By MonaCK and Cathy Roberts
Packed and ready to go, but still worried about Carter to the point where she had no appetite, Randi had skipped breakfast. It didn't miss her attention that Maggie and Luka had also declined to eat, and now they all sat, waiting for John to awaken. "Do you think Dave's still here? He usually has to be in the medical center by seven," Randi said, "And it's nearly nine, now. We've got to wake Carter up soon." They'd pack for him if they had to, and even carry him off the ship, if necessary. But Randi mainly wanted to awaken John to make sure he was okay. He had to be okay, she prayed, he just *had* to be.
Luka shook his head. "I don't know if he's still here. I don't think so...as you said, he's normally gone by now, and if John awoke and didn't want to talk to Dave...there would have been no reason for him to stay. I don't..."
Just then, Luka heard what he thought was a blood-curdling scream coming from the direction of John's bathroom.
"What was that?" Luka asked, as he quickly left from his chair. "Did you hear that?"
"You would have to be *dead* to not hear that," Maggie quipped, her expression turning slightly more worried at the sound.
Randi jumped to her feet. "Well, are we going to just stand here or are we going to help him?" she asked, having decided that she would do whatever she could, even if it was nothing more than holding Carter to help calm him. And just holding him, she thought to herself, none of that business of giving him a blow-job to make him feel better. She glared at Maggie and then Luka. "Well?"
Luka put up his hand as he got up from the chair. "If you don't mind, I'd like to go in," Luka said, his voice soft. "Please...I need to do this..."
And before the women could argue with him, Luka very quickly retreated into John's bedroom, shutting the door behind him.
The first thing that hit him was the sound of not one, but two voices. And the voices seemed to be...happy? What the hell was..?
"John? John, is everything okay? I heard a scream, and..."
Luka walked into the bathroom, and his speech stopped midstream. There were Dave and John, both naked as the days they were born, drying themselves off after a shower. Luka wasn't sure how he felt about this...relief that John seemed to be okay...but then concern that Dave was trying to take advantage of the situation.
"I...um...I guess everything *is* okay, then..."
John grinned, only feeling slightly embarrassed about being naked in front of Luka. They were friends, after all. "Well, that depends on your definition of okay. Considering I've got less than thirty minutes to pack so we can leave, and Dave's definitely running late, *that* part isn't okay. At least you guys can't accuse us of keeping you awake *this* time," he said with a smirk. Mostly dry, John gave Dave a quick kiss on the mouth, then went into his bedroom to dress and start packing. John wanted nothing more than to spend more time with Dave, but he knew that an extended 'goodbye' wasn't going to do anything for either one of them except make them sad, and he didn't want that for Dave.
While John left the bathroom, Dave hastily bent down to gather his clothing, fully aware that Luka was less then pleased about the turn of events. "John woke me this morning," Dave began, as he pulled on his underwear, "and he remembered *nothing*.. absolutely nothing...about what happened last night..."
"So you took this as a sign that it was okay for you to fuck him?" Luka's eyes were wild as he looked over to Dave, once again questioning his wisdom in allowing Dave to come here in the first place.
"No...and if you'd let me finish *speaking*, I'll tell you what happened. Jeez! So after we talked for a bit, I realized that John thought it was all a dream...and that he must have woken up in the middle of the night to tell me about the dream and then fallen back to sleep. I told him *everything*...'bout how I left...how I came back...how he didn't wanna be touched...but John kept accusing me of somehow reading his mind..."
Dave slowly pulled his pants up, and then began to put on his shirt before speaking again. "I...I made sure...before we did anything...I think it woulda hurt him more if we *hadn't* done anything before I left, and besides, I'm not gonna see him again for four months...hopefully that'll be enough celibacy time for him to sort stuff out in his mind..."
Luka was still almost peering through Dave, and with arms crossed over his chest, he nodded. "Yes. Well. You'd better get to work...and we have to get ready to get off the ship...so...I suggest you say goodbye now."
