Pairing: non, gen, friendship fic
Rating: PG, mildly strong language (for the time period) and implied violence (for any time period)
Words: 9100+ words, Complete, betaed by ldyanne
Summary: Captain Hank Stanley was new, but he was at 51 long enough to know that this was a really bad idea…
Spoilers: Before second season and the episode "The Problem".
Notes: We were introduced to 51's Hank Stanley in the very first episode of the second season. Well, darn it, that wasn't good enough…Be very afraid, this is not a missing scene, but a fic with hopefully a plot in it. LOL.
Disclaimer: Emergency! is owned by Universal, MCA and its affiliates. This story is parody and for entertainment purposes only.
Chief Compton sighed heavily. He didn't sound all that surprised by Hank's reaction. He shifted his top-heavy body in his seat, shuffled a few papers before answering finally.
"DeSoto and Gage are our most experienced paramedic team," Compton rumbled as he pulled out two folders from a stack behind him, in a desk cluttered with framed medals and old helmets of stations past. "If we want this program to work, we want to spread that experience around to the other units."
Hank Stanley recognized it for what it was: shuffling around personnel, experimenting with new ideas and blame the incoming new guy for it.
Hank suppressed a sigh of his own.
"I don't know, Chief. They've been partners for a long time." Although how, Hank still wasn't sure. The two were an odd match.
"Too long," Compton corrected him. "Headquarters has some young hotshot sociologist up there crunching numbers and believes we should shake things up a bit."
It was a veiled hint. Compton saw it for what it was, too. His mouth pursed as he waved the official memo at Hank.
"I'm sorry to do this, Hank, to make this your first order of business."
This time, Hank did indulge in a low and long exhale. He leaned forward and took the memo.
"Shake things up, huh?" Hank repeated with a bit of skepticism as he skimmed the memo. "Chief, in all my years, what I've learned is shaking anything up only just causes one big fire."
Compton grunted, but didn't disagree.
"So? What do you think?"
Hank, seated at the edge of his bed in the dorm, paused in the polishing of his boots. Footsteps in the adjacent locker room and the creak of locker doors told him someone else reported in early for his shift, too.
"About what?" Roy DeSoto was always careful with his words, as if he thought over every response first. The Irishman always carried an air of caution Hank thought must be calming for the accident victims the paramedic came across. It seemed to work with his partner too. Sometimes.
"About Captain Stanley." Slightly higher, John Gage's voice rose with a slight drawl and an edge of youthful impatience.
They get younger and younger each year, Hank mused as he caught a glimpse of a lanky build pacing the locker area that was connected to the dorms. The young man always vibrated with the need to do something.
"Charlie over at 43 said when their new captain came in, there were all kinds of changes. You think that's going to happen here?"
"He's only been here a week. It's too soon to be making any judgments, Johnny." DeSoto sounded weary, as if he had heard this all before.
"I'm not asking you to judge, Roy," Gage huffed, "just asking what you think."
There was a pause, a metallic squeak of a hanger on a rod as DeSoto pulled down his uniform shirt.
"Well?" Gage obviously waited for as long as he could. Hank bit back a smile as Gage growled under his breath. Gage could be heard dropping heavily inside his locker to sit.
"Like I said," DeSoto said evenly, although Hank thought he could hear a hint of amusement in his tone now, "it's too soon to be making judgments."
"Didn't you hear what I just said?" Gage sounded exasperated and Hank wondered how DeSoto seemed more amused than annoyed by it. "I'm not asking you to judge, I'm—"
The alarm went off for Squad 51. A child fell into a dry swimming pool. By the time Hank reached dispatch, scribbled down the address, DeSoto and Gage were already dressed and waiting in the squad.
"When's it going to happen?"
Hank looked up from his desk. He always left his door open if he needed to work in his office. Hank had hoped it made him a bit more approachable to the men of this shift.
Face still smudged with soot—the simple rescue of a boy in a treehouse turned into a complicated fire when it turned out the child was playing with matches up there—DeSoto stood respectfully by the door. His eyes were thoughtful, expectant and even a little resigned.
A short gesture, a wave of a hand, told DeSoto it was okay to enter. From the look of things, it also served to confirm the paramedic's theory.
"You knew?" Hank asked as DeSoto gingerly sat down in a chair by his desk.
"Suspected," DeSoto corrected as he shifted in his seat. "It's not just changing captains these days," DeSoto answered. He brushed a hand idly across his lap. He grimaced when ash smeared across his dark pants instead. "Johnny talks but he is right in this case, change is going to happen. Since you haven't been making any shift changes with the engine guys, I figured me and John were the targets."
Hank flinched inwardly at the word choice. "You two are not being punished. In fact, it's just the opposite. You two are probably the best team in the county. Headquarters wants to have you make sure the rest of the paramedics are catching up."
DeSoto's mouth crooked to the side, acknowledging in his own understated way the compliment.
"I'm not thinking of sending you two to other stations," Hank offered. "Just pairing you two with different partners from the other shifts. That's all." He shrugged. "Headquarters didn't specifically say where the personnel needed to get transferred to."
DeSoto had an unnerving ability to stare without really staring, his eyes intense enough that they even changed color. "Have you decided on who?"
"I would like you to stay on this shift," Hank hedged. DeSoto had been there a bit longer at 51 than Gage. Hank hoped it could serve as a buffer to ease him into their close ranks. Being the new guy was always hard, especially when you were captain. "But perhaps you two should talk about it and see who wants to go to C shift." It was the only compromise he could offer.
"Me." The answer was immediate. "I'll go."
Hank's brow rose. He didn't expect that. "You sure? I know you have a family—"
"My wife is used to me working odd days." DeSoto shrugged. "She'll have to expect me home on different days now."
