DISCLAIMER: ER is the property of Constant C Productions, Amblin Entertainment, and Warner Brothers Television.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Trust me. Hee. We'll get to someplace ya'll like, I promise. Eventually.
SPOILERS: Situated somewhere in the ether post-Rampage and pre-the-all-my-hopes-getting-dashed start of Season 8.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
FEEDBACK: To sbowers04[at]yahoo.com
The (Fe)Male Gaze
Recasting the Primal Scene, Redux
By Sharon Bowers
Part One: Interlude
With the small part of her consciousness not completely absorbed by the overwhelming power of her five primal senses, she marveled at the ability of this woman to move her so completely. Untethered by fear, unbound by desire, propriety swept aside by need and consent-- she let herself be taken away by the confident strokes of those hands against her body.
The pleasure deepened, beckoned her to someplace long ago lost or put to the side by the search for self and same; but, this time, she allowed it to flourish, reaching more urgently into her depths, ever-expanding and spiraling upward.
A guttural noise, halfway to a scream, poured from her throat as her muscles gathered themselves, bunching against the controlled precision of those magnificent hands.
"Come for me," a whispered entreaty, and the remaining thing that had unknowingly been holding itself back broke free, tumbling headlong into an explosive release.
"Oh. My. God." Breath ragged and torn by the strain, Abby concentrated on nothing more complex than trying to control the rampant pounding of her heart as Kim's head came to gently rest in the hollows of her hips. Muscles flexing involuntarily in the aftershocks of orgasm, Abby's senses slowly released their grip on the immediate-- becoming more aware of her surroundings.
The gentle scratch of carpet against her bare skin. The tangle of scrubs, jeans and T-shirts surrounding them. The god-awful noise coming from the television set.
"What the hell?" Straining her neck to see around the couch, Abby peered indignantly at the screen.
Kim chuckled in response, tugging Abby back towards her and wrapping her safely within the confines of her long arms. "I think VH1 is having a Big 80s marathon or something. It's been Hair Band Behind the Music pretty much all day."
Settling into Kim's embrace and more than willing to let the longer woman come between her and the rough pile of the carpet, Abby rested her head on the other woman's chest. Her fingers traced idle paths down Kim's ribcage and into the graceful narrowing of her waist while she listened to the slightly erratic beat of her lover's heart. "Something I can do for you, lady?" she murmured, recognizing Kim's arousal in the pulse she heard and the coiling tension in the body cradling her.
"Mmmm..." Kim brushed a gentle kiss across the crown of dark hair, smiling into its thickness. "Let me hold you for a minute?"
"You hear me complaining?" Moments dissolved into a quiet peace, and almost unwillingly Abby listened to the ambient noise of the music on the television. "I think I lost my virginity to this song."
"Really?" An amused murmur.
"Yeah." She crawled up the length of Kim's body until, propping her head on a hand, she could look the other woman in the eye. "Feels like I just lost it again too."
A wry brow arched, but the reverent press of Abby's lips against hers forestalled any reply. The psychiatrist's mouth was a place Abby had discovered she most liked to tarry, enjoying the shape and taste of the full lips beneath her own. The languor with which Kim approached kissing had been a revelation to Abby in their first encounter; and in the ensuing weeks, it had become one of the touchstones of their connection.
"Thought I wasn't your first woman?" Kim managed between the infinitesimal partings of their lips.
"You're not," Abby agreed, pulling back to gaze at the bronzed form of the woman so recently become her lover. "I don't know what you are," she confessed, without pausing to consider her words. "But I'm pretty sure you're the first something for me." Felt too powerful to be any different, she knew, but that kind of admission wasn't yet a part of their vocabulary. Abby didn't know when-- if ever-- it would be.
Kim Legaspi and Abby Lockhart were the unlikeliest of lovers. Everyone would say that-- in fact, just about everyone at County General had said that in one form or another in the short time their liaison had been common knowledge.
If pressed, Abby wouldn't have been able to pinpoint one single instant when she realized that what was happening between them had taken a carnal twist-- in fact, she hadn't known it for certain until her mouth was on Kim's and their hands were tangling in cotton and denim in a frantic attempt to reach one another's skin. In a single instant-- blind longing had short-circuited common sense, wisdom, and the kind of circumspection designed to keep things like this from happening.
But it had happened.
Of Abby's relationship with Luka Kovac. Of John Carter's ambiguously declared feelings for her. Of Kim's unfinished business of her own. She knew good and bloody well Kim's heart belonged to a petite and intense-eyed trauma doctor named Kerry Weaver, but it hadn't stopped either one of them. In the freefall of the discovery of their night together, folks at County had started taking sides; and the force that had brought Kim and Abby together initially had only solidified in the face of their refusal to be shamed by the dictates of propriety. The best either one of them could do right now was to hold close to one another and hope to ride out the worst of the storm. She trusted they would see what they had left, if anything, in the aftermath of it all.
"So what about you?" Abby prodded gently.
"What about me what?"
"What was playing when you lost yours?"
Kim arched a wry brow in her direction, then gazed at the ceiling as if searching her memory. "I'm not sure there was music playing."
"Sure there was. There's always something playing, just so you can look back twenty years later and cringe at the memory."
She laughed, "You're probably right. But I can't remember what the song was. Probably something instrumental, Debussey most likely-- I went through this intense classical music phase around that time."
"What was she like?"
Kim cocked her head, a lazy smile painting her lips. "What makes you so certain my first lover was a woman?"
Abby stared at her lover in surprise, then shrugged. "I... I'm not sure. I guess that being gay seems like such a part of you. Maybe it's a lack of imagination on my part, but I can't see you any other way."
"Hmm... Well, I have been out for so long sometimes it does seem like I came from the womb that way," Kim agreed laconically.
"So... your first wasn't a woman?"
"Oh, it was. A music teacher entirely too old for my tender years. Which means she was about the same age I am now."
"You were her student?"
"Oh, god no. My musical ability is limited strictly to watching VH1. We met when she came to one of the dinner parties my parents were famous for. I was obliged to make occasional appearances as both evidence of their conjugal bliss and their child-rearing prowess. Also to round out an odd number of guests, when necessary. I ended up seated next to her, and because her conversation was far more interesting than that of my other partner-- a medical colleague of my father's who exhibited entirely too much interest in my seventeen year-old décolletage-- I pretty much monopolized her all evening. Later, as they say, one thing led to another-- and the vague confusion I had became so stunningly clear."
A quiet reverie fell over both of them, and Abby didn't want to read anything into the subtle coloring of Kim's eyes into a nor'easter shade of gray. "What time are you on?" she asked at last, more to break the imposing silence than anything.
"Bout two hours from now." She stretched in their embrace, her body bucking slightly against Abby's slighter form. "I should hop in the shower."
"What time are you off?"
"Midnight," Kim answered ruefully. "Guess I'll see you just as you come on, huh?"
"Yup. Midnight to noon. Wonder who I pissed off to get that shift?" she asked rhetorically, but she wasn't really complaining. The rumors were flying fast and furious; and because she was one of the principles in this unfolding little County Gen domestic drama, she wasn't in any particular hurry to be in the thick of things-- though she hated that it left Kim alone to deal with the worst of it. "How'd you end up swing?"
"Myers asked me to switch." Kim shrugged diffidently. "Didn't really make a big difference to me because I'm off two days running afterwards. It won't matter if my days and nights get a little screwy." Kim looked down at the woman in her arms. "Speaking of which...." Her grin belying the apology she was offering, "I'm sorry to have jumped you the minute you walked in. It's just..."
"And here I thought I had jumped you," Abby interrupted softly. She had come to Kim's house after her shift without calling, having not seen the other woman outside the confines of the ER in three days because of the overlap in their shifts. The urge to taste Kim's skin again had been almost overwhelming as she had left the hospital; and she hadn't thought about shifts, valor, or the better part of discretion as she knocked on the other woman's door.
"Guess great minds..."
"You got that right," she responded, tucking Kim's mouth into her own in another ferocious kiss.
One Big Hair Band saga ended and another began in the time it took the two lovers to disentangle themselves from each other, and still Abby was loath to break the connection. "You said you had the next two days off?"
"After today, I'm not on until midnight Saturday. Full moon and all-- DeRaad thought it'd be a good idea if I was on hand for the festivities.
"I'm on graveyard all week," she said slowly, thinking that the idea of not seeing Kim in anything other than a professional capacity for another three days was pretty unbearable. "But Chuny still owes me one for covering for her during Mark's wedding. If she'd take my Friday shift..." Watching Kim's face closely, Abby worked at keeping her own tone light. "Maybe we could go out to dinner or something. Catch one of those blues shows you're always ranting about."
"Thought you were more of a jazz kind of girl?"
"Well, if I had to choose between John Coltrane and Thelonius Monk, you know who I'd pick," Abby rejoined, patiently wading through the repartee to get to Kim's real reaction.
A pale brow arced in her direction. "You asking me out on a date, Abby?"
"No," Abby answered quickly, then studied the woman opposite her. "Well..." she equivocated. "What if I were?"
That was the real question, Abby realized. In the brief length of their affair, they hadn't indulged in any of the rituals so common to courtship. Instead pain and need had brought them together, arousing a heretofore torpid desire that once wakened would no longer sleep. Thus far, they had both been content to indulge in the sensual pleasures of discovering one another's body, but now-- with her question-- Abby was venturing something outside the safe enclosure of each other's skin. She found herself holding her breath, waiting for Kim's reply.
"You ready to be seen out in public with me?"
"Kim... they caught us making out in the drug-lock up." Not mentioning that the they in question was Kerry Weaver. "We went public a while ago."
"This is a little different."
"True..." Abby allowed, slowly. "That bother you?"
"I'm..." she hesitated.
