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A Few Months After The Events In The Prologue

Steve Malucci stretched to his full height, then opened the refrigerator to grab a cold beer. After a long day on the construction site, he was tired and looking forward to relaxing, as well as spending a quiet night with his baby brother. Steve's smile faltered though as he thought about how sad Dave had been ever since he arrived from Chicago months ago. Dave was a doctor, and, from what Steve could tell, a damn good one. But he had made a mistake that killed a patient -- or not -- Steve still wasn't clear on just what happened, or what would have happened if the patient had been treated differently. The end result was that Dave lost some of his confidence, and then he tried to make up for it by fucking some babe in an ambulance. He was caught, of course, Dave always seemed to get caught when the stakes were the highest, and this time it resulted with him losing his job.

What Steve didn't understand, and what Dave had never mentioned, was why Dave hadn't stayed in Chicago. He had friends there, and some family. So, why come all the way to Los Angeles? Not that Steve minded having Dave living with him. He loved his brother and would do anything for him, but Steve was concerned that something more had happened in Illinois -- something that made Dave not want to stay there.

The more Steve thought about it, the more he was afraid that what had happened in Illinois had to do with Dave's love life -- or lack thereof. He'd watch as Dave flirted with the waitresses when they were out, but in all the months that Dave had been living there, Steve had never seen him go out with a woman, or call to say he was staying overnight at a woman's house. It just wasn't right -- it wasn't Dave. At least, not the Dave Malucci Steve knew.

Steve went to the living room and sat down in the recliner, his thoughts on how to ask his brother -- who was known for blowing off questions that indicated someone cared -- just what was wrong. He turned on the TV, but never really saw what was on the screen as his mind stayed focused on Dave.

Dave climbed the stairs to the apartment -- the one he had technically shared with his brother for the past few months since leaving Chicago. He had had the week off -- his first full week on shore since moving out west -- and he had spent a lot of time with Stevie. Man. It had been a *long* time since the Malucci brothers had been together...hanging out...scoping out...uh...women. Yeah. Scoping out women. As if that really meant anything.

Carter. It was still about Carter. Months later, it was still all about Carter. Sure, Dave flirted with women...sure, he found them attractive. Sure, he could check them out with Steve like he used to...but he had *no* desire to date them. What was the point? It wouldn't be the same.

Dave turned the key in the lock, and opened the door, struggling with bags of groceries as he did so. He always brought provisions with him on the cruise ship. The food was decent, but he was always afraid of running out of toiletries or something in a foreign country. And he didn't want to take that risk -- even though this next cruise was just going to be taking him to Hawaii and back.

As he walked through the door, he grinned at his brother sitting in the recliner as he watched...the cooking channel? Man...was he feeling okay?

"Hey, bro, you look like you've got the weight of the world on your mind, bad day at work?"

Setting his bags down on the couch, he flopped down next to the packages and turned towards his brother.

Steve smiled at Dave. "Nah, the day was pretty good. We're almost done with the McKenzie building, and we already have a new job lined up. You all ready for your cruise?" Steve indicated the bags. "You've never been out for 14 days at a time before, think you might need some Dramamine this time around?" He teased as he carefully looked at his brother. Yep, Dave was still looking a bit down, and Steve was now determined to find out why.

"Hey, that's good, Stevie...that's good...yeah...yeah...fourteen day cruise...I'm the Doc. I'm not gonna get sea sickness," he said, a smile growing over his lips. Dave couldn't understand why Steve was looking at him so intently? How was it that Steve seemed to be able to see *right* through whatever facade and wall Dave tried to put up? But no way was he going to volunteer any information.

"So any plans for while I'm gone? Ya gonna have a party or something? Celebrate that your kid brother is finally out of your hair?" Keep the focus off of himself. That was Dave's plan.

Steve laughed. "How'd you find out?" He put the recliner in the upright position, then turned off the TV. "Dave, sit down for a minute or two, okay?"

"Uhh...sure..." Dave was already sitting, but settled back further in the couch seat, his expression turning more serious as he faced his big brother. What was wrong? Was Steve kicking him out? Telling him it was time for him to find a place of his own, even though he could count on two hands the number of nights he had actually slept in the apartment? Steve's pad was more of a 'home base' for him than anything else.

"What's on your mind?"

"You are." Steve looked down at the floor, then back up at his baby brother, remembering all the times when they were in their teens and he'd have to find a way to get Dave to talk about the latest thing bugging him. A difficult task, given that nothing had ever seemed to be *right* for them back then. But with their parents being far less than the dictionary entry for the word, Steve had felt the need to fill that void with Dave -- he tried to guide him, steer him in the right direction, listen to him without judging him -- Hell, loving him unconditionally, because that's what brothers did. And now he suddenly found it difficult to ask Dave why he had left Chicago.

