"More Than Friends, Less Than Lovers - Culmination"
By: Melissa and Cathy
After his semi-successful fend-off of Lucy, John headed back to the ER lounge. It had taken him so long to get his Jeep replaced that he'd gotten out of the habit of checking for his keys and he often found himself leaving them behind in his locker. As he walked in, Carol asked him to stitch up Doug's forehead in Exam Three.
He took his coat off as he entered the room, and Doug winced. "You were on your way home."
"Chez Weaver? It'll keep while I do this."
John worked in silence for a while, stitching Doug's forehead carefully, noticing how upset he was. He'd wait for Doug to open up to him, if he wanted to. It had been a couple of years since their relationship, such as it was, had ended, but they still talked nearly every day.
John had been genuinely glad for Doug and Carol when they'd rekindled their relationship. Carol, until recently, had been happier than he'd ever seen her, and while Doug continued to have professional problems, his personal life seemed settled at last. They'd been good friends to him when Anna left town. Although Doug had been blind to his feelings - there was a surprise - Carol had known how much he'd loved Anna, and how much he was hurting. They'd made sure he wasn't alone too often, and even fixed him up on a disastrous blind date or two.
"I've ruined everything."
John snapped out of his own thoughts and tried to be reassuring. "Not everything. Not what matters."
Doug shook his head. "Everyone hates me right now. Mark, Carol, Weaver..."
"Weaver's always hated you," John interjected with a grin.
"Thanks for making me feel better, bud."
"Mark and Carol don't hate you. No one who cares about you does. They're just upset, but they'll forgive you. It just might take a little longer this time."
"I quit, you know. Hoped it might help smooth things over with them."
"I heard. Anspaugh's secretary has a soft spot for me. Fills me in on all the gossip."
"I bet she didn't tell you that I'm leaving Chicago."
John's hands went still, then he continued with the sutures, not trusting himself to speak.
"She didn't, did she?"
"No. So, where are you going? Kenosha?"
"Either Portland or Seattle?"
"You don't know where you're going?"
"It's up in the air. I asked Carol to go with me."
"That should give the two of you a chance to have a totally fresh start."
"Hardly. She said no. She won't leave Chicago."
"And you won't stay?" John hoped that Doug didn't hear the hope in his voice. Wouldn't pick up on how much John wanted him to remain in Chicago.
"I can't. I need to get out of here, John."
"I don't see where that's true. You could have an excellent career here. Well, not here at County, but here in Chicago."
"I know what you mean, but I disagree. I know that the police aren't going to pursue charges, but I know that every hospital and major office in the city will know what happened by the morning. No one will hire me. I'm too unstable. Too reckless. Too wild and irresponsible. Hey, you can feel free to jump in here and stop me any time you want, buddy." Doug grinned up at him.
John clipped the suture threads, then bandaged the area. "I didn't want to interrupt since you were on a roll there. So, when are you leaving?"
"I don't know yet. I still need to call out there and see what the deal is all about. I'll be working with an HMO, setting up emergency room pedes units, just as I did here. God, I hope Anspaugh gets someone competent in here to run ours. I would hate to have it die just because I screwed up. He wanted to shut down the clinic, did you know that?"
"I heard. Carol saved it by stepping down and putting Evans in charge. It's not a bad decision, though. Evans has done a lot to get additional funding for the clinic."
"Carol was so angry with me about that. She told me that I never see anything beyond myself. I did what I thought was right and didn't give a damn about the repercussions to the hospital, the clinic, to Carol." Doug paused. "To you."
"You haven't done anything to hurt me."
"No, not this year. Seems I've done something to hurt you every year for the past four years though."
"I don't remember that, Doug. You must be having hallucinations from your head injury," John replied with a small smile.
"If you don't remember any of that, then you must be the one with the head injury. Let's see, I treated you as if you didn't exist when you returned to work after our time in St. Barts. I hurt you when I slept with Harper Tracy, then I broke up with you, only to take things up with you a few months later so I could break up with you again. I then took advantage of your grief when Dennis Gant died and got you tangled up with me again only to break up with you one more time."
"If I recall correctly, we made a mutual decision to stop having sex then. You wanted to concentrate on winning Carol back and I was trying to switch to trauma from surgery."
