Disclaimer: All characters represented from Station 51 and Rampart Hospital belong to Universal Television, and Mark VII Limited. I think, 'cause that's who my buddy dee_ayy said they belonged to, and who am I to question my buddy?

Dedicated to my young nephew, Zach,a paramedic wannabe! (And to his family who as a result have pretty much memorized the dialogue to every single episode as well!)

Rating: PG-13 for a little bit of naughty language, but I did try to keep within the flavor of the era. Forgiveness requested for any millenium seepage...<G>

Category: Owies for Johnny and Angst for all!


It's Only a Game

By STP (STPteach@aol.com)

"Man, is this day perfect, or what?" asked the tousle-headed man with

the slightly crooked smile. "I mean, could you ask for better weather

for playing softball?"

"Yeah, it's pretty nice out here," agreed his partner, as his eyes

squinted a bit while trying to adjust to the midday rays.

"Man, oh man, Roy, I am just so psyched! I mean, what better way to

spend a beautiful sunny day than playing ball! Hell, Roy, let's play

two!" he practically sung out.

"Yeah, you and Ernie Banks, partner," Roy replied, and though hard as

he tried to keep the smile from forming on his lips, he found his

partner's enthusiasm all too infectious. "You're right, it is a

helluva day for a ballgame."

"What have I been telling ya, Roy?" John Gage stood with a self-

satisfied grin on his face. It wasn't often he could get his somewhat

stoic partner to loosen up and agree with him, so when it did happen,

Johnny Gage was more than prepared to (silently, of course) gloat and

enjoy it.

The firefighters, hospital staff, and their families had slowly begun

gathering at the ball field in anticipation of the first annual,

charity softball game to benefit those victims of local fires. The

staffs of Rampart Medical Center and the Los Angeles County

Firefighters Association were sponsoring it, and it was the only thing

that had been in the hearts and minds of the guys at Station 51 for the

last several days.

Roy's family was in the bleacher seats eagerly waiting for the start of

the game. Joanne and the kids were every bit as enthusiastic about

watching Roy and the other members of the Station 51 play that day as

the other family members. The hospital was donating a small portable

T.V. for the charity raffle, and 11 year-old Chris DeSoto had visions

of that television gracing the table in his bedroom.

Little did he know that Joanne already had plans for it to fit neatly

in the nook under the kitchen cabinet. It was the perfect spot to

watch Days of Our Lives while she was getting laundry folded or the

Match Game while she readied the evening meal.

Six year old Jennifer DeSoto was just as happy to make silly faces at

her daddy and Uncle Johnny. Televisions didn't hold that much appeal

for her as yet.

While John was making yet another goofy face at his partner's daughter,

Chet came over carrying three full coolers of water with a bag of

styrofoam cups jammed under his arm. "Hey, Gage, would you mind taking

a break from flirting with your girlfriend and grabbing these for me?"

"Chet! I'm not flirting with my girl_," he began until he realized he

was being unmercifully teased. Gage was always quick with a comeback

for his friendly rival and moved to help him out. "Sure, no problem,

Chet," replied the gangly paramedic with a wry smile as he grabbed the

very light weight package of cups from under his fellow fire fighter's

arm. "Gee, thanks, Gage," Chet snickered, "your help is certainly


Gage replied with a snicker of his own but then proceeded to take one

of the coolers off of Chet's hands. In recognition of the civility of

Gage's act, Chet said in a rather conspiratorial tone, "Hey, guess

who's playing today for Rampart?"

"Who?" asked Gage with only a hint of curiosity.

"Aw, c'mon, ya gotta guess one time at least," whined Chet. When Gage

shrugged his shoulders and Roy offered no more of guess than his

partner, Chet sighed, "Jeeze, you guys aren't any fun." When he

started to walk away, both men called out to him in stereo and demanded

to know who was playing for Rampart.

"Okay, okay," he acquiesced, "I'll tell ya." He paused momentarily

dramatically and then said, "Well, believe it or not, it's Dixie."

"Dixie?" echoed Gage. "You're kidding."

"Nope, and I'll tell ya, it's not making a certain inflexible hard ass

too happy either."

"Brice isn't happy about Dixie playing?" asked Roy innocently.

"No, Roy, not Brice. Why the hell should Brice care if Dixie plays for

the hospital team in a softball game with our Station?"

"Well, he's about as inflexible a hard ass as I'll ever know,"

interjected Johnny.

"See? That's why I was asking," replied Roy relieved to get a little

backup from his partner.

"No, jeeze you guys. Not Brice. Dr. Morton. He's the one whose got his

britches all in a twist 'cause Dixie's playing," informed Chet.

"Okay, I'll bite," began Roy a bit warily, knowing Chet Kelly's

penchant for weaving a bit of a tall tale, "Why would Morton care if

Dixie plays or not?"

"Ahh, you've come to the right source for answers, my friend," Chet

replied with a flourish.

"C'mon, Chet, cut to the chase," retorted Gage with frustration.

"He played ball in school; takes it real seriously," interjected Mike


"Now he decides to talk," fumed Chet as he threw his hands up in

frustration. Both Johnny and Roy laughed at that. Mike was usually so

quiet that you didn't even know he was in the room with you, so the

fact that he let Chet's big news out of the bag was something of a

newsworthy tidbit in and of itself.

