Not Love, Something Else by Sharon Bowers

Fandom: ER
Rating:
PG-13-ish.
Summary: What if Kim were a real character and not just a catalyst for Kerry's individual journey? If so, I think her life at County might look something like this.
Spoilers: Some few days/weeks after Surrender. Pre The Crossing.
Disclaimers: I'm not a doctor, I don't play one on the internet or TV. But then again I'm not a lawyer and that doesn't stop me from writing Law & Order stuff. Whatever. I'm committing Grand Theft Character again. Not like I haven't done it before.
Feedback: Questions, comments welcome at sbowers@bellsouth.net

Not Love, Something Else

For Kerry Weaver, nirvana had always been that perfect moment between waking and sleeping; when the agonizing demands of her body had receded into silence and she was aware enough to enjoy it. Never once had she reflected on the irony that somewhere along the line she began considering pleasure to be only the absence of pain.

How strange to now experience the concept of pleasure evolving-- from passive to active, the catalyst something she never could have imagined.

Long arms curled around her in sleepy propriety; the slender fingers of one hand warm against her belly, the other carelessly flung forward across the mattress. She should have been a surgeon, Kerry mused silently, tracing the shape of the fingers underneath hers and remembering the grace with which those hands moved across her body. The memory brought a fresh flush of heat to her skin, making her acutely aware of the supple curves of the woman behind her and the tangle of their legs beneath the comforter. Unconsciously she arched deeper into their loose embrace and heard a faint mewl of pleasure behind her. Soft lips brushed the back of her neck, sending tiny flares of arousal sparking down the length of her spine. "We're going to be late," Kerry murmured quietly, yet made no effort to move. In response, the arms around her tightened, hips and legs molding against hers.

"There's time," a soft voice whispered in her ear.

"I can't be late," Kerry protested faintly, as the hands she had been contemplating earlier began to roam.

"Why not?"

Droplets of kisses on her shoulders, down her arms. She reached behind her, blond curls sliding through her fingers, softer than anything had a right to be. Opening herself further to the arousal being stroked into her body. "Because..." she moaned quietly at the brush of a tongue against her neck, teeth teasing at the pulse in her carotid artery. "I'm never late."

Stillness greeted this reply, then a muted chuckle. "Figures." That voice in her ear again, thick with sleep and something more. "But tell me something..." she teased, the words punctuated by more kisses. "Would the world end if Chief Weaver was just a few minutes late?"

Capturing one roving hand and bringing it to her lips, Kerry pressed a conciliatory kiss into the palm. "Probably not," she conceded. "But it's still not going to happen."

Quiet laughter shook the body behind her, and her lover's hands ceased their meandering. "Fair enough, but you're on your own for the shower-- I'm not on until noon, and I don't plan on getting out of bed until absolutely necessary."

Kerry arched up, rolling over and finding herself staring down into the pale blue eyes that had unsettled her from the very start. It always astonished her that something so crystalline could pulse with such warmth and vitality. She had seen them flushed with both anger and passion; yet they had never darkened the way her own eyes did, never lost their clarity even for a moment. Waking up to those eyes had been almost unbearable that first morning-- she had seen her own vulnerability cradled in that glance, reflected back at her in that smile, and her first instinct had been to flee. Yet at the end of a horrible day, the memory of those eyes-- and the acceptance and kindness she had seen there from the beginning-- carried her back to Kim Legaspi's door.

"Pulling half days, are we? I knew you Psych docs had it too easy."

"Har har-- actually I'm giving up a day off and covering for a third year res so he and his fiancee could spend the afternoon with their wedding planner."

"That's awfully thoughtful of you."

"Hardly, just wait till warm weather rolls around and I start calling in all the favors I've done over the winter." Kim grinned wickedly. "You like picnics?"

"So you're saying you have a master plan?"

"Always, my dear Dr. Weaver."

"That's surprising. From what I've seen, you strike me as someone with poor impulse control."

"Only selectively. And usually just around you." Kim wrapped her arms around the smaller woman and pulled her down for a quick kiss. "Now get out of my bed before you see a stellar example of that principle."

---------------------------------

For the fifth time in less than two minutes, Dave Malucci glanced nervously at the regular shuffle of traffic through the ER doors. "Hey, Randi-- you seen the Chief?"

"I don't think she's on till nine."

"I'm getting kinda worried about her."

The desk clerk stared at him as if she thought he had finally lost what little sense he ever had. "Can you have a cow for even less of a reason? It's not even five till."

"Exactly, when was the last time Weaver wasn't obnoxiously early for a shift?"

"That's true. Hmmm..." Randi snapped her gum thoughtfully, considering the possibilities for a moment before shaking her head. "Nah, she's probably lurking around here somewhere, waiting to crutch up behind you and catch you screwing up." She paused meaningfully. "Again."

Dave narrowed his eyes and opened his mouth to retort, snapping it shut when a familiar red-headed figure came into view, still in her coat and carrying her briefcase. "Hey Chief! What's up?"

Kerry's eyes bounced between the resident and the desk clerk and back again. "How many patients do we have on the board, Dr. Malucci?"

"Uh..." His glance followed hers to the clear admit board. "Thirteen, Chief."

"Then why are you standing here chatting up Randi? Hasn't she already turned you down once?"

"Try three times," Randi offered helpfully.

"Waitaminute--" Dave protested.

"My point is, Malucci-- take the stomach pains in Curtain One and the migraine in Curtain Three; and the next time you come up here will be to see what else the board has to offer. Understand?"

Kerry didn't wait for confirmation of her instructions before spinning on her heel and disappearing from view.

"So much for that theory," Dave muttered.

"Which was?"

"I dunno, Weaver's just seemed sort of... more tolerable lately. I thought maybe..."

"That Weaver was getting some?" Randi burst out incredulously.

"Hey, keep it down!" he shushed her, arms waving frantically. "She'll decapitate you--"

"And de-ball you..."

"If she hears you say something like that."

The desk clerk leaned closer conspiratorially. "You got any evidence?"

"No. I told you, it's just a feeling."

"Yeah, well you might want to see somebody about those unresolved feelings of ESP. She's not hooked up with somebody here at County, because, believe me, I'd know. And where the hell else would she meet someone?"

"You don't know what she does outside work."

"I know she doesn't moonlight as a table dancer."

---------------------------------

"Look, Carl, all I'm saying is I don't necessarily believe increasing her Paxil dosage will resolve her problems." Kim Legaspi ran a weary and exasperated hand through her hair. The day had been trying on all fronts, from the early morning phone call that had dragged her unwillingly out of bed to the patient who had hurled his lunch tray at her. She was beginning to believe the cosmic forces had all arrayed themselves against her for some sinister purpose. "If I wanted to be a drug rep, I'd go work for Pfizer."

"Kim, I know you disagree with some..."

"She's not trying to kill herself, not really."

"The scars on her wrists would seem to contradict that."

"Right, which is why each time she did it, she made sure someone was due home any second. She wants someone to listen to her, not medicate her problems away."

DeRaad's jaw flexed, and he crossed his arms tensely.

Kim sighed, holding a hand up in surrender. "I'm sorry. It's just... how long has she been on this stuff? I understand the drug's initial importance, but she's still engaging in the same behavior. She's not gaining any perspective, she's still not seeing any alternatives. I can't see how it's helping her. Maybe we should try something else."

"What would you suggest?"

"Has anybody tried getting her away from her asshole husband?"

Carl merely glared at her.

"Sorry. It's just..."

The psychiatrist relaxed his stance, slouching against Kim's desk, knowing the younger woman was right. Kim was sprawled in the ergonomic chair opposite him in a contortion he hadn't thought possible, all legs and easy grace, not at all intimidated to be butting heads with the head of her department. From the moment Kim Legaspi had stepped into County General, she had been possessed of a quiet confidence in her own judgment-- it was one of the reasons he had brought her in from Johns Hopkins as an attending. And he couldn't help but wonder what had brought about such a unwavering assurance. "He doesn't make a very good first impression, does he? I remember the first time she was brought in, he stormed into the treatment room and demanded to know what she thought she was thought she was doing-- leaving the kids without their dinner."

"You see my point."

Carl inclined his head in agreement. "What do you suggest?"

"Let me talk to her. I knew she's refused it before, but I'll see if I can set up some sort of on-going therapy for her. Maybe if she actually has someplace else to go-- and physically has a reason to get out of the house-- it will help."

"You going to refer her?"

"No, I'll take it myself. We seem to have some sort of rapport. Or at least she tolerates me."

The attending chuckled and pointed at her dark blue scrubs. "Then she wasn't the one responsible for your wardrobe crisis?"

