Author's notes: This story is sort of a tag for the episode 'Rip Off' where Gage and Desoto are accused of stealing five hundred dollars (a lot of money in the '70's) from a heart attack victim. The episode 'Peace Pipe' also figures in, which highlighted some racial tensions at Station fifty-one early on and touched upon Johnny's childhood and some anthropologists (Marcus Parkham) who according to the character 'made my life a living hell'. The story begins in the pre-series years and leads to around the Rip Off episode. I don't adhere to strict timelines where episodes are concerned; I bend them for story purposes, which I guess is the point of fanfiction. This is the first story I've put up in a long time owing to being very busy. In the spirit of getting the story up for Valentine's Day, I went over it for mistakes as well as time permitted. The story is two chapters in length, the second one fairly long, so feel free to break it up and read as you wish or read it all at once. Also, I've never been to the Natural History Museum so if you have, you'll have to just ignore any descriptions I make that differ from your memory of it.
Stealing wasn't right. He'd been taught that by his parents. He believed that. But then Justice had turned her blind eyes and stolen something from him he would never get back. Since then he'd been alone. Since then he'd had to be brave.
But right now? Seven year old John Gage didn't feel so brave. Sneaking out of his Aunt's house before dawn and making his way to the Natural History Museum in his new hometown of L.A. had been a bit exhilarating; slipping in to the heavily guarded building with the cleaning staff in a huge bucket in the morning, a stroke of genius; staring into the face of a humongous dinosaur that looked vividly alive as the sunrise stroked its gaunt, hollow cheeks through ceiling high windows, horrifying. He tried not to think of the huge, oppressive figures as he silently made his way toward his target, the vaulted ceilings echoing even his quietest footsteps.
John stood before a glass framed essay that hung on the outside of the Native American exhibit room at the Natural History Museum in L.A. The hated name of Marcus Parkham stood out black against the white paper in the faint night auxiliary lighting. John looked around. No one was about but even on tip-toes he could not reach the lies that stared down at him. Ever resourceful John grabbed a reproduction spear that looked identical to the ones behind the thick glass display cases. The weight felt good in his small hands, gave him a sense of purpose, might even kill the dinosaur if it came alive and decided to come eat him. He swung the spear with all his might toward the frame, picturing Marcus Parkham's face. All of the built up hurt and frustration that this man had placed on their reservation bubbled to the surface and exploded from one little boy.
"THEY." Whack! "DID NOT." Whack! "DRINK TOO MUCH." Whack! "WE." Whack! "ARE NOT S-SAVAGES!" Whack!
John crouched before the frame prying the paper from the glass shards. Somehow it wasn't as satisfying as he'd pictured this moment. His parents didn't suddenly appear as proud ghosts telling him he'd done well like what happened in the movies, there was no applause or praise. He stifled a cry as a corner broke free and bit into his palm as he pulled the last of the paper free and that was when he was sure he was finally all alone in the world.
He couldn't read all the words on the long essay but Parkham's name at the heading and his own last name and some of those from the reservation scattered here and there were plain enough. All he knew was that his parents had been going to a meeting at the community center to meet with tribal elders regarding this very document when they'd been killed in a traffic accident. Something in that document had upset the whole community and had changed everything on the small Montana reservation that summer. And it had ripped a small boy out of the only home he'd ever known.
John looked around frantically as shouts were heard and footsteps headed in his direction.
"He's in there!"
Somehow the pounding steps of dinosaurs coming to devour him whole would have sounded better about now.
John slipped on broken glass but gained traction just as a security guard reached for him. He felt a few hairs rip from the top of his head as the guy narrowly missed a full grab. He sped from the room, the guard stopping to turn the frame over to check what had been smashed as he reached for his walkie talkie to give a location on the little thief.
Fifteen year old Roy Desoto could care less that according to his teacher, history was about to come alive before their eyes. What teacher in their right mind scheduled a trip to the Natural History Museum on Valentine's Day? Right now back at school kids were dancing, sneaking out of the gym to find a spot to neck and hold hands. And here he was standing behind a velvet rope that blocked he and his fellow classmates from a display of a massive tepee behind which people in Native American costumes prepared for a presentation of some kind.
Roy's eyes fixed on a slim, dark haired girl who stood out from the semicircle of students looking keenly interested in what was about to happen. Her pencil was poised over the already half-filled lined paper on her clipboard. Roy looked down at his own clipboard and hurriedly erased the heart and initials he'd managed to doodle without even knowing it. He glanced nervously over his shoulder, making sure no one had seen his scribbling. He blew the eraser scraps onto the floor. Joanne chose this time to look in his direction, shaking her head in disapproval as the rubber marred the otherwise spotless marble flooring. Roy dumbly tried to squash it from view with his running shoe which only made things worse as lines of rubber clumps streaked the floor. He looked down to see his own guilty expression through the debris.
