The Other Side

by Maudlin Mush

Disclaimer: The characters of Emergency do not belong to me. House fires are difficult; more so when it's your home! As always I'll help 'em up, dust them off, give 'em a smooch and send them back when I'm done.

note: the story I reference below, regarding Johnny losing his home to a fire, is a story called "Displaced" by dee_ayy and can be found at:

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Johnny Gage lifted his arm off his eyes and blearily glared at the telephone next to his bed. He'd pulled an extra shift over at the 36's for an injured Brice. It'd been a hellacious shift with no sleep due to a mva involving two big rigs and several passenger vehicles on the 710 south just after midnight.

The glare didn't work; the phone continued to ring. He reached for the handset.

"Yeah?" he grumbled.

"Johnny? This is Dwyer," the voice of the B-shift paramedic came over the phone. Cranky, Gage pushed up on his pillow.

"Yeah. You ok?" he asked.

"Fine, fine," Dwyer said. "From the blotters you were out all night."

"Yeah, mva," Gage agreed. "Really bad one."

"Uhm, I don't want you to cover a shift," the reluctant paramedic stated. "But we need your help." John shifted in the sheets and pushed himself to the edge of the bed. He swung his feet over the side and sat up trying to convince his eyes to stay open.

"Yeah? How can I help?" he rumbled.

"There was a really bad fire by you," Dwyer began. "Uh, it was the apartment/condos over on fifth? Anyway, they're totaled."

"On fifth?" Johnny tried to figure why he was needed. "You guys got it out, right?"

"Johnny, Dr. Brackett lived there," the paramedic faltered a moment. Gage sat straight up.

"Is Dr. Brackett ok?" he asked quickly.

"He's physically ok," Dwyer said. "But his condo was a total. Nothing left. He's, he's kinda lost..."

"Where's he at?" Gage asked.

"Uh, he's here, at Rampart with us," Dwyer said. "Problem is, Dixie is out of town for the rest of the week..."

"And Dr. Early is at a conference back east," Johnny finished.

"Doc Morton thought you'd maybe take him in for now," Dwyer finished. Johnny rubbed his eyes.

"Sure, but I really am tired. I can't pick him up," he said. "No way I can drive."

"We'll drop him off," Dwyer hesitated. "Uh, you, uh, lost your stuff a couple years back..." Johnny unsuccessfully stifled a yawn.

"Yeah, my apartment building was totaled," he confirmed. "A real mess. There was nothing left."

"Doc's condo building's the same," the paramedic said quietly. "Just the shell left." Silence. "We'll be there in about 15 minutes."

" 'k. I'll leave the door unlocked in case I fall asleep," he said.

Getting up Johnny tried to think. He walked across the hall to the "guest room". Jenny Bean and Chris used it often enough but it was not ready for anyone. Just making the bed was too much to consider. He proceeded down the hall to unlock the door and decided the couch wasn't gonna cut it either.

Returning to his room he eyed the king-size bed he'd bought on a whim. He'd read all about different kinds of mattresses. Drove Roy nearly insane with his single-minded endeavor to get the "right" one for himself. He smiled recalling Jenny and Chris helping him try out various beds at different stores. He'd let them choose the bed for the guest room. After looking at prices he'd elected to go with the larger bed for himself.

A knock at his door snapped him back to the present. He quickly pulled on some sweat pants and headed down the hall once more.

"Hey, Johnny," Dwyer said with an apologetic smile. He was pulling along a very shell-shocked doctor. The man was dressed in hospital scrubs looking freshly washed. Probably was compelled to take a shower at the hospital. Pale face. Downcast eyes.

"Hi Doc," he said softly and moved forward to take hold of his elbow. No response.

"Dr. Morton gave him some diazepam before we left," Dwyer explained. "And he sent these for later," he held out a small envelope with additional medication. The label explained the dosage. "Here's the keys he'd brought in with him."

"How much sleep did he get?" Gage asked as he accepted keys and meds.

