Sotto Voce -- by Sharon Bowers

Fandom: ER
Summary:
In the painful wake of her break-up with Kerry Weaver, Kim Legaspi's return to County General pushes her to her ethical and emotional limits.
Rating:
R for language and dealings with aftermath of the rape of a young girl, though the actual act itself isn't shown.
Spoilers:
Post-Witch Hunt, pre-Sailing Away. I mean, seriously, don't we have like three years between these eps?
Author's Note:
Yeah, I know I'm playing favorites here. Author's prerogative.
Disclaimers:
We all know the drill. No money here.
Feedback:
Always welcome at: sbowers@bellsouth.net

Sotto Voce
by Sharon Bowers

The bleak Chicago skyline was gray and unforgiving, spitting random icy droplets in Kim Legaspi's face and snarling its windy fingers in her hair. April was almost here and the weather had yet to break its frozen shell and let even the merest sliver of warmth into the city's shivering soul. She had been cold since September, when she had come to this god-forsaken place; and she now wondered if Spring would ever come. Huddling deeper into her insubstantial cloth overcoat, she remembered with a tiny yearning smile the riot of colors, sounds and smells that had marked April's arrival in Georgia.

She had done her undergraduate work in that most resilient of Southern cities, Atlanta, at Emory University. Though she hadn't been born to the region, she had quickly grown to love the rambling city whose urban sprawl refused any sort of planning or shepherding and whose native inhabitants were a maddening combination of stiff-necked pride and gently enthralling charm. Most of all, however, she had fallen in love with the seasons-- the gradual metamorphosing of Summer's sticky heat to Fall's brisk clip to Winter's brief freeze and back to Spring's bright sun. April in Atlanta meant long drives with the top down, dogwood blooms in her hair, and pretty girls cotillion-bound in sleeveless cotton dresses.

Oh yes, without a doubt, she had loved her time down South.

Which, whenever she took the odd minute or two to think about it, made her professionally northbound trajectory all the more perplexing. From Atlanta she had gone to Washington, DC and Georgetown; from Washington to Baltimore and Johns Hopkins. Now she was a senior attending at County General in Chicago-- quite frankly freezing her ass off and having a hard time remembering why she didn't just hop the next Atanta-bound flight and take her old mentor up on that standing offer of a faculty position at Emory and a tidy private practice.

Burying a sigh as she stepped off the El and trotted down the short stairwell to the sidewalk, she shook her head wearily as she approached County General for the first time since her privileges had been reinstated. Though Shannon Wallace's story about Kim's sexual advances had begun falling apart less than a day and a half after the teenager had leveled the accusations, Kim hadn't stepped foot inside the hospital for almost ten days.

"The little bastard wants to try and torture you," Shirley, the head OR nurse and one of her best friends, had informed her over a plate of violently hot wings and icy cold beer. "Thinks if he leaves you twisting in the wind a little bit longer then you'll be grateful that he let you come back at all."

"He's dumber than I thought," had been Kim's only reply.

He

was Robert Romano, Chief of Surgery and-- in the context that mattered the most to Kim-- Chief of Staff at County General. Romano had railroaded her into the suspension, Kim suspected, mostly because he was pissed off that she was gay and he apparently was the last person in Chicago to know about it.

During her recruitment to County, Romano's charm had an oily edge-- he'd made no secret that it wasn't just her curriculum vitae he found so very attractive. At the time, she honestly hadn't given it that much thought; as a resident at Johns Hopkins, she'd had contact with the Chief of Staff maybe a total of four times in her four years there. She didn't expect things at County to be that different.

She'd been proven wrong within her first two weeks as an attending. When she'd asked Shirley if Romano generally made himself that accessible to every doc in the hospital, Shirley had laughed so hard that tears streamed freely down her cheeks.

The nurse's response: "Do you think any man who calls himself 'the Rocket' is a vir populi? Seriously, Kim-- I thought your sense of the absurd was a little more developed than that."

At that point she'd resigned herself to marking the time when the blinders were stripped from Rocket's eyes and the inevitable awkwardness that would follow. Unfortunately it had happened in a way and at a time that couldn't have been worse. And she'd nearly lost her career as a result.

After her dinner with Shirley, Kim had called Carl DeRaad, the chief of County's Psychiatric Department; telling him that although she knew that Shannon Wallace had dropped the charges and that she was leaving the department short-handed by not coming back right away, she was going to take the rest of the week to sort out some personal matters and be back the following Monday. DeRaad's dignity had already taken quite a bruising because not only had his top attending been summarily suspended without his input, but also because he was prevented from bringing her back right away as a result of the personal pissing match Romano and Kim were having. Her call managed to soothe at least some of that wound, if not reduce its sting entirely.

With her suspension becoming an impromptu vacation, she used the time diligently-- finishing up some projects around the house that she had been avoiding since she had moved in, indulging in some late nights at a couple of blues clubs she had yet to visit, and generally being quite productive in getting on with her life.

She was absolutely refusing to think about Kerry Weaver-- or the impact her lover's absence was having on her days, not to mention her nights. Denial might be a river in Egypt, but it was also a damn fine coping mechanism. At least for now.

"Dr. Legaspi... I see you took your own sweet time about reporting back." As if her musings about the past week's events had conjured the man who had set things in motion himself, Robert Romano's harsh tenor yapped behind her, grating on both her nerves and the perfect pitch she had inherited from her mother. "I trust you haven't touched, harassed or in any way assaulted anyone else since the time we last saw you?"

Stopping dead in her tracks and spinning on one heel, she smiled blithely at the diminutive man in front of her through icy pale-blue eyes. "Trust me, Dr. Romano. The moment I assault someone, you will be the absolute first to know."

His own eyes flattened a bit, then a lip curled in mild admiration. "Not bad," he approved. "Not bad at all. Vaguely threatening, but not overtly so. And you're almost butch enough to pull it off."

"Was there something you wanted?" She crossed her arms against the cold and regarded him archly, pausing a bit before adding, "Other than the obvious?"

The muscle in his jaw tensed, flexed; and the slits that were his eyes narrowed even more. "Actually, yes. I wanted to run something by you. Get your feel for it, such as it is." He ignored her skyrocketing brows and steamrolled on. "Peter Benton is heading up a Diversity Committee-- I'm assuming you've heard of it considering how completely diverse you are--" She rolled her eyes at him and began walking away, biting the retort that sprang to her lips. Instead of chasing after her long-legged stride, he simply raised his voice and allowed it to trail, hound-like, after her. "I was wondering what you thought of the idea of bringing Kerry Weaver on board."

"He's trying to torture you..."

suddenly had a whole new meaning for Kim.

He was at her side before she even realized she had stopped moving. "I mean... she's pretty diverse too..." He mimed a limping motion. "What with the Tiny Tim thing and all." He paused only a moment to savor her shocked silence, then nodded curtly and turned to go. "That good, huh? Thanks for your input."

"That's kind of like shooting fish in a barrel, isn't it?" This time, her low alto loped over his shoulder, and he slowly pivoted, drifting back towards her.

"How so?"

"Clinical definitions of sadism define the practice merely as deriving pleasure from inflicting pain on others. But, in practice, I've found that true sadists like a bit of a challenge in their sport."

"Meaning?" His voice dwelled almost obscenely upon the word.

"Meaning... there's no fun for you in that scenario. You and I both know Kerry Weaver's going to roll over and play dead on this subject. The joke you called a disciplinary hearing proved that."

"Careful with your phrasing there, Dr. Legaspi. You might be treading on some thin ice."

She leaned closer to his face, her lips inches from his. "Then tell me where the faultline is so I can jump up and down on it."

Romano's perpetual sneer brightened into a smile, lightening the dour look he carried in his brown eyes. "You're right. Weaver's a bad choice for the slot. Come to think of it, you'd do much better. See Benton for the particulars. Now, aren't you late for rounds?" He patted her shoulder and strutted away, leaving her in dumbfounded and outraged astonishment.

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

Apparently no one in her department had taken Shannon Wallace's charges seriously, Kim mused, studying the disaster area that was her desk. Memos, charts, and medical journals dog-eared for her attention were the most readily identifiable things covering every possible surface of the light oak. Her computer monitor was similarly accented by post-it notes in various iridescent shades, informing her of everything from the date of the department's monthly pot-luck to requests for consults and follow-ups. "Geeze," she muttered to herself. "What would they have done if I hadn't come back?"

"You don't want to know the answer to that question." The voice in her doorway was warmly familiar, and she turned to see Carl DeRaad's bulky frame leaning in his favorite spot against the wall. "Do I get to be the first one to welcome you back?"

Kim grinned wryly, dropping into her desk chair and flipping on her computer. "Unfortunately, that dubious honor already went to Romano."

DeRaad's brows crinkled in surprise. "Really?"

"He was just trolling for trouble."

"No doubt you obliged him."

"You know what they say about me, Carl. Trouble is my middle name."

"And here I thought it was Cowboy."

"That too." Kim chuckled in agreement and cocked an inquisitive brow at her boss. "You sure you want me back?"

"Are you kidding? Everybody's so off their game, I think the inmates are about to take over the asylum. I heard Phil Myers tell some of the other attendings that if he heard another of the residents ask, 'Do you think that's how Dr. Legaspi would handle it?' one more time, he was going to send them all in for deprogramming."

"Oh God..." Kim buried her head in her arms on the desk and gently pounded it against the wood. "I bet he wants to kill me."

"No, he just wants to know how you managed to get yourself elevated to the level of Jedi Master."

"Great. Me and Yoda. Trust me, it wasn't intentional."

"Did I mention three fourth-years told me they didn't want to do their sub-i's here if you weren't coming back?"

"Carl..."

"Okay, okay... I'll stop torturing you." Carl gazed fondly at his senior attending, silently admiring the aplomb with which she was handling the whole situation. It grated on him that he hadn't been in a position to help her more, but Don Anspaugh had assured him that Romano was making this a personal issue and that no good would come of DeRaad's trying to interfere. For reasons he couldn't explain, Carl trusted the young woman sprawled gracefully in the chair in front of him-- something about the confidence with which she carried herself, the openness in her eyes. He knew there was more to Kim Legaspi than the unflappable poise she presented on the ward; the rumors currently flying around the hospital were proof of that. If she were hurting... for any reason... he wanted to help her, but one glance at the shuttered blue eyes looking back at him ruled that possibility out for now. "So in case you hadn't noticed, we've missed you around here."

