Words: 6500+ words Complete, betaed by ldyanne
Summary: It's what you can't see that really says it all…
Spoilers: Set just after second season.
Disclaimer: Emergency! is owned by Universal, MCA and its affiliates. This story is parody and for entertainment purposes only.
Notes: Bonus cookies if anyone can get which show and episode I shamelessly borrowed from for this fic…I can't claim the inspiration for my own.
It was supposed to be routine. A simple 10-70, possible prowler, call with his temporary ride-along of the week, rookie Rick Adams.
Instead, Officer Vince Howard ended up wrangling three college kids into handcuffs with the help of Adams and Fritz, who responded to his request for backup. The kids had no business running around in the derelict warehouse. When Vince saw their overblown pupils and watched them struggle to stay upright though, Vince realized why those three did what they did. You would think being in college, they would be smarter than that but no, on a dare or excited about doing something that would earn them bragging rights, those crazy kids found the first rundown building they could find and shot up. They were lucky they were arrested before they needed to be rescued.
They were too stoned to realize they were being stupid.
Fritz took the two kids still sleeping off their high and piled them cuffed in the backseat. Vince and Adams took the leader of the dumb trio, a lanky youth with stringy red hair, into custody since it was Adams' collar. The rookie was walking a little taller as he led the cuffed youth to the back of the car. The rookie had chased him through two floors of broken glass and dusty boxes. Adams took even greater pride in patting him down in front of his senior officers, Fritz and Vince.
Their arrest was quiet company while Vince drove them back to headquarters. The only thing he got from the kid was "Lennie" and a nickname kids these days like to spit out at cops when things got heavy. But other than that, "Lennie" was silent in the backseat of his car, handcuffed, his eyes glazed and vacant. Vince was pretty sure Lennie wasn't going to be any trouble.
Until the kid started choking.
Vince saw Lennie's head bob up and down before the gurgling began. Adams was no help; he kept telling Vince Lennie looked "bad" and "looking real rough". As if he couldn't tell that already from his rearview mirror. But there was no place he could stop on the highway and Rampart was too far away.
But Station 51 wasn't.
A quick call to the dispatcher and by the time Vince rolled up the driveway, the station's garage door was up and Captain Stanley, Gage and DeSoto were waiting between the engine and squad with their equipment.
They didn't need it.
As soon as Adams got the cuffs off Lennie, the kid bolted. Or at least he tried to. It was hard to get very far with three firemen and two police officers tackling you like you were holding the winning touchdown. But whether it was the drugs Lennie had shot himself up with or adrenaline, Lennie tried anyway.
It wasn't until Lennie had a fit and DeSoto got him calmed down and stabilized did Vince notice there was an empty syringe rolling behind Adams' feet.
Vince heard the holler behind him in one of the rooms. Stanley's head shot up and he spotted the syringe.
"Roy," the captain said in a tight voice as he picked up the needle by its plunger.
DeSoto's eyes snapped towards Vince, Adams then to the captain. Vince could see in his widening eyes that DeSoto now realized, just as Vince did, that they were one man short.
There was a heavy clang behind them then another shout, this time wordless and high with fear.
When Vince turned around again, DeSoto was gone. Adams was hot on his heels behind him.
"Go," Vince barked to Stanley, but the captain had already shot up to his feet as soon as he saw Vince cuffing a snarling Lennie, this time to a standing pipe against a brick wall. Vince would like to see Lennie get out of that.
After checking to be sure Lennie was going to stay put, Vince ran towards the noise and skidded to a halt one foot into the station's kitchen.
Lunch had been interrupted when Vince had called. Chili, Vince absently noted as he backed up against the table and caught a whiff of the spicy concoction that was now spilled all over the floor. He should watch his step. Chili and milk was smeared across the linoleum. It made everything slippery like an oil slick, but what was going on in the back, by the chalkboard, drew his attention.
John Gage was standing with his back to a couch shoved up against the wall, his eyes huge and nearly colorless, his shirt half tucked, pulled out from the frantic twisting and pacing he was doing. He was swinging a fire extinguisher towards one of the firemen like a sword. Adams rocked on the balls of his feet, mirroring every step Gage made. The firemen basically had their hands up in surrender even as they tightened their circle around Gage.
