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Part 1 – Home Coming
Warning: This story contains violence and sexual situations which may not be acceptable for young children.
Friends are the family we choose for ourselves…Edna Buchanan
A broad smile broke across the face of Dr. Kelly Brackett, Head ER doctor and top Thoracic Surgeon of Rampart General Hospital in Los Angeles as he listened to the voice on the other end of the phone.
He’d been working with two other doctors and Chief Daniel Sorenson on this little project for over three months and it was finally happening.
He’d met Dr. Sean Carlton and Dr. Steven Handly on a trip to Montana nine months ago and they’d become good friends.
He’d kept in touch and had been pleased to find that they’d been pushing a paramedic bill in their own state…A direct result of his visit there with two of his own young paramedics…John Gage and Roy DeSoto. They’d been very impressed with their capabilities and had begun their campaign to bring paramedics into the small towns like their own.
This current plan had materialized when Johnny had mentioned his desire to go to Montana for Christmas to visit with his fiancée for the holidays. Kel had leaked that piece of information to the other two doctors and they’d taken hold of the idea and run with it.
Now all he had to do was sit down with Dan and finalize the arrangements. Dr. Kent Donaldson and Dr. Mike Morton could handle things here for three weeks and he really didn’t think he’d have too much trouble with the others involved even though it was the holidays.
They’d kill two birds with one stone. They’d be helping to refine the paramedic program from fire station to Emergency room in another state…Great PR for Los Angeles County and they’d have a vacation of sorts since they’d only be training and not working in an official capacity.
Kel smiled. They’d also make one twenty eight year old paramedic very happy.
Kel sat across the desk from Chief Daniel Sorenson as he laid out the program. Sorenson listened patiently and nodded his head when he was done. He grinned at Brackett, knowing very well the relationship between the famous surgeon and two certain paramedics as well as the station crew of 51’s.
He was also aware of the hometown of one of those paramedics…John Gage. John had been through a lot in his ten years with the LA county fire department and he’d amazed them all.
Despite having a condition called Aspergers Syndrome. Johnny…As his friends called him, had risen from lineman to rescue worker to paramedic…Where he and his partner Roy DeSoto had quickly established themselves as the best team in LA and Sorenson would lay odds in the entire state.
The friendship had quickly become well known throughout the department as well. They’d developed a bond of a type Sorenson and others envied. Partners…Best friends…Brothers, Father and son…Though it was hard to distinguish who learned the most from whom.
They supported each other…Worked as a team so well they rarely had to speak while in the field. Each knowing the other would know what they needed before it was asked for.
Sorenson had witnessed it several times…A look…A simple nod or a single reassuring touch of a hand and a conversation had taken place.
Johnny had come through several devastating and potentially life threatening injuries and illnesses through the years, leaving heads shaking in disbelief at his strength of will.
He’d recently become engaged to a young woman from his hometown of Lame Deer Montana, triumphing once again through the adversity of ASD which caused emotional issues and problems with relationships as well as blindness from a fall and come through it whole.
He’d regained his vision three months ago and rejoined his crew…Sorenson shook his head, already knowing the answer… “So Kel, what crew do you think we should send to Lame Deer to help them out?”
Brackett grinned knowing Dan was onto him…“Station 51 of course.”
Sorenson smile back. “I don’t think there’ll be any complaints, but it is the Holiday’s and they might not want to be away from their families for three weeks…”
Kel grinned… “Let them take them with them.”
“That could be expensive,” Sorenson warned with a worried grimace..
“Lame deer is willing to split the cost and the people of the reservation have agreed to house them as a favor to three members of the people.”
“Three?” Sorenson questioned curiously.
Kel smiled. “Roy and I were made honorary members and of course Johnny was raised there…Besides, Rampart will cover Joe, Dixie and I…”
Daniel nodded… “I’ll see what I can do.”
Two days later Captain Hank Stanley of station 51 sat across from Chief Sorenson…His crew gathered around the table. Engineer Mike Stoker, Linemen Marco Lopez and Chet Kelly and their two paramedics, Roy DeSoto and John Gage.
“Gentlemen…,” Sorenson began. “Dr. Brackett and I have been working on a project for the last few months.” He looked to Johnny. “Kelly Brackett met two doctors in your hometown of Lame Deer last winter when you went there to help out with the influenza epidemic Gage.”
John nodded. “Yes sir…Dr. Carlton and Dr. Handly.”
“Right…Well because of you and your partner’s impressive skills,” he said with a smile as he looked toward Roy. “They’ve been pushing Montana to incorporate paramedic’s into their state.”
“That’s a good thing,” John said quietly. “Their towns are sometimes spread out pretty thin. Access to major hospitals is limited and distant in an emergency.”
Sorenson nodded. “Exactly…Which is why Brackett has been helping them convince their Governor that it’s necessary…He’s finally agreed and the paramedic program has been passed and training has already started.” John and Roy grinned. “Brackett suggested along with Carlton and Handly that the two best paramedics to train those men in the field would be you and Roy.”
John grinned and looked at his partner. “Thank you sir…,” he said, pleased with the compliment as well as the knowledge that he was guaranteed Christmas with Danella.
Roy winked at Johnny …Well, it would be work but they’d both been planning to go there for Christmas anyway and at least his airfare would now be covered. Joanne and the kids could join them as they got closer to Christmas.
He turned his attention back to Sorenson as he continued. “This is completely voluntary of course as it is the Holiday’s…If you choose to remain here we’ll take volunteers to replace you as needed.”
“Yes sir,” John agreed eagerly. The others grinned at his exuberance. “Um when sir…?”
“It’ll be three weeks. December 15th through January 5th.”
Roy nodded his agreement to Johnny. “I’ll go too sir,” Roy said.
“Good…Good,” Sorenson turned to the crew who were now wondering why they were here. “We’ve learned over the years that while the paramedics do the majority of the rescue work…The engine crew that supports them should be well trained to assist them.” The crew glanced at each other curiously…Where was this going? “Because of that, it was suggested,” Sorenson grinned knowing Brackett was the one doing the suggesting. “That we send one of our crews, trained in assisting the paramedics to accompany them to help train the station crews.” Mike and Hank frowned while Chet and Marco grinned at the prospect. “Again gentlemen this is completely voluntary.”
“Uh sir…?” Mike said hesitantly, sounding a little disappointed. “It’s Christmas…My son…”
Sorenson held up his hand. “We understand we’re asking you to be away from home at Christmas time so we’ve decided to allow you to take your immediate family along.” Hank and Mike looked shocked while Roy grinned. “We’ll give you time to talk it over with your wives of course and Montana is covering half the expenses. I’m told the people of the reservation have agreed to house you while you’re there.”
John’s mouth dropped open in shock but he quickly recovered…Snapping it shut and trying to keep the excitement from lighting up his face. With Danella for Christmas and with all his friends along…How could he thank Brackett enough?
“You can let me know your decisions tomorrow.” They all nodded. “Gage…DeSoto…You’ll also be working with a couple of familiar people. Handly and Carlton have invited Dr. Brackett, Dr. Early and Dixie McCall to work with the staff of some of the area hospitals. They’ll be bringing in crews and doctors from all over Montana. You will train them and they in turn will train the rest of their crews.”
Mike exchanged a look with Hank. “I think Emily will go for it. The girls are going skiing on their Christmas break from college…They won’t be home anyway.”
Mike nodded… “I’ll talk to Melissa and let you know Chief.”
Chet and Marco both lifted their hands… “We’re in Chief,” they said.
“Good,” Sorenson said, slapping the table enthusiastically. “We’ll get you all the information and travel arrangements and such in a few days.” He stood up. “Good luck gentlemen…Do us proud.” They all nodded. “And uh…Have some fun,” he said as he turned and left.
“This is so great,” Johnny said excitedly as he turned to his friends. “I’m so glad you can all go…,” he turned to Mike and chewed his lip. “Well…Hopefully all,” he corrected.
Mike smiled…As much as they teased the younger man… every one of them was incredibly fond of John Gage. He’d been the baby of the crew since he’d started with them seven years ago.
He’d started with them at the tender age of twenty one and he’d been through so much in that time. ASD and being orphaned and battered as a child and as an adult had suffered through sickness, coma, snake bite, accidents and blindness. Any of it might have devastated a lesser man but not Johnny…He’d come through all of it and grew stronger from the adversity every time.
Mike would do everything possible to convince his wife to go. He didn’t want to miss this and disappoint his friend.
Roy and John stopped by the base station on their next run. Brackett and Dixie were talking softly as they approached. They overheard a piece of the quiet conversation. “I thought maybe it would be a chance to spend a little time alone as well Dix…,” Brackett was saying.
Her fingers lightly toyed with the collar of his suit coat… “What exactly did you have in mind Doctor?” She questioned with a twinkle in her blue eyes.
He grinned at Dixie but he caught sight of the two paramedics and turned toward them without answering. Johnny and Roy exchanged a glance and a small smile at the byplay between the handsome dark haired doctor and the pretty blonde nurse.
“Morning Doc…Dix,” Johnny greeted as the two paramedics leaned on the counter.
“Morning fella’s…Coffee?” Kel asked as he stepped away from Dixie.
“Sure, thanks Doc,” Roy answered as Kel poured two more cups of coffee and set them on the counter.
“Hey uh Doc…?” Johnny began. “We just wanted to say thanks for setting up this whole trip to Montana. I mean, Roy and I were gonna go anyway but to have all of my friends come along…Even if it is work sorta. It’ll be a great time…I’ll get to show them around where I grew up and you can show Dix and Dr. Early around…Maybe even get some riding in…”
Kel perked up at that…He loved horses and he’d enjoy the chance to teach Dixie. He hadn’t had the time to see much more than the hospital and the lodge near the center of the reservation when he’d been there the last time. He was looking forward to the time spent with his friends as well...Both old and new. “I think it’ll be a great Christmas for all of us Johnny,” Kel agreed.
Roy and Johnny returned home to the DeSoto house the next morning. Roy’s wife Joanne came to greet them as they came inside. She saw the excitement in both pairs of eyes and looked at her husband curiously. “What’s going on Honey?” She asked.
We got called down to headquarters yesterday…”
“You and Johnny…? What for…?” She asked, looking a little concerned.
“The whole crew actually. The department is sending us to Montana.”
Joanne looked shocked. “Montana? But how…? Why?”
Joanne, like Roy had been planning to accompany Johnny to meet with his fiancée and her family for Christmas. John planned to show them around the place he’d been raised and he wanted to teach the kids to ride and show them snow and teach them to skate on the river and build snowmen…She turned her attention back to her two favorite men as they continued.
“Montana’s starting a paramedic program. We’re going to help train them. The crews going to work with their crews and the doctors are working with the hospital and some of the other area doctors.”
“Doctors…?” Jo questioned.
“Joe Early, Dr. Brackett and Dixie are coming too,” Roy finished.
“Dr. Brackett arranged it,” Johnny added.
“Oh sweetheart…That’s wonderful,” she said looking at Johnny and realizing that Kelly Brackett had gone the extra mile at helping Johnny to have his friends, family AND Danella and her family together for the holidays. It would probably only happen once and she wished she could kiss the man personally for setting this up for John…He wasn’t here so she’d settle for kissing Johnny instead. “This is wonderful,” she said again. “Everyone together for Christmas…”
“I guess I need to be sure I have something special for Dr. Brackett for Christmas,” Johnny teased.
He remembered when the paramedic program first started…He and Kelly Brackett hadn’t gotten along at all. Brackett was dead set against the whole program and he and Johnny had butted heads over it many times but now, seven years later Brackett was one of the stoutest supporters of the paramedics and all they’d accomplished and he frequently pushed for it in other states. He was grateful Montana was on the current list.
“So when are we leaving?” Jo asked.
“December fifteenth for three weeks…”
“I’ll have to get with Chris and Jen’s teachers then. They’ll be off for two weeks anyway but I’ll get their lessons for the other week.”
Roy nodded while John glanced at his watch. “Oops, gotta run…Brackett’s expecting me in class. We’ve got this last week before the new paramedics take their exams.”
“So, how’s it feel to be a teacher?” Roy teased.
“I kinda enjoy it actually,” John shrugged. Teaching the paramedic class had been part of a deal Kel had made with Johnny a few months ago to release him to full duty earlier than expected. John had promised to continue to work with the trainee’s.
He’d discovered it was a lot different than training in the field which he didn’t always enjoy. He and Roy had had some rough times with trainees like Ed Marlowe and Gayle Markson as well as some good ones like Billy and Gil Robinson.
He looked at Roy… “Who knows…Maybe when I’m done being a fireman…Rampart will hire me to teach.”
Roy suspected that that was exactly what Brackett had in mind. By then Brackett would most likely be running the place. John threw them both a grin…He kissed Jo and tossed a wave at his partner as he headed out the door. “See you for dinner sweetheart?”
“I’ll be here,” he called back.
The next morning they were sipping coffee in the rec room when Mike came. “Mornin guys," he greeted with a grin.
“Morning Mike…So uh…How’d it go yesterday?” Johnny asked worriedly.
“She said yes. She thought it would be great fun for Michael Jr.The snow…Horseback riding…All the other kids and animals plus learning about a whole new culture.”
“Great,” Johnny said excitedly. Now all they needed was to confirm that Cap’s wife Emily had also agreed to travel to Montana for the Holiday’s.
Marco and Chet came in talking animatedly about the trip. “My mom’s not too happy about me going away for the holidays,” Chet commented. “But I told her it was work related so she finally came around.”
“I told mine the same thing,” Marco said wryly. “She threatened to write to the Chief.”
“So what happened?” Chet asked in amusement as he poured a couple of cups of coffee.
“I talked her out of it of course. I told her I’d never make Chief if she kept me from this kind of assignments ya know? That you sometimes have to sacrifice…,” he added with a waggle of his dark eyebrows.
“Huh…Like that would ever happen,” Kelly giggled, as he pulled the milk from the refrigerator.
“Hey…,” Marco protested as the others all laughed.
Captain Stanley entered the room a moment later. “What’s so funny?” He asked.
“The idea of Marco as a Chief,” Chet sniggered.
“That’d be almost as funny as you being one,” Johnny shot at Chet. Roy and Mike both grinned.
“Why don’t you try Engineer or something first pal,” Cap suggested patting the Mexican lineman on the shoulder.
“So Cap,” Johnny began. “What did Emily say?” He questioned.
“Says she’s all for it. With the girls in Aspen for the holidays, she said it would be more fun than sitting around the house on Christmas day.”
“Great,” Roy said.
“How about the rest…?” Hank asked.
“Mike’s in,” Johnny informed him.
“So are Chet and Marco,” Roy added.
Cap smiled and rubbed his hands together. “Well gentlemen…It looks like station 51 is heading for Montana.
December 15th… Fifteen people boarded the early morning United Airlines flight to Montana and while all of them knew there would be a lot of work involved to train doctors, nurses, fire fighters and paramedics in every procedure they knew, there was still a festive air of excitement at the traveling, visiting the reservation, sledding, snowmen and playing on the ranch…Learning to ride and rope and just spending Christmas together as a family.