"I've missed you guys too." She smiled gratefully back at him for a moment before shaking her head slowly, the smile gently fading. "But I'd be lying if I didn't admit to thinking about pulling up stakes. Maybe hightailing it back to someplace... warmer."

He frowned at the admission, but couldn't really fault her for it. Shrugging in elaborate casualness, he crossed his arms. "I wouldn't think you'd have to look too hard for a slot. I distinctly remember the Chief at Johns Hopkins telling me to treat you right or he'd come to Chicago and bring you back himself. That what you were doing this past week? Calling some old friends?"

"You almost look worried, Carl."

"I am," he admitted.

"Don't be. I'm not going anywhere."

"Mind if I ask why?"

"Speaking frankly?"

"By all means."

"Because that sonofabitch Romano can come kiss my French-Portugese ass if he thinks he's going to run me out of County."

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

The all-too-convincing-sound of a canine's angry bark emanated from Curtain 2, echoing through the ER and sending more than one normally-hearty soul reaching for the ibuprofen. "Hasn't somebody called Psych yet?" Malucci complained, wondering vaguely if it would be considered malpractice to pump the guy full of ativan when nobody was looking. He might get suspended again, but the peace and quiet would be worth it.

"Called 'em 45 minutes ago," Haleh sighed, joining the group hovering around the admit desk. Malucci was thumbing through charts and looking for anything remotely resembling a trauma; while Randi buffed her nails and made disapproving noises under her breath.

Chen looked up from the discharge forms she was filling out. "They not answering their pages again?"

"Would you want to come down here after what happened to Legaspi?"

"I heard they were trying to stick it to Weaver by dragging their feet even more than usual."

"What's Weaver got to do with it?"

Haleh leaned in closer. "You didn't hear?"

"Only that Romano railroaded Legaspi into the suspension and Anspaugh got into his face over it."

"Yeah, well, I heard that Weaver was also in the hearing; and apparently, she didn't have any objections to the suspension at all."

Malucci's face twisted into a scowl, and he shook his head. "That doesn't sound like the Chief. She knows how good Legaspi is-- everybody does. Romano was just being an asshole because that's what he does."

"Dave's just wanting Legaspi back so he can pick up some dating tips," Chen teased.

"That's not a bad idea, Dave," Randi observed. "She might improve your taste in women."

"Hey, my taste in women is just fine."

"Are you kidding? Do the words trailer trash ring a bell?"

"You're just jealous."

"Of what? That you troll for women at monster truck rallys?"

"That Dr. Legs and I have a rapport."

"Dave, it's her job to make the crazy people feel sane. You get my drift?"

Despite the round of chuckles at his expense, Malucci refused to let himself be one-upped. "Come on, if we went out, she'd have a great time with me-- pizza, beer, a little guy talk..."

"She'd have more fun with me," Randi interrupted. "Filet mignon, red wine, a little grrl talk..."

Chen let out a low whistle as Dave's ears began a slow burn. "I think you might have a thing for our good Dr. Legs," she laughed.

"I wouldn't kick her out of bed for eating crackers, that's for damn sure." Randi grinned wickedly. "Come to think of it, I wouldn't kick her out of bed for eating just about anything..."

A sharp voice knifed through the raucous laughter erupting around the admit desk. "Good to know that the ten patients on the board and the seventeen others in the chairs are a source of such amusement to everyone." Kerry Weaver's eyes were a dirty gray as they pinned each member of the small group with an unwavering glare. "Might I suggest that everyone find something useful to do before I do it for you? Malucci, you can start by shutting that damn dog up."

In the mad scramble to get out of the line of fire, only Randi was left sitting placidly behind the desk, unmoved by the Chief's display of pique. She had seen Weaver angrier-- and usually for no better reason-- but she couldn't quite remember ever seeing her look quite so utterly exhausted, even after double shifts and multiple traumas. With a quizzical expression, she watched the ER Chief crutch away wearing the same distracted expression she had borne for the last week or more.

"What was that all about?" Abby's low voice buzzed through the milling sounds around the admit desk and the din of the human canine. Arms full of charts, she came around the desk and dumped them gracelessly on a work area in front of her.

"Busted us for goofing off."

"Ah... same old same old." Absently, she pulled one from the pile and flipped it open to begin her updates.

"Weaver looks like shit," Randi said bluntly, wanting to air the feeling that had been nagging at her lately and knowing that Abby would be far more discreet than anyone else in the ER. Not that discretion was one of Randi's finer points-- but something just felt... off... to her as far as Weaver was concerned, and she wanted a second opinion. "I mean, I know she's queen of the bad hair days; and sometimes she looks like she buys her clothes from Retards R Us..."

"She's been working a lot of hours lately." Abby shrugged the observation off.

"Haleh said that she was in that committee meeting that suspended Legaspi."

Abby looked mildly intrigued for minute, then shrugged. "So?"

"And that she didn't do anything to stop Romano."

Blankly. "So?"

"So... maybe she's feeling guilty."

"Since when has Weaver ever felt guilty about anything?"

"That's what I'm thinking."

"I'm not following you."

"Well, she's all sisterhood is powerful with you and Chen. Corday too until that whole I-hope-you-die-thing. But the second somebody goes after the dyke, she caves. Maybe she's feeling guilty for being a big ole politically incorrect homophobe. Especially now that Legs is back."

"Legaspi's back?" Abby's brows rose dramatically.

Randi snapped her gum emphatically. "Oh yeah. Tina upstairs said they practically carried her through the halls on their shoulders they were so happy to see her back."

"Does Weaver know?"

"Doubt it. Nobody up in Psych is real interested in keeping her in the loop."

Abby considered Randi's words for a minute then shook her head. "Maybe."

"But..." the desk clerk prodded.

"But nothing," she demurred.

"It's wierd though. Man, I'd have sworn anything that she and Legaspi were friends.

Abby pulled a wry face. "You mean as much as someone can be Weaver's friend, don't you?"

"Nah, she's not that bad."

"Two minutes ago you were calling her a homophobe."

"That's what doesn't jibe. I can't figure Weaver caring."

"Maybe she doesn't. Maybe Weaver's just being Weaver, fascistic and inscrutable as always. You'll drive yourself nuts if you keep trying to figure her out."

The possibility brought a smile to Randi's face. "Does that mean somebody will call up for a psych consult?"

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

Kim had managed to shovel most of the debris from her desk-- or at least enough to clear a small working space-- and her monitor was post-it free for the moment. She had spent most of the morning, however, on an extended version of rounds, talking with each of her patients and calming the handful who had been truly agitated by her absence. It was exhausting work reassuring them that her return was permanet and that things were returning to normal. At least a dozen times during the morning, she had silently cursed both Romano and herself-- him for summarily removing her from her position and herself for allowing her pride to get in the way of her patients' care. It was just the sort of head game that got trolls like Romano off, and she knew better than to play it.

"Dr. Myers... some resident is threatening to come up here and bodily drag your bony ass down to the ER if you don't answer his page stat."

Curious, Kim poked her head out of her office to watch Phil Myers scowl in irritation at the department secretary. "You tell him I'll drag my own bony ass anywhere it needs to go, and it's not going anywhere until I finish the work-up on the last headcase that they turfed up here."

Exec-u-gliding in her chair into the hallway, Kim spun to a halt in front of the trim, dark-haired attending. "I can take the page if you're backed up, Myers."

Suddenly, it seemed as if every member of the Psych Department was in the hallway, eyes focused on her.

"Thanks for the offer, Kim, but I've got it under control."

She arched a curious brow and crossed her arms, stretching her long legs out in front of her. "That work-up's gonna take at least another 45 minutes. In the meantime, somebody down there needs our help."

"I'll take it, Phil. Go on with your work-up." Carl DeRaad interrupted the conversation, waving the other man away and starting for the elevator.

Kim rolled her chair alongside him, stopping as he waited for the car to arrive. "Since when do you answer ER pages? Isn't that what you've got a department full of docs for?"

"Just because I usually don't, doesn't mean I can't. Or won't."

As the elevator door dinged open, Kim rose fluidly from her relaxed position and leaned against the car door to keep it from closing. "I'm beginning to think somebody doesn't want me down there."

DeRaad had the grace to look abashed, a light blush coating his features. "Kim..."

She bit her lip, not wanting to ask but knowing she had to. "Somebody ask you to keep me out of the ER?"

"No." Carl's reply was firm, and he had no trouble meeting her eyes despite the increasingly deep shade of red that suffused his face. "It's just that... well, I thought maybe you'd want a couple of days to get your sea legs back under you before heading back into the lion's den."

"You're mixing your metaphors," she observed mildly.

"That's because you're making me nervous with that death ray glare of yours."

She chuckled lightly and softened her expression. "Look... Carl... I know you're trying to be circumspect, and it would be funny if it weren't so damn painful to watch, but really... there's no need."

"Kerry Weaver wasn't exactly supportive during that whole Wallace mess."

Kim was aware of DeRaad's careful eyes upon her-- not to mention those of practically her whole department. What she said and how she reacted right now would spread with flashfire wildness all over the hospital. She had been dreading this very moment from the second she walked out of the hospital ten days ago, and she had spent the intevening time vainly trying to separate how she felt about working with Kerry on a professional level from the pain of what they had done to their relationship. She hadn't come to any firm conclusions despite all her soul searching, and the conviction with which she found herself replying surprised even her. "If I thought for one minute that Kerry Weaver believed I was guilty of any of the things that Shannon Wallace accused me of, I'd resign from County right now. That's how much I think of her professionally. Whatever she thinks of me personally, however, has no bearing inside these walls. She is still the head of Emergency Medicine and I'm still an attending in a department whose services she requires. Everything else is beside the point."

There it was. She had laid it out for him as plainly as she could while still protecting the last vestige of just between us... that had been Kerry's request. Kim didn't know what people might be saying about the events of ten days ago, but judging from Carl's reaction and the avidly curious faces of her departmental colleagues, she couldn't help but wonder if there was anything that remained just between them as far as the hospital gossips were concerned.

