Hank was

about to call for Doctor Brackett, Roy came back into the room…he saw the

trouble his best friend was having, and quickly became worried.

Hurrying over to Johnny's side, Roy asked, "Johnny…do you need to use the O2

again?"

Nodding his head, Johnny softly replied, "Yeah Roy…I think…I…I

do…can't…breathe…"

Hank reached up and grabbed the oxygen mask, and placed it back on Johnny's

face, then turned to Roy, and spoke to him.

"Roy, do you want me to go get Brackett?"

"Yeah…yeah Cap, I think you better."

As Hank started to walk away from the bed, Johnny grabbed his arm, and said,

"No…no Cap I…don't need Brackett…just give me…a minute and…I'll be fine."

"No Junior, Brackett needs to come look at you."

"He's right Johnny."

Knowing he wouldn't win with his best friend or his Captain, Johnny just

nodded his head in agreement. Hank left to go find Doctor Brackett.

Minutes later, the two men came back into the room. Using the O2, Johnny's

breathing had leveled out.

Walking over to the bed, Kel said, "Johnny, Hank tells me that you started

having some trouble breathing. Let me listen to your lungs."

While Kel checked Johnny over, Roy motioned for his Captain to follow him

out in the hall.

After leaving the room, Roy shook his head. "I don't like this Cap."

Shaking his head, Hank replied, "I don't either Roy…I don't either."

After a few minutes, Kel came back into the hall to talk to the two men.

"Well?" Hank asked…even ahead of his senior paramedic.

Looking at Roy, Brackett said, "Guys…this was due to the cancer in his lungs

and it's going to start happening a lot. As the disease progresses even

more, Johnny's ability to breathe is only going to get worse until he

can't…"

Doctor Brackett didn't need to finish his sentence…both men knew what would

happen.

Continuing, he said, "Johnny's doing alright now… he's asking for both

of you. But just stay for a few more minutes, he needs all the rest he can

get."

Both men nodded their head and went back inside Johnny's room to talk to

him.

Over the course of the next few days, Johnny received many visitors. The

guys he worked with, as well as hospital staff and other paramedics...even

Vince came to give him his well wishes.

Three days later, Brackett finally deemed Johnny well enough to go home, and

as always, Roy was there to take him home. In the car on the way to Johnny's

apartment, Roy looked over at his partner…Johnny had his head back on the

headrest and his eyes closed. Roy thought, considering Johnny was only five

days removed from a severe attack of pneumonia, and a week removed from

finding out about his terminal illness...he seemed to have weathered the

storm pretty well.

Johnny opened his eyes and glanced over at Roy. He saw how tired his partner

looked and started to feel an irrational sense of guilt about it. The two

friends made the trip to Johnny's place in silence and when Roy pulled into

the parking lot and parked alongside Johnny's Rover, he was the first one to

speak.

"Johnny, are you sure you won't reconsider and stay with us for a while? It

was actually Jenny's idea to ask you."

John smiled. "I appreciate the offer Pally...but I'm sure. I'd

kinda like to be alone for a while." He saw Roy's concerned look. "You know

what I mean Roy."

"Yeah, I guess I do."

As the two men entered Johnny's apartment, Johnny grew very serious.

Picking up on his partner's change in demeanor, Roy became concerned,

thinking that Johnny was starting to feel sick again.

"You alright Johnny?"

"I'm fine Roy but I do have something I need to tell you."

Johnny sat on his recliner, Roy sat next to him on the couch. Roy wasn't

sure he could take hearing any more "news". He couldn't imagine hearing

anything worse than the news that he had heard the previous Saturday afternoon...about

Johnny's brain tumor.

"What is it Johnny?"

Johnny let out a small breath. "Roy...I think you already know what I'm

gonna say. I'm...I'm done working, the pneumonia saw to that...it's over for

me."

Roy's heart was in his throat. Deep down he knew that Johnny's days as a

paramedic were over, but hearing his best friend say the words put an air of

finality to it.

"Johnny..."

"Roy...there's not enough time left…Brackett gave me two weeks...and

now...I'm...I'm too weak to get the job done. But there's...there's

something else I gotta tell you." Johnny paused for a moment to collect his

thoughts. "Roy...when...when you go back on your next shift...you'll have a

new partner."

Roy repeated the words Johnny had just spoken. "New partner." He couldn't

imagine working with anyone else. Sure, there were the times that Johnny was

injured or sick, or on vacation...but almost every day for almost nine years,

they were side by side.

"I think you'll like your new partner...I handpicked him myself." Trying for

a shot at humor, he continued. "I assure you, it isn't Brice…I couldn't do

that to you."

Roy could barely trust himself to talk, as he hesitantly asked, "You...you

handpicked him yourself?"

"Yeah, and Chief Houts went along with it."

Nervously, Roy asked, "Who is it?"

"Rocky Ramirez."

Johnny continued to look at Roy for some kind of reaction, but found none,

as Roy was trying to digest the news of who his new partner would be. He

understood Johnny's line of thinking and the implications behind it...he was

just stunned that Johnny would have thought to ask Rocky to do this for him,

but was even more stunned that Rocky had agreed. Johnny was a bit nervous at

Roy's lack of reaction.

"Ah…you're scarin' me not sayin' anything. Talk to me Pally."

"I'm...I'm just overwhelmed Johnny…that you and Rocky would do this for me."

John smiled in relief. "Then…it's okay? He...he was the only one I

trusted Roy…and you deserve the best."

Looking at his best friend, Roy softly said, "I already had the best…you."

The two friends talked for a while longer, but when Johnny started to get

tired, Roy decided to go...with the promise that his best friend would call

him later.

"I'll call ya later Pally. Thanks for bringin' me home."

"Johnny..."

Holding up his hand to stop his friend, Johnny softly said, "Roy...I'm

okay...I'll be fine. Go home to Joanne."

After Roy left Johnny's apartment, tears slowly made their way down his

face, Johnny put his head back on the recliner and fell asleep, with the

hope that Roy would be okay. After sleeping for most of the day, Johnny

woke up around 6:30 PM and called Roy to let him know that he was okay.

When Wednesday morning arrived, Johnny was in the station squad room waiting

for the rest of his friends to come in to start their shift...he was dressed

in a pair of jeans and polo shirt, enjoying a glass of milk.

The first one to come in was Captain Stanley and although he had spoken to

Johnny a few times on the phone, he hadn't seen him since that morning at

Rampart. He thought Johnny still looked quite pale, but he looked more

rested than he had been in a while.

"How ya doin' pal?"

"I'm okay Cap."

"Are you gonna be okay to do this?"

John smiled at his soon-to-be former boss, and replied, "I'll be fine. Just

do me a favor Cap...keep an eye on Roy for me."

"We all will John...we all will."

As everyone on A-shift, but Roy, assembled in the squad room, they noticed

Johnny sitting in his civvies...no one said anything. Johnny looked at all

his friends and smiled, knowing that these were the men he would go to Hell

and back for…and he had.

Finally speaking, Johnny said, "I just wanted to let you know that this is

the end of the road for me. I'm officially resigned from the

Department, and Rocky here, is the new paramedic at the station. He's...he's

Roy's new partner."

Everyone looked over at Rocky who could only look down at the floor. When

Johnny started to talk again their attention was drawn back to him.

"I want to thank you guys for the love and support you've given me, not just

in the last week, but over the last nine years. You're all a special bunch

of people and will eternally be in my heart. When the time comes, I'll be

looking down on all of you…smiling and protecting you."

Mike spoke up, and said, "You promise not to be a stranger Johnny?"

"I promise. Besides, somebody's gotta keep Chester B. here in line...I'll

gladly assume the responsibility."

They all shared a laugh over that one.

"Well, I better let you guys get to work or McConnike's gonna come and give

our Captain a hard time. I'll be in touch...we'll get together soon."

They all exchanged hugs with Johnny, then he and Rocky headed to the locker

room. As Johnny emptied out his locker, Rocky was sitting on the bench

watching him.

"Rocky, promise me you'll always be there for Roy, and that you'll look out

for each other. I'm entrusting to you the life of someone that I care about a great deal."

"I will Johnny. I won't let you down...I promise."

Continuing, Johnny said, "The coming months won't be easy for him...for any

of you guys for that matter...but knowing you'll be with him makes me feel

more at ease. You've been a good friend Rocky, and you doing this for

me...you have no idea what it means to me. And please, thank Alexi for me."

Rocky, who was as stoic as they came, was very affected by Johnny's

heartfelt words.

"Johnny...I think I do know what this means to you, and it's an honor to be

able to do it for you. You're...you're an exceptional person Johnny, and I've

always had such respect and admiration for you."

"Thanks buddy...the feeling's mutual. Well, I guess this is it…I'll be in

touch."

The two friends embraced.

After finishing cleaning out his locker, Johnny headed out to his car where

he knew Roy would be waiting for him.

"Johnny..."

"You don't have to say anything Pally. We're still best friends...we always

will be. You'll always be a part of my life...till the end. I'll be in

touch."

The two of them embraced.

Pulling away from his friend, Johnny quietly said, "Take care of

yourself…and be careful out there. And Pally...let Rocky…along with the

rest of the guys...be there for you when…when the time comes."

Johnny got into his Rover and drove away. As Roy watched the Rover leave

the station parking lot, a few tears started falling down his face. He was

trying to mentally prepare himself for the next few months...a life without

Johnny as his partner...and a life…without Johnny.

As Johnny drove away from the station, he felt a profound sense of loss.

For almost 13 years, being a firefighter and paramedic was all he'd ever

known, and now that it was over, he felt lost.

Tired and drained from the events of the morning, but not feeling like going

home, Johnny thought about his options…he decided that given his weakened

state, the mountains wouldn't be a wise choice. The next idea he had was the

beach, and after thinking about it for a few moments, that's where he

headed.

Arriving at the beach parking lot, he got out and took his shoes off…he

always loved the feel of his feet in the sand. Attempting as deep a

breath as he could, he took in some of the sea air. The sun was bright,

and although it was warm, the sea breeze made it feel a little cooler.

Walking in the sand, he surveyed the beach. Being only the beginning of

May, the beach was not very crowded. Heading towards the water, Johnny

picked a spot and sat down. Looking out into the ocean, he was mesmerized

by the waves and felt a real sense of peace for the first time in several weeks.

Lulled by the sound of the water, Johnny didn't hear the voice right away.

"Johnny...is that you?"

John was brought out of his reverie when he looked up and found himself

staring into a pair of beautiful green eyes.

The voice spoke again. "John Gage?"

Johnny took in the entire face of the owner of the green eyes. A look of

surprise came over him as he recognized the face.

"Gab…Gabriella?"

The young woman smiled and nodded her head, as she replied, "Yes

Johnny...it's me."

Johnny was speechless…he sat looking at her as though she were a ghost

"I...I thought I'd never see you again. How...how long has it been?"

"At least ten years."

Johnny sat looking at her, so many thoughts and questions running through

his head.

As he stood to face her, Johnny said, "Gabby, you have no idea how many

times I've thought of you over the years."

"Oh Johnny, I'm...I'm so sorry. I...I..."

John placed his finger over her lips.

"Shhh…it's okay…you're here now."

The two of them embraced, each one remembering the magical time that they had

spent together over ten years ago.

"Johnny, I have so much that I want to tell you. Things...things that I

wanted...that I SHOULD have told you a long time ago."

"Well...if you're free...I'm free. We have all day...and night."

They walked along the water, hand in hand.

"God, you're even more beautiful than I remember."

"Johnny, you haven't changed either. You're still the same handsome John

Gage that I remember."

While Johnny and Gabriella were enjoying their stroll along the beach, Roy

and Rocky were returning to the station after their first run as partners.

After backing into the bay, the two paramedics sat in the squad, both very

quiet.

Hearing the squad pull in, Captain Stanley went out to meet them, and seeing

them still sitting in the vehicle, and as quiet as they were, he quickly

became concerned.

"You guys alright?"

Roy and Rocky looked at each other, each one silently acknowledging the

reason for their quiet behavior.

Roy spoke up first. "We're fine Cap. It's...it's just..."

Understanding what Roy was getting at, Hank let out a small smile, and

said, "I miss him too fellas...I miss him too."

After walking along the beach for 20 minutes, Johnny started to get tired.

Gabriella noticed him struggling a bit with his breathing.

"Johnny, you alright? You look so pale."

Johnny smiled sheepishly, and said, "I'm getting over a bad case of

pneumonia...my breathing isn't quite back to normal yet."

In Johnny's mind, he wasn't sure how much to tell Gabriella about his

health.

"Johnny, I'm staying at a hotel just off the beach. Why don't we go back to

my room...you can lie down for a while."

Johnny wasn't feeling too well, so he was in no position to refuse her

offer.

"That might be a good idea Gabby, thanks."

Arriving at Gabriella's room, Johnny was exhausted and wearily laid down on

her bed. As his breathing started to even out, he started to fall asleep.

Watching Johnny sleep, so many memories came flooding back to her. Feeling

somewhat tired herself, she laid down on the bed next to him and pondered

what her life would have been like if she had stayed in LA with him.

After sleeping for several hours Johnny woke up, unsure of where he was.

Looking around the room, he saw Gabriella asleep next to him and realized

that he was in her hotel room. Looking at his watch, he saw the time was

already 6PM. He sat up in bed, and debated on how to proceed with Gabriella.

**Do we go to dinner tonight…do I tell her about my illness…do I allow

myself to get close to her…to hold her in my arms**

While Johnny was thinking about how fate seemed to bring Gabriella back to

him, six firefighters were sitting around the station, still trying to deal

with their emotions and the fact that a certain paramedic would no longer be

a regular part of their lives.

Chet was the first one to speak, as he said, "I wonder what Johnny's doing

right now. You...you think he's home Roy?"

Roy wanted to call Johnny in the worst way, but decided that his friend

probably would want to be left alone.

"I don't know Chet, maybe."

Gabriella woke up and seeing Johnny already awake beside her, she smiled,

and quietly spoke to him.

"It isn't a dream, you're really here next to me."

Johnny smiled, and replied, "I am."

Gabby sat up. "Johnny, there's so much I want to tell

you."

"Would you like to tell me over dinner Gabby?"

"I would love to Johnny."

After freshening up a bit, she and Johnny went out to Johnny's Rover.

"What kind of food are you in the mood for?"

Gabriella laughed, and shook her head. "Not Italian."

"I know a great steak house. Sound good?"

"Terrific."

At the restaurant while waiting for their food, Gabriella decided to tell

Johnny about the secret that only her grandparents knew about.

"Johnny, I...I want to tell you why I left all those years ago. I owe you

an explanation for leaving the way I did...for leaving YOU the way I did."

"Gabby, I always wondered why...but if it's something you're not ready to

talk about, I understand."

"No, I want to. As you know, my father was a cop…he was also a nasty

alcoholic. From the time I was 12, my father…he sexually abused me. He

told me that if I ever told anyone, he'd hurt me or kill me…I...I took it

for seven years. When I was 19, I decided I'd had enough...I took off to

Italy where I stayed with my maternal grandparents. My mother had died when

I was 11. I never told anyone where I was going or why. When I broke up

with you...it broke my heart to have to break yours, but I needed to

leave...it was to save my life. I hope you can forgive me Johnny."

"Gabriella, I wish you could have told me what was going on. I would have

done anything for you."

"I know Johnny…but I was so scared. My father was a cop, and who would have

believed that he'd do something like that to his little girl. But ever

since that day we broke up, and I got on that plane to Italy...not a day has

gone by where I didn't think of you and wonder...wonder what might have

been."

"I have to admit, in the beginning I was devastated...I couldn't imagine

what I'd done to chase you away. But after a while that feeling started to

lessen...I threw myself into work at the Fire Academy and ultimately into

being a paramedic. You were never far from my thoughts, I guess that's why

I never was able to settle down. All the girls I dated...they never

measured up to you, and I became fixated on outward appearances."

"But Johnny, we're here now, together...it's not too late for us."

"Gabby, there's something I have to tell you too...but not here."

Gabriella got a serious look on her face, as she asked, "You're not married

or engaged, are you?"

Johnny laughed, as he replied, "No, I'm not...I wouldn't be here with you if

I was. Later...I'll tell you, later."

Their food came and they enjoyed a nice dinner together. After dinner, they

went back to Gabriella's hotel room.

"Johnny...I...I want you to stay the night. It's been so long since I've

felt safe in a man's arms."

"Gabriella, I need to tell you something first…and it could very well change

the way you feel about me...and about the invitation to spend the night with

you. I...I want to, but it has to be for all the right reasons."

"Johnny, what are you trying to say?"

Taking her hands in his, Johnny let out a deep breath. "There's no

easy way to say this…but I...I'm sick. I was recently diagnosed

with an inoperable brain tumor and I only have a few more months to live…and

as badly as I want to be with you it…it can't be because you feel sorry for

me."

Gabriella was stunned, but quickly regained her composure.

"Johnny, I love you. Let me stay and take care of you...marry me."

Johnny smiled and hugged her. "There's nothing more I'd rather do,

than to make you my wife...but I won't make you my widow a few months later,

it wouldn't be fair to you. You have no future with me."

"But I can have a present with you."

"Gabby, you're here for a week...to settle your Dad's estate after he passed

away. You need to go back to Italy and resume your life there."

"But why Johnny…why won't you let me help you?"

"Because…I want you to remember me while I still have some semblance of

health...not the way I'll be in another month. I want this week to be

special...to be memorable, and I want you to remember me THIS way."

He leaned in to kissed her, his lips gently brushing against hers, and after

a passionate kiss, their weeklong love affair began.

The next morning,

after a promise to call her and another passionate kiss, Johnny headed home

for a few hours. Arriving home, he decided to call Roy at the station... to

let him know he was okay.

Dialing the familiar number, he waited for someone to answer.

"Station 51, Firefighter DeSoto."

Johnny made sure to sound as upbeat as possible.

"Hey Pally."

Roy's eyes lit up at hearing the sound of his best friend's voice, something

Johnny couldn't see over the phone.

"Johnny...how are you?"

"I'm fine Roy, just calling to say hello. How've you been?"

"I'm alright."

Johnny knew just by Roy's lifeless tone that he was NOT alright.

"Roy..."

Before he could finish his sentence, the alarms sounded.

"Johnny, I gotta go...talk to ya soon."

After getting off the phone, Johnny hopped in the shower. Once he dressed,

he sat down in his recliner...the emotion of the last few days was starting

to catch up to him, he was exhausted.

While thinking about Gabriella and the glorious day and night they had spent

together, Johnny fell asleep. When Johnny awoke it was 3 in the afternoon.

He was alarmed that it was so late in the day already…he knew that he had

to call Gabriella, after all, she didn't have his number.

After talking on the phone, the two of them made plans for dinner. Driving

to Gabby's hotel, Johnny met her in the lobby.

When Gabriella greeted him with a big hug and kiss, she noticed how tired he

looked.

"Johnny, we can stay in and eat at the hotel, if you want. You look really

beat."

"I AM beat, but I slept all day...besides, you and I only have a few more

days together. I'll be okay Gabby."

At the restaurant, while waiting for their food, Johnny decided that he

wanted Roy and Joanne to meet Gabriella.

"Gabby, I...I have some people I really want you to meet. I'm gonna try to

arrange it so that we'll have dinner tomorrow night. These two people are

most important to me."

Gabriella figured out who he was talking about.

"Your partner and his wife?"

**My former partner**

Johnny smiled, and said, "Yeah...you'll really like them."

"Johnny, if they're friends of yours, I know I'll love them."

"In fact, I'm gonna go call him now. I'll be right back."

He kissed her and went to find a pay phone.

After a few rings, a voice answered.

"Station 51, Firefighter Lopez here."

"Hi Marco."

"Johnny, how ya doin'?" Marco asked his friend, happy to be hearing from him.

"I'm fine Marco. Is Roy there?"

"Uh...yeah, I think he and Rocky just got back from a run. Hold on a sec."

When Johnny heard that Roy and Rocky had just gotten back, he had a tinge of

jealousy.

**I wish that was me**

The next voice on the line was Roy's.

"Johnny...is everything okay?" Roy asked nervously.

"Yeah...yeah, fine. Look, I just wanted to know if you and Jo could meet me

for dinner tomorrow night? I have someone I'd like the two of you to meet."

"Uh, yeah sure…I'll...I'll talk to Joanne...it shouldn't be a problem. I'll

talk to ya in the morning Junior."

"Great, thanks Pally."

When Roy got off the phone, he was very curious as to who this mystery

person was.

After dinner, Johnny took Gabriella back to his apartment.

"So, this is where you live. It's just as I imagined it would be...all the

personal touches that say John Gage." Gabriella commented with a smile.

"I'm sorry it's not cleaner…I haven't exactly had…the energy to clean."

"Don't worry about it."

Looking around, she spotted a framed picture of all the guys from the previous

year's firemen's picnic.

"Let me see if I can pick out your friend Roy."

Instinctively, she picked Roy right out.

Being surprised, Johnny asked, "How did you know which one he was?"

"He has a kind face and his blue eyes look very sincere...he had to be the

one."

Without warning, Johnny was stricken with a sudden and severe case of

nausea. Running quickly into the bathroom, he emerged a few minutes later

looking very pale and feeling quite dizzy.

"Johnny, let me help you into bed."

Johnny didn't argue with her, even though he was more than a bit embarrassed

for getting sick in front of her. After Johnny was lying in bed, his eyes

closed to combat the dizziness, he told Gabby where there was a tee shirt

for her to put on to sleep in. Lying in bed next to him, she stroked his

hair and gave him a gentle kiss on his cheek.

The next morning, Johnny was relieved to be feeling better, and after

talking to Roy on the phone to finalize their dinner plans, he deemed

himself ready to enjoy another day of fun with Gabriella.

"You know what we're gonna do today Gabby...we're going horseback riding. I

have a friend who lets me ride whenever I want to."

"Are you sure you're up for it?" She asked a bit hesitantly.

He smiled lovingly at her and kissed her. "I'm fine."

After making a call to his friend at the ranch, and a quick breakfast,

Johnny took Gabby back to the hotel to change. Several hours later, after a

leisurely ride on the horses, the two of them were helping to put the horses

back in the stable.

"Cal, thanks for letting us ride today."

"My pleasure Johnny. Take care...and Gabriella, it was a pleasure meeting

you."

She smiled warmly at the man, and replied, "Thanks Cal…it was nice meeting

you too."

After making their way back to the Rover and getting in, Johnny asked,

"Where to from here Gabby?"

"I think we need to rest Johnny...you look wiped out. Let's go back to my

hotel so I can pick up a few things and then spend the rest of the day at

your place until dinner."

Johnny had to admit, after riding for a few hours he was feeling quite

tired.

"Okay, that's a plan. We'll go back to my apartment...but we're not

necessarily going to rest." Johnny said with a sly grin.

Gabby noticed the twinkle in Johnny's eyes as he said that.

"You're a very naughty boy, John Gage." She smiled and kissed him.

Arriving back to Johnny's apartment, the two of them lied down in bed…

Gabriella snuggled close to him.

Roy was sitting in the kitchen drinking a cup of coffee after getting up

from a nap.

"So, who's the mystery person we're meeting for dinner Roy?"

"I don't know Jo, Johnny didn't say. My bet is it's a woman...and if it IS

a woman, she's gotta be pretty special for him to go through such great

lengths for us to meet her."

Joanne studied her husband's face. "How...how are you and

Rocky working out?"

Roy answered softly, as he said, "Fine."

**But he's *not* Johnny**

After a passionate afternoon and nap, Gabriella and Johnny showered and got

dressed.

"You look very handsome, Mr. Gage." commented Gabriella, as she adjusted his tie.

"Thank you. You look stunning, as usual." Johnny replied with a grin.

"Are you alright Johnny? You look..."

"Nervous?" he supplied.

"Yeah...nervous. Are you?"

Johnny sheepishly smiled. "Yeah, I am. I haven't seen Roy since

Wednesday when I officially left the Department...and introducing you to the

two of them is a big deal to me."

Gabriella took his hands in hers and looked into his eyes. "I'll

be right beside you."

They got to the restaurant 20 minutes early and found that Roy and Joanne

were already there.

Stepping into the restaurant, Johnny greeted his two friends. When Joanne

saw Johnny, tears started to fall down her cheeks...she hadn't seen him since he broke the news to her about his illness in the hospital.

Seeing her tears, he hugged her and tried to wipe them away.

"Shhh...this is supposed to be a special evening Jo. I don't want you to

cry."

Joanne answered Johnny softly. "I'm sorry Johnny. It's..."

Johnny smiled and said, "It's okay Jo."

Turning to Gabriella he introduced her to Roy and Joanne.

"Gabby, this is Joanne DeSoto. Joanne, this is Gabriella Montenegro."

The two women hugged...they both had one thing in common...their love for

Johnny.

"And this fella here is my part...my best friend, Roy DeSoto."

Johnny's near slip of the tongue did not go unnoticed, but no one said

anything.

Gabriella smiled warmly and hugged him.

"It's a pleasure meeting you both. Johnny's told me so much about the two of

you...I feel like already know you."

The four of them were led to their table and sat down.

After placing their orders, Johnny looked at Gabriella, and spoke.

"Well, I guess the two of you are probably wondering about why you're here

and who this lovely mystery lady is."

Roy smiled and in his own distinctive voice answered, "Well, the thought

HAS crossed my mind Junior."

Johnny and Gabriella told Roy and Joanne the whole story of how they met,

their courtship and subsequent break up.

"When I left the station on Wednesday, after I cleaned out my locker...I

didn't know where to go. I went to the beach and I was just sitting there

when Gabriella approached me. She called my name and when I looked up, I

found myself looking into a pair of beautiful green eyes, and after talking

for a while...well, the rest is history."

Joanne was blown away by the story. "I guess it was fate that

brought the two of you back together."

Roy couldn't help but to feel a bit taken aback. He had known Johnny for

almost ten years, and never once had his friend told him about Gabriella…he

started to feel guilty about feeling this way but realized that introducing

Gabriella to both he and Joanne was obviously very important to Johnny.

During dinner amid lively conversation, Johnny started to get a severe

nosebleed.

**Oh no…not again…not now**

Roy got up and went over to his friend to help staunch the blood flowing

from his nose.

"Johnny, relax...let me help you."

Ten minutes later, Johnny's nose was still bleeding and Roy noticed how pale

and unsteady he appeared to be, even just sitting down.

A little bit nervous, Johnny softly said, "Roy…I can't get it…to stop,"

The manager of the restaurant came over to see if he could help.

"Is there anything I can do?"

Looking up, Roy nodded his head. "Yes, you can call 9-1-1."

"Of course. Is…is he going to be okay?"

"Yeah, he'll be fine."

By the time the paramedics from 39's arrived, Johnny's nosebleed had stopped

but he was visibly weak. After calling Rampart and advising them who their

patient was, the paramedics readied Johnny for transport.

"Roy...I'm...I'm feeling better. Is this really necessary?" Johnny asked with a soft sigh.

"Yes Johnny, now relax and let these guys take care of ya."

Roy turned to his wife. "Jo, take Gabriella in the car to Rampart,

I'll take Johnny's Rover and meet you there."

Before the ambulance attendants were ready to take Johnny away, Gabriella

came over to him and kissed him.

Seeing the scared look on her face, Johnny tried to reassure her, as he

softly said, "I'll be okay Gabby...I'll see you soon."

At the hospital, Johnny was brought into the exam room while Roy and the

others waited in the lounge.

Dr. Brackett looked at the former paramedic with concern. "Johnny, what are you doing out?

You just got over a severe case of pneumonia…you should be at home,

resting."

Johnny sighed as he said, "Doc, you can't expect me to spend the rest of my

life...however long that may be...just sitting at home, wasting away...I

can't do that."

"Johnny, that's not what I mean."

Becoming upset, Johnny asked, "What DO you mean, Dr. Brackett?"

"Johnny, I know you're hurting and still trying to come to terms with your

illness, but you have to accept reality...your body can no longer do all the

things it used to do."

Johnny's frustration in the situation was even more evident...in the tone and

volume of his voice.

"Come to terms…handle reality? I HAVE come to terms with everything...and

the REALITY is...I'm dying...and I KNOW that. But I'll be damned if I'm

just going to sit around and let the rest of my life pass me by."

Slightly smiling, Kel nodded his head. "I'm glad you're getting upset, Johnny...it

means you still have some fight in you…and that's good. I'm sorry if I

upset you, I'd probably feel the same way if I was you, but all I AM saying is to slow it down a little...you might last a little longer that way."

Calming down, Johnny laid his head back down onto the pillow. After

releasing a deep breath, he responded in a softer tone.

"Doc, I HAVE come to terms with everything...really. But to last a little

longer…for what? I'd rather live my life now...on MY terms...and when the

time comes for my life to be over...I don't want to have any regrets. You

know what I mean?"

"Yeah Johnny, I guess I do. Listen, you're a bit dehydrated...so I'd like

to start an IV and keep you here for a few hours."

Johnny refused the IV, and then told Dr. Brackett about Gabriella and why he didn't

want to waste any more time being at the hospital any longer than he had to.

"After she goes home, I promise to slow it down...a little." He added with a tired smile.

Dr. Brackett gave him some prescriptions to help him deal with some of the

symptoms of his illness...mainly his headaches and nausea.

"I'll send your visitors in and will release you in a half hour or so, is

that acceptable?"

Johnny smiled at the doctor. "Yeah. Thanks Doc."

Brackett went to the lounge to talk to Johnny's three anxious friends.

"Doc…how's Johnny doing?" Roy asked with concern.

"He's alright Roy...a little weak and dehydrated, but he's refusing

treatment. This isn't like the good old days when he had no choice...being a

member of the Department and all."

He looked at Gabriella and smiled, as he went on, "Something about a very

beautiful woman that he desperately needed to get back to."

Gabriella smiled warmly at the doctor and they shook hands.

"Hi, I'm Gabriella Montenegro. I suppose Johnny's told you all about me."

"Yes he has, that was quite a story. For both of your sakes, I wish it had

a happier ending."

Brackett paused for a moment. "He's in Room 2, Roy and I'll be releasing him

within the hour. You all take care."

Roy, Joanne, and Gabriella all made their way to see Johnny.

"Hey Junior. You look better."

Johnny grinned, especially when he saw Gabriella.

"I feel better Pally." He suddenly remembered the bill at the restaurant.

"The bill...who paid?"

"Don't worry, the manager took care of it. Apparently he's a big fan of

paramedics...he had an accident a couple of years ago...two paramedics from

39's helped him out."

Johnny laughed, as he said, "Let me guess...Brice and Bellingham." After

pausing for a moment, Johnny switched gears. "I'm really sorry that the

evening turned out this way. I...I was hoping for it to be a special

evening...the three people who I love the most meeting for...for...the only

time."

Joanne tried to reassure Johnny. "Johnny...it WAS a special

evening…and frankly, at this point, ANY time we get to spend with you IS

special. Roy and I are honored that you wanted us to meet Gabriella."

The four of them had been talking for almost 45 minutes when Dr. Brackett came back

into the room.

"Okay Johnny, you're free to go...just try to take it easy for a few days."

Brackett had said that for effect...he knew that after his earlier conversation with

Johnny, his patient would be doing anything BUT taking it easy.

"And don't forget to get your prescriptions filled."

Roy smiled at his friend, and said, "I'll take care of that Doc."

Dr. Brackett patted Johnny on his shoulder. "Take care Johnny."

"Thanks Doc."

"Roy, Joanne...Gabriella, it was a pleasure meeting you...have a safe trip

back to Italy."

"Thank you Dr. Brackett."

"Well Junior, where do ya want to go?"

Before Johnny could answer, Gabriella jumped in and spoke up. "We'll

go back to Johnny's apartment."

Agreeing, Roy took Johnny in the Rover and Joanne and Gabriella followed in

the other car. Once back at Johnny's apartment, with Johnny relaxing in his favorite

recliner, the four friends visited for a while longer.

Roy and Joanne knew that this would probably be the last time they'd see

Gabriella, as she was due to leave a few days later. And it was obvious to

both of them that although Johnny and Gabriella had rekindled their romance,

Johnny had no intentions of continuing it once she left.

Roy looked at his watch and saw that it was getting late.

"Johnny, we better get going. The kids are gonna wonder where we are."

"Give them my love okay?" Johnny said softly, his heart almost in his throat as he said it.

Joanne smiled at Johnny, and replied, "We will."

Johnny got out of the recliner and walked his friends to the door.

Joanne turned to Gabby. "Gabriella, it was wonderful meeting you…have a

safe trip back to Italy."

"I will, thank you. It was nice meeting you both. It's very obvious to me

how much you all mean to each other…I'm glad that Johnny has you both."

After both Roy and Joanne hugged Gabriella and Joanne hugged Johnny, they

left to get back home.

Gabriella noticed the serious look on Johnny's face. "Johnny, what's

going on inside that head of yours?"

"I…I was just thinkin'."

Gabby didn't have to ask what it was about. She knew…knew it was about

having to leave Roy and Joanne behind in only a matter of months.

"Johnny, let's go to bed."

Johnny smiled hopefully at her. "Is that an offer?"

Gabby grinned back at him, as she said, "No Johnny, it's not an offer…I think

we both need to get some sleep."

Over the next few days, Johnny and Gabriella continued their rekindled

romance, but knew it was about to come to an end. They spent the rest of

their time together relaxing on the beach, talking and remembering all their

good times spent together.

When the following Wednesday morning arrived, Johnny took Gabriella to the

airport. Both of them knew their magical week was over and that they'd

never see each other again. Johnny, as much as he loved her and wanted her

to stay in his life, had made it clear to her that she needed to stay away.

And Gabriella, for her part understood Johnny's thinking...although she

didn't necessarily agree with it.

After helping Gabby get her boarding pass and luggage checked in, Johnny

walked with her to the gate that she would be departing from.

Looking into her green eyes, he got down on one knee and took out a small

velvet box.

Gabby looked at him confused, as she asked, "What's…what's this?"

"Gabriella, I want you to have this…open it."

She reluctantly took the small blue velvet box from him and opened it.

Inside was a beautiful diamond and emerald ring.

Gabriella was shocked.

"I…I can't accept this Johnny."

"Yes, you can. This ring…it should have been on your finger ten years ago."

"You…you mean…"

Nodding his head, Johnny said, "Gabby, I was about to propose to you when

you left. I want you to have this ring…to remember me and the love we

shared…and the magic."

