Johnny wandered down the hallway unhurriedly. Emergency personnel streamed past him, coming and going in noisy patterns creating the appearance of chaos. John Gage would have liked a little real chaos right now. Unfortunately, his time was free for the moment and thus his mind was clear.

Not unoccupied. He needed to fix that: needed someone to talk to, to fill his brain and distract him. His partner had gone down the hall to get himself some lunch fifteen minutes before, leaving Johnny behind at the baystation chatting with a new nurse. Watching her pretty face crease into smiles at his jokes had been wonderful, a balm on an otherwise hectic day. But she had been called away, leaving him with Dixie who was busy with the paperwork from the previous hours' calls.

He'd decided to head down to meet Roy, hoping to find something there to talk about. Maybe if he made up a new scheme, he could try to cajole his partner into helping him with something so outrageous it wouldn't leave time for him to think about--

"Hey, Johnny." Dr. Brackett stepped up to the desk, resting a chart on the counter.

Johnny froze. "Oh. Hi." Shifting nervously, he plastered on a smile and calmed himself down. "How's it going?" At least he hoped he looked calm.

"Pretty well, considering you paramedics keep bringing people in."

He grinned. This part -- the casual talk -- was easy. "That's our job."

The smile was returned. "You're doing your job too well." The conversation was suddenly cut short: another emergency wheeled in, and Johnny was left alone again. He wanted to lean against the wall and try to rebalance himself but didn't want to draw the resulting attention. His hands were not shaking -- they only felt as though they were. He glanced down and ignored what he saw, then resumed his trek to the cafeteria. He found his partner abandoning his lunch tray, speaking into the handy talkie.

"Another one? It's not a full moon is it?"

"It's the middle of the afternoon," Roy pointed out as they headed for the squad.

"Well, then what's their excuse?" Johnny followed along, not looking through the sea of faces as they passed, not looking for the one face he wanted to see again.

"What's whose excuse?" Roy gave him a mildly confused glance.

"Whoever we're going to rescue this time! And every other time. We've had four runs today already, and not a single one of them was a real emergency." Johnny began recounting as his partner listened. "The last guy only had to come in because his finger was so swollen after we popped it free. And the lady before that was fine once we got the weasels outside and gave her some O2."

"You don't have to tell me, Johnny. I was there, remember?"

"Yeah, but what's it gonna be this time? Another toothbrush stuck in some kid's ear?" With a single smooth motion Johnny pulled the squad passenger's door open and leapt inside.

Roy stopped as he reached for the driver's door, staring through the open window at Gage. "Toothbrush in -- Johnny, what are you talking about?"

"Squad 24 brought in a seven year old kid who--"

"Don't; I don't wanna know." Roy waved him silent, and got into the squad. As he pulled away he asked, "Would you rather they were really hurt?"

"Of course not! I just wish they'd stay out of trouble and let us take a break. I wanted to find Angela and invite her for a cup of coffee...." Johnny looked out the window as they raced away from the hospital. His stomach gave a twinge at the mention of the young woman's name. It wasn't that she was turning down his offers, or that, conversely, she was pushing too hard. Angela was a nice woman, enjoyed his company and seemed content to keep their encounters fun and casual.

She wasn't at all who he wanted to spend time with. Seeing her kept people off his back ('when're you going to find another girl, Johnny?' 'who're you seeing now?'). Talking with her gave him something else to do when they had extra time at Rampart and he didn't want to find himself looking for someone else. Sooner or later, though, she would ask for something more and he would be unable to give her what she wanted. She might even figure out he was using her and then there'd be hell to pay. All he wanted from her was a distraction. A reason to relax. A reason to stand around, waiting, when he had no other reason to be there.

Especially when what he was doing was waiting to catch a glimpse of *his* face. Johnny closed his eyes and tried to tell himself to focus on the rescue. It sounded like a straight-forward 'man trapped under a bed' type of call, no reported signs of injury except the blow to his ego. Probably the husband had come home early, and he'd tried to hide in the most obvious place. Why they couldn't just pick the bedframe up and let him crawl out Johnny didn't know. They'd find out soon enough. As they drove he thought back to their most recent stop at Rampart.

