Disclaimer: All characters represented from Station 51 and Rampart Hospital belong to Universal Television, and Mark VII Limited.

Rating: PG-13 for language.

Category: A little angst... A little learning for all of our guys...

Feedback: Yes!

Author's Note: This one is completely on my own, so all errors are mine... My usual cyberEyes are busy with the US Open (rooting for the Aussie, no doubt! Looks like got your wish, Donna!! <G>) and writing her own epic!!! (I'm ready to keep nudging, Peggy, I swear!)

Summary: "There were times when his partner was as easy to read as a Dr. Seuss book, but then there were times when he realized that the book had more than one layer to it..."


Many Layers

By Susan Proto (STPteach@aol.com)

He'd obviously had something on his mind, but no one at the station could pinpoint what it was. Johnny just wasn't acting like his usual self, and it was getting to the point where it was irritating to some and worrisome to others.

"Hey, Gage," called out Chet. "How's it going today?" he asked as the dark-haired half of the paramedic team walked into the station house for their shift.

When Johnny responded, "Nothing much, Chet," Kelly seriously considered leaping from the bandwagon of the irritated to that of the worried. This was not a vintage Gage response; that would have entailed a quick retort of 'None of your business, Chester B.' or 'Why, Chet? Need some vicarious thrills to brighten up your life?' But no, instead, he received a simple, vague, generic response that any of the other guys could have given him, and Chet wouldn't have given it a second thought.

But, Gage? No, it was now time for some thorough investigating. Chet wanted his pigeon back.

"Okay," Chet began as he followed Johnny into the kitchen, "what the hell is going on with you?"

"Huh?" The taller, lankier man turned to look at Chet with a sincere expression of total confusion.

"Don't 'huh' me, Gage," Chet retorted but when he took note of his shift-mates obvious nonplussed look, he attempted to explain. "Johnny, what's wrong?"

"Nothing," was his simple, quiet reply. Too quiet in the esteemed opinion of Chet Kelly. If there was anything that John Gage was _not_ when he was feeling all right, it was quiet.


"Chet, I don't know what you're talking about," Johnny replied with more than a hint of irritation.

Chet opened his mouth to speak, but Captain Stanley interrupted with, "Gentlemen, it's time for roll call. I'll meet you in the bay for assignments."

Chet knew he'd get to the bottom of it; he just wasn't sure exactly what 'it' was that he was getting to the bottom of...


The assignments were handed out and surprisingly Chet did not receive latrine duty. Johnny did, but there was nary a protest from the usually outspoken paramedic. Chet looked at Roy as they watched the usually ebullient firefighter quietly walk toward the supply closet to retrieve the necessary cleaning materials. As they observed Johnny slowly walk into the latrine, Cap reminded the pair they too had a job assignment.

"Right, Cap, the hoses. Okay, we're going, we're going," assured Chet. But before he turned he called out and said, "Cap?"

"I know, Kelly. I wish I knew what was on Johnny's mind, too," he responded kindly.

Chet nodded and followed Roy to start getting the rolls of hose washed and hung before they were toned out.

"So, what do you think it is?" asked Chet as he proved once again that he was never one to beat around the bush.

"What 'what' is?" replied Roy, though both men knew Roy understood exactly what Chet was talking about.

"C'mon, Roy, stop playing dumb. What's going on with your partner? He's been acting strange for weeks now. Did you do anything, say anything to him? It's getting down right weird around here with him acting so... so..."

"So normal?" filled in Roy.

"Well, yeah!" retorted Chet when he realized that's exactly how John Gage had been acting the last several days. "Why's he doing that? How come he's not ranting and raving about life and being obnoxious and getting in everyone's face? What's going on with him?"

"I wish I knew," replied Roy, as he allowed his concern show for the first time to another of his shift-mates. "He barely talks to me unless we're running a code. I mean, he just gives me one-word answers if I ask him something, and it's only because I initiate the conversation."

"Did you ask him?"

"What do you think?" Chet shrugged his shoulders and Roy rolled his eyes as he responded, "Of course I asked him. He said 'nothing.' Didn't exactly leave a whole lot of room for discussion."

