"Tag, You're It, Part 16"
By: Melissa and Cathy
After the older Carters left, Barbara sat back down beside Tag and Randall took the chair across from him.
"Tag, you're just as wrong about Daddy as he was about you," Barbara said.
Tag shook his head. "I've seen his scars, Barbara. I've held him while he's been near hysterical with fear from remembering the trauma. I'm not wrong."
"Yes, you are," Randall said. "Has Johnny mentioned Daniel Abbott to you at all?"
"No. Who is he?"
"He was Johnny's boyfriend at one time," Barbara said. "They met in college. Johnny and I were sharing an apartment near the University. I was doing post graduate work and had just met Janie. Johnny wasn't involved with anyone at all. We had shared an apartment ever since he started going to Penn with me. He met Daniel in his senior year. Daniel Abbott was tall and muscular with blonde hair and blue eyes. A perfect charmer. They met in September of that year and by Halloween, Johnny was asking me if Daniel could move in with us. I didn't have a problem with it. Johnny never objected to Janie staying overnight or over on weekends, so I figured that I could be as flexible."
Barbara took a deep breath. "It was obvious to everyone but Johnny that Daniel was a manipulator. All he wanted was to control Johnny. He told him that he loved him, but I doubt if Daniel ever even knew what love was. Being college students, they partied every weekend, only the weekends began on Thursday nights. Come Friday morning, Daniel would have one Hell of a hangover and he would become surly and snap at everyone, especially Johnny. It got to the point where I didn't want to be in my own apartment on the weekends because I was just sick and tired of putting up with Daniel and his crap. One Sunday evening I returned home to find Johnny there alone. He had a bruise on his cheekbone. He told me that he had bumped into something while drunk and I believed him. I had no reason not to believe him. The following weekend Janie went to visit her parents, so I stayed home. The minute that Johnny and Daniel got home, I could hear Daniel yelling at Johnny. I couldn't hear what was being said, but I didn't miss the tone of his voice. He was angry. I heard some loud noises from their room, as if something had fallen. The next morning, Johnny was limping. Daniel left to study in the library and I asked Johnny straight out if Daniel had hit him. Johnny said that he hadn't, but he wouldn't look at me. I knew that he was lying. I called Randall and he was on the next flight to Philly to check on things."
"Not that it did any good," Randall said. "Johnny told me that things were fine between him and Daniel, despite the physical evidence to the contrary. I called Roland and told him what was going on, but he thought I was overreacting. Still, I decided then to pay unannounced visits to Philadelphia. I thought that if I could throw Daniel off guard, then he wouldn't dare continue to hit Johnny. I was wrong."
"It got worse?" Tag slowly asked.
Barbara nodded. "Yeah. It got worse. When Daniel realized that Randall and I were watching him, he became determined to drive me out of the apartment. I finally had enough of his tactics and moved in with Janie. I thought I was being smart by keeping my keys, but Daniel had the locks changed and my keys didn't work any more. Johnny and I had agreed to meet for lunch every other day, but he began to miss days and eventually it reached the point where we didn't see each other at all. When I tried to call him at home, Daniel would answer the phone. Sometimes he would let me talk to Johnny and at other times he would tell me that he wasn't there. I heard from friends who partied at the same places as Daniel and Johnny that Daniel was fiercely possessive of Johnny and insanely jealous. He would accuse Johnny of flirting or cheating on him if another person so much as said "Hello" to him. Eventually, they stopped going out. Or, I should say that Johnny stopped going out with Daniel. The rare times when I did get to see my brother, he would always be bruised, hurt by that bastard. And still he refused to admit that Daniel was hitting him or mistreating him in any way."
Randall picked up the narrative. "I kept trying to make Roland see what was happening, but for some reason he just either couldn't or wouldn't see it. Finally, I decided to have a long talk with Johnny, maybe even forcibly remove him from the apartment if I had to. It was in early May, right before the end of the semester. Johnny was all set to go to medical school at Penn, even though Roland was sure that Johnny only wanted to be a doctor because Daniel was in medical school. Still, if Johnny wanted to go there, then Roland would pay to send him there. He never denied Johnny anything. At least, nothing material."
