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The Pact by Mypiot
Johnny and Roy stood at the edge of the broken window waiting for Marco to reach the bottom rung of the ladder as he carried their precious cargo over his shoulder. The tension in both of the paramedics was palpable as every single one of their senses was on high alert … every nerve ending tingling with impatience.
Their hearts were racing out of control as they glanced over at each other, in silent communication regarding how little time they had left.
The dark eyes briefly acknowledged the blue before they shifted to glance out the broken window watching their descending comrade on the ladder, waiting for him to get far enough ahead, so he could begin his own journey. There was an unspoken plea that was written in both sets of eyes as they watched Marco … please hurry.
Theirs was a profession that demanded that they never give up hope. As long as they drew a breath, they would keep on fighting, right up until the bitter end. It was an unwritten understanding between the two men … when it came to the fiery beast, they would go down swinging and not give in without one hell of a fight … and both of these men were willing to lay down their life for the other.
~ ~ ~The call came late in the afternoon that had summoned Station 51 out to the large structure fire. Upon arrival the two paramedics had been informed that the security guard’s partner was still inside somewhere in the back of the building. So Johnny had donned his SCBA gear and entered through the rear door in search of the missing man. When he first entered, the situation hadn’t seemed that dire. Although the fire was present, it hadn’t reached the hallway or the stairwell yet… he still had time if he was quick about it. Even though the fire was not raging in this part of the building, Johnny’s senses were still on high alert. Like all firefighters, he was well aware that the nature of a fire was unpredictable
But unlike others, Johnny had an uncanny ability to read the fire. Somewhere inside his being he had this innate sense of what the fire was thinking. Johnny could not only smell the fire, he could hear it as well. He was aware of what each sound and movement meant. The slight odors, the change in air pressure, the sight of ‘angel fingers’, the creaks and groans of fire-weakened or overstressed and waterlogged timbers and steel… the unmistakable noise glass made when it had reached its thermal limit and was about to blow.
Johnny knew what each shift in the fire meant and signaled. And he never let himself forget the nature of the beast. He understood that one couldn’t force their own agenda on the beast… she ruled until someone showed up with a hose… and even then there were times she won, times when they had to concede defeat and watch her devour a building that was raging too out of control for them to be able to save anything or anyone left inside.
Dealing with a rescue or a victim search inside of a burning building wasn’t always about physical strength; ninety percent of survival was psychological. It was about being able to keep his wits about him, being aware of what was going on around him and being able to retrieve the knowledge and skills he had been taught when he needed to without becoming paralyzed by fear. He knew that even then, that whenever he entered a burning building, he was rolling some kind of cosmic dice. Because even with all of his knowledge and skills, that there were some times he had to put aside his own safety for the safety of his victim.
Sometimes he had to ignore what he knew, and put himself in harm’s way to save another’s life. It’s what he did.
As Johnny approached the stairwell the hairs on the back of his neck stood up. He could tell that the fire was growing larger and the heat was more intense by the stairs. He could hear the flames in the adjacent rooms building as they threatened to overtake the hallway he had just come up. Time was running short as he turned to head up the stairs.
Johnny had found the missing security guard on the landing between the first and second floors of the burning warehouse without too much difficulty, and he was just about to throw the guard over his shoulder when he heard the unmistakable groan of timbers above his head. He knew what it signaled and he knew he needed to jump out of the way, but if he did that, he would be leaving the injured guard to fend for himself, and he knew he wouldn’t be able to escape the ceiling collapse, so Johnny did what he was paid to do… what his conscience dictated he must do. He leaned forward in a last ditch effort to help shield the guard with his own body.
He had barely gotten a chance to lean towards the guard when the ceiling gave a final shudder as it fractured and began to splinter. With a thunderous roar it rained down upon the helpless paramedic on the stairs below, sending a shower of smoldering debris onto Johnny’s back.
The force of ceiling collapse hitting his back had driven Johnny forward, sending his right leg crashing awkwardly into the stairs. The sharp shooting pain in his knee and lower leg had been excruciating, momentarily taking Johnny’s breath away.
He gave himself a brief moment to regain his composure before he quickly began to fumble at the knot on the rope that had tethered him to Roy. He knew there was no time to waste if he was to get himself and the security guard to safety.
The trouble was; the injury to his right leg had rendered Johnny virtually helpless. He knew he couldn’t carry the guard with his injured leg. His only hope was that somehow the two of them could support each other enough to hobble down the hall before the fire consumed their escape route completely.
He was still working frantically on the knot when Roy appeared out of the smoky haze at the bottom of the stairwell like a knight in shining armour. Help had arrived.
~ ~ ~
Roy had heard the explosion and felt the rope in his hands give a violent jerk and then suddenly stop. A burst of dust, debris and immense heat came wafting out the open doorway that Johnny had disappeared through five minutes earlier.
Frantically he began calling out Johnny’s name, as he held onto the now slack lifeline that was his only link to Johnny. His heart sank when he didn’t get any answer. He glanced around in a desperate search for anyone to come and help him rescue not only the security guard, but possibly his partner as well. He called out to another fireman that was at the end of the alley, but the man hadn’t heard Roy’s shouts for help, and he had just kept on going.
Roy knew protocol required him to get help… but he also knew Johnny didn’t have the luxury of the extra time it would take to summon help on his side. If Roy went for help, he could very well be signing Johnny’s death warrant. Not wanting to waste any of those precious seconds Johnny may have left; Roy had thrown caution to the wind, pulled on his SCBA gear and entered the building alone.
Once inside, Roy was immediately met with fallen and charred debris that had fallen from the ceiling into the hall. He could see the flames moving quickly towards the doorway as they approached the hall, but still he pushed forward, frantically calling out Johnny’s name. He reached the bottom of the stairs and finally found what he was looking for… his missing partner. He gave a small sigh of relief, and then started to size up the situation.
Roy knew the moment he laid eyes on Johnny that all was not well. Debris littered the stairs around his fallen partner, and his body was hunched over in obvious pain. Unfortunately the flames were too close for Roy to do a proper assessment. He had quickly asked Johnny if he was alright, and even though he knew Johnny was lying when he had said he was okay, he had no choice but to heed his partner’s request to just grab the security guard.
Roy reached down and pulled the guard over his shoulder while Johnny placed a steadying hand on the back of his turnout coat. Roy once again questioned his partner about getting himself out, but like before, Johnny gave Roy assurances that he could make it out on his own. Roy knew Johnny was struggling, but he had no choice but to leave his partner to his own devices to try and rescue himself.
As soon as they reached the hall, it had become abundantly clear that they were not going to be able to leave the same way they had entered. The only choice they had now was to head up to the second floor. He reluctantly told Johnny what they needed to do. Johnny nodded, assuring Roy not to worry, that he’d be able to make it on his own without any help.
Roy cursed the situation, because he knew Johnny was lying in an effort to let Roy off the hook. He was giving Roy permission to go on ahead without him… to leave him behind so he could save himself and their victim.
Roy’s entire being wanted to be able to take a closer look at his partner, and he wished to high heaven that someone else would show up, so Johnny wouldn’t have to try and walk when he was so obviously injured, but neither of those options had been available, so he’d had to reluctantly leave Johnny to straggle along behind as best he could while he carried the injured security guard to the second floor.
In the short time it had taken Roy to get the security guard up safely to the second floor, the entire lower portion of the stairway had been completely engulfed by flames. Roy instinctively knew that Johnny wasn’t behind him, and his heart leapt into his throat when the only thing he saw behind him was a wall of flames.
Roy quickly turned and set the security guard into a chair that was sitting next to an open door. He slipped off his SCBA and put it on the man, giving him instructions to breathe in the oxygen it provided. Once he was certain the guard had complied, he turned back towards the flaming staircase to do what he had wanted to do all along… help his injured partner.
He ran back to the top step, and found Johnny on all fours crawling up the last few stairs, dragging his injured limb behind him. Roy bent down and hoisted his partner’s arm around his shoulder with his right hand, as he wrapped his left arm around his waist so he could support the bulk of his weight.
Johnny hopped awkwardly as quickly as he could beside Roy. He could feel the fire building with each passing second, and he knew it would only be by the grace of God that they managed to escape the inferno before if flashed… and Johnny was certain this beast was just seconds away from flashing.
Roy helped Johnny over to where the guard was seated on the chair. Thankfully the chair had casters, which meant that Johnny was able to use it like a crutch to compensate for his injured leg. It allowed him both speed and mobility. Johnny grabbed hold of the back of the chair and hopped along while he pushed it forward to move himself and the guard into the room in front of them while Roy closed the doors sealing them inside. Together the two paramedics used their combined weight against the back of the chair to move as a single unit over to the partially boarded up window. It was their only hope of escape now. If they had to, they would jump. It was only two stories, and if they hung the guard out the window as far as possible, the fall would only be a few feet… more than survivable.
Once the guard was safely on the ground, he and Roy would have to make the drop as well. Johnny’s body gave an involuntary shiver… he didn’t relish the idea of landing on his injured leg. Although he hadn’t voiced it out loud to Roy, Johnny knew the limb was fractured. But the truth was, the fire was too far advanced, and the flashover was coming soon… Johnny could feel it, and one thing was for certain, fire could flash faster than man could run. The window was their only hope now, and both men knew it.
Roy easily removed the few thin boards obstructing the glass, and as Johnny bent over the guard using his body as a shield from flying glass. Roy used his helmet to smash out the glass, giving them an opening to the ground below.
Both paramedics heaved a grateful sigh of relief when they saw the rest of 51’s crew ready and waiting with a ladder below… just maybe they’d all get out of this alive after all. They quickly handed the security guard out the window onto Marco’s waiting shoulders, and stood back… which is where they were at this moment… praying for Marco to please hurry.
Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, but had in actual fact been less than a minute, Marco had reached the lower rungs of the ladder enabling Johnny to swing his legs out the window. He started downward slowly and carefully with his injured limb hanging uselessly out to the side. He climbed down as quickly as he could knowing full well that Roy only had mere seconds to haul himself out of the building.
Marco had cleared himself away from the ladder and handed their victim over to outstretched hands, and Johnny had descended about half way down the ladder, when he heard the tale tell whump deep inside the building as the first explosion began.
He instinctively looked back up to the window, praying that he would see Roy on his way down. He had only just managed to catch a glimpse of Roy looking over his shoulder, when the flash over actually happened. He looked up just in time to see Roy make a dive head first out the window. Ignoring his own pain, Johnny braced himself and stretched out his arms in order to stop Roy from falling head first onto the cement below.
