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Washing Dishes

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It really hadn’t been something he had thought about until he was promoted to Captain and given his own station and shift to look after.

Sure, he had reached the rank of Captain in his army days, he had been part of a number of people that rank (all Engineers) and so his only need to command was when he was in charge of some particular project.

Even when he started as a Fireman, he honestly hadn’t thought about it. He’d been older than most of his classmates at the Academy and even as the Boot in his first station, he hadn’t been subjected to the level of hazing most Boot’s did.

Sure, he’d mentored people in the army and, after he achieved the rank of Engineer within LACoFD, he hadn’t had to deal with the types of problems that he would find as a Station Captain.

He’d done the usual “training shifts” when he was promoted to Captain, but he didn’t actually get the chance to do a few shadow or fill in shifts with his new Station as was the normal practice. The position had come up suddenly because of Captain
Hammer’s need for an immediate transfer on personal grounds.

All the newly minted Captain Stanley could think of was “don’t fuck up”.

Dick Hammer had given him a rundown of his new crew when they met the day before Hank was to take over. They seemed a fairly typical crew - at least, Dick only warned him of the usual sort of stuff. Hank had been most thankful for the older man’s guidance on how the Paramedics worked.

It had been more than a bit of an eye opener. The training he had done about running a crew had lumped the Paramedics in with the Rescue Men and Dick left him in no doubt that whilst in some ways it was similar, in more it wasn’t. In fact, the official designation “Mobile Intensive Care Unit” really did describe what they did and how they operated rather than the more generic term Paramedic.

“Don’t worry Hank – your Senior Paramedic is a good, solid man. He keeps his partner in line when necessary. And you won’t have to worry that they’re possibly goofing off when they aren’t at the station. It’s not something either would ever dream of doing – besides, they’re too damn busy! They’ll often get 3 runs to 1 for the engine. I’ve had shifts when I’ve not seen them from when they roll out on their first run to lights out.”

And THAT worried Hank. How could they keep going at that pace? Especially considering the type of situations that they got called to. And what the hell did Dick mean by “keeps his partner in line when necessary”. THAT terrified him more than anything else.

He hadn’t wanted to, but Hank ended up asking Mike Stoker – his best friend who was also a supremely talented Engineer who he had mentored and who was currently the Engineer for his new crew. It wasn’t something he wanted; he hated that Mike might think he was trying to get information about his crew behind their backs.
Mike, however, had taken the request in his usual thoughtful way.

“I dunno how they cope,” he said. “But… if they come back after a run and they don’t immediately get out of the squad, then it’s been bad. Cap Hammer used to go and chase them out – force them into socializing with the rest of us. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t. It’s hard to explain, but whatever they do seems to work for them.”

Hank just sighed. Mike often had very valuable insights when he did choose to speak, but it was clear that he didn’t want to be the one to speak out of shift about the crew.

Well, the morning would come soon enough and he would find out first hand. In the meantime, he needed to get his own mind straight, so Hank Stanley did what he always did when he needed to clear his head, to cope.

He washed dishes.

It was a process he found particularly soothing, and allowed his mind to focus on any particular problems whilst keeping his body busy. It was something that he had learned from his mother as a boy, and he felt the same sense of accomplishment as she had claimed that she got in the process of turning dirty dishes into something clean and making glass sparkle.

Hank barely registered Mike picking up the dish towel and starting to dry and put away the clean dishes, but he did pause when Georgie slipped her arms around him and rested her head on his shoulder.

“Don’t obsess about it, Hank,” she said softly. “You can do this, and I’ve got faith in you.” His head tilted and rested on hers, taking his own strength from her confidence in his abilities. He felt her start to move in front of him and grinned to find her literally climbing into his arms, a grin on her face.

“Besides,” she said kissing him, “if you start to screw up really badly, Mike can smack you about the head until you see sense.”

“Mike has far too much sense to smack his Captain around the head.”

Wisely, Mike said nothing. He did smirk however.

He wanted to get an early start. For some reason, he had a need to be at his new posting before any of the rest of his crew. So he could look around and make sure he knew the station layout, to get a full handover from the C-Shift Captain and just to mentally prepare himself for the one in charge.

It was very hard to keep to his resolve however, with Georgie snuggled against him, and wrapped around him. One eye opened as he freed himself and she tightened her grip. “Not time t’get up yet,” she said sleepily.