The plane landed two hours later in Billings, Montana and the group disembarked. Kel, Roy and Johnny smiled in delight at the sight of Dr. Carlton and Dr. Handly but John’s eyes were searching hopefully for someone else.
Danella stepped from behind the two men with a grin. John’s face lit up as he moved to meet her…His dark eyes sweeping over her. She looked beautiful and healthy and though it was hard to tell beneath the heavy coat she was wearing…Something seemed different.
He’d been concerned about her health the last few months since she’d left, knowing that she’d been weakened considerably after being shot by Gayle Markson.
The woman had been obsessed with Johnny and had attacked them both in Roy’s home. She’d shot Danella at point blank range in the chest. Her attempt to kidnap John had failed when he angered Gayle with his grief to the point where she’d knocked him out in rage.
John shuddered briefly but pushed the nightmare images from his mind. He’d ended up fatally shooting the woman a week later when she tried to kill Roy.
He hadn’t meant to kill her but it had all happened so fast. He’d been cleared of any wrong doing and now needed to let the whole tragic incident go once and for all. He had a life to live with Danella…One he might never have had if Gayle had had her way.
Johnny wrapped his arms around the girl, hugging her tightly and lifting her clear off her feet in his excitement to see her.
She laughed gleefully as she flung her arms around his neck. “I have missed you na’mehoht,” she got out before his mouth caught hers.
He broke the kiss several long seconds later. “I’ve missed you too…Every night…Every moment. You look wonderful,” he said as he turned and slid his arm around her to lead her back to the others…His eyes locked on her face. She was so beautiful but there was something different about her…She was positively glowing.
He wanted desperately to hold her…To look at her…To make love to her.
Danella glanced up at him and giggled at the obvious desire in his eyes… “Soon,” she whispered.
John squeezed her hand in understanding, frustrated that he could hardly see or feel the girl through the heavy winter coat…“Count on it,” he promised softly. He couldn’t wait until he’d be able to get her alone and truly hold her. He threw her a wink that drew another giggle from the girl.
“Roy,” she greeted, stepping away from John’s side and hugging her fiancée’s best friend warmly. “You are well?” She asked.
“Very well, thanks.”
“He’s okay to,” he assured her. Roy knew she wasn’t asking after his physical health as much as his emotional and mental wellness.
John had been very distraught after he’d been forced to shoot Gayle to save Roy a few months ago but after several therapy sessions he’d finally been able to come to grips with what had happened and move on. It hadn’t been his fault…She’d forced him to take action with her threats and violence against those he loved so when she’d tried to stab Roy, Johnny had picked up the only weapon he had and pulled the trigger. It had torn at his heart and soul but he’d finally let it go.
Danella smiled up at Roy understandingly and moved to Joanne, hugging her exuberantly. They had become very close this past summer and she felt a sisterly connection to the older woman and she knew Joanne understood her passion for Johnny better than anyone else. “Oh Dani…It’s so good to see you.”
“Same here…I’ve missed you.”
She stepped back and Joanne’s blue eyes swept over the girls face…She frowned for a moment before the girls amber eyes locked with hers. Jo smiled knowingly and Dani grinned back before turning to Chris and Jen and the others.
Handly and Carlton had also been greeting the group and were being introduced to the crew of Station 51 as well as Dixie and Joe Early.
“We’re so glad to have you all here. We had a lot of offers from the fire fighters and the other people of Lame Deer to have you stay with them but we thought you’d all like to stay together so we chose the reservation if that’s okay?” Handly asked. They all glanced around at each other before nodding their agreement. “Good…Let’s get your things and we’ll get going. Little Fox and Blue Eagle are anxious to see you John.” The younger man smiled at that piece of news.
They waited at the curb while Handly and Carlton retrieved the vans they’d rented for the occasion. One would be at the disposal of the crew and the doctors to carry them in and out of Lame Deer and the other would be available to their wives and children for all sightseeing excursions.
They stowed their luggage on top and piled in for the hour and a half drive to the reservation. The children’s eyes lit up in delight at the sight of so much snow covering the ground. “Can we build a snowman Uncle Johnny?” Jen asked from the back.
“Sure we can princess,” he replied.
“Snowball fight?” Chris asked with a wicked gleam in his eyes.
“NO,” Roy and Joanne’s negative reply came in unison but John threw a wink at the eleven year old boy and Chris grinned back.
They drove on making light conversation and pointing out occasional items of interest. They finally drove into Lame Deer. They decided to stop at the small café for lunch and then Steve and Sean would show them around the hospital and introduce them to the fire chief….Station crew and the new trainee’s for their first session.
In the other van Steve had also been playing tour guide. During a quiet stretch of road he glanced at the medical team. “Just a word of warning Kel…You’re gonna meet with some resistance.” At Kel’s raised eyebrow he continued. “The doctors and nurses in our hospitals are a bit skeptical about this whole thing.” Kel and Joe exchanged a glance while Dixie laughed outright.
“I bet none of them could compare to the skepticism of my colleague here,” Joe said. Sean threw him a bemused look. “Kel was dead set against the practice of roadside medicine when it was first proposed in LA.”
“You’re kidding?” Sean questioned in amazement, tossing a shocked look at Kel.
Kel nodded his agreement. “At least until two very well trained hose jockey’s saved the life of someone very special to me,” Kel explained.
Dixie glanced at him in surprise at the open admission. She reached over to squeeze his hand and smiled. The crew exchanged looks and pretended not to notice the gesture.
“Let me guess…John Gage and Roy DeSoto?” Steve said with a grin.
“Good guess,” Joe confirmed with a chuckle.
“Acting against orders I might add but I’m glad they did. It opened my eyes once I got past my own narrow mindedness.”
“Good…I’m glad it did. Having seen those two in action is what prompted us to push for it here.”
“Well if you find a few paramedics that perform half as well as those two…It’ll work as well,” Kel assured him.
Marco and Mike shared a grin while Chet rolled his eyes at the praise for their two friends. Marco gave him an elbow in the ribs. “It’s okay Chet…You can admit it. Gage isn’t here to hear ya,” the dark haired Latino taunted.
Steve glanced back at them as Chet threw Lopez a grin. “Love…Hate relationship,” Dixie explained to the man.
The two vans pulled up in front of a small restaurant and parked. They all climbed out, stretching stiff backs and legs from the long ride before moving to rejoin each other. Johnny was pointing across the street as they approached and their heads turned curiously.
“That’s the original Lame Deer fire department,” he told Chris and Jen. “Though I understand there’s a second one now as well,” he added looking toward the others. “I used to come here with my dad whenever he was home. It’s why I wanted to become a fireman.”
“Cool Uncle Johnny,” Chris said, craning his neck to see inside the open doors.
“We’ll wander over there after lunch.” The kids nodded and followed the grownups inside.
Several people were already seated at tables around the small restaurant. Four or five were Indian. Their eyes swept over Danella and then moved to Johnny as he held the chair for her.
The waitress approached the group and greeted Sean and Steven by name as she placed bowls of fresh bread on the table. “Hi Dr. Handly…Dr. Carlton,” She said as she distributed menu’s all around. She was young and pretty…Maybe twenty four. Green eyed and red haired and Chet and Marco’s interest sparked instantly while the girl turned her attention to Dani. “Morning Danella,” she said giving the girl a friendly hug. “Is this the one?” She teased the younger girl as her eyes swept over John.
He grinned back at the girl. “I certainly am,” he agreed, before Danella could answer.
Dani giggled. “Yes Erin…This is THE one,” she answered cryptically as she squeezed John’s hand.
Joanne smiled at the two girls as they toyed with Johnny but she said nothing as he looked at the two women curiously.
“Erin…This is my fiancée, John Gage. Johnny…This is my friend Erin O’Connell.”
“Hi Johnny…Danella’s told me ALL about you…” John could only guess at what that meant and his face flushed a bit as the girl smiled slyly at him bringing another frown of confusion from John as he reached for the bread. The girl’s eyes swept over Chet and Marco who sat a couple of seats away on the other side. “Who are they?”
“They’re friends of Johnny’s. Chet Kelly and Marco Lopez…They’re fireman too.”
“Marco’s the nice one,” Johnny muttered around a mouthful of bread.
“Ha…You’re real cute Gage,” Chet shot at him as he stood up to offer his hand to the girl. She shook it with a grin as she caught the appreciative look in his blue eyes. “It just takes a good Irish lass to appreciate my qualities that’s all,” he said with a smirk.
“And what are those,” John scoffed with a snort…“Childishness and immaturity? You don't have to be Irish...Anyone can see that,” he countered.
Chet glared as the others laughed at the banter. Erin smiled slowly at the curly haired Irishman. “I’m sure there’s more to you than that,” she teased.
“Yes…He’s also rude and offensive Senorita,” Marco added as he offered his own hand. She shook it but her eyes returned to Chet. She smiled at him and then returned to business.
“We’ll talk later Danella. So what can I get you all to drink?” She asked. She took their orders and left.
“Well I guess Roy won’t have to fix ya up with Little Fox after all,” Johnny smirked at the Irishman. Kelly Brackett almost choked on the water he’d just taken a sip of while the crew laughed.
“No Gage…I thought I’d leave her for Marco.”
“Thanks,” Marco said drily.
John felt a hand descend on his shoulder. He looked up and recognized the man as an old friend of his families. “Dances with Fire…It is good to see you again,” he said with a half smile.
John stood up… “Two moons,” he greeted politely. The man’s eyes swept the group and John saw the curiosity even though the man didn’t ask. “These are my friends from LA. My Captain and the station crew where I work…My partner,” he said nodding toward Roy. “And his wife.” Two moons remembered the blonde man well. “These two gentlemen and the pretty lady with them,” he added drawing a smile from Dixie. “Are two of the doctor’s and the head nurse from the hospital where I work. They’re here to help train the men involved in the new paramedic program Montana’s just instituted,” he explained, appeasing the man’s curiosity.
He nodded. “You will be staying with your family on the reservation?” He asked almost slyly.
John’s smile wavered a bit. “Yes…Well…We’ll be spread out among several families actually. My partner and I will be staying with Danella and her parents.”
“Of course…She is your wife…Almost anyway.”
John nodded as the man patted his shoulder. “I’m sure your family will be glad to see you Dances with Fire.” He smiled again but it didn’t quite reach his eyes. “All of them…,” he added as he turned and walked away.
John frowned and sat back down.
“Who was that Johnny?” Roy asked looking concerned.
“Jimmy Two Moons,” John replied absently. “He’s a friend of the family.”
“Some friend,” Chet muttered aside to Marco.
“He was a good friend of your Uncle’s as well na’mehoht,” Danella reminded him quietly. “Be careful around him.”
John nodded but smiled to break the tension. “I don’t think I need to worry too much,” he teased, glancing around at the others reassuringly.
“Why’s that Johnny?” Mike asked.
“Two Moon’s wasn’t one to start trouble…He just followed others into it,” he said with a shrug. “With my Uncle gone…He won’t look for a fight.”
They turned back to their own conversation until their lunch arrived.
Two Moons stepped from the café and turned to his friend Fire Crow. “Gray Elk will be interested to know that Dances with Fire is back.”
“Leave it Two Moons. What’s done is done.”
“Walking Wolf was a friend to both of us or have you forgotten.”
“Not to me Jimmy. I was friends with his wife’s family, not him.”
“Take John Gage’s side then Fire Crow. We’ll see how Benny takes to that.”
The other man blanched at the implied threat. Gray Elk had a worse temper than Walking Wolf had ever had and he didn’t relish being on the receiving end of the big man’s temper but Dances with Fire had been restored to his family and was a fully fledged member of the people half white or not. He didn’t want to get in the middle of this mess at all. “I take no sides Two Moons…What happened to Walking Wolf was not John’s fault, surely even Gray Elk knows that.”
Jimmy smirked at the other man. “We’ll see about that.” Two Moons turned and walked away leaving the other man to chew his lip in indecision for a long moment before he too left for home.
The crew finished up and Erin pressed a folded slip of paper into Chet’s hands as they headed out the door. He glanced at it briefly before throwing the girl a grin and tucking it into his pocket and following the others out. They walked through the town…The roundabout route taking them past the police station, Doctors office, a small church with a rundown graveyard set back from the street.
Johnny cast a sad look at it as he passed by it but moved on. They passed the elementary school and Johnny shuddered a bit as he remembered his first day there. It hadn’t been pleasant. He’d gotten into a fight and had his hands blistered by the teacher’s ruler even though he hadn’t been the one to start it.
“You go to school there Gage?” Chet asked, breaking the moment. He shook off the unpleasant memory and nodded at Kelly before shooting a reassuring smile at his partner’s look of worry. He should have known Roy would catch the change in his body language…His friend missed nothing where Johnny was concerned.
Roy hung back a bit to give them some privacy, nodding Danella on to join Joanne. She cast a glance at Roy and understood.
“You okay?” He asked his friend as he joined him.
“Memories that’s all.”
John nodded. “Growing up here wasn’t fun…Even when my parents were alive. Being a full Indian was bad enough…The kids from town and even some of the teachers didn’t like us much but being only half Indian…I got it from both sides.”
“I know,” Roy said gently but then he smiled. “But look what you’ve accomplished. Some of these people will have to eat a little crow huh?”
John grinned at his friend. Roy always had the ability to make John feel better about himself and he loved him for it. “Thanks,” he said softly.
They caught up with the others as they headed toward the fire station. Several men were working on cleaning the rigs as they entered. They glanced up as the group came inside.
“Can I help you?” One asked curiously.
Hank stepped forward and offered his Hand. “I’m Captain Henry Stanley, Los Angeles County Fire Department… Station 51.”
“Oh…,” the fireman replied. “I’m sorry sir…I shoulda guessed. Let me get my Captain. I’m lineman Jeff Hamlin and this is lineman Ronny Little Cloud.”
John’s dark eyes lit up in surprise and a broad smile crossed his face. He held his hand out to shake the younger man’s. “John Gage,” he introduced himself.
The other shook it. “It’s an honor to meet you Dances with Fire,” Ronny said with a smile as Chet smirked.
John’s face flushed at the use of his Indian name in front of the other’s especially Chet. “Hardly an honor,” he murmured in embarrassment.
“You are wrong. You are the reason I’m here. You made it acceptable among our people to become a fireman. It’s something I’d dreamed of but never hoped to achieve.”
John smiled at him. “Well I’m glad I could help you then.”
“You also made the people of Lame Deer accept us.”
Hamlin nodded. “Ronny’s an okay guy…Went to school with him all my life and never got a chance to talk to him. Now…well…He’s just a boot mind you,” he teased the young Indian man. “But we’ve got to be pretty good friends,” Hamlin smiled his agreement.
“Yes,” Ronny agreed. “He’s alright…For a Ve’ho’e.” They all chuckled.
Johnny had impacted so many people in his young life without realizing it. Roy smiled proudly at his partner.
Jeff trotted into his Captains office and reappeared a moment later with a man around Hank’s age. He glanced at the group and held out his hand in greeting. “Captain Henry Stanley…Station 51 out of Los Angeles and this is my wife Emily.”
“Captain Carl Walker…Station 28. I see you’ve already met my lineman.” He turned to the other three who’d followed him out. “Engineer Brian Collins and my two soon to be paramedics Andy Brown and Eric Carney...”