"Yeah, I know what you mean. He pulled the same thing on me this morning when we arrived. Roy, I gotta tell ya, it's driving me a little crazy."

"Yeah," Roy said thoughtfully, "I miss him, too."


As the last of the hose was hung the tones sounded, and the station responded to a small kitchen fire at the home of an elderly widower.

"I feel so foolish," he said, trembling with anxiety but otherwise unscathed.

"Hey, it happens to the best of us," replied Roy.

Johnny remained quiet as he continued to monitor the man's vitals. As he called the numbers in, an ambulance pulled up. "That's affirmative, Rampart. The ambulance has just arrived," he stated.

"Oh, no!" cried out the victim worriedly. "I can't leave!"

"Now, Mr. Parker," Roy cajoled, "you've just been through a bit of a trauma and you really need to get checked out by the doctors. Your blood pressure is running a little high; don't wanna take any chances with your health, do we?"

"But I can't leave now. Henry will be home soon, and I have to be here. He works at WFI," he stated as if that would explain everything.

And the amazing thing was that for one of them it did.

"Henry?" asked John, nodding.

"My son. I have to be here when he gets home."

Roy looked totally confused while it was apparent that Johnny had put two and two together. "I don't understand," stated the soft-spoken paramedic. Roy figured given Mr. Parker's advanced age, Henry would certainly have to be old enough to fend for himself. Hell, even if it were Mr. Parker's grandson, he'd still probably be old enough to be home alone.

But Johnny looked thoughtfully at the elderly man and said, "Is there a neighbor that could meet Henry here and then bring him to the hospital to see you, Mr. Parker?"

"No, no that would never do. Well, Liz Carpenter used to be able to handle Henry, but she moved a few months back. I've been pretty much on my own with him. No, there is no one else," he said, his voice trembling with anxiety.

Roy still found himself unsure as to what exactly the problem was, but since his partner seemed to have a handle on it, he saw no reason to not let Johnny run with it. He just wished they would hurry up and make a decision so they could get Mr. Parker to Rampart. The squad was being tied up needlessly, or so it appeared to Roy, though he was the first to admit the old man really did appear nervous about something.

"Mr. Parker, would Henry be okay if a police officer stayed and waited for him to arrive home?" asked Johnny.

"I don't know. To be honest, I'm afraid he might be frightened by a police officer... A complete stranger... Henry doesn't do well with strangers... I think he might be scared of having a policeman meet him at home. He might think he did something wrong. We've always talked about how policemen are good to go to when you're in trouble, but he might think he's in trouble. I'm sorry, I just can't go to the hospital until Henry comes home."

"Mr. Parker, what time is Henry due home?"

"In about twenty minutes. That's all, just twenty minutes."

"Okay, how about this? What if my partner rides in the ambulance with you, and I'll wait here for Henry. I can give him a ride to the hospital in the squad. Do you think he might like that?"

"Oh," Mr. Parker said, "You'd do that? I don't think he would be frightened by a fireman," the old man replied hopefully.

"Cap? What do you think? It's only another twenty minutes, and this way we can get Mr. Parker here to Rampart."

"Twenty minutes?" asked Cap to confirm.

"Oh, no more than that. The van is usually very prompt," responded Mr. Parker quickly.

"Okay... Go ahead, Roy. Bring Mr. Parker in and Gage will wait for Henry," agreed Captain Stanley, though for the life of him he wasn't terribly sure why he agreed to this plan. He wasn't even sure why there was a need for a plan in the first place.


Gage gathered what supplies he had left and returned them to the individual compartments of the squad, while the rest of the crew did the mop up of Mr. Parker's kitchen. They put in a little extra effort to give it a good cleanup, given the old man's age and probable lack of extra income.

As they gathered the rest of their tools, a blue van pulled up in front of the house with the logo "WIP: Working for Independence" on its side. They watched as Gage walked up to the van and spoke to the driver.

"Hi, Karen. I'm here to meet Henry Parker."

"Johnny! What an unexpected surprise," she said smiling, but it quickly faded when she realized that John was standing before her in uniform. "Oh, no," she whispered, "Mr. Parker isn't..."

