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Before the Final Rose

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JD wasn't even sure why he bothered to tell Dr. Cox the reason he was taking a four month leave. He could have lied, invented some sick relative or something. Anything really would probably have been better than the truth. Even Turk had been skeptical and Brown Bear never doubted one of JD’s brilliant plans.

"Let me get this straight newbie, and yeah-hah I said straight so you know I’m serious. You are going to auction yourself off on live "reality" TV to a woman named Tiffany or Wendy or something else with an ee sound at the end because - and correct me if I'm wrong -- you believe in True Love?"

JD's lips curled up into a smile. He knew Dr. Cox thought it was stupid, but he was pretty psyched.

"Right. Marian, let me tell you how this is going to go. You'll step out of that limo, do some cheesy thing to make yourself memorable. Maybe you'll pull a rose out of your hat, because you and me both know Jenny that a morning suit ju-hust isn't complete without a top hat, or you'll come driving a rose, or dressed in a rose-red tuxedo you bought in the ladies' department and pretended it was for your mommy because you just can't resist how it hugs those girlish curves you inexplicably think make you nawt look like a twelve year old girl. A-heh-henyway, you'll do your little gimmick and she'll laugh - not because it's funny but because she's under contract to look like a delicate little flower and punching Little Miss Muffet right off her tuffet isn't what makes the millions of brainless tweenage girls watching at home want to buy every outfit your lady love wears. So she'll laugh and say it's nice to meet you - it's not, naaaawt nice AT ALL - but she signed that pesky contract so she'll say it anyway. And while every patient you have ever, will ever, treat cringes at your special special breed of kicked puppy pathetic neediness and prays to God and Vishnu and anyone else who is listening that you're not their doctor next time they get sick, you will trip happily into the big shiny mansion with stars in your baby blues already picturing your life together - she goes to work every day, you stay home with the three kids, they call you daddy even though your apron has ruffles and the words "World's Best Mom!" on the front - and then the other guys will take one look at your vacant eyes and girlish pout and throw you in the swimming pool.

“When you emerge, soaking wet and shivering, you'll tell yourself it's okay, because they obviously just see you as competition which is why you won't see it coming when she sends you home. You'll want to cry but you'll hold it in because even you, Shirley, know that crying on national TV is a mistake you Can’t Take Back, so you'll go in for the good-guy goodbye hug, only she gasps and steps back because your suit is still dripping from your little swim and you leave unhugged to a chorus of laughter, leaving a wet trail behind you. You come home thinking, "at least I tried!" And while it is true you took a risk, this one did nawt pay off. Eventually the episode airs. You didn't expect to get much screen time, but you underestimated the deep, deep evil of the TV producer and every and I mean eh-heh-heh-hevry embarrassing second seems to have made it, including the little cry you had in the bushes you thought you could take to the grave. Understandably, patients start transferring off your service and you realize, if you had just listened to Dr. Cox, and nawt gone on a reality TV show, you wouldn’t be forced to specialize in geriatrics because the only way a patient will let you treat them is if they have forgotten who you are. Now snap out of it Patrice and let me never never-ever-ever-ever hear you describe yourself as a bachelor again. Okee-dokey?"

Okay, Perry admitted to himself, he didn't actually think JD was threatening his medical career. People were idiots. Appearing to get his heart smashed in on television would probably help the boy's career. But that was just it. JD was going to get his heart smashed in on national television. And Perry shouldn't care. But he did. He didn't even consider JD finding "love" on a reality show that would pit him against twenty plus other guys. It wasn't that JD wasn't undoubtedly superior to any of the other bozos who might be tempted onto the show, but the kid was an acquired taste. He did not make a good first impression, or second, or third, or... Well, safe to say JD was less impressive than infectious. Spend enough time with the kid and he'll crawl under your skin and stay there. But a reality show? There was no way a woman who thought she was going to find a husband for life by dating a bunch of guys on a TV show would have the patience to keep him around, or the depth to appreciate what she had if she did.

"Gee thanks, Dr. Cox, so glad you're on board." JD's smile had faded. His excitement deflated like a pinpricked red balloon. For a glorious moment JD-Balloon soared upwards, propelled by the air gushing through the tiny hole. He twisted in a tight spiral but then the momentum lagged and he dropped to the floor, airless. Only to be picked up by the janitor and thrown out with a muttered "stupid kids."

But then JD shook himself. What did he care what Dr. Cox thought. Well obviously he cared a lot about what Dr. Cox thought, that's why Dr. Cox was his mentor, but this time Dr. Cox was wrong. This was going to be great! JD could picture it already... he and a beautiful brunette scaling a mountain and then eating chocolate dipped strawberries and drinking champagne they had chilled in the snow.... The two of them sitting side by side in a gondola, faces tilting together for a passionate kiss under the bridge of sighs.

A sharp whistle pulled JD back to the hall of Sacred Heart. "Come on Cinderella, if you spend all your time daydreaming you’ll never make finish your chores in time to go to the ball."

****

Despite Perry's advice, JD took his leave, and got on a plane to LA to film the beginning of the show. Perry expected to see him back the next week. But he didn't. Not that week, or the week after, or the one after that.

He wasn't worried. He definitely didn't miss newbie following him around. He certainly didn't seek out confrontations with Ghandi because snarling sarcastically at JD's best friend was the only thing that felt almost normal. He was just... surprised.