Hank greeted each before turning to his own men who were already sizing up their counterparts.
“This is my Engineering Specialist Mike Stoker and his wife Melissa and his son Michael Jr.…My linemen Chet Kelly and Marco Lopez and my two paramedics…My senior paramedic Roy DeSoto and John Gage…Roy’s wife Joanne and their children…Chris and Jennifer and John’s fiancée Danella Four Feathers.”
Their eyes swept over the others before centering on the last two. They all knew these two men had been the reason the whole program had been pushed so hard. Handly and Carlton had seen them in action and used that knowledge to give the paramedic bill the final push to the house floor.
Brown and Carney knew they had to learn a lot from these men in three weeks. They looked at Johnny curiously. They’d been told he was half Indian and from right here in Lame Deer too…Same as Ronny Little Cloud. Until recently, none of them had had much interaction with the people of the reservation but now there were three young Indian men in the Lame Deer Fire Department. Good men, all of them and that was because of Gage as well.
They all shook hands before Hank turned to the medical team from Rampart. “Dr.’s Kelly Brackett and Joe Early and Nurse Dixie McCall,” he finished.
Captain Walker waved them toward the day room. “Let me show you around,” he invited, giving Chris’s head a tousle as they went.
The crew of 28’s returned to their chores, knowing they’d have plenty of time to ask questions the next day when training began to earnest. Walker showed them around the station before shaking Hank’s hand once more. “I guess we’ll see you all tomorrow. Our shift is off duty but they’ll be working with the crew of Station 7 across town. That’s where the training will be,” Walker informed them.
“Great…I’m sure Johnny will be able to find it.” Cap replied.
“Does this paramedic thing really work?” Walker asked.
Hank and Brackett both nodded simultaneously. “You’ll be surprised at just how well it works,” Kel assured him. “We’ll be addressing those concerns at the meeting with your Chief, Doctors and Nurses tomorrow at the Hospital.”
Walker nodded and chewed his lip hesitantly before leading Hank aside. “Can I ask you something Captain Stanley?”
“I don’t know if Gage told you or not but…Well…The Indians and the townspeople haven’t always seen eye to eye…”
“He’s told us that, yes.”
“Well…How is Gage? As a fireman I mean. Ronny Little Cloud is new and…”
Hank’s amused smile stopped him. “If Little Cloud turns out to be half the fire fighter John Gage is…, you’ll have a top notch lineman…As far as his paramedic skills? Well…Gage and DeSoto could be the definition of what a paramedic should be. He’s considered by our department to be part of the best team in LA. He and Roy have been together for seven years. I couldn’t tell you which one is better than the other alone but together…They’re phenomenal.”
Walker looked surprised at the praise for Gage that came from Hanks’ lips but he smiled in relief. “That’s good to know and I’ll keep an eye on them. I’d like to see Andy and Eric make that claim someday.”
“John and Roy will see to it that they’re well trained but as far as the rest goes…That’s solely based on how close their friendship is.” Walker looked at him in confusion as Hank continued. “I’m not sure if your men can be that close.”
“What do you mean?”
“Johnny and Roy have a bond that goes way beyond just partners. They’re very close and it’s difficult to explain…They just know each other so well that they tend to communicate without talking sometimes…They just know,” he said with a shrug. Walker threw him a dubious look…“Like I said…It’s hard to explain but you’ll see what I mean over the next three weeks.”
Carl nodded but Hank was sure he really wouldn’t understand until he’d seen them work together.
Hank and the others left and walked over to the doctor’s office to look around before they boarded the vans for the final leg of their journey to the Reservation. John’s dark eyes once again cast a longing glance toward the small graveyard but he continued on. Sean and Steven began to show the others around their small clinic where Danella also worked on weekends.
Johnny joined them for a few minutes but he’d already seen all of this and something else was drawing him and he quietly slipped away. He made his way to the little white church, walking along beside it to the creaky old iron gate. He pushed it open and headed inside.
It had been a long time since he’d been here and it took him a few minutes but he finally located what he’d come here for. He stopped next to a small, hand carved headstone at the top of one grave. It read: KATE GAGE and beneath that, two words… RED MOON and finally the dates…1930 – 1961
John knelt next to it. His long, slender fingers reached out to trace the words and tears burned behind his eyes for a moment. “Haáahe Náhko’e (Hi Mom) …I’m home,” he murmured softly. “I miss you.”
His hand fell away and he jumped as a strong hand came to rest on his shoulder. He raised watery dark eyes to meet the gentle blue gaze of his best friend.
Roy followed the others as Sean pointed out the small operating theatre they used for minor surgical procedures. He noticed John’s absence and gave Jo’s hand a squeeze. She glanced at him curiously. “I’m gonna go find Johnny,” he whispered.
She didn’t question him…She just nodded and followed the others knowing Roy could sense John’s moods better than anyone and would know that the younger man needed him.
Roy had noted John’s preoccupation earlier and wondered if he was correct. He glanced toward the graveyard as he left the clinic and saw his partner push the gate open to the small cemetery and slip inside.
Roy smiled sadly and walked slowly toward the church to give Johnny some time alone with his mom. With all that had gone on the first time they’d come, he’d never been able to get over here.
Roy pushed the gate open and stepped inside. Johnny wasn’t hard to spot and Roy approached him quietly so he wouldn’t disturb him. He saw his friend gently brush the stone with his fingers…He heard the softly spoken words. “Haáahe Náhko’e…I’m home.” There was a slight hitch to his breath and then… “I miss you,” he whispered softly.
Roy smiled and moved to his partner’s side. He laid his hand on his friend’s shoulder and gave it a gentle squeeze.
Johnny glanced up and the older man could tell that he was struggling not to cry. The dark haired paramedic reached up and brushed the embarrassing moisture from his eyes as Roy dropped to one knee next to him. “You okay?” He asked in concern.
Johnny nodded and gave him a rueful smile. “I just really miss her sometimes…Both of them really. I sometimes wonder what would have happened if they’d lived.”
“I don’t know junior…Maybe you’d have grown up in Duarte and become a fireman there or maybe you’d have come back here and never left Montana and you’d have met Dani anyway.”
“But not you...”
“You wouldn’t have missed me if they’d lived,” Roy reminded him with a gentle nudge.
“Yes I would Roy. Oh I know I wouldn’t know what I’d missed but if I’d stayed here I’d have never had a friend like you. They never would have accepted me. Things changed because you made them look at me differently.”
“Things changed because you made them look at you differently. All I did was make them open their eyes so they could see you.”
John shrugged. “Still…I needed to find you.”
“And vice versa Johnny but what’s important is that your parents would have been proud of you either way…I know I am.”
“Thanks,” he murmured. “I wish you coulda met them Roy.”
The blonde man reached out to gently rest his fingers against John’s cheek. “I have met them…They live right here in you.” John smiled as Roy dropped his hand. “Why is she buried here and not on the reservation…?” The older man asked.
“She was married to a white man,” he replied softly. “She was buried in a white man’s cemetery.”
Roy frowned…“So junior…Where’s your dad then?” He asked looking around hopefully. Maybe they’d just wanted them buried together.
John shook his head sadly. “They never found a body for us to bury,” he said sadly.
“Oh,” Roy murmured at the sorrowful look in the dark eyes. His teeth clenched in anger…So they’d continued to punish her even after her death and to remind John as well every day of his life that he was an outcast. “I’m sorry Johnny. Look…I’ll leave you alone. I just wanted to be sure you were okay.”
“That’s alright…I just wanted to stop by for a minute. I’m ready to go,” he replied, standing up. They walked from the graveyard together. “Thanks Roy,” Johnny said quietly as they walked. Roy didn’t need to ask ‘what for’ he already knew. John had needed a little reassurance about coming back here. He threw his arm around John’s shoulder’s and gave him a gentle hug before allowing his arm to drop away.
They closed the gate behind them, spotting the others as they exited the doctor’s office. They were looking around as well. Joanne finally pointed toward the two missing paramedics and the two younger men hurried to join them.
“We were wondering where you two had disappeared to?” Cap said.
“Johnny just needed to say hello to someone Cap,” Roy explained quietly as John rejoined Danella and took her hand.
Hank’s eyes took in the graveyard and he nodded in understanding.
They returned to the vans parked in front of the small restaurant and climbed inside for the final part of the trip to the reservation.
“So what did Erin give you?” Marco asked curiously as they pulled away from the curb.
“Her phone number,” Chet replied smugly, throwing his friend a triumphant smirk.
Kel tossed them a grin over his shoulder. “Unfortunately for you Chet…Most of the people on the reservation don’t have telephones.”
Chet stared at the doctor, looking dumbfounded as the others hooted with laughter at his new predicament. Marco gave his friend a light punch in the arm. “Bad luck for you pal,” he teased jokingly.
They drove onto the outskirts of the reservation a half hour later. The crew and their families along with Dixie and Joe Early taking in their first look at where their friend had grown up and while they found it fascinating, they also had to notice the impoverished appearance despite the fact that every yard was clean and the buildings as well kept as possible.
Chet bit his lip, feeling a twinge of embarrassment at the way he’d mocked Johnny and his heritage several years ago. He remembered John’s words. “If that tribe had had one little piece of that grant money, they wouldn’t have had a problem in the first place.” Chet hadn’t taken him seriously. He’d truly had no idea of the conditions they were living under or the poverty in which Johnny had been raised.
The door to one building opened and Danella’s parents stepped out along with another man and the most ancient looking woman any of them had ever seen.
Chet frowned as Mike and Marco snickered in delight, having already guessed her identity. The foursome moved toward the group as they exited the vans.
All of them recognized Danella’s parents as the couple came to greet Johnny warmly. “Haáahe Na’hevéxaho, (My son… in law implied)” Four Feathers said pulling John into a gentle embrace.
“Haáahe …Ného’aséstse, (Hello my Father…-In Law implied)…” Joseph smiled at the title and tightened his hold briefly before stepping aside and allowing his wife to hug her son in law. “Na’véškem (Mother…in law implied),” John murmured as Sena kissed his cheek before turning to Roy and Joanne, allowing Johnny to greet the others.
“Dances with Fire,” Blue Eagle said with a grin as he held out his hand. “Welcome home.”
John returned the smile. “Thank you Blue Eagle…Little Fox!” John exclaimed joyfully as he swept the old woman clear off her feet in a gentle hug. Her mouth curled in a toothless smile of delight as she returned his greeting and kissed his cheek. The others smiled in amusement.
“I have missed you Dances with Fire,” she said huskily. “I have no one to flirt with me while you are away,” she teased.
“I’ll do my best to flirt shamelessly,” he promised as he turned to the others. “Blue Eagle, Little Fox…You remember Dr. Brackett and Roy?” He continued at their nod of agreement. “This is Roy’s wife Joanne and their children…Chris and Jennifer.”
They smiled at Jo… “Danella has told us all about you,” Little Fox whispered to the pretty younger woman as she took her hand. “You have taken John Gage in as one of your own and loved him as a sister…as a mother... It takes a special heart to do that.”
Jo’s eyes filled with tears. “Believe me…It wasn’t hard Little Fox. He’s very easy to love.”
“Yes he is…”The old woman patted her hand and returned her attention to John as he continued.
“This is my Captain Hank Stanley and his wife Emily. Our Engineer Mike Stoker and his wife Melissa and their son Michael Jr.…”
Blue Eagle shook each hand. “Welcome to our village,” he said as he continued around the group.
“Our Engine crew Marco Lopez and Chet Kelly…” John finished before turning toward the last two. “This pretty lady is nurse Dixie McCall.” Blue Eagles eyes swept over the beautiful blonde nurse appreciatively and Dixie cast him a delicious grin in return. Kel’s hackles rose jealously as he took Dixie’s hand and turned her attention to Little Fox. Joe Early smirked at his friend but extended his hand as John finished the introductions. “This gentleman is Dr. Joe Early.” John turned toward his friends and crew. “This is Chief Charles Blue Eagle and his Aunt Little Fox.”
The introductions over Charles swept his hand toward the lodge. “Come in all of you…The others will be here soon to greet Dances with Fire as well as the rest of you and then we’ll get you settled in the homes you will be staying in and I can show you around.
They started inside but stopped abruptly at the solid sounding WHUMP of a snowball striking the back of the eleven year old Chris. He turned in surprise to see his Uncle standing there with his hands on his hips and a challenging smirk on his handsome features.
Surprise dwindled to glee as the little boy bent down with his mittened hands and grabbed a handful of snow. Jo opened her mouth to protest but Roy gave her a grin a shake of his blonde head, propelling his wife out of the line of fire.
John ducked and Chris’ return shot sailed over his head. Jen’s snowball clipped her brother in retaliation for his attack on her favorite uncle and she giggled happily as Chris’ next shot gently struck her shoulder, exploding the cold powder into her face and onto Marco, who suddenly joined the fray.
Chet couldn’t let Gage get out without getting hit and went for a handful himself but gasped in shock as he stood up and got blasted in the face with a fluffy ball of snow. His mustache now a frosty white batch of ice crystals…John grinned smugly and began to laugh as Chet fired back. Soon snowballs were flying from every direction along with peals of laughter as the rest of the crew joined in.
Several people of the reservation stopped to watch the crazy white men as they scrambled about in the snow like kids. All of them dotted with the remnants of exploded snowballs. John’s Aunts and many other relatives and friends were among them. Several children looked on longingly wanting to join in but not sure if they’d be welcomed by the Ve’ho’e visitors frolicking in the snow.
One boy frowned as a snowball struck him squarely in the chest. He glanced up to see a grinning Chris DeSoto looking back at him. The look in the blue eyes was invitation enough. He stooped to grab a handful of white powder. The rest of the reservation children couldn’t resist and quickly took the opportunity to join in as well.
Blue Eagle, Kel, Joe and the ladies stood on the boardwalk, shaking their heads and watching the antics of their husbands and friends. Joanne stood with her arms folded and a raised brow until a ball of snow erupted against her shoulder. She looked up at a giggling Johnny. “You brat,” she said with a mock look of irritation but the twinkle of mischief in his eyes was too much. “Come on Dani,” she said giving the girl beside her a tug. They both moved into the fray and before long Johnny was under attack by both women.
“No fair,” he cried in mock indignation.
Joanne giggled and hugged him to her, kissing his cheek affectionately before she rubbed a handful of the cold, wet snow in his face. John sputtered and began to laugh as Danella stepped into his embrace. Their mouths met in a light kiss as the girls gloved fingers brushed the snow away. “I love you Mé’oo’o.”
John’s breath frosted in the cold air as he gazed into her eyes lovingly. “I love you too,” he murmured as his mouth claimed hers hungrily. The moment lingered until a well placed ball of snow splattered them both, breaking the couple apart. They both laughed and finally moved to the lodge leaving the children to continue playing with their new friends.
John’s aunts shook their heads at their nephew, amazed at his relationship with the group and the fact that they didn’t appear to be put off at all by the knowledge that John was half Indian…It was plainly obvious he was accepted and loved for who he was. They regretted that they hadn’t been able to do the same. They stepped up on the walkway and headed for the lodge.
They entered the warm building where the fire pit in the center burned cheerfully. They removed their jackets as several other people filed into the lodge. Several of the women began to pour cups of coffee for them.
