A Big Deal
By K Hanna Korossy
only for you, Maria
Yet another run. Work was often in fits-and-spurts, sometimes even hours going by in between calls, other times one call coming directly on the heels of another. This day was turning out to be one of the latter, when there was hardly time to park the squad before the klaxon sounded again, calling them to another job.
This time it had been a child stuck in a tree, and Roy was all too grateful to be done with that one. Johnny had shared with him once that calls about kids bothered him the most, staying with him long after the shift, and Roy knew exactly what he meant. Even if this time the kid--Georgie--hadn’t been hurt more seriously than some scratches and bruises, extricating a panicked three-year-old from a dense fir tree was hardly an easy experience. And the way Georgie had clung to him all the way down... Roy DeSoto knew he’d be giving his kids an extra kiss that night.
He pulled the truck wearily into its spot in the station and then turned the engine off, glancing at his partner as he did. Johnny was being unusually quiet, too, probably thinking along the same lines he was. Roy would’ve never admitted it, but they seemed to be doing that more and more as the years went on and their partnership grew beyond second nature--was there such a thing as primary nature? Johnny seemed to read his mind and act in tandem with him as much as his own right hand did with his left. And what was even scarier, most of the time now Roy actually understood what his mercurial partner was thinking, too. Which right there was cause for considering a transfer or early retirement, only, God help him, he’d gotten used to Johnny Gage. Leaving now wouldn’t just be a career move anymore. It would mean leaving family.
As if picking up on his partner’s weightier thoughts, Johnny glanced up at him, for one moment the serious, competent paramedic Roy unequivocally trusted at his back. Moments like that reminded him, as if he could forget, why he’d become such good friends with this...kid he rode with. Moments that he’d tuck into memory for the next time Johnny launched his latest spiel for getting rich or winning a girl’s heart or some new dream he was pursuing.
Except this time the friendly whirlwind of ideas didn’t follow, merely a slight smile, affirmation of sharing Roy’s thoughts. And then Johnny was getting out of the squad, and with a fond shake of the head, Roy followed. Maybe this time they’d actually have a chance to get some coffee and sit down again before the next call.
He could have drawn the scene before he saw it as he entered the kitchen/common area. Chet Kelly spread out on the sofa, reading the paper. Marco Lopez at the stove fiddling with his latest delicious-smelling concoction, while Mike Stoker set the table. The Cap was no doubt working on paperwork in his office. The comfortable feeling of family returned, settling contentedly into Roy’s stomach.
“Hey, guys,” Chet called over, his eyes still on the paper. “How’d it go?”
Roy expected his partner to weave and embellish the story of the run as he seemed to enjoy doing, but Johnny was already by the cupboards, searching intently through them for something. With a mental shrug, DeSoto retrieved some coffee and sat at the table as he answered, “Climbing rescue, three-year-old up in a tree.” Something pulled at his hair and he reached up to retrieve a pine needle.
Chet noticed, and lit up with a mustachioed grin. “Simple, huh? You should’ve called us for a ladder up.”
Still no word from Johnny, who usually rose to any bait offered, and Roy made a face. The small-talk game was more his partner’s than his. “The day we can’t climb a tree by ourselves, we’ll have to start thinking about getting another job,” he said dryly, winning another smile from Kelly.
Johnny had apparently found what he was looking for and brought it to the table with a glass of water, taking the seat next to Roy. It didn’t matter how many other seats there were, they usually sat together, but Roy had stopped wondering about that a long time ago. After a while, a lot of how they interacted had simply become the norm and it no longer occurred to him to wonder.
He arched his eyebrow
as Johnny half-turned the bottle he held, not seeming to want the label to be
obvious. Roy caught it anyway. “Antacid? Your stomach bothering you?”
Johnny opened his mouth, but Chet beat him to it. “Didn’t eat some of your own cooking last night, did you, Gage?”
That won the fireman an acid look, which Roy almost let himself smile at, then Johnny pointedly turned to him, shutting Kelly out of his reply. “No big deal, just a little upset stomach. It’s been kinda on and off all day.”
