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By MonaCK and Cathy Roberts

"Time of death, 12:59pm..."

Luka snapped off his gloves, and wearily looked down at his expired patient. With a sigh he left the trauma room, discarding his gloves as he made his way towards the lounge. It was time for the end of his shift. Well, actually his shift should have ended a couple of hours prior, but a few traumas in a row had prevented that from happening.

Now, there was a peaceful lull. So he decided to leave while he still could.

It had been about a week since Luka had moved into the mansion with John. Luka's landlord had come to him and said that he was going to be selling the building, so if possible, could he please leave sooner rather than later. Stuck between a rock and a hard place, John had opened up his home to Luka, and Luka had readily agreed.

Because despite the fact that John was now committed to Dave, it had not made Luka's feelings for him wane in the slightest. It also gave Luka the opportunity to keep an eye on John. So far, there had been no hint of John remembering that last night on the cruise, nor had John behaved in any way similar to that night, a fact that greatly relieved not only Luka, but Randi as well. Luka assumed that Maggie also felt heartened by that, since he was pretty sure that Randi was letting Maggie know what was going on with John.

About ten minutes after he entered the lounge, Luka was out the door, heading towards his car, happy to be headed home. Headed home to John.

Making his way into the house, he said hello to the maid whose name he hadn't quite gotten to know yet, and he climbed upstairs to his suite of rooms. Throwing his bag into his bedroom, he smiled as he went back into the hallway and towards John's door. And quietly, he knocked.

A knock on his door roused John from his latest round of self-recrimination. Wondering who was bothering him he glanced at the clock and was a bit surprised to see that hours had passed since he had spoken to Dave's brother. So, not only was it getting close to dinner time -- a dinner John had no appetite for -- it was also past time for Luka to be home. So, it was either Angela, the maid, or one of the butlers, either Roger or Henry, who came on duty around dinner time to work nights. Or it was Luka.

"Yes?" he called out, not quite up to getting off his bed just to see who was there.

"John...It's Luka. Can I come in?"

There was something in John's voice that didn't seem quite right, but Luka couldn't quite put his finger on it. Had something happened? A not entirely irrational fear loomed within him, and Luka found himself wishing he had left work on time.

Luka. God, how was he going to tell Luka what had happened? He'd definitely say 'I told you so', or worse, he'd just stand there and say nothing, but his face would say everything about how he knew Dave would never show up as promised. John briefly considered telling Luka to go away, but the man was persistent, even more so now that they were good friends without having sex involved, and John knew Luka wouldn't leave him be until he had some kind of an answer as to why John wouldn't let him into the bedroom.

"It's unlocked," John said as he pulled his legs up onto the bed and sat cross-legged and facing the door. "Come on in."

Luka opened the door, his eyes sweeping the room as he entered it. And then, his gaze focused on the man sitting in the middle of the bed. Something was wrong. Very wrong. It was written all of John's face.

"Are...Is everything okay, John?"

Walking over to the bed, Luka sat down next to his friend and put an arm around John's shoulders.

John shook his head. "No, nothing's okay. I wanted to let Dave know about the days off that I have coming up and that I was planning to fly out to see him since he's off then, too." John took a deep breath, thinking there was no easy way to repeat what he had learned. "He was fired, Luka. And when I tried to call him at his brother's place, Steve, that's his brother," John explained, "told me that Dave didn't want to have anything more to do with me. That I had done more than enough to hurt him."

John turned his head to look Luka in the eyes. "I'm sure that he was fired because he was late getting to work the last day of that cruise, Luka. I just know it. It's my fault he lost his job and now he hates me for it. Not that I can blame him. It definitely explains why his few calls were short and why he didn't tell me he loved me. He just couldn't find a way to tell me to get lost, that's all." Even though John knew he was to blame for the current state of affairs, he couldn't deny the fact that losing Dave hurt -- it hurt a lot, and even more so *because* the loss was due to John's own selfishness.