"I heard he played basketball," commented Johnny.

"Yeah, that was the sport he lettered in, but he also played baseball

in college," replied Chet quickly so Mike couldn't rain on his parade


"Yeah, but this is just a charity softball game," remarked Roy, "why

should he care if Dix plays?"

"Well, I heard he was really ranting and raving with Brackett and Early

about the purity of the game and all that," explained Chet. "Of

course, when Doc Early told Morton he would have to be the one to tell

Dixie she couldn't play, Morton backed off real quick."

"I guess the man isn't a total fool, eh Roy?" asked Johnny


They all had a good laugh over that one and then proceeded to warm up

before the game.


For the most part, the two teams were pretty evenly matched. Each side

had scored a few runs so it was all tied up in the bottom of the fifth

inning. In fact, after Dr. Brackett grounded out to make the first out,

Dr. Morton had hit a hard single to short center. Stoker was playing

center and threw it into the shortstop, Gage, while Marco, the second

baseman, backed him up. Roy held Morton on at first base and tried to

engage him in some friendly banter.

"Nice hit, Doc." The doctor merely nodded in acknowledgment. "Heard

you were a pretty good player in college," Roy continued. This

elicited a mild grunt of recognition. "Ever think of playing for the

majors?" This got a response, though it was a bit terse.

"Didn't make the cut. Became a doctor instead."

"Oh." Roy let it go at that. He held the resident to the bag without

another word to the rather intense young resident.

There were a number of extra players on each team who hadn't gotten

into the game yet, and the sub that caused the most reaction up to that

point was just now entering the game. As Dixie started up to

the plate, she had two choices. For one, the liberated woman in her could choose to ignore the cat calls and whistles and then quietly demand that everyone take her playing seriously. On the other hand, she could acknowledge the fact that it was a bit unusual for a woman to be playing in an all-male softball game and accept the fact that most of them were appreciative of her female form up at bat.

She chose the latter.

She smiled, waved her hand to the crowd, and then stepped up to the


She took ball one. Her shorter height made it difficult for 51's pitcher, Hank Stanley, to find the strike zone. He threw her an arcing pitch again, and the umpire called, ball two.

"Good eye, Dixie!" cheered on Joe Early who was acting as first base

coach. Joe then reminded Morton to run on any contact to avoid a

possible double play, and Morton gruffly responded that he _knew_ that.

As Cap went into his wind up, Dr. Morton stepped on first place. He'd

always had good baseball instincts, and he had a feeling that Dixie was

going to make contact this time. Though he was probably the only person playing who really cared, he knew in softball he had to wait

for the ball to cross home plate before he could leave the base, so

without taking his eye off of his second base destination, he listened

for the tell tale crack of the bat.

"GO DIXIE!" cried out Early. Morton had already taken off at the sound

of the hit and was running hard toward second base. Marco had come in

from his second base position to take care of the slow rolling dribbler

that barely made it toward the pitcher's mound, deftly picked it up,

and tossed it toward first base.

As he lobbed it over, Roy was laughing as he announced for all to hear,

"Dixie, ya run just like a girl!" Marco started laughing at that,

especially since Dixie started laughing halfway up the first base line

as she accepted the ribbing with the good humor it was intended. Of

course, since everyone was laughing so hard, Roy lost control of the

softball and actually dropped it as Dixie stepped on first base.

"Well, nice of you to notice, Roy!" she panted as she made it to the


"SAFE!" called out the umpire.

"Aw, c'mon, Ump! She was out by a mile!" whined Chet, who as the

catcher was right on top of the play backing up his first baseman.

"And she would have been if Roy held onto the ball," pointed out Joe


"Dixie, ya can't be running like a girl and expect a guy to play decent

ball, ya know?" declared Roy with a broad smile. They were having a

good time. Johnny was right; it was a great day for a ballgame.

Everyone was chatting it up, joking, and laughing when suddenly Roy

heard Marco call his name out. Loudly.

And in a tone that was more than just a little panic-stricken.


Like every other guy on the field, on the sidelines, and in the stands,

Johnny was carefully observing the batter with an admiring eye. Though

Dixie was older than he was, he could still appreciate that she was a

fine looking woman with a figure that certainly did her 'uniform' of

shorts and a tee shirt justice.

The little wiggle she made with her hips as she stood in the batter's

box didn't hurt either. Gage smiled to himself; there was no way he

could be sure whether Dixie was purposely trying to distract the

players on the field, or if she was nothing more than an innocent

first-time player.

No matter, he was there to have a good time and watching Dixie

participate in the charity game was as good of a definition of fun as

any other. He smiled at the head nurse's seeming determination after

taking two balls in a row. When his captain got ready to throw the

third pitch, Dixie seemed to buckle down. Stanley went into his wind up

and arced the ball perfectly over home plate.

She hit it. Johnny's mouth dropped when she actually made contact with

the ball. He smoothly ran over to cover second base while Marco fielded the ball.

Gage watched the play in front of him the entire time. The ball

dribbled up a little ways past the pitcher's mound and he watched Marco

dash in to snatch it up off the ground. While Marco straightened up to

throw, Johnny saw Dixie running towards first base. He couldn't keep

the smile off of his face, and then he started laughing right out loud

when he heard Roy's declaration that Dixie ran just like a girl!

