"Tag, You're It, Part 15"
By: Melissa and Cathy
The next day, Tag had gone over to the children's hospital to meet John for lunch. They had decided to go for something simple so they went to a hot dog vendor, then sat on a bench to eat. As Tag talked about his day, he began to sense that John was distracted and not paying attention to him.
"Is everything okay?" he finally asked. He had noticed that when something bad happened at the hospital, John would take it personally. Way too personally. Of course, John was probably still obsessing about what had happened last night.
"Yeah. I just have a headache." John grimaced.
"No, it's not another one," he snapped. "It's the same fucking one from yesterday, and the day before that one and the day before that even. Why do you always ask me that? Is it another one? Do you think I give them individual names so I can tell them apart?"
Tag was very taken aback by John's outburst. But, he had been on the receiving end of a lot of them lately. He bit his tongue to keep from snapping back. This was supposed to be an enjoyable outing; an effort to put yesterday behind them where it belonged.
"How long do you have for lunch?" Tag asked.
"What?" John snapped.
"I asked how long you had for lunch? When do you have to be back at the hospital?"
John looked at him blankly. "What hospital?"
"The Children's hospital. You're doing your pedes rotation, remember?" Tag gently said. He was beginning to feel that something was definitely not right with John. If he didn't know better, he would have sworn that John was under the influence of a drug of some sort, but he hadn't mentioned taking anything for his headache, so that couldn't be the explanation for his behavior right now.
John slowly nodded. "Right. I have to go back to work." He stood, then swayed on his feet. Tag was instantly at his side, easing him back onto the bench.
Scared brown eyes met terrified brown eyes as John said, "I don't think I'm all right after all, Tag."
"You'll be okay. We're not all that far from County General. I can have Will take a look at you, okay?"
John slowly nodded, wishing that the world would quit spinning around his head. Somehow or another, Tag managed to get him to his feet and into a cab. Then they were at the hospital and William Swift was shining a bright light into his eyes as Tag told him what he knew of John's symptoms.
"Do you remember the name of the hospital?" Will asked after Tag told him about John's accident in Hawaii.
"I'd like to have them fax us John's records. Especially the CT scans. You said they did two, right?"
"Yeah. But, yesterday John was hit in the head at the children's hospital. Some kid swinging a baseball bat around. That's where he got the black eye."
"Hmm." Will turned his attention back to John. "How are you feeling now?"
"I'm still dizzy and my head is killing me."
"Pretty bad headache, huh?"
"The worst so far."
"So far? So, you've been having them since Hawaii?"
John tried to nod, but even that hurt. "Yeah. Doctor Wang gave me a prescription for the pain, but that finally ran out this morning."
"So you've needed to take it then?"
"Yeah, not that it really did much good. After a while, the pills just didn't seem to work on their own any more."
"He's been mixing alcohol with the pills," Tag informed him as he ignored John's petulant look.
"I would have thought you would know better than that," Will gently chided him. "Any other symptoms? Loss of balance or feeling in your arms or legs? Disorientation?"
"Yeah. I lost the feeling in my right leg twice today. And once when we were in Paris, I lost my balance."
"He was a little disoriented before he became dizzy," Tag said. He was feeling cold inside as he heard John telling Will about his symptoms. Why hadn't John told him about this? If he had known, then Tag would have had him to the doctor way before now.
"I see." Will looked over at Tag. "Have you noticed any personality changes? Has he been acting differently than normal? Edgy? Distant? Crude? Anything like that?"
Tag slowly nodded. "Yeah, there are times when he acts out of character. I was just putting it down to stress or the way he was mixing alcohol with the pills."
Will nodded, then addressed John. "Let's take you up for a CT scan, okay? Lydia, can you call around for John's records? I want the ones from Hawaii and from Children's hospital."
"Of course. Doctor Taglieri, I need the phone number or the name of the hospital."
"Of course. I'll go out to the desk with you." Tag went over to John's side and took his hand in his. "I'll be here when you get back."
"Do you think that you could call my parents? Let them know that I'm here."
Tag hesitated slightly. Tag was convinced that Roland had physically abused John in the past and Roland seemed to be convinced that Tag was some type of gigolo, out to use John or something. And after the scene at the house last night, Tag really didn't think that Roland Carter would even accept a telephone call from him.
John saw Tag hesitate. "I know that Dad doesn't like you, but I really need them to be here."
