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.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Responding to Noa's fic challenge about a romance between Carol & Elizabeth. I promised this one a LONG time ago, but it's only now come together completely in my head. Better several months late than never, I suppose....
As usual, DON'T READ if you're offended by f/f slash, but I hope you'll enjoy this anyway!
SPOILERS: None (takes place late Season 5, the night after "Responsible Parties")
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
By Scott J Welles
(* Flash! *)
Something awakens Elizabeth, a bright, momentary light against her eyelids. It is followed, seconds later, by a deep, rolling, rumbling sound. Lightning, she realizes. Lightning and thunder.
(* Boom... *)
She opens her eyes and wonders where she is. This is not her room. What happened?
Memory returns almost immediately. She is in Carol's house. She is in Carol's bed.
Mark had invited the both of them out for milkshakes earlier that evening, she recalls. It was a somber affair, despite his efforts to cheer them both. Carol was still longing for Doug Ross, her lost love and the father of her unborn child. Elizabeth was nursing her own injury, inflicted when a former lover stole her job, the job she had created for herself. All in all, they were a rather sorry excuse for a party.
Then Mark was paged and abruptly summoned back to the hospital, leaving the women on their own. They didn't talk much, but when they did, they spoke more freely than in Mark's presence. He's a dear man, and she knows he means well, but there are some forms of hurt that women can share only with each other...
(* Flash...! *)
(Earlier, Doc Magoo's...)
Carol made a slurping sound as her straw sucked the last dregs of milk and ice cream from the bottom of the glass. "That's about how I feel right now," she said. "Scraping the bottom and just plain sucking."
Elizabeth smiled wryly and pushed away the bulk of her own milkshake. "As much as I love American food, I've never liked these much. They make my mouth taste furry."
"Can I have the rest?"
She pushed it across the table to Carol. "Here. You're welcome to it." She plucked a fresh straw out of the tabletop dispenser and held it out to Carol.
Ignoring it, Carol put Elizabeth's straw between her lips and drank. "Mmm, thanks."
Watching the milkshake disappear in record time, Elizabeth raised her eyebrows. "I know you're eating for two," she said, "but don't make yourself sick."
Carol finished the second shake and suddenly sat back, clutching at her forehead. "Whoa, brain freeze," she said.
"Oh, who cares anymore?" Carol said dejectedly. "So I get sick, so what?"
"Well, I care, obviously," Elizabeth assured her tolerantly. "And Mark still cares a great deal about you, or he wouldn't have invited you."
Carol was silent for a bit, massaging her temples. "It was supposed to be a date, you know," she finally said.
Elizabeth felt a slight tension. "Me and Mark, you mean?"
"Mmm-hmm. This was his big romantic thing, taking you out for a milkshake."
"I see," she said quietly.
"I know it's not exactly a candlelit dinner," Carol told her, "but Mark really can be incredibly sweet if you give him a chance."
That wasn't what bothered Elizabeth. She didn't need big, expensive, fancy treatment to have fun, and she appreciated the thought. "I'm sure he is," she told Carol, "but I don't think I should get his hopes up right now. It just wouldn't be fair."
"Elizabeth, give him a chance..."
"It's not Mark," she interrupted. "I'd be lucky to have someone like him. But I don't know if I'm ready for another romantic involvement just yet. The wounds from Peter are still open."
Carol tilted her head, gazing at her with sympathy. "I didn't know you were that serious about him."
"I wasn't," Elizabeth replied, hugging herself with crossed arms. "It never went past the stage of sexual partnership, really. Not into the kind of bond that you and Doug had, for example." As soon as the words were out of her mouth, she wished she hadn't said them, recalling Doug Ross's abrupt departure in the wake of the Ricky Abbott scandal.
Carol's eyes dropped, but she otherwise made no change of expression.
"But it's what Peter did after our breakup that hurt most," Elizabeth added, hoping to divert Carol's attention from another bout of misery. "He as much as stole the trauma fellowship I had created for myself. I conceived it and got it approved, and then Peter took it before I could."
"That had to hurt," Carol said softly.
"It did. Not only because of the unfairness or the loss of the position, but also...I thought we were close. If we weren't quite in love, at least I thought I had earned his friendship and his respect as a colleague. And then he screwed me out of a terrific opportunity." She sighed. "I suppose I could understand his motivation, and perhaps even forgive him, in time. I was given due consideration for the job before losing it to him. But I can't...I can't seem to get past it. If it had been someone else, a rival, or..." She wavered.
"Someone you weren't close to," Carol filled in, "you wouldn't feel so betrayed."
Elizabeth put her hand over Carol's. "Yes. More than betrayed, almost...discarded."
The nurse's hand felt warm against her own. "I know the feeling," she whispered.
"Carol, I'm sorry. Here I am babbling about the loss of a silly job, when you've lost so much more."
"No, that's all right. I just wish we could talk about something happier to get my mind off it all."
Elizabeth wished that too, but wishing didn't make it go away. Why couldn't she let go of what Peter had done? Why did he still have a hold on her?
"Just a year ago, everything was fine for both of us," Carol said. "Doesn't it seem that way?"
The surgeon nodded mutely. A year ago, she was basking in the successes of both her professional and personal lives. Her sponsorship was well underway, and she was doing terrific surgical work, dazzling the Chicago community with her skill and flair. And she had entered into a wild, thrilling sexual affair with the handsome, brooding, and very potent Dr. Peter Benton. Everything was on track in her life, and she had complete confidence in herself and her future.