He had smiled at Johnny, when they'd spoken in the hallway. Smiled and his face had shone ever so slightly, the way it did when he was overworked and feeling harried but still found something to be happy about. Johnny wondered what that something had been. He looked at the street signs and pointed. "Left up ahead."

"Got it."

The husband was waiting for them. He said nothing, lead them into the back of the house to the bedroom where his wife was sitting beside the bed, talking to whomever was beneath it. The man under the bed had his hand, now broken, caught between the slats of the frame and they'd been unable to free him without causing more damage. Johnny was able to slide underneath and free the man's hand, bracing it while the others lifted the frame.

Johnny was amused to discover the man was the brother-in-law, invited over to help place mousetraps. Two of the old bed's feet had snapped, trapping him. Once freed the husband and wife both took him by the arms and helped him out to the car for transport to the hospital for plastering.

"I figured it for something else," Johnny said as they drove away.

"You and me both. You'd think we'd know better than to try to predict calls."

Johnny gave his partner a nod as they stowed their equipment. No need for an escort to Rampart this time. Sometimes Johnny went days without seeing him. Sometimes it was only hours. He looked up at the sky. Maybe it was a full moon. Maybe they'd be going in again with something as silly as anything they'd had all day. Then he'd get to run into him in the hallways again, unstressed and unhurried, and maybe they'd exchange a few more words and smiles.


Gage started, and walked over to his door. "Yeah?"

For a moment there was no reply, then Johnny looked over and saw an amused smile. "Just wondering if you were gonna join me," his partner explained.

"Well, sure. Eventually." Johnny shrugged off his daydreaming. He gave Roy a cheerful smile, teasing himself without worry.

That night they found themselves at Rampart again. This time it had been serious; not life-threatening but definitely not as strange and dismissible as the day's other runs. Now Johnny and Roy stood out in the hall waiting for Dr. Morton to come out and tell them how their patient was doing. Dixie passed by and invited them to join her for a cup of coffee.

"Sure, Dix." Roy glanced towards Johnny, who nodded. They left the ER, Roy and Dixie already well into conversation talking about the child Squad 24 had brought in that day. Johnny looked once down the hall as they left it, wondering.

"What I find incredible is the boy's little brother," Dix shook her head in amazement. "There we were trying to extract the brush from his brother's ear, and he's playing with a pen from his father's pocket -- stuck it in his *own* ear. Turns out he was jealous of all the attention his brother was getting."

Roy laughed. "Kids do the strangest things."

"Fortunately he didn't hurt himself, just ended up with a blue line on his ear. His mom took him to get ice cream while we finished with his brother."

Johnny trailed them into the breakroom, listening to them laugh, glancing again behind him for the chance to see.

"Hi, Doc," he heard Roy say. Johnny whipped his head around.

"Hey, Kel." Dixie eased past the doctor on her way to the coffee pot.

"Hi guys. How's the guy you brought in?" Kelly Brackett greeted them all with a nod.

Johnny stepped into the room and headed for the wall of mugs, looking for the one he'd left, and let Roy answer.

"He was in pretty bad shape, but we got him here in time. Morton's got him."

"Good." There was a pause, then, "Hey, Johnny, lose your cup?"

Gage turned his head. "Yeah, I think--" He stopped as he spotted Brackett holding it.

The other man smiled apologetically. "Sorry. I dropped mine and you two hadn't been in for hours. Figured I was safe borrowing yours."

"Oh. Well that's all right, I'll just use Roy's." He reached out and took the full mug from his partner's hand. Roy didn't protest. Johnny raised the mug and took a sip. "Ugh! Roy, what'd you put in here?"

"Sugar, just like I always do." Roy took the mug back with a satisfied grin.

"That's awful! How can you drink it like that?"

"Because it keeps you from stealing my coffee."

"Stealing? Roy, we're partners. We're supposed to *share*. Didn't you read the handbook?"