The presentation began with faint cries of pain from a woman from within the tepee. An older woman whom the narrator called a medicine woman entered the tent. The young boys in the crowd blushed and the girls leaned forward with anticipation as a 'newborn baby' wrapped in soft leather was carried from the tepee and presented to the tribe. The actor then brought the infant, who it turned out was not a doll but a real, honest to goodness baby actor around for the enchanted crowd to see. Roy watched as Joanne cooed at the little baby and timidly reached out to touch his tiny hand. The rest of the presentation was pretty much a blur as that image of Joanne stuck in Roy's head while the dancing of the actors celebrating the child's birth and his growth to manhood ensued. Roy failed to clap at the end of the presentation as the actors bowed and took off their feathered headdresses and began preparing for the next presentation.
Something smacked lightly into the back of Roy's head. A small boy who could have been one of the actors from the presentation stood behind him on a bench.
"That was rude, you know?" the tanned, dark haired boy of about seven told Roy as he kept glancing fervently over his shoulder.
"Wha-? Oh! I didn't mean to not …" Roy stammered.
The boy followed the teen's gaze to the girl who was scribbling furiously on her paper now.
"Oh brother!" said the little boy slapping his hand to his forehead and then looking at Roy's empty clipboard, the faded RD loves JP still visible. "You don't wanna get tangled up with girls. You'll fail. Trust me, they're nothin' but trouble."
Roy turned his attention to the child realizing he could not have been part of the show because he was wearing Levi jeans just like his only in miniature. Roy glanced around for the boy's parents.
A lively drum beat started and the young boy's head snapped up. Even standing on the bench, he was scarcely able to see over the much taller teens from Roy's class.
A burly security guard carrying a broken picture frame with jangling glass shards clattering noisily stared around the crowd parting people gathered to watch the show like the Red Sea. He reached the other end of the room and exited. Roy thought he heard an audible sigh of relief as he turned around to look at the kid behind him who was in mid leap from the bench when his foot caught in the slats. Dark brown eyes opened wide in surprise. Roy dropped his clipboard and spun around catching the small child even as he lost balance himself and fell. The child landed face-up with a soft thump on Roy's chest narrowly avoiding smacking his head on a totem pole that was part of a interactive display. Both boys looked up to the symbol of an otter, the sign beside that part of the totem read 'trusting, inquisitive and bright, loyal friendship'.
The little boy rolled from Roy's chest as the object of the teen's affections came running over.
"Are you two alright?" she anxiously inquired.
Roy was sure he'd heard the boy utter a small cry of pain but by now he was up and halfway down the marble archway leading from this exhibit room with a small limp.
"I'm okay," Roy blushed, staring after the kid, still wondering where his parents were.
Shhhh!" came the stern warning from Joanne and Roy's teacher. By now, half the class was staring at them and Roy realized Joanne had dropped her clipboard to run to him as well.
Roy turned his attention somewhat back to his studies but it was hard with Joanne standing directly beside him, almost touching him. An older woman hurried through the exhibit room with apologies muttering about an errant child. Roy felt somewhat better knowing someone was at least looking for the child.
Lunchtime finally arrived and the teacher dismissed the class to either go to the museum's small café or to eat their bag lunch on the grounds. The room cleared leaving just Joanne and Roy.
"That was really something the way you just dove under that kid. He'd have hit his head for sure," Jo said admiringly.
"It was nothin'," Roy replied trying to sound brave and noble.
They'd known each other since grade five. Jo looked at the boy from down the street. When did he get that tall? Had his eyes always been blue?
"Well, I thought it was very brave," Jo gushed. She stood on tip-toe and gave him a small kiss on the cheek. Roy's blue eyes widened.
"Well, he's just a little guy …" Roy began, wanting to brag a bit to see if he'd get another kiss but then his resolve cracked. "Urgh!" he muttered in what he hoped was under his breath but wasn't. "I think he was hurt a bit. He was limping. Maybe we should go looking for him and make sure his parents found him."
Expecting Joanne to be insulted that his thoughts ran away from her to the little boy, Roy squinted down at the girl who stood so close to him he could smell her apple shampoo.
"You are the sweetest boy!" Jo said, misty eyes fixed on the blushing teen. Let's go look for him. It's lunchtime, he's probably hungry if he wandered away from his parents before he ate. We can take him to lost and found and have them paged."
