Disclaimer: The guys aren't mine, but I'd love to get my hands on them anyway! :o)

 

Note:  This story was started a while ago by another author, but due to computer failure, most of it had been lost.  The current author obtained permission to finish the story. 

 

 

JUST A SECOND EARLIERÖ

By Karen Lewis

 

Johnny slammed his locker shut, ready to go home for the day. His mind was preoccupied and he was not aware of Royís presence. For some reason, Johnny could not shake the feeling of foreboding that had come over him the previous day, right before this current shift started. For some reason, he felt compelled to visit his Aunt Lottieís grave. . .something he had done on a regular basis, even though he had not felt so compelled in the past.

Roy noticed the quiet mood Johnny seemed to be in the entire shift. Even Chetís attempts to bring him out of his melancholy proved futile. At first, Roy was wary, wondering what he would be in for if Johnny started in on one of his usual tirades. He had thought that maybe his friend had gotten dumped again, or that the Phantom had managed to get the better of him somewhere along the line. But the more Roy thought about it, the more he realized that something else was bothering Johnny.

The Phantom had been unusually quiet lately, and Roy thought that maybe he was just regrouping for his next attack. Plus, Johnny had not been dating anyone on a regular basis lately. As a matter of fact, the following evening after their shift, Roy had arranged for him to join he and Joanne for dinner with one of Joanneís friends who was in town visiting for the weekend. Johnny had seemed genuinely happy to accept the invitation, and Roy looked forward to tomorrow night. As the shift went on, he began to worry. Johnny seemed to be lost deep inside himself and spoke only when necessary.

Standing in the locker room, Roy studied Johnny for a moment before speaking. "Hey Johnny, we still on for tonight?"

"Hmmm?" Johnny asked after a second.

"Tonight! I was just wondering if we were still on for tonight?" Roy asked once again.

"Roy, heís really out in left field, you wonít get a straight answer from him!" Chet taunted.

"Chet, you donít know anything about it, so just never mind," Johnny answered, seeing how Chet backed off instantly. That was an unusual occurrence, but even Chet could sense that something was really wrong.

"Johnny, are you ok?" Roy asked, concerned about his friendís behavior.

"Yeah, Iím fine. Why?" Johnny shrugged.

"Only because youíve been unusually quiet since our shift started yesterday. If something is bothering you, we can always make plans for another night," Roy urged, hoping his partner would open up and talk to him.

"Roy, Iím fine, really. I just guess Iím a bit upset lately. You see, I went to visit my Aunt Lottie the other morning, and sometimes that still bothers me," Johnny answered, trying to make sense of his mood. He just did not know where this feeling was coming from.

"That explains it," Roy answered. "Why didnít you talk to me about this yesterday? I know how close you were to your aunt; she was all you had growing up."

"Iím sorry. I just didnít want to bring you down with me, I guess. Sometimes when I think of Aunt Lottie, I just like to keep things to myself," Johnny replied.

"Well, Iím here if you need to talk," Roy offered.

"Thanks, Roy. And the answer to your question is yes," Johnny switched gears, answering Royís earlier question.

"What?" Roy asked, his head spinning.

"The dinner! You just asked me about it a while ago! Did you forget already?" Johnny exclaimed impatiently.

"Did I forget about it?" Roy managed to squeak out, shaking his head in amazement.

"Yeah! One minute youíre asking me and the next you turn around and forget! Whatís up with you?" Johnny replied, his voice rising.

"Whatís up with me? Johnny, you were the one out in space when I first asked you! Then you change the subject and totally turn things around. I canít keep up with you sometimes!" Roy said.

"But I answered your question!" Johnny argued.

"Now, which question is that?" Roy asked, ready to give up at this point.

"First you asked me about what was bothering me, so I answered it," Johnny was quick to point out.

"I first asked you about tonight!" Roy countered.

"Yeah, but before I could answer, you are talking about my Aunt Lottie!" Johnny retorted.

"I!ÖMe?ÖWhat? Johnny, youíre making me dizzy! Letís start this over. Are we still on for tonight?" Roy asked once more.

"Yes, I told you we were!" Johnny answered, watching as Roy tried to make sense of the entire conversation.

"Iíll see you tonight then. Be at my house at seven!" Roy left the locker room, mumbling incoherently.

***

Johnny drove home, unable to shake his feelings. After finishing up with chores he had been putting off around the ranch, he noticed that it was almost 11 in the morning. He needed grain for the horses and also remembered that they were holding a horse auction in the next county. Although Johnny had no intentions of purchasing any horses at this time, he decided to drive up anyway and check things out. It wouldnít take long and Johnny knew that he would be back well before it was time to get ready and meet Roy and Joanne.

After showering, Johnny quickly dressed and got into his pickup truck. As he drove along, his mind wandered, hoping the drive would be just the thing he needed to relax. He drummed to the music playing on the radio, his earlier worries forgotten. It was such a beautiful day, Johnny wondered how he could have felt bad to begin with.

Before heading up north, Johnny stopped at the feed Ďn grain, purchasing all he needed for his own horses. While the grain was being loaded in the back of his truck, he spent a few minutes speaking with the owner. As soon as they were finished, Johnny waved goodbye and started up north. About an hour later, he arrived at the auction.

Parking near the barns, Johnny walked around the corrals, inspecting the horses they had to offer. He could feel the fire burning within, and fought the urge to enter in on the bidding.

"Why donít you train and sell the ones you have now, before you get involved with buying more?" Johnny reminded himself.

Instead of buying a horse, Johnny settled for a hot dog and a large soda. Sitting in the shade, he enjoyed the auction as he ate. Johnny got so involved in watching the horses being brought into the arena and bid on, time seemed to slip away. He looked at his watch and realized that it was going on four p.m.

"I better get going! Roy will kill me if Iím late," Johnny worried as he watched one final bidding.

Then, tearing himself away, Johnny ran to his truck and headed home. Traffic was light, as the rush hour was just barely underway. No matter, for he was headed in the opposite direction of the afternoon rush, so Johnny knew it should not get that bad. With a little bit of luck, he should make it home in record time.

"Iíll just leave the grain in the truck and unload it tomorrow. Iíll feed the horses before I leave to meet Roy, and when I get home later tonight, Iíll make sure theyíre bedded down. Yep, should have enough time," he spoke to himself, drumming on the steering wheel.

As Johnny drove along, he noticed a tractor trailer loaded down with municipal waste coming up on his left. He slowed down a bit, letting the rig go by. One thing he did not want to do was ride alongside the truckÖhe had seen enough accidents involving cars and trucks to last a lifetime. That rig was followed by another, which pulled ahead of Johnny and drove alongside the first truck. Two cars followed, with both weaving in and out of their lanes, trying to find a break to pass the trucks.

"What the hell is their hurry? The trucks are going the limit. Theyíre going to cause an accident if they don't slow down and stay in their lanes." Johnny cursed slightly.

