I is also for Impact
0903 hours, 22 seconds
He knew what was coming, but there was nothing he could do about it. There was nowhere to go, and no time. His hands tightened involuntarily on the steering wheel as if bracing himself could somehow change what was going to happen. Time continued its inexorable journey until two immovable objects met and turned his world upside down.
Hank Stanley looked at his desk and sighed. Scratch that. As of 49 minutes ago it was Frankel's desk. Well, Frankel's desk scattered with Hank's as yet incomplete paperwork.
Not removing his gaze from what was a good two hours worth of work, he listened longingly to the sound of his crew saying good-natured farewells to B-shift and one another. So this is what I gave up being an engineer for?
One voice suddenly registered above the others. Just by its tone, Hank figured John was reacting to some no-doubt ridiculous stunt Chet had pulled on him. Some days with those two, it was worse than trying to herd kindergartners. Still, it drew a faint smile and reminded him of all the reasons he loved this job.
You've got to start, Hank, if you're going to finish. His bones creaked louder than the chair when he settled into it, or maybe that was just his imagination. Once the downward momentum started, it didn't want to stop. In one fluid motion, his elbows settled onto the top of the desk and his face buried itself in his hands. It was only natural that he would allow his eyes to close. All he needed was a moment. Maybe two.
It had been one heck of a shift. The runs had come thick, barely letting up in the late evening before picking up again in the wee hours. Through it all, though they had some rough calls, they hadn't lost anyone. But even a lot good saves could wear a guy out. He wondered, not for the first time, if he was getting too old for this.
Roy jumped backward, narrowly avoiding the stampede as Johnny chased Chet out of the back bay door. Roy had missed whatever had ignited the current battle between the two. Since Johnny was going to be having breakfast at his place that morning, he was sure to find out soon enough. Then again, it never hurt to have a heads up.
"Do I want to know what that's about?" he asked Mike, who was leaning near the door taking in the action.
Mike shot him a smile and shrugged. "Something about a new girl at the dry cleaners, shaving cream and I think shoe polish."
"And here I thought it wasn't going to make any sense," Roy said dryly. Though he had to admit that considering the number of uniforms Johnny had gone through last shift, a trip to the dry cleaners wasn't a bad idea. And a girl sounded like a typical Johnny/Chet point of contention. He wasn't sure he wanted to know where the shaving cream and shoe polish fit in.
Mike chuckled, but said nothing more.
Roy looked out of the back door. He could hear Johnny and Chet still at it, though Chet was out of his line of sight. John made a gesture in the other man's direction before dropping his keys, setting off a barrage of taunts from Chet's direction.
"Well, I'm heading out," Roy said. "You leaving?"
Mike's usual poker face was firmly in place. "See you next shift, Roy."
"Next shift," Roy agreed, then slipped out of the door.
Marco was the last of A-shift to clear out of the locker room. He was beginning to wonder if he was the last one to leave the station until he saw Mike waiting by the door. "Have a good day off, amigo." He smiled at the other man as he passed him.
"Later, Marco," Mike said in return.
Marco paused and looked back at his shift-mate. Looking beyond the taller man, he realized one other person was still here. He gave the engineer a knowing nod and was on his way.
Johnny and Roy's vehicles were gone, but Chet's car was just pulling off. Marco thought of trying to catch him. He had heard Roy inviting Johnny to his home for breakfast and thought perhaps Chet might like to join him and his family. A good breakfast with good friends always helped him after a tough shift. Mike and Cap's wives would no doubt have something ready for them.
Unfortunately, Chet didn't look backward and missed Marco trying to catch his attention. Marco shrugged and headed for his car. There would be other times.
A hand on Hank's shoulder startled him awake. "You know, those will still be there next shift."
I can't believe I dozed off. Hank looked up at his B-shift counterpart. "Yeah, but they'll bring a couple of friends along with them."
"And that's a guarantee," Frankel agreed with him. "Listen, Hank. Why don't you go on home? I'm sure there's nothing here that can't wait."
Hank knew that was true, but he hated to leave things half done. If he just buckled down, grabbed a cup of coffee and stayed awake, he was sure he could knock out these reports.
Frankel must have read something in his expression. "I'd consider it a personal favor – one captain to another. After all, if I can't hide in my office, I might have to assign myself chores."
Hank conceded gratefully. "I doubt anything I wrote would make much sense at this point anyway." It took a moment to convince his aching muscles to get back up from the chair, but he managed it.
Frankel followed him to the door as if he thought Hank might change his mind. He didn't have to worry. Hank was committed now, and couldn't leave fast enough. He wasn't even planning to change out of uniform.
"You've got a good man, there," Frankel said, looking across the bay. "He's going to make a good captain someday."
