By K Hanna Korossy
A missing scene for “Surprise”
Chet Kelly helped Roy DeSoto lay their burden down on a blanket, an elderly, bedridden lady saved from a building full of natural gas. They were just turning back to the building when apocalypse struck.
The building exploded in a shattering shower of glass and concrete. Flames immediately poured out of the upper story windows, already eating at the edges of the now-empty windowsills, and black smoke roiled out around it.
Chet had been far enough from the building by then that the blast had merely knocked him over, the bright shards of glass harmlessly pelting his turnout coat and helmet. He climbed to his feet again, shaking himself free of all the debris, and glanced at Roy, also just standing from where he’d crouched to protect the old lady. They both turned to look at the building. And then Roy’s eyes went wide with horror, and the nagging uneasiness in the back of Chet’s mind clarified.
Johnny Gage, Roy’s partner and fellow paramedic, had been in the building when it blew.
Roy was already halfway to the building before Chet unfroze and dashed after him. Oh, God. Johnny had gone upstairs to look for any other inhabitants to evacuate. And now the upstairs was wall-to-wall flame. Chet had seen firemen survive worse...and be killed by less.
As much as fear ate through him, though, Roy was the one in a controlled panic. By the time Chet reached the doorway, DeSoto was already tearing at the rubble that blocked the entrance, shoving aside beams and chunks of debris with abandon. He didn’t even slow as he yelled, “Johnny?” in a voice as raw as Chet had ever heard from the quiet, phlegmatic paramedic.
Chet joined his efforts, dimly hearing behind him the arrival of another truck and the rest of Engine 51 scrambling to get the fire under control. Maybe he should have joined them to assist; the Cap would chew him out, if gently, for not having waited for orders if his help was needed. Then again, the Cap had something against losing one of his men, too.
Especially Johnny. He was the spark in their team, the vibrant life in what could otherwise sometimes be a very tiring and depressing job. The patsy for all of Chet’s jokes and pranks. The passionate counterpart to Roy’s steady stoicism. In some private, unadmitted way, the member of the team Chet was the closest to, though it would have killed him to have to say it.
And Roy’s best friend. Chet gave his fellow fireman a worried glance even as he helped Roy manhandle a particularly large piece of concrete out of the way. He didn’t know Roy all that well--Johnny was the one who could always tell what DeSoto was thinking and feeling--but the terror that soaked his unanswered calls, the frantic way he moved, and his anguished expression didn’t leave much doubt as to his state of mind. Partners usually weren’t permanent in this job and weren’t normally more than just someone you worked well with, and Roy often seemed to live up to that creed. But there were moments like this one, when the fear ran too strong to hide, when his true feelings were there for anyone to see and there was no doubt in Chet’s mind that, casual as the two paramedics’ friendship seemed to be, underneath it all, Johnny was fiercely loved.
They broke through.
Roy was immediately squirming through the opening in the debris they’d uncovered. Chet would have warned him that they didn’t know what lay beyond, that it might not be safe yet, if he’d thought it would do any good. Instead, with a sigh, he followed Roy in.
The fire hadn’t reached the bottom floor yet, but the smoke and gas-laced air was thick and hard to breathe. Chet wished abortedly that he had his mask with him, but further explosions were still possible and first priority was finding their missing man and getting him out of there before the place went up entirely.
They found Johnny lying at the bottom of the staircase, not far inside the door. Chet thought for a moment that Gage had almost made it out before the explosion, perhaps knocked out by the force of the blast. And then Kelly saw the protrusion of broken bone through the bloody pant leg and his gaze was drawn up the stairs. Had Johnny fallen down the long staircase? Could he even survive that?
That was what Roy was already working on determining. The paramedic was crouching next to his partner, peering into a face that was turned away from Chet, one hand already encircling Johnny’s wrist. And then he looked up at Chet with a smile that melted away years.
Chet’s breath went out of him in a whoosh, and he sank to the floor beside Roy. “How bad is he?”
Roy was shaking his head as his hands roamed the still body. “I don’t know. His back and neck seem okay but I’d feel better if we put him on a board...” He glanced up at the fire that was eating through the ceiling in spots, threatening to send the floor above down on them at any minute. “We can’t wait. Better get him out of here and I’ll check him out outside. I’d feel better if he woke up...” The last wasn’t more than a whisper.
Johnny groaned, breath hiccuping as he stirred.
Roy instantly leaned down again. “Johnny? Can you hear me? Squeeze my hand if you can hear me.” And Chet watched him carefully slip his fingers into Johnny’s half-open hand, then saw with exhilaration those dusty and bloodied fingers slowly close around Roy’s.
“Thank God,” Roy breathed. To Johnny, he said warmly, “That’s good, just take it easy and we’ll have you out of here in a minute.” He turned to Chet. “Spine seems intact--we’ll have to risk it. Help me get him out.”
Chet nodded. Roy’s hand curled briefly around Johnny’s to give it a squeeze, and Chet minded his own business as DeSoto bent briefly down to say something to his partner. Then the two of them got their arms behind the injured paramedic’s back and knees, lifting him in a two-handed carry.