Yeah, that was it. The unsettled feeling had nothing to do with JD's absence. Perry didn't sometimes think he heard JD speaking because he wished he did. No. That would be crazy. He just.... he just never imagined newbie would be gone this long. Never imagined that JD might fall in love with Stefani or Cindy or Britney and not come back for weeks, or... Perry gulped just thinking it (because he had finally trained JD just the way he wanted no other reason): he might not come back at all.

****

JD should have been on cloud nine, why yes, Gabriel I would like another apple martini, and while you're at the bar could you do something about the harp music? It's distractingly loud, but he wasn't. He was happy, definitely happy. The Bachelorette, Maggie - short for Margaret- was great, perfect even, exactly the type of girl JD would have ordered if he could. I'll take a petite model, brunette, adorable smattering of freckles, D... No make them Double Ds, a dollop of sweet, a dash of sassy, and what they hey? Why not a tongue piercing? I hear it feels nice when she... You know.*wink* So, yeah, Maggie was awesome. But JD missed the hospital. He missed Turk and Carla and Rowdey and Elliot (not precisely in that order). He even missed Dr. Cox. No one had called him a girl's name in four weeks and he hated to admit it, but JD missed that. From his hotel room in Tokyo, with a background orchestra of Phil and Matthew's snoring, JD didn't remember the frustration or the hurt he sometimes felt at Dr. Cox's refusal to just admit he was happy to be JD's mentor. All he remembered instead was how Dr. Cox was always there for him, even if his help always came with acerbic commentary.

JD wasn't ready to be sent home, but he wondered if it would look too weird if he called the hospital. Were there patients he could pretend to check on? They couldn't record him if he was discussing patient files, right?

Missing home wasn't the only reason JD was lying awake long after the other men had fallen asleep. At night in bed was the only time he felt like his thoughts and movements were safe from the prying lens of the camera. Well, the bedroom and the shower. But if he spent too long in the shower someone was bound to assume he was doing more than thinking in his quality time and he just knew his mom would watch the show and he didn't want her thinking about his masturbatory habits. Not that he didn't indulge in some one on one every couple days. Everyone did. They had to. There was no shortage of sexual tension or passionate kisses, but Maggie was firm about keeping it all above the waist until she was down to one guy. JD respected her for it, but that didn't mean he was immune to the occasional fantasy.

But the fantasy that chased him through his dreams that night was not the usual type. No, this was not the usual fantasy at all.

All through the next day he tried to explain it away. He was home sick. He missed the hospital. Even the supply closet on the third floor it seemed. And Dr. Cox was part of the hospital too. That was it. That was why in his dreams he had let Dr. Cox push him up against the door, had kicked out of his scrubs and, wrapping his legs around the older doctor, had begged Dr. Cox to fuck him and practically screamed with pleasure when he did. He was homesick and horny and his brain had tried to marry the two into one dream. That was all. He certainly didn't want to be with Dr. Cox, didn't get hard just remembering the filthy things dream Perry had groaned into his ears as he stretched JD's opening and then fucked him until he saw stars. Nope. Not at all. He just liked cold showers. Yep. Cold Showers were the bomb diggity.

***

Things sort of fell apart for JD after that dream. On dates he kept having to force his attention back to Maggie and she noticed. On the night before hometowns she pulled him aside. "John, are you still in this? I feel like you're slipping away."

JD flushed and stammered out an apology. Taking her hands in his and gazing into her bright blue eyes, the exact shade of Perry's eyes - shut up JD! Focus - he told her, "I'm pretty home sick. It's weird being away from the hospital so long. I miss my friends, my patients, I think I even miss working."

She smiled and kissed him and for some reason she gave him a rose and told him she wanted to meet his family.

***

JD didn't take the whole “home town” thing literally. Sure his biological family was alive, and his mom was going to be pretty disappointed she wasn’t part of this, but his real family was the one he had claimed, his Sacred Heart family. He couldn't wait to surprise them with Maggie. He didn’t let them know he was coming home, didn’t even call from the airport, just grabbed a cab and took it back to the apartment, resisting the urge to just cab straight to the hospital on the off chance that they were both still working. He didn’t need much, just a hug, but he knew he wouldn’t be able to sleep without it and the idea of walking into an empty apartment was pretty depressing.

He needn’t have worried. When he opened the door Carla was just walking in from the kitchen with a big bowl of popcorn and he could see Turk’s bald head shining over the edge of the couch.

“JD!” Carla squealed, watching sight of him before Turk did by virtue of facing the door.

“Vanilla Bear!?!” Turk flung himself over the back of the couch in a move that probably would have ended up with JD in a twisted pile on the floor if he had tried it, and hugged his best friend until JD gasped that he loved oxygen almost as much as he loved them.

“What happened, JD?” Carla had on her I’m sorry your relative just died, we did everything we could, face.

JD resisted the urge to roll his eyes. Figured that even the most supportive of his friends would assume he was back because he had been dumped. To be fair, even he hadn’t expected to be preparing to bring a girl home with him when he had left weeks earlier. But since he had never gotten up the nerve to try and call them on speakerphone with the cameras around to catch anything juicy, his friends had no idea how it had gone. Still, he’d been prepared for exactly this moment. He took a step back and reached to pull the carved lacquer box from the top of his carryon. With a flourish that if the universe was fair would have come with its own drum roll, he opened it to reveal a collection of carefully dried roses, one from each week he had been away. “I’m still in it!” He crowed, focusing on the delight of surprising them rather than the slight twinge of hurt that they had instantly assumed he had been voted off. He knew Carla and Elliot watched the Bachelor and Bachelorette as a pretense to spend one night a week drinking white wine and eating bakery fresh pastries on Elliot’s couch. And though he was sworn to secrecy on the matter, he could have proven in a court of law that Turk had seen more than enough episodes to understand the usual trajectory of the show.