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

She heard the barking even before the elevator had completely halted and opened its doors. Stopping by the snack machine and feeding three quarters into the slots, she punched in a request for pecan sandies. Deftly, Kim tore the package open and slipped the cookies into her blazer pocket as she strolled to the admit desk. "I take it Rover is the reason someone was threatening to drag Myers' bony ass down here?" she drawled, propping her long frame against the desk and addressing the three people who stood there gaping at her.

Carter was the first to recover, replying, "It was getting to the point where you guys were going to either get him or the entire EM staff. He's been at it for almost an hour."

"I see." Kim arched both brows and nodded in understanding. "Sorry we weren't down earlier."

"So are we." Carter slid easily off the stool he was perched on, chart in hand. Coming around the desk, he patted Kim's arm as she passed. "Good to have you back, Dr. Legaspi."

That seemed to loosen everyone up-- or at least their tongues-- for she was suddenly surrounded by well-wishers, of whom Malucci seemed to be the most ardent and Randi the most uncharacteristically silent. The lingering fears she had about the staff believing Shannon Wallace's story began to drain away, and she had the oddly tangible sensation of her life beginning to resettle on its foundations.

"I thought I told you people to get to work..." An irritated voice, angrily strident and exhausted-sounding-- but still painfully familiar to Kim-- brought conversation at the admit desk to an abruptly graceless halt. "And Malucci, why haven't you gotten someone down here to see about the guy in Curtain 2?"

"Uh... Actually, he has," Kim replied hesitantly.

The circle slowly parted, revealing the one person she had been simultaneously most afraid and most eager to see. In the ten days since their last conversation outside the elevator doors seven flights up, neither woman had attempted to make contact with the other. Kim had been deadly serious when she told Kerry to go back to her life-- not because she thought the older woman had been toying with her, but because she was terrified of the depth of pain Kerry's inaction had caused her. Almost unknowingly, Kim had fallen faster and farther for the red-head than she had ever thought possible. They had never spoken of love in the months they had been together, but its germination had been implicit in every moment they spent in each other's presence, in every press of their bodies together, in the prayer of her name on Kerry's lips.

"Kim..."

Kerry was as ashen-faced as she had been the last time they saw each other; but exhaustion ringed her eyes now-- the brilliant green of her irises dulled to a sullen gray-- and something in her expression seemed walled off, as if she couldn't bear the intimacy of the gaze currently upon her.

"Dr. Weaver..."

It slipped out before she even realized it-- indeed only the slight jerk of Kerry's head made Kim realize she had spoken aloud. Kerry half-nodded, as if she expected no less and worse yet, deserved it. "Rover belongs to Malucci-- see him for the chart."

"No, he doesn't," Malucci protested. "I don't know who admitted him. Finch maybe, but then some kid started upchucking and she disappeared into pedes."

"He's yours now," Kerry grimly advised him. With a slight flinch, she turned back to Kim. "Good to have you back, Dr. Legaspi," she said quietly before walking away.

With a biting sense of loss, Kim watched the slight figure moving down the hall. "Kerry..." she called out hesitantly, not sure of her intentions but unable to stop herself. Looking at Kerry's small frame, she had the irrational thought that perhaps she would pretend not to hear and just keep walking away. Instead, Kim was rewarded by the sight of her ex-lover turning slowly to face her. "I... Thanks... It's good to be back."

What could have been the ghost of a smile passed so swiftly across Kerry's face that anyone who had not spent the last months enraptured by the contemplation of that face and its expressions would have missed it. As it was, however, the gesture was enough to let them both recognize that the connection between them still existed and to acknowledge it in this infintesimal way. To what end? the clinician in her wanted to ask, but wisely kept silent-- aware the heart has its own ways and cannot always be reconciled with what the head knows.

"You got a chart for me, Dr. Dave?" she asked, turning to the resident and masking the suddenly racking ache in her chest. "Let's go see if we can kennel Rover."

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

The crowd around the admit desk slowly dispersed, leaving only Randi, Chen, and Abby exchanging speculative glances.

"Gotta hand it to Legaspi," Chen muttered. "She showed more class than I would've."

Abby arched a sardonic brow. "You would have preferred a fist fight?"

Chen made a wry face and shrugged. "No... it's just... What happened to her was wrong. And there was no good reason for it."

"And she should take it out on Weaver?"

"Haleh said...."

"Yeah, I know what Haleh said, but she wasn't in the meeting. Nobody knows what happened in there except the four people who were there..."

"And the sixteen who watched Legaspi come tearing out of that room with Weaver in hot pursuit apologizing her ass off," Haleh interrupted, returning to the desk. "Damn, did I miss it?"

"Sorry to disappoint, but there wasn't a firework to be seen," Abby reported dryly.

"They being mature about it?" Haleh clucked her tongue in chagrin.

"Unfortunately so for the viewing pleasure of everyone in the ER."

"Figures."

"Can we just give the subject a rest?"

The ER nurse gave Abby a careful once-over. "Since when have you been such a fan of Weaver's? Just yesterday I heard you in the supply room cussing up a storm about something or other she'd done."

"I'm not a big fan of hers, it's just..." She ran an exasperated hand through her short hair, tousling it even more. "Whatever's going on between them is none of our business."

Chen leaned closer. "You heard there was something going on between them?"

"No!" Abby yelped, backpedalling furiously. "Not like that."

Haleh harumphed under her breath. "I should hope not."

"I think Legaspi would have better taste."

Abby turned to Chen. "Since when have you become an expert on what makes one woman attractive to another?"

"Come on, Abby. We're talking about Weaver. Besides, I thought you said there wasn't anything going between them."

"There isn't."

"And you know because..."

"I don't. I mean, I'm just saying... Are you deliberately being obtuse?"

"I don't think so. Then again, I'm not quite sure what it is you're trying to say. Do you think there's anything going on between them or not?"

Abby threw her hands up in surrender. "I give up. Think whatever you want. But if Weaver crutches me to death because she thinks I started this ridiculous rumor about her and Dr. Legaspi... my ghost is coming after your ass."

"Hey Jing Mei, can you give me a hand over here?" Mercifully, Carter's voice interrupted Chen's response, and the resident left the admit desk chuckling quietly.

Haleh paused and considered the scenario for a moment, squinting her eyes as if it would give her particular insight. "Nah, can't see it," she declared, rendering her verdict with a regal shake of her head and walked away, leaving Randi and Abby staring at each other.

The desk clerk chewed her gum thoughtfully, studying the nurse with an appraising gaze. "I dunno..." she said, drawing her words out. "I think you might be onto something there."

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

Dave dramatically swept the curtain aside to reveal a large, red-haired man sitting in close imitation of a dog at the foot of the examination table. Snarls interspersed the rapid barking, ringing in Kim's ears. "Hey!" she snapped her fingers inches from his face, the way she would to get a dog's attention.

"Careful," Malucci warned. "I don't want to have to give you a rabies shot."

"Rover!" She snapped her fingers again. "You want a cookie?"

The man cocked his head, floppy hair falling over one eye. He barked once.

"You have to stop barking, okay? And I'll give you a cookie."

He yipped softly in agreement, panting in eagerness.

Keeping steady eye contact, she pulled one of the pecan sandies out of her blazer pocket and fed it to him, trying not to wince as he drooled lightly on her fingers.

Silently, Rover looked at her in expectation, and Kim irrationally remembered something her father once warned her about feeding strays. Shaking the incongruous thought from her mind, she pulled another pecan sandie from her pocket. "You want to go to obedience school?"

He barked happily in agreement and went to take the cookie, but Kim held it out of his reach. "No barking!" she rebuked.

He dropped his head in abasement, and Kim silently thanked god that no one but Malucci was around to see this. On the other hand... no one but Malucci was around to see it. God only knew what the rapt-eyed resident would tell everyone else on the floor about this encounter.

"Okay..." she sighed heavily, wondering why exactly she had chosen psych over emergency medicine. A quick glance at Malucci told her he was wondering the same thing. "Obedience school is upstairs. If you don't give me any trouble on the way, I'll give you another cookie. Okay?"

He yipped his acquiescence; and Kim turned to go, stopping abruptly when she realized he wasn't at her side.

"What the...?" She whirled around at glared at Rover. "I thought you wanted to go to obedience school?"

A mournful whine was her only response.

"Uh... Dr. Legaspi?" Malucci pointed sheepishly at the woven collar around the man's neck. "I think he's waiting for a leash."

"I don't have a leash," she hissed.

"Well, it doesn't look like he's going anywhere without one. And he almost bit me when I tried to make him stand up and walk."

"Oh, good grief." Kim rolled her eyes and yanked her shirt up, quickly unfastening the thin leather belt around her waist and inadvertently treating Dave to a lovely view of her abs. Jerking it irritably through the loops in her slacks, she handed it to him. "Use this and take him upstairs."

"But..." he began to protest.

"Dave..." Her voice was low and not a little menacing as she turned on him. "Given my reputation in this hospital, think about what it would look like to have me leading a man around with a makeshift leash."

Comprehension dawned over the resident's chocolate-colored eyes, and he took the belt from her wordlessly.

A loud shout and the raucous noise of the ambulance bay doors kicking open drew her attention away from the elevator that Malucci and Rover had disappeared into. Silently she watched the trauma team swarm around tiny figure on the gurney, Kerry leading the way.

"Twelve year old female, heart rate 110, BP 100 over 60. Pulse ox 96. Lacerations to the face, legs and torso. Some abdominal trauma..." She absently registered the EMTs usual clipped tones, but her attention was drawn to the two people following in the gurney's wake. The hunched figure of a petite woman in her thirties shadowed the man preceding her, his face as covered by anguish as the woman's was absent it. The ER team efficiently propelled the gurney through into Trauma 2, and as the doors swung shut, Kim heard the EMT continuing, "...Looks like she was raped..."

A strangled cry left the man's throat, and he went to follow the patient into the trauma room, but Kim instinctively blocked his path. The last thing the ER team needed to deal with was a distraught parent. "Let them take care of her..." she counseled.