That she did, and he enjoyed every moment watching her. He didn't take

his eyes off of her.

Which was why the jolt Gage felt when Mike Morton barreled into him

felt like a renegade train had run right into him. He felt as though he

was lifted up by his feet and then dropped back down to the ground on

his head. Johnny had no idea as to exactly what happened. He simply

knew he was no longer standing upright watching the play in front of


He was dead.

That was the only thing that Johnny figured could account for what he

was feeling. At first he thought he was having an out of body

experience, but then Gage realized that he was looking up at the sky

rather than hovering above and looking down below him.

Yet he still wasn't sure. He felt as though his body was deadened; he

couldn't understand why all of a sudden he no longer felt a part of



Morton was sprawled out next to the paramedic. He remained still, as

still as the paramedic was, for a moment or two. Then, slowly, the

muscular doctor untangled himself from Gage's lower limbs.

"Was I safe?" were the first words out of his mouth. When Gage didn't

answer, Morton asked again only to be greeted by silence. He took a

quick look over at first base and saw ER's head nurse remained

steadfastly on first base. "Well, I guess Dixie beat it out," he

muttered quietly. He figured he'd take his base and stay there until

someone told him differently.

As he stood up and brushed the dirt off of his clothes, the doctor noticed Gage still hadn't gotten up. He decided to be sportsman like and offer the fireman a hand. "Here, Gage," he said as he offered his hand, "Lemme help you up."

"No," was the quick, but strangled cry.

"No?" Morton echoed. "C'mon, Gage, stop screwing around."

"No," the young paramedic replied with more determination.

"What the hell's wrong with you?" Morton asked. He was too wound up in

the emotion of the game to even begin to contemplate that Johnny might

need more than just a hand up.

Johnny suddenly realized something was horribly wrong. He felt he was

going to lose all control if he didn't get the anchor he desperately


"Roy," he called out with a small, but determined voice, "I need Roy."

It was as if a light bulb suddenly went on in Mike Morton's head. "Oh

crap," he muttered aloud. It was then that Morton called out to Marco

Lopez to get Roy over to him and John.

"Something's wrong, Lopez. Roy. Get Roy, now." Dr. Morton then motioned furiously for Drs. Brackett and Early to come over to Gage's side.


Roy looked over towards where he heard the call and realized that

Johnny was down for the count. For a split second he began trying to

analyze all of the possibilities that his partner remained laying on

the ground.

None of them were good.

He started out at a brisk walk, then accelerated to a slight jog, until

he was at a full sprint to second base. He knelt down at his partner's

side and was about to grab his hand to take a pulse when he heard

Johnny say softly, "C-Collar. Get a C-collar on me, now."

Johnny made his demand clear; there was no doubt in Roy's mind that his

partner was acting out of pure instinct. "Okay, partner. We're

getting one from Squad 16's truck," and with that he looked up at Marco

who immediately understood that he was to go and get the Squad 16's

paramedics and equipment.

Kelly Brackett and Joe Early quickly knelt down by the fallen paramedic and attempted to assess his condition. Dixie stood nearby in case they could use her assistance as well. Mike Morton, however, remained back of the immediate scene. He stood observing without comment.

"Okay, Johnny, tell me what's going on, okay?" Roy asked gently, as he

leaned down over his partner in order to make eye contact.

"Don't know exactly," responded the less than confident voice. "Roy,

something's wrong. I don't know where I am. I don't think I can move."

Roy hesitated before he responded to this; he wasn't sure exactly what

Johnny meant. He wasn't even sure if Johnny knew what he meant, and

Roy didn't want to agitate him. Roy knew something was wrong,

seriously wrong, since Johnny had not moved a muscle the entire time. He looked to Brackett for guidance.

"Keep him talking," the doctor whispered encouragingly, as he and Early continued to assess the young man's condition. "Just keep him talking for now."

"Do you remember what happened that caused you to go down?" asked Roy.

"I'm not sure. Dixie was up and she hit the ball. She got a hit, and

I was watching. Marco, he got the ball and threw it to you. Right,

Roy?" he asked in almost a pleading tone. He needed to know that he

was able to make some sense of what had happened.

"Yeah, Johnny. That's what happened so far, but what happened next?"

Brackett asked with more concern as he realized that there was the

possibility of a very serious injury.

"I, I don't know. I'm not sure what __. Roy, what the hell happened?"

pleaded the younger partner. He was dazed and didn't know how to

explain his condition. He felt so disoriented at that moment that he

felt nauseous. He feared he was going to vomit all over himself.

Joanne watched in horror as the game game to a sudden abrupt halt and

everything centered on an injured player. "Hey, isn't that Johnny Gage

that's down?" she heard someone ask. She turned to look to the speaker and

recognized the wife of a paramedic from 51's C shift.

"Yes, it's Johnny. It looks like he hasn't moved a bit since he was knocked

down!" Joanne answered.

"Mom, can we go down and see what's happening?" Chris asked, his eyes filled

with worry.

"Yeah, mom, I can make him get up," Jennifer pleaded.

Joanne shook her head. "No, we'll only be in the way. You Dad will come talk

to us as soon as he can."

Everyone's eyes on the field, no one noticed Jennifer leaving her seat...

"Uncle Johnny? Uncle Johnny, what's wrong?" cried out young Jennifer

who had run over to the scene before anyone even realized it.