“Home towns?” Turk squealed before clearing his through loudly and looking around like he was confused where the words had come from.

JD nodded. “I’m bringing a girl home!”

“I knew this day would come!” Turk said supportively. JD chose to believe him.

***

JD was first on the list for the home town date, which meant he only had one day at home to plan the special day before Maggie arrived. Which also meant his first visit to the hospital would happen with Maggie because he had far too many things to do to risk all the distractions sure to be there waiting for him. But maybe it was for the best. The staff was bound to make the same assumptions Turk and Carla had if he turned up without a woman on his arm, and he did so relish the mental image of Cox’s face when he saw the gorgeous woman who actually might be falling in love with JD. He made a mental note to warn Maggie before they set foot in the hospital that Dr. Cox showed his affection in an unconventional way. Best to make sure she was expecting the girl’s names and five minute rants before Dr. Cox could scare her off.

He was pretty proud of the date day he had planned. Sure, it wasn’t as glamourous as any they had been on, either in reality or in his daydreams, but what girl didn’t love a doctor in scrubs? Or street tacos from a truck for lunch, or a romantic scooter ride and then a sunset snog on his porch? Oh yeah, he was pulling out all the stops on this one.

He met her, and the camera crew – oh how JD had not missed them – at the airport. He’d done up a sign with hearts and sparkly glue, but Carla convinced him that showing up with that sign would ensure Dr. Cox wasn’t the only one calling him a twelve-year-old girl. Instead he had settled for a big bunch of flowers, he supposed the camera crew could carry the bouquet if they didn’t want it to get blown away when he sped off with Maggie on Sasha.

Maggie looked just as beautiful as he remembered her. They kissed, though JD couldn’t help thinking the kiss was as much for the cameras as for them. It didn’t take long for him to get swept up in the whole drama again, but for those first few minutes everything felt fake, dreamlike but not like the dreams he was always being swept away in. Just… like he couldn’t trust his own instincts anymore because he didn’t know what was for the cameras and what was actually what he wanted.

In those moments of hyperawareness JD realized something, he hadn’t been himself these last few weeks. Not just because having a beautiful woman interested in him but simultaneously dating a bunch of other studlies was the kind of situation that brought out sides of you you didn’t even know existed, but because of the cameras. A voice in his head, that sounded a lot like Dr. Cox, had hissed at him every time he went to do something ‘weird’ or ‘girly,’ nicking away his “Man Card” each time he even thought about breaking into what would have been, before the last two months, a completely normal behaviour for him. He realized that Maggie didn’t know much about the him he was here. He’d never told her about Rowdy, or that sometimes he missed Turk so much it hurt, or that other times, when they were just chilling and Carla was at work or with Elliot it felt like it was Turk and JD who were married. He hadn’t consciously not told her, he’d just… not told her. Like he knew the dream bubble they were in would be burst the moment she realized what every other woman had realized: JD was weird.

“This specimen here is called John Dorian.” The museum guide gestured with one of his six blue arms to the stuffed and mounted JD behind the sheet of glass, posed with a goofy grin on his face and one arm wrapped around an equally stuffed, but worse for the wear looking Rowdy who he was trying to keep away from the Turhacken sandwich – a layer of turkey wrapped around a layer of ham, wrapped around a piece of cold chicken, all held together by two thick slices of cheese. Carla said it was disgusting, but Turk and JD knew it was the secret to living forever - held in the other. “Very little is known about the specimen. It appears this sub-species of homo sapiens had a particular love of taxidermied dogs and put sticky paste in its hair to make it appear taller to other homo sapiens. This mating ritual, however, did not seem to be effective, as this here was the last known John Dorian and as far as archaeologists can tell, he did not produce offspring.”

“John?” Maggie looked concerned rather than annoyed, but JD still could have kicked himself for letting his mind wander. Of course she wouldn’t think he was weird. Maggie was great, and he and Turk were the coolest.

“In this display you can see a family of Turks, not to be confused with the ethnic region of Turkey which persisted into the twenty-third century. These Turks were a sub-species of homo sapiens similar to the John Dorian, but with some modifications which proved more successful in reproducing. Not the shiny quality of the Turks’ head. Biologists hypothesize that the lustre of a Turk’s head helped in subduing a mate. The reflection of light off the dome may have had a hypnotic effect.”

“I’m sorry, Maggie, just so excited to see you.” JD said in a chipper tone. He wrapped one hand around hers and pulled her gently towards his scooter. “Ready for the ride of your life?”

***

They had lunch at JD’s favourite diner. Sure, he liked it as much for the cute, friendly waitresses as for the food, but if he married Maggie she was going to have to accept that Vanilla Bear was a chick magnet. It could have gone better. Maggie’s salad – seriously, who ordered a salad at a diner? – was limp and anaemic. JD shared his fries grudgingly, mentally carrying on a conversation with Turk about how utterly absurd it was that women don’t order their own damn fries.

