DISCLAIMER: All "ER" characters and institutions are the property of Warner Bros., ConstantC Productions and Amblin Television. This is written strictly for entertainment value, no infringement of copyright or ownership is intended, and nobody is making a profit on this piece. As always, any errors in continuity, characterization, or common sense are entirely my own fault.
SPOILERS: Yes, for the first episode of the new season, "Chaos Theory."
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

Healthy
By Scott J Welles

"Right there? On a public beach?!" Jing-Mei's voice was rising with disbelief.

Abby shrugged. "There wasn't much of anyone around," she said offhandedly. "And I was hot, and I didn't have a bathing suit."

"I know, but..." Jing-Mei shook her head, smiling at the image of the staid, placid Abby Lockhart skinny-dipping. "What is it, some new outlook on life kind of thing? Live life to the fullest, and all that?"

Abby laughed and shook her head, not looking the tiniest bit embarrassed. "I hadn't thought of it in those terms," she said, "but maybe that's part of it."

Jing-Mei raised an eyebrow. "I bet John was a little surprised."

"That's the other part of it," Abby admitted, smiling wider. "I just wanted to see the look on his face."

A laugh almost made Jing-Mei spew a mouthful of tea. "He's always fun to tease, isn't he?" she said, after swallowing.

"Yup."

"I told you we should have pulled that routine on him, that time," Jing-Mei said. "You know, the one we pulled on Malucci?"

"Oh, yeah." Abby nodded at the mention of their prank of a few years ago, fooling Dave Malucci into thinking that she and Jing-Mei were enjoying a passionate lesbian tryst while he listened. "I just didn't have the heart, to tell you the truth."

Jing-Mei wondered if the fond smile on Abby's face was because she'd liked fooling Dave...or for some other reason.

They sipped their tea quietly for a moment, a cool breeze from the open window ruffling Abby's new blonde highlights. Jing-Mei had to admit the change in the nurse's hair color seemed to be reflective of an inner change. It was as if the dark clouds that sometimes seemed to hang over her had been blown away by the summer breeze, allowing the sun to shine through upon her.

The same breeze tickled Jing-Mei's calves and ankles beneath her velvet robe. It was nearly noon, and she still hadn't gotten dressed. That, in itself, was unusual for her; most days, she was in the habit of rising and dressing early, as soon as the alarm went off. But not this morning. It was the first time in weeks she'd slept in her own bed, after being released from quarantine in the deserted hospital, and she'd indulged in the luxury of sleeping in, safe in the midst of her own things, the books and paintings and furnishings that made up her home -- for days at a time, she'd felt like she'd never see them again. Perhaps it was an irrational, infantile-regressive response to the end of her captivity, but one she was willing to allow herself for now.

She hadn't felt clean, for even a moment, during their confinement; with the air conditioning shut down, the hospital's air had become thick, humid and stifling. Even beneath the continual sweat and the empty sterility of the setting, there was a pervasive feeling of contamination, of uncleanliness. Upon finally returning home, Jing-Mei had replaced the bed sheets and showered thoroughly to remove the feeling of being immersed in virulence, before crawling into bed, unplugging the alarm clock, and curling up in the fetal position.

She might still be in bed now, enjoying the feeling of cool, clean sheets on her bare skin if not for the knock at her door. Most visitors, even then, would have received a polite brush-off, but it was Abby. The wave of fondness that washed through her at the sight of the nurse at her door was enough to make her ask Abby in for some tea. After two weeks stuck in quarantine together, Jing-Mei felt comfortable enough in Abby's presence that she hadn't bothered to really get dressed. It was hard to stand on ceremony after you've been in fear of your lives together.

Abby's own outfit, loose cotton pants, sandals and a sleeveless orange summer top, was breezy enough that Jing-Mei felt pretty casual in her company. And, like her new hair, it was a sign of Abby's new openness to life and all it might have to offer her. For the first time since they'd met, that air of subtle disappointment wasn't hovering around Abby; Jing-Mei was never even aware of it until it was gone.

"You look good," she said.

"Thanks," Abby replied. "I'm still getting used to the new color; I'm not sure if I'll keep it, but..."

"No," Jing-Mei added softly. "I mean, you look happy. Healthy."

