Synopsis: An alternate ending to the episode.
Word Count: 12,290
Author’s Note: This picks up where the station is toned out to the house fire. The squad arrives first, having been closest. Throughout the episode, Chet has been winding Johnny up about being a Native American, although I use the term Indian throughout, as that is what was used on the show. Roy had also joined in. There were a couple of maiming opportunities that were let go in this ep, so I had to do something about that.
“There!” Johnny pointed, where a man was standing on the curb waving to them. They pulled to a stop and jumped out, donning their turnout coats and helmets.
“Its inside,” the man cried and pointed to the house. It stood in a row of connected homes. Roy and Johnny knew they would have to find out how bad the fire was in case they had to evacuate any of the other houses. Johnny led the way over.
“Let’s use this garden hose,” Roy proposed, knowing that it would just give them a few moments if the fire had gone out of control. On the other hand, a small fire could be contained with a garden hose.
Without replying, Johnny snatched up the hose and ran into the house with it. He followed the smoke and found the toilet was ablaze, which was odd in and of itself, but it looked like the kind of fire he could handle with the hose. It would keep the damage to a minimum, too. He aimed the hose at the fire and turned it on.
There was a whoosh and a large wall of flame shot up in front of him. Flames leapt onto the arm of his turnout. He dropped the hose and the flames in the toilet back down, but his coat was still on fire. “Ah!” he cried. “It’s come out of that hose!”
Quick as a flash, Roy grabbed a curtain and wrapped it round his partner’s arm, patting the flames out as Johnny tried to pull his arm back and let out some small cries. Roy was pretty sure Johnny wasn’t even aware he was doing it.
With the worst of the flames extinguished, Johnny turned and ran outside. His coat was still smoking. Ripping his gloves off and letting them fall to the ground, he frantically yanked at the buckles of his coat. Roy came out of the house and started to help him just as the engine screeched to a halt behind the squad.
Undoing the last buckle, Johnny ripped his coat off and began to examine his arms. Roy turned to Cap, who was looking anxiously at Johnny. “Cap, there’s fuel in the water line,” Roy told him.
“Chet, Marco, grab and inch and a half, use the tank on the engine,” Cap ordered. He looked at Johnny again. “What happened?”
Quickly, Roy told him and glanced up the street. A man was just about to drop a lit match on a sprinkler. “No! Don’t do that!” he cried, but he was too late. The man dropped the match and the water turned into flames. The man barely escaped.
Immediately, Marco and Chet turned the hose onto the flames. They had them doused in seconds as Roy ran to warn the household to turn the water off. Cap turned back to Johnny as his linemen went into the house to douse the burning toilet. “Are you all right, John?” he asked.
“Uh, yeah,” Johnny replied doubtfully. He was still looking closely at his arms and Cap leaned in closer, too.
“Aren’t those first degree burns?” he asked, looking up into Johnny’s face.
“They could be,” Johnny faltered. He met Cap’s gaze as the taller man stood straight once more. “Um, yes sir.”
“Sit down, John and we’ll get Roy to take a look at them.” Cap guided Johnny to the running board of the squad. He lifted the HT to his lips. “LA this is Engine 51. Be advised that there is fuel in the water line at this location.”
“Engine 51,” came the acknowledgment.
Cap beckoned to Roy. “Take a look at your partner here,” he suggested. “We’re going to look for the source of the contamination.” Chet and Marco had extinguished the fire and were packing the hose away. They got onto the engine and it pulled away.
“Let me see,” Roy requested, nodding to Johnny’s arms. The skin was pink and slightly blistered, but the burns weren’t too serious. Still, they needed to be looked at. “I’m taking you to Rampart,” he announced and got onto the biophone. Dr Brackett recommended Johnny be brought in and Roy got out the ordered burn pack. Johnny sighed with relief as the cool sterile water ran over his arms. He refused pain relief.
“They aren’t that sore, now the water is on them,” he protested and Roy acquiesced. He placed a blanket over Johnny’s lap to prevent his pants getting soaked by the wet burn sheets and took him to Rampart.
They were sitting at the table in the day room eating sandwiches when Roy and Johnny got back. Johnny’s arms were lightly wrapped in gauze from elbow to wrist, but didn’t seem to be causing him much trouble judging from the way he set about grabbing ingredients for his sandwiches.
“What did the doc say?” Cap asked.
“First degree burns, keep them clean and dry, but he’s clear for work,” Roy answered.
“How do they feel, pal?” Cap asked Johnny.
“Pretty good, pretty good,” Johnny responded. He took a large bite of his sandwich. “Doesn’t hurt that much. Guess I was pretty lucky I had my turnout on.”
“If you hadn’t had it on,” Cap mentioned, fixing the younger man with a glare, “you’d be playing basketball with your head right now.”
Swallowing with a gulp, Johnny nodded meekly. “Yes, sir,” he agreed. He took another bite, keeping his head down literally as well as figuratively.
“What happened with finding the fuel in the water?” Roy asked, taking the attention away from his partner.
“You won’t believe it,” Cap replied and they took turns explaining about the contractor – working out of a VW bus no less! – who had been ‘flushing’ the fuel pipe with water from the hydrant, which had considerably less pressure in it. Cap had shut it down and left the water department to deal with the fallout.
Although it was Johnny’s turn to wash the dishes, Roy did it for him, making his partner rest. For all Johnny said that his arms didn’t hurt that much, Roy knew they had to be nipping pretty badly and that the Tylenol he had been given wouldn’t make that much difference. Still, Johnny seemed pretty cheerful and that was all that mattered. Of course, he didn’t object to getting out of boring chores, like dishes.
If anyone had been able to read Johnny’s mind, they would have seen that his arms were pretty sore, but he wouldn’t admit that for any money. He had received quite a shock when the flames had shot up from the hose and set him on fire. Luckily for him and the house owner, the flames had extinguished themselves when he dropped the hose on the floor, or the damage in the house could have been much worse.
He was just starting to doze when the tones went off, calling the station to a man down on a scaffold. He jumped to his feet, eager to meet this new challenge.
It didn’t turn out as any of them expected.
The scaffold was hanging from a large neon sign on the top of the building. The man was lying on his back at one end, his legs dangling off. The scaffold was at an angle and the man was at the end that was tilted down the way. “We’ll climb up to him,” Johnny suggested, looking at the framework that held up the large sign. “We should be able to lower it right down.” He clipped on a safety belt and grabbed some rope just in case there was a problem. Roy followed suit. As soon as he was ready, Johnny began climbing.
It wasn’t a hard climb and they weren’t climbing over open space as they would have been climbing an electricity pylon. Cap and the others stood on the roof watching them. Johnny reached the platform first and dropped his roped on it. He made his way to the downed man and frowned. There was an awful lot of blood pooling underneath him. He glanced up as Roy climbed on to the other end. “Can you lower that end so we’re level?” he asked.
“Give me a moment,” Roy nodded and fiddled with the rope. He soon had the platform level and Johnny stood up to look at the block on his side.
“Maybe we can just lower it,” he called over.
“Let’s try,” Roy called back. He let the rope out, but immediately, Johnny shouted for him to stop.
“It’s jammed at the block on this side,” he explained.
“We’ll just have to start treating him here,” Roy decided and knelt down. He tied on a rope and threw it down. “Send up the drug box,” he requested. Johnny turned around and knelt, too.
