Understandings

by MM

disclaimer: The characters of Emergency do not belong to me. As always I'll help 'em up, dust them off, give 'em a smooch and send them back when I'm done.

rating: T

note: follows "Neighbors and Partners".

The older man looked out the cracked windshield at the fire station. He'd driven a long way to satisfy his curiosity and now he hesitated. What if he'd been wrong? He only had the information from two men, and they were nearly opposite in their opinions.

He'd not given his nephew a second thought after the first man called. A Dr. Hamil-something. The guy had reinforced everything he'd ever thought about the worthless brat and then some. But the second man, Purcell, he had been confusing.

John Gage was a valued member of the Rampart team? A fire fighter with a good reputation? Had given valuable first responder care and saved many people? These images conflicted with the belief his nephew was a worthless drunken fool that had killed his mother and drove his father to suicide. Had embarrassed his uncle time and again until social services came in to threaten him for harming the lazy brat. Had driven his own sister to run away from the family home to LA leaving him completely alone. Not that he missed the boy, but he hated to cook and his sister had always kept house for him.

Being alone had solidified his hate for his nephew. The only difference between then and now was he could beat the brat when he was at home and put him in his place. A piece of trash that didn't have a thing to offer the world.

And who was now a well respected fire fighter and paramedic.

The contradictions shook his well ordered world of disgust and hatred.

A loud horn sounded across the street followed by a siren. The doors of the station opened and a small, red truck turned out onto the street. The large fire engine remained behind. If Johnny was a paramedic then he'd be in the smaller truck. Maybe it'd be easier if he went in now. After wiping his hands on his jeans Roderick Gage stepped out of his old clunker and crossed the street to Station 51.

He entered through the apparatus bay. The first office door was closed and he could make out voices. Instead of knocking he went a little further to the next door. It looked like a kitchen, eating area and a place to watch TV. There were three men here, two at the table and a third making coffee.

"Hello, may I help you?" the standing man asked.

"Uhm, I was wondering if a Johnny Gage worked here?" why was he nervous? This was just his no-account disowned nephew he was asking after.

"Yeah, Gage works here," a mustached man seated at the table replied. "You just missed him, he went out on a run."

"Is there something we could help you with, mister..." the standing man seemed to be wary.

"I'm Roddy Gage, Johnny's uncle," he replied. Immediately the two men at the table smile broadly but the one by the coffee pot looked upset. He wondered briefly about the conflicting responses when the mustached man spoke.

"Wow! I bet you know all sorts of great stories about Johnny-boy growing up!" he said with great relish.

"I'll go let Captain Stanley know you're here," the standing man said as he walked past him.

"Hey, I'm Chet and this is Marco. We've worked with

Johnny about two years," Kelly said.

"Would you like a cup of coffee?" the man named Marco asked. "Mike made it so it's drinkable. We don't let Chet make coffee." He smirked.

"Sure, why not," Roddy said as he went to sit down at the table.

Mike had to keep himself from running to Cap. Of all the people to walk into the station the last one he'd ever expect was Johnny Gage's uncle. He knew enough that this man had been very abusive to Johnny and caused him a lot of emotional turmoil. He'd heard the nightmares on occasion and had quietly listened to discussions he should not have been privy to. He knocked on the office door.

"Yes?" Hank Stanley called. He gave a gracious smile to the school principal he'd been in conference with and waited.

"Cap? Sorry to disturb you, but a Roderick Gage is here looking for Johnny," he said in one breath. He watched the older man freeze and pale momentarily. Then he pushed himself up out of his chair and strode across the room.

"I can't leave," he said quietly. "I'll be done in about ten minutes. Can you... entertain Mr. Gage?"

"I'll try," Mike promised, "but Marco and Chet are in talking with him." Hank dropped his head and pinched the bridge of his nose. This was not good.

"I'll be there as quickly as I can," he repeated. "Just, just do your best." He knew he was putting the engineer on the spot, but there was nothing else he could do.

Mike walked back into the kitchen but couldn't bring himself to sit down. Chet was happily detailing some of the pranks he'd pulled on Gage while the visitor politely listened.

"Chet, I thought you wanted all the dirt on Johnny!" Marco teased his friend. Mike closed his eyes and hoped for the best. Roddy was slow to offer much, but after some cajoling he allowed his nephew had been a screw-up from the word go. As he warmed to his topic and gained a head of righteous steam, he detailed every little transgression the boy had made in his estimation and the punishments he'd received. If he'd bothered to look at his audience he would have seen the jocularity fade and the horror grow in their eyes.