"You've been here now, what, almost six months, right? And in all the time you've been here, you've never said anything about *why* you left Chicago. Don't get me wrong, Dave. I love having you here, but I just wonder what happened back there. You were always talking about your friends, and we even have family there. You're a good doctor and I know you could have found another job there. So, why'd you leave?"

A simple question, really. Why did he leave Chicago. But it was one that had a *really* complicated answer. Dave's face showed no sign of faltering as he went over possible responses in his mind. His face still had the same serious expression, but he downcast his eyes towards his hands.

"Uh...yeah...let's just say," he started, as he clearly saw the face of the one he had left behind before his eyes, "...there were way too many memories for me to deal with living there anymore...I had to make a fresh start...come to a new coast...spend some time with my big bro..."

Dave continued to try to keep the focus away from him, because he wasn't sure if he was ready to deal with all of this. First of all...how the hell would Stevie react if he found out that his lil' bro had been in love...and second of all...if he found out that the object of his affection had been another *guy*?

No...he simply could *not* tell Steve about that. He wasn't sure if he could deal with the disappointment in his brother's eyes as he looked down on his brother Dave, the queer.

Steve sighed. He had been afraid that Dave had had his heart broken, and now Dave was confirming that. "Ah, man, I'm sorry. I've never known you to obsess over a chick, so she must have really gotten under your skin, huh?"

Okay...well, at least Steve didn't suspect that it was a *guy* that had stolen Dave's heart...but yes...he had pretty much hit Dave's problem right on the noggin. .He didn't stop to correct Steve talking about a chick. It was probably best to let him continue to believe that.

"Uh...yeah...this one was really special," Dave managed to say. "Good friend of mine...sorta came out of nowhere...and I still haven't stopped thinking...I haven't been able to get this person out of my mind."

Man...it was gonna take a lot of effort not to slip up here, and call him Carter...but he had to. Dave couldn't let Steve know that his baby brother had been fucking men...

Steve reached for his beer and took a long sip. It killed him to see his brother looking so forlorn. "I hate her already for breaking your heart. What happened? You said she was a friend, how did it go from friendship to love?" Okay, Dave hadn't said the 'L' word, but it was written all over his face.

Dave looked up to Stevie, surprised once more at his insight. Okay. So he didn't have *total* insight...but yes, he had fallen 'hook, line and sinker' for Carter.

So Dave began to talk. Talk about how he and Carter had hooked up...how an innocent night of bar hopping had turned into something much, much more...how they had become lovers in the blink of an eye...like it was the most natural thing in the world. Dave was careful though. Careful not to reveal too much about who this lover was. Dave knew his brother -- knew that his brother would not be very forgiving if he found out that his baby brother was bisexual. There was no doubt anymore in Dave's mind that he was. While Dave had not dated anyone since leaving Chicago, it didn't mean that he wasn't still attracted to chicks. He was. But there was definitely another side of him. A life that Dave could never tell his family about.

By the time he finished speaking, Dave was lost completely in memories. He hadn't told his brother how it ended, preferring to dwell on the happier and hotter times. As a result, Dave's cock was hard as nails. He shifted in his seat as he turned to face Steve once more.

"Uh...yeah...so that was it...that was what happened...and uh...now you know -- your baby bro is capable of fallin' in love.."

Dave shrugged slightly, feeling more horny then anything else at that moment, and really, what he wanted to do was head off to his room and think about Carter some more...while he took care of getting rid of that hard on.

That was something Dave definitely missed -- having someone take care of that kind of stuff *for* him.

Steve wanted to ask Dave about how it had all ended, but the effect that talking about how it had began was noticeable, and Steve did have some pity for his brother. "Tell you what, how about if I put some steaks on for us while you take care of your packing for tomorrow?"

Dave's eyes lit up, and he nodded, both at the thought of a good steak dinner, and being able to be...uh...alone with his thoughts for a little while. "Yeah, that sounds like a plan, bro," he said, getting up from the couch. He turned to grab his bag and then faced Steve once more. "Thanks for the ear...you know...you're the first person I've ever talked to about this."

Not wanting to go into more details, he turned to walk back towards his bedroom. "I'll be out in a little while, Stevie. Keep those steaks warm for me."

And with a grin and a wink of an eye, he was off to his bedroom.

Steve watched his brother's retreating back, then got to his feet and headed into the kitchen. He was glad he had decided to take the opportunity to talk with Dave, since Dave really did need to share that with someone.

And he was also glad that it was a woman on Dave's mind. For a while there, Steve had been worried about Dave's lack of interest in the opposite sex. He mentally kicked himself for ever thinking that Dave was, well, gay, or something, and that's why he didn't seem to dig chicks any longer. Not his little brother. Nope, Dave was just hung up on the woman he had fallen in love with, and Steve hoped that maybe Dave would find the courage to go back to Chicago to be with her once more and make things work.


