End of the End
At the end of the end
It's the start of a journey
To a much better place
And this wasn't bad
So a much better place
Would have to be special
No need to be sad
~ The End of The End - Paul McCartney
Johnny felt his stomach drop when he heard the crash. He whipped around, but the ceiling had already come down, and Roy was not behind him. "Oh no," he whispered. "Roy? ROY!" He raced back to the mess of plaster and wood, but when he tugged at one piece, the whole pile shifted, and he was afraid he might make things worse.
"Good grief! What happened?"
Johnny turned at the sound of the captain's terse voice. "We got a serious problem, Cap."
"Where's Roy?" Cap asked sharply. He looked into John's eyes. "Don't tell me he's-"
"He was right behind me when I heard the crash," Johnny said.
Cap's already-thin lips disappeared completely, and he stared at the pile of wood and plaster that had once been the passageway to the basement. Cap shook his head and looked back at Johnny. "Listen, get on the horn to Rampart and let them know the situation. The other victim's stable now. I'll get another ambulance to come for him, and get some more help in here."
"Okay, Cap." Johnny set the biophone down and quickly connected with the hospital. He could hear Cap on the handy-talkie, contacting dispatch to ask for a second company and a second ambulance. Johnny contacted Rampart, notified them that they had another victim at the same location. He gave Roy's age, but decided against telling them it was Roy just yet. He wanted to wait a little - at least until they found out if Roy was alive or-
Johnny couldn't finish the thought, even in his head. He forced himself to focus on doing his job. "We're working on getting to him now, Rampart."
"Right, 51, we'll stand by," came Dixie's calm voice. Johnny closed the connection for the moment, and looked up to see Marco, Chet and Mike hurrying back into the half-decimated room.
"What happened?" Marco exclaimed.
"Roof caved in," Johnny said tersely. "Roy's back there, and he's not answering us."
"What?!" Chet and Marco exclaimed at the same time. Mike was already heading closer to the door to inspect the fallen debris.
"This doesn't look good," Mike said. "We might have lost the stairs in there."
"Were they concrete stairs, or wood, Johnny?" Chet asked.
Johnny tried to force his panicked brain to settle down. He was an emergency worker, he wasn't supposed to panic. And he usually didn't, even when it was one of their own who was injured. But the silence on the other side of the debris had shaken him. He didn't even remember if he'd heard Roy cry out when the ceiling crashed down. Johnny closed his eyes tightly and thought about the moment they'd stabilized the patient. IV's had been initiated, the heart attack victim placed on a stretcher, and carried up by the ambulance attendants, followed closely by Johnny with the oxygen tank and the biophone. He'd heard Roy gathering the trauma box and Johnny's hat, then hastening up the stairs. Johnny'd glanced behind him to see that Roy was following.
"They were made out of wood, I think," Johnny said. "Wood, with some metal supports if I remember right."
"Mmm," Chet said, with a slight shake of the head. Johnny knew what it meant. If they'd been concrete stairs, there would be no chance of them collapsing. But since they were made of wood, it was possible that the blast that had caused the ceiling to cave might have taken the stairs down, too. Which meant there might have been a fifteen foot fall for Roy.
"Might try the portapower, Cap," Mike said.
"You bet," Cap said. "Marco, come gimme a hand. Chet, check the place for gas leaks. I need to know if we can expect another fire to break out in this old place."
There were a couple of "right, Cap's", and the men trotted off. Johnny joined Mike at the pile of debris. There wasn't much for them to do, but the two of them looked at the mess from as many angles as possible, trying to identify the best way to get through.
When Captain Stanley and Marco got back with the portapower, and other forcible entry tools, Johnny helped Mike set up the machine. "The biggest beam's right here, Cap," Johnny said when they were done. It was a few feet into the pile, and the captain frowned at it.
"Alright, try it, Mike. But be careful. I don't want the whole thing to come tumbling down on you. Marco, Johnny, you guys stand by, be ready to pull him out of there if there's trouble."
While the three of them worked to slowly move enough of the fallen debris away to get to the heavy beam, Johnny heard Chet return with news about the gas. "There was a leak, Cap, but I shut the gas off. Looks like a broken water pipe might have caused the collapse. The pressure on this old building must have taken the whole thing down."
