DISCLAIMER: ER is the property of Constant C Productions, Amblin Entertainment, and Warner Brothers Television.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Chapters 1 and 2 of this puppy might look familiar to you. That's because they are, though I have tinkered with them to make more emotional logic (I hope) in the general flow of things. Somebody said that I had painted myself into a corner and wanted to see if I could get myself out of it. This is my way of saying, "Fuck the corner, I'll just knock the whole goddamned wall down and go from there." I'm still not completely happy with the piece, but I needed to be done with it. Proceed at your own risk.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
FEEDBACK: To sbowers04[at]yahoo.com
Totem and Taboo
By Sharon Bowers
Chapter One: The Politics of Reality
She was blaming it on Fleetwood Mac.
Completely. Resolutely. And without hesitation.
Even though Stevie Nicks herself would have only shaken her head at the situation and said, "Man... I know the goddess has something better in store for you."
Abby Lockhart's reply to that was simple:
"Fuck the goddess."
Because it had been that damn song playing, Lindsey Buckingham's fucking guitar, that stupid flickering of the TV that neither one of them had been paying attention to, when Abby had first lost whatever fragile grip she had on her sanity-- obviously a genetic condition-- tangled Kim Legaspi's obscenely thick blonde locks in her hands, and pulled the other woman's mouth hard against hers.
Or maybe it hadn't been.
Maybe that had been the second time... when Kim was long against the length of her body, snuggling for warmth despite the already humid summer night. She had murmured the lyrics into Abby's ear, her light alto an acappela contrast to the CD, the vibrato traveling down her spine and settling somewhere just south of obscene.
But that might not have been it either.
It might have been that afternoon Kim referred to as their alfresco adventure, a Sunday when Abby knew she was going to be hurting come midnight and no sleep, but knowing that Malik would trade her two hour's worth of nap for a decent gossip. And it wasn't like she was ashamed of anything she and Kim were doing. And god... what that woman was doing to her as she somehow managed to hit the exit doing something close to seventy five, her hand buried somewhere Abby wouldn't want to explain to a highway patrolman, and the radio blaring something about thunder, rain and players that made absolutely no sense as she thrust her hips against the sun, the sound, and the smile of the woman who held her so carelessly in her hand.
Yeah. Sure. It was all Stevie Nicks' fault.
Throw Sheryl Crow in there for good measure, too.
And those leather pants that she had found at the back of Kim's closet.
"I haven't worn those in years." The grace of a blush, a half-smile and duck of her head. "I went as Jim Morrison one Halloween."
"Wear them for me now..."
Thank god it was still summer and she had a chance to burn the fused scents of sex and leather from her nostrils or else she'd be sentenced to wearing that damned pea coat every winter from now until the end of time. The slick sweat of Kim's skin greasing the slide of their bodies together, the ungodly heat from Kim's body underneath the leather. Those legs... endless... nevermind the white silk shirt that hadn't lasted more than a minute after she had stepped from the bedroom to offer herself to Abby's awestruck gaze.
Crashing. Burning. Riverwide as the press of her mouth against Abby's sex. Kim had fed, been sheltered in the strength of Abby's response-- Abby had felt Kim's renewal hidden in the hot seep of salt from her eyes when she thought the nurse wasn't paying attention. After they both had come and neither one of them was supposed hold the results against the other. And she hadn't--not really. Only measured it against the depth of her own need, found herself drowning in a difficult kind of desire that had surpassed the simplicity which had allegedly brought them together in the first place.
Her voice, Kim's need... Or was it the reverse?
Step. And step back. Turn again.
"God... come inside me..."
She had wanted her so violently. Both. Separate. No, the same... thrust. Touch. Taste. Reach...
A word never spoken between them.
The more common refrain.
Reaching for the other. The keen of desire. Such a tidy word for something so messy, so wet...
So outside the purview of what was supposed to be.
She knew she wasn't the first in Kim's heart. Didn't care, the truth be told. For this woman's eyes and hands reached someplace that Abby hadn't ever wanted anyone to go. Ignored the Danger Will Robinson signs around her psyche, plunged in with little or no regard to the boundaries around Abby's soul.
Or had that been her?
Kim's voice thick in her ear.
"Oh God, please... Don't... Oh God... Yes..."
Her voice a profane litany from that beautiful mouth.
She had pushed through the doubts, the hesitations in both their souls. The things that had told them this was better left unsaid... because the urge was too powerful within them. The need to reach through the gauze, assert something other than should could ought to might...
She was tired of living within the bounds of probability. She had been fucked by the nirvana of possibility... And it called her in a way that nothing else ever had.
The strength in her arms was deceptively hidden within the slender confines of her arms and legs. The swaggering breadth of her shoulders, the narrow cant of her hips not so easy to disguise. Answering the door nude...
"Good thing you knew it was me."
"Who said I did?"
"You expecting someone else?"
Not caring that the door was still open as Kim's mouth found her, sought out the last vestiges of reluctance, swept her into the rising tide of their communion.
The lemon scent of freshly polished hardwood mingling with that of Kim's spice and arousal-- what had she been doing?-- as Abby lost herself in the embryonic ritual of their birthing desire.
A hand burning random pathways to her arousal which she had never before considered. Her fingers, small against Kim's. "You should have been a surgeon."
A bemused chuckle. The panther-like stretch of muscles against her body. A careless nip and tuck of teeth against her throat, a bit too hard to be entirely teasing.
"I'm not the first person to have said that." Observation easy with the evidence of Kim's body so wantonly on display.
"My father was the first," came the faint reply as lips and mouth worked their way down her carotid artery. "You're the most recent."
"Were they all..."
"Where you are now?" Kim supplied for her.
"I'm sure the list is distinguished and long."
"Not so much as you might think."