Now here she was, toiling away as the personal footstool of an idiot like Dale Edson, moping over what was, in the long run, a minor setback in her career, and too wound up to even enjoy a milkshake in the company of a caring man like Mark Greene. Or a friend like Carol Hathaway. "You and Doug were quite happy together, weren't you?"
Carol let out the kind of laugh people make at funerals, dwelling on amusing anecdotes involving the departed. "I remember when you first started here, and you asked Doug out for drinks after work."
"Oh, yes. And he was so aware of your scrutiny that he could only mumble, 'Ah, I've got a girlfriend...' " Elizabeth smiled at the memory.
"And you just said, 'bring her along!'" Carol laughed with more animation. "He probably thought you were proposing some kind of three-way thing."
"Honestly, I was just hoping for someone to show me some places to have some fun, as friends. I was new in town, you know!"
"I know." Carol was still holding her hand. "But he was trying so hard to be faithful, he didn't want to so much as look at another woman if he could help it." The smile remained on Carol's face after the laughs had faded away. "Hell, I don't blame him for being cautious. You had such a puckish look in your eye, I even thought you had a threesome in mind."
"Oh god, I'm sorry, Carol," Elizabeth said with an embarrassed smile. "I didn't mean it that way!"
"It's okay, really," Carol told her, her other hand patting the back of Elizabeth's. "Actually, Elizabeth, I kind of admired you for it. Being that open-minded, I mean. I've never been that sexually adventurous...except when I was with Doug."
Elizabeth raised her eyebrows. "You mean you might have been interested?" Not sure how THAT made her feel...
Carol shrugged, not noticing Elizabeth's reaction. "The way I felt with him, the way he made me feel...I don't know if I could actually do something like that, sharing him with another woman, or anything involving another man, but...he had that wild, devil-may-care spark that made you think that anything was possible with him." Her face lit up softly as she spoke. "I'm sure he'd have jumped at the chance to sleep with you, Elizabeth. You'd be the rare woman who could give him a challenge..."
"No," the surgeon replied. "Not if it would hurt you, he wouldn't. He loved you too much to cheat on you, Carol."
"He did it before," she answered, the smile dimming. "Before you came along. We broke up because he couldn't stay faithful to me. I slept with someone else to get even, probably not the most constructive solution." Carol wiped away a tear. "It got complicated, and we were apart for a long time, through my engagement, taking the pills, the mess with Shep... Then, finally, finallyfinallyfinally FINALLY, we found each other..."
Elizabeth remained silent while Carol drew in a ragged breath.
"I always felt that my greatest triumph in life was being the one to tame him, you know? To be the one who made him choose to control himself and stay grounded, just because he wanted to be with me."
"Like he could have whoever he wanted, but he wanted only you," Elizabeth said.
"Right." Carol squeezed her hand. "And yet, at the same time, as long as I had him in my life, it felt like...anything was possible. I could go to medical school if I wanted, I could open my own clinic, whatever I set my mind to. Because he believed in me. As long as I had Doug, I could do anything I wanted. And now..." She faltered.
"And now that he's gone?"
"Now, it's like...like I can't do anything," Carol told her, her throat started to clog with unshed tears. "We were so complete together, and now he's gone...and I'm pregnant with his baby, damn it...I can't do this, I can't raise a baby on my own..." Her face began to crumble.
Elizabeth slid around the booth to sit next to Carol and put her arms around the trembling nurse's shoulders. "Carol, don't," she soothed. "You're just having a bad day, that's all."
"No, it's more than that," Carol insisted, the tears running freely now. "I feel like I'm trapped... alone and helpless... I feel like I can barely go to work in the morning..."
"Yes you can," Elizabeth assured her, rocking her gently. "And you're not alone. You have your friends around you, and me."
"I know," Carol sighed, regaining her composure slightly, "and I'm grateful. But I can't seem to move on...it's like, he's hundreds of miles away, but he still has a hold on me. I can't move, I can't breathe, I can't think..." She wiped her nose with a paper napkin. "I can't even think about the future, let alone deal with it."
Elizabeth stroked her hair and kissed her forehead, thinking how Carol's emotional dilemma strangely paralleled her own. Both were still paralyzed in the grip of former lovers. Neither could break free.
"God, Elizabeth, what am I going to do?" Carol sighed piteously, leaning her head on the taller woman's shoulder.
"Well, for one thing, no more of these for you," Elizabeth said, pushing the second milkshake away. "You've had your limit."
A laugh bubbled up through the misery. "You're cutting me off for milkshakes?"
"Yep. You're on the wagon," Elizabeth scolded her, unconvincingly.
Carol turned her head to kiss her cheek and sat up. "Thank you," she said.
Elizabeth just smiled and turned to wave for the check. Her face tingled with warmth where Carol's lips had touched her...
(* Boom... *)
The memory ends as the thunderclap rolls across the sky. Elizabeth feels it vibrate in the pit of her stomach, and she pulls the bedclothes tighter around her.
She rolls to her side, feeling for the other woman, but finding the bed empty. Where is Carol?
Elizabeth pries her eyes open and looks about. She can make out the dimensions of the room easily enough. All the windows of the bedroom are wide open, and even though the clouds hide the moon and stars, she has no trouble seeing Carol.
The dark-haired woman stands before the windows, hands at her sides, looking outward upon the world. She is nude, her back to Elizabeth. With the windows open, the cool air washes in, over and around her, but she does not shiver in the wind, or make attempt to cover herself.