Maybe that had been a partial reason for his more quiet than usual partner, and Roy gave him a quick concerned lookover. “You wanna ask Brackett about it the next time we’re at Rampart? It wouldn’t hurt to have him check you out.”
Johnny shrugged it off, popping two of the tablets into his mouth and following them with water. “I’m okay, just a little indigestion. Probably from that Indian food Linda made last night.” The askance look was so typically Johnny, Roy couldn’t help his grin. Despite how much his partner seemed to be enjoying his newest steady’s company, that was the third exotic dish of the week she’d fixed him. Roy doubted even Johnny’s fireman’s stomach could keep up with his libido at that rate.
“Usually it’s the girl who gets sick after an evening with you,” Chet’s teasing voice rang out from the sofa again.
Poison settled into Gage’s eyes, and Roy could see he was working up to a suitable retort when the klaxon rang, yet again. Trying not to sigh, he and his partner exchanged a forlorn look before they dashed from the room to meet yet another call of duty.
Another kid call, this one more serious. An eight-year-old girl with dark pigtails that reminded Roy of his daughter’s, short of breath from an asthma attack. But at least this time they were able to make a substantial difference, already significantly easing her respiration by the time they transported her. The mother had been acutely grateful, but even more than that, the relief in young Sally’s green-apple eyes was the stuff that made the whole job worthwhile.
As they approached the station, Roy threw his partner a quizzical glance. Real successes like this, kids or no, usually buoyed his partner’s already enthusiastic spirits. Instead, Johnny seemed to be getting quieter each run, more hunched into himself. And the only thing worse than a garrulous Johnny was an ominously quiet one.
If the years of partnership had taught him nothing else, though, it was how to read and react to his partner. Silence usually meant Gage was fretting over something that would make Roy shake his head, but that made it no less important to Johnny. And sometimes his partner surprised him with very astute concerns that Roy hadn’t even thought about before.
He doubted that was the situation this time, though. There was a pinch to the younger man’s face and a huddle to his body that spoke of physical discomfort, not mental, which was its own cause for worry. It had only been, what, two weeks before that Johnny had elevated a hangnail into cause for disability leave? Now he wasn’t saying a word. That was bad.
“You okay?” DeSoto asked casually, turning the squad so he could back it up through the bay door in preparation for the next call, which, if true to form, would come within minutes. At least they were nearing the evening when the calls usually tapered off some.
A not very convincing nod. “Just this stomachache, no big deal.” Johnny glanced up at him with exaggerated distress. “Roy, I think that chick’s gonna kill me with her cooking.”
Roy grinned at him. If Gage was joking, it couldn’t be as bad as he’d thought. “Don’t you have a date with her tomorrow night?”
Johnny just groaned, and Roy’s smile didn’t fade as he climbed out of the squad.
“Hey, maybe she’ll make you some hot chili; you like that,” he couldn’t resist adding.
His partner’s pathetic look was classic.
Then the klaxon rang and they were scrambling back into the squad for the next run.
False alarm. Or rather, hypochondriac alarm. It was amazing how quickly their “heart attack victim” recovered once he got into a heated argument with his wife. In the type of call that was all too common for them, DeSoto and Gage packed up their gear while trying to duck the hurled insults.
Roy realized something was wrong only a second before his partner blanched, then lurched to his feet and out of the room, leaving the oblivious combatant couple behind. Roy dropped his gear and hurried after him. A moment later, the sounds of sickness led him directly to the bathroom.
Roy pushed the door opened cautiously, stopping when he bumped Johnny’s legs, and slipped in through the crack. His partner was curled up on the floor, hanging over the toilet while he brought up everything in his stomach. Roy sighed and shook his head in sympathy before kneeling down on the tile floor next to the invalid. He curled one hand around Johnny’s forehead and the other around his chest to support the heaving body, and for once he was glad of a false alarm and argumentative patients because it gave them momentary privacy. Roy fought hard for the life and well-being of every patient he treated, but when it came down to it, this one here was the one he worried about and protected the most on the job.