"Kim... it's not a big deal," Abby interrupted, before the woman in her arms could saying anything more she didn't want to hear. "Just forget I said anything." She slipped out of their embrace and sat up, sienna eyes looking blankly at the television screen and unsure of why a sudden ache had developed under her sternum.
One long arm snaked around Abby's waist and pulled them close together, endless legs following along either side of Abby's smaller frame. The slender weight of Kim's breasts were warm against the curve of her spine, and her lips were gently brushing the curve of Abby's cheek. "Hey, you... C'mere. Give me a chance to finish."
"Shh..." she soothed, running long fingers through Abby's dark locks. A long pause, then a quiet murmur. "What I was going to say was that I'm afraid to start looking forward to Friday-- because what if Chuny won't switch with you?"
The ache began dissolving almost as quickly as it had formed, but the stubborn echo of its essence remained. Abby twisted her head to peer into the depths of Kim's eyes and saw that, while the blue irises lacked the clarity they normally possessed, neither were they full of the thundercloud gray that was the harbinger of one of her lover's rare dark moods. She was beginning to know the subtle shading of those eyes, the flickers which explicated Kim's silences, the openness which frequently concealed so much.
She wondered if Kim's lie was deliberate or not.
Coupled with this knowledge was the simultaneous realization that she didn't care. Whether it was deliberate or no-- if it was, in fact, a lie at all. Tangling her fingers in the thick auric hair, she pulled Kim's lips to hers, tasting the residue of this woman's power over her, roughly probing her lover's mouth for evidence of her own sway over Kim. Finding it in hungry tightening of Kim's body around hers.
"Turn around," Kim urged, pulling Abby into her lap and wrapping the nurse's legs around her waist. Her mouth traced incendiary paths down Abby's throat, over her shoulders, to the gentle rise of her breasts.
"Thought you had to jump in the shower," Abby teased, pulling Kim's head away from her skin and capturing it in her hands.
"I've got... a few minutes," Kim admitted hoarsely.
"The way I figure it..." She pushed the larger woman down to the carpet so that she gazed down upon the swaggering breadth of Kim's shoulders, the narrow line of her waist, the delicate flair of her hips. "I know good and well that it only takes you twenty minutes to get ready..." The palms of her hands shaped the outline of the figure beneath her, barely brushing over skin as Kim subtly arched in response. "And a half an hour to get to the hospital."
"Sounds... about right..." Kim ground out as Abby's fingers explored the sensitive slope of her ribs.
"That means I have one whole, solid hour."
"To do...?" A sharp inhalation ended Kim's question prematurely as lips met flesh, tongue met need.
Abby paused a moment from her ministrations, looked into her lover's and smiled knowingly. "Whatever I want to."
Part Two: Greek Chorus Swing
"Did somebody call for Carter's psych consult?"
"Yeah. She said she was on her way down."
"She? Legaspi's on tonight?"
"What about Kovac?"
"He's off today."
The elevator doors chimed, and four pairs of eyes swiveled to watch Kim Legaspi step briskly out of the car, a professionally bland expression on her face. It was a little game she played with herself, appearing to be completely oblivious to the inevitable cluster that appeared around the admit desk whenever she was called down for a consult. She wasn't going to force the issue by letting the constant scrutiny rattle her-- though a couple of times the frustration of feeling like the topic of every water-cooler conversation in the hospital had rendered her so coolly civil that a few less-than-good-natured complaints of frostbite had been lodged against her.
Today, however, she was inclined to be charitable and attributed it mostly to the still-liquid feeling in her legs. A few hours with Abby Lockhart-- even when they made her ever-so-slightly-late for her shift-- had a way of working out her tensions, and she counted herself lucky that she had found not a little solace in the other woman's arms. Today, though, Abby had introduced a new step into their delicate gavotte, and Kim quite frankly didn't know what she wanted to do about it.
"You called for me?" she asked, striding up to the admit desk and shaking off the troubling thoughts. Work was the only matter at hand worth paying attention to, and she wasn't going to let anybody think they had caught her mooning over Abby when she should have been on duty.
Randi jerked her head towards the board. "Carter, your crazy consult's here."
Inwardly wincing at both the characterization and the consulting physician, Kim picked up the chart Randi slid in her direction, her thanks landing on vacant air as the desk clerk returned her focus to the copy of British Vogue spread out before her. "What's up?" she asked Carter, glancing through the chart and finding most of it blank.
"Guy in Curtain 1. Wandered in, vaguely disoriented. Chem, lytes, CVC-- all normal."
Carter shrugged noncommittally. "He seemed kind of twitchy-- I figured he might be one of your frequent flyers."
"Twitchy how?" She looked at him dubiously.
"Well, kinda... you know-- twitchy."
"Carter!" Haleh's shout preemptively interrupted anything else Kim might have wanted to ask. "Your guy in Trauma 2's crumping!"
"Just talk to him." Carter told her, spinning on his heel and trotting towards the nurse holding the door to the trauma room open. "I'll be right there," he called over his shoulder.
Rolling her eyes at the completely unenlightening history Carter apparently hadn't taken, Kim took a deep breath and pushed through the curtain separating the area from the three others just like it. "Hi, Mr. Hendrickson," she said, consulting the chart. "I'm Dr. Legas--"
"Don't. Come. Near. Me!!!!" The bellow and the backhand were simultaneous, snapping Kim's head to the side and sending her sprawling backwards into the next curtained area.
"Malik! Get security!" a familiar voice was shouting as Kim tried woozily to count the number of stars she was suddenly seeing-- though it would be quite a while before the sun actually went down. Slowly, the lights coalesced themselves into something resembling the red hair and concerned face of her ex-lover, Kerry Weaver. "Kim? Kim? Can you hear me?"
"You mean over the ringing in my ears?" she mumbled, aware now that she had managed to land gracelessly against the gurney of Curtain 2-- where Kerry had undoubtedly been working.
A large crowd was gathering around them, and the staff's scrutiny-- not to mention Kerry's-- was making her queasier than the blow to her head had.
"Did you lose consciousness at all?" Searching eyes, looking closely at her pupils, checked her for signs of disorientation, and Kim clumsily batted away the light that Kerry shined in them.
"No, I'm fine." She shook her head gingerly, testing the mental waters and relieved to find nothing more particularly scrambled than before. A bitter, metallic taste gummed her mouth, and belatedly she realized her nose was bleeding. "Aw, shit..." she muttered.
"You should get that looked at," Kerry offered tentatively.
"Does it feel broken?" Her nose hurt like hell, but there was no way Kim was going to let Kerry confuse her pain with the distance that still separated them.
Emboldened, seemingly, by Kim's willingness to let her close, Kerry's fingers tentatively probed the wound as Kim clamped down hard on the urge to flinch away. "Doesn't feel like it."
"To me either," Kim agreed, her own hand brushing accidentally against Kerry's as it traced the unruptured line of cartilage.
"You should still get it looked at," Kerry objected.
"You ever broke yours?"
She smiled wryly. "No."
"Trust me. At that point, X-rays are completely superfluous." She dropped her voice conspiratorially. "Hurts like a motherfucker when you do."
The rapid squeak of well-soled loafers heralded Carter's arrival as the cluster of curious on-lookers parted to let him through. "What the hell happened?" he asked, anxiety covering his clean features.
"What happened, Dr. Carter..." Kim said as Kerry helped her awkwardly to her feet. "Is that your twitchy guy decided to go WWF on me."
"This your patient?" Kerry's eyes were alert, bouncing between the pair and watching them closely.
"Yeah," Carter acknowledged. "He didn't seem violent... just... twitchy. So I called psych."
Gritting her teeth as her equilibrium rose woozily from her stomach to her head and finally settled somewhere close to her true center of gravity, Kim looked again at the chart that somehow had remained in her hand the whole time. "Well, maybe next time, you could stick around long enough to find out why he's twitching, so at least I'll know whether or not to wear my protective gear." She tried to keep her tone light, but couldn't help the irritation belying her casual words. "I thought hockey season was long over."
A truly contrite expression coloring his eyes, Carter offered a supporting hand which she peremptorily waved off. "Look," he said, exasperated. "I was going in there with you. You didn't have to..."
"I didn't need a protector, Carter," she retorted curtly. "I needed a history."
"Dr. Legs--" Malik interrupted, ducking his head as if to avoid shrapnel. "We've got him restrained, and he's babbling something about aliens."
"Thanks, Malik," she told the nurse. "Can you take him upstairs?" Tension rapidly thickening in the air, far beyond her ability to control, Kim shrugged lightly as if to bleed through it. "Looks like you were right about the need for a consult."
"May I see the chart?" Kerry interjected quietly.
"No need, Kerry," Kim assured her. "He's a psych admit now. I've got it in hand." Turning sharply to go, she was held back by Kerry's gently restraining hand.
"Kim..." she hesitated. "You're bleeding." Kerry pulled a handkerchief from her lab coat and offered it to the psychiatrist, who accepted it with a silent gesture of thanks.
She smiled crookedly at her ex-lover. "Hell of a way to start a shift, eh?"
"Damn, I can't believe I missed it."
"When'd it happen?"
"Few hours ago."
"Right after Legaspi came on duty."
"It wasn't exactly a catfight."
"Or a fistfight."
"Bout as close as Carter's gonna get to one."
"Yeah, he didn't look too upset that Legaspi got crocked one."
"He should be-- Weaver might take it in mind to tear him a new one over it."
"Cleaver did not look happy.
"Golden boy's got some tarnish on him."
"It wasn't his fault."
"Like hell. He practically ran away from the consult when he found out Dr. Legs was on duty."
"You blame him?"
"Oh please, it's not like he was putting it to Abby."
"Watch your mouth--"
"'Cuse my indelicacy, but that's what we're all talking about here."
"Anybody has a right to be pissed it's Kovac, and he seems fine with it."
"Maybe he was glad to get rid of her."