"I don't care about them." More true than perhaps Kim realized, though there was one whose opinion did desperately matter to both of them. And for that reason, her name went unmentioned.
She really didn't want to know what Kerry Weaver thought of Kim's hands.
And now that it seemed the Kim-N-Kerry-Reunion-World-Tour had hit more than a few snags-- if the number of covert glances the rest of the staff kept throwing her was any indication of their progress-- it was getting harder and harder to ignore the warmth of those pale eyes, the sinewy length of arm bared by the hot August days and the fortuitous cessation of County Gen's central air conditioning.
"I think it's actually cooler up here," Kim muttered without bothering to turn around. As if she knew the bar creak and groaning protestation of the roof exit could deliver no one else but Abby.
"They say heat rises."
"Certainly the case now that you're here."
Oh no... not going well at all. No wonder Malik had offered to change the IVs on her dehydrated anorexic.
Khaki trousers and a white tank top clung desperately to bronzed skin. Surely, Kim had been wearing more than that at the day's start? But her ex-lover had that casually-elegant, yet still-thrown together look that meant she wasn't trying for any particular effect at all. In their short weeks together, she had quickly learned when Kim was going for something--because god knew the results were always spectacular.
She began to sweat.
Sun meant heat. Heat meant sex. At least for them. Abby hadn't made love to Kim in the dim coolness of hard night since their first time together, because everything had been shot to hell the next morning and she had been sentenced to Purgatory-- which everybody knew only operated from midnight to noon.
Blue eyes. Carelessly gathered hair. Hot skin.
Inches from her now, but they were on a roof and what the hell could she do about it now anyway?
I have to try....
Kim's words, not hers, and spoken about someone definitely not her.
So why the fuck was she up here on a roof in the swelter of a midsummer's day, absorbing the cock of Kim's brows, the jut of her hip-- and not missing the involuntary flex of the psychiatrist's fingers? No, nothing pathological about her behavior at all. Not her.
"Think they'll get the air fixed?"
Deliberate banality to conceal the question so screamingly obvious to the both of them. Solitude was a bitch, but she didn't need Billie Holliday lyrics careening through her head to point it out. As if she didn't already know how Kim felt about the blues.
Calling her home.
White girl blue-eyed soul. Come for me you devil... And where were the crossroads and why had Kim gotten to choose and not her? Kovac and Carter nothing compared to the defiant thrust of Kim's hand deep within her. Deliverance in this circumstance not a Ry Cooder kind of melody.
Her hand now wrapped around Kim's.
How had that happened?
They stared as if possessed, but Kim was the psychiatrist in this instance; and American Exorcisms notwithstanding, neither one of them believed in gods or devils that would make them do anything they didn't already want to.
Admit it... lover...
Scream. Cry. Call someone's name... anyone's but not hers... but that wasn't really the case, was it?
How did you let something go that had never been yours in the first place? Would the Catholics call that possession? Legaspi and Wyczenski good Eastern European names, but they were daughters of the New World and they charted their own course, manifested their own destiny.
But that didn't explain why her palm was flat against the breadth of Kim's collarbone and...
"What are we doing?"
Her mouth. Kim's lips. Second verse, same as the reverse... Opening into a chasm of what really shouldn't be happening... the hot tar on the roof burning through her scrubs, but Kim was the one sitting, not her and why was she sweating so much?
"We can't do this."
A statement of purpose. Rather like those med school applications she had filed three years ago when she thought she knew who she was and what she wanted. Before she met this blue eyed sinner who called herself a healer, though she seriously doubted the holistic effect of the inhumanly burning touch of those fingers on the nape of her neck.
Where she had just had her hair cut and could feel the delicate scrape of fingertips on newly bared skin. The whorls of the pads of Kim's fingerprints seared into her with the heat of the day, and she thought fleetingly that maybe she could blame it on the insanity.... what did those Southerners call it?
I have always relied upon the kindness of strangers...
Bet Kim Legaspi would've made a hell of a fucking Stanley Kowalski.
"Jesus, Abby no...."
Forcing the hand that had slipped beneath her own black tank top.
"I don't really think this is about God."
"Something's got to save me."
An exhausted chuckle. "Damn you."
"Damn you," came the placid reply.
"You started this."
"Only because of your eyes." Not a lie, but she didn't know if Kim would be willing to believe the truth when presented so baldly. The kindness of those eyes, the depths of their understanding, the bleed of their own pain had been intoxicating to the junkie with Abby. And she had mainlined Kim more fervently than she had slugged down Glenlivet in the heady flush of her drinking days.
No, this blue-eyed blonde was far more dangerous than anything registering one-hundred proof because-- quite frankly-- Abby didn't care what the consequences were.
She had tried to make herself care and in the act realized the lie. She hadn't spent five years twelve stepping it for nothing. She would never make amends to Kerry Weaver because she would never regret one single thing that happened between herself and Kerry's lover.
Searching Kim's eyes.
"You haven't made any promises to her yet." Knowing it more resolutely than the strength in her own spine. God help them both if she had.
"It does. And now you're here. Kim..."
Come for me...
Always Kim's demand, never hers.
A corner away from the door. The tell-tale squeak their early-warning device. Shadow, shelter... nothing to protect them from the storm raging within. She couldn't believe the ragged gasp of Kim's breath, harsh against her ears, yet it was her only evidence that what was happening wasn't a heat-induced hallucination, borne out of blind want and need.
Hours later, she could still taste Kim on the roof of her mouth.
"I'm off at seven..." The diffident tone in Kerry's voice clueing her in to the addressee. "Want to..."
"How about Magoo's?"
Pitched lower, away from the rest of the staff, the eyes and ears that didn't know Abby still heard it all. "How about someplace more romantic?"
"Kim, we either get past this or we don't..."
She had said the same thing to Carter herself.
"But I want to try..." Kerry's voice, continuing on where her own hadn't.