“Like, do they think it’s less obvious they’re imbibing fat because they’re stealing it off your plate?” JD asked, dipping a fry from their shared plate into a pool of ketchup.

“I don’t know man!” Turk stuffs four fries into his mouth at once and his next sentence comes out pretty garbled. “s’ike, mmrleries dnn’nt whensnot the’rd.”

“And Carla is a nurse, she should know that all calories count.” JD finished for him, years of practice allowing him to seamlessly translate mouth-full to English. “Damn the beauty industry for convincing women that all fat is evil!”

“Wrrd!” Turk said around his mouth full of fried potato, raising a hand for a high five.

“You don’t mind me having a couple fries, right?” Maggie asked.

JD forced a smile that he hoped wasn’t feral. “Of course not, what’s mine is yours.”

“You sure? You’ve been staring at the fries for like five minutes as if you’re afraid they are going to run away.” Maggie’s tone was light, but her eyebrows had taken on that angle that told him she was starting to see how weird he was.

Quick, change the subject. “Isn’t it weird how we call them fries? I mean almost everything on the menu goes in the deep fryer, so why are these ‘fries’?”

Maggie giggled. “You’re hilarious.”

Why thank you! “You have a little something,” JD leaned across the table and kissed away an imaginary smudge of ketchup. I heard you camera guy, I hope they can’t edit out your cough-insult and you get fired. And yes, I am “smooth.”

***

JD realizes as they step through the hospital door that he probably should have called ahead and gotten Ted’s band to serenade them as they entered the building. Damn it JD! But he kind of liked that Maggie was seeing the hospital as it really was.

“Now, I didn’t warn anyone we were coming,” he stage whispered, holding tightly to Maggie’s hand so anyone who saw them would know instantly they were an item and not suspect he was just giving directions to the hot news anchor and her crew.

“I can’t wait to meet all your fellow doctors,” Maggie whispered back.

"Jolene, you're back! Were the other kids nice to you at summer camp or did they put your hand in warm water and then call you pee-pants the rest of the summer?"

JD grimaced and then faked a broad smile as he turned around. “Dr. Cox!” Of course this was the first person he would see. “May I introduce –“

“You must be the little missus.” Dr. Cox smiled evilly and stretched out a hand. “Isn’t our little Josephine just a delight? You have no idea how much we love her. She really calms the patients down. There’s just something about that girlish physique and gravity defying hair they Juuuust can nawt get enough of.”

Maggie grinned, “John warned me about you and your jokes. You’re going to have to try harder than that, Dr. Cox.”

Dr. Cox’s lip curled in a snarl and he let out a half growl half sigh. “Jessica, a word.” He tilted his head to one side, indicating he wanted JD to follow him. “We’re doing J names today.”

Dropping a quick kiss on Maggie’s lips JD stepped a few feet away and crossed his arms over his chest waiting to see what Dr. Cox would say. He was actually pretty proud at himself for his reserve. Maybe reality TV had some perks after all, it had taught him to keep at least some of his impulses to himself. He was barely tempted to try and get a hug hello.

“Nah-ice job on that one, newbie.” Dr. Cox crossed his arms over his chest and leaned in, an eager grin tugging at the corners of his mouth. “Tell me, what cost more, the girl or the fake camera people?”

“Ha ha, Dr. Cox.” JD tried not to rise to the bait. He knew half the things at least that Dr. Cox said were just for the fun of riling other people up. “Actually, that is an actual camera crew,” although I don’t really know how professional Drew there is, he keeps cough-insulting me like he thinks we can’t hear him. Does the Janitor have a brother? “And Maggie is the Bachelorette. I am one of her final four bache—men,” he corrected when he saw Dr. Cox’s eyes narrowing at the months ago forbidden B word, “and she is here to see where I’m from and meet my family.”

Dr. Cox made a show of looking around, “Funny, I don’t see that useless brother of your En-ee-where.” His smile was shark-like. In fact it was widening and there was another row of teeth growing behind the first. Dr. Cox’s head transformed into that of a great white shark and he snapped his teeth threateningly—“Oh no you don’t.” Dr. Cox reached out and flicked JD in the middle of the forehead. “Pay attention when I’m speaking to you Jasmine or I just won’t do it anymore.”

“If you don’t mind actually, I –“

“Shut it newbie, I wasn’t finished.”

JD closed his mouth obediently and wished he wasn’t such a pushover all the time.

“Let me get this straight. You were supposed to introduce her to your family, BUUUUUT, since your family is, to be quite honest, embarrassing, you thought,” he giggled, “ you actually thought it would be a sweet idea to bring here HERE, to your ‘chosen’ family.”

“I---”

“Shh shh shh shhh shh shh newbie, shh. I wasn’t finished.”

“Sorr--”

Dr. Cox placed a finger over JD’s lips. It was warm and calloused and JD went silent immediately, his eyes wide and suddenly glued to Perry’s face. There was a warmth in his eyes as they flicked down to JD’s full lips and then back up.

A shrill whistle ended that daydream before it could even begin. “It’s almost... sweet. The rest of your family is on lunch. You’ll find them and the little surprise they don’t want you to know about in the cafeteria. Get a move on, you’re already late and we do have actual sick people to take care of.”

JD’s mouth was still hanging slightly open in silent shock when Dr. Cox disappeared from view.

