"More Than Friends, Less Than Lovers - Reunion"
By:  Melissa and Cathy

Dennis Gant was dead.  There was no getting around that fact.  There was also no getting around the fact that he, John Carter, was the reason that Dennis's body lay cold and bloody upon the table in the trauma room.  John leaned over the toilet bowl and began to retch violently until there was nothing left in his stomach to bring up.  Just hours ago, he and Dennis had been talking.  Or rather, John had been talking to Dennis.  Trying to explain that he had never imagined that Dennis would complain to the Chief of Staff about Benton.  Wishing he could tell Dennis that the real reason he didn't back up his complaint while he, Dennis, Benton and Anspaugh were discussing it was that he was afraid Benton would tell Anspaugh that Abby Keaton had been his lover, ruining her career.  He couldn't risk harming her career or reputation that way.  But, he couldn't tell him that.  He was too much of a coward to tell his best friend that he had put his departing lover first.  And now Abby was up in the air flying toward Pakistan, Dennis was dead and there was no going back and changing things.

John flushed the toilet, then stumbled out of the stall to the sink and washed his face, knowing he should still be in the trauma room to help with the clean-up.  But, he couldn't go back in there.  The minute Benton had called the time of death, John had rushed out of the room, barely pausing to shed his glasses, gloves and gown before heading for the bathroom.  He knew that Benton would ride him unmercifully for that.  Hell, this was one punishment he would deserve, that was for sure.  He dried his face and hands, reasoning with himself that he was off work now anyway, so it really wasn't expected for him to help with the clean-up.  That was a job usually performed by the nurses anyway.  He might not have had a problem with the idea of helping if it wasn't for the fact that the body in there was not recognizable as being Dennis Gant.  He chided himself for that thought, telling himself that he should be used to the grotesque by now.  He left the bathroom and took the stairs to the surgical floor so he could get his things and leave.  He paused in front of his locker, wondering why he was in such a hurry to get back to the apartment he shared with Dennis.  Had shared with Dennis.  Well, he had to go somewhere, didn't he?  Besides, there was no where else to go.

Buttoning his coat, John stepped out into the hallway and walked to the elevator, angrily pushing the down button, then ignoring the other passengers as he got into the first elevator to arrive.  It wasn't until he stepped out into the frigid air outside the E. R. that he realized he would have to take the El back home.  That was the way he and Dennis had come to work last night.  The paramedics never did identify the station where Dennis had jumped to his death.  Was it this one?  Or maybe the one by their place?  A soft touch on his shoulder got his attention and he swirled around to face Doug.

"I was hoping to catch you before you left.  I just heard about Dennis."  Doug's eyes were full of concern as he saw the profound sadness in John's eyes.

"He killed himself, Doug."  John's voice trembled.

"I heard that he might have fallen onto the tracks."

John shook his head, "No.  That's just something they're saying to make it easier.  He killed himself.  And it's my fault."  John's eyes took on a vacant look, "All my fault."

"I think I had better take you home."

"That's where I was headed, but I don't have my Jeep with me.  We took the train in yesterday.  Dennis and I would ride in together when our shifts started at the same time."

Doug could see that John was beginning to shake and he knew it wasn't from the cold.  He put an arm around John's shoulder and led him to his vehicle, opening the door and making sure that John was fully belted into the passenger seat before getting in himself.  He pulled out into the early morning traffic and turned the heat up all the way, then headed for his apartment.  With John this close to falling apart, there was no way that he was going to take him back to the apartment he shared with Dennis Gant.  If it wasn't for the fact that she had left hours ago, Doug would have taken John to Abby Keaton's place.  He had been really surprised that the woman had accepted the teaching position in Pakistan, especially since he knew how crazy John was about her.  That was something that he didn't think John had yet managed to admit to himself, though.  But, from what he knew about Abby Keaton, he was sure that she would have been able to give John the comfort he so desperately needed right now.

Doug heaved a sigh of relief as he pulled up in front of his apartment building.  He had kept one eye on the road and the other on John for the entire trip, concerned because John had refused to talk to him.  He had just sat there; shoulders slumped, not really looking at anything.

"We're here." Doug cut off the engine and pulled the keys out of the ignition.

"Thanks for the ride."  John answered, his voice devoid of emotion.  He undid the seat belt and got out, standing on the sidewalk and looking at the building as if he had never seen it before.

Doug got out and walked around to him, shutting the passenger door.  "Come on."  He put his hand at John's elbow and escorted him inside and to the apartment.

"This is your place."

"That's right.  I think it will be better if you crash here, don't you?"

"I didn't want to go back to my place."

"I know."  Doug unlocked the door and they went inside.

"Let me have your coat.  You can have your pick of beds, mine or the guest room."

John fumbled with the buttons on his coat, then finally got them all undone.  He took the coat off and gave it to Doug.  "I didn't think that you wanted me in yours anymore."

"I wasn't propositioning you, John.  I was merely offering you a place to sleep.  You've been awake for a long time and you suffered a strong emotional shock.  You need to get some uninterrupted rest."

John sat down on the couch. "I'm not really tired.  I just need to...Hell, I don't know what it is I need to do right now.  Call Dennis' folks.  Tell them that he's dead."

