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 NOTES: As usual, DON'T READ if you're offended by f/f slash, but I hope you'll enjoy this anyway!
SPOILERS: For early season 8, up through "Never Say Never".
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

By Scott J Welles

Part One...

(Monday afternoon...)

The flight attendants might not have noticed the odd pair, mixed in with the other passengers all deplaning together. And the woman at the car rental desk might not have noticed that they were together - the younger one waited with the luggage while the older one filled out the insurance forms and rental agreements. But the man who checked them into the hotel couldn't have helped noticing that they were staying together, and wondering what they might be doing with each other. Two very different women, obviously not related; one upscale, reserved and professional, the other laid-back and casual, with a barely contained wild streak. They didn't look like a pair that could share a taxicab, let alone a hotel room.

As soon as the older woman unlocked the door, the younger one wasted no time in bursting happily inside and letting out a decadent sigh. Tossing her oversized gym bag carelessly in the corner, she dived onto the nearest king-size bed, bouncing happily. "Dibs!" she called to her companion. "Unless you want this one?"

"No, thanks," the second woman said curtly, lugging her shoulder bag and rollaway suitcase inside and closing the door.

The young woman rolled onto her back, arms and legs spread-eagled, as if making a snow angel. "Ohh, man, I lo-o-ove hotel beds, don't you?" Without waiting for a reply, she bounced to her feet and dashed to the glass balcony door. "Oh, wow, and you can see the Space Needle from here! That's so cool!"

"What are you, suddenly, eleven? Did our plane pass through a time warp and regress you, somehow?" The mature member of the pair was carefully unpacking, hanging suits and blouses on hangers. "I'm leaving you the drawers on the left, okay?"

"Sure, whatever." She reached in her pocket for a stick of gum, then remembered she'd given Kerry the last one on the plane to help pop her ears. "Anyway, excuse me for having fun, Dr. Weaver! This is the first real vacation I've been on in years."

Kerry stowed her empty suitcase in the closet and began pulling files from her shoulder bag. "Randi, you're not here on vacation," she said. "I brought you along because you promised to help me with my presentation, and then only because you paid for your own plane fare."

"Don't remind me." She'd had to cash in a lot of miles to afford the ticket. Thank God for credit cards that earned miles with purchases.

"And let's not forget that you begged like a baby for me to let you come along."

Randi grimaced. "Kinda hoping you would forget that part, actually..." She knew it had surprised everyone at County that Randi had chosen to spend her vacation days at a medical convention in Seattle with Kerry Weaver. Bitchy, crabby, cranky, snarky, snappish Kerry Weaver, who seemed more on edge lately than ever. Weaver herself probably wouldn't have agreed to let Randi share her room if Randi hadn't volunteered to help Weaver correlate her data and organize her notes on her own time and without pay, further leading people to wonder if Randi hadn't gone nuts. But it would all be worth it in the end if Randi was able to execute her master plan and achieve her primary objective.

"Anyway, we should get started," Kerry said, laying out files on the table. "Unless you want to unpack first."

Glancing at her bag, stuffed with clothes, toiletries, accessories and tapes for her Walkman, Randi ignored it, hung up her leather jacket, and said, "Done."

Kerry looked at the bag in the corner, then just shook her head with a sigh.

"So what are we lookin' at here?" Randi asked, joining Kerry at the table.

"Well, I've got all the notes assembled," Kerry told her, "but with all the staff changes lately, I haven't had time to organize them chronologically, or to put the slides and charts in the proper order."


"Plus, I need to edit the text of my speech," the ER Chief continued, "and I'd like to have had an opportunity to rehearse it. But losing Chen and Malucci, I just haven't had the time." She said it almost normally, clinical and businesslike as usual, but Randi had spent years learning to read between Kerry Weaver's lines. Every year and every new crisis brought new lines around her eyes and mouth, each with its own sad story. Between the latest ones, Randi could see what Kerry would never say out loud: how much the bitter departures of Dave Malucci and Jing-Mei Chen, and their harsh final words to Kerry, had hurt her. The rights or wrongs of their respective circumstances notwithstanding, her burdens had increased.

"Hey, you know, we haven't had anything to eat since Chicago," Randi said, considering it a wise choice on both their parts to skip the airline food. Some things even Doc Magoo's couldn't prepare one for. "Why don't we go out for dinner, and then attack this stuff on a full stomach?"

Kerry shook her head. "We've got a lot of work to do. I'd like to have done it on the flight, but those tiny little trays aren't big enough for anything. And the slides were packed away in my suitcase, anyway." She didn't mention the physical discomfort she'd obviously experienced while flying.

"C'mon, Dr. Weaver, we've gotta eat..."

"That's why the Good Lord gave us room service, Randi," she replied, passing the menu from the dresser without looking up. "Why don't you have them send up some coffee and snacks, or whatever you want for yourself."

Randi took the menu without enthusiasm, but gamely feigned her earlier cheer. "Ooh, room service," she trilled, "I just lo-o-ove room servi-i-ice..."

Kerry ignored her, already engrossed in her notes as Randi ordered a burger and fries for herself, plus a club sandwich and tortellini salad for Weaver. Hopefully, she'd be able to get the workaholic Kerry Weaver to eat a real meal instead of just noshing, and to lighten up on herself. But privately, she doubted it.

They ate while they worked and worked while they ate, falling into an efficient language of bureaucratic shorthand. They traded files and snitched bites of each other's meals, Kerry filching fries between pages while Randi appropriated bits of bacon from Kerry's sandwich. They didn't stand on ceremony or waste time with idle conversation, concentrating instead on the task at hand. For all her apparent flakiness, Randi was capable of extraordinary discipline and concentration on detail work, rivaling Kerry herself. When she applied herself to such tasks, she could focus and calculate as keenly as any bookkeeper or CPA. It was one of the reasons, she was certain, that Kerry hadn't fired her for dress code violations long ago.

When at last Kerry pushed her chair back with a tired sigh, declaring them done, Randi looked at her watch and was surprised at the hour. "Man, look how late it is," she muttered, stretching. "Doesn't feel right."

"We're still on Illinois time," Kerry told her, standing up stiffly and moving to turn down her bed. Randi had seen her pull 36-hour shifts and not look this weary.

"Dr. Weaver, are you all right?"

"Yeah," she replied shortly, sitting on the bed and rubbing her leg. "Travel's always tough on me," she admitted. "Sitting on the plane for hours, hauling luggage, change of climate..."

"Huh." Randi could see how it would be hard on Kerry.

"I'm sure it doesn't bother you as much," Kerry added, as if to shift focus off herself.

"Nah, I love getting out of town," Randi replied conversationally. "Hate being cooped up, always have. Especially since..." She paused.

"Since doing time?" Kerry filled in.

Randi felt her dander rise at the mention of her incarceration, but she didn't let her voice change. "Yeah, that." It was the first time she could recall Kerry mentioning that particular sore point in years, since the time she'd been the only one brazen enough to come out and ask Randi what she'd been convicted of. Randi had resented her for the question at the time, but later had to respect her for her forthrightness, as well as for letting the matter drop afterwards. Romano, in her place, might have needled her with casual mention of her jail time at every opportunity. But Kerry didn't care, so long as Randi did her job.

"I can see how that would make you appreciate the freedom to travel," Kerry said. "I'd enjoy it more myself, if not for the physical stress."

"Yeah." Randi smiled. "So what's on tap for tomorrow?"

Kerry stood and rummaged in her drawer. "Well, I won't need you during the day tomorrow, so you're on your own."

"Great," Randi said, looking out at the persistent drizzle that hadn't let up since their plane had landed. "Maybe I'll lay out by the pool and work on my tan."

"But I'll need your help with my speech in the evening," Kerry added, coming up with her toothbrush and a pair of pajamas, "so don't make any plans to go out clubbing or anything."

"Yes, ma'am," she said to Kerry's back as the Chief disappeared into the bathroom. Another tender heart-to-heart with 'the Weav'.

Randi checked the pay-per-view movie list, but there was nothing good, so she walked out onto the balcony and struck a dramatic pose against the railing, gazing at the lights of Seattle through the rain and inhaling deeply the refreshing scents of a city by the sea.

Eww, fish guts...! She went back inside, choosing to strike a dramatic pose from inside the
climate-controlled hotel instead.

Looking at the beacon of the Space Needle's lights and listening to the sounds of Weaver's shower, Randi contemplated her ulterior motives for this trip. Certainly, she intended to help Weaver with her presentation, as promised, but she had an agenda of her own to address. Her offers to help Weaver with her presentation were genuine, but Randi also had no intention of leaving the city until she'd accomplished one very simple goal. Given her luck in recent trips west, she didn't anticipate any real problems in that regard.

Her secondary goal, to get to know the mysterious, perpetually guarded Dr. Kerry Weaver a little better, was a little hazier. She didn't really know if it would be possible, but you never knew what an adventure like this might bring. It wasn't as high a priority as her main goal, but she'd pounce on an opportunity if it presented itself.

In any event, however, both her goals would have to wait until tomorrow. For now, best to sleep on things...

(Monday night...)

Randi awoke in the darkened room, lit only by what little diffuse light seeped through the balcony curtains. Something had triggered her instincts, snapping her into full alertness - always a light sleeper, her time in prison had increased her sensitivity to nocturnal sound and movement. She opened her eyes, tense and alert; something wasn't right.

The sound came again, faintly. A short, almost involuntary noise from the woman in the next bed, faint as a kitten's mewling. Randi's first thought was that Kerry was...um, enjoying herself ('You go, girl!' she thought...), but as the sound came again, she sensed the strained quiver in Kerry's voice. Pain.

"Dr. Weaver?" she spoke softly. "Are you all right?"

"I'm fine." The reply was bitten out unconvincingly.

Her eyes adjusting, Randi could just make out Kerry curled on her side, facing away from Randi's bed. Even before she started working at the hospital, Randi had learned to tell a body that was resting comfortably from one that wasn't. "Dr. Weaver, what's wrong?" she asked, concerned. Getting out of bed, she moved to kneel on the edge of Kerry's. "Are you sick?"

"No, it's nothing," Kerry said, a little too quickly, her voice on the edge of breaking. Her hands clutched one leg, drawn closer than the other. "It's just a cramp..."

"Oh..." Moving around to the other side, Randi carefully pulled back the covers. "Here, let me..."

"No, Randi, don't touch...!"

"No, it's okay, I've got it." Her hands found Kerry's thigh, feeling the rigid, unnatural tightness beneath the silk pajamas. "Relax and just breathe. Trust me."

She could feel Kerry tense even more, girding instinctively as though for an attack, but she didn't argue. Randi heard her draw in a ragged breath and blow it out again, trying to focus past the pain while Randi's hands soothed and massaged her leg with a soft tenderness that surprised most people.

"How's that?" she asked. "Better?"

"Mmm," Kerry grunted shortly. It sounded like an affirmative.

"Yeah, I had a job once in a massage parlor," Randi said as she continued to gently knead and stroke Kerry's thigh. "I know what you're thinkin', but it wasn't like that. Just straight massage work, nothing extra." She smirked. "At least that was the policy when I started. Then policy changed, so I quit. Or they fired me, depending who you ask."

Kerry didn't reply, and Randi, sensing she wasn't in a conversational mood, elected to lay off the chatter.

The muscles and tendons under her hands softened to a normal state of relaxation, but Randi could still feel an aura of tense discomfort around Kerry, and it slowly sank in how awkward the situation must be for the older woman. Randi wore only a skimpy outfit of tee-shirt and bikini bottoms to sleep in - she normally slept in less, but sharing a room with Weaver, she felt obliged to display a little more modesty - and now she was practically in bed with her boss, laying hands on her in a rather familiar way. That, in itself, wouldn't embarrass Randi (very little did), but she knew the admission of weakness had wounded Kerry's dignity. Randi's attentions, though well meant, were easing a momentary ache in Kerry's body while rubbing salt in her emotional wounds.

Sitting up and pulling her hands away, Randi let Kerry pull the bedcovers over herself. "No wonder you can't sleep," she said gruffly, standing up. "You got the lumpy mattress."

"Must be it," Kerry answered stiffly. They both knew the mattress was perfectly comfortable, but it felt important to take the focus away from Kerry and her physical shortcomings. "Feels much better, thanks," the doctor added quickly, almost dismissively.

"Sure, no prob." Randi slipped back into her own bed, still feeling the heat from Kerry's pajama'd thigh tingling in her palms. "Night, Dr. Weaver."

"Good night, Randi." Kerry, rolling over and turning away, sounded relieved that the conversation was over.

Randi lay still, watching Kerry's silhouette and listening for the change in breathing that indicated sleep. Both women were quiet for a long time, and Randi had begun to drift off herself when she heard something.

It wasn't sleep, though, but another sound that Randi recognized. She'd heard it before - the faintly shuddering, choking quality of someone trying very hard not to let anyone hear her crying. The slightest shake of her shoulders could be seen. Did she know that Randi was still awake? Would knowing that make it worse for her?

Randi fought the urge to go back to Kerry's side and comfort her; such a gesture would shame Kerry beyond endurance. A failure of the flesh was bad enough, but to be caught weeping by a desk clerk... No. Don't put her through that.

Turning away in bed and trying to close her ears as best she could, Randi had to swallow a lump in her throat and fight back a few tears of her own. It was important to ignore Kerry's plight and respect her nominal privacy, but it wasn't easy.

Sleep, when at last it came, was a mercy for both women.

Part Two...

(Tuesday morning...)

The bleating of the telephone jerked Randi from sleep. Rolling over and grabbing it from the bedside table by reflex, she held it quickly to her ear. "ER," she answered automatically.

"Good morning, this is your wakeup call," a pleasant, obviously recorded voice informed her smoothly. You're not in the ER, doofus, it seemed to add in her head. You're in a hotel room in Seattle.

Hanging up the phone with an annoyed grunt, she rolled onto her side. "Dr. Weaver, it's time to-"

She stopped short, seeing the other bed was empty.

"Thanks, I'm up," Kerry said, emerging fully dressed from the bathroom. "I would have arranged an earlier call, but I wanted to let you sleep in."

"Oh. Uh...thanks." Randi blinked sleep out of her eyes and squinted at Kerry. The ER Chief looked as fresh and alert as if she'd been up for hours. And Randi had slept right through it. How did Kerry do that? It was actually kinda creepy...

"I'm going downstairs to have some breakfast before registration begins," Kerry told Randi absently, giving herself a once-over in the desk mirror above the desk. "There's a schedule of events on the table if you want to look at it; as my assistant, you're entitled to attend any of the events you want. Some genius established that policy allegedly because of conflicting events, so doctors could attend one lecture or discussion and have their assistants take notes at another at the same time, but I think a lot of people take advantage and use it as an excuse to blow the whole thing off and go play golf while their flunkies tape everything. Don't ask me what good that's going to do anyone; most of them probably won't have time to listen to the tapes once they're back at work anyway, and they miss out on a chance to ask questions of the panelists and enjoy some meaningful dialogues, but hey, we all know how critical it is to get those eighteen holes in while you have the chance, right?" Kerry delivered this soliloquy in a steady, slightly distracted voice, all the while gathering pens, files, and notebooks and making last-minute adjustments to her makeup and wardrobe.

"In any event," she added without pause, "I'll need you to be here at six to help me practice my speech, but you're on your own until then. If you go out, just remember to make sure you leave the Maid Service sign on the door, and don't forget your key. See you later." And she was out the door before she finished speaking, with barely a backward glance.

Randi blinked again, sat up in bed and ran her fingers through tangled hair. "Good morning to you, too," she said to the empty hotel room.

After pouring herself through a shower and pulling on jeans and a tee shirt (three lines of print across her bosom in very small letters, reading: "I must not tease the boys...I must not tease the boys...I must not tease the boys..."), Randi looked out through the balcony curtains and sighed. The sun showed no signs of burning through the clouds. No sunbathing today, it seemed. Well, crap... Maybe the hotel had a pool she could take a few laps in. Checking the brochure of service listings, she was pleased to find an Olympic-sized indoor pool, a sauna, and a gymnasium with both Nautilus and free weights. What she couldn't do for her tan, she'd at least do for her muscle tone. Either way, it would benefit her figure and help her accomplish her main goal for the trip.

Spotting the convention schedule where Kerry had left it, Randi picked it up and skimmed it idly, wondering what made Kerry think Randi would want to sit through any of the stodgy lectures or dry medical discussions. Registration began at 8:00 - a few minutes ago, according to the clock on the television set - and opening remarks at 9:00. After that, it was three days of speeches and discussions and chatter on everything from ventricle dilation to bowel necrosis to gastrointestinal tract infections. Cha cha cha. Total yawnfest, as far as Randi was concerned.

Kerry was giving a presentation on Thursday morning, and Randi would run the slide projector, so she'd be sitting through that one. And there was a semiformal cocktail party after closing remarks on Thursday evening, and Randi thought she might like to drop in for that and hope things loosened up a little, but between now and then, it looked alternately blecchy or boring. Kerry would probably love it.

Kerry Weaver. Randi tapped the folded schedule idly against her chin and thought about the brittle ER chief. Her demeanor that morning had been brisk and businesslike as usual, certainly not out of character for her, but Randi thought there might have been a little extra tension underlying her behavior. Randi wondered if Kerry was always like that when she shared a hotel room, or if she was feeling extra self-conscious about what happened last night. Then again, maybe she was always like that in the morning anyway. Who knew?

Well, whatever. Dismissing her concerns with a shrug, Randi dropped the schedule on the table next to the pair of room keys. She had most of the day to her own devices; best to get started now so she'd have the best chance of finding-

Wait a minute. The concierge who checked them in had only given them two room keys. If they were both still here, then Weaver had locked herself out.

Man, she must really have been nervous this morning. Was last night really that bad? You'd think it was Kerry's first night of sleepaway camp or something. Then again, you'd think that a doctor wouldn't be so embarrassed about the need for physical assistance, but what did she know?

Randi shook her head and picked up both keys. Better go find Kerry and give her one of them before she finds herself locked out and compounds her humiliation.

A quick check of the hotel restaurant showed no sign of Kerry, but Randi soon spotted the sign for conference registration by the open door of a ballroom. Looking inside, she saw a few dozen people with that 'doctor' look she'd learned to recognize. Most wore business attire: pantsuits, skirts or jacket and tie, but some of them seemed less at ease in such apparel - ER docs, she'd bet. They were all waiting in several lines leading up to a row of folding tables; registration broken down into alphabetical groups. A-D in one line, E-H in another, and so on. Catching sight of Kerry Weaver in the T-Z line was simple enough.

Padding up silently behind her, Randi tapped her on the shoulder, trying not to take too much perverse pleasure when Kerry jumped with a startled gasp.

"Just me," she said with a disarming smile. "You forgot your room key."

Kerry had a moment where she looked like she wanted to disappear, but then she relaxed and let out a reluctant smile of her own. "Thanks. That was stupid of me."

"Hey, anyone can forget things," Randi said. "Easy mistake."

The smile went away. Bad choice of remarks, Randi thought. Must have hit a sore point somehow.

Trying to lighten the mood, Randi asked, "How was breakfast?"

"If you like Belgian waffles, I'd recommend the ones in the caf," Kerry said, looking like she wanted to be somewhere else.

"Maybe," Randi replied disinterestedly. She actually loved Belgian waffles - they sure beat the oatmeal at Magoo's - but they were pretty fattening, and she didn't want to look too fat with some hunky doctors around. Without turning her head, she could spot a half dozen guys who she wouldn't mind giving her a physical. Like that guy in the N-S line just finishing up at the table. With that short gray hair, he reminded her of...

"Hey, you know who that guy looks like?" she said to Kerry. Then, as the man turned and headed for the exit, poring over the registration materials, she got a better look at him. "It is! Hey, Doug!" She trotted to intercept him before he got to the door.

Looking around at the sound of his name, the pediatrician's familiar face lit up with surprise. "Randi...?"

"Yeah, surprise," she said, smiling broadly.

Doug Ross' face broke into a grin of his own, the one that used to melt her inside, and he stepped forward with a laugh, his arms open. She let herself enjoy the hug in more ways than one, and tried not to wish it lasted longer. "What are you doing here, anyway?" he said. "Going to med school?"

"No, I'm just here with..." She trailed off, suddenly realizing how uncomfortable this could get.

From the look on his face, though, he'd already noticed who she was here with. "Kerry," he said, looking over Randi's shoulder. "How you doing?"

"Doug," Kerry greeted him in return. Randi hadn't noticed her coming to join them. "I'm fine, thanks. I didn't expect to see you here. Are you on one of the panels?"

"Yeah, I'm filling in for Matt Kersch. He had, uh, a personal situation." From the tilt of his eyebrow, there was a story behind that, uh, situation. "You?"

"I'm giving the triage presentation on Thursday," Kerry admitted. "Randi's volunteered to help me out."

"No kidding," Doug said, clearly for lack of any real response. "Well, it's great seeing you both here. You look good, both of you."

"Yeah? Thanks," Randi said with a teasing smile. "And you're uglier than ever."

He ducked his head and chuckled the way she remembered. Life away from County must have agreed with Doug, because he was even more handsome than before. There was a little more gray in the hair, and he'd grown out his beard, but they just lent him an air of maturity and character. There was a more relaxed, confident quality about him as well. Randi had always had the suspicion that Doug Ross' easy cool had masked a deep insecurity and discomfort with himself, but that seemed to be gone; he didn't look away as much as she recalled, or talk in curt mutters. Now he had a way of looking at you squarely that threatened to turn her knees to butter...

"How's Carol?" Kerry asked. "And the girls?"

The question was like a splash of cold water for Randi. Carol and the girls. Right. Not available, remember?

"Beautiful, and even more beautiful, if that's possible," Doug said, running a hand over his hair. Randi caught the glint of a ring on his finger. "We just celebrated our first anniversary last month. Felt more like our tenth, but we got off to a slow start."

"Wow, I wish we could've seen the wedding," Randi put in, feeling bad about having the hots for a friend's husband. Especially since he was a friend, too.

"You know, I bet she'd love to see you two," Doug added. "You here for the whole convention?"

"Yes, ah, we're flying back on Friday morning," Kerry told him, looking even more uncomfortable. "Maybe we can arrange to have lunch or something."

"Sure, I'll tell her," Doug said. There was a moment of awkward tension as the conversation lapsed. Randi thought they looked like two relatives who didn't care for each other, meeting at a family gathering and trying to be civil.

"Well, it looks like my line is moving," Kerry said, as though looking for an excuse to get away. "I should get registered."

"Sure," Doug said again, and Kerry turned to walk away with a stiff smile. Then, as if he'd just worked up his nerve, Doug added, "Oh, hey, Kerry? Since you're here?"

"Hmm?" She turned back to him, her face a polite mask.

"I wanted to ask you..." He cleared his throat, the old discomfort reappearing a little. "How's Mark doing? Elizabeth called and told us about the tumor, but I'd like your opinion."

Kerry's face softened a bit, and she looked surprised. Randi couldn't blame her; she might have expected Doug to ask her about things back at County, but not Kerry. Maybe he wanted an objective medical opinion instead of just gossip. "Oh," Kerry said. "He's doing well, all things considered. There were a few instances of verbal confusion at first, forgetting words or switching gender pronouns, for example. But he seems to have recovered completely by now. The chemo wafers were very effective."

"So he's doing okay, as far as you know?"

"Well, he..." Kerry hesitated ever so slightly. "He was evaluated by the neurologists, but everything seemed well." She didn't look at Randi, but Randi knew she was afraid that the clerk might tell Doug just who arranged for the evaluation in the first place.

Instead, Randi just said, "Yeah, he and Elizabeth and their daughter are doing great. You should call 'em and say hi."

"I think they'd appreciate that," Kerry added, just managing to hide her relief.

"I will," he said, with the quiet smile that had calmed frightened children and mesmerized women for years. Randi had relished it whenever she saw it, but she never thought she'd see it directed at Kerry Weaver as well. Life as a husband and father in Seattle had been good for him indeed.

Doug excused himself, saying he had to meet someone, and they said their goodbyes. When he had departed, Kerry had an oddly pleased look on her face. Then she caught sight of Randi looking at her. "What?" she said, cautiously.

"Nothing," Randi said with a smile. She was secretly proud of Kerry and Doug for setting their mutual concern for a friend ahead of their long-standing enmity. But saying so would only embarrass Kerry again. Hmm, maybe she'd save it for a special occasion...

Kerry glanced at her suspiciously once more, but let it go. "Well, I still have to get registered. I'll see you at six?"

"You bet," Randi assured her. "I should get going too. I've got something special I want to do while I'm here."

"Oh?" Kerry looked interested. "Going to see the Space Needle? Or the aquarium?"

"Nope. Something a little more personal."

"Do you have friends you plan to visit?"

"Not exactly." At least they weren't friends yet...

"Going to the museums? I hear there are some good ones nearby. The Native American Center is supposed to be really..." Kerry trailed off, seeing from the look on Randi's face how cold her last guess was. "Okay, I give up, Randi. What do you have planned?"

Randi let her smile widen. "I'm gonna go out and get laid."

Kerry's face froze, as though Randi had suddenly claimed to be Elvis. "And...you needed to come to Seattle for that...?" she said quizzically.

"Course not," Randi snorted. "But this is different. It's the weirdest thing, but every time I come to the West Coast, I have the best luck with sex. Whenever me and my friends go to Frisco or LA, I always end up having the most incredible time in the sack."

"Really...?" Kerry sounded increasingly skeptical.

She leaned forward conspiratorially. "I don't know if it's the change in climate, or that the time difference does something to my biorhythms, or what, but I'm talking about the fucking Olympic Gold Medal of orgasms-"

In mid-sentence, she realized that Kerry was leaning back from her just a little, all the while gazing at her warily as one would gaze at a self-proclaimed werewolf.

Ooookay, too much sharing, she thought. "Yeah, so, anyway, uh, I should let you get to it," she said.

"Well, um, good luck, I guess..." Kerry said, trying to sound casual. But the nervousness she'd shown earlier was back in force.

