The Consequences of Falling

by Rona

The explosion had knocked them both over. Johnny scrambled to his feet, knowing he would be feeling the aches for days to come. His palms were scraped raw from his fall and he suspected his knees would be the same way given the state of his pants. But those thoughts were pushed from his head as he saw that Roy was still down, his helmet lying a few feet away from him on the cold concrete floor. “Roy!”

On the plus side, his partner was moving, albeit slowly and clearly dazed. His cheek and his temple were grazed. Roy blinked at Johnny as his partner bent over him. “Roy, can you hear me?”

The fire behind them was getting closer and the warehouse was full of combustible items ready to fuel the conflagration. It had been a small blaze at the back of the warehouse just moments before, which is why they had gone in without their SCBAs. They were told nobody was inside and they were just having a quick look to see how things were likely to pan out. The explosion had come as a shock to everyone. At the moment, they were safe but still, they didn’t have time to waste. Another explosion could happen at any moment, or their escape route could be cut off by the flames dancing ever closer. It was only through Johnny’s sixth sense that they had not been caught and killed by that explosion, or even more badly injured. Sensing it coming, he had whirled them both around, dragging Roy down as he had ducked.

“Yeah, I hear you,” Roy replied, but he was still down.

There was no time to do an examination. Johnny simply had to hope that the injuries to his head were the only ones. He yanked his dazed colleague to his feet and pulled him towards the door, supporting most of Roy’s weight.

Blasts of cool water met them as they escaped the burning building. Roy staggered as his overheated body reacted to the sudden chill of the water, but Johnny refused to allow him to fall and continued to pull him along by sheer determination, although he was also feeling the effects.

Suddenly, there were other hands there helping him and Johnny glance up from under the dripping brim of his helmet to see Cap supporting Roy on the other side. They hurried past the engine and stopped by the squad. “Get your gear,” Cap ordered, still hanging onto Roy.

Nodding, Johnny hurried to the side of the squad and retrieved a blanket which he quickly spread on the ground. While Cap eased Roy down onto it, Johnny grabbed the biophone and drug box, putting them down before hurrying back to get the oxygen and trauma box. He ripped off his helmet and turnout coat and knelt by his partner.

“Can you manage?” Cap asked, for he had to go back to directing the fight to quell the flames.

“Yeah, I’m fine,” Johnny replied. He no longer felt the stinging from his lacerated palms and the hurt when he first knelt was subsumed by his worry for Roy. He opened Roy’s coat and gently felt his partner’s ribs before easing the jacket off.

Fortunately, Roy’s injuries were confined to his head, but he was still clearly dazed. Johnny thought his partner would probably be quite bruised, too, which would come as no surprise. He opened the biophone and made contact with the hospital.

“Rampart, this is squad 51, how do you read me?”

“Go ahead, 51,” replied Morton’s voice. Johnny grimaced. Morton’s bedside manner often left a lot to be desired.

“Rampart, I have a firefighter who has been injured in an explosion. He has some minor bruising and lacerations and some road rash on his cheek and temple. He has been dazed since the explosion, but not knocked out. Vitals are BP 130/85, pulse 95 and respirations 20.”

“51, start an IV of normal saline and transport as soon as possible. Is there an ambulance on scene?”

“Uh, not yet, Rampart,” Johnny replied. He could hear sirens drawing nearer, but he didn’t know if it was the ambulance or the other engines that Cap had called for.

“Let me know if there are any delays,” Morton ordered. “Keep me updated on vitals and if there’s any change in his level of consciousness. Do we have an ID on the victim?”

“Affirmative, Rampart,” Johnny replied. “It’s Roy DeSoto.”

“10-4, 51,” Morton acknowledged. “Keep me updated.”

“Like I ever forget,” Johnny muttered under his breath. There was something about Morton that could rub him the wrong way sometimes. Today was one of those times. He focused again on Roy, finding a smile for his partner. “How’re you doing?” he asked.

“My head hurts,” Roy replied. Johnny was quite sure it did. You didn’t get road rash like that without having taken a good skid along the ground. However, he was pleased that Roy was articulating his hurt – he sounded a lot more with it, but he suspected his partner would not be finishing the shift with him that day. “Are you hurt?”

“No, I’m fine,” Johnny replied, grabbing the bag of saline and swabbing Roy’s forearm. He was subliminally aware that his fingers stung as he did so, but gave it no more thought as he concentrated on getting the stick as smoothly and painlessly as possible. Roy barely winced. Johnny was not sure if that was due to his expertise or the fact that Roy’s head was doubtless drowning out any other kind of pain.

He glanced up as the sirens drew near and saw that it was the other fire appliances that had arrived. He was glad for his colleagues who were still fighting this fire. For something that had started out as a report of smoke visible, which had upgraded to a small fire by the time they arrived, it seemed incredible that it needed another two engines called out to it. Someone had been telling lies, Johnny surmised.

The ambulance was not far behind. Johnny beckoned the attendants over with the gurney and gathered what he would need for the journey. He supervised Roy being placed on the stretcher and then walked over to the ambulance with the men. Cap arrived as he was settling himself on the jump seat.

“Take good care of him, John,” Cap ordered, although he knew that it was redundant advice. Johnny would be extra careful of his partner and best friend. “And make sure you get checked out, too.”

“But I’m fine,” Johnny protested.

“You were in the same explosion,” Cap reminded him. “John, just do as you are told and get checked out, okay?” It was phrased as a question, but Johnny knew an order when he met it.

“Yes, sir,” he replied with a resigned sigh.

***********

“His LOC has been improving on the way in,” Johnny reported as he entered the treatment room carrying the IV bag. Roy was indeed looking more alert and even managed a half smile for Morton.

“Thanks, Gage,” Morton replied. He leaned over Roy, peering into the paramedic’s eyes. Johnny sensed he had been dismissed, but he wasn’t going that easily.

“His vitals are back within his normal ranges,” Johnny reported, “and his pupillary response was normal.”

That got the black doctor’s attention. “And you say it was an explosion?” he asked.

“That’s right,” Johnny agreed uncertainly, knowing he had already told the doctor that.

“Were you in that explosion, too?” Morton queried.

“Uh, yeah,” Johnny blustered. “But I’m fine.”

“You might think so,” Morton replied. “Go and get checked out and leave your partner’s care to me.” He fixed Johnny with a pointed glare.

“All right, all right,” Johnny sighed, and left the room. “Hey, Dix,” he said, drifting down to the desk.

“Hi there,” she smiled. “What brings you in?” She had been on a break when Johnny had called in about Roy and so didn’t know.

“Roy and I got knocked down in an explosion,” Johnny replied casually. “Roy was a bit dazed, so I brought him in. Morton’s with him.” He frowned. “I think he’ll probably have to stay, though.” He shrugged. “I guess I just gotta wait here until someone comes with the squad to get me.”

“An explosion?” Dixie echoed.

“Yeah,” Johnny nodded and proceeded to regale her with the story. This seemed as good a way as any to get out of being seen for the moment.

While he filled in all the gory details, Dixie nodded and kept her eyes on his face, but she was waiting for Dr Brackett to come back from his break, as he was due to any moment and then she would get Johnny seen. She knew Hank Stanley well enough to know that he would have ordered Johnny to get checked out. She also knew Johnny well enough to know that he would do everything possible to avoid being checked out.

With relief, she saw the doctor coming. She reached out and grabbed Johnny’s hand and he yelped. Dixie took her eyes from Brackett and looked down onto the raw palm. “Kel, I need you,” she called.

In a very few minutes, Johnny was lying on an exam table while Dr Brackett poked and prodded him and peered closely into his eyes. “I wasn’t knocked out, I wasn’t dazed, I was just knocked over,” he insisted. “I’m fine, doc.”

“I agree you don’t have a concussion,” Brackett replied, “but you aren’t fine. Your hands and knees are raw and I’m going to have to debride them to get rid of all the grit and debris. Didn’t you even notice?” The palms of Johnny’s hands were dotted black with debris particles and slivers of cloth were embedded in his knees. His uniform pants were only fit for the bin.

“No, not really,” Johnny replied honestly. He didn’t want his hands debrided – he knew it was going to hurt no matter what they did to try and relieve his pain. “I was kinda busy with Roy.” He sighed. “He’ll be wondering where I am.”

“I’m sure he can guess,” Brackett told him dryly. “I’m going to give you something for pain, then we’ll get started. You won’t be going back on duty tonight.”

“Aw, doc!” Johnny objected. “It’s not that bad.”

“Yes, it is that bad,” Brackett informed him. “And it’ll feel a while lot worse when we’ve finished, believe me.” He gave Johnny a shot and a few moments later, the paramedic felt himself growing woozy. It did take away the growing discomfort in his hands and knees and he allowed his head to rest on the back of the table while Brackett prepared an antiseptic solution.

The debridement hurt like hell. In fact, it was worse than that, despite the drugs. Johnny tried to remain composed, but he couldn’t keep silent as Brackett scrubbed away at his abraded flesh. By the time it was over, he was sweating, shaky and vaguely nauseous. His hands were bandaged and finally he was able to rest, the shaking dying away to be replaced with total exhaustion.

“How’s Roy?” he whispered to Dixie as she worked on bandaging his knees.

“He’s got a concussion,” Dixie replied. She kept her movements gentle and careful, having witnessed what Johnny had had to endure. “He’ll be here for a night or two, depending on how he gets on.”

“Can I see him?” Johnny asked, but he was pretty sure he knew the answer already.

“Not tonight, Tiger,” she replied. “Captain Stanley and the rest will be here to get you in a while and you’ll spend the night at the station. He informs me the squad is being stood down for the night. Someone will drive you home tomorrow.”

“I can drive myself home!” he protested.

“No you can’t.” Dixie wasn’t arguing with him. “And you’ll miss a couple of shifts, too, just like Roy.”

“Aw, Dixie!” Johnny knew he was perilously close to whining, but he hated missing shifts, not just because of the money, as many people teased him, but because he hated to be inactive and he generally didn’t miss shifts unless he was ill or injured.

She fixed him with a stare and he subsided. Still, he wasn’t happy and they both knew it. He sighed heavily and allowed her to help him into a pair of scrubs. Trying to pull them up simply proved her point, but he wouldn’t have admitted it under torture. He was given some meds to keep him going over the first day and by then, the engine and squad were there waiting for him. He hurried out so that they could all get to bed.

Alone upstairs, Roy DeSoto lay and looked at the ceiling as a recollection flickered and didn’t quite catch at the edge of his mind. It wasn’t a comfortable recollection either, he didn’t think, but it wouldn’t quite come to him. He sighed and closed his eyes, the drugs finally reducing the severity of his headache. He slept.

***********

Forbidden to drive, Johnny had to rely on the others to get him home in the morning, get his car home and take him to the hospital to visit Roy. He arrived with Mike early in the afternoon. Roy was looking rather pale and bruised but remarkably cheerful considering. The banter flowed, but after a time, Johnny noticed something odd; Roy wasn’t talking to him.

Oh, his partner was animated, chatting, responding to remarks, looking at them all, but he hadn’t replied to anything that Johnny had said or asked, hadn’t asked how he was or met his eyes one single time. It had been skillfully done, for Johnny had taken some time to realize and he was pretty sure the others hadn’t noticed. However, Johnny had noticed and he was sure that Roy was behaving like that deliberately although he couldn’t work out why. He tried another couple of questions and got the same reaction. Hurt and confused, Johnny withdrew into himself.

It was Chet who noticed that Johnny had gone quiet. “What’s the matter, Gage?” he asked. “Cat got your tongue?”

“Something like that,” Johnny agreed. He wasn’t in the mood to spar with Chet. He wanted to speak to Roy alone and wished that the others would leave so he could do just that.

“Are your hands sore, John?” Cap asked, concern in his tone.

“I suppose a little,” he agreed. They were quite sore and his knees were as stiff as could be, but those minor irritants barely registered at the moment. Johnny’s attention was on his partner. Something was wrong and he had to find out what it was quickly and put it right.

Before Cap could express more concern – and probably another trip to the ER – the door to the room opened and Joanne came in with the kids. Johnny winced inwardly as he knew that he would have no chance now of speaking with Roy alone before his ride left. He supposed he could always get the bus back, but he had no ideas about the times or even if he had enough cash with him. As Jenny rushed at him, Mike putting out his arm to slow the little girl, Johnny accepted that he would not be talking to Roy that day. He hugged Roy’s daughter, enjoying the affection she lavished on him, sympathizing with his hurts, but his pleasure was to be short-lived, for Roy called to her. “Jenny! Where’s my hug?” he asked, a big smile on his face as he looked at his daughter.

“Coming, Daddy,” she cried and hopped off Johnny’s knee without a backward glance, clambering up onto the bed to sit by her daddy and get a hug.

Nobody else noticed; it was a perfectly normal thing that Roy should want to hug his daughter. But Johnny knew that previously, Roy would have been content to allow Jenny to pet Johnny for a few minutes, knowing that he was securely first in her affections, as was right. Johnny did not begrudge his friend that right, but now he knew that whatever he had done, it was serious.

He just hoped it could be fixed.

**********

Next day, he drove to the hospital, even though he knew he shouldn’t. However, Johnny was in for a big surprise. He went up to Roy’s room only to find it stripped and empty, the nurses preparing for another patient. “Where’s Roy... Mr. DeSoto?” he asked and the nurse smiled.

“He was discharged this morning,” she informed Johnny brightly. “He was looking a lot better this morning. All his color was back and he ate well.”

“Good,” Johnny replied automatically. He was stunned that nobody had informed him that Roy was leaving. Usually, he collected his partner from the hospital to save Joanne a lot of bother and he supposed that someone else had done it, knowing that he wasn’t supposed to be driving. But still, he usually knew that Roy was being discharged. He was stunned.

His feet took him away from the room and into an elevator. He had no awareness of which floor it was going to and exited automatically into the ER. His mind was still back up in that empty room. He had not slept well the night before, worrying about what it was he could have done to have made Roy mad with him. He had not found an answer, and he was even more worried now.

“Johnny!” Dixie’s voice drew him from his reverie and he found a smile for her. “What brings you here?” she asked, eyeing him with some concern, for he had dark circles under his eyes.

“I was going to visit Roy,” he replied.

“He went home this morning,” Dixie replied. “Didn’t he tell you?”

“Must have slipped his mind,” Johnny replied as lightly as he could, but he knew that there was little chance of that getting past Dixie’s acute observation.

He was right. “Slipped his mind?” she echoed. “Don’t feed me that, John Gage. Roy would never forget to tell you something like that.” She put her hands on her hips. “What’s really going on?”

“I don’t know,” Johnny admitted. “I’m sure he meant to phone me, but he knew I wouldn’t be able to come and get him, so perhaps he was just going to phone me from home and then got caught up in stuff. You know how it is,” he pleaded, hoping Dixie would let it pass.

Studying the young man standing before her, Dixie could see that he was really upset. She didn’t know why Roy hadn’t rung Johnny – it wasn’t like him – but she could sense that Johnny didn’t want to discuss this here and now. She could feel the hurt emanating from him in waves. “Yes, I know how it is,” she agreed and his relief was almost palpable. A thought suddenly hit her. “How did you get here?” she asked.

“Oh, you know,” Johnny replied vaguely, looking suddenly embarrassed and she knew he’d driven.

“Straight back home and no more driving until someone clears you,” she scolded gently. “And stop worrying about Roy. I have no doubt he’s trying to call you right now and wondering where on earth you are.”

“Of course,” Johnny agreed, although he was pretty sure that whatever else Roy was doing right then, calling him was not top of the list.

***********

As soon as he got home, Johnny rang Roy, but Joanne said he was sleeping and would call back later. He didn’t. Johnny busied himself as best he could around the apartment, but he sensed that there would be no return calls from his partner and he couldn’t – wouldn’t – force himself where he was apparently not wanted.

It was a long few days before Johnny was allowed to go back to work. His hands and knees had healed well and quickly and he was longing to get back, for he was bored of being off, but he was also dreading it, for he knew Roy would also be back and he wasn’t sure what kind of reception he would get.

It seemed everyone was glad to see him when he went in. C shift were leaving, yawning after a broken night, but he got the usual jibes about ‘slacking off and letting the real firemen work’, to which he responded in kind, making everyone laugh. Cap had bought doughnuts and Johnny grabbed one before he went to get changed.

Roy was already in the locker room, tying his shoes laces.

“Hi, Roy,” Johnny ventured, trying to sound carefree. He was pretty sure he failed. “It’s sure good to be back, huh?”

Rising, Roy swung his locker door closed and exited the room as though Johnny had never spoken. Stunned, Johnny just stood there. He had been snubbed before, abused verbally and physically by racist bullies, but never had someone he deemed a friend treated him so badly. And Roy was more than just a friend; he was closer to Johnny than most siblings were to each other. Johnny’s heart ached so much that for a moment, he wondered if he would die from the pain. He had never imagined this day would come and he had no resources to deal with it.

Without being aware of it, he changed from his street clothes into his uniform. He didn’t want to be late for roll call and end up with the latrines, although perhaps the solitude would be good and allow him to think. He buttoned his shirt, tucked it in neatly, pinned on his badge and tied his shoes. Perhaps it would be better if he didn’t have time to think. After all, he had done little else on his days off and he was still no further forward in solving the mystery that now ruled his life.

What had he done to offend Roy so grievously?

**********

It was odd. Roy behaved almost totally normally when the others were around, although he still didn’t talk directly to Johnny. The morning calibration check was done and Roy noted aloud generally that they needed a couple of things, but not urgently. He could have been speaking to the squad for all the eye contact he made with Johnny. And much as Johnny itched to call Roy out on his behavior, he knew that now was not the time or the place. They separated to do their chores, but Johnny had barely begun on the dorm when the tones went off.

“Station 51, structure fire...”

They scrambled to their vehicles and Johnny felt the familiar rush of adrenalin as he directed Roy out of the station. Neither spoke as they raced towards the fire, but that wasn’t unusual; often they were silent as they went to incidents. Johnny had the sudden hope that all would be well and they would be back to normal after this fire.

It was brutal. The building was an abandoned warehouse that had been condemned for years. The owners had protested knocking it down, arguing through the courts, claiming it was a potential source of income and therefore couldn’t be taken away from them. The appeals and counter appeals had been going on for years. Cynically, Chet suggested, “Perhaps they’ve found a new way to settle their claim?”

Cap called for a second alarm immediately. He ordered everyone onto hoses and Johnny took the nozzle. Roy moved up behind him and placed his hand on his shoulder to steady him. It felt just like old times, and Johnny turned the water onto the flames feeling happier than he had in days. As much as he loved being a paramedic and rescue man, he loved to fight fires, too. It was hard, hot, tiring work, which was one reason firefighters always worked the hose in pairs – they swapped around working the nozzle to allow the other to catch his breath.

That wasn’t happening. Johnny was tiring rapidly, but Roy was showing no signs of wanting to take the nozzle and Johnny’s attempts to get him to take it were thwarted. Confused, Johnny had little option but to carry on working the nozzle, but he was now panting with the exertion and his air was rapidly running out.

The alarm went off on his bottle and he made another attempt to hand the nozzle off, but Roy ignored it. Johnny knew he was in trouble if he didn’t get out of there soon. In desperation, he switched the nozzle off and laid the hose down. “I’m out of air,” he shouted, panting heavily.

With an expression that Johnny could only describe as disgust, Roy waved him away, and beckoned to another firefighter nearby. He went over and picked up the hose, putting his hand on Roy’s back. Seeing his partner was safe, Johnny turned for the exit. His alarm sounded for a final time and he had no choice but to pull off his helmet and mask as he staggered towards the exit.

He was coughing wildly as he burst through the door into the smoky, smoggy fresh air. Cap grabbed him as he tottered towards the engine and pushed him down on the running board. “What do you think you’re playing at?” he asked.

“I ... cough cough ... ran out ...cough cough ... of air,” Johnny gasped. He dragged in a huge draught of air that set him coughing again. Cap beckoned to Mike to keep an eye on Gage and he hurried over to get the oxygen from the squad.