~ ~ ~
The flashover had looked much different from Roy’s perspective. The moment Marco had reached the lower quarter of the ladder, Johnny had started out. Normally they would have waited until the ladder was clear, but both paramedics knew that every nanosecond counted right now.
Johnny hadn’t said anything about his injury, but Roy had seen the pain etched on his face. He had felt awful that he hadn’t been able to do much for his partner and as anxious as he was to get out of here, he was even more anxious to get Johnny down to safety, so he could get off that leg.
Johnny had just reached the halfway point on the ladder, when time had run out for Roy. Like Johnny, Roy had heard the rumbling deep inside the bowels of the building, and he could feel the pressure change inside the room. He knew what was about to happen next, so he made a dive for the open window, hoping against all hope that he didn’t crack open his skull or snap his neck in two. But either way, it was still better that burning to death… he had seen what that was like and it was every firefighter’s biggest fear. The odds of him coming out of this in one piece should he dive out the window head first was slim… but getting consumed in a flashover was guaranteed to be certain death.
He had mentally prepared himself for the impact, bracing himself for how it was going to feel when his head and neck made contact with the concrete below. He could almost imagine the phone call Joanne would soon be getting and he silently apologized to her as he shot through the open window as the flames from the explosion licked at the back and arms of his turnout coat.
He had felt himself being propelled downward, and he shut his eyes to avoid seeing the ground rising up to meet him. But the impact never happened. Suddenly out of nowhere his partner’s arms shot out and grabbed hold of his upper body, and with a strength and a tenacity that surprised even Roy, Johnny managed to flip Roy over so that he was upright, and he kept on holding onto his arms until his body was only a few feet off the ground.
Johnny never let go of his turnout coat, even when Roy’s heavier body weight pulled his slender frame off the ladder, sending them both crashing down onto the ground below. He hadn’t even realized his turnouts were smoldering until he felt the cold spray of the hose dousing his entire body, while several pairs of hands, including Johnny’s, quickly divested him of the offending garment.
Johnny did a quick appraisal of his friend, and was more than relieved to see that he had survived the tumble off the ladder relatively unscathed.
As for being caught on the edge of the explosion, it had seemed Roy had lucked out there as well. His turnout coat had performed as it should and consequently the only part of Roy that had been burned was a patch of skin surrounding his left elbow. It was one of those burns that would be classed as being borderline between first and second degree.
Roy had also taken in a fair amount of smoke, due to the fact that he had given the guard his air tank. Like it or not, Roy was destined for Rampart to get his burn treated and his lungs checked out.
As for his own injury, Johnny knew there was no doubt that he was going to be on the sick list for quite some time. During the fall off the ladder he had been more concerned with Roy’s well-being than his own leg, and consequently he had fallen on it hard, only this time Roy had landed it on it, too. The pain in his leg was throbbing, but it wasn’t off the scale. That was largely because the adrenaline rush hadn’t worn off yet, but Johnny knew that when it did, he was going to be in a world of hurt.
Right at that particular moment, the thing that bothered him most about the whole deal was the realization that this was how he was going to end his partnership with Roy… Not exactly on a high note he thought dismally.
Although he hadn’t mentioned it to anyone, he knew Roy was probably going to be moved up to Engineer by next week… if he accepted the promotion. And Roy had made it clear earlier that morning after his unplanned swim that he was going to be taking the promotion.
He had heard the news unofficially several days ago via his date with Amy, who worked at HQ. She had told him that Roy was going to be given his new assignment to Station 95 on B shift the following week…almost four weeks earlier than they’d expected. It had just opened up and because Station 95 was located just a couple blocks from Roy’s home, it was being offered to him. The plan had been that he would be informed of his new assignment on Sunday, and he would be reporting for duty as Engineer over at 95’s on the Wednesday. That had meant that Sunday would have been their last shift together.
Johnny had been kind of hoping to be able to make the day special, as it would be the last time they would be working together as Paramedics. Now it seemed that their last run together would be this call.
Maybe it was how it should end… Roy coming to Johnny’s aid inside the building, and Johnny saving Roy on the ladder. It kinda summed up their entire partnership; they’d always had each other’s backs. They’d always been there for each other.
As far as Roy being on B shift now, that hadn’t bothered Johnny in the least, because he had been making some plans of his own lately. Johnny had known since he was sixteen years old that he wanted to go into the fire service… more specifically the rescue end of the fire service. He had never had any desire to work on the engines, even though they had told him he was a natural hose jockey during his time as a boot. Not that he hadn’t enjoyed his days on the bigger rigs, he’d certainly felt the thrill of the action … and he still enjoyed the chance to work on the engine from time to time… but rescue was where his heart had always been. He’d never had any desire to be an Engineer, and he couldn’t see himself being happy as one now.
No, Johnny was a Paramedic, and he had never really wanted to be on the engine… he was a rescue man. When Roy had taken the Engineer’s test, he had suggested Johnny take it with him, but Johnny had declined. He knew that if he was on the scene of a fire and he saw someone who needed a paramedic, it would kill him to have to stay back and man the engines and leave the rescue work to someone else… he just wasn’t wired that way.
Not that he faulted Roy for his decision. He knew Roy had a wife and two kids to support, and so he had to make compromises along the way for the good of his family. That was why Johnny had tried to be supportive and encouraging to Roy about accepting the promotion, even though it was tearing out his heart to do it.
He had no idea how he was going to be able to work with another permanent partner other than Roy, but he would have to try.
When the scuttlebutt had first come down that Roy was going to be moving to B shift, it had been another blow to Johnny. That would mean that even on their off days, they would have less time to get together with both of them being on different shifts. It had been for that reason that Johnny had decided to leave 51’s himself.
For the past week, he had been scouting around, and discovered that Cecil Karn, the Senior Paramedic on the B shift over at Station 101 was going to be moving up to Captain in the New Year, and the position for Senior Paramedic would be up for grabs. Johnny had already spoken to HQ about it, and they had agreed that when the time came, Johnny could have the placement.
In the meantime he would stay on at 51’s for the four months leading up to it, and help break in a new rookie by the name of Graham Chambers, who was just finishing up his time as a trainee with Squad 24. When DeSoto was moved up to 95’s next week, Graham would be taking over the position of Junior Paramedic at 51’s while Johnny would assume the role of Senior Paramedic.
It wasn’t the ideal situation, but at least he and Roy would be on the same shift come the New Year, so their days off would be the same, allowing them more chances to hang out and go camping. At the end of the day it was the best he could hope for. He would miss Cap and the others, but it had been his and Roy’s friendship that had made being at 51’s special for him.
Now that his leg was messed up, he wondered if maybe this would be his last shift at 51’s, too. On one hand it would make things simpler. Graham could start in fresh with Johnny’s replacement and he could get used to his permanent partner right from the get-go, without having to adjust to another new partner in four months’ time. On the other hand, he hadn’t had a chance to tell anyone else of his plans. He had been going to speak privately to Cap about it, but he hadn’t made anything permanent yet. He had told HQ that he only wanted to transfer if Roy accepted the promotion… and Roy had only just made up his mind earlier that day.
Johnny’s private musings were interrupted by a sudden flash of pain in his right leg. The adrenaline rush was wearing off, and the blinding pain was beginning to make itself known. Because his mind had been wandering, the pain caught him off guard and he couldn’t help the yelp that escaped from his mouth.
His attention was now fully on the source of his discomfort, and he soon realized the reason for the sudden painful sensation. Roy had bent over and was doing a cursory examination of the leg, and it had been his touch that had caused the sudden bolt of white hot agony to travel from his toes to his hip.
“Sorry, Junior,” Roy mumbled.
It only took one glance into Roy’s face for Johnny to realize that Roy was beating himself up over the fact that Johnny had exacerbated his injury, first by trying to walk on it when Roy had been unable to assist him inside the building, and second because of the tumble off the ladder. He reached over and grabbed Roy’s hand and made sure that his partner was looking him in the eye.
“Stop it, Roy… it had to be done. Neither one of us had any choice in the matter. We did what we had to do to stay alive. Broken bones mend… death is permanent. You saved my life in there when you came back for me on those stairs… surely you aren’t sorry for that, are you?”
Roy didn’t look convinced as he murmured, “Of course not, but still….”Johnny shook his head defiantly. “But nothing, Roy… we both did what we had to do. No regrets, okay? It was a good rescue. We got the guard out, and we managed to save ourselves to boot. When a fire decides it’s going to flash, Roy, you’re at its mercy, especially if you are trapped inside like we were. How many funerals have we attended for guys who weren’t so lucky? We were sent in to find the guard, we had no choice. There was no way to know the ceiling was going to pick that moment to come down on me…and then the fire flared up unexpectedly. But we kept our wits about us, we did what we were trained to do, and because of that we all survived… it’s the end results that count. You had my back, and I had yours… it’s what we do. So stop blaming yourself for not being in control of the entire universe. We can only do our best with the cards that have been dealt to us on any given rescue… and I’d say we played our hand pretty damned well this time, and we ended up winning the game. You can’t hope for anything better than that, Pally.”
It was just at that point that Squad 24 pulled up to the scene and three men jumped out of the vehicle and started to grab their equipment. Ian Cameron, Jeremiah Porter and their trainee, Graham Chambers, came over to where the two injured paramedics were sitting on the cement.
Jeremiah came over to Roy and squatted down in front of the man, doing a quick IPS on his victim. In the meantime, Ian went over to Johnny’s side and Graham headed over to the guard.
“Hey there, Roy … looks like you got a bit up close and personal with this one,” he said as he looked at his arm.
Roy nodded his head and tried to answer, but all that came out was a raspy cough.
“Sounds like you swallowed a bit of smoke, too. Are you hurt anywhere else other than this arm?”
Roy shook his head no as he took a moment to regain his equilibrium after his little trip down the ladder.
“Let’s get you over here by the guard so Graham and I can get the two of you all fixed up.” Jerry reached down and pulled Roy carefully to his feet and started to steer him over to the squad.
Seeing that both paramedics were being well cared for, Hank and the crew turned their full attention back to the burning structure, leaving Johnny and Roy in the capable hands of 24’s medics.
“Hey Jerry,” Roy was finally able to croak out. “I’m not hurt that bad… it’s Johnny that took the worst of it on this one. Don’t worry about me. You guys just get the guard. I need to take care of my partner,” Roy said as he tried to pull his arm out of Jerry’s grasp so he could go back to where Johnny was now laid out on the ground beside Ian.
