This one doesn't hint. There's a scene in here with
Just thought it was only fair to warn you.
Conquer The Past
By D. Kelley
Dr. Nathan leaned forward, elbows on knees. "Johnny, don't you think we need to discuss the things you've remembered?"
Johnny stared at the floor, as he had ever since Eric brought him out of the hypnosis. His eyes were dark and unblinking. "I'm tired," he repeated.
Roy chewed nervously on the inside of his cheek. He had seen his mercurial partner in many different moods in the last several years, but this was unfamiliar territory. Johnny usually either talked about his troubles, or talked about the fact that he wasn't going to talk, but he never looked desperate to avoid talking, as he did now.
Nathan was inclining his head, as if there was a chance of catching Johnny's gaze from where it was fixed on the floor. "You've only opened the door on your memory, Johnny," he said gently. "You'll probably find yourself remembering more now."
"You opened it," Johnny muttered.
Nathan leaned back in his chair. "You can blame me if it helps you, but I think you're going to find that you need to talk about this."
"I'm tired," the young man told the floor.
Nathan sighed. He picked up a card off the coffee table and fingered its edges. "Maybe you'll feel better by our appointment tomorrow, Johnny. Meanwhile, I'm going to give you my card. I want you to call me any time, day or night, if you need to talk." He held out the card within Johnny's line of sight, but the paramedic made no move to take it.
Nathan sighed again and handed it over to Roy. "Okay, Roy has it," he said. "I really think you should talk about this, Johnny. This is some pretty big stuff. It's not good to keep it all locked up inside you."
"Can we go, Roy?" Johnny asked quietly, not looking up.
Roy and Nathan exchanged worried glances. Nathan turned back to try one more time. "Johnny, can you do one thing for me? Can you--"
"Please, Roy," Johnny interrupted, his voice only slightly louder.
"Okay," Roy told him. He gave Dr. Nathan an apologetic look. "Joanne'll bring Johnny by at 10 tomorrow, Doc," he said firmly, more for Johnny's sake than Nathan's.
Johnny kept his eyes on the ground in front of him, carefully making his way to Roy's car. He got in without a word. Roy switched to chewing on his lower lip. In all the time they'd been partnered together, all the daredevil rescues his partner had leaped into, he had never made Roy more nervous than he was at present. Roy glanced surreptitiously at the passenger side of the sports car. Johnny was much too quiet.
"You okay?" Roy asked, turning on the entrance to the freeway.
There was at least another full minute of silence. Roy sighed, thinking he wasn't going to get an answer, and almost missed Johnny's quiet reply.
"I want to go home, Roy."
Roy nodded. That much he could do. "We'll be there soon."
Johnny shook his head. "My home, Roy. My apartment."
Roy fought to find the right words. "Johnny, you--"
"Just for a little while," Johnny interrupted.
The hopeless note of desperation in his voice got to Roy. He knew that if Johnny had turned to him, he wouldn't be able to withstand the look on his friend's face. "All right," he agreed, not looking. "For a little while."
Johnny continued staring out the window.
Roy turned off when they got to Johnny's exit, and made his way through the streets to the apartment building. When they pulled into a parking space, Roy noticed Johnny staring at his Rover, parked a few spaces over. Then Johnny was getting out, and Roy hurried to meet him at the curb, just in case the step threw off his balance.
The stairs up to the apartment were harder; Roy took Johnny's elbow and Johnny took the banister firmly in his other hand. He was slow and careful.
"You're getting good at this," Roy encouraged, hating the heavy silence between them.
Johnny didn't answer. Roy realized Johnny had not met his eyes once since Nathan's office.
Their slow progress was halted abruptly as they approached the apartment door, and Roy belatedly became aware that he was the only one carrying keys. He quickly fished his set out and unlocked the door. Johnny slipped through the open door, and Roy followed.
Johnny stood in the middle of the living room, glancing around. It had been six and a half weeks since he'd last been there. "Your landlady's been taking care of the place," Roy told Johnny. "She said you've done so much for her, fixing things around here, it's the least she could do."
Johnny nodded; the place was clean and well-aired. He glanced at the table, where the accumulating newspapers had been stacked. Roy had been picking up his mail after every shift.
Johnny turned part of the way back to Roy, eyes on the floor. "Roy, I need to be alone for a while," he said quietly.
Roy took a step closer, watching Johnny turn away. "I don't know if that's a good idea," he said softly.
Johnny moved away, over to the sliding glass door leading to his balcony, and gazed out through the glass. "Just for a little while," Roy heard him say.
"Johnny, if you fall--"
"Just an hour or two," the young man implored him. "Just let me be alone for a couple of hours, Roy." His voice cracked at the end, and Roy could see the tension straining Johnny's thin shoulders.
Roy had serious misgivings, but he couldn't deny Johnny's need. For the past six and a half weeks, he'd never been completely alone. And now, after that hypnosis--Roy nodded, though he knew Johnny wasn't looking. "All right," he agreed reluctantly. "I'll be out in my car. I'll be back in an hour or two." More like an hour, he thought to himself. He didn't think he could last much longer than that. He closed and locked the door behind him.
* * *
Johnny opened the blinds in his bedroom and pulled them up
completely out of the way. His apartment had western exposure, an important
asset in Johnny's mind at the time he'd been looking for an apartment. He much
preferred sunsets to sunrises.
The sun was just beginning to go down as he crossed to his bed, pulling up the light cover and laying down, still dressed. He kicked off his shoes and curled up on his side, looking out the window at the blue sky, decorated with red and orange and pink clouds where the sun was setting.
He felt numb; numb all over his body and mind, but with something boiling hot surging just below the numbness, wanting out. Johnny focused on the sunset. It was July, so it would probably last a while. Maybe until Roy came back. Johnny stared out the window, unfamiliar images floating around him in his mind's eye. He tried desperately to keep his thoughts solely on the sunset.
Her green eyes drew him in.
She was quiet, her subdued persona forced upon her in the same way his had been, and they understood each other like no one else could. The only warmth and comfort they knew came from each other. He was sitting on her lap on the porch, leaning back into her embrace, gazing down the lane, and contemplating their existence in curiously adult-like thoughts.
From an extraordinarily early age, he had known there were alternatives to this life. He had been there when one of the rez children had fallen while climbing a particularly large tree. He had examined the tree closely in the years that followed. He kept it in the back of his mind. It would be no trouble to climb; he was good at climbing trees. And then one slip, and you would fall a distance too great to survive.
But for the moment, he knew that just as she gave him some comfort in their life, he was her only reason for being as well. He needed to be here for her. She smiled only for him. She had become shy and distrustful of strangers, and increasingly frightened of her husband. He was scared too, scared all the time. They were trapped by circumstances he did not understand. He knew only that this was his life, and he had no control over it, or power to change it. He could only leave it, or he could stay, but every time he considered that question, he remembered how much she needed him.
He looked up into her beautiful green eyes, and she smiled at him. He smiled back, but even then, he knew the smile did not touch his eyes, just as hers did not.
Johnny started violently in his bed as he abruptly saw those eyes lifeless once again. He could still feel the horror he had felt then, at the moment he realized that despite the fact she was looking at him, she could no longer see him. Just like the boy from the tree. His eyes had been like the eyes of a doll, glass and lifeless.
* * *
Roy let himself in the apartment when Johnny failed to
answer his knock. Cursing himself for leaving Johnny alone, he entered urgently,
glancing around. He hurried down the hall to the bedroom.
The door was open, and Johnny was laying in the bed. Roy stood still for a moment, watching for movement. He told himself he was being irrational, that Johnny wouldn't do anything drastic. Nevertheless, he sighed with relief when he saw Johnny breathing.
Roy came into the room and around the bed. The blinds were pulled up to reveal a beautiful sunset just coming to an end. He looked from it to Johnny, laying on the bed under a light cover.
Johnny's eyes were open, although a little red, and he was gazing desolately out the window. Roy wondered what he should say.
He sat down on the edge of the bed next to Johnny and looked out the window as well. They stayed that way, Johnny laying down, Roy sitting, until the sunset was completely gone and the room was dark. After a while, Roy reached over to turn on the bedside lamp. He looked at Johnny. Johnny continued to gaze out the window, his eyes as dark as the night.
"I don't know what to say, Johnny," Roy admitted, breaking the long silence. "I want to help, but I don't know what to say. Will you talk to me?"
There was another long stretch of silence.
"There's nothing to say," Johnny said dully.
"I want to help," Roy repeated anxiously.
Johnny's eyes closed. The muscles in his face tightened. "I want it all to go away," he whispered. "All of it."
Roy agreed inwardly, but if he hadn't already known it, the events of the past few weeks had proven to him in no uncertain terms that life just wasn't fair. Johnny had been trapped in an extended nightmare for weeks. He searched his mind for the right words to say, but he only came up with cliches. "What doesn't kill us makes us stronger," he offered.
Johnny bit hard on his lower lip, then slowly released it. "It's killing me, Roy," he whispered.