One wide arc sent them all scrambling back a step. Adams shot Vince a look. He looked like one of those gunfighters on television, crouched, poised and ready. Too twitchy, though. Adams kept flinching every time Gage mumbled something. Vince couldn't catch what Gage was saying; he was too breathless, too flushed, too unsteady on his feet to be coherent enough. The fact that Gage was even upright surprised Vince. His face was flushed, too long dark bangs plastered to his head and over his eyes.
Geez, the guy needs a haircut.
It was a stupid stray thought. But it was better than thinking of Gage as a target that needed to be taken down. Training couldn’t be relied on here, not on Gage, not on any of these men. Vince was just glad the paramedic hadn’t taken one of their guns.
"Johnny?" Marco Lopez called out and he jumped back when Gage jerked and the extinguisher sliced the air like an axe.
"Roy, what's wrong with him?" Stanley murmured as he kept his eyes on Gage. He lingered to Gage's right, his legs and arms apart, looking more like he was ready to tackle a charging bull than fight a fire. The captain waved a hand towards one of his men until a choked sound from Gage made him drop his arm. "Chet, stay back, buddy. That's not a water balloon in his hands."
"That needle," DeSoto said in a low voice. "It must have had…" DeSoto looked over to Vince.
Vince's mouth flattened. "I don't know. Could be anything these kids are into these days. When we found them, they were too high to even understand they were two steps short of walking off the roof."
Chet Kelly, who was edging closer and closer, approached with his hands up, fingers curled as if to grab. One more step and Kelly would be within reach of Gage's arm. "Great," the fireman mumbled as he tracked the red canister Gage seemed to have no problem brandishing like a bat, "as if he wasn't hyper enough already, now he's—"
"Watch it!" Mike Stoker warned but it was too late. Gage, startled by Kelly's close proximity, swung and Kelly ducked. It was instinct: most people throw up their arms to protect the face. The extinguisher missed his head but bashed into Kelly's right arm with enough force to send him backwards on his rear.
"Chet?" DeSoto called out sharply, his eyes still on his partner, but his shoulders turned slightly towards Kelly.
"'M okay," Kelly gritted out, "it doesn’t feel like he broke anything. You know Gage is lousy at softball." He staggered to his feet with Stoker's help. The other firefighter, Lopez, tried to take his place and nearly got his ribs caved in.
"Adams, what the hell are you doing?" The wavering gun in Adams' grip made Vince forget to keep his voice down and the unintended bellow sent Gage stumbling back another step into the payphone. It rattled against his shoulders and Gage panicked. The receiver shattered when the extinguisher slammed into it and black plastic flew all the way across the room and skittered to Vince's feet.
"Don't shoot," Stanley hissed but didn't try to approach Adams. The captain knew well enough not to startle a man with a gun.
"Adams, put down that gun," Vince snapped.
The muzzle bobbed with indecision. "But he attacked—"
"He doesn't know what he's doing. Put it down!"
"You two either shut up or get out right now," DeSoto ground out. He stared at Gage, while still creeping forward inch by inch towards him. Gage made a sound, his eyes darting from each face as he scurried backwards. It reminded Vince of a wild dog he once cornered.
He was forced to put it down.
DeSoto paused, as if he could hear Vince's thoughts. He took a step to the side and stood right in front of Adams' line of fire.
"Roy," Kelly warned as he sat on the edge of the table, cradling his arm.
"He won't hurt me," DeSoto said with far more confidence than Vince felt. "We're partners. He won't hurt me." DeSoto took another step towards Gage.
"Isn't that right, Johnny?" DeSoto murmured. His voice was steady, low, like how Vince would hear the paramedic with his victims. DeSoto pronounced every word carefully, each syllable edging him closer and closer to Gage.
Brown eyes fixed on DeSoto. Gage never replied but the panting and wheezing grew. Gage swayed on his feet.
"Adams, go make sure Lennie's still cuffed outside. Ambulance should be here any minute," Vince whispered out of the side of his mouth.
"But—" Adams gulped at Vince's look and retreated.
DeSoto didn't turn around but Vince noticed the tension across stiff shoulders eased.
Gage muttered something, thin and reedy, almost a whimper that stuttered away because it was getting harder for Gage to breathe. Vince's chest tightened.