“Hold on there, buddy,” Jerry said, as he tightened his grip on Roy’s uninjured arm. “Don’t you worry about Gage, there’s more than enough manpower here to handle all three of you,” he reassured his patient as he gently shoved him closer to where 51’s squad was sitting.
“Ian and Graham have got the other two covered. Now I’m just going to avail myself of your gear so we can get all three of you packaged up and on your way to Rampart, ASAP.”
“Johnny’s my partner, Jerry. I can’t not worry about him,” Roy replied.
“Okay, okay, fair enough…but Ian will take good care of him for you Roy.” Jerry began to reach for the saline to pour on Roy’s burn as his reluctant patient kept his eyes trained on his younger partner.
After getting Roy’s vitals and dressing Roy’s wounds as per Dr. Brackett’s instructions, Jerry sat back on his heels and watched Roy as he observed Ian’s care of Johnny with a critical frown.
“You know, Roy,” Jerry ventured. “You’re gonna have to relax a bit. Johnny’s a big boy, and if the rumor mill is correct, you’ll be leaving 51’s in the very near future. In our line of work, we’re bound to get injured from time to time, and you’re not going to be around much longer to keep watch over your soon-to-be ex-partner. You’ll have to let go and let his new partner be in charge of having his back… and word on the grapevine is that Graham over there is slated to be Johnny’s new partner. That’s why Ian has him helping with Gage. They’re going to have to build up their rapport with each other… so they might just as well start now. From here on in, they’re going to have to have each other’s back… it’s not going to be your job anymore,” Jerry chided gently.
Roy slumped back and thought about what Jerry had just told him. As the truth of what his fellow paramedic was saying to him began to sink in, Roy began to realize how unsettling those words made him feel.\
By the time Jerry had wrapped his burn, the ambulance had arrived on scene. Jerry slipped an oxygen mask over Roy’s face and helped him to his feet.
“Brackett wants you to keep this mask on until he clears you at the ER. Your smoke exposure isn’t too bad, but he wants you on it for a while just to be safe. Now you just sit tight right here until we get the other two ready for transport. Ian will ride in with you, since he’s the one who is taking the lead on Johnny’s treatment. Gage’s injury is the most serious, which means he gets top billing on this rescue. I’ll follow behind in our squad, and Graham can bring in yours… he might as well get used to driving her anyway.”
The last part of Jerry’s statement made Roy’s stomach tighten as he watched him jog over to help the others.
Except for a moderate case of smoke inhalation, the guard was uninjured and was at this point sitting up and alert and so, like Roy, he was walked over to the ambulance while Jerry carried over the O2 canister beside him.
Johnny was flat on his back on the ground, and he was clearly pharmaceutically happy. Graham and Ian were grinning as they listened to the ‘stoned’ paramedic while he drunkenly instructed them in the proper way to splint his leg.
Ian noticed Roy watching the scene in front of him and winked. “It’s amazing what 5 mg of MS will do for a person’s disposition,” he joked.
Roy didn’t answer Ian. He just continued to frown while he watched his partner interact with Graham.
By this time the gurney had arrived beside the injured medic, and Ian and Graham carefully lifted Johnny and got him settled on the gurney. Graham helped cover up Johnny with a blanket, while the ambulance attendants strapped him in.
“Looks like I’m bringing in your squad, Johnny,” Graham said as he stood up and brushed the dirt off his pants.
“Hey Graham,” Johnny slurred. “Pretty soon it’s gonna be just you and me, kid…I’ll be finally be the Senior Paramedic. So just don’t you bother getting too comfortable driving the squad, because as soon as this leg heals up, I’ll be the driver.”
Graham nodded his head and smiled. “Wouldn’t dream of it, Pally,” he replied.
Roy knew that Graham calling Johnny Pally… the very same nickname Johnny had bestowed upon him had been purely coincidental. But for some reason, watching Johnny tease Graham, and then having Graham call Johnny ‘Pally’, bothered him… a lot.
He suddenly didn’t like the idea of this young pup… this usurper… replacing him in Johnny’s life. But what surprised him the most was that right at that moment, Roy wanted to punch Graham in the mouth and snatch the squad’s keys out of his hands. Johnny and the squad belonged to him… It was such a strong emotion, and it had shocked Roy to realize he felt so strongly about it. After all, Roy had considered himself to be many things… but jealous had never been one of them.
Once Ian had Johnny’s gurney situated in the back of the ambulance, he then helped both Roy and the guard inside and onto the bench. Johnny’s glazed eyes wandered around the interior of the ambulance until the finally settled on Roy.
“Oh hey there, Roy, how‘re ya doing, partner?” he asked sleepily.
The MS was making Johnny extremely uninhibited. Suddenly his voice became heavy with emotion, and it almost took on the tone of weeping as he lamented to everyone in the back of the ambulance.
“Guess I can’t call ya partner anymore can I? You’ll be gone over to 95’s long before this leg of mine heals,” he said sadly. He looked up at Ian and continued to go on. “My best buddy’s leavin’ me, Ian. We’re never gonna do another rescue together,” he said with a hitch in his voice.
By this time, Johnny was quickly losing the battle to stay awake and his eyes, glassy from both the drugs and the unshed tears that were threatening to spill out, became droopy and began to close. He shifted his glance one final time to look at Roy as he mumbled out…”I’m really gonna miss you, bro…” as he finally slipped into the land of Nod.
Roy sat silently for several moments before he turned to face Ian. “So this Graham guy, he knows his stuff, right?” he asked.
“Well as for his paramedic skills, I’d say he’s pretty good. He’s still a bit inexperienced, but his knowledge and skills are good. I have no doubt he’ll do fine as a paramedic…can’t say how he’ll be in a fire though. I mean, he must be okay or else they wouldn’t have passed him from the academy ...” Ian’s voice trailed off, giving Roy the distinct impression there was something Ian wasn’t telling him.
“But something about him worries you?” Roy asked nervously.
Ian shrugged his shoulders and looked down at the now insensate Johnny.
“Like I said, Roy, he must be okay or they wouldn’t have passed him at the academy. It’s just that you, me, Jerry, Johnny…and the rest of us Paramedics, well we were firefighters and rescue men converts to the Paramedic program. We spent a lot of time as hose jockeys before we trained to be Paramedics. But this bunch coming out now are the first ones who entered into the fire service with the sole intent on becoming Paramedics, so they started their Paramedic training right out of the academy. They haven’t really done any time as a boot on the engines.” He looked up at Roy to see if he understood where he was going with this train of thought.
Roy nodded his head in understanding as he quietly said, “Graham’s a Fire Virgin… he hasn’t really been tested in a really intense fire situation on his own. So Johnny won’t have any idea if this kid has good instincts or if he’ll panic the first time he really comes up against something truly frightening,” Roy said worriedly.
It was at this point that the ambulance swung around and backed up to the doors of Rampart, cutting off any further discussion on the matter.
As soon as he entered the E.R., Roy knew he was in for a long wait. It seemed that they were not the only victims arriving at Rampart. Both squads 16 and 45 had been called out to a major MVA, and were now bringing in three critically injured victims. Treatment room three was still occupied with the Ferguson boy, which meant currently space in the E.R. was at a premium. Consequently for the time being, Roy and Johnny were both put in treatment room one, until another room… and another doctor became available. Neither one of them had been critically injured, so they were lower down on the triage totem. The three MVA victims were currently being taken care of by Doctor’s Morton, Brackett and Early, so Roy realized that he might as well settle in on the stool to wait his turn.
Johnny was now sleeping due to the residual effects of the MS shot he had been given earlier. Roy knew it would begin to wear off soon and Johnny would gradually wake up, but for now, he was left to his own thoughts as he sat waiting for someone to become available to treat his burn.
He couldn’t help but replay the day’s events over in his mind. He mentally cringed each time he pictured Johnny struggling on the stairs, as the flames crept closer and closer. Roy hated the fact that Johnny had had to walk on his leg when it was clearly injured. But there had simply been no other options.
Because of the frenetic situation on the scene, Roy hadn’t even had a chance to check Johnny’s leg for himself once they were on the ground. Quietly, Roy stood up from his seat and walked over to Johnny’s gurney. He grasped hold of the sheet covering his partner’s legs and lifted it off the injured limb.
Roy swore under his breath, “Damn it, Junior, you should have told me it was fractured.” From what Roy could tell Johnny had at the very least a tibial fracture… maybe the fibula too. Although there was no skin laceration, there was quite a large contusion at the site of the break, which signified that there had been some soft tissue damage as well. Now the only question was… did he need surgery, and how long was he going to be laid up?
Roy replaced the cover and stood looking down at his insensate partner. “Shit …” he muttered as he watched Johnny’s chest rise and fall in time with his slow even breathing. This had been the second time in less than three months that Johnny had been injured during one of their rescues, and both times Roy had been unable to help care for him.
The last time had been when he had been bitten on the leg by an angry rattlesnake. Johnny had had to treat himself, because Roy hadn’t been there to help him that time either. True, it had happened while Roy was enroute to Rampart with the victims… but that didn’t make it any easier for Roy to accept.
What made it worse was how easily Johnny had come to terms with the fact that Roy had had to leave him on his own to fend for himself. Johnny’s reaction to the fact that Roy hadn’t been there when he was bitten by the snake was a carbon copy of his reaction today. Just like he had today, Johnny had quickly absolved Roy of any blame, and had been quick to try and ease any sense of what Johnny referred to as ‘misguided guilt’ on Roy’s part. There had been no blame, no reproach, no accusation … just a simple acceptance that those things happened sometimes, and there had been nothing either one of them could have done differently… in either case.
It was all part of the enigma that was Johnny Gage. He could get his feelings hurt at the most inane and casual comments, and he would rant and rave for hours over all the small annoyances they encountered from time to time. And then there were those times when he would come up with some crusade regarding efficiency or safety, which he usually approached with all the evangelical zeal of a new convert. But when it came to the big things, he had an uncanny ability to come to terms with them quickly. For someone who wore his emotions so blatantly on his sleeve most days, he could be very pragmatic about life’s bigger issues.
Perhaps it was because of the unfortunate childhood his partner had had to endure in conjunction with his naturally soft heart that gave him such a deep sense of understanding and empathy for the downtrodden and hurting in society. Maybe it was because he had already witnessed firsthand the worst tragedy anyone could possibly face… the death of his own family. But whatever the reason, Johnny carried inside him the ability to be pragmatic about life while still having the amazing gift of what Roy called ‘silent sympathy’.
