Home | Emergency Stories by Tammy | Send Stories | Fun Page | Guest Writer's
True friendship stems from the deepest part of a person, from the secret place of the soul, the inner chambers of true self. True friendship is enabled when when two people step into the silent place , face their innermost selves and then bring that deep internal honesty into face to face connections. Paradoxically, true silence is a basis of high, true friendship... C.S. Lewis
Gray storm clouds rolled overhead as the Rescue Squad from Los Angeles County Fire Station 51 pulled to a stop by the side of the aqua duct. The accompanying engine stopping just behind…
The tall dark haired Captain stepped down and took in the scene as his crew and paramedic team gathered around him. They looked out over a concrete river bed filled with rushing, dirty water roiling past them…Mud and other debris clogged the channel…just a bit further downstream from their position, a teenage boy was clinging desperately to a small uprooted tree that was trapped by a rusted out junk car that had been long since abandoned there. The bystanders who had called it in lined the edge watching anxiously.
Captain Hank Stanley glanced at his two Paramedics…Roy DeSoto and John Gage who stood waiting impatiently for the go ahead from their boss… “Roy, John…get your gear…” They turned and ran for the squad. “Chet, Marco…,” He said, addressing his two linemen. “Rig a line from the bridge. The waters rushing too fast to swim out there…where gonna have to lower someone and let the current carry them out to him.”
“Got it Cap…,” They responded as they raced for the engine.
The five men headed for the narrow bridge leaving the Engineer Mike Stoker to watch the equipment and their victim.
“Why don’t I go Johnny…?” Roy asked. He was four years older than his partner and the senior member of the team. Blonde and a bit huskier than the junior member…
John was tall, slender and dark haired…he frowned at his friend. “Why you…?”
“I know you hate water rescues…”
Johnny shrugged… “I’m also lighter than you,” he reminded the older man. “It’ll be easier to handle my weight, especially if I’m wet.”
Roy sighed, knowing how stubborn his partner could be… “Well just don’t drown…we got a camping trip coming up and I’m looking forward to it…”
“Thanks…I’ll do my best not to spoil your trip,” he said with grin as he hooked his safety belt to the line Chet was holding.
“Don’t pull me in with ya Gage…,” Chet Kelly advised as the younger man swung his leg over the side of the bridge to begin his descent.
“Yeah…well then hang on cuz I might not be willing to go back in after you…”
Marco Lopez snickered and took a firm hold behind a grinning Chet and braced his feet as Roy and Captain Stanley stood at the edge to watch and direct them as necessary. Cap’s handy talkie crackled to life… “Gage better move it Cap…,” Mike advised. “The victim’s starting to panic a bit.”
“10-4 engine 51…,” Cap replied. He swirled his hand over his head and Chet and Marco began to lower their crewmate down into the chilly water below.
Johnny gasped as the cold water swirled around him and the current grabbed him. Lopez and Kelly felt a hard jerk as the swiftly moving water tugged at the young Paramedic. Roy quickly reached out to grab the rope to help them.
“Move him a little more to the right…,” Cap instructed adding a quick wave of the hand in the intended direction.
The men stepped quickly to the side, pulling Johnny with them…leaving the younger man feeling like a fish being played on a line but they finally had him aligned with the teenager. They allowed the rope to play out through their hands, letting the current sweep Gage toward the tree and their helpless victim.
The bystanders and the crew breathed a collective sigh of relief as Johnny’s hand reached out to grab the limb but it was short lived. The rope snagged around the gnarled tree and John came up about five feet short of being able to reach the boy. He tried to untangle it but it was hopelessly snarled beneath the surface. The boy raised his head…a terrified look in his brown eyes…
“Help me mister…I can’t hold on much longer.”
John bit his lip… “Okay I’m comin over…hold on a minute longer.” He knew it was dangerous and both Roy and Cap would kill him but he knew he had to secure the victim before he could worry about the rope.
Roy stood on the bridge watching…He saw his partner catch the tree and released the breath he hadn’t realized he was holding. A moment later he realized he’d been premature…the rope was tangled and John couldn’t reach the victim. He watched worriedly as Johnny tried to untangle the line and he saw the boy look up and to his horror he watched as Johnny unhooked his life line from the safety belt around his waist… “Cap…I swear…this time I’m gonna kill him…,” he ground out through clenched teeth.
“If the current doesn’t do it for you…I’ll help you…”
Johnny unhooked the rope from his belt and began to move hand over hand toward the hapless teen. The tree rocked precariously and he froze for a moment until it steadied once again but it was already too late. The rocking motion had tossed the boy and the current was too strong…his numb hands slipped free and the water began to pull him away.
John reached out and grabbed him by the wrist as he was swept by him, almost costing him his own grip on the tree limb he was clutching. “Come on man…Hang on to me…,” he ground out as he pulled the teenager toward him… The kid latched on around his neck shoving the young paramedics head under water for a moment. The tree began to roll over pushing both of them beneath the surface.
“JOHNNY…,” Roy yelled. Without a moment’s hesitation, the older man started into the water…only the quick response of his Captain wrapping his arms about him and pulling him back kept him from going over the side after his partner.
Roy struggled briefly, his blue eyes watching fearfully as his Captain’s words finally registered. “Roy…you won’t help him by drowning yourself…do it right.”
Roy nodded as he looped the line around his belt but a shout from the others stopped him… “Look…,” Chet yelled. They followed the direction of his pointing finger.
They turned to see the tree being swept away down the stream. “No…,” Roy whispered in horror afraid his partner and the boy were trapped under it but a moment later his friends dark head surfaced. One hand was wrapped tightly in the lifeline while the other still hung tenaciously to the boy’s wrist. John managed to pull the teenager toward him until he too could grab the line with his cold hands.
Johnny unhooked his belt from the line knowing that what he was doing was risky…If he lost his grip he could cost both the victim and himself their lives but he had no option…If he did nothing the boy would surely die…even if he survived…John couldn’t handle that option.
He worked his way down the tree and he was only about a foot away when the tree suddenly lurched before righting itself once more…but the damage was done. The boy’s hand lost its grip and the current caught him sweeping him past Johnny in a rush. Gage’s hand flashed out to snag the kid’s wrist and pull him back toward him. In his panic…the teenager grabbed John around the neck pushing the young paramedic beneath the water…the tree suddenly rolled on top of both of them.
Johnny felt himself losing his grip on the tree limb but he couldn’t let go of the victim to reacquire a better one. Something flicked past his face and John suddenly realized it was the rope. His lungs were burning but he let go and quickly grabbed the line, looping it about his wrist just in time…the tree broke loose from its mooring to be swept away in the swiftly moving current.
John gave a hardy shove to his victim tearing the boys hold loose from around his neck and kicked hard for the surface, towing the teenager with him. John gasped for air, choking on the water he’d swallowed but he still managed to grasp the boy by the shirtfront and pull his head above water. The boy hung on for dear life as John pulled him closer to the rope and he grabbed a hold. The people lined along the bank began to cheer.
Cap clapped his hand over Roy’s shoulder in relief… “I guess we should have remembered who we sent down there huh?” He said with a grin.
“Thank God for stubborn Indians…,” Roy muttered, once again both annoyed and proud of his tenacious younger partner and best friend.
Chet and Marco began reeling Johnny and the victim in and within minutes they had pulled both shivering young men from the water. Roy cast a concerned look at his partner as he knelt on the bridge coughing up a flood of dirty water but dutifully turned his attention to the young victim. “Chet get the oxygen off the engine and get it on Johnny,” he directed as he placed the O2 mask from the squad over their patients face.
Mike Stoker arrived a moment later carrying blankets…Roy nodded toward his partner as he took one and wrapped the shivering teenager in it. He glanced at his friend as Mike laid the blanket over the shaking shoulders of the dark haired paramedic. He leaned down trying to see past the sopping, sable mass of hair and finally reached out to raise John’s head. “You okay…?” The younger man was still gasping but managed a reassuring smile for his worried crew mate.
Chet returned and plunked the mask over John’s face. “Roy said to put this on…,” he stated. Johnny shot him a glare at his lousy bedside manner but reached up to hold the mask in place, slapping Kelly’s hand away. Chet grinned and turned away.
“Rampart base this is rescue 51. How do you read me…?”
“Go ahead 51…,” Joe Early’s voice came back…
“Rampart…we have two victims of a near freshwater drowning.” John’s head snapped up and he pulled the mask away from his face but Roy nodded toward Mike who immediately grasped John’s hand to stop him.
“Johnny…you need to lay back and keep that on…”
“B…but I’m okay….J…just c…cold,” he protested.
“You’re not okay Johnny,” he argued as he pressed the younger man back.
“Rampart the first victim is a fifteen year old male…his pulse is 60…respirations are labored and his BP is 100/50…I’m detecting rales in both lungs and we have him on O2…his heart rhythm appears to be normal. He’s cyanotic and possibly hypothermic…”
“Do we have parental permission to treat him…?”
“That’s negative Rampart…”
“Keep him on O2…Wrap him in blankets and monitor his vitals….transport as soon as possible 51…try and get us his personal information so we can contact his parents.”
“What about the second victim 51…?” Joe Early asked.
John’s pleading eyes met Roy’s… “I’m okay Roy…,” he coughed.
The older man hooked a blonde eyebrow at his partner as he keyed the phone…“The second victim is a twenty four year old male…stand by for vitals…,” he advised as he reached to lay his hand on John’s stomach in order to get his partner’s respirations. Mike was already taking his pulse. Johnny groaned in annoyance at all the fuss being made over him.
“80…?” Roy clarified as he pulled his hand away and began wrapping the BP cuff around John’s arm…”
“Roy I’m fine…you don’t need to do this…,” he said as he tried to sit up…
“Shhh…,” Roy hushed him as he listened with his stethoscope.
“John…You just lay there until Roy says you’re okay…,” Cap barked from beside him.
Johnny gave up and lay down in defeat… “Yes sir…”
“110/60…” He picked up the phone and relayed the vitals.
“Keep him warm and on O2…”
“You want an IV Rampart?” Roy asked.
Johnny shook his head frantically at the question and sighed in relief as Early’s voice replied… “Negative 51…”
“Do I have to go in the ambulance…?” He asked plaintively, trying to contain a cough as he watched them load the teenager on a stretcher.
“C’mon junior…you ride in the ambulance all the time.”
“Yeah…but not as a patient…”
Roy could argue that he went in as a patient more often than Roy liked but he didn’t say so… “At least I didn’t have to start an IV…,” he grinned as he helped John to his feet and walked him to the waiting ambulance. He would have swept the dripping hair from his friends face but there were too many others around and Johnny would be horrified by the familiar gesture in front of the other crew members. “Besides, I’m goin with ya and I know you don’t want to ride in the squad with Chet…”
John cast a glance toward the red dodge and saw the curly haired Irishman climbing behind the wheel… “Good point…,” he said as he coughed raggedly…
Roy helped him inside and climbed in behind him…Cap poked his head inside… “John…?”
“No lollygagging at Rampart…”
John grinned and gave a slight cough… “Okay Cap…”
“Do what Roy tells you…”
“Yes sir…,” Johnny sighed in defeat as Hank slammed the doors behind them, slapping the doors twice to let the attendants know they were clear. Now that Johnny was tucked inside the ambulance Roy felt free to mother hen him a little bit more without Johnny pushing him away.
“You okay…?” He asked as he swept the dripping, dark hair from John’s face.
“Yeah…,” he said giving his friend a wan smile.
“Good…we still got a camping trip to go on…” Roy turned to the teenager who was still resting quietly. “How are you doing son?”
“Okay I guess…”
“Can you tell me your name?”
“Can you tell me what happened…?”
“I skipped school and I was hangin out down by the ducts…There was a little water runnin through and I was…you know playin around in it but then it was like wham…someone opened the flood gates. I tried to make it to the side but it was moving too fast and it pulled me down and swept me away…”
“Where do you live…?”
The boy told him and gave him his phone number to relay to Rampart. Roy took the boys pulse and respirations, noting the bluish color around his lips was now returning to normal…as he wrapped the BP cuff around his arm… Roy noted with relief that his vital signs were returning to normal even though the he was still shaking.
“How long were you in the water Chuck?”
“I don’t know…maybe a half hour before you got there.”
Forty minutes then at least, Roy surmised. “Good thing that tree was there…”
“Yeah…good thing your friend was able to hold on to me when we went under too or I’d of been a goner,” he said glancing at the young paramedic.
John grinned back… “Just doin my job…”
“As usual…,” Roy agreed as always annoyed and amazed in equal measure at his partner’s stubbornness as well as his abilities despite having Aspergers Syndrome.
The ambulance backed into the emergency bay and Johnny heaved a sigh knowing he was in for a hassle from his friends here at Rampart… Chucks gurney was pulled from the ambulance and whisked into treatment room three.
Nurse Dixie McCall did a quick double take when she realized who their second victim was as a blanket wrapped and coughing John Gage was assisted from the back of the vehicle by his partner who handed him over to Dix with a smirk and then followed his victim into the treatment room.
“What happened?” The older blonde nurse asked John as she led him into the ER doors.
“He got swept away by the flooding in the aqueducts,” he explained as he glanced at the still gray sky that was threatening Carson with the same storm that had caused the flooding further north. “I went in after him,” he explained as she led him into treatment room four.
Kelly Brackett stepped out of his office and spotted the pair…taking in the appearance of the waterlogged and blanket wrapped paramedic. He headed toward them, taking charge instantly. “Johnny, what happened?”
“I was just explaining to Dix…my victim was in the water and when I got to him…the tree he was hangin onto flipped and trapped us both underwater for a minute…I managed to get us free but we both swallowed a lot of water.”
“Get those wet clothes off him Dix…he’ll feel a lot warmer.”
Dixie whisked the wet blanket from Johnny’s shoulders giving the young man a sudden rush of cool air and he began to shiver once more as she waited patiently while he stepped out of his uniform pants. He unbuttoned his shirt and handed it over to her as he stood shivering in nothing but his boxers. She retrieved a dry blanket and a towel which she draped over his head.
“Here Johnny…,” she said wrapping the blanket around his shoulders. She glanced pointedly at the blue undershorts… “Lose those too,” she told him. John flushed slightly but pulled the white covering closer around him and stepped out of his shorts…
“Happy now…?” He muttered.
“Ecstatic…,” she teased with a smirk at his discomfiture. “On the table handsome…,” she teased.
Johnny grimaced but obediently sat on the exam table as she began to dry his shaggy dark hair. Kel grinned at Dixie’s familiar, almost motherly handling of the young fireman. It was well known that John Gage was Dixie’s particular favorite among the paramedics and Roy was close behind. Johnny rarely argued with Dix and like Joanne DeSoto, she could get the handsome young man to do anything for her.
“Okay Johnny…let’s take a look,” he said to the younger man. He checked John’s ears, nose and throat…listened to his lungs…The door cracked open as he was finishing up. “You look okay Johnny…you may experience a little sinus problem or ear infection but at the moment you’re doin good. If you have any issues, let me know. How much water did you swallow…?”