"Oh, God, Roy?" he pleaded. He couldn't stand the idea that Jennifer

would see him weak. Roy understood immediately and spoke up.

"Jen, Uncle Johnny was hurt, but we're going to take good care of him.

We need you to go sit back down with Mommy and Chris, so the doctors

and the paramedics have the room to work. Okay, sweetheart?"

"But, Daddy, I want__."

"Jennifer, please, listen to Daddy. Honey, it's real important," Roy


"C'mon, sweetheart, let's go with your Mommy now," Dixie interjected.

I'm sure your daddy will let us know if there's anything we can do to

help your Uncle Johnny, right?"

"Thanks, Dixie." Roy then stood up and gave his daughter a hug. He

then looked at his wife with what she could only describe as wild eyes.

Joanne knew something was wrong, but she knew she couldn't ask

questions at that time. She would have to wait, along with everyone

else. She allowed herself to be escorted by Dixie to the nearby

bleachers to wait for word with her children.

When it was apparent that Jennifer was no longer nearby, Johnny felt a

little less anxious. He knew that he was in good hands; he just wished

he could remember what had actually happened.

"Johnny, I need to give you a quick check to get a better idea of what

we're dealing with, okay? Brice and Bellingham are going to check your

vitals for me," informed Dr. Early.

"Roy?" called out Johnny suddenly. When Roy had stood up to console

Jennifer, he was no longer in Gage's direct line of sight. His voice

was now filled with anxiety, and Roy quickly responded.

"I'm right here, Junior."

"Roy, I can't see you," he said tremulously.

"I'm here, Johnny," he said gently, as he slipped in behind him in

order to get in his partner's sight. "I'm right here."

"Anything jogging your memory, John, about what happened?" asked Dr.

Early. When he heard a whispered, "no," the doctor then asked aloud of

everyone, "Did anyone see what happened?"

There was complete silence for several moments when Mike Stoker spoke up. "I saw it. I saw the entire thing." His voice had an edge to it that few had ever heard coming from the normally mild-mannered engineer.

"Well, you gonna tell us, Stoker?" egged on Chet.

"It's all your fault!" Mike continued with quiet anger. "It's all your fault!" As Stoker spoke, Morton began to back up as the fireman unconsciously began to move toward the resident.

"Stoker, what the hell are you doing?" called out Hank when he realized that Stoker was getting more and more intimidating. He wasn't sure what caused him more shock, Gage's condition or Mike's sudden, out-of-character aggressive behavior. He reached for his engineer just as Stoker lunged for Morton.

Chet grabbed Stoker's right arm, while Hank grabbed the left. Stoker

tried to fend them both off, but eventually acquiesced, breathing hard.

"Mike, what the hell got into you?" asked the captain.

When Stoker finally found his breath again, he said simply, "It's his

fault," all the while glaring directly at Dr. Morton.

"What was his fault, Stoker? C'mon, pally, talk to me," beseeched the


"I saw the whole thing. Gage never saw him coming. Never. He was

watching the play in front of him the entire time, but _he_," Stoker

practically spit the pronoun out, " never slowed down for one second.

He just barreled right into Johnny without ever taking notice if he was

ready for him. For crying out loud, it's just a damn game!"

Mike Morton stood silently, listened to the diatribe, and accepted

every word as truth.


The paramedics finished taking all of the vitals and recording them.

Early was a little concerned about their patient's blood pressure as

it was running a little high which was contrary to potential neurogenic

shock, so perhaps that a positive sign. However, he didn't like the

pallor of Gage's skin. He looked too pale and was probably nauseous.

Vomiting was the last thing John Gage needed right now, and Early

urged the paramedics to secure him to a backboard as quickly as


Brice and Bellingham weren't done a moment too soon when Gage began to

show signs of panic. "Junior, you okay?" asked Roy quickly.


"Roll him; he's gonna throw up," directed Roy.

One last quick check of the inflexible C-Collar and the tie downs on

the backboard, and John Gage was rolled over onto his side so that he

didn't end up choking on his own vomit. Roy stayed near, keeping his

hands around his partner's forehead, and saying whatever he could think

of that might offer the frightened man some comfort.

I.V.s had already been started, so that lines would be open and ready

to use when they arrived at the hospital. Early and Brackett both

agreed that steroids would have to be administered as soon as they

arrived in the emergency room. Both men were acutely aware that it was

going to be a while before they'd be able to determine the severity and

permanency of Gage's injury.

As Brackett and Early looked at the worried expressions surrounding

them, they realized it was going to be a long wait.


Mike Morton remained silent throughout the entire procedure of getting

Gage prepared for transport. What was there to say? He knew he was

the reason for the paramedic's injury. He hadn't meant to cause the

guy bodily harm, that was a certainty. But the truth of the matter

was, his inflexible pursuit of always being the best no matter what the

cost, was simply too high of a price on that day.

He knew there was a good possibility John Gage would be permanently

confined to a wheelchair. His career as a firefighter/paramedic was

quite probably over. Given Johnny's love of the outdoors and all

activities associated with it, his motivation to continue life in a

wheelchair would be in jeopardy as well.

Morton turned away from the crowd momentarily to take a deep breath and

scrub his face with his hands. He didn't mean for it to happen. He

never intended to hurt anyone; he was simply playing the game in the

only way he knew how to play it, hard and with the intent of winning.

