The Johnny Gage Show
The doors of the hospital opened wide and the patient was wheeled in on his back; his dark, glossy hairs glistening with sweat and face contorted in pain, Johnny looked on the verge of death, and his state did not go unnoticed by the crowd of medical professionals gathered around him, pushing him through the hall.
"Get him in Room Three," Dr. Brackett ordered, his thick eyebrows curved downward in indescribable tenderness. They wheeled him in quickly and professionally—but any bystander could tell that this was no ordinary case. The doctors cared more about Johnny.
It saddened even the coldest of hearts to see their favorite paramedic so sick.
But one particular member of Station 51's crew looked more angry than sad.
Roy DeSoto twisted the handy-talky around in his hands as he stood in Room Three, back away from the bed, where Johnny was going into convulsions. Doctors Morton and Early were rushing to stop the seizing; everyone always rushed to make sure that Johnny was okay, that he wasn't hurting in any way. But he was never okay. And at this moment, Roy resented it.
"This is the third time he's been in here this month," noted Dr. Brackett, looking up from a quick glance at Johnny's medical files. He frowned. "You've really gotten yourself into a fine mess this time, hose jockey," he muttered, but his voice was laced with affection. Roy glared at the floor, because it was easier to look at than his sick friend.
"The third time," Roy repeated, to try and drill it into everyone's heads how overdramatic they were being. "This has gotta be setting a record, even for John."
"What do you mean?" asked a pretty young nurse who was sorting out a blood sample from Johnny. She had dated Johnny about a month ago but he'd ended up dumping her for inane reasons; despite his constant displays of immaturity, the chick still dug Johnny.
"It's April Eighth," Roy said. "He's been in Rampart three times in eight days. How is he even still working?"
"Well, the first two injuries were pretty minor," remarked Dr. Morton. They had successfully stopped Johnny's convulsions and he was now lying on the bed with a grimace on his face, barely conscious. His brown eyes shone with tears.
Roy looked back at the floor.
"I've gotta get out of here," he announced suddenly, and sped out of the room. Out in the hall, he almost immediately ran into Chet.
"How's Gage?" Chet asked. He looked extremely worried.
"Oh, you know, the usual," Roy answered after a moment. He had to clear his throat; he was all choked up, and he didn't know why. He wasn't sad, and he certainly wasn't concerned. If anything he was frustrated. "The doctors are all freaked out. But hey. Johnny's survived so many things, what's falling out of a three story building?"
Disgust spilled out across Chet's face and he scowled at Roy. "How can you be so insensitive?" he spat out at his friend, before storming away back to the lobby. Roy shook his head at his departing figure; he wasn't being insensitive at all. He hadn't even said everything that was on his mind. If Chet knew what he was really thinking, he'd hate him even more.
The first thing Roy had felt when he'd seen Johnny trip clumsily and fall out of the window—they'd been putting out an apartment fire—was how unfair it was of Johnny. To put Roy through this again. To make him worry and wonder if he was going to be okay and make him call Joanne and hear and feel her pain as she worried about the man who was like a brother or, in some twisted way that Roy would never understand, a third child, to her. To make Roy care.
That might sound irrational, but Roy was so sick and tired of Johnny being so sick and tired all the time. It seemed like his partner couldn't go to the grocery store without slipping on a wet floor and cracking his skull open—in fact, he had done that very thing last month. Johnny couldn't go on vacation without breaking an arm or two. And there was almost no situation as familiar to Roy as talking to Johnny when he was all drugged up on painkillers… if he had to count the times he'd heard Johnny call him his "bessst buddy, righ' man?" he'd need two more hands.
The worst part of all was that Johnny didn't even cause most of these accidents. He wasn't (too) stupid, or klutzy, or even careless. Stuff just happened to him. It was like the world was out to get him. It was hard to love a person who got hurt so frequently; anxiety and worry began to dominate your feelings and cloud up the relationship.
Roy didn't want to feel anxious or worried anymore. He wanted Johnny to stop getting hurt. It was silly, but he was so furious at Johnny that he could hardly form coherent thoughts.
Dixie came out into the hall then, startling Roy. She smiled gently at him, and then, seeming to sense his agitation, she said smoothly, "How about you and I go get a cup of coffee?"
