Once Jinxed

Julie H.


Chapter One


     Captain Stanley peered above the newspaper as he sat at the table, wondering whether to intervene between Marco and Chet, who were arguing over the cleanup to be done in the kitchen. He thought better of it, slowly raising the paper back to eye level before anyone volunteered him into the conversation. Too late.

     "Cap, tell him, will ya?" Marco began, "If I trade with him out of the kindness of my heart, and let him take kitchen duty while I take his latrine duty - which I just finished, by the way," he paused to sneer at Chet, "then he's supposed to do the dishes, the oven, AND the floors. Am I right?"

     "I've already finished the dishes and the oven's clean," Chet snapped back, like a child ready to stick out his tongue.

     Hank looked from Marco to Chet, then back at Marco. He set his paper down and pushed his chair out, standing tall before he spoke.

     "Chet, you know Marco's right. So why are you arguing about it?" He hefted his hand on his hip waiting for a response, while Marco gave the stocky fireman an 'I told you so' smirk before walking out into the bay. Once he was out of earshot, Chet answered the question.

     "He finished up before I did," he said simply. "You know, if I could've just talked him into helping me out in here, I'd have more time to work on other stuff."

     "Like what?" the Captain retorted, both hands now resting on both hips.

     "Like the Phantom's workshop," Mike answered dryly, getting up from the couch and heading for the coffee pot. The Captain's right eyebrow rose up, looking from his engineer back to Chet.

     "Well, Kelly?"

     Chester B. knew that tone, and knew when the Captain called him by his last name that he was all business.

     He opened his mouth to defend himself; protest his honor, and perhaps think up something in-between to dispute the Phantom's next gambit. But instead he closed it back shut, choosing to grab the mop and clean rather than risk any further duties placed upon him.

     With that, Hank looked at Mike, trying his best to hide the grin that threatened to spread across his face, then walked out of the kitchen, heading for his office.



~ * ~ * ~


     When the squad rolled back into the bay, Chet hurriedly finished 'swabbing his deck' as he called it, eager to begin his next endeavor with Johnny as his 'pigeon'.

     Quickly rolling the mop bucket into the bay, he smiled deviously as
Roy and John crossed his path.

     "What are you up to now, Chet?" Johnny asked, his face showing the weariness both he and his partner now shared after their forth call.

     "Nothing pal, nothing. Even the phantom would want you well rested before plotting his next revenge," he retorted, then his look facial expression became serious. "How was the last run?"

Roy answered, leaning against the squad. "It was a five year old girl with a real bad asthma attack."

     "She gonna be okay?"

     "Yep, Johnny got her calmed down enough that we could start treating her - the rest was easy."

     "Ya see Chet," Johnny began, also leaning himself against the squad as he crossed his arms, "it's all in the charm, which I obviously have plenty of where the female population is concerned."

     Chet looked from John to
Roy, shaking his head in mock disbelief. "You'd think he'd be too tired to rile me up, but that's okay, if he can dish it out, he can take it, too."

     With that, he rushed the mop bucket past them to empty it and put it away.
John looked at
Roy as he shrugged, unable to hide his grin.

     "Junior, you've got to learn to quit egging him on. You know he's still mad about that girl that asked you out."

     "Yeah, I know. That's why I did it. Besides, it's not my fault he'd been trying to get her to go out with him for two weeks." Johnny's smile was broad as he walked towards the kitchen, and
Roy couldn't help but smile as he followed him.



~ * ~ * ~


     The men of the station began filtering into the kitchen behind the two paramedics, chores finally completed after many runs throughout the morning. It was going to be a long day; that they were sure of.

     "Maybe I should start fixing lunch now," Johnny stated with a hint of sarcasm, looking at his watch. "I have a feeling we'd better eat before
noon or we won't get a chance …"

     As if on cue, the tones sounded, and the rescue squad was called to a man down in a nearby park.

     "Hey guys," Johnny spoke on his way towards the bay, "if
Dixie gets here before we get back tell her to wait for us if she can, okay?"

     "Sure Gage," Chet answered quickly, "if we're still around to tell her."

     As the squad rolled out from the bay, Chet looked down at the once clean floor, now smudged with streaks of dirt from footprints. His face shown his disgust as he headed back through the bay, retrieving the mop for a touch up.

     "How come
Dixie's coming by? Something going on?" Marco asked, peering into the refrigerator then closing the door.

     "She's planning a surprise birthday party for Dr. Morton," Mike announced as he rounded up the coffee cups from the table, heading for the sink. "I think her plan is to get John and Roy to distract him somehow, at least that's what
Roy said the other day."

     "John Gage IS a distraction," Chet chimed in, dripping mop in hand as he reentered the kitchen.

     "Well, Morton's a good guy, and he deserves a little fun, no matter how they hand it to him," Marco said, a smile stretching across his face. "I just hope there's lots of single girls there."

     "Not to worry, Marco,"
Dixie said simply, surprising the men with her entrance,    "I know for a fact that plenty of pretty nurses will be there."

     The men all said their 'Hellos' at relatively the same time, making the nurse smile happily at their welcome.

     "John and Roy out on a run?"

     "Yeah, they just headed out about ten minutes ago," Chet answered, swishing the mop around hurriedly, trying to finish up before Captain Stanley returned from his office.

