Disclaimer: All characters represented from Station 51 and Rampart Hospital belongs to Universal Television and Mark VII Limited.

Rating: PG-13

Thank you, Donna & Peggy, for the beta; you help me turn potential into something more.

Summary: "It was just a fender-bender, Doc..."

 

 

 

 

 

No Big Deal

 

By Susan Proto

 

 

 

 

The rain came down hard making for very difficult driving conditions.The continuous torrents had made the shift seem interminably long, so all Gage wanted was to get home and change into his most worn out, washed out, comfortable pair of jeans.But that wouldn't happen until after he picked his partner up from Rampart.

 

Thankfully it wasn't a difficult case; the victim was suffering from chest pains, but was stable.Roy rode in with the victim, and after Johnny cleaned up the scene, he got into the squad to drive over to Rampart.The engine was behind him at the moment, though John knew that Stoker would be turning off to head back to the station while he continued on to Rampart.

 

Though they were only a couple of blocks from the scene, it felt as if Johnny had been driving for hours.It continued to come down hard, barely allowing Gage to see beyond the car's hood.The only good thing about driving around at 7 a.m. was that it was before the normal morning rush hour, making other traffic nonexistent.

 

Well, almost nonexistent.

 

= = = = = = = = = =

 

 

Karen Richardson was a woman who could do it all.And she proved that every morning as she drove to Rampart Medical Center where she worked as an administrative assistant in the records department.Her Virginia Slim, lit, was in one hand, the mascara wand in the other, and the steering wheel was being controlled quite efficiently with her knees.As she came to the traffic light she placed her cigarette in the ashtray and quickly made the left turn, effectively cutting off the engine and sneaking in between it and the squad.

 

Karen picked up her cigarette and took a deep drag.She smiled to herself when she thought of the advertisement that had enticed her to try the brand in the first place."I have come a long way, baby!" she said softly to no one but herself.

 

She looked ahead and saw the oversized red vehicle in front of her but didn't pay it any mind.There were no sirens going and it seemed to be traveling the speed limit, so Karen figured there was no emergency that needed her attention.

 

The traffic light just ahead was turning from yellow to red and Karen pressed down on the accelerator, determined to make the light.It never crossed her mind that the big red truck in front of her wouldn't do the same.

 

Given that she was looking down at the ashtray as she extinguished her cigarette, Karen never noticed the squad come to a complete halt; not until she found herself smashing directly into the rear of Squad 51.

 

 

= = = = = = = = = =

 

 

"Ma'am, are you all right?" asked a concerned Hank Stanley.

 

The rain poured all around his helmet, making a little waterfall effect around his neck.To say it was uncomfortable was putting it mildly.

Karen managed to roll down the driver-side window.

 

"What?I don't know.I think so."

 

"Okay, just sit tight," he said, "I'm going to check to see if the paramedic is available to look you over," said Hank.

 

Hank took off toward the squad and found Chet looking in on Johnny through the window."How is he, Chet?"

 

"He says he's okay.Just shook up a bit."

 

"I can speak for myself, Chet," Johnny said heatedly."I'm okay, Cap.What hit me, a truck?"

 

"Um, not exactly, Gage," smirked Chet."It was one of those Gremlins."He paused and then added, "Ugly looking cars, if you ask me."

 

"Well, nobody asked you, Chet," retorted John."Damn, I never saw it.Last I checked my rear view mirror, you were behind me."

 

"Yeah, well, she kind of cut us off unexpectedly," explained Hank with an annoyed tone."You'd think with this weather people would be that much more careful."

 

"Yeah."Johnny sighed."How's the driver of the other car?"

 

"Well, I think she's okay, but if you're all right to come and give her a quick check -," began Hank.

 

"- I'm on my way."Hank nodded his approval and headed back to the squad to call it in.

 

John, meanwhile, opened the door and hopped out of the squad.

 

"Hey, Gage, now you're sure you're okay?" asked Chet, just to double-check.

 

"Yeah, Chet, I feel fine."

 

"Um, you didn't you hit your head or anything, did you?" asked Chet.

 

"No, Chet, I did not hit my head.I was wearing my seatbelt.I just got jerked around in there a bit, that's all. What is this?Are you training to become a paramedic?"

 

"Hey, well, maybe I figured you needed some backup!" he sputtered.

 

"Well, I donít.At least not in this case," he replied tersely.Gage paused, took a deep breath, and added, "But thanks, Kelly.I appreciate the sentiment."