"I'm sure that Dr. Anspaugh is taking care of that."  Doug sat down on the couch beside him.  Wanting to touch him, to take away some of his pain, but not trusting himself to not cross that fine line between friendship and love again.

"I should still call.  He was my best friend.  It's only right that I call."

"Okay.  Do you have their number?"

John nodded, then leaned to one side so he could reach his wallet.  He pulled out a piece of paper with several numbers on it.  "It's on here."

"Then go ahead and call them."

"Doug, Dennis was from Atlanta.  It's a long distance call."

"I'm aware of that.  If you need to call them, then call them.  I know that you'll pay me back, John."

"Thanks."  John scooted down to the other end of the couch and reached for the phone, carefully dialing the number for Dennis' parents.

Doug watched quietly as John made the call and told the Gants the terrible news.  He was surprised that John was able to be so compassionate and composed while talking to them on the phone.  That composure disappeared the minute that John hung up the receiver.  Tears began to fall down his face and as Doug reached his side, John began sobbing uncontrollably.  Doug pulled him onto his lap and held him to his chest, rocking him gently.  He just kept stroking John's back and hair, telling him that it was good to cry and that things would eventually be all right.  Finally, the tears subsided and John's body sagged against his.  Doug began to think that John had fallen asleep, and he was just about to transfer him to the couch when he heard John say his name.

"What?" he gently asked.

"I want to sleep in your bed, Doug.  With you.  Can we do that?  Just sleep?"  John's voice was still shaky.

"Yeah, John.  We can do that.  Come on."

John got off of Doug's lap and headed for the bedroom with Doug following.  Doug shut the door and pulled down the window shades, darkening the room, then he pulled down the covers.  As he was busy with those tasks, John had stripped down to his underwear.

"Get in bed, I'll be right back."  Doug reached for a tissue and handed it to John, then left the bedroom.

John blew his nose and disposed of the tissue, then crawled into bed.  When Doug returned, he had a wet wash cloth which he then used to soothe John's face.  He was barely in bed before John snuggled up next to him and Doug briefly hesitated before wrapping his arms around John.  Nothing sexual would happen just because he wanted to give a little bit of comfort to John.  Besides, they would soon fall asleep and it wouldn't matter anyway.  Doug lay awake for a long time, listening to John's steady breathing as the younger man slept.  He could feel John's breath upon his skin and inside his chest his heart constricted as he thought of just how much John meant to him.

After the last time Doug pushed John away, he had immediately regretted it.  He finally swallowed his pride and apologized to John, begging his forgiveness for the hurtful things he had said.  Telling John that he did not love him and had never loved him.  That he had said what he needed to say in order to get John into his bed and keep him there for as long as he wanted him and that he didn't want him anymore.  Doug shook his head as remembered how confident he had been that John would fall back into his arms after his apology.  It didn't happen like that.  John had told him that he would not and could not put himself in that position again - never knowing if Doug was lying to him or if Doug was going to unexpectedly leave him.  After John's rejection, Doug had tried to drink away his sadness and despair.  He threw himself into a long series of one-night stands, often picking up women whose names he didn't even know.  He even stood outside of a gay bar one night, trying to convince himself to go inside and pick up a guy, prove to himself that John didn't matter to him.  Every time he tried to go in though, he could hear John's voice, " I don't want there to be any other men.  For either of us, Doug " He finally drove off, disgusted with himself for even thinking of doing such a thing.  Drugs soon entered the picture - nothing too strong - just some marijuana and a little cocaine - anything to help him forget about John.  After his disastrous one night stand with Nadine Wilkes, Doug came to his senses and hauled his butt in to see a psychiatrist before he ended up destroying himself.  This therapist had been easy to talk to and Doug had opened up immediately to her, telling her about Carol and John.  Telling her about Ray and his childhood.  Telling her about his fear of commitment.  That was the reason why he broke Carol's heart when they had been dating, and that was the reason he would let John get close, then break things off with him.  He was afraid of committing to anyone or anything, whether it be Carol, John or a job.  With Carol, Doug had used the excuse that he was really doing her a favor by letting her catch him cheating on her.  She deserved a man who would be totally faithful to her. 

With John, he used the excuse that he was just giving the younger man the chance to find a woman who would love him the way he deserved to be loved.  Doug had come to realize that he was pretty good at coming up with excuses.  He had started his relationship with Diane Leeds while he was with John, then when Diane got too serious about things, Doug didn't have the guts to tell her he was involved with another man.  No, he had to go out and let her catch him after he had been with Linda Farrell again.  Why?  Hell if he knew, except that maybe it was because Diane would know John from the hospital, and he didn't want any rumors going around that would harm John.  There was nothing that could sully his or Linda's reputations, that was for sure.