Luka could feel a certain degree of anger building up inside of him...how dare Dave hurt John like this again! After all they had been through together...and knowing what John's insecurities were like, how could Dave have done this to John?

Pulling John further into his embrace he kissed the top of John's head, sighing deeply as he tried to form the words that were in his mind and in his heart.

"I'm sure that it's not your fault, John," Luka said, trying to take away some of the blame and hurt that John was feeling. "He should have called you and told you...and I'm sorry that he didn't...I...I wish I could help...but all I can do is tell you that I'm here for you..."

One thing that Luka knew for certain was no matter what; he would be there for John. Because, really, that's part of what love was all about...

John hugged Luka tightly, feeling glad he had a friend like Luka around. "I know. It's been really nice having you around, Luka. I'm glad you weren't stubborn like Abby and that you accepted my offer of a place to stay. There are times I could kick myself for the way we treated each other and all the friendship we missed out on these past few years." He patted Luka's back, then pulled away from his friend, suddenly all too aware that he and Luka had done things together that mere friends didn't do.

Luka smiled softly, and reached out, taking John's hand in his. "I'm sorry for all the time we missed out on as well," he admitted, as he looked John in the eyes. "But at least we were able to move past all of that. I just want to make sure you know...know just how much I care about you...and that I'll always be here for you...no matter what."

Luka looked away for a moment, biting his bottom lip before continuing. "I...I just hate to see you hurting like this...hate to see you in this much pain again over something that could have been avoided by a simple phone call..."

Luka knew it was soon...too soon for him to admit that he was still in love with John. But he was hoping he would have the opportunity to show it. Because as much as he hated to admit it, Luka was secretly glad that Dave had done this again, because he hoped it would give him the opportunity to be able to prove his love for John.

John squeezed Luka's hand and smiled, his heart not quite as sad as it had been five minutes earlier. "I care a lot about you, too. And I know that I'll get past this eventually. I just don't understand why Dave didn't tell me, either about getting fired or not wanting to be with me anymore. It's not as if I'm going to shatter into a million pieces without him around. I survived it before when we broke up and I'll survive this, too." Especially since he had a good friend around, John thought. That would make all the difference in the world. Before, when Dave and he had broken up, John didn't really have anyone to turn to for comfort or just to talk. But now he had Luka, and John knew Luka would listen to him without passing judgment, and he treasured that knowledge.

"You should go on and get ready for dinner, I'm sure it will be ready soon. I'd appreciate it if you could tell Gamma that I won't be down to eat. I'm not all that hungry right now," John said as he let go of Luka's hand so the man could leave.

Luka quickly shook his head, once more worried over John's emotional state. He still obviously wasn't remember that night on the cruise, or else he'd know that yes, he was capable of shattering over being dumped by Dave. "No. I'm not going to go down for dinner. Not without you. I want to make sure you are okay. I ate not that long ago at the hospital...and...well...I am glad to see a smile on your face, even if it is a small one..."

Luka returned the smile, bringing a free hand up to the side of John's face. "I...also want to say something else...and feel free to tell me to leave if you're not ready to hear this right now, but I feel like I have to say it..."

Luka took a deep breath, and then smiled once more before continuing. "When I say that I'll always be here for you, it's in every sense of the word. Because...John, I...do more than care about you...I love you, and while I was more than happy to stand back while you were with Dave, well...just know...that I'm here...if and when you're ready to move on from him...okay?"

Luka's admission took John by surprise and he remembered Dave telling him that Luka cared for him more than a friend should or would. And John remembered him assuring Dave that it simply wasn't true.

And now John was finding out it was very true. And it scared him because his first response wasn't to run as quickly as he could in the other direction, but rather to just keep sitting there close to Luka. Luka would always be there for him, he had said so, and John knew that Luka Kovac was a man of his word. In all the years he'd known him -- or thought he knew him -- John had always seen that about Luka. Even Abby had confirmed that Luka did keep his word. She had also confirmed that Luka was the kind of person who wanted to 'take care' of the ones he loved, and, for some reason, John knew that Luka intended to take care of him.