John introduced his cousins to them before waving toward the two older women. “Everyone…This is my Aunt Mase and my Aunt Lacee.” Jo stepped close to his side, sliding her arm around the dark haired paramedic and the protective stance was obvious as Johnny made the introductions.
Jo’s eyes were a frosty blue but she held out her hand anyway. “How do you do…I want you to know that you have a very special nephew ma’am. Johnny’s told me…ALL about you,” she said with a tight smile that warned them both that she was aware of what the young man had been through and wouldn’t tolerate any abuse toward him.
“I understand,” Mase said looking guilty. “But we came to welcome our nephew home and have a chance to talk to him a little more on this trip.”
John smiled at his Aunt even as he gave Joanne’s waist a grateful squeeze. “I’m sure we’ll have plenty of time to talk later Aunt Mase,” he assured the woman. He included his Aunt Lacee as well and she gave him a curt nod in return. John knew the older woman might be sorry for what she’d done to him as a child but she was too bitter to ever really show any affection for him or anyone else for that matter. He felt sorry for her but he wouldn’t let her spoil the joy of coming home and being welcomed for the first time as a member of this people. He turned back to the others.
Blue Eagle sipped the steaming brew and smiled at the group. “Dr. Brackett, Dr. Early…Miss McCall…You will be staying with me if that’s alright with you? My son and daughter are both married and live with their own families now so I have plenty of room.”
The three nodded their agreement as Blue Eagle turned to the others Captain Stanley…You and your wife will stay with my aunt across the street along with Mr. Stoker and his family.”
Captain Stanley smiled at the ancient looking woman who grinned back at him. “Thank you for opening your home to us.”
“You are friends of Dances with Fire. I would do much for that young man.”
Hank smiled… "So would we ma’am.”
“Mr. Kelly and Mr. Lopez…Many Horses and his wife Morning Star have offered you their son’s room while you are here,” he said indicating the couple standing with their daughter and Danella’s best friend Janessa.
“Gracias,” Marco said eyeing the girl appreciatively before turning to her parents. Janessa smiled shyly back. Man Roy had been right…There were a lot of very pretty young women in town. Chet grinned heartily at the prospect of staying with the beautiful girl and her family.
Blue Eagle grinned and turned to John. “You and Roy and his family will be staying with Danella and her parents unless you’d rather stay with your aunt of course.”
The smile that had been begun fled from Johnny’s face. “Uh…Um…No offense Nahaa’e Mase…But…”
His aunt smiled at him… “It’s alright John. Of course you would rather stay with White Mist.”
John grinned in relief. “Nea’ese Nahaa’e (Thank you aunt).”
Blue Eagle chuckled. “After you’re settled I thought you’d like to take a look around unless you’re um…Play out there,” he said nodding to the door. “Wore you out?” He teased.
“I’d like to take a look around,” Marco said.
“So would I,” Dixie added. Kel nodded his agreement.
“Good…Then we’ll meet back here in an hour. John…I’m sure you’d like to show them the ranch. Danella mentioned teaching the children to ride.”
“Yes. Thank you Blue Eagle.”
“I’d ah…Like to try that myself,” Marco chimed in.
“I’d be happy to teach you,” Janessa said shyly.
“That would be very nice Senorita.”
Chet waved his hand. “Uh…Me too…”
“Maybe we can get Little Fox to teach ya,” Johnny said with a smirk. The old woman in question shot Johnny a wink before turning a toothless grin on Chet.
The Irishman smiled wanly drawing a laugh from the group. They grabbed their suitcases and followed after their respective hosts.
Johnny, Roy and Joanne stepped out of the lodge with Danella’s parents. Mike Jr. followed his mom and dad while Chris and Jen continued to talk with several of the reservation children. Roy waved them over. “C’mon kids… were going to the trading post. That’s where Danella lives.”
“Cool dad,” Chris readily agreed, as he and Jen ran to meet them. Chris was certain an Indian trading post would be a great place to explore.
Joseph brought them inside. He showed Roy and Joanne to a large room that had belonged to Joseph’s parents. The DeSoto’s grinned appreciatively.
“John…You and Chris will be sharing the other bedroom upstairs and Jennifer will sleep with Danella.
Jo and Roy glanced at each other in amusement and Dani giggled at the disappointed look that crossed Johnny’s face and threw him a wink that promised him that she already had a plan to get around her father.
Blue Eagle greeted them as they rejoined him and the medical team a while later…Janessa and the rest of the crew making their appearance a few at a time. They all looked more comfortable and relaxed in jeans and sweaters under their winter jackets.
Blue Eagle led them through the town, pointing out things of interest. The trading post which they all intended to investigate later. He pointed out the site for the new fire station that would soon be built.
“About time,” Johnny murmured to Roy. “When something goes wrong here it’s too late to do any good.”
He nodded toward the lodge which they had already seen but stopped to explain its purpose. “The lodge is used for all ceremonies. Rites of passage…Naming ceremonies such as the one Johnny had had performed for him…The ceremony of the sun dance, funerals and weddings.
Johnny squeezed Dani’s hand and smiled at her. ‘SOON’ the look promised her.
The tribal chief led them out of the main part of town and pointed toward the trail that led to the river. Dani threw a sidelong glance at Johnny…Both of the knowing they’d find themselves under their pine tree where they’d first kissed and really gotten to know each other very soon.
Blue Eagle turned to the children… “John told us you want to learn to skate and maybe go sledding. Three heads nodded in unison. “The children here don’t have skates or sleds but they’ll be happy to show you the river and help you learn how we have fun here.”
The children’s eyes lit up. Uncle Johnny had bought them skates and promised to show them how and they were looking forward to it but a new adventure with their new friends from the reservation sounded like great fun as well.
Blue Eagle led them past fields of cattle where men on horseback were out working with the animals. He pointed beyond those fields to the sheep pens. They approached a large pasture full of horses. “These animals are the reservations primary source of income.” They nodded looking them over carefully… Every animal was groomed and well cared for.
The children ran to climb up on the fences…Oohing and ahhing and trying to get a better look. “Oh look Uncle Johnny,” Jenny squealed joyfully, pointing at a pretty black and white paint. “He’s beautiful,” she said.
“Yes he is Princess,” he agreed as he put his arms around the small blonde and let her lean against him. Several men rode in and John tossed Roy a grin. “Indian cowboys,” he murmured to his older friend, reminding him of the first time John wanted to try his hand at calf roping.
Roy chuckled at his friend. Blue Eagle clapped John on the shoulder as they watched the two men. “Would you and your friends like to ride John?”
Kel and Marco perked up…The boys jumped around excitedly while Jen clapped her hands in anticipation.
“How can I say no to that?” Johnny asked with a grin. “Anyone else wanna give it a try?”
Chet hung back a bit and Joe held his hand up regretfully. “I’m not sure these old bones can handle that,” he said. “I think I’ll just head back to the trading post.”
“C’mon mi amigo,” Marco prompted Chet. The curly haired Irishman eyed the big animals nervously before he hesitantly nodded and followed the others across the field to where several young Indian men were saddling the horses.
Joanne had been raised on a farm and had no trouble swinging easily into the saddle, throwing a wink at Johnny and her husband. Their last trip to a farm on their last vacation hadn’t ended so well. Both kids had ended up with poison ivy and Jo had had her foot stepped on by a cow.
Johnny grinned back, remembering his disgruntled partner’s detailed explanation of everything that had gone wrong on the trip. The only good thing was that Johnny had managed to stay healthy and not cut their trip short as he had once before.
Roy helped Chris to mount, showing him how to hold the reins before pulling himself onto his own. Blue Eagle clipped a lead to the animal to be sure the horse didn’t run off with the boy.
Kel assisted Dixie, quickly adjusting the stirrups and patting her leg reassuringly... “I’ll stay close,” he promised as she gathered the reins a little awkwardly.
“Good,” she said heartily as she clutched the saddle horn while the horse shifted under her.
Janessa and Danella lithely pulled themselves into the saddles, drawing a concerned glance from Joanne. Dani grinned back… “I’ve been riding since before I could walk…I’m okay,” she whispered as she took the reins for Michael Jr. while Hank and Mike helped their wives up before mounting their own horses a bit clumsily but they made it without assistance.
Marco grinned as Chet warily approached the pretty gray mare that John held. “C’mon Kelly, she ain’t gonna eat cha,” he teased.
“Yeah Kelly…She’s a vegetarian, besides she’s got much better taste than to bite you,” Johnny taunted the unhappy looking Irishman.
Chet shot Gage a withering look before struggling to lift his foot into the stirrup. He pulled himself up and threw his leg over the saddle almost flipping himself off on the other side. Johnny grabbed his elbow until he steadied himself.
Marco snickered at the almost terror stricken look on Chet’s face before he pulled himself on his own horse. John set Jen up on the saddle before he took the reins and gave a quick bounce on his toes before jumping and throwing his long leg over the saddle without the aid of his stirrups. The little blonde giggled with delight…“Showoff,” Chet ground out at John’s smirk of satisfaction.
The group started off. They rode out to where the young men they’d seen earlier were working with the calves. They stopped to watch them as they raced after the young animals with ropes flying and dropping effortlessly over their necks to drag the animals to a standstill.
Jen’s eyes widened in horror as the calves were picked up and dropped on their side…The legs tied and the ear quickly tagged before they were released to trot away.
Tears welled and rolled down her cheeks. “Why are they hurting the babies Uncle Johnny?” She cried woefully.
“They’re not hurting them Princess…They’re just tagging them so we know our cattle from someone else’s,” he explained, giving her a squeeze.
“You don’t brand?” Roy asked.
“No,” John replied with a shake of his head. “Whoever we sell them to may put their own brand on them but we don’t,” he replied as his dark eyes watched the action. The older man nodded.
“Do you remember how Dances with Fire?” Blue Eagle asked with a grin.
John smiled… “It’s been a long time Blue Eagle,” he admitted.
Chet smirked and seeing his chance to see John embarrass himself, threw out a taunting challenge. “C’mon Gage…You’re the one who wanted to be the big rodeo star.”
John threw an embarrassed glance at Blue Eagle and Dani, hating to back down in front of the tribal leader and his future wife but even more worried about the ribbing he’d take if he tried and failed. He decided it would be less humiliating if he at least tried it than it would be to listen to Chet’s taunting comments that he probably really didn’t know how to do it at all.
“Okay…I guess I can give it a try,” he said, moving his horse over to Roy’s to hand Jen over to him.
“Páháv mo’enohe (good luck) Mé’oo’o,” Dani said with a proud smile as John kicked his horse into motion. He rode out to meet the others who greeted him warmly.
One handed over his rope and pointed at a calf. John nodded and brushed his shaggy sable hair from his eyes. He blew out a nervous breath before he set the short piggin string between his teeth and shook out the lasso and set himself. Johnny dropped the reins, squeezing with his knees…The horse bolted forward as John’s rope began to twirl over his head.
The calf skittered nervously and began to run. Johnny let the lariat fly. It dropped over the calves back as the animal ducked away…Chet chuckled gleefully at the miss.
John pulled the horse up and circled around. He once again pushed the dark hair from his face and shook his head in a mixture of disgust and embarrassment, knowing Kelly was most likely laughing his head off at him right now.
One of the others rode out and handed Johnny a headband.
Chet chuckled. “Like he thinks that’ll help.”
“It will,” Roy shot back, completely confidant in his friend.
Gage nodded his thanks and tied it around his forehead to keep the sable hair from his eyes. He shook out the rope once more…setting the short rope in his teeth again.
His friends leaned forward in anticipation…Most of them hoping Johnny would succeed this time and wipe the gloating smirk from Chet’s face.
The horse broke swiftly and once more the spooked calf whirled and ran. The rope spun over Johnny’s head and then flew toward the young bull, dropping over the calf’s head. John leaned back and the horse slid to a quick stop, backing up and pulling the rope taught as John dismounted and grabbed the line, running down its length to grab the struggling calf…Lifting it off its feet and dropping it onto its side before snapping the string from his mouth and tying the legs.
The other two men moved in quickly and tagged the animal’s ear before turning the calf loose. They slapped Johnny on the back appreciatively and shook his hand while the young man’s friends applauded and shot Kelly a smug look at John’s success.
John rode back to join the others. “Wow Uncle Johnny…That was pretty cool,” Chris breathed in admiration.
“I was impressed,” Mike added.
“Great job,” Marco added wishing now that he’d seen John try for it a few years ago but they hadn’t taken him seriously back then.
John threw them a grin and leaned over to collect a triumphant kiss from Danella. They rode on for a while before turning back to head for home. “Chris, Jen…Michael…I’ll teach you to ride yourself next time okay?” John promised the three kids.
They nodded eagerly. “Will be able to ride like you Uncle Johnny?” Jen asked wide eyed from her father’s lap.
“Well Princess…That takes a little bit of practice but maybe someday.”
Chet snorted… “Didn’t look all that hard to me,” he sneered.
“Let’s see you try it,” Mike challenged.
Chet opened his mouth to retort but a loud crack reverberated through the chilly air. The dust in front of Johnny’s horse erupted and the animal spooked but the young paramedic quickly brought the roan gelding under control.
Unfortunately Chet wasn’t so lucky. His horse reared back on its hind legs, forcing the inexperienced fireman to drop the reins and clutch the saddle horn desperately to keep from falling. The frightened horse snatched the bit between her teeth and raced away from the group.
All Chet could do was hang on as the animal galloped on in a blind panic. The curly haired fireman was pretty sure he was about to be killed and would later swear that he saw his whole life flash before his eyes.
John heard the crack and his horse pranced skittishly but he pulled down and quickly swung the animal in a tight circle to keep him from bolting. He heard Chet’s startled gasp but couldn’t reach the reins in time to stop the mare’s headlong flight and could only watch as the animal decamped and the Irish fireman hung on for dear life.
John kicked his horse into motion going from a standstill to a flat gallop in an instant, urging his gelding on faster and faster until he began to gain on the other man and his mount.
After several terrifying minutes Johnny came alongside the other horse. He leaned forward and down to grab the flopping reins of the panicked animal and began to slow his own. Chet’s exhausted mount finally gave up the headlong race and slowed to an easy canter alongside John’s horse...Slowing to a trot and finally a stop.
John blew out a breath and shot a grin at his white faced and shaking crewmate. “You okay Chet?” Johnny asked worriedly.
“Oh my God…I thought I was a goner,” he panted.
They both looked up as the others began to arrive. “You okay Kelly?” Hank asked in concern.
“Yeah…Yeah Cap…But I think I’m done with horses.”
“She didn’t mean any harm Chet, she was just scared,” Johnny pointed out calmly.
“Yeah…Well so was I.”
“What happened back there anyway?” Kel asked, turning in his saddle to look back at where they’d just been.
“Someone took a shot at us,” Hank said worriedly.
“At Johnny,” Roy corrected.
Blue Eagle held his hands up in a pacifying gesture. “I don’t believe anyone from the reservation would deliberately be aiming at us or Dances with Fire but we do occasionally have poachers that hunt our lands. It was more than likely an accident.”
“And if it wasn’t?” Roy asked in concern, shooting a glance at his friend.
