The span of her rib cage was no larger than my hand, my fingers snugging firmly in the valleys between bone. When I held her like this it was as if I were her creator. And in those moments when she hung suspended on my mouth, arched back on the splay of my hands... I was.
It was a reckless thought, and a wasteful one at that. Not to mention arrogant-- prideful, as her mother was fond of saying.
Which didn't lessen its essential truthfulness at all.
Two hours into a midnight to noon shift. Intended to teach residents a lesson or two about endurance; in her position, it might be considered punishment by some. Or penance. Or perhaps, simply a more humane alternative to going home to a sleep that would be consumed not by mere thoughts of things slipped from her grasp but by their somnolent manifestation. Waking up sweating and wet with the burnished aftertaste of frantic need in her mouth and unable to relieve the pressure.
She was tired of it.
She had considered taking another lover. No one and nothing important. But someone unrelenting and strong-- someone on whom she could work out all that sweat and longing. She hadn't ever really been the kind to sleep alone. Until she came to this city, this place. Until she came to her.
Instead, somehow she had compromised-- ended up on the midnight to noon. Her sheets still cold and empty, but at least she wasn't in them to feel it.
Her computer's real audio streamed an anonymous classical music station quietly into the relative dimness of her office. She thought she recognized Wilhelm Kempff's distinctive interpretations-- Beethoven, unless she was badly mistaken. Something minor, something brooding. Apropos-- she thought with the tight smile that was as close to truly cynical as she ever came-- for birthing the early morning in the middle of a ward full of crazy people.
Stretching in her chair, she picked up the coffee mug resting on the sandstone coaster by her arm and studied its murky contents dubiously. At best it was two hours cold-- assuming she had poured it when she arrived. Truth be told, she couldn't remember doing that or much of anything else. Only when she talked to her patients, listened to their pain keening back at her and taking her outside her own turmoil, did she become aware in any sense of the word.
She knew others had noticed, suspected Carl was on the verge of bringing the subject up if he could just find a way to do it with at least a modicum of discretion. But so far, she hadn't allowed him a way into the manteau of reserve she had worn since returning to the hospital. She knew the situation frustrated him, and she had no doubt exacerbated his concern by switching with Myers for the midnight to noon.
Out of the reach of his concerned eyes and troubled silence.
The low murmur of the ward became more intense as its denizens slumbered under the care of carefully parceled out narcotics. She lifted her head at the buzz, leaving her chair and walking out into the hall to hear words coalescing out of the quiet rowl.
"In secret we met--
A woman's voice, threadbare and ragged as some of the garments her patients were brought in wearing, drifted closer as Kim made her way down the ward in search of its source. The voice paused, as did Kim, as if waiting in anticipation of discovery. Moonlight filtered through the meshed-covered windows at the end of the hall, casting a bright pale light more intense than the low illumination of the evenly spaced bulbs over each doorway.
She stopped at the room closest to the window and looked in the open doorway, unaware of the otherworldly cast of her features in the night.
"Are you Diana?" the voice asked.
Kim paused, smiled reflexively at the slender silhouette sitting cross-legged in a puddle of sheets on her bed. "Shouldn't you be sleeping?"
The gamine shape of a girl Kim only knew as Sophie rose from the bed, padding in her bare feet over to the psychiatrist who towered over her. Fearlessly, she extended delicate fingers to trace the shape of Kim's face. The older woman recoiled slightly, but allowed the touch nonetheless. "You've lost your hart." Puzzled, a brief frown darted across her lips. "Where are your arrows? How can you hunt the hart if you've no arrows?"
Comprehension replaced the uneasy knot that had formed in Kim's stomach, and she took the girl's hand from her face. "My arrows are someplace safe, and the hunt isn't tonight." Gently, she began herding Sophie back towards her bed, helping her settle back into the sheets. "Now you need to sleep."
"I could help you..."
"Not tonight," Kim soothed, brushing her fingers over the girl's unruly bangs. "Tonight you need your rest."
Sophie peered at her intently, perhaps trying to divine something about Kim that the psychiatrist herself couldn't possibly understand. "Your hart..."
Kim nodded somberly, too aware of the bitter irony of her words. "Tomorrow," she murmured. "We'll hunt my hart tomorrow."
Sophie's eyes drooped tiredly, and Kim wondered if the girl had been truly awake. She stroked her forehead once more, then tucked the sheets in tightly before turning to leave. As she crossed the threshold, she heard the quiet voice once more.
"If I should meet thee
Except this time, it wasn't Sophie's voice drifting over her shoulder, but the one inside her head continuing Byron's lament to his lost love.
"There's a role model for you, Legs," she muttered to herself, staring blindly through the mesh over the window. "A whoring, sexually-ambivalent, manic-depressive poet who was bled to death by his doctors. Perfect."
"I hope that's you talking and not me hearing things." Another voice-- this one higher pitched, wry, and certainly not internal-- turned Kim's head around. "That's kind of a frightening thing to happen on this floor." Abby Lockhart stood at the end of the hall beside Kim's office, waving a pack of Marlboro Lights tantalizingly in her direction. "It's obscenely slow down there, and I thought I'd take advantage of the lull before all hell breaks loose. Want to join me?"
Kim's eyes narrowed, and a rueful smile crossed her face as she joined the ER nurse by the stariwell. "Demon temptress."
"Careful what you call me. That's how all those nasty rumors get started."
Taking in the roll of Abby's eyes, Kim chuckled. "You must be moving up in the pool."
"Somebody undoubtedly saw you sneaking a smoke with me. Randi's still ahead though, holding the lead by a wide margin."
"I wonder why Randi."
"She's got that barbed wire tattoo thing going."
"That is hot," Kim agreed, smiling. "Malucci must be about to have puppies."