When Chet had started out he only wanted ammunition to tease his pigeon. As many embarrassing situations as he could glean from his uncle. But the stories that were being related were not embarrassing for Johnny but rather embarrassing for Chet. All the times he'd spent 'getting' his pigeon and then verbally harassing him only served to reinforce his upbringing. What he'd meant as a series of jokes actually must have hurt a lot.

Which now made him realize why Cap had been riding him so hard all this time, including a few months ago when he'd gotten Gage to take a partial shift at the 98s. Sure, normally the series of pranks would have been funny, but not to a man that had lived this hell growing up.

Johnny probably thought Chet was abusing him and would beat him if he tried to fight back! Feeling sick to his stomach he glanced across the room and realized that Cap was standing in the doorway trying to decide how to stop the storyteller and minimize the damage.

"Mr. Gage?" Hank cleared his throat and the older man stopped and turned around. He'd forgotten where he was for a moment, that he'd been talking freely in front of strangers. The man that had broken into his diatribe suddenly reminded him of a protective mother bear ready to rip apart anything that threatened her cub. Reminded him of that damned PE coach from the high school that pulled him off Johnny when he was being 'disciplined', the last day he ever laid eyes on his nephew.

It was not a very secure feeling welling up in side him.

In the background there was the sound of a truck backing in to the station, doors opening and closing. Two men discussing some arcane bit of the art of trimming rose bushes. Hank moved slightly to the side as first a blonde haired man strode in, a bright smile on his face followed by a dark-haired man.

His nephew, Johnny Gage. The smile on the younger man's smile dropped from his face, a look of fear briefly flickered through his eyes. Then all emotion shut down as the face turned to stone. An expression Rod had never seen before. If he'd had a chance to predict, he knew what would happen next. The captain fell next to his nephew and rested a hand on his shoulder. The silent man by the coffee pot moved to his other side and folded his arms. It looked like his nephew had chosen his friends better than he'd been allowed to choose his relatives.

"Rod," a cold voice cut through him. No more, no less, but years of pain bled through.

"You're Johnny's uncle?" the blonde-haired man asked. Suddenly Roddy's mouth was bone dry and all he could do was nod then take a gulp of coffee. It became very apparent no one was going to break the silence for him.

"I... I heard he was doing all right for himself..." he managed to eek out.

"And you couldn't believe a half-breed bastard like me could make it," Johnny's cold voice cut like a knife, "you thought I'd end up a drunk down on skid row with one hand wrapped around a brown bagged bottle." Rod at least had the decency to look down and appear ashamed.

"I'm sure you've let them know just what a screw up I was and how you worked oh so hard to keep me in line. You're done here, Rod," the anger simmered but between the engineer and captain it was contained. "You disowned me years ago and once again after Aunt Rosy died. I am no longer interested in any sort of relationship with you," and he turned and walked out, past the trucks, out the back door into the late afternoon.

The first thought in Cap's mind was he'd have to climb the hose tower after the paramedic. The second was damage control and removing Mr. Gage.

"I don't think you have any more business here, Mr. Gage," he said with tight politeness. "I'll let Mike show you to your car." Heaven knew he couldn't walk the man out without wanting to commit a violent act. One look at Roy Desoto showed him the paramedic would be a worse choice. Chet and Marco were shell-shocked.

He'd have to make it up to his engineer.

Roddy Gage stood up and thanked them for the coffee and hospitality. He followed the silent man out to the street and then was escorted across to his car.

"I never thought he'd make a go of it," he said quietly.

"John Gage is an exceptional man," Mike said. "A man I'm proud to call my friend." With that Roddy Gage climbed into the car, turned it on, and drove away, the fireman staying rooted in his spot until he was out of sight.

Mike walked back into the station. He knew the rest of the shift was going to be uncomfortable at best. He entered the kitchen and grabbed the coffee pot and poured out a full mug for himself before joining the conversation at the table. Of the four men sitting there, Chet Kelly looked the most devastated.

"Thank you, Mike," Cap said once he sat down. "I couldn't walk the man out."

"Neither could I," Roy admitted. "I can't believe he showed up here."

"I can't believe I thought he had it easy growin' up," Chet muttered into his coffee. "He just is always so up beat and all." Disturbed green eyes looked up at his crew mates. "And I hurt him just like his uncle. He couldn't fight back because that... that... that man broke him."

"Chet, part of what you say might be true," Roy said. "He did feel you were abusing him and he could never get you back. But he doesn't think you'd do anything to really harm him."

"That's why I stepped in when he asked," Cap added, "you kept escalating the pranks until they became abusive."

