DISCLAIMER: I do not own them. Yet.
THANKS: To Gail, who never fails to encourage my forays into sap, while also helping me say what I mean. That keyword's for you!
SPOILER: Speculation on S7 finale spoilers. Blink and you'll miss it.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
By Your Side
Kerry swayed back and forth in time to the bass line thrumming through the hazy air. The buzz of conversation surrounded her, even in this dark corner of the bar. She looked over the dozens of familiar and not so familiar faces and felt a peace she hadn't experienced in ages. Social occasions had never been her strong suit; her awkwardness had put an end to more conversations in her lifetime than she could keep track of. But somehow with Kim at her side, she acquired the ability to make interesting small talk, and it was a great relief.
She also had gained immeasurable confidence in knowing that she had the most beautiful creature on the planet nearby to rescue her if anything went haywire.
Said creature was currently fighting the crowd for drink refills, and Kerry was content to observe the friendly group milling around the bar. The Christmas party was in full swing, and she had Randi to thank for the venue this year. It was Randi's own local neighborhood pub, complete with a homey atmosphere, excellent food, and a kick-ass jukebox. They'd gotten a spectacular deal on a private party, and Kerry decided Randi would be getting a nice little Christmas bonus in her paycheck as a thank you gift. It was the least she could do.
A flash of dark curly hair under one of the dim lights caught her eye, and when the head turned, she was astonished to recognize Carol Hathaway.
"Kerry! Oh my god, how are you?" She headed to Kerry's quiet corner. To Carol's surprise, Kerry reached out and embraced her affectionately.
"I'm wonderful. You look terrific. Seattle treating you well?"
"Yes, it's great. Doug and I..." Carol stopped and took a close look at Kerry's glowing expression. "You look different." She pondered the features before her. "Is it your hair?"
Kerry smiled gently. "Maybe. I finally found a cut I could live with."
"It looks great. I mean, you look great. But I don't know if it's your hair or what."
"Well, I am two years older."
Carol laughed. "You know that's not what I meant. You look-"
"I am different."
"What's been going on with you?"
"Obviously you've kept in touch with Mark, right?"
"Yeah, but I got most everything second-hand from Doug, about Elizabeth, and the baby, and him being sick for a while, but..."
"Huh. I guess I'm not as newsworthy as I thought."
Kerry's gaze shifted then, as she spotted the willowy figure strolling towards her, hands holding a couple of bottles of Sam Adams. She was swaying her hips in an exaggerated manner, a come hither expression on her face. 'Lightweight' flashed through Kerry's brain, as the saw the telltale signs of a buzz on Kim's face.
Carol watched with interest as Kerry's expression shifted, a softness spreading across her face that she had never seen before.
She said over Carol's shoulder, "Are you drunk?"
Carol again was surprised when she saw the coltish blonde appear suddenly at Kerry's side, leaning closer than she would have expected. She towered over the tiny redhead and whispered in her ear, "Drunk on love." She giggled a bit, handing Kerry a beer.
"Lightweight," Kerry teased.
"Stop it. I'm just buzzed. Who's your friend?"
For a moment Kerry didn't seem to know what she was talking about. "Oh, Carol. Carol, this is Kim, uh, my girlfriend Kim. Kim Legaspi. Kim, this is *Carol Hathaway*."
Two sets of eyebrows raised in tandem. Carol was so intent on Kerry's wording that she missed the odd tone of Kerry's pronunciation of her name, but Kim immediately got the message.
She stuck her hand out in greeting, a knowing smile on her face. "Carol, it's so nice to meet you. I've heard so much about you I feel like I already know you."
Carol couldn't seem process this latest bit of information. She was still trying to convince herself that she'd misunderstood the use of the term "girlfriend". 'Maybe she just means girl who is a friend.' "Uh-oh. Who's been telling you stories?"
"Why, Kerry, of course. And they're all good. She's often told me how much she misses your presence in the ER."
Carol felt a curiously strong sense of pride at hearing that. She couldn't seem to stop herself from asking, "Really?"
