John Gage was happy. He had to be -- he finally had everything he wanted out of life. He had a job where he could help people, co-workers he considered friends, an apartment and vehicle which had finally left him debt-free, and -- for the last week and most importantly -- he had Kel.

He'd had Kel practically every night, in fact, when neither was on-duty. Two nights at his place, three at Kel's, and they already agreed that Johnny's bed was more comfortable but Kel's shower was larger. That only meant they would continue to alternate where they spent the night.

At the moment Johnny was getting ready to head for work. Kel had left an hour ago for the 7 to 7 shift at Rampart. Breakfast had been rushed -- again -- making Kel comment that it was time they either gave up eating breakfast at home, or set the alarm ahead another half an hour.

Johnny had talked him out of the latter, pointing out they would have to get to sleep a half an hour earlier to make up the lost sleep. He hadn't had to point out how much sleep they were already losing before Kel conceded that breakfast on the go might be a more likely solution.

This morning Kel had opted to get breakfast at the hospital; Johnny was considering one of a dozen options from his cupboards and fridge. After ten minutes' staring he realised that everything sounded good and closed his eyes and pointed.

Five minutes later he was pulling frozen waffles out of the toaster oven. Butter, cut-up fruit, and syrup loaded them down and made them basically palatable. He tried not to glance at the clock while he ate; he was going to have to hurry anyway to make it to work on time. While he ate he amused himself with thoughts of taking Kel on vacation someplace up north where they could camp out and go riding -- just the two of them alone in the woods. He wasn't sure how much of an outdoorsman Kel was, he'd have to find out.

Johnny ended up leaving the dishes in the sink, and threw everything else back where it belonged. He paused only when he picked up Kel's empty coffee mug to carry it to the sink. He knew he was grinning like an idiot over something rather trivial but he didn't care. Eventually they'd calm down and stop spending every night together and he'd start seeing only one set of everything left lying around, again.

Or worse, he told himself, he'd get used to seeing two of everything and take the days with only one as rare and untenable. He laughed. He was definitely out of his mind, getting worked up over a coffee mug.

Then he caught sight of the oven clock. "Shit!" Johnny set the mug down and ran to the bathroom, completing his morning rituals as fast as he could. He left everything everywhere, hoping he'd have a chance to clean up before Kel came by -- or would Johnny be home only briefly, before heading to Kel's tonight? He couldn't remember what they'd decided, alternating each night or every two. He'd have to ask Kel when he saw him at Rampart today, or call him at lunch if he didn't.

He slammed the front door closed and locked it, grimacing at the unintended reverberation that he hoped didn't disturb any neighbours. All he needed now was an irritated busybody sticking his or her nose into the hallway some night to collar him with vexatious questions.

It was something Johnny needed to avoid even if those unnamed neighbours *hadn't* already noticed a certain visitor arriving at night and not leaving 'til morning. Johnny shoved the thought out of his mind, as he did every time he started thinking of being caught out. He had to get to work, and there wasn't anything he could do about his neighbours right now.

He thought instead about a particular smile he'd kissed good morning, and kissed again good-bye just a little while ago. He'd kissed it a heck of a lot more times in between, but for those two he'd been completely undistracted by anything else.

"Johnny, you're obsessing. You're nuts! Get over it, or at least stop grinning like a fool," he told himself. The lecture did him no good. He shook his head and told himself he'd try again later to talk sense into himself. He pulled into the parking lot at station 51 with two minutes to spare.

He greeted Roy on his way through the apparatus bay, sent Marco a wave, and called through the door to Captain Stanley that he was here, on time, and wasn't exactly late even though he wasn't in uniform yet.

"Get in there," Stanley jerked a thumb towards the locker room, giving him a mock-growl.

Johnny grinned and went to go change. 'Happy,' he said to himself. 'You can't get much happier than this.' He ignored the tension in his gut that told him it might have been otherwise. He'd been ignoring it since he'd first told Roy whom he was in love with, and nothing had come of it. He expected to be nervous; it was nothing to be worried about. 'Nothing to worry about at all,' he reminded himself. 'Nobody but Roy knows.' The tension didn't ease, so he put it out of his mind.

"Hey, John." Chet looked up as Johnny entered the locker room.

"Morning Chet! Beautiful day, isn't it?"

"Yeah, if you like inspections."

"What?" Johnny spun, locker door swinging open unchecked.

"Yeah. Cap said we've got two hours to get this place cleaned up and ready." Chet walked by, and stopped, clapping him on the shoulder. "I'd try to hide that hickey if I were you."