Tears started to fall down Gabriella's face.

"You've kept this ring the whole time?"

"Yeah. I…I guess a part of me always hoped…that one day I'd find you

again…and I did."

Johnny put the ring on her finger. "The emeralds match your

beautiful green eyes."

They embraced and kissed passionately.

"Johnny, thank you."

He smiled at her warmly, and taking her left hand, placed it over his heart.

"No Gabby, thank YOU…you came back to me at a time when I needed…needed

something positive in my life. You have no idea how important and special

this last week has been for me."

"I do Johnny…I do, because it was a very special week for me too."

The announcement for Gabriella's flight to start boarding came over the P.A.

system.

Drying her tears, Johnny again looked into her eyes. "Well, I guess this is

it."

Gabriella tried not to cry, but ended up losing the battle.

"John Gage, I will never ever forget you…you'll always be in my heart."

"I'm counting on that, beautiful."

They embraced and kissed for the final time. As Gabriella walked away,

Johnny's heart once again started to break…but this time, he knew that it

was for the best.

He watched as Gabriella faded from his view.

Whispering to himself he said, "Thank you…I'll never forget you either."

Wiping a few stranded tears from his face, he turned around to leave the

airport. He headed to Roy's house to talk to both him and Joanne.

Arriving at their house, he was greeted by Joanne with a hug.

Before she could say anything, Johnny whispered, "She's gone."

"I'm sorry Johnny."

"Don't be sorry Jo…it's what I…I wanted…or at least what I knew in my heart

to be best. She had no future with me...I needed to set her free."

As Johnny entered the house, Roy came down the stairs.

"Hey Junior…" He stopped when he saw the look on Johnny's face. He knew

that Johnny had taken Gabriella to the airport that morning. "Johnny…"

"I'm okay Roy." He let out a breath. "I want to tell Chris and Jen about

my illness today. I'd…I'd like to take them out of school a little early

and take them to dinner before going back to my apartment. This last week

has made me realize that it's not fair to them to put it off any

longer…they're not little children anymore."

"Johnny, are you sure? I…I mean you already know how they're going to

react…especially Jennifer. You can handle it?"

John nodded his head. "I can handle it Roy…I've done okay so far."

Roy understood what Johnny meant…breaking the news to everyone hadn't been

easy, but Johnny had seemed to be dealing with things remarkably well so far. A

few hours later, after going first to Chris's school and then to Jennifer's

school, the two youngsters were in Johnny's Rover…Chris in the front next to

Johnny, and Jenny in the back.

For their part, the kids, although surprised to see their Uncle and to be

getting out of school early, didn't see anything terribly unusual about the

situation. Johnny had picked them up early from school every once in awhile

to give Roy and Joanne some time alone.

Johnny tried his best to appear normal and happy…at least outwardly, but he

felt anything but happy and normal. He just hoped that he wouldn't get sick

in front of the kids.

Smiling at the two of them, he noted the sheer happiness on their

faces…happiness he had assumed was due to being able to spend time with their favorite

Uncle. He felt like he was lying to them…but they deserved to know the

truth.

"So, where do you guys want to go?" Johnny asked the two kids.

In unison they both answered, "The arcade."

After playing pinball, skee-ball, and video games for a couple hours, Jenny

suggested that they get their pictures taken in one of those little booths.

Johnny thought it was a wonderful idea. They had a lot of pictures

taken…of the three of them…of Johnny and Chris…Johnny and Jennifer.

"You guys are tiring me out. What do ya say we get a bite to eat and go

back to my apartment?"

The two kids nodded excitedly. They ended up at a small pizza place and after

dinner they went back to Johnny's apartment.

Getting out of the Rover, Jenny gave Johnny a big hug. "Thanks

for a great day Uncle Johnny…I'll always remember it."

Hearing her say that put a lump in Johnny's throat.

**Oh, it will be a memorable day…but for all the wrong reasons**

Johnny smiled back at her. "My pleasure, Jelly Belly."

Jelly Belly was Johnny's nickname for Jennifer. He hadn't called her that

in a while, as she was getting older. Once inside the apartment, Johnny grew

serious…this was not lost on either one of the kids.

Chris was the one to speak up first.

"Uncle Johnny, what's going on?"

Johnny thought for a moment, wanting to say the right words.

"Guys, I…I have something to tell you…something…very important." Johnny

paused again. "The two of you aren't little kids any more…I…I only hope you

can handle hearing it."

Jenny picked up on Johnny's hesitation and nervousness, and cautiously

asked, "Uncle Johnny…it's not good news, is it?"

"I'm afraid not sweetheart."

Becoming nervous, Chris asked, "It's…it's not about Mom or Dad, is it?"

Reassuring Chris, Johnny replied, and said, "No Chris, it's not about your

Mom or Dad…they're fine. It's…it's about me." Johnny inhaled as deeply as

he could before continuing. "I…I really don't know how to say this…so I'll just come out and say it. I'm…I'm sick…the doctors…found a…a tumor…on my brain…after some tests...

there's nothing they can do for it...it's already spread to my lungs

Johnny observed the kids for their reactions, before continuing on. They

were obviously still trying to digest what they had just been told.

"I…I'm…I've only got a few more months left before I…"

Chris said the word before Johnny did.

"Die…you're…you're dying Uncle Johnny?"

"I'm afraid so Chris."

Chris didn't say anything…obviously too stunned at hearing the news.

Jennifer on the other hand started to sob uncontrollably. "Don't go Uncle

Johnny…don't leave us."

Johnny could only hold her tight. He noticed that she couldn't bring

herself to say the word "die". For the second time in a span of eight

hours, he felt his heart breaking. Before too long, Jennifer had fallen

asleep from all of her crying. Johnny carried her to his bedroom, and laid her in his bed.

As Jennifer was sleeping, Chris and Johnny were quietly talking in the

living room. Johnny was telling Chris about being resigned from the

Department, and about Rocky being his Dad's new partner. Johnny knew how

difficult it was for the two of them to hear the news of his illness, but

was impressed by how well they handled it, especially Chris.

"Are you gonna be okay Uncle Johnny?"

"I'm fine Chris. Right now, things aren't too bad...but I AM gonna get a

lot sicker. I intend to make the most of the time I have left…spending a

lot of it with your family."

"Uncle Johnny?"

"Yeah Chris?"

"After…after you…you're gone…I…I promise to take care of my family. I don't

want you worrying about them, especially my Dad and my sister, okay?"

As a few tears fell down his cheeks, Johnny smiled. "Christopher

DeSoto …you're so much like your Dad…you're going to grow up to be a fine

young man."

"Like my Dad?"

"Just like your Dad."

The two embraced warmly as Johnny tussled Chris's hair.

Once again smiling, Johnny added, "I just hope you don't inherit your Dad's

hairline."

Around 9:30 PM, after Johnny had called earlier in the evening, Roy and

Joanne came to pick up Chris and Jennifer.

Chris was sitting at the kitchen table where he and Johnny were playing

cards.

"How'd it go Johnny?"

"I guess as well as can be expected…Chris took it okay…Jenny…she…she…she's

gonna have a hard time with this. She's in my bed asleep."

Going into the bedroom, Roy carried the still sleeping Jennifer out into the

living room. Johnny softly kissed her on the forehead and was then

embraced by Chris.

"Bye Uncle Johnny…I…I had a good time with you."

"Thanks Chris, I had fun too. We'll do it again, soon…I promise."

Roy and Joanne said goodnight to Johnny and left. Johnny looked around his

apartment…for the first time since he was told of his illness…he felt really

alone. Not knowing what else to do, he did the only thing he could think of...he

broke down and cried.

In the week following Gabriella's departure, Johnny decided to heed Dr.

Brackett's advice and take it easy. He spent time visiting with his elderly

neighbor Mrs. Johnson and his Landlady Mrs. Price…he also kept in touch with

Roy and Rocky daily.

At the end of the week, after taking it easy for seven days, Johnny felt

better...even relaxed. He started to realize how much of his life was spent

on the go, and even learned to appreciate his new slower paced lifestyle.

And while he missed the comraderie of working with Roy and the guys...he

found that he didn't miss the stress and pressure of being a paramedic.

After his weeklong "vacation" and feeling better than he had in a few weeks,

Johnny convinced Roy to let him help refurbish his back deck…Roy had his

reservations about letting Johnny help him, but ultimately agreed. Before

too long, Johnny had settled into a routine, he started to go through his

apartment, getting rid of things he no longer needed and he also met with a

lawyer to update his will and make sure everything was in order.

As May turned into June...Johnny's health started to decline. His vision

started to get a little fuzzy, and he was experiencing some diminished

strength on his left side, but so far the medication seemed to keep much of

the nausea and really severe headaches at bay. Despite the situation he

found himself in, Johnny remained upbeat...although he did have a bad day

every now and again.

He missed Dixie and the Docs from Rampart, but knowing that the day would

come…too soon…when he would arrive at Rampart and NOT come out...he stayed

away from the hospital.

He was in his apartment one afternoon when there was a knock at the door.

Getting up to answer it, he smiled at the person standing before him.

"Johnny…"

"Dix, it's great to see you. What brings you to my neck of the woods?"

They warmly embraced, neither one wanting to be the first to let go…knowing

that permanently "letting go" would happen sooner than either of them

wanted. Dixie reluctantly broke the hug and stepped back from her friend,

as she answered Johnny.

"You do John Gage. Can I come in, or do you have a girl hiding somewhere?"

Stepping aside to let Dixie in, Johnny said, "Oh...sorry, come on in…and no,

there's no girl. Can I get you something to drink?"

"No thanks Johnny, I'm fine. I was on my way home from work...I took a

chance and decided to stop by…it's been over a month since I've seen you.

"That long huh? Have a seat Dix." Johnny motioned to the couch.

Sitting down, Dixie looked closely at Johnny.

"How are you doing Johnny?"

Trying to sound upbeat, Johnny replied, "I'm okay...for the most part.

I've got my good days and bad. Don't worry about me...according to

Marco…and his grandmother, I've got God on my side."

"Yes you do Johnny. So how have you been spending your time?"

"You'd be surprised at how busy I've kept myself." Johnny, feeling

uncomfortable talking about himself, even to Dixie, changed the subject.

"Tell me, how are Roy and Rocky making out together?"

"Fine, why do you ask?"

"It's...it's important to me to know that they get along and work well

together." Johnny paused before continuing. "It was MY idea that they

work together. I...I spoke to Rocky and after he agreed to do this, the

Chief agreed to his transfer."

Dixie smiled at the thought of Johnny caring about Roy so much, that he made

sure his best friend was working with someone that he trusted. She knew

that Rocky and Johnny were good friends, so it was no surprise to her that

he was the one Johnny had chosen.

"Johnny, they're both top-notch paramedics...and nice guys. They seem to

work very well together and appear to genuinely like one another. Is that

what you wanted to hear?"

"Dix, don't patronize me." The former paramedic replied in a serious tone.

"I'm not. They're doing fine together, I told you that. But Johnny,

you have to remember how hard this has been on both of them. Roy misses

working with you terribly and for Rocky...he's been working in your very

large shadow."

Johnny took a few moments to let what Dixie had just told him, sink in.

"I'm sorry Dix, I know this hasn't been easy...for anyone. I guess...I

guess I'm just having one of those days, you know?"

Dixie smiled at Johnny. "You're certainly entitled to have them."

"I...I just thought that maybe they'd be a comfort for one another...I

never really took anything else into consideration Dix."

"Johnny, you have nothing to apologize for. Roy and Rocky are two people

you care a lot about...they just need time to adjust to things, that's all."

Dixie visited with Johnny for another hour and a half, and during that time,

they shared a stroll down memory lane.

"Hey Dix...how close were you really, to taking that nursing supervisor's

job a few years back?"

Dixie smiled at the memory. "Well...it was for A LOT more

money, but the truth of the matter was that I was happy being in the E.R.

working with Kel and Joe...and two certain paramedics were a big reason for

that. No Johnny, I really wasn't that close."

"How about the supply nurse...did Roy and I ever thank you for..."

Dixie smiled wickedly. "For helping to...get rid of her? Yeah,

you did. I believe the words you used were, "Dix, you are beautiful."

Johnny laughed at that memory too.

**And she really is**

"Putting stuff back when she wasn't looking...pure…genius Dix."

Looking at her watch, Dixie realized that it was getting late.

"Wow, it's after 4 already. I better get going."

As they both stood, Johnny walked her to the door.

"Dix...thank you." He gave her a big hug.

"Well, maybe I should stop by more often. Johnny...don't be a stranger."

"Maybe one day, I'll surprise you and stop by. But the truth of the matter

is...I...I know one day I'll be brought to the hospital...and I WON'T be

leaving. I guess it's just my way of...of trying to avoid the inevitable."

Realizing how Johnny felt, Dixie replied, "I understand, but even

so...there's a lot of nurses that miss seeing your handsome face."

"I'll see. Take care Dix."

"You too Johnny."

They once again hugged each other and Johnny watched as Dixie walked away, going down the hallway, and out to the building's main door.

A few days later Johnny was in his apartment waiting for Roy to come over.

He had been relaxing on the couch drinking a glass of milk when it hit...a grand mal seizure. Just as Johnny went into the seizure, Roy had arrived at the door. After hearing the

sound of breaking glass and a loud thud...Roy became scared and used his key

to open Johnny's door.

Walking into the apartment, he found Johnny on the floor, in the middle of a

seizure and bleeding from a cut on his right hand and forehead. Knowing he

couldn't do anything for his friend until the seizure stopped, he called for

a squad. After the seizure ended, Roy tried to remove all the glass

fragments out of the way.

A few minutes later, a very groggy Johnny came to.

"Wha...what happened?" He asked, confused.

"You had a seizure Johnny...lay still."

"My...my head."

"Yeah, you cut yourself pretty good partner. You must have had a glass in

your hand...your hand got cut up too."

The two paramedics from 51's arrived at Johnny's apartment.

When Adam Wright and his partner Andy Clarkson entered, they knew who their

victim was... having been at Johnny's apartment when he had had his attack of

pneumonia. Roy filled them in on what had transpired. While Andy started

to take Johnny's vitals and then take care of his cuts, Adam made contact

with Rampart.

The voice on the other end of the phone was that of Joe Early. The doctor

was concerned when he heard who the victim was. After receiving their

treatment orders, the two paramedics prepared to carry them out. Andy

started the IV, while Adam put Johnny on O2 to help with his breathing.

As they were readying Johnny for transport, Roy could only stand back and

watch. When the ambulance arrived, Johnny was loaded up with Adam riding

with him as Roy followed in his car. Arriving at Rampart, Johnny was

brought into one of the treatment rooms for an examination...but Brackett

and Early already knew the cause for the seizure.

Roy waited in the lounge for word on his former partner. A few minutes later

Adam and Andy joined him.

"How's he doing Adam?" Roy asked anxiously.

"He's alright Roy. His breathing has improved...I think he just needs some

stitches for his two cuts. Roy...Johnny...Johnny told me that this wasn't

the first seizure that he's had. He said that he had one a few weeks ago."

Roy didn't say anything, but the two paramedics knew he was upset. A few

minutes later, Brackett entered the room.

"Fellas...Johnny's alright. The seizure is related to the tumor...it's to be

expected."

"Doc, did you know that this was his second one?"

"Yes Roy. Johnny told me that he'd had one a few weeks ago, so I'm giving him

some medication for the seizures, but frankly I don't know if it will help

or not."

"Can I see him?"

"In a little while. Joe is stitching up his two cuts right now."

"Does he have to stay overnight?"

"I left it up to him...but he's pretty out of it right now. I'm pretty sure

he's going to be sleeping for the next several hours...those grand mal

seizures take a lot out of you. Someone will be in to let you know when you

can see Johnny."

"Thanks Doc."

"See ya around fellas."

"We better get going Roy. We'll see you later."

"Thanks guys."

After Adam and Andy left, Roy found himself alone. He decided to call Rocky

to fill him in on Johnny's condition. Rocky was concerned, but when Roy said

he was stable, Rocky felt better. Getting off the phone he told Rocky

that he'd be in touch about how Johnny was doing.

After getting off the phone, he was greeted by a relieved Dixie.

"You can see that...friend of yours now."

When Dixie hesitated in saying "friend"...Roy knew that she had almost said

"partner" by accident.

"How's he doing?"

"Tired...but I think he's doing okay. Would you like to see him?" She

smiled, already knowing the answer.

When Roy entered the treatment room, he saw Johnny lying so still...it was a

far cry from the seizure that he had witnessed just a couple hours ago. Johnny's

eyes were closed and he was very pale. He sported two bandages...one on his

forehead and a second one on his right hand.

When the door closed behind Roy, Johnny opened his eyes.

"Pally..." Johnny's voice sounded as tired as he looked.

"Hey Junior."

"You're not mad at me, are you?"

"For what Johnny?"

"For...not...not telling you about...about the other seizure. It happened

about three weeks ago…I...I was in bed, but when I had the seizure, I knew

exactly what it was...and why I was having one. I knew seizures were

probable in my situation...so...so I was prepared to have one. It didn't

seem like a big deal at the time but...but I'm sorry...I shoulda...shoulda

told someone about it."

"Yes Johnny, you should have. But I'm not mad at you...I'm just glad you're

okay...and that I was there...this time. How are you feeling?"

"Tired…and sleepy."

"Are you gonna stay overnight here?"

"I don't want to." Came the soft reply.

"Why don't you come home with me, Johnny. You can stay with us for a few

days."

"Are you sure?"

"Do you have to ask Johnny? Of course I'm sure. You get some rest and I'll

take you home in a few hours."

"Thanks Pally." Johnny replied in a relieved voice.

"Don't mention it Junior." Roy said with a knowing smile.

Roy started to leave, but turned around to look at Johnny before he opened

the treatment room door. Johnny's eyes were already closed and he appeared

to already have fallen asleep...but he did have a small smile on his face.

Dr. Brackett spotted Roy coming out into the hallway.

"How's he doing Roy?"

"He's asleep. I'm going to take him home with me for a few days, he doesn't

want to stay here."

Brackett smiled. "I had a feeling he wouldn't."

"I'm going to call Joanne. Let me know when you're ready to discharge him."

"I will Roy."

By 8 PM, Johnny was resting comfortably in the guestroom of Roy's house.

Back downstairs, Roy and Joanne were talking about their friend.

"Roy, what would have happened to Johnny if you hadn't been there?"

Roy knew, but he didn't want to upset Joanne.

"I don't know...I try not to think about it."

As the month of June was starting to wind down, Johnny had given up driving,

as his vision continued to grow worse. It was a Saturday morning and Roy

had picked up Johnny to go for a ride and then over for dinner at his place.

While in the car, Johnny had turned on the radio…the song playing was Paul

Anka's "The Times of Your Life."

Johnny started to sing along with it.

"Good morning yesterday, you wake up and time has slipped away, and suddenly

it's hard to find the memories you've left behind…remember…do you

remember…the laughter and the tears, the shadows of misty yester-years, the

good times and the bad you seen and all the others in between…remember…do

you remember the times of your life...

For each time for the joy and the sorrow, put them away in your mind, for

memories are time that you borrow…so spend what you get till tomorrow…here

comes the setting sun…the seasons…are passing one by one, so gather moments

while you may, collect the dreams you dream today…remember…will you

remember…the times of your life…"

Roy was about to turn off the radio when Johnny stopped him.

"Johnny, should you be listening to songs like this?"

"Roy, don't you hear the lyrics? This song…this song is…putting into words

about how I'm feeling right now…about appreciating memories because

ultimately that's all you have left. These last few months…I want to

remember all of them…and make some new ones."

"Johnny, something tells me that these last few months are gonna be FULL

of memories…for all of us."

It became quiet and after a few minutes, Roy broke the silence.

"Dixie told me that she came to see you a few weeks ago."

"Yeah she did, it was great to see her. I…I really miss her."

"Well she sure does miss YOU, Junior. She told me what you said about not

wanting to go to Rampart to visit anyone."

"I…I know it sounds silly…but…"

"No Johnny…it's not. I can't say I blame you for feeling that way."

Johnny let out a small laugh, as he said, "A few days after I told her

that…what do I do? I have a seizure and break that damn glass and end up

there any way." Johnny paused for a moment. "So, is she doing okay…and

Brackett, Early, and Morton?"

"Everyone's fine, but like you…they have their good days and bad.

Morton's not even the same. Your illness really has him shaken."

"Yeah?" Johnny was incredulous that Dr. Morton would be that upset.

"Come on Johnny. Morton IS human like the rest of us."

"I know…I'm sorry."

After driving for a while, Johnny asked Roy to drive to the mountains. He

wanted to show Roy his "special place" in the mountains.

Arriving at their destination Roy looked over at Johnny and noticed the

peaceful expression on his best friend's face.

"I get the impression that you've been here before."

"Yeah, you could say that. I've…I've been coming up here since I was 18.

When I first came to LA from Montana, I went exploring and found this spot.

It's so beautiful and peaceful."

"It sure is Johnny. I can definitely understand why you like coming here."

"I always liked to come here when I had something bothering me and needed to

clear my mind. I…I want this to be your spot too. If you need to get

away…or if…if you need to talk…you know, after I'm gone."

The two friends sat in silence for a while, each man deep in thought.

"Roy…how…how are things goin' with you and Rocky?"

"Fine Johnny." Roy let out a small laugh. "In some ways he kinda reminds

me of you."

"Yeah…how so?" Johnny asked curiously.

"The way he sees the world around him. He shares a lot of your strange

views…and he's got your…your zest for life…a free-spiritness I guess."

"Yeah?"

"And when he gets excited he talks real fast…sometimes in Spanish."

Johnny let out a chuckle…remembering that he had forgot to tell Roy about that.

"Yeah, I forgot to warn you about that."

"I do enjoy working with him and we click out in the field…but he's not you,

Johnny…he's not my best friend."

Looking up, Johnny noticed an eagle flying overhead.

"I always wondered what it would be like to be a bird…to fly and be so free. I suppose I'll get to experience that before too long."

"Johnny…"

"Let's go home Roy." Johnny said, interrupting his best friend. He knew where Roy was going with his train of thought, and he didn't want to argue about it.

After they got into the car to head home, Roy noticed how tired Johnny had

become. He knew they were at least two hours away from home and it was a

good bet that Johnny would be asleep before too long.

"Roy…thanks for bringin' me here, I…I haven't been here in a long time. It

felt good…the clean air and all."

Johnny remembered very well the last time he was there…it was the Saturday

morning that he was told of his terminal illness. Fifteen minutes later,

Johnny had in fact fallen asleep. Roy drove the rest of the way home in

deep thought.

**A spot that I can come to, to talk to Johnny after he's gone. I guess

coming here WOULD be a lot less painful than going to the cemetery to

talk**

Roy pulled into his driveway just as Johnny woke up and saw where they were.

"We're home already?" Johnny asked, wiping his sleep-filled eyes.

"Yeah Junior…we're home."

Roy helped Johnny out of the car.

Walking into the house, both men were greeted by Joanne and the kids. The

biggest greeting for Johnny came from Jennifer. She gave him a big hug.

"Uncle Johnny, I'm so glad you're here. I missed you so much."

"I missed you too Jen."

"We have a surprise for you after supper."

Johnny smiled, as he asked, "A surprise…you mean I have to wait THAT

long?"

Johnny looked at Roy suspiciously. "You know about this Pally?"

"I do Junior…it was mine and Joanne's idea."

Joanne noticed Johnny looking like his legs were going to give out.

"Johnny, let's sit down." She helped him to the recliner.

"Thanks Jo."

The five of them visited for a while, but before too long Johnny had fallen

asleep. Chris and Jen went out back to play some badminton, while Joanne

started dinner. Roy stayed in the living room with Johnny.

As silly as it sounded, he missed looking over at the bed next him at the

station and seeing his former partner asleep with his left arm over his

eyes. Sitting in the living room watching Johnny sleep brought back fond

memories for him.

There was one occasion several years ago…Johnny had insomnia for a few days

and the guys had come up with various ideas on how to overcome it. They

even went as far as designing a kind of cradle that was made out of a stokes

and had a fire engine mobile attached to it…the guys thought it was a hoot,

although they were really trying to help…Johnny didn't care for that idea

very much. It finally came to a head…the engine was called out to a fire in

the middle of the night, and Johnny, who was half asleep found himself

hanging on to the back of the engine…Roy watching as Big Red left the

station with Johnny on the back of it.

Roy smiled at the memory. When 4:30 rolled around, Johnny woke up.

"Hi there Junior. Hungry?"

"Yeah. What's for dinner?"

"Joanne made her special lasagna."

Johnny smiled his crooked smile. "Is that part of the

surprise?"

"Well actually Johnny, let's just say we have a special evening planned for

you."

"What's the occasion Roy?"

"No occasion Junior. You've been talkin' a lot about memories…that's what

this night is all about…memories."

After a lively dinner, the five of them settled into the living room.

"Ready for a stroll down memory lane Junior?"

Joanne picked up two photo albums, and asked, "Remember the night you were

here for my birthday party Johnny?"

"Yes, of course I do."

Johnny thought back to the party…he remembered Joanne saying something about

old pictures. Johnny sat on the couch, Roy and Joanne on either side of him

and Chris and Jen on the floor so they could still see the pictures.

Opening up the first photo album, Johnny smiled when he saw the first

picture. It was a picture of him sitting out back, a five year old Chris

sitting on his lap and a two year old Jennifer on his shoulders.

"Wow, this is from about ten years ago. The first time I came for dinner

and met you guys. We were still taking the training class with Brackett."

"Uncle Johnny, you mean this was BEFORE you and Dad became partners?"

"It sure was Jen. We had become friends, but he hadn't even asked me to be

his partner yet."

Joanne thought to herself, how her heart melted when she had seen Johnny for the

first time. She always thought he was very handsome, and fell in love with

his easy smile and warm personality, quickly coming to adore him and

accepting him as one of her own.

The next picture was a picture of a very young Jennifer laughing while her

Uncle Johnny was tickling her. After looking at the picture, Johnny made

eye contact with Jenny and winked. That brought a smile to her face.

There were pictures of some important milestones. Several pictures were

taken of Roy and Johnny, taken at each of their graduation ceremonies from

the program…those pictures brought a nostalgic smile to Johnny's face.

When Johnny turned 25, Joanne insisted that his party be at their

house…there were several pictures from the party. Then there were also

pictures of the first camping trip that Roy and Johnny took the kids on

together. A few years later, Johnny would convince Joanne to finally come

with them on one of their trips…it turned out that she had really enjoyed it.

There was also a picture of the two friends taken with their old time fire

uniforms on and posing with the old fire engine that they had refurbished together.

They had been about to go to the firemen's parade when they made a detour to

help out at a fire instead. This photo in particular brought back some fond

memories for Johnny…he remembered all the hours that he and Roy had spent on

restoring the old engine back to her original glory…he remembered when they had first

spotted the old engine in the junk yard and had had it delivered to the station…

and last but not least, he remembered the fella who offered to buy her…but

the two paramedics didn't bite...they had been in the middle of a prank war

between Chet and another station, and had assumed that the guy was a phony.

Over the next two hours, they looked at all the pictures, recalling all the

memories that went with each photo…Johnny's life from the last ten years

passing before him.

Looking up, Johnny caught the sight of yet another picture. This one was on

one of the shelves in the living room. It was a picture taken of all the

guys at Captain Stanley's surprise 45th birthday party…taken about seven

months ago. Johnny couldn't help but think back in time…a time before his

diagnosis…a time when he was still feeling well…a happier time.

Closing the second photo album, Johnny smiled despite a few tears that had

fallen.

"Thank you…you have NO idea what these pictures and memories have meant to

me."

Joanne looked at Johnny lovingly, and softly answered. "Yes we do Johnny…yes, we

certainly do…and they mean everything to us too."

She kissed him on the cheek, noticing that he was feeling warm. She

didn't want to make a big deal about it, but was concerned nonetheless.

"Johnny, you feel like you're running a fever…are you alright?"

Johnny sheepishly smiled. "Now that you mention it…it is kind of

warm in here."

"Johnny, why don't you stay over? You can stay in the guest room."

"That might be a good idea Roy."

Before going upstairs to the guestroom, Johnny hugged Jo and the kids.

"Thank you…I mean REALLY…thank you…from the bottom of my heart…all of

you."

Roy gave Johnny some Tylenol and some sweats and a tee shirt to sleep in.

Once he knew that Johnny was settled in for the night, he started to leave the room, but turned to

look at him when he heard his friend call out to him.

"Pally…thank you for…for a great day."

"It was nothing Junior…I had a great day too."

Roy knew the truth of the matter was that the day that they had just spent

together had meant EVERYTHING to Johnny.

"Good night Pally."

"Night Junior."

Closing the door, Roy made his way back downstairs. Looking at his watch

he noted the time.

"Nine o'clock."

"What's that Roy?"

"Uh…nothing…I was just commenting on the time…it's 9 PM." Roy let out a

small laugh. "There was a time when Johnny's night was only getting

STARTED at nine."

"How's he doing…he's…he's not getting sick or anything?"

"He's alright Jo, I gave him some Tylenol for his fever. If he doesn't feel

better in the morning…I'll convince him to stay for a while. My main concern

is that he won't be alone."

"Roy…"

"Jo, you don't have to say a word…I'm feeling the same way. I…I just can't

believe it's almost July already. Time is going too fast."

After a few moments of silence, Joanne spoke again.

"Roy…it WAS a special evening for Johnny, wasn't it?"

"It certainly was Jo…it certainly was. Where are the kids?"

"Downstairs watching TV. Jennifer held up rather well tonight, don't you

think?"

"She did. It's gonna be rough for her Jo…the closer Johnny gets to…"

The next morning Roy went in to check on Johnny. Slowly opening the door,

he peeked his head into the room. Johnny was sitting in the big easy chair,

looking out the window.

"Mornin' Junior. How are ya feeling?"

"I'm alright Roy, the Tylenol helped. Listen, if it's okay with you…I'd

like you to take me home soon."

"Uh…yeah…sure. What's the hurry though?"

"I kind of made some plans. Rocky's coming over."

Hearing that made Roy a little jealous, but he knew how difficult this all had

been for Rocky too. Roy had to remind himself that Johnny did have other

friends besides him…and Rocky was a closer friend than most.

As though he was reading Roy's mind, he added, "I haven't spent much time

with Rocky lately…I just want to make sure he's doing okay…I worry about

him."

**Junior…you worry about everybody**

"Johnny you don't owe me any explanation, Rocky's your friend. Well…I'll

let you get dressed…unless you want to shower or something."

Shaking his head, Johnny replied, "I'll wait till I get home. I'll be ready

to go in a few minutes."

"Okay…I'll meet you downstairs Partner."

As Johnny was coming down the stairs, he was opening and closing his left

hand.

"My…my hand doesn't seem to be workin' right today."

"Johnny, can I get you something to eat?"

"No thanks Jo…I'm really not hungry. Thanks for last night…I had a great

time."

"My pleasure Johnny. Stay in touch…okay."

"I will."

Joanne gave Johnny a hug and a kiss. As Roy and Johnny started for the

door, Jennifer and Chris came down the stairs.

"Uncle Johnny…you weren't gonna leave without saying good-bye, were you?"

Johnny thought for a moment…the meaning of what Jennifer had just said…the

words reaching into his soul.

"Jelly Belly, you and your brother needed your sleep…I didn't want to wake

you guys up. But I AM glad that you guys came down to say good-bye. I'll see

you soon, okay."

"Promise?" Jennifer asked in an almost desperate tone.

"I promise Jen…real soon."

After giving both Jenny and Chris hugs, the two men headed out to the car.

For the first few minutes of the trip back to Johnny's apartment, neither

man said a word.

Johnny sensed Roy's change in demeanor. "Roy…you're not mad at me, are

you?"

"No Junior, I'm not mad at you. I'm mad at myself."

"Why?" Johnny couldn't imagine what Roy could possibly have been upset at himself about.

"For being selfish…I…I…"

Johnny smiled when he figured out what was bothering his friend.

"A little jealous?"

Although he hated to admit it, Roy said, "Just a little bit. I know it's

stupid…but I can't help it."

"Roy…you're my BEST friend…you always WILL be. But Rocky is a good

friend of mine and I'm worried about him. YOU…you have your family…after

I'm gone, they'll be there for you. Rocky's family is in Puerto Rico…he

doesn't have anyone. The last few times I've spoken with him on the

phone he seemed really down in the dumps. I just need to spend time

with him Roy, that's all. You can understand that, can't you?"

"Yes Johnny…I can understand that perfectly. I'm sorry for…for being so

silly."

"Don't apologize Roy…it just reinforces something I already knew…how much I

mean to you."

Arriving at Johnny's apartment complex, Roy helped Johnny to his apartment.

He noticed that Johnny was having increased difficulty with his left

side…and his coordination, overall.

"Thanks Pally, I'll be in touch. Thanks for a great day yesterday, it meant

everything to me…you know that?"

"I do. Tell Rocky I said hello and that I'll see him at work in the

morning."

"I will."

Once inside his apartment, Johnny tried to straighten up a bit before Rocky

was due over. After a quick shower, Johnny was relaxing in his recliner

when Rocky made it over.

"Hey Johnny, good to see ya buddy."

Johnny could tell, despite the upbeat greeting that Rocky had given him…that

his friend's heart wasn't in it.

After shaking hands, Johnny motioned for Rocky to sit on the couch.

"It's good to see you too Rocky. What's going on with you? You look like

you've seen better days my friend."

"I'm alright Johnny."

"Rocky…this is ME you're talkin' to…John Gage…I'm gonna get it out of you…I

always do."

Rocky smiled at his friend. He knew this was true. Where Johnny was

concerned…everyone always knew that he'd use the old Gage charm to get

things out of people…even if they didn't feel like talking.

"Is this work-related or John Gage related…or both?" Johnny asked.

"You know me that well…don't you?"

"Are the guys giving you a hard time…Chet Kelly perhaps?"

"No Johnny…it's…"

Afraid Roy had said something, Johnny asked, "Roy…has he said anything to

upset you?"

"No…not at all. I just know he misses you…A LOT…I mean…I do too…but Roy's

your best friend. I guess I just feel like I'm…I'm intruding on his…his

space, you know?"

Johnny sighed loudly. Hearing this, Rocky looked at his friend

questioningly.