As he did so, something whizzed past his cheek. He didn’t know what it was, but he felt the air moving. Seconds later came the report of a gun. Both paramedics ducked. “Someone’s shooting at us!” he cried incredulously.
“We’ve got to get this guy off of here.” Roy was looking around, trying to see if there was a quick way to do it. “We could lower him on a rope.”
“He’s bleeding too badly for that,” Johnny replied. His eyes lit on an object down below. “Cap, can you send up the stokes and put that tarp in it?”
“All right.” Cap nodded to Chet and Marco and while they loaded the stokes, he lifted the HT. “LA, this is Engine 51. Dispatch the sheriff’s department to this location, we are taking gunfire. We have a Code L.”
“What good is the tarp going to do us?” Roy asked, as he helped pull the stokes up.
“It’ll give us some shelter,” Johnny replied.
“Not much,” Roy retorted, for the tarp wasn’t exactly going to be bullet proof.
“Maybe not, but he won’t be able to see us through it,” Johnny argued. “That’s better than nothing.”
“True,” Roy agreed. He followed Johnny’s instructions about tying it on. More shots sounded as they did so and they both ducked again. In the distance, they could hear sirens approaching and hoped it was the police. There was another hail of bullets. The tarp dropped and began billowing in the wind like a huge sail.
There were more shots, but none of them seemed as close. They could hear the sound of voices through a bullhorn, but couldn’t catch them all. “Let’s get him in the stokes and down,” Roy suggested. He lifted the man’s shoulders and Johnny took his legs.
It was awkward, for the platform was extremely narrow. Together, they lowered the stokes down to their shift mates. “You go down,” Roy told Johnny. There had been no further shots.
“All right. See you down there,” Johnny said and stepped off the platform to rappel to the ground.
As he went, Roy saw a flash of color that he didn’t expect, but he couldn’t call Johnny back to see what it was. He rose and started down.
Below him, he saw Johnny’s feet touch the roof. The paramedic stood for a moment and suddenly collapsed to the ground. The others reacted with understandable alarm, Mike Stoker reaching out, too late, to stop him falling. Chet and Marco hurried over to him, while Cap crouched by their original victim, his attention split between him and Johnny. Roy hurried his descent, landing and unfastening his rope as quickly as he could, his mind reeling. Much as he didn’t want to admit it, he knew what had happened and just couldn’t believe it.
Johnny had been shot.
That they needed another paramedic was a given; whether one would arrive in time was another matter. Roy took a quick look at Johnny and had to leave him to the others. “Get bandages on the wound and hold pressure on it,” Roy ordered. He hurried over to the stokes to do the same for the other victim. The man had been shot through the shoulder. It was through and through and quite how he had not tumbled to the roof from the scaffold was anyone’s guess. Quite how Johnny hadn’t done the same was another miracle.
“Cap can you get on the phone?” Roy asked.
He didn’t need to ask. Cap already had the biophone set up. He picked up the receiver. “Rampart, this is squad 51.”
“Go ahead, 51,” replied Brackett’s voice.
“Rampart, we have two victims of a shooter. Please stand by for vitals.”
“Standing by.” There was no mistaking the grave tone to Brackett’s voice.
Quickly gathering the vitals on the original victim, Roy passed the BP cuff and stethoscope over to Chet. “Get Johnny’s vitals,” he ordered and took the phone. “Rampart, vitals for victim one. He is a male, about 35 with a through and through shoulder wound. There has been substantial bleeding, but it is under control now. He is unconscious at present. His vital signs are BP 100/60, pulse 120 and respirations 22.”
“Start an IV D5W and transport as soon as possible. Monitor vitals every 5 minutes and let me know when he comes around.”
“D5W and vitals every 5 minutes,” Roy echoed. “Stand by for vitals on victim two.” He glanced over at Chet. The shorter man quickly updated him. “Rampart, vitals for victim two are as follows. He is male, 25 and has been shot in the chest and head. The head wound is a deep crease. He is unconscious. BP 90/60, pulse 130 and respirations 25 and labored. Rampart, be aware, victim two is John Gage.”
At the base station, Brackett looked at Dixie. “Johnny? Dear God, it doesn’t sound good. 51, do you have an additional squad on hand?”
“Negative, Rampart,” Roy replied, sounding stressed, as well he might. “One is on the way.”
“I don’t think you have time to wait,” Brackett replied. “Start two IVs on Johnny, D5W and normal saline and run them wide open. Apply pressure bandages and get them both in here stat. Is the ambulance on scene?”
“Affirmative,” Roy replied. “IVs D5W and normal saline wide open. Bandages have been applied. We’ll transport at once.”
They had only one stokes. Marco and Chet lifted it and carried it over to the elevator. While Roy set up the IVs, Mike looked around and spotted a bit of ply board. “Roy, is that any use?”
Glancing at it, Roy nodded. “Ideal. Cap, can you help me roll Johnny?” He had already slipped a cervical collar in place. Mike fetched the board and Roy and Cap rolled Johnny. Roy could see blood on Johnny’s back. The bullet had gone right through.
They taped the unconscious paramedic to the board and Cap and Mike lifted it carefully between them as Roy gathered up their stuff. The board was awkward to carry, but neither man complained. They had a few moments to wait for the elevator to arrive back at the roof before they were able to start the downward journey.
At ground level, the first victim was already loaded in the ambulance. The stokes from the engine was waiting for them, but Roy decided against moving Johnny and the piece of ply was simply placed on the stretcher and the straps fastened securely over it. Johnny was loaded into the ambulance, Roy climbed in with the drug box and biophone and the doors closed.
As the ambulance pulled away, the others looked at each other. “He didn’t look too good,” Chet ventured.
Nobody else said anything. None of them wanted to admit Chet was right. Johnny hadn’t looked too good.
With a sigh, Hank walked over to the engine and climbed into his seat. Raising the mic to his lips, he solemnly reported the Code I.
They were waiting for him at Rampart. Roy was not sorry to arrive. Both the original victim and Johnny were holding their own, but Roy had the creeping suspicion that both of them were on the verge of going sour. He helped the orderlies and attendants unload and trotted obediently after both stretchers, hesitating only momentarily before following the original victim into one room while watching to see which room Johnny went into.
“He was shot through and through,” Roy reported, looking up at Dr Early. “I don’t know how long he was lying there before we got to him. He’d lost about 500cc’’s of blood. There wasn’t anything much we could do on the platform, especially after the sniper started shooting at us. Once we got down, we got the bleeding controlled.”
“Thanks, Roy,” Early nodded. He started issuing orders to his nurse as he slipped the ear pieces of his stethoscope in.
Released, Roy headed straight for the other treatment room. He slipped inside. Brackett was leaning over Johnny, listening to his chest. He glanced round as he caught the movement from the corner of his eye and straightened up.
Quickly, Roy filled him in on events. “Honest, doc, I didn’t know he’d been shot. He never made a sound. He did seem to be struggling a bit to lift the guy into the stokes, but he didn’t have much room to move and I put it down to that. And he had his helmet on.” Roy looked down at his friend’s pale, blood streaked features.
“I suspect the helmet saved him from worse injury,” Brackett replied. He looked more closely at the deep crease that ran across part of Johnny’s left temple and vanished into his hair. “From the angle this penetrates, I would say it possibly was deflected off his helmet. If it hadn’t been, he might well have been killed.”
The door opened again and the portable x-ray came in. They all repaired to the hallway while the pictures were taken, but Brackett didn’t move from the door. “Dix, chase up that blood for me,” he ordered. “Check that we have an OR on stand-by still.”