“It is for me. I want to get an early start. Let me go Georgie.” Her response to his kiss was sleepy and ever so slightly grumpy at having her warm cocoon disturbed, but, Hank thought, even a grumpy kiss from Georgie was a good start to the day.

It was eerily quiet when Hank arrived at Station 51 at 0700. Both squad and engine were out on a call, so he had the place to himself, so he decided to explore and familiarize himself with the layout.

Down one side of the single story brick building was the Office, radio alcove and day room, as well as a storage cupboard. The opposite side contained the bunks and locker room areas.

Hank decided that he may as well change and stow his gear, and had to remind himself that as the Shift Captain, his locker was in the small separate area with the other two Captains, just as his bed was at the end, in a bay by itself with a small desk next to it.

Showing his gear, and changing into his uniform felt, mercifully, like it had thousands of times. He was a little self-conscious of the slight additional weight on his collar of his rank pins, but other than that, his uniform was his – crisp and clean. Boots slightly worn, but comfortable. Yeah – he still felt like him.

He could do this.

Wandering into the day room in search of coffee, he saw some dirty mugs in the sink and, without even realizing it, after he had set a pot of coffee brewing he started to wash the dishes.

He could think then – hands busy, but mind on other things.

Mostly – his new Crew. He knew of them. Mostly from Mike, who had offered anecdotes about them, giving some insights into the personalities. However, that didn’t tell him truly about the four men he didn’t know. Mike had refused to give any insider information about them – claiming that he’d refused to give insider knowledge to them about him, so it had to go the other way too.

He knew names, ages, and service records. From some of what Mike told him of runs, he could even get an idea of how they all worked together as a team.
Dick Hammer had given him some more insight, but, again, more of a working idea than in depth details of personalities – except what the man had said about the two Paramedics (and that still terrified him). Still – his final remark of “A damn good crew – and if I hadn’t had to get something closer to home, I’d not have left them,” was high praise from the highly experienced older Captain.

Hank finished rinsing the dishes and cleaned down the sink and bench before pouring himself a fresh cup of coffee and wandered out into the apparatus bay as the two vehicles completed backing in. His eyes took in the slightly grimy appearance of both vehicles and knew what the first order of business for his new crew would be. And it would give him an idea to observe and work with them.

Besides – he loved cleaning and polishing the Engine. That is, if Mike would let him help.

He drew himself up as an older man approached, turnouts filthy with soot, face almost black. “Stanley? I’m Hookraider – C-Shift captain. Welcome to 51.”

Hank held out his hand unhesitatingly and shook the older man’s hand. “Yeah – Hank Stanley. Nice to meet you, Sir.”

Hookraider smirked slightly. “Hard to get out of the habit at first isn’t it,” he said. “I’ve been at this game so long my problem is remembering who to call Sir. That fresh coffee?”

“Yep. Pot looked a little stale when I got here, so I did a fresh one.”

Hookraider nodded. “Yeah – we’ve been on the go most of the night. The last one we made was about 20:00 but we got toned out before we could have any. Haven’t stopped since.” Hookraider yawned widely and unashamedly as he spoke.

“Wow – that’s a busy night.” Hank was aware of men arriving and raised his hand acknowledging Mike’s arrival, smirking a little as he noticed the other man’s comprehensive look at the Engine’s condition.

“You know Stoker?” Dammit – he should have remembered Hookraider noticed everything.

“Practically since he was a Boot.” Hank paused. “He was best man at my wedding.” A minor misdirection, but he knew the need for discretion, and that was the explanation the three of them had decided upon when questioned by those who didn't know about his, Mike's and Georgie's true relationship.

“Good, good. You know how to work together then. Always important between a Captain and his Engineer. How about we leave this madhouse and I’ll bring you up to speed.”

“Sounds good.”

The next half hour was a whirlwind of the administrivia of Station 51 as taught by Captain Hookraider. Hank hoped that the B-Shift Captain would be able to help him get his head better around it – Hookraider tended to gloss over a lot of stuff he plainly through was useless.

A polite knock on the door interrupted the two Captains. “Come!” Hookraider called and the door opened to show Mike, hat on his head, another one in his hand. Hookraider looked up at the clock. “That time already? Well – Station’s yours, Stanley. Don’t get burnt. Keep an eye on Kelly and Gage – that pair will drive a sane man to drink. And watch that typewriter. Damned thing is trying to kill me.”