Instead, she raises her arms, holding them out and forward, as though inviting the storm inside. She spreads them to her sides, as if to embrace the sky whole. Her hair flows freely, billowing about her shoulders. It is an image from a thousand Gothic romance fantasies, a maiden awaiting Dracula's arrival, but without the morbid undercurrent of horror. Carol, though nearly motionless, is passionate and alive. She is lovely to behold.
Elizabeth sits up, watching her curiously. She wants to speak, to ask if anything is wrong, but something gives her pause. There is a tableau before her, Carol in the foreground, the clouds looming beyond. Such a storm might look ominous to some, but not now. Not tonight. Tonight, it feels right.
Carol turns, unhurried, as though Elizabeth had spoken aloud. She looks at the surgeon in her bed, unconcerned by her nakedness, and smiles as though greeting an old friend long absent. Not with surprise, just delight. The strain and grief that filled her demeanor earlier have vanished. As though years have fallen away, all her troubles shed with her clothes.
Elizabeth does not understand what is occurring, but she feels no true concern. Something is happening here, something strange and yet wonderful. She knows that much, without knowing how she knows.
Carol extends a hand, inviting Elizabeth to join her at the window and share in it. As she does so, she is brilliantly backlit by another bolt of lightning.
(* FLASH! *)
(* Flash! *)
(One, two, three, four, five, six...)
(* Boom... *)
Thunder rumbles in the distance, six miles away.
Carol stands, one hand outstretched, inviting Elizabeth to leave the shelter of the bedclothes and join her by the window. Her face shows a quiet radiance that contrasts with her earlier despair.
Elizabeth shivers, the cool of the night air reaching her through blankets, sheets, and her borrowed nightshirt. But what chills her most is not atmospheric. It's a strange edginess, a nervous thrill that makes her keenly aware that something unusual is occurring. She is anxious and alert and more than a little uncertain.
But not afraid. She knows, somehow, at a level where rationality and reason do not apply, that all is well. There is nothing to fear.
Carol waits for her, still smiling. Like the child in the early Spielberg film who opens the front door to the arriving aliens, blissfully ignorant of his mother's fear of the unknown.
Well, I'm not afraid, she tells herself. Not of anything.
She slips out of bed, feeling the slight give in the floorboards beneath her bare feet. The feel of the thin throw rug is clear and real beneath her toes, then the bare wood as she pads toward her waiting friend. If Elizabeth had speculated that she might be dreaming, such concerns vanish.
Carol moves a little, almost in response to Elizabeth's approach, neither toward her nor away, but laterally, accepting her presence while creating a new relationship between them and the storm outside. It feels choreographed, like a dance. Almost ritualistic.
They move slowly around each other, twin planets orbiting a central point, spiraling closer. But as their fingers almost touch...Elizabeth holds back.
She doesn't know why. Part of her wants to take Carol's hand. And Carol's expression certainly encourages her. Come on in, she seems to say, wordlessly. The weather's fine.
But something isn't right. Everything's ready, she feels... (Ready for what?) ...but it's as if she's forgotten something...
A breeze ruffles the hem of her nightshirt, and she realizes. Carol is naked, she is not. One of them isn't properly dressed for this sort of thing. You don't go swimming in a formal gown, after all, or perform surgery in only your underwear.
She slips her shirt over her head and discards it in a corner, joining Carol in the nude. The last of her hesitancy falls away with it.
Carol laughs aloud, delighted, and twirls slowly in place, her arms outstretched. For a moment, Elizabeth thinks she can see the air swirl around her, like a thin layer of gauze. She is dancing with the sky, Elizabeth realizes. Entrusting herself to it.
Elizabeth feels herself smiling in response; not merely her mouth, but her eyes, her face, her entire body. There is something in the air tonight, something that has entered Carol's house, and perhaps Carol herself. It seems to have filled her, like a kind of possession, and yet Elizabeth can't feel concern. She knows that there's no harm here.
Stepping forth almost balletically, she lets herself glide through the wind from the open shutters, passing through the invisible shroud around Carol. It divides, like a diverted river, to surround Elizabeth as well, bringing her into the center with her friend. She is aware of the cold air, but it has no teeth; this cold is as comforting as the warmest blankets she slept in as a child.
Elizabeth spins, fascinated, and the room careens madly about her, Carol flashing through her field of vision time and again before she grows dizzy and nearly stumbles. She catches herself, giggling helplessly, her own laughter mixing with Carol's, as the nurse reaches to steady her.
Their hands meet...
(* Flash...! *)
(Earlier, outside Carol's house...)
Carol put her hand over Elizabeth's on the gearshift and squeezed affectionately. "Thank you so much, Elizabeth," she said. "I really needed a friend tonight."
Elizabeth let go of the knob and turned her hand over, holding Carol's. "I could tell," she said with a fond smile. "Are you going to be all right?"
Carol nodded vaguely, still clutching the surgeon's hand. "Yeah, I...I just need some sleep." Her other hand raked wearily through her hair. She looked a million years old inside. She looked the way Elizabeth felt. Where had their youth and energy and optimism gone? Had Doug and Peter stolen those qualities when they left?
They sat quietly, unmoving, until Elizabeth repeated, "Are you sure you're all right?"
Carol tried on a watery smile. "No," she said. "But I will be. I just need to let myself fall apart for a while, and then I'll be fine."