Before the words were even out of his mouth, the sickening screech of tires filled the air. Johnny saw the blue sedan darting between the trucks in an attempt to pass them both. He pulled back into the right hand lane, cutting the truck in front of Johnny off. In an effort to avoid an accident, the driver hit the brakes, causing his load to shift. Blue smoke filled the air as the driver fought to keep his truck under control. The sedan then started spinning wildly, as he slammed into the side of the other truck, causing that one to jackknife, crushing the sedan between the trailer and cab.

Johnny heard someone screaming and realized that it was him. Everything seemed to be happening in slow motion. He remembered cutting the wheel, trying to bring his own truck to the side of the road, but it did not want to seem to obey. He hit the brakes, pumping them so as not to have them lock up and send him flying out of control into the other vehicles. As Johnny slid sideways, he saw the other vehicles piling into one another from the corner of his eye.

The jack-knifed truck came to a stop, its driver looking up just long enough to see the other rig barreling down on top of him. With one last scream, the driverís world exploded as metal met metal. Both vehicles seemed to become one as the second truck slammed into him, with metal twisting and ripping apart as it crushed everything within its path. The last thing the driver remembered was seeing the second car, a red sports car, desperately trying to avoid the crash. With a sickening crunch, his own rig slowly tipped over, landing on top of that car. Johnny fought his steering wheel, feeling himself sliding helplessly into the back of the wreckage. Just as he closed his eyes to avoid seeing the results of the impact he knew was imminent, a surge of warmth enveloped him. Something gently took hold of his hands as he gripped the wheel. Then it all stoppedÖthe sound of twisted metal no longer resounded through the air, the screeching of tires ceased and the screams died down. Everyone was quiet as their vehicles came to a rest, with an eerie silence settling down over them.

***

"Roy, will you make sure to be ready so you can pick up Carly?" Joanne asked, snapping the clasp on her necklace.

"Carlyís sitting with the kids tonight?" Roy asked.

"Yes, Carly is sitting with the kids tonight." Joanne taunted. "Why? What do you have against Carly?"

"Honey, isnít she a little young?" Roy worried.

"Roy, sheís 14 and very capable! Plus, her mother and father are right next door. You worry too much, Johnny is right!" Joanne cried out, rolling her eyes.

"Oh, Lord help me! The day everyone agrees with Johnny, is the day Iím hanging it all up!" Roy groaned.

"What time is Johnny coming over anyway?" Joanne asked.

"I told him to be here by seven. You said Jean was coming over by 6:30?" Roy wondered.

"Yes, I thought it would be better for her to arrive first. I know how nervous she can get. How is Johnny with this?" Joanne asked of him.

"Heís fine, honey. Johnny is JohnnyÖI spoke with him this morning and he sounded pretty excited about the entire evening," Roy replied, somewhat worriedly.

"Maybe theyíll hit it off," Joanne hinted.

"Joanne, donít do any matchmaking!" Roy warned. " Itís one thing having Johnny escort her to dinner, but another entirely to have you making wedding plans! I, for one, donít think Johnny will be ready to take that step for a long time yet."

"Iím afraid youíre right. I have the same feeling about Jean," Joanne sighed. Sheís been so busy taking over her fatherís veterinary clinic when he retired that she hasnít left time in her life for anything but work."

"See! They will make the perfect couple! Johnny has his job and the ranch and Jean has her practice. Neither want to get married yet, so I just know they will fall for each other!" Roy laughed.

"I know," Joanne snickered, "Just when you think life is going the way you want it to, something happens." Joanne laughed, not noticing the way Roy stood, staring blankly.

She turned, catching Roy staring out the window, his head tilted. To Joanne, he appeared to be listening to a faraway sound, slightly paling as he held his hand out, groping for some unseen entity. She came up behind Roy, causing him to jump slightly when she wrapped her arms around his waist.

"Honey? Whatís wrong?" Joanne suddenly worried.

"I donít know," Roy shook his head, attempting to quell the uneasy feeling in the pit of his stomach. " Just a feeling that came over me all of a sudden. It was something that you said, like life changing just when you least expect it to."

"Whatís wrong with that?" Joanne asked.

"I really donít know at this time, but it was as if in that split second, our lives did change. I canít explain it. Iím gonna go call Johnny and touch base with him," Roy said as he went to the phone.

Ten rings later and no answer, Roy hung up the phone, worried about why Johnny was not at the house. Joanne tried calming him down, but Roy could not seem to settle himself down.

"Itís not like Johnny, he would have answered the phone by now."

"Roy, itís almost time for him to be leaving to come here. He might be in the barn taking care of the horses, or he might even be in the shower unable to answer the phone. Will you stop worrying and get into the shower yourself? Jean will be here any minute now and youíre not even dressed yet." Joanne said, as she fastened her earrings.

"Wow, you look gorgeous," Roy said, taking Joanne in his arms.

"You will too, if you get ready! After all the griping youíve done about Johnny being on time, chances are, both he and Jean will be here and youíll still be in your jeans!"

"Youíre right, Iím going now. Honey, if Johnny calls, tell him to come right over!" Roy called back from the bathroom door.

***

He tried moving his head, but the pain was too blinding. Something sticky ran down his scalp, covering his face. Johnny soon realized that it was blood. He tried moving, but his entire body screamed in protest. His arm hung uselessly at his side, with the pain raging from the tips of his fingers to his shoulder. Johnny could hear the hissing of his radiator as he looked up slightly from the steering wheel. Slowly, be managed to bring his head up, collapsing back against the seat of his truck.

Taking deep gulps of air, he tried to control his emotions. He could barely remember what happenedÖeverything unfolded too fast in front of him. One minute they were driving along and the next, the entire world tuned into a mass of twisted metal that screamed at them as it took everyone into its jaws. His mouth was dry, and Johnny tried to swallow, only to gag against the taste of blood. Slowly, he ran his hands over his body, trying to determine the extent of his own injuries.

Johnny prayed that he would be able to stand once he managed to shake off the shock of the impact. He knew that people would desperately be needing what little help he could give at this point, and was determined that he would do all he couldÖif there were any survivors. But as he remembered the horror of the crash, Johnny doubted if there would be anyone left alive to help.

***

"Carly, would you please take the kids up to their rooms and read to them?" Joanne asked.

"Yes, Mrs. DeSoto," Carly answered.

"Thanks, sweetie!" Joanne called after her.

Roy and Jean stood in the living room waiting for Johnny. Growing angrier by the minute, Roy paced restlessly, glancing at his watch. If Johnny had changed his mind, he should have called. Roy knew that Johnny had been upset earlier and had offered to change their plans, but Johnny insisted that he was looking forward to it. Now, they all stood in the living room waiting. Roy tried Johnnyís house again, only to hang the phone up in disgust.

"No answer! Where the heck is he?" Roy fumed. He could see how uneasy Jean was feeling and wanted to put her at ease. "Jean, donít worry. Johnny is known for being late. Heís also known for getting into jams that keep him from making his appointments on time. Believe me, it has nothing to do with you. As a matter of fact, when I last spoke with Johnny this morning, he was really looking forward to tonight."

"Roy, thatís alright!" Jean reassured him. "Maybe he was just nervous and chickened out! It happens to the best of us! Believe me, Iím not upset. I just hope that nothing major happened to keep him away."