"Plus you had met Anna for the first time."
John grinned, "Yeah, that too. I don't see where you hurt me last year, Doug."
"I'm sure I did something that caused you pain."
"Oh, I know. You kept me fed when I gave up my trust fund. Yeah, that hurt a lot, Doug."
"After the way you helped me out financially, I figured I owed you a few meals," John smiled and Doug felt a lump form in his throat as he realized all that he was going to be leaving behind.
Doug stood, knowing he had to get out of the suture room before he did something that the both of them would most likely regret. "Thanks for the sutures."
"It was no trouble. Just try to take care of yourself from now on, okay?"
Doug nodded, then left the room as quickly as he could and still maintain some dignity. It wouldn't do to have John think that he was running away from him. But, he was. He needed time to think about all that had happened. Ricky Abbott dying. The anger of Richard Abbott, Sr. Injuring Jeannie in the car wreck. Having Carol angry with him. Having everyone angry with him.
He finally found his solace in Jeannie's room. She was sleeping and he found it comforting to sit by her bedside. It gave him the time he needed to think. He desperately wanted Carol to come with him, but he was beginning to realize that wasn't going to happen. He thought about asking John, but he couldn't ask him to put his career into limbo just to escape to the West Coast with him. No guarantee of a future there either. Career-wise or with him. He still loved John. That had never changed. He just didn't know if he could be with only him. And not knowing that would mean that he could never be fair to John. As his thoughts lingered upon John Carter, Doug began to realize that he just couldn't leave Chicago without being with him one more time. Tasting the salt of his skin once again. Loving him totally. The only question is whether or not John would be willing to be with him one more time. One last time.
Doug approached the ER doors with apprehension. This would be the last time he would walk through those doors, he thought. It felt odd to walk in there and not have any work to do.
"Doug, what brings you around here? I thought you'd be long gone by now?" Kerry said from behind the admit desk.
"I'll be leaving in two days, Kerry. Plan your celebrations accordingly."
"So, why are you here then? Carol's not on right now."
"I have a few loose ends that need to be tied up. So, who's on tonight?"
"Drs. Weaver and Doyle," Jerry answered. "And Mark."
Jerry ignored the look that Kerry gave him.
"Not Carter?" Doug asked.
Kerry turned her stare back to Doug. "John's shift is over."
"He's in the lounge," Jerry said, once more ignoring Kerry's fiery gaze.
"Thanks, Jer." Doug headed for the lounge, but Kerry caught up to him just outside the door.
"Don't you dare hurt him, Doug Ross," she firmly said.
"I wouldn't do anything to hurt Carter." Doug wondered where her hostility was coming from this time. Wasn't she satisfied that he was leaving?
"That's not been true in the past, has it?"
"What has he told you?" Doug asked, beginning to wonder just how close John had gotten to his landlady.
"He hasn't told me anything, but I'm not blind. I've seen all the signs, Doug. Oh, I know all about you and your methods, Doug. There were rumors about you back at Mt. Sinai. Remember Brian Stowe? Second year med student, blonde hair and green eyes. Rumor was that you had him in your bed. Oh, almost everyone discounted that rumor because it was obvious that Doug Ross was a very strong heterosexual male. But, I personally knew Brian and he confided to me that it was a true rumor. You had a bad habit of using people back then, Doug, and I'm not assured that you still don't. So, you had better not be intending on hurting John."
"I already told you that I wouldn't hurt him. I'm glad he has you to look out for him." There was no sarcasm or rancor in Doug's voice.
Kerry barely nodded, "John's a sweet guy. Make sure he stays that way." Kerry walked away and Doug went on into the lounge. John was seated at the table, working on some charts.
His eyes lit up when he saw Doug. "Hey, what are you doing around here? You didn't change your mind, did you?"
Doug laughed, "I don't think Anspaugh would let me back if I did. I just wanted to let you know that I'm leaving the day after tomorrow. I have two nights left in Chicago. I want to spend my last night with Carol. I want to spend tonight with you. Will you spend tonight with me, John?"
John nodded, not even needing to think about it. "Uh, where? I don't have my own place anymore, neither do you."
