by Enola Jones

With special thanks to Abby Freeman for creating the character of Marty Ranier. And thanks to my fine betas, Abby and Theresa!

(Song: "Crash and Burn" by Savage Garden, quoted within.)

John Gage got out of the Land Rover and ran a hand through his dark hair. He smiled, hearing Roy's voice in his memory again. You're crazy!

No, Pally, he thought in reply, heading toward the dormitory and locker rooms. Just poor. His horse was going to foal soon and he needed extra money for vet bills. So he was pulling a few extra shifts.

Pushing open the door to the locker room, John strode in. "Good morning!" he called cheerily.

Craig Brice blinked at him. "I'm surprised to see you here. DeSoto was of the impression you would be at least five minutes late."

"Thought I'd get the day off on the right foot," John smiled at his temporary partner. "Which locker is mine?"

Craig lay his hand on his own locker. "Number seven. The one right beside mi--" The sentence ended in a shrieked expletive as he opened his locker and jumped backwards as if struck.

The unusual outburst startled John to Craig's side. He looked past the trembling paramedic to find a rubber spider dangling in Craig's locker.

Before John could react, laughter rang out. Marty Ranier, one of Station 16's firemen, leaned against the doorframe. "Aww.... What's the matter, Stick? Didn't want hotshot Gage t'know of your secret phobia?" He laughed. "Mister Perfect ain't so perfect after all!"

John shot a glance at Craig. He was slowly reddening after being ash pale. His eyes were closed, but his lips were pressed tight with fury. His hands balled into fists as they trembled.

Ranier laughed again and kept going on and on and on about Brice's fear of spiders. Only the fact Squad 16 was called out on a run shut him up.

The run turned out, mercifully, to be a false alarm. John called them in as available, but instead of heading back to the station, he drove the Squad down the block!

"Gage, what are you doing?"

John shut off the Squad and got out, pocketing the keys. "Stay here and if we get a run, beep the horn." He turned and walked into the brightly coloured building.

Craig leaned back against the seat, closing his eyes. He was secretly glad Gage had gotten the munchies -- it gave him the time alone he needed to get himself sorted out.

John returned a few minutes later and pushed a paper sack toward Craig. "Here."

Craig blinked and gingerly opened it. After this morning, he expected to find a spider within!

But all that met his eye was a BLT and a small plastic tray with a salad. "Gage?"

"Hm?" John asked around a mouthful of hamburger.



Craig sighed. "I know that. But...why?"

"You've had a jolt and you're still reelin' from it. Figured you needed some food to help ya out."

Craig just stared at John for a few moments before he began to eat.


After a supply run to Rampart, they went back to the station -- where Ranier started up all over again.

The other firemen, John noticed sadly, would try to stop him, but they'd also gang up on Craig over other things.

It broke John's heart.

He found himself remembering over the next day, as he worked his regular shift with Roy, and over the next -- his day off. He remembered the taunts and hassles he'd gotten growing up in Montana, because of his half-white heritage.

With the dawn of his next shift at 16, John knew what he had to do.


Craig walked into the station and braced himself as he opened his locker. No spider this time. His relief was short-lived, though, as he spotted a white envelope on the bottom of his locker.

What deviltry was Ranier up to now? He wondered as he picked it up. An eyebrow raised as he took note of the handwritten name on the white rectangle.


"That's not Ranier's handwriting," Craig whispered as he moved into the dormitory and sat on his bunk. "And there's no way he'd call me 'Craig'."

Craig slid the envelope open and pulled out the single sheet of paper. Expecting another poison pen letter, he braced himself before he opened it.

It was a typewritten poem. Above it, was written in the same hand as on the envelope, This isn't mine. A friend who moved to Australia sent it to me. I mean every word here, though. JRG

Craig's eyes widened. "Gage?" he gasped in a whisper, his eyes trailing to the words typed below.

When you feel all alone
And the world is closing in on you
Give me a moment, please
To tame your wild, wild heart
I know you feel
Like the world has turned its back on you
It's hard to find relief,
And people can be so cold
When darkness is upon your door and
You feel like you can't take anymore
Let me be the one you call
If you jump I'll break your fall
Lift you up and fly
Away with you into the night
If you need to fall apart I can mend your broken heart
If you need to crash, then crash and burn
You're not alone
When you feel all alone
And a loyal friend is hard to find
You're caught in a one-way street
With the monsters in your head
When hopes and dreams have fallen away and
You fell like you can't face the day
Let me be the one you call....
Cause there has always been heartache and pain
But when it's over, you'll breathe again
You'll breathe again
When you feel all alone
And the world is closing in on you
Give me a moment, please
To tame your wild wild heart
Let me be the one you call
If you jump, I'll break your fall
Lift you up and fly away
With you into the night
If you need to fall apart
I can mend your broken heart
If you need to crash, then crash and burn
You're not alone!

The last words were underlined three times.

Aware of the presence of someone behind him, Craig turned slightly. "What..." He cleared his throat and forced the words out through a dry throat. "What is this? Some kind of sick joke?"

"No joke," John said, sitting on the bunk facing him. "It's a song about friendship. I'm offering you my friendship."

"Why?" came the soft, automatic answer.

John bored his mahogany eyes into Craig's blue ones. "Because I know what it's like to have the hell teased out of you for something you can't help."

Craig lowered his eyes.

"And I know how hard it is to go it alone."

"I'm doing fine, Gage." But he wouldn't -- or couldn't -- meet John's eyes.

John nodded slowly. "All I want you to know, Craig, is the offer stands." He stood and left the dormitory.

Craig just stared at the letter, burning its contents into his brain.


John's next shift at 16 was his last. His horse foaled a beautiful roan, and he was pleased the filly was healthy.

Four weeks passed, and Squad 51 pulled into an empty bay. Neither paramedic was surprised -- they'd heard the engine get called to a run.

"Hey, whose car?" Roy asked, nodding at the extra car parked in the lot.

John frowned, then his eyes lit with recognition and he bolted into the dayroom.

Craig sat on the worn couch, his hands clasped between his knees, his head bowed. At John's soft, "Craig?" he looked up.

One of his glasses lenses was cracked. The eye behind it was swollen nearly shut and was turning quite a few interesting colors, as was that cheek and his jaw.

"Oh mercy!" Roy gasped, seeing him.

John, unmoving, said softly, "Roy, call us unavailable. And keep the guys out of here."

Roy nodded, knowing John would explain later. He moved back into the bay.

Only then did John cross the room and sit on the couch. "Ranier?" he whispered.

Craig lowered his head again, nodding.

"Tell me."

"A-After shift...the others went h-home.... He was waiting.." Haltingly, he told of a confrontation over a petty matter. It had been the last straw for Craig, who had told Ranier to lay off of him.

"H..He did this as my punishment for daring to order him around," Craig ended with a sigh. He looked up at John, who instantly recognized the look in his eyes: the look of someone whose world was so out of control he felt he literally belonged nowhere. The look John still saw in the mirror on his bad days. "All...All I could think of was ... was that letter --- what you said about the offer being open...."

John shifted position so his back rested against the back of the couch. He held out his arms. "Always."

Craig gazed at him for a moment, then his lips quirked. He leaned into the hug, his body trembling with trying to keep his emotions inside.

As if he were comforting a child, John soothingly stroked the light brown hair. "Crash and burn, Craig," he whispered. "You're not alone."

And for the first time in his adult life, Craig Brice freely wept.


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