"Sure," Roy agreed, glad to get away from the room, where you could now hear Johnny's screams of agony.
The break room was empty, unsurprisingly. All the doctors were working on Johnny. Of course Johnny had to choose the middle of the night to get hurt. Roy knew the memory of this nightmarish event would haunt his dreams for a long time.
Sitting across from him, her hands wrapped around a light blue coffee mug, Dixie raised her eyebrows at Roy and said, "Penny for your thoughts."
Roy sighed. "I don't know where to start," he said.
"Well, I'm willing to listen."
"You'll think I'm insensitive."
Dixie smiled. "Try me."
Roy buried his face in his hands for a moment and just breathed. He tried to clear his thoughts. What exactly was he feeling right now? It wasn't hard to figure it out.
"This is going to sound horrible," Roy said, "But I'm angry."
"Oh, that's not horrible," Dixie told him, softly chiding. "It's perfectly understandable to feel angry at accidents like this. They're not fair, and you wouldn't be human if that didn't upset you."
Roy shook his head, a low moan escaping his mouth. "No, you don't understand. I'm not angry at the accident, or at God, or anything like that. I'm angry at Johnny."
"Now why would you be angry at Johnny?" Dixie was surprised.
"Because… because…. I don't know exactly how to put it. But doesn't it ever bother you… just how many bad things happen to Johnny?"
"On his behalf, yes. What do you mean?"
The coffee was so dark and smooth, it made Roy think of Johnny's eyes as he stared down into it. Those eyes that melted girls' hearts… that could look deep down into you and demand from you your attention, your trust, your love. They'd certainly won over Roy's wife.
"You know Johnny spends so much time with me and Joanne that the kids call him 'Uncle Johnny'?" Roy asked.
"Well, that makes sense. You two are like brothers, aren't you?"
"Well, I thought we were." Roy took a sip of his coffee and shuddered; it was bitter, and cold—Morton must have made it. "But I'm not so sure. Joanne treats him like a child."
Dixie was silent for a moment, pondering. Roy watched for her reaction. He needed validation here. He needed someone to talk to about all these feelings that had been eating away at him for months.
"He is only twenty," Dixie said finally.
"Twenty-two," Roy corrected. "And yes, I know. Oh, how admirable of him to join the fire department and risk his life at such a young age. He must be some sort of saint."
Dixie was startled by the bitterness in his voice. "Yes, Roy, it is admirable!" she said. "Can you think of many teenagers who would be willing to possibly sacrifice their own lives to help someone else? From a young age, Johnny dedicated his life to helping others, and I respect that."
The tabletop looked inviting; Roy was about ready to start banging his head against it in aggravation. Dixie was saying the kind of stuff that everyone always said about Johnny: that he was so great, isn't it amazing that he can do all this stuff when he's so young. Oh, he's just the best paramedic in LA County!
Well, no one had really said that last part, but it was heavily implied by some people.
"Look, if I hadn't gone into the military when I was eighteen, I might have joined the fire department when I a teenager," he said, in a somewhat growly voice that made Dixie's eyebrows shoot up. "What Johnny's done isn't exactly all that special-"
"Am I interrupting something?" someone asked from the doorway. Dixie and Roy turned around to see Dr. Morton standing there, arms crossed in his typical disapproving manner. When Dixie looked confused, he explained, "Kel and Joe have got it from here on. What were you talking about?"
Dixie narrowed her eyes at Roy and said, "I'm not exactly sure. But it sounds to me like we've got some friendship issues that need to be worked out. Roy's angry at Johnny."
"Really?" Dr. Morton got himself a cup of coffee. "Why? He's a great kid!"
"That is exactly it!" he said. "He's just a kid! And everyone knows it! Everyone treats him like one. He acts like one. And yet everyone… all of you go on and on about how great he is. I mean… I like him. He's my best friend. But, but…."
"But what?" Dixie asked.
"But he's always getting hurt! He's impulsive and immature and no one even… no one ever comments on his behavior!"