Abby reflected on that, her face open and peaceful. "Want to hear something odd?" she said.

"Sure."

"I've been sober for months," she said, "and I haven't had a cigarette in weeks."

"Well, that's good, isn't it?"

"Yeah, but the odd thing is...I don't want to smoke. And I don't want to drink." Abby said these things as though she was only now becoming aware of them. "Not just 'cause I'm aware those things are bad for me...I just don't want to do them anymore."

Jing-Mei gazed at her silently.

"Well, we'll see how long that lasts, anyway," Abby said lightly. "In the meantime, I guess I need some new vices."

"Like boinking on the beach?" Jing-Mei muttered.

Abby threw back her head and laughed, a full-bodied outburst that took Jing-Mei by surprise. "We didn't have sex on the beach!" Abby told her. "We just went swimming, that's all."

"Aww, I'm disillusioned," Jing-Mei said with a grin. "For a minute there, you were my idol." It both amused and bothered her that the quiet, conservative Abby had done something so wild and free upon leaving quarantine, while Jing-Mei, usually the confident, determined one, had reacted by retreating into her own cocoon. Neither was the behavior one might expect from the two women. "So where's John today?" she asked.

"He's at the family mansion," Abby said with a wry twist of her mouth. "His whole family wanted to see him, now that they know he's not going to die of some horrible, consuming plague."

"Oh, yeah," Jing-Mei said, nodding sympathetically. "I've got the same thing tonight, dinner with the parents."

"Not looking forward to it?"

"Well, I just know it's going to be the same thing as usual: some catered affair with all their friends, ostensibly to celebrate their daughter's return to the land of the living. But mostly it'll be an excuse for my mother to vent some passive/aggressive complaints about how I'm wasting my life in emergency medicine, needlessly risking my health when I'm capable of so much more, why haven't I gotten married, blah blah blah..." She sighed. "I'm sure you know what that's like."

"Yeah, I, uh...I get the exact same thing from my mom," Abby said, straight-faced.

"So, you didn't want to go see his family with him?" Jing-Mei asked. "Or didn't he ask you?"

"He asked me, sure, but I figured he should have some time alone with them, and then get into the whole 'meet my new girlfriend' thing some other time."

"That was nice of you," Jing-Mei remarked, one eyebrow cocked skeptically.

"Okay, to tell you the truth," Abby admitted, "I really didn't feel up to making nice at the manse...let alone being dragged into Carter family politics."

That sounded more convincing to Jing-Mei.

"I know John wants to cement our relationship," Abby confided, "but there's such a thing as too much togetherness."

"Yeah, like two weeks of it," Jing-Mei agreed.

They fell silent again, thinking of the time they'd both spent together in the ER-turned-ghost-town. For the first few days, once the seed of Abby and John's turbulent love affair had germinated, they'd kept to themselves, spending every available moment together. But, as the unchanging reality of their circumstances had settled upon them, and they began to accept that they'd be locked in for a long haul, they started to turn to the other three confined with them; Carter and Pratt began bonding in that brusque, semi-oblivious way men do, while Abby and Jing-Mei looked to each other for the kind of empathy and understanding that women can only share among themselves. Stan, the fifth member of their little community, kept mostly to himself.

Within a few days, each woman had become the other's confidante, sister-figure and best friend, both by default and necessity. They spent quiet moments together, away from the men and the fašade of staunch camaraderie they all maintained around each other, safe in the understanding that exists between members of the same gender. Jing-Mei had seen the quiet, underlying fear that Abby carried with her; at first, she thought it was the same fear Jing-Mei herself felt, that everything her life had amounted to, her joys and triumphs, her hopes and dreams and ambitions, had all been erased by an invisible virus. But as the days passed, she came to realize that Abby's fear ran deeper; for Jing-Mei, it was a new fear, while Abby had lived with the sense of impending disaster all her life. Only now was it coming to fruition.

That fear was gone from her face now, as though the clean bill of health given them by the quarantine experts was a long-deliberated verdict from some spiritual jury. Not guilty, they'd declared. You are innocent. You are free to go, in ways Abby had never been entirely free before...

"Did you ever kiss a woman?" Abby asked, seemingly out of nowhere.