“An OR?” Roy asked.
“His abdomen is rigid. I think the bullet has gone through his liver. Any higher and his lung would have been compromised, too.” Brackett’s mouth twitched. “I’d ideally like a CT scan, too, but we can’t wait. We need to go in.” He looked relieved when the x-ray tech came back out and hurried back over to his patient. He felt Johnny’s abdomen again and nodded. “Let’s get him to the OR. There’s no time to waste!” He started pushing Johnny out of the door.
Following slowly, Roy watched as Johnny’s gurney was whisked into the elevator. The doors closed and Roy turned his head. From the room opposite, where the original victim was taken, Dr Early emerged. He looked over at Roy and after a moment, slowly shook his head.
Stunned, Roy just stood there. He hoped the police had caught the sniper, for he had at least one murder on his hands and right now, he didn’t know if Johnny would survive.
The mood at the station was somber. A detective had been round to question the men about the incident. The sniper had been arrested and was not saying a single word. They still had no idea why he was shooting at that particular building. At that time, they also didn’t know who had called in the fire department, but the suspicion was growing that the sniper himself had called in the ‘man down’ which had taken the station to that roof top. They had no idea why.
The detective was still there when a shell-shocked Roy called to say Johnny was in surgery and the other man had died. While the firemen tried to absorb the news, the detective was off, expression grim and looking very determined. Cap followed in his wake a few minutes later to update Headquarters with the grim news.
“How come Johnny didn’t realize he’d been shot?” Chet asked.
“I don’t know,” Marco replied.
“Perhaps there was too much adrenalin in his system,” Mike suggested. “Doesn’t Roy always say adrenalin can mask pain?”
“You think?” Chet asked, sounding interested.
“There was plenty of adrenalin in my system,” Mike told him, “and I wasn’t on that scaffolding.”
“That’s true,” Marco agreed. “I’m glad I wasn’t up there. That was a good idea Johnny had about using that tarp.”
“I wonder how he thought of it,” Chet mused. He glanced at the table where the decorated fire axe he had been teasing Johnny with still lay. For a moment, he wondered if he had been a bit OTT with his teasing. “D’you think Johnny minded all the teasing?” he asked, in an unusually introspective manner. He suddenly remembered the look on Johnny’s face when he had held out a ‘peace pipe’. The memory made him feel small.
“Of course he minded,” Marco chided his friend. “You were talking about his heritage. He doesn’t go on about Leprechauns or the Blarney Stone to you, does he?” Marco shook his head. “Chet, you’re white. You’ve never encountered racism. You’re not generally a bigot, so why go on at Johnny like that? Have you really looked into the true history of what happened to his people? I think you owe him a big apology, especially about the pipe. They aren’t just used for making treaties – they are religious symbols, too. I’d be offended if you used a cross like that.”
“Hey, I’m a Catholic, too,” Chet objected. “I wouldn’t do that.”
“But you’d be offended if someone else did though, wouldn’t you? That’s the point I’m trying to make, Chet. We don’t know anything about Johnny’s religious beliefs, but I’d say you certainly managed to offend him there.” Marco got to his feet. “Some things are off limits, Chet. Yes, one or two of the early jokes were amusing, but most of them were just crass. I’m pretty disgusted with Roy, too.” He walked over to the fridge and started rummaging in it for something to cook. Although they didn’t feel like eating, they needed to keep their energy up. The shift still had a long time to run.
Looking at Marco’s back for a long moment, Chet thought about what his friend had said. He caught Mike’s eye and realized that he had really over-stepped the bounds. He hadn’t given any thought to offending Johnny, convinced the younger man would forgive because he was only teasing. Now he could see that Johnny had been incredibly hurt and he could see that Roy’s feeble attempts to lighten the atmosphere by claiming that he liked the jokes had only made things worse.
Making his way to the locker room to be alone for a few moments, Chet paused crossing the bay. The engine stood there in solitary glory. Chet knew the squad was at the hospital, for he had driven it there himself, leaving the keys with a nurse as the engine was toned out again. But he could visualize the squad sitting in its usual spot and the young Indian paramedic looking at the pathetic little pipe with a few paltry feathers attached to it. Chet could see Johnny’s face as clearly as though the man was standing in front of him. There was anger in that face, and disgust and as he left, declaring, “That’s not funny!” it was clear there was deep hurt, too.
Chet felt like a total heel.
Waiting at Rampart, Roy felt like a complete heel, too. With nothing to do but wait, his mind replayed the day’s events over and over and he could feel his face burning as he recalled protesting, “Hey, I liked those jokes.” Why had he said something as utterly stupid as that? He knew that Johnny did not find the whole situation anything even approaching amusing. The jokes were not that good; in fact, Chet’s jokes were terrible. Worse, they were racist and ignorant. Why had Roy encouraged Chet? Scrubbing his hands over his face, Roy knew he had a lot of apologizing to do to Johnny. He just hoped the younger man would be as forgiving as usual, although if he wasn’t, Roy wouldn’t blame him in the slightest.
“Penny for your thoughts,” Dixie said, coming to sit down beside him. She eyed the stone cold, untouched coffee that still sat in front of Roy.
“They aren’t worth a penny,” he denied.
“They looked pretty deep,” she hinted. “Worrying about Johnny? It shouldn’t be much longer.”
“Yeah, I’m worried about him,” Roy confessed, “but that wasn’t what I was thinking about.” He looked down at the coffee for a moment. “Chet’s been winding him up for days about being an Indian. But today, he took it to a new level and I was stupid enough to encourage him and now I feel awful.” He shook his head. “You should’ve seen Johnny’s face! I’ve never seen anyone look so hurt.”
“Oh, Roy!” The disappointment in Dixie’s voice was clear. “I never thought you would do that.”
“I never thought I would either,” Roy admitted. “I feel terrible. I owe Johnny such a big apology and I just hope he’ll forgive me.”
“I’m sure he will,” Dixie soothed. “We all make mistakes and Johnny is the most forgiving man I know.”
“I know, but do I deserve to be forgiven?” Roy was an absolute master of beating himself up.
“I don’t know,” Dixie replied. “But it seems to me that you do. After all, you didn’t call him some ghastly racial slur, did you?” Roy shook his head. “Did you come in wearing a war bonnet and make fun of it? No. I think Johnny will forgive you. He’ll probably even forgive Chet. As long as you both learn from this.”
“Believe me, I have,” Roy vowed. “I don’t know what I was thinking.”
“All you can do now is apologize to Johnny,” Dixie soothed. “But wait until he’s feeling a bit better. You don’t want to drop this on him right now. He has enough to deal with.” She patted his shoulder. “I’ll go and see how they’re doing.”
She was back within a few minutes. “Johnny’s just been brought to Recovery. You can see him there for a few minutes, then he’s going up to ICU.”
“How did it go?” Roy asked, rising and following Dixie.
“As far as I know, it went well,” she responded. “Kel will tell you more.”
There were a few patients in Recovery. Roy could see Johnny lying a few beds away. His face was pale and covered by an oxygen mask. A bandage was swathed around his head, but Roy couldn’t see any others, as the blankets were pulled up and he wore a hospital gown. IVs dripped into both arms, one of them containing blood. Roy swallowed against a sick feeling.
Dr Brackett was standing by the nurse’s desk, obviously have given her a report. “Roy,” he said, by way of greeting.
“How is he, doc?” Roy asked.
