Something Brice This Way Comes

"Are you crazy?"

It was a question voiced so often that Johnny rarely acknowledged it anymore. He was sure Roy didn't really mean it, anyhow; it was just his standard response to Johnny's announcements. "I know what you're thinking," he started to explain, turning partly in his seat to face Roy as the other drove.

Roy interrupted him, "I'm thinking you're crazy. Overtime at Station 16? With Brice?"

Johnny shrugged. "I know, I know!" he replied defensively. Then he sighed. "And you're right. I *am* crazy. But I need the overtime. I was hoping somebody at 51 would want to take a couple days off, but then Bellingham got sick and his captain asked if anyone could take some shifts. I couldn't exactly say 'no' and then turn around and say I wanted to work double shifts at 51." He leaned his elbow up on the window, watching the pedestrians as they went past. "Man, if I could get out of it... but I *really* need the overtime."

They drove in silence for a bit, then Roy tentatively offered, "Well, you'll only be there for three shifts, right? And you'll still be here, as well, working your regular shifts -- you can survive Brice that long." He sounded as if he were trying to convince *himself*.

But Johnny appreciated the support, and nodded. "Yeah, you're right. I can survive *anything* for just three shifts."

He repeated the testament several times throughout the remainder of the day. He was pretty sure he wasn't being convincing, though, if the looks Roy kept giving him were anything to go by.

Two days later he was still saying it, only by now he was doing it silently. He drove up to 16s and parked in the back, hoping he was not late enough to incur Brice's disapproval. It wasn't that he wanted to *please* Brice -- in fact, far from it. Johnny just didn't want to get lectured about the virtue of punctuality.

As he headed for the locker room, he caught sight of Brice standing by the squad. He was already in uniform and checking over the equipment. Johnny groaned to himself, but grinned and nodded as Brice looked up and saw him.

Johnny dashed for the locker room and changed with all due speed.

When he caught up with Brice at the squad, he discovered he had not escaped the lecture.

"Morning, Gage."

"Morning, Brice." For a moment he hoped that was it, and he decided to head for the kitchen for a cup of coffee.

"I notice that you're sixteen minutes late."

Or not. Johnny started to explain, but Brice continued while he checked out the biophone.

"I find that I can more efficiently check over the squad at the beginning of each shift, if I arrive on time or even a few minutes early. It really takes very little effort to ensure the squad is ready to go; I'm sure you can agree."

Johnny just stared at him in disbelief. He had to admit Brice wasn't nearly as bad as some captains he could name. Not that he *would* name them, at least not out loud -- he wasn't stupid. But something in Brice's tone made Johnny accept the lecture calmly. Maybe it was just hard to yell at a guy who was being so civil.

"Sorry, Brice. I guess I just misjudged how long it would take me to drive up here," he offered.

Brice nodded. "Fine. Then I can expect you here on time next shift." He said it so matter-of-factly that Johnny wasn't sure if he were being asked, or told.

"Um, yeah," he agreed awkwardly.

"You can begin checking the equipment doors on the other side." Brice nodded towards the driver's side of the squad. "That way we'll be ready when we receive our first call."

Johnny stared at him for a moment, feeling bowled over. He nodded, muttered something along the lines of "sure, Brice", then headed over to the other side of the squad. He wasn't sure exactly why he felt worried already -- unless it was just knowing things would only get worse from here. How anyone could push a guy around simply by being polite and organised....

He began checking the equipment lockers, and found that the previous shift had left everything in place. Each locker was fully stocked and nothing seemed to be missing. Johnny went ahead and inventoried everything anyhow, knowing that Brice would ask him if he had and if he said 'no' Brice would just ask him to do so. Or worse -- do it himself and make Johnny feel like a slug.

As he closed up the lockers, he hoped Brice wouldn't expect him to check their inventory after each run. There was prepared, and then there was annoying.


"Squad 16, man down, corner of Elm and Parker Ave. Cross street, Madison. Time out, 9:15."

Johnny jumped into the squad, reaching back for his helmet. He scribbled the address down, then looked at it thoughtfully. "Elm and Parker... hey, wasn't Bellingham telling me something about that address? New construction or something?"