Tag leaned over and gave John a quick kiss on the lips. "I'll call them."
Tag watched as they wheeled John out, then he walked with Lydia to the admit desk where they called Doctor Wang and made arrangements to have John's records immediately faxed to Will's attention.
As Lydia called over to Children's hospital, Tag turned to go back to the exam room and found himself face to face with Carol. He was still angry with her over her telling his parents about John and making him sound like a child molester of some sort. They had ended up having a huge fight over that and he had made some unkind comments of his own. Not that he blamed her for feeling bitter and betrayed, but he had expected better than that from her. There was no bitterness in her eyes now though, just concern.
"I heard that you brought Carter in. Is he okay?" She appeared to be genuinely concerned about John, so he decided to be pleasant toward her.
"No. Will took him to get a CT scan. We'll know more once he has those results."
She barely nodded. "Well, I hope he's okay. Everyone around here likes him. Let me know if you need anything."
Carol went on her way and Tag made his way back to the exam room to wait for the results of the test.
Tag looked up as the door to the exam room opened, but it wasn't Will bringing John back, it was Mark Greene.
"I heard that you brought Carter in. Is he okay?" Mark looked genuinely worried.
"He's having a CT scan done right now."
"Did Swift say anything to you about what might be wrong?"
"No. But, he looked worried," Tag frowned.
"I hope that it doesn't turn out to be anything serious. I was looking forward to seeing Carter around here in the fall," Mark smiled.
"Thanks. Mark, I know that Carol has been saying some pretty nasty things about me. I probably deserve most of them. I'm big enough to admit that much. But, John doesn't."
"Carol has been concentrating on attacking you and not Carter. She's always liked him and I don't think she'd do anything do hurt him. As for what she's said about you, well, I don't put too much stock in it, Tag. I'm her friend and I'm Doug's friend, but in my opinion, she doesn't have any room to talk."
"I wasn't trying to make you take sides, Mark. As I said, I don't want John hurt." Inside, Tag wondered how Mark would react to the news that Doug had been engaged in a sexual act with John just last night. Would he still be his friend, even knowing that about him?
"As far as I know, no one is taking sides. As far as John getting hurt, Tag, you've got to realize that the two of you are going to be taking some flak now that everyone knows you two are a couple. I think that most of the people here have no problem with the idea, but I'm not so sure about the people who Carter works with every day. I don't even know how Peter Benton feels about this or if he even knows."
"I never thought we would end up experiencing a carefree relationship, but then, who does? Even male/female couples have problems."
"That's true enough. God knows I'm a living example of that. I need to get back to work, but I'll check back with you to see how he's doing."
"I'll let him know you were asking."
After Mark left, it was a short wait until Will returned, accompanied by a woman who Tag instantly recognized as being the head of neurosurgery.
"Dr. Mack, Will, what's going on with John? Where is he?"
"John has a sub-dural hematoma, most likely as a result from the blow to the head he received in Hawaii. He's been sent up for surgery. It's a rather minor procedure, as far as things like that go. Doctor Mack will be performing the boring herself."
"Boring?" Lydia asked as Tag simply nodded. He could remember seeing at least one procedure of that type done when he had his neurosurgery rotation years ago. He felt like kicking himself for not diagnosing John's condition himself. Now that he heard what was wrong with him, everything seemed to click into place, especially the way that John had been doing things seemingly out of character.
Doctor Mack explained the procedure to Lydia. "I will make at least one burr hole in John's skull in order to drain the blood. If the area of bleeding is too large, then I might opt for two burr holes to facilitate draining. As far as surgeries go, this one is pretty mild. He'll be okay."
Tag drew in a deep breath. "I had better call his family then. I didn't want to call them without knowing anything."
"That's a good idea, but you might want to see him first. He's pretty scared and he was asking for you. I can take you up to him." Doctor Mack smiled at him and he knew she was trying to be reassuring. It didn't work.
"Okay." He turned to his old college pal. "Will, thanks for examining him."
"Hey, it's my job. I'll be here all day if you need to talk, all right?"
Tag nodded. "I'll keep that in mind. Thanks."
Tag left the exam room with Doctor Mack and headed up to see John.