Jing-Mei blinked, surprised by the question. There didn't seem to be any insinuation in Abby's expression, just mild curiosity. "Yeah, um...I did once, a long time ago. Some of us were playing 'Truth Or Dare' with a bottle of scotch. It didn't leave much impression on me at the time." She smiled awkwardly. "You know, everybody experiments in college."

"Everyone says that," Abby said. "I never did."

Jing-Mei just looked at her, unsure if Abby meant kissing a woman, or experimenting in general.

"I did some stuff in college, but most of the things people experiment with, I'd already started by then. Smoking, drinking..." She gazed idly out the window.

"Why do you ask?" Jing-Mei said softly.

"Oh...I was just thinking about this friend I had once. We used to work together, and there was a moment when I thought she wanted to kiss me, and...I backed off, so it didn't happen." She shrugged. "She never mentioned it, but I think she was always a little disappointed. Maybe I was, too."

Jing-Mei finished her tea, her eyes never leaving Abby's face.

"I had a lot of time to think about stuff like that while we were quarantined," Abby replied, still in the same calm, unhurried way. "I've done some things I regret in my life, but the things I really felt bad about are the things I didn't do, you know?"

Thinking of her son, Jing-Mei nodded.

"My mother had a near-death experience a couple of years ago," Abby went on, "and said it really helped her start facing up to life. I didn't believe her at the time, but now I'm beginning to think I know what she means."

"Except our brush with mortality was drawn out for a while," Jing-Mei put in.

Abby nodded. "She tried to tell me, once, that I should stop sitting out my life and start doing the things I want to do."

Jing-Mei leaned forward, her hands around the empty cup. "Like...swimming naked, if you felt like it?"

"Sure, or skydiving, if I wanted to, or...I don't know, bungee-jumping, if it came to that!" Abby was becoming animated as she spoke, her eyes glittering. "I could have kissed that woman, and at least today I could look back and say, 'sure, I did it', even if it was no big thing, you know? Why not?"

Trying vainly to recall the name of the classmate she'd kissed, Jing-Mei nodded.

"It's not even about that," Abby rambled on, the torrent of words unleashed. "I just want to be a part of the world, you know? I don't want to drink, or to smoke or argue with people, I want to do things that are good and bright and life-affirming, like... When I was working in OB, I used to deliver babies all the time, and I saw the joy on the faces of the mothers and the families, and... I mean, it's not that I want to have a baby myself, necessarily, just that I want to spend the time I have doing things that..."

Jing-Mei listened, unmoving.

Abby stopped abruptly, like her words had stalled, and then let out a breath and looked at her. "God, I'm babbling, aren't I?"

"A little," Jing-Mei said with a smile.

Abby broke into a quiet laugh, her shoulders shaking. She looked down at her own teacup, still half-full. "Yeah," she said.

Regarding her guest, Jing-Mei felt suddenly small and petty; it was well past noon, and she was still sitting around in a thin robe, the only thing she'd worn all day. She'd told herself it was a luxury, an indulgence on her day off, but really it was a failure on her part. Here she was, hiding in the shelter of her bed and her apartment, griping about having to spend time with the family who'd worried about her, as though it were a dreaded chore, when she should be greeting the day with gusto, like Abby. She should be out there, doing something wild and exuberant and joyful. Something that made no sense at all, except as a random act of beauty.

Abby was looking at her, she realized, and she suddenly felt aware of her nudity beneath the robe. It wasn't an entirely unpleasant feeling...

"I should go," Abby said, standing up. "Let you get dressed for your parents'."

"You don't have to..." Jing-Mei began.

"No, it's okay, I need to do some errands," Abby assured her, carrying her teacup to the sink. "Anyway, it's too nice a day to be indoors."

And here I am, letting it go by, Jing-Mei thought.

"Thanks for the tea," Abby added with a smile.

"Sure, anytime." Jing-Mei walked her to the door, feeling sorry to see her go. "I'm glad you stopped by."

"Me, too."

Abby turned to say goodbye, just as Jing-Mei opened the door for her, and the resulting cross-breeze blew strands of Abby's hair across her face, like the brushstrokes of a fine artist. She blinked as one strand tickled the corner of her eye.

