Pairings/Characters: Roy/Johnny, Hank Stanley, Chet Kelly, Mike Stoker, Marco Lopez, Bert Dwyer, Dixie McCall, Joe Early, Henry, and a bunch of OCs
Genres: Angst, Challenge, Drama, Hurt/Comfort
Rating: R, PG-13, PG-13, PG-13, PG-13
Warnings: (Ch. 3 & 4: Gay-bashing, verbal and physical; Ch. 5 Verbal gay-bashing)
Summary: When rumors fly around the Fire Department that Roy and Johnny are a little too close, trouble ensues.
Dates Of Completion: April 12, May 7, 12, 18, 23, 2011
Date Of Posting: June 8, 2011
Disclaimer: I don’t own ‘em, Universal and Mark VII Limited do, more’s the pity.
Word Count: 803 + 1502 + 1812 + 1535 + 2167 (Total: 7819)
Feedback welcome and appreciated.
Author’s Notes: Written for the 2011 queer_fest Challenge. Prompt: Emergency!: Roy DeSoto/Johnny Gage, Rumors about Roy and Johnny’s ‘closeness’ are going around the Fire Department. When they need back-up from firefighters outside their station, will they get it?
Originally scheduled to be posted on June 27, 2011, but I’m taking advantage of Amnesty Wednesday to post early! ;)
All chapters can be found here..
We answer it.
It’s not easy.
"A Firefighter’s Life"
“You’re lookin’ cute this morning.”
Roy smiled. Johnny was in a very good mood this morning. They were working on the squad, Hank in his office and Chet, Mike and Marco in the kitchen. Johnny had kept his voice low, but by now everyone on A-Shift here at Station 51 knew about them. Except for the occasional joke or tease, it was not openly discussed, and on the one occasion when Chet had caught Roy and Johnny kissing, his response had been, “Get a room, you two.” Still, the two paramedics were careful. There might be a gay revolution going on out there in America, but it sure did not apply to the L.A. County Fire Department.
Johnny grinned and waxed the fender while Roy cleaned the windshield. Roy was glad that they did not have to muck around under the truck. He just was not in the mood for tugging on nuts and bolts and getting dirty from oil and grease.
Right now he was enjoying watching the ripple of muscles in Johnny’s arm as his lover rubbed hard on the squad. He could not wait until they got off shift. It was sheer torture to sleep only a few feet apart in separate beds and be unable to touch each other.
The klaxon sounded and the calm voice of dispatcher Sam Lanier intoned over the intercom, “Station 10, Ladder 6, Station 51, hotel fire at 6211 Crescent Street, 6-2-1-1 Crescent, cross street, Elm. Time out, 10:06.”
“KMG-365,” Hank Stanley acknowledged as his crew hurried to their trucks. He handed the address slip to Roy in the squad and headed to the engine, which Mike already had running.
The hotel was in an upscale section of Los Angeles, already fully involved by the time the firefighters arrived on the scene. Hank was in charge as 51s was the first to reach the hotel.
“Search each floor,” Hank told Johnny and Roy after consulting with the manager who said not everyone had gotten out. “I’ll send more rescue men in once the other crews get there.”
“Right, Cap,” Johnny said. He and Roy put on their SCBAs and hurried into the building, Roy grabbing a handi-talkie on the way.
The hotel was already a blazing inferno, filled with flames and smoke. The paramedics did a search, using a methodical pattern that was routine to them but never became blasé. Fires could never become matter-of-fact, not if a fireman was smart.
Other rescue teams entered the hotel, terrified residents being led out by the men. Johnny and Roy completed their sweep, turning to leave when an explosion sent them tumbling down the stairs.
Johnny grunted as he hit bottom, Roy nearly on top of him. He asked, “You okay?”
“Yeah. Let’s get outta here.”
They scrambled to their feet, promptly knocked off them again as debris rained down in another explosion. Already bruised and aching, Johnny gasped as his knee hit the floor hard. Roy dropped like a stone.
Blood trickled from Roy’s hair, a chunk of ceiling rolling away.
Chet and Marco found them and got them out, Johnny shaking off his wooziness while he started to treat his partner.
“What…where…?” asked Roy groggily.
“We’re outside the building. An explosion knocked you for a loop. How many fingers?”
“Good guess.” Johnny checked Roy’s eyes. “You might have a concussion.” He bit his lip. “Anything hurt besides your head?”
“Um, my arm.”
Johnny checked for broken bones but was happy to find none. He checked the cut on Roy’s head, suddenly shaking.
“Hey,” Roy grabbed his hand. “I’m all right.”
Johnny glanced around but everyone was busy fighting the fire. He drew Roy into a hug, kissing his temple.
After the shift and getting Roy checked out at Rampart, he and Johnny wearily headed home, looking forward to some rest.
“You just relax, Roy. I’ll wait on you hand-and-foot.”
“Mmm, I like the sound of that.” Roy nearly stumbled but Johnny caught him and escorted him to the bedroom.
“How about a hot bath?”
“Oh, I’d like that.”
“I’ll run the water.”
Not long after, Roy was enjoying a hot bath while Johnny washed him, the two of them laughing and having fun.
“Hey, you’re gettin’ my T-shirt all wet!” Johnny dodged a splash.
Roy’s blue eyes sparkled. “Come on in and join me.” He wiggled his toes. “Plenty of room.”
“Yeah, we got lucky wit this tub.” Johnny pulled his T-shirt off and wiggled out of his shorts. “Fun times.”