***

After the impromptu party his friends threw in the cafeteria, JD took Maggie to his property where he barbequed chicken and corn on the cob on the porch and then they snuggled down on a pile of blankets and pillows to stare up at the stars. When the limo arrived to take her to the airport for her flight JD was sorry to see her go, but not quite as sorry as he thought he should be. It was surreal having her here, in his life, even for a day.

Still, he felt restless after she left. His friends were all still at the hospital and while he was tired, he didn’t want to go home to an empty apartment. So he climbed on Sasha and returned to the hospital. He wasn’t technically on the schedule for another month, but surely there would be something he could do, even if it was just making coffee and napping in the on call room until Turk and Carla were off for the night.

Once again, the first person he ran into was Dr. Cox.

“Twice in one day, Bernice?”

“I thought you were doing J names today.”

“You’re awfully dodgy today, Jennifer.”

JD shrugged. “It’s weird being away from here.”

“You lady and camera crew are missing, does this mean we scared her off?”

“She should be…” he checked his watch, “going through airport security any minute.”

“Well fantastic, since you’re OBVIOUSLY just here to waste everyone’s time, you can buy me a coffee and I will fill you in on all the exciting new developments around here.”

“Really?” JD was shocked.

“Oh yes, and then we’ll braid each other’s hair and play MASH to see which of our celebrity crushes we’re going to marry.” Dr. Cox rolled his eyes dramatically. “Come on Jody, you used to be better at this.”

“Sorry. Guess I’m out of practice.” JD suppressed the urge to laugh. He really had missed this. He moved to leave, a ‘See you later’ on his lips, when Dr. Cox cleared his throat awkwardly and folded his arms defensively across his chest.

“Listen, newbie… I did want to talk about something with you. Although this is deeply uncomfortable for me so I would appreciate it if you just listened, and keep in mind that if you tell anyone we had this conversation I WILL kill you. Slowly. And I will make it look like an accident. No, a suicide.”

JD nodded. He had no idea what this was about, but Dr. Cox almost looked concerned and it made JD nervous.

“Come.” Dr. Cox beckoned JD to the nearest supply closet and JD had a momentary hysterical thought that they were about to make out. But of course that was insane. As soon as the door shut behind him, Dr. Cox started to talk. "I've just got one question for you newbie, but it's a big one so listen up. This girl you brought in here this afternoon, do you love her? Not the idea of her, not winning against whatever man meat they conjured up for this, but her."

JD was silent for a very long time. He didn't know what to say. The supply closet was small and Dr. Cox was standing so close JD could just smell his soap and the unique masculine musk of Perry, which was not making it easier to concentrate on Maggie. Even if Dr. Cox was uncharacteristically still and silent waiting for JD to turn out a response. "I don't know," he sighed at last.

"It's a pretty simple question, Denise. Yes or no? Because the whole marriage thing, it doesn’t have to be forever, but once you marry a woman she becomes a part of you in a way no one else is, and even if you leave her or she leaves you, it’s pretty hard to shake her off completely. Why the hell do you think I keep taking she-devil back? So the question you gotta ask yourself, Justine, is this: Do you want to marry this girl? Is she the future mother of all your offspring, is she 'the one' for you? Does she make your heart stutter? Think newbie, because in a few weeks this woman could be your fiancée. Does that feel right to you?"

"I don't know." JD knew he sounded defeated. In truth he had thought he knew, until Perry asked him. But now he was flooded with confusion. He drew in a deep breath and considered Perry's question, but the deep breath filled his nose with Perry's scent and soon he wasn't thinking about Maggie at all.

"No," he said at last, "guess I don't." He half smiled up at Perry, "Because if I was in love with Maggie, I would be able to stop thinking about doing this..." JD leaned in a pressed his lips against a surprised Dr. Cox's and braced his body for the punch he was certain was coming his way.

When Dr. Cox's arms swing up JD winced and tried to step back out of range but with a muttered "stand still Sylvia," Perry's hands grabbed JD's face and pulled him in, their mouths colliding in a bruising kiss.

JD's hands flailed in the air for a moment, his fight or flight still telling him to run while the rest of his body surrendered to the feel of Perry's calloused palms and demanding lips. When it finally registered fully that rather than beating him to a pulp, Perry was trying to slip his tongue between JD's lips, JD's hands came down to cling to Perry's hips, pulling their bodies closer together as he opened his mouth, moaning as he did so. Sweet baby sea otters, this was so much better than he had imagined.

“Josephine!” Perry snapped his fingers in front of JD’s face and JD realized he hadn’t kissed Perry, hadn’t been kissed back by Perry, hadn’t even admitted that he couldn’t love Maggie because… He shook his head sharply to cut off that line of thought and the blush that he could feel crawling up his neck.

“I have to go.” He muttered, ducking his head so he wouldn’t have to look at Perry and practically sprinting to the exit. He was out of there so quickly he imagined a cartoon whooshing sound was all Perry was left with.

***

Perry watched newbie disappear around the corner and shook his head. There was something weird going on with the kid, and weird for JD was two stops past crazy town for most people. Despite Perry’s dire prediction, newbie had had somehow managed to find a girl on a reality TV show who appeared to be not entirely devoid of sense or taste. JD should be bouncing all over the halls of the hospital, whipping out pictures and bragging about how great she is at every opportunity.

But he wasn’t. And it shouldn’t bother Perry, but it does. Which is ridiculous.

