Declaring War
By Caelie Ryan


Johnny sat on the arm of the sofa, babbling to Roy, who was reading the paper.

"So what do you think? It'll work, right?" Johnny asked.

Roy continued to read in silence. "Roy!" Johnny whined.

"What?" Roy asked with obvious irritation.

"You haven't heard a word I've said," complained Johnny.

"I'm trying to read the paper, Johnny," Roy scolded. "Can I please do it in peace?"

"Fine, be that way," Johnny sulked, getting up. "What's in there that's so interesting anyway? The Dodgers didn't even play last night."

"There's a lot more going on in the world than just baseball," Roy told him with a sigh. Couldn't you for once think about something other than Johnny Gage? It would be nice to have a conversation with you about the things that are on my mind. "Don't you care at all about current events?" he asked aloud.

The klaxon sounded before Johnny could answer. "That's the only current event I care about," Johnny announced, racing for the squad.

Station 51, Engine 69, respond to house fire, 624 Hayden Avenue, cross street Dresden Blvd., 6-2-4 Hayden. Time out 10:47.

"Station 51, KMG-365," Stanley responded, jotting down the address. He handed a copy to Roy, and then hurried to the engine, jumping in the passenger side of the cab as Stoker started to pull out behind the squad.


Roy had barely pulled to a stop in front of the burning old Victorian when a redhead in her mid-20s started pounding on his window. "My daughter is still in the house!" she screamed.

"Settle down, ma'am," Roy commanded, getting out of the squad and taking the woman by the shoulders. "We'll get her out, but you have to tell us where she is."

"In her room. It's the top floor, the last door on the right," she managed to choke out between tears. "I couldn't get to her, there was too much smoke."

"Well get her," Roy reassured the woman again as he pulled his turnout gear out of the squad and put it on. "What's your daughter's name?"

"Nicole. She's only four. Please find her!" she begged.

Roy waved over Captain Stanley. "Cap, we've got a little girl in there," he called out.

"Okay, you and John go get her, I'll have Chet and Marco cover you," he commanded.

Chet and Marco were already pulling hose off the engine when Cap called, "Kelly, Lopez, get an inch and a half and follow Gage and DeSoto." The two nodded and hurried after the paramedics.

Cap turned his attention to the approaching Engine 69. "Engine 69, Engine 51," he said into the H.T. "Give me two inch and a halves through the back door. Put one on the second floor, one on the first."

"10-4, 51," Engine 69 responded.

Upstairs in the house, Johnny peered through the smoke that blanketed the hallway, trying to get his bearings. “Which last door on the right, the one from this side or that side?” he questioned Roy, gesturing at the two sets of stairs leading to a balcony on the upper level.

"You take that side, I’ll take this one," Roy told him, hurrying up the stairs. Johnny bolted to the other staircase, taking the steps two at a time. He checked the last door to his right for heat before opening it slowly.

This must be it. Johnny's eyes scanned the room, taking in the canopy bed and the shelves of dolls covering the walls. He didn't see the little girl lying anywhere. "Probably hiding," he mumbled, starting to look in the usual places. "Nicole!" he called as he checked under the bed. Johnny next moved to the closet. Finding no child there, he was about to try another room when he spotted a large wooden toy box in the corner, toys scattered around the outside of it. He opened the box and found the little girl curled up inside. She let out a bloodcurdling scream.

"It's okay, honey, I'm going to get you out of here," Johnny reassured Nicole as he tried to pick her up. The little girl fought him off with her tiny fists. "Settle down, Nicole. I'm a fireman, I'm going to take you to your Mommy," Johnny explained, finally getting a hold of her despite her struggling.

Roy came running in. "What's wrong?" he asked as Johnny fought to keep his hold on the squirming child.

"She's just scared. Let's get her out of here," Johnny said as he led the way into the hall. Nicole's screams turned to whimpers at the sight of the hallway, which was quickly filling with fire despite Chet and Marco's best efforts to knock it down. Nicole buried her face in Johnny's shoulder as they tried to make their way down the stairs. A wall of flame shot up and blocked their path, sending Nicole back into a screaming fit.

"Try the other one!" Johnny yelled over the noise of the fire and Nicole, pulling on Roy's arm when Roy didn't seem to hear him. They raced down the hallway to the other staircase, Johnny still struggling with the combative child.

"Give her to me," Roy commanded as Johnny missed a step and almost tumbled down the stairs. Johnny gratefully handed over the screaming child.

At the bottom of the stairs, they found a hallway that was free of fire and followed it to the kitchen. Roy could see the ceiling straining with effort from the weight of the water spraying the burning room above.

"Johnny, look out!" Roy screamed as the ceiling suddenly started to crumble. Roy ran for the back door, jumping outside with Nicole clutched tightly in his arms. He turned to look for Johnny, but saw nothing but rubble in the kitchen. "Cap, Johnny's still in there!" he cried out as Hank approached.

"Where is he?" Cap asked, pulling out his H.T.

"He should be just inside the door. He was right behind me, but he couldn't get out before the ceiling came down," Roy told him, anxiously looking through the door for any sign of Johnny.

"I'll find him," Hank assured him. "You take care of that little one."

Roy nodded reluctantly, torn between his overwhelming urge to help Johnny and his duty to care for the little girl. Please find him quick, Cap, he silently prayed as he carried Nicole over to the squad.

He found his equipment waiting for him. "Here, honey, let me put this on your face," Roy gently coaxed as he slipped an oxygen mask on Nicole. The mother broke away from Vince and scooped up her daughter. "She's going to be okay, ma'am," Roy assured her. "I think she's scared more than anything, but I'm going to check her out just in case." Roy snuck one last look at the house, then turned his attention to Nicole.


The water from the hoses above rained down on Cap as he stepped into the remains of decimated kitchen. He looked up at the hole where the ceiling used to be. "Everyone accounted for up there?" he yelled to the firefighters upstairs.

"Yeah, Cap. We felt it going and got clear," Chet called back. "Everyone okay down there?"

"No, Gage is under here somewhere," Hank told him.

"We'll be right down," an anxious Chet promised.

Hank started picking through the rubble again. He found Johnny's helmet and dug at the debris next to it. Suddenly he saw a pile a few feet away start to move. Johnny slowly rose out of the pile of plaster onto his hands and knees and crawled toward Hank. Chet and Marco scampered into the kitchen and quickly vaulted the debris, taking Johnny under the arms and helping him to his feet. Johnny shook them off, but Chet grabbed Johnny's arm again as he saw the paramedic sway.

"I'm okay," Johnny insisted.

"I know, I just like walking arm in arm with you," Chet teased.

"Get away from me, Kelly," Johnny growled, pushing Chet's arm away.

Hank took him by the elbow as they reached the porch. "Kelly, Lopez, I need you two to get back upstairs."

"But Cap, the fire's just about out," Chet protested.

"Then check for hot spots and start clean up," Hank ordered. Chet opened his mouth to protest. "Now, Kelly," Hank barked.

"Yes, Cap," Chet groused. "Take care, Johnny."

Chet patted Johnny's left shoulder, not noticing Johnny wince. Chet trailed Marco back into the house as Hank put an arm around Johnny. "Come on, Pal, let me help you to the squad," he commanded.

Johnny pulled away. "Watch my shoulder, Cap, it took quite a hit," he admitted.

"You think it's broken?" Hank asked worriedly.

"Nah, just bruised," Johnny assured him. "Are Roy and the little girl okay?"

"They're fine. They got out before the sky started falling," he quipped. "Let's have Roy take a look at that shoulder," he ordered, sitting Johnny down on the back of the squad. "Roy, I have another patient for you."

Roy breathed a sigh of relief at the sight of Johnny. He didn't see any blood, although it was hard to tell with all the plaster and dust covering Johnny from head to toe.

"Be right with you," he told them, turning his attention back to the mother, who was signing a refusal form. "You really should let us take her in to get checked out," Roy warned her. "We don't know how much smoke she might have breathed in."

"My brother is her pediatrician, I'm going to take her right over so he can examine her," she promised Roy. "Thank you so much for saving her. I got so scared when I couldn't get up the stairs because of the fire. I thought she was going to get burned."

"I'm glad we could help, ma'am," Roy said with a smile as the woman walked away, hugging Nicole tightly.

Roy's look changed to a worried frown as he turned his attention to Johnny and saw him leaning back against the squad eyes closed. "Johnny?" he all but squeaked. He grabbed the drug box and hurried to his partner, sighing in relief when Johnny opened his eyes.

"Want me to ride with the little girl?" Johnny asked, getting up.

"Her mother refused care; said she was taking her to the pediatrician," Roy explained. "But maybe we should put you in that ambulance."

He tried to examine his partner for any signs of injury under all the caked-on dust, but Johnny waved him off. "I'm fine, Roy. It takes more than a ceiling falling on my head to knock me out," Johnny joked, flashing Roy a crooked grin that turned into a wince as shrugged off his air tank.

"What's wrong?" Roy asked worriedly.

"He banged up his shoulder," Hank answered for Johnny. "Take a look at it, will ya, Pal?'

"I told you, Cap, it's only bruised," Johnny insisted.

"I want to hear that from Roy," said Hank sternly. Roy took Johnny's right arm and began manipulating it gently. Johnny turned his head away so they couldn't see him grimace in pain.

"I think he's right, it isn't broken," Roy finally announced, letting go. Johnny smiled smugly as he rubbed his tender shoulder. Noticing the look, Roy added, "but since the ambulance is already here, you're going in to have Brackett take a look at it."

"Okay, Dad," Johnny answered snidely.

"Good boy, Junior," Roy shot back.

Hank smiled at their sparring. He can't be too hurt if he's already back to bugging Roy. "I'll see you two back at the station," he told Johnny and Roy as he headed for the house.

"Don't you need us to help out here?" Johnny asked.

"No, the fire's out, all we have left is clean-up. And you won't be much help with that shoulder," Hank pointed out. "Get checked out, and if the doc clears you I'll put you back to work."

"You're as bad as he is," Johnny complained, pointing to Roy. "But if it gets me out of clean-up, I'm not going to argue."

He picked up the trauma box with his good arm and put it in the squad, whistling as he did so. Roy shot him a look as Johnny climbed in the passenger's side.

"That ambulance is for you," Roy reminded him.

"That ambulance is for sick people," Johnny shot back. "If I'm going to Rampart, I'm going in the squad."

"Fine, fine," Roy muttered. "Let me tell the attendants."

A minute later Roy was back. He found Johnny in the squad tapping his fingers on the dashboard nervously.

"Were you faking the shoulder thing?" Roy asked suspiciously, climbing behind the wheel. I thought for sure when I was examining him that the pain on his face was real. Maybe he's a better actor than I thought.

"No, I did bang it up pretty good," Johnny admitted. "But you and Cap act like my arm is falling off or something."

"You usually like that kind of attention," Roy reminded him. "And you did have a ceiling fall in your head. Most people would have gotten hurt if that had happened to them."

"I'm not most people," Johnny answered with a grin.

"That's for damn sure," Roy mumbled with a shake of his head, starting up the squad.


"What's going on?" Roy asked Dixie, who was glued to the television in the lounge as he came in for coffee.

"We're pulling out of Saigon," Dixie told him, her eyes never leaving the screen. Roy nearly dropped the mug he was holding.

"What do you mean, pulling out?" he demanded. He crossed to the television to get a closer look at the news footage of the helicopters taking off from the roof of the American Embassy.

"Those choppers are evacuating all the American personnel," Dixie explained. "We're getting out of the war for good."

"They're letting the North have it," Roy mumbled in amazement, his mind refusing to believe this turn of events, despite the evidence on the television in front of him.

"You were there, weren't you?" Dixie remembered.

"Yeah, I did a tour back in '65," he confirmed. God, had it really been 10 years since that nightmare? "Beautiful country," he added. At least until all my friends started dying.

"Hell in the middle of paradise," Dixie murmured.

"Exactly," Roy replied in surprise. How could she know?

"Korea was the same way," Dixie explained. "I saw the worst things on earth in places so beautiful it hurt to look at them sometimes."

Roy nodded in understanding. "Were you ever that desperate to get out?" he asked softly, as they watched people frantically scrambling over fences and each other in an effort to reach the helicopters.

"I left in a chopper a lot like that one," Dixie revealed. "With five other nurses and at least fifty babies and children from an orphanage near our MASH unit. I never thought we'd make it back to America safely."

Roy looked at Dixie incredulously. "You never cease to amaze me, Dix."

