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The Love of Family

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John Gage stood leaning with his shoulder against the brick framing the window between his and his paramedic partner’s bunks. He was watching the rain fall in the gray light of the day. But, while his eyes were here in Carson watching the rain make patterns on the side of the building next door, his mind was a thousand miles away on a ranch on a reservation in the Midwest.

“Rain’s coming down pretty hard, huh?”

Roy’s voice behind him dragged some of Johnny’s attention back to the here and now. “Yeah,” he responded automatically.

“Hope it lets up soon. I hate making runs in the rain,” Roy said, trying to make a second attempt at engaging his partner.

“Yeah.”

Roy turned his gaze to Johnny’s face. He could see the faraway look in his eyes. The melancholy set of his features. He looked down and could tell that Johnny’s hands were fists in his pockets. Turning his head back to look out at the rain from the foot of their bunks, Roy suggested, “Maybe you should go back and see them on your next vacation.”

“Mmm,” Johnny half grunted. Then he narrowed his eyes a bit in slight confusion. He tilted his head toward Roy. “Huh?”

“Your family. Do ya good to see ‘em again. It’s been a while, hasn’t it?”

Johnny pulled a hand out of a pocket and traced a raindrop that had hit the window with the tip of finger. “Yeah. A long while.” He sighed. “I oughta.”

Roy walked over to his side of the head of his bed and leaned against the window sill, his right leg resting on his own pillow. He leaned his forehead against the glass, cushioning it with his right arm “Yeah. Ya should.”

The two friends stood silently together watching the rain, each within his own thoughts of family. The corner of Johnny’s mouth twitched up for a moment as Roy became part of those thoughts.

Then the tones sounded.

SQUAD 51…POSSIBLE HEART ATTACK… ….

________________________________________

Roy backed the squad back into the left side of the bay at the station. He and Johnny just sat in the cab and watched the rain come down between them and the refinery as the bay door slowly slid down. As Mike walked past Roy from the bay door button, he looked into the rolled up window at the two men in the cab as if to say "you can come out any time now, guys". Roy and Johnny looked at each other for a moment then slowly opened their doors and got out of the squad.

Their shoes squished on the cement floor of the apparatus bay, leaving watery footprints as they walked. Clusters of drips boarded each man’s trail as they made their way around the dry engine towards the locker room. For a moment, the only sounds to be heard was the muted drumming of rain on pavement and brick, and the occasional “ke-tunk” of a mug of coffee being set down on the table in the dayroom. And, of course, the squish of two pairs of boots.

As Johnny pushed open the door to the locker room he saw Chet Kelly coming out of the latrine. He moved swiftly thru the door so Roy could enter and turned his back on Chet to step over the bench to his locker, hoping Chet would take the hint and keep his trap shut.

Chet took in his two waterlogged crewmates in the mirror over the sink where he was washing his hands and burst out laughing. “Boy! You two look like drowned rats!”

“Oh, shut up, Chet,” was the best Johnny could muster as he unbuttoned and peeled off his soaked uniform shirt.

“No, I mean it. What did you guys do? Decide to take a shower in your uniforms?” He was just getting warmed up. “I mean if you really wanted to do that, ya didn’t have to wait for a run-“

“Chet!” Roy cut off the heckling with a tone and volume usually kept in reserve for stopping his kids in their tracks. Chet stopped mid-sentence. Even Johnny looked up. “It’s raining, in case you didn’t notice,” he spit out, flinging his arm out in the general direction of outside. “It’s coming down cats and dogs and we were soaked before we even finished getting the equipment out of the squad. Now do ya mind?”

Somewhere during that, Johnny had turned back to the task of removing himself from his oversaturated clothes while trying to hide a smile and suppress a giggle. The linesman was just stunned. He’d never had the full force of Roy-the-Dad come down on him like that.

Chet visibly backed down. “Sorry, Roy. I was just trying to have a little fun. Ya know?” he said with an actual sound of contriteness in his voice.

Roy stood there in front of his locker and dripped at him for a moment. Then, with a huff, said “Yeah? Come talk to me after the engine gets toned out during…this.” With that he turned his back on Kelly and finally began to undress.

________________________________________

“Hey, Roy!” Johnny was standing in the dorm with a coil of rope in his hands. His wet uninform was piled on top of the brick divider next to his bed. Without waiting for Roy’s response, he uncoiled the rope and started to tie one end to the leg closest to the divider and the walkway of the extra bed on the other side of the divider.

Roy finished buttoning his new, dry shirt and yelled back, “What?”

As he brought the rope up and over the divider and stretched it across his and Roy’s bed area, Johnny called back, “Bring your wet uniform out here with ya.” He finished by pulling the rope over the divider between Roy’s and Marco’s bed and tying it to the leg of that bed. He stood back and appraised his work.

Getting up from tying his boot laces, Roy shook his head. What was his crazy partner up to this time? As he tucked in his shirt, he considered yelling back again but decided against it. It was easier to just do as Johnny asked.

Walking into the dorm room holding his wadded up wet uniform, Roy was about to ask why, but then he saw his partner carefully arranging his own wet uniform over a tightly stretched rope above their bunks. He stood for a moment, speechless.

Johnny noticed Roy out of the corner of his eye. He grinned proudly at his friend and said, “Here, Roy. I figured with our luck we’ll get called out again a bunch’o times before this rain lets up and we might run out of dry uniforms. So…clothesline!” This last was said triumphantly with a flourish of his hands towards the line. He stood still, looking at Roy expectantly, and not a little hopefully.

Roy stood stunned. Johnny had actually come up with a good idea, made it happen and it seemed to be working. He walked over to where his enthusiastic other half was standing and inspected the line. It seemed to be holding up John’s wet uniform. Glancing at either end of the line showed him that Johnny had even thought to run the rope on the mortar line between the bricks. *Not bad,* he thought. Roy was impressed.

Standing back to give his partner some room, Johnny questioned, “Well?”

“It’s a great idea, Junior,” Roy said, smiling. He started to hang his own shirt and pants on the line to dry. “I like it.”

“Well, alright!” Johnny beamed, smacking his friend lightly on the back. “Alright!” He started to walk away, heading toward the door. “I’m gonna go get a cup o’ coffee. Yeah?”

“Yeah. I’ll be right there.” When he heard the dorm room door shut he shook his head in amazement. With a bit of a laugh, he spoke to the empty room, “I’ll be damned. It works.”

________________________________________

Just as Roy’s hand hit the door to leave the dorm, the tones sounded. He was about to sprint around the front of the engine as the dispatcher called out for Engine 51 and Ladder 112. Smiling in relief, the now dry paramedic retreated back to the dorm doorway to get out of the way of the engine crew. As Chet jogged up to take his place on the rig Roy raised a hand and pointed at Chet meaningfully.

Chet grabbed his turnout coat and swung it on, sighing “Yeah, yeah, yeah.” Then the bay doors rolled up, everyone settled into their seats and away they went into the downpour, thankful that they weren’t in the old Crown anymore.

Roy restarted his trip across the bay into the kitchen. He rubbed his hands together in anticipation of feeling a hot cup of joe sliding down his insides. What he found was his partner staring out the window looking lost again.

Getting his cup of coffee in silence, Roy just watched Johnny watch the rain. “Ya know, Roy,” Johnny started, taking a sip from the mug in his own hand. “It was raining the day I left Cheyanne River. I don’t think it let up until we drove off rez into Meade County. It wasn’t heavy like this, but I thought it was the spirits of my ancestors crying for me for leaving home.” Another sip and a laugh. “I mean…it was just a typical, summer low pressure system. But...ya know…I was only 15.”

He turned and sat down at the table, leaning back in his chair and playing with his now cold cup with one hand while draping his other arm over the back of his chair, trying to look unaffected. Roy wasn’t fooled.

“Johnny,” Roy said, dropping into the chair next to his partner, “have you been back there since?”

“My brother and sisters came out here for my high school graduation. And my parents came back out when I graduated from the fire academy.”

“That’s not what I asked.”

“My brother came back to celebrate my 25th birthday. That was just before I met you.”

“Johnny.”

“Fine!” Johnny straightened his spine and turned toward his partner. His brown eyes opened wide to stare into Roy’s blue ones, as if defying him to say anything more. “I haven’t been back. There. Ya happy?” Keeping eye contact with Roy to keep him silent, Johnny rose from his chair. He then snapped himself around and strode to the couch to sit with Henry.

________________________________________

ENGINE 51, LADDER 112…STRUCTURE FIRE…1225 EAST MAGNOLIA ROAD…ONE TWO TWO FIVE EAST MAGNOLIA…CROSS STREET CARSON…TIME OUT 11:24

It had only been a seven minute trip from stationhouse to scene, but already the lower half of Marco and Chet’s legs were soaked to the skin. As Mike slowed to let Chet out at the nearest hydrant the linesman braced himself for the rest of the soaking. The thought *Roy’s never gonna let me live this down* flitted thru his head as he jumped to the ground.

Ladder 112 was already on scene as 51’s pulled up to the abandoned fast food joint. Hank was kind of glad. He really didn’t want to have to think too much in this weather. Just follow someone else’s lead in where to place his men. And since he wasn’t Incident Commander, maybe he’d even see some action.

As the remainder of 51’s crew hit the ground, Capt. Barry Dorfman from 112’s came trotting over. “Hank, I got two of my guys on the roof, venting, and the other two took gear to bust open the rear door. Blaze seems t’ be centered in the back, kitchen area. Can I get two of youse on a hose from the front, thru the dining area, and ‘a hose run ‘round back for my guys to attack from that end. Back door opens straight into the kitchen.” Dorfman’s New York accent was almost too thick for Hank to understand, but he’d gotten used to it when they went to the IAFF convention together a few years back.

With a nod to Dorfman and a clap on the shoulder, Hank called out to his men, “Kelly! Lopez! I take an inch and a half in thru the front.” Then to Mike, “I’m gonna take a hose around the back to work it with 112’s men. I’ve got an HT if ya need me.”

“OK, Cap.”

In the time it took Hank to grab a hose and make it around the back of the building every body part, on every body, that wasn’t under a turnout coat was soaked to the skin. The guys fighting this fire from inside the building had it a tad easier than those who stayed outside.

Standing at the pump panel, the rain slowly seeped its way thru the water resistance of Mike’s turnout coat. Even with the collar up and tucked under the flange of this helmet, rain still somehow managed to make its way onto his neck and down his back inside his shirt. The normally unflappable engineer was miserable.

With the roof vented the rain helped the men make quick work of knocking out the fire. Shutting down the pumps, Mike readied the shovels, axes and other implements they needed for the clean up. He glanced over at 112’s truck and saw Martinez (if that’s what the name on the back of his turnout coat read, Mike wasn’t sure thru all the rain) waiting impatiently for the last guy from the roof to get off his ladder so he could so he could put it to bed. The faster this was done, the sooner they’d all be in dry clothes again.

________________________________________

The silence of Johnny and Roy’s truce was broken by the sound of the front bay door opening and the engine backing in to its spot by the dorms. This was followed by the squishsqweek of wet boots and one “ahh, shit”, a muffled bang, and “crap! I’m OK! Didn’t fall!” that sounded like Mike.

It was a full 10 minutes before the paramedics heard anything else from the other two-thirds of their crew since they returned from their run.