Abby snickered as Kim pushed the stairwell door open leading to the roof. "He wants to get in on the action so badly it's killing him."
"Tell him to get his johnson lopped off and lose the five-o'clock shadow and he might have a chance."
Snorting at the image of a transgendered Dave Malucci, Abby strolled near the edge of the roof and lit up. "Can't see that happening." She took a deep drag and then handed the cigarette to Kim, watching as the taller woman inhaled gratefully. Over the last few weeks, the two had shared more than a few cigarettes on the roof-- their faces turned to the sun or the moon depending on the shift, the silence between them oddly comforting in the middle of the chaos of their daily lives. "Tell me something," the nurse remarked, breathing in the Spring air deeply and glad to be out of the warm stuffiness of the ER. "Why do they put the psych floors so high up? Every hospital I've ever been in-- it's five, six stories up. Don't the admins think that putting suicidal people this close to the roof might be a bad idea?"
Taking another drag and passing it back to Abby, Kim shrugged. "If someone really wants to suicide, you can put them in a bunker strapped to a feather bed and tranqued to the gills-- and they'll still find a way."
Double-taking at the flat tone in the psychiatrist's voice, Abby arched a brow. "You lose somebody tonight?"
Kim leaned over the edge of the roof, peering at the bustling activity of the busy street. Several people had stood at the very spot where she did now, pausing for that one infinitesimal moment before launching themselves into the air. Did their souls take flight, even as their bodies plummeted to the ground below? Or was the sickening jolt of their landing the trigger that set their souls free? Though she understood the pathology of suicide-- the build-up of loss upon loss, the shutting down of the human mind in response to pain-- she had never really gotten it viscerally. What did crossing that threshold mean to the people who let go of life almost effortlessly when all the rest of them were clinging helplessly to their own fragile thread of existence? A wave a nausea passed through Kim's stomach, breaking a cold sweat over her forehead and sending her stumbling.
Instantly, Abby was at her side, a steadying hand on her elbow as Kim folded her legs under her and sank awkwardly to the ground. "Are you okay?" Cool fingers found the life passing through her carotid artery. "Jesus, Kim, your pulse is racing and thready... "
"No..." Kim waved the unasked question off. "Cigarettes and an empty stomach just don't mix too well for me." She grinned weakly at Abby's concern.
"You haven't eaten today?"
"Honestly, I don't remember."
"It's nothing... this midnight to noon thing must have my system screwed up."
Kim's excuse was half-hearted, and Abby had an urge to call the psychiatrist on it-- ask her what had the tall blond so tied up in knots that she couldn't eat.
As if Abby didn't already know.
Which was why she didn't ask the question. Except for one brief, painful conversation-- which Kim had ended almost before it had begun-- they had never discussed Kim's failed relationship with ER Chief Kerry Weaver. From what the nurse could tell, only she and her own lover, Luka Kovac, knew about the relationship at all. Despite being a highly visible bogey on the gossips' radar, Kim had managed to escape with at least this little secret intact. Silently, Abby wondered how much it was costing her.
The psychiatric attending had burst into Cook County General with a breezy smile and an insouciant attitude that was as infuriating on one level as it was enticing on another. Prone to disliking tall blondes on principle, Abby hadn't been particularly charmed by her-- but she couldn't fail to appreciate the time and care Kim had taken with her mother at the height of all her manic glory. She became more aware of Kim after that; watching her in the ER with other patients, other doctors; and had been puzzled as the lazy smile which had initially seemed such a fundamental part of her personality slowly became more and more rare. It had all culminated-- or so Abby had thought-- in Kim's suspension on the unfounded accusations of a sexually-confused teenager named Shannon Wallace. The ER nurse had been shocked to learn upon Kim's return to County that it had only been half the story.
Shrugging unconsciously at the tangle Kim had managed to get herself into by her poor choice of bed partners, Abby threw one of Kim's slender arms over her shoulder and helped the taller woman stand. "You looking to move up in the ER pool again?" Kim murmured close to her ear, but allowing the aid nonetheless.
"Just trying to make sure you don't tumble head over those long-assed legs of yours down the stairs," Abby retorted.
"I just got dizzy for a minute. I can walk."
"Kim--" Abby opened her mouth to argue, then shook her head tightly. "Shut up and let me help you."
The psychiatrist looked at her askance, half a smirk twisting across her lips. "You know, I think that's the only time you've ever called me that."
"I'm not in the habit of using docs' first names."
"Must make bedtime at your house interesting," Kim drawled as they shuffled awkwardly down the last of the stairs and returned to the psych ward.
Abby shot her a dark look, but Kim's eyes only danced mockingly at her. She rolled her eyes and dropped Kim's arm, shaking her head. "Do I have to bring you dinner or are you going to eat all on your own?"
"No ma'am-- I mean yes ma'am," Kim promised solemnly, although she was pretty sure all she had to eat in her office were some stale nonpariels in a drawer. At least, she thought to herself, it would go quite nicely with the vintage coffee sitting on her desk.
"Don't make me come up here and check on you." Abby waved a menacing finger in her direction.
So that was the look Maggie was talking about, Kim realized with an internal grin. And Maggie was right-- there really was no way to respond to it without feeling guilty. Without realizing it, Kim found a genuine laugh emerging somewhere from the midst of her ennui. Abby looked startled at the apparently unprovoked mirth from the psychiatrist, and her eyes darted wildly around as if searching for someone to confirm her diagnosis of a rapid onset of dementia.
"It would take me too long to explain..." Kim waved her concern away with a negligent hand. "Thank you, though-- for making me laugh for the first time in... well, a long time. I needed that."
"Glad I could help," Abby remarked, still looking wary. "You sure you're okay?"
"That's a loaded question," she snorted. "But yeah, I think I'll make it through the night."
