DISCLAIMER: ER is the property of Constant C Productions, Amblin Entertainment, and Warner Brothers Television.
SPOILERS: Up until the season seven episode 'Rampage'
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

By DiNovia

Kerry Weaver brushed impatiently at the angry, frightened tears running hotly down her cheeks and continued to slam her personal belongings into the box she had snagged out of the suture room. Abby Lockhart had already had the misfortune of walking into the lounge for some innocent reason or another, only to have the completely distraught Weaver pitch a scathing look in her direction. She'd nearly tripped on her own feet trying to back out of the room.

Now a crowd of sorts was gathering outside the door, trying to get a glimpse of what was going on inside.

"I'm telling you she's quitting," said Abby to Chen. "Or was fired. She's packing up her locker and crying. What else could it be?"

"Romano wouldn't fire Dr. Weaver," replied Chen, rolling her eyes and running a hand through her blue-black hair. Then worry clouded her features. "Would he? I mean, maybe he's on a rampage today. After all, he fired Kim Legaspi a couple of hours ago."

Abby nearly choked. "What??"

Jing-Mei furrowed her brows. "You didn't know?"

"Jesus and his fucking hand-baskets!" swore Abby, shaking her head. Now it made sense. Now it made all the sense in the freaking Universe. "He can't do this. He can't fire her…either of them! Jesus, he's such a bastard! What the fuck does he have against lesbians anyway? Christ!" A thought zinged through her head. "Didn't he do something like this before? Some ER doc named Maggie Doyle?"

Chen and Cleo, who'd originally wandered over out of curiosity, just stared at Abby, completely dumbfounded.

"What are you talking about?" asked Chen softly, hesitantly. "I mean I'd heard Dr. Legaspi was but… Are you saying that Dr. Legaspi and Dr. Weaver are-?"

Abby looked from Chen to Cleo and back, seriously not believing their blank looks.

"You've got to be kidding," she laughed ruefully. "You didn't know? They've been seeing each other since BEFORE Christmas, for Christ's sake! How could you NOT know??"

Haleh, who was busy sneaking looks through the small, grated window in the lounge door and cringing when she heard something slam, glanced over her shoulder. "They've been seeing each other since Thanksgiving," she offered. "Though I don't think they worked out the relationship part until after Christmas. Before that, Weaver was giving Dr. Legaspi a Hell of a lot of fits." She shook her head, slightly disapprovingly. "I didn't think they'd ever get it right."

"Wait, wait, wait!" Jing-Mei put up her hands in front of her as if to stop the train of information barreling down on her. "Dr. Legaspi and Dr. Weaver are…together? As in lovers?"

Chuny, who was heading past the group with a chart, screeched to a halt, her round, black eyes finding Chen's. "What?"

"Oh, for God's sake!" Frank looked at the entire gathering with withering disapproval. "You are medical professionals, right? You're supposed to have these great powers of observation?" He snorted with derision. "Have you ever seen Weaver when Dr. Legaspi comes down for a consult? She's positively radiant. And trust me, that's a sight to see." He turned back to his charting, dismissing the whole sorry lot of them. 

"She is," agreed Abby, nodding her head. "I can't believe you haven't noticed." She pursed her lips admonishingly.

"You know they broke up, right?" asked Lydia, piping up from her spot at the back of the crowd. "Right after that horrible thing with the little girl who killed all those people on the train. Apparently, Dr. Weaver utterly failed to stand up to Romano in the disciplinary hearing. Kim took it very hard. Poor thing."

"There was a disciplinary hearing over that?" asked Cleo. "For what?"

Frank shook his head, not bothering to look up. "You all deserve to lose her." He paused. "Them," he added, realizing that Legaspi was too valuable to lose, as well. "Most pathetic group of idiots on God's green Earth, you all are." He moved off again to talk to a maintenance man.

"We can't let Romano do this!" Chen's chocolate brown eyes were wide with shock and outrage. "Is he really firing them because they're gay?"

"What other reason could he possibly have?" countered Abby. "Dr. Legaspi was exonerated of the sexual harassment charges. Dr. Weaver's a hard-ass but she's the best doctor down here. She runs the freakin' place, for God's sake! That only leaves the fact that they're gay."

John Carter ambled into the ER and over to his colleagues. Nearly all of them. Who seemed-oddly enough-to be engaged in an intense conversation outside the lounge door. "Who's gay?" he asked nonchalantly, catching only the last few words of Abby's sentence. "You talking about Kerry?" Both his eyebrows climbed his forehead. "She won't like that much if she catches you."

"She quit!" said Frank.

"Or was fired," countered Abby. 

"WHAT?" John's eyes nearly fell out of his head. 

"She's in there," said Lydia, gravely pointing to the lounge door. A muffled crash came from the room beyond. "Packing her things," added the older nurse quietly.

"Has anyone called Benton?" asked Chen. "He is the head of that diversity council thing, right? He could stop this." A pause. "Couldn't he?"

A chorus of blank looks answered her.

"Well, it's worth a shot," said Cleo finally, not really knowing how to feel about this whole strange ordeal. She was still numb from her own personal Hell this morning. "I'll page him." She walked over to one of the ER phones and dialed a number she knew from memory.

"Has anyone seen Luka?" Abby scanned as much of the ER as she could see but Luka was nowhere in sight.

"Has anyone told Dr. Legaspi?" asked Carter, still not quite caught up on what was going down.

"I fired her. Hours ago." Robert Romano barreled around the corner, so red that at least three of the people present mentally ran down the procedures for sudden CVA or cardiac arrest. "Now could SOMEONE tell me why my ENTIRE ER STAFF is standing outside this door???"

There was a brief, terrified silence as the group waited for someone, anyone to explain. Abby chuckled mirthlessly.

"We're trying to figure out whether or not the door would fit up your sorry ass," she said, matter-of-factly. "What are your thoughts?"

As a unit, the rest of the staff took two steps away from Abby. Even Frank took cover behind the desk computer.

"WHAT??" Romano clenched his fists at his sides and shook. Veins popped up dangerously in his temple and his neck. "THAT'S IT! YOU'RE-"

"Yeah, yeah. I'm fired." Abby looked bored. "It seems to be going around today. Though I don't happen to be a lesbian so I wonder if that makes me special or not?" She smirked at the diminutive chief of staff and pushed her way into the lounge.

"You can't do that!" shouted John. "You can't just fire them like this! There are procedures, regulations-"

"Why does everyone seem to forget that I am the CHIEF OF STAFF and can do WHATEVER THE FUCKING HELL I WANT TO?" screamed Robert. "Could someone explain that to me? Huh?" When no one offered an explanation, he snorted. "I can't believe that bitch dyke put you all up to this! First Kerry, LYING about being a lesbian, and now you all-"

"Lying?!" John Carter almost began to laugh. "She's not lying!" He looked at Romano's disbelieving face and threw his hands up in the air, completely over it. When he looked back, there was ice in his gaze. "I can't believe you would think-" He shook his head, pitying the pygmy tyrant. 

"Kerry Weaver is many things but she is not a liar. She's a very private person and she's getting through this the best way she knows how. And she may very well have screwed up the only real chance at happiness I have ever seen come her way because she was too afraid to stand up to YOU, to tell YOU to go fuck yourself when you called that hearing on Dr. Legaspi. So I would be careful whom you call a liar, Dr. Romano. I would be very, very careful."

"And I would be very CAREFUL who I spoke to that way, Dr. Carter!" countered Robert, jabbing a finger at the young man. "I'll throw you on your ass so fast you won't know what hit you!" His voice got very quiet and very dangerous. "I have enough on you to make sure you never work as a doctor again," he growled.

John put his hands up. "You know what? Fine!" He ripped his stethoscope from around his neck and shoved it into Romano's chest. "I don't need this anymore. I quit!" He pushed his way into the lounge, past Romano, past the incredulous faces of what little staff was remaining, and half turned before the door shut. "I hope you enjoy taking care of 15 GSWs alone, Dr. Romano," he said, smirking. The door swung shut.

"You can't quit, Carter, because I FIRE YOU! You can all go to HELL for all I care! NICE KNOWING YOU!"

Romano turned, looking for someone else to take his rage out on and found the area completely abandoned. Except for a newly arrived Anspaugh, flanked by Dr. Peter Benton. Anspaugh had a look on his face that no one had ever quite seen before…nor did any of them ever want to see it again. And Benton, blank expression and all, simply stood there, his arms crossed casually over his chest, only a glimmer of his real feelings in his eyes. 

"Dr. Romano," said Anspaugh coolly. "Dr. Benton and I would like to speak to you for a moment, if we could." He glanced at the lounge door. "If you could take time out from firing everyone on the first floor, that is."

For the second time in 24 hours, Robert "Rocket" Romano felt as if a Mack truck had hit him. It wasn't a pleasant feeling. Not at all.

Kim Legaspi froze when she heard the hesitant knock on her front door.

Oh God, no. Please Kerry, no more. I can't keep seeing you. Seeing all that heartache in your gray eyes… It's killing me. You're killing me. Just go away.

She squeezed her red-rimmed eyes shut and hid them in her hands, repeating her mantra over and over. The second knock shattered her when it came and she rose from the couch, enraged, before hearing the soft voice on the other side of the door. The soft male voice.

"Dr. Legaspi? Are you all right?"

Luka Kovac knew Kim Legaspi was home. Or at least, he hoped she was. He could hear the voices from the stereo, some talk radio show or another, and her car was parked in the street. In his experience, two and two usually equaled four.

The door opened slowly, revealing a disheveled Kim Legaspi, eyes red and swollen from crying. She was dressed in black, head to foot, and her unruly blonde curls were corralled-hastily and recklessly-in a twist. Confusion colored her features.

"Doctor…Kovac?" she asked, not quite sure she was getting the name right. Kerry had only spoken of him as Luka. "Can I help you?"

"Call me Luka," he said, smiling gently at her. "May I come in?"

Kim frowned a little-still not sure what was up-and opened her door wider.

"Thank you," said the dark-haired doctor, standing awkwardly in Kim's foyer. 

"Have a seat on the couch," said Kim, wiping her eyes with a Kleenex and gesturing to said piece of furniture. "I'm sorry about the mess," she apologized. "I'm having a really bad day." She shook her head, trying to fend off another wave of tears. "Can I get you something to drink?"