For the next half hour Roy and Joanne searched for the boy, finding it odd that there hadn't been an announcement on the public address system regarding a lost child. Roy got a funny feeling when he saw a uniformed police officer patrolling the exit in the main lobby.
Most of the exhibits were deserted for lunch, the teen's running shoes squeaking on the marble the only sound in the cavernous halls before they reached an information desk off the main hall.
"When I got up at six' o'clock for work, I found a pamphlet from this museum, that's how I knew where he'd gone," came a very distraught female voice.
Joanne and Roy peaked from behind a reproduction of an Easter Island Head as the woman continued to give a statement to a security guard in a blue uniform who spoke into a walkie talkie.
"He's been a bit troubled since I moved him here from Montana. He's been begging me to bring him here to the museum but I haven't had time. I had to take off time from work to pick him up in Montana and…"
"I'm sorry ma'am I don't need those details; just what he looks like and where you think he may be headed," the guard said, tapping his pen on the shattered picture frame that Roy could now make out on the desk in front of him.
The woman composed herself and proceeded to describe the little boy Roy had caught right down to his Levi's and running shoes and his big brown eyes but she couldn't stop herself from going on even though the security guard had finished writing out his description.
"He wasn't … doing well in Montana. I can't imagine he'd run away to go back there, I mean he loved Montana obviously when his parents were alive but I just thought…"
"You'll have to pay for this frame, ma'am when we find him and count the boy lucky that the document in it wasn't ancient," said the unhelpful guard who seemed more perturbed about the broken frame than a lost little boy. "Oh, and did you want to pay admission for him and yourself now or when we catch … find him?"
Roy's blood boiled. The woman was obviously distraught about the young child and worried that he'd fled the museum and here the guard cared only about admission and paying for the frame.
"Shh! I think I hear something," Roy said, putting his hand up. Joanne hadn't heard anything.
"I think you must have some sort of rescue dog hearing," Jo whispered as she followed Roy from one room to another toward a display of mountain goats. Unless the stuffed animals were equipped with speakers and were sniffling miserably, there was indeed someone making that sound and it was coming from behind a particularly large mountain goat.
The thin, tanned little boy from the tepee exhibit sat clutching his ankle and sniffling quietly into his hand which was pressed over his mouth.
"Hey, little guy, whatcha' doin' here?" Roy asked, plopping himself down on the soft, fake snow behind a very large mountain goat.
"Only been here a week an' I've-I've already screwed it up," the boy said hopelessly.
"Oh, I'm sure it's not that bad," Roy soothed as Jo nodded at him in approval of the way he was handling things.
"Oh yeah? Well th-these are new," the boy said desperately holding up his small foot.
Roy reached for the ankle immediately. It was swollen and a thick trickle of blood flowed over the torn canvas of the shoe.
"Wished you'd saved the shoe instead 'o my head," the boy sniffled. He took the shoe off and bit back a gasp of pain. He made to get up but Roy pushed gently on his chest to hold him down in his seated position.
"Whoa take it easy. It's just a pair of runners. Let me see your ankle," Roy ordered holding his palm out. The small foot plopped into his hand and the boy leaned back with his arm over his head resignedly.
"It's busted," the boy said with certainty.
"I think it is," Roy mouthed to Joanne looking sort of desperate and wondering how the kid would know that and not be screaming in pain instead of the controlled whimpers he allowed out from time to time. Roy thought back to the crack he'd heard when he'd caught the kid and the shudder that chorused through him before he scrambled up and ran away.
Roy peeled the wet blue sock off the tiny foot, patterns of cotton marring the skin from its tightness from the swelling. A small amount of blood from a star shaped cut no doubt from a screw on the wooden bench pulsed out from the left side of his ankle but no bone stuck through. Roy took a deep breath and steeled himself as he applied a bit of pressure to the wound. The boy flinched but didn't say a word. Joanne slipped from the room to find the lady and the security guard. Roy hoped they hadn't gotten far. A little trickle of blood seeped from between his fingers and he felt slightly sick.
"M-my aunt's gonna kill me," the little boy said quietly.
"You mean the shorter, older woman with the hairdo that looks sorta like a cauliflower?" Roy said kindly, smiling a bit at the boy who peaked from between his fingers.
"She knew I came here?" the boy said incredulously.
"You mean you didn't come here with her?"
"N-no, I sorta snuck out. She must have followed me," he said in wonder.
"And why would she do that?" Roy encouraged as the pulse in the boy's ankle beat just a little slower and his face turned a slight green shade.
"M-maybe she does really want me?"
"That's the way I heard it when she was telling the security guard how worried she was about you," Roy told the little boy.
At the mention of the security guard the boy paled impossibly further.