"Uhm, fire was reported just after 3 am," Dwyer replied, "so a couple hours I'd assume." Johnny pulled Kel inside.

"Thanks for dropping him off," he said. "I'll take it from here. Could you let your cap know I need the next shift off? I'll call Stanley later, but maybe you could arrange a sub." Dwyer nodded.

"No problem," he said. "I'll call Dr. Morton and see about getting Dr. Brackett's shifts covered for the next couple of days as well. He'll definitely need time, too. See you later. Sleep well, Doc."

Closing the door Johnny took stock of his new roommate. Brackett was definitely in shock. The valium had contributed to his exhaustion. With a sigh he tugged the man down the hall. He knew exactly how he felt.

He pushed the unresistant man into bed pulling the covers over him. Then he sat down next to him.

"Ya need to sleep, Kel," he said as he smoothed his hair back. "Once you've slept we can figure it all out." He actually received a nod as the exhausted man closed his eyes.

Standing, he moved around to the other side of the bed and crawled in; he was just as tired as his friend and was quickly asleep.

Several hours later Johnny woke feeling much better. He looked over at Brackett and realized it hadn't been a dream. Kel was still out, probably drugged to the gills and exhausted. He remembered the early morning call and the delivery of the overwhelmed man.

Well, first things first. He quickly dressed and then laid out clean clothing: sweats, t-shirt and socks. He added a fairly new pair of moccasin-type slip ons that should fit. Then he went into the kitchen and made coffee.

Next he phoned the dry cleaners. He used the same one that Brackett did. In fact, Kel had suggested them when he'd bought the small house after his own devastating fire. Nestled in a middle-class neighborhood with a nice yard and trees he'd happily settled down.

The cleaners confirmed that Mr. Brackett had clean clothes waiting for pick up. Nearly fifty bucks worth. Johnny realized that this included underwear and casual clothing as the doctor had them launder as well as dry cleaned work clothes.

The next call was to his partner, Roy. He quickly explained Dr. Brackett's predicament and asked for some help. He didn't want to leave the man alone but he did want to get some familiar things for him.

"I have some money," Gage told his partner. "If you can would you come and get his clothing and maybe pick up some things at the store? I can make a list."

"Sure, no problem!" Roy responded. "Man, that really sucks, losing everything."

"Yeah," Johnny agreed. "I know exactly how he feels!"

"Yeah, Hey, Joanne made lasagna last night," Roy said. "She made extra for you." Johnny grinned. He loved her cooking. "I'll bring it along, there's enough for you and Doc."

"Great! It'll be perfect," Johnny said happily. Comfort food! Just the thought of it soothed him; he realized he'd been stressed by the memories of his own fire.

Brackett was still asleep when Roy stopped by, accepting both the list and some of Johnny's "mad money" he kept stashed in the house. He was impressed by his younger partner; the man had begun to list all the things that would need to be done to replace things destroyed in the fire. First up was the insurance companies for both his home and his car.

While Roy was out Johnny cleaned up the guest room, stowing the games in the cupboard and putting fresh sheets on the bed. Next he cleared out the dresser drawers and made sure the closet had plenty of space for clothing. Finally he placed a couple books on the night stand by an author he knew Kel liked. Something familiar.

Upon returning clothing was unpackaged and slipped into drawers. The plastic was pulled off the suits and hung in the closet. Johnny selected some clothing for now and swapped it out in the master bedroom. Roy stored toiletries in the hall bathroom and then made his farewell. He knew that the doctor would need to wake soon and he didn't want to be there. Too many people was worse than being alone; he'd learned that after Johnny's loss.

After Roy left Johnny returned to the bedroom and moved over to the bed and once more sat next to his friend.

"Hey, Kel?" he said softly, hand on a shoulder. "Think it's about time to wake up." He patted gently and continued to speak in a low, soothing tone. He was rewarded with a groan and then blue eyes blinking in the dim light.

"Johnny?" he muttered, "what are you doin' in my bedroom?"