Roy laughed as Johnny climbed in.
“Love you,” Johnny breathed into Roy’s ear.
“Mmm, me, too.”
They splashed and laughed together, happy to be alive.
Chief James P. O’Reilly
Boston Fire Department
The crew of Station 51’s A-Shift sat around the kitchen, reading the newspaper and drinking coffee.
“Is Roy okay?” Marco asked Chet.
“Yeah, I called ‘em yesterday and John said Roy was relaxing.” Chet turned the page. “And doin’ just fine.”
“That’s great,” Mike said.
“They’re probably having a great old time,” Chet smirked.
Mike snickered. “Agree with you there.”
Marco rolled his eyes as Chet laughed. “You guys are really something.”
“Oh, c’mon, Marco, it’s not exactly a secret how Roy and John feel about each other.”
Marco looked uncomfortable. “We’d better keep it a secret. I don’t think the other shifts would be so thrilled to find out.”
“Probably not,” Mike agreed as he got up to refill his coffee cup. He brought over the pot and re-filled his friends’ cups. “Want some coffee cake?”
“Sounds good to me, pal.” Chet nudged Marco’s leg under the table with his foot. “Hey, Marco, sorry if you’re wigged out by this.”
Marco sighed. “I guess I am a little uncomfortable. My culture doesn’t exactly approve of this sort of thing, not to mention the Church.”
“Hey, man, my Irish background ain’t exactly the most cuddly about it, either, and even though I’m lapsed, I was brought up in ol’ Mother Church, too.”
“Lapsed?” Mike asked as he set the coffee cake on the table.
“Yeah. I could say ex-Catholic, but there ain’t no such things. It’s like the Marines, y’know? No such thing as an ex-Marine, and there’s no such thing as an ex-Catholic.”
Mike grinned. “Always drag you back in, huh?” He added plates and utensils to the table.
Chet snorted. “Tell me about it.”
Marco rubbed his face. “I like Johnny and Roy. I’m just not sure what to think about, you know, what they do.”
“Well, I’ll admit it’s not my thing, but they really care about each other.”
Mike nodded silently as he ate a piece of cake.
Marco sighed. “I guess that’s so. They were friends long before they got romantically involved.”
“Well, that’s true. They were always in each other’s hip pockets.” Chet turned another page.
Mike laughed while Marco shook his head. “Let’s not go down that road.”
Chet grinned. “Hey, they’re careful. I only caught ‘em once kissing in the dorm.”
“Good thing it was you.” Marco took a sip of coffee. “A lot of other guys wouldn’t have just joked about it.”
“That's true, Marco, a lot of other guys wouldn’t have just brushed it off. In fact, John and Roy would be in big trouble if they worked at another station, maybe even another shift.” Chet cut a piece of cake. “Not everyone is as broad-minded as we are.”
“Oh, yeah, you’re the king of broadmindedness.” Marco rolled his eyes as Chet and Mike laughed.
Roy missed the next shift, Bert Dwyer substituting for him. Johnny was glad that it was Bert. He was easy to work with. Short but compact, his brown eyes always sparkled with mischief.
Johnny was behind the wheel of the squad. He always drove when someone substituted for Roy.
“So’s how’s life at 36s?” Johnny asked.
“Pretty good. Great bunch of guys there.”
“Great.” Johnny slowed down at a stop sign, checking for traffic. “It’s always better to work with a good bunch of guys than not.”
“That’s for sure. I pulled some overtime at 10s last month. Boy, things have changed over there.”
“How so?” Johnny pulled out.
“Well, they…there’s a new captain on the shift I worked, A-Shift, and half the guys have transferred out.”
“Yeah. The new guys aren’t the most pleasant types, either.”
Johnny turned onto the road heading to the station. “How so?”
Bert grimaced as Johnny backed the squad into the station house. “Let’s just say I hope I don’t need back-up by those guys too often.”
By the next shift, Roy was back and cracking jokes with his shiftmates, his subtle sense of humor a nice blend with more raucous mirth. He got caught by a Phantom water bomb, knowing that all was well with the world as he went to the locker room to change his sodden shirt. He managed to button his dry shirt just as the klaxons sounded.
“Squad 36, Station 10, Station 51, structure fire at 241 Linden Street. 2-4-1 Linden, cross street, Oak. Time out, 9:51.”
“KMG-365,” said Hank in response.
By the time 51s arrived at the office building, 10s and 36s were there. Bert Dwyer and his partner, Jasper Stone, were already doing a search-and-rescue. Hank directed Roy and Johnny to work the hose along with Chet and Marco.
Fifteen minutes later Roy and Johnny were sent inside as more workers were reported missing. They found two secretaries and guided them out, Johnny tripping over debris and Roy catching him before he fell. Johnny’s helmet fell off and Roy caressed his hair while giving him his helmet back.
Several feet away Hank was conferring with the captain of Station 10, Rex Bricker. Pale blue eyes watched Roy and Johnny as he listened to Hank, nodding and adding his own opinion before Hank hurried off to supervise the north corner. Bricker’s lip curled into a sneer before he headed back to his men.
Later in the shift, Roy and Johnny were at Rampart after another run, hanging out at the nurses’ station and shooting the breeze with Dixie. She answered the phone just as 10’s paramedics, Gil Macklin and Shane McElroy, came up to replenish their supplies. Gil was tall and thin, with brown hair that was always falling into his brown eyes, and Shane was stockier with sandy blond hair. His hazel eyes always held a glint that Roy was never quite sure was amused or mocking.