Only problem was that no one won today, and there was obviously at

least one big loser. Morton looked back as the team of medics turned

the backboard over again. Gage was having a difficult time keeping the

contents of his stomach down, and he threw up yet again. All concerned

wanted to be sure his stomach settled before they transported to

Rampart. Morton sighed in despair.


It was decided that Kelly Brackett would ride separately to Rampart, and Roy would ride with Dr. Early in the ambulance. Brice and Bellingham were released from the run since a neurosurgeon was accompanying the patient.

Johnny hadn't said a word when they first entered the ambulance,

although he did keep his eyes in constant contact with Roy's. The fear

in the younger man's eyes was obvious; what was less noticeable was the

terror in his partner's. Roy knew Johnny was in trouble, and that this

was one injury from which he might not get a chance to walk away.

Roy considered just about every possibility he could think of as they

rode over to the hospital. His partner might have to use crutches to

get around.


He might lose the use of his legs.


He might have limited use of his arms.


He might require the use of an electric wheelchair.


He might need some assistance with breathing.


He might be on a respirator for the rest of his life.


Roy didn't want to get his hopes up, so he didn't chance thinking Gage

might recover completely. Of course, Roy would even allow himself to

consider the possibility that his friend might not make it at all.

They were almost to the hospital when Gage called to his partner.

"Roy, promise me something." Roy had to lean down close to John to

hear the whispered request. "Promise me I won't have to live like


"Pally, you know how good these guys are," Roy began reassuringly.

"They're gonna do everything they can for you. We're just gonna have

to wait and see what the test results are, okay?"

"No," Gage whispered, agitation was clearly heard this time, "ya gotta

promise me, I won't have to live like this." When Roy still appeared

to have no clue of what John was really saying, the fallen paramedic

implored, "Please, Roy."

It was then that Roy finally understood the true meaning behind Gage's

words, and it frightened him into silence momentarily. Finally, with a

great deal of difficulty, Roy managed to choke out, "Junior, I can't

make a promise that's impossible for me to keep. Damn it, Johnny, you

mean too much to me. I couldn't let you go that easily, so please,

don't ask me to__." Roy paused and swallowed back a sob. "Please,

Johnny, don't ask me that."

Johnny closed his eyes.


Dr. Early quickly administered the steroids to reduce any swelling around the spinal cord and its aftereffects. They ordered a complete set of x-rays in order to help them diagnose the severity of the trauma to the spinal cord.

In the meantime, they continued to assess their patient for shock. They'd started an IV of Ringers Lactate while in the field to help minimize the symptoms.

Upon arrival in the trauma room, Johnny had been immediately

catheterized. The last thing John Gage needed was an infection that could increase his blood pressure to dangerous levels. Pain and discomfort easily triggered a condition that could raise the blood pressure, but since Johnny's present condition rendered him without the ability to feel, it was up to Early and Brackett to anticipate potential problems. Anything the medical staff could do to minimize potential problems was a priority.

Both doctors knew it was going to be a matter of waiting and seeing.

Praying probably wouldn't hurt at this point either.


The firemen who weren't on duty filtered into the ER waiting room at

Rampart throughout the day. Everyone gathered in support of their

friend and his partner. Joanne arrived with both children in tow. She

expected to find her husband was remaining by John's side, so she was

surprised to see him in the waiting room with the others.

"Roy? What's wrong?" she asked as soon as she saw the dark mood he

wore on his face.

"They're getting him ready for x-rays and a scan," he replied. He

spoke with little inflection; he was still in paramedic mode.

"Roy, talk to me. What are you not telling me?" Joanne asked again.

"Joanne, he can't move!" Roy retorted.

"Besides the obvious," she replied gently. After thirteen years of

marriage, if there was one thing Joanne DeSoto could do, it was read

her husband like an open book.

Roy didn't know how to say it; he didn't know if he should betray

John's confidence, but he something like this was too hard for him to

deal with on his own. He looked at his wife gratefully and opened up

to her.

"Joanne, he's scared; I mean, I know he must be scared, but__."

"But? Tell me, Roy, whatever it is, we'll deal with it, together," she


"He asked me to do something I could never do," he confessed. "He asked

me to promise that he wouldn't have to go on living if he were to

remain paralyzed." Roy let out an involuntary shudder just remembering

his friend's plea.

"Oh, dear God, that poor man," reacted Joanne. "He must feel so

helpless to want to__." She couldn't say utter the word. "What did

you say?"

"No. I told him, no." Roy fell into his wife's arms for the emotional

support he so desperately needed at that moment.


Mike Morton remained in the doctor's lounge alone pacing its perimeter.

He wasn't asked to consult on Gage's case, which of course didn't

surprise him, but he was still feeling as if he should be doing

something. The problem was, he didn't think anyone would let him. He

felt like a pariah and didn't think anyone would welcome his offering

of services.

Dixie walked into the lounge for a needed cup of coffee and was

startled to find Dr. Morton waiting alone inside. She knew it made

sense that he would be there, but having focused so much of energies on

getting Johnny settled in, she'd completely forgotten about Mike

Morton. It looked to her as if everyone had forgotten about the young

resident, and she wondered if that was a good idea.

"Mike, you okay?" she asked tentatively.