Whether it was a terrified and hurting victim or, as had been the case these past couple of weeks, Roy’s own inner turmoil over this promotion; Johnny knew how to bestow the gift of silent support. He had just sat beside him in companionable silence without going on and on about how much Roy would be giving up if he left the Paramedics… or how bored they both knew Roy would be if he took the promotion.
They were men of action, they needed the saves, the rescues and the feeling of satisfaction they got from overcoming insurmountable odds and pulling someone back from the brink of certain death. Johnny had just instinctively known that Roy was struggling with this decision; that Roy didn’t want to leave the Paramedics to go work on some lumbering old Pavement Queen until he either made Captain or retired. Yet he hadn’t voiced either of those facts out loud. He had sat back silently, and didn’t put any more pressure… or guilt … onto Roy’s shoulders than Roy already had himself.
Roy knew Johnny didn’t want to him to go… his ‘drunken’ statement in the back of the ambulance had only confirmed what Roy had already known… this promotion was tearing Johnny apart inside just as much as it was him. But as usual, Johnny had put Roy’s feelings first and he refrained from trying to influence his decision.
Johnny had put what was best for Roy, along with the needs of Joanne and the kids, ahead of his own wishes. Both Johnny and Roy knew that ultimately Roy had to make this choice on his own… Whether he stayed, or moved up in the department, had to be his choice… and his alone.
The stupid part of all of this was that Roy didn’t even want this promotion. He and Joanne were doing fine financially right now, and he figured he had at least five more years of being a Paramedic in him, before he needed to think about moving on up in rank. Both he and Joanne had been content with the status quo as it stood right now. In fact the whole impetus for his even trying for Engineer had been because of his mother-in-law’s last visit. As usual it had only taken the old battle axe about fifteen minutes before she started in on Joanne about how much larger and more opulent Elaine and David’s home was. Then came the snide innuendos about how Joanne had married beneath her ‘station’ in life when she had settled on a lowly fireman.
It had been during the ensuing argument between Roy and Joanne’s mother that Roy had blurted out that he was actually going to try for a promotion the next time the Engineer’s exam came up. It had been a spur of the moment declaration made in the heat of battle that he now felt he was obligated to follow through on. The last thing in the world he wanted to do was become an Engineer. He had been so disappointed when he found out he not only passed the exam, but that he’d finished ninth, guaranteeing him an almost immediate promotion. Why couldn’t he have been 74th instead of Chet?
It was just at this point in his musings that the door to treatment room one opened up and Graham Chambers took a step inside the room. He held the treatment room door open with one hand, while he extended the other hand toward Roy. Dangling over his fingers were the keys for the squad.
“I guess I had better give these to you, DeSoto… at least for now. I really enjoyed having the chance to drive the squad. I hear Gage is one helluva’ Paramedic, and a stand-up guy to boot. I just know we’re going to get along great,” he proclaimed as he leaned against the open door.
Just then, the door to treatment room four burst open, and Dr. Brackett came rushing through with his patient on a gurney. From where they stood it was hard to discern if the victim on the gurney was male or female, due to the fact that their entire face and neck were badly disfigured by third degree burns. The smell of burnt hair and human flesh filled the air as the critically injured victim was whisked past them toward the waiting elevators.
Bob Bellingham slowly came out of the treatment room, his countenance grim. He looked up and saw Roy and Graham looking out from the open door of treatment room one. He shook his head sadly as he came toward them.
“Eighteen year old male; the car caught fire on impact. It’s doubtful he’ll make it through the night…” Bellingham looked over at Graham with concern. “Hey there Chambers, are you alright? You’re looking a little green around the gills,” he asked.
Roy looked over just in time to see Graham cover his mouth with his hand and make a mad dash for the men’s room.
“Newbies,” Bob said. “I guess time will tell on whether or not he has what it takes for this job … still that was some pretty bad shit in there. I can’t say that I’m going to feel much like having any lunch today myself.”
Bellingham turned back towards Roy and smiled. “Well you take care of that arm, Roy, and say hi to Johnny for me.” And with those final well wishes, Bob turned to go in search of his partner.
Roy let the door swing closed again, and he slowly made his way back over to the stool he had been sitting on. He stared down at the keys that were sitting in the palm of his hand. He knew it would be unfair to judge Graham on what had just happened. He was still new to the job, and maybe he just needed some time and experience to learn how to hold it together long enough to get the job done. Roy also had to concede that there were things you just never got used to. They all had rescues that caused them to lose their lunch once they got back to the station, or rescues that plagued their sleep with nightmares from time to time. It just went with the job.
But he was just as keenly aware that not everyone was cut out for this job emotionally. You could have all the knowledge and skills in the world, and still not have the emotional acuity to do this job. It had nothing to do with any lack of character… you simply had it, or you didn’t.
The thing that bothered him most right now… besides the unexpected jealously issue … was the awful unknowns about Chambers; that uncomfortable question about which category Graham fell into. The last thing he wanted was for Graham to fall apart on Johnny mid-rescue, causing Johnny to be injured … or even worse, having either Johnny or the victim dying because Graham wasn’t up to muster when it came to dealing with the horrors of this job. It was a dangerous profession, and your victim as well as your crewmates’ lives depended on your mind being 100% in the game.
Thiers was a messy, gory job sometimes that carried on long after they’d left Rampart. It was those times when the specters of their victims lingered on even after they returned to the station. When they had to unload their gear and clean it up. Those days when they had to wash off the bloody handprints that decorated the oxygen canisters, or the clotted bits of blood or brain matter that still clung to their stokes or backboard that needed to be hosed off before they could put it away for the next victim that needed it. Sometimes they would sit for hours trying to polish off the deep scarlet dots of blood that dotted their shoes, as they tried to erase all traces of the victims that had lost their lives.
It was during those times that he and Johnny spent time together in a mutual purging of their demons about what they had witnessed. Sometimes it was with a silent knowing look, or a quiet reassuring squeeze of the shoulder. Other times there would be tears of anger, pain or frustration. And then there were times when all they needed was some kind of inane conversation, or some trivial, mindless thing to distract them, while they avoided discussing the terror and the fear they had felt after a particularly close call. That deep dark personal fear that they never voiced out loud… those conversations were only talked about in abstracts and even then they were few and far between.
They each had their own personal coping mechanisms when it came to dealing with the disturbing images they were regularly exposed to. Not just the blood and death, but with the stress of seeing people at their most vulnerable as they went through their own personal anguish. It took a special knack of marrying together the mechanics of the rescue in perfect balance with compassion and caring, so they could be reassuring to their victim that everything was going to be alright. It was something that only a certain segment of society had… and right now Roy wasn’t convinced that Graham Chambers had ‘it’.
Roy sat on his stool watching his younger partner sleep off the medication. He looked quite a bit younger that his 23 years. He looks like he should be going to school, Roy thought ruefully. Hell, he could be going to college at his age.
But instead of hanging out in college bars and watching campus football games, Johnny was putting his life on the line day in and day out as he ran inside burning buildings trying to save the lives of total strangers.
In fact Johnny was one of the most stubborn and tenacious Paramedics around. When it came to fighting for a victim’s life, he wouldn’t back down until there was no hope left… and even then he begrudged the Grim Reaper his victory. He was also tough as nails, which was surprising in such a skinny kid. He could be reactionary, which actually served him well in this business. He didn’t hesitate; he jumped right in and did what had to be done. He’d just go in… or up as the case may be… and do his job and then he would come back down. He never seemed to overanalyze the dangers, other than having a healthy respect for his safety whenever possible. He had an amazing ability to let it go and leave it behind once the task was complete…he didn’t seem to dwell on the ‘what ifs’.
The more Roy thought about things, the more he began to second guess his earlier decision to take the Engineer’s position. Sure it was more money… but he and Joanne had figured they had a few years yet before that was a big issue. The kids were still quite young and several years away from college. Plus Chris had a couple thousand dollars in his college account already. He had counted on at least five more years of being a Paramedic before he had to entertain any thoughts about moving on up. And secretly he was hoping that before that time came, the rules would have changed and he would be allowed to continue being a Paramedic and still get his promotion.
What it basically boiled down to was the choice between more money … money they didn’t desperately need yet … or his happiness. Roy was no different from anybody else when it came to his finances. He tried to be smart and put some money away for a rainy day, and who didn’t dream about being rich enough to retire and kick back and relax, or take exotic vacations. But he wasn’t obsessed about it, and knew there were things in his life that were more important than money. His family, his health and his happiness were definitely at the top of that list… and one of the other things on that short list was his partnership… his friendship… with John Gage. Johnny was more than his best friend, he was part of his family … the younger brother he had always wanted when he had been growing up.
All of these issues were still swirling around inside Roy’s head when he heard the treatment room door open as Carol came in to do her latest vitals check on Johnny. The moment she began to put the BP cuff around his arm, Johnny began to stir as he slowly began to surface from his drug-induced nap.
Roy stood up and made his way over to stand on the opposite side of the gurney. He watched as Johnny’s eyelids began to flutter. A small moan escaped from the injured man’s lips as he shifted his splinted leg.
Roy put his hand on Johnny’s arm and gave it a gentle squeeze. “Hey, Junior, you gonna wake up for us now?”He couldn’t hide the brotherly affection in his voice.
Slowly, Johnny’s still slightly glazed eyes opened up and wandered around the room until they finally settled on Roy’s face. Roy could tell that Johnny’s brain was still trying push away the morphine-induced haze so it could correlate the afternoon’s events into some kind of coherent order. Gradually Roy could see some clarity in the tired dark eyes as they focused on his, while his mouth curved up into a sloppy grin.
“You with me now?” Roy asked.
“I think so,” Johnny answered with a slight slur to his voice. “Man, that MS sure gives ya a real nice buzz ya know?” he joked with a slightly goofy grin still plastered on his face. Johnny watched lazily while Carol finished up doing her vitals check. She wrote down her findings on Johnny’s chart, and then patted his good leg.
“Doctor Brackett will be here in a minute or so, now that’s he’s finished with his other patient.” She then did a quick check of Roy’s bandages and exited the room.
Johnny began to give Roy’s body a critical going over with his eyes, stopping momentarily on his gauze-covered arm. Suddenly his crooked grin flipped upside down into a frown.
“You okay, Pally?” he questioned, the concern evident in his voice.