Kerry nodded, "Of course! You were the best nurse we had. Plus you were particularly good at keeping the gossip level at a minimum, at least when I was around." She grinned.
Carol laughed. "I don't know about that. That desk is like the root of a giant grapevine that has no end."
Kim and Kerry laughed, their voices mingling and complimenting each other. Kim added, "You can say that again."
"What do you do, Kim?"
"I'm a psych attending at County. That's how we met." Kim brushed an invisible hair out of Kerry's eyes and slung her arm comfortably around Kerry's waist.
Kerry wiggled slightly into the embrace, shifting her weight from her crutch side to Kim's. "And after about three months of getting suspended and fired and quitting, we finally got things right. God, that was only six months ago!"
"Suspended, fired and quitting?" Carol questioned. She was having a problem keeping track of the conversation.
Kim took up the thread. "Yeah, Romano gave me trouble, then he gave Kerry trouble, so after considerable negotiation, we came back to work. I don't think Romano has uttered a single homophobic phrase in either of our directions since then. I think he was happy just to keep his job after the hospital was threatened with a very large lawsuit." Kim smirked.
Carol's eyes were bulging. "I guess I've missed a lot since I've been gone, huh."
Kerry nodded again. "Yep. Want the gory details?"
"Definitely!" Carol was warming to this new, chatty Kerry. So that was the difference she'd seen in Kerry. She supposed trial by fire, combined with falling in love, had given Kerry a gentleness she'd always been missing.
"So Maggie walks into the conference room, and I swear, Romano looked like he was going to ralph all over the floor. It was priceless."
"I wish I'd had a camera," Kim added.
"I wish you had too," Carol managed, still slightly bent over from laughing so much.
Kerry continued. "Needless to say, Robert backed off, and the Board has been extremely attentive to the requests from the Peter's panel on diversity, which Kim joined. I figured I had enough to take care of dealing with my own stuff, so I let Kim handle that end."
Shaking her head in amazement, Carol agreed. "No doubt. I'm so glad it worked out so well for you. For both of you."
Kim beamed, squeezing Kerry slightly. Kerry said, "But Carol, we've been hogging the conversation, please tell us all about Seattle. How are the kids? What are you doing?"
"I'm working at a clinic practically full-time now; it offers amazing daycare. It's so rare to find it on-site these days. I jumped on the job. I'm really enjoying it, and the kids are growing like weeds. Tess is an excellent conversationalist, and Kate is the quiet one, but there's a lot going on behind her eyes, you know?" Kerry and Kim nodded. "I have a feeling when she hits about 10 she's going to start talking and never shut up."
"It must be great to be so close to them."
"It is. They start preschool next year, and I don't know what I'm going to do!"
Kim spotted a familiar face approaching their little group, and felt Kerry stiffen slightly. It put Kim immediately on alert, and she recognized the man she'd chatted with briefly at the bar while getting the beers. He had a pretty face and kind eyes, but Kim hadn't made an effort to make small talk. She had one thought on her brain: Kerry, who was looking particularly sexy in her snug cotton tee shirt and black jeans. As she watched the man come closer, she pressed her fingers into Kerry's lower back, rubbing comfort into her muscles as best she could. When Kerry looked up at her gratefully, she smiled gently and pressed her lips to Kerry's temple.
"Hey," Doug said as he threw his arm around Carol's shoulders. "Hi Kerry." He glanced curiously at the gorgeous blonde who seemed to be clinging to Kerry.
Carol decided to make introductions. "Kerry was just filling me in on everything that's been happening with her the past few months. This is Kim Legaspi, a psych attending at County." Carol paused, wondering how to word her next statement. "She and Kerry have been together for, what did you say, six months now?"
Kim grinned in agreement. "Give or take." She unwrapped her arm from Kerry's waist and held out her hand amiably. "How are you, Doug?"