Dixie waved off the compliment. "I was young and stupid, I didn't realize how dangerous it was until we were actually doing it," she admitted. "I only knew I couldn't leave those children there to be killed." She glanced at the TV for a long moment. "I hope someone's looking out for the kids over there."

"Okay," Johnny declared as he burst into the room. "Doc says I'm fine, just a little bruised, so let's get out of here."

He noticed Dixie and Roy absorbed in the news. "What's happening?" he asked.

"We're pulling out of Vietnam," Roy told him.

"It's about time they admitted they can't win and stopped killing people," Johnny commented, giving nothing more than a cursory glance to the goings-on on the television as he poured himself a cup of coffee. "I told Dispatch we're available, so we probably should get going."

"You don't even care about this?" Roy asked a little too loudly, pointing to the television.

"Like I said, I'm glad they won't be killing anyone else," Johnny answered, gulping down his coffee and leaving the cup on the counter. "See ya, Dix," he called out as he left the lounge.

"Do you believe him?" Roy muttered with an angry shake of his head.

"He wasn't there, Roy, it doesn't mean the same thing to him," Dixie reminded him gently.

"It doesn't mean anything thing to him," Roy said in disgust. "He probably doesn't even know where Vietnam is."

"Or it might not be something he wants to talk about," Dixie suggested. "Maybe you should find out the whole story before you get angry at him."


Johnny fidgeted in the passenger's seat of the squad as Roy drove in stony silence. Oh man, I hate when Roy's quiet like this. He must be mad about something.

"Okay, what did I do?" Johnny finally blurted out.

"Nothing," Roy answered shortly.

"If you're worried about my shoulder, Brackett says its fine," Johnny assured him. "It's not going to affect my work any."

"I'm not worried. You're indestructible," Roy commented.

Johnny laughed. "You're right about that." He noticed Roy wasn't laughing with him. "Come on, Roy, why the silent treatment?"

"Did you mean what you said back there?" Roy demanded to know.

"That depends. What did I say?" Johnny asked, trying to think back to any comments he'd made that might have upset Roy, but coming up blank.

"That you don't care about what's happening in Vietnam."

That's why he's so upset? What's the big deal? "It doesn't affect me, Roy," Johnny explained.

"How can you say that?" Roy demanded.

"Most everyone I know who was over there is dead," Johnny stated matter-of-factly. "The war ending isn't going to change that."

The radio crackled to life, interrupting their conversation.

Squad 51, man trapped, 114 Colley Court, cross street Sequoia. Gunshots have been fired at the scene. Police recommend responding non-Code R. Time out 13:04

"Squad 51, 10-4," Johnny answered as Roy flipped on the siren.

Johnny pulled out the map and studied it briefly. "You're going to make a left onto Sequoia. It’s straight ahead, about another mile or so." Roy nodded in acknowledgement, and they drove in silence the rest of the way.

Roy cut off the siren as they turned onto Sequoia. They pulled to a stop behind a police cruiser, grabbed their equipment and headed for the house.

"Around here," Vince called from the back yard. Johnny and Roy ran to his side.

"What'cha got, Vince?" Johnny asked, looking around for their victim.

"Wife says he went nuts," Vince explained. "He was watching the news, and suddenly he jumped up, started screaming, then grabbed his gun and ran out here. He dove into the pool they're digging." He pointed to a large hole about 50 feet away.

"Where's the wife?" Roy wanted to know.

"At the neighbor's with their kids. She didn't want them seeing their dad like this," Vince explained.

"How bad is the guy hurt?" Johnny questioned, starting for the hole.

"Johnny, wait," Vince warned. "The guy's shooting at anyone and anything that tries to get near him. He's delusional, he thinks that pool is a foxhole and we're NVA."

"North Vietnamese Army," Roy explained to Johnny, who shot him a dirty look.

"How are we going to get him out of there, then?" Johnny sighed in frustration, putting down the equipment.

"I was hoping you guys might have some ideas," Vince admitted.

"Is there any way we can sneak up behind him?" Roy asked.

"I tried that, but he spotted me," Vince told them. "The guy has incredible senses, he's noticed every move I've tried to make. I was hoping I wouldn't have to call in a team to get him out, because I'd hate to see him get shot up. I don't think he's dangerous, just really screwed up."

"I'll talk to him," Roy offered.

"No, Roy, let me," Johnny insisted. "I'm indestructible, remember? I can handle a few bullets."

"Don't be stupid, Johnny," Roy scolded.

"Hey, I'm not the one with a family," Johnny reminded him. "If I get shot it's not going to hurt anyone but me."

"No one's going to get shot," Roy declared. "I know what this guy is going through, I can get him out of there. Vince, what's his name?"

"Jefferson, Jerry Jefferson," Vince replied, checking his notebook.

"You know his rank?"

Vince shook his head. "Probably just a grunt."

"The grunts were the most important guys there," Roy commented as he walked purposely toward the pool. Johnny looked after him worriedly, but knew he wouldn't be able to stop his partner.

"I'm going to call in a team," Vince decided, but Johnny shook his head.

"Wait, Vince," Johnny declared, putting a hand on the police officer's arm. "If Roy says he can talk the guy out, he'll talk him out."

Vince watched Johnny shift nervously from one foot to the other as he watched Roy. He doesn't believe that any more than I do. Both men jumped as a bullet zoomed perilously close to Roy's head when he closed in on the hole.

"Careful with that, Jefferson," Roy warned the man. "If you shoot down the chopper we're never going to get out of here. And I don't know about you, but I'm ready to get home to my wife."

"Who are you?" Jerry asked warily as Roy carefully slid into the hole, his eyes never leaving the gun.

"Corporal DeSoto, I'm the medic here," Roy explained. "I heard you were hurt."

"I don't know you," Jerry said, cocking the gun. Roy swallowed hard, his mind scrambling for a believable lie.

"Your medic's down, they sent me here to replace him," he finally blurted out. "I'm from 3rd Battalion."

"They sent you here from Khe Sanh?" the man asked.

I never fought in Khe Sahn. Let's hope the truth works. "We weren't in Khe Sanh, we were in Quang Tri," Roy told him, pulling out the name of one of the places he had fought. He sighed in relief as he noticed Jerry relax considerably. "That was a trick question, wasn't it?"

"You can't be too careful out here," Jerry explained. "Can you patch up my leg, Doc? I think I might have broken it."

"My equipment's topside. How about if we pull you out of here with a rope?" Roy suggested.

"We can't go up there, the VC are all around us," Jerry warned.

"No, the only people up there are my part—" he stopped, realizing he had to keep up the pretense of being in the war. "Only the guys from my company are up there. They've secured the area."

"Are you sure? This place was surrounded," he told Roy nervously.

"Guess the Cong knew better than to mess with the 3rd Battalion," Roy said with a smile, which Jerry returned half-heartedly. "You coming up with me?"

"I don't know if I can, Doc," Jefferson admitted. "You got a stretcher?"

"Sure." Roy looked up to the top of the hole. "Johnny, can you send down a Stokes and some rope?" he called.

Johnny's head appeared over the side. "You ready to come up?" he asked Roy.

"Only if you're sure it's secure up there," Roy told him.

Secure? What the hell is he talking about? Johnny saw Roy flash him a look that said to play along. "We're safe and sound up here," he declared.

"You guys got rid of all them Cong?" Jerry double-checked.

"Um, yeah, got every last one of them," Johnny boasted. "Hang on, I'll get some rope to get you out of there."

He ran toward the squad, stopping by Vince. "Vince, Roy talked the guy into coming out. I'm going to get the Stokes to pull him up."

"There's a ladder by the house, wouldn't that be easier?" Vince suggested.

"Probably so," Johnny said after a moment of consideration. "Then Roy could carry him out." He ran back to the hole. "Roy, I've got a ladder here, if you want to bring him up that way."

"Is it okay if the private sends down a ladder?" Roy asked Jerry. "I'll carry you up, you won't have to climb it."

"Where did he get a ladder out here?" Jerry wanted to know.

Damn! I forgot were supposed to be in the middle of the jungle. Think quick, think quick. "He's very resourceful," he finally answered, adding in a conspiratorial tone, "he's an Indian."

"They're great men to have," Jerry commented. "We have one in our company, has saved our asses more than once. They have very good instincts."

"Some of them do," Roy answered dryly. "Yeah, Johnny, go ahead with the ladder," he called up. "And send down a splint, too, he's got a broken leg."

"On its way," Johnny yelled back, opening the trauma box and grabbing a splint. He tossed it into the hole, not thinking about his actions until the shot rang out.

"Roy!" he screamed, running to the hole. He saw Roy struggling with a frantic Jerry, the metal of the gun flashing occasionally in the sunlight as they fought.

"Settle down, man, it's just a splint, for your leg!" Roy anxiously tried to explain. "It's nothing that's going to hurt us. We're out of danger now," he reassured Jerry.

After some struggling, Roy finally managed to knock the gun out of Jerry's hands. He pinned Jerry's arms to his side by holding him from behind. "It's over, we're out of danger now, we're out of danger," Roy kept repeating.

He rocked with Jerry until the man finally stopped struggling and started to break down, reality hitting him once again. "It's okay, Jefferson. Everything is going to be okay now. It's all over," Roy assured him gently.

"It will never be over," Jerry declared.

"Yes it will," Roy insisted. "Someday we may even forget about that place, the way most of the country already has."

Johnny cautiously peeked into the hole and saw Roy had Jerry subdued. "Roy, here comes the ladder," he called down as he and Vince carefully lowered the ladder into the hole. Roy took the bullets out of the gun and tucked it into the back of his pants before splinting Jerry's leg.

"You ready?" he asked Jerry when he was done. Jerry shook his head.

"I can't go up there," he insisted.

"It's okay, man," Roy assured him again. "You've already been through the worst and you survived. It can only get better now."

"How do you know?"

"I've been through it," Roy confided. "I know it's tough, but you can get past it. You can get on with your life again."

"Not the life I had before the war," he said sadly.

"No, that life is gone," Roy agreed. "But that's no excuse to not go on living. You survived. How many buddies did you have over there who can't say that?"

"Too many," murmured Jerry.

"Exactly. So you can't let it get the best of you. You can't let that place kill you, too," Roy almost pleaded.

"I don't know how to put it behind me," Jerry admitted.

"I can get you help," Roy offered, but Jerry shook his head.

"The doctors won't listen. No one wants to hear about this war," he said bitterly.

"I know one who will," Roy told him. "Come on, let's get you topside and we'll go see him."


"Can we turn that off?" Johnny pointed to the television in the lounge, which was still showing the desperate flights out of Saigon. "I am so sick of hearing about Vietnam."

"Sure," Dixie answered, shutting off the set. "You and Roy brought in a vet from there, didn't you?"

"Yeah. Really messed up guy," Johnny confided, shaking his head as he stared into his empty coffee mug. "He was completely out of it, thought he was in a hole in the middle of the jungle." Johnny poured himself another cup of coffee and gulped it down before going on. "Roy got through to him somehow, though, and convinced him to come up out of there."

"You telling Dix how you almost got me killed?" Roy grumbled as he entered.

Johnny shuddered at the cold look in his partner's eyes, but Dixie didn't pick up on Roy's anger. "No, he skipped that part," she said with a smile, expecting another amusing Johnny story. "Do tell."

"I tossed him a splint, like I've done a thousand times before," Johnny said defensively.

"Only this time I had a victim who thought he was in the middle of enemy fire, and who started shooting when something was tossed into his foxhole!" Roy exploded.

"I said I was sorry!" Johnny exclaimed, slamming down his coffee cup on the counter. "I didn't think."

"You never think!" Roy snapped.

"Roy!" Dixie scolded.

"Forget it, Dix, he's going to be mad at me even if I hadn't done anything," Johnny complained, starting to pace around the room anxiously.

"What's going on, you two?" Dixie asked worriedly. This isn't their usual bantering, this is downright ugly.

"Nothing," Roy answered shortly.

"A difference of opinion," Johnny explained. "I'm not upset enough about this war ending."

"That's not it!" Roy declared. "You don't care about it at all."

"Yes I do," Johnny insisted with a sigh of frustration. "Maybe now a few of my friends from back home will make it out on two feet instead of in a body bag."

So that's it. "You've lost a lot of friends over there?" Dixie asked. Johnny nodded. "Why don't you tell me about them?" she prodded, putting a comforting hand on his good shoulder.

"Not much to tell," Johnny said with a shrug, pulling away from Dixie and starting to pace again. "They thought fighting over there would bring them honor."

