"More Than Friends, Less Than Lovers - Forgiveness"
By: Melissa and Cathy
As the days passed, John coped by burying himself in his work, partly to try to forget Doug, partly to ignore Harper, who kept making advances toward him. Finally, tired of being alone, he gave in to her. Over the next few months, they had some great times together, and he liked her a lot. He even introduced Harper to his sister, who had hated her on sight. That had to count for something. It wasn't enough, though.
It sounded corny, but he'd never loved her because he'd never completely trusted her. When he'd found out about her "one night stand" with Dale Edson, he'd exploded. "Christ, have you slept with every man in Chicago, Harper?" The words popped out of his mouth before he could stop them. He knew it was the beginning of the end for them, but didn't have the courage to end it. Luckily she did that herself.
Of course the news was around the hospital in nothing flat, which should have been no surprise. It also, somehow, was no surprise when he found Doug waiting in the hallway outside his apartment. They regarded each other, smilingly, then John started to unlock the door.
"She was a lousy lay, anyway."
John looked at Doug for a long moment. "I cannot believe you just said that."
"Just trying to make you feel better, buddy."
Although he knew he should have been, John wasn't even slightly angry at the remark. He laughed as they walked into the apartment, and said, "Great. That's why you came over here - to insult my taste? That's supposed to make me feel better?"
"That, maybe a game of basketball..." Doug trailed off with a half-smile and a shrug. "I'm sorry, you know, if she's what you wanted."
"She wasn't. It's actually kind of a relief that it's over."
"Why? Because it gives you more time for Susan?"
John laughed at their old joke. He settled beside Doug on the couch, and said, "So catch me up on the last few months."
"You know my dad got back in touch."
"Yeah, Jerry told me."
"Jerry eavesdrops on everyone, you know that."
Doug shrugged, then continued with his story. His father had sworn that he was back in Doug's life for good, but it turned out to be another pack of lies. He'd never been there for him, and never would be. What made Doug most angry, however, was not that his father had let him down again, it was that he let himself be put in the position to be let down. He'd even, against his better judgement, accepted financial help from the man. The money Doug had so desperately needed turned out to be stolen and now Ray was missing somewhere in the Cayman Islands.
John listened patiently as Doug talked for hours about his father, both how he'd behaved in the past and how he'd let him down again in the present. Doug was determined not to make the same mistakes, yet he found himself falling into the trap of being a bastard time and again.
John tried to reassure him that he had the choice of learning from his father's mistakes, that he wasn't obligated to repeat them. Somehow Doug could believe those words when they came from John, but not when he said them to himself. He felt the familiar peace that he experienced when he was with John wash over him, and he relaxed at last. He said, "I'd like to stay."
"I want you to," John said, "but I need to know that you're not going to...walk out the way you did last time."
Doug winced at John's choice of words. He had been walking out on people his whole life, just as his father had, and it was time that changed. He knew that, but he was afraid to make that kind of promise. Finally, he said quietly, "I know I hurt you when I left last time...I know that. And I won't do it again."
"Then I want you to stay." They smiled at each other, each man thinking that this time it was going to be different.
The next weeks brought a new calmness to Doug's life. He practically moved into John's apartment, although neither of them discussed the arrangement. It was an unspoken agreement that they'd spend what free time they had together. It was difficult at first because Doug was working extra shifts. He had missed a cancer diagnosis, and had disagreed with Benton, who had notified the family of the oversight. As a result, Benton was now a pariah amongst the surgical department -- they felt he had betrayed Doug. Doug was still a little angry with Benton, more so because of the fact that Benton's being barred from the OR was affecting John. As for himself, he was paying for the chemotherapy that the child needed. At first, he had used some of the money from Ray, but when he had found out it had been embezzled, he had returned the rest of the money and was determined to pay back what he had spent and keep paying for the boy's treatment. That meant extra shifts. A lot of extra shifts.
That particular problem was solved when John found out about Doug's financial problems and insisted on helping. Doug refused at first, joking that he felt like a kept man, but John would not accept his refusal, nor Doug's offer to pay him back.
Everything had become so simple, so easy...yet so complicated, Doug thought. One moment, it seemed he'd be laughing helplessly at one of John's goofy jokes, and the next he'd be lying just as helplessly beneath him, aching for the touch of his tongue. One moment they'd be dressing together after a night in bed, and the next they'd be discussing a case with cool detachment, appearing to be nothing but casual acquaintances. They'd stay up all night talking, yet discuss nothing more in-depth than sports scores in front of others.