Roy smiled reassuringly. “Yeah, it’s just a bit of a burn. It’s not even that serious… borderline second degree burn at best. I won’t even have to be taken off duty, once I get it properly dressed.”
Johnny continued to frown. “I know I was a bit gone on the MS, but I was sure I saw you wearing an oxygen mask in the back of the ambulance,” he quizzed accusingly.
Roy rolled his eyes. “Relax, Junior, it was only there as a precautionary measure. Morton let me remove it as soon as I got here. The only reason I’m still here is because they were swamped with an MVA when we arrived. I’m just waiting for them to get a moment to come and fix me up… but I’m fine…really. How about you? How’s your pain level?”
Johnny shifted his body slightly and winced at the pain the movement had caused.
“Well there’s still just enough morphine swimming around inside my veins so that the pain isn’t too bad … yet. How’s it looking from your end?” he questioned.
Roy sat back down on the stool and sighed heavily. “Fractured; the tibia for sure, maybe the fibula, too. There is quite a large, nasty looking contusion at the site of the break, but thankfully there’s no skin laceration. But it does look like there is probably some soft tissue damage.”
Roy looked down at the blanket-covered leg glumly. “I shouldn’t have let you walk on it… I should have found another way…”
Johnny interrupted him before he could finish his train of thought. He looked at Roy and shook his head. “So, being promoted to Engineer isn’t enough for you, huh? You wanna try and go for God’s job, too? I mean you’re a great Paramedic, but let’s keep things in perspective here, Roy.”
Roy opened his mouth to speak, but once again, Johnny cut him off before he could get a single word out.
“Look, Roy, when are you going to get it through your thick skull… there was no other way. We were totally out of options. It was move immediately, or die … you saved my life in that building Pally. In fact if I’d of had anyone else but you for a partner, I’d probably be down in the basement on a steel slab right now, with a numbered tag tied around my big toe. If you had gone by the book, like we were taught, you would have gone for help instead of entering that building without back-up … or even telling anybody else. If it had been anyone else but you, I would have run out of time and both the guard and I would have been toast.”
Dr. Brackett picked that exact moment to enter the treatment room. He smiled apologetically and walked over to where Johnny was laying. “Sorry I took so long, but that MVA kind of made things a bit hairy in here for a while.”
He examined Johnny’s leg, drawing a hiss of pain from the injured man. After uttering his apologies for hurting him, Brackett walked over to the door and summoned a couple of orderlies to come and move Johnny into another room.
“I’m going to need some pictures of this leg so we know exactly what we’re dealing with here, Johnny, and the portable x-ray is still across the hall in the other treatment room. Once that is done, I’ll get Bouchard from orthopedics to come down and have a look at the x-rays, and we’ll go from there. As soon as I get you settled in over there, I’ll give you another small dose of MS before we take any pictures. Once Bouchard gets down here, I’ll come back over and take a closer look at your arm, Roy.”
By the time the good Doctor had made his pronouncements, the orderlies had arrived and began to wheel Johnny out the door. The two paramedics barely had time for a brief goodbye, before Johnny had disappeared into the hall with the two orderlies, followed closely by Kelly Brackett. The treatment room door slowly closed, leaving Roy alone in the room.
As he sat there, Johnny’s final words echoed in Roy’s ears. “… if I’d of had anyone else but you for a partner, I’d probably be down in the basement on a steel slab right now, with a numbered tag tied around my big toe…”
Suddenly Roy saw things with a clarity that had eluded him until now. How could he have been so stupid? He had almost given up so many things he had worked so hard for… things he held near and dear to his heart… He knew for certain now what he was going to do.
To hell with his mother-in-law, he had almost let his foolish pride push him into one of the biggest mistakes of his life. Besides, she didn’t really mean anything to him anyway, and he had nothing to prove to her. The only reason he tolerated her at all was because he was madly in love with her daughter… but that man on the stretcher across the hall meant a hell of a lot more to him than either his pride or his mother-in-law. He was going to do what his heart had wanted him to do all along… only he had been fighting against it. He was going to turn down the promotion.
The realization that, if Graham had been Johnny’s partner today he probably would have died, was a sobering thought. Not to mention his earlier epiphany about how much it bothered him to see Johnny with any other partner other than him. No, he had made up his mind… he was going to stick with the Paramedics until Johnny was ready to move up in rank, too… and then they’d do it together, just like they’d done everything else.
At that moment, Roy felt like the weight of the world had been lifted off his shoulders. He hadn’t realized until right then how much the thought of leaving Johnny, the Paramedics and Station 51 had been weighing him down. He suddenly felt like he could fly if he wanted to and he felt a smile spread across his face… it was a smile that had been missing, ever since he had taken that damned Engineer’s exam.
With a spring in his step, he stepped out into the hall and over to the bank of payphones. He wanted to call both Joanne and HQ and get this settled once and for all.
Six weeks later:
All was quiet in the DeSoto household as its inhabitants slept peacefully. Situated on the upper level in the master bedroom, Joanne lay curled up on her side with the covers pulled up to her chin. Across the hall Chris and Jenny were tucked up safe and sound in their beds while they dreamt of childhood wonders such as dragons, knights and princesses.
Downstairs on the lower level, Johnny was flagged out on the bed in the guest room, his arm raised over his eyes and his casted right leg sticking out from beneath the covers as he snored away without a care in the world.
Unfortunately, the same could not be said for Roy, who was currently stretched out on the pull out couch in the den. It had taken him a long time to finally drift off to sleep without his wife curled up in her usual place next to him. He had only fallen asleep about two hours earlier, and even now he tossed and turned restlessly in his sleep. But because he was going to be rising before dawn, he had opted to sleep downstairs in the den so he and Johnny wouldn’t wake the rest of the household when they got up to leave for their trip.
Inside the refrigerator in the kitchen was a sack full of sandwiches that Joanne had made for her grown up boys before she had gone to bed. Beside the front door sat Johnny and Roy’s hiking boots and jackets, while outside the Rover was jammed full of camping gear.
Suddenly the night-time silence was disrupted by a shrill screeching coming from the den. Inside the room, Roy sat bolt upright in his bed as he was jolted awake by the ear piercing squeal, his heart pounding in his ears and his legs tangled up in the sheets. It took a moment for him to realize that the offensive noise was coming from the clock radio on the table beside the couch. Still half asleep, Roy reached out blindly with his hands, knocking the clock onto the floor. He quickly grabbed his pillow and tossed it over top of the clock, now lying on the floor, in an effort to muffle the sound.
Roy cursed out loud as he frantically groped around in the darkness, his hands searching for the lamp on the table beside him. Once he had located the lamp and switched it on, he turned his attention to the screeching clock on the floor underneath his pillow. Finally he managed to lean over far enough to snag the clock radio and switch the offending alarm to the off position. He glanced down at the illuminated dial and read the numbers … 5:01 am.
Roy rubbed his eyes and began to free himself from the bedding. Slowly he slid his bare feet from the pullout and onto the cold hardwood floor. He stooped over and retrieved his pillow and started to shuffle across the room. He had only taken about three steps when his bare foot connected with the leg of the sofa with a crack… for the second time in less than two minutes, Roy let out with a curse as he limped his way out of the den and into the living room.
He made his way into the kitchen to get a pot of coffee started before he went to wake up his sleeping houseguest in the spare room. As he crossed the living room on the way to the kitchen he caught sight of the pair of discarded crutches leaning just inside the hall door. He shook his head and sighed in resignation. He still didn’t think this camping trip was a good idea … especially since Johnny was still in a walking cast.
The break in his leg had been a serious break, and there had been some moderate soft tissue damage … both had required surgery to repair them. Johnny had been told he wasn’t to bear any weight on his injured limb for the first four weeks of his recovery and so he had fumbled around the DeSoto home using the now discarded crutches.
Unfortunately, keeping Johnny down was like trying to grab onto the tail of a tornado to stop its motion. Roy was sure the bald spot on the back of his head had doubled in size during those four weeks as he and Joanne had tried to make sure that their hyperactive friend adhered to the Doctor’s orders.
Two weeks ago Johnny had been switched to a walking cast for the rest of the recovery period, and he currently had another two weeks to go before the cast was removed for good. By the end of his first week in his walking cast, Johnny had been pacing the rooms of his apartment like a caged, and somewhat hobbled, lion. Finally he couldn’t stand being straight jacketed any longer, and he had declared that he was going to spend this weekend camping, cast be damned.
Roy had tried to dissuade his headstrong young partner, but it was to no avail.
John Gage was a man of iron clad convictions and an even stronger will. He usually made up his own mind on most matters, and once he had decided that he was going to do something, then all others could either accept it or not, it mattered little to Johnny. There was only one exception to that rule, and that exception was Roy. Roy was the one person that Johnny held in such high regard that he trusted him implicitly. For that reason alone, Johnny tended to listen to and consider Roy’s opinion on most matters … most of the time. But this was one of those times when Johnny had dug in his heels and refused to budge on the matter.
It had been against Roy’s better judgment to agree to go on the trip, but he knew Johnny was determined to go camping with or without him. So here he was sitting in his kitchen at ten after five in the morning making coffee and preparing to wake up his partner for an early breakfast because Johnny had insisted that they needed to be on the road by six.
Roy tip-toed through the living room, passed the downstairs bathroom and quietly entered the spare bedroom. Following the axiom once bitten, twice shy, he made sure to flick the light switch that was located just inside the door to the on position rather than try to navigate across the room in the dark. His big toe still throbbed from when he had hit it against the bed in the den.
Johnny never even flinched when the light came on. Roy smiled at how much his partner reminded him of his son Chris in the way he laid haphazardly sprawled out in the bed with the blankets tangled up and falling off the edge of the bed and onto the floor, his hair disheveled. Johnny had become such an integral part of his family’s dynamic in the last two and a half years. As he looked down upon his slumbering partner, Roy felt a silent shiver run down his spine. He had done that a lot lately … ever since the last shift he and Johnny had worked together.
Roy tried to imagine how different his life would have been had Johnny not walked into the Paramedic recruiting office two and a half years earlier. Would he even be alive? There had been several times in the last two years when Johnny had literally saved his life… and vice versa. Not to mention the countless lives that Johnny had saved because of his skill and dexterity. Johnny had the ability to contort his body into seemingly impossible positions in order to squeeze into any awkward and confined place in an effort to rescue a victim. And his climbing skills were legendary throughout the department. John Gage could walk along even the narrowest of ledges and be as sure footed as a mountain goat and climb trees and mountains like a spider monkey… and when it came to heights, Roy was positive the man had brass cajones.