"I'll keep that in mind," John softly replied, not quite ready to move away from Luka's touch, even though he knew in his heart that to stay where he was wouldn't be fair to Luka. "I really feel like going for a walk, is it still warm outside?"

"It is," Luka replied, keeping his voice low, and his eyes cast downward. "Would you like some company for your walk, or do you prefer to be by yourself?"

"I wouldn't mind your company," John replied as he stretched out his legs and then stood. Luka was a quiet man and John knew that Luka wouldn't pressure him into talking, even though he'd be all ears if John did decide to share his feelings. "Give me a few minutes and I'll meet you out by the pool, okay? I'd like to freshen up a bit and then I need to tell Gamma that we won't be having dinner with her tonight."

Luka looked at John, and then nodded, a smile once again crossing his lips. "Okay. I'll see you by the pool. I should probably change my clothes as well before heading down there seeing as I'm still in the clothing I wore to work today..."

Standing next to John, Luka briefly reached for the other man's hand, squeezing it in his before releasing it. "I'll see you downstairs in a little while."

And with a nod, Luka headed back to his own bedroom, intent on changing for his walk with John.

A week later:

John smiled at Corrine as he pushed his plate away, finally full. He and Luka had gotten off work at seven, and after the drive home and eating, it was now a bit after eight. And, in John's opinion, Corrine had done more than enough for them and it was now time for her to rest and relax. "Another great dinner, Corrine, thank you. Now, if I remember correctly, there's a show that you like to watch right about now?"

Corrine laughed as she reached for John's empty plate. It made her feel good to see him and Dr. Luka enjoying her meals. "You remember correctly, Dr. John," she replied.

He got to his feet and took the plate from her. "Then you should go and watch it. We can clean up in here. I think that Luka and I are more than capable of loading and running a dishwasher, isn't that right, Luka?" John looked over at Luka, grinning as he spoke.

Luka returned the smile. "Yes. I think we're capable of doing that. In fact, I could even wash the dishes by hand if I had to...I did them by hand for a long time before I ever saw a dishwasher," he teased, as he looked up to Corrine.

Corrine nodded. "Well, thank goodness for modern conveniences. Okay. I'll let you take over from here. Have a good evening, Dr. John, Dr. Luka.

She turned on her heels and headed out of the room, leaving the two young doctors to their own thoughts. Luka picked up his own plate from the table and made his way over to the sink, intent on scraping it into the garbage disposal before rinsing and loading the dishwasher.

"Dinner was very good tonight, no? Corrine always seems to somehow know exactly what kind of food I'm in the mood for," Luka quipped, as he tossed a look over his shoulder to John.

Life had been very good for the two of them since Luka had moved in a few weeks prior. Since everything that happened with Dave, Luka and John had managed to foster an even closer friendship than before. Luka found himself falling into even deeper feelings then he had previously, but he respected his distance, realizing that it was going to take a little while for John to be able to get over Dave.

And that was okay with Luka.

John nodded. "She's always been perceptive that way." John opened the dishwasher, accepting the dishes from Luka as they were rinsed and putting them into the racks. "Luka, may I ask you a question?" John kept his eyes on what he was doing as he didn't want Luka to think he was going to ask him anything important, even though he was.

It had been a bit over a week since John had discovered that Dave had moved on with his life, and during that time John had slowly started to move on with his life as well. Being friends with Luka was great, but John was finding himself missing the physical intimacy they had once shared. But, he didn't want to go back to being 'fuck buddies' with Luka -- John wanted to make love with Luka, he was sure of that. No, he couldn't say he was passionately in love with Luka as he had been -- and probably still was -- with Dave. But John had come to realize that he loved Luka more than as a friend. He just wasn't sure if it would be enough for Luka.