"Handbook? What handbook is that?" Roy headed over to sit down beside Dix, who had seated herself beside Brackett. Johnny went over to the shelf and picked a mug at random, going over to fill himself a cup. He kept it black, with a short glare to his partner, then went over to the table. He didn't pause as he headed for the only empty chair, right inbetween Roy and Kel. He didn't glance over as he sat down. Not more than once.

"Is there a new handbook I haven't heard about, Johnny?" Brackett asked, drinking out of Johnny's mug.

"Yeah." For a moment Johnny didn't remember his joke, then he grinned. "It's all about how to treat your partner. When to bring him lunch, when to not complain when he asks for a ride to work because he has a flat tire."

"When did I complain about picking you up?" Roy leaned forward with his accusation.

"You didn't, that's what I mean. That's why it's in the handbook."

With a shake of his head Roy leaned back again, telling the others, "Sometimes I wonder why I bother to ask."

The conversation continued, light and free and distracting as they waited for word from Morton. Johnny found himself smiling the entire time, watching his friends' faces as they talked and laughed. He noticed how sometimes Kelly smiled and even his eyes seemed to be laughing. Other times the smile was polite, and Johnny saw they were jokes of the type Brackett had never found the humour in. He tried one or two of the type he knew the doctor liked and heard the resulting delighted laughter.

For half an hour they sat talking, and though he wasn't counting Johnny knew he'd made Kelly laugh four times intentionally, and three at things he wasn't sure he'd meant to be jokes. It made for a pleasant break, marred only when Angela came in to give Dixie some charts and asked Johnny to walk back with her to her station. He couldn't very refuse -- not without getting the sort of confused looks he didn't want. He gave her a grin and jumped up.

She smiled as they headed down the hall, and Johnny felt his stomach twinging again. He managed to keep their conversation cheerful and fun, and left her laughing when he finally told her he had to get back to the squad. She was a nice girl. She deserved someone who would treat her right.

Johnny's smile faded fast once Angela disappeared from sight. He'd have to either find her someone to 'steal' her away from him, or give her a reason to break things off. He didn't want to hurt her, but unfortunately he didn't know of anyone to set her up with. No one who would be good for her, anyway.He didn't want to do anything to make her want to break up with him -- he'd done it before, with girls he knew weren't that serious about him anyway and who wouldn't be hurt by the break-up. He wished he had the courage to just do what he wanted, and ask out Kelly Brackett.

He shook his head and laughed once at himself. Yeah, and that would go how far towards keeping himself hidden from the Los Angeles Fire Department Board of Review? Dating a man who was openly gay -- as far as his friends were concerned, at least -- and whom Johnny could practically consider a co-worker. How long would he expect no one to notice?

How long would he keep his job once they did?

Johnny wandered slowly back towards the lounge. Brackett was lucky. He'd discovered that almost none of his friends cared, one way or the other. Those who did were content to leave it alone. But people were funny -- you never really knew what they thought until you gave them a reason to tell you.

And Johnny had too much experience with people who turned on him once they knew. Roy might not care; he certainly never seemed to care about Brackett. But the others, they might. One of them might be so upset at the notion of working with someone like him that.... Well, he didn't want them to find out. It was that simple.

It made it hard, though, to be in love.

He met Roy coming out of the lounge, a half-smile on his face. "What's up?" Johnny asked him. He didn't see past his partner, to tell if Brackett was still in the lounge.

"Morton stopped by. Mr. Richardson is going to be fine."

"That's a relief. So we're out of here, then?" Johnny turned and paced Roy as they headed back down the hall.

"We're out of here."

Johnny had remained silent until they were halfway back to the station. He was staring out the window, wondering again what he could possibly do. The best choices weren't choices at all, and the remaining ones were beginning to look equally bad. Eventually the options became so confused that he wasn't even sure where to start.



"Do you...." He stopped. He *still* wasn't sure where to start, and was now baffled as to why he'd opened his mouth. He didn't think talking to his partner was a good way to keep any of this from him.

"Do I what?" Roy prompted.