Brice nodded. "A new housing addition. Several of the units are already occupied. Most of the homes are in various stages of construction. Last week, about half of them were frames."

"Last week? You guys get a run out there?"

"We had four," Brice replied.

"Yeah, that's what Bellingham was saying." Johnny remembered the details of the conversation, now. "For some reason 16's been getting a lot of paramedic calls down there. Any idea why?"

"I don't like to make conjecture about such things. If there were a trend in the nature of the injuries, that would be different. Establishing a common cause would provide some means of prevention. But in this case, there is no trend. So, I don't worry about it."

Johnny just looked at him, incredulous. He could understand not wanting to *conjecture* in a situation like this, but not even wanting to talk about it? He shook his head. A moment later, just to see Brice's reaction, he suggested, "Maybe the construction company is hexed."

Brice merely glanced his way. "I sincerely doubt it."

But Johnny grinned. At least he'd gotten a response.

When they arrived at the scene they found three people gathered in a semicircle around a prone man. Brice pulled alongside the curb and they jumped out; Johnny grabbed the drugbox while Brice followed with the biophone and oxygen. The small crowd drew back as they approached the man.

Johnny knelt by the man's side and peered at his face without trying to turn him over. The man's eyes were closed. Johnny placed his hand on the man's shoulder.

"Sir? Sir, can you hear me?" There was no response. Johnny looked around at the people watching. "Does anyone know what happened? What his name is?"

One young lady nodded. "George Croyman. He lives down the street from me. He was jogging; I was in my kitchen. I saw him stop running. He fell to his knees, then he keeled over!"

Johnny saw that Brice had the biophone set up and heard him contact Rampart. Johnny gave the man's shoulder a light shake. "Mr. Croyman? Can you hear me?"

There was still no response. Johnny opened the drug box, fumbled a moment before he spotted the BP cuff on the other end from where he was used to seeing it, then smoothly began taking vitals and relaying them to Brice.


"Heat exhaustion. Get that one before?" Johnny asked Brice, as they made their way towards the nurse's station.

"If you are referring to the calls at that housing addition, no, we have not. As I explained before, none of the calls have been the same."

"Huh." Johnny thought it over, and decided there was nothing to explain it. Nothing obvious. "Probably just bad luck, then."

Brice ignored him as he set the drug box on the counter and began to check it over. Johnny watched for a moment, then was reminded of something.

"You know, Brice, if you kept your drug box organized like the rest of us, it'd be easier for someone like me, who's only temporarily assigned to the station, to find things. I'm not saying I couldn't find anything, I'm just saying everyone else organises their drug boxes by function. You know, stuff you use most often goes in front, where you can get to it quickly. Stuff you only use sometimes goes in back or underneath." He nodded a 'hello' to Dixie as he continued. "You, on the other hand, do it alphabetically. Nobody else does it that way. It takes me a second to remember where to look for something in that thing." He nodded towards the drugbox.

Brice had waited patiently while Johnny had spoken; when he fell silent, Brice spoke up. "Perhaps, but I think you'll find that each squad organises their drug box differently, even according to function. Each squad uses different supplies at different rates. However, there is only one way to alphabetize."

Johnny felt his jaw drop for the third time that day. After a moment, as Brice closed up the drug box and carried it away with a called out, 'are you coming?', Johnny turned his stupefaction onto Dixie.

She just grinned at him.


The next day, Johhny was back to working with Roy for a shift. As soon as he saw his regular partner in the kitchen, Johnny collared him. "Roy, you gotta do me a favour. If I start to sound like Brice -- would you shoot me?"

Roy just looked at him as if he had no idea what Johnny was talking about. "What are you talking about?"

"Brice. I'm beginning to think covering Bellingham's shift was a bad idea." Johnny poured himself a cup of coffee, hoping anyone but Chet had made it that morning.

"What happened? I thought you decided you could do *anything* for three shifts. Even work with Brice."

Johnny shook his head. "Yeah, but get this -- Brice was explaining to me why he organises his drug box alphabetically." The coffee tasted like the Cap's -- strong, bitter, and in dire need of replacing with fresh grounds. Johnny was grateful for small favours.

"Yeah?" Roy prompted, as Johnny took another drink of his coffee.

"And I found myself thinking -- he was right." Johnny felt freaked out all over again, thinking about it.