And with completely jumbled feelings, Luka left the room, intent on heading back out to the living room to talk to the girls.
John had just pulled on his shirt when the bathroom door opened and Luka walked out. Stalked out was more like it, he thought. "Luka, do you have a minute?" he asked, wanting to make sure that Luka was doing okay since he had spent the past two weeks with Mike and would now be facing the prospect of never seeing him again.
Luka turned around. His eyes were still ablaze, and his emotions were still confused after the bit of information he had learned from Dave in the bathroom. John was lost. He had lost him to Dave...and maybe John was never Luka's to begin with...but the absolute realization was very difficult for him to face.
"Sure...what can I help you with, John?" Luka's expression was set and serious.
"I just wanted to make sure you were okay, you know, with the idea of not being able to see Mike again? Or have you and he arranged to meet somewhere between New York and Chicago?" John asked, hoping they had since he had seen how much they had enjoyed each other's company.
Luka nodded. "Yes. I'm fine. We're very realistic that we are not going to see each other again after this week, but that's okay. We have exchanged numbers, and we'll look each other up if we are in each other's towns, so to speak.. You'd...you'd better hurry up and finish packing," Luka said, looking over towards John's suitcase. "And this way...it'll give you a chance to say goodbye to Dave too, huh? I'll see you out in the hallway..."
Luka glanced towards the bathroom door, which was just beginning to open. And before his emotions betrayed him once more, he slid out of John's room, intent on letting the couple have their privacy.
Dave walked out of the now ajar bathroom door, and immediately walked over to John, dropping his arms around his lover's waist while he rested his head on John's shoulder.
"I'm gonna miss you the next couple of months..."
"Not as much as I'm going to be missing you," John said as he rested his head against Dave's. "Now, you'd better go before you get into any trouble. The last thing I want is for you to get fired or something because of me. I'd never forgive myself if I was the cause of something like that, even if I do want you in Chicago with me now as opposed to later," he sincerely said. Dave had enough self-esteem problems and didn't need to add to them by losing his job or being written up for being late.
"Mmm...you'd be worth losin' my job over...but you're right, I do haveta get goin'," Dave said, reluctant to move. Planting a kiss on John's neck, he smiled softly, pulling John around so he could hold him in a full embrace. "Don't forget that I love you when you're back in Chicago scopin' out those hot guys..."
More specifically...scoping out Luka Kovac...but Dave didn't want to say anything like that out loud. And, forcing those thoughts out of his head, he brought his lips down onto John's for one last spine tingling, mind-blowing kiss.
As the kiss ended, John found enough breath to reassure Dave. "Trust me, the only hot guy I'll be scoping out will be you, and then only in my dreams. But at least they'll be nice dreams for a change." He gave Dave a quick kiss on the lips, and then pulled away from him. "Get outta here before I change my mind and pack you in this suitcase to take home."
Dave grinned from ear to ear, unable to stop it from happening, even though he was getting ready to leave the love of his life. "Yeah, yeah...I'd better go...take care of yourself...uh...don't talk to strangers...look both ways before crossin' the street..."
And, turning away before he lost all of his resolve, Dave opened the door, ready to face whatever he had to face in the living room.
The mood was still rather melancholy as Dave looked around to his friends, and as he shut John's door behind him, he kept his voice low. "He remembers *nothing* about what happened last night...and trying to talk to him about it only upsets him, so...I'd really recommend not doin' so. I tried to tell him what I wanted to do...the mistake I made...leaving...and he thinks that I somehow managed to get into his dreams and read them...he doesn't wanna believe it really happened..."
Dave shook his head, and then brought up his eyes to meet the expressions of those around him. "I...I gotta get to work or I'm gonna get fired..."
Randi frowned. While she could certainly understand Carter not wanting to remember what had happened the night before, she couldn't quite believe that he didn't actually remember it. "So, we're not supposed to tell him what a jerk you were for breaking his heart last night, is that it?" she asked as her mind tried to come to terms with what Dave was saying.