John Carter eased himself into the airplane seat and immediately fastened his seatbelt before he relaxed against the side of the plane. He had worked all night and into the morning and was exhausted, a condition he hated being in, because it was when he was exhausted that he found his thoughts dwelling on Dave Malucci.

The cabin of the plane was a jumble of conversations as passengers excitedly talked about what to expect on the cruise they would all be undertaking the next day -- fourteen day round trip from Los Angeles to Hawaii. Fourteen days spent entirely -- except for the few days on Oahu -- with people of similar sexual orientation. How many times had he yearned for he and Dave to be able to go to a gay bar just so they could dance together or hold hands at a table and not have to worry about being singled out for being different or immoral? But, that had been months ago, back in the summer, and there would never be any dates like that for him and Dave.

John rested his head against the window and smiled at Maggie Doyle as she settled into a seat across the aisle. John had been pleasantly surprised to walk into the travel agency to book the cruise and find Maggie there, also with the intent of booking the same cruise. They had talked a bit, and he had learned that she was dating someone from County -- Randi Fronczak, to be exact. That had taken John by surprise, but the more he thought about it, the more it just seemed feasible that Randi would go both ways. He had been planning to book a large suite anyway, so there would be private bedrooms for him and his travel companion, but the ship's luxury cabins went from three rooms down to one, there weren't any with just two rooms. So, faced with having an extra bedroom, John offered it to Maggie and Randi. Maggie hadn't batted an eye at the offer and John had directed the agent to add Maggie and Randi's names to the list of people occupying the suite. John was definitely looking forward to catching up on old times with Maggie and he didn't regret his impulsive invitation.

He waved at Randi as she settled into the seat beside Maggie and then he felt a pang of something -- jealousy, perhaps, when he watched the two of them kiss each other in greeting. As he watched them, his own lips began to tingle from the memory of Dave's kisses and he sighed and closed his eyes, even though he didn't want to sleep on the flight. There was too much of a chance of him having a nightmare and John didn't want to have to deal with everyone's pity if something like that happened.


John's eyes flew open as his seatmate sat down. Luka looked particularly good and rested. Which he should since he didn't have to work before leaving for the West Coast. It was a little difficult to believe that it wasn't all that long ago when he and Luka weren't on the friendliest of terms. But the sexual harassment class he, Luka, Susan, Abby and Michael Gallant had been forced to attend had changed things for the two men. They had locked horns once or twice during the class -- or, more accurately, while they were waiting for the class to begin -- but once the class was over, John found himself seated in a diner, having dinner with Luka. They talked, and when they left the diner, they were on much better terms, and even had made plans to go to a basketball game. At that diner a friendship had been born, and it grew stronger over the days at work before the game -- and after the game, it became more intimate. John wasn't quite sure how it happened, but he ended up back at Luka's apartment with the two of them naked and enjoying each other's bodies quite a bit. The sex never went further than them using their hands and mouths on each other, but it had been enough for John to know that with Luka he was actually having *sex*, while all he had done with Dave had been *making love*. John and Luka had fooled around a time or two since that night, but nothing serious ever happened. Luka had jokingly referred to the two of them as 'fuck buddies', a term someone else he knew had told him. As long as messing around didn't get in the way of them being friends, John didn't particularly care what Luka called it.

It had been Luka who had heard about the cruise, and he had been very enthusiastic about going. John's arm hadn't been difficult to twist -- he needed a break from Chicago and thought it would be relaxing to just sit on a ship for two weeks, doing nothing.

"Hey, Luka," he said with a smile. "All packed and ready to enjoy a relaxing cruise?"

To say that he needed this vacation would have been an understatement. Luka was very much looking forward to spending time with friends, relaxing, and having a bit of fun. He was very pleased with the way that his friendship with John had grown, to the point where they were now very, very good friends, who occasionally shared something more.

Luka couldn't help but hope that there would be moments where John would end up spending the night in his bed while away on this vacation together. But in the meantime, he was looking forward to taking benefit of all the luxuries that the cruise had to offer -- eating good food...relaxing by the pool. Maybe a little bit of dancing.

When John had told him that Randi and her lady friend were going to be joining them on the cruise, at first, he was not sure how he felt about it. First of all, he was sure that everyone in the hospital was not aware of his sexual orientation, so he didn't know how he felt about a co-worker knowing that he was going on a gay cruise...but then he realized, if Randi was going on the cruise with a lady friend, she didn't necessarily want that spread around either.

So after initial uncertainty, by the time they got on the plane, he realized that John had made the correct decision.