"So they went to be heroes?" Dixie asked.

"Some did, I guess. Others just wanted to get out," Johnny admitted. "See, life's not full of opportunity where I come from. The military looks pretty good compared to the rez, even during a war. So a lot of guys I knew signed up. They were used to fighting for their lives and for freedom, so why not get paid for it?" Johnny shook his head sadly. "They had no idea what they were in for over there."

"Why didn't you go?" Roy wanted to know. "Even if you didn't enlist, by the time the draft started you would have been old enough."

"I was, but my number never came up. Or maybe they passed over me because I was in the Academy by then," Johnny said with a sigh. "I don't know. I've been asking myself for seven years why my brother had to go and I didn't."

"Your brother served in 'Nam?" a surprised Roy asked. "You never told me that."

"You never asked," Johnny told him.

"I didn't even know you had a brother," Dixie admitted.

"I don't," Johnny replied softly. "He's dead." He strode to the door abruptly and jerked it open. "I'm going to pick up some meds for my shoulder. I'll meet you at the squad," he told Roy, then flashed Dixie a half-hearted smile. "See ya, Dix."

She nodded a goodbye, then turned her attention to Roy." I told you that you weren't getting the whole story about his feelings on the war."

"How was I supposed to know about his brother?" Roy asked defensively. "He never talks about his family."

"Was Johnny right? Do you ever ask?" Dixie questioned him with a reproving look.

"I have few times," Roy answered. Though not as often as he's asked about mine. But that's because he's avoided most of my questions on the subject.

"Johnny's past is the one thing he doesn't go on and on about," Roy explained to Dixie. "In fact, he doesn't talk about it at all, even when I'd ask. So I stopped asking."

"Maybe you shouldn't have given up so easily," she suggested.

"Maybe," Roy said thoughtfully, draining his coffee and setting the cup on the counter. "I'll try to talk to him on the way back to the station."

"Good idea," Dixie assured him. "Let me know how it goes."

He nodded and left as Dixie turned the television back on.


Johnny and Roy were again riding along silently, but this time it was Roy who couldn't stand the quiet.

"What did Brackett give you for your shoulder?" he asked.

"Percodan. I don't think I'll need it, though," Johnny admitted. "It doesn't hurt all that much. But the doc thought I should have it just in case."

"You'll probably be glad you have it in a couple hours," Roy told him, desperately trying to keep the conversation going. Johnny only shrugged in response.

Roy sighed and let the breath out loudly. "Okay, let's talk about this."

"About what?" Johnny asked absently.

"Why didn't you ever tell me about your brother?" Roy asked.

"There's nothing to tell. He thought he was going to be a hero, a great warrior like his ancestors," Johnny said bitterly. "Instead he ended up dead."


"What do you mean how? Fighting a stupid war," Johnny nearly spat.

"No, how did he die?" Roy clarified, taking great effort to ignore the stupid war comment. "Where was he killed?"

"Hue," Johnny answered softly, surprised at the pain that still lingered even all these years later. His mind flashed back vividly to the anguished call from his mother breaking the news.


Seven years earlier...

Johnny stumbled out of bed at the sound of the ringing phone. Where's my gear, where's my gear?

"It's not the klaxon, idiot, it's the phone," muttered Paul Stone from the bunk above Johnny.

"Then answer the damn thing," growled Adam Cordell, their other roommate at the Fire Academy.

"Gage is closest," Paul protested.

"Hello," Johnny mumbled into the receiver as he grabbed the phone off the wall and flopped back onto his bed.

"Cisko," Johnny's mother sobbed.

"Mama, what's wrong?" Johnny asked, the catch in his voice revealing his panic.

"To' kapi kin micinks ktepi ksto," his mother wailed.

Johnny struggled to translate her words in his head. To'kapi kin micinye ktepelo, he repeated to himself. My dying son? he translated wrongly. Damn, Lily must have told her about my accident.

"I'm okay," Johnny assured her. "It was only a little burn, it's going to heal up in a couple days."

His mother didn't seem to hear him as she said again, "To'kapi kin micinks ktepi ksto."

Johnny sighed in confusion. I'm much too tired to speak Lakhota tonight. "Mama, please talk English," he pleaded wearily. "I don't understand."

His mother continued her lament. "To'kapi kin micinks ktepi ksto," she repeated, louder this time.

Suddenly Johnny realized the meaning of her words. The enemy kills my son.

"Tokapi kin micinye ktepi huwo?" Johnny repeated his mother's words back to her, ignoring his roommates' curious looks. "Will?"

"Ohan," his mother confirmed with a sob.

They killed Will. They killed Will!

"No," Johnny choked. It was more a sob than a word.



Roy put a hand on his partner's shoulder. Maybe it wasn't such a good idea to make him talk about this. I've never seen him look so hurt before. "Are you okay?"

"It's been a long time since I've thought about him," Johnny murmured. "Too long."

"He was a Marine?" Roy guessed. "I know they got the worst of it in Hue."

Johnny nodded, surprised. "Weren't you back here by then?"

"Yeah, but I still followed the war," Roy explained. "Even though the rest of the country was giving up on it by then."

"Myself included," Johnny admitted.

"Were you a protester?" Roy asked, obviously surprised. I can't see Johnny as part of that crowd. Unless he was doing it to get close to a girl.

"I was until I had to cut my hair for the Academy and didn't fit in anymore," Johnny answered with a smile. Roy only frowned.

"I'm serious. Were you one of those protesters?' he demanded to know.

"Briefly," Johnny confessed.

"How could you do that? Especially with your brother over there," Roy asked.

"I wasn't speaking to my brother at the time," Johnny revealed. "We had a falling out when I moved to L.A."

"Over the war?" Roy guessed, but Johnny shook his head.

"Will didn't agree with my decision to leave the reservation," he explained. "He saw it as a betrayal."

"What do you mean?" Roy asked. "From everything you've told me about your life there, I can't imagine anyone begrudging you leaving."

"Will did," Johnny sighed.


"You know I have a different father than my brother and sister, right?" Johnny asked.

How was I supposed to know that? Roy shook his head.

"I must have told you," Johnny frowned.

You never tell me anything to do with your family. "I think I would have remembered something like that."

"Well anyway, they're full-bloods, like my mother," Johnny went on. "My father was white. It never made any difference to them -- home was the one place where I wasn't seen as an outsider. When I decided to leave, though, my brother took it as me thinking I was too good for the reservation because I was half-white."

"That's ridiculous," Roy burst out, eliciting a wry smile from Johnny.

"That's what I told him, but he was too stubborn to listen," Johnny said sadly. "He refused to see that I was only trying to give myself a better chance in life."

"Did you work things out before he went to 'Nam?" Roy asked, not surprised when Johnny shook his head.

"See, I didn't go right into the Academy when I left home," Johnny explained. "I drifted around for a few months until I finally landed in L.A. I decided to stay here, but I didn't know yet what I was going to do with myself. Will saw I wasn't doing anything different than I'd been doing on the rez, and considered that proof that he'd been right about my real reasons for leaving."

"What about when you went into the department?"

"He was already in Vietnam by then," Johnny said with a sigh. "I wrote and told him about passing the test and going to the Academy, but we never got to talk things out face to face."

"That must have been tough," Roy sympathized. Johnny shrugged.

"I did get a letter from him before he died, telling me how proud he was about what I wanted to do, and how being away from the rez himself had helped him understand a little better my reasons for going," Johnny shared. "It didn't make losing him any easier, though. In fact, I think it made it harder, because I regretted even more the time we'd wasted being angry with each other. I missed the last year of his life because we were both too stubborn to talk things out."

Johnny paused for a moment as Roy pulled the squad into the station. "That's why I hate it when we fight, you know. I'm always afraid something's going to happen before we can work it out, and I'll have to live with that regret again."

Johnny was out of the squad before Roy could respond to his confession. Roy followed him into the kitchen, where Chet, Mike, Marco and Cap were watching a Dodgers game. "Who's winning?" Roy asked, wandering over to the TV. He watched out of the corner of his eye as Johnny grabbed a sandwich and milk from the fridge before disappearing silently out the kitchen door.

"Dodgers, three-zip," Hank answered. "What's up with Gage?"

"Bad morning," was all Roy would say as he pulled up a chair.

"I'll get him out of his funk," Chet offered, standing up.

"Leave him alone, Chet," Roy warned, the tone of his voice sending Kelly right back into his chair.

"Everything okay, Pal?" Hank questioned worriedly. And don't you dare try to lie to me, because I can see something's going on with you two.

"Everything's fine, Cap," Roy assured Stanley. "Johnny just needs a few minutes alone."

I'm not giving up that easily. "How's his shoulder?" Hank grilled Roy. "He's not trying to cover anything up, is he?"

"No," Roy assured him. "Brackett gave him some pain meds, but he hasn't needed them."

"You'd let me know if it was affecting his work, right?" Hank asked.

"Of course. But it's not," Roy insisted. "This has nothing to do with his shoulder."

"So what does it have to do with?" Chet piped up.

"None of your business, Chet," Marco scolded.

"Hey, if the two of them are going to mope around here bringing down the rest of us, I think we deserve to know why," defended Chet.

"We got shot at, and it shook us up a little, okay?" Roy declared in exasperation.

"You got shot at?!" Hank bellowed. "What the hell happened?"

"Guy holed himself up in a half-dug swimming pool with a gun," Roy explained. "We tried to treat the leg he broke when he jumped in there, and he took a few shots at us."

"Where were the police?" Mike asked.

"Vince was with us, but the guy was shooting at him, too."

"Did he shoot back?" Marco wanted to know. All were surprised when Roy shook his head.

"I don't think he wanted to hurt the guy," Roy told them. "Vince knew he was just messed up."

"A druggie?" Mike guessed.

"No, a 'Nam vet," Roy said. "He thought the pool was a foxhole."

"A buddy I was over there with got like that after we came home," Chet confided. "He didn't get his hands on a gun or anything, but he kept having these flashbacks about things that happened when we were over there."

"What did they do to help him?" Roy asked.

"He wouldn't go see anyone, said he just needed to talk about it with me, someone who had been through the same things he had," Chet said with a sigh. "I guess I should have pushed him to get some real help, but I figured it was something he'd get over."

"But he didn't," guessed Marco.

"Nah," Chet admitted with a shake of his head, suddenly sorry he'd brought up the subject as he felt his throat tightening with emotion. "I don't even know where he is now. He wandered off one day and his family hasn't seen him since."

There was an uncomfortable silence, which Hank finally broke. "So, what set this guy off?"

"All those helicopters on the news, I guess," Roy said with a shrug.

"Can you believe that?" Hank commented, shaking his head.

Chet pushed up out of his chair in disgust. "Makes me wonder why I put my ass on the line over there if they were just going to give up like that."

"It's been more than a decade, Chet, it had to stop sometime," Mike spoke up.

"What are you, Mikey, a closet hippie?" Chet shot back.

"No, but I agree with them that too many people have died over there," Mike admitted.

"Stoker's a hippie, who would have thought it," Chet marveled with a shake of his head.

"Knock it off, Kelly," Hank ordered.

"What do you even know about the war, Stoker?" Chet continued. "You weren't there."

"Chet, this isn't the time or place for this," Marco chided.

"And where did you serve, Marco?" Chet snapped.

"I said that's enough!" bellowed Hank.

"You're better than us because you fought over there?" Mike ranted at Chet, rising out of his chair.

"At least I served my country!" Chet declared, getting up in Stoker's face as best he could considering the height difference. Hank was up almost as quickly, separating the two men.

"So was I, by protecting the people of this county, not going off to a country where we had no business being in the first place!" Mike retorted. Chet tried to lunge for him, but Hank had a tight grip on the furious Irishman.

"Come on, Pal, cool down," he coaxed, but Chet continued to struggle. Only the sound of the klaxon could distract him from his anger.

Station 51, Station 10 in place of Station 69, Fireboat 110, respond to a warehouse fire, in the marine terminal at Ocean Boulevard and Marine Drive. Warehouse fire, Ocean Boulevard and Marine Drive. Structure is at the far end of the terminal, on the water. Time out 15:32.

"Station 51, KMG-365," Stanley responded, making a note of the address. As he handed the note to Roy, Hank noticed Johnny slowly climb into the squad instead of bounding in the way he usually did. Not him, too. Isn't it bad enough I've got a rig full of angry firefighters?