"Letting you know the coffee's ready, Doc," he replied calmly. He watched as the sleepy man began processing his environment. Then the flash of shock then lost hopelessness as memories of the previous night hit hard. He quickly sat up.

"My place, it burned! All my things are gone!" he was becoming agitated. "My car, my clothing, my, my..." he dropped off as the enormity once more hit him. Gage gathered him up and held on firmly.

"I know, it's all gone," he said calmly. "And as soon as we've had some coffee and breakfast we'll start getting your life back." Kel accepted the embrace and didn't bother stifling the few tears that leaked out. When he was ready he leaned back a little.

"Roy picked up your clothes from the cleaners," Johnny explained. "We put them in the guest room. There're toiletries in the hall bathroom for you, even a new toothbrush! I set out some clothing, too." Brackett looked around and located his own things.

Normal. It made him feel normal.

With a nod he slid out of bed, gathered up his things, including the footwear, and headed down the hall. Seeing his own favored brands caused him to shed a few more tears. It seemed Johnny had paid attention when he stayed over at his place recuperating. He gratefully showered and dressed.

Clean, Kel walked down the hall into the kitchen, his nose following the smell of cinnamon and vanilla. His host was at the stove cooking. Turning, Johnny gave him an encouraging smile.

"Good morning!" he said cheerfully. "Coffee's ready and I'm plating up breakfast."

"You realize it's after 2 in the afternoon..." Kel said with a grin.

"Yep. I just figured french toast would be tasty," he replied. Pouring his coffee Brackett nudged his shoulder.

"Your french toast is legendary," he said. "I'd eat it for dinner!"

"Ah, but Joanne sent over home made lasagna for dinner," Johnny teased. This perked the doctor up even more.

"Great!" he said with a brighter smile.

"We can go out and get salad fixings and garlic bread," Gage said as his friend leaned against the counter. "I haven't shopped this week." Pulling a warmed plate from the oven he slipped french toast and scrambled eggs on the plate, three slices of bacon artfully placed over the toast. This was handed off to the Doc. A second plate was similarly treated and soon the two men were eating at the table.

The paramedic's calm bearing helped Kel a lot. He knew the younger man had already gone through the loss of a home to fire. Now that he'd slept, and was eating, he felt he might be able to get through this tragedy.

"We need to call the insurance company first," Johnny commented as he leaned back sipping coffee. "And get to the DMV to replace your license."

"I have my passport in a safe deposit box with a copy of my birth certificate," Kel said as he gathered up another drippy bite of french toast on his fork.

"Great! I wish I had been that smart," his companion said. "I had to start from scratch. Joanne was a godsend. She found out how to reestablish my identification and get credit cards replaced."

"I hadn't thought of that," Brackett admitted. "But I can speak to someone at the bank about my one credit card. Then I'll have to call Texaco to replace that card."

"Dwyer said he'd call Dr. Morton about covering your shift for a couple of days. I spoke with Cap about covering my next shift. We'll get you squared away and back on your feet."

"Shoes would be nice," Kel commented as he looked down at the slippered feet. "Although these are very comfortable."

"Too bad Dixie isn't here," Gage remarked as he moved to the coffee pot. "I bet she'd love to help you shop!" Kel ducked his head with a faint blush.

"Indeed she would," he said. "Although she wouldn't have opened her home to me." Johnny stopped pouring coffee into his mugs.

"What?" he was surprised. "I thought she'd be first in line." Now Brackett looked even more embarrassed.

"Well, we're really close," the doctor allowed, "but to be completely honest she's turned me down three times. She insists that she loves me, but she want her own space." Johnny was flabbergasted. He always figured that Brackett had never asked the feisty nurse to marry him. He did manage to finish pouring out fresh coffee and return the urn to the counter.

"I just always figured you two would eventually move in together," Johnny finally said.

"Well, Dixie is her own woman," Kel admitted. "She says she wants to be able to send me home or go to her own home when she gets tired of me," he added sourly.

