November 9, 2001
A fic written to honor the Johnny's Green Pen web site on its first birthday!
Thanks to Peggy for the quick read.
When Roy entered the locker room he was surprised to find it empty. He was running late, for him, but that was because his children had festooned his pancakes with a birthday candle. The memory brought a smile to his face as he started to change clothes.
“Hey, Roy,” Marco Lopez said casually as he entered the room. “Happy birthday.”
“Thanks, Marco.” Roy sat on the bench to tie his boots. “Everyone here already?”
“Yup, you’re the last one.”
Lopez looked away from the mirror where he’d been trimming his mustache. “Yeah, he was here and dressed before I even got in. I think he was the first one here!”
Roy smiled knowingly. Was it going to be donuts with birthday candles in them like last year? Or maybe one of those chocolate bubka things from the Jewish bakery near Gage’s house? Every year it was something. The paramedic tucked his shirt in and headed into the day room to see what his partner had cooked up this time.
He paused at the door, which was closed, and took a deep breath, preparing his best ‘surprised’ face, before pushing his way into the room where he was met by. . . .
Nothing. No candles, no cheers, no smiling partner. Absolutely nothing. John was sitting at the table with his back to Roy, his nose buried in the paper. Mike was pouring a cup of coffee. Cap and Chet were nowhere to be seen.
“Hey Roy,” Mike greeted upon seeing him enter.
This got John’s attention, and he looked up. “Mornin’,” was all he said before returning his complete attention to the sports section.
DeSoto was momentarily stunned, but recovered before anyone could notice anything. Maybe John was waiting until after roll call, when everyone would be present. He poured himself a cup of coffee, and sat down next to his partner.
“What are you reading?” he asked.
“Sports section,” Johnny offered without even looking up.
“Oh,” Roy responded. He peered around the edge of the newspaper, only to find that Gage was reading the hockey page. Hockey?
He was startled when an aggravated John pulled the paper aside, out of DeSoto’s line of sight. “Do you mind?” he asked. “You can read it when I’m done!”
“Yeah, Sorry.” Roy turned his attention back to his coffee until Cap called them to roll call.
+ + + + +
“Wow, John, you’re early!” the captain greeted the youngest member of his crew as the men took their positions.
“Yeah, well, I woke up early. Felt like I had something to do this morning, but couldn’t remember what it was. But I was up, so I came in.”
The captain met that explanation with a grin. “Well, hope it happens more often, pal,” he replied in what was a less-than-subtle gibe at Johnny’s penchant for arriving with mere seconds to spare.
For his part, Roy just looked at his partner. Johnny’d forgotten! That was it! And DeSoto wasn’t quite sure what to make of it. It was unlike his partner, who was rather good at remembering important dates.
Not that his birthday was particularly important, that is. Not to John, anyway. Not really.
But in six years, he’d never forgotten it before. Ever. Maybe something was bothering Johnny? That had to be it; it was the only reasonable explanation. Roy barely registered his chore assignment from Cap--he was too busy deciding that he’d find out what was wrong with his partner at the first possible chance.
+ + + + +
“You okay, Johnny?” Roy asked as he was putting the dorm linens in the laundry bin in the latrine. John was mopping the floor there.
“Yeah, fine. Why?” Gage was grinning as he answered, which only made Roy more suspicious.
“Oh nothing. You seemed a little distracted this morning, that’s all. I was wondering if something might be on your mind.” He paused there, and John merely looked at him, his face now expressionless. “You know,” the older paramedic continued, “something you might need to talk about?”
John appeared to be thinking, but it only lasted a moment. “Nope,” he decided aloud as he started to put the mop through the wringer. “Nothing. Nuthin’ at all.”
Confused, and a little annoyed, Roy returned to the dorm.
+ + + + +
The day had started quietly. So much so that Roy even offered to help Marco and Chet hang hose. He didn’t know where John was, or what he was doing. Try as he might, he couldn’t help feeling disappointed that his best friend had obviously forgotten his birthday. It was silly, he knew. They didn’t even exchange gifts; they never had. But they always remembered, always wished each other a happy day, always took the unpleasant duties that fell on each other’s days. And John had gotten into the habit of doing something small, and silly, and public, to mark Roy’s birthday. He always said he did it because he knew it embarrassed Roy, and he was right, it did.
But now Roy had to admit that part of him always liked it, and he obviously looked forward to it, too. Otherwise why was he upset that it hadn’t happened?
And why was he, with each passing hour, getting more and more annoyed at his friend?
They finished with the hose, and Roy was heading into the day room for some coffee when Chet stopped him.
“Hey, Roy, you’ve got some dirt there on your arm. You probably want to wash that off, huh?” Roy inspected his arms, and didn’t see anything. “Up higher,” the fireman offered. “Come into the latrine. I’ll show ya.”