"What's that sigh for?" Rocky asked in a somewhat frustrated tone.

Johnny smiled, and said, "I had this conversation with Roy only a couple

hours ago."

When Rocky didn't say anything right away, Johnny continued.

"You're right…Roy IS my best friend…and yes…my illness has been very

difficult for him to deal with…as it has everyone else. Rocky, I want you

to know that I would never have asked you to become Roy's partner…if…if

YOU didn't mean something to me, too. Roy and I have a history

together…we've known each other a long time…and we've been through a lot

together…but I'm not about to discount my friendship with YOU simply

because I haven't known you as long. Rocky...I treasure my friendship with

you…I really do…I just want you to know that. Now…you and Roy are…are two

very important people to me…and it's important for me to know that the two

of you are okay with all of this."

"We're fine Johnny. We get along well and I think we really click out there

in the field…with time I'm…I'm sure it will get even better."

Johnny sat back and smiled. He was relieved that things were going well in

the DeSoto-Ramirez partnership.

Rocky stayed for another hour and a half as the two friends talked and

reminisced over old times. As Johnny appeared to become very tired, Rocky

decided he should get going. After thanking Johnny for a nice visit and

the little heart-to-heart, Rocky embraced his friend warmly, and headed out.

Roy and Joanne had decided to host that year's July 4th barbecue. Deciding to

keep it low key, only the guys from 51's A-shift and their immediate

families were invited. After Gabriella had returned back home to Italy, and Johnny

took a few days just to rest...helping Roy refurbish his deck in time for

the July 4th barbecue would prove to be Johnny's final project with his best

friend.

As Johnny was once again surrounded by his former crewmates, a warm feeling had

overcome him as he listened to the easy banter, and traded barbs with Chet.

Biting into a hotdog, an idea popped into his head…Johnny knew that he

didn't have a whole lot of time left...and the time he HAD left, he knew

that he wouldn't necessarily be in the best of health to enjoy it.

Calling Hank and Roy over to where he was sitting, Johnny approached the two

men with his idea.

"Hey, I just got this great idea..."

Roy looked at his Captain and smiled.

"Where have I heard that before Junior?"

"No really, Roy…Cap, I think you'll love this idea. I was thinkin'...I...I

don't know how much time I have left...I would very much like to spend one

last weekend with all the guys. We can spend the weekend at one of those

lakeside cabins a few hours from here. What do you guys think…and do ya

think the others will go for it?"

"John, I think that's a wonderful idea Pal. I think the others would like it

very much. "

"Thanks Cap. Roy?"

"Junior, I think that's one of the best ideas you ever had...and you've had

some doozies over the years." Roy commented with a grin.

After talking it over with the others, the date was set for the weekend of

July 17-19. They would leave early on Friday morning and come back on

Monday. Although Rocky had been invited to join them, he declined the invitation,

feeling that if he agreed to go he would only be intruding on what promised

to be a very special and highly emotional weekend for the others. Johnny was

very pleased the others agreed to go, but understood why his friend Rocky had

declined.

As the sun started to set, the guests started to leave...it was obvious to

all that Johnny was getting very tired. As everyone exchanged good-byes with

Johnny, and thanked Roy and Joanne for being such wonderful hosts, he was

struck with the thought that this could very well be his LAST holiday.

Thinking ahead to December, Johnny knew that he wouldn't be around for

Christmas. As he sat watching Chris and Jennifer saying good-bye to the

others, he had another rush of inspiration...he would make sure that he

spent one last "Christmas" with his "family".

After everyone had gone home and everything had been cleaned up, Roy,

Johnny, and Joanne were lounging in the living room. Jennifer and Chris were

in the den watching fireworks on TV.

Roy looked up and noticed the serious look on his best friend's face.

"You alright Junior?"

"Yeah, I'm fine Pally. Why do you ask?"

"You...you have a really serious look on your face...I was just wondering if

everything was alright."

Johnny didn't answer right away, but said, "I had a great time at the

Barbecue today."

"I'm glad Johnny. Roy didn't think you'd eat that much, but I'm glad to see

that you did okay."

"Yeah, everything was delicious Jo. You know…when everyone started to leave

and I saw Chris and Jennifer saying good-bye to everyone, I realized that

this would be my last holiday with you all...or at least a holiday that I'd

be well enough to enjoy…and I started to think that…well I KNOW I won't

make it till Christmas."

Roy was still grappling with the fact that Johnny's life would likely be

coming to an end sometime in the next three months...he didn't need to hear

his best friend keep talking about it so openly.

"Johnny, what are you thinking about?"

"Well Pally, I was thinkin…"

With Johnny knowing that he wouldn't be around in December for the Christmas

holiday, he talked to Roy and Joanne about having one last "Christmas" later

in the month…knowing that Johnny wanted to spend one more holiday with the

kids, they gladly agreed.

Johnny explained to them that he didn't want any presents but that he would

be giving them some, that it would be things that he hoped would help them

remember him. Even though Roy and Jo felt bad, not giving their friend any

gifts, they understood the reason for it. They set about getting everything

ready to spend one last "holiday" with their friend.

In the week following the July 4th barbecue, Johnny had made arrangements

with Rocky to go "Christmas shopping". Although in his mind, there were some

very personal items that he wanted to give to each member of Roy's family,

he also wanted to buy them each a few fun gifts.

Johnny's intentions were to spend the day shopping at one of the area's many

malls, but he was feeling really tired and decided to just go to one of the

local department stores. Rocky had tried to talk him out of going shopping

that day, knowing how tired Johnny was, but Johnny knew that Rocky wouldn't

have another opportunity to take him out before Saturday, when Johnny would

give them all their gifts...so he convinced his friend that he'd be okay.

In the car on the way to the store, Rocky continued to try to convince

Johnny to stay home and rest.

"Rocky, I'll be fine. I have my list of what I want to buy, right here in my

pocket."

Rocky smiled at Johnny, he knew it was a losing battle...John Gage was very

stubborn.

Arriving at the store, Johnny handed the list to Rocky who smiled when he

read the first item.

"Hardware Department. Getting new tools for Roy, huh?"

"Yeah. I've helped him on enough projects over the years to know the ones

that he has...well, let's just say that he's long overdue for a new set."

After deciding on which set of tools to buy, the large box went into the

shopping cart. With help from Rocky, two hours later a very tired Johnny had

finished his shopping. After putting the packages into the trunk, Rocky

helped Johnny get into the car. Johnny sat there exhausted.

They had been about to pull out of the parking lot when Johnny had a seizure.

Pulling over to the side, Rocky could only watch as his friend went through

the seizure. Almost two minutes later, Johnny's body became still, as Rocky

reached over to take Johnny's pulse and found it to be a bit fast. Deciding to wait and see how Johnny came out of the seizure, before making a

decision on where to take his friend, Rocky continued to observe his good friend.

When Johnny started to come around, he was very groggy, but his pulse and

breathing appeared to have returned to normal.

"Johnny...can you hear me buddy?"

Johnny opened his eyes and tried to focus, but was having some difficulty in

doing so.

"Come on Johnny...open your eyes for me." Rocky continued to encourage.

A couple minutes later Johnny became a little more alert.

Rocky?" Johnny asked uncertainly.

Rocky smiled. "Yeah Johnny, it's me. You okay?"

Johnny tried to regain his faculties, as he softly said, "It…it happened

again, didn't it? I...I had another seizure."

"Yeah, you did...but you're okay. I don't think there's a need to go to

Rampart, so I'll take you home so you can sleep, okay?"

Johnny nodded his head, grateful not to be going to the hospital.

When they got back to Johnny's apartment, Rocky helped Johnny into bed and

then went back out to bring in all the packages. Rocky made a quick call to

Roy to tell him about Johnny's seizure, but told him that Johnny seemed to

be okay and was now sleeping comfortably.

While Johnny slept, Rocky stayed and gift wrapped all the presents. He knew

whom each gift was for...except one of the watches, so he didn't wrap it. He

wrote everyone's name on the gift tag that adorned each gift.

Once he was finished, Rocky sat back and looked at all the packages. He was

touched but NOT surprised at the great lengths that Johnny had gone

through to make sure Roy and his family would have a wonderful final

"Christmas" with their friend.

As he thought about it, it made him realize just how special Johnny truly

was...and how much he AND everyone else would miss him after he was gone.

Rocky watched TV for a while before checking on Johnny again. Johnny appeared

to be sleeping soundly, but Rocky didn't want to leave his friend until he

was awake and okay.

It was almost 10:30 PM before Johnny woke up. After assuring Rocky that he

was okay, Rocky agreed to go. Johnny thanked him for wrapping all the

gifts...smiling when he saw the unwrapped watch sitting on the table.

"Rocky...this...this watch is for you. I know the watch you have now is

old...and I want this new watch to be a symbol of a new beginning for you."

"Johnny..." Rocky said in disbelief. He knew that the watch was a bit on the expensive side, and was shocked that Johnny had bought him one.

"Rocky...you HAVE to take it. It's just a token...of my friendship...and

my thanks...for everything."

Rocky took the watch from Johnny...opened up the box and put it on his left

wrist.

"Thanks buddy...I'll always think of you when I wear it."

Johnny smiled at his friend and said, "That's the idea Rocky...so you'll

always think of me. Wear it in good health."

The two friends embraced.

"I'll be in touch Johnny...take care."

"Okay, I will...you too."

Roy and Joanne had made arrangements for Chris and Jennifer to stay over at

a friend's house on Friday night, in order to have time to set up the tree

and get everything ready for the "big day". Roy had picked up Johnny earlier

in the day to make sure that he was at the house in enough time to help with the

decorating.

At 5 PM they took a break to eat dinner.

"Chris and Jennifer are gonna be surprised when they come home tomorrow,

aren't they?"

"Yeah they sure are Junior." Roy answered with a smile and nod.

"I...I...just have one worry."

Concerned, Roy asked, "What's that Johnny?"

"Well...it's Jennifer. I...I know she's had a tough time with things...and I

don't want to upset her by springing this on her. I do want this weekend to

be special...to be memorable, but I don't want her to be upset."

Trying to reassure his friend, Roy said, "Don't worry about Jennifer, Johnny,

she'll be fine...one thing about her...she might bend, but she won't break."

"But...I DO worry about her."

After dinner the three friends resumed decorating, but by nine o'clock,

Johnny was exhausted.

Sitting down on the couch, he looked around the room.

"Everything looks great. It's like it really IS Christmas."

"Johnny, why don't you head up to bed? We'll finish up down here and then

we'll only have a few things to do in the morning."

Johnny sighed loudly. "Okay. I...I wish I was more of a help to

you guys. He paused before continuing. "There was a time where doing all

this...was...was no big deal. I mean, as far as the effort went...and now I

can hardly do anything. This...this was all my idea...and now..."

"Listen to me Johnny...everything is gonna be fine. You just go upstairs and

relax and if you need anything...holler."

"I will Pally. Jo, thanks for dinner."

"My pleasure Johnny."

She kissed him goodnight. Once Johnny was upstairs, Joanne started to cry.

"Hey, what's with the waterworks?"

"It's not fair Roy. We shouldn't have to be doing this...Christmas...now.

He should be here with us...celebrating Christmas in December."

"Jo, doing this now was all Johnny's idea...you KNOW that.

Christmas...Christmas was always Johnny's favorite holiday and it was never

about the receiving for Johnny...it was all about the GIVING. Doing this is

very important to him."

"But what ABOUT Jenny? Roy, she's...she's going to be devastated when she

realizes why Johnny wanted to do this."

"We'll deal with it...if and when it happens...that's all we can do. Let's

go to bed Jo...we have a big day tomorrow."

As he took her hand and they started upstairs, Joanne stopped, and softly

said, "Roy...I love you."

"I love you too Jo."

The next morning Roy woke up to the sweet aromas coming from the kitchen.

Going downstairs and into the kitchen, Roy greeted his wife. "Good morning Jo.

What smells so good?"

"Christmas cookies. I got up early…figured we should go all the way right? You look in on Johnny?"

"Yeah, he's still asleep."

"Roy...he's...he's really declining, isn't he?"

Roy knew in his heart that this was true...but it pained him to admit it.

"Yeah, he is Jo."

The two of them were temporarily startled when they realized Johnny had

entered the kitchen. He was smiling brightly...as though all his troubles

had been forgotten.

"Today's the big day. I...I can't wait to see their faces when they come

home."

Roy laughed. "I guess it was worth getting laughed at by all the

neighbors when we were putting up the Christmas lights outside yesterday.

Chris and Jen will think their parents have really gone off their rockers."

"Have a seat Johnny, I'll make you some toast." Joanne encouraged.

Johnny slowly sat down at the table.

"Smell those freshly baking cookies Junior?"

Johnny shook his head, and replied, "Sorry...I haven't been able to smell

much of anything in a couple months. It seems to be another one of my

wonderful symptoms that I've acquired...a decreased sense of smell...so I'll

have to take your word for it, Pally."

"So, how did you sleep Johnny? You seemed pretty tired last night."

When Johnny didn't answer right away, Roy grew concerned.

"Johnny..."

"I'm okay Roy, I...I just had one of those nights. I'm fine...really."

"Headache?"

Johnny nodded his head, and said "Yeah but...but I did eventually fall

asleep. I don't want you worrying about me Roy. I told you...I'm fine."

After breakfast Johnny helped with the rest of the "holiday" preparations.

Roy helped Johnny put all the gifts under the tree. It was 4 PM when Roy and

Johnny were relaxing in the living room, while Joanne was putting the

finishing touches on dinner...a big turkey dinner with all the

trimmings...including apple and pumpkin pies.

Roy turned on the stereo. The first song played was Nat King Cole's "The

Christmas Song". Looking over at his best friend, Roy could see the genuine

happiness on Johnny's face.

"Roy...thank you. This...this is exactly how I envisioned this day."

"Me too Johnny...me too."

It was almost five o'clock, and the big moment was almost there...Chris and

Jen would be coming home any minute. When the time arrived...two excited

kids came home. They both had big smiles on their faces, made wider when

they saw Johnny sitting on the couch...a big crooked smile on his own face.

"Uncle Johnny." Jenny ran right to him and gave him a big hug.

"Jelly Belly. How's my girl...did you have fun with your friends?"

"I'm fine...yeah, I did. What's...what's all this about?"

Johnny smiled, as he replied, "Haven't you ever heard of Christmas in July?

This is for you guys."

Jenny was a little confused, but Chris seemed to catch on to what was going

on, but didn't say anything. Giving his Uncle a hug, Chris started to laugh.

"I bet the neighbors thought you guys were nuts when you put up the lights

outside, huh?"

Johnny laughed. "Nuts? I think your father's neighborhood

reputation is...is now in question…yes."

Joanne sent the kids to wash up and get ready for dinner.

Sitting down at the table, Johnny offered up a toast to his good friends.

"Here's to good friends...always and forever...and to memories...may you

always remember them."

After Johnny's toast, the former partners made eye contact with one another

and smiled.

"That was beautiful Johnny...thank you." said Joanne.

During dinner, the conversation was very lively. As the five of them started to

reminisce about other Christmases...slowly the reason behind this special

evening started to dawn on Jennifer, who didn't seem particularly upset…at

the time.

After the dishes were cleared, everyone retired to the living room. Johnny

sat close to the tree to hand out the presents.

"Okay, who's first?"

They all looked at each other, but nobody answered.

"Alright, I'll pick. Jo...you're first."

Johnny handed her the two smaller packages first.

"These are for you...something I saw in the store...I couldn't resist them."

Joanne opened the first box. When she saw the silver and turquoise earrings

inside, a smile crossed her face.

"Johnny...these...these match the bracelet you gave me for my birthday."

Johnny only smiled at her, as he said, "Open the second box Jo."

Upon opening the second box, a silver chain with a matching silver turquoise

pendant was revealed.

"Johnny they're beautiful...thank you."

"That's not it Jo, this last gift is...is actually for you all to enjoy. You'll

understand what I mean after you open it."

They all laughed after Joanne opened the third box.

"A waffle maker...you know Johnny, coming from YOU, that gift makes

perfect sense. Thank you."

She kissed him on the cheek.

"Well, I figure after all the waffles that you've made me over the years...a

new waffle maker was in order."

"And I know just what I'm making you all for breakfast tomorrow...waffles."

"Okay...Chris, you're next."

Johnny handed Chris the first gift...a very small box.

"This is something you should always have on you when you go camping or

hiking."

Chris opened the box.

"Cool...a compass. Thanks Uncle Johnny."

"Plus, this way Chris...you'll always know which way home is."

Opening the last two of his gifts, Chris smiled...a new backpack and a

weather-resistant watch.

"Well, the next time I go hiking...I'll be all set. Thanks Uncle Johnny...I

love all the gifts."

"I'm glad Chris."

Johnny looked at Roy. He wasn't sure what Jennifer's reaction to her gifts

would be, so he decided to give Roy his first. He knew the first gift would

make everyone laugh...so he gave Roy that one first.

"Roy...ah...this...this gift is from the…the bottom of my heart."

Everyone caught the grin on Johnny's face.

"I bet Junior."

Tearing the paper and taking the lid off the box, a big smile spread across

Roy's face.

"You say, Rocky took you shopping Johnny?"

"Yeah. He...laughed hysterically when we spotted them. He said something

about having ammunition for you, back at the station."

Lifting the gift out of the box, Roy held up a pair of boxers with bright

red fire engines on them…everyone had a big laugh over them. The next box

he opened contained a new watch. The third box was very big.

"Johnny...what in the world is in THIS box?"

"Open it up Pally and find out."

Opening up the big box, a look of shock crossed Roy's face.

"Johnny...these...these tools are..."

"Top of the line Roy…and you know you needed a new set. Now every time you

work on a new project...or ATTEMPT to fix something...you can think of

me."

"Thanks Johnny. I...I don't know what to say. How...how can I ever thank

you?"

"You just did Pally...you just did."

Everyone got silent as Johnny turned to hand Jennifer her first gift.

"Jen, this is for you. I hope you like it."

Jennifer slowly took the box and started to unwrap it. Smiling as she

opened it...her eyes lit up.

"Uncle Johnny...a new radio/cassette player. I love it."

Also in the box were a few cassette tapes. One tape had a bunch of party

songs on it...including the chicken dance and the hokey pokey. Jennifer

smiled some more, as she recalled a time when she was about five years

old...the first time Johnny taught her how to do those two dances.

"There's a couple more Jen. Here's the next one."

He handed her another package. Unwrapping the second box, Jennifer once

again smiled when she opened it.

"A camera...my very own camera. Uncle Johnny...how...how'd you know that I

wanted my own camera?"

"Let's just call it...Uncle's intuition."

The reason Johnny brought her the camera was that she had started to take

some pictures with her parents' camera...and she appeared to have a good eye

for taking pictures, and the more he thought about it...the more he realized

how much like Gabriella, Jennifer was. She was friendly, kind, sensitive,

very pretty, and had an eye for art.

"This is so cool...thanks."

"My pleasure...but you still have one more package."

"Another one?" She asked with surprise.

"Yeah...another one and it's something that you can have fun with. I must

say, my friend Rocky thought I was pretty brave for buying this."

Jennifer opened up the third gift. Inside was a pretty basket filled with

different nail polishes and hair accessories. Johnny always loved Jenny's

long brown hair. He imagined having a daughter like her one day and helping

his wife braid her hair and put ribbons in it.

"Uncle Johnny...this is really neat...but how do you know so much about this

girl stuff ?"

Johnny smiled at her. "Jen...I know LOTS of things...you'd be

surprised."

Roy looked at Johnny and simply shook his head. "I'm not gonna

ask, but only you Junior...only you."

Everyone thanked him for the presents. Johnny seemed very pleased that

they all liked their gifts. Sitting around the living room, they noticed

that there were still several things under the tree...one big package and

several very small ones, but they didn't ask Johnny about them.

The five of them were sitting around talking...just enjoying each other's

company.

"So who wrapped all these gifts Johnny? It obviously wasn't you...I mean,

you're great at starting IV's...but gift wrapping skills were never your

specialty."

"Rocky did it for me. I...I was taking a nap and he was...lookin' for

something to do."

Johnny remembered the circumstances as to why Rocky did all the gift

wrapping perfectly...it was a few days earlier, after he'd had another seizure.

Rocky didn't want to leave him alone...so while he slept...Rocky did the

gift wrapping.

"I know this isn't the time to ask Junior...but where in God's name did all

this money come from?"

Johnny smiled at his best friend. "Let's just say that I

was…saving for a rainy day...and leave it at that."

The truth of the matter was that a couple years earlier, after almost 18

years...Johnny had received quite a very large settlement in the case of his

parents' deaths in the car accident. He had never told anyone about it...nor

did he change his way of life.

As the group of friends were sitting and talking, enjoying what they all

knew would be their last "Christmas" with Johnny, Jennifer was sitting,

looking at her Uncle, realizing how empty all of their lives would be in

just a few short months.

As tears started down her face, Johnny noticed, and softly asked, "Hey

Jen...what's wrong?"

Wiping her eyes and trying to control her tears, Jennifer quietly replied,

"Noth...nothin' I'm...I'm okay…I'll be right back."

As she quickly got up and left the room, Joanne started to go after her,

knowing what was wrong, but Johnny stopped her.

"No Joanne...let me go talk to her."

"Are you sure Johnny?"

Nodding and slowly rising from the recliner, Johnny said, "Yeah Roy, I'm

sure. I think I'm the one that needs to do this...be right back."

Carefully walking out of the living room and into the kitchen, Johnny found

Jennifer standing in front of the sink, crying uncontrollably. Walking up

behind her, Johnny gently placed his hands on the young girl's shoulders, as

he softly spoke to her.

"Jenny...tell me what's wrong."

He already knew the answer, but Jennifer didn't turn to look at Johnny...she

only shook her head and started staring straight ahead out the window, as

she continued to cry.

Trying again, Johnny said, "Jen, somethin's wrong or you wouldn't be acting

like this. Remember, this is…Christmas…you're supposed to be happy...I did

all of this for you and Chris because…I wanted...to spend one last Christmas

with you guys."

"Oh yeah...right...be happy."

As soon as those words came out of her mouth, she knew how sarcastic she

sounded…but Johnny didn't say anything, he knew how both Jennifer and Chris

felt…angry, hurt and as if they were being cheated…he felt the same way.

"I'm sorry, I didn't mean for it to sound like that…thanks for thinkin'

about me and Chris Uncle Johnny, but... what's there to be happy

about...you're...and you seem to be so...accepting of it...if it were me

I...I just don't think I could be. How are you keeping it together?"

After thinking for a moment, Johnny gently rubbed the young girl's shoulders

and softly replied, "Well...you'd be surprised at what you can do...when you

HAVE to...and I'm HAVING to. But keeping it together, is that what you

think I'm doing? I'm really not...trust me...just ask your Dad the

times…the times he's let me…cry on his shoulder."

As Johnny slowly turned her around to face him, he calmly said, "But I'm

what...dying? Yeah Jelly Belly, I am...but if you think about it, we're ALL

dying...I'm…I'm just doing it a little faster than everybody else."

Johnny was trying to ease the tension...Jennifer didn't find it funny.

"That's not funny Uncle Johnny."

She again wiped her eyes and walked away from Johnny. After a moment, she

spoke again.

"This…this isn't fair...you're being taken away…from us and…and you're

trying to be funny. Plus, we're having to celebrate Christmas…in July…I

don't want you to…Uncle Johnny...none of us do...you should be...I don't

know, enjoying your life…out chasing a nurse or something...working

with Dad again...getting into it with Uncle Chet...but you shouldn't

have to be worrying about..."

Johnny thought it was funny when she mentioned that he should be chasing a

nurse or getting into it with Chet, and deep down, he agreed, but when she

hesitated, Johnny knew that she still couldn't bring herself to say that he

was dying. He knew that she, as well as the rest of her family, would have

to accept it, sooner or later.

Making his way over to her, he stepped in front of her and took her hand. "I'm sorry, I wasn't trying to be funny…this isn't a laughing

matter. But Jennifer, I want you to listen…listen to me…I…I'm…"

Johnny was getting tired from just the few moments that he had been

standing, and Jennifer saw it…Roy and Joanne saw it as well and had to force

themselves not to go into the kitchen to help their friend.

"Uncle Johnny, come on, let's sit down at the table."

Agreeing that he needed to sit down, Johnny nodded his head and let her help

him to the chair.

"Listen…I'm gonna be alright but…I don't want you to…say anything about

this…to your Mom and Dad…they're worrying enough…as it is…all right?"

Knowing that she needed to tell her parents, but agreeing not to, she

Nodded. "Yeah, okay…even though I SHOULD tell them…I won't say

anything."

After a moment to catch his breath, Johnny continued.

"Anyway, what I was gonna say…I wanted to have Christmas, now, so that all

of you will remember me like I am…now…not what I'm gonna be in a few

months...I'm only gonna get worse plus, I won't be here in December. But do

you think I wanna die…I don't…I don't want to leave you and the rest of your

family…I don't wanna leave the job I love and everything that I've worked so

hard for…and I don't want to leave all of my friends, but Jen…this is the

hand that I've been dealt…and like it or not…and I definitely don't…I can't

change it…and all I can do…is accept it…and come to terms with it. I

guess…I guess makin' jokes is…is just a way…of dealin' with it."

Johnny again had to catch his breath before he went on. Jennifer was

starting to get worried.

"Uncle Johnny, are you sure you're alright?"

"Yeah sweetheart, I'm fine. Listen, I need you to do something for me…as

hard as it is and…as hard as it's gonna be…I need ALL of you…to come to

terms with this…and accept it, like I have…I'm sure not looking forward to

what I know…I'm gonna have to go through…but I'm gonna try to get though it

with…as much dignity…and courage…as I can. And I'm not worrying about

it...now... because, first off, it isn't gonna do any good, but mainly

because…I know that where I'm going...I won't have to suffer anymore...no

more pain and I'll...I'll be at peace and be...with my parents…and my

grandparents again…and I've missed them so much."

"But…we're gonna miss you." Jennifer softly said.

"I know honey…I know…and I'm gonna miss…all of you…but I want you to

know…that when the time DOES come…for me to go…that I'll always love all

of you…and that you and your family…are so VERY important to me…and you'll

NEVER be forgotten…and my not bein' here…isn't gonna change…how much you

all…mean to me."

Johnny saw the tears as they started down Jennifer's face again…as they were

his, and after getting up, she walked back over to the window, and softly

spoke.

"And you're important to us Uncle Johnny…that's why I…none of us…can accept

this…I don't want you to…I want you to be…around for a long, long time…this

shouldn't be… happening to you…not you."

Slowly rising from the table, Johnny walked over to Jennifer, and turning

her around, and even though he was weak, he held her as tightly in his arms

as he could, as she continued to sob…she gladly returned the embrace.

"We don't want to let…you go…don't leave us Uncle Johnny…please

don't...don't leave us."

Crying himself, Johnny whispered. "Shhh, it's gonna be all right

Jenny…I wish I didn't have…to go…I don't…I don't wanna leave...any of

you…but I have to…but it'll be okay…I promise…it'll be okay. For as

long…as I've know you guys…all of you…have always been so strong…and that's

what I…I need from you all now…to be strong…not only for me…'cause I'm gonna

need…a lot of help to get through this…but mostly, for each other…and help

each other through this…it's gonna be okay."

As the two stood in each other's arms, releasing some of their grief and

pain, they didn't notice as Roy and Joanne stood, watching, as they both

tried to control their own emotions, and knowing that it really wasn't going

to be okay when they lost Johnny.

After giving Jennifer a few moments to get out her tears, Johnny composed

himself enough to speak again. "Now that we have that out of our systems…we're

not gonna cry anymore…okay…not till we have to…not till I go…so why don't

we…pull ourselves together and…go back out into the living room…I brought

you guys some more presents and…I wanna see you open them."

Johnny's eyesight was failing, but he could still see well enough to be able

to see the tears in his friends' eyes…along with the smiles on their

faces…it was the smiles that he never wanted to forget.

"I don't want presents…Uncle Johnny…all I want is for…you not to…"

"Say it Jen…say it. What's gonna happen to me?"

Shaking her head, Jennifer said, "No…I can't…I can't say it."

"Yes you can…you can…don't be scared sweetheart…saying it isn't gonna make

it happen any faster…but you HAVE to say it, to accept it. What's gonna

happen to me?"

Closing her eyes for a moment and gathering her courage, Jennifer softly

said, "You're…you're gonna…"

"Come on...I'm gonna what?" Johnny softly asked.

Taking a deep breath, Jennifer slowly said, "Die...you're gonna…die."

Jennifer started to break down again, but Johnny shook his head. "Don't

cry…remember, now isn't the time for that…now is a time for being happy and

making memories…so you won't ever forget me…I don't want any pity…or sadness

or crying…not yet…you'll be able to grieve for me later on, AFTER I'm

gone…but right now, I'm still here...and it's time for presents. So, you

ready to go back out there?"

Wiping her eyes, Jenny tried to smile. "Yeah…yeah, I'm ready.

You?"

Smiling his famous grin, Johnny nodded his head. "Yeah, you bet. If you can do it, I

can do it. Come on."

**That's what I'll miss most Uncle Johnny…your crooked smile**

Hearing the two coming back into the living room, Roy and Joanne quickly

made their way back over to the couch and dried their eyes so Johnny and Jennifer

wouldn't know that they had been watching.

As the two came back out into the living room, Chris asked, "Uncle Johnny,

are you and Jennifer okay?"

Looking at Jennifer, then looking back at Chris, Johnny softly replied,

"Yeah Chris, we're okay. Let's get back to opening presents."

As everyone got comfortable, Johnny said, "Now...these last gifts...are

personal. These, I hope, will always make you think of me...and how much

you all have meant to me."

Carefully reaching down in front of him, Johnny picked up a wrapped box that

had Joanne's name on it, and handed it to her.

Speaking softly, he said, "Jo, this is something that I know you've always admired. As you know, it's something that my Mother made for me, just weeks

before she and Dad were killed in the accident...so it's something

that I've always cherished...and I want you to have it."

As her eyes started to fill with tears, Jo softly said, "Thank you Johnny."

After taking off the wrapping paper and opening the box, Joanne pulled out a

huge patchwork quilt...she had always told Johnny how beautiful it was

everytime she and Roy had been in his apartment, and since it was made by

his mother, and his mother was now gone, she knew how much it meant to her

friend...she was honored to be receiving it.

"Oh Johnny...I've always loved this...but your mother made it for…"

Interrupting her, Johnny said, "Yeah Jo…Mom made it for me but…but now

she's…she's gone…and I'll be joining her and Dad soon…so I want you to have

it."

As she looked back down at it and rubbed her hand across it, Jo smiled. "Thank you Johnny. I'll always treasure it and...I'll always remember you whenever I look at it."

She leaned in and kissed Johnny on the cheek.

Looking over at his best friend and slightly smiling, Johnny softly said,

"Don't be jealous Pally...and you're welcome Jo."

Forcing a smile onto his face, Roy replied, "Don't worry Junior...I'm not."

Composing himself, Johnny reached for another box, this time a little bit

smaller, but the items inside were things that were important to him, and he

knew Roy would want them. Johnny held the box in his hands for a few

minutes, as he remembered the day that his best friend and partner gave the

items to him...he remembered how proud Roy seemed to be of him that day, as

well as the pride he himself was feeling, for what he had accomplished.

Becoming worried at his best friend's silence, Roy gently touched Johnny on

the shoulder and quietly spoke.

"Johnny...partner, you okay?"

Slightly smiling that Roy still called him partner, Johnny didn't yet make

eye contact with his friend, but softly spoke.

"FORMER...partner...partner. But yeah, I'm okay...I was just thinkin'

about...about when you gave these to me...I was so proud that I had…I had

done what I set out to do."

Wiping away a tear, Johnny turned and looked at Roy as he handed the box to

him...little did Roy know that there was also another surprise in the box.

"Here Roy...this is for you...along with something else in there."

Roy slowly took the gift…and unwrapped it even slower...he was a bit afraid

of what might be inside.

Seeing Roy's hesitation, Johnny laughed. "Oh come on

Pally, you don't have to worry, it isn't gonna bite'cha ya...gettin' bit was

MY department, remember."

With that being said, a painful memory came back to Roy's mind...the day

that he wasn't there and Johnny was bitten by the rattlesnake...he had

always felt guilty about that, but was thankful that the engine crew had

still been there and were able to help his partner.

"Yeah, I remember...all too well...you scared us all to death, especially

Chet."

Remembering what Roy had told him, after he had recovered, about how worried

Chet had been, Johnny smiled wistfully. "Yeah...good ol' Chester B really came in handy

a lot of times...he's a good guy...I'm really gonna miss him. But anyway,

come on Roy, open it up."

"All right Junior, I am."

Roy opened the present and as he took the lid off the box, he saw the gift.

It was Johnny's nameplate and paramedic pin.

Choking back his emotions, Roy quietly said, "I...I remember when I...pinned

these on you Johnny...I was so proud of you...and even more proud that...you

agreed to become my partner. Thank you Johnny."

Starting to tear up himself, Johnny replied, "You're welcome. That was the

best thing that...I ever did...becoming your partner...but it became more

than just…being partners…we became...best friends...who have always been

there...for each other...so thank you...for being here for me...now...and

helping me through all of this...I don't know what...I would'a done

without you... without ALL of you."

"We love you Uncle Johnny."

"And I love all of you, Chris…you're all very special to me."

As everyone wiped their eyes and composed themselves, Johnny tried to sound

upbeat, as he said, "Okay, I said, no more crying…so, let's cut the

waterworks and get on with it. Oh yeah Pally, there's something else in the

bottom."

As Roy carefully lifted the pins and the cotton that they had laid on, there he

saw the keys to Johnny's Land Rover. Looking at his friend in surprise, he

started to say something to his friend, but Johnny stopped him.

Holding up his hand, Johnny shook his head. "Roy, there isn't anything to

say…everything's taken care of, all the stuff is in order…so all you gotta

do…is sign on the dotted line and just take it and take good care of it."

Excited, not realizing what was inside the box, Joanne asked, "Roy…what is

it?"

Reaching the box over where Jo and the kids could see it, Roy said,

"Look…look at what he's…givin' me…us."

As the kids gathered around their father and Joanne, and looked inside the box,

they were stunned at what was inside…they also knew what it meant to Roy.