"Rid of her my ass-- I'll lay you money he's hoping for a chance to watch."
Consciously ignoring the rapid-fire scatter of her employees as she approached the admit desk, Kerry racked the last three charts she had been going over and erased two of the names from the board as discharges. "What else do we have, Randi?"
"Chairs are over there--"
Startled by the abrupt tone in the clerk's voice, Kerry raised a quizzical brow-- half inclined to call her on it. Randi had been suspiciously curt since the news of Abby and Kim's liaison had splattered across the ER with all the grace of a watermelon dropped from a twenty story building. Of course, Kerry realized, she hadn't helped matters any in the aftermath by choosing-- passive-aggressively, Kim would say-- to let the gossip flourish rather than putting a swift halt to it. That would have meant admitting, at least in part, to having a major role in the grist for this particular rumor mill. Heated declarations to Romano and quiet conversations with Luka aside, she wasn't quite ready for that.
"Dr. Carter, may I have a word with you?"
"What's up Kerry?"
Pulling Carter away from the lurking traffic behind the board and ushering him into the lounge, Kerry waited until the door shut behind her, then leaned upon its comforting weight. "I just reviewed Kevin Hendrickson's chart." Not telling him that it took all of her weight as departmental head to pry it out of the psych department's hands. For some reason, Kim had been set on not letting her see that chart. After reviewing it, Kerry could see why.
"Hendrickson?" A puzzled frown crossed his face.
"I'm not surprised you don't remember him. He was the psych consult whose history you didn't bother to take."
Despite her even tone, Carter blushed darkly under the implied criticism-- but he had the grace to not try and defend himself. "I don't know what happened."
"What happened, Dr. Carter, is you let your personal feelings get in the way of patient care. And as a result, you endangered a colleague."
"You can't believe I wanted her to get hurt!" he objected vociferously. "I had no way of--"
"I don't believe you did," she gentled him. "But the fact remains that you didn't take a comprehensive history. If you had, you would have seen that he had been admitted three times in the past four months and was combative all three times. And further that all three admittances were predicated on a psychic break caused by his dropping of his medications. Your instincts were right-- they told you this man was unbalanced-- but you didn't follow through."
"I never wanted her to get hurt."
"I didn't say you did." She wanted so much to reach out to this young man-- who had been the closest thing to a pupil, to a son, that she had ever known-- that she ever would have. He had grown so much in the years she had known him, grown so far away in that same time, that now she wasn't quite sure how to reach him. Especially with the specter of Kim Legaspi standing between them.
"But you blame me." He turned accusing eyes on her, shifting-- as he had so many times in the past-- the burden of responsibility to someone else's shoulders. "Because..."
"I'm not talking in terms of blame, here--" Kerry sighed deeply, rubbed the ever-deepening furrow between her brows and looked at him, dropping all pretense of employee and supervisor. "I know you're angry with her, John."
"And you're not?" he shot back
"No," she answered, having no simple explanation for the miasma of feelings and sensations that Kim evoked in her, even now. Even when she belonged to someone else.
"It's none of your business," she replied evenly. "And it's none of the hospital's. It doesn't belong here, John." Not exactly true, but close enough to her manner of functioning day in and day out with Kim close enough to touch. Truth be told, it was freeing in a way. Everyone in the ER was busily imagining her lean-bodied ex-lover entwined with someone that wasn't her-- in all sorts of illicit embraces that might or might not be happening-- but their prurience was Kerry's freedom. For it granted her the ability to look upon Kim in a way that she had never been able to in the hospital before-- as a carnal creature-- and take pleasure in that existence. Small comfort for knowing that Kim was spending her nights with Abby Lockhart-- and she tortured herself enough lonely evenings to have a good idea of what those nights might look like-- but comfort nonetheless. And she took it wherever she could find it these days.
Exhausted brown eyes reflected upon her as he shook his head slowly. "Then maybe you're a bigger person than I am. Or something. It's not that easy for me."
"I'm not saying it's easy, John. Just that it has to be done."
"Because she's a damn good doctor that County can't afford to lose. And so are you."
"You suggesting my job's at stake here?"
"No... not over this. But you can't keep going on like this." Not telling him that she feared for his sobriety in the wake of all that had happened in the last few weeks.
"I'm going to meetings almost every night," he admitted, as if knowing the trajectory of her thoughts.
"I'm glad to hear it."
"But..." He shook his head again. "It's just not enough. I can't...." His hands flexed in a random effort to grasp that which eluded him. "I don't understand."
"It's not for us to understand, John," she replied quietly, aware that it was a lie as she said it. She was all too cognizant of how emotionally-bloodletting Kim's relationship with Abby was for the psychiatrist, but it would do the resident no good to know that Kim was seeking oblivion in Abby-- the obliteration of a pain of which Kerry herself had been the principal instigator.
"That's not good enough, Kerry."
"It's going to have to be," she assured him. "It's going to have to be."
"So was he walking funny when he left the lounge?"
"No funnier than normal."
"And no, Weaver's crutch wasn't shoved up his ass."
"Hey, Carter might have enjoyed that."
"You going dainty on us all of a sudden?"
"Just a scary visual."
"Weaver's crutch or Carter and Weaver?"
"If I pay you, will you not go there?"
"So there's a limit to your..."
"Weaver and Carter are about it."
"But all other combinations allowed?"
"Well, of the Weaver and Legaspi kind, sure."
"You still holding out for that?"
"Never gonna happen."
"Oh yeah it is..."
"I think there's a little something about five four and brunette standing between you and that particular reality."
"You can't fight fate, baby. Trust me."
Abby was thirty minutes early for her shift, but she was hoping to catch Kim before the nightcrawlers came out for maybe a quick cup of coffee before she went on. Vaguely aware of the inquiring glances cast her way and then quickly averted, she veered her steps away from the admit desk towards the lounge. Undoubtedly Kim, Kerry, Carter, Luka, and herself-- or some combination thereof-- were what had those heads huddled close together, and quite frankly she didn't want to be a part of it right now. Mentally tossing a coin between calling Kim's office directly or wandering up to the Psych floor, Abby's musings were interrupted by the woman in question poking her head tentatively through the door.
"I saw you come in here," Kim said quietly, tucking her hands into her pockets. "You're early."
"Kinda bored at home."
"Really?" A skeptical brow tilted heavenward.
"Well..." She fought against the blush rising in her features, then gave into it with a gesture of surrender. "I was hoping you had a few minutes before you went off-shift."
"Oh yeah?" A lazy smile.
"Missed you," she confessed simply, not knowing what else to say. Subterfuge hadn't ever served her well, and Abby readily admitted to practicing guerilla tactics when it came to romance. But nothing had ever quite prepared her for dealing with someone like Kim Legaspi.
Kim ducked her head low, blonde hanks of hair obscuring her features. When she raised blue eyes to Abby's, the nurse gasped at the slight darkening around her right eye. "What the hell happened?"
A rueful smile. "You haven't heard yet."
"I told you, I just got here."
Kim shrugged casually. "Patient got a little unhinged. I was in the way."
"Uh-huh." She crossed her arms and regarded her lover. "And what would the group at the admit desk pretending not to notice we're in here have to say about it?"
"Their perspective might be slightly different," Kim admitted.
"Why don't you share theirs with me?"
"Carter didn't take a complete history on a patient before calling me down."
"And this history would've revealed..."
"That the guy had a habit of doing things like this." She gestured loosely at her face.
"It wasn't intentional."
"You sure about that?"
"Yeah, Abby, I am. John Carter may be mad as hell at me right now, but given what happened to him-- I can honestly say that he would never put another doctor in that position."
Irrational fury draining away in the face of Kim's logic, Abby wrapped her arms around herself tightly-- sublimating the urge to do the same for Kim. The psychiatrist seemed so resolutely contained right now-- the raw emotion she displayed so readily when they were alone closed off to her-- and she was at a loss for what to do. "You okay?"
"I could use a hug." As if reading her mind.
Crossing the distance between them in a stride that, by rights, was too long for her cover in a single step; she wrapped Kim in her arms, warm and safe, smelling of the same spice and sensuality that had set her pulse racing that first night their mouths had met. "Of course, baby. Of course."
"I'll give you twenty bucks if you go in there."
"And get my nuts chopped off? I don't think so."
"Oh come on, it's not like you're using them."
"You wish. You're so anxious-- you go in there."
"Yeah, like that wouldn't be oh... I don't know... obvious much?"
"What'd I miss?"
"Wait... Wait... Legaspi's leaving... Damn..."
"Looks like all her buttons are properly affixed."
"You already said that."
"I was making a point."
"Did you really think they were going to get it on in the lounge?"
"The drug lock-up seemed to suit them."
"That was one time."
"Which makes you wonder about all the other times..."
"In what kind of all-porno-all-the-time world do you live?"
"Wanna come visit?"
Kerry grimaced as she overheard the last exchange, regretting her decision to approach the knitted heads from their blind spot rather than head on. It was said that you could kill a cow by striking it directly between the eyes, and she wondered if this were to be the case with the bovine at the admit desk, gnawing on shreds of interaction between herself, Kim, Abby, Luka and Carter. As quietly as possible, she slipped the last of her charts into the rack and eased out of the perimeter of conversation, not wanting to hear anything more, but still cursed to as one last bray sounded:
"Oh be honest-- tell me one man or woman who wouldn't do Legaspi in a New York minute?"
"Don't be so sure."
Sure indeed, Kerry mused to herself, stepping outside the overly air-conditioned zone of the ER and into the humid July warmth. Strolling out to the quietly deserted basketball half-court, she was surprised to see Kim sitting silently in the shadows. "Long shift?" she asked.
Blue eyes, only slightly darkened by her assailant's blow, turned to her and smiled softly. "No more so than they all seem these days."
"True enough," Kerry granted. "Mind if I join you?"
