Disclaimer: All things Emergency! belong to Mark VII Productions and Universal Studios.
By Heidi B.
He had finally finished up the paperwork for the day. Captain "Hank" Henry Stanley wasn't used to this part of his promotion yet. The various piles of pay inquiries, incident reports, vacation requests and routine reports, could sometimes overwhelm him. Leaning back in his chair, Hank clasped his hands together behind his head. He now had time to stretch and relax for a bit.
As he sat alone in his office, he thought out loud. "Five weeks! Today makes five weeks." The captain found it hard to believe.
After having been recently promoted to captain, he was permanently assigned a station. He was now the proud, new captain of Station 51's A-shift. Never in a million years would he have believed he could be so lucky as to work with such a tight knit crew. They were well known throughout the department for being able to work together like a well oiled machine, and often spent much of their off duty time together.
Shaking himself out of his thoughts, he realized just how thirsty he was. Hank, slowly and stiffly, pushed himself out of the chair and made his way to the kitchen for some much needed coffee. "I hope Roy or Mike made the coffee today," he mumbled.
Hank detected something was amiss the moment he set foot in the kitchen. It was quiet... way too quiet.
Taking in his surroundings, he noticed that Chet was laying on the sofa, dozing. While Roy and Marco sat at one end of the kitchen table, playing a quiet game of double solitaire; Mike at the other end, reading a book. He saw no sign of his youngest charge, Firefighter/Paramedic Johnny Gage. "No wonder it's so quiet," Hank mused.
Gage had a tendency to obsess over the smallest of things, which could sometimes make for a long shift. However, the energetic, over-zealous, young bachelor brought much liveliness to the station. The new captain was determined to get to know him better, as they still hadn't 'hit it off' yet.
"Hey, guys!" Captain Stanley called in greeting, as he walked over to the stove and poured himself a cup of coffee. "It's awfully quiet in here. Does anyone know where Gage is?"
"Hi, Cap!" The three men sitting at the table said in unison. Sleeping on the couch, Chet was oblivious to the conversation taking place.
Sighing, Roy said, "He must still be out back." Glancing at his watch, he added, "He's been out there for almost two hours now. Would you like me to go get him?"
Furrowing his eyebrows while thoughtfully rubbing his chin, Cap looked at Roy.
"No, I'll go get that wayward partner of yours." Cap hesitated, then continued, "Just tell me one thing. Did you guys have a bad run?"
After thinking for a moment, Roy shook his head. "Not any that I can think of. We've only had five runs so far, and they've all been pretty routine."
"Okay, Roy." Cap sighed and looked over at his engineer. "Mike, why don't you get started on dinner. I'm going to see if I can find Gage."
"Will do, Cap," Mike said, as he got up from the table.
Hank headed toward the open bay door that led out back, but decided to take a peek in the dorm first. Finding it empty, he then continued on his trek.
Stepping out into the late afternoon sun, he couldn't help but squint. Holding a hand up to his forehead to shield his eyes from the brightness, he slowly looked around in search of John. Finally, he spotted him sitting comfortably in the shade, not too far behind the hose tower. He was obviously concentrating on something he had in his hands, but what, Hank didn't know.
Quietly, he walked over to stand in front of Johnny.
"There you are," Hank began. Crossing his arms over his chest, and using his best mock superior tone, he continued, "I've been looking all over the station for you."
"Hmmm? Oh! I'm sorry, Cap. Do you need me for anything? I'm not in trouble, am I?" he asked worriedly.
"No, no. I guess I was just wondering where you were. It's almost time for dinner, you know. Mike's making fried chicken tonight!" Captain Stanley said enthusiastically.
Somewhat distracted, Johnny replied, "Yeah, uh, thanks, Cap. I'll be in in a few minutes."
Several minutes passed. John was so engrossed in what he was doing, that he didn't realize Captain Stanley still stood there, intently watching him.
Curiosity getting the better of him, Cap asked, "What's that you're doing, it looks pretty complicated?"
Thinking he was alone, Johnny was startled by the sound of Cap's voice.
"I'm making a dreamcatcher," he answered. "They're really not that hard to make."
"A dreamcatcher?" Cap asked in wonderment.
"Uh-huh," was John's simple reply.
"Do you mind my asking what a dreamcatcher *is*?"
"No, of course not," John stood as he answered. He shifted from one foot to the other and began to fidget. "It's just that....well....."
Sensing John's uneasiness, Captain Stanley spoke up. "John, I know I'm still fairly new to this station, and I haven't been able to speak with you on a more personal level before, but there's something that I just don't understand and would like to get it out in the open right now."
Hank stopped speaking for a moment, making sure he had the young man's attention. When he was sure he had it, he looked him straight in the eye and said, "If it's just my overactive imagination then stop me, alright?"
Even though his anxiety level had reached a new high, Johnny maintained eye contact and nodded his head in response, waiting patiently for his captain to continue.