Hank climbed into the cab of the engine. Stoker seems okay, though. A closer glance at his engineer told him differently. The vein in Mike's neck popped from his tightly-clenched jaw as he steered the engine out of the station. If Stoker's that upset, do I even want to look at Kelly?

Hank slowly sneaked a peak behind him. Chet was rocking back and forth in his seat the way he always did when he was agitated or excited. Marco was leaning in close to his friend, his hand on Chet's shoulder as he talked softly to him. Hank breathed a sigh of relief as Chet stopped rocking. Thank you, Marco. Let's hope his temper stays under control until we can get back here safely.


"What's with him?" Johnny asked Roy as Chet charged ahead of them with the hose, Marco struggling to keep up with him.

"Venting some anger," Roy called back as the two pulled their own hose through the smoky hallway, following Chet and Marco's lead.

"There's better places to do that," Johnny grumbled. "He's going to get himself killed -- and maybe us, too."

"He's too good for that," Roy assured him. "And Marco is keeping an eye on him, he won't get out of hand."

"I hope you're right," Johnny muttered as they approached the main section of the warehouse. He stopped short when he saw the room, which was being consumed by a fire that the spray of their hoses could do nothing to control. "Roy."

"I'm already on it," he assured Johnny. "Engine 51, this is Squad 51!" Roy yelled into his H.T., trying to be heard over the sound of the fire.

"Go ahead, Squad 51," came Cap's voice.

Roy went to reply, but lost his hold on the hose as he clicked on the radio again. Johnny grimaced in pain as the full force of the hose fell upon his weakened shoulder. Roy instinctively reached for Johnny as he saw his partner stumble, but Johnny managed to get control of the line on his own.

"You okay?" Roy asked Johnny, who nodded. Roy went back to the H.T. "Engine 51, we're going to need more manpower in here!"

"It's on the way," Hank assured them. "The fireboat is already pumping from the other side, Station 10 should be here in five minutes, and I've called for a second and third alarm."

"Five minutes?" Johnny mumbled as a barrel exploded in the distance and shot up to the ceiling. "This place will be gone by then."

"Let's make sure we don't go with it," Roy said, clicking on the H.T. again. "Engine 51, this is Squad 51. Cap, it's way too hot in here."

"10-4, Squad 51. Get out and let the boat handle it."

"10-4." Roy turned to Johnny. "We're getting out!" he yelled. "Can you handle this hose, and I'll get Chet and Marco?"

Johnny nodded and gritted his teeth, anticipating the pain he knew would come as soon as Roy again relinquished his hold on the hose. "You can do this, you can do this, you have to do this," Johnny mumbled as a white-hot flash of pain shot through his shoulder. Focus on your job, he reminded himself as he turned his attention and the hose to the flames creeping up around Roy.

"Where the hell are you guys?" Roy muttered as he made his way deeper into the burning room. Suddenly he spotted Chet charging ahead about fifty feet, Marco still trying to keep up. Maybe I was wrong about Marco being able to keep him under control.

Marco was having the same doubts. "Come on, Chet, we need to slow down," he pleaded. Chet kept charging ahead, so Marco banged him on the shoulder. "Chet, stop!"

"What's wrong?" an annoyed Chet asked.

"We can't go this far without backup," Marco warned. "We're going to get trapped."

"We have backup, Gage and DeSoto are right behind us," Chet reminded him, turning back to the fire.

"No one is backing them up, though, and the four of us can't handle this alone," Marco insisted.

Marco's warning went unheeded when the flames next to Chet rose up, almost as if attacking him. It was all too familiar to Chet, whose mind took him back to a similar fire.


Nine years earlier…

Fire roared through the trees behind him as the napalm consumed the jungle. All around Chet, voices moaned.



"Kelly!" they pleaded, begging him to save them from becoming part of the inferno.

I can't get them all out. Isn't there anyone else not hurt?

"I'll be back for you," Chet promised as he flung another of his wounded comrades over his shoulder and ran for the idling helicopter. When he dropped the man inside the open door, the medic grabbed his arm.

"That's it, Kelly," he ordered. "We've got to get out of here before the fire takes the chopper out, too."

"But there's at least 10 guys still alive in there," Chet protested. "We can't let them burn!"

"You'll die with them if you go back in there," the pilot warned Chet. "I'm getting this bird out of here with or without you."

"We've got to get that fire out!" Chet yelled, trying to pull free from the medic's grip. The man kept a surprisingly strong hold on Chet and pulled him into the helicopter as the pilot took off.

"With what?" the medic questioned Chet. "This thing doesn't carry any water, and we sure as hell don't have a hose out here. There's nothing you can do, Kelly. There's nothing you can do..."


"There is something I can do!" Chet ranted at the fire, wildly waving the hose in all directions as fire leapt at him and Marco from every side. Marco had to let go of the hose to keep from being thrown off balance and into the fire.

"Loco Irlandes," Marco muttered, steadying himself. "I'm not going to die in here with you."

He grabbed Chet by the shoulders and started pulling him out. Chet tried to resist, but he couldn't fight Marco and hang on to the hose at the same time, so he let Marco lead him back a few steps. They both nearly tumbled over Roy.

"There you are!" Roy exclaimed. "Come on, we've got to get out of here."

"I'm trying," Marco groused. "Maybe you can help."

Roy nodded and took Chet's arm. "Come on, this whole place is going to go," he warned. "Let's make sure we don't go with it."

"I've got it under control," Chet insisted.

"You can't put this out all by yourself," Roy reminded him. "We've got no backup yet, Cap says to pull out."

"10s will be here any minute. We can handle this if you guys stop jerking around and get back on the hose," Chet snapped, pulling his arm away from Roy and directing the hose at the flames that were starting to lick at their feet.

"No, we’re getting out of here, even if I have to carry you out," Marco threatened, reaching for the hose to turn off the nozzle.

Chet jerked away and lost his grip on the hose. It went flying, spraying water all around them as it slammed first into Marco and then into Chet, knocking both of them off their feet. Roy got control of the hose and turned off the nozzle, then looked around for Chet and Marco.

"Oh God, what did I do?" Chet moaned, looking up and seeing Marco lying face down on the floor. "Marco," he called as he crawled over to him. "Marco, can you hear me?"

"Chet, get out of here," Roy ordered. "I'll get Marco."

Roy bent down next to Marco and gently rolled him over, picking out the pieces of glass from the broken facemask that had taken the brunt of the hose's impact. Then he put Marco over his shoulder and turned his attention back to Chet, who had picked up the hose again.

"Chet, we're getting out!" Roy screamed.

"Only if I cover you with this hose!" Chet shouted back. "Get Marco out of here, I'll watch your back."

Roy nodded and started out with Marco as Chet turned on the hose. "Oh man," Chet muttered as pain shot through his left side.

He tried to ignore it and continue on, but the room started to spin. What is wrong with me? As much as the guys rib me about the shape I'm in, they all know I can handle the hose better than any of them. Except for today. Chet shook his head as the spinning got worse, but he couldn't shake it off. He remembered to turn off the nozzle just as everything went black.

Roy noticed the spray behind him stop and turned in time to see Chet hit the floor. "Damn," he mumbled. "I can't carry both of you out of here. "Where's...."

Before the question was even out of his mouth, Johnny was at his side. "What happened?" he asked as he spotted the bleeding Marco.

"Hose got out of control," Roy explained. "Chet's down, too, can you get him?"

"We're not going to get out of here without a hose," Johnny warned. "The whole hallway's on fire now."

"We have to try it," Roy decided. "We can't leave him in here."

Johnny was already at Chet's side. How am I going to do this? Taking a deep breath, Johnny tried to fling Chet over his good shoulder. His sore arm refused to bear the weight, though, and Johnny fell to the floor with a cry, Chet landing on top of him. Johnny shrugged off the dead weight of the unconscious firefighter and stumbled to his feet, slipping his hands under Chet's back, determined to try again.

"Johnny, don't!" Roy ordered. "I'll get us more help." He pulled the H.T. out of his pocket. "Engine 51, this is Squad 51. Cap, we need another man in here!" Roy yelled into it. "Lopez and Kelly are down, and we've got fire all around us."

Hank was on his H.T. with the fireboat and didn't catch Roy's desperate plea, but Mike heard it from his position next to the engine. He grabbed the radio from the cab. "We'll be right there, Roy," he promised.

He quickly found an air tank and strapped it on, and was almost in the building before Hank noticed what he was doing.

"Stoker, where are you going?" he demanded to know as he caught up with his engineer.

"They can't get out, I've got to go get them," Mike explained anxiously.

"I'll go," Hank commanded.

"I've got them, Cap," Mike announced. "You keep an eye on my girl here," he requested, pointing to the engine. "We're going to need those lines to stay charged in order to get out of there."

Mike ran into the building before Hank could protest. Mike quickly realized he wouldn't get anywhere without a hose and started pulling on one of the ones at his feet, until he finally got the nozzle in his hands.

Boy, have I missed this. Mike smiled as the hose came to life. He played it up and down the walls, watching in fascination as the flames turned into mist. His joy was short-lived as he caught sight of the room where the hoses led. It was wall to wall fire, with no signs of his station-mates anywhere.

"Please don't let this be burned through, please let me find them," Mike prayed as he trained the water in front of him, following the other hose at his feet. Suddenly he felt a hand on his arm. Johnny, he realized.

"Mike, I can handle the hose if you can get Chet," Johnny told him.

Mike nodded. "Where is he?"

Johnny pointed down, where Mike saw Chet lying on the ground. Marco was beside him, while Roy sprayed the hose in a circle around them, trying to keep the fire at bay. Mike handed off his hose to Johnny and easily scooped Chet into a fireman's carry.

"Let's go," he shouted to Roy. Roy nodded, turned off his hose, and picked up Marco. He and Mike followed closely behind Johnny as he cut a path through the flames with the hose. The fire followed right behind them.

"Come on, Johnny, come on Johnny," Roy coaxed softly as they headed for the hallway.

Johnny leaned to the left, trying to balance the weight of the hose on his good arm. You're their only way out of here. You've got to hang on.

Roy worried watched his partner's lopsided gait as Johnny led them back toward the hallway. "Hang in there, Junior," he pleaded.

Suddenly a stream of water showered over Roy. Did Johnny fall? No, that's another hose. He sighed in relief as one of the firefighters from 10s appeared in front of Johnny, shooting at the fire chasing them.

"I thought once I wasn't partnered with you anymore, I was done saving your sorry butt," Tony Freeman joked to Johnny.

"No such luck, buddy. What say we get out of here?" Johnny suggested.

Tony nodded. Johnny continued out, tackling the fire in front of them, while Tony made sure the flames stayed off their backs. Johnny anxiously checked every few steps to make sure Roy and Mike were keeping up. As Engine 10 charged in with another line, 51 finally made it safely outside, where Hank was stationed by the door.

"Stoker, what the hell were you thinking?" he barked, as Mike started out with Chet.

"Sorry, Cap," Mike said contritely. "I couldn't let Kelly die while he was mad at me."

"Die? What's wrong with him? What happened in there?" Hank grilled him.

"Hose got out of control," Roy explained as he started for the squad.

"How?" Hank demanded to know. Roy shrugged.

"Here comes 28s," Mike pointed out, seeing the engine and ladder truck approaching. Hank's attention immediately returned to his duties.

"Engine 28, this is Engine 51. Give me coverage on the left-hand side," he commanded. "There are two entrances there. I want an inch and a half through each door."

"10-4, 51," replied Engine 28.

Engine 24 pulled up just as Hank was about to turn his attention back to Roy. "Engine 24, this is Engine 51. Pull two inch and a halves and back up Engine 10 through the front door.

"10-4, 51," came 24s reply.

Hank trotted over to the squad, where Roy was laying Marco down on the blanket spread out there. "How bad is it?"

"I don't know yet, Cap," Roy admitted as he slipped off Marco's helmet.

"Keep me updated," Hank instructed. "And I want answers about how all this happened, as soon as I take care of this mess." He ran off, yelling orders into his H.T. to choreograph the moves of each piece of approaching apparatus.

"Stoker, put me down," Chet mumbled. Mike lowered him to the blanket Johnny laid out, and took off his helmet and facemask.

"Lay down, Chester B., let me have a look at you," Johnny demanded as he sneaked a quick peak over at Roy. Chet remained sitting up, his eyes following Johnny's.

"I'm fine, Gage. Go help with Marco," he demanded, hoping Johnny didn't notice him wince as he tried to straighten up a little. No such luck.