Luka sat on the far end of the couch, away from the little nest Kim had made for herself at the other end, with its soft, tattered blanket and various discarded crumpled tissues.

"No, I'm fine. I really just wanted to talk to you for a few minutes…if that's okay?" 

Kim straightened her end of the couch and sat down, hoping the doctor hadn't seen too much of her pitiable mess.

"Sure. I guess." She flashed him a look of black humor. "I have plenty of free time at the moment."

Luka's brows came in low over his eyes like storm clouds. "I heard that Romano fired you today. He doesn't have any chance of getting away with it. You know that, right?"

Kim laughed a dark, miserable laugh. "He's already gotten away with it, Luka," she said quietly. "It's a question of strength. I can't fight him alone and…no one else seemed interested in coming to my defense."

Luka's compassionate, intelligent eyes found Kim's. "You're talking about Kerry," he stated. When Kim's incredulous gaze found his own, he explained, "She told me that your relationship had ended. I was very sorry to hear that."

"She…told you? About us?"

"Some of us in the ER guessed that you and she were involved. When I saw you two in the corridor the other day, I sensed something had happened, had somehow changed between you. She confirmed that for me."

"Oh." Kim had no idea what to say to that. She never thought Kerry would speak openly about their relationship with anyone, let alone a doctor on her staff.

"May I ask you a question, Dr. Legaspi?"

Kim blinked. "Call me Kim, please," she said, coming back to the present. "And yes. You may."

"How long did it take you to tell your best friend you were a lesbian when you first came out? Or your parents? Your brothers or sisters?"

The question came from left field as far as Kim was concerned and she didn't feel particularly inclined to answer it. Her deepening frown told Luka that much.

"I am not asking to intrude upon your privacy, Kim," he explained, holding up a hand to stop her protest before it came. "I am just trying to help you to see something, something about Kerry, about how coming out is not so different for her than it was for you. I take it you were fairly young when you came out?"


"And you had always felt different but didn't know why? And then you fell in love with someone-a girl-in school and suddenly you had all this additional turmoil in your life. As if puberty and high school aren't already difficult enough, suddenly you had a name for your difference. And it wasn't something many of your peers would understand very well. Let alone your parents."

"Did Kerry tell you this?" whispered Kim, her eyes filling with hurt and tears all over again.

"No. Not at all. Kerry only had the strength to tell me that your relationship had ended. I've just heard this story before…or variations of it. Even Kerry's story is similar. It's only taking place at a different stage in her life." He sighed. "How long did it take you to tell your best friend, Kim?"

Kim looked down at her hands. "Two years. I was away at college, in my first real relationship, and I was tired of Amy asking me who I was dating and whether or not he was a football player like her boyfriend. I told her over fall break, during an argument." She looked up, understanding warring with the memories painted in her eyes. "We didn't speak for a year afterwards. And when we did…well, our friendship was never the same." 

Luka nodded, leaning in a little closer, a quiet earnestness driving him forward.

"Before you entered her life, Kim, Kerry lived a life filled only with her work. She's an incredibly dedicated doctor who has given everything she has to County's ER. It's become more a home to her than her own home. Falling in love with you brought dimensions to her life that she never knew existed. But it also brought fear." He looked Kim directly in the eye. "The same fear that you experienced when you were seventeen. The fear that-for no other reason than the sex of the person you loved-your entire family, your entire support structure could crumble around you, leaving you truly alone."

"I wasn't asking her to come out for me," countered Kim, shaking her head. "She didn't need to tell that review board anything about us at all. All I wanted was for her to stand beside me. To stand up for me." She looked away, distance crowding her eyes. "Instead, she left me hanging there. Alone."

"She realizes that now. And she is punishing herself for it. Everyday."

Kim shut off her mental movie of that day, that awful day, and returned her gaze to the handsome, genuinely supportive doctor sitting across from her.

"What exactly are you doing here?" she asked. Her words were quiet but they held the sting of steel.

"I don't know," he said, shrugging. "Honestly, I don't know. When I'd heard you'd been fired, I-I just thought you should know that Kerry still loves you. Deeply. I know it's none of my business. You and I don't know each other. Kerry and I are not close. It shouldn't matter to me at all." He smiled sheepishly. "But it does." A pause. "Do you still love her?"

Once again, Luka got his answer from the way that Kim's pale blue eyes filled instantly with tears at the question.

"Then I think the question you need to ask yourself is whether or not you can go on from here?" He stood and put his hand on her shoulder for just a moment. "Together." He squeezed Kim's shoulder lightly then released her, letting himself out the front door.

"Now what?" Kerry Weaver looked up from the last of her personal belongings and watched as John Carter stormed into the lounge. He headed directly for his locker, banging it open and ripping his reserve lab coat out, throwing it across the room.


Carter looked up at Kerry and Abby, his gaze not lingering with either of them. He jerked a tote bag out of the bottom of his locker. "I quit!" he explained, stuffing some clothing into the bottom of the bag. "I won't work for him. Egotistical, arrogant megalomaniac with a freakin' Napoleon complex!"

"Uh oh," snickered Abby. "He's using the big words."

John ignored her. "I quit and left him with all the GSWs. Serves him right."

Kerry Weaver couldn't decide whether to laugh or cry. "John," she said gently, chuckling in spite of herself. "You can't quit. You just can't."

"Watch me!" He picked up a coffee cup and then thought better of it, tossing it back into the locker. It had County's logo on it. "He called you a liar, Dr. Weaver. He said you were lying about being a lesbian just to stand up for Dr. Legaspi. He insulted you-both of you-by even thinking that!" His eyes clearly showed the admiration and the acceptance he held for his superior and friend. Then he glanced at Abby, his expression slightly more unreadable. "And he fired Abby completely without cause."

"Oh, he had cause," smirked Abby. "I did tell him we wanted to stick the lounge door up his sorry ass." She laughed. "That's insubordination, isn't it?"

Kerry Weaver couldn't help herself. Laughter spilled out of her in waves, a combination of the adrenaline and the stress and every other horrible moment that had gone along with being Kerry Weaver on this particular day. Mixed with it, however, was the heady realization that coming out hadn't crushed her, hadn't obliterated her. And most of all, it hadn't alienated her. In fact, it had done quite the opposite. Two of her staff members stood beside her-unemployed-because they supported her.

Kerry's laughter was a beautiful sound.

"You said that?" she asked, looking at Abby with newfound respect and not a little gratitude. "You really told him you wanted to-"

"Yep," she grinned evilly. "Veins popped out on his head. I would have bet even money on a CVA. He had all the signs."

More laughter from Kerry. Then, composing herself, she walked over to the both of them and hugged them…hard.

"You didn't have to do that," she admonished gently. "But thank you." Then she shooed them toward the ER. "Now go back out there and get back to work. He can't fire either of you." She shot a dark look at the door. "For God's sake, there won't be anyone left in the ER if he keeps this up."

"He didn't fire me," argued John, standing his ground. "I quit."

"And then he fired you," smirked Abby. 

For some reason, she found this all so humorous, all so surreal. That Romano would be so bent out of shape about lesbianism that he would actually fire two of the best doctors in the hospital because of-what? A phobia? Prejudice? A sense of futility? She shook her head, laughter bubbling just under the surface. The laughter died unshared, however, when Don Anspaugh walked into the lounge.

"No one's been fired," he said, his deep voice tinged with quiet exasperation. Kerry immediately stepped protectively in front of her staff members, preparing to argue their unfair termination.


"Kerry." He interrupted her with a slightly raised hand. "I meant it. No one's been fired. No one." His hazel eyes pinned hers meaningfully. "I've convened an emergency meeting of the board. We're going to get this all sorted out." He met each of their gazes. "And I would like each of you there. Will you accompany me upstairs? I don't think it will take long."

Kerry looked at John and Abby and nodded to them. "Go," she said. "This hospital can't afford to lose you. Either of you."

"This hospital can't afford to lose you either, Kerry Weaver," declared Anspaugh, brows crowding his eyes.

"I wasn't fired, Don. I quit."

"Then I will just have to work harder to win you back, won't I?" He smiled warmly, a gentle twinkle in his eye. 

He so wanted to clap Kerry on the back for doing what she'd done. To shake her hand or to say 'Well done!' Not so much for standing up to Romano, which had indeed impressed the Hell out of him, but for finally committing to an inner truth, however difficult it may have been for her to do so. 

Instead, he settled on holding the door open for her, reaching his hand out in invitation. Allowing her the measure of dignity she demanded…as an incomparable physician, a colleague and a friend.

Kerry Weaver considered Don Anspaugh's words very carefully. She had quit and she intended to stay quit. Nothing short of Kim's full reinstatement and a letter of apology from the board could even hope to convince her otherwise. Now Don, someone she respected and trusted, was asking her to trust him in return. 

And he had said that no one was fired. No one.

Nodding, Kerry Weaver silently agreed, stepping proudly forward. Toward wherever that would lead her.

Kim Legaspi took a deep breath, steeled herself, and pressed the elevator button for County Hospital's administrative floor. Two hours ago she would have been the first and last to argue that she would never again be setting foot inside this building and yet here she was. She should have known.

It was all Carl's fault.

Carl DeRaad had a quiet strength about him but his reserve did not mean he wasn't a formidable opponent when pushed. And how "Rocket" Romano had pushed. Pushed once too hard and once too often, triggering Carl's natural steel. 

Carl, of course, loved the System. Adored it, even. He truly and honestly believed that it worked…most of the time, anyway. And if you had to finesse it every once in a while to get the desired result, well, he just didn't see a problem with that. 

So when his assistant had paged him from the office on his day off to tell him that Rampaging Romano had fired Kim Legaspi for no good reason other than his own twisted sense of what was right, Carl dove right in. He knew better than most what drove Romano. And he knew better than most how to stop him.

His first call had been to Peter Benton, the chair of County's diversity council. His second had been to Anspaugh who had been-conveniently enough-having lunch with two of the hospital's board. His third and final call had been to Kim, asking her to come down to the hospital so that he could get this mess figured out.

"I know it's a lot to ask but I promise you, Kim, it's not a review board. Not for you, anyway. We need your help on this." Then he'd played his trump card. "I'm asking as your friend, Kim. Please come down."

Kim shook her head slightly. She should have known.

She watched the lights climb the button panel to her left as the elevator slowly clambered its way to the right floor. She wondered what exactly the board needed her help with. It seemed pretty cut and dry to her, after all.