Johnny's hand flew to his neck. "What?" He tried to remember if Kel had bitten him. He couldn't. He rushed over to the mirror and checked. There was nothing there.

Chet started laughing. "I knew it. I *knew* you were seeing someone. No one can be as cheerful as you've been this last week, and not be head over heels. Come on, Gage, spill. Who is she?"

Johnny gave the other man a murderous glare. "None of your business, Chet." He went back to his locker to change.

"Come on, you can tell *me*. Do I know her?"

"Fat chance."

"Fat chance you won't tell me, or fat chance I know her?"

Johnny turned to see Chet grinning at him. He just scowled, wondering if he could get away with dumping Chet in a trash can somewhere. Preferably a large, filthy can full of grease and food scraps. The alleycats would keep him too busy to antagonise anyone.

Chet just laughed when Johnny didn't answer him, and left the locker room. Johnny closed his eyes and tried to relax. A moment of panic grabbed him then, and he returned to the mirror to double-check. No signs of anything he'd done last night could be found on his face, neck, or arms. He knew he'd have to be careful from now on, and remember to mention it to Kel tonight.

His stomach tightened and he tried once again to relax. It almost worked for a moment, then he ran for the toilets, reaching one barely in time to lose his breakfast.

Johnny was leaning against the stall, trying to breathe slowly and deeply, when he heard Marco behind him. "Johnny? Are you all right?"

He'd hardly nodded before Marco was calling out for Roy. Johnny gave him a softer glare than the one he'd tried giving Chet -- softer only because he was still nauseated and wasn't convinced he wouldn't throw up again if he moved too fast.

Marco crouched beside him. "Johnny? You done, yet?"

"Yeah. I think so." Johnny felt weak and shaky, but he let Marco help him stand up. He was able to walk over to the bench nearest the toilet, though his legs were trembling by the time he sat down.

"You need anything?" Marco asked.

Johnny shook his head. He wanted to lie down, but he suspected he wouldn't be able to until Roy had checked him out and declared him fit, if a certifiable nut.

"What's wrong?" Roy's voice came from behind him. Johnny didn't bother turning around.

"I found him throwing up," Marco explained when Johnny said nothing. Johnny was still trying to breathe slow and deep. He was going to have to come up with some sort of explanation for this. Food poisoning? Maybe the fruit he'd put on his waffles... he stopped that thought as his stomach lurched, again.

"Easy, easy, come on," Roy said calmly, sitting beside him now, and Johnny saw that someone was holding a bucket in front of him. He made use of it, though he had little else to bring up. He realised he was shaking.

Someone was putting a cuff on his arm. He tried to look over but Roy pulled his attention back the other way. "Johnny? Can you tell me what's wrong?"

Someone, probably Roy, had a hand on his stomach. Respiration, Johnny realised. They were taking his vital signs. He wondered if that meant he felt as bad as he felt. He was still shaking; he wanted to close his eyes and go back to sleep, where he wouldn't have to think about anything.

"Rapid and shallow," Johnny heard. It sounded like Stevens from C shift. 'Why is Stevens still here?' he asked himself hazily. Johnny felt something being placed on his shoulders, and wrapped around his back. It was warm and felt good.

"Johnny?" That was Roy. Johnny looked up at him again.

"I wanna lie down," Johnny told him.

"OK." Roy turned to speak to someone, but who and what about Johnny wasn't sure. He wasn't listening very closely. He just wanted to close his eyes.

He found himself being moved, hands everywhere easing him sideways and down until he was lying on his side on the floor. It wasn't cold; they'd spread a blanket there first. Johnny closed his eyes.

"Johnny? Are you in any pain?" Roy asked. Johnny shook his head. "What happened?"

He felt like he could almost answer that question. Roy's voice was calm and familiar, and Johnny found it soothing. But he couldn't think of what to say, to explain.

His stomach churned again and he was lifted slightly. He had only dry heaves this time, coughing and gagging until he collapsed. Once again he was eased down carefully. He inhaled and noticed there was oxygen, tubes fitted over his ears and across his upper lip. He reached out and saw his hand was shaking, and forgot what he'd wanted to grab.

"The ambulance is here," the captain said from somewhere above him. Johnny was suddenly too tired to try to find him. He'd apologise later for missing his shift. It was a sure bet that he was going to miss his shift when he couldn't even think about standing up, much less stand, without vomiting.

He was lifted into the air, and laid down on something soft. He was feeling dizzy and tired. Johnny wondered if anyone would care if he went to sleep.