It didn’t take that long for the pure air to sort Johnny out. Cap kept half an eye on the fire and the other half on Johnny, but even he could see the young paramedic was breathing much more easily after a short time. “What happened to make you run out of air?” Cap asked.

Hesitating, Johnny wasn’t sure what to say. If he told the truth, Roy would get into trouble. If he told a lie, he would get into trouble. An intrinsically honest man, who valued his integrity very highly, Johnny was loath to tell a lie. Telling the truth, unfortunately, was equally unpalatable.

Watching the play of emotions as they ran over Johnny’s face, Cap could see that his earlier intuition was correct – there was something wrong between his paramedics and Johnny was as clueless about what it was as he was. “John, I can see something is wrong between you and Roy. Just tell me what it is.”

Miserably, Johnny looked up at Cap from under his brows. His face was sooty and that somehow made him look very young and very vulnerable. “Cap, I don’t know what it is. The last time Roy spoke to me was before the accident on our last shift together. Since then, I just don’t seem to have existed for him and I don’t know why.”

That fitted with the feeling Cap had got that morning. He couldn’t understand it. Roy seemed perfectly fine with the rest of them, so why was he being off with Gage? After all, Johnny had probably saved his life after that explosion. Cap vowed to have a little talk with them later on. Meanwhile... He looked back down at Johnny. “You sit there for a bit longer,” he instructed. “Have something to drink and I’ll be back. I don’t want you moving until I’ve spoken to you again, understand?” His words were stern, but his tone was compassionate.

“Thanks, Cap,” Johnny agreed and leaned back against the engine and closed his eyes.

He didn’t know when he had last felt so miserable.

**********

The talk didn’t go as Cap had hoped it would. Roy denied that he was ignoring Johnny and that Johnny had asked to be relieved on the nozzle. He kept his eyes on the wall the whole time and stayed calm, as was his wont. Johnny turned and left the office, unable to believe his ears. He had never been so hurt in all his life.

Cap had never been so confused. Roy seemed to be sincere and Cap had never known him to lie. Oh, there had been the odd occasion that he had covered up for Gage, but it had never been done maliciously, only to help the younger man and never to the detriment of the other. But it seemed that if he believed Roy this time, he had to accept that Johnny was lying and he knew that Johnny didn’t lie. Like Roy, he had occasionally shaded the truth to help protect his partner, but an outright lie was beyond Johnny and the young man’s unhappiness could not be denied. What the hell was going on between them?

In the end, Cap warned Roy to be more aware of what was going on when fighting a fire and to pay closer attention to his partner on the hose. “You can go,” he concluded. He waited until Roy was at the door and added, “Check your partner out. He took in some smoke.” He saw Roy hesitate for a moment before he simply nodded and left.

If anything, Cap was more confused than ever.

***********

When Roy appeared in the door of the dorm carrying a stethoscope, Johnny looked surprised, for he really didn’t think Cap had a hope of getting through to Roy. Nothing seemed to be getting through his partner’s surprisingly thick head at the moment. “What’s that for?” he asked warily, pausing with a pillowslip in his hand.

“I’m told you took in some smoke.” Roy’s voice was devoid of both emotion and interest.

“I’m fine!” Johnny protested. It was about the only time he lied and everyone saw through it. Roy never allowed him to take that line, even when he was fine. Roy always checked him out, or made sure that someone else checked him out.

Shrugging, Roy turned and left the dorm without saying another word. Astonished, Johnny just stood there and looked at the empty doorway. Roy would never normally let him get away with that. Johnny did feel fine; the oxygen at the scene had cleared his chest nicely and he didn’t have a headache, but that wasn’t really the point. Under normal circumstances, Roy would not have simply walked away as though uninterested. He would have been pinning Johnny to the nearest bunk if need be, sounding his chest, then anxiously keeping an eye on him for the rest of the shift, even getting him checked out at Rampart when they ended up there. No way would Roy simply walk away.

Alarm bells started ringing very loudly.

**********

“Cap, I need to use the phone,” Johnny declared urgently.

“There’s one in the break room and one in the dorm, pal,” Cap replied calmly, leaning back in his chair and studying Johnny. He looked anxious and animated and that combination usually meant action of some sort, not necessarily positive action.

“I know,” Johnny agreed, frustration coloring his voice. “But I need to speak in private and this is the only place I can guarantee not to be interrupted.” He wanted to speak to Joanne, but didn’t want anyone, especially Roy, to overhear.

“What’s going on, John?” Cap asked, but before Johnny could answer, the tones went off.

“Squad 51, man down...”

It was the start of back-to-back runs for the squad. The first man down was a junkie who was strung out. He was combative, beating at both paramedics as they tried to help him. Eventually, they got him subdued and into the ER but not without suffering a few bites and punches. Johnny had been relieved to find that he and Roy still worked well together as paramedics, but he was preparing to ask someone at Rampart about his partner when the tones went off again.

This time, it was a heart attack and despite everything they did at the lady’s home and in the ambulance, she was dead on arrival. Johnny had ridden in with her and had been doing chest compressions for most of the ride. He was exhausted, dripping with sweat, when he finally exited the treatment room. Dixie saw from his face how down he was, but before she got the chance to say anything, the HT in Roy’s hand beeped and they were off again.

And so it went on. Run after run saw them dump their patients and head off back out again. By the time the calls ceased, they had missed both lunch and supper and it was past lights out. Roy backed the squad into the station and Johnny finished writing the time on the last slip. They should write up the log, but neither of them could have formed a coherent sentence. It could wait until morning. Johnny went into the office with the slips and when he came out, the bay was darkened and Roy was asleep.

His body craved sleep, but Johnny knew he had to eat something, too. He went into the kitchen and rummaged in the fridge. There wasn’t anything especially appetizing, but he found some sandwich fixings and quickly assembled his meal. He ate slowly, too tired to think, and washed it down with a glass of milk. He placed the plate and glass in the sink and put the lights out. A pang shot through him as he reflected that it would usually be he and Roy making something to eat together, complaining that whatever they had been left by the engine crew was dried out and inedible. But tonight, he was alone and worse – he was lonely. He was working with a stranger who inhabited his best friend’s body. He had to do something, but he was too tired to think of what. He shuffled off to bed to lie awake for a time before falling into menacing dreams.

**********

There was no opportunity in the morning to speak to Roy. The station was toned out to a fire at 6am, and had three hours of back-breaking overtime before they got back to the station. The tired men just grabbed their gear and left for home.

After a late night and early morning, Johnny ended up sleeping away most of the day and then had to rush around getting his uniforms to the cleaners and buying some groceries, since a single slice of moldy pizza was not going to do much to fill the empty cavern that was his belly. When he had done all that, made himself something to eat and devoured it, it was too late to go over to Roy’s as he had intended. He resolved that he would go the next day.

**********

There was no one home. Roy’s car was in the garage, but Joanne’s station wagon was gone, so they had to have gone somewhere with the kids. Disappointed, Johnny returned to his apartment and sat and brooded in front of the TV.

Roy had had a head injury. He’d been diagnosed with a concussion, but Johnny was beginning to suspect that perhaps it was more serious than that. Although the symptoms were not usual, Johnny wondered if Roy had a small bleed where he had been hit. He fervently hoped that was not the case, because if it was, Roy’s life could be in danger. He needed to have Roy checked out, but he was unsure how to go about making that happen. Should he phone Joanne and tell her what he feared? Or should it be Cap or Dr Brackett? Or even all three?

He wasn’t usually indecisive – indeed, a lot of people considered that Johnny had too many opinions for his own good. However, this situation was completely out with his ken and he really did not know how to go forward. There was only one thing he knew for certain. Roy wasn’t talking to him at the moment, and definitely would not be talking to him if Johnny took this forward.

Finally, after agonizing for ages, Johnny picked up the phone and called Dr Brackett. “I’m sorry for calling you,” he apologized at once. “But I’m worried about Roy.”

“Tell me,” Brackett commanded. He had a great respect for both Johnny and Roy and particularly where one was concerned about the other.

Talking quickly, Johnny outlined his problems with Roy and hesitantly voiced his concerns. He expected – almost hoped – that Brackett would dismiss his concerns out of hand, tell him he was imagining it, that this was not the kind of symptom that could come from a bleed and that he shouldn’t be second guessing the doctors.

“Those are unusual symptoms,” Brackett agreed. “It doesn’t quite sound like a bleed, given that he is still talking to the others, but I have to agree that his behavior is well out of the norm and that does cause some concern after a head injury. Who treated him?”

“Dr. Morton,” Johnny replied, his heart in his now very dry mouth.

“It’s not like Mike to miss anything,” Brackett mused, “but even experienced doctors can miss things. We’re only human. I think your concerns have merit, Johnny, and I’m going to get Roy in here for a CT scan.”

“Thanks, doc,” Johnny breathed. “I’d rather you didn’t tell him that it was me who suggested this, if you don’t mind.”

“Are things that bad?” Brackett asked, deeply concerned. Roy and Johnny were not only the most experienced team he had, they were also the best.

“We’ve been working all right as paramedics,” Johnny elaborated. He told Brackett about the incident at the fire with the hose and Roy allowing him to get away without being checked out later.

“That is very concerning,” Brackett agreed. “Johnny, leave it with me. First thing is to get a CT and after that, we can see where we need to go. Have you spoken to Captain Stanley about this?”

“I didn’t tell him I was phoning you,” Johnny admitted. “The rest he pretty much knows about.”

“I’ll ring him and let him know,” Brackett decided. “You’ve done the right thing, Johnny and I’ll keep you out of it as much as I can.”

“Thanks, doc,” Johnny replied gratefully. “You’ll ... let me know?”

“I’ll let you know,” Brackett agreed.

Feeling relieved that he had taken action, Johnny hung up.

**********

The next shift was a nightmare. Johnny arrived early, having heard nothing as yet from Dr Brackett. He beat Roy in by a few minutes, but things went right down the pan the moment the older man arrived. Roy walked into the locker room and there was no doubt that he was seeing Johnny now.

“How dare you!” he hissed.

Stunned, Johnny simply blinked.

“Keep your interfering nose out of my business,” Roy snarled. “I am perfectly capable of seeking medical help when I need it, unlike some people I can mention. And find yourself a new next-of-kin, because as of yesterday, I am not it.” He turned and stalked out.

There was no point in speculating as to how Brackett had let slip that Johnny was worried about Roy; it had happened. The question was why Roy was so angry at his partner’s concern. Was it suddenly a crime to be worried about a friend?

“John.” Cap was standing in the door way and looked grim. “I need you in my office as soon as you’re changed,” he said.

Swallowing hard, Johnny nodded and hurriedly finished changing. He realized that Roy had already been in his uniform when he arrived. He was sure ticked off if he didn’t even want to get changed in the same room. Johnny grabbed his badge and pinned it on as he crossed the bay. Mike Stoker gave him a sympathetic look that made Johnny even more anxious. “Yeah, Cap?” he asked, going in.

“Close the door, John and sit down,” Cap ordered. His mouth suddenly dry, Johnny did as he was told. “John, this isn’t easy,” Cap started. “You need to give me another name as next-of-kin. Roy has declined to continue in that position.” Using formal language wasn’t making this any easier, he noticed. “Roy also wanted to report you for interfering in his personal life, but there’s no such charge and any firefighter that deliberately ignored warning signs that something was wrong with one of his colleagues would be in a bad position. I told Roy to calm down, but I’d just like to warn you that he’s furious. I expect you both to act professionally, but I want you both to sit down and talk to each other today – and that’s an order. I’ve given it to Roy, too.”

“Yes, sir,” Johnny nodded. He was totally stunned that Roy wanted to bring charges against him. He was proud of his blemish-free career. “I’ll talk to him,” he agreed. “Surely we can work this out – whatever it is.” The bleakness of his tone caught him by surprise.

“I hope so,” Cap replied. He was deeply concerned by this move. Brackett had rung him to tell him that he was going to give Roy a CT because Johnny was concerned. Stanley had endorsed Johnny’s concerns. But somewhere along the line, Brackett had let it slip that Johnny was at the back of the recall and Roy was now furious – furious beyond the bounds of reason, Stanley thought. “What about your next-of-kin?”

That was a real problem. Johnny had no immediate family. He was sure he might be able to dredge up a cousin or two somewhere, but it would take serious detective work and more than a few minutes in time. “Can I put you down, Cap?” he asked.

“Of course,” Cap nodded. “I’d be honored.” He quickly made the notations, watching Johnny out of the corner of his eye as he did so. “John, you did nothing wrong,” Cap declared when he had put his pen down. “Nothing. I don’t know what’s wrong with Roy, but you two need to sort it out.”

“Thanks, Cap,” Johnny mumbled. “We’ll get it sorted.” He left the office looking as though he had the weight of the world on his shoulders.

**********

If any of the rest of the men had been oblivious of the quarrel before, they weren’t now. Roy practically snarled every time his eye fell on Johnny and he seemed to be deliberately going out of his way to avoid the younger man and the talk they had to have. The tones conspired against them, too, keeping them running for several hours. When at last they got back to the barn, the engine was out.

“Roy we’ve got to talk,” Johnny said, following his partner into the kitchen. The atmosphere in the squad had been unbearable.

“I have nothing to say to you,” Roy replied coldly.

“I don’t understand what I’ve done to upset you,” Johnny went on. “You’ve been different ever since the accident...”

“And you thought I was losing my mind,” Roy interrupted. “I bet you’re not too pleased to find I’m perfectly fine. You thought you’d get it all your own way without me here, didn’t you?” he went on, his tone venomous. “But I’m not going anywhere and I don’t want to talk to you. I’d rather not see you ever again and I’d prefer not to work with you either. You can’t be trusted to watch my back. This conversation is finished.” He turned and walked out.

Shocked rigid, Johnny sank into the nearest seat. He could barely breathe, his chest felt so tight and he knew that there was something wrong with Roy – but what? One thing was crystal clear though; he couldn’t continue to work with Roy. It wouldn’t be good for either of them.

The engine backed into the bay and Johnny wearily pulled himself from the seat and went to intercept Cap to ask for an immediate transfer from Station 51.

**********

The news got round in no time flat. When Johnny and Roy went into Rampart with their next patient, Dixie was waiting soberly at the desk and she could barely meet their eyes. “I heard,” she commented, glancing up at Johnny, who was uncharacteristically subdued. “Where are you going to go?”

“I’m subbing for a while,” he replied, “until there’s a permanent position open.” His next assignment was at Station 42, where he knew the paramedic he would be working with didn’t like him either personally, professionally or racially. Cap had been very apologetic when he had discovered, but Johnny only shrugged indifferently. It was one shift, and he had put up with racial slights all his life. He’d even had a few professional ones come his way, too. He would cope. He had no other choice.

Like everyone else, Dixie was baffled by Roy’s behavior. She was finding it difficult to be civil towards him, especially because they had always been her favorite paramedics. Johnny had saved her life by disobeying orders and they had been special to her ever since. She, too, wondered what was wrong with Roy.

“You be careful,” she warned him. She knew all the paramedics who worked out of Rampart and she didn’t like Biff McCartney. He was rude and stubborn and could argue the hind legs off a donkey. He didn’t like blacks, Hispanics, Indians, Asians, gays or lesbians. Women were only useful for sex and cooking, he was wont to say – to anyone who listened to him. He had never had a permanent partner, as nobody could stomach his views for more than a shift. While everyone knew that he was a racist, intolerant bigot, he was also a competent paramedic who had never said the wrong thing when the wrong person was listening. Any minority-bashing he had done, he had made sure not to be caught at it. Dixie hated the thought of the sensitive Johnny working with such a man.

From somewhere, Johnny found a smile for her. It was one of the few he had used that day, for he was finding precious little to smile about. His life was going down the toilet and he still didn’t know exactly why. Roy had not said anything that was not directly involved in patient care and Johnny had not been allowed to be first responder on any of the calls they had had that day. For the first time, Johnny wished his shift would end early.

***********

Indifference was a formidable shield, but unfortunately, Johnny wasn’t actually indifferent. He was profoundly unhappy and it showed. It also made him a walking target, at least as far as Biff was concerned.

It wasn’t just Johnny’s unhappiness that made him a perfect target for Biff. No, it was his cultural background, his good looks, good hair, slender body, intelligence and reputation that really made Biff hate him. It was Biff’s misfortune that he knew he wasn’t good looking, was only averagely bright, carried a bit of extra weight regardless of what he did, was going bald and was a singular nonentity to boot. People easily overlooked him, for his coloring and features were totally bland and instantly forgettable. To make up for that, he was nasty to people.

Not to people with power though. To them, he was a boot licker of the worst sort, the kind of toady that was useful but despised and he knew it. So he took his frustrations out on the minorities around him and he always seemed to find plenty of those. He complained that there were no jobs for decent white boys because the blacks/Hispanics/Indians/Asians or gays got them all, or that equality of the sexes had come along and everyone knew that women were only good for two things – sex and cooking. Oh and he supposed they could give birth okay, although if a man ever had a baby, women would no doubt find themselves redundant there, too.

There was no doubt about it. Biff McCartney was an equal opportunity hater and couldn’t understand why he had no friends. That day, he was determined to show the ‘wonderful’ John Gage what it was like to be an underdog like Biff.

Racial intolerance was something Johnny had had to deal with all his life and he was only too aware of what it was to be an underdog. As half Indian, half white, he had not been entirely accepted by either side of his cultures for a long time. Always skinny, he had been small for a good part of his life too and was always the last child chosen for teams. It was only when he had come to Los Angeles to live with his aunt that his life had started to change.

“Oh look!” Biff cried as Johnny entered the station. “Here’s our new boot.”

Nobody laughed. Johnny pretended he hadn’t heard and politely introduced himself and went off the find the captain. Strike one against him, Biff thought scornfully. Bloody Indian didn’t have the good manners to laugh when a member of the crew made a joke.

The day went rapidly downhill. Biff made all sorts of questionable remarks to Johnny, making a point of explaining the drug box “just in case you’ve never seen a real one before.” On their first run, he ignored the directions Johnny was giving him and it took them almost 20 minutes to get there – about 10 minutes longer than Johnny thought it ought to have done – and it was almost too long for their patient. Johnny needed all his skill to pull the heart attack victim back from the edge. The fact that Brackett sought Johnny out as they grabbed a cup of coffee and replenished their supplies only made things worse. Biff had never been singled out for praise in that way.

The spiteful tricks began back at the station, with cornstarch being added to his coffee and the salt cellar top was unscrewed when he used it at lunch time. ‘Someone’ spilled something sticky on the bay floor about five minutes after Johnny had mopped it and he was forced to mop it again. The ‘someone’ didn’t admit to the prank.

The runs were no better. Biff let Johnny drive and then either didn’t direct him, or sent him the wrong way. Luckily, both times the patient wasn’t in a life threatening condition, but Johnny was forced to tell Biff that if it happened again, he would have to report it. Their job was too important to take those kinds of risks with. Since Johnny was one of the most senior paramedics in the department, Biff knew that his complaints would be taken seriously and Biff’s career could be over. He was forced to back off on making Johnny look like an idiot on calls.

However, that didn’t stop him trying in every other way he could. The racial slurs started whenever the captain wasn’t in the room and the petty tricks continued. He tripped Johnny continually, he closed doors in his face and when they went to bed that night, his bunk was not only short sheeted, but heavily dusted with itching powder. By then, Johnny had had enough and finding his bed had been doctored was enough to send him to sleep on the couch, so he avoided the discomfort of the itching powder. He didn’t sleep much, though, because the captain had told him just before lights out that he would be back to partner Biff on their next scheduled shift in two days’ time.

He still could not believe that it had come to this.

**********

For the first time, Johnny had not wanted to go to work. He wondered what horrors Biff had in store for him that day. He had heard from three different people that Biff was telling everyone that it was no wonder DeSoto had wanted a new partner – he was claiming that Johnny was so incompetent that he was worse than useless. While few people believed those rumors – and certainly not the ones who knew Johnny – there would be others like Biff, who were jealous of his success and reputation that would believe it and pass it on as gospel. Johnny’s reputation could be muck in a very short amount of time.

Johnny was unsure how to handle the situation. He had never been a troublemaker and he had no desire to start now. He could go to the captain, but he preferred to try and sort things out with Biff himself, first. He didn’t think for a single instant that it would work, but he had to try.

