By Enola Jones

Craig jogged over to the Land Rover. "Hey," he cried, tapping the side, "are you on the way to Rampart?"

John looked up at him. "Of course...wanna join me?"

With a smile, Craig ran across and got into the passenger side. "Today's the day," he reminded John.

"Don't remind me." John pulled out into traffic. "I'm nervous enough as it is."

"You've worked hard over the last few weeks," Craig said, rummaging through the selection of 8-track tapes. "Roy will be pleased with your fluency." He made a sound of satisfaction and popped a tape into the player.

John smiled as the unmistakable sounds of "Who Are You" poured into the car. He'd started keeping the various 8-tracks in the car as Craig had been tutoring him in Sign. Craig had a secret addiction to rock music, which John was only too happy to feed. The Who, it turned out, was one of Craig's favourite groups.

John shook his head, remembering the splorts he'd done the first time he'd actually heard Craig Brice play the guitar. He'd been expecting a hunt and peck -- and he'd gotten Hendrix Jr!

"Hey." Craig reached over and tapped his arm. "You lost in thought on me?"

John chuckled. "Yeah...just nervous about today."

Craig smiled broadly and squeezed his arm. "That's why I'm here, John. For both of you."

"Why don't you show this human side at work?"

"Oh, look, the tape's nearly done," Craig said abruptly. He reached for the deck.

John's hand closed around his wrist. "You're trying to change the subject."

Craig sighed. "I don't know why, John. I've tried to open up... but it takes a long time for me to open up to anyone."

"How come? Shy?"

"Hard to believe, isn't it?"

"Well, we all have our crosses to bear," John grinned. "We're here."

Craig got out of the Rover. The Perfect Paramedic mask began to slip back into place.

"Uh-uh," John said, poking him. "Be you, not the rep."

A confused blink, and a shy, somewhat scared smile spread.

"I'm here," John signed. "You're not alone, Craig."

Craig squeezed his arm. "Thank you," he replied in kind. "Let's go talk to Roy."

Craig hung back slightly as they entered Rampart. Without the Perfect Paramedic persona to hide behind, he felt oddly --- vulnerable.

Barely even nodding to Dixie, the pair moved to Roy's room. Joanne was hanging up Roy's clothes, and Roy himself smiled to see them. "J'n'r!" he cried. "Bwic'!"

John's heart broke. Roy couldn't hear his own voice, and his speech had become slurred as a result. John was actually thankful Roy was back in the hospital -- it meant the surgeon from Boston was here and Roy would soon be getting the operation that had the best chance of restoring his hearing. He shot a nervous glance at Craig.

Craig nodded. "You're ready."

John nodded back. Then, instead of reaching for a pad like he always had, he raised his hands. Surprise, Pally.

Roy's jaw dropped, as did Joanne's. Roy stood and took both of John's hands, staring at them. Then, he let them go and raised his own. You learned -- for me.

John nodded. Craig taught. Now we can talk talk again.

Roy let out a wordless cry and grabbed John, crushing his partner close in a hug that spoke volumes. Joanne smiled and walked toward Craig. Thank you. Means so much.

I know, he signed back to her. I was glad to teach him. Craig found himself wishing fervently the coming operation would be successful. He missed Joanne's lovely voice -- she had been one of the few who would hold long conversations with him at picnics and get-togethers. Since her accident, she'd simply stopped talking, preferring to sign. Craig was thankful Roy now could converse with his wife without notebooks -- but he didn't want Roy to stop talking as well.

And, if the surgery were successful, Roy could return to work. A smile touched Craig's lips as he reflected that would be good for John.

Joanne tapped his shoulder. What are you thinking?

How much I hope this succeeds.

Joanne nodded and looked over at Roy and John, whose hands were flying as they talked -- truly talked! --- for the first time in weeks. We share that thought, Craig.

No bitterness?

She smiled pensively. Jealousy, maybe. I'd love for an operation to restore my hearing, but it's not going to happen. I'm truly glad for him, though.

"Craig! Joanne!" John called, forgetting in his giddy excitement Joanne couldn't hear him. "C'mon, join us! Let's talk!"