Then there was his previous self-destructive year.  Doug had been looking forward to seeing John once the summer ended.  Their time together in St. Barts had been fantastic, but Doug had been disappointed when he and John saw each other again in Chicago and John had remained distant and aloof.  No hug or a cheery hello.  John never even tried to find a way to be alone with him, so Doug had eventually gotten the point and stayed out of his way, remaining a polite and casual friend.  It wasn't until he had slept with Harper Tracy and Mark laid into him because he had hurt John by doing that, that Doug decided to speak with John in private.  He had been shocked when their "talk" had resulted in them being in bed together once more.  Shocked and delighted.  John wanted to be more than friends, that was for sure.  So, did he.  And that was the big problem.  Doug had immediately dashed any hopes that John might have had that their relationship would continue.  His guilt over hurting John that way resulted in a downward spiral that nearly destroyed his career, and having his Dad enter the picture again did not help matters any.  Getting involved with Ray's girlfriend wasn't the smartest thing to do, but dammitt, it felt good to finally be able to take something away from that son-of-a-bitch. 

The only bright spot that had helped him keep his head above water was the fact that John was still willing to be his friend.  Almost desperate to be his friend.  Doug knew it was because John had felt abandoned almost all of his life and he was eager to do anything he could to keep from being totally abandoned by Doug.  That was why he couldn't turn him down when he said he wanted Doug to sleep with him now.  Well, there had been one time when Doug had managed to talk all night in John's apartment and never touch him, he supposed he could spend all night with John here and not touch him, too.  Of course, on that night, they had both been fully dressed, and not stripped to their underwear like now.

Doug felt John move and he loosened his hold on him to give him some room.  When he looked to see if John was okay, he found himself looking into John's eyes, noting that they were dark and hungry with want.

"I need you, Doug," John whispered hoarsely, running his hand under the waistband of Doug's boxers and claiming his penis.  "Please?  Just this once?"

Hell, how could it hurt to have sex with him one more time?  Doug lowered his mouth to John's lips, noting the way they quickly parted to give him access to the warmth inside.  Doug felt himself grow hard within the tight grasp of John's hand and his own hand was busy with John's penis as well, noting with satisfaction that John had been hard before he touched him.  The kid had always been ready for him, Doug reflected, then he gave up on thinking and just let his desires take control of the situation.  Their coupling was rough and fast, neither of them wanting to take the time to linger.

Afterward, they lay in each other's arms again, with Doug softly stroking John's hair.

"I'm sorry if I made you do something you didn't want to do." John softly said.

"I wanted it as much as you needed it, John."  Doug was thinking that maybe John had needed it too much.  As if he was mourning a lover and not a friend.  The problem was that Doug was afraid to ask if John had been Dennis Gant's lover.  Not that it mattered.  He had set John free, right?  He had no right to be jealous.  The Hell with it - he had to know or the unknowing itself would drive him crazy.

"John, can I ask you something personal?"

John laughed, "Like you've ever hesitated to that before.  Sure.  Ask."

"You and Gant.  Were you lovers?"

There was no answer from John and with a sinking heart, Doug decided that John's silence meant the answer was "yes".  He felt John's hand upon his chin and then John turned his head so that they could look directly at each other.

"I promised you years ago that there would be no other men, Doug, and I never broke that promise.  I never wanted to."

"But, we quit being lovers a long time ago."

John shook his head, "It didn't negate my promise, Doug.  I may be a total asshole when it comes to friendship, but, I don't go around breaking my promises."

"I'm sorry."

"About what?"

"About feeling the need to ask you that."  Doug couldn't admit to John that he had felt jealous.

"Well, you could find a way to make it up to me, you know."  John was smiling now.

"And how should I do that?" Doug asked, a grin playing around his lips as well.

"Make love to me the way you used to."

"I think I can handle that."  Doug realized that he was throwing his determination out the window, but he didn't care.  All that mattered right now was that John wanted him.  Not that he needed him.  Needing him had been good, there was no doubt about how good it had made him feel to know that John had needed him.  But, to know that John still genuinely wanted him - well, that was the best.

"Let's see what's in the drawer."  Doug leaned over John, pinning his body to the bed, as he reached for the night stand.  He could feel John messing around with him as he tossed things out of the drawer, looking for the cord that John had jokingly presented him with during the first frenzied days of their relationship.  "Finally."  With the cord in his hand, Doug maneuvered his body until he lay length-wise upon John.

John was grinning broadly as he automatically placed his arms above his head.

"Anticipating me, are you?"


"Well, I don't know if you noticed, but I do have a new bed now."

"I noticed.  It's very nice."

"Yes.  And it works so well for this."  Doug said as he tied John's hands to the iron spindles of the headboard.  There was no way that John could free himself, not that John was trying.  "Tell me, John, did you let Abby Keaton tie you up like this?"

"You knew about Abby?"

"I'm not blind, John.  I can easily recognize the signs of a couple trying to hide the fact that they're involved.  You didn't answer me though."

"Not like this.  She preferred having me tied down spread eagle."

"Now there's a thought.  Maybe next time."

John's heart raced even faster as he heard that.  Maybe next time, Doug had said.  That implied there would be more opportunities to be in Doug's bed.  To maybe have Doug in his.  Oh, how he had missed doing this, doing everything, with Doug.  Abby had been enthusiastic and inventive, but she wasn't Doug.  As if any woman could ever make him stop wanting Doug.  Make him stop loving him.  Not even Doug's hateful words had made him stop loving him.  He suddenly gasped out loud as Doug's mouth and tongue attacked his throat, making his squirm.