“All things considered, not bad,” Brackett replied. “He lost a lot of blood and we had to remove the damaged part of his liver. We washed out the abdominal cavity, but we’ve started him on antibiotics because it is so difficult to get all the bacteria out. The bowel was intact, which is really good news. No other organs were damaged, although his right kidney is slightly bruised, so we’ll watch that. We cleaned and stitched the head wound. It’s been classified as a skull fracture because there is a tiny chip in the bone, but it shouldn’t cause any problems. Again, we’ll be watching that closely.” Brackett glanced down at Johnny’s chart, but didn’t lift it up. “He’s got a bit of a temp at the moment, but that’s undoubtedly due to the trauma and surgery. Again, we’ll keep an eye on it. You can see him for a few minutes, Roy, but we’re going to keep him sedated for today to give his body a chance to rest. I expect him to make a full recovery, with time.”
“Thanks, doc,” Roy replied. All that mattered was that Johnny would be okay.
Making his way over to the bed, Roy leaned over to get a closer look at his friend. Under the edge of the bandage on his head, he could see the beginnings of what would probably be spectacular bruising. Roy made a mental note to examine Johnny’s helmet when he went back to the station. He put a hand on Johnny’s arm, feeling the warmth there. “You’re gonna be all right, Junior,” he whispered. “Johnny, I’m so sorry about today. I was stupid and hope you can forgive me.” Johnny slept on, still deeply under the anesthesia. “I’ll see you later,” Roy concluded, patted his arm and made his way back to the group at the door. “Thanks, doc,” he added. “I’d better get back to the station.”
“You’re welcome to see him if you’re here,” Brackett told him. “And of course we’ll phone if there are any problems, but I don’t really anticipate anything major.” He patted the paramedic on the back. “He’s tough.”
“Yeah,” Roy agreed. “Yeah, he is.”
“What do you mean?” Roy asked sharply into the phone the next morning. The other men sitting at the table glanced up at him. This didn’t sound good and they knew he was talking to Dr Brackett. “So what happens next?” he enquired after listening for a while. “Well, yes, I suppose it is,” he went on, “but… all right. Yes, I see. Bye.”
“What’s wrong?” Hank asked.
Resuming his seat at the table, Roy wasn’t quite sure what to tell them. “Well, the good news is that Johnny’s kidney is working fine, so we don’t have to worry there.”
“And the bad news?” Chet asked, his voice meeker than anyone could remember. He had been abnormally quiet for the last part of the shift.
“They reduced Johnny’s sedation overnight and expected him to be awake this morning. But he hasn’t woken up. Dr Brackett wants me to go over after the shift and see if the sound of my voice will rouse him.” Privately, Roy wondered if Johnny would want him anywhere near.
“And if it doesn’t?” It was Cap this time. Chet had his head down, as though he couldn’t bear to hear the answer. Mike and Marco looked stricken.
“I don’t know. It’s only been not quite 24 hours,” Roy explained. “It could be that the anesthetic and sedation on top of him being unconscious has been too much for his system and he’ll just take a bit longer to waken up.”
“Or?” That was Mike, looking at Roy with a serious expression that suggested he knew the answer but hoped that he was wrong.
“Or it may be that he’s in a coma,” Roy admitted.
There was a silence as the other men digested the news. It wasn’t what they had wanted to hear. “How do they bring him out of a coma?” Chet asked, his voice barely audible.
“There’s nothing you can do,” Roy answered bleakly. “No medicines, no magic, no miracles.”
Abruptly, Chet shoved his chair back and hurried from the room. Marco got up more slowly and went to follow his friend. He knew what was on Chet’s mind. He found the other man leaning on the back of the engine. “It’s my fault,” he said as Marco approached.
“How do you work that one out?” Marco asked.
“God’s punishing me for being so horrible to Johnny,” Chet cried.
“Just think about that statement for a minute,” Marco spluttered, slightly stunned at the depth of Chet’s skewed reasoning. “You’re basically saying that Johnny is a pawn to be hurt to teach you a lesson; that you are more important that he is. Do you really think God works like that? Because I don’t. This is because some nutter with a rifle decided to shoot at him and got off a lucky shot that gave Johnny a bad head injury. You saw the dent in his helmet. Chet, we don’t know why things happen; they just do. But we have to have faith and pray that Johnny will come out of the coma.”
“We don’t even know if he’s Catholic,” Chet muttered, to undone to listen to what he was saying.
“I don’t suppose it matters,” Marco replied. “It’s not his faith that we’re talking about here, it’s ours. Prayers never go unheard, even if we never hear the answer.” Marco patted Chet on the shoulder. “Johnny is strong. A lot happened to him. Perhaps his body just needs the rest and that’s why he isn’t waking up. We simply don’t know. Roy said that. Listen, why don’t you come to Mass with me when we get off?”
“Yeah, thanks, I will,” Chet agreed. He hadn’t been to Mass in years, but right now, it seemed to be exactly what he needed.
There were no last-minute runs to slow down their exit that morning. Roy was out of the door almost the instant his replacement came in. He knew the others would be in to see Johnny during regular visiting hours, but if there was any fresh news, he would let them know.
By habit, he went in through the ER. It was still fairly quiet – the morning rush would start once the commuters were on the move. He spotted Dixie, Brackett and Early down at the base station. They were all drinking coffee. Brackett looked up at his approach. “Roy,” he nodded.
“Hi,” Roy said, generally. “I don’t suppose there’s any change?”
“Not that I’ve heard since I came down here,” Brackett replied kindly. “I’m sorry; I know that’s not what you want to hear. But the good news is there is no rise in intra-cranial pressure, although we will, of course, continue to monitor that. He simply isn’t waking up.”
“C’mon Roy, I’ll go up with you,” Dixie offered. She slid off her stool and linked her arm through his. It was a simple, friendly gesture and it filled his heart with gratitude for the comfort it brought.
“Thanks,” he managed to reply. He allowed himself to be tugged gently towards the elevators.
“I know you’re worried,” Dixie commented as the door closed on the ER. “We all are, but there is hope. Johnny is young and tough. His body went through quite a bit of trauma with the shooting and the surgery, never mind the head injury.”
“I know,” Roy agreed, although he didn’t sound altogether convinced.
“And you did everything you could,” Dixie reminded him. “By the sounds of things, Johnny didn’t even realize he had been shot.”
“No, I don’t think he did,” Roy agreed. “I even wonder if a bullet didn’t get him as he rappelled down, but I honestly don’t remember when the shooting stopped.” He thought back. “Perhaps it was as we tied off the tarp. Who knows?”
“Does it matter?” Dixie asked. “It happened and now we deal with it. You need to keep your strength up so that you help Johnny when he really needs you there. Deal?”
“Deal,” Roy nodded. He followed Dixie down the corridor and she waved at the nurses before taking Roy into Johnny’s room.
It was a private room, for which Roy was very grateful. He hated the thought of his unconscious partner being peered at by perhaps-unsympathetic strangers visiting someone else in the same room. Johnny lay on his back, his body limp and his facial features relaxed. He was still pale and receiving blood products. Given that the liver was a very blood-rich organ, there was no surprise that he still needed help in that department. He still bore a nasal cannula and a bag half full of slightly blood-tinged urine hung from the end of the bed. IVs dripped into both arms. The bandage on his head had been changed from the night before and was slightly smaller, showing more of the dark blue/purple bruising round the wound. He was pale.
