DISCLAIMER: ER and its characters are the property of Constant C Productions, Amblin Entertainment, and Warner Brothers Television.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
The Two Hardest Words
By Susan P
It had been almost two weeks. Kerry had been working normal shifts for most of that time, but it hadn't seemed like she was really there while she was in the ER. She did her job as well as always--no one could claim otherwise--but there was no spark. No screaming at attendings, residents, med students or nurses for not doing this or that or for doing something in a way that didn't fit her standards. No snide comments of any kind. No attempts at humor, awkward or otherwise. Even Romano couldn't manage to get under her skin, and not for lack of trying. She spoke to others only when necessary, it seemed, and sometimes had to be prodded into speaking at all. And if anyone else noticed Kerry's current tendency to avoid working on children, and how unusual that was for her, no one bothered to comment.
There had been much speculation by those not in the know--Chen's and Pratt's theories being the snarkiest. Those few who did know, and maybe a few who just suspected, spoke of it in hushed whispers, and only then when well out of the Kerry's range of hearing.
Kerry made no comment about anything even remotely personal. Nothing about her own life and no inquiries, casual or otherwise, about what might be going on in her staff's lives outside of work.
In the midst of a trauma, few people could have detected any differences in Kerry's behavior: she moved as quickly, shouted as loudly, when necessary, and worked as efficiently as ever. It was mainly in the slower moments that you could sense it--when she treated non-critical patients. It was almost as if part of her 'doctor' persona atrophied when the demands on her performance were lower, or less immediate. The social skills necessary to do the more mundane activities of assessing and treating patients just weren't functioning at their usual level.
Take away the patient and her mask just froze altogether. She barely paid attention to the various tangential conversations that took place at the Admit desk, in the lounge, even in the midst of a trauma. If it didn't relate directly to the patient she was treating, and if no one addressed her, specifically, she couldn't seem to muster the energy to listen, or if she did listen, she gave no sign of it. She gave no outward signs of feeling much of anything.
That had us worried. An unhappy or angry Weaver was a dangerous thing to be around. A happy Weaver could be almost as scary, if only because it threw you off-balance. But the emotional void currently masquerading as Kerry Weaver was an animal unknown to us and could only be TROUBLE waiting to happen. Sooner or later, she would either break down, something she wouldn't want to have happen in front of the ER staff, or explode, something the ER staff wouldn't want to have happen within a five-hundred block radius. Neither outcome would be the 'best' thing for Kerry, either, though one or the other might be a necessary step for her in dealing with her loss.
So, there was an odd kind of anticipation in the ER, though most of the staff had no clue as to what was behind it, or what was at stake where Kerry was concerned. The staff grapevine had remained surprisingly clueless. Randi could often be found staring at the Chief through the eyes of that schoolgirl crush only a few of us had noticed, but now there was genuine concern there, too, even though it was a safe bet she didn't know what had happened. Yosh and Carter the occasional worried glance Kerry's way, but neither of them knew what, exactly, was wrong with her. Abby's eyes followed Kerry with a longing to fix problems that weren't her own (a common ailment for those in the medical profession) but also with a healthy dose of fear and helplessness mixed in. She knew all too well what had happened, but still had few clues about how to even approach Kerry, much less try to help her. She'd exchange anxious glances with me, but I felt equally helpless. Kerry had let us both in a little: Abby out of necessity; me out of...I'm still not sure what, exactly. When she told me she was pregnant, she was so happy. It was obvious she wanted to share the news, but I could still see a small spark of distrust in her eyes before she said it. I understood. I'd earned that distrust. Once upon a time, I'd have been the last person she'd want to share anything that personal with, and she'd probably have been right to keep it from me.
Thankfully, our relationship has gotten much better since I came back, and even better since Mark died, believe it or not. He'd always been there between us, I guess, mostly because she and I tended to use him as a middleman when dealing with each other. But, his death drew us together in some weird way. Maybe it was because we felt like the last two remaining from the 'old guard.' Doug and Carol had moved on, Morgenstern and Anspaugh hadn't really been presences in the ER for some time, Luka was 'new,' relative to Kerry and I, and Carter was just beginning to come into his own, really. Plus, taking on some of the Admin duties for the ER had given me a whole new respect for the crap Kerry had to deal with on a daily basis.