"Chet!" Gage could be heard yowling outside and there was a strange, squishy sound that went splashing across the garage. "I just mopped that floor! You rotten…"
"Besides," DeSoto's voice lowered after a long glance outside his office. "Better if my partner stays with them."
Hank paused at the unusual reason. He nodded reluctantly. "I'll get the paperwork started then and let C shift know. Why don't you tell Gage to come in and—"
"I'll tell him," DeSoto interrupted. "It'll be better if I tell him."
It was another strange response. Most would be glad for their captain to be the bearer of bad news but DeSoto gazed back at him with a rare plea in his eyes that Hank slowly nodded.
DeSoto's smile held no grudge when he gave it, but when he stepped outside and called Gage over in a casual voice, Hank couldn't help but feel like a heel.
Dennis Halstead was an impressive man with an equally impressive record. Brush fire of 69 and 71, the La Brea warehouse fires, Monmouth fires of 70, Halstead was a firefighter whose years of experience gave him permanently rough hands and a gruff demeanor. He was built as sturdy as a Big Red with a crown of hair to match. But the eight-year veteran surprised the hell out of everybody when he left the ladders and joined the paramedic program last year.
"My lungs won't stand for another fire," Halstead had explained when he was transferred over from C shift. His words often boomed around whatever audience he gained at the time that reminded Hank of a minister in his hometown's church, like thunder crashing over his head. It seemed like every time Hank walked by, Halstead had firemen gathered around him like a campfire as he told yet another story of yet another fire.
Sure, Halstead was decidedly older than DeSoto, but Hank wanted to try to at least mimic the dynamic DeSoto and Gage was used to. DeSoto got a very green Lewis in C shift and he was sure Gage would benefit from Halstead's experience. It seemed like a good match.
"…so this kid here tells me he could probably squeeze in-between those bookcases to get to the guy in the other room," Halstead guffawed and slapped a meaty hand over Gage's shoulder. Seated at the head of the table, a bowl of Lopez's chili half-eaten in front of him, Halstead was recounting their last rescue at the college library. A crane on construction next door had snapped and dropped on top of the closed library.
"Wigglier than a rodent, he gets right in there and all this stuff was falling all around us and I'm yelling to see if the kid's all right and then I see this scrawny arm sticking out under all those books, asking for his drug box!"
Hank frowned to himself as he sipped his coffee. The response around the table was a tad strained.
"You should have used a brace, Gage," Kelly muttered as he reached over to get a second helping of chili.
Gage shrugged his right shoulder, his head down as he shoveled chili into his mouth; sit down meals were a luxury. "Wasn't much time to get one. Got the guy out, Halstead stabilized him and got him to Rampart in fifteen." He gave Kelly a grin that only served to annoy the firefighter. "I think that's a record."
"Whole thing could have fallen right on top of you," Stoker pointed out, but Halstead simply chuckled.
"This guy is as slippery as they come! Reminds me of myself. He would have gotten out!" Halstead gave another hearty slap, this time a little higher on the left shoulder. Gage flinched.
"What's the matter with you?" Kelly demanded when he caught the jerk.
"Nothing," Gage mumbled. He wiped his mouth and carried his bowl to the sink.
Halstead snorted. "We were in the reference section."
"Think a dictionary fell on me. The unabridged edition," Gage joked, but he didn't turn around as he grabbed the coffee—with his right arm, Hank realized—and poured a cup.
"I think it was the entire world encyclopedia set," Halstead chortled. "Reminds me of the time I was trapped in that warehouse in Pomona. No windows just a crummy crack in the wall and my ax." He patted his stomach. "I was a bit scrawnier then."
Gage snickered but he still didn't turn around.
Hank's brow furrowed. He studied the back Gage offered as he took his time pouring himself a cup of coffee. "Did you get that shoulder checked out?"
"My partner here said he was fine," Halstead dismissed Hank's concern with an easy wave of his hand.
Gage stiffened. He turned around, mug in his right hand and leaned back against the sink. He looked at Hank with an easy smile.
"It's fine, Cap—I mean, Captain," Gage corrected himself hastily when Hank scowled.
"Maybe we should get it looked at anyway," Lopez said tentatively.
"It's fine, Marco," Gage repeated tightly. His head jerked towards Halstead. "He's had worse from what he's been telling us."
Halstead grinned broadly and opened his mouth, probably to launch into another tale when the alarms blared again, this time for Station 51. Warehouse fire on Wilson. Everything was abandoned, food left on the table. By the time they returned, it wasn't even worth trying to heat up the chili again.
When the next shift rolled by, Gage didn't look like there were any problems with his shoulder so Hank forgot all about it.
Halstead was talking to the previous shift about how he climbed a tree to jump onto a roof in the Tahoe brush fire of 70. Hank didn't stay to listen. He just nodded politely to them, received polite nods in return from his own men and Hank excused himself to head back to the Captain's office to review the logs.
The legs sticking out under the squad nearly tripped him.
"Ah, what did they do?" Gage complained, muffled underneath the vehicle, "they run it through the tar pits? I think there's a fossil in here. Man…there's twigs stuck in the…Say, Roy, can you get me the—"
The feet that were tapping on the floor stilled. Knees dropped and the tinkering stopped.
Hank lightly rapped on the hood of the squad before he opened it. Gage's smudged face blinked back up at him through a gap.
"What do you need?" Hank stuck a thumb over his shoulder to indicate the tool kit by Gage's feet.
The exchange was silent as Hank handed the screwdriver to the hand sticking out from under the squad. Hank stepped back because the visible part of Gage's legs were stiff under the squad.
"Need a hand?" Hank offered, surprising himself. "I was pretty good with a wrench before a hose."
"No, uh…that's okay, sir. I think I got it." The legs were still straight out under the vehicle, straight enough that Hank feared a swift kick from someone could break them easily.
"You're here early," Hank commented because the metal clangs under the squad sounded small and forlorn.