"The Rover keys…cool." Chris said.

"Johnny…I can't…I can't take…"

Stopping his friend, Johnny said, "This isn't open for discussion

Roy…that's my Christmas gift…to you…so you CAN'T turn it down. Besides,

everytime you get in it, I know you'll…you'll always remember me. And I

told you…that's what these gifts are… personal…things that'll help you…to

remember me when I'm…well, you know."

As tears started to come to everyone's eyes, Roy said, "Johnny…trust me

part…partner…I don't need the Rover…to help me remember you…I could NEVER

forget you."

"Well…this way, I'll be sure you won't."

Roy placed the lid back on the small box. "I won't Johnny…I promise.

Thank you for this most generous gift."

"You're welcome.

Johnny was starting to get tired, so he asked Joanne to hand him the present

for Chris. As she placed it in his hand, he looked over at the young man,

who was sitting on the floor, at his feet.

"Chris, this is for you. My dad gave this to me…probably when I was

about your age. I've always carried it with me and…I've used it…quite a few

times on the job…even saved Uncle Chet's butt once with it. I want you to

have it."

Chris took the gift, and after unwrapping it, he opened the box.

"Wow…it's your…your pocketknife. And you want me to have it?" Chris asked incredulously.

"Yeah I do. Why are ya so surprised…I think you're old enough to have it,

just always be careful when you use it, it's very sharp."

Giving Johnny a hug, Chris smiled appreciatively. "I will, I promise. Thank you Uncle

Johnny, I love it."

"You're welcome Chris."

Last but not least, Johnny picked up two other boxes, and turning to Jennifer,

he spoke as he handed them, one at a time, to her...knowing that she would

probably start crying again.

"Jenny, I have two things I want to give you. First, I want you to have

this...usually, the department doesn't do this…but after talking to

them...and considering the circumstances and knowing how everybody…would

probably feel…if they issued it to somebody else...they agreed to let me

keep it and…I'm giving it to you."

After handing her the square box first, she took off the wrapping paper and

slowly opened it…finding Johnny's badge inside.

Just as Johnny thought, Jennifer did start crying again.

"Your badge…you want me…to have it…and not…not Chris?"

Shaking his head, Johnny replied, "Well sure, why not you...he has my

pocketknife. I don't know what your future holds, Jen…or what you want to do when you get older, but at least this way, you'll have something very special to remember me by. And who knows…someday there might be lots of women firefighters in the department."

Taking the badge out of the box, Jenny held it tightly in her hand, rubbing

her fingers down the front of it, as the tears continued to fall.

"Jenny, are you okay?" Roy asked his daughter.

Jennifer nodded her head. "Yeah Dad…I'm fine. Thanks Uncle Johnny,

I'll…I'll always treasure it."

Giving her a few moments to compose herself, he held the other box in his

hand, as he started to speak to her again.

"And this…my grandmother…she gave this to me before she died...she said that

she wanted me to give it to that special girl that I'd eventually marry.

But…since that isn't gonna happen, you're the next best thing...you'll

always be my special girl and...I don't ever want you…to forget that."

Roy and Joanne looked at each other…both could tell that they were thinking

the same thing…why had Johnny not given this gift to Gabriela while she was

there?

Taking the long slender box and opening it first, Jenny was surprised to see

what was inside …a gold locket with a chain. Looking up at Johnny, he

spoke before she had the chance to say anything.

"Open the locket. I put a little somethin' in there."

Taking it from the box, Jennifer carefully opened the locket to find a picture

of her Uncle Johnny inside…he was smiling his famous grin.

As tears again started down her face, Johnny smiled. "That's also a good way

for you to remember me."

Closing the locket and having Joanne put it around her neck, she gave Johnny

a hug. Letting go, she tried to control her tears, as she tried to speak.

"Thank you…I'll always…wear it…and I'll never…never forget you."

Starting to get extremely tired, and beginning to cough, Johnny said, "Good,

I'm glad to hear that. I'm sorry if these gifts…made you guys sad…that

really wasn't…my intention…but I felt…I felt that these things…needed to be

given…and…"

Seeing the trouble that Johnny was having, everyone became worried.

"Johnny…are you alright?" Roy asked his former partner.

Trying to get his breathing and coughing under control, Johnny nodded.

"Yeah…yeah Roy I'm…I'm alright…just give me…a minute…gotta…gotta rest…but

there's one more…gift I gotta…"

As Johnny tried to get up to go upstairs, everyone stopped him.

"No Johnny, you're gonna stay here. Tell the kids what you want, and they'll get it."

"Uncle Johnny, you stay here and relax and tell me where it is…I'll go get

it."

Looking at Chris, Johnny sighed softly. "Okay…it's upstairs in…in my bedroom…probably

under…under the bed…wanna give…it to…to you guys…"

"Okay Johnny, you relax and get your breathing under control. Chris'll go

get it."

As Chris got up to go get the gift, Roy leaned over to Jennifer, as he

whispered in her ear.

"Jenny, go help Chris. Let him bring the oxygen tank down and you bring the

gift okay?"

Being worried the Johnny's breathing wasn't getting back to normal, she

said, "Okay Dad, we'll be right back."

The two quickly made their way upstairs to get the items. When they returned to the stairs, Johnny turned to see them…he saw Jennifer carrying

the package and Chris carrying an O2 tank.

As the kids walked back over to their parents and Johnny, Chris sat the O2

tank down as Roy turned it on and took the nasal cannula off. Much to everyone's

surprise, Johnny took it out of his friend's hand and started using it.

"Easy Johnny…just relax your breathing…take it easy."

Jennifer sat the gift down in front of Johnny then took a seat back on the

floor beside her brother. After a few minutes of Johnny using the oxygen,

his breathing started to improve and his coughing started to ease…he finally

started to relax.

Being a little bit afraid, Jennifer asked, "Uncle Johnny...are you okay?"

Johnny nodded his head. "Yeah Jen, I'm okay. The doctors said that this would happen…don't worry."

Finally breathing better, Johnny removed the nasal cannula from under his nose.

"Are you sure you're gonna be alright without that?" Joanne asked with concern.

"Yeah Jo...I think I'll be alright...thanks Roy for...for havin' this...I'm

sorry if I...messed things up."

Touching his friend on the shoulder, Roy shook his head. "Johnny, you didn't mess

anything up, everything's just fine."

With a disappointed look on his face, Johnny softly said, "Sorry if I scared you guys…I didn't

mean to…I wanted this day to be perfect…but I'm alright now."

"Uncle Johnny, it HAS been perfect…just getting to spend more time with

you makes it perfect. Like Dad said, everything's cool."

Johnny looked over at Chris. "Thanks Chris, that makes me feel better.

But, like I said, I have one more gift…and this is for all of you to enjoy

and I hope you all like it. Jenny, Chris…you two wanna open it?"

"Sure Uncle Johnny." Jennifer said.

The kids tore into the large package only to find that they recognized the

gift immediately. Pulling the paper away, Chris and Jennifer looked at

their Uncle with a surprised look on their faces. Inside the box were

crystal ornaments that came in different shapes…rounds, bells, diamonds,

snowflakes and ovals.

Turning the gift for their parents to see, Jennifer said, "Uncle

Johnny…these are yours…you told me and Chris that…that they belonged to your

Mom and Dad."

Nodding his head, Johnny replied, "That's right Jennifer, they did. I

always appreciated the two…two of you helping me to decorate…my tree with

them…since they passed…they've always reminded me of all…the good times we

had as a…a family…and since you always …said how much you liked them…I

wanted you guys to have them."

"Johnny, they're beautiful." commented Joanne.

"You know…in spite of me not bein' able to breathe for a few minutes…I guess

this evening turned out pretty well…just like I hoped it would. Hey Jen,

you wanna take some pictures?"

"Sure Uncle Johnny. Want to help me put the film in the camera?"

Nodding his head yes, Jennifer handed Johnny the camera and he put in the

film. As the many pictures were being taken, the DeSoto family made sure

that every picture had Johnny in them…they told him that they wanted these

pictures to remember him by…he happily agreed.

Some were taken of Johnny and Roy, some with Joanne and Johnny, some with

the kids, but Chris and Jennifer made sure to each get the perfect picture

of each of them alone with Johnny.

After the pictures were taken, Jennifer said, "I plan on taking these and

making me a very special photo album...about my Uncle Johnny."

Smiling, Johnny said, "That's a good idea Jenny. And if you need or want

any other pictures of me…when I was younger, let me know and I'll try to

get them to you."

"I'd like that. Thanks Uncle Johnny."

"You're welcome. Well, I think I'm gonna turn in...I'm really tired."

As Johnny slowly got up…with some help from Roy, and pulled the O2 tank with

him to the foot of the stairs, he turned back around to speak to his dear

friends.…being tired, Johnny's voice was weak and he spoke quietly.

"In case I don't get the chance, there's somethin' I wanna say...after I met

Roy…and we became partners and…and best friends…you guys always made me…made

me feel like…I had a family again…you all made me feel…wanted…and needed…but

most of all...you made me feel loved...and I thought...after Mom and Dad

died...and my brother...that I'd never have that again...but I was lucky and

got a…a second chance...and I had it again...and that's somethin'…I'll never

forget …and for everything that…you all have done for me…during these months

that…I've been sick…I know you didn't have…to do it and that it hasn't been

easy…and that it's only…gonna get harder…and I know it isn't much…but

thanks…is all I know of to say…and I'll always remember it…well, you all

have a good night."

Roy and his family watched, as Johnny slowly tried to make his way up the

stairs, but seeing the trouble that he was having trying to walk and pull

the oxygen tank, Roy quickly motioned for the kids to go help...they also

knew their parents wanted to be alone to talk.

Quickly getting up, Chris and Jennifer went to the stairs to help Johnny.

"Uncle Johnny, let us help you."

"Thanks Chris...Jenny...I think I need it."

Chris picked up the tank and Jennifer gently took her Uncle's hand and

helped him up the stairs. As Roy and Joanne saw the three disappear, Joanne

could no longer hold back her tears…Roy wasn't having an easy time of it

either.

"Oh Roy...how are we ever gonna get through this...I just...I just can't

imagine...our lives without Johnny...it isn't fair Roy...it

just...isn't...fair..."

Taking his wife in his arms, Roy softly said, "I know it isn't...but we

will...we'll get through this...somehow…if only for Johnny."

After spending most of the weekend at Roy's for "Christmas", Johnny was now

at home spending the evening relaxing in his recliner. He was glad the

weekend's events went off just as he had hoped they would, but one thing

bothered him...Jennifer's reaction to the sentimentality of it. He knew it

was to be expected, after all she was ONLY 12 years old.

Johnny tried to come up with some ideas on how to help her...or more

importantly, how she could help HERSELF in coping with his illness and

eventual passing.

He thought back to his childhood...when his grandfather died. It had been a

devastating loss to him...he was only nine at the time. His mother

encouraged him to write letters to his grandfather, as though he was still

alive. This helped Johnny work out his feelings and also served to help keep

his grandfather's memory alive. After his own parents died in the car

accident, he kept a journal that served the same purpose. That's what he

would do...he'd get Jennifer some nice stationary and a journal to help her

deal with her emotions better.

Johnny knew he would need to get out to a store in order to pick these

things up...but both Roy and Rocky would be going back on shift on Monday

morning, and would be working straight through till Thursday morning. He decided he

would give Dixie a call at home. She had given Johnny her schedule for July

and told him to call her if he needed something...or just wanted to talk.

It was only 7:30 PM so he figured there would be no harm in calling her.

Johnny dialed the number and waited for her to pick up.

"Hello."

Johnny smiled when he heard that sultry voice.

"Hey Dix...it's me...Johnny."

"Well hello there handsome. What can I do for you?"

Johnny explained what he wanted and why.

"Sounds like a wonderful idea Johnny. I can pick up those things from the

hospital gift shop and drop them off to you on Tuesday morning when I get

off shift."

"That would be great Dix...thanks."

"Say Johnny...how did your weekend at Roy's go?"

"It was great...just as I hoped it would be. I'll tell you all about it on

Tuesday."

"It's a deal Johnny. Take care of yourself."

"I will Dix...you too."

When Tuesday morning arrived, Dixie stopped by after work with the items

that Johnny had requested.

"Thanks Dix...I really appreciate it."

"Anytime Johnny...you know that. So tell me about your "holiday" weekend." Dixie asked with an interested smile.

Johnny told her all about the weekend spent at Roy's...not leaving out a

single detail.

"Sounds like it was a special weekend, Johnny."

"It was." The former paramedic said with a nod.

"I hear you and the guys are going away for a few days...Roy was telling me

about it."

"Yeah...I'm really looking forward to it."

Being a little curious, Dixie asked, "Rocky joining you?"

Sadly shaking his head, Johnny replied, "No...he...he declined."

Dixie understood why Rocky wouldn't be joining them. The two friends

continued their visit for another hour. As Johnny walked Dixie out to her

car, she turned around to look at him. It became obvious to her that

Johnny's health was in serious decline and that the next couple of months

would probably be it for him.

"Johnny..."

Johnny knew from Dixie's tone, and the look in her eyes that she was very

concerned about him, and already had started to think about what lay ahead

for him in the coming weeks.

Johnny gave her a warm embrace.

"Dix...I'm okay, and I don't want you worrying about me. I intend to enjoy

this weekend...and whatever time I have left. Go home, okay...I'm fine."

Dixie gave him a kiss on the cheek before getting into her car. As she

started to pull away, she looked into her rear view mirror and watched Johnny

as he had headed back inside...a single tear fell down her cheek as she watched

him.

Once Johnny got back inside, the dull ache that he'd had in his head for the

previous few hours, quickly became more severe. Swallowing hard to keep the

nausea at bay, Johnny realized that it was a losing battle. He made his way

to the bathroom, just in time to have what little food that he had had in his

stomach, end up in the bowl.

After rinsing out his mouth, he splashed some cool water on his face and

went to lie down in bed. After lying in agony for over an hour, Johnny was

finally starting to fall asleep when the phone rang. He really didn't want

to answer it, but knew if he didn't...Roy and Rocky's sense of paranoia

would only increase...if they were indeed the ones on the phone.

Mustering all his strength, he answered the phone.

"Hello?" A strained voice greeted on the phone.

"Johnny...you okay?"

Johnny was right...the voice on the other end had belonged to Rocky.

"I'm...I'm...yeah...I'm just tired. I...I was...just...just trying to get

some sleep."

Rocky grew concerned. After knowing Johnny for several years, he knew his

friend well. Just by hearing Johnny's voice he could tell exactly how his

friend was feeling...his instincts were telling him that Johnny wasn't doing

well right now.

"Johnny...you need some help there buddy?"

"No...I'm okay...Rocky...really."

"Johnny..."

"Rocky...I ...I really need to just get some sleep, I'm okay. Give the guys

my best."

Rocky still wasn't convinced that Johnny was okay.

"Johnny...we can come over, you know...it's no problem."

"I know. I said I was okay...really. I'll...I'll call you guys later, okay?"

Rocky didn't like it, but said, "Alright Johnny."

Johnny got off the phone and hoped that Rocky and Roy weren't on their way

over. After another hour, Johnny had finally fallen asleep. Over the

next several hours, Johnny alternated between taking catnaps and his battle

with nausea. At 8 PM he decided to call the station to say hello, before

his friends grew too worried about him.

He dialed the familiar number and waited for an answer.

"Station 51, Captain Stanley speaking."

Johnny did his best to sound upbeat, but he felt anything but.

"Cap...its Johnny."

"Hey, how are ya doin' Pal?" The happy to hear from his former paramedic, captain asked.

"I'm okay."

Hank thought he heard some discomfort in Johnny's voice. "You're sure?"

"Yeah...I...I'd like to talk to Roy or Rocky...it's...it's not an emergency

or anything. I promised I'd call...I'm just fulfilling my promise."

"Okay, hang on Johnny...I'll get them."

The next voice Johnny heard was that of his worried former partner.

"Johnny...you alright? Rocky said that you sounded horrible this morning."

"I'm okay Roy. I'm just...really tired."

"Johnny...are you being honest with me?"

Of course Roy knew that Johnny would never admit to feeling anything else

other than okay.

"Yeah Roy...I'm just feeling really tired today...I'm alright. I told Rocky

that I'd call you guys later...so I did. Give my regards to everyone...tell

them I'll see them on Friday."

"I will. Take care Junior."

"Yeah...you too Pally."

Through the rest of the night and all during the next day Johnny battled

through a painful headache and bouts of severe nausea and dizziness. Johnny

started to wonder if he would be well enough to go on this trip.

When Thursday afternoon rolled around, Johnny was relaxing in his recliner.

Although he was feeling better after having been so sick for the previous day and

a half, he was left feeling exhausted. He had spent part of the morning packing

for his trip with the guys. He knew that Roy would be coming shortly to pick him up, as

it was decided that Johnny would spend the night at Roy's because they would

all be meeting there, and leaving from his house early in the morning.

Arriving at Johnny's apartment, Roy knocked on the door and used his key to

open it. Johnny smiled at his friend when he came in.

"Hey Pally...how ya doin'?" Johnny asked his friend with a relaxed smile.

"Fine, but I should be the one asking YOU that question."

"I'm great Roy...couldn't be better."

**Now I am...but you should have seen me the last day and a half…on second

thought, I'm glad you didn't**

"All packed?"

"Yeah, I packed this morning. Roy...I'm really looking forward to this

trip."

"I know Johnny...me too...it's gonna be fun."

Roy helped Johnny with his bags, and then put them into the Rover...now

belonging to Roy, and headed home. After a pleasant dinner, during which

Johnny hadn't eaten very much, he went to rest in his room.

Lying down in his bed, Johnny had been in deep thought when he heard a sweet

voice coming from outside his door.

"Uncle Johnny?"

Looking up, he smiled when he saw Jennifer standing there.

"Jelly Belly...come on in." He motioned for her to come over and sit on the bed. "What can

I do for you?"

"I...I just wanted to...to keep you company...is that okay?" She asked hopefully.

"I'd love that."

When Jenny sat down on the bed, Johnny noticed the serious look on her face.

"Jenny, what's wrong?"

"Uncle Johnny...I'm sorry for...for getting so upset last weekend. It's just

that...that I'm gonna miss you when you're gone. It makes me so sad to think

about it."

"I know it does Jenny...it makes me sad too...I mean to be leaving all of

you...all the people I love so very much. Listen, I got something for

you...something I hope will help you...with your feelings."

"But, Uncle Johnny...you've already given me so much."

"Jen, that bag over on the dresser...you wanna bring it over."

After giving the bag to Johnny, he had her sit down beside him on the bed.

"When I was your age...my parents were killed in a car accident."

"I remember you telling me and Chris about that. How did you...get through

it…weren't you sad?"

"It was REALLY hard for me Jen. I started to keep a journal to deal

with my...my sadness. I wrote about how I was feeling and…and memories of my

parents."

"Did it help?"

"Yeah...it did. When I was nine, my beloved grandfather died. My mom

suggested that I write letters to him..."

Interrupting, Jenny asked, "You mean...like...like he was still alive?"

"Yes...exactly like he was still alive. It made me realize that...that

although he...he wasn't around anymore in BODY…he was still there in

spirit. I never sent them, of course...but I kept them in a small box

and…and after a few letters...I started to feel better...like he...he was

still there. I had Dixie buy these things for you...I hope they help you."

He handed her the stationary set and journal. The stationary set had little

red fire engines on it...the journal was light blue and yellow...Johnny's

two favorite colors.

'Thank you Uncle Johnny." she said, as she hugged him.

"Can I write you a letter now?"

Johnny gave Jennifer one of his patented crooked smiles.

"Sure it's okay, but...but you'll have to read it to me. I have trouble

reading now."

"Okay."

When he went to put the empty bag on the nightstand, he realized there was

another small box in the bag. Reaching in, he handed her the small box.

"I...I guess this is for you. It must be from Dixie."

Jenny opened the small box to reveal a small crystal angel pin. There was

also a small card with it. She read it to herself.

Jennifer,

I bought this angel pin for you. Your Uncle Johnny is a wonderful man who

loves you very much. Once he is up in Heaven...he'll be up there watching

over you and protecting you...he'll be your Guardian Angel, and this pin will

be a symbol of that. I know you'll always love your Uncle Johnny very much

and will always remember him fondly. God Bless You Jennifer!

Love Always,

Dixie

When Jennifer finished reading the card, she looked at Johnny and tried not

to cry.

"Uncle Johnny...I love you." She gave him another hug and a kiss on the

cheek.

"I love you too Jen. What...what was in the box?"

Showing Johnny, Jennifer said, "Dixie bought me an angel pin."

Johnny smiled…that was just like Dixie to do something like that.

"Because she knows...YOU'RE my little angel."

Jennifer didn't say anything.

**I think it's the other way around...you're MY angel, Uncle Johnny**

"I'll let you rest now Uncle Johnny. Thanks for the stationary and journal."

"You're welcome."

Jennifer left the room, leaving Johnny once again deep in thought, and eventually asleep. Roy had been on his way to see how his friend was doing,

but saw that he had fallen asleep. Standing in the doorway of Johnny's room,

Roy watched him sleep...along with the gentle rise and fall of Johnny's chest.

**Junior...I really hope you're up for this trip...you've had a pretty rough

last few weeks**

After watching Johnny for a couple minutes, Roy went to find Joanne. He

found her out on the back deck...seemingly in deep thought.

"Jo...you okay honey?"

"Roy..."

The way she said his name, he knew there was only one thing on her

mind...Johnny.

"What is it Jo?"

"I was doing some thinking. I want Johnny to move in with us. I

want to...to be there for him...and to...to help take care of him. He's

here a lot as it is. What do you say? And...and the kids are here...and you

and me."

He hugged his wife, as he said, "I think that's a great idea. I was going to

suggest that myself. Jo...there is one other thing...when...when that time

comes...I'd like to take a leave of absence from the Department...a temporary one,

of course. All four of us should be here for him...we're his family."

The two of them sat in silence for a few moments.

"Roy...is he gonna be okay...this trip...it's not going to be too much for

him, is it?"

"I have my concerns too Jo...but Johnny's not going to back out of it, this

trip is too important to him, but I'll keep an eye on him. He has his

medication and I'll be bringing a couple of O2 tanks...just in case. My

instincts say...he'll hold up okay for the next four days, and then...having

done all the things he needed to do...he'll...he'll start to let go."

Now 9:30 PM, Johnny had gotten ready for bed and was sitting in the easy

chair in his room...waiting for Roy and Joanne to say good night to him.

This had become the routine every time he had stayed over…first the kids

came in to say good night, then Roy and Joanne. True to form, his two

friends arrived in the doorway.

"Good night Johnny." She said, as she kissed him on the cheek.

"Night Jo."

"Get a good night's sleep...you're gonna need it Junior. We have a long

trip ahead of us."

"I will Pally...you too."

After Roy and Joanne left Johnny's room, Jennifer came back.

"Uncle Johnny, I wrote a letter to you...can I read it to you?"

"Of course, come on in."

Johnny was still sitting in the easy chair. He motioned for Jennifer to sit

on his bed. Sitting down on the bed, she opened the paper and started to

read it to him.

Dear Uncle Johnny,

I wanted to write a letter to you NOW to let you know what you mean to me.

Mom once told me and Chris how important it is to tell the people you care about the most, how much you care about them…while you still can. So that's what I'm going to do.

First I want to thank you for always being there for my Daddy and for making sure

that he always came home to us safely after every shift. I always feel safe

whenever you're around…and you always make me laugh. I smile whenever you

flash your crooked grin. I'll always remember you and all the good times

we've had...the camping trips and the pizza parties at your apartment.

Thank you for being my Uncle Johnny...Dad could never have picked a better

partner and best friend than you.

Love you always,

Jennifer

Somehow Jennifer got through reading the letter without crying. Johnny

was very touched by this letter.

"Thank you Jen. That was a beautiful letter. You're a very special young

lady."

He gave her a big hug and kiss.

"I better get to bed...your Dad and I have a long trip tomorrow...and we're

leaving early."

"Okay...see ya in the morning?"

"You bet Jelly Belly. You have a good night sweetheart."

"I will...you too."

After Jenny left, Johnny got into bed. Trying to fall asleep, he was met

with so many emotions...sadness...that he would be leaving behind all the

people he cared about...joy...in knowing that he had made such a difference

in the lives of some of these people, especially Jennifer and

Chris'...excitement...for the upcoming trip...he'd been looking forward to

this trip ever since he had thought of it almost three weeks earlier.

The next morning in anticipation of the trip, Johnny was the first one up.

He had started the coffee brewing for Joanne and Roy, and went outside on the

deck, enjoying the cool morning breeze.

At 6:30 AM Roy and Joanne came downstairs, surprised to see Johnny sitting

out on the deck.

"Good-morning Junior."

"Mornin'." Johnny replied with his trademark grin, albeit a tired one.

"You alright Johnny?"

"I'm fine...guess I'm just a little excited about this trip. And I can't

wait to see the guys again too."

After a quick breakfast, Roy loaded everything up into the Rover. At 7:45

AM, the rest of the guys arrived, and after exchanging greetings with Johnny,

and a quick cup of coffee, they all got ready to go.

Joanne kissed Roy, and gave Johnny a big hug, as did Jennifer. Chris also

exchanged hugs.

"Have fun fellas." Joanne said with a wave and a smile.

"I'm sure we will Jo. See ya on Monday."

As the six men gathered for a weekend at the lake, they all knew that this

would probably be the last time they'd all be together...Johnny's health had

deteriorated to the point where almost everything he did…or tried to do, was

a struggle. Although he knew that the four hour trip to the cabin would be

very exhausting and his activity level once there would be limited, he was

still very much looking forward to it…after all, the trip WAS his idea.

They all left Friday morning after meeting at Roy's house. While Roy and

John took the Rover, the others rode in Hank's wagon.

During the four-hour drive, Johnny alternated between sleeping and

conversing with his best friend. During the time Johnny was asleep, Roy

could only think of one thing…how much he'd miss his best friend after he

passed.

"It's a bit strange Junior. I mean, here I am driving and you're riding

shotgun…but it's the Rover and not the squad."

Johnny let out a little chuckle. "That's alright Pally…I trust ya.

And besides, it's yours now anyway."

"Yeah." Roy softly said.

Roy looked at Johnny and slightly smiled…he knew the Rover now belonged to

him…he just didn't like the way it became his. As he looked at his friend,

he also saw how exhausted Johnny already was, and they still had two hours left

of the trip.

"Are you sure you're up for this Johnny?"

Johnny looked over at Roy with his tired eyes, and answered, "Roy…there's

only two things I AM sure of…one is, I'm gonna die…the second one…I NEED

to do this trip…the six of us NEED to do this trip." He weakly smiled,

then said, "Don't worry about me Pally…I'll be fine."

Meanwhile in the other vehicle, each of the four men were deep in thought.

"Man, I can't believe this is really happening. I mean…Johnny's so young

and…well, he's Johnny."

"Chet, we all feel the same way."

"I know Cap, it's just…"

Marco finished Chet's thought. "It isn't fair. With everything that

Johnny's had to endure in his life, why this?"

Mike, who hadn't said much of anything during the trip's first two hours,

decided to speak up.

"I was never much into religion, but I believe God has a plan for each one

of us and for whatever reason, it was Johnny's destiny to be a part of our

crew. Perhaps, to teach us things…and he did. He taught us lots of things.

Tenacity, compassion, strength, and how NOT to take life too seriously, are

just a few of them. I guess God felt Johnny was done teaching us. But,

even after he dies, he won't really be gone…each one of us will always have

a piece of him in our hearts."

There was silence for a few minutes, while the men all digested the enormity of

what Mike had just said.

Captain Stanley spoke up. "You know, this trip was all Johnny's

idea. He wants this to be a fun and relaxing weekend."

"I guess it's Johnny's final gift to us. He wants us all together and to be

Happy, and he wants us to remember the good times."

"That's right Marco, and I think we owe it to him to make it special." Cap

replied.

Chet smiled a sly grin, as he said, "Well, if Gage wants a memorable

weekend…then that's what he'll get."

Marco gave his friend a look.

"What are you going to do Chet? Don't ruin it for him."

"Don't you think Johnny'll be expecting one last prank?"

Back in the Rover, Roy and John were having another conversation after

Johnny woke up from another nap.

Johnny let out a small chuckle. "You know Pally…I'd love to be a

fly in Cap's car. I can only imagine what they're discussing…as if I didn't

know."

"Johnny, don't be so hard on them, they're dealing with things as best as

they can…we all are."

"I know Roy, it's just that I want this weekend to be special…to be

memorable."

"It will be Johnny…it will be."

After a moment of silence for Johnny to catch his breath, he spoke up, and

asked, "You remember that fishing trip we took to Santa Rosa County a few

years ago?"

Smiling, Roy nodded. "Sure do. We met up with that sheriff and

ended up saving those mountain climbers and the guy whose boat exploded."

"Yeah. And we gave him ideas on how to start an EMS program after he took

us to that diner for some chili."

"Boy, it sure was good." Roy replied with a smile.

"I know Roy…chili today, hot tamale."

They both laughed.

"Roy, you got the crackers and the canned dog food, right?"

Roy looked at his friend suspiciously, and said, "Yes Johnny. What exactly

do you have planned Junior?"

"Well, I figure Chet…a.k.a. The Phantom, probably wants to do something for

his favorite target…ME…you know, as a last hurrah. Cap is probably

telling him…no, PLEADING with him to just lay low. So maybe, I can have

the last laugh. You ever hear of pate'? It looks just like Alpo. Put it

on some crackers…and voila. Pretty neat, huh? Wish I had thought of it a long

time ago."

"Junior, even after all these years…you still amaze me." Roy smiled and

shook his head.

Slightly smiling, Johnny shrugged., "Well…I try."

Four hours after leaving Roy's house, the six friends arrived at their

destination. Getting out of their cars, Roy helped Johnny.

"John, you go relax. We'll get everything into the cabin."

"I'm okay Cap."

"John…"

Hearing the tone in Hank's voice told Johnny not to argue.

Giving in, Johnny said, "Alright Cap, I'm goin'."

A half-hour later, they had everything unloaded. While Marco and Mike

were putting the food away, the others were sitting around talking. Johnny

was in a recliner fully stretched out.

"Comfortable John?" Hank asked with a knowing smile.

Johnny let out a contented sigh. "Yeah Cap, I'm comfortable."

"So, what are the sleeping arrangements?" Chet asked.

Johnny smiled a Cheshire cat grin.

"Well Chet…Roy and I were talking, and we think you should room with us…for

old time's sake."

Chet displayed mock sarcasm, as he said, "That's mighty gracious of you

guys."

"Anyone thirsty?" asked Marco.

They all gave Marco their drink orders, and as everyone got settled into

their seats, Johnny looked around the room at his friends. He then took as deep

a breath as he could take, and exhaled before he spoke.

He let out a chuckle, and said, "I just want to say a few things, you know,

before the fun starts. I want to thank you all for agreeing to come here

this weekend, it really means a lot to me. You guys are my family…and

together we've been through a lot over the years. I also know that these last

couple of months haven't been easy for you, and I thank you for your

support. I…I just want this weekend to be one that you'll always remember."

"I'm sure we will pal." Hank replied with a wink.

Johnny smiled. "Thanks Cap."

They talked about the steaks that they were going to have for dinner that

evening. A few minutes later, they realized that Johnny had fallen asleep.

"Guys, why don't you go for some fresh air or something. I think Johnny's

gonna be asleep for a while, I'll stay with him." Roy softly said.

"You're sure Roy?"

"Yeah Mike. You guys go, we'll be okay."

"We'll be back in an hour or so okay?"

"That's fine Cap, see you guys later."

Hank, Mike, Chet, and Marco quietly walked out of the cabin, leaving Roy to

once again contemplate a future without his former partner.

Roy let out a big sigh and softly said to himself, "Oh Johnny…why did this

have to happen to you?"

Roy's mind started to drift, as he went back in time. He was remembering a

rescue they had all gonet on…a heart attack victim on a scaffolding. Johnny went

down to the victim and passed out from the monkey virus, dangling

dangerously from the scaffolding. The next few days had been excruciating as he

and Dr. Brackett had both lingered between life and death.

After Tim Duntley died, Dixie told Roy that his new partner was waiting for

him at the squad, but Roy quickly shrugged that comment off, correcting her

by saying my "temporary" partner. But now, as he watched Johnny sleeping,

it dawned on him that there was nothing "temporary" about THIS situation.

Roy was starting to feel tired himself, as he let his eyes close and

succumbed to the sleepiness.

An hour and a half later, the rest of the guys had returned to find both Roy

and John sound asleep…they decided to let them sleep. Captain Stanley

pulled out a book to read, while Mike, Marco, and Chet played a game of

cards.

It was close to 6PM when the two sleeping men woke up.

"It's about time you two woke up."

Marco gave Chet a look. "I know, 'shut up Chet'".

Johnny smiled and said, "I feel like I'm back at the Station. Pay no

attention to them Chet, I just want you to be yourself." He gave Chet a

mysterious wink.

Marco rubbed his hands together. "I'm ready to start dinner. You

guys hungry?"

They all answered in the affirmative. Mike helped Marco with the steaks.

They seasoned them inside, and then brought them outside to the grill. Johnny,

wanting to help, sat at the table with Roy, fixing the tossed salad.

An hour later, the six friends were sitting around the table enjoying a

delicious meal. As they were eating, they started to reminisce about other

meals.

Captain Stanley started things off. "One of the best meals you made Roy,

was the beef bourginon."

Johnny piped up and said, "Yeah, I remember that. He obsessed over that for

days. Sorry, Roy…had to tell them."

"That's okay Junior, I seem to remember a dish you made…and you were having

a lot of trouble with it. The guys were out at a fire and when they came

back, they were very hungry. You didn't know what to do so you dumped

everything into one pot…they ate it."

Johnny laughed at the memory. "I remember. As I recall Cap, you

even said that despite its strange appearance…it actually tasted good."

"Of course there was Dr. Morton's diet study. Chet decided that we should

be eating dried toast and figs."

"Whose side are you on Marco?" Chet asked in mock hurt.

"Although, I do have to say you make a great chili, Chet."

"Thanks Johnny."

Roy let out a laugh and turned to Mike. "Hey Mike, I bet you

didn't know you almost broke up two partnerships."