Finally the heaves abated and Johnny slumped, boneless for the moment. Roy waited patiently, noting the heat of fever in the skin under his hand. “Looks like maybe it’s stomach flu instead of indigestion,” he finally said quietly.
With a groan of effort, Gage pushed himself up straight, and Roy released him, giving him a fond pat on the shoulder as he did.
“You really ought to talk to Early or Brackett.”
“For stomach flu?” Johnny asked tiredly. He reached out a hand. “Pull me up, would ya?”
Roy complied, steadying for a moment until the younger man got his bearings, then Johnny gave him a weary, embarrassed smile of gratitude. “Thanks for the nursemaiding.”
DeSoto smiled back. “Goes with the job. You feel any better?”
“Yeah. But I guess I’ll have to cancel my date tomorrow with Linda.”
Roy led the way out of the bathroom, his eyes still on his partner. “Your stomach’ll thank you,” he continued the banter, not missing the slight wobble still to Johnny’s gait or the feverlight in his eyes.
“Probably,” Johnny allowed, and went back to packing their gear up. He did seem to be steadying though, vomiting apparently having gotten rid of the worst of his stomach symptoms. It wasn’t like neither of them had ever worked sick before, and besides, they were three-fourths through their shift. Gage insisted he would be fine and there was no reason for DeSoto to override him. In the morning he could go home and rest, and that and some aspirin was probably all he needed.
But that didn’t keep Roy from watching him all the way back to Station 51.
The phone rang, ten, twelve, fifteen, finally twenty times before Roy hung up and frowned at it. There were a lot of possible reasons for the lack of answer: Johnny could have gone out, or been in the bathroom or the shower, or even asleep. But none of them seemed right.
It had been a long night. Although Johnny had handled the two calls they’d gotten after midnight okay, none of the other guys seemed to notice that Gage spent more time in the bathroom than in bed. Roy had gone out once to check on him when he’d heard Johnny being sick again, but his partner had just waved him off, insisting once more that it was simply an upset stomach and that he’d be all right.
But by the time they’d changed and traded off shifts the next morning, Gage had definitely been dragging and clearly sick. Even Chet had taken pity on the bedraggled figure and kept his barbed comments to himself, and Roy had been worried enough about his partner’s state to offer him a ride home. But Johnny had grinned at him, patted him on the back, and assured him he was fine, just feeling a little off. Nothing some time in bed wouldn’t cure, he insisted, his grin turning shyly touched at Roy’s worry. For all his younger partner’s brashness and bravado, there was an old-fashioned honest pleasure in him for any favors done or worry expressed for his sake. It was one of the things Roy DeSoto had recognized early on and that had endeared his sometimes childlike friend to him.
But now...he shook his head, dialing the number again and letting it ring another dozen times before hanging up with unusual force. Now he had a bad feeling he couldn’t shake. There had seemed to be nothing more to Johnny’s illness than a simple case of the stomach flu, but still Roy would have felt a lot better if one of the doctors at Rampart had looked his partner over, or if Johnny had let him do even a cursory exam. Instead, sending an invalid home alone with an unknown ailment to an empty house was looking more and more like a bad idea.
That tore it. Abandoning the phone, Roy turned to the kitchen cupboards and rummaged through one until he found a sealable container, then a soup ladle. He began to fill the container with some of the vegetable soup Joanne had made and left in the big pot on the stove. The soup would be a good excuse to visit and make sure Gage was all right, tucked into bed and nursing his flu. Not to mention that it would let Roy rest a bit easier, too.
The container filled, he shut it tightly and then went in search of his wife.
“Joanne, I’m going to
take Johnny some soup--I’ll be right back...”
Gage had given DeSoto a key to his apartment with a request to water the plants and pick up his mail once while he was on vacation. After his return, he’d brushed off Roy’s attempts to return the key with an offhand, “You never know, you might need it sometime.” Roy had understood and dropped the subject. Although Johnny would never have said so out loud, Roy knew that with no family in the city, the younger man felt a little better knowing someone was around to help if he needed it.