"So are you…" Gage's legs jerked. "Shoot. I mean…you…ah…"
"I know what you mean. Just catching up on paperwork." Hank was glad to see the legs draw back up, a foot tapping again. "Never seems to get done."
"Yeah…" A bolt dropped and Gage reached down, his hand blindly searching until Hank toed it over.
Hank watched Gage for a few more minutes. Ever mindful that time was never predictable in station life, Hank started to continue for his office.
The foot was still again and it was silent underneath the squad.
"Why Roy?" The question was hesitant and quiet. "I mean, I get that you want us to help the newer paramedics out there, but Roy's got more seniority and stuff."
"He volunteered for the transfer," Hank told him because it felt like he owed these two a bit of honesty.
The legs straightened out again. "Oh." There was a long pause before the tinkering started up once more, louder than before. "Oh…Okay. Thanks, Cap."
"Captain," Hank sighed but Gage never said anything more as he worked. The rattling grew louder and stayed in Hank's mind all day long.
"Station 51. Engine 8. Truck 129. Possible gas leak. 4119 Fifth Avenue. Four one one nine Fifth Avenue…"
"…and I want 129 to ventilate the south side of the building," Hank finished as he eyed the hotel before him. He had hoped it was a false alarm. The Silver Rose hotel was next on the inspection list and there hadn't been a chance to study the floor plans. But the coiling, sweet tang was unmistakable.
"I want a floor check," Hank ordered as he tipped his helmet back to study the windows that stretched high above the street.
"Basement's been cleared."
"Five and six evacuated."
"One and two affirmative."
"Three, four affirmative."
Most of the residents have evacuated themselves. Most. The elderly, the stubborn, the ones who thought it was just another drill, were still inside and only now slowly trickling out when the smell of gas became too overpowering. As Lopez and Williams from Engine 8 entered the eight-story building with the inch-and-a-half, Hank studied the other trucks parallel to the hydrants on the north and northeast corners. One, two, three, he counted his men as he knew the other captains were counting theirs.
Wait a minute.
"Stevens." Hanks snagged the engineer from 129 by the elbow as he trotted by. "Where are Gage and Halstead?"
The engineer wiped at his tearing eyes with soot-smudged hands. They've been putting out every abandoned toaster and hot plate inside. People just didn't think when they were running for their lives.
"They were checking seven and eight," Hank reminded him. He resisted the urge to shake him because it wasn't Stevens' fault.
"Halstead thought it would be faster if they split up." Stevens gulped for air as he thumbed the building behind him. "Gage got seven and Halstead got—"
It was sound that always came first. A large thunderous roar then the high-pitched screech of glass blown out of windows. It heralded a fireball that burst out of the top floor on the east side, erupting in thick plumes of black smoke that blocked the sun for a brief moment. Hank ducked. Everyone ducked as glass and wood splinters rained on top of them like a summer storm.
Hank coughed and lowered the arm he'd held up to shield his face. He nodded curtly to Stevens who ran off to check that his pumps were still working. He ran up and braced his men only now getting up from the ground. "Lopez! Kelly! I need you to get a line up on the seventh. Gage and Halstead are still up there! Get a two-inch, lay in as close as you can!"
"You got it, Captain," Kelly coughed. The two firefighters hurried to yank the hoses out of the chassis.
Hank stared up at the glassless windows on eight as he pulled up the antenna of his HT.
"LA, Engine 51."
"Go ahead, 51."
"LA, respond me another engine and squad." Hank had to jump back as a piece of a sign landed inches from him. He stared at the neon tubing that was once the shape of a rose. Hank shook his head and took another step back.
Hank has been with 51 long enough now to pick up who was calling for whose captain. He didn't ask when he zeroed in on Lopez pointing up. He just looked up. He saw twin ropes swung out of the seventh and Gage and Halstead dangling at the ends, their feet touching the top edges of the windows of the sixth floor.
"Great," Hank groaned as he stared at the scorched backs of the paramedics' turnout coats. Hank lifted up his HT although he really wanted very much to throw it instead. "Anyone up on sixth on the east side, I have two fishes outside that needs pulling in."
"Jones, 129 responding. We see them."
"Captain," Gage reported a few minutes later. His teeth were a startling white compared to the paramedics' blackened faces when he grinned lopsidedly. "Seven and eight are cleared, sir."
Halstead barked out a laugh then a cough while he pounded Gage's back.
Things seemed fine until there was a commotion in the dorm that Hank could hear all the way from his office.
"What the devil…" Hank muttered as he rose from his chair. Wide strides carried him into the dorm in time to see Gage's fist pulling back.
"Hold it right there!" Hank ordered.
Lopez, who was trying to hold back Kelly, and Stoker, who was failing to pull Gage back, froze.
"What's going on in here?" Hank demanded as he took in the rumpled uniforms. He could feel a flush rising up his throat. No bruises, no cut lips, it appeared Gage was going to be the first one to throw a punch.
"Captain," Kelly growled and before anyone could stop him, grabbed Gage by the shoulders, spun him around and yanked up his blue shirt. "Will you take a look at this?"
"Shut up, Johnny!" Kelly warned. He kept one hand curled firmly around the back of Gage's neck and nodded sharply towards Gage's exposed back.
"What the hell?" Any orders to tell Kelly to let Gage go was forgotten when the striped bruising was revealed. It had the distinct pattern of their ladder.
"Saw this when he was changing into a new uniform before."
"Chet, will you let up?" Gage twisted free and tugged down his shirt over his torso. He backed up a step and glowered at everyone.
"You told Halstead you were fine when you fell on top of the ladders," Kelly accused.
"I was! I am!" Gage stomped back over to his bed and he was yanking off his boots so hard, Hank was worried Gage was going to break an ankle. "Skin got a little discolored, that's all."