Two months ago he had been bothered by the idea of newbie getting his heart crushed on national television, now he was bugged because it looked like no matter what happened with the girl, JD would be fine because somehow, the boy who managed to be both a hopeless romantic and a commitmentphobe had entered the sparkly world of ‘reality’ TV romance and emerged a little more somber but otherwise unchanged.

There was definitely something going on. And there was nothing suspicious about Perry’s interest. He was just an almost friend whose own completely screwed up past relationships and his continual struggle with Jordan – he didn’t even know what they were to each other anymore – gave him insight that JD’s other friends couldn’t have yet into what it took to make a relationship work. That was all this was. He was just doing his reluctant mentor duty.

So obviously it was completely natural for him to track JD down in the doctor’s lounge to finish the conversation JD ran out on. Perfectly normal, no ulterior motive, nothing but disinterested expertise. Yeah, that was it. He wasn’t worried about newbie, he definitely didn’t just want to spend some time with him after the weeks of almost eerie peace.

Newbie was standing by the notice board, staring vacantly at the averts for roommates, various personal possessions for sale, and, bizarrely, falconry lessons.

"Janey, there you are. You know it's not cool to just run off like that."

JD turned so he was facing Dr. Cox, but dropped his eyes to study the older doctor’s shoes. He couldn't stand to see the indifferent, vaguely exasperated expression on Dr. Cox's face.

Perry lifted his hand before thinking better of laying a comforting hand on the kid's shoulder and then let it drop to his side. "I wasn't trying to scare you off back there, newbie." His voice was almost... soft. Damn newbie and his pouty lips and big sad Bambi eyes. He cleared his throat and continued in a brusquer tone, "you found a sweet, pretty, heterosexual woman who might want to be with you and you 'don't know?' I might be wrong here, Jemima, but I re-eeely doubt it. You're all in that spacey head of yours worrying those other three bozos and the tabloids and will the magic still be there when the cameras aren't, and while all of those are valid questions, they're also out of your hands. The only, and I mean ONLY, thing you have any control over is how you handle the many feels writhing around in that squishy heart of yours. Because I know bitches from hell and I know what fake affection looks like, and she wasn't faking those girly giggles and batting eyelashes. Now maybe she likes all the guys she's stringing along, but believe me when I say this newbie, because I will never say anything this nice to you again and I sure as shooting am nawt going to repeat it: that girl would have to be even dumber than I thought she would be when you signed up for this ridiculous circus to not want to keep you around." Perry couldn't quite bring himself to meet JD's gaze but he could see from his peripheral vision that the kid was staring at him, slightly slack jawed. "So you just need to decide if you're going to let the only opportunity you may ever have for heterosexual romantic love pass you by because you're scared."

"Thank you, Dr. Cox."

Perry smiled and patted the kid on the shoulder. "Good luck." He said before making a quick exit. They weren't the words he wanted to say, but they were the right words. JD deserved to be happy and Peggy or whatever her name was seemed just dumb enough to hero worship her doctor boyfriend for the next thirty years or so.

***

He couldn’t have said why, but the actual supportive mentoring from Dr. Cox had left JD even more unsettled than the ill-timed fantasy about kissing him. The fantasies were one thing, he could pretty much brush them away as homesick horniness meets his admittedly overactive imagination, but whenever Dr. Cox dropped his sarcastic mask, JD had a hard time remembering the reasons why having a crush on Perry Cox was emotional suicide.

“Brown bear?” JD half hoped Turk would do the annoying thing people sometimes did and respond with a long story about himself, something that would allow JD to rethink his idea of talking to Turk about this. Not that he had anyone else to talk to, but how exactly did you tell your best friend you needed to break up with the Bachelorette because you think you’re kind of bi and might have feelings of a romantic nature for your former mentor?

“Brown bear, I have to break up with Maggie.”

“The foxy babe from the Bachelorette? But dude, she’s…” Turk gestured in the air between them to indicate the level of attractiveness Maggie brought to the table. “And I thought you liked her.”

JD shrugged, “I do like her. I just don’t know if I like her like her, you feel me?”

“No.” Turk shook his head emphatically. “You beat out 21 dudes just to be with her. Plus…” He gestured to indicate a woman’s body and flashed a solid ten on his fingers.

“We just… don’t want the same things…” He knew his eyes were doing the sketchy side to side dance, but he couldn’t seem to stop them.

“She’s into something freaky isn’t she? Did she ask you to pee on her like that one girl who picked you up –“

“No!” JD cut Turk off. “She’s totally normal, I think... actually I have no idea what she’s into.”

“You haven’t…?”

“She’s a lady Turk!” JD sighed, “Which is kind of the problem?”

“Come again for brown bear?”

“I have a reoccurring dream about Dr. Cox.”

“Oh man, the one where you’re naked during rounds and he keeps using your junk to measure lesions on his patients?”

Well he guessed the naked part. Maybe this won’t be so bad. “Actually he’s using my junk to massage his prostate.”

Turk froze for a moment as if someone pressed pause. “What?”

“I have sex dreams about Dr. Cox. Pretty much every night. Sometimes during the day.”

“You… umm… I… With Dr….” Turk cleared his throat. “So you like guys.” His voice was unnaturally high and his smile was obviously fake, but he was doing pretty well with the shock. “That’s cool.”