"I've always wanted to know why you always pick me for your pranks," Johnny said softly as he walked back into the kitchen. Roy immediately stood up and went to his partner, needing to make sure he was ok. He threw his arms around the younger paramedic and held him for a long moment. He felt Johnny trembling and knew he was going into shock.

"Let's get you some coffee, Junior," Roy shifted and walked him to the stove. "You'll be glad to know Mike made it." This caused a strained chuckle as his mug was filled and he gratefully sipped the hot liquid. He then allowed his friend to propel him over to the table and the chair next to Hank. He sank down into the seat and accepted the arm thrown over his shoulder and half hug from his father figure.

"I picked on you because you never stayed mad," Chet said quietly. "Mike, Marco and Roy, they get mad and then keep being mad for days. You, you just always bounce back like nothing's wrong. I guess I've always known you'd take it. Maybe that's why I kept on going too far; I wanted to know what would make you stay mad." He hung his head in shame.

"Me and the Phantom just want to apologize for all the grief we've given you," Chet said just as quietly.

"You know, Chet, I don't mind it as much since you've toned it down," Johnny said. "But the 98s was a bit of a shock. And the bucket of water wasn't a good thing, either." Kelly looked extremely embarrassed.

"I know," then he amended, "I know now." The silence stretched.

"You guys mind calling out for Chinese or pizza?" Johnny asked. Mike shifted in his chair.

"Weren't you making some new dish tonight?" he asked.

"Yeah, got a new one from Rose," the paramedic agreed.

"Why don't you and I get going on it?" Mike suggested. "Get our minds on something else." Another stretch of silence. Cap pulled Johnny closer and gently bumped his head against John's. Accepting the affection the younger man nodded.

"You can cut the onions," he said as he stretched back and picked up his coffee as Cap's arm slipped off.

"This doesn't have hamburger in it, does it?" Chet asked suspiciously. With a totally innocent face Johnny finally made eye contact.

"Why Chet, of course not! I'm using sliced hot dogs," Gage said with complete sincerity.

"I didn't see you buying hot dogs, Junior," Roy said lightly. This caused his partner to finally snicker and the other men joined in, needing the emotional outlet.

"Actually, it's pork chops, but cooked over dressing, onions, carrots, and potatoes," Johnny explained. It's called 'poor man's roast'."

"Ok, as long as it's not hamburger!" Chet said with mock seriousness.

The next hour was tense, everyone half-hoping a run would tone in. But the great fire fighter in the sky wanted the men to deal with the hand they were dealt and there were no runs. Chet flipped around the channels before giving up and choosing the news. Cap always had paper work to finish, although he carried it out to the table to go through it. Roy and Marco half-heartedly tried to play cards, but ended up watching the news as well.

Johnny layered the vegetables, dressing, and meat into the roasting pan then poured the broth over all of it. This was covered and pushed into the oven. He'd promised them a great dinner and now he was glad Mike had pushed him into cooking. The normalcy of routine with his friends around dulled the shock he'd felt when he saw his uncle.

Pouring out a glass of iced tea, Johnny sat next to Cap at the table and watched as various lines were filled in.

"He seemed a lot smaller," the paramedic said quietly. Cap kept writing letting him proceed at his own pace.

"I left home at 17. Well, actually, I was removed from home and stayed with coach Harris until Aunt Rosy could get packed and situated out in Los Angeles," Johnny corrected. "He looks like he's shrunk, his arms were loose and he face..." he stopped and took a long sip.

"It's only been 8 years and he looks like 20 have passed," Johnny concluded.

"Hard living," Cap said softly. "Not taking care of himself. Hate and loathing withers a person." He turned and placed a hand on Johnny's shoulder. "Plus, you definitely had a late growth spurt once you were fed up right. You put on what, six inches since you were 17?"

"Yeah, I did kind of shoot up that last year of high school," he agreed.

"You going to go over to the track after shift?' Cap shifted the conversation.

"I said I'd be there around nine to help with the warm ups and then off to the track meet itself," John replied. He helped Jake's track coach when he could. Jake was Cap's son.

"Emily's packing lunch for us," he said. "And you are expected to come to dinner after as you know."

"I remember. Emily would have my hide if I forgot," Johnny nearly blushed. The woman treated him like one of her own. The feeling of belonging still surprised him, but it was definitely as necessary as the air he breathed.

Now the tones sang out as dispatched punched their code. "Station 51, explosion and house fire, 6285 Beechwood. Cross street, Hwy 39. Time out, 17:50."