There was silence in the room for a long time. The air was heavy with disappointment. How could Roy ever think these thoughts about poor little sick Johnny? they were probably thinking. And this time Roy felt angry on his friend's behalf. Maybe Johnny wouldn't act like such a child if they didn't treat him like one. If they didn't skate around the fact that he might be a hazard to the Station with his near constant injuries. If Joanne didn't smile at him warmly—motherly— and offer him dinner and their spare bed whenever he was even the slightest bit down on his luck….
"Sounds to me," Morton said, with a small sip of his coffee, "like you're jealous."
Roy gaped at him. Dixie was gazing steadily at Roy, but something in her expression suggested that she agreed with the doctor.
"I am not jealous. I just wish people would understand that Johnny's an adult and needs to act like one."
"How doesn't he?" Dr. Morton asked, sounding puzzled.
"He… he's… I don't know. But there's something about him. It makes people like Joanne wanna take care of him."
"Nothing wrong with that," Morton said.
"His parents died when he was ten," Dixie reminded Roy, a fact which Roy was well aware of. It took forever for Johnny to come forth about his tumultuous past. Alcoholic parents. The tragic house fire that killed them. Johnny's aunt, who took him in during his teen years but kicked him when he was seventeen because she couldn't afford to feed him. She had a drug problem to deal with.
A lot of people liked to say that it was so amazing that Johnny could have such a productive part in the world with such an abusive past. Roy found that downright rude. Johnny shouldn't be held to different standards because of some bad people in his life—that was disrespectful to him. It suggested he was less capable than other people. And hey, maybe he grew up less privileged then some other people. But he made it through all that. And the past had no right to affect his life now.
At least that was Roy's opinion.
The room was quiet, because Roy didn't have an answer to Dixie's comment. Again it was Dr. Morton who broke the silence.
"Do you think that him getting hurt is a sign of immaturity as well?" he sneered. Roy cringed. He'd really made a bad impression on these two.
"No," he said slowly. "It's just unfortunate. And… wearisome. I don't think I have the energy anymore to worry about him and be by his side all through this one. I care about him, you know. He's just kind of exhausting to be friends with sometimes."
This didn't mollify the harsh doctor. He rolled his eyes and said, "Maybe he'll die now and you won't have to worry about that anymore."
This left Roy absolutely speechless.
That Dr. Morton could hold such an opinion of him… it was horrible. But, it was late, and, Roy reminded himself, Morton was probably tired and not himself. It was easy to lash out at others when you were burned out.
But on the other hand… in the very deepest part of Roy's mind… in a subconscious desire… could he possibly… did he… could he want Johnny dead? Would that bring him relief? If Johnny was dead, Roy thought suddenly… and he didn't want to be thinking this—he wasn't that kind of person, and Johnny was his best friend… but if Johnny was dead, then that meant that nothing could hurt him anymore. And Roy wouldn't have to worry about him. No more people treating John like a child, or lamenting about his rough childhood… no more having to watch his back.
Was that what Roy wanted?
"Come on," Dixie said, standing up. "Let's go check on him."
The three walked out of the break room, single file, and their discomfort with each other was evident.
Chet was gone from the waiting room; Roy didn't know where he could have gone, until they reached the hallway. For some reason, Dr. Brackett was standing outside of the room, talking to Chet and Cap. Chet was crying. Roy didn't know what he was seeing.
Dr. Brackett looked up and his face looked infinitely sad. Dixie gasped. Roy's heart felt like it was getting covered with ice. Confusion set on him like a bag being pulled over his head; his vision got blurry around the edges, and he felt dizzy. He couldn't fathom why they could possibly look so sad—after all, this was just another one of Johnny's accidents. They just had to do a little surgery and he'd be fine.
Dr. Brackett was shaking his head, and his mouth was moving, but Roy could hardly make out what he was saying.
"…Too late… couldn't stop the hemorrhaging… spinal cord snapped…."
Dr. Early left the room then, tears covering his wrinkled face, and sped past the rest of them. Roy got a glimpse inside the room. He couldn't see Johnny—his body was covered with a blanket.
At least he wouldn't be cold…
"Satisfied now, DeSoto?" Dr. Morton said, before turning to follow Dr. Early away from the scene. Away from Johnny, away from the tragedy that was his life… and his death.
"No," Roy sobbed. "No."
He fell to his knees. And he cried.