As he allowed himself to be led away, Roy smiled. So now it was coming. Chet obviously had orders to keep him out of the day room. That he actually *did* have a smudge of dirt on the back of his upper left arm, visible only with some contortionist’s moves in front of the mirror, was immaterial. Chet was on a mission; DeSoto was sure of it.
Roy washed up, and again gave his ‘surprised’ look a workout before he headed into the common room. . . .
Where he found nothing, and no one. A pot was bubbling on the stove, and Roy wandered over for a look. Clam chowder for lunch. It was his favorite, sure, but by now DeSoto was convinced that was just a coincidence. Marco had remembered his birthday, but that was it.
**Squad 51, child trapped in bathroom. 938 Athens Ave. 9-3-8 Athens, cross street Rome. Time out 11:48.**
Roy ran out to the squad, and opened his door at the same second that John opened his. He shot a sour look at his partner before climbing in and starting the engine. When he turned to hand the call slip to Johnny, he found the younger man looking at him with a puzzled, and slightly hurt expression.
Too bad, Roy decided. He had a right to be upset that everyone had forgotten.
+ + + + +
“What’s with *you* now?” John asked as they climbed back into the squad. It had taken them all of five minutes to pop the lock on the bathroom, and get the little girl out. She’d been uninjured--mad at her mother for not letting her go to a neighbor’s to play, but otherwise fine. The rescue had been uneventful, but the interaction between partners had been anything but.
“Nothing,” Roy said succinctly, but in a manner that clearly indicated it was something. “We never made a supply run this morning. We should go now.”
“What about lunch?” Gage asked.
“What about it? It’s just clam chowder. It’ll keep.” Roy’s voice was sharp as a razor’s edge. He knew it was stupid. Was absolutely sure he was acting childishly. Only thing was, he wasn’t inclined to do anything about it.
Johnny was looking at him, hard. He started to say something, stopped, then started again. And stopped again. Finally he threw his hand into the air. “Fine,” he spat out, and turned his attention out his side window.
They drove to the hospital in silence.
+ + + + +
When Roy came out of the men’s room and approached the desk, he could see Johnny and Dix deep in conversation. His partner was splayed on the counter as he often did, and Dixie was smiling. But as soon as he got to them, the talk abruptly ceased, and John stood up quickly. The two looked like they’d been caught at something.
Great, Roy realized. Now John’s talking about him; no doubt telling the head nurse what a bear he’d been all day. The knowledge only made his mood more foul.
“Ready?” he asked with an annoyed tone.
“Hey what’s the hurry?” Dixie asked. “You just got here.”
“This one,” Roy answered, pointing a thumb in his partner’s direction, “was worried about missing lunch.” DeSoto had teasingly said similar things about his partner plenty of times in the past. Only this time there was no mirth in his voice. Dix looked a little stunned, and said nothing. John merely shrugged, and stuck the box of supplies under his arm. But the HT squawked to life before anyone could move.
**Squad 51, Engine 51, Station 36. Structure fire. 2946 Limewood Drive. 2-9-4-6 Limewood. Time out 13:02.**
“Be careful, you two,” the nurse shouted out as the paramedics raced to their truck.
+ + + + +
“Damn,” Johnny muttered under his breath as they approached. The other fire vehicles had just arrived on the scene, and surely others had been called out. It was a three-story house, and though flames were only visible from the third floor, smoke poured out of virtually every window and crevice. It was a bad one.
“Okay fellas,” their captain told the paramedics as they donned their turnout coats and air tanks. “No idea if there’s anyone in there. The top floor is fully involved. If there’s anyone up there, it’s too late. But we may have time for a quick sweep of the lower two floors. Think you can get in and out?”
The two men nodded, and headed toward the front door. “I’ll take the second floor, you take the first,” Johnny instructed. Being closer to the source of the fire, the second was clearly more dangerous.
“Doesn’t matter,” Roy said as they climbed the steps onto the small porch. “I’ll go up.”
“Sure it does,” John said with a crooked grin. “It’s your day for the cushy jobs.” He slid his mask over his face and entered the inferno before Roy could say a word.
So John did know what day it was after all. But why hadn’t he said anything earlier? Shaking his head, Roy put his facemask on as well, and followed.
+ + + + +
Roy found a victim almost immediately. An elderly man was just a couple of feet from the back door of the house. He hoisted the man up, and carried him outside.
“Sir? Sir?” Roy asked as he sat the man down and readied the oxygen mask to put on his face. “Is there anyone else in the house?”
The man was coughing fiercely, but he managed to shake his head and wheeze out a “no.”
“You’re absolutely sure?” Roy needed to hear it twice.
“Just me,” the man said, breathing better with the help of the O2.
“CAP!” Roy had to shout at the top of his lungs to get his superior’s attention over the noise of the fire and the equipment fighting it. Stanley heard, and jogged over.
