Chapter 2

Two hours past. Gage slept without moving. Brackett even got up to make sure he was breathing a few times. Finally he called Joe Early.

"Joe? Kel," he started. "Just curious, but how much diazepam did you give Johnny?" he listened. "20 mg? No wonder he's sleeping so deeply! He's going to have problems sleeping tonight... Yeah, I'd appreciate that... Ok, thanks." Hanging up the phone he once more checked the slumbering fireman.

"Johnny? You in there?" Kel nudged the younger man and got no response.

"Asleep?" Captain Stanley looked over from the doorway. The doctor looked up sheepishly.

"Ah, yes. Dr. Early was a little generous with the diazepam," he explained. Hank moved over to the couch.

"Let me give it a try," he said and waited for Brackett to move. Once given access he ran his hand over Johnny's shoulder.

"Hey, John? Johnny?" he called quietly. Nose and eyes started to twitch.

"Time to wake up, Johnny," Hank stepped up his verbal prompting as he tugged on the blanket.

"Hmm? Cap?" Gage started surfacing.

"Yeah, pally. Time to go back to the barn," Stanley continued to keep his hand on Gage's shoulder. Two sleepy eyes blinked open and tried to focus.

"Why'm I so tired," he stretched like a lazy cat.

"'Cause Dr. Early gave you some diazepam," Hank explained as he encouraged the paramedic to sit up. The doctor so named came through the door bearing coffee.

"Ah, sleeping beauty is waking up," Joe teased. "I have the second-best recommended method of assisting the process." He sat next to Gage to bolster his side and held a cup of coffee under the drowsy man's nose. Poor Johnny was too sleepy to hold the mug on his own and had to rely on the older doctor to steady it and bring it up to his mouth.

"You really knocked him out!" Hank said with a shake of his head.

"Ooops?" Joe offered. He received two eyerolls from the awake men. He continued to provide assistance while the coffee was being consumed.

The next coffee-bearer entered. Dixie proffered another mug of the caffeinated liquid. She switched cups out with Joe and stood there smiling down at the sleepy paramedic.

"Joe, you've got to watch that stuff!" she teased. Johnny grasped the mug and leaned back away from the doctor. He sipped tentatively then pulled a mouthful in. It didn't seem to be working at all! His mind was mush and he couldn't understand what was being said around him. Early managed to get ahold of the mug as the paramedic started to doze.

"Well, Hank, I guess you'll have to take him like this," Brackett said apologetically. "Or we can put him in a bed for a few more hours." The captain negated that immediately.

"I'll take him," he said tersely. No way he was going to let Gage be left alone! The entire A-shift had been woken by his nightmares over the past few weeks. He'd even taken to trading beds with DeSoto so that the senior paramedic could sleep more.

Chet had suggested putting Johnny on the couch in the day room. Before he could respond Mike had dragged the grumbling prankster out the door and read him the riot act. Actually, Chet had admitted he didn't know Stoker knew all those words!

No, the paramedic was definitely coming with him in the engine. Then Emily would take him home for the night. They'd try to keep most of the Saturday activities, including the track meet, normal. The counselor would see Johnny in the late afternoon. Hank moved over to the couch and tugged gently on the sleepy man's shoulder.

"Ok, champ, time's a wastin'," he said. "Up!" Johnny looked blearily up at his Cap and accepted a helping hand. It took a moment for him to regain his equilibrium, but he managed to walk towards the door.

"Hank? He's going to have problems sleeping tonight," Joe said as he held out a small brown envelop. "These are a few 10 mg diazepam. Give him one before he goes to bed. He can have a second one about an hour later if he can't get to sleep. Otherwise, one every four hours if needed." The lanky fire captain nodded and tucked them into his pocket.

"Feel better, John," Dixie said as she kissed his cheek.

" 'K," he mumbled as he managed to negotiate movement between his two feet. The three medical personnel watch the two firemen leave.

"For heaven's sake, Joe, you really knocked him for a loop!" Dixie scolded.

"He was so upset," Early said. "I figured he'd need a higher dose."

"We'll have to remember it doesn't take much to put Johnny out for the count!" Brackett stated.

"I have to admit I also wanted to make sure he'd sleep well," Joe added sheepishly. "I've never seen him so... distraught." Dixie and Kel agreed as they started down the hall towards the ER nurse's station.

Cap carefully pushed Johnny onto the front seat of the engine and encouraged him to scoot into the middle. Mike was smiling brightly.

"Hey, Johnny, feelin' better?" he asked.

"Uhm, not too sure," he replied. "Head's full of cotton or something."

"Yeah, no brains there, Gage," Chet jumped in right away getting a chuckle from Marco. Stoker, on the other hand, glared over his shoulder at the joker. Cap got in and secured his seatbelt after assuring himself his wayward paramedic was already buckled in.

"Ok, Mike, back to the barn!" he order. The engineer pulled out into the street and started for the station. Gage was already out for the count leaning back on the seat when the tones played over the radio.

"Station 51, house fire, 2315 Paramount Blvd, cross street, Century. Time out, 16:52," dispatch relayed.