Like now. Gage’s Jeep
was in the apartment complex’s lot, so he clearly was home, but knocking was
bringing no results. Roy was just debating his next move when the thin,
strained voice made it to him through the door. “Roy?”
There was something wrong, he could hear it. Without another thought, he plopped the soup down and got the door open.
And a second later was across the room and down on his knees at the side of the curled figure on the floor.
“Johnny, what’s wrong?” His voice was level from vast experience dealing with emergencies, but it was far calmer than he felt. His partner’s hair was stuck to his forehead in sodden strands, which was strange because a quick brush of his skin revealed a higher fever than ever. The slim body was spasming, nearly convulsing with pain, and the cause of it seemed to be the abdominal area he’d wrapped both arms around and tucked his knees and face against. Roy’s voice softened with worry and an automatic effort to soothe. “Johnny? I need you to tell me what’s wrong.”
Gage’s eyes were closed, but at Roy’s continued prodding, they forced open and found him. “Roy?” The brown eyes were already filling from the pain. “Appendix...I think...lower right...” He groaned as a particularly strong paroxysm pulled him into an even tighter ball. “Roy...”
Appendix--how could he have missed that? Cursing himself ten times the fool, DeSoto reached for the phone on the endtable, tantalizingly out of reach for the downed man, and flew through the 911 call. Okay, help was on its way, that was good. But in the meantime...
“Oh, God...Roy,” Johnny ground out through clenched teeth, releasing one hand long enough to grab for his partner.
No equipment. No drugs. Nothing to do but wait. His hands were on automatic, doing as efficient an exam as he could without any gear, but it wasn’t much use. For once in his life, Roy had no priority but to comfort and reassure his hurting friend. There was no training for that, and for a moment Roy felt completely out of his depth. Even kissing the kids’ tears away was usually Joanne’s domain rather than his...
And then Johnny groaned again, his fingers going stark white in their desperate clutch on Roy’s arm, and instinct took over.
Roy pried loose the stiff hand, folding it in his cooler one for a brief squeeze before a soft, “I’ll be right back,” and then he was rushing through the house, assembling what he needed, returning to his partner’s side in record time. The thick blanket from the bed was spread over and tucked around the shaking body. A moment later, Roy was propping his partner’s head up and coaxing him to swallow some water, easing back when Johnny gulped, and wiping his chin with the blanket when some dribbled out. When the glass was empty, he reluctantly laid his friend back down, knowing that lying flat was more important than any comfort he could give in holding, though it didn’t seem like it at that moment. The soaking compress went on the hot forehead, anchored there by Roy’s hand through his partner’s tossing and turning, and with the other, he reluctantly pulled back the blanket to do a quick exam of the affected area.
Johnny didn’t react at all to the loosening of his clothing, stiffening only a little as Roy lightly felt the parameters of the swelling. It certainly seemed to be in the right area to be the appendix, and the swelling and tenderness were classic signs. The true test, though, was rebound pain... Bracing himself, he pressed lightly, then released.
And Johnny cried out, his body arching out of its fetal curl, away from Roy’s fingers and the pain they caused. The water pooled in his eyes involuntarily leaked onto his cheeks as he gasped, trying to find breath again.
“I’m sorry,” Roy whispered, then more loudly. “Johnny, I’m sorry. It’s okay, I just had to make sure.”
Again, at his voice, the frantic brown eyes snapped open and searched for him. They carried no anger, only a need to know Roy was there, and the older man was suddenly reminded of Sally’s eyes that had seemed to draw strength from knowing he was there and that he would help. And that had been a little girl who’d never met him before, a stranger who trusted him because she hoped he would help. This was his partner, who knew Roy was there for him and who had no one else.