Jing-Mei's hand went up without thought, brushing the strands off her face, and her fingers lingered against Abby's cheek. The mild surprise on Abby's face was a mirror of what Jing-Mei felt. For a long moment, she had no idea what to say.

Then the other hand came up to cup her other cheek, framing the nurse's face. Her expression wasn't tense, or nervous, or excited, or angry. Just open.

Abby pushed the door shut without looking.

It wasn't the kind of hungry, lustful kiss Jing-Mei gave a man she wanted to sleep with, or the chaste, dismissive kind she gave one that she didn't. It came out of a place beyond conscious thought, yet as naturally, effortlessly, as if they had choreographed it a hundred times. The softness of Abby's lips against her own was a quiet miracle.

Abby's hands encircled her waist, drawing their bodies smoothly together, and the heat between them seemed to double in intensity. She opened her lips, taking Abby's upper lip between them, softly sucking as if to feed on her warmth. She felt her own lower lip engulfed sensuously between Abby's, their hips meeting as if to repeat the pattern of physical joining.

Jing-Mei let her arms slide around Abby's neck, their breasts pillowing against each other as the kiss deepened. Abby traced the tip of her tongue along Jing-Mei's lips, and then it slipped between them, grazing against Jing-Mei's own, the spark of electric heat shimmering down her body to stiffen her nipples on its way down her legs to where her bare feet met the carpet. Her ragged gasp broke the seal of their mouths, seeming cavernously loud in the quiet room.

A moment of stillness passed.

Then she released Abby, taking her hand and leading her silently to the bedroom.

Unbelting her robe, she let it slip off her shoulders and fall to the floor, crawling onto the bed and turning to lie on her back. Abby, already nude to the waist, dropped her top beside the robe, then lay on top of Jing-Mei, taking her face between her hands and bringing their mouths together once more. Her tongue snaked fluidly into Jing-Mei's mouth, lovingly caressing her palate. The bare skin of Abby's back seemed to burn against Jing-Mei's hands; the heat of her body, combined with the cool air on her skin, was enough to make Jing-Mei believe in a benevolent higher power.

The only thing that seemed odd to Jing-Mei was how quiet it was; even the faint sound from outside her window seemed to have retreated. The music one might to expect to hear, as suggested by the movies, was curiously absent. Funny, she'd never noticed that during lovemaking in the past. And yet, she realized, any music would be superfluous; the only music they needed was the rhythm of their beating hearts, the harmony of their breathing, and the melody of skin against skin.

Abby's mouth left hers, migrating down over her neck and chest, joining her hands at Jing-Mei's breasts, exploring their shape and contour like some erotic mapmaking expedition charting a pair of mountain peaks. She took the very tip of one nipple into her mouth, warmth matched only by delicacy, and the miasma of arousal within Jing-Mei's body tightened sharply around that single point of contact. Her back arched, mouth widening as she sucked air in sharply. Not since the last time she held her infant son had her breasts been so sensitive.

In response to Jing-Mei's reaction, Abby let her lips engulf the whole of her areola, laving her tongue over the hypersensitive nipple, threatening to overwhelm Jing-Mei's pleasure centers. Twining her fingers through Abby's hair, Jing-Mei pulled her in tighter, wrapping her legs around the nurse's. The levels of desire in her body were growing exponentially, hunger feeding upon itself.

When she was nearly on the verge of orgasm, she felt Abby's mouth pull away...then cross to the other nipple and repeat the process. And, once again, she retreated just when Jing-Mei was on the verge of coming. Either Abby could sense the exact level of tension in the woman beneath her and tailor her actions accordingly, or she was just preternaturally gifted.

Finally, she let Jing-Mei guide her downwards, lower, to the liquid cleft between her legs...and Jing-Mei almost cried out aloud at the slippery-smooth sensation of Abby's delicate, implacable tongue within her. It slithered sweetly over her clitoris, driving her rapidly toward the threshold, stripping away the last of her control, and Jing-Mei came hard, shuddering joyously. The groan of release she let out originated in her diaphragm. "Ohh-hhh-hh...!"

Her self-awareness grayed out momentarily as she drifted back from the orgasmic high, reforming as Abby rolled aside, raising her hips long enough to slide out of the rest of her clothes.