That sounded strangely appealing to Elizabeth. She occasionally wished that she could let herself fall apart once in a while.
Carol leaned close to her and kissed her cheek again, and Elizabeth turned into it in response, so the corners of their lips grazed each other. " 'Night, Elizabeth," the nurse said, pulling away abruptly and getting out of the car.
"Good night, Carol," Elizabeth responded. "Sleep well."
"Aw, hell, I'll settle for sleeping at all." Carol smiled again, but the brittle, nervous tension filling her frame couldn't be disguised. She waved weakly and turned to go inside her house.
Putting the car in gear, Elizabeth felt a sudden wave of emptiness at the prospect of going home and being alone again. The independence she'd always valued, carefully cultivated over a lifetime, had deserted her, as if stolen from her, snatched away along with the trauma fellowship. She didn't want to be alone, and yet she couldn't see herself turning to Mark for company tonight, or anyone else she knew, for that matter.
Except maybe Carol. Her friend who felt the same things, and who could understand them and express them more freely than Elizabeth herself did. But she was in the midst of her own crisis, and it wasn't right to burden her with Elizabeth's own, lesser troubles. She just didn't feel she had the right to ask Carol to...
She stomped on the brake, jerking the car to a halt before it could gain any momentum. Looking back, she saw Carol standing back by the curb, loneliness and despair writ large in her face and body. Don't go, her eyes silently pled, or was Elizabeth imagining it?
Yanking the gear into reverse, she slid the car back to where the nurse stood and looked at her through the passenger window. "Carol...?"
The dark-haired woman looked even more a wreck than before, her self-control fraying visibly. "Falling apart is the easy part," she said. "It's pulling myself together again with no one to help me that's hard..." She trailed off, unable to put the request in words.
"Would you like me to stay a while?" Elizabeth ventured softly. Please say yes, she thought, oh please say...
Carol nodded jerkily. "Yeah," she got out, as though the spoken word had become a foreign language to her.
Elizabeth set the parking brake and turned off the ignition with relief, locking the car behind her and slipping an arm around Carol's shoulders as they entered the house together.
"I'd offer you some coffee," Carol said helplessly, "but I'm out. I'm sorry, I don't even know if I have anything but leftovers..."
"Carol, you don't have to entertain me," Elizabeth assured her. "If anything, I think you should go to bed. I'll sit with you if you like, and we can talk."
"About anything, or about nothing."
"Shoes and ships and ceiling wax..."
"Cabbages and kings," Elizabeth completed with a smile.
Carol suddenly let out a harsh breath. "I hate being taken care of," she muttered. "I mean, I don't hate it, but I hate needing it."
"I understand. Doctors make terrible patients, so nurses..."
"Nurses are the worst." There was a light spray of laughter, and for a moment Carol seemed her old self again. Then the gloom swallowed her again. "Could you stay the night?" she asked, plaintively.
"Of course," said Elizabeth, who'd secretly been hoping for the same thing. "You needn't worry about me, I'll find some blankets and bunk on your couch. It looks quite cozy."
"It is, but..."
Carol looked sheepish. "When I was a kid, my sister and I used to crawl into bed together and just hold each other whenever one of us was down. Of course, that was before she grew up and became a real bitch..." She almost laughed.
Elizabeth smiled, recalling how she had done the same with her friend Edith in boarding school. "Do you want me to...?"
"I mean, I understand if that'd feel weird. I'm not trying to come on to you or anything..."
"Carol, of course I'll stay with you tonight."
The nurse nodded and smiled without speaking. She took Elizabeth's hand...
(* Boom... *)
Thunder rolls through the room, traversing the bridge of their hands. They stand together, clothed only in the cool night air. Fears and concerns are forgotten now, the past as immaterial as the future. Nothing exists but the two women and the storm building outside.
Nudity feels as natural now as it did in childhood, and indeed all the concerns of adulthood and civilization have vanished. Elizabeth feels almost regressed to a simpler mode of being, as though the thunder and lightning have erased the tragedies of history, leaving them to start fresh.
Carol tilts her head and smiles, almost coquettishly. May I have this dance? her expression asks.
I'd be delighted, she smiles in response.
They dance, their only music the rumbling of thunder, the whistling of the wind, and the patter of rain on the streets outside. Their feet find their own steps, their bodies curving through space about each other without regard to form or style. Gravity itself almost seems to lessen for their benefit, their flesh liberated along with their spirits.
This is not the Carol she knows. Neither the lost, miserable woman abandoned by her love, or the confident, capable nurse who devoted her days to the service of patients. This is a woman reborn, regenerated by the dynamic energy in the atmosphere. And yet, in some way, it's the same woman she's always known.
Equally fascinating, Elizabeth feels the same thing happening to her. This is magic at play, she thinks. Wild, primordial magic.
They dance together like children, laughing at their own pretensions of sophistication, playing dress-up without being actually dressed. They whirl each other about, feet skipping gaily across the floor to their own internal jigs, until Elizabeth turns too wide and nearly falls over the corner of the bed. She shrieks with glee, half-tumbling before catching herself. Carol releases her hand in time to avoid being pulled down, whooping with laughter.
Elizabeth rights herself and reaches again for Carol, but Carol eludes her playfully, dodging away with an unspoken catch-me-if-you-can. The surgeon accepts the challenge with a smile and rolls, catlike, over the bed to intercept her. Carol squeals and squirms out of her reach, and they flit about the bedroom floor, one chasing the other, then switching unpredictably, like a free-for-all game of 'tag'.