Roy felt sick at heart, but he hardened it; he knew instinctively that wasn't what Johnny needed. "It's not," he said firmly. "You're alive. You're strong. You've been a survivor your whole life. You will survive this, too."
Johnny opened his eyes and looked doubtfully at Roy. "I feel like everything I ever knew--everything I thought I was--was just a lie."
Roy shook his head vehemently. "You are not a lie. You're a good, strong, honest, caring person. Nothing's changed."
"I've changed," Johnny contradicted. "I'm not what I thought I was."
"What did you think you were?" Roy asked.
Johnny closed his eyes. "John Gage," he answered with a darkly sarcastic hint of a smile. "Fearless Rescue Hero. Dashing Ladies' Man. The Amazing Adventurer."
Roy smiled. "That's not who you are; those are just roles you play."
Johnny's smile faded. "Now I find out I'm some little mouse, scared to death. Jumping at any little sound. Afraid to be seen. Afraid to do anything because it would upset--him." He said the word with distaste.
"That's not who you are, either," Roy replied. "That's who you were. And that scared little kid--who by the way, don't forget, had good reason to be scared--that scared little kid grew up into the man who's able to be the Fearless Rescue Hero, the Amazing Adventurer, better than most men I know. Maybe that's part of the reason why. Because that little kid was a lot stronger than you give him credit for."
Johnny was silent for another long minute. Then he opened his eyes again. "You left out Dashing Ladies' Man," he noted dispassionately.
Roy gave him a grin. "Well, I also left out Delirious Lunatic, didn't I?"
"Yes, Chet." Johnny's eyes went down again. "I don't know how to handle this, Roy," he confessed uneasily.
Roy nodded. "Well, I know this much," he said encouragingly. "You don't handle it alone. You've got a lot of people who are a part of your life, and you've always been there for them. Now let them be there for you. You've got Dr. Nathan, and a whole lot of friends who want to help in any way you'll let them. If you try to take this all on alone, Johnny, it's impossible, I agree. If you share the load with the people who want to be there for you, you can survive this. Better than survive. You'll be that much stronger. After all, how many people can live through all the things you've survived?"
Johnny smirked weakly. "If I hear one more 'nine lives' joke . . ."
Roy laughed. "You surpassed nine a long time ago. You're not a cat, you're something even luckier."
A flicker of emotions ran across Johnny's face.
"John Wapi," she intoned seriously, kissing the top of his head as he struggled to pull up some tough weeds in the vegetable garden. She only used both names when they were alone, since they sometimes got into trouble for using the English name. "John for my grandfather, who said he'd love me till the day he died--and he did," she smiled. "He was your great-grandfather. And Wapi was Grandfather Illipani's daddy. Grandfather said the name will bring you luck."
He'd long since stopped believing in luck, but he smiled anyway, because it made her smile. They both jumped at the summoning bellow from inside the house.
"What is it, Johnny?" Roy asked worriedly, seeing him start.
Johnny refocused on Roy. "My--my mother," he hesitated, feeling odd using the words for the first time since he was a young boy. "I just remembered: she told me--I used to have another name, Roy. They called me Wapi. It means lucky." He looked surprised.
Roy mirrored his surprise. "Well, see there?" he declared. "You are lucky."
The corner of Johnny's mouth turned up. "Depends on your definition of luck," he muttered. "There's all kinds of luck--" he broke off, another memory coming unbidden.
Illipani, showing him what plants were edible, and which he should not touch. "There is no such thing as unearned luck," he told the seven-year-old following him. "You make your own luck. Luck is in your head--what you think, how you prepare--and in how quickly you act. You must keep your mind and body sharp, Wapi. You must never fail to think when thought is called for. You must never fail to act when action is called for. Only the man who is thoughtful, prepared, and ready in all ways to do what must be done, will the spirits deem lucky."
Johnny blinked at Roy. "Huh?"
Roy eyed him nervously. "If you want to stay the night here, I'll call Joanne, and we'll stay," he offered.
Johnny looked longingly around his bedroom. "It'd be easier for you at your house," he hesitated.
Roy reached for the telephone and began dialing. "We'll stay," he decided.
* * *
Dixie pulled Dr. Brackett's office door closed and took the seat the men had left open for her. Dr. Nathan was seated in the other chair, and Roy was leaning against the shelves, in the meeting for as long as the squad remained available. Brackett was already seated behind his desk. "Thanks for waiting," she told the men.
Nathan smiled at her. "It was no problem, Dixie. I was just telling Kelly and Roy that I would normally hold this conference with a patient's family, but in this case, I think it would be better to talk to the three of you. Of course, ideally, Joanne would be here," he shrugged, "but she's with Johnny, and right now, we don't know how he'd take the idea of a conference without him."
"I'm a little uneasy about it myself," Roy told him.
Nathan nodded. "It's perfectly understandable. The problem is, however, that both I and Johnny need to be working with the people who best know him. And at the present time, the three of you, and Joanne, are the ones who know the most. You four and I have to know the facts in order to best support Johnny and help him to get a handle on his past."
Nathan glanced at a small notebook he held, then looked back up. "I know you all have been talking to each other, so I'm going to assume you're all pretty much on the same page as far as what you know so far." Roy noticed Nathan using the word 'you' instead of 'we,' and realized the doctor must have found out something. He and Nathan had discussed the possibility of trying to find Rosie Two Feathers, the woman Johnny had named as his next-door-neighbor when he still lived with his parents.
No one disagreed on their level of knowledge about Johnny, so Nathan continued. He leaned back in his chair. "I have a friend who is a private detective," he confessed quietly. "He owes me some favors. I asked him to see what he could find out about Johnny's past."
Roy noticed that Dixie and Brackett both seemed a little uneasy as well, but they all realized the necessity. In order to help Johnny deal with and accept the past, they needed to know the full story. Nathan rubbed his chin.
"Well, the first thing he found out is that there has never been a John Gage in Montana," Nathan said ruefully. "We didn't ask him his name when he was hypnotized. It turns out--"
"He told me his first name," Roy blurted suddenly, remembering. "He said they called him Wapi."
Nathan nodded. "John Wapi Summer Sky," he agreed. "And my friend wouldn't have found him were it not for the fact that Johnny legally changed his name when he was 18, after he moved with his aunt and uncle to a bigger ranch in California. My guess is he repressed the memory of his old name too, trying to cut all ties to his past. But then again, he had been using the name John since he was 11, and that was also, coincidentally, when his aunt had married Joseph Gage."
Nathan glanced at his notebook again. "After he had the correct name, my friend found something very interesting." He looked around at their faces. "Apparently the Sheriff's Office in Lame Deer has been trying to track Johnny down."
"What?" Dixie gasped.
Nathan took in her gasp and Roy's immediate defensive stance. Even Brackett looked stormy. "It could be anything," he hurried to explain. "It could be an unpaid parking ticket, or an old IRS misunderstanding from his first job. They wouldn't say. They did say there's no warrant out for him--I'm sorry if I gave you the idea it was something else."
"You didn't give us the idea," Brackett told him stiffly. "We were just surprised that someone might think Johnny was wanted by the law."
"I'm sorry," Nathan apologized. "I really didn't mean it like that. Anyway, my friend agreed to go through official channels to find out what they want Johnny for."
Roy glanced down at the radio on his hip. He wondered how much longer he could expect it to stay quiet.
"Carl--that's my detective friend," Nathan told them, "Carl found the name Summer Sky in the court records a number of times. Record searches are a long and tedious process, he tells me, but he found records of a Patamon Summer Sky being charged with murder, attempted murder, and reckless endangerment of a minor. Plus a whole slew of drunk and disorderlies."
Dixie felt the words sinking into her bones, making the suspected truth, no matter how likely it had appeared before, the absolute truth. She wished there was a way to make it not so. Dixie could see in Roy's face that he felt the same way.
"Has he checked the newspaper archives?" Brackett asked Nathan pointedly.
"That's next," Nathan replied. "The newspaper articles, especially on a case like this, usually flush out more of the details than the court records, which are very cut and dry. He's also going to try and locate the neighbor Johnny mentioned. Carl said he'd have some answers for us in a few days."
"Johnny'll be back here the day after tomorrow," Dixie murmured.
"The ear surgery," Nathan recalled from one of Johnny's sessions, wincing. "He's uh, really not looking forward to it." The tone in his voice made it plain that the doctor wouldn't have been too happy about it either.
Brackett looked up at his senior paramedic. "How's he doing, Roy?" His years of experience had taught him that attitude and emotional status could affect the way a patient responded, and healed.
"He's down," Roy admitted. "Really down. He doesn't talk much."
Nathan nodded. "We have to be very careful in how we are around Johnny. It's important that you don't treat him much differently than you would normally. He feels right now like his foundation's been ripped from under him. In your interaction with him, you need to let him know that he's still the same person he was two months ago. He's afraid that integrating this new information makes him a different person, weaker somehow."
"That's silly," Dixie responded. Roy spoke up at the same time.
"Well, he'll get that tomorrow." He grimaced.
They looked at Roy's somewhat queasy expression. "What's tomorrow?" Bracket prompted.