"Please." Kim slid over on the short concrete bench to make way for Kerry's smaller form. Despite the disparity in their sizes, the bench was barely big enough for the both of them-- and instantly, Kerry became away of the heat beneath the thin summer slacks Kim wore. "Just glad it's over," she continued, as if oblivious to the closeness of their confines.
"You and me both."
"You finished for the night?"
"In ten minutes."
An excruciating silence, filled with the memory of not too many months ago when they would have discreetly repaired to one or the other of their homes and spent the intervening hours between this shift and the next exploring the length of each other's bodies. When they would have been caught in the thrall of shortened breath and clenched muscles. Of quiet entreaties and louder pleas.
Their heads turned at the same time.
"I know it's late, but..."
"Would you like to go get a drink or something?"
Part Three: Wherein Our Heroes Confront the Emotional Complexity of the Situation
Kim held the door open to the establishment for her ex-lover, noting the immediate look of approval on Kerry's face as she surveyed the darkly elegant decor. Mahagony tables, polished to a high shine, were scattered loosely throughout the room whose focal point was a magnificent bar, stocked with gleaming bottles and glasses. High ceilings and lazily-circling fans eliminated any cigarette haze before it even thought of collecting, removing much of the chore of spending time in places like these. The low murmur of conversation greeted them as they entered, provided by scattered groups of women along the bar and seated at the tables.
"I don't think I've ever been here," Kerry remarked.
"Found it shortly after I moved to Chicago. Owners are queer, but the clientele is gay and straight. Mostly professional women looking for a place to unwind after work and who aren't interested in the meat market scene. They really get hopping around seven or so. Things are winding down now, and they'll close up in a few hours." Kim shrugged diffidently. "It's as good a place as any to pass the time."
Kerry cocked her head, watching the vaguely auric lighting throw the high planes of Kim's face into sharp relief. "Why didn't you bring me here before?"
"You weren't particularly interested in going out a whole lot, we when were together," Kim remarked wryly, her tone removing much of the sting of the words. "If I remember correctly." Kerry opened her mouth as if to respond, then-- seeming to think better of it-- only nodded once in admission of the truth in Kim's words. Glancing towards the tables, Kim cocked her head. "Would you rather the bar or a table?"
Kerry hesitated only a second. "Let's stay at the bar."
Kim nodded in agreement. A table implied intimacy. A table implied privacy. A table implied a couple.
Which, looking into Kerry's green eyes, Kim knew they were most emphatically not.
The bartender strolled over in their direction, a pleasant smile on her face. "What can I get you ladies?"
"Connemara," Kim replied easily, then turned to Kerry expectantly. Time was, she'd order the Irish whiskey for herself and the smoother Scotch for her lover. But not today. Not anymore.
"The same," Kerry replied evenly.
"I seem to have developed a taste for it," she answered dryly.
"Kerry, the first time you heard me order that drink you called it the distilled equivalent of Irish peasantry masquerading as British peerage, and with about as much success."
"Perhaps I've reconsidered my opinion."
Kim nodded warily as the bartender slid the amber beverage in front of her. "Cheers," she said, clinking her glass lightly against Kerry's, at a loss for anything more. Kerry's invitation had been a Knight-to-King's-Bishop-3 opening gambit that sent Kim scrambling to counter. Now, looking into the quietly serene features of the trauma doctor, she couldn't for the life of her figure out how to respond.
The briefest touch of Kerry's fingers against her face, tilting her chin into the light as she examined the faint bruising around Kim's eye, was her ex-lover's next move.
Surprise paralyzed Kim into allowing the touch. Instinct forced her to lean into it.
"Shouldn't bruise up too badly."
"Carter's going to be crushed."
"I think he only wanted to blacken your blue eyes figuratively. The literal event seems to have scared him." Kerry paused. "As it damn well should."
"It wasn't intentional."
"It interfered with patient care. He should know better."
"And you weren't doing him any favors by trying to keep that chart from me."
"Not like I succeeded."
"Wouldn't the desire to protect the man responsible for getting you hurt be clinically classified as perverse?"
"Indirectly responsible," Kim corrected lightly. "And in this circumstance, no."
"I'm not sure I'd agree with your diagnosis."
"Agree or no, it's not your call to make. Yet you did just that by taking that chart."
"He's my responsibility."
"Rather Freudian slip there, Dr. Weaver. Don't you mean his actions in the ER are? And besides, the situation was already handled. It was no longer your concern."
Kerry shook her head roughly in disagreement. "I'm supposed to sit back and let this ad hominem thing play its course? Should I wait until Luka's coming after you with the sternal saw to step in?"
Kim laughed at the absurdity of the image, relieved when she saw Kerry do the same. "I hardly think it will come to that with Luka and me."
"We seem to be doing okay. Of course, I suspect that for a man who's been through a civil war, breaking up with your girlfriend over another woman is probably no big deal."
Kim hesitated, then mentally shrugged. "And you..."
"You and Abby. How're you doing?"
Kerry took a deep draught of the whiskey, managing to suppress all but a mild shudder as it went down. "Somewhere between you and Luka and you and Carter, I suspect. But then again, I haven't had to see too much of her lately."
"You responsible for all those midnight to noon shifts?"
Kerry glanced at Kim in surprise, but shook her head lightly as a quiet smile lurked around the corners of her mouth. "That was Haleh, actually. Although I didn't see any reason to interfere-- selfishly, perhaps. I did notice she hasn't complained."
"She wouldn't. Abby's one for taking it on the chin."
"Given what you two are up to, you both would appear to be. Though the chin is a bit high for the wounds you seem to be seeking."
Kim sucked in a sharp breath at the blunt assessment, finished the last swallow of her drink, and waved the bartender over for another. Only when it was firmly in hand did she venture to return to the arena of their conversation. "This is going well," she remarked dryly.
"Smooth as ever." Kerry granted her the gift of a rueful smile.
"Things do always seem to take on a certain train-wreck dimension where we're concerned."
Kerry winced. "Rather painful analogy given our past."
"That's why I found it entirely appropriate."
The gracious incline of Kerry's head conceded the point to Kim. "So where to now?"
Kim rested an elbow on the bar, propped her chin in her hand. "Tell me about you, Kerry." Entreaty clear in her voice, Kim gambled on the strength of the connection she knew still bound them tightly. "I miss hearing about your days." Going forward in any real sense demanded honesty. Honesty, in turn, demanded that she admit what a void in her life Kerry's absence had created. It was up to her ex-lover, however, to accept or reject the overture.
"Do you really?" Kerry asked almost idly.
"Or not," Kim muttered to herself, the cool sting of rejection at war with the warmth of her drink. She put her glass down abruptly, was startled to feel the small covering of Kerry's hand over her own.
"I'm sorry." Kerry stopped her flight before it could even begin. "Knee-jerk, I guess."
"Is it really so hard to believe?"
Kerry shook her head softly, her fingers still brushing absently over Kim's, seemingly oblivious to the tenderness of the gesture. "Belief..." she mused. "An amorphous concept at best. You know how I like to cling to those medical certainties."
"I'm not sure I can offer enough quantitative proof to satisfy you in that regard."
"There's something to be said in the simple act of coming back for more."
"Especially given my propensity for walking out the door?"
Kerry merely canted her head in agreement, loose ice cubes drying forlornly at the bottom of her glass. "Work," she said at last, startling Kim into catching up with the non-sequitur answer to her almost-forgotten question. "My days, that is. Trying to sort out how much of me is still me."
"I am still the same doctor I have always been," she replied simply.
"The best one I've ever seen." Her ex-lover colored faintly at the quiet praise, and once again Kim was astonished at how completely unremarkable this extraordinary woman considered herself.
"Mostly, though," she continued, giving Kim's hand a brief squeeze of thanks. "I feel people changing around me."
"How's it been?"
"Responses have been everything from I always thought you were to requests for dating tips--"
"Malucci strikes again."
"Bless his prurient little heart. The odd recoil or two-- sometimes in surprising places. Usually not. But on the whole, it's just a bunch of people nodding sagely as if the news explained some big mystery about me that they never knew."
"Which, of course, it doesn't."
"Not even close, I've realized." Melting green eyes captured Kim's gaze, held it there with a hint of a smile and a trace of bemused thoughtfulness. "But you knew that all along, didn't you?"
Abby stopped short as she pushed through the lounge door and saw Carter bent over a stack of charts. "I didn't know you were still here," she said, surprise overcoming circumspection. He was supposed to have gone off duty hours ago, but here he was-- glancing up at her and waving a metal chart.
"Catching up on discharge summaries."
"You really think that's gonna let you off the hook with Weaver?"
The words were out there before she could stop them, and she only regretted it briefly when she saw the look of hurt flash over Carter's features.
"Obviously you heard."
"She could have been really hurt."
"Don't you think I know that?"
"I don't think you thought at all. And she paid for it."
"Christ!" He pushed the charts away from him with a sudden shove whose violence belied the lack of volume in his exclamation. "Explain something to me. Because I really would like to understand." He stood, hands on hips, and glared at the woman he once-- still, perhaps-- wanted to call his own. "What the hell is it with her? What kind of hold does Kim-fucking-Legaspi have over half this hospital--"
"No. I really want to know."
"Tell me, Abby. What exactly is it she does for you..."
Moved by nothing more than the overwhelming desire to wipe the condescending smirk off Carter's face, Abby lashed out, "What she does for me, John, is something you or Luka never have." Sighing deeply, she ran a weary hand through her short locks, thinking that noon was entirely too far away for her own good. "She listens to me when I need to talk," Abby continued, looking at the shellacked expression on her friend's face and wondering if any of this was getting through to him. "And she respects me when I need to be quiet. She reaches out and puts her arms around me, and isn't afraid to let me do that for her." Thinking of this evening, and the frighteningly fragile look on Kim's face when she quietly requested a hug from her lover. "She gets me, Carter," she repeated the same words she had used with Luka, hoping that maybe John understood better than he had. "In ways that I can't explain. Have you ever had that?" she asked, reaching out to him. "Somebody who just gets who you are, almost more than you do yourself?"