"You know that's not real," DeSoto soothed. He seemed to hear what Gage was saying. "What you're seeing isn't real."
There was a full body shiver and for a second, it looked like Gage would simply drop, but then the extinguisher shot up again, pointed towards DeSoto. It swung up in a wide arc, close enough that DeSoto staggered back and touched his own chin to check it was still there.
Vince tensed and took a step towards the older paramedic, pull the fool out of harm's way, but a hand curled around his left elbow. Vince twisted sharply towards Captain Stanley.
"Don't," Stanley warned quietly.
Vince stared at him. "Gage is gonna—"
"He won't." Stanley sounded so damn sure.
"Just listen to me. Okay?" DeSoto ignored everything behind him; his hands opened palms up as he carefully closed the distance again between him and his partner with each cautious step.
Gage's shoulders hunched and he muttered "…burning…" He sounded close to tears.
"We're not. We're fine. It's whatever that guy stuck you with. Remember? Do you remember a needle?"
Vince watched the confusion retreat a fraction, brows knitted and a hand drifted towards his lower back.
"…R-roy?" The question shook out of Gage, high and airless.
"Yeah, Johnny." DeSoto's voice cracked as he got close enough to reach out a hand. Gage flinched, so suddenly, everyone tensed.
"D-don't." It wasn't clear who Gage was talking to but DeSoto backtracked anyway, his hands up.
"It's not real," DeSoto repeated in a voice Vince strained to hear, but Gage tilted his head towards the paramedic, listening.
"You trust me…right, partner?" Vince could hear the shaky smile in DeSoto's voice at the tiny nod Gage replied with. "I would never lie to you about something like that."
Gage vibrated like a live wire and the extinguisher sagged, almost touching the ground. DeSoto, however, stayed back like he was walking on thin ice.
"Close your eyes. It's not real, none of it."
Gage shook his head violently and shrank back, folding in on himself. The paramedic suddenly appeared small.
"It's all right." DeSoto slowly closed a hand around the nozzle of the canister. "Just close your eyes. Let it go away. Just listen to me, Johnny, not them. Sh…"
Vince held his breath as DeSoto tugged the red tank away and Gage's hands dropped limply to his sides. The older paramedic curled a hand around the back of Gage's neck, all the while still talking as the other hand shakily passed off the heavy extinguisher to Stoker's waiting arms.
"I'm s-sorry," Gage slurred.
"It's okay," DeSoto assured him as he slipped his arm down to Gage's shoulders, the other hand capturing an elbow. "Why don't we lie down here? Get some O2 in you?"
"I'm sorry," Gage mumbled again. His knees buckled, but DeSoto was waiting. Gage folded neatly into his arms and DeSoto held him tight as the momentum sent them to the floor with a grunt.
Behind him, Vince could hear an explosion of activity: the scrape of chairs being shoved aside, boots racing outside, promises of getting the drug box, Rampart and O2 tossed over the firemen's shoulders.
Amidst it all, Captain Stanley knelt by the two paramedics, trusting his men to do what needed to be done, his hand resting on Gage's bowed back, his face grim. DeSoto cradled Gage's sweat-dampened head to his chest. Gage curled fetal-like towards him, sheltered under the safe shadow of his partner, his breathing shallow and frantic and harsh sounding in the air.
Vince crouched, one hand on Gage's ankles in case he struggled, but he never did. Gage quivered like he was cold. One gnarled hand clutched a fistful of DeSoto's shirt, so tightly his arm shook. His eyes were still squeezed shut as he keened about fire and burning.
"It's going to be okay," DeSoto was murmuring. He bowed his head and rested his chin on Gage's head. He closed his eyes as well. "I'm sorry I didn't see that needle," he whispered into the hair. "I am so sorry."
Stanley pulled back the rumpled shirttail to reveal the purpling bruise that devoured the tiny puncture mark where Lennie must have plunged the syringe into John’s body. Gage twitched and burrowed closer to DeSoto, his words faster and too low for anyone but DeSoto to hear.
The ambulance was drawing closer and closer. The wail sounded too human, too despairing and Gage jerked in DeSoto's hold, a cry choked in his throat.
"Sh, sh, sh," DeSoto's voice was steady as he wrapped one arm tighter around Gage's head to block out the sirens that echoed as it shrieked closer. DeSoto didn't look up even when everyone returned with the medical boxes. Vince could hear someone calling Rampart, the hiss of released oxygen and the squeaky roll of a gurney being taken off an ambulance.