After making sure that John was all right and not overly worried or upset about his impending surgery, Tag went to the pay phones, fishing around in his pocket for change. He also got out his wallet, retrieving the paper with the contact numbers for John's family. He looked down at the piece of paper in his hand, scanning it until he found the number for Roland Carter's cellular phone. John had assured him that it was the one number he could call where it would be guaranteed to reach Roland. This was not a phone call he wanted to make, but he had promised John that he would call, and even if he hadn't made the promise, he would still feel obligated to call. He dropped the coins in the slot of the pay phone, then dialed. It was answered by the third ring.
"It's John Taglieri."
"What do you want?" Roland's voice was cold.
"John's being admitted to the hospital for surgery."
There was silence on the other end.
"Are you still there? I said that..."
"I heard what you said. What's wrong with him?"
"He has a sub-dural hematoma. That means he has one or more blood vessels leaking in his brain and the blood is collecting between the dural matter and the skull. They plan to drill a hole in John's skull to drain off the blood, then they'll do another CT scan to see if there is still any bleeding. If so, then it will have to be repaired, but, the doctors are confident that things will turn out well."
"When do they plan to do the surgery?" Roland sounded more businesslike than concerned.
"As soon as possible."
"We'll be right down," Roland paused. "Is Johnny conscious?"
"Yes. He's a little incoherent because of the hematoma, but he's conscious. If possible, he would like to see you before he goes in for the surgery. If his condition looks as if it will deteriorate they'll end up intubating him and he won't be able to talk to you."
"He asked you to call me?"
"Yes. But, I would have called you anyway. As his father, you have a right to know that he's going into surgery."
"Back in Paris, you didn't seem to think I had any rights as far as John was concerned."
"I really don't think that this is the time to be going into that again, Mr. Carter."
"What caused this?" Even over the airwaves, Tag could feel the hostility coming from the other man.
"They think it's a result from the head injury he received in Hawaii. The one you don't believe happened," Tag tried to answer without sounding sarcastic, but he knew he wasn't able to succeed in that endeavor. "But, the blow he took to the head yesterday may have aggravated the condition."
"I'll kill you if you've injured him, Taglieri." Roland's voice was cold and Tag knew that the man was serious.
The line went dead on that note and Tag wearily hung up. It was promising to be a long afternoon, a very long afternoon.
Tag waited in the Emergency Room for the Carter family to arrive. He wanted to be upstairs, but some masochistic side of him kept telling him that staying there so he could escort John's family to the surgical waiting area would be the kind thing to do. He had not yet had the opportunity to meet the rest of John's family, but he somehow knew that they would be as full of spite as Roland. He was very pleased and surprised to see Barbara and Janie approach him, followed by Roland and a host of other people he didn't know.
"How is he?" Barbara asked as she gave him a big hug.
"He's a little scared, but all right. If we go upstairs know, then there should be time for your parents to see him."
Barbara linked her arm through his as she turned around to face her family. "Everyone, this is John Taglieri. Tag, this is my mother, Laura Carter, my grandfather, Robert Carter, my grandmother, Millicent Carter. I believe you've already met my father."
"Where's Johnny?" Roland curtly asked.
"Upstairs being prepped for surgery. If you'll follow..."
Tag's words fell on deaf ears as the family rushed to the elevators. Barbara gave him another hug.
"They really do care about Johnny, Tag."
"I know. So, why are you two here in Chicago?"
"We got to thinking that if you and John were brave enough to endure this family, then we could try one more time to get them to accept our relationship. We had only been at the house for about an hour when you called."
"And?" Tag asked.
"Let's just say that your call came at a good time," Janie said, looking sad. She really wanted for Barbara's family to be at peace with Barbara.
"I'm just sorry that you had to call. So, tell us about what's wrong with my brother." Barbara said as they made their way to the elevators. The rest of the Carter family had already gone upstairs, so the three of them had an elevator all to themselves. Tag explained John's condition, reassuring them that he wasn't in any danger, although every surgery did carry some degree of danger with it. When they reached the surgical floor, they found that Roland and Laura had already gone in to see John. Tag hoped and prayed that they didn't give him any grief.
It was more than a little awkward in the waiting area. By some quirk of fate, John was the only person in surgery so the waiting room was empty but for those waiting for news about John. The elder Carters sat on one side of the room while Tag, Janie and Barbara sat on the other. When Roland and Laura returned, Laura immediately went to sit with her in-laws.
Roland headed directly for Tag, coming to a stop in front of him. His eyes were full of fury as he faced Tag.