"Yes," he answered simply. "You."
The admission struck Abby with gale force intensity, and she swayed lightly on her feet, struggling for some kind of emotional equilibrium. "John..."
"That's what I don't get," he said, continuing on as if she hadn't spoken. "How somebody can just come along and get me... and not feel about me the same way I feel about her." Uncomprehending brown eyes sought hers out, devoid at last of anger, hurt and resentment. "I've never met anybody like you, Abby. Anybody..." he hesitated, gesturing lamely and ducking his head. "Anybody at all."
"I don't... John..."
"She's never gonna love you." Bringing his gaze to focus on hers once more.
She flinched at the blunt words. "Are you trying to hurt me?"
He shook his head. "You didn't see her... Weaver... this afternoon when she went flying into Curtain 2. There's no way they're finished."
"You don't think I know that?"
"Carter... if I said to you, Be with me now... Would you?"
"Even knowing that I didn't love you? Knowing that Kim and I weren't finished?"
The question gave him only a moment's pause. "Yes."
"Then how can you ask me why?"
"Either Kim will deal with what she feels for Kerry or she won't. I can't change what's going to happen. Do you know how many times somebody's accidentally let it slip that Kim and Kerry went off shift together? Don't you think that a part of me is going crazy wondering what they're saying to each other right now?"
"You don't think..."
"No," she interrupted him before he could say the words. "Kim wouldn't do that. Whatever you think of her, both she and Kerry... They wouldn't."
"And that's okay with you?" Incredulity strained his voice.
"Of course it isn't. But honestly, Carter, what choice do I have?"
"You can walk away."
"I've been walking away from everything since I was old enough to buy a bus ticket. I walked away from taking care of my mother and into Richard, who needed somebody to take care of him while he went to medical school. I walked away from Richard and into Luka, who needed somebody to anchor him while he dealt with whatever the hell it is he's dealt with and still won't tell me about..."
"And into Kim who's an emotional minefield because of what's going on with her and Weaver. You gonna take care of her too?"
"It's different," she maintained.
"Would it be any different if I were with you? Taking care of you until sobriety wasn't an every day battle? Until you quit feeling the need to apologize to your grandparents for not being what they wanted or to everyone in this hospital for being rich? How long, Carter-- how long would I have to take care of you until you felt comfortable in your own skin?"
"And that's the reason it's different with Kim," Abby finished quietly. "More than anything, she knows who she is. This thing with Kerry... it made her question that, loving someone who was ashamed of her. I don't think I'll ever be able to forgive Kerry for that, no matter how much I respect her as a doc-- I cannot understand what it is that made her run."
"And now that Kerry isn't running?"
Watching the bartender discreetly make the rounds of the few occupied tables letting them know it was last call, Kerry shook her head. "I can't believe we've managed to shut this place down."
"It's hardly an all-night establishment," Kim jibed. "Back in college, I was usually just getting warmed up at this hour."
"Why do I think burning the midnight oil for you didn't involve studying?"
"Oh, it did," Kim disagreed. "Just not all the time."
"No doubt you cut a swath through the sorority houses on campus."
"You suggesting I was somewhat less than virtuous?"
"Just trying to figure out how you met Christy."
"Christy was no sorority girl..."
"Why am I not surprised?"
"Kate... on the other hand..."
"Don't mean to interrupt you ladies," the relaxed voice of the bartender stepped between the quiet bent of their heads towards one another, "But can I get you another round?"
"Don't want to keep you, Kath," Kim replied easily, watching the last of the patrons depart. "The check will be fine."
"Not keeping me at all. I've got about another hour's worth of paperwork and restocking left, so you two are more than welcome to keep me company." She grinned conspiratorially. "And actually, your conversation looked too interesting to end right now. Please... on the house, even."
Kim looked at Kerry questioningly, was reassured by the almost imperceptible nod of her head. "Then by all means," she accepted. "One last round and thank god for Chicago's yellow cab service." She leaned back towards the diminutive form of her ex-lover. "You were saying?"
"Actually you were saying about Kate and the sorority house. But I thought you met after school."
"You know what they say about taking the girl out of the sorority house, but the sorority house out of..."
"Ah... Got it." Kerry waited until Kath had set the drinks in front of them before asking, "Was it always that easy for you?"
It was something they had never discussed. Coming out in any way, shape or form had been a verboten subject during their brief, intense affair. Almost as if those two words were laden with the power to undo all that was between them-- ironic, only in the sense that, in the end, they had.
"I had my share of Oh my god what am I doing moments, if that's what you're asking."
"Then why was it so hard for you to understand when I had mine?"
Kim's head snapped back, as if the blow she'd received earlier had revisited her. So like Kerry-- who had, no doubt, been waiting these long eight months to ask just this question-- to do so without dissemblance or preamble. She considered the question a long moment, fingers wrapping around the familiar comfort of the tumble in her hand but not seeking the distraction of its contents. "Because my moments never..." she hesitated. "You cut my professional legs out from under me in that conference room, Kerry." Holding up a hand to forestall the apology she saw forming on her ex-lover's lips, she continued. "I know two things about myself. One of those things is that I am a good doctor-- and maybe one day I'll be a great one. The other is that I know who I am sexually-- I am gay, Kerry. That day..." She faltered, searching for a way past the blind chasm of pain that still welled deep inside to explain to Kerry the darkest moment she'd ever endured. "You denied both of those things in that conference room. Everything that I was-- gone in every word you said that day. Kim, what were you thinking... Dr. Legaspi... Them... It was this..." She reached out a tentative hand, trying to capture the words. "This... litany of condemnation from you, from the woman I had fallen in love with. I was... I was lost, Kerry. And I didn't know where to go or who to turn to."
"Kim..." Kerry looked at her helplessly, fingers entangling with Kim's. "I am so..."
"I don't need your apologies, Kerry. I had those the day it happened." She tightened her grip on the hand clasping hers. "And I don't think they could be any more sincere than they were that day. I'm not looking for reparations from you."
"Then what are you looking for?"
"I just..." She bit her lip, thinking of other times, other obligations, other paths they were all traveling now. "I guess that remains to be seen."
Part Four: Adrenaline-- Bossa Nova Rush
A career in emergency medicine had taught Kerry Weaver to enjoy the downtimes; it had also taught her to fear them. Silence was always the ER's worst enemy, for in those moments a sense of complacency could be born-- where staff and patient alike began to think "This isn't so bad.... I can handle this..."
Which was, invariably, a precursor to the very thing that any given person on any given day cannot handle.
For Kerry, that moment exploded when she saw Kim Legaspi covered in blood, wheeled in on a EMT's gurney.
Yet that endlessly paralyzing moment dissolved in a snap-- and she realized the blood covering Kim wasn't her own, and that she was straddling the limp form of a crash victim pumping furiously on his chest while Doris bagged him and her partner wheeled them into Trauma 1.
"Car versus UPS truck," Kim was shouting as she vaulted over the side of the gurney. "My count-- one, two, three..."
Instinctively, Kerry responded-- she and her ex-lover moving together as if they were born to the routine-- helping Kim and the EMTs transfer the patient onto the exam table.
"Driver was unrestrained..."
"What are you doing here?"
"Saw him go through the windshield." Pale, bleak eyes reflected the horror of the sight, and involuntarily, Kerry was reminded of Thanksgiving night and a story about a young woman and a dying man. It was gone in an instant, concentrated instead on the figure beneath her hands as she watched Kim's thoughts race visibly, calling up knowledge that had lain dormant since her residency. "Head and spinal CT. Chem, lytes, CVC. Type and cross four units. Hang two units of O neg on the rapid infuser."
"You need a tox screen," Kerry prompted her, much the same way she would a new resident under her tutelage, and bit back a smile at the command in Kim's voice.
Kim ducked her head in acknowledgement, her hands never ceasing in their CPR. "Ultra sound and get surgery down here to clear him for internal injuries."
"What've we got?" Carter strode through the swinging doors, double-taking as he saw Kim-- now draped in the same yellow smock Kerry wore-- working frantically on the trauma victim. "What the hell?"
"Pulse ox dropping to 82."
"We need to tube him."
Blue gaze met green, and Kim shook her head shortly.
"I've got it," Kerry said, the jerk of her ex-lover's head bringing her back to the reality of the trauma.
"No. I do," Carter interrupted, moving to the patient's head. "Step out, Dr. Legaspi."
"I'm not leaving him." Never missing the rhythm as her eyes flashed darkly at him.
"Step out, Dr. Legaspi."
"Charge paddles to two hundred."
"Step out, Dr. Legaspi. Now."
The thunderous sound of two hundred volts of electricity being delivered to a faintly beating heart slapped the air. An instant's freeze, then a faint sigh of relief. "Sinus tac..."
Sometime in the melee Peter Benton had joined the fray, looking only mildly surprised to find a psych doc covered in blood and up to her elbows in the trauma. "This guy's belly is full of blood," he snapped, reading the ultrasound. "He stable enough to move?" His eyes snapped first to Kim, who nodded, then Kerry, who confirmed. "Then let's get him upstairs."
"I've got the drug box," Haleh shouted as they wheeled him from Trauma 1 and towards the elevator. "Hold the doors!"
The falling peace, when a trauma has cleared the ER and the silence was a vacuum of energy and thwarted drive, was shattered in an instant as Carter snapped his gloves off angrily. "What the hell did you think you were doing?" he shouted at Kim.
The psychiatrist blinked at him rapidly, as if just registering his presence. Blue eyes flickered to green once more as if acknowledgment of a job well-done, then she turned on her heel and walked out of the trauma room.