Captain Stanley was the first to come into the dayroom, looking for hot coffee. “Man, you guys weren’t kidding about the rain out there. By the way, great idea about the clothesline there, Roy. I’ve got Mike and Marco working on setting some up for the rest of us.”

Roy put up his hands and said, “Not me, Cap. That’s all Johnny.” He pointed to the grump on the couch who was studiously scratching Henry behind the ears.

Cap’s eyebrows nearly touched his hairline. Silently he jerked a thumb in Johnny’s direction. Roy nodded.

The lanky captain took a step in Johnny’s direction. Sensing the movement, Johnny looked up from the basset hound draped over one leg to the eyebrow-raised face of his boss. He raised his own eyebrows in silent question.

“About the ropes in the dorm…” Cap began, knowing what it would sound like to the younger man. He got the reaction he expected.

“Cap! I can explain. It’s just that Roy and I’ve got only so many uniforms and it’s rainin’, see and if we got called out more than we got unif…” the panicked paramedic’s words stuttered and tumbled out over each other as he tried to talk himself out of what he thought was trouble.

“Gage. Gage! I’m not yellin’ at ya. I came over here to congratulate ya, ya twit.”

“Congratulate me?”

“Yeah. That’s a brilliant idea ya had there, Gage, rigging up a clothes line. I’ve got the guys putting up some more for the rest of us before we all run out of dry clothes today.”

A slow smile spread itself across the lower half of Johnny’s face as the realization that he had done something to please his Captain filtered into his brain. “Yeah?” Then he remembered himself. “Well, yeah. Ya know, with the rain coming down the way it is,” he began to puff up as he got to his feet, disappointing Henry in the process.

Cutting Johnny off before getting caught in one of Gage’s self-aggrandizing speeches, the Cap held up a hand. “Well, I just wanted to let you know I’m glad you came up with that. Now, I’ve got some paperwork calling my name.” Deflated, Johnny stopped talking and just wandered back to the table.

As the Cap walked out, Chet walked in. One look at Roy prompted him to grouse, “Yeah, don’t say it,” as he made a bee line for the coffee pot on the stove. Grabbing a cup, he tipped the pot over it only to exclaim, “Only half a cup! Who leaves only half a cup’s worth of coffee in the pot? What’s wrong with you people? Can’t ya dump it out and make a fresh pot? What’s a guy supposed to do with only half a cup of stupid coffee?”

With a smirk, Johnny offered, “Uh, drink it while a fresh pot’s bein’ made?”

“Oh, har har,” Chet responded, downing said half a cup in one gulp and starting to make a new pot, not even realizing the irony in his action.

Walking into the kitchen, Marco announced, “Hey, Chet. I put your uniform over the clothesline.” Spotting Roy he started to open his mouth. Roy pointed at Johnny, who was sitting slumped over the table with one hand propping up his head. Marco wisely closed his mouth again.

Finally, the last member of Station 51 walked into the kitchen. Mike walked over to the counter, picked up two cups, filled them with now fresh coffee and was halfway back to the door before anyone even noticed him.

“Oh, that’s just great! I don’t even get the first cup of my own coffee,” Chet complained to the room in general and Mike’s retreating back in particular.

“Sorry, Kelly,” Mike tossed over his shoulder. “Cap told me to get him a cup.” And he was gone.

Finally getting to pour himself a cup of hot brew, Chet plunked himself down at the table. Looking over at Johnny, he asked, “What’s up with you, Gage?”

Barely glancing up from the invisible stain he was picking at on the table surface, Johnny responded, “Huh? What?”

“You. You look like someone just killed your goldfish.”

Johnny dropped the hand that was holding up his head. He leaned over the table towards Chet and pointed at him with his other hand. With his eyes narrowed as if trying to will Kelly in to being serious, Johnny asked, “When was last time you saw your parents?”

Chet looked stunned for a second. “Uh…well, we worked New Year’s, so…Christmas.”

Just then, Mike had the unfortunate timing to walk back into the dayroom and catch Johnny’s attention. Gage swiveled his accusing finger at the engineer before he’d even had a chance to sit down. “Mike. When was the last time you saw your parents?”

Without batting an eyelash at this odd question Mike answered, “Yesterday.” To the quizzical look on his questioners face he explained, “They only live 20 minutes away.”

Dismissing Mike with an aggravated wave of his hand, Johnny turned to Marco. Before Marco could open his mouth to answer the question that was apparently on the table right now, Johnny stopped him with, “Yeah, and Marco, you live down the street from yours.”

Abruptly, Johnny braced his hands on the edge of the table and stood up, scraping his chair back in the process. He shook his head and muttered, half to himself, “You guys don’t understand.” Then louder, as he walked from the dayroom, “You just don’t understand.”

Chet made as if to get up and follow him, but a look from Roy stayed him in his seat. Everyone knew how close the two paramedics were. If Roy felt that he needed to be the one to see to Johnny then no one was going to argue.

________________________________________

Roy found Johnny back by the window again. “Johnny,” he began carefully, “you know I understand.”

“Do you, Roy? Do you, really?”

“Yeah, I think so.” Roy knew he was treading on thin ice, both with Johnny’s apparent fragile state and his own emotions. “I mean, I haven’t talked to my mom since the day after my wedding. And you know I only see my dad around the kid’s birthdays. So, yeah,” he took breath. He knew it wasn’t really the same, but Roy also knew that his partner needed someone who could relate to what he was feeling right now. “I think I have an idea.”

“Yeah, Roy,” John’s dark eyes seemed even darker as he stared out into the still rainy afternoon. “But your relationship with your folks is a lot different than mine is…was…is with mine.” His voice got so quiet on that word “was” that it was almost whispered.

“Johnny, yours is a matter of distance. You’re not not speaking to your folks, they’re just so far away that-“

“-time just keeps slippin’ away,” Johnny finished for Roy.

In a rare show of brotherly affection, Roy put his arm around Johnny’s back and clasped his hand on Johnny’s shoulder. “Junior, no matter how much time has slipped away you’ll always have a better relationship with your parents than I ever will, or ever had, with mine. Your family will be thrilled to see you again, it doesn’t matter how long it’s been since the last time, and you know it. Deep down, you know it.”

TBC

Chapter Text

Johnny pulled up in his white Land Rover and parked behind Roy’s dark blue pick-up on the driveway in front of the DeSoto house. Joann’s station wagon was missing, and not seeing Roy’s beloved Porsche, Johnny figured it was in its usual place inside the garage.

He stretched his arm into the back seat foot well behind the passenger seat and snagged the six pack of Miller High Life he had bought on his way over. This Saturday was for relaxing. No Honey-do list. No construction projects. No car repairs or tune-ups. Just stretch out on the back deck, watch the kids play and forget that the rest of the world existed.

Whistling to himself as he walked up the path to the front door, Johnny thought he heard cursing coming thru the front window as he stepped onto the porch, but that couldn’t be right. Today was a day for relaxing, not cursing. He knocked on the door. He waited. He listened. He was about to knock again when he definitely heard cursing this time. Shrugging, he knocked the first part of shave-and-a-hair-cut and stepped back half a step.

It was a slightly disheveled and damp Roy who opened the door. Not to be discouraged, Johnny held the six-pack aloft, grinned and said cheerily, “Hey, Roy! Howzit goin’?”

Blue eyes rolled as Roy stepped aside for his friend to come in. Johnny looked altogether too upbeat for the aggravated homeowner right now. He knew this was supposed to be a relaxing day and he wasn’t going to take his problems out on his partner. But he was glad that Johnny was here. Aggravation shared is aggravation lessened.

“Where’s Joanne?” Johnny called over his shoulder as he walked across the living room to the kitchen. Then he noticed how quiet the house was. Putting the beer in the fridge, Johnny glanced over his shoulder and out the kitchen window to the empty backyard. “And the kids?”  Then he noticed the sink had no faucet.

As he closed the refrigerator door, he found Roy standing and looking at him. “Joanne took the kids to Ralphs.”

“Took the kids? That’s brave.”                       

“Yeah. She told them that if they were good and helped her shop they could each pick out a candy bar at the check-out. She went to get some steaks for us and burger meat for the kids to grill up later.” Roy saw Johnny’s eyes drift to the sink. He pointed in its direction and answered the silent question, “The faucet broke.”

“I was wondering what happened to it. Ya need some help?”

“Yeah. I know we were supposed to be relaxing today…”

“Hey,” Johnny said magnanimously, “you can’t help it when stuff breaks. Don’t worry about it. I’ll help ya fix it. No problem.”  

Roy gave his enthusiastic friend a worried look. Any time Johnny said “no problem” Roy worried. With good reason. Images of burning TVs and disassembled motor bikes flitted thru his head.

The faucet was laying on the counter next to the sink. Johnny picked up the handle, which was no longer attached to the rest of the fixture. “Now, I’m no plumber,” he said with his empty hand splayed out on his chest, “but I believe this may be your problem.” Held by forefinger and thumb, he dangled the broken part in front of his partner’s face.

With a glare of mild exasperation, Roy grabbed the offending item out of Johnny’s hand. “Ya think? It broke off in my hand-“

“Man don’t know his own strength,” Johnny muttered under his breath.

With a look of harrumph, Roy continued, “-when I went to wash the breakfast dishes this morning. And before you say something, yes, that’s the other reason Joanne left the house.”

Johnny looked innocent. “I didn’t say anything. So, do you have a new handle? Or is there a trip to the hardware store happening?” He peered down the hole where the faucet should be so Roy couldn’t see the gleam that came to his eye at the thought of a trip to the hardware store.

“Naw. I’ve got a whole new faucet in the garage.”

Johnny looked up in confusion. *Who keeps a spare faucet, of all things?*

“It’s kind of fancy, it was on sale, and I hadn’t got around to putting it on yet.”

The younger man grinned. “Well,” he gestured to the lever still in Roy’s hand, “there’s your round tuit.”


 

One hour, two bruised knuckles, several colorful obscenities and a bandaged finger later, the boys were ready to turn the water back on and test out their plumbing prowess.  One last glance at each other and Roy bent down and reached under the sink to give the valve knob a twist. Fingers crossed, he raised the faucet lever to start the flow into the sink.

They weren’t prepared for the water spray that hit them mid-stomach. Both men jumped back about a foot. Then they realized that the water was still on, and was now getting on the floor. They both jumped forward and slammed the lever down to “off”.

Johnny was the first to recover. “What the hell?” he burst out. The lower half of his shirt was soaked and the top of his jeans were damp. He pulled the shirt out of pants and wrung it out. Only a few drops fell, but it made him feel better. He looked at the palms of his hands for some reason, they were lightly tinged maroon. “Aw, hell.” He moved to wipe his hands off on the thighs of his jeans, then thought the better of it. For a moment he was lost for what to do. Then it hit him. He grabbed a couple of paper towels, wiped his hands off on those (for all the good it did him), and then dropped the towels on the floor and stepped on them to sop up the water there.

For his part, Roy ignored the water soaking into his clothes and was instead staring at the large, flat, black, rubber oval with the holes cut out that was sitting on the counter next to the sink. “Johnny”, he elbowed his distraught friend. Ignored, he tried again. “Johnny”, he said a little louder, this time elbowing and pointing to the rubber gasket that wasn’t supposed to be there.