Gage whimpered again. His fingers twisted on folds of DeSoto's shirt as he trembled with a violence that had to hurt. His head rocked against DeSoto's left shoulder, too much like an animal in pain that Vince looked away. DeSoto shushed Gage.
"It's all right," DeSoto promised. "It's going to be all right…"
And DeSoto kept telling Gage that even when he stopped breathing.
Protocol required Vince to trail the ambulance DeSoto, Kelly and Adams climbed into. Where the prisoner goes, he goes. That's what he told himself as he kept his eyes firmly on the ambulance, his foot heavy on the gas.
By the time he eased into Rampart's parking lot, Lennie, Kelly and Gage were already inside getting treated. Adams was propped up against the entrance to a crowded waiting area, looking a little green. Vince wanted to follow Gage's gurney, but headquarters needed to be told, explanations needed to be made and a lecture about doing proper pat-downs needed to be given.
When Vince was done, half the people in the waiting room were gone. Adams—properly chastened and hopefully a little wiser now—was off to guard Lennie until the doctors cleared him to be carted off to jail.
Vince eyed the solitary figure resting against the wall by the emergency response station. He smiled to himself when he recognized Dixie McCall's curvy figure as she leaned forward on the counter to talk to the shadow by the wall. His smile faded when he caught them both glancing over to the shut doors of treatment room three.
"…has a good chance," Nurse McCall was saying as he drew near. She looked up at Vince's approach. She greeted him with a smile dimmed from too many long working hours.
"Your partner's upstairs," McCall offered. "He's with the patient, Lennie Walker, in 216."
So Adams got a last name. Good. Kid was learning. He studied DeSoto.
"Actually," Vince started carefully, "came to see how Gage is doing."
"They're still working on him," McCall told Vince. She made a face when she thought no one was looking. It was a canned response to appease impatient inquirers. "It'll be a while."
"Johnny stopped breathing again on route," DeSoto said suddenly. He stared at the HT he held by the strap. "I had to insert an esophageal airway." DeSoto swallowed. He scratched his temple with a finger as he breathed out slowly. His Adam's apple bobbed. "I had to stick a tube down my own partner's throat."
"Roy…" McCall settled a hand on DeSoto's left arm. "Johnny's breathing on his own."
DeSoto sighed. "For now." He lifted his head and Vince grimaced at the hopeful gaze. "Did the guy say anything about what he injected into Johnny? Or how much?"
Vince sighed as well and rubbed the back of his neck. "No. My partner's up there with him right now, so who knows?"
"Great. He did a swell job before," DeSoto muttered. He then closed his eyes and shook his head. "Sorry. I didn't mean…"
Sure you did, Vince thought, but it wasn't in him to disagree. He rapped his own handie-talkie against his thigh. "Listen, I have to head back in, make my report, but if there's anything I can…" The offer died in his lips. It seemed pathetic and small to even extend it right now. He slapped his radio against his leg again and caught DeSoto staring past his shoulder at treatment room three once more.
"You…you let me know…about John, okay?"
"Sure," DeSoto mumbled. Then, out of habit, he shook Vince's hand because he was the more formal of the two and the thought that there might never be an accompanying cheerful slap to his back from Gage formed a lump in Vince's throat.
"Yeah, well…see ya," Vince managed as he slowly turned around. He paused, wanting to say something more but then his radio chattered to life: 10-33, robbery in progress on Lincoln.
Vince gave the closed exam door a regretful look before he trotted out to his squad car. Duty never failed to call.
There was no reason to be back at Rampart.
Vince sat in his sedan, dressed in his civilian clothes now and feeling oddly out of place without the stiff cotton of his ironed uniform and the cool weight of his badge pinned over his chest. He stared at the sparse lighted squares on Rampart. Most people would be asleep, Vince reasoned. Vince checked his watch. Actually, everyone would be asleep.
His fingers rapped on his steering wheel and he clicked his tongue against his teeth as he stared at the lit front entrance. Visiting hours were over. DeSoto did say he would let Vince know about John. No news was good news, right? His captain mentioned Gage was admitted into Rampart when Vince had checked in with HQ. You can't admit a dead guy.