"Thanks," Randi replied. "Enjoy your lectures."

They parted, Randi wondering when she'd learn to think before she spoke.

Randi swam smoothly through the water of the hotel's swimming pool, finding a rhythm that let her put her body on autopilot. The burn she felt in her muscles mirrored her annoyance at herself for scaring Kerry Weaver off with all that sex talk. She knew that Kerry had been ill at ease since they left Chicago, and Weaver was too private a person to talk freely about sex at the best of times. But their encounter with Doug Ross had seemed to put Kerry in a good mood - irony of ironies, that talking to Doug should have a good effect on her! - and Randi had given her mouth free reign a little more than usual. Smooth, Fronczak. Real smooth.

It wasn't too surprising, though. Being out west, and running into Doug, who'd always ranked high on her fantasy list, had Randi's sex drive running higher than usual. And then there was that semi-intimate little episode last night, one that in retrospect had a potentially homoerotic quality... She shook that thought out of her head.

Despite what a lot of people assumed, Randi had never been one to sleep around much. She had no objections to casual sex, it's just that she ultimately wanted a lasting, stable relationship with someone who loved her. But she'd certainly settle for a good fuck in a pinch.

Those things didn't come as easily for her in Chicago as one might expect. Shift work at County didn't leave her much time or energy for a social life, and on those rare occasions when she did get out on the town, all she seemed to attract are jerks, creeps, and crazies. Hardly relationship material. Hell, she got enough of those at the admit desk. At least with a vacation fling, there weren't any expectations to pressure her. She could love 'em, leave 'em, and settle for some hot memories.

What she'd said to Kerry was true enough; she had always had the best luck with sex when she came to the West Coast. That was why she had jumped at the chance to come out to Seattle with Kerry. Something about being on this side of the country just put her body in full state of readiness, and things always seemed to work out perfectly, the universe aligning her karmic paths in just the proper flow, so that the right lover was there at the right moment for her. It seemed like all she had to do was show up, put herself out there, and see what appeared.

She'd said as much to her friend Goldfish, after that night when they'd met three guys from the UCLA football team and enjoyed a hell of a night with them, in various combinations. "So why'n'cha move out here, then?" Goldfish had asked her.

"Nah," Randi had replied. "Doesn't work that way; it's a vacation thing. If I move out here and try to do it full time, it stops working. You know, 'cause you build up an immunity once you settle in."

Goldfish didn't get it, but she wasn't complaining. Apparently, whoever Randi traveled with had some of the same luck rub off on them.

That led Randi to another thought. She wondered if the same thing would work for Kerry Weaver? Lord knew the uptight ER Chief could stand to get laid lately. They weren't exactly close, but still...

Completing her final lap, Randi stood up in the shallow end of the pool and shook wet hair out of her eyes, blinking...

Through the haze of wet eyelashes, the most beautiful man she'd ever seen appeared, like Tarzan out of the jungle.

Wow! Okay, it was one thing to have good luck when she went out looking for men, but this was ridiculous...

"How's the water?" Tarzan asked her.

"Oh, um...wet," she replied with a laugh. Oh yeah, Fronczak, that's smooth. To be fair, though, she hadn't expected her luck to kick in this fast, or this hard. "Could you, uh, pass me my towel?"

"Sure," he replied, retrieving it from the poolside lounge chair she indicated and handing it to her.

"Thanks." Drying her face, she got a clearer look at the man in front of her. Her first thought was Alec Baldwin, in once of his less sinister roles. Not quite as perfect as she'd thought at first, but it certainly did nothing to detract from that combination of smooth sophistication and animal magnetism, as though Sean Connery's 007 had retired gracefully instead of morphing into Roger Moore.

In any event, the sight of him in those size-too-small swimming trunks was enough to push Randi's 'Ohhh Yeahhh' buttons. If the cool water hadn't stiffened her nipples, they'd be stiffening now. And what she was feeling between her legs was...

"Wet, huh?" he said with a smile. "Just the way I like it."

Randi felt a tingle of surprise and arousal. She'd had guys come on strong before, but a remark like that was a bit much...

"If there's one thing I can't stand, it's dry water," he said, stepping into the pool. "It's a bitch to swim in."

Huh? Oh. That's what he was referring to. Duh. Served her right for making such a brilliant comeback to a simple question. How's the water? Oh, um, wet. Double duh. Real snappy, Fronczak. Real smart, real smooth.

"Hi, I'm Sam Bardwell," he said, extending a handshake as warm and strong as his smile. "Who am I swimming with?"

"Oh, um..." Jeez, she was doing it again! Was it chronic? "Randi. Randi Fronczak."

"Nice to meet you, Randi," Sam said, and it didn't just sound like a casual pleasantry. "How long are you staying at the hotel?"

"Until Friday," she replied, willing herself not to lead off with another Oh-um. "I'm here for the convention. How about you?" Please don't say you're checking out after lunch...

"Same here," Sam told her. "I decided to skip the opening remarks this time; I've heard Royce give that 'Medicine is the noblest of causes' speech often enough. Don't tell anyone, okay?" He winked conspiratorially.

She winked back, her cheeks curving involuntarily into a wider smile. "So...you're a doctor, huh?" God, please let him be rich, single, and straight. Okay, I can do without rich if I have to...

"Yeah," he answered. "From Boston. You?"

"No, uh, I'm just here helping out my boss. Dr. Weaver, from Chicago."

Sam's eyebrows went up a notch. "Kerry Weaver?"

Randi's matched them. "Oh, you know her?"

"Knew her, way back when. We did a year of med school together, and we've run into each other from time to time." He said it in a way that suggested there was more to the story than simple acquaintance. Randi wondered if they had history the way that Kerry and Doug had history, or if it was something different. Had they slept together? Had he been any good? Would Kerry tell her if she asked? "So you're here on the assistants policy?"

"Yeah, kinda," Randi said. "I'm helping her with her presentation, but I'm mostly on my own time 'til then. Figured I'd hit the pool while I had the chance, do a few laps, keep in shape, you know?"

"Same here," Sam said again, and Randi wondered if he'd watched her while she swam. Did he like what he saw? "I guess great minds think alike."

"They do if they want great bodies," Randi countered with a smirk, letting her eyes drift over Sam's musculature with definite approval. He had the look of a man in his mid-forties who'd lived well and taken care of himself. Maybe the beginnings of a spare tire, but he wasn't letting it win without a fight. A couple of gray chest hairs mingling with the dark ones, and the odd wrinkle here and there, but these little imperfections just made him more attractive to Randi; she'd prefer a real guy to some inaccessible Adonis any day. Especially one who turned her on this much.

Realizing she was practically salivating, and that the conversation had lapsed while she checked him out - none too subtly - Randi brought her eyes guiltily up to Sam's. Only his were busy - he was checking her out, too.

She knew full well how good she looked in her midnight-blue one-piece with the high-cut hips and the yellow lightning-pinstripe motif, but having this gorgeous man see her in it, practically naked (to all intents and purposes), made her shiver with delight. And, judging from the swelling at the front of his trunks, she was having some effect on him as well. Holding one hand up like a talking puppet, she said, "Jeez, you two, get a room, awready!" out of the corner of her mouth.

"Already got one," Sam said. "Five-oh-two."

That familiar warmth pulsed through her again, tingling between her thighs. "Nine-sixteen," she confided. "But I've gotta share mine, y'know, with..."

"Kerry Weaver," Sam finished with her. "Right. Bet that puts a damper on things."

Speaking of damp... Randi abruptly remembered that they were standing hip-deep in the shallow end of the swimming pool. Hardly the typical place to hold a conversation. And her toes were starting to seriously prune. "Listen," she said, "I should let you get to your laps while you still have time."

"Yeah, guess I should get those in," he said with a smile. "Good thing the water's cold, though."

Randi giggled - yes, actually giggled, something she swore she'd never do again in front of a cute guy, but she just couldn't help herself - and turned to climb out of the pool. "Maybe I'll see you around?"

"I'd like that," he replied with a wink. God, he actually winked. Not many men could pull that off, but he sure could.

Draping the towel over her shoulder, she let her hips sway a little more as she walked away, wondering with each step if he was staring at her ass. She was cool enough not to look back.

But just barely.

Thank you, God, she thought. Got the 'who' covered, now just 'where', 'when'...and 'for how long'?

Part Three...

(Tuesday afternoon...)

Randi let the hot water stream over her bare body, each droplet feeling like a lover's touch.

After a quick rinse in the pool's locker room to clean off the chlorine, she'd changed into her workout clothes - cropped sweats and spandex - to hit the gymnasium. An hour on the nautilus, then another with the free weights. Pumping iron, feeling the burn and relishing every moment. Then back to the room she shared with Kerry Weaver for a long, luxurious shower. About the only thing she enjoyed more than a slow shower after a hard workout was being able to spend that shower in the firm and comfortable knowledge that she had a good, solid fucking in her near future.

She smiled to herself, unable to keep the grin off her lips as she finished scrubbing and let the water sluice the last of the soap off her muscles. Gliding liquidly over her skin and down her body. A half-remembered rock tune played in her head, and she hummed along, mostly relying on the old reliable "da da da" for lyrics.

Sam Bardwell. She reflected on the name, focusing her growing interest on it as her hands roamed over her breasts. Handsome, funny, and a doctor. Sexy, too. Very damn sexy. Kerry knew him; she'd have to weasel a few details out of her boss as soon as she could. That might take some doing - Kerry Weaver wasn't exactly conducive to gossip at the best of times - but Randi was confident she was up to the task. How well did they know each other? Were they lovers? Would Kerry mind if Randi wanted to sleep with him? Ooh, that might be a complication; what if Kerry was still attracted to him, and wanted to sleep with him herself?

Well, if that was the case, Randi supposed she'd have to do the decent thing and let Kerry have him; Randi was certain she could find some other guy easily enough, and Kerry really needed to get laid worse than she did. Given how stressful things had been at County lately, with Malucci blowing up at her, Chen practically spitting in her face as she quit, and Kerry's old nemesis Susan Lewis showing up again, Kerry could definitely benefit from a night with someone like Sam, who could make her scream it all out, the fun way.

Rolling the stiff nipples between her fingers, Randi leaned her back against the tile walls, one foot propped up on the safety bench, and let her right hand drift down over her stomach, down between her legs...

The more she thought about it, actually, the more Randi liked the idea of being able to arrange a sexual liaison for her boss. Randi didn't usually try to play matchmaker, especially not for a tough sell like Weaver, but this was an emergency. Weaver was not merely driving everyone in the Emergency Department batty, but at the rate things were going, she was headed straight for a full-bore nervous breakdown if she didn't manage to find some kind of release. Randi, who harbored a fierce loyalty both to her friends in the ER and her boss, was prepares to take it upon herself to solve this problem and avert the upcoming crisis by any means necessary. The ER staff would thank her for it in the end, if only they knew, but Randi decided that this particular bit of heroism on her part must remain unsung for the sake of Weaver's dignity. Kerry herself would certainly never mention it.

Either way, Randi had no doubt that one of the two women would end up in Sam Bardwell's bed before the conference was over, gasping and screaming as he filled her to the brim. It was just a question of which one it would be.

Her fingers slid between her engorged lips, penetrating herself with practiced ease.

So, she thought, through the exotic haze that was forming, two possibilities. One, I sleep with Sam. Ooh, baby, mission accomplished. Game over.

The tips of her fingers found her favorite spot and began to stroke it slowly.

Two, Kerry sleeps with him, and I get laid somewhere else. I just find some other good-looking guy to screw me until my toes curl ('cause it's a given that I'll find someone when I need them), while my boss benefits from a much-needed, long-overdue round of the world's oldest and most reliable stress-management technique. She wins, Sam wins, I win, some other guy wins... Basically, everybody wins. Maybe that's the way to go.

Her thumb found her clit and brushed over it, the texture of her thumbprint feeling as huge as corduroy ridges.

Then again, maybe Kerry won't want to sleep with him again. (God, why NOT?!) Or maybe they weren't lovers at all. In that case, we're back to possibility One, and he's all mine. 'Cause God knows it would be a crime to let him go to waste...

Pulses of hot, wet pleasure were knifing through Randi's body, lighting up the nerve pathways and making her legs tremble as her climax approached. Jesus, how long had it been since anyone turned her on this much? She moaned aloud, her fingers moving faster.

Possibility Three, she thought suddenly. Suppose Kerry would be willing to share Sam with her...?

"Oh, Jesus...!" Randi's orgasm flashed through her, nearly making her knees give out, making her senses fade for several heartbeats before they returned again. Okay, she had to admit that last possibility was a bit of a stretch, but it was strangely exciting to think about...

Randi let her breathing slow, regaining her equilibrium before standing upright and shutting off the water. She let it drip away, trickling down the drain, watching the steam rise off her skin in the cooling air. Man, she felt good.

Sliding the shower door open, she stepped out, reaching for a bath towel. She toweled herself dry with slow, almost hedonistic languor. Savoring the feeling...

Catching sight of herself in the mirror, she paused. The fog had receded from the glass, and she could see the essence of herself, the sleek sensuality, the pantherlike grace, the sheer erotic power of an Angelina Jolie poster come to life. Check me out, she purred inwardly, running the tip of her tongue over her lips. I am woman, I am sex. Wow.

What would be the perfect thing to say if Sam could see her like this, right now? She thought about it as she finished drying her shins and shook her damp hair into an artfully tousled array. 'Here I am, sweetie.' No. 'Come and get me, babe.' Worse. Then, as she reached for the doorknob, it came to her.

She smiled as she threw the door open seductively, giving it a try. "All yours, lover..."

"AAAHHH...!!" Kerry must have jumped a foot in the air.

"Whoa, shit...!" Randi reacted to her scream, her seductive pose dissolving into gangling knees and elbows, all banging against the bathroom doorjamb. She gasped, slack-jawed and bug-eyed, at Kerry Weaver, who leaned against the opposite wall, one hand grasping her heart, her face a mirror of Randi's. "Dr. Weaver..."

"Jesus Christ, Randi! Have you turned into some kind of nymphomaniac or something?!"

"No! I mean, I wasn't expecting..." It was hard to talk with her heart racing like that. "I didn't hear you come in, and..."

Both women realized that Kerry was staring at Randi's nude body at the same time, and both reacted with reflexive embarrassment. Kerry quickly averted her eyes, turning away, while Randi hastily covered her breasts with both arms and retreated back through the bathroom door, closing it. She sat on the toilet seat lid and dropped her face into her hands, thoroughly mortified.

Oh man, talk about bad timing. First she crawls into bed with Weaver, then she creeps her out with that sex talk down in the registration line, and now she practically throws herself at her boss in the nude. Kerry probably thought Randi was nuts by now. I'll be lucky if she doesn't slap me with a sexual harassment suit before we go home, she thought.

Standing up and looking herself in the mirror, Randi forced herself to calm down. "All right," she told herself quietly. "You're naked in a hotel bathroom, you've just made a complete fool of yourself, and your boss thinks you're a psychotic nympho. You can deal with this; you've been through worse." Like that period in the late 80's when she dressed like Cyndi Lauper for a year. Ugghhh...

Grabbing the biggest towel from the rack, she wrapped it around herself, securing it under her arms. It covered her from chest to upper thighs; she wished for something bigger, but it was the best she could do right now. "Just go out there and explain the situation to her," she told herself. "Kerry Weaver's a reasonable woman. She'll understand."

Yeah, right.

Taking a deep breath and steeling her nerves, Randi opened the bathroom door, half expecting the room to be empty; it wouldn't surprise her if Kerry had fled.

Instead, she quickly spotted Kerry over by the small honor bar, pouring herself a drink with shaking hands; there was much clinking and clattering of bottles and glasses. Randi had never seen her so nervous.

"Umm..." Randi cleared her throat, venturing cautiously out of the bathroom.

Kerry turned with a jerk, looking small and almost frightened. Randi realized she was between Kerry and the door, the only means of escape unless Kerry wanted to jump off the balcony. And if things got any tenser, she just might.

"Listen," Randi began, "I'm sor--"

"Randi, I want to apologize," Kerry cut in, talking very quickly. "I completely overreacted just now, and I'm very sorry."

Caught by surprise, Randi's own apology died on her lips. Kerry Weaver was apologizing to her?? Lord knew that was a first! "Um, it's okay," she mumbled.

"No, I-I should have knocked before letting myself in," Kerry stammered. "I thought you'd be out, or I never would have..."

"Wait, Dr. Weaver, you don't have to knock. This is your room too, and you paid for it..."

"I know, but you should have the right to your privacy, and I didn't..." Kerry sucked in a short breath. "I didn't mean to barge in on you..." She broke off and gulped her drink, her hand still shaking.

Randi gave a snorting laugh. "Jesus, Doc, get over it! So you saw me naked, big deal! Doesn't exactly put you in rare company."

Kerry nodded, leaning against the counter and letting out a shaky breath.

"What are you so rattled for, anyway?" Randi asked her with a smirk. "I mean, come on, it's not like you, of all people, never saw a naked woman up close before, right?"

It was one of the few times in Randi's life when she wished she could turn the clock back about five seconds and stop herself from saying one of the snappy remarks that came to her naturally.

Kerry's head came up sharply. "What's that supposed to mean?" she demanded in a dead flat voice, her nervousness evaporating.

Randi found herself suddenly nervous, realizing she'd said the wrong thing. "Uh, well, y'know, I mean...'cause you're a doctor, right? You see a lot of naked people in your work, don't you?" Most of the time, she could lie and improvise with the best of them, but this time she was caught point blank by the toughest person she'd ever had to fool. And it was hardly her best comeback, anyway.

Kerry's gaze narrowed like a laser beam. "Yes, I do," she stated. "But that's not what you were talking about. Is it?" It wasn't a question.

Randi scrambled mentally for a response that would get her off the hook, but for once she came up dry. It didn't help that she wore nothing but a towel. Under the circumstances, she suddenly felt truly naked. "Dr. Weaver..." she said helplessly.

Kerry stared a hole through her for a short eternity, until Randi dropped her gaze to the floor. Busted.

"You know about us," Kerry said quietly, looking away, out through the glass door of the balcony. "Don't you?

A hundred different possible fake answers suddenly sprang to her mind, followed instantly by the certainty that not one of them would fool Kerry. "About you and Dr. Legaspi, you mean?" she finally said softly. "Yeah, I do."

Both women were quiet in the still room. The revelation of Kerry's secret seemed to hover in the air like a pronouncement of doom.

"Hey, listen..." Randi began.

"All right," Kerry said, as though accepting her fate. "Who told you?"

"Oh, come on, give me some credit," Randi said, a shadow of her usual cocky grin returning. "You think I didn't see the way you two reacted every time you were together? Nobody had to tell me." She smiled, trying to ease Kerry's spirits.

Kerry nodded, her expression not giving an inch. "And how many people have you told?"

Randi's smile vanished. "Nobody," she replied, feeling stung.

"Come on, Randi! You expect me to believe that you haven't jumped at the chance to spread that little choice tidbit around the rumor mill?" Kerry sneered.

"Yeah, I do," Randi insisted, defensively.

Kerry snorted and shook her head, looking disgusted. "Don't insult me," she grated. "You, of all people..."

"I haven't told anyone!" Randi shot back angrily. "I'm telling you the truth!"

The older woman just stared at her with unmasked skepticism.

"Look, Dr. Weaver, I enjoy a good gossip as much as anyone," Randi informed her, "but I don't go spreading it if I think it would hurt people's feelings. Especially not people I have respect for." The towel was beginning to slip, but neither of them noticed, more concerned with their argument.

Kerry kept a harsh eye on Randi's face, but her look softened the slightest amount. "Well, I appreciate that," she finally admitted. The tension level in the room slowly eased, but there was still an uncomfortable feeling hovering between them.

Randi gave her towel a hitch, narrowly avoiding another embarrassing moment, and Kerry finished her drink. She turned away to fix another one. "Would you like one?" she asked, her politeness all the more stiff and self-conscious for its insincerity.

"Sure," Randi said. Naked with the boss, dark secret revealed...why not add alcohol to the mix? Couldn't hurt, at this point. She grabbed her tee shirt and jeans and pulled them on while Kerry fixed the drinks, all the while trying to think of a way to resolve this scene gracefully. Weaver could be one hell of a grump in passing, but a concentrated dose of her in a bad mood could leave permanent scars...

When she turned around to hand Randi her drink, though, the clerk thought that she was close to tears. Her face had that carefully frozen look that Randi had seen when she'd had to stand there and take abuse from Romano and couldn't do a thing about it. That 'I-feel-like-crying-but-no-way-in-hell-am-I-gonna-do-so-in-front-of-anyone' look. Randi had seen that look on Kerry Weaver before, and it always made her feel terrible. More so in this case, because Randi knew what it felt like. She'd felt the same thing that day when Kerry had asked what she did time for, that sick feeling that your secret was out of the bag, and that they'd all look at you differently from now on. Kerry was obviously experiencing the same thing tenfold. Her entire body radiated fear of exposure.

"I'm sorry, Randi," Kerry said, her voice low but steady. "I do appreciate your discretion about my relationship with Dr. Legaspi."

"Sure, it's no problem," Randi said, sipping her drink. "Was, um, was that why you've been so jumpy around me since we got here? 'Cause you...thought I was coming onto you?"

Kerry nodded her head, chagrined. "I've been a little oversensitive, to say the least," she admitted. "This thing with Kim is my problem, and I shouldn't have taken it out on you."

Randi shifted her weight to the opposite hip, regarding her Chief. "Why's it gotta be a problem?" she asked, puzzled. "You think you're the only woman in the world who ever got it on with a girlfriend?"

Kerry glanced at her.

"Got news for you, Dr. Weaver. You're not even the only one in this room."

The glance turned into a slow scrutiny. Can I trust you? it seemed to ask. Will you hurt me? Out loud, Kerry said, "You've slept with a woman?"

Randi shrugged, going for false modesty. "More than one."

Kerry sipped at her drink.

"Does that surprise you?" Randi asked her.

"I guess not," Kerry said, shaking her head. "I sometimes forget you've been in prison."

"Hey, whoa, uh-uh," Randi countered. "Prison shit doesn't count; that's such a clich. First off, that's not about liking girls, it's just getting by without guys. And second, have you seen some of the ugly bitches that get locked up? I wouldn't touch those sleazy skanks if it meant time off for good behavior! No, I was celibate the whole time I was inside."

"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to assume..."

"Nah, it's okay. But I've still had sex with women." She rattled the ice in her glass. "If you want to fix me another of these, I'll tell you about 'em, if you'd like."

Kerry regarded her, debating, propriety clashing with curiosity. Then she took the glass. "Sure," she said.

They sat down with fresh drinks, and Randi propped her feet on the nearest bed. "Well, I've had chicks hit on me before, you know," she began. "Sometimes in a bar, sometimes in a locker room, like that. But I never really planned on doing anything about it. I never thought of myself as bi or anything..."

"Mm-hmm?" Kerry nodded, looking interested.

"Then, about four years ago, I was moonlighting as a trainer at this local health club. Didn't pay much, but I got to use the equipment whenever it was available, so it was worth it. So anyway, I got this rich woman, about forty-four or so, who put on some weight during an ugly divorce, and I helped get her down to trim. Then, when things worked out, and she got the house, she invited me to have dinner with her to celebrate.

"So she cooks me dinner, and somehow we end up drinking champagne in the hot tub. Naked, just us girls, y'know? I've kind of got half an idea that she's coming onto me - from some of the things she said, I wonder if that isn't the reason for the divorce - but I've got about half a bottle in me, and I'm feeling no pain, so I just let it happen. I mean, how often do I get the chance to live it up like this, right?"

Kerry nodded.

"Anyway, my glass is empty, and so's the bottle, and she just takes it out of my hand and sets it on the deck right behind me. And then, while she's in the vicinity, she leans over and kisses me." Randi brought her feet down and sat forward. "I mean, she k-i-s-s-e-s me. Not one of these clumsy 'I just want to hurry up and get in your pants' mouth-munches, I'm talking about the slow, sweet kind of kiss that lights you up like the scoreboard at a ballpark. Maybe it's just the water or the champagne, but this woman just about melted me with her lips and her tongue, and just the faintest touch of her fingers on my face, right here..." She caressed her cheek, just under the hinge of her jaw, indicating. "You ever been kissed like that?"

"Yes..." Kerry replied faintly. Her lips were softly parted, and her cheeks flushed.

Randi sat back. "Well, after that," she continued, "I wasn't about to say no to anything she wanted to do to me, for me, or with me." She took a slow sip, staring at Kerry over the rim. "And I didn't. And she did. For two hours solid, swear to God."

"Oh my..." Kerry shifted, crossing her legs the other way.

"Things didn't work out with her after that," Randi said. "She wanted me to quit my job at the hospital, move in with her, and be her full-time, live-in trainer-slash-lover. Maybe her maid, too, for all I know."

"And you didn't want that?" Kerry said, her voice a little huskier. "Some people wouldn't mind being a kept woman."

"Would you want to be one?" Randi replied.

Kerry shook her head.

"Me neither. I mean, maybe I would, for someone I liked. But she didn't ask me, she told me, the bitch. Like I belonged to her now." She took a harsh gulp of her drink. "I told her to get a cat or something, and I dumped her. Never saw her again."

A slight smile turned up the corners of Kerry's lips. "I'm glad you made that choice," she said. "I'd have hated to lose your services."

No chance, Randi thought. I like my job. But it wouldn't do to admit that to Weaver. "Since then, there have been a couple of times when I let some woman take me home. Not many, but a couple."

"Just one-night stands?"

"Uh-huh. Nothing to write home about, but they got the job done." She finished her drink. "How about you? Have you had other women before Dr. Legaspi?"

Kerry looked down into her own empty glass and shook her head. "No."

"First one, huh?"

"Mm-hmm." Kerry got up and refilled the drinks. Randi didn't usually drink in the middle of the day, but this unexpected chat with Kerry Weaver was becoming enjoyable, and she didn't want to break the mood. Sitting down again, Kerry asked, "Have you ever had a real relationship with a woman? Something that lasted longer than a single night?"