Roy blinked back blurred vision of his own and pulled the blanket back into place again, meeting the sick and confused expression with as calmative a look as he could muster. For two men who dealt with emergencies and trauma every day, neither of them were prepared for it in this form, and Johnny’s pain had long stripped away any professional veneer. “It’s okay, Johnny, help’ll be here any minute. You’re gonna be fine.” He readjusted the slipped compress, the dazed brown gaze distractedly following his movements, then darting back to his face. Roy smiled softly, wrapping the hot fingers back in his hand and holding them firmly. “Seems you’re right; it’s your appendix. I just wish you’d made the diagnosis a few hours earlier.”
That actually produced an attempt at a smile, Johnny Gage’s indomitable spirit shining through like it usually did, and the bloodless lips struggled for a minute before being able to form the word. “Roy...”
DeSoto stroked the lank, wet hair back, letting his hand rest there against Johnny’s face for a long moment. “I’m right here,” he said quietly, and was secretly astonished to see how many lines of strain those words erased from the taut features of his friend. His presence seemed to matter more than any reassurances he could give about Johnny’s fate.
“Not...Linda’s...cooking.” Each word was a fight. “Tell...Chet.”
He tried to smile along with his partner but couldn’t. “I’ll tell him, but don’t talk, Johnny, just save your strength.” Where were the guys? The station was only a few minutes away...unless they were out on a call and a farther station was covering them...Perhaps he should call Rampart? But what good would that do when he knew an IV was what Johnny needed and he had nothing to start one with?
Roy kept smoothing the damp strands of dark hair, wishing he could do something more...except that Johnny seemed to relax in his presence and at his touch. Years of working together, knowledge of each other, built trust: all did that. But even more so, so did friendship. When it came down to it, had their roles been reversed, Roy knew he’d derive the same comfort from his partner being there with him.
Then suddenly the tension went out of Johnny’s face and hand altogether, his body relaxing its cramped position. “Doesn’t hurt...so bad...anymore,” he drawled with weary relief.
Roy’s heart seized at the words, and he quickly uncovered the abdomen again, knowing what he’d find but still horrified at the diminished swelling. “That’s ‘cause your appendix burst,” he murmured, dazed. Johnny should have known the absence of pain wasn’t good news, but then, he was struggling enough being the victim without thinking like the paramedic. Oh, God, now what? He couldn’t just sit there and watch Johnny slip away. Where were...
Then the cavalry arrived.
P&P--Phillips and Peterson from B Shift--came storming through the door, and Roy’s breath went out of him in relief.
“His appendix just burst,” was all he needed to say, and already Jeff Phillips was calling Rampart and Dave Peterson was pulling out the makings of an IV in anticipation of the doctor’s orders, then pulling aside the blanket to attach the BP cuff and do his own cursory examination. Neither of them asked Roy to move aside. Partners were a sacred thing in their line of work.
Johnny was still blinking sleepily at him, exhaustion-dulled eyes trying to stay with his friend, and Roy readjusted his position a little to stay out of his colleagues’ way but still be in Johnny’s sight. “It’s okay,” he said softly, rubbing the hand he held. “P&P are here and they’ve got it under control. We’ll have you at Rampart in no time.”
“Never let us...live it down.”
Roy grinned. “I think I can live with that, can’t you?” Live being the operative word.
Johnny’s eyes began to drift shut, jerking open again as Roy gently shook his hand.
“Stay with me, Johnny,” he ordered sternly.
“Jus’ tired. No big deal...” And then he was out, and even though Dave was already inserting the IV, Roy knew the battle for his partner’s life was only just beginning.
“It is a big deal,” he whispered for Johnny’s ears alone, and since Johnny wasn’t hearing him anymore, the words faded away, useless.
The trip to the hospital seemed so much longer than usual. It didn’t seem to occur to anyone that Roy not ride along in the back of the ambulance, doing what he could to help out Dave while the two attendants rode up front and Jeff followed in the squad. But despite his realistic hopes that Johnny would revive once his blood pressure started to rise, his partner remained unresponsive and far too still all the way in for Roy’s comfort.
Then they were at Rampart, and even though he was allowed into the examining room, almost immediately they were moving Johnny up to surgery and Dixie was taking him by the arm to go off in search of coffee. And DeSoto, feeling like he was on some segue into that bizarre Twilight Zone show Johnny liked so much, mutely went with her.
