by MM

disclaimer: The characters (and they certainly are!) do not belong to me nor have I yet to inflict an oc on the unsuspecting readers (just wait, you'll suffer). I'll help 'em up, dust them off, give 'em a smooch and send them back when I'm done.

rating: T

Note: This is a sequel to "Practical Jokes"

"This is Dr. Brackett," Kel answered the phone.

"Doctor, this is Captain Stanley," Hank said. "You have my paramedics over there, Desoto rode in with the patient and Gage brought in the squad."

"Yes, Roy is in with Dr. Morton trying to keep the patient calm. I'm not quite sure where Johnny is."

"I need to ask a huge favor, doc," Stanley rubbed his sooty face. "John, Johnny was really upset after this run. It brought back a slew of childhood memories, none of them good. He trusts you, do you think you can find him and just be sure he's ok? He was coughing up smoke and he didn't look real good."

"What type of rescue?" Brackett asked.

"House fire, he went in for search and rescue," Hank began. "One fatality. A child was locked in his room."

"He must have panicked and locked himself in," Brackett reasoned.

"Uh, no doctor," his voice hesitant. "The door was padlocked on the outside and the child was cuffed to the bed."

"Dear god," Kel responded.

"He was severely abused and died of a combination of too much smoke and existing damages," again, the hesitation. "Doc, Johnny was abused as a child and I know this brought too much back too soon after his counseling sessions the past few weeks. I'm sure he's going to crash."

"I understand, Hank," Brackett said softly. "I'll find him and take care of him for you."

"Thanks," Cap replied. "Tell him I'll be there as soon as we've cleared the scene." Brackett hung up the phone and looked at a concerned Joe Early.

"Have you seen Johnny?" Kel asked.

"Doctor's lounge," Joe responded. "Roy sent him out."

"Sent him out? Isn't that a bit unusual?" he asked.

"Pretty tough case," Joe commented. "Patient is suffering from too much liquor, smoke inhalation and hitting his head when he fell down drunk. A child died at the scene," he said with a sad look. "Too much internal damage but it wasn't caused by the fire.." Kel nodded once and went off in search of the paramedic.

Johnny never seemed to be too squeamish when dealing with all manners of patients Brackett thought. Always the professional, always understanding. He pushed the door opened and glanced around until he spotted Johnny.

The paramedic was curled on the couch, arms wrapped tightly around his leg and torso, not showing any emotions. As he approached the coughing paramedic, he crouched down and reached out. Johnny not only shoved himself backwards, off the couch with a large crash, he also cried out.

"No, no, I'll be good. Don't hit me," the frightened man hunkered down trying to make himself as small as possible. Kel immediately crouched down and began to speak softly.

"It's ok Johnny, you're safe. No one is going to hurt you," Brackett began. "I'm Dr. Brackett, from Rampart Emergency. You work with me. You're at Rampart with me." He managed to kneel in front of the terrified man still crooning to him.

"You and Roy just came in from a bad run. You did your best," the doctor continued. Finally the paramedic looked up with recognition.

"Why, why do people hurt little kids?" Gage asked with wide, frightened eyes. "Little kids that haven't done anything except be born?" Brackett very slowly reached out his hand touch his shoulder.

"I don't know, Johnny. They're angry, but I don't know why," now he managed to sit next to the paramedic and move his arm completely over his shoulder.

"I never did anything but survive being born. I tried real hard to be quiet," now he was lost back in his own past. "Dr. Williams said it wasn't my fault, my uncle was angry at the world." Kelly put his other hand on Gage's shoulder to try to tug him around and was nearly bowled over as the hurting man suddenly latched on, sobbing. All he could do was rock him gently and make soothing sounds.

Joe Early opened the lounge door looking for his friend. He saw him, with an armload of distraught paramedic, on the floor.

"Kel," he said quietly, "I'll go get a tranquilizer."

"Thanks," Brackett replied.

By the time Early returned Johnny was fully sheltered in Bracket's arms pressed tight against him. He had stopped the loud crying, but was shivering from the emotional turmoil.

"It's ok, Johnny," Joe spoke softly as he approached. "Kel and I want to help you rest. I'm going to give you some diazepam, just to help you calm down. You're safe with us." He kept up the gentle chatter until he was next to him. Carefully he wiped some alcohol over his upper arm and then inserted the needle. Finally he sat down and began to rub Johnny's back trying to soothe him.

Now the door opened and Dixie came into the lounge. She stared at the tableau on the floor trying to figure out what had happened.

"Hey, let Dix get you a nice, warm blanket, Johnny," Kel said. "Then you can lie down in my office for awhile. I have that sofa in there and it's quiet." Johnny nodded and sighed, his body finally starting to relax although he was shivering still.

"Just rest, Johnny, You're safe," Joe reiterated. A few moments later the nurse returned. Carefully the warm blanket was wrapped around the paramedic's shoulders and back. Early pulled him back against him allowing Brackett to assess the vitals. Seeing the sooty, streaked face Dixie wrung out a wash cloth and tenderly wiped it clean. The cloth was then run over the back of his neck.

"Hey, handsome, how about a little juice?" Dixie asked. She received a nod and went to the fridge. A few sips then he leaned back on Early's body completely spent.

"Let's get you to my office," Brackett stood up and offered his hand. Johnny just stared at it.

"Don't think I can make it that far," he admitted.

Don't you worry," Early said. He was carefully pulled up on his feet against Brackett. Joe followed and put a supporting arm around his waist. They let him find his balance then followed Dixie out the door and down the hall to the office.

Once inside he was put on the couch and a second warm blanket appeared, spread over him as he curled up on his side. Kel moved a chair next to the man and sat down.

"I'm going to take your vitals, Johnny," he explained as a blood pressure cuff was wrapped around his upper arm. "Captain Stanley said he'd be here as soon as they'd cleared the scene."

" 'k," was the reply. As he was checking Gage out Desoto looked around the corner.

"Hey Junior," Roy knelt down and placed his hand on Johnny's forehead. Exhausted brown eyes opened and looked at up at his friend."

"Pally," he murmured.

"Cap said you were covered for the rest of the shift," he said.

"Hope not Brice," small smile.

"Me too," Roy chuckled. "Cap'll stop by later."

"Johnny, I think you need to rest here for awhile," Brackett coiled his stethoscope and put it into his pocket. The paramedic nodded and snuggled back down into the warmth of blankets. Roy gave him one more pat and wished him a good sleep. Then the four upright adults left the office and stood in the hallway.

"What happened, Kel?" Joe asked. "I've never seen Johnny so overwhelmed!" Brackett glanced at Desoto trying to decide how to handle the information. Roy decided to speak.

"We had a really tough run, child involved," he began. "Those runs always are the worst. This child was severely abused by his father and died on the scene with Johnny."

"Captain Stanley said the situation reminded John of his own childhood," Kel stepped in.

"I didn't know Johnny was an abused child," Dixie said sadly.

"None of us did, Dix," Roy admitted. "Cap and I found out during his counseling sessions."

"It does explain some of his behaviors, like not being comfortable with being touched," Joe added. "I've seen him jerk away sometimes."

"He mentioned it had been a tough couple of sessions lately," Brackett added.

"Now that we know," Joe decided, "we can all be more supportive of him. Not too clingy, but just let him know we care."

"I need to get back to the station and see who's on for Johnny," Roy told his friends and moved down the hall. Dixie went next with Joe back to the bustle of ER. Kel went back into his office to clear paperwork.

Johnny slept until his Cap came to claim him.