One thing was for sure; his life would certainly have been far less rich and fulfilling than it was now. Roy had a wife he adored and two beautiful children he loved beyond measure … but Johnny had filled a gaping hole in Roy’s life that he hadn’t even been aware was there. He had become Roy’s best friend, buddy and sounding board. But best of all, Johnny had become the younger brother he had always wanted.
As much as he loved Joanne and the kids, there were still some things that guys only discussed with other guys. And because he had always been a bit of a loner, Roy had never had that before he met Johnny. Johnny was Roy’s confidant. He and Johnny could talk about things Roy just didn’t feel comfortable talking to Joanne about. Not only that, Johnny had changed Roy for the better. He was a better husband, father, son, and even a better Paramedic. When the two of them were together, they functioned like a well-oiled machine, in perfect harmony with each other.
In the past, Roy had had a tendency to be a tad aloof and distant at times. But Johnny had changed that. He tended to bring out Roy’s more fun loving side. He had made Roy learn to relax and “let the quarter fall from between his butt cheeks,” as Johnny had so aptly put it.
And if Roy was being totally honest with himself, he had to admit that he did enjoy life more. He let his hair down more often these days… especially when he was with his younger partner. Johnny could make even the most mundane tasks seem like a good time. He just seemed to tackle life with such relish and delight. Roy found that since he had met Johnny, and subsequently become his partner, that he enjoyed his work a lot more. He enjoyed all the pleasant day to day, ordinary events.
He also enjoyed their daily chats and those times when it was just the two of them, when their day was spent in the convivial atmosphere of their own private world… whether it had to do with their jobs or simply planning their next fishing trip. John Gage always knew how to pull Roy out of the doldrums with his devil-may-care attitude and that familiar smile. Not to mention the fact that Johnny was the epitome of “loyalty at its finest,” especially when it came to Roy.
Anyone who happened to meet them separately before seeing them together would never peg them as being so close, because the two men were as opposite as day and night. Johnny was motion personified … his personality could best be described as being “big.” On the other hand, Roy was the proverbial ‘slow and steady wins the race’ type. He was quiet and sedate. In fact the word one might use to describe Roy would be “moderate.”
But somehow when the two of them got together, it was like watching poetry in motion…the two souls seemed to morph into one single functioning unit. They had a silent communication that was entirely their own, and both men left all others around them in no doubt that no one else was invited into that special place.
Neither men had expected it when they first met, nor had they tried to cultivate it… it simply happened. It existed like any other force of nature. Neither man bothered to try and analyze it. They simply recognized it, acknowledged it and accepted it. They didn’t have to ask what the other was thinking or feeling, they just instinctively knew. Sometimes it was a little unnerving, but mostly it was comforting, and truth be told, they were both grateful for that unique connection. And it was that connection Roy didn’t want to lose.
Roy knew he did his best work when his partner was at his side… and the same held true for Johnny. It was automatic. The best way Roy could think to describe it was like when you were walking down the street and you put your foot forward with total confidence that when that foot come down, the sidewalk would be there and you would be on solid ground. Johnny was Roy’s footing and he was Johnny’s. Sure it wasn’t logical, but then again, not everything in life was based on logic. In fact some of the most beautiful and breathtaking moments in life were governed by feelings and emotion.
Yes, there was no doubt about it, Johnny had walked into that Paramedic recruiting office two and a half years ago and had become his best friend and brother for life.
Roy had always assumed that even when the time came for them to move up in the department that they would continue to be close, even if they were no longer partners.But these past few weeks, Roy had been re-evaluating his position
on the matter. He had had an epiphany of sorts, when Johnny had been injured on their last run together.
Sometimes in life you have that defining moment when you are presented with information that is so unexpected that it knocks you off your feet … metaphorically speaking. And when Roy had witnessed Johnny and Graham together that day, he’d had a brief glimpse of how Johnny’s life would be if he accepted the promotion. And he hadn’t liked what he saw. One of his chief worries was over Graham’s initial reaction at the mere glimpse of a badly burned victim. What would he do when he had to actually get up close and personal and treat someone who was critically burned… when you had to endure their screams as they begged for death, or when the stench of burnt human flesh and hair was so intense you could actually taste it? There was also the fact that Graham was still a Fire Virgin. What would being face to face with a raging fire do to him? Would he be up to the challenge or would it break him? The last thing any firefighter wanted was to have the man who was supposed to have your back panic, or run out on you.
But the biggest issue had been his reaction to when he had seen Johnny joking around with Graham on the scene. The thought of anyone else sharing those moments, good or bad, with Johnny had bothered him… No, it hadn’t just bothered him… it had made him jealous.
Roy had never considered himself to be a jealous or possessive man before, and that realization had been quite an eye-opener. But the unassailable truth was that he did actually consider John Gage to be his exclusive partner…and that had shocked him right to the core of his being. The sheer volume and intensity of those emotions were still as raw and as fresh as the day they had first surfaced, six weeks earlier.
It had been on Roy’s mind for a while now, and he had come to some conclusions about his life… and they were conclusions that had to do with his partner. He had wanted a chance to get Johnny alone to discuss it with him, but the opportunity hadn’t materialized. For the first ten days after the surgery, Johnny had been in the hospital in traction and any time he had started to broach the subject someone, either a nurse or a visitor, had come into his room, or he was too doped up on pain medication to retain any memory about anything that was being said to him.
The for the next three weeks he had been at ‘Chez DeSoto’, and between the kids and Joanne, any substantial alone time was next to impossible. As far as these last two weeks were concerned, Roy was at work for eight of those days … three more had been earmarked as honey-do, or ‘work around the house’ days by Joanne. The final three Roy had tried in vain to find a good solid hour where he and Johnny could be left alone. But the first time he had gone to Johnny’s apartment, the ringing of the phone had kept interrupting him, and then Chet had dropped by for a visit.
The second ‘free’ day off he had, the man who lived in the apartment two doors up the hall had dropped over to use Johnny’s shower, because his showerhead had sprung a leak and the landlord had not had a chance to replace it yet. And the third free day had been yesterday, and they had been so busy packing and getting Johnny settled in the spare room that he still had not found the perfect time to talk to Johnny privately about what was on his mind.
That had been another reason why he had given in so easily to Johnny’s idea of going camping this weekend. It would be the perfect chance to have some quality time to be alone with Johnny, so they could talk.
Roy leaned over and gently shook Johnny’s shoulder.
“Rise and shine, Junior. The fish are out there waiting for us to catch them,” Roy half whispered.
Johnny shifted restlessly in the bed as he grabbed the blanket and attempted to pull it up over his head.
“Leave me alone, Roy,” he mumbled.
“Come on, Johnny, it’s a quarter after five … time to get up if you want to be on the road by six,” said Roy as he continued to shake his sleepy partner’s shoulder.
A pair of heavy-lidded, sleepy eyes cracked open and glowered at Roy.
“Go away, Roy … it’s still the middle of the night. Go back to bed and quit buggin’ me,” he groused as he closed his eyes and flopped over onto his side awkwardly, pulling the blanket right up over his head.
Roy was tempted to let his partner sleep and go back to bed himself for another two hours. But then when Johnny did wake up, he would be angry, and then Roy would have to spend the entire trip up to the campground listening to Johnny rant about getting such a late start.
Roy heaved a mental sigh and sat down on the edge of the bed. He took a firm hold on the blankets and jerked them back abruptly.
“No way, Junior, you’re getting up right now. You’re the one who insisted we had to get up at this ungodly hour because we absolutely had to be on the road by six. Now are you gonna get up on your own, or do I have to get a nice cold glass of water and dump it on your face to wake you up?”
Johnny groaned and flipped over onto his back.
“Okay, okay, I’m awake already. What time is it?” he asked as he propped himself up on his elbows.
“It’s just about twenty after five. Now I’ve already got the coffee started, and by the time you’re up and dressed, breakfast will be ready,” Roy said as he extended his hand forward.
“Good deal,” Johnny grinned, as he grabbed a hold of the proffered hand and allowed Roy to pull him into a sitting position.
~ ~ ~
It was almost seven a.m. by the time they had reached the city limits, Johnny was wide awake and chatting away happily in the passenger seat of the Rover.
Because of Johnny’s casted leg, Roy had been relegated to doing all the driving this trip.
After six weeks of confinement, Johnny was more than ready to take this trip. In fact he had so much pent up energy, that he was practically bouncing in his seat in anticipation. Because of Johnny’s temporary disability, they would be going to one of the more well established camping areas where the trails were flat, well maintained and easily handled by even the most amateur hikers. There would be nothing that would be too difficult for Johnny to traverse with his walking cast.
By the time they had arrived and set up their camp, it was nearing noon.
Johnny had insisted that they camp next to the stream so he could stand on the bank and fish while still keeping his walking cast out of the water and dry. The moment they had their tent erected and their gear settled, the dark haired man grabbed his fishing pole, hobbled over the river’s edge and began to cast his line into the water.
The two men had enjoyed a very successful afternoon of fishing, which meant they had feasted like Kings that evening on their spoils. They were now sitting across from each other around their cozy campfire just relaxing while they enjoyed those languid hours when it’s still too early to turn in for the night.
The brilliant colours of nature that had surrounded the pair at mid-day began to diminish and fade into a dull grey hue as the last remnants daylight began to slide behind the western horizon and the forest slowly descended into darkness.
All around them the wildlife prepared to make the transition from the diurnal feeders to the nocturnal predators. Every so often Johnny caught a brief glimpse of a pair of glowing red eyes peeking out cautiously from behind the bushes. They belonged to a small raccoon that had been lurking around their campsite all evening, hoping to get the chance to snack on the remnants of their meal.
The flickering light of their campfire illuminated the treetops around the campsite and cast its warm reflection on the side of their tent, as the rising moon reflected on the stream and filled the clearing with a silvery glow. One by one, stars began to emerge in the night sky. They gave off the illusion of being so close, that if he hadn’t known any better, Johnny would have sworn that he could simply reach up, pluck a star from the heavens and hold it in his hands. The night sounds gradually began to fill the air. In the distance, coyotes barked and yipped excitedly at what was more than likely a fresh kill.
The light from the fire fell on Johnny’s face and he could feel its warmth against his skin. It filled him with a deep sense of contentment as the two men sat around their campfire in companionable silence.