"No, Iím sure heís just out working in the barn and forgot about the time. Letís not let it ruin our night. Iíll tell Carly to let Johnny know to meet us at the restaurant when he shows up, and we can go ahead and have our dinner." Roy said, as he helped the women into their coats.

After speaking with Carly for a moment, the trio left. Roy drove into the restaurant parking lot, hoping that Johnny would show up sooner or later. This just wasnít like him; Johnny would call and let them know if he wasnít coming, he wouldnít leave them hanging like this. Not wanting to upset the women any further, Roy led them inside.

***

After a few moments, Johnny tried opening his door, but a blinding pain from his arm drew him up short. Gasping for breath, he leaned his head back against his seat, grabbing hold of his upper arm. It was then Johnny discovered a large piece of glass embedded in his arm, from the window that had shattered.

His teeth chattered from the chills that swept over his body. Reaching down on the seat of the truck, Johnny grabbed an old shirt that was lying there. Taking the garment, Johnny used it as a tourniquet to control the bleeding. His head spun with every movement, and Johnny felt the nausea rising. Shaking his head to clear the dizziness that engulfed him, Johnny managed to shove his door open and climb out. He slid down off the seat, landing on his knees as he felt his legs buckling beneath him. Grabbing onto the door handle, Johnny managed to pull himself back up.

He stared at the wreckage, not believing his eyes. The entire world consisted of nothing but one giant chunk of twisted metal. A blue smoke rose from the wreckage, and glass was strewn over the entire road. Johnny wondered if anyone had been able to get to a phone yet and call for help, but he couldnít take that chance. He was a trained paramedic; despite his own injuries, Johnny had to see what he could do to help. As he stood, the ground swayed beneath his feet as he tried walking. Woodenly, he placed one foot in front of the other as he slowly made his way forward, approaching the wreckage.

It was impossible to tell one vehicle from the other. Johnny stared at the two trucks, seeing how they had entangled, blending into one. He knew that checking on the occupants of the red sports car would prove fruitlessÖthe trailer of the truck lay on top of that vehicle and it was obvious that no one could have survived. Johnny fought the bile that rose in his throat. He pushed himself forward, but the pounding in his head and the pain in his arm proved to be too much. His entire body shuddered as he slipped silently onto the asphalt.

***

Dinner was quiet and strained. All through the meal, Roy kept looking around the room, hoping to spot Johnny walking in. He didnít know whether to be mad or worried at the moment. Noticing her husbandís mood, Joanne placed her hand gently over top of his.

"Honey, why donít you go call the ranch?" she suggested.

"I was just thinking the same thing, Jo; only I would rather go out there. I have a sickening feeling that something happened. What if heís hurt? Thereís no telling what could have happened. He could have been thrown from a horse and hit his head, you never know. I could kick myself for sitting here and wasting time. What if he needs me? I should have known better, Johnny would never promise to go out with us and not call saying otherwise," Roy cursed himself silently for not acting sooner. "All I do know is that I canít sit here any longer and not check things out."

"Why donít we just pay the bill and drive out there?" Joanne asked, looking at Jean.

"Sounds good to me. If there is an emergency with one of his horses and Johnny hasnít had the chance to call, I can help out." Jean offered.

The trio paid the bill and left the restaurant immediately. A short while later Roy pulled into the ranch, finding the buildings dark. The barn was still open, and the horses mingled in the field. Roy knew that was odd for Johnny; he wouldnít go out for the night and leave the animals loose in the corral.

"Jean, will you help me get the horses into the barn?" Roy asked, knowing that he would need a hand.

"Sure, that is definitely not a problem for me!" Jean laughed, "I specialize in larger animals!"

Once the horses were in the barn, Roy and Jean made sure that they had enough fresh water to get them through the night. Roy could see that Johnny had fed the animals earlier, so they did not bother with more. Their stalls were all secured and Roy pulled the barn door shut behind him. As he latched the door, he could not help but look around the yard. Johnnyís Rover was parked in the driveway, but the pickup was missing.

"Thatís odd, he would have taken the Rover tonight," Roy thought out loud.

"Whatís that Roy?" Jean wondered.

"Johnny has a pickup truck that he uses for working around the ranch or for picking up supplies. He never would have taken that truck to meet us tonight. What the hell is going on here?" Roy looked around, "Jo, letís go back home. I have a bad feeling about this and I want to be near the phone in case he calls. At least we have things taken care of here."

***

Johnny slowly made his way over the twisted metal. He used his arm to wipe the blood from his face, but did not want to see the extent of the cut on his forehead at this time. It would do no good to look anyway. Right now, there was nothing Johnny could do about it and the only thing he was concerned with was the welfare of the other victims. Johnny knew that he had only caught the tail-end of the impact, and that the others involved were hurt much more seriously than he. His arm throbbed and he could barely use his hand without clenching his teeth in pain.

"Shock. Just try and calm down, Gage. Remember your training. Donít lose it now. Relax your breathing and take slow, deep breaths. You controlled the bleeding the best you could and thereís nothing else you can do right now. Ignore the pain and see if you can help those people out," he told himself, his face breaking out in a cold, clammy sweat and the nausea setting in.

Johnny grabbed his small first-aid kit, knowing that it was probably useless. Compared to what he would need, considering the extent of the injuries that would be involved with a wreck like this, he almost felt ashamed to be seen carrying a kit this size. Since he rarely used the pick-up much off of the ranch, it only contained the basics. He wished he had the Rover right now, knowing that there was much more in the way of first-aid supplies in the back.

Johnny felt faint as he neared the truck. A roaring had started in his ears, with the kit slipping from his fingers. Johnny leaned against the cool metal of the truck and took his breath in deep, shuddering gasps. It had only been minutes, but it seemed like hours.

As Johnny started sliding to the ground, a voice from his past came to him. A soft, glowing light appeared, wrapping itself around him. Johnny felt peaceful, despite all the pain he was in. The pain was forgotten as the glow intensified, comforting Johnny as he swore he saw two soft arms gently embracing him. The image disappeared, but the glow remained. The pain left and Johnny felt himself able to stand once more. Bending down, he reached for the first-aid kit and began walking. The glow dissipated, replaced by the apparition that beckoned him to follow.

"Come on Johnny, you must come with me," the gentle voice said.

"Aunt Lottie! Is that really you?" Johnny gasped, as his aunt appeared before him.

"Yes, sweetie. Itís me. I was sent to help you in your time of need," she spoke gently.

"But, how?" Johnny stammered."

"How isnít important. Just know that I am here. I can help you and you can help someone else," she replied.

"Iíll do anything I can, but you will have to show me," Johnny asked of her.

"That is why I am here. Johnny, I have been by your side for years, protecting you. Now, we knew you needed me more than ever. I was given the power to appear to you and help you through this. You donít walk alone, but you are also needed. Please follow me. I will protect you." Johnnyís Aunt Lottie said, beckoning with her hand.

Johnny shook his head, but her vision remained. She smiled, holding out her hand. He took a few steps forward and followed. He thought that climbing over the wreckage would be impossible, considering his injuries; but Johnny found himself following along effortlessly.