Jing-Mei turned around and over, her face meeting Abby's upside-down. She kissed the nurse's lips again, tasting a new flavor upon them. Her own liqueur.

Her mouth never once leaving Abby's skin, Jing-Mei ran her lips and tongue over her chin and down (or, from her perspective, up) the nurse's body, finding the pert breasts and claiming one nipple, then the other, as her prizes. They felt like some strange new delicacy in her mouth -- the fullness of grapes combined with the fleshy warmth of sausages, but with a taste and texture not quite like either. Abby's hands gripped her shoulders, silently pleading for more.

She tasted the musky softness of Abby's belly on her way down, coming eventually to the juncture of Abby's smooth thighs, going to a place she'd never been, and yet she somehow knew the way by heart. The tiny bud of her clitoris, like a pearl beyond price, seemed to pulsate between Jing-Mei's lips, tantalizing the tip of her tongue as much as the other way around.

Abby's hips lifted off the bed, her body straining in sweet delirium as Jing-Mei drank from the well of her sex, fascinated by the effect she was having on Abby. The nurse's deep, rhythmic breathing accelerated, a small whimper like a kitten's mewling escaped her, the tiny sound packed with a primal desire that resonated along Jing-Mei's spinal column.

Turning about slightly, Jing-Mei lifted one leg to straddle the nurse's face, and Abby's hands gripped her buttocks, pulling their bodies closer together. Her mouth found Jing-Mei's sex again, mirroring what Jing-Mei was doing to her. Once in sync with each other, they began the final, exquisite movement of their erotic duet, a culmination of the closeness and trust they had shared together. It was a blending, a mutual immersion, almost a symbiosis of the flesh, ever-tightening, spiraling into a frantic explosion that neither woman could contain or deny.

Still trembling from their mutual orgasm, Abby's nectar coating her lips, Jing-Mei slowly disengaged herself from their complimentary embrace and rolled onto her back. They lay parallel to each other, moist skin cooling in the afternoon breeze from the windows.

Abby eventually rolled onto her side and propped herself up on one elbow. "Well," she said. "Where in the world did THAT come from?"

Jing-Mei looked back at her. "I dunno," she replied, finding her voice again. "But if I did, I'd probably try to go there more often."

Abby laughed giddily, prompting Jing-Mei to do the same.

They looked at each other for a long time.

"Any regrets?" Jing-Mei finally asked.

Abby gave it a moment's thought. "No," she said.

"Are you sure?" Jing-Mei rolled onto her stomach, head pillowed on her crossed forearms. "How's John going to feel about this?"

The question didn't seem to surprise Abby, but it looked like she was hoping it wouldn't come up. "I don't know," she admitted.

"Maybe we don't need to tell him about it," Jing-Mei suggested softly. "This doesn't have to happen again."

Abby was silent, a far-off look in her eyes.

"Does it...?"

Even farther.

Jing-Mei lifted her head, concerned, and reached over to take Abby's hand in her own. "Abby...what's wrong?"

The nurse's lips pursed, as if judging something she'd tasted. "I just slept with someone else," she said quietly, "right at the beginning of what could be a very meaningful relationship. What does that say about me...?"

There was a pause.

"It means...maybe you're confused," Jing-Mei ventured. "I'm a little confused myself, right now. I mean, I don't have any idea what made us do that just now. I've never even thought about--"

"It was actually a rhetorical question, Jing-Mei," Abby broke in. "I know what it means. At least I think I do."

"What, then?"

Abby bit her lower lip, a hint of the old, troubled Abby showing through. "I'm scared to be with John," she said. "I was never scared to be with Luka; on some level, I knew it wouldn't last forever."

"What are you scared of?"

"That it...it could be really good for me," she admitted. "And I'm afraid I'll fuck it up. Or he'll fuck it up. Or something else with come along and--"

"Fuck it up. Got it."

"And now, I may have just made that happen..."

Jing-Mei watched her carefully for a bit, then said, "Don't worry about this. As far as Carter's concerned, I don't think he needs to know about it."

"What he doesn't know won't hurt him?" Abby asked. "Isn't that the adulterer's credo?"

A twinge of guilt went off in Jing-Mei's stomach. "Look...this is a one-time thing," she said. "A freak occurrence. It won't happen again."