"What are you talking about Roy?"

"Should I tell them Junior…or would you like to do the honors?"

Johnny grinned. "It's okay partner…you can do the honors."

"Well, your spaghetti sauce is really good."

Everyone nodded in agreement.

Mike smiled embarrassingly and softly said, "Thanks guys."

"Anyway, I happened to tell Joanne that I really liked your spaghetti sauce,

and she took it as a slight against her cooking…and World War III nearly

started. We got into a really big argument and she was really upset with

me…I thought we were headed for divorce court. I came to work the next day

with the argument still very fresh in my mind, and my partner here, dragged

it out of me. He tried to help…by calling Joanne with your recipe."

Captain Stanley interrupted Roy's story.

"You did WHAT, Johnny?" Hank asked in disbelief.

Johnny smiled and Roy nodded his head. "Yeah, he sure did. Well…that made

her madder, and to be honest, at that point, I wasn't too thrilled with

Johnny either." Roy smiled. "But, as it turned out, Joanne tried your recipe

and liked it BETTER than her own. So, you see…everything did have a happy

ending."

"That was right about the time we had that rescue of those two boys in the

storm drain."

"That's right Cap…Charles and Kirby."

"You remember their names Johnny?"

"I sure do Marco, 'cause I nearly drowned down there in that storm drain.

Roy had made it out with the kids, but I slipped off the ladder and…well…enough

of that. Let's not forget about how delicious Marco's Irish stew is."

They finished eating amid funny stories and wisecracks. Roy knew at that

point, that judging by the contented look on Johnny's face, the grueling

four-hour trip to the cabin was worth it.

Everyone helped clear the table, and since Marco and Mike did the cooking,

Hank and Chet volunteered for dish duty. While they did the dishes, the

other four men, including Johnny, went outside for some fresh air.

As Johnny stepped outside, he was immediately struck by the cool air.

Roy noticed his shivering. "Johnny, I'll get your jacket."

"Thanks partner."

Johnny smiled appreciatively at his best friend. Roy went inside to get

Johnny's jacket, and came back out and helped him to put it on.

"Better Johnny?" Roy asked hopefully.

"Yeah, thanks."

Roy and John sat on some chairs on the porch while Mike and Marco sat on the

steps, leaning against the railing.

Johnny looked up at the sky. "The stars are beautiful

tonight…reminds me of some of my camping trips."

Marco looked at Johnny coyly, as he hopefully asked, "Johnny, please tell me

you have a prank planned for Chet."

John smiled back at Marco and raised his eyebrows. "I have a

prank planned for Chet."

"So Roy, you really like my spaghetti sauce?" said Mike.

They all laughed.

They sat quietly on the porch, enjoying each other's company. After

finishing the dishes, Hank and Chet joined the others.

Johnny was the first to break the comfortable silence. "Cap, you ever gonna

tell us the REAL reason you burned McConnike's hat?" He looked hopefully

at his former captain.

In a matter of seconds, five pairs of eyes were focused on Hank.

"Sorry guys, I can't tell you. I still have to work with the man."

"Cap, surely you can tell ME…I won't tell a soul."

Shaking his head, Hank said, "Sorry John, no can do."

Enjoying the moment, Johnny let out a laugh.

"What's so funny Pal?"

"I was just thinking about that one surprise inspection from a few years

ago."

"I remember it well." Hank said with a chuckle.

Johnny smiled. "You were a bit...paranoid Cap."

Mike joined in, as he said, "Yeah...they came right after we had left on the

first run of the day."

"And all Houts had to say was that the clock in your office was three

minutes fast."

Hank smiled and replied, "Like I said Roy...I remember it well."

"What are Joanne and Suzanne doing this weekend?" Chet asked his two married

friends.

Hank laughed. "First of all, Suzanne was thrilled to be getting

rid of me for the weekend. She has an interior decorator coming and we're

having a few rooms in the house re-done...I apparently would have been in

the way."

"I'm not sure what Joanne's plans are. I think she was planning on staying

home with the kids. Her sister Lynn might be coming down."

"Not your mother-in-law Roy?" Marco commented with a grin.

Giving Marco a look, Roy shook his head. "Perish the thought Marco."

"So when WAS the last time you saw the woman?"

Looking at everyone, Johnny snickered knowing the answer to the question.

"Well...Cap...it's...it's been a few years, actually."

Johnny let out a yawn.

"Getting tired John?"

"Yeah I am Cap. If it's okay with you guys, I think I'll turn in."

They all bid Johnny a good night, and Roy went in with his friend. After Roy

and Johnny left, the others continued to stay out on the porch…Chet took on a

serious tone as he started to talk.

"Johnny gets hit by a car…bitten by a rattlesnake…contracts a deadly

virus, and is caught in explosions...he...he makes it through all of

that...and...and he gets..."

He didn't finish, but the guys all understand what Chet was talking about.

Meanwhile inside, Roy helped Johnny get settled into bed.

"Roy...the guys...they're having a good time, aren't they?"

"Yeah Johnny...they are." Roy paused for a moment. "Johnny...how...how are

you feeling...you okay?"

"I'm okay Pally...just don't go too far."

When Roy heard Johnny say that, he knew that his friend was holding

something back, but he didn't want to make a big production of it so he

didn't say anything.

"Okay Johnny, I'll...I'll be right out here. Call me if...if you need me."

"I will."

When Roy closed the bedroom door behind him, he couldn't help but wonder if

Johnny coming on this trip was a mistake. Before too long, the others came back

inside, and everyone was in bed asleep.

The next morning around 6 AM, Johnny was the first one up. He was sitting

out on the porch, looking out over the lake and watching the sun come up.

Shortly after he went outside, Hank joined him.

"John."

Johnny looked up at his former boss.

"Hey Cap."

"What'cha doin' up so early Pal?"

Johnny softly answered, and said, "I've always loved to watch the sun come

up. My time...my time is runnin' out...I...I just don't know how many more

sunrises I'll see...think I'll take in as many as I can."

Hank didn't know what to say in response, so he sat there and nodded in

understanding.

Johnny continued to talk softly.

"I understand perfectly how you guys all feel...I remember feeling the same

way a few years ago when my friend Drew died. The difference though,

Drew...Drew's death was sudden...and fairly quick...mine...you

guys...Roy...are...are just watching...as I slowly..."

Hank continued to be at a loss.

"John..."

"I'm sorry Cap, I'm alright. Sometimes...it...it just gets to me."

The friends continue to sit in silence...watching the sunrise together.

Inside, Roy sat up in bed and grew concerned when he noticed Johnny's empty

bed.

Being nervous, Roy asked, "Chet, you seen Johnny?"

Chet turned over and rubbed his eyes.

"He's in bed Roy."

"No…he's not."

Just then Marco and Mike came into their room.

"You guys seen Johnny?"

Stoker spoke in a quiet voice. "Don't worry Roy, he's outside with

Cap...they got up pretty early."

After a moment, it started to make sense to Roy, as he softly said, "The

sunrise...Johnny loves watching the sun come up."

When 7 AM rolled around, the rest of the guys joined Captain Stanley and

Johnny outside.

Chet had brewed a fresh pot of coffee. "Anyone interested in

coffee?"

Everyone but Johnny wanted a cup.

"I'll bring a tray out. Johnny, you want milk or something?"

"Milk sounds good Chet...thanks." He replied with an appreciative smile.

After Chet went in and came back out with everyone's drinks, the guys

started to discuss how to spend their day.

"Who's up for some fishing?" asked Johnny.

"Fishing Johnny?"

"Yeah, why not Marco? I feel fine. Let's eat breakfast and go out on the

lake for a few hours...Cap?"

"Okay...I'll suck it up and join you guys...but I'm NOT doing any fishing.

In fact, I want absolutely nothing to do with ANY fish. Got it?"

The guys shared a laugh over Cap's response.

"Got it Cap." Johnny replied.

Roy cooked breakfast, making bacon and eggs for everyone. While eating,

the guys started to reminisce about various things.

"Remember that fishing trip that you, me, and Roy went on together Johnny?"

Johnny smiled at the memory.

"It wasn't so bad, was it Chet?

"I guess...despite the fact that we didn't catch any fish."

"Wasn't that the time that you guys came upon that accident, Roy?"

"Yeah it was Cap. A woman and her young son...they were pretty lucky as I

recall." Roy thought for a moment. "Dr. Frick...wasn't that the doctor's

name, Johnny?"

"Yeah, good ole Doc Frick...we all thought he was gonna be this old country

doctor...turned out to be a fella our age. His nurse...Mrs. Peterson, she

brought me cookies when I was in the hospital after the snakebite."

Everyone's mind went back to that fateful day, but no one said

anything...each person knowing what everyone else was thinking. After gathering

their fishing gear, the guys started for the lake and their boat…a big

rowboat. So as not to tire Johnny out so quickly, it was decided that they

would all drive over, so they all squeezed into Hank's wagon.

On the way to their boat, the guys spotted a very attractive young woman in

a bikini. Marco was the first one to say something.

"The good lord blessed her plenty."

Everyone nodded in agreement.

"Women..."

"What do YOU know about women Chet?"

"Plenty Mike...okay maybe not as much as Johnny here..."

With that comment Johnny smiled. "Yeah, there were a few over the years."

Roy chuckled. "That's an understatement if there ever was one. Let's see, there was Christy the baby barracuda reporter...as Johnny here called her…Sheila the cop…the stewardess…"

Johnny supplied the name.

"Sue...Sue Hickman. Well, as I recall there were a couple ladies in YOUR

life besides Joanne, Partner. Mrs. Johnson for one."

Roy looked at Johnny like he was crazy. "I took care of her

plants...that's it."

"I got another one for ya Pally...Sister Barbara."

Roy smiled fondly. "Well I gotta admit you got me there Junior. I did have a

soft spot in my heart for Sister Barbara."

Chet shook his head, and asked, "What about the one that got away

Johnny...Cynthia?"

"Yeah well, I goofed on that one. How was I supposed to know she'd end up

being a great girl?"

Hank was a bit confused. "Cynthia?"

Chet went on and explained.

"It was before you came to the station, Cap…Cynthia was this chick who...who

was a little obsessed with Johnny...but he wanted no part of her...enter

Chester B. Kelly."

The guys pulled up to where the boat was.

"Are ya finished Chet? I'd like to go fishin' now."

"Sure thing, Johnny."

They got their fishing gear together, and boarded the boat. Rowing out to the middle

of the lake, they started fishing.

Roy leaned over to Johnny, and said, "Let me know if you start to get tired,

okay Junior?"

"Don't worry about me Pally...I'm fine, but if I do get tired you'll be the

first one to know, alright?"

The men of 51's spent the next hour in quiet reflection, but enjoying each

other's company.

Hank was the first one to break the silence.

"Anyone thirsty...you did remember to take the canteens, right Chet?"

"Cap...are you questioning my sensibilities? Roy asked me to fill them up

and take them, so I did. They're right here."

Chet turned around and handed the canteens to his friends.

"Hey, you guys hear that?"

"Hear what Gage?"

"You guys don't hear it? Look, I know my eyesight is going, but there's

nothing wrong with my hearing."

Roy jumped in, and said, "I hear it too. Listen…it sounds like someone

calling for help."

They looked around them at the shoreline and noticed a man waving his arms.

Gathering in their fishing rods, they headed their boat in that direction.

"Can you please help me. My...my wife...she's...she's gone into labor."

Johnny smiled at the man, as he said, "You're in luck...we're LA County

Firefighters...uh...I mean my friends are. I...I used to be a paramedic."

Roy took charge of the situation.

"Where's your wife?"

"She's...she's in the car. We were getting ready to go for a ride in our

boat."

The man brought them to his car, which was only a few yards away...fortunately the car

was a wagon. Roy and Johnny helped the woman to lie down in the back.

"Cap, you and the guys want to go get some help...she'll probably deliver

here, but she'll need an ambulance to get to the hospital."

"Okay Roy. Chet, you stay here in case they need help...we'll be back as

soon as we can."

Hank, Mike, and Marco headed out on foot to find a phone. Johnny, although

resigned from being a paramedic for almost three months, slipped back into

his role with ease. Using his calm voice he asked the woman what her name

was.

"It's Grace." She managed to answer between painful contractions.

"Okay Grace, just try to relax. My name is John Gage and this is my

par...my friend Roy DeSoto and we're gonna help you. When are you due?"

"Three...three weeks."

"Chet, can you get us a couple blankets or towels?"

"Sure Roy." He turned to the woman's husband. "How about it...you got any

blankets?"

Johnny stayed by the woman's head, leaving Roy to deliver the baby. Within

15 minutes, Grace delivered her first child.

Roy smiled and announced, "Congratulations, it's a baby girl."

Roy wrapped the baby in a towel and handed it to the new mother.

Johnny was grinning ear to ear. "She's beautiful. What are you

gonna name her?"

The woman's husband answered. "Gabriella...that was Grace's mother's

name...she passed away last year."

Hearing the name, Johnny was temporarily thrown for a loop. He had managed

to somehow keep all thoughts of Gabriella out of his mind...and here he was

once again thinking about her. For his part, Roy didn't say anything in

response...one look at his best friend told him everything.

Before too long, the ambulance arrived with Hank's wagon behind it.

Hank smiled at the sight of the baby. "Everything okay?"

"Yeah Cap, fine." Roy replied.

The couple thanked the guys for their help and left with the ambulance.

Roy took another look at Johnny, who appeared to be quite tired, but also in

deep thought.

"You alright Johnny?"

Johnny nodded his head and softly answered, "I'm fine Roy. Let's go back to

the cabin."

Marco and Mike decided to row the boat back to the dock, but helped put all

the gear into the car first. When they returned to the cabin, Johnny went

to lie down.

"Is he alright Roy?" Hank asked worriedly.

"Yeah Cap, he's fine."

"Just like the good old days, huh Roy?"

Roy smiled wistfully, as he replied, "Just like the good old days Chet."

Once Marco and Mike had returned, Chet started lunch...hamburgers and hot dogs.

When lunch was ready, Roy went in to check on Johnny.

"Johnny...you okay?"

"I'm fine Roy. It's...I've tried so hard to forget about her...and

then...it...it all comes back."

"I'm sorry, Johnny, I know it wasn't easy for you to do what you did."

"You can say that again."

Roy changed the subject hoping to get Johnny in a happier frame of mind.

"Lunch is ready...hamburgers and hot dogs."

Johnny smiled wearily. "How can I decline hot dogs?"

Johnny and Roy joined their friends for lunch.

"Helping to deliver that baby bring back memories for ya Johnny?"

"It did Marco. But I gotta say it wasn't the most exciting

delivery...remember that brush fire Roy?"

"Yeah, we were in a house in the middle of a brush fire with a woman in full

labor. The fire was fast approaching the house, and Captain Hammer told us

we had to evacuate, but we couldn't move her."

"Whatever happened to Captain Hammer, Cap?"

Being a little hesitant, Hank replied, "I think…he retired last year Mike."

Noticing the hesitation, Johnny said, "You know, I think we can all

understand why you can't...or won't...tell us why you burned McConnike's

hat...but can't you at least tell us why Hammer left 51's?"

"Johnny's right, Cap...after all, that's when you became our Captain."

Hank looked around the table at everyone, before he said, ""No Marco,

remember that after Hammer left, Captain Smith was there before I came."

"Oh yeah, that's right, he was. But he was there for such a short time, I

forgot about him."

Everyone looked at Chet...he realized that he shouldn't have said that.

"Sorry, I didn't mean anything by it, and Cap...then YOU became our

Captain...and weren't we lucky. But why DID Captain Hammer leave?"

Hank only smirked at Chet, and said, "Okay...I'll tell you guys...but it

can't ever leave this room."

As everyone agreed and gathered in closer, Hank said, "Dick had...he had an

alcohol problem. He had gotten into fights with his wife…nothing major, but

what really did it was that he was in a bar one night...already drunk…got

into it with a guy...turned out, he was a Battalion Chief...Chief Stan

Harper."

Giving a loud whistle was Johnny. "Harper...that hardnose? Captain Hammer was lucky that

he wasn't booted out of the Department."

Everyone agreed, then Hank went on.

"Yeah, he was lucky...VERY lucky. Harper and Hammer always had had a bad

relationship...Stan was one of Dick's teachers at the Fire Academy and

always rode him...and it continued as his Battalion Chief. Word is, one

night, Dick went to the bar, already a little tipsy, and Harper was there

and Hammer just lost it...so anyway, he was given a choice...get help...or

resign...he chose to get help and then was reassigned so he would be closer

to his family. And from what I've heard...he's doin' great."

Everyone sat stunned after hearing Hank's explanation of Captain Hammer's

departure from Station 51.

"Wow, that's some story Cap. He...he seemed so normal...you know, in

control and all."

"One could say the same about you, Gage...until they get to know you."

Knowing his friend was joking, Johnny smiled, and said, "Ha...ha."

"Well, since we're talking about past Captains...what about Bob Robertson?

He filled in for you once while you were on vacation."

"He retired a few years ago Roy."

"Boy, he didn't think much of our skills as paramedics." Johnny said shaking his head.

"You're right Johnny...but eventually he did come around."

Johnny started to get really nostalgic.

"Looking back...we sure have had a lot of fun together over the years,

haven't we?"

Marco started to laugh. "Remember the trophy we won for the

barbershop quartet routine we did?"

Mike smiled as he remembered it. "Best comedy performance...and

Roy doubted our abilities."

Chet puffed out his chest. "What about that basketball game *I*

won for us."

"Or the softball game you LOST for us."

"Hey...I'm NOT the one who made that silly bet, Marco...now was I?"

"Hey, I apologized many times for that...haven't I?"

"Yeah, you sure did Johnny." replied Roy, patting his friend on the arm.

"I got another one for you guys...and it WAS my idea...that joke we played

on Chet."

"Cap...that was YOUR idea?"

"Sorry, Chet. I was tired of you ganging up on Johnny...had to do

SOMETHING."

Mike snickered. "It was pretty funny Cap. The eye chart, the imaginary

fly...the lights. It was priceless."

"Making believe I was having trouble with my eyes..."

"Never mind that Chet...you thought you were going crazy."

"You can say that again Johnny. And that last stunt you pulled on

me...telling me there was a five dollar bill on the floor in the locker room."

"Yeah...and you went back and were lookin' for it under Mike's locker."

Johnny smiled at the memory and then let out a yawn.

"I think I'm gonna go catch a few winks. I'll see you guys in a bit."

"Sure thing Pal."

Johnny went into the bedroom and sat down on the edge of his bed. Roy

headed into the bedroom a couple minutes later to change his shirt. When

he entered the room, and saw Johnny sitting on the edge of the bed, he got worried, and quickly went to his friend's side..

"Johnny...you alright?"

Johnny's voice sounded tired as he replied. "Roy...I...I don't feel so

hot."

"Okay, why don't you lie down? I brought a couple of O2 tanks...I'll go..."

Stopping his friend, Johnny shook his head. "Roy...I...I don't want you making a big

fuss about this...so no...no O2...I'll just lie down for a while...I'll be

okay...and please don't say anything to the guys...no need to worry them."

"Johnny..."

"Face it Roy...there's nothing you or…or anyone else can do for me...I'm

gettin' worse...and quickly… it's like I told Cap this morning…time is

simply running out for me."

Roy didn't say anything else...he changed his shirt and went back out to

join the others.

As he came back into the room, Chet sensed something was wrong from seeing

Roy's face.

"Roy, is Johnny okay?"

Hoping not to worry his friends, Roy said, "He's just worn out...that's all.

If you guys feel like doing something, go ahead...I'll stay with Johnny."

Chet got up, and said, "I think I'm gonna go for a walk...I'll see you guys

later."

After Chet left, Hank turned to the others. "I'm really concerned

about Chet. He really hasn't handled things very well."

Sitting down in a chair, Roy sighed loudly. "Cap, to be fair, it hasn't been easy for

any of us."

"I know Roy...but I still worry about him."

"Roy, Cap's right, Chet hasn't been right ever since Johnny told us the

news."

"Well Marco, I guess it just goes to show something that seems to come out

every time something happened to Johnny...just how much he really means to Chet."

"Well, I think I'll go lie down for a while. I'm getting a little tired

myself."

"Okay Cap, we'll see ya later."

With that said, Hank left the others and went to lie down.

"Cards?" The engineer asked his two friends.

"Sounds good Mike. How about you Roy, want to join us?"

"Sure, why not."

After Roy got up and joined the other two around the table, Marco spoke up.

"How many games of cards have we played over the years?"

"A lot Marco...and it usually came down to Chet and Johnny to see who'd get

stuck with the dishes."

"You're right Mike. Hey Roy, you remember the card game that Johnny

invented?"

Roy laughed, and nodded his head. "Yeah...he lost at his own game."

Three hours later, Johnny was awake and stretched out in the recliner,

talking to his friends.

Roy was surprised to see his friend so relaxed, given how badly Johnny had

appeared to be feeling just three hours earlier.

Looking around the room, Johnny was concerned when he didn't see Chet

amongst the group.

"Where's Chet?"

"He went for a walk, Johnny."

"Roy...that was a few hours ago."

"How do you know that? You were in the bedroom sleeping with the door

closed."

"Easy...I know Chet Kelly."

Just then Chet returned to the cabin.

A little bit concerned, Johnny asked, "Chet...you alright?"

"Yeah Johnny, I'm fine. I just wanted some fresh air."

Johnny knew that Chet was still having some difficulty in handling the news of

his friend's illness...even after three months.

"So...what's for dinner tonight?" Johnny asked with a sense of curiosity.

"Well Johnny...I thought I'd make my spaghetti...if that's okay with you."

Johnny smiled. "Sure Mike, it's more than okay with me."

Mike decided to get started preparing his special sauce. While Mike was

cooking, the rest of the gang was relaxing.

Johnny let out a big sigh. "Well, if I can't find out about why

you burned McConnike's hat...I'd at least like to find how the heck Henry

got into the station in the first place."

"Junior...that's one of life's BIG mysteries. I don't think we'll ever know

the answer to that one."

"Ahhhh...Henry. I really miss that dog."

"That's because the two of you shared the same brain, Chet."

Giving his friend a smirk, Chet replied, "Very funny Marco."

Johnny spoke up. "I thought it was…good one Marco, I'm rubbing off

on you."

Everyone got a laugh out of that…usually it would have been Johnny to say

something to put Chet down…since it wasn't, that made the guys worry even

more about their friend.

"Lest we not forget about Boot, fellas."

"You're right Cap...after all, he did help us find that fallen hiker on that

one rescue."

"And then promptly left us for a snorkel company." Mike responded from the

kitchen.

"You know Johnny...you sure had a way with the animals."

Remembering some of the runs, Johnny nodded his head. "I sure did...lions, tigers…and

bears."

"How about stray cats and victim's dogs?"

Johnny giggled. "Yeah, those too I suppose. Actually, I seem to

recall a few silly situations involving dogs. Sheba, the dog on the

roof...thought I was seeing things when we drove up. And…and that dumb dog

that ran into those sliding doors when we were with the babysitter."

"You remember that, Johnny?"

"Yeah, I do Roy...and those kids. It really made me glad that I wasn't married,

although I remember the babysitter was pretty good looking."

"Going back to 'where are they now', whatever happened to your friend Gil

Robinson, Johnny?"

"Last I heard, Marco, he got certified and transferred to Sacramento. Once he

left me and Roy, I lost track of where he went."

"What about Ed Marlow?"

Roy shuddered at the sound of Ed's name.

"I was hoping to never hear that name again Chet, but I do know when he was

bounced from the paramedic program he was assigned to Station 41's B-shift,

and then ultimately went to 110's C-shift. Hey, remember that other trainee

we had...Billy? Well, I hear he's married with twin girls. I think he's

working at 10's under Stoney."

"Good for him...Stoney's a good guy." Johnny said.

"As long as we're taking a stroll down memory lane...in all the years of the

DeSoto-Gage partnership...what is your list of silliest rescues?"

Roy looked at his former partner and smiled...Johnny sheepishly looked down

at the floor.

"Well Cap...I'm gonna have to defer to Johnny on that one."

Giving Roy a look, Johnny sighed loudly. "Roy...let me guess which "rescue" you're

referring to."

Chet jumped in, and asked, "Didn't it have something to do with a girdle?"

Everyone laughed.

"I'll never live that one down, will I? Well Pally...I do recall another

one…a "little girl" with her toe stuck in the bathtub faucet."

"Yeah, *I* got the toe out...because my partner bailed out on me. You took

one look at the girl and left the room."

"That's because the so-called little girl was this very attractive "big

girl". You know looking back at my career, the one thing that I always

wondered about is how people managed to get themselves into so many dumb

predicaments."

"You can say that again partner...like the woman who got stuck in the doggy

door."

"The doggy door?" Hank asked incredulously.

"Cap...you had to see it to believe it. This...this woman was..."

Seeing his partner's hesitation, Johnny said, "Oh for cryin' out loud Roy,

just say it...she was fat. She locked herself out of the house and figured she

could get in through the doggy door. As she had said it herself…she had done it before."

"Yeah, and remember she asked us if doggy doors could…shrink?"

Hank looked at Roy and Johnny with disbelief. "How did you guys

get her out?"

"Her husband came home and I went inside with him and pulled, while Johnny

pushed."

"Roy, don't forget Harvey...the fella who was trapped naked in the sofa

bed...or the boy who had his finger stuck in the gumball machine. He and

the hamburger stand owner were jawing back and forth."

"How do you guys remember all these rescues?"

Johnny laughed with much amusement. "Well Marco, sometimes things just stay with

you…no matter how hard you might try to forget them."

Looking in Mike's direction, Cap asked, "How's everything coming along

Mike?"

"Fine Cap. Dinner'll be ready in about an hour and a half...hope you guys

are hungry. Right now, I'm just enjoying hearing about some of Roy and

John's exploits."

"What about that silly call that involved all of us?"

Everyone looked at Chet questioningly.

"Chet, what are you talkin' about?" Johnny asked.

"The ice rink call…remember, the two clowns that got into a fight."

Marco grinned at the memory. "You're right Chet, we were all

slipping on the ice...it was like a slapstick routine."

After a moment, Johnny slowly got up from the recliner. "Anyone

want to join me for a walk?"

The guys all looked at each other…a surprised look on each of their faces.

Seeing their facial expressions, Johnny added, "It's not like I'm gonna go

for a LONG walk or anything. I just want to stretch out my legs."

"Let's all go Johnny. Care to join us Mike?" asked Roy.

"You guys go, I'm gonna stay here and make sure my sauce doesn't boil over."

Johnny put on his sweatshirt and went out the door with his friends right

behind him. As the five men made their way outside, none of them said

anything...they figured that their friend just wanted to get outside for a

while, and if given a few minutes, he would start the conversation. After a

few minutes of walking quietly in the sunshine, Johnny did start to talk.

"You know...I've always liked to...watch the sunrise...and set...just don't

know how many more...I'm gonna get to see...and it kinda...kinda scares me.

Havin' to leave you guys...it's somethin' that...I don't wanna do..."

Johnny stopped talking for a minute, mostly to catch his breath.

"Johnny...are you alright?"

Looking up at his friend, Johnny smiled, and nodded his head. "Yeah Chet...I'm

alright…just trying to catch my breath."

Becoming more worried, Hank asked, "Johnny, do you need to go back to the

cabin, you know, and rest?"

"Yeah Junior, maybe you should."

Holding up his hands to stop his friends, Johnny said, "Guys...really, I'm

okay. I can be sitting down, not doing anything, and still have trouble

breathing...it comes with this...so if I NEED to go back, I'll tell

ya...honest...I will."

Not being totally convinced, but not wanting to upset Johnny, Roy said, "All

right Johnny, but if you DO need to go back, please let us know."

Johnny only nodded his head yes, as the five friends started to walk again.

After a few minutes Johnny started to speak again. The other four men looked at him,

as though he was going to say something meaningful...his face was very

serious before breaking into a big grin.

"Mike Stoker is...is practically perfect...well at least everyone THINKS

he is...but *I* know the truth."

Johnny's friends shook their heads and smiled...Roy had a feeling he knew

what was coming.

"Yes...Mikey looks like the all-American guy...quiet, unassuming,

responsible...but lest we forget that he along with Marco was responsible

for starting a fire at the station. Marco...you remember that, don't you?

That invention that you guys had...the invention that was supposed to aid in

putting OUT a fire, not START a fire."

"It was Mike's idea...I was only going along with it."

Johnny continued, as he said, "And what he did to our poor Captain."

Everyone was looking at him like he had lost it.

"And what exactly did Mike Stoker ever do to me?" Hank asked, baffled.

"Well...it was right after McConnike had become our Battalion Chief. We had

that fire drill and that hose blew...and McConnike went down like a sack of

potatoes. Well, isn't he the one largely responsible for the equipment on

the engine?"

Chet nodded his head. "Johnny's right. The rest of us make mistakes...but

Stoker...he gets off way too easy. Hey Roy..."

"Yes Chet?"

"Weren't you the one who put out the fires at the station? The time that

Johnny blew up the TV, the time I was waxing my skis, and the aforementioned

invention of his and Marco's?"

"Yes Chet."

"Well, it seems to me that Johnny is on to something here. You're the one

whose fast thinking and quick actions put out the fires...not Stoker, our

fearless engineer."

Johnny smiled and nodded his head. "I rest my case. I...I just

had to get that off my chest. Oh, by the way, you were helpin' me with the

TV Chester…so don't go blamin' it all on me."

Marco looked at the others. "You know, you two are right. We've

all had our...episodes of craziness or even paranoia." As he said that he

smiled at Hank. "But Mike has somehow escaped being under the proverbial

microscope."

"Oh, I can't wait till our dinner conversation starts. I can see it

now...obsessions, craziness...and paranoia. And I gotta say Junior...when

it came to obsessions, you were second to no one."

"Well Pally...it's nice to know I excelled in something...besides being a

paramedic."

Roy was watching Johnny closely and he could tell that his friend was

starting to have some difficulties.

"Why don't we head back now. Johnny...you with us partner?"

"Uh...yeah, I'm...I'm just a little dizzy."

"Let's sit down fellas."

"No Cap...I'm...I'm alright."

"Johnny, it's not a suggestion...it's an order."

Johnny wistfully smiled, as he said, "But you're not my Captain

anymore...Cap."

"John, pal...I'll ALWAYS be your Captain...and I'll ALWAYS outrank you.

Now let's all sit for a while."

With Johnny finally giving in, the five friends sat down under a tree for a

little while to let Johnny rest.

"It's so beautiful here Johnny, I'm glad that you suggested this trip."

"Thanks Marco."

"I remember the first time we all came here." Roy started.

"I do too Roy…it was about a year after I took over 51's. I decided the six

of us needed a bonding experience."

Remembering the disaster that that trip was, Chet added, "As if fighting

fires together wasn't bonding enough."

"Do I detect a note of sarcasm Kelly?" Hank asked with a raised eye brow.

Before Chet could answer, Roy offered his thought on that trip…rescuing his

friend from their captain.

"I think it was a fun trip...and a great idea Cap."

Chet looked at Roy questioningly. "Fun? I seem to recall that

trip a bit differently than you do Roy."

"That's because you and Johnny spent the whole time arguing."

"No Roy...there was more to it than that. We were in tents...in the rain, on

the first night. Everything was soaked. We had a run in with a skunk and I

ended up with a bad cold...that's what *I* remember."

Johnny let his mind go back in time to that first camping trip that they had all taken

together. It HAD been kind of a disaster...he and Chet DID spend a lot of time

arguing, but he also remembered sitting around the fire...thinking to

himself how lucky he was to have finally found "family" and a sense of

belonging.

"Feeling better, Partner?"

Johnny nodded his head. "I'm okay...let's go back."

Roy helped his friend up and made sure to stay close to him...just in case Johnny had needed additional assistance.

They slowly made their way back to the cabin where they were greeted by the

wonderful aroma of Mike's spaghetti sauce. When they all walked in, they

took one look at Stoker and burst out laughing, remembering what Johnny had

said about him really not being perfect after all.

Mike only shook his head and smiled. "Did you guys all fall and

hit your head or something?"

Before too long, the six friends were sitting down together enjoying

Stoker's spaghetti dinner.

Looking suspiciously at each of his friends, Mike couldn't contain his

curiosity any longer.

"Okay...what did I do? You guys are making me feel self-conscious."

"Nothing Mike...absolutely nothing. You're practically perfect."

Johnny grinned widely after saying that. Mike smiled but didn't say

anything.

"Well Mike, on our little walk we were talking about obsessions and

craziness..."

"Don't forget paranoia Cap."

"Kelly, you twit...I was getting there. Among those topics, what things

first pop into your head Mike? And remember...I am your superior and I do

your evaluation."

Mike grinned slyly, as he replied, "Well...truthfully, Cap...I recall your

episodes of paranoia. Like when McConnikee first became our Battalion

Chief...and your craziness about your so-called arthritis. I remember you

accusing Roy of spilling the beans, when in fact it was YOU who did.

THAT'S what I remember."

"Thanks Pal." Hank replied with a small chuckle, and shaking his head.

Chet leaned over and whispered to Johnny. "Stoker's too truthful,

and he wouldn't lie...even if it WAS about Cap."

"How about Herbert, Chet? It seems to me that you were pretty obsessed with

that mouse."

"Maybe so, but I'M not the one who named him...Marco."

"Beasts are God's children too."

"As I recall, you lost a lot of sleep over that mouse Pal...especially that

next morning when the trap went off."

"Yeah...and then that damn mouse ended up going outside. Oh...I remember

that mouse vividly, Cap."

Looking over at his friend, Roy said, "As I said on our walk...my partner

here takes a back seat to no one when it comes to obsessions."

"Okay...I admit I HAVE gotten a little nutty...at times." Johnny remarked.

Chet looked at Johnny incredulously, and asked, "A LITTLE nutty...at times?"

"So what's your point Chet?"

"All I'm saying is that I happen to agree with Roy...that's all. Like the

time you were obsessed with that magic ball. What was that magician's name

Roy?"

"Lorenzo the Magnificent."

"Gage's big secret to the universe turned out to be 'made in Japan'."

"And that time Chet teased you about playing the horn in the squad. You

ended up trying to play how many instruments?"

"It was only a few Marco. I ended up with the guitar."

"And you weren't very good at that instrument either, Johnny. You shoulda

stuck to the squad horn."