Johnny sighed. "Forget it."

"This sounds serious. What is it?"

"Look, forget it. I don't want to talk about it." Johnny closed his eyes, briefly, hoping Roy would let it drop, chalk it up to another of his partner's peculiarities.

"Then why'd you start if you didn't want to talk?"

"Because I-- because I don't know what to do," he finished honestly. He was confused, and unfortunately he knew he did need to sound it out with someone. He wished he'd waited and started with someone who already knew.

Of course, the people who knew weren't exactly friends, and might not care *how* he solved his problems.

"About what?" Roy sounded calm, and concerned. If not a little confused, as well.

Johnny sighed. He knew Roy was okay with the idea of it... and he knew Roy wouldn't blab to anyone else. But that didn't make him want to say it aloud. Maybe, though, he could just keep that part of it out. "I'm trying to think of what to do about Angela."

"Oh." Roy's tone said volumes. Unfortunately, Johnny knew those volumes were wrong. Mostly.

"I just don't want to hurt her... but I can't--" Can't what? Keep leading her on? Johnny shook his head. He had no clue, and they were almost back to the station. He wasn't about to have this conversation there.

"Can't what?"

"She deserves...."

"Deserves what?"

"Something better." That much was true.


Johnny turned his head at his partner's surprised tone.

"You're not going to tell me you don't think you're good enough for her? Johnny -- she's a great woman. She likes you, given half a chance she'll spend as much time talking about you as you do about her."

For a moment, Johnny let himself be amazed. "You two talk about me?"

"Don't let it go to your head." Roy grinned. Then he nodded. "But yeah. She really likes you, Johnny."

Johnny turned back to stare out the window. That made things ever so much worse.

"Johnny? Are you... are you getting serious about her?" Roy's careful question startled him.

"Serious? God, Roy.. if it were that simple there wouldn't be a problem."

"Then what is the problem?"

"I... I gotta break up with her. I'm never gonna be what she wants. I should never have let her think I was."

"And what's that?"

Johnny didn't know how to answer that one. 'Someone who's straight' was what he wanted to say. ‘Someone who isn't in love with someone else’, was the other.

"Johnny?" Roy prompted, but Johnny stayed silent. They were pulling into the station, and from the lights it looked like the rest of the shift was still up, probably watching TV. He waited until Roy had the squad parked, then he jumped out and headed for the kitchen.

Roy grabbed his arm, and hauled him back. "Johnny? What is it she wants?"

With a glare, and a glance towards the open door, Johnny just pulled his arm away. Roy seemed to get the hint and didn't press for an answer.

Not until the next day, and they were off-duty. Johnny was home trying to figure out when the last time he'd gone to the grocery store and what, if anything, he'd bought, when the doorbell rang. He left the cupboard doors wide open and went to answer the door. Roy walked in, looking for all the world he'd come to stay for awhile. A long while -- as long as it took. Johnny knew exactly why he was here.

"Hey, Roy." Johnny headed back towards the kitchen. "You want some coffee?" That, at least, he had.

"No, thanks. Look -- I know you probably would rather have your wisdom teeth pulled than answer my question, but I get the feeling you wanted to tell me something last night."

Johnny set his own mug back down on the counter, coffee still cooling in the pot.

"It sounded important," Roy prompted.

"Yeah, I guess it is. Roy... oh heck, I don't know what to say." He'd lain awake last night, thinking about it -- still trying to decide. Still trying to figure out what he had to decide.

"Why not start with telling me what it is you think you can't be. What Angela wants you think you can't give her."

Johnny stared at his partner, and made a choice. "I can't be *anything*. That's my problem."

Roy shook his head, not understanding.

"I... look, you gotta promise not to tell anyone. And I mean *anyone*."

"Not to tell anyone what?"


"OK, Johnny, OK. I promise. Now what am I not telling anyone?"

Resigned, Johnny said, "I'm in love with someone else. Eventually Angela's going to figure it out."

"I don't get it. Why don't you break up with Angela and ask this other woman out?"

Johnny shook his head. He didn't offer any more explanation.

