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You’d think that hospital sheets would be scratchy.  With such a low thread count, they probably are to begin with, but after hundreds of launderings, they end up almost soft – in that cheap, heavily laundered cotton sort of way.

I pick at a loose thread.  This is awkward.  Why is it awkward?  We’re supposed to be friends, so why is the closeness so awkward?  It shouldn’t be that way, but it is.  We’re both very private people.  I at least manage to put on a show – people think that I’m much more open than I am.  She doesn’t even bother pretending.  No one knows anything about her, and she seems to like it that way.

For some reason, she chose to open up to me.  That’s not right.  Chose implies that she had other options, and I’m not certain that’s true.  In any case, she’s told me things – private things.  Maybe because she, through random twists of fate, knows more about me than anyone else.  It’s not that I never tell anyone anything.  I hand out a piece here and a piece there, but few people ever get more than one…maybe two.  She has…well, more than I’m comfortable with.  I’ve lost count.

Granted, I have more of her pieces than anyone else I know of.  In that regard, we are equally vulnerable to one another.  Hence the awkwardness, I realize.  Neither of us is comfortable being vulnerable, yet here we are, more exposed to one another than anyone else.  It exists, it’s a fact, but that doesn’t mean we like it.  So…awkward.

When I look up again, she’s watching me as I pick at the sheet, green eyes boring into me.  I smile and she smiles back – just a little.  She senses it too.

“You okay?”  She nods, her eyes sliding away.  That means no.  “What’s bothering you?” I prod.

“Am I doing the right thing?”  Way to be specific, Kerry.

“The surgery?” I guess.  She nods again, wringing her hands and still not looking at me.

“I think that’s something only you can decide.”  Truthfully, I think she should have the surgery, but I don’t know how to say it without making it sound like her disability makes her somehow lesser.  It doesn’t.  Not in my eyes, anyway.  If anything, I think it has made her stronger.  The only reason I think she should have the surgery is because I’ve noticed how much it’s been hurting her lately.  I don’t like seeing her hurt.  I don’t know how she’d feel if she knew that I’d noticed, or that I cared.

“I just…”  One of her hands balls around the sheet, tangling it in her fingers.  “It’s a part of me, you know?”  I prop my head in my hand and lean my elbow on the gurney, saying nothing, waiting for her to continue.  “My crutch has always been there, in one form or another.  It’s just a part of who I am.”

“Lots of things are a part of who you are.”

“Yes,” she agrees.  “But not all of them have always been there.  Being a doctor is part of who I am, but I haven’t always been that.  Being…”  She pauses, swallows, and her voice it softer when she continues.  “Being gay is a part of who I am, but it took me a very long time to recognize it, even if it was always there.”  She sighs, her hand releasing the sheet, stretching, only to close around it again.  I love her hands.  “But my crutch has been a part of me forever…I learned to walk with a crutch, and I’ve never stopped.  It’s like…having red hair.”  She rolls her eyes and blows her bangs off of her forehead.  I know that she’s frustrated and feeling like she’s not explaining this very well.  She told me once that she feels she lacks eloquence.  Maybe she does, but she is straightforward and almost always gets her point across.  I understand her, in any case.

“And not having it scares you.”  She nods.  Her face is still turned at a slight angle, and as much as eye contact with Kerry Weaver makes me feel like a deer in headlights, I wish she would look at me, just for a second.

“Will I still be me without it?”  The fact that I can see her profile allows me to see that her chin trembles just slightly before she bites her lip.  She looks so tired.  She may very well slap me for doing this, but I can’t seem to help myself.  I reach out with my free hand, prying her fingers from the sheet and twining them with my own.

“You’ll always be you, Kerry.”  She flicks her eyes at me, then quickly looks away again, a single tear slipping down her cheek.  “Maybe your crutch is…well, a crutch.”  I smirk.  “A figurative one,” I add, probably unnecessarily.  She reaches up and swipes the renegade tear from her face.  Two years ago, the thought of Kerry Weaver crying would have scared the shit out of me.  Of course, if you’d told me that Kerry Weaver cried, I probably would have laughed in your face.  I mean, everybody cries, I know that, but I never thought she would cry in front of anyone, much less me.  Now, though – now I’ve seen the more human side of her, the side that has grieved the loss of a child and later, the loss of her wife.  She hurts, she just tries not to show it.  And she trusted me, of all people, to help her through that.  I can’t say that doesn’t touch me on some level.

Kerry shrugs, but doesn’t seem to have anything to say in response.  I squeeze her hand, my thumb rubbing hers.  Her fingers are cool against mine.  I do that too – get cold when I’m scared.  I’m sure it’s some sort of blood pressure thing, but I don’t care to ponder the medical basis behind it.  “What are you scared of, Kerry?”  She sighs, her hand shifting.  She’s aching to curl her fingers into the sheet again.

“I don’t know, really.  I mean, if anything, it should make my life easier.  But what’s easy isn’t always what’s right.”

“No,” I agree.  It’s easier for me to drink than it is to be sober, but here I am with over five years under my belt, still taking it one day at a time.  “But is this really the easy choice?”  Her eyes slide to mine, then drop to our joined hands.  “I mean, you’re not doing this because you want people to treat you differently.  You’re doing this because you’re hurting.  Right?”  She nods.  “That’s not selling out, Kerry, that’s being practical.”  Her frown deepens for a moment as she thinks, but my logic is impeccable.  Nevertheless, I need to drive it home.  “Besides, I think that if you’re afraid, not going through with it would be taking the easy way out.”  Her eyes snap up, fastening on mine at last.  Why did I want her to look at me?  It’s kind of…terrifying.  But in a nice way.  Thrilling, somehow.  Her eyes are just so intense – so much energy hiding behind that calm exterior she is so careful to maintain.