"Engine 51, KMG 365," Hank responded. Less than 15 seconds later Roy acknowledged from the station. The engine and squad arrived at the smoking house scarce minutes later. The house was fully involved and Cap was soon directing his men to set up hoses and check for any victims. Glancing up into the engine he could see Gage still sleeping.

As fires went, it actually was fairly simple. Utilities shut off, all people accounted for with mostly minor injuries, two lines pouring water on the roof and front of the house. DeSoto and Dwyer worked on their patients, irrigating and sterile sheeting for the 40 year old male and pressure bandages on the 38 year old female's head wound.

Johnny woke up. He was still incredibly drowsy, but he seemed to recall hearing sirens and Cap directing his crew. Stretching slightly he glanced to his right and saw two men directing water on and in a smoking house.

Weird dream.

He turned a bit in the seat and watched as the scene unfolded. One of the linemen dropped his part of the hose and took a crowbar to the house's frame and pulled open a gap in the burnt wall. Then the hose was brought closer and water poured into the gap onto the last of the fire. Shifting again he noted the squad was nearby and it appeared Roy was working on someone. He pushed himself up straighter.

Not a dream. The house was on fire. His partner was treating victims. He was drugged to the gills and would be absolutely no help to anyone. So he sat, hugging himself for warmth, while he watched his crew mates efficiently handle the fire.

Of course Chet would be the first one to see the paramedic awake. He nudged Marco. Who called over to Stanley. Cap smiled and trotted over to the engine.

"Hey, pally, you with us?" he asked after opened the door.

"Kind of," Johnny said. "Still feel pretty drowsy. Hard to focus."

"Cold?" Cap asked noting the slight shivering.

"Yeah," he said, "a little." Hank pulled an extra turnout coat from behind his seat and gently tucked it around Gage.

"Just rest," he said. "We got this one. Then we'll get back to the station." Closing the door, Johnny watched Cap trot back to his spot overseeing the fire being put out.

It was surreal, dozing in and out, watching Roy on one side and Marco with Chet on the other. Cap using a long bar to open the door and poking the sides to check for any residual embers. He couldn't see Mike as he was on the side of Big Red watching gauges.

It didn't seem to take long before they were mopping up. The ambulance had come and gone. The squad had been packed and followed it. Cap was filling out some paperwork on site for the police and fire marshal. Then doors were opening and sooty, tired men were climbing in around him.

"Hey, Gage, how was the beauty sleep?" Chet asked with no venom. He was actually concerned about the younger man, but didn't know how to express the fact. Mike patted him on the shoulder as he adjusted his seat.

"Don't know, I kept having this weird dream about a house fire," he rejoined with a yawn. "These guys with mustaches were manning the hose."

"Must have been the lead actors," Marco chuckled.

"Naw, that was the tall, lanky guy with the HT," Cap teased. They rode in relative silence to the station.

"Ok, mustached supporting actors, you go on in and shower first," Hank directed. "Mike and John'll look at dinner options." He wanted to get on the phone and arrange a bunk for his friend.

John docilely followed the engineer into the kitchen and poked around the refrigerator/freezer coming up with a package of ground meat. Mike found spaghetti and sauce in the cupboard. Tinned fruit and green beans were pulled out and soon the makings of dinner were lined up.

"I'll run across the street and get some bread," Gage offered. The little mini-mart had a few staples, including a limited supply of bread.

"Get some milk, too," Mike added. He watched the paramedic nod and walk out. About the same time Hank came back in.

"Where's Gage?" he asked.

"Mini-mart," Mike responded, "milk and bread." Cap walked over and began opening cans for the chef. Soon Johnny was back and the kitchen was filling with the wonderful aroma of spaghetti sauce. A beeping noise alerted them to the arrival of the squad.

"Darn, that smell's good," Dwyer said as he entered the kitchen. He poked his nose over the pot and took a long sniff.

"Mike does the best spaghetti!" Roy agreed as he followed, checking the coffee pot. He was happy to discover a full carafe and poured out a mug. Then he joined his partner at the kitchen table.

"Hey, Junior," he said as he sat down, "feeling better?"

"More awake, at least," he allowed. "I think I could finish the shift but Cap said no."

"Well, seems Dr. Early really sent you for a loop with that diazepam," Roy said. "You need a good night's sleep and you won't get that here!" Johnny reluctantly agreed.

"Spoke with Emily," Hank began as he took a seat on the other side of Gage. "She'll stop by about 7 to pick you up. She's picking Ruthie up from practice."

"So Johnny's gonna have a sleep-over?" Chet remarked as he sauntered into the kitchen. He was greeted with three glaring faces while Gage looked down at the table top.

"After dinner you will clean the latrines," Cap stated evenly. He put a hand on the younger paramedic's shoulder.

"Cap, he's just teasing," Gage said quietly.

"Yeah, just teasing!" Chet managed to choke out.

"Sometimes it's not funny," Stoker growled out. When the engineer spoke, people listened.

"Sorry," Kelly mumbled as he went to get the plates out for dinner. Johnny looked up at Hank and nodded towards Chet.

"Ok, as long as you know you went too far," Cap capitulated, "just watch that mouth of yours!"

"Yes, sir!" Kelly responded quickly. He was surprised that his pigeon, of all people, stood up for him. But he didn't show it. Instead he carried the plates to the table and tried to figure out the puzzle named John Gage.