July 1, 2000
Disclaimer: The gang at Station 51 and Rampart Hospital are not mine. They belong to Universal Television, and Mark VII Limited. At least I think that’s who they belong to. I’m not really sure, but I’m sure it’s not me!
Rating: PG all the way. This show
aired in the 1970s!
Category: Tons and tons 'o angst. Nothing more
Feedback: If you dare! email@example.com (Oh, and just so you know, the comparitively small world of E! fic readers is really really REALLY good about feedback. Consider this a challenge!)
Thanks: To Peggy and Kelly, for encouraging me to put Mulder and Scully away for a bit and play with Roy and Johnny.
Summary: Tragedy befalls one of their own, giving Johnny Gage a new perspective on his profession and his relationship with his partner.
View From the Other Side
They’d been in the day room, just hanging around. The engine had just returned from a dumpster fire, and its crew was putting it back in order. When the tones sounded no one paid much heed, because it was the tones for Station 36, not 51. Then they heard the address.
“Squad 36, Unknown type rescue. 3214 Vista Road. 3-2-1-4 Vista. Cross Street Cade. Time out 11:21.”
Johnny’s head snapped up from the paper he’d been reading. He looked over at his partner sitting at the table, and watched as the blood drained from the other man’s face.
“Roy?” he asked tentatively. Roy just looked at him, blankly and in shock for a second. But he didn’t say a word. “Roy, if it was something serious Joanne woulda called. You know that.” He stood and approached the stunned man. Roy nodded almost imperceptibly. “Why don’t you give her a call.” By now Johnny was standing next to his partner. His heart was racing in his chest.
Roy nodded silently, and stood slowly. He turned toward the phone, picked it up and started to dial. As he did, the Cap showed up in the door. He took one look at Roy, then turned his attention to Johnny. “Did we hear that address right?” he asked him.
Johnny nodded. “Roy’s calling Joanne right now, to see what’s up. Probably nuthin’,” he said, vainly trying to convince himself of it.
After a moment Roy hung up. “Busy,” is all he said, barely audibly.
Captain Stanley jumped into action then, and clamped his arm around Roy’s shoulder. “Tell ya what,” he said. “John’s probably right, it’s nothing to worry about, but why don’t we put the squad 10-8 to your house, and you can go and check it out.”
Roy seemed to come to life finally. He nodded with purpose to his boss. “Yeah, right. Thanks, Cap.” He headed out into the apparatus bay.
Johnny was close behind, but as he passed the Captain the man grabbed his paramedic by the arm. “Maybe you should drive, John,” he ordered. Johnny nodded, silently imploring the older man to let him go. He did, and added “Keep us posted!” as the paramedic flew out the door.
+ + + + +
Somewhere inside himself Johnny knew he should shut up, knew that the lame platitudes and encouraging words weren’t helping his friend any. But he couldn’t help himself, so he kept talking.
“I bet she was trying to call you when you were calling her--that's why it was busy, dontcha think?
“Probably got her hand stuck in the sink drain, Roy. Something like that.
“I bet she’s gonna be peeved that we drove all the way out, ya know? And 36s? They’re gonna ride you for weeks about it, just you wait.”
But no matter what he said, every time he glanced over at his partner, Roy was staring blankly ahead, not acknowledging that Johnny was talking at all. He’d only said that one word, ‘busy,’ since they’d heard the call, and it was scaring Gage.
“Roy. . . . ?” Still nothing, so he called to him more forcefully: “ROY!” Finally his friend snapped to attention, and looked at him.
“Hey, man,” he told his partner. “It’s gonna be all right.”
He could see Roy try, unsuccessfully, to grin at him, but he did nod. Johnny turned the squad onto Vista and they approached the address.
Johnny’s heart immediately sank when he saw not only Squad 36 out in front of Roy’s house, but also an ambulance. He gunned it for the final half block, and pulled their squad into the driveway.
When Johnny got around to the passenger side of the squad he found Roy starting to pull the drug box from its place in the equipment compartment. He immediately put his hand on his partner’s before he could get it out.
“Roy, Roy! 36 has got it. Let’s just go see what’s wrong.” He gently pushed the drug box back in and closed the door. His heart was pounding so fast he thought he might hyperventilate.
He couldn’t even imagine what Roy was feeling.
Roy turned and ran to the door. Johnny easily could have passed him, but he stayed behind and let his partner lead. As he got to the top step he saw Roy stop dead in the open doorway, and whisper “Joanne?” before rushing in.
Johnny took his place in the doorway and found controlled chaos in the DeSoto living room. There were two paramedics, two ambulance attendants, a police officer, now them.
And Joanne, lying unconscious on the living room floor.
Johnny quickly scanned the room to try and discern what had happened. It wasn’t hard. The two chairs that normally sat under the windows on the left side of the living room had been moved, a step ladder was in their place, and the drapes were hanging half off the rod. She must have fallen while taking down the curtains. Or putting them up. The glass and metal coffee table that normally sat in front of the sofa was virtually in the dining room, moved hastily out of the way. But even from where he was standing, John could see blood on it. She’d hit her head on the wrought iron edge of the table.