Silence... It was something she had come to welcome early on in medical school as a respite from the cacophony of classes, rotations, residents, and-- above all, the resounding sound of doubts in her own head that she was cut out to be a doctor of emergency medicine.
Now, as Kerry Weaver pushed the heavy door of her Lexus shut, she wondered when it had begun to chafe. The silence, the solitude... all of it... Her life, indeed, had become as ill-fitting as the clothes that were beginning to hang ever so loosely on her already slender frame. Realizing when it all began to change, however, wasn't that hard, really... if she forced herself to think about it.
Blond curls, blue eyes, a laughing smile....
"Skinny blondes like me are a dime a dozen..." An unfathomable glance-- immeasurable and aching-- seemed to encompass Kerry's whole soul and reflect back things in herself that she hadn't ever thought possible. "But this..." Those fingers, slender and strong, gracing each feature of her face with a reverent touch, a prayer in a language she was only beginning to learn and whose nuances were still lost to her. "This face is once in a lifetime..."
It wasn't "I love you..." Neither one of them had been ready for that. A declaration so grand was painfully inappropriate for something so tenuous. A love can't be proclaimed when it's locked away under years of reserve and doubt and hesitation.
She knew that now. Just as she had realized as soon as the words had been uttered that going back to her life would be impossible. The only trouble was, she had nowhere else to go. She had looked around-- at the life she had chosen-- and realized, for her, there were only those eyes and that smile and a heart-- with whose care she hadn't even realized she had been entrusted-- broken by her silence.
So three in the morning and here she was back at the only place where sht could find any peace. In a profession that had seemed so much more until now. Granted, it was three hours before her shift started; but she couldn't stare at the walls any more, and the alternatives available to her weren't any kinds of answer.
That left introspection-- and work-- and Kerry Weaver was beginning to realize more and more that the cataclysms of the last few months which had left her own heart battered and her sense of equilibrium in question still didn't get in the way of her being the same doctor she had always been. This reassurance became a touchstone of familiarity as she began charting her way through the unfamiliar waters of her new identity.
"What the hell is Weaver doing here?" At Malucci's astonished question, Abby looked up to see the familiar diminutive figure walking quietly through the ER doors with none of the usual sparking energy that trailed in her wake. The nurse's brows furrowed as she took in the deliberate pace of Weaver's step and the exhaustion that marked her eyes-- it was eerily reminiscent of the woman upstairs she had just left-- yet, Kerry's face was marked by a certain kind of serenity and resolve nowhere to be found in Kim. Ironic, she thought mirthlessly, that-- judging from appearances at least-- Kerry seemed to be getting it together just as Kim was losing it.
Kerry Weaver had always baffled Abby-- not an unusual circumstance by any stretch of the imagination. While she was universally respected for her abilities, few people Abby knew actively liked the ER chief as a person. Kim Legaspi had been one of-- if not the-- only exceptions, and the psychiatrist's response to Kerry had cause the nurse to reevaluate her own thinking about Herr Weaver.
From heavenly to incomprehensible and back and again... that was how Abby had described her relationship with Luka to Kim... and Kim's response had been, What's the difference between that and me and Kerry?
But somehow the analogy didn't seem that easy to Abby. And it wasn't about them both being women. Abby couldn't honestly say she had ever given more than a moment's thought to Kerry Weaver outside the context of her role of Chief of Emergency Medicine until now, and the realization that someone like Kim-- whether she used the words or not-- had fallen in love with the irascible, off-putting doctor made Abby want to get behind Weaver's prickly exterior and see what Kim had seen.
"Hey Chief! You want to run the board?" Malucci's shout was too-hearty by half, and Abby wondered if he was afraid of getting busted again for goofing off. In the resident's defense, it had been a spectacularly slow evening; and Abby had a sneaking suspicion that Weaver would forgive the hastily abandoned GameBoy Malucci had shoved into a desk drawer as she
"I'm not on until six," Kerry demurred with a brief shake of her head. "You can run things until then."
The implied confidence in Weaver's comment straightened the second-year resident's spine; and he nodded swiftly, trying to keep the grin from overwhelming his newly-professional demeanor. "No problem. I've got it covered and then some."
Weaver's swift glance around the nearly deserted ER told Abby everything she needed to know about what Weaver thought Malucci capable of handling, and she found herself smiling at the ER Chief. Kerry looked at her quizzically, as if taken aback by the openness of Abby's smile, and
hesitantly returned it with a slight tilt of her head. "I'll be up in Records if you need anything," she said quietly.
Feeling Abby's gaze remaining on her as she walked away, Kerry briefly wondered what had so obviously been on the nurse's mind during their exchange but tucked it away in the recesses of her thoughts as the elevator door chimed open. She stepped into the empty car and pressed the button.
Records was never a bustling place, and at this hour it echoed of desertion-- rather apropos for her mood, Kerry thought wryly and settled the bulky stack of patient records she had retrieved from the endless rows of files. The idea had come to her after an enthusiastic row with Kim over
dinner one night where Kim had lobbied passionately for the need for psychiatric follow-up to critical trauma patients.
"No matter what your religious beliefs, Kerry, in Western society the body is sacred and violation of it is taboo. Trauma treatment is a radical invasion of the body..." Holding up her hand as Kerry opened her mouth to argue. "Let me finish... Nobody's saying that it isn't necessary... But how is the trauma patient supposed to feel the next morning when he wakes up and finds himself looking at the woman who had her hands in his chest cavity massaging the blood back into his heart? Do you become God in his eyes because you've given him back what nature has taken away? What in our lives prepares us for that? And how on earth are we supposed to cope with
The conversation, along with the APA study Kim had done with the surgical department at Hopkins, had set Kerry to thinking. She had located the files of twenty-five of the most critically injured survivors her EM department had treated in the last six months, intending to chart their physical recovery and then follow up with their emotional progress as well. That had been three months ago, and the project had fallen by the wayside as everything with Kim had detonated with the devastation of a precision explosion. She had been unable to let go of the idea completely, however; perhaps rationalizing it as a way to keep Kim in her life, even if only in spirit. Now, it was her salvation on in the cool pre-dawn hours of a Thursday morning.
