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As New Year's approached, John found himself wishing it to come
quickly, the main reason being that he wanted to get as far away from
Christmas as he could.

It wasn't that John didn't like Christmas, because he did. Well, most
of the time, anyway. But this Christmas had been rougher than usual.
First, there were all of the old memories that had been dredged up by
recognizing Dave as being one of his abductors ten years ago. Then
there was his attempt to - John still wasn't sure just what he was
trying to accomplish with the whole gifts-for-guns thing that seemed
to just happen. He knew that he hadn't gone into work that day with
that in mind.

But, it had happened. One minute he was treating a gang-banger and
the next he was giving the guy a present in exchange for his gun, as a
gift for the thug's brother. Then they just started to show up - kids
mostly, looking to trade. And he'd bought into it, thinking he was
doing something good. Until the first gang-banger came back, shot
again, and also under arrest for shooting a kid in a drive-by.
Angered and disappointed, John had grabbed one of the guns and
confronted the kid. He still didn't know what he would have done if
he hadn't have been stopped. His finger was on the trigger, and he
felt as if he could pull it, end that punk's life the same way the
punk had ended the life of an innocent little boy.

But, the gun hadn't been loaded, and if it had, he was pretty sure he
wouldn't have actually pulled the trigger, even if it would have
brought a sense of closure to the whole night. There was a pattern
there, John thought, of him not being man enough to do what needed to
be done. He'd been unable to go through with what he had planned to
do to Dave Malucci, and he'd been unable to keep some gang-banger from
killing a little boy. He was weak, John could see that.

And now here it was, New Year's Eve, and John knew he had to work with
Malucci. So, what was he doing? He was hiding in the suture room,
that's what he was doing. They wouldn't get many patients until
later, so it wasn't as if he was trying to get out of doing any work.
No, what he was doing was trying to avoid seeing Malucci. What he
was doing was trying to pretend that Malucci didn't matter in any way
to him.

What he was doing, was failing, John thought. He wanted to grab Dave
Malucci and...and kiss him. He wanted to grab Dave Malucci and beat
the living daylights out of him for making him want to kiss him. He
wanted to grab Dave Malucci and make him tell him why he'd done what
he had. But, John knew he'd blown the chance to find out the truth
when he'd let Malucci go that night. Despite knowing that setting him
free was the right thing to do, a part of John kept kicking himself
for doing it before he'd found out just why Malucci and his friends
had done those things to him. John had spent many a waking hour over
the years trying to figure out the answer to that, but nothing had
ever come to him.

John knew he wasn't the most popular guy on campus, knew he stuck out
like a sore thumb. When he had first arrived at Penn, he'd thought
that things would be good, that he'd fit in. But at the dorm and in
classes, conversation would always steer toward high school and what
things were like back home, and family. And John would always feel
like some circus freak when they'd stare at him as he admitted that
he'd gone to boarding school and not high school. Penn was an Ivy
League school, but apparently there weren't all that many students
there who had trust funds. Instead of feeling all grown up now that
he was in college, John found himself reliving the emotions that he'd
felt when he'd first been sent to boarding school, and he hated that.

After a while, John gave up on trying to make friends. Oh, he had a
few - there was his roommate Steve, and some of the guys on the
wrestling team, but that was it really. It wasn't until John moved
into his own place that he seemed to shake off the stigma of being
different. Being abducted that Christmas, as he was in the process of
moving into his own place, had changed things. With not knowing who
his abductors were or where they were, John found himself holding back
when it came to talking about himself. Instead, he ended up asking
more and more questions of those he met. And much to his surprise, he
found them liking him. That's when he really came to understand that
his background and his family were things that got in the way of

Keeping quiet about his family had served John well over the years.
The only notable exception being Anna Del Amico, but once she got over
being angry with him for not telling her up front that his family was
loaded, things had gone well. Then again, considering that she didn't
hesitate to leave with her former, ex-drug addict boyfriend, maybe
things hadn't gone so well after all. His hoped for relationship had
never materialized. John sighed, thinking it had been for the best.
Anything between them would have ended, just as all his relationships

The door opened and John sat up, expecting to hear one of the nurses
telling him that he was needed for a trauma. He looked away though,
when he saw that it was Dave Malucci standing there.

"What?" John brusquely asked, making it plain - or so he hoped - that
he didn't wish to be disturbed.

"I was just wondering where you'd gone off to." Dave stepped further
into the suture room, letting the door close behind him.
"Carter...John, we need to talk."

"There's nothing that I want to talk about with you," John replied as
he slid off of the gurney and stood facing Dave's direction.

"Okay." Dave paused for only a moment. "Then there's something I
need you to listen to."

"I've got to get back to work," John said, and he took a step toward
the door of Trauma 2, so that he wouldn't have to walk past Dave to leave.