“Hey, guys, looks like we’re all busy today,” Johnny said.
Gil smirked as he set his box down. “Yeah, keeps us out of the dorms, though you might find that annoying, huh?”
Confused, Johnny and Roy exchanged a look. Shane said, “Hey, Dix, we need some supplies.”
“Okay, let’s get you set.”
Gil was still regarding Johnny and Roy with that annoying smirk. Roy tilted his head and asked, “What’s up? Johnny and me got gravy stains on our shirts?” The tone was light but Johnny could hear the edge. He felt edgy himself.
“Nah. No gravy stains.”
Annoyed, Roy picked up his HT. “We better get back to the barn, Junior.”
“Right.” Johnny was glad to leave the other paramedics’ presence, too. Out by the squad, he said, “Man, those guys give me the creeps.”
“I hear ya.”
They climbed into the squad, feeling uneasy.
The next few days of duty and off-duty went by without incident, until Station 51 was called out to a school fire, fortunately after all the kids were gone. Roy and Johnny rescued the janitor, then fought the fire on the line.
Stations 36 and 10 were there, and the fire was a tough one to wrangle, but they were making progress. An explosion rocked the ground.
“Gage, over here!” yelled Bricker of 10s.
Johnny hurried to grab the line that Gil Macklin had dropped after the explosion, the man dazed. Shane McElroy grimace but wrestled the hose into line.
Gradually Johnny and McElroy got things under control.
“Gil, let me take a look at you,” Johnny said.
Macklin knocked his hand away. “Forget it.”
Puzzled, Johnny returned to Roy, who was treating Chet for minor burns.
“Everything okay?” asked Roy.
“I guess.” Johnny frowned. “Though those guys from 10s are sure prickly.”
“Aw, forget them, John. They’re just crabby jerks,” Chet said.
“You know what, Chester B.? You’re right.”
“’Course I am.”
Roy shook his head fondly.
Back at the station, everyone cleaned up, glad for a little quiet time as they hoped for no new calls.
Roy and Johnny were happy to see the shift end, going home and tumbling into bed, sleeping for hours. When they awoke, they enjoyed making love, savoring every moment.
“You are beautiful,” Johnny said, stroking his lover’s blond hair.
“I can say the same,” Roy smiled, running his hands up-and-down Johnny’s ribs. They were relaxed in their bed, the morning sunlight warming their bodies.
Johnny nuzzled Roy’s neck. “How about we just stay in bed all day?”
Roy laughed. “Sounds like a plan.”
They did just that, happy and content.
When they arrived at the station to start their shift, Bert Dwyer was getting ready to leave, but he stopped when he saw the paramedics enter the locker room.
“Uh, guys, I picked up some overtime at 10s.”
“Yeah?” Johnny asked as he pulled his shirt out of his jeans. “Looks like you’re pulling some here, too.”
“Yeah.” Bert looked uncomfortable. “Uh, guys, there’s a rumor goin’ around.”
“What kind of rumor?” Johnny asked as Roy took off his shirt and put it in his locker.
“That you guys a little too close.”
The interior of the squad was silent as Roy drove to Rampart, Johnny staring out his side window. Finally he spoke.
“We really blew it.”
Roy shook his head. “We were careful.”
“Not careful enough.”
“If we’re even more careful, the rumor will die down once they get bored.”
“I hope so.” Johnny looked at his partner. “I like this job, Roy. I don’t want to lose it.”
Things stayed quiet for the next few shifts, and Roy and Johnny were at the hospital when it changed.
The paramedics from 36s were there, and Roy thought they looked uncomfortable. His gut began to clench
“Hi, Roy.” Casey Mulgrew pushed a lock of red hair out of his green eyes. His dark-skinned partner, Amos Brown, nodded but quickly looked down at the supplies in his box.
“Oh, you know. Busy.” Casey shook his head. “People get dumber every day.”
“Yeah, things can get hairy.” Roy leaned against the counter with his arms crossed. “Okay, what’s up, guys?”
Amos continued to avoid Roy’s eyes, but Casey bit his lip. “Roy, uh, there’s a rumor goin’ around.”
Casey looked even more uncomfortable as Johnny exited Treatment Room 3 and joined his partner.
“Rumor that you and Johnny are a little too, um, close.”
Johnny’s face was like stone. Roy looked at Casey as the other man squirmed.
“Well, Casey, don’t believe everything you hear. C’mon, Johnny, let’s go.”
Johnny followed Roy back to the squad. Once inside, Roy said, “Maybe I should move out.”
“No.” Johnny’s voice was tight with anger. “The story still holds. You share the ranch with me because the divorce and alimony cleaned you out.”
“No.” Johnny’s grip was white-knuckled as he clutched the dashboard. “I’ve faced bigotry all my life, Roy. I won’t allow it to change our lives.”
“It might if they prove that we’re sleeping together.” Roy’s grip on the wheel was equally tight.
“We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.”
Roy had to smile. “All right.”
Johnny appeared satisfied. C'mon, Mike's cooking tonight. His spaghetti is to die for!”
Roy chuckled. “Okay.”
The next few shifts kept the men of Station 51 busy, and there was no interaction with the other stations, which suited them just fine.
Inevitably, however, a fire broke out and 10s and 36s were called out with 51s, and 112s were added. The hotel fire was fast and furious, and as the hours dragged, tempers grew short. It all exploded as the sun began to set.