     "But they're on their way back in," the Captain announced, startling both
Dixie and Chet. "Their run just got cancelled. I thought I heard your voice out here," he added, looking at Dixie before scowling at Chet and the mop without saying a word.

     "Hi Hank,"
Dixie grinned, aware of his frown, not quite understanding its presence.

     Chet scurried out from the kitchen, slinking himself against the wall as he walked behind his Captain and their visitor.

     "Why don't you help yourself to some coffee while I go finish up a little paperwork. I'm sure the boys will be back in a little while."

     "Don't mind if I do,"
Dixie smiled at Hank, watching as he left. Walking over towards the counter, she and the remaining men began talking about their morning's runs and her actually having a day off - something that seemed to almost stun the firemen, making the nurse laugh.

     "They do let me out of there now and then you know," she said jokingly, walking over towards the table to join the men who were now seated around it.

     The smile on her face suddenly faded as she felt her feet sliding from beneath her.

     As her left heeled foot slid, the full coffee cup plunged towards the counter behind her. Each man reacted within a split second, trying to come out of their chairs. Reaching. Calling out to her. But none were able to help.

Dixie!" Chet yelled, watching her fall as he walked through the bay towards the day room.

     As if in slow motion, she felt her balance sway as she went backwards. She reached outward, trying to grasp at anything to regain her balance. But there was nothing there. She felt her body tilting and could do nothing about it. She felt the sharp pain of slamming into the floor, then the relief of sudden blackness.



Chapter Two


     Captain Stanley rushed out of his office, the shrill of Chet's voice alerting him that something was terribly wrong. When he reached the entrance of the day room, he found his concern justified.

Dixie lay across the floor, her head slightly tilted away from him. Already the rest of the crew had surrounded her, calling to her - all but Chet, who stood staring dumbfounded at the tragedy.

     "I'll call it in," the Captain stated, turning on his heels and running towards the call center.

     "Station 51 to headquarters, we have a woman down at our location; what's squad 51's status?"

     "Station 51, squad 51 is available and in route to your location."

     "10-4, please respond them to here with an ambulance and take us out of service."

     "10-4. Squad 51, respond to station 51's location. Woman down. Time out -
11:37. Ambulance is responding."

Roy looked at Johnny with the same questioning look that his partner gave him while answering into the handset.

     "What the hell?" Johnny asked, retrieving his helmet.

     "We'll find out in a minute, Junior. We're almost there."



~ * ~ * ~



     The squad's sirens could be heard as it approached the station, much to the relief of each man within it.

     Both Mike and Marco looked up when they heard the paramedics arrive. They were kneeling beside
Dixie's unmoving form, already immobilizing her, preparing for John and Roy's arrival.

Roy pulled the squad into the station, both he and Johnny rushed out from the vehicle as soon as it was stopped, grabbing their equipment as Captain Stanley ran out to meet them.

Dixie. She slipped on the floor in the dayroom and fell backwards," he began, half walking, half running with the paramedics as they raced to her side.    "She's been unconscious the whole time."

Roy muttered under his breath. Both men knew that the floor was nothing but tile on top of concrete, and both knew how serious it could be.

     The fact that she was unconscious told them her head must have made impact, and being she was not only a colleague, but friend, made it that much more worse.


~ * ~ * ~



     As the paramedics entered the kitchen, the firemen that were kneeling beside her stood up, getting out of the way. Each man knowingly grabbed at the kitchen table and chairs, giving Roy and John room to work on her.

Dixie lay across the floor, her eyes closed and her body unmoving.

     Johnny and Roy took positions on either side of her and arranged their equipment, both showing clearly the worry on their faces.

Dixie?" John called, "Dixie?" his next call louder than the first. "Hey Dix, can you hear me?" He shook his head at his partner, who watched while setting up the biophone.

     "Rampart base, this is squad 51, how do you read?"

     The silence that greeted him made him tense as he watched Johnny feel across
Dixie's limbs, looking for any other injury than the one they knew would be there.

     "51, this is Rampart, go ahead." The voice of Dr. Kelly Brackett took over the silence in the room, to which
Roy was grateful.

     "Rampart base, we have a female victim, approximate age 35, the victim of a fall onto a cement floor. The victim is unconscious - stand by for vitals. Also Rampart, be advised that the victim is Dixie McCall."

     Kelly Brackett could hear the waver in
Roy's voice, but couldn't believe the words he heard clearly.

     "51, repeat that last statement?"

     "Doc, its

     Dr. Brackett winced as if stricken in pain, took a deep breath, then pushed the call button. "10-4 51. Standing by."

Roy watched as Johnny pumped up the BP cuff around Dixie's left arm, then looked at the men around him. "What happened?"

     "She was walking towards the table, lost her footing and fell backwards," Mike said, looking worriedly at their friend lying on the floor.

     "It was my fault." The almost inaudible voice of Chet spoke, making each man glance towards him at his statement.

     "No Chet, it was an accident - no one is to blame here," Marco said immediately.

     "If I hadn't brought that wet mop back out here she wouldn't have slipped. My God, I did this to her." His words faded as his face turned red with emotion.

     "Chet," the Captain began, his tone gentle, "it's not your fault, Pal. It's not your fault."

     "BP is 130 over 80," John Gage began, his professionalism pristine as he worked on his patient. "Pulse is 76; respirations are 12 and labored." He leaned himself over her, taking his penlight and checking her pupils. "Pupils are equal but sluggish."