"Well Chet, I know there's more coming my way, but in the meantime, here's

one for YOU...Dr. Morton's diet study."

Everyone groaned at that memory.

"Alright…I admit I can go a little overboard myself."

"Really Chet? I hadn't noticed."

"Okay Gage…back to you. Let's see…how about your obsession with honesty?"

Johnny had a pensive look on his face as he remembered his honesty kick from

a few years earlier. He was remembering the house fire with the old blind man

in it…the man had told Johnny to take the baby out. Johnny had assumed that the old man would be following. He had never told Johnny that he was blind and Roy had to

subsequently go back into the house and rescue the old man.

"Well, I think we all owe it to ourselves to be honest…or as honest as we

can be."

"Does that include what people's opinions of others really are?"

The guys all looked at Chet wonderingly.

Sensing their curiosity of what he was talking about, Chet continued, as he

said, "I was referring to the time when you got all bent out of shape

because Roy thought you were a nut."

Johnny laughed at the memory, and said, "I AM a nut Chet…I admit it."

Roy added, "A FRIENDLY nut Johnny…FRIENDLY being the key word here."

Roy remembered another one of his best friend's obsessions.

"How about that episode of Adam-12? We had a run in the middle of it and

you were really going crazy trying to figure out how it ended…you took me

with you, as it turned out. You ended up in the hospital that night with

radiation exposure…by the time I was about to head back to the station, you

had already forgotten about it. When I said something about it, you decided

that you didn't want to know how it ended."

"Yeah…that it would spoil the re-run for me. I never did get to see that

whole episode."

Captain Stanley decided to mention another one of Johnny's obsessions.

"Well John…I gotta say, this one started out with good intentions…and I was

actually very proud of you for thinking it up…"

"Let me guess…my attempt at a better system for recording our runs?"

Roy looked at Johnny with a sense of pride, as he remarked, "I really

thought you were on to something Junior…hooking the squad radio to a tape

recorder."

Johnny smiled wistfully. "But…like a lot of my endeavors…it failed. The

card game, the game show, the canvas spanner sleeve, fixing the TV…"

Roy and Hank both looked at Johnny with concern, as Roy spoke to his friend.

"Johnny…what the heck are you talking about? So maybe you WEREN'T perfect

when it came to that kind of stuff…but when it came to the important

stuff…like being a paramedic and a good friend…you DID succeed."

Johnny's friends felt compelled to remind him of some of the things that he DID

accomplish.

Marco spoke first. "What about the tunnel cave in Johnny? Those two

workers are alive because you kept your head about yourself."

"And you did sell the most tickets at the firemen's picnic a few years ago."

Mike added.

"What about the bank robbers that you talked into letting us go, Johnny?"

Johnny burst out laughing. It was only a few seconds before everyone had

realized that Johnny was just playing with them.

When Johnny realized they knew he was just kidding, he continued. "Hey,

that tunnel cave-in was pretty hairy…I had dirt in places that I didn't

think was possible. As for the tickets I sold…I really wanted the second

prize…the waterbed. Instead, I got a trip to Las Vegas."

"I don't remember you going to Vegas Johnny."

"I didn't go Marco, I gave the prize to Dixie...she and Dr. Brackett

went…after he recovered from the car accident that he had been in. As I

understand…they went as friends. And as for that bank hostage thing

Roy…truthfully, I didn't know what I was doing, I was merely being myself.

I really didn't mean to make you guys think that I thought I was a failure.

I do know I was a darn good paramedic and great at what I did. I just

wanted you guys to remind me of some of the things that I DID do right."

After dinner, Chet and Marco did the dishes while Mike and Hank sat down on

the couch. Roy and John went out on the porch for some fresh air. Once the

two friends were sitting down, Roy glanced over at his former partner.

Johnny had his head back resting on the back of the chair, his eyes closed.

"You alright Johnny?" he asked, a trace of worry in his voice.

Roy knew that his friend was starting to run out of steam.

Not opening his eyes, Johnny softly answered. "I'm okay Roy…just

tired."

The two friends sat in silence. Johnny was thinking to himself how time was

really starting to run out on him. Roy was thinking the very same

thing…that pretty soon Johnny would be…gone.

"Roy…"

"Yeah Johnny."

"I was thinking…the two of us have had our share of…of strange things

happening to us, ourselves."

Roy smiled at Johnny. He knew exactly what his friend was referring to.

"Yeah Junior, we certainly have. Being accused of a hit and run, and also

being accused of stealing money from that guy. We were lucky to get off the

hook for both of those…we coulda lost our careers over them."

"What about that award we got…that we couldn't remember the run in

question?"

"I remember Johnny. Turns out it was for the paramedics of Squad 15, not

51."

"What about the time you stayed over my apartment while your house was being

fumigated?"

"I remember that too…it was a very memorable experience. It reminded us

that even best friends need a break from each other…sometimes."

Johnny slowly opened his eyes, turned his head and started to speak to his

best friend.

"Hey, did I ever tell you that Chet ended up buying that contraption from

me…the one that you tried to sleep on?"

"No. Why did he do that?"

"I don't know…but he loves it. The money he gave me for it allowed me to

buy my comfortable LA-Z-BOY recliner. Oh…and that big football game we

worked."

Slightly laughing, Roy said, "Yeah…we hardly got to see any of it...and it

was over by the time we got back from our last run."

A half hour later, Roy and Johnny were joined by the rest of their friends

out on the porch. Hank cleared his throat before he spoke.

"You know Roy…you were pretty quick to remind Johnny about some of his…for

lack of a better word, "episodes". We were talking inside, you've had a few

of your own, Pal."

"I know that, Cap. I never did say that I was immune from the craziness

that is our station."

"Like the time you were trying to figure out where to go on your family

vacation."

"Well as I remember Marco, I didn't ASK for advice…but everyone sure GAVE it

to me. We ended up on a farm…and had a miserable time."

"And when you tried to pick us a winning racehorse…and we lost."

"Hey, I warned you guys that it wasn't a good idea, Chet. I knew it wasn't a

good idea…but as usual, no one listened to me. I only liked to pick horses

for fun."

"How about when you aced out your partner during that model shoot?"

Roy grinned. That was one of the few times that he was able to get one over

on Johnny.

"I had nothing to do with that, Cap. They wanted some guys in the

background…so I did it. I was merely doing what I was told to do."

"I have a few favorites of my own…partner."

"Alright Junior, let's hear them."

"Well, I remember the game show that you and Joanne went on…how could you

not know that your favorite vegetable was peas, Roy?"

"Because…Johnny, my favorite vegetables are ARTICHOKES."

"How can Joanne not even know what your favorite vegetable was…didn't she

say carrots, Roy?"

"Yes Chet…she said carrots. We had a little discussion about that after the

show…I ended up spending the night on the couch."

"Here's another one, Pally…the hot dog stand. We were all gonna go in on it,

but by the time you had stopped dragging your feet, Cap informed us that it

had burnt down the prior shift."

"Yeah, well…I apologized for that one."

"What about that time you had your tonsils taken out ,and Chet was injured,

and the two of you ended up sharing a hospital room?"

Roy looked over at Chet.

"How can I possibly forget THAT experience?" Roy said with a groan.

After the chuckles died down from Roy's last comment, they all looked over

at Johnny who looked like he wanted to say something.

"Johnny?"

"I…I don't know what tomorrow will bring…so there's something…something I

want to say to all of you...while I still have the chance."

The other men got real quiet and let Johnny's last comment sink in.

"You know, when something bad happens and…and you search your brain

wondering why you deserved for that to happen to you…and you wonder what you

did wrong…well, over the years, I've often wondered what I did RIGHT to

deserve working with you all…I lucked out big time. That...that first day I

met you Roy...and you asking me to become your partner at 51's...and

subsequently all of US ending up together…"

Taking a minute to catch his breath, he went on.

"The good Lord smiled down on me and made sure that I was surrounded by good

and decent people...people who looked out for me and protected me. I...I

just wanted to say thank you to all of you…you've all been...been my family

and I will never have enough words to say how much you all have meant to me

and...and how much...I'm gonna miss you all. Coming here this weekend was

very important to me…and I'm grateful to all of you for…taking the time to

spend it with me."

When Johnny was done talking, they could all see that he had tears running

down his cheeks.

Struggling to get out of his chair, Roy came over to help Johnny up. Too

emotional to even say "good-night" to his friends, he left the porch to go

inside…Roy behind him. The others started to realize how much of a toll

this trip was taking on their friend…both physically and emotionally.

To no one in particular, Chet whispered what everyone else was thinking.

"He's gettin' worse."

Inside Roy was helping Johnny get settled for the night…on the verge of

losing his own emotions. Roy looked into his best friend's brown eyes and

could see the emotion and pain that Johnny was currently grappling with.

"Johnny…"

Johnny spoke softly, and said, "Roy…I…I think I'd like to use one of the O2

tanks...I'm…I'm hurtin' here…my…medication too."

Roy got up from the chair that he was sitting in, and got one of the tanks that

were sitting in the corner of the bedroom. After taking care of the oxygen,

he handed Johnny the pills and a glass of water. Johnny swallowed his

medication and slowly put his head back on the pillow.

"Thanks…Pally."

Looking back up at Roy, he could see the concern all over Roy's face.

"I'm…I'm okay Roy…you…you go outside with the others…I'm gonna go to sleep

now."

Roy left the room, quietly closing the door behind him. He didn't go

outside to join the others, instead he sat down on the couch and started to

replay the last few months over in his head.

When the others came back in for the night, Roy went out to sit on the

porch. There was no way he'd be able to get any sleep…especially knowing that

his best friend was hurting. They knew from the expression on his face that

he was very upset and wanted to be alone.

While everyone decided to turn in for the night, Roy continued to sit

outside. As the time approached 1:30 AM, Hank went outside to check on his

paramedic.

"Roy…what are you still doing out here?"

Roy softly answered his Captain. "Not tired Cap."

"Did something happen when you were with Johnny?"

"He's...he's...he told me that he was really hurting. Cap, you know

Johnny...how stoic he is when it comes to being in pain or not feeling well.

This is the first time that he...he said that and I'm scared...plain and

simple. Brackett said six months, and that was at the end of April...now

it's July, almost August. I'd like to think that Johnny will last

longer...but now, I'm not so sure."

"Roy, Johnny's tough. He'll continue to fight, if for no other reason...than

for you and your family."

"Is it fair to expect that of him…I mean, isn't that being selfish?"

Sitting down beside his friend, Hank tried to say something that would help

Roy.

"No Roy...it's just Johnny being Johnny...because he cares so much about

you. Why don't you come to bed now?"

Roy shook his head. "I'm really not tired, I'd rather just stay out here

for a while. Will you check on Johnny for me?"

"Sure Roy."

Hank looked at Roy one more time before going back inside. Looking quickly

in on Johnny, he saw that the young man appeared to be sleeping comfortably. He then made his way back to his bedroom, and his own bed.

It was 4:15 AM when Roy finally went inside for bed. When he quietly entered

the bedroom, he was surprised to see Chet sitting in a chair beside Johnny's

bed.

Worried, Roy quietly asked, "Is he okay Chet?"

"Yeah, he's fine. I woke up around 2 and couldn't get back to sleep. I

didn't know what else to do, so I've just been sitting here watching him

sleep...and thinking."

Of course Roy didn't have to ask his friend what he had been thinking

about...he knew.

Roy quickly got undressed and into bed.

The next morning, like the day before...Johnny was the first one up. He put

on his jacket and quietly went out to sit on the porch...he wanted to see

the mountain sunrise, one more time.

On this occasion, the first one to join him was Marco.

"Hey Marco...good-morning."

"Buenas Dias, Johnny. How'd you sleep last night?"

"Pretty well, actually. How about you?"

"Like a rock." Marco lowered his voice to a whisper, to ask his friend the

next question. "So, you gonna tell me what you have planned for Chet?"

Johnny grinned. "You ever hear of pate', Marco?"

"Yeah."

Before Johnny could explain further, a big smile broke out on Marco's face.

"Alpo dog food on crackers...that's all I have to tell you."

Marco looked over at Johnny with great affection.

"Can I ask you a question, Johnny?"

"Sure. What's up?"

"Are...are you scared?"

Johnny took a moment to think before answering his friend.

"I was Marco. Don't get me wrong, the thing that still upsets me is having

to leave you guys and everyone else behind. In the beginning, the scariest

thing for me was making sure that I had enough time to...to do some of the

things that I...I felt I had to do. But now…I'm ready."

Johnny paused to catch his breath before continuing.

"I'm tired Marco, and I hurt all the time. I miss my parents and...and the

rest of my family. I'm ready to go."

Marco was stunned at hearing Johnny's admission.

"Marco...you don't have to tell anyone else about this conversation, okay.

I...I don't want to upset anyone, especially Roy and Chet."

"Sure Johnny. I'm glad you shared it with me."

Johnny smiled wearily at his friend.

"Marco…I...I've always admired you. When the time comes and…and I think back

on my career and all the people I've worked with...you'll be among my

favorites. I'll remember you with much affection amigo. I just wanted you to

know that."

"Johnny...thanks, that means a lot...I've always admired you too."

The quiet of the morning was soon broken, as the rest of the group joined

Johnny and Marco out on the porch. Roy was relieved to see Johnny, at

least appearing outwardly to be feeling better.

"Hey Junior."

"Mornin' Pally." Johnny answered with a relaxed smile.

Hank rubbed his hands together, as he asked, "So what are we gonna do today

fellas?"

Everyone looked over at Johnny.

"What would you like to do Pal?"

"Just float around on the boat for a while. Then if everyone's up for it,

there's a place in the mountains about an hour from here that I'd like to

show you."

Roy smiled to himself.

**My partner sure loves his mountains**

"Sounds like a plan, Johnny."

"Let's eat some breakfast guys, I started making some pancakes."

Johnny glanced over at Chet, and asked, "Since when do you make pancakes

Chet? In all the years I've known you...you never once made pancakes at the station."

"That's right Johnny...not at OUR station...but my pancakes have become the

stuff of legends at OTHER stations."

Johnny didn't say anything else. He remembered Joanne's last birthday and

how it turned out that Roy was actually a really good cook.

**If the guys catch wind that I'm a good cook, they'll expect it every time,

Junior**

Remembering what his best friend told him, he decided to let Chet just bask

in the glory that was his pancakes.

Going in for breakfast, Roy stopped in the doorway, and turned around.

"Johnny..."

"I can do this Roy, please don't worry about me. I...I just have to get

through one more day...just one more day, then I can..."

When Johnny didn't finish his sentence, Roy realized what his friend was

implying...a thought that sent chills down his spine. The two friends stood

facing each other, briefly making eye contact before Johnny looked away.

Johnny softly spoke, and said "Don't worry about me Roy...it's not about me

anymore."

After breakfast Marco and Mike made everyone sandwiches to bring with them

for lunch. Arriving at the boat, they decided that they'd spend about an

hour and a half relaxing out on the water before heading back in. They rowed

out to the middle of the lake and stopped, letting the boat drift in the water.

Hank slowly stood up to stretch his legs...the same time Chet turned around

to look at the sailboat that was nearby...knocking his Captain overboard.

"Kelly...I'm gonna kill you!" Hank shouted.

Mike and Marco helped their Captain back into the boat.

Roy looked at his wet friend, and asked, "You alright Cap?"

"Yes Roy, I'm fine."

"Towel?

Chet handed Hank the towel he was holding.

"I'm really sorry Cap."

"Yeah, I know...it was an accident."

As everyone tried to keep a straight face, Johnny recalled two runs that he

and Roy had gone on a few years ago.

"You've gone on a couple impromptu swims yourself, Partner."

Roy answered Johnny, wincing at the memory. "Don't remind me

Johnny. One time that big dog tripped me and I fell into the pool trying to

retrieve the BP cuff. The second time I was pushed in by a family member

during a suicide attempt that wasn't. Yeah...I remember, Junior...it took

days for my shoes to dry out."

Smiling, Johnny said, "Yeah, I remember...after we got back, I was drying

out the stuff in the drug box and when you walked out into the bay, your

shoes were still squeaking. Everybody could hear you coming from miles away,

partner."

After hearing Johnny's comment about his squishy shoes, Roy's mind traveled

back in time. That was right around the time he had received word of his

promotion to Engineer. He had wrestled greatly with the decision of whether

or not to take the promotion, but ultimately decided against taking it.

His love for being a paramedic and his loyalty to Johnny, as well as the

need to want to protect and watch over his partner, overrode the need for

more money and a higher standing in the Department. Looking over at his best

friend, he smiled, knowing that in the end, he definitely had made the right

decision.

As Roy was looking at Johnny, the sailboat that Chet was trying to get a

look at came closer to their boat. As all six men looked up at the

approaching vessel, six pairs of eyes were popping out and six mouths hung

open...standing at the railing of the sailboat and waving to them were three

very beautiful and very topless women.

"Hi fellas." Three voices cooed at them.

As the sailboat passed them, the men all looked at each other with

disbelief.

"Did we just see what I thought we did?"

"Marco pal...yes, we certainly did."

Looking at his boss, Chet asked, "Cap...now do you forgive me for turning

around and knocking you over? That's what I thought I saw out of the corner

of my eye when I went to turn and look."

Reassuring his friend, Hank replied, "Chet, I forgive you...but you're not

completely off the hook just yet."

Once the surprise wore off them, Johnny was the first to speak.

"Boy, those gals sure were something else."

"They sure were Johnny. Cap, what would Suzanne have to say about that?" Mike asked his captain.

"Honestly? Well, Mike...my wife would probably laugh and say that if she

were only 20 years younger...she'd do it too."

The guys were all surprised at their Captain's answer.

"Suzanne's become quite liberated over the years. What about Joanne, Roy?"

"Joanne? Hmmm..."

Johnny had his ideas of what his best friend's wife would do, but he kept

them to himself.

After thinking a moment, Roy said, "Joanne's quite modest, but maybe after a

few drinks...who knows."

"I actually went out with a girl who liked nude sunbathing."

Everyone looked at Marco with surprise.

Being very curious, Chet asked, "Who was that Marco?

"You guys remember Daisy?"

Johnny's jaw dropped open. "Daisy, the nurse…the one who

tricked us into helpin' out at the orphanage…she likes nude sunbathing?"

"That's right, the one and the same. She and I went on a picnic...let's

just say the good Lord blessed her plenty too."

After drifting on the lake for another hour, they decided to head in…Hank

had mostly dried off after being in the sun for as long as he was. Piling

into the wagon, Hank followed Johnny's directions to their mountain

destination, and arrived there an hour later.

Getting out of the car, everyone was in awe of the beauty surrounding them.

"Johnny, this is so beautiful."

"Thanks Chet, I knew you guys would like it."

Looking over at Johnny, Roy once again saw the expression of peace that was

on his friend's face...the same look that Johnny had had on his face when he

brought Roy to HIS spot in the mountains. Johnny was leaning against the

car, looking out at the beautiful scenery. No one said anything...they

could only imagine what their friend was thinking.

Marco was in deep thought too, he was thinking about the conversation that

he'd had with Johnny that morning. He didn't want his friend to die, but if

Johnny was in as much pain as he said he was...Marco just didn't want his

friend to suffer any more than he had to.

After a half-hour of quiet reflection, Mike and Marco broke out the

sandwiches for everyone. Johnny was still very quiet, but even though he

wasn't feeling the greatest...the reason for his quiet behavior wasn't what

everyone else assumed it to be. The reality was that he was busy plotting

against Chet...the Phantom would NOT be having the last laugh.

When Marco handed Johnny his ham sandwich, he received a wink. He then was

reminded that Johnny had planned a last hurrah for Chet. He smiled back at

Johnny acknowledging the meaning behind the cryptic wink.

On the trip back to the cabin, Johnny had fallen asleep in the car. Looking at their

sleeping friend, they could plainly see how exhausted he was. A little more

than an hour later, they arrived back to their cabin. Roy didn't want to

wake his friend up, but knew that Johnny would be more comfortable sleeping

inside.

"Junior...we're at the cabin."

Johnny didn't stir right away, so Roy gave his friend a slight nudge. When

Johnny opened his eyes, he was still groggy from sleep.

"Johnny...come on partner."

As he started to wake up more fully, he got his bearings back. As Roy

helped Johnny out of the car, he noticed that his friend seemed to be

running a fever.

"Johnny...let's get you into bed so you can get some more sleep. I want you

to take some Tylenol...you seem to be a bit warm."

"I'm okay Roy…don't be such a worrywart."

He smiled weakly after he said that. As long as the two of them had been

partners, Roy had ALWAYS worried about him. After Johnny got into bed, he

agreed to take two Tylenol, and quickly fell back to sleep. Hank was cooking

dinner that night and while he himself was not real big on seafood, he knew

his crew was, so as a special treat for their last meal together, he had

bought lobsters, crabs, and shrimp for everyone.

While Johnny was sleeping, the rest of the guys were sprawled out in the

living room.

Roy looked at his watch, he saw it was already 3 in the afternoon…they only

had another 17 hours together. He knew in all likelihood that after the next morning, the next time they'd ALL be together would probably be gathered

around Johnny's deathbed. It was a sobering thought, but he knew Johnny was

right…time was simply running out.

Suddenly feeling very tired himself, Roy excused himself to lie down for

awhile. Entering the bedroom he paused in the doorway, smiling at the

familiar sight of Johnny sleeping with his left arm over his eyes. When Roy

woke up two hours later, Johnny was still sound asleep.

When Roy rejoined his friends, Hank's dinner preparations were well

underway.

"Sleep well Roy?"

Hank was concerned with the emotional toll that the weekend seemed to have

taken on his senior paramedic.

"Yeah, I did. I didn't realize how tired I was."

"We have a surprise for Johnny, Roy. We're gonna give it to him after

dinner."

Being a little worried over what his friend had planned, Roy asked,

"Depends. What is it, Chet?"

As Chet's voice took on a hopeful tone, he said, "Well, the four of us

worked on it last week at Captain Stanley's house…it's a photo album...pictures of...of

all of us through the years. He'll like that, won't he?"

Relieved, Roy smiled at his friend, and softly said, "He'll love it Chet.

That's the best present you guys can give Johnny…and it'll mean everything

to him, believe me."

As the time approached 5:45 PM and Johnny was still asleep, Roy let everyone

but Chet, in on Johnny's practical joke. While Mike and Marco kept Chet

occupied out on the porch, Hank helped Roy prepare the special platter of

appetizers. They made sure to keep the empty dog food can but hid it, to

eventually let Chet in on the joke.

After preparing the platter of "goodies", Roy covered it with plastic wrap

and put it in the refrigerator, away from Chet's prying eyes. At 6 PM Roy

went to check on his friend. Johnny was sitting up in the bed, rubbing his

eyes.

"Sleep well Johnny?"

"Yeah, I...I guess I over did it today. Brackett wouldn't be too pleased

with how I've been pushing myself. He didn't want me to go on this trip."

Roy came over and sat down at the foot of Johnny's bed.

"Dr. Brackett told me about the conversation the two of you had that night

at the hospital...the night that you had the bad nosebleed at the

restaurant."

"Oh." Johnny really wasn't surprised at that. "Roy...everything I've done

over the last few months, I have no regrets...everything was worth it to me.

This weekend...I HAD to do this."

"I know Johnny...I know. Listen, Cap and I took care of the special treat

for Chet."

"I...I forgot all about it...thanks."

"Dinner'll be ready in a bit. You'll be okay?"

Roy knew just by looking at Johnny that he wasn't doing so well.

Johnny smiled weakly at his best friend. "I'll be fine

Pally...just one more night."

Before Johnny went out to join the rest of the group, he asked Roy to get him

his medication. A few minutes later, an outwardly relaxed Johnny emerged

from the bedroom.

"Everything smells great Cap."

Roy was the only one who knew Johnny was bluffing...as he was also the only

one who knew that Johnny's sense of smell had virtually disappeared. Roy went to

the refrigerator and took out the "appetizers." He nonchalantly put them out

on the table.

Like bees to honey, Chet was all over them, putting first one of the covered

crackers in his mouth, followed by another one. He looked around at everyone

and was surprised when no one else made a move toward them.

"They're incredible. Aren't you guys gonna have some…what is it anyway?"

Trying to keep the smile off of his face, Johnny spoke up. "It's

called pate', Chet and it's an old recipe. I only make it on special

occasions...and THIS is as special as it gets."

Chet looked over at Johnny curiously, and asked, "When did you make this

Johnny? You've been asleep for the last few hours."

Roy offered an explanation. "He DIDN'T make it, Chet...*I* did. I

found Johnny's recipe and while you were outside with Mike and Marco, I made

it."

"Oh and before you ask, Chet...I don't divulge my ingredients. Cap won't tell

us why he burned McConnike's hat...I won't tell you about my recipe."

"Roy knows." Chet said with a knowing look.

Johnny looked at his best friend, then back at Chet. "Roy's my best

Friend, Chet...he's sworn to secrecy."

"Fine, be that way. Anyway, why am I the only one eating it?"

"No one else wants to spoil their appetite, Chet. My dinner will be ready

for you guys soon." offered Hank.

Chet merely shrugged his shoulders and proceeded to polish off another eight

of the questionable appetizers.

As they all sat down for what would be their final meal together, it was

decided that Johnny would break the news to Chet about the true origin of

the pate', after dinner. Once dinner got underway, the usual banter among

the friends got started.

Mike, who had already tossed down a few beers, got things off and running.

"Okay...hairiest rescue?"

"I would have to say the canyon fire from a few years ago...me and Johnny

had to rescue a firefighter who was trapped in the middle of the fire. The two

of us, along with the other firefighter, got trapped ourselves, the raging fire

quickly approaching us."

Johnny nodded in agreement. "Yeah, that was pretty scary. I really

thought we were toast...no pun intended."

"What about the plane that hit the apartment complex?"

Hearing Marco mention that call, brought back haunting memories for Roy about

how close Johnny came to not making it back home from there.

"That's when that Pasadena firefighter got me out of there. I still think

those guys dress funny."

"What about the plane that hit the school bus? We all escaped that one by a

narrow margin."

"I remember that one too, Cap. Roy and I were getting the kids out of the

bus and then had to get the driver out...she was trapped in the bus. No

sooner had we all taken cover...boom. Yeah, I'll say that was a hairy one."

Roy let out a giggle at Johnny's expense. "There was one run that

I warned you to be careful...but you didn't heed my advice. You ended up

with an appointment at Rampart."

"Which one was that Roy? I...I kinda remember a few of them. Like that

weird day with rescues...I twisted my knee repelling down that hill."

"No...not that one, Junior...the one with the guy who fell off his

skateboard...into the cactus."

Trying to stop his friend, Johnny said, "Roy don't say…"

Chet interrupted him, and said, "Gage, don't tell me you..."

"Yeah he did Chet."

Before Chet could ask for any of the details about what had actually

happened, Johnny said, "Well, here's another one Roy. The time we rescued

Dixie from the vending machine."

Looking at his friend with a look of confusion on his face, Roy said, "That

wasn't dangerous Johnny."

"Yeah, it was...if looks could kill...Dixie would have killed both of us…but

mainly me."

Being curious, Hank asked, "What did you two twits do to her?"

Not being able to keep a smile from his face, Roy explained. "Well Cap,

Dixie had her hand stuck in one of the vending machines…she was trying to

get the cup out…and we were called to get her hand out and Johnny…well, he

cracked a few jokes…at her expense."

"What about the time that you talked that kid in the plane down, after his

father suffered a heart attack?"

"That WAS scary, Johnny. I mean, at least when you are physically involved

in a dangerous rescue, you have a real part in how it turns out...most of

the time. But talking that kid down, Frankie I believe his name was...I

wasn't the one doing the flying. Not having any real control of the

situation was really scary to me. I was able to get him down, luckily and

we got his father to Rampart alive...I don't think he made it, though."

The guys all nodded their heads in understanding Roy's point.

"Well on a personal note, I remember almost getting fried at a gas station

once."

"Oh yeah, I forgot about that one, Marco. At Rampart I made a comment about

your hair standing on end...you said something about how you wished it had

happened to someone else...like me."

"Yeah, I remember saying that. As I recall, Cap was electrocuted once

too...or almost."

Hank let out a whistle. "You don't have to remind me of that

Marco...a car that downed a telephone wire. The next thing I know, I'm

writhing in pain and Roy is using the defibrillator on me to get my heart

back to the proper rhythm."

"The brush then caught on fire and I called in a full brush response." added Mike.

"We were pretty lucky that the situation didn't escalate into something a

lot worse."

"You're definitely right about that, Junior. We got the fire out quickly and

Cap turned out to be just fine...thankfully."

After thinking a moment, Johnny asked, "How about multiples?"

Everyone looked at Johnny curiously.

"What are you talking about Johnny?"

Johnny repeated himself, and said, "Multiples…you know, situations that had

us responding to the same person or people multiple times...usually in the

same day."

"I remember two of them, Johnny. The guy who tried exercising several

different ways...failed at all of them. This included flooding out his

basement somehow when he was trying to work out down there…something about

building a wine cellar."

Johnny chimed in, and added, "Yeah…and he said he didn't even like wine."

"Yeah he did. Then there was that woman who, if I remember correctly, was

trying to cook dinner for her boyfriend and his mother. Didn't she get stuck

or something a few times, and caused a minor fire in her apartment?"

"Those are definitely two of them, Chet. I believe the other two were far

more serious."

"Now that you mention it John...I do recall another one. It had a rather

unfortunate and fiery ending...the lady who was convinced that her dead

sister was contacting her."

The others all shuddered in remembrance. The woman ended up setting fire to

her house...seriously injuring her husband in the process.

"That was pretty eerie Cap. Johnny and I responded to that house the first

time, when they were in the middle of a seance...pretty bazaar stuff."

"Roy, don't forget about that arguing couple. Remember how it escalated

through the day?"

"I remember. We tried to get Brackett to keep them for

awhile...didn't help."

"Well, these don't exactly qualify as dangerous or anything...but how about

that go-go dancer down call we got? Chester B. had a fit when Cap wouldn't

let him come in with us."

Chet groaned. "I remember...you guys wouldn't tell me anything."

"And that day we responded to a car accident with no victims. There was

blood all over the place...but no sign of the victims. Johnny and I went

door to door to ask people if they saw anything...nothing. It was kind of

like being in The Twilight Zone."

"That WAS pretty strange, Roy."

After enjoying Hank's cooking, they all thanked him for preparing such a

wonderful meal, and retired to the living room. Once everyone was seated,

four pairs of eyes turn their gaze upon Johnny.

Johnny grinned mysteriously at Chet, and said, "Chester B., I gotta tell you

something."

"What is it?" Chet asked a bit hesitantly.

Noticing the grin on his friend's face, Chet became suspicious.

"Well...you know those appetizers that you so enjoyed?"

"Yes." Chet said, his tone taking on an air of uncertainty.

"I...I was playing a joke on you. That...that wasn't really pate'."

"No…then what WAS it, Johnny?"

Looking at his partner, Johnny said, "Roy..."

Roy got up and handed Chet the empty Alpo can.

"Alpo…you mean...you mean I ate DOG food?"

Johnny continued to smile at Chet, as he said, "I couldn't let the Phantom

have the last laugh now, could I?"

"Okay Johnny...you win. The better man won."

"Chet...I wouldn't say the BETTER man won."

Being surprised, Chet asked, "Oh no?"

"No…the most PERSEVERING man won. No hard feelings?"

Chet looked up at Johnny as he quickly realized that this was indeed the

last laugh. He silently was glad that the final prank ended with Johnny as

the victor. All the water bombs, practical jokes and barbs that he and

Johnny had traded over almost nine years...was coming to an end.

"No hard feelings Johnny...it's been an honor doing battle with you."

Chet and Johnny exchanged a knowing look as Cap got up, stepped over to

Johnny and handed him a package.

"What's this Cap?" Johnny asked a bit confused.

"It's just a little something that me, Mike, Chet and Marco put together. We

all hope you like it."

Johnny slowly unwrapped the gift, wondering what it could be.

"A photo album. What...what pictures are in here?"

Chet softly answered. "Of all of us Johnny."

The first picture Johnny saw was the very first picture of all of them taken

in their dress uniforms shortly after Hank had become their Captain. Looking

through the pages brought back so many fond memories for Johnny. Pictures

representative of many great years together as a team…as a family, both at

work and at play. The final picture in the album was one that brought out

the classic Gage smile...the picture that Johnny had thought that he had taken at a

rescue, but in reality was taken by Chet.

After spending an hour strolling down memory lane with the men he had worked so

closely with for almost nine years, Johnny looked up at those same men, and

let his facial expression and eyes convey how touched and appreciative he

was of this wonderful gesture.

Johnny placed his right hand over his heart. His voice was full of emotion

as he started to speak.

"This album...these pictures mean a lot to me...thank you." Johnny paused

for a few moments before continuing. "This weekend meant everything to me.

I hope you all know just how important it was for me."

Hank spoke up, and said, "I think we do John...it was very important for us

too."

"Tomorrow...tomorrow we'll...we'll all be going our separate ways. You guys

will all be going back to work...and back to your families…I'll...I'll be

going home too. I...I love you all and won't ever forget you."

Hearing the emotion in Johnny's voice and the heartfelt words he had spoken

brought tears to everyone's eyes, as they realized the truthfulness in what

he had said, especially the part about them going their separate ways. Five

of them WOULD be returning to work together, rejoining Rocky Ramirez on

Tuesday morning, but for Johnny...they knew the proverbial sunset was

coming...sooner rather than later.

Clutching the photo album like it was a life preserver, he looked around at

the other five men surrounding him...men he had gone to hell and back

with...and for.

"Well...I...I'm kinda beat. I think I'll turn in. Cap...thanks for dinner...

it was delicious. I'll see you guys in the morning."

They all bid him good night. Roy helped Johnny out of the recliner and

into the bedroom. Sitting on his bed, Johnny looked up at Roy, weariness on

his face.

"Roy...I...I just want to be left alone now…okay?"

Roy didn't say anything, he just nodded his head in understanding.

"If...if I need...help...I'll...I'll let you know."

Once Johnny was sure that his best friend had left the room, and the door was

closed, he curled up under the blanket...and started to cry…it was a huge

relief to him to be able to finally let out some of his emotion. He hadn't

counted on the weekend becoming as emotional as it had become. His head

started to really bother him, and the nausea he felt had become constant.