Looking up from his feet, Johnny grunted, “huh?” Then his eyes followed Roy’s arm and traveled to where his finger was pointing. He saw. He closed his eyes. “Shit.”

“Yeah. Let’s get it fixed before we clean up. It shouldn’t take us too long.”

Johnny returned to Roy one of those looks that his partner had given him over the years. It was the look that his best friend gave him every time he came up with a great idea, or wanted to try doing something new. Johnny had so many of those stored up that he was sure Roy would appreciate getting one back.

Johnny was wrong. Roy recognized the look and replied, “Shut up. At least we know what we’re doing this time.”

Brown eyes began to roll again until their owner rethought trying to give his friend another one of those looks. It just wasn’t worth it. Instead, as he bent down to shut the water valve off again, the junior paramedic imagined their captain smacking the back of Roy’s head. The pipes were treated to a satisfied smile.


 

Thirty minutes, and no further injuries, later, they had the water running thru just the spout of a brand new, fancy, faucet. It was a thing of beauty. The rest of the kitchen, not so much. They hurriedly sopped up the water from the floor with many more paper towels. Then they finally washed the breakfast dishes, Roy washing with Johnny drying, and wiped down the counter.  When all was done, Johnny stepped back while Roy gave the kitchen one final inspection. Big sigh of relief as he deemed it wife-ready.

Finally able to, Johnny started unbuttoning his wet shirt. “I think I’ve still got some t-shirts in the guest room. At least I hope I do.”

“I think you left a pair of jeans here, too. Should be in the dresser,” Roy said as he left the kitchen to change his own wet clothes. “Just throw the wet stuff in the dryer when you’re changed.”

Finding a few shirts to choose from in the dresser in the room his partner’s kids called “Uncle Johnny’s Room”, Johnny also found the jeans that were in there, though John couldn’t for the life of him remember leaving a pair of jeans behind. And these were one of his good pairs, too. No holes, no rips, no stains. *Well, that explains it. Nothing memorable about ‘em.*  

After he’d changed into dry clothes, Roy found Johnny sitting at the kitchen table in dry clothes of his own. Opening the door next to where John was sitting, he walked into the storage room where the washer and dryer were and tossed his own wet clothes into the open and waiting machine.

“So what are we gonna tell Joanne if she asks why the dryer’s running or why you changed your shirt from when she left?” Johnny wondered as Roy stepped back into the dining area, closing the door behind him and muffling the knocking sound of the dryer he just started.

“Whaddya mean ‘what are we gonna tell her’? The truth. That’s what.”

“The truth!” Johnny yelped incredulously, jumping up and following Roy to the kitchen. “You can’t tell her the truth! What’s she gonna think?”

“What she already thinks. It doesn’t matter. I’m not going to lie to my wife.”

“Well,” Johnny backtracked, “you don’t have ‘ta lie. Just don’t tell her what all when on.”

Roy gave his partner his usual semi-resigned look that he had when talking about his lovely wife. “Why not? She’s gonna find out somehow anyway. She always does. Lying just makes it worse.”

Giving up on what was obviously a fruitless endeavor, Johnny just shook his head and said, “Boy, makes me glad I’m not married.”

Roy shook his head as he turned from John and opened the fridge.  Grabbing two bottles of the Miller his best friend had stowed in there when he’d arrived, he reached back with them as he closed the door and said, “Here, take one. Let’s go sit out back.”

Carefully extracting a bottle from Roy’s fingers, Johnny grinned and started singing under his breath, “If you’ve got the time…we’ve got the beer…” Roy just rolled his eyes and headed outside.


 

The best friends sat on the back deck in companionable silence drinking their beers and recovering from the unexpected excitement of earlier. Lounging back in a pair of Adirondack chairs, the men surveyed the backyard and enjoyed the quiet. A quiet they knew would soon be shattered when Joanne and the kids got home.

Johnny took a long pull off his beer. Resting the bottle on the arm of the chair, he looked back at the patio door. “Hey, Roy? Haven’t they been gone for an awfully long time?”

Looking at his watch, the father of two shrugged. “I have a feeling Joanne found a few other ‘errands’ to run before hitting the Ralphs. I’m sure she wants to make damn sure she gives me ample time to fix that faucet and calm down before getting back,” Roy responded. He snorted thoughtfully, “Knowing Joanne, ‘me’ includes you.”

“Heh,” Johnny chuckled in agreement, “no doubt.”

Roy tipped the bottle to his lips for another swallow. Without looking at the dark-haired man next to him, Roy began what he felt was going to be the hard part of the afternoon. Talking to Johnny. “So, how long’s it been since you’ve even talked to your folks?”

With a sigh, Johnny quietly responded, “I dunno. A few months maybe?”

“Your last birthday?” Roy guessed.

The younger man thought for a second and had another sip of beer. “Yeah. I guess.”

Roy shook his head in confusion. “I don’t get it. I thought you had a good relationship with your family. It really surprises me that you aren’t on the phone with them regularly.”

Johnny looked down and wiped at an invisible smudge on his belt buckle. He cleared his throat and said, “Yeah, well, long distance isn’t cheap, ya know.” Gathering steam, John looked over at Roy, “And with the two hour time difference by the time the rates go down here it’s the middle of the night out there. And they get up early. It is a working ranch, remember.”

“OK. Fine,” Roy accepted his partner’s excuse. “Have they invited you back out and you said ‘no’?”

“No.”

“’No’ what? ‘No’ they haven’t invited, or ‘no’ you didn’t say ‘no’?”

Another, harder sigh, “No, they haven’t invited me back out. And before you ask, it isn’t because they don’t want me. It’s just that there are others that probably still don’t.”

Auburn eyebrows knit together as their owner slowly turned his head to look at his partner. “What? Why? Who?”

With a laugh, John interrupted “Now you’re starting to sound like me.”

Roy waived his nearly empty bottle at Johnny. “Never mind that. What are you talking about? Why would people not want you to come back home? What did you do?”

“It’s not what I did, Roy, which is nothing. It’s what I am.”

Roy didn’t get it. Still confused he asked, “What you are? What’s that supposed to mean? They don’t like that you became a fireman?”

Johnny appreciated his friend’s inability to see what he felt was obvious. Even after the crap he took from Chet’s joking around at his expense and Roy defending the jokes, his partner truly didn’t see any difference between himself and Johnny, or Marco or Doc Morton for that matter. It was one of the things he liked about working at Station 51 (Chet’s narrow-mindedness aside), and about working with Roy in particular. So different from when he was a kid back on the rez.

“No, Roy,” Johnny replied with great patience. He sat up and twisted himself so he could lean with both forearms on the arm of the chair and stare directly at his friend. “They don’t like me because I’m half white.” With that, he drained his bottle, clicked it against Roy’s and said, “Finish,” as he stood up.

Roy drained the last of his beer and placed the bottle in Johnny’s outstretched hand. While his partner took the two empties into the kitchen to exchange them for fresh ones, Roy contemplated what it would be like to live in a community of people who didn’t like you just because one of your parents was a different race from the rest of everybody there. It was something he’d had no exposure to growing up in Pomona. Even though everybody he knew as a kid was white, it was the one thing his parents did right; raising him and his kid sister to be without prejudice.


 

In the kitchen, Johnny chucked the empty beer bottles into the trash. As he spun around on one heel to grab the refrigerator handle he heard the front door being opened. With a smile, he turned back to the sink and rapped a knuckle on the kitchen window to get Roy’s attention. Then he stepped into the dining area and turned to walk into the living room to greet the family.

“Uncle Johnny!” came the chorus of voices from the two monsters that came running through the living room towards the object of their enthusiasm. Johnny barely made it to his knees before they launched themselves at their favorite uncle. Even at 8 years old, Chris DeSoto still got excited to see his “Uncle” Johnny and wasn’t the least embarrassed about giving the man a hug. Six year old Jennifer DeSoto thinks the best thing in the world is to wrap her arms around the neck of the man she’s known as uncle since she was two and have him scoop her up into a big hug.

There was a big smile on his face as Johnny was nearly knocked over by Roy’s kids. He looked up to see Joanne DeSoto walking through the living room towards him carrying a paper grocery bag from Ralphs on her hip and a shopping bag from JCPenny’s in her other hand. He let out a slightly strangled, “Hi, Jo.”

Roy’s wife smiled at her husband’s partner and at the reception he was getting from their children. “Alright now, you two,” she said as Roy walked in from the deck, “let your Uncle Johnny go so he can breathe again.” As the kids loosed their grip, she said to the paramedic getting up from the floor, “Hi, Johnny.”

Roy met his wife with a kiss on the cheek and relieved her of her grocery burden. As he went to put the meat that he knew was in the bag into the refrigerator, he asked his wife, “Whatcha get at JCPenny’s?”

“Oh, I passed by on the way to Ralphs and saw they were having a sale,” Joanne explained. “I took a chance that they had summer clothes in and stopped. Chris has grown a little since last summer and I figured that his shorts are probably a little too small on him now. So, two new pairs of shorts for Chris, and a package of new underwear. Oh,” she said as an afterthought, “and a new summer dress for Jennifer.”

Turning from the cabinet under the sink where he stored the now folded up grocery bag, Roy walked over to his wife and peered in to the shopping bag she was still holding. “Hmm,” he said into the bag and then looked up at his wife with a smile and raised eyebrows. “And a new purse for Mommy, I see.”

Joanne blushed a little, then defended her purchases. “Well, don’t worry. Everything was on sale. 25% off all children’s clothing and 30% off all select women’s accessories,” she said, quoting the signs in the department store, “of which the purse was one.”

Roy planted another kiss on his wife’s cheek. “Don’t worry about it. I’d never deny my wife a new purse.” Joanne gave him one of those “don’t patronize me, you man” looks, then shook her head and left to put the things from JCPenny’s away. Roy wasn’t concerned about his wife’s spending. He knew she was acutely aware of how tight their budget was. He also knew that if you didn’t splurge a little on something frivolous every once in a while you’d begin to lose your inner sense of fun. Even tightwad Johnny understood that.

Speaking of Johnny, he had in the meanwhile taken the kids out back to play in the yard. Jennifer had roped him into pushing her on the swing set that he and Roy had erected in the backyard last summer. Chris swung himself, being too big to be pushed by anyone anymore. Or so he proclaimed when Johnny tried to push him, too. When Joanne left the living room, Roy had turned to see the three of them playing together. He stood by the patio door for a few moments to just watch his best friend spend that kind of time with his children. It warmed his heart to see that this childless bachelor that he had welcomed into his family loved his kids so much. He’d never admit it, not even to himself, but it was one of the things that made him love Johnny as if he were his own brother.


 

When Chris saw his dad step out onto the deck he yelled out to his father, “Hey, Dad! Could you come push Jenny so I can play Pong with Uncle Johnny?”

Jenny screwed up her face at her brother as she swung past him. “That’s not fair!” she announced loudly, “Uncle Johnny’s mine. You go play Pong with Daddy.”

Chris scowled at his sister from the top of his swing arc. “I always play Pong with Dad,” Chris said. The boy had stopped using “Mommy” and “Daddy” when he turned 8 seven months ago. He decided that 8 years old was too old to use baby names, as he put it, for his mother and father. “I wanna play with Uncle Johnny now.” Chris jumped off his swing as it started its upward trajectory again. This elicited stern cries of “Chris!” from Johnny, and “Chris, how many times have I told you not to jump off a moving swing?” from his dad.