One minute I was an attending at County and the next, I wasn't. What was so difficult to understand? 

She shrugged, realizing that she wouldn't know anything until she entered that big, mahogany-encrusted conference room usually occupied by the board. She counseled herself to wait, to be patient, that she would know soon enough. It wasn't working.

Finally the car came to a stop and the doors opened to reveal Carl DeRaad leaning against the wall across from the bank of elevators. His eyes met hers, both sorrowful and something else…something she couldn't quite name.

He pushed off the wall and hugged her.

"I'm sorry, Kim. I'm truly sorry you've had to deal with all this…this…" He smiled, just a bit. "There really isn't any other way to say it. I'm sorry you've had to deal with all this bullshit. If I were even half the administrator that I should be, none of this would have ever happened."

Kim smiled at this. "You, Carl DeRaad, are one Hell of an administrator. And none of this is your fault."

"You're too generous," he said sincerely, glancing down the hall to the large, dark, foreboding doors of the boardroom. "You ready for this?"

"As ready as I can be," sighed Kim. She took a moment to smooth the cranberry turtleneck she now wore-having changed out of her "pity party" outfit of earlier in deference to the occasion-and squared her shoulders, nodding resolutely.

"Dr. Legaspi," greeted Anspaugh, standing as the doors opened. "Carl." He nodded to DeRaad. "Thank you both for coming." He gestured to two chairs at the end of the long table and waited until his guests were settled before seating himself again.

"Before we begin," he said, finding and holding Kim's pale and unreadable gaze, "please allow me to apologize to you, Dr. Legaspi, personally and on behalf of this board. Not only for the events of the day but also for the way you have been treated by the administration of this hospital over the last two months. I have reviewed Robert's handling of the situation and have found it to be utterly lacking." He frowned, as if troubled by a bitter aftertaste.

"It is not the habit of this hospital to hang its doctors out to dry when they find themselves faced with difficulty and it is certainly not this hospital's habit to further demean and degrade its doctors once they are exonerated of any wrongdoing." He glanced down at several files in front of him, focusing on one in particular. "From the looks of these reports, however, we did make these practices a habit with you. And for that, I am truly sorry."

Kim Legaspi blinked once but otherwise sat stock-still. She'd expected an apology, had even expected it to be sincere. But she didn't expect…this. Remembering her manners finally, she swallowed carefully, hoping her voice wouldn't crack.

"Thank you, Dr. Anspaugh," she said quietly. "And the board." She made eye contact with each of the nine people around the table. "Apology accepted."

Anspaugh smiled then. "Wonderful!" he said, pushing the files away and folding his hands on top of the table in front of him. "Now I suspect that Carl has misled you a little regarding the true purpose of this meeting today."

Suddenly wary, Kim shot Carl a look. "He suggested that my assistance was needed with some sort of review board."

"Ah, yes," agreed Don. "For Robert. I'm afraid your help won't be necessary there after all."

Oh no… Kim's appreciation of the depth of the board's apology to her sank to the pit of her stomach like a stone. They're going to let him get away with it. They're going to hide from it and let him go on doing this, over and over… Oh no…

"Apparently," said Anspaugh carefully, "Dr. Romano has decided it is in his best interests to seek employment with another medical institution. Somewhere very far from here."

Silence. And more silence. Just when Carl thought he might have to check Kim for respiration, she spoke.

"Excuse me?" she squeaked.

"The board found Dr. Romano's personal and professional viewpoints at cross-purposes to its own and a mutual agreement was made to conclude his employment contract with County. He has already left the building."

"Oh." It wasn't brilliance but it was the only thing Kim could think of to say. Romano was out, gone, good-bye. For good. For good and all. And all she could think of to say was 'oh'. 

"Oh," she repeated. For God's sake, Legaspi, get a grip! 

"So," said Anspaugh, correctly determining the need to change the subject to something the young psychiatrist could perhaps grasp more easily under the circumstances. "Our real purpose here is to find out what it would take to bring you back to County. We realize, of course, that a full reinstatement is in order, as well as a formal, written apology from the board. We will also be purging your personnel file of any negative reports relating to either the hearing or today's inappropriate termination." He smiled warmly. "Now what else can we do, Dr. Legaspi? You have our undivided attention." 

Remain calm, Kim, said the blonde to herself. Remain cool. You can't just go running back here after all that's happened. 

"To be honest, Dr. Anspaugh, I hadn't considered the possibility of returning to County. I am not at all sure it would be in my best interests."

Good. Point one for Kimmy. Keep this up.

Don Anspaugh frowned. "I hope you reconsider, Dr. Legaspi," he said gravely. "While having you return to this hospital is, of course, our primary objective, there is a secondary objective that we are most eager to achieve as well."

"Such as?" Kim raised one eyebrow over her darkening eyes.

"Such as I have just spent the better part of two hours attempting to convince Kerry Weaver to reconsider her voluntary separation from County, something she steadfastly refuses to do until she is assured of your full reinstatement as attending in the psychiatric department."

It was very curious to Kim how her body could react so counter to what her mind required. Her mind very much wanted to remain unfazed by Anspaugh's announcement, to remain unruffled and collected. Kim's body, however, would have none of that. She felt as if every limb and every organ were trying to leave the room. By entirely different routes.

"Her what?"

Anspaugh chuckled. "You haven't heard?" His eyes sparkled mischievously. "Well, allow me the pleasure of telling you. Upon hearing of your termination, Kerry Weaver confronted Dr. Romano and demanded he reinstate you. When he refused, Kerry suggested he choose his battles carefully lest he find himself suddenly out of work. When he suggested the same to her, pointing out that she wasn't County's…what was the term?" 

One of the board members cleared her throat discreetly, her face composed but her eyes showing a wickedly pleased smile. "The term he used was 'lesbian advocate'."

"Yes, that's it," agreed the Chief Administrator of County Hospital. "When he pointed out that she was chief of emergency medicine and not County's lesbian advocate, Kerry very eloquently advised him that indeed she was both chief of emergency medicine and a lesbian." He watched, intrigued, as roughly 1800 emotions crossed Kim Legaspi's features at the same time. "And then she quit," he added unnecessarily. "But not before getting in a few good whacks with that crutch of hers."

Kim almost choked.

"W-what?" She blinked. "She did what?"

Anspaugh laughed, as did the rest of the board and Carl DeRaad. 

"I'm sorry, Dr. Legaspi. I fabricated that last bit. Kerry didn't hit Robert. She's certainly above a display of that nature."

Kim idly wondered if he had heard of her expert usage of her crutch in just that very manner when the ER had been host to one of the largest school sports brawls in the history of Illinois. She thought not. 

Back to the here and now, Legaspi.

"Kerr-uh, Dr. Weaver really said those things? To Robert?" Smooth, Kimmy. Why not wear a sign? It's less trouble.

"She did," said a gentleman to the right of Anspaugh. "I was in the…um…I was present when it was said. Though I don't think either of them were actually aware of my presence." 

Not quite sure what to make of that explanation, Kim turned back to Anspaugh.

"So you see," concluded the chief administrator, looking at the young psychiatrist contritely, "if we fail to bring you back on board here at County, we will lose not one, but two extremely talented and dedicated physicians. Something that we simply cannot afford."

Kim held out for as long as she could but inside she knew it was a losing battle. Of course she was going to come back! How could she not? The bottom line was that she loved her work and she loved performing it at County. But if there was a chance of making a few changes here and there…

"I would have to have more post-surgical support on the ward than I currently have," she began.


"And I would like to be taken off the prison rotation. Permanently."

"Done." Anspaugh's eyes twinkled with challenge. Kim saw it immediately and rose to answer it.

"A 25% raise."

She almost laughed at the way the administrator balked.

"Would you consider 15%?"

Would she! "That would be acceptable."

"Anything else?" Anspaugh hoped the answer would be no. He had underestimated the slender blonde woman in front of him once too often already.

"Only one thing…" Kim's eyes softened measurably.


"Let me be the one to inform Kerry Weaver of my decision to stay."

Anspaugh let out the breath he'd been discreetly holding.

"Of course, Dr. Legaspi. Though I believe she's left the hospital already. She was very adamant regarding the stipulations of her return."

"I'm sure she was, Dr. Anspaugh," agreed Kim, her mind already preoccupied by thoughts of what to say to Kerry Weaver and how to say it. They still had so much ground to cover but suddenly the journey didn't seem so impossible. "If you'll excuse me?"

"Certainly, Dr. Legaspi." Anspaugh and DeRaad both stood as she rose from her chair, preparing to leave. "Please give Dr. Weaver my regards."

"I will." Kim still felt like she was in a dream. This couldn't all be happening, could it? 

"And perhaps you would do me the great favor of taking the next three days off? Paid, of course. While we finish the paperwork side of all this?"

Kim smiled brightly. "My pleasure," she said. She was out the door and in the elevator before anyone could hope to reply.

Kerry Weaver opened her eyes hesitantly, as if afraid of what she would see when she opened them. Slowly, diffuse patterns of light and shadow took shape around her in the late morning light and eventually acquired meaning. Soon she recognized an oaken wardrobe, a functional desk, a lamp. After a few moments of disorientation, Kerry finally remembered where she was.

The hotel… groaned her mind as she rolled over, taking a thin pillow with her to hide her face from the light.

The hotel…where she'd fled late last night after wandering aimlessly, unable to bring herself open the door of her own home not three miles away. The hotel…where she'd sat on the tiny, uncomfortable couch in the outer room for hours, comforted by the anonymity, the impersonal and clinical décor of the room she'd been given. Not wanting to think, not wanting to feel, not wanting to be.

Room 1729. Single occupancy. One faceless, nameless guest among hundreds.

She sighed, letting the thoughts and emotions come now. She couldn't hold them off forever, she knew, and somehow, in the morning light, they didn't seem so horrid and awful. 

In fact, quitting County had been the most amazingly simple thing Kerry Weaver had done in her entire life. 

'If she goes, I go.' 

Five words. Five small words…all it took to cut through the invisible cord that connected her to her entire life. And yet there had been no hesitation, no second thought, no moment of panic. Nothing. And now?

Kerry pulled the pillow away from her face and almost smiled.