Roy faltered, trying to smile. "Uh, well, um, Jennifer's got a dance recital tomorrow at 2. Johnny doesn't want to go out, and Chet wanted to visit, so . . ." He trailed off, shrugging at Brackett's and Dixie's chuckle.
Nathan flipped through his notes of the sessions he'd had with Johnny. "Chet," he mused, then his hands stopped. He looked up. "Not 'the Phantom'?"
"Yeah," Roy said sheepishly.
Nathan gave a weak smile. "Well, Johnny did say Chet's not a bad guy," he said tentatively, looking for confirmation.
"Way down deep," Brackett told him, smiling darkly. He'd once gotten caught in a hospital room by a water bomb intended for Johnny, who at the time, once again, had been his patient. If he could have pinned anyone down to admitting it had been Chet, he would have pressed charges--or at the very least, made Chet think he would. For a long time. As it was, Chet was only welcome around Brackett under dire circumstances.
"Do you trust him?" Nathan asked.
Dixie laughed. "Trust? Well, I don't know about trust, doctor, but if you want Johnny to get the treatment he normally gets, Chet is sure to give it to him."
* * *
Johnny stood before Joanne's kitchen cupboard, holding on to the counter for balance, dripping an unnaturally sweet liquid all over the floor. He felt his balance return completely about the same time control over his temper did. He tasted the fluid bathing his face, and nodded. "7-Up," he said to no one in particular.
"Had to make do with what was at hand," Kelly boasted as Johnny turned toward the entrance to the living room.
Johnny stared at him just long enough to make the Irishman's tiny little conscience rise up. "Oh, come on, Gage, it's just a joke," he whined.
Kelly stepped closer. "Gage, you gotta lighten up," he blustered. "Now, since I've been here, you haven't put together more than five words. This is a wake-up call. You should thank me; I'm helping you relax."
"Relax?" Johnny growled.
Chet sighed and grabbed a towel. "Yeah," he retorted, tossing it over. It fell to the ground unheeded. "Well, catch it," he coached sarcastically.
Johnny tilted his head. "Re--flexes," he reminded Chet in a mock-patient, you're a moron tone of voice. Chet sighed again and crossed the room. He bent to snatch up the towel from the floor.
"Fine," he muttered. As he began to straighten up his conscience got the better of him. "Look, Gage, I'm sor--"
The rare apology was cut off by the arm that caught him by surprise, locked around his neck, and pulled him lurchingly the step or two to the sink. Before he knew it, the spout was over his head and water was pouring through his hair. "Hey!" It took him a surprisingly long moment to wriggle free, by which time a good portion of his hair and shirt were drenched.
Johnny giggled and gave into the loss of balance that had started when he'd grabbed Chet and tried to control another body in addition to his own. He slid down the cabinets to the floor. "You were saying?" he laughed.
Kelly growled and shook his head like a dog, flinging water all over Johnny and the kitchen floor. It only got him another laugh.
"I got you good," Johnny declared.
Chet grabbed the towel he'd dropped and wiped at his hair and shirt with exaggerated motions. "It was lame," he retorted.
"You weren't expecting it!" Johnny grinned.
"Of course not," Chet replied self-righteously. "I never dreamed you would take advantage of your own infirmity," he finished, summoning up his best 'wounded' expression.
He got another laugh. "You were willing to take advantage of it!" Johnny countered, well-pleased with himself.
Chet gave in and offered a hand to help Johnny to his feet. Johnny made a show of checking his palm for a joy buzzer before taking it. Chet rolled his eyes and sighed sufferingly.
Before the pizza they ordered arrived, Chet managed to get Johnny with one more well-placed bomb, this time filled with Pepsi. Johnny used Chet's bathroom break wisely to lift the cheese off the Irishman's pizza, smear red hot chili sauce in, and then replace the cheese.
Chet wiped the tears away from his face with a napkin after drinking nearly a pitcher of water. "The Great Beyond seems to have inspired you," he gasped.
Johnny pushed a sticky lock of hair up off his forehead. "Maybe," he agreed. "Maybe the Phantom should watch out."
"The Phantom knows no fear," Chet informed him disdainfully.
Johnny held up the next slice. "More pizza?" he asked innocently.
* * *
Roy walked Chet out to his car. Johnny had gone to take a shower, and then to a much needed rest, worn out from the baseball game he and Chet had cheered on.
"I probably don't want to know why his hair looks all sticky and clumpy, do I?" Roy asked, more as a statement.
"Or why Joanne hates me right now," Chet smirked. "I really did clean it up."
Roy smiled. "It's never clean enough for Joanne. And when some fool tells us there were soda bombs going off in her kitchen, it's really never going to be clean enough for her."
"I got a reputation to maintain. What good's a practical joke if no one knows you did it"? Chet grumbled, unlocking his car.
Roy leaned on Chet's door after the firefighter got in. "How'd he seem?" Roy asked hesitantly.
Chet's face took on the look of concern he only got when Johnny couldn't see it. "He was real quiet at first," he reported. "Which we know is very unnatural for Gage. But he got better as the night went on. It seemed like old times at the end--right before he dozed off," Kelly grinned.
Roy nodded, relieved. Chet put his key in the ignition, but stopped short of turning it. He looked back up at Roy. "There's something you're not telling us, isn't there? Is Johnny going to be okay?"
Roy smiled at him reassuringly. "He's going to be fine." He felt more like that might be the truth than he had in a while. Chet gave him an unsettled nod and didn't press the issue.
* * *
Dixie pulled the covers up around Johnny's shoulders as the
transporters left from having transferred Johnny back into his regular room. She
patted his hair and smoothed it off his forehead. Johnny mumbled, eyes closed,
caught in the hazy world of anesthesia wearing off.
"The worst is over," Dixie murmured to the young man, knowing that laying on his side with his good ear against the pillow, Johnny probably couldn't hear her--even if he was fully conscious. She checked the bandages wrapped around his head, which were holding a large pad of bandages against his left ear and jaw. They made quite a lump, as Johnny's ear was swollen terribly. The otolaryngology surgeon had told them it would take up to six weeks before all the internal swelling went down enough for them to know how successful the surgery had been. The self-dissolving packing material inside his ear would also take up to six weeks to dissolve completely. However, the surgeon was predicting 85 to 95% hearing recovery.
Dixie gently touched the hair peaking out from a corner of the bandage above Johnny's ear. The small patch was part of a portion they'd had to shave in order to remove melted sunglasses plastic after the lightning strike. The hair had grown back a little over half an inch since then. "It's a good thing you're such a handsome devil," she remarked lightly, putting a pillow in front of the young man and pulling his upper arm over it in an attempt to make him more comfortable. "An ugly man would have a hard time pulling this look off," she teased.
Roy stuck his head inside the door. "Can we come in?" He was followed by Hank Stanley.
"Sure," Dixie said quietly. "He's kind of out of it, but you can come on in." She made way for the two men.
Stanley pulled up a chair as Roy checked on Johnny's IV and bandages. The captain smiled knowingly at Dixie. They'd seen Roy worry over Johnny too many times. "When will he be coming out of it?" Stanley asked the nurse.
"Well, he's semi-conscious now," Dixie's hand waved in a 'so-so' motion. There was a low moan from the bed. "Enough to know it hurts," she smiled, stepping up to adjust the morphine push.
Dixie met Roy's eyes. "You can give him a push every 15 minutes," she instructed, indicating the small medication pump attached to Johnny's IV. She knew her instructions were unnecessary, but habit was hard to fight. "Not more than every 15 minutes."
Roy nodded mechanically; it was old hat. He wished it wasn't.
* * *
Johnny drifted. There'd been pain a minute ago, but he was
floating now. He recognized the feeling. His mind floated on soft, fuzzy clouds.
He heard voices in his head, and focused hazily.
A little voice, familiar, close. Old thoughts running through his head. A desire to know. He knew Illipani was his grandfather, but shouldn't he have another grandfather too? He had asked her about it once.
"My daddy's not like Grandfather," she told him sadly. Grandfather Illipani was good to them both and he felt safe with Grandfather. Grandfather loved him, and loved his mama as much as his own daughter. He was always telling them that 'Family is not about blood. Family is a tie, from your heart to mine.'
Wapi was curious though, about this other grandfather, the one he'd never met. "Doesn't he love you?"
She gave him that sad smile again. "He's angry with me," she confided. "He didn't want me to--to marry your daddy."
He understood this perfectly; he wished she hadn't either, but he didn't say so. Grandfather had told him that you cannot change the past, so there's no sense in wishing you could.
"So I came here," she continued. "And Illipani took me in, and I married your daddy, and then a little while later, you came along."
He wished she hadn't married papa; he couldn't understand why she would want to. "Why did you want to get married?" he asked, trying to figure out what could have driven her into this situation.
Her arms tightened around him, but loosened on their own after a moment. "Your daddy was so sweet to me when we were in high school," she told him wistfully. "He was 17, and two whole years older than me. All the girls liked him, but he picked me to be his girlfriend. I was very happy."
He couldn't imagine that. He never felt happy around papa. He could sense there was a missing piece of the puzzle here, something she wasn't telling him.