     As Roy began telling the information to Rampart, Johnny began gently touching Dixie's forehead, straightening out her neck as he checked for any signs of injury.

     "Mike," he asked without looking at the engineer, "hand me that C collar, will ya?" Stoker grabbed the collar and handed it to Johnny silently, as all the men watched him place it gently around
Dixie's neck.

     "She's got a large area of swelling just behind her left temple, and it's already showing signs of bruising."

Roy relayed the remaining information and Dixie began coming to - slowly at first, the fuzziness of her surroundings becoming clearer though her confusion continued to grow with each step of awareness.

     When she began moaning, Johnny stopped his probing fingers from causing anymore discomfort.

Dixie? Can you hear me? How about looking at me?" Johnny spoke softly, knowing all too well the pain she was experiencing as she came to and how loud noises would only amplify it.

     When she responded, it was with a slight moan, then she began drifting out again. Johnny applied a sternal rub in hopes of keeping her from losing consciousness and was successful.

     "Dix, come on now, stay awake. This is no time for napping."

     Her eyes fluttered, and she tried focussing on the face above her, squinting.   When John Gage became clear enough to see, she looked away, seeing all of the other faces that stared down at her.

"What happened?" she asked simply.

     John smiled at her question as he began getting a new set of vitals on her.
     "Well, why don't you tell us what happened,"
Roy began, leaning in close enough for her to focus on him. "Do you remember?"

     She looked around with a blank expression on her face. "I'm in a fire station?" she asked.

     "That you are," Johnny said grinning, his look of concern not going unnoticed on him nor his partner by the crew. He turned his eyes to
Roy. "Pulse is 80, BP is 130 over 70 and respirations are 24, still labored."

Roy began relaying the updated information to Rampart, Dixie tried to sit up, much to the dismay of Johnny. When she continued to struggle, Roy dropped the biophone and helped his partner restrain her, amidst much protest from their patient.

     "Squad 51, you're breaking up, could you repeat those vitals?" It was Dr. Brackett's voice, but
Roy couldn't get to the phone without letting go of Dixie's right arm, and that wasn't an option at the moment.

     "Squad 51, do you copy?" The doctor's voice was clearly sounding his anxiety.

Dixie, you've got to calm down," Roy's voice was firm but gentle, and her body seemed to relax from his command. "That's it, that's it. Everything's going to be alright, okay?" he continued, his tone comforting. Taking a deep breath, he released his hold and grabbed up the biophone once more.

     "Rampart, this is squad 51. Uh, sorry for the delay. Our patient was a little disoriented and became slightly aggressive. We had to restrain her until she calmed down."

     Kelly Brackett looked at Joe Early and Mike Morton, who had been told who 51's patient was and stood by, awaiting any news. "10-4 51. Is she still being restrained?"

     "No Doc, she's now stuperous,"
Roy said, looking down at Dixie. He then began relaying the updated vitals to the hospital and explaining her head injury. As soon as he finished, an IV was ordered along with the neck brace which Johnny already had in place.

     During all the commotion when
Dixie was trying to sit up, the ambulance had arrived and now the attendants stood waiting to transport.

     "Cap, we're going to ride in with her, okay?"
Roy asked. Knowing neither paramedic would take 'no' for an answer, and having already taken the station out of service, Captain Stanley agreed, having Marco drive the squad in behind them. He figured they could all go, and once there make themselves available from the hospital.

Chapter Three

     The men of station 51 sat, stood, and paced in the doctors lounge, waiting on any word on Dixie's condition. By the time they arrived at the emergency room, Johnny and Roy had already disappeared into one of the treatment rooms with her. No doctors were around to discuss her condition - if they weren't treating other patients they were in the room with Dixie. Same with the nurses, and those that were around didn't have any information.

     In spite of everything, Hank Stanley caught himself grinning. Truth be known, if
Dixie hadn't been the patient in that room, then she'd be blasting those hospital people for crowding into her room like they had.

     His thoughts were disrupted as
Roy and John came into the lounge, looking worn and worried. They were immediately surrounded by their crewmates.

     "How is she?"

     "Is she awake?"

     "What do the doctors say?"

     "Does she remember anything yet?"

     The paramedics didn't answer any one question, and their serious expressions brought on a silence that stilled the room. Mike Stoker took it upon himself to get them some coffee as
Roy began talking.

     "Her vitals are stable right now, but she had a small seizure in the ambulance - gave us quite a scare on the way in."

     "Has she regained consciousness again yet?" Captain Stanley asked.

     "She did," Johnny began, "But she's kind of 'in and out' right now," he answered, accepting the coffee mug Mike brought him.

     "Is she gonna be okay?" Chet asked, his worry clearly evident across furrowed brows.

Roy took a deep breath. "Yeah Chet, she's okay," he answered quietly.

     "But?" Chet's question was answered with silence. "Come on, there's something you're not telling me - what else is wrong with her - what have I done to her?"

     "Chet, you didn't do a thing to her - it was an accident, don't you understand? Any one of us could have been mopping that floor, and you and I both know that the floor is slick even when it's dry,"
Roy spoke softly.

     "What else is wrong with
Dixie that you're not telling us?"

     All eyes turned towards the door as Dr. Brackett came in, looking a cross between worn and worried. He wasn't a bit surprised to find all of Station 51 in the doctor's lounge.