"No, he's fine," he quickly explained, "He was taken to Rampart for precautionary reasons only. He had a little kitchen fire that kind of shook him up. His blood pressure went up a bit and given his age we didn't want to chance anything."

"Oh, well, that's a relief," replied the driver. "So you went and volunteered to pick up Henry, did you?"

"Yeah, well apparently he didn't have anyone else, and he wouldn't go until we could assure him that someone would meet his son."

"You're a good man, Johnny Gage."

"Yeah, well, I'm working on it," he said, smiling. "Okay, Henry, this is your stop, and you're about to get a ride in a firemen's squad!"

"Fi'eman? You fi'man?" asked Henry as he walked toward the van's exit.

"Yup, I am. How would you like to be fireman while we ride to go see your dad?" Johnny asked as he placed his helmet on top of the short-statured man.

"Yeth. I li'e being fi'eman," Henry replied with obvious excitement.

Suddenly another man, with facial characteristics so similar to Henry's one would have sworn they were brothers, attempted to follow Henry off the van.

"Whoa, Danny, this isn't your stop," called out Karen kindly. "This is Henry's house, remember?"

"I wanna be fi'eman, too, Kar'n!" declared Danny.

"Tell you what, Danny, next time I'm over at WFI, I'll be sure to look you up and let you test one of these helmets out, okay?" suggested Johnny as he offered his hand to shake on the deal. Danny didn't hesitate and took the proffered hand and both considered it a done deal.

Johnny waited until Danny sat down so he could slam the van door shut. Karen smiled her thanks and waved goodbye as she pulled away from the curb. Next, Johnny placed his hand on Henry's shoulder and asked him if he needed to use the toilet before they went for the ride in the squad.

"No," he replied as he shook his head for added emphasis. "Go in fi'e t'wuck."

"You sure? I'll wait." When the young man shook his head, Johnny said, "Okay, then let's get going, Henry. By the way, I'm Johnny," he said offering his hand in friendship.

"Hi, Johnny," Henry replied as he shook the fireman's hand more vigorously than necessary.

"Whoa, there buddy, I'd like to keep these fingers, if ya don't mind," he said smiling while extricated his hand from the firm shaking.

"Okay, Cap," he called out to his superior who stood alongside his other shift-mates, "we're gonna head out to Rampart, and I'll drop Henry off."

"Um, but what about, um, Henry here? What's going to happen to him?" asked Cap, as he realized that Henry would not be capable of taking care of himself.

"Social Services can arrange for emergency respite care," answered Gage with confidence.

"You sure?"

"I'm sure," affirmed John and with that he assisted Henry Parker, honorary fireman, into the squad.

As Johnny pulled the squad away from the curb, the other men remained rooted in place. Chet, as usual, was the first to break the silence. "Well, that was weird, wasn't it?"

"I hate to admit it, pal, but I think I've gotta agree with you," said Cap.

"What I don't get is Gage," began Chet.

"Yeah," Marco quickly agreed, "it's almost as if he knew that Henry was, um, well, different."

"Yeah, I mean," stammered Chet, "well, Gage wasn't even fazed by the fact the guy was a Mongoloid."

"They don't say that anymore, Chet," interjected Mike.

"Don't say what?"


"No? Well, he is, isn't he?"

"Well, yes, but they refer to the condition as Down's Syndrome. They don't say Mongoloid anymore," explained Mike.

"Oh. Well, that still doesn't explain why Gage didn't freak out when the guy got out of the van," Chet pursued.

"And how come he knew the driver of the van," noted Cap.

"He did?" asked Chet who was too surprised by Henry's condition to remember much else.

"Yeah, he did. Apparently, there's a great deal our colleague has kept to himself lately," mused Cap aloud. The others could only nod in silent agreement.


When Roy met up with his partner, he couldn't hide his expression of surprise upon seeing his shorter, but by no means younger, companion who still sported a Station 51 firefighter's helmet.

"Hi," Roy greeted, albeit tentatively.

"Hi, Roy. This is Henry Parker," introduced John.

"So I gathered," Roy said. "Nice to meet you, Henry." Roy was a little taken aback when the man extended his hand. Roy glanced at his partner who appeared to take it all in stride, so Roy accepted the hand of Henry Parker and felt a strong grip vigorously shake his hand.