Johnny was dead-tired, running on sheer instinct as he dragged a hose to the northeast corner of the building. He stumbled over a line, jostling Gil Macklin on the lead hose.
“Hey, watch it, faggot!” Macklin snapped.
Johnny’s eyes narrowed. “Watch your mouth, Macklin!”
“The truth hurts, huh, Johnny-boy?” sneered Shane McElroy, the other man on the hose.
Johnny took a step forward, but the duo was essential to fighting the fire. Instead he jostled McElroy as he pushed past him, the two men laughing.
Johnny returned to fighting the fire, but he ran into another man from 10s, Gabe Garrity. The grizzled old veteran scowled. “Get outta here, Gage!”
“Screw you, Garrity. I’m fightin’ this fire same as you.” Johnny was way too tired to worry about the other man’s feelings.
Garrity’s face contorted as he spat, “Guys like you we don’t need in the Fire Department, Gage!”
Johnny’s eyes narrowed. The crackle of the flames grew louder as the shouts of firefighters formed the controlled chaos of the scene. He knew that he should ignore the older man, but he was damned tired of bigots.
“You sure as hell do, Garrity. The Department needs men like me. We need all the good men we can get.”
“Good men!” Garrity sneered. “You’re not in that classification, boy. You and DeSoto are a disgrace to this Department and all the good men who have come before you.”
Johnny wiped the sweat off his face, smearing the soot over his cheek. “Roy and I do our jobs. Why don’t you do yours?”
As Johnny walked away, Garrity yelled, “You had better watch your back, Gage. You and that faggot boyfriend of yours!”
Johnny squelched his urge to turn around and throw a punch, because he would end up in trouble, not Garrity. That was the way it always worked.
Suddenly something heavy struck his right shoulder and he yelped. He turned around, but Garrity was gone. He looked down at the halligan in disgust, rubbing his shoulder.
Later that day, the firefighters were cleaning up when Roy gasped as Johnny took off his shirt.
“What happened to you?”
“You should see the bruise on your shoulder.” Roy examined it. “Why didn’t you say something? We could have it looked at over at Rampart.”
“Oh, it’ll heal up just fine.”
“Did a wall fall on you?”
Johnny hesitated, not sure if he should say anything, but they were in this together. He sighed. “Garrity from 10s hit me with a halligan.”
Chet entered the locker room just in time to hear Johnny’s declaration. “Are you all right, John?”
“I’ll live, no thanks to Garrity.”
“Man, that’s a disciplinary offense.”
“Yeah, well, I’m not reporting it.”
“Why not?” Roy demanded.
“Roy…” Johnny looked at Chet. Ah, hell, he knew. So did all the guys on shift. “If I go to Headquarters and file a complaint, they’ll know what Garrity accused me and you of, and the Department will consider us trouble magnets.”
Roy slammed his locker in frustration. Chet shook his head.
“Whatta jerk.” The stocky Irishman stripped down to his shorts. “With Bricker as their captain, I’m not surprised.” He threw his pants in his locker. “Bricker’s bad news.”
“Yeah, I know. I’ve had run-ins with him before.”
Chet shook his head. “We’ve got your backs, guys.” He headed for the showers.
Johnny rubbed his face. “Chet’s good people.”
“Yeah.” Roy’s blue eyes were clouded with worry.
Johnny hated seeing that, but he could not change the world. He felt a headache coming on as he followed Chet to the showers.
Dixie had seen a lot in her years. She had played the clubs and done some torch singing before going to nursing school and serving in Korea as a fresh-faced graduate, the black ribbon on her cap still newly-attached as she donned khaki and assisted in endless rounds of meatball surgery, the torn-up soldiers choppered in from the battlefields, some of them barely out of high school.
Somehow her sanity had survived those war years, serving with brilliant doctors and nurses and discovering reserves of strength in herself, which served her in good stead in the years ahead.
She knew human nature, and how easily hate could be manipulated to hurt the innocent.
She could recognize hate working right now.
Gil Macklin and Shane McElroy were picking up supplies, and from what Dixie had overheard, she knew that they were up to no good.
Homosexuality was taboo in every culture, in every era, and 1970s America was no different. She bit her lip, trying to keep her caustic tongue silent.
She tried not to play favorites with her paramedics, but Roy and Johnny were closest to her heart. Macklin and McElroy were not.
She knew that firefighters were homophobic like most men. The police, the military, they were all the same, all full of what Mexicans called machismo, and for all she knew, Roy and Johnny’s crewmates could be homophobic, too. She hoped not. She liked all the men on 51’s A-Shift.
The times, they are a’changin’.
She heard the sniggering, and the paramedics smiled, enjoying their dirty little jokes. Dixie fixed them with a severe eye and said, “You guys got everything?”
“Yeah, Dix,” said McElroy. “See ya later.”
She looked down at her paperwork, missing the smirks of the two men. Once they were gone she let out a huge sigh.
“What’s the matter, Dix?” Joe asked as he stopped at the nurses’ station.
“Oh, just disgusted.”
“About what?” The kindly doctor regarded the head nurse with concern.
Dixie glanced around to make sure that no one was in listening distance. “Apparently there are rumors about Johnny and Roy going around the Fire Department.”
“Oh?” Joe lifted an eyebrow. He could guess what the rumors were about.
“Yeah.” Dixie crossed her arms. “I’ve seen this before, when I was in the Army. They’ll be frozen out and eventually they’ll need back-up and it won’t be there.”
“Sounds like the Polanski incident.”