Up and down his fingers went before Vince realized how it must look to the nurses walking by outside his parked vehicle. He rounded back his shoulders, took a deep breath and levered himself out of the car.
Flashing a badge at the reception nurse earned him a meek reminder that visiting hours were indeed over. Vince felt a twinge in his gut when he told her it was official business and that got him a room number and the vague "He's stable" as a medical status. Official business or not, he wasn't family, hence not privy to the information. But Vince got what he wanted anyway: John Gage was alive.
The nurses were doing their nightly routines so there was no one there to remind him about the hour again when he found Gage's room and cracked open the door. The room was dim, but not dark. Vince hesitated at the still figure on the bed though. He rubbed his thumb across his mustache and wondered if maybe he should have waited until tomorrow. He just wanted to check in on the paramedic, that's all.
"You better get inside before the nurses see you, Vince."
Vince smiled grimly. Roy DeSoto's voice floating out in the murk wasn't as big of a surprise as it should have been. He slipped into the room and his adjusting eyes made out the older paramedic seated by the bed on the right side.
"Just came to see how Gage is doing," Vince whispered as he stood on the other side. It was kinda hard to tell with the lights lowered and the shades halfway down, but Gage did look a hell of a lot better than before. He lay supine, neatly centered in the bed, his head turned slightly towards DeSoto.
"He looks better," Vince said quietly before he gave Gage a frown. The man never reacted to his voice.
"He's asleep," DeSoto assured him. The word "finally" was left unsaid. The paramedic shifted in his seat, fidgeting like he'd found all the lumps in his chair.
"They can't risk giving him anything." DeSoto fingered the thin IV tubing that snaked down to Gage. The IV stand swayed until DeSoto set a steadying palm on the tall rod. "Just hydration and monitoring. They're hoping whatever it was will get flushed out of his system soon. Lennie Walker seemed to be coming down slowly so…" DeSoto paused. "Mr. Walker still refuses to say what was in the syringe."
Vince sighed. Oddly enough, he thought it would be better if there were a thread of accusation in DeSoto's voice. It would have been easier to face but all he could hear was a dry, weary rasp.
DeSoto coughed and there was a quiet sound of water filling a glass. After a few swallows, DeSoto set the glass on the stand next to the bed.
The bedrail felt cool under Vince's loosely curled grip when he rested his hands on it to study Gage. Under the sallow lighting, the young paramedic looked ashen, no longer flushed but gray under the shadows, his jaw slack while he slept. Vince was glad to see the contorted face smoothed out in sleep even if the unlined face made his insides knot. He was feeling older by the minute the longer he watched Gage so he averted his gaze. Vince raised a brow when he saw the unbuckled restraints tied to the rails.
DeSoto's eyes flicked towards where Vince was looking at. His mouth pressed thin.
"He fights them," Desoto murmured.
"How'd you convince the doctors to keep them off?" Lennie still had his around his wrists after he tried to claw one of the nurses' eyes out.
Fabric rustled and a seat creaked. "Well…"
Vince sighed. "You didn't tell them, did you?"
Even in the dark, Vince could see DeSoto's chin go up. "They never said to keep them on." DeSoto paused when Gage fidgeted. "Besides…" DeSoto settled a hand on a thin arm and turned a wrist towards a spot of sallow light that came creeping in from outside through the blinds. Gage muttered something and the blankets over his legs stirred. Striped bruising from wrist to elbow stood almost black against pale skin.
"He fights them," DeSoto repeated before he laid the arm back down carefully then murmured something in Gage's ear. His partner sighed and sank deeper into the bed. His hands flexed then relaxed by his sides.
"They're there for a reason," Vince said, because part of him was always going to be mindful of the laws around him. "Gage tried to hurt—"
"No." DeSoto's answer was immediate. "No, he wasn't."
Vince shook his head at the paramedic's selective memory. "He swung that extinguisher right at Kelly. He almost took your head off."
The small smile was easy to hear in DeSoto's voice. "He thought he was saving Chet, not hurting him." DeSoto patted Gage's shoulder when his partner squirmed again. He settled almost immediately.