     "How's she doing, Doc?" Johnny spoke up.

     "She's doing pretty well, actually. She's still a little out of it, but that's to be expected with the concussion she's got," he said, helping himself to a cup of coffee. He smiled. "She's got herself a pretty good headache though, but it's just a concussion - no skull fracture."

     Captain Stanley looked at all his men, letting his eyes fall on a much-relieved fireman. "It was an accident, Chet. And she's okay. How about you? You feeling better now?"

     Brackett listened to the exchange, then cast a worried look at the fireman. 

"Did you get hurt too?" he asked, setting his coffee cup down on the counter.

     "No," Chet quickly answered, "but it was my fault that
Dixie did."

     "He had just mopped the kitchen and she came in and slipped, Doc," Marco interjected.

     Brackett grinned slightly, understanding the fireman's guilt. "Doesn't sound like you did it on purpose, and she remembered falling before I left, and wasn't blaming anyone except herself. She said something about wearing tennis shoes from now on when she had a day off instead of heels," the doctor smiled. "Tell you what, Chet. Why don't you go into the treatment room for a minute and visit with her before they take her to a room. See her for yourself."

     Chet's face seemed to lighten from his words. "You mean it, Doc?"

     "You can come with me right now if you'd like …" he began, only to be interrupted by the Captain's handset going off.

     "Engine 51, squad 51, unknown type rescue.
34 - 54 Colby Lane, apartment 27; 3 - 4 - 5 - 4 Colby Lane, apartment number 2 - 7. Ambulance is responding. Time out - 13:45."

     "Engine 51 and squad 51, 10 - 4," Captain Stanley responded. All the men rushed from the room, with Chet in the lead. He stopped suddenly, turning towards Dr Brackett. "Tell
Dixie I'll be back as soon as I can!" he yelled.

     Unfortunately, Marco didn't recognize Chet's sudden stop, thinking he was going to swing the door wide for them all to go through. Lopez was pulling on his turnout coat and collided head first into the door as Chet finally swung it open, realizing the rest of the crew was on his heels.

     The noise of Marco's head hitting the wood sounded like someone cracking a two-by-four in half.

     "Damn!" came his cry, instantly grabbing his forehead, blinking several times from the blow.

     Dr Brackett, Roy and Johnny ran in front of him, looking him over with professionalism, seeing the red bump forming quickly above his right eye. Luckily the skin wasn't torn, so no need for stitches was obvious.

     "You all right?"
Roy asked simultaneously with Brackett.

     "Yeah, I'll live," Lopez stated rather coldly, giving a disgruntled look towards Chet.

     "I'll call in a code I, you get checked out by the doc here," Captain Stanley announced. Before he could pull out the handset, Marco protested.

     "I'm fine Cap, really - if I feel bad later I'll come back," Marco stated, reopening the door of the lounge for them all to leave, purposely bumping Chet's caboose.

     Hank looked from Marco to Brackett, who looked towards Johnny and Roy.        "Just keep your eyes on him - you know the drill."

     With that, the men were gone instantly, responding to their call.



~ * ~ * ~


     Once they arrived on the scene, the Captain, Marco, Johnny and Roy went up to the second floor to determine what exactly the rescue was, while Chet and Mike stayed behind to keep an eye on the engine and squad. They would also be able to deliver any equipment necessary deemed needed for the rescue.

     The 'unknown type rescue' that they'd been called upon turned out to be an elderly lady with Alzheimer's that had become disoriented about her whereabouts and hyperventilated, causing her daughter to think she was having a heart attack.      Once she'd been calmed down and her breathing returned to normal, the ambulance was canceled. It was determined a trip to the hospital was unnecessary, and her daughter was advised to take her to their own personal physician.

     Roy and Johnny exited the apartment first, followed by Marco, then their Captain, who closed the door behind him.

     Within seconds, Marco stood still, leaning against the hallway wall, causing Hank to almost run into him from behind.

     "Hey Pal, you okay?" the Captain asked, seeing his firefighter looking somewhat pained when he turned to face him.

     Marco swiped his hand across his face, his fingertips gently rubbing his forehead. "I, Cap, I uh, don't feel so good," he answered, then fell backwards into the Captain's hold.

Roy! John!" Hank shouted, his arms now holding the full weight of the fireman who suddenly lost consciousness.

     Both paramedics were making their way down the staircase when Hank's shout made them turn abruptly. Just in time to watch their Captain enfold Marco in his arms and gently lay him down on the floor. They rushed back up towards them, mouths agape at the sight they held.

     Setting their equipment down beside their colleague, the paramedics quickly began assessing Marco's condition -
Roy getting his vitals while Johnny set up the biophone to begin his transmission.

     Captain Stanley called in the code I, asking that the ambulance be sent yet again to their location.

     Hearing their Captain call headquarters, Mike and Chet ran quickly up the stairs to find out who was hurt. As soon as they got to the second floor, Chet, who was ahead of Mike, stopped suddenly at the sight before him. His sudden stop caused Mike to run into him and then bounce off - almost falling back down the stairs. Luckily he regained his balance, thanks to the railing he grabbed hold of.

     Chet didn't even realize that Mike had run into him - too stunned at the realization that Marco now lay unconscious below the paramedics, most assuredly because of him.