Dixie grimaced. “He had to leave the LAPD.”
“Yeah, but he’s suing them.”
“He won’t win.”
“A precedent has to be set.”
Joe leaned on the counter. “Dix, people are fighting for their rights these days. Gay people are no different.”
“Oh, I know, Joe. And I admire them for it, but while people may accept movements associated with women and Afro-Americans, gays are a different kettle of fish. People hate gay men and women with every fiber of their being.”
“I know. That’s the reason that they have to fight all the harder.”
Dixie sighed. “I know.”
He put a hand on her arm. “Roy and Johnny will be all right. They’ve got each other, no matter what.”
Dixie smiled. “You’re right about that.”
There was another big fire the next shift, and this time Chet and Marco mixed it up with the men of 10s, the men of 112s staying out of it, one of them throwing Roy and Johnny a dirty look.
Hank pulled his men away, shouting at Rex Bricker, “Control your men, Bricker!”
“I could say the same!” sneered the blond captain.
Hank cursed under his breath. “Kelly, Lopez, get back on that hose!” He went back to directing operations, but knew he would have to address this problem.
Hank regarded his men gravely. They were all sitting in the dayroom, Chet and Marco in chairs by the wall, Mike in a chair by the couch, and Roy and Johnny on the couch with Henry in Roy’s lap.
“Okay, I’m just gonna come out and say it: ignore the idiots who make cracks about our paramedics, all right? And that goes for you two as well.” Hank looked directly at Johnny and Roy.
“Yes, sir,” Johnny mumbled while Roy stroked Henry’s head. “Um, Cap?”
“We’re sorry about this.”
“Not your fault, John,” said Chet.
“Yeah,” Marco agreed. “It’s those jerks who are causing the trouble.”
“But your reactions to their idiocy means trouble for us. So don’t let ‘em win. All they have is rumors.”
“No proof.” Roy’s voice was flat.
“No.” Hank crossed his arms. “Right now it’s just words. Let’s keep it that way."
"THE EARTH OPENED UP BENEATH MY FEET..."
The earth opened up
Beneath my feet,
And swallowed me
As I descended
Into the bowels
Sir Cyrus Atterby
"Heaven And Hell"
Johnny awoke, curled up against Roy. He smiled, feeling happy, warm, and safe.
The sound of birds singing outside their bedroom window was pleasing. He loved this house and especially the man he shared it with.
“Hey, good morning.”
Johnny opened his eyes, brown meeting blue. “Good mornin’.”
Roy gently brushed the thick, dark hair out of his lover’s eyes. “I love you.”
Johnny’s heart swelled as he said, “I love you, too.”
Roy’s smile was like the sunrise. Johnny chuckled softly. He was really far gone.
Roy stroked his side. “I’m glad to have you to myself today.”
“Well, after work.”
“We’re off today.”
“Not me. Bert covered for me last month. Gotta pay the piper today.”
Johnny laughed. “Nothing says we can’t take a little time for ourselves right now.”
Roy’s eyes gleamed.
Johnny felt extremely hale and hearty as he entered Station 36.
Nothing like a good toss in the hay to make a man feel ready to take on the world.
He hesitated as he paused in the kitchen doorway, but aside from greetings, no one gave him a second glance. Relieved, Johnny went to pour himself a cup of coffee.
His temporary partner, Abe Baxter, poked his head into the refrigerator. “Want an apple?”
“No, thanks, I just had breakfast.”
Abe rubbed the shiny red apple on his shirt. Blond hair fell into his eyes and he pushed the strands back. Blue-eyed like Roy, he was shorter but a bit more muscular.
“Hey, how’s 51s?”
“Hangin’ in there.”
“The Phantom still at large?”
Johnny laughed. “Oh, yeah.”
“Man, the fun never stops, does it?”
Johnny grinned. He drank his coffee, then rinsed out the cup and went to the latrine. On his way back to the kitchen, he heard someone say, “I’m not workin’ with a faggot!”
Abe snapped, “You don’t know he’s one. It’s just some rumor floating around.”
“We gotta shower with this dude!”
“Whatsamatter, Max? ‘Fraid you’re not his type?” snickered Alan O’Toole, the engineer.
“Ha! A skinny little half-breed like Gage? As if.”
Johnny felt the old, familiar knot in his stomach whenever he confronted prejudice. Taking a deep breath, he entered the kitchen.
Abe was glaring at a big man with a crewcut and pale blue eyes, a jagged scar on his left cheek. The other men were watching the tableau.
Before Max Gelvin could say anything to Johnny, Captain Jed Wheeler entered the kitchen.
“Roll call, you guys. Glad to see you, Johnny.” The older man’s steely gray eyes swept over the room.
Johnny was glad to go out on runs with Abe. It was better than being back at the station with Max Gelvin, Mr. Homophobia. At least Abe did not offer his opinions about his temporary partner’s sexuality.
Eventually, however, they did get back to the station. Johnny had to change his shirt after falling in the pool at the victim’s house. Peeling off the wet shirt, he grabbed a dry one.
Johnny froze at the sound of Max Gelvin’s voice uncomfortably close behind him. He started putting his shirt on.
“I’m busy, Gelvin.”
“You can’t keep your shirt on for two seconds.”
“Give it a rest.” Johnny slammed the locker door shut.
He grunted as he was slammed up against the locker. He twisted around, only for his back to be pushed up against it and Gelvin’s face close to his own.
“We don’t want to work with your kind.”
