John Carter is scared to death to hear what the doctor will say.

He hasn't been well in months, since he fell and hit his lower back hard against the concrete, although he's sure the trouble started long before then. At first it was just a slight pain on his right side, the pain he'd been living with for a very long time, just amplified in the slightest bit. It was uncomfortable, but he wouldn't risk taking pain medication and the people in Africa needed it more than he did, anyway.

As the days turned into weeks and the weeks into months, the pain became almost unbearable. He was urinating less and less, and he knew that something was seriously wrong. Taking a chance on the hospital in the city, he went to see a doctor for tests. He already knew what was wrong.

John Carter is scared to death, because the doctor just told him the news.

It wasn't as bad as he thought it was; it was worse. He knew his damaged kidney was infected. What he didn't know until then was that during his hospitalization, the other one became infected too. With no options left other than death in Africa, Carter knew it was time to go back to Chicago.

For over a month he had been back in the city, back working at County in the daytime and having dialysis at night, keeping his body upright and functional until that saving grace would come. Last night, he had fallen while at work. The dialysis wasn't working anymore.

John Carter is scared to death, as he sits holding his pillow.

It didn't look like a kidney would be available any time soon. His body was fully dependent on the dialysis machine to clean out the waste while his kidneys slowly died inside him. Died a slow, miserable death the same way he was. Alone.

Every time the nurse asked if there was someone he wanted her to call he resisted asking her to find Peter for him. He didn't want Kem, he didn't want his parents; he only wanted Peter Benton, his mentor, his friend, his colleague, his lover. Peter, who had been there for him when he was at his worst physically, who had fixed his kidney the first time, who had made sure that there were no complications, who had sutured him up so that there would only be the smallest scar possible to remind him of what had happened. Peter, who had been there for him when he was at his worst emotionally, when he was addicted to pain medication and pushed everyone away, when he swore that there was nothing wrong, when he had finally broken down, and when he had gone to rehab. Peter had seen him through his best and his worst, but Peter wasn't part of his life anymore.

Peter, who had been the most important person in his life for seven years, hadn't been in his life in the past seven years. He didn't know where to find the man, or even where to begin looking. He didn't want the first contact between them in seven years to be a nurse asking him to come back to Chicago because Carter was dying.

Dying. There was that word again. The truth Carter could no longer deny. He was dying, and the only one he wanted by his side was the least likely one to come back. Peter was the only one he wanted by his side. He was the only one Carter trusted to be by his side through this. With Peter there, Carter knew everything would be okay because he would do everything he possibly could to save him. Carter had seen his mentor move mountains. He had seen Peter go into a seemingly impossible situation and fight for the life of his patient long after other doctors had given up. When Peter fought for you, you would survive. But there would be no Peter tonight. Not tonight, or tomorrow, or the next day, because Carter didn't know how to ask for him.

"Carter? Carter!" John Carter could hear the voice in the back of his mind; the strong, deep voice filled his dreams, bringing him comfort in his unconscious mind.

John woke quickly, too desperate for the real thing to want to hear Peter in his dreams, but upon waking realized that the only thing he wanted was only a few feet from his bed.

It's a quarter to seven, Peter's at the door, and he quickly ushers him in.

"Hey," Carter tried to keep down the anxiety in his voice. "What are you doing here?"

"I work here," Peter replied from the foot of the bed, looking down into Carter's eyes. "I saw a J. Carter on the board and wanted to check it out. Why are you here?"

"Kidney transplant," Carter mumbled, breaking eye contact to look at his old colleague. "They both got infected while I was in Africa."

"I heard you were over there," Peter replied, circling to the side of the bed and sitting hesitantly on the side, close enough to touch but leaving enough space so it wasn't awkward.

It was as if no time had passed since they had seen each other, except for the marked physical changes. John knew he look much older than when they had first met, which he was, but Peter had aged gracefully. There were more lines around his eyes and mouth, sure, and he looked exhausted, but what surprised Carter was Peter's shaved head.

Peter had always kept his hair fairly short, clean cut, and easy to handle, but it had always been there. He had always sworn that he wouldn't shave his head because he thought it looked stupid on anyone who was not an athlete, and since male-pattern baldness did not run in his family, he didn't have anything to worry about.

Carter smiled when Peter sat next to him, struggling to sit up, wanting to hug Peter, needing the physical comfort of being close to someone he loved. Someone he trusted to get him through this. It was as if his prayers had already been answered and his saving grace was already here, even if a kidney hadn't yet been found.

As Carter reached for him, Peter automatically wrapped his arms around the smaller man, pulling him close against his warm, solid chest. Tears soaked the shoulder of his scrubs, but as usual Peter didn't care, just whispered to him softly.

And his very first true love is holding him close. For a moment, he isn't scared.