"Have you seen her hart?"
The question, low-pitched and hesitant in the silence, startled Kerry out of her chair and tripled her pulse. Emerging from the shadows into the Records room and backlit by the harsh hallway light was a young girl barely out of her teens, if that. Instead of the usual hospital issue, her gown
hung to almost her ankles, the worn blue flannel marked by faded patterns of bunnies. Her face was creased with both concern and the distracted air reminiscent of many psych patients. As the thrumming in her chest returned to something akin to normal, Kerry smiled gently at the girl before her. "Who are you?"
"She says the hunt is tomorrow, but I don't believe her." The concern became edgier, and Kerry half-rose from her chair and extended a comforting hand. "I don't believe her," she repeated. "If she's lost the will to hunt, what will we do?" The girl ignored the overture and wrung her hands together. "Can you help us?" Intent eyes were suddenly fixed unwaveringly on Kerry, and she was astonished to see that the girl's pupils were pale, almost colorless and unnerving in their focus.
"I can try," she replied softly.
"Sophie...." The voice came over their shoulders, sliding into the room ahead of a body Kerry knew so very well. Blond curls darkened by shadows topped a lithe frame silhouetted by distance and the hallway lights as it appeared in the doorway.
"Diana!" The girl, Sophie apparently, whirled in delight and trotted to Kim's side. "Come..." She took the psychiatrist's hand and tugged her into the records room, stopping in front of Kerry. "She's going to help find your hart."
Kerry sucked in her breath, her pulse hammering home truths she had already learned over and over again. She knew that face intimately; its expressions of pleasure and release, of pain and loss; but the look crossing Kim's features now was inscrutable, though Kerry would have sworn that she flinched lightly. Her voice, however, was wrapped in its kindest tone as she took both of Sophie's hands in hers. "That's right, Sophie. Kerry's going to help me find the hart. But you have to go upstairs and rest now. You can't go on the hunt tomorrow if you haven't rested. Do you understand?"
Sophie nodded eagerly, clasping Kim's hands tightly. "You promise? You promise you'll hunt?"
"I promise." Looking over her shoulder, Kim nodded at a nurse who stepped quietly into the room behind her. "You have to go with Bernie now, okay? He'll make sure that you get your rest. Without rest, there's no hunt for you."
"She'll help you. She promised." Colorless eyes darted from Kerry to Kim and back again. "She wouldn't lie."
A reflexive swallow in Kim's throat, and Kerry wondered what words the psychiatrist had choked down. "Go with Bernie. He'll take care of you until the hunt," she said instead, handing the girl off to the gentle nurse. Hands on hips, she watched the pair make their way down the hall and
disappear into the elevator.
"What was that all about?" Though Kerry's voice was soft in the silence, Kim still startled badly, as if she had forgotten Kerry was there.
"Too much Edith Hamilton, no doubt," she replied wryly, rubbing her forehead. "I don't know what's gotten into her tonight."
"She not take her meds?"
"She hasn't missed a night's sleep in the six times she's been here. We usually try not to drug the ones who don't need it." They both winced at the acidity in her tone, and Kim grimaced in apology. "Sorry about that. Three a.m. devil seems to have gotten my tongue."
"What are you doing here at this hour?"
"Working the midnight to noon."
"In god's name, why? DeRaad can't be trying to..." she trailed off awkwardly, Shannon Wallace still a subject too tender for either of them to broach.
"No," Kim answered her quickly. "Actually I switched with Myers this week." She shrugged lamely. "Full moon's coming up in a few days."
"Ah... don't want to miss Mardi Gras?"
The psychiatrist's face became pensive, and she crossed her arms tightly together-- not defensively, but more to ward off a sudden chill. Her body was almost folded in on itself, and the visceral need to reach out and warm her seized Kerry. "Not this time, I'm afraid. Back at Hopkins... around the full or new moon... there were times... well, we called it the Dark Moon."
Kim shook her head, eyes far away and lost in her musings. "Lot of cutting-- suicides, self-mutilations. People hurting themselves because bleeding is the only way they know to explain that they're in pain." She shook herself back to awareness-- her eyes finding Kerry's once more, a rueful smile in them. "It's not exactly something that can be documented clinically. Just a feeling that happens. Sometimes."
"Good enough for me."
The double entendre wasn't intentional, but neither was it lost on either woman. They both stood uncertainly in the quiet lull, the coil of unfinished business and entangled emotion snaking around them, looping hearts and minds together in regret and longing.
"What about you?" Kerry blinked in confusion at the question, prompting Kim to elaborate. "Why are you here?" She glanced around the Records room. "Especially here... in the middle of the night."
"Oh." Kerry waved at the pile of manila folders on the desk. "Remember that time we were talking about psychiatric follow-up to ER trauma? It's a good idea-- there might be a psych fellowship in the ER next year if I can get the budget for it."
"Really?" Kim looked mildly intrigued for a moment before shaking her head. "You'll never get Romano to approve it."
"A series of case studies might do it. Like you did at Hopkins. Link enough trauma cases to episodes of PTSD, the board might sign off on it. It would be good PR-- you know how the news likes to do those little set pieces about holistic health care."
"First you have to convince Romano that psychs are real doctors."
"You have a point." Kerry paused, leaned against the desk. "You could help with that."
Kim snorted derisively and shook her head. "If you honestly believe that, you might want to consider making an appointment upstairs."