But it was the continued thought of having to leave behind all his

friends...his family that was having the biggest effect on him.

When Roy returned to the living room, the look on his face told the others

that something was wrong.

"Something wrong Roy?"

"I...I don't really know Chet. Johnny just wanted to be left alone for

awhile."

"Roy..."

Stopping his boss, Roy said, "Cap...I...WE all knew that this weekend would be

tough on Johnny. I guess...I guess it just all...caught up with him. Cap,

will you keep an eye on Johnny for me? I'm gonna go outside for a while."

"Sure Roy...take your time."

Chet was still having trouble reconciling his own emotions, as he asked,

"You want…want some company?"

Understanding and slightly smiling at his friend, Roy replied, "Sure."

Once outside on the porch, Chet and Roy started to talk openly about how

they were feeling.

While each man on the crew had their own kind of friendship with Johnny, it

was Roy and Chet who were the most affected by Johnny's illness. Roy was

John's best friend, and Chet was a lot closer to Johnny than their

often-heated discussions suggested, and underneath it all, Chet and Johnny

shared a great deal of affection for one another.

"Roy...how do you do it?"

Looking over at his friend, Roy asked, "How do I do what, Chet?"

"How do you cope knowing...knowing that Johnny...that he's..."

Roy knew what Chet was trying to say.

"It's not easy Chet. I'm...I'm still trying to deal with it...I struggle

with it all the time. When Johnny first told me about his illness...it was

devastating...to both of us. But it was only April...we both knew that he

still had time left. Now..."

"Yeah...that's what I mean. I can't imagine Johnny not being around. It just

doesn't seem fair to me Roy."

"It's NOT fair Chet, Johnny's my best friend. Through it all we've always

been there for one another...the good times and the bad. When he's gone...a

piece of me that will never be replaced will be gone too."

Inside Hank, Marco and Mike began to quietly pack. They knew that they'd all

be leaving early the next morning.

After an hour out on the porch, Roy and Chet went back inside.

"Since we're leaving by 8 AM, we thought we'd get a start on packing."

"Good idea Cap."

Saying that, Roy didn't really feel that way…he felt that although Johnny's

health was in serious decline, that if they stayed at the cabin, somehow the

inevitable wouldn't happen. Roy knew what lay ahead for Johnny in the coming

weeks...and he was scared.

Once everything was packed, the five men went to bed. Try as he may, Roy

could not fall asleep.

The next morning, while Johnny remained asleep, the rest of the guys got the

two cars packed. It was 7 AM when Roy decided to wake Johnny up.

"Junior...it's seven o'clock, we need to get going in an hour."

Slowly waking up, Johnny rubbed his eyes. "Yeah...all right. Give me

a few minutes to get myself together, Roy."

Roy heard the exhaustion in Johnny's voice.

"Okay. You...you need any help Johnny?"

Shaking his head, Johnny replied, "No...thanks, I'll be fine. Are the guys

all ready?"

"Yeah."

"Roy...I...I want the guys to leave ahead of us. It…it'll be easier that

way...for all of us. Will...will you tell them to go?"

Being surprised by what his friend had said, Roy replied, "Johnny...they're

gonna want to see you before they leave."

"I know...give me a few minutes."

Roy nodded his head and went back out to the others.

"Is Johnny getting ready to go?"

"Uh...Cap."

Roy looked around at his friends.

Growing concerned, Hank asked, "What's wrong Pal?"

"Johnny wants you guys to...to go."

Chet was surprised, and asked, "To go?"

Roy nodded his head, and replied, "He's getting himself together. I...I

think everything's catching up to him and I don't think he anticipated this

weekend being so emotionally draining for him. I think he just wants to

say...good...good-bye to you guys and...and..."

Marco finished Roy's sentence, as he said, "And then wants us to leave,

right?"

"Something like that Marco."

After a few minutes Roy knocked on the bedroom door. "Johnny...the guys want

to come in. You alright?"

From inside the room they heard a soft voice.

"Uh...yeah...come on in."

When the guys entered the room, Johnny was standing up by the bed,

pretending that he had been packing. Roy knew it was a ploy...as he had packed

Johnny's bag the night before.

"You guys getting ready to head out huh?"

No one answered, as they knew it wasn't really a question.

"Thanks for a great weekend guys. Get home safely."

Hank answered, and said, "Yeah, you too. Take it easy Pal."

Hank warmly embraced Johnny.

"I will Cap…thanks for everything."

"Johnny...I know you have Roy...but if you need anything...day or

night...you can call any of us."

"I know that, thanks Mike. Keep up the good work."

The two of them embraced.

Marco stepped forward and as the two of them made eye contact and exchanged

knowing looks, he said "Johnny...what Mike said...remember that, alright?"

Johnny smiled at his friend, and softly spoke. "I will amigo. Do

me a favor Marco...keep Chet in line for me and…and watch out for him."

Smiling back at his friend, Marco nodded his head. "You got it Johnny."

They also embraced.

Chet looked at Johnny, unsure of what to say or do.

"Johnny..."

John walked over to Chet and gave him a hug.

"Chester B...take care of yourself...and don't ever change, buddy. You...you

don't have to say anything...because I already know."

Looking once again at his friends, he added one more thing.

"Do me a favor...make sure Rocky feels like he's part of the team...part of

the family. I'm sure I'll...see you guys again before too long. Don't worry

about me okay…just look out for each other."

Johnny didn't say anything else, he just turned and walked out of the room

and into the bathroom, closing the door behind him…Roy exchanged good-byes

with the rest of his friends.

"Drive home safely Roy."

"I will Cap. I'll see everyone at work in the morning."

Hank and the others left the cabin and pulled away in their car, leaving Roy

alone with Johnny. Unable to keep his nausea at bay any longer, Johnny

proceeded to throw up several times...leaving him feeling even more

exhausted than he already was. After brushing his teeth and washing up,

Johnny emerged from the bathroom.

"You...you ready to go Partner? I have the Rover all packed up."

Johnny looked around at the cabin one last time, thankful for the time spent

there and for the memories it brought back.

"I'm ready. Let's go home Pally."

Roy carried Johnny's bag outside and helped his best friend into the Rover.

Before they got on the road, they stopped at the camp office to return the

cabin keys.

The weekend trip to the lakeside cabin was something that Johnny felt he

needed to do…for a sense of closure. Coming home, he spent much of the trip

back asleep and it became painfully obvious to Roy that this was the

beginning of the end for his best friend. Johnny had held up remarkably well

through the weekend, but now, had started to fade.

Seeing that his friend was awake, Roy said, "Junior…I…I got an idea, but

don't get mad, okay?"

Johnny looked over at his best friend and weakly smiled. "Pally,

I could never get mad at you."

"Well…remember that when I tell you what I'm thinking."

Roy paused for a moment…he knew that what he was about to say wouldn't make

Johnny very happy.

"Johnny…I…I think you ought to move in with me, Jo, and the kids...let us

take care of you. What do ya say Partner?"

"That's a great offer, Roy…but I'm not ready for that yet. I'm…I'm still

doin' okay and doin' THAT now…that would…would be like admitting defeat.

It's…it's almost the end of July…according to Brackett…I…I may only have a

month or two left and I wanna stay on my own for as long as I can. You can

understand that, can't you?"

"Yeah, Johnny I can…but it's…it's just that…"

Stopping his friend, Johnny said, "I'll be okay Roy."

Roy and the rest of the guys went back to work on Tuesday, the day after

returning home from their weekend trip. Despite enjoying the weekend and

being relaxed and well rested, the men of 51's A-shift wanted to be anywhere

but at the station that day…all they could do was think about Johnny and how

time was starting to run out for him.

For his part, Rocky had kept a very low profile. He knew the weekend would

be difficult for all of them, that's why he had declined the invitation to

join them.

The shift went by very slowly. Roy grew very concerned when Johnny

hadn't been answering his telephone. When he was finally able to get in

touch with Johnny, he didn't like the way his friend had sounded.

"Johnny, how about if I stop over after the shift is over?"

"No Roy…I…I just want to be alone."

Roy noted Johnny's weak and strained voice…there was no life to it. Deep

down Roy feared that Johnny was starting to give up.

"Johnny…I…I miss you Partner. I'd really like to see you."

"Roy…I…I can't do it…not now. I'll…I'll be in touch."

The next time Johnny had finally agreed to see Roy was almost a week later.

Hearing the knock at the door, Johnny carefully and slowly made his way to

answer it. His vision, in just the span of a week declined so much so, that

he had started to bump into things. Johnny continued to grow weaker, and he

was having increased difficulty with his left side. His apartment, although

never spotless when he was well, had become the proverbial disaster area.

When Roy entered the apartment and saw the mess that it had become, and then

took one look at Johnny…he had become almost sick to his stomach. He knew now

where Johnny was headed.

Trying to sound upbeat, Roy asked, "Johnny…whatch'ya been up to?"

"Uh…uh…just…just trying to clean up a bit."

Seeing the shape that his friend was in and that he needed help, Roy asked,

"Can I help Junior?"

"No…no…you…you just have a seat. I'll…I'll be right with ya."

While Johnny was nervously straightening up around his apartment, Roy stood,

watching him. It had only been three months since his best friend had been

diagnosed, and told that there was nothing that the doctors could do to save

his life. Roy noticed the symptoms of the illness already starting to

worsen…even though Johnny did his best to try and hide it. It was obvious

to Roy how much of a toll Johnny's illness had already taken on him.

Roy saw how he was nervously but carefully pacing around the room, hanging up

clothes, and how his hands were starting to shake more and more…and he also knew

Johnny's eyesight was growing worse.

"Hey Johnny, come on, let's sit down for a while and…maybe we can grab a bite

to eat."

Even when Roy tried to touch his friend on the shoulder, Johnny would always

pull away…almost like he didn't want to be touched. Roy could also hear the

uneasiness and nervousness in his friend's voice when he spoke.

Johnny softly replied, "Ah no…no I'm not…not hungry. But you can eat, I…I

gotta get this done."

Johnny kept hanging up clothes but as his hands started to shake even more,

he started to drop things and that only made him more frustrated.

Bending over to pick up a shirt, he tried to laugh it off, as he said, "Damn

it, I…I can't hold on to anything anymore…my hands…they just don't…don't

wanna work…especially my left one."

"You're getting tired partner. Like I said, let's go eat something, and you

can rest a little while. How does pizza sound, I'll buy."

Through cloudy eyes, Johnny turned to look at the man that had been so much

more than just a partner to him…Roy had been his best friend, the man he

trusted his life to everyday at work, someone he was able to talk to about

anything. And now, this man that he cared about so much, was having to

watch, as he was slowly dying from the cancerous brain tumor, and he knew

that Roy felt helpless, knowing there was nothing he could do to save him

either.

He was experiencing excruciating headaches, almost daily now, that no amount

of medication would stop. Rubbing his hand over his face, Johnny finally

spoke to his friend.

"Like I said Roy…I'm not really hungry. This headache is really makin' me

feel sick to my stomach."

Roy placed his hand on Johnny's arm. "Well, at least let's go sit

down and rest a little bit…please Johnny…I'm worried about you."

Realizing just how tired he really was, and that Roy wouldn't leave him

alone until he did rest, Johnny finally agreed.

"Yeah, okay. Help me will ya?"

Knowing that his friend needed a little guidance from where his eyes were

getting worse, Roy gently took Johnny's arm and led him into his living room

and over toward the couch. But before Johnny reached it, and even though

Roy was being careful, he bumped into the table, stubbing his toe.

"Ouch…damn it!"

Falling down onto the couch, Johnny screamed, "I can't do ANYTHING for

myself…and I hate it…why doesn't it just end…NOW!"

Roy didn't say anything, knowing that Johnny needed to get how he was

feeling out of his system. He just sat beside his friend and listened, as

he watched the tears coming from his eyes. Roy knew how upset and

nervous Johnny was…he was talking very fast and trying to control

his tears.

"It's not fair…this isn't supposed to happen to…to people my age…older

people get…brain tumors…not us Roy…not us…you know…I know what Brackett

said…that…that they couldn't operate…that if they did…I'd…I'd wind up in…in

a coma…IF I lived through the…the surgery…but you know…it'd…it'd almost be

worth it…I…I can't…I just can't do this…I can't live like this…waiting to

die…with this…this thing…slowly killing me…killing my body…slowly…slowly

wasting away…down to nothing…and you know that…that's what's gonna

happen…you know it is Roy…I can't do it…waiting to die…nah, let's do it

quick…and painless…I'm gonna…gonna call Brackett…tell him…tell him that I

WANT him to operate…then, I'll be in a coma…not having to be in pain…not

having to stumble around 'cause I…I can hardly see…not having to watch

what the rest of you are…are having to go through…in seeing me like

this…just to…to be totally unaware of…of what's going on…and…die in…"

Stopping, he grabbed his head with his hands, as he rocked back and forth on

the couch… Roy could tell that the pain must have been unbearable.

"My head…god it hurts…hurts so bad…make it stop Roy…please…just make it

stop…I…I can't do this…I'm not…not strong enough…I just want it…I just want

it…to be…to be over, Roy…just for it to be over."

Roy sat there quietly…he was at a loss. Through it all…the diagnosis,

breaking the news to everyone, the pneumonia, and the nosebleeds…Johnny

remained strong and positive, and now here was his best friend appearing to

have given up.

Roy spoke quietly. "Johnny…what do you say…you let me take care of

you now? I…I don't want you to be alone any more…you shouldn't have to be."

Johnny pulled his hands away from his head and sat back on the couch…resting

his head on the back of the couch. Letting out a soft sigh, he knew he was

beaten. He answered his friend in a soft voice.

"Roy…I…I think that might be a good idea. The…the truth is…I…I CAN'T do

it anymore…at least, not by myself." Johnny let out another small sigh.

"I'm…I'm hurting real bad, Pally…but not enough to…to cash it in just yet.

I guess I'm just having one of those really bad days. I would like very

much to spend the…the rest of my time with you, Jo and the kids. But are

you sure you guys…can handle it?"

"Johnny…I've been waiting for you to say 'yes'. Joanne, Chris…Jennifer,

they all want you home too."

Realizing that he would be with his best friend and his family, Roy's home

would be his for whatever time he had left…and he knew it wouldn't be long.

"Home. I wanna go…home, Pally." Johnny softly said.

Gently touching Johnny on the arm, Roy slightly smiled, and said, "Okay

Junior…let's go home."

Johnny had given up his apartment and given away most of his things. As his health continued to decline, he had taken up Roy and Joanne's offer to

move in with them. Roy had taken a temporary leave of absence with the

department, so he could be there to help take care of his best friend…it

gave Roy peace of mind to know Johnny wouldn't be alone, and Johnny was

comforted by the fact that during the last part of his life, he'd be

surrounded by the people who mattered the most to him.

Although he spent a good portion of the day in bed, Chris and Jennifer were

wonderful with their Uncle Johnny. They all knew that Johnny had become very

sick and these last several weeks would be his last. As the reality of

Johnny's failing health had set in, the kids became very protective of him…after

all, Johnny was as integral a part of their lives, as he was Roy's.

When Johnny came to stay with the DeSoto's, it was August. The kids didn't

want to leave his side, but Roy knew Johnny needed his rest. Chris and

Jenny would read to their Uncle and tell him stories of how they spent their

day with friends. Mostly, Roy would sit by his best friend, and the two of

them would reminisce about their years together as paramedics and friends.

Occasionally one of the other guys would come over for a visit, but they all

knew that Johnny wasn't up for a lot of visitors, so they didn't come often

or stay long...they just wanted him to know that he wasn't forgotten.

At the end of August, Roy and his family celebrated Johnny's 32nd

birthday...it was bittersweet. They had cake…chocolate, Johnny's

favorite, but no presents. Johnny appreciated the gesture, but felt gifts

would be very awkward under the present circumstances. So as they ate cake,

gathered around the couch in the living room…they reminisced about past

birthday parties.

When September rolled around and school was ready to start, the kids didn't

want to go back. Their biggest fear was that something would happen to

their Uncle Johnny while they were away.

For Johnny's friend Rocky Ramirez, who was now Roy's partner, things were

more difficult. He had agreed to become Roy's partner, because Johnny asked him

to. He liked Roy a lot, but he knew as good a friend as he was with Johnny,

it didn't come close to the bond that Roy had with him. In his mind, he

also knew Roy would forever be comparing him to Johnny...not only as a

paramedic...but also as a friend.

The crew of Station 51's A-Shift were very close, as they had been together

for a long time, and as much as he liked all the guys and they seemed to

like him, he knew that he was still an outsider. During the early stages of

Johnny's illness, Rocky either saw or spoke to Johnny often, but as Johnny's

illness progressed, Rocky decided to lay low and let Johnny's closer friends

have more space…and time with Johnny.

He was very touched when Johnny had asked him to go to the cabin with all of

them, but he declined. He told his friend that he respected his wishes, but

he really felt that the six of them needed the time to be together. While

Roy was on his temporary leave, Rocky's partner was Charlie Dwyer, who moved from C-shift, to A-shift.

It was a Saturday evening at the end of September, and Johnny was in the

throes of an excruciating headache. He was vomiting and his eyesight was

pretty much gone…as all he could now see were shadows. Roy, who had been

sitting by Johnny's side for hours, knew what was coming.

"Roy." Johnny called, in a very soft voice.

"Yeah, I'm here Johnny."

Roy didn't have to ask…he knew what his partner wanted.

"Roy…I want to go…to Rampart."

"Okay Johnny. Do you want me to take you?"

"No Roy I…I want an ambulance...need...an ambulance."

Roy was surprised that Johnny wanted an ambulance. In the past, Johnny

would have fought with him tooth and nail about it, but Roy also knew that

his best friend was in a great deal of pain and that his breathing was

becoming extremely labored.

"Okay Johnny, I'm going to call for a squad."

Johnny's brown eyes met Roy's blue ones and though no words were spoken,

both knew what was being implied. After Joanne heard Roy get up, she came

into the room, and seeing the look on her husband's face, she knew what was

happening. She went over to Johnny and held his hand…Johnny took it and

held it against his cheek, which was warm with fever. Roy went to call a

squad.

When the squad pulled up to Roy's house, he was both surprised and

relieved…the two paramedics he saw getting out of it, were none other than

Rocky Ramirez and Charlie Dwyer...they were both working some overtime.

The look on Roy's face told them all they needed to know…that Johnny's life

and the suffering with it, would be ending sometime in the next couple hours. As the two

paramedics entered the house, Roy filled them in on Johnny's condition.

"He's been having a very severe headache and vomiting and his breathing has

also become very labored."

Roy led them to Johnny, and the two paramedics, despite knowing who their

victim was, remained professional. As they entered the room, Joanne

backed away from the bed…she wanted to give the two paramedics room to

examine Johnny. Then, she left the room.

"Johnny…it's Rocky...Charlie and I are going to help you…we're going to

make you as comfortable as we can. You hang in there buddy."

Rocky looked at Dwyer who was now contacting Rampart on the bio-phone.

"Rampart, this is Squad 51. How do you read?"

Dr. Brackett's voice was on the other end.

"Go ahead 51."

"We have a male, 32 years of age." He paused a moment. "Be advised, victim

is John Gage. Stand by for vitals."

At Rampart's base station, Brackett looked at Dixie and wordlessly acknowledged the thought

that they were both sharing.

Rocky took Johnny's vitals and Dwyer relayed the information to Rampart.

Brackett gave them their treatment orders, and they started Johnny on a higher concentration of O2 and gave him some pain medication.

"Johnny, we're going to get you ready for transport. The ambulance will

be here any minute."

Johnny weakly nodded his head and whispered. "Okay."

Joanne met the ambulance attendants outside and led them to Johnny's room.

When they got him on the stretcher, the decision was made for Roy to go with

Rocky in the ambulance. Dwyer would follow behind in the squad, and Joanne

would pick the kids up from a friend's house and meet them at the hospital.

On the way to Rampart, Johnny tried to pull off the oxygen mask and talk to

his friends, but Roy kept putting it back on him.

He looked at his friend, and said, "Johnny, we'll talk at the hospital…I

promise."

Johnny nodded his head.

Arriving at the hospital, rather than be taken to an examining room, Johnny

was taken to a private room. Dr. Brackett and Dixie walked alongside

Johnny's stretcher. As he was transferred to a bed, Brackett took

Johnny's vitals, and Dixie readied the IV to give the pain medication that

would keep him comfortable, and feeling no pain. A nasal cannula replaced the more obtrusive

oxygen mask.

"Johnny, this is Dr. Brackett. Are you comfortable now?"

Johnny nodded his head and weakly gave a thumbs up, and in a whisper, he

answered, "Yeah."

Dixie, relieved that Johnny couldn't see her tears, stroked his hair and gave

him a gentle kiss on the lips.

"I love you John Gage."

Johnny weakly smiled, as he softly and breathlessly said, "The…prettiest

nurse at…Rampart kissed me…on the lips...the…the other guys…will be

jealous."

Dr. Brackett and Dixie slightly smiled at that comment, then gave Roy and

Rocky a knowing look and left the room.

Charlie Dwyer came back into the room and very softly, he talked to Roy.

"Roy, I called Captain Stanley…he and the other guys'll be here soon."

"Thanks."

Just then, Dwyer's radio went off.

**Oh no…why now**

"Squad 51, what's your status?"

Dwyer looked at Rocky and then over at Roy.

Roy simply said one word, "Go."

Dwyer responded on the radio. "Squad 51 available from Rampart."

"Squad 51 respond with Engine 51, MVA, West Tremont...cross street Rosewood,

West Tremont... cross street Rosewood, timeout 1928."

"Squad 51 responding."

Dwyer gently touched Johnny on the shoulder and walked out of the room,

unable to say anything. Rocky held Johnny's hand and whispered in his ear.

"Johnny…I'll be back as soon as I can. But…if…if I don't…."

He was unable to finish his thought...he gently touched Johnny on the cheek

and Johnny responded by nodding his head.

"You guys be…be careful…Rocky." Johnny very softly said.

Nodding his head, Rocky went to meet Dwyer in the squad.

A few minutes later, Joanne and the kids arrived.

Leaning on the bedrail, Roy softly said, "Johnny, the kids are here."

Johnny nodded his head in acknowledgement. In his mind he knew he had to

gather what little strength he had left, in order to say proper good-byes to

the people he cared about the most.

In a voice not much louder than a whisper, and very hoarse, he greeted his favorite

girl. He patted the bed beside him, motioning Jennifer to come over.

"Jelly Belly…come here."

She went over to her Uncle's bed, sat down beside him and lovingly kissed

him on the cheek.

"Jenny…I want you to…to be good...you are going to…grow up to be a…beautiful

and strong…young lady...and always remember that…I love you."

"I love you too Uncle Johnny. I promise, I'll be good."

She hugged him and ran to her mother, no longer able to hide her tears.

"Chris."

Chris went over to Johnny and put his hand on top of Johnny's.

"You take care of your sister…watch out for her...you're going to be…a fine

young man...and listen to your Mom and Dad…and always remember…that I love

you too."

Softly speaking, Chris said, "Don't worry Uncle Johnny…I will, I promise. I

love you too."

Chris hugged Johnny and went over to his father.

Joanne approached the bed and Johnny smiled weakly.

"Jo, you are…a magnificent woman…Roy's a…very lucky man...be strong for him,

okay?"

Barely able to get the words out, Joanne answered. "I will,

Johnny."

She also hugged him and kissed his cheek. As Joanne turned around, Captain

Stanley and the other guys had arrived…they all acknowledge each other quietly.

Joanne took the kids, and after taking one last look at Johnny, left the

room.

Softly speaking to his partner, Roy said, "Johnny, the guys are all here."

Johnny waved them all over to him, and despite his diminishing strength,

he pressed on.

"Cap…thanks for…for everything…you've been like…a father to me."

Not trying to control his emotions, Hank walked over to Johnny's bed.

"I'm so proud…to have known you…and I'm gonna...gonna miss you pal."

"I'll be alright Cap…take care of the guys…for me…but espec…especially

Roy…please…"

"I will Johnny…we all will."

He gently touched Johnny on his shoulder and stepped back, as Mike stepped

over to the bed.

"Mike…you here? I can't hear ya."

Mike let out a soft laugh. "I'm here John. I CAN talk you

know."

Slightly smiling, Johnny said, "Yeah, I know…and you're gonna be…one hell of

a…a Captain…someday…just take care of yourself."

"I will." Mike took Johnny's hand and held it for a moment.

As Mike stepped back, Johnny called Marco over.

"Marco."

"Right here Johnny."

Johnny had to stop to catch his breath, then he said, "Marco...I always

wanted…to tell you…I…I always thought you'd…be a great para…medic…you…you

have such a…a good heart."

"God bless you Johnny."

As Marco leaned over and kissed Johnny on the forehead, Johnny weakly

squeezed Marco's hand.

"Chester B."

Chet nervously laughed, and said, "I guess you got the last laugh, huh

Gage? Dog food on a cracker."

"I owed you...buddy…truth be told...I really didn't mind…the pranks…deep

down I always…knew you were a…a Teddy bear…of anyone I know...you'll…be the

one to make…battalion chief…stay well Chester B."

Chet was very overwhelmed with emotion and near his breaking point, as he

softly spoke to his friend.

"I'll never forget you Johnny. Go with God buddy." He said, as he gently

hugged Johnny.

Having more trouble breathing, Johnny softly said, "I guess this…is it

guys…I love you all and…I'll never…forget any…of you."

Captain Stanley touched Roy gently on the shoulder and signaled to the

door...the guys all reluctantly left. Roy looked over at his best friend,

knowing that Johnny was quickly losing his battle.

"It's just you…you and me Junior." Roy said, fighting hard to control his

emotions.

Johnny's voice was now back to a whisper.

"Roy…you're my best…best friend…I…I wish there was…more time…I want to…thank

you for…for…well, you know...just about every…everything…tell…Early and

Morton…good-bye for me…the…the spirits are callin'...me Pally."

Even though Roy's heart was breaking and he couldn't hold back his tears, he

didn't want to let his best friend go, but he also didn't want Johnny to

suffer any longer than necessary.

Wiping his eyes, he softly said, "It's so hard…to let you go…but it's okay

Johnny…go…go with the spirits…if you need to…and rest…rest easy, my friend."

Knowing he had said all his good-byes, Johnny slowly raised his hand and Roy

took it…holding on, as if he held on tight enough, death couldn't claim his

best friend…Johnny weakly squeezed Roy's hand and slightly smiled, then he

slowly closed his eyes.

Roy sat, holding Johnny's hand, watching his best friend for a few minutes,

watching the very slow and shallow rise and fall of his chest…he knew that

within a matter of minutes, that the man he called partner and best friend

for almost ten years, would be gone. Five minutes later, Johnny's hand went

limp in Roy's hand, and he went to be with the spirits.

Roy sat there numb…he knew this wasn't unexpected, but still he wasn't ready

to say good-bye to his friend, FOREVER. After sitting in his chair for

another ten minutes, Roy leaned over Johnny, stroked his hair and kissed his

forehead.

As he went outside into the hallway, he saw Dr. Brackett, and as stoically

as he was able to manage, he told Brackett about Johnny.

"He's…he's gone Doc…I just lost my…my best friend."

Placing his hand on Roy's shoulder, Kel softly said, "Roy…I'm so sorry."

"Where…where is everyone?" Roy asked, wiping his eyes.

"They're in the lounge waiting for you. I'll call the funeral home…you

go…be with your friends and family."

Still crying, Roy said, "You're part…of that family Doc…thanks for

everything…you did…for…for Johnny."

"You're very welcome, Roy. I just wish I had been…able to do so much more for

him, and that things had…had turned out differently."

Slightly nodding his head, Roy softly replied, "So do I Doc...so do I. But

you did everything...you could do."

The normally unflappable doctor did something totally out of character…he

gave Roy a warm embrace. After a moment, the two men went their separate

ways and Roy found his way to the lounge. When he walked in, they all looked at

him knowingly. As he looked around the room, he saw red eyes and lots of

tears. Jenny was wrapped in Hank's arms with her head on his shoulder, and

he could see that his shirt was wet from her tears. Chris was sitting next

to Marco, and Chet was comforting Joanne.

Roy took a deep breath and exhaled. "I guess...I have a busy day

tomorrow."

Hank, careful not to disturb Jennifer, responded to Roy's comment.

"Roy, we'll all meet at your house tomorrow…talk about the arrangements."

"Actually Cap…the arrangements are done…Johnny made them all, a couple

months ago. If you guys want to come over around 11:00, there ARE a few

things I need to go over with you."

"We'll be there Roy."

As the reality of the loss of their friend had really begun to sink in, everyone

embraced. After a few moments, they started to leave. When Roy turned

around to go, Rocky and Dwyer had returned…the look in Roy's eyes told the

two paramedics everything they needed to know.

"It's all over guys…he's gone…and he's not in pain anymore." Roy softly

said.

The two paramedics tried to comprehend what Roy had just said…but somehow,

it just didn't want to register in their brains that their good friend was

gone.

In disbelief, Dwyer was the first to respond, as he softly said, "Oh

no…I…we…we tried to make it back sooner but…"

Roy shook his head, and replied, "He…he passed not too long after…you guys

left Charlie. I'm so sorry guys."

Rocky and Dwyer stood there quietly before Rocky got the courage to speak

"Can…can we see Johnny...for a...a few minutes Roy? I...I mean...we didn't

get to say good-bye."

"Sure Rocky, but you might need to…to see Brackett first, but you guys go

ahead. Look I…I gotta go, but when you guys get off shift tomorrow, come to

my house…we're all meeting at 11:00."

Roy hugged his two friends, then left to take Joanne and the kids home.

Chris, and especially Jenny were devastated and went right to their rooms.

As Roy and Joanne were sitting in their bedroom, they could hear Jennifer,

sobbing uncontrollably.

Roy exhaled sharply. "She'll be okay…we all will. It's just

going to take time…at least, that's what I keep telling myself."

"I can't believe he's gone Roy."

"Yeah, well…I'm…I'm…"

He didn't finish his sentence, as he got up and went to the room where

Johnny had been staying. As he was sitting in the chair, he looked around

the room and his eyes settled on the nightstand…he noticed two envelopes

sitting on top, one with his name on it. The other envelope said, "to be

read at my funeral."

Sitting back in the big easy chair, he opened the envelope with his name on

it and started to read it.

Roy,

There's so much I want to say that I'm not really sure where to start. Over

these last few months I have written this letter hundreds of times…it never

came out right, so this will have to do. Despite often wearing my heart on

my sleeve, I wasn't always the best at expressing my true feelings. I felt

it would be easier to write them down, so here it goes.

For almost ten years, you were not only my partner, but also my best friend

and over the years, we sure have been through a lot together…the good

times and the bad, and we've spent the better part of the last couple months

remembering them. Nowhere is there a person whom I would have rather gone

through it all with, than you. I have to thank you for convincing me to

become a paramedic…I couldn't imagine having done anything more worthwhile with my

life than that. I also thank you for wanting me to be your partner.

The years that I worked with you were the most rewarding years of my life,

both professionally and personally. The best part of working with you, was

always just knowing you were there beside me…to help me when I was hurt, to

pick me up when I was down, to listen to me when I rambled and to help keep

me on the straight and narrow when I strayed. I valued our friendship very

much and always thought of you as more than a friend…I guess something along

the lines of a soul mate. You knew me better than I knew myself.

There was always a bond between us…I suppose that was why we were widely

considered the best paramedic team in the county…which, I have to agree

with. There were times when we looked at each other and I felt such a

connection with you…a real sense of respect and admiration, and just the joy

of knowing you were in my life. I really did love you, and I just wish I

had been able to tell you that, but it's like I said, despite a tendency to

wear my heart on my sleeve, I wasn't always the best at expressing my true

feelings. You have made me a better person, just by being my friend…just by

being in my life. For that, I will be eternally grateful.

I know the coming months will be difficult for you…and for all the guys.

But, promise me that you'll all go on living your lives...don't give up just

because I'm gone. Remember, 'life is for the living', and make sure that

you are all there for one another and let the guys all know how I felt about

them. Captain Stanley always spoke about all of us being like family…and I

always felt that way.

My biggest regret in life was not having been married and not having any

kids, although it would have been nice, but…well, you know, it wasn't in the

cards. You are a wonderful father and have two terrific kids, so be sure to

give them my love…and that beautiful wife of yours. Joanne is an amazing

woman and I know she will be strong for you.

You know, I was never afraid for my own mortality, granted, I certainly

didn't expect things to end THIS way, but I was only afraid for others

around me, like you and the guys. It's funny, no matter how much I prepare

for death…there always seems to be so much more that I want to say.

I'm sure you're having trouble reading this, so I think I'll stop here…and

let you off the hook (ha ha). Take care of yourself Pally and let the

others help you through this. Partner, please, be careful out there, but

even so, I'll be watching over you from above and I'll see you in heaven

someday. God bless you Roy.

Lovingly, your partner always,

Johnny

As Roy finished reading the letter, tears were streaming down his face.

"Oh Johnny…why did this have to happen to you…why?"

Without the burden of having to put up a strong façade for everyone else,

Roy openly wept.

A few hours later, Joanne was looking for Roy and found him asleep in the

chair, the letter still in his hand. She let him sleep, knowing how

exhausted he was. Her eyes moved to the bed, where less than ten hours ago,

Johnny lay sleeping, and the one thought that she couldn't get out of her

mind was, how was Roy going to survive this heartbreaking loss. She knew he

would…somehow…he just wouldn't be the same person. She knew that none of

them would be the same people…not without Johnny in their lives.

The next morning Roy and Joanne were down in the kitchen drinking coffee.

"You okay Roy?"

Roy looked at his wife and slowly shook his head, as he said, "No Jo…I'm not

okay. My best friend died last night."

Joanne understood Roy's pain…she went over to him and gave him a hug and a

kiss.

"I'm going to check on the kids."

When she approached Jennifer's room, she saw a scene that broke her heart.

Chris was on Jenny's bed, with his arm around his younger sister...in her

lap was a picture of Johnny. Deciding not to disturb the kids, she turned

around and went back to Roy.

"How are they?"

"Uh…they're both awake and they're both in Jenny's room."

She didn't want to go into details, knowing Roy was already having a hard

enough time dealing with his own emotions.

"I'm gonna take a shower. The guys are gonna be here in an hour."