"What's wrong with the other woman? Doesn't she like you?"

Johnny just sighed. "Roy, it isn't... it isn't an option, OK? I gotta figure out what to do about Angela."

"She married?"

Johnny wanted to hit something, then just nodded. "Yeah, she's married. So it isn't like I can ask her out, can I? But I can't keep leading Angela on."

Roy gave him a look of sympathy, and he wanted to hit *himself*. "Sorry to hear it, Johnny. I always hoped you'd fall in love and settle down someday."

The words made him feel worse. Here he was, lying, and his friend was offering more support. He almost opened his mouth to tell him the truth.

"Why do you need to break up with Angela, though? I mean," Roy paused, and continued hesitantly, "Maybe she can make you forget about the other woman? She might be--"

"I don't want to!" Johnny surprised himself by yelling. God, if anything he wanted to be free to just enjoy his love, even if he never said a word. Even if no one ever knew, if he could at least stop using other people to hide behind.... If it were just safe to stop needing to. He felt a hand on his shoulder.

"I'm sorry, Johnny. I didn't realise.... you've got it pretty bad, huh?"

Johnny nodded. At least he could admit to that much.

"I wish there was something I could do."

"There isn't." He felt slightly better, though, for the offer. Just knowing that someone knew he *had* a problem, made him feel a little better about trying to solve it.

There was silence for awhile, then Roy asked, "Why don't you want anyone to know? There's nothing wrong with being in love with somebody; even if you can't be with them."

Johnny closed his eyes, wondering if Roy would be saying that if he knew.... "I don't want them teasing me." He hated this, hearing his friend being so understanding when he didn't understand, at all.

"Oh. Yeah, I guess Chet would. But the rest of us wouldn't -- Johnny, you could have told--"

Johnny turned back to face his friend. "Could have told you? Would you say that if I told you the truth?"

Roy blinked. "Truth? Johnny, what are...." He trailed off, then his eyes got big. "Johnny, you're not going to tell me you're in love with JoAnne?"

For a second Johnny stared at Roy. Then, in spite of himself, he began to laugh. "JoAnne? Oh god... Roy, that would be perfect, wouldn't it?" He saw Roy's expression -- outraged at first at his laughter, then perplexed patience while Johnny laughed, unable to speak further. Johnny finally got himself under control, and wiped his eyes. "I'm sorry... I wasn't laughing because... Roy, you know how I feel about JoAnne. She's a good friend; but I'm not in love with her."

"Good," Roy sounded like he was wondering if Johnny had lost his mind. "What *did* you mean, then?"

The rest of the laugher died, instantly. He'd said that, and now Roy was going to keep after him until he explained. At least he knew that Roy wouldn't tell him he was wrong to feel this way - wrong, perverted, insane, sick. When Brackett had told them, Roy had simply nodded and said fine. Afterwards he'd always treated the Kelly the same, only changing the pronouns when he asked how things were going.

Johnny forced himself to stop thinking about the times there had been someone to attach those pronouns to. He'd been in love for a long, long time.


Roy would even understand why it had to be kept a secret. He wouldn't tell the others, wouldn't give anyone a reason to stop trusting him.

"John, who are you in love with?"

Wouldn't it be nice to say it, just once? he asked himself. Wouldn't it be nice....

"Come on, you're scaring me here. It can't be *that* bad." Roy teased him.

Johnny looked at him. Maybe it wouldn't be so bad. Maybe it wouldn't turn out that Roy had been pretending all along, and that he didn't really think it was horrible as long as he didn't have to do more than simply see one of "those" once in a while, in a safe, public workplace. As long as one of those didn't turn out to be his partner.



Roy looked confused. "Uh, which Kelly? Kelly Barnes or Kelly Sinclaire?" He named two of the married nurses they knew at Rampart.

Johnny shook his head. "I'm not in love with a married woman," he began. Now that he'd begun, he couldn't make himself continue.