"Not exactly," she replied, pulling a wry smile. The tinny bleeping of her pager interrupted any further explanation, and both doctors looked down at their waists simultaneously. "It's mine," Kim confirmed. "I'm covering the ER today."

"Lucky you."

Sketching a small wave at her boss, Kim passed on the elevator and instead took the stairs, thumping down the five flights swiftly and using the extra few minutes to reorder her thoughts from the dozen different directions they currently sought. Truthfully, she had yet to find her focus today, and so many things had been thrown at her-- literally and otherwise-- in the ninety minutes she had been on-call that she was beginning to wonder if she'd be able to pull it together before the end of her shift.

"Hey Randi, somebody paged me down from Wonderland."

The desk clerk glanced up from buffing her nails and frowned. "Why do you look like a real doctor?"

"I am a real doctor," she answered, while the devil in her piped up with a smirking, "Want to come up to my office and see my diploma sometime?"

"You hitting on me?"

While that same devil was ready with a completely inappropriate reply, Kim only looked at the clerk in surprise. "Um... no..."

"Cause I heard you had a way with the ladies."

"You did?"

"...And I'm just saying, you know, that if I had to choose between like you and Dave on one of those Temptation Island things, I'd definitely choose you." Had Kim's jaw not already been on the floor it would have landed then with a resounding thunk, but Randi was on a roll. "You definitely look better in those scrubs than he does. And I bet your MD isn't from Guatemala."

"Georgetown, actually."

"See? You're so much more... intellectual..."

"Dr. Legaspi?"

Kim whirled around with almost obscene relief. She didn't know what the standard of sexual harassment around here was-- although judging by the Chief of Staff's behavior, there wasn't one-- but she didn't really want this conversation with Randi to go any further. For both their sakes. "Dr. Carter. Was it your page I got?"

"Yeah. You sure made it down here quick."

"We aim to please." Not admitting that she had hoped it was Kerry not-so-discreetly-summoning her. "What can I do for you?"

"I've got this guy in Exam 2, says that he's being visited by little green men from Neptune." He handed her the chart. "Wanted to see if he was maybe one of your squirrels who had left his prescription nuts at home."

"Green men?" she asked, flipping through the chart. "You sure?"

"That's what he said."

"Cause I have to tell you-- and this is serious. Usually the little green men come from Mars. Blue men are from Neptune."

Carter paused a beat, his eyes searching out the suppressed humor in hers. "You're yanking my chain, right?" Although there was doubt in his voice.

"Yes, Carter, I am." She grinned at him and chucked his shoulder with the edge of the chart. "Relax. Let me go talk to this space ranger and I'll get back to you in a few. Okay?"

---------------------------------

"So he's..."

"Mad as a hatter," Kim cheerfully supplied as she strolled out of the exam room. "I told him we'd have some agents come escort him to the secret surveillance room on the fifth floor so he could identify the alien bounty hunters who are after him. You might want to have some orderlies take care of him."

"Will do."

"Oh, and Carter? Make sure they're not wearing green scrubs, okay?" She grinned at him. "Otherwise it could get ugly." Spinning on the rubber sole of her sneaker, Kim's forward motion was abruptly halted by the small projectile hurtling in her direction. "Whoooaaa there..."

Charts, stethoscopes, and pens went flying, but Kim managed to retain her grip on the missile itself, her body recognizing it long before her eyes could make a positive identification. Instinctively her arms slipped around a slender waist and her legs braced themselves, saving Chief Kerry Weaver from falling ungraciously on her ass in front of her entire staff. "I miss a fire alarm?" she drawled slowly as Kerry fought to regain her equilibrium, not an easy proposition considering her feet had mostly gone out from under her. "Relax, I gotcha." She lifted up gently, bearing the brunt of her lover's slight weight until Kerry righted herself. The chief's face underwent an alarming series of expressions, including turning a charming shade of pink as Kim helped steady her.

"You okay, Dr. Weaver?" Carter's concerned voice drained the blush, as well as all remaining color, from Kerry's face as she struggled to disentangle herself. Kim obligingly dropped her arms and stepped back a pace, aware of more than one pair of eyes upon them. She bit her lips to keep the snicker from escaping her lips, but couldn't stop a smirk from curling around the corners of her mouth. Silently, she watched her lover mentally dust herself off and settle her professional mask back in place. Only the bright red tips of her ears betrayed her.

"Fine, Carter, just fine," she snapped without looking at him.

"Okay, then... Well..." He glanced at Kim. "I'll just see about getting our ranger upstairs."

"Thanks, Carter. I'll be up in a minute to do the work up." Carter nodded at the unspoken dismissal, and Kim watched him drift away towards the admit desk before swinging her eyes to Kerry once more. "You really okay?"

Kerry nodded distractedly, looping her stethoscope back around her neck and glanced at her lover, eyes narrowing as she took in Kim's outfit. "Why are you wearing scrubs?"

"Don't you mean why do I look like a real doctor? That's what Randi asked me." Kim chuckled and jerked her head towards the lounge. "You want some coffee?"

---------------------------------

"You know," Dave mused from his vantage point behind the admit desk, "I'm finding myself strangely aroused."

Haleh's eyes involuntarily flew downward, and she thanked the Higher Power that Malucci was apparently only kidding. Her gaze then met Randi's in a silent exchange that ended with, "Hell no, if you want to know what he meant, you ask him."

The desk clerk scowled at the task falling to her. "What are you talking about?"

"Dr. Legaspi and the Chief. You catch that clinch?"

"Weaver was about to bust her ass," Haleh contradicted him. "I wouldn't exactly call it a clinch."

"Bout the closest Weaver's come to getting it in a while," Randi observed.

"Whatever. I'm talking subtextually."

"You mean Weaver and the Psych Dyke?" Randi asked incredulously. "That's what's turning you on?"

"How do you know she's gay?"

"Weaver's gay?"

"NO! Legaspi."

"Read the newspaper, Dave. Everyone knows she's gay."

"I didn't." He gazed longingly in the direction of the lounge where Kerry and Kim had disappeared.

"Yeah, well you ride the short bus into work every day."

"How do you know?"

"About the bus?"

"About Legaspi."

Randi opened her mouth to reply and then noticed that she and Dave weren't exactly speaking privately anymore. Haleh had hung around since the beginning of their conversation, but now Carter, Chuny, and Malik were

looking at her with wide-eyed expectation. She grinned, "Well it's like this. Back in September-- right after Legaspi started, and I was pulling all those nights?-- I had just come on shift when in walks this leggy brunette wearing an Armani suit that I know had to have cost like three grand, a leather coat draped over her arm and a perfect red rose in her hand. I ask if I can help her, because you know she's not looking too injured to me-- although it's a miracle she could walk on those heels without twisting an ankle-- and she grins at me like cat-eating-bird--"

Malik frowned, "Do wha...?"

"Shut up!" Chuny hissed, waving at Randi to continue.

"She's smiling at me, right? And in this Jane-fucking-perfect-Austen-accent says to me, 'I'm looking for Dr. Kim Legaspi. Do you know where I might find her?' " She paused a moment to allow her audience to absorb the visual she had created for them. "And I'm all 'Let me page her for you' cause there ain't no way I'm missing this..."

---------------------------------

"So, Mr. Turner decided he just had to find out if his beef stroganoff could fly. Unfortunately, I was all that was standing between the noodles and their freedom. And that was ten minutes after I had walked on shift. I should have gone home then. Then I find out that Lisa-- the anorexic girl whose parents signed her out AMA-- is back in ICU with an intravenous feed. My faux suicide lady is in for her third attempt in as many months, and DeRaad's reco is to up her medication and ship her back to her husband. And if that's not enough, I broke my favorite coffee mug and would trade one of my kidneys for a caffeine fix right now."

Kerry's brows rose dramatically at the litany, looking mildly concerned as Kim sighed deeply and rubbed her eyes. Grabbing her own mug from its peg on the rack over the coffee maker, Kerry methodically filled it, scooping in two teaspoons of sugar. "I think the milk's bad," she said apologetically, handing the mug to her lover. "But maybe this will get you through at least a little while longer."

"I'd bless you but my Catholicism is so far lapsed it isn't funny anymore." Kim inhaled the coffee's aroma gratefully and took a deep sip, wincing only slightly as the hot beverage washed over her tongue. "How many more hours till I can get out of here?"

"Just a few."

"That's good, because I think I might be in danger of ending up admitted to my own ward."