Could it have been that simple? Answering the question Why don't I fight for you? herself rather than letting Kim do it for her?
Damn it all.
And fuck Stevie Nicks.
Chapter Two: The Language of Grace
She'd had a lover, once, in college-- a Iyawo priestess of Yemaya who paradoxically held a Bachelor of Arts in Religion from one of the South's largest universities. A woman with broad shoulders and long flowing dreadlocks, who had seduced her with the lyrical cadence of her Louisiana patois and the indefatigable glimmer of amusement in her endless brown eyes. "You're too much of the mind, cher...Where is your sense of wonder? Your awe of those things greater than you?" her lover had chided on more than one endless sweating night, their bodies twined about one another in a shameless display. Had it been seen-- it would have brought the Klan to their door, burning them out the way her lover's father and grandfather's churches had been burned. A vain attempt to sear out the ideas they had preached, the passion they had carried within them."You are the most secular Catholic I've ever met."
"And you're the most disingenuous, overeducated voodoo priestess I've ever met," she had always countered dryly, forestalling further lecturing-- such as that initiation into la Regla Lucumi didn't imply immediate surrender of one's modern sensibilities-- by straddling her lover's broad hips and bending her mouth to a task that invoked many gods in all their multicultural glory.
But twelve-odd years gone, the admonition still remained with Kim Legaspi-- her life's work a seeming testament to mind over matter, despite her incessant attempts to holistically treat the damaged souls and hearts of the people who came to her for care. It was never enough, she mused more often than she'd wanted to admit. Treat the mind, sacrifice the soul. Were she to believe in the Western concept of the soul as demarcated by the religious powers-that-be, hers would be sentenced to an unfathomable Hell all too soon. There was just enough Catholic in her to make some renegade synapses in her brain believe that maybe Dante wasn't completely wrong, and shuffling off this mortal coil held no particular appeal to Kim because of it.
Still, she had shaken off the dregs of her father's Old World side of the family and lived her life the only way she had known how. Integrating her own heart and mind, offering her lovers the best of her soul and her body, never promising more than she was able to give at any one time, never accepting more from an overzealous suitor's affections than she was prepared to reciprocate.
But though she could argue that her secular scales of romantic justice were balanced, Kim knew deep down that her ex-lover would have merely pointed out that Oshun was never a goddess of moderation, and that the term femme fatale was appropriate to them both on more than one count.
And if right now her heart could be generously termed fickle, her body was nothing but downright traitorous-- aching as it was for something that she had willingly given up.
For that reason she had chosen to be alone on this night-- when the moon and the stars were decadent in their beauty, keening to lovers everywhere on the wisp of a breeze that even now did nothing to cool the heated blush of her bare shoulders.
She was brooding, she knew-- seeking respite in things that she-- of all people-- knew offered only false havens from the lurking claws and tendrils of the torments only her own self could create.
A hand in her hair... fleeting.
A voice in her ear... indecipherable.
A flash of skin out of the corner of her eye... gone.
Cries. Whispers. This wasn't an Ingmar Bergman film and no one would ever accuse her of being Liv Ullman... that whole tall, blonde thing aside. She'd once had a lover who had compared her to Catherine Deneuve, but after seeing Belle Du Jour, she knew it wasn't a compliment. Especially after that night when...
Dammit... Legs... Stop thinking about sex...
Her body only snickered at the reproach and sprawled further back in the canvas chair that resided in the corner of the small fenced-in enclosure of her backyard. She knew she was half-dressed and should vaguely be worried about rapists and killers and X-Filian things that went bump in the night, but she couldn't tell if she was too lit to care or if she really didn't care.
And she didn't know which truth should worry her more.
Out there in here, did it really matter any more? Two women, wanting both having neither and serial monogamy had always been her game, never this all at once.
Never that. Never her.
And not this time.
Abby... oh god why had she gone up on that roof, but that wasn't the issue really, was it? Not the roof. Not the heat. Not the sweat binding their skin-- and she couldn't blame anything but herself when she knew she was letting her cunt make the decisions she had been avoiding. To put it crudely.
And where was her heart in all this?
Oh, that was on the ground floor of County General, probably with her hand in someone else's chest cavity-- and vaguely Kim wondered if one could resuscitate an already beating heart. Or at least recalibrate it so maybe it would match the cadence in her blood. Or the twitch in her muscles that sent her hand skittering to the phone and dialing the first half of a number that she had no business knowing by heart.
At least not anymore.
"What are you doing?"
Pause. "Nothing." Pause longer still. "Watching TV." Hesitant laugh. "Not even that, really. You?"
"Things I shouldn't."
"Is this a wise conversation to be having?"
"That getting to be a habit?"
"Not looking to twelve step it right now."
"I understand the feeling."
"I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said that."
"I shouldn't have called."
"I had a love affair with the stuff long before I met you."
"I seem to have the same effect."
"That's true." The scritch and shuffle of someone stretching out. "But you're not quite as lethal to my liver."
"Your psyche, however..."
"Not even close. Don't give yourself that much power over me. I don't."
"Strike one to the solar plexus."
"Not that I couldn't, Kim... but... I can't." Another pause. "Not if I don't want to start white-chipping it again. And I can't go back to that place."
"That's good to hear. I couldn't bear..."
"It wouldn't be you. It would be me. Every step of the way back down into Hell."
"That strike your funny bone?"
"Everybody seems to have Dante on the brain tonight."
"Well... me. And all my little demons, to quote Lindsey Buckingham."
Chuckle. "You remember."
"Not like I could forget."
"You might want to try."
"No. I won't regret you. And I won't give up the memory-- not an instant of it."
"You're gonna start getting to me again."
"I know. And we promised that we wouldn't do that to one another."
"Can you stop?"
"You want me to?"
"No, but I'm not the one in love with someone else."