Just as suddenly as he’d reached that professional determination, it truly hit him. This wasn’t just anyone. It was Joanne. He let his stunned eyes venture to the woman, but before he had a chance to really look at her, Greg Harvey with Squad 36 caught his eye and looked at him imploringly, silently asking him to do something. The man nodded at Roy, and Johnny followed the gaze to his partner. Roy was kneeling by his wife’s head, smoothing her hair and quietly calling her name. He wasn’t hysterical, he wasn’t making a scene, but he was clearly in the way.
Johnny quickly went and stood behind his partner, and put his hand on his shoulder. “Come on, Roy, let them work. Let’s sit down and get out of the way.” Roy stopped speaking to his wife, and John saw his chin drop down to his chest for a moment. Then he looked up at Gage briefly, and stood. Johnny silently led his friend to one of the chairs, and sat him down.
“It’s just a bump on the head, Roy. Don’t worry.” Roy looked up at him with the most disconsolate look Johnny had ever seen. He knew they were both hoping and praying that that’s all it was. But they both knew it could be so much worse. “Look, I’m gonna call Cap and have him stand us down until we know something for sure, okay?”
Roy started to shake his head. “No, Johnny, you don’t have to do that.”
“Yeah, I think it’s a good idea. He’ll do it I’m sure.”
Roy sighed, and nodded. “Okay, okay,” he said quietly. “But you don’t have to. Just have ‘em call in a replacement for me. You don’t have to stay.”
Johnny smiled at his friend. “Are you kidding me?” he asked. “No way. It’ll only be for a little while, anyway.” John ascertained that 36 didn’t need the land line, and picked it up and dialed.
He’d been right. Before Gage could even suggest it, Captain Stanley had ordered Johnny to stick by his partner until they got Joanne to the hospital. Squad 51 was out of service until further notice.
When he hung up the cop approached him. “You know the victim?” he asked Gage.
Johnny shuddered to hear Joanne DeSoto called that, but nodded. “Yeah, she’s my partner’s wife.” He absentmindedly scratched his jaw as he watched the two paramedics starting an IV on the woman. He wasn’t listening to the cop, really, but then he vaguely heard him say something about a kid. “What?” he asked urgently.
“I was just saying that explains why the kid knew who to call.”
Johnny felt his blood run cold. “Kid?” he asked, though he knew what he was going to hear.
“Yeah. A little girl called it in. Couldn’t have been more than 5 years old.”
Jennifer. “Where is she now?”
The cop nodded toward the hallway. “In one of the bedrooms with my partner. We didn’t think she needed to see this.”
Johnny didn’t even hear the end of the sentence; he was already in the hall. The door to Jen’s room was ajar, and he heard the muffled sounds of a sob. He poked the door open with a finger, suddenly afraid to go any further. He loved kids, sure, especially Roy’s. And he prided himself on his bedside manner with them. But this was different. This was people he knew, people he loved. What could he possibly say to her? She needed her father, not him.
He silently crept back to the living room, fully intending to tell Roy what Jen had done, and to send him in to her. But the minute he took another look at his partner, at how clearly distraught he was, he knew he couldn’t do it. If Jen saw him like that she’d only get more upset.
He returned to the little girl’s bedroom. When he got to the door the cop, who was trying unsuccessfully to comfort the child, saw him and nodded slightly. Johnny pointed to Jen and nodded himself, silently telling the man that he knew the girl. The cop pushed her away from his body, and quietly told her that someone was here to see her.
Jen looked up, and the five-year-old’s eyes met the familiar and comforting gaze of her Uncle Johnny. Before she even had a chance to stand and run to him, Johnny had covered the distance in two strides and was sitting next to her on her bed. She launched herself into his arms, and completely lost any control she had regained.
Johnny wrapped his long arms around the girl and started rocking her slowly while the police officer left the room. He didn’t say anything, just letting her cry it out for a minute.
When Jennifer finally stopped sobbing uncontrollably, she pulled away slightly and looked up at him. “Mommy fell, Uncle Johnny, and I couldn’t wake her up! She’s dead!”
Gage smiled at the little girl. “No, sweetheart, she’s not. She’s not dead. I promise you, she’s not dead.”
“But she wouldn’t wake up! Why wouldn’t she wake up?”
Johnny reached out and smoothed the little girl’s long hair. “She hit her head, Jennifer. That’s all. She’s unconscious--it's like being asleep. But she’ll wake up.” As the words left his lips a chill ran up Johnny’s spine. He hoped to God he wasn’t lying to the little girl.
He decided, for both their sakes, that it was a good idea to change the subject. He pushed the girl away from him and held her at arm’s length, giving her an admiring gaze. “So, they tell me that YOU called the fire department for mommy?” Jen nodded solemnly. “You know what that makes you, pickle puss?” He purposefully used the term of endearment that she knew was only for her. Jennifer shook her head.
Johnny pulled the girl into a tight hug. “That makes you a hero,” he whispered into her ear.
Movement in the doorway caught Gage’s attention and he looked up, without ever loosening his embrace on the child. One of the cops was standing there. “They’re moving out,” he advised. Johnny nodded.
“Hey Jen?” he said. “How would you like to go for a ride in the squad?”