"Okay, did you get the water shut off, too?"
"Yeah, Cap, I shut it down."
"Good, good. Let's see what we can do here."
Mike was about ready with the portapower, and Johnny was nearby, ready to assist along with the others. "Got it," Mike announced after a moment. He backed up and began to work the jack.
The boards creaked, and Johnny kept his eyes on the door. It began to buckle after just a few seconds. He was about to call out when he heard Cap's voice. "Hold it, hold it!" Mike stopped, and Cap shook his head. "Better think of something else, I'm afraid we'll lose the door. If that buckles in on him, we don't know what it'll do."
"I hope he's not already-" Chet stopped himself, and Johnny looked sharply at him. Chet gave him a smile, but Johnny could see the worry in his eyes. "It'll be okay, Johnny," he said.
Johnny frowned and turned away, busying himself by helping Mike ease the portapower back out of the small opening they'd made. When they'd pulled the machine out, Johnny glanced back and saw Chet looking worriedly at him. He felt bad for scowling. He couldn't handle the possibility that Chet had almost voiced, but not because it was poorly timed or crass. It was because he'd been trying to suppress the exact same thoughts himself.
Johnny stood up and gave his friend a quick tap on the arm. "Don't worry about it," he said. Chet smiled and relaxed, and Johnny looked to Cap. "What now?"
Captain Stanley frowned at the pile of wood, concrete and building materials - so innocuous normally, but so deadly in their current state. He looked up at what remained of the dilapidated ceiling and shook his head. "Where is that other company?" he muttered. With a short sigh, he looked back toward the basement. "Listen, the best we can do now is... maybe try to build up something up here near the door. Take the weight off it from the ground up, then we can start clearing a real path. You guys look around, get some sturdy pieces of wood from around here that we can use."
They were on the move again, and Johnny picked his way carefully through the dilapidated house, looking for strong enough pieces of wood to help create this sort of scaffold that Cap wanted. He was surprised to hear Cap calling his name only a few moments later.
"Yeah, Cap?" Johnny hurried back toward the basement, and saw Cap holding up the handy-talkie, beckoning to him.
"It's Roy, he's regained consciousness," Cap said. Johnny started to smile, but the smile died away almost immediately. Cap's brows were drawn down, and his lips were still compressed to a flat line. "Asked to talk to you, John," Cap said when Johnny had closed the distance between them. His voice was grim. "He doesn't sound good."
Feeling sick to his stomach, Johnny looked around for a second, for a spot to put the wood he'd gathered. Marco stepped up and took the armful of wood from him, and Johnny turned back to Cap. Roy's voice came crackling through the handy-talkie.
"Cap? Is Johnny there?"
"He's right here, pal," Cap said, then handed Johnny the handy-talkie.
John took it from him, shocked by how weak and uncertain Roy’s voice had sounded. "Roy?" John said. "We’re gonna get you out of there in just a little while, okay? Can you tell me anything about what's going on down there?"
"I... I'm pinned under some... something. I can't see anything, Johnny." There was the slightest edge of panic to Roy’s voice, and Johnny tried to keep his voice steady.
"Okay, Roy, don't worry about a thing, we're working on it right now. The windows probably got covered up when the ceiling caved. You're okay. Now listen, can you tell me anything about your condition? I'm getting on the line with Rampart." Johnny located the biophone and pulled it a few yards away from where the other men were working. He opened the line to Rampart. "This is Squad 51," he said. "I've got Roy pinned under some debris from the house of our previous rescue. He's conscious but we have not been able to extricate him yet, Rampart."
"Copy, 51," came the gravely, serious voice of Dr. Brackett. "Standing by. Send us any information you can."
"Roy?" Johnny asked. "Roy, how do you feel? Can you tell me your condition?"
"I feel... I'm not so good, Johnny," he said. "I have sharp pains combined with heavy pressure around the chest and abdomen. I-". Roy gasped, and groaned.
"Un... unable to move left arm," he said, his voice clipped, and full of pain.