No regrets. None. Because she knew-right down to the iron atoms in her blood-that she was right. Right to confront Robert Romano and his rampant homophobia. Right to tell the truth about herself and her life and her heart. Right to make good the threat to leave. 

Not even Don Anspaugh had been able to convince her to stay and he'd offered her everything he could think of and more. But she hadn't swayed. Not one millimeter.

"This isn't about me, Don. This has never been about me. This is about Kim Legaspi and Maggie Doyle and who knows how many other women who have been battered and degraded by Rocket Romano and his obscene version of the way things work. By the blind eye this hospital has turned toward them. By my own lack of support. What will you offer them for what they've been through?"

Kerry had enjoyed the look that passed over Don's face then. She enjoyed remembering it now, letting the little burning kernel of pride it invoked settle inside her, feeling it grow. She looked out the window at the hazy sunlight filtering in, savoring the moment. 

She felt…wonderful. Solid in her bones and right in her skin for the first time in her life. 

I am a lesbian, she thought to herself. Feeling more emboldened, she said it out loud.

"I am a lesbian."

The sun went on shining, the world went on spinning, and Kerry Weaver continued to breathe with unconscious regularity. And then another thought…

I am an unemployed lesbian who failed my lover in every way I could. Sudden shame pulled her hands up to cover her crumpling face. And now she's gone. 

She tried to blot out the pain, tried to hold onto everything that was right in her world now, but it all slipped away like little paper boats down a stream. The tears came again, as she knew they would, spilling down her cheeks in rivulets of hot shame. She let them, hoping somehow that she would eventually get to the end of them. That they wouldn't always be right there, ready to fall at the mere thought of her Kim.

My Kim? She laughed cruelly at herself. Not any more. 

The image of Lori opening Kim's door was still burned into her, seared onto the backs of her eyelids and carved into her brain with an awl. It flickered over and over through her consciousness like a soundless, grainy 8mm film, every loop jangling at nerves already stretched too thin.


Kerry pushed the useless hotel blanket from her and got up, drawing a curtain across her mind for the time being. 

Movement was the key. Somehow she had to keep moving. Keep moving forward. There was no going back now. Maybe if she went far enough in one direction, walked long enough and hard enough, never complaining, never looking up, she would eventually walk right through the pain. Well, she could hope…

Kerry wiped the cold tears from her cheeks with trembling hands, pushing the agony back down, deep inside herself where she hoped even she wouldn't be able to find it. It was fruitless optimism, she realized, but it helped just a little now. And that's what she needed. Just a little help. Right now.

She showered quickly and redressed herself in her clothes from the day before, checking out of the hotel without a word. She drove the three miles to her house in complete silence, not able to suffer the inane voices on the radio or any sound at all. Once there, she sat in her car down the street for several long minutes, looking at the doorway blankly, wondering if she was ready-could ever again be ready-to resume the life of Kerry Weaver.

She finally got out of the car and walked over to the door, slipping her key in the lock gently, like an intruder, like someone who should know better. The darkened house was familiar in an uncomfortable way. But she pushed through it, acknowledging only the shapes, the solids, hanging her jacket up in the hall, dropping her keys in the bowl on the table, right where they always went.

She stood there for a long while, gazing absently at the keys and the paperclips and the loose change in the bottom of the bowl, wondering what to do next, how to be next. Relying on the fierce autopilot that she had cultivated since her residency days, Kerry finally decided upon the answering machine. She wasn't sure exactly why other than it seemed like a connection to her world, a tiny thread in the effort to rebuild her life.

"You have six new messages. First new message…"

"Hi. I am Betty, an automatic survey system used by-" Click. "Message deleted."

Hangup. Click. "Message deleted."

"Kerry? Kerry, are you there? It's Luka. Kerry, I just heard about you quitting. Please call me, we need to talk about this. You have my number." Click. "Message deleted."

"Kerry, it's John. Listen, they reinstated Abby and me with no problems but we've been talking and we're both willing to walk out. Just say the word, okay? I'm off tomorrow so if I don't hear from you tonight, I might stop by. Just to say hi. Okay? See you tomorrow." Click. "Message deleted."

"…<gentle sigh>…" Kerry frowned at this message, running it back once to hear it again. Shrugging finally, she pressed the delete button. Click. "Message deleted."

"…Dammit!" SLAM.

With trembling fingers, Kerry rewound the last message and played it again, not sure she had really heard the voice that clearly. The second playing left no doubt. She stared down at the little machine next to her phone, her face washed with disbelief and confusion and wonder.

"Kim?" she whispered. Only silence answered her.

Kim Legaspi turned her car toward Kerry's house again, pale, trembling hands gripping the wheel so hard she could barely feel them.

Where IS she? she screamed in her mind. She couldn't think anymore. Couldn't even conceive of another place Kerry might have gone. She'd checked them all-Doc Magoo's, the restaurant where they'd had their first real and terrible date, the Chinese take-out place, that damned restaurant where she'd forced Kate and Christy on her... She'd even hopped the El twice, riding the circuit the full length each way, checking each car. But Kerry was nowhere to be found and now Kim was starting to panic.

When she'd left the hospital yesterday, she'd made a beeline for Kerry's place, still not quite sure what to say but knowing there was nowhere else in the Universe for her to be at that moment. And what she'd found was Kerry's darkened home, empty and cold. She'd waited, of course. Waited for hours. And then she began to worry.

She'd already been back to Kerry's house four times, hoping beyond all hope that she was there and safe and whole. Nothing else mattered. Nothing at all.

Oh God! she thought suddenly. Kerry likes to drive when she needs to think or cool off. What if-oh God-what if something's happened? Kim pulled her car to the side of the road for a moment and tried to breathe again, her heart clenching so fiercely that her throat had closed in sympathetic response. 

"Stop it," she said aloud, her features darkening, the psychiatrist inside her mind unfolding itself from the tight, tiny package she had unknowingly relegated it to hours ago. "This is the result of too little sleep, too much adrenaline, and a diet of nothing but caffeine and self-pity, Kimberly Legaspi. And it isn't pretty." She started her car, preparing to continue on, but she lost the motivation to move as a coldness rose up inside her, gripping her at the base of her spine.

Kim leaned forward, resting her head on the steering wheel, fighting the tears unexpectedly crowding her eyes and burning her throat… She focused her sight outward but the numbers on the odometer bled together and spread across her vision like a veil. 

Inside, she saw a scene that had played out weeks ago in the ER…a woman angry, hurting, a woman who'd driven away from her comfortable suburban home in a momentary rage only to lose what little control she had left, wrapping her car around a telephone pole less than two miles from her front door. Leaving such devastation behind her…such anguish…

An inconsolable pre-teen daughter raging against a truth so hard to comprehend Kim thought she'd bruise herself with thought alone. Two younger sisters-twins-arriving moments after each other, weeping in tandem, clutching at each other for support where there was none. A husband blinded and immobilized by his loss, feeling the responsibility for the argument and ultimately for the death of his wife, as an ice-cold blade cutting him in two…

Kim remembered seeing the woman's body but now her panicked mind painted a different picture, a vivid and gruesome picture. Blood matted in a swath of red-gold hair, blood on the gurney railing beside curled fingers, grasping at nothing, a bloodstained shoe. Then a closer look to see mangled limbs, their odd angles horribly surreal, their story somehow separate from reality and yet somehow…not. And then the final blow, looking up to see empty gray eyes, flecks of green dying like sunlight through the trees on a summer's evening… Recognizing Kerry's eyes…her Kerry's eyes…gone.

"NO!" Kim clenched her eyes against the scene running through her head even as tears began to stream down her face. "NO!" She slammed her palms against the steering wheel, forcing herself through violence to stop seeing those images.

She's fine, she screamed in her mind. She has to be fine because…because… Her mind whirled, seeking purchase in a storm of buzzing panic, desperation and hope, realization arcing suddenly through her like lightning, illuminating everything inside her, no matter how shadowed, how dark and hidden.

Because I still love her. An intake of breath as truth regained its footing. Because I never stopped loving her.

Kim laughed out loud with the simplicity of it, the sound a combination of relief and astonishment. She wiped the tears from her face with impatient swipes.

"I love you, Kerry Weaver," she said, making the thought a banner and raising it over the tumult of the last few months in heraldic announcement. She turned her head to the left to gauge the timing required to pull out into the traffic passing by her. "So you'd better be okay, damn you. Because if you're not, I will kill you with my bare hands."

Yet, in the short time it took her to make it to Kerry's neighborhood, all of Kim's certainty that Kerry was okay had evaporated, leaving her shaking all over again, her head throbbing from the concentration of looking at every single car, every single person she saw. She was beginning to feel a sinking in her stomach, a fear that maybe her morbid imagination wasn't so far off. She was nearing the end of the lane and still no sign of Kerry's-wait!

A flash of tan caught Kim's eye.

It was there. The last car on the street. Parked hastily, crookedly. But it was there.

Kim pulled up along side of it, staring at it as if it were something from outer space. Then something happened… Rising up from the pit of her stomach, pure and dangerous and gaining speed, came a perfect bubble of anger, expanding as it rose, blotting out the sun and sky and all reason. It exploded when it became too large to be contained within Kim's slender frame and the anger spilled out, filling her completely, reaching her mind the same time as the realization that Kerry was alive.

Kim turned off her SUV's ignition and bolted from it, leaving it in the street. She ran the few hundred feet to Kerry's place and took all the steps in one bound, pounding on the door even before she had quite gained her footing…

Kerry looked up sharply at the insistent knocking on her door, wondering who in the Hell would dare stop by unannounced when she suddenly remembered that John had mentioned in his message that he might do exactly that. Kerry sighed. As much as she loved John, she didn't have the strength to see him right now. Or anyone else for that matter. She was so lost, so emotionally and physically pulled apart that she hadn't yet decided whether she wanted to cry or laugh or break things. She was caught somewhere in between everything she felt, on edge and desperate for balance. Now was just not a good time for company.

Another knock, louder this time, and Kerry resigned herself to at least answering the door and asking John if he could come back another day. 

She reached for her crutch and crossed the room quickly. Now that her decision was made, she wanted to see it through without second-guessing it, without the possibility of changing her mind. She opened the door wide, forgetting in her haste to check the window to see who was outside…

…and instead of John Carter, there stood Kim. Kim Legaspi…standing on her front steps, her eyes wild and watery, her fists balled at her sides. They looked at each other for a brief eternity, Kerry shocked and Kim something else entirely.