     Mike was at first angry about the sudden halt, but then understood all too well his shiftmate's anxiety. "It'll be all right, Chet," the words spoken softly to unhearing ears. Both men continued forward.

     "Rampart base, this is squad 51," John said, looking at the two firemen who joined them. Seeing the shock evident on Chet's face, he pulled the mouthpiece away from his face long enough to ask Mike to retrieve the stokes. "Rampart base, this is squad 5 - 1,"

     "Go ahead 51," Joe Early's voice came through.

     "Rampart, we have a male victim, a firefighter, age 29, the victim of a previous
non-apparent concussion. No symptoms were evident until just now, uh, the injury was incurred about thirty minutes ago."

     "Have you got vitals on the victim yet, 51?"

     "Stand by, Rampart."

     Chet's mind was swirling. The words were rolling over and over that Dr. Early had just spoken. 'The victim. The victim…' What they were saying was HIS victim - another person struck down by his own stupidity. His thoughts were distracted by a few choice words in Spanish mumbled by Marco, who was slowly coming around.

     "Get off me, I'm all right," the fireman exclaimed as the paramedics continued their hold. "What happened?" he asked, calming down as he looked at all the men hovering above him.

     "You fell out on me, my friend," Captain Stanley grinned, his eyes still showing his worry over the prone fireman. "How're ya feeling?"

     Marco grinned a little as his body relaxed. "I guess not so good, eh?"

Chapter Four


     Marco was taken to Rampart and after a full skull series and a small battery of tests, it was determined he had a mild concussion and would be a guest of the hospital over night. Nothing major. Nothing to be concerned over. Simply precautionary.

     But that didn't help Chet any.

     By the time they arrived at the station, Chet was keeping to himself severely, opting for spending his time alone in the dorm rather than with his crewmates - his friends.

     When Marco's replacement arrived, the station was back on call and preparing for dinner.

     "I'll go talk to him, Cap. He's just reading more into this than there really is," Roy stated, drinking down a half a glass of water.

     Captain Stanley sighed, then nodded his head. "Okay Roy, give it a try. But if you can't get through to him, it'll be my turn. I don't want something as simple as mere coincidences clouding over him and affecting his job, if ya know what I mean."

     They all knew what he meant. These freak accidents could have Chet doubting his own self-worth, and possibly complicating his job performance for fear of harming someone else. No matter how far from the truth it really was.



~ * ~ * ~

     Dinner was eaten in relative silence, except for the few comments about the weather or the latest ball game - anything to get Chet distracted and talking.   When the fireman hardly said a word, but actually volunteered to do the dishes,    Captain Stanley knew it was time he had a talk with him.

     "Hey Chet, why don't you let Mike get those dishes, okay bud? I'd like to have a word with you if I could?"

     Instead of answering his commanding officer, Chet continued to wash the dishes, scrubbing vigorously, as if he thought that if he worked on them hard enough, Hank would magically disappear.

     It didn't work.

     "Kelly?" The tone was not questioning, it was more of a command.
Chet froze. Then he turned around, suds flying freely. The fury in his eyes told everyone he was about to blow.

     "You know what?" he began, pointing a sudsy finger to everyone now standing around him, then shaking off the suds a bit dramatically. "I'm scared that I'm going to hurt each and every one of you! I know what you're all thinking - the same thing I am - Chet's a friggin' jinx! I feel it every time I walk by you guys! Even you, Boynton," he said, pointing to Marco's temporary replacement. "You haven't seen it yet, but I'm telling ya, I'm a hazard to be around," he said, his words softening as his anger turned inwardly.

     "Now that's just not true Chet," John began, his eyes locking with Chet's. "We all know damned good and well that it's just been a couple of accidents, and that's all there is to it. It could have been any one of us mopping the floor this morning, and this afternoon? Well, let's just say we all have our klutzy moments."  The next words from his mouth were barely audible. "Me more-so than any of you combined."

     Chet looked down at the floor, a slight grin tipping his mustache.

     "And," their Captain added, "seeing as these were simple accidents, I don't want you letting a couple of coincidences affecting your job - and keeping you from being by our side when we're going to need you the most." There. He'd said it. Something he intended to speak of in private, but now felt was necessary for their sudden 'group meeting'. As he suspected, the rest of his men joined in.


    By the time everyone had said their peace, Chet was smiling, thanking them for their confidence. You could tell he wasn't feeling like the heel he'd felt like a few minutes before.

     When the tones sounded, Captain Stanley sighed, looking up towards the ceiling with a silent thanks that this mess was hopefully over with before they'd been called out on a run.


~ * ~ * ~


     The men entered the bunk area with slumped shoulders and shuffling feet. The run had been a difficult one, more than making up for their lack of runs before dinner. An empty warehouse, burning from the inside out thanks to a few kids who thought that it'd be fun to watch the place go up. Problem was, they had no way of knowing the family of three had been living in there. They were rescued, but not before sustaining serious burns and smoke inhalation. The boys had come forward, too shocked from the understanding that they might have killed innocent people with their prank to realize they were admitting to arson.

     The fire totally destroyed the building, keeping the men of station 51 busy for more than five hours.

     Johnny and Roy were already back at the station when the engine returned - their run to Rampart with the victims then release got them there twenty minutes before, but sleep didn't come easily until the rest of the company returned.

     Once the men were in their bunks, the Captain's voice interrupted the almost silent room.