"I think I can afford a hotel room somewhere. Someplace with a Jacuzzi maybe?"
"Sounds good, but I don't think we would be comfortable there. You know, Kerry's going to be working until noon tomorrow. We can go to my place."
"Kerry Weaver would have a kitten if she knew I was spending the night in her house, John." Doug joked.
"I pay her for that room. She has yet to tell me who I can and can't have down there with me. I've got to finish these files before I can leave." John indicated the small pile.
"So, get working already. I don't want to waste any time. I'll wait for you over at Magoo's."
John was surprised when Doug leaned down and kissed him. Even more surprised when the door opened and Doug didn't break off the kiss. Great, he thought, he waits until he's leaving to decide that he doesn't care anymore about getting caught with me. John heard the door close, but didn't hear any shocked comments or rude noises, so he figured that whoever had been entering the lounge had decided to wait outside. He reached up and put his hand around the back of Doug's neck, holding him close while he claimed Doug's mouth. When they finally broke off the kiss, Doug was smiling.
"Don't make me wait long, John."
Doug left by the side door, relieved to see Mark standing outside the lounge. Mark followed Doug outside.
"You saw?" Doug asked.
"Yeah." Mark sounded more than a little shocked. "Have you been cheating on Carol or cheating on Carter?"
"Neither. John and I broke up before Carol and I finally got together again. Mark, can I ask a favor of you?"
"I'll keep quiet about this. You don't have to worry about that; of course, if you were really worried about your reputations, you wouldn't have been kissing him in the lounge to begin with."
"I'm not worried about that. Not anymore. I want you to look after him for me. Make sure he's okay. Carol, too. Watch over them both for me, okay, buddy?"
Mark nodded, "I can do that."
"Thanks. Now you should get back inside. It's freezing out here."
John closed his eyes, remembering that kiss, smiling as he thought about how Doug hadn't stopped when someone walked in. Amazing. He'd wanted that before, but found himself a little curious about who had actually seen them. Not that it mattered - Doug was leaving, and it wouldn't happen again.
Sadness tinged John's smile as he left the lounge, ready at last to meet Doug across the street. As he was walking out he door, he heard Kerry call to him. She caught up to him just outside.
"I just wanted to remind you I'm working a double shift."
"So I won't be home until around noon."
John smiled, knowing that Kerry was giving her tacit permission to use her house, despite her dislike of Doug. He wondered how she knew - was she the one who'd walked in? He'd have to ask her sometime. "I love you, Kerry - you know
She brushed off his hug and rolled her eyes at him. "Just be careful, okay?" Without waiting for an answer, she turned and walked back into the hospital.
After Doug went to Magoo's, he sat near the window, sipping on his coffee and keeping his eyes glued to the the street outside. The minute he saw John heading his way, he paid for his coffee and left. He met him outside and gently kissed him on the lips.
"You're really getting carried away with this, aren't you?" John asked with a laugh.
"I guess I'm just finally realizing what a fool I've been for all these years. Ready?"
"I was thinking we might want to wait until we actually got to my room first, but if you really want to do it out here, I'm game."
"My rental car is parked over there. Let's get to your place before I shock you even further and actually take you out here. I might as well leave Chicago with a police record."
Only the kitchen light illuminated Kerry's house as they entered through the front door.
"Would you like something to drink? Are you hungry?" John asked him as they paused in the kitchen.
"I'm hungry for you. Is this the door to your room?" Doug put his hand on the doorknob.
Doug opened the door and let John precede him down the stairs. He closely followed, pausing only long enough to close and lock the door. He stopped halfway down because John had stopped and was watching him, a wide grin on his face.
"I just had a great idea. Have you ever done in on stairs?" John asked.
Doug laughed, "Can't say that I've managed that one yet. You?"
John nodded, "Once. It was with a woman though.
"And how was it?"
"Pretty good," John grinned.
Doug grinned back. "Just what do you have in mind?"
"Come down to this step and I'll show you."
Doug descended the stairs until he reached the step where John waited. With both of them standing on the narrow stairway, it was close quarters indeed. Which was exactly what John had anticipated. As soon as Doug reached his side, John leaned forward and pinned him to the basement wall with his body, kissing him passionately. Doug felt breathless under John's assault. It had been too long since he had been kissed this way and he missed it so much. John brought his hands up to Doug's shirt and began to pull it out of his pants so he could unbutton it and get if off of him.