Randi listened for any hint of judgment in Kerry's voice, and found none. She was just curious. "Yeah, actually," she said. "At least I guess you could call it that. I used to share an apartment with my friend Goldfish...her name was actually Golda Fischer, but with a name like that, she didn't stand a chance.

"Anyway, we were dating these guys, and they were supposed to take us out for her birthday. Only we were all dolled up for a night out on the town, followed by a night of passion, and we're waiting for them to show up...and they didn't. I later found out a buddy of theirs scored some extra Bulls tickets."

Kerry groaned. "Oh God, they stood you up for a basketball game? That's just wrong."

"You're tellin' me! Goldie would've killed to see the Bulls!"

Kerry just shook her head, lamenting the male obsession with sports.

"Yeah, she was crushed when the guys didn't show. Goldie was looking forward to a good long fuck on her birthday, same as me. We put a brave face on it, blowing out some candles and opening some presents, but I knew she was hurt. We went to bed in our rooms, alone. Those thoughtless dickheads never even called with an excuse."


Randi paused, suddenly uncertain about continuing this particular story; it had some distinct similarities to what had happened with Kerry the night before. But, having begun sharing, she decided she owed it to Kerry to finish. Maybe it would offer some of the comfort she hadn't felt able to give her directly. "Well, anyway, I kind of made a decision," she said. "I could hear Goldfish crying softly in the next room, and I felt really bad for her."

"Understandably," Kerry put in softly.

"Uh-huh. Well..." Randi paused again, then decided to just be honest. "Long story short, I got up, walked into her room, got into bed with her, and we made love." She watched Kerry for any reaction, any discomfort at the similarity to their encounter from last night.

Kerry just had a slightly wistful expression. "That's beautiful," she said.

Randi nodded, fingering the rim of her glass. "Never said a word," she said. "Except when I whispered, 'Happy Birthday, Goldie'."

They sat quietly, listening to the faint patter of rain on the balcony rail.

"Did you love her?" Kerry finally asked softly.

Randi was a little surprised by the question. "Well, sure, I mean she was my friend. I liked her and cared about her, and she was good in bed..." The answer felt kind of inadequate, even in Randi's ears.

"How long were you together?"

"That kinda depends on your definition, I guess," Randi said. "We weren't really exclusive with each other. I mean, we kept dating guys - not the same two guys, obviously! - but we still slept with each other from time to time, if neither of us was seeing anyone else." She finished her drink. "She moved out last year when she got married."

The smile seemed to fade just a bit. "I see."

"No big deal, it's not like we were in love or anything," Randi added. "I mean, we both still liked men. We liked each other, and we liked having sex with each other sometimes, but we weren't, like, soulmates."

"No, of course not," Kerry replied, with the slightest sardonic tone.

Something in the turn the conversation had taken was irritating Randi. "You know, Dr. Weaver, just because I enjoy sex without a big emotional commitment doesn't mean I'm a slut," she said, feeling and sounding a little more defensive than she cared for.

"I never said you were."

"Then what's the problem?"

Kerry sighed. "Forget it, Randi, there's no problem."

Randi slumped in her chair, feeling sulky. "If you say so."

Kerry got up to refill her drink again, then decided against it. "Let me ask you this," she said. "Have you ever been in love?"

She looked up at her boss. "With a woman?"

"With anyone."

Randi shrugged helplessly, uncertain how to respond. "I dunno, I..."

"Then you haven't," Kerry said.

Huffing out an annoyed breath, Randi set her glass aside. "So what if I haven't? What's your point?" Something about Kerry's line of thought was making her feel quarrelsome, but she didn't know where it was going.

"Well, you started this conversation to show me you knew what I was going through," Kerry replied. "So far, you've told me about your sexual encounters with women, but you've downplayed any real personal connection. Interspersed with pointed references to how you sleep mostly with men, of course, though they don't seem to have had any more relevance to you. Even with your roommate, you make sex sound like a consolation prize. If that's how it is for you, that's your affair, Randi, but if you were trying to relate it to my situation, I think you've missed the mark."

Randi rubbed her forehead, nursing the small ache behind her right eyebrow. Maybe there was a good reason she didn't drink in the afternoon. "What are you trying to say, Dr. Weaver? You're so afraid 'cause people might discover you slept with Legaspi, and I'm just trying to show you that sex with another woman's no big fucking deal. It's just sex, for God's sake!"

"That's what I mean," Kerry responded. "It's not an issue for you because that's all it is to you. A sexual sideline."

That ache was building fast. "Jesus, what are we arguing about? What's the difference?"

"Are you a lesbian?" Kerry asked suddenly.

"No! Of course not!" The answer popped out with a scowl. She didn't think about it, just answered instinctively.

"There," Kerry said, leaning forward and raising a finger. "That's the difference."

Baffled, Randi shook her head. "What?"

"Your reaction. You can sleep with whoever you want to, as long as it doesn't mean anything. But it would bother you to be thought of as a lesbian."

"That's because I'm not!"

"Well, I am."

Randi's voice stalled, and she just stared at Kerry.

"I am a lesbian, Randi." Kerry's voice was completely matter-of-fact.

A couple of words tried to come out of Randi's throat, but didn't even make it as far as her vocal cords. Finally, she heard herself say, "No you're not." Like it was a silly idea.

Kerry's face grew more aloof, but she didn't raise her voice. "I think I'm in a better position to make that determination, don't you?"

Randi gave a little disbelieving laugh. "You mean, like, a full-out lesbian? A no-men-ever-again, women-only lesbian?"

Kerry nodded tiredly. "I think so, yes."

"But you've been with men, haven't you?" Randi protested. "I mean, you were with Dr. West a few years ago. And that friend of yours, tall guy from Africa...?"

"Mlungisi, yes."

"You jumped into his arms and kissed him pretty steamily. You telling me you were just friends?"

"No, we were lovers," Kerry said. "And you're right, Ellis and I were lovers, later."

"Then what...oh, did you have to fake it with them?"

Kerry suddenly had that familiar look of irritation, but she kept herself under control. "No, Randi," she answered patiently, "I did not have to 'fake it'. If you must know, my physical relationships with men have all been satisfying. But, in your own words, they were 'just sex'."

Randi was finding this increasingly hard to grasp. "But not with Legaspi?"

"No," Kerry told her. "With Kim, it was more."

Randi thought about it, trying to understand how one relationship with a woman could cause a mature woman like Kerry to swear off sex with men, something Randi couldn't imagine doing. Those years in the joint were tough enough; why would anyone do it voluntarily? There had to be a reason. "So, it was...really, really good sex?"

Kerry snorted in exasperation, spinning to pace the short length of the hotel room. "For God's sake Randi, it was not just about sex!"

"Wait, wait..." Randi got up, holding her palms forward placatingly. "Please don't get mad, Dr. Weaver, I don't mean to argue with you. Of course, you're right, you'd know what you are better than I would."

"Thank you," Kerry grunted sarcastically, still sounding extremely miffed.

"I'm just trying to understand, that's all. I mean, how can you be sure that you're a lesbian? How do you know something like that?"

"You just know," Kerry snapped, looking away.

The whole issue was obviously upsetting to her, and Randi hated being the cause of it, but somehow, she couldn't just let it go. It seemed important to get to the root of the matter, though she wasn't sure why. "I'm sorry if I don't get it," she assured Kerry. "I'm really trying hard."

Kerry sighed, as if reluctantly disclosing something she'd guarded carefully. "Do you remember a fire at a local sweatshop? The patients we received?"

A chill ran through Randi's heart. She was used to blood and guts, but burn victims were a special source of horror she'd never entirely become accustomed to. "Yeah, I remember."

"That was partly my fault," Kerry told her quietly, without looking at her. "At least indirectly. Maybe it would have happened anyway, sooner or later. I'll never know."

Randi wasn't sure she wanted to hear more on this subject, but having gotten Kerry Weaver to open up, she felt obligated to listen to anything the Chief had to tell her.

"Kim and I made love for the first time the night before the fire," Kerry went on, "and as wonderful as it was, some part of me was convinced it wouldn't last long. As I went to work, I had already begun talking myself into downplaying things with Kim, gradually closing myself off from her before it was too late. I didn't know it was already too late.

"Then the fire happened, and it..." She paused, as if finding it difficult to talk about. "It was the worst day of my professional life, Randi."

Randi wanted to pat her back and let her know it was okay, but she feared that touching Kerry might burst the delicate moment they were sharing.

"Any other time in my life, I would have gone home and hidden myself from the world and tried to bury my feelings forever. Alone."

"But not this time?" Randi ventured.

"No." Kerry raised her eyes. "This time, I wanted...I needed to be with Kim. I went to her house and knocked on her door." She wiped away the smallest beginnings of a tear. "What you have to understand, Randi, is that every time I've been with a man, I've felt this constant pressure to be the brightest, wittiest, most charming version of myself possible, or I wouldn't be good enough to hold their interest." She sniffled. "Sometimes breaking up was almost a relief; the pressure was off."

Randi just listened, intently.

"But with Kim...when she let me in, I wasn't being pretty, or funny, or sexy. I was a complete wreck, and she didn't care. She took me in without any questions, and she held me. All night, while I talked and cried and slept...she just held me, no matter what."

Randi felt the lump form in her throat again, and found herself wishing that she could have been there. If she'd known at the time, maybe she could have followed Kerry home from work, or...

"I've never been able to allow myself that kind of total vulnerability with a man, Randi. Not even with my husband. I couldn't even imagine it. Still can't." She looked at Randi. "It's not that I dislike men, it's just that..."

"That what?" Part of her mind flagged the word 'husband', making a note to come back to that subject at a later point.

Kerry looked at the room around them. "Do you like our room, Randi?"

Caught off guard by the question, Randi looked around as well. "Yeah, sure...it's very nice."

"You were more enthusiastic about it yesterday."

"Sure, 'cause it was a novelty. Kinda wears off after a while."

Kerry nodded. "Would you like to stay here forever?"

Randi snorted. "Hell, no."

"Why not? It's got everything you need."

"Yeah, but it's not...I mean, you can't redecorate it yourself, to suit your tastes, 'cause it's not yours. Besides, you couldn't afford to stay here forever." She shrugged. "Sooner or later, you gotta go home."

Kerry nodded. "Every relationship I've ever had with a man has been like staying in hotels. Most have been comfortable, some were luxurious, some merely functional. But no matter how much I enjoyed my stay, I knew it couldn't last. Most didn't feel right in the long run, and with those that did...I just couldn't afford to stay. It cost too much." She sighed. "That's the thing about hotels. You have to know when to leave, or you outstay your welcome, and there are consequences."

Randi nodded, not entirely understanding, but maybe a little.

"With Kim," Kerry continued, "I felt like I was home." She looked out the balcony door, at the pouring rain that never seemed to let up. "And that was why losing her was so much worse."

There was a long silence.

Then Kerry looked at her watch. "Shit," she said, "I'm going to be late for the cardiotherapy discussion. I didn't mean to spend as much time in here."

Randi felt the shift in the air, signifying the end of the conversation. "I'm glad you did," she said. "I liked talking to you."

"Yeah, me too," Kerry said, a little curtly, while gathering her notebooks. "And, Randi, this is still all something I'd appreciate your keeping to yourself, all right?"

"Of course I will, Dr. Weaver." She was a trifle irked that Kerry would find it necessary to ask. But, Weaver being Weaver, it didn't surprise her.

"Thanks. Okay, then, um...I'll see you here at six?" Kerry looked like she thought there was something else that needed to be said, but she didn't know what it was.

"Six, sure. I'll be here," Randi told her.

"All right then." Kerry nodded a little self-consciously and retreated out the door.

Randi, suddenly feeling alone in the empty hotel room, gathered her glass and Kerry's and rinsed them out in the sink. Her talk with Kerry had left her feeling strangely unsettled, as one might feel after talking to a visitor from another world, with very different attitudes and philosophies. It was a rare and precious experience, but it had raised more questions than it resolved, and Randi found herself having to reexamine some of her own viewpoints.

It bothered her that she had reacted so negatively to the thought of Kerry being a lesbian. She'd initially thought that Kerry was like her, essentially straight, but able to enjoy women as an adjunct, or corollary of her sex life. That would have helped Randi relate to the enigmatic, powerful woman she worked with, and Kerry's declaration of lesbianism had struck her, perhaps irrationally, as a rejection of Randi's worldview. She knew it was unfair to look at it that way; Kerry had every right to be whatever she damn well decided she was, same as anyone, and Randi had to admit that she'd made a good argument to prove that she was really a lesbian, but, dammit...

Randi knew why it upset her. On some level, before their talk, she'd already decided she wanted to take Kerry out looking for men with her tonight. She'd wanted to share her gift for Great West Coast Sex with Kerry, as a way of getting closer to her and thanking her for being a steady, dependable presence in the ever-changing ER, and in Randi's life. If Kerry no longer had interest in men, that option was out, and it felt like the Chief was refusing a very personal gift that Randi had wanted to give her.

Hell, it's not her fault, she couldn't be expected to read my mind, Randi thought. And anyway, she can't help it if we're different. Any more than I could help being so different from my mother... Randi shut down that little train of thought.

Wandering over to the glass door, she slid it aside and stepped onto the balcony, protected from the rain by the balcony above hers. Looking out at the city through the light gray haze.

The other thing that bothered her, she realized, was something Kerry had made her see about herself. Sure, her occasional dalliances with women were just casual flings, nothing serious. No reason a straight woman couldn't sleep with women now and then, just for fun. But that led her to another thought: her relationships with men hadn't been any deeper. She told herself that she wanted a long-term, meaningful relationship, and she assumed it would happen one day, and that it would be with a man. Maybe Kerry had assumed the same things before she met Kim...

Randi let out a sigh. Kerry was right; it was all about sex to her. She'd never been in love.

Maybe she never would be...

Part Four...

(Tuesday evening...)

The rain waxed and waned all afternoon without ever entirely letting up. Even Randi, who'd lived through her share of Chicago's on-again-off-again weather, didn't feel like braving it just to scout out Seattle's nearby hot spots. So she spent the day mostly channel surfing, passing time with the likes of Rosie O'Donnell, ESPN, and the Powerpuff Girls. She caught the last half of an 'LA Law' rerun (sadly, not one of the Jimmy Smits episodes, she lamented) and the first half of a really lame Drew Barrymore comedy. Man, and she thought daytime TV sucked in Chicago...

Around four, she went to room 502 and knocked, hoping that she could get an early start making time with Sam Bardwell, but he wasn't in. Probably at one of the panels; he was a doctor, after all.

It bothered Randi that her efforts to get closer to Kerry Weaver had backfired, emphasizing their differences instead of finding any common ground. But maybe, in a way, it was partly her own fault for expecting Kerry to see things through her eyes. Maybe she should try seeing things through Kerry's, and see if there was some degree of overlap in their viewpoints.

When Kerry returned to the hotel room, a little after six, she gave no sign of being upset about their earlier conversation, or even that it had ever taken place. Say what you might about Kerry Weaver, she always managed to come to work with a fresh outlook, rather than dwelling on the previous day's disappointments. Randi, who always tried to put her own checkered past behind her, appreciated that quality.

The convention's time constraints being what they were, each panel was allotted about fifty minutes running time. And Kerry being who she was, the presentation she had prepared ran about an hour and fifteen. So something had to be cut. That was where Randi came in; Kerry wanted a layman's opinion. Any medical explanations that Randi, who was neither a doctor or nurse, found unnecessary could be omitted, being too elementary for Kerry's fellow MDs. Plus, if her presentation could hold Randi's attention, then the rest of her audience shouldn't be a problem.

Kerry staged a run-through of her presentation once, with Randi timing her and taking notes. After she was through, Randi offered her some suggestions for trimming the speech, adding the observation that it was a little...dry. Kerry nodded, admitting that she had a tendency to either lean heavily on clinical detail or talk down to her audience. Randi reminded her that she'd be talking to her peers, who might not appreciate being lectured like students.

While Kerry had prepared several examples of County's triage and diagnosis process in action, Randi suggested that the other doctors who would be attending Kerry's panel might pay closer attention and get more out of it if they were more actively involved. Although Kerry had allowed for a brief Q & A period at the end, Randi thought it might be best to expand that portion, allowing the doctors to raise examples from their own experiences and see how Kerry's guidelines applied to them. If they needed to fill time, Kerry could always fall back on her prepared examples.

Finally, Randi raised the idea of opening with a joke or humorous anecdote. "I'm a doctor, Randi, not a stand-up comic," Kerry protested. True, but as Randi reminded her, the ER had seen plenty of offbeat situations that could act as an icebreaker, getting a laugh while leading straight into the main body of Kerry's speech. Kerry had to admit that it was a good idea. The fact that Kerry, a major hospital's Chief of Emergency Medicine, wasn't too proud to take advice from a lowly desk clerk was one of the reasons Randi respected her as much as she did.

Rewriting her opening notes, Kerry jotted down a few of the more memorable cases she'd seen, Randi adding a couple of her own personal favorites. Kerry set them aside, electing to choose one later, then ran through the foreshortened version of her presentation. Audience participation aside, it now ran about half an hour, and flowed much more smoothly. The rest of the hour could be devoted to answering questions and sharing insights and opinions, some of which might benefit County's staff as well.

It was almost eight when Kerry sat back with a satisfied sigh, nibbling at the remains of another room service supper. "I think we're ready," she admitted.

"Oh yeah," Randi agreed. "You're gonna knock 'em dead, Dr. Weaver."

"Every physician's goal," Kerry muttered with a wry smile. "Randi, I wanted to apologize for earlier."

"For seeing me naked? I told you it's okay..."

"No, I mean for afterward. You tried to share something of yourself with me, and I kind of threw it in your face." Kerry shrugged awkwardly. "I have a hard time accepting people's sympathy sometimes. It's easier to pick a fight."

"I know that feeling." Randi smiled. "See, we've got something in common after all."

The corner of Kerry's mouth turned up. "I guess we do."

The wind shifted outside, blowing a pitter-patter of rain against the glass balcony door. Randi scowled at it. "Man, doesn't it ever stop?" She sighed. "I'd still like to go out, but I don't want to get soaked in the process if I can help it."

"No, I wouldn't either," Kerry said. "So, you're still planning to, ah...look for someone to spend the night with?"

Randi looked at her. "Yeah, I plan on having sex before I go home," she replied. "Does that bother you?"

Kerry shook her head. "I'm not your mother, Randi," she said. "You have a right to a sex life."

"Yeah, and you've got a right to yours," Randi said. "I shouldn't have tried to tell you what you..."

"That's okay," Kerry put in, her tone curtly closing the subject.

"So what are you doing tonight?" Randi asked her.

"Oh, I don't know. I brought a couple of books..."

"Why don't you come out with me?" Randi blurted out.

Kerry looked up at her, eyebrows arching in surprise. "Um...don't you think I might be a bit of a third wheel?" she said. "I wouldn't want to compromise your...manhunt," she finished clumsily.

"Dr. Weaver, when I'm out on the prowl, out west, Cardinal O'Connor couldn't stop me from finding a guy." Randi smirked confidently. "Trust me, it's like I'm charmed."

Kerry snickered. "Okay, so then what do you want me to do? Tag along and watch you score?"

"No," Randi said patiently. "What I mean is, whatever kind of weird luck I have on this coast, it always works for whoever's with me, too." She gave Kerry a long and pointed look. "I meet someone...my friends meet someone..."

Kerry stared at her, a mix of amusement and caution on her face.

"Do I really have to spell this out for you, Dr. Weaver?"

"You're offering to help me pick up a man to sleep with...?"

"I'm saying, you come hang around with me, and the right guy will find you." She shrugged with a smile. "No reason this trip should have to be all business for you either, is there?"

A short, hard laugh escaped Kerry's lips. "Randi, that's a very kind offer...I suppose...but I told you, I'm a lesbian."

"You also told me you've enjoyed sex with men before..."

"And I told you that's all it was. Just sex, nothing more."

"So what do you think I'll be looking for tonight? True love?" Randi shook her head, bemused. "What's the problem?"

"The problem is that, before Kim, I could at least indulge in the illusion that sex with men had the potential to mean more," Kerry told her. "Now I know better."

Randi just stared at her.

"When I sleep with someone, even if I don't intend to take things any further, I'd like to believe that I could if I wanted to." Kerry crossed her arms. "Maybe, on a purely physical level, I could still enjoy sex with men," she added, "but I just don't want to."

Randi looked away. "Okay, it's your life," she muttered, disappointed.

"It's not that I don't appreciate your offer," Kerry amended, "or that I'm opposed to having a little vacation fling, but having chosen to embrace lesbianism, I feel I owe it to Kim - and, I guess, to myself - to explore my attraction to women, at least for now." She smiled ruefully. "Jumping in the sack with a man doesn't seem conducive to that process."

Nodding with reluctant understanding, Randi said, "Okay." Why did Kerry have to have such good reasons for everything she did? It made it really tough to argue with her.

There was a tentative silence, except for the steady hush of the rain. Kerry turned back to her notes.

Then Randi heard herself say, "Well...what if we went and picked up some women, instead?"

"Dammit, Randi, I said--" Kerry's angry response was cut off short as she suddenly realized what the clerk had said. Her face going blank with surprise, she stammered, "What did you...um, what?"

Randi had to clear her throat. The suggestion had surprised her almost as much as Kerry. "I said, how about we find ourselves a couple of girls? If you don't want to look for guys, I understand, but how'd you feel about us looking for women?" She honestly had no idea what Kerry would say to that.

Apparently, neither did Kerry. It was one of the few times Randi had ever seen her boss completely speechless. Bewildered, even. She blinked, sputtered, and finally said, "I, uh...you'd...um, you'd be okay changing your plans so drastically?"

"Sure," Randi said.

"Just like that...?"

Randi grinned wickedly. "I told you, Dr. Weaver, I've eaten pussy before. I don't mind eating it again, long as I get mine eaten, too." She shrugged. "All things being equal, I prefer men; I love a good fucking. But women are fun, too. And anyway, I'd really like to do this with you." She gazed hopefully at Kerry, hoping for a positive response.

Whatever Kerry's response might be, it was having to fight its was to the surface between two or more different impulses, clashing like armies on a battlefield. Her face was intrigued one moment, appalled the next, then amused, scandalized, delighted, frightened...

Randi cocked an eyebrow. "Cat got your tongue?"

A nervous little laugh popped out. "Randi, I...I don't quite know how to...I mean, I don't know what to..." She rubbed at her forehead with an embarrassed smile. "Oh God, it's Thanksgiving with Kim all over again..."

Randi found herself almost quivering with anticipation. "So, whaddaya say...?"

"What am I supposed to say to an offer like that? I don't think anyone's ever offered to fix me up with a woman before..." Kerry suddenly threw a suspicious look at Randi. "This 'luck' of yours doesn't involve some kind of prostitution, does it?"

The most disdainful scowl in Randi's repertoire assembled itself on her face. "As if..."

Kerry sat down again, looking like she wanted to either laugh, cry, or just collapse.

Randi was losing patience. "Come on, Dr. Weaver, what have you got to lose? I know you had a tough breakup with Legaspi, but you've gotta get over her and get on with your life sometime."

Kerry hesitated, looking small and uncertain.

"Besides, if you want to explore sex with women, wouldn't it be a good idea to, oh, I don't know...actually have sex with women?" Randi raised an eyebrow imploringly. "Think of it as gathering data for a case study or something."

A small shiver ran through Kerry's shoulders. "Randi...I'm very flattered that you'd do this for me, but...well, how would we even go about something like that? You make it sound like there are women out there just waiting to have sex with us..."

"With two hot babes like us, in a city this size? Trust me, they're out there. Just gotta have faith, Doc; I've never struck out yet, west of the Rockies." She gave Kerry a reassuring smile. "For starters, we could hit some local dyke clubs and see what we find..."

"Lesbian bars?" Kerry shook her head, looking pained. "Thanks, but no thanks, Randi. I've already tried that."

"Yeah?" Randi looked at her curiously. "How'd it go?"

"Awful." Kerry frowned. "I didn't talk to one person, except to order a drink I barely touched. Everyone around me seemed to be speaking and acting on some other plane of reality." She huffed out a breath, looking away. "I felt like such a freak..."

This didn't surprise Randi much. Despite her long-standing affection and admiration for the Chief, she had to admit that Kerry's medical and administrative skills were inversely proportional to her social ones. Randi couldn't picture Kerry being at ease alone in a straight bar, let alone a gay one. "Maybe you were just nervous, it being your first time and all," she said.

That prompted a fierce scowl. "Gee, you think?"

"What'd you do when you went in?"

"I sat down at the bar and ordered a drink," Kerry repeated impatiently.

"Show me."

"SHOW you?? Randi, what--?"

"Just show me." Randi moved one of the chairs over to the dresser. "Pretend this is the bar, and just act it out for me, okay?"

Kerry put her hands up. "Oh, this is getting too weird..."

"Dr. Weaver, you let me help you with your speech, right? And that's not even my area of expertise."

"Yes, but--"

"Well, this IS my area of expertise. Let me help you with this, too, okay?" She looked imploringly at her boss. "Please? This is just between us, I swear. Goes no further."

Kerry stared at her for a geological era or two, and then she sighed and got up, perhaps just too tired to argue. She sat obediently in the chair at the dresser, and Randi passed her an empty glass from the mini-bar. She took it, holding it in both hands on the 'bar' in front of her, glancing guardedly at her reflection in the dresser mirror, but looking mostly into her glass.

"Well, there's your problem," Randi said.

"What?" Kerry snapped. "What's my problem?"

"No wonder nobody talked to you with body language like that," Randi told her. "Your whole demeanor says 'go away and leave me alone. I don't want to talk about it'."

Kerry sighed.

"People see you keeping yourself all contained like that, they figure you're not interested, and they respect your privacy. Either that or they figure you're on some 'won't somebody come rescue me from my own misery' trip, and they don't want to play those games when they've got their own problems." Randi leaned her hip against the dresser next to where Kerry sat. "They see you look up, look around once in a while, at least they know you're looking. Maybe they look back."