It was different, this kind of waiting, than when he was waiting to find out the condition of someone he’d brought in on the job. It was the kind of limbo he’d experienced before, when he and Joanne had rushed Chris in after his young son had swallowed a quarter and been unable to breathe, or later when Johnny had caught the plague from the Asian monkey and hovered so long between life and death, or when he’d been bitten by a rattlesnake and they all waited to find out if he would respond to the antivenin, or...There were too many times he didn’t want to think about. All of them were a little piece of hell, of wondering if he could have done something differently, or what life would be like without that integral person, or what was going on behind closed doors where they worked on saving the life of someone who meant so much to him...
Funny, he’d never thought of it quite that way before. But somewhere along the line, his animated, innocent, full-of-life partner had crossed the line from friend and colleague to family. And it was with the same sick sensation of worry and dread and suffering hope as when they’d brought Chris in, with which Roy now clenched his coffee cup and waited. Sometimes he wondered if it made him less human not to worry like that about every patient they brought in, only to acknowledge that he would have never been able to survive at the job if he did. He was usually the one telling Johnny not to get emotionally involved with their patients. That kind of fear ate through you from the inside out.
He’d called Joanne to let her know what was going on almost as soon as they’d taken Johnny up to surgery, but she’d had to stay with the kids and he understood that. The other guys from the shift had been alerted by now, too, and Chet and Marco had already showed up and...Roy looked around the breakroom hazily. Well, they weren’t there so they were somewhere else, also waiting, or maybe had gone home to wait for news. Roy couldn’t seem to, although he could imagine it was getting late. He couldn’t go home to his family and his home and his bed while Johnny fought for his life alone...
That didn’t make sense and Roy knew it. Johnny was usually the one prone to flights of fancy and philosophical claptrap while Roy was the practical realist. And yet...he couldn’t shake the feeling that Johnny would know he was there and do better for it. No matter how silly and illogical it was, he had to stay.
Then again, when had
friendship with Gage and logic ever ridden the same horse?
Roy smiled, bittersweet, in the darkened room and sipped his cold coffee. They’d been a mismatch from the start, about as opposite as two could get, and yet they’d clicked almost at once, getting along and working together with remarkable smoothness. Some wondered privately to him sometimes how he could stay partners with such a grown-up kid, and he would be amazed anew at how so many didn’t seem to see all the things he did in his partner, the skill and courage matched with kindness and people skills, the soft heart, the keen intelligence and adaptability, the unusually strong loyalty and dependability. Who wouldn’t want a friend like that? Listening to Gage’s friendly chatter seemed a small price to pay, not to mention all the times it had succeeded in pulling Roy out of too-deep introspection when nothing else could have. Sometimes he wondered if Johnny didn’t even occasionally play goofy just to get him to lighten up.
And then there were times like this when he was completely on his own, and he could feel exactly how much Johnny brought to his life.
The cold coffee--or maybe his thoughts--were making him sick to his stomach, and he dumped the rest out into the sink as he rose to his feet to stretch his legs again.
It was just then that the door opened behind him. Bracing himself, Roy turned to meet Dr. Brackett as he stepped inside, followed by Dixie. His face was stoic but his heart was hammering, and it only sped up at the grim expression on the hospital staff’s faces.
Brackett stepped up to him, grasping his arm with one hand. “You were right, Roy, his appendix burst. We’ve done everything we can but there is infection and...I’m afraid we’re just going to have to wait and see if his body is strong enough to fight it off. He’s on massive antibiotics now, in intensive care.” The doctor’s eyes examined him, half-business, half-friendly concern. “He’s young and he’s strong; he’s got everything going for him.”
Roy nodded absently, not really listening because the words didn’t mean much. In his line of work, he’d seen the strong and healthy suddenly die and the weak and infirm miraculously recover. There were no guarantees. “Can I see him?”