Luka handed John another plate, and then nodding, turned towards him before picking up another. "Sure, John. What's on your mind?"

"You said that you'd wait until I was ready and I was just wondering how ready I need to be?" John hoped he sounded nonchalant about the issue since he didn't want Luka to think he was some sort of a sex fiend or so emotionally needy that he couldn't wait any longer to take things to the next level.

Luka dropped his eyes down towards John, and a smile twitched across his lips. "Well...that depends," he said, leaning back against the sink. "Are you looking for someone who will just sleep with you again? Because if so, I'm not sure if I can handle being only your friend who sleeps with you. But if what you're telling me is that you want to give a try at some sort of a relationship...well, I think it would be a natural extension of the deeper friendship that has been growing...no?"

Luka couldn't help but have some hope that it did mean that their relationship was progressing to the next level. His feelings for John overwhelmed him sometimes...and well...though he knew that he did not possess all of John's heart yet, he hoped that the small piece that he did capture would be enough to keep him.

John looked up at Luka, encouraged by the older man's words. "I don't want to be your fuck buddy again, Luka. I want to be your lover." John smiled shyly as he continued. "But I can't stand here and tell you that I love you the same way or amount that I love Dave, because I don't. But I do love you, and I think that it could grow into something pretty good if we let it. I'm willing to give it a try if you are."

Luka placed a hand on John's shoulder, smiling broadly as the other man spoke. "This is what I was hoping you'd say. I know that you are still harboring feelings for Dave, and I'm not even hoping to compete with that...but I hope that you'll give me the opportunity to try to make you happy."

Biting his bottom lip before continuing, Luka moved down towards his knees so that his face was on the same level as John's. Bringing a hand up to the side of John's face, his smile turned softer. "You deserve so much happiness..."

John grinned as he captured Luka's hand in his own. "I was thinking the very same thing about you." John then placed a tender kiss in the palm of Luka's hand, and then he froze in place as he heard the sound of someone clearing their throat.

"I take it that there's something the two of you want to tell me?" Millicent said from the doorway of the kitchen. She had wanted a quick snack and had been quite surprised to see her grandson and Luka in an obviously intimate moment. She rolled further into the room, looking from one to the other and finally settling her eyes upon her furiously blushing grandson. "Well?"

Luka was sure that he was as red as John as he heard the voice of John's grandmother. But he couldn't discern, from looking up at the older woman's face, whether there was anger or amusement there.

"I'm...sorry ma'am," he said, squeezing John's hand tighter as opposed to letting it go. Luka was feeling quite flustered, almost as if he was a cat being caught chasing a canary. But it would have been foolish to try to deny that something was going on.

"Whether or not you need to apologize to me depends on what it is you have to tell me, Dr. Kovac," Millicent replied, switching to her most formal mode since she knew it would put Luka at a disadvantage. She had called him by his given name since the day he had accepted John's invitation to stay at the house. "Are you planning on moving out any time soon?" she asked in an attempt to gauge their intentions.

"I hope not," John spoke up and he gave Luka's hand a gentle squeeze in return, but he didn't let it go. "I was hoping he'd move though, but from his bedroom to mine, unless you'd prefer us to move out?" John looked steadily into Millicent's eyes, not sure if she'd tell them both to go to Hell or if she'd finally smile at them and tell John that everything was all right.

Millicent looked from John to Luka. "Is this what you want, Dr. Kovac? To switch bedrooms?" She knew full well what the two men intended, but she wasn't going to be that direct -- yet. It was much more amusing to watch the two of them squirm.

Luka continued to smile shyly, and then shook his head, following John's lead. He didn't want to get the man in trouble, but it was obvious to Luka that John was trying to come out to his grandmother.

"My intentions are not to *switch* bedrooms, Mrs. Carter," he said, continuing to hold John's hand tightly. "But to be in the same bedroom as him..."