"You know, it's almost like you're apprehensive of me. You always appear to be on guard whenever I'm around," Cap said, getting right to the point. "Why is that? Have I ever wronged you in any way? Whatever it is, you need to tell me."
Johnny looked down momentarily, scuffing his foot along the pavement beneath him. With his thumbs hitched in each of the back pockets of his uniform pants, his stance looked of a man pondering his fate.
"No, Cap, you haven't done anything wrong," he started. Then, once again, Johnny met his captain's eyes. "It's just... Are you prejudice?" There! He finally, yet nervously, blurted out the question that had been bothering him for nearly four weeks now.
To say that Hank was stunned by Johnny's question was an understatement. He stood there, silent, for what seemed like an eternity. His mouth hung open, and a look of shock was plastered on his face. Why would Gage think he was a bigot?! He had to get to the bottom of this matter, the sooner the better.
Gradually pulling himself together, the captain started to collect his thoughts. What he had to say next was important.
"John, I want to make something perfectly clear to you. Okay?"
"Sure, go ahead," Johnny replied, slightly bowing his head. Inwardly, however, he was preparing himself for whatever was to come.
"I am *not*, I repeat, *not* prejudice," Cap emphasized sincerely. "What would ever make you think I was?"
Johnny was afraid that Captain Stanley would think he'd been eavesdropping on him, and hesitated before answering.
Hank watched his junior paramedic closely. Many different expressions crossed his face. The first emotion that he saw was one of relief. However, he also saw hurt, anger, shame, guilt, and finally one of purpose. He could tell Gage was holding back, uncertain of how to answer. Just when he didn't think he was going to get a response, the troubled young man explained.
"A few weeks ago when I was out in the bay waxing down the squad...." Johnny paused, thinking, Well it's now or never. "....you were in your office talking on the phone and, uh.... I overheard you say that Indians are savages. Is that what you think of me?"
"Of course not!" Cap stated forcefully.
Not believing that he would *ever* say such a thing, Cap thought back on the many phone calls he'd had over the previous weeks, when his conversation with Chuck came to mind. With the recognition of the discussion he'd had with his friend that day, everything now made perfect sense. Shaking his head and placing his hands on his hips, he looked over at John.
"I recall that little 'chat' that you're referring to, and let me tell you, you misunderstood what you overheard. I was talking to a good friend of mine, Chuck. He's a Cleveland Indians fan... you know, the *baseball* team?" Cap inquired. Not waiting for a reply, he continued, "All I said was, something along the lines of, 'about how they can be savages when it comes to the playoffs'. It wasn't meant as a racist remark," he explained.
"Oh. I thought....I mean....I...." Johnny stuttered, not knowing how to explain his feelings on the matter.
"I'm not a bigot, John; never was, never will be," Cap stated. "Please, just give me a chance?" He looked hopefully at Johnny.
Surprised at hearing his superior's plea, Johnny looked up and met his captain's gaze.
"I didn't mean to make you feel bad, Cap. It's just....It was kind of tough for me where I grew up," Johnny revealed. "I guess you could say I put up a few walls. You're right, I want to apologize. I shouldn't have jumped to conclusions."
"Well, now that we've come to some sort of an understanding, are you going to tell me what a dreamcatcher is?" Cap asked again, raising his eyebrows expectantly.
"You really want to know?" the young paramedic questioned.
"Yes, I do," Cap replied honestly.
Well, here goes nothing, Johnny thought. "According to Indian Legend, it's intended to protect the sleeper from bad dreams. You're supposed to hang it above your bed, or at the window of your bedroom." Holding up the dreamcatcher he just made, he then continued. "The good dreams pass through the hole in the center of the dreamcatcher, and glide gently down the feathers to the person sleeping. The bad dreams get caught up in the webbing, and perish when the first rays of the sun strike them."
"That's amazing! Does it really work?" Cap was clearly interested.
"I believe it helps."
Tilting his head slightly, he looked John directly in the eye. "I didn't know you've been having bad dreams."
"I'm not," Johnny quickly, yet firmly, stated.
"Then why are you making a dreamcatcher? If you're having nightmares, it might help if you talked to someone. You know my door is always open." Concern etched Cap's features.
"Cap, really, this isn't for me," Johnny said, lifting the dreamcatcher. "My cousin, Skye, owns a little shop down by the coast that specializes in hand-crafted Native American merchandise. She's been having a tough time lately, keeping up with the demand for dreamcatchers, so my Aunt Rose and I have been doing what we can to help her out," he explained.
Knowing he was wrong in his assumption, and feeling a bit embarrassed, the captain tried to apologize.
"I didn't mean to pry. I'm sorry for assuming...." only to be cut off.
"Forget about it, Cap. You wouldn't be doing your job if you didn't worry about the men under your command. Besides, it's nice knowing I have someone else to talk to besides Roy. It means a lot to me," Johnny said, shyly flashing that crooked grin of his.