"But why did you get married?" he asked.
The long pause told him she was thinking of the right answer. "I loved your daddy. And when two people love each other, well, sometimes they have to get married."
"Well, that's what you do when you love someone." He felt her shrug. "And Illipani helped your daddy and me to get married, and got us this house, and found daddy a job."
He craned his neck to look up at her. "Did Grandfather Illipani want you to get married?" It was unthinkable.
"That's what people do when they fall in love," she restated vaguely.
He let it go; he couldn't imagine it, and she didn't seem able to give him an explanation he could comprehend. "How was papa sweet to you?" he asked, trying a different line of questioning.
He could hear the smile in her voice, remembering happy times. "He wanted to be with me. He asked me to all the dances, and we used to have such a good time. He loved me--" she fell silent, and he understood why.
He couldn't imagine Patamon showing anyone love. He couldn't remember a time when papa had been loving, not to him, not to her, not to anyone. If papa had loved her then, he surely didn't now. Papa didn't like family life much and wasn't quiet about it. He made no bones about the fact that he would have been a lot better off without Nora and Wapi. Particularly Wapi.
Johnny jerked to awareness. "I hate that name," he heard himself mutter.
Roy was there, Johnny knew it before his friend stood beside the bed. "Lay still," Roy told him calmly. The fuzzy quality of the words forced Johnny to focus.
"Oh, man," he moaned, realizing where he was. His ear hurt like hell. "Well, how'd it go?" he sighed.
"Real well," Roy answered, speaking up so Johnny could hear him, since his good ear was on the pillow, muffling sound. "They've got you packed up good. Can you hear me okay?"
"Yeah," Johnny answered, glad to see Roy pushing the morphine pump. "Tell them they left the knife in," he complained.
Roy laughed. "Cap was here until a little while ago," he informed his friend. "He'll be sorry he missed you--we were starting to think you weren't going to wake up until tomorrow. So tell me, what name is it you hate?"
"Huh?" Johnny remembered his dream. "Oh. Wapi. I hate it."
"Why?" Roy asked, pulling up his chair.
Johnny wrapped his arms around the pillow someone had placed at his chest. "I don't know," he shrugged, wincing at the pull on his jaw. He resolved not to move his upper body any more.
Roy was looking at him expectantly. Johnny sighed. "It's from then," he answered. "He used to call me that. He never wanted me to be called John. That was the name my mother wanted."
Roy nodded, understanding. "So--" He stopped short as the door to the room opened and Chet stuck his head in.
"You're awake?" He pushed open the door and entered, followed by Marco and Mike.
"Hey, Johnny!" The men gathered around the bed.
Chet sat on the edge, whistling at Johnny's bandaged head. "Roy, you better keep the kids away. Johnny'll scare 'em looking like this."
"Shut up, you twit," Mike muttered. "You look fine, Johnny," he said loudly, knowing they had to speak up.
"Yeah, don't listen to Chet," Marco put in. "How are you feeling?" He put a plant on the bedside table.
Johnny smiled and admired the gift. "Well, much as I hate to admit it, Chet's probably right."
They all ignored Chet. "And now that the morphine's kicking in, I don't feel too bad for the moment," Johnny grinned.
"Well, we've been missing you at the station," Marco told him.
"But not as much as Roy," Chet snickered. "He ended up with Brice again."
Johnny winced and glanced at Roy. "Well, then, I don't know which of us is in more pain," he said mischievously.
"Brice will be," Mike declared, surprising the guys, "if he tries to tell me again the proper way to make spaghetti."
They laughed at the unexpected vehemence from the normally placid engineer.
* * *
Roy saw the group of police officers clustered in a spot on Rampart's parking lot, but didn't spare them much thought. It wasn't uncommon to see police officers at the hospital, regardless of the numbers.
Roy hummed happily as he entered Rampart Hospital. It had been six days, and Johnny was ready for discharge again. His balance had suffered a setback, as they had expected, but already Johnny was recovering lost ground. With the surgery behind him, everyone felt that Johnny was now firmly on the road to full recovery. Hopefully, there would be no more setbacks. Roy took the stairs up to Johnny's floor. He hoped Dixie and the doctors would come to say goodbye to Johnny. He wanted to talk to them about a barbecue he and Joanne were planning. They were going to have the guys from the station as well.
His smile faded as he walked down the hall toward Johnny's room. There were far too many people clustered outside the door. Roy recognized Dr. Nathan talking with Dixie and Dr. Brackett. Hospital security officers and more policemen were coming and going from Johnny's room. Everyone had somber looks on their faces. Dr. Brackett was looking at a medical chart, and Roy could see from its color that it wasn't a Rampart Hospital chart. He joined them with his heart in his throat, recalling the cluster of police in the parking lot.
Dixie saw him coming and quickly took his arm. "Let's all go to the lounge," she suggested to the men.
Roy resisted, wanting to see what was going on in Johnny's room. "What happened?" he demanded. He pulled out of Dixie's grasp.
Dr. Brackett stopped him from going in Johnny's room. "He's not there," he told Roy quickly. "Dixie's right, Roy, let's go to the lounge."
Roy pushed around him and stepped to the doorway, where a police officer stopped him. "Sir, this is a crime scene--"
Roy couldn't hear the rest of the officer's words over the pounding rush of blood in his ears. Johnny was not in the room, as Brackett had said. But the room was far from empty. There were police officers all over it, dusting for fingerprints, vacuuming with a small hand-held vacuum, photographing. The bed covers were laying on the floor and the mattress was slightly crooked on the bed. A chair where Johnny's suitcase had sat was knocked over, and the contents of the open suitcases had spilled on the floor when the case fell. The bedside table had been shoved against the wall. Its water glass had tipped and water dripped from the table to the floor. The plant that had been standing on the table was broken on the floor as well.
Brackett and Nathan pulled him back from the room. "What happened?" he demanded again.
"Let's go down to the lounge," Brackett repeated.
"Where is he?" Roy shouted, ignoring the looks he got up and down the hall.
"We don't know, Roy," Nathan told him hurriedly. "He isn't here. Come down to the lounge and we'll tell you all we know. We need to sit down. The police can handle this here."
Roy followed, and they hurried down the hall to the floor's staff lounge. Brackett immediately emptied the room of the few residents and nurses in it. They sat down at the large table.
"What happened?" Roy repeated tightly. "Where's Johnny?"
"He's missing," Brackett answered. "He was here at 1:30 when the nurse went over discharge instructions with him. 5 minutes later when we came up to see him, he was gone."
Roy gaped. "What--what--"
Nathan held up a hand. "Roy, let me start at the beginning. We found out some more information. Carl talked to Johnny's old neighbor, and got several newspaper articles. He shipped out a report and copies of the articles," he paused and pulled some papers out of his pocket, "I got them this morning. Before I had a chance to tell any of you, Carl called me."
Nathan slid the papers across to Roy, who only glanced at them, wanting the rest of the story. "I had express-mailed to Carl the release Johnny gave me. With that, he was able to get Johnny's medical records, and the Lame Deer Sheriff's Office told him what they wanted Johnny for."
Roy realized peripherally that the medical chart Brackett held must be the records Carl had gotten.
"He wasn't in any trouble," Nathan continued. "Well, not legal trouble. They had wanted to inform the young man they only knew as Wapi Summer Sky that his father had broken parole. He was released from prison several months ago, but he only just broke parole a couple of weeks ago. They put a warrant out for him, but no one's been able to find him yet."
"When we heard that, we called Security to meet us in Johnny's room immediately," Brackett told Roy. "But when we got up there, we found that Johnny was gone."
"Oh, God," Roy breathed.
"We've looked everywhere," Dixie told him unhappily. "I called you right away, but Joanne said you had already left."
"Security's questioning a woman right now," Brackett added. "They think she saw Johnny being abducted."
* * *
Roy stayed at the hospital; the search for Johnny seemed to be headquartering there for now. When Dr. Brackett and Dixie were called away to talk with the police again, Nathan filled Roy in on his detective friend's findings.
Roy wished he hadn't heard. The truth was worse than he had imagined. Rosie Two Feathers had confirmed that Patamon had beaten his wife and child on a regular basis. Like the other neighbors, she'd never said anything to the police prior to the last day because it wasn't her place to do so, she'd felt. The detective had gotten dates from her, though. She remembered very vividly the day the police had swarmed all over the next door house. She was inordinately proud of herself for finally making a call on what turned out to be the day Patamon had really gone and killed somebody.
The police and ambulance people had found the child hidden in the kitchen, beaten nearly to death. The detective hadn't had to go looking at newspaper archives. The old woman kept the newspaper clippings of the most sensational thing ever to occur in her little sphere of existence.
Roy had read over the copies of those articles with growing nausea. Nora Taylor, married at age 15 to a 17-year-old Patamon Summer Sky, had delivered her one and only child barely half a year later, at the age of 16. Acquaintances later claimed seeing her and the boy with assorted bruises, continually, for the span of ten years.