Carol fakes her out and spins away, nearly throwing a giggling Elizabeth off-balance again before she counters and catches the other woman's arm and pulls her closer. Dark hair flies about her head as she spins into Elizabeth's arms, laughing wildly. She throws her own arms about the Englishwoman's neck as their bodies press together in a wild embrace.
The tips of their noses bump together as their eyes meet...
(* Flash...! *)
Carol looked into Elizabeth's eyes, the open wounds still raw behind her smile. If anything, she looked even more vulnerable in her nightshirt, which fell to her bare thighs. "Is that all right to sleep in?" she asked, nodding to Elizabeth's own nightshirt.
"It's fine, thanks," Elizabeth said, smoothing it over her own chest and stomach. She usually slept nude, or sometimes in one of the tee shirts she'd collected on her travels, but this seemed appropriate tonight. "Are you coming to bed?"
The nurse nodded and slipped into bed beside Elizabeth, rolling onto her side.
Elizabeth shifted, taking Carol in her arms and soothing her, gently rubbing her arms and shoulders. "Go to sleep now, Carol," she whispered. "It'll all be better in the morning."
Carol shook her head almost imperceptibly. "I don't think it'll ever be better," she said. "I'm carrying a new life in me, but I feel like the best part of me has died."
"You haven't died, Carol," Elizabeth assured her. "But you have to let him go."
"Did you love Peter, Elizabeth?"
The question surprised her. "No."
"Then why haven't you let him go?"
Elizabeth found she had no answer.
"Good night, Elizabeth," Carol said.
"Good night, Carol," she replied.
She held the nurse spooned against her, wondering which of them would be all right first. And how long it would take before they could laugh again.
(* Boom... *)
They laugh together, the primal glee bursting out of them, as they hold each other. The wind howls outside and the storm clouds billow, but each only has eyes for the other. Dizzy from dancing and chasing, they hold each other upright, arms and bodies warm against each other in the cool night air, and their faces are aglow with the playful spirits that move them. Eyes hold eyes as the laughter quiets, calming.
Then one darts closer and steals a kiss from the other. Or perhaps the other steals it from the one...
(* Flash...! *)
Lightning illuminates the soft contours of Carol's face before Elizabeth's gaze. Her own surprise at the kiss is mirrored in Carol's expression.
They have stopped laughing, both suddenly aware of the same thing: this is not a child in her arms. It's a grown woman. A beautiful, radiant, and very sensuous woman. And I've just kissed her...
They are still, now, except for the faint, yet irresistible gravity of the other woman's lips. Unable to explain, but unwilling to turn away, they draw closer once more...
And they kiss...
(* BOOM...! *)
Elizabeth feels Carol's mouth under hers, possibly the softest thing she's ever felt. Lips meet each other fully, then part, opening as tongues touch...
Their arms tighten, pulling each other closer still. No questions, now, only an answer.
(* FLASH...!! *)
(* Flash! *)
(One, two, three, four, five...)
(* Boom... *)
Elizabeth is making love to Carol.
It doesn't make sense to her, deep in the dormant part of Elizabeth that considers such things. She has never been attracted to women, and Carol has shown no signs of it, either. She is fond of Carol, but has never desired her before. She knows this is unlike both of them.
She also knows they don't care.
Carol, on her back at the edge of the bed, writhes and moans deeply as Elizabeth, kneeling between her thighs, delves her tongue deeper into her sex. She groans with eager wanting, offering herself to the tall woman's insistent mouth, tangling her fingers through reddish-brown curls, pulling her closer...
Elizabeth senses the storm flaring and subsiding in time with Carol's pulse and breathing, as though she is bonded to it, somehow. Her pleasure has repercussions in the atmosphere, the skies seemingly attuned to her arousal and excitement. Magic, Elizabeth thinks again. Wild magic.
The same magic seems to flow through Elizabeth, empowering her, inspiring her to immerse herself in the moist sweetness of Carol's womanhood. She loves the smoothness of Carol's thighs against her cheeks, the rich scent of her sex. The taste of her is nectar on Elizabeth's lips. But this is more than sex; something deeper, more primal is taking place, manifesting itself as sex, but meaning much, much more.
Carol's fingers tighten behind her head, urging her deeper, begging wordlessly for more. Her voice rises and falls in blissful longing, flirting with ecstasy, pulling away. Words fail to form themselves, but her throat emits noises with an ancient language all their own. Her cries rise in pitch and intensity with each stroke of Elizabeth's fingers, each flick of her tongue.
Elizabeth's first erotic experience with a woman is a voyage of discovery, exploring new sensations that are strangely, inexplicably familiar. It's like a sense of déjà vu, recalling another time that had, in turn, seemed familiar, like a perpetually recurring situation. Perhaps she loved a woman in a past life. Perhaps that woman, in previous incarnation, was Carol herself. Perhaps she's imagining the whole thing.
She melds her lips tightly against Carol's labia, sucking at them as her tongue slides between them, Carol twitching and gasping as bolts of joy spark like fireflies within her. Elizabeth's hands glide up, over Carol's hips and ribs, to cup her breasts, the erect nipples hard against her palms. She feels Carol's thighs hug her head, covering her ears, and it occurs to her, without rational explanation, what is happening.