Kerry cocked her head, only now seeing the unnatural tension threading through the younger woman's spine. The ease with which Kim always seemed to inhabit her skin was one of the first things that had drawn Kerry to her-- perhaps out of some subliminally masochistic impulse-- and she had always delighted in watching the younger woman move, much in the same way she had surreptitiously watched the big cats on the Serengeti Plain. The lions' unconscious grace loping and playing in the unrelenting sun had been breathtaking; she had felt a similar sense of awe the first time she had watched the muscles rippling quietly under the surface of Kim's skin. Now, though the blue scrubs concealed the definition of her figure, Kerry could see the strain in the way Kim stood and in the set of her shoulders. "You okay?"

"Long morning."

Glancing quickly around to make sure they were alone, Kerry leaned closer. "I thought you were spending it in bed?"

That brought a wry smile to her lover's face, accompanied by a tiny shrug. "I had hoped to-- just me and some illicit thoughts about someone who shall remain nameless. Alas, it wasn't to be."

"Anything I can do to make it better?"

"Just seeing your face makes it better. Thanks for that."

The muscle that was Kerry's heart squeezed in painful pleasure at the murmured words, and she fought an impulsive urge to brush the loose tendrils of hair back from Kim's cheek. Occupying her traitorous hands instead with the coffeepot and a spare mug, she asked softly, "What are you doing for dinner? I mean... You probably don't feel like going out, but I could swing by the market and pick up some stuff to cook at your place... If you're interested."

"You have no idea how interested I'd be, Dr. Weaver." A gentle smile curved

the lean planes of Kim's face, the quite intimacy there more searing to Kerry than a touch. "I'll even get the wine. Any preferences?"

"Surprise me."

"Don't I usually?" They chuckled together briefly, their eyes locking and holding until a slight blush covered Kerry's cheeks. "Anyway... I better get back out there and find out what the hell this guy thinks the little green men from Neptune are doing to him."

"Maybe I'm wrong, but... Aren't green men usually from Mars?"

---------------------------------

Her path diverging with Kerry's as they left the lounge, Kim strolled to the admit desk with Kerry's mug still in hand. With their quiet exchange, Kerry had restored-- if not her equilibrium-- then at least her mood. It didn't hurt knowing that Kerry now felt almost comfortable inviting herself over. Considering the ER chief had been running around with her underwear tucked into her briefcase for the last couple of weeks, Kim was toying with the idea of suggesting that her lover leave a few things at her place-- but she still wasn't sure how Kerry would respond to the suggestion. The redhead's reactions had proven almost damnably impossible to predict-- maddeningly distant emotionally one minute; and yet, the next, physically devouring Kim with passion unlike any the blond had ever experienced. Kerry had been shy about revealing her own body to her new lover; but she had mapped Kim with an explorer's boldness, relentlessly questing for the secrets of her pleasure. That first night, Kim had allowed Kerry to roam her skin at will to show her trust, shuddering in arousal at the touch and struggling to keep the sensations from overwhelming her. She had lost it when Kerry began whispering to her-- telling her in a hushed tone of awe how beautiful she was and what it felt like to watch her in the moonlight. Over the years, dozens of women had told Kim Legaspi she was beautiful, but it wasn't until she heard the words fall from Kerry Weaver's lips that they had ever really meant anything to her.

"You must believe in living dangerously." Dave Malucci's uncertain chuckle interrupted her reverie, and she brought her eyes to meet his brown ones. Since her arrival at County, the resident had treated her with a puppy's playful attention, and she suspected those full lips and appealing eyes landed him more than one conquest in his young life. He had seemed to jibe to the fact that she wasn't interested, but it hadn't stopped him from trying to strike up a conversation every time they found themselves in the same place.

"Beg pardon?"

He nodded at the mug in her hand, seeming genuinely nervous. "That's the Chief's, right?"

"And if it is?"

"Well..." He shrugged, hooking his thumbs in the back of the waistband of his scrubs. "I accidentally used her mug once-- I had only been here two weeks, I mean cripes, like I was supposed to know-- and she practically ripped me a new one. Believe me when I say it was not a pleasant experience."

"Dave's gotten used to it by now, though," Carter chimed.

Kim looked thoughtfully at the residents, a tiny smile playing on her face. While it certainly wasn't the first time she had heard her lover characterized in less than glowing terms, the mixture of genuine respect and fear in Malucci's voice was new to her ears. "You're really afraid of her?"

"Well..." Malucci seemed to hesitate, glancing around at everyone who was pretending not to listen. "Yeah." He cocked his head. "Aren't you?"

Kim couldn't stop the chuckle that escaped her. "Sometimes..." she admitted, although she wasn't about to tell him the only time Kerry Weaver had truly terrified her was the night she stood in Doc Magoo's asking Kim to stay. Kim's instinct then had been to bolt, certain that the pain of being rejected by this incredible woman was infinitely more bearable than the terror of exploring something real with her. "But not usually. As a rule, strong women don't scare me."

From the other end of the admit desk, Kim thought-- but wasn't sure-- she heard Randi mumble something about "...Turns her on..."

Malucci paused to take in this new information, chewing almost absently on his lower lip. "So.. uh... if you don't mind me asking... I mean if Weaver doesn't scare you... what does?"

The psychiatrist pondered the question for a moment before replying solemnly. "Clowns."

---------------------------------

Boyishly appealing hanks of sun-streaked red hair hung down in his face, obscuring pale blue eyes, but unable to conceal the pure clean lines of his face. His Rage Against the Machine T-Shirt was faded and cracked, but not dirty, although his jeans hung around his hips in a manner that suggested malnutrition more than style. Crossing the ER from Trauma 1 to the admit desk, Kerry couldn't help but catch his eye; and as she did so, he smiled hesitantly, the tiny gesture transforming his face from merely handsome to breathtaking.

Erasing the few steps between them, Kerry approached him. "Can we help you?"

That beatific smile again, making him seem almost eternal in a way-- and at the same time-- impossibly young. "Are you real?"

Kerry faltered for only a step, holding her hand out to him gently. "Let's go find out." The young man smiled again, ducking his head and refusing her hand. But his eyes hadn't left hers for a moment, and Kerry used that to encourage him along. "Come on... just over here." She pointed at the swinging doors of Trauma 2.

He seemed to take her words as a good sign, for he edged towards the door, still trailing behind her. At Kerry's infinitesimal nod, Abby picked up the phone to page Psych.

Only moments after she got the page, Kim appeared at the admit desk. "What's up, Docs?"

"Guy came in and started asking if Kerry was real."

"He appear agitated?"

"Not at all. Smiled a lot. Followed her into Trauma 2 like a puppy."

Kim's eyes flew open in alarm. "Is anybody in there with them?"

"Malucci's been outside the door, out of the guy's line of sight. Nobody wanted to spook him."

Running a hand through her hair and speaking almost to herself, Kim shook her head. "Kerry, what are you doing?"

"STOP LYING!!!! I KNOW YOU'RE LYING TO ME!!!!!"

The frantic shout brought Abby, Malik and Malucci through the door to find the young man pressed against the wall, waving a wicked-looking stiletto at them all. "Get back!" Kerry growled at the pack tumbling through the swinging doors, pushing them back with a wave of her hand. Kim hung back a moment until the door cleared and then slipped inside when the young man's attention was diverted.

Brushing a swift hand along Kerry's spine to attract her attention, Kim nodded briefly. "You okay?" she whispered.

"He just went..."

"Get a name?"

"Todd. Didn't get much further than that."

"S'Okay. Get them out of here, will you?"

"Kim..."

The psychiatrist flashed a quick smile. "I'm a trained professional, remember? But he's going nuts-- pardon the pun-- right now. Forty people in this room are just going to make it worse." As if to prove Kim's point, Todd lunged wildly at Malucci who was trying to approach. "I'll do better without the distractions."

"I'm not leaving you."

"Fine," Kim snapped. "Just get everyone else out of my way." Her eyes locked with Kerry's, only now seeing the concern etched into her face. Her own features softened in response, and her hand surreptitiously brushed Kerry's in apology. "Okay?"

"You're not going to be alone for a moment," Kerry promised once more, but her words went unheard-- the psychiatrist's attention already focused on the young man in front of her.

"Todd..." Kim pitched her voice low and even, its richness a steady contrast to the harsh chaos surrounding them. "Todd... Todd..." The soothing litany of his name, almost like a chant. "Look at me..."

"Are you real?" There was no smile this time, only a desperate kind of longing. Blue shaded to gray, but the wildness in his eyes was tamped down. "She tried to say she was, but she was lying."

"How do you know?" Steady, steady... hearing the muted rush of the exam room doors swinging shut. She was conscious of other presences remaining in the room, but they were a distant concern-- all her energy directed at finding and teasing out the thread of connection that still linked this boy to their reality.

