DISCLAIMER: ER is the property of Constant C Productions, Amblin Entertainment, and Warner Brothers Television.
SERIES: Sixth in the 'What Can We Keep' series.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

Paper Dragon
By Kitanonami

Abby walks into the lounge to find Kim sitting cross-legged on the couch juggling oranges.

"Did you used to belong to the circus or something?"

"Nope." Kim says as she alters the rhythm: two up, one down, two up, one down.

"Show off." Abby grabs one of the oranges out of mid-air, sits down on the other end of the couch, and sinks her nails into the peel, tugging.

"You're just jealous." Juggling the two oranges in one hand now, Kim reaches behind her back, pulls out an apple, and sends it arcing into a tight circle with the other fruit.

"Wow. I'm starting to think you really are magic. Do you ever juggle knives?" There's an edge to Abby's voice that makes this more than a friendly question.

"Are you kidding me? I'd never take such a foolish risk. I don't even run with scissors."

"Yeah, right."

Kim grabs the apple and one of the oranges and lets the other drop into her lap. She sits still now, a troubled expression settling onto her face.

"Abby, the other day on the roof ...."

Abby stares at her, waiting for her to continue.

"I didn't mean to...."

"Didn't mean to what?"

Kim looks down at the fruit in her hands, at a loss for words.

Abby's eyes narrow. "Listen, Kim. Dr. Weaver--you're girlfriend, I wouldn't exactly say that she and I are friends but we've worked together for awhile now. Years. She's been through a lot. I'm sure I don't even know the half of it. Be nice to her, ok? Try not to fuck it up. If you want to be cute and clever and flirt with me, fine. Get it out of your system. Better me than someone who doesn't understand the situation-that you're only joking." She stresses the last part in a way that makes it sound like a warning.

Dr. Romano walks in the door, dressed in a tailored suit and tie, bald head gleaming. He glances at Abby, says "What's a joke, you're salary?" then stops short when he realizes the identity of the other figure on the couch.

He crosses his arms in front of him and rolls back on his heels. "Planning to open your own fruit stand, Dr. Legaspi?"

Kim gets up off the couch and rises to her full, imposing height, faded jeans hanging loosely off her hips, light-blue, bleach stained t-shirt clearly showing the lines and angles of her bony shoulders. "Dr. Romano," she says, her voice frosted with formality. "How long has it been?"

He's over at the coffee pot already, pouring himself a cup.

"I haven't been keeping track, but off the top of my head I'd say not long enough." The insincerity of his smile is intentionally apparent as he breezes past her and back out the door.

As the door swings shut behind him, Kim realizes she's still holding a piece of fruit in each hand, and chucks them onto the couch, shaking her head.

"Do you think he's such an evil bastard because he's so short?" Abby hands Kim a few sections of orange.

"My guess is that it goes much deeper than that." Kim tucks a slice of fruit in her cheek like a chipmunk, savoring the sweet juice.

Kerry bangs through the door now. "Was he in here?"

Kim nods.

"Damn. I wanted to warn you he was around, but I couldn't get away."

Kim waves her hand in front of her face as if to ward off a swarm of flies. "No problem," she says, slurring her words slightly around the orange slice. "I'm bigger than he is."

"Right," Kerry says. She looks up at the taller woman, and her face opens into a tender smile.

"Are you almost ready? We need to get going if we're going to have sunlight left for the park."

"Just ten more minutes. I promise." Kerry turns around and moves back out into the hall.

"The park--that's so sweet." Abby says. "You two are so cute together." She stand up and moves toward the door. Her hands poised to push it open, she pauses and looks back at Kim. "I meant what I said."

Kim nods. "And I heard you."

The park is crowded with people and birds and squirrels and dogs, all of them energetic and enjoying May's late spring weather as it reaches toward summer. The late afternoon light glints brightly off the surface of the lake. A warm wind stirs the trees, occasional gusts sending plumes of spray arcing out from Buckingham Fountain in the distance. They didn't have much trouble sending the kite aloft, Kerry holding the string while Kim ran with it, her hair held back with a green ribbon but still flying out behind her, diaphanous and ethereal as a comet's bright tail. One stiff gust of wind, and the kite had been suddenly airborne, Kim smiling broadly and clapping, a black and white dog barking wildly and running in circles, a small child sitting splay-legged in a circle of sand staring open mouthed and pointing, Kerry standing in the midst of it all, wide-eyed and serious, acutely aware of all that was going on around her but secretly focused on her own precarious balance in the gusting wind, her crutch hanging unused from its cuff on her arm, both hands moving carefully to play out the string as the colorful paper dragon ascended into thin air. When Kim ran back to her, still smiling and delighted, Kerry grabbed her arm to save herself from falling, and Kim, thinking it was a gesture of affection, wrapped her tightly in a spontaneous, joyful embrace, then grabbed the kite string as it slipped from Kerry's grasp. Kerry held on tight, heart pounding as she felt the unexpected warmth of the other woman's arms around her.