Doug's hands were also busy with John's clothing, but as usual, those damn suspenders were getting in his way. "The Hell with this," Doug muttered as he used both hands to tear the shirt open, not caring that the buttons were flying out in all directions. All he cared about was getting to John and being able to feel his warm skin against his own. Moments later, both men were totally naked, their clothing and shoes littering the remaining steps. Neither man cared. They were too busy letting their mouths and hands explore each other, waking up old memories as they awoke their arousal for each other.
John slowly pushed Doug down onto the step, spreading his legs apart and placing himself in front of him. He grinned as Doug handed him a condom that he had somehow managed to hold onto. John fully intended to put it to good use. But first, he was going to take full advantage of having Doug in this position. He wished he would have had stairs available before, he thought as he licked Doug's knee.
"It's supposed to be a turn-on," John grinned up at him.
"Sorry. It just tickles."
"Then how does this feel?" John nibbled his way up Doug's inner thigh.
Doug let his head drop back as he bit back a moan. That was all John needed to hear and he repeated the action on the other thigh. He methodically made his way up one side of Doug's body, then down the other. He made sure that he avoided the one place that he wanted most. He was saving that for last.
John raised up and covered Doug's body with his own, then kissed him deeply. Doug's lips parted and he eagerly accepted the invitation. John reveled in the taste of the man below him, realizing just how much he had been missing Doug. He broke off the kiss and traced small kisses along his jaw before nuzzling Doug's neck and shoulders. He paid careful attention to the vivid bruise on his left shoulder, a reminder of Doug's recent accident. John could remember how vulnerable Doug had looked when he had been suturing his head laceration. Despite the chaotic atmosphere of the ER the night of the school bus accident, every time John had seen Doug, he had wanted to go to him and love away the hurt. It had saddened him to realize that the days when he could do that were long over.
John showered Doug's chest with kisses before availing himself of the sweetness of Doug's nipples. They were tight and hard, small buds that were difficult to get into his mouth, but once he had them there, he knew he could make the older man squirm from the delight he felt. A shiver of delight ran through John as he heard Doug hoarsely whisper his name. Doug might not love me, he thought, but no one else can make him feel like this.
Now he moved down Doug's belly, bathing it with his tongue before he reached his penis. He grasped it tightly, listening to Doug's moan as his hand closed around the shaft. When he put his lips to the side of the shaft and began to suck, he heard Doug groan. When he lowered his mouth even further, he heard Doug begin to beg. He grinned; remembering how much he liked hearing Doug beg for what he wanted from him. Usually, it was the other way around. He continued with what he was doing though, ignoring Doug's pleas. Right now, he was more concerned with pleasing himself. Finally, he rolled the condom down Doug's penis and took it into his mouth, toying with him for a long time before allowing him to come.
Doug lay upon the steps, panting as he tried to collect his thoughts. It had been incredible, just as it had always been, he thought. He suddenly shivered as the heat of his arousal dissipated and the coldness of the basement closed in around them. John removed the condom from Doug's penis, then helped him to his feet. As John made a side trip to the bathroom to dispose of the condom, Doug crawled into the bed, lifting the covers aside when John approached. They snuggled together; each one remembering how much time they had spent in that position, talking about their fears and hopes.
Tonight though, they didn't feel much like talking. They simply lay there in each other's arms, trying to make the intimacy of the moment last. Finally, Doug broke the silence.
"You know, I used to have this little fantasy...you, me, and Carol, all living together. Neither of you jealous."
John turned to face him. "Me, too. Only it was you, me, and Anna."
Doug smiled. "The two of them were friends - maybe it could have worked.
Did you two ever..."
John couldn't resist. "Me and Carol? Nah." He received the expected kick, then continued, "Once. Anna came over one night just before she left, to explain, she said, and we ended up in bed together. At first I'd hoped she changed her mind, but I realized it was her way of saying goodbye."