“A lot…,” Roy answered as he came into the room to join them.
“A lot…,” Johnny mimicked snidely as he glared at his partner with a grimace. Roy chuckled as he moved to Johnny’s side. “How’s the kid…?”
“He’s gonna be fine. His mother’s on her way now…looks like he got swept a couple of miles from home.” John nodded.
“Johnny…did you lose consciousness at any time…?” Kel asked.
“Bang your head…?” He asked as he ran his hands over John’s extremities, searching for other injuries.
“Good…,” Kel said. “Other than a few minor scrapes, you look good to go… Dix, why don’t you get him a pair of scrubs to put on…He can change into a new uniform back at the station.
“Sure Kel…Be right back sweetie…don’t go anywhere,” she teased…glancing at Johnny’s still nude but blanket wrapped body.
John turned crimson as he repeated her words with a nasally, mocking tone. “Don’t go anywhere…” He heard her laughter all the way down the hall.
Kel struggled to contain his mirth as he glanced at the blonde paramedic who stood grinning next to his younger partner. “Get him outta here Roy.”
“Like this…,” Roy asked incredulously.
John shot him a dirty look as Kel headed for the door with a smirk. “No…you better wait for Dix…my nurses would be rioting in the hallways.”
“Ha ha ha…That’s real cute Doc…,” John called after the chuckling, dark haired Doctor.
Roy laughed but finally grew serious after a moment. He laid his hand on his friends shoulder. “You gave me quite a scare there junior. When I saw you go under…,” Roy shook his head.
John looked at his partner and his lips quirked… “Ah c’mon Roy…You know I’m too stubborn to let go…”
“I know…but someday that stubbornness could get you killed…”
“I couldn’t let the kid go…,” he said adamantly.
“I know that…I wouldn’t have either…but you still scare me…”
John shrugged “It might save your life someday…,” Johnny teased.
“It already has…mine and a few others but just be careful…I don’t want to lose ya…we’ve had too many close calls as it is huh?” He said as he lightly scruffed Johnny’s damp hair briefly before turning to head out the door. “I’ll be at the base station when you’re ready.”
The next morning Johnny followed Roy home to pick up his camping gear…other than a slight nasally twang, John had suffered no after effects from his dousing the day before. “You will try and stay out of the river right junior?” The older man teased as they loaded the last of his things onto the roof rack of Johnny’s land rover.
John rolled his eyes at his partner as he gave the rope a final pull… “Keep it up pally…I may be shoving you in it…,” he shot back in annoyance.
Roy chuckled as he locked his arm around John’s neck giving him a good natured scruff on the dark head…Johnny twisted away… “Cut it out…,” he growled indignantly slapping Roy’s hands away…but at Roy’s smirk he finally gave his partner a crooked grin and they both began to laugh at the good natured teasing.
“Want some breakfast before we head out…?”
“Sure…,” Johnny agreed eagerly.
From the window upstairs, Roy’s seven year old son watched the two men laugh and he frowned at the obvious close bond they shared. He remembered what his Grandmother had said to him last weekend. She’d told him his Father spent too much time with his young friend when he should be spending it with his wife and children and that she couldn’t understand why his children had to play second to this friend he’d become involved with…or why he was so special to Roy in the first place.
He should be taking his son camping and fishing…and all the other things he did with John instead of his son. She said he needed to be friends with Chris first. The little boy was torn…he loved Johnny but he felt jealousy well within him…maybe his grandmother was right…John really wasn’t his uncle after all and he did monopolize a lot of his Father’s free time. Chris turned away from the window as his father wrapped an arm around John’s neck…scruffing the younger man in brotherly fashion. The two men laughed together as they headed inside. Chris turned away from the window and made his way downstairs.
Joanne stepped out of the kitchen as her husband and their friend came inside. “You two all set…?” She asked.
“Almost,” Roy replied.
“We thought we might be able to finagle breakfast before we go…,” Johnny said hopefully.
“Finagle…?” Joanne teased with a grin… “Johnny…have you been reading Chris’s vocabulary books again?”
“Yes…John can read…,” he said in a stilted Tarzan like voice.
Jo giggled as she planted a sisterly kiss on Johnny’s cheek… “Sit down you two…I’ll make you breakfast.”
Roy shook his head at the pair…Sometimes they reminded him more of siblings than she and her sister did. Jo came out a moment later and poured both men a cup of coffee and disappeared back into the kitchen.
They heard the sound of running feet on the stairs and both men turned toward them…their unified yell of “WALK…,” slowed the stampede.
“Uncle Johnny…,” three year old Jennifer squealed as she came into the room, throwing herself into the dark haired man’s arms and planting a smacking kiss on his cheek.
“Hey Princess…,” he greeted in return giving her a tight squeeze and a kiss on her small nose. She giggled in delight. “Mornin Buddy…,” Johnny greeted her older brother Chris.
“Mornin…,” the boy mumbled back.
John glanced at Roy in concern at the half hearted greeting. Roy shrugged in bafflement.
“Something wrong Chris…?” Roy asked his son. The young blonde shrugged in reply. “You want to tell me about it…?”
“No…,” he muttered unhappily.
“I can’t help you if I don’t know what’s wrong,” Roy reasoned.
“C’mon buddy spill it,” Johnny urged.
Joanne had returned with their breakfast and now stood watching her son. Jennifer was also watching him curiously from the comfort of Johnny’s lap.
“You want to go outside and talk to me alone?” Roy asked.
Chris tossed a glance at Johnny. “It’s just…you two always go off together and you never take me anywhere…you’re always with him…,” Chris blurted out.
“HIM…?” Roy asked in annoyance at the disrespectful tone. “That’s your Uncle Johnny…,” he corrected.
“He’s not my Uncle…,” Chris replied quietly.
Roy’s eyes widened in surprise and then narrowed in anger.
“Christopher Roy…,” Joanne gasped in shock.
Johnny bit his lip looking a bit hurt…He’d never considered that Chris would be jealous or resentful of his relationship with his Father.
“Grandma says so all the time…,” Chris said.
Angry blue eyes met Joanne’s…Hers held a promise of a lengthy talk with her mother. “Chris…,” Roy began but Johnny’s quiet voice stopped him…
“Roy…?” John interrupted, before his friend could really get started.
“What…?” Roy snapped back.
“He didn’t say anything that wasn’t true…I’m not his Uncle…”
“Maybe not by blood…but there doesn’t have to be a blood tie to make you my brother…”
“Grandma says there does…”
“I don’t care what your grandmother said,” Roy growled angrily. “She’s a hate…,”
“Roy…,” Joanne said warningly. “I’m just as upset as you are and I’ll handle my Mother but she is still my Mom and his Grandmother.”
Roy took a deep breath, trying to calm down… “Sorry honey…” Jo understood…Roy was very protective of Johnny and they’d both seen the hurt look in his dark eyes at Chris’s words. She was pretty angry herself. “Regardless of that…,” Roy continued. “You’ve been calling him Uncle Johnny since you were four…”
“He doesn’t have to…,” Johnny said quietly.
“Roy…just let it go. You can’t make him feel what he doesn’t feel, ya know…?” Chris had the good graces to look ashamed at hurting this man who’d been so close to him as he continued. “Maybe you should spend more time with him…maybe you two should go on this trip alone…”
“Johnny…it’s not true…,” Roy began…planning to correct his son’s selective memory of all the things his father did with him alone. Indian Guides, Football, bike rides…but Chris cut him off. He knew his father wouldn’t exclude Johnny and he would lose what he wanted if he pushed that issue.
“Oh I didn’t mean for you not to go…just…maybe…that I could go with you…”
“Chris…this is a time for your Dad and Johnny to relax and talk…,” Joanne explained.
“I won’t get in the way.”
“Chris…,” Roy began.
“Why not…,” Johnny interrupted.
“I said why not…? He’s almost eight…he’s old enough.” Roy enjoyed the time he spent alone with his friend who was more like a kid brother to him and always had been since their friendship had begun…but even more important was that it was good for Johnny to be able to open up and talk without prying ears, even a seven year olds…he hated to take that from their relationship. Roy looked at Johnny in indecision… “C’mon Roy…what’s the harm?”
Roy was still torn…he hated rewarding Chris for this outburst and hurting John’s feelings but maybe it would be good for Chris to see the relationship they shared and give him a chance to bond with Johnny as well.
“Okay Chris…but you do what you’re told…no arguments…no wandering.”
“Okay dad…,” he agreed excitedly as he threw his arms around his father’s neck.
“Go get your sleeping bag and your fishing pole and put a couple of changes of clothes in your backpack…hustle…,” Roy ordered.
Chris ran for his room before they could change their mind. Joanne smiled at them both, running her fingers through John’s hair affectionately as if he were one of her kids…and kissed his forehead. “Thank you sweetheart…Roy I’m going to go make sure he packs the right things…I’ll be back,” she said giving her husband a kiss as she passed by him.
Johnny threw a grin at his partner but it faded after a moment. “Roy…?”
The older man recognized the tone and sighed… “Yeah Johnny…”
“Maybe you do spend too much time with me…I didn’t realize…”
“I…I know that…,” Johnny stammered, recognizing the irritated sound of Roy’s voice. “I didn’t mean to imply anything…I just meant…”
“I know what you meant…You think I should cut back on my time with you…but Johnny that’s not gonna happen…I love my kids but I need my time with you too okay...? Time for grown up conversation.” Johnny nodded hesitantly as Roy continued. “You’re my best friend…that’s not gonna change because Chris is a little jealous so don’t start that…got it?”
“Don’t be sorry junior…I’ll sit down with Chris later and I’ll make sure he understands but John that wasn’t Chris talking…that was his Grandmother…and you can rest assured…Jo will make sure that doesn’t happen again.”
“Please don’t do that…Chris has to make his own decisions…If he believes his Grandmother than that’s his right too.”
“Alright Johnny…I’ll let him make his OWN decisions but I still won’t have my Mother in law brainwashing my son…”
John grinned. “Okay…”
“Good…Let’s eat and go camping.”
Joanne came into her son’s room…his backpack was already loaded with two pairs of jeans, two tee shirts, a jacket and he was jamming his favorite book inside and had three cars on the bed waiting…Jo shook her head… “Chris…you’re not going to get all of that in there…,” She poked through the pack. “And you forgot underwear and your pajama’s,” she added.
“Mom…,” Chris groaned. “We’re going camping, not on a trip to Grandma’s.”
“No…,” she said with a scowl. “And it’ll be a little longer before the next trip to Grandma’s too…,” she said warningly. “Chris…come here a minute.” He stepped close to his mother and looked at her questioningly…his blue eyes a mirror image of his Father’s. “I want to explain something to you.”
“Okay…,” he agreed quietly.
“I know your Grandmother told you Johnny isn’t your Father’s brother by blood, so he can’t be your Uncle…”
“Well she’s wrong…”
“Yes… Chris…what if Grandma Harriet had adopted John…would he be your Uncle…?”
“Well yeah, I guess but that’s different.”
“No Chris…it’s not. Chris…your Dad and I didn’t go through any legal proceedings to make Johnny a part of our family…we made that choice here…,” she said tapping her chest. “Do you remember in Sunday school…your teacher taught you a verse about a friend who is closer than a brother…?” Chris nodded. “That’s Johnny for your Dad…They put their lives in each other’s hands every day. John has saved your Father’s life on many occasions and he’s saved John’s as well…Not to mention that Johnny saved all of us after that crash...Remember? They love and care for each other just as if there were blood ties and Johnny is a part of this family because we made that choice to love him…understand?”
“I guess…,” He said guiltily, remembering the crash very well and how scared he'd been and how happy he'd been to see his Uncle that day but what about his grandmother and what she'd said?
“I know you’re jealous of the time he spends with your dad but you shouldn’t be…Your Dad loves you so much and you know that…” Chris shrugged stubbornly. Joanne sighed… She couldn’t explain the relationship John and his Father shared any better than that to a seven year old without explaining John’s past and his other condition and she wouldn’t do that. “We aren’t going to make you call him Uncle because Johnny understands that you have to want that…but when you decide what you think is right and how you feel…You’ll have to ask for that privilege back.”
“Privilege…?” Chris asked.
“Yes Chris…It’s not just about you…It’s not your right to call him Uncle…it’s also his to allow you to…you’ve hurt him…and if you decide you want your uncle back…you’re going to have to tell him you’re sorry and ask his permission to call him Uncle Johnny again…”
Chris bit his lip hesitantly… “Okay…”
“Okay…let’s finish up then…,” Joanne said as she stood up and went to get Chris’s pajamas.
Joanne came back a few minutes later to finish making breakfast for the children…She threw a look at Roy and he knew she’d had a talk with their son. Chris returned a minute behind her and sat down…practically bouncing in his seat with excitement as he ate.
Jennifer came around the table to crawl into John’s lap…Her blue eyes looked up into his. “Uncle Johnny…someday will you take me too…?”
“When you’re old enough Princess…,” Johnny promised as he cuddled the little girl close to him. She hugged him close while Roy grinned and threw a wink at his wife…Johnny simply couldn’t say no to Jen.
Chris scowled at the pair, torn between the love he felt for Johnny and the jealousy his Grandmother had spawned in his mind.
The three set off in Johnny’s land rover a short time later. Chris chattered on and on in the backseat…John threw a sideways glance at his partner… “Now I know how you feel with me around,” he whispered. Roy grinned as Chris continued on and on.
Joanne watched the three of them pull out of the driveway. She swept her fingers through Jen’s blonde curls. “Sweetie…why don’t you go upstairs and play for a while…Mommy has a phone call to make,” she said determinedly.
They parked at one of Johnny’s favorite campgrounds and strapped on their backpacks and picked up the rest of their gear…. “You ready…?” Roy asked his son. Chris nodded eagerly.
“Let’s go then,” Johnny urged as they headed off down the trail.
The two men walked at a brisk pace but they allowed Chris to wander further ahead, being sure that he stayed within sight. Roy and John talked as they went, periodically interrupted as Chris found something of interest. Chris aimed most of his comments toward his father who frequently turned the question over to his younger partner to either explain or warn the boy to stay clear.
Johnny called his attention to the wildlife around them that the boy missed…raccoons, rabbit, deer and even a coyote returning to its den. An Eagle soared overhead and John pointed upward…Chris watched for a moment but then frowned as Roy began to look frantically around him in mock terror.
“What are you doin…?” Johnny asked his best friend, thinking he’d lost his mind.
“Checking for loose boulders…,” he said with a grin…reminding Johnny of the last time they’d seen Eagles on a camping trip. John had fallen from some loose boulders trying to get a picture and they’d spent two days trapped on a ledge until help came.
“Ha ha ha… that’s real cute Roy…,” Johnny said snidely.
I thought you’d appreciate it…”
Chris’ lips almost quirked in a grin but he caught himself and his mouth tightened in irritation at the byplay, feeling left out of the conversation as his father teased his young friend. He spun on his heel and moved on.