He looked at her quietly before answering her, as if he needed to

assess her true motivation for the question. After being on the

receiving end of Mike Stoker's fury, Morton wondered if anyone really

gave a damn as to how he felt about the whole incident. Afterwards, no

one had come over to him to offer any kind of support or sympathy

regarding Stoker's attack on him.

Not that he felt he deserved any, but it would have been of some

comfort to know everyone didn't hate him for what he did to Gage.

What _he_ did to Gage.

He suddenly realized he had no idea how to answer Dixie's question, so

he remained silent.

Dixie carefully observed Morton and went into Nurse's Mode. The

man's pallor looked pasty and she noticed his hands were trembling a

bit. The next thing she knew, Morton's entire body began shuddering.

"Mike, sit down, you're in shock," she ordered as she walked over to

him and grabbed his arm. "C'mon, sit, now."

He allowed himself to be led to the couch and Dixie did a quick

assessment to see how the young resident was doing. She noted the

glassy eyes, and slow responses. His breathing was a bit labored, and

his pulse was more rapid than normal, but certainly not cause for too

much alarm.

He was exhibiting signs of shock, though she wasn't sure if it was

physical or emotional. "Mike, were you hurt?" When he didn't answer,

she shook his shoulder in order to get his attention, and repeated,

"Were you hurt at all?"

Finally, Dixie placed her hand under Morton's chin and pulled it so

that he was forced to make eye contact with her. "Mike, were you

injured? Answer me, now."

Dixie's no nonsense tone startled the doctor a bit, and it was just

enough to force a response from him.


"Did you hit your head?" she asked, hoping Morton's new found gift of

gab wouldn't disappear too soon.


"Did you pull a muscle or bruise anything; are you cut?"

"No. No. No." He looked at her with little expression, until he

began speaking again. Then, his voice took on new tones of emotion.

"I told you I was not hurt. I told you I was okay. I told you that.

Now leave me alone."

"Mike, you're not okay." She paused momentarily and then added, "None

of us are."

Morton looked at her with new eyes and bemoaned, "Oh, God, Dixie, what

have I done?"

He dropped his head into his hands and began to sob.


It took some doing, but Dixie finally convinced the resident to lay down on the couch. Morton fell into a restless sleep. His body had been experiencing similar symptoms of shock to those of one who was physically hurt, and it took a toll on him. He was exhausted from the emotional roller coaster he was riding that afternoon. Sleep was his only means of escape.

Dixie left the lounge and went into the trauma room to check on Johnny.

She saw him as he lay motionless while Drs. Early and Brackett conferred quietly. He remained restrained in the C-collar and on the backboard. The nurse bypassed the two physicians and went directly to the patient. She noted he was staring straight up at the ceiling barely blinked at her arrival.

"Hey there, good lookin'," she greeted with a smile. "How you holding


"Okay," he said resolutely.

"Really?" she responded, "Funny, I'd be ready to climb the walls by now

waiting for word on what the hell was going on."

"Don't think that's gonna happen too soon," responded Johnny


"Johnny, you don't know what's going to happen any time soon. We have

to wait for the x-rays and I'm sure Joe has scheduled you for a CAT

scan, right?"

"I guess." His tone remained flat. It dawned on Dixie that something

was wrong with the picture before her. "Where's Roy?"

"Don't know. Haven't seen him since we first got here," he answered.

"How about I go and get him?" Dixie asked rhetorically, but to her

surprise, Johnny answered her.

"Dunno if he'll want to come back in," he began and then hesitantly

continued, "Think maybe I put him off before."

"Put him off? From seeing _you_? John Gage, what in heaven's name

could you have possibly said that would make Roy want to avoid seeing

you?" Dixie asked a bit indignantly.

He met her question with silence and then whispered, "Nothing. Tired."

He forced his eyes closed though Dixie was well aware that it was not

to sleep.

She leaned down and whispered into his ear, "Johnny Gage, don't you

dare give up on yourself, ya hear? I won't allow it, and neither will

Roy. None of your friends will. You just remember that."

John sighed to himself and waited until Dixie left his side before he

allowed himself to mutely respond to her whispered pleas with only

silent tears.


A few hours passed by and Kelly and Joe took the time to go over the

x-rays. Next they took the opportunity to review the results with the dozen or so firefighters and their families that remained in the waiting room to let them know what they knew of Johnny's condition.

"I wish we had something definitive to tell you all," Joe Early began

remorsefully. "It's just too soon to make a prognosis."

"Well, what do you know?" asked Hank. This was one half of the

best paramedic team in the county laying in bound up in that hospital

room, and he needed to know what he and his men could expect. He

needed to know what he would have to do to support the other half of

the team.

"Well, we can tell you Johnny is experiencing varying degrees of

numbness from the neck down. The good news is that he's not having too

much difficulty breathing, so we can hopefully expect he won't need to

go on a ventilator any time soon," offered Dr. Brackett.

"Ventilator?" squeaked Chet. "What the hell are you talking about,

Doc? Just tell us how soon Gage is gonna get up out of that bed and

walk out of here."

Leave it to Chet Kelly to get to the heart of the matter and blurt out

what was on everybody's mind.