"Whoa, Henry, that's quite a grip you've got there," he said with just an undercurrent of nervousness.

"Okay, Henry, remember what I told you in the squad. A good handshake does not have to break the other guy's fingers, right?" Gage reminded in a kind, but firm voice.

"Oh. 'Thorry."

The look of contrition tugged a bit at Roy's sensibilities and he quickly replied, "No problem. You just have to practice a bit, okay?" He was answered with a quick nod.

Roy looked back to his partner and asked the next obvious question. "Who's gonna watch Henry while his dad is kept overnight?"

"I already called up to Social Services. They'll be down to interview Henry and arrange for emergency respite care. They've got a list of people who are able to offer emergency foster care for people with Henry's type of needs," Johnny responded.

"Oh," Roy replied, nodding, but also wondering when his partner had become so savvy in the area of respite care for mentally retarded people. There were times when his partner was as easy to read as a Dr. Seuss book, but then there were times when he realized that the book had more than one layer to it.


After they'd pulled into the station, Roy looked over at his partner and decided it was now or never. And the younger man had been acting way too much out of character for the last few weeks for Roy to ignore this any longer.

"Okay. Spill."

"Okay. Spill, what?" asked Johnny, but given that he refused to make eye contact, it was clear that Johnny knew perfectly well to what Roy was referring.

And it was at that moment that the light dawned on Roy. "I was out a few weeks ago taking care of Jo and the kids when they were up all night with the stomach flu. Something happened that shift, didn't it?" Roy asked with certainty.

He didn't care how long it took for Johnny to respond, but Roy remained resolute in that he was going to get an answer from his reticent partner. The silence became palpable until finally, Johnny began to explain.

"We got a call from the Working for Independence Workshop. A client had a seizure that was going on too long and so they called for the squad. We stabilized him Bellingham rode with him to Rampart while I gathered the equipment to drive the squad in. I tell you, Roy, I..." Johnny swallowed hard. What he was about to say was clearly not easy for him to do.

"I thought I was gonna be sick. I mean, they have folks there with all kind of disabilities, and, well... God, this is embarrassing! I mean, here I am a paramedic; I'm trained to assist victims of accidents and illness, and there I was, in this place that had people who were scaring the shit out of me. And Roy, I_," he hesitated, but continued in a whisper, "I thought I was going to throw up right then and there.

"I can't remember feeling so damned helpless and ashamed," he admitted.

Roy maintained silence, first because he figured Johnny wasn't finished, and second because he had to admit that he held very similar feelings in response to his earlier meeting with Henry at the hospital. He could only imagine what it would have felt like to be in a roomful of Henrys.

"I left so quickly, that I ended up leaving my helmet. I didn't realize it until I'd gotten back to the station, but I didn't care. I was so nauseous and yet so mortified with myself for my unprofessional reaction, that I'd rather have faced a pissed off Cap than going back to that place to retrieve my helmet."

"But you did, didn't you?" Roy asked quietly.

"Yeah. I did. I couldn't let it go, Roy. I had a nightmare about the place that night and I just couldn't get over the fact that I was so damned ignorant about something that it would frighten me as much as it did."

Roy looked at his partner in total awe. That Dr. Seuss book sure was becoming a heavy read. "So, what happened? When you went back to get your helmet, that is?"

Johnny chuckled at this and explained, "Well, I was greeted like the lost prodigal son. It was my day off, so I wasn't in uniform, but a few of the clients recognized me and started gathering around me trying to touch me and pat me. I must have had a look of total horror on my face 'cause one of the workshop directors came over to my rescue.

"Anne, that's the director, took charge immediately and reminded the group that it was polite to shake hands and introduce themselves, but it was not okay to just start touching and patting a total stranger. She told them that it scared people. I couldn't believe it, Roy, that this woman first of all could read the fear in my face so easily and then not think anything of it to be so blunt and honest with the clients. Damn, if those guys didn't stop immediately and start apologizing all over the place for _scaring_ me... I was floored at how quickly they understood. I felt like an idiot for assuming that they wouldn't understand."