"Oh yes, I can definitely see the advantages of having you completely tied down and helpless."  Doug grinned, then he resumed his exploration of John's body.  It had been a long time since he had last seen it, and he wanted to savor each and every inch of it, taking his own sweet time while doing so.  He knew it would drive John into a frenzy and he anticipated the moment when John would begin to beg for him to enter him, to make him come.  To take him fully.  Doug's mouth trailed down John's throat and to his chest, paying careful attention there.  John's nipples had always been especially sensitive and Doug had always enjoyed playing with them, finding as much satisfaction with John's small buds as he did with Carol's breasts.  Sometimes even more, because there had been times when manipulating John's nipples almost made the younger man come.

Doug's mouth moved lower on John's body, the tip of his tongue dipped into John's belly button, tickling it with abandon before moving even lower to lick and suck on John's penis, avoiding the head.  As John's moans and whimpers became louder and he spread his legs apart, Doug smiled, knowing that John was expecting the ultimate kiss.  Well, there was something to be said for anticipation, Doug thought, as he gently sucked on John's balls, bathing them with his tongue and mouth, then scooted down to trace a path down John's thigh.  A strangled cry of disappointment came from somewhere near the head of the bed, and Doug knew that he had read John's body language correctly.  Oh, he would give John what he wanted - eventually.  Once he tired of the rest of his body.  As if that was even possible, he thought as he continued his attack on the man who trembled beneath him.

It was almost two hours later when a very satisfied Doug freed a totally sated John and pulled him close, snuggling up behind him as this time they both fell asleep.

A whimper from John awoke Doug, but this wasn't the type of whimper that Doug was used to hearing from him.  This was a terrified whimper and it was clear to Doug that John was in the grips of a nightmare.  Probably one about Dennis Gant, he thought, as he gently shook John's shoulders in an attempt to awaken him.  In the end, it took a forceful shaking to do the job, and when John awoke, he stared up at Doug, his eyes changing from scared to vacant in seconds.  Then he broke down crying again and Doug pulled him to him as he had done before, soothing him as best he could.

"Shhh, everything's going to be all right," he whispered.

John violently shook his head, "How can it be all right when it's my fault that Dennis is dead?"

"John, you keep telling me that, but you haven't yet told me how it is that you blame yourself.  If I don't know any of the details, then I can't help you get through this.  Talk to me, John."

Through his tears, John began to tell Doug about the friendship he had shared with Dennis Gant.  A friendship that was born out of their banding together to withstand Benton.  He told him how well the two of them had gotten along after John had moved into Dennis' apartment, about how torn apart Dennis had become when the problems between him and his girlfriend had reached a crisis point.  John told Doug how he had avoided Dennis and his complaints about Monique because he wanted nothing to interfere with the time he had left to spend with Abby.  And he told him of the final straw that had happened last night.  How Benton had verbally ripped Dennis apart in the cafeteria, then how Benton had walked in ten minutes after John and Abby had finished making love, catching them together on her couch.  He told Doug how afraid he had been that Benton would tell someone about finding them, thereby ruining Abby's career.  And how when he had been confronted by Anspaugh regarding Dennis' accusations against Benton, he had declined to back his friend.

"I should have been thinking more clearly then, Doug.  Abby was on her way to Pakistan and there wasn't anything Benton could have said that would have damaged her career and reputation then.  I thought that Benton had been harsh, but not any harsher then he had ever been with me.  For some reason, Dennis felt that Benton was being unduly hard on him.  I don't know if it was true or not.  This is the third year I've worked with Benton, and there have been times when he's driven me to tears of frustration and anger.  There have been times when he's praised me.  I don't know, Doug.  Maybe I'm just too used to Benton and his ways and was unable to see how his personality traits were effecting Dennis.  Hell, Dennis had been depressed for a long time.  A really long time.  Some of that was because of Monique and some of it was because of me.  I had invited Dennis to my family's Christmas get-together, then cancelled out on him because Abby was able to change her schedule.  I was so wrapped up in my affair with Abby that I neglected Dennis, and when he turned to me..." John's voice trailed away.

"And when he turned to you, what?" Doug gently asked.

"When he turned to me as a friend, I wasn't there for him.  On his last day of life, I did all I could to avoid being alone with him.  I had gotten tired of hearing him complain about his ex-girlfriend.  He needed to talk and I just simply wasn't there.  After his confrontation with Anspaugh and Benton, I saw Dennis in the cafeteria.  I told him that I didn't think he would really take the issue to Anspaugh and that I was sorry.  He told me not to worry about it, that we were still cool.  I felt relief that he wasn't angry with me, then I put it out of my head."  John drew in a shuddering breath as he fought back more tears.  "That was the last time I saw him until the paramedics brought him in."

Doug didn't know what to say.  Hell, Doug had been on rock bottom more times than he cared to count, and he had never given up.  Never even thought about it even.

"You're disappointed in me, aren't you, Doug?" John asked.

Doug shook his head, then realized that with his head resting against Doug's chest, John couldn't hear that.  "No.  It's not your fault that Gant went to Anspaugh."