The little girl looked up at him wide-eyed. “Really?” she asked. Johnny knew that Roy rarely let the children play around the squad. He’d told him that he wanted the kids to respect what they did, what the squad represented. He didn’t want his kids to think it was a playground. In all the years that they’d worked together, Johnny could only recall one time when the kids had been given a ride in their mobile office. But this? This was a special circumstance. Johnny didn’t see any other option.
“Sure,” he said. “Your dad won’t mind. Lets go.” He stood, picking the child up easily with him. She latched her legs around his back and her arms around his neck, and kept her face burrowed into his chest. Johnny carried her this way into the living room, arriving just as the gurney was being taken out the front door. Roy was right behind it, but when he heard the motion behind him, he turned, and for the first time saw his daughter.
For the second time in an hour, Johnny saw his partner’s face go ashen. “It’s all right,” he told Roy. “I’ve got her, and we’ll follow in the squad. You go.” Roy’s expression changed to one of relief and gratitude, and he raced out the door.
Greg Harvey was left behind, picking up stray pieces of equipment before he followed in Squad 36. “Greg?” Johnny asked. He didn’t actually want to ask how Joanne was, not with Jennifer still wrapped in his arms. Harvey just looked up and shrugged at his colleague. “Holding her own,” is all he said, but it was enough for John.
“Come on, sweetheart,” he said. “Let’s go for a ride.” He followed the cops and Greg to the door, and as he turned to leave he took one last look. How many times had they left a scene looking like this, with blood on the carpet and the discarded wrappings of medical equipment strewn everywhere? He’d never really thought about it; never considered what it was like on the other side.
And never in a million years did Johnny ever think that such a scene would be left on Roy’s floor. He shuddered again, and quickly pulled the door shut behind him, not caring if it locked or not.
+ + + + +
Johnny hadn’t raced behind the ambulance despite his temptation to do just that. If Jennifer hadn’t been strapped into the seat beside him, he probably would have. But he didn’t want to do anything to further alarm the little girl, he didn’t want to do anything to endanger her, and he knew that there was no real reason for him to speed. So he’d kept his lead foot in check, and drove the speed limit all the way to Rampart.
And as a result, he was sure Roy and Joanne had been there at least ten minutes before he pulled into the parking lot. He parked the squad, and helped the little girl down from the seat that was much too high for her to handle herself.
Hand-in-hand they walked through the Emergency entrance to the hospital. The first people Johnny saw were the paramedics from 36 heading back to their rig. “How is she?” he asked, casting a sideways glance at Jen to warn them to keep it simple.
“So far so good,” Luis Figueroa, the paramedic who’d ridden in the ambulance, said.
“You know where Roy is?”
Luis nodded. “He’s in there with her. They’re in treatment 3.”
Johnny collegially slapped Luis on the shoulder. “Thanks, guys,” he said.
“Sure thing,” Luis replied. “You tell Roy we’ll be praying for her.”
“Will do,” Gage said as he led Jennifer into the ER.
“Why’d he say that?” the little girl asked.
John flinched. He was hoping she hadn’t been paying attention. “Luis prays for everyone, Jen,” he lied. “Let’s see if we can find Dixie, what do you say?” He didn’t know what to say to this little girl. He wasn’t comfortable hiding the truth--but the fact of the matter was, he had no idea what the truth was. He didn’t want to unduly alarm her if it proved to be nothing more than a concussion. But he didn’t want to give her a false sense of security if it proved to be something more serious.
Suddenly Jennifer pulled free from his hand and raced down the hall. “Dixie! Dixie!” she shouted. John stopped where he was and watched Dixie McCall’s face light up in a warm, and motherly, smile. She got down on one knee, prepared to embrace the girl when she finally reached her. Jennifer collapsed into the nurse’s arms. As she enveloped the girl, Dix looked up and caught Johnny’s gaze. She released one hand from around Jennifer, and pointed to the door to treatment room 3, never stopping her litany of greetings for the child.
John nodded, and went to the door in question. He stopped there for a moment, suddenly unsure of his next move. If it had been a patient they’d brought in, a stranger, he’d push the door open and enter without a moment’s hesitation.
But this wasn’t any patient. It wasn’t a stranger. It was Joanne, and he wasn’t sure he wanted to see what was happening in that room. But at the same time, he knew he had to be there for Roy, so he took a deep breath, and opened the door.
The minute he did, he heard Joe Early tell Roy, “Looks like she’s waking up.” Johnny heaved a sigh of relief, and leaned against the wall by the door, watching as his partner rushed to his wife’s side.
Johnny couldn’t see well from his spot, there was a nurse blocking his view of Joanne’s face, but he could tell by the look on his partner’s that she’d opened her eyes and looked at him. Roy’s face lit up in the most relieved smile any of them had ever seen.
“What happened?” he heard her ask.
“You fell, Joanne.”
Gage heard her say, “the damn drapes, right?” and everyone laughed. Joanne never swore. But then she said, with great alarm, “Where’s Jennifer??”
Roy looked up and immediately found Johnny, but he didn’t have to ask before Gage told his partner, “She’s with Dix.”