"Strike two to the solar plexus."
"Didn't mean it to be."
"I know. What I don't know is what I'm doing."
"Want me to hang up and blame it on the booze?"
"Would that it were true."
"I was trying to give you an out."
"Generous of you."
"Tell me what you want."
"You to answer that question."
"You." The unhesitating reply. "Tell me I can have that-- any part of you, in love with someone else or not-- and I'll be there in twenty minutes."
Strangled laughter. "You're not kidding, are you?"
"Not anymore, Kim. You told me not to fight for you, but you won't let me go."
"It's not intentional. But my hands..."
"Keep reaching for me. I know, Kim. I was there."
"You're there all the time."
"I see it in your eyes."
"I try not to look at you."
"I see that too."
"I won't do that to you. I won't do that to her."
"Then make a choice."
"And it's not working."
"That your opinion or the general consensus?"
"Yours and hers are really the only ones that matter, I'd think."
"You'd be surprised."
"I thought things were changing for her."
"That what's killing you?"
"Mind if I ask what is?"
"Second time you've done that to me."
"We're even then."
"The shots to the solar plexus."
"Not funny, Legaspi."
"That's good, 'cause I'm really not feeling up to taking my act on the road."
"I heard you had put out a couple of feelers."
"Seeing what the market will bear. Not like I have the best relationship with the Board and Chief of Staff." Pause. "Don't give yourself that kind of power over me, Abby. I don't."
"Your third lie."
Chuckle. Rattle of ice cubes and the smooth gulb gulb of amber liquid into finely cut crystal. "There's confidence."
"You called me."
"You said twenty minutes. You think you can make it fifteen?"
She hit the redial button before the dial tone had even returned.
"It's probably not a good idea."
"You coming over."
"We about to make any other stupid mistakes I don't know about?"
"What if I hadn't called back?"
"I was counting to fifty. Then you would have had a hell of a lot of explaining to do when she came home."
"She doesn't have a key."
"But I thought..."
"She said the last time it was too much too soon. But the truth is, I haven't offered her one."
"And you say...?"
"I'm beginning to think anything is too much."
"I'm not feeling particularly charitably inclined tonight."
"Tell me something I didn't know ten seconds into our conversation." Pause. "Is that what this is about? Tonight, I mean."
"Your high opinion of me is astonishing."
"I just want to know what I'm dealing with."
"Fair enough. Wish I could say."
"You still want me to come over?"
"Yes." Pause. "No."
"Yeah... me too."
"Carter's looking awfully dapper of late. You take him shopping?"
"Carter has a personal shopper."
"And you hold that against him."
"I don't trust anyone who's never wanted."
"Anything. Whatever's there, the world entitles him to."
"That definition would include yourself."
Silence. "I think I'm jealous."
"At least he's willing to go to dinner with me."
A sharp intake of breath. "I guess that makes us even, huh? For the lies."
"You sound like me."
"And I sound like Kerry."
"And I don't much like that right now."
"Then do something about it."
"If I hang up now, should I count to fifty before leaving the house?"
"I'm not going to change my mind."
"Sed mulier cupido quod dicit amanti, in vento et rapida scribere oportet aqua."
"Nothing. Just another way of saying you don't give me much credit."
"Trying to call it like I see it."
"That one puts you ahead."
"Don't lie to me again."
"What other lie could I tell, Abby? I can't even lie to myself anymore."
"So tell me the truth."
"Which is that on any given day I love her but want you. Or is it I love you but want her? I don't know what the truth is, to be frank. I just know I can't..." Her voice trailed away, lost.
"Where is she?"
"On shift, I guess. I didn't check her schedule. She may be at home for all I know."
"And you called me."
"That I did."
"Then maybe that should tell you something."
"All this introspective conversation is shooting my composure all to hell."
"I'm willing to agree to whatever terms you offer. But you have to offer."
Pause. "Not like up on the roof, huh?"
"I'm willing to give you an out on the phone call-- or even on everything that's happened between us-- but not on this. Not on having us both."
"Responsibility lies in the bed of the cuckholder, eh?"
"Something like that."
"Can I think about it?"
"Sure. But Kim... don't think about it too long. Carter and I are having dinner Friday night."
Chapter 3: The Corollary of One Step Up
She was sound and life. Sweat and breath. Coming hard and leaving slow. Taking that irrational heartbeat and making sense of it somehow. Gathering the disparate pieces of her shattered existence and offering her some of cohesion, some sort of tenderness amid the desolation of the wasteland that was now her soul. The mouth between her legs wasn't taking from her, but offering to her...sustaining, nurturing... not seeking absolution or integration...just granting solace and peace of a sort she hadn't really ever known.
"Kim, honey... you left the front door unlocked."
Auburn hair shown russet in the violent moonlight, filtering points of green-gray light as it shone down upon her. A lazy smile creased Kim's features--she felt it split her skin, hew her skull open and send all the tumult and pain tumbling to the feet of the woman who claimed her heart. "I knew you were coming."
"Really?" A gentle chuckle and slender limbs came to stand between her sprawled legs. "Because I'm off shift two hours early."
"Let me guess. Abby called you and told you it'd be best if you came and checked on me."
Kerry's concerned frown came into focus as she slipped to her knees and tilted Kim's chin towards her. "Abby...? Have you talked to her tonight?"
Kim blinked twice and looked around for the receiver that had just been in her hands. She didn't see it resting darkly in the grass where it had slipped soundlessly. "Apparently not."
Her lover's eyes flickered towards the bottle resting at the foot of Kim's chair. "Do I want to ask how big a dent you put into that?"
The psychiatrist took one look at Kerry's stern features and shook her head, a bemused smile drifting over her mouth. "But to answer your question-- in spite of your not wanting to ask-- not a big enough one."
"And you're so certain?"
"Because I can still feel my nose."