"Where are you hurt?" Johnny asked as he knelt beside Chet.

"I just had the wind knocked out of me," insisted Chet, slamming his arm into his left side to keep himself from screaming out in pain. "Go help Roy with Marco, I think he's hurt bad."

"You were out cold, too," Mike spoke up.

Shut up, Stoker, Chet wanted to tell Mike, but he held his tongue. My temper has caused enough trouble already. "It was the smoke," Chet lied to Mike and Johnny. "I think the hose hit my tank and knocked it loose."

Mike tried to check his air tank, but Chet pulled away from him. Johnny was distracted by Roy's obvious struggle to help Marco and didn't notice Chet's gasp of pain as he moved, but Mike did.

"Chet, why don't you let Johnny check you over, just in case?" Mike suggested.

"I'll ride into Rampart with you guys, have the doc check me out," Chet promised Johnny. "You need to help with Marco. It looks like Roy has his hands full."

"Are you sure you're okay?" Johnny asked. He's definitely hurting. But it doesn't seem to be that bad.

"I'm fine. Go," Chet ordered.

"Mike, put some O2 on him and get me some vitals," Johnny instructed. "Get his tank and his turnout off, too, so I can take a look at those ribs he's trying to pretend aren't hurting."

Mike chuckled as Johnny hurried over to Roy. "And you thought you were pulling one over on him."

"I didn't want him wasting time on my stupid ribs when Marco needs both of them," Chet said bitterly. "He wouldn't even be hurt if it wasn't for me."

"Don't blame yourself," Mike tried to reassure him. "Accidents happen."

"Not when you keep your head," Chet sighed. "I lost it in there, Stoker. I let my past get the best of me, and now Marco's paying the price."

Mike fought the urge to agree. He feels bad enough as it is. He can't help his anger controls him a little too much sometimes.

"Can you help me get this coat off?" Chet requested, fumbling with the buckles of his turnout. "I'm hot as hell."

Mike nodded, shrugging off his air tank, then helping Chet do the same. "That hurt?" he asked as Chet gasped. Chet shook his head, but his pale, drawn face told another story. Mike gently eased the tank the rest of the way off, then did the same with Chet's turnout, closely watching Chet as he did so.

"What?" Chet snapped.

"Those ribs are really hurting, aren't they?"

"A little," was all Chet would admit to.

"Does it hurt to breathe?" Mike questioned Chet, noticing his labored respiration.

"Only when I inhale or exhale," Chet joked, but his heart wasn't in the quip.

"Be serious," Mike admonished him. "How bad does it hurt when you breathe?"

Oh what the hell, I might as well tell him. "Pretty bad," he admitted. He tried to shift into a more comfortable position but instead doubled over in pain. Mike leaned Chet back against him as he slipped out of his turnout. He quickly folded his and Chet's coats and laid Chet back against them.

"That better?" he asked as Chet relaxed against the coats, closing his eyes. Chet answered with only a slight nod. "I'm going to check your pulse, okay?"

"'M fine, Stoker," Chet mumbled.

"Humor me, I need the practice," Mike told him, taking Chet's wrist. After getting a pulse, he lay a hand on Chet's chest, trying to keep up as he counted Chet's quick and shallow respirations. "I think you should ride to Rampart in an ambulance, not the squad," Mike suggested.

"Pulse...that...bad?" Chet struggled to ask. When did that elephant sit down on my chest?

"It's a little fast," was Mike's reply.

How much is a little? Chet wanted to ask, but decided it wasn't worth the effort. He tried to count the respirations himself, but it was too hard to focus on the task. I don't remember hurting like this the last time I cracked my ribs. He sucked in a breath and gasped at the pain that shot through his left side.

"Relax, Kelly, relax," Mike soothed. "Let me put this on you." He slipped a non-rebreather over Chet's face. "Breathe that in while I go get Johnny."

"No," Chet protested, but his body fought back when he tried to sit up. "Oh man," he gasped as he fell back.

"Don't move," Mike ordered. "Johnny!"

"What?" Johnny called back, his eyes not leaving Marco.

"I need one of you guys over here," Mike said, panic obvious in his voice.

"What's wrong?" Roy asked, glancing over at Mike and seeing Chet on the ground. "I thought you said Chet was okay," Roy told Johnny.

"He was fine a few minutes ago," Johnny insisted as he turned and saw Chet's still form lying on the turnouts. Even from a distance he could see the rapid rise and fall of Chet's chest.

"He's not fine now," Roy commented. "Go check him out, I've got things under control here."

Roy returned his attention to Marco, not noticing the hurt look on Johnny's face as Johnny hurried over to Chet.

"What the hell happened?" Johnny hissed at Mike.

"I'm not sure," Mike admitted. "He seemed okay, but then he started having more and more trouble breathing."

"What are his vitals?"

"His pulse was 128 and thready," Mike informed him. "The respirations were 40, shallow and very labored. I didn't get a BP yet."

"Go get the cuff from Roy while I take a look at his ribs," Johnny ordered. Mike nodded and ran over to Roy.

Johnny carefully cut open Chet's shirt, wincing when he saw the contusion covering most of Chet's left side. "Why didn't you tell me you were hurting so bad, buddy?" Johnny asked him.

"Marco," Chet gasped.

"Marco's going to be fine," Johnny assured him as he palpated Chet's chest. Chet moaned in response. "Sorry, Chester, I need to figure out exactly where you're hurt," he explained gently as he leaned down to listen to Chet's lungs.

Johnny mentally kept track of Chet's injuries as he found them. Fractured ribs on the left side, paradoxical movement in the chest, decreased breath sound on the left side, increasingly labored respirations, cyanosis around the mouth, cool, clammy skin...

Mike interrupted his exam. "Roy's on the line with Rampart, he wants to know Chet's condition."

"In a minute," Johnny snapped as he snatched the BP cuff from Mike and put it on Chet.

"Hey, I'm only the messenger," Mike muttered.

"Sorry, Mike," Johnny mumbled as inflated the BP cuff. He frowned as he let it deflate and saw the reading. "Who's Roy got on the line?"

"Sounds like Brackett," Mike told him.

Johnny nodded. "Keep an eye on Chet for a minute," he instructed. "Let me know if his breathing changes, even the slightest bit."

Mike nodded. Johnny put a hand on Chet's shoulder. "Chet, I have to go talk to the doc, but I'll be right back." He got no response from Chet. "Chet, can you hear me?"

Chet mumbled incoherently. "Watch him close, Mike, I'll be right back," Johnny said as he sprung to his feet and hurried over to Roy.

"What'cha got, Johnny?" Roy asked. He waved over the approaching ambulance as it weaved its way through the mass of fire apparatus.

"Looks like a pneumothorax," Johnny guessed. "He's not getting much air at all."

"Do you have vitals?"

Johnny nodded, slapping his notebook against his hand. "The pressure's really building up in his chest. I don't know how much longer he'll be able to breathe on his own," he told Roy, casting an anxious glance over at Chet.

"That bad?"

Johnny nodded somberly. "What about Marco?"

"I finally got a tube in, but I still don't like the way he's breathing," Roy admitted. "I'm worried he might have a skull fracture, so I want to get him into Rampart as soon as possible."

"Chet needs to go right away, too. Do we only have one ambulance?" Johnny asked, anxiously looking around at the sea of fire apparatus.

"I don't know," Roy admitted. He grabbed his H.T. "L.A., this is Squad 51."

"Go ahead, Squad 51."

"How many ambulances have been dispatched to our location?" Roy queried.

"Two, Squad 51," came the reply. "Plus, an additional squad."

"What's the ETA on the second ambulance?" asked Roy tightly, trying to keep the emotion out of his voice as he looked from Marco to Chet.

"Stand by, Squad 51," Dispatch instructed. Roy drummed his fingers impatiently as he waited for a reply. "ETA on the second ambulance is about 10 minutes, Squad 51," they finally replied.

"10-4, L.A.," Roy answered, looking up at Johnny. "Should we flip a coin?" he asked with a wan smile.

"How can you even joke about our friends' lives?" Johnny berated him. "We'll take them in together."

"And both of us will go with them?" Roy asked. Johnny answered with a nod. "Don't you think that's going to be a little crowded? We're going to need two resuscitators, plus all our equipment."

"We'll manage," Johnny declared. "Unless you'd like to choose between them."

"They both go," Roy agreed.

"Great. I need to talk to Brackett and update him on Chet." Johnny grabbed the receiver of the biophone. "Rampart, this is Squad 51."

"Hold on a minute, 51," Brackett instructed.

Johnny tapped his fingers impatiently on the biophone, looking anxiously over at Chet, then noticing Roy starting to package up Marco for the hospital. "Why don't you put him on the stretcher and we'll take Chet on the backboard?" Johnny suggested. It'll be easier to do CPR on him when -- if -- it comes to that.

Brackett's voice interrupted his thoughts. "Go ahead, 51."

"Rampart, we have an update on our second patient," Johnny told him. "Patient is now semi-conscious. He's diaphoretic, increasingly cyanotic, and there's diminished breath sounds on the left side, which was the point of impact."

"Any paradoxical movement in the chest, 51?" Brackett asked.

"Affirmative, Rampart."

"Johnny, his respirations are up to 54," Mike called over to him. "His pulse is getting weaker, too, and he's not answering me anymore."

"What are the vitals on Patient Two, 51?" Brackett wanted to know.

"Respirations are 54 and ragged, pulse is thready and 128, and his BP is 88 over 56," Johnny answered tightly, trying to get a better look at Chet as he talked.

"Stabilize the chest, if you haven't already, 51," Brackett ordered. "Start an IV, Ringers Lactate wide open, and keep him well ventilated."

"The pressure's really building up in his chest, Doc," Johnny informed Brackett.

"Do the best you can to ventilate him anyway," Brackett instructed. "I'd rather not decompress the chest until you get him in here, unless he really goes downhill on the way in."

"10-4, Rampart," said Johnny reluctantly.

"What's your ETA, 51?"

"ETA is approximately 15 minutes, Rampart," Johnny answered.

"On both patients?" Brackett checked.

"Affirmative, Rampart," Johnny told him. "We only have one ambulance on-scene, so were bringing them in together."

"10-4, 51. We'll be waiting," Brackett said, clicking off the transmitter.

He waved down Dixie, who was approaching from Exam 1. "Dix, we've got a Code I times 2 coming in with 51 in about fifteen minutes," he informed her. "What do we have open?"

"Two's free," she said as she checked the charts on her desk. "Joe has a little girl with a tummy ache in One, but he should be done by the time 51 gets here. Any idea who's hurt?"

Brackett shook his head. "Johnny and Roy both sounded shaky, though, so I'm guessing the victims are from 51, too."

"How bad are they?" Dixie wanted to know.

"Both critical. Get me X-Ray down here for both of them," he instructed. "Also, call the OR and tell them we're going to send at least one patient up there, a chest injury."

Dixie nodded as she jotted down his instructions. "Anything else?"

"Tell Joe I'm going to need him for a possible head trauma," he ordered. "Get Mike down here, too."

"He's with a patient in Five, but I'll tell him to see you when he's done."

"Thanks, Dix." Brackett managed a grateful smile. "I'm going to stick close to the radio. I have a feeling Johnny and Roy are going to have a pretty hairy ride in here."


Morton hurried out with a gurney as Early yanked open the ambulance door and pulled out Marco. Joe and Roy hurried inside with Marco as Morton helped Johnny lift Chet's backboard onto the other stretcher.

"I won't ask how you all fit in there," Morton commented as Johnny worked out a kink in his shoulder, never losing his grip on the resuscitator. Johnny didn't seem to hear him, as focused as he was on watching the steady rise and fall of Chet's chest with each breath he delivered.

"Put him in One," Dixie ordered as they hurried inside. Dr. Brackett was waiting for them in the exam room and helped move Chet to the table.

"How have his vitals been since you decompressed?" Brackett asked Johnny as he examined Chet.

"His pulse rate is down, but not by much," Johnny told him. "His respirations were still way too shallow, so I kept ventilating him all the way in."

"Let me take over for you, Johnny," Dixie offered.

Johnny shook his head. "I've got it, Dix."

"You must be tired, you've been doing that for fifteen minutes," Dixie said, gently trying to take the resuscitator from him. "Take a break and give your shoulder a rest."

"I said I've got it, Dix!" Johnny burst out.

"No, you don't," Brackett reprimanded him. "You – start bagging!” he barked at a nurse in the room. Dix, get him out of here," he ordered, nodding his head toward Johnny.

