I Don't Wanna Be Tough

She sniffled, leaned against the side of a building to keep from tipping over and hobbled painfully in the general direction of the only fire station she knew of. The ten-year-old's right knee was bleeding steadily, easily softball sized and a nasty shade of pinkish orange. She stopped from time to time, to wipe her eyes and nose, to let the knee's throbbing fade a little and then limped a little further. No pay phones were visible from the sidewalk and she was between bus stops. So, there was no place to sit and no way to ask an operator for help.

She nearly sobbed in frustration when she heard and saw both vehicles leave, because she didn't know where else to go. Her school had taken a field trip here a while back, but she walked past it almost every day anyway so she knew where it was. The field trip was how she found out what the little truck was for...and it wasn't for changing tires, like she'd thought.

So, she kept trying to get there anyway. No matter that it felt like a hundred miles, she knew she was less than half a block away. And besides, at least the fire station had a bench near the kitchen door out in the parking lot where she could sit...and they had to come back sometime. She hoped, she knew sometimes people didn't always come back.

It took her close to an hour to get to where she'd get help, sooner or later. By that time the squad had returned though with her eyes on the ground so she didn't trip over something she had not noticed. Then as she tried to work out how to make her way us the slope of the side drive at an angle so she didn't fall, give up and start eyeing the driveway, suddenly there someone there, hands to help and a soothing voice. Because the small child who had been trying to enter the bay was crying and in shorts which clearly displayed a badly swollen knee that was bloody to the ankle, She was still bleeding in fact.

"Hey...easy there. Why don't you let me take care of this for you. John will meet us in the kitchen with our gear, okay? We'll clear this up and see if we can't get something to make it stop hurting, alright?" Roy's gentle hands and soft voice stopped her cold.

"I am not tough." She grabbed him around the waist, held on and let him take her weight, getting it off that leg. "It's not cool, it's not fun and it hurts. I didn't see any pay phones or bus benches, is all. It's not tough to keep moving because there's nothing left to do and I knew I was really close to this place...and you, right? My field trip said it was okay if I did. Please tell me I'm not some stupid person? I don't want to be an idiot."

"No...you're not stupid."

"That's good, I hate stupid. I really, really want to whine. I know whining is annoying, mister, but it hurts..."

"And it's starting to rain. Let's get you indoors, and then we'll take care of that knee...and you. Here we go...uppsie daisy." Roy was trying very hard not to smile to broadly at her reaction both to her injury and to the prospect of having done something dumb, as he lifted her...but he seriously didn't like the look of that knee. "I don't mind if you whine a little. From the look of it, I'd say you have good reason." He told the tear-streaked girl, gently setting her down on a day-room chair.

"Yep, oh, yeah, that's...not good." John set the gear down, then moved in to get a better look, the joint being clearly visible since she was in shorts, then sucked his teeth for a moment and explained they needed to get a better idea of what was going on with it, which meant handling it a bit. He didn't like the cuts either, figuring at least two needed sutures. Nothing here they couldn't deal with.

"As long as I don't have to get up, you can do anything you want." She told him, "I am not a stupid person, I'm not tough and I'm staying off that thing and sat down."

"What happened?" Gage asked her smiling at her defense of her intelligence, gently manipulating the joint to check for a break.

"Car turned too soon...hit the big steel trash can and knocked it loose, it was spinning around and after it hit the crossing guard and some other grown up people, it hit more cars and a building in a couple places, I guess it got a weird hit, cuz bounced again after I'd thought it'd stopped and I wasn't dodging anymore, or maybe someone else hit it and made hit me too. Next light that way..." She pointed.

Roy winced, then got up for a moment to call it in on the station radio and requested an ambulance. He also reported the Trashcan Incident at the next light advising likely injuries, then Roy returned to her to get her vitals and Johnny called the hospital. "Ow. Poor girl. Well, we've got you now."

"I walk by here every day, and my class had a field trip here so I knowed you was here with the nurse stuff in the little truck, so I came here. I thought it was for changing tires before that."

"I'm glad you found what we did, because you need us rather badly and we'll certainly take care of you. We do need to call your parents, though." John told her.