"I was talking about the fact that I treated Dennis so badly despite the fact that he was my best friend.  I know that you expected better of me."

"I never expect better of you, John.  You just seem to usually give it anyway.  How can I be disappointed in you when I've done far worse?  Hell, you don't go around dragging your comatose one night stands into the Emergency Room, fully expecting Mark to cover for you one more time.  You'd have to go a long way to top me, buddy."

"Then I guess that I'm the one who is disappointed in me." John softly said.

"Why does approval matter so much to you?  I swear, there are times when I think you would walk through a glass wall if you thought that it would win someone's approval."

"If I did something that stupid to win approval, then I think that you should lock me away."  John joked.  "Or else put me into counseling for the rest of my life."  John didn't even want to begin to talk about how desperately he had wanted the approval of his family.  Approval that never seemed to come, no matter how well he did.  John moved off of Doug's chest and sat up in bed, propping himself up on a pillow. 

Doug followed suit, deciding that now might be a good time to tell John about something that was going on in his life.

"There's something I need to tell you." he said, not looking at John.  "Something serious.  I've been seeing this therapist.  Real egghead.  I told her about us." Doug shrugged, trying his best to be nonchalant about the whole thing.

John let out the breath he'd been holding, then asked, "What did she say?"

She'd said Doug should tell John his true feelings.  Make a real commitment to him.  "She said you sounded like a real schmuck, and that you probably need more therapy than I do."

John laughed, and Doug unsuccessfully tried to dodge the pillow John threw at him.  Doug was glad to see John smiling, even if he knew it wouldn't last.  He didn't like to see John hurting so much inside.  He was suddenly very glad that he had thrown his "no touching John" resolution out the window.  He had not realized just how much he had needed to be intimate with him.  It wasn't just the sex, although sex with John had always been fantastic.  It was the easy feeling of not having to be on guard when he was alone with John.  When he was with John, he found it so easy to be the man he had always wanted to be.  The man who was nothing like Ray Ross.  All too often though, he found himself imitating his father and he hated himself for that.  His psychiatrist had told him that he had two choices:  he could continue to hate his father and yet emulate him, or he could forgive his father and live his life the way he felt was right.  He had told her that he wanted to do the latter, but he was afraid that no one would believe that he could change at this point in his life.  She reminded him that the only people who couldn't change were those who were dead and buried, and what did it matter what other people thought? 

The important thing was that he change.  He had been thinking about that a lot lately, and it made a lot of sense to him, even though there were three people whose opinion mattered.  He wanted Carol to know he had changed for the better, and he wanted Mark to know it as well.  He was tired of disappointing his friend.  The third person who mattered was John, but, he knew that John had never viewed him in a negative light, no matter how much of an asshole he had been.  John had never said a word to him about the way he treated Diane Leeds, or about his numerous one night stands.

He hadn't taken him to task over Nadine Wilkes either.  John was the only one who hadn't judged him.  After Doug volunteered to take a drug test, he waited in the exam room, head in his hands, after he heard Mark tell Carter to draw blood and send it to the lab.  Carter came in and Doug heard him gathering the necessary paraphernalia.  Then nothing.  Bracing himself for the inevitable look of contempt, the one he was seeing on everyone else's faces, Doug looked up.  John was sitting before him, sleeve rolled up and arm proffered.  Offering to give his own blood for the drug test.  As much as he wanted to be able to turn John down, he couldn't afford to -- God only knew what would show up in a tox screen.

Doug went to Carol later on, to explain, to apologize, to be reassured, but she rebuffed him.  So, once more, he turned to John.  He'd heard John was staying temporarily at his family's house, but he had to risk going there. 

John had reassured him, but had turned down Doug's inevitable advances, saying, "If we get back together, I want it to be for good.  I don't think either of us are ready for that.  Not yet.  You need some time on your own before you can even think about any kind of commitment to someone else."

His memories made Doug sigh as he let his hand drift over John's belly.

"What's wrong?" John asked.


"That's not true and you know it.  You were laughing a second ago and now you're all sad."

"I was just thinking of how long it's been since we were together like this.  It's been a little over six months."

"It wasn't my choice, Doug."  John tried to keep his irritation out of his voice, but the hurt look in Doug's eyes told him that he had not succeeded.  He had missed Doug so much.  It had been difficult, as there were times when he really needed the peace and calmness that he had only found in Doug's arms.  Times when he really needed the physical and emotional release that he could only find with Doug.  He reached over and tentatively stroked Doug's cheek, "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to hurt you by saying that.  It's just that I've missed being here like this with you."

"I know.  I've kinda missed it, too.  But, you're right.  I am the one who put our sex life on hold, so it is my fault.  You don't know how difficult it has been for me to keep my hands off of you when we're alone.  You don't know how close I came to offering you a place to stay when your apartment building burned down.  But, Gant asked you first.  Just as well, I suppose, or I would have had you back in my bed in a heartbeat."

"And that would have been a bad thing?"  John hesitatingly asked.

"Yeah.  Maybe.  Hell, I don't know.  I certainly wouldn't have ended up having the entire hospital gossip about my private life because there would not have been a Nadine, that's for sure.  There wouldn't have been a Gretchen or a Pamela or a Maureen, or a Patsy, or a Sally, or an Astrid..."