After a moment to allow Roy to absorb his partner’s appearance, Dixie stepped forward and took Johnny’s hand. “Hey, Johnny,” she said cheerfully. “I’ve brought Roy up to see you at last. I told you I would, didn’t I? I’ll see you a bit later when I get my break.” She leaned over and kissed his cheek. With a smile at Roy, she left the two men alone.
Feeling awkward, Roy walked slowly over to the bed. Johnny had not moved. He put his hand over Johnny’s and felt the underlying warmth to his skin. It was almost certainly due to at least a mild infection and Roy raised his head to look over the bags hanging from the IV stands. A strong antibiotic hung from one of them. It was a reassuring sight.
Sighing and feeling unutterably weary, Roy sat down in the chair by the bed and threaded his hand through the raised bed side. “Hey, partner,” he said. “What’s all this about you sleeping so soundly? Brackett wants you to wake up. I wouldn’t mind you waking up either. Why didn’t you say you’d been shot? You know, Johnny, I think your trick with the tarp probably saved our lives. I want to thank you for that, but I sure wish the bullets had missed you in the same way they missed me.”
The hand under his lay quiescent. Roy talked for another hour before the nurses chased him out. Johnny hadn’t stirred at all the whole time. It was hard not to feel discouraged. Roy paused at the door to look back. The nurse had pulled the blankets back and was lifting his gown to check the wound. Roy decided he would rather not see it and averted his eyes. “I’ll be back later,” he croaked out and heard the nurse acknowledge him.
It hadn’t been her he’d been talking to.
He’d had to check that there was nobody else in the room before he went in and although he must have looked like some kind of idiot peering cautiously through the crack between the door and the hinges, he couldn’t help himself. He didn’t want anyone else here while he made his confession – his first confession.
It was difficult to get started. Chet sat down, then stood up and then walked over to the window and looked out. His shift mate lay quietly behind him on the bed, looking like he was sleeping, but rather pale compared to normal. Chet hated looking at him like that. It wasn’t right that Johnny should be so still. If Johnny was awake, he always seemed to be moving. It was just the enormous amount of energy that Johnny had stored up that he projected all the time. Chet knew his friend could be still when required, like when they were fishing, but seeing Johnny like this was different.
He sat down again and sighed. He had thought it might be easier to talk to Johnny when he wasn’t awake, especially after he had actually made a confession to a priest at Marco’s church. It wasn’t. And the damnable thing was that unless Johnny woke up as soon as he started speaking, he was going to have to do the whole thing for a third time once Johnny did wake up.
Hesitating wasn’t making it any easier either. Chet cleared his throat. “Gage.” No, that wouldn’t do. “John, I … I … I just wanted to say sorry.” He rose to his feet and started pacing. “Gee, I’m turning into you,” he commented to his somnolent companion. He forced himself to sit back down. “Johnny, I wish I hadn’t said what I did to you. I wish you’d wake up so I don’t have to say this again.” He looked at the other man, who hadn’t moved. “Guess not, huh? I suppose that would spoil your fun.” He ran a hand through his curly hair and found his eyes drawn to the bandage on Johnny’s head. A pang shot through his gut. They had come too close to losing him this time. “John, I didn’t mean to be a racist, honestly I didn’t. I don’t know much about the Indians; I suppose I don’t know anything but what the films taught me and you say that’s wrong. I’m not doubting your word, don’t get me wrong. I just don’t quite know where to go to find out.”
Now that he had started, the words poured out of Chet. “Marco really gave me a hard time, you know. I don’t know why I did that, Johnny, I really don’t. I’m not a bigot, regardless of how I sounded. After Marco spoke to me, I thought about it and I wouldn’t have done it to him, or Morton. So why did I do it to you? I don’t know. I should have known better, but Indians were always fair game. I was taught you were savages and I really believed the stuff I read in that anthropology book. It’s dumb of me to think that a scientist would know better than someone who lived on a reservation, but I’m not the sharpest pencil in the box sometimes. And you’d better not repeat that to anyone,” he threatened and then felt foolish. Johnny hadn’t even heard him. “I wish you’d wake up,” he added. “I even went to church and made confession and prayed that you’ll get better. I hope you don’t mind. I don’t know anything about your religion; to be honest, I don’t know that much about you and I wish I did now. I bet you have some cool stories to tell.”
Slumping down in the chair, Chet felt a little better. But he knew his conscience wouldn’t rest until he could tell Johnny properly and have Gage go mad at him, or hit him and shout at him. Chet was not the most sensitive of men and knew his mouth often started going before his brain was engaged, but he knew that Johnny was a nice guy, sensitive and easily hurt. He was also the most forgiving person that Chet had ever met and he hoped and prayed that this time, Johnny would forgive him as he always forgave him for the water bombs and other pranks inflicted on him by Chet’s alter ego the Phantom. If Johnny chose not to forgive him, Chet knew that he would only have himself to blame.
But it would hurt very deeply nonetheless.
Arriving at the hospital, Cap was rather surprised to run into Chet at the elevators. His lineman was coming out of one as Cap approached. “Chet! Have you been to see John?”
Looking round, as though to see who was in the vicinity, Chet nodded. “Uh, yeah I saw the pigeon,” he muttered and looked embarrassed.
“How does he look?” Cap asked, deciding to ignore Chet’s behavior. It was often the best way. For some reason, the man hated to be caught doing something nice.
“Asleep, kinda,” Chet replied. His eyes darted around, looking for an escape. He really didn’t want to talk about his visit. He didn’t want Cap to know the full depths he had gone to while teasing Johnny. The Department frowned upon racism, even though there were certain elements who hated the admission of minorities. If Johnny decided to make a complaint, Chet would be suspended, probably without pay, and most likely sacked after a hearing. In fact, Roy could have the same problem! What if Johnny did make a complaint? What if Cap had overheard everything and decided to make the complaint on Johnny’s behalf? Chet’s heartbeat picked up dramatically.
While he had no idea of the thoughts that were currently swirling through Chet’s mind, Cap could see that something had him agitated. He put a hand on Chet’s shoulder. “We’ve got to think positively,” he told his lineman kindly. “I know it’s difficult to see Johnny like this, but we’ve got to believe that he’ll wake up in a day or so and be fine.”
“Yeah, I guess so,” Chet agreed.
Still puzzled, Cap decided to let Chet go. “Why don’t you go and get some rest and I’ll see you next shift if I don’t see you here.”
“Yeah, I’ll do that,” Chet nodded and sidled off looking shifty.
While he went up to Gage’s room, Cap thought about Chet. He knew some of the teasing that had been going on and guessed, from Johnny’s demeanor at the station before the shooting, and by Chet’s attitude now, that it had gone a lot further than he knew about. He hoped, by the way Chet was acting now, that his lineman knew that what he had done was not funny. Cap didn’t want to have to report Chet. He wanted his men to sort this out for themselves, but if he found out that it hadn’t been, once John was better, he would be forced to take action and he really didn’t want to do that.
Captain Stanley had been at Station 51 for three years now and he knew he was very lucky. It was his first captaincy and he had come into a cohesive team with some exceptional men on it. Mike Stoker was, quite possibly, the best engineer he had come across. One day, he would make an outstanding captain. Chet and Marco were as good, if not better, than any linemen he had worked with and Roy and John were already legends when he joined the team, just over a year after paramedics were introduced to the public.