"You can't. Nobody can."

"Why not?"

"Don't have any. I used to, but I don't anymore."

"Yeah, that does make it difficult to contact them."

"It's okay, wherever they are, they're probably happier."

"They died?" Roy's voice was softly soothing now.

"No. At least, I don't think so. They left about a year ago. We were in a campground at the free beach because we couldn't afford rent and I woke up one day, and all my stuff and the tent and the coolers was there and my boogie board, and my rabbit and my dogs, but they'd took the car and they never came back.

And I don't think they told anyone I was there. I went to school next day and they were surprised I was there cuz my parents said they were moving, but I said I was still here and they restarted my classes. They didn't ask any questions or nothing. That was before I found out they weren't coming back. So, I think they're alive, but happier. Cuz they didn't want me and they fixed that problem." She shrugged. "It's getting' better. I still have bad dreams sometimes and I miss hugs, but I do pretty good. I know where the free kitchens and clothes get given out and I eat free in school. So, I'm okay most days, unless someone else's Stupid gets in the way, like today. That driver's stupid got in my way, cuz if he'd just kept his car on the road he wouldn't have hit the trashcan, the trashcan wouldn't have hit me and I wouldn't have needed to bother you."

Roy and John looked at each other at that point and neither man was the least bit happy. "You are not a bother, not to us." Johnny told her firmly, keeping his face clear of anger that she'd be likely to misunderstand. "As soon as we get some pain medicine approved and get that knee in a bandage, we'll start getting you caught up on hugs. Kids your age need hugs, badly, to keep their feelings healthy and their brains working right."

"He's right, you do, now...what's your name?" Roy said quietly. He was every bit as furious at her parents as his partner, hell, he had a daughter close to what he figured was probably her age! But he didn't let her see his fury, either.

"Cassandra, but I like Cassie better."

"Cassie what?" Roy asked without missing a beat.

"Saint James."

"Pretty. How old are you, Cassie?"

"Almost ten."

"When's your birthday?"

"March 22nd, 1973."

Roy paused. "So, you just turned nine."

"Yeah, and that's almost ten. Ten is the next number and I can round up, right? Miss Smathers said to round up to tens in math, cuz she's showing us how to count stuff faster. I can't round down until I'm really ten, cuz I don't think I'd be here, yet."

"Right, you can't round down, so...almost ten it is." Roy agreed as he wrote her actual age down, lips twitching. She was adorable, how could anyone have thrown her away?

"And then, when I am ten, I can round up again and I'll be twenty, right?" John grinned at the blinding grin the kid aimed at them while he had a chat with Joe.

"Sorry, not quite. There are different rules for aging than there are for normal counting, since you actually have to live those years. You have to count to ten again, all over starting from one, only this time instead of calling it a one, we call it an eleven." Roy decided to nip that one off in the bud. "It's in the special counting rules for aging, that we're not allowed to round up ages past a year...and I hate to tell you this other rule, but I'm sorry, you aren't allowed to round up your age at all, after you turn thirteen.." He added when her face fell. "Not my rules, but everyone has to do it the long way."

"Awww, that'll take forever."

"No, but it might seem to, sometimes." DeSoto told the disappointed little face.

Dispatch advised there was a shortage of transports due to a rash of accidents with serious injuries, John acknowledged the advisement, told dispatch the child had a serious knee injury but wasn't urgent and returned his attention to the little girl's needs. Then, as the day evidently was getting busy, warned Joe Early about it so the ER could brace themselves. He also advised him to have both the police and child services on standby...and repeated what the kid had told them. Joe immediately made it clear he was as angry as the two paramedics were...for her sake.

It didn't take the pair long to put pressure bandages on her worst cuts, deal with the smaller ones, get her knee immobilized; pain was taken care of with a shot and then came the promised hugs. Roy pulled out a rocking chair kept for the rare times there was an infant or toddler being cared for in the station and settled into it, before lifting his arms for her..

