Variety

by MM

disclaimer: The characters of Emergency do not belong to me. Peanut butter is one of nature's most perfect foods. As always I'll help 'em up, dust them off, give 'em a smooch and send them back when I'm done.

rating: K+

note: follows Superman and Fine Lines.

Chester B. Kelly watched as his crew mates settled down to another dinner of hamburgers, salad and oven fries. It was bad enough that John Gage generally cooked burgers or hot dogs for the crew, but now Marco had picked up the slack and made the same boring crap. He reached for the ketchup bottle and gave a loud, disappointed sigh.

"Now what, Chet?" Marco sniped. "Not up to your standard?" Why was Marco upset? He'd only suggested to his pal that maybe hamburgers twice in a week was a bit much.

"Chet, just back off Marco," Gage said as he eschewed a bun and sliced a a bite off his burger to eat. "He went on the same runs we did and still had to cook."

"You're used to eating this stuff 24/7," Chet retorted. "Some of us have better developed palates." Johnny set down his fork. His stomach had been on edge all shift. He didn't feel like aggravating it any more than necessary.

"I mean, some of us like variety!" Chet continued. "Not only do you have no culinary skills, you can't even eat a burger right!" he honed in on his pigeon, his voice aggressive. "Geeze! At least pretend to be normal and use a bun!" He clattered his plate onto the table causing Gage to flinch.

Standing up the younger paramedic put his plate into the fridge and set his utensils and glass into the sink. He passed Hank Stanley in the doorway going out.

"Where's Gage going?" Cap asked.

"Don't know, don't care," Chet said flippantly. "Didn't like being hit with the truth about his cooking."

"But Marco cooked," Stanley said, his voice confused.

"Yeah, but..." Chet began. The captain cut him off.

"How did you turn Marco's cooking into an attack on Gage?" now there was a demanding tone.

" 'Cause Gage only cooks burgers or hot dogs," Chet pointed out. "No imagination or variety!"

"If you're damned palate is so... refined," Roy growled, "why do you always cook that Irish stew?" he demanded. Hank considered calling him on the language, but decided to wait.

"I'll have you know that stew is golden!" Chet declared. "Guys from other stations ask for the recipe all the time!"

"But where's the variety?" Mike actually spoke.

"Well, uhm," Chet stuttered.

"Well, sometimes he uses frozen peas," Marco grinned wickedly. "And sometimes he uses frozen carrots."

"HEY!" Chet yelled.

"I'll go find Johnny," Roy tossed his napkin down and started to stand up.

"No, I'll go," Hank said. "Eat and clean up. And Kelly? Drop it!" Cap went into the dorms first. No wayward paramedic. Next he headed out back. He truly hoped Gage had not climbed the hose tower. Looking up he was relieved to see only hoses on the tower.

Scanning around he saw Johnny sitting against the side of the station tossing small pebbles across the cement. He didn't look up when Hank settled on the ground next to him. They sat in silence for a few moments until the older man judged the time was right and slightly nudged Johnny's shoulder.

"Ok?" he asked.

Shrug.

"Tell me about it," he asked. The younger man considered his response.

"Stomach's a bit off," he said. "Didn't sleep too well last night."

*Ah!* Hank thought but said nothing.

"Couple bad nightmares 'bout my uncle," Gage's voice dropped to an almost-whisper.

"Couple?" encouraging.

"I got up once and had some warm milk," the soft voice admitted. "But then I still had another one when I went back to sleep."

"And Chet?" Hank prodded.

"He was... just being... loud," Gage said. The aggressive tone of the fireman's voice set off the paramedic. The counselor had suggested distancing himself from the source and calm down. Hank was pleased Johnny had followed the suggestions from the warm milk to walking away from Chet.

"So I left," he said. "You know, like Kevin said." Hank smiled to himself.

"Chet's voice can be pretty grating," Hank allowed. "Mike even spoke up after you left."

"Mike?" surprised Johnny looked up and made eye contact.

"Yeah, asked how he considered making Irish Stew all the time 'variety'," Hank reported.