The redhead nodded. "Makes sense."

"All right, suppose you see someone you like," Randi said. "What do you do?"

Put on the spot, Kerry hesitated, then said, "Um, I suppose I could buy her a drink...?"

Randi nodded. "An oldie but a goodie. Still works." She walked over the mini-bar and fixed herself a drink, then turned as if it had just been handed to her by a bartender, and raised it in Kerry's direction with an appreciative smile. "Then what?"

Kerry ventured a shy smile, but then dropped her gaze and said, "I have no idea."

Drifting over to her side, Randi said, "Well, you could look at me, for a start."

"I'm looking at you," Kerry replied with a touch of annoyance.

"No, you're glancing sidelong at me to see who's bothering you." She gently turned Kerry's chin up to face her more fully. "Look at me."

Obviously swallowing her discomfort, Kerry turned her face square to Randi, looking her in the eye.

"See, that tells her that you're glad to see her, and that you're open to intimacy," Randi told her. "Or, if you want to keep her guessing, you can try the coy head tilt." She demonstrated.

Kerry tried it, the smile reappearing. Randi decided that Kerry had the perfect face for the coy head tilt, and said so. "I feel like we're doing 'My Fair Lady'," Kerry muttered.

"Okay, so let's say you've got her attention," Randi said. She crossed around to Kerry's other side, stepping into character. "Hi," she said. "Who do I owe the drink to?"

"Um...Mary," Kerry improvised. "Mary Seaver." She offered her hand up.

Randi shook it. "Okay, but I'd leave out the last name."


"You give them your full name, it sounds like you're networking. 'Hi, Bob Jones, Accounting & Receiving. Here's my card. Are you happy with your insurance carrier?' Not really what they're looking for."

"No, I suppose not..."

"Let's try again." Randi fixed Kerry a drink of her own and handed it to her. "Brandy," she said.

"Looks more like vodka."

"No, my name's Brandy. What's yours?"

Kerry gave her a warm smile. "Hi, Brandy. I'm Kathy."

"Thanks for the drink, Kathy," Randi said, bending at the waist to lean her elbows on the dresser. It was built lower than a real bar, and her ass stuck out more prominently. "Just what I need after a hard day's work."

"What kind of work do you do, Brandy?"

"Clothing designer," she said. "I produce my own line. BrandyWear."

"Really?" Kerry raised her eyebrows appreciatively.

"How about you, Kathy?"

The Chief smiled demurely. "Oh, it's a little embarrassing. I'm a romance novelist."

"Cool. Published?"

She shrugged. "Any day now, one hopes."

Randi laughed, dropping the act. "Self-deprecating humor. That's good."

Kerry chuckled, a little more at ease.

"Your turn," Randi said. "Pick me up." She went over to the table and sat down, looking like she was off in her own little world.

A few moments later, she felt a touch on her shoulder and looked up.

"Excuse me, are you--?" Kerry looked at her, tentatively. "Oh, I'm sorry, I thought you were someone else."

The opening ploy was a little obvious, but Randi was intrigued to see where Kerry was going with it. "Friend of yours?"

"Just someone I work with," Kerry said. "My mistake; she's got hair like yours. But her eyes aren't as pretty."

Not bad at all, Randi thought. Setup was a little clumsy, but the payoff was worth it. "Well, why don't you sit down and tell me about her?"

They went on, refilling their drinks and taking turns hitting on each other. Each new opening line became a little bolder, each approach a little sillier as they drank. Maybe it was the alcohol that made her loosen up, but Kerry seemed to be having fun role-playing. Randi, for her part, was having a great time.

"Okay, no, wait, wait, okay..." Kerry said at one point, cutting through the tipsy laughter that kept bubbling up from both of them. "The thing is, see, that I promised my mother, rest 'er soul, that I'd give up smoking, drinking, and foul language."

"Aw, that's nice," Randi said. "So how come you got a drink in your hand?"

"Drink...?" Kerry looked at her hand in surprise. "Never mind that, who took my fuckin' cigarette?!" And they both dissolved in laughter again.

"Oh, shit..." Randi sighed, wiping tears of mirth from her eyes with one hand. The other arm was draped across Kerry's shoulders in comradely fashion. "I dunno if that's the best approach, but you never know..."

"I think we're cleared for approach," Kerry declared confidently, leaning against Randi. "Please put your seat backs and tray tables in an upright and locked position." She sighed as well, little giggles coming to the surface occasionally like bubbles in soda water. Turning her head to gaze at Randi's face, inches away, she said, "So, you think I'm ready to fly solo?"

"Jus' about," Randi replied. "Jus' one final tip I should give you." She looked straight into Kerry's gray-green eyes, noticing how pretty they could be when they weren't all cold and steely.

Kerry looked back into hers, attentive, if a little unfocused. "What's that?"

Randi was quiet for a moment, holding the look. Then her eyes flicked downward, lingering on Kerry's lips, then came back up. "You see that?"

"See what?" Kerry's gaze held only curiosity.

"Watch my eyes." Randi did it again, her gaze dipping unmistakably down to those moist lips, still curved in the slightest of smiles, and then slowly gliding up over the delicate facial features to join Kerry's eyes once more. "See what I just did there?"

"You looked down," Kerry replied softly. Then, awareness dawning, "You looked at my lips..."

Randi nodded slowly, her eyes still on Kerry's. "You see a woman do that, up close like this," she whispered, "and you've got a green light."

"Green light?" Kerry repeated, her voice growing soft and husky.

"It means she's ready for the kiss."

"Oh..." Their voices faded out, falling into a pregnant silence.

Then Randi saw Kerry's eyes, almost of their own accord, lower themselves to the level of Randi's lips. She began to feel keenly aware of how close Kerry's body was to her own.

Maybe one of them swayed drunkenly, perhaps both. Or maybe a minor earthquake chose that moment to hit Seattle. Or maybe some tiny fluke in the continuum caused space to collapse itself between them. But whatever the cause, Randi felt her lips brush over Kerry's...

The faint sensation was enough to burst the bubble that had formed around them, pulling them in closer, and they both sat back, pulling hurriedly apart. "Wow, uh..." Kerry muttered, averting her eyes. "Something like that?"

"Yeah, pretty much," Randi said, also looking away self-consciously. That was a little steamier than she'd planned things to get at this stage of the game. "Hey, what time is it?"

Kerry looked around for the clock. "Uh, almost ten thirty." She shook her head in surprise. "We've been at this longer than I thought..."

Randi rolled her neck, trying to dissipate the unexpected haze in her muscles and joints. "So, you still want to go out? It's not too late for the clubs..."

"It is for me, I'm afraid." Kerry stood up creakily. "Besides, we've both been drinking, so I don't think we should drive. And I sure don't feel like walking anywhere."

The clerk ran a hand through her hair. "Yeah, okay," she said. Her skin felt flushed, and her face was hot, almost feverish.

"I think I need a shower," Kerry mumbled, a little vaguely. She excused herself and wobbled into the bathroom. Randi heard the shower running moments later, with the variably sloshing sound that it makes on a body.

She set her empty glass aside and pushed herself to her feet, willing the room to stop sliding and be still. Alone in the hotel room, activated by an evening of drinking and flirting, her body still yearned for satisfaction. For sex.

An image came to her mind, unbidden, of Kerry in the shower, naked except for water and steam. Only two thin doors, wooden hollow-core and sliding glass, separated them...

"Jesus, Fronczak, get a grip!" Randi made herself turn around and open the balcony door, stumbling out onto the balcony. She leaned against the railing, breathing deeply in the cold, clean air of the Seattle night. The wind had shifted; no fish guts this time, thank God, or she'd have upchucked, raining barf upon the parking lot below. Craning her head out, she let the rain blow onto her face, helping to clear her senses. She stood there, ignoring the chill, until she heard the plumbing fall silent. Then, sufficiently sobered, she went back inside.

Randi took her turn in the shower - nice and cold - then dried off, brushed her teeth, and pulled on some underwear to sleep in. Kerry was already in her bed, and Randi followed suit, bidding her goodnight.

As she lay in the dark, waiting for sleep to claim her, she heard Kerry's soft voice. "Randi, can I ask you a personal question?"

"Sure, Dr. Weaver."

Kerry hesitated, then asked, "Have you ever been attracted to...well, to anyone at County?"

Surprised, Randi rolled onto her side, facing Kerry's silhouette. Feeling like she was in a high school slumber party, she said, "Well, yeah, sure. Why do you ask?"

"I'm Chief of the ER, so I'm supposed to be above that sort of thing," Kerry replied. "But nobody says I can't live vicariously once in a while. So c'mon, give, already: who do you like?"

Randi had to smile. So there was a bit of the romantic gossip in Kerry Weaver, too, huh? "Okay, well, there's Kovac, of course," she said. "He's always been high on my 'wouldn't-kick-him-out-of-bed' list."

Kerry snorted. "Join the club."

Randi squinted at her in the dark. "You, too?"

"I'm gay, Randi, but I'm not blind. And it hasn't been that long since I considered myself straight. Anyway, Luka Kovac is probably on every woman's list." She chuckled. "Kim once confided that he'd be her first choice, if she was ever going to experiment."

That made Randi laugh.

"So, who else?"

"All right, well, if we're gonna include women," Randi added, "I know she's not real friendly, but I've occasionally wondered what it'd be like to get Cleo Finch in the shower after a good workout, and just lick that body of hers up one side and down the other..."

Kerry gave a small moan of appreciation.

"Let's see, who else? I always thought Carter was cute, but he's a little too straightlaced for my taste. Plus, he's like everybody's kid brother, y'know?"

"Mmm-hmm..." Kerry mumbled sleepily.

"Anyway, I'm usually more attracted to the bad boy types, like..." Randi stopped herself from mentioning that particular name. She'd enjoyed a kind of on-again-off-again flirtation with him that might have led somewhere, once. Now she was glad it hadn't. As bad as she'd felt for him about getting fired, she could never forgive him for some of the vile things he'd said to Kerry that day.

Putting him out of her mind, she turned her attention back to Kerry. "How 'bout you, Doc? I know you're Chief and all, but you must've had your eye on someone, sometime?"

There was no answer.

"Dr. Weaver...?"

A deep, even breathing was all that reached Randi's ears. Kerry was sound asleep.

Randi rolled back over, gradually settling in with one of her favorite bedtime fantasies, the one where she catches Finch and Kovac making out, and they guiltily beg her not to tell Benton and Lockhart. She coyly implies that her silence might be obtained...for a price; they take the hint, and she soon finds herself sandwiched deliciously between them.

Turning onto her stomach, legs apart, her hands had just begun a ritual of self-exploration...when a thought penetrated her conscious mind. When Kerry had asked if Randi was attracted to anyone at the hospital, was she really asking if she'd been attracted to Kerry?

Better question still, had Kerry ever been attracted to her?

Part Five...

(Wednesday morning...)

Penance for the previous evening's alcoholic indulgences came in the form of another two hours in the hotel gymnasium, sweating out the toxins. Randi had no idea how Kerry recovered; she had seemed fine when she left for the first of the morning's panels.

Just before noon, Randi went out looking for Kerry, hoping to spot her coming out of one panel or another. The last one to let out, after what sounded like a sincere round of applause, had a sign by the door reading, "CLINICAL HUMANISM," which sounded suspiciously oxymoronic to Randi. The sign indicated that the panel was conducted by a 'Dr. St. James,' a name that rang a slight bell with Randi. She couldn't pin it down, but then, between phone dialogues with other hospitals, an unending supply of writs, reports, and prescriptions, and the ever-changing roster of staff and students at County General's various departments, Randi saw and heard more doctors' names than the alumni registrar at Johns Hopkins.

As the panel attendees began exiting, Randi and Kerry spotted each other quickly. "Randi, what brings you by?" the Chief asked her pleasantly.

She shrugged. "Wondered if you wanted to get some lunch. I'm sick of room service."

"Sure." Kerry grinned. "You've been good. I guess I owe you a real meal."

"Good. I was hoping we could talk about--" Randi broke off as another familiar face came out of the small conference room. "Well, hey there, Tarzan."

"Esther Williams." Sam Bardwell greeted her with a smile. "I have to say, you look just as good with your clothes on."

"You, too," Randi replied, admiring the way his tailored suit hugged his form. "Course, I'm judging from memory. I might have to see you the other way again, just to be sure."

"That could be arranged," he admitted. "Long as I get to make a similar comparison..."

"Would you two like to be alone?" Kerry put in, archly.

Sam laughed. "Sorry, Kerry. How'd you enjoy the talk?"

"I was quite impressed," she said, earnestly. "I was fascinated by her suggestions of an ideal balance between the male and female dynamics of medicine."

"Yeah, I'll admit she had some great insights," Sam agreed. "I thought it was just gonna be a lot of fringy, New Age, self-help crap. Glad to see I was wrong."

"Would you like to join Randi and me for lunch?"

"Thanks, I'd love to, but I told Dr. Booker I'd discuss some of those interstate committee ideas of his." The slight scowl on his handsome features told Randi it wasn't his first choice of conversation topics. "I'm looking forward to your presentation tomorrow, though."

"So am I," Kerry said, a wry smile on her face. "I think."

"And Randi..." He turned to her. "I hope to see more of you before you have to go."

She leaned closer. "Play your cards right," she confided, "and you may get to see all of me."

Sam didn't blush as he smiled and walked away, but it was darn close. Randi watched him go, enjoying the cut of his suit jacket across those broad shoulders. To say nothing of the way his butt moved as he walked...

Then, noticing Kerry watching her watch Sam, she said, "What?"

"You'd better be careful," Kerry told her. "I think I'm about to trip on your tongue in a minute."

"Can you blame me, fer gosh'sakes?" Then, looking at Kerry, she asked, "That okay with you? I mean, were you two ever..."

"No, Sam and I were just classmates," Kerry assured her. "If you're interested, by all means, go for it."

Randi's heart gave a happy little flutter, but then she felt bad for Kerry. "Thanks, but I wouldn't want to leave you out on your own. We can still go out to pick up girls tonight, if you still want--"

"Yeah, I've been thinking about that," Kerry said, as they walked across the lobby, "and I think I'll pass."

"Why? Because of what happened last night?"

"No, of course not. I just don't think it's best to go out looking for a night of passion just before I have to make a big presentation in the morning, do you?"

"Well...we could get an earlier start, this time, and maybe..."

"Oh hell, that'd just make it worse, if we had a timetable," Kerry said quietly, rubbing her forehead. "I can't see that working: 'Excuse me, ma'am, I'd like to wine you, dine you, and maybe sixty-nine you, but I'm kind of pressed for time...' I don't think that would go over well, do you?"

Randi couldn't even picture Kerry speaking so bluntly to a potential date. "No, I guess not," she admitted.

"I do appreciate the advice you've given me," Kerry said. "Perhaps I'll give it a try sometime, back home."

"Okay, but you realize you're missing out on a perfect opportunity," Randi said. "I can't be the same kind of lucky charm for you the way I can here."

"I'll risk it," Kerry said with a resigned smile. "I've never believed in luck. And, to be honest, I wasn't really very comfortable being promised sex with an as-yet-undetermined partner. It just doesn't seem right."

Randi just shrugged. To each their own, she supposed, but she was definitely disappointed.

"I mean, if I had met someone really special, that would be one thing," Kerry went on, "but--"

They paused at the sound of someone calling Kerry's name. Randi turned to see a strikingly handsome black woman of about fifty approaching, her cornrowed hair gathered into a bouquet of thin braids down her back. She wore a rich blue skirt and jacket, with matching shoes and a silk blouse, and she looked impressive and professional, yet warm and inviting at the same time. As she neared the two women, her face was bright and welcoming. "Kerry, do you have a moment?"

Kerry turned back to her with distinctly obvious pleasure. "Odona, of course," she said. "Randi, this is--"

"Odona St. James!" Randi burst out, recognizing her immediately. Her book, discussing the philosophies of modern medical care, had been on the bestseller list for a few weeks, late last year. She'd been on Oprah and Conan O'Brian and 'Good Morning, America'. Randi suddenly felt like she was meeting a movie star. "Wow, I didn't know you'd be at the convention!"

"And this is my assistant, Randi Fronczak," Kerry added.

St. James' smile, and her handshake, were among the warmest Randi had ever felt. "It's a pleasure to meet you, Randi," she said. "Are you a doctor, too? Or a nurse?"

"No," she answered, feeling flattered. "I'm just a clerk..."

"I don't think a clerk is 'just' anything," St. James told her. "Anyone who's put in time in an emergency room knows a good clerk is as crucial as anybody with a medical degree."

"Well, Randi's a very good one," Kerry said, looking as proud as Randi felt.

"I believe that, or you wouldn't have her as your assistant." The casual praise was almost enough to make both women blush in unison. Turning to take Kerry's free hand in both of hers, St. James said, "Kerry, I wanted to say that you raised some excellent points during the discussion. I was glad you took part in it."

"Oh, please," said Kerry, looking almost shy. "It was a wonderful opportunity..."

Randi looked at her carefully. The normally sedate Kerry Weaver was practically beaming. Randi hadn't seen her react anything like this since the beginnings of her friendship with...


"I was hoping I'd have a chance to discuss some of your thoughts with you at greater length, one on one. Perhaps if you have some time later...?" There was a hopeful look on St. James' face.

"Yes, of course," Kerry was quick to reply. "I'd love that."

"Wonderful." St. James' eyes seemed to grow even softer. "I'll wait to hear from you. Randi, it was good to meet you," she added. "I'm glad Kerry has a friend with her." With a final smile that encompassed both women, she excused herself and strolled away.

Kerry gazed fondly after her, a fact that was hardly lost on Randi.

"She seems pretty cool," the clerk remarked offhandedly, pressing the elevator button.

"Oh, she's a wonderful speaker," Kerry enthused. "I loved her book, but I was a little concerned that her panel would just be a rehash of the same material. I needn't have worried, though; she found new ways to discuss the same subjects without repeating herself much."

"Oh yeah...?"

"She writes and talks about how the feminine, or nurturing qualities of medicine have been supplanted by an excessive emphasis on the aggressive, masculine approach, assaulting the patient with surgical, technological, or pharmaceutical quick-fixes, in order to dismiss the problem rather than committing to an understanding of it," Kerry rambled happily. "As much as I agreed with her in principle, I was prepared to argue that that same aggressive, direct approach, while not always ideal, is entirely essential at the level of emergency medicine. There's rarely time for nurturing when some poor bastard is crashing."

"Sure." Randi had to smile as they boarded the elevator. She'd rarely seen Kerry this happy before.

"But I must have misconstrued her position, because she agreed with me completely! Can you believe it? Odona wasn't trying to advocate replacing the masculine model with the feminine, outright, but to find ways to symbiose the two in some integrated, almost yin/yang kind of..." She trailed off. "What are you smiling about?"

Randi leaned against the handrail as the elevator ascended smoothly. "You like her, don't you?"

The question seemed to take Kerry by surprise. "Well, sure. She's an amazing woman. She earned both an MD and a PhD, while raising two children on her own. She's intelligent, insightful,
charismatic...beautiful...what's not to like?"

"No," Randi said. "I mean you LIKE her. Don't you?"

Kerry just looked at her, lips parted, but no words coming out.

"Don't look now, Doc," Randi purred, "but you just met someone really special."

Kerry stared at her, then looked away. "Randi, you're imagining things."

"Oh yeah? A lot of people came out of the same room. I didn't see her chasing after any of them, hoping to talk to them 'one on one'." She took Kerry's hand in both of hers, exactly as St. James had done. "Or looking at them the way she looked at you."

"Randi, come on..." Kerry pulled her hand free.

"You said she has kids, but I didn't see a wedding ring. Is she seeing anyone?"

"I don't know!" Kerry shrugged. "We didn't exactly discuss her personal life!"

"Then how do you know she's not interested?"

Kerry laughed shortly, as if the whole thing was silly. "Randi..."

The clerk looked pointedly into her eyes. "If she was...would you be interested?"

Kerry looked back at her and didn't speak. But her face told the real story.

Randi grinned happily and patted Kerry on the back. "You see, Dr. Weaver? I met Sam, you met Dr. St. James...I told you, you put me near the Pacific Ocean, and the magic just happens."

The redhead dropped her gaze and groaned skeptically. But Randi could see she was smiling.

"Stick with me, Doc," she confided, her voice a low, sexy growl, "and your little clit will have adventures worth writing home about."

"Oh, GOD, Randi...!" Kerry's tone was gruff, but the involuntary smile nearly split her cheeks open. The elevator door opened.

Randi let the matter drop as they walked to their hotel room and Kerry unlocked the door. Maid service had remade the beds, straightened the room and restocked the mini-bar, though Randi had begun to think maybe they should both take it easy on the booze. What caught both their eyes, however, was the light blinking on the telephone, indicating a waiting message.

"Five bucks it's either him for me, or her for you," Randi said. "Which do you bet?"

Kerry ignored her and dialed the Play Message code. Then her face registered something completely unexpected. "Neither of the above," she said, holding the receiver out to Randi.

She took it, waited while Kerry tapped the replay code, and listened. It was an invitation to dinner, all right, but not from either Odona St. James or Sam Bardwell. Someone very different.

"Oh, man!" Randi squealed as she hung up the phone. "Are we going? Call her back, we gotta go! You wanna go?!"

"Randi..." Kerry's face wasn't as happy as Randi would have expected at the sound of a former colleague's voice. "I don't know... Of course I'd like to see her again, but the last time we talked...her last day at County, we had some stupid argument over a patient..."

"Jesus, are you still carrying that around in your head?! Dr. Weaver, she doesn't care about that! Did you hear her voice? C'mon, she wants to see us!" Randi nearly screeched in frustration; as much as some part of her secretly loved the feisty, driven ER Chief, there were other, not-so-secret parts that often wanted to take that crutch away and beat her to death with it. "We can't just not go see her, Dr. Weaver, we've gotta go. Please...?"

Kerry bit her lip.

(Wednesday evening...)

The door opened almost as soon as Randi knocked, and she was engulfed in Carol's hug a moment later. "Oh God, it's so good to see you!" she almost sang, kissing the nurse's cheek.

"You, too, Randi," Carol said, her lovely face one big smile. Letting go of Randi, she turned the same attention upon the Chief, who was hanging back a step. "And Kerry...!"

From the look on her face, Kerry honestly half-expected Carol to punch her instead of hug her, up to the moment she was in the nurse's embrace. Then she softened, patting her back and looking like she wished she could allow herself a more heartfelt show of affection. "Hi, Carol," she said.

"Doug told me about seeing you both, and I was hoping you'd have time to come by," Carol said, inviting them both inside. "It seems like forever since I saw you two!"

The Ross family's lakeside condo didn't look quite as spacious as Carol's old house in Chicago, but much newer and more structurally sound. Randi remembered dancing at a Christmas party thrown at Carol's house, only a plastic tarp keeping the snow coming in through the hole in the roof. That didn't seem to be a problem here. Doug and Carol didn't appear to be getting rich, but they were clearly doing okay.

"Kate, Tess," Carol said, kneeling by the two girls playing in the corner of the living room, "do you want to come meet Mommy's friends?"

There was a difference of opinion on that. One really didn't, but the other's curiosity won out. Carol assured the reluctant one that the new grownups were really nice people, but when that didn't work, she said it was okay, she understood, and that she didn't have to say hello if she didn't want to. Picking up the bolder child, Carol brought her over to meet the guests.

"Katie, these are friends that Mommy and Daddy used to work with. This is Kerry...and this is Randi. Can you say hi?"

"Hi, Kate," Kerry said in her non-intrusive 'talking-to-little-kids' voice, adding a very small wave. Kate said 'hi' back, almost matching her volume.

"Hey, Katie," Randi said with a smile, patting the girl's cheek. "Wow, you really got big, you know that?"

"And that's Tess, in the corner," Carol added, setting Kate down. "She's the shy one."

"That's okay," Kerry said, just loud enough so that Tess could hear them, Randi knew, without appearing to address her directly. "I like being by myself sometimes, too."

"Doug couldn't join us tonight," Carol told them. "He got stuck with a replacement shift, on top of the conference."

"Oh, that's too bad," Kerry said, but Randi wondered if she was really all that disappointed not to have to spend the evening making nice with Doug Ross. Personally, Randi suspected that Doug had arranged things specifically so that he could avoid Kerry. The thought annoyed Randi.

Something dinged in the kitchen, and Carol went to check on dinner. Kerry followed her, asking if she could help with anything, and Randi sat down on the floor next to Kate. The girl was holding up a couple of stuffed animals for Randi's approval; Randi asked what their names were, and Kate told her, already completely comfortable with her new friend. Randi glanced at Tess, but she was still in the other corner, a fat crayon in her hands, paying as little attention to the other people as possible.

Whatever reservations Kate might have had around visitors were gone by the time Carol and Kerry reappeared, and she seemed determined to monopolize Randi's attention, showing off her repertoire of pattycake games and songs, which Randi endured first with enjoyment, then with good grace and patience. Finally, when she appeared to be approaching the transition from hyperactive to cranky, Carol intervened and talked Kate into having a snack and calming down a little. Randi appreciated her timing; she liked kids, but didn't have the stamina for them.

Eschewing the formality of the dinner table (Carol still had to keep an eye on both girls), they ate in the living room, plates of casserole balanced on laps or the coffee table. No one minded; meals consumed at odd hours, in odd places, during precious moments of ER inactivity, were a common experience to all three women. Carol talked about her life since joining Doug in Seattle, and the ups and downs of being a wife and mother in a new city. The latter were more numerous, but the former, she said, outweighed them any day.

"You still working?" Randi asked her.

"Part time," Carol said. "I only pull a few shifts a week, but I also handle a lot of nurse management paperwork and stuff. Most of it, I can do from home, and they were eager to hire someone with my experience. I'm trying to open another clinic, although I'll definitely get someone else to run it. These two need my time more than the hospital does."

"If anyone can do it, Carol, you can," Kerry told her.