"It's dead out there right now and you know it. Dammitt, Carter, this
isn't easy for me, either. But you deserve an explanation about what
happened, and I think that you'd rather hear it now, and not put it
off any longer."

John stopped, and then turned to look at Dave. He'd spent ten years
wondering why Dave and his friends had kidnapped him and now he had
the chance to find out. It would really be stupid to walk out, he
told himself, even though his body was definitely in flight mode.
Nodding, John turned and walked back to the gurney to lean against it.

"Fine. Explain to me why you and your friends grabbed me in the
middle of the night, did...things to me, and then dumped me back in my
room. I'm guessing that it wasn't just for kicks?" He glared at
Dave, knowing that there was no decent explanation to be had, but he
was willing to humor the man, at least for the moment.

Dave shook his head. "It wasn't." Dave leaned against the counter,
trying to keep some distance between him and Carter. The last thing
he wanted was for Carter to feel pressured or anything.

"I guess that it basically starts with me being a freshman and broke.
I'd gotten a scholarship to Penn, but the books...well, they hit my
wallet pretty hard. I was in one of the suites at Matthews Hall, on
the floor below yours, and one of roommates told me about this guy, a
soph, who was practically handing out money. His name was John
Carter, and he was pretty loaded. And I went to his room. He was
cute, and more than willing to lend me money. We...we got along, or
so I thought." No, that wouldn't work, Dave thought. Carter deserved
the whole truth and not just the bits that Dave felt comfortable telling.

"I gave him a blow-job, okay?" Dave could feel face growing hot from
embarrassment, but he continued, knowing he owed that much to Carter.
"I'm bi, and he wasn't the first guy I'd ever sucked off. Not the
last, either, as it turned out. Later that night, Gary, the roommate
who'd told me about John Carter, and Carter himself, or rather who I
thought was John Carter, came to the suite with a videotape in hand.
It was a videotape of me sucking Carter off. I had two choices. I
could sit by and let Carter send that tape to my folks or I could go
to work for him. Seems he and Gary had a little business on the side
and had been running it since the year before. My parents..." Dave
shook his head as he thought of how his family would have reacted. He
looked over at Carter, feeling a bit uneasy over the intense stare
that Carter was giving him.

"I gave in. And I hated it, and I hated John Carter. I wasn't the
only guy that he and Gary had pulled that bit of blackmail on, and we
all hated him. Hated them both, but mainly Carter, because Gary also
worked for him. About the only good thing I can say about him is that
he did give us all a generous share of what we earned, but still...it
was humiliating, okay?"

Dave pushed himself away from the counter and began to pace. "I
wanted revenge, and I wanted to get out from under Carter's thumb. I
had all kinds of plans in my head, but things really came together
when I found some other guys who wanted revenge as much as I did. And
I also found out that Carter wasn't going home for Christmas
break...some kind of wrestling thing. My other roommate was on the JV
wrestling team with Carter, so I knew what was going on. He actually
felt sorry for Carter because the guy wasn't going home once the
wrestling thing..."

"Meet. It's called a wrestling meet," John interrupted.

"Anyway," Dave quickly said, regaining the narrative, "Jason said that
Carter was moving out of the dorm, so I knew we had to move fast. We
planned to grab Carter, give him a taste of his own medicine, get some
money from his folks to compensate us for the Hell he'd put us through
and then get those tapes from him. Not just our tapes, but all of
them, so that he wouldn't have anyone to blackmail. Christmas break
came, Carter stayed, we grabbed him...it wasn't until I went to call
his folks that I discovered that the guy we'd grabbed wasn't the same
guy we'd been working for. I was going through your wallet and I
found your driver's license. After that, well, I guess I panicked.
We should have let you go, explained things to you...but I panicked
and dumping you back in your room seemed to be the easiest thing to do."

Dave stopped pacing to find himself standing in front of Carter, and
he looked directly into Carter's eyes. "I'm sorry. I can't say
anything more than that, and I'm sorry for that, too. I wish I could
go back and undo all of that, or that I could have ever gone to one of
the wrestling meets, because then I would have known that you were you
and that he wasn't you, that he was your roommate."

Silence stretched between them, their eyes still locked, and it was
John who broke the silence. "Did you get them? The videotapes, I
mean? Did you get them?"

Dave nodded. "Yeah, we got them. Steve quit school after that.
I...well, it doesn't matter what exactly happened, does it? Let's
just say that we all didn't just forget what we'd done."

"When I first started at Penn and had Steve as a roommate, I thought
it was a good thing. He was funny, and smart. He made me feel as if
I wasn't alone or some kind of a freak because of my family. By the
end of the year, though, he'd changed, and I found it easier to stay
away from the room than to be in there with him. Still, when it came
time to come back for my sophomore year, I didn't ask for a new
roommate. I guess it was a case of preferring the known to the
unknown, even if things had started to get strained between us. That
sophomore year, though..." John shook his head, frowning. "He tried
his best to talk me out of getting my own place. I thought that he
really and truly was upset that his attitude had chased me out. I
thought he was my friend. You know, until you mentioned it just now,
I didn't know that he'd dropped out. Once I moved, I never heard from
him." John looked away from Dave, the sense of betrayal he'd felt
those years ago rising to the surface once more.