“Aw, Dad. I’m not gonna hurt myself,” Chris said, trying to sound both defiant and repentant at the same time.

Roy walked up to his son and crossed his arms over his chest. He looked down at the back of the child’s light brown haired head as Chris looked at his own feet. “Christopher James,” Roy began, and Chris was glad he hadn’t used his last name, too. That would have spelled real trouble. “I don’t care if you think you’re not gonna get hurt. I want to make sure of it. And as long as I’m your father you’re going to do as I say. You got that, young man?”

Quietly, Chris said, “Yes, sir,” to the ground.

Roy was about to tell him to look him in the eye and repeat it, but decided the infraction was too small to warrant what his son would interpret as true anger. In truth, Roy was only a little upset that his son was still doing something that he had told him not to do because he didn’t want Chris to hurt himself. Instead, he continued to address the back of his son’s downturned head. “And you’re not going to jump off swings anymore, right?”

“No, sir.”

“Good. Now, take your Uncle Johnny inside and go play Pong.” Roy patted Chris’s back and gave him a slight push towards the house.

Chris looked up into his father’s face. “Really?” he said in slight disbelief. “Awright! C’mon, Uncle Johnny!” the boy yelled, beckoning with his hand to his father’s best friend, then turned and ran into the house.

“Sorry, kiddo,” Johnny said to Jenny as gave the auburn haired little girl one last, good push. “But Chris gets a turn with me, too.” He clapped Roy on the shoulder as he walked back to the house and Roy started walking toward the swing set.


 

Johnny found Chris sitting cross-legged on the floor in front of the TV. He had already pulled the Tele-Games console down off the top of the TV to the floor. He was leaning forward, busy turning the knob to channel 3. He looked up as he saw Johnny enter the living room.

“Uncle Johnny, could you reach in back and flick the switcher?” Chris asked, referring to the TV/Game adapter hooked up to the back of the TV.

“Sure thing, Sport.” He leaned his lanky frame over the large, mahogany cabinet and did as asked. The TV screen flickered and Johnny joined Chris on the floor as the Tele-Games logo came to life on the screen.

Boy and man picked up the controllers from their cradles on the game console and settled in for a session of flicking a square “ball” across the screen with their “paddles”, each trying to outscore the other. Johnny particularly enjoyed playing Pong with Chris because he never had to let the boy win. Chris was darned good at the game, better than Johnny was if truth be told, and Johnny was able to play with abandon.

The game had been a Christmas gift from Chris’s father and paternal grandfather last year. As soon as Chris had seen it advertised during the season’s TV ad blitz it was all he had wanted. At $99 there was no way Roy was going to be able to fulfill his son’s wish. However, when Roy’s dad came for his annual visit the man offered to go halves on his grandson’s gift. It was strange for the paramedic to find himself shopping at Sears with his father, but to Roy it was one best times he’d spent with is dad in many years.

After putting the kid’s new clothes away, Joanne emerged from the hallway to find her son and her kid brother (as she often thought of Johnny) engrossed in game play and laughing together as if they were both only eight. She smiled as only a mother can when seeing her husband’s best friend having the time of his life with her child. Walking into the kitchen she looked out the window over the sink to see her husband and daughter swinging side by side on the swing set. How Roy was managing to swing himself and push Jennifer at the same time was anybody’s guess, but they, too, were having the time of their lives.

As she pulled out the ingredients for the hamburgers she was going to make out of the fresh ground beef she had just bought, Joanne wondered if Johnny was really going to take a trip out to see his family. Roy had told her about his friend’s melancholy last shift over not having been back home since he was 15. She knew that span of time must seem even longer to a man who was obviously so happy when surrounded by family. Joanne just hoped that that man wouldn’t waste any more time getting in touch with his own.

 

 TBC

  

Chapter Text

The house looked lonely. Not just empty, but lonely. When he inadvertently bought it out from under Roy last year, Johnny hadn’t thought of it that way. He had thought of it as full of potential. The potential for large parties. The potential for possible roommates. The potential home for a future wife, or even a girlfriend. The potential home for kids, his kids, even maybe. Now when he looked at it through the front windshield of the Land Rover as he sat in his driveway, it just looked lonely.

All the way back from Roy’s house, Johnny had been telling himself that his partner was right. He needed to call his folks back home and tell them he wanted to visit. Family was important to him and Johnny needed to reconnect with his. “Roy’s right. I need to go home,” had been his mantra during the whole twenty minute drive.

Now, looking at his lonely house, his confidence fled.

The slender paramedic slowly opened his driver’s side door. A long leg reached out toward the ground and supported its owner as he slid himself off the seat and out of the truck. Without thinking, he closed the door as quietly as he could and locked it.

Mounting his front porch, he dropped his car key to the bottom of the keyring and moved his house keys up into his fingers. They still looked new and shiny as he slid first one into the dead bolt lock, turning and removing it, then the other into the doorknob lock doing the same.

He swung his front door open into the small front hall that held a console table on the right. He dropped his keys into the basket he kept there for that reason and avoided looking at himself in the mirror he had mounted on the wall above the table. He turned around and stepped into his den.

Johnny’s eyes landed on the phone he kept on the small desk he used to pay bills. “Right. Just lemme take off my shoes. Then I’ll call them.” He turned back around and headed to the stairs leading to the second floor where the bedrooms were. At the top of the stairs he turned left and walked the short hallway that led to the two bedrooms that were that side of the house. They were separated by a bedroom sized open space. The real estate agent had called it a “loft”. The other side of the stairway held the other three bedrooms, a bathroom and the laundry room. Johnny’s bedroom was the master suite in the back of the house. The door was open and he could see his bed as he approached. Sitting down on the edge of it, the silent man first untied and then unlaced his boots and took them off. John thought about putting them where they belonged for a minute, but then just shrugged and tossed them against his dresser.

“I think I’ll put something on more comfortable, first.” He stripped off the tight jeans he was wearing and tossed them on top of his discarded boots. Then in one continuous move, he grabbed the bottom hem of his tee shirt, pulled it over his head and sent it sailing into his laundry hamper. Now naked but for his socks (Johnny always went commando unless he was at work) he stepped on the toe of his right sock and pulled his foot out. Leaving that one on the floor, he repeated the procedure with the left sock. Picking both up with his toes, he transferred them to his hand and pitched them into the hamper.

Holding off putting anything back on, Johnny wandered into the master bathroom to pee, wash his hands and stare at himself in the mirror for a minute. “You can go home. Really, you can,” he told the face that stared back at him. He looked into his own eyes for a minute more, then clenched his teeth, shook his head and walked away from himself.

Johnny snatched up his green-striped pajama pants from where he’d left them on the bed that morning and he put them on, along with a loose fitting tee shirt. He considered this his “home uniform” and it was what he wore when he was alone. It was dorky, but it was comfortable. And who did he have to impress right now anyway?

He plodded barefoot back down the stairs. Making a U-turn at the bottom, he avoided the den and made his way down the hall to the kitchen at the back of the house. He circled the whole way around the center island and walked back over to the fridge, opened the door and stared inside it for a minute, then closed the door again. He wandered around opening up random cabinets. He was looking for something, but he didn’t know what. Courage, maybe? Turning around and leaning against the counter, Johnny let out a big sigh. He looked to the ceiling for aid, but saw only the light fixture mounted there.

“Damn,” Johnny berated himself. “What am I gonna say? ‘Hi, Ma. Sorry for not calling since August. I was wondering if it’s safe for me to come home.’ Stupid.” He pulled his arms in from where he was holding the edge of the counter and crossed them over his chest. His head bent down, he dragged in an extra-large lungful of air through his nose, held it, then forcefully blew it out again the same way.

Johnny crossed the breakfast nook and stepped down a step into his living room. He walked to his sofa and dropped himself down onto it. He leaned back. He stared into the depths of the blank TV. He willed his brain to give him an answer, any way he could face his family and not break down in tears. Not feel guilty. Not feel like a coward.

Silently, he sat that way for longer than he had awareness. It suddenly dawned on him that it was nighttime. He looked over at the Grandfather clock in the corner to see that it was just after midnight. The family lived in Mountain Time, two hours ahead. It was 2 am there. No way in hell he was gonna call his folks at 2 am, their time. He’d give them a heart attack. No, he would wait ‘till tomorrow.  Or, the day after tomorrow, actually. He was on shift tomorrow. Which meant that he was up way too late. He needed to get to bed right now if he was going to be able to get up early enough to not get latrine duty.

“Yeah,” he said to himself, “I’ll call them when I get home from shift.” He repeated that thought in his head several times as he got up from the sofa and made his way back to the stairs and up to the second floor. He paused once on the stairs, grasping the railing. “I promise,” he said with a deep breath, then headed off to bed.

TBC

Chapter Text

 

“No, Roy. I do not wanna talk about it!” Johnny called over his shoulder as he stormed into the kitchen and over to the coffee pot.

Chet looked up from the table where he was reading the newspaper. “Don’t want to talk about what?”

“Nothin’, Chet,” Johnny said as he poured himself a cup coffee. “Mind your own business.”

“Hey, I’m not the one who came yellin’, all mad.”

“I’m not yellin’ and I’m not mad. Tell ‘em, Roy.”

Roy was just walking into the kitchen and over to the coffee himself. “Well, actually Johnny, you were kind of yelling at me.”

Johnny gave his best friend a dirty look. “Oh, thanks a lot, Pally. Whose side are you on anyway?”

Sticking his hand out so Johnny could hand him a cup, Roy exclaimed, “I’m not on anybody’s side. I’m on your side. I don’t know whose side I’m on.” As he filled his cup with coffee he muttered to himself, “I didn’t even know there were sides.”

The dark haired paramedic crossed to the table and sat down, saying “Well, that’s just great.”

Chet’s interest was piqued. “C’mon, Roy. What does Gage not wanna talk about?”

Roy glanced over at Johnny’s sullen face as he sat down next to him at the table. “He doesn’t want to talk about calling his parents and arranging a visit home,” Roy answered Chet. He figured that telling the truth was the quickest way to get Chet off of Johnny’s back.

Looking at his pigeon with incredulity, Chet asked, “Why not, Gage? I thought you liked your folks?”

“I do, Chet. That’s not why…look, just mind your own business.”

“Babe, you came in here yellin’ at Roy.” John started to open his mouth to protest. This prompted Chet to cut him off before he started. “Yeah, yeah. I know. You weren’t yelling.” He got up and walked around the table to sit down next to Johnny and face him across the corner of the table. “Look. Just tell us what the problem is with visiting your folks that makes even calling them so hard and maybe we can help you figure a way to get past it.”

Johnny glared at Chet from over his coffee cup. “Chet…” he started, warningly.

Marco interrupted. “No, John. I think Chet’s right. If you can’t turn to your friends with this kind of a problem, then what’s the point of having friends?”

“That’s right,” “We’re here for ya,” and “We wanna help,” came at Johnny from all quarters of the dayroom, even from the Cap who’d just walked in on the tail end of things.

“John,” Cap said, capturing Johnny’s attention, “are the problems you have with your parents so huge that you can’t even call them?”

“No, Cap. The problem isn’t with…aww, hell…” Johnny floundered. He ran a hand over his face and stared at the table top for a breath. Looking up, he made eye contact with each of his shift mates in turn. He saw no mocking in any of them, even Chet. Only care and concern. “It isn’t my parents. My family is great. It’s the rest of everybody. The kids I went to school with. Their families.”