"How do we know that?" Abby met her eyes steadily. "If we don't know where the impulse came from, or why we did it...how do we know it won't--?"

"Hey," Jing-Mei interrupted her softly, squeezing her hand. "Don't go talking yourself out of a good thing. Okay?"

The mystery motive of their impromptu encounter still obviously gnawed at Abby, but she smiled back.

"You and Carter waited long enough for each other," Jing-Mei told her. "Trust me, it'll be worth it."

Abby nodded, clearly trying to let go of her concerns and only partly succeeding. "Did you and Carter ever...?"

"No, we're just really good friends," Jing-Mei hurriedly assured her. "I mean, I love the guy -- and if you ever tell him so, I'll kick your ass."

That earned a wider smile.

"But the thing is, he's just the kind of guy my parents would approve of me being with -- you know, a doctor, from a good family, and all." She smiled wryly. "Seems like I only find myself attracted to men my mother would really frown on. It's a whole perverse rebellious thing, on my part."

"Mmm-hmm." Abby lifted an eyebrow. "So tell me...how would she feel about you being in bed with a woman?"

Jing-Mei brightened perversely at the thought. "You know, I believe her head would actually explode." She looked at her friend again. "C'mere."

Reaching for Abby, Jing-Mei pulled her close and they rolled over, kissing, onto the pillows at the head of the bed. Trading soft, languorous kisses, they lay together, basking in the supple softness of each other's bodies.

Then Jing-Mei made the mistake of opening her eyes in mid-kiss, finding that Abby's were already open, looking back into hers. They exchanged gazes, an inch apart...and then Jing-Mei started giggling, her lips still against Abby's. The nurse picked up the laughter, and they found it impossible to continue; it's tough to kiss someone when your lips are pulling back from your teeth. Each time they tried to resume coupling, they just ended up feeling self-conscious and silly, and pretty soon they gave up trying. It looked like Jing-Mei was right; it wasn't going to happen again.

Getting up from the bed, they showered together, their mutual nakedness now more playful than sexual, and then redressed in the same clothes. They said goodbyes and see-you-at-works and Abby walked out the door and Jing-Mei closed it behind her and that was that.

She retrieved the teacups and washed them and stuck them in her dishwasher, body moving basically on autopilot while her mind pondered the reason why she and Abby had suddenly made love. Could it have been a convenient opportunity for Jing-Mei to defy and provoke her mother, even if only subconsciously? Or was Abby right, and it was a way of sabotaging her burgeoning relationship with John Carter, a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy? Or some synthesis of the two motives? What else would cause the two women, both normally heterosexual, to do something as impulsive and unpredictable as--

As skinny-dipping on the beach?

Then she knew why they'd done it.

She also knew, somehow, that Abby was still standing outside her door.

Not sure how she knew this; maybe she hadn't heard the slight sound of footsteps walking away, or felt their vibration through the floor. Or maybe it was some kind of ESP thing, a lingering psychic connection from their impassioned fling.

She moved to her door and opened it.

Sure enough, Abby was there, hugging herself as if lost in thought. She looked up when Jing-Mei opened the door, curious without being surprised, as if she knew that Jing-Mei would come to her with the answer.

"You know the real reason we made love?" she said to the nurse.

"Why?" Abby's eyes were alive with the need to know.

Jing-Mei thought of the horrible dread that had come upon her, weeks ago when the quarantine situation began -- nervous denial sliding into genuine fear. Then day after day of inexorable waiting, like a slow march through a tunnel with no idea if there would be a light at the end of it. They had made that long march, that terrible wait together, Abby and Jing-Mei. And they had reached the light.

"Because we're alive, honey," she said. "We're alive...and we're healthy."

Abby looked at her silently, her eyes bright, and then she took in a long breath, her face breaking slowly into a wide, genuine smile. She sighed out the breath, relaxing with the satisfaction of one who's finally found the last piece of a daunting puzzle. In that instant, Jing-Mei loved her intensely.

"Okay, then," Abby said with immense satisfaction, like she'd been neurotically tapping out 'shave-and-a-haircut' over and over again, and someone had finally chimed in with 'two-bits'. And she walked away.

Jing-Mei closed the door and went to dress for dinner at her parents' house.

The End

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