"Doc..." Johnny started to protest.

"You've done all you can, Johnny," Dixie told him. "Let us take over now."

Johnny was about to protest more, but Dixie stopped him. "Fighting us on this won't help Chet any," she reminded Johnny. "Let Kel and Mike work in peace. We can wait right outside."

"Mike, after you get that IV, I want a type and cross, a blood count and a Chem 12," demanded Bracket. He glanced up at Johnny to see him shaking his head at Dixie.

"I'm staying in here," Johnny insisted.

Dixie knew the stubborn look on his face all too well. The only way I'm going to get him out of here is to carry him out. Brackett knew the look, too, and nodded to Dixie. "Okay, you can stay," Dixie told Johnny. "But only if you keep out of the way," she instructed, leading him into the corner.

"Will you check on Marco?" Johnny requested. Dixie nodded.

"Kel, do you need me in here?" she asked.

"I think we've got it covered, Dix," he answered without even looking up from examining the bruises on Chet’s chest.

"Why don't you come with me?" Dixie suggested to Johnny. He shook his head.

"I have to stay here with Chet," Johnny declared, his voice straining with emotion. "I've already let him down once today. I'm not going to do it again."

Dixie gave his arm a reassuring squeeze. "Marco's in Two, if you change your mind."

She stepped into the hall just as Roy came out of Exam Two, sidestepping the X-ray tech pushing his machine into the room.

"How is he?" Dixie asked as he peeked into the room.

"Better," Roy said with a small smile. "The bleeding has finally slowed, and he's breathing a lot better now. What about Chet?"

"He's still in rough shape," Dixie answered softly. "So is your partner."

"Johnny?" Roy asked worriedly. "What's wrong, is it his shoulder?"

"No, his head," Dixie explained. "I think he's blaming himself for Chet getting hurt."

"Chet's the only one to blame for Chet getting hurt," Roy informed her.

"What happened?"

"Our favorite Irishman got his Irish up a bit too much," Roy said wryly. "And even he couldn't keep control of the hose in the state he was in."

"So why is Johnny so upset?" Dixie questioned.

"We didn't realize at first how badly Chet was hurt," Roy admitted. "Johnny was helping me with Marco, and all of a sudden Chet went downhill -- fast."

"And Johnny's blaming himself for not catching it sooner," Dixie guessed. Roy nodded.

"Dix, we need you in here!" Brackett called, popping his head out Exam One.

Dixie ran into the exam room, Roy on her heels. Johnny was performing CPR on Chet as Morton bagged him and Brackett prepared the defibrillator.

"Charging, two, three, four," Brackett counted off. "Clear!" he called as he shocked Chet. Chet's body convulsed with electricity as all eyes in the room turned to the monitor."

'Still v-fib," Johnny muttered, resuming CPR.

"Lidocaine," Brackett ordered. The nurse handed off a syringe to Dixie, who checked it quickly before injecting the medication into the IV. "Roy, take over for Johnny"

"I got it," Johnny panted, wiping the sweat off his brow with the back of his hand as Morton delivered a breath with the bag. He resumed CPR as Brackett charged up the defibrillator again.

"One, two, three, four," Brackett called off again. "Clear!" he ordered, as he delivered another shock. Again, all eyes went to the monitor.

"Got him," Brackett called out triumphantly as the rhythm changed. "Let's get him up to the OR before he goes out on us again."

Johnny, Roy, Morton and Brackett quickly lifted Chet from the exam table to a stretcher. Morton rode the side of the stretcher, bagging Chet as Dixie and Brackett pushed the stretcher out of the room.

"I'll be down as soon as I can to let you guys know what's going on," Dixie promised as they disappeared out the door.

Roy started gathering their equipment as Johnny paced around the room. Johnny ducked under the exam table to pick up Chet's uniform shirt from the floor. "I better take his badge. I'd hate for him to lose another one," Johnny said as he unpinned the badge. He slipped it into his pocket as Roy watched worriedly.

"There was nothing more you could have done for him," Roy assured Johnny.

Johnny shook his head. "I should have seen sooner how badly he was hurt," he scolded himself. "I would have if I had checked his ribs right away."

"He wouldn't have let you," Roy reminded Johnny. He wanted us to focus on Marco. "And even if you had started to work him earlier, it probably wouldn't have turned out much differently."

Johnny shrugged, not convinced. "I need coffee," he declared, abruptly walking out of the treatment room.

Roy hurried after him. Johnny shuffled over to the coffeepot by the base station and picked it up, but stopped as he went to pour.

"What's wrong?" a concerned Roy asked.

"Nothing," Johnny answered shortly. He put the pot down, picked it up with his other hand and poured a cup. "You want some?"

Roy nodded. "Your shoulder that sore that you can't even pour coffee?" Roy grilled him.

"I can pour it just fine," Johnny insisted, pouring Roy a cup with a flourish.

"Do that with your other hand," Roy demanded.

"It's not my shoulder," Johnny protested. "My arm's a little numb from doing CPR, that's all."

"You sure?"

Johnny nodded. "Stop worrying about me, Roy."

"I can't help it," Roy admitted.

"That's okay, I kind of like it," Johnny confessed with a smile. "Should we make ourselves available?"

"We can't, we don't have a squad," Roy reminded him.

"That's right," Johnny muttered. "I guess Cap or Mike will bring it in for us."

"I'm sure they'll get here as soon as they can."

"But until then all we can do is sit and wait," Johnny complained with a sigh.

"I don't think I can sit," Roy told Johnny as he topped off his coffee and started pacing in front of Dixie's desk.

"Me either," Johnny admitted, poking around the desk.

"You better not let Dixie catch you in there," Early warned as he exited Exam Two.

"How's Marco?" Johnny and Roy asked in unison.

"Very lucky," Early said with a smile. "The skull films came back negative. He did break his nose and his cheekbone, though, and I had to call in a plastic surgeon to stitch up some of the deeper lacerations on his face. But I expect him to make a complete recovery."

"At least one of them will," Johnny murmured.

"How is Chet?" Early asked, putting a comforting hand on Johnny's shoulder. Johnny winced at the contact.

"Doc, I have another patient for you," Roy told Early.

"I've already had my shoulder looked at," Johnny growled.

"Have you been taking it easy like Kel told you to?" Early asked.

Roy shot Johnny a reprimanding look. "You were supposed to be taking it easy?"

"I take it you didn't follow that advice,' Early guessed.

"Anything but," Roy frowned.

"Exam Four," Early ordered, pointing down the hall.

Johnny opened his mouth to protest, but Roy spoke up first. "Go on, Junior, we've got to wait around here anyway."

"I'm fine," Johnny whined.

"I'll be the judge of that," stated Early as he put a hand on Johnny's back and propelled him down the hall.


Two hours later, Johnny -- his arm now in a sling -- was dozing on the sofa in the lounge. Roy sat next to him, watching a report of the fire on television.

"The blaze has finally been declared under control," the reporter was saying. "However, it will be hours before the fire is completely out and the extent of the damage can be determined. A fire department spokesperson would not confirm rumors that the fire was intentionally set. The owner of the building, Imports International, was not available for comment.

"Four firefighters have so far been injured in the blaze," the reporter continued. Dixie glanced at the television as she came into the lounge.

"Four?" a puzzled Roy repeated.

"Brice and Bellingham brought in two guys from Station 10," Dixie explained. "They weren't hurt too badly, though, and they should both be out tomorrow."

"Any word on Chet? Is he out of surgery?"

Roy slumped back on the sofa as Dixie shook her head. "Did you see Marco?"

"Just for a minute. His mother and sister came in while we were there," Roy explained. "We didn't want to intrude on any family stuff, so we came in here."

"You guys are family, too," Dixie commented.

"I don't know much Spanish, but I don't think his mother sees us that way," Roy told her. "She was pretty angry."

"She's upset, but she knows how much you guys mean to each other," Dixie assured him. "I'm sure she wouldn't mind you checking up on Marco."

"I'll go back after we know something about Chet." Roy glanced at his watch. "I didn't think the surgery would take this long."

"It should be over soon," Dixie comforted him.

"I wish we could go back into service," Roy said with a sigh. "Working would take my mind off waiting."

"I don't think your partner's in any shape to work," Dixie whispered, brushing a stray lock of hair off Johnny's forehead.

"I made him take a painkiller," Roy explained. "I knew we probably wouldn't have the squad back for awhile, and he was really hurting."

"Can Hank get him a replacement for today?"

"He'll have to, unless they stand down the station for the rest of the shift," Roy told her.

"They should after all you boys have been through," Dixie commented. She shook her head as she watched the footage of the burning warehouse. "I don't know how you can go into a building that's burning like that."

"You would if you'd ever done it," Roy replied.

The news footage changed to the helicopters over Saigon. Roy flicked off the set.

"I thought you were interested in all that," Dixie said.

"I don't ever want to hear about Vietnam again," declared Roy. "Talking about it only leads to trouble."

"I take it your talk with Johnny about his brother didn't go well," Dixie guessed.

"Actually, it did," Roy admitted. "I think he opened up to me more than he wanted to, but it was stuff I needed to know. It explained a lot about him."

"Good, I'm glad it worked out."

"Nurse McCall to Exam One," interrupted the hospital intercom. "Nurse McCall, you're needed in Exam One, stat."

"See you later," Dixie called as she hurried out.

Roy leaned back on the sofa, rubbing his face with his palms as he sighed. He got up and paced around the room, finally stopping at the coffeepot. "The last thing I need is more coffee," he mumbled, putting the pot down without pouring another cup.

He did another lap around the room, then went to the phone and punched in a number. "Hi, hon," he said as Joanne answered.

"Roy, thank God!" she exclaimed. "I've been calling the station for hours."

"There was a warehouse…" Roy started to explain.

"I know, I saw it on the news. They said four firefighters were hurt, and I could see the engine and the squad in the news footage, so I knew you were there," Joanne rambled on breathlessly. "I called Rampart, but they wouldn't give me the names of who was hurt, and I couldn't reach Dixie to ask her, so didn't know if you were okay," she started to sob. "I know you've told me not to worry, that they call when its bad news, but I couldn't help it. I had this awful feeling something was wrong."

"Honey, settle down," Roy soothed. "I'm fine, I wasn't one of the ones hurt."

"Johnny?" she choked out in between sobs.

"He's okay, too."

"But it was someone I know."

"Chet and Marco were two of them," Roy admitted.

Joanne sucked in a breath. "Is it bad?"

"It looks like Marco is going to be okay," Roy started.

He's giving me the good news first. Bad sign. "And Chet?"

"We don't know yet," Roy told her. "He's still in surgery, we're waiting to hear."

"I can come down and wait with you," Joanne offered.

"Where are the kids?"

"Jenny's here. Chris went to Bradley's after school, and Charlotte said he could stay for dinner," she explained. "I'm sure she'd take Jen for a couple hours, too, if you need me there."

"I'm okay," Roy reassured her. "Plus, I might have to go back in service once someone brings the squad in."

"I wish you could come home instead," Joanne admitted.

"So do I," Roy sighed.

"Call me if you change your mind," she instructed. "And I want to know how Chet and Marco are doing."

"I'll call you as soon as we hear anything," Roy promised.

"You better. Take care of yourself," she ordered. "I love you."

"Love you, too," he told her before hanging up the phone.

"I hope that was Joanne," Johnny mumbled as Roy hung up.

"No, my other wife," Roy joked. "How do you feel?"

"I'm not feeling much of anything," Johnny confessed, sitting up a bit groggily.

"Wish I could say that," Roy admitted.

"Any news?"

"Nothing yet," Roy sighed.

"How long was I out?" Johnny asked as he looked at his watch.

"About an hour," Roy told him as he poured a cup of coffee and brought it over to Johnny. "You look like you could use that."

"Thanks." Johnny took a gulp of the coffee, then leaned back against the sofa with a sigh. "Man, I am really out of it."

"Even more than usual?" Roy teased.

"Ha, ha," Johnny deadpanned. "I'm serious, Roy. I don't know if I could go back to work right now."

"I doubt we'll have to," Roy said. "But if we do, Charlie would probably cover for you."

Johnny nodded as he eased himself up off the sofa. "Maybe walking around will clear my head a little."

He started pacing around the room a bit unsteadily. As Johnny passed by the door, Hank barreled into the room, still wearing his sooty turnout coat. He ran into Johnny, sending his coffee cup flying and almost knocking Johnny to the ground.

"What's wrong with you?" a frustrated Hank asked as he steadied his woozy paramedic.