"You did the original study that gave me the idea. With the surgical department-- I might add."
"And a chief of surgery with whom I had just done a neurosurgery elective," she retorted, then added heatedly, gaining momentum as she spoke. "Who wanted me to stay on his surgical team. Who saw me as a hell of a lot more than a cunt he couldn't fuck..." Kim stopped in midsentence, a horrified look on her face.
In that instant, the world of pain that Kim had kept sealed almost since the day they had met cracked open. Kerry glimpsed inside and saw her own fears of being dismissed and devalued, of being reduced to a simplistic equation of can or won't, of will she and why not. She had watched Kim handle the questions and teases about her life with such grace and charming sang-froid that it never occurred to her that each one might chip away at the bedrock of her identity-- the way Kerry had felt the foundations of her own life shudder under the impact of Kim's presence in her life.
"I'm sorry," Kim said, dropping her head and covering her face with both hands. "I don't know what's gotten in to me." She exhaled heavily and rubbed her eyes. "I have to go."
"Kim, wait..." Kerry impulsively reached out and snagged Kim's arm, halting her flight. "Let's talk about this..."
"NO!" Kim snapped, working her arm free of Kerry's grasp. "Don't you get it? I don't want to talk about Romano. Or Shannon Wallace. Not here, not now, not ever. I won't give any of it that kind of power over me."
"Then how are we going to get past it?"
"Past it? What for, Kerry? You want me to help with your research? Fine. Give me the case histories and I'll do the psych follow-up. You can write up the results any damn way you want, and everyone will know the good doctor Weaver isn't a homophobe. Isn't that what they're saying downstairs? Do you really think you can assuage your guilty conscience with Chinese take-out and good professional works?"
The opening wasn't much, but it was the only one Kim had given her in three months to speak of what had happened. Sucking in a deep breath, Kerry took it. "Kim, I know you're angry. You have every right to be... " The look in her eyes stopped Kerry's train of thought dead in its tracks. She had never seen the kind of rage etched onto her lover's face, hadn't thought Kim capable of it.
"You have no idea how angry I am, Kerry," Her voice was a low, rasping growl two octaves below its usual range. "No idea."
Demon luck, cursed fate, dark moons be damned-- all Kim knew was that it had to stop. Her desire for Kerry Weaver had become a worm of perversity defying all logic, control, and now-- dignity. They had already been broken up longer than they had been together, but Kim still hadn't been able to keep the crash-and-burn encounters like the one that had happened in Records from happening.
She had walked away from Kerry three months ago to stop just this sort of thing. The messy spilling of the entrails of fear and doubt that wrapped around the vital organs of Kim's identity.
"Fear causes doubt. Doubt causes hesitation. And hesitation can kill someone..."
Her father had been talking to a group of first year surgical residents but to her sixteen year-old self, the words had resonated uncannily. She had been afraid of who she was then, more afraid that everyone else would discover her fraud. To act as if became her mantra, and she was Gatsby-like in her pursuit of the light on the green dock-- looking not for her Daisy, but for the miracle of integration. She became the ultimate synthesis of her mother's Old-World, Old-Money charisma and her father's peasant, immigrant ambition. Blue-eyed, lazy charm was her calling card; and she passed through the party with an air of entitlement that everyone seemed to recognize and no one seemed to question.
She perfected the art of looking effortless, even as her academic-- and later, professional-- rise testified to her hard work. Women smiled at her when she opened the door for them, inviting her into their worlds for a glass of wine or a chat or something more. Men tripped over her intelligence, impaled themselves on her beauty, and usually thanked her for the privilege. She moved quickly out of the orbit of those who were ungracious about the whole thing. It was a good life, filled with interesting people and beautiful things, time well-spent and not too many moments wasted or regretted.
So what the hell had happened?
Kim wearily rubbed her eyes and picked up the coffee mug at her elbow. It was Kerry's, she realized as she walked to the lounge just down the hall from her office. She had broken her own and had snagged Kerry's one day when she was down in the ER. And apparently, had never given it back.
Fair enough, she supposed, considering Kerry still had a set of her house keys.
Personally and professionally, she lived these days in a state of suspended animation. She had walked away from her relationship with Kerry, but never took the formal steps of trying to resort and resettle their lives into neat untangled lines. In the past, she had always avoided the messy, ugly exchange of knickknacks and souvenirs by simply not giving away anything she ever wanted back-- though her ex-lovers frequently mistook this for a generosity or sentimentality of spirit, and she wasn't about to correct their impression. Romano was nickle-and-diming her to death, sending Carl to her office door with an apologetic expression that was becoming more and more hangdog with every visit and each piece of paper he carried with him. She knew what was happening-- had seen it happen to a few colleagues, heard about it countless other times. And a part of her absolutely couldn't believe that it was happening to her-- that someone like Romano was actually going to win, that she had allowed herself to be put in such a position of helplessness.
The implement of her undoing on both fronts-- a single, petite, green-eyed, redhead named Kerry Weaver.
"I hope you're at least having a danish with that coffee."
"No, but I will take one of those cigarettes from the pack that I know you're hiding in the waistband of your scrub pants." Without even looking up, Kim finished pouring her coffee then equally filled a styrofoam cup. She turned to see Abby Lockhart leaning the the doorway and handed her the cup. "Come on."
Blinking in surprise, Abby nonetheless followed Kim up the quick flight of steps to the outside door. She hastened to keep up with Legaspi's lengthy strides as they crossed the roof to the little enclave that served as an improvised table for staffers eating their lunches. Lighting the Marlboro and handing it over, she arched a curious brow as Kim took it with a nodded thanks.