I tried to remember how I felt those first days after Chloe took little Suzie from me. Tried to remember. After all the time spent trying to forget. You'd think time and circumstances would've healed that wound by now, but it hadn't, not entirely. Even though I know it was the right thing--Suzie needed more of a family than I could give her alone--I can still remember how much it hurt to lose her. All that panicked reliving of the scene when they took her constantly playing in my head for weeks after, while I walked through my job, my life, numb to almost everything but what I'd had and what I'd lost.
It wasn't the same. I know that. It couldn't compare to what Kerry was going through. Still it was the only thing in my past that could give me some clue as to how to relate to Kerry's pain. To try to help her. If she'd even let me try, that is. Even when she told me about the miscarriage, that numbness had already set in. Her eyes were vacant, her voice hollow, as she said the words. Had she not needed to tell me in order to explain why she was taking some time off, I'm not sure she would have. Not right away, at least. The effort of saying it aloud seemed to deflate her, and she let me hold her for a couple of minutes--far longer than she ever would have under normal circumstances. That's how I knew how badly she was hurting.
Had anyone other than Abby walked in on us then and seen Kerry's head burrowed into my shoulder and my arms holding her tightly, I'd have been subjected to lesbian jokes for weeks, maybe months, not that I'd give a damn. Abby just looked up at me with those sad eyes before backing quietly out of the lounge, leaving us to give and take what comfort we could.
In the end, Kerry had only taken two days off before returning to the ER. It obviously wasn't enough time, but what would be? Besides, knowing Kerry, the relative inactivity probably drove her nuts.
But it just hasn't been the same since she came back to work, because she hasn't been the same. Today, finally, Kerry showed signs of cracking, though most of the staff probably just thought of it as a return to normality where Kerry was concerned. She jumped on Pratt, who totally deserved it, but then she started to rip Gallant a new one over something trivial. She caught herself, then just put a hand on his arm, murmured, "I'm sorry," and headed straight for the on-call room as quickly as she could manage, presumably to collect herself. I wanted to go check on her, but Gallant got that wounded-puppy look on his face, so I took pity on him and went to help him out.
We had multiple casualties from a construction site accident come in near the end of my shift. By the time I got my patient stabilized and transferred to the OR and briefed the next shift on current patients, I was a half-hour late clocking out.
When I slipped into the lounge to get my stuff, I found Kerry sitting next to the table, leaning over, her head in her hands and her purse, as well as about half its contents on the floor between her feet. I calmly opened my locker and got my stuff, then put my purse on the table while I put on my coat. Kerry hadn't seemed to even register my presence, but she roused just before I was about to step toward her.
"You wouldn't happen to have change, would you?" she asked, waving a twenty that I hadn't noticed in her hand. "El fare."
Another crack in the facade, I guessed. I stepped over, knelt down and was surprised when she didn't protest as I began putting her things back in her purse.
"I probably do, but..." I only hesitated a moment before making the offer. "You look really tired, Kerry. Why don't you let me give you a ride home?"
I could see her first impulse was to refuse, but she must have been too tired to play that game, because she finally just nodded and murmured, "thank you."
I put her purse on the table, helped Kerry up and into her coat and grabbed my purse while she grabbed the rest of her stuff. She followed me to my car like a dutiful puppy, without a word, and she spoke little on the drive over, just giving directions and offering an inane comment or two about the weather or something equally safe. The sad thing is I was so wrapped up in worrying about Kerry, that I really wasn't paying much attention to what she said, apart from the directions.
We made it to her place, but I had a little trouble finding an empty spot. I very nearly gave in to her suggestion to simply drop her off in front of her door, but then on the third circuit around the block a spot opened up two doors down from her place. I helped Kerry out of the car and up the stairs to her door, the fact that she let me reinforcing my decision to try and talk to her, try to help her if I could.
She didn't so much invite me in as hold the door open until I stepped through it, which was good enough for me. Once she'd hung up her coat and purse, and I'd laid mine across the arm of a chair, she gestured vaguely at the sofa.
"Have a... Um, can I get you something?"
"Kerry, while I appreciate you trying to be hospitable, I think it'll be easier for the both of us if we just reverse things this once. Is there something I can get for you?"
She looked a little shocked at my directness, but she gave in, as if it didn't seem worth the effort to fight me for the privilege of playing hostess in her own home.
"Vodka, there's a bottle in the freezer, two cubes of ice. There's a bottle of wine and some iced tea in the fridge, if you'd prefer that. If you want any other kind of alcohol, the bar's over there," she pointed, "and the glasses are in the 2nd cabinet to the right of the sink. There're leftovers, too, if you're interested. Help yourself."