"Nothing, Cap," Johnny tried to lie.

"You wearing that thing on your arm for the hell of it?" Hank barked.

"No, sir," Johnny said contritely. "I overdid it a little in the fire and working on Chet."

Hank's demeanor changed immediately. "How is he?"

"We don't know yet," Roy spoke up. "He's still in surgery."

"So it's bad." It was more a statement than a question.

"It's something they can fix, Cap," Roy assured him.

"If Chet can hang on that long," Johnny muttered.

Hank didn't hear him. His attention was on Roy. "How's Marco?"

"It looks like he's going to be fine," Roy said with a smile. "They moved him to a room about an hour ago, and his mother and sister are with him now."

"Good, someone did call their families."

"Dix must have," Roy guessed.

"I wanted to do it myself, but I couldn't get away from the fire before now," Hank sighed. "It's a real mess down there. But Dispatch let Captain Thomas take over for me so I could bring the squad over and check up on my crew."

"Do you know what was in that place?" Johnny asked. "I haven't seen a room lit up like that since the Academy."

"I was hoping you guys might be able to tell me," Hank admitted. "The place pretty much burned to the ground; there aren't a whole lot of clues left to tell us anything."

"What was supposed to be in there, Cap?" Roy questioned.

"The manifest of the ship that unloaded yesterday said it was clothing," Hank informed them.

"Who would want to burn up some clothes?" Johnny started to rant. "Because that warehouse definitely didn't catch fire by itself."

"I know," Hank muttered.

"Johnny, Roy," Brackett called as he popped his head into the lounge. He shook Hank's hand when he spotted him. "Hello, Captain Stanley, I didn't know you were here."

"I just got here," he explained. "How's Kelly?"

"He made it through surgery," Brackett told them with a smile. Johnny noticed it was a bit too forced.

"But…" Johnny prompted.

"There was a great deal of damage," explained Brackett. "More than we thought."

"What's that mean?" Hank asked.

"Surgery was more complicated than we were expecting," Brackett informed them. "But we were able to repair all the damage."

"So he's going to be okay?" Hank questioned hopefully.

"I don't know yet," Brackett admitted. "That's entirely up to Chet."


"Miss McCall?"

Dixie looked up from her pile of paperwork to see a soot-smudged Mike Stoker staring down at her anxiously. "Hi, Mike," she said with a smile. "The guys are in the lounge."

"How are Chet and Marco?" he inquired anxiously.

"Marco's resting comfortably," she informed Mike. "Dr. Early thinks he's going to make a full recovery."

"And Chet?"

"He's still in Recovery, he's only been out of surgery a short while," Dixie told him.

Mike paled noticeably. "They had to operate?"

Dixie nodded. "I'm sorry, I thought you knew."

"I had to stay with the engine, and I couldn't tie up the radio to check up on them," Mike explained.

"Is the fire out now?"

Mike nodded somberly. "She finally burnt herself out. We couldn't control her, we could only keep her from spreading to the rest of the pier."

"That must have been tough," Dixie sympathized.

"Not as tough as being there and not knowing what was going on here," Mike murmured. "The guys are in the lounge, you said?" Dixie nodded. "Can I go in there?"

"Of course," she assured him. "You can even help yourself to a cup of coffee. I bet you could use one about now."

Mike nodded. "Thanks, Miss McCall," he said with a grateful smile.

Mike trudged wearily down the hall and pushed open the door of the staff lounge. Roy was sitting on the sofa alone, gazing out the window. He jumped when Mike tapped him on the shoulder.

"Oh, hi, Mike. Fire out?"

Mike nodded. "They didn't make you guys go back in service?"

"Stood us down until a replacement for Johnny is available," Roy told him, nodding in the direction of the sleeping paramedic. “His aggravated that shoulder with everything that was going on. Luckily, it seems to be a slow day for once. "

"Good thing," Mike muttered, pouring a cup of coffee. "Practically every engine in the county was out on that pier."

"Any idea what was in that warehouse?" Roy questioned.

"Vince said they've been watching the place," Mike revealed, sinking into a chair at the table and stretching his legs out in front of him as he took a lingering sip of his coffee. "They think it's not really a warehouse but a drug manufacturing plant. That's why it went up like that. The place was full of chemicals."

"Why didn't the police shut it down then?" Roy asked angrily, joining Mike at the table.

"They only got a warrant to search the place this morning," Mike explained. "Vince figures someone tipped them off about it, and they set the fire to destroy the evidence."

"So Chet and Marco nearly got killed because of a bunch of criminals," Roy grumbled, shaking his head in disgust.

"What exactly happened in there?" questioned Mike. "Kelly never loses control of the hose."

"I'd like an answer to that question myself," Hank declared, startling both Mike and Roy, who hadn't noticed him open the lounge door. "What went wrong, Roy?"

Roy shifted uncomfortably under his captain's unrelenting gaze. "I don't know, Cap," he answered with a shrug, careful to avoid making eye contact with Hank.

Why is he lying about this? "Are you sure?" Hank questioned, pulling up a chair next to Roy so the paramedic couldn't avoid his gaze.

Roy all but jumped out of his chair. Relax. You're going to blow this.

"Roy, are you sure you don't know what happened?" Hank asked again.

Moving to the counter, Roy poured himself a cup of coffee. He took a long sip, finally meeting Hank's gaze over the rim of the cup. "Kelly and Lopez were ahead of us," he offered as an excuse.

"So you didn't see them when they lost control of the hose?" Hank grilled him.

"That place was wall-to-wall fire, Cap," Mike spoke up. "I couldn't see any of them in there until I was right next to them."

Hank turned his attention to Mike. "You brought Kelly out of there," he remembered. "He didn't say anything to you about what happened?"

Mike recalled Chet's words. I lost it in there. I let my past get the best of me. "No, sir," he lied, getting up to pour himself another cup of coffee to avoid Hank's unrelenting gaze.

Hank sighed in frustration. Now Stoker's lying to me, too. "Look, I know Kelly went in there with a head full of steam. If he did something..."

"It was an accident, Cap," Roy declared. "Things were exploding all over the place in there. Maybe something went off next to them and startled them or hit them or something."

"Did they have any injuries that would indicate they were hit by anything other than the hose?" Hank inquired.

"I don't know," Roy sighed. "I was focusing on treating their injuries, not worrying about how they go them."

"I talked to Lopez," revealed Hank. Mike and Roy both stiffened noticeably.

"He's conscious already?" Roy asked tightly.

Hank nodded. "He was still pretty out of it, but I was able to ask him if this was Kelly's fault."

"What did he say?" Mike questioned nervously.

"He couldn't say much the way his face was swollen up," Hank admitted. "He did manage to shake his head no."

I knew Marco would never turn on Chet. "So that clears Chet's name," Roy declared.

"Not necessarily," Hank told them. "All of you could be covering for Kelly."

"You don't trust us, Cap?" Mike questioned earnestly.

"Don't give me that crap, Stoker," Hank snapped. "I trust you with my life, all of you. But I don't trust you not to lie for Kelly if you think you're protecting him."

"What difference does it make how it happened?" Roy burst out. "Knowing isn't going to heal Marco any faster or guarantee that Chet survives."

"I have to know," Hank simply stated.

"Why?" Roy ranted, the stress of the day finally shattering his unflappable demeanor. "So what if it was Chet's fault? He might not even survive long enough to take the blame! And if he does, don't you think he's paid a big enough price already?"

"I don't want to punish him, Roy," Hank explained patiently. "I only want to find out what happened so I can make sure it never happens again."


Chet climbed steadily up a rope in pitch darkness. Where the hell am I? I can't see a damn thing!

In the distance, he thought he heard Johnny's voice. "I'm sorry," it was saying.

Sorry? For what? I'm going to kill you if you were the one who landed me in this hole.

"Maybe if I'd found out earlier how badly you were hurt..." Johnny's voice continued.

I'm hurt? Why don't I feel it? Am I dead? No, I can't be dead. If I was in heaven, Gage sure as hell wouldn't be here. Where am I?!

Johnny jumped out of his chair as the alarm sounded on Chet's respirator, breaking hours of silence. Johnny put his fingers to Chet's wrist and found his pulse racing. "Relax, buddy, relax," Johnny soothed. "You're in Rampart. You had an accident and they had to do surgery, which is why you're feeling so lousy right now."

I had an accident? How?

His unspoken question went unanswered as Sharon came running into the room. "What happened?" she asked, checking the respirator.

"I'm not sure," Johnny admitted. "I guess he set it off somehow, although I didn't see him move any."

He flashed Sharon a crooked smile. "You're a surprise. When did you get back in town?"

Sharon shyly returned his grin. "A few days ago," she told him. "San Francisco didn't work out, but Dixie helped me get a job back here." She nervously smoothed down her uniform as Johnny stared at her. "I, uh, I better go tell Dr. Brackett that your friend is awake. He left strict orders to keep him updated on Mr. Kelly's condition."

"Hurry back," Johnny called as Sharon disappeared out the door. "Hey, Chet, did you see that? Nurse Sharon is back. If you open your eyes, I might give you first dibs on hitting on her."

Tempting offer, Gage. If I didn't have lead in my eyelids I might take you up on it. But right now I'd rather sleep.

"Too tired to open them?" Johnny asked. "Well, I guess I can cut you a break, since you have had a pretty rough time of it. But only for 24 hours. If you're not awake by this time tomorrow, she's all mine."

He got no reaction from Chet. "Can you hear me, Chester B.?" He shook Chet gently. When that got no reaction he tried a painful stimulus, but Chet remained unresponsive.

"Johnny, he's awake?" Brackett asked as he burst into the room, Sharon on his heels.

"I think he was for a minute," answered Johnny. "The alarm on the respirator went off, so I figured he must have moved, but he's not responding now."

Brackett went to Chet's side, checking for a response, just as Johnny had. He, too, found nothing. He carefully checked the respirator and adjusted Chet's IV. "Sharon, get me a new set of vitals," he ordered.

Brackett turned his attention to Johnny, who was slumped back in his chair, disappointment evident on his face. "He'll wake up on his own time, Johnny," Brackett said gently. "Let's not rush him."

Johnny nodded, but let out a sigh of frustration.

"Didn't I order you out of here hours ago?" Brackett questioned.

"You know how I am with orders, Doc," Johnny answered with a sheepish smile.

"I thought you had to go back in service."

"The squad did, I didn't," Johnny explained. "Cap said I couldn't stay on duty with my shoulder like this." He flapped his injured arm up and down in the sling.

"Good," Brackett told him, laying a hand on Johnny's arm to stop his flapping. "You shouldn't be hanging out in here, either."

"Sitting doesn't hurt my shoulder any," Johnny said with a mischievous smile.

"Get out of here, hose jockey," Brackett growled, fighting his own grin.

"But, Doc..." Johnny protested.

"Give me a couple minutes, Johnny," Brackett said seriously, taking Chet's chart from Sharon and studying it. "I want to examine him, see if we can get an idea of when he really will be waking up."

Johnny nodded and eased himself out of the chair gingerly. He slowly made his way to the door, holding it open for Sharon. "Come on, Johnny, I'll get you a cup of coffee," she offered with a smile. Johnny didn't return her grin, but followed her out into the hallway after a final glance back at Chet's still form.


"Hi, Mike." Dixie smiled up at the firefighter as he approached her desk, dressed in jeans and an L.A. County Fire Department tee shirt. "Back so soon?"

"I couldn't think of anything else I'd rather do on my day off," Mike admitted. "Anybody else here?"

Dixie shook her head. "Roy finally dragged Johnny out about an hour ago," she explained. "Poor Johnny was dead on his feet."

"I bet he still gave Roy a hard time about going."

"Boy did he," Dixie sighed. "I thought Roy was going to have to carry him out kicking and screaming."

"How's Chet today?"

"Much better," answered Dixie with a smile. "Kel took him off the ventilator this morning."

"Already? That's good, right?" Mike questioned anxiously.

"Yes it is," Dixie assured him.

"Even though he's not really awake yet?"

"He will be soon," Dixie reassured Mike. "It's only been three days. And he's already shown signs of consciousness, he just needs to get his strength back enough to open his eyes."

"Can I sit with him awhile?" Stoker asked. "Johnny says talking to Chet will help bring him around faster. And since Johnny's not here to do it..." Mike stuffed his hands into his jeans and shrugged his shoulders. "I'm not much of a talker, but maybe just someone being there will help."

"I'm sure it will," Dixie told him.