Dave turned towards Randi, not even trying to mask the anger in his eyes. "Yeah. Go ahead and say that. You don't think I already tried to tell him that? Tell him what I did, and what an ass I was for doin' it? Fine. You fucking believe what you wanna believe. And say whatever you wanna say to him. I'm just telling you what I *think* you should do based on the way he reacted to me. You know me, Randi. If there's one thing you know about me...I'm not a liar. What fucking reason would I have to start now?"
Crossing his arms over his chest, he stared back at Randi. He was going to get in so much trouble at work, but he just didn't care. This was more important than anything else.
Maggie watched the scene with marked interest. She still wasn't quite sure how she felt about Dave...but it was extremely obvious that despite his behavior the previous night, he really cared for John.
"It wasn't completely his fault, Randi," Luka piped up from the quiet corner of the room. "I...I might have encouraged Dave...to think about his future with John...and might have influenced his decision a bit..."
Luka was still feeling guilty over that...and he really didn't want Dave to take the total fall for what had happened the previous evening.
"What do you mean?" Randi asked, her anger at Dave and herself starting to ebb a bit at this new piece of information. "How could you have encouraged Dave to think anything?"
Luka took a deep breath, running his hand over his eyes. "I went down and had a conversation with Dave the other day...a couple of days before the end of the cruise, and I...I told him that if he was planning on breaking John's heart...that he should do it sooner rather than later, and...um...I might have told him that...Dave was ruining John's chances at happiness..."
Luka turned away, and as Randi looked over to Dave, Dave's head was downcast, and he refused to make eye contact with anyone in the room.
"Jesus Christ, but the two of you have got to be the biggest idiots in the history of mankind, aren't you? Did it ever occur to either one of you that Carter's happiness was something that he was perfectly capable of deciding on his own? He's not the prize in a pissing match, you know, and I can't understand how the two of you can treat him as if he is," Randi snapped, her anger now fully focused on both men. "Yeah, Carter might have some deep problems from when he was a kid, but, man, what the two of you did, it was just plain petty and mean and I'm sure it's what pushed him over the edge last night. I hope you guys are real proud of yourselves, I really do."
"You know something, Randi? Fuck you. Fuck YOU! Do you *think* I don't know that I was an ass? Do you think that I haven't been fucking *kicking* myself for not sticking with my instincts? I don't fucking need *you* pointing it out to me. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to leave, to see if I still have a fucking *job*. Enjoy your trip home. Goodbye."
And, without even a second glance back, Dave stormed out of the room, slamming the door of the suite behind him. Before he could stop to begin to rationalize his anger, he made his way to the elevators, intent on going back to his own cabin to change his clothes, and then try to go to work unseen by anyone.
Randi's eyes blazed as she listened to Dave, and when he stormed out, she turned those eyes on Luka. "Well? What's your excuse for doing your best to try to run Carter's life for him?"
"I have no excuse, Randi," Luka simply said, as he returned the woman's even gaze. "I suggest you think about minding *your* own business. I had my own reasons for doing what I did...wrong as they might have been. Dave had his reasons for listening to me...though they were also wrong. I suggest you stop meddling in John's love life, and worry about your own."
And, in a much calmer manner, Luka went back into his own cabin, shutting the door behind him to allow himself to gather his thoughts and emotions for a few moments before confronting his travel companions once again.
Maggie turned towards Randi, more dumbfounded than anything else. "C'mon, Rand," she said, trying to place a hand on her shoulder. "It's all going to resolve itself okay. Maybe all of this was a blessing in disguise for Carter, I mean...we all know now that there's a problem..."
"A problem with what?" John asked as he walked out of his room, his suitcases in hand. Randi and Maggie looked serious, and he wondered if they had waited until the very end of the cruise to have an argument. "And why would it be a blessing in disguise for me?"