She is performing surgery, not with scalpels and probes and clamps, but with hands and mouth and loving heart. She is severing dead or harmful tissue, removing invading matter, closing severed connections, restoring the flow of life. Repairing injuries not of the body, but the spirit. She is performing surgery on Carol's soul.
At almost the same instant she reaches this understanding, Carol's writhing reaches a fever pitch, her hips buck off the bed, and her voice rises sharply to a scream, her explosive orgasm like honey on Elizabeth's tongue...
(* Flash! *)
(One, two, three, four...)
(* Boom...! *)
Clouds crash together outside, static electricity gathering, crackling through the air like the rapturous impulses flooding through Elizabeth's body. She contracts wondrously as Carol's fingers penetrate her, reaching spots rarely explored within her.
She kneels astride Carol's legs, the nurse sitting upright now, one hand at the small of Elizabeth's back, holding her close as the other hand slowly probes her vaginal canal. One of Elizabeth's nipples, rock-hard, is caught between Carol's lips, the tip of her tongue grating wetly over each individual nerve ending, jolting her in counterpoint to the hand between her legs.
Elizabeth lets out a shuddering, wracking moan, clutching at Carol's shoulders for support as her friend's supple fingers thrust gently, then withdraw, again and again. She pulls Carol's head closer, urging more of her breast into the nurse's mouth. The combination of suction and penetration, being filled and engulfed simultaneously, is almost too much for her, creating wave after wave of exhilaration inside her. She trembles uncontrollably, adoring the feeling, craving more while barely able to endure this much.
With each new sensation, each one practically bursting out of her skin, she feels the storm clouds outside swelling and roiling like the muscles under her skin, the rain sluicing through them like the blood in her veins. Whatever connection Carol's sexual experience had with the atmosphere, Elizabeth appears to share it; the storm surges and pulsates along with Elizabeth's body. Are she and Carol reacting to the storm, enhancing their lovemaking? Or is it occurring outside in response to their unexpected joining? Elizabeth draws in a lungful of sweet, clear air, discarding the questions to concentrate on the exquisite things Carol is doing to her. The answers are elusive, and ultimately unimportant. She doesn't know, doesn't care. She's never felt anything quite like this.
Carol is humming softly, the vibration rippling through her lips, teeth and tongue, conducting into the sensitive areolae. The sensation tickles her centrally, from the base of her spine to the innermost point of her cerebral cortex, and her hips tighten, squeezing Carol's fingers inside her.
Her fingers rake through Carol's dark hair, clutching handfuls as she rocks her hips, adding yet another vector to the pleasure Carol's hand and mouth are bringing her. Her clitoris, rising from its hood, brushes against Carol's thumb, and Elizabeth feels the inexorable rise to climax begin. She cries out, tensing, coiling, drawing out the experience as long as possible, but Carol's mouth on her hypersensitive breast scrambles her senses, making it impossible for her to control herself. Swept along like a leaf in the storm outside, Elizabeth rockets toward orgasm, her voice blending with the howling wind as she cries out in ecstasy and desperation.
She digs her fingers into Carol's head and shoulders, clinging to sanity as she reaches the edge of bliss, catapults over it, and comes, all the solid structures of her body melting like butter.
She sinks lower, her nipple slipping out of Carol's lips as her knees give out their support, and tilts Carol's face up, bringing the nurse's mouth again to her own...
(* FLASH! *)
(One, two, thr--)
(* BOOM...! *)
A moment of lucidity comes over Elizabeth, a momentary oasis of stillness in their emotional turmoil. She senses that this uncharacteristic behavior exhibited by Carol and herself tonight has the air of an established pattern. She feels almost like a Shakespearean actor, performing works written centuries ago, playing a character performed by generations of other players before her. She thinks perhaps they are channeling someone; lovers whose names are lost in antiquity, separated across eternity, able to touch each other only in borrowed flesh, during some sort of meteorological conjunction, through a ritual gleaned from the collective unconscious.
This leap of logic flashes through Elizabeth's rational mind only briefly before a new pleasure drives out all thought. Carol is once again on her back, the surgeon kneeling astride her upturned face. Carol's hands curve up to clutch Elizabeth's buttocks, pulling her pelvis down to Carol's mouth. Elizabeth's back arches, her face turned to the ceiling, eyes rolling up in their sockets, as Carol's tongue dances within her. And then she's lost again, swept up in the swirling delirium, inside and out.
Elizabeth reaches down with her hands, seeking some hold to steady herself, and her grasp finds the soft, warm masses of Carol's breasts, swollen both by desire and her growing pregnancy. She moans aloud again, luxuriating in the experience of slow, sweet cunnilingus as applied by her friend...or, in another sense, her time-lost lover...falling into a pre-orgasmic trance as Carol's movements begin to build, fueling the fire within her.
She lets herself hum tunelessly, a soft, crooning buzz on her lips with each exhalation, as she rocks gently on Carol's face. Every sweep of the nurse's tongue, every strong thrust and every delicate stroke, sets off waves of delicious heat, rippling outward from her clit, throughout the inside of her skin, up along her spine, between her shoulder blades and into her skull, flashing against the backs of her eyes, wrenching another moan out of her as she writhes with delight. The pleasure builds within her, growing steadily, and she knows she won't be able to contain it for long.
Outside, wind howls, rain falls in sheets, and thunder echoes in the distance. The air itself seems to condense, gaining heft and gravity of its own. An observer might expect to hear Wagnerian opera as the storm begins its build to a final crescendo.