Failing moonlight glittered off the broad slashes of Kim's cheekbones, lending a stiletto edge to the psychiatrist's beauty. Abby was unsettled by the tension clouding the pale blue eyes that looked everywhere but at her, evident discomfiture finally roiling up to disturb the placid surface of Kim Legaspi's angelic features. "You look like shit," she blurted, astonished by her own words.
Smoke streamed from Kim's nostrils as she looked out over the city. "I'll have to remember not to wear this outfit the next time I go to GirlBar."
"You in the market already?"
Blue eyes snapped to her with such ferocity that Abby wished she could snatch back her impulsive words. "Unless you're asking that question for completely prurient personal reasons, I suggest you keep your mouth shut about what I'm in the market for."
"I didn't schlep up here to be the whipping girl for your bad temper."
"No? Then enlighten me-- why did you?"
Abby opened her mouth and closed it again on the challenge. "You're right. It's none of my business."
"And yet you still stand here."
"Yeah... looks like it."
They regarded each other in the silence of the early morning hour, knowing far too much about one another to be strangers and without the intimacy that creates true friendship. They were refugees of a sort, fleeing the battlegrounds of their own lives and meeting in the neutral territory of this roof over a cigarette and the shared realization that they weren't alone.
"You know..." the nurse began hesitantly. "Every evening there's a different ode to Dr. Legaspi. Courtesy of my mother, of course. But there's one thing I can't figure..."
"If I'm such a good psych why is my own life so terribly fucked up?"
"Fucked up is about par for the course around here."
"So I've noticed. Maybe they ought to have the place tested for radon."
"Personally I'd love to use chemical poisoning to explain away the last few years of my life, but I don't think that's gonna wash. What's your story?"
"Story?" Kim dragged deeply on the cigarette and flicked the butt elegantly over the side of the building with a twist of her wrist.
"You gonna tell me that your life was perfect before you came to County?"
"Then why'd you ever leave?"
A fair enough question, but Kim still felt like she had been sucker-punched. Ambition, in part, had brought her to County-- the hospital's reputation as a demilitarized zone of mental un-health working in its favor for once-- and she'd had friends here. Christy and Kate were an unlikely couple at best, and the dinner conversation sometimes got slightly kinky given their collectively entangled past, but it had helped to have a network of sorts already in place. Lonely nights did get to be a bitch at times.
"Cat got your tongue?" Abby prompted.
"It was easy," she said at last, distractedly turning her head to follow the blinking flight path of some far away airplane and absently wondered about its destination. Anywhere had to better than here. "Too easy. And it wasn't enough anymore."
"And so you decided to climb down into the muck with the rest of us?" The lightness of Abby's tone took much of the sting out of her question, but still drove the point home. "How very noble of you, Dr. Legaspi."
"Fuck you, Nurse Lockhart," Kim replied with a smile.
"Seriously, though..." Abby began, shaking out another cigarette and lighting it. "You expect me to believe that you uprooted your entire life because you were bored?"
"You going to smoke that thing alone?" Kim evaded the question.
"I thought you didn't want to get hooked again."
"Too late. I caught myself eyeing Frank's nicotine patch longingly the other day. I'm pretty sure he thinks I'm hot for him."
"There's a frightening visual place."
"Tell me about it."
"You're not going to answer, are you?"
"How am I supposed to answer that? How do I explain thirty five years to you in fifty words or less? How is my coming to Chicago from Baltimore any different than Luka's coming from Croatia?"
"Well... for starters I'm pretty sure you didn't have a wife and children killed in a civil war."
"You're right," Kim acknowledged with a broad gesture of her hand. "I don't have any huge motivating tragedy in my life. Not a single dead lover, bi-polar parent, or drug-addicted sibling."
"There is that whole gay thing."
"I don't consider that to be a tragedy."
"I didn't mean to imply that."
"Nonetheless..." Kim waved Abby's apology off.
"It had to have changed the way you looked at your life."
"Changed how? It's all I know, Abby. It's who I am, not something I've chosen." She rolled her eyes and shook her head in amused disbelief. "And why the hell do I sound like an Equality Now poster?"
"You certainly look like you should be on a poster."
"I thought I looked like shit."
"You look better now."
"Venting at you helped, no doubt."
"I'm here for you."
Kim snorted in laughter. "You and your lung-killing weeds."
"Like I held your head and forced you to inhale."
"Say that in front of Dave and I guarantee you Randi will drop to second in that poll."
"I'll save it until some time when I want to make Luka jealous."
"That's what I need. An angry Croatian chasing me around the ER with a sternal saw."
"You said you were bored. Besides, I'm sure it will get Weaver's attention."
"Believe me, Kerry's attention is the last thing I want."
"Oh?" Abby prodded.
"I just want to crawl under a rock until she forgets I ever existed." As if that would wipe away the power of what had happened-- what was still happening, if she were honest-- between them.
"I hate to break it to you, but I don't think that's going to happen."
"Sure it will."
Abby regarded her skeptically. "You've never seen Weaver once she's gotten her teeth into something, have you?"
"I'm not sure I'm comfortable with the mental picture you're painting here."
Though the comment was made in jest, it brought Abby up short. She cocked her head, mildly surprised at both the ease with which her mind conjured the image of Kerry Weaver's mouth on Kim Legaspi's body and the erotic charge that accompanied it. She felt herself blushing in response and was thankful for the night's cloak protecting her modesty. "Er.... I was speaking metaphorically."
"And was the metaphor good for you?"
"Is there anything you won't turn into a joke?"
"Not when it come to evading questions I don't want to answer."
"You're just going to walk away from this thing with Kerry and pretend it never happened."
"If I can."
This time it was Abby who tossed the burned down cigarette over the edge of the building, shaking her head as she did so. "I'd wish you luck, but I don't think it's gonna help."
