DISCLAIMER: ER and its characters are the property of Constant C Productions, Amblin Entertainment, and Warner Brothers Television.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
By Susan P
I climbed up the stairs to the roof, feeling sick and brokenhearted. I'd grabbed a light jacket I keep in my office, but it wasn't much protection against the chill in the air. I wrapped my arms around myself as I walked over to the low wall that was the only barrier between myself and a hundred or more feet of open air. Not to mention the pavement below. I didn't bother looking over the edge. Whatever my way out of this life would be, it would come soon enough, and probably well before I was ready for it.
"I'm sorry, Lucy."
I tried to banish the images of her on the table from my mind, tried not to remember her thanking me, and the look in her eyes when she found out about the PE, but I couldn't. Try as I might, I just couldn't make them go away.
"Damn it," I looked up at the night sky, muttering, "Damn you. She was awake. She was awake--she'd made it through the worst of it. You had no right to take her."
Lucy was dead. Carter had a long road to recovery ahead of him, but Benton had pulled him through the surgery and he would survive. But Lucy wouldn't be there to help him through it--she wouldn't have him to lean on during her recovery. She had survived the initial surgery. I--we--had done everything possible for her, but had a pulmonary embolism and in the end we couldn't save her. I knew I'd done everything I could, but I couldn't help but feel like I'd failed her. Like I had failed all of us.
I stood there, studying my hands as if they'd turned traitorous, until the chill seemed to seep into my core. Still, I wasn't sure I could go back downstairs and face anyone. I turned toward the door to the stairwell, trying to work up the nerve to go in, but I caught a glimpse of green out of the corner of my eye and looked over.
Damn. Having my little crisis in faith was bad enough, having a witness to it made it all the more embarrassing.
She either didn't hear me, or pretended not to for one or both of our sakes. I could have ignored her, gone on about my business. She shivered then, though she gave no signs of noticing it. No one had come up after me, I knew that, and if I was freezing... How long had she been up here?
"Kerry!" it sounded almost like a shout in the relative stillness, but still she gave me no notice. I walked over to her and tried again. "Kerry?"
I put my hand on her shoulder and tried again, "Kerry?"
That seemed to do it, but she still had a distant look in her eyes as she turned to me. Finally, the fog seemed to clear. "Dr--E-Elizabeth?"
I nodded. Her crutch was propped against the wall, her hands gripping it.
"How long have you been out here?" I covered one of her hands with my own. Too damned long. I pulled her to face me before taking both her hands in mine and rubbing them, trying to warm them. "Kerry, you need to come back inside. You'll catch your death out here."
Her laugh was cold and brittle, like ice shattering, and I knew before she spoke what had brought her out here.
"There's enough of that going on around here," she whispered.
"You did all you could for her, Kerry." I don't know why I thought the platitude would work on her when it did nothing for my own guilt, but I had to try.
"So did you. Still wasn't enough," she cut right through my pretense, and into my own open wound. But there was no accusation in her eyes, just the threat of her own unshed tears. I looked away, down at our hands. If she refused to cry, then I bloody well wouldn't either.
"No. It wasn't."
If she hadn't spoken again, it would've been all right. I could've kept it all in check. But she didn't.
"She was so young. And she was a good student, despite her problems with Carter. She would've made a great doctor, eventually. I could've helped her. Mentored her more closely..." Kerry's voice had grown more breathless and shrill with each word and the sorrow and despair in it tore at me. My tears met and mingled with hers on our joined hands.
"But no," she growled--her voice back in full force, "I had to be the goddamned Chief. I had to keep my distance. My objectivity."
She looked up at me then and she looked so lost I felt another surge of tears.
"We could've been friends, eventually."
I wasn't quite sure whether she meant with Lucy or with me.
"I've lost too many friends," she whispered, her chin quivering with the effort to hold back tears.
I pulled her to me. She resisted only a moment before leaning into me and weeping against my shoulder. I did my best to wrap what I could of my jacket around her, trying to warm her as best I could. She slid her arms around me under the jacket and clung to me as my sobs joined hers. I held her just as desperately, needing the support as much as I needed to give it.
I don't know how long we stood together like that, but our tears had slowed to sniffles and she was shaking badly as she pulled back, looking shy and embarrassed.
"I--uh," she started, but I cut her off.
"Come on, let's get you inside. You're freezing."
I grabbed her crutch and handed it to her, wanting to help her with it, but afraid she wouldn't allow it. To my surprise, though, she did lean against me as we walked back to the doorway.
Once back inside the stairwell, I started back down, but she stopped on the top step, forcing me to turn back. She looked down the steps as though afraid of what lay at the bottom of them. She shook herself after a moment, saying, "I should probably get back to the ER."
I could tell that was the last thing she wanted, and I wasn't any more eager to go back, even though I could probably go home at this point.