Roy stared at him, apparently as horrified as Johnny felt. "Now that's spooky," he finally said.

"Tell me about it." Johnny took his cup with him to the table, hoping that a shift with Roy would counter the previous shift with Brice. A bit of normalcy, and he'd be able to deal with Brice again.

He tried to ignore the voice in his head telling him that he'd had years of normal shifts with Roy, and after only *one* shift of exposure to Brice, he'd gone nuts enough to have agreed with the man.


"So I don't get it," Dixie said, as Johnny glanced over his shoulder again to make sure Brice wasn't coming back yet. It was his second day with Brice, and he'd taken advantage of some privacy while Brice was still in Treatment Room 4 with their victim, to whine a little at Dixie. Brice was still driving him crazy and he'd tried to explain it to Dixie. "Why are you working overtime with him, then?"

"I don't have much choice! I have a vet's bill to pay and I need the money."

Dixie immediately looked concerned. "The vet? Is Smokejumper all right?"

"Yeah, she's fine, now. But I had to call the vet out on a Sunday night. Man, those guys get paid almost as much as a real doctor!" He grinned at Kel Brackett, who happened by in time to overhear. Kel just raised an eyebrow at him, and continued on his way.

"What was wrong with her?" Dixie asked.

"Colic." Johnny moved aside as Brice joined them. "She's fine, now. But it was pretty bad for a few hours. Doc Sorenson said he'd let me pay the bill in payments, but I still need the overtime to pay him at *all*."

At the break in their conversation, Brice spoke up. "Gage, I've called us in available. If you've finished checking the drug box, we should be going."

"Er, yeah," Johnny said. He opted not to admit he'd only restocked and not actually performed the item-by-item check Brice insisted upon. What the man didn't know wouldn't hurt Johnny, he figured.

Out at the squad, Brice suggested that Johnny drive -- to familiarise himself with Station 16's area. Johnny didn't argue, or point out that he was only going to be there for one more shift after today. Instead he climbed in and started the engine.

They drove in silence for only a few minutes before Brice asked quietly, "Smokejumper -- that's your horse, isn't it?"

"Yeah. Beautiful pinto. Got her last year, when I bought my house."

There was a brief silence, then, "We had an Appaloosa."

Johnny blinked, astounded. "You did?"

"Yes. My parents owned a small acreage; my mother loved horses, so she bought an Appaloosa when I was quite young."

"You ride her much?" Johnny couldn't quite see Craig Brice astride a horse, even as a kid. Heck, he was having trouble picturing Brice as a *kid*.

"Oh, sure. My brothers and I helped our mother take care of her. We had Crafty for eight years."

"Huh." Just when you figured you knew a guy.... "Brice, you might just turn out to be normal, after all. Well -- more normal than previous thought. I don't think anyone will ever consider you *completely* normal."

Brice gave him a tiny smile. "I doubt you'll continue to think so."

"Why's that?"

"We didn't ride western. My mother taught us to ride English."

Johnny stifled the urge to roll his eyes. "English? I shoulda known...."

Brice just gave him another satisfied, nearly-smug, look. That time, Johnny did roll his eyes.

"Squad 16, what is your status?" The radio dispatch interrupted.

Brice picked up the CB. "Squad 16 available."

"Standby, Squad 16."

They heard the tones sound. Johnny gripped the steering wheel more tightly as the tones extended. Finally the dispatcher made his announcement. "Station 21, Engine 13, Engine 118, Squad 16. Structure fire, 917 East Allen St. Cross street, Burbank. Time out, 14:11."

"Burbank, that's--?" Johnny started.

"Take a left at the next light."

Brice directed him towards the fire and they arrived just behind Engine 21. Captain Donaldson waved them to park nearby, adjacent the burning house. Johnny and Brice leapt out and headed for the equipment locker, grabbing their turnout coats and airtanks as the 21s Captain explained.

"The neighbours called it in; they think the two kids might be home, but they're not sure. The parents are reportedly at work. We've got to sweep the entire house!" He clapped Johnny on the shoulder. "Davis and Rikars will be taking the second floor. You two, take the ground floor.