Roy could only nod in acknowledgment, mainly because he knew he'd have probably reacted in the same manner. Hell, he did react that way as he remembered cringing a bit when Henry Parker had offered his hand in greeting.

"So, what happened next?" Roy asked curiously. He knew there was more to the story; John Gage rarely does anything at less than full-throttle.

"I got hoodwinked," he answered with a laugh. "Anne invited me for a cup of coffee and, well, I just felt like I couldn't refuse, you know?"

"Good looking, huh?" Roy asked knowingly.

His cheeks took on a crimson hue and John sheepishly nodded. "Yeah, and unfortunately she's got a longtime boyfriend. But she did say she had a sister," he added lightly.

"Sure, you won't go out with the girls Joanne and I try to fix you up with, but you'll go out with Anne's sister..." razzed Roy.

"Hey, Allison is Anne's identical twin, my friend. Not exactly the classical blind date," he retorted with a smile.

Roy couldn't help but laugh in agreement, but then asked, "So, tell me what the upshot is. You've been back there?"

"Yeah. It's a workshop for mentally retarded adults who are too old for public school. Most of the clients are like Henry and live at home, though there are several who live in group homes. They teach independence skills; everything from work habits to cooking skills to travel skills. I've been going back on the average of once or twice a month to teach refresher courses in personal safety and fire safety."

Blue eyes concentrated on the figure before him and then, almost hesitantly, Roy asked, "So, why the secrecy?"

"Secrecy?" echoed Johnny in confusion.

"You never said anything and it was obviously on your mind for all of these weeks, Johnny. I mean, you haven't exactly been your usual, gregarious self, you know."


Roy was shocked to see what appeared to be an expression of genuine surprise on his partner's face.

"You didn't realize you've been acting... different?" asked Roy incredulously.

"I guess not," he admitted, "though I suppose I realize now I was a little more preoccupied than usual."

"Preoccupied is a bit of an understatement, Junior. You've had everyone really concerned; in particular, a certain Phantom who shall remain nameless."

"No kidding?" Once again, Johnny seemed genuinely surprised. It never ceased to amaze Roy just how ignorant his partner seemed to be of the high regard his shift-mates held him in.

"I still don't understand why you never said anything," probed Roy.

"Well, to be honest, I guess I wasn't sure how you guys would react. I mean, Roy, I remember my own reaction. I was scared shitless, but then I got to know the clients and, well, I guess I figured I needed to respect their privacy a bit too by not blabbing about them. They're mentally retarded, Roy, but they have rights, too."

Another layer to understand. Roy couldn't help but wonder if Dr. Seuss was really a pseudonym for Tolstoy...

"I understand, and as much as I hate to admit it, you're probably right about our reactions. Or at least my reaction; I can't speak for the other guys, but I'll tell ya, I wasn't too sure about meeting Henry today," Roy said softly.

"Yeah, well, the other guys didn't react any better when he got out of the van. They pretty much stood there with their mouths open," John offered in assurance. He paused momentarily and added, "But I guess I was really wrong."

"Wrong? We just decided you predicted our reactions perfectly," replied Roy in confusion.

"Yeah, well, that's the point. If I'd have taken the time to tell you a little bit about the volunteer work I'd been doing, maybe you wouldn't have been so adverse to meeting Henry; maybe the other guys would have seen Henry as a person first and not some poor 'retard.'"

Roy couldn't argue with the description; it wasn't something he was proud of, but he had to admit that it was a thought that went through his mind. He no doubted it went through the others' as well.

"Well, it's never too late, you know," Roy offered.

"No, no it's not; I guess now's as good a time as any. C'mon, maybe we can get the others to volunteer one day a month. You'll do it, too, won't you, Roy? I mean, I'm sure I can count on you, right? And if you volunteer, then for sure the other guys will want to pitch in! Gee, I wonder if I could convince B-Shift, maybe even C-Shift? Ya know this is a privately funded organization, right? Maybe we could get the department to sponsor some fundraising events for it. It's a great place, Roy! Can you imagine the good will our sponsoring ...." Gage's voice continued to ramble on and on as he disappeared into the kitchen to gather his colleagues in new lesson on life.

And all Roy could do was chuckle to himself and think, "Well, the cat in the hat is back..."


The end.

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