At nearly six feet, Kim was as tall as most men; however, he towered over her by a good six inches. Concealing an internal flinch when his hands raised to physically move her out of his way, she stood firm and forced his frantic eyes to meet her calm ones. He blinked twice, as if realizing for the first time there was a real person in front of him. He lowered his hands, but Kim could see his fingers twitching with the need to do something. "That's my daughter in there," he said needlessly.

"And right now the best doctors in Chicago are looking after her."

"I need to know what's going on..."

"I know you do." She nodded in understanding, her mind racing with what, if anything, she could do to help. "And I'm going to see what I can find out, okay? Will you let me do that, Mr...?"

"Tom. Tom Readlee."

"Okay, Tom." Kim nodded again with an silent sigh of relief that he didn't seem to want to fight her any longer. "I'm Dr. Legaspi. What's your little girl's name?"

"Teresa," he choked the word out. "After her grandmother... my ma... but we... I always call her Esa... God... she's only twelve. Help her..."

"All right, I'm going to go talk to the trauma team, see what Esa's condition is." Over Tom's shoulder, she could see the hunched, unnaturally still figure that had accompanied him into the emergency room. Something in the woman's expression disturbed her; but she shook it off to deal with the situation in front of her before anything else. Still, she asked, "Is that your wife?"

Tom Readlee jerked as he'd been slapped, too many emotions flickering over his face at once for Kim to catalog any of them. "Yeah."

"Why don't you go wait with her, and I'll get back to you as soon as I can. Okay?" He looked unconvinced-- as if his hovering outside the trauma doors would do more good. Kim touched his shoulder softly, a gesture both comforting and prompting. Obediently he moved towards his wife, his gaze remaining locked on interior of Trauma 2.

Stepping through the swinging doors, Kim's eyes were immediately drawn to the calm center of the controlled storm surrounding her. The team moved with sharp precision, but without any of the orchestrated frenzy that usually accompanied more desperate traumas-- Esa was out of whatever woods she might have been in. Without thinking, she ran a hand along Kerry's spine to catch her attention, only realizing her error when she saw her ex-lover stiffen. "Her name's Teresa, but her father calls her Esa," she murmured with an apologetic grimace. "I thought it might help."

"It does," Kerry nodded brusquely. "It will."

"Her parents are outside in chairs. Anything I can tell them? Father's kind of frantic."

"She's stable. We've ordered a head CT, ultrasound, and called down for a surgical consult on the abdomen but there's no indication of internal bleeding. We gave her 5 of valium to calm her. She's taken a hell of a beating though. I'm sure the X-rays are going to show a couple of broken ribs. Plastics is coming to take care of the lacs on her face. We'll sew up everything else."

Kim nodded through the bullet, though her stomach twisted at the thought of what had happened to the girl. "I thought I heard the EMT say something about sexual trauma?"

Kerry bit her lip, eyes clouding over even further. "External evidence seems to indicate it. We haven't done the pelvic yet-- Abby's getting a rape kit and I need to talk to her parents." Kerry had told her more than once that treating children was oftentimes the hardest part of her job-- mostly because it seemed so unfair that the random horrors that brought people to her ER were equally visited upon such innocent lives. The depth of sorrow emanating in her words seared through Kim; and she ached to be able to reach out to the woman standing before her. The chasm between them, however, was still too wide to encompass such intimacies as comfort.

"You want me to consent them?" she offered impulsively. It wasn't much, but it was something-- and from the grateful look of relief on Kerry's face, Kim knew it was the right thing to have asked.

"They don't need you upstairs?" The protest was token.

"Seems like you need me more down here," she countered with a small smile.

"That we do." Kerry nodded quietly as if making up her mind. "If you'll get the consent, I'll call a social worker."

"Actually, if you want... I can take care of both. A friend of mine is the child psychologist who handles most of the RCC's calls in cases like this..." Kim trailed off, wondering if maybe her helpfulness was becoming intrusive. Kerry just stared at her pensively, and Kim hastened to fill a silence that was rapidly becoming awkward. "I mean, the social worker will just phone the RCC, you'll get whoever is on call, and they'll turn around and get Jamie when they find out her age. With me you get the same result, but faster service.

"Still walking through administrative red tape like it wasn't there, huh?" Kerry asked wryly. The corners of her mouth twitched as if in amusement, but it was overshadowed by something larger and as yet unidentifiable to Kim.

"Just moving your patient to the head of the line," she teased, emotional reflexes reacting out of habit and without regard for their newly estranged state. Knowing not to press her luck, she smiled at Kerry quickly before the ER Chief had time to say anything else and pushed her way through the trauma doors.

"I'm glad we didn't lose her," Luka Kovic said softly, his eyes following Kim's departure and watching her make a phone call before returning to Esa's family. Ten days ago, he had quietly become part of the unfolding drama that had resulted in Kim Legaspi's suspension and-- he suspected-- the end of her relationship with Kerry Weaver. It was a shame, really, he thought-- the tempestuous psych attending was more than a match for Kerry's formidable will. Certainly the last place he wanted to be was in the middle of the Chief of Emergency Medicine's affairs, but a loud-mouthed Chicago police detective hadn't given him much choice. By questioning Kerry in the middle of an exam room about her surprising presence at an unusual hour in Dr. Legaspi's house, the detective had effectively laid Kerry's private life open to anyone within earshot. Fortunately only he and a temp day-nurse had been around to hear, but it had caused a strain in his already-tenuous working relationship with Kerry.

"I'm sorry, Luka. What did you say?" Kerry's voice was distracted, and he recognized it at last for what it was. A part of the Chief had gone missing ten days ago; and in this moment, he realized where it now resided.

"Dr. Legaspi," he said. "It's good the hospital didn't lose her."

"Mmm... I didn't know she was due back today."

"I don't think many people did," he offered cautiously.

She turned suddenly, and he blinked in surprise at the professional mask settled firmly over her features. "Where's plastics?" she asked him, abruptly closing the topic of Kim's return with a shake of her head. "Didn't Haleh call them?"

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

"You're telling me my daughter was raped?"

"I'm telling you that's what we need to find out."

His face contorted; and Tom Readlee jerked himself violently away from Kim's hands, whirling to face his wife. "This is your fault!" he snarled, his voice low and strangled. "I told you I didn't want him in my house. Goddamn you!"

Astonished by the sudden fury, Kim grabbed his elbow and spun him back to face her. "Let's worry about taking care of Esa right now," she murmured, worried about the uncontrollable shudder that was his wife's only response to her husband's fury. "Okay? Can I get you to sign these?"

Tom swallowed hard and crossed his arms, ducking his head in acknowledgment. Worlessly, he took the chart from her and scribbled his signature where she indicated. He handed the chart back to her and looked bleakly down at the floor. "When can I see her? I don't want her to think she's alone."

"She's asleep right now, Tom. And as soon as you can see her, I promise, you can. But we need to let the other doctors finish taking care of her first." Throughout the entire conversation, she had been stroking his arm gently, hoping to soothe some of the irrational rage from him. "Do you want to talk to you wife about what's going on?" She knew the words were a mistake as the muscles beneath her hand tensed once more and his face hardened into an implacable mask. "Why don't you wait here and I'll talk to her?" she added quickly, not wanting to set him off again.

He didn't reply, but Kim took his silence for an affirmation. Squeezing his shoulder once more, she turned her attention to Mrs. Readlee and closed the few steps that separated them. "Mrs. Readlee? I'm Kim Legaspi, a doctor here at County," she began softly. "I thought you might want to know how Esa's doing." The sound of her daughter's name elicited a choked sob from the heretofore silent woman, and instinctively Kim clasped her hand in sympathy. Her hands were icy cold, and Kim's worry flared into alarm. Glancing up to see Abby leaving Trauma 2, she called the over with a quick gesture of her head. "Why don't we go over here? It's quieter." Continuous shudders wracked the small woman's body, as Kim led her over to an empty corner of the waiting room and settled her into one of the hard plastic chairs. "Abby's going to sit with you for a few minutes until I can get back, okay?" Releasing Mrs. Readlee's hands, she ducked her head close to Abby's and muttered, "I don't know if it's the attack on her daughter or her husband or what, but she's about thirty seconds away from going into shock. Can you sit with her until I get her some coffee and her husband to settle down?"

Abby nodded. "Sure."

"Talk to her, touch her-- maintain some sort of physical contact with her. I'll hurry."

Leaving Mrs. Readlee in Abby's care, she returned to Tom Readlee, who was still staring anxiously at the activity in Trauma 2. "I just saw some tall black guy go in there. Who is he?"

"That's the surgeon."

"Is he going to be examining her?" he asked. "You know, for the other? A man might..."

Immediately Kim understood what Tom was trying to ask and shook her head. "No, Dr. Weaver will do that."

"Dr. Weaver?"

"She's the best doctor I know." Kim took a deep breath, knowing in her heart that despite everything that had come between them, this was still true. "If it were my daughter, I'd want Kerry taking care of her."

He nodded, as if mollified by her answer. "Okay... when can I see her?"

"Why don't you and I go upstairs to the cafeteria and get some coffee?"

"I don't want to leave Esa."

"Do you really want to watch your twelve year old daughter have a pelvic exam?" Kim winced at her own harshness, but is seemed to snap through to him.

"I..." He looked at her helplessly, and she took his arm.

"Come on. Walk with me."

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

They had walked up two flights of stairs before he thought to ask. "Why didn't we take the elevator?"

Kim stopped on the small landing that connected floors two and three. "Because I need to talk to you."

He looked at her blankly.

"What's happened to your daughter today is a horror beyond words," she said softly, acknowledging her own inadequacy to express what he was going through. "And Esa's going to need everyone behind her, but she can-- she will-- make it through this healthy and whole."

"I'll do anything for my daughter."

"Then you need to let go of whatever's between you and your wife," she replied bluntly. "Cry, scream, rant and rave, hit the walls-- whatever you need to do. But you have to let it go. Right here. Right now."

Instantly his face turned scarlet with rage. He took a step towards her, and involuntarily, Kim braced for an assault, though she didn't back down. "She's the one responsible for this!" he roared, his voice echoing his words back tenfold in the stairwell.

"Did she beat your daughter?" Kim snapped back at him.

"She brought that bastard into our home..."

"Did she rape your daughter?" she continued brutally.

"She told me..."

"Did she lay hands on your daughter?" Kim repeated.

