DISCLAIMER: These characters "belong" to Warner Bros., Amblin Entertainment, NBC, and other people not myself. I don't make any money from writing about them.
SPOILERS: Begins in mid-eighth season, shortly after "Bygones"
Thanks to A.P. for inspiration and, of course, to all those who read.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
All You Can See
When Susan finally rose from bed that morning in Miami and reflected on their shared evening of drunkenness, card playing and reluctant self-revelation, she'd expected that Kerry would be embarrassed, that they might feel uncomfortable with each other for a few days. So when they run into each other in the lounge on her first morning back and Kerry only mumbles a barely audible hello before crutching out the door, it's exactly what she's expecting. And when they pass each other in the hall a few minutes later and Kerry fails even to make eye contact, she's not hurt or offended. She's not even puzzled or surprised.
The entire situation reminds her of a coffee shop she used to go to, a tiny, quiet place with great cappuccinos where she always felt like she could sit forever and think, until one slow afternoon when the place had been practically empty and she was feeling listless and bored, when she had struck up a conversation with the young man behind the counter, a man she had seen practically every day for months but had never really spoken to before. They had talked about the weather at first, but slowly it had become a more intimate conversation, a revealing disclosure of personal information: fears and failures, relationships, aspirations and dreams. A boundary had been crossed that day, a door had been opened that could not be closed, and the next time she went to the coffee shop, they'd both smiled and said a familiar hello, but she'd ordered plain coffee instead of a cappuccino to speed along the counter transaction, so she wouldn't feel obligated to stand and talk, or worse yet,
have to suffer through an awkward silence. Who was this person to her anyway? And after that, she hadn't gone back. She'd switched to another place which had inferior cappuccinos (the foam was not nearly as thick and smooth), but a steadier clientele and more space. Where she could sit in an out-of-the-way corner and relax. Where she did not know, and did not feel obliged to pretend to know, anyone.
Susan understands this kind of avoidance, and if that's how Kerry feels, she can accept it, though reluctantly.
So she isn't expecting warmth or friendliness. Or gratitude. Or a new sense of closeness or camaraderie. Or even a simple acknowledgement that they had shared a few moments of vulnerability and succeeded in comforting each other.
But she isn't expecting antipathy either. So when just a few hours into her first day back, Kerry chastises her for "mismanaging the board," for "floating too many ICU players"-as if she had a choice, as if her own hand were the wrathful hand of God that had struck down these sick and injured people and brought them here in the first place, Susan *is* surprised. And a few days later, the next time they're working together, when Kerry yells at her, *yells* at her, for "tying up" curtain 3 with an elderly LOC she wants to keep around for observation-clearly, for the sake of thoroughness, *should* keep around for observation, Susan is angry. Angry enough to consider making an obscene gesture at Kerry's retreating back (though she doesn't). And then that same afternoon, when Kerry gives her the old "treat and street" lecture, loudly, in front of everyone-as if anything in life were that simple, much less emergency medicine, as if she hasn't already heard it a million times, she wants
to yell, "Hey, lady, I was nice to you. You *owe* me."
But she just stands there and clenches her fists and unclenches them and takes it. She won't start a fight she can't win. She's no fool.
"Discharge or admit, Susan," Kerry says. "Just do it."
"As if it's that simple," Abby mutters as Kerry walks away. "As if we all haven't heard it about a million times."
"Yeah," Susan says. "Tell me about it." She grabs a chart off the rack now and quickly scans it, hoping to restore her wounded sense of competency and control: Hugo Estevez, 5 year old male, head ache, nausea, apparent photophobia, persistent high fever.
"Probably just the flu," she says out loud to no one as she heads off down the hall. But even as she speaks, a long list of alternate diagnoses begin lining themselves up in her mind. She frowns and sighs, already anticipating what she'll probably have to do.
Why did spinal taps have to be so painful and so frequently necessary?
A few hours later, after discharging her elderly LOC against her best judgment, dispensing with spinal tap flu boy, and referring to a specialist a woman who was either a hypochondriac or the sickest and most undiagnosable patient she's ever seen, Susan enters the lounge, hoping finally for a friendly exchange, needing it, really, but at the same time steeling herself for confrontation and rejection. She's decided that they can be enemies if that's the way Kerry wants it-though she can't imagine why she would-but they will not be uncomfortable strangers. They work side by side saving people's lives. They've known each other for too long.
She pauses for a moment in the doorway, then gathers her resolve and moves forward, approaching Kerry's back-straight and firm as usual, and still swathed in her pure white lab coat, never an easy back to approach. Susan has already removed her own lab coat and replaced it with a powder blue spring jacket, and for the last 20 minutes she's been hanging around trying to keep a low profile, waiting for Kerry to look done for the day.