"If you are in any way responsible for this, then I will tear you apart with my bare hands, Taglieri."
Barbara put a restraining hand on his arm. "Daddy, please, let it go."
He shook her hand off. "No. Not this time." He returned his attention to Tag. "I left the two of you alone last night and I can see now that was a mistake. I should have made sure I destroyed you completely back when I had the chance," he spat out.
Tag stood to face him. "I have never harmed John. I don't understand why you think I would. He's here as the result of an injury he received in Hawaii and it had nothing to do with me. If I should ever lay a hand on John, then you will be more than justified in tearing into me, but I haven't and you aren't."
Tag shook his head. "You disgust me, Roland Carter. You come in here, acting so high and mighty about me harming John. What about all the things you've done to him? Don't you think I've seen the scars on his body? Seen the way he flinches when he's caught off guard? You showered abuse on him and then have the nerve to accuse me of abusing him?"
Roland's face went white. "How dare you talk like that to me?" he sputtered. He took a moment to regain his composure, then continued. "I don't want you coming anywhere near John. You no longer work here, so there's no excuse for you to be in this waiting room. You are not a relative and you have no right in there."
"I'm his husband."
"That's bullshit. A piece of paper from another country has no bearing here."
"I won't stand by while you try to keep me from John. I have every right to be in there by his side." Tag took a step closer to Roland.
Roland instantly remembered when Tag had pinned him to the wall back in Paris. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw his father leave the room and he knew that he was summoning security. Considering the fact that Taglieri had been arrested yesterday and charged with threatening bodily harm to Carol Hathaway, Roland knew his father was doing the right thing. Within a minute, two uniformed men were there. The rest of the Carter family came to stand around Roland, their straight backs and angry stares telling Tag exactly what they thought about him. But, Tag could also see Barbara and Janie standing just behind him, so he didn't feel that intimidated.
"Is there a problem here?" One of the guards asked.
"This man is attempting to threaten me. He refuses to leave, even though we have asked him. Our son is in there having surgery and my wife doesn't need this kind of aggravation."
The security guard faced Tag. "You have to leave here, sir."
"I don't think so. If you'll ask one of the nurses to look in John's records, you'll see that I have every legal right to be here."
Laura Carter frowned as she asked, "And just what will we find in there?"
"I'm listed as his next of kin and as the one responsible for all medical decisions should he be unable to communicate with his doctors."
"That means nothing. A judge would disregard that in a heartbeat," Roland asserted.
"Maybe so, but until you can get a judge to do that, it stands."
"He's right, Roland," Laura softly said.
The security guard shifted from one foot to the other, thinking. Then he addressed Tag once more. "Do you want me to ask them to leave?"
"No." Which wasn't the truth. Tag didn't want them there at all. But, he knew John wanted them present and that was what mattered the most. "They can stay."
"Very well, sir." The guards left just as Randall Baker arrived.
"Where have you been?" Roland turned his anger on his assistant. "I've needed you here in Chicago."
"I just got back from Hawaii last night and was at the office all morning. I got here as soon as I heard that Johnny was here." Randall looked over at Tag. "I don't know if John gave you my message from last night, but I need to apologize to you, Doctor Taglieri. I made some snap judgements regarding you and I had no right to do that. After we spoke on the plane, I decided to do some further investigating. Johnny was indeed injured while saving the life of a young man who was drowning."
"So now you've gone over to their side, Randall? How could you?" Roland's hurt was genuine.
"If I am on a side, Roland, then it's Johnny's. I went to Hawaii and spoke to a lot of people, including the family of the teen. Johnny risked his own life to save that boy and he came very close to dying. The lifeguards told me that it took a lot of hard work to get Johnny breathing again."
"Okay. So, they were telling the truth about that. What about his black eye?"
"I told you that John was injured at work," Tag stated. "A young boy with a toy baseball bat hit him in the face. You can go over to Children's Hospital and ask to see his x-rays. There were even witnesses. So, now you have proof that I've never hurt John. Where's your proof? I told you that I've seen the evidence. I've listened to him defend you, refuse to press charges against you. But, the damage is there. He doesn't feel as if he can ever be good enough. He always has to do better, be better. That's all your fault, Roland. What did you hit him with, anyway? A belt?"
"I refuse to stand here and listen to your lame allegations," Roland declared. He turned to his wife, "Will you go with me to the cafeteria? I need some coffee."
"Of course. We'll all go."