"It was a stupid move, using those ladders to bridge across that collapsed floor," Kelly shot back but he thankfully made no move towards Gage again. "You're lucky you fell onto the ladder and not three stories below into that inferno! Halstead never should have agreed to it. Roy would have never—"
"Well, Roy wasn't there, was he?" Gage snapped.
Stunned, Kelly fell silent. He shot an uneasy look to Lopez.
"What?" Gage snarled.
"That's enough, Gage," Hank said in low warning. Gage gaped at him.
"But Cap—Captain, he—"
The alarms wailed.
Gage's face twisted. He hurriedly pulled back up his boots, his arms jerking through short sleeves.
Halstead poked his head in. "You done primping in there, kiddo? Let's go!"
Gage veered easily away from Kelly's hand, shot Hank an indecipherable look and went out after Halstead.
Kelly stared after the open doorway. The hand he had reached out to Gage before bunched into a fist then dropped. He spun around to say something to Hank when the alarms went off again dispatching Ladder 54, Station 9 and Engine 51 to a MVA in the opposite direction.
Hank made it a habit to come in early these days, far earlier than his shift required. He liked talking to the previous shift, find out about runs that might mean the station's vehicles needed tuning and catch up on paperwork that never seemed to end. It was ironic how something as destructive as a fire could also create so much work.
The figure slouched over his coffee by the table made him pause. Hank watched by the doorway as the shoulders rounded back, the head rocked left to right to ease the knots out.
"DeSoto," Hank greeted and the paramedic glanced behind him.
"Captain," DeSoto greeted with a smile that didn't look natural. "Is C shift over already?"
Hank shook his head as he steered for the coffee pot. Thank God, there was still some left. He filled his mug to the top and raised the pot towards DeSoto. The paramedic shook his head.
"I'm just early," Hank explained as he tossed out the remains and refilled the pot for the next shift. "Like coming in and preparing before everyone reports in."
"That's good," DeSoto said absently as he drank his coffee. He nodded towards the fridge.
"Lewis brought in some cookies his wife made yesterday. I think they're still good if you want them for breakfast."
Hank snorted as he pulled up a chair to sit across from DeSoto. "I'll leave the sugar for the younger guys." He scanned the logbook from the dispatch area. "Looks like you were pretty busy yesterday. Twelve runs?"
"Yeah." DeSoto's chair scraped across the floor then stopped.
The chair scraped again. "Good. Good. He's coming along just fine. He's been following my lead, not one bit of trouble."
Hank's mouth twitched. "Sounds kind of boring if you ask me."
"Well, he's less reckless compared to John…" DeSoto trailed off and stared into his mug. He tipped it back and took a long drink. His eyes slid over to Hank. "How is everybody?"
It was a sad question, Hank thought, considering they were all working under the same building. "Fine. Just fine. They should be here any minute."
"Heard about the Dagwood fire." DeSoto slanted a look at Hank. "Heard it got pretty hairy at times."
"Oh?" Hank wondered if Kelly found some way to talk to DeSoto. He wouldn't be surprised. He narrowed his eyes at the paramedic.
"Out with it, DeSoto."
DeSoto blinked and for a moment, Hank thought maybe he guessed wrong but then DeSoto screwed up his face.
"Captain, that ladder stunt. Halstead shouldn't have—"
Hank sighed. He raised a palm halting the rest of what DeSoto was going to say. "I know, I know. I spoke with Halstead already. They needed to get to the guard on the other side of that hole. Gage came up with the idea himself and Halstead thought it was worth a try—"
DeSoto gawked. "Worth a try? He wasn't the one trying! Captain, those two are like…separated at birth! Halstead has no sense of—"
The two men looked up from the table. Gage, still in his civilian clothing, stared at DeSoto.
DeSoto deflated in front of Hank's eyes. The paramedic schooled a smile before he straightened out of his seat and turned around.
"Hey, Johnny. How's it going?"
Gage still looked taken aback and blinked a few times before his mouth worked again. That usual lazy grin Hank was used to seeing these days slipped on easily.
"Hey. I'm good. I'm good. You doing overtime this shift with us?"
"No. I was about to head out. You're just early."
"Oh." Something in Gage's eyes dimmed. His smile, however, broadened. "Heard about you and Lewis with that cardiac. Dix told me it was touch and go for a moment there. Congratulations."
DeSoto laughed strangely. "Yeah…yeah, thanks. We almost didn't get to him in time."
"Well, scaffolding isn't the best place for first aid." Gage grinned wider. "Next time, just rappel down. Drop you right on top of him like Santa Claus."
This time, the laugh came easier. "I'll get Lewis a red hat and a beard." DeSoto sobered and considered Gage.
"Nice job on Dagwood, by the way."
Gage's smile faltered. "Oh…you h-heard about that?" He scowled. "Chet," he muttered under his breath.
DeSoto made to touch his arm but hesitated. "You okay?"
"Huh? Me? Yeah. Sure…sure." Gage shrugged and Hank thought he saw the younger man take a step back. "Nothing a hot water bottle couldn't cure."
"Sounded more like you needed four," DeSoto joked weakly.
"Yeah, well, you know how Chet likes to exaggerate." Gage's shoulders rose and dropped again. "I'm fine."
"Okay…good…I—shift's over. I should—"
"Joanne. Right. Say hi to the wife and kids for me."
"I will. Oh, Joanne made some of that fish yesterday. Asked me to bring some over since you liked it so much last time you were by for dinner."
"Great," Gage fumbled. He looked down at his shoes briefly before looking up again. He lifted a hand to rub the back of his neck. "That's g-great. Thank Joanne for me. Tell her sorry I haven't been by for dinner lately. Our shifts, you know. They—"
"Yeah." DeSoto's mouth pressed into a line, the corners crinkled downwards. "Our shifts." He rocked from foot to foot. "Well…better be going."