Johnny ran a hand through his hair in frustration. "Okay, Roy, take it easy," he said. "Try not to hurt yourself more. Can you estimate your respiration?"
"Sh-shallow and quick," he answered. "Painful."
"Okay, Roy, you rest a minute. I'll talk to Rampart."
"How's it... look getting me out?" he asked.
"I'll check with Cap and let you know. Shouldn't be long, Roy." Johnny closed the connection and looked up at Cap. The other man shook his head. "Another fifteen to twenty minutes before we’re even ready to try getting at the door," he said softly.
Johnny shook his head, and took a deep breath before opening the line on the handy-talkie again. "Roy, we’re working on getting in there right now, okay? We’ll have you out of there as quick as we can." Without waiting for an answer, Johnny reported Roy's condition to Rampart.
"Sounds like he has some broken ribs, and a broken arm," Brackett said. "Possibly some internal injuries as well. Johnny, we need to get him out of there as soon as possible to start treatment."
"Doc, it looks like it's gonna be at least twenty minutes before we can get to him."
There was a concerned mutter from the doctor, then, "Keep me posted, 51. If he starts showing signs of confusion or if his breathing gets worse, we could be in real trouble."
Johnny closed the connection and went back to the handy-talkie. "Roy, you holding on down there?"
"Yeah, so... so far. How’s it look?"
At that moment, Johnny heard the familiar sound of sirens, and he smiled up at Cap. "We just got another engine company coming in right now, Roy," Johnny said. "Can't be long now, just keep holding on okay?"
Johnny stood up for a moment, and looked at Captain Stanley. The other man’s face looked hopeful for the first time since they’d had to abandon the portapower. "Need this, Cap?"
"Tell you what, you keep that. Stay in contact with him, and he can let us know if we make a wrong move."
110s came rushing in shortly after, and Cap gave them the gist of what was happening. They pitched in immediately, gathering wood and helping to bolster the debris in front of the door. At a sign from Cap, Johnny opened the line to Roy again. "Roy? We’re gonna try to clear the door now, okay?" No answer. "Roy?"
"Yeah." His voice sounded strained. "Yeah, okay Johnny."
"Ok, stay with me, Roy. I need your help to tell us if we're doing something wrong."
"Okay." Johnny was relieved that the answer came more quickly that time. He nodded to Cap, and Cap gave the order to start. There was a call of "heave!" from the captain of 110s, and the firemen pulled on their ropes, grunting and bracing with the strain.
There was a sharp cry from Roy, and Johnny looked up, alarmed. "Stop, stop!" he called. "Roy?"
"No... no, something... something pressed my side," he choked out.
"Okay, Roy, okay. Now tell me, was it your left side, or right?"
"Left," Roy gasped. "S-something pressed down, and..."
"Ok, Roy, we've stopped it. Did the pressure lighten up?"
"Yes," he said, his voice still sounding tense with pain.
"Okay, we'll work something else out." Johnny looked at Cap, and shook his head, though he knew Cap had heard already.
Captain Stanley slammed his gloved fist into his hand and scowled. "Damn! There's got to be a way to get him out of there!"
Johnny gritted his teeth, and struggled not to panic. It was rare to see Cap so upset in an emergency situation. Cap usually reserved his emotional outbursts for (frankly) sillier things. "Cap? Is-"
"Johnny?" Johnny looked down at the handy-talkie, alarmed by the fear in Roy's voice. "Johnny, can't they get me out?"
"We're working on another plan right now, Roy," Johnny said quickly. "Just hang in there."
"I... I can't," he said, a crack in his voice. "It hurts, Johnny. I... you... you have to get me out of here!"
"Okay, okay, Roy, it's gonna be just fine," Johnny said. He looked up at Cap, who was frowning at the handy-talkie with sorrow in his eyes. "Cap, can I-" He moved his head in the direction of the squad.
"Go, John, go. I'll let you know."
Johnny walked quickly away from the work area, not wanting the others to hear Roy breaking down. "Roy, listen to me," he said firmly. "We will get you out of there."
