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Last Chance



CJ McHugh sat in his chair in the control booth, giving everything one last look over. WENN had been his second home for the last six years of his life, and he was having a hard time realizing that he might never see it again. With the bombing of Pearl Harbor and America's entry into the war against Germany and Japan, eligible young men around the country were signing up to fight, and he was no exception. He was a little older than the board was looking for, being almost in his mid-thirties, but his lack of family made him an ideal candidate in the army's eyes. So, he was headed off to boot camp on Monday, which made today his last day of work.

With one last look around, he stood and headed for the door. He was surprised to see Doug Thompson walking down the hallway with Betty Roberts. The station's lawyer had not made many visits lately, and CJ wondered what had instigated this one. The two had become friends over the last year, bonding over their unrequited loves. CJ had carefully kept his infatuation quiet, but Doug was rather vocal about his feelings for the reserved Miss Roberts. Listening to Betty turn the lawyer down for yet another date, CJ guessed that neither of the two had changed their stances.

"Still no luck?" he asked Doug sympathetically, startling the other man.

"Oh! Hi, CJ," he said, turning to face his friend. "No, not yet. You?"

CJ grinned ruefully. "Not even close. Want to head to O'Malley's with me? It's my last Saturday night before the army, and I could use some company."

Doug smiled. "Why not? It's always nice to spend an evening with someone who appreciates your presence."

CJ forced his quickening heart to calm. He doesn't mean it that way, he told himself. It was a familiar mantra, one he had to employ every time Doug said something he could even remotely construe as romantically interested. "Okay, let me get my coat, then. I've already said my good-byes," he explained.

The duo walked down the decked halls of WENN, heading for the coatroom off of the reception area. Once they had retrieved CJ's coat, the young man took one last look. Gertie Reece had her back to them, busily answering phone calls about Scott and Hilary's latest on air escapade. He could hear Mr. Eldridge talking with Jeff, confusing both of them in the conversation. The radio on Gertie's desk was tuned to WENN, which was broadcasting Maple and Mackie trying desperately to keep the show going without it's star, Scott, who hadn't made it into the studio yet.

"Going to miss the mayhem?" Doug asked, breaking into CJ's reverie.

He nodded, heading for the door. "More than I thought possible."

~*~

"So why were you at the station today?" CJ asked, sitting across from Doug in one of the many booths that lined O'Malley's.

Doug took a long drink out of his mug, his hazel eyes crinkling at the corners. "Hilary, of course. She's trying to get a divorce from Scott, and she wants it now."

"A divorce? Not an annulment?" CJ questioned.

Doug gave him a quick grin. "Apparently, she doesn't remember if an annulment is appropriate, and Scott's no help. They're taking no chances on the matter, however."

"Well, best of luck to them," CJ said, offering up his own mug.

"I'll drink to that." They clicked the glass together and took drinks. "So. CJ is in the army now," Doug remarked.

"Yes, he is," CJ said slowly. "Hard to believe." He tipped his head back, swallowing the remainder of the amber liquid before motioning to the waitress for a refill. "I never pictured myself as a soldier, but duty calls, I guess."

"What does your family have to say about it?" Doug asked as the waitress gave them both new frosty mugs.

CJ coughed as the beer went down his throat. He had hoped Doug knew more about him than that, but he supposed he had just been wishfully hoping. "Well, there's really no family to say anything about it," he told Doug. "My dad died in the Great War, when I was ten. My mom and little sister were killed in a train wreck in '37. Lily had been married, but I haven't seen Will since the funeral." In his mind's eye, he could still see the coffins being lowered into the damp ground next to the white cross his mother had ordered erected in his father's memory. He shook his head to clear the image; the last thing he wanted to be thinking about tonight was death.

He looked up from his drink to see Doug staring at him, a mixture of sadness and horror in his eyes. "I'm sorry, CJ," he said honestly. "I had no idea."

CJ winced inwardly. It almost hurt more knowing that Doug knew so little about him than recalling the grey day four years earlier. "I know; it's okay." He quickly turned the talk to lighter notes - the goings on of the station, new movies in the theater. He avoided anything that had to do with war or love, and Doug followed his lead.

Before long, Doug excused himself to go to the men's room, and CJ found himself alone as he contemplated his drink. Sometimes he felt like his feelings for his friend were so obvious, and he didn't know how Doug couldn't know. Other times, he was sure he was hiding it well, and he hated that he needed to. Doug and Scott, they were always talking about how they were going after the one they loved, but he had to settle for a friendship.

At least he had the friendship, though. He loved being able to spend time with Doug. That really was what he wanted. He could be so happy with just a chance to snuggle on the couch and listen to the radio, or read a book together. What memories could he bring overseas with him? The electric shock zipping up his spine whenever their legs brushed under the table? The feeling of his heart racing anytime Doug touched his arm, or brushed against him? Those were poor consolation prizes for the real thing, something he could never have. He faced the very real possibility that after this night, he would never see Doug again, and he would lose his first real love before he even got a chance to experience it. He sighed as he absently traced the rim of his beer mug. All he wanted was someone to share his life with. Was that too much to ask?