Mike smiled shyly. "Thanks, Miss McCall," he told her, before quickly turning away and loping toward the elevator.


" we were all a little off," Mike was saying to Chet as he perched on the end of the chair next to the bed. "We're so used to it being the six of us, you know? Cap said to think of it as the rest of the crew being on vacation, but none of us could do that. Not even Cap. He called Gallicci, Lopez at least four times. I guess they do kind of resemble each other, at least with their turnout gear on. He called Finn, Kelly once, too, though, and the two of you look nothing alike. I guess it was force of habit. He turned around in the engine to give orders and automatically said "Kelly".

"Plus, we've had Brice to deal with, because Johnny's still out with his shoulder," Mike continued. "But I guess you knew that, since Johnny's been here with you most of the past three days. If you've been hearing him talk. Can you hear us talking to you?"

Yeah, I can hear you. I never knew you could talk so much, Mikey. You sound like Gage.

"I wish you would wake up so I'd know you can hear me," Mike pleaded.

I'm trying.

"Although it is kind of nice being able to get a word in edgewise in a conversation with you," Mike admitted with a smile.

Ha ha. Leave him alone to talk to himself and he turns into a comedian.

Mike shook his head. "No, I'd rather you were awake to interrupt me."

With a sigh, Mike abruptly sprung out of the chair, sending it toppling over. Mike flinched at the noise as it crashed to the floor and thought he saw Chet do the same.

"Chet, can you hear me?" he called, shaking Chet's shoulder, careful not to disturb the tubes and wires running into him. Chet moaned in response.

"Do you hurt?" Mike asked anxiously. "I'll go get a doctor for you."

He was stopped by Chet's hand on his arm. "You don't want a doctor?"

Chet squeezed his arm twice.

"Do two squeezes mean no?"

Chet squeezed his arm once.

"Two mean no, and one means yes?" double-checked Mike. Chet squeezed his arm once.

"Okay, I won't get the doc...Hey, this means you can hear me!" Mike realized excitedly. "Can you open your eyes, too?"

That's the trick everyone wants to see.

"Come on, Kelly," Mike coaxed. "Or are you going to be as slow about this as you are about getting your gear on?"

Low blow, Stoker. The phantom will pay you back for that one when I'm on my feet again.

"There are plenty of pretty nurses to see around here if you open your eyes," Mike tempted him.

So I've heard. Why don't you get me a crowbar off the engine so I can pop open my eyelids the way I do a car door?

"Okay, if you don't want to wake up, Johnny will have to take them all out," teased Mike.

"No," Chet croaked.

Did I say that? How did I talk with my throat on fire?

"What was that, Kelly?" Mike asked, a huge grin spreading across his face.

If I can talk, maybe I can open my eyes, too.

Chet's eyelids fluttered, then opened slowly.

"Welcome back," Mike smiled.

Chet blinked at the light stinging his eyes. Man, why do they have to make these places so bright?

His eyes slowly adjusted and began to focus on the face in front of him. "Stoker," he tried to say, but with his raw throat, only the first part of Mike's name came out clear.

"Let me get you some water," Mike offered, pouring a glass from the pitcher next to the bed. He held the cup to Chet's lips, slowly letting some trickle in.

God, that feels even better than the first time I went parking with Shannon McCarron. Chet pushed his head forward to try to get more of the liquid into his mouth.

"Easy, easy," Mike instructed. "I'm not even sure I should be giving you a drink. But I figure after having that tube for a couple days, your throat probably feels like there's a four-alarmer down there."

Chet nodded. "I don't think the water will hurt you," Mike continued. "I mean, it's not like I'm giving you a beer or something."

He saw a spark of the familiar twinkle in Chet's eyes. "Forget it, Kelly, I'm not smuggling alcohol in here," Mike declared. "But I will buy you a beer when you get out of here. As a peace offering."


"I'm sorry I fought with you," Mike apologized. "I never thought it would lead to so much trouble."

"You hit me?" Chet asked. I know he's a big guy, but I feel like I was hit by a truck, not a person.

"No, I didn't hit you," Mike stated indignantly. "The hose did."


Chet's mind flashed back to the sight of the hose slamming into Marco.

"Marco?" Chet instinctively tried to sit up, but fell back with a whimper as pain shot through his left side.

"Careful, careful," Mike ordered. "You don't want to tear out those stitches and have to go back to surgery again, do you?"

Chet shook his head. "Good. Now, don't worry. Marco's fine," Mike assured him. "He's right down the hall, and he'll probably be out of here by tomorrow."

"Didn't...kill...him?" Chet questioned anxiously.

"Of course not," Mike scoffed. "You almost killed yourself, though. If it wasn't for Johnny, you wouldn't have even made it in here alive."

"How long…" he motioned for another sip of water before finishing his question.

"You've been here three days," Mike told Chet as he helped him take another drink. "We were starting to wonder if you were ever going to wake up."

"Was trying," Chet murmured, struggling to keep his eyes open.

"Do you remember what happened, how the hose got out of control?" Mike asked him.

Chet recalled his struggle with Marco over the hose, but shook his head.

"You said something to me about your past getting the best of you," Mike reminded him. "Do you remember what you meant by that?"

Chet didn't answer, having lost consciousness again. Mike shook him gently and sighed in frustration when he got no response.


Johnny tapped on the door of Chet's room and poked his head in. "Feel like company?" he called to Chet, who was watching TV. Chet clicked it off as he waved Johnny in.

"Slacking off work already?" teased Chet. "It's only your first day back. Wasn't a week off enough for you?"

"Roy and I brought in a car accident victim," Johnny explained. "Cap said we could come check on you while we were here, make sure you weren't getting into any more trouble."

"You wanted to make sure I wasn't hitting on Nurse Sharon."

"It wouldn't do you any good," Johnny boasted. "She already has plans for Saturday night."

"No fair making a move on her while I was unconscious," Chet groused.

"I told you I would give you a day to wake up, and then she was fair game," Johnny told Chet.

"What else were you telling me when I was out?" Chet wanted to know.

"I don't know," Johnny shrugged. "Lots of stuff."

"I could hear you sometimes," Chet admitted.

"You could?"

Chet nodded. "I couldn't always understand you, though. What were you saying? Was it Indian stuff?"

"I think you were dreaming, buddy," Johnny insisted, turning away and suddenly finding something very interesting out the window.

"I don't like you enough to dream about you, Gage," Chet cracked.

"Your mind was playing tricks on you, then," Johnny tried to convince him. Chet shook his head.

"It was a prayer, wasn't it?" he asked. Johnny didn't answer. "I don't mean any disrespect, Johnny, I was just wondering."

"Yes, it was a prayer," confirmed Johnny softly.

"Like the Our Father or something in Indian?"

"No, this was something my grandmother taught me," Johnny explained. "She was a healer."

"It worked pretty well," Chet said with a smile. "Did you say it for Marco, too?"

Johnny shook his head.

"You weren't feeling guilty about Marco, huh?" asked Chet.


"Roy told me you've been beating yourself up, thinking it's your fault I ended up in here," Chet explained. "And you're right, it is your fault."

Johnny winced at his words but nodded.

"If it wasn't for you I wouldn't be in this bed recovering I'd be six feet under," Chet clarified.

"But if…" Johnny started to protest.

"This happened because I lost my head in that warehouse," Chet confessed. "It wasn't your fault or anyone else's, it was mine."

"You want to talk about it?"

Chet shook his head and lay back against the pillow, closing his eyes wearily.

"I'll go then, so you can get some rest," Johnny offered.

"No, stay awhile, Gage. If you can," requested Chet.

"I have a few minutes," Johnny told him. Chet opened his eyes with a sigh.

"You've never been in a war, have you?" he asked Johnny softly. Johnny shook his head. "What's the worst thing you've seen on the job?"

"There's been lots of ugly stuff," Johnny admitted. "Kids dying, people getting maimed…friends getting injured."

"You've had people die in fires, too, right?" he asked. Johnny nodded.

"When I was in Vietnam, my company got into a huge firefight trying to keep the Cong out of the DZ," Chet started to explain. "We finally managed to beat back the VC, but we paid a hell of a price. Practically every guy in the company was injured in some way. They sent a helicopter to pick up those of us who had made it, but before it got there, the bombers started burning the place."

"North Vietnamese bombers?" questioned Johnny as he dropped into the chair next to Chet's bed and leaned forward in interest.

"No, our own fighters," Chet revealed. "See, once the ground troops secured a place, the fly boys would napalm the hell out of it to take care of any enemy troops that might have survived. We were slow getting out, though, because we had so many casualties. So the whole jungle started going up around us."

"Like that warehouse was the other day," Johnny murmured.

Chet didn't seem to hear him. "I tried to get everyone out," he continued somberly, shifting in bed as he tried to find a more comfortable position. "But there were too many. I couldn't get them all on my own. And there was nothing I could use to put the fire out."

"Is that why you got into the fire service?"

"I guess," Chet answered with a shrug. "I never wanted to be controlled by a fire again."

"So you had a flashback to that fire when we were in that warehouse the other day," Johnny guessed. "Is that why you lost control of the hose?

"It's never been a problem before," Chet muttered. "Every once in awhile I would have these moments where I thought I was back there, but it was always okay because I had the hose and could get the fire out this time. The other day, though, Roy and Marco wouldn't let me have the hose. That's all I wanted, to get the hose back."

He closed his eyes to back out the memory of the hose hitting Marco. Johnny put a comforting hand on his arm. "Have you ever talked to anyone about what you went through over there?"

"They made me see a doctor at the hospital in Saigon," Chet confided. "The brass thought I might have trouble coping with seeing my friends burn to death and having to listen to them scream." He laughed bitterly. "What normal person wouldn't? I would have needed the shrink if I had been coping with it well."

"So you wouldn't talk to the doc?" asked Johnny worriedly.

"I couldn't," admitted Chet with a shake of his head. "How do you describe the sound of that screaming or the smell of someone burning to a person who's never experienced it?"

You don't. That's why we only talk to each other about that stuff.

"What about the other guys who made it out?" Johnny wondered. "Couldn't you talk to one of them?"

"Most of them were too out of it to remember what had gone down. Or else they blocked it out," muttered Chet. "And those who did try to deal with it didn't do it by talking."

"A bottle or a needle worked a lot better," Johnny murmured.

Chet nodded. "I almost went that way, too, but my sister kicked my butt," he told Johnny with a small smile. "She wouldn't let me go back to New York and my drinking buddies when I came home from 'Nam, she made me stay in L.A. with her. Probably saved my life."

"Did you tell her about what happened?"

Chet shook his head. "She's my baby sister, I didn't want her knowing about that ugly stuff," he explained. "I tried to put it behind me by throwing myself into work, first at the Academy, and then on the engine. That was the best thing for me, to have the chance to knock down some fire."

"Obviously you're still not over it, though," Johnny told him. "I think you should talk to someone about what you went through over there."

"I just did."

"I mean a professional," chided Johnny.

"Paramedics aren't professionals?" Chet baited him.

"Not when it comes to that kind of stuff," Johnny admitted. "We only had one class on psychology in paramedic training. That's not enough to help you deal with this."

"All I needed was to tell someone about it," said Chet. "Now that I have, it won't be a problem anymore."

"What about the next time you get into a fire that reminds you of that one?" Johnny questioned him. "If you lose it, it's won't only be your life on the line it will be all of ours who are trusting you."

"I told you, Gage, it won't be a problem," insisted Chet.

"You didn't think it was going to be a problem this time," Johnny reminded him.

"I don't want to talk to a head shrinker," Chet declared stubbornly.

"You don't have to," Johnny assured him. "They have a group here at the hospital for Vietnam vets to come talk to each other. Brackett was just telling Roy and I about it last week, when we brought in that guy who was shooting at us."

"No doctors, just vets?" an intrigued Chet questioned.

"There might be a moderator or something, but I think it is pretty much just veterans," Johnny told him. "Do you want to check it out? See if you're finally ready to put all this behind you?"

Chet closed his eyes thoughtfully, then slowly nodded his head.


Author's Notes: A world of thanks to Pat, not only for your medical expertise, but also for challenging me to make this the best story it could be. Being lucky enough to have you as a beta reader has made me a better writer, and I will be forever grateful for that. Thanks, also, to Rose, for your translation help and for always being there to answer my questions. This story is for my dad – although I know he will never read it – and for all the other men and women who still carry with them the ghosts of that war.

Editor's Note: This story was originally posted on Code Red




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