Roy looked down at his wife and told her, “Johnny’s been looking out for her. She’s fine.” The nurse moved aside and Joanne turned her head to look at her husband’s young partner. Suddenly self-conscious about being in the room, Johnny waved slightly at her with the hand on top of his crossed arms. She smiled at him tiredly.
“She’s one worried girl. I’m gonna go tell her you’re awake,” he said quickly, and Johnny slipped out of the room.
He covered the distance quickly, and when he saw Jen cuddled up against Dixie’s side he smiled. “Hey, you, what did I tell you?” Jennifer looked up at him with confused eyes. “I told you she’d wake up, right?”
The girl’s face lit up. “She woke up? Can I see her?”
Dixie stepped in before Gage had to answer. “Not yet, darling. The doctors want to finish, and make sure everything’s okay.”
Jennifer’s face fell into the sort of pout only a small child could produce, John was sure. “But I need to tell her something! It’s important!” Her face scrunched up, and he was sure she was about to cry again, but then an idea obviously came to her. “Uncle Johnny, you can go in there, right? Can you tell her, please?”
Gage sat down next to the girl. “It can wait, sweetheart, can’t it? Tell her yourself.”
“NO!” she huffed. “It’s real important! Please?” Johnny was sure the waterworks were mere seconds away.
He sighed. “Okay, Jen, what is it? I’ll tell her.”
The child broke into a wide, victorious grin, then turned suddenly serious. “Tell her, tell her I did it right, just like she teached me.”
“Did what, darling?” Dixie interjected.
“Called the fire deportment, just like mommy showed me.” She turned her attention back to Johnny. “Tell mommy I was real scared, but I did it right.”
Johnny broke into a wide grin. “I’d be happy to tell her. Everyone should know what you did; you’re a little hero.” He tousled the young girl’s hair.
“Go now, Uncle Johnny!” the child implored.
“Okay, okay, I’m going!” he said with a laugh, and returned to the treatment room.
When he pushed the door open Doc Early and Roy were studying an x-ray on the wall, and Joanne was lying there with her eyes closed. He approached the woman, and put his hand on her shoulder.
“Joanne?” he asked tentatively. He knew she probably shouldn’t be sleeping anyway, but still he was hesitant to disturb her. She didn’t respond, so he said it again. “Joanne?”
Not only didn’t she open her eyes, she didn’t move at all. Alarmed, Johnny squeezed her shoulder, hard, and shouted her name louder: “JOANNE? Open your eyes!” When that didn’t work he swung his head around to get the doctor, but Early was already rushing to their side. He pushed Johnny aside, and checked Joanne’s pupils with his pen light.
The next thing he knew, Doctor Early was looking at him intensely. “Johnny, take Roy outside. Right now.” It wasn’t a suggestion, it was an order, so he grabbed his partner’s arm and pulled him out the door.
As the door clicked shut behind them, the two paramedics stared at each other, open-mouthed and stunned. Finally Johnny spoke. “What happened?”
Roy didn’t utter a sound; Johnny was sure he was about to fall over, so he took his arm again, and propelled him into the staff lounge. “Sit down,” he ordered as he steered his friend to a chair.
Roy sat, and buried his face in his hands for a moment. Finally he looked up and spoke. “Early said he thought he saw a fracture on the x-ray,” he said in a dead monotone. Johnny felt his own jaw drop open, but he was powerless to stop it. She’d been fine five minutes ago, now she wasn’t, and she had a fracture; he knew it was bad. They both did. She was probably bleeding in her head.
“Oh, Roy,” he said as he ran his hand through his hair.
Both men jumped as the door suddenly opened and Kelly Bracket breezed in. “Hey guys,” he said as he went straight for the coffee pot. “I didn’t hear you bringing anyone in.”
“Oh, umm, well,” Johnny stammered. It was enough to get Kel’s attention, and he finally noticed the looks on the two men’s faces.
“What’s wrong?” he asked them.
Johnny quickly glanced over at his partner before he answered. “Ummm, Roy’s wife. She. . . . She fell and hit her head. 36s brought her in.”
Brackett settled his concerned gaze on Roy. “Is there anything I can do?” he asked.
Roy looked up and shook his head slightly. “Doctor Early is with her.”
Kel tried to give them both a confident smile, Johnny could tell. “He’s the best neurosurgeon we’ve got, Roy, you know that.”
Roy looked down at the tabletop in front of him. “I know,” he mumbled.
“Try not to worry too much,” Brackett advised. He looked at his watch and moved toward the door. “I have to run. But let me know if there’s anything I can do.”
The doctor was already gone before Gage managed to say, “Thanks, doc.”
Johnny wandered over to the coffee pot, picked it up, and then put it down when he realized he didn’t want coffee. He looked over at Roy. “You want some?” he asked.
Roy looked up and shook his head. Johnny turned around to face his partner, who was again studying the table in front of him, and leaned against the counter. He knew he should say something to his friend, but he didn’t know what to say.
Johnny was scared. Terrified. There was a tightness in his chest that was totally foreign to him. It was different than the times a fellow firefighter went down, even one who was a friend. That was part of the job. It happened, and you had to deal with it, and a little part of you expected it. But no one could expect this. He looked at Roy, and tried to imagine what he was feeling, what he was thinking. What he’d do if. . . . .