"Ah... there's a good sign."
"Not to mention other things."
Kerry paused, and Kim watched the light flicker off her eyes as they surveyed the slumped collapse of her spine, the graceful skin-and-muscle bevel of her abdomen, the curl of her fingers around the heavy weight of her now-empty glass. She heard the muted intake of her lover's breath, knew that Kerry was moved in spite of herself, felt the gentle press of tiny hands against her tensed thighs.
Waited for a touch that didn't come.
She opened her eyes-- only mildly surprised to discover she had closed them-- and was disappointed to see Kerry standing over her once more. Looming far taller than her sixty-few inches would seem to entitle her. "Come inside, Kim."
"But it's so nice out here."
"It's nicer in there."
She captured one of Kim's hands in her own and tugged loosely. "Trust me."
"Famous last words," Kim muttered, but nonetheless obediently allowed herself to be led inside. She had a sneaking suspicion she was being humored in the time-honored tradition that demanded long-suffering wives put their sodden husbands to bed with nary a complaint and only a quiet sigh. Only thing was... she wasn't anybody's husband and Kerry Weaver damn well wasn't a long-suffering anything.
Through the door she stopped, her hand in Kerry's pulling the other woman up short. "I don't want to do this, Kerry."
"What's that, Kim?"
"This..." She gestured loosely with her other hand. "This... civilized thing... until whatever lunacy that's got hold of me passes."
"I think you're drunk, Kim, not crazy."
"I fucked Abby Lockhart on the roof of the hospital." She felt the hand in hers turn icy just before it released its grip.
"Don't recall that being a crit in the DSM-IV either."
Pale skin paled even further, followed by a darkened flush. Wordlessly, Kerry brushed by her to the enclosed backyard and returned with the bottle with which Kim had spent the evening bonding extensively. "Obviously I have some catching up to do," she said dryly, reaching up and pulling down one of the dozen-odd mismatched antique crystal glasses Kim had collected over the years. The one in Kerry's hand was a particularly lovely Waterford highball glass; and the psychiatrist watched in fascination as her lover poured a hefty shot, drank it down and then hurled the glass in her direction--all in one smooth movement whose wind-up would have done El Duque proud.
A shocked silence, broken only by the tinkling rain of falling shards of glass, echoed between them. It was the kind grand cinematic gesture that Kim hadn't ever thought Kerry capable of; and she wasn't quite sure what to think of it. On the one hand it was damn funny, on the other...Kim didn't want to begin to contemplate what had moved Kerry to that extreme action.
"You channeling Vivien Leigh or Katherine Hepburn right now?" she asked, in spite of herself.
Kerry narrowed her eyes and pulled another glass down from the shelf.
It was out of her mouth before she had time to stop it. "I just want to know if I should worry about my head or my golf clubs."
"Bad answer, Legaspi." Another drink. Another shot to the wall. A third glass in hand.
"I'm going to run out of glasses, Kerry."
"Not before I end up as drunk as you are."
"And this will solve...?"
"Absolutely nothing, Kim. But maybe it will get me to the place you are right now that found it provident to mention that you were fucking Abby Lockhart on the roof of my hospital last week."
Kim winced at the ugly harshness of the words as they fell from Kerry's lips, winced still more that they were own hurled back at her. "You'd rather I lie?"
"You were doing a fairly good job of it until just now."
"You're saying you don't care if I--" She could bring herself to use the word again.
"I don't care if you fuck Abby Lockhart every day for the next six months if it will get her out of your system," Kerry interrupted, apparently having no similar compunction about her word usage. "And give you an honest shot at coming back to me." She paused, her eyes fixed on Kim in mute outrage before shaking her head. "You're not the only one who doesn't want to do this civilized bunker thing anymore."
The obvious answer hovered in the air between them... and Kerry was astonished when, instead of invoking it, Kim only shook her head exhaustedly. "I love you, Kerry." She stuffed her hands into the pockets of the baggy khaki trousers that had been her only cover from the glass shards raining around her shoulders. "I don't know why this is so hard. If I could make it easier..." Slim, broad shoulders shrugged helplessly.
"That what you want?"
"What I want isn't possible."
"Everything," she answered simply. "It's completely self-absorbed and in contradiction of every single moment of the way I have lived my life for the last thirty-odd years. But there you have it."
"The truth at last."
"Not exactly a big secret. At least to anybody but me. But it's always been so easy." Kim cocked her head. "Letting go of the past. Stepping into the present. Thinking about tomorrow." A mirthless smile. "Rainbows and things. Such like that."
Kerry finished the slug of liquor in her glass, and only her baser instincts were pleased when she noticed Kim's head rearing back uneasily. "When did it stop being about bleeding?" she asked without preamble.
The question rippled through the air, and Kim absorbed it with a slight roll of her shoulders. "I'm not sure," she answered hesitantly. "Maybe when you told her to take care of me as best she could."
"This is my fault?"
"That's the second time you've said that about Abby and me."
This time Kerry did flinch at the invocation of the nurse's name. Hearing it on Kim's lips, seeing it in the unconscious spark in her eyes. "Maybe it's just my way of making it about me when it really isn't."
"I've got to stop leaving my APA journals lying around," Kim snickered.
"I thought it was particularly astute of me."
Kim rubbed her eyes wearily and shrugged. "You're right, Kerry. What I feel for Abby isn't. It never was."
"I hate that you reached for her. That you're still doing it. Even though we're... trying. In spite of the fact that we're trying." She stared intently at the lean figure of the woman she had so recently come to love. "The question is, can you stop?"
"Reaching for her."
"You haven't so far. The roof..." Kerry studied her lover darkly. "I'm getting the feeling you don't want to."
"I think I just admitted to as much."
"Which brings us back to my question."
"You suggesting I'm some sort of addict?"
"Ironic really. Considering her own history."