"Or maybe you were just a lousy lay, and she changed her mind back again." Doug had to dodge the kick this time. John pinned him to the bed, and said, "You are really going to pay for that one."
Their playful mood changed abruptly, and John said, "This is goodbye for us, isn't it?"
Doug looked up at him, hating the sadness that he was seeing in John's eyes. He slowly nodded, wishing he had the courage to ask John to come to Portland with him. Start a new life with John out there since Carol was still refusing to move with him. But, he just couldn't bring himself to ask that question. He didn't know if it was because he was afraid that John would say no, just as Carol had, or if he was afraid that John would say yes.
"This is our last time together, John," he said instead of all the things he wanted to say.
"You can always move back to Chicago."
"I don't think that's going to happen. Once I leave here, I'll be gone for good. Oh, I'll probably visit, but I won't move back."
John rolled off of Doug, the entire conversation reminding him all too much of the one and only time he had been with Anna.
Doug reached out and ran his hand over John's stomach, "Tell me what you want me to do, John. Tonight, you have to ask for what you want."
John turned his head to look directly into Doug's eyes. "I want you. All of you. I want to savor the taste of you when you come in my mouth and I want you to be in me without a condom. I want..."
"Whoa! You're already asking for a lot right there."
"If you're leaving me, then you should leave me with good memories."
"Leaving you with good memories is something I can handle. Leaving you with some disease is not something I can handle."
"Have you been faithful to Carol?"
"What?" Doug was incredulous that John would ask him that question.
"Have you been faithful to Carol?"
"And have you and Carol been trying to have a baby?"
"Yes. I told you that months ago."
"I remember. But, you and Carol haven't been using condoms, have you?"
"Using condoms aren't conducive to procreation."
"And you weren't worried about giving Carol a sexually transmitted disease?"
"We were both tested before we began to try. Okay, I get your point. There isn't any way I can transmit a disease to you right now. But, you can still give me something."
John shook his head, "Nope. I've been tested recently and I'm clean."
"Ah, but have you been tested since Lucy bit you?"
"Lucy did not bite me. That was just a wild rumor that Chuny was spreading."
Doug raised up on one elbow, then reached over with his other hand and turned John's head so he could look at his neck. "Looks like a bite to me. Not even a hickey. An honest-to-God bite. The girl has it bad for you, Dr. Carter."
"I don't want to waste my last night with you talking about Lucy Knight. You asked me what I wanted and I told you. Now, are you going to deliver the goods or not?"
Doug leaned over and kissed John slowly, waiting for John to part his lips so that he could take a long taste of his mouth. Doug ran his tongue up over John's teeth and gums, then thrust it inside while his free hand roamed over John's body, pinching, tickling and teasing the areas he could reach.
When Doug pulled back, they were both slightly breathless. "I think I can deliver everything you want. Now, I'll tell you what I want, John. I want you in me, too. No condom either."
John pretended shock, "What? No condom? Mr. Obsessive wants sex with no protection? Are you sure that you didn't get a severe concussion when you hit your head?"
"I'm sure. I want the same things you do, John. I want to remember the way you taste here." Doug slowly licked John's neck. "And here." He licked John's chest, making a trail down his belly. "And here." His tongue traveled the length of John's penis, ending at the tip, tickling the ridge and eliciting gasps of pleasure from John. "Most especially here." Doug encompassed John with his mouth, trying not to rush things. He wanted to make love with John all night long and do everything they had ever dreamed of doing with each other. He wanted it to be a night they would never forget. Their loving lasted until the morning hours. There would be times when one or both men would fall into a light doze, but those times were few and far between, always resulting in another round of lovemaking. When they did finally fall into an exhausted slumber, it was shattered by John's alarm.
John reached across Doug to turn off the alarm. "Damn. I forgot all about work."
"Call in sick," Doug suggested. He then began to take advantage of the fact that John was stretched out above him. He held him in place and began to nibble on his collarbone.
"I can't do that."
"Sure you can. You told me that Kerry won't be getting off from work until noon, so we still have all morning." Doug smiled up at him. "Please? We'll probably never see each other again after tomorrow. Won't you let me have a few more hours?"