 

"Well, if you're sure."

 

"Yeah, I'm sure," he said and then as he got his equipment added, "Grab the trauma box for me, okay?"

 

Chet did just that and followed his shift-mate to the victim.

 

"Hi," said John. "How are you doing, Miss?"

 

"Okay.For some reason I actually used the shoulder belt today.I guess someone up there likes me."

 

"You might be right about that," replied Gage as he checked her eyes with his penlight.

 

"Was it you that I hit?"

 

"Yes, Miss."

 

"Oh.Sorry, I didn't realize you'd stopped."

 

"Yes, well, it's important to be aware of what's going on in front of you, okay?"

 

John got her name and age.He examined her, hooked up with Rampart through dispatch and called in the victim's vitals.When it was determined that the young woman had apparently not suffered any serious trauma, she declined treatment.After her car was taken care of she was going to wind up at Rampart to go to work anyway, so Johnny felt okay about having her sign a medical release and bid her a good day.

 

John Gage did everything according to procedure.Even though the victim was young, quite pretty, and did not wear a wedding or engagement ring, he followed the book so closely even Craig Brice wouldn't have had a single criticism of the examination.

 

But throughout the entire exam, Johnny never turned on the old 'Gage charm', and that little anomaly apparently had escaped everyone.

 

At least the rain had finally stopped.

 

 

= = = = = = = = = =

 

 

The engine continued on to the station house, while John proceeded to Rampart to pick up both supplies and Roy.

 

As he entered the ER, Roy met him at the door."Hey, I heard Marco call in some kind of accident.What happened?"

 

"Someone hit me from behind when I'd stopped for a red light.I guess that old saying, 'Red means stop, green means go, and yellow means gun it for all it's worth' is really true," responded Gage.

 

"You okay?" asked Roy, the concern obvious.

 

"Yeah, I mean there wasn't even a dent in the squad.Her car didn't look too good, but at least Charlie won't be able to get on my case for damaging his precious squad," answered Johnny.

 

"Maybe you should get checked out?" suggested Roy.

 

"Nah, I'm okay.Let's just get the supplies and get out of here."

 

Roy nodded reluctantly, but he realized if the accident were bad enough to warrant John being examined, his captain would have certainly ordered it.The two men walked over to the nurse's station to see about getting their supplies restocked.

 

 

= = = = = = = = = =

 

 

They'd returned to the station and were finally able to sit down to some breakfast.Marco had whipped up a frittata that seemed to have everything but the kitchen sink bubbling hot on top of it.

 

"Oh, man, Marco, this looks excellent!" declared Roy.He, along with the rest of his shift-mates, was starving.

 

Marco served up the Mexican omelet.Chet set the orange juice on the table, while Mike poured the last cup of coffee and put up a second pot.

 

Roy sat with anticipation, while John just sat.


Hank noticed the listlessness first and couldn't help but ask, "Gage, do you feel okay?"

 

"Sure, Cap, why wouldn't I feel okay?"

 

"Well, for one, you got rear-ended just a couple of hours ago," replied the captain with a bit of annoyance.

 

"Aw, c'mon, Cap, the squad didn't even get nicked!" cried out Chet, who was sure there was nothing wrong with the paramedic.He'd checked him out at the scene himself, and Gage had assured him that he was fine.So Kelly felt no guilt in razzing the man a little bit about his rear-ender.

 

"Yeah, but still, she went into you pretty hard," reminded Hank.

 

"How hard?" asked Roy.

 

"Look, she bumped me a little bit.I was fine.I am fine.Just leave me alone, okay?"The small ache that began at the base of his skull a short time ago had now evolved into a full-fledged, pounding headache."I'm sorry, Marco, guess I'm not very hungry."

 

Five pairs of hands all reached out at the same time as Johnny failed miserably at standing straight up.Though the dizzy spell hit quickly, it ended equally so."Let go! I'm fine," he retorted as he shirked everyone's offers of assistance.He stood still for another moment to be sure of his balance and then walked into the dorm.

 

"Roy?"

 

"I know, Cap.I'll go check him out.Chet, do me a favor-."

 

"-And get the equipment.Got it."

 

Roy nodded his thanks and went to find his partner.

 

"Hey."Roy entered to find Johnny lying on the bed in his standard position, with his arm covering his eyes."Headache, huh?"

 

"Yeah.But I'm okay. I don't have a concussion or anything because I never hit my head."