It took nearly fifteen full seconds for Kim's roared question to reach Kerry's brain. But when it did fire blazed in Kerry Weaver's cold, gray eyes.

"Excuse me??"

"I've been driving everywhere, looking for you all night!" yelled Kim, pushing her way into Kerry's foyer uninvited. She narrowed her eyes at the smaller woman, shaking with a rage fueled by the toxic combination of panic, exhaustion, adrenaline, and relief. "I want to slap you so hard right now," she said, her voice harsh and deliberate.

Kerry reared back, imperious, regal, furious. "You wouldn't dare!"

"Try me!" shouted Kim, crossing her arms over her chest, a preventative measure. "Now answer my goddamn question! Where the Hell have you been?"

Kim knew this wasn't the way to go about this. It went against absolutely everything she'd been taught, everything she embodied as a mental health professional. And yet she couldn't stop herself. She had no control whatsoever. This woman, this frightfully beautiful woman with angels in her eyes and the most tender, loving hands, with those soft, generous lips and the strongest arms in the world…this woman had scared the living shit out of her and it was all Kim could do not to come apart at the seams, not to shatter right there, at her feet.

"Not that it is any of your business, Dr. Legaspi, but I stayed at the Embassy Suites last night," said Kerry dangerously. "Now if you're satisfied, would you please get the HELL out of my house!"

"A hotel?" The admission brought Kim up short, floundering for a reason why Kerry would forgo her own home for a hotel when she knew the older woman despised them. 

"You stayed at a hotel?" Then a thought lurched through Kim's mind, a nasty thought, one that made her insides pitch and rock like an angry sea. She wondered how Kerry would react to her vomiting right there, on her pristine parquet floor. 

"Were you alone?"

Kerry flushed crimson with rage. "Exactly how is that any of your goddamned business? Were YOU alone last night, looking for me? Or did you bring Lori along for the ride??"

The incongruous name bewildered Kim. "Lori?!" Her brows crashed low over her eyes. "What does Lori have to do with this?!"

And then the realization. The memory of Kerry's meaning, of the moment when Kim had succumbed to her agony, abandoning maturity and compassion for the cheap shot, the one meant to bring suffering. The moment when she'd confirmed Kerry's misinterpretation of Lori at her house that morning. Her cousin, Lori. Visiting from out of town. 

Shame filled Kim's eyes and she bowed her head. She didn't know what to do with her hands so she finally put them over her face.

"Lori is not and never has been my lover, Kerry," she said, so softly that Kerry had to strain to hear her. She hazarded a glance at Kerry's features, finding them disbelieving. "She's my cousin," she explained. "She was visiting for three days. She had an interview for graduate school at U of C."

"But you said-"

"I know, I know." Kim closed her eyes for a moment, took a deep breath, and pulled her hands from her face, looking Kerry squarely in the eyes. "I did it to hurt you. Purposefully." Her eyes shimmered. "I'm so sorry, Kerry." She turned away, angrily slapping away an errant tear. She made a disgusted sound, unable to return Kerry's incredulous gaze. "I wanted you to hurt as much as I was hurting…to hurt more than I was hurting…even though I could see the pain in every step you took." She let more tears fall, not acknowledging them at all. "I hated myself at that moment, Kerry. And every moment since. More than I've ever hated anyone or anything."

If Kim had been able to look at Kerry, she would have seen the softness that overtook her eyes in that moment, betraying her hope, her relief, her sadness… She took a step forward, intending to take Kim into her arms to comfort her. No matter how insane it seemed to want to soothe the woman who had lied to her, who had made her believe that she'd had someone else in her bed, someone clean and whole and fresh. Someone not Kerry. But Kerry hesitated in mid-reach, remembering she had lost the privilege of touching Kim by betraying her, by abandoning her when she'd needed her most.

"Don't hate yourself, Kim," said Kerry, sighing softly, her arms falling back to her sides, lonely and cold. "I deserved it. All of it. I killed your spirit that day at the hearing, I know I did. I saw it in your eyes. Heard it in your voice whenever we spoke." She turned slightly, looking into the distance. "I tried everything to get that back. Everything I could think of. I couldn't bear the thought of being the one who'd destroyed something so beautiful." Tears welled silently in eyes leaden with regret. They spilled hotly down Kerry's cheeks without her permission. 

She cried out with the memory. "It was too damned easy to do! I didn't realize I'd done it at first but then your eyes…you looked at me…and I saw it…saw you…die." She turned her tremulous gaze back to Kim standing coltishly in the doorway, framed by the afternoon sunlight. 

"I could have accepted your hatred. I could have accepted your contempt, your disgust, all of it. But I couldn't accept that lost look in your eyes…your beautiful sky eyes." Kerry so wanted to reach out to Kim at that moment but she held herself back even now, even though the effort of her restraint made her bones ache right down to the marrow. 

Kerry turned away again and said her next words bitterly. 

"If you must hate someone, it should be me."

"Kerry, look at me."

Kim's voice was so quiet, so gentle that Kerry closed her eyes, not able to stand the grief that spread through her whole body at the sound.

"Kerry, please." Kim lowered her gaze to the level she knew she would meet Kerry's if only the beautiful redhead would do as she requested. "Look…at…me."

Slowly, as though lifting a great weight, Kerry looked up into Kim's eyes and shivered. They were blue again. Not the washed-out, bleached blue that had haunted Kerry for months. Real blue. Solid blue. Blue like the after-image of a daisy, viewed too long in the sun.

"I want you to listen to me very carefully, Kerry Weaver," said Kim seriously, slowly. "I want to know that you've heard what I'm going to say, that you've consumed it, made it a part of you. Because I promise you, I won't say this to another living soul for as long as I live." She took a small breath, intensely aware that she had Kerry's complete and undivided attention.

"It is not a question of hating you, Kerry Weaver," she said, the blue in her eyes thickening with emotion. "I can't. You're in every breath I breathe, in every heartbeat, in every thought. When you look at me, the whole world disappears and all I see is you. All I know is breath, blood, and you, Kerry. You." That perfect smile, that tint of joy that perpetually stained Kim's lips returned at long last. "And when you smile that smile meant only for me, I disappear completely, obliterated by light."

Kerry gasped, her eyes fluttering shut as the words bolted through her. Tears of gratitude coursed down her ruddy cheeks and one hand shot to her mouth, attempting to stifle the sobs threatening to burst forth.

"Yes, what you did at the hearing hurt me. I'd never felt that way before. So completely abandoned, so completely undone. Yes, I was angry and mean and distant. I lied to you-not just about Lori-but in countless tiny ways. Not returning your smiles. Dismissing you as I would a misbehaving child. Refusing the intent, the expression of your letter. Belittling it. But I realized yesterday that I'd been doing exactly what I had been accusing you of over and over-seeing only my side, my pain, my fear."

Kim took two steps closer to Kerry completely unaware of her own movement, drawn to her, feeling her pull like gravity gone wild.

"What happened happened to both of us, Kerry. I cannot deny you your experiences even if I never understand them. I cannot deny the validity of your feelings even if I never accept them. But I can move past all that. I can and I will because the alternative-losing you for good-would surely break me."

Kerry wept openly, one arm along her face, pressing against the sweet anguish pouring forth from her, the other leaning heavily into her crutch. She wondered how much longer she could keep herself from flying into Kim's arms.

"Kerry, I can't hate you because I love you." Kim's voice broke under the strain of what she was trying to convey. "I've loved you so long and so hard that losing you left me empty, brittle…so terribly alone... But today I thought you were finally beyond my reach, gone in horrid, violent, permanent ways that I couldn't even comprehend-and dear God, Kerry, if I don't touch you right now, I'm going to tear right out of my skin!"

Kerry opened her eyes then and made a desperate sound, lurching forward without thought, instinctive and blind. And Kim caught her in her arms, caught her with her lips, kissing Kerry deeply, hungrily, devouring her mouth completely.

"Kim," gasped Kerry between searing, desperate kisses that threatened to immolate her where she stood. "Kim, God, Kim…"

"Kerry." Kim's hands drew Kerry closer, pulled her small frame to her own lanky one as tightly as possible and she immediately regretted the barrier of cloth that separated them. She buried one hand in Kerry's soft silken hair, holding her close as their kisses deepened. The other sought out the smooth heat of skin, lifting Kerry's blouse, sliding along Kerry's lovely back, pressing sweetly into the small of it.

Kerry wrenched her mouth from Kim's. "I want you," she breathed. "I want to show you with my mouth and tongue and fingers, with my eyes and the way I call out your name when I come how much I love you." She kissed Kim lightly, a promise. "How much I desire you." She kissed Kim again, deeply, a different kind of promise. "How much I need you." Kerry reached up and smoothed the fingertips of her right hand along her blonde lover's jawline. "I am so in love with you, Kimberly Legaspi."

Open. That was the only word Kim could grasp, could formulate in her mind. 

She's so open…open everywhere. 

Kim groaned with the knowledge, with the newness of it, covering Kerry's mouth and claiming it, plundering it for its sweet, hot treasure. She lifted Kerry up then, felt her strong legs wrap around her waist, felt the thud of her crutch as it fell to the floor. They had the same thought at the same time, Kim reaching behind her to grab the front door and Kerry stretching one hand toward it, never taking their mouths from one another, never stopping their soul-shattering kiss.

Kim groaned in frustration when they couldn't manage the simple task of shutting the front door and she whirled with Kerry in her arms, slamming the door shut and pressing Kerry up against it, supporting her with one strong leg.

Kerry arched into Kim as she felt the blonde's hot, wet mouth begin a burning trail along her jaw, along her throat and to that spot…that one spot…that drove her completely mad. Kim nipped the hollow at the base of Kerry's throat and then suckled it, knowing how much Kerry loved being touched there. She flattened her tongue just a bit and licked it, circling its edge with one, long, wet stroke, making Kerry gasp with pleasure.

"Oh Kim…" Kerry tightened her legs around Kim's waist and rocked her hips forward, wanting more of her lover against her, her insides railing with frustration at so much cloth between them.

Feeling it too, Kim balanced the two of them against the door with one hand, snaking the other between their bodies. She pulled at Kerry's blouse, trying-unsuccessfully-to slide it upward and off the redhead's pulsating body. Finally having enough, she wound her long fingers in the collar of one side and jerked hard.