"I'm probably going to jail," the little boy whispered frantically trying to get up again. "Mr. Parkham told me a-all kids like me grow up and go to jail; that it's just somethin' inside us…"
"They don't put little kids in jail," Roy reassured him. "Besides, why would you be going to jail? Sneaking out isn't a criminal offense, maybe a grounding one …" he trailed off smiling and trying to get the boy to calm down.
"No, you don't under-understand," the boy told him growing impossibly paler. His small fist uncurled to reveal a crumpled piece of paper. "I can't get caught with this! I didn't mean to be bad but this … it's all lies I swear."
"Your hand's bleeding," Roy gasped.
Whatever was in that small hand, it was obviously worth his blood to steal. Dark pools of brown met blue ones imploringly. The ankle was wrenched from Roy's grasp in a show of strength Roy wouldn't have thought possible for such a small, wounded kid. Roy tackled him back down onto the soft, fake snow where he laid panting, tears betraying him and making him look even younger.
"I – I – I promise it isn't worth anything. It isn't even old. It's just really bad. I can't get caught with it. Please?"
But Roy held the squirming boy firmly even as his resolve crumbled. He had no idea why he trusted the kid but there was something about him.
"Stay put!" Roy warned firmly, leaning down next to the kid's right ear. I'll be right back but if you move I'll tell them where it is."
Roy didn't want to leave the kid who was panting in pain and gratitude but he took the crumpled, slightly bloody paper and ran flat out of the room looking both ways until he spotted a ladies room. He knocked loudly.
"Housekeeping," he called dumbly. No one answered so he slipped inside and found a cubicle. He tossed the crumpled paper into a toilet and flushed. Making sure it went down he opened the door to the bathroom quietly and peaked out. He made it back to the child behind the mountain goats quickly, rather astonished to find him still there.
"Wh – what did you do with it?" pleaded the boy.
"Let's just say I put it in the circular file, which by the sounds of things is where it belongs," Roy replied not believing he was taking a stranger's words on such faith.
Relief flooded the pale cheeks. Dark lashes closed over pain-filled eyes. "They sent me a f – friend," the little boy smiled quietly. "It'll be o – okay now."
Joanne returned followed by the lady with the cauliflower hair.
"Oh, Johnny!" gasped the woman Roy could only assume was the little boy's aunt.
Johnny's lashes fluttered open as Roy once again took his small ankle into his hands.
"I'm – I'm sorry Aunt Rose," John gulped.
Aunt Rose knelt next to her nephew, her arms slipping around his torso. She brushed his sweat soaked bangs back lovingly.
"What on earth happened to you?" she whispered to both John and Roy and then to Joanne. Roy shook his head not knowing what to say. He was nervous, wondering if cameras had followed his actions as he'd for some reason listened to a seven year old stranger and flushed what for all he really knew could have been a priceless artifact without even looking at it. He suddenly felt rather sick but somehow exhilarated at the same time, which was the exact look on the little boy's face, albeit mingled with pain. Roy could never be sure of course but he felt like this might be an expression the boy wore a lot.
John sat up with a grunt of effort even as Roy tried to stop him. Roy held firmly to the little foot and looked as the mischievous minor peaked around for security.
"I – took it, Aunt R-Rose," he stammered, his eyes watering again. Roy wondered if the stammering was a habit he did only out of nerves or if it was a permanent thing.
"Oh, John," Aunt Rose gasped in anxiety. "I told you, Marcus Parkham's papers are published all over the country. You can't get rid of them by …" She trailed off and looked squarely at Roy who swore she could see right through him. "All you can do is tell as many people as you can our version of things; set things right with the truth. Show people that he's wrong. Go to school, get a good education, have some fun, it's okay, you know, they'd want you to be happy."
Something cleared in the child's eyes even as pain overtook his control. His jaw jumped as he looked at his rescuer. Roy cleared his throat uncomfortably as the brown orbs bored into him.
"Th – thanks for catching me," Johnny told Roy sincerely. "And for … you know."
"Don't know what you're talkin' about, kid," Roy smiled, winking slightly at Johnny.
"There you are, you little sav…" the security guard stammered as one of the docents from the Native American Display room entered. She was followed by a young, black policeman. She turned to the security guard, berating him for his intended racial slur toward the boy.
Officer Vince Howard knelt down next to Johnny. He took one look at the ankle held in Roy's hand and called for an ambulance.
Johnny held up his small, clasped hands and closed his eyes. "It's – it's okay to take me to jail now. Not everybody believes him. He doesn't believe him. You can cuff me now." And then he passed out.