"Johnny?" That was Roy. Johnny decided to get back to him later. "Johnny?" This time it was quieter. Maybe Roy knew he just wanted to rest. He figured probably so, when he didn't hear anything else.

Johnny opened his eyes and found a bright, white ceiling above him. He groaned, and rolled his head sideways.

"Johnny? How do you feel?"

"Like I'm gonna throw up. Dix? Am I at the hospital?"

"Looks that way," Dixie replied. She smiled reassuringly, and patted his arm. "Wish we knew why. If it's for the company, we'd rather you just came by on your day off."

Johnny gave her a half-grin. He almost asked what had happened, when he realised he probably knew. "Did I pass out?"

"You fainted. We're running tests to find out why, and why you threw up. Don't suppose you can shed any light on it?"

Johnny figured he could -- if telling weren't exactly what he was trying so hard not to do. "Is Brackett around?"

Dixie gave him a kind smile. "He's on his way. Why don't you just take it easy? Do you need anything?"

Johnny shook his head. "Is Roy still here?"

"No. They got a call a little while ago. They said they'd stop by when they have a chance."

Johnny nodded. The door opened and, as Kel walked in, Johnny found himself smiling despite how badly he felt.

"I just heard. Are you all right?" Kel came up to the side of the bed and looked down at him.

Johnny relaxed, and wondered if he'd relax even more if he could get Kel to smile at him. He looked entirely too worried. However, Johnny had to admit, "I've been better."

"What happened?" That question was directed to Dixie, as much as him. Johnny let her answer it. The medical jargon describing his collapse made it sound even worse than he suspected it was.

When she got to the part about the tests Mike had ordered, and not yet knowing what was wrong, Johnny spoke up. "I think...." He glanced at Dixie, and wondered how to ask that she leave.

"Do you know what happened?" Kel asked; all business, and not noticing, or not caring, that Johnny wanted to speak in privacy.

"I think it's just stress," Johnny finally said.

"Stress?" Kel sounded surprised.

Johnny nodded. "My stomach's... been bothering me. And I--" He cut himself off, not *about* to explain just what and why he was worried. Not with Dixie standing there, listening to every word.

"For how long? What other symptoms have you had?" Kel frowned. "And why didn't you say anything?"

"I--" Johnny glanced over at Dixie, before returning Kel's glare.

"Should I leave?" Dixie asked, as if suddenly aware of the privacy Johnny had been after since Kel had walked in.

"Johnny, what other symptoms?" Kel pressed.

"None," Johnny finally told him. "My stomach's just been bothering me."

"For how long?" Kel asked.

"About three weeks," Johnny said quietly, knowing he was about to get himself in trouble.

The look on Kel's face told him he was right. But for the moment Kel remained professional. "Three weeks? How long have you been throwing up?"

"This is the first time." Johnny saw the disbelief which was, he suspected, merely worry, and added, "I wouldn't lie to you about that, Kel. It's the first time. I didn't know it was this bad or I'd have said something."

Kel nodded, but was still frowning. "Three weeks, huh? Anything in particular you've been worrying about?" Kel asked it gently, though his tone made it clear that he suspected he knew.

Johnny nodded, and glanced over at Dixie again, intending to ask her to leave the room. He stared at her in surprise when she said, "I don't get it. I can understand you being worried two weeks ago. But surely once you and Kel got everything worked out you'd have been fine." She sent Kel a confused look; he just gave her a mild shrug.

"You know?" Johnny couldn't believe it. Of course everyone at Rampart pretty much knew about Kel Brackett, but surely Kel would have realised not to gossip this time... not to *tell* anyone. He turned to Kel, unable to believe what he'd heard.

"Johnny, calm down." Kel was trying to get him to lie back. Johnny ignored him.

"You *told* her?" His stomach was tightening again, and he felt weak. Kel ignored his question while he spoke to Dixie, then Kel was looking at him and speaking calmly, telling him to lie back and relax, breathe slow and deep. Kel was almost holding him, now, and it would have helped immensely if Dix hadn't been standing there, watching.

"Now, calm down, Johnny. Dix is the only one I talked to. I didn't realise you'd be so upset or I wouldn't have said *anything*."

From the other side of his bed, Dixie spoke up, "Johnny, there is no reason for you to worry; I've known how he's felt about you for three months. I haven't said a word to anyone -- and I won't start now, if you don't want me to."

Johnny blinked, catching certain of her words. "Three months?"