"When I got there, Johnny and Daniel were just returning to the apartment. I stayed in my car, not wanting to have to deal with Johnny and Daniel at the same time. I was afraid that if I failed to convince Johnny to either kick Daniel out of there or leave, then Daniel would retaliate against him in some way." Randall breathed deeply. "I wish now that I would have gone straight in. I sat out in the car and had just about given up hope that Daniel would go back out. Then I saw him leaving the building. He was in the process of putting on his belt. I had parked far enough away to need binoculars to look at him and I noticed that there were red streaks on the belt. I don't remember if I immediately suspected that it was blood, but by the time I reached the door, I was sure of it. I knocked, but there wasn't an answer. I ended up kicking the door open. I found Johnny in the bedroom. He was naked and face down on the bed, his wrists and ankles tied to the bedposts. He obviously had been struggling to get free because the ropes had cut into him and he was bleeding."
Tag closed his eyes, his guts in a knot over what he was hearing. He couldn't understand why John had even thought about allowing him to tie him to the bed in Paris.
With a faraway look in his eyes, Randall continued the story. "He was bleeding from the welts on his back. I untied him and turned him over to discover that he had been beaten as well. He was barely conscious, I don't know if he really knew I was there at all. He just kept mumbling that he was sorry and he would do better next time. I covered him with the sheet, then called for an ambulance. After that I called Roland, then Barbara. The paramedics arrived and recognized Johnny from an earlier call. It seems that a few weeks earlier he had fallen in the bathtub and ended up with broken ribs and a concussion. I had been to Philadelphia right after that happened, but I didn't notice it at all." Randall shook his head, obviously still blaming himself for what had happened to John.
"What happened to Abbott?" Tag tersely asked.
"Roland wanted to kill him. I had never seen him so enraged as he was when he finally arrived in Philadelphia and saw Johnny. Laura kept her cool though and suggested that they buy Abbott off instead. We left the hospital and went back to the apartment to wait for Abbott to return from class. When he did, Roland introduced himself, pulled out his checkbook and wrote a check out right there. He then asked Abbott if that was enough money to make him stay away from Johnny. Abbott took the check, then went and packed. We stayed long enough to make sure that he had all of his stuff and surrendered his keys. He said some spiteful and hateful things about Johnny, then he left. To my knowledge, he's never come near him again. Johnny was crushed. I remember him asking me why it was so easy for people to leave him. I tried my best to tell him that he was loved by a lot of people who were there for him, but he just became even more depressed. The beating had given him another concussion and one of his broken ribs had punctured his lung, so he had to stay in the hospital for a few days. By the time he was able to leave, we had convinced him to go to medical school in Chicago. He didn't put up much of a fight over that and it should have tipped us off as to how depressed he was."
"He tried to kill himself, didn't he?" Tag asked, wanting very much at that moment to tear Daniel Abbott apart with his bare hands.
"Yes. He tried to hang himself two days after he moved back to Chicago. We immediately put him into therapy, hoping that he would be a cooperative patient. It seemed to work. By the end of the summer, he started medical school here and it seemed as if Daniel Abbott was nothing more than a bad memory. But, he was a bad memory that we didn't want to have repeated. Roland and Laura got into the habit of buying off anyone that seemed to have the potential to harm Johnny in any way. They weren't biased either, they bought off men and women with an equal fervor."
"They didn't offer me any money," Tag observed.
"That's because Roland could immediately tell that you weren't the type of person who could be bought. That scared him to death, Tag. As I said earlier, I jumped to conclusions about your relationship with Johnny. By the time I reached Paris, I had heard from a lot of people in Hawaii about the fight the two of you had, and that Johnny had been badly bruised. It wasn't until I spotted Johnny on the balcony of your hotel room, shirtless and with his bruises were still very vivid that I fully believed what I had been told. You came out on the balcony with him, then pushed him back into the room. That's when I called Roland andtold him all that I knew."
Tag looked over at Barbara, "And you made me promise to never hurt John in any way."
"Because of Abbott."
"Why didn't someone tell me about that bastard before now?"