"Thanks, John," was all Cap could think to say.
"Does this mean I won't get latrine duty the next time I'm late?" Johnny asked, with a mischievous gleam in his eyes, and a hint of hope.
Placing his hands on his hips, and arching his eyebrows, Cap once again used his best mock superior tone. "You're pushing it, Gage." Then, pointing to the dreamcatcher John still held in his hand, asked, "So, how much does one of those sell for?"
"What, a dreamcatcher? Actually, they're pretty cheap. Only $5.99." John looked curiously at Cap. "Why?"
"I'm thinking about getting one. My wife's been having some crazy dreams lately. Maybe it will help."
"Here." Johnny offered the beautiful dreamcatcher. Bemused, Hank made no move to procure the offering. "Well, aren't you gonna take it?" he asked his captain.
Overcome with emotion by this small gesture, Hank reached a hand out, and took the delicate item.
Lightly, he ran his fingers over the beadwork and soft array of feathers which hung below the hoop, Cap was astounded by the intricate detail.
The 'webbing', as John had called it, was carefully woven around a willow hoop in the form of a spider web. It had a small hole in its center.
"John, this is beautiful," Cap said, finally looking up at Johnny. "I don't know what to say." Then, quickly added, "Can you hold this for a second."
After handing the dreamcatcher back to John, he reached in his back pocket and grabbed his wallet.
"What are you doing?" the bewildered paramedic questioned.
"What does it look like I'm doing, ya Twit? I'm paying you." Holding out a ten dollar bill, Cap asked, "Can you break a ten?"
Shaking his head in disbelief, Johnny pushed Cap's hand back down.
"Cap, I'm not taking your money." Pausing briefly, to make sure he maintained eye contact with his captain, John continued, "It's a gift."
"But....." Cap started.
"No 'buts'," Johnny cut him off, and handed the dreamcatcher back to Hank.
"Thanks," Cap said, accepting the gift.
"No, thank *you*," Johnny replied as he started cleaning up his mess.
"For what?" Cap asked while bending down to help.
"Understanding." Johnny looked over at Cap, gratitude shining bright in his eyes.
Hank saw the look of gratitude, and knew right away that their private conversation was a step in the right direction. Maybe now, Johnny would feel that he could speak more freely to him.
As the captain helped clean up, he thought back over the last five weeks.
During Captain Stanley's first week, he had earned the men's trust fairly quickly. When out on a response, he proved to be capable and quick at sizing up any given situation. His orders were clear, precise, and timely. He never lacked concern for the safety and well-being of his crew, and always made sure to praise his men for a job well done.
Yet, it had been different around the station. John Gage was the exception. No matter how hard Hank tried, the young paramedic always kept his distance. They just didn't seem to "click" whenever they had down time.
John's a man who knows his job and does it exceptionally well. However, he tends to keep his personal life personal, not letting anyone get too close. Cap noticed that the only person Gage seemed to open up to was his partner, Roy DeSoto.
Cap was brought back to the present by a rather loud grumbling noise. Turning his head and listening, he couldn't help but chuckle. The 'loud grumbling noise' was Johnny's stomach, growling in hunger.
With the last of the materials now picked up, both men were looking forward to the meal that awaited them.
Cap reached out and clapped Johnny on the shoulder, gesturing with his head.
"Come on, Gage. Let's go eat!"
Impressed that the captain could read him so well, Johnny smiled broadly.
"Sounds good to me!"
Johnny and Cap looked around once more, making sure that nothing was left behind. Finding the area clear, they made their way back inside.
On their trek back to the kitchen, Hank realized he'd made some headway with Gage. He started to feel a peace he had not felt in weeks.
Today was a stepping stone for both Hank and the junior paramedic. Both learned a very important lesson; that 'understanding' is the key factor to earning someone's trust, respect, and friendship.
By getting to the bottom of their problem, the healing had finally begun. They were looking forward to developing a friendship and working relationship that other stations would be envious of for generations to come.
Indian Prayer for Peace
Oh, Great Spirit who dwells in the sky,
lead us to the path of peace and understanding,
let all of us live together as brothers and sisters.
Our lives are so short here, walking upon Mother Earth's surface.
Let our eyes be opened to all the blessings you have given us.
Please hear our prayers, Oh, Great Spirit.
~ Author Unknown ~
Author's Notes: Special thanks to my beta reader, Purry. Without her encouragement the first word would never have been written much less the entire story. I'd also like to thank Purry, LittleWolf, and Audrey for their unflagging support, advice, patience, and their persistant help. And last, but definitely not least, I'd like to thank my mother, who was very supportive and listened to me babble incessantly about this story. You have the patience of a saint, mom. Thanks!
This story was based on my dialogue story, Understanding. I hope you enjoyed it.
*Click on the dreamcatcher to send Heidi B. feedback