"She..."

"Did she?"

His lips pressed together in a fine line, and Kim could see the muscles of his jaw flexing painfully. While she more than understood where Tom Readlee was coming from, in the long run it would do Esa more harm than good if her father blamed her mother in any way for what happened to their daughter.

Kim leaned in close to him; the muted scents of fear, anger and the inexpensive aftershave he wore mingling in her nostrils. "Save your rage for the man who actually did these things to Esa. He deserves it far more than your wife does," she murmured softly to him, allowing her expression to convey the depth of sorrow she felt for what had happened to his family and searching his gaze for some sign that she had gotten through to him.

She found it in pale green eyes suddenly glassy with tears. "Oh godd..." he shuddered, gasping for breath and leaning against her. Instinctively, Kim wrapped her arms around him as he sobbed, his head buried in her hair. "Oh goodd... my baby... What are we going to do?"

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

The elevator doors sprung Dave Malucci free; and he bounced to the admit desk, a confused expression coloring his face. "Where's Dr. Legs? She was supposed to be right behind me."

Randi didn't even grant the resident the courtesy of a glance in his direction. "Got involved in some big trauma that came through as you went upstairs."

"Trauma?" he squeaked. "How'd she get a trauma? I haven't had a decent one all day and besides, don't psych docs not do that sort of thing?"

"I'd let her crack my chest before you," the admit clerk muttered under her breath.

"I heard that."

"You were supposed to."

"What trauma?" he insisted.

"Look..." Randi blew out an exasperated breath, finally deigning to look up from her Cosmo quiz. "I don't know what trauma. I saw a gurney. I saw a blond. I saw the blond follow the gurney. Talk to Weaver for the details."

"Weaver?" Now Dave looked interested. "She and Legs worked a trauma together? Tina up in Psych told me that this morning Legs practically said she and Weaver hated each other. Guess Haleh was right-- the Chief screwed her over on the Wallace thing."

Randi absorbed this information with a little flicker of distaste, but didn't share any of her own growing suspicions. "Well, it didn't show down here. It looked like she was running interference for Weaver with the family. She called some child psych and got the consents from the dad."

"I thought all you saw was a blond and a gurney?"

The desk clerk crossed her arms and regarded him through slitted eyes. "Just because I know everything doesn't mean I tell everything," she intoned, Sybil-like.

"Since when?"

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

Abby looked up in suprise when Kim returned fifteen minutes later with a much-subdued Tom Readlee in tow, his eyes red and swollen from crying. She led him to the chair beside his wife, and he awkwardly put his arm around her. "It... it's gonna be okay, Paula. Our Esa's gonna be okay. We're going to take care of her."

The dam inside Paula Readlee broke and that point; and she turned into her husband's side, a quiet animal keening of sorrow in her throat. Over his wife's head, Tom glanced questioningly at Kim who nodded silently as he enfolded his wife in a tight embrace.

Wordlessly, Abby released her hold on Mrs. Readlee and joined Kim as they returned to the admit desk. "That was nothing short of miraculous," she observed. "What'd you do?"

Kim chuckled, massaging the tight cords in her neck with a weary hand as she leaned against the admit desk. "Basically told him to get his head out of his ass. That it wasn't helping his daughter any."

"You work fast."

"Had to. Still though..." Kim mused, "I understand where he's coming from. If his wife did bring the guy into the house..."

"I think they're talking about her younger brother. While you were gone she kept muttering something about somebody named Billy. And when I asked her who Billy was, she told me he was her brother."

"I'm sure the police will ask her about it when they get here."

"Thanks to you she'll be able to talk to them."

"I just hope it doesn't set him off again. That's the last thing Esa needs."

"Am I to assume Esa is the young lady you called me about?"

Kim's features relaxed into a smile as she turned to greet the familiar voice. "Hey, Jamie. Thanks for making it down here so quickly." She enfolded the smaller woman in a warm hug, genuinely glad to see her. Shortly after her arrival in Chicago, she had met Jamie Rutherford at a dinner that Carl DeRaad had hosted to introduce his newest attending to some of the professional community not strictly affiliated with the hospital. Initially, Kim had been struck by the openness of Jamie's face and the expressions that were allowed free reign there, a rare occurrence in a room full of psychiatrists who were essentially sizing each other up. When she learned that Jamie's specialty was children, it made perfect sense to her-- children reflected back what they saw; if they saw someone who was closed off to them, they would most likely respond back in kind.

"I had a pretty clear afternoon. Just rearranged a few things." She paused and took a long look at her friend. Kim's face looked almost imperceptibly leaner than the last time she and her husband had seen the younger woman, and something wary hovered now in the corners of her blue eyes. Jamie had seen the identical fear in the faces of abused children-- those who were intimately familiar with pain and were just waiting for the next blow to fall. Though she doubted anyone had physically harmed Kim recently, she wasn't so sure about emotionally. Her instincts warred between taking care of the patient she had been called to see and pulling her friend into a corner and ferreting out what was wrong. "I guess the rumors about your imminient departure were unfounded." Kim had the grace to look abashed as Jamie scolded her mildly. "You might have called, you know."

"It's a long story. And the short version is, I'm back."

"Good thing too. I don't know where Tony wound find another chess partner. The last time you two played, you kept him up half the night trying to figure out how you checkmated him."

"Sounds like it'd be a good thing if I weren't around," Kim teased.

"I'd get more sleep anyway." Jamie played along, curious to get a handle on Kim's emotional state. She knew that the more important things were to Kim, the lighter she seemed to play them off. What she was hearing only worried her more.

"There is that."

"Ah..." Jamie waved a dismissive hand. "Sleep's over-rated, and I get more enough already. In fact..." She peered closely at her friend. "I think maybe I'm getting some of your share."

"James..." Kim warned.

"Okay, okay, I'll back off," Jamie conceded, but her expression clearly read, for the time being. "You want to fill me in?"

Feeling eyes other than Jamie's on her, Kim glanced up to find Kerry watching. With a quick gesture, she waved the chief over. "Actually, I'll let the ER doc fill you in..."

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

"Why the hell is Legaspi dumping her admit up here without following up?"

Stepping off the elevator, Kim wasn't sure which barking was more annoying, Rover's down the hall or Phil Myers' as he loomed menacingly over the department secretary's desk as if expecting her to conjure the attending at his demand. Arching a wry brow and strolling over to the desk, Kim folded her arms and regarded her colleague. "I'm right here. I caught something else down there before I could get back upstairs. Sorry about that."

"So we're just supposed to take care of your work-ups while you play Super Pysch down in the ER?"

Her eyes flattened, taking in the angry set of the attending's face. "What's your problem, Myers?"

"My problem is that damn guy won't shut the hell up. And it's agitating all my other patients," he snapped.

"I'd hazard a guess that you shouting at Tina in the hallway might have something to do with that too," she observed blandly. "What's got you all worked up? It can't be my not making it up the stairs right away."

"You diagnosing the staff now?"

"Only when they start acting like the patients."

Myers opened his mouth to retort but, instead of speaking, only shook his head violently. "Go see about Rover, Dr. Legaspi. I don't need any counseling today."

As he strode away, Kim couldn't resist calling out. "If you change your mind, feel free to drop by my office."

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

"I'm telling you guys-- you should have seen her. She's chatting merrily on with this guy like he's some kind of Irish-freaking-Setter and not even blinking." Malucci was taking advantage of the relative quiet of the admit desk to wax rhapsodic about his new favorite subject, Kim Legaspi.

"Did you hear her tell Bloody Mary that she'd send Jesus right upstairs when He came for her?" Chuny offered up her own Legaspian anecdote as evidence. "She just talks to them like they're normal, no matter how crazy they really are."

"That is what she does," Abby, who had only been listening to the conversation with half an ear, pointed out.

Chuny made a face and shook her head in disagreement. "You know what I mean-- most of the psych docs have this little smirk on their faces or something. It's like they're..."

"Condescending?" Chen supplied for her.

"To the patients. Yeah. Legaspi isn't like that."

"Hey, if anyone can talk to Dave without condescending..."

Abby shot the assemblage a quizzical glance. "What is this-- canonize Kim Legaspi day?"

"Hey, I'm just glad she's back, because that means we see less of can-you-remove-this-stick-from-my- rectum-Myers."

"I dunno," Chuny worried. "If she really did get Weavered, she's not going to be too crazy about spending quality time down here."

"Didn't seem to be bothering her earlier."

"Well, of course she has to come down here today."

"Why's that?"

Malucci's answer was interrupted by a loud shout as the ER doors slid open. Two cops struggled through the doors carrying a wildly gesticulating man screaming at the top of his lungs, his face covered in blood. "Gurney!" Malucci shouted at Malik, who was already in the process of pushing one over to the cops. It took all four men to strap him down and push him towards Trauma 1.

"What do we have?" Weaver asked, joining them as they kicked the trauma doors open.

"Suspect in that girl's rape. Name's Billy Watson. We were talking to him and all of a sudden he starts going whacko, lunges at me and my partner and then takes off."

"How'd he get the head and facial lacs?" Kerry asked as she began swabbing out the wounds, her attention evenly split between the vitals Abby was calling out and the cop's rundown of the event.

"Happened when we were subduing him." At Kerry's sharp look, the cop raised his hands defensively. "We didn't do it. Crazy skel started beating his head against the sidewalk."

Kerry and Abby exchanged quick looks. "I'll call psych."

Kerry nodded. "Make sure you ask for Legaspi."

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

After feeding Rover a few more cookies, Kim hunkered down with her computer and a phone-- emerging a triumphant hour later with Rover's real name and the address of the private facility that he had wandered away from earlier that day. She chatted briefly with his psychiatrist who gave her a rundown on the meds that would stabilize him, along with a suggestion to put the meds in little blocks of cheese, and said he would dispatch someone to pick Rover up.

Running her fingers through her hair, she arched backwards in her chair and let out a long groan as she stretched. Her ergonomic chair squeaked dangerously when she tilted back, and as she opened her eyes she gave a short startle to see Carl DeRaad looking at her curiously from the doorway.

"Hey, Carl? What's up?"

"Heard you and Myers had some words."

A pale brow arced. "Of course you heard, he was shouting," Kim replied dryly, spinning around to face her boss. "What's up with him?"