They finally entered the clearing where Johnny loved to camp. Even Chris at seven could appreciate the beauty of it. A wide stream of crystal clear water flowed gently by…towering pines and gently sloping hills surrounded them. “Let’s get set up…,” Johnny suggested drawing the boys blue eyes away from the scenery.
“Chris…I’m gonna gather some firewood. Why don’t you stay here and help Johnny,” Roy suggested hoping Chris would finally get over this ridiculous resentful attitude if he was left alone with the man who’d been a favorite playmate for the last two years. Chris gritted his teeth in annoyance but nodded his head in resignation.
Roy set off, casting a quick glance back at his son and his best friend. Johnny was already working to set up the tent while Chris stood with his arms folded watching. Roy shook his head at his son’s stubborn attitude.
It took Johnny a little time but he soon had Chris involved and he took pains to explain each step as he worked, the boy copied each move carefully, seeming more at ease as long his father wasn’t around.
Roy returned as they were unrolling their sleeping bags. “Hey this looks great…,” he commented. “You two did a great job.”
“Johnny showed me how but I did a lot of it,” Chris stated.
Roy saw the flash of hurt in Johns’ eyes at the missing title but he nodded his head in agreement. “Well I’m proud of you…,” Roy said giving his son a scruff on his blonde head.
“It’ll be so cool at Indian Guides this fall when we go camping. I can set up my own tent and…,”
Roy threw a wink at Johnny as his son forgot himself and excitedly told his father everything Johnny had shown him. “That was pretty nice of you Johnny…thanks for showing him all of that…you’re much better at it than I am.”
“No problem…I had fun.”
“Great…you all ready to go fishing…?”
“Yeah…,” Chris exclaimed enthusiastically … Johnny nodded in agreement. They headed down to the stream. Roy spent some time with Chris showing him the best lures, how to bait his hook and cast his line while Johnny moved a slight distance away to give them a little space just for the two of them. Chris began to chatter on and on to his dad bringing an eye roll of fatherly exasperation and a giggle from John but Roy dutifully listened attentively to the seven year olds small talk.
The boy finally wound down giving the two men a chance to talk. Chris listened intently as they discussed the rescue from the day before…he frowned when his father had confessed to almost going into the river after Johnny when the tree broke loose. He was very impressed by Johnny’s courage but annoyed that his father would have risked his life for John.
“You shouldn’t have done that Roy…you mighta drowned or somethin…,” Johnny admonished.
“You’d of done it for me…”
“Well yeah but…I don’t have a family…”
“Don’t start that again junior…you do have a family…you have us.”
“I know but…” Roy cast a warning glance at his young partner and Johnny’s sentence tapered off. “Sorry…,” he said softly.
Roy’s blue eyes narrowed in annoyance as he turned back to the stream…He recognized the warning signs that John’s insecurities were flaring once again and his eyes flicked toward Chris briefly. Roy hoped his son would remember how much Johnny meant to him soon and settle down before he hurt John too badly. Roy cheerfully wished he could tell his mother in law what he thought of her but he knew Joanne would be angry…he also knew she’d handle her mom in her own way, though he'd love to be a fly on the wall for that conversation.
Chris listened to the discussion and wondered if Johnny would truly have done the same thing for his dad…he remembered his mother telling him that Johnny had saved his father on several occasions…He’d never known that…Only that John had searched for them after the plane crashed that time...Did they really care about each other that much…He was torn…he loved Johnny and he had for a long time and they had a great relationship..or at least they used to…but his grandmother had filled his head with so much negative stuff…Why was John Gage so special to his father? They weren’t really related…Chris wanted so much to share the same kind of relationship with his father that Johnny did and his Grandma had told him he should be doing that…Why didn’t his dad understand that?
The talk turned in other directions but John was careful to keep all his personal situations, his latest flings and his past to himself which Roy missed...at least the latter. This was usually a chance for John to open up and talk about things that were bothering him but the older man knew they’d have to wait for another time…besides, Johnny hadn’t had any issues with his ASD since he’d been abducted by Scott Jackson. He was proud of how far his young friend had come.
Johnny glanced at his partner curiously as he felt the blue eyes watching him…John as usual somehow sensed his best friend’s thoughts. A slow crooked grin curled his mouth but he didn’t say anything. Roy threw him a wink and turned back to his fishing. Chris noticed the looks and frowned, understanding that something had happened between the two men but unsure what he’d missed.
They turned back to the stream and continued fishing and making small talk for a while longer before heading back to camp. Roy showed his son how to clean the fish, being careful to keep his hand over Chris’ while he handled the sharp knife. They got the fish cooking and settled down around the fire once more.
Chris carried the conversation but occasionally Roy or John would point out items of interest or show Chris some other camping hint. They fell silent as they began to eat and then later they carried their plates to the stream to wash up.
The sun was beginning to set when they returned and they sat around the campfire for awhile. John shared a few Indian words…pointing things out and naming them for the boy. Chris repeated them back, trying hard to sound bored and disinterested…wondering where Johnny had learned all this stuff. The truth was that he was very impressed by his Father’s friend and always had been…He almost wished his Grandmother had never raised those doubts.
“What’s the word for Brother…?” Roy asked, glancing toward Chris. The boy’s mouth compressed into a thin line….knowing his father was giving him a gentle reminder of his and John’s relationship
“There’re a lot of words…older…younger…her brother…his brother...”
“How about younger brother…”
Johnny grinned picking up on where Roy was going… “He-vásemé’tov…”
“How about Uncle…?”
John bit his lip as Chris folded his arms across his chest in irritation… “Ah Roy…maybe that’s enough for tonight…,” he suggested.
Roy threw a glance at the stubborn set of his sons chin and gave in with a sigh of disappointment…”Alright…” They changed the subject…letting Chris tell them about the baseball game he’d gone to with a friend and his Father but it wasn’t long before Roy suggested Chris turn in for the night. They’d at least have a short time for some adult conversation. Chris began to protest but at the warning glint in his father’s eye…thought better of it and sullenly retreated to the tent.
Roy looked over at his friend…. “Sorry about that partner…I know we haven’t had a whole lot of time to communicate today.”
“That’s okay…Chris needed his time with you too.”
“You know Roy…I’ve been thinkin…,” Johnny mused thoughtfully.
“Oh no…that’s dangerous.”
John shot him a glare. “You’re just full of cute stuff today aren’t ya?”
“Well junior…I’ve learned that every time you start a sentence with ‘I’ve been thinkin’…you’re gonna say something that I won’t like.”
“I do not…,” John protested. Roy arched a blonde eyebrow at him in disbelief. “Well…okay…but not always,” John capitualated.
“Just most of the time…,” Roy qualified.
“Well sometimes…but not this time.”
“Okay…spill it,” Roy said with a sigh.
“Well…I just think I waste too much of your free time and that maybe you should take Chris camping alone more often.”
“See… I knew it,” Roy said sounding irritated.
“What…?” Johnny asked in confusion.
“I knew you were gonna come up with some dumb idea that I don’t spend enough time with my son and that I spend too much time with you.”
“Forget it Johnny…Who takes him to Indian Guides when I’m not workin…?”
“Who takes him to baseball practice and attends most every game…?”
Who takes him bike riding in the park…soccer games…who teaches him to cast pottery…?”
“Are you getting the picture here junior?”
“Yeah but…he’s so upset…”
“That’s his Grandmother…she’s stirred him all up that I don’t spend enough time with him…This is about me Johnny…and her dislike for me…she’s just comin at me through the back door. He’ll remember how much he loves you and knock this off but right now he’s testing the water…He wants to know where he stands…”
“I know…that’s what I’m sayin…”
“He’s my son and I love him and I always will…He and Joanne and Jen are my top priority.”
“I know that… I…I didn’t mean…I wasn’t tryin to say you don’t love your kids…,” Johnny stammered.
“Let me finish…,”
“A close second to them is my friendship with you…”
Johnny smiled. “Thanks…”
“And you and Chris are both gonna have to understand that even though he’s first in my heart…he may have to be second with my time occasionally. Whether it’s you or Jen or his Mom or work…He’s not always going to have my undivided attention...got that?”
“Okay…,” John agreed softly.
“Okay…” Roy reached out to slap him lightly on the shoulder and the conversation turned to less serious things.
Inside the tent…Chris lay pouting. He could hear the quiet murmur of their voices and their occasional outbursts of laughter…They were having a lot of fun out there but he’d been banished to the tent like a child. Johnny had said he was old enough but his father was still treating him like a baby instead of a friend. Tomorrow he’d show them that he was ready to be taken seriously.
The next morning dawned bright and clear. They’d have a few hours to fish and maybe get in some hiking before they’d have to tear down the campsite and head for home. Johnny and Roy headed down to the stream to wash up and shave. Chris followed along behind carrying the coffee pot.
The water was crystal clear and flowing strongly. The two adults knelt by the water and began to clean up but Chris took the pot and walked along the bank. “Chris…you need to wash up…,” Roy called to his son.
He glanced back at the two men as they talked and laughed at some shared joke…Chris nodded but continued on. He kicked at a stone feeling left out…again. A moment later he spotted an outcropping of sticks and twigs in the water and decided this would be a good place to fill the coffee pot for his Dad…If he made himself useful the two men would be more inclined to want him around.
The stand of brush he’d seen turned out to be an abandoned beaver dam. Chris stepped out on it…it appeared solid so he continued on to the end. He stooped and filled the pot with water…he stood up but felt the pile of loose sticks shift under his added weight as the current caught the dry debris and began to rip it away.
Chris’s arms wind milled in shocked surprise…the pot flew from his hand... he cried out in terror and began to fall. A strong hand suddenly gripped his shirt, hauling him backwards to safety. He clung to his rescuer for a moment before looking up into relieved, dark eyes. “Are you okay…?” Johnny asked urgently.
“Yeah…,” Chris murmured in embarrassment as Johnny turned and handed him carefully over to his gasping father. Those eyes were a stormy blue with both anger and worry. The older man’s arms wrapped securely around his son, holding him close… “What were you thinkin…?” Roy barked half in anger and half in relief.
“I just wanted to get water for coffee for you…,” Chris mumbled…his voice muffled against his father’s chest. Roy held him tightly… The vision of his son being swept away as the teen had been the other day finally dissipated and he looked at his partner as he stepped clear of the rapidly crumbling dam.
Roy was grateful for the speed of his young partner…he’d made it the thirty yards in record time. They’d both seen him step onto the brittle sticks and had started running toward him…John had reached him mere seconds before Roy but they’d been crucial…Roy would have been too late. “Thanks junior…,” he said quietly.
Johnny threw him a grin but he also recognized the anger in them as well. “Anytime…you know how I feel about your kids…but I’m…ahh…I’m gonna see if I can ahh…rescue my coffee pot,” he teased as he nodded toward the pot as it bobbed in the water a short distance away.
Roy nodded in understanding…Johnny hated to be around when discipline was handed out. It made him nervous and uncomfortable. Roy turned back to his son. “Do you know how close you came to being drowned…?” Chris knew he’d done something foolish but he was unwilling to admit it. His father would point out how childish he’d been and that was exactly what he didn’t want.
“I woulda been alright…I can swim,” the boy protested.
Roy sighed…His son had no idea of the strength of the waters flow. “Chris, that current would have swept you away if Johnny hadn’t been there…”
“Johnny…,”Chris yelled… “He’s all you care about.”
Roy sensed his partner’s presence and looked up into troubled brown eyes. John bit his lip and turned away…coffee pot in hand. Great…Roy knew he’d have his hands full getting his friend past this latest accusation…“That’s not true and you know it…”
Chris looked at his feet in chagrin…He knew it wasn’t true. His father loved him and he knew that but he was embarrassed and he needed to find a way to get the attention off his foolish behavior.
“Roy…,” Johnny called to his partner, drawing his attention. “Can you come here a minute?”
Roy was afraid he was in for another argument with Johnny over Chris and this whole situation but he knew if that’s what was bothering his friend…he needed to nip it in the bud before he got obsessive over it.
He turned back to his son. “Go back to camp…We’ll finish this in a minute.”
Chris’s mouth tightened in anger…once again he was being pushed aside in favor of the young paramedic. Chris turned toward the tent and shuffled off. He turned back to see his father squat next to where Johnny was kneeling by the water. They were looking at something on the ground. Chris ran toward the campsite but he didn’t stop there. He continued past it and ducked into the woods. He’d run away…then they’d both be sorry.
Roy walked over to his partner who was kneeling by the stream. “What is it Johnny…?”
The younger man pointed… “Tracks…”
Roy squatted next to him. “What kind…?”
“Bear tracks…She’s a big one too…and they’re fresh.”
They were both concerned at how close the animal had been to their campsite. “How do you know it’s a she?” Roy asked.
Johnny pointed at a set of smaller tracks that were close by. “She’s got a cub. We need to break camp…a female with a cub is bad news.”
“Okay…let’s move.” They stood up and headed back, neither of them very concerned that Chris was nowhere in sight. They assumed that he was pouting in the tent. “Chris…?” Roy called out. They looked at each other in concern when there was no response. Roy pulled the flap open but the tent was empty. They both looked around the surrounding area. “Chris…?” Roy called louder, hoping the boy was simply pouting somewhere close by.
“Chris…?” Johnny’s shout echoed after Roy’s as he turned in the other direction. The young dark haired man’s eyes dropped to the area at his feet. “Roy…?”
“What…?” He questioned, turning toward his partner. John pointed to a faint disturbance of the dirt and grass leading toward the woods…
“He went that way,” Johnny said.
Roy looked at the vague scuff marks on the ground… “Are you sure?” John raised a dark brow in amusement. Roy sometimes forgot Johnny’s upbringing. His young friend had been taught to track from the time he could walk. “Okay…let’s go.”
The two men headed off into the woods. They walked silently as John pointed the way but a short time later they crossed a large, stony patch and the tracks disappeared. “See if you can pick em up that way,” Johnny said pointing off to his right. “I’ll go this way…stay in sight okay?”
Roy nodded and moved off but they didn’t get too far. John crested a small hill…he heard the sound before he saw the motion. “Oh my God…,” he muttered and then… “ROY…,” he bellowed as he began to run.
Roy heard the call and recognized the fear in it…he turned and ran toward his partner as John broke into a sprint and dropped from sight over the hill.
Chris had run quite a distance before he finally slowed to walk. He glanced back the way he’d come…He knew his dad would be mad but he’d left him no other way to get his full attention and maybe now his dad would realize how serious he was…he’d have to prove to John that Chris was his number one concern…he’d be so relieved to find him safe he might not even punish him too bad. He might even tell Unc…Uh…Johnny that he couldn’t hang out with him as much anymore, the seven year old reasoned. Chris hesitated as he remembered his Mom’s words…His father loved Johnny…Did he really want to ruin his Father’s relationship with his friend? Chris kicked at the ground in indecision…would he forgive him for that if he did? Could Chris forgive himself?
A high pitched whine interrupted his thoughts…Chris looked up and spotted a small bear cub a few feet away and despite his current irritation with the man he’d thought of as uncle for three years he remembered John’s warnings…He’d always told them when hiking to avoid baby animals because even though they were cute…their mothers were usually close by and would be quite dangerous.