It was becoming increasingly difficult for Doug to keep up the pretense of his double life, and it alarmed him that part of him no longer wanted to. He was happily distracted when John appeared in the lounge in his blue scrubs, fantasizing for a moment about how easy it would be to undress him, how cold the lockers would feel against John's back after Doug shoved him up against them. At moments like these, their eyes would sometimes meet, and both men would quietly acknowledge their thoughts to each other, confident that the others in the room were oblivious.
After one of these instances, they'd each enter the apartment after their shifts with trepidation, knowing that if the other man had arrived first, he'd be lying in wait, ready to ambush. It was something pleasant to count on. So Doug was nonplussed when he let himself in one evening, and was greeted by a young woman sitting on the couch with John.
"You must be Doug. John never stops talking about you."
Doug's momentary, guilty, flash of jealousy was quelled when he noted the remarkable resemblance between John and the girl. Obviously his sister. "You must be Barbara." He greeted her affably, wondering just how much John had actually told her, and was somehow only slightly shocked when John welcomed him with a kiss on the lips. So she knew.
They exchanged pleasant small talk for awhile, then Barbara excused herself, saying she had other engagements, and that she hoped to see Doug again soon before she left town. Doug watched her leave. Christ, the kid had guts, telling his family like that.
John shrugged. "Barbara and I fight all the time, but we tell each other everything. No secrets." He paused. "You're a part of my life. Why hide that?"
Why, indeed, Doug thought. Because they'd both face possible ostracism, or at the least, speculation at work, because their jobs would be put in jeopardy, because their lives would never be the same if anyone knew. He fought the surge of panic that signaled his familiar flight response. John wasn't asking him for a damn thing, and never had. He wasn't asking Doug to tell anyone about them, wasn't asking for more of a commitment, wasn't even asking him to stop seeing women. Doug sensed, however, that John wanted all these things, because he himself wanted them.
He said none of these things aloud, but instead suggested they go out to dinner. Maybe in a public place, his thoughts would become more ordered.
It didn't work. As they re-entered the apartment, Doug knew he'd laughed in all the right places at John's stories of Benton's antics, but he'd been unable to hide his distraction.
"Everything okay?" John asked, worried.
"Just tired. Tough day." Doug shrugged. John offered to massage his shoulders, and Doug gratefully accepted. Anything, so he didn't have to think.
He let his senses take over, blocking out thought. He felt the cool of the pillow underneath his face and the warmth of John's hands on his back. A butterfly-soft kiss between his shoulder blades, and a less soft kiss on his mouth after he turned over. He felt, heard himself moan, and knew he was losing himself in the moment. He loved John, but he knew he didn't have the courage to ever say those words to him. How simple it would be though, to say, "I love you."
He let John make love to him, for once not giving a damn about condoms and practicalities, just giving in to impulses and sensations. As always, he loved the fact that John knew exactly how to excite him. He started with the gentlest of kisses on his lips, then nibbled delicately before introducing his tongue. After lingering there for a few moments, he moved to Doug's cheek, then his neck. Doug felt the warmth of John's breath and the gentle flick of his tongue and groaned, sensing what would come next. John moved smoothly to Doug's earlobe, down to his shoulder, his chest, his stomach. Back up to his mouth, more passionately this time. Doug could feel John's erection against his skin, then a horrible realization set in - he had not gotten hard. This had never happened to him before, and on top of everything else that was going on in his mind, it overwhelmed him.
Doug was shocked to then taste the salt of his own tears, and to find himself unable to stop them.
"Hey," John laughed, "I haven't done anything to you that feels that good, not yet." He then noticed Doug's predicament and smiled sadly, stroking Doug's cheek. "You're really freaking out about me telling my sister, aren't you?"
"Yeah. Sorry. It just...just got to me." Doug shook his head, grateful that John had sensed what was bothering him, hoping that he couldn't read all his thoughts so easily.
"Look, she's not going to turn up at the hospital and ask to speak to, 'Doug, John Carter's hunky boyfriend'. She might consider it to torture me, but she wouldn't do it," John smiled. "I'm not asking you to tell anyone at all, and I'm not planning to tell anyone else, okay?" He raised his eyebrows in question.
"Okay." Doug nodded. John hadn't understood after all. He wasn't as afraid of being outed somehow, as he was disappointed in his own ability to be as open about his feelings, and as sure of them. Still, the tears continued, and he was powerless to stop them, and furious with himself for having lost control.