Unfortunately, he was right; Biff didn’t want to know. He was annoyed that so far his rumors hadn’t taken hold the way he wanted them to and to have Johnny trying to be friends was more than he could stand. He had to do something that would show Johnny up and make Biff look like a big man at the same time.

***********

His opportunity came later that morning. They were toned out to a multiple pile up on a freeway. Johnny quickly headed out to start triage. Biff hung back – he hated pile ups. He was quite happy to let Johnny take the lead and find any dead bodies. Let the dumb Indian do all the work.

Leaning into a car which he knew was empty, on the pretext of checking it, Biff glanced over at his partner and saw Johnny disappearing into a car. Quite how he managed to wriggle in, Biff wasn’t sure, even though he had seen Johnny do it. Moments later, Johnny started backing out again. Above him, the truck that had hit the car and ended up partially up a lighting pole wavered. Biff saw his chance had come.

If Johnny stayed where he was, he would escape unharmed. If he moved just a little bit, he would most likely be crushed. Then Biff could go to his rescue and save Johnny’s life. He could make enough anguished comments to cast doubts on Johnny’s judgment afterwards. It was a perfect scenario.

“Johnny! Look out!” he shouted.

As he had hoped, Johnny whirled around and glanced up. The truck was definitely sliding now, faster with every second and Biff thought gleefully that Johnny was in exactly the wrong place. Nobody had a chance of getting away from the disaster that was about to happen.

But he had never seen Johnny’s lightning reflexes in action. In a split second, Johnny sized up the situation and realized that he was facing death. So he did the only thing possible – he dived back into the tiny space in the car where he had been only moments before. It was a tight fit with his helmet and turnout on, but he had been in there before and he had to get back in there if he was going to live.

He barely made it. He felt the whoosh as the truck gave in to gravity and landed beside the car where he had been standing only moments before. The truck bounced off the ground, struck the car a glancing blow and finally settled in a shower of sparks.

Everyone had seen it happening. Biff was transfixed to the spot, gazing with awe at the way his plans had been executed without him having to do more than shout a warning. Nobody could blame him for shouting. There was no way that Johnny had actually made it into the car before the truck fell. No way on earth.

By now, other firefighters were running towards the truck and car, calling Johnny’s name. Biff joined the run over and was stunned to hear a weak voice replying. Biff skidded to a stop. Johnny was alive? How the hell had he managed that?

Inside the car, Johnny was wondering the same thing. Desperation was a great thing, giving wings to otherwise leaden feet. Johnny still wasn’t sure how he had made it, but he knew one thing for certain; he hadn’t escaped unscathed. His helmet had been knocked askew and his head was bleeding profusely. He knew he was in for a stay at Rampart.

And for once, he wasn’t sorry he was ending a shift that way.

**********

It was next door to impossible to sit still for Biff to look at his head. It had taken them some time to remove the overturned truck and allow Johnny room to crawl from the crushed car and by then, he was feeling light headed from the blood loss. He had had his hand pressed against the wound, but the pressure had made no appreciable difference to the amount of bleeding. Moving had caused the bleeding to increase and he had almost passed out when he finally was able to stand upright. Fortunately, the firefighters who had freed him were prepared for that eventuality and kept him on his feet long enough to go to the triage area.

His head throbbing, Johnny lay on the yellow plastic blanket, a 4x4 pressed to the gash on his head. He wished Biff would use some saline and wipe the blood from his left eye, as he couldn’t see because of it, but the paramedic seemed almost frozen in place and Johnny was prompting him to take BP, pulse and respirations. He hoped another paramedic from one of the other squads would come and take over his care.

As he reported to Rampart, Biff couldn’t believe that Johnny was still alive. It should have been impossible for him to have escaped that truck and yet he had. And worse, he was getting praise left, right and center for his quick thinking. So Biff took his revenge the only way he could and didn’t give Johnny the care he should have received. He took three attempts to get the IV in, leaving Johnny’s arms punctured and bruising. He didn’t clean the wound, or check that it had stopped bleeding and he didn’t mention that Johnny was feeling light headed. In fact, he had so underplayed the severity of the wound that both Dixie and Brackett were stunned when Johnny was rolled into the ER.

“Johnny?” Brackett leaned over and flashed his penlight into Johnny’s right eye. “How are you doing?”

“Pretty light headed,” Johnny admitted. “Don’t feel too good.” He was still clutching the soaked 4x4 to his head.

“Dix, get me fresh dressings,” Brackett ordered. “I’m just going to have a look, Johnny, okay?”

“Fine by me,” Johnny agreed. He closed his one open eye and felt the dressing peeled back. He could almost sense the spurt of blood that accompanied that action.

To be fair, the bleeding had slowed a good bit, but there was still active bleeding going on. Brackett put a fresh dressing on to it. “Johnny, I’m going to have to clean that up and stitch it. I’ll numb the area first, though and I’m going to get a picture, too.”

“Whatever,” Johnny sighed. He just wanted something for his headache and to go to sleep. He was pretty sure he wouldn’t be allowed uninterrupted sleep. He probably had a concussion.

“I’m just going to clean you up, Johnny,” Dixie told him. “Then I’ll help you get out of those bloody clothes.” A warm cloth swirled over his face and Johnny remembered his mother washing his face for him in just that way when he was a small child. She was especially gentle as she cleaned the blood from his eye, as it was going black. “What exactly happened?” she asked. The words were directed at both paramedics, as Biff was still standing in the room.

At once, Biff jumped in, telling her of Johnny’s ‘idiotic’ move in climbing into the crushed car, and then his brush with death as the truck fell, talking himself up for shouting the warning. “Gage would have died if it hadn’t been for me,” he boasted. Dixie gave him a look of profound distaste.

“Your patient care left a lot to be desired,” Brackett told him, also disgusted with the boasting. “You didn’t tell me that Johnny was so lightheaded. And why didn’t you put more pressure dressings on his head?”

“He wouldn’t let me,” Biff blustered, in such an obvious lie that Brackett didn’t need to see Johnny’s surprise to know that what Biff said was garbage.

“You also didn’t tell me how serious it is,” Brackett added. “And it looks like you need a refresher at getting your IV stick first go.” He had never liked Biff and his estimation of the man was dropping. “While I appreciate that Johnny can sometimes be an unwilling patient, that doesn’t seem to be the case here.”

Scowling, Biff said nothing. Brackett bit back a sigh. “Don’t leave before I’ve had the chance to talk to you further,” he ordered. He was going to make Biff do a full refresher course and if his manner didn’t improve dramatically during the course, he would be washed out of the paramedics. “Wait in my office.”

“An ‘unwilling patient’?” Johnny queried after Biff left. “Doc, it’s not like you to beat around the bush.” He found a smile for the first time in days.

“Oh shut up, hose jockey!” Brackett grinned.

**********

Seven stitches later, it was decided that Johnny didn’t have a concussion, but he was going to be staying overnight. That came as no surprise. He was going to be on an IV for several more hours until his BP reached an acceptable level. Someone would have to collect him next day to take him home and he would be missing a few shifts. For the first time, that didn’t matter to him. At least he wouldn’t have to work with Biff any longer. When the captain had come in to see how Johnny was, Johnny had told him he wouldn’t be subbing at the station again. The man hadn’t seemed surprised. Nobody wanted to work with Biff – including his other shift mates.

That did, of course, leave the burning question of exactly where he would be filling in. As he was transferred to a room, Johnny decided he would worry about that nearer the time. He was feeling pretty groggy, having finally been given something for his headache, but he phoned Chet first to ask for a lift home the next day. A pang shot through his heart as he remembered the number of times Roy had come to collect him.

“Sure thing, Johnny,” Chet agreed. “Want me to get your stuff from 42s?”

“That would be great,” Johnny agreed. All he had to wear was his blood stained uniform and turnouts. They would have sufficed, but he would need to get his stuff anyway and Chet collecting it was the best solution all round. Now that it was sorted out, he could sleep.

His sleep was fragmented and he was glad to waken and find Captain Stanley sitting by his bed. “Cap!” Johnny struggled to sit up.

“Just stay where you are,” Cap told him kindly.

“What are you doing here?” Johnny asked.

“Visiting you, you twit,” Cap smiled. His smile faded, for Johnny’s eye was swollen and bruised and the gash on his head had to be pretty big judging by the bandage over it. “Dixie called me. I am your next-of-kin, remember?”

“Oh yeah, so you are,” Johnny agreed. He had forgotten.

“I just wanted to see for myself that you are all right,” Cap went on. “I hear it’s been pretty rough at 42s?”

“You could say that,” Johnny agreed. “I’m not going back there, I told the Cap earlier.”

“I don’t blame you, pal,” sighed Cap. “Some of the things that Biff character said even reached my ears.” Johnny winced. “But I sorted them out, don’t you worry.”

An awkward silence fell. “Is Roy any better without me?” Johnny asked and instantly wished he had kept his mouth shut.

“Yes and no,” Cap replied honestly. “He’ll be doing all right and then his partner of the day does something differently than you would and he’s a bear again. At the rate things are going, he and Biff are going to end up partnered together at some little place miles from anywhere so they don’t scare off other paramedics.”

“I thought with me gone, things would be better,” Johnny said in dismay.

“John, whatever is going on with Roy is more complicated than any of us can guess,” Cap assured him. “I’ll keep on trying to figure it out. In the meantime, you concentrate on getting out of here and getting better.”

“Yeah, I will,” Johnny replied, but he wasn’t comforted by the words.

**********

A week after he was injured, Johnny’s stitches came out and he was cleared to return to work. He was dreading his assignment, not sure where he would end up. He had also been hearing stories that Roy was riding his temporary partners really hard, telling them that they would never measure up to Gage. It was all really confusing and everyone was deeply concerned.

However, the hammer blow was that when he returned to work, Johnny would be going to 51’s A shift. He acknowledged the phone call automatically, but he put the receiver down feeling totally dazed. He should probably call in sick or something, but would the department buy that? He knew they wouldn’t. He’d just have to suck it up and do the best he could.

He just hoped Roy felt the same way.

**********

Since it was obvious by Johnny’s transfer request that something had gone wrong in the Gage-DeSoto team, the brass decided to do a little investigation of their own. Claiming to be doing a study into stress in the work place, they sent along a hotshot young psychiatrist to speak to the men. The ‘study’ was set in motion while Johnny was still out on medical leave so that it didn’t look too coincidental and it was determined that Johnny would go back to 51s and perhaps the psychiatrist would be able to put their finger on what had gone wrong and put it right.

She protested that that wasn’t how it worked, but to no avail. So, April Evans dutifully turned up for duty at station 51 to talk to the men.

It wasn’t going to be easy. April didn’t consider herself a particularly pretty girl. She wasn’t ugly, but she knew lots of girls who were prettier than her, slimmer than her and taller than her; girls who had naturally blonde hair, not a bland mousey color and had arrestingly colored eyes. She had none of those things, in her own opinion.

Clearly, Chet and Marco thought she was of great interest when she arrived. Chet was practically drooling, but she put that down to the scarcity of women in fire fighting. They were getting there, but there were no women at 51s. It didn’t take her long to show Chet that she wasn’t some brainless bimbo and also that she wasn’t interested in a relationship with any of them. The easy way to do that, she discovered, was to take out her notebook and start asking questions.

It was quite difficult to get answers from the men initially. Like most of their breed, they were tough-minded and didn’t see the need for a study on stress. They knew they had a stressful job and they dealt with it; there was no need for a shrink to do any kind of study. However, as they grew used to April’s presence, they started relaxing and opening up a bit more.

It didn’t take her long to get the measure of Chet and Marco and she could see Chet’s pranks, while intensely irritating at times, actually helped the others deal with the tension. Marco relieved his tension by cooking, even if it wasn’t his turn. Mike Stoker was more difficult to get to know; he was naturally reserved and quiet, but she found him an interesting man, well read and knowledgeable. His stress busters were lavishing attention on the engine and reading.

Cap shouldered the most responsibility and spoke to her openly about the stresses of command. She could see that he was a very capable commander, rarely shaken by the things that happened at rescues, and fond of his men.

The remaining permanent crew member was still an enigma to her. Roy had avoided her at every turn, snapping at her when she tried to persist in speaking to him, but she was accustomed to dealing with rudeness in her job. A lot of people who were referred to see her were doing it against their wills and took it out on her. In fact, his avoidance techniques were interesting in and of themselves and made her keener than ever to speak to him. His interactions with the rest of the crew were very interesting and she made lots of notes.

But the interest really picked up when John Gage returned the next shift, covering his old position. Cap hadn’t announced his return, probably because Roy would have refused to come to work and that wouldn’t help solve anything.

For an instant, Roy had looked glad to see his partner – but only for an instant. The next moment, his genial face darkened in a ferocious scowl and Gage looked hurt and confused. April exulted. This is what she had really been sent to see and she was delighted that she would be able to start delving into it at once.

She could understand why Cap was confused by Roy’s behavior. On runs, Roy and Johnny worked together seamlessly, barely needing to speak to each other. Yet when they were alone, Roy was rude and surly and unkind, which was unlike the man April had come to know over the last week. He had been rude to her initially, but she could see that when he forgot about her job, he was a nice man. April was intrigued.

For Johnny, it was like coming home and finding that your memories were playing you false. He was pleased to see all his former crew mates and was pleased that they were pleased to see him – apart from Roy after the first few seconds. He slotted back into the routine of the station as though he had never been away and while it was soothing in some respects, it was jarring in others. April was one of those others.

“I see there’s a bit of tension between you and Roy,” she said casually to him, after a few minutes of chat about his job. They were in Cap’s office, where she had spoken to each man individually.

“Yeah, I guess you could say that,” Johnny sighed.

“What’s the problem?” she enquired.

“If I knew that, there wouldn’t be a problem,” Johnny retorted. He shook his head. “I’m sorry, that was rude. But I’ve been wondering about this since the accident and I still don’t know what’s going on. That’s why I asked for a transfer, because I couldn’t bear the atmosphere. And suddenly here I am back again and I still don’t know what’s going on.”

“Tell me about the accident,” April requested. She had heard about it before, from the others, but Roy hadn’t yet mentioned it and the others were not entirely certain what had gone on inside the warehouse.

“We were told by dispatch that it was a ‘smoke showing’ call,” Johnny began. “When we got there, it was a small fire, so Roy and I went inside to have a quick look to see what was going on. There wasn’t anybody trapped inside and the fire was outside, so we didn’t put on our gear. We hadn’t gone that far inside when I suddenly felt the air change. You’ll have never been in a fire, but there’s often an indefinable something in the air that lets you know there’s a flashover coming. I felt it, grabbed Roy and pulled him round and down. There was an explosion before I got him fully down and we were blown over. Roy had a closed head injury, but he seemed all right at the time, even though he was concussed. But he changed. When we went to visit him the next day, he spoke to everyone but me. Then he didn’t let me know he was being discharged and I went to visit him and he was already gone. And since then, he’s barely spoken to me, apart from when we’re at a rescue. Oh, and the day when I asked to be transferred when he said I couldn’t be trusted to watch his back.” Reciting the whole thing just made Johnny even more miserable.

“Were you hurt in the explosion?” April asked.

“Not really,” Johnny replied off-handedly. “Scraped up my hands and knees, that’s all.” He shrugged. “It was nothing.”

“The log book says you were off for several shifts,” April mentioned.

“Yeah, I was,” he agreed. “But it wasn’t serious compared to what happened to Roy.”

April went in search of Roy. She found the paramedic in the locker room, wiping down the sinks. “Roy? What happened at the warehouse before the accident?”

“Why do you want to know?” Roy asked. He wondered why he was consistently being so rude to April and didn’t have an answer.

“I was told about it,” she responded casually. “It sounds pretty scary.”

“I’m not sure I remember everything,” Roy admitted. “We went in to look and the next thing I knew, Gage threw me onto the ground.”

“Why did he do that?” April asked, sounding surprised.

“I don’t know,” Roy replied, irritably. “Because he’s an idiot, probably.” He frowned at his own reflection in the mirror. “He can’t be trusted to watch my back.”

That was very interesting, April thought. Roy hadn’t mentioned the explosion, and had admitted he didn’t really remember everything. “How did you come to be hurt?” she asked.

“How did you know about that?” Roy countered.

“It’s in the log,” she replied.

“Oh... well...” Roy had no idea what the answer was. “It was probably something Gage did.” He scowled at her, but she didn’t go away. “Every time I turn my back, he pulls some foolish stunt and gets hurt.”

“Really?” April thought she sounded like she was about 15 and was sure that Roy would call her out, but he didn’t.

“He got bitten by a rattlesnake one time he carelessly left an HT in a crashed car,” Roy reported scornfully. “Another time he was slow getting out of a house that had a gas leak and got caught in the explosion and broke his leg. Another time he played with a monkey that had a virus and almost died.”

“That’s terrible,” April sympathized. It was. She didn’t know how Johnny could do this job having had injuries like that.

“That’s my definition of stress,” Roy informed her and walked away.

For the rest of the shift, April observed Roy and Johnny working. She generally didn’t stay overnight, since the men were clearly uncomfortable with her being there when they were sleeping and it also allowed her time to write up her notes and draw conclusions. This time, she stayed later than usual and asked the other men about the things Roy had mentioned.

“John wasn’t careless any of those times,” Cap declared. “Oh sure, he’s always the first one into action and he gets banged up, but it’s rare that John is careless. None of us noticed that we were an HT short. If we had, it could have been any one of us who got bitten. And he certainly wasn’t slow getting out of the house with the gas leak. He was on the third floor when it went up, doing his job. Did Roy mention that he and Chet barely got out before it exploded?” April shook her head. “And Johnny didn’t ‘play’ with the monkey. The little germ factory jumped onto his arm, that was all. Did Roy mention he almost worried himself into an early grave on each of those occasions?” April shook her head again. “That’s the real Roy,” he concluded. “Not the one who’s working here now.”

It didn’t take much for April to get the men reminiscing about rescues, especially the ones where Johnny had had a brush with death. She observed Roy particularly without him being aware of it. One of the men would tell a story, the others joining in, adding their memories, correcting minute unimportant details and Roy would start off nodding and then frown and withdraw into himself. He looked confused and finally declared he was tired and going to turn in early. April took that as her cue to leave for the night. She thought she might know what was going on.

***********

Next morning, April was at Rampart to chat to Dr Brackett. She saw Johnny and Roy in the ER but avoided them. Johnny looked tired and sad and Roy, to her hypercritical eye, looked thoughtful. She hoped that was a good sign.

“I hope you’ve got good news for us,” Brackett commented as they sat down in his office.

“I hope so, too,” April replied. “I think I know what’s wrong with Roy. I expect you’re going to disagree with me here and it’s a controversial diagnosis.”

“I’d like to hear it all the same,” Brackett responded. “I’m not quite the dinosaur I used to be, regardless of what you might hear.” He smiled and she smiled back.

“I think Roy has false memories,” she began. Brackett didn’t say anything. “I know we all have them to a point, but I think Roy’s memories have been altered by his head injury. I know a lot of psychiatrists don’t believe in this, but I’ve seen it before. That’s why he’s so irritable with everyone. He’s mostly remembering how it was between them, but then he has this idea that Johnny is untrustworthy because he is mis-remembering what really happened. He doesn’t have any recollection of the explosion at all. And because he’s getting these mixed signals from his mind, he’s cross because he doesn’t know what to believe. The problem is, most of it is subconscious and he’s not aware of it.”

“I can’t say I’ve heard of this,” Brackett responded thoughtfully. “Yet what you say fits nicely.” He sighed and fiddled with a pen that was lying on his desk. After a few moments, he looked up. “So what do we do to correct this?”

“We have to get Roy talking,” April replied. “And we’ll have to include Johnny at some point, too, and the others. I saw how he was at the station last night when they were all reminiscing and he clearly wasn’t remembering it the same way as the others. Could it have something to do with the head injury? That’s more your field than mine.”