"Kerry," she says tentatively. "You off?"
Kerry glances behind her. "Yeah, finally. You?"
"Yup." Susan shoves her hands into her pockets. "Long day, huh?"
"I enjoyed your presentation this morning." Kerry finally shrugs out of her lab coat, hangs it on a hook in her locker along with her stethoscope, pulls on her own light jacket, a muted beige which makes her look smaller-her actual size, Susan realizes, and therefore slightly less intimidating, and turns to face Susan. "It was very well organized. Very informative."
Susan wrinkles her nose. "Well, thanks, but the material was pretty dry, and I'm not exactly at my best at that time of the morning. I don't know why they insist on scheduling those damn staff meetings for 7 am."
"So we can prioritize our role as physicians," Kerry says emphatically. She turns her back again and slams her locker closed.
"Oh, right," Susan says, her face blank and sincere. "I hadn't thought of that. That's a great idea." Of course Kerry had scheduled the meeting. Shit.
Kerry gives her what can only be described as a withering look of disapproval, and tries to brush past her to the door. Susan takes a deep breath. "Kerry," she says quickly, causing the other woman to pause in her trajectory which could accurately be described as both advance and retreat, "I was thinking it might be nice, after such a long day, to unwind a little before going home."
Kerry looks at her blankly.
"So would you be interested in getting a drink?"
Susan can see Kerry's gaze shift slightly to the door behind her, then back to her face again.
"I appreciate your asking, Susan, but I want to make sure you know that I don't usually drink that much."
It's the first allusion either of them has made to the weekend. "Oh, god, Kerry, me neither. How about a cup of coffee?"
Kerry stands frozen, still indecisive.
"Or tea? Or there's an organic juice bar not too far from here. They have fresh wheat grass. And those blended ginko, soy powder, spirolina super-energy smart drinks, if you're into that kind of thing."
As Susan rattles on, obviously nervous and trying too hard to please, Kerry's stern face softens into a semblance of a fleeting smile. "A cup of tea might be nice," Kerry says. "Something hot would be good tonight."
Just then, a siren sounds loudly in the ambulance bay outside the window, and a flash of red spins past them and across the wall. "Come on," Susan says, jerking her head toward the door behind her. "Let's get the hell out of here."
She steps aside so Kerry can lead the way out of the lounge, and they walk down the hall together, hugging the wall to stay out of the path of the approaching trauma. As they near the door, it slides open and a gurney rushes past them surrounded by people and loud voices. Kerry stops and looks back. Though she keeps her head still, Susan notices she follows with her eyes the path of the frantic entourage as it proceeds down the corridor toward the trauma room, and she seems on the verge of letting herself be drawn back into the whirlwind. But she doesn't. She just stands there, thoughtfully staring.
"Susan," she says quietly when the trauma room doors swing shut and the noise dies down, "I've been meaning to say."
"...thank you." Kerry glances at Susan and makes a vague, waving gesture in the air. "For...you know."
Susan feels the tension in her body begin to ease, and she smiles. "No matter what else happens between us, Kerry, we'll always have Miami." She puts a hand lightly on the other woman's shoulder and steers her back in the direction of the door, and they walk together out into the damp spring air.
Outside the fluorescent confines of the hospital corridors, Susan feels more of the tension slip from her body, and she's content to let Kerry stay in the lead. A half hour later, after a circuitous and mostly silent walk involving many twists and turns and more than one dark alley, they finally arrive at what Kerry calls her "favorite tea establishment," and Susan finds herself confronted by literally an entire wall of tea. She quickly settles on simple, straight forward mint and watches while the counter girl, who's wearing a black uniform and fancy white apron but looks about 14, scoops the leaves into a tiny sachet and dunks it in a white mug of steaming water, releasing its delicate scent into the air. Meanwhile, Kerry seems to be enjoying the process of choosing from among 5 different kinds of oolong, sniffing into jars full of brown leaves, and finally choosing the one which Susan thinks smells like burnt tires. Kerry insists on paying for them both, and, hot mugs in hand,
they move off together to find a table beside a window gently lit by a string of tiny white lights.
"This place is great, Kerry," Susan says. "After a day in the ER, it's like wonderland."
"It's my secret hideout."
"Well, you're secret's safe with me, since I honestly have no idea how we got here."
Kerry smiles and settles herself in her chair. Placing her mug gingerly on the table top, she quickly and repeatedly dunks her tea bag then removes it, sets it on her saucer and takes a slurping sip of scalding hot tea. Susan tests the side of her mug with a careful finger tip, and, finding it almost too hot to touch, decides to let it sit there and steep for awhile.