The articles belatedly detailed the abuse the girl and her child had suffered while neighbors looked the other way. An unnamed employee of the reservation clinic had confirmed unofficially that both mother and son had been treated there repeatedly. The boy, in particular, had suffered frequent suspicious bruising and a few odd breaks, but the clinic saw cases like that all the time. No one said much, unofficially considering domestic problems to be above the realm of the law.
Roy fingered one page which detailed the last injuries the two had suffered at Patamon's hands. The girl had been beaten to death with bare fists. The article reported that Patamon, in the prime of his late 20s, was a huge man, six foot five, weighing 300 pounds, most of it muscle, from a hard job in manual labor. Nora had been a full foot shorter. Her husband had beaten her until her internal injuries were too great to sustain life. And then--
Roy closed his eyes, unable to comprehend. How could a father hurt his own child? How could a man that big take on such a small child, beating him senseless and leaving him for dead? They had found Johnny wedged into a small space under the kitchen sink, where he had crawled to be less accessible. Having slipped into a coma, he had been taken to the City hospital, his injuries far beyond what the reservation clinic could do for him.
Dr. Brackett had left the medical chart with him. They had all been appalled at the record of escalating abuse they found there. Roy knew that people were a little more enlightened in the 70s than they had been when Johnny was a child, but surely someone had to have objected to what was plainly going on. Roy rifled the papers and pulled out one of the articles. He found the reference he had suddenly thought of, a little sideline remark in one of the newspapers. Johnny's grandfather had been reported missing some months before the incident which had finally landed Patamon in prison. The newspaper reporter was obviously suggesting a connection, though there was no information on the disappearance whatsoever. Roy felt a chill, remembering Johnny under hypnosis, talking about a fight his father and grandfather had. Johnny's grandfather had objected.
And then the old man went missing. Roy shuddered and put his head in his hands, hoping Johnny was at present anywhere but where they thought he was.
* * *
Johnny fought to stay calm as the car slowed further. The dizziness had overwhelmed him as he lay in the dark trunk, but a measure of balance returned as the car finally stopped. Johnny wished it hadn't; the car stopping meant he would have to deal with Patamon again.
He didn't want to think of the man as 'papa.' 'Papa' seemed like far too nice a term; and Johnny realized he'd never been fully comfortable with it, even as a child. He made himself think of the man as Patamon.
Johnny was astonished to discover the man was as big as his memories told him; he had known that Patamon would seem big because the last time they'd been together Johnny had been a child. The current Patamon was every bit as big as he remembered, though. Johnny had been nearly dumbfounded with shock when the big man appeared in his hospital room. Locked in the trunk of the car, Johnny had time to realize that he had never considered the possibility that Patamon was still out there somewhere, alive. Like with his memories, he had looked the other way. He kicked himself mentally for hiding like a child, thinking that if he couldn't see the past, the past could not see him.
The second big realization Johnny had come to was the understanding that Patamon was not the brightest of men. In his early childhood, Patamon had seemed omniscient, always one step ahead of him. Belatedly he made himself understand that had only been because he had been a small child. As an adult, he could see that Patamon was not all-knowing and invincible. Although Patamon had found out, apparently, that Johnny was at Rampart having ear surgery, he made no connection between the bandages over Johnny's ear and the fact that Johnny had trouble maintaining his balance. His lack of comprehension, coupled with Johnny's attempts to flee the big hands reaching for him, had knocked several items in the hospital room to the floor. Finally, Patamon had swung a beefy fist into Johnny's stomach, knocking the wind out of him. He found himself dazed to the point where Patamon had little trouble walking him out of the room. He was too busy trying to breathe and stay conscious.
In Rampart's parking lot, Johnny had all he could do to fight the vertigo and keep from throwing up as Patamon half walked/half dragged him to a beat-up old car parked close by. He found himself shoved into the trunk before he could even register his surprise. Where is everybody? he thought in distress. Didn't anybody see that?
Then they were moving, and Johnny flattened himself against the floor of the trunk, trying as best he could to protect his well-bandaged ear. The dizziness caused by the rough movement of the old car was overwhelming. His fingers searched the floor in a frantic effort to find something he could hold on to. That was when he had found the tire iron, and given thanks that his father really wasn't the brightest of men.
* * *
"They've got a license plate number," Dixie told Roy breathlessly, hurrying back into the lounge. "A woman saw him take Johnny. She was talking to an employee about it at the same time we went to Johnny's room."
Roy handed her a cup of coffee. "What do the police say?"
"They're running it now," Dixie answered. "And they've got an APB out on the car. Somebody will see it, Roy, I know they will."
Roy sat down across from her. "In time?" he asked quietly.
* * *
Johnny clutched the iron as tightly as possible as he heard the car door close and steps crunch their way to the back of the car. He cradled his body over it, knowing that in his current condition, he might only get one chance. If he failed, he knew what Patamon would do with the iron.
He's going to try to kill me, Johnny reasoned. He didn't want to hurt anyone, but he knew why Patamon had come. He thought wryly about the timing of his returning memories. He only left that day because he thought we were both dead, Johnny knew. And now he's going to finish the job. He didn't have time to wonder again why Patamon hated him so much. The key was going in the trunk.
Johnny squinted in the sunlight, and then Patamon leaned over, blocking the sun. Rough hands grabbed his arm, and Johnny swung the tire iron with all the strength he could muster, praying that his years of playing baseball would not desert him now. He felt, rather than saw, the tire iron connect with a satisfying crack that reverberated down the iron and up to his shoulder. Johnny didn't mind. There was an immediate roar of pain and the figure looming over him was gone. Johnny knew he didn't have long, and pulled himself out of the trunk.
He fell to the ground, and the first thing he saw was the cause of the continued bellows, Patamon writhing on the ground a few feet away, clutching his head. Johnny saw blood flowing from the temple.
Head wounds bleed a lot, Johnny told himself, hurrying as best he could to his feet. And he's still conscious. It won't keep him down long.
Throwing a quick glance around, Johnny almost despaired. They were in a densely wooded area, the only sign of civilization being the dirty gravel road dissecting the thick growth of trees. There was nothing visible in either direction. The road would provide no protection. Johnny gripped the tire arm fiercely and looked down at Patamon. The bellow had changed to a moan.
He turned to leave and took the first step, but fell flat on his face. Johnny felt his heart leap into his throat at the feeling of the huge hand wrapped around his ankle. He was dragged backward, scraping the length of his arms in the dirt and gravel. He almost lost the tire iron for a moment, maintaining his grasp with only his fingertips.
An elbow came down on his thigh as Patamon leaned on him, pinning Johnny with his weight. A blow fell on his lower back that Johnny knew would have him urinating blood for a while. He bit his tongue trying to keep from crying out. He didn't want to give the man the satisfaction. Hearing Patamon grunt in preparation for another hard swing, Johnny twisted under the big man's weight to lay on his back, using the momentum to add strength to his swing of the tire iron. It glanced off Patamon's shoulder as if it were nothing.
Johnny knew it had hurt though, because Patamon's eyes became even more furious. "You son of a bitch!" he roared, and Johnny could see the outrage that his own child would hurt him. He plucked the tire iron out of Johnny's tiring hand as if it were a child's baton. Johnny threw up his arms to block the frenzied swing that was aimed for his head. There was a loud crack as the iron connected with his left arm, and this time Johnny couldn't stop the cry that escaped him.
Patamon threw the tire iron aside and straddled him, hands closing around Johnny's neck. Johnny fought for breath, his mind racing. Think, think! he commanded himself. He was amazed at the thoughts running through his mind. He snatched onto one; a self-defense class he'd helped teach once, showing women that being smaller or weaker didn't mean defeat. He found himself wincing in advance despite the fact that he couldn't breathe. He bunched his leg muscles and kicked his thigh up as hard as he could, his bony leg making very good contact with the softest flesh on Patamon's body.
Screaming in pain and rage, the huge man fell off him, curling up in the dirt. Johnny gasped for air, pulling himself away by his good hand and knees. As he recovered his breath, he struggled to regain his feet. He picked up the tire iron from where Patamon had thrown it and looked back down at the man moaning on the ground. For a moment, he was tempted to use it again, but then he shook his head. He had enough on his plate; he didn't want to live with that as well.
An old voice from the past echoed in Johnny's head, and he knew Illipani would have approved. Hide in the woods from the enemy! he could remember the old man instructing. He didn't think twice about it. Cradling his left arm, bracing it against the tire iron, he fought down the pain, and hurried off into the trees as fast as he could go while still maintaining his footing. The ground was uneven, and Johnny knew he wouldn't get far. His balance and waning strength were no match for Patamon, tire iron or not.
* * *
The police were temporarily set up in a private lounge at Rampart, and Roy had pressed for admittance, followed one at a time by the rest of the guys from 51's A Shift, as each arrived to show support. It seemed like not much was being done, other than a lot of talking on the telephones.
"Aren't they going to do anything?" Chet whispered angrily.
"Chet!" Marco hissed. "You want to get us thrown out of here?"
"But they're not doing anything," the Irishman complained.
"They are," Stanley told them firmly. "Right now, they're getting the word out everywhere they can to keep an eye out for that car." The license plate revealed the car had been stolen, and the owner gave a full description of the car to the police.