“Almost all head injuries cause some brain damage,” Brackett replied. “Roy’s would have been minimal, because he is basically all right. But yes, this could be caused by some damage to his brain. It’s nothing serious, as I said, but if you are right – and I’m not saying you’re wrong – then we need to get this sorted out before it spreads to other memories. Can it do that?” Brackett looked unsure of himself.

“I don’t know,” April admitted. “This is all such new territory that it doesn’t even have a name.” She bit her lip. “I think – and I could be quite wrong here – but I think that Roy is having problems with Johnny because he can almost remember the explosion, but not quite. He just knows that something bad happened there and his mind has done its best to make sense of the gap and has connected it to Johnny because Roy knows Johnny was there. Again, this is speculation, but it makes sense to me.” She looked doubtfully at Brackett. “Does it make sense to you?”

“Actually, it does,” he nodded. “A bad thing happened that he has no direct memory of and it’s connected to Johnny. His brain got a knock, as we know. He had a concussion, and it has scrambled the memories. Yes, that works for me.” He laid the pen down. “So how do we go about sorting things out?”

“I need to have a session alone with him,” April decided. “I’d like to use hypnosis, too. Memories can often be accessed under hypnosis and it isn’t too stressful.”

“All right, I’ll get it set up,” Brackett promised. “It won’t be till after their next shift, because I know Roy has a couple of days away with the family to attend some family get together. Is that all right?”

“I guess it’ll have to be,” April agreed. “Meantime, I think Johnny should go back to 51 next shift and we’ll see if some more reminiscing around the table helps a bit.” She rose.

“Thanks, April,” Brackett said warmly and shook her hand. He was grateful to have her on staff. She was very capable and likeable and he found her innate modesty a very attractive trait. “I hope you’re about to save my best paramedic team.”

“It’s my pleasure,” she returned, for she loved to solve the mysteries of the human mind. “I hope so, too.”

**********

He felt physically sick before his next shift. Johnny managed to choke down some coffee but was unable to eat. He loved 51, but he hated being there at the moment, with Roy being so horrible to him. He wondered if Brackett had read the CT scan properly and had somehow missed a bleed, but he shook his head over that thought. He knew there was no chance Brackett had screwed up. The CT had been clear and Roy had been mad. Was still mad in fact and Johnny knew it was all his fault. He turned up at work looking like a condemned man arriving at the scaffold.

It was mildly distracting to see that April was still there. Johnny liked the woman and if slightly older women had been his thing, he might have made a play for her. She wasn’t the model-type of girl he was inclined to go for, but she was attractive and he liked her. But right now, he was too pre-occupied to chase after a woman and in fact, she didn’t seem like she was interested in any of them.

It was a quiet shift and they got their chores done without a single call. Marco put lunch on the table and they all sat down. April got the conversation going, asking about a rescue that she said had been mentioned before. It was one where Johnny had narrowly escaped being swept away by a car in a river and Johnny enjoyed the back and forth comments that told him how worried his friends had been for his safety and also reminded him that he wasn’t the be-all and end-all of the shift. Only Roy didn’t participate; he sat there looking confused and angry.

Talk moved on, and this time the rescue in question was one in which Roy had been injured. Chet said something about it and Roy jumped right in this time. “That’s not how it was, Chet,” he objected.

“Oh sure it was, Roy,” Chet shot back. “Don’t give us that modesty stuff. You deliberately stepped onto the floor just there so that you would be the one to go through, not us mushes carrying the hose. You got the commendation for it, so don’t come over all modest now.”

“But, I didn’t...” Roy began, then dropped the subject, looking more confused than ever.

“Besides, if Gage hadn’t been there, you’d have probably bled to death before any of us could’ve got you out. He was the only one skinny enough to risk putting weight on that floor.” April couldn’t have been more pleased with Chet if she had coached him about what to say. He was, of course, just winding Roy up, as he wound most people up. He continued on, switching targets with ease. “Gage, how can someone eat as much as you and still end up so damned skinny that the floorboards don’t feel your weight?” The jibe was said with fondness and a degree of envy. Chet had to be careful of his weight.

“Just natural talent,” Johnny shot back, his mouth full.

Chet opened his mouth to make another comeback, but the tones went off. “Station 51, man down...”

**********

A man down call could mean anything from someone who had tripped in the street to a heart attack victim. They approached the building site with a degree of trepidation. They attended plenty of accidents on these sites and this one looked particularly slap-dash.

“There’s a sinkhole opened up and two of my men and half that house’ve fallen into it,” the foreman told Cap.

At once, Cap motioned to Mike and Roy. “Pull the engine and the squad back,” he ordered. There was no saying how stable the ground was. If one sinkhole had opened up, there could be others. The last thing they needed was one of their vehicles being trapped, too.

Cautiously, Cap ventured over to nearer the hole to see what there was to see. “We’ve got to shore up these walls,” he ordered. “Nobody is to go near it until we’ve done the shoring.” He gave Johnny a hard look.

It didn’t take them long to get started and within half an hour, it was deemed stable enough to allow Johnny and Roy to go closer to the edge to see if they could spot the men. They were carefully roped off and began edging their way out. April stood by the engine and watched. The tension was thick in the air.

“How does it look?” Cap called.

“We’re gonna have to dig, Cap,” Johnny called back. Roy took a careful step forward and looked down, too. He nodded.

“We’ll need someone here with shoring, ready to hand it to us,” he added. “The ground’s real unstable.”

“Get some ply board for us to walk along,” Cap instructed Chet and Marco. “Then get roped up.” He took Johnny’s rope from Chet and Mike grabbed Roy’s from Marco.

They nodded and hurried off. There was never any shortage of shoring on a building site. Roy and Johnny stayed where they were, appearing to be discussing how they were going to approach freeing the trapped men, judging by the way they were pointing and talking.

Marco and Chet came back with the boards and Chet headed out towards the paramedics. He paused to get a better grip on the bit of ply, setting it down for a moment, so they all had a clear view of what happened next.

Neither of the paramedics moved, but they could hear Johnny’s alarmed cry clearly. “Watch out, Roy!” He grabbed the back of his partner’s coat as the ground under Roy’s feet crumbled away and he started to fall. Johnny yanked him backwards, even as the ground vanished from under his own feet.

Instantly, Cap and Mike tightened their holds on the ropes and began to pull them in. Roy staggered and stumbled back and fell, Mike pulling him along the ground as the hole grew and ate more of the skeletal building on its edge. Johnny disappeared from view and a moment later, his lifeline was severed by a sharp edged slate that crashed down to explode in a cloud of dust. But it had done its evil worst and the junior paramedic was gone.

**********

They helped the stunned older paramedic to his feet. “I don’t understand,” Roy mumbled as they gently untied the rope from around his waist and removed his helmet and turnout, checking surreptitiously for injuries. “Why did he do that?”

It was a question that Roy would never have asked under normal circumstances and the men were unsure how to answer. Pushing past her own shock, April helped Roy sit down on the running board of the engine and squatted down in front of him. “Look at me, Roy,” she commanded. When he met her eyes, she took his hands in both of his. “This will be difficult to hear and understand, but I want you to listen to me,” she went on. “Roy, the things you’ve been hearing about rescues on the last couple of shifts – they don’t seem to be quite as you remember, do they?” she asked.

“No, but...” he began.

“Just listen,” she cautioned. “Roy, when you got hurt at that accident, your concussion scrambled your memories a bit. You don’t really remember what happened, just that it was unpleasant and Johnny was there. Am I right?”

“Yeah,” he mumbled, looking more confused than ever.

“In your mind, your brain decided that Johnny and accidents meant that Johnny was to blame for them. He’s not. We can work together to sort those memories out, but right now you’ve got to remember something very important indeed.” April tugged on his hands to make sure that Roy was listening to her. “Johnny did what he did to save your life. He’s always put your life before his because you have a family. Johnny is the closest thing to a brother you have and even though you’ve been treating him really badly, he still saved your life because he is your friend. He has always been your friend. Do you understand?”

There was a pause while Roy thought through what he had just been told. He had known there was something not quite right in his life for some time now and he had been so scared by the thought that he was losing his mind or going mad that he had been taking out on everyone around him. He had noticed that his memories were not the same as the others’, not just at work, but at home, too. His heart was pounding frantically in his chest as he tried to accept what he was being told. It was difficult to disbelieve his own mind, but he had to do it. “Yes,” he gasped. “I understand.”

“Good.” April stayed where she was. “Roy, listen to me. Are you going to be able to help or are you too distracted?”

“I’ll... I’ll be fine,” he assured her, with something less than full truthfulness.

“Okay,” she smiled. “You sit there a minute and we’ll get you some water.” She glanced around at the men, knowing someone would produce some water and she wasn’t disappointed.

Meanwhile, Cap had been onto dispatch and asked for more help and a couple of ambulances. He really didn’t hold out much hope for any of the trapped men and his heart was sore for the loss of Johnny after all he had gone through recently. He could only hope that his end had been quick. “How are you feeling, Roy?” he asked.

“Better, Cap,” Roy admitted. He actually looked a little better, although still a bit pale and shaken.

“Tell me how it looked,” Cap asked, gesturing towards the disaster.

“Well...”

***********

The ply board was carefully laid all the way to the hole. Chet crawled out and looked down. It went down a long way, but he could see people at the bottom. “Gage?” he shouted. “Gage! You’d better not be dead!”

“Just get me out of here,” Johnny called back. His voice was weak, but at least he was alive.

“Hold your horses!” Chet scolded, hiding his relief in teasing. “We’ll get to you.”

“Is Roy all right?” Johnny asked.

“He’s fine. He’ll be coming down shortly. What about those two?” Chet could see the men they had been sent to rescue and it didn’t look good for them.

“I don’t know,” Johnny admitted. “They haven’t moved and I can’t reach them.” The bottom of the hole was wet and he had sunk some inches into the mud and suspected he was slowly being sucked into quicksand. He thought he’d better tell them that. “I think the bottom is quicksand,” he shouted. “I’m sinking.”

“Stay still!” Chet commanded, thoroughly shaken by that revelation. “Are you hurt?” he asked as an afterthought.

“Yeah,” Johnny called back. “I won’t move.” He didn’t add that he couldn’t move. He was trapped on his back with the scaffolding bars scattered on top of him. Pain shot through his back at every breath and disappeared down his legs. He really didn’t want to think about his injuries right at that moment.

The ride down had been hellish, and he had stayed awake for every single second. He guessed he had fallen 15 feet and had tumbled around like a rock in a washing machine. It had been simple luck that had landed him on his back and not face down in this muck to drown slowly. The two men they had been sent to rescue initially had not moved or made a sound since he had landed and he feared they were already dead.

“I’ll be back,” Chet called.

“Is that a threat or a promise?” Johnny wondered, but his voice didn’t carry. Shouting was too painful. He lay among the tangle of iron bars and kept his promise and didn’t move.

He was still sinking, though.

**********

“I’m going down,” Roy repeated stubbornly. “Maybe there will be someone lighter in another paramedic team when they get here, but they aren’t here yet.” Roy looked at the others. “The only person lighter than me is April and she can’t go down.” That wasn’t necessarily true, but nobody argued with Roy. “Besides,” he added, “he’s sinking.”

That was the clincher. “All right,” Cap agreed reluctantly. “Let’s get a belt onto him anyway. Then we can get going on clearing the stuff on top of him. Take some ply down to make a platform for you to work off.”

Quickly, Roy strapped on his safety belt and clipped a second one to it and attached it to a rope. He tucked a c-collar into his pocket. “Can someone contact Rampart?” he asked.

“Done,” Mike replied. He had the biophone set up and ready to go. As Roy left, he lifted the handset. “Rampart this is squad 51.”

“Go ahead, 51,” came Joe Early’s voice.

“Rampart, we have three men trapped in a sinkhole. We have no vitals on any of them and we are unsure how long it will take to extract them. Please be aware that one of the victims is John Gage.”

“10-4, 51,” Rampart replied. “We’ll be standing by.”

“10-4.” Mike put down the receiver and looked at April. She was struck, as she often was, by his calm demeanor, but she saw that it was only a facade. He was as worried as everyone else, just hiding it better. She shivered as their eyes made contact. She really liked Mike Stoker and she suddenly knew that he liked her as well. It was a thought to tuck away and explore at a more appropriate time.

“Are you cold?” he asked, and started to take off his turnout.

“No, I’m fine, honestly,” she replied. “Just worried.” She glanced over in the direction of the sinkhole. “Roy seems to be okay just now, but I’ve just pushed his whole world sideways and I wouldn’t blame him if he fell apart.”

“He’s a firefighter,” Mike told her. “He’ll fall apart later, when this is all over.” He, too, glanced at the sinkhole and saw Roy disappearing over the edge. “Perhaps we all will, when this is all over.”

**********

His mind was reeling, but he had a job to do and he was going to do it. Roy deliberately pushed aside his problems and concentrated on climbing carefully down into the sinkhole. In fact, he was actually sliding down into it and he could only hope and pray that he wasn’t making everything worse for his partner who was below. It seemed he had already made things unbearable for Johnny and he hated to think that.

It had almost been easier when he thought he hated Johnny, when he thought his partner was a troublemaker. Almost. He was ashamed that he had taken out his problems on Johnny. Joanne had tackled him about Johnny’s sudden absence from their life and her husband’s conversation and Roy hadn’t known quite what to say. He had known there was something wrong, but he wouldn’t admit it to anyone, not even himself. He didn’t remember things at all, or he didn’t remember them the same way as others did and when Brackett had asked him to come back in for a CT scan, he had hoped that there would be some explanation for this, even if it meant facing brain surgery. A mixture of relief and worry had caused him to lash out at Johnny the next day, as though his subconscious had known that this was one person who would, in the end, forgive him. Or at least, Roy hoped that Johnny would forgive him.

“Pass down the ply,” he called, reaching a relatively safe position at the bottom. Johnny was only a few feet away from him, lying on his back covered in metal poles with his eyes closed. He was as pale as a ghost. Roy didn’t think it would be terribly difficult to reach Johnny – the poles were pretty light compared to some things they had to deal with – but getting him out of the quicksand could prove very difficult indeed. Roy waited anxiously for the ply board to make its way down to him. He could feel himself sinking slightly.

Crawling carefully over the unstable surface, Roy reached through the tangle of metal to take Johnny’s pulse. His partner started visibly and Roy saw his momentary confusion. “Johnny? Did you hit your head?”

For a moment, Johnny was pretty sure he must have done, because it was the first time in weeks that Roy had not called him ‘Gage’. “Uh, no,” he responded, dragging his mind away from this enigma. “No, I got to stay awake for the whole ride.”

“What hurts?” Roy enquired, pulling the c-collar out of his pocket and reaching to place it round Johnny’s neck. He slid the belt carefully under his partner and signaled for Chet to take up the slack.

“What doesn’t?” Johnny countered.

“I need specifics,” Roy reminded him.

Closing his eyes, as though that might make the reciting of his woes less painful, Johnny replied, “My back and down my legs. My left arm and shoulder. Think it’s dislocated.”

A pang of guilt shot through Roy. That was the arm that Johnny had used to yank him back from the edge. For a moment, a memory of Johnny throwing him to the ground in the warehouse surfaced and Roy forced it away, reminding himself that it wasn’t accurate. It was much harder to do than it sounded.

“All right,” he said, as much to himself as to his partner. “Let’s get you out of there.” Working slowly and carefully, he began to pull away the metal bars. His gaze fell on the two men they had been called to rescue. From their face-down positions, he suspected they had drowned long before they got to the scene. Once Johnny was freed, others would have to come and do body retrieval.

While Roy worked, Johnny closed his eyes again. The pain was wearing him out and the wet quicksand was leaching the heat from his body. The pressure of the belt around his waist was agonizing, but conversely comforting, too. If need be, they could pull him free and if his back was broken, well, he would have to learn to live with that, even though the prospect terrified him.

“Johnny?”

Reluctantly, he opened his eyes. Roy was eyeing him with concern. “Yeah?” He just wanted to sleep.

“Can you hold this pole while I remove this other one?” Roy asked. “I don’t want it to hit you in the face.”

“That wouldn’t be my first choice either,” Johnny agreed and lifted his right hand up, wincing as the pain shot through his ribs, across his back and off down his legs.

“All right?” Roy asked sharply, watching the play of emotion on his partner’s face. “I’ve got to get someone else down in a minute to help me with the backboard. We can wait for them.”

“I’m okay,” Johnny lied. He held the pole in a trembling hand as Roy carefully removed the other, then took the remaining pole from Johnny and tossed it aside. He signaled to the top that he was ready for help.

“Let me look at your eyes,” Roy commanded, and peered into Johnny’s eyes with the penlight. His pupils were normal. That was a relief. Roy started to feel down the gangly limbs, watching to see where he got reaction. While Johnny winced everywhere he was touched, the worst places seemed to be his ribs, left arm and back.

A quiver on the ply told Roy that Marco had arrived with the backboard and stokes. They maneuvered carefully to place the board by Johnny and then had real problems rolling him onto his side out of the muck to get him in position. Both men got boots-full of mud in the process, but finally Johnny was on the board, and placed gently into the stokes.

It had taken all his strength and determination not to cry out as he was moved around, because he knew how careful his crew mates were being, but moving was agony. He swallowed hard against sudden nausea. Puking was not high on his ‘to-do’ list today.

“Johnny?” Marco was leaning over him, with Roy peering over his shoulder. “Are you all right?”

“Yeah,” he lied. “Just trying to accept the consequences of falling.” He saw that his attempt at lightness had failed.

“Do you want a minute before we move you up?” Roy asked, taking Johnny’s wrist to count his pulse. It was racing.

“I just want to get out of here,” Johnny responded honestly. He wanted Roy to ask Rampart for something for the pain, because he didn’t know how much longer he could bear it.

“All right,” Roy agreed. He, too, wanted to give Johnny something for the pain. Johnny was breathing all right, although Roy suspected broken ribs, but they would get him on oxygen and an IV and hopefully some morphine. “Let’s go,” he told Marco.

Raising his hand, Marco made a twirling motion, then picked up the stokes. Roy did the same on the other side and after a moment, they felt the weight being taken from above. Marco stayed below to guide the stokes and Roy climbed up as quickly as he could so he was there to treat Johnny.

They hurried the stokes over to beside the engine and squad where Mike had laid out a blanket. Johnny was shivering in his wet clothes and each shiver was torture. He whimpered unconsciously. Gently, his crew mates lifted him from the metal basket and placed the backboard on the ground. Roy handed Mike the scissors and the engineer started to cut off Johnny’s pants. Roy freed Johnny’s right arm from the turnout, but left the injured left one alone. The movement was enough to bring tears to Johnny’s eyes as it was. Roy quickly wrapped the BP cuff around Johnny’s arm and pumped it up. Mike tucked a blanket over Johnny when he was done.

Reaching for the biophone, Roy picked up the receiver. “Rampart, this is Squad 51.”

“Go ahead, 51,” Early replied.

“Rampart, we have three victims. The first two are Code F. The third victim is John Gage. He fell approximately 15 feet into a sinkhole. He has a dislocated left shoulder and probable broken left arm. There are probable broken ribs. He is complaining of pain in his back and legs although he has full feeling. His vitals are BP 140/110, pulse 120 and respirations 20. He is in considerable pain, is wet and cold after landing in quicksand. There is no visible head injury and no loss of consciousness.”

“51, start an IV with normal saline and oxygen at 6 liters. Give 5 mgs MS IV. Immobilize on a backboard and transport as soon as possible.”

“10-4, Rampart,” Roy acknowledged. He reached for the IV set up and soon had it going. April watched with interest as Cap fixed the oxygen mask to Johnny’s face and set the rate. Johnny’s tense features relaxed as the MS started to work. The ambulances had arrived while Roy was rescuing Johnny and the other paramedic teams were discussing body retrieval. An ambulance attendant approached with the stretcher and Johnny’s backboard was placed onto it and he was wheeled away.

For a moment, the crew just stood looking at the ambulance as it pulled out, their shoulders slumping. April hugged herself, although she wasn’t cold. It had been a narrow escape for Johnny. She hadn’t been out to see the sinkhole and she wasn’t going to go out to see the sinkhole, but her imagination was good enough to conjure up a picture. She hoped they would leave before the bodies were brought out. She hoped ‘her’ crew wouldn’t have to deal with that. Bad enough to arrive and the men be already dead, but worse that they had almost lost one of their own at the same time without having to retrieve the bodies.