Elizabeth convulses, riding the plateaus of bliss like an untamed horse, until they overcome her. Unable to maintain her balance, she rolls forward, laying her body along the length of Carol's, her skin molding beautifully against her friend's. She feels Carol's breasts pressing against her stomach, her own against Carol's, and the other woman's skin is intensely warm, almost hot in contrast to the chill night air. It warms her like a flame, making her aware of the goosebumps that speckle her flesh. Seeking further warmth, she presses her face between Carol's thighs again, her mouth nuzzling for the soft, slick crevice once more.
Carol's legs curl up about her, almost fetally - perhaps mirroring the new life within her - her hips rotating in reaction to Elizabeth's questing tongue, opening herself while wrapping herself around the surgeon. Elizabeth's lips find Carol's clitoris, wrapping around it, sucking delicately but insistently, while her fingers press their way into the tight, wet opening. She feels Carol doing the same things to her, sending a marvelous frisson through Elizabeth's body.
The two women pull tightly against each other, each seeking the source of the other's sex, lifting her to heights of wild abandon and receiving the same in return. Their desire builds in frenzy, the storm clouds outside clashing together with equal urgency, spinning about each other, driving each other deeper into an ever-tightening spiral of intensity. Elizabeth knows the end is nearing, both inside Carol and herself, and in the sky above the city.
As the tempest and the lovemaking both reach critical mass, each narrowing its focus almost to the point of singularity, a pinhole seems to open in Elizabeth's mind, piercing through to the other side of reality. For a moment so brief it has no measure in time, she sees through the veil of existence to the secrets that lurk outside the limits of human perception. She also senses that Carol is looking with her, perhaps through her. Or, perhaps, she through Carol.
The moment passes, unable to sustain itself, and consciousness inverts as they climax together, Carol's scream blending with Elizabeth's, both lost in the thunderclap as lightning detonates almost directly overhead-
(* FLASH -- BOOM!!! *)
The scream dies in Elizabeth's throat, the storm subsiding gradually along with her orgasm. She feels the muscles and tendons of her body, stretched taut in climax, slowly relax, her body going slack on top of Carol's as the other woman's does the same beneath her. She feels the wondrous afterglow lingering in her trembling body as she rolls carefully off her friend, turning to curl against her back. They lie together, trembling like shipwrecked sailors washed up on shore, as the rumbles of thunder slowly die in the distance.
The rain lessens, fading to a light mist as the wind settles. The air grows still, and there is silence. Peace descends over the night.
"Carol..." Elizabeth manages to say, the syllables coming awkwardly as she relearns spoken language. Readjusting to familiar planes of consciousness is a slow process after the amazing experience they've just shared. "My god..."
The nurse shivers against her, dark hair splayed over the pillows. Elizabeth doesn't remember pulling the blankets over their bodies, but they are under the covers once again. Was it only a dream? Some sort of turbulent hallucination inspired by the weather during REM sleep?
No. They wore nightshirts when they got in bed, Elizabeth realizes. Those shirts now lie discarded in opposite corners of the bedroom, and their nude bodies rest glowingly against each other, skin on skin.
Elizabeth drifts into a light doze, hovering just beneath the surface of wakefulness. Time passes, she can't tell how much.
"Elizabeth...?" Carol speaks sleepily, as if coming out of a daze. "Did we...really just...?"
"Yes," Elizabeth answers her, awake again, but equally at a loss. "We did."
"But...it's like it was us, but not us," she amends quietly. "As if...something else, something...older..." She falters, unable to explain it clearly.
"But, are we...?" Carol turns over, to look into Elizabeth's eyes. "I mean...is it really us now?"
Elizabeth considers the question, allowing her own senses to feel out the answer. The heightened, hyper-real feeling has departed with the storm, leaving everything 'normal' once more. "Yes," she says at last. "We're ourselves again."
Carol's fingers brush strands of hair off Elizabeth's cheek, feeling its texture as if testing her own perceptions. Then, nodding, "Good," she says.
Without another word, Carol kisses Elizabeth's lips, claiming them with her own. Her arms slide around the surgeon's neck, and they pull each other closer, legs intertwining, giving themselves to the kiss.
They make love again, slow and deliberate. No atmospheric fireworks this time, no astral harmonies or celestial joinings, no ancient dances or spiritual possession; just one lonely woman turning to another for comfort and love, drowning in each other, safe within the moment.
Something awakened Elizabeth, a bright, soft light against her eyelids. It was accompanied by the soft chirping of birds. Sunlight, she realized. Morning.
She opened her eyes and wondered where she was. This wasn't her room. What happened?
Memory returned almost immediately. She was in Carol's house. She was in Carol's bed. And last night...God, last night was...
She rolled to her side, feeling for the other woman, but finding the bed empty. Where was Carol?
Elizabeth pried her eyes open and looked about. She could make out the dimensions of the room easily enough. All the windows of the bedroom were wide open, and even though the shafts of golden-white daylight, she had no trouble spotting Carol.
The dark-haired woman was before the windows, curled in a chair, looking outward upon the world. She was nude, her back to Elizabeth. With the windows open, the cool air washed in, over and around her, but she did not shiver in the wind, or make attempt to cover herself.
History repeats itself, Elizabeth thought, sitting up and pulling a blanket about herself. "Carol?" she said, getting to her feet.
Carol glanced around at her. "Oh, Elizabeth," she said in a voice still tinged with sleep. "Good morning."