"I knew you were from Chicago," Dave said. "Or rather, I knew that
John Carter was from Chicago, but when I got the residency here at
County, I never imagined that you'd be there. I kept thinking that
you'd know, even though you never saw me. I deserved what you did,
Carter. Hell, I deserved more, even though I'm grateful as Hell that
you let me go. If you want to file charges against me, I understand,
and I won't try to talk you out of it."

John looked back at Dave, confused. "I drugged you, so shouldn't it
be the other way around? You filing charges against me?"

"We kidnapped you first." Dave sighed, thinking it was one screwed up
situation. "I'd say that what we did was far worse than what you did."

Before John could reply to that, Lily pushed open the door to announce
an incoming trauma. John thanked her, then headed for the door, not
sure what to think or say about Dave's confession. What he did know
was that he didn't want to think about it right then.

Dave watched Carter leave the room, and he sighed. He had no idea
what Carter was going to do, and he knew the suspense would drive him
crazy. Maybe that was also a just punishment, he thought as he left
the suture room, maybe he was fated to spend days not knowing what was
going to happen. Dave also knew that he had to give Carter time to
process everything; he just hoped that it wouldn't take too long.
Funny, Lisa had said he'd feel better once he told Carter the whole
truth, but right then, Dave was feeling less certain of things than he
had before. In a way, he felt worse, because there'd been no
mistaking the sadness that he'd seen in Carter's eyes when they were
looking at each other.

And, God help him, there'd been no mistaking the fact that Dave had
wanted to wrap his arms around Carter, hold him close and love away
that sadness.

After being pulled out of the suture room for the trauma, business for
the night steadily increased. Neither Dave nor John had time to think
about their earlier conversation. Which was why, when midnight had
come and gone, and Dave had found himself ready to take a break, he
was surprised to step into the lounge and find Carter there, pouring
himself a cup of coffee.

"Mind pouring one of those for me?" Dave asked, hoping that Carter
would actually pour the coffee and not just chuck the pot in his

John nodded as he reached for another mug and filled it with the hot
liquid. He put the carafe back on the burner of the coffee machine,
then grabbed both cups and walked over to where Dave was seated on the

"Thanks," Dave said as he accepted one of the cups from Carter. "Some
night, huh?"

John nodded, he himself had seen more than a dozen cases since the
trauma, and they'd all caused by stupidity. "It'll get worse, though,
as the night goes on. We've got a long haul between now and 6." John
took a long sip of his coffee. "By the way, Happy New Year."

"Thanks," Dave said, and he smiled. "Happy Y2K to you, too. Since
the power's still on, I guess all that doom and gloom talk was nothing
but hot air, huh?"

John found himself smiling back as he nodded in agreement. "Sure
looks that way."

A silence settled between them while they drank the coffee, and it was
Dave who finally broke it.

"Friends?" he asked, hoping that a visit to the local jail wasn't in
the near future for him.

John stared down into the last of his coffee, then shrugged. "I don't
know, Dave. I really don't know. I still need time to digest all of
this." He looked up and into Dave's eyes. "I can assure you that I
won't be calling the cops, though. I think we've both suffered enough
and done enough to each other, don't you?" John looked back down into
his coffee mug, not wanting Dave to see the emotions that John knew
were in his eyes. He wanted Dave, John knew that much. And how could
he be friends with Dave when every time he looked at Dave, John
remembered the way Dave had touched him, remembered the way his body
had responded. And, God help him, he found himself wanting to see if
he really would like kissing Dave now. It had to be sick and
unhealthy, John thought. Even years after the fact, a person didn't
want to kiss the person who'd practically raped him. Right?

Dave could feel it radiating from Carter, that almost unbearable
sadness. And something else mingled within it. Guilt? But Carter
had no reason to feel guilty over anything, and Dave told himself that
he was wrong. It couldn't be guilt that Carter felt, but rather
something like accusation. "Yeah, I guess we have," Dave replied. He
finished his coffee and got to his feet, knowing he needed to get back
to work before he forgot himself and ended up in front of Carter,
begging him to forgive him.

"Thanks for the coffee," Dave said as he rinsed his cup in the sink
and then headed for the door.

"You're welcome," John replied, and he looked up in time to watch Dave
walk out of the room. Sighing, John got to his feet and headed for
the sink to take the time to wash out both coffee mugs. He needed to
put time and a bit of space between himself and Dave, or else he'd
never get his emotions and thoughts under control and back on normal
things. God, but he needed to get everything back to normal, and as
far as John was concerned, normal couldn't happen soon enough.

To be continued...
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