Staring aimlessly into space seemed to be becoming a habit. Though the case histories still lay sprawled before her, Kerry hadn't once looked down. Kim had always had a temper; but it was of a well-reasoned, logical sort that only came out when they were arguing and usually only over abstract issues. When it had come to their personal relationship, Kim had been almost maddeningly calm and understanding as Kerry worked through through the internal gyrations she used to justify wanting Kim but not a lifestyle. What had confronted her tonight, however... was in an entirely different spectrum of emotion.
She honestly hadn't known that she'd had the capacity to hurt Kim to the degree that would inspire such an unthinking expression of pain on her ex-lover's part. And though the residue of Kim's anger still pulsed uneasily through Kerry's system, it carried with it a tiny, electric
She hadn't fallen alone....
By unspoken admission, Kerry knew there had been a large number of casual dalliances in Kim's past. The one time Kerry had ventured a comment about it, Kim had simply replied, "I don't fuck around when I'm with someone," and closed the subject. Kerry had heard an silent codicil to the
statement-- that Kim was never with someone for very long. And too, that someone had been Kerry.
Tonight had changed all that, and for the first time Kerry felt something akin to hope with regard Kim. The last months had been hard, forcing herself to re-examine every look, every touch, every thought she'd ever had about another woman. She'd come to more than a few surprising conclusions that she'd wanted so much to share with her ex-lover. To see her wry smile and arched brow. To even hear her say, I told you so.
Everything was beginning to make a hazy sort of sense to her, how their bodies had managed to defy the labyrinthine weave of hesitant pauses and misspoken words that constituted their intellectual landscape. Making love to Kim was a revelation-- the bend and sway of her hips in the candlelight, the note-perfect pitch of her cries in response to Kerry's touch, the unflinching way she opened her body to Kerry's desire and all the possibilities that might entail-- speaking in place of the normally hyper-articulate psychiatrist's words. Now, for the life her, Kerry couldn't understand why she let one kind of silence convince her of something so unfailingly contradicted every time they physically connected. But Kim had believed it too, and in the wake of Kerry's other silence-- the one in a cold conference room where Robert Romano tried to play God-- it had become the truth.
"Did you find the hart?"
Kerry blinked rapidly in the dimness, wondering how on earth Sophie had managed to materialize without her knowing it. Thanking the heavens that the girl seemed to wield nothing more menacing than a confused understanding of Roman mythology, Kerry smiled at her.
"Not yet, I'm afraid."
The reply seemed to agitate the girl, for she swiftly closed the distance between them and seized Kerry's hands. "But you must! It's so very important."
Wondering if she could break through whatever faulty synaptic impulse had linked Kim and the goddess of the hunt in the girl's mind and caught up in the frantic grip of Sophie's frantic eyes and fingers, Kerry asked. "Why, Sophie?"
"The hunts please the other immortals, but there is talk that the goddess is wasting of love and will not hunt. This displeases her father, and he will search for the mortal who corrupted her if she does not hunt soon."
Kerry's eyes grew wide at the earnest litany, and she fought the urge to laugh at the uproarious inappropriateness of it all. Obviously Sophie had picked on some of the changes in Kim's demeanor-- perhaps she had been here when Kim had been suspended, and her addled brain had translated Kim's absence into a taboo assignation with a mortal.
"She swore an oath to the gods," Sophie continued, oblivious to Kerry's skyrocketing brows. "Swore on the beard of her father. I shall always be a virgin And live on the summit of the great Sierras, hunting in the forests: Oh grant me this!"
Kerry did a double-take as something chimed in her memory. Something she had read not too long ago... and then it came to her. Why on earth was Sophie quoting Sappho? "We need to get you to bed, Sophie."
"She cannot betray her oath!"
Oookay... this was going a bit far. If this was what Kim had to deal with all day, she had new respect for psychs, even as she questioned their sanity for wanting to go into the specialty at all. "She promised to hunt tomorrow, remember? She promised."
"But if there's no hart..."
Oh Christ... All Kerry really wanted to know was why the hell Kim hadn't tranqued the girl up the last time she had been forced to put her back to bed. "I'll find the hart tonight, she'll hunt it tomorrow, and you're getting in bed now. Understand?" In spite of the firmness of her words,
Kerry couldn't help but soften her tone in the face of the girl's bewildered confusion. Sophie had twigged to the fact that something was wrong with her psychiatrist-- which was more than Kerry could say about ninety-nine percent of the staff at County-- and Kerry was almost willing to bet it was the cause of her apparently uncharacteristic agitation.
Grabbing her crutch from its resting place beside her, Kerry threaded one arm through the brace and took Sophie with the other. The girl obediently padded along beside her as they walked down the hallway and waited for the elevator, seemingly content to go wherever the doctor wanted to lead. Punching the button for the psych ward, Kerry glanced over at Sophie to see her intently studying her. "Are you one of Diana's nymphs?"
Turning a violent shade of scarlet as she fought to turn a shrill, disbelieving laugh into a harumphing cough, Kerry managed a strangled, "Why would you think that?"
Sophie looked at her crutch. "Nymphs can't walk on the land. You would need help."
Logical enough conclusion given the circumstances. Not to mention her mental illness, Kerry thought to herself. Maybe she would use that one the next time Malucci got too nosy.
The discreet chime of the elevator door saved her from making a direct response; and she tapped lightly on the Ward door, waiting until Bernie buzzed her through.
"I think this one belongs to you," she said, nodding at Sophie.
Bernie rolled his eyes and shook his head resignedly. "Again? Come on..." Together the trio returned to Sophie's room, where the girl allowed herself to be tucked into bed once more.
"How does she do it?" Kerry asked, once Bernie had settled her down.
The nurse shrugged uncomprehendingly. "Dr. Legs and I haven't figured it out yet. We think she got up into the air ducts crawled down them until she got out of the locked part of the ward. She's never done it before-- I'll need to let Dr. Legs know. She'll probably want to use the tranqs now."