"Thank you, Kerry." Carol smiled. Like Doug, she looked like life in Seattle had been good for her. The lustrous black hair had just the slightest hint of gray in it, and there were maybe a few smile lines around the eyes that Randi didn't recall, but she looked good. She looked like she'd settled into her life, good parts and bad, and decided to stay. Even the slightly tired air around her had a pleasantness to it. Carol looked happy. "So how about you two? What's life at County been like since I left?"

Randi let Kerry give her answers first, and Kerry talked about the overall shape of things, mostly in terms of economics and operations. She told of clashes with Romano, some of the troubles Mark and Elizabeth had gone through, and a few of the comings and goings in the staff. Randi thought it was a pretty sanitized account, typical of Kerry Weaver, but not really what Carol wanted to hear. The nurse, however, listened politely and patiently.

Most notably, Randi noticed that Kerry made no mention of Kim Legaspi, or of her own personal discoveries from the last year. Randi found that rather sad; if there was anyone who could listen and understand, Carol Hathaway - actually, make that Carol Ross, she reminded herself - would be the one. But it was Kerry's choice, and Randi had to respect that.

When it looked like Kerry was almost out of things to talk about, however, Randi stepped in, unloading all the real dish. She told Carol about the people that Chuny, Malik, and Yosh were currently seeing, and what the prospects for those relationships were; she mentioned that Chen and Malucci were gone (though she didn't discuss details), and that Susan Lewis had returned unexpectedly. She told what she knew about the death of Reese Benton's mother, and about Peter's fight for custody, and she mentioned Luka Kovac's relationship with Abby Lockhart; the latter subject brought a bittersweet look to Carol's face.

Kerry didn't interrupt, except briefly, when Randi started to mention Carter's difficulties; she was hesitant to divulge anyone's personal problems. Carol's interest was piqued, her concern evident; "Dr. Weaver, she's got a right to know," Randi argued. "She's like family." Kerry agreed, despite her misgivings, and Randi proceeded to tell Carol about Carter's addiction.

"Oh God," Carol moaned. "Poor Carter. I knew he was having trouble after the attack, but..."

"I know," Randi said. "It was tough for all of us to discover how bad things were for him." She talked about his stay at the facility in Atlanta, and how well he had done since his return. Kerry chimed in a few details about the administration's position, and emphasized that Carter was doing well.

Randi and Carol compared notes, the nurse asking about some other people she'd known, and Randi supplying news as best she could. Kerry stayed quiet, and after a while, Randi noticed why. Tess, the silent twin, had ventured out of her corner during the conversation, eyeing the redheaded woman with the strange metal arm that acted like a third leg. Sitting in front of the sofa, by Kerry's feet, she fingered the crutch with some curiosity, and Kerry held very still, not wanting to scare her off. Tess looked at it, and then up at Kerry, who was watching her sort of sidelong, feigning an equal shyness that succeeded in setting the child at ease. Then, apparently deciding that Kerry was okay, she settled herself at the Chief's feet and resumed dragging her orange crayon over the pages of a coloring book without regard to the lines.

Randi and Carol kept up the conversation, as a kind of verbal duck blind, but both were really watching Kerry and Tess discreetly. Enjoying the wordless encounter, but not wanting to disrupt it.

Kerry finally ventured to reach down and stroke the child's hair softly. "I remember you, sweetie," she whispered. "I was the first one to ever hold you..." Tess paid little or no attention, seeming to accept Kerry's presence as a given.

The moment was broken as Kerry realized that Carol and Randi were watching her, their own talk forgotten.

"She wouldn't remember, of course," Kerry said, sitting up straighter and looking self-conscious, like she'd been caught playing with toys when she was supposed to be doing paperwork.

"Well, I remember," Carol said with a smile. "You're good with kids, Kerry. Even Doug thought so."

"Yes, he, uh...he told me so, once." Kerry looked uncomfortable with the spotlight on her.

"Have you ever thought about having children of your own, Kerry?" Carol asked her. "I always thought you'd make a really good mother someday."

Kerry looked away. "Oh...I don't know about that..."

"You should think about it," Carol urged her. "I don't know what your plans are, or if you're seeing anybody, but it's something worth considering. Kids can be a handful, but you'll be amazed how much love they--"

Kerry looked at her watch, and stood suddenly. "You know, I think we should go," she said.

"Huh?" Randi looked at her in surprise. Tess looked up, too.

"You remember, we have that...we said we'd meet those people?" It was the most painfully obvious lie Randi had ever heard.

Carol's face clouded. "Kerry, did I say something to upset you?" she asked. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean--"

"No, no, of course not," Kerry said briskly, reaching for her coat. "We're just going to be late. Randi, we need to get moving."

Randi looked at Carol, her confusion mirroring the nurses. "Right, okay," she said out loud. She didn't know what was upsetting Kerry any more than Carol did, but she felt the obligation to back up her boss until she could figure things out. "Thanks for dinner, it was great," she said, truthfully.

"Sure, I was glad to see you both," Carol replied, still taken aback by Kerry's abrupt manner.

Kerry said a curt goodbye and hustled outside. Randi felt embarrassed to be in the company of such rudeness, but she stopped herself from reacting to it. Yet.

Giving Carol another warm hug, and promising to call her, Randi followed her Chief out to the car and got in, and Kerry drove away. Randi's last view, looking back, was of Carol waving goodbye from the doorway with Tess in her arms. Both looked confused, and a little hurt.

Kerry didn't look back once.

Part Six...

(Wednesday evening...)

The rain seemed to be increasing with as the light faded; Kerry put on the car's headlights and windshield wipers at the same time. Her concentration seemed focused on the visibility ahead of her, impatiently willing all obstacles to get the hell out of her way.

Randi sat silently beside her, her confusion giving way to anger. "What was that all about?" she said at last, when she could no longer keep silent.

"What all about?" Kerry replied coldly.

"That bullshit about us meeting someone. We don't have any plans, and you know it. Hell, Carol probably knows it, from the way you acted."

"I don't want to talk about it, Randi."

"Tough. I'd like to know why you yanked us out of there like that."

Kerry scowled fiercely out the windshield. "I just got fed up with...all that," she said.

"All what? Fed up with having a nice time with a friend we haven't seen in a year? Yeah, I can really see how that would..."

"Randi, would you shut up for once?" Kerry snapped. "Just be quiet for a while."

Stung by Kerry's behavior, Randi turned and looked out her own window. "Fine," she snarled. "I've had it with you, Dr. Weaver. I'm done trying to get along with you, if that's how you feel."

"Good," Kerry stated. "Save us both the time and trouble."

They drove along the highway, through the deluge. Randi's bitter fury gathered, as relentless as the rain and dark as the night.

"Why do you always have to be such a bitch about everything?!" she finally burst out.

"What?" Kerry said, a dangerous edge in her voice.

"Carol was just trying to be your friend, dumb-ass!" Randi almost yelled at her. "Just like I've been bending over backward trying to be your friend ever since we got here! Do you have any fucking idea how hard that is? Do you try to make it impossible, or does being such a cold bitch just come naturally?"

Kerry was quiet at first, her whole body tense, and Randi wondered if she would swerve sharply into the oncoming traffic lane. Then she said, "Did it ever occur to you, Randi, that maybe I don't want to be your friend?"

Randi was prepared for Kerry to yell back at her, or pull over and throw her out of the car. But the quiet coldness in Kerry's voice hurt worse than either of those things. "Well, you got your wish, then," she forced out.

"I'm not your friend, Randi," Kerry repeated emphatically, "I'm your boss. Things will go a lot easier on all of us if you don't forget that."

"Fine, whatever." Randi's teeth were gritted. "I oughta have my fuckin' head examined..."

"Because I can't be your boss and your friend at the same time," Kerry added, as if Randi hadn't spoken. "It never works."

Randi looked back at her.

"Jeannie was my friend," Kerry said. "I fired her. Carter was my friend; I evicted him. Mark was almost my friend; I betrayed him to Romano and almost had him declared incompetent."

"Those were things you had to do," Randi found herself saying, almost reluctantly. "It wasn't because you didn't care about them..."

"Kim was my friend, too," Kerry went on. "I fell in love with her. And then I broke her heart."

Watching the redhead silently, Randi kept herself from correcting Kerry again. From what she had gathered, the lion's share of hearbreak had been on the other end of things.

"I can't be friends with people I'm responsible for," Kerry finished, speaking as much to herself as to Randi. "It doesn't work. It never works, and people get hurt. It's just not worth it..." She fell silent, driving singlemindedly.

Randi looked at her for a long time, and then she said, "I don't buy that."

"Who cares what you think?" Kerry muttered.

"Carol hasn't worked under you for a long time now," Randi said, quietly but firmly. "And even if she did, you'd never be that rude to her. I've seen how you acted with her at parties, and on her birthday. You weren't like that. I know you always liked her."

Kerry didn't look at her.

"What made you react like that, this time?" Randi looked carefully at her companion. "Did it have anything to do with Tess?"

"For God's sake, Randi..."

"Was it because Carol was asking you about...?" She broke off, starting to understand.

Kerry clenched her jaw, trying to maintain a solid composure. "Like I needed to sit there," she grunted, "listening to her grill me about having kids..."

Randi turned in her seat, towards Kerry. "Oh my God, that's it," she half-whispered. "You're afraid your being a lesbian means you'll never have children, don't you?"

A long, harsh sigh came out of Kerry.

"Dr. Weaver, is that what's wrong?" Randi asked. Her anger and hurt were gone, replaced by a deep sympathy. "You know it doesn't have to be that way. Even if you never sleep with a man again, you could still have a child. You could do that artificial thing, with the turkey baster...or you could adopt," she added quickly, seeing the distasteful look on Kerry's face. "Sure, you could adopt a child, if you wanted."

"Adoption..." Kerry muttered, a strange irony infusing the word.

"If you don't want to have a kid, because of your career or whatever, that's one thing," Randi told her. "But if you do, you shouldn't let anything stop you."

"Randi, can we please not talk about this...?" There was a curious tremor in Kerry's voice.

"It's not too late," Randi assured her. "You're still young enough to be a mother, if you wan--"

"Randi, I'm already a mother," Kerry interrupted her. "I'm a grandmother."

Her eyes wide as saucers, Randi gaped at the woman driving the car. "You're wha...?"

"I have a granddaughter in Africa," Kerry bit out, as though the words were somehow shameful.

Randi stared at her in shock. "God, you don't look old enough to..."

"I'm forty-two," Kerry told her shortly.

All right, Randi supposed it was possible, at that age, if you had kids at a young age. Being all of twenty-nine herself (and not looking forward to thirty), she knew plenty of women her age who had teenage children of their own. But they were mostly unplanned pregnancies, due to carelessness, irresponsibility, or ignorance. None of those three qualities could be attributed to the Kerry Weaver she knew. And even so, a grandchild...?

Their car pulled into the hotel parking lot, and Kerry shut off the engine. The rain turned their view into a surreal blur. Kerry made no move to get out of the car, and Randi waited, watching her and feeling startlingly close to one of her Chief's most closely held secrets. Any movement, or a wrong word, might scare her away, retreating into herself again. Like Tess.

"Mlungisi came to the United States on a surgical sponsorship, like Elizabeth Corday," Kerry began, almost inaudibly. "But there were
problems...bureaucratic screwups...he was going to have to go back home. I married him so he could stay in the country."

Leaning her back against the passenger door, Randi hugged herself in the cooling car and listened intently.

"After I graduated," Kerry went on, her voice finding strength, "he asked me to come back with him. And Gabe Lawrence...you remember him?"

"Sure." Randi could hardly have forgotten the handsome, fatherly doctor, or the compelling charm that could make even Weaver smile.

"Gabe encouraged me to go; he said it would be a tremendous opportunity for me. He helped me arrange a postponement of my residency." A faint smile crossed her lips. "He was right. I learned so much more than I could have ever anticipated. And...I had a baby. A boy.

"At first, I thought it was everything I ever wanted. I had a husband, a child, and a purposeful life. It was perfect...but I wasn't. It all felt like a life that belonged to someone else, not to me. I didn't feel like I belonged there. Like I had usurped someone else's place..." She broke off, her voice catching.

"So I left," she resumed a moment later. "There's more to the story than that, but the end result was that I left Mlungisi and Joshua, and returned to America."

"Was it hard?" Randi ventured quietly.

"Leaving them?" Kerry looked at her. "No. I didn't feel a thing. I wish I could tell you it was the hardest thing I've ever done, because that's what it's supposed to be like. But it wasn't." She looked away again. "I'd always heard that a mother falls in love with her children, like Carol with her girls. But I didn't. I cared about my son, of course, but leaving him, and Mlungisi...it was more a relief than anything."

Randi didn't know what to say.

"What kind of mother feels that way about giving up a child?" Kerry asked softly.

She blames herself, Randi thought. Did she do the right thing in leaving? Or was it a mistake? "I don't know," she said, answering both of them.

"Mlungisi and I kept in touch," Kerry resumed her story, "but the longer I was apart from them, the more remote I felt we were. Eventually, they were like two characters in a book I remembered reading. They weren't a part of my life anymore."

"Well...do you ever see them?" Randi asked. "I know he came to visit that time, but your son...?" She broke off, seeing the cloud of sadness that passed over Kerry's face.

Just when she thought Kerry wasn't going to answer her, the reply came. "Every parent hopes their children will grow up into someone they can be proud of," Kerry said. "Someone honest, and happy, and moral. But sometimes that doesn't happen."

Randi thought of her own mother, and the slight disapproval she'd always seemed to have for Randi's ways. The look on her face as Randi was convicted and imprisoned, as though some part of her had always known it would be this way...

"Joshua was a bitter, unhappy child, in spite of Mlungisi's best efforts as a father," Kerry went on. "As he grew, he just got angrier. He fell in with a bad crowd in his teens, and Mlungisi couldn't do anything."

The younger woman bit her lip, listening to her own life story being told.

"And then he died, violently," Kerry said. "He was killed, like so many of the kids we try to save. Like Peter's nephew. But not before he got some poor girl pregnant."

A distant rumble of thunder rolled through the sky.

"I went to his funeral," Kerry said, "and I saw my granddaughter. She looked at me like a creature from another planet. I had no part in her life, any more than she had in mine. I gave up any right to call myself her grandmother years before her birth..." She ran a hand across her eyes. "You can see how I treat my friends and loved ones, Randi; you don't want to be one of them."

Oh God, yes I do, she thought...

Kerry leaned her head back against the headrest, drawing a deep breath and letting it out shakily. "It should hurt more," she moaned. "Maybe if I hadn't left, I could have made a difference... Maybe he felt abandoned..."

Randi felt herself shiver once.

"Oh hell, don't listen to me," Kerry corrected herself sharply, trying to muster her familiar sarcasm. "I don't think I was cut out to be a mother; I'm probably missing the maternal instinct gene..."

"No you're not," Randi said firmly.

"How the hell would you know?"

"I hated my mom for a while," she said.

Kerry looked at her. "What?"

"My mom and I never understood each other," Randi said. "She wanted me to be more of a proper young lady or something, the 'girl next door', and I was...well, y'know." She smirked. "When I got busted, I wanted her to fight for me, you know? Protect me, the way a mother's supposed to. But she didn't post bail for me, or get me a real lawyer instead of the public defender. She just watched them put me away. I hated her for that, and I thought she hated me.

"It wasn't until after I got out that I realized, it was 'cause she loved me. And she knew the only way I'd ever get my shit together was if I took the consequences of my actions. She loved me enough to let me go, 'cause it was the only thing she could do for me anymore." She looked at Kerry. "Some kids turn out bad no matter how much you love 'em. Sometimes the best you can do is let them go. Like with you and Malucci."

Kerry frowned. The mention of his name seemed to send a painful twinge through her.

"It wasn't your fault he let you down, Dr. Weaver. You did your best to help him shape up for two years, but he didn't meet you halfway. Came to the point you'd done the best you could, but he didn't give you any choice, any more than when Carter was addicted, and you'd've fired him if he didn't get help. He helped himself, Malucci didn't." She wanted to reach out and touch Kerry, but it didn't feel right. "You made a tough choice, same as any mother."

Kerry was silent and still.

"You're a good mother, Dr. Weaver," Randi told her quietly. "I know, 'cause you've been like a mother to all of us in the ER."

A small snort. "You sure you don't mean wicked stepmother?"

"Well, maybe..." She felt the smile forming, sensing Kerry's matching it.

"Come on," Kerry said. "We ought to get inside. It's cold out here."

They got out and made a dash for the cover of the hotel lobby, while the rain chose that perverse moment to really unload on their heads. Dripping wet after only moments, they shivered and shook themselves off once inside. "Christ, it's worse than Chicago!" Randi spat.

"Right, at least it stops there, once in a while," Kerry agreed. "God, I'm tired."

Conscious of Kerry's presentation tomorrow morning, as well as the emotional load she'd just revealed, Randi looked at her with concern. "You gonna be all right, Dr. Weaver?"

Kerry nodded. "I never talked about...all that, with anyone," she admitted quietly. "I wanted to tell Kim someday, but I was always afraid she'd look at me differently..."

"Kerry...?" A warm voice, tinged with curiosity, came from their side. "Randi?"

Randi looked to see its source emerging from the hotel restaurant. "Oh, Dr. St. James, hi," she said.

"Please, Randi, call me Odona," the lovely woman urged her. "You're both drenched; are you all right?" She was looking at Kerry as she said it, obviously perceiving the Chief's emotional state as much as her physical.

"It's all right, Odona," Kerry assured her. "We had a rather emotional conversation, but everything's fine."

Odona glanced between them, relieved but still inquisitive. Randi wondered if there was a little bit of jealousy in her look, as well, or whether it was just her imagination. "All right, if you're certain," she said.

Trying to step out of the way, in case she wasn't imagining it, Randi said, "Listen, if you two still wanna talk, I could leave you alone awhile?" It's okay, she tried to tell Odona with her gaze, we're just friends. You've got a clear field.

"Actually, I'd like that, if it's a good time for you, Odona?" Kerry said, brightening.

"Of course. But you should really dry off first..."

"Why don't you two talk in our room, and you can...change, Doc?" Randi said. She almost said 'get out of those wet clothes', but thought it might be a bit too obvious.

"Are you sure? I don't want to kick you out, if you want to get some dry clothes, too?"

"Nah, actually I was thinking I'd go try to look up Sam Bardwell. He likes me wet." She grinned.

Odona's eyes lit up. "You know, I think Dr. Bardwell is in the bar." She gestured.

Randi gave herself a mental pat on the back. The old West Coast magic is workin' overtime this trip, she thought! "Thanks. I'll seeya later, then."

Kerry and Odona bid her goodbye, the latter favoring her with a warm, grateful smile.

Entering the bar, Randi's eyes adjusted easily to the dimmer lighting, and she spotted Sam at the bar, finishing off a glass. It didn't look like it was his first. He wore the same suit as before, or perhaps one just like it, and he looked just as handsome and virile as ever, but there was also a brooding, dangerous look around him, like the rogue cop in the movies just before he says to hell with proper procedure and goes gunning for the drug lord who killed his partner, or whatever. Randi found it both attractive and disturbing at once.

She slipped up behind him, her shoes making only a slight squishing noise, and he was too far gone to hear her anyway. She reached around to tap him on the right shoulder, while leaning against the bar to his left. He fell for it, turning around in a complete circle before finding her. "We've been waiting for you, Mr. Bond," she murmured.

The quarrelsome look on his face dissolved into a smile. "Heyyy, Leather Tuscadero," he said. "Come to wet your whistle...?"

"I'm wet enough already, Sam," she said, her voice a velvet glide. "You always spend your weeknights drinking alone, or are you with someone?"

"No, and yes," he said, in the careful enunciation of someone who's drunk and knows it. "I mean, yes, I'm with someone now that you're here, and no, I don't usually drink on a Wednesday."

She eyed the glass in front of him. "So...why now?"

"Ahh, you don' wanna hear about it," he muttered.

Randi leaned a little closer. "I do, if you want to talk about it," she said. "You don't, that's cool, too."

He nodded, still brooding.

"Of course, my mom always told me never to fuck anybody I couldn't talk to first..." she said, an artfully innocent expression on her face.

Sam laughed. "She told you that, huh?"

"Actually, she said 'kiss anybody', but I like to take a longer view of things."

"And you always do what your mom tells you?"

She grinned. "Not very often."

Sam waved for another round, the easy charm he'd shown earlier returning. "It's nothing big. I just got into it with my ex-wife on the phone earlier," he said as she pulled up a stool next to his. "We're havin' trouble arranging a time for me to see my kids. You know, custody troubles."

"Oh," she said. "Those can be rough."

"No shit," he growled, knocking back the new drink. "Fuckin' harpy just doesn't wanna let go of my balls, is all. Just gotta keep squeezin' 'em to let me know she still can..."

Randi gave the bartender a covert signal to cut him off. "Hey," she soothed Sam, "don't worry about it. You'll work it out somehow."

"Yeah, you're right," he admitted reluctantly, pushing his empty glass away. "Told you you didn't wanna hear it."

"It's okay," she told him. "But you should quit hanging around here and get some sleep."

Sam let her maneuver him off the stool, and signed for his tab, billing it to his room account. Randi slipped her arm through his and led him across the lobby to the elevators. "This where we say goodnight, or are you coming up?" he asked her.

Randi almost let her raging hormones sway her, but then she demurred. "Sam, I really like you," she said, "and I do want to go to bed with you, but this isn't the right time."

"What, like there's a bad time to do it?" he said, an arm stealing around her waist and pulling her closer against him.

"No, but there's a bad way to do it," she said. "You've been drinking, and you're still stewing about your ex. If we do this, I want you to be thinking entirely of me, and clear-headed enough to really enjoy it, okay?" She gave him her best smile. "Trust me, I'll be worth the wait."

Sam looked at her, somewhat fuzzily, and then nodded. "Sure," he said. "You gonna be at the semiformal tomorrow night?"

"That shindig after closing remarks?" She nodded. "Yeah. See you there?"

"You bet," he promised. "I'll have my head straight by then, I promise."


"And then, afterwards," he added, "maybe...?"

She stopped him with a finger against his lips. "There's no 'maybe' about it, Sam." Moving the same hand to his cheek, she drew his face down to hers and kissed him. His breath was tinged with scotch, but she'd tasted worse kisses. Even half hammered, this guy knew how to kiss a woman; the tingling heat went all down her spine. She pulled back, right on the verge of changing her mind. "Sleep well, Sam," she whispered.

Sam gave her a half-disappointed smile that still made her want to jump him right then and there, and then he stepped into the elevator and let the doors close.

Randi got a cup or two of coffee in the restaurant to warm herself up, and then went up to her room. It wasn't until she had put the key card in the magnetic lock and felt it click open that she remembered that Kerry and Odona might be inside, possibly in a...compromising position. "Knock knock...?" she said quietly, easing the door open and listening for the sound of voices. "Hope I'm not interrupting...?"

The hotel room was dark and empty. Nobody home.

Randi went in and turned on the light, quickly seeing that the two doctors weren't here, or on the balcony, or in the bathroom. But she did spot Kerry's wet clothes hung up in the bathroom to dry. So they'd been here, and gone elsewhere. Maybe they'd gone out for coffee, or drinks. Maybe they went dancing. Or maybe, she thought with a slow smile, they went to Odona's room to spend the night.

She leaned against the wall, hugging herself and smiling. "Everybody loves somebody sometime," she sang quietly to herself, slowly peeling off her own damp outfit and hanging it up by Kerry's. The two sets of clothing looked oddly good together. Toweling herself completely dry, she felt the comfortable vibration in her skin, like a subtle foreshadowing of sex. Partly in anticipation of sleeping with Sam tomorrow night, but also in empathy for Kerry and Odona. Assuming, of course, that they were making love. It was possible that Randi had misinterpreted, and they were just becoming friends. That wouldn't be a bad thing in itself; Kerry Weaver could use more friends, especially ones as compassionate and insightful as Odona St. James. But Randi still had a hunch that there was more to her interest in Kerry than pleasant conversation.

Dropping the towel and turning off the light, Randi slid open the balcony door and padded, naked, out onto the balcony, enjoying the feel of the coastal air, crisp, cold and clean, on her bare skin. Hooking up with Sam, while satisfying, was hardly surprising, given her good fortune when she vacationed out west. But the thought that she could be responsible, if only indirectly, for Kerry Weaver finding the same sort of passion, was an amazing feeling. The one gift she could give, the one that was uniquely hers and hers alone, shared with someone she cared about deeply...it made her feel like she had achieved something marvelous; it was the way she imagined it felt when Kerry, or Mark, or Carter or one of the other doctors saved a life against all odds. Well, this is my patient, she thought. Weaver's ailing love life. And I revived it. God, she loved that!

How did she get so blessed, in this specific way? Randi had never really been able to understand it, she just observed the pattern and reaped the rewards of the phenomenon whenever possible. Possibly she'd gained the favor of some modern day, New Age Love God, one of Aphrodite's descendants who lived in this part of the world, maybe somewhere around Santa Cruz or Monterey, in the land of crystals and hot tubs. Whoever you are, she thought, I love you for it, babe!

She felt herself grinning helplessly, almost laughing with delight. Leaning against the balcony railing with one hand, she cupped the other between her legs, one finger penetrating herself in a practiced manner. Her body moving on autopilot, she closed her eyes, silently daring anyone in the city to spot her (unlikely, from this vantage point, in the rain, with the lights off in her room) and call the cops (less likely - anyone who saw her probably wouldn't want her to stop!).

You could argue, logically, that Kerry and Odona weren't sleeping together, or that they would have met even without Randi nearby. But Randi didn't believe that for a second; she knew it was happening because of her, and that thought electrified her. She was the one who made it possible for Kerry to enjoy this, just as she was the one that Kerry opened up to about her granddaughter. Nobody else had that privilege, not Kim, not Carol or Jeannie, nobody. Just Randi. The way that made her feel...