"Johnny thought he saw us burning alive," DeSoto said quietly. "Whatever was in that needle, that's what it made Johnny see and he thought…" DeSoto audibly gulped. "He thought he was alone, with only a hose and he couldn't save us all." There was a pause while DeSoto scrubbed his face with both hands.
"He wasn't trying to hurt us. He was trying to save us."
Vince studied DeSoto's shadow vigilant by the bed. "Back at the station, what did you tell him?"
DeSoto sounded startled. "Me?"
"Gage looked pretty convinced at what he saw. What did you tell him?"
There was a small shrug. "Nothing. Just told him it wasn't real."
"It wasn't real," Vince repeated skeptically. "That's it? And he believed you?"
"Why not?" DeSoto sounded insulted.
"Nothing. I just…" Vince sighed. He rubbed the back of his neck. "Glad it worked before he took a real swing at you."
"Johnny wouldn't do that."
Vince nodded to himself and wordlessly tugged the restraints back to the far end of the rails, out of reach of Gage's wrists.
"Thanks," DeSoto said. He coughed and took another drink.
Gage suddenly jerked and the bed banged hollowly when his right foot lashed out.
Immediately, DeSoto was back by Gage's ear, one hand settled loosely over his heart, the other hand on top of Gage's head, anchors in the dark. He was stooped, almost doubled over, as he whispered in lower tones that soothed the small meaningless sounds that escaped out of a body trying to sink deeper into the bed. Vince stood by the side, at a loss as to whether he should get a nurse, leave the room or help DeSoto when Gage abruptly writhed underneath the blankets. Arms whipped out, weakly flailing, colliding with the rails. He sobbed out syllables of "fire", "get out" and "not enough". In-between, "Roy" was whimpered out, almost a plea, almost a prayer.
DeSoto kept talking into Gage's ear and Vince could hear promises that they were all safe, that there was nothing burning out there, to keep his eyes closed and everything would be fine. Even Vince was starting to believe DeSoto, lulled by the reassuring words that grew more hoarse by the minute.
There was a reed-thin moan of disagreement, to which DeSoto countered with his hand brushing over the top of Gage's head. Gage panted, wheezed like he was running and DeSoto rubbed small circles on his chest and told him there was no smoke, no fire.
Gradually, limbs finally loosened, breathing slowed and Gage sank back into oblivion. DeSoto straightened, his hand still stroking the top of Gage's head. It didn't look like he was aware of doing it, though.
"He's getting better," DeSoto whispered and he sounded relieved.
"That's…that's good," Vince managed. He swallowed and breathed slowly around the lump in his throat. He fingered the restraints and studied the marks on Gage's arms. Newer ones, reddened ones, revealed themselves when DeSoto turned the arms, felt the wrists with all the efficiency of a paramedic. Vince watched DeSoto straighten out Gage's limbs, tucking them back snugly under the blankets.
"Maybe we should keep these on him after all," Vince murmured. He nodded towards the restraints.
"He'll fight them."
"For his own good," Vince pointed out.
DeSoto's light colored eyes looked eerie and bright in the dark room. He reached over, unfastened them and tugged them out from under Vince's hands. The cuffs made an odd thumping sound when DeSoto dropped them to the floor. He silently stared back at Vince, daring him to say anything.
Vince just nodded. It didn't feel right to argue, wasn't his place to claim he knew better than the one guy who talked the demons out of Gage's head. He rested his hands back on the rails and sighed.
"Can't figure out why those kids like to inject their bodies with that poison," Vince muttered. "John didn't look like he was having fun."
DeSoto grunted under his breath. "None of us were," he croaked. He sat down again and carefully pulled his chair closer to the rails. He cleared his throat, drained the remaining water in his glass then refilled it, his movements easy and practiced despite the lack of light to guide him.
Vince watched DeSoto for a beat before he studied Gage. His shoulders slumped and Vince shook his head.
"Roy, we should have found that needle. I should have been the one who patted—"
"Johnny's alive," DeSoto interrupted. "He's alive and Doctor Brackett said he'll be fine in a few weeks." He scoffed. "Knowing him, it'll be less than that."
"Anything I can do?" Vince asked. He really wanted DeSoto to say yes. "I could head over, get you two a change of clothes, maybe something to eat." He gestured towards the untucked uniform and trousers DeSoto still wore.
DeSoto's head cocked as he considered Vince. In spite of the shadows, Vince could see a small smile tugged at the corner of his mouth.
