Blissfully unaware that Chet lay unconscious at Rampart, Mike Stoker pulled into the parking lot of Station 8 to start a second shift. One of 8's firemen had come down with the flu, and with Angie being pregnant, the Stokers needed the money.
Singing "Rocky Mountain High" under his breath, Mike walked in -- and froze, his jaw dropping open as he fell silent and paled. Eight's two regular firemen were dickering over breakfast. At the table, watching them, was the other fill-in for the day...
Ranier stood and walked over to him. "Well, well! Look here!" A smile twisted his face. "Been awhile, Mikey."
Determined not to let Ranier know how bad the flashbacks of his treatment at Ranier's hands were, Mike narrowed his eyes. "You're still a fireman? I thought you'd be washed out by now."
Ranier laughed. "Nope! I've got it all figured out! I plan on outlasting you!"
And Station 8 was toned out.
Over the shift's remaining hours, Mike grew tenser and tenser. He didn't know of Ranier's abuse of Craig or his putting Chet in the hospital. He didn't need to -- his memories of what Ranier inflicted on him when they worked together were more than enough.
It had been nearly five years -- and he was still afraid of what Ranier was going to do, going to say!
Arriving home, Mike heard the news about Chet. He drove right to Rampart and went right into Chet's room.
Craig looked up when he walked in. "S...Stoker?"
Mike took one look at Chet and growled, "Ranier."
Craig's eyes widened. "Y... you too?"
"Me too," Mike sighed. "Pranks, teasing...each growing more hurtful than the last... I transferred before he escalated to beating, but I had a feeling I got out by the skin of my teeth. Then, when Angie told me about Chet..."
As if on cue, Chet turned his head and moaned.
Craig shot to his feet and pressed the call button.
Mike took the stirring man's hand. "Chet, can you hear me? You're gonna be just fine..."
The next shift, Mike walked into Station 8 with a large grin. He announced at large, but his eyes were on Ranier: "Guess what? Chet's awake and he's okay!"
The two regulars cheered. Ranier stood up and glared at him. As the regulars moved away, Ranier hissed, "You say that like you know something."
"I know who put him in hospital," Mike said. "And it was the last evil thing you'll do."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"It means as we speak, Craig Brice is bringing charges of assault against you. Once the phone call comes here, your days as a firefighter are over."
"Why you ---" and the tones rang out. "This isn't over!" Ranier spat as they ran for the engine.
"You're wrong, Ranier," Mike said with a smile. "You're so wrong."
The warehouse was fully involved by the time Station 8 got there. Mike and the rest of 8 went inside. As they sprayed the fire, the floor under Mike and Ranier's feet buckled.
Mike scrambled to safety, but Ranier fell. Mike turned to see Ranier hanging by his fingertips. "Hold on!" Mike yelled. "I'm coming!"
When he looked into the hole, he found Ranier laughing. "Give me your hand!" he cried, reaching for Ranier.
"And let you ruin my career?" Ranier grinned wickedly, shaking his head. "No -- this will be the ultimate revenge! You get to suffer the rest of your life!"
"Ranier, give me your hand!"
"Bye, bye, Mikey!" he laughed. "My death is your fault!" And he let go, falling to the accompaniment of Mike's screams.
When they reached Ranier a mere five minutes later, Mike was trembling. "He was crazy," he said softly. "Just totally out of his mind...."
Then came the words Mike never thought he'd hear. "Get the paramedics over here! Ranier's alive!"
Alive, but as it turned out, forever changed. Mike and Craig listened as Early used the words 'brain damage', 'permanent effects', and 'regressive behavior'. Then they looked at each other, each considering.
When they looked back at Early, they spoke in unison. "We want to see Ranier."
Mike and Craig walked in to see Ranier sitting up in bed, looking out the window. Tears streamed down his cheeks, punctuated by an occasional sniffle. "R...Ranier?" Craig said softly.
Slowly, Ranier's head turned. Seeing them, he dissolved into great, hiccupping sobs. "I...I-I'm s-so s-sorry!" he sobbed. "I...I d-don't kn-know why I was so m-mean!"
"We don't know, either, Marty," Mike said.
"I won't be mean any more!" the man on the bed declared in a firm, childlike voice.
Craig's words were pitched for Mike's ears only. "Somehow... I think he's no longer capable of being 'mean'..." Mike nodded his agreement. They left the room a few minutes later, and Mike leaned against the wall in the hallway.
"I don't know about you... but I'm withdrawing my complaint."
"So am I," Craig nodded, looking at the door. "Marty Ranier hurt us --- not that person in there."
Mike met his eyes. "That's a child... an innocent. He has never hurt anyone."
Over the next few weeks, things slowly improved for Mike and Craig. They entered counseling and began to come to grips with what had happened to them. Slowly, they began to leave Marty Ranier's abuse in the past and move on with their lives.
Chet recovered fully from Ranier's attack and was back pestering John within a few weeks. He examined every prank before he pulled it, though -- making absolutely sure he did it just for fun, and not becoming another Marty Ranier.
Nobody thought Chet would ever lean that way, though. Chet himself realised it when a rescue went sour and he found himself dismantling a prank without being asked to -- just so he wouldn't upset John further.
As for Ranier himself? After extensive testing, it was determined that he was mentally approximately six years old. Once it was determined that he would never get any older, he was released from Rampart into the custody of a residential home.
The highlights of his life were periodic regular visits by "Uncle Craig" and "Uncle Mike.
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