"Because we thought you were just as bad, if not worse."
Tag looked up to see that Roland Carter had returned to the waiting room. He even looked contrite.
"Despite what you may think, Taglieri, I love my son very much. I want Johnny to be happy and I've even begun to realize that he may end up finding happiness with another man. Not that I approve of that. I'd much prefer him to settle down with a good woman and raise a fine family. But, I failed him as a father when I didn't listen to Randall's warnings about Daniel Abbott. I assumed that there was no way possible that a man would allow himself to be beaten by another man on a regular basis. I was wrong and Johnny paid the price for my error."
"Roland, it's not too late to let John know that you love him. He so desperately wants to please you. To please all of you."
"I know. I'm beginning to realize a lot of things, Taglieri. I need to do a lot of thinking." Roland looked over at his only daughter as he said the last part. "A lot of thinking."
"I'm sorry I accused you of abusing John. I guess that neither one of us is a trusting man."
"It looks that way. Laura pointed out to me that you were quite protective of Johnny and that your feelings are obviously genuine. There are a lot of times when my wife is far more intelligent than I."
"That's not a problem as long as you're determined to learn the lessons she can teach you."
Roland snorted, "That's what she keeps telling me. Barbara, Janie, may we talk?"
"Sure, Daddy." The three of them went over to the corner to talk.
"I don't know how Johnny is going to handle the fact that we told you about Daniel Abbott," Randall said.
"I don't know either. I have a lot to think about. None of this changes how I feel about John, I can assure you of that. As a matter of fact, it helps me understand a lot that's happened between us. Made me understand a lot that he's said. Yet, at the same time, there's so much I don't understand."
"You need to understand that Johnny has a need to be loved and he's so afraid of being left. He'll do whatever he feels necessary in order to keep your love. That type of thinking put him in the hospital once already."
"I can assure you that I intend to carefully guard his heart and spirit."
Randall smiled "I thought I could count on you for that."
As they waited for news of John's procedure, the mood in the waiting room wasn't exactly comfortable, it was at least bearable. While Roland passed the time in a deep discussion with Barbara, Tag found himself talking with John's mother and grandmother. Laura and Millicent were both very gracious ladies and he enjoyed the conversation. At least it helped to keep his mind off of all the things that could go wrong in the operating room.
Tag was getting ready to respond to one of Millicent's questions when Randall tapped him on the shoulder.
"Isn't that John's surgeon heading this way?"
Tag looked down the hallway to see that it was indeed Doctor Mack approaching them. She looked happy and Tag breathed a sigh of relief at that.
The minute she stepped into the waiting room, the chief of neurosurgery found herself surrounded.
"How did it go?" Tag managed to get his voice heard above all the other questions.
"It went very well. We ended up making two bore holes in order to make sure that we got rid of all the blood. But, John did well. Barring any unforeseen circumstances, I don't see any reason why he can't go home the day after tomorrow."
"When can we see him?" Roland asked.
"He's in recovery right now and he's going to be groggy for a few more hours. I'll have a nurse come to get you once he's been taken to room. But, only two visitors at a time. I don't want him to be tired out."
"Alice, may I have a word with you in private?" Tag asked.
They stepped out into the hallway.
"What's on your mind, Tag?"
"When I brought John in, Will Swift was asking me questions about how John had been behaving. He said that people with subdural hematomas can sometimes experience personality changes."
"So, how much of his behavioral prior to the surgery can I attribute to the head injury?"
"I have no definite answer for you, Tag. Did his family mention any drastic changes in his behavior?"
"Then I would venture to say that he won't be totally different when he wakes up." She smiled reassuringly at him. "He's not going to be a new person in two hours, Tag. He'll still be John Carter."
"Did you ever work with him?"
"Nope. But, Peter Benton did assist me during the procedure. Since he was John's last instructor, he might be able to help gauge his mental state once he regains consciousness. You should have a talk with him."
"I'll keep that in mind. Thank you."
"Now, if you'll excuse me, I want to get to the recovery room and check on him."