 

"Johnny, I believe you, but you were in a car accident today.Cap wants me to check you out."

 

"I don't need-"

 

"-Captain's orders, John.Neither one of us has a choice in the matter."

 

"Somehow I don't think you fought him all that much on it."

 

"Somehow I think you're right."When Chet entered with the equipment, Roy uttered his thanks.

 

"You need some help?" asked Chet.

 

"No, I think I've got it from here, but if I need anything I'll give a holler, okay?"

 

Chet nodded, and then looked over at Johnny with a questioning look.Roy smiled, shrugged his shoulders, and then motioned with his hands for Kelly to clear out.

 

"Kelly, in case you haven't figured it out yet, Roy is quietly trying to get you to leave," said John, his eyes still covered by his arm.

 

"How did he do that?How did you do that?" Chet blustered."You drive me crazy, you know that, Gage.Absolutely crazy!"

 

Roy couldn't help but smile a bit and nodded toward the exit.Chet left, but turned around one last time and said softly, "Yell if you need anything."

 

"What does he think you're going to ask for?Clean towels and boiling water?" muttered Johnny.

 

Roy laughed. "Yeah, but at least I can tell him I know something about birthin' babies."

 

That drew a smile even out of Johnny.

 

"He really does care, you know," commented Roy.

 

"I know."Johnny lowered his arm, so Roy could take his pressure."God, I was fine before.†† At least I thought I was fine."

 

"Pressure's a little high, nothing outrageous, but still a little high for you," observed Roy.

 

"Man, my head is pounding."

 

"What else?"

 

"Huh?"

 

"What else hurts, Johnny?"

 

"Oh.Well, my neck aches a bit, and my shoulder feels a little tender."

 

"Shoulder?Did you bang it?" asked Roy as he reached over to examine it.

 

"No, I don't remember banging it. I just remember being jerked around a little, but no, I'm certain that I didn't bang my head or my shoulder."He winced as Roy tried manipulating it."It hurts like the dickens now, though."

 

"Johnny, I'm calling this in."

 

"Aw, Roy -"

 

"-Don't 'aw, Roy' me, John.You're hurting and I'm calling it in."

 

Johnny knew immediately he was fighting a losing battle.Like the proverbial mother who called her child by his first, last and middle name to show her anger, Roy referred to him as 'John'.

 

"Yes, mother."

 

Roy stifled a chuckle, "Right," and picked up the biophone.

 

"Rampart, this is Squad 51, how do you read?"A moment passed when Dixie's voice came through loud and clear to acknowledge the call."We've got a silent alarm here at the station, a Code I.Vitals to follow."

 

"Standing by, Squad 51."

 

"Okay, partner, here we go."Johnny noddedhis head slightly and immediately squeezed his eyes shut in obvious discomfort."Rampart, we have a 27 year old male who was involved in a minor traffic accident this morning with the squad.He was rear-ended by another car when he was stopped at a traffic light."

 

"Roy, is it Johnny?" asked Dixie.

 

He smiled at his partner, covered the phone's speaker, and said, "Dixie wants to know if you're the Code I.I wonder how did she ever figure it out?"

 

"Ha-ha-ha."

 

Roy chuckled and said in his most professional tone, "That is affirmative, Rampart."Roy then read the numbers off for Johnny's respiration and blood pressure."His pupils are equal and reactive, Rampart. Victim is complaining of headache which has become more severe in the last twenty minutes or so, as well as neck and shoulder tenderness."

 

"Squad 51, stand by."

 

Roy held on to the receiver and retook Johnny's blood pressure.It remained somewhat elevated, but not so high that Roy would consider it alarming."You do realize they're going to want you to come in, don't you?"


"No way."


"Mark my words, Johnny."

 

"Roy, you can't be serious!There's no -."

 

"-Hold on, Johnny. I'm sorry, would you repeat that, Rampart?"

 

"Use spinal precautions, Squad 51.Is there an ambulance available yet?

 

"Negative, Rampart.I'll call for one now."

 

"Bring the patient in as soon as the ambulance arrives, Squad 51."

 

"That's affirmative, Rampart. Over."

 

"You're kidding," said Johnny incredulously.

 

"Hate to say I told you so, but-"

 

"-Don't say it.And I'm not going in a damn ambulance," declared John.

 

"Um, sorry, partner, but you're not only going in an ambulance, but I've also been instructed to take spinal precautions."

 

"No," he practically shouted, "you've got to be kidding!"