"I am *very* ready," he said, as he turned towards his friend. "My bags are packed, and I am ready to go -- that's how the song lyric goes, right?" Yes. This was going to be exactly what both of them needed. Regeneration. Reconnection. Friendship. And maybe...hopefully...a little bit more.

John grinned. "Something like that." He looked up as one of the flight attendants, a woman, walked by, checking on the overhead bins and making sure people were putting on their seatbelts. "Don't you think it's odd that all the flight attendants are wearing boots and long coats? I know it's cold outside, but they don't need coats on in here. Even the guy taking the tickets had on a long coat." John was trying to remember if the man had pants showing below the coat. For some reason, all he could remember were black boots.

Luka hadn't really paid much attention to what the flight staff was wearing, but now that John had mentioned something, he lifted his gaze upwards, as he tried to take notice of those around him.

"Yes, that is odd," Luka finally agreed, turning back towards John with a slight smile. "Do you suppose they are wearing anything under those coats?" He lifted his brow slightly, his grin growing wider as he looked over towards John. He had heard about things like this regarding the alternate lifestyles trips, but he hadn't realized that they might actually be true.

It looked like their vacation was going to be getting off to a rather interesting start.

John's mouth slightly opened in surprise as Luka's question sunk in. Were they naked under the coats? They couldn't be. They wouldn't be. He shook his head. "They're supposed to be in uniforms, right? All the airlines have uniforms." He really didn't think he wanted to have to watch the attendants prancing around the cabin in the all-together, not when his mind had been so much on Dave lately, and one of the men just happened to have dark hair and eyes, *and* was probably muscular, too.

"You don't think they're really naked, do you?" John asked, his voice just above a whisper so he wouldn't be overheard.

But he was. Randi smirked at him. "Carter, I for one am certainly hoping they are."

Luka couldn't help but laugh at Randi's comments, and he was actually more than just a little amused at John's reaction to the thought of the flight attendants not wearing any clothes. He had to admit, he was pretty intrigued with the idea as well. Even Randi's lady friend, Maggie, was holding her girlfriend's hand excitedly at the thought of seeing some of the more attractive women without their clothes on.

"John, there's really nothing to worry about," Luka said, turning his grin back towards his companion. "If you're worried about seeing the flight attendants without their clothes on, you can always shut your eyes once the plane takes off," he teased lightly.

"It's not that I'm worried, Luka. It's just that...people aren't supposed to walk around naked, exposing their bodies and stuff." Dave had kidded John more than once about the fact he had been raised to believe that. Whenever John had tried to put on pajamas to sleep in, Dave had complained, and, eventually, wore him down until he was used to sleeping naked with Dave.

John settled back in his seat as the captain announced they were about to depart, and then the plane began to move. As the senior flight attendant went over the emergency instructions, he found his mind wandering. He had slept all night in Dave's bed the first time they were ever together, but he had never slept in Luka's bed. Never stayed overnight at his place at all. Hadn't done that with Susan, either, but then, they had never had a sexual relationship. Not that he had particularly wanted one. Being with Susan kept him from dwelling too much on Dave and what he had lost. It also kept him from thinking too much about Abby and what never had a chance to be. Susan had broken up with him because she thought he was madly in love with Abby. She was only partly correct. He did love Abby, but it was Dave that he was still *in love* with, and sometimes the memories were enough to drive him mad.

Maybe it was Luka's European culture that made him think so much differently about things like this, but he had always been taught to have respect for his body, and to never be shy about it.

From the time he was a young boy Luka had spent time on nude beaches, vacationing with his parents to resorts and the like where clothing was not only optional, but discouraged. And it gave him a tremendous respect for the human body, and also made it so when he became a teenager, he wasn't as obsessed with trying to get into bed with members of the opposite sex like American teens seemed to be.

It wasn't a curiosity, it was a way of life.

"I think that this is one thing that you and I don't agree on, John," Luka simply said.

The announcement came over the loudspeaker that the plane was next in line for takeoff, and Luka's thoughts switched again. Smiling over to John, he reached over and squeezed his hand lightly.

"Try not to worry so much. We are going to have a *very* good time..."

John nodded and gave Luka's hand a squeeze back, then became aware that Maggie and Randi were not only staring at the two of them, but grinning as well. He didn't want them to get the wrong idea about him and Luka. They were friends who every now and then got each other off, that was all. There was nothing like what he had experienced with Dave. No man could ever come close to doing what Dave had done to, and for him, which is why John had no intention of trying to meet men on the cruise. He just planned to relax and rest and regroup, if possible.

He let go of Luka's hand and looked out the window at the landscape rushing by. But he wasn't seeing the tarmac or the airport -- his mind was reliving his first night with Dave.
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