"I guess she really wants her independence," Gage said carefully.

"Guess so," Brackett said as he sipped his coffee.

"You know you're welcome to stay here as long as you want," Johnny said sincerely. "Roy said my apartment was the pits but he likes it here when he's hiding out from his mother in law." Kel looked up at the younger man.

"I haven't even thought about where I'll stay," he began. Gage jumped right back with his own guilt.

"Yeah, I guess I am not the best choice," he said softly.

"John Gage, that is not what I meant!" Brackett said quickly. "You have to realize I'm not the easiest person to get along with."

"You?" the semi-sarcastic rejoinder. The good doctor smirked.

"Well, it's not just that Dixie's independent," he allowed. "I can get kind of moody."

"And opinionated," Johnny now smiled.

"Oh, yesss," the doctor agreed. "I am always right. Even if I'm wrong." He picked up his plate and Johnny's and brought them over to the sink. These were rinsed and stowed in the dishwasher with the silverware.

"So, what's first?" Kel asked as he picked up his coffee.

"Call your insurance agent first," Johnny said. "Then to the bank for your documents. Then the DMV if there's time."

"And the store for shoes," Kel stated as he looked at his footwear. He took his mug and went to the den where he knew the phone was. Johnny finished cleaning the kitchen and waited for the doctor to emerge.

The next three hours went fast. They were able to get to the bank and DMV. Then to May Company for some clothing and shoes. Finally the market for supplies.

Johnny noted that Brackett was starting to flag. His face was pale and conversation had dropped to monosyllabic answers. Swinging through the liquor section he added a bottle of Knob Creek to the basket. It was past time to get the man back home to relax.

It took a couple trips to bring everything inside. Dinner was slipped into the oven and a drink poured out. Johnny carried the drink down the hall to the guest bedroom.

"Doc?" he paused to knock on the door jamb. He found Kel sitting on the bed staring at a bag of clothing looking lost. Gently Gage moved next to him and put his free hand on his shoulder.

"Hey, Kel, why don't you let me help you," he said. He handed the drink over encouraging him to take a sip. Then he pulled a chair nearer and began opening packages.

"You want to launder these before you wear them?" he asked as bundles of socks and underwear were opened and separated. Negative shake of the head. Next polo and t-shirts were opened, tags removed. These were hung in the closet followed by detagged jeans and slacks. Pj's and slippers, tennis shoes and loafers were similarly treated and all the packaging shoved back into the sacks.

"There ya go," Johnny said. "Back in business! Let's go get dinner ready." He tugged on the unresistant man. Brackett followed him down the hall into the kitchen. The quiet man was seated at the table. Gage kept up a friendly chatter as he made a salad and garlic bread.

Soon dinner was on the table. Taking a deep breath Kel managed to shake some of the apathy off his shoulders.

"Sorry I'm such a bad guest," he said. Johnny waved it off.

"Three years ago I was sitting across from Roy in about the same shape," he said as he shook a little parmesan cheese over the steaming piece of lasagna on his plate. "You don't need to worry about me. And if I get to be 'too much', let me know."

"I've never had a problem with that," Kel said morosely. Gage took a careful look at the man.

"Doc, you're better than me," he said. "I tend to not complain to the right person when I'm upset. If I could be more direct I don't think I'd have half the trouble I get into. I just clam up and then I decide everything is my fault."

"You are good at guilt," Brackett agreed as he took a bite of salad. He chewed thoughtfully.

"How about we make a pact," the doctor said. "If I get you upset you tell me. I can guarantee that I'll get on your nerves!"

Johnny smiled. "As long as you promise to do the same."

"Deal," Kel offered his hand to seal the agreement.

Over the next two days Kelly Brackett slowly got his life together. His insurance agent came by to see him and took him to a car rental agency. Soon the doctor was independent once more with his own car.

He was back to work the following day. By the time Dixie and Joe came back Kel was no longer overwhelmed. There were nights Johnny found him looking overwhelmed, but he understood and helped his friend through the harsh emotions.