She smiled at him. "Three months. Now, doesn't that prove I can keep a secret?"

Johnny looked at Kel. "Three months?"

Kel gave him a half-grin. "I had to tell somebody. At the time I didn't think-- Well, anyhow. No one else knows except Dixie and Roy. You don't have to *worry*."

Johnny considered what he was hearing. Slowly, he nodded. "I'm sorry. Guess I should have mentioned it."

Kel smiled, and Johnny figured he'd been forgiven. Kel said, "Now lie back, and let's see what we can do about getting you back out of here."

Johnny laid down, then, without protest. Kel re-checked all his vitals, and Johnny grinned at him when they came out much nearer to normal than before.

Kel pointed out, "We still have to wait for the test results; make sure that it isn't something serious. But if you *feel* better, that's the important thing. It means it probably was stress."

"So I won't be here long? 'Cause, you know," he glanced at Dixie, then grinned, "I have somewhere to be, tonight."

Dixie and Kel both laughed. Sounding slightly embarrassed, Kel said, "You won't be going anywhere tonight. But you should be out of here tomorrow."

"Thanks, Kel." Johnny looked at Dixie, asking himself what he could possibly say to her. "Thanks, Dix. I... I appreciate your not saying anything."

She patted him on the arm. "Don't mention it. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have sick people to tend to." She gave them both a nod, then left.

Johnny waited until the door swung closed before turning back to Kel. "I really didn't mean to--"

"John, you don't have to apologise. Just -- next time, talk to me. There's no reason for you to get yourself so wound up that you end up *here*." Kel reached up and patted Johnny's cheek. Then he glanced back towards the door, and, when he saw it still safely closed, leant forward and gave Johnny a kiss.

"I guess all those mothers everywhere are right." Johnny smiled.


"A kiss really does make it all better."

Kel gave him a half-smirk, then leant forward again, to prove the truth of Johnny's words.

It wasn't until Kel had gone, that Johnny realised he still had trouble. Everyone at the station would be asking what had happened, what was wrong. Even if he told them it was stress, they'd want to know what he was so uptight about.

He was worrying about it and trying to stay cool enough to prevent a repeat of the morning, when Roy peeked his head in the room. "Hey, Johnny. Up for some company?"

"Roy! Hey, how's it going?"

Roy came into the room, HT in one hand and trademark cheery grin on his face. "Things have been kinda slow today -- after all the excitement this morning, anyhow." He frowned, a little. "Doc Brackett told me it was probably stress."

"Yeah. Can you believe it? After everything I go through every day as a firefighter and a paramedic, *this* lands me on my back."

"Well, I'd say it was pretty important a thing to be worried about. Did you talk to Brackett? Do you know what you're gonna do?"

Johnny shook his head. "I told him I don't want anybody knowing... if it gets back to the paramedics that work outta Rampart it'll spread all over the fire department."

"You don't look too thrilled about that," Roy said.

"I'm not! If the wrong person finds out and decides I oughtta be fired, I'll be in real trouble! But Roy -- the guys are gonna ask me what's wrong with me. They'll wanna know why I'm here. What am I gonna tell them?"

Roy shrugged. "Tell them it's stress. Leave it at that; they don't need to know why."

"It won't work," Johnny said. He knew it wouldn't, and he suspected Roy knew it as well and was just trying to make him feel better. "Chet will get all over my case, Cap will have to know so he'll know if I can go back to work. Roy -- what am I gonna do? I have to tell them," his voice dropped as he realised the truth. He *was* going to have to tell them.

"Johnny... do you want me to talk to them?"

The offer surprised him. "You... what?"

"I could talk to them. That way, well, you'd know how they feel about it without... having their reactions right in front of you. If one of the guys has a problem, you can decide what to do about it before you have to face him."

"Would that help? What if they go to the Chief or something? Tell him they don't wanna work with me?"

"Look, I'm your partner, right? I'm the one who has to work with you most of the time. I don't have a problem with it. That should count for something."

Johnny was impressed by how adamantly Roy spoke. Like it really mattered that Johnny not be forced to leave. "Thanks, Roy. That means a lot to me." Then he sighed. "But what if I do end up losing my job? What am I supposed to do?"

"John -- you're a trained paramedic, and a trained firefighter. There's a hundred things you could do with that training, alone. I know you don't want to," he continued over Johnny's attempted interruption. "But there *are* other jobs. Heck, there's even other stations in LA County which would love to have you and wouldn't care who you're dating. Any of the rural stations, or you could wildcat--"

"Roy! ROY!" Johnny finally got his friend's attention. He grinned as Roy stopped talking. "I get the picture. All right? I get it." He considered Roy's offer, but shook his head. "I'm gonna have to think about it for awhile, OK? I can't... I can't decide this now."