"Mike makes a good point," Johnny agreed. Now that contact had been established Hank carefully put his arm over the paramedic's shoulders. They sat like that for a few more minutes until Gage finally sighed and relaxed.

"Better?" Hank asked.

"Yeah," he replied. Cap pulled back his arm and rubbed his hands together.

"The guys should be done with dinner," he said. "Let's go get our supper."

"Not really hungry," Gage hedged.

"How about a peanut butter sandwich?" Hank suggested. "Sliced banana?"

"On toast?" Johnny finally smiled.

"Toast," Cap agreed. "But I'm gonna eat the boring hamburger." The lanky paramedic pushed himself up and offered a hand up to his friend. They headed for the kitchen. Hank made a quick detour into his office to pick up a large jar of Skippy's Smooth he stashed in his shared desk. He'd been teased by his colleagues on the other two shifts, but if peanut butter gave a measure of comfort to his paramedic, then he could stand a little teasing.

In the kitchen he found Johnny pulling out a hamburger patty and accouterments. He also pulled out his barely touched patty and offered it to Hank.

"Cool, I get a double burger!" Cap smiled. He tossed both patties into a pan to heat them up. He started to assemble his hamburger bun. Gage slipped a couple pieces of bread into the toaster and sliced a banana.

Mike walked in carrying a pad of paper. He set this on the table and went to get out place mats and napkins. Then he went to the fridge and pulled out milk and ice tea. A large glass of milk landed on the middle placemat for Johnny. Two glasses of tea ended up on the other two mats. Hank glanced over and gave his engineer a silent thank you. Johnny would need a buffer in case Chet wandered in again. Once food had been assembled they all sat down.

"You know, I think Chet had a good point," Mike started the conversation. Stanley was a bit alarmed; this wasn't a good topic. Johnny froze for a second before carefully looking at the Engineer.

"He said we all seem to cook the same things," the engineer continued. "Even he had to admit he cooked that stew all the time. I figured we could write down all the things we make then add to it."

"That's a good idea, Mike," Gage looked interested.

"I know Emily has some simple cookbooks, and I'm sure JoAnne does as well," Cap added. He watched as Johnny picked up half of his peanut butter and banana sandwich and took a bite. The engineer picked up his pen and started to write.

"Marco's chile," he began.

"And his three-peppers casserole," Johnny added talking with a full mouth.

"Swallow, Gage!" Hank reprimanded. "Chet's Irish stew."

"Cap's clam chowder."

"Mike's spaghetti and chicken."

"Your burgers and hot dogs," Mike grinned.

"Your pepper and onion surprise," Gage countered with a bigger grin.

"NO!" Hank stressed. "There aren't enough antacids for that!" All three men broke into snickers.

"Roy's beef-bourgony-thing," Hank threw out.

"Baked chicken."

"Meat loaf."

"Baked pork chops on rice," Johnny added. "Now that the oven's fixed."

"That'll open up a lot of options," Mike agreed.

"Attack of the Mutant Crabs is on tonight," Chet said as he walked in. He looked at the three men, taking in the big double burger, peanut butter sandwich and legal pad. Hank braced himself for a volley launched at Gage.

"Hey Mikey, what 'cha writing?" he honed in on the engineer.

"We're listing all the meals we cook so we can work on variety," Johnny offered.

"Oh, my heart!" Chet clasped his chest, "you had a good idea! And you acted on it! Just wait 'til I tell Marco and Roy!" And he ran out of the kitchen.

"I think I better set some ground rules," Hank said as he watched the mischievous man zip out of the room.

"Yeah, I have visions of bottled cherries dancing in my head," Mike groaned.

"ewww!" Johnny exclaimed. "I'm glad I missed that one even if I was in Rampart overnight."

"We all wanted to be in Rampart overnight with you," Mike said, "trust me!" The three men chuckled and waited for the return of Chet.

Soon all six men were seated at the table throwing out ideas.

"We do eat a lot of hamburger," Marco pointed out.

"I can do a chicken curry on the next shift," Gage offered.

"Is it spicy?" Hank asked suspiciously. Curry was one of those spices that could cause a problem.

"No, it was really mild," Johnny explained. "The kids loved it, with the toppings and stuff."