But he didn't have to. Roy's eyes grew wide again. "Kelly Brackett?" His tone was not one of outrage. It was merely surprise. Johnny nodded. He took a step away, aiming for his coffee mug again for something to do; but the coffee was stone cold by now and he didn't want to drink it, even in order to avoid saying yes. Roy spoke again. "What part of that bothers you?" Roy's question startled him.

"What?" He left the mug alone, staring at his friend.

"It's obvious something bothers you... I was just wondering what part of it it is, so I know what to say."

Johnny shook his head. "What bothers me is that I have to break up with Angela because I can't keep leading her on." He repeated the beginning of the conversation, wondering how Roy could have forgotten.

"I know that. You're right, you probably do need to break up -- at least tell her you're not serious. But that's not what's bothering you, is it? I mean... you said it wasn't an option. Dating Kelly, that is."

For a moment Johnny didn't respond. Then he asked, "That really doesn't bother you?"

Roy looked surprised. "Bother me? Why would it bother me?"

Johnny found himself telling something he hadn't intended to share, at all. "When I was 17 my dad kicked me out of the house. Told me never to come back."

"Because you told him you were gay?"

Johnny laughed. "I didn't exactly tell him. He found me... doesn't matter where. He knew, and he didn't like it. Said I was to leave, said he wasn't my father anymore. My mother didn't say a word, just watched me pack, watched me leave. Never said a word."

"Oh god. Johnny, I'm sorry." Roy reached out and took Johnny's arm, squeezed it once.

"That's why I came to LA. My aunt... she's told them I'm here, where I live. But they've never called, never asked me to come back. I guess they figured they're well rid of me."

"No wonder you didn't want to say anything. Johnny... it *doesn't* matter. Not to me. I don't think there's a thing wrong with being homosexual. JoAnne feels the same way; you could tell her and it wouldn't change anything."

Johnny gave his friend's hand a squeeze. "Thanks, Roy. That... that means a lot."

"You're welcome. Now are you going to tell me why it isn't an option?"

Johnny rolled his eyes. "Roy! Come on, think! Practically everyone at Rampart *and* in the paramedic program knows about Kelly Brackett. Even if he were interested, there's no way I'd keep everyone from finding out."

Roy gave him a frown. "And that's more important?"

Johnny leaned back against the counter with a heavy 'thud'. "Roy... I could lose my job."

"They can't fire you just for being gay... can they?"

Johnny nodded. "If someone decided they didn't want to work with me, all they'd have to do is tell the Review Board I wasn't doing my job. Say they couldn't work with me -- you know what conditions are like. I could get sabotaged a hundred different ways. From getting written up for things I wasn't doing, to guy refusing to give me a hand at a fire--"

"Johnny, no one would go that far. Even if they cared--"

"Yeah, you wouldn't think so, would you?" Johnny interrupted. "Just like you wouldn't think someone would kick their kid out of the house before he was 18 and could legally support himself?"

Roy didn't say anything to that. After a moment, he said, "I suppose you could ask Brackett to keep it quiet."

Johnny rolled his eyes. "You say that like I had a chance! Roy, none of this matters anyhow." He turned away, telling himself that Roy couldn't understand -- not if he was looking at Johnny with that expression, the one that said Roy thought he was being particularly obtuse about something.

"So you're going to tell Angela?" Roy finally asked.

"Yeah... I guess I have to tell her something."

"Tell her what you told me."

Johnny whirled. "Are you nuts?!?"

"Tell her you're in love with someone else, that's all. There's no reason you have to tell her the details. Although I think you're wrong about Doc Brackett -- there's no reason to tell Angela how you feel about him."

Johnny shook his head, bewildered. But Roy was probably right -- and he realised he felt better. A decision was made, and though he didn't like it at least it would be done. He ought to call her, and get it done with.

"Thanks, Roy. I suppose I'll do that tonight. I'm supposed to have dinner with her." He half-grinned. "I never could figure out if it's better to tell 'em before dinner and ruin the whole evening, or tell 'em after and get 'em mad for keeping quiet."

"Tell her before. She'll be mad anyway."

"You done this before?" Johnny raised an eyebrow.