They lay quietly, John whispering words of comfort before drifting off to sleep.
Doug held his breath, wondering if John was aware of what he had just murmurred to him. Three simple words really. Not many letters either - only eight in all. I love you. Doug tightened his hold on John's body, embracing him closely, wanting with every fiber of his body to hear John say those words again and yet so afraid to hear them. So very afraid. Doug's mind was in full gear as he held his sleeping lover. Yes, he could call John his lover now, couldn't he? He grinned at that idea - lovers in every sense of the word. I love you. The very words that Doug wanted to say to John. But, he was so very afraid to say them. As a child, he had often told his dad that he loved him and Ray had always said the same thing to Doug - every time he came back. He even told that to Doug the day he left, back when Doug was all of twelve years old and not so gullible anymore. He knew by then that his dad didn't really mean those words. He had never actually given love to Doug - just heartache and embezzled money.
But John Carter was not Ray Ross. John had been giving Doug his love for a long time now. That had been plain to Doug from the beginning. John wasn't the type of person who could be satisfied with a purely sexual relationship, especially with another man. John needed more. Deserved more. Doug had known that the morning he lay awake in John's bed and decided they couldn't see each other anymore. It was for John's own good he had reasoned. Hell, he had done it because he knew he was falling in love with John and that scared him. He had loved Carol and screwed that up so totally that he didn't think he would ever get over it. Not that he didn't keep trying. But, he just couldn't seem to find another woman who could make him forget about her. The only person who had ever done that for him was now asleep in his arms. Another man. Doug wasn't sure what scared him the most - being in love with John or the fact that John was a man.
He had loved Carol and Carol had told him that she loved him. Doug's reaction to that admission had been to go out and cheat on Carol, causing her great pain and ending their relationship. She wasn't a fool and had no intention of putting up with those games. Now, John was telling him that he loved him and Doug knew he loved him. So, what would he do that would destroy their relationship? He knew he would. It was in his nature to do everything in his power to keep from committing to one person - to keep himself from being truly happy. Doug sighed into John's hair, not wanting to do anything that would hurt John the way he had hurt Carol. He would have to put a stop to things again. He knew he should have never resumed their relationship, but his lusts had overridden his common sense and he had given in once more to desire. Well, he wouldn't make that mistake again, not when John's heart was at stake.
The only problem was that Doug couldn't lay here in John's bed, with John's warm body against his and think about how to call things off. And he certainly couldn't look at John in the early morning light and hurt him the way he had a few months ago. He could still remember the hurt look that had been in John's eyes when he rejected him. Doug reluctantly disengaged himself from around John's body, then slipped out of bed. He quietly dressed and picked up his shoes, tip-toeing to the door. He looked back at the bed, making sure that John was still asleep, then he left. He had never left John like this before and he knew that John would think something was wrong. That might make it easier for Doug to convince him that things weren't working out.
Doug intended to head straight back to his place, but instead he found himself stopping at a bar and getting so drunk that the bartender had to call a cab for him. Doug stumbled into his apartment, knocking over a lamp in the process of taking off his coat.
"Damn," he said as he dropped to his knees to pick it up. Not that it mattered. The ceramic base was shattered, just as his heart was shattering as he tried to convince himself that leaving John now was the best thing for John. The problem was that it wasn't the best thing for him. He stood and threw the remains of the lamp against the wall, insuring that it could never, ever be repaired. Just as he was sure that his heart would ever heal.
Doug awoke to a pounding in his head and at his the door. Even in his groggy state, he knew it would be John, and he knew what he had to do. He hauled himself to his feet, then slowly made his way to the door, wishing that John would at least quit pounding on it long enough to give him a chance to open it. He opened the door, and John strode angrily into the apartment.
He pre-empted John's question by saying, "I just wanted to be alone. I still do."
Still angry and bewildered, John said, "You promised me that you wouldn't walk out. That this wouldn't happen again." John shook his head, "You said you loved me."
"I don't always keep my promises. You should know that by now." Doug forced himself to look at anything and everything except for John, cursing himself for being so careless last night that those words had managed to slip out. There was no way that he could look him in the eyes and lie to him. "Look, I don't know what kind of relationship you want with me, what you seem to think we have now. I, " he paused for emphasis between the words, "don't love you. I have never loved you. I wanted you in my bed, and I was willing to say or do whatever it took to get you there for as long as I wanted you. I didn't talk to you before I left because I didn't want this kind of scene."
John nodded, looking at the floor. "And you don't want me any more.
That's it, right?"