"Okay, captain," Johnny responded. He slapped his pockets, making sure he had everything. "You got the H.T.?" he asked Brice. Brice nodded, holding it up briefly before heading towards the house.

The entire rear of the house was in flames, but several hoses were already being dragged out and set to work. From the look of it, unless there were something unusual in the home, something particularly flammable or toxic, they should have the fire under control in time to save the rest of the structure, as well as avoid any of the surrounding homes catching on fire.

But Johnny left the other firefighters to it, concentrating instead on following Brice into the home. Brice pointed towards the living room; Johnny headed that way while Brice took the front room.

Johnny moved quickly, checking under and behind furniture and curtains, calling out for the kids. When he found nothing, he went to meet Brice in the hallway and they moved on to the dining room and kitchen. The smoke was thick, obscuring their vision, and as they moved towards the rear of the house the heat began beating at them.

But the room-by-room searched turned up no one. Johnny was about to ask Brice if he thought they might have missed something like a door to a basement, when the H.T. crackled. "Squad 21, squad 16. The kids have been located at a neighbours' house," Captain Donaldson reported. Johnny sighed in relief. Now their parents would only have to worry about insurance forms and rebuilding their home.

Johnny and Brice were reassigned to an inch and a half in through the front door, working towards the kitchen. As predicted, the fire was quickly under control. Though the utility room and den were nearly a total loss, and the kitchen and rooms above the utility room and den were almost as bad, the rest of the house was untouched by flames. It had not escaped damage -- the smoke, heat, and water had done their work through the home. But it was still standing, if gutted in spots.

Two hours after they had arrived, the firefighters moved in to overhaul the house. Johnny and Brice were still in the dining room, pulling aside the furniture and tugging down drapes. If they looked up, they could see through a hole in the ceiling, all the way through to the attic.

As he worked, Johnny could feel his shoulders beginning to protest and he wondered if Brice felt the same. As paramedics, half the time they escaped this portion of the firefighting while transporting victims to the hospital. It wasn't necessarily the easier of the jobs -- certainly not emotionally -- but Johnny would be the first to admit it was usually easier physically.

"Brice, how's it going?" Johnny moved to his temporary partner's side.

"I believe I have everything in hand." Brice pulled at the remains of a china cabinet; it had tumbled over during the fire, and everything inside had smashed to bits. Johnny hoped it was insured, or really cheap imitation.

"You wanna hand?" he asked, as Brice attempted to rip the back off the cabinet. Brice nodded, and Johnny slid the end of his crowbar into a crack in the wood. He'd barely given it a push, when he heard wood and plaster crackling beside and above him, then everything tumbled down on top of them.

Johnny opened his eyes to find himself surrounded by darkness. He blinked, coughed once, then looked around. Darkness. He wasn't at first sure if it were from his head, or his situation. Then his eyes grew accustomed to the dim light peeking in and he could see what had happened. With sight came hearing, suddenly, and he could make out shouts, muffled and far-away. He could hear Brice moving around just in front of him, but underneath the wreckage it didn't seem that the other man could move around very much.

From what Johnny could see, it appeared that the ceiling and at least a couple of walls had collapsed. He'd been knocked down, half against the hutch he'd been taking apart. He'd landed in a more or less seated position, with the frame of a burnt out wall lying over his head and shoulders, pining him down and against the sturdy china cabinet. He could move his head back and forth but not up very far; from the feel of the weight of whatever was on his arm, there was more than just a wall frame on top of it. As he peered around the room, it looked as if the entire house had collapsed into the tiny space he and Brice had been standing in.

Firefighters somewhere on the other side of the mass of wood and plaster were calling out to each other. Johnny could make out the noise of a K-12 biting into something solid. He couldn't tell if they were nearby, or working farther back towards the kitchen, going after the firefighters who would have been there.

"Gage?"

Johnny turned his head; the motion pulled at his arm and he screamed.

"Don't move," Brice said. Johnny didn't point out that he'd already deduced that one. He lay still, however, only moving his head enough to see where his arm disappeared underneath the debris. Brice was shifting around, moving closer to Johnny's side. There was a pile of plaster on his legs which Brice cleared away, but as his legs didn't hurt, Johnny didn't figure any damage had been done.

He felt mostly numb. He knew that would change, fast; for now he enjoyed it. "Brice?"