He shook his head vigorously, not allowing himself to finish that thought. But he could tell by the look on his partner’s face that he was thinking the same thing. It was impossible not to, after what had just happened.
Johnny looked up from his reverie to find Roy looking at him. “Someone needs to meet Chris’s bus,” he said quietly. “Can you call the neighbor, Mrs. Lamont for me? She’ll do it. Just tell her. . . . “ He paused for a long moment. “Just tell her what happened,” he said quickly. For a split second Johnny thought Roy would lose it, and start to cry, but he didn’t. Part of him was relieved that he didn’t; part of him wished he would let it out.
“Yeah, sure thing,” he said. “Just give me the number.”
Roy gave it to him, and John wrote it on his hand and left, thankful to have a task. But as he approached the desk in the ER, his heart sank again. There was Jennifer, happily twirling on the tall stool Dixie usually sat on while the nurse was busy in the drawers behind her. Jen saw him, and slid off the seat. “Uncle Johnny!” she squealed as she ran to him. Johnny stopped the child’s forward motion by scooping her up in his arms. He hugged her tight and didn’t say anything. “Did you tell her?” the girl asked, but before he could say anything she pulled away from him and looked him in the eye.
“Is something wrong?” she asked. How could kids be so damn perceptive, Johnny wondered. The girl’s question had gotten Dix’s attention, too, and she was looking at him questioningly.
“The doctor wants to examine her some more, that’s all,” Johnny lied. And he held his breath while the girl in his arms assessed his answer. Dixie’s brow was furrowed--she clearly knew something was wrong.
But Jen apparently bought it. “Oh. Okay. We’ll have to tell her later then, okay?”
Johnny gave the girl another squeeze, and said “Okay,” before he put her down.
He watched as Dixie called over a candy striper and introduced her to the child.
“Maybe,” Dix told Jen, “You’d like to go to the cafeteria with Beth here and get something to drink? Maybe some juice?”
Jennifer DeSoto’s eyes lit up. “Can I get a soda? Mommy never lets me get a soda!”
The nurse smiled conspiratorially. “As long as you don’t tell on me, I don’t see why not. Now you two git,” and she swatted the girl away. As soon as they were out of earshot, she turned her attention to the paramedic.
“Okay, John Gage,” she said sternly. “What’s going on?”
Johnny collapsed momentarily onto the counter, hunching over and leaning his elbows on it. “Wish I knew, Dix, wish I knew. She was fine when I left, and then when I went back in she was unconscious again.” He lifted his head and looked at her. “I’m worried,” he confessed. “And I don’t know how long I can keep this up,” he added, nodding toward the retreating form of the little girl.
“As long as you have to, Johnny,” Dixie said quietly, sharing his concern.
The man nodded, and looked at the number on his hand. “Maybe not too long,” he said. “Can I use the phone?”
+ + + + +
As Johnny was returning to the lounge after making his phone calls he saw Joe Early going in. He hastened his pace and was right behind him going through the door. Roy stood as soon as the doctor entered the room.
“Sit down,” Joe said. Johnny knew it couldn’t be good. Roy nodded, but remained standing. Johnny stayed in his spot, right behind the doc, just inside the door. “It looks like an epidural hematoma,” the MD said solemnly. “That’s a pocket of bleeding between the skull and the dura matter of the brain.”
“I know,” Roy interrupted. “I know what it is.” He’d grabbed the edge of the table and was holding on for dear life. Johnny was afraid he might collapse.
“We could do an angiogram to confirm, but I don’t see the point. 90% of these are located at the site of a fracture, and we know where that is. And time is important,” Early finished.
Roy nodded. “Can I see her?” he asked.
“She’s already on her way to surgery, Roy. I’m sorry.” Joe approached the paramedic and put his hand on his shoulder. “She’s young and strong and we caught it early. We’ll go in, relieve the pressure, stop the bleeding if we have to, and she’ll be fine. Okay?”
Roy looked down at his hands, then up at the doctor. “Yeah, okay,” he whispered.
“I’ll come out and talk to you the second we’re done, I promise. Try not to worry.” He squeezed Roy’s shoulder and turned to leave.
As he silently walked by him, Johnny said “Thanks.” Joe turned his lips up to form a grin, but there was only concern on his face.
Roy sat down heavily in his chair, and buried his face in his hands. John stood in his place, fidgeting nervously. He didn’t have the slightest idea what to do or say. Finally Roy said “Where’s Jen?” into his hand.
Johnny approached his friend. “She’s in the cafeteria getting a soda. I called Mrs. Lamont for ya. She’s gonna come and get Jennifer, and pick Chris at the bus. Is that okay?” He pulled out a chair and sat next to his friend.
Roy nodded without looking up. But when he did, he looked lost, confused, and scared out of his mind.
“What am I gonna do, Johnny?” Roy started after a minute. Gage saw his friend’s lower lip begin to quiver. “What am I gonna do if . . .if . . . .” He couldn’t finish the thought and a tear escaped from his left eye. Within a moment he was weeping in earnest.
It was the first time Johnny had ever seen Roy cry.