 

"No, I'm not. C'mon, partner.Let's get you ready to be checked out."He stood up and went to the exit."Chet?"

 

He arrived immediately, as if he might have been waiting nearby and ready to be called."Yeah, Roy, what do you need?"

 

"I'll need a C-collar and backboard.Rampart wants me to take full spinal precautions."

 

"Spinal precautions?"Chet looked shocked."But, Roy, he was fine!He was standing and walking around; hell, he treated the other driver for crying out loud."

 

"I know, and it's probably only precautionary, but he's complaining that his head, neck, and shoulder hurt.Maybe Rampart doesn't want to take any chances that a minor injury will be aggravated."

 

"Oh. Sure, that makes sense."Chet shook his head as went to go get the equipment, and Roy asked the captain to call for an ambulance.

 

Moments later, Chet appeared with the requested equipment."Okay, Johnny, let's get this on you."Roy moved as gently as possible to get the C-Collar around Johnny's neck.

 

"I hate these things.I swear they make me feel claustrophobic."

 

"Yeah, well it's for your own good, Gage," said Chet, who remained to assist, while the others filtered in as well.

 

"Okay, let's get you on the board," said Roy."Ready?On my count, Chet, we're going to roll him, keeping his back and neck lined up, okay?I'll slide the board under him and then we'll roll him back the same way - straight spine and neck."

 

Chet nodded and concentrated hard to do just what Roy asked of him.This was, after all, Gage, his favorite pigeon... and his friend.

 

"Oh, God," groaned John."Shit, that was a whole lot harder than it should have been."

 

The sirens announced the ambulance's arrival.

 

"Hang in there, Johnny.Let's go and get you fixed up, okay?"

 

 

= = = = = = = = = =

 

 

Dr. Early, as the neurologist on duty, got first crack at Johnny in the ER.He ordered several tests and while they waited for the portable x-ray, he tried to pinpoint his patient's problems.

 

"So exactly where does it hurt, Johnny?Try to be as specific as possible," requested Early.

 

"Well, I've got a really wicked headache, and my neck hurts."

 

"Okay, where exactly?"

"Just all around it, Doc.It's kind of stiff."

 

"Does it hurt when you don't move it?"

 

"Yeah, but not as much as when I do," John replied.

 

"Anything else?" asked Dr. Early.

 

"Yeah, my left shoulder seems kind of tender."

 

"Okay.Tell me about the accident, Johnny?"

 

"Well, that's the crazy thing, doc.It wasn't much of an accident for me, I mean, Charlie's not gonna find one good reason to get on my case because he's not gonna find one darn scratch on his precious squad."

 

"Charlie?"

 

"The department's head mechanic."

 

"Oh, I see," Dr. Early said, and smiled."Was there any damage to the other car?"

 

"Yeah, the front end was pretty much smashed in, but it was one of those Gremlins; you know, those really ugly little cars? But, Doc, the squad was fine."

 

"Johnny, you'd be surprised at how much trauma the body can go through from one of these so-called minor accidents. It's a very common misperception that if your vehicle doesn't sustain a lot of damage then you're not supposed to get hurt.The reality, my friend, is that even low impact crashes can yield some pretty traumatic results.

 

"You said the squad didn't have a scratch on her right?" probed Early, to which Johnny nodded."And the other driver's car had some pretty nasty damage, right?"

 

"Yeah, doc, that's right," agreed Johnny.

 

"Well, consider this then.That force with which the little car hit, and produced some serious front-end damage to it, had to go somewhere.The squad didn't absorb it, because you said there was no damage.Guess what absorbed the force of the impact?"

 

"You're kidding?"

 

"No, I'm not.You absorbed that force, and if I was a betting man, I'd say you had yourself a pretty good case of whiplash."

 

"Well, if it's just whiplash, then it's not serious, right?"

 

"It's treatable, Johnny, and while I would agree it's not a serious condition, it is something you need to take seriously."

 

"What do you mean?" asked Johnny.All of the talk and explanation were hard enough to follow what with his pounding headache, stiff neck, and tender shoulder.Now that Dr. Early was talking in riddles, Johnny's head was really starting to throb.

 

Early quickly observed his patient's tension increasing as Johnny's eyes closed tight in an attempt to ward off the pain."John, why don't we wait until all of the tests come back and we'll be able to make a final diagnosis, okay?Take a few minutes and just relax."

 

"Doc, I'm really hurting here.Can you give me anything for the pain?"