“Then we make sure John is never alone,” Hank replied.
“Whoa…Stop,” Johnny said, throwing up his hand in a halting gesture. “I’m fine and like Blue Eagle said…It was most likely an accident. I mean, no one here has a reason to hurt me.”
“That’s true,” Blue Eagle replied.
“What about that man from town? He didn’t seem real friendly,” Dixie reminded him.
“What man would that be?” Blue Eagle questioned with a frown that creased his craggy face.
“Jimmy Two Moons…But like I said…,” John began but he hesitated as the Chiefs mouth tightened in anger.
“What is it Blue Eagle?” Kel interrupted at the look.
“Two moons has no reason but Gray Elk does and they are friends.” John’s face paled a bit but he said nothing.
“Who’s Gray Elk?” Roy questioned, looking at his partner’s face.
John licked his suddenly dry lips. “My Uncle Georges brother but…He left the reservation years ago,” John added.
“He’s back…About four months now I think but he lives in town not on the reservation…He knows he’s not welcome here,” Blue Eagle informed him.
“I see…,” Johnny mumbled.
“That’s just great,” Roy muttered.
“What happened to George Walking Wolf was an accident,” Dani said angrily. “And he was trying to kill me, Roy and Little Fox and kidnap John.”
The crew gasped and looked at Johnny in shock. He’d never told them that part. “It was self defense,” John murmured. He looked up into the worried eyes of his friends and co workers. He knew he’d have to explain sometime but not now…It was humiliating to think about what George had done to him as a child and what he would have done if Johnny hadn’t had ASD and gone into withdrawal every time the man touched him.
“You think he cares about that?” Roy asked with an arched eyebrow.
“I’ll be careful,” he promised before any of the others could say a word. They didn’t have to…The entire crew along with Kel, Dixie and Joanne wore identical looks of concern. “Don’t worry guys, I’ll be with you most of the time anyway,” he pointed out.
“See that you are,” Blue Eagle commanded. “And even though Gray Elk hasn’t mentioned any animosity toward you John…I will talk to him and remind him that you are a member of the tribe and were cleared of any wrong doing by the council and that he’s to leave you alone.”
They all nodded and headed for the barn. Chet reached out and touched John’s arm. Gage looked at him. “Uh…Johnny…Um I just wanted to say…You know…”
John grinned. Neither of them willing to admit that they were concerned for the other but it was still known. “It’s okay Chester B…Who would I have to humiliate if I lost you?” John kicked his horse into motion.
Chet smiled and followed after him.
Malevolent black eyes along with a pair of anxious brown watched the group from the cover of the trees at the edge of the field. One parted the branches of the low hanging tree limbs while the other waited until the young half breed was in the clear. He lifted his rifle to his shoulder startling the other.
The second man let go of the tree limb as the other pulled the trigger. The gun barked…He saw John’s horse jump but the young man quickly brought the gelding under control while the gray mare in front of him reared and raced away in terror.
He drew back the bolt to chamber another round and shoved the branch from his way, raising the weapon again but it was too late…Dances with Fire was racing after the fleeing animal and was quickly out of range.
He cursed angrily and turned on the man who caused the miss. That one backed hastily away from the rage in the first ones eyes. “You fouled my shot,” he snapped as he swung viciously…The back of his hand connecting solidly with Two Moons face.
The slighter man reeled back and cringed in terror. “I’m sorry Gray Elk…You…You startled me,” he moaned.
The larger man turned away in disgust. “It doesn’t matter…It would have been too quick anyway and I want him to know who is taking his life. I want to see the fear and despair he caused my brother in his eyes before he dies.”
The group arrived back at the stable yard where several older boys were waiting to take the horses. Johnny remembered that this was one of his duties when he was twelve or thirteen as well, until he’d been old enough to go out with the men and tag the cattle himself.
Several of the other boys led the horses away but one waited as Johnny and Roy dismounted. He smiled shyly at John…The dark haired paramedic grinned, remembering him from the last time he’d been here almost a year ago, except that that time the boy had been quite ill.
The boy held his palm up facing Johnny and swung it in a half circle toward the man and back to his chest. John grinned and repeated the gesture but said the word as well for Roy’s benefit. “Hello to you too uh…?” He let the question hang subtlety.
“Billy,” the boy supplied. “I am the son of Lame Bear.”
“It’s nice to see you again Billy and I’m glad that you’re better than when I saw you last time.”
“You remember me?” The boy asked, seeming pleased by that piece of information.
“Sure but, you were pretty sick the last time.”
“Yes but I am well now because of you.” Roy grinned broadly at his partner as the younger man’s face grew red.
John smiled and ruffled the boy’s hair. “You are well now because you’re strong and from the medicine I gave you.”
The boy shrugged unconvinced that it was anything but John that had helped him to get well. “I came today to see you again.”
“Yes…I wanted to tell you that I celebrated my Rite of Passage soon after you left.”
“That’s wonderful…What did you choose?” Johnny asked, genuinely interested in the boys life’s path.
“I will become a Para-Medic like you.”
John’s mouth quirked up in a grin but it quickly faded. “Did your parents approve of your choice?” He asked softly, afraid the boy would end up being shunned for choosing a career that Indians didn’t go into.
“Yes and my father has already told me what name I will be given for my naming ceremony in two months,” the boy whispered conspiratorially.
“And what will that be?” Johnny asked in a whisper as Roy moved closer to his partner in order to hear the answer.
“Walks in Fire,” he said with a proud smile. “In honor of you.”
John’s face turned scarlet as his hand came to rest on the boys shoulder. “That’s a good name and a honorable goal but remember Billy…The fire kills as well and you need to respect it.”
The boy nodded. “I will Dances with Fire and thank you for talking to me…I will make you proud.”
“You make your people proud and I will be very happy,” Johnny replied softly. Billy nodded again, taking the reins of both horses and moved off.
Roy’s hand came to rest on John’s shoulder. “You know you changed a lot of lives when you came back here junior?”
John smiled at his friend and kicked at the snow covered grass in embarrassment. “I didn’t really do anything.”
Roy’s hand curled around his partner’s neck. “Yes you did…You proved to them that you and they…Could do anything they set their mind to. That they could succeed off this reservation and make the people of Lame Deer accept them just like you did in LA. I’m so proud of you Johnny…To be your friend I mean.”
“Cut it out,” Johnny muttered quietly but he grinned as his brown eyes caught and held his partners. “That goes both ways ya know?” He added quietly.
Roy tossed him a grin and headed off to join the others as he spotted his son pointing off to another fenced paddock and talking excitedly. Blue Eagle and the others turned to look and so did Roy.
Johnny watched his friend walk away before he glanced over to see Billy talking with his friends and looking back at him. John threw him a wave and turned to follow his partner but a motion off to the side caught his dark eyes.
Blue Eagle and the others had moved quite a distance before they realized John and Roy hadn’t joined them. They stopped to wait. The Indian leader smiled ruefully as he realized who the boy was that was talking to John.
The younger man had no idea of the changes he’d instigated with his last visit. Not only Billy and Ronny Little Cloud but two other young men from the reservation had gone to the academy to become Fire Fighters, one had joined the police force and two others had left to go to college in Billings with Danella.
Several other children had now expressed an interest in occupations off the reservation and while their parents would prefer that they stay and follow tradition, they’d seen for themselves what John Gage had accomplished and had backed off to let them follow their heart.
He felt a tug on his hand and realized that Roy DeSoto’s son was trying to get his attention and was pointing to another paddock a short distance away where a beautiful chestnut was prancing along the pasture fence.
Blue Eagle turned back as Roy joined the group. “Beautiful isn’t he?” The older man questioned as the group oohed and aahed over the handsome stallion. “But you all need to stay away from him…He’s very dangerous.” Their eyes left the horse to look at the Chief. “Rains Fire has already seriously injured five of my best riders, two of them without them even getting on his back. You can’t get near him and we keep him only for breeding.”
The others nodded and looked back toward the flaming red chestnut in awe. There was a collective gasp of horror at what they saw.
Johnny hadn’t been with them and hadn’t heard Blue Eagles warning. He was opening the gate into the paddock as the huge horse turned his attention to this new threat.
Danella opened her mouth to call a warning as Roy started to run toward his partner but Blue Eagle suddenly raised his hand to stop them. “Wait…,” he commanded softly.
“WAIT,” Roy barked in surprise. “You just said that animal is dangerous and my best friend is in there with him.” He started to move once more but the older man’s hand gripped his arm and restrained him.
“Dance with Fire has always had a way with animals, especially horses. Even as a child they seemed to sense that he was…Special.”
“Yeah…Well he’s special to me too,” Roy muttered. He remembered John’s slightly awkward beginnings with the company’s first mascot…Boot. The dog hadn’t taken to John at all at first but in all fairness, the dog had come around to loving the young fire fighter…Even being jealous of his attention toward a stray cat that had wandered into the station.
“Please Roy just wait…,” he urged as they watched the animal prance angrily toward the tall, dark haired paramedic.
John approached the gate where the beautiful stallion was strutting angrily along the rails…His alert brown eyes and flaring nostrils evidence of his fury at the presence of these people near him. The head turned toward the man as he pushed the gate open and stepped inside.
The ears flattened back against his head and stalked toward the intruder. John moved toward him as well, stopping as the front feet lifted warningly before stomping down to paw the ground in annoyance.
Roy’s heart climbed into his throat. He glanced at the others…Their faces were pale with fear as well. Only Blue Eagle seemed calm as they watched Johnny and the huge stallion face off.
John lifted his hand palm out toward the horse and they could see his mouth moving but couldn’t hear the words. They began to move slowly toward the fence as Johnny continued to speak.
“Anene ho’nó éve e’etanó…,” (Do not be afraid) John whispered to the animal. Rain's Fire tossed his head, stomping his foot…Not coming any closer but not retreating either. Johnny stepped toward him.
“God Johnny…don’t!” Roy whispered in fear for his friend but he was afraid to yell and frighten the animal with his partner so close. Danella and Joanne gripped his hands tightly in terror as well but remained silent.
Blue Eagle looked toward them but quickly returned his attention to John and the horse. “Rain's Fire is listening,” he said with certainty. “He would have attacked by now otherwise.”
Roy wasn’t reassured. “Great,” he murmured.
The horse shook his head and danced in a circle uncertainly. “No’hón…Né tse ho’no’ éxan’mo,” (Steady…I will not hurt you) Johnny murmured as the animals ears flicked forward. The wary dark eyes stopped their rolling and the snorting breaths eased to sniff cautiously toward the man before him.
Blue Eagle’s mouth curled in a pleased grin as John stepped forward turning his hand in a gesture of offering. The horse remained motionless…The dark eyes locked with John’s…“Nenáasēstse hé ného’kȧhéto háahpe’omóhtahe no’k…” (Come here to me proud one).
Sensing no danger from this one, the horse took a cautious step toward the offered hand. John grinned and nodded encouragingly. “Nenáasēstse hé ného’kȧhéto,” he urged again.
“Would you look at that?” Hank muttered as the horse stepped close to Johnny. The young man turned his hand to lightly rest against the animal’s nose and reaching up with the other to scratch under the animals mane before running his hand over the glossy neck.
“I don’t believe it,” Roy mumbled.
Rain's Fire snorted and pushed his head against John’s shoulder almost shoving the slight paramedic backward. John laughed and rubbed the horse’s nose. He glanced toward the white faces watching him in stunned amazement before patting the stallion’s neck and walking toward the gate. The horse followed him.
Johnny opened the gate and gave the animal a light push backward before he stepped through and closed it behind him. The horse tossed his head and turned to pace the fence line once again.
John approached the others. “What’s wrong?” He asked at their anxious looks.
Roy gripped his shoulders. “Dammit Johnny…Someday you’re gonna get yourself killed doin stuff like that. You nearly scared me to death,” he barked, giving John a light shake.
“You could have been killed mé’oo’o,” Danella said as she stepped close and took his hand.
“What are you talking about?” Johnny asked in confusion.
Roy ran his hands through his blonde hair in frustration. “That animal is dangerous. Blue Eagle said he’s already hospitalized five men.”
“Oh,” John murmured turning to look at the horse that was watching him from the fence. “Horses aren’t usually aggressive unless they feel threatened,” Johnny said innocently. “I guess he never saw me as a threat.”
“Well I certainly saw him as one,” Roy muttered in annoyance as his hands dropped away from John’s shoulders. John threw a grin at his over protective partner.
Blue Eagle grinned. “You haven’t lost your touch Dances with Fire. Your grandfather was always so proud of the way you handled the horses.”
Johnny blushed but threw a grateful smile toward the Chief. “Thank you Blue Eagle…That’s nice to know.”
“Well…I think you’ve all had enough excitement for one day,” Blue Eagle said. “Why don’t we head back and give you a chance to rest before dinner. The lodge is open for you all to use as a meeting place, so feel free to go there to plan your days.”
“Thank you,” Kel said for all of them as they started back to town.
Dani squeezed John’s hand. “I uh…Thought you might like to take a walk with me to the river before dinner Johnny,” she suggested softly. “There is a special pine tree waiting for us.”
Roy and Kel both grinned at the slightly confused looks of the others but John’s dark eyes turned toward the girl…The seductive gleam letting the girl know he knew exactly what she had in mind. Dani grinned deliciously and it was all Johnny could do not to pick her up and carry her to their special place.
They strolled back to town and the group split up to head for the homes of their hosts. Joseph and Sena smiled a greeting as the group entered the lodge. “Did you all have fun?” Sena asked them but her eyes were on Chris and Jen.
“We had a great time Mrs. Four Feathers…Chet’s horse got spooked by a gunshot and Uncle Johnny had to chase it down and then…”
“Uncle Johnny caught a baby cow with a rope,” Jen said excitedly, interrupting her brother’s story.
Joseph and Sena’s eyes looked at John worriedly. “A gunshot…?” Joseph asked.
“Blue Eagle thought it might be poachers,” John explained with a shrug.
They nodded as Chris took up the story again. “And then Uncle Johnny got in the pasture with the red horse…”
Joseph’s mouth dropped in shock. “You don’t mean Rain's Fire?” Chris nodded his head and once again the older man’s eyes swept John looking for signs of injury but he seemed fine. “I take it you out ran him?” He asked lightly.
“No…,” Roy said drily. “He walked right up to him and patted him.”
“It was so cool Mr. Four Feathers,” Chris finished, giving his Uncle an admiring look.
Danella squeezed John’s hand. “I’ll be right back na’mehoht,” she said as she mounted the stairs. John watched her go, admiring the swing of her hips as she climbed the stairs.
“You could have been badly hurt Johnny,” Sena said worriedly dragging John’s attention off of Danella and back to the conversation.
“I didn’t know he was dangerous…He just seemed a bit nervous.”
“Would it have stopped you?” Roy asked.
John gave his partner a cocky grin. “Probably not…I just woulda been more careful to stay close to the fence.” Roy shook his head in exasperation. “Roy…I grew up here. I’ve been around horses most of my life.”
“So did the ones he put in the hospital John,” Roy pointed out.
John not Johnny…Oops…His friend was angry with him…“Well yeah but…”
“But John has always had a way with horses,” Joseph said in his future son in laws defense. “We all saw it on many occasions.”