The fabric gave way easily and both women moaned at the sensation, Kim's mouth driving Kerry's moans deeper, drawing them out longer when she captured a freed nipple in her mouth, suckling it with abandon. Kim felt Kerry's heat on her belly and recognized the sudden and absolute need to touch it-touch her-unimpeded, to bathe in it, immerse herself in it, wanting the wetness she knew she would find on her fingers and on her skin and in her mouth…

"I need to be inside you…" she breathed into Kerry's ear.

The softest exhalation of breath…a surrender…a prayer… "Yes…"

Kim nibbled the lobe of Kerry's ear, tugging on it with her teeth, using her tongue to stroke it. Kerry began to keen softly, her eyes shut tightly against the utter magnitude of sensation engulfing her, drowning her.

"I need to take you, Kerry… Deep…" Kim punctuated the image by plunging her tongue into Kerry's mouth, showing her just how deep she could go.

Kerry's breath came raggedly and she whimpered, opening herself completely to this woman's passion, this woman's raw need, this woman alone.

"I need to make you come, Kerry…" she whispered, pulling her mouth away. She leaned in to brush her lips over Kerry's tightly clenched eyes. "I need to hear you scream…" Another brush of her lips, this time over Kerry's throat. "…My name…" Another brush, over trembling lips. "Only mine…"

Kerry thought she would come right there, driven mad by the sound of Kim's voice, so sweet and deep, by the feel of Kim's breath in her ear, by the words… She felt molten and wired…electric…fed by Kim's desire, both demanding it and begging for it.

"Make me come, Kim," she breathed, the words struggling past ragged moans and whimpers. "I want to come for you… Please…"

"I will, baby," promised Kim, "I will…" She gulped air into her lungs, trying to focus, to concentrate even though her skin seemed a living entity made of fire and sparkling want. 

She pushed away from the doorway as she took Kerry's unattended nipple into her mouth, pulling it and stroking it with her tongue, feeling it harden, feeling her own nipples harden instantly in empathic response, in abject need. She stumbled blindly toward the couch.

Kerry pried her eyes open and looked up the stairs as they passed them.

"Bed…room…?" It was the most coherent she could be under the ravishing circumstances.

"Screw the fucking bedroom," said Kim breathlessly, finding the couch by having bumped into it with her knee. She turned her attention to Kerry's right nipple as she groped for guidance along the edge of the furniture.

Kerry wasn't about to argue. She didn't think she could formulate actual words at the moment. She arched her back, offering more of her skin to Kim's hungry mouth.

When Kim reached the center of the couch, she stopped and gently disengaged Kerry's legs from her waist, setting her softly on her feet. Her eyes were a smoky, unfocused blue and she licked her lips unconsciously, gazing at Kerry's small, toned body. 

"Bare…skin…" she mumbled, her fingers making quick work of Kerry's ruined blouse, her slacks, the wisp of drenched cloth underneath. Not able to wait a minute longer, not even for the feel of Kerry's small hands undressing her, Kim stripped her own clothes off with an ease and speed that would have startled the redheaded hospital administrator if she hadn't been praying for just that.

Kim pulled Kerry into her arms and kiss, into her body, and the feel of skin on skin, the heat and pulsing need racing through them both made each of them groan with relief. Slowly Kim left Kerry's mouth to rediscover familiar bodyscapes, territories that she alone among all women had ever explored… The curve of a breast, the valley between them, the shallow burrow of navel, the rolling, gentle slopes of thighs and belly… 

When she had kissed all the way down to Kerry's knees and then back up, Kim settled herself on the couch and drew Kerry astride her.


Kerry's slick heat pooled across Kim's thighs and the young blonde ran the palms of her hands along Kerry's flanks and danced them up along the inside of her legs. 

"Kim…please…" Kerry's hips began to rock against her lover in a desperate rhythm, her breath shallow, panting.

Kim massaged the muscles at the base of Kerry's spine, encouraging the arch of it, finding Kerry lovelier than she thought possible with her head thrown back, craving, small, desperate mewls of want catching at the back of her throat. 

Just the sound alone made Kim want to weep with joy.

"Will you come for me, Kerry?" she begged.

"Yes…" Meaning somehow woven into a shuddering, tattered gasp.

Kim cupped her hand, then, her fingers sinking deep inside of Kerry. Kerry, the woman she loved. Kerry, the woman that she knew now she would always come home to, would always want to come home to. There could never be another for her. Not like this. Not now.

"Kerry…" A stunned, hungry whisper. "God, you're so wet…"

Kerry cried out, white hot with relief, with pain, with pleasure, rocking hard against Kim, against Kim's hands, feeling hot mouth on her ribs, on her breasts, on her neck. She felt the tightening inside her, felt her body crying for Kim, wailing for her. Long fingers, white teeth, ripe, red tongue…

"My God…Kim…" 

Kerry's fingers dug into Kim's shoulders and the blonde relished the passing thought that she would now be marked by her lover's strength, marked by her wantonness, marked by her need. Kerry's right hand shifted then, came to wind in Kim's golden curls, came to touch her high on the nape of her neck… 

Kim captured the wrist in her one free hand and brought it to her mouth, tongue sliding from heel of palm to tip of longest finger, knowing Kerry was close, made closer still by that one small benediction.


Kerry's eyes snapped open at the feel of Kim taking her middle and ring fingers into her mouth, a slithering liquid heat enveloping her, swallowing her in its depths, sealing the motion, the emotion, the whole of everything, focusing it, divining it, pouring it into her center, the whole of the boiling sea, thrashing against the white cliffs, the shore that was Kim. The shore that was home. 

"Kimmy?" Blind, seeking, returning at last to the safe harbor of her undiscovered country… "Kimmy?"

A touch to ground, fingers now entwined. 

"I love you, Kerry Weaver…" Kim choked the words out around the fragments of her heart, shattered and remade by the ferocity of this woman's strong hands, this woman's unwavering heart, this woman's boundless love. 

"Will always love you…"

"Kim…" A breath in stillness. "Kim!" A scream, long and wild as Kerry comes then, comes now. Comes and weeps for this chance that she's been given, weeps for past and present and future, tears streaming down her face, down the length of her body, mixing with her sweat, her heat, her wetness. Crashing through her like a river, washing her clean, washing her clear and pure and finally…finally…wringing her out, emptying her, letting her fill again, with light, with love… 

With Kim…

Kim stirred, her eyes fluttering open in the dim light, recognizing the coming twilight slanting across Kerry's livingroom wall. She lay on her back on Kerry's long couch, shoulders and head cradled by the sloping arm at one end. Only a short time ago-from this exact vantage point-she had been both witness to and participant in one of the sexiest, most fucking incredible moments of her young life.

Kerry's flashing eyes lifted from the target of their gaze, her bow-shaped mouth curving, hungry.

"When you come, come in my mouth," she whispered, eyes and voice smoky, intent. "Do you understand?"

"Yes…" Kim's complete understanding of that command penetrated her very core, making her shudder with delicious anticipation. "Oh God!"

She watched as Kerry nodded and lowered her mouth to the chalice of Kim's overflowing need, watched as Kerry's lips and tongue began their slow, sensuous work, their seduction, watched as Kerry lapped at her, suckled her, plunged inside her, Kerry's sharp eyes, emerald green with desire, never leaving Kim's.

Kim's breath came in sobs, head thrashing on the arm of the couch, her hands pressing Kerry deeper and deeper into her, winding in her longish, coppery hair, holding her to her. Her back arched, lifting off the couch, and her hips bucked. She saw the sexy curve of her own knees, of her long legs down Kerry's back. She cried out at the sight of Kerry's head moving up and down, the slick, hot rasp of her tongue driving into her, over and over.


Kerry moved deeper still, faster, waiting… A command given, impatience for its fulfillment.

"Kerry?" A question edged with fear, not knowing, not recognizing this place inside herself. "Baby?"

Kerry drove further…faster…taking Kim to a place neither of them had been before. Moaning inside of her, filling her with her own needful cries and her blessed tongue, claiming this moment for Kim, creating it for Kim, for Kim alone…

Kim reached for Kerry's hand, grabbed it as if she were drowning, falling, sinking, flying. Held on for dear, sweet life, winding her long fingers around smaller, stronger ones, arching as the memory of what those fingers could do to her jolted through her entire being.


Kim didn't know what she was begging for. Release? Consumption? Obliteration? They all seemed possibilities.

'When you come, come in my mouth.'

The memory of the command cut Kim like a blade, cut through the thin, humming thread that was all that stood between her and the totality of her crushing orgasm, screaming out Kerry's name, feeling the rush of wetness as it flooded Kerry's moaning mouth, her hungry, desperate, moaning mouth, feeling Kerry pull it inside her, drinking her, swallowing her whole…

Even now the memory made Kim's belly and thighs clutch and the dull ache for Kerry's touch that never quite seemed to go away flared suddenly, rising like a phoenix from the embers. Kim breathed deeply, slowly, tempering the need inside her. Now was not the time.

She gazed down at her belly where Kerry's red-gold head lay pillowed, one hand tucked under her chin, an unconscious remnant of the child she had once been. Her other hand was splayed on Kim's ribcage, just below her right breast, rising and falling with Kim's steady breathing.

Kim smiled and reached down with her left hand, sifting through silky, copper strands with her long fingers. She tightened her legs-still wrapped around Kerry's back-and was rewarded with a mumbled groan of pleasure…as she had known she would be.

Now is our time, she thought, gazing at the light lengthening along the ceiling with half-lidded eyes. A time just to breathe with each other. To hold onto each other and all they had made together. Kim sighed, radiating contentment and smiling to herself.

"I love you, Kerry," she whispered, making tiny circles between Kerry's scapulas with cool fingertips. "Tell me all about your dreams when you wake…"

A little while later, Kim found herself the one waking up…all over again. The light on the ceiling was now only a dim smudge and the room had begun to chill ever so slightly. She judged the time to be close to eight, a hollow feeling in her belly confirming her suspicion. She needed nutrients, food of some sort. Any sort. 

And liquids, she thought, grinning. Lots and lots of liquids.

She knew she would eventually have to get up, would ultimately have to wake Kerry just to get some sustenance into them both. But gazing down at the exhausted redhead, Kim could not bring herself to move, filled to brimming with exquisite tenderness. She began tracing tiny patterns on Kerry's splayed hand instead, settling into her feeling of completeness like she would a hot bath, a sigh escaping her full lips.