Kim looked puzzled. "You didn't know..." Her voice trailed off. "Shit..."
"Abby's in recovery?"
"Years now. Nothing you need be worried about."
"As the ED Chief."
"I'd hardly think I'm speaking in that capacity right now."
"You don't want her thinking you shared her bedroom secrets."
Pale blue eyes flashed violently. "It's not a bedroom secret. But it was something told to me in confidence. And I think you'd know I respect those. Especially since I let respecting yours nearly screw me out of a job."
Another glass shattered, but this time not anywhere near Kim's head. Kerry stared down in astonishment at the shards of glass littering the kitchen counter.
"Kerry..." Kim started towards to, but a short jerk of Kerry's head backed her off.
"I'm fine. Just a scratch." Her turn to bleed. Returning her gaze to the woman in front of her, she shook her head softly. "Do we have to do this? Tear it down completely?"
Kim flinched at the gentle question and ducked her head, as if searching for the answer in places inside herself shrouded from Kerry's glance. "I... I don't know. Maybe."
"You're still so angry with me."
"I understand what you did. And why."
"Doesn't mean you're not still mad."
The golden head lifted, eyes closed, and arched back as if in contemplation of the weight of the world. Not for the first time since she had first known Kim, Kerry felt the breath shoveled from her body-- an exhale, part gasping sigh of incredulity, part sucker-punch of need. That this magnificent creature could look at her, misshapen and warped though she was, and say "I love you..." was something beyond her ken.
Looking at the surrendered arc of Kim's elegant body now, Kerry wondered if that wasn't part of the problem.
"You love me," she said into the void between them.
The head leveled. Eyes opened. "Yes."
"Then start acting like it."
"Odd imperative considering you have difficulty doing the same."
Kerry's head snapped back abruptly at the harshness in Kim's tone. "I'm not the one..."
"No, Kerry. You asked if we had to tear it down. So, yes... let's tear it down."
"Let's take the I that is you. And the one that is me and talk about what makes the us so impossible."
"That what you think?"
"I can't go on this way, Kerry." Kim shrugged helplessly. "I thought I could... but I just can't."
"Because you want Abby."
"Because I can't live this way," the psychiatrist contradicted. "I've become about nothing but you. Everywhere I go. Everything I see. Since the first time I heard Shannon Wallace's name. You say that I'm still angry with you over everything that happened. Kerry, you have no idea how angry I still am. But you've already shrouded yourself in a hairshirt of guilt so heavy that I can't bear to put one more ounce on you. How am I supposed to move on? What the hell am I supposed to do, Kerry? I still love you, more than I think you'll ever let yourself realize, but every day I just get angrier and angrier. It's choking the life out of me, Kerry and I can't breathe anymore."
"And here I thought you were fucking the rage away fairly successfully," Kerry retorted acidly.
Kim's eyes paled suddenly and contrasted dramatically to the darkening flush of her cheeks. She went absolutely still, the moment becoming a horrifically frozen tableau to Kerry's disbelieving eyes.
And that's when it hit her, the realization of everything that had gone on between them since that terrible day at the elevator. "You came back just so you could leave, didn't you?" Kerry asked quietly. "Leave the right way. Leave for good."
Chapter Four: Two Step and Back
"'Lo?" His voice was groggy, and she considered briefly just hanging up the phone. "Abby?"
Dammit, she hated Caller ID.
"I didn't wake you, did I?" she tried, keeping her voice as casual as possible. "Too early to be asleep, even if it is a school night."
Pause. She could hear the twist and rustle of sheets and bedding. "What's wrong?" he asked.
She hesitated, not quite sure what she wanted to say and even less certain of why she called. Why the rumble of his quiet voice soothed the frayed edges of whatever it was that Kim stroked so deeply within her.
"Meet me at Loeb's," he said into the silence. "I'll be there in twenty minutes."
She put down the phone and once again contemplated her shaking hands. It was either a phone call or a bottle. Despite her words to Kim, her steady defiance that she could handle things, she knew she was too close to altogether too many edges.
She knew the air of inevitability that marked all their encounters was going to be her undoing one of these days. This evening, the familiar mixture of desire, fear and sheer need had surged into her throat when she recognized the low, hesitant tones of the woman on the other end of the line. It had drifted downward as they talked, floating her heart and soul in an ocean of tumult, until it settled somewhere deep between her legs as she had finally spoken the words aloud.
You... Tell me that I can have you...
Simple? Not exactly, but she was done trying to be the responsible one. From the sound of it, they all were.
And now with Luka. Her screwcorking open all the mess that he-- of the lot of them-- wanted the least to do with. Them all players in some Marx Brothers one-reel playing on the fringe of Shakespearean tragedy--her with her shaking hands and unslaked thirst; Kerry, her dogged stoicism and bleak eyes, unwilling to claim what she had and equally unwilling to let it go. And Kim-- back to that languid promise of succor, that smile with the barest hint of acid, just enough to sting. None of them knew what the hell they were doing, and why did she think Luka could help figure it out?
Why did she think he'd even want to try?
Mostly, Abby realized, because he was a good man-- as pained and hurt by the whole thing as the rest of them, but apparently better able to deal with it all.
Maybe she should get herself a dying Catholic bishop.
She had told him once, You watch me when we make love... as if he were afraid he wouldn't remember. Or as if-- she understood now-- he was afraid it would all be taken away from him again. So different than the righthererightnow intensity of the way Kim looked at her, not watching so much as seeing. And so it didn't matter what Abby had tried to conceal from her, everything fell away under the press of those long fingers inside her, that mouth upon her.
"Once an addict...." she murmured wryly to herself, picking up her keys and pulling the door firmly shut behind her.