He climbed over the twisted wreckage and slowly lowered himself down the other side. The second truck had tipped on its side, crushing the cab. Johnny listened, hearing a soft moan coming from inside the cab. He couldnít believe his earsÖsomeone was aliveÖin this entire twisted mess, someone was alive and needed his help. Johnny found himself scrambling over the wreckage as quickly as he could. He tossed pieces of debris out of the way, and made his way through the twisted mess. Seeing a small opening into the cab, Johnny wedged his body through, finding the driver trapped in what was left of his truck.

"Can you hear me?" Johnny asked as he worked his way inside.

"HelpÖme," the driver gasped.

"Iím coming! Just relax and donít try to struggle. Iím here to help you and I wonít leave until they get you out," Johnny said as he drew closer to the man.

"Hi!" Johnny grinned, knowing how silly that must have sounded. "Just lay still and let me see what I can do. My nameís Johnny. Iím a paramedic with the Los Angeles County Fire Department. I donít know how much I can do to help you right now, but I do know that I wonít leave you in here by yourself," Johnny promised.

"Scared," the man wept brokenly, reaching out with his hand.

Grabbing his hand, Johnny sought to reassure him the best he could. "I know, I am too. Whatís your name?"

"Rick. Rick Sanfield," was the reply.

"Ok Rick, just let me see if I can check you out a little here," Johnny grimaced as he ran his hands along Rickís body. As he reached his leg, Rick screamed. "Ok, relax. I wonít do anything to hurt you. Your legís crushed between the dashboard and the seat. Damn, the engine is shoved inside. I canít get anything to move to get you out of here."

"Gotta get me out! Get me out of here!" Rick screamed, as Johnny held his head in his hands.

"Rick, thereís nothing I can do for now but to sit here with you. That is about all I can do. I canít reach under the dash to examine your leg. But they will be here soon and get both of us out. I promised I wouldnít leave and I meant it," Johnny did his best to reassure the man.

Time seemed to stand still. Johnny held Rick, hoping that his presence would give him comfort and the strength not to give up. As he looked into Rickís eyes, he could see the fear they held. Johnny only hoped that his own eyes did not harbor that same fear. Rick held onto his hand, squeezing it as the pain shot through his body. Johnny just sat, talking quietly.

Sirens sounded in the distance, and Johnny could hear the emergency vehicles approaching. He wondered how in the world he would be able to let them know they were trapped. Voices rang out all around them as he listened to the rescue workers starting to clear away the wreckage. Johnny tried calling out, but his own head ached and he could feel himself becoming weaker. His arm throbbed miserably, causing him to grit his teeth against the agony.

But he would not give upÖRick needed him. Johnny had no idea how much damage was done to Rickís leg or even if Rick would make it at all. All he knew was the he intended to stay.

"Hurts," Rick moaned.

"I know it does, but I can hear them all around us. Listen!" Johnny cried out hopefully.

"My wifeÖwill you tell my wife?" Rick pleaded.

"Hey, what did I tell you? I wasnít led here just to watch you die! You just hold on now. If anyone is going to talk to your wife, it will be you," Johnny replied strongly, not willing to let the man give up on himself.

"You married?" Rick asked.

"No, never been lucky enough, I guess," Johnny tried smiling back.

"You should see my Debbie. What a woman! Weíve been married ten years now, but it still seems like yesterday," Rich smiled softly.

"She sounds wonderful," Johnny said, trying to keep both himself and Rick awake. If they could keep on talking, then they stood a chance.

"She is. Most women would gripe at my type of job, about all the times Iím away. But not my Debbie. She loves me and supports me. When I pull in in the middle of the night, I try to be real quiet, you know? Donít want to wake her," Rick continued speaking.

"Yeah, I can see where you wouldnít want to do that." Johnny agreed.

"Makes no difference. She gets up anyway, like she knows Iím there. She always fixes me something to eat too, you know? No matter what time it is. God, I want her with me right now," he replied wistfully.

"Rick you just hold on and soon Debbie will be by your side," Johnny reassured him.

"NOÖ!" Rick screamed as a pain shot through his leg, "Wonít make itÖcanít! Debbie!" Rick cried out as he trembled in Johnnyís arms.

"Rick, you hold on! Donít go leaving Debbie now! How do you think sheíll feel being by herself? Sheís counting on you to be strong, donít let her down!" Johnny said, fighting consciousness himself.

"TryÖ" Rick gasped.

Johnny sat there, trying to scream out to the paramedics fighting their way through the rubble. But they seemed so far away. They didnít know where he and Rick were. Johnny had to let them know! He had to get them here. Johnny closed his eyes and started praying.

***

"Roy, will you please stop pacing?" Joanne asked as he made another trip across the floor.

"Jo, I canít help it!" Roy cried out. "I know something happened, but what? He didnít say a word about going anywhere and if he was around and able to, he would have called! You know he would never go off like this! Especially after we made plans and he knew I was expecting him to show up! Jo, where the hell is he?"

Joanne was at a loss of words to comfort her husband. They had dropped both Carly and Jean off at their homes, with the promise to let Jean know if they heard anything at all from Johnny.

Roy had called the entire crew, but no one had seen or heard from him since they left the station earlier that morning. Roy knew Johnny had been upset, but he also knew that Johnny would not go away without letting anyone know where.

"Or would he?" Roy said out loud.

"What did you say, honey?" Joanne asked.

"Jo, I was just wondering that maybe Johnny was more upset this morning than he let on. I talked to him about it a little, and he seemed fine. But maybe the more he thought of going out with Jean tonight, the more upset he got. Maybe he felt I was pushing him into something that he was just not ready for," Roy sighed heavily.

"Roy, do you really think that Johnny would take off like that?" Joanne worried.

"Honey, all I do know is that whenever Johnny gets really upset he goes up into the mountains to think things out," Roy replied.

"But he always lets you know when he does that!" Joanne exclaimed.

"Not all the time honey," Roy shook his head. "You know that there have been times when Johnny has been really upset and went off by himself. He seems to get into these dark moods and goes away to think. Maybe thatís where he is now."

"Iím sure you will find out sooner or later. Why donít we go to bed?" Joanne said, wrapping her arms around Roy.

"You go ahead honey. Iím going to sit up for a bit just in case he calls. If he felt that he couldnít face Jean tonight, he might try to call and make things right. He might be afraid that Iíll be mad at him," Roy replied.

"Will you be?" Joanne had to ask.

"No, I will understand. After all, I was the one who pressured him into tonight in the first place!" Roy exclaimed.

Joanne went into the bedroom and Roy sat on the chair staring out at the stars. He tried to make sense of tonight, hoping that in doing so, he would figure out what had happened to Johnny. Roy held his breath as he looked up towards the north. For a moment, he thought he saw a small glow in the sky.

***

Johnny felt himself slipping away as he and Rick both struggled for their lives. He held Rick in his arms, refusing to leave him behind. He could hear the rescue workers coming near, but they were still unable to reach them. Johnny heard them just outside the cab, but the opening was too small for them to reach inside. He looked at the spot he had wedged himself through and wondered how in the world he had managed to fit. Shaking his head, Johnny put it out of his mind. Maybe it just wasnít meant for him to know.