Brackett hesitated, then nodded. “Sure. You can stay for a while if you want. Dix--”
And then Dixie was taking him again, her calm voice registering more than her words. She took him into the ward, to the bed, and left him with a pat on the arm with him none-the-wiser as to what she’d been telling him.
Johnny looked so frail. That was his first thought. And the second and third. It was hard to get past.
No big deal...yeah, right.
Gage was on a respirator, which looked bad but actually made sense, freeing up that much more of his strength to fight off the infection that flushed his cheeks and deflated his body. At the moment, Roy couldn’t help but think, the infection looked like it was winning.
There was a chair next to the bed, pulled up close as though set out for him, and he took it, easing into it almost gingerly. And then the silence of the room, its artificial environment, settled over him, too. Roy was one of the fortunate ones; no matter what, he had a family, other people dear to him outside that room whom he could turn to. He was not alone. It just felt like that, in this room where the one person who’d gone through more crises with him than his wife, lay helpless and possibly dying.
It felt very, very alone.
Johnny’s right arm, on his far side, held an IV, but the closer left arm was free, and Roy picked up the hand again. It had held on to him with desperation before, and now was limp and--God help him--so lifeless. It still scorched with fever and didn’t respond at all when he kneaded it in his own hands.
And yet it had meant something before, holding on and talking to his partner even in the midst of agonizing pain. Roy had not had medicine with him, had been able to do little for his partner’s health or comfort, and yet somehow that simple touch and words had lessened pain and eased Johnny’s mind. He’d seen the wonders of touch and presence in his line of work in parents with their children, spouses with their mates, and knew its undocumented value. Roy had just never considered it a factor between his partner and him before. Yet there it was. And maybe it extended even into unconsciousness.
Roy leaned forward. “I’m right here, Johnny. Doc says you’re gonna be fine when you get over this infection.” When sounded so much better than if. “They’re gonna let me stay with you a while, too, if you want.”
He trailed off--what was there to say? He’d never done anything like this before. Johnny had always seemed to know just what he was feeling and thinking without his ever saying a word, just like Roy knew his partner’s mind.
“I told you you should’ve seen Brackett; it’s a good thing I took the soup over to you when I did.” Where was that soup, anyway?, Roy paused to wonder. Probably still outside the door where he’d left it. But the reproach, no matter how gentle, sounded harsh to his ears and he hurried on.
“You know, even Chet’s here somewhere, worried sick about you. He’d never admit it, but he is. I think you could probably con him into doing your dishes for a while if you play your cards right.”
The smile felt out of place even though Johnny would have enjoyed the joke. Roy quickly sobered, abruptly fighting hard not to show how scared he was. He was usually the strong one, but... “Johnny, I need you to come back. They’re gonna find me a new partner if you don’t, and with my luck it’ll be Sorenson. He’s even worse than you are.” Again the out-of-place humor. Roy was at a loss.
“Come on, Johnny,” he said quietly. “You can do this. I’ve kinda gotten used to you now, and I don’t really want another partner. Okay?”
And struggling for words that flowed easier as his concern and affection poured out, he talked until he was hoarse, and beyond.
Dixie had made him lie down for a bit at some point, but it was the only measure of the passage of time he had in that eternally dim room. It felt like he’d aged years before what he’d been hoping and praying for finally happened.
The until-then still fingers suddenly curled around his, grasping his hand with surprising strength and cutting Roy off mid-sentence. He blinked. Could it be? They loosened a little after a moment, unable to hold their grip, but they still hung on to him tenaciously.
Roy jumped up, making sure he didn’t dislodge that clinging grasp, and saw the half-circles of a drug-glazed brown gaze wandering the room.
“Hey,” he said softly, drawing their attention, and they stopped on him.
The bruised eyes were too tired to do more than look, but Roy anticipated the questions.
“You’re at Rampart. You’re gonna be okay, just tired for a while. They’ve got you on a respirator until you’re a little stronger, okay? Can you hear me?”
One slow, deliberate blink and the feeble fingers squeezed once more before Johnny drifted off to sleep, contented and relaxed in his partner’s care.