"There might have been.  We never stopped seeing women."

Doug took a deep breath.  "I'd like to now."

"You mean that."  It wasn't a question.  "I wish you would have asked me anyway.  I would have gone back and told Dennis that I had a cheaper offer or something."

"Cheaper?"  This time, it was John who unsuccessfully tried to dodge the thrown pillow.

The ringing of the telephone postponed any further roughhousing.

"Hello?" Doug answered, knowing that it couldn't be the hospital, because he did have his pager turned on.  It was Dennis Gant, Sr., asking if John was still there.  "Yeah.  One second, Mr. Gant."  Doug handed the receiver to John.  He had forgotten that John had given Mr. Gant this telephone number earlier.  He hated having his time with John interrupted, he most especially hated the fact that it was being interrupted because of something that had John so depressed.  He watched how John's playful mood quickly disappeared, replaced by a deep sadness.  Why in the Hell was John mourning the death of someone who might have died to try to make him feel guilty?  Not that John would have needed any assistance with that task.  Doug knew how easy it was to take on guilt, maybe even more so in the case of a suicide.  He had felt guilty for a long time over Carol's attempt to kill herself - despite the fact that she later told him that it had nothing to do with him.  He had never totally believed that and he knew that John would never come to believe that he wasn't at least partly responsible for Dennis' death.

John handed the receiver back to Doug, then got out of the bed and began to get dressed.

"You planning on going somewhere?" Doug asked.

"I need to get back to my place.  Mr. Gant has already been in contact with a local funeral home and he's flying in tomorrow to accompany Dennis' body back to Atlanta.  He also wants to take Dennis' stuff home.  He'll be staying overnight at the apartment and leaving the next morning."

"I don't see why that means you need to leave now." Doug protested.  He was reluctant to have John leave his bed now that he had relented and let him back in.

"I should make sure that everything is in order.  That there's nothing there that Dennis would not have wanted his parents to see.  Take care of any dirty dishes and clothes.  Mr. Gant shouldn't have to have to take dirty clothes back with him."

"I see.  Will I see you tomorrow?"

"I'm sure we'll see each other around the hospital."  John said as he buttoned his shirt.

"I was talking about tomorrow night."

"I should stay there with Mr. Gant.  I don't know how my schedule will be from now on, since Dennis won't be there.  The rest of us will have to take up the slack since there won't be anyone to work his shifts."  John was surprised that he was able to talk about that so matter of factly.  Either he was getting used to the idea that Dennis was dead or he was too far gone to have any feelings.  He hoped that neither answer was correct.

"I'll drive you home."

"No, you should stay in bed and get some sleep.  I can take the El."

"I drove you over here, John, and I will drive you home now."  Doug was getting out of bed when they heard a steady beeping sound.  Doug reached for his pager as John dug into his pocket for his own.

"It's me."  John said.  "Can I use your phone again?"

"Sure."  Doug got dressed while John made his call.  It turned out to be Anspaugh, wanting to see if John would be willing to make arrangements for a memorial service for Gant.  He wanted it held tomorrow since that's when Gant's father would be in town.  John assured Anspaugh that he could do the service, then he hung up.

"You shouldn't have let him get away with dumping that in your lap."  Doug felt angry right then.  Angry with Anspaugh for asking John in the first place and angry with John for agreeing.  Angry with John for having to leave him now.

"It's okay with me.  Dr. Anspaugh said we could use the Chapel.  I can make all the arrangements from home this afternoon."

"And just when are you supposed to get the sleep you need?" Doug demanded to know.  "The little bit of sleep you've managed to get so far was interrupted by a nightmare, remember?"

"I remember.  I'm not that tired, so it doesn't matter anyway."

"It matters and you know it.  I brought you here so you could rest."

"And I appreciate that, Doug.  But, there are things I need to do.  If you're taking me home, then we should leave now."

"C'mon," Doug growled, forcing his way past John and out the bedroom door.  John caught up to him in the living room.  Doug handed John his coat, then put his own on.  "I'm staying with you tonight."

John didn't bother to argue.  There was no point to it anyway.  He wanted Doug to stay with him.  He nodded, then they left to see what needed to be done to organize the remnants of Dennis Gants' life.

Even though the two of them spent all of their free time together, the weeks that followed were totally different for both men.  For Doug, they seemed to be leading him even more to Carol.  He had seen her grow so much as she made a stab at being a doctor.  He had helped her out, keeping his distance physically and hoping that she would see how much he was changing.  That she would see how much he had already changed. 

For John, the weeks were a roller coaster ride.  While his career seemed to be flourishing, he was watching Peter Benton self-destruct - something he thought he would never see.  John was continually frustrated by his inability to make the surgically correct decisions - if he thought an operation wasn't needed, he was told he was wrong.  If he thought a surgery was needed, he was told he was wrong.  His attempt to get surgery performed on a patient who desperately needed it resulted in his being called up for disciplinary action.  Doug had joked that he thought those were all reserved for him.  John didn't think that it was a joking matter.  More and more, he was beginning to second guess his choice of residencies.  Maybe Benton had been right all those years ago when he had told him that he didn't think like a surgeon.  John wanted to help ease the suffering that people were feeling.  He didn't care about gaining personal glory for being able to cut someone open, poke around inside and then sew them up again.  He wanted to know their names, the names of their children and pets.  Why they weren't happy getting up that morning.  How many years they had been married or why they had never gotten married in the first place.  There was no room for that in surgery.