At first Kim wasn't even sure she'd heard it, the knock was so light. The second time it came, though, it was stronger, surer. More urgent. 

"Ummm, Kerry?"

No movement except an inexplicable lightening throughout Kerry's whole form. She didn't even open her eyes.


"There's someone at the door," said Kim, glancing over her shoulder. The third knock was louder still.

Kerry hid her face in Kim's belly then shifted in the cradle of Kim's legs, switching to her other side, getting comfortable again, sighing softly against Kim's thigh. 

"Ignore it. They'll go away in a minute."

Kim blinked and then smiled, pleased, as Kerry tightened her arms around her waist.

"Oh. Okay." She settled back into the embrace and closed her eyes, intending to drift rather than actually sleep even though she was still trying to catch up from yesterday. A breath, two, and she relaxed again.

Jingle. The sound of metal clinking against metal made Kim's eyes pop wide.

"Kerry," she said urgently as she heard telltale sounds at the door. "They have a key!"

Kerry's head bolted upright. "What? Shit!" 

They looked at each other blankly for one millisecond before ricocheting apart, Kerry rolling off the front of the couch while Kim clambered over the back, snagging the afghan draped there as she passed. 

"It's John," hissed Kerry, pulling on her pants. Kim was already halfway to the door, the afghan wrapped around her like a towel. "He watched the house for me when I was in Las Vegas. I must have forgotten to get the keys back!"

That admission alone told Kim that Kerry hadn't been herself for a long while. Kerry Weaver did not forget details like retrieving her house keys from an ex-addict, no matter how reformed. Even Kerry herself would have been the first to acknowledge that.

Kim reached the door just as it was opening and grabbed the doorknob, halting John's entrance. John-who'd been looking nervously behind him, no doubt in fear of being caught-whirled around.

"Oh, hi, Dr. Wea-" His eyes caught up to his mouth and he froze solid, still in mid-lame-ass-explanation. Eventually, he made his mouth work again…though for a while that had seemed iffy.

"Dr. Legaspi?" he squeaked. His eyes flicked up the length of her…then, terrified, pinned themselves to her eyes. While she was covered-barely-it didn't take a rocket scientist to figure out why she was dressed only in an afghan. An afghan with enough blank stitches in it to make the sight of her truly…inspiring. An afghan…in Kerry Weaver's house.

Kim smirked, eyes dancing with unshared laughter. "Yes, John. Can I help you?"

Carter snorted a half-laugh, his eyes still round. "Well, see…I just wanted to see if Kerr-um-if Dr. Weaver was, you know, okay, but…I guess…that would be a yes…so, um, maybe I should just give you those keys and wish you two a nice night…" 

He blushed bright red in the peaceful glow of Kerry's porch light, realizing he had probably just interrupted their 'nice night'. Not wanting to prolong the torture of standing there for one minute longer, John turned. "Goodnight, Dr. Legaspi," he called over his shoulder. "Tell Dr. Weaver I said-" 

"Dr. Carter."

John stopped dead on the last step. He knew that voice. That was the voice of one VERY pissed off Chief of Emergency Medicine. Or ex-chief, he corrected…though he hoped that wouldn't be the case for very long. All things considered.

"Turn around."

Oh shit. I am in so much trouble.

Slowly, with all the care and deliberation of someone walking to his death, John Carter turned around and looked up at Dr. Weaver, half expecting her to be in her lab coat, chart in hand, a frown etched deeply into her features. Instead, she was dressed in a pair of black slacks and a cranberry sweater that seemed a little too large for her slight frame. Her arms were wrapped around Kim's waist as if they had always belonged there and she was smiling. Honest-to-God smiling. Widely. Incandescently. 

John wished he had a camera.

"We're fine," she said, squeezing Kim just a little to make her point. "Thank you for checking up on me."

"Oh. Um. Sure." He smiled sincerely. "Anytime."

"Drive carefully, okay?" called Kim as he abandoned the step and crossed the street, heading for his car.

Oh right, he though ruefully. I'll be lucky if my imagination doesn't have me upside down in a ditch two miles from here. Drive carefully. Yeah, no problem.

He glanced back just in time to see Kerry reach up and kiss the corner of Kim's smile before the closing door shut him out of their moment.

Finally, he thought, shaking his head, relieved. Of all the things he had thought he might find at Kerry Weaver's brownstone, Kim Legaspi-gorgeous body hardly covered by an afghan-had not been one of them. Not by a long shot. 

John was so terribly glad to be wrong.

He headed for his car then, whistling a tuneless little tune and wondering just what Dave Malucci would do for a description of what he'd just seen. Wondering if he might be able to get out of bedpan duty for the rest of his career…if not longer. 

Dave Malucci, prepare to ante up, he grinned. Have I got a deal for you…

"Kerry? Honey?"

Kim opened the door to Kerry's bathroom and padded quietly across the tile floor to the shower, steam pulling at her unruly curls and dancing with the hem of her robe. A slight frown marred her alabaster features. Kerry never took longer than twenty minutes in the shower. Never.

Well, not unless she has company, thought Kim, a smile tugging at the corner of her mouth.

But that wasn't the case, obviously, because Kim had been downstairs in the kitchen fixing a small breakfast for the two of them, a quiet celebration for their first day back to County. Until she'd glanced up at the clock, that is. 26 minutes was more than just a shower for Kerry. It was a red flag.

Kim slid out of her robe and opened the frosted glass door to Kerry's huge walk-in shower, stepping inside and closing the door as quickly and quietly as she could.

There stood Kerry, stock-still, her beautiful heart-shaped face turned up into the water, letting it pound her without protest. Looking lost. Looking broken. 

Kim stepped as close to her lover as she could without touching her, sensing that the touch would not be welcome.

"Ker? What is it?" She didn't bother asking the redhead if something was wrong. It was written all over her, knotting up the muscles in her back, making her lean heavily against the safety bar on the wall.

Kerry flinched at the sound of Kim's voice but did not turn. "Nothing," she whispered hoarsely. She didn't think she could stand to look into the blue of Kim's worried eyes just now. She was afraid she'd begin to cry.

Ice flooded Kim's whole body at the tone in Kerry's voice. 

Oh God, what if she doesn't want this-us-anymore? What if it's too much? She knew she and Kerry had come so far from where they'd left things after the hearing but a tiny part of her still worried, still wondered When will Kerry leave? She felt that question rising inside her again.

"Please talk to me, baby," she whispered. She wanted to take Kerry in her arms, wanted to hold her, to rock her like a child, but she knew Kerry would not stand for such a thing. Not in her present condition. Kim settled for taking Kerry's hand in her own. 

"Please don't shut me out."

Oh, how hard it was for Kerry to honor that plea. Harder still to actually know where or how to begin, how she could possibly explain. But she owed Kim that much and more. For all she was to Kerry, all she meant to Kerry. For all she'd loved Kerry through. 

"I'm not sure…" She sighed and lowered her head, trying to draw strength from somewhere-anywhere-inside of herself. After a moment, she squared her shoulders and stood a little straighter. "I don't think they'll want me back, Kim," she whispered finally.

"They who?" asked Kim, confused. After all, Don Anspaugh himself had taken the two of them to dinner just last night. Supposedly to apologize once again though Kim believed he only wanted to reassure himself that the two of them were really coming back.

"My staff."

Kim reeled. Absolutely, positively reeled.

Her staff?! Is she serious??

"Kerry, what on Earth are you talking about?" Oh good, Legaspi. Truly compassionate there. Did you flunk out of Psych 101 or what?

Kerry just shook her head. "How long have you been at County, Kim? Ten months?"

"About that," confirmed the young blonde, shivering slightly. Kerry felt the shiver through their joined hands and glanced up at her lover, concern replacing all other emotions in her features. 

"God, Kim, you're freezing!"

Kim could only nod sheepishly and Kerry shook her head again, this time with a knowing glint in her eyes. She stepped out of the hot spray and pulled Kim into it, finding it hard not to smile lovingly at the blonde as a contented sigh escaped her lips. It was so endearing, in fact, that she completely lost her train of thought.

"You were saying?" Kim pirouetted under the spray and let the hot water course over every inch of her skin. She loved hot showers.

"What?" Kerry was enjoying the playful display. 

"About me being at County for ten months," Kim reminded her.

"Oh." Kerry's face fell. "Yes." She looked at Kim arching under the showerhead, watched her soak her hair into straight, dark lines. "Ten months is long enough to have heard some of the things I am called at the hospital. Tell me what you've heard." Her eyes were very serious. "And don't worry, I've heard them all," she said, countering Kim's protest before she could raise it. "I assure you."

"Okay," said Kim softly, not wanting to take part in this no matter what point it made. Ten months was more than enough time to have heard some of the nicknames floating around the hospital for Kerry Weaver, MD. She hadn't liked them when she'd heard them and she certainly didn't like them now. 

Kerry motioned for Kim to sit on the shower bench and she did, careful to keep her legs, at least, under the spray. She tried not to moan out loud when she suddenly felt Kerry working shampoo into her hair with small, strong fingers.

"Okay," she repeated. "The names." She frowned, wondering how to begin the list. 

"Well, there are the ones that lack imagination, like 'ice queen' and 'bitch' and 'wicked witch of the west' and 'dragon lady'. And then there are the ones a little more personal, like Weary Cleaver, the Weavernator, Crutch of Doom, Gimpy the Write-up Queen, and Walks-with-a-Stick. Then there are the mean ones." She paused for a moment. "And Kerry, I don't want to say them to you." She looked up at her lover with soft, sad eyes. "Please don't ask me to."

"I won't, sweetheart," Kerry assured her. She began to rinse the lather from Kim's hair, finding it odd to be having this particular conversation while performing this particular action. One so hated and one so loved. "But I've heard all of those and more. I've been with County long enough to have acquired reams of horrible, awful names and you know what? Not one of them has ever, ever bothered me." 

She stopped rinsing, keenly aware of Kim's eyes fixed on her.

"Except one," she amended. "Dave Malucci was the first to use it, I believe."

Kerry looked purposefully into Kim's waiting eyes.

"He calls me 'Festus'."

The young woman seated on the shower bench blinked. Twice. Torn in two very different, very distinct directions.