He blinked. Twice. Three times. Then squeezed his eyes shut. From where she was standing she could see the tears drop from the corners. Kim heard a rustling behind her, knew it was someone-- Malik? Malucci?-- getting ready to rush him again. Flinging her hand out to stop the motion, she shook her head rapidly in their direction and waved them off.

Eyes focused on her, but she was cognizant of only two pairs. Kerry's-- frantic with tense worry. His-- filled with uncomprehending pain. Kim almost wished he was still waving the knife around because the possibility of dissociative catalepsy was very real if he continued this downward spiral. "How do you know she was lying?" she asked again, silently urging him to stay with her in the moment.

"They broke her," he replied plaintively, pointing at Kerry's crutch. "They broke her and they made her stay here and they made her lie."

"Why would she lie?"

His head jerked back to Kim. "I told you, they made her lie."

"Why?" she repeated.

Thin shoulders shook beneath his T-shirt in agitation. Kim knew she was pushing him, but she had made the connection now-- and slowly she started to tug on it, hoping to pull him away from complete dissociation. "They made her lie because they want to keep me here. Control me. Like you. You want to keep me here!" She saw his grip on the stiletto tighten, felt a shift in the energy of the room and knew she was running out of time. In a few minutes Security would make the choice for her.

"I want to help you, Todd. Not control you." One step forward.

"You're lying." His voice cracked.

"No, Todd. I'm not lying." Edging closer.

"You're not real."

"I am." Almost close enough to touch.

"No..."

"Yes..." Reaching out for him, she saw the metallic arc of the stiletto flashing through the air rather than felt the blade slice her forearm. The cut wasn't to the bone, but it was deep enough that blood immediately filled the gouge and dripped to the floor, splashing in crimson droplets on the tile. Her forward motion carried her to him, her hand wrapping around his wrist as he bonelessly began to slump against her.

Security was on top of them both in an instant, ignoring her efforts to push them away. "You're real..." she heard him murmur, awe and sorrow coloring his voice as he reverently touched the blood flowing from her wound. He offered no resistance now, tears streaming down his face while they strapped him to a gurney. "Help me..." he whispered brokenly to her, clutching at her hand.

"I will," Kim promised. The pain was setting in, and she fought to keep the grimace from her face. "Every step of the way. These men are going to take you upstairs now, and I'll be with you as soon as I can. Okay?"

He nodded once, chewing his lip, eyes fixed on the blood streaming down her arm. "I'm sorry." Then he was gone, orderlies and Security wheeling him towards the elevator.

The universe seemed frozen for a moment, motion all around her stilled... and then the cacophony resumed, with Malucci clapping hands together and wolf-whistling in appreciation.

"Damn... that was better than watching When Animals Attack. Who needs the circus when we've got the ER? You okay, Dr. Legs?"

A bark of hysterical laughter caught in her throat at the nickname, and she nodded tightly as the adrenaline surge passed and the pain of her rent skin deepened. "Uh... I could use a little first aid here. Other than that, I'm fine."

"I'm your guy." Malucci was beside her in an instant, his hands unexpectedly gentle as they probed the wound. "Oh yeah, that's a nasty one. Don't worry, I'll fix you up good as new."

Kim allowed herself to be herded out of the room but couldn't help glancing back over her shoulder at the unnaturally pale, silent form of her lover.

Body temp somewhere in the Arctic region, heart thrashing within the confines of her chest, a single image looped relentlessly behind Kerry's eyes.

Dull metallic arc blade slicing into flesh where she had touched kissed held onto no one knew how red could blood be falling on the floor don't slip that's her life oh my god what have I done...

The swinging doors to the suture room slammed hard against the counters, rattling the glass in its frame and knocking over several surgical trays. From his stool, Malucci looked up in alarm as the instruments clattered to the floor. Kerry's eyes were thundercloud gray, her face set into implacable lines. "Dr. Legaspi-- you ever pull another stunt like that in my ER, I'll have you in front of the disciplinary committee so fast they won't have time to sew you back up. Do you understand me?"

Beneath his olive skin, Dave paled at the menace in the Chief's voice; and though he failed to notice the thread of fear that underlay her tone, Kim didn't. She ached to be able to close the gap between them and just wrap her arms around Kerry, but hospital protocol-- not to mention Kerry's own ground rules-- forbade it. Instead, she asked calmly. "Why don't you let Dr. Malucci finish up here and then we can discuss this?"

Her reasonable tone only seemed to incite Kerry further. "There's nothing to discuss. Procedures and policies are set in place to protect both you and the patients. You may not care about the danger to yourself, but you endangered everyone in that room by your cowboy antics. I won't have it."

"You won't have it?!" Kim's temper, already worn tissue-thin by the adrenaline of talking down Todd, finally snapped. "I'm supposed to stand by and let your Security goons club him into submission, then tie him down and torque him up on tranqs-- proving him right, by the way, that we do want to control him-- and most likely completing his dissociation." Her voice was low and strangled, and it took all her energy to not leap from her chair and literally get in the redhead's face to make her point. "You're a great ER doc, Kerry, but if you think that following that policy would have done anything but hurt that boy, then what you know about how the human mind works could fit on the back of a cereal box."

"Hey!" Malucci jumped up, apparently deciding that an ungraceful exit at this point would be better than no exit at all. "I gotta go... um... get... find.... um... do something. I'll be right back." With indecent haste, he left the two women and the storming silence between them, retreating to the relative sanctuary of the admit desk.

"I'm sorry," Kim apologized softly, regret setting in fast on the heels of her harsh words.

"Back of a cereal box? Is that what you really think?"

"I think you were about as terrified as I was. I don't want to imagine how I'd feel if the situation had been reversed."

"Don't shrink me. This has nothing to do with..."

"He wasn't trying to kill me."

"What if he gone for your throat instead of your arm?"

"He wanted reassurance."

"Or stabbed you?"

"Kerry..."

"It just takes one cut in the right place..."

"Kerry, listen to me. I'm not Lucy Knight."

The blunt words brought her up short, and Kerry shook her head in denial.

"Yes, I heard all about it-- you think coming into that psych department, I'd hear about anything else my first month there? And what happened to her and Carter was nowhere near the situation today. I've been doing this for ten years, Kerry, I know how to make a risk assessment. I made a clinical call, and I'm sorry if you disagree with me. But this is my field, Kerry, not yours. Believe me, I'd rather not be bleeding all over the suture room, but jumping this guy and sedating him would have been far more harmful in the long run."

"The fact remains that you are bleeding all over the suture room and what you did was in violation of hospital policy. I've got enough cowboys down here without you adding your own special touch to the mix. Malucci doesn't have ten years' clinical experience to call on the next time something like this happens, but you can bet your ass he's going to remember what you did. And that could get him or somebody else harmed. This isn't just about what you did, Kim, but the consequences down the road."

Kim ducked her head in acknowledgment. "Point taken." She glanced around the room. "Speaking of Malucci, does he always leave his patients in the middle of a procedure?"

"I think he was afraid of being fragged in the crossfire."

"Ah... I suppose that was a distinct possibility there for a minute." She gestured at her arm. "Then do you suppose you could um... I mean..."

Kerry bit her lip, eyes drawn unwillingly to her lover's injury. Half the laceration was stitched neatly while the other half was still gaping and raw, blood oozing onto the exam table. She knew the geography of that skin intimately, felt the strength of that arm as it wrapped around her in the night. "I can't," she whispered.

Kim nodded swiftly, her own glance not meeting Kerry's. "I understand."

"I'll get Malucci for you." She turned to flee, but the quiet sound of her name on Kim's lips stopped her flight.

"Am I still going to see you tonight?"

"I..." Suddenly the weight of it all-- Kim's fearlessness, the ever-growing intimacy blurring the carefully constructed boundaries of her existence, and the threat of losing the perspective that allowed her to do what she did every day-- became too much to bear. "I'm sorry... I just... I don't know."

---------------------------------

It was official. The day really couldn't get any worse-- not unless one of her more psychotic patients got loose from their restraints and came after her with a meat cleaver.

Of course, in a way, that might be a relief.

Kim blew out a huge sigh that consisted of equal parts disgust and exhaustion, sprawling in her chair and staring up at the ceiling. How could a day that started off so promisingly turn to shit so quickly?

"Every time I see you, you look more and more like an ER doc." Carl DeRaad's voice interrupted her musings, and she spun around to find him

leaning against the door frame of her office.

She glanced down at her blood-spattered scrubs and smiled ruefully. "Can't imagine why. To be honest, though, I don't think I could survive a rotation under Kerry Weaver."