Gage nodded, muttered a goodbye but didn't look at the doorway as DeSoto exited. Gage stuck his hands in his jeans' pockets. He looked up, as if just noticing Hank.
"Morning, Cap," Gage mumbled and he slinked out the door. Hank didn't have the heart to correct him.
Alone in the kitchen, Hank took a careful sip of his coffee and thought that was just the most painful thing he'd ever witnessed.
Copperhead Canyon was more ravine than canyon, but it didn't mean its inclines were no less dangerous. And driving along its twisty, rain-slicked roads in heavy fog in the early morning plastered was just stupid, if not fatal.
Four cars huddled precariously by the flimsy remains of a guardrail. Its wooden posts were obliterated into white shards when a Pinto rear ended a Mustang and started a domino effect that shoved a brown and white station wagon through the wooden barrier and left it dangling like a seesaw over Copperhead Canyon.
Hank could hear the deep horns of Truck 43 and Ladder 12 rumbling down below as the residents at the bottom of the incline were evacuated in case the lines around the wagon's rear bumper failed and sent it barreling into the houses.
"…all residents have been evacuated…"
"…Squad 29 on route to Rampart…"
"…ETA 10 minutes, Rampart. Squad 36 out…"
"…fire under control. Battalion 13 out in thirty…"
The HT Hank carried buzzed with reports as metal and man were separated. The dead were lined up like yellow tarp-covered road markers off to the side, the living herded into ambulances behind him. CHP were starting to extinguish the flares on the road as they waved ambulances through into the scene.
Sometimes, Hank grimaced, the crackle and hiss of fire was much more preferable to the sounds of ambulances and crying little kids who would probably become orphans by the time their parents reached Rampart.
Hank wiped the morning dew off his chin with the back of a glove.
"What a mess," Hank muttered and coughed because two cars simultaneously bursting into flames created a lot of smoke.
"We're ready to transport, Rampart," Gage spoke into the biophone. Hank had to squint. Even with the communication box's bright orange casing and the reflective tape on the turnout coat, Gage was barely visible in the fog. Crouched by one victim on a backboard, the drunk who survived the ordeal—there simply wasn't any justice in the world sometimes—Gage gripped the biophone with one hand, the other passing off the IV bag to Halstead.
"ETA thirty minutes," Halstead shouted as he helped the attendants lift up and slide the gurney into the ambulance.
Hank could see Gage's jaw clench from here. Rampart was simply too far away. "Thirty minutes, Rampart."
The speaker was left on because the wind howling through the canyon made it hard to hear. "We'll be waiting, 51."
"Captain!" Kelly hollered from where he was standing by the wagon's bumper where rope was tied around it, using Big Red as anchor. He pointed to something beyond the wagon. "There's another car!"
Hank whipped around sharply. He pressed his HT to his face to be heard. "LA, be advised there is another vehicle. 51 is no longer available!"
Hank grabbed a fistful of Gage's collar when the young paramedic leaned over too far to peer down the steep slope. Sure enough, as dawn solidified into morning, the fog lifted enough to reveal a sedan facing them, its front bumper twisted into a distorted, metallic smile. It sneered up at them from only fifteen feet away.
"Damn this fog," Hank muttered as Gage bolted for the squad.
"Halstead! We got another one!" Gage was already strapping his harness belt on, readjusting his helmet as he grabbed the rope to thread through the metal ring.
Halstead poked his head out off the back of the ambulance. "And I got possible internal bleeding in here! Where is it?"
"Looks about fifteen feet or so," Hank calculated. "Lopez, get some rope here. Make sure that wagon is secure!"
Halstead shot Gage a passing glance before he looked back at the ambulance. He snorted. "It's not far, kid. You think you can do it by yourself or wait for another squad?"
Gage snapped his fingers towards Halstead even as he struggled to get the ropes over his head. "The car's not too far down. Easy climb. Whoever's down there might not have the time to wait. Leave the drug box here. I'll go down there and check for survivors!"
Goosebumps crawled up the back of Hank's neck. "Now hold on…"
Halstead tapped the side of the ambulance and kept checking inside the ambulance. "Johnny boy here's got a point. Think the rain made that slope all muddy and sticky, Captain. Car's probably dug in deep so it should be stable. I don't think we can wait."
Gage was practically jogging in place, waiting for the order. Kelly was still shouting and the wind was starting to pick up again.
A decision needed to be made quickly, whether Hank liked it or not.
"Get Kelly to anchor you in. We'll relay the vitals to Rampart for you," Hank ordered and Gage took off in a zip, the drug box rattling in his grip.
"I'll radio ahead to Rampart and let them know we may have more coming! Get you another ambulance." Halstead called out in way of agreement before he slammed the double doors shut. The ambulance left in a wail of sirens.
"Cap, I think I'm gonna need Truck 43's Stokes," Gage said even as he grabbed hold of the rope with one hand, the drug box in the other, all the while ignoring whatever Kelly was shouting at him.
"Now hold it, Gage! You can't go down there by yourself! Let me get—Gage! Johnny! Ah, damn it!"
Already, the helmet disappeared from view as Gage stepped off the edge and walked backwards down the slope to the stricken car.
"Slow down!" Hank ordered from the edge as Gage ran backwards until he was lined up with the passenger door. Lord, the kid was fearless. "Slow down, Gage!"
"I see one guy inside!" Gage shouted up. He presses his face to the passenger window. "Can't tell if he's breathing from here! Door's jammed. Halstead's right! Car's real deep in this mud! It's not going anywhere!" Before anyone could say anything, Gage was smashing the window in with the tiny hammer he carried in his back pocket. Glass scattered as he used his toolbox to clear out the jagged edges. There was a brief glimpse of boots as Gage wiggled into the car headfirst.
"I'll kill him!" Chet seethed even as he braced the anchor rope, Lopez grunted behind him. "Marco, when he gets back up here, you hold him down and I'll beat him with the inch-and-a-half! Of all the stupid…"
The HT crackled back to life in Hank's hands.