Luka waiting, as promised, at Loeb's. She had to give him credit, at least the place he'd picked wasn't a fern bar. It had a slightly bluesy feel-- albeit somewhat manufactured-- but they played Bonnie Raitt instead of MaRainey. She would have preferred someplace a little darker, a little seedier, to suit her mood. Where the music was better and the smell of straight-up drinks lining the bar was only slightly less overwhelming than the smoke that haloed the row of fallen angels contemplating their lines of glass soldiers. The thought conjured up a phantom hand on the small of her back, urging her away from the respectable lights and tastefully shellacked wood veneer of the booth where Luka was waiting.
She shivered and turned to go but Luka was standing and waving her over, her chance to flee vanished before it had even truly materialized.
Their server-- a lithe girl whose pinched features and tight ponytail screamed "dancer" pounced almost immediately; and Abby could tell that Luka had been fending her off with polite, "No, I'm waiting for someone to join me's" for a little too long.
"Amstel Light, Johnnie Walker Black back," she said automatically, shrugging off her coat. Then stared at the server in alarm as Luka's eyebrows fluttered dramatically. "No... wait.. I mean... I want a Diet Coke. Okay?"
The dancer glanced at her skeptically, either hearing the lack of conviction in Abby's voice or reading something Abby didn't want to contemplate being visible. She nodded her acquiescence and glanced at Luka, this time with a little less interest than before. Apparently, visibly unraveling women were more intriguing than polite rebuffs, no matter how charming the accent delivering them.
"Should you be calling someone else instead of me?" Luka offered circumspectly. They had been together too long for him not to have noticed the steady stream of Diet Cokes that flowed along their dinners, but not long enough for her to actually say the words.
Luka, your lover's a drunk...
Confessions implied intimacy, and no matter how deeply he had thrust into her or how thoroughly he had made her come, their lovemaking had been about the sheer pleasure of physical release. When he wanted to make it about something more, she had pushed him away; just as he had done to her. Their timing had always been irrevocably off.
Not like Kim, who had been inside her from the very beginning-- who had taken in her pain and rage and Maggie's illness without flinching, who had first placed the possibility of happy on the table for her once more.
Oh well, no secrets anymore. No use for them.
"My sponser moved to Alabama two years ago. I haven't heard from her since."
"You didn't find another one?"
"Didn't really think there was a need for it."
"Something's changed." Part question in the lilting end of the sentence. Part statement of fact, based on the call brought him out at eleven o'clock on a Thursday night.
She snorted cynically and eyed the Killian's Red that the server put in front of Luka, regarded her own soda with less enthusiasm. "Tell me one thing in the last three months that hasn't changed."
Luka's silence spoke volume enough for them both; then a brief smile flickered over his somber features. "Carter's still got it bad for you."
"Just my luck," she agreed wryly.
He held his smile a moment longer before regarding her more seriously. "I heard you two were going out."
She shrugged. "Seemed like the right thing to do."
"To make her jealous?" The question took her aback, and her startled eyes met his even gaze. "I don't think you called me out here to talk about him," he added, shrugging lightly.
"It's not working."
"Making her jealous."
"No. Them. They're not working. It's not working."
"And you're happy about that."
"I'm not," she contradicted him, slugging down her soda with an intensity that belied its lack of substance. "Because it's tearing her up."
"They love each other."
"They never stood a chance."
He dipped his head in slight acknowledgement. "Maybe not. But it's not our place to say."
"I thought Kerry was supposed to be your friend."
"It's their relationship, Abby," he said patiently.
"Not when I'm in the middle of it," she snapped back.
He leaned back in the booth, the slight movement the only betrayal of his surprise. "You're still seeing her."
Not a question.
"Damnit, Abby..." he swore gently, leaning forward once more and gripping his mug so tightly that, for a moment, she thought the glass would shatter in his hand.
"No, I'm not," she interjected swiftly, hoping that the flushed memory of that afternoon on the roof wouldn't give her lie away. Then, more hesitantly, "But I'd like to. I mean... I would." This, at least, was the truth. So much being finished with secrets, she realized wryly.
"Even though she's with Kerry."
"She won't be for long."
"Not if you don't leave her alone."
"I'm not the one..." Abby began to retort hotly, but stopped. "Why, Luka?" she asked instead. "Why should I leave her alone? Because Kerry's has had such a crappy life and has been alone for so long? Because she loves Kim? Well, guess what? So have I." She paused, before adding, "So do I."
"Sounds to me like you're trying to justify something you know is wrong."
"Wrong because it would fuck up the ecosystem of the ER and I don't want to work any more midnight to noons?"
"Wrong because Kim made her choice."
"Her choice was wrong."
"So you say."
"So every-goddamn-thing-she's-done-since says." Abby grabbed his empty beer bottle and studiously began peeling the label off in tiny, precise strips, avoiding Luka's eyes. "She asked me not to fight for her, Luka. She begged me to let her go so she could try and make it work with Kerry. And whore to self-sacrifice that I am, I did."
A heavy silence dropped over them, and Abby wasn't sure if it was because Luka was waiting for what she was going to say next or because he honestly didn't know what to say himself.
Keeping her eyes fixed on the growing pile of label shreds, she worked the bottle quietly in her hands. Its shape was cool and familiar, and the sticky residue from the label tacked to her fingers. When she continued, her voice was soft, hoarse with unshed tears and exhausted nerves. "I'm so tired, Luka. And every day it gets a little bit worse."
"Then let her go."
"Even though she's the first thing in my life I've wanted to hang on to?"
The question brought him up short, his blanch visible.
"I'm sorry, Luka." She reached out for his hand, half-surprised when he allowed her to clasp it in her own, much smaller one. "You and me... it was never... Not for you either."
"You sound pretty sure of what it was for me," he said wryly.
"It's a little late to be indulging in revisionist history, don't you think?"
"You're probably right," he conceded. "But I do care about you, Abby. And this..." he gestured at the beer bottle in her hands. "No matter how much you care for her... it's not good."