Carter, however, was not about to let the subject drop. "You had no business being in that room," he said, following her into the admit area.
Oblivious to the avid pairs of eyes watching them, Kim turned on him in disbelief. "I beg your pardon?" she asked, her voice deceptively calm. Kerry recognized the inflection with a sinking feeling.
"You aren't trained to handle trauma."
"Trauma no, but simple triage yes, Carter. It may come as a shock to you, but I'm as fully trained an MD as you are."
"Yeah? Well, I didn't see you tubing that guy."
"That's because I know my limits." She paused. "Something you apparently haven't learned yet."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
Something in Kim appeared to snap, and her nearly six feet seemed to dwarf the ER doc as her voice lost any semblance of dispassion. "I mean, Carter, that your sense of outrage and entitlement has exhausted my patience. Like it or not, I am a part of this hospital's staff-- and my relationship with Abby is a fact of life. Suck it up or get over it. I don't care which, but I'm tired of it interfering with my work. Do you understand me?"
Carter's face had drained of what little color it had left, while Kim's grew progressively more flushed. Kerry watched in fascination, not ever remembering seeing her ex-lover this close to the edge of losing her temper. Generally when provoked, Kim grew incrementally distant, until she seemed so remote that contact even via airmail seemed an unlikely prospect.
"This ends, right now," Kerry said, suddenly realizing the precariousness of the situation and snapping back to herself. Stepping briskly between the two warring factions, green eyes glared fiercely at both parties. "Got it?" Carter wavered, then ducked his head in acknowledgement, but Kim's jaw only tightened-- and Kerry suspected she was about to be on the receiving end of whatever temper the psychiatrist had yet to vent. She laid a placating hand on her ex-lover's arm, and for a moment she thought Kim was going to throw it off in outrage. She didn't want to go to war with Kim-- especially in a circumstance like this, when she had let things get out of hand and Carter had a more than valid point-- but she wasn't about to be undermined in her own ER.
A deep breath and an exhausted sigh later, Kim nodded curtly and surrendered the battle not to Carter who had already walked away, but to the woman beside her.
"Come on," Kerry said softly, ignoring the still-greedy eyes fixed upon them. "Let's go get you cleaned up."
Safely inside the closed confines of the staff lounge, Kim ripped off the yellow smock with a growl of distaste and flung it into the haz mat container by the door. Her bare arms and tank top were soaked through with the MVA's blood, and her blue jeans equally ruined. She flung herself down gracelessly on a couch who collection of stains was only increased by her current condition and rubbed her eyes wearily. "I don't think my heart's beat so fast since I talked that guy off the ledge a few months back," she said mirthlessly. "Hell of a rush."
"It can be."
"I guess I understand now."
"Why sometimes you would come over after your shift and be... well..." she grinned, almost in spite of herself. "You know..."
Kerry felt herself flushing violently and dropped her head in response. "Kim..."
"Sorry. I know... The past. All that."
"I thought you were going to take a chunk of Carter's hide out before you were through."
"I suppose I could've handled that better," she admitted, grimacing.
"You think?" Knowing the irony wasn't lost on the woman across from her.
"I've never been one for flagellation, self-inflicted or otherwise. The boy has got to get over it."
"True," Kerry agreed, pausing. "But you know..."
Pale eyes found hers, brows arched inquiringly.
"He had a point."
Kim absorbed the news with a gentle flinch and shook her head softly. Instead of speaking, she rose fluidly from the couch and opened the spare locker where they kept the extra scrubs. Unselfconsciously stripping off the ruined top, she grabbed a towel and dampened it, wiping the life's blood of the trauma victim from her chest and arms. "I was just running down to the market to pick up some stuff for dinner," she said quietly.
"You still shopping one meal at a time?" Kerry asked, more than willing to follow the meandering trail of her thoughts. Her gaze never left the bared expanse of her ex-lover's back, and she noted now with surprise how Kim's shoulders looked narrower to Kerry, more frail than she remembered. Kim had always seemed larger than life to her, had towered so fearlessly over Carter a few moments ago; and yet now she appeared unimaginably delicate, wounded.
"One habit I'll never be broken of, I'm afraid." She sighed and let the towel drop to the floor beside her discarded shirt. "The UPS truck must've not even seen him. He was driving one of those tiny pseudo-sports cars, and the truck driver must've not seen him," she repeated, lost in the memory and beginning to tremble with its recall. "And that noise-- unmistakable, no other sound like it. That screech, a scream of metal. You don't usually... well, it's the noise that attracts your attention, you know? But I saw it. Saw it happen right in front of me when I was walking to the store, minding my own business."
"It seemed like it took forever to happen-- him to come through the windshield-- even longer for me to get to him. Kerry..." She turned devastated eyes to her ex-lover, and Kerry fought the urge to wrap Kim in her arms just for a moment, just until the shaking stopped. "The glass sliced him up so badly, I couldn't find any skin that wasn't lacerated. But when I checked his pulse, it was there-- thready and weak-- but he was alive." She took a steadying breath, held her head up a notch higher and suddenly didn't seem so fragile. "I wasn't going to hold his hand and watch him die. Not again. I could help him this time."
"You did," Kerry confirmed softly. "You saved his life. But..."
"But?" Kim interrupted incredulously. "There is no but."
"But... you're not a trauma doctor," Kerry continued, hating what she was saying even though the truth wouldn't let her say anything else. "Carter was right, you should have stepped out once you got him here." Kerry paused. "I should have made you."
"Every six months..."
"You have to update your triage boards. I know. But Kim, you're not a trauma doctor. You don't have the skills to be in that room." Kim turned away and irritably jerked a scrub top at random from the locker, pulling it over her head and refusing to meet Kerry's imploring gaze.
"You must find me incredibly useless," Kim murmured softly, wiping absently at the stains on her jeans. "Honestly. There really isn't a comparison, is there? You put your hands in someone's heart and bring them back to life almost every day. When all you see me do is ask them how they feel about it." She sighed exhaustedly and picked up her discarded clothing. "No wonder it's so easy for you to question my judgment."
Kerry rocked back in astonishment, the melancholy enervation in Kim's words paralyzing her. She reached out an imploring hand to the psychiatrist, but Kim was already out the door. Kerry ruthlessly stifled the impulse to follow her ex-lover, aware of both the half-dozen people at the admit desk pretending not to have seen them and that Kim very likely wouldn't hear what she was saying-- if she even stopped to listen.
Chuny agreed to cover her Friday midnight to noon-- the penitent shift, as Abby was beginning to think of it-- but not without a price. That price was coming in at six tonight instead of midnight. Eighteen hours-- of patients and blood and irritable nightshift docs and interns hitting their twenty-fourth hour and all the craziness that Chicago bled two days before the full moon-- was all that stood between her and Kim and a night on the town. Abby agreed to it without even blinking.
It also meant she hadn't seen Kim today, wouldn't see her until tomorrow until their date. She'd told Kim, "Just look fabulous..." although more and more she was beginning to think that Kim looking her best involved nothing more than bare skin and the odd sheet or two. Shaking her head at the lascivious direction her musings seemed to be taking-- as was invariable when she thought about the blonde psychiatrist-- she strolled into the ER, oblivious to the usual frenetic bustle of the place.
"Oh man oh man, you missed it," Malucci feverently proclaimed as she pushed through the lounge doors.
"Missed what? I'm fifteen minutes early for my shift."
"Dave..." Luka, who had been seated at the table methodically pouring through old charts, glared uncharacteristically sharply at the resident. "Don't you have to see about the bleeding hemorrhoids in Curtain 2?"
"Aw man, the nurses can check on him. It's not like he's about to crump or anything."
"No," he said evenly, his eyes never leaving the resident's. "They can't."
Abby watched the exchange with crossed arms and growing irritation. If she'd missed something, undoubtedly it involved Kim. Or worse yet, Kim and Kerry. "What is it?" she asked her ex-lover after Dave had not so subtly stomped from the lounge.
"Just Dave being Dave," he demurred.
"Luka..." she chided him, sitting down at the table beside him. The Croatian hadn't exactly been cool to her in the maelstrom that followed the revelation of her affair with Kim, but he hadn't exactly been friendly either. They had boxed warily around each other in the time since, elaborately careful with each other's feelings and decidedly noncommittal about the five-ten blonde that stood between them. It was exasperating in a way, at least Carter would fight with her. With Luka, mostly what she had gotten was silence, and the nagging feeling that she had treated him far more badly than he had deserved. "What's going on?"
"You know I'm going to hear about it in six different ways before my first hour's over." She hesitated, pushing a dark lock of hair behind her ear. "If it's all the same... I'd rather hear it from you first."
Brooding eyes met hers for the first time since she walked into the room. "Why's that?"
"Because you won't sugar-coat it. You won't lie. And you won't try to make me feel worse than I already do."
"I thought you didn't feel guilty."
"Believe it or not, neither one of us are in this to hurt anyone."
"That's right, it's not about anyone but the two of you."
The dry irony in his tone caught her up short, and she looked at him closely. "Have I missed something, Luka? Cause I was thinking you were pretty okay with this."
"Depends on what you mean by okay. I understand what you're doing. Maybe even some of what she's doing. But asking me to be happy about it is something else."
"So does this mean you're not going to tell me about whatever happened this afternoon involving Kim? It's her day off... so if she's hurt somehow..."
He obviously saw the worry in her eyes, for he shook his head quickly. "No, she's fine. She brought a MVA in this afternoon-- she was on-scene when it happened. Kerry let her run the trauma. Carter wasn't okay with it."
"Ran a trauma."
He looked at her impatiently. "That's what I said."
"Kim brought in a MVA and Kerry let her run the show."
"That's what Haleh said."
"And Carter flipped."
"Told her she had no business being in the room."
Abby paled. "Do I want to know what Kim said?"