For John, things came to a head when, after getting night after night of encouragement from Doug, he asked Anspaugh if he could switch residencies.  Actually, he had gone to Anspaugh's office to make an appointment to talk to him and really wasn't ready to ask.  Not that it mattered anyway.  Anspaugh bit his head off and spit it back out at him.  In short, he told him no.  John just wished he could have found a way to tell him that without having a fit.  It didn't help his mood any later when his attempt to get Kerry Weaver to ask backfired and she laid into him for not telling her that Anspaugh had already said no, then chewed her out as well.

Feeling depressed, John headed for his break, only to be intercepted by Doug, who greeted him with a grin.

"What you need, my friend, is a candle-lit relaxed break.  Some time to recharge your batteries."

"I don't know of any place where that can happen," John glumly replied.

"You don't remember that storage room?" Doug's grin broadened as John's eyes lit up at the reminder.

"Yeah.  Do you think that stuff is still there?"

"I know it is.  Let's go."

John was amazed that nothing had changed in the room.  He locked the door while Doug set out the candle, radio, lighter and six condoms.

"Where did those come from?"  John asked, grinning.

"I brought them in here yesterday.  I figured they might come in handy on some future visit."

"Were you a Boy Scout?" John asked with a grin.

"I'll never tell.  It might ruin the reputations of either the Scouts or me." Doug reached out and pulled John close, his breath hot on John's neck as he lowered his mouth to the tender skin.  "Besides, I remembered how we ran out the last time we were here and I didn't want that to happen again."

"Are you sure you brought enough?" John couldn't resist asking.

"I hope so."  Doug gently bit John's neck, then kissed the area, smoothing away the teeth marks with his tongue.  That was the only part of that action that was soothing.  The rush of heat that Doug's tongue created went straight to John's loins and he had to struggle to remember the promise he had made himself a long time ago regarding this storeroom.  That had been the first and only time he and Doug had sex in here.  John had wanted the next time to be slow and thorough and not rushed.  He had never imagined that it would be this long between the first time and the second time.  The first time Doug had brought him here, it had been for pure sex.  Later that same visit, Doug had made love to him, but it almost didn't happen because Doug discovered that they had used both condoms he had brought with him.  That had been one of the rare times that Doug had taken him without a condom.  There had been one time when they had oral sex with each other without them, but Doug had made sure that never happened again either.

The slow, methodical way in which Doug was unbuttoning his shirt, leaving a burning trail of kisses on his chest, let John know that this visit to the storeroom was for making love and not just for sex.  Not that it really mattered to him - Doug was fantastic at either activity, but John would have to say that on the whole, he preferred having Doug make love to him.  Doug had a wonderful way of getting him worked up into a frenzy, forgetting how to do the most simple of things, such as breathing and thinking.  It was a good thing they were both doctors because John was afraid that one day his heart would stop beating because his body would forget how to do even that simple task.

The air in the storeroom was a little chilly, and John slightly shivered as Doug slowly removed his shirt and tossed it onto one of the cots.  As Doug continued to undress him, John ceased to notice the chill.  His body was quickly heating up due to the fact that Doug was placing kisses on every inch of skin that he was exposing.  It was obvious that Doug was going to take his time with this and John found himself praying over and over again that neither one of them got paged.  By the time that Doug had removed all of his clothing, John was more than ready for Doug.  Doug grinned at him, silent as he placed a condom on John's penis and took him into his mouth.  Doug's mouth was so insistent that John found himself having to reach out and hold onto Doug to keep his knees from buckling.  He was only vaguely aware that Doug was slowly pushing him backward - that didn't really register in mind until he felt his back touch the wall, giving him support.  And still Doug's tongue continued to play with him.  The incredible warmth of Doug's mouth and the strong stroking of his tongue soon proved to be too much for John to continue to withstand.  With a cry, his hips thrust forward and he came, slumping back against the wall afterward, his eyes closed.  As Doug removed the condom from him, he laughed, his voice low and sensuous in his throat.

"It wasn't that good, was it?"

"It was the best, Doug.  It always is."  John opened his eyes and smiled, then they kissed and Doug led him to the same cot they had used so long ago.  Now it was going to be Doug's turn for release.  John pushed him down onto the cot and began to bestow the same type of kisses upon Doug's body as Doug had given his.  When Doug's moans and thrashings told John that his lover couldn't withstand much more attention, he placed a condom upon Doug's penis and let Doug take him, losing himself in some far away place as Doug found release inside his body.

When the loving was over, they lay entwined upon the cot - that way being the only way they could both fit on it.  John was telling Doug about his disastrous attempt to switch residencies.

"Hey, if you really want to work in trauma, then you have to stand up to Anspaugh.  Don't let him bully you around.  Personally, I think you're making the right choice."