John eagerly relented and called in. Not that Doug made that an easy thing to do. Just as Randi answered the phone in the E.R., Doug began to run his tongue up and down John's back while his hands were busy with other parts of his body. John was finally able to hang up the receiver and give in to Doug's ministrations.
Doug sat on the edge of the bed, watching John sleep. It was almost noon and he knew he needed to leave now so that he wouldn't risk running into Kerry. He didn't want to go. He really didn't want to leave Chicago, but he knew that it was for the best. For him; for his career most especially. He didn't know if it was really best for Carol and John. He was tempted to awaken John to say goodbye properly, but he knew that it would take way too long. Besides, they had already said their good-byes last night. Doug leaned over and softly kissed John's lips, lingering but a moment. Then he whispered, "I love you. I have always loved you and I will never stop loving you. Goodbye, John." He quietly made his way upstairs and was almost to the front door when it opened and Kerry stepped into the house.
Doug froze in his tracks, knowing that he had not lost track of time. Kerry was home early. They stared at each other for a few seconds and he expected to see fury in her eyes. Instead he first saw sadness, then resignation.
"Is John okay? I came home early because I was worried when he called in sick." She shut the door.
"I kinda figured that you were why he called in sick. I wish I had been wrong. I don't like seeing him hurt."
"Me either, and I have hurt him so many times before. But, not this time, Kerry."
Kerry looked puzzled, "You don't owe me any explanations, Doug."
"I'm well aware of that. I just don't want you to think badly about John."
"I don't think badly about him. I think he's a fool for getting involved with you, especially since we all know that you and Carol are engaged. I can't say that I'm particularly shocked that you would cheat on Carol though."
"I didn't. I haven't. John and I have been seeing each other, more or less, for five years. I wasn't with Carol back when I first began to see him. And John and I went our separate ways back when he switched residencies. I haven't been near him since then."
"Until last night," Kerry dryly observed.
"I'm leaving tomorrow. I wanted to say goodbye. I know you don't think much of me, but I do love John."
"And what about Carol? Do you love her?"
"Very much so."
"And yet you're leaving her behind."
"I have to go, Kerry. If I remained here after what happened with Ricky Abbott, I would be committing professional suicide."
"You should have been aware of that when you made the decision to help that boy die, Doug. Look, I know that we've had a lot of differences in the past. I don't hate you. I have never hated you. There have been times when I've been disgusted by you and your behavior, but I always knew that you were one Hell of a fine doctor. It's just that you never looked at the big picture. You have only been able to see what was right in front of you. What you did hurt a lot of people, Doug. It hurt me, but I'm not your friend, so it really shouldn't make you feel any guilt. But, you hurt Mark. Mark has gone out on so many limbs for you that he should be feeling like a monkey right about now. And each and every time that he's stuck his neck out for you, you have turned around and hurt him. You hurt Carol by jeopardizing the clinic. You came very close to damaging the hospital's reputation. What would have happened if the police had pressed charges against you? The hospital would have had no choice but to back you - despite the fact that you were wrong. And now, after hurting so many people, you're running away. Leaving all of us to face the consequences that are going to result from your actions. nd to make matters worse, you have to resume your relationship with John right before you leave. You better not be getting his hopes up that he's going to be a part of your life."
"I haven't done that. We know where we stand with each other. Kerry, look, I'm sorry that what I did hurt all of you. You're right about the fact that I don't look at the big picture. All I saw was that Ricky Abbott was dying and his mother was in agony watching him go. I thought that giving her a way to end his suffering was the right thing to do. She had already watched one child die that way. If I could go back in time, I can't honestly say that I would do anything differently, except maybe not have given him the experimental drug."
Kerry shook her head, "You always believe in yourself, don't you?"
He gave her a sideways grin, "I believe in helping my patient to the best of my abilities." He headed for the door.
"Well, try to not screw things up out in Portland the way you did here."
"Thanks, Kerry." He grinned. "And thanks for caring about John and not judging him by the company he keeps."