"It's taking too long," he cried. "Johnny, it's taking too long, I'm not-" He coughed, and as if to emphasize his point, the sound of it was thick and horrible to hear. "I'm not gonna get out of here," he whispered. "I'm not gonna see my kids. Joann. Johnny, I'm not-"
"Roy, stop, stop it now!" Johnny said sharply. "You..." He trailed off, his gut twisting inside him at the sound of his best friend crying. Johnny swallowed past a lump in his own throat and took a deep breath. "Roy," he said quietly, but still firm. "Roy, I want you to listen to me, okay? I know you're scared down there. But we're all right here. We're all here for you, okay? You got Cap, you got Mike, Marco, Chet and me and all of 110's out here working for you. We will get you out, I promise you."
"You will," Roy said, his voice still hitching with sobs. "But it'll be too late."
"You'll be too late! I'm gonna die down here, I'm... Oh God, I-" Roy's voice broke off again, and he cried, his sobs interrupted by his thick, heavy coughing. Johnny tried his best to console his friend. He swallowed back his own tears and spoke as calmly as he could, telling Roy again and again that it would be okay, all the while fearing that Roy was right. They would get to him too late.
Johnny looked up at the sudden sound of footsteps. Cap was approaching, but he stopped when he heard Roy, and stared at the handy-talkie in horror. Johnny shook his head and closed the connection. "What's happening, Cap?"
"We think we've got a better way in, but it's gonna take time."
Johnny shook his head again. "We don't have a lot if time Cap. He's in real bad shape."
"I understand. We’re doing everything we can." He looked at the handy-talkie. "Do you want me to stay? Help you..."
Slowly, Johnny shook his head. "I'll take care if it, Cap. But could you let Rampart know he's got a bad cough? Sounds like fluid in his lungs. And let them know how long before we get to him, when you know?"
Johnny nodded his thanks and reopened his connection with Roy. "Roy?" The other man’s tears had subsided and Johnny could hear his labored breathing. "Roy?"
"Yeah, Roy, I'm right here."
"I... I wish I could see you again."
"I know," Roy said quietly. "But I want to see you now. Before I..."
"It's okay, Johnny," Roy said. "I know, they're... they're doing their best. But..." He sighed, and coughed that awful cough again. "I wish I could see you. And Jo, and... and..."
"Roy, it's alright," Johnny said, hearing Roy's voice start to waver again. "Listen, let's... it's dark in there right?" There was a mumble of assent from Roy. "Okay, we'll just pretend I'm right next to you. Okay? I'm right here. I'm right next to you, okay?"
"O...Okay," Roy said. "I'm... glad you're not hurt."
"I'm glad, too." He forced a smile, knowing it would come through in his voice. "Be better when we get out of the dark."
Roy laughed. "Yeah. Well, it won't be long now."
Something in Roy's voice sent a chill down Johnny's spine. "Roy, are you... how are you holding up?"
"I'm fine, Johnny. Hey," and there was amusement in his voice. "While I have you here, I... I want to talk to you. Me and Jo have talked about this a little, but I haven't had a chance to discuss it with you."
"Okay, Roy," he said hesitantly. "What... what do you..."
"When you have the memorial service, I-"
"Roy, we're not gonna-"
"It's okay, Johnny," Roy said calmly. "Don't be upset. I just want to tell you."
Johnny could feel his resolve to stay strong for Roy starting to crumble. "Roy, please, I..." He swallowed, trying to steady his voice. "We are going to get you out of there, I know it. They have a new plan, and-"
"I know, Johnny," Roy said. "I know. I'm sorry I'm upsetting you."
"No, no," Johnny said. Pull it together, John, he told himself. "No, it's okay, Roy."
"Can I tell you?"
"I just don't want... well... I know people are going to be sad. It's only natural. But I don't want it to just be a lot of people crying and talking about all the great things I've done." He laughed, and it degenerated into a cough.
"I'm okay. I just... Not that I've done anything magnificent. But... I want people to tell funny stories. Like... tell Jo she can tell the toupee story."
Johnny squeezed his eyes shut, feeling them burning with unshed tears. "Roy, not... is that the one she started to tell me, and you said she could tell over your de-" Johnny's voice choked, and he couldn't finish the sentence.