Chris froze for a moment and then he vaguely heard his name called from a distance. He began to back away…He heard the bush’s rattle to his right and a low growl was his only warning as the mother bear rushed from the concealing brush and charged at the boy.
He stood frozen in terror as the two hundred and fifty pound bear bore down on him…the seven year old managed to take a step backward but it was too late…the animal was already too close to out run. Chris’ eyes widened in terror as the animal reared on its hind legs…The massive paw reached toward the child…the curved claws like daggers.
Chris screamed…the scream ended abruptly as he was hit hard and then something was on top of him.
Roy crested the top of the hill and scanned the downward slope…His heart thudded wildly in his chest as he saw the large, black bear rushing headlong at his seven year old son who stood rooted in fear. His partner was sprinting toward them for all he was worth. Roy barreled down the hill…running hard…his eyes glued to the scene in front of him…It was a dead heat between Johnny and the bear over who would reach the boy first.
“Oh my God…ROY…,” Johnny yelled as he began to sprint down the hill. “Chris…RUN…,” John shouted but the boy was frozen like a deer in the headlights as the huge and angry bear pounded toward him. John poured on everything he had…he’d run the 440 in 48.3 once…he needed to break that now. He was only a few feet away as the bear reared on its hind legs…John gave a final burst of speed, interposing his body between the bear and the boy.
He snatched the child up in his arms with the intent to just keep running but the swinging paw connected with his back…John was propelled forward by the force of the blow and a burning agony ripped through him as the claws raked across his left shoulder and down his back, shredding his heavy flannel shirt and the skin beneath it.
John cried out in pain as he hit the ground and despite the pain searing through him, he recognized his danger now that the animal had him down and wounded…his only thought was the child in his arms…He had to protect Chris. He pulled the boy beneath him and curled his body around him protectively as the animal moved over him.
John’s back was throbbing in agony but he remained motionless in the hopes that the bear would think he was dead and leave. He felt the hot breath on the back of his neck and knew it wasn’t over. The animal’s claws dug into him yet again as it tried to roll him over and John clenched his teeth to contain the cry of pain that threatened to erupt.
A low moan escaped his lips as the teeth clamped down on his shoulder and his vision wavered as he was dragged forward a few inches but he fought desperately against the encroaching darkness… knowing that if he passed out he’d be unable to protect Chris. The animal bit down and John couldn’t contain the cry of pain and then suddenly the weight was gone…pain seared through him and he could feel the warmth of his own blood as it soaked the fabric of his tattered shirt.
Roy saw the bear rear on its hind legs…he knew his helpless seven year old was dead…Johnny was still too far away but then with a final burst of speed his partner was there. Roy was still running but he gasped hopefully as John snatched Chris up but then his eyes widened in horror as the paw connected with John’s back knocking him off his feet. He lost sight of him briefly as the bear ambled toward him and then he saw John pull Chris beneath him, covering the boy with his own body.
The animal dug at his partners back and he saw Johnny writhe in pain and then the animal bit down on Johns’ unprotected shoulder. Roy was terrified for both of them…he never thought twice. Roy barreled into the animal like a line backer and for a brief moment he thought he’d broken his shoulder but it worked…The bear lost its grip and rolled onto its side…Its legs flailing wildly to regain its balance before fighting its way back to its feet. She stood wobbling for a moment while Roy rolled and climbed back to his feet. He snatched up the only weapon available…a fallen tree branch.
The animal took a tentative step toward him and Roy swung with everything he had, feeling very much like someone who had brought a knife to swordfight but it was enough. The impact with the animals face caused her to rear back…she shook her massive head and backed away with a low growl and then she and her cub ambled off into the woods.
Roy dropped the branch and turned toward his son and his best friend. He knelt next to them. “Johnny...Chris?” He said urgently. John writhed in agony…His eyes were barely cracked open and his body trembled in shock and pain. Roy tried to roll him to get to Chris…but the younger man held the boy beneath him tightly, refusing to let Roy near him. “Johnny…Johnny…it’s me…its Roy… You can let go now… the bears gone…You saved Chris…you can let go now,” he reassured his young friend as he smoothed the dark hair from John’s blood streaked face. His shirt was soaked with it…but Roy’s voice finally penetrated through the haze and pain.
He pried the slender fingers loose from Chris and tugged his terrified son from beneath John. The boy stood trembling on his unsteady legs…His eyes fixed on the bleeding and pain racked body of his Fathers best friend. “Chris…Are you alright?” Roy questioned frantically as he looked his son over thoroughly. There was a lot of blood but none of it appeared to be Chris’. “Chris…,” Roy called to him again but the boy stood frozen in horror. Roy finally reached out and lightly slapped his cheek. Chris flinched violently and tears filled his blue eyes.
“Daddy…,” he whimpered finally snapping out of it. He threw himself into his father’s arms. Roy crushed the boy to him in relief for a brief moment before he set him away from him.
“Okay Chris…You’re okay…But Johnny’s hurt bad.” He glanced toward the woods. “I need to check him out and get him back to camp. I need you to be strong right now okay?”
Chris nodded, looking at the trembling form of his Uncle. Chris finally understood…at least for himself and he’d never doubt it again…Johnny had saved his life…even after he’d been so hateful to him, he’d still saved him and Chris wanted desperately to tell him…to ask him to forgive him…To tell him how much he really did love him…but what if Johnny died…No…no he couldn’t think that…His father would save him and he’d help him…This was all his fault. If he hadn’t run away… “What do I need to do…?
“Let’s take a look at him…you watch the woods…let me know if that animal comes back.” Chris nodded.
John lay curled on his right side…his body continued to shake in shock…Roy leaned over his partner… “Johnny…can you hear me…?”
A small whimper slipped from between John’s clenched teeth. “Mmmm…”
“Okay Junior…I know you’re hurtin…But I need to look at you okay…I need you to try to lie still…” Roy’s hand gently stroked the hair back from Johnny’s face as tears of pain slipped from the half open dark eyes but he gave a weak nod. “Okay…I’m gonna cut your shirt here alright…?” Roy said softly as he pulled his knife and carefully cut the shirt away…peeling it back. He sucked in his breath…Four long furrows ran from John’s left shoulder to the middle of his back. Three were very deep while the fourth appeared to barely scrape the skin. There were four ugly puncture marks where a three inch flap of skin had been torn open. There were deep groves along his rib cage and his upper left arm…“Johnny…? This is gonna hurt a bit but I have to look okay?”
“I’m here Junior…,” he reassured his friend as his hand rested against the dark head.
“C…Chris…?” He stuttered, barely above a whisper.
“Chris is fine…you saved him but right now we need to take care of you.” Roy’s fingers gently probed the wounds on his shoulder bringing a cry of pain from his partner and he tried to twist away, only to cry out again as the claw marks on his back pulled and tore…burning like fire at the motion.
Chris’ blue eyes left the woods to fix on the man on the ground as his father grabbed hold of his shoulders to hold him still. “Shhh…Johnny…,” he soothed quietly. “I know it hurts…I know it does…I wish I could trade places with you but you have to be still okay.”
“Hurs…It hurts…burns,” he gasped.
Chris watched his dad gently stroke the sweat dampened, dark hair from Johnny’s face and he saw the look of fear and something else in his eyes…his dad touched him the way he did when he was comforting Jen or him…He looked at him the same way too…His mom was right and his grandmother was wrong…He wasn’t just a friend…he was closer… and his dad loved Uncle Johnny…he could tell by the way he talked to him…touched him. Chris still felt a hint of jealousy but how could he ask his dad to give up someone as special to him as Johnny was. Someone who’d risk his own life for his best friend’s son without a thought for his own safety... Was that why John meant so much to him…?
“I know junior…I know…I need to get you back to camp. I’m gonna have to lift you and I can’t do it without hurting you but I don’t have a choice.”
The dark eyes looked vague and glassy with pain. “W…walk…,” he gasped.
“Johnny…I don’t think you can stand right now…”
Roy knew his partner would hate Chris to see him helpless but that he’d never be able to get to his feet in this condition and he also couldn’t risk weakening the younger man even more…not even to protect his pride……“Not a chance…”
Kay…,” he whispered in defeat.
“Okay…,” Roy agreed softly, brushing John’s forehead. “Chris…I need you to stay with me… got it?”
“Let me know if you see or hear that bear and bring that branch…it’s the only weapon we have.”
“Johnny…?” The younger man’s eyes tried to focus on his partner…they closed for a moment then fluttered open once more. “I’m gonna pick you up now…?”
“Mmmm…,” he moaned.
Roy hated moving him…he knew he was gonna hurt him but there was no other way. He had nothing here to help him with…not even a way to stop the bleeding. He slid his left arm around the front of Johnny’s chest while his right cradled the dark head as he pulled him carefully to a sitting position. His partner’s body trembled under his hands. John was going deeper into shock with each moment that passed and he needed to get him warm and stop the bleeding…soon. Roy gritted his teeth, knowing how bad this was gonna hurt.
John moaned softly at the motion as Roy sat him upright…his head spun dizzily. His body shook uncontrollably. Roy grabbed hold of his belt… “C’mon junior…try and stand up.”
Johnny struggled to get his feet under him but couldn’t find the strength to push himself upright on his trembling limbs. He looked up at Roy helplessly… “Can’t…,” he gasped, trying one more time and falling back down...his back and shoulder were throbbing and burning, blood ran in streaks from the wounds and Chris’s stomach rolled at the sight.
Roy gently touched John’s cheek for a brief moment and then gave one hard jerk to pull Johnny to his feet. His partner’s scream of pain cut off abruptly as John’s eyes rolled up and he mercifully blacked out. Roy leaned forward to allow his now unconscious friend to drape over his shoulder. “Let’s go Chris…We’ve gotta move fast.” The boy swallowed hard and nodded as he followed after his father…practically running to keep up with his long strides.
Roy was winded after the walk back to camp but they’d made it. He carefully leaned down to allow his still unconscious friend to partially roll off his shoulders before catching him and sitting him down. He leaned John forward until he rested against his shoulder. “Chris…get me Johnny’s sleeping bag…and the extra blanket I brought along…hurry.”
The boy ducked inside the tent and returned a moment later dragging the requested items behind him. “What should I do with it?”
“Lay it down and open it up.” The boy did as he was told…his blue eyes flicked toward his father and his Uncle as his dad held the younger man against him. John was beginning to stir and he moaned softly as he tried to lift his head and sit up but the older man held him securely. “Shhh…just stay still… I’ve got you partner.”
John relaxed against his friends shoulder… “Roy…?”
“W…where… ‘r we…?” He slurred.
“Back at camp… Johnny…I’m gonna lay you down on your stomach so I can take care of your back. I don’t want you to move around okay?”
“Kay…,” he agreed softly.
Roy shifted him around and John gasped in pain as the torn flesh pulled and burned in protest. John’s eyes squeezed shut as tears leaked from between the clenched lids. The older man’s shirt was soaked in his young friend’s blood. Chris stood with his eyes wide and frightened at the sight of it.
“Chris…Get me the first aid kit from Johnny’s back pack.” The boy remained frozen. “Chris…?” Roy called again… his voice commanding. The young blonde finally tore his eyes free and looked at his father. Roy’s voice softened immediately. “Get me the first aid kit.”
“Okay Dad…,” he whispered as he turned and ran for the tent. Roy managed to lay Johnny down on his stomach drawing a whimper of pain from the younger man. He arranged him as comfortable as possible before pulling the blanket over him and tucking it close.
Chris returned with the small kit as Roy leaned over his friend. “Just rest for a minute junior…I’ll be right back…,” he said softly as he brushed the sable hair away from Johnny’s face…The younger man’s dark eyes closed. “Chris…I’m gonna go down to the stream for water. I want you to get a couple of tee shirts and tear it into strips about this wide…,” he explained as he held his fingers about three inches apart. “I’m gonna need bandages and something to clean those wounds with.” Chris nodded as Roy grabbed their cooking pot and headed for the stream. “Watch for that bear…yell if you see anything and keep Johnny quiet…don’t let him move around.”
“Okay dad…,” he replied as his father threw one more quick glance in their direction before heading down to the stream. Chris knew he was worried about leaving them…both of them…even for a minute but he had no choice.
Johnny began to moan softly as his eyes opened once again… “R…Roy…?”
Chris moved to John’s side. “Shhh…you have to be still,” he whispered softly as he reached out to gently brush John’s cheek and then sweep the dark hair back as he’d seen his father do earlier. It had seemed to calm Johnny down.
John tried to lift his head as he gathered his arms under him…trying to push himself up. “Roy…? Chris…?” He groaned as his confused mind tried to remember where he was. Why did he hurt so bad…He felt so weak and his body shook…Bear…that was it…he’d been attacked by a bear. Where were Roy and Chris…? He felt a hand press against his right shoulder and a voice urging him to lay still…his arms collapsed beneath him as he lay weakly back down on the blanket, gasping in pain. He felt a small hand stroke his hair back from his face.
“Just lay still…dad will be back in a minute…just rest…”
“Chris…?” He whispered softly.
Roy walked rapidly back from the stream, making a mental list of John’s injury’s and what they were gonna have to do. He raised his eyes as he approached and felt a lump form in his throat as he watched his seven year old comfort his Uncle. The small hand brushed the hair from John’s face gently as he spoke to him…leaning close to John’s ear. Johnny relaxed under Chris’ gentle ministrations.
“How is he…?” Roy asked softly as he approached the two.
“I think he’s asleep but he woke up a minute ago and tried to get up but…I just did this…,” he said as he stroked the injured man’s cheek and hair.
“I saw that…,” Roy said gently as he brushed his fingers through Chris’ blonde hair. He turned to set the water on the fire that was still smoldering from breakfast. He stoked it up until it blazed under the pot and then turned back to Johnny. The dark eyes were fluttering open as Roy picked up a piece of torn tee shirt and began to clean around the wounds. John moaned softly…his hand clutched convulsively at the sleeping bag as pain seeped into his awareness. “Shhh junior…I’m here…It’s okay…,” Roy continued to clean around the wounds with one hand, trying to get a better look at the injuries but his other hand rested on John’s head…his thumb brushing across John’s forehead.
John lifted his head… “H…how b…bad…?” He mumbled.
“They’re pretty deep junior and your bleeding bad.” The water finally came to a boil and Roy dropped the torn cloths into it. “I’m gonna have to clean them up okay partner?”
“Mmmm…,” he moaned softly. “H…help…”
“What…? What are ya sayin junior…?”
“I’m not leavin you…,” Roy said incredulously as he plucked a piece of cloth from the pot shaking it out between two fingers and passing it hand to hand like a hot potato until it cooled enough not to scald Johnny. He began to clean the wounds.
“R…Roy…,” John started to argue. “Aagh…,” he cried out and his body arced away at the first touch of the cloth. Chris’ eyes widened and his eyes filled with tears as Johnny writhed on the blanket. “God… S…Stop…,” he groaned.