“April?” She blinked and looked up at Captain Stanley. “Chet’s going to take the squad into Rampart. We’ll be along in a while. We’re staying just in case more man power is needed. We’ll meet you there. Do you think we ought to get a replacement for Roy?”

“I think that might be a good idea,” she agreed. “He’s had a heck of a shock this afternoon in more ways than one and he’ll need time to come to terms with it. I’ll probably stay at Rampart with him. It may be that we have to sedate and admit him to give him the chance to rest.” She sighed. “I’ll be working with him and Johnny pretty intensely in the next few days.”

“If you need any support, you know where we are,” he reminded her.

“Thank you,” she smiled. “I might well call on your services.”

“Any time,” he assured her. “I want those two back together.”

“I’ll do my very best,” she promised. It was a heavy burden to have to bear. She didn’t know if she could put them back together. She glanced at Mike, who smiled at her.

“You’ll be seeing me,” he told her and his smile held unspoken promise for the future.

In that moment, she no longer doubted she could wave a magic wand and fix things. She knew she could do it. Mike’s smile told her that. She returned the smile and walked over to the squad.

“Something you want to tell me there, Mike?” Cap enquired, folding his arms and leaning nonchalantly against the engine.

Instead of answering, Mike just smiled enigmatically.

**********

“Johnny?” Roy leaned over the stretcher. “Stay awake for me, now.”

“I’m awake,” Johnny protested, although he had been well on the way to sleep. He was finally warming up a bit, for Roy had tucked one of the ambulance blankets over the plastic blanket and between the two, he was finally beginning to feel less like an iceberg. The pain was manageable now and sleep was coming in warm waves.

“Johnny...” Roy hesitated. Now was not the time, yet he felt he had to say something before he was able to relax and let go and think about what he’d been told. “Johnny, I’m sorry for how I’ve been treating you.”

It would be so easy to let Roy off the hook, but Johnny couldn’t quite bring himself to do it. “Are you?” he asked.

“Yes,” Roy replied hesitantly. “I don’t really know why I was being so horrible. April said ... I don’t really understand what she said. I hope I will be able to understand it, but I wanted you to know I’m sorry.”

“Thank you,” Johnny sighed and closed his eyes again. He wasn’t ready to hear an apology yet. He wanted it when he was feeling better and when Roy really apologized and understood what he had done wrong. More than anything, he wanted his friendship with Roy to be back to the way it was, but he instinctively understood that it would be different. He just hoped that it would be salvageable for a lot had been said that shouldn’t have been said.

He was relieved when he felt the ambulance backing into the receiving slots at Rampart. He wanted to be stoned out of his gourd, unable to feel any pain at all and to sleep – merciful sleep, where he could forget for a while. He grimaced as the ambulance braked to a halt and a moment later the doors opened and the stretcher was moving and he would really rather have stayed in place.

“Hello, Johnny,” Dr Early said, leaning over the stretcher and smiling gently. “We’ll have you fixed up in no time.”

“Good,” Johnny responded. ‘No time’ sounded like the best offer he’d had in a while.

As they headed into the treatment room, Roy updated Johnny’s vitals, which hadn’t really changed. His BP and pulse rate had dropped slightly thanks to the MS, but that was all. Breathing was still very painful for him and the amount of MS he’d had was not enough to totally eliminate the pain.

The x-ray machine was waiting for them. “Full skull, chest, spine, pelvis and legs, plus left arm and shoulder,” Early ordered and patted Johnny’s good shoulder. “We’ll be back in a minute,” he promised and pulled Roy outside with him.

For a moment, Roy just looked at the closed door behind him. Johnny was safe and Roy closed his eyes as the turmoil of his emotions swept over him. He couldn’t make sense of what April had told him. How could his memories be false? How could a head injury change what he remembered about his life?

“Roy, sit down,” a voice urged and he was pushed gently into a wheelchair and taken to another treatment room. He was helped out of his turnout and lay down on the table and was given a shot. His pounding heart slowed and he was drifting off to sleep. He welcomed the respite from the turbulent emotions that made him feel as though he was standing at the edge of a cliff and was about to fall into the abyss.

Brackett and April stood looking down at him. “How long do you want to admit him for?” Brackett asked.

“Overnight at least,” April replied. “I’ll talk to him when he wakens a bit later and then we’ll sedate him overnight. After that, it depends on how he’s doing.”

“Do you want him in the psyche ward?” Brackett asked in a neutral tone.

“Good God, no!” April laughed. “He’s not mad, or violent or even being sectioned. He’s confused and exhausted and will most likely go home tomorrow. He just needs some rest. Sharing a room with Johnny would be quite good...” She left the suggestion dangling.

“Are you sure?” Brackett responded, looking worried. “I would have thought you’d want to talk to Roy alone first.”

“I do,” she agreed. “But Johnny is most likely going to be pretty out of it today, wouldn’t you think? I mean, I know you’re waiting for x-rays and such, but it seems to me that he’s going to get a pretty substantial load of painkillers to get his shoulder back into place and will sleep for a good while after that.” She looked at Brackett for confirmation and he nodded. “Roy won’t be asleep that long,” she added. “We’ll talk while Johnny sleeps, and it will be useful to have them together.”

“Well, you’re the boss,” Brackett allowed. “I’m out of my depth here.”

“I just hope I’m not,” she muttered as he went off to arrange that. She glanced at Roy’s discarded turnout and Mike’s smile returned to her mind. He had faith in her and she held onto that like a talisman to help her through the difficult time ahead.

**********

The pain was back, creeping insidiously through his body, stealing away his precious breath and making him writhe as much as he could on the restricting backboard. The writhing hurt, too. A groan escaped his control.

“Easy, Johnny, easy,” soothed Dixie’s familiar voice.

“It hurts,” he gasped, no longer able to be stoic about the pain.

“I know,” she crooned, leaning over and stroking his hair back from his forehead. “You’re gonna be fine,” she added.

Over at the light box, Joe Early was peering at the x-rays. The broken wrist and upper arm were going to complicate resetting Johnny’s shoulder. Twilight sedation might not be enough for it. Luckily, the fractures were stable, so he wouldn’t require surgery on them.

The rib x-rays were less enlightening, as was often the case. Early suspect that Johnny had fractured his lateral ribs, but there was no clear evidence on the x-rays. The good news was that there was no spinal damage, but given the amount of pain that Johnny was in when he was breathing, Early was going to go with the broken ribs. There was no injury to his pelvis or legs and the skull series was clear.

“All right, we can take him off the backboard,” he declared. “Give another 10 mgs MS for pain and we’ll give diazepam prior to him getting his shoulder relocated.” He went over to help Dixie unfasten the straps and then they worked together to roll him so the board could be removed and Early carefully removed the last sleeve of his turnout coat and cut his shirt off. It was then he saw the cut on Johnny’s back.

For something to slice through the thick canvas of the turnout required a very sharp edge indeed and Early was instantly deeply concerned. He hadn’t seen any foreign object on the x-ray, which was some comfort, but there might be some internal bleeding. “Get me something to clean this up with,” he ordered, keeping Johnny balanced on his right side. The other nurse in the room quickly obliged and Joe cleaned the mud away from the wound, probing it gently. It was deep, but there was nothing in it and although it bled, there wasn’t a lot of blood loss. He cleaned it thoroughly and put some butterfly strips on, then rolled Johnny carefully onto his back again.

The paramedic was sheet white from the pain. He swallowed hard and Early waited several minutes to let him settle again before probing his abdomen for signs of rigidity. Fortunately, there were none. “You’ve got a deep cut on your back, Johnny,” he explained, once he could see that Johnny was again in control. “You’ve also got some broken ribs back there, which is why breathing is so sore.”

“What about the pain down my legs?” Johnny asked.

“I think the cut may have irritated a nerve,” Early replied, “or the ribs are just so hyper sensitive that all the nerves are reacting. We’re going to be keeping you on oxygen for some time until those ribs settle down. Ortho will be down to reset the shoulder and cast your arm in a minute. Johnny, I don’t want to put you under anesthetic for the procedure, so we’re going to sedate you heavily and insert a breathing tube, just to make sure you’re all right. It won’t take them long to get the shoulder back in place and you won’t be under for too long, all right?”

At that point, Johnny was so keen to have the grinding pain in his shoulder gone that he would have agreed to have been shaved bald. “Whatever,” he breathed.

There was a knack to giving enough sedation to keep the patient from being aware of what was going on, and giving so much that the patient stopped breathing. Joe was glad there was an anesthetist coming to do that part. Johnny would be given a strong sedative that wouldn’t last for long, but long enough to get the shoulder back in joint. The biggest danger was that he might stop breathing, so an oral airway would be inserted just to be sure.

True to Dr Early’s word, ortho soon appeared and the sedative was injected smoothly into the IV port. Johnny slid under at once and the airway was inserted. The orthopedic surgeon who had come down gently grasped the injured arm and with a few quick moves, got the shoulder back into place. An x-ray was taken to be sure it was correctly positioned and to make sure that the arm bone had not moved and when that was confirmed, the cast was applied. When Johnny woke up, it was all over, apart from a residual ache in his shoulder and a raw feeling in his throat. Luckily, he had not stopped breathing at any point.

With the shoulder back in place and the broken arm stabilized, Johnny was feeling a bit more human, but very groggy from the drugs. He didn’t even mind Dixie and the other nurse washing him thoroughly, getting rid of the remnants of the quicksand which had seeped inside all his clothes. When Dixie was finished washing his hair and putting him into a hospital gown, they were ready to move him upstairs. That was when he noticed.

“Where’s Roy?” he asked, as the orderlies carefully moved him to a gurney.

“I believe he’s with Dr Evans,” Dixie replied.

“Who?” Johnny asked. He was sure he didn’t know any Dr Evans. “Was he hurt?”

Smiling, Dixie brushed the damp hair back from his forehead. “April Evans?” she amplified. “She’s been at your station for a week or so doing a study on stress.”

“Oh.” Johnny hadn’t realized she was a doctor, which was pretty dim of him, he thought. “Why is he with her?”

Only Johnny could be that persistent when injured, Dixie thought and hoped Joe Early would come to her rescue. However, he kept his mouth shut and let Dixie dig herself into a hole. As was usually the case, she opted for the truth. “Roy’s been having a few problems since that bang on the head a few weeks ago,” she said. “April thinks she knows how to help him. And then maybe things will be back to normal with you two and your transfer can be forgotten about.”

To his embarrassment, a rush of hot tears welled up in Johnny’s eyes. It was the combination of several factors; he was injured and well doped up, he had been living under a lot of strain for some weeks and suddenly Dixie was offering him the chance to resume a normal life. He blinked furiously, hoping that the tears would not fall and that nobody would notice them. With ultimate tact, Dixie directed the other nurse to some mundane task and made a pretence of settling Johnny more comfortably on the pillow, her outstretched arm hiding his face until he regained control. “Thanks,” he whispered.

Her smile warmed his heart and soothed his troubled soul. “You’re always welcome,” she told him. “I don’t need thanks.”

“Yes, you do, for a lot of things,” he replied and closed his eyes, suddenly utterly wiped out. Roy and his worries were put aside until he was stronger. He didn’t even notice when another sedative was shot into his IV port. He just drifted off to sleep.

**********

When he woke, Roy gazed at the ceiling, feeling slightly hung over. He knew from experience that this was the residue from being drugged to sleep, but he wasn’t quite sure why he had been sedated. He rolled his head on the pillow and saw Johnny lying sleeping in the next bed. Memory came back with a bound – several memories in fact. Had he imagined that April had told him his memories were playing him false? Did he really remember Johnny – Johnny of all people! – yanking him back from that sinkhole?

After a moment, Roy decided that that had been a real memory and from the look of his partner, it hadn’t happened that long ago. Johnny’s face was still pale under the full oxygen mask he still wore and his left arm was casted and rested in a sling. Pillows supported his shoulder. He was clearly sleeping under a lot of painkillers and sedation.

Before Roy could decide to do more than sit up – and he discovered he was wearing a hospital gown – the door of the room opened and April came in bearing a cup of coffee. She smiled at the senior paramedic. “Hi, Roy,” she said warmly. “How’re you feeling?”

“Confused,” he admitted. And suspicious, he could have added, but didn’t.

“I’m not surprised,” April admitted. “I’d be confused in your shoes, too. Tell me about it.”

For a long moment, Roy was tempted to tell her he didn’t want to talk about it, but he did really. He just wasn’t sure he was ready to hear what she had to say in return. “Back there, at the sinkhole, you told me my memories aren’t quite right. That I’m remembering things wrongly.” She nodded encouragingly. “How do you know that?” His tone was accusing.

“From observation,” she replied. “When you were all talking at the station and the others were reminiscing, you often looked as though you wanted to contradict them, because what they said didn’t agree exactly with what you remembered. And while that isn’t entirely unusual, your memories were quite different, weren’t they? You remember Johnny as careless and untrustworthy, don’t you?”

“Yeah,” he admitted reluctantly. “All those times he was careless – the snake and the monkey...”

“We need to talk to the others to sort those memories out,” April interrupted. “But think about today; were Johnny’s actions the ones you would expect from someone who is careless or untrustworthy?”

“So he really did throw me back from the edge?” Roy asked, closing his eyes as he remembered the feeling of the ground crumbling beneath his feet, and the strong arm that grasped the back of his turnout.

“Yes,” she replied and waited.

“Ever since I was hurt,” he began tentatively, “I’ve been noticing that I don’t quite remember things properly. Even the children told me I was wrong and it... it... scared ... me. And the things I remembered about Johnny were the things that made him seem careless and I could remember him throwing me to the floor at the warehouse and I honestly thought... he’d done it just for no reason at all.” His guilty glance shot across the room to the man in the other bed. “Did ... did he... save me then, too?”

“From what I’ve been told, he did,” April nodded.

“And I’ve been so awful to him.” Roy was silent, his eyes downcast. “Are my memories all right since the ... the warehouse?” he asked, sounding frightened and desolate.

“As far as I can tell, yes.” April waited. She knew that once Roy got past the initial reluctance to admit how wrong he was, the words would come pouring out and he would feel better for getting it off his chest. However, he had to make the first move and it wasn’t easy. In fact, she knew it was possible that he wouldn’t manage to say anything in this first session, more than he already had. And from Brackett and Cap and the others, she knew that Roy had cornered the market on guilt. Her job was to help him get past that and then to see if she could do anything to help his memories.

It was a horrific thought. Roy could remember, with searing clarity, how truly vile he had been towards Johnny; so vile that he had finally driven the other man to ask for a permanent transfer. And look how that turned out, he chided himself. Johnny had been injured by the maliciousness of the most notorious bigot in the department! Way to go, DeSoto, he jeered at himself. Some friend you are!

At length, he raised his head and looked past April at Johnny. Always a youthful-looking man, Johnny looked incredibly young when he was injured. Roy’s heart smote him. Even if Johnny had been as incompetent as he remembered, he had had no call to treat him so badly.

“I shouldn’t have treated him like that!” Roy declared vehemently. “When I realized something was wrong, I should’ve gone to see Brackett at once. I was a coward and took it out on Johnny. How can he ever forgive me for what I did? He doesn’t want to work with me anymore and I don’t blame him. This is all my fault. I treated him like... like... shit!” His hands were screwing the blankets up ever more tightly. “I’m so dumb that I can’t seek help when I need it and I’m supposed to be a medical professional. I haven’t behaved in a very professional way towards John, have I?”

“No,” April agreed. He blinked at her, surprised. Somehow, he expected her to tell him it was all right, that they would sort things out, that it wasn’t his fault.

“What?” he gasped.

“No, you weren’t acting very professionally at times,” she carefully qualified. “But you are human, Roy; you acted the way a scared human being acts. We can’t all be rational all the time. When we get scared, it is often easier to bury your head in the sand and pretend everything is all right. Sometimes, that works and things get better on their own. In this case, you need some help.”

“Can you help me?” he asked pitifully. He didn’t quite know how to deal with the huge amount of guilt and fear that he was feeling.

“Yes, I think I can,” she responded gently. “And we’ll begin with one step at a time. It won’t be a quick cure, Roy, but I think I can help you.”

Roy wasn’t even embarrassed when he found himself weeping on April’s shoulder. She gave him another sedative and he drifted off to sleep, feeling slightly less dreadful and hoping that perhaps, just perhaps, he might have a chance at a better future and could make amends with Johnny.

**********

It was morning when both men woke. Johnny felt like something the cat had dragged in and reflected that he probably looked like that, too. He glanced across the room, having no memory of arriving there the previous day and was surprised to see Roy in the other bed. The older man seemed to be still asleep.

Had he missed something? he wondered, since he was sure that Dixie had told him that Roy was uninjured. Or was that a figment of his drugged imagination. Either way, he knew he would find out as soon as Roy woke and in the meantime, he needed some painkillers and he needed them right now. Breathing was hell on earth, with the nerve irritation in full flood.

The nurse’s arrival in the room woke Roy, who glanced around, seeing he was still in Rampart and that Johnny was awake. At once, color flooded his face as he remembered the previous evening. He wanted to apologize to Johnny again, but he remembered the lukewarm response he had received in the ambulance and he didn’t feel like humbling his pride again so soon.

“Roy, are you all right?” Johnny asked when the nurse had given him his drugs and left. He pulled down the oxygen mask to make himself heard better.

Now that was something that Roy remembered clearly he mused as he nodded in response. Johnny had always been more interested in how the other person was than he was doing himself. “I’m fine,” he replied. “What about you?”

“Okay,” he ventured and saw at once that that was not going fly. “Breathing still hurts, but Dr Early said I have a deep cut on my back that’s irritated the nerves. My shoulder isn’t quite as sore today.” For a moment, he was tempted to tell Roy that if he hadn’t stopped being next of kin, he would already know all the details. But however much he wanted to hurt Roy by making that jibe, he couldn’t do it. Being nasty wasn’t in Johnny’s nature.

“So why are you still on oxygen?” Roy asked.

“I guess Dr Early said it’s because I’m taking such shallow breaths. It should help keep my blood gas level all right or something.” Johnny wasn’t quite as offhand about things as he made out. He could actually feel the difference when he was wearing the mask, but he found them irritating, as no matter how tightly you pulled the elastic, they still tended to slide off your face, and you invariably ended up with the elastic hooked over your ears. It wasn’t a good look, no matter who you were. “So what are you doing here?” he asked, turning the conversation away from himself.

Color mounted in Roy’s face and he mumbled something that Johnny didn’t catch. “What?” he asked, perplexed.

This time the words were clearer. “I was sedated,” he said more loudly and then wished he’d said he’d fainted or something that would be less embarrassing.

“Why?” Johnny couldn’t imagine why Mr. Cool-Calm-and-Collected Roy DeSoto had needed to be sedated. Especially considering Johnny was no longer his best pal... “Oh no! Something happened to one of the others?”

“No!” Roy wished that Johnny wasn’t so exasperating all the time. “Do you remember yesterday, I told you April had told me something that I didn’t really understand?”

“Yeah,” Johnny ventured, not sure he had quite understood the question.

“This is difficult,” Roy announced, looking away from Johnny. He could still feel the younger man’s gaze on him. “You know I had that head injury?”

“Yeah.”

“You know you got Brackett to check for a bleed in my brain?”

“Oh no, he didn’t find one, did he?” Johnny felt dreadful. He should have spoken up sooner, made Roy get checked out.

“Just listen!” Roy snapped, then drew a calming breath. “Sorry, but this is hard.” He drew in another breath. “I didn’t have a bleed on the brain, but it turns out the injury left me with altered memories. What I remember as happening didn’t really happen.”

“Huh?” Johnny thought round and about that, and thought he knew what Roy meant. “You mean you remembered me as being useless?” He wasn’t too sure how he felt about that.

“Worse,” Roy admitted. “I thought you were careless and worthless; that you’d put me in danger for no reason.”

“And now?” Johnny demanded, fighting to keep his anger down.