As she walked away from him, Tag found himself wondering just how different John would be once he came to. He was so afraid that John would wake up and realize that he didn't really care about him at all. That it had been his head injury that made him accept Tag's proposal. That had made him tell Tag that he loved him. All of that had happened after the accident.
Tag became aware of a presence behind him and he turned to see that Roland had stepped out into the hallway.
"I was thinking that you should be the one to see John once he's in his room."
"Doctor Mack did say that John could have two visitors, Roland. I think it would mean more to John if we were both there."
Roland nodded. "I think you might be right about that. He'll probably think that we're the ones with the head injury though."
Tag managed a small smile at Roland's joke. "I don't know if I should tell him that I know about Daniel Abbott."
"I wish I could help you out there. To this day, Johnny has not said a single word to me about that bastard. Granted, my attitude towards the man might have something to do with that, but I'm not sure. There are times when I'm afraid that Johnny still doesn't see that he was never at fault. Remember what he said last night? That line about you not hitting him even when it was justified?"
"Yeah." Tag remembered it all too well. "Roland, yesterday John broke out the glass in the bathroom mirror. That's how he obtained all those cuts. He had locked himself in the bathroom and was screaming at his own reflection. There had been an incident earlier, something that John was sure would make me leave him. It scared me."
"I'm sorry you had to go through that. I've had more than my share of scares concerning Johnny. Maybe today will be the last time. Well, I should get back to Laura. Excuse me." Roland returned to the waiting room.
After a few more minutes of contemplation, Tag followed him. He still wasn't any closer to finding answers for his questions and he had a sinking feeling that those answers were not going to come easy for him.
It wasn't much later when Doctor Mack returned to the waiting area to personally escort two of them to see John. Tag and Roland quietly followed her to his room. Just outside the door, she paused. "Just a few minutes. He does need his rest. You can come back and see him later in the day."
"Right," Tag nodded, knowing the procedure all too well. How many times had he uttered those very words? But, he definitely didn't like hearing them.
Roland also nodded, then she pushed open the door and let them in.
John didn't look too bad. They had only shaved away his hair where the boring had been done, so he wasn't bald. Tag knew he would like that.
John opened his eyes as he heard them approach. They grew wide as he saw that Roland was with Tag.
"Did something go wrong?" he worriedly asked, his eyes looking for clues upon the faces of his husband and his father.
Roland smiled. "No, Johnny. I think that things are maybe going right."
John looked from his father to Tag, his eyes questioning.
"We're never going to be great friends, John, but Roland and I are not enemies, either. Think you can handle that?"
John slowly smiled. "Yeah. I can handle that."
"How do you feel?"
"I still have a headache, but it's not nearly as bad as the one I've been having. Did you know they let me stay half-awake during the procedure? It was pretty cool." John grinned.
"We'll see how cool you think it was once you see what they did to your hair, son."
John was still grinning as he slowly shook his head. "It'll still be cool. I know it."
The door opened and a nurse stuck her head inside the door. "Time's up."
"We have to go. I'll see you later, son." Roland grasped John's hand and gave it a tight squeeze, then he left.
Tag leaned over and gently kissed John on the lips. "I'll see you soon."
"Things are really okay?"
Tag nodded. "They really are. We'll talk later. You should get some sleep, okay?"
"Okay." John dutifully closed his eyes and Tag stepped back into the hallway. Roland had gone on without him, but Tag spotted Peter Benton at the nurse's station. He took him aside and they spoke at great length about John's behavior prior to the end of his rotation. Afterward, even though he was armed with a lot more information, Tag still felt as though he might not really know the young man he had taken as a husband.
When Tag returned that afternoon, John wasn't still awake enough for conversation. So, he simply sat with him, remembering how he had done the very same thing back in Hawaii. Roland and Laura stopped by, and they sat with him as well. Tag was glad that there was were no longer any bad feelings between him and Roland. It was bad enough having to deal with his own parents apparent rejection and he found himself wanting so much for John's parents to accept them. Prayed for it even.
The next morning, when Tag went to the hospital, he found him wide awake and alert.
"How do you feel today?"
"Much better. No headache at all. My head's a little sore, but that will pass. I can't believe my hair though. Can you tell where they shaved my hair?" John had spent a lot of time with a comb and mirror, trying to cover the bare spots on his head.