Kerry put a restraining hand on Bernie's arm as he turned towards the pool of warm light gently streaming from Kim's open door. "I'll tell her. You just keep an eye on Sophie for the time being."
Kim was contorted into an incomprehensible position in her desk chair, her long legs bunched somehow under her chin, her feet propped on the desk. Her eyes were half-closed as her head reclined on the back of her chair; drifting, it seemed, in dreams Kerry couldn't imagine. A wistful melody played quietly on her computer-- a guitar and a woman in a snatch of phrase that seemed to capture a world of longing in a few single notes. The combination of music and the defeated curl of Kim's spine cast a melancholy pall over the usually inviting office. Once more Kerry was struck by how much vibrancy Kim seemed to imbue upon her settings, and how badly everything fared when that was taken away.
"What are you doing here, Kerry?" The quiet somberness of Kim's voice startled her badly, and Kerry grasped her crutch more tightly, the warm grip familiar and reassuring.
"I thought you were asleep."
"Come to watch?" The was no venom in her ex-lover's tone, only a odd sort of mournfulness whose echo registered in Kerry's own soul. In their short romance, Kim had picked up almost immediately on the visceral delight watching her had brought Kerry; and she had teased her lover no end, welcoming Kerry's gaze at every turn. Kim had invited Kerry's hungry green eyes to connect with the supple length of her exposed skin, turning even the air that separated them into an instrument of eroticism.
Now a separation of a different sort filled the space between the pair, though it resonated with the memory of indulgences long past. "Came to return Sophie again. She seems to like it in Records."
Kim's head tilted slightly from its resting place on the back of her chair, away from Kerry. The long arch of her neck was gracefully accentuated by her careless posture, the carotid pulse clearly marking each beat of her heart. "I'll see to her..."
"I already handed her off to the duty nurse," Kerry interrupted softly, not wanting Kim to rouse herself. She felt a momentarily pang of guilt for taking such pleasure in simply watching Kim's repose, but it was quickly replaced by concern as she realized how completely wasted-- in the medical sense-- the psychiatrist looked. She couldn't believe that a delusional patient was the only one who had noticed so far. Certainly she hadn't in their few encounters since Kim's return, but then again, she hadn't wanted to acknowledge Kim's corporeal presence at all, for it brought with it everything she had thrown away with her unspoken words. Her weight loss was noticeable now, lending an austerity to Kim's beauty that Kerry found as worrisome as it was compelling. Though the circles under her eyes were more artfully concealed than those under Kerry's own, they were telltale indicators that Kim's nights were passing as fitfully as hers. In this light, at this hour-- when God's angels and Hell's demons both slept-- Kim seemed accessible in a way that had been denied to her since that terrible day in front of the elevator. That afternoon Kim had closed something off in herself to Kerry, and now she felt herself glimpsing it again.
Except it wasn't again, Kerry realized with the same insight that had possessed her in the Records room. It was for the first time.
Kim was, at last, completely broken open to her-- stripped of the confidence and grace that had cast such a glamour over Kerry in the first place. This was a woman who needed as much tenderness as she gave, as much patience as she offered, as much protecting as she protected. What Kerry Weaver saw now enraptured her even more completely than everything that had come before, and she understood now with wracking sorrow how thorough her abandonment of Kim had been on that February afternoon.
"Do you sleep at night?" Kerry opened her mouth to answer, but realized Kim's head was turned away from her and briefly wondered if Kim even knew she was speaking aloud. "'Cause I do." A mirthless chuckle. "Such dreams..." Blue eyes closed; and when they opened, they transfixed Kerry with their glistening awareness. "It's all you, Kerry. All you."
Kerry stood in open-mouthed astonishment at the confession, so at odds with the distant woman of a week ago, the furious woman of earlier in the night.
"Your skin, your hands... Your beautiful face," she continued, as if for once wanting to guarantee that there could be no miscommunication in the stutter-step of their spoken language. "I can still feel it all, the weight of your legs on my shoulders, your hands in my hair. It's so real, Kerry... I can smell you." She took a long, shuddering breath, seeming to force her eyes away and back to her own distorted reflection in the night's glass. Kerry blushed at the images made real of their lovemaking. Their bodies had responded to one another in such perfect concert... words were rendered superfluous. Who needed verbs when Kim could command her to strip with a simple downward flicker of her eyes? "And sometimes I come and sometimes I don't, but I always wake up. I'm always wet. I'm always alone."
It was not a silence of denial-- for Kerry knew that was no longer possible. Kim Legaspi beat as strongly in her blood as anything ever could. But nor was it a silence of acquiescence to the power between them. Not yet. Not now. Something deep inside-- that had guided her through the stares of other children, through the whispered rumors of her past, through the cavalier disregard for her emotions and brought her out the other side-- still fought against that last threshold of surrender. She didn't know what had broken Kim during the passage of this long night, but she
knew that if she erased the six steps that separated them, that if she knelt down in front of this gloriously human and frail creature...
Obeying her at last and in spite of everything it had taught her about her passion for Kim, her body remained rooted firmly in its spot.
"So you can see why I prefer the midnight to noon these days."
Even had Kerry the words for what was happening between them at this moment, the precisely-spaced chirps of a pager spoke in the place of any reply she could possibly offer. She yanked it from her pocket and stared at the read-out. "It's the ER," she said dully.
"It's about that time," Kim acknowledged, a dull flush rising through her cheeks as if she realized whatever moment they might have had was past and she had revealed too much.
"I know. I'm sorry... Kim... I have to go.... There's so much... " she said helplessly, some forty years of instinct commanding her and only three months of a love unfamiliar to contradict it. She shook her head as Kim's eyes closed and her head turned away. "I'm on."