 

"No morphine yet; I have to be sure that hard head of yours didn't sustain a concussion.I can get you some acetaminophen."

 

"Better than nothing," muttered Johnny.

 

Early smiled, patted the younger man on the shoulder in consolation, and left to hurry up the results.

 

 

= = = = = = = = = =

 

 

Roy stepped into the room as quietly as possible, not wanting to awaken his partner if he managed to fall asleep.By the time he'd left him earlier, Johnny was having a great deal of difficulty managing the pain, so Roy knew that any sleep he could get now was welcomed.

 

"That you, Roy?" mumbled John, his eyes still closed.

 

"I'm with Chet on this one; how do you do that?" asked Roy with a wry smile.

 

"I'm just amazing," John replied in kind.

 

"How are you doing?Pain any more manageable?"

 

"A little.They finally got the results back and saw I was right all along.No concussion, so they gave me some Tylenol with codeine," he answered."It's helping."

 

"Good. What else did the doc say?" asked Roy.

 

"I've got me a good ol' fashioned case of whiplash."

 

"I kind of figured," murmured Roy.

 

"Funny, it never occurred to me.I just figured since I was okay earlier, that I was, well, okay.Apparently symptoms don't usually manifest until a couple of hours after an accident - sometimes even days. Doc Early said I was lucky."

 

"Lucky?"

 

"Yeah, the fact that I started hurting pretty quickly after the accident meant that I could get treated that much faster."

 

"Oh, sure.Well, I guess you're gonna miss a shift, huh?"

 

"Yeah, at least."

 

"Really?How long can this go on?"

 

"Anywhere from a few days to a few weeks.But that's not the worst of it, Roy."

 

"It's not?"

 

"Uh-uh.I've got to wear this damn cervical collar for the next few days.I hate wearing these things!" he groused.

 

"So I've heard."

 

The door opened at that point and in walked the rest of Station 51's A-Shift staff.

 

"Can you handle a few more visitors?" asked Captain Stanley.

 

"Sure, guys, c'mon in," invited Johnny.

 

"Nice fashion statement, Gage," razzed Chet.

 

He sidestepped the bait and retorted, "I've got one in every color, Kelly.I can arrange it so you can share, if you'd like."

 

"Okay, okay," interrupted Hank."Let's keep the harassment to a minimum, alright, Kelly?"

 

"Hey, Gage is the one threatening to put me in one of those contraptions!"

 

"Somehow I don't think Johnny is going to be able to follow through on that threat anytime soon, pal," reminded Hank.

 

"Yeah, well, Gage knows I'm just kidding him." Kelly paused for a moment and then looked at Johnny."You do know that, right?I mean you're my favorite -"

 

"-Don't say it, Chet.In fact, go home, Chet."Johnny said it with half a smile.If Chet didn't get off one pigeon reference, Johnny would wonder if the guy stopped caring.

 

"Listen, I think we're all going to go home," said Johnny."Dr. Early said I can go home after a physical therapist shows me some range of motion exercises to do."

 

"Can you drive?" asked Mike. "We drove the Rover over just in case."

 

"I guess so."

 

"Not today, Johnny," contradicted Dr. Early as he walked in on the tail-end of the conversation."Aside from the fact that you're on pain medication, you're probably a little shakier than you might realize from being involved in that accident today."

 

"Aw, it was just a fender-bender, Doc," countered Chet.

 

"It was more than that, Chet, and you know it," reminded Marco."That little Gremlin had its whole front end smashed in, and if I recall correctly, you were the first one to run over to the squad to see if Johnny was all right."

 

"Hey, you know I was just checking on my -."

 

"-Do not even think of saying it, Chet.Go home," Johnny interjected vehemently.

 

"Someone needs to give this young man a lift home."

 

"I can drive you home, Johnny," responded Roy.

 

"I guess I'll leave the truck here," said John.

 

"I'll follow you two to your place and drive the truck," offered Chet. "Then Roy can give me a lift back here, if that's okay with you, Roy?"

 

"Sure, Chet."Roy couldn't help but smile knowingly; for all of Chet's teasing, the man really did look out for his favorite pigeon.

 

 

= = = = = = = = = =

 

 

It took seven shifts before Johnny returned to the station.He walked into the locker room to find Roy and Chet already there.

 

"Hey, Gage, 'bout time you got back to earning a living," teased Chet.

 

"I'm glad to see you, too, Chet."