“Well he nearly turned what little hair I have left white.”
They all chuckled at that comment. “Would you all like to go and freshen up before we eat? It’s still early yet.”
They nodded and the children ran upstairs to get their things and take a bath before dinner. Joanne and Sena moved off to look at some of the jewelry for sale in the store while Roy and Joseph went to look at the knives. John waited at the foot of the stairs for Danella to rejoin them. He finally heard her footsteps coming down the stairs. He glanced up and smiled as she made her way toward him carrying a heavy quilt. “What’s that for?” Johnny asked.
“I thought we could go for a walk and its cold out mé’oo’o.”
“Oh…I see,” John said as he pulled the girl toward him. He kissed her gently. “What did you have in mind?” He whispered against her lips as he pulled back.
“We have much to talk about.”
“Talk about?” Johnny questioned, looking a bit disappointed.
Danella giggled drawing an amused smile from her parents along with a confused look from Roy and a knowing one from Joanne. “Among other things,” she whispered back.
John kissed her nose. “Alright na’mehoht,” he agreed, taking the quilt from the girl. Danella took his hand and tugged him toward the door.
The two strolled side by side through town drawing a smile from several of the people at the clasped hands and tender smiles they exchanged. John grinned at the direction they were taking and knew they’d end up at their place by the river.
The towering pine they’d sat beneath that first night hadn’t changed much and John spread the heavy blanket out for them to sit on. His dark eyes turned to Danella with a twinkle of mischief. “So what did you want to talk about?” He asked casually as he took the girl in his arms.
She looped her arms around his neck, rising on tip toe to kiss him warmly. “About how handsome you are without your clothes on na’mehoht,” she breathed against his lips, drawing a chuckle from Johnny at her blatant invitation.
“Did you bring me out here to talk or seduce me?” He teased seriously.
“Both,” she giggled as she shrugged her coat off. “But in what order is up to you.” John grinned at her and tossed his heavy coat aside before taking the girl in his arms once more. His mouth caught hers and the mischief in his eyes quickly fled and the look of desire replaced it. “I have missed you so much,” she whispered as her fingers began to unbutton his shirt.
John caught her lips with his and her mouth parted in invitation. Tongues met and tangled as his long slender fingers made short work of the buttons on her blouse, sliding it off her shoulders and pulling her tight against him.
Her hands were tugging at his belt buckle…Both of them shivered a bit from the cold air wafting over bare skin as the rest of their clothing joined their coats. John pulled back and let his eyes wander over the girl he held in his arms.
“You are so beautiful,” he whispered as he looked her over. Her body had matured in the last four months. Her hips seemed wider and her breasts fuller. There was a slight rounding to her normally flat stomach. He leaned down to let his mouth caress her neck, his breath warm against her skin.
She shivered but not from the cold as his mouth moved downward. Fire seemed to spread through her as his lips caressed her flesh. John swept her off her feet and knelt on the quilt laying her down. Her arms reached up to loop about his neck pulling him down to her as he flipped the heavy covering over both of them.
“It’s been so long mé’oo’o,” she whispered as her fingers trailed over his back causing his skin to shudder under her touch.
He gazed down at her…His fingers stroking the raven hair from her face. “God I’ve waited months for this,” he whispered.
Her foot trailed teasingly up his bare leg. “No more waiting na’mehoht.”
John grinned as his mouth caught hers. His hands moving over her, leaving her nerve endings jumping under his hands until she almost whimpered. “Now Johnny,” she breathed against his lips.
He settled his lean hips between her thighs as her hands tangled in the sable hair.
John had had sex more times than he could remember…Sometimes abandoned and wild, quite often selfishly in his youth…A physical release without emotion or love but not with Danella. He took his time with her… Made love to her slowly…Each gentle thrust of his hips drawing a soft gasp from the girl…Making every second count.
Sweat beaded his brow and his teeth were clenched but he waited until she finally urged him on and he was sure she was with him before he picked up the pace.
“NA’MEHOHT,” she cried against his mouth seconds before his cry joined hers.
They were both panting for air and he rose on his elbows to take his weight from her. Her fingers played through his shaggy, sable hair. “I love you,” she whispered.
“I love you too,” he said gently before rolling to his side and tucking the quilt tightly around them both. His hands slid around her and drew her close against him.
“Hmmm,” he murmured tiredly as he snuggled his face against her shoulder.
“I have something to tell you…I…I hope you’ll like it but...Well…Please don’t be angry with me.”
“I could never be angry with you mé’oo’o,” he murmured, dropping a kiss on her shoulder as his fingers traced small circular patterns on her middle.
Danella drew a deep breath…“Mé’oo’o…I’m pregnant.”
The motion abruptly stopped and Danella turned worried eyes to meet his. John raised his head and flipped the cover back to gaze down at her stomach but he still hadn’t said anything.
Danella’s eyes filled with tears, afraid he was mad at her for springing this little surprise on him…After all she had assured him that she knew how to not get pregnant but he hadn’t exactly given her any warning that night in his apartment either.
She bit her lip as his dark eyes rose to meet hers. “That’s what’s different,” he mumbled. She opened her mouth to offer a tearful apology and try to explain but a broad crooked grin spread across his face. “I’m gonna be a father?” He whispered in awe.
She smiled in relief. “Yes mé’oo’o…” He bent down to kiss her, his hand sliding over the rounded curve of belly before he let out a whoop of joy. He pulled Danella upright and wrapped her in his arms…His mouth catching hers over and over.
“I love you Dani,” he whispered against her lips. He suddenly stopped and pulled back. “What about school?”
“I’m not due until May and I’ll finish school in early March.”
“The wedding is in April,” John murmured. He shook his head. “That wedding gowns gonna be pretty tight by then,” he teased Danella.
She giggled and pushed him over backward to lay on his chest. “Actually I thought we should postpone the wedding in Los Angeles until the baby is born.”
“Oh,” he murmured, sounding disappointed. “I uh…I don’t want our baby to be…,” he hesitated.
She smiled down at him. “I thought that maybe while you were here with all of your family and friends maybe we could get married…A Christmas wedding?”
Johnny knew she’d been a bit disappointed that most of her friends and a good part of her family would be unable to get to Los Angeles for her wedding…This would work out fine and they could still have their wedding in LA for the rest of John’s family and friends after the baby came.
“Okay na’mehoht. You plan it and I’ll be there,” he teased.
“Oh Johnny…Thank you,” she kissed him lingeringly. John’s eyes turned dark as he gazed up at her…The woman he loved and soon to be the mother of his child. She smiled seductively as he rolled her beneath him once more. Her arms looped about his neck while his bore his weight.
“I love you.”
“Nemotohatse Danella,” he breathed.
They returned to the house a long while later. Joseph and Sena exchanged a knowing grin…So did Roy and Jo but for completely different reasons. The children sat before the fire sipping hot cocoa and playing a game they’d brought with them.
John and Dani stopped when they saw for sets of eyes watching them intently. “Um Roy…Jo…Kids?” His glance took in his in laws and from their grins, he knew they were already aware of what he was about to tell his friends. “I uh…I have something to tell you.”
“Okay…,” Roy said curiously. Jo’s mouth curled upward…Men could be so clueless sometimes. Chris and Jen left the game to come and listen.
“I’m gonna be a father,” he said softly. Joanne shot from her chair to hug Johnny tightly as she’d wanted to do all day since she’d figured it out while Roy’s blue eyes widened in shock for a brief moment before he stood up to pull his best friend into his arms…Pounding his back in excitement before turning to Danella. Chris grinned broadly and Jenny jumped up and down excitedly clapping her hands.
“Congratulations…Both of you,” Roy said kissing the girl on the forehead and hugging her gently. He looked to Sena and Joseph to see their reaction and found them both smiling. It was obvious they already knew.
“I’m so happy for you baby,” Jo said smoothing the sable hair from Johnny’s face and kissing Danella. “I’ve been waiting all morning for her to tell you.”
John’s mouth dropped open. “You knew.”
“I figured it out…Another mother can always tell sweetheart. Danella was positively glowing this morning.”
Joseph and Sena stood and pulled John into a warm embrace. “Did she mention the wedding my son?” Joseph asked.
Johnny nodded. “Yes…Christmas eve. An Indian wedding,” he said looking toward Sena. She smiled joyfully.
“Oh Johnny that’s wonderful,” Joanne said excitedly.
“Can we come?” Chris asked in wide eyed excitement. Jenny looked at him hopefully.
“Of course you can…I couldn’t get married without you two.”
“This is so cool Aunt Dani,” Chris said hugging his Aunt while Jen wrapped her arms around Johnny’s legs.
John grew serious. “Um Roy…Jo…?” They looked at him curiously. “Um…The parents of the bride and groom have a role in a tribal wedding and um…” John hesitated uncertainly. It was asking a lot of his friends to fill that role.
Roy smiled at him as he reached out to curl his hand around Johnny’s neck and pull him against him, forehead to forehead. “We’d love to junior,” he said gently.
Jo grinned in understanding. “But that child better never call me Grandma John Gage,” she warned. “It’s Aunt Jo.”
They all laughed and headed off to eat.
Dixie, Kel and Joe enjoyed a quiet dinner with Blue Eagle. They sampled several unfamiliar dishes and laughed at the varying reactions when they found out what they were eating. Joe Early sat talking with Blue Eagle about the medical care on the reservation after dinner while Dixie slid her jacket on and wandered out to the porch to look at the stars.
Kel’s dark eyes watched her go. “Excuse me gentlemen,” he said quietly as he got up to put his jacket on and follow the pretty blonde nurse outside.
“Blue Eagle regarded his friend thoughtfully for a moment before turning to Joe. “Kelly is in love with this woman yes?” He inquired.
“For a long time now Charles,” Joe replied.
“Then why has he never told her?”
“They were an item a few years ago and then the whole Paramedic thing came between them.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Kel was against the program at first…Dixie was all for it. They fought over it and even though Kel eventually came around,” he shrugged ruefully. “The damage was done.”
“Pride can sometimes be a terrible thing,” Blue Eagle admitted. “It was what kept us from seeing Dances with Fire…Um John,” he corrected. “As the special child he was back then…We couldn’t see past the white in him until Roy pointed out that we were punishing an innocent child for what we considered to be wrong. That we were at fault, not him or his parents who looked beyond color or race and simply loved.”
Joe grinned. “Maybe this place is a place for healing old wounds Charles…I hope so anyway.”
“First John…and now Kelly and his woman…?”
Joe liked the sound of that. “That would be nice.”
Dixie felt Kel’s presence before she heard him as he quietly moved up beside her. He leaned on the rail next to her. “Pretty night,” he said quietly…His breath frosting in the cold air.
“Yes it is. Oh Kel…Just look at all the stars,” she said gazing upward.
“I am looking Dixie,” he said stepping closer to her.
She turned her head and found herself looking straight into his eyes. “You said you were looking,” she accused teasingly.
“I am…I’m seeing the ones in your eyes.”
Dixie smiled softly. “What are you doing?” She asked as he reached out to pull her into his arms.
“What does it look like?”
“I thought we were over Kel…A long time ago.”
The dark haired doctor shook his head. “I’ve never been over you Dix…Didn’t you know that?”
Her fingers reached up to touch Kel’s mouth lightly as her eyes caught and held his. “I guess…I never got over you either…”
“It was pride Dix…Pure and simple. I couldn’t admit I was wrong about the paramedics…That you were right about them all along. That you were right too when you said that I wanted someone to cook and clean…But Dixie…I was a fool.”
She grinned up at him. “Well I wouldn’t go that far Kel,” she teased as she flicked a strand of dark hair from his face.
“I let you go over my pride. Dixie…I’m so sorry…I did think that that’s what a woman should be back then.”
She grinned. “And now…?”
“Now…? All I want is you…However I can have you.”
“This isn’t over Blue Eagle’s interest is it?” She asked with a grin, remembering Kel’s annoyance over the man’s attention.
“Of course not…Though I admit it did bother me…I’ve been thinking about this since last summer. I just didn’t know how to tell you. I thought about bringing you here when Johnny brought up coming home for Christmas. I thought if I could get you away from LA…Away from the distractions that maybe I’d have this chance to tell you how I feel without all the stress and noise and…”
His speech was cut off as Dix stood on tip toe to reach up catch his lips with her own. She pulled back a little and grinned. “Shhh,” she instructed softly.
Kel’s arms circled her waist as he pulled her against him…His lips finding hers once more. Dixie’s arms looped about his neck. He backed up a bit to gaze into her blue eyes. “I love you Dix…I always have.”
“I love you Kel.” He smiled and took her hand. “Where are we going?”
“There’s a beautiful spot down by the river…Johnny showed it to me last time we were here,” he explained as he led her away from the porch and down the walk. He slid his arm around her waist as they strolled past the lodge and the trading post making idle small talk.
Kel grinned and gave a subtle nod toward a small home where Danella’s friend Janessa sat on the porch stairs with Marco. “I guess this place has a romantic effect on everyone,” Dixie said with a small giggle as she laid her head against Kel’s shoulder.
“Must be something in the air,” he agreed.
“Or the lack of it,” she teased. “Like smog.”
Kel laughed as he led her to a stand of trees. Pines, birch and cottonwoods lined the banks of the river. He knew the towering pine had a special meaning for Johnny and Danella so he turned the other way, finding a clear spot where they could watch the river flow by and talk…If that’s what Dixie wanted.
They sat in a clear space below the cottonwoods and Kel slid his arm around the pretty blonde nurse pulling her close against his side. She snuggled against him, tilting her head back to look up at him. He smiled at the invitation in her blue eyes as he reached down to kiss her softly. Her fingers stroked his cheek as the kiss deepened and both of them knew this was where they belonged and always had…Together.
Neither had any idea how long they sat under the tree wrapped up in each other but Joe and Blue Eagle were in their beds by the time they returned. Kel kissed her one last time outside her door. “I love you,” he whispered.
“I love you too…I’ll see you in the morning,” she said regretting the fact that they were guests in someone else’s home at the moment and she couldn’t invite him in. They’d have plenty of time later.
The group formed in the lodge early the next morning. They poured cups of coffee and yawned…Still stretching out stiff muscles from unfamiliar beds. John sipped his coffee as he watched his friends and wondered what their reaction would be when he told them his news.
He looked over to where a grinning Marco and a sour looking Chet Kelly were standing and went over to talk to his friend. “What’s got you so happy this morning Marc?” He asked curiously.
“Janessa,” he said with a lift to one eyebrow.
“Ahh,” Johnny said with a smile. “She’s a very pretty girl.”
“Es muy bonita,” Marco agreed dreamily. “And she’s so nice…”
Chet shrugged… “She was alright?”
“What’s the matter Chet…Jealous?” Johnny taunted.
“You’re just mad cuz the girl has good taste,” Marco added with a smirk. “She mentioned a big Christmas dance so I’m taking her to dinner in Lame Deer and then to the dance Johnny…Maybe you, Danella, Roy and Joanne could come along.”
“Melissa and I might like that too,” Mike added.
“Well…I guess I see who my friends are,” Chet sneered at being left out.
“Maybe you can call Erin when we get to town…She hasn’t had a chance to really get to know ya yet so she might even say yes,” Johnny suggested innocently.