He jumped as he felt a light hand on his shoulder, and swiveled to see Doug's smiling face.

"Hey, now what's that serious look for?" Doug asked as he slid back into the booth.

"Well," CJ said slowly, trying to evaluate exactly how drunk he was. Not enough, he decided, and went for the lesser evil. "I'm scared," he admitted, looking down to avoid Doug's eyes.

"About going off to war? That's nothing to be ashamed of," Doug said, puzzled. "I think that's a perfectly natural reaction, and makes you all the braver for volunteering. You don't know what's going to happen out there, and when you add in your father, well, I'd be just as scared." He paused as CJ closed his eyes against the words. "I'm sorry, that was insensitive, wasn't it?"

CJ shrugged as he took another drink. "It's true, though. I'm proud to do my part for my country and democracy and everything we're fighting for, but all I can think is that my dad died in the last war. Who's to say that I'm not going to die in this one?" He sighed as he downed the last of his beer. He resisted his desire to wave the waitress over for another, realizing that the alcohol was making him feel worse instead of better.

He saw Doug watching him with a frown and struggled to give him a reassuring smile. "Pretty deep stuff for this late on a Saturday, I know." Doug opened his mouth, but CJ pushed on. "I don't really want to talk about it now. You asked, I answered. So, what other cases do you have going on right now?" He settled his hands on the table in front of him and raised his eyebrows expectantly. It might work.

"Come on, CJ. Let's go home. You're going to have a long day tomorrow, getting ready to go, right?" Doug asked, his voice full of concern.

CJ sighed. Or not. "Yeah. You're right, I am. Let's go." He dropped some money on the table and followed Doug out. He resisted Doug's attempts at conversation, preferring a companionable silence, and Doug eventually gave up.

The short walk to CJ's apartment went quickly for CJ, and he was dismayed to find them standing by his stoop so soon. He had wanted to drag out their time together as much as possible, but he had no other stalling techniques left.

"Well, this is where you get off," Doug said.

"I, uh, had a good time tonight," CJ said, hoping he wasn't blushing. "Listen, I'm sorry for -"

Doug waved his hand. "No. Don't worry. You take care of yourself out there, you hear? Maybe you can even send me some letters while you're overseas."

CJ nodded. "I can do that." He hesitated. "Doug, I. . ." Throwing his caution and sense to the wind, he stepped forward and caught Doug's mouth with his own. The kiss lasted only a few seconds, but CJ savored the rough feel of Doug's lips against his own and the feel of his strong shoulder underneath his palm as he pulled his friend as close as he dared.

Doug finally pulled away, shock etched on his features. CJ abruptly came off the high he had gotten from their brief kiss as he realized exactly what he had done.

"Doug," he started, reaching out a hand, but the other man backed away.

"I don't do that, CJ," he said harshly. "I'm not like that."

CJ bit his lip. "I know," he said softly. "I know. I'm sorry. It's just. . .I couldn't go away without trying. I'm sorry."

He turned and walked into his hallway, reflexively checking the mail slot before walking up the stairs to his apartment. He refused to let himself think yet, knowing he had to wait until he was in private. Still working on automatic, he pushed his key into the lock and twisted, swinging the door open and then closed behind him. He shed his jacket before he headed towards his bedroom, unbuttoning his shirt on the way. He finally let a thought seep into his mind - he had kissed Doug. Doug had completely rejected him, but he had expected that. It didn't make him feel any better, but he had expected it. What had Tennyson said? 'Tis better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all. He still had some reservations about that one.

He dropped onto his bed, his shirt still hanging open. He let a small smile creep over his face. He had kissed Doug. For the first time ever, he had taken the initiative and kissed someone he was attracted to. Tomorrow he'd mourn the loss of friendship, but tonight, he would just remember the feeling of Doug's mouth under his, and the happiness those brief moments had given him.

He couldn't help the giddy grin that spread over his face at the memory, but it quickly dropped into a frown of confusion as he heard a knock at his front door. He glanced at the clock on his wall, wondering who could be there at eleven in the evening. His landlord was always asleep by now, and he didn't know anyone else in the building. He headed towards the living room, absently holding his shirt closed with one fist.

He opened the door, and his mouth dropped open with surprise. "Doug?"

Doug fiddled with the buttons on his coat, clearly a little apprehensive and uneasy. "All right. I'm not like that, CJ. I told you that, and I meant it." He finally met CJ's eyes. "But you are my friend, and you're important to me. I don't want you going away thinking that I hate you, because I don't. I don't think I understand, but I don't hate you." He hesitated. "Why me, CJ?"

"Why Betty?" CJ countered. "It's because you're you." He watched Doug digest that, almost holding his breath.

"Okay," he said finally. "Can-can I come in?"

CJ beamed at him, his eyes lighting up with delight. "Of course you can."

Doug nervously matched his friend's smile as he brushed past him. "After all, we can't have you alone on your last day here, right?"

"Right," CJ grinned happily as he closed the door behind them with a firm click.


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