Johnny brought up his knee into the other man’s groin, Gelvin howling in pain. Johnny threw off his arms and said, “Leave me alone or you’ll get worse next time.” He left the locker room, glad that his shift was over in two hours.
He grimaced as the klaxons sounded.
“Engine 36, Squad 16, Ladder 7, man trapped at construction site, 2712 Wilshire Boulevard, 2-7-1-2, cross street, Maxwell. Time out, 15:06.”
“KMG-368,” Captain Wheeler responded.
The rescue was perilous, but Johnny and Abe managed to get the construction worker down from the high-rise skeleton, treating his fainting spell. The other paramedics were treating another man who had fallen from a beam.
As Johnny and Abe were walking back to their squad, they heard a groaning noise.
“Look out!” Johnny yelled, pushing Alan O’Toole out of the way of the falling steel girder. It crashed to the ground, barely missing the blond engineer.
“Whoa, thanks, Gage.” Alan sat up, his eyes wide.
“You’re welcome,” Johnny said as he helped Alan to stand.
At least something good had come out of this day.
Johnny kept the locker room incident to himself. Why worry Roy any more than necessary?
“So, how was your day?” Roy asked when he got home.
He regaled Roy with tales of the rescues, pleased that his partner did not ask him anything further. He really hated lying to Roy.
Instead he enjoyed a barbeque out on the deck with Roy, happy to luxuriate in the California sun.
“Y’know, we oughtta head out to the beach on our next day off.”
“Sounds good to me,” said Roy as he flipped the burgers on the grill.
“You put your secret ingredients in those?”
“’Course. Never feed you anything less than the best, babe.”
Johnny laughed, stretched out on the lounge chair.
Enjoy the here and now. It’s all anyone ever really has.
Johnny was glad to be back at his home station on his next shift, greeting the guys effusively. The day was quiet, and they hoped that the night would be as well.
Johnny and Roy sat outside the front of the station in lawn chairs, enjoying the evening air after dinner. The rest of the crew was watching TV inside.
“Mike’s fried chicken sure hits the spot,” said Johnny.
“Yeah, he puts those special spices in it.”
Johnny laughed. “You make him sound like Colonel Sanders.”
Roy grinned. “I’m sure Mike will be flattered.”
They watched a car drive by, shadows beginning to lengthen across the lawn as the day drew to a close.
“Good to be back home?” Roy asked.
Johnny smiled. “Yeah.”
“Nice to see different perspectives, but always good to go back home.”
Johnny admired the glint of sunlight in Roy’s golden hair. He was a very lucky man to have this man in his life.
“Well, that’s true. The station is like home, not that it’s like our home, though it is, in a way.”
Roy merely smiled at his partner’s rambling. “Right. That’s what I said.”
Johnny glared at him while Roy’s smile grew bigger.
The klaxons sounded.
“Engine 10, Engine 36, Battalion 8, Engine 51, warehouse fire at 1523 Grove Street, 1-6-2-3, cross street Elm. Time out, 18:16.”
“No rest for the wicked,” Johnny said as he jumped up with a grin.
Roy smiled and followed.
The warehouse was old and enormous, stretching out for endless miles, a leviathan of storage, crumbling and probably not up-to-code. Hank Stanley was in charge, as his crew was first on the scene. When the Battalion Chief arrived, he would defer to him.
For now, Hank was busy directing operations. His men were quick and efficient, fighting the fire as a man in work clothes ran toward Hank.
“My guys are trapped in there!”
“Building C!” The foreman pointed to a building several yards away.
“Okay, I’ll send my men in.”
“Thanks.” The man wiped his face with a handkerchief.
“Gage! DeSoto! There are..." he looked at the foreman, who quickly supplied the number "...four men in Building C.”
“Right, Cap,” said Roy, he and Johnny putting on their SCBAs and running into the warehouse.
Inside was already an inferno, flames eating away at one corner, smoke roiling through the rest of the building.
Johnny and Roy made a systemic search, finding the frightened men in a corner of the building. One of them shouted, “Ernie’s missing! He was in the office back there!”
Flames blocked their way to the office.
“This way!” Roy shouted. He escorted the trio partway out, then ran back to assist Johnny. “Did you find…?
A loud rumbling set his instincts screaming. He looked up, shouting, “Johnny!” His partner ran toward him, pushing Roy as the ceiling collapsed and the floor opened up beneath their feet, swallowing them whole.
“Engine 51 to HT 51, come in.” Hank muttered something under his breath. “Come in, HT 51.”
Suddenly, he heard rumbling, and the crash shook the ground, nearly knocking Hank off his feet. “What the hell?”
Flames shot up into the sky as the bricks and mortar collapsed in on themselves, dark plumes of smoke rising up in hellish conflagration.
“My god,” he whispered.
“Cap!” Chet cried, Marco echoing him. Mike was shrugging on his gear.
“No one goes in until we can figure out what’s going on,” Hank snapped, but his heart had sunk to his boots as he looked at the thick, black smoke billowing up to the skies, backlit by red and gold flames.
COMES THE RAIN
And then harkens,
As comes the rain,
To wash away
Sir Bertrand Windsor
"The Distant Rumble
Johnny woke up to hell.
He was in darkness, soot coating his lungs as he coughed harshly. The air was heavy with smoke, and he could hear the roar of the fire in the distance.
“R…Roy?” he croaked. Silence. “Roy!”