“I’m sorry Johnny…,” Roy whispered into his friend’s ear as he pinned him to the blanket… “I know you’re hurting…I know…you’ve got to lie still…you’ve got to let me clean these up…understand?”
“Hurts…” he gasped out.
“I know…,” the older man soothed.
Chris wiped the tears from his eyes and sat down next to John’s head…his small hand rested against the man’s cheek while the other gripped his fingers. “You can squeeze my hand when it hurts okay?”
John’s dark eyes looked blearily at the boy…his hitched breaths began to even out as Chris gently stroked John’s face. Roy grinned proudly at his son while brushing the sudden moisture from his eyes. John’s brown eyes wandered to Roy…as his fingers tightened around Chris’.
“Okay Johnny…I’m gonna get you cleaned up…,” Roy warned him as he once again turned his attention to his partner’s back. Johnny moaned as the older man cleaned the deep slashes across his back. His face pressed against the sleeping bag while his slender fingers dug into the blanket to keep from breaking Chris’ fingers as the boy held his other hand. Roy moved to his shoulder. The wound was ugly and Johnny cried out as Roy probed the torn flesh. No arterial tears’…that was a relief…at least Johnny wouldn’t bleed to death.
He was extremely concerned about the possibility of nerve damage…If there was it could well mean the end of his partner’s career. “Johnny…can you move your fingers…?” He asked worriedly. John’s fingers twitched and his hand lifted weakly. “Good Boy…,” he said softly as he picked up a fresh cloth. He cleaned it as best he could before applying antibiotic cream from John’s kit and bandaging the wound… Binding his left shoulder tightly and trying to ignore his partner’s stifled cries of pain and Chris’s frightened tears.
Roy finally finished wrapping the remaining strips of cotton shirt around Johnny but he knew it wasn’t nearly enough. He needed to get his partner to a hospital and soon…Any animal bite or scratch was dangerous and Johnny could be in real trouble if they became infected but how to get his partner back out the eight miles they had hiked in. Roy pulled the sleeping bag around his partner and zipped it closed. He threw a tight smile at Chris as he took John’s hand from his son, giving it a reassuring squeeze. “Try and get some rest junior while I figure out how to get you out of here,” he said softly as his fingers swept the sweat dampened hair from Johnny’s face. The younger man’s eyes closed and the shaking finally began to subside as his body warmed inside his cocoon.
Chris watched his father’s hand sweep through John’s hair… “Why do you do that…?” He asked softly.
“Because it calms him down…Helps him sleep.”
“Like when you do that for me and Jen…?”
“Yup…It’s something Johnny’s father used to do for him…”
“Is his dad still around…?” Chris asked. It had never occurred to him to question John’s past or family before.
“No Chris…Johnny’s parents are dead.”
“Oh…,” the blue eyes looked somberly at him… “That’s really sad.”
“Yes it is…”
“Is that why you and mom sorta took him in…?”
“We didn’t take him in Chris but no…,” Roy said with a grin. “Johnny’s special to us just because of who he is.”
“Really…? I thought you were jealous…”
“I guess I was…Dad…I’m really sorry…Grandma said you spent too much time with Johnny and not enough with me. She said that you should be friends with me but that you put Johnny first.”
“Did you believe that?”
“Yes…no…well a little I guess… You do spend a lot of time with him and I just wanted you to be friends with me too.”
“Chris…You and I have all the time in the world to be friends once you grow up but right now…I have to be your father first…you have so many things to learn and it’s my job to teach you and see you grow up to be a good person…to educate you…to help you to be the best person you can be…But I need Johnny too…He’s my partner, my friend…my brother.”
“Your other son…,” Chris whispered.
“What…? No Chris…,” Roy scoffed with a snort of denial.
“Yes he is… The way you look at him…touch him sometimes. I think that’s what Mom meant…He’s closer than a brother…another son…a grown up one that you can be friends with…” Roy’s mouth dropped open at his son’s insight. Was he right…? Did he see Johnny that way? Was it that obvious that even a seven year old could see how much Johnny meant to him? He had to admit he did mother hen his young partner sometimes but he never thought of Johnny as a child…well most of the time anyway. Roy grinned ruefully…He’d never admit that to Johnny, he’d be horrified.
Roy looked into his son’s blue eyes…He saw the understanding reflected there… “Is that why you ran away…?”
He nodded… “I’m sorry Dad…Johnny getting hurt…It’s all my fault…”
Roy wanted to comfort his son but at the same time he wanted him to realize the repercussions of his foolish actions. “Chris…You’re right that Johnny wouldn’t have been hurt if you hadn’t run off but at the same time, Johnny made the decision to put you first and put himself between you and that animal the same as I would have if I could have got there in time.”
“Why…Why would he do that after I was so mean to him? He could have been killed.”
“That bear would have killed me…”
“He did what you would have…”
“Yes…,” Roy said letting Chris work it all out for himself.”
“Because he loves us …”
"That's why he searched for us so hard after the plane went down right. Even though he was so sick...He even cried when he found us.He did that cuz he loves us."
“I love him too.”
Roy grinned… “I know you do…I was just waiting for you to remember it.”
“You love him too…” It was a statement not a question. Roy flushed slightly but he needed to be honest.
“Yes Chris…I love him too and so does your mom…he’s part of our family.”
The boy nodded and his eyes fell once again on the sleeping young man as his father’s fingers continued the soothing motion.
“So how are we gonna get him to the hospital…?”
“I’m working on it…,” Roy murmured.
Joanne DeSoto paced the floor of her kitchen worriedly…The guys were overdue. John and Roy went camping frequently and they were very experienced but she was worried anyway. This was Chris’ first time camping out in the real wilderness. The Indian Guides had taken them to campouts in the park but there was never any real danger. What if something had happened to them…to Chris…The two men were normally very punctual and the only occasion they weren’t was when Johnny had fallen that time and the day when they’d come across that accident scene…Maybe that was it…maybe it was someone else in trouble and they’d stopped to help. She looked at her watch for the ninth time. She’d give it a little longer…besides she didn’t even know where they’d gone.
“I’ve got an idea…”
“What is it…?”
“A way to get Johnny out of here… Get my sleeping bag…I’m gonna go find a couple of branches…Keep an eye on your uncle…make sure he stays warm and quiet okay?”
Roy headed off to the woods, ax in hand and returned a short time later with two long tree limbs roughly two inches thick. Chris had dragged his dad’s sleeping bag out and now sat patiently waiting with Johnny…his hand holding the older man’s as he stirred restlessly.
John moaned softly as pain blossomed in his foggy brain…He hurt all over and he felt cold even wrapped as he was in the sleeping bag. Somewhere…his mind registered the fact that that probably wasn’t good. He heard steps approaching and tried to lift his head.
“Shhh…you can’t move right now…Dad says you have to stay quiet…,” Chris informed him seriously as he leaned over John.
“He’s comin back right now…just hold on okay?”
“Chris…what’s wrong?” Roy asked as his son sat up.
“He’s waking up.”
“Johnny…?” Roy moved to his friend’s side… “How ya feelin…?”
“B…burns… Hurts… a…a… lot…” The voice was coming in hitched breaths. The dark eyes took in the branches… “What’re ya d…doin?”
“Well junior…you’re not the only one with some neat camping tricks…I’m gonna make something to get you out of here…,” he explained as he laid his hand gently on Johnny’s forehead. He was a bit warm but it was nothing to be alarmed at.
“R…raft…?” Johnny asked with a weak, lopsided attempt at a grin.
“Cute…,” Roy said sweeping the hair from John’s forehead. “I’m building a travois…”
“What’s that dad…?” Chris asked curiously.
“A way to carry Johnny back out of here on our own…”
“Can I help?” Chris asked.
“Sure…I need some rope from by pack.” Chris ran to comply while Johnny’s dark eyes watched his friend.
“Should l…leave me… G…go for h…help,” he stuttered out just above a whisper.
“Not a chance…,”
“S…slow ya d…down.”
“Forget it Johnny.”
The younger man sighed at his friend’s stubborn refusal to listen to reason but he fell silent as he watched his partner work. He cut two holes and slid the poles thru… cutting slits every couple of inches. Chris returned a moment later with the rope and Roy used it to secure his sleeping bag to the two poles by weaving it thru the slits and tying it off at both ends. He did the same on the other side. “Chris…get your stuff. You’re gonna have to carry as much of this as possible…we may have to spend the night out here and I want to be sure you’ll both be warm enough.”
“I can do it dad…”
Roy nodded… “Good…okay Johnny. I’m gonna have to drag you onto the travois and then I’m gonna need to tie you to it…”
“Johnny…I know you hate restraints…,” Roy whispered as he leaned down close to his friend’s ear so Chris couldn’t hear… “But I have to be sure you don’t fall off understand…?”
John bit his lip…his dark eyes looking slightly panicked but he finally nodded. John tamped down his worst childhood fears of being tied and helpless…It was just Roy and he’d never hurt him… “Kay…,” he whispered nervously. Roy’s hand rested against John’s cheek reassuringly and then slid the travois close to the younger man.
“Okay…I’ll be as gentle as possible but this might hurt a little.”
“Chris…come around here and help me…” The boy joined his Father…he and Roy reached out and grasped the sleeping bag. “On three… One, two, three…” They pulled together. John’s teeth clenched and a low moan escaped his lips but they got him on the makeshift stretcher without too much difficulty.
Roy used the rest of the rope to tie Johnny safely to the travois. The dark eyes showed his anxiety but he gave a weak smile as Roy brushed the dark hair back… “You okay…?”
“Yeah…,” he whispered.
“Okay then…let’s go.” Roy wedged his and John’s packs around the younger man and then picked up the handles while his son shouldered his own backpack and sleeping bag and the three set off. The terrain was rugged and Roy had to detour several times to get around obstacles in their path…He also had to move slowly to avoid jostling his friend too much…He hoped to get through these woods and onto the main trail before dark…from there it would be much easier to get Johnny out of there and into a hospital.
Johnny was in pain and feeling terrible and the jarring and bouncing was taking its toll. They’d only gone a couple of miles when John’s quiet moan stopped the older man…he set him down gently. “Johnny…you okay…?”
“Sick…,” he groaned softly.
Roy quickly moved to his friend’s side… “Can you hold on...?”
“Mmmm…,” he moaned as he fought to keep his stomach in place…his breath coming in short sharp gasps… Roy’s hand rested on the dark head…his thumb lightly brushing over his friend’s forehead…After a few minutes he seemed to relax…though his breathing remained labored as he fought against the burning sensation that seared from his shoulder to his back.
Roy looked at his watch…His hope to make it back to the trail were in vain… there was no way that would happen at this pace and in this hilly terrain. The sun was already beginning its descent. Roy didn’t want to spend the night out here…Johnny was in bad shape…he’d already lost a lot of blood and there was a big risk of infection if John didn’t get to a hospital soon.
Chris sat down next to him. “Is Uncle Johnny gonna be okay Dad?” He asked worriedly as he watched the dark haired man on the stretcher.
“I hope so son but…,” Roy hesitated at how much to share with his seven year old.
“He’s hurt pretty bad and he’s in a lot of pain…he needs a hospital and soon.”
Chris nodded, glancing back at John who lay shivering on the makeshift stretcher. “Then we better get moving huh?”
Roy nodded and moved to Johnny’s side… “How ya doin junior…? Feelin any better…?” He said trying to sound upbeat.
“C…Cold R…Roy,” he murmured softly. Roy rested his hand against John’s forehead and felt the warmth of a low grade fever. “How is it…?” Johnny asked softly.
“Little warm…We’re gonna get you to a hospital real soon partner okay…?”
“Kay…,” he whispered quietly as his eyes drifted closed.
“Chris…let’s move…,” Roy said to his son.
“Something wrong dad…?” Chris asked hearing the urgency in his father’s voice.
“Uncle Johnny’s runnin a fever…”
“It’s the first sign of an infection…That could be very bad.”
Chris nodded as he shouldered his backpack and sleeping bag while his father lifted the handles of the travois and began to walk once more.
Joanne flipped the outside light on as she stood in the doorway of her home. She’d called the police and asked about accidents a short while ago but none had been reported involving Johnny’s land rover. She hated calling Captain Stanley but she didn’t know what else to do. She went back inside and picked up the phone.
“Hi Emily…this is Joanne DeSoto…”
“Hi Joanne…How are you…?”
“I’m a little worried…Roy and Johnny went camping…they took Chris with them…they should have been back hours ago…I…I don’t know what to do.”
“Hold on Jo…let me get Hank.”
‘“Thanks…” There was a brief pause and some muffled conversation before Hank Stanley’s voice came on the line…
“Joanne…Have you called the police?”
“Yes…There were no accidents reported.”
“Do you know where they were going…?”
“No…that’s the problem too. The police said they really can’t do much if they don’t even know where to start. You know how Johnny is when they go off…He knows those mountains like the back of his hand and he almost never stays in a real camp ground or even on a trail.”
“I know…he took us all out a couple of months ago…I didn’t think he’d ever get us out of the woods but John knew exactly where he was every minute.”
Joanne gave a small laugh… “That’s Johnny alright…but it makes it real tough to figure out where he might have taken them this time.”
“I know Jo…Okay…Let me call LAPD and see if they can at least put a look out for them…”
“Thank you Hank…” She hung up and went to the door once more… “Where are you guys…?” She whispered.
Pain assailed Johnny’s senses as he woke once more…his body felt battered and every bump and dip was sending waves of pain through his back…His stomach rolled with it. He was shivering and he just wanted to sleep so the pain would go away. He clenched his teeth to keep from groaning and holding his partner up yet again. He felt guilty…he knew Roy was exhausted and that he was slowing them down but he knew Roy wouldn’t leave him no matter how much he pleaded. The travois dipped again and despite the young, paramedics resolve to remain quiet a low whimper escaped his lips.
Roy stopped as Johnny gave a painful moan… They’d had to stop several times as the jostling and bumping of the travois had made him sick. Roy moved to his friend’s side. “Johnny…ya hangin in there junior…?”
“Sick R…Roy…,” he said through chattering teeth.
“Are you gonna throw up?”
“N…no…sick… C...Cold…, Hurs…shoulder… B...back.”
“I know junior…,” he said sympathetically as he laid his hand on John’s forehead. “Damn it…,” he whispered…realizing Johnny’s fever had climbed. “Let’s take a look…,” he said gently as he peeled the bandage away from John’s shoulder, gasping slightly at the swollen and discolored flesh…he lifted the bandages away from his young friends back, noting a purple and red color blossoming at the edges…The warning signs of infection but he had nothing to use to kill it. Time was a key factor now…John needed a hospital, antiseptics and antibiotics and he needed them now.
Roy glanced up at the darkening sky…He didn’t dare keep moving through the woods in the dark. Johnny had a basic homing instinct honed into him from the time he was a child and he always seemed to know where they were but Roy wasn’t that good…he needed to be able to see where he was going to find his way out…If he kept on in the darkness he could find them all hopelessly lost. He’d have to find a suitable place to make camp, besides John desperately needed a place to rest.