"Captain Roberts, we need the K-12 here. I can see two victims inside the cab but I canít fit through. Theyíre aliveÖI can hear them talking," Matthews said, as he looked back in through the opening. "Hey, you guys hold on in there!"

"Hurry up, he canít hold on!" Johnny called out.

"Johnny? Is that you?" Matthews shouted back, shocked to her Johnnyís voice coming out from inside the cab.

"Yeah! Hey Bob, you there?" Johnny asked, feeling a small glimmer of hope.

"Weíre here Johnny! What the heck are you doing here? Is that your pick-up out there?" he asked, his worry intensifying.

"Yeah, it is. Bob, please hurry. I donít know how much longer we can hold on," Johnny replied brokenly.

"Johnny, how badly are you guys hurt?" Bob asked of him.

"The driver here has some sort of leg injury, but I canít tell," Johnny answered. "His leg is crushed under the dash. I think he has some broken ribs and Iíve been holding him up to help him breathe. I canít tell if he has a concussion or anything."

"What about you Johnny? How badly are you hurt?"

"Ahh, I think I have a pretty bad concussion, my head is killing me. Iím trying to stay awake though, but feel like Iím losing it," Johnny stammered.

"Anything else?" Bob asked as he frantically worked his way closer.

"Yeah, my arm is hurt pretty bad. Have a piece of glass in itÖcanít stop bleeding. Stopped for a bit, but started again," Johnny said as he felt himself growing faint.

Rick had passed out a few minutes ago and no matter how much Johnny struggled, he could not keep him alert. But Johnnyís own strength was giving out and he felt himself slipping away.

"Johnny!" Bob yelled as his partner returned. "Hey Ted, itís Johnny Gage! Thatís his pick-up truck back there."

"Youíve got to be kidding!" Ted cried out, lunging towards the truck. "Johnny! Johnny! Can you hear me?"

There was no sound from inside the cab. Johnny felt himself sliding into the darkness but a voice persisted, pulling him back. Just as the dark began settling in, Johnny would snap his head up as the voices persisted. He tried to look, but the world swam before him. The voices sounded like they were miles away, when in reality, they were just a few yards beyond him. Johnny turned his head sideways, feeling the blood running down his arm once more. His eyes began to close, then snapped back open as the voice screamed for him again. Groggily, Johnny tried answering.

"RoyÖ" Johnny mumbled, "RoyÖwaiting meÖmad."

"Johnny, donít give up on us man! Stay with us!" Bob and Ted both cried as they cut away the remaining pieces of metal. Turning, Bob yelled over to his Captain. "Hey Cap, will you get on the phone to Roy DeSoto? Johnnyís in here and heís pretty bad off. Have Roy meet us at Rampart!"

"Right, how much longer till we get them out?" Captain Roberts shouted over the din.

"Just a few more minutes!" Bob yelled back, "We are almost through!"

The deafening sounds tore through his head as metal was cut away. Johnny blinked furiously and slid backwards, closing his eyes against the pain. Bob saw him falling back and scrambled to reach him.

"JOHNNY! DONíT DO THIS TO US!" Bob yelled, as the opening grew larger.

There was just one last piece of metal in the way. There was no other way into the cab, but the metal bar was thick and Bob feared that it would take longer to cut through than he wanted. Johnny and Rick only had minutes left and they had to reach them nowÖthey were out of time. Ted cut away at the bar, frustrated that he did not seem to get anywhere fast. Both men held their breath as they worked.

Johnny felt himself goingÖthe world was becoming dark and he felt himself slipping away. No matter how hard he tried, he couldnít stay. Just as Johnny was ready to go, the glow returned, holding both he and Rick in its embrace.

***

Roy leapt from his chair with the ringing of the phone, the hairs on the back of his neck upright as he picked up the receiver. "Hello?"

"Roy, this is Captain Roberts from 110," the voice on the other end replied.

Roy felt the blood draining from his face as he answered back, "Captain Roberts, is everything alright?" Roy asked, knowing that it was anything but.

"Roy, I hate to tell you this but weíre at the scene of a major accident out here on Highway 15. Johnny is involved and seems to be hurt pretty bad. We havenít been able to reach him yet, so I canít tell you anymore at this time, but we do want you to meet us at Rampart," Roberts replied.

"Is he still trapped in his truck?" Roy asked frantically, feeling like he could rip the metal open with his teeth if he so had the chance.

"Roy, thatís the funny thing," Roberts reported, turning back to look at the puzzling scene. "Johnny isnít in his truck. We found him in the cab of one of the semiís that was involved. He must have gone in there to see what he could do for the driver, but we have no idea how he had managed to do that."

"What do you mean?"

"Roy, the opening is too small for a person to fit through, and from what we can see, there is no other way into the truck. Right now, weíre fighting to remove one last piece of metal so we can gain access to the cab."

"Is he alive?" Roy asked fearfully.

"Yes, but like I said, we have no idea as to the extent of his injuries. Roy, just be at Rampart." Roberts advised.

"Right," Roy answered as he slammed down the phone. Running into the bedroom, he threw the light switch and grabbed a fresh change of clothes from the closet. "Jo, I have to get to Rampart, that was Captain Roberts on the phone. Johnnyís been involved in an accident and is being brought in. I donít know how bad he is honey, heís still trapped."

"Oh Roy! Oh God, no! All this time we were wondering what had happened and heís been hurt!" Joanne gasped, fighting the tears that threatened to spill over. "Iím coming with you!"

"Honey, you have to stay with the kids! Itís too late to wake anyone now to come over," Roy said as he jammed his feet into his shoes. "I promise to call you the minute I hear anything!"

***

"Bob, Iím not getting anywhere fast with this bar! We donít have much time, how are they?" Ted asked, wiping the sweat from his eyes.

"Ted, theyíre both out cold. I canít get a response from either of them!" Bob answered as he tried wedging himself through the opening.

He barely reached Johnny with his hand, so Bob stretched forward as much as he could. He could see the blood running down the wound in Johnnyís arm and noticed the large shard of glass that lay embedded. Johnnyís face was caked with dried on blood from the head wound and at this point, Bob was scared they would never be able to wake him. Looking at Rick, Bob could see that his leg was crushed and they would be needing the Jaws of Life, which he immediately called out for. Rickís breathing seemed to be labored, but he was still alive. Johnny was breathing, and his pulse felt rapid and weak. That was about all Bob could do. He watched the two men slipping away right in front of his eyes and there was nothing they could do at this time to prevent it.

"Johnny! Come on now, man! Wake up! You have to stay with us! Havenít you been listening in class? Lord knows you talk enough to drive Roy nutty at times, so why so quiet now? Nowís the time you should be talking a blue streak! Come on man!" Bob stretched, barely reaching Johnnyís face. He tapped his cheek, trying to bring Johnny around.