"It's okay, Vince." DeSoto drained his glass and set it down by the pitcher. "Shift just ended so some of the guys are going to bring our stuff over from the lockers. Joanne's coming by tomorrow after she drops the kids off at school."
Vince nodded reluctantly, still wishing there was something he could offer.
"You know what you could do," DeSoto said slowly.
"Anything," Vince answered instantly.
DeSoto scratched a spot under his jaw. "Um…Could you stay here for a second? I really need to use the bathroom."
"Sure. I can do that," Vince chuckled and took over the vacated seat as DeSoto beat a hasty line for the bathroom in the corner.
Adams turned out to be a decent cop after the Lennie incident but unfortunately, he also turned out to be a major klutz. And three days later, after chasing a purse-snatcher, Vince brought Adams into Rampart because he got his hand caught on the rusty fence he vaulted over.
Vince stood by the door and watched Doctor Morton finish cleaning the cut.
"Only you," Vince grumbled as he watched Morton prep a shot.
"Ever had a tetanus shot, officer?" Morton hummed to himself as he went through the medicine cabinets.
"A ten what? N-no." Adams paled under his freckles at the needle coming his way. "Is this gonna hurt?"
"Ever been shot?"
"Then yes," Morton quipped cheerfully, "this will probably hurt."
Vince rolled his eyes and spared Adams the embarrassment of his senior partner standing there to watch. Vince ducked out of the room and closed the door behind him at the yelp.
Leaning against the wall, Vince eyed the hallways, smiling to himself as he saw familiar faces, paramedics giving him waves as they walked by.
Vince's smile broadened and he looked to his left at DeSoto and Kelly approaching as they guided Gage in a wheelchair.
DeSoto stood behind the wheelchair with a furrowed brow. "What are you doing at Rampart? Is everything okay?"
Vince nodded to the door he was leaning next to. "Adams. Fence." He paused. "Morton."
All three firemen collectively went "Ah" and left it at that.
"Getting out? Looking good there, Gage," Vince noted. It wasn't worth mentioning the dark smudges under the young paramedic's eyes. Or the hollow look that hung off him like a shroud.
Gage gave him a crooked grin that rivaled his ashen pallor and an eye roll that told Vince he didn't believe it for a second. "I’d look even better if I could walk out of here." He tilted up his head to glower upside down at DeSoto.
"Hospital rules," DeSoto just said, his voice gravelly. Gage made a face and dropped his head to give a loud sigh.
"Man, Roy. You better not give me your cold," Kelly grumbled and he waved a hand over his mouth. He nodded towards Vince. His mustache wiggled as he frowned down at Gage. "If you walked and fell flat on your face, I couldn’t help you, Gage." He lifted his arm up in the sling. "Better for all of us if you keep your scrawny butt in that thing."
"You could have at least given me some shoes," Gage grumbled and that's when Vince noticed all he had on were the blue hospital slippers on his feet.
"I told you. Marco looked everywhere, but there was nothing. Boot must have taken them." Kelly shared a smirk with DeSoto over Gage's head.
"Vince, I wanna report a footwear robbery," Gage demanded. He raised his left foot and Vince forced himself not to stare when he realized it trembled minutely. Actually, his entire leg did. Gage lowered it immediately. "Now how am I supposed to go anywhere with these?"
"Who says you're going anywhere?" DeSoto cut in. "Doctor Brackett said bed rest for at least another week…"
"And," DeSoto added firmly, "Joanne made it very clear you're not tracking any dirt into the house. So slippers are fine."
"You could always hose him down first," Kelly suggested with a smirk.
"Chet, the only one who needs to be hosed down is—"
Somewhere, in front of them, a nurse dropped her tray. Glass and metal clattered loudly to the floor, loud enough that it hurt Vince's ears, loud enough everybody spun around to see.
Out of the corner of his eye, he spied Gage go rigid in the chair, breathing heavily, his eyes squeezed tight as he bit his lower lip. He didn't make a sound though, his head tilted up slightly as DeSoto leaned into his ear, his hand curled loosely around his left shoulder from behind. Gage, his shoulders shaking, kept his eyes closed, his head making tiny bobs to whatever DeSoto was saying.