"Do you want me to make anything?"

"Just coffee. I don't think anyone's gonna feel like eating."

Now 10:45 AM, the first to arrive was Hank Stanley. Joanne greeted him at

the door and they embraced.

"Joanne, how are you?"

"It's rough Hank. The kids…" Her voice trailed off.

"How's Roy?'

She shook her head, and said, "Not good I'm afraid."

Just then Roy came downstairs.

The two men shook hands. "Cap, you're here."

"I came a little early...I wanted to see how you were doing."

Roy looked at his Captain blankly and shrugged his shoulders. "Here I am."

"Roy…"

Roy shook his head. "No Cap…don't say anything. I'll…I'll

survive…somehow."

The rest of the guys came a few minutes later, including Rocky Ramirez.

They all wore the same expression…a look that told of the emptiness that

they all had felt in their hearts. They all embraced.

Rocky spoke up. "Roy…Charlie's not going to be joining us. He…"

"It's okay Rocky, he called me this morning." Roy smiled. "And by the

way…I'm glad you're here."

The kids stayed upstairs, too upset to come down. Joanne led the guys to

the living room.

"Anyone want anything…coffee…food?"

They all shook their heads.

"I'll be upstairs. Let me know if anyone needs anything."

Roy weakly smiled at his wife and kissed her, as he softly said, "I will."

The men all looked at each other for a few seconds before Roy spoke.

"Well, thanks for coming. There's not a whole lot to discuss…John…Johnny

made all of his own arrangements. I just wanted to keep you guys in the

loop, so you know what's going on. First of all, he…he wanted everything to

be low key. There won't be any wake…Johnny didn't believe in that. And, he

felt that since this was not a line-of-duty death, he didn't want all the

pomp and circumstance, so I spoke to Chief Houts this morning…anyone who

comes to the funeral will be wearing suits, not dress uniforms."

Captain Stanley spoke up, and asked, "When is the funeral Roy?"

"Tomorrow at 11 AM…it'll be at St. Andrews...Johnny wasn't Catholic, but he

always loved that church. Every time we went passed it, he always commented

on how beautiful it was. A couple months ago, we spoke to Father

Alphonse…he's one of the priests at the church. He was very taken by

Johnny's sincerity and agreed to do his funeral service."

Marco decided to ask the question that no one else seemed to want to bring

up.

"Roy…where's Johnny going to be buried?"

Roy smiled. "The only place he'd want to be. Johnny got himself a

plot next to mine and Joanne's…Cliffside Cemetery…he said he loved the

view."

Chet started to get choked up, as he softly said, "He'll be with family…he

won't be alone. I'm glad Roy."

Roy exhaled loudly. "Well, there are a few other things. You guys

will all be pallbearers…the five of you and Charlie Dwyer. I'll be giving

Johnny's eulogy…but Johnny also wanted each of you to say a few words.

After the cemetery, Jo and I are having everyone here."

"What about the Docs at Rampart?"

"They'll all be there Mike. Brackett, Dix, Early and Morton, I spoke to

them this morning."

Roy laughed again.

"Roy, what's so funny Pal?"

"Johnny even incorporated Brice into the service."

Almost in unison they all responded, "Brice?"

"It's kind of ironic really. He does some charity work for St. Andrews, and

he happened to see the two of us coming out of the church. I guess he

caught Johnny in a weak moment and we started talking and, well…it turns out

that he's an okay guy. He even came over to the house a few times to visit

with Johnny."

"What's he going to do Roy? asked Marco.

"Well, believe it or not, he got Johnny into the bible…a little…and there

were a couple of verses that Johnny really liked. He said that they had

real meaning for him so Brice is going to read them at the service."

Roy noticed everyone's surprised looks.

"Roy, isn't Brice the same guy that filled in for Johnny when he was hit by

a car…the same guy who, and to quote YOU, 'I can get along with

anybody...I just might have to bust him in the mouth to do it?'"

Roy looked sheepishly at his Captain, and replied, "What can I say Cap?" He

smiled at Rocky. "Even so, don't get any ideas about transferring, okay

buddy?"

Rocky smiled back at his partner. "Don't worry Roy, I won't."

The guys talked for a while longer and they agreed to all meet at the

church at 10AM the next morning. Before too long, they left one by one…Chet stayed behind

for a while longer.

Roy put his arm around Chet's shoulders and asked, "I guess I don't have to

ask you how YOU'RE doing, do I Chet?"

"No. And I know I don't have to ask YOU either." Chet paused for a few

seconds. "I keep trying to make sense of this Roy…I mean what happened to

Johnny and all…and I can't. I just know that I'm gonna miss him."

"Me too Chet…me too. We'll get through it…somehow."

"How are Chris and Jen?"

"Like the rest of us. They won't come out of their rooms. But, they'll get

through it too…just like all of us. See ya at the church in the morning."

"Yeah…the church."

Roy patted Chet on his shoulder, as the firefighter left Roy's house.

The next morning Roy and his family got up early for breakfast. Roy and

Joanne each had coffee and a bagel…the kids didn't want to eat anything, but

Joanne convinced them that they'd have to eat because it would be a very

long day and they'd need their strength. The kids reluctantly agreed to

have some Rice Krispies…after all, it WAS their Uncle Johnny's favorite

cereal.

After showering and dressing, the whole family assembled downstairs.

Fifteen year old Chris wore a dark suit and twelve-year-old Jennifer wore a

navy blue dress. Roy and Joanne were each dressed in black.

With a heavy heart aching in his chest, Roy quietly announced that it was

time to go to the church. When they arrived at the church, it was 9:30AM

and they were warmly greeted by Father Alphonse and led to a quiet room.

The priest went over everything with Roy and his family, then left them to

gather their thoughts.

Shortly thereafter, the rest of Station 51's A-Shift arrived, including

Charlie Dwyer. Hank's wife Suzanne came to lend support to her husband and

his men…the rest of the guys came solo. After embracing, they all settled

in chairs, trying their best to relax…they all knew the day would be long

and extremely emotional.

As the time approached 10:30AM, people started to arrive at the church to

pay their respects to John Roderick Gage. Chief Houts and McConnike were

among the first to arrive. Station 51's C-shift was on duty but they were

being stood down for a couple hours in order to attend their fallen

comrade's funeral. 51's B-Shift had also arrived.

As the hearse carrying Johnny's casket arrived, so did Dixie and the three

doctors who knew Johnny best. Craig Brice followed them in. Vince and

other members from the police and fire departments also came to pay their

respects. Once everyone was seated, Roy led the others as they carried

Johnny's casket into the church, and gently placed it by the altar. Then

they all took their seats in the front…Roy joining his family.

After everyone took their seats, the priest started to speak.

"We are all gathered here today to pay homage to John Gage…firefighter,

paramedic…and friend. I only met Johnny, as most of you knew him, a few

times. But, judging by the amount of people who showed up here today to pay

tribute to him…I'm guessing that everyone here has known all along the type

of person that Johnny was…the type of person that *I* have only recently

come to know.

Johnny admitted to me that he was never very religious and came to St.

Andrews, simply because he thought the church was so beautiful. After

meeting with him, I found him to be a very warm and compassionate young

man…a man with a big heart. I agreed to do his funeral service. The few

times we did meet, Johnny talked at great length about his love for being a

paramedic…he felt it was the best thing that had he ever done with his life, and I'm

told that he was one of the best in the business. He also spoke about the

great admiration and respect he had for his co-workers…Captain Hank Stanley,

Mike Stoker, Marco Lopez, and Chet Kelly were a part of his inner circle.

He mentioned the four of you often, always smiling when doing so…especially

when talking about Chet."

Everyone in the church laughed about that comment.

"Over the years, he made many friends in and out of the Fire Department.

Rocky Ramirez, Charlie Dwyer and Craig Brice were three of them. Charlie,

he admired your easygoing personality. And Craig, he admittedly didn't

always see eye to eye with you…but in the end, he grew to appreciate you.

Rocky, he said he was happy he met you, he felt like he met another kindred

spirit in you, and he mentioned that you'd understand how he felt about

you…he was leaving you what he treasured the most…his partner and best

friend, Roy DeSoto.

He spoke about the wonderful staff at Rampart General Hospital. Dr.

Brackett, you were his mentor and a man that Johnny admired greatly. Dr.

Early, he talked of your great warmth and easy demeanor. Dr. Morton…Johnny

chuckled when talking about you. He said that deep down, the two of you

were a lot alike…stubborn and hard headed at times, but he admired your

skills as a doctor. He mentioned the numerous times that the three of you

saved his life and put him back together again, and he joked that he was like

Humpty Dumpty. The common denominator was that he had such great respect

and appreciation for all three of you. And Nurse Dixie McCall…how his eyes

lit up when talking of you…just at the mere mention of your name. He said

and I quote, "a classier lady, you'd never find.

But, after all is said and done, the single most important person in his

life remained Roy DeSoto. He always talked about you Roy...about how much

love, respect, and admiration he had for you…as his partner, as his friend,

and as a man. He referred to you as his lifeline, and in his mind, his

illness was not about him, but rather YOU…and how it would affect YOU.

He mentioned a letter that he had written to you…one that I'm sure you have

already read. In it he said he described his feelings about you and the

friendship that the two of you shared. He said once you had read the

letter, there would be nothing else for him to say…that he'd have said it

all to you."

Turning his attention to Roy's children and Joanne, he spoke to them.

"Chris and Jennifer, the two of you were truly the apples of your Uncle

Johnny's eyes. He loved and adored the two of you as if you had been his

own. He wanted you both to be assured that he loved you very much and will

be watching over the two of you and protecting you. Joanne…he smiled when

talking about you. He had hoped to one day marry someone like you. He

respected and admired you greatly, and he also admired the fact that you

were a firefighter's wife and handled yourself with such grace and dignity,

and had such warmth and great strength.

All of you are the people that John held nearest and dearest to his heart.

I know words don't begin to take away the sadness you feel, nothing can, but

you can all be comforted in knowing that you have a piece of Johnny in your

hearts. And although he is physically gone from earth, he will continue to

live on in all of you…through the memories and good thoughts of him that you

will all carry with you. At this time I would like to call upon Craig

Brice."

Brice came to the podium to speak and as he looked out at all the mourners,

he let out a small nervous laugh.

"I know all of you are wondering why I'm up here, speaking at John Gage's

funeral. I'm not really sure myself, but somehow, in the last few weeks of

John's life, we came to a mutual appreciation of one another. As Father

Alphonse mentioned earlier, John was not a religious person, but when death

is staring you in the face, you try to hold on to things that you hope will

bring you comfort. I suggested the Bible and over several visits I read

some passages to him, and there were a few verses that came to have some

meaning for him. John had requested that I share those verses with you."

Brice proceeded to read the verses out loud, perhaps with more emotion than

he would have liked. After Craig Brice left the podium, Father Alphonse

called up the members of Station 51's A-shift. Captain Stanley was the

first one to speak.

"I was Johnny's Captain for almost nine years. You all know that Johnny was

a good firefighter and one of the best paramedics in the county, but he was

also one of the best guys around." Hank let out a slight laugh. "There

were times that he could leave you scratching your head, but by and large if

you needed someone in your corner, John Gage was the man you'd want to have.

This morning, as I was getting dressed, I heard a song on the radio, Nat

King Cole's 'Unforgettable'. I got to thinking…for the time Johnny spent on

Earth, he was indeed…unforgettable. I'm gonna miss you pal."

Hank glanced over at Johnny's casket and took his seat. Mike and Marco were

next to speak. Each one expressing their thoughts of what Johnny had meant to

them, and relaying some fond memories of their fallen friend. Chet was next

to speak. It was obvious to all how close his emotions were to bubbling to

the surface.

"I…I really don't know what to say. I…had things written down…but…but the

words…somehow didn't seem to…to be enough. While it's true that the two of

us had our battles…it…it always covered up the fact…that…that we really

cared a lot for…for each other. When the…the chips were down…we were always

there for one another. It doesn't seem right…that…that Johnny was taken

away from us because…he…he still had his whole life ahead of him…"

Unable to finish, Chet broke down and was helped back to his seat by Marco.

As Rocky Ramirez got up to say a few things, the emotion was very evident on

his face.

"John Gage was my friend…one of my best friends. I didn't know him as long

as some of the others did, but for the few years that I did know him…my life

was better for it. Johnny did not merely just go through life…he lived

it…really lived it. For Johnny, each day was a new adventure…full of

challenges…and he would meet those challenges head on each day. Besides

just missing talking to Johnny and being able to spend time with him…the

thing I'll miss most…I think we all will…is that famous crooked smile of

his. That crooked smile summed up John Gage…it lit up a room…and it made

your heart melt. I know MY life will never be the same…it was a fuller

life after he entered it…and an emptier life after, now that he's left it."

As Rocky went over to Johnny's casket, he ran his fingers over the smooth

shiny wood, and said "I'm gonna miss you Johnny…God Bless You."

Rocky took his seat as tears started to fall down his face. The church was

silent for a few moments, as everyone knew what was coming up next…Roy's

eulogy to Johnny. In anticipation of speaking about his best friend, Roy

was very nervous and more than a bit queasy, but he knew it was important

for him to stay strong in front of the others…or at least look the part. As

Roy took the podium to speak, he was clearly overwhelmed with emotion, but

was somehow able to maintain his composure.

"As I look around, I see all the people who came today to pay respects to

Johnny…and he would have been amused at all the fuss, but this is the

biggest and best tribute that I can think of to a man we all called friend.

Johnny touched all of us in some way. Some of you are here today as a

testament to Johnny's skills as a paramedic, having been pulled out of a

fire or from a car wreck. But for those of us who knew Johnny best…we were

the lucky ones. Our crew at 51's had been together a long time…about nine

years. We…we all shared a lot together over that time…the ups and downs and

the near tragedies, but through it all…we stayed together. Johnny's final

gift to us was a weekend at a lakeside cabin. It was a memorable

weekend…full of memories…one that I don't think any of us will ever forget.

Once Johnny was diagnosed with his illness…he became almost obsessed with

memories…remembering all of them…and making new ones.

Johnny…Junior was my best friend. I…I can't begin to tell you all what

Johnny really meant to me. He was my partner on the job for nine years…and

the reason why I'm STILL a paramedic. There were times that I almost left

the program for one reason or another…but the bottom line is I stayed…mainly

because of him…and my loyalty to him. I knew the day that I convinced him

to become a paramedic…that he and I would become friends…good friends…best

friends. After his classroom training, I asked Johnny to become my

partner…it proved to be one of the best decisions I ever made. When I think

about Johnny, I do have to agree with both Captain Stanley and Rocky

Ramirez…two things I must say…Johnny could leave you scratching your head,

but that was part of his charm. It's when he DIDN'T do that, that you

were concerned. And Johnny's smile is something…that I'll miss terribly.

The old Gage charm, as we called it and would all joke…but that smile

expressed a lot of things…happiness, embarrassment, and it often covered up

his nervousness or uneasiness. He had one of the biggest hearts around…it

was never more obvious than when he would break the cardinal rule of getting

involved with the victim. He was one in a million…and I'm…I'm gonna miss

him."

Roy went to Johnny's casket where he too ran his hand over the smooth wood.

He then bent over to kiss it, whispering as he was doing so.

"Bye Junior…I'm gonna miss you Partner."

Heading back to his seat, Roy was still in control of his emotions, despite

all the tears that threatened to fall. He knew that there would be no one

blaming him for breaking down in front of everyone now…but Roy also knew

that there would be plenty of time for that later. His wife and children

needed him to be strong right now.

After the priest said a few more things…the pallbearers got up to prepare to

take Johnny's casket to the awaiting hearse that would take him to his final

resting place…the one with the great view, as Roy told the others Johnny had

said.

With Roy leading the casket, the others carried it down the aisle and down

the steps of the church to the awaiting hearse. Although Johnny didn't want

a lot of fanfare…Roy had made the decision to incorporate 51's squad and

engine into the funeral procession. With Roy driving the squad and Rocky

sitting next to him…they led the procession, while Cap, Mike, Marco, and

Chet followed them on Big Red.

The hearse with Johnny's casket in it was next. Adam Wright, the senior

paramedic on 51's B-shift was driving Joanne and the kids in Johnny's Rover,

as she was too upset to drive. Before heading to the cemetery, the

procession went slowly passed Station 51…Johnny

passed his beloved station house for the final time.

As the procession arrived at Cliffside Cemetery, everyone got out of their

vehicles. Roy looked up at the sky…it was the bluest blue sky that he had

ever seen, the weather was warm and there was a slight breeze blowing, and

the sun was shining bright overhead…Roy smiled to himself…it was just the

kind of day that Johnny loved. As the casket was placed over the gravesite,

all of Johnny's friends gathered around. Father Alphonse said a few

prayers, before Roy spoke one more time.

"Johnny left this envelope…I found it the night he died. He…he wanted it

read at his funeral."

Carefully opening the envelope, Roy's heart was beating very fast…he had no

idea what was in the envelope and didn't want to be caught off guard reading

something emotional for the first time in front of all these people, but he

knew he had no choice...he had to do it for Johnny. Slowly lifting up the

paper to read it, Roy glanced at the words on top of the paper, "Remember

Me" and immediately became choked up.

He started to read the words written on the paper, out loud to everyone.

Remember Me

Remember me with smiles and laughter,

Because that's how I'll remember you all

If you can only remember me with tears,

Then don't remember me at all.

Remember me and all the times we've had,

But just remember the good, not the bad.

Remember me and the life I was given to live,

I pray I did some good with what I had to give.

Remember me when you see the people on the street,

And give a kind word to everyone you meet.

Then when the day comes and your duty here is through,

Remember that I'll be waiting up in heaven to welcome you.

There was silence as everyone took in the meaning of the poem…a poem that

Johnny had obviously written himself. Roy felt compelled to say a few more

things about Johnny, before the casket was put into the ground and covered

with the dirt that would complete Johnny's journey.

"Johnny's favorite poem was a poem written by the poet Robert Frost…"The

Road Less Traveled". The final lines of the poem were 'two roads diverged

in the woods…and I…I took the one less traveled on…and that has made all the

difference'. As we all stand here ready to say our final good-byes to

Johnny, we would all be hard pressed to argue that point. Johnny sure did

things his way."

Roy incorporated an old Jewish burial custom into Johnny's service…each

mourner, if they so decided to, would take a shovel full of dirt and put it

on top of Johnny's casket as it was lowered into the grave. One by one,

starting with Roy and his family and then the men from 51's each took the

shovel and dropped some dirt into the grave. Once the service was over,

some of the other firefighters, including Chief Houts and Chief McConnike

came over to Roy and the guys to offer their condolences and well wishes.

It came as no surprise to anyone when Chief Houts had told Roy to take his time

coming back to work. Roy seemed relieved to hear this, but also knew that

if he didn't go back to work soon, it would become even more difficult than

it already was sure to be.

Roy loosened the tie he was wearing, as he said, "I'll see you guys at my

house. We're…we're gonna toss down a few…it's what Johnny would expect of

us."

Roy led his family back to the Rover and got into it to start the drive

home. Roy was numb and Joanne was doing her best to stay in control of her

emotions, although she knew that like her husband, later on she would allow

herself the luxury of losing control of it. Jennifer was in the back seat

crying, trying to be consoled by her brother who was numb much like his

father.

He remembered the day Johnny told him and Jennifer the news of his

illness…Chris had promised Johnny that after he was gone, that he'd take

care of his family…and that's what he intended to do…starting first, with

his sister.

Returning home, Roy and his family entered their house, emptiness in their

hearts. Right away Joanne started to put out the food for the guests that

would soon be arriving, as Chris and Jennifer went upstairs to their rooms.

Jennifer took a framed picture from her dresser and sat down on her bed…the

picture was of a sunrise that Johnny had taken several years ago on a

camping trip…he had given her this picture to remind her that even after he

was gone, the sun would still rise. On this day she desperately wanted to

believe that, but her heart wouldn't let her.

Shortly after they returned home, the rest of the men of station 51's and

other guests started to arrive. Suzanne Stanley and Dixie McCall set about

helping Joanne with the food preparations, and Roy was soon joined out on

the deck by the rest of his friends...he had already downed two beers.

He was standing by the railing, his shirt opened and a beer in his hand.

"Come on out guys…have some beer."

When the guys all had a beer in their hands, Roy proposed a toast.

"To John Gage...may his memory live forever in our hearts...a better man, you will never find."

After a few moments of silence, Roy continued to speak. "I was standing

right here the day Johnny told me...told me that he was dying."

Roy's friends were very concerned about him. For almost six months, he had

been a pillar of strength and emotional control, but with the death of his

best friend, he obviously lost what control of his emotions he had left.

Once the food was set up, Joanne encouraged everyone to eat. Roy

reluctantly came inside and was met by Dixie.

"Roy."

She was going to ask him how he was holding up, but one look at his face and

the beer in his hand told her...he wasn't doing well. They warmly embraced.

"Dixie…I'm glad you're here. Is Kel and Joe coming?"

"Yes, they should be here shortly. They had to stop back at the hospital,

Dr. Morton had to go back on duty."

In the course of the next two hours, to Roy, what seemed like the entire

city of Los Angeles, came by to offer their condolences and well wishes to

Roy and his family, as well as the men of 51's. Roy, numbed by the pain

with alcohol met with all these people, going through the motions as though

he were a robot...no semblance of the kind, level headed, and professional man

that he normally was.

Downing another beer, Roy turned around when he felt a hand on his shoulder.

"Roy."

He turned around to see the concerned face of Kelly Brackett.

"Hey Doc...thanks for comin'. Beer?"

Politely refusing, Kel shook his head. "No thanks Roy. I need to talk to you. Is

there some place private we can go?"

Roy let out a loud breath. "Uh...yeah. We...we can go upstairs."

Dr. Brackett followed Roy to his bedroom and they closed the door.

"Okay Doc, I'm all ears. What's...what's going on?"

Even in his alcohol-induced fog, Roy knew that the worst news he could receive had

already happened, and had...five months earlier.

"Roy...a few months ago Johnny gave me this envelope to give to you. It's

his will."

Roy was confused. "Why you…why now?"

"I don't know Roy, but he said that he trusted me to do this. His lawyers

took care of everything...there's nothing for you to do or sign."

He handed Roy the envelope and then started to leave.

Catching him by the arm, Roy said, "Please stay, Doc…I...I don't think I can

do this alone."

Dr. Brackett nodded his head. Carefully opening the envelope, Roy read

through the paper. When he got to the bottom, his grim expression changed

to that of confusion. Looking at his friend, Brackett understood Roy's

confusion.

"Where...where did all this money come from? Johnny never told me about

it."

"I don't know the answer to that Roy. He left a pretty big chunk of change

to Rampart and the LA County Fire Department, as well. The only thing that

he DID tell me…was that he wanted to make sure that the people he cared

about the most…were taken care of. He left money to the rest of your crew

as well. Roy...I know you already know this, but Johnny really was an

extraordinary person."

"Yeah...that he was Doc."

"Roy...if you need to talk...I'm always available." said Dr. Brackett, a look of concern on his face.

"Thanks. One day, I may take you up on it."

Roy put the paper back into the envelope and placed it in a dresser drawer.

After going back downstairs, the guests slowly started to leave, and pretty

soon all that was left was the men of 51's A-shift.

Hank and Suzanne embraced both Roy and Joanne.

"Roy...take your time coming back. Charlie Dwyer said he'd cover for you as

long as he needed to."

"Thanks. I'll...I'll be in touch Cap."

Similar sentiments were expressed by the rest of the men. Chet continued to

struggle with his emotions and after saying good-bye to Roy and Joanne,

quickly left with Marco. After all the guys left, the only one who stayed

was Rocky, who was as emotionally drained by the events of the last 72 hours

as Roy was.

Roy looked at his partner wearily.

"Join me for another beer Rocky?"

Letting out a deep breath, Rocky followed Roy back out to the deck. Once

they were both sitting down, Roy handed Rocky a beer and proceeded to take

out the bottle of Jack Daniels that he had had hidden in the cooler beneath all

the beers.

After taking a long swig from his bottle, Roy started to speak.

"Rocky, my friend...this whole thing...it seems like a dream."

Rocky quietly responded. "I know what you mean Roy. I wish it was."

"Rocky...I'd...I'd give almost anything to bring him back…I miss him so

much. I never had a broken heart before...but now...now I know what it must

feel like."

Rocky felt terrible losing one of his best friends, but he knew that

Johnny's death was even harder for Roy. Despite sharing many of the same

personality traits as Johnny, like the penchant for constant chatter, Rocky

was at a loss and had no idea of what to say to Roy. What could he possibly

say to this man that hadn't already been said to him by others. So, the two

paramedics sat in silence for a good ten minutes before Rocky spoke again.

"Roy...I do know Johnny's up in Heaven right now...and he's looking after

us. He's gonna help us...all of us...get through this...you'll see. I

better get going...I'll be in touch."

Roy nodded his head.

"Rocky...thanks...Partner."

Rocky smiled warmly at his new partner. "Take care of yourself

Roy…that's what Johnny would want…and what WE all need."

"You too, Rocky. And, I'll do my best…for Johnny…and the rest of you guys."

Rocky said good-bye to Joanne and drove home. Once everyone was gone,

Joanne joined Roy out on the deck. She was finally able to let out her

emotions. Sobbing uncontrollably, she was embraced by the arms of her

husband.

Roy started to speak softly. "The kids…are they okay?"

Chris and Jennifer had stayed upstairs the whole afternoon, too upset to come

down. Dixie had gone up to talk to them, and bring them some food, and the

firefighters who knew and worked the closest with their Father and Uncle, had

also gone up to see them.

Joanne was able to talk between sobs. "They're…they're upstairs."

Roy decided to tell Joanne about Johnny's will and all the money that was

left to them. She was as dumbstruck about it as he had been.

"How...how is it possible Roy? Johnny…he didn't have…"

Stopping his wife, he shook his head. "I don't know…I don't think we'll ever know the

answer to that." Roy paused a moment before continuing. "Jo...are you

gonna be okay? I...there's something that I need to do."

Joanne saw the look in her husband's eyes. "You're not...not going to do

anything stupid...are you Roy?"

Kissing her, he shook his head no. "I promise, I'll be okay. I love you."

"I love you too Roy."

He went upstairs and looked in on his kids. Chris was asleep in his bed, and

Jennifer was asleep in the bed that was formerly occupied by Johnny, a

framed picture of a grinning Gage tucked under her arm. He kissed her

forehead and went out the front door, still clutching the bottle of Jack

Daniels in his hand.

Waiting for him was a taxi. He had asked his Captain to call him a cab and

have it wait out front until he was ready to go. Climbing into the cab, he

told the driver his destination... Cliffside Cemetery.

Arriving at Johnny's gravesite, he got out of the cab.

"Here's your money...you can go."

The driver was confused, and asked, "How are you gonna get home, mister?"

Half-heartedly smiling, Roy said, "Don't worry about me...I'll be okay."

Against his better judgement, the cab driver accepted the money, nodded his

head…and left.

As Roy approached the grave, he could see the huge amount of flowers that

had been placed over the fresh mound of dirt that covered his best friend's

casket…he knew how loved his partner had been, by the

overwhelming crowd that had attended the services, as well as all of the

outpouring of support that, not only he, but the other crew members from the

station had received.

People loved Johnny, but he doubted that his friend really understood just

how much he was loved, looked up to and admired, or how much he was really

going to be missed. Standing only a few feet from the grave, Roy tried to

control the tears that were threatening to fall… but he couldn't do it, and

as he walked up next to the grave, he broke down, his body shaking

uncontrollably, with sobs over losing his best friend.

"Junior...I miss you so much. Why'd you have to leave us…why? I...I still

keep trying to make sense of this...and I can't. People tell me that this

was God's will and …maybe it was ...maybe it wasn't. I just know that I

wish you were still here...where you belong."

Collapsing from emotion and fatigue, Roy continued to sob and down his

bottle of Jack Daniels. He turned around when he heard a voice…it sounded

like it was the voice of his daughter Jennifer.

"Daddy...when I was a little girl I always thought God was crying whenever

it was raining out. But now...now I know that's not true. Why would God be

crying...he's got Uncle Johnny up there with him now."

Confused, Roy looked around and realized that he was the only one there.

Roy continued to sit next to Johnny's grave. Numbed by the alcohol, he had

lost all track of time...he didn't have on his watch.

Back home Joanne was getting nervous. It was approaching midnight and Roy

was still not back yet. Not knowing what else to do, she called Hank Stanley

and explained the situation.

On a hunch, Hank drove to the cemetery and found Roy just where he expected

the paramedic to be...besides Johnny's grave.

"Roy…you okay Pal?"

Roy looked up, startled to see his Captain standing there, shining a

flashlight at him.

"Roy...you need to go home, Joanne...she's worried sick about you."

His voice was slurred from the effects of the alcohol, as he asked,

"What...what time is it?"

"It's almost 1 AM."

Hank helped Roy get up on his feet.

"Cap...it's gonna be okay...Johnny told me so."

Realizing that it was the grief and alcohol talking, Hank agreed with Roy. "That's right Roy...it is gonna be okay. Johnny's smart...he knows what he's talking about. Come on...let's get you back home to your family."

Reluctantly, Roy went with his Captain, staggering alongside of him. Before

he got in the car, he took a last look towards Johnny's grave.

"Bye Junior...I miss you. I'll see you soon Partner."

Clear as a bell he heard another voice...one that sounded just like that of

his best friend.

"Bye Pally...I miss you too."

Epilogue…

Johnny's death had a profound effect on all those people who were closest to

him, and each of them dealt with his death in their own way. The following

is what happened to those people in the time following his passing…

Marco Lopez took what Johnny said to him on his deathbed to heart...he

became a paramedic, training with Roy and Rocky...eventually becoming

Rocky's partner at 51's.

For Mike Stoker, he too finally moved on. He became a Captain at 110's and

he found himself a nice girl and is in the planning stages of a wedding.

Chet Kelly never fully recovered from Johnny's death. Six months after

Johnny had died he resigned from the Department. After receiving some

counseling, he got his life back together. He opened a novelty store that he

affectionately called "The Pigeon's Nest"…in memory of his friend. He

eventually married Marco's sister, Amelia.

Hank Stanley was torn on what his next step should be. He also had a hard

time dealing with his friend's death. Ultimately, he took his exam and

became Battalion Chief, replacing McConnike, who retired.

Rocky Ramirez stayed a paramedic, even though he was devastated by his

friend's death. He and Roy had become good friends, and were considered to be

almost as good a team as Roy was with Johnny. After Marco passed his field

training, he became Rocky's partner, making Rocky the senior paramedic.

Joe Early retired five years after Johnny's death. He spends his days at his

beach house with the love of his life, his wife Julie, a retired nightclub

singer.

Kelly Brackett decided to cut back his hours and is no longer the ER

Director. Instead of being full-time in the ER, he devotes much of his time

to the paramedic program, still teaching and being the program's biggest

supporter. He and Dixie were married three years to the day of Johnny's

passing.

Dixie McCall resigned her post as Head ER Nurse, shortly after Joe Early

retired. She turned her energies to being a hospice nurse…comforting and

taking care of terminally ill patients at home during their last weeks of

life. The memory of John Gage remains very close to her heart.

Joanne DeSoto was as devastated about Johnny's death, as Roy was. Helping to

take care of Johnny during the last month and a half of his life had given her a

new perspective on her own life. She decided to volunteer at

Rampart...spending her free time visiting with patients on the oncology

unit.

Christopher DeSoto decided to follow in his Father and Uncle's footsteps. He

enrolled at the Fire Academy after graduating high school…his first

assignment was at Station 110's, under Mike Stoker's command. Chris always

carries his Uncle Johnny's pocketknife with him, as a token of good luck…

and like his Uncle, he saved a fellow firefighter's life with it.

Jennifer DeSoto went to UCLA where she was a pre-med major. During her last

semester, she switched gears and decided to become one of LA County's first

female firefighter/paramedics. Thoughts of her Uncle Johnny are never far

from her heart…HE was the inspiration behind her decision. After

graduation, Jennifer went to the Chief and asked if she could be issued her

Uncle Johnny's badge…after all, she had it in her possession. The Chief agreed.

Charlie Dwyer also became an engineer. He works out of Station 39's. He

always thinks about his friend.

Craig Brice was involved in a rescue gone wrong shortly after Johnny's

death. He had hurt his back and was no longer fit for active duty. Unsure of

what to do, he resigned from the Department and went back to school,

majoring in social work. He now works with disadvantaged youths to give

them discipline and a sense of belonging.

Mike Morton loosened up a bit after Johnny's death. He became more

compassionate and his bedside manner improved. After Dr. Brackett cut back

his hours, Morton was named Head of the ER He started dating and eventually

married Nurse Carol, who took over for Dixie as Head E.R. Nurse after Dixie

resigned.

Vince Howard put in another five years on the job after Johnny's death.

After retiring from the Police Force, and tired of the rat race, he moved to

Las Vegas with his wife Pam, and he took a job at one of the casinos doing

surveillance work.

As for Roy DeSoto, he loved being a paramedic, but after Johnny's death, the

thrill of it was gone for him. Although he and Rocky did become good

friends...for Roy, it was never the same. After helping Marco with his

field training, he finally did take that promotion to engineer and

transferred to Station 46 for a fresh start…but he has never forgotten about

his best friend.

Only a few months after the young paramedic's death, Rampart General

Hospital, with a big push from all of Johnny's friends, renamed the oncology

wing after him. It was a day mixed with sadness and remembrance, as Chris

and Jennifer were given the honor of hanging the plaque on the wall.

Putting it in place and gently rubbing her hand down the front of it,

Jennifer kissed her fingers and gently placed them over Johnny's picture.

She and Chris then stepped back to join their parents and friends. As they

all stood arm in arm, their eyes filled with tears as they looked at the

picture of their friend, his date of birth and his date of death underneath

it.

On the plaque, it read…

The John Gage Memorial Wing

In Loving Memory of Firefighter/Paramedic John "Johnny" Roderick Gage

Johnny, you fought bravely against the beast to save the lives of people

that you didn't even know. And you fought against cancer with the same brave

spirit, and were strong until the very end. You were so very loved and will

never be forgotten.

As the crew from the station and the hospital staff stood there, they

embraced and comforted each other, knowing that they would never forget

their dear and special friend.

THE END