"I heard you two had gone toe to toe, but I've never seen Weaver literally draw blood before."

"You think this is all mine?" she teased.

"I daresay you give as good as you get, Kim."

"But that's not what you're doing hanging out in my doorway, is it, Carl?"

He inclined his head in agreement. "She's pretty furious."

"She call you already?"

"Not before I had heard five different versions of the whole thing. It's all over the hospital."

"Which part, the boy or me and Kerry?" She winced as she heard the phrase come out of her mouth, but Carl didn't seem to hear the change in her inflection. Or if he did, he chose to overlook it.

"Both, actually."

"It was situational, Carl. And I'm not a cowboy."

"I'm sure it was situational, but yes, Kim-- you are a cowboy." The attending stared at him with such ill-concealed surprise that DeRaad couldn't help but chuckle. "Along with your stunning good looks and unparalleled performance appraisals... It's one of the reasons I hired you. I know you work outside the system sometimes, but you more often choose to work within it. You show an amazing intuitive capacity and a willingness to follow through with what the patient needs rather than what medical protocol dictates. And to be honest, I'd rather see the doctors under me bend the rules to fit the patients than vice versa." He paused, took a deep breath and continued. "But this wasn't one of those times, Dr. Legaspi. The bandage on your arm proves that."

"Carl..."

"No, buts, Kim. Putting yourself in danger is never an option."

"He was close to complete dissociation..."

"I don't care what the situation was. You ever do something like that again, and Kerry Weaver won't have to bring disciplinary charges against you-- I'll suspend you myself. Do we understand each other?"

Kim bit down on the retort that sprung to her lips, confining herself to a clipped, "Yes, sir."

"Be angry all you like, but part of my job is knowing when to curb your worst instincts. I know you wanted to help that boy-- and you did-- but the way you went about it, the risk you brought on yourself, was too great. Nobody wants to lose you, not like that."

"I suppose you'll think I'm being petulant if I say I'd gotten worse injuries rock climbing?"

"Yes. And I'd be right." They shared a smile, and he stepped further into her office. "How's it feel?"

"Frankly-- it hurts like a motherfucker. But I'll deny it if you ever tell anyone I said that." She grinned at him wryly.

"Well... I can't send you home. Denny won't be back for a couple of more hours and we're already short. But I can take you off call for the ER. You can just do rounds up here, maybe get some paperwork done." He looked pointedly at her overflowing In-Box.

"Thanks, Carl, but if it's all the same to you, I'd rather stay on call."

"You a glutton for punishment?"

"Not at all. I just don't..." She exhaled tiredly and ran a hand through her hair. How to explain any of what was happening to her? When she began her psych residency at Johns Hopkins, they had encouraged all of them to have a therapist of their own-- someone not connected with the hospital-- to talk with about everything they would see and feel over the next few years. It was a good policy, but since moving to Chicago five months ago, Kim hadn't taken the time to find someone new. Though it was tempting to just spill everything to Carl, knowing her would keep her confidence, speaking out would be a betrayal of Kerry's trust. Between the two of us... went against the grain of Kim's nature; it reeked of shame and fear, two things she had left far behind long ago. However, she wasn't about to risk their new-found relationship over something that she honestly believed time and patience would solve. Aware of Carl's keen eyes fixed on her, she shrugged. "You know what they say about getting back on the horse."

"You talking about the ER or Kerry Weaver?"

She glanced at him sharply. "Beg pardon?"

"Weaver has a big bark and a big bite. I'd hesitate before crossing rapiers with her again, too."

"I guess I'll have to take my chances."

He smiled and touched her briefly on the shoulder. "You're a braver soul than most. But okay. We'll do it your way. Let me know if you change your mind."

---------------------------------

Ten minutes.

All she asked for was ten minutes to be alone with her thoughts. To gather them all up and shovel them in a large mental box marked "To be considered later accompanied by a large tumbler of Scotch." She could get through the few remaining hours on her shift if she could just do that-- push away the image of Kim's face as she left the suture room, shut out the vision of blood running down her lover's arm, deny the terror of watching everything she was coming to need be threatened by a crazy young man with a knife.

Ten minutes.

Unfortunately, after a slow morning, the ER seemed to be making up for lost time in the afternoon. Two sets of unrelated MVAs and a gang-related drive-by-- with all the assorted fallout chaos of hysterical girlfriends, angry young men, and resigned parents-- had kept her from finding ten minutes' silence. As she watched Robert Romano's bald head bob and weave its way towards her, she realized she wasn't going to find it now either.

"Kerry... I hear you went completely Alpha Bitch on our new Psych attending," he said without preamble or regard for the three residents, two nurses and one desk clerk standing nearby. "I know you're territorial and all, but let's try not to scare off the talent. Okay?"

"Then you might want to apprise your talent of hospital rules and regulations before turning them loose in my ER." Moving around the admit desk, she swiftly deposited the charts she had updated into the rack and consulted the board, marking off three patients and setting others in their places, hoping Romano would take the hint and consider the conversation closed.

"I exerted considerable time, money and not to mention charm getting her to come to County. Don't screw it up. Watching you pick on Greene or Malvecchio over there is kind of fun, but this woman is a Thoroughbred. The kind that wins grant monies for hospitals and writes articles that appear in APA journals regularly. She's going places, and I want her taking the County Psych department with her. Do you understand me?"

"Gee, Robert, had I known I would have signed up for the Rocket Romano School of Thoroughbred Charm before I met her. Does Dr. Legaspi know you think of her in four-legged terms or is this something I should keep just between us and the fourteen other people standing at the admit desk?"

Muted snickers were hastily silenced as Romano stared down the assemblage before returning his full glare to the diminutive ER Chief. "I'm serious. You want to tear someone a new one, practice on one of your own residents. Psych attendings are off limits to you." He caught and held her eyes to drive his point home, pointing a finger at her in unnecessary emphasis.

Kerry watched him vanish up the elevator in a swirl of scrub coat and squeaking sneakers before muttering to herself, "I am the great and powerful Oz..." and shaking her head. Romano was swinish at the best of times, but this was the first she'd heard of his involvement in recruiting Kim to the hospital. Truth be told, she didn't know more than the sketchiest of details about Kim's schooling. She knew the psychiatrist had done her residency at Johns Hopkins, but she'd waved away Kerry's questions about the switch with an easy, "After four years, I was ready for a change." And honestly, there was so much else going on between them that she had let the explanation go without further elucidation. Now she wondered if she should have pressed the matter-- but then again did it really make that much of a difference?

"You like her, don't you?"

Both the question and its source were unexpected, and Kerry turned to look at Randi with uneasy surprise. "What do you mean?"

"You never would have come down that hard on Malucci or even Kovac."

"Randi, I don't think..." She glanced nervously around the admit desk, startled to realize that she and Randi were pretty much alone-- or at least as alone as they could get with a functioning ER surrounding them.

"You knew she could stand up to you. Like Dr. Ross used to."

Completely flummoxed by the turn the conversation was taking, Kerry could only smile weakly at her desk clerk. "I'm not sure I understand the point of this."

"No point, really. Romano's an asshole..." They both laughed at the terse, but accurate, summarization. "But he doesn't really get the way you run things around here."

Kerry's brows arched in surprise. "And you do?"

"Come on, Dr. Weaver, I've been around the block a few thousand times. It doesn't take a genius to see you're not a bully. You only push the people who can push back."

"And you think Dr. Legaspi can push back?"

"Don't you?"

She smiled ruefully. "It would appear so." She paused, considering Randi in a different light. "You like her too."

Randi shrugged diffidently. "She talks to me sometimes. You know? Nothing special, but... like one time she told me about this killer hangover cure, cause she and her roommate were at Mardi Gras one time and her roommate was snorting ants on the sidewalk or something..."

"Snorting ants?" Kerry arched a dubious brow.

"Not her. Her roommate. And anyway she said she was drunk as a lord and she met this voodoo priestess in a cemetery..."

"Voodoo priestess?"

"Who gave them this recipe and..." The look in Weaver's eye must have tipped Randi off that her story was in dubious taste at best, so she finished with a hasty, "Anyway you see my point so I gotta go now bye," before immersing herself in processing new arrivals with a heretofore unseen speed and efficiency.

Kerry shook her head in suppressed laughter, somehow not all surprised that there was a story in her lover's past involving Mardi Gras, snorting ants, and hanging out in cemeteries haunted by voodoo priestesses. The only thing she regretted was that Kim had told the story to Randi and not her. It seemed that everyone had seen a different side of Kim Legaspi-- one that she hadn't necessarily shared with Kerry.