As Hookraider exited the door, Mike discretely moved to stand in front of it as Hank sank into the chair. “I forgot what Captain Hook’s like,” he muttered. He blinked twice. “The typewriter’s trying to kill him?”

“I’d say it’s probably mutual, though the F and K keys to tend to stick,” Mike said with a grin. He straightened and held out the hat. “Shift’s all here and ready for roll call, Cap,” he announced loudly, and lowered his voice. “Georgie sent this. You took the wrong hat.”

“Fuck. Nice start that’d be.” Hank took the hat and put it on. “I hate having to break in a new hat,” he muttered as he marched to what he hoped would not be his doom as he confronted his Crew.

His Crew. Hank took a deep breath and strode out to take roll call and meet the other men he would now be working with.

His youngest crewmember, Hank couldn’t help but notice, seemed to attract injuries. More often than not, his shift injury report included the name GAGE, John R and a precis of the injury on it.

But this was worse than any other injury Johnny had taken – and technically it wasn’t an injury. The kid was seriously ill, with a virus contracted as a result of a rescue they had attended. Johnny wasn’t the only victim, but he was the one that mattered the most to Hank.

The reports that Roy brought back from the hospital weren’t good. All full of not when John would be back at work but if.

Hank hated the word “if” when it was applied to an injured firefighter.

The discovery that John had no family to stand by him during his illness had him cursing and determined that the young man would not be left to cope alone.
He soon discovered that the DeSotos had been taking turns sitting with John, but they couldn’t keep it up alone. So he picked up the phone – it was time Georgie took up one of the duties of “Mrs Cap”.

Hank saw Roy smirk slightly as within two hours their wives had turned up and organized shifts to sit with Johnny. Or at least sit at the hospital. Hank’s own smirk had taken place when Georgie had managed to charm Chet and Marco into becoming her latest acolytes.

He’d have to keep an eye on that. The last thing he needed was Chet Kelly encouraging his wife into some of her more insane ideas.

The results of the meeting were a lot of coffee cups, and even more plates for dinner, as his crew (including his replacement Paramedic) had asked the ladies to stay for dinner.

Thank god Marco was cooking. His food was always good. Even after a delay when the engine had been called out to a rubbish fire.

Georgie watched her husband as he started to fill the sink, and assemble everything to wash up. Joanne DeSoto had left, and Georgie had lingered, enjoying herself and the interactions with her husband’s “boys”. But….

She finally stood and slipped her arms around him from behind. Her kiss was loving. “Don’t stress yourself about John,” she whispered as she gave a significant glance at the washing up he was doing. “Between Joanne and I he will be looked after and familied as much as you could wish. And now I’ve met your boys, I’m going to take a bigger interest.”

His sudden smile, and reciprocal kiss made her heart swell, as it always did. “Thanks,” he said.

The tones dropped and the Paramedic team dashed out. “I’ll walk you out to the car,” Mike said, “Seeing as Cap’s up to his elbows in hot water.”

Georgie laughed. “And here he is supposed to be a respectable fire station captain.” She slipped her arm through Mike’s and sauntered out.

Pausing at her car she looked up. “Look out for him, Mike. He’s really worried about young John Gage.”

“Yeah. We all are. You’ll see – Johnny grows on you.” Mike’s arms went around her, and he held her tight, then gave her a quick kiss. “Don’t worry – I’ll try to stop Hank worrying too much. I’m actually sorry the shift hasn’t been busier. He can’t brood when he’s too busy fighting fires.”

Mike walked back in to find Chet drying and Marco putting away dishes. Without a word, Mike started to wipe down the benches and table, before grabbing a broom to sweep the floors.

All the while watching as his best friend carefully, and thoroughly, did the dishes.

Hank wasn’t aware when his “boys” caught on to how he coped when things seemed to be too overwhelming. All he knew is that coincidentally there seemed to be an unusual number of dirty dishes, pots and pans to be done.

Whenever one of his crew was injured, or when he was worried about their welfare, it just seemed to him that everything conspired for his own personal coping mechanism to be in place.

The only time it deviated was when it involved himself. Like when McConikee was made Chief.

That little episode made his crew wish with all their beings that Cap’s washing up habit applied to his own circumstances.

Still, just like Cap dealt with his boys’ neuroses, his boys dealt with his.

And he still washed dishes, but never alone, and never in complete silence. And it still eased his mind.