“I don’t think I’m gay exactly. I still like women, I just really like Dr. Cox.”

“Mmhmm…” Turk’s eyes started to bug out a little like they did when he was seconds from losing his cool. And then suddenly, like a balloon popping, his head exploded splattering pink jello-like brain all over the room.

JD collapsed to his knees and screamed to the heavens. “NOOOOOO!!!!!!”

Snapped back to reality JD clambered to his feet, trying to look nonchalant and walked straight past a confused Turk to the fridge instead. Once he had a beer in hand, JD turned back to his best friend. Telling him about the repeated fantasy of being with Dr. Cox was obviously not an option. But he needed advice, and Turk and Carla were the epitome of what JD had always wanted. They weren’t like any other couple, they were frankly a little weird, but they worked with each other so well he had a hard time imagining them apart. “How did you know Carla was the one?”

***

Three days later JD packed a small suitcase and boarded a flight to Los Angeles for the rose ceremony. He hadn’t gathered the courage to tell Turk, or anyone else, what was really going on in his mind, so all he had to help him make his decision were the strange conversation with Dr. Cox and Turk’s vague, clichéd words about how he “knew she was the one because I couldn’t imagine my life without her in it.” JD’s response that he could imagine all of them as dog-fish hybrids who worked at an underwater art gallery so he couldn’t really rely on his imagination to tell him what he should want got him nowhere.

As soon as he arrived at the space they would be holding the ceremony he asked for five minutes with Maggie before the ceremony started. As was the norm for the entire show, no one gave him a straight answer, but not long after all of the men had arrived Maggie appeared before them and JD stepped forward immediately, feeling like a jerk, but knowing if he waited he would lose his nerve. “Can we talk for a minute?” He asked.

When she nodded consent he threw an apology to the other guys and then led her out to the courtyard where they could at least have an illusion of privacy.

“I just want to say, first of all, that I think you are incredible.” JD began, not really sure he would be able to find the words to explain what he needed to do. “But I don’t think we’re right for each other. And so, I’m going to go.” He watched her face closely, hoping she wouldn’t cry. He never knew what to do when women cried.

There was a wry twist to Maggie’s mouth, but she didn’t look too surprised. “It’s that doctor isn’t it? The one who pulled you aside at the hospital? That’s why you’re leaving.”

“Maggie, I--”

“It’s okay, JD. I kind of knew something was going on there. I mean, the eye contact alone…” She cupped JD’s face between her hands and held it gently until he met her eyes. “I’m no expert, and I know if you came here there is obviously some kind of obstacle you don’t think you can overcome, but I don’t think you’re alone in this. I think that doctor feels the same way you do, even if neither of you is brave enough to say anything.”

“Maggie…”

She kissed him gently. “It’s okay. Really. To be honest, you made tonight a little easier for me.”

“You were totally going to send me home, weren’t you?” JD asked with a half laugh.

“Doesn’t mean I don’t think you are amazing.”

“Back at you.” JD pulled her into a hug and pressed a brotherly kiss against her hair. “For the record, Nick is kind of a douchebag, but Mike and Phil are both totally head over heels for you. I think you’re going to end up with a great husband.”

Maggie laughed again but this time when they separated both of them had tears in their eyes. “See you around, Mags.”

“See ya Josephine.” She mouthed so the cameras couldn’t pick it up.

JD did his exit interview in a fog. Did Maggie know what she was talking about? Or was the doctor she was so careful not to name a different doctor than he thought. There was that moment with Elliot where she’d gotten a lot sappy about her darling little Keith and he’d had to shove a cookie in her mouth to avoid hearing things he knew he wouldn’t be able to un-hear. Then again, JD was getting romantic advice from the Bachelorette after a home town date, wasn’t that proof that stranger things had happened?

But what if she was wrong?

***

“Bethany, what are you doing back so soon? Shouldn’t you be halfway to some honeymoon suite in the Bahamas?”

JD finished reading the chart in his hands before looking up at Perry. “Nope. I’m out. Although I’m probably supposed to keep that on the down low, it’s still a couple months until the episodes air. So weird.”

“She finally tired of you, did she?” Perry quickly glances around as if to make sure no one was within hearing or seeing distance and then, with a truly sympathetic glint in his blue eyes added, “I’m sorry newbie. Her loss, right? I’m sure you’ll find someone else. Hell, maybe they’ll elect you king of the next herd of hopeless romantics.”

JD shrugged. “It’s fine, but… could you do me one favor?”

“Ah, what the hell, you’re had a rough week. What do you want, newbie?”

“Don’t watch it.”

Dr. Cox’s head tilted to the side as if he were sizing JD up. He folded his arms over his chest and then did the nose flick to told JD a long rant was probably bubbling to the surface. “Look Marilyn, I know you think your little stint on a reality show is the highlight of all our lives, let me tell you a little secret. Come on, lean in.” Perry waited only until JD tilted his ear in before bellowing, “IT’S NOT. Not not not not not not. We really, and I mean re-he-he-heally don’t CARE what you got up to over there. And there isn’t a sum in the world you could pay me to watch that show.”

JD smiled. “Thanks.”

“I’m a giver.”

They shared a brief smile and then JD turned back to his patient’s chart feeling a bizarre mix of relief and disappointment. He didn’t know what he was expecting, but somehow the sudden return to near normalcy felt hollow and he had to admit to himself that he wanted more than this. But he was equally certain that Perry did not. Momentary lapse into niceness aside, Perry was what he had always been.