His mind raced to come up with the right thing to say to his distraught friend. But he was at a loss. He didn’t know; he didn’t know what Roy would do if that happened. He couldn’t even imagine.
Finally he leaned forward close to Roy’s face. “Look, Roy,” he said. “You can’t think like that. You just can’t. You gotta stay positive. Early’s the best.” He reached out and cupped his hand around the back of Roy’s neck. “Don’t give up hope, Roy,” he said.
He couldn’t tell if Roy was nodding, or if he was merely shaking. But after a minute or two he stopped crying and was trying to regain his composure. He sat up straight and wiped his tears away with the back of his hand. “Right, right,” he said, more to himself than to Johnny. Then he looked at his friend. “Thanks,” he said.
Johnny smiled broadly at his friend. “Hey man, no problem.” He stuck his hand in his pocket and came up with his handkerchief, which he handed to Roy.
“Can you find Jennifer for me?” Roy asked. “I want to see her before she leaves.”
“Sure thing,” John told him. “Then I’m gonna run to the station. I talked to Cap, and Dwyer is coming in to cover your shift. He didn’t get anyone to cover me, but I’m gonna run the Squad back and ask him to. I’ll be back as fast as I can, Roy.”
Roy started to protest, but Johnny stopped him before he could start. “Nonnegotiable, partner. Just hope Dwyer and I don’t get a run before my replacement shows up. I’ll find Jen for you, then I’ll be back.”
Johnny got up and left the room. Cap just had to understand. He couldn’t leave Roy to face this alone.
+ + + + +
As he was racing his way back to the hospital in his Rover, Johnny couldn’t shake the image of Roy and his daughter from his mind. He’d held that girl as tightly as he’d ever held a lifeline, Johnny could tell, but at the same time he never alarmed the girl. It was obvious that Roy didn’t want his daughter to worry, but how he could be a basket case one minute, and a strong and supportive parent the next was beyond his powers of comprehension.
He guessed it was what being a parent was all about.
He knew he’d done it too, that he’d worked hard at remaining upbeat around the girl, but he’d had nothing at stake--nothing compared to what Roy was facing, that is.
He could still hear the desperation in Roy’s voice, too, when he’d asked “What am I gonna do?”
Johnny still didn’t have a clue. What did people do? Being on this side of an emergency was so strange to him. Every day at work--every single day--they were in the middle of situations like this one. Every day they left people in their wake whose lives would never be the same, who would find themselves asking “what are we gonna do?” They saw it every day.
And Johnny had never really thought about it until today.
He shook these morbid thoughts off as he approached the hospital. He had to do that, because he knew what he had to do. He had to be strong for Roy. Just like he knew Roy would be strong for him if the situation was reversed.
And as he parked the car he again thanked the heavens for Hank Stanley. Johnny hadn’t even had to ask Cap to find a replacement for him; when he’d arrived back at 51 he found both C-shift paramedics in uniform and ready to go, not just Dwyer. Captain Stanley pulled him into his office and told him he figured Roy needed a friend right now, so he’d called a sub for Johnny, too, and that he hoped Gage didn’t mind.
Mind? Johnny had been tempted to kiss the guy.
He grabbed the bag of Roy’s street clothes that he’d brought with him in case his partner wanted to change out of his uniform, and headed inside.
When he pushed the door to the staff lounge open, Johnny found his friend sitting in a different chair at the table, with his back to the door, seemingly staring at the wall.
“Roy?” he asked quietly. The man’s shoulders moved, but that was his only response. Suddenly Johnny’s heart clenched. He’d only been gone about an hour. It couldn’t . . . she couldn’t be . . . No, it was impossible.
“Roy?” he asked again, more urgently. “Have you heard something?” He cautiously walked around to his partner’s side, suddenly afraid to hear the answer.
Roy looked up slowly, and it took a moment for recognition to come to his face. “No,” he said quietly. “No news yet.”
Johnny let out a relieved sigh and sat down. “Man, you scared me!” he admitted. “Jen get picked up?” Roy only nodded. “Cap had already called in Rogers for me. I didn’t even have to ask. I’m here for the duration, buddy.” Roy nodded again. His partner had always been a man of few words, but this was scaring Johnny. Then he thought of the bag, and brought it up and put it on the table. “I brought your clothes, in case you wanted to change, Roy.”
Roy studied the bag for a moment, and then nodded for a third time. This time he did manage to mutter a timid “thanks.” But he made no move for the clothes.
Johnny was suddenly frantic to get Roy out of this shell he’d crawled into. His partner was clearly a million miles away and not coming back; it couldn’t be good for him to keep everything bottled up like this. Gage had thought that after he’d broken down earlier he’d be better. But now it seemed worse. Only problem was, he didn’t know what to say or do; he was treading in totally unfamiliar waters. It was one thing to let a frantic relative cling to him for a moment at a fire, to provide comfort to strangers. That he could do, and he was good at it. This, though, was something else. This was one of their own. This was his friend.
Part of him wished Roy would collapse in his arms and sob, like Jennifer had done earlier. Then all he’d have to do was hold on tight. But Roy was withdrawing right before his eyes.
“Did Jen tell you what she did?” The question came out of his mouth and John immediately rolled his eyes at his own idiocy. This, certainly, could have waited.