Kim Legaspi, the psychiatrist, pondered the provocation for such a name, wondered what ailment or character flaw in Dave Malucci could possibly account for such an infantile response to authority.

Kim Legaspi, Kerry Weaver's lover, wondered how many times she would have to hit Dave Malucci with a baseball bat before she could stop hating him. 

"That bastard!" hissed Kim, practically jumping to her feet. "I'll kill him!"

Kerry put her hands on Kim's shoulders, trying to prevent the taller woman from darting out of the shower in a state of anger…or at all. As much as she adored Kim for her gallantry, her lover was missing the point. 

"You will not!" she said, pressing Kim back down onto the bench. Once that was accomplished, she changed directions and pulled Kim to her, wrapping her arms around her. Kim, glad of the contact, returned it in kind, her long arms almost able to wrap around them both.

"I didn't tell you that because I wanted you to run Dave down with your SUV," she chided gently.

"Then why did you tell me?" Kim was not over this. Not by a long shot. One day, one way, somehow, she would make Dave Malucci wish he had never said that word.

"Of all the names that I've been called over the years, only one has hurt me. That one." Sadness claimed Kerry's features, stole into her gray eyes. "And it was given to me by a member of my own staff." She tilted Kim's face upwards. "That's why I'm worried, sweetheart. I know they hate me. Why would they want me to come back?"

Kerry Weaver took a long look at the ambulance bay doors, eerily quiet, a rare morning of stillness in Chicago, IL. She and Kim had decided to arrive earlier than scheduled on this, their first day back to County. They both needed the extra time to settle in, to re-connect in their respective departments before picking up where they'd left off. 

So much had changed and in such a short time.

"Nervous?" The softly asked question came from over Kerry's right shoulder and she smiled weakly at her lover.

"Yes," she admitted, looking a little sick.

"Remember that John and Abby walked out for you, Kerry," said Kim gently. She chuckled to herself, even through her earnest concern. Reassuring Kerry about the loyalty of her staff was not something she had ever contemplated, let alone prepared for. "And I suspect Luka would have done the same."

"Luka?" Kerry stopped scrubbing at the tight knot of tension between her eyes and looked up. "Why would you think that?"

"Just a hunch," replied Kim evenly, but Kerry saw the knowing look painted in pale blue and she made a mental note to call Kim on it later. "So…are we ready for this, Dr. Weaver?"

Kerry grimaced just a little bit.

"As ready as we're ever going to be, Dr. Legaspi," she said darkly. "After you."

Kim smiled sweetly and took a step toward the bay only to turn back suddenly.

"I love you, Kerry," she said, her eyes changing colors to a deep cobalt blue and filling with unshed tears. She blinked them back and smiled a little watery smile, inexplicably embarrassed by her display.

"I love you, too," whispered Kerry, her own eyes shifting toward a shade of forest green. She reached for and found one of Kim's hands, covering it with her own, squeezing it gently. Then she took a deep breath, grinned rakishly, and turned, walking confidently into the ER…

…which was, for all intents and purposes, completely abandoned. Except for Frank, of course, a fixture behind the Admit computer. He lifted his eyes from the chart in his hands and looked over the rim of his reading glasses.

"Dr. Weaver," he greeted, nodding. "Dr. Legaspi." He did not smile. "Welcome back."

Kerry barely heard him, so intent was she on scanning the ER for other employees. All of who seemed to be missing.

"Thank you," she said absently, her frown of confusion spiraling toward anger. She finally looked up at the stocky admissions clerk. "Frank, where is everyone?"

Frank looked around the empty ER and waved one hand in a non-specific gesture. "They're around, Dr. Weaver. Somewhere. But don't you worry; they're working hard. I promise."

The Kerry Weaver of before would never, ever have stood for such an answer. Would never have suffered such a vague response to a question. This new Kerry Weaver's heart simply sank. 

Oh God, it's worse than I thought. Not only are they avoiding me but they've lost all respect for me, as well.

"I'll be the judge of that," she snapped, intending to go off in search of the entire lot of them and lecture them until their ears blistered. Kim cleared her throat discreetly, bringing her up short. 

"Kerry, before you go, would you show me where you want this box?" At Kerry's slightly dazed look, she added. "It's the stuff from your locker."

Annoyed but unwilling to show that to Kim, Kerry nodded and led the way into the lounge. Kim followed, putting the box on the table for a minute while Kerry looked at her empty locker, her features suspiciously blank. 

"You okay?" asked Kim. She wasn't blind. Kerry's body was humming with a dangerous mixture of fear and anger, betraying her feelings. 

"Not really," she said slowly, raising reluctant eyes to meet Kim's. She was afraid and pissed off and curious, all at the same time. And disappointed. She'd so wanted to be wrong about her fears. "I'm not used to this, Kim. I'm not used to letting this type of thing get to me. But everything's changed now and I-"

"Change is frightening, Kerry. I know. But I promise you, things are not as bad as they look right now." Her lips curled into that half-smile Kerry loved. "Not even close."

"How can you be so sure?" She really wanted to believe that but was afraid to hope for too much. 

"I know people," explained Kim, shrugging nonchalantly. "It's my job." She gifted Kerry with one of her full-fledged beatific grins. "Want me to stay for a little bit?"

Kerry couldn't help but smile back. "No," she said, shaking her head. "I've kept you long enough already. You need to get upstairs and see if your codes work." She smirked a little and Kim sighed, relieved. "Go on. I need to go bang some heads together. If I can find any, that is."

"Okay, but call me if you need me. All right?" Kim squeezed Kerry's shoulder, surprised when Kerry closed the distance between them and wrapped her arms around her in a crushing hug.

"Need you in what way, Dr. Legaspi?" she asked innocently, her voice slightly muffled by Kim's ribbed turtleneck.

Kim lowered her mouth to Kerry's ear. "In any way, Dr. Weaver," she said huskily. "Any way at all."

Kerry shivered then began to laugh, the sensation buzzing deliciously through Kim's breastbone. She quickly extracted herself from the warm embrace, missing it immediately.

"Go. Now." She pointed at the lounge door. "Before I call Don and tell him that I can't come back to work because I've taken a position as a bed warmer for a particularly long-legged psychiatrist."

"Promises, promises," laughed Kim, shaking her head. She waved at Kerry's admonishing look. "I'm going." She stopped at the door and glanced back. "Pick you up around seven?"

"Seven," agreed Kerry. She watched until the door swung shut. And then she sighed.

There's no point in putting it off any longer, Weaver, she growled to herself. It doesn't matter what they want, they're getting you back whether they like it or not. So get your wobbly ass out that door and scream until you feel more like a Chief of Emergency Medicine.

Fortified by her own pep talk, Kerry shoved the door open, almost slamming right into Randi who was standing directly in her path on the other side. The redheaded ER chief had to do some fast thinking and even faster maneuvering to avoid a head-on collision.

"Randi!" Kerry rounded on the Admit clerk with irritation flashing in her gray eyes. "What on Earth are you doing?"

"Just makin' a delivery, Dr. Weaver," she grinned, completely unfazed by Kerry's grousing. "Here. Welcome back." She handed over a large crystal vase containing a single coral-colored rose. "It hasn't been the same around here without you and your red hair. Who knew they even made roses in this color?" She shook her head and headed off down the hall.

Kerry, thunderstruck, was watching her go when she sensed another presence. She looked up just in time to see Frank drop a rose the color of ripe watermelon into the vase with the first one.

"Dark pink is for respect," he said gruffly. "And you deserve a Hell of a lot of that." Then he escaped back behind his desk, behind his defensive shield of charts and technology. Quickly. 

"Kerry?" Luka Kovac walked up to his superior, concern etched into his features. "You okay?"

Kerry wanted to shout No, I'm not okay! Randi and Frank gave me roses! But the words died on her lips. Luka held two long-stemmed yellow roses in his hand and gently added them to her growing collection. He squeezed her shoulder, his enigmatic eyes smiling intently.

"Friendship for you both, Kerry," he said quietly, his richly accented voice reaching only her ears. "I'm glad you were able to move forward with her."

The tears came then, welling in rapidly greening eyes as Luka moved off, giving way to John and Abby, each of them carrying a pale peach-colored rose.

"Glad you're back," said Abby, grinning conspiratorially and adding her rose to the bouquet. "We wanted to get roses to welcome you back…or to toss on Romano's grave, but that would have been a waste of good flowers."

Kerry laughed, wiping her eyes.

John placed his peach-colored rose in the vase then produced another one-this time blood red-from behind him, adding it next to the first. 

"The second one is for interrupting you the other night," he said sheepishly. "Sorry."

Kerry could only shake her head. Could only continue to shake it, disbelieving, as rose by rose, color by color, each and every member of her staff-including the irreverent and often irritating Dave Malucci-contributed to the arrangement.

Kim watched from the spot she'd staked out near curtain one. Watched as one by one, Kerry's staff-no, her family-welcomed her back in ways it was obvious the redhead had never expected. Seeing the joyous yet incredulous smile on Kerry's features, Kim had the sudden sense of what she must have looked like on the day her adoptive parents had come to retrieve her from the orphanage, so long ago. 

And here she is now, standing in her own ER so many years later, adopted all over again. Belonging someplace again. Missed when absent.

Kim's eyes sought out Kerry's, wanting to see the realization there, wanting to see understanding take her lover past isolation and fear into this new place where she inhabited more than just a fringe area between her own comfort zone and everyone else. As the throng of rose-bearing well-wishers thinned out, she met Kerry's singular, electric gaze…and was not disappointed.

Kim raised one eyebrow in curiosity. Kerry grinned back at her.

'Not even close,' she mouthed across the room.

Kim nodded, her smile soft and sweet.

'Told you so,' she responded. Then she ducked past Chuny and Lydia as they assisted an elderly woman into a wheelchair, disappearing down the hall.

Kerry watched the spot where she'd stood for a long minute before snapping herself back into the here and now with a satisfying mental click. 

"Okay, people," she began, looking up at the admissions board, consciously injecting some of the patented Kerry Weaver fireworks her staff had come to rely on into her still shaky voice. "Can someone tell me why the broken wrist in curtain three doesn't have a cast yet?! Malucci! I'm not sending invitations! Get a move on it!"

She didn't see the surreptitious smiles directed at her from nearby. 

Kerry Weaver was back.

For good.

Thank God.

The End

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