"Well, I'll try it," Mike decided. Hank tried to figure out who Johnny had been with that had children.

"You mean the one Rose made last weekend?" Roy asked and received a nod. "That stuff is great! Both of my kids liked it as well as the adults."

"Rose?" Chet's nose twitched.

"That woman we rescued a couple months back?" Johnny said. "She was in the hospital almost a month."

"Yeah, she invited a bunch of people from Rampart to her home as well as me and Johnny," Roy waded in before Chet could respond. "She gave the recipe to anyone who wanted it."

"Ok, John, you're the cook next shift," Cap said. "We'll just have to see who gets latrine..." he glanced over at Kelly. Fortunately the tones sounded calling out the entire station for an unknown rescue.

"Station 51, unknown type rescue, 6742 Midland Drive. Cross street, Grant. Time out, 20:42," the dispatcher called out.

"Station 51, KMG 365," Hank replied as he pulled out two slips of paper. The squad pulled out first followed by the engine.

As they raced down the major street Gage continued to navigate. They reached a carnival in full swing at a small church. The sounds and smell of greasy food and carny hustlers filled the air as they pulled out their equipment.

'Oh man, am I glad you're here!" a pony-tailed man exclaimed as he ran up to the squad. "We got some kids who thought it'd be fun to climb out on the struts of the ferris wheel. They're stuck!"

"Ferris wheel?" Roy asked and then followed the man's pointing finger. It went up to the near top of a huge ferris wheel. He could see the baskets but not the object of their rescue. Johnny squinted.

"Oh, geeze, they've crawled half-way to the center!" Gage exclaimed. "What about the other passengers?"

"We stopped the ride when we saw them," the man replied. "They aren't very happîy." Johnny popped open a second compartment and pulled out rope and belts.

"We'll have to bring them back to their car or bring 'em down the rope," Johnny determined.

"I'd go with getting them down the ropes," Roy decided. When Hank joined them they explained the problem and possible solutions. Cap agreed with rappelling the two adolescents down.

As the paramedics looked up Roy nudged his partner.

"Youth before beauty?" He asked his partner.

"I go first in either case," Johnny said with a smirk. He hoisted a coiled rope on his shoulder and looked at the strut. Testing the grip he began his climb.

Roy sucked in air as he watched his partner climb higher and higher. Even though he knew there were plenty of hand and foot holds, he still worried. All those flashing lights could be disorienting. Once Johnny made it to the middle of the wheel, he moved up the spoke towards the boys.˙

"Hi guys!" Gage greeted the scared duo. "Enjoying the sights?"

"N-n-n-oo sir," the first boy managed. "I want to get down."

"Ok, that's a good idea," the paramedic said as he fastened his rope securely to a strut. "I'll put a harness on you and lower you down." With a nod the boys waited for their ride down. Soon the paramedic tossed one end of the rope down to his partners below while the other was threaded around the strut, over his jacket and tied to the first harness. He carefully fastened the harness around the first victim and waved to lower him down.

Slowly the first boy was lowered. Roy and Hank waited at the bottom to guide him on to the platform. After he was detached from the rope, Chet and Marco pulled so the end went back up to Johnny. By the time the second boy was secured there was a loud shriek behind Roy. He'd been doing a check on his patient when a very agitated, and angry, mother came over.

"Jason Anthony Phillips, just what were you thinking?!" she yelled.

ˇ"Oh, crap," said Jason Anthony Phillips, "now I'm gonna get grounded!" Roy gave him a tight smile as the boy was enveloped in a full hug. Then the mother pulled back slightly.

"Is he ok?" she asked.

"Yes, he's fine," Roy said. "He's a little shook up."

"Good," she said. "I'll sign the waiver and just take him home." Now she turned a glare onto the boy. "He has a date with his bedroom for the next MONTH!"

"Told ya," Jason groaned.

"Do you know where the other boy's parents are?" Roy asked as he looked up at the second victim being lowered to the ground.

"Yes, I'll get Donny's mother, she's working in the cake booth. Let's go, Jason."