"No... JoAnne has a girlfriend who's always calling, complaining about her boyfriends. I hear a lot." Roy smiled, suddenly. "If I ever have to date again, I'll have a lot of ideas about what not to do."

"Take it from me -- stay married. It isn't worth the effort." Johnny again ignored the look on his partner's face. He didn't need to be told. Roy didn't understand -- he didn't stand a chance. Kelly Brackett was so far out of his league it was almost not worth indulging himself being in love.

Roy was sitting in the lounge a few days later. They'd come in on a run and Johnny had taken off to get new supplies. Roy figured it was because he'd seen Angela coming down the hall.

His partner swore Angela had taken it reasonably well -- not yelling, not throwing things, not even slamming the door behind him when she threw him out. Gage had started acting skittish, however, as soon as they'd arrived and at the sight of her had vanished.

Angela had simply nodded at Roy, and said nothing. She looked upset but quiet -- as if she were resigned to the circumstances. Roy wondered what Johnny had told her.

He was still wondering, when Doctor Brackett came in and headed for the coffee pot. "Hey, Roy."

"Hi, doc." He smiled, thinking of his partner's reactions earlier that day when they'd encountered Brackett at the baystation. Johnny was unarguably in love. And miserable. Maybe there was something he could do....

"Where's Johnny?" Kelly asked as he sat down at the table with Roy.

"Giving Carol a hard time, I imagine."

Brackett laughed. "I'm sure she'll give it back." The other man took a drink of his coffee, then said, "I notice he's avoiding Angela. Did they break-up already?"

"Yeah," Roy was surprised. "You knew they would?"

"Oh, I didn't know... it's just that Johnny never sticks with one girl for very long. He either pisses them off that they leave him, or he breaks it off - for some of the weirdest reasons, too. Did he say why he broke up with Angela?"

Roy hesitated. Then he replied, "Sort of. He asked me not to talk about it, though."

Kelly nodded with understanding. "I won't ask. It's a shame, though."

"She's a nice woman," Roy said neutrally. He was trying to figure out whether he should try to drop any hints, ask any subtle questions. He didn't think he could, though, without saying something he wasn't supposed to.

"Yeah, she is. Johnny would have been happy with her -- she didn't break up with him, did she?" He asked suddenly.

"No... Johnny broke it off."

Brackett looked amazed. "Why in the world would he have done that?" he shook his head. "I know, you can't answer that. I just don't understand it."

Roy decided to take a gamble -- a safe one, hopefully. "He said she deserved better."

"Better than him?" Again the look of amazement.

"That's what he said." True, it hadn't been his real reason, but he had said it. At least once, on his way to the truth.

"He's an idiot if that's what he thinks. He has a lot to offer a girl like Angela. And from what Dixie's said, she wasn't unhappy with him at all. And now they're both unhappy."

The tone of the words surprised Roy. As if it really mattered. "Yeah...." He suddenly realised he could use Johnny's own misdirection, to give Brackett a reason to understand. "That wasn't all -- you can't tell him I said anything, though. But he's... well he's in love with someone else. Someone he thinks is way out of his league." Johnny had said so, every time Roy had tried broaching the subject from the privacy of the squad.

"Out of his league?"

Roy nodded. "Some who has a lot more education, makes a lot more money, and -- according to Johnny -- is a lot more sophisticated than he is. He figures he doesn't stand a chance, but he felt guilty for trying to hang out with Angela while he felt this way. So he broke up with her."

Brackett sat silently for a minute. He stirred his coffee, and finally set it down. "He *is* an idiot."

It was the regret that got him. Roy blinked, and looked again. Regret in his tone, and defeat nearly hidden on Brackett's face. "That's what I told him. He says I don't know what I'm talking about," he added cautiously. He continued watching.

Brackett shook his head, and looked up at him. "Well keep telling him. Anyone would be lucky to have a man like him. Money, degrees, those are completely irrelevant. He's got what's important -- compassion, intelligence, a sense of humour--" he stopped, no doubt at the look on Roy's face. "All right, so it takes a special kind of person to enjoy his sense of humour. But--" He stopped again, and continued in a flattened tone. "Well, he ought to tell her how he feels. If she says no, then *she's* the idiot." Brackett stood up suddenly, and without saying another word left the room.