"Don't do this, Doug. Don't."
Doug shrugged, hoping he could control himself a little longer. He remained silent, unwilling to trust his voice. They regarded each other for a long moment, then John turned and left, closing the door behind him quietly. Doug leaned against the door and let his body slide to the floor, wanting to cry again. No one except Carol had ever made him feel this low with so few words. 'Don't do this, Doug.' God, he had really hurt the kid this time. Well, John was young and he would get over the hurt. He'll get over me, too, Doug told himself.
He got to his feet and went to shower, trying to put John out of his mind by thinking about what his day had in store for him. That's when he remembered that yesterday, Angela Hicks had spoken to him about the fact that John needed to see some more pedes patients before he could graduate. Doug had graciously offered to let John work with him in the E.R., at the time thinking of how nice it would be for them to work together. How easy it would be to steal away together. At the rate he was moving, John would be to the hospital for his shift before Doug ever got out of the shower. He would hear the news from Hicks way before Doug could tell her that he had changed his mind. But, if he did that, how would John meet his graduation requirements? John had told him how much he wanted to be a doctor. Needed to be a doctor. Doug couldn't let his own cowardice over facing John every day get in the way of that. He would just have to find some way to work with him every day and not let John see that he had ripped his own heart out of his body when he ended things with him. He could pretend that all was right with his world. Hell, he'd been doing that
for most of life, what difference would a few more weeks make?
The minute that Dr. Hicks had said Doug's name, John had tuned her out. He would have to work with Doug every day in order to graduate. How ironic. How terribly ironic for them both. To make matters even worse, Hicks had told him that Doug had volunteered to let him work by his side in the E.R. How was it possible for this to be the same man who had walked out on him last night and not more than an hour ago told him that he didn't want him anymore? That he had only wanted him in his bed. John knew he would be hypocritical if he didn't admit to himself that at first he had wanted to only be in Doug's bed. He had not been looking to fall in love with another man. He hadn't been looking to ever have sex with another man, but he had succumbed easily enough to Doug. Maybe too easily. He had wanted Doug as much as Doug had wanted him. But, Doug didn't want him anymore. Another person to add to the list. Let's see, he mused, his parents didn't want him around, his grandparents only wanted him when it was convenient for them to have him around. Now Doug was telling him that he didn't want him. At least some things never changed - he continued to be unwanted and unloved. Maybe he would always be that way. Now, there was a depressing thought.
When Doug arrived for work, looking like he had a horrible hangover, John pretended that nothing had ever happened between them. He wasn't cold to Doug, people would notice that. But, he kept his distance as they saw their patients, and he found that as long as he kept his focus on the children, he didn't really notice Doug too much.
As the end of the day approached, Doug gratefully told John to go home. He then went into the lounge to rest and gather enough energy to make it back to his place. But, he didn't want to return to an empty apartment. He wanted to be able to go to John's place, go shoot some hoops or watch some T.V., eat dinner, then love John. But, he could never do that again and it didn't serve any good for him to think about what he could never do.
Mark came in, "Hey, Doug. Rough day, huh? I thought that working with Carter would make things easier on you." Mark opened up his locker to get his coat.
"Carter was great today. He's not too bad with kids. He's wasting his talents by going into surgery."
"It's not our choice to make, Doug."
"So you agree with me?"
Mark put on his coat, then shut his locker and turned back to face Doug, "It doesn't matter one way or the other what I think. Carter's the one who has to make the choice. So, got any dinner plans?"
Doug shook his head.
"Hot date lined up?"
Again, Doug shook his head.
"Want to go grab a burger?"
"I'd be a fool to turn down free food," Doug grinned, but in the back of his mind, he heard a whisper; you are a fool, Doug.
He ignored it as he and Mark headed over to Doc Magoo's. They ordered, then talked while waiting for the food to arrive.
"Doug, did you by any chance hear from your father last night or this morning?" Mark carefully asked.
"No. Why are you asking? Did Ray call the hospital?"
"No. I was just curious because you've been a really good mood lately, but that changed today."
Doug tried to smile, "Hangovers tend to ruin my good moods, you should know that."
"So, that's all this is, then? The lingering effects of a hang-over?"
"You got it, buddy."
Mark suspected that Doug was lying, but he didn't pursue the subject. To do so wouldn't work with Doug anyway. Doug never talked until he was ready to talk. Knowing that didn't make it any easier for Mark to watch Doug over the next couple of weeks. It was obvious to him that Doug was hurting, and it pained him to know that he could help Doug if only he would talk to him.