Soon another rather irate mother was hovering over a sufficiently cowed 13-year-old. Donny was also chastized and grounded. The mother signed the waiver with a sigh.

"I don't know how I should feel about this," she admitted, "but I've signed three of these in the past six months. These two boys are always into some sort of mischief!"

"Well, you have a month at least 'til the next one," Roy pointed out.

"You should get both of 'em into some sports progams or after-school classes," Johnny said as he unfastened the belt from his waist. "Get some of that energy worked off."

"Donny always complains he doesn't want to," his mother said, "but I think soccer will be a great way to run off some of that energy."

"Aw, man!" the boy complained. "Thanks a lot!" After the woman took her son away Roy turned to Johnny.

"I should sign you up for soccer, Junior!" he teased.

"Oh, Da-ad!" the younger man pouted. "I don't wanna!" They laughed as they packed up their equipment and headed back to the squad.

It was after ten-thirty when they all got back to the barn. Chet's movie had started a half hour earlier, but he still turned it on and explained to Marco what they'd missed. The rest of the crew went back to the table and picked up the dinner conversation.

"I can get this typed out," Johnny offered.

"You can type?" Roy teased, somewhat.

"Yes, but I have a friend who'll type for me," he replied with a grin.

"Then we can copy it and put it in a binder," Mike simply bypassed that conversation. "I'll start writing out my recipes now."

"Let me have some paper," Roy said. "I know the sloppy joe recipe and the meat loaf." Soon all four men were writing, not without some teasing about the complexities of hamburgers. Marco came over at a commercial and was soon writing out his recipes. Chet just went to his locker and retrieved a copy of the Irish stew recipe.

The next shift Johnny arrived early carrying his groceries. He smiled to himself as he thought about how simple dinner was going to be to prepare. He'd even prepped the salad in advance. Also in his parcels was a binder with recipes in it. Rose was quick and it only cost him dinner and the pleasure of being with her and Drew.

He set the binder on the table and stashed his goodies. B shift was in the process of getting off; several men were sipping coffee at the table and Gage joined them.

"What's this, Gage?" his counterpart Dwyer asked.

"One of the guys was complaining about our meals," he said, "you know, no variety, all hamburger?"

"That had to be Chet," smirked the engineer, Davis. Johnny gave him a crooked grin but said nothing. B shift Captain Gregory flipped open the binder.

"Wow! This is great!" he said as he leafed through the pages. "I wouldn't mind a copy."

"Cap, why don't you and your crew write out your recipes," Johnny suggested. "That way we'll have even more choices."

So when Hank came in looking for his counterpart, he discovered all of B shift in the kitchen busily writing while Gage was happily leaning back sipping coffee.

"Got to hand it to you, Hank," Gregory said as he looked up. "You guys have a great idea, here!"

"Did you get those recipes typed already, Gage?" Cap looked at his younger paramedic.

"Yep," he grinned. "Now these guys are gonna add their dishes. This is going to be a great cookbook!"

"I'll bet C shift will have some good stuff to add," Davis said. "I'll call a couple guys while I'm off." Hank looked at his younger paramedic. He looked quite pleased with the project. Accepting a cup of coffee from Johnny he sat down and pulled the cookbook towards him and began to glance through the recipes.

The front page was a hand-drawn picture of the Station 51 with both engine and squad inside. It was definitely not a professional job, but good enough to be quite recognizable. Even the flag was flying and the bricks were partially defined. In the corner was two sets of initials: AFW & JRG. Hmmm, he recognized that second set of letters and glanced over at Johnny. Earned a crooked grin in reponse.

Next he leafed through the recipes. Any recipe which was specially prepared by one of the crew had their names on it. Other generic recipes had no name assigned. It had been arranged by meat. Prep time, cooking time and some nutritional info was also listed. He had to admit, it was a great looking book. He set it down and checked the clock.

Oops! Now he was late! "Come on Gage, roll call." The two men left to grab hats and get to the front of the squad. To his chagrin the other four men were there, desperately trying not to smirk.

"Men," Cap began, "I guess we know who has latrine today." That did it, everyone broke up laughing as the station captain assigned himself the latrine.