The burning wood before him snapped and popped merrily. One of the larger logs hissed as small sections of moisture bubbled to the surface from one of the logs that had still been slightly damp when Roy had tossed it onto the flames. He watched as a wood bug came scurrying out from beneath a piece of bark in a futile attempt to escape the flames.
Johnny glanced over at Roy and couldn’t help but notice that he seemed to be a million miles away. His eyes were fixed on the flames that danced in front of him as he sat there lost in his thoughts.
Johnny had noticed that there had been several times throughout the day that his partner had seemed awfully preoccupied and distant, especially while they had been fishing. Granted, fishing was more of a non-verbal activity, but still he got the distinct impression that Roy had something on his mind that he wanted to discuss with him … and judging by the serious look on his face, it was something important.
Well, he mused, it had always been his experience that sitting in the dark while gazing into open flames was a good place to think things over. And he had to admit, he’d had a few things on his own mind lately...questions that he had wanted to know the answer to, but hadn’t been able to summon up the nerve to ask. One part of him had wanted to discuss it with Roy for weeks now… but another part of him wasn’t so sure he wanted to know the answer.
He had no idea what was bothering his partner, but the question that had been nagging him these past few weeks was … Why had Roy done an about face so abruptly, and turned down the chance of promotion?
Johnny knew his partner had struggled with the decision, but he also knew that before their last run together, Roy had been adamant about his decision to take the Engineer’s position. He had finally seemed like he was settled on the idea and that he was one hundred percent sure of his choice … that it was what he had truly wanted.
So what was it that made his partner do a complete one-eighty in less than two hours? Surely it couldn’t have been their little close call at that structure fire; if anything it should have cemented his decision to take the promotion. Almost getting incinerated by a flashover should have made taking a much safer job like Engineer sound mighty good to Roy. After all he had a beautiful wife and two great kids to return home to at the end of each shift. Those were both excellent things worth living for.
Johnny had thought about asking Roy what the real reason was for his change of heart, but he was still slightly afraid that Roy would change his mind again about turning down the promotion … and that was something he definitely didn’t want to see happen.
He had gone out of his way to try and not hold Roy back, but the truth was he had been in a tank of misery over it for days. He had dreaded the thought of having to work with anyone other than Roy, but he hadn’t had much of a choice. It’s not like he had a ton of options at his disposal. He only had a high school education, and before that his education had been sporadic at best. He had gone from the reservation, to being homeless, to cramming four years of high school into a little less than two.
If it hadn’t been for the tutor Aunt Marion had hired for him, in combination with the fact that he was a quick learner, he may still be trying to play catch up. Being a Rescue man… and then later on a Paramedic … had been all he had ever wanted to do. The only other life skill he possessed was being a ranch hand.
True his long term plans included having his own little ranch one day with a fine stable of horses, but that dream was still a few years away, and he had always planned on the horses being a nothing more than a sideline until he reached retirement age.
When he had found out Roy was taking the Engineers exam, he had gone over in his mind what he was going to do if Roy left 51’s. His options were limited. It wasn’t as if he was independently wealthy and could just pick and choose. He needed his job, and he needed the income. He had been homeless before, and he hoped he never would be again. After giving it a lot of thought, he finally decided to stay on with the Paramedics because it was a job he loved doing… and he was good at it, too.
That was why he hadn’t bothered to take the Engineer’s exam… Rescue work was who he was… He was a man of action. In a big way, it was how he defined himself. But he had also made a secret backup plan that it he found that it was too painful to work as a Paramedic at 101’s without Roy sitting beside him in the squad, then he would either go back to hauling hose, or he would head on up to one of the more remote stations that had recently opened up in California and work there. It would offer him a chance to make the best of the situation. He loved nature; he found it centered him.
No matter what he did, he knew he’d never be as happy or content as he was being Roy’s partner. But he had had to deal with disappointment over and over again in his life and he had survived. Johnny knew he would have been unhappy without Roy, but he would survive … he always had.
Johnny looked over at his brooding partner and sighed. He reached over and picked up a long branch off the ground, and he began to fiddle with it absentmindedly, using it to poke at the embers as he stared into the flames. Finally his curiosity got the better of him. He was dying to know what it was that had occupied most of Roy’s attention for the better part of the day.
~ ~ ~
Across the campfire Roy sat in silence, his mind was lost in the memories of when he had first met Johnny. As he watched the rising smoke from the campfire, images of the past two and a half years drifted before his eyes like wraiths … apparitions made of smoke that rose out of the flames and disappeared into the night sky. Image after image pressed home the truth…he didn’t want to be a Paramedic without Johnny… and he didn’t want Johnny to be a Paramedic without him.
The last part of that revelation had been what he had been brooding about all day. The realization that the thought of someone else taking his place in Johnny’s life had brought out feelings of jealousy had left him feeling off balance and out of sorts. He knew he had to talk to Johnny about it … He knew he had to tell him the real reason he had turned down the promotion. But more importantly, he wanted to make sure he’d never have to worry about this issue ever again. The trouble was, now that he had Johnny alone, he wasn’t sure he could open himself up to speak about what was on his mind. He just wasn’t a demonstrative man by nature, and baring his soul had never been easy for him. He usually ended up tripping over his own words, and making a mess of the whole thing. He was still debating the issue with himself when Johnny’s voice drifted across the campfire.
“Okay, Roy. Out with it… What’s wrong?”
Roy fidgeted nervously and rubbed his sweaty palms on the leg of his jeans.
“What do you mean, Junior? Nothing’s wrong,” Roy lied.
“Bull,” Johnny answered. “You’ve been sitting over there brooding all evening long, now enough is enough.” Roy just sat there at a total loss for words as he tried to avoid looking into his partner’s face.
Johnny’s eyed his partner skeptically. He suddenly had a pretty good idea why his partner was being so evasive, and as much as he wasn’t sure he liked where the conversation might end up heading, he needed to know the answer to the question that had been nagging him.
“This is about that promotion, isn’t it? Are you trying to work up the nerve to tell me you’ve changed your mind again… that you’ve decided to take the Engineer’s position after all?”
Roy shook his head vehemently. “No, Johnny, that isn’t it. I haven’t changed my mind… In fact I told HQ to remove my name from the list.”
A momentary wave of relief flooded over Johnny and his body posture visibly relaxed. But the moment passed quickly as his original question rose to the forefront of his mind. He looked at Roy suspiciously, and he leaned in closer to the fire.
“Just exactly why did you turn down that promotion, Roy? I mean, you had definitely decided to take it that day we were talking beside the squad… and don’t try and deny it. I know you had made up your mind.”
Roy shifted uncomfortably on his log and ran his hands through his hair.
“It’s like I said to you that day in the ER, Junior. I just decided that I wanted to wait another year or so in the hopes that maybe the higher ups will see fit to change the rules,” he hedged.
Johnny shook his head and scoffed. “Come off of it, Roy, there’s more to it than that and we both know it… now fess up.”
Roy heaved an exasperated sigh. “There’s nothing more to it, Johnny… I just decided to hold off for a while and see if maybe in a year or two they’ll have a change of heart, and we can get a raise in pay and rank, without having to give up being a Paramedic.”
Johnny eyed him critically and shook his head. “If you say so, Pally … You just keep on stickin’ to that story.” The tone of his voice made it perfectly clear… he wasn’t buying any part of Roy’s explanation.
Roy watched as Johnny stood, and without another word, started walking towards their tent. Suddenly out of nowhere, Roy blurted out,
“Besides, you shouldn’t be driving around in the squad with Graham Chambers. You’re my partner, you belong to me,” he said hotly.
Johnny’s stopped mid-step and whirled around to face Roy, his eyes narrowing to angry slits.
“Yours!” he said incredulously. “And just exactly what the Hell is that supposed to mean? You make it sound like I’m some kind of incompetent idiot that you have magnanimously agreed to make your protégé … like I’m your little pet project to show the world you’ve done your good deed for the day. I’m not some little trained monkey or some weird Frankenstein experiment you’ve perfected… You didn’t create me, and you sure as hell didn’t make me into a Paramedic, Roy. I got where I am today on my own, through hard work and perseverance. I finished number one in my class at the fire academy long before I even met you. And might I remind you who it was that finished first in the Paramedic class at Rampart…that was my name that was at the top of the list.”
Johnny limped back over to the fire and pointed his finger accusingly in Roy’s direction.
“I’m Yours?” he scoffed angrily. “I’m not some possession you can keep in some trophy case…partner. Is that why you turned down the promotion… because you felt like you needed to babysit your creation? Don’t you think I’m capable of handling the role of Senior Paramedic without your guidance? Because I can assure you, Roy, I am more than capable of doing the job on my own.”
Johnny was pacing back and forth, gesticulating wildly with his hands.
Damn it, thought Roy. This wasn’t going anything at all like he had hoped it would. He hadn’t gotten his point across at all. Instead of sounding like a confession about how much he needed Johnny for a partner, it had come out sounding pompous and arrogant, almost as if he were laying claim to a cherished toy.
Without saying another word, Johnny began to stalk off into the woods. Luckily for Roy the walking cast was inhibiting his partner’s stride, so he was able to catch up to his fuming friend without too much effort.
“Johnny, wait…please. Just listen to me for a moment. That isn’t what I meant. It didn’t come out right.”
Johnny ignored Roy’s pleas and kept on hobbling through the bush.
It was at this point that Roy knew there was no way he could say what he meant without just coming right out and admitting what his true feelings were. He stopped trying to keep pace with his angry friend and took a deep breath.
“I was trying to confess to you that the real reason I turned down the promotion was because I was jealous, okay?” he yelled out. “… I was just jealous … and scared.”
Johnny stopped dead in his tracks and his body stiffened but he didn’t turn around. Roy took this as an invitation for him to come closer and continue, so he took a deep breath and plunged forward.
“I would never think any of those things you said about you. You’re the best Paramedic out there, and I am damn lucky to have you for my partner. There was never any question in my mind about your abilities as a Paramedic. I just meant that your friendship means a lot to me. You’re my best friend, Johnny. In fact you’re the first and only best friend I’ve ever had, and the thought of Graham stepping in and usurping my place in your life made me jealous.”
Johnny’s posture relaxed and he slowly turned around and looked at Roy apologetically.
“Sorry… I guess I overreacted. I should have known you would never think that about me,” he said guiltily. “It’s just that of all the reasons I expected you to give me for turning down the promotion… jealousy was just about the last thing I would have thought of.”
Johnny stood starring at his friend, and slowly, his face broke into a sly grin.