"Yeah, that one," Roy said. "And... I want them to do that mix tape. I have a... Jo knows where it is."
"Y-you made a mix tape for..."
"It's not sad," Roy said. "I made a lot of plans, in... in case something like this... Johnny, will... would you help, with... with the k-kids? I'm s-sorry to lay this on you, but-"
"Roy, please," Johnny said, his vision starting to blur with tears. "You're gonna make it, you have to believe that!"
"Oh, Johnny," Roy said sadly. "Don't be upset."
"I love you, Johnny," he said. Johnny sobbed aloud, his resolve to stay strong for Roy completely dissolved. "It's gonna be okay. Don't cry, honey. Listen... listen to me. You listening?"
"Y-yeah," Johnny choked out.
"My grandma once told me that when you die, it's like walking through a doorway. Your old life is on one side, and the next life is on the other. And it's... it's beautiful, it's a... a place where... well, where everything is okay, Johnny." Johnny couldn't stop the tears, and the choking sobs in the face of Roy's complete calm. "It's okay, Johnny," he said again. "In a little while, I'll walk through the door, and I'll start the next chapter. I just... I know I don't have to ask you to help with the kids. You'll help Jo, won't you?"
"Of... of c-course I will, Roy. But..."
"Thank you, Johnny," he said fervently. "Tell them... tell Jo and Chris and MaryJo... tell them I'll never stop loving them, okay?" Johnny couldn't answer - he was crying too hard. Why, why couldn't it have been him who stayed behind to gather the helmets and the gear? "Johnny? Johnny, it's okay," Roy said soothingly. "Shhh, it's okay. You'll be okay." Johnny felt like his chest was being crushed, hearing Roy comfort him that way. "It's okay. I'm not scared anymore. I-"
Roy's words were cut off by a sharp, violent coughing fit, worse than any he'd had yet. When the fit was over, Johnny waited to hear Roy's voice, but nothing happened. "Roy?" he said, his own nervous voice sounding more like that of a child than a grown fireman paramedic. "Roy? Roy!!"
Nothing. The connection went dead, and there wasn't even the airy sound of contact from the other side. Just dead silence. Johnny clutched the handy-talkie tightly, staring at the hunk of black plastic, and metal and wires, as if he could will it to bring Roy back. He felt sicker than he'd ever felt before, and more terrified than he'd ever been, and he wept freely, not caring if any of the other men saw him.
Johnny nearly jumped out of his skin when a strong hand suddenly touched his shoulder. "Sorry." It was Cap, but he didn't take his hand away. "Didn't mean to scare you."
Johnny looked up at him, lip trembling, trying to pull himself together. "He's gone, Cap," he said, his voice wavering. "He's-"
"Take it easy, John," Cap said. "Take it easy. We'll be through in about five minutes. Just stay out here, and I'll call you on the handy-talkie when we've made it. Okay?" Johnny nodded, and the Captain squeezed his shoulder. "Take it easy," he said again, before leaving Johnny alone.
Those five minutes might have been five years. Fifty years. Johnny struggled to stop crying, and focus on being worth something when the time came to help Roy. If there was any help to be given. The thought of going down there after they'd got through, and of seeing his... seeing him lying there. Of touching his wrist, or his neck and not feeling a pulse. Johnny turned quickly away from the squad, bent down and vomited violently onto the pavement. He stayed there, with his hands on his knees, taking deep breaths, and trying to pull himself down out of panic mode. He'd managed to stop the tears, and breathe his way through most of the nausea before the handy-talkie crackled to life again.
For a split second, Johnny hoped it was Roy, but it was Cap's voice. "Johnny? How you holdin' up? We'll be through in a second."
"Be right there, Cap."
Johnny jogged back into the house, surprised to see the place in an even worse state than before. "This way, Gage." One of the men from 110s beckoned to him to come to the back of the house. They'd bypassed the pile of debris completely, and dug their way through from the back, where a sunken porch led to the basement. A ladder had been lowered, and men were drilling and hacking their way through the wall. When Johnny arrived, Captain Stanley looked closely at him, and gave him the tiniest smile. He gripped his shoulder, and showed him where the biophone had been set up.