Head thrown back, legs spread, Randi brought herself to a piercing orgasm that left her gasping in lungfuls of salt air. "Oh, Christ, yes..." she moaned, feeling the blood racing in her veins, the heat within dueling wonderfully with the chill without. God, Randi had done some daring stuff in her day, but bringing herself to climax, nude on an open balcony...that was pretty wild, even for her!

Yielding to the cold, she stepped back inside the hotel room, pulling on some sleepwear and getting ready for bed. She had just slipped under the covers when she heard the door unlocking.

Kerry entered, alone, and closed the door quietly.

Randi turned on the bedside lamp. "Dr. Weaver?"

"Oh, Randi, I hope I didn't wake you..."

"No, I'd just turned out the light," Randi told her. "So, how'd it go?"

"It...went," Kerry said with a private smile.

"C'mon, gimme the dirt, awready!" Randi sat up, almost bouncing in place.

Kerry slipped off her shoes and gathered her pajamas. "There's no dirt, Randi," she said. "We didn't do anything you couldn't show on network television."

Randi might have felt disappointment, but for the smile that still dominated Kerry's face. "So...?"

"So...we talked," Kerry admitted. "About all kinds of things. She told me some stories, I told her some. Nothing very important..." She sighed contentedly. "But it felt so good just to talk. I don't think I've had such a good time talking since..."

Randi picked up on the hesitation. "Since Kim?"

Kerry nodded. "Yes." For once, mention of the blonde woman's name didn't bring sadness or regret. "I came back here, figuring I should get a good night's sleep before my presentation, but we agreed to meet tomorrow night."

"After the closing remarks?"

"How'd you guess? You and Sam...?"

"Great libidos think alike." She cocked an eyebrow. "Or am I wrong? I mean, you and she...?"

Kerry paused, looking at her steadily. "Are you asking if Odona wants me as a lover as well as a friend, Randi?"

She nodded.

"Well," Kerry said, "we didn't discuss it. She didn't come out and say so, and I didn't ask, but..."

"But...??" Randi couldn't stand the way Kerry was dragging this out.

"But...I think so."

Randi couldn't help herself; she got out of bed, barely dressed though she was, and hugged Kerry. "Oh man, Ke-- Dr. Weaver, I'm so happy for you," she said.

Instead of pulling away, Kerry patted her back, returning the hug more than Randi expected her to. "Well, I could still be wrong, and nothing will happen," she said, "but if that's the case, I'll still count myself richer for having spent time with a woman like her."

Randi let her go and put her hands on Kerry's shoulders, eyeing her critically. "So, what're you going to wear?"

Kerry blinked. "Wear?"

"To the semiformal, tomorrow!"

The question obviously hadn't occurred to Kerry. "I don't know," she said. "Maybe my blue suit, with the orange blouse..."

Randi squeezed her eyes shut and shook her head. "Arrgghh... Dr. Weaver, what am I gonna do with you?" she said. "Look, those androgynous outfits of yours are fine for business meetings and power lunches and shit like that, but we're talkin' affairs of the heart, here! C'mon, loosen up for a change. Show Odona you're a woman."

Kerry eyed her suspiciously. "Are you suggesting I borrow something from that duffle bag of yours? Because that's just not going to happen."

Randi sighed, then said, "I'll make you a deal. Are there any important panels you need to go to tomorrow, besides your own?"

"No, nothing I couldn't skip. Why?"

"Okay then. If your presentation goes well, like I figure it will, then you take the afternoon off and let me be in charge of making you beautiful. I'm talkin' the outfit, the makeover, the works! If it doesn't go well, you wear whatever you want, and I won't say a word. Deal?"

Kerry thought about it for a long moment, trying to scowl, but Randi could see she was already sold.

"No RandiWear," she insisted.

Randi gave an evil smile...

Part Seven...

(Thursday morning...)

Kerry's presentation went great.

She opened with the story of the Fabulous Glue Brothers, who had crashed their carpet business van, sticking themselves together and making it almost impossible to locate the younger brother's impalement injury. The story got a laugh when Kerry first described the situation, and challenged the audience when Kerry asked them what they would do in a situation like that. "Pop quiz, ladies and gentlemen. What do you do?" she asked in a fair Keanu Reeves impression.

The other doctors asked a couple of questions, and ventured some ideas, and batted it around for a bit, before Kerry told them how the problem had been solved, adding with some satisfaction that there were no casualties of the trauma. "Except Carter's beard," Randi muttered.

Kerry's speech went over just fine after that, and the discussions raised for the rest of the period were lively and informative for everyone. Ideas were exchanged, questions asked, notes taken, and the time seemed to fly by. When the hour was up, it almost felt too soon. The doctors gave Kerry a round of appreciative applause, and most of them lingered to shake her hand or exchange a few friendly words before they left.

Finally, Kerry and Randi were alone. "Good show, Dr. Weaver," Randi said, facing her boss solemnly.

She received a Vulcan nod. "Most grateful for your assistance, Ms. Fronczak," Kerry replied, stonefaced.

Then she raised her palm, and Randi high-fived it happily, as they both broke into huge grins.

"So...?" Randi asked her, eyebrow raised.

Kerry looked puzzled. "So...what?"

"So, we had a deal, right? It went great." She put on her evil grin again. "So, I'm in charge of getting you dolled up for tonight. Right?"

A truly put-upon look settled over Kerry's face. "I am a woman of my word," she sighed. "I'm all yours." She turned away to gather her notes. "Just remember, no spandex, no lycra, and no leather. I don't want to look like I'm going to a rave."

"Trust me, Doc. My fashion sense, and your budget...you're gonna look fabulous!"

Kerry's back was turned, but Randi could see her make the sign of the cross on herself.

(Thursday afternoon...)

The bulk of their day was spent out on the town, visiting Seattle's upscale shops and boutiques, consulting various salespeople and suggesting assorted outfits for Kerry's approval. It quickly became apparent to Randi that, while Kerry dressed pretty well in general (that green turtleneck not withstanding), she hated shopping for clothes. Especially fancy clothes.

Randi, for her part, rarely had the money to shop anywhere as classy or expensive as these shops, but with Kerry paying, she could give her keen eye for style free reign. Choosing the right look for Kerry was an interesting challenge: she needed something that would present her as a beautiful, desirable woman, but still retain the kind of dignity that she valued.

Above all, as Kerry nixed one formal gown after another, Randi began to realize she didn't want anything that showed off her legs. Kerry didn't say anything about it, but Randi quickly picked up on that particular area of sensitivity. All right, she'd just modify her basic concept a little. No microskirts, no bicycle shorts...

By two-thirty in the afternoon, they'd found it. A look that would meet both Kerry's approval and Randi's, presenting her as an intelligent, mature woman, while showing off how good she looked. After a long consideration, and with some measure of internal debate, Kerry finally smiled and gave a nod of approval. "Wrap it up," Randi told the lead saleswoman. "We'll take it!"

They stopped for a late lunch at a Thai place, dining by the window and watching the rain fluctuate.

"It always feels weird," Kerry said at one point. "Going this long without seeing a single patient."

"How d'you suppose they're doing without us, back home?"

"Luka's probably going crazy handling things as Temp Chief," Kerry said. "I don't even want to think of what Frank's doing to your files."

"Forget them for a while. You're on vacation." She smiled. "I know, it's not a real vacation, but we've still had a good time together, haven't we?"

Kerry glanced at her, a faint smile her only reply.

"And the best is yet to come," Randi added in a suggestive murmur. "So to speak."

Kerry dropped her gaze to her plate, the smile growing. Randi knew it was Kerry's nature to be reserved, but she could tell that the Chief was looking forward to a magical night spent with Odona St. James as much as Randi was to sleeping with Sam Bardwell. It still thrilled her to think that the two of them could enjoy that kind of experience at the same time.

"It's also odd seeing you like this," Kerry added. "Usually, you're rather sullen and cynical."

"That's 'cause you only ever see me at work, Dr. Weaver. Eight hours of sick people and paperwork doesn't bring out most people's sunny side."

"That's true," Kerry admitted.

They passed the rest of the meal in silence, enjoying the quiet. The steady hush of the rain mixed with the vaguely Asian music played over the restaurant speakers.

After Kerry had waved for the check, she asked, "So, Randi...what are you going to wear?"

Randi looked hopefully at her. "Well, I brought some stuff in my bag, but there's nothing really great..."

"Well," Kerry sighed, "I can't have my assistant looking shabby next to me, I guess. All right, it's your turn; we'll have to get something for you, too."

Barely holding in a delighted squeal, Randi grinned widely, about to jump up and hug her again...

"Don't hug me," Kerry cut in, reading her mind.

"Yes, ma'am."

(Thursday evening...)

Randi's outfit was chosen quickly enough; Kerry gave her carte blanche to choose her own look, and Randi chose something she liked, but which didn't cost much. She didn't want to take too much advantage of Kerry's generosity.

With a few hours still left to pass before the conference's closing remarks, Randi and Kerry treated themselves to manicures, pedicures, and facials, plus a trip to a hair stylist; decadent luxuries for both of them, one for budgetary reasons, the other...well, it just wasn't Kerry's style.

By the time the last of the medical panels was over, Kerry and Randi were back in their hotel room, donning their new outfits and making ready for the big party. At one point, Randi could have sworn she heard Kerry humming "Toniiight, tonight..." from 'West Side Story'. Nah, probably her imagination.

Randi gave the hem of her dress a final tug, bringing it down to mid-thigh, and ran her hands down her sides, smoothing it out. Then, giving herself a final, approving wink in the bathroom mirror, she opened the door and stepped out. "Good to go, Chief," she stated.

Kerry glanced at her, then gave herself a last once-over in the dresser mirror and turned to face Randi. They looked at each other.

For Kerry, Randi had picked out a sky-blue, floor-length gown that wrapped around her body, gathering as it wound upwards, looped over one shoulder and secured with a matching sash. Her left arm remained bare, while the right one was enshrouded in a sort of draped, semitransparent half-cloak, fastened at her wrist and opposite shoulder. The tips of her shoes were just barely visible beneath the gown's hem, and an optional wrap for cold weather completed the ensemble. Kerry had set her crutch aside for the evening, leaning instead on a cane that the boutique had thrown in. The overall look was elegant and dignified, yet lovely, almost like a Greek Goddess on Mount Olympus; the eye was drawn upwards, away from her legs or her cane arm, and she looked regal and festive at the same time. This is a beautiful woman, the look said, but one to be taken seriously.

"You look great," Randi told her, meaning it completely.

"Thank you," Kerry said, smoothing her hair back above her forehead. The stylist had swept it back on the sides, emphasizing her cheekbones and eyes, and the color was restored to its full redness, the burnished copper sheen going well with the blue gown. "You look pretty good, too."

"Aw, you're only saying that 'cause it's true," Randi said with a cheeky grin. For her own outfit, she'd gone simpler, but certainly not more modest. She wore a long-sleeved sheath of a dress that covered her from scoop neck to mid-thigh. It was deep purple on the sides and sleeves, vertical stripes fading in various shades of red to the fiery orange blaze down the center of her body. The thing was tight enough - and thin enough - to fit her like skin; the striped pattern prevented an onlooker from seeing her nipples outlined, unless she stood in profile.

Randi planned to stand in profile a lot.

"You ready?" she asked, as she slipped into the open-toed stiletto heels.

"I think so," Kerry said. "Except this gown doesn't have any pockets. I don't know how I'm going to carry my room key."

"You try tucking it in the sash?"

"Yes, but it won't stay; it keeps slipping out."

Randi hadn't considered this. Her outfit didn't allow for personal items, either. "Here, I've got it," she said, taking both their key cards and slipping them into her sleeves. The sleeves were tight enough to hold the cards snugly against her forearms. "I'm betting you won't need your key tonight, but if you do, just ask me."


They stood in front of the dresser mirror, side by side, getting a final look at themselves. Randi put an arm around Kerry's shoulders. "This is gonna be a night to remember, you know that?"

"I'm sure it will," Kerry said. Then, glancing at Randi's hip, she added, "Randi, if you don't mind my asking, how can you wear something that tight and not show any panty line?"

The clerk just smiled, counting the seconds until Kerry figured it out. Two, three, four...

"Never mind, I take back the question," Kerry added hastily. "Obvious, now that I think about it."

Randi patted her back, gave her a quick peck on the cheek for luck, and opened the door.

"I feel like a kid going trick-or-treating," Kerry muttered as they walked to the elevator, but Randi caught the smile in her voice.

"You're not far off, when you think about it," she said, pressing the button. The doors opened immediately, and they got on. The elevator descended smoothly. "Nervous?"

Kerry nodded. "Mmm-hmm. But it's a good nervous."

"That's my Chief." Despite being a decade younger than Kerry, Randi found herself feeling the kind of pride that a teacher feels in a student. Putting her arm about Kerry's shoulders again, she leaned her face close to Kerry's and whispered in her ear. "I want you to promise me something."


"Just promise me," Randi said, "that if you sense anything happening tonight...with Odona, with someone else, whoever. If you feel it happening, and it's something you want, promise me you won't censor yourself. Don't fight it. Just let it happen, and enjoy it. All right?"

Kerry gave a tiny nod. "I'll try."

Randi glanced at the floor indicator. "Good," she said. "Because it's time for our grand entrance."

The elevator came to a stop with a 'ding'.

Closing remarks lasted about forty-five minutes, and Randi suspected that the applause Dr. Royce received was mostly of the 'Thank God he's finished' variety. Hordes of well-dressed physicians and their assistants adjourned to the ballroom.

Odona St. James found them quickly enough, wearing a richly textured dashiki, and kissed both women in greeting. "Aren't you two a sight," she sighed. "Been out shopping, I see?"

Randi pushed out her lower lip like a pugnacious little kid. "I didn't wanna, but she made me," she pouted.

"Don't listen to her," Kerry told Odona. "She's the one responsible for my ensemble."

"Then well-done, young woman!" Odona smiled. "Kerry's very fortunate to have someone take such good care of her."

"Ahh, you should see how she takes care of us, back in Chicago," Randi countered.

"Hello, I'm right here," Kerry said, clearly uncomfortable with such overt appreciation.

"And so you are," Odona replied easily. "Shall we explore the buffet?"

"You two go ahead," Randi said, eager to give her Chief some time alone with Odona. "I'm gonna mingle."

"Okay, Randi." Kerry accepted Odona's arm through hers, and they walked toward the buffet tables.

Odona glanced back at Randi and stage-whispered, "He's over there," with a knowing smile.

Sure enough, Sam Bardwell was by the bar, engaging Doug Ross in conversation about something or other. Both men wore good suits and ties, but Doug looked a trifle ill at ease in his, whereas Sam wore his like he was born in it. Randi paused, framing the two men in her mind and writing a little impromptu slash scene featuring both guys, just for the hell of it. Then, filing that scenario away in her mind for later consideration, she slipped into her sexiest stride toward them, making the most of the stiletto heels and their effect on her gait.

She wanted to slip up behind Sam and goose him in the butt to get his attention, but Doug's eyes fell on her first, and Sam noticed, turning to see her approaching. Aww, another opportunity lost. Oh well... "This a boys-only corner, or can I join in?" she said.

"What fun is a boys' corner without a pretty girl or two?" Sam replied, his smile washing through her like a deep-tissue massage.

"Hey, Randi," Doug greeted her. "You two know each other?"

"Yeah, we've met," Sam said.

"And we'll know each other a lot better before long," Randi said, hoping to shock Doug into blushing. No dice. "So what are we talking about?"

"Oh, the usual stuff," Doug said. "Cars, sports, girls..."

"I've been trying to get Doug interested in a partnership," Sam put in. "I keep telling him, come over to Boston, get away from all this rain."

"Yeah, and I keep saying Carol and I like it here." Doug's tone, carefully casual, would go unnoticed by most people, but Randi knew him too well. His patience with Sam was running out.

"Well, Doug, I hope you don't mind if I steal Sam for a while?"

"He's all yours," Doug said. Randi noticed that he didn't have a drink in his hand, unlike Sam.

"C'mon, handsome," Randi said, tugging on Sam's arm. "Let's cut a rug."

"Hey, Randi, before you do," Doug added, "Carol mentioned that Kerry looked upset last night. Anything wrong?"

Maybe if you'd had the guts to come home for dinner with her, you'd know, Randi thought uncharitably, recalling Doug's convenient absence. "Yeah, everything's fine," she said. "I'm sorry about that. I'll call Carol and talk to her, if you want."

"Okay," Doug said. "Anyway, don't let me keep you. Seeya, Sam."

"Doug." Sam knuckled Doug's arm in brotherly fashion, which Doug didn't seem to appreciate.

Randi drew her partner out to the small dance floor, drawing his arms around her as they moved to the slow jazz standards. She enjoyed the feeling of being in his embrace, his body against hers.

As they slowly turned to the music, she swept her eyes around the room, scanning idly over the motley assemblage of doctors, all ages, shapes, sizes and colors, mixing and interfacing with each other. Some were talking business, others trading jokes, others just making idle chatter...and a few obviously pairing off for the night. She could tell which were which, by their body language.

"Looking for anyone specific?" Sam said to her. "Or just looking?"

"Just curious," she replied, absently. Then her eyes fell on Kerry and Odona, small plates in their hands almost forgotten. Odona had half-turned to acknowledge a greeting from a tall man, but she dismissed him as quickly as was politic, and turned her full attention back to Kerry. They looked like they were enjoying each other's company a great deal.

"Looks like they're hitting it off," Sam remarked.

Randi looked at him. "Yeah, they are," she replied neutrally, wondering if Sam realized the nature of the two women's attraction to each other. She didn't care what he thought, but if he started spreading word that Kerry was gay, and someone at County got word, Kerry might be 'outed' before she was ready. "They've got a lot in common," she said, dismissively.

"I bet," he said. "You seem to be pretty interested in them. Got your eye on one or the other?"

She slipped her arms around his neck. "The only one I've got my eye on tonight," she said, "is you."

"Just checking." He grinned.

Hoping to divert his attention from Kerry, Randi ran an appreciative fingertip down his chin. "Smooth," she said. "I like a close shave."

"Me, too," he murmured. "I noticed you shaved your legs pretty recently."

She looked straight into his eyes. "Among other things."

His eyes widened.

"Yup," she confirmed his thinking. "I'm...feeling an extra draft, shall we say."

"I like that in a woman," Sam whispered.

She just smiled. A lot of men did, she'd found. Some women, too. Still, if it hadn't been a special occasion...

"So, should we maybe give some thought to how our evening will turn out?"

"Sure," she said with a smile. "Tell you what: how about we both think up our best-case scenarios, and see if they overlap?"

"Okay." He closed his eyes and made a show of concentrating. "Got mine. You?"

"Uh-huh. You go first."

Opening his eyes, Sam gazed deeply into hers. "I'm thinking...we dance a little more, maybe as long as the slow numbers last, maybe less than that. Then we go up to my room, have a drink or two...and then I slide this off of you, very slowly...and make slow, sweet love to you all night long, over and over again."

Randi felt the heat creep all the way up her chest and neck to her hairline, imagining steam blowing out of her ears like in the cartoons. "That's...pretty good," she gasped. "Better than what I came up with."

"What was yours?"

"Well...I started with the phrase 'fuck my brains out,' but I kind of stalled there."

"Hey, if you've gotta get stuck, that's the place to do it," Sam smirked.

She smiled back at him, moving silently against him. As the old tune reached its end, she felt the impulse deep within herself. Now, it said. No more waiting. Now.

"I think we've danced enough," she whispered. "Let's go."

He slowly released her, one arm still about her waist. "Right this way, darlin'."

They were almost out the door before Randi heard Kerry calling her name. "Randi, wait..."

She turned to find Kerry hobbling up beside her. "Dr. Weaver...?"

"I need my key," Kerry said tersely. "The room key."

"Yeah, sure." Randi slipped one of the cards out of her sleeves and handed it to Kerry, who snatched it away impatiently and turned to leave. Randi looked back at Odona, still on the opposite side of the room, watching them in confusion. "Dr. Weaver, is everything okay?"

"I don't want to talk about it, Randi," Kerry shot back, her voice tight. She didn't break stride, but headed across the lobby as fast as possible.

"But...what happened? Did Odona say something?" Randi followed her closely to the elevators. "I thought you and she..."

"I don't want to hear what you thought, Randi, it's none of your business!" The words were bitten out as harshly as the commands she barked in Trauma Rooms. "Just go back and fuck Sam Bardwell, or whatever you want to do."

The elevator doors closed between them. Randi stood by herself, shocked and hurt.

Sam approached her. "Hey, what's...?"

She ignored him, striding purposefully back to the ballroom, pushing through the small knots of doctors until she reached Odona's side. "Hey," she snapped. "What the hell did you say to her? What did you do?"

Odona looked at her. "I don't exactly know."

"I want to know what you said to her, goddammit!" Randi stepped closer.

Odona's gaze met hers squarely. "That's between Kerry and myself, young lady," she said coolly.

Randi's fist started to come up, and she felt a strong hand grab her arm. "Whoa, whoa there, spitfire," Sam soothed her, holding her arm back. "Let's not go making a scene here, okay?"

The older woman held Randi's look, not showing an ounce of fear. "Randi, I know you're concerned about Kerry, but I don't have answers for you. I don't know what made her run away like that."

She shook her arm free of Sam's grip and let it drop, showing she'd got her temper under control. "And you just let her go, for chrissakes?"

"It was her choice," Odona said. "I don't have the right to make her stay if she doesn't want to."

"Are you kidding me? Do you know how much she wanted to be with you?!" Randi turned back toward the doorway. "I'm gonna go talk to her."

This time it was Odona who seized her arm. "Wait," she said. "Randi, for whatever reason, she's clearly made up her mind, and you should respect that. If you really want to help Kerry, you should let her go."

"She's right, Randi," Sam said. "Look, Kerry Weaver's a big girl. She can take care of herself, okay?"

Randi looked at Odona, confused and upset, but felt herself yielding to the insightful woman's words. She slumped her shoulders, and Odona released her.

"Maybe she just wasn't ready," Odona said, her voice shaded with regret.

"Yeah," Randi sighed reluctantly. "Maybe I've wasted my time after all."

"Come on," Sam gently urged her. "Let's just go."

She nodded. Okay, she thought. If Kerry doesn't want to take this opportunity I've set up for her, then fine. Fuck it, and fuck her. You hear me, Kerry? Fuck you, if you can't find the guts to take a good thing when it's given to you. I'm through, you're on your own, and I don't fucking give a shit; I'm gonna go get laid.

Grabbing Sam's hand, she marched out of the ballroom, returning again to the elevators. "Yeah," she repeated. "Let's go."

Part Eight...

(Thursday evening...)

The elevator seemed to take forever to open, and Randi stomped into it, punching the button for the fifth floor. "Five-oh-two, right?"

"Right," Sam said, entering behind her. He put his big hands on her shoulders, strong fingers kneading soothingly at her tense muscles. "Hey, c'mon, you've got to let go of this Kerry thing."

"Yeah, I know..."

"It's just you and me now, honey." The hands slid around her shoulders, his arms pulling her warmly back against him, and she felt his breath on her neck. "Alone at last."

Randi heaved a sigh, trying to let go of her anger and disappointment towards Kerry Weaver and her latest, inexplicable flip-flop. How could she balk at spending the night with a woman like Odona, who obviously wanted her? It made no sense to Randi... Shit.

She turned into Sam's embrace, seeking some sort of comfort in his presence. Hoping to bury the confusion she felt under the blanket of uncomplicated animal sex.

Sam's mouth found hers, claiming it urgently, insistently. She dug her fingers into his back, clutching at him as his body pressed hers against the back wall of the elevator. His hands ran down her hips, cupping her ass...

Pulling her lips free with a gasp, Randi eased him back. On one level, she yearned to unbuckle his pants, lift the hem of her dress, and let him take her right there in the elevator, her legs around his waist. But she didn't want this to be just frantic, angry sex; she could have that in Chicago, any time. "Wait," she rasped, her voice unsteady. "We're almost there..."

Sam released her, reigning himself in with obvious impatience. "Yeah, tell me about it," he muttered.

They reached the fifth floor before she could respond.

Taking her hand possessively, Sam led Randi to his room and unlocked the door. "You want a drink?" he asked.

"No, thanks," she replied. One forearm itched; she still felt the plastic rectangle of her own key card up her left sleeve; the other one was missing, given to Kerry at her request. Why did she run off like that...?

"Hey, what's gotten into you?" Sam asked as he poured himself one, his voice as much irritated as concerned. "You look like you'd rather be anywhere but here."

She sighed. "Sorry, Sam, I'm still thinking about Dr. Weaver. I don't know why she--"

"Better question, why do you care? Come on, already, let it go." He knocked back his glass, then refilled it. "Look, are we going to do this, or not?"

Randi was feeling less in the mood with each passing moment, which really pissed her off. This was exactly what she'd come to Seattle for in the first place, to spend the night with a man who turned her on something fierce, and now that the moment had come, her instincts just weren't doing their job. Dammit, this was what she got for trying to babysit someone too fucked-up to know a good thing when it stared her in the face. Well, Weaver wasn't going to ruin this for her!

She strode over to Sam, took the drink out of his hand, put it back on the mini-bar, and pulled his face to hers. He responded to the kiss, cupping his hands under her buttocks again, lifting her off the floor. Carrying her to the bed, he all but dropped her on top of it, his powerful body covering hers. It was exactly what she liked in a man, everything she had hoped for, all her West Coast fantasies come to reality, and yet...

"Sam...God, Sam...wait, hang on..." Randi got a hand free and shoved at him, prying his body off of hers and squirming free. "Just give me a minute, okay?"

He sighed with disappointment, dropping his head against the pillow. "What's wrong?"

"Nothing," she told him. "It's not you, it's..." She ran a hand through her hair, thoroughly confused by now. This had never happened to her before. "Shit, I dunno what it is."

Sam sat up again, retrieving his drink and finishing it. "Is this still about Weaver and St. James?"

Randi nodded reluctantly. "I really thought they were having a good time together," she moaned, "and then Weaver suddenly runs away...I just don't understand why--"

"For Christ's sake, Daphne, you already got Velma a date," Sam growled in frustration. "It's not your fault if she didn't want it!"