Still not seeing the issue, Chet asked the question on all the guy’s minds, “What’s with the rest of everybody?”

Taking a deep breath, knowing that he was about to let his shift mates – his friends – in on one of the most painful parts of his past, more painful even than the anthropologists that came to the rez when he was a kid, Johnny stared at the middle of the table and said, “They hated me.”

“Hated you? How can anyone hate you?” Chet chuckled, “Unless they’re a chick you’re trying to ask out on a date…then…”

“Chet, be serious,” Marco admonished as Johnny flashed Chet an annoyed snarl.

Johnny looked reluctant to continue. He started to think that they were just going to laugh at him. Dopy Gage blowing everything all out of proportion again.

Then Mike spoke up in his quiet way, “Why’d they hate you, Johnny?”

“Because I’m half white.”

There was silence for a moment. Cap asked, “Everybody?”

“Yeah. Pretty much.”

Chet was still confused. “Your own people?”

“That’s just it.” Johnny shot to his feet in frustration. “They didn’t see it that way. They’re…” and the tones sounded, cutting off any explanation that Johnny may have voiced.

SQUAD 51…WOMAN DOWN…6758 PICKFORD AVE…SIX SEVEN FIVE EIGHT PICKFRD AVENUE…CROSS STREET MARIGOLD…TIME OUT 13:24


 

The squad rolled out on a left turn, heading toward Pickford Ave and the woman down.  Roy looked over at his partner. Johnny was just shoving the call slip into the clip on the visor. He looked OK, so Roy shoved his concern aside to be picked up later when they returned to the station.

“Hey, Roy. If you hang a left up here at that light, then cut back on 230th,” Johnny directed, “we can avoid the construction going on at this end of Pickford.”

Roy shot a knitted brow over at John as he signaled for the turn. He wondered how in the world the man could know something like that.

Johnny caught the look and replied, “I was down that way after the last shift and they had signs up.”

Nodding his head up in acknowledgment, Roy made the turn.

A few minutes later they arrived at a three building apartment complex. Out on the sidewalk, they could see a middle aged women lying on her back. Next to her knelt another woman of a similar age. She was holding her friend’s hand, petting the back of it. The friend seemed annoyed.

“Lilly, I’m fine. Will you stop that?” Johnny and Roy heard the woman on the ground say as they approached. She tried to pull her hand out of Lilly’s grasp, but it was being held too tightly.

“Hi, there,” Roy said as he dropped down beside the downed woman. “My name’s Roy DeSoto, this is my partner John Gage. We’re with the L.A. County Fire Department. What seems to be the trouble?”

The woman on the ground opened her mouth to speak, but Lilly jumped in first. “Oh! You should have seen it! We were just taking our afternoon walk, like we always do. One minute Dottie was walking next to me, the next she was on the ground. I don’t know what happened, but she screamed in pain and rolled over onto her back.”

Dottie finally broke in, “I didn’t scream. I yelped. I stepped on a rock and my foot went out from under me. I knew I wouldn’t get my arms up in time to stop my face from hitting the sidewalk, so I twisted myself and landed on my shoulder instead.” She looked up at Roy to make sure he was listening to her and not to Lilly.

Roy looked at the shoulder that Dottie had nodded to. He lightly ran his fingers over her whole shoulder and upper arm, letting his experience and training tell him that the bone was, indeed, broken. As he touched her, she winced and clenched her teeth against a cry of pain. Roy felt bad. “I’m sorry,” he apologized.

“It’s OK. Broken bones hurt. Isn’t my first.”

On Dottie’s other side, Johnny had pried Lilly’s hand off of his patient and set about getting her pulse and blood pressure.  When he laid his hand on her abdomen to get a respiration count, Dottie looked pointedly at him and said sharply, “Excuse me?”

Johnny smiled and blushed a little. “I’m sorry, ma’am. I’m just getting a count of how fast you’re breathing.”

Before John could look down at his watch, Dottie came back with, “Well, if you keep your hand there for too long, I’ll be breathing a lot faster.” She smiled as she watched John blush a little deeper. “And it’s Dottie to both of you,” she added.

Roy smiled at her and proceeded to set up the Biophone. “Rampart, this is Squad 51. How do you read?”

Dr. Bracket’s voice came through almost immediately. “This is Rampart. We read you loud and clear, 51.”

“Rampart,” Roy began, “we have a female, about 60 years of age…”

“74”

“Excuse me?” Roy looked down at Dottie in confusion, still holding the Biophone receiver to his ear.

Dottie clarified, “I’m 74, not 60.”

Lilly chimed in, “Yeah. I’m 62. Can’t you tell the difference?” Lilly grinned at the old joke. The two ladies looked exactly the same age. Johnny snorted a laugh at their obvious enjoyment with his and Roy’s misassumption as he pulled the sling and bandages from the trauma box, anticipating the need to immobilize Dottie’s shoulder.

It was Roy’s turn to blush. “Sorry. Correction, Rampart. We have a female, age 74 with an apparent break to her upper arm just below the shoulder joint.” He went on to relay the blood pressure, heart rate and respiration rate that John had written down for him.

As Johnny began gathering the IV kit to administer the D5W that Bracket requested in response to Roy’s transmission, he asked Dottie, “Did you hit your head?”

Before Dottie had a chance to answer, Lilly interjected, “Oy! She’s been telling everybody for years that she hasn’t hit her head, but nobody believes her!” The fit of giggles that followed was only made worse by the look of confusion on Johnny’s face.

“He means just now when I fell,” Dottie sighed. Then to Johnny, “No. I did not hit my head. I was careful to keep my head up as I landed.”

“Rampart,” Roy turned his attention back to the Biophone, “patient is experiencing some pain. She states that she has not hit her head in the fall. Request something for the pain.”

“10-4, 51,” came Bracket’s response, “administer 5mg MS IV, immobilize the arm and shoulder and transport as soon as possible.”

“10-4.”

As the two paramedics carried out Rampart’s instructions, Johnny turned to Lilly and said, “We’re taking your friend to Rampart General, if you want to meet us there. Or you can ride in the front of the ambulance.”

“Oh,” Lilly responded, “she’s not my friend. She’s my sister.”

Roy looked up. “Your sister?” Both men looked from one lady to the other. Dottie had straight, light brown hair that was just barely frosted with natural grey and silver that fell to just below her shoulders. Her skin was pale beige and her eyes blue. Lilly had dark brown, very curly, short hair and deep coffee colored skin and brown eyes. The two looked nothing like sisters.

As she was being lifted up onto the waiting gurney for the ambulance that had just arrived, Dottie clarified, “We’re half-sisters. My father died when I was 7 and my mother remarried. Our mother, and my father, is Jewish. Lilly’s father is black. They had to move all the way out here from Brooklyn so they could get married and not harassed.”

“I wasn’t born when that happened,” Lilly stuck in with a laugh.

Johnny looked at the two of them and smiled. He suddenly felt not so alone.


 

In the ambulance, Johnny took a chance and asked a personal question. “Dottie? Have you and your sister ever gone back to your family in Brooklyn?”

Dottie took a good look at the handsome paramedic for the first time. Outside of the good looks that Dottie’s inner 20 year old was swooning over, she now saw that he had that same look about him that her sister had, only different. Yes, she had a feeling she knew why he was asking. “Oh, yes,” she assured him. “More so after our parents died than while they were still alive. My mother and I went back once for her father’s funeral, and we visited my step-father’s family once for Christmas. Neither time went very well. But our cousins and their children are much more accepting and loving. We’ve been back to visit both sides as much as we can, now.”

Johnny smiled at her and thought of his own family that he’s been missing more and more recently. Dottie saw the brief, faraway look in his eye and added, laying her hand on the man’s arm, “Even the few family members and neighbors that still like to voice prejudice and bigotry aren’t enough to keep us away. We haven’t moved back because L.A. is home, but even if only a few cousins love you and accept you regardless of one of your parents not being the same race or religion as them, then it’s worth going home to visit.”


 

Johnny found Roy chatting with Dixie at the nurse’s station when he left Dottie with Dr. Bracket in the treatment room.

“Well, I hope I look that good when I’m 74,” Dixie was saying.

Johnny reached for the cup of coffee Roy was handing him. “You? I hope I look that good! Man, she doesn’t look any older than her sister.”

“How old’s her sister?” Dixie asked.

At that moment the sister in question showed up at the desk. “Oh, good! It’s you boys,” she exclaimed. “What’d you do with my sister?”

The three at the desk laughed. Dixie slipped off her stool, “Now, are you talking about that wonderful Dottie that just came in with a broken arm?” Lilly nodded. “She’s right over here. I’ll take you to talk to her doctor while she’s getting x-rays.” Dixie took Lilly’s are and began to lead her away.

Roy nudged Johnny’s arm with his elbow. “C’mon, Junior, let’s get back to the barn.”

Knitting his brow and looking into his barely touched coffee cup, Johnny took one last, long sip of the caffeine laden brew and set the cup down for Dixie to find when she got back and jogged off after his partner.


 

As they drove back to the station, Johnny turned to Roy with a thoughtful look on his face. “Y’know, Roy, those two got me thinkin’. Y’know, I got a lot in common with them.”

Roy glanced over at his partner, then turned his attention back to the road. “You mean the half-sister thing?”

“Well, yeah. But more than that. Me ‘n Lilly. We’ve got the half-sibling, half-white thing in common.” Johnny waited a beat to see if Roy had a reaction. When he didn’t, Johnny plowed on. “Dottie told me how they go back home to visit family all the time, even though there are still people who disapprove of Lilly and her father. Well, Roy, if they can do that, at their age,” he splayed his hand out on his chest to make the point, “then I oughtta be able to go home, too. Right? I can call home and arrange a visit. I mean, right? Yeah!” John sat back with renewed determination about a reunion with his family.

Roy mulled over what the younger man had just said. He saw that all the talking and reassuring that he had done didn’t seem to make an impression on Johnny. But two strangers made all the difference in his attitude towards calling home. Sometimes, he just didn’t understand how Johnny’s head worked. He ventured a tentative question, “So, you’re going to call your folks?”

Johnny grinned a big, beautiful (and rarely seen), genuine smile. “Yup,” he said with conviction, “as soon as I get home after shift tomorrow.”

As Roy backed the squad into the station he asked what he figured Johnny was probably going to see as a dumb question, “Why not now?”

Johnny jumped out of the squad before Roy put it in park. He swung the door shut and leaned over the warm hood as he answered. “Because, Roy,” he said quietly enough to get Roy to lean in over the hood from his side of the squad and focus on what Johnny was saying, “this is too important a phone call. I don’t want to have to hang up on them if we get toned out, y’know? It’s been too long since I talked to them. They deserve my uninterrupted attention. I can’t do that here.”

Roy was impressed. It wasn’t like Johnny to put off something that he was newly excited about. “I think that’s a real good idea, Junior. A real good idea.”

As the two paramedics straightened up to walk away from the squad, Chet strode by on his way to the dayroom, catching the last thing Roy had said. “What’s a good idea?” he pried, “Johnny taking remedial driving lessons?”

“No,” Roy spoke up over Johnny’s sneer and quiet ‘oh, ha ha’ sent in Chet’s direction. “He’s going to call his family when he gets home tomorrow.”