"Yeah," Mike agreed. "They can radio their own guys, but there's a thousand other places they have to call by phone."
"And this is where the evidence is," Roy added. "The detectives are going over Johnny's room and the parking lot now. They'll be back at their precinct soon enough. If they hear something, this is our best chance of knowing about it."
As if on cue, one of the officers signaled to his superior. The room grew hushed immediately.
"Yes, sir," the officer said into the phone, writing furiously. "Yes. Yes. No, don't go back up there. We'll be sending police officers up to you right away and then you can show them the place. Right. Thank you very much."
The man looked up at his superior. "Ranger checking poaching report," he said in verbal shorthand, showing the man his notes. "Found an abandoned car on the service road. License plates match. Ranger said there was blood near the car."
The superior looked over to see all five men from 51 standing behind him. He turned back to the officer. "Contact 89 and tell them to send out a couple of patrols. Advise them of the situation. They are only to intercede if the hostage is in danger. Otherwise they're just on reconnaissance. Tell them we're on our way."
"Of course he's in danger!" Roy exploded.
The superior turned around. "We don't know if the suspect is armed, or whether or not sending in uniforms will further endanger your friend, or my men," he told the firefighters matter-of-factly. "They'll intercede if it's necessary. But if it can wait for us to arrive, I'd rather the more experienced, better informed officers handle the situation. Now, gentlemen, if you'll excuse me, we need to get out there." He pushed past them to join the other officers filing out of the room.
Roy gaped, and then looked over at Stanley, who nodded darkly. They hurried after the police officers, followed by the rest of the guys. As they passed the nurses' station, Roy noted Dixie and Dr. Brackett hurriedly grabbing boxes.
Out on the parking lot, the police captain noticed the following firefighters. He turned around to face them. "I'm going to need you men to stay here," he ordered roughly.
"Like hell," Stanley retorted. "That's one of my men out there, and we're coming." The other men bunched up around him, echoing their agreement.
"This could be a highly dangerous situation," the police captain argued. "I--"
"Tell us something we don't know," Chet rebutted angrily. "We're coming."
"Look," Roy said quickly, hating that they were wasting precious time, "somebody there needs medical attention. You heard--somebody there is bleeding."
The police captain was quickly losing his patience. "I can't allow civilians--"
A station wagon peeled up to them, its back compartment loaded with a familiar orange box, trauma box, folding stretcher, and other medical supplies. Dixie rolled down her window. "We're coming," she informed the officer in a tone that brooked no argument. "These men are trained professionals who rescue people every day. Roy DeSoto's a paramedic, I'm a nurse, and the hostage just had surgery. Now, are we going to get this show on the road or am I going to have to tell Chief Mason, a personal friend of mine I might add, how you single-handedly delayed the rescue and treatment of one of the finest paramedics in this city?"
The officer sputtered, grew red in the face almost instantaneously, and threw up his hands. "I'm not responsible for you keeping up," he growled, hurrying into the waiting police car. The men from 51 climbed quickly into Dixie's car.
"Oh, we'll keep up," Dixie muttered darkly. "Hang on, fellas, I think you're in for some ride!"
* * *
Johnny took a wrong step and his foot turned slightly. The shift in balance was too much for him to compensate, and he fell hard, rolling down a steep incline. He gasped at the explosion of pain in his arm, barely noticing the impact of several saplings along the way, or that he scraped a good chunk of skin off his back as his t-shirt rode up. He finally hit the bottom of the ravine and lay still, trying to recover his breath. After a minute, he forced himself to his knees, and crawled up the other side of the wide ditch, and back to the trees. He grabbed a tree trunk with his good hand to help himself regain his feet.
You must find a place to hide, he remembered his grandfather telling him when he was small. When the enemy is after you, you must find a place to hide. I will show you. He remembered the way Illipani had shown him how to use the foliage to cover himself, but he knew he was too big now to hide in that way. The other way Illipani had told him to hide in the woods--
Johnny examined the trees carefully as he staggered through them. Although he was bruised and scraped from head to toe from having fallen so many times, it was difficult to feel anything over the throbbing in his arm. He had tried to cushion it each time he fell, but Johnny was pretty sure the break was compound now. He wouldn't be surprised if bone came through the skin on the next fall.
He cocked his head, listening. He could no longer hear Patamon's moans. He's coming.
A huge tree seemed to beckon him from a few feet away. It had low branches for him to swing up, but it was very tall and sturdy. The trunk remained thick fairly high up, and the mid-July foliage on the limbs was dense. Johnny thought he heard a sound a ways back, and he knew for certain Patamon was coming. He dropped the tire iron and swung up into the tree with a burst of adrenaline, ignoring the vertigo the movement brought him. Locking his legs around a branch, he managed to pull himself up with one arm and very little strength. Making sure to keep a firm grasp with his right hand at all times on the limbs of the tree, Johnny began to climb. His balance made him feel like he was spinning in circles, but he focused narrowly on the grip of his hand, and let his feet follow the leader.
He stopped on a thick branch to rip off his torn t-shirt, and breaking off a smaller branch, he quickly applied a makeshift splint. It was too painful to keep using the arm's muscles to hold it close to his chest. Johnny used the rest of his shirt to secure his arm in a sling. Having spared a total of two minutes, he felt his second wind come with his returning breath, and resumed climbing.
On the reservation, there had been many very old trees, good for climbing. Johnny figured he had climbed hundreds of trees in his day, but none quite like this. He remembered his grandfather speaking to him of the importance of keeping in shape. Although he wasn't at his sharpest by a long shot, Johnny was thankful he had forced himself to keep up with the physical therapy and exercises. He hoped what little strength he had and the adrenaline would last him long enough to climb to safety. If he could get up far enough quickly enough, Patamon might not see him. If he did, his size would not allow him to climb as high as Johnny could.
Johnny felt the edges of his mind going fuzzy despite his battle to stay sharp. It was too soon after everything he'd been through with the lightning and the surgery. He tried to climb faster, knowing he wasn't going to last much longer. He heard angry shouts coming closer, curses and threats voiced in his father's native tongue. He recognized the words, and realized he'd heard the same phrases many times in the past, including the last time he'd seen his father.
"Get your butt over here!" Patamon screamed, as usual, when he'd jumped away in an attempt to escape. He found he was trapped. She lay on the floor, and Patamon was blocking the door.
"I'm not telling you again," he warned darkly, and Wapi forced his feet to move. He stopped just out of arms' reach, sure that this was the time his father would finally kill him. He dreaded the pain, but a small part of him almost hoped his father would succeed this time. He had no desire to live alone with the man. Patamon reached out and yanked him off his feet by his arms. "I told you to come here," he snarled, lifting the small boy by his arms up to eye level. "Are you that stupid? Did you not understand what 'here' means?" He threw the boy down hard, and followed, snatching him by the arm again.
"When I tell you to come here," he shook the thin form viciously with each word, "I mean come here. Not over there, not halfway across the room, here," he thundered. Wapi's head began to ache and blood trickled from his nose. Patamon threw him down again.
"You're worthless," the big man spat, towering over him. "You're the reason my life is the way it is! Why do I work so hard? Why do I have to do without? Why don't I have any money? I could have graduated, been somebody. But you just had to come along, and now my life is ruined!" He kicked savagely at the human ball curled up on the ground in front of him, connecting solidly with the middle of the child's back. "Because of you, all because of you!"
Patamon grabbed his beer and took a deep swig. "You're worthless," he repeated, peering at the small boy. "Are you crying?" He slammed down the beer and yanked the boy to his feet, ignoring the pop of his child's dislocating shoulder. Wapi cried out in pain.
"Damn you, you better not be crying, or I'll give you something to cry about!" Patamon smashed his fist against the side of the child's head, and then his arms moved of their own accord and he couldn't have stopped if he'd wanted to. But he didn't want to. He enjoyed this feeling of power. He was in control. He made the rules. He was the ultimate authority.
"Worthless son of a--" he lapsed into curses, punctuating his blows with one string of curse words after another. Finally, the child was motionless on the floor, and Patamon looked drunkenly from one still body to the other. He panted, trying to catch his breath.
The beer bottle on the table was nearly empty. Patamon's mind emptied of all stress other than finding another beer. He stepped over the boy to check the fridge.
"Damn bitch!" he shouted, slamming the empty refrigerator shut. "I told you to get some more!" He gave her a final kick as he left for the bar.
Moments later, the child risked opening one eye, and involuntarily moaned under his breath as he pulled himself along the floor to the sink. If anyone who could hear had been in the kitchen, they would have heard him whisper to himself in Native American, "You have to hide," repeating the phrase over and over like a personal mantra.
Johnny climbed on auto-pilot. When he'd gone as far up the tree as he could go, Johnny selected a limb that looked able to support his weight--just able. He needed one that would not support Patamon's. He edged out on the limb, laying down on his stomach. It was the safest way to keep his balance. He gripped the limb as tightly as he could with his good arm and his legs, and closed his eyes, trying not to move. It was the best way to keep a precarious hold on his balance. He eased the broken arm far enough over so that he wasn't laying on it.