 

Roy smiled.He'd missed the good-natured bantering between his two friends."Welcome back, partner.I, for one, am extremely glad to see you."

 

"Got stuck with Brice last shift, didn't you?" Johnny asked with a small smile.

 

"How'd you guess?"Roy watched as Johnny got himself ready for the shift.Something wasn't right, but he couldn't quite put his finger on it."How are you doing?" he finally asked.

 

"Okay."

 

"Just okay?" Roy probed.

 

"I'm fine, Roy."

 

"You still look a little, I don't know - stiff?"

 

"I'm fine."

 

Hank stuck his head in the door and announced, "Roll call in ten minutes gentlemen.Welcome back, John."

 

"Thanks, Cap," acknowledged Johnny.

 

"Well, I am ready for a cup of coffee," declared Chet."If you're nice to me, I may even save you a cup."

 

"No, thanks," responded Johnny.

 

"Huh?John Gage refusing caffeine?You're kidding!" exclaimed Chet.

 

"Chet, all I said was I didn't want any coffee," John shot back in frustration."Jeeze, it's not a big deal."

 

"Okay, okay; all the more for me," he teased.

 

Chet left the locker room before he could hear John mutter, "They suggested I cut it out, that's all."

 

The red flags started flying when Roy heard that."Who?Why?"

 

"Huh? Why, what?"John didn't realize he'd spoken aloud; he certainly hadn't meant for Roy to hear him.

 

"Who suggested that you cut out caffeine and why?" Roy persisted.

 

"Roy, it's not a big deal.Don't turn this into one."

 

"C'mon, partner, what's going on?"

 

John sighed.He knew Roy would persist, so he gave up and said, "Look, the caffeine might aggravate any headaches I might still get on occasion.It's not a big deal."

 

"You're still having headaches?" Roy asked.

 

"Roy, stop it."

 

"If you're still having headaches, maybe you should get the doctor to check you out?" he suggested.

 

Johnny blew up. "I've been checked out!That's why the doctor told me to stop drinking coffee!So would you just drop it?"

 

He slammed his locker door and walked out.Roy stood there, surprised by the sudden display of anger.There was obviously something more going on with Johnny than just caffeine withdrawal; now if only his partner would 'fess up.

 

 

= = = = = = = = = =

 

 

The day went on without any more outbursts from Johnny, but conversation was kept to a bare minimum as well. The younger member of the team stayed somewhat secluded from the rest of the group while they were in the station.John finished his duties of taking care of their sleeping quarters, and chose to remain in there when he'd completed the task.

 

The others, though a bit confounded, decided to leave him alone.Roy, on the other hand, was more than just confused; he was concerned. When Marco called everyone together for lunch, Roy went into the dorm to let Johnny know that food was on.When Johnny met the news with ambivalence, Roy nodded and went straight to the captain.

 

"Close the door, Roy."

 

"Something's wrong, but he won't talk."

 

"Did something happen on one of your runs today?"

 

"No, Cap, nothing. The two runs we were on were routine.Besides, he was off-kilter before we even went to roll call this morning."

 

"Maybe he needs to be checked out by Rampart?"

 

"Cap, I'd suggested that; he nearly bit my head off.Apparently he's been under a doctor's care."


"So, what do you think?Is he fit for duty?"

 

"That's just it; I don't know.He was perfectly professional on the runs, but that was it. Nothing beyond what he had to do medically."Roy paused, giving consideration as to what he was going to say next.

 

"I'm not sure what he would be like in a fire, Cap."

 

"What do you mean?"

 

"He was very focused on the victim, and he did everything right while we were administering the necessary medical care, but at the same time - I don't know how to explain it - it's as if Johnny was going through the motions because his mind was on something else.I mean, it's like he knows his job so well, he was on automatic pilot, and neither victim had any life-threatening conditions.

 

"I guess I'm just worried that if something out of the ordinary occurred, I don't know if he'd be able to handle it," admitted Roy reluctantly.

 

"What do you think is the reason for that?" asked Hank with concern.

 

"The only thing I can think of is that he's still feeling pain.I'm sure he wouldn't take anything stronger than aspirin for pain relief while on duty, so I gotta figure he's in a whole lot of hurt."

 

"Should I take him off-duty?"

 

"Cap, I don't know.He's here, so he was cleared for duty.The question for me is, was he totally honest with the doctor about how he was feeling?If not, then he may be taking a risk with his own health as well as his ability to perform in a high risk situation."