Vince averted his eyes, stared instead at Kelly, who was studying the nurse picking up her tray with unusual intensity, his jaw clenched as if he was forcing himself not to move.
Eventually, Gage's breathing evened out and DeSoto straightened, but it still didn't feel right to turn back around. So instead, Vince cleared his throat at Kelly.
"May I ask what you're looking at?" Vince asked archly. He nodded towards the direction Kelly was staring at, towards the nurse or specifically, at a part of the nurse's anatomy.
"W-what?" Kelly stammered.
"Chet," DeSoto rasped disapprovingly.
"Hey, I was just gonna see if she needed any help!"
Gage's mouth twisted into some form of a smile, but didn't comment as Kelly and DeSoto argued. He hunched down in the chair and stared at his slippers, looking a little lost.
"Why don't you two get the car around before I have to write a ticket to both of you for loitering?" Vince interrupted. He elbowed DeSoto out of the way and wrapped his hands around the handlebars. "I'll bring John out front. I want to make sure you two don't steal this."
The two stopped and at first they looked like they wanted to disagree but Gage gave them a weary wave. Vince watched as the two dragged their feet until they reached the entrance and veered out left for the car.
Gage breathed out. "I know what you want to say, Vince," Gage sighed wearily.
Vince stared down at the dark brown hair that hung in limp clumps. "Oh, you do, do you?" he said casually as he pushed the wheelchair slowly down the corridor.
"Wasn't your fault." Gage shrugged. "Wasn't Adams' fault either. Needle could have hit any one of us. Least we didn't have guns." Gage rubbed his palms on his jeans. "That would have made things worse."
"I am sorry though," Vince told the bowed head.
"And I'm sorry about Chet's elbow." Gage looked up at Vince before he dropped his head. "Still happened. No point brooding over it."
"You're a better man than me, Gage."
Gage snorted. "No, just tired. Too exhausting to think anymore about how everyone's sorry about everything. It was an accident. It's…it's over." He flinched when something else dropped behind them. He sucked in his breath.
"I just…" he gritted, "just wanna get past this." Gage labeled "this" with a jerky gesture of his hand. His shoulders slouched and he stared at his slippers again. "Doctors said it might be a few more days before everything clears out of my system." Gage turned his right hand in front of him; palm first towards him, then back.
"Right now things…" Gage dropped to a whisper. "Things are just a little too intense right now, you know?" He gave a self-deprecating laugh. "…Not sure what I'm seeing is real yet."
"Seeing isn't always believing."
Gage gave a short laugh. "I don't think that's how the saying goes."
"No," Vince agreed, "but I think it applies in this case."
Gage chuckled to himself. "Yeah, I suppose you're right, Vince."
They reached the entrance, at the top of the ramp. Vince sighed. The sun felt nice on his face. Judging by the tilt of Gage's face towards the sky, Gage agreed.
"Don't worry about me." Gage rubbed his palms on his jeans. "I'm gonna be fine, Vince."
Vince's mouth quirked as a station wagon drew up to the curb. DeSoto leapt out of the car before it completely stopped.
"Ah, ah, ah!" DeSoto warned as soon as he saw Gage try to stand up. "Get back in that chair, Johnny. Stay."
"Woof," Gage grumbled and growled when DeSoto gave him a "Good boy" and a pat on the head. He dropped back in the chair with a sullen face while DeSoto guided the wheelchair down the ramp, towards the backseat where Kelly sat, waiting. Sure enough, the bickering began again as soon as they sighted one another. The barbs tossed back and forth from inside the car to the outside like a tennis ball.
Vince watched as DeSoto took Gage by the elbow. Gage never protested as he walked like an old man towards the opened car door. DeSoto didn't comment when Gage grabbed a fistful of jacket to stay upright, didn't say anything when Gage halted and swayed. He stopped when Gage stopped, walked when Gage walked until the tiny distance was crossed at last and he eased Gage into the backseat. Vince gave DeSoto a nod when the paramedic looked up, over the top of the car towards him before ducking into the driver's seat.
"Yeah," Vince murmured as the station wagon pulled away. His mouth tugged at the corners and the knot in his chest loosened. "I think you're gonna be just fine, Gage."
Vince stayed until the sun became too warm on his skin and the station wagon was out of sight before he pivoted around and went back into Rampart to fetch his partner.
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