His luck ran deeper than that. His men were a good team and what’s more, they all liked each other. They got together on high days and holidays and met socially at other times. Chet picked on Johnny, but generally, his pranks were amusing, even if Johnny didn’t always find them so at the time. Cap knew he was lucky not just because of his men’s abilities, but because they had stayed together. That wasn’t always the case. Captain Hookraider, who pulled B shift at 51, had had his team replaced at least twice over since Stanley had started working there. He was a hard man to work for and although Stanley respected him, he didn’t like him.
So yes, Hank Stanley regarded himself as very fortunate indeed. His step slowed as he approached Johnny’s door. But if John couldn’t come back to work, he wondered how long it would be before his dream team had gone. Because, for a reason Stanley couldn’t quite fathom, John Gage was the cohesion that kept the team together. He drove them all nuts with his wild schemes, horrific manners and endless rants, but his energy and professionalism kept them all going through the roughest of calls.
Which of them would be the first to leave? Cap wondered as he hoped the door to Johnny’s room. Would it be Roy, unable to work with anyone else in the squad? Or would it be Chet, for the two of them kept the others from getting a bit too staid? Glancing up at heaven, Cap prayed he would never have to find out.
“Hi, John,” he said and sat down.
When Mike Stoker arrived, Cap was still there. The nurse had been in and taken Johnny’s vitals, checked his medication and given him a little pain relief. She had looked slightly concerned by Johnny’s temperature and Cap could feel for himself that Johnny was very warm to the touch. There had been no sign of a doctor so far, but Cap wouldn’t be at all surprised if Dr Brackett was soon coming through the door.
“Hi, Mike,” Cap said.
“Hi,” Mike responded. He stepped over to the bed and looked down on Johnny. At the moment, John’s head was turned to the left, so the bandage and bruising were not visible. “Hey, Johnny,” Mike murmured. He put his hand down on Johnny’s arm. “He’s pretty warm, Cap.”
“I know,” Cap replied. “The nurse was in a while ago and took his temperature, so I guess we may see a doctor before long.”
“Have you heard from Roy since he left here this morning?” Mike asked.
“Just a phone call after he got home to say there was no change. You?”
“No, that’s all I got, too.” Mike looked back at Johnny. “We’re waiting for you to wake up, John,” he said. “You don’t want to make me do a lot of talking, do you?”
“Can you?” Cap asked and Mike turned a bewildered face to him. “Talk a lot,” he amplified. “You make it sound like a threat.” He laughed.
“It was a threat,” Mike agreed. “Have you ever heard me talk a lot?”
“Only when necessary,” Cap replied, smiling. He and Mike had had some interesting talks about working the gauges on the engines many a time.
“See?” Mike joked. He turned back to Johnny. “You never know what might happen if I have to talk a lot, Johnny.” There was a pause. “I guess it’s not like the movies, is it?” Mike mused. “They don’t wake up because you say something they want to respond to.”
“No,” Cap agreed, sighing heavily. “I sure wish it was.”
“Have you seen the news?” Mike asked after a while.
“No, why?” Cap answered.
“They’ve picked up on the story,” Mike explained. “I guess it won’t be long before they find out where Johnny is and the cameras take up residence outside. I don’t know how they found out, but the report I saw mentioned Johnny by name.”
“We don’t need reporters trying to get in here and film him,” Cap growled.
“I had a word with the desk when I came in,” Mike agreed. “I don’t know if they’ll do anything or if we have to alert Dr Brackett, or security or what.”
They both turned as the door opened, fully expecting Dr Brackett to have been summoned by just the mention of his name. As it happened, it was Roy with Dixie and Marco. “Hi,” Dixie said, smiling at them and went over and dropped a kiss onto Johnny’s cheek.
“Well, where’s Chet?” Roy asked. “I thought he’d be here already.”
“Been and gone, pal,” Cap replied. “I met him leaving as I came in.” He rose and moved aside to let Roy and Marco come closer. “Dixie, Mike was just telling me the media has got hold of this story. He did mention it at the desk, but is there anyone else we should tell? We don’t want cameras getting in here and filming John like this.”
“I’ll make sure nothing happens,” Dixie replied. “I haven’t seen the news today. Thanks, Mike. We certainly don’t want them getting in here. Johnny needs his beauty sleep in peace.” Dixie was as good as her word and set off at once to alert Dr Brackett and organize what needed to be done.
A few minutes after she had gone, Dr Brackett himself appeared. He greeted them all economically and picked up Johnny’s chart. “What’s causing the temperature?” Roy asked. “Is it peritonitis?”
“To be perfectly honest, I’m not altogether sure,” Brackett replied. “It doesn’t seem to be peritonitis, because his abdomen is soft.” He moved to Johnny’s side, pulled back the covers and his gown and tested the abdomen again. It was clearly soft. “It’s not sepsis, either,” he added. “His last lot of blood cultures, taken this morning, are fine.”
“His kidney?” Roy asked in that deceptively soft voice that didn’t fool anyone.
“Working very well and the haematuria is lessening.”
“What about the burns on his arm?” Roy asked. The burns seemed such a minor, insignificant thing compared to the bullet wounds. Despite the bandages Johnny still bore on his arms, the others had pretty much forgotten about them.
“They are healing very nicely,” Brackett replied. “The bandages could be off as soon as tomorrow.” His brow furrowed. “It could be something completely unrelated to the shooting. His wounds are clean; it’s not peritonitis or sepsis. What have your runs been for recently?”
For a few moments, Roy couldn’t remember any run prior to the burning toilet the previous day. “They were just the usual sorts of things,” he remembered. “MVAs, heart attacks, a drunk. I don’t remember anything out of the ordinary.”
“It must be a bug of some kind,” Brackett mused. “None of the staff who have treated him have turned up ill, so it must be someone outside the hospital and station environment.”
There was silence while they all thought about the last few days. Roy’s head suddenly lifted. “I wonder,” he mused and crossed to his partner and started looking at the back of his neck and under the gown. “Oh no,” he murmured.
“What?” Brackett was at his side in moments, looking at what Roy had found. “Is that…?”
“Chickenpox,” Roy concluded. “One of our runs about a week ago was to a home where the mother had fallen. Her kids were at home with chickenpox. I never thought about it. I just assumed that Johnny had had it.”
“Have you guys all had it?” Brackett asked urgently. They nodded. “What about Chet?”
“I don’t know,” Cap admitted. He glanced at his watch. “He might have got home by now. I’ll try him.” He went over to the phone and dialed, but after a few moments, it was clear Chet was not yet home. “I’ll stop past on my way home,” Cap offered. “How is this going to affect John?”
“Chickenpox in adults can be very serious,” Brackett responded. “We need to watch him for pneumonia for a start.” For someone who was generally bursting with good health, when Johnny was injured, he was susceptible to all sorts of things. “From now on, everyone who comes in contact with John must be gowned and masked. We daren’t risk him catching anything else.” He turned and strode from the room to issue the new orders to the nurses and start Johnny on Tylenol for his fever.
Cap followed shortly afterwards, anxious to check on Chet. Mike soon headed off and Marco didn’t stay long, sensing that Roy wanted to be alone with his partner. He was glad that his colleagues were so sensitive to his moods. He did want to be alone with Johnny, to talk to him, to watch over him, to be his family. Most of all, he wanted to be able to waken Johnny and cure the chickenpox and make sure that nothing else in the whole world could hurt him.