     "How's Marco and Dixie?" he called out, settling comfortably beneath his blanket, knowing the paramedics would check up on their friends.

     "Dixie is fine and resting comfortably," Roy began, shifting under the sheets.

     "And Marco's fine too," Johnny started, keeping his arm across his eyes in his usual sleeping position, "he was trying to bribe us into bringing him back with us."

     The crew could be heard chuckling from their bunks.

     "Bribe you guys with what?" Mike asked, stifling a yawn as he spoke.

     "Chili," both paramedics answered simultaneously.

     The laughter died down as each man fell into blissful slumber.

Chapter Five

     The morning came too quickly to the men of 51. The second run they'd had that night had been a long and hard one. All of A-Shift sat or stood around in the kitchen, listening as one fireman blew off steam. Chet's demeanor was such that everyone was eyeing him with worry when he wasn't looking.

     Characteristically a 'Gage feature', Chet could not stop himself from carrying on over the ignorance of the parents whose daughter had died not three hours ago.

     " … She was only thirteen, Cap! And they let her sleep in the attic like that! No way to escape - nothing! I just don't understand."

     "Yeah, Chet, I know your frustration," the leader spoke softly, a deep sigh rolling out behind his words, "but kids can be very convincing, and, well, at her age, I'm sure she just wanted some privacy."

     Hank stood beside Chet at the counter, drinking the coffee he'd just poured as he watched the fireman continue, listening intently.

     "Enough privacy to smoke her cigarettes without Mommy and Daddy finding out," Chet retorted sarcastically. "And burn the house down to cinders."

     His last remark made him fume at the sight beheld in his mind - a house destroyed and a child's life abruptly brought to an end.

     "It's just so damned wrong!" he shouted, bringing his emptied glass down on the counter with surprising strength.

     The noise of the glass shattering brought all eyes upon him again. Then just as suddenly, all eyes went to Hank, who cried out in pain, quickly covering his face.

     "Shit!" Johnny was the first to notice the blood trickling from beneath the Captain's fingertips. He and Roy were on either side of him at his outcry.

     "Come on, Cap, let me see, okay? C'mon, let me see," Roy spoke soothingly, trying his best to pull the man's hands away from his face while Johnny ran out to retrieve their equipment.

     Chet stood back, mouth wide, staring in disbelief. He didn't even notice the blood trickling down from his own palm.

     When Johnny got back into the dayroom, he set up their equipment on the kitchen table while Roy and Mike gently led Captain Stanley to a chair beside it.    Once seated, hands still covering his face and his discomfort obvious, Roy knelt down in front of him. Gently, he pulled the hands away, and the collective gasp from the crew murmured his silent thoughts.

     "Try not to move your eyes, Hank," Roy spoke softly, grabbing the sterile gauze and saline solution that Johnny was already handing to him.

     'Oh God, he called me Hank', the pained man thought, listening to every breath around him as his eyes remained still and closed. 'Must be bad. Must be bad.'

     Chet wiped the sweat from his forehead, his eyes never leaving the Captain. He didn't even notice the sting as the salt of his sweat tinged his cut hand. And no one was aware of the blood he smeared across his face and down his cheek.  All eyes remained stoically on Hank Stanley.

     Roy worked to clear the drying blood on the Captain's face with gentle strokes while Johnny took his vitals.

     "Do you feel dizzy at all? How's the pain?"

     "Huh?" The Captain caught the conversation directed towards him, albeit after the fact. "Uh, no, not dizzy, and yeah, it hurts like a …ouch, dammit!"

     "Sorry, Cap," Roy said with empathy. "we have to wrap you up. Rampart wants us to bring you in and check you over and then they'll get you all taken care of."

     Hank sighed. He hadn't even heard them talking to Rampart. He had noticed that they hadn't given him anything for pain, but years of experience from watching these guys gave him the knowledge that they couldn't. Any medication worth a damn would effect his pupils reaction to light, and they had to make sure that the piece of glass in his eye wasn't already doing that.

     "I called in the code I," Mike said, "I stood down the station and there's an ambulance on the way," he added softly.

     "No. No! I don't need an ambulance!" the Captain was clearly getting upset as his head moved from one side to the other, pleading with the paramedics working on him without the eye contact.

    "It's okay, Hank."

     'There he goes, calling me by my first name again.'

     "Look Cap, it's probably almost here by now. It's just a routine ride in, ya know?" Johnny gave a try at his best bedside manner. "That way we can get you in there quickly and outta there just as quick, okay?"

     He wanted to say 'no'. In fact, he wanted to scream the word. Instead, he nodded his silent comply, hearing the siren approaching of the dreaded vehicle. He could see John's lopsided grin in his mind from his nodded agreement.

     "Jesus. Chet! What happened to you?!"

     The words spoken by Boynton echoed as everyone's head turned towards the fireman. Even the Captain's head wrapped in gauze turned in the right direction.

     "Damn Chet! Are you okay?" Johnny exclaimed as he stood, immediately rushing to his side.

     "I'm fine! What? What!?"

     "You're covered in blood, and I know it's not the Cap's here," Roy said, also standing as he grabbed up the gauze and saline from the table and walked up beside him.

     Captain Stanley also stood, his wounds suddenly forgotten as terrible thoughts of one of his men hurt and bloodied flooded his thoughts.