Kerry locked the door after Doug left, shaking her head. To her, it was a shame that such a talented doctor was willing to throw it all away just because he didn't like to work within the rules. Sure, she knew the frustrations of having to that. She herself had butted her head against the red tape more times than she cared to remember. But, she never flaunted the rules. Never broke them. Bent plenty of them though, but never broke them. Then her thoughts turned to the man who slept in her basement. How was it possible for John to have been with Doug for such a long time and not be tainted with his recklessness? Maybe, just maybe, the good in John had rubbed off on Doug over the years. She hoped that John wasn't going to become depressed again now that Doug was leaving. She had hated seeing him that way after Anna had left, and she thought that his interlude with Roxanne had brought him back to life. Well, she was too tired to dwell upon John Carter's emotions right now. There would be time for that later, she thought as she slowly made her way upstairs to bed.
John was seated on the bench outside the ER, taking a well-deserved break. In a way, he was glad that the day had been so hectic. Keeping busy had kept him from thinking too much about the fact that Doug Ross was really gone. Gone from County General, gone from Chicago. Gone from his life. After all the time that had passed since their last time together, he had been surprised at the flood of emotions he had felt the other night when he had taken Doug home. He honestly had thought the only feelings he had left for the man were those of friendship. That night had shown him how wrong he was. John was so deep in thought over that discovery that he didn't notice he had company until he felt someone touch his arm. It was Carol, back from taking Doug to the airport.
"I guess he's really gone then?" John asked.
Carol nodded, "I didn't leave until he boarded the plane. He told me to tell everyone "goodbye" for him. But, he'll be back in a week or so, once he gets settled in. His vehicle should be fully repaired by then, so he can drive it back."
"I'm sorry that it ended like this for the two of you."
Carol smiled sadly, "Well, maybe it was something that was ever meant to be. He certainly found it easy to leave me behind."
John reached out for her left hand, fingering the ring on her fourth finger. "If you really felt that way, then this ring wouldn't still be here, would it? Besides, Doug could argue that you found it easy to stay."
"I'm not ready to leave. I grew up here. All my memories, the good and the bad are here. This is my home. I love Chicago and I love me job. But, I can't ignore the fact that the person who is the other half of my soul is going to be half a country away."
"I would think that keeping your soul intact would be worth leaving your memories behind."
Carol didn't answer that. She still didn't know why she found it so difficult to even think about moving away. She decided to change the subject.
"So, why didn't you go with him then?"
"Excuse me?" John wasn't sure he had heard her correctly.
"I'm sure that Doug asked you to go with him, right?"
"He didn't ask me. Why would you ask that?"
"When Doug and I got back together last year, we did so with the vow that there would be no secrets between us. He told me about his affair with you. Don't look so shocked, Carter. Years ago I had my suspicions that Doug was bi. I admit that I was surprised when he mentioned your name, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that he would have found it very easy to fall in love with you. That's why I asked you to do the sutures the other day. I knew that he would want to tell you himself that he was leaving. I also knew that he would want to say goodbye."
John's cheeks were still flaming with his embarrassment as he shook his head, "Doug doesn't love me, Carol. He's in love with you."
"You are so wrong about that, Carter. Not about him being in love with me. I think that Doug has always been in love with me. You're wrong about how he feels about you. That's why I thought he would have asked you to go Portland with him once I turned him down."
"He never asked." John whispered. He still didn't believe that Doug loved him. Cared about him as a friend, yes. But love? No way. "I know that he wasn't in love with me. He made that very plain. He even told me once that he wasn't."
Carol pulled him over toward her, hugging him and lightly stroking his hair, "He told me that he was in love with you, Carter. If there's one true thing I know about Doug, it's this: once he admits that he loves someone, he really means it, and nothing in Heaven, Hell or on earth can make him change how he feels. That's why I never felt jealous that he loved you. I knew that he loved me and that our love would never die."
John pulled away from her. "So why are you so willing to let him walk out of your life?"
"I'm not. I just haven't yet figured out a way to keep him in my life."
"There's one easy way, Carol. Go to him. Stay with him. Don't make the same mistake that I made by letting Anna go without a fight. Or when Mark let Susan leave for Phoenix."
Carol smiled again, but it didn't eliminate the tears in her eyes. "I understand what you mean, but I don't think it's that easy."
"It is. I hope that you don't take too long to figure that out."
Carol leaned against his shoulder. "I miss him already."
John put his arms around her, hugging her tightly. "Me, too."