 

"Okay.Do me a favor, Roy, ask John to come here."

 

Roy nodded and left the office.Marco, Chet, and Mike looked up from the kitchen table, trying hard not to look too curious, but failing miserably.Finally, Chet could hold back no longer.


"Is Gage in trouble?"

 

"Now why would you say that?I was the one who went into Cap's office, for crying out loud," responded Roy tersely.

 

"Yeah," Kelly agreed, "but now you're going to go tell Gage that the captain wants to speak with him, right?"

 

Roy looked at him with disbelief."You were eavesdropping?"

 

"No!" he answered quickly - too quickly."Well, maybe just a little, but Roy, it's just because we're concerned, too."

 

"Look, let Cap handle this, okay?Johnny's having a tough enough time at the moment; he doesn't need all of us crowding him, okay?"

 

"Okay, okay," said Chet.

 

As Roy moved to go into the dorm, Chet called out, "He's okay, isn't he, Roy?"

 

"I don't know, Chet.I hope so, but I honestly don't know yet."

 

 

= = = = = = = = = =

 

 

Johnny knew what Roy wanted before he even said anything.He simply stood up and followed Roy silently back to the kitchen.No eye contact was made between any of the guys and Johnny.

 

John was having a hard enough time keeping it together; he couldn't risk looking at the sympathetic or worse, judgmental glances his colleagues gave him.

 

It was a stupid accident.The damn squad didn't have a scratch on it.No matter how many times someone explained to him that occupants inside of vehicles which sustain little to no damage in a rear-ender can still be injured.

 

The problem was, John never thought of whiplash as a legitimate injury; no one he ever knew did either.It was always a condition to be questioned; hell, he was among many who actually made fun of the condition.Johnny had always figured that people who claimed they had whiplash were just looking for a fast buck.

 

Well, Johnny was soon finding out that it was more than just a scheme to make money and it sure took a lot more money than he thought he'd ever have to spend out of pocket.

 

The insurance company didn't cover the chiropractor, which was the only treatment that was giving him any kind of relief lately.The heating pad was out of pocket; the prescriptions for muscle relaxants were out of pocket.

 

But it still hurt.And it seemed to hurt all the time.And he was getting damned sick of it.

 

The test results indicated everything looked normal; he'd just have to go about his business and eventually things would start to feel normal again.Even Dr. Early told him that he should go back to work; it would take some time to get the kinks worked out, but that his body should be able to handle it.

 

So, he came to work. He was doing his job.So he wasn't his usual, happy-go-lucky, carefree and forgiving, self.He was here, trying to get through the shift and not think of the constant discomfort.

 

The last thing he needed was for his captain or his shift-mates to get on his case about it.But here he was, getting ready for his captain to do just that, with his partner standing in the corner seemingly chomping at the bit to find out what was going on with him.

 

"So, pal? You want to fill me in on what's going on with you?"

 

"I'm not sure what you want me to fill you in on, Cap," Gage said evasively.He avoided looking directly at Hank and Roy.

 

"John, you haven't acted like yourself all shift," explained Hank."You've been moody, way too quiet, and look damned unhappy."He paused for a moment, and said, "John?"

 

He repeated the man's name until the paramedic finally made eye contact with his superior."John, I just want to know what I can do to help?What can any of us do?" he asked with a nod toward Roy.

 

John stood quietly, mulling over what he wanted, no, needed to say.He had to get this worked out, and he knew he needed the support and understanding of his captain and partner.But he also knew that it wasn't going to be easy for him over the next couple of weeks (he hoped it would only be a couple of more weeks,) and Johnny needed everyone to give him a little slack.

 

"Cap," and then nodding at Roy and indicating to him that he should move closer and join them, "Roy, I wish there was something more that you could do, but to be honest, the best thing is to just give me some space for a little while longer."

 

"Johnny, are you okay to work?" asked Roy, cutting directly to the chase.

 

"Yeah, Roy, Dr. Early gave me clearance.The x-rays are negative; I've just got some residual muscle strain that will have to work itself out.Believe it or not, the best way to do that is by keeping active, so I don't stiffen up."

 

"But can you lift in a rescue or handle hose at a fire?" asked Hank, ever pragmatic.

 

"I've been cleared for duty, Captain.Yes, I can."

 

"So, why the personality change, pal?" asked Hank gently.

 

"I'm still feeling a little uncomfortable, that's all," answered John.

 

"A little uncomfortable?" echoed Roy in a tone that quickly let John know he recognized his partner's words for the understatement that they were.