"Hey, Dix, welcome back!" Roy DeSoto said as he walked into the ER with his latest patient.

"Thanks, Roy," she replied. "Treatment room 3." She led the way in and watched as the elderly man was transferred to the exam table.

"Vitals," Morton directed. All personnel were busy. The portable cardiac monitor was replaced by the ER's. The doctor called for more medication to help stabilize the patient. Soon Roy was freed followed by Dixie.

"Need supplies?" she asked.

"We resupplied after the last run," Roy replied, "we're good." They saw the younger paramedic with Dr. Brackett at the nurse's station. It was apparent they were having a fine time, laughter dancing in their eyes.

"Well, I know I'll never do clothing again without checking the pockets!" the doctor was saying as he spread out a wad of paper that had been in his pocket.

"Geeze, didn't your mom teach ya anything?" Gage prodded him.

"Yes, of course!" Kel said stoutly. "You drive down to the local dry cleaner and say 'easy on the starch'." And they began to chuckle again.

"As I live and breath," Dixie held her hand to her chest. "I am hearing right? Dr. Kelly Brackett did laundry?"

"Yep," Gage said. "He's becoming quite the domestic. All he needed was the frilly pink apron."

"No way," he growled playfully. "I'll just use yours."

"You'd better hide the 'Kiss the Chef' apron Joanne gave you," Roy said helpfully.

"He hasn't quite got the knack of a gas burner yet," Gage said. "I limit his use of the stove and oven to when I'm home with the fire extinguisher." Dixie was confused.

"Why is Kel cooking over at your house?" she asked. The three men looked at one another.

"You didn't tell her?" Johnny asked in surprise.

"Tell me what?" she asked.

"She flew in last night," Kel said. "We never got around to discussing my new accommodations."

"Tell me what?" Dixie repeated.

"I think we should bow out of this discussion," Roy said as he propelled his partner away from the desk. "See you later!" Dixie now turned fully and moved in front of the doctor.

"Tell me what," no longer a question.

"Let's go get a cup of coffee," Kel countered and ushered her down the hall.

"YOUR APARTMENT BURNED DOWN AND YOU DIDN'T CALL ME!?" Dixie's voice rose above all other chatter. The entire dining room turned to stare at the extremely embarrassed doctor and irate nurse. One person immediately came to the table.

"What happened?" Joe Early demanded. It took all Kel's control not to cover his face and slink down in his chair.

"My apartment building burned to the ground," he said a patiently as possible. "I ended up at Johnny's home the next day." Now the older doctor sat down in a chair next to Dixie.

"You lost everything and you didn't call me?" he added his irate demand.

"You were giving a paper at the AMA convention and you," he nodded at Dixie, "were on a well-deserved vacation with your friends."

"Regardless, you should have called!" Dixie growled.

"I couldn't! All your flight information and accommodations were in the apartment," Brackett growled right back. "I got out in my pajamas! All I grabbed was my key ring."

"Then you should have called me!" Joe declared. "It wasn't like you didn't know where the convention was!"

"For goodness sakes, Joe! You were a keynote speaker!" Kel had all his ammunition ready. "Believe it or not Johnny was the best person to help me. He'd lost everything a few years back, remember?" Nurse and doctor considered this.

"Well, yes, I suppose he was a good choice to help," Dixie hedged. "But where are you going to stay?"

"You can move in with me!" Joe said stoutly.

"You have a one bedroom condo, Joe," Kel said. "Johnny has a three bedroom home. He put me up in his guest room."

"I just can't reconcile you and John Gage being roommates," Dixie said.

"We should start a pool," Joe said with a considering grin. "When will Kel run out screaming!"

"What do you mean, Kel?" Dixie proclaimed. "Johnny'll kick him out before that!"

Brackett just sat there, listening to his best friends, working out a bet regarding his living arrangements! Picking up his coffee he left the room. Maybe he and Johnny could work out a deal and profit from the situation! Brackett went to his office to think out his plan...