"So," Kerry says, a 'getting down to business' tone creeping into her voice, "is there anything specific you wanted to talk about?"
Susan shrugs. "Like what?"
"Any problems at work.?"
"No," Susan says quickly, shaking her head. "Everything's fine. I just thought it might be nice to touch base again."
"Oh," Kerry says. "Ok." She pulls a napkin from a stainless steel napkin holder on the end of the table and swipes at a non-existent spill. "You're not quitting are you?"
"No," Susan says quickly, eyes wide with surprise. "No, Kerry." She hesitates. "It's just that."
"WHAT?" Kerry says slightly louder than necessary when Susan's voice trails off, and Susan realized that in spite of the calm surroundings, they're still a little tense in each other's company.
"It's just that, well, I was wondering if you have any problems with the work I've been doing lately. Or if there's anything I can do to make it easier for us to work together."
Kerry shakes her head and gives her a blank look of confusion.
"It's just that you've been riding me pretty hard the last few days."
Kerry leans back in her chair, tilts her head to the side and frowns at her, an expression not of disapproval, Susan realizes, but of honest perplexity. "Have I?" she says. "More so than usual?"
The question surprises Susan, makes her instantly question her own perceptions and reassess. Had she expected things between them to be different after all? Was Kerry just being her usual self? It's clear from Kerry's reaction that she too is uncertain. The time they spent together in Miami, as brief as it was, seems to have confused them both, Susan thinks. And now neither of them is quite sure how to act or what to do. What was she doing sitting here across from Kerry Weaver in a dimly lit café anyway? Feeling seriously thrown off balance, she takes what she intends to be a deep, cleansing breath, but inhales the uneasily mingling scents of mint and burnt rubber and feels like she's going to cough. Suddenly the whole situation seems bizarre.
"We both have the same first priority in our work," Kerry is saying when Susan tunes back in. "We both want to optimize patient care-there's no question about that. But you have the luxury of thinking one patient at a time, and I have to look at the big picture. Whether I want to or not. It's my job. And that means sometimes we might not see eye to eye."
"Well, maybe there might be a better way of approaching those situations." Susan says carefully. "I mean, maybe we could discuss things, instead of your always lecturing and yelling."
Kerry just looks at her for a second. "Ok, Susan," she says shortly.
"From now on I'll try to be a better listener. I'll do my best to talk about things and take your point of view into consideration whenever possible."
"Of course. What did you expect me to say?"
"I don't know. I just didn't expect it to be quite this easy."
Kerry smiles and slurps from her mug again. "See? Even I can be reasonable and calm during a friendly discussion over a soothing cup of tea."
Susan smiles back at the other woman, trying to tell herself that everything is fine. "That's good to know, Kerry," she says. "It really is."
Morning of the next day, Kerry is kept away from the ER by a series of meetings, and as senior attending, it's Susan's responsibility to run the board. She feels it's going well, that things are moving along more or less smoothly, but when Kerry finally appears in the early afternoon she immediately creates the atmosphere, without having to say a word, that everything has gone to hell while she's been gone, and now she's faced with the onerous and difficult task of picking up the pieces. When Susan sees her, she's poised to exchange pleasantries, something along the lines of "hello, how was your meeting," but Kerry charges right past her. At first she seems not even to register her presence, but a few paces later she stops and turns back.
"Susan, Mr. Swanson in curtain 2 is your patient, right? The ulcerative colitis?"
"Yeah, he's mine."
"Get him admitted to medicine within the hour or I'll have to do it myself."
"He's stable, Kerry, and."
"He's bleeding internally. We don't have the space to keep him here. Get him admitted."
"I tried to, but."
"I don't have time to discuss it, Susan. I'm sorry. That's just the way it is."
Mouth still hanging open to complete her unfinished sentence, Susan stands motionless and watches Kerry crutch away at top speed, off to her next task.
"So now she thinks you can't manage your own patients?" Abby asks quietly, sympathetically, from the other side of the admit desk.
Susan closes her mouth and slowly shakes her head. "People upstairs fear her and they don't fear me," she says. "She can get things done sometimes when I can't. She's right. That's just the way it is."
She can feel Abby's wondering eyes on her as she grabs a new chart off the rack and walks away, already resigned to letting Kerry manage the situation. That's her job, after all, and she's good at it, so she might as well let her do it. She would discuss things "whenever possible," she'd said during their talk last night. Meaning "I'm a busy woman and I don't always have time to hold people's hand." Susan feels angry again, there's no doubt about that, but this time she's not sure who she's angry with. Maybe everyone. Maybe no one. Maybe just herself.