Kerry Weaver had never been one for confidences. Close girlfriends and giggling revelations were an anathema to her-- but she honestly couldn't remember if it had started out that way or the rejection in even this most infinitesimal way had been one more thing to which she had become inured over the years.

Even if she had someone in whom she accustomed to confide, she still wasn't sure what she would tell them about what was happening to her. Mostly because she still didn't know herself-- she only certain that something felt unmistakably right whenever she and Kim were together. Did that make it love? Or could it be something else? Something less consuming, less terrifying, less shattering, something... well, something... else.

The sharp sound of her name effectively succeeded in shoving her unwelcome train of thought into the box it had earlier been eluding.

"What do we have?" She turned her attention to Haleh who was heading towards the bay doors.

"Incoming... motorcycle vs mail truck with a few pedestrians thrown in special, just for seasoning...."

---------------------------------

"Finally escaping are we?"

"Carl, you keep dropping by my office this way and people are going to start talking."

"That could only do my reputation a world of good."

Kim shook her head as she grinned at her boss. Tossing a few last things in her briefcase, she flipped off the desk lamp and regarded Carl's lanky frame with a skeptical glance. "You checking up on me?"

"You've had a rough day."

"Ya think?"

"I'm assuming that since there aren't any new bloodstains on your scrubs you managed to steer clear of the ER for the rest of the afternoon. "

"Actually the only call I got was on a 12 year-old who got into a fist fight with a school mate. He told Cleo Finch that he was going to get a gun to settle it next time."

"He serious?"

"Nope, just saw The Matrix too many times. I talked to the kid's parents, told them to keep an eye on him for the next little while. Maybe pass up a few stops at the Blockbuster and spend some quality time with their son instead."

"Parenting 101 with Kim Legaspi. I'm impressed."

"Sheeyah right. I can't even keep a pet."

"I don't know. That may change. You'd certainly bring a lot from the deep end of the gene pool. And stranger things have happened."

"Only on the X-Files. Seriously, Carl... Don't you listen to the rumors about me?"

"Even the gomers have heard the rumors about you. But that has nothing to do with having a family."

"You're just trying to find out if I'm dating anyone."

"I had noticed that the florist wasn't delivering up here quite as frequently as he used to."

"They were just showing off, trying to impress the new girl in town."

"And now?"

"Now I'm not returning most of their phone calls."

"You wanna go get a drink, then? Do an old man's reputation a world of good?"

"Carl... I'm okay, really. With everything."

"You know if you ever need to talk to someone..."

"It goes without saying. I appreciate it, really. I just need some time to decompress." She ran her hands through her hair. "And get out of these scrubs. Damn, but this just feels unnatural."

He smiled, as she knew he would, and gracefully relinquished the subject. She patted him once on the shoulder in thanks and sprinted for the elevator as the doors began to close. A hand shot out, holding the doors open as she slipped inside. Recognizing the familiar face of John Carter, she grinned and resettled the leather strap of her briefcase more comfortably on her shoulder. "Thanks."

"Not a problem." He paused slightly before adding, "Dr. Legs."

Rolling her eyes heavenward, she shook her head in silent resignation. "Damn. That one's going to stick, isn't it?"

"I'm afraid so. It could be worse."

"Tell me about it. Do you have any idea of what I had to suffer through in school?"

"I don't even want to begin to imagine."

"I hate nicknames."

"Trying to stop it will only make it worse."

"Maybe for revenge I could turn Kerry loose on Malucci. Serve the little bugger right."

Carter looked at her in astonishment. "I didn't know you and Dr. Weaver... knew each other that well."

Cursing the shitty day and utter exhaustion that combined to loosen her tongue, Kim shrugged in what she hoped was complete nonchalance. "We bonded over the Neuroleptic Therapy Seminar from Hell, complete with bad white wine served in plastic cups and canap�s that weren't quite thawed out."

"Sounds like the beginning of a beautiful friendship."

"Maybe." Kim couldn't stop the smile from breaking over her face. "Anyway..." she continued, mentally shaking herself. It wouldn't do any good to start waxing rhapsodic over the virtues of Kerry Weaver in front of one of the few people in the hospital who knew Kerry a little more than professionally. "We've managed to grab a couple of lunches here and there."

He nodded, "That's good. I mean... that you and Kerry are getting along. Because some folks were kind of worried earlier."

"Thought she'd brain me one with her crutch?" Kim chuckled. "I'm sure the thought's occurred to her more than once."

"She respects that, you know."

Kim blinked at the non sequitur. "Why's that? My foolishness in the face of imminent bodily harm?"

Carter shook off her attempt at humor and looked at her, his brown eyes somber. "A willingness to fight for what's best for the patient. I admit she does have a few 'policy and procedure' hang-ups, but..."

"That's because nine times out of ten the policies and procedures are right," Kim interrupted softly as the elevator slid to a smooth halt and

the doors opened. She paused in the doorway, ignoring the gentle bumping against her shoulder. "Kerry Weaver curbs the worst instincts of everyone in the ER," she told him, echoing what Carl had said to her earlier in the day. "When we're all playing god doing what we think is best for the patient, she's the one ultimately responsible for everything that goes down. And if we're lucky and right-- like I was-- then we're the hero of the hour. But if it all turns to shit-- she's the one everybody holds accountable at the end of the day. How she manages to bear up under that weight and still be the best damn doctor that I've ever seen...." Kim shook her head, a rueful smile of awe and not a little amazement painting her features. "She has to be a hero every day, and she does it in a way that nobody notices."

Carter nodded, the echo of Kim's sentiments gleaming in his eyes and in the slight smile at the corners of his lips. "Yeah, I guess I see what you mean."

---------------------------------

The message light only blinked a single lonely time as Kim punched the reset button, grinning wryly when she heard Shirley's familiar, clipped tones.

"Hey hey, Dr. Legs is it now? Heard the shit rained and you left your umbrella at home. Can't be worse than a regular surgical shift with our illustrious Chief of Staff. Did some guy really try to play vegomatic with your arm? Romano was almost apoplectic that you let someone from the ER sew you up and didn't call him. Anyway... a bunch of us are down at Tahos watching the Bulls. Come on down and I'll let you drown your sorrows in my beer. I might even be persuaded to cough up for some of that expensive Irish whiskey you like. See you, honey."

Shirley had been one of the first friends-- and certainly the first queer one-- she had made at County. They had warily dated a couple of times, falling into bed for one spectacular night, at the end of which they had both agreed that neither was in a position or of the inclination to pursue a relationship. Shortly afterwards, Kim had met Kerry and had drifted into an orbit more distant from that of the OR nurse.

The idea of going to Tahos and hanging out with the gang was appealing for exactly thirty seconds, after which the pain in her arm and the ache from her last conversation with Kerry reminded her that while she did want that expensive Irish whiskey-- she didn't have to leave her house to have it.

She was also resolutely ignoring the half a hope still flickering that Kerry would follow through on their plans and show up tonight. After the day's events she didn't exactly expect dinner, but her lover's face-- even if it was clouded in anger-- would be a very welcome sight.

Not bothering to flip on any lights, Kim shed her scrubs as she made her way through the apartment, finally dropping them into an untidy heap on the bathroom floor. She twisted both knobs of her shower on full force; loving her home's 40-gallon water heater, but hating the time it took for the water to warm. Leaving the bathroom, she padded back across the apartment, and-- with hands certain even in the dimness-- fished out the bottle of Connemara at the back of the liquor cabinet.

A short shot later and a fuller one in the glass in her hand, she returned to the steamy bathroom and plunged herself under the thrumming spray. Malucci had given her a plastic protective covering for her arm; and though it was ungainly as she tried to wash her hair, the desire to strip the remnants of the day from her skin was overwhelming. Because she had refused the script for painkillers-- and the whiskey hadn't yet had any anesthetic effect-- her efforts were made doubly difficult by the rawness of the wound and the tightness of the stitches. Finally, almost exhausted by the effort, she stepped out of the shower and wrapped herself in an oversized dark blue bath towel. Sliding on an ancient pair of 501s and a faded Hoyas T-shirt in deference to the pizza delivery guy she was about to call, she tied her hair carelessly up in a ponytail and wandered through the apartment, flipping on a few lamps whose low illumination still allowed the shadows to dominate. The silence in the rooms screamed to be broken, so she thumbed through the CDs on top of the stereo, quickly realizing that none of them were exactly brooding. She and Kerry had ended up making love on the couch last night, and the Chopin that had accompanied them was still in the stereo. Tossing the disc carelessly to the side, she pulled out half-a-dozen old favorites dating back to college and slotted them in the changer.