“I’m totally going to die alone.” JD groaned. After a moment of self pity he straightened his stethoscope and headed to check on his first patient in two months. He might be doomed to a strange half friendship with the individual he… was interested in, but he had his work. That could be enough, right?

***

Watching was actually kind of fun. JD gave in to peer pressure and each week he, Turk, Rowdey, Carla and Elliot curled up on one of their couches with several bottles of alcohol, a host of fattening snacks, and a dozen or so ping pong balls to throw at the screen when it all became too much, and they watched. Sure it was kind of cringe-worthy, but thankfully the editing team seemed to decide JD should be the dark horse and he got minimal screen time for the first six episodes. Apart from a one on one date in week four and the two on one with his former roomie Matthew in week seven, JD had successfully managed to charm Maggie without pissing anyone else off which meant no one took much interest.

Everyone was excited to see themselves on the hometown episode, which JD was grateful for because it meant they paid minimal attention to the clip of Maggie watching JD and Dr. Cox have their conversation in the hospital. The editors had chosen to focus instead on the conversation with Elliot, staying panned out enough that they could create the illusion of illicit behaviour. As Carla and Turk grilled Maggie about her intentions, the visuals cut repeatedly to Elliot stealing a grape off JD’s plate, and their hello hug, and a number of other misinterpretable moments.

When all the group dates were over and they cut to the rose ceremony, JD excused himself and went to watch on low volume in his bedroom with the door locked. When the episode was over JD stayed there, spread eagle on the bed, just waiting for something to happen. There were two ways he could see this going, and neither was good.

Elliot stood in the doorway, her eyes wide like a deer caught in the headlights of an oncoming truck, “You’re in love with me again?” Or Turk, Carla, and Elliot stood shoulder to shoulder, identical looks of confusion on their faces…

“Dr.Cox?” Carla’s voice cut through JD’s daydream.

“He in here?”

Was that…? But what was he do—?

There was a loud knock at his door. “Open up Tracy.”

JD rose to his feet slowly, feeling like he was going to wake up any moment because this could not be happening.

“You lot, get out.” Perry’s voice commanded.

JD heard a muffled protest and then the door slamming. He swallowed and reached to open his door.

“You promised you wouldn’t watch.” He said before Perry had a chance to open his mouth. JD wasn’t sure how he knew – although why else would Perry be there, so actually he knew exactly how he knew Perry had watched the episode. He just didn’t know why, or why Perry was here instead of at the police department finally filing for that restraining order.

Perry crosses and uncrossed his arms in agitation and his eyes flitted from JD’s face to the ceiling to the floor and back again as he drew in a deep breath and let it out in a huff. “I needed to know.”

That was not the answer JD had expected. Not that he had had any idea why Perry was there… well, he’d had a hope, but it was a crazy hope and obviously Perry wasn’t there because he wanted JD the way JD wanted him.

“Is this true?”

It took JD a moment to realize that Perry was holding out a card with “It’s a boy!” on the front in sparkly blue cursive above a bright yellow rubber duck. He took it in a hand that was shaking slightly and opened it. It was addressed to “that doctor.” The message written underneath the “We hope this new addition brings joy and light to your family!” left there by the greeting card company, was cryptic, unless you happened to have just watched the episode, it read “Josephine is never going to make a move if you don’t. Just watch, you’ll see it.”

JD swallowed, hard. His eyes crept slowly up to Perry’s. “It’s true.” He said, or rather croaked because his throat was like the Sahara.

“Okay,” Perry stepped suddenly into JD’s personal space, bringing them so close that each breath made their chests brush against each other. He met JD’s gaze straight on, a glint of challenge, and something JD had never seen before and was afraid to name, in his eyes. “Your move Josephine.”

***

“So, John, you left because you realized you had feelings for a colleague at your hospital. Care to tell us more about that?”

JD ran his sweaty palms over his thighs. He really didn’t want to talk about his love life on the After the Final Rose Special, but somehow his leaving had made his popularity skyrocket and so here he was, in the hot seat, with Chris Harrison trying to convince him to spill his guts to the live audience and the millions viewing from home. “I guess I didn’t know what I was feeling. But then on home town week it hit me. Here I was, showing off my life to this wonderful, gorgeous, funny, sweet woman who by some miracle could maybe see a future as my wife, and I couldn’t get this other person out of my head. I realized that if even Maggie couldn’t hold my interest, the feelings I thought were just homesickness if I’m honest, were a lot deeper than that.”

“And?”

He knew Harrison was trying to get him to share details about his lover, but there was no way JD was ready to come out on live TV less than a month after he had come out to Perry and his closest friends. JD settled for a coy eyebrow raise. “Doctor-doctor confidentiality.” He said with a sassy grin.

Harrison laughed and shrugged dramatically at the camera before focusing back on JD. “Now, on a serious note, do you have any regrets?”

JD couldn’t have dimmed his smile if his life had depended on it. It stretched from ear to ear, threatening to split his face in two. “No. I know there are some guys here who wish I had figured it out sooner, but I think Maggie ended up with exactly who she was supposed to. Phil is a wonderful guy. And I couldn’t be happier for them, or myself.”

“Well there you have it folks. Thanks John for talking with us. I wish you all the best with your partner.”

JD just grinned.

 

THE END