"You know Myers, he's always got something..."

"Up his ass," she finished for him. "Yeah, I know, but as far as I know, I've never been that special something. He got a problem with me coming back?"

"You know I don't talk about one attending to another."

Her eyes darkened dangerously. "If one of my colleagues doesn't think I'm fit to practice medicine, I think I'd have a right to know."

"Phil Myers has nothing to do with determining whether or not you're fit to practice medicine at County."

"Doesn't stop him from having an opinion though. Or spreading it around for that matter."

"Thought gossip didn't get to you," he quipped.

"Carl, I don't care if they think I'm fucking minks, lemurs, or Arabian stallions," she snapped. "But I won't have anyone second-guessing my ability as a doctor."

Shooting a quick glance over his shoulder and scooting completely into the room, Carl kicked Kim's office door shut and regarded her with a quietly alarmed expression. Although her voice was hushed, there was no mistaking the anger he heard there. It was the first off-the-handle remark he had heard from her since the whole Wallace mess had happened, and he wondered what else lay buried beneath the usually-seamless veneer of her professionalism. "Nobody's second guessing you," he assured her. "Myers' nose has always been slightly out of joint where you're concerned. You know that. You usually just put in him his place and let it go-- like you did this afternoon."

"So why are you in my office asking me about it?"

His features twisted wryly at her perception. "I wouldn't be doing my job if I didn't check on you and see how you were doing on your first day back."

"Give me a break, Carl. Do you have a problem with the way I've handled one of my cases?"

"Dammit, Kim..." In spite of himself, DeRaad felt his temper fray and his own frustration with what had been done to Kim bubble to her surface. "This has nothing to do with you as a doctor! You're the best goddamn pysch attending I've ever seen, and in a year's time if you want it, you'll probably run this department."

Kim looked at her boss in astonishment, then shook her head roughly and sighed ruefully. "I'm over-reacting, aren't I?"

"Big time," he confirmed.

"Jesus..." She sprawled back in her chair. "I'm sorry. I didn't realize I was so afraid."

"You? Afraid?" he teased. "The fearless Dr. Legs?"

"Don't call me that," she replied automatically, then continued, in a wondering voice. "Yeah... afraid." Kim shook her head and laughed softly, as if to herself. "I know Romano was getting his nuts off by suspending me... but when Kerry just stood there..."

"You were afraid she thought the worst."

"It wasn't ever about Shannon Wallace with Kerry. I know that. But that's part of what's so terrifying about the whole thing," she mused, speaking tentatively, giving voice to what she had been chasing around in her head these last days. "It just opened up the possibility that other people-- people whom I respect, people who respect her-- might think the worst because of Kerry's silence."

"I heard you were friends."

She looked at him sharply, but his expression was guileless and filled with nothing but concern. "We were," she confirmed quietly.

Carl let the silence rest gently between them, knowing there was something more to Kim's pain but unwiling to press her. Quite frankly he was flabbergasted she had opened up to him at all. Even before Shannon Wallace, Kim had been scrupulous about keeping her own counsel where her life was concerned; and he'd assumed she just had somebody else to talk everything over with. Now, it appeared, that wasn't the case. He opened his mouth to ask her about it, but when his gaze returned to hers, he found the musing distance in her eyes gone, replaced with a glittering curiosity and not a little annoyance.

"What the hell are you talking about this department being mine in a year's time?" Her beeper erupted angrily at that instant, mercifully-- in Carl's view-- interrupting their conversation. She glanced at the readout, her eyes flickering in surprise. "It's the ER."

DeRaad read the question in her eyes and nodded. "Take care of it. I'll handle Myers."

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

Abby greeted her as she stepped off the elevator. "There's a guy we need you to look at."

"I'm not on call."

The smaller woman shrugged. "Weaver asked for you specifically." Kim startled slightly but said nothing, aware of the ER nurse's eyes on her. "The guy's a suspect in the Readlee thing," Abby continued, as if in explanation. At Kim's nod, she began the rundown. "Head and facial lacs, but the head CT cleared him of trauma."

"He disoriented at all?"

"He's raving, pretty much-- although it mostly consists of one word."

"Which would be?"

"Motherfucker."

"Charming."

"I thought so."

"What am I looking for?"

"When the cops were first talking to them, he lunged at one and then took off."

"Sounds like felonious behavior more than the crazy kind."

"Yeah, but then he started beating his own head into the sidewalk."

"Ah..."

Abby handed her the chart and pointed ahead. "He's in Trauma 1."

Kim regarded her patient through the plexi glass. Billy Watson was a slender young man in his early twenties with a shock of pitch black hair and murderously dark eyes. He had the same heart-shaped face as his sister, but the energy crackling off him contrasted so strongly with Paula Readlee's withdrawn demeanor that they resembled each other almost not at all.

"Motherfucker!!!" he screamed as she pushed through the doors.

"Not exactly," she remarked casually, then glanced to her left-- though Billy's gaze was focused on the ceiling. The two officers who had subdued the youth returned her look silently, their arms crossed beligerently. Kim arched a brow in contemplation and racked the chart at the foot of the bed. "Guys," she addressed the cops. "Could you excuse us please?"

"He's a collar."

She glanced at the bed and nodded thoughtfully. "Yeeaahh," she said slowly. "But considering you've got him cuffed to the bed, I don't think he's going anywhere."

The partners glanced at one another questioningly, and then the senior of them shrugged. "We'll be outside."

"Bitch bitch bitch..." Billy spat as the officers left the room.

"That's a little more accurate," she agreed. "Actually, though, Billy, my name is Dr. Legaspi. And I'd like to talk to you."

"Bitch."

"You see, I'm the one who's supposed to decide if you're really crazy or are just faking it to be a rape charge. I can already tell you what the cops think."

"Rape rape rape..." he chanted, beating his shackled arms against the mattress, eyes still fixed on the ceiling.

"Do you know what rape is?"

"Fuck fuck fuck ..."

"I'll take that as a yes," Kim muttered to herself, pulling a stool closer to the bed and settling on it. "I met your sister today," she began conversationally, wishing he would look at her and wondering what it would take to make it happen.

"Bitch bitch bitch..."

"We're back to that, are we? Paula was really upset. Do you know why?"

"Bitch bitch bitch..."

"She's here in the hospital, Billy. Would you like to see her?"

"BITCH BITCH BITCH BITCH!!!!!!!" Billy was shouting at the top of his lungs now, his eyes fixing on her with malignant rage that sent a chill rushing through her blood.

"At least I got you to look at me," she commented, then smiled when his gaze returned to the ceiling.

"Bitch." This time a mutter.

"That one was definitely meant for me," Kim chuckled. "Ah, real conversation, Billy-- I knew you had it in you. You know what happened to Esa this morning?"

"Bitch bitch bitch..."

"Two steps back, Billy. Come on... we both know you can do better than that."

"Talk talk talk talk talk..."

"That's it, Billy. Talk to me."

"Loud loud louder loudest... talk talk talk loud loud talk louder talk loudest talk talk talk..."

"Who's talking to you right now, Billy?"

"Bitch bitch bitch..."

"Besides me?"

"Bitch bitch bitch..."

Kim bit back a sigh of frustration, then did a mental double take. "Who am I, Billy?"

His eyes moved to her painfully slowly. "Bitch..."

"Who is talking to you right now?"

"Bitch bitch bitch..."

"Goddamn..." she whispered to herself. "Where are they coming from, Billy?"

"Ears ears ears..."

"Okay, Billy." She patted his arm. "I'll be back in a few minutes okay?"

But whatever connection she had with him seemed to have slipped away as his eyes returned to the ceiling. "Motherfucker..."

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

"So what's the verdict, Doc?" The officer-- S. Turner according to his badge-- asked as Kim exited the trauma room. "The sicko faking or what?"

She rubbed the back of her neck wearily. "I don't know yet. I need some more time with him, but first I have to see his sister."

"The son-of-a-bitch is faking it," Turner assured her.

"And you're basing this on?"

"He was lucid when we started questioning him at his sister's house. When we mentioned the little girl was when he started playing psycho."

Kim nodded. "Could be. Then again, Esa's name could be a trigger."

"For what?"

"I'm not sure yet. That's why I need to talk to his family. Get a history." She began to walk away, but Turner placed a restraining hand on her arm.

"Look, you make this bastard a psych admit and he's got a built in defense for raping that little girl."

"Not necessarily. Criminal insanity is based on understanding the concept of right and wrong. You can be schizophrenic and still tell the difference between right and wrong." Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Kerry approaching, a concerned look on her face.

"Yeah, right. And as the defense's first witness you can tell them that right after you tell them four hours after the rape you thought he was crazy enough to be admitted to the hospital." He sneered. "That'll work."

"There a problem here?" Kerry tone was mild, but she cast a pointed glance at Kim's arm where he still held her.

"Not at all," Kim replied smoothly as Turner relinquished his grip. "The officer here was just asking about Mr. Watson's progress."

"Care to fill me in?"

As she related the details of her conversation with Billy Watson, a part of Kim wanted to dwell on how absolutely unremarkable it seemed to be working with Kerry again; and the professional in her rejoiced that a working relationship she had come to cherish hadn't been irreparably damaged. The part of her that had begun falling in love with the woman walking beside her, however, was having a much harder time of it.

"Want to tell me what you're thinking?"

Kim blinked twice and resolutely shoved away the emotions that were threatening to cloud her work. "I want to talk to Paula Readlee. Maybe Billy has some sort of psychotic history that we don't know about yet."

"They're in with Esa upstairs. Jamie Rutherford was great with her, by the way. Thanks for calling her."

"Jamie's terrific, isn't she? She and her husband Tony were two of the first friends I made here in Chicago." Even as she said it, Kim wondered what on earth prompted her to report this useless information. She shook her head rapidly to clear the thoughts, aware that Kerry was speaking and not quite sure what had been said.

"You okay?" Her ex-lover peered closely at her, and Kim felt herself begin to flush under the scrutiny.

"Too much information and too little of it useful," she hedged. "Hopefully Paula will be able to clarify some of it." She paused, not looking forward to seeing Tom Readlee again. "If her husband doesn't get in the middle of it."