“Okay Johnny…just hold on a little longer…I’m gonna find us a place for you to sleep…,” he said softly as he stroked the dark, sweat dampened hair from his friend’s flushed face.
“Kay…,” he whispered softly. “Chris…?” He asked in confusion.
“I’m here…,” he said joining his father.
“Okay…?” Johnny asked touching the boys hand weakly.
“I’m fine…but I’m so sorry…This is all my fault,” Chris replied…worried that his uncle would never forgive him for this. He closed his fingers around John’s... The older man relaxed.
“Okay…you’re okay…,” John whispered softly as his eyes closed again.
Chris looked at his father… “What did he mean…?”
Roy ruffled Chris’ hair… “He wasn’t worried about how he got hurt…he was just worried about you….”
Chris’ eyes filled with tears… “How can he ever forgive me…? What if he dies?”
“He’s not gonna die Chris.”
“He could…and it’ll be my fault.”
“Chris stop it…for Johnny’s sake…This is not what he wants…he loves you…do you understand? He’d never blame this on you and the last thing he’d want from you is a guilt trip.”
“C…Chris…?” Johnny whispered softly. Both of them turned to the softly voiced stutter.
“I’m here…,” Chris answered leaning over his Uncle.
“N…not mad…let it g…go,” he whispered as his eyes closed again.
“Okay…,” Chris said softly.
“I love you too…,” Chris whispered, but Johnny was already asleep.
They continued on until darkness closed around them…Roy was disappointed, he’d hoped to have found a good spot to set up camp but it was too late to continue on now. “Okay Chris…We’re gonna have to stop for the night.” Chris looked at Johnny worriedly as he stirred restlessly on the stretcher…a low moan escaped his lips.
“But you said he needs to get to a hospital.”
“Chris…you’re Uncle Johnny may be able to find his way in the dark but I can’t…We’re gonna have to make camp. I’ll find the trail we came in on in the morning.”
“Okay…,” he muttered in resignation.
Roy lit a lantern and squatted next to his best friend. John’s dark eyes were cracked open as Roy laid his hand on his partner’s forehead. His temperature was very high…“How ya feelin junior?” The older blonde man asked.
John shivered slightly in the cool night air… “Not so g…good…,” he whispered licking his dry lips. Roy knew if Johnny was admitting to not feeling well, he had to feel really bad.
“Okay partner…I’m gonna try and get a fire started and then we’ll get some food and water into ya and get ya warmed up.”
“Kay…,” John murmured softly as his eyes closed.
The sound of laughter and voices suddenly floated through the night air… Roy and Chris exchanged a glance… “What’s that dad…?”
“Sounds like we have neighbors…,” Roy replied. He chewed his lip in indecision. He really needed help to get John to a hospital but he had no way of knowing who was out there…He had to be cautious with an injured man and a seven year old. “Chris…I want you to stay with Uncle Johnny while I go check them out okay. I need you to stay quiet and keep Johnny quiet as well...can you do that?”
“I don’t know those people and until I do I can’t risk them knowing you and Johnny are here okay…?”
“Okay…,” Chris said sounding scared… “But what do I do if something happens to you?”
“Nothing’s gonna happen… I’m just being cautious…”
“But if something did…?”
“Then you take care of Uncle Johnny…I’m sure your Mom’s called someone by now and let them know we’re missing so someone will be looking for us…you just be sure to keep him quiet and warm.”
“I’ll be right back…,” Roy said as he headed into the darkness. Chris watched him fearfully until he disappeared from view and then sat next to Johnny.
“Chris…?” Johnny called softly.
“Where…where’s your d…dad?”
“There’re other people camping over there somewhere…,” he said pointing. “He went to check them out.”
“I’ll get you something…Hold on okay?” Chris unhooked the canteen but hesitated…unsure of how to let his Uncle drink from such an odd angle. “I don’t know how…,” Chris began…John decided he’d have to help the boy if he wanted a drink…in his feverish and confused state he didn’t think about the consequences. He braced his good arm beneath him and pushed himself upright, rolling onto his side…a gasp of pain escaped his lips as the wounds tore and began to bleed once more. “Are you okay…?” Chris asked worriedly.
The young paramedic could feel the warmth of the blood saturating the makeshift bandages. “Bleeding…,” Johnny gasped. “Shouldn’t…have moved…God…Chris…need your Dad…,” he ground out through clenched teeth. Chris knew his dad would be angry…he’d specifically told him not to let Johnny move and now he was bleeding again but he hadn’t realized his Uncle would try to roll over.
“Dad’s not here…just lay back down…I don’t know what to do…,” Chris said in a panic. Tears welled in his eyes as he tried to help Johnny lay back on his stomach.
“R…Roy…,” Johnny whispered painfully.
“Hold on…I’ll go get him,” Chris said fearfully as he turned and ran in the direction his Father had taken. The laughter had stopped but after a few frightening moments he heard the low murmur of conversation and began to follow the sound.
“Chris…,” John breathed in a barely audible whisper.
Roy moved through the dark woods following the laughter of what sounded like a great party. He saw the glow of a campfire and moved closer, keeping to the shadows in the hopes of getting a look at the group before they saw him.
Three men were gathered around a campfire. They were laughing boisterously and seemed harmless enough as they passed a bottle of something between them. Roy chewed his lip while he tried to make a decision on whether or not to make his presence known or return to camp and try to get Johnny out by himself tomorrow. John was in serious condition and he needed medical treatment soon. Roy decided to risk it.
Roy stepped from the shadows… “Hello…,” he called out loudly. The three men turned toward the sound of his voice, their own laughter quieting as the blonde stranger stepped out of the shadows.
“Can we do something for ya mister…?” A big man in a white cowboy hat asked warily.
Roy pulled his wallet from his back pocket and held out his ID card to try and ease their concerns. “My name’s Roy DeSoto…I’m a paramedic with Los Angeles County…I was camping with a friend of mine… My partner…,” Roy clarified. “And my son…My friend was attacked by a bear…”
“Oh wow man…,” one of the others said in surprise. “There’s a bear around here…?”
“A few miles away…anyway he’s badly hurt and I could use some help getting him outta here.”
The bigger man looked to the others as they glanced at each other in concern but there were no protests. “Sure Mister…where’s your friend?”
There was a sound of running feet and all four men directed their attention to the blonde seven year old boy that ran into the camp… “Chris…,” Roy said in surprise that rapidly turned to annoyance that his son had disobeyed him. “I thought I told you to stay with Johnny…”
“I know dad…,” Chris gasped while trying to regain his breath. “But Uncle Johnny tried to get up…he’s bleeding again…”
I told you to keep him quiet…”
Tears puddled in Chris’s blue eyes…“He was thirsty and I couldn’t…”
“It doesn’t matter now…,” Roy said, cutting off Chris’s explanation. “I’ve gotta get back to him.”
“We’ll help you…c’mon guys,” the man said as they moved to follow Roy. “My names Paul…Paul Branson…,” The man said as they moved through the darkness.
“I really appreciate this Mr. Branson.”
“Paul…and the one in the brown jacket is Rick Simmons and the other one there is Greg Grimes.”
Roy acknowledged them politely but kept moving while they talked. “This is my son Chris…,” he said reaching out to pull the distraught little boy close to him.
“Hey Chris…now don’t you worry about your friend there son…we’re gonna help your Dad get him outta here.”
Chris nodded forlornly, thinking he’d let his dad and his Uncle down. Johnny was bleeding again and it was his fault. They ran into the small area where Roy had stopped for the night...the travois was there but Johnny was nowhere in sight.
“Chris…,” John breathed softly. Where was the boy going…? God…he was running off into the dark woods alone. What if he got lost? He had to find him. His feverish thoughts confused and disoriented. How could he ever face Roy again if something happened to Chris? Johnny pushed himself to his knees…a gasp slipped from his lips as fire spread across his back…he held his left arm protectively against him as his shoulder throbbed a warning but he managed to push himself to his feet. The dark eyes were glazed and drooped with pain but he forced himself to take a step…and then another and another…Johnny staggered into the darkness…the wounds on his arm began to bleed…he felt the warmth trickle down his arm to drip from his elbow. “Chris…,” he called hoarsely…there was no answer. John kept moving.
“Where is he dad…?” Chris asked worriedly.
“I don’t know…,” Roy replied. He turned in circles scanning the ground with his flashlight for some sign of his partner’s direction.
Chris pointed suddenly… “Dad look…!” There was a drop of blood in the grass followed by another a few feet away.
“He went that way…,” Roy said pointing back they way they’d come.
Paul shone his flashlight… “Looks like he headed in that direction…,” he said following the trail and turning away from the direction of his own campsite.
“Where’s he goin…?” Rick asked.
“He’s injured…feverish…he’s not thinkin clearly…he could go anywhere. “JOHNNY…,” Roy yelled, hoping his partner was close by. The others began to fan out to search for the wounded paramedic…Paul was already following the trail of blood it only took a few moments…
“Over here…,” he yelled as he knelt by the prone body of their missing man.
Roy was there in seconds… “Johnny…?” He called out softly as he knelt next to his partner. The dark eyes fluttered, flickering open briefly before closing again.
“R…oy…,” he breathed out weakly. “C…Chris… lost…C…Chris… s…sorry.”
Roy took his hand, feeling the warm stickiness of his friend’s blood. “Chris is okay…he’s with me junior…he’s okay…,” Roy soothed sweeping the dark, sweat dampened hair from John’s forehead.
“Chris…?” He gasped again, struggling to get up.
“Chris…,” Roy called. “I need you to come here…Let Johnny see you so he’ll settle down…”
Chris knelt next to Johnny…, he reached out and touched his cheek. “I’m right here…,” he said softly.
Johnny raised his hand to gently touch the boy’s cheek… “Chris… Okay?” he murmured as his eyes slid closed and his hand dropped away leaving small smears of blood on the child’s cheek.
“How is he…?” Branson asked.
Roy looked up at the man… “Can’t tell for sure…it’s too dark…I know he’s bleeding again. Can you help me get him back to camp?”
“Why don’t we take him back to ours…We’ve got some supplies…maybe we can find something you can use.”
“Alright…,” Roy agreed worriedly.
Paul waved his friends over. “Okay Roy…You’re the paramedic…How do you want to do this?”
“I think it would be easier on him if one of us goes back for the travois…”
“I’ll go…,” Greg volunteered. They waited patiently while the man ran off, returning a few minutes later dragging the makeshift stretcher behind him. The four men carefully shifted the semi conscious dark haired man onto it and Roy laid the blanket over him.
Johnny groaned as he felt himself lifted. Man…everything hurt… Why couldn’t he think straight…? His back burned and his shoulder felt numb…his stomach began to roll as he was lifted and carried through the darkness but it was definitely better than the bumping and dipping he’d experienced earlier.
They arrived back at camp and laid the injured man close to the fire. Roy knelt next to his young friend and gently pulled the blanket aside. He pulled his knife from the sheath at his belt and carefully cut the blood soaked bandages away.
Greg and Rick…the two younger men of the group turned pale at the sight of John’s bruised and shredded flesh and rapidly turned away while Paul swallowed hard but managed to draw a shaky breath and kneel beside the blonde paramedic. “What do you need Roy…?” He asked as Chris sat near Johnny’s head, his small hand resting against the dark, tangled hair of his Uncle. He appeared unaffected at the sight of so much blood but then he’d already seen it…
“Fresh Water to clean these wounds…do you have a first aid kit…antiseptic…? Anything I can clean this up with…? He’s running a fever and this is really starting to look infected.”
The older man shook his head. “I’ve got some bandages in the first aid kit and a couple of towels we can tear into more but I don’t think we’ve got anything strong enough to help that…,” he said regretfully. Roy was disappointed…Johnny was in real trouble and another twelve or thirteen hours without treatment could be crucial. The older man retrieved what they did have and set a pan of water next to Roy. He picked up a towel and began to clean the wounds.
“Aagh…,” his young friend gasped, twisting away from Roy’s hands.
John’s cry of pain stopped him for moment. “Johnny…I’m sorry…I know it hurts but I have to clean this. I wish I had something to give you for the pain but I don’t…”
“Well son…,” Paul interrupted… “I do have something that might help him there…” The man stood up and moved to his pack, returning a moment later with a bottle of Wild Turkey. “This might take the edge off…”
Roy took the bottle… His eyes raked over his wounded partner. God it would be agony for Johnny but it would kill the infection. “It’ll do more than that…,” he muttered softly.
Paul looked at him in confusion for a moment before understanding what Roy intended to do. “That’ll burn like fire son…you know that?”
Roy nodded… “I know and it’ll kill me to do it but…I’ve got to stop this infection if I can…”
Chris looked up at his father curiously… “What are you gonna do Dad?”
Roy didn’t answer…he chewed his lip nervously for a moment in indecision. His blue eyes filled with pity as he looked up at Paul. “Can you help me sit him up…I want to try and get some of this down him before I do it.”
Paul hesitated a moment, knowing this was going to be bad… “Alright Roy…,” he said softly, swallowing hard at the thought. They eased the younger man to a sitting position, leaning his uninjured right shoulder against Roy…John’s head tipped sideways to rest on his friends shoulder.
Roy rested his cheek against John’s head for a moment, silently apologizing before raising the bottle to John’s lips. “C’mon Junior…I need you to try and drink some of this.”
An unsuspecting Johnny took a swallow…the amber liquid left a path of molten fire down the young man’s throat…he began to gag and cough…trying desperately to spew the remaining whiskey from his mouth but Roy held the bottle determinedly, continuing to pour until John had no option but to swallow. His eyes teared and he continued to cough, his face twisting in pain as his back protested each new movement. “R…Roy…,” he wheezed painfully…coughing once more.
“I’m sorry Johnny but it’s gonna help…believe me…,” Roy promised his friend as he stroked the dark head resting against him. “I need you try and drink a little more…”
“N…no…doan wan it…,” he moaned pitifully.
Roy sighed…he knew Johnny hated hard liquor…his Uncle George and Uncle Joseph both drank and when they did, he’d had to pay the price…Enduring many a beating during their drunken rages...Not to mention he'd darned near killled himself with it the one time he had tried it. Even the smell of it upset the younger man. The most John ever drank was an occasional beer.
“I’m sorry junior…,” Roy whispered raising the bottle to John’s lips once more. The younger man tried to turn his head but his partner wouldn’t let him. John choked and sputtered but Roy persisted until he swallowed enough of the liquid to give him a pleasant buzz. Roy would rather have had 5 mgs of MS and he knew it wouldn’t be enough to stop the pain but it might help some. Chris’ eyes widened in shock as his Father forced the alcohol into his friend’s mouth.
He set the bottle aside…he glanced up and saw the look in his son’s eyes but he didn’t have time to explain it right now. “Chris…I need you to go sit with Greg and Rick…”
“But Dad I wanna help.”