It wasn’t possible; Roy knew that. Johnny was not a child to be protected from the world. He was a grown man in a dangerous job who accepted the risks that came his way with a cheerful smile and a youthful outlook on life. He was the brother that Roy had never had; the brother he would happily strangle some days, but who was fiercely loved throughout.
Catching chickenpox was a big set-back; there was no doubt about that. And how utterly typical of Johnny to come down with something out of the ordinary. “Oh, Johnny,” Roy sighed and there was a hint of humor in his tone. “You’ve gotta wake up. Just think of the marvelous rant you can have about catching a kid’s disease!” The laughter caught on a sob as he put his hand on Johnny’s arm.
Despite the Tylenol and cooling cloths, Johnny’s temperature continued to rise. Within two hours of Roy’s arrival, the few spots on Johnny’s neck and chest had multiplied until they were, literally, everywhere. You could barely put a pinhead between them. Johnny’s breathing became congested and he was put back on oxygen and his antibiotics increased. Calamine lotion was applied to the spots to help any itching. Although Johnny was highly unlikely to scratch, given that he was in a coma, they still wanted to keep him as comfortable as possible. When his temperature spiked to over 103o Brackett ordered him to be moved to the ICU.
Moving Johnny was tricky as they didn’t want to burst any of the spots which would cause scarring. It was an impossibility to not burst any, but the orderlies, gowned, masked and gloved, managed remarkably well. Cooling blankets were waiting for him in ICU. They finally started doing the trick, but had to be kept going for every time they were removed, Johnny’s fever spiked again.
Finally, about 10pm, Brackett kicked Roy out to go home. “You need to get some sleep,” Brackett told him firmly. “You can come back tomorrow, but not before 10am. You know that the next few days are going to be critical and I can appreciate you want to be here, but you aren’t going to do Johnny any favors if you collapse, too.”
“What about you?” Roy challenged.
“I’m on my way home, too,” Brackett replied. “Look – no white coat.” He summoned a grim smile. “You do need to rest, Roy.”
“I know,” Roy capitulated. He gave Johnny a last look and preceded Brackett out of the room.
There was no change for the good in the morning. Johnny’s breathing was more congested than ever. His abdominal wound was looking pink and slightly inflamed and his temperature still raged. He was no nearer consciousness than he had been since he had collapsed after being shot and Roy knew that the longer he was unconscious, the smaller the chances that he’d wake up and not have some sort of impairment. The physical therapists were visiting to keep his muscles going, they had to be careful when handling him, but they could only do so much.
At least they could do something. Roy sat by Johnny’s bed, talking now and then, holding his hand, bathing his face with cool water and felt utterly useless. It seemed that nothing he did actually accomplished anything. It seemed to Roy that the measures the doctors were taking weren’t doing anything either. It was completely and utterly frustrating and the need to vent and let off some steam built steadily.
The worst thing was he had to work the following day. Having had a vacation a few months before, Roy had no personal time left for sitting with Johnny and he couldn’t afford to take an unpaid leave of absence. To add to his frustration, the runs to Rampart were few and far between and only once did he manage to get two minutes with his friend. It took longer to get gowned and masked than he got to stay and visit. Later, Roy couldn’t even remember who his partner was that day.
Overnight, they were toned out to a big fire. It was long after shift’s end before they got back to the barn and the men were so weary that they had no thought but to go straight home and get some much needed sleep. It was the first decent sleep Roy had had since Johnny was injured.
He woke mid-afternoon and went straight to Rampart. Johnny was breathing noisily, his every breath fogging the oxygen mask. Every inch of his skin was thickly coated in calamine, leaving him an eerie pink/white color. He was still sandwiched between the cooling blankets and the machine that ran them left the small room uncomfortably hot. Roy sat down, feeling like an idiot in the gown and mask. It was all too reminiscent of when Johnny had had the monkey virus and wasn’t expected to live. This time, at least, the masks were for Johnny’s protection, not Roy’s, but that was little comfort.
His friend was perceptibly cooler to the touch. Roy didn’t know if that was the blankets finally taking effect or if the chickenpox was loosening its hold. Either way, that was good news. Roy started telling Johnny about the fire they had had the previous night, explaining why he hadn’t been there earlier in the day. The nurse came in.
“His spots are crusting over,” she announced cheerfully.
“That’s great news!” Roy declared, knowing, from experience with his own kids, that once the spots crusted, the temperature went away and the patient got better. “I think his temperature is down a bit.”
“Yes, it’s only 101,” the nurse agreed. “Once it gets below 100, we can get rid of the blankets.”
“You hear that, Johnny?” Roy asked. “Nearly there.” He didn’t notice the nurse giving him a pitying look. While she was careful what she said around patients who were unconscious or on ventilators, she didn’t really believe that they heard anything and she thought it was sad that this paramedic, who should know better, thought his partner was going to be all right.
By the time Roy left at the end of visiting hours, Johnny’s temperature was under 100 and his spots were all crusted over. He had started to recover.
However, he was still in a coma.
When Roy next went back on shift, Johnny was out of ICU and back in his private room. His spots were healing well and his wounds from the shooting were also healing. The burns on his arms were just a distant memory, although the skin was still a bit pink. But Johnny still lay as though asleep, reacting to nothing. Brackett kept an eye on his brain pressure, but it was holding steady at a normal pressure and there was nothing more that could be done. If Johnny didn’t show signs of coming around soon, he would need to be moved to a care home, as there was nothing else the hospital could do for him medically.
That shift at work, Roy was very quiet. He saw Johnny every time they were at Rampart, but he didn’t want to admit to the others how depressed he was becoming at his partner’s lack of response. Already, the number of people who were visiting Johnny was dropping off and Roy feared that once Johnny was moved to a care facility, he would be the only person still going regularly and even his visits would have to be curtailed to accommodate normal life. It was a horrible thought, but an undeniable truth.
There were other decisions that Roy would have to make then and he was trying not to think about them. Would he keep paying the rent on Johnny’s apartment, or let it go? Sell his truck or keep it? For the first time, he wished that he wasn’t Johnny’s medical power of attorney. He’d prefer someone else to make those decisions for him.
They were at Rampart again on a follow-up and Roy grabbed the HT and headed upstairs. Dwyer, his partner of the day, went to hit on the nurses and grab a cup of coffee while he was at it. Roy waved to the floor nurses as he arrived and went into the room.
As ever, Johnny lay on his back. Roy knew that he was turned regularly to prevent bed sores, but the nurses tended to ‘arrange’ him on his back, with his limbs straight. It looked incredibly unnatural, and Roy often eased the strict positioning.
Today, for no reason that Roy could see, Johnny looked uncomfortable. Roy chatted away while he moved Johnny’s limbs into a more comfortable position and his partner sighed.
For a long moment, Roy just stared at Johnny. That was new. Did it mean anything? Or was it just an aberration? Roy tried to quell the excitement rising inside him. Johnny probably did that all the time and Roy simply hadn’t noticed or wasn’t around to see it. A sigh was just a sigh, as the song went. He didn’t dare read too much into it.
Going back down to the ER, Roy looked around for Brackett, but there was no sign of him. However, Dixie was there and Roy told her. “It could be something, it could be nothing,” she agreed. “I’ll speak to Kel about it, but I wouldn’t get your hopes up too high, Roy.”
“I know,” Roy nodded. “I won’t.” But he couldn’t quite help allowing his spirits to rise a little.
The rest of the shift was manic and Roy, although back at Rampart several times, didn’t have an opportunity to go up to see Johnny. When they were off shift next morning, Roy went home for breakfast and had a nap before heading down to the hospital.