"Rampart's still standing by."
"Got it!" Chet shouted. "We're through!"
Johnny rushed forward, and the tired and sweaty men made way for him. The men from his own company watched him, looking sympathetic and concerned. Johnny hurried into the large, room, now lit from the daylight streaming in through the gaping hole in the wall. He found Roy almost immediately. He was lying on his back, on top of splintered wood and steel piping, with planks and metal crushing him, pinning him down. His left arm was bent at an unnatural angle, and his right arm was bent, so that his hand was close to his head. The handy-talkie was on the floor, barely half an inch from his hand. His skin was extremely pale, and his body was completely still.
Johnny froze for a second, taking in the scene, clamping down on his fears. Then, the paramedic took over, and he hurried to his friend's side, and checked his neck for a pulse. A wave of relief shuddered through him, and he looked back at his friends. "He's alive! I've got a weak pulse!"
The men cheered, as if that one announcement was all the reward they needed for their efforts. "Alright, let's get in there and get him out of there!" Cap said. "Chet, bring the portapower back here! Marco, bring the biophone, somebody find the trauma box. And the rest of you, clear a path, so those ambulance workers can get in."
There was the hustle of movement, and in a few seconds, the biophone, and a (very dusty) trauma box were presented to him. Johnny was on the phone with Rampart in an instant, telling a relieved Dr. Brackett that Roy was still alive. His condition was dire, however, and immediate transport was necessary. Johnny started two IVs, per Brackett's instructions. The anti-shock trousers were sent for, and when they finally got Roy free, Mike helped Johnny get them on and inflate them. Then, they carefully pulled him out using a stokes, and got him up out of the basement.
By the time they got him to the ambulance, Johnny's fears were crowding back on him again. Brackett had sounded grim after Johnny's report, and Roy looked like it was warranted. He was pale, his breathing was shallow and labored. There was blood at the corners of his mouth from when he'd been coughing, and Brackett had agreed with Johnny that there was very likely fluid on Roy's lungs. Getting him through was still in question.
Johnny helped lift the oxygen tank into the ambulance after Roy had been wheeled in. As he stepped in behind the stretcher, Cap caught his arm. "John. I'm going to arrange coverage for your runs. Stay with him, and call us right away if..." He glanced at Roy, then back to Johnny. "Call us when you know."
"Right, Cap. Thank you."
"Hang in there."
The ambulance ride was one of the longest he'd ever been on. They weren't that far from Rampart, but every second Roy was without treatment, Johnny felt his chances of survival slipping down. When they finally arrived at Rampart, a team was already waiting for them. Dix, Brackett and Dr. Early were there waiting, with a couple other nurses. They were already dressed in scrubs, though they hadn't donned their protective masks and caps yet. "How is he?" Brackett asked.
"Stable so far," Johnny replied. "But he doesn't look good, Doc."
"Emergency laparotomy?" Dix asked.
"Right away," Brackett said. "Joe, can you see if Mike can handle things in Emergency, then help me with this?"
"Johnny, can they spare you for a while?"
"Cap took me off shift for the rest of the day," he answered.
Dr. Brackett smiled. "Good. Come on, give me details of what happened. The more we know, the better his chances are."
Johnny followed Brackett, explaining where Roy had felt pain, when he'd begun talking about things in a calmer, euphoric state, and when he'd had the last coughing fit before he lost consciousness. After he'd answered a few detailed questions from Brackett, while the doctor cleansed his hands and got ready for surgery, Brackett thanked him, and told him he could stay in the waiting room, or grab coffee in the break room. "I'll let you know what's happening as soon as I can."
"Thanks, Doc." With a last, worried look at the pale, still figure of his dearest friend, Johnny left the room and let the doctors do their work. He thought about the break room, but he had a feeling coffee was the very last thing he needed right then. He was both exhausted and wound up at the same time, and if he tried to get coffee, he would end up setting the hospital on fire with the power of his energy alone.
He sat in the waiting room, with a few other haggard looking people. He let his mind wander for a few seconds, shying away from the conversation he'd had with Roy. It was too much. How could he think about helping Jo through something like this? Helping the kids? If Roy didn't make it after all this... No, it was unthinkable. Impossible.