"Thanks.  It feels as if it's the right thing to do."  John sighed, "I just wish that it wasn't such a battle."

"What did Benton have to say?"

John remained silent.

"You haven't talked to Peter about this, have you?"

"No.  He's been occupied with other things.  It doesn't matter anyway, Doug, he doesn't care what I do."

"That's not true.  Peter might not show it, but he cares about your career.  Hell, he's been your teacher for what, three years now?"

"Yeah.  Minus those few weeks when you were teaching me."

"I don't really want to think about that time of my life, John.  A lot went wrong for me then."

"I was there, too, remember?"  John softly reminded him.

Doug kissed his cheek, "No.  The problem was that you weren't there.  It's history now, so let's not talk it into the ground."

"Agreed.  I think that Carol might say yes if you asked her out."

Doug laughed, "Where did that come from?"

"I've been noticing the way she's been looking at you lately.  She's noticed that you've changed.  You should ask her out, Doug."

"I'm a little busy with you right now."

"That never stopped you from being with a woman before."

"Carol isn't just any woman and you know it.  I can't be with you and with her at the same time.  It wouldn't be fair to either one of you.  Besides, I thought that we decided to leave the women out of it this time."

"We did."  John acknowledged.  "You've been in love with Carol for a long time, right?"

"Yeah.  And like the schmuck I am, I messed things up with her."

"So, now's your chance to make things right with her.  Do you want to see her engaged to another man?  She's dating a doctor from upstairs.  Toby something or another."

"I heard," Doug had not been pleased to hear about Carol's date for the evening.

"Yeah.  I hear it might be serious," John lied a little.

"Damn.  She hasn't mentioned anything about that."

John shrugged, "Why should she?  She probably doesn't think you care about her anymore."

"But, I do.  I love her as much now as I ever did.  More actually."

"So, ask her out."

"I already told you that I can't do that."

"If we don't see each other anymore, then can you ask her out?"

Doug looked into John's eyes, seeing that he was serious.  "I thought I wasn't supposed to walk out of your life again."

"You wouldn't be.  I want you to be happy, Doug.  You'll be happy with Carol.  At least you're not ashamed to walk into a room full of people you know and kiss her."

"I'm not..."

"You are.  And I don't really mind.  I told you a long time ago that I wouldn't have a problem going public with our relationship and I understood then that you couldn't handle that.  You still can't.  I don't think you ever will.  So, go out there and be happy with someone that you can openly love."

"I..."  Doug almost said those words, but stopped himself in time.  As much as he wanted to reassure John that he did love him, he had to admit that John was right.  He just couldn't bring himself to the point of publicly admitting how he felt about John.  It bothered him a little that John seemed to accept that so easily, but he also knew that John had a point regarding his relationship with Carol.  If he wanted to make things work with her this time then he would have to commit to her one hundred percent.  There could be no other distractions.  No infidelities of any kind.  No John.  Not that John would be alone for long.  Doug had seen the looks that John was giving Anna Del Amico and he thought he saw her looking back once or twice.

"Well, if this is going to be our last time together, then I think we should find some way to make it special, don't you agree?" Doug asked as caressed John's skin.

"It was memorable, Doug," John said, gently stroking Doug.

"Yeah."  Doug smiled. "It was."  Both men were talking about more than the sex, and they knew it.

"I hate to go, but I need to get back to work.  I'm waiting on some people from Social Services for an elderly couple.  I'm trying to get them in a home together."

"I have Charlie to deal with.  Again."  Doug kissed John, then they arose from the cot and got dressed.  Doug replaced everything, then they returned to work.

The talk seemed to help them.  John had summoned up the courage to yell at Anspaugh when the Chief was telling him to do rounds while he was talking to a Social Services worker.  Later, John went to the parking garage to wait for Dr. Anspaugh to leave.  When the man arrived at his car, John talked to him, trying to convince him to let him switch residencies.  In the end, he succeeded.

As for Doug, he returned to work to find that Charlie had disappeared.  He and Del Amico went in search of her, with no luck.  Doug could have sworn that Del Amico was coming on to him and for a brief second he felt flattered.  Then he remembered what John had given up in order for him to make a go of things with Carol and he turned her down.  He hoped that John would be able to make things happen with Del Amico.  She was feisty and was most likely the type of woman that John needed.

After dropping Del Amico off at her motel, Doug drove to Carol's.  He waited until her date dropped her off, then he approached her.  They kissed and the next thing he knew, he was in the house and back in her bed, savoring the moment and thanking John for giving him the push he needed to pursue Carol once more.  The time had come for them both to find happiness; he with Carol and John with Del Amico, if things worked out that way.  Doug hoped they would.  Doug drifted off to sleep with Carol in his arms, confident that this time he wouldn't mess things up with her.  He had learned his lessons the hard way and he wouldn't repeat with Carol the mistakes he had made with John.  He would tell Carol that he loved her.  He would be completely honest with her as far as his feelings were concerned.  And he would love her totally.  Her and only her.  A smile on his face, Doug slept, dreaming of his future with Carol.

Chapter Six:  Culmination

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