He pulled himself out of the rubble, thankful that his legs had not been pinned. He crawled along the floor, wincing as broken pieces of wood and nails raked at his flesh, his heart pounding painfully in his chest. Pain throbbed in his right leg, and his ribs were on fire. He fought down nausea as his head throbbed, too.
“Roy,” he croaked. He paused as he thought that he heard something. “Roy?”
The voice was so faint that he could barely hear it. He called out again.
“Roy, keep talking!”
The voice came again out of the darkness, guiding Johnny like a beacon. Finally he found Roy, his hands touching his lover’s turnout coat.
“Johnny.” Vicious coughing racked the other man.
“It’s okay, it’s going to be okay,” Johnny soothed, trying to ignored the headache throbbing behind his eyes. He ran his hands along Roy, wishing that he could see him.
“Ribs…battered,” Roy gasped. “I’m pinned.”
Johnny grimaced as he felt heavy wood and bricks. It was going to take a lot of manpower to free Roy.
And both of us.
Somehow, they had fallen into a pocket of space, rubble above their heads. They were probably in the basement.
“Any other injuries?” Johnny asked, wincing as he moved his leg.
“I…my wrist hurts bad. And my legs under all the debris.”
Johnny did not like the shortness of breath that he was hearing. He coughed, his ribs protesting.
“It’ll be fine, Roy.”
Johnny smiled even as he wanted to cry.
Well, I’ve known heaven, so I guess it’s time to know hell, too.
They were in deep trouble.
Crews battled the fire in Buildings C, D, and E. The Battalion Chief had arrived and taken charge, aware that 51’s rescue team was missing. He directed Station 51’s men to work on the building where their comrades had disappeared. They beat back the fire, desperate to get to their friends, but could not get past the flames. Finally they extinguished it two hours later.
The other buildings were taken care of, and now it was time for search-and-rescue. The men of 51s took the lead, keeping their panic down.
Hank directed Chet, Marco and Mike to start a systemic search. Ten minutes later, his HT crackled.
“Cap, we need help. There’s just so much debris,” said Chet.
“Right.” Hank jogged over to Engine 10. “Rex, we need your men to help us dig for Gage and DeSoto.”
Bricker looked at Hank, his blue eyes unreadable.
“Well, c’mon, times a’ wastin’.”
“Forget it, Hank.”
“I said forget it.” Bricker began to turn away, but Hank grabbed his arm.
“This is no time for jokes, Rex. I need your help!”
Bricker shook off Hank’s arm. “I’m not having my men dig out a couple of disgraces to this Department.”
Hank’s brown eyes narrowed. “I don’t believe this. Those are your brothers in there!”
“They’re not my brothers.” Bricker glared at his fellow captain. “None of us will lift a finger to help a couple of faggots.”
Hank thought he would explode from fury. He took a step forward, fists balled, then turned on his heel.
He contacted the other crews, but they were too busy fighting new fires that had broken out. Grimly he hurried into Building C.
Chet had been right. They needed more manpower. His three men were clearing away rubble, but it was an enormous amount. Even digging out a portion was going to take time, which Roy and Johnny might not have.
“Cap, where’s the rest of the guys?” asked Chet.
“They refused to come.”
“What?” Marco gasped.
“All of them?” asked an incredulous Mike.
“Bricker refused, and the rest are busy with the fire.”
“That sonafabitch,” Chet snarled.
“So much for the Brotherhood,” Marco said in disgust as he tried to lift a large beam. Mike hurried over to help him.
Hank did not reply. Instead he set to work.
Johnny’s hand curled around Roy’s good wrist, searching for his pulse. It was weak and thready.
“Try not to talk, Roy.”
Roy coughed violently. “Johnny…”
“Please, Roy.” Johnny ignored the sharp pain in his side. “They’ll come for us. You know they will.”
“Our…guys will…not…the others…”
Johnny tried to ignore his own suspicions. “It’s not like that, Roy.” He stroked his partner’s soft, silky hair.
“Johnny, you know…better than me…about…” he coughed harshly. “…prejudice.”
Johnny felt the pain of that statement hurt worse than his throbbing ribs and leg. He said, “Roy,” in a pleading tone.
“Sorry, Junior.” Roy’s hand found Johnny’s and squeezed. “I’m right here.”
Johnny smiled in the dark.
Hank took his helmet off and wiped his brow with his sleeve. He and his men were diligently working to clear the debris, but it was taking too long. His men looked at him but said nothing. They did not have to say anything. Hank knew what he had to do.
He left the warehouse and stepped outside. Dark clouds had rolled in, rain beginning to fall. He stalked toward Engine 10. Gabe Garrity was putting away hose as Hank demanded, “Where’s Bricker?”
Garrity gestured with his thumb behind him. Hank strode past the engine, his boots squishing in the mud. He saw Bricker and grabbed his shoulder, spinning him around.
“Stanley, get the hell out of here!”
“No, I won’t! Listen to me, Bricker. Gage and DeSoto are trapped and if we don’t get them out, they’re going to die!”
“I told you I don’t care. I’m not risking my men for a couple of queers!”
Hank grabbed the lapels of Bricker’s turnout coat. “Listen to me, I don’t care what your prejudices are, those are fellow firefighters in there! You let them die because you refused to lift a finger, you’ll regret it every day for the rest of your life!” Rain ran off the brim of his helmet as his eyes bored into the other man.
Bricker’s pale eyes flickered. He started to push Hank off when Alan O’Toole of 36s ran up.
“What’s going on?”
“Johnny and Roy are trapped in the warehouse,” said Hank.