“Now I’m told I’m remembering things wrong.” Roy chanced a glance across the room and saw that Johnny was angry. “But that’s what I remember.”

“Oh great,” Johnny snapped. “So you think I would deliberately hurt you? Thanks a bunch – friend.” The emphasis on the last word was not a friendly one.

Roy felt unbelievably hurt. “What am I supposed to do?” he cried. “How was I supposed to know that I wasn’t just having a bad day and my memory was playing me up? Do you remember everything perfectly all the time?”

“No, I don’t,” Johnny admitted. “But didn’t you feel that something was wrong? Or is it just your memories of me that are affected?”

“I was too scared,” Roy admitted. “I thought I was going mad.” He shrugged helplessly. “Perhaps I am going mad. It certainly feels like it. I don’t know what to think or what to believe anymore. What if I’d remembered the paramedic stuff wrongly? I could have killed someone.” His voice was rising.

That gave Johnny pause. He wasn’t very good at being angry because he didn’t have much practice at it. “Why wasn’t your memory of treatments and stuff changed?” he asked. “Why just me?”

“I don’t know!” Roy yelled. “I don’t understand any of this! How the hell can I be expected to know that?”

“I don’t know either!” Johnny yelled back. “It scares the shit out of me, too!” Yelling, however, was not good for him. Pain seared down his back and legs and left him panting painfully for breath.

The door opened and the nurse stormed in. “That is quite enough!” she declared. “The shouting stops this instant. You are disturbing everyone else on this floor and I won’t have it.” She glared at both men before zeroing in on Johnny’s respiratory distress. “Look what you’ve done, Mr. Gage,” she scolded, although her tone was gentler. She affixed the oxygen mask back on and turned the flow up a bit. “Try and slow your breathing,” she urged. “I’ll be right back with a doctor.”

If he had had enough breath, Johnny would have groaned. The last thing he wanted was a doctor coming up to have a go at him for shouting. However, he was feeling pretty grotty as he gasped for breath and suspected that he needed some medical help. He managed a groan, as much in frustration in allowing himself to get all upset as with the pain.

While Roy didn’t have the physical pain that Johnny did and wasn’t short of breath, he didn’t really feel a lot better. He was generally an even tempered man and it took a lot to provoke him. He looked away from Johnny’s distress and drew some deep, calming breaths of his own. His fear was almost out-with his control and that frightened him even more. He had expected sympathy from Johnny, not...

With a jerk, he caught himself. He had expected sympathy from Johnny. Why, if he thought his partner was a huge waste of space, was he expecting him to be so understanding? Surely he should be expecting derision? He blinked and closed his eyes, reaching inside to find the feeling that had led him to believe that Johnny would be understanding. A memory flickered and he could almost hear Johnny saying something soothing, something that made Roy feel better. He was excited. Why had that memory appeared today – fragmented to be sure, but a positive memory nonetheless? Perhaps April was right. Perhaps there was hope for him yet.

Excitedly, he opened his eyes and turned to share the moment with Johnny and was horrified to see how badly his partner was struggling for breath. Each exhalation was accompanied by a groan as the pain conquered the meds he had received such a short time before. Throwing back the covers, Roy slid from the bed and went over to grab hold of Johnny’s hand. There was little he could do to help other than that, and he wasn’t sure he would be welcomed, but until Johnny chased him away, he was determined to be there for him. Johnny was in this condition because he had saved Roy’s life. Roy was owed Johnny a lot better than he had just given him.

Pain-filled dark eyes opened to look at Roy for a moment before Johnny returned the pressure on his hand and clung on tightly. The door opened again and Dr Early hurried in. He took one look at Johnny and promptly ordered a sedative. The nurse brought it, it was administered and after a few minutes, Johnny’s breathing calmed down and he slid into a light sleep.

“That’s better,” Early sighed.

“It was my fault,” Roy confessed.

“It takes two to make a shouting match,” Early commented. “I don’t care whose fault it was; just don’t do it again. Johnny can’t take being upset like that, as you can clearly see.”

“I won’t do it again,” promised Roy.

“Eat your breakfast and talk to April when she comes,” Early suggested. “Both things will do you good.”

“I will.” Never had he meant anything more, Roy thought as he obediently climbed back into bed at the nurse’s urging.

***********

Breakfast, such as it was, was over when April came in. Roy thought she looked very happy and wondered about this young woman who seemed to hold the answers to all his problems. Was she married, single, did she have family? How old was she? He was dying to ask those questions but not rude enough to probe.

“How are you feeling this morning?” she asked Roy as she pulled up a seat. She glanced over at Johnny, still sleeping.

“You’ve heard then,” Roy concluded from the glance.

“About the row?” she asked. “Oh yes, I’ve been told about it,” she agreed. “And I don’t think it was necessarily a bad thing to have happened, apart from the fact it clearly wasn’t too good for Johnny.”

“You don’t?” Roy was amazed.

“No, I don’t. The two of you were able to express your emotions to each other. That’s pretty positive. Mike tells me that you two quite often have disagreements – not serious ones, but still... Being able to argue is a positive thing if it doesn’t become a habit and the same things are hashed over again and again. You told Johnny how you felt and he told you how he felt. Is that a bad thing? No, because you’ve admitted that you’re scared and finding this difficult, and he’s admitted that he’s angry that he seems to have been the focus of your altered memories.”

“You make it sound so clinical,” Roy replied uncomfortably. “It wasn’t like that. It was heated and we shouted at each other.”

“Why did you shout?” April asked.

“Why? Because I was frightened and I had expected some sympathy.” He thought it sounded pathetic. He was a big, strong man. He didn’t need sympathy.

“Why?”

“Why? This is Johnny. He’s always there for me...” He paused, suddenly uncertain about what he had said. “I think I remember...” He stopped. “You’ve got me doubting everything I remember,” he complained.

“In a way, that’s good,” April smiled. “You’re thinking harder and it may be that some of your memories might overcome the scrambling that they’ve had. It won’t solve all our problems,” she cautioned him before hope could race away with him and have him feeling that everything would be all right in a few short hours. “But it is a step in the right direction. Roy, I want to have a chat with both you and Johnny later, when he’s feeling better. You need to keep a lid on your temper. From what I’ve seen over the last week, you’re usually pretty good at that. Remember, Johnny is afraid too. He’s already been hurt by your actions and he’s afraid of being hurt even more.” She patted his hand, seeing how forlorn he felt. “Then you can go home. But I want you back in tomorrow for a hypnotherapy session.”

“Hypnosis?” Like many people, Roy was deeply suspicious, connecting hypnosis with stage acts and making a fool of people.

“Relax,” she chided. “I won’t make you cluck like a hen or any of that nonsense. Nor will I swing a gold watch in front of your face and tell you you’re getting sleepy. I hope we’ll be able to unscramble your memories with a few sessions. Again, it’s not a quick fix. You’ll be off work for a couple of weeks until we get this sorted out.”

“Am I going mad?” Roy asked, fear evident in his voice.

“No,” April replied positively. “This is a by-product of the head injury you suffered. You’ll be off for a couple of weeks and then back to work. You’ll probably have to see me for a few months – six maybe – but we’ll see how you do.” She read the skepticism on his face. “Just like Johnny’s injuries will take time to heal and some therapy, so will your mind. Your mind can receive injuries just the same as other parts of your body. You give those injuries time to heal – why can’t you do the same for your mind?”

“When you put it like that, it sounds simple,” Roy admitted. “It’s a brain injury and this one doesn’t need surgery to sort it, just therapy?”

“Got it in one.” April thought there was hope for Roy yet.

**********

When Johnny woke, feeling slightly hung over, he was hungry and still confused and hurt by Roy’s confession. April had had a break, going for coffee – and meeting Mike in the cafeteria, although neither of them had told anyone else about the budding romance yet – and was back in the room. She summoned the nurse who brought Johnny something to eat and while he was eating, chatted away to him, just like an ordinary visitor. Roy stayed conspicuously silent, pretending to read a magazine, but the color in his face gave away the fact that he was actually hiding behind the magazine. Johnny didn’t have to pretend too hard to ignore Roy. He was ravenous, not having had anything to eat the night before, never mind missing breakfast.

However, the two of them could not hide from each other forever. April was going to see to that. “Better?” she asked Johnny after he had finished eating.

“Better,” he agreed. He felt comfortably full and the pain in his ribs and back was manageable at the moment.

“All right, let’s lay down some rules first. We’re not going to shout, because it’s bad for Johnny and you’ve already done the shouting bit.” She glanced at the two men pointedly. “Agreed?”

They both nodded.

“Good.” She turned to Johnny. “You told Roy this morning that his injury scared you. Why does it scare you?”

“It scares me because...” Johnny stopped. For all that he talked endlessly about everything, he rarely revealed his deepest feelings. He was too afraid of being laughed at and hurt. Like any man, talking of his feelings didn’t come naturally, but he sensed that this was one time when holding back would be the wrongest thing he could do. He swallowed. “It scares me because I thought I was losing my best friend, my brother. I thought he hated me and I didn’t know what I had done wrong.” He risked a glance over at Roy and saw that his friend looked thoroughly miserable.

“Your feelings are completely understandable,” April assured him. She avoided the patronizing ‘thank you for sharing your feelings’ line, which she thought was probably the crassest things therapists were taught to say. “It would scare me, too. But now you know Roy does have a brain injury. So why were you shouting at him this morning?” She put her hand up as he started to bridle. “I’m not saying you were wrong to shout, I’m just asking why. I need to know.”

“Because I was afraid and he wasn’t making any sense and I was hurt, too,” Johnny blurted out. “I was hurt because it seemed to be just me he was picking on and I thought I’d done something wrong. I don’t really understand this injury.”

“None of us really do,” April replied. “We know it’s happened, but there’s an awful lot about the brain that we don’t understand.”

“You seem to understand it,” Johnny pointed out.

She smiled. “Not really. I recognized the symptoms from something I read. Then when you guys were telling stories at the station, it became obvious that Roy was confused. I kind of set things up to try and prove my theory to myself and did.” She shrugged modestly. “I got lucky. I might never have figured it out.”

Suspicion was growing on Roy. “Hold on,” he interrupted. “Are you telling us that you weren’t really studying stress?”

Caught! April grinned sheepishly. “You got it,” she admitted. “I was sent to try and sort out whatever went wrong between you two. Like I say, I got lucky.”

“So my being sent back to 51 wasn’t just chance, as I was told?” Johnny asked. “Who was that sneaky?” He knew the answer. “Cap!”

“He had a hand in it,” April admitted. “But it was the department, too. They didn’t want to break up the dream-team.”

“Except now we’re the nightmare team,” Roy commented dryly. “Thanks to Roy DeSoto and his false memories.”

“In actual fact, when you were working together, you got along really well,” April reminded them. “The rescues weren’t the problem. The problem was that you were ignoring and undermining Johnny, Roy. Your memory of how to do the procedures and working with Johnny on those is perfectly fine.”

“But why?” Johnny persisted. “I don’t understand.”

“Neither do I,” April confessed. “We’ll probably never know. Why do some people walk away unscathed from a car accident that killed the person who was sitting just a foot away from them? Why do some people die from smoke inhalation and others survive? Some heart attack victims recover, even after they have ‘died’ on the table. Others have much less serious attacks and die at once. We just don’t know, but perhaps one day in the future we might find out.”

There was a short silence as both men digested this information. It was Johnny who spoke up again. “Can you fix his memory?” he asked. He felt suddenly anxious again and made an effort to steady his breathing down. He had been sedated enough recently, thank you very much all the same. He hoped against hope that Roy could get better and be the man he’d known before, but he was terrified to hope that it might happen in case his hopes were dashed and tried to persuade himself that Roy was already lost to him.

“I think so,” April replied. “Roy will have some work to do, too, and regular visits with me and with you and the others, too. But I’m hopeful. It won’t be a quick fix, as I told Roy, but I think we can do it.”

Roy spoke up for the first time in a while. “If she does, will you come back to 51 and be my partner again?” he asked.

There was a long silence. Roy gazed at the blanket on his bed, as though the pattern there could give him some answers. When the silence grew to be unbearable, he looked slowly up, first at April, who was smiling, then at Johnny. The younger man’s eyes were large and glittering and shone with a light that Roy had not seen in them for a long time. He was smiling broadly behind the oxygen mask and as Roy’s gaze met his, he nodded. “Yes please,” he replied.

The answering pang of warmth and joy that spread through Roy’s being gave him even more hope for the future.

***********

It seemed there wasn’t enough to say to each other while they waited for Joanne to arrive with some clothes for Roy. Roy was anxious to get things going and asked endless questions about rescues, testing his memory. He avoided talking about the warehouse fire for the moment since that was the accident that had caused the problem and April had cautioned them both that it was better left alone for now. That apart, it left plenty of things for them to talk about.

“What was it like working with Biff McCartney?” Roy asked, when he thought he had had enough. His head was spinning with contradictory thoughts.

“It was the pits,” Johnny replied. “He’s a complete menace and I don’t know how he’s still in the department.” Johnny shuddered and winced.

“Want to tell me about it?” Roy ventured, not sure if he should bring the subject up. He had seen how easily Johnny got upset at the moment and this was clearly not a good memory.

“He was stupid,” Johnny said. “He put patients’ lives in danger by directing me the long way round, or not telling me how to get places, ignoring the directions I gave him – you get the picture. He short-sheeted the bed and one of the others told me that he’d put loads of itching powder in the bed, too. I didn’t get caught by it, because I realized that he’d short-sheeted the bed and I was too tired to deal with it. I was lucky. He tripped me up, he called me racist names and he tried to kill me.”

“The car accident?” Roy asked.

“Yeah.” Johnny repressed a sigh. “I tried to believe that he genuinely was trying to save my life, but the more I think about it, the more I think I would’ve been fine if I’d stayed still. I might be doing the guy a disservice, but I don’t think so.”

“I’m sorry,” Roy said, wretchedly. “It’s all my fault.”

There honestly wasn’t much that Johnny could say to that, as it was true. If Roy had spoken up sooner, Johnny might have been saved a lot of heartache, not to mention a nasty head wound. Perhaps they might not be so strained with each other; perhaps everything would be worse. Johnny didn’t know. He also didn’t know what to say. He had forgiven Roy, but forgetting would take a whole lot longer. “Roy...” He really didn’t have a clue what to say.

“It’s all right, Johnny,” Roy interrupted. “You don’t have to try and deny it. I have to learn to accept the blame.”

Knowing only too well how good Roy was at taking all the blame, Johnny found he knew what to say this time. “Some of the blame,” he hedged. “Let’s be honest, Roy, you didn’t make McCartney a bigot any more than you chose the color of your eyes. Not everything in the world is your fault.”

Before he had a chance to answer, the door opened and Joanne swept in. She dropped the bag of clothes she had brought on Roy’s bed, hugged and kissed him, then turned to Johnny and drew him gently into her embrace. “Johnny, I’ve missed you,” she declared and kissed his forehead. “How are you?”

“I’m all right,” Johnny replied. He grinned at her, the oxygen mask still around his neck from his conversation with Roy. When the nurses caught him doing that, he got what-for, but he hated the way it muffled his voice and that conversation had been important.

“Forgive me for doubting you,” she replied, “but this,” she tapped the oxygen mask, “doesn’t seem like ‘all right’ to me.” She gently touched his cast. “Or this.”

“Dr Early is just being overly cautious,” Johnny denied. He tried to look healthy and carefree, but judging by the look on Joanne’s face, he wasn’t doing all that well. “My arm’s okay.”

“Would you like me to tell him you think he’s being overly cautious?” Joanne asked and Johnny subsided. He knew her well enough to know she would follow through on her threat. “And if that’s okay, Johnny Gage, I’d hate to see what awful looks like.”

“I’ll be fine,” he ventured.

“I’d quit while you’re behind,” Roy advised. He’d enjoyed seeing his partner digging himself into a hole. It relieved the tension that had grown again.

“And I’d put on the oxygen before Karen comes in to do your vitals in a minute,” April added, coming into the room. “Hello, you must be Joanne,” she smiled, holding out her hand. “So nice to meet you. I’m April.”

“I’ve heard about you,” Joanne replied, shaking April’s hand.

“And I have no doubt it was all bad,” the other joked. “None of those nice macho firemen needed any help at all with any stress.”

Smiling, Joanne nodded. “You said it.” She looked at Roy. “Of course, one macho fireman in particular couldn’t admit even to his wife that his memory wasn’t what he thought it should be.” She took Roy’s hand and squeezed it. “But I still love him.”

“Well, as you know from our conversation on the phone, Roy needs some help in that regard. He’s off for a couple of weeks and tomorrow, I’d like him to come to my office here in the hospital to undergo hypnosis,” April explained. “And at home, I’d like you to talk about what you remember, and what he remembers and hopefully the combination of those things will bring his real memories back.”

“All right,” Joanne agreed.

“See you tomorrow, Roy,” April concluded. “I’ll pop in and see you, too, Johnny,” she added and left.

While Roy got changed, Joanne and Johnny chatted, Johnny having taken April’s advice in time to avoid being caught by his nurse, Karen. They avoided talking about Roy’s problem because it was something they were both finding difficult and neither knew how things were going to turn out. “How long are you going to be in, Johnny?” Joanne asked as Roy came out of the bathroom.

“I don’t know,” Johnny admitted. He was feeling antsy already, but since he was still on oxygen and strong painkillers, he knew it wasn’t going to be any time soon. The thought was depressing, but he had to admit, even if only to himself, that he was too sore to even think of going home yet. Perhaps when breathing didn’t hurt so much...

“I’m ready,” Roy declared. Joanne smiled and kissed Johnny’s cheek. Roy went over to smile at his partner, too. “I’ll see you soon,” he promised.

“See you,” Johnny returned. He hated being left behind, but there was no choice. He watched as they left and he was alone.

************

Roy was distinctly uncomfortable the following afternoon as he approached April’s office. While he wanted to get better, he still had moments when he wasn’t convinced that there was anything wrong with him and he was not keen on the notion of hypnosis. He had been so nervous, in fact, that he had ended up having a blazing row with Joanne when she offered to go with him. He felt really bad about hurting her feelings.

He also knew he should go in to see Johnny, but he couldn’t bring himself to do that. Perhaps afterwards; he’d see how he felt. Butterflies rioted in his stomach as he entered the room.

It was impossible to relax. April was the same as ever, pleasant, cheerful, positive. Roy was the one with negative emotions, who thought this was ridiculous mumbo-jumbo. He sat stiffly in his chair, his whole posture telling April he didn’t want to be there.

It was more difficult to hypnotize someone who was tense, but April was not a novice at this and she knew that Roy had a lot of preconceived ideas about hypnosis and was expecting to be shown a gold watch, or told to lean back and relax. That last would help, but she could get him under without it. There was no rush; their session was to last an hour.

They were half way through when April got him under. She understood why Roy was so tense – natural apprehension and the fact that he still didn’t altogether believe that he really had a problem, plus the macho resistance to therapy. However, he succumbed to the hypnosis without realizing.

For the first session, April didn’t make it too long, but she started the laborious process of changing the memories, starting with the idea that Johnny was not the worthless person that Roy remembered him as. She knew that for a time, he would find the mix of memories confusing, which was why he was off duty for a couple of weeks. By then, she hoped to have him working voluntarily on changing his thinking, as well as working under hypnosis. The fact he was already trying to change helped enormously. Satisfied with what she had done that day, she woke him up.

“When are you going to hypnotize me?” he asked challengingly after a few minutes.

Smiling, she replied, “You’ve been there, done that, got the t-shirt.”

“But I remember us talking,” he objected. “I haven’t been asleep – the clock hasn’t suddenly moved without me being aware of it.”

“I told you it was nothing like what you see on TV,” she reminded him.

“Did you really put me under?” he asked doubtfully. He could remember what had been said, although...

“Yes, really,” she smiled. “You’ll probably feel rather confused as your memories might contradict each other. Don’t worry about that. It will settle down as we do more work. Ask someone if that happens and try and hold on to your temper.”

“All right,” Roy agreed. He still wasn’t sure he believed her.

“See you in a couple of days,” she concluded and Roy slowly rose and headed to the door.