Johnny groaned again at the movement, the sound choking as his leg was lifted off the floor. Chet barely got a glance at his white, blood-streaked face before Johnny crushed it against Roy’s coat, his hand grasping at his partner and finally hooking onto the edge of the unfastened turnout coat, clutching it hard as he panted through obvious pain.
Chet empathized. He’d broken his leg on a call once and could still remember the hot, grinding torment that had brought tears to his eyes. And they hadn’t even had to move him then, not before they’d given him something to dull the worst of it. But the fire was already halfway down the stairs, the ceiling above them beginning to crackle, and there was no time left.
Roy’s face was almost as white as Johnny’s, but he was still the consummate emergency worker. His voice stayed in its usual soothing timbre as he murmured, “It’s okay. Just a few more seconds and it’ll be better. Take it easy, Johnny.” Only his eyes, as they met Chet’s for a brief second, were stark with worry and the awareness of how badly his partner was hurting.
At the doorway, Chet reluctantly shifted all of Johnny’s weight to Roy, ignoring the injured man’s sharp intake of air at the motion, then clambered out the hole. There was a crash of burning wood collapsing behind Roy, but the paramedic hardly seemed aware of it, intent on getting his partner out with a minimum of jostling.
Mike Stoker materialized out of nowhere beside Chet, and the two firemen together eased Gage out between them. They had to wait for a second as Roy reluctantly loosened Johnny’s grip on his coat.
“Watch out for his leg,” Chet warned Stoker, feeling Johnny twist in his grasp as the injured limb was lifted out last. The strangled sound he made sent a shiver down Kelly’s back. The moment they had him free and clear, he and Mike were running for the squad as smoothly and quickly as they could.
Roy reached the unit just before they did, and was already yanking out a blanket. Kelly and Stoker laid Johnny on it as soon as it was down, being extra careful with the leg. Gage didn’t seem to notice, jaw clamped down hard and tears leaking from his closed eyes, forced out by his misery.
“Thanks, Mike,” Roy said absently, hands in constant motion. He was releasing Stoker, the fireman’s help no longer needed, and with a nod at Chet, Mike returned to fighting the fire. Chet glanced up at Roy in silent question, but to him Roy only said, “Keep pressure on this,” and, stuffing a wad of gauze into his hand, guided it to an oozing gash on the side of Gage’s face. Okay, he could do that. Chet pressed down on the cut, not letting himself relent when Johnny shied minutely from that additional discomfort.
It was the first time he’d gotten a good look at the paramedic’s injuries, and while they didn’t look life-threatening, Chet had to wince in sympathy. Several bloody cuts decorated his face, only the one under Kelly’s fingers still appreciably oozing blood. Still, the scarlet red was the only color in the man’s face. One of his arms was curled around his middle, and Chet watched as Roy carefully lifted it, first feeling along the limb, then palpitating his abdomen. Chet was no paramedic but even he could see that while Johnny winced through most of the exam, the reactions didn’t indicate any serious internal injury. Most likely the paramedic would end up a mass of bruises from his trip down the stairs. Rolling him gently first one way, then the other, to remove his turnout coat didn’t seem to cause him any great distress, either. The leg seemed the worst injury, Johnny again shuddering, his whole body clenched, as Roy’s exam shifted to the limb. Gage reached down as if to push the probing fingers away, but Roy just took his partner’s hand and wrapped it around the edge of DeSoto’s coat again. The dirty fingers immediately clutched a handful of material as Roy finished what he needed to do.
Chet was beginning to feel mildly sick from it all: the sight of the ugly leg wound, the feeling of blood soaking through the gauze he held, the sound of Johnny’s harsh breathing. He had to work on tuning it out, watching instead as Roy worked. The man was the model of efficiency as he took Johnny’s pulse, respiration, and blood pressure. Then he reached for the treatment boxes.
Johnny’s eyes opened and closed again, his tongue darting out to lick at dry, dusty lips. “Roy?” he called breathlessly.
Roy glanced back at his partner. “Yeah?” Still that temperate voice, and Chet was amazed again at DeSoto’s unshakeableness.
“Roy, it...’t hurts...”
Roy left the equipment for a moment and moved back up next to the head of unruly black hair. His face softened into a sympathetic smile. “I know. I’ll give you something for it in a minute. Anything else hurt beside your leg?”
But Johnny wasn’t quite processing yet, eyes sliding away from Roy to stare past him at the burning building, only returning when Roy’s hand pressed his. “No, I’m...I’m...cold.”
Another blanket took care of that, and Roy unpacked a box and got on the phone even as he leaned closer into the range of vision of Gage’s half-open eyes. “Stay with me, Johnny. We’ll get ya fixed up in no time--you might even make it to the party.”
Chet glanced up at him in surprise at that--they had just been going to Dixie’s party when the call had come about the gas leak, but he’d forgotten all about it since. And Roy had been the one trying to rein Johnny in about the party to begin with.
But obviously he knew his partner, for Johnny seemed to untense fractionally at the words. His hand slid down from the coat to cling a little less desperately to DeSoto’s leg. The older paramedic didn’t seem to mind. He gave the sweaty black hair a pat and returned to his work.