Johnny called the station, and told Cap that Roy had gone into surgery, but nothing was certain yet. Then he sat back down and forced his mind away from thoughts of what Brackett would tell him when he came out of the operating room. He played a game with himself, trying to guess what each person was waiting for. How they were related. What the ailment might be. How long they'd been waiting. Anything to keep his mind off of Treatment 2.
After about an hour and a half of waiting, Johnny saw a familiar person step into the emergency room. The small, shapely woman didn't have the same cheerful countenance he was used to seeing. Her pretty features were tense with worry, and her skin (usually about the same tone as Johnny's), was pale, except at the cheeks, which were flushed. Her hair was up in a plain, no-nonsense ponytail, and her comfortable, casual outfit said she'd been at home or running basic errands. She hurried directly to the information desk. "I'm here to pick up my husband, Roy DeSoto?"
"Yes, ma'am, I'll look that up for you." The nurse checked the files, and shook her head. "I'm sorry, Mrs. DeSoto, he's still in surgery."
Joanne, was taken aback. "Wh.. but... They called when I was at the store, and said he was going into emergency surgery. I dropped the kids at a sitter as soon as I got the message, but that... that had to be almost two hours ago!"
"Yes, ma'am," the nurse said calmly. "If you'll just wait here, I'll let you know as soon as he's out of surgery."
"But..." She shook her head, but didn't argue further with the nurse. She turned away slowly, frowning.
Joanne turned sharply at the sound of her name. The brief smile that lit her face when she saw Johnny faded instantly. Johnny wasn't sure what he looked like, but it couldn't be good. Not after the day he'd had. Whatever Joanne saw in his face, it frightened her. She gasped, raising a hand to her lips, and her eyes began to shine with tears. She shook her head, and stood there looking at him. Johnny got up and approached her. "What happened to him?" she whispered in a quavering voice. "What happened to my baby?"
"He was pinned under some debris for a long time," Johnny answered honestly. "He... he's gonna be..." Johnny lowered his eyes, unable to finish the sentence. He couldn't lie to her. There wasn't any guarantee that he would be okay, none at all. There was another gasp from Joanne, and she threw her arms around Johnny, burying her face in his chest. Johnny held onto her, some of the tears he thought he'd used up creeping into his eyes. They stood there for a few minutes, just holding onto each other, not voicing their fears, nor making any attempt to verbally reassure one another. After a few moments, Joanne pulled away, searching for a tissue. "C'mon," Johnny said. "Lets get some coffee, okay?"
Roy was in surgery for four full hours. Johnny kept Joanne company in the break room for an hour or so, then they moved back to the waiting room, stopping at the base station for news, and receiving none. Finally, finally, Dr. Brackett came out of the treatment room. His smock was bloody, and his hair was drenched with sweat. He looked exhausted when he first came into the room, and Johnny watched him keenly for any sign that something had gone wrong. Brackett straightened after a moment, looked toward the waiting room, then approached the two of them, giving nothing away.
"Hi Joanne. Johnny."
"Hi, Kel," Joanne said. "How... Is he alive?"
"Yes, Jo, he's alive," Kel said.
Joanne sank forward, with a heavy sigh. "Thank God!"
Johnny continued to watch Brackett's grim face. "Is he... how is he, doc?"
"He's got a long way to go, Johnny," the doctor said. "He's stable, but..." Joanne looked up sharply at the "but". "He's suffered several traumatic injuries. There was internal bleeding, fluid in his lungs, and his spleen's been ruptured. That's to say nothing of the broken leg, broken arm, and the cracked ribs." Joanne stared, and clutched Johnny's hand tightly at the long list of injuries. "There's nothing more we can do for him except let him rest. But it's still touch and go right now."
"Oh no," Joanne whispered.
"He's a strong man, Jo," Brackett said to her. "And he's got a lot to live for."
Joanne nodded, and gave Brackett a watery smile. "Can I see him, please?"
"Yes, as soon as we get him up to ICU."