Her head snapped around to glare at him. "What'd you say...?"

He raised a hand to ward off her temper. "I'm sorry," he said, "but you're pushing too hard to arrange something that's not really your business to start with, is it?"

She tried to calm herself, resisting the anger she felt. "Maybe not..."

"Anyway, it's not your fault if Kerry lost her nerve. It's probably because someone dressed her up like a fairy tale princess and made her face the fact that she's female. That's something she doesn't know how to deal with."

Randi narrowed her eyes at him suspiciously. "What the hell's that supposed to mean...?"

"Trust me, Randi, I've known Kerry longer than you have. And if there's one thing about her I've always known, it's that Kerry hates herself for being born a woman." He refilled his glass. "You work with her, right? Tell me she doesn't try to be tougher than all the guys around her. Plus, she's had that crutch in her hand so much of the time, it wouldn't surprise me if she thinks she's got a dick."

Getting slowly to her feet, Randi stared at Sam in amazement.

"I guess it's not surprising," Sam added, not noticing Randi's expression. "Running a hospital's a big job; she feels like she's gotta compete with the big boys. Understandable enough, but I mean, in Kerry's case, she's taken it pretty far. She's almost as tough as some of those dykes who try to pass themselves off as men, the way they dress and act..." He gulped his drink. "I mean, I got nothing against gays; I don't care who anyone sleeps with. One of my golf buddies likes men, but he's still a guy, y'know? He's not one of these faggots who wear dresses and makeup, like some kinda queen... The way I figure, you fuck whoever you want, but you're still either a man or a woman, so for God's sake, act like it, and don't try to pretend you're something you're not."

Randi hugged herself, trying to still the bitter vibration running through her.

Sam put his empty glass down. "Point is," he added, "Kerry's spent so long trying not to be a woman, it's no wonder she freaked out when you put her in a dress and take away her crutch. I don't think she needs that thing as much as she lets on, she's just not happy without her artificial penis in her hand." Turning back to Randi, he said, "Look, forget about Kerry, okay? Let's you and me just--"

The hand he laid on her shoulder was thrown off violently as her entire body shook with white-hot rage.

"Randi, what's--?"

She spun on him, murderous fury in her eyes burning into his. "I want to hit you so bad, right now," she grated through teeth that ground together. "My whole fucking body hurts because I haven't done it, yet."

Sam backed off a step, his eyes wide with confusion, tinged with fear.

Randi followed him step for step, each word fired off like a bullet. "The only reason I haven't hit you," she snarled, "the ONLY reason...is that if Kerry Weaver was here, she'd tell me you've got a right to your opinion, no matter how sick and twisted it is, and I don't have a right to hit you just because you're a total fucking bastard!"

"Randi, wait, I didn't--"

"Or if Dr. St. James was here, maybe she could find a way to explain to you just how incredibly fucking ugly all that bullshit you just spouted is," she overrode him. "And maybe, if you weren't drunk, you'd listen and understand...and maybe, just maybe, you'd even have the decency to feel ashamed of yourself."

She stopped advancing, a step before Sam's back would have reached the wall.

Sam took a deep breath and let it out again, some measure of sobriety coming over his face. "You're right," he said. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have sai-- GGOUHHH!!"

Randi felt the surging throb of muscles and tendons singing all down her arm, as her fist sank into his stomach with all her might behind it.

"Too bad they're not here..." she hissed into his ear as he doubled over, "...and I am."

Sam stared at her, goggle-eyed and uncomprehending, as he fought to straighten up, to speak, to draw breath. For a moment, she thought she might have inflicted some serious, life-threatening injury, and she felt concern.

Then Sam turned away from her with a jerk, fell to his knees, and grabbed for the plastic wastebasket in the corner, finding it in time to vomit into it. That would save the maid service some carpet-cleaning, anyway, Randi thought.

Watching his spine arch as he heaved, Randi stood above him, feeling a mild urge to drive one of her spike heels down on his head. But that was something a much younger, less mature and responsible Randi Fronczak might have done. And there was some truth in what she'd said to Sam: Kerry wouldn't have approved. Besides, she realized, he wasn't worthy of her hatred. He looked rather pathetic, if anything.

Walking to the sink, Randi wet a washcloth and dropped it next to him. "Here," she said, feeling disgusted. "Clean yourself up."

Sam groaned and spit into the wastebasket.

Feeling empty, rather than righteous or triumphant, Randi turned away to stomp out the door. But then, in the open doorway, she paused and turned back. "You want to know why Kerry needs to use that goddamn crutch?" she said.

Sam raised his head and looked at her, his face tinged a pale green.

"Because she's carrying the weight of the fucking world on her shoulders," Randi informed him. "And it's crushing her."

Sitting back on the carpet, Sam's only response was a sickly belch.

Randi took one final look at him, and said, "Goodbye, Sam." She closed the door behind her.

Returning to the elevator, she hit the lobby button and rode down impatiently. She wanted to kick the wall in fury, but she was wearing open-toed shoes.

Dammit, she'd really thought he was a good guy. To find out how wrong she was... It was one thing, dealing with someone like Robert Romano, who made no bones about what a troglodyte he was. There was a kind of honesty to his ugliness that made him easier to accept; his consistency was oddly comforting. But to find such foulness in someone like Sam - who, Randi believed, was basically a well-intentioned person when sober, if a little full of himself, but who was stuck with some wrong ideas about things he didn't understand - that hurt. What made it worse was that Randi knew she hadn't changed his mind, and she didn't know how she could.

The semiformal was still in progress when she got back to the ballroom, though it had dissipated a bit as some of the attendees had drifted off. She scanned the room for some sign of Odona St. James, but couldn't see her anywhere.

Fuck it all, everything was going wrong. Everything she'd planned, expected, or hoped for, it was all coming apart. This was supposed to be a total no-brainer: she comes out west and ends up with a sexual experience to remember forever. What had screwed that up? Some misguided protective impulse toward Weaver, who obviously didn't want or appreciate her help. And now, torn between loyalty and lust, she'd ended up with nothing.

Frustrated and despairing, almost at the brink of tears, she turned to run for the exit...

"Whoa, look out!" Doug caught her before they collided. "Randi, what's the matter?"

Randi pulled away from him. "Nothing. Forget it, Doug."

"Hey, slow down, will you?" There was genuine concern in his brown eyes. "I was on my way home, but if you want to talk about anything...?"

Letting out an impatient sigh, she gave him a glare. "Sure, NOW you want to talk," she sneered. "Where the hell were you last night?"

He blinked, taken aback. "I was called in to work," he explained. "One of my patients had an allergic reaction, and they called me in to find out what happened. Turned out his labs came back wrong, so he went home with the wrong prescription."

"Oh..." Randi could tell from his voice that he wasn't making it up. So he'd had good cause not to be home. "Everything work out?"

"Yeah, we caught it in time," Doug assured her. "But if I'd had the right information to start with, I wouldn't have given him the wrong stuff..." He ducked his head, the way she remembered.

Randi patted his arm. "You couldn't help it, if the labs were wrong, could you?" she said.

"I guess not." He chuckled. "But it reminded me of the old days. It was just the kind of screwup that Kerry and I used to get into it over."

Mention of the Chief's name brought Randi's mind back to the current situation. "Doug, can I ask you something?"


"You really never liked Kerry, did you?"

He chuckled again. "You really need to ask me that?"

"Why?" she asked. "What happened between you two?"

"Well...nothing really 'happened', in the definitive sense," Doug told her. "Kerry and I have always had our share of philosophical differences, that's all. Her style and mine just clashed, and eventually we just couldn't work together." He smirked. "With great amounts of soul-searching and hindsight, I'm forced to reluctantly admit that it wasn't entirely her fault. I didn't handle things as well as I probably should have."

Randi nodded. He wasn't the only one who'd had his conflicts with Weaver.

"Of course, putting most of a continent between us does a lot for our relationship." He grinned.

She couldn't return his smile; her next question was difficult to ask, but she had to know. "Did you ever think of her as a 'nazi dyke'?"

Doug's smile vanished. "That's a hell of a question to ask," he muttered, scowling.

"Yeah, it is," she said. "Did you?"

He crossed his arms, and for a moment, Randi thought he was going to sullenly refuse to answer. "I guess there might have been some moments in my younger days," he admitted, "when I harbored a few thoughts about Kerry that were, um, less than generous."

Randi looked away.

"I tried not to voice them," he added, "and if I did, then I was out of line. It's not fair to blame Kerry for something that's half my own problem." He looked at her curiously. "Even so, that was a pretty harsh choice of words, Randi."

"Tell me about it," she muttered.

"So why do you ask?"

She let out a sigh. "Someone called her that, not long ago."

"Someone at County?"


Doug frowned, brooding over that. "That's not right," he said.

Randi looked at him carefully. "You really think so?"


She kept looking, wondering if he really meant it.

"God knows I'm not Kerry Weaver's biggest fan," he admitted, "but she doesn't deserve to be called a fascist. She's strict, but she's not greedy or cruel. I mean, she and I both want the same things for our patients, even if we have different ideas on how to get there." He cleared his throat. "As for the other part of it...well, I don't know anything about her private life, and I'm happy to keep it that way. But there's no call to be bringing it up on the job. Certainly not in language like that."

Randi felt embers of warmth in the pit of her stomach.

"I don't know who called her that," Doug added, looking away, "or what the circumstances were, but it sounds to me like whoever said it was sucking around for a punch in the mouth."

They fell into an uncomfortable silence.

"You're, ah, kind of protective of her, aren't you?" Doug ventured.

Randi nodded. "She's put a lot of faith in me over the years. You know, without saying anything, but like she just trusts me to handle things when they need to be handled."

"She expects that of everyone," he pointed out.

"Yeah, but I'm an ex-con," Randi reminded him. "Not that many people would just shrug that off the way she did."

He nodded. "You really care about her, don't you?"

She didn't answer.

"Does this 'nazi' crack have anything to do with why she looks so..." He shrugged. "Like she's not as confident in herself as she used to be?"

Randi thought back over the last couple of years, since Kerry had been appointed ER Chief: the loss of friends, the need to address Carter's addiction, the death of Lucy Knight...and, of course, the sudden reevaluation of her life catalyzed by Kim Legaspi. "It's part of it," she admitted. "I'm really worried about her, Doug."

"Okay." He scratched his head. "Where is she now?"

"I think she went up to our room..." She hugged herself, hesitating.

"So what are you down here talking to me for?"

She looked at him, smiling at her. He couldn't possibly know the specifics about Kerry and Odona, or about how Randi had been feeling about her lately. He had just matured to the point where he could express concern and sympathy for a former colleague, even one he'd hated in the past.

Stepping closer to him and taking him by the ears, Randi drew his face closer and kissed both cheeks and his mouth. "Go home, Doug," she said. "Go home and give those to Tess, Kate, and Carol, in that order."

He hugged her close, like a brother, and then released her and left her with a farewell smile.

Randi knew where she should go next, but she found herself dawdling. As much as she wanted to face the source of her concerns, she was strangely afraid. As if, in facing Kerry, she would also face something in herself that scared her. She hid her own feelings as carefully as Kerry hid hers, and as consistently.

But she knew that she couldn't put this off forever.

She strolled slowly, almost reluctantly, to the elevator.

Pushed the button.


Stepped inside.

Pushed the other button.

Rose silently.

Walked to the door to their room.

Okay, she thought. This is it.

Slipping the second key out of her sleeve, she hesitated, then clicked it into the lock. It opened, and she slipped into the darkened hotel room.

Thursday night, she thought. Why are Thursday nights always so intense?

Part Nine...

(Thursday night...)

The first thing Randi saw in the dark room, once her eyes adjusted, was Kerry Weaver's silhouette against the glass balcony door. She stood, leaning on the cane, still in her gown, staring out over the rainy city. Randi had never seen her looking more alone.

"Dr. Weaver...?" she began, timidly.

"Go away, Randi." The voice was mumbled, uninterested. Hopeless.

She drew closer, almost to arm's length of Kerry's back. "Are you...are you all right?"

No response.

Randi felt awkward, wanting to reach out, and having no idea how to offer it. "Is there anything I can do for you?"

A small snort. "I think you've done enough," Kerry muttered.

There was a crisp stillness in the air that Randi felt unable to broach. "Dr. Weaver..." she tried again, "what happened with Odona?"

Kerry seemed to grow smaller. "Nothing."

"But you two looked so good together," Randi said. "Did she say something? Is she straight, after all...?"

"She's bisexual," Kerry mumbled. "She said she's whatever she wants to be."

"Then...she wasn't interested in you?"

"No, she was interested."

Randi's confusion grew with each response. "But you weren't...? Did she say or do something that put you off?" That was something she could relate to, having just experienced it with Sam.

Kerry sniffled. "She was perfect, Randi," she said quietly. "The night was perfect, everything was perfect."

"So then, why--?"

"Except me. I wasn't perfect."

Randi just listened, utterly baffled.

"She was in the middle of some story that had me laughing myself silly," Kerry said, still staring out the balcony door, "and I turned away to wipe tears from my eyes...and I caught sight of myself in a reflective surface. I don't even remember what it was."


"I saw myself all dolled up in this ridiculous outfit like fucking Cinderella, and I could see midnight coming up." She ran a hand across her eyes. "I saw it all. I knew then, I KNEW that I could go to bed with her if I wanted to. Maybe I could even fall in love with her a little. But how long could it last? How long could I fool her?"

"Fool her...?" Randi could feel the tension in Kerry's body, practically vibrating through the air between them. "What are you talking abou--?"

"This...this stupid disguise you've put me in. That's what I'm talking about." She ran the same hand down over her gown. The pain in her voice was evident. "Making me look like some exciting, exotic woman, but not like...me. Even if I could get away with it tonight and never see her again...I'd always know that I lied to someone I care about and admire...just for sex. Sooner or later...Odona would see past...this, and she'd see the real me."

Randi felt her throat closing up in response. "Dr. Weaver..." she got out, "Odona's not stupid. Don't you think she knows the real..."

"Stop it, Randi, it's not funny anymore." Kerry's voice was breaking, almost choking. "Am I so ugly that you have to...to reshape me into something flashy and shallow to make her want me? Do you really hate me so much...?"

"No, I..." Randi couldn't believe Kerry was saying this to her.

"I don't want to pretend anymore, Randi, I'm tired of pretending for everyone else's sake that I'm something I'm not." She let out a deep sigh of resignation. "Tomorrow, we're just going to get on a plane and go back to work, so what's the point? Might as well drop the act and just be what I really am. Kerry Weaver: faithless lover, wicked stepmother...nazi dyke."

Randi seized Kerry's shoulders. "Don't say that," she implored, each word wrenched from her gut.

"Why not? Malucci was the only one honest enough to--"

"Don't SAY that!" Randi was almost shaking Kerry in her urgency. "Don't you ever say that, because it's just not true!"

"Let go of me, Randi." Kerry's voice was frosty.

"You listen to me, Dr. Weaver. I would never let anyone talk about you that way, so I sure as hell won't stand for you thinking it about yourself!"

"Sure, like you've always had warm and fuzzy feelings about me, Randi? That's why you display such a sunny disposition when I yell at you, or tell you to work a double, or--"

Quelling her temper with enormous effort, Randi said, "You want to know how I really feel about you, Dr. Weaver? Okay, fine." She took a breath. "You...you make me madder than just about anyone I know."

Kerry didn't look back at her. "That's flattering."

"You know why? Because no matter how tough you are on me, I can't hate you for it. And believe me, Dr. Weaver, you're tougher on me than anyone I ever met. Not my mother, not the judge who sentenced me, not my parole officer...nobody is as tough on me as you."

The shoulders under her hands shook, as though they wanted to pull free. But Randi didn't let go.

"But the reason I can't hate you for it is that you're also always fair. Not just to me, but to everybody. You demand everything we can give, and you never settle for less, but you also never ask for more than we're capable of. That's fair. You're the goddamned epitome of Tough-But-Fair, Dr. Weaver." Her own voice kept tightening, making it hard for her to keep talking. "The thing is, you're tougher on yourself than anyone. So why can't you ever be fair to yourself, too?"

There was a long silence. Kerry's head was bowed.

Randi leaned her own head forward, against the back of Kerry's. She didn't have the words to say how much she respected her Chief for being tough, or loved her for being fair.

Kerry spoke again, the words struggling to take shape. "What do you want from me, Randi...?"

Randi's head shot up, resisting the urge to pound Kerry's against the glass. "I don't 'want' anything from you, Dr. Weaver! JEEZus, why do you have to--?!" She choked back the rest of that thought, and tried again. "I-I want you to not feel so alone all the time. I want...I want you to know I'm on your side when things are bad, okay?"

It almost felt like Kerry's shoulders were trying to fold in upon themselves in her hands.

"I want you to know you can turn to me, or talk to me." Randi let her arms slide around Kerry's shoulders and held her close. "I want you to feel like you can trust me, Dr. Weaver. You can lean on me anytime you want to. That's all."

The feel of the Chief in her arms, trembling against her body, was thrilling in the way that rare experiences always are. And the trembling seemed to be increasing, as though approaching a threshold.

Then Kerry's body nearly spasmed, shaking Randi off of her. "Leave me alone, Randi."

She stepped back, the quiet rejection nearly tearing her heart out. But then she planted her feet, swallowed her pride, and said, "No."

Her compact frame quivering visibly, Kerry spun about to face Randi, her face twisted in fury. "Goddammit, I said LEAVE ME ALONE!!"

In a cartoon world, or an 'Ally McBeal' episode, it was the sort of scream that would shatter windows and blow Randi's hair straight back. But Randi just steeled herself, met Kerry's eyes squarely, and spoke quietly. "And I said no."

Kerry's angry features twitched, then crumpled, the tears streaming down her face belying her strength. She covered her eyes with her free hand. "Please, Randi...just leave me alone..."

Gently removing the hand, Randi cupped the woman's face in both of hers. "Kerry..." she whispered, her own eyes filling, "You've been left alone too much already."

The smaller woman's moist eyes stared back into hers the way a bird stares at a snake. Small noises came from deep in her throat, and she looked like she wanted to flee. Yet Randi's hands held her in place, though she used no more force than Kerry had used to stroke Tess' hair.

A fresh tear swelled in Kerry's eye and slid slowly down her cheek. On sudden impulse, Randi's lips caught it and kissed it away. The tremor than ran through Kerry's body was almost too small to be felt.

Randi repeated the action, removing another tear from Kerry's cheek, then another, following the trails down to her chin, each feather-soft kiss cleaning another salty drop from her skin. There was an astonishingly delicate, almost fragile quality to the moment, one that the slightest wrong move might shatter. She had never felt anything quite like this before.

Each brush of her lips over Kerry's face brought an equally soft, almost silent sigh from Kerry, causing Randi's heart to swell in response. And then, as Kerry turned her head just the tiniest fraction of an inch, their lips met...




There was a single, terrifying moment when Randi knew that she'd gone too far, dancing recklessly along the edge, and now she teetered on the brink, a hairsbreadth from losing her balance...

Kerry's eyes met hers, an equally desperate fear in her own. A moment when anything could happen...

And then there was a soft 'thump' as Kerry's cane fell to the carpeted floor, and Kerry's arms were around her waist and up her back, her hands gripping Randi's shoulders and pulling her closer with purest need, and her mouth opened under Randi's, and Randi's tongue flowed forward of its own volition to fill Kerry's mouth, and their bodies were crushed together, pulsing and glowing on some frequency beyond the visible spectrum, and Randi knew it was too late, and she was falling, falling...

The kiss was outside her expectations or her experiences; an impassioned, sensual feeling that both warmed and shook her deeper than ever before, down beneath skin, muscle, and bone to a level that had never been explored. Her arms embraced the woman against her, one hand gliding down the length of her spine, the other up her neck to twine her fingers through red hair. Kerry let out a helpless whimper, muffled by Randi's mouth, as she surrendered herself completely to the kiss. Randi's longstanding suspicion that the uptight redhead was a dormant volcano of passion was being confirmed; she had been stirring all week, and now she was smoldering in full force.

The intense, frantic beating of her heart, the racing of her pulse, the thrumming ache in the pit of her stomach, all increased rapidly, spiraling into a moment of critical mass, a climax that went beyond the physical forms, resonating on a level that Randi could only term spiritual. Nothing in her experience had prepared her for this.

Their lips parted, but their eyes remained wedded. Each woman saw the same blend of confusion, exhilaration, and sheer wonder in the other's gaze.

"Oh God..." Kerry whispered.

"Oh my God..." Randi echoed. "Kerry..."

It was only then, in that most precious of moments, that she understood what had been happening since they left Chicago. Two equal and opposite imperatives, her desire for sexual satisfaction and her sworn fealty to Kerry Weaver, had been dancing and dueling, realizing only when they collided that they were both part of the same thing. Something far greater, a new truth that overshadowed all else; one not merely stronger than she'd imagined, but stronger than she could have imagined.

Randi had been sexually active since the age of fifteen, but this was the first time she could remember feeling truly virginal. And she knew why: this is my first time, she thought. The first time I've ever kissed someone I love.

Their lips remained less than an inch apart, trading sweet, soft breath as Randi's hands swept gracefully down Kerry's body, her fingers deftly brushing her boss' gown in all the right places, and the sash fell away. The half-cloak shrouding her right arm joined it, drifting to the floor, and the loop of material fell from Kerry's shoulder, allowing the gown to unwind itself from her body, folds and coils falling away like flower petals. And then there was nothing but bare skin beneath Randi's hands. She searched Kerry's eyes, desperate for confirmation, afraid that some impulse of fear or denial would push her away. But no such impulse appeared.

Kerry's arms snaked around her neck, their lips molding together once more, softly exploring each other. Randi's palms crackled and tingled as they flowed over Kerry's nude body, one hand finding a breast, nipple erect beneath her fingers. God, what are we doing?

A low moan escaped Kerry's throat as she moved her lips down Randi's jawline to her neck. The feeling of Kerry's mouth on her throat was incredible; it burned with a kind of heat that she never wanted to feel extinguished. Burying her nose in Kerry's silky hair, she inhaled the unique scent of her, pulling her even closer, if possible. Then their mouths were drawn together by forces that dwarfed gravity, once more.

Love me, Kerry's body cried out wordlessly. Please, please love me...

I will, Randi swore to herself. Even if you can't.

Bending, she slid a hand behind Kerry's knees and straightened, scooping the naked woman up into her arms, literally sweeping her off her feet. Carrying her to bed and laying her gently upon it, she knew that they were crossing a line, one that might never allow them back to the other side. But it was too late, and had been since they first got on a plane together.

Kissing Kerry's mouth again, Randi let her hands roam down the length of Kerry's front, and then allowed her mouth to follow in their wake. One hand cupped the swollen mound between Kerry's legs - apparently she'd had the same ideas about underwear as Randi - while her mouth found the peak of an engorged nipple, engulfing it deliciously. The trembling of Kerry's body matched the quivering sighs of delight she was making as Randi suckled at her breast, catching the ripe nubbin between her teeth and letting them rake lightly over the textured surface. Kerry groaned aloud and tensed, her chest rising up to meet Randi's mouth, and her pelvis surging against the younger woman's hand. A distinct wetness on her fingers testified to Kerry's excitement. But Randi knew that she wanted more.

Moving to lie facedown on the bed between Kerry's legs, Randi let her mouth glide down over Kerry's body, lips grazing her fluttering stomach, down to the juncture of her sex. Kerry's legs opened easily for her, a privilege that she knew few had been accorded. Her fingers parted the moist labia, and a new, private scent met her nostrils. She followed it to its source, her lips joining Kerry's, kissing her sex as she'd kissed her mouth, and then she was making love to Kerry at last. Lovemaking, she told herself. Anyone can have sex; all it takes is working equipment. This requires you to love someone. That's why they call it making love.

Kerry's responses came more easily and more clearly than Randi could have anticipated. None of the iron control, the impenetrable resolve she displayed on the job could be seen here. At last, she was seeing...no, experiencing the Kerry she'd always imagined under it all. Completely open, utterly yielding, totally vulnerable to anything Randi could give her. And Randi wanted to give her everything.

Each sweep of her tongue through that wet, sweet channel, each taste of her juices, each tantalizing brush against her clitoris made Kerry moan, sigh, or cry out sharply, her entire body reacting, flexing, arching or undulating in response to Randi's mouth on her sex, her hand on Kerry's breast. This wasn't like the other occasions when she'd performed oral sex on women, as one side of an implicit exchange: I'll do this for you if you'll do it for me. With Kerry, there was no bargaining or negotiation. Randi wanted to love Kerry, and for no other reason. There was a joyful quality to be found in the very selflessness of giving her lover this experience.

Kerry's fingers tangled in her dark hair, gathering a double handful, clenching and pulling at it as though it was were only anchor to reality. Randi's attentions were sending the rest of her to some other plane of sensation. Ignoring the pain in her scalp as Kerry pulled at her hair, Randi devoted herself to loving her companion, driving her into a frenzied, screaming orgasm that Randi considered a work of art. The volcano erupted, a flaming awakening of molten heat too long in coming. I've given her this, Randi thought joyfully, tasting the sweetest nectar. I've created this act of beauty within her. No one else. Me.

Crawling up to meet Kerry's gasping mouth, Randi kissed it again. I'm here for you, she told her lover on a frequency beyond spoken language. Whatever you want, whatever you need, I'm here.

Kerry's hands grasped her shoulders, pressing her back, pushing her away. Randi reluctantly yielded, resting back on her knees, letting Kerry hold her at arm's length. We've gone too far, she thought. And now she's announcing 'enough'.

But Kerry didn't let go of Randi. She just held her, gazing intently at her as though to scrutinize the young woman who'd just made love to her. Searching for answers: who are you? Are you real? Do you love me? Randi knew she couldn't provide answers to Kerry's questions; she had to find them herself.

Then the Chief's hands drew down over the front of Randi's sheath dress to caress her breasts. Randi closed her eyes, sighing with soft joy at the feeling of her aching bosom in the hands of a woman she loved and admired. To feel that woman touching her in such an intimate, sexual way was an indescribable pleasure. Just to feel this was all Randi needed, more than she'd ever dared ask for...