"Engine 51. I'm in. Notify Rampart. Patient is male, about forty, pulse is twelve, thready. The patient is unconscious and fading fast. He has a lacerated vein on the right wrist. He's bleeding out."
Hank dropped to his knees by the biophone and repeated everything Gage told him. The paramedic barely paused for breath as he rattled off BP and respiration next. Gage never faltered, calm, his voice eerily echoing DeSoto's even when everyone heard the metallic groan.
There was a pause.
"Uh, Cap? That wagon up there looks like it's moving."
"Check that line," Hank waved Stoker over. "I want—"
It wasn't clear who shouted. The speaker was drowned out by the snap of rope strands. Rain-sodden dirt crumbled underneath the station wagon and sent the precarious balance of weight to the front of the car. The ropes then completely snapped, the rear bumper screeched as it was completely ripped off and the wagon tipped forward and rolled.
"Gage, get out of there!" Hank bellowed into the HT but he heard two things happening at once: the crunch of metal colliding with metal and Kelly's hiss when Gage's anchor line he was holding zipped past his double fists and slipped out of his grasp.
"51, what is your status?"
The tinny demand out of the orange box was ignored as Hank leapt up to his feet and raced to the edge.
"You okay?" Hank asked Kelly even as he peered over. His heart sank. The wagon smashed head on to the sedan and forced the two vehicles down another ten feet.
"Yeah," Kelly gritted out even as he hugged his fists to his chest. "Cut through my gloves but nothing's bleeding." He clenched his teeth as he tried to uncurl his hands. He couldn't.
"I didn't see Johnny get out," Stoker called out. He took a step closer. He flailed his arms when the ground under him began to disintegrate.
"Everyone back! Away from the edge," Hank ordered. "We're adding pressure to this slope. We could have a slide on our hands. Stoker, move Engine 51 up to higher ground and call dispatch for another ladder to respond to this location. Kelly, move the squad back. Lopez, you and I are going down there!"
Hank didn't mean to be harsh, but the boiling anger that was directed inward forced every word out of his mouth louder and tighter at Kelly.
"You can barely hold a rope right now. Move the squad!" Hank waved at the CHP lingering on scene. "Hey! I need you guys to anchor us over here. We got a man down!"
Ropes were tied, LA dispatcher was called; Hank filed everything to the back of his head as he looped his legs through the ropes and double knotted everything. Of all things to think about, for some reason, DeSoto's face when he said Gage was better off staying with them popped up and stuck. Hank set his jaw as he positioned himself at the edge. At Lopez's nod, they began the slippery descent.
The distance wasn't far technically, but the slope was steep. By the time they reached the mangled wreckages, Hank's knees shook and he was gasping with the exertion. He was getting too old for this.
The station wagon was wedged into the driver's side of the windshield like a gruesome dart on a board. The two cars groaned even without them touching it and the loose gravel that skipped under Hank's feet told him time was very short.
"Gage? John?" It would be a miracle if he got an answer so when Hank heard the moan, he at first thought he imagined it.
Hank dug his heels in the ground that was far too soft for his liking and grabbed the passenger door handle. Any hopes of the newer collision having unjammed the door were dashed when a few good yanks only made the cars creep down another inch. Hank crouched as close as he could to the open window.
A bloodshot eye looked at him with little recognition, but it was life and Hank learned to take every sign of it as good.
"Can you hear me?" Hank asked. He could hear Lopez's exclamation. The fireman had seen the other body.
The one brown eye closed then opened. The other was glued shut by the swelling across his brow.
"…'ap?" Gage wheezed. His mouth, clear of blood, worked strangely as he tried to form words.
"Captain," Hank corrected him with a faint smile. "Let's get you out of here." He reached in an arm to pull Gage through the window. Gage tensed.
"N-no." Gage jerked back and slipped away from Hank's grasp.
"Is he pinned?" Lopez asked from across the car, unable to see because the two cars had melded into one bloody heap of death and scrap next to Gage.
Hank reached in and ran a hand down over what he could feel of Gage's legs. The paramedic groaned and squirmed in his seat.
"His legs are free. Come on, we have to get you out of here." Hank slipped his arm under the closest arm he could reach but Gage again wrenched free.
"Can't…lacerated…lacerated vein," Gage panted.
Hank spied the bloody wrist Gage's left hand was clamped over. He sucked in his breath, thrust both arms in and tried to pry the long fingers off the cooled and rigid wrist.
"No…s-stop…'ave to stop the…b-bleeding."
"Damn it, Gage, there's no point any more," Hank growled but Gage wouldn't listen. It was hard to get a grip of the fingers; they were too slick with blood, whose Hank couldn't tell.
"Captain?" Lopez made his way over to the other side. He froze when the cars moved again.
"I can't get him to let go," Hank said even as he kept trying. Gage twisted feebly away from him, edging further away from Hank's hands. The only thing that stopped him from getting away completely was the contorted metal that took up part of the driver's seat.
Hank breathed out sharply. "I can't get him to listen."
"Hey, Johnny. It's all right to let go," Lopez coaxed from where he was crouched next to Hank but all Gage would do was mumble and move around restlessly. The sedan keened and wheels slipped in the mud.
"We're making it worse," Hank muttered as he felt a vibration against his leg. He eyed the bottom of the ravine, all the empty houses below. He pulled a glove off with his teeth and rested a hand on the matted dark hair. Gage uttered a tiny sound. Hank grimaced.
"Head feels like it got a nasty bump. Must have hit his head when that wagon came down." Hank grabbed the HT he hung across his shoulder. "Dispatch, can you patch me through to a land line?"
Hank left his hand on top of Gage's head to feel the warmth of life still beating under his palm. Gage's eye opened and shut once more. Hank fought the urge to pat.