As for Doug, he thought he was doing well enough just by getting out of bed each morning. At work, he continued his pretense of normalcy, but each night he arrived home drunk. He knew he couldn't keep up this kind of behavior, but he only knew of one thing that would stop it - being with John again. As he spent more time working side by side with John, he realized that he might have been too quick to end their relationship. He knew that John would forgive him for what he had done and the things he had said. He also knew that John would be willing to be with him again. He had easily forgiven him before. All Doug needed was the right time and place in which to talk to John. The problem seemed to be that they never found themselves alone while at work. As frustrating as this was for Doug, it made him more determined than ever to get John back into his life.
A few days prior to John's graduation, the right time and place happened along. They had been working the night shift and it was now the slow hour before dawn. John was in the isolation room, sleeping. Doug stood in the doorway, letting the light from the hallway spill into the room as he memorized the exact way that John was positioned on the bed. He stepped inside the room, letting the closing door plunge him into darkness. As he walked over to John, he followed the map he had created in his head. Three steps to the bed, feel his way to the head of the bed and John's head would be five inches below the top edge. John's body was centered on the bed.
Doug crept onto the bed beside John and lay beside him. Not touching him, just reveling in the nearness he had missed so much. He smelled John's hair, listened to him breathe, felt the warmth from his body. How could he have given this up? Finally, he stroked John's cheek, then moved his hands lower. This had to work.
"What are you doing?" John's voice cut cooly through the darkness. Doug felt him climb out of the bed, heard him walk across the floor. When John switched the light on, Doug winced, but was grateful he hadn't left. He was staying to talk to him. That had to mean something.
"Look, I behaved like an idiot the other day. I was hoping maybe we could talk. Or..." He patted the bed beside him.
"I'm sorry, now let's fuck. Is that what I'm hearing? Not this time, Doug. "
"You want me to beg again, is that it?" Doug knelt on the floor, smiling. "Tell me what I need to do to make you forgive me for what I said."
John looked away for a second, then he looked back down at Doug, his eyes sad. "I forgave you the minute you said it."
"Really?" Doug looked hopeful, "So, I won't have to beg for your
forgiveness this time?"
"No." John reached down to help Doug get to his feet. As soon as Doug was upright, he pinned John against the door, kissing him passionately. This was working out even better than he had imagined and he was confident that in another few minutes, he would have John back in his life.
John suddenly turned his head, freeing his mouth.
"Can I do this?" Doug gently bit John's ear lobe.
"Don't!" John pushed him away.
"John, I told you that I want you. I've missed you."
"You walked out on me, Doug. I can't just pick up where we left off. Not this time. I can't go to bed every night wondering if you're going to be there in the morning, and I can't listen to the things you say to me and wonder if you'll tell me later that they were all lies. I'm starting my internship in a couple of weeks, and it'll be hard enough for me to think straight without your game playing. I need something - someone - I can count on. You told me once that I deserve someone who loves me. And remember what else you said? 'I don't love you. I have never loved you.' I can't do this anymore, Doug."
"But, you want me just as much as I want you," Doug argued.
"Maybe even more, But, it doesn't matter. Not anymore." John pulled the door open and Doug decided to play one last card.
"If you walk through that door, then you will never have another chance with me. I won't change my mind again. If you want me, John, then it's now or never."
John raised his eyebrows at the threat, amazed at how easily Doug had managed to place the blame on him. He shook his head, "That's your choice, Doug. Not mine."
John walked out and as he watched the door close, Doug reflected that he had won John's forgiveness, but he wasn't back in his life. Forgiveness couldn't keep him warm at night. It couldn't smile at him and make his cares fade away. It couldn't ease his fears. Forgiveness certainly couldn't give him unconditional love the way John had. Doug realized then what an ass he was. A forgiven ass, but an ass just the same. He had driven Carol away and now he had driven John away. The only thing wrong with that fact was that he had always figured that John was his sure thing - the one person who would always be there for him, no questions asked. No demands. Just always there. As his sure thing brought his world to a halt, Doug felt more alone than he ever had before, and it didn't make him feel any better to know that it was all his own damn fault.
He had chosen the ways of his father and at that moment he hated himself even more than he had ever hated Ray. He knew that with time he had been able to forgive Ray for his shortcomings and the pain he had caused. There was no forgiveness for himself. Doug shook his head, then opened the door and returned to work, knowing that burying himself in his job would keep him from having to acknowledge the pain in his heart and soul.