Alan looked at Bricker, his eyes narrowing. “We’ve got the fire out.” Men from the other engine companies began to drift over. “Let’s go!”
Bricker grabbed his arm. “You know what they are,” he hissed.
Alan shook his arm off. “Yeah, they’re my brothers. I owe Johnny my life.”
He and a few other men began to follow Hank. Bert Dwyer ran up and when he found out the situation, ran inside the warehouse, throwing Bricker and the other men of 10s a murderous glare.
“Listen to me, you guys! You act like it’s no big deal and we’ll be crawlin’ with their kind!”
Some of the men hesitated while others scowled at Bricker and followed Hank as lightning flashed and thunder cracked across the sky.
“You’re the best partner…I ever had.”
Johnny blinked back tears, his lungs burning.
“Me, too, Pally, me, too.”
Johnny curled up against Roy as best he could considering their injuries. They were trapped, and their only hope was the men above them, their Brotherhood.
Johnny knew that their crewmates of Station 51 would come through, but would they be enough and in time?
Hank and his men were close to exhaustion, but they kept at it. There was no reason they would not. It was necessary.
Hands raw and bleeding, even enclosed in heavy gloves, kept clearing away debris, and lungs coughed and backs ached. Smoke curled around them as they worked, fear driving them on.
The Battalion Chief came over. “What’s your progress?”
“Slow,” Hank said. No one said that his men could already be dead.
At least they went together, if that’s the case.
Hank suddenly felt exhausted to the bone. This job would make him old before his time.
“I’ll get more men on this.” Riordan looked around. “Where’s 10s?”
Hank could feel the tension increase, uncertain of how to answer.
Two of the men from 10s were standing there: Brad Molinski the engineer and Don Shackleford, one of the hose men.
“Get to work, then.”
Johnny felt his limbs growing cold. Was this what it was like to die?
He could hear Roy’s harsh breathing, his own lungs growing desperate for air. He laid his hand over Roy’s heart.
“I love you, Johnny.”
Johnny nuzzled his lover’s ear. “I love you, too, Roy.” He felt his heart breaking. He had wanted a lifetime with Roy, but they had both known that it might not happen, due to their hazardous profession, called ‘the most dangerous job in the world’.
I just wanted more time, he thought as a tear slid down his soot-stained cheek.
Debris began to fall, and a shout followed.
Johnny’s heart leapt. “We’re here!”
Chet shouted, “We’re through!”
Hank ran over. “John! Roy! Are you all right?”
“Cap, we need to get out of here fast! Roy’s legs are trapped and he may have broken ribs. He can’t breathe too well.”
“Hang on, pal, we’re coming! Oh, and John?”
“How are you doing?”
There was a pause, then Johnny answered, “My ribs are banged up.”
“Uh huh.” Knowing Johnny, they were probably broken. “Sit tight, pal, we’re coming.”
“You hear that, Roy? Cap and the guys are comin’ for us.”
“Good,” Roy rasped. He put his hand over the one Johnny held over his heart.
Johnny leaned forward and his fingers ran over Roy’s face, finding his mouth. He kissed him.
“It’ll be all right, Roy.”
Hank stood by the doorway of Room 306. Roy was asleep in one of the beds, a bandage at his temple, his ribs tightly bandaged and his right leg in a cast. His right wrist was in a cast, too, resting across his stomach. Johnny was sitting in a wheelchair by the bed, wearing a robe over his hospital gown, his ribs also wrapped, his right thigh bandaged, and he also sported a bandage at his temple. Both men had various cuts and bruises and Johnny had a headache, but they were going to be fine after recovery time.
Johnny brushed back the hair off Roy’s forehead, his brown eyes never leaving his partner’s face.
Hank walked in. “Hi, John,” he said quietly.
“Oh, hi, Cap.”
“Doing pretty good. Doc Early said there’s no concussion or anything.”
“Good. How’s your head?”
“Better.” Johnny unconsciously touched his temple.
“Glad to hear it,” Hank looked over at Roy again. “He’ll be back on the job soon.”
Johnny smiled. “I hope so.”
Hank put a hand on his younger colleague’s shoulder. He squeezed gently.
Johnny looked up and Hank was struck by the weariness in his eyes.
He’s too young to be so tired.
Maybe it was the job. Maybe it was growing up half-white and half-Indian, and maybe it was being in love with his partner in a world that hated him for it.
Hank squeezed once more, then took his hand away. “I’ll be back,” he said softly, and left the room as Johnny rested his hand on Roy’s arm.
Hank went outside and lit a cigarette. He was trying to quit, the Surgeon General and all that, but sometimes life just needed a crutch.
Rex Bricker and those of his men had dodged a bullet over their refusal to aid their fellow firefighters. There would be no repercussions, because Hank did not dare report them. If the brass learned of the problems Roy and Johnny were having, they would find it more expedient to get rid of the two paramedics rather than try and re-educate the whole Department.
Not that all of them would disagree with Bricker and his type of thinking.
Hank blew out a ring of smoke. He had spent the greater part of his adult life in the Army and the Fire Department, and he understood the way things were organized, and the cultures of both. Both encouraged comradely devotion and esprit de corps. Neither one accepted men loving men in the physical sense of the word. There might come a day, sooner than he would like, when he would have to fight that battle. He would not lose two of the best paramedics in the Department, and two good friends, because of other people’s prejudices.
But not today. Today he had his men back, safe and sound.
Dropping the cigarette, he ground it out under the heel of his shoe, going back inside the hospital to rejoin his men.