Except . . . except he saw a spark of interest come to Roy’s eyes. “You mean about calling it in?” he asked.
“Yeah,” John smiled. “She was really proud of herself.”
“She had reason to be,” Roy said. And a glimmer of a smile came to his lips. “I’m real proud of her, too. She said you called her a hero.”
“Well, I think she fits the bill, don’t you?” Roy nodded at that. “She said Joanne showed her”; as soon as Johnny said her name he saw the look of alarm and despair return to his partner’s eyes.
“Hey, now, look Roy,” he started, stalling for time until he thought of what to say. He ended up sighing loudly. “She’s gonna be okay. I just know it.”
“I hope so,” Roy said as he returned his gaze to the table top, prepared to resurrect the wall around his emotions. “I hope so.”
John sat quietly for a moment, then told Roy, “The guys at the station wanted me to tell you they’re thinking about you.” Another nod.
Johnny got up from the table. He couldn’t sit still any longer, couldn’t bear the awkward silences. He paced back and forth once, gave a moment’s thought to turning on the TV, and then picked up a newspaper and sat on the couch. It was three days old, but he couldn’t just sit there and stare at the wall like Roy was doing. At least he could pretend to be reading.
But as he did, he kept a close watch on Roy. He could see his profile, and he waited for some emotion to come to his face. Anything. Get angry, Roy, he silently implored. Fall to pieces. Weep, sob, scream, yell. Just do something. Say something.
Finally, Johnny couldn’t stand it. “What ya thinking, Roy?”
“Trying not to,” was his answer. John couldn’t argue with that. The only thoughts he found coming to his mind unbidden were bad ones. He wanted to tell Roy that no matter what happened, plenty of people were there for him and his kids. He wouldn’t be in it alone.
He was thinking it, but he couldn’t possibly say it. He couldn’t possibly say aloud anything that entertained the possibility that Joanne wouldn’t come out of this. He just couldn’t. And neither could Roy, and that’s why the room was so quiet. Because it’s all they were thinking and they both knew it. Suddenly it all made sense to Gage. Best to keep reading, he decided.
He had no idea how much time had passed when the door opened and Kelly Brackett walked in. Both Roy and Johnny had sat up straight in anticipation, hoping it would be Early. When it wasn’t they both slumped dejectedly into their seats.
“Glad you see you two, too,” he chided. “But I have news.” Johnny studied the doctor’s face for a warning, but damn him, there was none.
“She’s out of surgery. That’s all I know, but I thought you’d like to know. I’m sure Joe will be out in a minute or two.”
Roy swallowed hard. “But she made it? She made it through?”
Kel finally allowed a grin. “Yes, Roy, she did. But I’m not gonna speculate--you'd best wait for Doctor Early.”
Roy was nodding vigorously now. “I will, I will. Thanks, doc.”
Brackett got up to leave, and when he opened the door Joe Early was on the other side. Roy still had his back to the door so he couldn’t see. But Johnny could, and he saw the smile on Joe’s face. He stood quickly and went to stand by Roy’s side as the doctor entered. Kel decided to stay, too.
Joe took a seat by his patient’s husband. “We’re not completely out of the woods yet, Roy, I don’t have to tell you that. But everything went great. Perfectly, as a matter of fact,” he said warmly.
Johnny broke into a wide grin at the news, and looked at Roy, expecting to see a similar expression. But it was the exact opposite. He looked just as stunned as he had when he saw his wife lying on the floor. Gage looked at Joe, slightly puzzled. The doctor just reached out and put his hand on the man’s forearm. “Roy?” he said, “Did you hear me? I believe she’s gonna be okay, so long as we avoid any complications.”
Roy opened his mouth as if to speak, but nothing came out for a long moment. “Really?” he finally asked.
Early let out a breath of laughter. “Really, Roy. We found the bleed, we stopped it and relieved the pressure. As long as we can avoid swelling, there’s no reason to expect anything but a complete recovery.” Johnny knew from experience that Early wasn’t usually that optimistic immediately after performing neurosurgery. But he also knew Roy needed to hear that, and hear it now. He needed that hope to hang onto. He was grateful to the doctor for recognizing it.
“We’ll be moving her to ICU soon, Roy,” Joe told him. “Then you can go in to see her. But we’re going to keep her under for a bit so she has a chance to heal. That’s routine, so don’t expect her to be awake, okay?”
Roy was back to nodding silently. Joe got up to leave, and Johnny followed him and Kel out the door for a second. “Doc?’ he said to Early. “You’re shooting straight, aren’t you? You’re not sugarcoating it, are you? I don’t think Roy could take it if . . . .”
Joe smiled at him. “I’d never do that, Johnny. You know that. Roy’s just stunned. We see it all the time. Just stay close to him. He’ll be all right in a little while. If he isn’t, just get me or Kel. We’ll give him a mild tranquilizer or something.”
John nodded at the man. After a moment he turned to go back into the lounge with his partner.
The room was still silent when he opened the door, but Johnny could see that Roy had his head down, buried in his arms crossed on the tabletop. And his shoulders were hitching in the telltale movements of someone crying his eyes out. Yet it was eerily quiet.