She nodded again, and Brackett looked down at himself, as if for the first time. "I'm sorry, I need to go clean up. Sorry to have-"
"Don't mention it, Kel," Joanne said. "I wanted to know right away."
Brackett smiled, then gave Johnny a nod and stepped away. After a while, Dix came and told them that Roy had been moved, and they could see him when they were ready. She gave a hug to Joanne, and pressed Johnny's hand, before bustling off to continue her duties.
Joanne stood up immediately. Johnny stood, but hesitated when Joanne began to walk toward the treatment room. She turned toward him, and frowned. "Aren't you coming?"
"I... thought you'd want to be alone with-"
"Don't be ridiculous," she said, beckoning to him. He smiled and caught up to her, and she took his hand in hers. "You're family, Johnny," she said. "He's living for you, too, you know."
Johnny squeezed her hand, but didn't speak. They walked together into Roy's room. Roy was hooked in to the bio-monitors, and there were several IVs feeding into his "good" arm. His other arm had been put into a plaster cast, as had his left leg. Joanne was clearly shocked, but Johnny thought he looked fairly decent, considering. He was breathing on his own (although they had him on oxygen), and some of the pallor had gone from his face.
They came further into the room, and watched him rest for a while. Jo brushed her hand through his hair, putting the messy orange-ey bangs back into place, then stroking his cheek. "You've got one day, Roy," she said firmly. "The kids'll want to see you tomorrow, so, you have to get yourself together before they come, okay?" She stayed there, looking down at him for several minutes, then sighed, and turned away. "Will you come by tonight?" she asked. "I... I know you must be exhausted, but... I'd appreciate it. I'm making..." Jo's lip trembled. "Making meatloaf, he s-said he wanted some when he came off shift tomorrow, and..."
She broke down then, and Johnny hugged her tight. "Sure, I'll come by," he said. "He's gonna be ready to eat that freaky meatloaf sandwich thing in no time."
Joanne laughed, and started to dry her tears. "Thanks. I'll be right outside. I have to... I can't-"
"I understand. Just give me a minute, okay?" She nodded, then left the room. Johnny looked down at Roy, and let out a long sigh. "Roy. You..." He paused. He had no idea what to say at times like these. Never understood how people talked to unconscious people without feeling awkward. He looked at his friend's face for a long time, feeling so grateful that he was alive and breathing on his own, despite the danger he was still in. Finally, he knew exactly what to say. He leaned forward, and whispered into Roy's ear. "I love you, too."
Three days later, Roy opened his eyes. His family surrounded him, and within seconds, his friends had been called in. The kids were exuberant. Joanne, Johnny and (to be honest) all the guys from 51's had tears in their eyes. Dr. Brackett, Early, Morton and Dix were beside themselves. He'd never felt so welcome, so surrounded by love, in all his life. He was tired, and the doctors knew it, so the visit was cut short.
He had visitors each day, and each day, Brackett or Early would have to come and kick them out so that he could rest. Not that he wanted to rest. He was nervous every time he felt drowsiness taking him - as if he might not open his eyes again. He would fight to stay awake as long as possible, only going to sleep when complete exhaustion took over, and he had no choice in the matter.
About a week after he first opened his eyes, Jo and Johnny came to visit him one evening, and he was treated to a fresh meatloaf sandwich that was made exactly how he liked it. It made him happy to eat real food at last, while Jo smiled, and Johnny made snide comments. It was good to be alive.
They talked a while, before Roy felt himself nodding again. "Okay, Roy, okay, we get the point," Johnny said. "We're boring you, right?"
Roy shook his head, and Joanne kissed him. "We'll see you tomorrow."
Johnny sighed heavily. "You know. I'm glad you're alive and all that," he said. "But there's one thing that bothers me about this whole situation."
"What's that?" Roy asked sleepily.
"When am I ever going to hear the toupee story?"
"Never," Jo and Roy both said in unison.
They laughed, and Johnny gave him a quick kiss on the top of the head before leaving the room. He saw Johnny put his arm around Jo's shoulders as they left, regaling her with some story or other. He settled down into the covers, and let his eyes drift shut - actually not afraid to sleep for the first time in a good while. It was good to be alive.