Craig and John walked the halls of the fourth floor at two o'clock, neither of them willing to leave until Roy was out of surgery. Suddenly, John asked, "Wanna go down to the ER?"

Craig chuckled. "And 'bug' Dixie?" he teased gently.

John's startled laugh rang off the walls.

"Seriously," Craig said once John had himself under control, "perhaps they could use an extra four hands. It is better than just roaming the halls."

The stairwell was closer, so they headed down the four flights. A commotion sounded behind them as they reached the second floor. Both turned to see what was going on --

-- Only to be rammed by a burly man tearing down the stairs, screaming incoherently.

As they regained their balance, John was rammed again by two large orderlies. They and the first man vanished down the stairs.

Craig cried out as he saw John roll down the stairs. He tore after his temporary partner and newfound friend. "John! Answer me!"

John shook his head and tried to sit up. "Awwww, man!" he groaned. "My leg! I...I think it's broken!"

Craig knelt beside John and ran his hands gently along his leg. "No, it's not broken, but it is dislocated. Trust me?"

Pain-filled mahogany eyes met concerned bespectacled azure ones. "....Always."

Craig lined up the dislocated knee with the socket. Then, he whispered, "Here we go." He braced his knees so he wouldn't move -- and he pulled.

John howled as he felt the SNAP and the shock of his bones resetting. Craig went out and procured a wheelchair, pulling John into it.

He wheeled John right into Treatment Room Three, with Brackett jogging in right behind them.

"Of all the people I know, you are the only one that can find a way to get hurt in a hospital!" Brackett sighed as he examined John.

"Yeah, well, it wasn't by choice," John ground out. "What was that drama all about, anyway?"

"A guy whacked out on acid," Brackett said as he finished his exam. "You're a lucky man."

"Me?" John gritted. "Huh?"

"You've managed to escape a hospital stay this time -- if you use crutches and stay off that leg!"

John met Craig's eyes, then sighed. "Bring on the sticks."


John grunted as he settled into one of the chairs in the waiting room. "At least I don't have a ticket to one of those comfortable rooms," he said with a grin as he accepted the coffee Craig handed him.

Any word? Craig signed to Joanne, noting with a smile John setting down the cup so he could talk to the deaf woman as well.

She shook her head. Three hours. You'd think by now we would know something.

Both paramedics nodded and settled in to wait.

Twenty minutes passed before an unfamiliar doctor in scrubs emerged. "For Roy DeSoto?"

"Yes," John said, climbing awkwardly to his feet and balancing on his crutches.

Craig translated for Joanne as the doctor went on, "The operation went well. He is on his way to recovery. You can see him soon."

Was it a success? Joanne signed and Craig translated.

"We won't know that till the patient wakes up." His smile was kindly. "But, I'm optimistic." And, he moved toward the lounge.

John was practically beaming. "He's optimistic!"

Craig held up a warning hand. "John, it's not a definite yes."

"But, it's sure not a definite no!"

Craig chuckled. "That's right...."

John's grin grew. "We'll make an optimist out of you yet!" Then, his smile died and he hobbled over to Joanne. Sitting beside her, he raised his hands. He's going to be okay.

I know. She gave a deep sigh. And, now, we can talk instead of writing to each other.... She drew her hands in close to her chest and signed small, But, still.... I can't help but be afraid for him. What if it doesn't work? What if he shares my burden of silence for the rest of his life? What if --

John stilled her hands. What ifs will make you sick.

Craig crouched in front of them. John's right. You can't worry about what ifs. Lean on us...let us help.

John nodded. Yes, Jo...let us help. He smiled. We're not going anywhere!

Joanne leaned forward and to the side, pulling both of them into a tight hug.

John met Craig's eyes over her shoulder. "Thank you for staying."

"You would have done the same for me."

John nodded. "But you wouldn't have before this. What changed?"

Craig smiled and ran a hand along Joanne's back. His other squeezed John's arm. "You. You accepted me as a sign teacher -- and you both have become my friends. I only hope I've become yours."

"You have." And John bowed his head, burying his face in Joanne's hair.

The three sat there, waiting to be able to go visit Roy -- now bound together by bonds of friendship stronger than before.


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