Breathe gently, boy, his grandfather had told him. Make stillness your center. You must hear all the sounds around you, and you cannot do that if you cannot hear them. Listen closely.
Johnny took the words to heart with all the seriousness he'd had as a child. He drew silence around him like a blanket, and listened intently to the woods.
* * *
By the time they reached the site on the bare dirt road, the police captain had calmed down considerably. He conceded that Johnny's friends could follow the officers into the trees, but they were to keep back until each grid on their map of the land was secured. Roy figured they had picked up police officers along the way; in addition to the original ten or so from the hospital, another ten had arrived to help canvas the area. One man had a dog with him, who lead the way after sniffing around in the car and trunk. The dog got agitated after smelling the ground behind the car, and charged into the woods.
Everyone was somber as they passed the dilapidated car. There was a lot of blood near the back of it. Please, not Johnny, Roy thought to himself. For once, not Johnny. They followed the officers into the wooded area.
* * *
Patamon crashed through the undergrowth. He didn't bother
calling any more; he knew Wapi would not answer him. The boy had hidden from him
before. Always unsuccessfully.
He wished he had thought to bring a bottle with him. His head was still bleeding, and pounding its rhythm into his brain. He'll pay for that too, he thought. As soon as I get my hands on him. He had no doubt he would. They were miles from anywhere, and Wapi had been in the hospital for surgery. He wouldn't be able to hide for long.
* * *
Johnny heard the big man lurching through the undergrowth.
He couldn't see the ground beneath the tree; he had stopped on the limb above a
particularly thick growth of leaves. He knew it was Patamon though--either that
or a bear on a rampage, and Johnny really didn't think rampaging bears made that
He wondered how Patamon could possibly hope to find him making that much noise. Johnny kept absolutely silent. He mused that if the tables had been turned, he would have known the presence of another human by the silence of the birds and insects. They had been disturbed by Johnny's presence. But apparently Patamon, scaring off even more wildlife, wasn't thinking about that. The loud crunching and crackling of his footsteps moved off and went farther into the woods.
Johnny breathed a silent sigh of relief. For the moment, he was safe. He didn't feel the urge to climb back down the tree. He reveled in what his feelings told him was only a temporary sense of security. Patamon hadn't found him yet. If he kept still and hidden, maybe Patamon would go somewhere to drink. He never went long without a drink. It would buy him more time.
Alone with his thoughts, Johnny realized dully that the feelings he'd been going through lately were familiar; they were the same feelings he'd had as a child. It was very confusing to him as he struggled to separate the newly discovered past from the present. As in his childhood, Fate had, with literally one bolt from the blue, trapped him in a sometimes incomprehensible, unbearable situation, with no escape in sight. He had tried to do his part as best he could, but the situation seemed fairly constant regardless. He couldn't escape his father then, and he couldn't escape the changes in his life now. He felt old and tired and discouraged by the familiarity of the heaviness that was resettling on his shoulders and chest.
He remembered the only times he'd ever truly had hope as a child, the times he'd spent with Grandfather. The old man had seemed so wise and strong. He had taught Johnny many important things about surviving. The more he remembered about Illipani, the more Johnny realized he owed his grandfather.
"But you never gave the secret sign," he whispered, remembering the hope those words had once given him. He felt his mind slipping into the past, and he was that little boy again.
"When the enemy is after you, and you cannot fight, you must find a place to hide," Illipani said, gesturing at the foliage and trees he'd been talking about. Wapi held his other hand.
He hadn't needed to ask who the enemy was.
"He'll find me," Wapi said. "He always finds me."
Grandfather had stopped and knelt on one knee. "There may be a time when he won't find you," he told his grandson. "When you find that hiding place, don't leave it," he instructed. "Stay where you are until I come. I will come for you, Wapi. I will give our secret sign." Grandfather gave him a crooked grin. "And when you hear it, you will know that you are finally safe."
He'd felt a thrill of hope at those words. "Do you think that will ever happen?" he asked.
Grandfather stood up and took his hand again. "Oh, yes," he answered. "I know it will."
"But you never gave the secret sign," Johnny repeated, his right cheek pressed against the smooth tree limb. He pushed up shakily and sat, holding a slightly higher branch for balance. He looked down, unable to see the ground through the leaves. He edged out as far as he could on the branch. The farther he got from the trunk, the thinner the branches and foliage below would be. Less likely to catch him if he fell.
He remembered the little boy he'd seen, the reservation child who had fallen from an old tree. He'd been six years old, but that was one memory he'd never lost. The child had lain unnaturally on the ground, limbs piled in a heap, head turned at an impossible angle. The other boys had fled, but he'd stayed, unable to look away. The boy's eyes were like glass, open but unseeing, unblinking.
He'd always kept that memory in the back of his mind. Everything had stopped for that fallen boy. He had escaped. He was safe. No one could ever hurt him again.
Johnny edged a little farther out, bending the branch until he knew it would either break, or he would soon slide off. He looked down again, holding tight to the other branch giving him balance. He could see patches of the ground now, far below him. He was pretty sure he wouldn't survive a fall.
He hung on to the branch tightly, seeing those green eyes again. You are my reason, he heard her say in his mind, though he knew she had never said those exact words. His mind was desperately playing tricks on him. He shook his head and closed his eyes. "You're dead," he whispered.
* * *
"Could we do this any slower?" Chet grumbled, as they
waited once again for permission to advance. The police were securing areas as
quickly as they could, following the path of the tracking dog, but Patamon was
dangerous, they didn't know if he was armed or not, and there were a lot of
Dixie set down the biophone next to the other boxes the guys had been carrying. She sat on one of the sturdier boxes and wiped her face with a tissue.
"Here." Stanley handed her the canteen the police officer assigned to them had given him. "They're going as fast as they can, Chet."
Marco reached for the canteen as Dixie finished with it, sitting on the ground beside her. "We'll find--"
His words were cut off by a volley of gunfire over the hill. They were all on their feet instantly. The police officer quickly grabbed Roy as he started running and hurled him back at Stoker and Stanley. "Stay here," the officer hissed. He ran up the hill.
Stanley kept Roy from following. The officer was back quickly. "They got him," he reported. "We need medical assistance," he told Dixie and Roy. The firefighters grabbed the medical equipment and took off at a run.
About 100 yards away, the police officers were gathered around a fallen man. They made way as the small group approached. "Spread out," Roy heard the police captain tell his men. "Find the hostage."
Roy felt his heart drop at the words, and he came up to the fallen man with more hatred than he'd expected he'd feel. Dixie dropped to her knees beside Patamon and briskly examined him.
Roy stood over them, ashamed of feelings he'd never thought he'd harbor for a patient, but unable to make himself assist. "Dixie, I--"
The nurse stood quickly and put her arm around his shoulder pulling him away. "It's okay, Roy," she consoled.
Dixie sat him down on one of their boxes. "He's dead," she told Roy, and then looked over at the other men from 51. "He was hit several times. At least twice in the heart."
One of the police officers crossed over to them. "He surprised us. It looked like he was reaching for a gun," he told them.
They all looked at the dead man, laying on the ground in thin summer clothing, carrying nothing, and no bulges in his pockets.
"He was unarmed," Mike stated slowly.
"Now he's dead," Marco added, understanding the significance.
"You wanted this jerk alive?" the officer asked incredulously.
"He could have told us where Johnny is, you moron!" Chet shouted.
The police captain joined their group and dismissed the other officer. "It's unfortunate," he admitted quickly. "But it did look like he was going to start shooting. In any case, I believe your man is here somewhere," he gestured around them. "The fact that Summer Sky was still here tells me that."
"The gash on his forehead wasn't from a bullet," Dixie agreed.
The captain nodded. "I think Gage got the better of him somehow. The dog led us here; I think the blood was Summer Sky's."
"Well, now that he's dead we can all look," Roy declared, daring the officer to contradict him. He headed off into the trees. Dixie and the guys followed.
* * *
Johnny heard the gunshots and recoiled, almost losing his
grip. He's got a gun, he thought frantically. The woods were unearthly
still as the echoes faded.
Johnny looked down through the leaves. This tree was remarkably like the one on the rez. He'd climbed it a few times, and looked down, as he was doing now, thinking the same thoughts. One slip, he told himself. One slip, and then it's too great a distance to survive. It would be so easy.
Johnny didn't think he'd ever been so tired in his entire life. He wanted escape. He wanted the pain to stop. His thoughts jumbled together, and the old emotions played on top of recent events. It'll never be over, he thought desperately. He'll double back and then he'll find me. He always finds me.
He stared down at the ground far below him, his thoughts lost in the past.
* * *
Chet tripped suddenly and went down, clutching his foot. He'd been wearing sandals when he'd shown up at the hospital, never dreaming he'd later be hiking in the woods. He had regretted his footwear several times already.
"What now?" Marco asked, coming over to him.
Chet rubbed his toe, which was already looking bruised. "Oh, I hit my toe on something," he grumbled.
Marco bent over, his eye catching something in the tall grass. "Hey!" He lifted a tire iron from the ground.