There was a decided change in Johnny. Brackett met Roy and went upstairs with him. “Johnny is coming perceptibly closer to the surface,” Brackett explained as they went. “He’s moving more, making sounds, sighing, the kind of things people do as they are waking up from sleep. Of course, Johnny isn’t waking up from sleep, but you get the idea. He almost certainly won’t just wake up and talk to you, the way you see in books and movies and TV. I’ll be bit by bit and anything he says will probably be garbled initially, until his brain and his body catch up with each other.”
“Is he going to be… all right?” Roy asked, ducking the hard words ‘brain damaged’ at the last moment.
“I don’t know,” Brackett replied. “I certainly hope so. We don’t know exactly why he’s been in a coma or even why he’s starting to come out of it now. I heard Mike Stoker suggested an interesting theory about it though.”
“He did?” Roy blinked. “I didn’t hear that.”
“Yeah, he apparently told Chet, who told Johnny on one of his visits here. Mike told Chet that perhaps Johnny’s body needed the rest and simply didn’t let him wake up until his body was ready. Let’s be honest, it’s as good a theory as I can come up with, and it does hold water to a point. Johnny’s body is healing very well and he would have had a hard time coping with both the injuries and the chickenpox. Now that the worst of both of those is over, he’s starting to wake up. Of course, there’s no scientific proof for that – apart from the fact that we often sedate people, put them on a ventilator, let them rest and then waken them when the worst is over.” Brackett shrugged. “Mike could well be right. And I’ve seen enough inexplicable things in this business not to knock anyone’s theory.”
“I didn’t know Chet had been back,” Roy mentioned, his mind still feeling the way around Stoker’s idea. It really did seem to fit. “I haven’t seen him here.”
“Oh, he’s been here, but only when he’s sure there’s no one else to see him.” Brackett chuckled. “From what Dixie overheard, it seems Chet has a guilty conscience about something and is practicing his apology, perhaps in the hope that Johnny might remember hearing it before and not make him go through it again.”
“I’ve been doing the same,” Roy confessed. “Chet and I were both out of line.”
“I’m pretty sure Johnny will forgive you,” Brackett replied, but it wasn’t in a trite tone. He sounded sincere. “You and Chet have been his most regular visitors and I know that you care deeply for Johnny and I suspect Chet does, too, even if he would deny it. Johnny’s not dumb, Roy; he knows you both are his friends and even friends can make mistakes sometimes.”
“Thanks, doc,” Roy answered gratefully.
Johnny was perceptibly nearer the surface than he had been the day before. Gone was the abnormal stillness; he moved around as though slightly uncomfortable and sighed and his eyes opened and closed. He moaned and muttered things in a low voice that clearly weren’t English. Roy was not sure which tribe Johnny belonged to and Johnny had never volunteered the information, but it was obvious that this was his native tongue.
As he had been doing since the shooting, Roy took a seat and started chatting, telling Johnny about the previous day’s shift. He was certain that Johnny was listening to him, for a couple of times he had started to get a bit agitated and Roy had soothed him. Both times it had worked and Johnny had settled again. Roy allowed his hopes to soar. Somehow, he just knew Johnny would be all right.
It was another three days before Johnny was awake enough to follow instructions. He quickly made strides from that point, talking by the late afternoon, just gibberish to begin with, but by the next day, he was coherent, answering questions put to him clearly if slowly for him.
Naturally, his memory had been affected, but he did remember the call where he had been shot, although that information had stunned him. “I can’t have been!” he protested.
“Look,” Roy told him, pulling back the hospital gown and showing him the healing scar on his abdomen. He held out a hand mirror so Johnny could see the scar on his head. The hair was already growing back.
“I don’t believe it,” Johnny said, but there was no belligerence in his voice; he did believe what he had been told, it was just difficult to accept. “And chickenpox? That’s a kid’s disease!” It was music to Roy’s ears.
Gradually, over the next few days, Johnny was helped to get back on his feet, and in his characteristic manner, he was soon pushing himself to regain his lost strength. Although his muscles were a bit weak from lack of use, there was no impairment. Huge sighs of relief were heard from all round.
It was another three weeks before Johnny was deemed fit to return to his own home and even that was quicker than Brackett had originally anticipated. It would be another couple of weeks before he could return to work, but he would be returning.
It wasn’t unusual for Roy to turn up on his doorstep, but Roy seldom looked as hang-dog as he looked that day. “What’s up, Roy?” Johnny asked, as his friend declined coffee, soda or beer.
“I have an apology to make,” Roy confessed. “And it’s not easy.”
Frowning, Johnny gestured to Roy to sit down. “What apology?” he asked. “What for?”
“For being so oblivious to your feelings,” Roy replied, which really didn’t clear things up for Johnny.
“When?” Johnny asked, for being oblivious to feelings was more often his department than Roy’s.
“Before you were shot,” Roy replied. “Chet was being awful to you, teasing you and then he brought out the peace pipe and I said I liked the jokes. I didn’t mean to hurt you, Johnny and I know it’s no excuse, but I was just trying to lighten the atmosphere. But I shouldn’t have said that. I was completely wrong. There is never any excuse for joking about someone’s heritage. I hope you can forgive me, but I’ll understand if you can’t.”
“Is that what’s been on your mind for the last few weeks?” Johnny asked.
“Yeah,” Roy nodded.
“Oh, geez, Roy, of course I forgive you,” Johnny replied, relieved. “I know you’re not really like that. We all make mistakes.”
“Really?” Roy was amazed.
“Really,” Johnny nodded. “I hope you haven’t been worrying about this since I got shot.” Johnny still had a bit of trouble believing he’d been shot and had chickenpox.
“Well, I have on and off,” Roy admitted. “But there were one or two other things to worry about in between times.”
“Well, forget about it,” Johnny advised. “I have.” He proved his point by immediately changing the subject and it didn’t come up between the two of them again.
Chet showed up the night before Johnny was due to start back. Like Roy had a couple of weeks before, Chet looked completely hang-dog. He handed Johnny the six-pack he was carrying. “I came to apologize again for being so racist,” he mumbled, speaking very quickly indeed. “I shouldn’t have done it.”
“No, you shouldn’t,” Johnny agreed, letting Chet in.
“I was ignorant,” Chet cried. “I thought I was being funny. I don’t know why Indians are still considered fair game for discrimination, but I should’ve known better. I’m sorry.”
Chet’s pranks and remarks had hurt Johnny deeply, but he knew that Chet, for all his irritating ways, wasn’t malicious and wasn’t a bigot. Hell, in some way that Johnny could never fathom, he and Chet were good friends. Friends made mistakes, as he had told Roy, and Johnny was big-hearted and couldn’t hold a grudge if he tried.
“I forgive you,” he said and Chet’s relief was further balm to the healing wound on his spirit.
It wasn’t long before they were bantering back and forth over a bottle of beer. They only drank one a piece, so quite why Chet had felt the need for a six-pack was anyone’s guess. But Chet didn’t spare himself as he told Johnny about confessing to the priest and then the times he’d rehearsed his speech to the unconscious paramedic. Johnny laughed at the stories, but somewhere deep inside, a memory stirred of Chet apologizing. Johnny kept that information to himself, not sure if it was a real memory or just triggered by Chet’s story.
There were no peace pipes, no ‘tomahawks’ on his return to the station the next day.
But there was a water balloon in his locker.