"Just relax, Gage." Brice came into view once more, crouching in front of him and leaning over his legs.

"I think I'm stuck."

"The collapsed portion of the structure appears to have pinned your arm against the china cabinet. Can you move at all?" Brice asked. Johnny looked up into a face covered with dust and grime; Brice's glasses had been wiped mostly clear -- there was one smear across the center of each lens.

"I can't move." Johnny tried to tug at his arm once; he got as far as tensing his shoulder and leaning slightly forward. It made his wrist feel as if it were being torn in half, ripping his hand away. He stopped tugging immediately.

"Are you injured?"

"Other than my arm? I don't think so." Johnny tried to notice any other pains, discomforts. All he could tell was that he was sitting on something round and thin, and that his feet were wet.

Brice nodded, and prodded the wood beams trapping Johnny's arm. Johnny inhaled sharply, not crying out at the pain that shot through his hand.

"Sorry."

Johnny blinked. "Don't worry about it."

More tugging, then Brice shook his head. "I can't get you free. Not without assistance and the removal of this framework." He lightly tapped the wall studs that lay across the top of the debris. From his angle, Johnny couldn't tell what was holding *it* down. Something big and heavy, he figured, from the way it didn't even budge when Brice tried levering it up from his awkward position.

More voices, sounding closer, and this time Brice called back. Johnny heard someone shout, "We got them! Over here!"

Brice nodded. "We should get out of here quickly. Just take it easy."

"What if I don't? Can't I take it hard?" Johnny considered for a moment giving his predicament a serious whining. But Brice wasn't the sort to swap jokes. Neither was Roy, for that matter. If he wanted to trade one-liners he really needed to be trapped with Chet, or Cap, he mused.

Johnny just sighed and tried to find something else to take his weight. With nothing behind him but shifting debris, all of his upper body weight was being held up my his arm.

His injured, trapped arm.

Johnny tried to find a place to put his other hand to prop himself up, and hissed as the pain flared again. Then he blinked as a hand grabbed his coat. He looked up at Brice who was now holding him by the front of his coat, pulling him slightly forward. The pull on his trapped arm subsided and with it the pain decreased marginally.

"Thanks."

"The least I can do." Brice peered at him again and asked, "Are you certain you have no other injuries?"

Johnny took inventory once more -- reflecting with some amusement that Brice *never* let up about that sort of thing. But nothing besides his arm hurt so badly. His ears were still acting like they were stuffed with cotton, and his head and lungs ached slightly, but that felt more like normal wear and tear rather than brand-new, wall-inflicted injuries. He explained as much to Brice, however, knowing the other paramedic liked to be thorough.

Then he had a light shining at his eyes, and he tried to duck away before realising what Brice was doing.

"Hold still, and look up at my helmet if you would." Brice still sounded calm and straighforward.

"Too bad we don't have a BP cuff. You could take all my vitals and be nearly done with me by the time they get us out."

"That would make the rescue more efficient," Brice replied.

Johnny had to stare at him for a second before he realised, "Did you just make a joke?"

"Quiet, please. I'm counting." Brice laid his other hand on Johnny's stomach and took his respiration.

When he was through, Johnny asked tongue-in-cheek, "You want me to contact Rampart?"

"I think you should merely sit still and allow me to work."

"Geez, let a guy offer to help, and he gets his head -- or arm -- bitten off." Silently, he was asking himself if he had gone nuts. Here he was, trapped in a burned-out house with Brice -- and what was he doing? Teasing him.

And getting teased back.

Maybe he'd hit his head.

"Brice?"

"Yes, Gage?"

"Do I have a concussion?" Better to ask the expert, or at least the non-walking wound. Or the non-sitting wounded, he corrected.

"It doesn't appear so. Do you feel dizzy or nauseous?"

"No." Johnny shook his head. "I was just wondering."

The look Brice gave him made him decide not to ask any more questions.

Soon the other firefighters pulled the outer wall down, and propped up parts of the ceiling with braces. Four firefighters made short work of the debris holding Johnny down; they pulled him out and carried him outside.

Johnny was relieved to see his hand was still attached. As they laid him down, Rikars, one of the paramedics from 21s, knelt beside him. Johnny nodded towards Brice. "He's already done that," he said as Rikars began taking his vitals.