Johnny lifted her onto his partner's lap and the experienced arms of a loving father enfolded the child, holding her gently as his sad-eyed, dark-haired partner tucked a warm blanket in around her to help ward off shock. Kicking the chair into motion, Roy cushioned the problem knee, then simply cuddled her, murmuring reassurances softly. She snuggled into his chest, just listened and let him rock her.

The engine came in while he was doing that and the reaction known as 'aftermath' set in...she started to shiver when her adrenaline finally dumped, then started to cry again as everything caught up with her.

"There she goes, was waiting for that. She was a very brave little girl today, did what she needed to do to get help and now she needs to let all the shock settle. I wish she was mine."

"If she'd been your's, we would not be having this conversation." John retorted tightly. "Poor baby."

"Very true. Call my wife, won't you? I'd like to make her mine...and we're registered with the county with the option to adopt, as licensed foster care. I can't fix every home situation, Johnny, but this child came to us. There's only one good answer for that."

The pair had expecting the tears and it was good for her to get it out of her system, but she needed the caring and tenderness that Roy was giving her much, much more.

"She's been a very brave little girl, for a very long time and yeah, it's time for real adults to take over her care. That, and just love her. I'll warn the engine crew what's going on, then call Jo Ann." Came John's reply, as he was getting up to go intercept the engine crew and explain before they accidentally scared the sobbing little girl in Roy's arms.

Cassie had just turned nine, meaning, she'd been on her own since shortly before or after she turned eight. Johnny was absolutely horrified that anyone could do that to any child, nevermind their own. John Gage could not recall ever having been as angry as he was right then. Angry, worried and hurting for what that child had already gone through...alone. By the time he finished explaining to the engine crew, they were just as enraged: Mike and Marco both had kids that age and Hank was a grandparent.

"Roy has the rocker out, she's been treated, she's had a pain shot, she's wrapped up in a station blanket instead of one of the disposable ones and he's rocking her. She finally started crying when her adrenaline dumped about ten minutes ago, so if you go into the day-room, do it gently enough not to scare her. She just turned nine, was dumped on a beach by her parents when she was eight...she's been on her own, all by herself for a year now, so I'd say she's been through enough, wouldn't you think?"

"Absolutely." Hank nodded sharply. "Roy's family is registered with foster care, isn't it? Can he get her placed with him and Jo Ann?"

"I sure hope so: He's made it clear he's certainly going to try. He said they're approved, licensed and have the option to adopt also approved if they find a child they fit well with. Given Cassie is not going to want to let go of him any more than he wants to let go of her, I think the fit is half there already." John sighed, tired just from the emotions he felt. " Excuse me, he asked me to call his wife and let her know what's going on. With any luck...and I'd say it's well past little Cassie's turn for good luck, Jo Ann can ask child services to foster Cassie with her and Roy...and be at the hospital when we get there. The ambulance shortage means Roy has a chance to maybe get her napping before we get one. Safety, the blanket's warmth, Roy and that rocker should put her out like a light."

She was sound asleep but still managed to maintain a deathgrip on Roy when they got to the hospital. Absolutely refused to let go and they couldn't get her fingers loose without breaking one. He finally told them to let her be, she was fine where she was. Jo Ann had called her sister to sit with the children while she was out...she was as enchanted with the way the little girl hung onto her husband as she was outraged at what had been done to her.

But, before they knew it Child Services and the Police had done the rest. There was a report on the parents and the rest of the paperwork had been filled out. John decided they could answer calls as easily as from the hospital as the station...if she ever let Roy go again. Which was questionable, though Jo, Dix and the rest of the nurses thought it was just too cute. John agreed, taking another snapshot with the camera he'd grabbed at the station on the way out. He'd start trying to get her to call him 'Uncle John' just as soon as she woke up. And as soon as she was healed, she could join the rest of Roy's kids in learning to ride horses out at his place. First though, in the morning, they needed to go get her stuff off that beach. From what she'd said, she had a rabbit and a couple of dogs. The sheriff had found her little campsite and fed the animals for her, making sure they had water. Jo Ann had agreed to the pets, the girl had lost enough already.


~ This is one of the plotbunnies that pops up, tries to chew off your leg and dares you to grow it back...I succumbed to it's demands: Laters ~