 

 

John allowed himself a small smile.It never ceased to amaze him that Roy was able to read him so well."Well, maybe more than a little."

 

"Johnny?"

 

"I'm hurting all the time, Roy."It was something he didn't want to admit to out loud, but now that he did, it was almost a relief.

 

"Why didn't you say something?" asked Roy.

 

"The doc said I should be back to my old self again in the next couple of weeks. It wasn't supposed to be a big deal; I mean, who the hell ever really suffered from whiplash, you know?"He paused to take a breath before he admitted out loud, "I'd always thought it was a ruse for people to get insurance money."

 

"And you figured we'd think the same of you."

 

"Yeah, well, I've been accused of trying to hatch a few schemes in the past, Roy."

 

"Yeah, but they were always honest ventures; they may have been really stupid ones, but they were always honest," he reminded with a smile.

 

"Gee, thanks a lot."Johnny returned the smile.It felt good to know he'd have his partner's support and understanding, at least.

It was the other guys, well, one guy in particular, that he didn't want to have to deal with.

 

"To be honest, this whole thing has knocked the hell out of me, and I don't want to deal with Chet.I suppose it was easier for me to shut down then to have to put up with his comments, or worse, the phantom and his tricks."

 

"I can assure you," interjected Cap, "that you will not have to worry about the phantom making any unannounced visits or Chet making any unnecessary comments."John nodded in gratitude for that promise."Besides," continued Hank, "I don't think you have to worry."

 

Johnny's expression was one big question mark, so Hank explained."I think Chet was almost as worried about you as Roy was."

 

"Yeah, right," he huffed.

 

"No, partner," Roy quickly said, "Cap's right.Chet didn't stop asking about you for the entire three weeks."

 

"Well, damn," Johnny said, smiling, "that's nice to know."

 

"Of course, John," remarked Hank, "you realize that if you asked Kelly about this, he'd deny it from now to his dying day."

 

All three chuckled at that.Roy nodded and Johnny quickly agreed."I guess that's why I'll never mention it to him."

 

"I think that's probably for the best," agreed Hank.

 

"It's still nice to know, though.It's nice to know I can count on all of you till this passes."

 

"And it will pass, partner.Just remember, you don't have to go through this on your own."

 

John's colleagues proved Roy was a man of his word.His shift-mates offered him just the right amount of companionship when he wasn't hurting as much and lifts to the therapist when he was.One day Johnny had mentioned that he wished he'd remembered to bring the heating pad with him to the station, and by the end of the shift he had four.

 

Hank and Roy had called their wives to pick one up, while Marco asked his mom to bring an extra one from their house to the station.After the engine crew had finished cleaning up a trash fire, Chet insisted upon stopping the engine at the nearest Vons supermarket to buy one.John knew the members of A-shift were great guys, but it was this experience that taught him how kind and compassionate they were, too.

 

Even Chet.

 

It took some time, but one week Johnny awoke and realized he was finally pain-free.He packed away all of the heating pads, and took the aspirin bottle off of his nightstand and put it back in the medicine cabinet.

 

The c-collar, which he'd taken to wearing during his off hours for the extra support, was boxed up and placed in the back of his closet.

 

Then there was the day that he found himself upstairs in the records department at Rampart, getting a copy of his medical report for the central office.It was there that he ran into Karen Richardson, and it was then that John Gage took the time to look at the administrative assistant not as a victim, but as a woman - a damn fine looking woman.

 

They made a date for that very weekend.

 

And finally, it was time to let his friends know that the real Johnny Gage was back.He stopped at the local K-Mart, went into the party section, and picked up a package of the needed supplies.

 

He arrived early to the station and quickly went about setting things up.By the time the rest of the crew arrived, John had accomplished just what he'd wanted to do.He went into the dayroom, sat down with the newspaper, and waited.

 

And what he heard was music to his ears...

 

"Aw, damn!I don't have a dry shirt!Damn, who the hell - GAGE!"

 

Suddenly Chet Kelly came running out of the locker room, dripping wet.He stood directly in front of Johnny with his face twisted in what looked like anger.The others gathered around the periphery, and waited for the explosion to take place, when suddenly, to everyone's relief, Chet broke into a huge grin.

 

"Hey, my pigeon has come home to roost!'Bout damn time, Gage!"

 

"Thanks, Chet, it's good to be back."

 

 

= = = = = = = = = =

 

The End