“Not this time son…This isn’t gonna be easy and Johnny’s gonna be in a lot of pain…”
Chris’s jaw set stubbornly and Roy saw himself in the set of the small face. “I can handle it Dad…”
Paul looked at the child, impressed by the boy’s determination to help his father’s friend. Roy finally nodded, pride in his son showing clearly on his face. “Get me one of those towels.” The boy moved away. “Johnny…?” He questioned.
The younger man’s head moved against him sluggishly…he managed to lift it briefly but quickly dropped it back to rest on Roy’s shoulder. “Hmmm,” he moaned. Roy knew that injury and blood loss were causing the liquor to work faster than it normally would.
Chris returned with the towel. “Here dad…”
“Thanks… Paul…I may need some help to hold him…?” Roy said softly. The older man nodded and knelt next to him.
“What are you gonna do…?” Chris asked again worriedly.
“I’ll explain later…,” he said knowing if he didn’t do this now he might not have the strength to do it later.
Paul saw the look in the blue eyes. “Go ahead Roy…,” he said quietly, guessing that this would be almost as painful for him as it would be for John. He’d seen the gentle touches…heard the softly spoken words and understood there was a close bond between the two men…They were more than just friends.
Roy cast a final worried glance at Chris and wondered how this would affect him… “Chris I need you to hold the towel right here…,” he instructed placing the cloth beneath the wounds on John’s back…Chris held it securely as his Father clenched his teeth and tipped the bottle.
John’s reaction was instant. His body arced upward and his scream of agony shattered the stillness of the quiet night. Birds took flight and the bushes rattled as small animals scurried from the area in fear. Only Paul’s strong grip kept John from tumbling out of Roy’s arms as his body twisted in pain… Searing, liquid fire burned a path down his shoulder and over his back. Chris’ eyes welled with tears and his stomach rolled but he steadfastly held the towel as the whiskey flowed, catching the precious liquid with the cloth in place.
“O…Oh… G…God…,” Johnny sobbed… “N…nooo…stop. R…Roy…s…stop,” he gasped with hitched breaths.
Tears welled in the blonde paramedic’s blue eyes as he set the bottle aside and gathered his anguished friend into his arms. “God, I’m sorry junior…,” he whispered as he pulled Johnny closer…his chin rested on top of his young friend’s sable hair as he twisted in his arms. “Shhh…junior…I’m here…I’m here…it’s gonna be okay…I’m sorry…I’m so sorry,” he whispered into John’s ear.
Tears ran down Chris’s cheeks as he watched his father rock the younger man in his arms…Why had he done that to him…John’s breaths were still ragged and tears of pain squeezed from his tightly clenched eyes. A pitiful whimper slipped from his lips.
“Shhh…,” Roy whispered. He followed the consoling sound with a word Chris didn’t understand. An Indian word…Chris had heard it before…spoken by John’s Aunt but he didn’t know what it meant and it had embarrassed his Uncle when she’d said it. This time it seemed to soothe the younger man…he seemed to wilt against his Father’s shoulder. The gasping breaths finally beginning to calm…tears of pain still streaked his cheeks but his eyes were drifting closed as the burning sensation began to ease. The whiskey he’d swallowed finally began to kick in full force along with the gentle rocking. His eyes drifted closed and he sank into sleep.
“Why’d you do that…?” Chris yelled angrily. “Why’d you hurt him…?”
Roy looked at his son in surprise at the angry, accusatory tone… “I didn’t have a choice son…those wounds are infected…they had to be cleaned or Johnny could die before I get him to a hospital…do you understand? It’s all I had to work with.”
“That was pretty hard on your Dad too I think…,” Paul said quietly. Chris continued to stare angrily at his father for a moment before he finally nodded, his anger dwindling as he finally understood.
“Okay… help me lay him on his stomach,” Roy said softly, hating himself for what he’d just had to put Johnny through…He knew it wasn’t over yet. Paul helped him settle Johnny on the sleeping bag and then Roy took the whiskey soaked towel from his son…he laid it over John’s shoulder and back dragging another pain filled moan from Johnny. “It’s okay junior…,” Roy soothed, gently brushing the dark hair from his friends cheek. John tried to raise his head but it dropped back quickly onto the bag…too weak or maybe too drunk to hold it up…Roy hoped it was the latter…His fingers clutched desperately at the material.
Chris sat down near his head… “It’s okay Dad…go ahead and finish…,” he said softly as his hand replaced his Fathers and tenderly stroked John’s cheek. “Shhh…it’s okay,” he whispered close to his Uncle’s ear…
Paul watched the boy and shook his head… “I think your boy’s pretty fond of your friend too son…,” he said to Roy…
“He’s my Uncle…,” Chris said proudly.
“I thought you said he was your partner…?” The man questioned.
“He is…he’s also my best friend…”
“But they’re brothers too…,” Chris clarified… “My mom said closer than Brother’s…You don’t have to be blood relatives to be brothers,” the boy explained sagely. Roy flushed at the man’s grin…embarrassed by his sons open discussion of his feelings for his young partner. Chris continued. “He got hurt saving me…,” he said softly.
Paul’s gray eyes turned serious. “What happened Chris…?”
“I was jealous of my dad and Uncle Johnny being friends… I ran off into the woods and there was a bear cub…The mother bear was real mad that I was there and she ran at me…but Uncle Johnny got between us. He threw himself over me so the bear couldn’t reach me,” He whispered as tears welled in his eyes again.
Greg and Rick had returned once John’s wounds had been covered…their faces were still pale from the sight of the oozing gashes and the scream of agony but they wanted to hear the story.
“I could feel her trying to roll Uncle Johnny over but he just held onto me really tight and wouldn’t let go…he saved me.”
“I’d say your Uncle’s a real hero and I’d guess he loves you a lot…” Chris nodded in agreement. The other two looked at the young, sable haired man sleeping before them, impressed by the courage it took to do what the little boy had said he’d done…wondering if they would have done what he had for someone else’s child…
Roy finished up the bandaging using the roll of kerlex from their first aid kit to wrap the towel tightly to John’s back. It would have to do.
“Would you like some food…or coffee Roy…?” Paul asked.
“That’d be great… thanks.”
“Sure…Chris you hungry…?”
The boy shook his head. “I wanna stay with Uncle Johnny…this helps keep him calm Dad said,” he explained as his hand continued to sweep over John’s forehead. Roy turned crimson but nodded his head.
“That’s right Chris…I’ll be over there in a few minutes and then you can eat okay…?” Roy said recognizing Chris’ need to stay at Johnny’s side right now.
They all turned in a while later… Roy lay down close to his young partner where he could rest a hand on John’s dark head. His son curled up close against his side… John stirred restlessly for moment… “Just rest junior…we’ll get you outta here in the morning…,” Roy assured him softly. John settled back into sleep under Roy’s hand.
Joanne snatched up the phone on the first ring… “Roy…?” she asked hopefully.
“No Joanne…It’s Hank…”
“Oh…Hank…,” she said sounding disappointed. He understood completely. “Have you heard anything…?” She asked worriedly.
“Yes Jo…They called from a campground about twenty five miles from here…They’ve found John’s rover. They’re gonna start searching tomorrow morning.”
“Tomorrow…?” She said in shock… “But what if they need help now…?”
“Jo…there’s just no way to search that much area in the dark. They could walk right by them and never see them.”
“I guess… Oh Hank…what do you suppose happened to them…”
“I don’t know Jo…let’s hope it’s nothing more than a sprained ankle that’s holding them up…after all John and Roy are both experienced campers and hikers…they’ll be okay…,” he said…trying to reassure himself as much as her.
“I hope so…,” she whispered.
“I’ll call you in the morning…as soon as I hear anything,” he promised. “I’m gonna call the guys…see if they want to join the search…”
“Thanks Hank…” She hung up and paced the floor worriedly. “Where are you…?” She whispered fearfully. Joanne needed to talk to someone…she picked up the phone and dialed. A woman’s voice answered a moment later… “Hello…?”
Early the following morning the campgrounds rangers were organizing a search and rescue team. They glanced up as several cars pulled into the parking lot and five men and one woman stepped out. Hank approached the group and extended his hand. “Captain Hank Stanley…Station 51 out of Carson,” he introduced himself to the man who was obviously in charge.
“Ranger Eric Lanford…What can I do for you Captain?”
“The three people you’re going out after…they’re two of my crew and one of their sons…”
“We’d like to go with you…help search.”
Lanford’s looked at the others… “Who are they…?” He asked.
“The rest of my crew… Mike Stoker…Chet Kelley and Marco Lopez…These other two are Dr. Kelly Brackett and Dixie McCall from Rampart Emergency…They’d like to tag along in case there are injuries.”
Lanford looked surprised…he’d heard of Brackett and the idea that a rather renowned surgeon was prepared to head out on a search and rescue team spoke volumes… Obviously the missing people were pretty close to the dark haired physician. “Alright…I’ll send one of you out with each of my ranger’s. They all have radios. We were just going over the map of the area and the more favored camping grounds.”
“You won’t find them there…,” Chet spoke up.
“Why do you say that?” Lanford asked.
“Johnny knows these mountains …He doesn’t stay on trails and he won’t set up camp in any campground…He’d have headed into the woods.”
Lanford sighed… “Great…Okay then…we’ll head down the trail…If they’re able to they should be at least trying to get back here…maybe we’ll get lucky…Straight line search pattern…fan out, say…oh half a mile between us…” They all nodded and headed down the trail.
Paul was kicking dirt over the campfire when Roy woke the next morning. The sun was barely up but Greg and Rick were tearing down their tent and packing up. Roy sat up, running his hands through his tousled blonde hair. “Why didn’t you wake me…I would have helped,” Roy said as he turned to rest his hand against John’s forehead. He frowned at the warmth of his friend’s skin.
“I thought you needed to sleep…you’ve been through a lot too ya know…? How is he?”
“Feverish… This is gonna be pretty rough on him.”
“We’ll take it as easy as we can…,”
“Not too easy…I want him in a hospital…soon.”
Paul nodded. “Why don’t you wake your boy…let him get something to eat before we set out…you too…”
Roy nodded. He shook Chris awake. The boy opened his blue eyes and blinked blearily at his Dad’s unshaven face. “Dad…?” He murmured sleepily.
“Time to get moving Chris… We need to get Uncle Johnny outta here. So clean up and eat…I need to see to John okay…”
“Okay dad…,” Chris said sitting up and rubbing the sleep from his eyes.
“Johnny…,” Roy said quietly as he laid his hand alongside his partner’s cheek. “Johnny… wake up…”
The dark eyes cracked open…Dark circles beneath his eyes contrasting with the paleness of his skin. “R…Roy…,” he whispered…squinting up at his friend.
“Morning junior… How ya feelin…?”
“Head hurs…sick…,” he moaned. “S…shoulder hurs…too… My b…back…Mmmm,” he groaned.
“Okay junior…I need to sit you up here a bit…,” he warned as he carefully pulled him upright to lean against him. The reaction was instant…
“No…No don’t…hurt…Hmm…hurt me…,” he panted…his fingers digging into Roy’s arm as he tried to push him away.
Roy looked at him in confusion for a moment and then realized what he was afraid of and he felt terrible. “I’m not gonna hurt you junior… I promise…no more whiskey…,” he reassured him, holding the younger man against him until he stopped fighting. “I’m so sorry junior…but it’s all I had and I had to try and stop that infection…understand?” He explained gently.
Johnny nodded hesitantly but the frightened look in his eyes left Roy wondering how much he really understood. He knew his friend would understand later…after he was well but right now he felt like Jack the Ripper. Roy raised the canteen to Johnny’s lips. “N…no…,” he moaned trying weakly to push it away.
“It’s just water Junior…I promise you…it’s just water…” John’s brown eyes locked with his uncertainly but he finally allowed Roy to put it to his mouth, sipping tentatively. “Good boy…You wanna try and eat…?” Johnny shook his head as his eyes began to close.
Chris and Paul both came over to stand and watch as the older man laid his friend down on his side…the heartache in his eyes was clearly visible as he watched his partner for a long minute. “Ahem…,” Paul cleared his throat. “You about ready to get going…?”
Roy nodded… “Let’s get him outta hear.”
Each man shouldered their own pack and bent to lift John on his makeshift stretcher. They headed through the woods.
The rescue team had been out for about an hour. The cries of “Johnny…Roy…Chris…” had become a monotonous litany but there had been no answer. Kel and Dixie had stayed together with the young blonde Ranger they’d been assigned to. They stopped to sip from a canteen and wipe the sweat from their foreheads…Neither one of them wanting to vocalize their concerns for their two missing young friends and the child with them… Dixie was the first to hear the sound of voices coming from the woods to their right. “Do you hear that Brian…?” She asked the young Ranger.
“What is it Dix…,” Kel asked.
“Listen…” Both men tilted their head listening for whatever the lady had heard. He finally heard it as well… “HELLO…,” The Ranger yelled. There was a moment of silence before they heard the voices yelling for help.
The group of men carrying the stretcher trudged tiredly over the rough terrain. Even with the four of them it was tough going and Paul had to wonder how the blonde paramedic had managed to get so far on his own. Pure determination he guessed…powered by his concern and his love for his young friend. He hoped they’d reach the main trail soon where the going would be much easier.
John shifted restlessly on the stretcher…a weak moan slipping from his lips. Roy turned back once again to lightly rest his hand on his friend’s forehead…he frowned worriedly and Paul could only guess that the young man’s fever had climbed even higher. “How is he…?” he asked.
Roy glanced at his son who was marching along resolutely beside the stretcher. “Not good…,” he said quietly.
“Paul…,” Greg said turning to look over his shoulder… “I think we’re comin up on the trail.”
Roy breathed a sigh of relief… “Thank God…,” he muttered. “We’re almost home junior…”
John’s dark eyes fluttered for a moment. “H…home…,” he whispered.
A sudden shout interrupted their conversation… “HELLO…” They froze for a brief second before they began to head rapidly in the direction of the voice…
“Hello…,” they yelled. “Help…we need help…”
They broke through the tree’s and spotted the three people standing on the trail…Roy’s eyes widened in surprise when we spotted Kelly Brackett and Dixie McCall standing with the Ranger.
“Doc…Dix…!” He exclaimed.
“Roy…!” Kel said with a pleased smile…It quickly faded when he spotted the young, dark haired man on the stretcher. “What happened to Johnny…?” He asked moving quickly to the stretcher as they set it down and opened the backpack he was carrying.
Brian pulled his radio from his belt and keyed the mic… “We’ve found them…,” he called out to the rest of the teams… “Sector A18…”
“10-4’s…,” began rolling in as Kel began to cut the blood stained towel and bandaging away.
“Bear got him Doc…The wounds are becoming infected…he’s got a fever…his pulse is weak,” Roy informed the dark haired Doctor.
“Dear God…,” Dix breathed as the deep gashes were revealed.
“What’s that smell…?” Kel asked, sniffing suspiciously.
“Whiskey Doc…,” Roy said with a shrug. The Doctor arched a dark brow at the younger man. “It’s all I had available thanks to our new friends here…” Kel winced sympathetically knowing the agony that would have inflicted on the younger man.