Kerry smiled sympathetically and seemed to hesitate before speaking. "Abby filled me in on what happened in chairs. You did a good thing."

"Maybe," she equivocated. "But God help that family if it turns out Billy did rape his niece."

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

An hour later, Kim knocked on Carl DeRaad's door. "Got a minute for me to run something by you?"

"Always." He tossed his pen to the side and shoved away the paperwork that seemed to dominate this work these days. Carl had become a psychiatrist to help people, not spend his days mired in administrative detail. Meeting Lucy Knight a year ago had made him start to question the imbalance that had begun to take over his professional life, and the addition of Kim Legaspi to his staff had brought it into sharp relief. He thought that the young med student would have liked and admired his new attending, that Kim could have been the mentor she had been so desperately seeking. Realizing Kim was looking at him expectantly, he shook off his melancholy and smiled. "What can I do for you?"

"Talk to me about residual schizophrenia."

He whistled low under his breath. "A topic about as popular as regression therapy."

"You not a fan?"

"Why don't you give me a bullet?"

"Guy they brought in as a suspect in the rape of that 12-year old. The cops say he was completely lucid until they mention her name. He takes off and when they cuff him, he starts beating his head into the pavement. Of course they kind of have a bias."

"You chat with him?"

"As much as you can chat with someone who can't really hear you on account of the voices screaming in his ears."

"Where'd you get the residual from?"

"I talked to his sister. She said that he, quote 'flipped out', once when they were kids. Parents were divorcing and he most emphatically did not want to live with their mother."

"He get any kind of treatment back then?"

"She says no."

Carl cocked a curious brow. "Says?" he repeated, noting the skepticism in Kim's voice.

"If the behavior was anything like today's, they would've had to take him to a hospital-- if only to sew him up. A psych call from there would have been pretty routine."

"Not necessarily. How old was he when it happened?"

"Eleven or twelve."

"And now."

"Twenty four."

He winced. "Damn, Kim. That's a hell of a long time to have a major personality disorder with no other signs."

"I know, I know. But I'm not so sure there haven't been other signs."

"You're basing this on...?"

"I talked briefly with his sister and her husband when they first brought the girl in."

"That's what kept you from following up with Rover right away?"

"Yeah. The husband was going apeshit, blaming his wife for what had happened. He said, 'I told you I didn't want him in the house.' If there wasn't any prior behavior other than the incident twelve years ago, why'd he say that?"

"Curious," Carl agreed.

"I thought so. I've got Tina working the computer with some inquiries. I'm trying to see if he was treated way back when or if he even has a history of treatment."

"Myers'll be pissed off you highjacked the department secretary."

"She volunteered."

The department head grinned, "I'm sure she did." They shared a muted chuckle, then Carl looked at her inquiringly. "What's your gut say?"

"I'm not sure," Kim admitted. "A part of me thinks that somebody'd have to be crazy to do something like this to a twelve-year old girl. Another part of me just wants to slice off his balls and feed them to him."

He winced. "That's rather Draconian."

"Sorry. Too many years of dealing with the aftermath that these bastards leave, I guess."

"You worked pretty closely with Rape Crisis back in Baltimore, didn't you?"

"So maybe I'm not the best choice to make this diagnosis."

"You feel compromised?"

Kim considered the question for a moment, then shook her head. "It's not that. I just feel like there's something here I'm not getting. You know what I mean?"

"If it's any consolation, it sounds like you're on the right path."

"The only question is, how long do I have before I get there?"

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

"Why am I not surprised to find that where there are police involved, you are as well?"

As Kim stepped off the elevator, Robert Romano's voice traveled well-across the ER. Even if those clustered around the admit desk hadn't been interested in eavesdropping on the conversation, they wouldn't have had much choice.

Kim's reply was muted; and although Malucci strained to hear it, he was sorely disappointed. He noted the two cops flanking Romano's much smaller figure and smirked. "Does Romano need to keep muscle around to protect him now?"

Randi snorted derisively. "He needs to, cause it looks like Legs wants beat the shit out of him."

"I bet she's got a wicked right hook," Dave agreed.

"Nah, she looks more like a kickboxing kind of girl to me."

The conversation across the room grew more heated, and the group whistled low in collective appreciation. "Did she just call him a cone-headed little ferret?"

"Sounded like it to me."

"Overcompensating for his lack of what?"

"Oh shit... look, there goes Weaver."

"Is she dumb enough to try and get in the middle of that?"

Kim's voice dropped abruptly, denying the assemblage the privilege of hearing whatever it was she said that sent an angry flush rushing over Kerry's face.

"Is the Chief gonna throw a clot or what?"

"Aw man... she's gonna take this out on us, I just know it."

Kim's voice raised once more, ending with, "If he's my admit, he's my patient and my responsibility." With that, she gracefully pushed through the trauma doors that separated Billy Watson from the conversation that was, in part, deciding his fate.

Weaver whirled away from the confrontation and headed towards the board, forcing the cluster of staff to scatter along the admit desk, out of the line of fire but well-within hearing distance.

"The girl's got some teeth," Romano remarked, following along easily in Kerry's wake. "Of course, you already knew that."

Kerry ignored him and racked the three charts in her hand, pulling two more out at random.

"So?" he prompted.

She didn't bother to look at him.

"You need somebody to sew up that chunk she just took out of your hide?" He waited to see if she would take the bait. When all he got was continued silence, he tsked under his breath and shook his head. "Ookkaay.. but that thing could leave a scar if you're not careful, Kerry."

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

Inside Billy's room, Kim took a few minutes to collect herself and sighed deeply. A confrontation with Romano was the last thing she needed, one with Kerry the last thing she wanted. But there really hadn't been any way to avoid it once she let her temper get the better of her. "Unresolved issues much, Legaspi?" she muttered to herself. Taking one last deep breath, she returned her attention to the young man strapped to the bed. His condition over the last two hours hadn't changed much-- he still stared fixedly at the ceiling, though his chanting had become a low mutter.

"Billy?"

The volume increased. "Bitch bitch bitch..." A long pause. "Bitch."

"Nice to see you again too. Billy, do you remember Dr. Evanston?"

"Bitch bitch bitch bitch..."

"Dr. Evanston talked to you when you were little, Billy. Do you remember?"

"Bitch bitch bitch bitch..."

"About your mother..."

"Motherfucker motherfucker motherfucker MOTHERFUCKER!!!!!!!!" Billy screamed at the top of his lungs and began to spasm on the bed. Instantly, Kim slapped the call button and grabbed Billy's head, prying his mouth open to try and keep him from swallowing his own tongue. "Give me 10 of Valium," she snapped to Yosh as he and Malik rushed into the room. He nodded swiftly and then helpd Malik keep him steady as she pushed the drug and it began to take effect.

"You okay, Dr. Legs?" Yosh asked worriedly as Kim slumped onto the stool beside Billy's bed.

Kim nodded absently, pinching the bridge of her nose and closing her eyes. After talking with Gail Evanston, the psychiatrist who had treated Billy when he was a child, she had begun to draw some conclusions of her own. Billy's reaction told her she had indeed, as Carl suggested earlier, been on the right path.

"Why'd he keep saying that?" Yosh's question was more rhetorical than anything, but Kim smiled sadly.

"He was talking about himself," she replied quietly. "And what his mother did to him when he was twelve."

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

"Should I start trying to talk you down?"

The voice behind her was quietly bemused, the trademark concern Abby was used to hearing muted by something whose source she didn't want to guess at. Turning to face the slender figure emerging on the roof and silhouetted by the waning afternoon light, the ER nurse shook her head roughly. She took a deep drag off her cigarette and hugged her arms more tightly around her, feeling a chill despite the lukewarm Spring weather. "Just enjoying the quiet. I don't think your clinical skills are needed quite yet."

"Good. Because-- and don't take this the wrong way-- I'm not sure I could summon up the energy right now."

"I can imagine. Long first day back?"

"Let's just say being a human stethoscope is a bit wearying at times."

"If it's any consolation, it doesn't usually show on you."

A wry smile. "Thanks for that. I'm feeling rather transparent right now-- it's good to know that I can at least fool some of the people some of the time."

"No one thinks..." Abby hesitated, weighing what her instincts told her to say with everything she had heard about the events of the day.

"What's that?" Kim prompted.

"That anything Shannon Wallace said was true."

Kim smiled exhaustedly. "That's good to hear. It bothered me, you know, that some people might."

"You sound so calm about it all," Abby remarked. "You're not angry?"

"Sure, I am. At the parents that made her think her life was worthless. At society for making it twice as hard for gay people to find their place in the world. And yes, I'm angry at her for trying to ruin my life. She didn't succeed, by the way. I seem to be accomplishing that all on my own. Mind if I have a drag?" She gestured at Abby's cigarette.

"You can have one of your own if you like."

"No thanks. A whole one and I'll be right back where I started."

"How long?"

"Back in med school. My EM rotation was killing me, and I decided that I'd rather have a fast death at my resident's hands than a slow one thanks to these things." Handing her the lit cigarette, Abby watched the taller woman inhale gratefully, smoke briefly escaping her nostrils as she closed her eyes in pleasure. "God, that's nice." She handed the cigarette back to Abby with a gesture of mild regret. "I just know somewhere deep inside I have the capacity to be an amazing drug addict. Guess I'm living proof that just say no worked somewhere. At least once."

"You? An old school ascetic?"

"In the Spartan sense? Hardly." She snorted in disbelief. "I think you'd find most people calling me a hedonist."

"I'd wager they're projecting."

"And you?"

The question caught Abby up short, and she dragged on the cigarette just returned to her. "Not consciously, no."

"You grew up exposed to some pretty extreme excesses."

"I thought you were tired."

"How is Maggie?"

"Still crazy, I assume. I haven't heard from her in a while."

"I don't need to tell you it's a disease."

"It's a manageable one. She chooses not to."

"And you hate her for it."

"I don't hate my mother," Abby returned sharply.

"Why not? Freud demands it. Chodorow might help women cope with it, but Lacan turns it all back on us."

"You're one up on me. I haven't done my Psych rotation yet."

"Won't help you. Trust me."

"You always this quick on the draw?"

"Sorry. Sometimes I get impatient with obstinate clients. Especially when I'm tired."