"Chet__," Brackett hesitantly began, "__Guys, listen. I, um, don't

think __." He gave up. Kelly Brackett was the first person to admit

his bedside manner was sometimes a little gruff, but even he didn't

have it in his heart to tell these men that there was a real

possibility their fellow fireman and friend would never walk out of

this hospital.

Joe Early saw his colleague struggling and graciously took over the

task of trying to explain the situation.

"Folks, Kelly's right. It's simply too early to make a prognosis.

There are a number of possibilities ranging from the best possible

outcome to the worse case scenario."

"What might those be, Doc?" asked Roy softly. He was pretty sure he

knew what they were, but he felt it was important for the knowledge to

be shared with his colleagues.

"Well, best case, is Johnny enjoys a full recovery and walks out of the

hospital once feeling returns. He'd probably have to go through a

period of rehab, but that would be expected."

"And the worse case?" asked Hank.

"He's paralyzed from the neck down and has to use a ventilator to

breathe for him," Early replied but quickly added, "but I don't see

that as a true possibility. He's breathing on his own now, so I don't

think the injury is that high."

Joanne stepped forward and asked, "Can you give an estimate as to when

you will have some idea of how Johnny is going to fair?"

"We got the test results, but to be honest, there's still too much

swelling to allow us to see anything definitive. It's really a wait

and see situation. It could be anywhere from the next several hours to

the next several days. I wish I could be more specific. I'm sorry,"

Brackett responded.

From the entrance of the room, Mike Morton had been listening intently.

He was just as eager to hear the results as Gage's friends. He was

just as frustrated and let down when he didn't.


"Where's Joanne?" asked Dixie.

"The kids were getting really restless and hungry. Jennifer didn't

really understand what was going on, and Jo felt it best to take both

kids home."

Dixie nodded in agreement and then said, "Have you had a chance to

speak with Dr. Morton yet?"

"Dr. Morton?" he echoed. When Dixie nodded, Roy shook his head no and

then asked, "Why?"

"Roy, he's feeling really down about what happened."

With a flash of anger, Roy gritted out, "Well, don't you think he

should? Damn it, Dix, it's his fault Johnny can't move, isn't it?"

"It was an accident, and you know it. Mike Morton never intended

Johnny any harm. He was playing the game, that's all," she retorted.

"Turned out to be a helluva play, didn't it," he muttered miserably.

"I know Morton didn't intentionally set out to hurt Johnny, but it was

so unnecessary, Dix. If he weren't so damned, _intense_ all the time,

this would never have happened."

"I know, Roy, but he feels just as badly as the rest of us."

"Oh? Funny, you'd never know that. Where the hell has he been all

this time, Dixie? I certainly haven't seen him go and apologize to

Johnny, have you?" Roy said angrily.

Dixie remained silent. She knew Roy was in no state of mind to

understand that Morton understood just how angry everyone was feeling

with him at that point. Finally, she said, "Roy, I think someone could

really use some company about now. I checked a little earlier and saw

Johnny was definitely awake."

"Oh_, sure," Roy hesitated, "Um, let me go check with Cap first and find out when my next shift is, okay?" He began to walk away, but Dixie grabbed his arm too quickly.

"Now what's going on?" she said with a hint of exasperation. It was a

long day for them all.

"Nothing, Dix, nothing at all. Just gotta check in with Cap, that's


"Roy DeSoto, that is the biggest bunch of crock and you and I both

know it. Now spill."

Roy sighed and with much trepidation shared the request Johnny had made

of him in the ambulance. "I don't know if I can look him straight in

the eye, Dix, knowing he wants me to__, well, you know, help him die."

"Oh, for heaven's sake, Roy! He doesn't want to die, he's afraid of

living a life that's the total antithesis of what he's always known. Get in there and help him see you'll be there no matter how things turn out." She saw his hesitation and urged him with one final, "Go!"

He nodded and left for Johnny's room.


Roy opened the door to his partner's room slightly when he heard voices

from inside. He opened it a little more, and though he had no

intention of eavesdropping, he found himself listening with more than a

little curiosity to the words that Johnny and Dr. Morton exchanged.

"Listen, Gage, I had no idea you didn't see me. I just figured you

did; I guess I should have looked, but I thought you saw me. I was

sure you saw me."

Roy tried to keep quiet, he really did, but in all of Morton's words,

he'd yet to hear an apology. Not anything close. So Roy probably

startled both men more than he should have when he shoved the door open

and angrily said, "If absolution is what you want from him, Morton,

don't waste your breath.

"Why don't you try saying that you're sorry. You were the one at

fault, but you're making it sound like Johnny's the one responsible

just because he wasn't expecting to be blindsided by an idiot who

doesn't know the difference between a charity softball game and the

World Series between the Dodgers and the Yankees."

"Roy, don't," Johnny rasped.

"No, Junior, this just isn't fair. He's standing here and I haven't

heard him take one iota of responsibility for you ending up in


"Roy," Gage tried again, "it was an accident. He didn't mean for this

to happen."

"Oh, Johnny, he should at least apologize," Roy despaired. It was

killing him to think his best friend may never lead a normal life.

Johnny looked over at Mike Morton and for the first time since the

accident, actually sported a small smile. "Ya gotta understand, Roy,"

he said in a conspiratorial stage whisper, "for Morton, that _was_ an


"Johnny__,' Roy began, but Morton cut him off.