"S'What she says, too."
"She should know."
"I happen to know it too."
"Then what are you doing?"
"Trying to move forward."
"With Carter?" His tone making it clear that he didn't think it was the brightest idea she'd ever had.
"It's a start."
"A good excuse to start this..." He extracted the bottle from her hands and waved it gently in front of her face. "Carter's not going to make you happy." He paused, visibly measuring his words. "Are you asking that from her?"
It took her a minute to parse the meaning of his question, then, understanding, she answered, "No. Just to be... I guess. With me. Or at least in my general vicinity. Something like that."
He nodded once. "Then that's why this thing with Carter's not going to work."
"I thought you didn't want me to be with Kim."
"It not about what I want, Abby. It's about not hurting other people. And not destroying yourself in the process."
"That's not love, Luka. That's damage control."
"Aren't you hurt enough already?"
"Yes. And if I never hurt this badly again over anything else in my life, I would be thrilled. But that's not gonna happen."
"Because happy is finally on the table. And I want it."
Chapter Five: And Back to One
"Something's going on."
"What are you talking about?"
"Like some kind of weird daisy chain of denial."
"Are you going to start speaking English any time soon?"
"Look around you."
"What do you see?"
"Obviously not the black cloud of imminent doom that you do."
"You get a good look at Weaver?"
"She always looks like that. Even when she's just gotten laid."
"How do you ... Nevermind. Look at what she's not doing."
"Why don't you just tell me?"
"She's not looking at Legaspi who is not looking at Lockhart."
"Kind of expected, since her girlfriend's in the room, dontcha think?"
Snort. "Are you kidding? Since they broke it off with each other, it's only gotten worse."
"Well, Lockhart's not looking at either of them."
"That's pretty much par for the course. More importantly, not only is she not looking at Legs and Der Kommandant, she's also actively avoiding Carter."
"Thought they were suddenly seeing each other now."
"Uh-huh. Plus, she's exchanged at least four significant glances with Kovac since she came on shift."
"You're giving me a headache. Can you just give me the bullet?"
"The bullet-- you blockhead-- is that some very big shit is about to hit a very big fan. And it's anybody's guess as to where the splatter's gonna end up."
"I don't want to talk to you." She wouldn't meet Abby's eyes, and that told the nurse a bit more than she'd expected when she'd seen Kim slip into the lounge. Almost of her own volition she had found herself following her ex-lover, consciously forcing herself to not think about what everyone else who was pretending not to notice her would think about the maneuver.
"Things really that bad between you and Kerry?"
"Kerry and I are over." This said with a studied glare at the coffeepot and the mug she held in her hands. "And that's why I don't want to talk to you."
"Not over that phone call last night," Abby said flatly. "Not over me."
"I don't want to have this conversation right now."
"Little late to be shutting the barn door on this one."
"Ranching metaphors don't suit you," Kim said crossly, putting the coffee down and turning to face her.
"Nice duck and parry, but it didn't work," Abby rejoined calmly, searching the psychiatrist's face. Kim's hair was pulled back into a careless ponytail, exposing every line of pain etched into the graceful features of her face. Studying the turbulent blue gaze, she realized just how dangerously close to the bone these weeks had brought Kim. As close as she was herself. "What the fuck are we doing?" she murmured quietly, reaching instinctively towards her lover.
Abby flinched at the abruptness in Kim's voice and stayed her arms. Folding them defensively instead against her chest, she surveyed Kim once more. "You're a mess."
"I know. That's why I'm not doing this here."
"Here? Or period?"
The waver in Kim's gaze told her more than she ever wanted to know about any kind of future she might have had with the doctor.
Kim looked startled for a moment and cocked her head in silent query.
"You're leaving, right? I mean, considering you don't have the best relationship with the Board of Directors and Chief of Staff," she said, more bitterness than she would have liked coloring her tone.
"What would you have me do, Abby?" The genuine bewilderment in her ex-lover's question brought the nurse up short. "I'm hurting too much to keep going on the way that I have been. More importantly I'm hurting too many people. People that I love, like you."
"Maybe, in some respects. Yeah."
"That's not love." Feeling foolishly like a sixteen-year old as she said it.
"Not the kind of love you need to make a life with someone, no."
"And you don't feel that for either one of us."
"It's not about feeling enough for you. Or Kerry."
"Then tell me what it is about."
"I can't get on with my life until I can get past nearly having my career and life wrecked by the one woman I loved more than anyone I ever have. And I can't keep using you as an emotional tourniquet to keep me from having to do that." This time Kim moved towards her, an elegant hand raking through Abby's hair and cupping the side of her face. The tenderness of the gesture threatened to undo them both, and Abby could feel the slight trembling in Kim's fingers as they came to rest over her heart. "As long as I have you, I don't have to deal with all the bad stuff. All I can see is you. And you make me feel alive in a way that no one else has ever done."
"I have to tell you, you are totally not selling me on why you should leave," Abby muttered, finding herself leaning into the pressure of Kim's hand.
"Why did you drink, Abby?"
The question was a cold slap of reality against the warmth of Kim's touch as it seeped beneath the thin cotton of her scrubs. "I think I see where this is headed." But the words still needed to be said, the ritual invoked.
So they could both move on.
So they could both say goodbye.
"I can't use you to get over her. Or to keep me from dealing with that I need to deal with."
"Can you use someone else and get back to me?" she asked wryly.
"You'll have stopped wanting me a long time before that."
"Don't be so sure about that, Legs."
"You want happy, Abby," Kim said gently, wrapping her long arms around the nurse and resting her chin on the crown of Abby's head. "Not me. And one day you'll find it." She sighed quietly and kissed Abby's forehead, before adding as if to herself, "You both will."
Return to ER Fiction
Return to Main Page