Shooting an aggravated look at the back of Roy’s head as they followed Chet into the dayroom, Johnny scowled, “Thanks, Roy. You sure know how to keep a guy’s confidence.”

Roy rolled his eyes and sat down at the kitchen table, pulling a piece of newspaper over to read. Johnny stopped at the back counter to pour himself and Roy a cup of coffee.

“Confidence about what?” Mike asked.

Johnny puffed up a bit. “Oh, nothin’,” he replied, sliding Roy’s cup in front of his right hand and taking the seat next to his partner, “just that I’m going to call my parents tomorrow when I get home.”

Cap perked up from his seat on the couch where he was scratching Henry’s ear. “Oh, yeah? That’s great! What changed since our last talk?” he asked honestly.

Johnny opened his mouth, but Roy spoke up for him, “He was inspired by the ladies on our last run.”

Again, Johnny knitted his brow and threw Roy a look that said “will ya stop talkin’ for me”. When Roy looked back at him, Johnny opened his eyes wider at Roy to put an exclamation mark on the mental rebuke that Roy had picked up on. Roy shrugged his shoulders slightly, letting Johnny know that he got the message and should please go on with the story himself.

Johnny then launched into the story of Dottie and Lilly, in three part harmony, with all the bells and whistles, as only Johnny can. But the result was that the guys now understood Johnny’s new outlook on his situation and that he really was going to call his parents when he got home.


 

TBC

  

 

Chapter Text

Every light in the house was on. Even though he had just gotten off shift and it was 9 o’clock in the morning, Johnny had put on all the lights out of sheer nervousness. He usually preferred just natural light coming in from open windows, especially in the morning, but this morning all the electric light seemed reassuring.

He was seated at his desk in the den. It was a small desk, three drawers on the left side and one above the leg space, all wood. A Danish modern piece he found at a discount furniture store. The chair, however, was a splurge. A leather and steel Eames “management” chair. Very comfortable. It swiveled and was on wheels, which meant he didn’t have to sit still in it. But right now Johnny was sitting very still. Except for the fingers of his right hand. Those were drumming furiously on the Formica desktop.

Picking up the receiver, Johnny took a deep breath and dialed a number he would never forget. As the phone rang he blew out the breath and swiveled to face the picture window that looked out on the street. He propped his feet up on the window sill and hoped someone would pick up soon.

“Hello?”          

Johnny started at the sound of the voice suddenly coming into his ear. “Hi. Jimmy?”

“Johnny? Hey, misúŋ! How are ya, kid? Everything OK over there in La La Land?”

“Yeah, čhiyé,” Johnny laughed, “everything’s fine. I was just missing you guys.”

“Missing us? Last I knew you were hard put to remember us.” Johnny could almost hear his older brother’s right eyebrow raise up.

“Yeah, well, I got to thinkin’…”

“Oh, that’s dangerous.”

“Ha ha. Seriously. I’ve been wondering… lately… if it’s… well, if all’s OK for me to come back home for a visit.”

Silence. Then Johnny heard a sigh, “I think you’ll have to talk to mom about that.”

“You’re no judge?”

“I’m no judge,” Jimmy agreed. “Mom’s the best one to give you the temperature of things around here.”

Johnny thought about that for a moment. “Yeah, I guess she would be. She around anywhere?” Johnny asked hopefully.

“Ahhh…,” Jimmy hemmed. Johnny figured he must be looking around to see if their mother was in sight. “Hang on just a sec.”

Johnny heard a thunk that sounded like the receiver being put down on a kitchen counter. Then he heard what sounded like the squeaky hinge of a screen door opening, followed by the banging of a screen door closing on its own.

While he waited, Johnny looked out his window to the street outside. His neighbor across the street had just turned his lawn sprinklers on. He shook his head in dismay. Hadn’t he been listening to the news? They’ve been talking about the probability of a severe drought this summer since there had been hardly any snow in the mountains this past winter. Sprinklers waste water. And if there’s anything a firefighter gets worried about, it’s a shortage of water. You develop a healthy respect of how precious water is, and how devastating it can be when you don’t have it.

After a few minutes, Johnny pulled a pen from a cup on his desk and began to use it as a drumstick on the desktop. It was another five minutes before he heard the sound of his mother’s voice over the phone.

“Johnny? Is that really you?”

“Yeah, ma. It’s really me,” he replied, dropping the pen to the desk.

“I almost didn’t believe Jimmy when he said you were on the phone. To what do we owe this rare pleasure?”

Johnny was surprised that his older brother hadn’t said anything to his mom. “I...,”he hesitated, almost afraid to speak the word. “I got homesick.” Again, he paused. He actually felt kind of stupid for asking this, but he had to, “Are things OK for me to come back for a visit?”

“Oh, Johnny,” his mother said with a tenderness that Johnny could almost feel caressing his cheek. “It’s never going to be completely alright for you here, but things are changing. Attitudes…people. It’s slow, but it’s getting better.”

“Yeah, but…is it safe?”

“It’s safer than when you were little. And you’re an adult now. I don’t think anyone would try any…well, Barbara is very outspoken against those sorts of things.”

Johnny chuckled, “If I remember correctly, my tȟaŋkší is very outspoken about everything.” He chuffed under his breath and said, “I think I’ve learned to be more like her while I’ve been here in L.A.”

“Good. So when are you coming home?”

A smile lit Johnny’s face at his mother’s forthrightness. “Well, I’ve got a vacation already scheduled for the end of April. Ah…let me see…” He swiveled back around to his desk so he could look at his appointment book. Cradling the phone receiver between his shoulder and ear, he opened the little, brown leatherette notebook he picked up from his bank and flipped through the weekly calendar pages until he started seeing days marked off with the word “VACATION” in their box. “Here ya go. April 21st to May 8th. I was planning to drive up to Washington to go camping on Mt. Rainier, but I can do that some other time.”

“Oh, honey, if you already have plans you don’t need to change them.”

“No, it’s OK. I haven’t booked anything. Otherwise, I don’t have any more vacation time until next year. I’d rather come see you. The mountain can wait.”

“So long as you’re sure. You know we all want to see you. It’s been so long.”

“Yeah,” Johnny breathed quietly, feeling guilty. “Yeah, I’m sure. Look, if I book a flight out to Natrona County Airport I’ll have more time with you than if I drive across.” He heard his mother laugh at the idea of ‘her adventurist son’ driving all the way to South Dakota. “Well, there’s no direct flight, but I’ll get there.”

“Let us know when you’re getting in. Your father and brother will meet you to drive you back.”

“That’s a five or six hour drive,” Johnny began to protest. His parent’s ranch was busy. He didn’t want to take them away for what would amount to a 12 hour trip.

His mother cut him off, reassuring, “That they’ll be thrilled to do to get you home.”

“Alright, ma. Just don’t let the whole clan come out. I don’t want to be a parade.” He had an image in his head of his parents and kid sister, his older brother and sister, and their families all convoying up I-90 for him. “I’ll call before I leave, when I get the flight number.”

 “Call between now and then, too, OK? I know your dad would love to talk to you before you get here. I wish he could now, but he’s out at the Triple B with a stud.”

He chuckled at the memory of going out with his dad to the Logan’s farm to watch Blackie, the stud they had when he was 12, have sex with three of their mares. Talk about your instant education. “Well, tell him I wished him good luck. I’ll call you in a couple ‘a weeks.”

“Alright. I love you, Johnny. Take care.”

“You, too, ma. I love you. Bye.”

Johnny hung up the phone. He sat back and looked at it for a few minutes. A smile came over his face as he thought about how good it was to talk to his mother and how much he really was looking forward to seeing his family again. Then he felt his stomach begin to grumble.

He swiveled away from his desk and got up, finally being able to consider eating breakfast. As he walked out of his den, he turned out the light.

 

TBC       

Chapter Text

“Good morning, good morning, good morning!”  John Gage bounced his way into the locker room and greeted his fellow shift mates, Roy and Chet, with enough cheer to annoy a circus clown.

Chet glanced over at the dark haired paramedic.  As he buttoned up his uniform shirt he asked, “What are you so happy about?  I thought you had a date with what’s-her-name?”

“I did,” Gage replied, “and her name is Doris.”  He finished unbuttoning his brown shirt, took it off without bothering to unroll the sleeves and hung it up on one of the empty hangers in his locker.  Turning around to pontificate on the subject, he continued, “For your information, the date went great.  She’s really an amazing girl.  I took her out to D’Alessio’s in Long Beach.  Man, she loved it!  I could tell she was really diggin’ me.”  As he talked, he toed off his desert boots and peeled off his jeans.

Roy finally chimed in, figuring it was safe.  “So, when you taking her out again?”

“Oh,” Johnny stated cheerily, “I’m not.”  Dark blue work slacks on and zipped.  Johnny turned back to his locker and pulled a light blue work shirt from its hanger.

“Whaddaya mean you’re not?  You just said she dug ya?”  Chet was confused.

Pausing for a moment with the shirt half on, John smiled.  “She does.  And I dig her, too.”  He glanced at Roy with a twinkle in his eye and finished putting on his shirt.  With silent communication, Roy realized that all was not as it seemed and Johnny was going to drag this out for as long as it took to drive Chet crazy.

A lightbulb went on over Chet’s head.  “Ah.  You asked her for a second date and she turned you down because she came to her senses.”

“No,” Johnny smiled.

Roy decided to get in on the fun.  “No, you didn’t ask her out?  Or, no, she didn’t come to her senses?”

Johnny squinted up at the ceiling for a moment, tilting his head and screwing up his lips in mock contemplation of the question.  Turning to Roy, he pointed and drew in a breath to say, “Both.”

The lightbulb went dark.  Chet put his hands on his hips and leaned forward to peer at the confusing paramedic.  “Wait.  So, you dug her, but you didn’t ask her out again.  What’s wrong with her?”

“Nothing,” Johnny smiled.  He sat down in his locker and pushed Chet back a step so he could put his feet on the bench to don his work boots.  Roy took his time buttoning up his own shirt.  He really wanted to watch this play out.

“So if there’s nothing wrong with her,” Chet poked Johnny in the shoulder, “why didn’t you ask her for a second date?”

“I couldn’t.”

Now Chet was really confused.  “Whaddaya mean, you couldn’t?”  To be perfectly honest, Roy was a bit confused by that himself.

“I mean there wasn’t any point to it.  I already knew she wouldn’t be able to go out with me again.”  Johnny was really enjoying this.  He was almost tempted to drag it out all shift, but knowing Chet, he’d come up with some lame brained reason why Doris wouldn’t go out with him and never believe the truth when Johnny finally told him.  He had to end this before roll call.  Before they left the locker room, really.

Chet just stared at him.  Johnny and Roy both could actually see the wheels turning inside Chet’s head as he tried to puzzle this out.  He shook that head when he stated, “I think you’re bullshitting.”

Johnny smiled enigmatically in Chet’s face, which was conveniently at eye level, with Johnny in his locker the way he was.  Captain Stanley chose that moment to pop his head into the locker room and announce roll call in five minutes.  It was time to let Chet off the hook.  “Nope.  She told me when I picked her up that she just got a job offer in Houston.  She’s moving out there next weekend.”  He smiled again at Chet, then at Roy, waggling his eyebrows at his best friend.  Back to Chet, Johnny got out of his locker and closed the door.  Then he closed Chet’s mouth for him and headed out to line up in the apparatus bay.