"What the hell is that doing there?" Chet complained.
Stanley and Stoker had joined them. "What's that from, Marco?" Mike asked.
"Chet stubbed his toe on it," Marco told them. "I wonder what a tire iron is doing out here?"
Dixie suddenly pushed through the men, grabbing the iron. She looked closely at it, then held one end up to Roy. He looked at it closely.
"Blood," he confirmed.
"I'm not bleeding," Chet contradicted, wondering why they were so interested.
Stoker grabbed Chet's arm and helped him to his feet. "Patamon was," he said tightly.
"Ya twit," Stanley added under his breath. They all looked around them for any sign of Johnny, reluctant to leave the spot where they'd found the last trace they had of him.
"Oh, dear God," Dixie exhaled, and they followed her gaze. High up in the tree behind them, on an impossibly thin branch, John Gage sat precariously, his hands wrapped around another branch for support. It was obvious at a glance that he would be extremely difficult to rescue. He had always been the thinnest of the men at 51, and since the lightning strike, had lost even more weight. Looking at the branch on which his partner perched, Roy thought it was a miracle he hadn't fallen already. Even from that distance, he looked pale and shocky.
Stanley first clapped a hand over Chet's mouth, keeping him from calling out. Then he sent Mike, Marco and Chet to fan out and keep off any police officers in the area. Johnny looked as though the slightest start would knock him off the limb. They didn't want to call up to him for fear of startling him, and though he was looking down, Johnny hadn't seemed to notice them below him. Truth to tell, Stanley was worried about the way Johnny was looking. All other injuries he might have aside, his left arm was clearly incapacitated, and Stanley wondered how he'd managed to get up there in the first place.
Roy was quietly making his way up the tree, not wanting to startle his partner. Stanley knew there was no way the paramedic could get all the way up and over to Johnny. They were hoping he could get close enough that Johnny would see him, and come in on his own. It was a dim hope. He glanced nervously at the police officers holding their distance by his men.
A piercing screech, like a whistle, suddenly rang through the approaching dusk, making everyone jump, and causing Stanley to groan, thinking of Johnny. The long screech was followed by several disgruntled hoots of an owl.
"Damn it!" Stanley cursed under his breath. "I told them to keep the police quiet!" He looked up as Dixie laid a hand on his arm.
Johnny had managed to retain his unsteady hold on the branches, but he was now scooting shakily along the branch back toward the trunk. Stanley was torn between the desire to have Johnny stay still, and the knowledge that only Johnny could get himself back to a point in the tree where somebody could reach him. He found himself holding his breath, watching Johnny navigate the limb. He started to fall twice, but caught himself. Each time Stanley heard Dixie gasp.
"Careful," she implored softly, as if he could hear her. Johnny was nearing the trunk, and his face was ashen. Roy was still too far down the trunk to be of help if he fell. Then Johnny was out of their line of sight, over the denser part of the foliage.
Ever since the loud whistle, Roy could hear movement above him in the tree, and he was afraid of what might be happening. From what little they could see from the ground, Johnny didn't look to be in any condition to try to get back down on his own. He had hoped to be high enough to help in some way when they attempted it.
He rushed up the tree faster as he saw Johnny trying to make his way down. They met at a point strong enough to hold both of them. Roy had to grab Johnny's good arm to halt him; he hadn't seemed to notice Roy in the tree with him.
Johnny blinked at him. "Roy?" he asked in surprise.
Roy could see Johnny was just about ready to collapse; he was clearly exhausted, pale and sweating. He was bruised and clawed all over, and Roy could see around the t-shirt that Johnny's left arm was broken. He got a better grasp on his friend. "Yep," he nodded, efficiently positioning Johnny in a stable spot so he could free his hands. He reached over his shoulder for the short length of rope Dixie'd had in her car.
"Did you see him?" Johnny asked breathlessly.
Roy tied the rope around Johnny's chest and secured it with a sturdy knot, looping the other end around himself. "See who?" he asked. He quickly checked the bandages over Johnny's ear, surprised that they had survived relatively intact. It was the one thing on Johnny that looked pretty good He took his partner's right arm and lifted it over his own shoulder.
"Illipani," Johnny answered, oblivious.
"No," Roy replied. "Hold on now, Johnny." He pulled the rope tight, binding them together more securely. He needed both his hands free, and Johnny's grip was nonexistent. Roy started back down the tree as quickly as he dared, wishing Dixie'd had a longer rope so that he could just lower Johnny down. The fact that his partner hung unresisting against him told Roy all he needed to know about what was left of Johnny's strength. He couldn't imagine how the man had managed to climb up the tree in the first place.
They reached the ground without incident, and Stanley was there to grab Johnny as they came down and lift him off of Roy. They laid him on the ground.
Dixie and Roy were checking him out immediately. Johnny grasped Roy's arm and pulled him closer. "The call of a screech owl and a spotted owl--he gave the secret sign," he told Roy, and then passed out.
* * *
The front door opened to a harried Joanne DeSoto, tethered
to the kitchen wall by a long telephone cord, hair brush in hand, attempting to
make order out of her daughter's hair. "Hi, Johnny," she greeted, then focused
on her phone conversation as she let Johnny in. "Yes, Uncle Johnny's here,
Chris. Now you get yourself home right now."
Jenny managed to slip out of her fingers and hurled herself at Johnny. "Uncle Johnny!" He picked her up and swung her around.
"Stop that!" Joanne ordered. "No, Chris, I was talking to Uncle Johnny. Johnny, put her down."
Johnny gave her a mock wounded look. "I can handle it, Jo," he told her.
"No, Christopher," Joanne said fiercely. "I know you can," she added to Johnny. "I'm just not sure my living room can handle it." She gasped into the phone. "Christopher Paul DeSoto, you get your little body back here right now, do you hear me?"
Johnny giggled; whether at her comment to him or her comment to Chris, Joanne didn't know. He took the hairbrush from her and gave Jennifer's hair a few last brushes.
"Perfect," he told the six-year-old.
Jenny grabbed his hand and tugged. "Come outside and swing me," she begged.
"I'm not telling you again, Chris," Joanne warned. "I'm hanging up now, and you have five minutes." She paused, listening.
"Yes, and now it's four minutes, forty seconds," she said pitilessly, disconnecting the phone. She smiled at Johnny, who was struggling against Jenny's insistent pull. "Roy's out back," she told him sympathetically. "You want me to bring you a beer?"
Johnny gave in and let Jenny yank him toward the back door. "Nah," he called over his shoulder. "I'm sure Miss Jennifer will have me dizzy soon enough."
Johnny noticed the drapes over the sliding glass door were moving with the breeze. "Somebody forgot to close the door," he told Jennifer ominously, knowing how much Joanne hated to 'air condition the neighborhood.'
"Not me," Jenny insisted innocently, yanking him straight into the drapes, not bothering to push them out of the way.
In one step they were out on the patio, drapes falling back inside, and a loud yell rang out. "Surprise!"
Johnny burst out laughing. He looked behind him to Joanne, who'd followed them out, also laughing. It looked like the whole off-duty fire department was in the DeSoto's back yard, along with a good sprinkling of Rampart staff. "You about gave me a heart attack!" Johnny accused them.
"Well, that's one thing you haven't had yet," Dr. Early called out. Everyone laughed again.
Jenny was jumping up and down, thrilled. "I fooled you, I fooled you, didn't I?"
Johnny picked her up, and gaped at Chris a few feet away. He reached out with his free hand and smacked Joanne lightly on the arm. "You sure did," he answered.
Chief McConnicki pushed through the crowd, stunning Johnny. "Chief!"
Roy took his daughter from Johnny as the Chief stepped up.
McConnicki beamed, holding his hands up for quiet. "I told Johnny he'd hear on Monday," he smiled at the crowd, "but I thought you all might like to know." He turned back to Johnny. "You've passed all requalifying exams. You are officially cleared for work as a firefighter." He pumped Johnny's hand enthusiastically.
Dr. Brackett joined them and held up a piece of paper. "And this is the result of Johnny's recertification exam," he told the group assembled. He handed it to Johnny. "You passed!"
"As if there was any doubt," Dixie added, giving him a hug.
Roy grinned at his best friend. "What do you say, Junior? You ready for work on Monday?"
Johnny looked around in awe at the crowd of people gathered. It seemed like everyone he knew was there. These people had stood by him for four long months, from start to finish, and helped him to recover his life and his sanity. He was amazed, seeing the sheer number of people who cared about him. They ranged from those who only knew about the lightning, on up through those who knew everything. He glanced around the inner circle, at Cap, Mike, Marco, Chet, Dixie and Dr. Brackett, and the DeSoto family. He swallowed hard.
"Family is not about blood. Family is a tie, from your heart to mine."
This is family, Johnny told himself. More than blood could ever be. He smiled at Dr. Nathan where the man stood at the edge of the patio, and saw that the doctor understood what he was thinking. He turned back to Roy and saw the same understanding. His smile grew into a full-blown grin.
"Whatever you say, Pally!"
See? Practically good as new. :)