“I see…well let’s see what we can do for him before we go any further,” he suggested as he pulled out a bottle of Morphine and a syringe.
John was struggling to lift his head. “D…Doc…?” he murmured in confusion.
“Yeah Johnny…we’re here. We’re gonna give you something for the pain okay…”
Dixie already had his pulse and respirations and was working on getting his blood pressure as Kel injected the pain killer. John’s eyes flicked toward Dixie for a moment before drifting closed. “Kel…his pulse is 60, his respirations are 12…BP is 100/60. He’s running a fever…,” she confirmed.
Kel nodded…rummaging through the backpack…He handed Dixie a bag of Ringers and the IV tube and needle. “Start an IV Dix…he looks pretty dehydrated. Roy…when did this happen?”
“Yesterday morning…I didn’t have anything to take care of him with. I made the stretcher and tried to get him out. I ran into these gentlemen last night and they helped me get him here.”
“Thank you guys…,” Dixie said for the both of them. “These two are pretty special to us.” She turned to the child standing next to Roy. “And how are you Chris…?” She asked in concern…worried about the trauma the boy had witnessed.
“I’m okay…but Uncle Johnny needs to get to your hospital…,” he said with his lip quivering. Being tough with his dad and a bunch of guys was easy…but it was different with a woman.
“Your Mom’s pretty worried about you…,” she told him. “About all of you…,” she corrected.
“It’s my fault Uncle Johnny got hurt…,” he blurted out throwing himself into the pretty nurses arms, he began to weep.
“It’s okay sweetie…we’re gonna take care of Johnny…it’s okay,” she whispered…rocking the child in her arms.
The sound of running feet turned them all around as a dozen men burst through the trees and converged on the group. “Cap…Guy’s…,” Roy gasped.
“Roy…! Chris…, My God…what happened to John…?” Cap asked worriedly at the sight of the torn flesh across his youngest crew members back. Kel was injecting an antibiotic into John’s IV line as they gathered close.
“Bear…,” was all Roy said as he smoothed the dark hair from John’s face.
“Oh man…,” murmured Chet…his face paling at what he was seeing. Mike and Marco looked sick as well... More so for the pain they knew their young friend must have endured than the wounds themselves.
Kel began to carefully re-bandage the wounds…he finally wiped his hands on his pants. “Let’s move…He’s gonna need surgery as soon as we get back…there’s some pretty bad muscle damage here.”
“Bad…?” Roy asked fearfully.
“I can’t be positive without X-rays Roy but I’d say he’s got a good chance thanks to you and the care you gave him…,” he said round aboutly reassuring the younger man that he’d done the right thing. Roy nodded as the crew moved in to take over carrying their injured crewmate.
“Thank you gentlemen…,”Cap said sincerely to the three men who’d helped his people. “I really appreciate what you did for my men…They’re kinda like family to us.”
“Glad we could help…Roy…good luck with your…brother,” he said.
“Thank you…Look us up at the Station when you get back. Johnny’d probably like to thank you himself. It’s Station 51 in Carson…”
“I’ll do that…I’d like to meet him.”
Roy scooped Chris up in his arms as they headed off down the trail at a rapid pace. Leaving the three men with a couple of the Ranger’s to take their statement.
Eric Lanford was on the walkie talkie calling for an ambulance to meet them at the campground parking lot .
Joanne lay on the couch in her living room where she’d spent the night…She was exhausted…her blue eyes red rimmed from crying…something was terribly wrong for them to be missing this long. She didn’t know how many different scenarios she’d run through her head over the course of the night but the thought of any one of them being injured or worse, tearing at her heart. The phone rang causing her to jump. She quickly sat up and snatched the receiver up… “Hello…”
“Chris…,” she sobbed out in relief. “Chris…baby…are you okay…?”
“I’m okay Mom…”
“Your Daddy sweetie…where’s your daddy?” She asked as fear climbed in her throat that it was Roy who was injured.
“He’s right here…hold on.” There was a brief silence before her husband’s voice came on the line.”
“Hi Honey…,” he said tiredly.
“Oh Honey…are you okay…? Is Chris…”
“Honey…Chris and I are fine but I can’t stay on the phone long…,” Roy interrupted.
“Johnny…?” She questioned fearfully.
“We’ll be on our way to Rampart in a few minutes…,” he said without answering her question.
“Roy…how bad is he…?”
“He was attacked by a bear Jo…He’s pretty torn up…”
“Oh my God…I’ll meet you there…,”
“He’s gonna be okay…,” he reassured his frightened wife…
She heard the concern in his voice. “You’re sure…?”
“Doctor Brackett thinks he’d got a good chance…he’s in a lot of pain and the wounds are pretty deep but he’s able to move his hand and fingers so he’s hoping there’s no nerve damage…Look babe we gotta go….I’ll see you at Rampart.”
“I’ll be there…”
The ambulance backed into the Emergency Bay at Rampart thirty five minutes later…Joanne DeSoto stood waiting with Joe Early just inside the doors. She moved forward with the gray haired Doctor as the attendants pulled the rear doors open and Johnny’s gurney was unloaded. Kelly Brackett and Dixie McCall stepped down from the back and followed.
Joanne reached out to touch her young friend as they passed and Kel gave the attendants a nod. They stopped to give the woman a moment. John’s eyes were barely cracked open as she leaned down to brush a light kiss on his forehead. “You hang on baby okay…? I’ll see you in a little while…” Kel gave her a reassuring smile and they moved away.
“Mom…,” she heard from behind her. She turned quickly and wrapped her arms around her son as he catapulted into her arms. Roy followed a little more slowly.
“Oh Roy…what happened?”
“It was all my fault mom…,” Chris wailed.
Her blue eyes looked up to lock with Roy’s in concern. He sighed and explained the boy’s confession. “Chris was a little jealous of John…he ah…ran off into the woods…”
“Oh Chris…,” she said worriedly.
“There was a bear…Johnny saw the tracks earlier and we were planning on breaking camp and gettin outta there when he disappeared. We went looking but…,” Roy hesitated.
Chris took up the story… “There was a bear cub Mom…I remembered that Uncle Johnny told me not to mess with baby animals and I was gonna run away from it but it all happened so fast.”
“What Honey…? What happened?” She asked her son.
“The mother bear came out of the woods…she was real mad and she ran at me…”
“Oh my God…,” she whispered pulling her son closer against her….her eyes flying to meet Roy’s, hoping her son was exaggerating the danger but he nodded his agreement with the boy’s story. “What happened sweetie?”
“Uncle Johnny knocked me down and covered me with his own body.” Chris began to cry. “The b…bear was…was…,” he stopped as the tears flowed harder… “It was all my fault.”
“Oh baby…,” she whispered as she held the child against her… stroking his blonde hair softly. “Were you hurt…?”
He shook his head… “No…Uncle Johnny wouldn’t let it…let it…get…get to me,” He hic-cupped through his tears.
“Oh God Roy…how can we ever thank him…? What if he’s…?”
“He won’t be…,” Roy interrupted the thought before she could voice it… John’ll be all right. He’s strong and he’s tough…he’ll get through this…he’ll come back.”
“Yes…okay…you’re right,” she agreed hopefully. “We’ll take care of him.”
“Of course we will…he’s family.” Jo nodded with a smile. “As a matter of fact Chris told me Johnny’s our second son…the grown up one,” he said softly as he ruffled his son’s hair. “He said he thinks that’s what you meant when you told him that Johnny and I were closer than brother’s,” he said arching a blonde eyebrow at his wife.
She threw him a grin…neither denying nor agreeing with her husband’s words.
“Daddy called him Na-háahketa…What does that mean…? Aunt Rosemary called him that too.”
Joanne giggled as her Husband’s face turned scarlet. “He was in a lot of pain…,” he explained with an embarrassed shrug. “I just said it to calm him down…”
“Of course you did honey…”
“Jo…,” Roy said warningly.
She smiled as Chris asked again… “But what does it mean…?”
“It ah…,” Roy hedged thinking quickly… “It means junior…” His eyes dared Joanne to refute it.
She smirked back him… “I guess it does…sort of…,” she agreed.
Roy was pacing the floor of the Doctor’s lounge as he had been for the last two hours. Chris lay sleeping on the couch with his head in his Mother’s lap as her blue eyes tracked her worried husband’s back and forth motion. “Roy…Honey…why don’t you sit down…this won’t help Johnny…”
“I can’t…I’m worried…”
“I know honey…so am I…”
“God Jo…He was in really bad shape…feverish…and I hurt him so bad…he was afraid of me Jo…”
He’d already told her the rest of the story including the whiskey…her heart had dropped into her stomach at the thought of Johnny’s pain…She’d teased Roy about his feelings for Johnny but she knew she was no better…she frequently treated the young paramedic as a younger brother and occasionally one of her own children, much to John’s chagrin. She loved the younger man dearly and she was just as worried as her husband was. “Honey…he’ll understand when he’s better…”
“I know but…,” Roy trailed off, shaking his head in disgust at what he’d done.
Kelly Brackett stepped through the door in time to hear the last exchange. “You might well have saved his arm and possibly his life…,” Kel assured him.
Roy spun around to face the dark haired Doctor… “Doc…how is he…?”
Brackett smiled… “He’s good Roy…62 stitches... It’s gonna take some physical therapy but I think he’s gonna be fine. There was a lot of muscle damage and he may experience a little numbness in small areas of his back or shoulder but he’ll have full use of both of them.”
“That’s great Doc…thanks. I can’t tell you how relieved I am…”
“Good…go home…get some rest…” Roy opened his mouth to argue but Kel held up a hand to stop him… “He’s sedated Roy…He’s only gonna sleep for the next five or six hours…I promise you…come back then and I’ll let you see him…”
Roy sighed in frustration…he hated leaving his friend but he knew Brackett would dig his heels in on this, besides he needed some sleep as well… “Five hours…?” Kel nodded… “I’ll be back then. I need to call Cap and the guys and let them know.”
“Good…I’ll be keeping a close eye on him and I’ll call you if he wakes up sooner.”
Roy scooped his sleeping son up in his arms… “Let’s go pick up Jen…,” he said as they headed for home.
True to his word…Roy and Joanne returned to the hospital five hours later. Chris and Jen were with them and they were hoping Dix or Brackett would pull some strings for them. Chris really wanted to talk to Johnny if he was up to it.
They approached the base station… “Hi Betty…,” Roy greeted the older nurse who sat in Dixie’s usual spot.
“Hi Roy…What can I do for you…?”
“Uh…Is Dix or Dr Brackett around?”
“They’re with Johnny… Room 226…”
“Thanks Betty…” They headed upstairs. “Wait here…,” Roy instructed as he settled his wife and kids in the waiting room. “I’ll see if they’ll let the kids in.” Jo nodded.
Roy pushed the door open to room 226…Brackett and Dixie were at John’s bedside. Johnny lay on his right side, his torso wrapped heavily in bandages and his left arm was immobilized against him. He appeared to still be asleep. “Doc…?” Roy called softly.
They turned to face him… “Roy…C’mon in…we were just about to try and wake him…”
Roy grinned… “Great…Uh hey Doc…would it be alright if Jo brings the kids in for a few minutes…Uh…Chris has something he’d like to say to John.”
“Sure Roy…Your kids mean a lot to Johnny…it’d probably be good for him.”
“Thanks…,” Roy turned and waved to his wife. She brought the kids in to join them.
“Roy…why don’t you wake him up…?” Kel suggested.
The blonde paramedic moved to Johnny’s bedside and took his friends hand. “Johnny…? Johnny…can you hear me…?”
“Hmmmf…,” he groaned softly…
"C'mon Junior...you can do it...The brown eyes fluttered open to blink blearily up at Roy. “Hey junior…,” Roy greeted with a smile…
“Yeah junior…I’m here.”
“You’re at Rampart Junior…You’ve had surgery on your shoulder and your back…they stitched you up pretty good.... ”
John licked his dry lips and struggled to keep his eyes open. “Arm…?” He whispered.
“They’re pretty sure you’ll regain full use of it…”
A small, tired, crooked grin appeared on John’s face… “Good…Chris…?”
“He’s right here…He ah…has something he’d like to say to you…”
John nodded tiredly as Roy waved the boy forward and stepped away. “Hi Johnny…,” Chris said softly as he moved into John’s line of vision.
“Hey Buddy…,” John murmured.
“I’m really sorry I ran off like that and…I’m sorry you got hurt saving me…”
“S’okay…,” Johnny slurred.
“No it’s not…I just wanted to thank you…,” the boy hesitated… “My mom told me it was a privilege when you let me call you Uncle Johnny…she said when I made a decision on how I feel about you …I’d have to ask for permission to call you that again …”
“Yeah… So…Johnny... I…I thought about it a lot and I just wanted to tell you I love you…and I'm sorry I hurt your feelings... ”
“L…love you too…”
“I know that …So…would it be alright if I call you Uncle Johnny again…?”
“Thanks Uncle Johnny…” Chris raised on tiptoe to kiss his Uncle’s cheek.
“Kay…,” he whispered with a smile.
Joanne moved forward to take Chris’ place. “Hi sweetheart…,” she said gently placing a kiss on his forehead.
“Jo…” The dark eyes closed for a moment before reopening…
“I can’t thank you enough for what you did sweetheart…,” she whispered close to his ear. “I love you…and you know you’ll be coming home to our house when they let you go home?”
“Kay...,” he whispered tiredly.
“Okay baby…,” she said kissing his forehead once more.
“I’m here junior…” Johnny lifted his hand and Roy clasped it in his own. “Johnny…I never got to thank you for saving Chris…” John smiled tiredly. “Thank you junior and I’m so sorry I had to hurt you like that but I had to do something to kill that infection… ”
John licked his dry lips once more and Roy reached for the cup, angling the straw to let him sip from it.
“Th…thanks… Roy… out…th…there… did you c…call me Na-háahketa? ” Johnny asked frowning in confusion.
“You musta been delirious partner…,” Roy said softly.
John’s dark eyes drifted closed as Joanne stifled a giggle. “Oh…”
“What do you mean Dad…you said it meant Junior…,” Chris corrected innocently.
John’s eyes flew open and he stared at his partner in shock…"Y...you didn't..."
“Well…I think Johnny’s had enough company for tonight Jo…why we don’t take the kids home…,” Roy said quickly, hustling the children toward the door as Dixie and Kel exchanged a confused glance. “I’ll be back later…Junior…,” he said softly...as Joanne's gleeful laughter echoed in the hallway.
John watched the door swing closed behind his best friend, his wife and kids… A small smile played about his mouth. He may have long recovery ahead of him but he knew without a doubt he had his family to help him through it. John’s dark eyes drifted closed.
The characters of emergency do not belong to me. They are the property of Universal Studios and Mark VII Limited. My grateful thanks for allowing us to borrow them from time to time. Any medical mistakes are mine.
Posted to Site 01/24/10
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The Characters of Emergency do not belong to me. They are the property of Universal Studios and Mark VII Productions. No copyright infringement is intended or monetary gain made. I merely like to toy with them and return them to their proper owner in good working order.
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