"I can think of one man he'll listen to," Hank muttered, "let's hope Gage will listen this time."
Hank pressed the HT close to Gage's ear. DeSoto's voice sounded higher, crackly, but Hank hoped it was still clear enough for Gage to recognize. Murky brown eyes blinked heavily and the blood-streaked face turned towards the handi-talk.
"Yeah. Listen, you gotta let go of the man's hand and get out of that car." Calm, steady as always, but Hank detected a tiny bit of panic as the words sped up.
"L-lacerated…his wrist…" Gage mumbled and he curled towards the driver's seat a little.
"…I know. There's nothing more you can do."
"Oh." Gage squinted towards the seat next to him. "'ey Roy?"
"W'ere 'is h-head?"
DeSoto could be heard swallowing. "Don't worry about that for now. Let go of his hand."
Gage winced and his lips pressed thin and white. "I…I don't think I c-can."
"Sure you can," DeSoto coaxed.
"C-cramped…" Gage groaned.
Hank winced as Gage's left arm shook but sure enough, the thumb trembled then pulled back.
"That's it," DeSoto congratulated as if he could see it. "Now the index. Just let it straighten out…little bit more…"
"'oy?" Gage slurred. "I-I can't 'et a p-pulse…"
Hank wanted to shout "Who cares?" as the wagon on top of the sedan settled and the heaps crawled back another inch, like a disgruntled metal snake. Hank needed to tug at the rope around his waist to get enough slack to crouch by the car again.
"Can't save them all, Johnny," DeSoto cracked. "But we're sure as hell saving you, okay? Pay attention. Middle finger now. Same thing as before. Are you listening?"
"Yea'," Gage sighed. "'M l-liste'ing…"
"H-head 'urts," Gage breathed as his left hand dropped.
DeSoto's voice hitched. "Yeah, I know. Where's your helmet?"
Gage waved his right hand vaguely towards the driver's side before he sagged against the passenger door.
The cars groaned and Lopez could be heard shouting in alarm for more rope but each line snapped easily like cheap thread.
"Lopez," Hank called and together, carefully, they pulled Gage through the window. Mud slipped under wheels and boots. Hank fought to keep his balance as he tugged Gage, heavier with his turnout gear, out the window. DeSoto could still be heard in the HT, warning them to watch out for Gage's legs, keep his head straight. His voice, while steady, was noticeably taut as if the words were being spit out.
Just as Gage's boots exited the car, a louder groan filled Hank's ears. Lopez tackled them both to the ground just as the last of the rigging snapped and whipped high in the air like writhing snakes. Hank curled over his two men, his arms wrapped over their shoulders and he could feel the wind whistling against him as rope lashed out. Above Hank, CHP and firemen scattered to avoid the backlash. And with a final screech, the two cars slid past them with the force of a freight train. So fast, Hank was sure they would get pulled along its wake.
"Captain? Marco? Johnny? What's going on?" Gone was the paramedic's calm tone, DeSoto sounded frantic on the radio.
Hank dropped his chin on top of Gage's head and exhaled. He could hear Stoker shouting above and Engine 37 returning on top.
"Guys? Anyone? Someone, pick up the damn radio!"
Hank spit out something he thought tasted like mud. He pressed the HT to him. "We're fine," Hank panted. "We'll be transporting him to Rampart in ten."
"Please, can I talk to him?" DeSoto pleaded. He waited until the HT was settled against Gage's cheek. "Johnny? Johnny? You okay?"
"Ouch," Gage grumbled against Hank's chest and promptly passed out.
It wasn't a surprise to see DeSoto, in his civilian clothing since it was technically still his day off, waiting by Receiving with the nurses and orderlies. Hank climbed out of the ambulance and gave DeSoto a curt nod. Behind him, Hank could hear Kelly pulling in with the squad, Engine 51 behind it.
"You got here fast," Hank commented as he kept in pace with the gurney.
"Yeah, I…uh…" DeSoto muttered as he took a limp wrist and was counting as he ran alongside the gurney. He stared at Gage, quiet and limp, on the gurney. His mouth was pressed thin. "I was…drove fast…CHP…got stopped. They offered a police escort." He lifted up his eyes to stare at Hank. "Did he come to at all on the way over here?"
Hank offered a smile, the kind of reassuring smile he was used to giving a mother waiting to see if her child escaped their burning home. He wasn't used to giving it to his men but it was starting to dawn on him that if he was going to be their captain from now on, maybe he should start practicing.
"Some," Hank told him. He was grateful it wasn't a lie this time. DeSoto appeared to be the kind of man who could see right through it. "Told me to hold for vitals, asked for tomorrow off and went back to sleep." Hank pretended to scowl. "He called me Dix."
The lines around DeSoto's mouth smoothed out. He gave a strangled laugh. "Okay. That's…that's real good." He slipped a hand over Gage's left when he thought no one was looking and gave the lax fingers a brief squeeze.
"Put him in Two," a nurse ordered as the gurney went by. Hank stopped at the sight of Halstead waiting by the nurse's station. The veteran firefighter looked stupefied at the sight of Hank.
"What the devil happened?" Halstead gaped at Gage on the gurney going by him into an examination room. The door swung open again when a doctor pushed in. Then another. Then nurses and orderlies. Too many faces to count but somehow, it was comforting to see.
"Where were you?"
Hank tensed at the tight question that came out between DeSoto's clenched teeth. He could feel DeSoto off his shoulder like a fire's heat behind a door.
Halstead recognized DeSoto and something flickered across his face. He straightened, bracing himself.
"Where. Were. You? DeSoto didn't seem to care Halstead outweighed him by an easy thirty pounds and three inches. DeSoto drew up to Halstead.
"DeSoto," Hank called out firmly. "This is not the place."