 


 

“Marco, man, I really wanna thank you for being the last man in today.  I thought for sure Cap was gonna stick me with latrines again.”  Chet headed over to the stove to pour his buddy and himself a cup of coffee.

The ‘last man in’ pulled out a chair at the kitchen table and sat.  “No hey de qué, amigo,” Marco said wryly.  “What are friends for?”

Chet plonked the hot cup of caffeine in front of Marco and patted him on the shoulder.  “Exactly, man.  Exactly!” he exclaimed, completely missing Marco’s sarcasm.  He snatched a section the day’s newspaper off the table and took it and his own coffee to sit on the couch with Henry.  Looking back at his friend as he opened the paper he noticed Marco was just sitting there watching him, eyebrows raised.  “Hey, pal, you better drink up before Cap finds something else for you to do.”

“Who do I need to find something else for, Kelly?  You?”  Cap’s timing seemed to be on point today as he strode over to get his own cup of morning joe.

Marco chuckled under his mustache, downed his coffee in two gulps and fast walked out the door.  “Oh, no, no, Cap,” Chet sputtered.  “I was just telling Marco here…” and that’s when he noticed said Marco was no longer in the room.  Chet’s sentence hung unfinished.

Captain Stanley turned around and leaned, cup in hand, against the kitchen counter.  He looked over at his linesman expectantly.  “You were saying, Kelly?”

“Uh…Cap…I’m just waiting for Gage and DeSoto to finish their morning checks so I can get them to move the squad out to the apron.  Really.”

“Uh huh.”  Cap took his long strides out towards the apparatus bay.  “Maybe you would know when they were done if you could see them better,” he said as he left the kitchen.  In other words, Cap implied, get your ass off that couch and get to work.

Chet rounded the back corner of the squad just in time to hear Johnny telling Roy about plans to see some guy after shift.  “Who ya going to see, Gage?  Your shrink”

“Ha, ha.  Very funny, Kelly.  No.  I’m going to see a travel agent to book my flights.”  Johnny didn’t need to see the gleam in Chet’s eyes.  He saw Roy’s eye roll as Roy stood up to put the drug box back in its place in the squad’s compartments.  That told him all he needed to know.

Chet slipped his hands into his pockets and leaned back against the engine.  “Ya know, Johnny, I’ve got a cousin…”

“I don’t care about your cousin,” Johnny stopped Chet mid-sentence as he closed the compartment doors after stowing the biophone.

Being interrupted didn’t deter Chet any, never did.  He just plowed ahead, “No, really.  He’s one of the best travel agents…”

“And so was your real estate agent.  Look where that got us,” Roy reminded Chet.  But his eyes were on Johnny when he said it.  Johnny smiled sheepishly, avoiding eye contact, and stepped around his partner to open the passenger side door of the squad and climb into his seat.

Chet kept trying.  “You really ought to meet him.”

“No,” came the reply from the squad cab.

“He’ll getcha a great deal.”

“No.”

“Just give him a…”

“No.”

“I’ll have him stop…”

“No.”

 “He really is…”

By this time Roy had let Cap know to put them 10-8 to Rampart on a supply run and was sliding in to his seat behind the wheel of the squad.  “Good bye, Chet!” he called out before Johnny could get another ‘no’ out, and started the Dodge’s engine.  The smaller apparatus hung a right to head to Rampart as Mike swung up into the cab of the bigger apparatus in order to pull it out onto the station’s apron.  Chet wondered what just happened.

“Kelly!”  Cap called out from inside the office. 

That activated the stunned linesman.  How did he know Chet was just standing there without seeing him?  “Right, Cap!  Mop!”  Chet called back and headed to the supply closet for the mop and bucket to start his chore.

 


 

The seven minute trip to Rampart was filled with Johnny ranting about Chet and his “one of the best” whatever’s.  Roy kept his thoughts on the subject to himself, keeping his eyes on the road.  He neither wanted, nor needed, to egg his partner on.  By the time they got to the hospital Johnny had flowed into being defensive about his choice of travel agent.

As they dodged the busy traffic walking through the Emergency Department’s main corridor, Johnny continued his tirade.  “I mean, I can find my own travel agent,” he stated emphatically, one hand splayed on his chest and the other outstretched broadly and nearly knocking a tray out of nurse’s hand.  “Ooh, sorry.  Hey Roy!”  Johnny stumbled around the annoyed woman and jogged to catch up with his partner as they approached nurse’s station.

Dixie’s eyes sparkled in amusement.  She watched as the younger paramedic tripped over himself on his way over.  She swept her dark eyelashes up to make eye contact with the older counterpart who rolled his eyes and shook his head, gracing her with an amused smile.  Johnny flashed her his own crooked grin as he landed in front of her.  “Hiya, Dix!”

“Well, hello yourself, tiger.  What’s got you all riled up this morning?”  Dixie smiled up at the younger of her favorite paramedics.  But tipping her head to Roy, she asked, “Or do I want to know?”

Johnny opened his mouth, but Roy was faster, “Chet tried to pawn off one of his friends on Johnny.”

“A date?”  Dixie questioned the now annoyed Johnny.

“Travel agent,” he responded, lightly nudging Roy’s knee with his own to tell his partner to shut up.

Dixie well remembered the trouble Chet’s real estate agent had stirred up.  “I see,” she commiserated in complete understanding.

“Yeah, well,” Johnny began, pulling himself up to his full height and crossing his arms over his chest.  “I got my own travel agent.  I don’t ne…”

“Dixie, we need some supplies,” Roy interrupted before Johnny had a chance to tirade all over the poor nurse.  He handed her their list and grinned at Johnny.

They both ignored Johnny’s “hermph”.  Dixie scanned the list.  “Looks like you need a little bit of everything.  C-shift wasn’t able to resupply?”

“No,” Roy informed her.  “Dwyer said they had a few back to backs this morning right up to shift change.  Left it for us to handle.”  Nodding imperceptibly back at his partner, Roy confided, “Kind of glad that they did.” 

“Well,” Dixie said, sliding off of her stool, “this is going to take a few minutes to gather.  Why don’t you boys get some coffee in the lounge and come back in, oh, 10 or 15 minutes.”

Roy smiled at her for giving them enough of a break from the station to get Johnny off his track.  “Thanks, Dix.  C’mon, Junior.”  He tugged at Johnny’s sleeve as he turned to go to the staff lounge. 

Johnny gave Roy the small look of distaste he always did when his friend used that nickname.  “Right with ya, Pally!” he called out to the man.  He turned his goofiest grin on Dixie and wiggled his fingers at her before following his partner down the hall.

 


 

It was a much calmer John Gage, and happier Roy DeSoto, that picked up the overstuffed supply box on the way out of Rampart 10 minutes later.  The break had given Roy just the time he needed to distract his partner with a story about his kids.  An invitation to a Joanne-cooked breakfast after shift end was the finishing touch to put the Travel Agent Tirade completely out of Johnny’s mind.

On the way out of the Emergency Room doors the HT crackled and the dispatcher’s voice came over, “Squad 51, what’s your status?”

Roy lifted the handset to reply, “Squad 51 available.” 

LA Dispatch returned, “10-4, 51.  Prepare for response.”  No time to put the supplies away.  Johnny and Roy jogged out to the squad.  Johnny just shoved the box of supplies into the squad’s compartment with the drug box while Roy took the longer jog to his side of the truck’s cab.  Both slid in to their seats as the HT beeped three times

Squad 51…child down…

He heard the location on the HT, but Johnny picked up the squad’s radio handset instead to acknowledge, “Squad 51, 10-4,” before jotting the address and time on his call log.  Luckily, it was in the neighborhood across the street from the hospital

Roy had the engine started and the squad moving forward before John even started to write.  They needed to move fast on this one.  It was a child down call.  Neither man liked these kinds of runs and the tension in their faces showed it.

For Roy, it was because he was a father.  He always had to push the image of Chris or Jenny in their young patient’s place out of his mind.  Some of the worse child rescues he’d been involved in ended up in his nightmares.

For Johnny, it was his affinity to kids.  He had a way of being able to connect with them at their own level.  He understood their thinking process, which was different than an adults.  He still employed it himself most of the time.  It was one of the reasons people, mostly women, mistook him for just a big kid.

The cab of the squad was silent as they pulled up to the address they had been given.  No discussion on navigation was necessary as they were familiar with this neighborhood, having been in this area before on other runs.  They could see the situation right away. 

There was a car parked halfway down the driveway of the house.  Its driver’s side door was wide open.  The apparent driver of the car was kneeling down by a small child who was on the ground behind the car and partially under it.

While John was grabbing the biophone and the drug and trauma boxes out of the squad’s compartments on his side of the vehicle, a women burst out of the front door of the house and ran towards Roy.  “You got here so fast!”  She cried.  “I barely got off the phone.”

Roy caught her shoulders before she could run headlong into him.  “Yes, ma’am.  We were at Rampart.  Are you the mother?”

“Yes,” she practically sobbed.  “Jodi!  Is she still alive?”

By this time Johnny had gotten to the child.  He’d already set down his burden and gently pushed the man’s hands away from the little girl.  As he began his IPA, he called up to the distraught mother, “Yes, ma’am, she’s alive.”  Addressing the man, he asked, “Are you her father?”

His response was painful to hear.  “I don’t deserve to be.  Yes, she’s mine.  What have I done?  I didn’t see her!”

“Yes, sir.  I understand,” Johnny said patiently.  “Uh, do you think you can step away for a minute so I can get a better look at your daughter?”  The little girl was half under the rear of the car, and the lower part of her body was inaccessible. 

Realizing he was in the way, Jodi’s father muttered an apology and moved over to stand with his wife.  This gave John, and now Roy as he joined his partner, the room to gently move the small body out from under the car.  The little girl was unconscious and having trouble breathing.  With deft fingers, Johnny quickly determined that she had sustained several broken ribs and a possible broken pelvis. 

Between the two of them, vitals were taken and jotted down.  Johnny set up the biophone and relayed those numbers, along with is assessment of her injuries, while Roy cleaned and bandaged a cut both men had observed across the bridge of her nose.

All the while, in the background, the parents could be heard, not crying, but arguing. 

“How could you not have seen her?” the mother accused.

The father’s distraught voice rang out louder, “I looked.  She must have been right behind the car.  And.  She’s.  Short.  Why did you let her out of the house?” he threw back. 

“I didn’t ‘let’ her out.  She knows how to work a doorknob, ya know.  Four isn’t a baby anymore,” she yelled right in her husband’s face.

As a police car and the ambulance rolled up, Roy stood and approached the arguing couple.  “Hey, hey, hey,” he placated as he stepped in front of them.  “This isn’t helping your daughter.  She needs both of you right now to focus on her.”  While the father looked contrite, mom began to turn her anger towards Roy.  Stopping her before she could get a word at him out, Roy explained, “I’m a dad, too.  I’ve got a little girl just a couple years older than Jodi.  I understand you want to blame each other, but the fact is it was just an accident.”  Roy gave them both his best reassuring smile.  “I worry all the time that one of my kids is gonna get hurt.  And my worse fear is that it’s gonna be something I did.  So I’m careful.  But I’ve got a big pickup truck that I probably couldn’t even see my wife in the rear view mirror if she were standing right behind it, so I could be in your shoes,” he said, looking at the father, “any time I pull out of my own driveway.  And our kids play in the front yard, and they also know how to open doors.  And kids move faster than you can imagine, you know that.”  By this time, Roy had gotten even the irate mom to calm down and realize that her husband wasn’t to blame. 