Maggie widened her eyes in surprise, and cast a glance at Randi. Slowly a smile spread over her lips as something formed in her head. "This cruise, of course. It was a blessing in disguise because it brought you and Dave back together...right Randi?"
"Yeah, an honest-to-goodness blessing," Randi said, unable to believe her own eyes at the difference in how Carter looked from the night before to that moment. The man standing in front of her was the John Carter she was used to seeing, and not the near catatonic man from last night.
John grinned. "Yeah, I guess you could call it that. But it will be even more of a blessing when his contract is up and he's back in Chicago where he belongs. So, do we have time for breakfast before we leave this ship or will we have to stop somewhere on the way to the airport? I'm starving."
By the time Dave got back to his office, he was still not quite himself. He was thrilled that he was able to work things out with John, but he didn't like the way that the others had reacted to him...staring through him like it was his fault that John had his breakdown.
True -- he might have been the catalyst, but Dave truly felt that this was a long time coming. He loved John to the ends of the earth...but still...John had more issues than Dave did...and Dave was amazed by this fact.
There was so much about both of their pasts that they didn't know about each other. And Dave wondered if John would ever trust him enough to tell him all about his.
All of this was on his mind, which is why he didn't notice when he ran almost head first into Nurse Davis as he attempted to go into his office.
"Dr. Malucci," she said, using his formal name, which she rarely did. "Dr. Kotter is in his office, and wants to see you *now*. I *highly* suggest that you don't keep him waiting."
Dr. Kotter was Dave's supervisor. He only cruised on occasion, and usually just came on-board while they were in port to check up on how things were going. Dave had barely said two words to the man since getting this job, and now Dave was beginning to get worried. If Dr. Kotter wanted to speak to him...
Taking a deep breath, he pushed himself inside his boss's office.
"Hey, bossman...what can I do for ya?" he asked, forcing a grin to his face as he sat in a chair opposite from Dr. Kotter.
"Dr. Malucci, I'm going to get right down to the point. I don't like to beat around the bush...I'm a busy man, and I don't like being bamboozled. I have it on *very* good authority that you were goofing around more than you were working during this run, and also that you spent *no* nights in your cabin, but instead spent them in the cabin of one of the passengers. You *knew* when you signed on for this cruise that fraternizing with the passengers was not only discouraged, but not allowed. And to top it off, you missed your sign-in this morning. All of these things, combined with you being late on more than one occasion for past cruises, leaves me only one choice."
Dr. Kotter gave Dave a hard stare, and then continued.
"You're fired, Dr. Malucci. Don't even try to argue it. Pack your bags and be off the ship before the she leaves port." And, to punctuate the fact that nothing was open for negotiation, Dr. Kotter cast his eyes downward, refusing to make eye contact with the bewildered doctor.
Dave was speechless...and he felt like the bottom of his stomach had fallen out from under him. What the *fuck*? Well...he supposed that it was nothing more than he deserved. And then he realized...whoa, fired meant that he could go back to Chicago...back to John, sooner than he thought. But...how could he tell John that he was fired? He would never hear the end of it. No. What he was going to do was get the first plane back to Chicago...find a new job...and then tell John that he was in town.
Realizing that he was a LOT less upset then he should have been about getting fired, Dave headed back to his cabin, intent on getting the Hell out of dodge as soon as possible.
Two weeks later:
John's hand was shaking as he dialed the number for Dave's cruise ship. He nearly laughed at himself for being nervous, because he knew he had nothing to be nervous over, but he couldn't deny he was a bundle of nerves as he waited for the phone to be answered. He had just arranged things so he'd be off the next time Dave was in port, and he wanted to let Dave know. Dave had managed to call him a few times on the cell phone, but since things were hectic at the hospital, they had ended up being quick calls, mostly to keep in touch and far too static-filled to be satisfying. But now -- now John was home from work and not due back to work until the next day at noon, so he had plenty of time to talk with Dave, provided Dave had time and wasn't with any patients. John was hopeful that the odds were on his side as far as that was concerned -- it was a cruise ship, after all. How many patients could Dave have in one day?