I went to fix her vodka and a glass of wine for myself, but asked, "what about you?" mostly to try and keep her talking.
"I'm not really hungry."
"But you should eat. I don't recall you ever taking a lunch break, Kerry." I poked my head out of the kitchen when she didn't respond. "Kerry?"
She looked up at me, then finally seemed to register what I'd said. "Um, there's some Chinese take-out in there. That would be okay."
I smiled at her, knowing she was only giving in to humor me. "Okay. If there's enough, I'll split it with you."
"There should be," she murmured. "Plates are..."
"I'll find them," I called back, but I almost regretted interrupting her because she fell silent for a few minutes while I went about my project. I was afraid I'd lost her, but she finally spoke again.
"I'm sorry the place is such a mess. I haven't..."
"I'm sure you haven't," I cut her off again as I came out of the kitchen with two plates in my hand. I looked around: a few dishes in the sink, some journals laid out on the coffee table, a stray article of clothing on a chair, a pair of slippers abandoned near the couch. Not what most people would classify as 'messy.'
"This, you call a mess? You wouldn't wanna come stay at my place for a week or so, wouldja? It's got a ways to go to look this good!"
The joke earned me a smirk, so she was still listening, at least. I gestured with the food-laden plates, "um, here or in there?"
"Uh, on the center island, I guess," she replied before rising to join me in the kitchen.
I put a plate and her vodka in front of the seat she chose, then grabbed my own plate and glass. We didn't talk much, but as long as she was eating, I was happy to let the silence stretch out. She managed to polish off two-thirds of her food before she started slowing down, and maybe finished three-quarters of it before she gave up entirely.
"I'm sorry, I..." she started as she pushed her plate away. She drained the remaining vodka from her glass and set it aside.
"It's okay." I knew better than to push my luck. I grabbed our plates and scraped the remains into the garbage disposal, running the tap to rinse the plates off while I let it do its work. That done, I turned back to her, gesturing at her glass. "Can I get you another...um..." I stopped short of suggesting she go easy on the alcohol, but I was a little worried.
She held up her glass and stared through it a moment, then stood up and walked over to join me at the sink. "No, I'll just get some water." She filled the glass, drained it, then filled it again and headed back into the living room.
I sat as close to her on the sofa as I dared, thinking things would probably get more personal as I tried to get her to open up, but not wanting to crowd her or pressure her before she was ready.
For lack of something better to say, I asked Kerry, "what time does Sandy get off tonight?"
Kerry shook her head. "I'm not sure. It doesn't matter, though. She won't be coming here."
"Oh?" I tried not to make it sound like a question, but I'm not sure I succeeded. I'd probably just stepped in it, and I didn't want to push her into talking. Well, I did, actually, but I hadn't been aware that Sandy might be part of the problem, so now I was kinda lost.
"We're, uh..." she shook her head again, not really looking at me, "I'm not sure what we are right now. I'm not sure we want the same things..."
"The baby." Oh, man, I should learn when to shut up.
The look of agony that crossed her face was unmistakable, and I felt like pond scum, but she just nodded.
"She doesn't want to carry it and...now, I'm not sure I can."
"So you shut her out." Damn it. I did it again.
She just laughed bitterly and we shared a knowing look. Preemptive strike. Hurt them before they can hurt you...or after they've hurt you but before they can do more damage.
I reached out to take her hand in mine. "Kerry. You don't know for certain that a second attempt would..." I searched for a euphemism, "run into problems. Do you? I mean, you're healthy..." aren't you?
She shook her head. "No. My OB said I should probably wait a month or two, at least, but that the chances were good. But. After this...I..."
I could see the impending flood, though she was struggling hard to keep her emotions in check. I slid an arm across her shoulders and turned sideways on the sofa, ready to catch her when she fell.
"I'm...I'm... I'm just not sure I can..."
And then the dam broke and she was sobbing. I pulled her into my arms and let her cling to me, hoping this would be the beginning of her healing.
I'm not sure how long we sat there. Long enough for Kerry's tears to soak through my blouse where her head was against my shoulder. Long enough for her heaving, choking sobs to slow to shuddering sighs, and eventually to quiet altogether. Long enough for her incoherent, mournful utterances and my own soothing nonsense phrases to run out and leave nothing but the sounds of our breathing behind. Long enough for my eyelids to start drooping. I leaned back a little further into the corner of the sofa, so I could rest my head on the back. I pulled Kerry along with me and the shift in position left her face resting in the crook of my neck. Her warm breath on my skin made sleep suddenly impossible, but I said nothing--not wanting to disturb her.