     "He's okay Cap, you sit back and rest." Kind words and the soft nudgings of Mike's firm hands clasping on his shoulders caused the Captain to sit back down and listen to what Roy and Johnny were discussing about his crewman.

     "I don't see anything," Johnny said, wiping off the dried blood gingerly as he continued to probe, then showing the bloodied gauze to Chet to prove there was indeed a need for concern.

     "Don't seem to have anything over here, either," Roy acknowledged, looking at the left side of the fireman's face while John studied the other.

     "I told ya I wasn't hurt," Chet almost whispered.

     "Well Chet, this blood had to come from somewhere," Johnny retorted.

     Roy just happened to look down and see the puddle of blood where Chet once stood in front of the sink. Thinking with his experienced instincts, he remembered where and how Chet had stood, and grabbing his left arm, discovering the gaping slice in the man's palm.

     "You must've wiped your face without realizing it," he stated with a matter-of-fact demeanor. "You're going to need stitches."

     "I'm fine," Chet's words were monotone. His hand could've been dangling from his wrist; he simply didn't care.

     Johnny helped the Captain get settled on the stretcher once the attendants came in, and notified Rampart of their second victim, who would be coming along for the ride. Roy had done a fair job of convincing Chet he had to go, but when the stocky fireman continued to protest, he simply reminded him that this was his opportunity to keep an eye on Hank. The psychology worked well. Though Chet was deeply plagued by his own guilt, he still needed to know he hadn't done permanent damage to the man's eyesight, something the paramedics could not convince him of otherwise.

     B Shift was beginning to filter in. At least Hank knew he didn't have to worry about another shift on top of everything else. Between the lack of sleep and all his other worries, not to mention the aggravation nagging at him that he just might never return to his duties because, well, there just is no such thing as a blind Captain, he became extremely silent. Mike could handle their questions, because right now, he had too many of his own to deal with.

Chapter Six

     The ride to the hospital was spent with the Captain constantly questioning the too-silent Chet. Questions like, 'How's your hand?', 'Are you feeling okay?', and even a 'What's the weather looking like out there?' did nothing to bring the fireman's guilt down a notch. It only amplified it. Roy watched the exchange, not quite knowing what to say. He caught himself wishing that he were driving the squad in instead of his partner.

     "Listen, Chet," Captain Stanley's tone was quiet, sounding almost reflective in thought, and Chet did listen. "I can't stand you feeling guilty over this. It was an accident, pal, and that's all it was. Do you understand me? This was not your fault."

     Chet could do nothing but nod at his leader as he watched the blurring scenery go by, not even realizing that his actions couldn't be seen. He knew if he tried to speak, the emotions that would begin pouring out would not be so easily squelched. He was never so happy as when they turned in towards the hospital - at least he wouldn't be pushed to say anything further, and soon, he'd know how badly he'd injured his Captain; his friend.



~ * ~ * ~

     Johnny walked in with Chet as he was sent to treatment room 3, and Dr. Morton stood waiting with a nurse neither man had seen before. The suture tray was already set up and waiting, as was the doctor - impatiently.

     "So, Chet. How'd you do this may I ask?" the doctor questioned, having Chet sit on the gurney as he unwrapped then examined the wound.

     "Broke a glass and blinded my Captain," the fireman answered without emotion, blocking his feelings evenly.

     Mike looked from the hand to Johnny, whose face was clearly pained by the words.

     "You did nothing of the kind, Chet," Johnny said with an almost exasperated tone. "The Cap has a piece of glass lodged just below his right eye," he explained to both the doctor and the patient, "and we just took precautions to make sure he didn't move the eye around and possibly do any damage. That's why he was wrapped up like that Chet," he said, hoping his words were convincing.

     "Are you telling me that there is no way possible that he could lose his sight in that eye?" Chet asked, no, more demanded of his crewmate.

     No, he couldn't guarantee that, Johnny thought. If the glass went in deep enough, and caused enough nerve damage … no, he had to let those thoughts go. But not before Chet could read them on his face.

     "He'll never forgive me," Chet stated, barely above a whisper.

     "There's nothing to forgive. Man, why won't you listen to anyone? It was an accident!" John didn't mean to yell, but his weary mind wasn't in control of his mouth at the moment.

     "Who are you trying to convince, Johnny? Me, or you?"

     Dr. Morton listened to the exchange as he inserted the needle to administer the local anesthetic. Chet never flinched.


~ * ~ * ~


     "I'm going to remove these bandages now, Hank," Dr. Brackett stated as he began, "but I want you to keep your eyes closed and try not to move them, alright?"

     51's Captain replied a quiet 'Sure thing, Doc,' as Brackett continued and Dr. Mattox, the head of optometry on call, stood by.

     Once the bandages were removed, the doctor pushed in the skin around the glass' puncture, causing a moan to lightly escape Hank's lips. He removed his probing hands and sighed slightly.

     "Sorry, Hank. Listen, when I tell you, I want you to slowly open your eyes. I know the light is going to make them sting, but try not to squint - you can blink frequently, but that's it. Don't look around -just keep your eyes straight ahead. Okay?"

     The Captain nodded, and Dr. Brackett told him to begin.

     Relief flooded him as his sight began to focus. He was seeing things - the wall, the x-ray lamp, the medicine cabinet. He felt almost giddy as he realized his sight was still intact in both eyes.