Doug couldn't seem to get his arm to respond, but he finally was able to hold out his hand to shake Kim's. He found his fingers squeezed in an uncomfortably firm grip, and looked into Kim's face. He almost reared back at the expression; there was a threat streaming from Kim's clear blue eyes that he hadn't expected. It said, 'Don't mess with me, or you'll be sorry.' Then it was gone, a wide smile erasing it completely. Had he just imagined it? "Um, I'm fine. Was just catching up with the guys. Carter and Mark had a lot to talk about." He watched as Kim's arm snaked back around Kerry possessively. Carol said they were 'together'; what the hell was that about?
"I'm sure they did. Carol was just telling us about Seattle. What are you up to, Doug?"
"Oh, you know, this and that." Doug couldn't keep the question inside. "You're 'together'?"
Carol elbowed him in the ribs. "Doug!"
Kim's eyebrow flew skyward, her eyes slitting seductively. "Mm-hmm." She blinked a few times, and Doug was briefly distracted by the image.
Kerry leaned in conspiratorially. She stage-whispered, "I'm a lesbian, Doug." She could barely keep the smirk from her lips.
Doug was bobbing his head in that way that had always irritated Kerry. "Oh. Oh. That's great, I guess. Yeah."
Kerry snorted. She turned to Kim. "Do you need another beer, sweetie? Carol, how about you?"
Carol shook her head in the negative. Kim laughed, "Are you trying to get me tanked so you can get me home and have your way with me?"
Kerry licked her lips. "Oh, I don't have to get you drunk to have my way with you. I'll get you one anyway. Doug, how about you?"
Doug was stunned. "No, I'm fine." As an afterthought, he added, "Thanks."
Kerry headed for the bar, and Kim's lips tipped as she tried to deconstruct Doug's expression. It was yet another moment when she wished she had a camera.
"Close your mouth, honey," Carol recommended. His head jerked up at that, and his teeth clicked together loudly as he shut his mouth. "Kim told me a very interesting story about Romano that I'm sure you'll enjoy." She turned to Kim hoping she'd be willing to deliver an abbreviated version of it to her husband.
Unfortunately, Kim wasn't paying attention. She had a sleepy expression on her face, and seemed to be leaning towards the bar as she gazed upon her lover. "Um, could you excuse me for a minute? I really like this song, I just wanted to..." She trailed off apologetically.
Carol said, "Sure, no problem. We'll see you soon, okay?"
"Yeah." Kim snapped her interest back to the couple in front of her so she could respectfully make her exit. "It was great to meet you Carol, make sure we see you again before you go, okay? Nice to meet you too, Doug." She patted his chest, then strode towards the small redhead trying to get the bartender's attention.
Doug and Carol both turned around to watch as Kim tapped Kerry's shoulder. She leaned closely into Kerry's space and said something, and her eyebrows rose in question. Carol thought Kerry responded with a leery, "You sure?" Kim nodded vigorously, and she took Kerry's hand and led her to a dark corner of the makeshift dance floor. Kim took Kerry's crutch from her arm, looked around for a minute, then spotted Haleh and her husband at a table nearby. She said something to them; Haleh nodded, and smiling, Kim leaned the crutch up against their table. She turned back to Kerry, took her into her embrace, and the two began to move together in the muted light alongside half a dozen other couples. Soft strains of a love song accompanied them, and Kerry moved with an odd grace while supported by Kim's strong arms. Her disability seemed to disappear as they swayed, Kerry nuzzling under Kim's chin. Kim stroked red hair with one hand and spoke into Kerry's ear. Carol was sure she saw the words "I love you," being mouthed as they danced, and she simply stared. Of all the things she'd expected of her evening, she hadn't imagined watching Kerry Weaver, alpha bitch of the ER, slow dancing with her lover. Then again, she thought back to that "anonymous" romance novel--Kerry really was a closet romantic with a warped sense of humor. Minus the closet now, she supposed.
She looked over at Doug, who was watching them as well. "Wanna dance?"
Doug's head dropped, and he smiled that smile that always shook Carol to the core. He turned to her and nodded. "Yeah." He leaned in and kissed her softly. "Love you."
"Love you too."
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