"Haleh said that she took off a layer of his skin before Kerry stepped in and put a stop to it."
"Since when have you been a fan of Haleh says?"
He shrugged imperturbably. "Hard not to be with everything flying around the way it is."
"Better than Days of Our Lives, huh?"
"It certainly isn't Martha Stewart," Luka admitted with a smile.
"How'd she leave it?"
"I don't know. I saw Kerry leading her into the lounge when I came on. And when Kim left she wasn't happy."
The word had echoed again and again in Kim's thoughts as she caught a cab home, eschewing a stop by the grocery store, and pushed open the door wearily. It had hounded her through the last dregs of the afternoon and into the evening, accompanying the day's first shot of Connemara.
She toasted the sunset with a bitter smile.
Her first vision of Kerry Weaver had been one of overpowering competence, a dazzling mixture of technical skill and non-clinical tenderness with patients who frequently brought of the worst in ER docs. One reason Kim loved specializing in what she referred to as "crash-and-burn-psychiatry" was the exhilarating moment of helping someone reach out, take that first step to putting themselves back together. But for that first step to happen, they had to turn somewhere, broken and distraught; and very often that place was County's emergency room-- to doctors who were overworked, underpaid, and treat and street was a mantra heard far too many times.
Kerry, however, had never displayed any of the impatience or dismissive arrogance that Kim had seen far too many docs bring to psych cases. She seemed intuitively to understand that mental illness was as much a medical problem as a broken arm or head laceration, and treated those brought to her with the same care and attention as she paid to the self-inflicted wounds that often were the badges of their disturbance. Her tendency and willingness to question the judgment of pysch doctors, on the other hand...
Rubbing her brow tiredly and wishing for an oblivion the whiskey and the darkly brooding Buddy Guy album wouldn't bring her, Kim was startled quietly out of her thoughts by the gentle, but insistent, chime of her doorbell.
Ambling to the foyer, she was more than a little surprised to see the red hair of her ex-lover shining through the pane. "Feel the need for a sudden house call?" she asked softly, opening the door.
"Figured you probably skipped the store on the way home. And I know you don't keep food in this house." Kerry held up the white bag ubiquitous to so many take-out restaurants.
"Tell me it isn't from George's."
"I think I learned my lesson on that one the first time," Kerry smiled wryly. "May I come in?"
Kim inclined her head in invitation and opened the door wider, resolutely refusing to dwell on how completely alien watching Kerry cross her threshold seemed-- and yet, at the same time, how the simple act made this place feel more like home than it had in months. "What is this?" she asked, following Kerry into the kitchen, and unsure of whether to be outraged by her ex-lover's presumption in bustling about gathering plates and utensils or moved by it. Of the two options presented to her, she chose a third: casual disinterest.
Kerry remained silent, arraying the meal into something a food stylist would have been proud to call their own and pouring two glasses of wine. Turning serious eyes to Kim, she offered her a glass and pulled out a chair in request. "We weren't finished with our conversation."
"Given the things that were being said and the state of my temper, I thought it the best solution for everyone," she replied dryly, ducking her head.
The determination in Kerry's tone brought her up short, and she took the chair opposite her ex-lover with a wary tension coiling in her muscles. Swallowing the arrogant retort that sprang to her lips, along with the errant urge to be cruel, Kim took a long draught of her wine and a deep breath. "Then, by all means, finish what you were saying."
"It's more what you were saying. About me thinking you useless." An incredulity darkened her green eyes as she shook her head in disbelief. "That is the furtherest thing from the truth..."
"Actually, I think it's pretty dead on," Kim disagreed without rancor. "You've never seemed to hesitate when it came to second guessing me."
"I don't think disagreeing over a course of treatment is necessarily second guessing."
In spite of herself, she felt her temper flaring again. "Do you really want to go down this path, Kerry? We could, but I'm afraid this lovely dinner you brought would get cold."
"It sounds like we need to."
"Well, we could start with Shannon Wallace-- who, in your mind, didn't need to see that being gay was not an affliction, especially if that revelation came in the form of her psychiatrist. I think your oh-so-professional-opinion was: Kim, what were you thinking? Now that's deferring to my field of expertise. Do you want to move on to Roger Pilarski?"
Kerry flushed darkly at the acid bite of Kim's tone. "Is that what this is about? Punishing me for thinking you were wrong over Shannon Wallace? What happened to going forward?"
"I'm trying my damnedest, Kerry, and punishment isn't what I'm talking about. I'm talking about the ease with which you seem to find in questioning my abilities as a doctor. That was one case in point. Today was just another stone thrown down that particular bottomless pit."
"Because I told you that you really didn't have any business running a trauma?"
"Because you didn't recognize that I might have known that I had no business running a trauma. I wasn't about to get near tubing that guy-- you saw me, you knew it-- but I wasn't about to leave him. I do know CPR, Kerry, I do know triage-- my Hippocratic oath requires that of me. That was what was happening in that room."
"I'm not so sure it was."
Taken aback by the wondering tone in Kerry's voice, Kim rode the musing silence out-- watching Kerry's expressions ebb and flow with her thoughts, until they returned to the woman across from her. "I wonder if you have any idea of what you looked like coming in on that gurney," she began quietly. "They were looking to you-- the EMTs, the nurses-- when you rolled into the trauma room. It looked like you did it every day, the way you handled him-- the transfer, never missing a beat on the CPR, ordering the workup..."
"I forgot the tox screen," Kim interjected quietly.
A small smile. "True... but otherwise, you were flawless-- and you knew it. You looked like you belonged there, and a part of me..." she hesitated, ducking her head and flushing softly. "I couldn't help thinking, 'That's my girl...'"
Kim's breath seized in her lungs, alveoli constricting violently with the lack of oxygen; and it was all she could do to stop herself from reaching across the table-- as she had so many times before-- and wrapping her fingers around the other woman's hand. It had begun for them this way, over a dinner grown neglected and forgotten because of their focus on each other and the incredible connection that bound them in spite of everything else dedicated to pulling them apart.
"And then Carter was walking in," Kerry was saying, as if oblivious to the cacophonous thunder of blood, instinct and emotion pounding in Kim's body. "And you were shaking your head on the tube, and it reminded me..." Her fingers twitched against the tablecloth, as if the ghostly impulse to entwine wasn't Kim's alone. "You aren't my girl; and as much as it might have seemed like it at the time, you don't belong in a trauma room. Not in that circumstance."
"Because he does?"
"Because you've chosen a different path." This time her hand did reach for Kim's, clasping them in a warmth that seemed to dissolve the paralysis of the blonde's heart, lungs, and muscles. "And that path has taken you some extraordinary places and shown you some extraordinary things about the human mind. You deal every day in a kind of pain that I cannot comprehend-- and I suppose my ignorance can be taken as a form of second-guessing." She laughed lightly and shook her head. "It just... I mean I never..." Kerry blew out a deep breath and tightened her grip on the hand in hers. "You seem so absolutely confident, Kim-- it never occurred to me that you might be..."
"Apprehensive? Uncertain?" Kim offered. "Intimidated?"
"Not that. Especially that. And not by me."
"Why do you seem so absolutely shellacked by the concept that your abilities are powerful? Your presence even more so? You have a staff full of residents wanting to grow up to be just like Kerry Weaver. And that's not a bad thing, medically speaking."
"And non-medically?" Diffidence muted the words, rendering the question fleeting and as insubstantial as the breeze that flickered through the open kitchen windows and toyed with the loose curls of her hair. Faintly, Kim recognized the stutter-step shift of the paths around her merging, morphing and separating once more-- incontrovertibly different, but imperceptibly the same.
Instinct brought Kerry's palm to her lips and placed the vanishing kiss there. "That's not such a bad thing either."
Part Five: The Cant of the Key of Blue
Evening was swan diving across the city as Abby mounted the three short steps of Kim's front stoop, resolutely ignoring the irrationally heavy thump of her heart and breath that was quick in coming and slow in leaving. She'd walked up these steps almost every night for the past few weeks, this night shouldn't be any different; but as she glanced at the passing cars, the kids on bikes racing down the cracked sidewalk, the dozens of people going about the daily routine of their Friday nights-- some even with the same hopeful expression that she knew was on her own face-- Abby couldn't help but realize that despite her pretensions, something had changed.
Apprehension born of a childhood coping with the radical push-pull daily shifts of her mother's illness cloaked her shoulders now as she considered the woman waiting for her on the other side of the heavy oak door. Although learning the gentle curves and lean muscles of Kim's body had consumed her over the days and nights of their affair; more than anything, it was the patient cant of the psychiatrist's head and the depthless interest of those blue eyes as she listened that first fascinated Abby and pulled her, albeit unwillingly, into Kim's orbit.
She'd pushed Kim away while the psychiatrist had been treating Maggie, reacted like a recalcitrant child when Kim had tried to help bridge the decades of pain and anger and distance between mother and daughter. Kim had absorbed her spite and frustration with unnerving calm, had refused to be baited or angered the way Luka and even Carter had eventually been. In the weeks that had followed Maggie's departure for Minnesota, Kim had quietly followed up with her, unbeknownst to Abby-- until her mother had mentioned in a brief phone conversation the letters she had been sending the psychiatrist. Abby had sought Kim out... to thank her, she'd told herself-- when, in the quiet part of her conscience guided by five years in AA, she knew that wasn't exactly the case. Still, she was able to ignore the voice-- the constant hum prodding her to admit the truth-- until one unexpected night and a moment and a kiss that had brought her to where she was standing right now.
Blood careening through arteries too fast for her own good, Abby rang the doorbell and was surprised when Kim almost immediately opened it-- even more so to see that the tall blonde wore casual khaki shorts and a white tank top. "Um..." she raised curious brows, hoping to conceal the disappointment that sent her heart thundering to an almost complete stop.
