Disclaimer: I own neither Doc, nor Myra, Christian, or anyone else I might have inadvertantly taken along for the ride. Go see DC if you want the real versions of these characters.
Past is Prologue
"May I ask you a personal question?"
"I suppose," McNider acquiesced. "In your time, it's all academic anyway."
"Not...not this," Pieter admitted. "I've been -- I suppose this is awkward to hear as well as to say, but I've been reading your journals. You mention Myra Mason."
"Myra." Charles McNider's face warmed as he smiled. "She's my nurse, yes. A very good friend. A fine woman."
"Why didn't you -- what made you decide not to tell her how much you loved her? Your high regard is obvious from your stories."
An eyebrow crept above McNider's glasses. "I suppose -- I suppose I just took her for granted. It's one of those things you always assume you'll do later and --" He shrugged. "But from the way you say that, it sounds as if I should run out and do so immediately." His voice held a note of query, which Pieter ignored.
"Later?" Pieter repeated. "Wouldn't you want your life together to begin as soon as possible?"
"Ah." McNider's lips quirked. "You mean romantic love."
"Of course I mean -- You? No?" Pieter sat back in his seat, confused. "I thought you were hiding your affection because you worried for her safety."
"I haven't told her my secret because I fear for her safety," McNider admitted. "She'd be following me around faster than I could say 'open wide'. But my love...my love for her is like that of a brother for his sister. Which," he added, "still makes her a potential target for my enemies. There's not much I wouldn't give up for Myra."
"Just not -- " Pieter paused, reasonably sure he'd figured out the puzzle. "But you won't marry her."
"It wouldn't be fair." The words came out with an ease that bespoke long contemplation. "To either of us. She deserves a man who loves her as a wife."
"And so the secret of Dr. Mid-Nite," Pieter began and paused as Charles offered a small, rueful smile.
"Let's leave that unspoken, shall we?" he asked, tucking his hands in his pockets.
Pieter found himself nodding. "If you wish."
His personal temptation was too great, though, realizing how alone Dr. Mid-Nite must have been throughout all those years.
"I did a residency under you," he said, his voice clear in the room.
McNider smiled. "And what did you learn?"
"Many things. Everything. I made a pass at you."
The room was still but for the crackle of the fire. Pieter's statement hung heavy in the warm air.
"I didn't accept."
"You were a student," he said in a voice that sounded more like the one Pieter remembered. Deep. Gruff. "I'm glad my moral code -- Well, I'm glad it remains intact."
He didn't sound glad. He sounded a bit disappointed. He sounded lonely.
Pieter inhaled the scene of burning wood and of the soap and aftershave Charles McNider used. "I'm not a student anymore."
Charles nodded and turned his head down to the fire. "You will be."
"You'll be thirty years older, then. I'll be twenty years younger."
Charles nodded again and this time, Pieter caught his chin and turned his face upward. They were both blind in the light of the fire, but the glimpses he'd caught of McNider in the shadows reminded him that his namesake was not much older than himself. They were of a height, maybe an inch apart, and Pieter didn't need to duck his head to find McNider's breath.
McNider -- Charles, Pieter reminded himself -- closed the distance and their mouths met easily. They kissed, tentatively, until Charles sighed and Pieter took over, dipping deeply into the doctor's mouth and pulling the other man's body close to his own. A shudder ran through the shoulders Pieter held and the chest pressed against his own. He ran his fingers over Charles' face and pulled the dark glasses away.
"Let me see you tonight," he whispered, drawing away just enough to take off his own spectacles.
"Yes," Charles replied, stepping out of his embrace.
Pieter reached out, finding only empty air and scowled as he pushed his glasses back on his face. He heard the door of the study open and Charles call for Christian.
"Need these?" he asked, holding out the doctor's glasses.
"Thank you." McNider's voice was neutral, almost cold as he took the frames from Pieter.
"Sir?" It was Christian, the manservant, with his dry accent and slightly disapproving tone.
"Dr. Cross will be spending the night," Charles said matter-of-factly. "Is there a room made up?"
"The eastern guest room can be ready shortly, sir," Christian reported. "Will you be retiring within the hour?"
"We will," McNider answered. "That will be all for the evening."
"Yes, sir. Thank you."
Christian withdrew and Charles closed the door.
"The room's down the hall from mine," he said, his voice detached as he navigated the few steps across the room to where Pieter stood. "When you've made yourself comfortable, come to me. I'll be waiting."
"He doesn't know?" Pieter asked, referring to Christian.
"I haven't told him," Charles replied in the tone of gentle rebuke that was familiar from Pieter's youth. "It's still 1951, Dr. Cross." Slight emphasis on his title and Pieter felt well-chastised.
"I'm sorry," he said, meaning it to McNider for maybe the first time.
"Don't be," Charles said with a great deal more cheer. "From your tone I can only assume that the future is a brighter and more open time for fellows like us."
Pieter was silent as he thought of the AIDS clinics he'd worked in and of the bloodied boys who had stumbled into his after-hours clinic. Then he thought of civil rights marches, of tolerant parents, and of the restaurants and clubs he'd visited with a friend or lover.
"It is the future, Charles," he said. "Everything is possible."
Charles smiled -- Pieter could hear it in his voice when he spoke -- and touched Pieter's shoulder. "Why don't you show me?"