"Captain—" Halstead protested as he leaned back. "You heard Gage! The kid said it was fine! He could—"
"His name is John Gage, not kid," DeSoto seethed. "And just because he said he could do it, doesn't mean you should let him! What the hell kind of partner, are you?"
Halstead glowered at DeSoto and Hank needed to step in-between them finally when he realized both men were ready to do something they shouldn't in the hospital. Hank placed one hand on Halstead's chest, felt DeSoto bumping against him like a chained junkyard dog.
"DeSoto!" Hank barked and he could have sworn he heard DeSoto snap his teeth.
"This is not the place and sure as hell not the time," Hank growled under his breath, loud enough so only those two could hear. "Now settle down or we can discuss this back at the station. There are other priorities right now." Hank set his jaw. Already, they were attracting the curious eyes of the people in the waiting area down the hall. This was not how he wanted people to see his department.
Hank turned until he stood between them, his shoulders holding them both apart.
"Do I make myself clear?"
Halstead, at the very least was under his command and backed off with a sullen "Yes sir" but Hank kept his eye on DeSoto, who wasn't under his command.
DeSoto's teeth clenched but with a curt bob of his head, he eased off. Hank nodded towards exam room Two with a jerk. DeSoto swallowed, took a steadying breath and backed off another step. He muttered an apology to Halstead and maneuvered around Hank, for the room Gage was taken into.
Hank held up a hand. "I think we're both at fault for what happened out there," Hank sighed and it irked him when it didn't look like Halstead got it. "We'll talk back at the station." Hank left it at that. He left Halstead standing by the nurse's station and rejoined DeSoto, who was arguing with a nurse and looked about ready to push her aside.
"I just want to…Where's Dix—Nurse McCall?" DeSoto shot Hank a helpless look. "They won't let me in."
The nurse was young, new enough to be a stickler about procedure. "Nurse McCall is off today and I can't let you just walk in and—"
"That's his partner in there," Hank interrupted. At the nurse's dubious look at Desoto's attire, Hank added, "He couldn't be there when his partner got in trouble. He just wants to be there now."
The young nurse's firm expression eased a fraction. She bit her lower lip before she slowly nodded and stepped aside. DeSoto smiled at Hank, his eyes lighter with gratitude as he slipped inside with the nurse.
Hank sighed. He folded his arms across his chest and leaned back on the wall by the door. He blinked and lifted his gaze and discovered he had an audience. Halstead still hung far back, unsure, but waiting.
"Captain?" Stoker spoke up from the back. Kelly, his hands covered like white paws, stared intently at him.
"John came to briefly in the ambulance before," Hank assured them. "I'm told that's a good sign."
"That's great," Kelly hedged.
Hank raised an eyebrow when he realized no one budged. "Something else?"
"You told that nurse," Lopez struggled. "Before…"
"You told her Roy was his partner," Stoker offered from the safety in the back. The other two glared at the engineer.
Hank rolled his eyes. "Come on. Let's head back to the station. Seems there's some paperwork I need to do." The three nodded with suspicious eagerness. With a short nod, Hank beckoned Halstead over and gave the exam door behind him one more glance.
Paperwork, Hank thought with a wince, and a lot of explaining to do. He looked back at the door. DeSoto never came back out.
Ah, what the hell.
"Aw come on, it wasn't even bleeding!"
Hank shook his head and bit back a chuckle. These conversations were getting more and more common these days, Hank mused.
"Serves you right," DeSoto snorted.
"Did you have to get Morton though?" Gage whined as they entered the kitchen. He looked at Hank and gestured at his bound right hand with a wordless "See this?" expression on his face.
"The man is overly cautious! I'm lucky I didn't have a paper cut; he would have me on lactated ringers and admitted overnight for observation!"
"Well, this way, maybe next time you'll remember you can't fly."
"You're heartless, Roy," Gage grumbled good-naturedly. "That's the gratitude I get for coming up with the idea." He dropped into a chair with a huff and dropped his chin on his good hand. "Hey, Cap," Gage mumbled. He didn't seem to notice Hank's glower.
"Okay, it was a good idea," DeSoto admitted. "The crane got us to the guy just in time but next time, I'll climb the crane." He nodded at Hank. "Cap," DeSoto greeted before he stuck his head into the fridge.
Hank tossed his pen down and shook his head. I give up, he thought.
"Now who thinks he can fly?" Gage rolled his eyes. He rubbed the tiny surgical line above his right eye. It was still red and puffy from the stitches.
"Keep that up," DeSoto remarked mildly, his head still in the fridge, "and it'll scar."
Gage started and dropped his hand immediately. He poked at the bandages wrapped around his hand instead now.
"That darn Morton," Gage grumbled, "how am I supposed to take Tina out to dinner like this?"
"Radiology?" DeSoto asked as he pulled out the stew from yesterday and divided it into two bowls.
Gage grinned toothily at his partner. "Pediatrics." His smile dropped and he lifted up his hand like a wounded paw.
"Sympathy points," DeSoto suggested and Gage brightened.
"Oh yeah. Yeah. That's a good idea, Roy. Maybe I could…"
DeSoto gave Hank a long-suffering look. Hank chuckled as he watched Gage go to the fridge, still talking even though no one was listening any more.
"See what I have to put up with?" DeSoto joked as Gage prattled on.
"Get used to it," Hank pretended to grumble. "I'm not putting in paperwork for another transfer. I just transferred you two back. That's it. You're stuck with him."
"…nowhere nearly as complicated as that one gal over at…"
"Stuck, huh?" DeSoto murmured. His eyes crinkled as he tracked Gage going for coffee one handed. "I can live with that."
Hank bit back a smile when Gage found a way to carry two steaming mugs of coffee with one hand. DeSoto chided him and the two were now bickering about something else.
Yeah, Hank thought with an odd, but damn good feeling in his chest, so can I.
Author's Acknowledgment: Many hugs to ldyanne for putting up with my rewrites!
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