"OK, Johnny. I should probably get going anyhow. Let me know if you decide you want me to tell 'em."

Johnny nodded. "I will. Hey, Roy?" he asked as Roy started to turn away. "Thanks."

Roy smiled, and returned the nod. "You're welcome."

If he'd been allowed out of bed, he would have been pacing. Instead, Johnny gave Kel a pitiful look. "Do you think it's too late to call him and tell him I changed my mind?"

Kel sighed, no longer even trying to give him sympathy. Johnny supposed it was because he'd asked Kel the same question four times already. That, and "Shouldn't he be back by now?" which he'd asked three times.

Kel rubbed Johnny's arm, soothingly. "Don't make me sedate you, Johnny," he threatened.

"Sedate me? *Sedate* me? I was just--" He broke off as the door opened. He swore his heart stopped beating as Roy walked in. When Roy smiled, he felt like his heart had dropped completely out of his chest. "Roy?" He sounded like a mouse, squeaking. He swallowed and tried again. "What did they--?"

Roy walked up, to the other side if his bed, giving both Johnny and Kel a look of triumph. "Well, you can relax--"

Johnny let his head fall back onto his pillow. "I don't believe it!" Then he raised his head again, to give Roy a glare. "Are you sure?"

"I'm sure, Johnny. All the guys on our shift said they have no problems with working with you -- Cap said he'd let anyone *else* transfer to another station, if he wanted, before he'd make you go. Said your personal life was none of his business, and it doesn't change how good a paramedic you are."

Johnny couldn't hold back his grin. He almost wished he'd been the one to tell them, now. But the anxiety he'd gone through merely waiting for Roy to tell them, let him know he'd probably made the right choice. "And the others? They're OK with this? You're sure?"

"I'm *sure*, Johnny. Chet said he thinks you're a nut and he wouldn't want you dating any of his brothers or sisters--"

"He's been saying *that* for years. Well, about the sisters anyway," Johnny interrupted.

"Yeah, and Mike -- turns out Mike's cousin is gay. Mike says the only thing weird about *him* is that he likes his mother's cooking. Apparently she can't cook," Roy added dryly.

Johnny gave Kel a grin. "Looks like I was worried about nothing. What about Marco?" he asked Roy, wanting to make absolutely sure.

"Marco said he has no objections to working with you."

Johnny frowned. "That doesn't sound good."

Roy continued before he could say anything else. "He did sorta hint that it bothered him, but not you personally. You know he's Catholic," Roy explained.

"Yeah. And I know Catholics." Johnny shook his head. "They think homosexuality is a sin, and all sinners are gonna go to hell."

"Well, he seemed kinda upset to realise his beliefs about homosexuality applied to you, now. He knows you're not a bad person and that you'd never hurt anybody. He finally just said it wouldn't affect your friendship, or how he feels about working with you. But I think he's gonna have a lot to think about," Roy finished, honestly. "I don't know what he'll decide, but he did say won't make any problems for you staying on A shift."

"Huh." Johnny waited, letting it all sink in. "They really don't care? I mean, I'm not gonna lose my job? They're not gonna all freak out next time I walk into the station?"

He felt Kel squeeze his hand. "It may be hard to believe, but it sounds like they're all OK with it."

Johnny tried to give him a smile, but he found he was still worried. Problem was, he wasn't quite sure what he was worried about.

"They're OK with it," Roy said again. "I asked them not to talk about it -- I didn't think you wanted *everyone* to know; figured you'd say the fewer, the better. But you don't have to worry about the guys on our shift."

"Thanks, Roy." Johnny felt the tension easing away, finally. He yawned, nearly splitting his lip, and tried to ask if any of them were going to stop by.

Kel interrupted. "I think it's time you got some rest. Roy -- thanks." He reached out, and shook Roy's hand. Roy looked slightly taken aback, but he smiled.

"Not a problem, Doc. I'll see you later, Johnny, OK? And *relax*. Everything's going to be fine."

Johnny nodded as he settled himself back against his pillow once more. "Thanks, Roy," he said again.

"Get some sleep," Roy replied, amused.

Johnny just closed his eyes. He felt Kel squeeze his hand, then ruffle his hair gently. Then he was dreaming about sun, wide open spaces, and the sound of laughter in his ear.

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