“He says he was the only one in the house,” DeSoto said, indicating the man he was treating. “Pull Johnny out. He’s on the second floor.”
“Sure thing, Pal.”
Hank had only managed to pull out his HT and key the mic when the loud sound of violently breaking glass got everyone’s attention. They looked up and watched as a firefighter launched himself through a second-story window and out, explosive flames shooting out behind him.
It was Johnny. It was almost like slow motion to Roy. He watched his partner fly out the window head first, with arms outstretched, no doubt outrunning a flashover that was consuming the second floor. He managed to break his fall with his arms before pulling them in protectively and rolling onto his side.
By the time Roy was on his feet, he saw that someone was on top of Johnny’s legs. DeSoto’s heart sank when he realized what that person was doing. Putting out fire.
“JOHNNY?” Roy screamed as he ran to his friend’s side. He fell to his knees, and said it again. “Johnny?”
“Man, that hurts.” DeSoto let out a nervous, relieved, laugh at his partner’s reply.
Roy looked and saw that it had been Marco who’d smothered John’s burning pant legs. “Get the equipment,” he instructed, “and a burn pack.”
“Where’m I burned?” Gage asked. “I don’t feel it. My shoulder’s killing me.”
“Take it easy,” the older man advised as he removed John’s air tank and coat, clearly glad that Johnny was oriented. “Which one?”
Johnny had rolled onto his back. “The left one, Roy, the one I’m holding on to for dear life.”
“That it? That was one helluva fall.”
“It’s enough, Roy,” Johnny gritted out.
+ + + + +
Roy was pacing the doctor’s lounge. He couldn’t sit still, couldn’t get that image of John’s frantic jump to safety from his head. If Gage had been just a little slower, if he’d landed on his head, if he hadn’t landed in the soft ground of the man’s vegetable garden . . . there were so many ifs. So many ways in which this day could have ended tragically.
And when Roy thought about how he’d treated his friend as the day had progressed, all because he’d been selfish, all because he’d thought--incorrectly, it turned out--that Johnny had forgotten his birthday, he shuddered. How completely and utterly stupid could a person be?
First chance he got, he’d apologize. And the thing he was most grateful for on this birthday was that he’d get that chance. The door opened, and he turned around to find Dr. Brackett standing there.
“Dislocated shoulder, sprained wrist, some first and second degree burns on the backs of his calves. He’ll be fine.”
Roy let out a whoosh of relief before speaking. “Wow,” he finally said. “I’m telling you, doc, if you could have seen him come out that window. . . .”
Brackett nodded. “John told us. He’s got an amazing survival instinct . . . and he’s lucky. But then, we’ve always known that about Johnny. He should be out of here day after tomorrow, and back at work in about three weeks or so.”
“Can I see him?”
“Sure,” Kel answered. “We gave him a healthy dose of muscle relaxants and painkillers to get the shoulder reduced, so I don’t know how coherent he’ll be. He’s literally feeling no pain right now.”
Roy smiled. “That’s okay.”
+ + + + +
Every time Roy entered a treatment room where his partner was the patient a chill ran up his spine, and this time was no different. It happened too often.
John was lying on his right side, his left wrist wrapped and left arm in a sling. There was a blanket covering the lower half of his body, obscuring the burn bandages that Roy was sure covered Gage’s lower legs.
He figured he’d have to wake Johnny, but he was wrong. His partner opened his eyes with the sound of the door, and smiled wearily upon seeing who it was.
“Sorry Roy,” was the first thing he said. It wasn’t what DeSoto was expecting to hear.
“Messin’ with your head on your birthday.”
“That doesn’t matter now.”
“Sure it does. I almost told ya, in the squad earlier. But I didn’t. We had a cake for after lunch and Chet thought it would be funny to pretend I’d forgotten.”
“So it was Chet. . . ,” Roy started, everything suddenly making sense.
“Nah, can’t blame him. I thought it would be funny too. Didn’t think you’d get mad, though.”
Roy shook his head. “I wasn’t mad so much,” he lied. Then he shrugged. “It’s just that you never forget stuff like that.”
Johnny grinned a tired, lopsided grin. “So I had you goin’?”
“Yeah,” the older paramedic allowed. “You had me going.”
“Maybe I should be an actor,” Gage mused.
“I wouldn’t go that far Johnny,” Roy warned good-naturedly.
“I just wanted to really surprise you, you know?”
“Well I got some surprise from you today--just not with a cake. Do me a favor and don’t do it again, okay?”
“Which one? The pretending to forget, or the swan dive?” Johnny yawned and didn’t bother to wait for an answer. “You better head back t o the station, Roy, before Chet eats all the cake.”
“He can have it,” Roy said. “I’ve already gotten a great birthday gift.”
“You,” the birthday boy said with a smile, “still in one piece.”
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