Johnny had their patient packaged now and was helping the attendants load her onto the ambulance, calling out to let Roy know that he was going with the little girl.  Roy waved his acknowledgment while the father was apologizing to his wife for blaming her.  She, in turn, apologized for blaming him.  “Now,” Roy interrupted them, “we’re taking Jodi over to Rampart.  As soon as you finish with this officer,” Roy gestured to the cop who had been waiting just off to the side to get a statement, “you can come over to the emergency room there, and they’ll be taking real good care of your little girl.”

Both parents nodded and mumbled their thanks as they turned towards the police officer who was waiting to take their statements.

 


 

As Roy backed the squad back into the ambulance bay they had only just vacated 15 minutes ago, he saw his partner leaning against the wall outside waiting for him.  He reached for the key to turn the ignition off, but caught sight of Johnny walking up to the passenger door of the squad out of the corner of his eye through the side view mirror.  Roy wore a puzzled look as he replaced his hand on the steering wheel.

“Ya know, Roy,” Johnny began as he opened the door to get in, “I don’t get those two.”

“Which two?  Jodi’s parents?”

“Yeah.  Their little girl is lying there injured and all they can do is argue about who’s to blame.”  Johnny punctuated his aggravated confusion by closing the door a little too hard.  “Ya know they started up again when Brackett asked them what happened.”

“I believe it,” Roy sighed as he pulled out of the bay.  “I’ll bet there’s more going on there than just blaming each other for this.”

“Yeah.  I just feel sorry for Jodi.  It’s always the kids who get the worst of it when parents fight.” 

Glancing over at his partner, Roy saw him with a faraway look.  He was staring out the side window with his brow furrowed, watching something that wasn’t the passing scenery.  Slowly, Roy asked, “You’re not talking about your…?”

“No,” Johnny cut him off, “not mine.  But I’ve seen some of the kids’ folks on the rez really lay into each other.  They take their anger about conditions out on each other.  Then the kids get angry ‘cause they’re raised with anger and they take it out on…”  He paused, realizing something.  Then, with a small, ironic laugh, quietly continued, “…on me.” 

When the squad pulled back into the station and came to rest next to the engine out on the apron, Chet noticed out of the corner of his eye that Johnny made a beeline for the dorm while Roy sauntered back toward the dayroom.  His curiosity piqued, Chet nodded in the direction the younger paramedic had gone and addressed the elder one.  “What’s up with Gage?”

Roy looked in the indicated direction, then back at Chet, trying to figure out the best way to explain and get Chet off Johnny’s back at the same time.  “Bad run,” he settled on.  While not entirely true that was the effect it had on his partner.

Chet accepted the explanation and just grunted his understanding.  Bad runs were to be left alone.  Everyone had them and everyone had their own way of dealing with them.  Even the Phantom knew not to bother someone after a bad run.

Mike looked up when Roy walked alone into the dayroom.  Addressing the senior medic he asked, “Has Gage told you whether it’s hamburgers for lunch and hot dogs for dinner, or the other way around?”  This earned a chuckle from Marco, who had finished cleaning the latrines while the squad was out and was taking a break.

“Neither,” Roy answered.  “He said he brought in cold cuts for lunch and was doing something special for dinner.  He wouldn’t say what.”

This perked up Chef Marco’s ears.  “Special?  Johnny knows how to cook something special?”

“So he claims.  And there’s a container of something in the refrigerator with ‘do not touch’ written on top in Johnny’s handwriting,” Roy replied as he took a carrot out of the fridge crisper and swung the door closed.

Mike asked, “What’s it look like?”

“A red Tupperware bowl,” came the carrot filled answer.  Roy swallowed, thinking to himself that he was beginning to pick up Johnny’s bad habits.

 


 

In the locker room, Johnny was sitting in his locker again.  He was looking at the recipe his mother had dictated to him a couple of days ago when he called her.  Closing his eyes, he could see his mother standing in their kitchen, making the food she ate as a child.  Opening them up again, Johnny could almost smell his mother’s cooking as he read the recipe over.  He hadn’t realized how much he missed it.   

He’d had to bring some of the ingredients from home.  He knew that the station kitchen didn’t have things like grainy mustard or caraway seeds.  And they definitely didn’t have red wine, or red wine vinegar either.  Those last two he’d had to sneak in, the correct measurements of each, in small jars and hide in one of the less used cabinets in the kitchen.

Chet had been bugging him about trying some of his family’s traditional food, arguing that they all ate Mama Lopez’s tamales.  Marco had even made Irish stew for them, even though it was Chet himself who was Irish.  Johnny decided to acquiesce to Chet’s demands, but not in the way he thought.  He was half German, after all.

Johnny stood up and looked at his watch.  If they left right now to go to grocery store, provided they didn’t get any major runs, he would have enough time to start the meat cooking so it would be ready for supper.  He left the locker room and strode across the app bay, a smile playing across his face as he thought about how surprised the guys were gonna be tonight.

TBC

Chapter Text

Johnny was opening and closing cabinet doors in the station kitchen.  “Do we have any paprika?” he called out for anyone listening.  Chet, Mike, and Roy all looked at him like he was speaking a foreign language.  Marco, who spoke that language, answered.

“Yeah. It’s in the cabinet over the refrigerator.”  

Johnny gave him a look that said ‘why would it be over the refrigerator’ and opened the cabinet door to look.  “Damn,” he said, putting jar back, “it’s smoked.  I need sweet.”  He jotted a note on a piece of paper while ignoring the strange looks he was getting from his shift mates.  Then he slapped Roy on the shoulder and said, “C’mon, partner.  Gotta hit the store now if I’m gonna have time to make this.”

“Make what?”  Roy asked as he followed his mercurial partner out the door.

“Ah ha!”  Johnny replied cryptically.  As he slid behind the steering wheel of the squad he called into the office, “Cap!  We’re making a grocery run.”

Captain Stanley’s voice floated out of the room, “Just stay available.”

Having seen Johnny take the driver’s side, Roy reluctantly went around to the passenger seat.  It’s wasn’t that he didn’t trust Johnny’s driving, he just preferred to be in control of whatever vehicle he was riding in.  Roy liked to chalk it up to too much time in a ladder truck jump seat before becoming a paramedic.  But if you asked his wife, or Johnny, they would tell you that Roy just was a bit of a control freak.

Turning to face his partner as they drove out of the station, Roy fixed Johnny with as steely eyed a look as he could muster.  “Just what are we shopping for?”

Roy’s look was lost on the driver as he concentrated on the road.  But a grin spread across his face.  Roy thought he looked like the cat that ate the canary.  However, no answer was forthcoming.  Roy shifted his body a little more to face Johnny, in hopes of letting his partner know that he was serious in wanting the information.  John wasn’t taking the bait.  He glanced quickly at his frustrated friend and merely grinned bigger.

The six minute drive to Ralph’s was done in bizarre silence.


 

“Now, Roy,” Johnny tried to explain, “if I told you what I was making then it wouldn’t be a surprise.”

Roy was looking at the strange ingredients that John had collected in his cart.  The pork loin and the apple made sense.  Then Johnny added some red cabbage, something that looked like a swollen scallion, and a brown, turnip looking thing he called a celery root.  When he put in the cornstarch and the brown sugar Roy gave up trying to guess and went straight to badgering.

When badgering didn’t work, Roy tried a 20 Questions thing.  “So, you said you were making something special.  Right?  Is this something you read in a magazine?”

Johnny just pursed his lips and pushed the cart up as the line to the cash register moved.  Roy took that as a ‘no’.

“Is it something your mom used to make?”  That got him a vaguely non-committal hum that could be construed as a positive response.  Roy chose to take it as such and kept going.  “Something you used to have when you were a kid?”  Another hum.  “You’re making some kind of traditional Indian food,” Roy ventured warily.

That earned him another set of pursed lips and a glare under crossed eyebrows.  “Roy, knock it off.  I ain’t tellin’ ya.  You’ll just have to see with the rest of the guys.  Now help me unload this stuff.”

Roy pulled up his full height and feigned indignation.  “I see,” he said as Johnny started to move items from the cart to the conveyor, “you won’t let me in on the big secret, but you still want me to help you with its ingredients.”

Grinning at him again, Johnny simply said, “That’s what partners are for.  Partner.”


 

“Roy,” Johnny said while putting his bag down on the counter of the station’s kitchen, “just gimme one of the big onions, the sweet onion, and the celery root.  The rest you can put in the fridge.”

Roy set his bag down on the kitchen table in front of said fridge.  As he was handing over the asked for items, Chet Kelly sidled up to the brown paper bag and took a peek inside.  “What is that?  Red cabbage and a green apple?  What the hell are you serving us, Gage?”

The older paramedic snatched the bag away from the linesman’s prying eyeballs, saying sullenly, “Domn’t bother.  He isn’t talking.” 

Not to be deterred, Kelly sauntered over to Gage and peered at what he was pulling out of his grocery bag.  “Cornstarch, brown sugar?  What is this?”  He looked at the label on the package of meat, “pork loin?”

“Get outta here,” Johnny said irritably as he shoved Chet out of his way.  “It’s gonna taste great!”

“What’s gonna taste great,” Cap asked as he walked into the dayroom.  He saw his paramedics unpacking their groceries and his junior linesman annoying them, as usual.  Kelly looked to be recovering from just being pushed away.  Hank watched as Chet put his hands in his pockets and turned to walk towards him.

“I dunno, Cap.  Johnny’s got some kinda red cabbage and pork loin thing he’s gonna try to make us eat.”  Kelly looked up at his captain expecting a look of confusion or revulsion to be forming there.  Instead, Captain Stanley face broke into a big grin and he clapped his hands and rubbed them together.

“Hey!  Yeah, Gage?  Are you making…”  But Hank Stanley never got to finish his enthusiastic question.  His younger paramedic-cum-chef snapped his head around to spear his superior with a look that screamed “shutupnowohpleasedon’ttell”.  Hank closed his mouth without uttering another word.  He grinned bigger at his begging subordinate and raised his eyebrows in a silent “yum” to the man, then spun on one foot and headed back to his office. 

Chet tried to follow, he was dying to know what that was all about, but his shorter legs couldn’t beat his captain’s long stride.  He called after but was only met with the sound of the office door closing.


 

They watched in bewilderment and fascination as Johnny turned on an oven then put a big skillet on the stove.  He seemed to know what he was doing when started seasoning the pork loin.  They expected him to put the pork into the oven, but instead he plopped it in the skillet and started frying it.

They got bored watching Johnny just stand at the stove, quietly humming to himself.  Marco realized that he was just browning the meat and explained to the guys that it would indeed be going into the oven.  As they all wandered off, Johnny smiled to himself.


 

The tones dropped for the squad just as Johnny was putting the roasting pan with the pork, and chopped and cooked carrots, onions and celery root, into the oven.  He quick set the oven timer and jogged out to the squad.  As he slid into his seat, he called out to Marco on top of the hose bed, “Don’t let them touch anything!”

 

TBC