Johnny moaned, but fell silent almost immediately. Time was running out and they felt they were losing the battle. For each moment they struggled, Johnny and Rick seemed to slip further and further away. Bob struggled to reach the two, while Ted fought to cut the bar and finally clear the entrance.

Just as all were giving up hope, time stood still. The rest of the world functioned normally, but for Captain Roberts, Bob, Ted, Johnny and Rick, their time separated from the real world. A soft glow enveloped them and a pair of hands came down, cutting the rest of the bar away. Capt. Roberts stared as the hands came into view, taking the K-12 from Ted, who crossed himself and backed away, shaking as he watched. Without knowing how it had happened, Bob and Ted found themselves inside the cab, working to free Rickís leg. Effortlessly, the Jaws of Life picked up the dashboard and they were then able to lift Rick onto a backboard.

Ted jumped from the cab, and with Robertís help, grabbed hold of the backboard as it was handed down. The men moved slowly and effortlessly as they then turned, taking Johnny as he was handed out. They almost seemed to float to the ground and within minutes, both men were free.

The glow disappeared, with Lottie materializing one last time. Standing over Johnny, she leaned down, gently placing her hand on the side of his face. Bob and Ted stood back, unable to move at the sight. The vision turned, smiling at all as she slowly started backing away, finally disappearing into the night.

Time exploded once again. Bob and Ted could hear the rest of the wreckage being cleared away and listened to the sound of the paramedics working to free the rest. Unfortunately, there were no other survivorsÖonly Johnny and Rick. Bob and Ted both burst into action. Brice and Bellingham ran over to assist, and started working on Rick immediately. Brice manned the biophone while Bellingham worked stabilizing the man.

Pressure bandages were applied to Johnnyís arm by Bob, who then began cleaning the dried blood from his head wound. He checked Johnnyís pupils, finding then unequal and sluggish. and applied another pressure bandage to the cut over his eye. Vitals were taken while Ted contacted Rampart via biophone.

"Rampart, this is Squad 110," Ted called into the phone.

"Go ahead 110," Brackett answered. Immediately, Dixie and Roy were both at his side, seeming to know that this was the call they were waiting for.

"Rampart we have a male, approximately 35 years of age. He has been involved in a motor vehicle accident. He is suffering from a probable head injury; the pupils are unequal and sluggish. Also Rampart, there is a major laceration of the left arm, with a large shard of glass embedded. We have applied pressure bandages around the glass to keep it as immobile as possible. We have also applied a pressure bandage to the cut on the head. Rampart, patient has lost a considerable amount of blood," Ted informed them.

"110, what are the victimís vitals?" Brackett asked.

"Hold for vitals, Rampart," Ted quipped.

Roy held his breath, he just knew this was Johnny. It had to be; the victim was the same age. ĎRoy, there are plenty of people the same age, that doesnít mean this is Johnny,í he admonished himself.

"Rampart, vitals are, BP 100 over 70, Respiration 30, Pulse 120."

Roy frowned hearing the vitals, knowing that the head injury, combined with the loss of blood, was not a good sign. He listened as Brackett gave instructions for treatment, with Morton on the other unit, doing the same for Brice and Bellingham.

Dixie came over, taking Roy by the arm. "Dix, one of them has to be Johnny," he replied, his voice cracking.

"I hope so, Roy. At least we have a chance to help these two," she replied hopefully.

"Were there any fatalities?" Roy had to ask, fearing the answer.

Dixie looked down towards the floor as she answered, "Roy, there were 4 fatalities and only two survivors."

"Oh God," he said, taking a deep breath. Leaning against the wall, he desperately fought to control the fear that pounded through him.

Brackett knew how upset all were at this point, so he issued instructions for IVís and advised transport as soon as possible. Looking between Dixie and Roy, Brackett asked one more question before hanging up, "110, do you have an ID on the victim?"

"Yes, Rampart. Our victim is Johnny Gage," Bob answered softly.

"Oh no," Roy gasped, feeling Dixie taking him by the arm.

"Come on Roy, Johnny will be alright. Heís strong and in good hands," she gently reassured him.

"Dix, you heard Bob! You know what kind of shape Johnny is in! Dix, how the hell did this happen? Johnny was supposed to be out with us tonight! What was he doing coming down Highway 15? He never mentioned that he was going anywhere! What the hell was he doing out there anyway?" he cried out in frustration, tinged with anger.

Roy pulled away, going out into the hallway to be alone for a few minutes. He knew the ambulances were on their way in, and needed to pull himself together before they arrived. He had to be strongÖhe couldnít let Johnny down.

As Roy fought with his emotions, the ambulances backed up to the bay. Snapping to attention, he ran over, flinging the doors open. Reaching in, Roy pulled the first victim out. Looking at Rick lying on the stretcher, recognition did not set in. He carefully handed the stretcher down and watched as it disappeared into a treatment room with Morton following close behind.

Roy held his breath as the next victim was brought out, shaking as he saw Johnny lying still and pale as he was wheeled away. Roy was by his side immediately, helping to transfer him to the treatment table. He had not regained consciousness since Bob and Ted had started treatment and Roy watched as Johnny lay quietly, not moving.

Carol hung the IV bags and immediately began the transfusions. Dixie began cutting away Johnnyís clothes, quickly inserting a Foley catheter. Brackett examined the head wound, frowning as he peered into Johnnyís eyes.

"Carol, I need a CBC, Blood Gases and Electrolytes. Dixie, get me a new set of vitals," Brackett snapped, continuing his assessment.

"Kel, BP 110 over 70, Respiration 30 and Pulse 120," Dixie answered.

"Dix, get X-ray down here, stat. I need a full skull and chest series. I also want some shots of his arm. I need to see exactly how large that chunk of glass is and how itís positioned," Brackett ordered crisply.

Roy listened to all going on around him, but then the voices seemed to drone on, with him paying little attention. He had taken Johnnyís hand in his and sat by his side. Looking down, Roy saw how the color had drained from his face. Dixie had cleaned off the cut above his forehead, and Roy winced at the ragged ugliness of the wound, mouthing a silent prayer.

"Hey Junior, you really went and did it up good this time, didnít you? What the heck were you doing up there anyway? You never mentioned to me that you were going anywhere. I was so worried about you all night long. I wish you had told me where you were going. I just hope you didnít leave because you were upset and felt pressured about tonight. I understand if that was how you felt. I just wanted us all to have a good time; I didnít want you to feel you were being pushed into anything you werenít ready for. Junior, donít leave us. Not like this and not now! Donít you know how much we need you down here?" Roy pleaded with his too silent friend.

Johnny felt himself floating as he listened to the voice now speaking to him. This voice was different than the one back at the accident. Johnny tried to answer, but was unable to speak. He could feel the pounding that had invaded his head and drew back from the pain, keeping his eyes closed to the world. If he shut it all out, then the agony might go away. Johnny just wanted to go to a place where he didnít hurt anymore.

He was tired and just wanted to sleep. But there were more voices around him now. Johnny thought that he recognized these voices, but just wasnít sure. Hands seemed to poke endlessly, as he lie helpless. The more they touched him, the more the fingers of pain raged through his body. He clenched his teeth and fought from screaming out. But it did no good, Johnny could not escape the pain and he could not make sense of what was going on.