"Good morning," Elizabeth replied. "Are you all right?"
Carol considered the question carefully before replying. "Yeah," she said. "I think I am."
Elizabeth moved over by the window to join Carol, the blanket clutched about herself, held shut under her chin in one fist. "Aren't you cold?"
"Not really," Carol said, still a little dreamily. "I was just enjoying the morning."
"Oh." Elizabeth looked at the open windows. "Do you always...enjoy the morning, au natural?"
Carol laughed lightly. "No, but somehow it felt right this morning." She waved at the house across from hers. "Anyway, there's no one to see me. The El doesn't seem to be running - I think maybe lightning hit the tracks last night - and I'm pretty sure the neighbors are away on vacation."
Elizabeth looked at the silent elevated train tracks, realizing for the first time why it was so quiet. "Suppose someone's house-sitting?"
"Well, then someone gets a free show," Carol replied with a smile, glancing at her own nakedness. "I feel too good to care, right now." She turned her smile upon Elizabeth, her entire face radiating contentment.
Elizabeth felt herself smiling with equal ease and honesty. "Do you?" she said, wonderingly.
"Uh-huh." Carol crossed her arms, hugging herself lightly. "It's the strangest thing. Last night, I mean."
"Yes, it was," the surgeon agreed. "I've never done anything like that before..."
"Me neither," Carol said, as though just starting to puzzle it out. "I can't explain what happened, but..."
"I know." Elizabeth sat on the windowsill by Carol's chair.
"If I didn't know better," Carol continued, "or if I believed in such things, I'd almost say it was some sort of...white witchcraft." She shook her head ruefully. "God, if my mother heard me talking like that, she'd be horrified."
"I was thinking the same thing," Elizabeth said, leaning to place her hand on Carol's knee. "As if we were performing some sort of ritual last night. Something very old...involving primal forces like lightning, sex..."
"...and milkshakes," Carol put in, her smile broadening suddenly into a laughing grin. "Don't forget the most important ingredient."
Elizabeth had to laugh at the idea, joined by Carol. "No, of course not," she said.
They settled into a comfortable silence.
"Thing is," Carol ventured, "I don't know why it happened, and I can't begin to explain it..."
"Neither can I," Elizabeth offered.
"But I do know what the result was." There was a calm depth to the dark-haired woman that Elizabeth hadn't seen for a long time. "I'm free," she said.
Elizabeth looked her over carefully, at her posture, her expression, her body language. The brittle tension and disconnected nervousness of the previous evening were gone. "Free of Doug, you mean?"
"Free of everything," Carol agreed. "I'm at a place where I can start fresh." She stroked her belly. "Along with my new little friend here."
"Does that mean you don't love him anymore?" Elizabeth inquired, more curious than concerned.
"Doug, you mean? No, I love him as much as ever," she said, looking wistfully out the window, "but I'm not dependent on him anymore. As much as I hope to spend my life with him...now I can imagine a life without him, if it comes to that. I still want him back someday, but if I can't have him, it's not going to be the end of me."
Elizabeth smiled warmly. "I'm so happy to hear that," she said.
Carol looked up at her again. "Whatever happened last night, I couldn't have done it alone," she said. "Maybe I couldn't have done it with anyone but you, Elizabeth. I'll always love you for that."
Feeling the first tingle of tears in her eyes, Elizabeth felt the glow in her chest. "Thank you, Carol," she breathed.
A faint breeze whispered over Elizabeth's ankles, and she saw Carol shiver slightly.
"God, Carol, you must be freezing," she said, letting go of the blanket to remove it from her shoulders. What the hell, she thought, give the neighbors a double feature, if they were watching. She draped the blanket over Carol, tucking it in under her legs and around her feet.
"Oh, jeez," Carol said, snuggling tighter. "Thank you, I hadn't realized how chilly it was."
"You've got to take care of yourself, you know," Elizabeth reminded her, ignoring the morning cold on her own skin. "You've got a little one to take care of now."
Carol's face took on a slightly quizzical look, as though the number didn't sound quite right to her. Then she shook it off. "I'll be fine, Elizabeth," she assured her friend. "Really."
Elizabeth rubbed her own upper arms briskly, staving off the chill. "Do you want some breakfast?"
The nurse shook her head. "I'll get something in a little while," she said. "Right now, I think I'd just like to have some time to myself. I mean, you know, me and..." She nodded at her abdomen.
"Of course," Elizabeth said. She leaned over to hug Carol, and Carol turned her head so their lips met. They let the kiss linger, but it was a kiss of memory, not one of passion. That had departed along with last night's tempest.
Elizabeth pulled away gently, dressed quietly and let herself out of Carol's house.
Pausing by her car, she stood in the cool morning air, deciding what to do for breakfast. She contemplated the decision calmly, every muscle and bone feeling relaxed, every pore and tissue soothed and massaged. The day seemed open to limitless possibilities to her now.
I'm free, too, she realized suddenly, but without surprise. The magic that had liberated Carol's spirit had done the same for hers. She was free of Peter Benton, free of anger towards him, free of disappointment at the loss of her dream job, or sadness at the end of their relationship. She was centered again, ready to move forward, wherever that may be. Free to be alone, complete in her solitude, or to share herself with someone else, if she chose. Free at last.
Getting into her car and driving away with the windows down, the air washing over her face and arms, she wondered idly what Mark was doing for breakfast...
"Flash," she whispered to herself. "Boom..."
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