I started stroking her back, hoping to lull her to sleep; I wasn't at all sure I'd be able to climb out from under her without disturbing her if I succeeded, but I was willing to take that chance.
I felt the energy change between us, felt her nuzzling into my body, felt her lips on my clavicle, my throat... I could've stopped it, I know. Maybe I should have. She probably didn't even know what she was doing, or with whom, at first. It would've only taken a word from me, I'm sure, but I just couldn't make myself say it.
When she finally pulled back, she looked at me with the beginnings of realization, followed by embarrassment and disappointment, but the desire and the need were still there, too. She started shaking her head, but before she could begin to offer denials or apologies I held a hand up and shushed her.
"Shhh." With her watching intently, I reached up and began unbuttoning my blouse, pulling it open as I went. Exposing myself. Offering myself.
Her eyes devoured me, making a study of my flesh. Finally, she met my eyes, a question in hers. I just nodded and slid a hand behind her neck, pulling gently until she moved forward of her own volition, her hands and lips mapping the same territory her eyes had.
Take what you need, Kerry, I thought. Your pain, your need...take it all out on me.
And take she did. She took me right there on her couch, and then she took me to her bed, where she took, and gave, and I gave, and took. Our bodies surged, and yielded. We pushed and pulled, touched and tasted, and spent half the night chasing away our respective demons, finding some solace in each other's arms.
It was raw, and tender. Passionate, and mournful. And, God help me, I hadn't felt this connected to anyone or anything since I came back to Chicago.
Dix. Dixie. Suddenly I was missing her more than I ever had since leaving her, and Scottsdale, behind. Tonight, with Kerry, the sex was some of the most intense I'd ever had, with anyone except Dixie. We were all about sex, Dix and I. Incredible sex. But outside of bed, we just didn't have much to say to one another that mattered. Not enough in common, aside from the physical chemistry. If it hadn't been for that, we probably would never have happened, and I'd have lived the rest of my life believing I was straight. But Dix was lightning and I was her own personal lightning rod--the more her energy coursed through me, the more I craved it, and the more I pulled her to me. I finally had to pull away because I knew that energy would either destroy us or just leave us spent and empty--fire or ice. Plus, I just couldn't go on sleeping with someone I couldn't talk to. There just wasn't much 'relating' in our relationship, apart from the physical.
Well, there were some things we talked about, at least. Dix helped me come to terms with my coming out issues, maybe because it was the only thing we had in common, really, other than the sex. She had come out late in life, too, and she could cut right to the heart of it whenever I got antsy about wanting her or being with her. I suppose I should thank her for that, at least. Whether I was gay, or bisexual, or something not so easily classifiable, I probably wouldn't ever deny my feelings for women again.
Maybe that was why I let tonight happen. Now I know the thing with Dix wasn't a fluke. Tonight, with Kerry, was more, so much more than anything I'd ever felt with anyone before, Dix included. And tonight might just be...tonight. I don't know what the hell I'll do tomorrow if this is it, but tonight was more for Kerry than for me, so I'll have to follow her lead and live with her choice.
"Susan?" Kerry croaked, her voice hoarse from sleep.
I look away from the window, but keep the curtain open so I can look at Kerry in the moonlight. "Yeah?"
She pulls back the covers, and I draw in a breath at the spark of desire I feel as her flesh is revealed to me again.
"Come to bed," she says softly, almost shyly, as if I might refuse.
As if I could. I smile and look at her for a moment, and I'm almost reluctant to release the curtain and mute the moonlight illuminating her beauty. Her actual flesh is far more tempting than the mere sight of it, however, and I soon drop the blanket I'd wrapped myself in and climb into her arms again.
She sighs as she snuggles deeper into my body, tangling our legs together. "I needed this," she murmurs.
"The two hardest words," I mutter, more to myself than her, but she hears.
I pull her a little closer. "What are the two hardest words to say? Most people would probably say 'I'm sorry,' but for me it's 'I need.' I needed this, too, Kerry."
She leans up and gives me a slow, gentle kiss. "Here are a couple other tough ones: thank you, Susan."
I kiss her back. "Any time."
I don't know what happens tomorrow, but, for now, this is more than enough. I just hope Kerry feels the same.
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