He wanted her backÖJohnny knew that she had helped him earlier back at the accident and he prayed for her now. He tried calling for her, but his mouth would not work. He only hoped that she knew he needed her and would come to him. Johnny looked for his angel, but she stayed away.

"No, Johnny, Iím not staying away," the gentle voice floated through the air. Her face appeared one last time before returning to her own world. "Johnny, my work here is done for now, but you will never be alone. I appeared to you when you needed me, but now I need you to be strong. You have so many people who love you and want to help you. Johnny, let them help you." Lottie said, as she smiled down at her nephew.

Johnny held his hand out to her, hoping to keep her by his side. He did not want to see his beloved aunt leave again. He did not want to have to say goodbye. He said goodbye to her once before and did not want to go through that ever again. He called out her name as she slowly disappeared, her voice drifting out to him once more.

"Be strong Johnny, you are not alone. I will always be with you."

Johnny felt the world coming into focus as he struggled to open his eyes. The glare from the overhead lights cut through, causing a fresh onslaught of pain. Roy was by his side, squeezing his hand. As soon as the world ceased spinning, a hint of awareness emerged.

"Roy?" he asked, his voice barely audible.

"Hey Junior, you scared the hell out of me, know that?" Roy asked, his heart racing.

"Sorry," Johnny mumbled.

"Hey, donít be sorry," Roy quickly reassured him. "Youíre going to be fine. Brackett is going to take good care of you and I wonít leave your side, I promise."

"Promise!" Johnny cried out, louder this time. "RickÖpromise."

"Johnny, relax!" Roy said as he felt how agitated Johnny was becoming. He instantly knew what was bothering his friend and strove to calm him down. "Johnny, is Rick the driver of the truck? Did you promise to stay with him?"

"WasÖscared," Johnny gasped, barely able to talk.

"Johnny, you did stay with Rick right up until Bob and Ted got you guys out. Right now Rick is in treatment with Morton. He is being taken care of, so you can relax. You kept your promise," Roy assured him.

"DebbieÖ" Johnny rasped, trembling violently.

"Debbie?" Roy asked, now thoroughly confused. Fearing an unfound victim, he pushed
for an answer.

"WifeÖ" Johnny gasped.

Giving an audible sigh of relief, Roy answered quickly. "Johnny, Iíll take care of everything, ok? Iíll make sure that Debbie is brought here and just like you didnít leave Rickís side, I promise you that I wonít leave Debbieís side."

"Thanks," Johnny whispered. Roy was here, that Johnny knew. Roy would help and take care of everything. All he had to do now was sleep.

"Johnny, Iím so sorry about tonight. You donít have any idea how badly I feel. Itís my fault that you are here. Why didnít you talk to me earlier? I would have understood. You didnít have to be afraid of wanting to back out of tonight. I guess thatís why you went off today. You were upset and I didnít take the time to listen," Roy spoke quickly, his guilt coming to the forefront.

"Roy! No!" Johnny gasped, feeling the words cutting through. He had to make his friend understand, for Roy was not one to let go of guilt easily.

"Johnny, please lay quietly. I just wanted you to know that Iíll be here for you. Just let them take care of you," Roy pleaded with him.

"Roy, listenÖhorse," Johnny stammered.

"Horse? Johnny, what horse?" Roy asked, more puzzled than ever.

"Auction," Johnny answered, gagging as he spoke.

"Horse auction? You went up to a horse auction? You werenít upset when you left?" Roy cried out, his mouth agape as he tried figuring out whether to be angry, or relieved.

Johnny shook his head slightly, seeing the understanding coming into Royís eyes. "You went to a horse auction?" Roy wanted to scream out. "Why? You didnít tell me!"

"One those thingsÖwas bored. On way home for dateÖtrucks crashed," Johnny finished, feeling Dixieís hand softly caress his cheek.

"Hey tiger, youíll have plenty of time to tell your story later. Right now we have to let X-ray earn their pay."

"Dix," Johnny tried smiling.

"Hey there, how you doing?"Dixie replied, her warm smile greeting him.

"Had better days," Johnny teased.

"See Roy? Impossible!" Dixie laughed, "Come on, letís go out into the hall."

"Dixie, will he really be alright?" Roy asked as soon as the door was closed.

"His chances are good, Roy. Johnny is strong and has the best doctor I know fighting for him."

Roy looked around the hallway then, unable to believe his eyes. Cap, Mike, Chet and Marco had arrived and were anxiously awaiting any news on Johnnyís condition. In all his worry, Roy had completely forgotten to call anyone else, but had a feeling he knew who was responsible. He had no idea of what he would do without Joanne, she held him together without even being by his side. Firefighters from other departments also lined the halls, waiting for news of Johnnyís condition. Bob and Ted stood in the hallway, still unable to comprehend how things had turned out the way they had. They also wondered if anyone would believe them.

"Hey guys, I want to thank you for what you did for Johnny," Roy said as he walked over to all of his friends.

"Youíre welcome Roy. We just wished that we could have gotten to him sooner," Bob nodded, fatigue and worry etched in his face.

"Never mind that, I heard you guys had a rough time of it out there and you did a great job. I for one, want to thank you both," Cap said, shaking their hands. "Roy, how is Johnny?"

"Yeah, what was he doing in that truck in the first place?" Chet wondered out loud.

"Thatís right Roy. I was talking with Bob and Ted here and both of them say that there was only one way into the truck and that they couldnít fit through. I know Johnny is skinny, but I donít see how he could have gotten in," Cap shrugged, his eyes questioning.

"Maybe we arenít supposed to know," Mike stated, all eyes turning to him. "You know what I mean. Didnít you guys ever hear of a miracle?"

"Well, what did happen out there?" Roy wondered. He had heard from Captain Roberts over the phone that they had no idea what had happened, and from talking to Bob and Ted, there was definitely something with a power higher than theirís at work.

"Roy, would you believe us?" Ted asked, looking around.

"Guys, my best friend and partner is in that room getting the care and help he needs. There is only one reason he is here and alive right now, and that is because the two of you never gave up on him. I donít care how it happened, but I think something intervened out there and guided you to Johnny and Rick."

"Thatís about the extent of it. I donít know how else to explain it," Bob started. "Except to say that time seemed to stand still and I saw aÖ"

"Glow?" Roy whispered, seeing their shocked eyes turn in his direction.

"How in the world did you know?" Ted practically shouted.

"Because I saw it myself," Roy admitted quietly.

A hushed silence filled the corridor as they contemplated the power of their words. Each man looked around at the other, trying to make sense of what had really happened. Since no one had any answers, they all decided that it had been a miracle, and like all presents bestowed on us, we are not to question. We were to just graciously accept our blessings and be humble in our thanks.

Two men had survived an accident that should have claimed all involved, but that was just not the way it was meant to be. By some divine grace, Roy knew they were visited upon by a very special being. He had no idea who or what that being was, but would remain forever grateful. The treatment room door opened, and Brackett came out.

"Doc, how is he?" Cap asked as he approached.