“See you,” he nodded and left.

**********

“I haven’t seen him,” Johnny mumbled. He hadn’t had any visitors that day, but he wasn’t complaining. He had got out of bed for the first time that day and things had not gone well. While he had expected to be weak and shaky, he hadn’t expected the agonizing nerve pain in his legs that had dumped him unceremoniously onto the floor before any of the nurses could catch him. His cheek struck the side of the bed and opened a cut near his eye and his ribs had hit the floor very hard indeed.

Urgent x-rays had been ordered as he had been gently scraped up off the floor, because he was extremely breathless. Mostly it was from the pain, but the blow had not done the healing bones any favors. Johnny had been lucky, though. His lungs were intact. Unfortunately, the same could not be said for the deep cut on his back. The butterfly stitches had pulled off and the fragile scab ripped open. The resulting discharge was not only blood, but pus. Johnny had to endure getting the cut irrigated thoroughly and probed deeply, which increased the nerve pain to the point where he was literally sobbing. Joe Early, who was doing the procedure, gave him morphine and then some diazepam to calm him down. They both helped, to a point, but more diazepam was ordered after the drain was put in, as Johnny was pretty distressed. As Early had hoped, it put him out.

When Johnny woke, he found Dixie sitting beside him, flicking through a magazine. She was in uniform, so Johnny assumed she was on a break. “Hi,” he croaked. He was propped on his right side and when he tried to roll over he discovered that pillows were tucked in behind him to prevent that very action. “What...?”

“There’s a drain in your back,” Dixie reminded him. “You can’t lie on it.”

“How could I have an infection?” Johnny asked, pulling off the offending oxygen mask.

“Keep that on,” Dix chided him, sliding it back into place.

“Dixie!” He pulled it off again. “I don’t have a temperature – how can I have an infection?”

“You do have a temperature now,” she told him. “And to be honest, I’m surprised it’s taken this long to surface. You were covered in quicksand and it was everywhere, as I’m sure you well remember.” The stuff had even been in his underwear. “You’re lucky in a sense, Johnny. If this hadn’t happened, you could have suddenly become unwell and it might have taken us a bit longer to find out the source.” She pushed the mask back on his face.

He resisted the urge to sigh – breathing was extraordinarily sore again. “At least I’m not on IV antibiotics,” he offered, trying to sound cheerful. He wasn’t very successful.

“You will be,” Dix warned. “You got your first dose into your butt while you were out, and Joe will be along after his break to hang a bag.”

“How long do I have to lie on my side?” he asked, knowing that he was whining now. How was it that he never ended up in hospital for just one thing? Why did his injuries always come in multiples, and why did he always end up with an infection of some kind?

“It’s going to be several days at least,” Dixie told him, knowing that he would be completely despondent after hearing that. To go from being allowed to get up to being confined to bed again in so short a time was enough to make anyone feel down.

“Days!” Johnny wished he hadn’t shouted. He wished he could find a way to breathe that didn’t hurt like hell. “I’m helpless like this, Dix.”

There really wasn’t anything Dixie could say that would make Johnny feel better, so she attempted to change the subject. “Have you seen Roy?” she asked. “I wondered how he got on at his appointment.”

“I haven’t seen him,” Johnny mumbled. “I haven’t seen anyone but you.” He thought about it for a moment, trying to forget how uncomfortable he was going to get and how much worse it would be when he had an IV to worry about as well as a drain. “Maybe he came in while I was sleeping.”

“Maybe,” Dixie said doubtfully. “I thought his appointment was this afternoon, not this morning.” She shrugged. “I thought he would come to tell you about it.”

“He didn’t say he would be in,” Johnny replied. He sounded equally as doubtful. “Maybe he’s tired,” he ventured. “Maybe he saw Dr Early and the doc told him I was asleep.”

“Maybe he’s gone for coffee,” Dixie agreed.

Whatever the reason, Roy had not come.

************

The antibiotics were strong. They left Johnny feeling queasy and with an upset stomach. The nerve in his back had been irritated by the procedure to clean out the cut and he was troubled with pain in his back and legs constantly. With the injuries to his left arm, he couldn’t lie on his left side and so was kept propped on his right side, which severely restricted what he could do. The bed rails were kept up so that he didn’t topple out onto the floor when he slept – which he did poorly and only in small amounts. The cut on his cheek, which had been closed with butterfly stitches, had bruised and he now sported a black eye, too. Miserable didn’t even begin to describe how he felt.

And still Roy didn’t come.

The other crew members visited religiously, bringing in books and magazines and food they thought might tempt his capricious appetite. They talked and joked and behaved as normal, but everyone was feeling anxious because Roy had not spoken to any of them.

The only person who knew anything was Mike. “Roy’s just feeling confused,” he told Johnny. “It’s bound to be stressful for him dealing with this and if his memories are coming back, he’s probably taking the guilt of the world onto his shoulders for believing that you weren’t any good and treating you the way he did.”

“But we talked about that,” Johnny protested. “Before he left the hospital.” It had been four days since Roy had been discharged. Johnny looked ghastly, his skin pale and dark circles lurking under his eyes. He had visibly lost weight as the antibiotics scoured his system. “I thought we were going to be all right.”

“You will be all right,” Mike assured him. “You will get back together again. But just like you, Roy is going to need some time to heal. An injury to your mind is still an injury,” he reminded the younger man.

Normally when the other crew members were around, Johnny tried to keep up his macho pose, but the last four days had drained his strength and resources. “But I want to see him,” he whined, aware that he sounded like a child, but unable to stop himself.

“I know, I know,” soothed Mike. “Look, I’ll talk to April and tell her that Roy still isn’t visiting and see if she can do something about that.”

“I thought that April wasn’t at the station anymore,” Johnny commented. “You aren’t going up to her office to tell her? You don’t need to do that.” April was someone else who hadn’t visited. Johnny was quite hurt by that, too, as she had promised.

To Johnny’s surprise, Mike blushed. “Mike?” he questioned.

“Um... April and I are seeing each other,” he confessed. “And if you tell Chet before we’re ready, you’ll spend the rest of your life in that bed!” he assured his friend.

“Your secret is safe with me,” Johnny replied. “Tell me more.”

It wasn’t in Mike’s nature to share the secrets of his soul, but seeing Johnny so animated made him reveal more than he would normally. “It’s good,” he admitted. “She’s really nice, but its early days yet.”

“Mike that’s great,” Johnny gushed. “I’m so pleased for you.” He grinned. “You dark horse, you!”

“She hasn’t been in to see you because she has a bad cold,” Mike went on. “She’s coughing fit to burst.”

“How come you don’t have it?” Johnny asked, looking suspiciously at Mike. The last thing he needed was another infection, even the common cold. Coughing with those broken ribs would be a nightmare of epic proportions.

Mike gave him an ‘old fashioned’ look. “When have you ever seen me with a cold?”

It was true – Mike was never ill. He had never had an injury since Johnny had started working with him. In fact, he seldom seemed to be touched by the miserable things that afflicted other people. Of course, Johnny knew that it was just that Mike was a private man and didn’t often share his joys or his troubles, but there were times that Johnny envied the other man and this was one of them. Mike had found a lovely lady who seemed to like him as much as he liked her. Johnny was between relationships, but longed with all his heart to find that special someone.

“There’s no need to brag,” Johnny chided him, sending a mock frown his way. “Remember where I am.”

“Our biggest problem is remembering which room you’re in this time,” Mike retorted. “We know we can find you in Rampart most of the time,” he teased.

“Yeah, yeah,” Johnny grumbled, but the teasing was pretty close to the mark. He did get injured a lot. He sighed despondently, then had to hold his breath for a moment to allow the pain to recede. While day-to-day breathing was improving very slowly, sighing was still a nightmare.

“What can I do to help?” Mike asked seriously. He hated to see Johnny laid up like this.

“Nothing,” Johnny replied. “Just keep visiting?” He hadn’t meant to make that a question, but that was how it came out. He felt so incredibly vulnerable and so very alone.

“You know we will,” Mike vowed, although he knew that the initial never-ending stream of visitors had dwindled away, as always happened when someone was in hospital long-term. Real life had a way of taking over and good intentions were not always enough. He rose to leave, seeing that Johnny was tired.

“Tell April I say she’s a lucky woman,” Johnny remarked.

For the second time that afternoon, Mike blushed. “I’ll do nothing of the sort,” he denied.

“I’ll tell her myself when she’s better,” Johnny called after him.

**********

“So how was Johnny when you saw him last?” April asked as their latest session came to an end. It was two days since their last session, and two days since Mike had told her that Roy had not visited his partner. She was still coughing, so had also not been down. “I can’t go and see him when I’m like this,” she added.

Sitting across from her Roy looked tense and unhappy. He frowned in her direction. “Who told you I haven’t been to see Johnny?” he demanded. He was often tetchy or downright angry with her, but she expected that.

She looked back at him steadily. “I only asked how he was when you last saw him,” she reminded the paramedic. “But if you haven’t seen him, can I ask why not?” She grinned slightly. “Actually, just tell me why not. I’m gonna ask even if you don’t want me to.”

Rising, Roy paced across the room and looked out of the window. He was noticeably thinner, too and looked tired and careworn. He had not expected that trying to regain his memories would be so harrowing. His dreams were confused and frightening and he was finding sleep harder and harder to catch and keep as his brain persisted in producing images and then correcting them.

“I don’t know,” he evaded, but that was a lie. They both knew that. April didn’t say anything, just waited for him to speak. Roy glanced at her and paced a bit more, finally dropping back into his seat. “What good am I going to be to him?” he finally asked. “I’m so confused and tired and angry.” He shrugged. “He doesn’t need me snapping at him again. I did enough of that before.”

“Do you know how he is?” she asked.

“He must be ready to get out of here,” Roy replied. “It’s been almost a week since I saw him. Johnny heals fast; he should be getting home by now.”

That told April that he hadn’t even been able to phone to ask about John and she knew that his guilt was very difficult to handle. She didn’t blame him for trying to deal with this first so that he wasn’t putting pressure on his injured friend. However, Johnny needed his friends right now and Roy most of all. “Johnny’s back got infected,” she said neutrally. “He’s on IV antibiotics, only able to lie on his right side. When they got him up, he fell and hit his face and ribs and is confined to bed again. He is having a lot of nerve pain from his back. He looks dreadful and has lost a lot of weight.” She pursed her lips for a moment. “He’s pretty despondent.”

“I suppose Brackett or Early told you,” Roy surmised. He felt even guiltier, not knowing that Johnny had had such a major setback.

“No, it was Mike,” April confessed. “He was in visiting Johnny a couple of days ago. He says Johnny is worried about you and terrified that you’ve decided that he is as worthless as you thought.”

“Mike told you? Mike Stoker?”

“Mike Stoker,” she confirmed.

For a moment, Roy wondered why she was speaking to Mike Stoker, but then the implications of her words sank in. If Johnny was telling Mike how worried he was about Roy and their relationship, then he must be seriously concerned. Roy had thought he was doing the best thing in keeping away, so that he didn’t get even more confused and so that he didn’t upset his partner. It seemed he’d done the wrong thing completely.

“Roy.” April’s voice was sharp and he focused back on her, realizing she must have said his name several times. “I think you ought to go and see Johnny right now, today. Explain to him why you haven’t been there. He’ll understand.”

“Will he?” Roy retorted. “I’m not sure I would understand if I was him.” He rose again. “Look what I’ve done to him over the past couple of months. Undermined his confidence, told him he was worthless, made him transfer and he got hurt. Now he’s hurt again and what do I do? I go off and leave him while I sulk and moan and complain about how hard it is to get my memories sorted out. What kind of friend I am?”

“From what I’m told, usually the best,” April scolded gently. “Roy, stop giving yourself such a hard time. I can see why you didn’t visit, but I think for both of your sakes, you need to do it today before Johnny decides that he doesn’t want to be your friend. I think you’re a long way from that, but in self-protection, he will eventually harden his heart against you. Is that what you want? To punish yourself by pushing Johnny away?” His mouth was open as her words pointed up what his subconscious was trying to do. “Because you’d be punishing Johnny again, too, by doing that. Is that what you want?”

“No!” he gasped. “God, no!”

“Then come on,” April suggested, rising and holding her hand out to him. “I’ll come with you as far as the door to his room.”

Slowly, feeling like a total idiot, Roy stood and grasped her hand.

**********

Going into that room was the hardest thing Roy had ever done in his whole life. As they went down in the elevator, April reminded Roy that it wasn’t the end of the world if Johnny was angry with him. That would be a perfectly natural reaction and the worst thing Roy could do in that situation would be to get defensive. It was almost always easier to shout back and deepen the misunderstanding and that was exactly what they were trying not to do. Somewhere in the back of his mind, Roy noticed his hand was shaking as he pushed open the door.

The room looked much as it had done the last time Roy was in it. Johnny was still the sole occupant and the bed was placed in the middle of the room, for easy access all round, Roy assumed. Johnny was lying on his right side, pillows piled against his back to prevent him rolling over. His left arm was, of course, still in the cast and sling and an IV had been inserted into that arm above the cast. A small bag of fluid was dripping steadily into his veins. The oxygen mask had been swapped out for a nasal cannula. Johnny looked thin and pale, his hair lank and lifeless and dark circles underscored his eyes, one of which was darkly bruised. He looked the picture of misery. Although his eyes were open, he didn’t look to see who had come in.

“Johnny?” Roy took a couple of tentative steps nearer.

Not believing what his ears were telling him, Johnny slowly turned his head and craned to see over his shoulder. “Roy?” He swallowed hard. “Is that really you?”

Tentative no longer, Roy hurried over to him and sat down to peer at his partner in deep concern through the bars of the bed. “Yes, it’s me,” he confirmed. “I’m sorry I haven’t been in to see you.” He’d felt guilty before; now that he saw Johnny, he felt even guiltier.

The temptation to shriek accusations at Roy for not coming in was almost overwhelming. Johnny knew his emotions were on the raw at the moment. The antibiotics were making him feel very ill, lying on one side was wearing at his limited patience and the nerve pain was beyond a joke. Johnny wanted to shout at Roy, tell him how selfish he had been and to get out and never come back.

He also wanted to fling his arms around his best friend’s neck and sob piteously.

In the end, after a couple of unsteady breaths, he did neither. “You look like crap,” he informed his friend.

“Thanks,” Roy muttered. “You don’t look so hot yourself.”

“Don’t mention hot,” Johnny protested. The infection in his back was proving to be quite virulent and his temperature had a nasty habit of spiking out of control. There were no fans or cooling blankets in the room right now, but that meant nothing. “If I stink, you’ll have to lump it,” he added.

“You don’t,” Roy replied, thinking what a bizarre conversation this was.

“How’s April?” Johnny asked. “And if you’ve caught her cold don’t come near me. I’ve got enough going on without that.”

“I haven’t caught her cold,” Roy assured him, although he did wonder why not. Given how run down he was by lack of sleep and appetite, it was a wonder he wasn’t sick. “And she’s getting better. It’s just the cough now.” He frowned. “How did you know she was sick? Did Dixie tell you?”

“No, it was Mike,” Johnny replied. “So how’s it going with her? It must be rough, looking at you.”

Diverted from asking about Mike and April, Roy frowned. “I’m so confused. I can’t sleep, can’t eat and I keep shouting at everyone. The kids are avoiding me and Joanne barely speaks in case I snap her nose off. I almost wish I hadn’t started this.”

“Welcome to the club,” Johnny sighed – carefully. “I can only sleep when I’m doped out of my head.” Johnny tilted his head back on the pillow and looked at Roy. “But do you think it's working?” he asked. “That’s the important thing.”

“I don’t know,” Roy admitted. “I remember something and then my mind contradicts itself and I’m going round in circles. In some ways, I wish hadn’t started this. I never used to doubt myself before, not like this.”

Somberly, Johnny looked at Roy. “You really wish that you hadn’t started this? That you still thought that I’m worthless?” Johnny was hurt by the thought and too weary and ill to hide it.

“No!” Roy denied, not altogether truthfully. “I said in some ways.” He washed a hand over his face. “Let me try to explain,” he went on, his raw temper under his control again. “It was easier when I just believed what I thought. But even then, if I’m honest, I was confused. I’m just more confused now and the easy way out of this would have been to have done nothing.” Roy tried a grin. It wasn’t a great success. “Who said that nothing easy is worth having?”

“I don’t know,” Johnny admitted absently. “So what are you saying, Roy?” He was still prepared to hear that Roy had had enough, that he didn’t want to go on with his therapy, that he was giving up on their friendship and he really wasn’t sure that he would be strong enough to survive the blow. It wouldn’t be a good thing to hear at any time, but a much worse thing to hear when laid low by illness and injury.

The unhappiness was clearly written on Johnny’s face. “I’m saying...” Roy began and was hit with a sudden flashback of a memory; Johnny’s hand grasping the back of his turnout and yanking him back as the ground crumbled beneath his feet. He gasped. Hard and fast on that recollection came others; times when Johnny had gone first, or placed himself between Roy and the fire/explosion/spillage or done something else to ensure Roy’s safety.

“Roy?” Johnny was trying to painfully lever himself up on his elbow, despite the fact this maneuver aggravated his back pain. “Roy, what’s wrong?”

Blinking, Roy came back to himself. He felt shaken and had he but known it, he looked shaken as well. Johnny’s pale, concerned face filled his vision. “I remember,” he gasped. “I remember you.”

Sinking slowly back onto the pillows – he had learned dropping down was a big mistake – Johnny regarded him thoughtfully. There was not the joy on his face that Roy had expected to see. Roy’s heart missed a beat. Had he alienated Johnny so thoroughly that his partner no longer wanted to be his friend?

“That’s good,” Johnny ventured. He didn’t sound overly delighted. In fact, he sounded downright confused and Roy finally realized what he had said.

“I remember how you really are,” he expanded. “I remember you grabbing me back from the edge of that pit when you got injured this time. I remember you! It’s like... like my memories have just all suddenly dropped back into the correct slot.” He felt unbearably excited.

“That’s good,” Johnny repeated, slightly more enthusiastically this time. Yet there was still something missing.

“Don’t you believe me?” Roy asked, his elation gone in a heartbeat.

“I believe you,” he responded readily enough. “But I thought we’d already reached this stage before you got discharged.”

“Yeah, I thought so, too,” agreed Roy. “But it didn’t feel like this. When I thought I’d reached this stage last time, it was a conscious decision. But this was my subconscious smacking me alongside the head. These are my real memories coming back.”

“That’s good,” Johnny repeated for the third time.

“It’s better than good!” Roy cried, frustrated that his great news, this fabulous breakthrough, was receiving such a lukewarm reception. “Don’t you see what this means? Johnny...” He reached out and put his hand on Johnny’s arm and squeezed gently. “Johnny, the treatment must be working! I’m going to get my real memories back!”

“I’m really glad for you,” Johnny smiled. He was really glad, but he knew his reaction was tepid at best and that Roy was bound to be hurt by it. Johnny had always been so forgiving. He had forgiven Roy, but he now found that he wanted Roy to demonstrate that he had changed, that his memories were real, for the trust between them had taken a battering. “I’m really glad,” he reiterated. He knew he had to do or say something that would show Roy that their friendship survived and would grow stronger again. “Does this mean you’ll be visiting every day again?” he asked, his tone as light and teasing as he could manage. It was quite a creditable effort under the circumstances.

For a moment, Roy was prepared to bridle, to demand that Johnny be as joyful as he felt. Then April’s words came back to him and he tried to see it from Johnny’s point of view. Johnny had not had the revelation – that belonged to Roy alone. And Johnny had far more experience in recuperating from things than Roy had, and quite rightly knew that one step forward did not constitute full recovery. He was, naturally, cautious about setbacks and given the ones he had endured this last week or so, Roy could see why. Shoving down the anger, he smiled. “I’ll need to see if I can fit you into my busy schedule,” he responded in kind.

Johnny’s smile would stay with him for quite a while.

**********

Johnny’s cautious optimism turned out to be the right approach after all. Roy’s progress continued to be sporadic, going in fits and starts. While his memories of Johnny, the ones April had been working on most intensely, were now solidly back in place, he wasn’t haven’t quite as much success with some other ones.