“Jealous, huh? Over me? Wow,” he said with a trace of amusement in his voice.
Neither man said a word for several moments, until Roy finally spoke up.
“Well there was a bit more than just jealousy involved, Junior. It also bothered me that Chambers hasn’t had a chance to test his mettle against a real big monster. He’s a total Fire Virgin, Junior. I just didn’t trust him to have your back the way I do. I wasn’t thinking that I had to babysit you… I know you can handle yourself. I was more concerned that you were going to have to babysit him. Hell, I never even wanted to take that damn Engineers test in the first place. I only did it because of my mother-in-law. I let the old shrew goad me into it. Even as I was telling you that I was taking the promotion … I knew I was lying to myself… and to you. No matter how many times I tried, I just couldn’t convince myself that I’d be happy taking the job. All I could see was the years stretching out endlessly before me, doing a job I didn’t like… and I wasn’t happy. Something was missing, Johnny… and that something was you. I’ve wanted to talk to you about this for a while now, but I just couldn’t find the right time… or the right words apparently,” he grinned ruefully.
By this time the two men had slowly begun to make their way back towards their campsite. Now it was Johnny’s turn to be at a loss for words. It had never occurred to him before that Roy needed him as much as he needed Roy.
When it came to being a Paramedic, Johnny knew that they were perfectly balanced. He knew his skill matched Roy’s, and that they each brought their own strengths to the partnership. Johnny was the better of the two at climbing and dealing with heights, whereas Roy was the stronger when it came to water rescues. And as far as their medical skills were concerned, they had both finished number one in their respective classes. But when it came to the social side of their relationship, Johnny had always felt that the friendship had been a little lopsided, with Johnny receiving a lot more than he was giving.
After all, on a personal level, what the Hell did he have to offer? He was nothing more than a half-breed orphan who carried around a lot of baggage from his past. On the flip side, he got a ready-made family, complete with frequent meals, occasional laundry service and a place to go on Christmas, Thanksgiving and Easter. Not to mention a spare room whenever he needed help while convalescing. He really didn’t think that on that score he brought very much to the table, except maybe a lot of extra work, and his need to belong.
Sure he was willing to sacrifice everything for Roy and his family, but he was uncomfortable with the idea that Roy was willing to do the same for him. He didn’t want to be the reason Roy sacrificed anything… especially his chance for a promotion. The fact that Roy had admitted that he not only felt jealous, but that it was part and parcel of why he had turned down his promotion was daunting. It was a heavy burden to carry around emotionally… to know that he mattered to someone so much, that they were willing to make such a sacrifice. He was used to having folks devalue his worth…not place it in such high esteem. It was a new experience and he wasn’t sure how to deal with it.
His private thoughts were halted as they entered the clearing where they had set up camp. Johnny was about to settle himself back down beside the campfire, when he felt Roy’s hands on his shoulders spinning him around until he was looking him straight in the eyes.
“Maybe you don’t need me, John…but I sure as Hell need you,” he said quietly.
Johnny held Roy’s gaze, never wavering as he replied. “Roy, I’ve needed you and your family since the moment I met you. I thought you knew that. You’re the only family I’ve got… the only family I want … and nobody will ever be able to take your place, Pally. Whether we’re partners or not, nothing could ever change that. But I gotta admit, I’m really glad you turned down the promotion, because as much as I could have done the job, it sure wouldn’t have been the same… Something would have been missing. And I know I wouldn’t have enjoyed the job nearly as much as I do now.”
The two men made their way back to the campfire and sat down.
“So, where does this leave us, Roy? I mean you do realize that we can’t be Paramedics forever, don’t you? Because sooner or later, Roy, we’re both going to get too old for this shit. Plus in a few years, you really are going to need that extra cash for the kids’ college funds. Eventually you are going to have no choice but to give up being a Paramedic.”
Roy looked over at Johnny and cleared his throat. “Well, that was what I wanted to talk to you about… I thought maybe we could make a deal.”
“What sort of deal, Roy?” Johnny asked.
Roy grinned sheepishly and shrugged his shoulders. “I’ve discovered a lot about myself in the past month or so, Junior, and one of the things I have discovered… besides the fact that I have a jealous streak, is that there’s no way I ever want another permanent partner besides you. And I also don’t think I could stand the idea of you having anyone else but me for a partner. Now, Joanne and I have discussed this, and the way we figure it, I’ve got at least another five years before I have to financially think about moving up to a higher paying position in the department. And hopefully by the time that comes, the rules will have changed and we won’t have to give up being a Paramedic in order to get that raise. Now I know that you’re six years younger than I am… but I was kinda hoping maybe in five years we could maybe take the Captains exam together.”
Johnny cocked an eye at his partner in obvious surprise. That idea had never occurred to him, but the more he thought about it, the more he liked it. Being a Captain carried a lot more challenges and a lot more responsibility. It just might be that accepting a promotion to Captain would be enough of a challenge to satisfy Johnny’s need to be in the thick of the action… And even if it didn’t, Johnny was sure in five years’ time he’d have his own little horse ranch to keep him content.
He was just about to accept Roy’s deal when another thought occurred to him.
“That’s all well and good, Pally, but what if one of us buys it before that five years are up? What then?”
Johnny knew he was now approaching uncharted territory in their partnership. In the past, it had always been understood that this was a subject that was never to be discussed. The last thing either one wanted to be was some kind of panic merchant, or some macabre Prophet of doom. Those were the thoughts that only surfaced during those times when they had to attend a funeral for a fallen comrade… or when he had been stricken with the Koki virus and almost died … or most recently, when he had been bitten by that rattlesnake. And even then, even though they thought about it privately… they never voiced it out loud to each other. It was almost as if they thought that by discussing it, it would somehow make it come true.
So even though he was treading upon an area they had always considered ‘verboten,’ the fact remained that Roy’s request had opened the door to the great unknown questions of what would they do if….
Johnny didn’t give Roy a chance to reply, before he carried on with his line of questioning.
“I know it’s not nice to think about these things, but let’s face it Pally; we’ve both had some very narrow escapes… especially me. I mean, forget about all of that hyperbole about my having nine lives. It could happen, Roy … to either one of us … because the truth is, I’m not invincible… and neither are you. We’re both well aware of the fact that the human body is breakable.
I mean, I’m not made of glass, but I’m not cast iron either. We may be one of the best teams out there… and let’s face it, we both know we’re pretty damn good at what we do. But we’re not infallible… we’re not perfect. We’re not without limitations or beyond reproach. One of these days, time could run out for either one of us. So what would you do then? What if it happens at a time when there’s no chance of promotions coming up? The Engineers and Captains exams only come up once a year. So what happens if one of us dies in between those times? Or… what do we do if we don’t die, but we suffer an injury that means we can no longer work in the Department? Have you considered that?”
Roy looked down and chewed on his lower lip for a few moments.
“I don’t know Johnny … I just know that I don’t want to do this job without you sitting beside me in that squad… I don’t think I can. I mean if worse comes to worst, I could go back to hauling hose until exam time came around again. And if one of us sustained some kind of career-ending injury, then we could always find something to do together. I mean, maybe we could go into the restoration business… we’re having a lot of fun working on that old Engine, right? And once we get that finished, I bet we could sell it for quite a pretty penny. Or maybe we could go into some other kind of business together. The point is we could handle it as long as we were doing it as partners, right?”
Johnny looked over at Roy and grinned. The fact that Roy was saying what he was to Johnny was music to his ears. The truth was it was more than he could ever have hoped for. Never in his life had he ever had anyone show as much loyalty and friendship toward him as Roy was right at that moment. And now that Roy had suggested it, Johnny knew that it was exactly what he wanted, too. He made his way over to where his partner was sitting by the fire and stuck out his hand.
“Okay, Pally… I like the sound of that. You got yourself a deal. The rules of the pact are simple, if you go, then I go…and if I go, then you go, okay?”
Roy let out a breath he didn’t know he’d been holding and smiled.
“Deal,” he agreed as he grabbed hold of Johnny’s outstretched hand and shook it warmly.
Johnny let go of Roy’s hand and smiled mischievously. “Ummm, you’re not expecting me to sign an oath in blood or anything are you, Pally?” he giggled.
Roy playfully swatted the back of Johnny’s head. “Don’t be such a smart ass,” he grinned.
Johnny stepped back as Roy pushed himself up and brushed the bits of bark from the log off of his jeans. When he looked over at Johnny, he noticed that Johnny’s face had taken on a more serious expression.
Roy looked at him questioningly, causing Johnny to shrug and look down shyly.
“You know, Roy,” he said quietly. “I just wanted to tell you how much it means to me, that you consider our partnership that special… because it means just as much to me, too. I never dreamed that you held our friendship in such high esteem…” his voice trailed off momentarily.
“Well, anyway,” he continued. “I just wanted to say thank you.”
Roy walked up to Johnny and pulled him into a bear hug and patted his back. “No, thank you Junior … thank you for being the best friend anyone could ever have.”
Not much more was said that evening as the two men extinguished the campfire and made their way into the tent… There simply wasn’t anything more that needed to be said. Both men had gotten the answers they were looking for, and both men were pleased with their little Pact.
~ ~ ~
Several hours later, Roy lay in his sleeping bag listening to the sound of a lone wolf howling off in the distance. Off to his left, Johnny lay fast asleep in his own sleeping bag, his arm thrown up over his eyes in the all too familiar position.
Roy thought over the day’s events and couldn’t help but smile. After weeks of mental anguish, all seemed right in his world once more. He and Johnny had come to an agreement that they could both live with… and that they both wanted.
Roy couldn’t believe his luck as he thought about his life. He had a beautiful wife, two healthy children and a job that was not only important, but it was also satisfying … Where each new day brought new challenges and new chances to make a positive difference in someone else’s life. But best of all was the fact that not only did he have a job he loved, but he also got to work side by side with someone he considered a brother … someone he cared about. Roy took a final glance over at Johnny, and with a final gratifying sigh, he closed his eyes, assured in the knowledge that the man softly snoring in the sleeping bag on the other side of the tent felt the same way about him.
Yes, there was no doubt about it, life was good.
Posted to Site 11/25/12
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The Characters of Emergency do not belong to me. They are the property of Universal Studios and Mark VII Limited. No copyright infringement is intended or monetary gain made. While the characters belong to Universal Studios and Mark VII limited...The story's are the property of the authors.
Copyright © 2009 - 2010 - 2011 - 2012
Post your story by sending an email to Tammy at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or feed the writer at their link