The switchboard transferred John's call to the medical center where it was immediately answered.
"Medical Center, Nurse Tompkins speaking. How may I help you?" She cheerfully asked.
"Dr. Malucci please," John asked, hoping he was available to come to the phone and she wouldn't ask why he needed to speak to Dave.
"I'm sorry, but he's not available. If you can hold I'll get Dr. Smith for you."
"No, that's okay. I really needed to speak with Dr. Malucci. I thought he was working on this cruise but I guess I was wrong."
"You should try to reach him at home, sir as he no longer works for the cruise line," she replied, her voice now sounding neutral instead of cheerful.
John's heart did a funny little leap at hearing that bit of news. So, Dave had found a way to get out of his contract early? One could only hope.
"I see. Yes, I'll try him there. Could you at least tell me when his last day was?" Knowing when Dave quit would give John a good idea about when he could expect to see Dave in Chicago -- the man did need time to pack and move.
"Oh, that was about two weeks ago, I think. I'm not sure of the exact date, and even if I knew it, I couldn't tell you. I probably shouldn't have told you as much as I have. What's your name again?"
"Thank you," John quickly said and then he ended the call. Two weeks? That would have been when the cruise ended...Dave quit then? Or...maybe he was fired? He had been late for work that morning. Dear God, if he had been fired, then it was John's fault for making him late for work.
Shit. No wonder he hadn't heard from Dave. John was sure that Dave was angry with him for getting him fired from his job. Still, John needed to talk with Dave, find out exactly what happened before he worried himself into a frenzy. But...talking with Dave meant calling him at his brother's place, and Dave hadn't wanted John to call there.
Fuck that, John thought as he dialed information. He had held back calling Dave when he had been fired from County, but he wasn't going to make that same mistake twice. There was only one Steven Malucci in the Los Angeles area, so John dialed that number, hoping that it really was Dave's brother and not someone else.
"Hello?" A deep male voice answered.
"Yes, my name is John Carter...Dr. Carter...is this Steven Malucci?" John asked, suddenly feeling awkward now that he was actually talking with someone.
"Yeah, it is. Is something wrong, Dr. Kotter?" Steve's voice, the New York accent prominent, now sounded worried.
"No, nothing's wrong," John hastened to reassure Steve. "I was calling about your brother, Dave. I haven't seen him since the cruise two weeks ago and I wanted to see how he was..."
"Look," Steve interrupted him, his voice now angry. "I think you've done more than enough to my brother, Dr. Kotter. He no longer has a job, and he's moved, so if you need anything from him, you'll have to go through me because I'm not giving out his address or phone number, especially to the likes of you. He's a good doctor and deserved better."
"Oh," was all John could think to say. So, his fears were confirmed -- *he* had been the reason Dave lost his job, and Dave was upset with him. More than upset if Dave didn't want to have anything to do with him now. "Thank you."
John hung up the receiver, feeling slightly numb and very guilty over costing his lover a job. John supposed he should find something positive in that Dave had outed himself to Steve, but he was too worried about Dave to even think that there was anything positive in the situation. Dave didn't want him, not any longer, and, even though John knew he deserved that, it hurt. It hurt a lot.
John stretched out on the bed and stared up at the ceiling of his room, his mind whirling with images of he and Dave together -- memories from the cruise and before -- it hurt to know that he and Dave would never kiss again, or hug or make love. And it hurt even more for John to know that he was the cause of it ending -- again. It seemed to always be his fault when things went badly for he and Dave, and John didn't know why. He just wished he could make things right, but he couldn't do that if he had no idea where Dave had gone. It obviously wasn't Chicago or else Dave would have called by now.
Shit, John thought, he'd really messed things up that time, hadn't he?
To be continued