Now they're lying together on a blanket in the fading sunlight, watching the bit of paper drift and bob, getting smaller and smaller in the darkening blue sky above them, the clatter of the wind blowing against the kite's taughtness growing ever distant, Kim holding the line, still releasing it slowly. Kerry has her hands beneath her head, her elbows sharp on either side, asserting her personal space, but they're close enough that they can each feel the heat of the other's body, their legs pressed lightly together below the knees.

"Penny for your thoughts, Dr. Weaver."

Kerry draws and releases a slow, deep breath before answering. "Oh, I'm just drifting, I guess."

Kim sighs and closes her eyes. "What a perfect afternoon. I'm so happy to be here with you, Kerry."

"Yeah, yeah. I bet you fly kites with all your women," Kerry says. Her voice is light and teasing, but Kim is becoming impatient with the feeling of having to prove and defend herself.

"Kerry Weaver, everything we do together, no matter how many times I've done it before and with whom, is absolutely special, wonderful, exciting and new when I do it with you."

She immediately regrets the exasperation and sarcasm she let creep into her voice. "I mean it," she says, this time with emphatic sincerity. "I just don't know how to make you believe me."

"Sorry," Kerry says quietly.

As a gust of wind sweeps across them, the kite tugs and Kim tugs back, the string rising out of her clenched fist taught as a stick.

Kerry rolls slowly onto her side now facing Kim, being careful of her hip and tucking her left leg crookedly beneath her as she moves. "It's how I feel too, Kim. Really." Kim holds herself perfectly still as Kerry reaches over and smoothes back a wisp of her hair. She can imagine the look on Kerry's face, the nakedness of the emotions, but can't bring herself to look.

"I'm sorry you had to deal with Romano today."

Kim sighs and closes her eyes. "Well, I knew if I hung around County long enough, I'd eventually have to deal with him. I've had nightmares about that place. To be honest, it's why I wanted to go back there. I think it's good for me to face it again."

"That's interesting. I thought you were hanging around so much because you wanted me to prove to you that it was alright with me for everyone to know. That things were different now."

"Well, ok, sure, that too," Kim admits. "I don't know how you do it. Deal with him on a daily basis."

"Romano? Well, I usually I try to think of him as the voice of the worst the world has to offer rather than as a real person. For some reason that makes it easier for me. I think it's important to remember that element is out there."

"I suppose, but that doesn't mean I want it in my face every day."

"Do you know anything about Buddhism?"

Kim's eyebrows shoot up at this sudden change of subject. "A little. Not much."

"Well, according to one school of Buddhist thought," Kerry says, her voice becoming comically singsong and pedantic, "there are enlightened beings who walk among us on the earth who've chosen to stay here rather than continue on to nirvana. Their singular mission is to challenge us and help us learn things about ourselves so that we can also gain enlightenment."

An image of Abby's face flashes in Kim's mind bright and quick as a single frame of a movie. "Wow, Kerry. Do you really believe that?"

"Believe? I don't know if I'd use that word, exactly, but thinking of things from that perspective helps me deal with my anger sometimes. Otherwise I think I would have strangled Romano a long time ago. That's about as 'spiritual' as I get."

"But it also means you try to learn things about yourself from situations that make you frustrated and angry. That's wonderful."

"Actually, I think it's called being an adult."

"Well, I'm not sure that everyone would agree with you there." Kim turns her head and her cool blue eyes lock with Kerry's hazel-green. "Did you ever think of me that way, as someone here to teach you a lesson? An 'enlightened being'?" Kim smiles at the absurdity of the thought.

Kerry smiles back at her. "To keep me from strangling you?" She reaches out and smoothes back another lock of Kim's hair, traces the delicate curves of her ear with a finger tip, trails the finger tip down across her cheek and brushes it, swift and light, across her lips.