A brief call to Rampart, then he was busy for a minute setting up an IV and measuring out medicines. Chet only winced slightly as he watched the needles slide into skin, noticing also that no matter which way Roy reached or what he worked on, he didn’t dislodge Johnny’s hold on him.
“Really...did it...huh?” Johnny’s voice was faint and a little scared. He looked up at Chet with dazed eyes but didn’t even seem to register him, the dull gaze moving on until it found Roy.
“It’s not your fault.” Roy was unpacking the splint automatically, his hands working on their own while he watched his partner. “There wasn’t enough time. You did fine.”
“Everyb’dy...okay?” The frail words were beginning to slur as the sedative began taking effect, but Johnny’s hand clasped a little tighter.
Roy stopped again to lower himself to Johnny’s eye-level. “Everyone got out. They’re all safe--you’re the only one who got a little banged up but you’ll be fine.” His hand rubbed Johnny’s shoulder a minute, waiting as the man slowly blinked. “You okay? I’ll stay right here but I’ve gotta take care of your leg, all right? You just rest. I’m right here.”
Only a vague murmur was his answer. The taut lines of Gage’s face were finally beginning to ease as the drugs worked their magic. Roy straightened up and went back to work, and by the time he eased a splint onto the broken leg, a twinge of discomfort was all that registered in Johnny’s expression. Roy then examined the cut that Chet had been pressing on, taping a fresh gauze pad over the bloodied ones. One more blanket tucked around the patient, and he was ready for transport. Just in time, as the siren of the arriving ambulance was already audible.
Chet straightened up, rubbing his blood stained hand against his coat without thinking. “So, uh, I guess I should go help with the fire,” he said.
Roy looked up at the building as if he’d forgotten there was a fire. “Oh, sure. Yeah, thanks.”
Chet hesitated. “He’s gonna be all right, right?” He waved at the prone Gage, who looked mostly out of it now, eyes still partly open but not looking at anything, his mouth slack.
DeSoto’s whole face softened with a smile, and the hand that wasn’t holding an IV bag he rested alongside the edge of his partner’s jaw. It was an unusually open and protective a gesture from a man who didn’t often share his feelings. At least not with Kelly. “Yeah, I...think he’ll be fine.”
“Good, good.” Chet paused for a moment. “Not that I was worried.”
Roy’s grin deepened. They’d worked too long together, Chet thought with chagrin. “Of course not,” he agreed knowingly.
Chet cast one more look at Gage, seeing that his eyes were closed now and his head had sagged into his partner’s hand. Well, that was what their job was at its heart, right? A reminder of what mattered most, not the things that went up so easily in smoke, but rather the people they sacrificed everything else for to save. Especially if it was one of their own. And partners, well, they had their own special rules.
And he had a job to do. Leaving the pair behind, Chet hurried to join his fellow firefighters in fighting the blaze.
He stopped by the hospital briefly some time later. The fire was finally out and his coat was caked with soot and the smell of smoke. All of the men had wanted to see how Johnny was doing, so the four of them--the Cap, Marco, Mike, and Chet--had gone back to the station by way of Rampart.
One of the nurses Chet didn’t know informed them with no uncertainty that Gage was doing fine, sleeping off the strongest of the sedatives he’d been given, but wasn’t allowed that many visitors just yet. They were welcome to join Dixie’s party, already in full swing down the hall, and maybe see Johnny after, but not yet. The firemen had looked at each other, shrugged, and, agreeing a party sounded good, gone off to get some food and have some fun before another call took them away.
But Chet had lingered behind in the hallway, still a little wary. Even Roy had said Gage would be fine, but complications still happened, and it bothered him that Roy was nowhere in sight. It didn’t matter what the nurse said, he wanted a look for himself.
She’d pointed to Johnny’s room even as she’d told them they couldn’t go in, and Chet only waited until the nurse had turned a corner before sidling up to the door and then, ever so cautiously, cracking it open and peering inside.
Johnny was stretched out on the bed, all right, his soft-casted leg raised and the worst of the cuts on his face taped. But he was washed clean of the sweat and soot of before and looked comfortable and in healthy sleep. He really looked okay, and the knot in Chet’s stomach loosened.
Something else caught his eye then, and he craned a little further into the room to see Roy DeSoto leaning with his side against the wall. The paramedic was angled away from him and didn’t seem to notice Chet’s arrival, but Kelly could see just enough of him to catch the soft look of relief and affection Roy was watching his partner with. Knowing Roy, he’d probably be gone by the time Johnny woke up, returning to poke fond fun at his friend once Gage started returning to his old self. But with a close call and no audience now to see it, Roy didn’t seem very unemotional at all. Kelly wondered if that was what Johnny usually saw in his partner.
Not wanting to intrude, Chet withdrew as silently as he’d arrived, easing the door shut before setting off down the hall to find the others. Oh, yeah, Gage would be fine, probably be back on duty in no time. Roy would be able to get rid of whatever substitute he’d patiently been putting up with, and Chet would have his pigeon back for a whole new round of practical jokes. Life was definitely good.
He could already hear the party going full blast, and Chet Kelly cheerfully hurried to go join it.
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