A deep chuckle rumbled in Kim's throat, and she stood back to allow the nurse admittance. "Christy was running late as usual, and I just got back about ten minutes ago. So relax, this wasn't what I was planning on wearing to dinner."
"Was I that obvious?"
A rueful smile twisted its way across Kim's lips, and she shrugged guiltily. "You did look a bit like a puppy that's just been kicked to the curb," she admitted. "Give me forty-five minutes, and I'll be ready."
Something in the set of her lover's broad shoulders and the arc of her head-- not to mention the fact that she hadn't offered Abby any kind of welcoming kiss-- set the nurse's senses on alert. Kim looked tired-- ironic considering she had ostensibly spent the day relaxing with friends at the lake. Instinct prompted her to reach out to Kim, tangling the blonde's slender fingers in her own and drawing her near. "C'mere you," she murmured, mimicking her lover's familiar greeting and wrapping her arms around Kim's waist while she rested her head just beneath the psychiatrist's chin. "I missed you."
The hesitation was only an instant-- less even-- but Abby recognized it in the brush of Kim's lips against her hair. "How was your shift?"
"When they're that long, it all becomes a blur-- a good thing, I suppose-- but was I ever glad when noon rolled around."
"Poor baby," the teasing lilt of her lover's voice soothed some of Abby's rapidly prickling nerves, and the tightening of those long arms around her eased the tension rising in her body. The nurse closed her eyes and concentrated on the visceral awareness of the cling of their bodies together. They knew each other-- even though the secrets of Kim's heart belonged to someone else and the mystery of her thoughts she still frequently kept veiled. Yet Abby trusted, nonetheless, in the delicate nuances of what Kim's body told her. Desire, fear, hesitation and need were tangled in their embrace, irrevocably entwined in the impulse that kept bringing them together. Had things between them been simple, they would have both walked away from one night of out-of-control-need and filed it resolutely in the back of their minds, resolutely marked finished. Needless to say, neither one of them had-- Kim as much a part of their deepening involvement as she; and this reassured Abby that she wasn't alone here in this room with these burgeoning emotions rapidly threatening to escalate beyond her ken. "Did you at least get some sleep this afternoon?"
It took Abby a moment to process the question put to her, another to reply. "I think I crashed the minute I walked through my apartment door. I'm actually surprised I made it to the bed."
"You know, we don't have to go out tonight," Kim murmured into her hair.
The roughened edges of passion and something more ambiguous in Kim's voice prompted Abby to lean her head back and study her lover's features. Just as she feared-- Kim's pale eyes had shaded to gray, and her wonderfully expressive features were shuttered and unnaturally still. "Why do I have a feeling I should be asking you that question?" she remarked with studied lightness, waiting for and absorbing Kim's mild flinch.
Weighted silence pressed against Abby's sternum, and she felt the solemn thudding of Kim's heart opposite her own. A deep breath, a fleeting thought... and...
To her astonishment, Kim bent her head to the nurse and drew her lips into a kiss that was sunlight and salt exploding across Abby's senses. Hunger and the quiet desperation rippling just beneath her skin drove Abby deeper into Kim's mouth, searching for and immediately connecting with the sensual impulse that had taken them thus far. Kim's hands were everywhere; long-jointed figures on a quest of their own, seeking not to pleasure but to affirm, as if in doubt of the reality of the woman in her arms. "No..." Abby murmured, intuitively understanding the question Kim was searching to answer so viscerally. "It doesn't feel wrong."
The blonde buried her face in Abby's hair for an eternal moment-- during which Abby felt her life start, stop, and reset itself once more. "That doesn't mean it isn't," came the quiet reply.
"Here we go..." This time Abby said aloud the words she'd only thought before. Capturing Kim's face in her hands, she resolutely pulled her lover's gaze to her own. The combination of tenderness, confusion, lust and raw pain she saw etched on those remarkably exquisite features rocked Abby back on her heels and pounded the dying breath from her lungs. "Kim..."
"Kerry was here last night," she said hoarsely.
A long pause. "I see." Realizing suddenly how tightly she was holding Kim, she consciously relaxed their embrace-- as if physically letting go of the woman in her arms would help release the vice grip currently surrounding her heart and lungs. "Are you getting back together?" Amazed by her own ability to sound so calm about it all.
Kim took a moment to consider the question, then shook her head rapidly. "No... I mean... Abby... there's still so many things... I don't know that we could ever...." Shaking her head again. "So much is standing between us."
"But that's where you're headed, right?"
"You're one of those things, Abby."
The quiet sentence stopped her cold, and she looked at Kim with a questioning glance.
"I didn't expect you to happen to me," she confessed. "And I don't know..." An exhausted sigh. "I thought I knew what I wanted from you."
A weary hand ran through the blonde mane as she finished the disentanglement that Abby had begun. Pacing a few steps away, Kim crossed her arms and turned to face her lover once more. "Now I don't know anything, really, except that I'm hurting people I care about left and right... and out of all of them, you're the last person I want to do that to."
"Then don't," Abby whispered.
"I just wanted to not hurt so much, and you..." As if in explanation.
"Not hurting is a good thing."
"Not at the cost of the look on your face right now," Kim replied somberly.
"And what does that look say?"
"It says, Please don't break my heart."
The sting of water and salt and air bit into Abby's eyes, and she angrily blinked them back-- even as she saw the reflection of the same in Kim's blue irises. "That's a pretty definitive diagnosis, Doctor," she managed wryly. "What makes you so sure?"
"Because a part of mine is breaking right now too."
This time nothing short of plucking her corneas from their sockets could have stopped the tears from flowing. Abby turned her back on her lover, dashing a hand across her face. "Jesus, Kim, don't do this to me. Don't make me cry in front of you."
The air stirred, thickened and moved-- the warm wrap of Kim's arms around her from behind shattered the frigid chill that encased her, the hot splash of the blonde's own tears steaming across her neck and shoulders. "I'm sorry," she murmured, her lips ghosting kisses over Abby's hair and face. "I'm so sorry..."
Abby turned in the sheltering heat of their embrace; mouth blindly seeking and finding Kim's, opening once more to the melting tenderness of this woman, her kiss. Finding it strangely apropos that it should end this way, with a kiss that shouldn't have ever been-- yet existed in spite. "I'm not," she answered quietly before losing the thread of the conversation once more in the delicate texture of Kim's mouth and tongue. Moments passed, tiny microcosmic universes of what might have been were born and died, leaving supernova trails of desire along their bodies. "I want to make love to you," Abby found herself muttering, tracing the breadth and strength of the bare arms around her.
"I want you to," was the muffled reply. "But if we do, we're going to end up right back where we started." Kim groaned quietly and pulled Abby's gaze up to meet hers. "And I don't know if I'd have the strength to do this again."
"This is supposed to discourage me?" Her hands were bolder now, reading the rising desire emanating from her lover's skin.
"Don't..." Kim whispered, capturing Abby's hands in hers and drawing them to her lips where she graced them with a gentle kiss. "Please." A plea in the single word.
"Tell me why I shouldn't fight for you."
"Because I'm asking you not to."
"Abby, if the axis of my world were tilted ten degrees differently..." Her eyes dropped as she examined the twine of their fingers, a natural occurrence now, one that they would have to both unlearn. She released Abby's hands and brought her gaze back to the nurse's. "But I have to follow this through."
"Yes. With Kerry. See if..." She shrugged. "Just to see."
"What if it doesn't work out?"
A rueful smile painted Kim's lips. "Then I will have lost two extraordinary women through no one's fault and foolishness other than my own. But I won't regret having loved either one of them."
"And if I waited?"
"It's not your..."
"You have your own life to live, Abby," Kim interrupted. "And two wonderful men you care very much about."
"Even though one isn't speaking to me and the other is acting like a child?"
"Even so," Kim answered patiently. "Give them both time. Give yourself time. Think about what you want for a change, Abby. Not everybody else."
"Don't go all Obi-Wan-Psychiatrist on me right now."
"I mean it."
"You want to strangle me right now, don't you?"
"No, but only because if I put my hands on you, I can't be held responsible for what might happen to my respect for your wishes."
The still-arcing sensual awareness between them added unexpected emotional heft to what Abby had intended as a light-hearted remark, and Kim nodded in somber acknowledgement. "Then I guess..."
"This is it," Abby finished for her softly.
"Don't, Kim. Don't say you're sorry," she commanded, conviction threading through her voice as she lifted her chin. "Because I'm not. Not that you happened to me. Not that I happened to you. We were good together, Kim, and I'm not convinced that we still couldn't be."
"Neither am I," Kim admitted, swallowing hard. "But..."
"She was there first, I know." Four steps separated Abby from the door, and she wondered why-- for the life of her-- it was so hard to make them. Forcing her reluctant body to action, Abby nonetheless still hesitated with her hand on the doorknob. "Promise me one thing."
"If you need anything..." Wanting to add, If you change you mind, but biting her tongue with the force of swallowing those words.
A wan smile, and a flicker of those eyes that seemed to read the subtext of Abby's thoughts. "I will. Same goes for you too."
"I know." She twisted the knob, felt the rush of warm evening air tickle over her skin. The growing sounds of traffic filled the silence between them, an unnatural tableau in a relationship marked by the spontaneity of their physical connection. "I don't want to leave," she confessed. "As long as I can remember, I've been walking out of doors, and this is the first time in my life I've wanted to stay." More tears threatened, but this time she ignored them, concentrating instead on the beautiful face a few feet away from her. "You gave me that. Me wanting to stay, not because of what you needed, but because of what you gave me. What being with you made me feel like. I wonder if you have any idea of how you've made me feel."
"I..." Kim shook her head quietly, eyes filled with astonishment and bewildered tenderness at the gift of Abby's words to her. "I don't know what to say."
"Nothing to say, I guess... " Abby replied softly. "Except, maybe, good-bye."
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