"__No, Roy, you're right. I didn't want to take the blame for this because that would have meant that I was going to have to claim responsibility for Johnny being in that bed. But you're right, it is my fault."

He turned away from Roy and leaned over Johnny so that he made direct

eye contact with him. "I am sorry, John, for doing this to you. I

truly am; I don't know what I can do to even try and make it up to you,

but what ever it is, I'll do it. Please, John, please know I am so, so


Johnny took in Morton's remorseful expression and knew the guy was

being earnest. "I told you, Doc, you'd already apologized. I accept. Now, guys, if you don't mind, I think I'm ready for another nap. This

hanging around doing nothing is damned exhausting."

Roy smiled at his partner's obvious attempt to deflect the emotionally

charged exchange, but it worked. Morton returned to his normal

physician demeanor and told Gage he'd be in later to check on him.

Gage nodded and closed his eyes, but before Morton left, he called out

one more time, "Gage?"

"Hmmm?" responded Johnny sleepily.

"Thanks," and with that Morton left the room.

Roy walked over to his partner whose eyes remained closed and said

softly, "You're a piece of work, Junior. You may not be able to stand

on your own two feet at the moment, but I wouldn't want anyone but you

standing by me in a crisis. You're a helluva man, John Gage." And

with that he leaned over the railing and patted his hand gently to Johnny's forehead, the one body part Roy knew his partner still had feeling in.


When John was considered stable a couple of hours later, he was

admitted to a room on the neurology floor. The doctors and nurses on

that floor well aware that he was a very important patient and when

ever the opportunity presented itself, they were sure to step in and


Of course, the fact that John was never left alone didn't limit those

opportunistic visits; it simply proved to John that no matter what

the outcome, he was valued as a friend and as a person whether he could

walk or not.

Roy spent the night in the chair next to his bed; he watched over his

friend and did whatever he could to remind him that he needed Johnny no

matter what. DeSoto talked about his children and reminded his partner

how much his children loved being around him and even Gage had to agree

that at least he could still exchange silly faces with Jennifer.

Roy laughed at that and watched as the younger man drifted off to

sleep. Roy soon followed in a restless slumber, as he dreamt of

softball games and accidents and imagined himself in Johnny's

predicament. He woke up with a start and looked at his watch.

It wasn't quite a full day yet since Johnny fell; in fact it was only

about 18 hours, but Roy heard something that made him look more

carefully at his sleeping partner.

"John, you okay?" he asked. Roy reached over, without thinking of

course, and patted his partner's arm gently to get his attention.

"What?" Gage responded quickly. "Roy? Everything okay?"

"Johnny! Johnny, you felt that, didn't you?" Roy asked excitedly.

"Felt what?" he said as he began to struggle to move about within the


"No, don't move, lay still! Just tell me if you can feel this," and he

gently touched his partner's hand.

"OhGodthankyou," murmured Johnny. He felt it. He felt it just fine,

thank you very much.


Roy continued to test Gage's upper limbs and found that most of the

feeling had returned. The remainder would return in a few hours more

and Gage's lower limbs would regain feeling within the next few hours

after that.

It wasn't going to be easy. After it was determined that Gage's injury

was not permanent, the doctors explained to him that he still

experienced a very serious trauma and would most likely require some

fairly intensive physical and occupational therapy for several weeks.

But he would walk again. He would experience life again as he knew it.

He would be the man he was.

And when next Dr. Morton visited Johnny Gage to offer his

congratulations that all would be well, Roy reminded him of his desire

to help Gage out in any way that he could.

"And I meant it," agreed Morton.

"Well, I know Johnny's gonna have to stay at the rehab center for a

while until he's discharged, but from what the doctors said, Johnny's

gonna continue to need therapy once he goes home too. So, well, if we

could count on you to take a turn at getting him to his therapy on

those days I'm working or just not available, it would be a big help,"

explained Roy.

"I know you're letting me off easy, Gage. Of course I'll help you out

by getting you to and from therapy," answered Morton. "And thanks,


"Thanks? For what?"

"For forcing me to see what I needed to do in order to get back to

living my life. I was hiding away from everyone, worried that they

would blame me for Gage's paralysis. Of course, the sad thing was,

they had every right to, except I was the only one who refused to see

that. Well, make that me and Gage here." He actually smiled at the

paramedic and then said, "Thank you, to both of you."

"You're welcome, Doc," murmured both men and they watched him leave the


"So, how soon do you think Dr. Jeckyl will leave us and return as Mr.

Hyde?" asked Johnny with a wry grin.

"I'd bet that it lasts at least a day or two," replied Roy with a wider


"That long? Really?" John laughed in response. "I'd say by tonight,

the real Dr. Morton returns, whadda you say?"

Roy nodded and then offered his hand to shake his partner's.

"Hey partner?" Gage said quickly, "Thanks. Thanks for sticking by me."

And Johnny Gage, with a great deal of effort, slowly offered his hand in return.


End of It's Only a Game by STP. (STPteach@aol.com)

Feedback: Would be very nice...really! It's been a long cold television season, and I need something to make me smile.

Thanks: To dee_ayy and Peggy for the inspiration and the very thoughtful betas! The sports info and especially the medical info from both of you saved me a heap of confusion! Thank you, my friends! (And to Chris Carter for giving me a reason to jump ship for a while and play in another universe!)

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