“Cute Gage and maybe I will.”
“Will what Chet?” Roy asked as he joined them.
“Ask Erin out.”
Roy’s mouth quirked in a grimace… “Eh…Poor girl,” he mumbled.
John, Mike and Marco hooted with laughter as Chet frowned indignantly. “Nice Roy,” he said shaking his head and wandering off.
“Ahh c’mon Chet don’t go away mad…,” Johnny called after him, but the Irishman kept walking.
The door opened and Joe, Kelly and Dixie strolled in. Brackett had his arm around the pretty blonde nurse. John and Roy exchanged a curious glance. “What’s up with that?” Roy asked quietly.
John shrugged. “I knew they used to be a couple but I thought that was over years ago.”
“I guess its back on,” Roy muttered.
“That would be nice…They should be together.”
Roy chuckled. “It’s contagious huh Junior…? You’re in love so everyone should be?” Mike and Marco chuckled as John’s face reddened.
Dr. Handly and Dr. Carlton came in and headed for the coffee pot. They turned to the group gathered as they wrapped their chilled fingers around the steaming mug. “Okay everyone. We’re heading to the hospital in Sheridan…It’s about sixty miles from here but it’s the biggest in the area. The doctors from our local area emergency clinics and hospitals will meet us there along with the local fire chiefs and the paramedics and crews that you’ll be working with.”
“What do we do there?” Hank asked.
“We’ve asked Dr. Brackett and Miss McCall to speak to the hospital staff. Some are still skeptical and some are downright resistant to the program. It’s the same for the fire department. We figured if we could get them all in the same room…Let them ask their questions and see you all as a cohesive team…Show them that it works from the engine crew to the paramedics to the hospital…Maybe we’ll be able to convince them,” Steve explained.
“Johnny…Roy. I was hoping you’d put on a little demonstration along with Kel…To show them just what can be accomplished.” Sean added.
“What do we do?” Roy asked.
“What you always do,” Kel explained. He and the other two doctors had set this up over the phone. “I’ve set it up with the Sean and Steve and a training dummy. “They’ll be manning a rigged heart monitor. You won’t know what that monitor will show until they set it. You’ll be reading it just as if you were on the scene and they’ll be feeding you the symptoms and we’ll be able to show them how this really works.”
“And Hank and the crew will jump in when necessary, just as they do when they’re in the field with you.”
Hank nodded easily. He had no doubt his men would put on quite a show.
“After that we’ll let Kel, Joe and Dixie stay at the hospital to teach some of their techniques and we’ll bring you all back here to the fire station to work with the men from Lame Deer and the surrounding towns. They’ll be taking what they learn back to their own departments. These men are dedicated and they really want this to succeed so they’ll be paying close attention. So as soon as you’re ready gentleman…Miss McCall?”
“You gonna tell them?” Roy murmured aside to John.
The younger man nodded, blushing slightly as he cleared his throat. “Um…Everyone…? I have something to tell you.”
Conversation stopped and all eyes turned to the youngest member of their team. “What is it John?” Hank asked.
“Um…Danella and I talked last night…”
Chet chuckled and tossed a grin at Marco. “I’ll bet that’s not all he was doin,” Chet smirked. He grunted as the Latino’s elbow connected with his ribs at the crude comment. “What happened Gage…She realize her mistake and dump ya?” Chet taunted.
John shot his crew mate a withering look but continued on. “We’re getting married on Christmas Eve.”
The room erupted into smiles and excited congratulations as his friends gathered around him. “Will it be an Indian Wedding Johnny?” Dixie asked.
“Yes but we’re still having the other one in LA for the people who can’t be here…It was just…Well…”
“Go on junior…Tell them.”
“Tell us what pal?” Hank asked as they quieted to hear him.
John grinned, looking a little embarrassed. “I’m gonna be a father,” he said softly.
“Oh Johnny,” Dixie whispered as she flung her arms around John in a tight hug. “Congratulations sweetie.”
“Congratulations man,” Mike said shaking John’s hand enthusiastically.
“John that’s wonderful pal,” Hank said pulling the younger man into a brief embrace.
Joe patted his back and Kel squeezed his shoulder in a congratulatory gesture. Marco ruffled the sable hair with a grin.
“Great,” Chet muttered with a disgusted shake of his head. “That’s what the world needed…Another Gage.”
The others looked at the Irishman in shock until his eyes crinkled and a grin split his face. He hugged the younger man briefly. “You’ll be a good father John,” he said quietly before he stepped back.
“Thanks Chet,” he replied.
“Father,” Chet specified. “As a husband…?” He rocked his hand skeptically. “Eh…I still think you’ll be sleeping on the couch a lot,” he teased, breaking the tender moment.
They all laughed. “Danella is telling Emily and Melissa today. She thought they might like to help her plan it along with her mom and Jo. Roy and Jo have agreed to stand in for my parents.”
“Well that’s appropriate,” Mike said. “He’s been like a big brother to you since day one.”
John threw his partner a smile. “He’s been more than that,” he said softly. Roy threw him a wink and a gentle pat on the back of the dark head.
“Let’s get going junior.”
They all piled out and headed for the vans.
Emily Stanley, Melissa Stoker and Michael Jr. entered the trading post a short time later. Joanne greeted them with a huge grin, grabbing their hands excitedly.
“What is it Jo?” Emily asked the beaming younger woman.
“Johnny and Danella are getting married on Christmas Eve.”
“What!” Melissa exclaimed, looking shocked.
Jo nodded. “They told us last night. There’s not much time so Dani wants us to help her and her mother with the wedding plans and she needs a gown.”
“She has a gown,” Emily said in confusion.
Jo grinned. “An Indian wedding gown...”
“Oh…,” Melissa said in understanding.
“What is it Jo?” Emily asked, seeing the joy reflecting in Joanne’s blue eyes.
“Danella will tell you. Come on.” She grabbed their hands and tugged them toward the stairs.
The three women moved into the large upstairs living area but the young woman was nowhere in sight. Sena came into the room a moment later with Chris and Jen in tow.
Jen looked sad. “Mommy…Aunt Dani is sick. She’s throwing up in the bathroom,” she said moving into her mom’s arms.
“It is alright little one,” Sena said gently, stroking the blonde curls and smiling at Jo. “It will pass soon,” she assured the little girl.
“It’s gross,” Chris muttered as he flopped on the couch looking a little green himself.
Melissa and Emily’s eyes widened knowingly as they looked to Joanne. She nodded with a grin. “Oh…That’s wonderful,” Emily said hugging a smiling Melissa.
“Does Johnny know about the baby?” Melissa asked.
“Yes…He’s very excited.”
Dani made her way into the room still looking a bit pale. She smiled wanly at their grins. “Did Jo tell you?”
“About the wedding sweetie,” Emily told her. “We kind of figured out the other part.”
“I’m sorry…That wasn’t very pleasant,” she mumbled.
“But understandable and we’re so happy for you and John.”
Little Fox and John’s Aunts came into the room. “We were told you wanted to see us,” Little Fox said worriedly. “Is something wrong?”She asked seeing the paleness of Dani’s face.
“No…No everything is fine,” Dani assured them. “But Johnny and I talked last night and we decided to move the wedding up.”
“Again,” Lacee complained. “When will it be now?”
Jo frowned at the irritated sound of her voice. “Christmas Eve,” she answered for the younger woman.
“So soon…?” Mase asked worriedly. “Will you be able to put this together that quickly?”
“If you’ll all help me, then yes.”
“Of course we will White Mist,” Little Fox said joyfully. “I would do anything for you and Dances with Fire.”
“Well of course,” Lacee said primly. “Which of us did John choose to stand as his parents? It really should be me as the oldest and…”
Joanne exchanged a worried glance with Danella but it was Little Fox that spoke up, silencing the woman. “It really should be the two people who took him in as their own when his own people rejected him,” she said turning to Joanne.
Lacee drew herself up in irritation. “Well really…”
“She’s right,” Mase said quietly as her eyes locked with Jo’s. “It should be the ones who have loved him with their whole heart as his parents would have…Is that you and your husband Joanne?”
Jo smiled as tears sprang to her eyes. “Yes…Yes it is.”
She nodded with certainty in her look. “Then I will help you with the blankets for John and Danella and your dress.”
Little Fox turned to Danella and her mother. “I would be honored to make the white blanket for them and help with whatever else is necessary.”
“Danella and I will work on her dress. Joseph will take the children to collect the wood for the fires.” Sena looked at Lacee who was still looking affronted at being pushed aside in favor of the white woman but she knew she stood alone and would be left out completely if she pushed it.
“I will provide the vase and the gifts of the seven steps,” she said sullenly.
Sena nodded. Danella and John will need to speak to Blue Eagle and ask him to perform the ceremony but I don’t think there will be a problem with it. I will also teach Joanne and Roy what is expected of them during the ceremony.
“What do you need us to do?” Emily asked.
“Can you sew?” Danella asked desperately.
They both nodded and grinned. “Can you help us with John and Roy’s outfits? We will help but there are no sewing machines…Here it is all by hand.”
“They both nodded, excited to be a part of John and Dani’s wedding.
“I will get Janessa to help as well and thank you…All of you,” Danella said.
The crew pulled into the parking lot of Lame Deer’s newest fire station number 7. They made their way inside where they were greeted by the Captain and crew along with the off duty crew of Station 28.
“I’m Captain David Spencer,” he introduced himself before turning to the others. “You already know the A Shift crew of 28’s and these two gentlemen here are the A and B shift senior Paramedics…Mark Doyle and Glen Sanders. This is one of the engine crew Matt Wheeler…He’ll be training along with 28’s so he can teach them what you’re all doing.”
John’s head had snapped up at the name. “Wheeler…? I went to school with a Jim Wheeler…Any relation?” He asked warily.
“Yeah...My brother,” Wheeler said with a smug grin as he extended his hand to greet the visiting crew. He pointedly skipped over John but the others were too busy to notice.
Roy saw John’s mouth tighten. “You okay junior?” He asked as Hank introduced his own crew.
“Fine,” he replied quietly as he continued to shake hands with the others.
Captain Spencer held out his hand to John... "I'm not sure if you remember me or not Johnny but I remember you," he said shaking the younger man's hand.
John looked blank for a long moment before a broad grin spread across his features. "You gave me my first helmet over at station 28. I was six."
"Five," Spencer corrected. "Your dad brought you in for your fifth birthday."
"That's right," John said, smiling. "How's the Captain...Uh...," he snapped his fingers trying to remember the man's name. He and his crew had taken to John from the start and Rod had brought him in several times and then later...After Roderick's death they had taken the boy under their wing...Teaching him the ropes while he waited for his mother to get off work on many nights. The Captain had even taken him to the hospital when he'd become sick with pneumonia.
"Rigsby," Spencer supplied.
John nodded. "And Hailey and Winston.
"Most of them are still with the department...Just in other towns. Rigsby retired but I see him alot...He'll be happy to know you made it John...He knew you would despite your grandfather and that lunatic uncle of yours."
John flushed a bit at the words...They'd rescued him from his uncle Joseph once but although they suspected, none of them had ever known the truth about what had been done to him by uncle George except for Rigsby. John had been too afraid and ashamed to tell anyone back then. "Thanks. Please give him my best," he said softly.
"You have no idea how badly that man wanted to keep you...Raise you himself do you?" Spencer asked softly.
John's mouth dropped open in shock. "Nnn...No I...I thought he was happy to be rid of me...I was such a problem," he finished with a small shrug.
"Nope...He wanted you in the worst way but the old man wouldn't give you up. He was disappointed when your aunt showed up and took you away. Glad for you of course but...," he trailed off with a 'there you are then' lift of his shoulders.
John bit his lip uncertainly. He'd never known that...He'd always thought they were glad to be rid of him after all the trouble he'd caused them. "I never knew...Thank him for me when you see him again?" John asked with a small smile..
"I will Johnny." Captain Spencer turned to Hank. “The rest of your trainees are at the hospital for the meeting that Dr. Handly arranged so you’ll meet them all there. We’re very happy to have you all here and we’ve been told by Chief Sorenson that he sent us the best crew and the best paramedic team LA has,” he said with a grin.
“Well he was right. I’d put my crew up against anyone and Roy and John are the best team in LA,” Hank boasted proudly but he Several sets of eyes flick to Johnny and subtly shook his head. Couldn’t these people see past the kid’s heritage and just see the young man for who he was? What would it take he wondered?
The crew of station 51 was shown to the locker room so they could stow their gear. They’d be returning here after the meeting to begin working with the men. They boarded the vans and headed for the hospital.
John pushed Wheeler from his mind and answered the questions Sanders and Doyle were asking. Roy’s blue eyes glanced at him a couple of times but Johnny seemed fine now and he let it drop…Turning back to Brown and Curry.
They arrived an hour later and made their way to a large conference room where the others already waited. Johnny and Roy blew a nervous breath at the sight of so many firemen, Paramedics, Doctor and nurses packing the room…Most of them had their arms folded across their chests…The skeptical looks were obvious. “Man…We better make this good,” Johnny whispered to his partner.
“Just do what we always do partner and we’ll be fine.”
Handly and Carlton took a few moments to set up while the rest of the group found a place to sit. Several training dummies along with John and Roy’s regular gear were laid out. Brackett, Dixie and Hank took a seat behind the podium.
Steve Handly stepped to the podium. “Good morning,” he greeted the seated group. “I’m Dr. Steven Handly from Lame Deer. I’m glad you all could make it today.” He turned to the group seated behind him. “I’d like to take a minute to introduce you to Dr. Kelly Brackett…Chief of Emergency services at Rampart General Hospital in Los Angeles.”
There was a round of applause before Handly turned to the others. “Head emergency room Nurse Dixie McCall and Captain Henry Stanley…Station 51 from Los Angeles.” Again there was applause. “A few months ago I had the privilege of meeting Dr. Brackett and two of his paramedics when the Influenza B epidemic was sweeping through our community. I was very impressed by what I saw…They’re skill, professionalism, the teamwork…It was impressive and I couldn’t put it out of my head. So I asked Dr. Brackett to help me to implement the program here. I know some of you are a bit skeptical so they’re here to explain a little more about the paramedic program which will go into effect seven days from now…Kel,” he said without preamble.
Brackett stood up and adjusted his coat and stepped to the podium. “Good morning,” he greeted with a smile. “I’m here to explain the paramedic program and how it works and I can see from the looks on some of your faces that there’re still some doubts…? Well let me try to alleviate that. four and a half years ago I was one of you and I would have been sitting there with you and most likely in the same posture.”
There were a few chuckles and some of them dropped their arms and looked a little more open. “When Los Angeles first proposed the paramedic program I was dead set against the practice of what I called roadside medicine.”
Several doctors nodded their heads in agreement but Kel continued. “Until one stubborn nurse, a wise surgeon and two willful but well trained ‘hose jockey’s’ changed my mind,” he added looking pointedly at the two young firemen in the front row.
The firemen and Chiefs in the room chuckled at the pseudonym while Johnny and Roy sunk a bit lower in their chairs in embarrassment.
“Against my wishes and belief in the program, my head nurse and close friend volunteered my hospital and my services to train a paramedic class and while I was pretty angry at the time it turned out to be one of the smartest things I’ve ever done.”