"Kerry..." Kim says as Kerry's warm hand tangles with the soft hair at the back of her neck and comes to rest, "that feels so good. But it's hard for me, in moments like this, not to touch you." She works hard to keep her breaths slow and even. "I don't know what's ok and what's not ok. It's frustrating." She's hyper aware both of Kerry's hand on her skin and of the almost full arms-length of distance that still separates then.

"Well, I figure I'm pretty safe here in the middle of a public park." As Kerry says this, she notices the darkness in Kim's eyes, and lets the teasing tone disappear from her voice again. "Thank you for being so patient with me, sweetheart."

Kim's whole body warms at the sound of the old endearment.

"Kerry, do you think you'll ever trust me again?"

"Yes," Kerry says immediately.

"But it's more than that, isn't it."


"You can talk about her if you want to. Sandy. I'd like to hear."

"OK," Kerry says. But even as she speaks, she pulls her hand back and begins to turn away again.

The kite string gives a few light tugs then goes slack.

"Damn," Kim says, leaping up and pulling, trying to will forth a gust of wind. "Damn, damn." They watch helplessly as the kite goes into a steep dive and slams into the ground nose first about 30 yards away. Kim dashes off to retrieve it, and when she's moved through half the distance, hears a familiar voice.

"Hey you two!" Kim's head swivels around and she sees Christy walking across an open stretch of ground toward Kerry, now sitting upright on the blanket.

"Damn," she repeats softly. "Damn, damn." She runs as fast as she can to the kite, grabs it, and then back-tracks more slowly, watching the two women interact, her lover and her best friend. Christy drops onto the blanket where Kerry has moved her crutch further to the side to make room for her. They smile and exchange what appears to be a friendly greeting.

She slows even more as she watches Christy watch Kerry watch her approach. Christy's expression, Kim notices, is one of cool detachment as she observes the warmth in Kerry's eyes and her tender half-smile which Kim realizes is a mirror image of her own. Aware that in her jeans and t-shirt, she must look less like a doctor than a big kid, she suddenly feels a child's helplessness as she walks toward the two strong women, carrying the kite beneath her arm and trailing the string behind her, a hopeless tangle dragging in the dirt. When she sets the kite on the ground beside the blanket now, Kerry reaches over and pulls it toward her, fishes a Swiss army knife out of her purse, extracts the proper blade without looking, and cuts the tangled string at its point of connection to the kite frame with a single, efficient stroke.

"You are such a lesbian, Kerry," Christy says. Kim freezes in her pose of arranging herself on a corner of the blanket.

"Yes, Christy, I am." Kerry says, and chucks the knife casually onto the blanket between them.

"Well, then," Christy says. "Welcome to the club."

Kerry takes the offered hand and shakes it, mimicking Christy's solemn formality.

"Thanks, but I think I've actually been a member for quite awhile now."

"So I've heard."

Kim gives in to the tension and absurdity of the situation, her body shaking with a single burst of hysterical and terrified laughter. She covers her mouth quickly. "Excuse me," she says quietly, and puts a hand on Kerry's knee. "Are you getting tired, Babe? I know you've had a long day."

Kerry smiles at her. "No, actually, I'm feeling quite refreshed."

Christy shoots a calculating glance from Kim to Kerry and back again. The idea of spending a few hours matching wits with Kerry Weaver over drinks is almost irresistible, but the memory of the fallout from the last time she had gone out of her way to antagonize Kim's petite lover hasn't yet become distant enough for her to want to repeat it. Besides, she thinks, it's almost as fun talking behind her back, but with none of the risk. "I'd love to stay and chat, but I feel I'm interrupting an idyllic moment," she gestures widely around her, "the park, the kite, the sunset.... so I'll leave you two alone." She stands and smoothes imaginary wrinkles from her slick blue track suit and jacket. "It was great seeing you again, Kerry. We all need to get together soon."

"Absolutely," Kerry says with a smile.

Christy gives Kim a small wave and mouths, "I'll call you."

Kerry watches her walk away. "That was no fun at all."

"You two need to learn to be nice to each other."

"Is that really necessary?"

Kim just shakes her head helplessly and gives Kerry a hand up. The sunset is mostly obscured by the bulk of the city, but the air is suffused with the gray-orange of twilight, and it's time to go home. Kerry folds the blanket carefully, tucks it beneath her right arm along with the kite, hands her crutch to Kim, puts her arm around the taller woman's waist, and leans on her as they walk off down the path together.

The End

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