"Captain Stanley, Johnny was a very lucky man," Brackett happily reported. "He has a severe concussion and will be with us for a while. I was worried about the amount of blood lost, but we did manage to finally stabilize him. Weíre taking him up to surgery right now to remove that glass fragment from his arm. Itís serious, but I donít contemplate any permanent damage. Johnny should have full use of his arm in no time. We will also clean out and stitch the wound on his head."

"Thereís nothing else? Heíll really be alright?" Roy asked, not believing his ears.

"Roy, this is Johnny weíre talking about, remember? He always bounces back!" Brackett laughed. "Come on, you want to see him before he goes up to surgery?"

"You bet!" Roy said as he followed Brackett back into the room.

"Rick?" Johnny asked weakly, sensing his friend by his side.

"Johnny, from what Morton says, Rick will be fine. Heís in rough shape right now, and it will be a long recovery, but heíll pull through. Plus, he has a very devoted wife by his side!" Roy laughed, the relief on Johnnyís face obvious.

"Thank God, was scared for him," Johnny replied weakly.

"You were scared for him? Do you know what you did to me?" Roy cried out, unable to remain quiet any longer. " Johnny, you scared the hell out of me! When you didnít show up tonight, we had no idea what had happened to you! I called all of the guys but no one had seen you. We went out to your ranch a little later and you werenít there!"

"Horses!" Johnny said, trying to rise.

Roy gently pushed him back down, "Hey, donít worry! Jean is a veterinarian and she helped me take care of them. Theyíre all safely shut up in the barn for the night. Donít give it a thought. Iíll make sure everything out there is taken care of until you get back on your feet."

"Thanks. Call Sam," Johnny replied.

"Iíll call Sam!" Roy laughed. "Now, you need to let me finish here. Johnny, I didnít know what was going on tonight. I knew that if you had changed your mind that you would have called, you wouldnít just leave us hanging like that."

"Was on my way home to get ready. Looked forward to tonight," Johnny replied, somewhat wistfully.

"Yeah, I was too!" Roy heartily agreed.

"Went up to the horse auction. Today was last day, wanted to see the horses," Johnny said groggily, seeing the understanding in Royís eyes.

"Yeah, that sure sounds like you. I just wished you didnít have to go through all of this alone," Roy nodded.

"Wasnít alone," Johnny quickly interceded.

"I know, you were with Rick," Roy replied.

"No, didnít know Rick was there. She led me to him. She showed me," Johnny said insistently.

"Johnny, who showed you?" Roy asked softly.

"She helped me after the accident. It hurt so bad and was scared. She came to me, told me that I was needed. She brought me to Rick," Johnny explained the best he could, fighting consciousness.

"Johnny, who took you? Who are you talking about?" Roy asked, desperately needing answers.

"Roy, Aunt Lottie was with me today. She wouldnít let anything happen to me. Sheís here with me now," Johnny informed his friend.

"You saw her?" Roy asked, his mouth dropping. He could see that Johnny was fighting his way in and out of consciousness, but he needed to know. For everyone involved.

"Roy, she came to me. I talked with her, she told me not to be scared," Johnny continued.

"She was with you the entire time?" Roy asked.

"She still is," Johnny answered. "Iím never alone."

"Junior, as long as the guys and I are around, you wonít be alone. But the next time you decide to go up to a horse auction, will you please let me know?" Roy asked, knowing Johnnyís impetuousness, and also knowing that his friend would never change.

"Promise!" Johnny smiled as he looked up at Roy.

Roy stood as Johnny was wheeled up into surgery. He squeezed his hand once more before he left, letting Johnny know that he was not going to go through this alone. They would all be here for him when it was over. The elevator doors closed and Roy watched as they rose from floor, to floor. He saw the elevator come to a stop and knew they had reached the OR. Looking up, Roy said a silent prayer for his friend.

"Hey Aunt Lottie, itís been a long time. Youíre a lot like Johnny; you never cease to amaze me. I just wanted to thank you for helping him today. Because of you, two people are alive. Iíll never forget what we have learned from this."

Roy walked upstairs with the rest of the crew and waited while the surgery went on. A few hours later, a tired Kelly Brackett came into the lounge, pronouncing that Johnny had come through with flying colors. There was some minor muscle damage to his arm from the fragment, but once that healed, he would undergo physical therapy and should regain complete use.

Roy followed Dixie into Johnnyís room. Sitting down by his bed, he knew that his friend would be asleep for hours. Despite having been up all night himself, Roy was not tired at all. He had other things on his mind and could always sleep later. Johnny was his familyÖand Roy knew that they were all he had. Johnny was alone in this world, having no family of his own. Years ago, Roy made a silent vow to be there for him. Johnny would always be a part of the DeSoto family.

As he sat by Johnnyís side, Roy wept silently. He had come so close to losing his brother today, but because of the divine intervention of a very special person and more help from the man upstairs, Johnny was alive and would be with them still.

Looking upwards, Roy thought he caught the fleeting glimpse of a tiny angel as she spirited herself away. "Thanks Aunt Lottie!" he called out brightly.

At those words, Roy felt a soft breeze gently brush by him. The curtains billowed out slightly as she went back home. Roy smiled at the window and down at Johnny, who lie sleeping peacefully.

***

Roy and Cap were there the next morning when Johnny woke. After a brief bout of nausea brought on by the head injury, he slowly began focusing on his surroundings.

"Hey Pal," Cap smiled.

"Cap," Johnny smiled back at him.

"Had to make sure you didnít go sneaking off to any horse auctions!" Cap teased.

Johnny only winced at his words.

"Aunt Lottie," Johnny whispered.

"She was here Johnny, but went back home a little while ago," Cap replied softly.

"You guys believe me?" Johnny exclaimed in wonderment.

"Yeah, Johnny. We believe you," Roy said.

"She saved me," Johnny went on. "Remember that feeling I had earlier yesterday?" Johnny asked, seeing Royís answering nod. "She was trying to warn me. Roy, if I had left the auction even seconds earlier, then I probably would have been killed."

"Johnny, this is one time not even the Phantom can dispute what has happened," Cap answered with a chuckle.

"He wouldnít stand a chance," Johnny teased.

"Against your Aunt? Now that I would like to see!" Roy laughed.

Looking down, both men saw that Johnny had drifted off once again. They sat silently by his side for a while longer, then went home to get some sleep for themselves. A few days later Johnny was strong enough to be wheeled into Rickís room, where they found Debbie by his side. She came over, embracing him as she thanked Johnny over and over for the life of her husband. Needing to find his own avenue of healing, Johnny spoke with both about that night.

"You never left my side, Iíll never forget that." Rick said, shaking Johnnyís hand.

"I told you I wouldnít!" Johnny answered, his grin wide.

"How did you find me?" Rick asked, still puzzled about that night.

"It wasnít easy!" Johnny teased, laughing with Rick. "But I did have some help."

"Help?" Rick asked, looking between Johnny and his wife.

"Yeah, I couldnít have done it without my Aunt Lottie," Johnny answered, as he looked up, saying a special thank you.

 

THE END

 

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