Not long ago Johnny had been wishing Roy would let it out. Now he was, and the younger man was again gripped with indecision. Why was he crying? The news was as good as it could have been!
Relief. It was relief, of course.
“Oh, Roy,” John implored and he took the two steps necessary to come up behind his friend. He put both his hands on the crying man’s shoulders and gave them a squeeze. “Let it out, man,” he told him. “It’s okay. It’s gonna be okay.”
+ + + + +
Much to Johnny’s surprise, Roy had asked him to accompany him into the ICU to see his wife for the first time.
It had taken the better part of half an hour for Roy to cry himself out in the lounge. During that time the door had opened three times, but no one had dared enter. John hadn’t turned around to see who it had been, either. He’d just stood behind Roy, hands on his shoulders, offering support as best he could. When he’d finally stopped crying, Roy had clearly been embarrassed. The way Johnny saw it, there was nothing to be embarrassed about--he'd come this close to losing his wife today. But he didn’t say that. He didn’t say anything at all.
Johnny knew the two men would never speak of this incident.
But the fact that Roy still wanted him by his side made John feel good. It made him feel as though he had been some help to his friend today, no matter how inadequate he’d felt.
They entered the cubicle, having been thoroughly briefed on what they’d see so there would be no surprises. But it was still a surprise. Joanne’s face was bruised and swollen. Her head was swathed in bandages, focused mostly over and slightly behind her left ear. She was upright in bed, to reduce swelling in the brain. She was on a respirator. But she was alive.
Roy reached out and picked up his wife’s hand. As he cradled it in his own, he smiled.
She was alive.
Johnny leaned against the wall and just watched. He’d been there to catch Roy if he fell, he figured. But Roy wasn’t gonna fall, not any more. Johnny was sure of it.
After a moment Joe Early came in. “Figured I’d find you here,” he said to Roy. He held something out, which Roy took tentatively. “That’s a mild tranquilizer, Roy. I want you to go home and take it. You’re a wreck, and you need a good night’s sleep. She won’t wake up tonight. Go home.”
Roy looked at the little envelope in his hand and shook his head. “I can’t,” he said. Whether he was saying he couldn’t take the pills or couldn’t go home, Johnny wasn’t sure.
“It’s not a suggestion, Roy,” Joe said gently. “You’ll be of no help to Joanne at all if you make yourself sick.”
“What about the kids, Roy?” Johnny added. “Someone needs to talk to the kids.”
Roy looked at him almost beseechingly. “Could you . . . Would you?” he started, then he stopped. Johnny inwardly sighed with relief; he’d been afraid Roy would ask him to go speak to Chris and Jen. “Okay, okay,” he finally said. “I need to talk to the kids.”
“We’ll call you if there’s any change, Roy. Don’t worry. Go home and relax.”
Johnny ushered his partner out of the hospital and into the parking lot. “I’m gonna spend the night,” he told his friend.
“You don’t have to do that, Johnny,” Roy intoned.
“I know I don’t have to, Roy,” he said. “I want to.”
“But you’ve already done so much.”
“Nah,” John dismissed. “I figure I owe ya,” he said.
Roy stopped and looked up at the sky. “She’s gonna be all right,” he said emphatically.
“Yeah, she is,” Johnny agreed, and after a moment he added, “Are you?”
Roy looked at him through the darkness of the night that had fallen without them noticing. “Yeah,” he finally said. “I am. Thanks, partner.” And he smiled.
“Good deal!” Johnny said with his normal level of enthusiasm. “Let’s go home. I’m starved. Aren’t you?”
+ + + + +
EPILOGUE: Three weeks later.
Johnny was leaning over the smaller bodies of Christopher and Jennifer, the three of them looking out the window of the DeSoto home. Jennifer spotted the car first, and jumped up, inadvertently head-butting the man in the chest. Johnny just laughed and stood up.
“It’s them! It’s them! I know it is!” she shouted excitedly. John peeked through the curtains again. Sure enough, it was them. He pulled the two kids away from the window and positioned them directly in front of the door.
“Now remember,” he told the children. “Your mom’s gonna be really tired and a little slow-moving for a while. So take it easy with her, okay?” Chris gave him a withering glance, and Johnny had to grin. It was only the 13th time he’d given them this warning since he’d arrived this morning.
Jennifer couldn’t stand still, she was so excited. They hadn’t been allowed to see their mom; they were too young. They’d talked to her on the phone, but that had been all for three long weeks.
Finally the door opened and Joanne DeSoto returned home. She was pale, and her head still sported a bandage, but the smile on her face was the most beautiful thing anyone in the room had ever seen.
Completely forgetting Johnny’s warning--as Johnny knew they would--the two children launched themselves at their mother. She hugged them both tightly to her breast, and they were virtually squealing with delight. John just stood there, arms crossed on his chest, grinning at the scene in front of him. He looked at Roy standing behind the three in the middle. He was watching, too, and smiling broadly.
He must have felt Johnny looking at him, because after a moment he looked up and the two partners locked eyes. Johnny let out one slight amazed laugh to match his smile, and Roy nodded happily.
This view from the other side of an emergency was more like it.
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