Restlessly she prowled the breadth of her home, realizing that there were a dozen people she could call. Pick up the phone and say, "Want to go get a drink" or "Come on over," but the only call she made was for a large pepperoni and sausage pie. Solitude was contrary to Kim's nature, yet there wasn't a single person in the world that she wanted to talk to right now. She wanted to drink, brood, and listen to the kind of music that always made her parents' skin crawl. On one level, the psychiatrist in her was very well aware of how she was acting out, yet she consciously didn't care. Her arm hurt like a bitch; she had fought with Kerry; and to top it all off, her boss-- albeit in the nicest way possible-- had called her on the carpet for her behavior in the ER.

All and all it really had been a no-good-horrible-very-bad-day. So she didn't really think that a little adolescent sulking was completely uncalled for.

A hesitant knock on her door interrupted her navel-contemplation, and she glowered in its general direction. It was way too early for the pizza, so logic dictated it was the next-door neighbor's son selling something. Thanks to the 12-year old's enthusiastic entrepreneurship, Kim had four boxes of band candy moldering on the top shelf of her pantry, not to mention subscriptions to several magazines that she never had time to read. At least the first time she had come over, Kerry had been impressed with the copy of The New York Review of Books sitting on the coffee table, so the $32.95 she'd paid hadn't been a total bust.

The knocking was slightly more insistent this time, and Kim pulled herself irritably out of the leather wing back where she had taken up residence. Flinging the door open with a scowl, she was bewildered to find the diminutive form of her lover waiting on the landing.

"Kerry." It wasn't the most effusive greeting she had ever offered, and she saw Kerry acknowledge it with a slight dip of her head.

"I forgot to go by the market."

"S'Okay," she found herself replying quietly. "I ordered a pizza. Come on in."

Was it really going to be that easy?

Kim wondered. Kerry's here and a piece of what's been awry all day rights itself?

Kerry fumbled in the entranceway with her coat, hanging it awkwardly in the hall closet and dropping her briefcase beside Kim's. "I wanted to cook dinner for you," she said uselessly, taking in the weary slump of her lover's shoulders and the tired cloud in her eyes.

"It's probably for the best. I'm really not in the mood to enjoy it tonight anyway." Kim waved a dismissive hand and finished the whiskey in her glass with a quick swallow. "You want a drink?"

"I take I'm already lapped?" Kerry asked, pointing at Kim's empty glass.

"You're only down by two. Plenty of time to catch up."

Kerry trailed after her into the kitchen, more than just a little surprised when instead of pouring her a drink from the bottle of Connemara sitting on the counter, Kim reached into the liquor cabinet and pulled out a bottle of unopened Macallan. "You ordered it a couple of times when we were out." Kim offered by way of explanation, not bothering to add that the look of pleasure on Kerry's face as she drank it was an act of eroticism illegal in several Southern states. "I know it's stupid, but sometimes I notice stuff like that."

"Sometimes I don't." Kerry stretched out a hesitant hand, tracing the shape of Kim's spine beneath the worn softness of her T-shirt. "Here..." She gently tugged the taller woman into an embrace, wrapping her arms tightly around a slender waist and feeling the deep, wracking sigh from her lover as she collapsed into the tenderness. "God, I've wanted to do this all day," she murmured quietly.

"I wouldn't have minded if you had." Kerry stiffened almost imperceptibly, but Kim only tightened her hold. "Nevermind," she whispered, pressing a gentle kiss against Kerry's temple. "Forget I said that. I'm just glad you're here now."

"Then I'm welcome?" The tiny voice was almost unrecognizable, and it seared something deep within Kim's heart to hear the fear.

"Always, Kerry. Always" She broke their embrace long enough to hand Kerry the tumbler, but never completely relinquished her hold on the redhead. Returning to the living room, Kim settled comfortably on one end of the couch, stretched her legs out, and pulled Kerry into her arms. "This okay?"

Kerry shifted slightly to accommodate her hip and pulled Kim's arms further around her. "Having my own personal backrest? Mmm... I think so. But you're the injured one." Tentative fingers caressed the bandage on Kim's arm. "How's it feel?" she asked softly, mesmerized by the contrast of the bandage's antiseptic whiteness against Kim's golden skin.

"Hmm... nothing a couple of more turns around the whiskey glass won't

cure."

Kerry lifted her head from where it was resting on Kim's chest. "Malucci didn't give you a script?"

"He offered. I declined."

"Kim, if you're in pain..."

"I prefer to self-medicate, thank you." Kim paused for a moment, then continued. "There was someone I was... close to... at Johns Hopkins who got into trouble with those things. And I just decided to stay away from the temptation." She grinned and ruffled Kerry's hair. "So don't be giving Malucci a hard time, Chief."

"He take care of you?"

"Very well. Although his hands were shaking so badly when he came back to the suture room, I was afraid for a little while that he was going to do more harm than good."

"I guess my storming in there must have rattled him a little."

"Rattled him? It scared the hell out of him, Kerry. Me too-- until you started questioning my judgment-- then I think I got even angrier than you were."

"Kim..." Kerry tried to pull away from their embrace, but Kim only tightened her hold. She settled for twisting around to meet the pale blue of her lover's eyes. "I shouldn't have come down on you like that. You're right, I don't have the clinical years you do in psych..."

"You were right."

"It's just that... watching you talk to that boy, watching him with that knife..."

"You were right."

"And then when he... What did you say?"

"I said, you were right, Kerry. There had to have been an option somewhere between your Security guys and my inviting myself to get sliced-and-diced. Carl pointed out that nowhere in any school of clinical psychiatric thought is there a recommended course of therapy that involves bloodshed." Kim shrugged in surrender. "I should have thought of another way."

"DeRaad talked to you?"

"Well, he didn't come down on me with the anvil of doom that you were using, no. But, yes, he did weigh in with his opinion on the matter. And it was the same as yours, albeit delivered in a less... antagonistic mode."

"Antagonistic?"

"You ever talk to anybody about that guerilla style of confrontation of yours, Weaver?"

"You complaining?"

"Not at all. I think it's sexy as hell to watch. I just don't want to be on the receiving end of it too many times."

"I don't recall you being a shrinking violet any time we've disagreed."

"That's because you bring out the stubborn bitch in me."

"Hmm... I'll have to keep that in mind." Kerry nuzzled deeper into their embrace, a part of her completely at peace resting in her lover's arms. In the few short weeks they had been together, it never failed to amaze her how a simple touch could seem be so encompassing. Kim's arms around hers wasn't simply skin on skin-- it was something infinitely more complicated, touching mind, heart, and soul. More and more the possibility of living without it seemed incomprehensible to her. And the idea that Kim could be there and then just one day... because of one stupid moment... "How did you know about Lucy?"

She felt Kim's lips shape into a melancholy smile against her hair. "I told you-- you can't work in that psych department without knowing. What happened to that girl haunts that place-- we blew it."

"You weren't even there when it happened."

"Doesn't mean I don't feel the same sense of responsibility that the rest of the department does. The same thing could have easily happened during my residency. Because someone didn't make it down there in time, a schizophrenic in the middle of a manic phase killed a young woman-- and almost killed Carter. Why do you think I always answer my ER pages so quickly?"

"I thought it was because you were trying to impress me."

"Well, there was that," Kim replied dryly. Sighing reflectively, she tightened her arms around Kerry as if it were an anchor for her words. "It's such a fine line, sometimes. Usually. I don't think there's a day that goes by that at some point I'm not absolutely terrified that I've said or done the wrong thing for a patient, and they're going to hurt themselves or someone else. Or just go to a place in their minds where I can't reach them. I watch their eyes and listen to their voices hoping for... some clue... to tell me how to help them. But sometimes eyes and voices lie, even when they think they're telling the truth.

"When someone comes into your ER with a head lac, you know to sew it up. Or in asystole, you know to shock the heart back to rhythm. But what do you do when what's doing the damage comes from inside the patient's own mind? How do you know without a doubt what the cure is?"

Listening to her lover's low, halting voice; Kerry absently stroked Kim's injury and pressed a reverent kiss against the bandage. "Then why do you do it?" she asked quietly.

"I was a fourth year med student in the middle of my ER rotation at Georgetown. I had no idea what I wanted to specialize in-- I only knew that I didn't like the cutting-is-the cure philosophy so many surgeons seemed to have, and that I liked working with people. I had thought about peds, but honestly, I was leaning towards Emergency Medicine."

Kerry snorted in disbelief. "You're kidding me."

"Nope. I could be working under you in more ways than one right now, Dr. Weaver."

"Now there's an interesting image." She nudged Kim's shoulder with her head. "So what changed?"