I moved up to the step below Kerry, which put us almost at eye-level. "Have they paged you?"
She looked at her pager as if she'd forgotten she had such a thing and, given that she'd showed no sign of having heard a word I'd said until I walked up to her, maybe she had. After studying the screen, she shook her head.
"Then they're doing okay without you," I reassured her. "Stay a moment and warm up a bit."
She just stood there, looking at me, still shivering occasionally, though she didn't seem to notice. Her tears still shimmered on her red cheeks but she made no move to brush them away. For some reason I felt compelled to, and my hand was moving before I could stop it.
She gasped and flinched a little when I touched her but she didn't pull away or try to stop me, which surprised me. Her eyes slid closed, which probably meant that she enjoyed it, and possibly meant that she had to pretend it was some idle fantasy in order to keep enjoying it without having to play 'Chief' and pull away. I said nothing, for fear of breaking the spell. When I finished, I was still cupping her left cheek, not yet willing to lose contact.
"Th-Thank you," she whispered, finally opening her eyes to look at me again.
I still don't know why I did it, but I remember doing it. That memory is so very, very clear.
"No. Thank you," I replied, before cupping her other cheek in my left hand and leaning in for a soft, slow kiss.
I had just meant for it to be a friendly gesture. At least, I think that's what I meant, but it became a good deal friendlier than I intended. I still remember how she tasted. Minty. She'd brushed her teeth not long before, though I've no idea when she found the time or why she even thought of it. If she'd tasted the alcohol that was long gone from my system, she never mentioned it.
Not that she ever, ever mentioned it. Not even while we stood there, staring dumbly at each other afterward. We just...moved on. Back to our respective destinations that night, and back to our respective lives the next day, and the day after that, and the day after that and the day after that.
She never spoke of it, so I never could. But sometimes I would look at her, when I didn't think she would notice. And sometimes I would catch her looking at me with something that looked like longing, but she always looked away when I caught her, as if afraid of revealing too much. It got to the point that I would study any reflective surface I was near when Kerry was around, because every once in awhile I would catch sight of her reflection. So long as I didn't turn to acknowledge her, I could look, and she could look, and I could watch her looking, and sometimes I would see it. It was there, but only if we both pretended it wasn't. Damned foolish, stubborn woman.
Eventually, I caught her reflection staring back at me less and less. It had hurt me when I realized it, even though I was with Mark. I wondered sometimes if she'd found someone else to stare at and long for from afar. Maybe she did. Obviously she finally got off her ass and did something about it, though it was far too late for me then.
I loved Mark. I did, and I miss him. But I wonder, too, sometimes, if things might've been different. Given what I know now, the gossip I overheard about Kerry at the funeral, and at the gathering afterward, I still wonder. There was a moment there when I looked at her and there were tears in her eyes. After everything, all the conflicts and the bad blood, she cried for him. She came over to offer her condolences, but she moved away as quickly as she could without it being obvious to anyone else what she was doing. Too shy or embarrassed to try again, I guess. Later, I watched her with Rachel and Ella. She was good with them--she was always so good with kids. I remembered that I quite possibly owed my daughter's life to her.
There was one moment when, like they hadn't in years, our reflections met. I had glanced out the front window when I noticed her face reflected in the glass. She was looking at me like she hadn't in some time. I kept very still, afraid to let on I knew her eyes were on me. I was no longer as good at reading her expression as I once was, but I wondered if, sometimes, she still wondered. I wondered if, looking at me now, she was remembering a day when we were both cold, alone, feeling sick and heartbroken--a day when we found each other, and the means to begin healing. I wondered, just for a moment, if she remembered what I tasted like.
"Wool-gathering, Mrs. Corday?"
"What? Oh. No, Sir. Well...a little. I just lost a patient. Just taking a bit of a break before talking to the parents."
"Yes, well. Rounds are in twenty minutes. Don't be late."
Bastard. Arrogant bastards, all of them. Why the hell did I come back here?
"Don't let that old gas-bag get to you, Elizabeth."
"Thank you, Daddy," I whispered, leaning into him as he put an arm 'round my shoulder. "Remind me: why did I think this would be a good idea?"
"Is it really so awful?"
"Sometimes," I sighed.
"Darling, as wonderful as it is to have you here--and to have little Ella close by--you know that your mother and I only want what's best for you, don't you?"
"Yes, of course I do."
He smiled back at me. "Then, you should do what's best for yourself. As soon as you decide what that is."
I hugged him harder. "Thank you, Daddy. I'll think about it."
"Good. Would you like me to break the news to the Smithertons?"
As badly as I did want that, I couldn't let him. "No. She was my patient. Thank you, though."
"I'll see you later, then."
"Come over for dinner."
He kissed my temple before stepping back. "I will."
I watched him walk away before I turned toward the waiting area. I had a lot to think about.
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