"Well, yeah. But, it's not so bad. Maybe if you get a close cropped hair cut, it won't look so obvious."
"I'll suffer, thank you." John wondered why Tag hadn't bothered to kiss him yet. There had been no one else in the room when Tag came in, and usually Tag didn't hesitate to kiss him, even if people were around. Maybe he thought he was too sick for it or something.
Tag sat down. His head was still full of doubts. What if John's acceptance of his marriage proposal had been made under the influence of the hematoma? What if he wanted out of the marriage now? Did he even know him? Sure, they had been going strong in Hawaii prior to the accident, but it had been after that when things fell apart, hadn't it? Their fight the day he brought John back to the resort from the hospital. And the making up. The making up had been pretty good. But, Tag knew that their relationship had to based on more than sex if it was to work. He had been so sure that it was based on love, but now that surety was gone.
"Something's wrong, isn't it?" John asked.
Tag shook his head. "No. I was just thinking about some things."
"Must have been serious things."
"Yeah, they were."
John smiled. "I still can't believe that you and Dad aren't at each other's throats. What changed all that?"
"Finding out the truth." Tag immediately snapped his mouth closed. He had not wanted to bring up Daniel Abbott this way.
"The truth about what?"
"About how you were hurt by Daniel Abbott." Tag leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees and looked straight at John. He had seen John tense up the minute he said Daniel Abbott's name. Damn that bastard.
"Who told you about him?"
"Barbara and Randall. And your father. I wish you would have told me, John."
"I tried. I wanted to. I just couldn't find the right words, Tag." Shit. Now what would Tag think of him?
"Well, I don't think that your hospital room is the place to get into a discussion about a former boyfriend."
"You said the past didn't matter."
"And I meant it. But, what happened to you does matter. They said you tried to kill yourself."
John looked away from Tag. Good Lord, just how much had they told Tag? Everything? Please, don't let it be everything, he prayed. Not everything. How could Tag love him once he knew everything?
"We won't talk about that now, either. But, we do need to talk about it, John."
John nodded, then decided that now would be a good time to change the subject. To see how much Tag believed Doctor Mack's belief that his personality had been changed by the subdural hematoma.
"Doctor Mack told me that I shouldn't dwell too much on any nasty things I said or mean things I did since the accident. She said that my personality had been altered, but was now back to normal."
"Yes." Tag hoped that John wouldn't dump him now. He couldn't, right? Now while he was still in the hospital.
"So, that means that I probably didn't -- well, Tag, under normal circumstances I -- dammitt, Tag, what I'm trying to say is that I don't cheat. I've never cheated. Until the other night."
"You weren't yourself that night, John. Besides having the hematoma messing you up, you also had mixed your medication with Schnapps. Not a smart move. You should know better."
"I do. It's just that it was the only thing that got rid of my headache. Or at least eased it."
"Well, just to be on the safe side, there's no more alcohol in the house."
"You gave it away?"
"I poured it all down the drain."
"Even the beer?" John pretended to look shocked. He knew how much Tag liked his cold beer in the early evening.
Tag laughed, "No. Not the beer. I'm not a crazy man, just a cautious one."
"You had me worried there, Tag."
"Sorry. I didn't mean to worry you. Well, I need to get to work. My partners have been covering my ass without complaint, but I think it's about time I started doing some real work there."
"They'll appreciate it, I'm sure."
"They had better. Richard Hallman has a wife who is due to have a baby in another two months. I'm sure I'll get a chance to repay the favor then."
"And I'm sure it will be appreciated, too."
"Yeah. I'll see you later."
"I'll be here."
"Bye." Tag got to his feet and with some hesitation, kissed John. He had been aiming for his cheek, but John turned his head and the kiss caught him on the mouth. John's kiss was the same as his past ones had been, but Tag knew that a lot could be hidden behind a kiss.
After Tag left, John kept his eyes on the door, a sadness that he couldn't push away enveloping him. It was clear to him that Tag was uncomfortable with him. The most he could hope for was that things would be better once he got home. They had to get better.