"One night, I was pulling the tail end of a double in the ER. You wouldn't have believed the chaos--" She regarded Kerry with an arched brow. "Or maybe you would have. You'd have probably loved it, actually. Anyway... the EMTs bring in this guy and start giving my resident the bullet. There's blood all over his face-- but not an ungodly amount-- I'd seen more from a simple scalp wound. I was thinking head trauma, and then I hear the EMT say, 'Gouged out his eyes...' and my resident asks with what. And she says, 'His own hands.'

Kim paused, gathering up the memory of that night-- the young man's ruined face, his tortured screams that she first thought were from pain, but only later learned were from the visions behind his eyes. "I... I don't know. Something happened to me that night. We patched him up as best we could-- considering they left his retinas in chunks on the bathroom floor-- sedated him and turfed him over to psych. My shift ended at six, but before I left, I went to see him-- I didn't know why, I just did. He was lying in the dark, making this soft keening sound that-- " She shivered at the sense-memory and felt Kerry grip her arms tighter in sympathy. "It was absolutely the most pathetic and broken sound I'd ever heard in my life. Still is. He was just lying there in the dark, in full restraints, keening. The dark bothered me-- not that it would have made any difference to him, but I hated the idea of him alone there in the dark. So I went into the room and turned on a lamp.

"He must have been coming out of the sedation, because he turned his head as if to look at me. A little seepage had turned the edges pink beneath the gauze, and I think I asked him if he wanted his bandages changed. He said no, and I looked down and saw his fingers flexing as if they were trying to tell me something. There was still blood crusted under fingernails that were torn and broken to the quick. The nurses hadn't really had a chance to clean him up at all, and somehow I found myself getting a basin and cloth and washing his hands. He had beautiful hands, really. Long and tapered, with delicate joints-- feminine almost-- yet he had used them to rip out his own eyes. I couldn't... I couldn't understand. And I asked him why.

"He held my hands the whole time, his fingers stroking mine like he could tell who I was by their shape." Kim took a deep breath and another drought of Connemara to steady her voice. "Then he started telling me about the snakes. In his head. In his hair. About how they were all he could see every time he looked in a mirror or passed anything that cast a reflection back. At first the snakes were small, he said. Babies not much bigger than a strand of his hair, but they were growing up and now he was afraid. He didn't want to see them anymore, he told me. He said he tried telling himself they weren't there, and sometimes they would get so still, he could swear that they had gone. But then he'd walk by a mirror or something, and he'd see them-- bigger than the last time. He had tried shaving his head, but then he could feel their skins moving over his scalp and they looked even bigger that way.

"He didn't know what else to do, he said. They wouldn't go away, and he couldn't stand watching them anymore..."

"So he..."

"Gouged his eyes out."

"God. Kim..."

"I kept going back to see him every day after my rotation. I even started bringing my books there so I could study while he slept. I don't know... I thought maybe if I just stayed with him long enough I'd understand why it all happened. I thought he'd tell me.

"The only problem was, he didn't know himself. They diagnosed him-- schitzoaffective maybe, I don't remember and really by then, the damage was irreparable. They tried meds, but eventually he ended up in another manic phase and stabbed a fork through his carotid artery. Bled out in the ward before anybody could do anything." Kim sat up straighter and pulled Kerry around to look at her. "That's part of the reason I came to County. It's why I love working the ward and volunteer for ER duty. I don't want to set up some cushy practice and dispense a bunch of antidepressants to rich white people who are more bored than anything. The people who come into the ER-- even the frequent flyers like Mr. Pilarski-- they're hurting and they don't have any way to express it. On a good day, I can help them with that; and maybe, just for a few minutes, they aren't alone with their pain." Kim laughed unsteadily and rolled her eyes. "Does that make me a martyr to the psychiatric cause?"

"No. It makes you a damn good doctor. Sometimes I get so caught up in the administrative minutiae that I forget it."

"Your administrative minutiae makes it possible for everyone else to do their job."

"You seem to be the only one who thinks so."

"I got quite an eye-opening today in that regard. You just wear so many hats that sometimes a few of them are more visible than others."

"Can I make a confession?"

"You gonna cop to checking out my ass in those scrubs while we were in the lounge?"

"NO!" Even in their intimate setting, Kerry's face flamed at the tease. "Well, yes, I was... but no, that's not the confession." When Kim only pursed her lips in a go on... motion, Kerry shook her head slowly. "When I confronted you in the suture room... the hat I was wearing wasn't administrative."

"No?"

"Kim... I..." She looked helplessly into her lover's eyes, unable to convey the frantic horror of watching Kim shed her life's blood in the ER. Granted the wound had been superficial, but it more than drove home to her how completely completely precious Kim was becoming to her. "To think that you'd put yourself in harm's way... It's... unacceptable... to me." Kerry grimaced in frustration, miserably aware of how badly her words were failing her. "I..."

"Shh..." Capturing Kerry's face between her hands, Kim silenced her with a gentle kiss. From the very first time their lips had met, the tiny rush of breath Kerry sucked into her mouth always sent a tremor of excitement chasing down Kim's spine-- no matter how chaste her intentions. Tonight was no different, and Kim bit back the urge to just continue on and let the conversation drop. However, there was something that remained to be spoken. "I don't want to lose you either, Kerry." Saying for her reticent lover the things she couldn't say. Yet.

Kerry's response was to tangle their lips together once more, her arms sliding effortlessly around Kim and outlining the graceful curves of her torso. Kerry's weight was almost negligible to the taller woman, but at times like this-- with Kerry's mouth hard against hers and her hands sparking fires against Kim's skin everywhere they touched-- it seemed like this slight substance was the only thing anchoring Kim to this earth. Kerry's mouth left hers to trace the taut cords of her neck as Kim's head fell back, opening herself willingly to the other woman's touch. "Let's go to bed," Kerry murmured roughly, her fingers slipping under the hem of Kim's T-shirt.

Kim gasped as her muscles bucked and arched against the play of Kerry's hands over her stomach. "What..."

"Bed," Kerry reiterated, her hands seeking to tease out more sounds of pleasure from Kim's throat. "Large flat horizontal surface. We've been there a few times."

"I know what the bed is. I mean what about the pizza I ordered? The delivery should be here any minute."

"We'll just turn out the lights and pretend nobody's home."

"They'll just charge my credit card anyway."

"I'll pay you the fifteen dollars back."

"But what about the pizza?"

"Are you serious?"

"I haven't eaten all day. I suffered traumatic blood loss. My platelets need all the help they can get."

"You'd rather eat pizza than go to bed with me?"

"I'd rather eat pizza while I'm in bed with you. You can be my plate."

"I think in some circles that's called having your cake and eating it too."

"Or having your pizza and eating it too. Which in this scenario is entirely possible-- nay, even, preferable. You don't want me too weak to reciprocate, do you?"

"Hmmm... You have a point."

"And this one's actually a good one." The muted sound of the doorbell interrupted any reply Kerry might have made. "And now it's a moot one. Why don't you get the napkins while I tip this guy? I'll meet you in the bedroom."

"Are you sure you want to get crumbs all over your sheets? Those were some nice ones-- what? 200-thread count? We'll just eat out here."

"I thought you wanted to go to bed with me?"

"I thought you wanted pizza," Kerry countered.

The doorbell chimed again, this time longer-- and to Kim's ears-- more irritably. She narrowed her eyes and slid out from under her lover's slender form, yelping slightly when her arm made abrupt contact with the back of the couch. She regarded Kerry's grinning face and warned her sternly, "This conversation is so not over."

---------------------------------

Water...

Kerry mused sleepily, listening to the sound of the rain pelting gently against the bedroom windows. Fluid and graceful... resolutely refusing to hold one certain shape on its own, irrevocably shaped by the things around it. Like the rivulets formed by undetectable curves in the panes of glass, Kerry had been unable to stop herself from responding to the force in her life that was Kim Legaspi. Kim slept in her arms this night, the golden curls tucked neatly against her shoulder, her bandaged arm draped over Kerry's waist-- its pale glow both a reproachful and revelatory. There were a thousand different labels she could put on what was happening between them, but none of them seemed quite right. The words all seemed both too encompassing, yet painfully inadequate. And right now, she could only know what she felt was bone-deep and true.

Kim murmured softly in her sleep, her legs flexing slightly in some unseen response. Kerry gentled a quiet kiss on the blonde's forehead, soothing her with her lips. Kim sighed in response, her hand reaching for Kerry's as she relaxed once more. Kerry found herself echoing the contented sigh; and she closed her eyes, content for once to let the night settle around them peacefully and unafraid of what the morning might bring.

FINIS

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