"I'm not a client."

"That's true. And it's none of my business." She sighed. "Maybe I'm the one projecting."

"You have a schizophrenic mother who won't take her meds, a self-absorbed ex-husband looking to screw you over at every turn, and a relationship that veers from incomprehensible to heavenly and back again in the blink of an eye?"

"Well... er... not exactly."

"You feeling the need for therapy?"

"Not to change the subject, but have you talked to anyone about your mother?"

"I've been talking to shrinks about my mother since I was old enough to speak."

"Not about your mother's illness."

"What else is there?"

"How about what your mother's illness has done to you?"

"One day at a time. That's pretty much the way I take it."

"AA is a wonderful thing. But that's only treating a symptom."

"Can I tell you right now that I hate you?" Though humor laced her voice.

"I think you just did."

"Okay, not really. But goddamn it, you're too well-adjusted for everyone else's own good."

"There's a compliment lurking in there somewhere."

"You said that you don't hate Shannon Wallace, right? What about Kerry Weaver?"

Pause. "You're trying to push my buttons."

"You said I was obstinate."

"You said you weren't a client."

"That mean you won't answer the question?"

"What do you want from me, Abby?"

"I'm looking for a little parity here. Maybe people like my mother are an everyday occurrence to you..."

"And you think asking me about Kerry Weaver will even us up?"

"She does seem to be your weakness. Such as it is."

Plucking the cigarette from Abby's fingers, she took another deep drag and looked up at the sky. "Is it all over the hospital?"

Abby hesitated only a moment. "No."

"Liar."

"Maybe the ER. But not even that."

A skeptically arched brow was her response.

"Most of the ER thinks she's a homophobe. A few people think she's sleeping with you."

"Based on?"

"What happened after the disciplinary committee hearing."

"I can imagine. I can surmise which camp you fall into."

"It doesn't matter what I think."

"It's neither, you know."

"Neither?"

Another drag of the cigarette. "At least not anymore."

"Either you're more self-destructive than I ever imagined, or you have a gift for seeing things that most of us miss."

"Meaning?"

"Kerry Weaver."

"Don't tell me you buy into all those stories about Cleaver Weaver."

"No but..." Abby watched her take a last, deep drag off the now-tiny butt and then stub the remnants out with the square heel of her boot. "Habit-forming or no, you need another one," the nurse decided. Pulling out a crumpled pack of Marlboro Lights and shaking one out impatiently, Abby fumbled with the lighter until Kim deftly captured and flicked it on, holding the light steady as a pair of slim hands cupped around hers.

"Everyone takes the easy way out when it comes to her."

Abby glanced up at the psychiatrist, surprised that she would willingly pick up the conversation. "And you can't resist the challenge?"

"That makes me sound downright opportunistic. Not to mention arrogant."

"Your point?"

"Ouch. I take exception to that characterization."

"Fair enough. But why...?"

"Why Kerry Weaver?"

"The question makes sense to me."

"Why Luka Kovac?"

Abby grinned. "That would be the incomprehensible to heavenly and back again part of my dysfunction."

"And the difference between that and me and Kerry would be?"

"I guess I get hung up on the incomprehensible part of that particular equation."

"Sounds like a case of limited vision on your part."

"Oh come on, I know I wouldn't be alone in asking the question."

"Actually, you might be. I can't think of too many other folks at County who would have the balls. Certainly not if it came to asking her."

"Oh, I know why Weaver likes you."

She shot Abby a scathing glance. "Care to elaborate?"

"Come on-- gorgeous face, fabulous body, scintillating intellect, willingness to put up with dozens of internal conflicts. Come to think of it-- why haven't I asked you out?"

"That whole straight thing."

Abby waved dismissively. "You don't strike me as a label kind of girl."

"No?"

"Besides, I think for you, a lot of women have learned to bend."

"Maybe that's the problem."

"How so?"

"Do you know how many times I've heard the words, I don't usually do this, but..."

"Sounds exhausting."

"You're making fun of me."

"Not really. I'm just insanely jealous."

"Careful using words like that around me."

Abby chucked and stared intently at the woman beside her. "How can you have the day you've had and still spar like this?"

"Reflex." She shrugged. "Or maybe I agree-- you deserve some parity. Certainly you didn't ask for me to get thrown into the middle of your relationship with your mother."

"Or maybe this whole thing with Weaver is eating you alive and you haven't had anyone to talk to about it."

"Thought you said you hadn't done your Psych rotation yet."

"Doesn't take a genius to figure that one out. I'm sure Weaver didn't want you singing it from the rooftops-- this one especially-- although it would have done wonders for her reputation. Yours might have taken a hit, though."

"That whole incomprehensible thing, huh?"

"She's not the most popular choice of girlfriend for you," Abby admitted.

Kim looked sharply at her. "Don't tell me there's a pool."

"Okay, I won't tell you."

"Do I even want to know who's winning?"

"Randi. Dave's in second."

"Malucci?"

"He calls himself an honorary lesbian."

"And Kerry?"

"She's ranked somewhere below the aliens who abducted Scully."

A strangled laugh caught in the blond's throat. "Well... she did say she wanted to keep things between the two of us."

"Like it or not, she succeeded. To the point where people think she has a bias."

"Her problem is with herself, not me."

"Then why is it tearing you up so much?"

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

Her shift had ended hours ago; yet in the darkness of her office, Kim was loathe to pack up her things and return to a home that would do nothing but echo of her own doubts. She had watched the sun release its last tenuous hold on the day in the relative peace of Abby Lockhart's understanding silence; when she had turned to go, Abby had brushed her shoulder comfortingly-- and Kim knew that somehow, in the midst of this chaos, she had found a new friend.

"I heard you admitted Billy Watson." Carl DeRaad's voice was hushed, as if he were hesitant to breach the sanctity of the quiet of Kim's office.

"Yeah, and Romano birthed a heifer right there on the ER floor when I did."

"I hadn't heard that."

"The cops are freaking that he's gonna walk on a criminal insanity plea. Tom Readlee's back to blaming his wife for letting Billy into the house, and Romano's ranting about the bad PR the hospital could get. I'm thinking tomorrow I'm gonna go for the record of how many people I can horrify with my decisions when I'm really trying."

"You sure about the admit?"

"Yeah," she sighed. "Billy Watson was sexually abused by his mother from the age of ten to eighteen. He had his first psychotic break at the age of twelve when the courts ruled that his mother would have sole custody of him and his sister. Tina and I managed to trace his psychiatric history through about seven different hospitals in Illinois, mostly through his trips to the emergency rooms when things got violent. Doesn't look like he has any sustained therapy at all. Never really held much more than menial jobs, although he went through months of complete lucidity at a time."

"His sister knew?"

Kim nodded. "Though her husband says she didn't tell him how bad it was when Billy showed up on their doorstep, he knew Billy had been in some trouble. I'm betting Paula was abused too, but she's keeping quiet on the subject. God knows how she's holding herself together right now at all. Jamie Rutherford's handling Esa's case, and if I know her, she'll have Paula Readlee referred soon-- if she hasn't already."

"So you made the right call."

"Not that it's going to win me any popularity contests."

"That self-pity I hear?" he teased.

"Yes, and I'd like a little cheese with my whine, thank you very much," she retorted, smiling as Carl knew she would.

"Anything I can do?"

"Nah, I'm going to drag my sorry self home in a few. Thanks for asking, though."

"Then you have a good night," Carl bade her, retreating from the doorway and leaving Kim to her musings.

In admitting Billy Watson, she had made the right decision. She was sure of that, yet the emotional fallout from the lives irreparably affected by her actions unnerved her. She had worked with families who hadn't wanted to admit a sibling or a parent, but the decision to commit had always ultimately been a good thing for all involved. But in this case... if she were honest with herself, while the decision was best for Billy, was it best for anyone else? Tom Readlee would always blame his wife for concealing the severity of her brother's illness from him, and perhaps Esa would someday come to blame her mother for the rape itself. Wouldn't it have been better for them if they had been able to focus their blame on Billy and see him pay for his crime in prison?

The ramble of her thoughts was interrupted by a slight scuffling sound behind her. "Carl, really. I'm okay..." Her voice trailed away as she swiveled in her chair and recognized the slight figure in her doorway. "Kerry."

"Night shift said you were still up here."

"That I am."

Her ex-lover leaned heavily on her crutch, bag on one shoulder and a pile of binders clutched in her arm. Obviously Kerry had stayed past the end of her shift as well, and was taking even more work home. Absently, Kim wondered if this was her way of dealing-- or not-- with everything that had happened in the last weeks. "About Romano..." Kerry began hesitantly.

"I'm sorry about that," she apologized. "I shouldn't have snapped at you like that, and certainly not that way in front of Romano. We both have enough of our own issues with him without adding to each other's problem. My temper... Well, there's just no excuse."

"I wasn't talking about that." Kerry blanched slightly. "Although I guess we should..."

Kim stared at her ex-lover in astonishment, then ran an exhausted hand over her eyes. "I can't do this right now, Kerry."

"Are you going to be able to do this at all?"

"I don't know," Kim confessed, noting a new resolve on Kerry's face.

"Do you want to?" she pressed.

"I don't know. I just know you couldn't have picked a worse time to ask."

Kerry swallowed hard, her eyes absorbing the pain the day had brought etched on Kim's face. "I wish I could put my arms around you."

Closing her eyes and dropping her head, Kim bit back a strangled sob. "I wish you could too."

There was a muted thunk and moments later, a slender arm wrapped around her shoulders from behind and a warm voice murmured in her ear. "I know it doesn't change anything or make anything better, but... just let me do this. Okay?"

Unable able to speak and unwilling to open her eyes lest this prove to be some particularly virulent and cruel hallucination, Kim only nodded-- putting everything she should do out of her mind and stealing whatever comfort she could from her lost lover's fleeting embrace.

FINIS

Return to Summary Page


You Are On
The Pink Rabbit Consortium
(click the above link to break out of frames)
Send Comments or Questions to Pink Rabbit Productions
pinkrabbit@altfic.com

| Home | Subtext Zone Art Gallery | Subtext LinksWhat's New | HTDTZ? |
 | Xena Fanfic Archive | Buffy Fanfic Archive | In Process |