"I see. And this would be because..." Millicent was doing her best to keep a straight face as she watched the emotions wash over John's face. Her grandson had never been too good at being able to hide his feelings, even though he was an excellent poker player and he had also managed to hide his depression and drug addiction from the household. But his true feelings, such as what he obviously felt now, were impossible for him to hide.

"It's because we love each other, Gamma," John told her. If she wanted them to move out, then that's what they would do. Even though John knew he'd feel guilty about leaving her alone in the house, he would go with Luka if he had to.

Millicent grinned. "That's what I was waiting to hear. As far as I'm concerned, the two of you are grown men and there's no need for you to explain your 'sleeping' arrangements to me. Now, if you'll excuse my interruption, I was looking for a snack. I believe we've got some ice cream in the freezer, would the two of you care for some dessert?"

Luka felt like a weight had been lifted off of his chest as the woman spoke, and he openly smiled over to John, darting his gaze from his lover back to the older woman. "I think some ice cream sounds like a very good idea. How about you, John?" he asked, squeezing John's hand playfully.

Even John's grandmother approved. Luka couldn't help but feel that maybe things were going to actually go the couple's way...

"Yeah, it sounds pretty good. You two wait here while I check out the selections." John reluctantly let go of Luka's hand, got to his feet and headed to the walk-in freezer.

"If there's anything with chocolate in it, then please bring that," Millicent called out to him.

"Yes, ma'am," John called back, grinning because he knew his grandmother loved chocolate just as much, if not more, than he did, and he found himself wickedly wondering if she had ever 'played' with chocolate sauce or syrup in any way. Not that he'd ever ask her -- for one thing, he'd be too embarrassed if she did answer him!

Millicent smiled once more at Luka, but her voice was stern as she spoke. "I've seen John hurt far too many times by people who claimed they loved him, Luka. I don't want to see it happening under my own roof."

Luka smiled over to John, the love evident in his eyes as he watched him from across the room. But he focused his attention back on Millicent as she spoke to him. "Oh, don't worry, Mrs. Carter," he said, his voice full of sincerity. "I would never hurt your grandson..."

That much was true. Luka couldn't help but put all trust in the hope that the reverse wouldn't happen -- that he wouldn't end up being hurt by John.

"Good." Millicent wheeled herself over to the table as John returned with two containers of ice cream. "It's occurred to me, John, that you're taking entirely too much responsibility upon yourself for my care. I appreciate all that you've done for me since I broke my hip, and even before, but I don't want you feeling as if you have to stay here just to take care of me. I've spoken with my personal physician about this and we've decided to hire someone from an agency to move in here. It's a place that hires people in the medical profession and Dr. Meyers has asked for a doctor. I've had the guest cottage prepared so whoever we hire will have his or her own place, as it were. I interviewed a very nice lady today, but I'm expecting another doctor tomorrow, and I won't make my decision until I've met with him."

John put the ice cream on the counter and listened to his grandmother. A part of him felt slighted that she would seek out another care-giver, but another part of him also felt relief that he wouldn't be shouldering the entire burden of her care. "Would you feel comfortable having a man help you with personal things?" he asked as he got out three bowls.

"The nurses from the agency will be staying on. The only thing different is that I'll have a doctor on call, I believe is how you say it, twenty-four hours a day. He or she will report to Dr. Meyers, but I think we'll all breathe a little easier with someone here all the time, just in case." Millicent didn't like to think about the fact that her disease was killing her. She was growing old, she knew that, had accepted it years ago. But she had always planned to go on her own terms and hated the idea that her body was failing her before she was ready. "Did you find chocolate?" she asked John, wanting to change the topic to something not as depressing.

John smiled. "Chocolate fudge ripple and Hershey's Almond bar. Which would you like?"

"A little of both, I think. It certainly won't hurt me to mix my ice cream flavors," Millicent replied, her mind at ease now that she knew John was going to accept having yet another doctor around the house.

To be continued
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