Rikars gave him an amused grin. "How about I do it again, anyway?"

"Well, all right," Johnny agreed. "But it doesn't seem very efficient." He gave Rikars a wink, and the other man laughed.


Johnny was trying to get the dirty dishes into the sink, one-handed, when he heard a car coming up his driveway. He grinned, hoping it was Roy -- or better, Joanne -- whom he could cajole into doing the dishes for him. He only had three meals' worth piled near the sink; nothing that would take anybody two-handed very long, at all.

He headed towards the front door, reaching it as the bell was rung. He opened it and was startled to find Craig Brice standing on his porch.

"Brice! What are you-- come in, I mean." He stepped back to let the other man inside. "What are you doing here?"

"I thought I would stop by, see how you were doing." Brice seemed not at all nervous about the unprecedented visit. Johnny had no idea why he'd be here at all. He'd shown no untoward concern about Johnny's injury, and had not done nor said anything to make Johnny expect him to show up offering assistance or condolences.

Confused, he just replied, "Well, great. I'm doing fine -- doc says I can go back to work in another week if I don't over-do it. I'm lucky it wasn't broken, or I'd be out for the rest of the month."

Brice nodded. "Yes, so I was informed."

Weirder and weirder, Johnny thought. "So, can I get you anything? A beer, soda?"

"No, thank you."

For a moment Johnny didn't know what to do next. Brice was giving him no clues, nor did he look like he was about to make excuses and leave. Standing in the living room seemed rather inhospitable, but Johnny didn't have a clue what to say to the man.

"I knew you would be having some difficulties, with your arm in a sling," Brice said, glancing at the sling Johnny had only reluctantly agreed to leave on for the prescribed number of days. Roy had argued with him for ten minutes before going to get Doctor Brackett. With the threat of being on sick leave for an extra week if he didn't use it, Johnny had finally acquiesced. His wrist didn't hurt much, but he found that he had a tendency to try and use his hand when it wasn't safely tucked up in its sling.

"Yeah, well, I'm eating a lot of take-out. But other than that, I'm doing OK. Roy and Joanne have been giving me a hand." He grinned. "Literally."

Brice nodded. "I suspected you would be, all things considered."

Johnny waited for more, but still didn't get it. "Brice, what are you doing here?"

Finally, Brice seemed a little uncertain. He glanced away, as if checking out the room's decor. "I... I knew Roy would be doing what he could, but I didn't know... that is, I suspected.... What I'm trying to say is--"

"Spit it out, Brice."

Brice gave him the faintest of glares, and nodded. "I thought you might be needing some assistance with Smokejumper. It has been some years, but I do remember everything -- I tended to Crafty every day for the last three years we kept her. And I thought you might need some assistance," he repeated, rather subdued.

Johnny didn't tell him that Joanne had been doing just that. Raised on a farm, she was used to horses and had even helped Johnny into the saddle the day before so he could ride for awhile and get rid of the stir-crazy that had begun settling in. Instead, he smiled, sincerely touched by Brice's offer. "That's really nice of you, Craig. I appreciate it."

Brice nodded, and Johnny could see he was definitely uncomfortable. Determined, but uncomfortable. Johnny wondered if it would be kinder to let him off the hook or to send him out to the corral alone. "Um, I have already fed her and let her into the corral. Roy helped me set up the feed bucket so I could get at it." He wondered if Brice would be relieved, or disappointed.

"I see. Well, I just wanted to let you know."

Definitely disappointed. Johnny said quickly, and as nonchalantly as he could, "But she hasn't been getting much attention, otherwise. I go talk to her, but, you know. I can't do much else."

This time Brice nodded, briskly. "I'll go tend to her, then. I'm sure I can find everything, even if you keep your barn the way you keep your drugbox."

Johnny grinned. "Actually, Brice, you'd be surprised."

He showed Brice the side door that went out towards the barn. Brice said nothing more than that he would take as much time as needed. Johnny watched him go. Just when you thought you knew a guy.

He shook his head, and went back into the kitchen. He stared at the sink for a moment, wondering....

Nah.

Brice'd probably put the dishes away alphabetically.