Hank glanced up and saw Mike there. "Yeah," he agreed, returning the gesture when Mike tossed him a wave. "Have a good day, pal," he called to him.
"You, too, cap," Mike replied then headed out.
It was a testament to Hank's exhaustion that he was pulling onto the street in front of the station before he thought to put two and two together. Yeah, Stoker was going to make a great captain. Captains took care of their people.
Chet grinned in anticipation as he drove along Alameda Blvd. He was several cars behind Gage's Rover and Sparkly Kleen dry cleaners was coming up on the right. He figured he would wait until Gage got inside before going in after him.
The smile dropped away as the Rover continued along the street. "Oh, Gage, you're no fun," he grumbled under his breath. Then, realizing that he could tease him about being afraid to go to that particular cleaner, even though they had the best fire fighter discount in town, cheered him back up. He would have plenty of time to come up with something really good.
He turned into the lot, already making plans. He was surprised when he saw Marco pull in behind him a minute later. Marco's mom always took care of his uniforms. With a concerned frown, he parked, got out of his car and waited for his friend to approach.
Johnny blew past Sparkly Kleen humming an off-key rendition of Diamond Girl. Sure, the sack of soiled uniforms on the seat beside him needed attention, but so did his stomach. And Roy had promised there would be pancakes. That alone had brightened his day.
A slight smile graced his lips as he thought of the culinary delights that would soon be his. He would have to think of something nice to do for Roy and Joanne as a thank you.
His grin broadened when he caught sight of his friend coming to a stop at the traffic signal up ahead. "Hey there, Pally," he said aloud though Roy couldn't possibly hear him. Switching lanes, he eased the Rover to a careful stop behind the Porsche. Johnny wasn't bothered that Roy didn't seem to notice.
The song on the radio ended and the traffic report began. That was the last thing he wanted to think about on such a beautiful morning. He'd hear about plenty enough MVAs when he went back on duty. Turning his attention to the radio controls, he went in search of something to sing along to.
Mike was making good time along Alameda Blvd having made the first two traffic lights after leaving the station – the one that crossed Rialto was usually brutal. He did a double take when he caught sight of Marco and Chet talking in the parking lot at the dry cleaners. He would have laid odds that Johnny would have been there along with Chet instead of Marco.
Something large and blue appeared out of nowhere, just missing his front end and sending his heart rate into over drive. Only years of experience prevented him from jerking his car into oncoming traffic. He jammed his hand into the horn as a warning to the other driver. But the big blue Mack truck continued its erratic path along the road. That guy is going to kill someone if he isn't careful.
Mike's gaze was drawn beyond the truck as he assessed the situation. His eyes registered what his heart didn't want to.
He knew what was coming, but there was nothing he could do about it. There was nowhere to go, and no time. His hands tightened involuntarily on the steering wheel as if bracing himself could somehow change what was going to happen. He might have cried out, but he couldn't be sure. Time continued inexorably on until immovable objects met and turned his world upside down.
Sound came on the heels of jarring impact. For long seconds, it was as if the world had been knocked sideways by a brutal assault. His mind couldn't catch up. Everything went hazy and time seemed to speed up before falling back to a more normal rate.
He found himself staring numbly out of his windshield. His car, slightly skewed, was sitting several feet into the intersection; not far enough that he was in danger of cross traffic.
His gaze drifted from passing traffic to his rear view mirror. At first the sight didn't make any sense. There was a white vehicle crumpled at an angle against the backend of his Porsche. Farther back, he could see that a much larger vehicle had ploughed into the one behind his. He squinted. There was something familiar about that white vehicle. His stomach plunged to his toes as harsh realization set in.
0903 hours, 24 seconds
Johnny never knew what hit him.
One moment, he was trying to find a good song on the radio, the next the sky was falling.
He must have hit his head because his brain felt like it had been scrambled. Something indefinable told him that he needed to move, that there was something important that he had to do.
He struggled to make sense of the world around him, but his vision kept going gray around the edges. He thought he saw movement as his head lolled to the side. It registered somewhere in his mind that his side mirror was cracked. But he must be losing it, because he thought he saw Chet, Mike, Marco and Cap's reflections running around the side of what was left of a blue truck.
Another face appeared, blocking his view of the mirror. Roy. Roy was there. Roy looked scared. He wanted to tell Roy that there wasn't anything to worry about. But he couldn't form the words.
Roy's lips were moving. Johnny thought he was saying his name, but the sound was distant, like he was listening under water. For a moment before the gray completely closed in, sound cleared and he heard familiar voices.
Take it easy, pal.
It's going to be okay.
We're all here.
Then sound, too, was gone, and it all faded to black.
A/N: This was my first E! fic. Thanks for reading! And very big thanks to Enfleurage who did a great job beta reading. Any remaining errors are my own.