The feeling changed without going away, as those warm hands left her breasts to slide down her ribs and hips, down to the skintight hem of her dress, and then the feeling became even more sharp and immediate as Kerry's hands reached the smooth, bare skin of Randi's thighs. They glided up under the skirt, rising higher along the inner thighs... Randi gasped in anticipation, praying that this wasn't a dream she could awaken from too soon.

And then her prayer was answered, and she felt the touch of Kerry's fingertips against her vaginal lips. Caressing, stroking, probing...penetrating, oh God, yes...

Randi took hold of her dress's hem and pulled it upwards, peeling it off over her head and discarding it. Baring herself completely, offering herself to Kerry. You can have all of me, if you want.

The feel of those soft, dexterous digits within her, barely an inch, made her want to cry out with pleasure. And what they were doing, moving just the tiniest amount, stroking her inner walls, was so good... She closed her eyes, head falling back.

The new sensation of Kerry's lips on her clitoris sent a shock of elation through her. She leaned against the bed's headboard with both hands for support, and let her knees spread wider, lowering herself and opening her legs more for Kerry's access. The fingers probed deeper, delving within her crevice as Kerry sucked on her clit, flicking the tip of her tongue over the hypersensitive bud, again and again, relentlessly, mercilessly, until... "Kerry, oh God, Kerrrryyy...!" Randi came with a fierce suddenness, the orgasm wrenched out of her body by a force beyond her power to resist. As if she'd want to.

Randi let herself collapse to the side, her limbs turning to soft rubber, and she rolled onto her back, spread-eagled on the bed. The sensation of her perspiration cooling in the still air was invigorating, and she might have cried out in satisfaction if she'd had the energy.

The sensation of Kerry's lips against her thigh came again.

She opened her eyes to see Kerry between her legs, hands and mouth exploring the smooth skin of her legs, cherishing every inch. Kerry moved her explorations slowly upward, inward, coming again to the delta of her bare vagina, and she raised her head, her face bathed in soft moonlight, looking into Randi's eyes.

The scared, uncertain, self-hating aura was gone, dissipated by Randi's efforts. This woman, the one staring at her, had the unshakable concentration, the indomitable determination and dedication that Randi adored. This was the same Kerry Weaver who looked at shattered, broken human beings and silently swore to them that they would live to see tomorrow. She'd see to that, if it was at all within her power. I will do this, her gaze asserted. I will make this happen.

Randi had barely moments to witness this resurgence of Kerry's inner strength, and then she couldn't concentrate on anything, because Kerry was giving her the longest, sweetest, most passionately intense cuntlicking of her young life.

Whatever ambivalence Kerry might have felt around Randi, or about the whole situation in general, was long gone; she was deep into a state of pure sexuality, her erotic Id unleashed completely, with no apparent agenda but to immerse herself within Randi's body and soul. Her hands and arms enfolded Randi's hips, while her tongue swam and frolicked within her like a dolphin turned loose in the open sea. Randi gasped and cried out in excitement, careening helplessly into an exquisite orgasm that left her spent and quivering.

But Kerry didn't stop.

She changed her pattern of attack, like a musician switching tempo and rhythm, or a vehicle shifting gears, and kept up her marvelous oral invasion of Randi's vulva. Just when Randi thought it was over, Kerry found new energy, like a singer inventing new verses for her song. How could she do this??

"Kerry, oh my GOD, Kerry...!" Randi's voice was loud in the darkened room. "Yes, please, please fuck me, Kerry...oh Jesus, yes...!" She couldn't believe this was happening.

Kerry licked and sucked her, incredibly, to the brink of another climax, and then somehow held her there, lingering deliciously at the point of release, refusing to allow her that pleasure until she was ready. And then, with a final twist of her head, she brushed the tip of her nose against Randi's clitoris, and that was all it took. "Oh God, yes, Kerry...Aaaahhh!!" She cried out, thrashing wildly as she came again, gradually releasing the coiled tension in all her joints. "God, you're wonderful," she sighed.

Kerry made no reply; her mouth was occupied drinking her fill of Randi's juices. And then, to Randi's amazement...she began again.

It seemed to go on forever, unbelievably, excruciatingly, rapturously. Kerry's appetite for sex was like a primal force of nature. Like a karate black belt who shatters boards and bricks by tapping into a cosmic energy more powerful than flesh and bone, Kerry seemed to be channeling some irresistible vibration that ran, untapped, through the universe. The slow loving she was giving Randi had already transcended the mechanics of sex, and progressed to the magic.

Randi's hands cupped the head between her legs, her breath rasping and humming wordlessly through her lips, eyes wide with astonishment that anyone could affect her this powerfully. Kerry's eyes met hers, and she found the groove she'd been searching for, fine-tuning until she found that one perfect sympathetic vibration that allowed her to reach deeper into her lover's core, resonating together like the birth of a new soul. God bless you, Kim Legaspi, if you taught her to do this...!

And then Randi had no more capacity for rational thought, as Kerry slowly but surely began the inevitable ascent to a climax like none she'd ever felt. It was like being in a car with no brakes, rolling down a hill, slowly at first, then gaining momentum, unable to stop or turn aside, but only react and feel...

Kerry, she thought, the name pulsing like a beacon in her mind, Kerry, yes, please, Kerry...oh, so fucking good, Kerry...oh, dear God, I can't stand it...please, please take me there, Kerry, take me all the way there, please, oh yes, all the way, ALL the way, ALL THE WAY...!!

The deep, groaning wail of joy that began in Randi's throat was matched in Kerry's; her voice, a relentless, almost desperate humming, vibrated through the bones of Randi's pelvis, shimmering through the soft tissues of her sex in conjunction with Kerry's tongue, causing her clit to quiver like a tuning fork, the vibration intensifying until something had to give...and Randi exploded into an enormous, final climax, with the sharpness of glass shattering. She screamed out in primal hunger, her back arching as she lifted her hips - and Kerry along with her - off the bed, throwing her head back and all but howling in orgasmic achievement.

Then, slowly, she melted, mind and body liquefying as the animal that called itself Randi dissolved into a raw, elemental state, her body taking the form of a body of water on some unknown geography never before explored by humankind. The sun rose over the lake that had been a young woman, its flaming brightness reflected off the water's surface, setting it on fire...and Randi's conscious mind began to reconstitute itself, awakening as though from a dream.

The sun was Kerry's face, hair as red as the sunset, nearing as Kerry crawled up over her, engulfing Randi's body with her arms, kissing up her sternum, warming Randi's body with her own, until she reached Randi's breasts. Taking one in each hand, she cupped them softly, kneading and caressing, kissing the inner slopes, licking delicately over the areaolae, sucking each nipple into her mouth and letting them slip out again. Showing how much she had enjoyed their lovemaking. Her eyes were those of a lioness lingering over a fresh kill. Lounging over the body of her fallen prey, jaws slick with its blood.

With a sigh of pure adoration, Randi took Kerry in her arms, holding the woman's body against her own, kissing the top of her head, breathing in her scent, subtle perfume mixed with the sweat of passionate sexuality, holding her close. Kerry settled into her embrace, molding her body against her lover's, skin shimmering and glowing against skin.

Randi breathed out with utter contentment, closing her eyes. There it was in her mind's eye, shining before her in perfect beauty. The fucking Olympic Gold Medal of orgasms. She'd found and won it, without conscious choice. Her faith had been rewarded, not in the way she expected, but in a far better way.

Just before she sank into sleep, she heard Kerry speak. "Randi," she whispered. "What are we going to do about this...?"

Sometime in the wee hours of the predawn morning, she awoke, every inch of her skin radiating happiness. The heat of Kerry's body against hers was captured by the blankets over them both - when had they gotten under the covers? She had no conscious memory of it, but maybe she'd been on autopilot after that incredible lovemaking...

What are we going to do about this, Kerry had asked.

What, indeed?

Kerry stirred, mumbling something in the sleepy voice of a child.

"Shh, Kerry," Randi whispered, stroking her hair. "Go back to sleep."

The redhead did the opposite, opening her eyes and focusing them on the woman beneath her. "Randi...I didn't dream it..."

"No." Randi ran gentle fingertips over Kerry's face. "You didn't."

"Oh, sweet Lord..."

Randi pulled her closer, and their mouths met.

Giving herself again to the kiss, Kerry yielded as Randi rolled them over, coming to rest on top of the older woman. She felt her body mating itself to Kerry's, arms and legs entwined, breasts meeting breasts, tongues gliding together between open lips. Shifting and tilting her hips, Randi brought her nether lips into contact with Kerry's, finding a way to kiss her lover in two ways at once.

Kerry moaned into Randi's mouth, opening herself and embracing her woman in the same action.

Pulling Kerry's body more tightly up against her own, Randi made a final adjustment, and then...there! She felt her clitoris brush against Kerry's, eliciting a sharp intake of breath from the redhead. Locking their position into her muscle memory, she did it again, moving barely an inch back, then forward again, and Kerry gasped again, a little squeak of surprise coming out of her.

Willing herself to complete stillness, except for that one point of motion, Randi found a slow, deliberate rhythm, carefully grinding her clit against Kerry's, fucking her lover on a concentrated, tightly focused scale.

Kerry tore her lips away from Randi's, gasping for breath like a swimmer, her brow knitted in tight resistance. "Randi, wait," she hissed. "Please, I don't...No, wait..."

"It's okay, Kerry," Randi hushed her. "Let go."

"I can't..."

"Yes you can."

"No, I-I can't...!"

"I've got you," Randi whispered, never ceasing her precise, steady motion. "I'll catch you. Let yourself go."

Kerry shook her head, eyes tightly shut, her breath coming in short, shallow spurts, as though guarding some hidden reserve at all costs, against impossible odds. Randi felt like a cat burglar, unlocking the safe where Kerry's most valued prize lay hidden, working with patience and skill to unlock the mechanisms one by one. Disarming her.

The woman beneath her keened and moaned, knowing that her defenses were useless, that her secret hoard was about to be exposed, but she fought it, resisting it even while her body cried out for it , needing it and hating herself for the need. It was like a silent, loving struggle, Kerry against Randi, Kerry against herself, right up to the moment of climax. Kerry started to cry out, and then the orgasm seemed to somehow invert itself, provoking her to draw in a breath as fast and sharp as if she'd breached the water's surface after nearly drowning. Her eyes shot wide open and she clenched beneath Randi, tensing like never before. It was a reaction that went beyond orgasm, becoming an epiphany.

Her eyes, though wide, focused on nothing Randi could see. Whatever Kerry saw, she was looking inside herself, at something she'd never planned to face. The moment held, suspended in time...

Randi's hands encircled Kerry's face. "I'm right here, Kerry. I've got you..."

...and then it broke, the breath rushing out of Kerry again, as though exorcising a lifetime's worth of hurt all at once. She closed her eyes again, clutching tightly against Randi, her body wracked with silent sobs. After a long moment, she sucked in a fresh breath of air, and let it out in a wailing, heartbroken cry of loss and shame.

Randi held her, unable to do more, as Kerry writhed and sobbed and moaned, thrashed and clawed and bit Randi's shoulders as every old hurt, every past fear and frustration and failure, real or imagined, fought their way out from the vault where she'd locked them carefully away. All the people she'd failed, all those who'd failed her, fighting for space in her memory, demanding she acknowledge them all before they would leave her in peace.

Randi experienced it all with her -- not the specific details or conscious memories, but their effect on her. As though their bonding had somehow linked them in that strange empathetic vibration that identical twins sometimes shared. She felt it all, every ache of despair, every secret shame and hidden fear, and in the end, she did the one thing for Kerry that Kerry couldn't do for herself. She forgave her.

And then Kerry lay still, finding peace at last.

Part Ten...


The bleating of the telephone jerked Randi from sleep. Rolling over and grabbing it from the bedside table by reflex, she held it quickly to her ear. "ER," she answered automatically, then realized she was doing it again. "Shit..."

"Good morning, this is your wakeup call," a pleasant, obviously recorded voice informed her smoothly.

Hanging up the phone with an annoyed grunt, she rolled onto her side, burrowing deeper under the covers. They were wonderfully warm and soft against her bare skin. Especially after a night as unforgettable as that; her body still simmered with contentment.

Wait. Where was Kerry?

Prying her eyes open, she peered around the hotel room. "Kerry...?"

"Good morning, Randi," Kerry said, emerging fully dressed from the bathroom. "I'm sorry, I would have let you sleep in, but we need to check out soon."

"Oh. Uh...sure." Randi blinked sleep out of her eyes and squinted at Kerry. The ER Chief looked and acted exactly as she had each of the previous mornings. Nothing about her appearance or behavior gave any indication of the amazing experience they had shared last night. As if the 'Magic Reset Button' had been pressed, restoring her to some sort of status quo. Like that Bill Murray movie, where every day was the same. "Are you okay...?" she asked.

"I'm fine, thanks," Kerry said absently, folding one of her spare jackets neatly into her suitcase. "Slept very well. How about you?"

Randi stared at her in confusion. She knew perfectly well how Randi had slept; she'd been there. "Fine..." Randi mumbled.

"Good, good." Kerry remained in motion, packing her things with an efficient economy.

What was happening? Had the universe skipped a groove, somehow, and bumped Randi into some kind of parallel world? No, she was still naked under the covers, her dress and Kerry's from last night draped over a couple of chairs - Kerry must have picked them up to minimize wrinkling. It wasn't a dream; they had made love. So why was Kerry acting as though none of it had happened?

"I don't mean to rush you," Kerry told her, piling up her notes and files, and stuffing them into her shoulder bag, "but we do have a plane to catch. You should get up and dressed soon."


"I'm finished in the bathroom, so it's all yours if you want to shower. C'mon, the clock is ticking," she added with a touch of the familiar impatience. Everything she had revealed last night - the fear, the need, the hunger, the passion, the animal power, the tenderness, the love - was packed away once more. No longer the creature of extremes she'd been last night, she was back to the carefully moderated, rational form she usually displayed. She was 'Weaver' again.

This had to be wrong. Maybe Kerry was playing some kind of joke on her. "What are you doing?" she said aloud.

"I'm packing," Kerry replied pointedly. "Something you should consider doing pretty soon, unless you're planning to abandon all the clothes and things you brought."

Throwing the covers back, Randi stood up, making no move to cover herself. "Kerry, look at me."

"We should allow ourselves time at the airport, in case there's any difficulty. You know how security's been tighter since nine-eleven..." Kerry had 'casually' turned away as Randi revealed herself, and was still gathering her things.

"Kerry, we made love last night."

"Yes, we've enjoyed our stay," the Chief replied as though Randi had said something else entirely. "The conference was very informative; I got a lot out of it, but it's time we were going..."

Randi moved toward her and took her arm. "I love you," she said.

"Randi, please don't do this..." Kerry twisted her head away, as though the sight of her companion caused her pain.

Her arms encircled Kerry's shoulders, giving her nowhere to turn, and her mouth found Kerry's, capturing her in a kiss that burned into her memory forever.

For a long moment, Kerry responded, melting in Randi's embrace, but then she pulled herself back with what must have been a Herculean effort. "Please, Randi, let me go..." she whispered. "We have to go..."

"I don't want to go." Randi pulled Kerry tightly against herself, holding her even as she knew it was over.

"Randi..." Kerry's voice was an anguished whisper. "We can't stay here. We can't..." Her hands were unbearably warm against Randi's back.


"We have to go home," Kerry pleaded softly. "We have to."

She knew Kerry was right. She wanted to fight, to argue, to deny it and refuse to acknowledge the truth. But Kerry had always been one to face reality, and Randi couldn't ask her to do otherwise. She allowed herself another fleeting eternity, praying she'd never lose the memory of Kerry in her arms...and then relaxed her hold.

Kerry eased back, not quite pulling free, but putting a few inches of space between them. She placed a hand against Randi's cheek, whether to hold her close or push her away, there was no telling. "We can't stay here," she whispered again, with quiet anguish.

Randi nodded, knowing full well what Kerry meant. Then she released Kerry and turned away, padding into the bathroom.

She stood under the shower for a long time, letting the water run over her face and body. Mixing with her tears.

Memories of the past week washed over her, words and images alike. Kerry in bed, clutching a cramping thigh.

If I move out here and try to do it full time, it stops working.

Some people wouldn't mind being a kept woman. Would you want to be one?

Have you ever been in love?

Sooner or later, you gotta go home.

I knew I couldn't afford to stay. It cost too much.

Kerry and Tess glancing shyly at each other.

I can't be your boss and your friend at the same time.

You see how I treat my loved ones; you don't want to be one of them.

Sometimes the best thing you can do is let them go.

Kerry shaking rainwater off herself.

If you really want to help Kerry, you should let her go.

You really care about her, don't you?

You have to let her go.

Kerry was right. They couldn't stay here. Not just 'here' in the literal sense, in Seattle, but 'here' where they'd found themselves last night. Randi's coastal good fortune had brought them to a place inside themselves where they could share something unbelievably precious. But they had to leave, and go back to Chicago and resume their jobs and their lives. They couldn't take that place with them.

Kerry couldn't have a relationship with someone who worked under her in her department. If they remained lovers, Randi would have to leave her job. And then, even if she did quit her job to be with Kerry, how long could it last? The passion liberated by a romantic vacation was one thing, but passion always faded, sooner or later. Without it, what did they have? What held them together, different as they were? The job, she admitted reluctantly. They have the job in common.

Randi shut the water off, letting it drip off of her body. All right. For the sake of the job and the woman she loved, she would bury it forever. As far as the rest of the world was concerned, and until the end of time, it never happened. She would never speak of it again. But she would always be there for Kerry, and she would always love her. Sometimes loving someone meant putting their needs ahead of your own.

Drying herself off and wrapping towels around her body, Randi left the bathroom.

It was like stepping backward in time, into a rerun of a familiar TV series. Kerry was zipping her bags shut, looking neat and tidy and ready to hit the road at a moment's notice. "We really need to get moving," she said as Randi emerged. "I'm ready when you are."

Randi nodded, just looking at her with bittersweet longing.

"Oh, I meant to ask you," Kerry said, obviously groping for neutral conversational topics, "how did things go with Sam last night?"

Pretending she didn't know. "Not well."

"Oh, that's too bad."

"Yeah. We...didn't find what we were looking for in each other." And then I found something so much better...

"I'm sorry to hear that."

"Me, too."

Kerry looked at her, almost against her will, a flash of unguarded honesty in her eyes, and Randi saw how much it cost her to salvage their working relationship at the cost of whatever else they might have had.

Then she locked her mask in place again. "I'll, uh, I'll go turn in our keys and settle the bill," she said. "I'll meet you downstairs when you're ready, all right?"

Randi nodded. "All right...Dr. Weaver."

I'm a hotel room to her, she thought, as Kerry departed. And now she's checking out.

Dressed in her comfiest tee shirt, jeans, and her leather jacket, and lugging her duffle over her shoulder, Randi strolled out of the elevator into the lobby, looking for Kerry at the front desk. But she wasn't there. She turned, looking toward the caf, the restrooms, the ballroom, and the bar. No sign of Kerry anywhere...but she spotted Odona St. James a ways off, her back towards Kerry.

Starting toward her, Randi saw she was talking to Kerry. Or, rather, she was listening while Kerry talked to her.

Randi couldn't hear their words, but she recognized their body language, and knew what they were saying. She'd seen the same conversation take place between Kerry and Kim, after they were separated. Kerry was trying to say how she felt, without abandoning her public dignity. Odona listened without replying, while Kerry made fumbling attempts to state her position, reaching out tentatively to touch Odona's arm. She didn't look like she was having an easy time of it.

Finally, Odona stopped her, quietly taking her hand and stroking it gently as she talked. Her words, whatever they were, appeared to sooth Kerry's concerns, something Kim hadn't done, in her place. She whispered soft assurances to Kerry, saying all the things she needed to hear. Kerry nodded, and Randi could see tears glistening at the corner of her eye.

Then, leaning closer, Odona kissed her. It was a tender, private moment, and Randi knew she shouldn't be watching, but she couldn't help herself.

When they drew apart and said their goodbyes, Odona turned and looked at Randi. Had she known that Randi was watching, or had Kerry told her? Did she know that Randi and Kerry had spent the night together? If so, she didn't care. She just smiled fondly at Randi, and then turned away.

Kerry shouldered her bag, took hold of her rolling suitcase's handle, and came over to where Randi waited.

"What did she say?" Randi asked her, though she didn't really expect an answer.

"Until we meet again," Kerry said. "You ready to go?"


They walked out of the hotel together, blinking in the bright sunlight.

"When did it stop raining?" Randi asked.

Driving toward the airport, they were treated to some beautiful views of hills and valleys, the sunlight reflecting off the fallen rain, making all the colors brighter and bolder than Randi would have imagined. The silence as they drove wasn't unpleasant; both women just soaked in the feeling.

When Kerry pulled over by a large blue lake framed by green hills, stopping the car, Randi looked at her in surprise. "Anything wrong?"

"No. I just wanted to stop for a minute."

"We have time?"

"Uh-huh." Kerry got out of the car, stretching and gazing at the vista.

Randi got out as well, feeling the sudden stillness that comes after a long drive, and they enjoyed the view in silence together.

"I wish I could paint," Kerry said.


"I can quote medical texts in factual detail, and stabilize men and women dying of every conceivable cause short of decapitation," Kerry said, "but I can't draw to save my life, let alone paint. I wish I could, so I could capture images like this. Certain memories, you know? The way something, or someone, makes me feel."

Randi looked at Kerry's profile, wondering if this had anything to do with last night.

Kerry changed the subject abruptly. "I talked to Carol on the phone," she said, "while you were in the shower."

"About the other night?"

She nodded. "I apologized for running off...and I told her why."


"Not the whole story, just that talking about my having kids upset me." She looked at Randi. "I told her about Kim."

The clerk looked back at her. "You came out to her?"

Kerry nodded. "What the hell, if I can't trust Carol, who can I trust?"

Randi felt herself starting to smile.

"She asked me if I had come out at work, and I said no." Kerry looked uncertainly at Randi. "Do you think I should...?"

Surprised by the question, Randi stammered a bit. "I, uh...it really doesn't matter what I think..."

"It does to me. I'd really like your opinion."

Randi looked away, considering the thought. "I think you should," she said, "just because of 'To thine own self be true', and 'The truth shall set you free', and all that good shit. But I dunno, I'm not in your shoes."

Kerry dropped her gaze. "There's never been an openly gay administrator in a hospital..."

"So be the first. Start a fashion." Randi tried to make it a joke, but it came out with meaning. "If anyone can, it's you."

The ER Chief was quiet for a long time, raising her head and gazing off into the distance. Her face was still, except for strands of red hair, waving in the soft breeze. Her stance was composed,
confident...perhaps even proud. This was the Kerry Weaver Randi had fallen in love with. Beyond the enraptured, sensuous lover, beyond the lost, frightened child, there was the woman who contained them both, and so much more.

Kerry glanced at her watch. "We'd better get a move on," she said.

Their flight was delayed, so concerns of missing it were groundless. It just meant that they'd be getting into Chicago even later at night than expected.

"Randi, can I ask you something?" Kerry said, as they passed the time over coffee in the airport Starbucks.

"Sure, Dr. Weaver."

"Why are you still clerking in the ER?"

She looked up, surprised. "Huh?"

"Don't get me wrong, it's been good having you there for the past six years. But do you really want to be a clerk forever?"

"Um...I don't know." She shrugged. "I need the money..."

"Why haven't you started up that clothing business you wanted?"

"Well, y'know...it's not easy..."

"Have you tried?"

Randi was growing uncomfortable with the topic, but she couldn't shut Kerry out. "Dr. Weaver, you know I have to stay employed. My parole..."

"Randi, your parole ended four years ago," Kerry reminded her. "I've spoken to your parole officer. I know. You've been a free woman since ninety-eight."

"Ohh...you know about that, huh?"

"So why are you still at County? Don't tell me it's because you enjoy it there."

"Well..." She knew Kerry was right, but admitting it was hard.

"You don't want to run your own business anymore?"

"Yeah, I do, but..."

"But...?" Kerry arched an eyebrow.

Randi looked into her eyes, saying the thing she'd been unable to say, even to herself. "I'm scared."

The Chief smiled her rare smile of comfort and assurance, the one normally reserved for patients. "I know, honey. And I understand. I'm not saying I want you to quit; your job is yours for as long as you want it."

"Thank you, Dr. Weaver."

"But," Kerry added softly, "we all have to leave the nest sometime."

They finished their coffee just as boarding was announced.

The flight attendants took them through all the usual crap, and after taxiing across endless runways, then sitting motionless waiting for clearance, the plane finally took to the air, and they left Seattle behind.

Randi put it behind her with an air of resigned acceptance. She knew it was for the better, in the long run, to leave their unexpected affair in the past, unspoken. It would just make things easier for all concerned.

But still, she wished for some sign that it wasn't so easy for Kerry. That what she'd shared with Randi wasn't easily discarded, that it mattered to her.

They flew in silence. Randi listened to music on the courtesy headphones. Kerry read a book.

Passengers slept, around them.

Then, somewhere over the Rocky Mountains, after the sun had set...Randi felt Kerry's hand brush against hers on the armrest.

Kerry didn't look up from her book, but neither did she pull her hand away.

Randi didn't move hers, either.

Slowly, almost unnoticeably, Kerry's hand turned over and took Randi's.

Randi held her breath.

Kerry didn't move or speak. She just sat there, holding Randi's hand.

Randi opened her fingers, letting them clasp Kerry's.

Kerry let out a tiny, almost inaudible sigh.

And there it was. The sign she'd hoped for. She knew, then, that Kerry would always remember, even if they never spoke of it again. She'd remember, and she'd treasure the memory.

It wasn't much, but it was all Randi needed.

She settled back in her seat, closing her eyes and smiling.

Kerry turned a page with her free hand.

And they held hands all the way back to Chicago.

The End

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