Despite his misgivings, Roy went back to work on April’s recommendation after three weeks absence. It proved to be a good move. Roy was able to concentrate on something other than his own thoughts and he found that he was able to sleep at night because his mind wasn’t squirreling round and round endlessly when he lay down. As well as that, talking to the other guys also gave his memory some exercise and he found that his mind was bringing true memories back to the surface, not just the wrong ones.

But it was painfully slow going. Roy had thought that after his initial revelation that everything would just slot back into place and he was chagrined to learn that Johnny’s cautious approach had been the correct one. They veered through periods when they were as close as they had ever been to stages where they could hardly bear to be in the room with one another.

Nevertheless, they persevered, even when they didn’t like each other very much. Roy made sure he visited every day, even if it was for just a few short minutes when he was on duty. They were both careful not to part on angry words, which on some days was easier said than done, especially if Roy had had a bad night, or Johnny a tough day.

The infection in his back took more than a week to clear up. When it did, Dr Early cautiously left the drain in for another couple of days, just to be on the safe side, then finally removed it and stitched the cut closed. Johnny was finally able to lie on his back, no matter how painful it was.

The nerve pain in his legs was subsiding and physical therapy was now increasing on his range of motion exercises so that when he was eventually allowed to get up, his muscles would be in reasonable condition. Johnny was looking forward to that day with a mixture of anticipation and dread. He couldn’t forget his last attempt to stand up and the ignominious results. He had been confined to bed for three weeks by this point and his mixed emotions were completely understandable.

He was finally told that he was going to be getting up the following afternoon. The therapist had just finished working his muscles and declared himself pleased. Roy, who had popped in before heading back to the squad, looked at his friend. “Do you want me to be here?” he asked. “I won’t be hurt if you say no.”

“I’d like that,” Johnny replied. He remembered that the last time, Roy had been absent and wondered if having Roy there would make all the difference. As a superstitious man, Johnny wanted everything to be different from the last time, if he could manage that. “If you don’t mind?” They were on a slightly difficult day.

“I wouldn’t have offered if I minded,” Roy chided him gently. “How are your legs?”

“They’re still there,” Johnny replied. There wasn’t much else he could say. He had exhausted every word in his vocabulary that indicated pain in all its many manifestations. He was tired of the pain, although it was finally easing and guessed that his friends would be tired of hearing about the pain, so now answered questions about it with a joking reply. That generally drove the doctors up the wall, as they wanted an honest answer.

“I can see that for myself,” Roy retorted.

As a reply, Johnny just shrugged. Today, he couldn’t unburden himself to Roy. He wasn’t sure that he would be able to say much to April, either, when she came for his regular session. This was a day when he wanted to be left strictly alone so he could brood and feel miserable to his heart’s content. Sensing his mood, the nurses had barely been in. The TV had not been on and he had only glanced at his books and magazines. Mostly, he had been thinking – or, if he were being honest, brooding. He wasn’t quite sure why he was feeling so flat that day, but since he was, he decided he would wallow in it. Once he was on his feet again, he would be fighting to regain the full use of his muscles so he could get back to work as soon as the cast was off his arm.

“Well, I’d better get going,” Roy sighed, seeing that Johnny really wasn’t in the mood for company. “If I don’t see you later, I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Okay, thanks,” Johnny replied. He watched as Roy headed towards the door. He suddenly felt ungrateful and called, “Roy, I mean it. Thanks.”

Turning back, Roy smiled. “I know you mean it,” he reassured his friend. “And don’t worry; you’ll be back on your feet in no time.” He sketched a wave with the hand that held the HT. “See you.”

“Yeah, see you,” Johnny echoed and felt even flatter when the door closed behind his partner.

**********

He was so anxious the next day that when Dr Early came to do his rounds, he prescribed a small dose of Valium to calm Johnny down. It did help a bit, but Johnny’s stomach was still churning in anticipation and he couldn’t eat his lunch. The nurses tut-tutted and tried to coax him into eating some more, but he couldn’t force a single bite down for fear that he would barf it back up.

Johnny couldn’t decide if Roy’s arrival was a good thing or not. It gave him someone else to talk to and for a few minutes, hearing the news about the children kept his mind off the coming ordeal, but when they had finished talking about the kids, Johnny found he was impatient with the small talk.

“Did you know they’re bringing me a walker?” he asked, interrupting what Roy had been saying. He hadn’t been listening, anyway.

“No,” Roy replied honestly. “I didn’t. When did they tell you that?”

“This morning,” Johnny answered. “A walker! I’m not old, Roy!”

“No,” Roy agreed. “You’re not old. But there must be a reason.”

The last thing Johnny wanted to be right then was reasonable. He wanted to shout and throw things and behave like a spoiled child. “Oh, yes, there’s a reason,” he snapped. “It’s to make me feel more secure on my feet.”

Judging by the look on Johnny’s face, any answer was going to be the wrong one. “I can see why they think that,” he hedged. “What do you feel about it?”

“What do you think I feel?” Johnny growled. “I’m not going to use it! I’m not getting out of bed if I have to use a walker! I’m going to stay here!”

Sympathy was not going to be the answer here, Roy surmised. Johnny was already feeling so sorry for himself that he was wallowing in it. “Well, in that case, I’ll be going,” Roy declared and stood up. “You obviously aren’t in the mood for company, so I’ll just go away and leave you to it. Don’t kill the therapist; the hospital takes a dim view of that.”

“What!” Johnny was all bristling indignity. “You can’t go away and leave me.”

“Well, if you’re not going to get up, there’s not much point in me being here when you’re in such a bad mood. I don’t want to fight with you, but if I stay and you don’t get up, then we will fight.” Roy knew his reasonable tone would drive Johnny up the wall.

“Well of course I’m going to get up!” Johnny snapped, as though he hadn’t declared just two minutes earlier that he wasn’t going to.

“All right.” Roy calmly resumed his seat.

Johnny glared at him. "Stop being so reasonable,” he ordered.

“Okay.” It was a struggle to keep his face straight, but Roy managed it, gazing blandly at Johnny.

It took several seconds longer than Roy expected, but a smile eventually cracked Johnny’s grim visage. “Oh all right,” he huffed. “I’m being childish.”

“Just a bit,” Roy agreed.

“I’m scared,” Johnny admitted, the words exploding from him. He couldn’t contain his fear any longer.

“You’re anxious,” Roy corrected. “And that’s understandable. Look what happened last time. But remember how far you’ve come since then. You’re off the oxygen, your back is healing, the pain when you breathe is pretty much gone, the nerve pain is subsiding. This is just the next step along the road and so what if you have to use a walker today, and even tomorrow? It’s not like you’re going to need it forever, you know. And I know you don’t want to stay in Rampart forever, so you’re going to do everything you can so you can go home.”

It was all true. Johnny made a wry face. “I just made a complete fool of myself, didn’t I?” he asked.

“Well, yes,” Roy admitted. “But there was only me to see, so don’t worry. I promise not to tell anyone about it – for a while anyway.” He laughed as Johnny spluttered indignantly.

Their banter was brought to a close by the arrival of the therapist, the walker, Dr Early, Dr Brackett and Dixie McCall. “Who’s down in the ER?” Johnny asked sourly. He really didn’t want an extended audience for this.

“We decided close it down for half an hour or so,” Brackett joked.

“You don’t need to on my account,” Johnny replied. “I can manage without you.”

Seeing that Johnny really wasn’t joking about this, Dixie stepped in. “We want to see you triumph,” she told him. “Getting back on your feet after all that’s happened is something for us all to celebrate.”

“Thanks, Dixie,” Johnny blushed, softening slightly. He still wasn’t sure about the large audience, but he could see that he really didn’t have much choice there.

Sitting up onto the side of the bed with his legs dangling over the edge was no big deal. The therapist lowered the bed so that his feet were nearer the floor and with Roy on one side and the therapist on the other, Johnny was encouraged to slide carefully forward and put his feet flat on the floor.

“Take hold of the walker with your good hand,” the therapist instructed. Johnny shot him a withering look.

“I can hardly hold it with my bad arm,” he snapped. The man had the grace to look abashed.

“No,” he murmured. “Push off from the bed. We’ve got you.” He indicated to Roy to put an arm around Johnny’s waist. Roy was way ahead of him.

“Come on, Junior,” he coaxed. “Let’s get those dancing shoes on.”

“Hardy har har,” Johnny retorted, but he obediently pushed himself up, leaning on the walker, which the therapist was steadying with one hand.

His legs shook, but Johnny forced his knees to lock and slowly stood upright. “Whoa!” he exclaimed. He felt his balance going slightly, but Roy’s arm was securely around him and the therapist had a hand under his other elbow.

“Breathe,” Roy ordered.

“What is it, Johnny?” Brackett asked, coming closer, his hands ready to catch the paramedic should the need arise.

“Head rush,” Johnny responded. “Gimme a minute.” He closed his eyes for a second and took Roy’s advice and breathed. The room, which had done a decidedly unpleasant loop-the-loop settled down again. He cautiously opened his eyes. “That’s better,” he assured everyone. “Let’s get on with this.” His legs were shaking even more, but he wanted to take some steps.

“How about walking to the chair?” the therapist suggested. Johnny nodded. He concentrated on shuffling across the floor, his faltering steps growing more secure as he went.

It was only about 5 steps, but Johnny was glad to sit down. He breathed heavily, but looked triumphant. He had done it! He was out of bed and he had walked! He looked up to see his friends beaming down on him. “How does it feel?” Early asked.

“It feels good,” Johnny replied. “It feels good.”

**********

For the first time out of bed in weeks, Johnny wasn’t allowed to be up for more than 10 minutes and he found it just as tiring walking those few steps back to bed. He lay back against the pillows feeling as if he had just fought a four alarm fire alone for several hours. It was always a bit disheartening to be so weak after an injury, but he knew that every day would see an improvement; he would make sure of that!

His audience left after words of congratulations and encouragement, all except Roy, who sat down beside him and waited quietly while Johnny regained his breath and thought it all through. They had been down this road before, from both sides. They both knew what to expect.

“You did it,” Roy told him. “Another step on the road.”

“Thanks, Roy,” Johnny smiled. “How are your steps along the road coming?”

“Slowly but steadily,” Roy smiled back. “But I think I might be making some progress at last.”

“Me, too,” Johnny agreed. “Me, too.”

**********

Much to the therapist’s irritation, Johnny pushed himself really hard, getting up again later that afternoon when there was nobody around to help him. He used the walker for support, going over to the chair and back without sitting down in between and when the nurse found him inching his way back into bed, she removed the walker so that he didn’t do any solo excursions again until they thought he was ready.

As determined as he had been despondent a few short days before, Johnny made a complete nuisance of himself with the nurses, asking them to bring the walker to him several times the next day and the day after and finally graduating onto a stick, just for balance on day three. The freedom of being able to walk to the toilet improved his whole outlook immensely and being able to have a shower was like manna from heaven. His mood improved and his appetite picked up. April, who had been visiting Johnny regularly since her cold had cleared up, was delighted with his improvement and also saw a corresponding improvement in Roy. She decided to chat to them both together, to see how they interacted with each other.

When she arrived in Johnny’s room, he was sitting in the big chair looking out of the window at the parking lot. He looked a lot better, his natural color returning and the happy-go-lucky personality the others had told her about re-emerging. He grinned at her. “Hi, April. How’s Mike?”

“Like you don’t know,” April scoffed, knowing that Mike had been in with the rest of the crew the previous afternoon. They weren’t coming in till the evening to allow the session with April to go ahead.

Unabashed, Johnny replied, “All right, how are things going with Mike?”

“Very nicely, thank you,” she replied. “And we’re not here to talk about my love life.”

“No, we’re here to talk about Mike’s love life,” Johnny countered.

“Don’t you even try, you wretch!” she scolded, laughing. She and Mike had finally told everyone that they were dating and April had been touched by the positive reaction she had received from his shift mates. She missed working with them at the station and had taken to dropping in sometimes to say hello and bring donuts for them all.

When Roy came in, April thought he looked more relaxed than she had seen him. They pulled up chairs and she noticed that Roy moved so that he and Johnny sat side by side. She had been told that they did that at the station, but this was the first opportunity she had had to see it in action for herself. She smothered a grin. The return of normal, habitual behaviors was a very positive sign indeed.

“I know I’ve spoken extensively with both of you,” she began. “But I just wanted to see the two of you together to see how you think you’re getting on.”

To her amusement, they exchanged glances. This was something else that 51’s crew had told her about and so had the hospital staff. Before they said anything, they looked at each other and somehow divined what the other thought and was going to say.

“I’d say we’re pretty good,” Johnny replied.

“Yeah, me, too,” Roy agreed. “We have the occasional off day – like when you were being childish about getting up.”

“Oh shut up!” Johnny retorted. “Like you’re never childish about anything.”

“Name me one time recently that I’ve been childish,” Roy challenged him.

“Not coming to see me for a whole week,” Johnny shot back. “What did you think I was going to do? Rip your head off with my one good arm?”

“Anything’s possible,” Roy returned with a straight face. “The nurses said you were biting their heads off regularly.”

“Oh I was not!” Johnny made a show of pouting, but April could see he wasn’t serious about it. “I hardly ever bite their heads off.”

“That’s only because you’re back on your feet and don’t need them to come and help you get up,” Roy countered. “But you wore them ragged when they took away the walker so you couldn’t get up without them bringing it to you.”

“It worked,” he shrugged. “I can get up and down when I want to now. And do you see a stick?”

“No, but I imagine they took it away so you’d stay put for longer than five minutes.” All Johnny’s restless energy was flooding back and he could barely sit still. Dr Early kept warning him about doing too much, as he still had a bit of weight to gain back and too much moving around would not help that process.

“They took it away,” Johnny agreed, “but only because I don’t need it anymore.” He grinned triumphantly.

“Prove it,” Roy challenged.

Slowly, carefully, but strongly, Johnny pushed himself to his feet and walked a few steps before turning round and walking back to sit carefully in the chair. “See?” he jibed and stuck his tongue out.

April could contain her laughter no longer. “I don’t think I have to worry about you two at all,” she told them. “Roy, I’ll see you in two weeks.” She rose and kissed them both on the cheek. “Behave yourselves,” she warned them. “Remember, this is a hospital!”

They both looked offended. “I don’t know what you mean,” Johnny replied.

“You’re a bad influence on me, that’s what she means,” Roy jibed and she laughed and left them to their own devices.

**********

“I think you’re fit to go home,” Joe Early concluded.

“About time,” Johnny groused. He had been kept another week longer than he thought was necessary to make sure that the nerve pain had gone, that he could manage single-handedly and that he really was completely steady on his feet.

The usually placid Dr Early fixed him with a steady look. “I can arrange for you to have a relapse, you know,” he informed his patient coldly.

“Sorry, doc,” Johnny apologized. “But I’m going stir crazy in here.”

“We had noticed,” Early remarked. “All those occasions when you’ve gone AWOL and turned up in the cafeteria – which is okay – or the parking lot – which wasn’t – or even on the roof! A little notice would have been nice and then we wouldn’t have had to mobilize security to try and find you.”

“But I was fine,” Johnny protested.

“But we didn’t know that,” Joe reminded him. “Anyway, get someone to pick you up tomorrow and you can go home.” He tapped the cast on Johnny’s arm. “We’ll x-ray in two weeks and see if we can take the cast off. Meantime, no driving, on pain of death! And make sure you eat properly and I don’t mean pizza for every meal either and don’t overdo it.”

“I know, I promise,” Johnny nodded. At that point he would have agreed to anything just to escape the confines of his hospital room. He rather felt that this must be how it was in prison, although a lot less comfortable. But still, he was pretty restricted in what he could and could not do. At home, he could eat what he wanted when he wanted, get unlimited coffee that actually tasted of coffee, come and go when he felt like it, sit up late and watch a movie or sleep in.

“Who are you going to get to collect you?” Joe asked. “Roy or your next of kin?”

“What are you talking about?” Johnny asked. “Roy is my...” He stopped abruptly. “Oh.”

“I rather suspect that Roy has forgotten about that small detail,” the doctor said gently. “Perhaps you ought to tell him. Not that there’s anything wrong with Captain Stanley being your next of kin, of course. He’s a good choice. But, and this depends on how you really feel about Roy after all that’s happened and its none of my business, you might want to ask Roy if he’d be willing to be your next of kin again. You might not want that, of course. As I said, it’s none of my business. It’s just a stray thought that crossed my mind while we were talking.”

“I had forgotten, too,” Johnny mused. “Thanks for reminding me, doc.”

It was an intriguing thought. It had completely slipped Johnny’s mind, with everything that had been going on, that Roy was no longer his next of kin. Joe Early had been his usual tactful self when pointing this out, but Johnny could see exactly what he meant. This would, in some ways, be the acid test. Would Roy agree – or would he refuse? And if he refused, would he refuse because he felt guilty because he’d stopped being next of kin and felt he didn’t deserve to take back the title, or would he refuse because he just didn’t want the responsibility of being Johnny’s next of kin? Or refuse because it might hurt Cap’s feelings? It was a thorny question.

***********

“No mad excursions this afternoon?” Roy asked as he breezed in. He had been Johnny’s partner in crime in a couple of his ‘escapes’.

“No,” Johnny agreed thoughtfully. He was sitting in the chair looking out of the window and had seemed to be deep in thought.

“A penny for them?” Roy offered.

A smile flitted across Johnny’s face. “I’ve been thinking about you,” he said.

“Oh dear,” Roy muttered and he looked genuinely apprehensive. Johnny reflected that that would never have happened before the warehouse accident. They still had a little way to go before things were back to normal and that made up his mind – although he had no doubts about the decision he had come to previously.

“I want you to be my next of kin again,” he stated quietly.

For a long moment, Roy just looked at him, then his face paled and he sank into the nearest seat. “Oh, God,” he muttered despairingly. “I’d forgotten about that.” He looked away, color now mounting in his previously pale cheeks. “I am so sorry for that,” he continued, still not looking at Johnny. “It was unforgivable.”

“No it wasn’t,” Johnny replied. “Roy, look at me.” He waited, but the other man kept his gaze directed away. “Roy – look at me,” he repeated gently. This time, the blue eyes swung round to meet his dark ones. “If it was unforgivable, you wouldn’t be sitting here with me, would you?” he asked. Roy said nothing. “If it was unforgivable, I wouldn’t be asking if you are willing to resume the responsibility. If you’re not ready or don’t want to do it, that’s fine, too.”

“You really want me to do it again?” Roy asked. “After I threw it back in your face like that, in front of everyone?”

“Roy, listen to me once and for all.” Johnny leaned forward. “You had a head injury. You were not responsible for the things you said and did. You’re my best friend, my partner and my brother. That hasn’t changed. If we don’t trust each other now, when are we going to?”

It was like the first time Johnny had asked him this question. Roy was awed that this man trusted him so much, trusted him with life and death decisions, especially after what had happened. Trust was so easy to lose and not so easy to gain. With sudden insight, Roy realized that now was the time he had to put this behind him and not let the injury rule his life. There might always be things wrong with his memory, but he had to move on and start living again and Johnny was an integral part of his life.

“I would be honored to be your next of kin,” he replied formally. He wanted to weep with joy.

However, the emotion of the last few moments had been more than enough for Johnny. “I wouldn’t go that far,” he jibed. “Do you realize how often I’m in this place? Cap didn’t realize there was so much form-filling involved.”

“I’ve had some practice at it,” Roy agreed.

“So in that case, what time are you coming to collect me tomorrow so I can go home?” Johnny asked.

“What?” Roy exclaimed. “And I suppose you expect me to swing past a grocery store on the way back so you can get some food and then you’ll expect me to carry it and your bag from here.”

Innocently, Johnny looked at him. He looked about 16 with his wide dark eyes and boyish demeanor. “Well, yeah,” he replied. “That’s in the job description.” His expression became even more innocent, if that was possible. “Don’t you remember?” he asked plaintively.

Standing outside the door listening, Captain Stanley gave the thumbs up to the group that was gathered there. “Everything is going to be all right,” he declared.

*****End*****

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