“Until that bill passed a nurse had to travel with the paramedics to actually perform any medical procedure other than basic first aid.” He looked at Dixie and smiled. “My head nurse was with two paramedics on a run to a remote area of LA on a traffic accident. During the rescue she herself was injured and rendered unconscious by a severe head injury. Due to that remote location, she and the original victims were now over sixty minutes from medical attention and the only help available were two young firemen…Roy DeSoto and John Gage. Like most of you, I was sure these young men with five months of training couldn’t possibly match my experience and in my arrogance I ordered them not to treat those victims.”
Kel looked down at the floor for a long moment. “Had these two listened to me…Miss McCall here would be dead today.” There was a slight murmur around the room. “They took the instructions that I thought I had been giving to Miss McCall and they treated those victims. I was angry about that and read them the riot act for their actions. My colleague here,” he said turning to Joe Early. “Reminded me that despite the fact that they defied me…The program had worked…If they had waited it would have been over an hour before those injuries were treated and I most likely would have lost all three victims. These two young men did everything that I would have done…The difference is that it was done sixty minutes sooner. I appeared before the house a few days later to appeal to them to pass the bill.”
“During that address I mentioned that the bill might save a hundred lives or maybe just one…Ladies and gentlemen in four and a half years it’s saved several hundred lives…Automobile accidents, heart attacks or a hundred other possibility’s out here where your hospitals are sometimes miles from the scene…How many will they save?”
“Roy…Johnny,” Kel said quietly. “I never said thank you for saving Dixie’s life that afternoon so I’m saying it now…Thank you.”
John and Roy both looked shocked for a moment before they nodded their gratitude. “You’re welcome Doc,” Roy said with a grin. The closeness between them was fairly obvious to everyone.
Kel turned to Dixie and the pretty blonde stood up and addressed the group in her usual no nonsense manner. “I’m here to talk mostly to the nurses but you doctors can feel free to listen as well.” Laughter broke out around the room. “You may look at these men as competition…Intruding into your territory. Let me assure you that’s not what they’re doing. These men are your eyes and ears at the scene. They’re well trained and they’re dedicated individuals…Learn to trust them. I’ve seen Dr. Brackett back down when a paramedic at a scene,” she said looking at Roy with a smile…“Told him he was wrong about a reading on the cardiac monitor. The hospitals monitor had malfunctioned and the paramedic was correct but if the doctor hadn’t trusted him…It could have been disastrous. I once told another doctor who felt the way some of you do that these men will treat people in situations that will curl your hair,” Dixie shrugged. “That’s true but the point isn’t where they treat them…It’s when. Out there…Fifteen minutes….A half hour…An hour sooner than it would be without them can make the difference between life and death.”
She sat down. Handly stood up… “We have a short demonstration on just how a team should work together from the hospital to the paramedics and the crew.”
Hank stepped to the podium. “I’m Captain Henry Stanley from Station 51 in Los Angeles.” He looked over to where the Fire Chief and fire fighters had gathered. “First let me tell you that we had a lot of the same worries when the paramedics first began in California as well. Our Chiefs did not like the idea of their fire fighters running around with stethoscopes hanging around their necks and BP cuffs falling out of their pockets.”
There were several nods of agreement from the group that Hank was addressing. “Let me assure you, that’s not the case. Our paramedics are also rescue men and fully trained fire fighters and they are used in that capacity when necessary. I’ve been privileged to work with the best crew and the two finest paramedics LA has and no one would argue that point.”
Hank waved his crew forward. “Engineer Mike Stoker… Lineman Chet Kelly and Marco Lopez and my two paramedics…Roy DeSoto and John Gage.” There was no mistaking the pride in his voice. “Gentlemen… Let’s show them.”
The practice dummies were laid out and each one had a tag to tell the team what the injuries were. They set to work. John and Roy quickly triaged the injuries and began to quickly issue instructions. “Cap set up the bio-phone and establish the link with base,” Roy instructed.
“Chet victim one has a broken left tibia…Get a traction splint on it,” Johnny instructed as he took the make believe BP…pulse and respirations...
“Victim three is having trouble breathing,” Roy said pulling the cardiac monitor around and setting up the leads.
Brackett was standing by watching…
“Victim two has a strong pulse and his respirations are 16…He appears to have a back injury. Marco…Mike…get a collar on him and get him on a backboard,” Johnny said as Roy began to read the monitor that Handly was controlling.
“Johnny…He’s throwing PVC’s on the T Wave.”
John snapped up the Biophone as their attention shifted to the more critical patient. “Rampart base this is County 51, how do you read me?”
Brackett responded. “County 51 this is Rampart, go ahead.”
“Rampart…We have three victim’s. Victim three is throwing PVC’s on the T wave Rampart…He’s having difficulty breathing and is in extreme pain. BP is 90/60 pulse is 60…Respirations are shallow.”
“Is your monitor hooked up?”
“10-4 Rampart…We’re sending you a strip…This will be lead 2.” They allowed the monitor to run while John draped the phone over his shoulder and snapped up the IV kit and a bag of normal saline and set it next to him. He reached for the Lidocaine as Brackett’s voice came back.
“Are there any other injuries 51?”
“None apparent Rampart,” John replied snapping the phone into position. “Start an IV 51…Normal Saline. Give 100 mgs Lidocaine bolus and 5 mgs MS IV.”
“10-4 Rampart… Establish and Esophageal airway…Give 100 MGS Lidocaine and 5 mgs MS IV…”
The pretend drugs were administered to the pretend victim. “What are the vitals on victims one and two?” Brackett asked.
John reeled them off as Roy quickly established the airway… “Victim 2 appears to have a back injury…We have applied a collar and have taken spinal precautions. Victim 1 has a broken left tibia and we have applied a traction splint,” John reported as Handly played with the monitor. It began to beep wildly. John dropped the phone and spun the monitor… “Roy…He’s fibrillating…” John snatched up the Biophone as Roy grabbed the paddles. John was already reaching for the conductive gel.
“Cap…I need the resuscitator…,” Roy ordered as John spread the gel on the paddles.
“Rampart our victim is in V Fib…Standing by to defibrillate.”
“Defibrillating…” Roy applied the paddles and looked at the scope as Handly once again played with the controls. “Flat line,” Roy called.
“Flat line Rampart…Defibrillating again.” Roy once again fired the paddles.
John shook his head… “No conversion Rampart.”
“One Amp sodium Bicarb…” Brackett instructed.
Roy’s deft fingers snapped the cap’s from the two pieces, snapping them together while Chet managed the resuscitator. He sank the long needle expertly into the dummy’s chest.” John snapped up the paddles and placed them over the chest...Firing the paddles. Handly played with the controls once more.
“Rampart base…We have sinus rhythm.”
“10-4 51…Transport victim as soon as possible. Are victims one and two in a lot of pain?”
“Moderate,” John replied.
“Administer 50 mgs of Meperidine to victim one 51. Transport both as soon as possible.”
John and Roy stood up and looked at Brackett. The room was quiet but there was a lot of shifting in the seats. Brackett threw a wink at the crew.
One of the Doctor’s in the crowd finally stood up. “That was very impressive…You put on quite a show gentlemen. Thank you.”
John and Roy nodded as Handly took the podium once more. “Ladies and Gentlemen…What you just saw was a demonstration of what a trained team can do. Three live and stable patients being transported to the hospital. Had this been real and without paramedics, this man would have arrived in a body bag.”
Brackett stepped up beside him. “John and Roy triaged and took over the scene…The crew...Including Captain Stanley immediately responded to their directives and assisted in taking vitals and in the first aid side of treatment. They knew what would be asked of them and were ready when it came but waited for the directive of the doctor to implement it. That is excellent training and that is teamwork and that’s what we hope to teach you.”
Handly took over once again. “We know it will take time to establish the level of confidence and teamwork these men have achieved but that’s exactly why they are here. To help you reach that goal. Dr. Brackett, Dr. Early and Miss McCall will be here the rest of the day…After that they’ll be moving from hospital to hospital to work with your emergency room doctors on establishing a procedure. The crew and the paramedics will be here for about an hour to help answer questions and from there…They’ll be returning to Lame Deer to work with the crews so feel free to ask your questions before they leave.”
Handly, Brackett were pleased to see their listeners begin to rise and begin asking questions. Their message had gotten through.
The crews returned to station 7 before noon and sat down to gratefully eat the lunch that the small café they’d eaten at the day before had provided. Chet smiled at the pretty red head who’d volunteered to deliver it to the hungry group of men.
Chet moved over to the girl while the others continued to eat. “I was hoping to see you today before we headed back to the reservation,” he said casually. “I woulda called ya but they uh…Don’t have phones out there.”
Erin grinned. “There’s a phone at the trading post Chet,” she told him in amusement. “Four Feathers had it installed when Danella went off to school.”
Chet shot an ugly look at his youngest crew mate. “Gage,” he barked. “You coulda told me your girl friend had a phone you idiot.” The insult drew a smirk from Matt Wheeler.
“You coulda asked Kelly,” John shot back. “Besides…I didn’t want her to hold Danella responsible if you really did ask her out.”
The others chuckled at Kelly’s irritated frown as he turned back to the woman. “Some of the crew are comin into town on Saturday night…So um…Are you interested in ya know…Like dinner maybe…Ya know…Uh Saturday night.”
He heard Gage’s chuckle from the table. “That was real smooth Kelly,” he snorted sarcastically.
“Shut up Gage,” he snapped back.
Wheeler grinned at the obvious animosity between the two men. It was clear that the half breed wasn’t well liked by his own crew either. He rose from the table and left the room with a couple of other men.
Erin rested her hand on Chet’s arm, drawing his attention back to her. “I’d love to have dinner with you on Saturday Chet…I volunteered to deliver the food so I could see you again.”
Chet shot a smirk at Johnny. He grinned back. “Don’t worry Chet…One dates all it’ll take for her to figure you out but Erin…Don’t let it ruin your friendship with Dani okay?” Johnny teased.
Hank stood up with a shake of his head at his crews antics. Station 48’s Captain Walker and Station 7’s Captain Spencer grinned at the man. “They like this all the time?” Walker asked.
“Hmmph,” Hank grunted. “This is their good behavior,” he said with a chuckle. “Okay guys…Let’s get our gear and get to work.”
Spencer and Walker got their own men moving as well.
“I’ll call you and let you know the details,” Chet said as he followed the rest of the team out.
The group moved into the locker room and Kelly almost plowed into Gage’s back as the younger man stopped abruptly. “Cripe Gage…I almost broke my…” He stopped at the collective gasp of shock from several of the men gathered in the room. Chet stepped around John to see what had upset them.
There was a single Indian word scrawled in red across the locker that Johnny had stowed his things in… Most of the crew from station 51 had no idea what it said but the hurt look in their friends dark eyes and the rage in Roy’s was evidence enough that it probably wasn’t good.
“Ox…O’xeve’ho’e,” he stammered out the word. “What’s it mean?” Chet asked curiously.
John’s mouth tightened and his dark eyes flicked about the room until they settled on Wheeler who’d just rejoined them. It had been his younger brother’s favorite taunt when Johnny had been a child. “It means me Chet,” Johnny said softly. The Irishman looked confused.
“Who did that?” Spencer snapped out angrily, looking around at the men.
“What is it John?” Hank asked softly already knowing it probably wasn’t good.
“It’s an Indian word Cap…It means half breed,” Johnny mumbled looking embarrassed.
Hanks temper soared and from the look on most of the faces around him, he wasn’t the only one.
“Who’d write such a crummy thing like that about Johnny?” Chet snapped looking around at the others and surprising Wheeler at his defensive attitude over the younger man he’d just been fighting with.
“John…I’m so sorry,” Captain Walker said in disgust.
The young man shook his head. “It’s okay,” he said looking away and trying to smile despite the hurt.
Roy’s blue eyes were blazing in anger along with the rest of John’s friends. “No Johnny…It’s not okay.”
“It’s written in Indian…Who’d know how to do that?” Mike asked.
Ronny Little Cloud looked a bit worried. “Dances with Fire…You know I would never…”
John threw him a crooked grin as his eyes once again flicked toward the smirking Wheeler. “No Little Cloud…I know it wasn’t you.”
“I’m afraid it could be any number of people here today,” Walker said angrily. “We all know a smattering of the language.”
“I’m pretty sure I know who.”
Spencer looked at him. “Would you care to share that information Gage because there’s no excuse for this from a member of my crew?” The others were nodding.
“It doesn’t matter…” John began but Roy reached out and gripped his arm, spinning him around toward him.
“What do you mean? Of course it matters…You can’t just shrug this off.”
“It’s true,” Johnny said quietly.
John’s friends gasped at the quietly voiced comment. “Dammit Johnny,” Roy began but the younger man held up his hand to stop him.
“Roy…I am only half Indian.”
“That’s not the point this jerk was trying to make,” Marco said angrily, drawing a glare from Wheeler.
“Guys…It’s okay,” John said again, touched by his friends indignation and anger on his behalf. “A few months ago that woulda bothered me a lot but…”
“Johnny, you’re my best friend. I saw the hurt in your eyes…Don’t ask me not to be angry. You’re one of the best paramedics in LA and you came here to help these people…”
“Roy…Don’t ya get it?” Johnny interrupted. “Sure it hurt but if some narrow minded bigot wants to call me that.” Johnny shrugged helplessly as Wheeler glared at him angrily. John smiled. “But Roy…You've taught me that the only opinions that matter are the ones of my family,” he said looking straight into the blue eyes of his partner. “And my friends…” The dark eyes swept over the crew from 51. “They’re the only ones that count.”
Roy smiled as his hand curled around the back of John’s neck and pulled him toward him until they were inches apart. “You’re right junior.” He scruffed the dark head affectionately before letting him go, bringing a grin and a hint of surprise to the others at the closeness of the two who’d gotten past the differences of bigotry.
Wheeler scowled drawing the attention of his Captain. He looked at him closely, noting the hint of red paint under his nails. Spencer reached out and grabbed the man’s arm jerking it up to look more closely. “Well…I’d say we just found our culprit.”
“It was just a prank Cap,” he said with a chuckle. He glanced around, noticing with a frown that none of the others were laughing.
“This is not a joke Wheeler and I can promise you I’ll have your job for this.”
“Please don’t do that,” Johnny said quietly.
“I don’t need your help breed,” Wheeler sneered.
“I’m sorry Gage but I can’t have this on my crew.”
“And I’m not subjecting a member of my crew to this kind of behavior,” Hank snapped, equally angry.
“But firing him won’t stop people like him…It’ll just make it worse. Please…Just let it go.”
Spencer pursed his lips in indecision and looked to Hank and Walker. “Alright Gage but he’s suspended until you all leave.” John knew it was the only concession he’d get and nodded. Captain Spencer turned back to Wheeler. “Gage just saved your job Matt…Get your stuff and get out. I’ll let you know when you can come back.”
Wheeler threw John an angry glare before he snatched up his things and left. None of his crew seemed too sorry to see him go but Johnny knew it wasn’t over.
“Come on men…Let’s get to work,” Spencer said.
To be continued…Part 2 CHANGES
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