And that one moment made all the waiting and worry and talking worthwhile. Roy sat back down, blinking away tears of gratitude and still absently rubbing his partner’s hand. He was so tired; they both were, but it would be all right now.
Recovery from near death was slow. But no one made him leave. Some of their mutual friends cam in to relieve Roy for a while so he could eat and sleep and shower. Joanne came often to visit, as did the guys, but somehow it was always him that Johnny would seek out when waking, disoriented and weak, for a few minutes here and there. Roy stayed until the respirator and fever were both gone and Johnny was waking up for longer periods, lucid and able to talk. And the closeness between them went back to being expressed through gentle teasing and quiet looks, no less present than before.
Which made the explosion all the more unexpected.
He should have been used to Johnny’s self-deprecating ways, trying to diminish the severity of a situation in order to relax his partner and make it easier for himself to handle. But there it was again, in response to some serious comment Roy let slip, Johnny’s wave of a hand and the brush-off of, “I’m okay, no big deal.”
And suddenly Roy’s usually steady temper snapped.
“I do NOT want to hear you say that again! Maybe it wasn’t a big deal to you to be doubled up in pain on your living room floor and almost dying from infection, but I...”
I what? Furious, only partly with his partner, Roy turned away from the bed and came close to stalking out of the room, stopping just short of the door and standing there as he shook with anger. Or fear? Something stronger than he could handle. He wasn’t used to feeling like that; Johnny was the one who always blew up...
“Roy?” his partner stammered quietly behind him. “I-I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it like that.”
The anger was fading as quickly as it had come, but he still had no desire to turn and face the person who had so unnerved him. First by how close he’d come to dying, and then by his return to life.
“Roy? Don’t be mad, I-I just...” Tripping over his words just like the kids did when they got upset. “I mean, you’re the one who got me through it. If it hadn’t been for you, well, that would have probably been it for me, but you...you fixed it and it just wasn’t as big a deal with you there. I didn’t mean to make you mad.”
“I’m not mad,” Roy said softly.
“Well...good. I didn’t mean t’upset you then. I mean, you saved my life.”
Roy could have pointed out that they pretty much did that routinely for each other on the job, but that’s not what Johnny meant and he knew it.
He turned a little, giving his partner’s anxious face a quick glance. Johnny had half sat up already, looking as if he were ready to run after his partner if Roy left. DeSoto sighed.
“You just shook me up some when I walked in and you were lying there on the floor. You should’ve talked to Brackett like I said.”
“I know.” Gage nodded emphatically, looking like he’d agree with just about anything Roy said in hopes of making up for upsetting his partner.
Roy’s face softened at the thought, and he saw Johnny relax in turn at the change. Anger wasn’t usually his way of dealing with things, but... “It was a big deal. I almost lost my partner, and you...” Practical or not, Roy wasn’t ready to follow that thought.
“I know.” More seriously this time. They didn’t often acknowledge the dangers of their life, their job, losing friends, but it was there now in his eyes. “But I’m okay, thanks to you.”
And then, like flipping a switch, that crazy grin was back and Johnny was leaning back into the pillows, pale but happy.
“Hey, did I say thank you?”
“No.” Roy smiled a little. “Haven’t been in much of a condition to say anything. I think even Linda got bored with you.”
The brown eyes widened. “Linda was here? No foolin’? I don’t even remember! What did she say, did she say anything?”
“Only that she’s going to cook you a great big ‘welcome home’ meal when they let you out,” Roy answered mercilessly.
Johnny’s groan was more dramatic than days before when it had been for real, and the reminder shaded Roy’s joy for a moment.
Johnny noticed--he always did when it counted--and contrived an even more desperate expression. “Hey, maybe I could tell her I’m on a special diet--indefinitely. Maybe I could talk Brackett into playing along, too. Only regular foods. Huh? What do you think?” And he winked.
His partner simply shook his head and turned and, with a parting wave, walked out of the room.
But his world was running just fine, and Roy DeSoto grinned all the way home.
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Guest Dispatchers Stories by K Hanna Korossy