Roy watched Vince Howard curiously as John's hands fell back to his chest. As the ambulance attendants covered the small form in a blanket and prepared to lift him onto a gurney, the small foot was taken from him and wrapped in gauze. Roy was glad the child was no longer awake. Black and blue bruising was making itself known around the deep, star shaped wound and there was no one to do anything about the pain.
"I'll meet you at the hospital ma'am," Officer Howard told Aunt Rose kindly.
"Let's get you cleaned up, young man," the officer told Roy. Roy had been crouched over the little boy for so long his legs ached. He stretched and followed the officer into the men's room. Vince handed the boy a new cake of soap and a huge wad of paper towels.
"So you wanna tell me what happened back there?" the officer asked calmly as Roy twisted a piece of paper toweling tightly so it formed a point with which he could clean the blood from under his nails.
"I uh, don't know the kid," Roy answered truthfully. "He was watching the show in the Native American Display room one minute and the next he was falling from a bench. I caught him and he took off. I uh, guess I was worried he was hurt and me and…" It was just then that Roy remembered that Joanne had been with him for most of the ordeal. He groaned inwardly. He'd followed the officer away without so much as a backwards glance at Joanne, the love of his life, well for the last five years and counting anyway. And he'd blown it.
"Oh no, my teacher's gonna kill me!" Roy realized, looking at the clock at the far end of the men's room.
There was tiny knock on the door. Vince Howard gestured for Roy to continue cleaning his hands. A young girl stood outside the men's room.
"Um, if Roy's done, our teacher needs us back. Our bus is leaving shortly," she told Officer Howard timidly.
"Please tell your teacher that you'll be driven back to your school by L.A.P.D.," Officer Howard informed Joanne.
Joanne found her teacher waiting by the school bus out front of the museum just as little Johnny was being loaded into the ambulance. Johnny spotted her and she slipped her hand under the blanket to hold his hand for a minute.
"Girls aren't yucky," the seven year old said, completely astonished. "You're actually kinda incredible! Wait a minute." He squirmed to get his hand to his jeans pocket beneath the straps holding him down. He slipped a paper into her hand just as the ambulance attendants pushed the gurney inside the ambulance and closed the doors.
Joanne opened the folded paper and her mouth dropped open into a small 'oh'. The very faded RD loves JP drawn inside a heart lingered on the otherwise blank slate.
"I th-think he didn't want you to see this," the little boy winked.
Joanne listened to the wail of the sirens as the ambulance pulled away with Aunt Rose in the front seat and the mysterious boy in the back. Her teacher wasn't pleased with the turn of events, telling her that she and Roy should have done what they were told and gone to lunch in the café or out of doors on the grounds. Normally, Joanne would have agreed but inside she felt a pride she couldn't explain even to herself for once in her life having broken the rules. She made her way gloomily back to the men's room to find Roy being led toward the cafeteria by the officer. She fell in step behind them.
Vince bought the two teenagers a sandwich and chocolate milk. For reasons Roy couldn't explain, he did not tell the officer about the paper the young boy had been clutching in his hand and what had become of it. Sure, he knew he'd be in trouble for flushing it but it wasn't self preservation at all. The conviction the little boy had about that paper and its inherent evil was enough to convince him that he'd take whatever secret the boy had about it to the grave. And speaking of secrets, Roy gasped as Joanne looked at his clipboard. He gulped audibly, relieved. He must have done a better job of erasing his lovesick doodling than he'd thought… Whew!
Years passed and Roy's memory of the boy faded only slightly. He would always be a Peter Pan sort of child, his shadow remaining behind long after he was gone. Roy often wondered what became of him as his life changed from a stint in the navy to joining the Los Angeles Fire Department and marrying the love of his life, Joanne.
John spent his teenage years trying to believe in the inherent goodness in most people. It wasn't easy but thinking back to the boy who had saved him in the museum made it easier. He often wondered what became of him. He took his aunt's advice. He was editor of his high school newspaper, he was a track star, and he joined the Los Angeles Fire Department and became a paramedic.
Joanne stared at her tenth anniversary ring. Ten was really just a number. She'd known Roy since grade five but it was a little boy who literally fell into their life who'd made her really see Roy for the first time when they were in tenth grade. As she looked at her own seven year old she wondered what became of the seven year old who'd declared her 'incredible!' all those years ago.
A/N: Otters are seen by many native cultures as totem animals and are 'trustworthy, inquisitive, loyal friends. They are in the same family as the badger whom some of you may recall is the symbol of Hufflepuff House in the J.K. Rowling Harry Potter series. It seemed fitting therefore that since John's culture in the show is native that we touch upon that lovely trait and expand on it and fate's role in the friendship between Roy and John.