Roy watched him go, his jaw hanging open.

Apparently Johnny and Kelly were *both* idiots. They were each in love, and neither was saying a word. Unfortunately, they each had very good reasons -- Brackett thought Johnny was straight, and Johnny thought the answer would be 'no', as well as having a career to protect.

That night, Roy had a long talk with JoAnne.

"Why am I here, Roy?" Johnny asked as he followed his partner. It was their day off, and Roy had picked him up just before lunch, and brought them to Rampart.

"Trust me, OK?"

Johnny shook his head. "I'm not sure...." He teased. Actually, he *was* a little worried, because Roy was taking them into the ER -- towards Kelly Brackett's office. "Roy?"

"Look, would you trust me?" Roy glanced over his shoulder as he went up and knocked on Brackett's door.

"I trust you... I just don't trust you. What's going on?" He hissed the last, as they waited. Before Roy could answer, the door opened.

"Roy! Johnny... this is a surprise."

Johnny shot Roy a look that said 'it is?' and merely followed Roy inside.

He stared at his partner, resolving not to say a word until Roy explained what was going on. Roy turned, and gave him a direct, no-nonsense look. Johnny squirmed. "What?"

"I want you to hear something."

"Hear what?"

Instead of answering, Roy looked at Kelly, who looked discomfitingly *not* mystified. "Doc?"

Brackett nodded. "If you think it'll do any good."

"I think it will."

"What are you two talking about?" Johnny demanded. He looked at Roy, who said nothing, then to Kelly. "What's going on?"

"Roy asked me to tell you something I told him.... He says he can't get you to believe *him* so he asked me to try. He won't tell me why, though." Kelly shot Roy an accusing glance, but Roy just waited calmly. Kelly shrugged. "I guess he thinks if you hear if from another person, you'll believe it."

"Believe what?" He was beginning to have a bad feeling.

"That you've got the wrong impression about yourself. If you think you don't have something worth offering *anyone* you're mistaken." He'd begun saying it matter-of-factly, as if he were discussing a case with them. But as he spoke, his voice grew softer. "You've got a lot, in fact. No one is 'out of your league'."

Johnny glared at Roy, not able to believe his partner had betrayed him. But the look he got back told him he hadn't been. Confused, he looked back at Kelly.

"You ought to tell her, Johnny. You might be surprised." Brackett spoke with obvious sincerity. He didn't know.

But why on earth did Roy want him to hear this? Unless.... He looked at Roy again. Oh god. His stomach twisted into a knot. Roy knew something. He *had* to. Why else would he be doing this?

"You really think so?" He asked quietly. He'd kill Roy if he were wrong. If he didn't die of embarrassment first.

"I do."

He sounded so sincere. Johnny took a deep breath, and leapt. "Even if it was someone like you? Older, a doctor--"

"If it were me, I'd say yes. Johnny, you ought to tell her." Brackett spoke quickly, as if to hide his words.

Johnny looked at him. This couldn't really be happening... could it? He shot a glance at Roy, and found his partner smiling. It could. He turned back to Kelly. "Would you? I mean, will you?"

"Will I what?" Brackett looked confused.

"Say yes?"

Johnny waited. Kelly Brackett stared at him, confused, not understanding at first. Then slowly, his eyes grew wide and he stared back. "Are you asking *me*?" He whispered. Johnny nodded. He felt a stab of doubt, all of a sudden, and wished he could run. Call it a joke. Then Kelly's face changed again, and Johnny smiled.

It was after Kelly stepped forward to hesitantly, cautiously kiss him, that Roy finally spoke. "I guess this is my cue to leave. Doc, I know you made lunch reservations... I won't be able to make it, though. Maybe you should take Johnny?" He sounded as if he was going to start laughing.

Johnny barely heard him.

Next Story: Motile