     "I can see out of them Doc, both of them," he said enthusiastically.
     Dr. Brackett smiled. "I thought as much, but let's check things out a little further, okay?"

     Hank nodded. He was then asked to follow the doctor's finger as it moved the whole circular range around the Captain's face, with the stern warning that should he experience any discomfort whatsoever, he was to immediately stop.      Once that was done to both Doctor's satisfaction, Kel removed his finger from in front of the Captain and crossed his arms, smiling.

     "Looks like it's just a flesh wound, Hank. We'll get that glass out in no time. I'm going to give you a local and then we'll remove it and stitch you up, I'm guessing about four stitches should take care of it."

     "Thank God," the man said happily, exhaling as if he'd held his breath during the entire procedure.

Roy put a squeezing, comforting hand on Hank's shoulder. "I'll go let the rest of the guys know - I'm sure everyone's here by now," he said, looking at his watch.

     "Yeah, thanks
Roy. Thanks for everything."



~ * ~ * ~

     Johnny left Chet in Mike Morton's care as the suturing began, going for supplies so that when the squad was returned to the station, it would be ready to go for B shift.

     As he finished gathering the last of the saline he'd needed, a tap on his shoulder surprised him, causing him to turn suddenly. With that sudden turn, the box his supplies had been collected in fell from his hands and onto
Roy's foot.
     "Glad you didn't have bricks in there, Junior," he chuckled, gathering the box up and placing it back in his partner's grip.

     "Yeah, well I'm glad it didn't break your foot or something. Ya know, somehow I think Chet would've blamed himself for that, too. How's Cap?"

     "Oh, he's just great,"
Roy smiled, "no eye damage whatsoever. You know, he's a very lucky man. That was way too close."

     "Yeah, I know what you mean."

     "I'm guessing by the smiles on your faces that the Cap and Chet are okay?" Mike asked hopefully as he walked towards the paramedics.

     "Cap and Chet? Say, what happened to them?" Marco interjected, walking towards the waiting room.

     "Marco, what are you doing dressed and walking around here?" Johnny asked, his tone more than surprised.

     "What?" Marco began, a look of false hurt furrowing his brow. "You're not happy to see me?" He raised his left hand to his chest, emphasizing his well-acted emotional pain.

     "Well yeah, but, uh, I thought you weren't being released until this morning!"
Roy chimed in, "I was gonna go up to your room and see if you wanted me to pick you up later."

     Marco smiled. " Well don't tell anyone, but Dr. Brackett let me go early. In fact, I was released a half hour ago and was already brought down in a wheelchair. But my aunt was supposed to pick me up at 9, and I hadn't seen her yet, so I thought maybe she got confused and was maybe in the emergency waiting room, and hey - wait a minute - you didn't tell me what's going on! Why are you guys here?"

     Roy, Johnny and Mike all explained bits of the morning's occurrences to Marco until he had all the facts, shaking his head sadly. "That poor man is probably scared to show his face around us now. I better go talk to him," he said, referring to Chet. "Are you sure Cap's okay?"

     "Yeah, he's in treatment one, you can see him for yourself," Johnny answered. "And Chet's in three when you're done."

     "Are you sure you're okay?"
Roy asked Marco.

     "Oh yeah, better than them, you know? Listen, if Chet comes out before I get outta there with the Cap, just tell him I said wait for me, oh, and if you see my aunt …"

     "No problem," Mike answered, grinning as they watched Marco leave. "He looks as busy as the doctors around here."

     The paramedics smiled their agreement.

     "I just hope he can get through to Chet before the next shift starts," Johnny stated, then looked at
Roy. "Do you think we could sneak up real quick and see Dixie before we head back?"

Roy nodded 'yes' after Mike said he'd stay and try to find Marco's aunt, and they all agreed to meet back at the nurse's station in ten minutes. And the clock ticked.


~ * ~ * ~


     Johnny and Roy exited the elevator, glad to know Dixie was fine and would probably be released tomorrow. When they got back to the nurse's station, all of their station's crew was waiting for them, along with Marco's aunt.

     "Took you guys long enough," Marco said grinning. "How's

     "She's fine, just fine," Johnny began. "How are you doing Cap? Chet?"

     "We're both just fine," the Captain grinned, clapping a hand on Chet's shoulder. "Aren't we Chet?"

     "Yep, we both lived to tell about it and only four stitches a piece, not bad."     Was that an actual smile on his face?

     The paramedics were surprised, but happily. This sudden mood swing of his had them both curious.

     Marco simply winked at them, which still left them clueless.

     As each man explained who was riding with who (Chet with Marco and his aunt, Cap with Mike) Johnny and Roy began passing 'looks' between themselves until they were back in the squad, heading towards the station.

     "What was THAT all about?" Johnny asked incredulously. "Chet was acting like nothing was wrong, and if Marco winked at us one more time I was gonna ask him if he needed to see a doctor about his eye twitching problem!"

Roy chuckled. "Apparently he got through to Chet. He seemed much better than he was."

     "Naw. I don't buy it. You didn't see him, Roy. That man had the worst case of guilt I've ever seen when he was talking to Morton. You just don't get over something like that so quickly."

     "He looked a lot better than when we first brought him here."

     "Yeah, but with Chet, nothing's that simple."

Roy pondered that for a moment before speaking. "Well, as long as he's better by day after tomorrow when our next shift starts, I'll be happy."

Part 2