“You think?”  I nod.

“I think you’re really brave.  I mean…I’ve thought that for a long time, but…well, you know.”  I trail off and shrug, determined not to ramble.  It’s hard with her looking at me that way – all soft.

“You think I’m brave?”  I feel heat in my face and know that I must be beet red.  Now it’s my turn to look away.  I look at our hands instead.

“Yeah,” I murmur, shrugging a little, beyond embarrassed.  She tugs on my hand, and when I glance at her, she’s smiling.

“Thank you.”  It’s so soft that if I hadn’t seen her lips move, I wouldn’t be certain she’d said it.

“Welcome.”  I sit with her, more or less silently, until the scrub nurses come to prep her for her surgery.  She looks scared and I stand, leaning down to give her a tight hug.  “You’ll be fine,” I whisper in her ear, feeling a subtle nod against my shoulder.

“Thank you so much, Abby.  I’ll see you tomorrow?”  It’s very much a question, and she sounds so uncertain that it almost breaks my heart.

“Absolutely.”  And she will.  What I don’t mention is that I fully intend to be there when she wakes up – which, given the time, may very well be tomorrow.  I’ll probably watch her surgery, too.  I know I don’t have to, but I also know that I’m all she’s got right now.  I just want to be there for her – someone should.  She deserves that.

 

I blink.  Damn.  Didn’t mean to fall asleep.  Kerry’s hand twitches, then lifts and smacks my head.  Luckily, she’s still pretty drugged, so it’s not very hard.  I sit up, rolling my neck and groaning at the tension in my lower back.

She’s restless – that must be what woke me – moving a little more than makes me comfortable.  I take her hand, smoothing it between my own and keeping an eye on her IV.  Her arm stills, but her head rolls on the pillow as she fights towards consciousness.  I shake my head.  So stubborn.

The perks of working here – she’s already got her own room, and they haven’t kicked me out.  I guess they figure that I can keep an eye on her.  Plus I know a fair number of the nurses.  Whatever.

I stand, stretching a little before perching on the edge of her bed, careful not to jostle her bad hip, which is closest to me.  I rest one hand on her stomach, the other still rubbing her hand.

“Kerry, it’s okay,” I murmur.  Her hand clenches and I smooth it out again.  It’s a slow process – the anesthesia hasn’t completely left her body yet, but she’s so determined to wake up that her eyes blink open sooner than I expected.  “Hey there.”  She stares at me blankly, then frowns.

“Abby?”  Her voice is scratchy and I lean forward, managing to grab the plastic cup on the bedside table, cursing myself for not thinking to grab a straw.  Granted, there were ice chips in the cup to begin with, but still.

“Yeah, it’s me.”  I hold the cup to her lips and help her take a few sips.  “How are you feeling?”

“What are you doing here?”  Still scratchy, but getting better.  I smirk at her directness.  Right to the point.

“Sitting,” I deadpan.  She rolls her eyes.  “Your surgery went well.”

“Abby, have you been here all night?  What time is it?”  I shrug.  I have no idea since I fell asleep.  I look at my watch.

“Almost four.”  Damn.  It’s late.

“Abby…”  Her voice is whiny, the way it gets when she’s emotional.  It’s kind of annoying, but it just means she cares, which makes it kind of sweet, too.

“Kerry.”  She sighs, her hand brushing my leg.  I reach down and squeeze her fingers.

“Did you watch?”  I can feel myself blushing again, and hope that she can’t tell in the darkened room.  I consider lying and saying no – it suddenly seems like watching her surgery is an incredible invasion of her privacy.  Still, I just can’t look her in the eyes and lie to her.

“Yeah.  Is that okay?”  She isn’t looking at me, her eyes focused lower, staring at her hand on my leg.  It moves away, but I recapture it.

“’s fine,” she slurs, fingers pressing against my palm.  “I’m glad.  I hate feeling alone.”  That hits me right in the gut, but she doesn’t even seem to realize what she’s said, her eyelids fluttering.  I study her face for a long moment, wondering just why it is that I’ve felt so drawn to her lately.  She reached out to me, but ultimately, it was me who opened my arms to her and let her in.  I care for her.  A lot, I realize.  Maybe more than a friend should.  Shit.  I reach up to rub my forehead, only to realize that I’m still holding the water cup.  Damn it.  Double damn.

It’s not that she’s a woman – I’ve known that I’m bisexual for a long time.  I even dated a few women, relatively seriously once or twice.  But…this is Kerry.  I can’t feel that way for Kerry.  She’s my boss and…Kerry.  I swallow hard, biting back my rising panic as she looks up at me again.  “Water?” she rasps, and I obediently bring the cup to her mouth, allowing her a few more sips.  “So tired,” she murmurs, her eyes slipping closed again.

“So sleep,” I murmur back.  She nods, licking her lips, and then her breathing is evening back out into the peaceful rhythm of sleep.  I stretch, setting the water back on the table, half surprised that I don’t tip it over.  I’m such a klutz sometimes.  I sigh, this time unhindered as I rub my forehead, and watch her sleep for a while.

I don’t know why I’m surprised – I shouldn’t be.  I mean, it’s classic.  Someone shows me the slightest kindness and I find myself in much deeper than I intended.  Why else would I have stayed through her entire surgery?  Why else would I still be here when she woke?  Why else would I intend to settle back down in my chair and stay a while longer, even though I know she’s okay?  Because I care about her.  Because I want to make sure she knows that I was here – she might not even remember the last few minutes.  Because I don’t want her to be alone.  And maybe…maybe a little because I don’t want to be alone either.

 

Fingers in my hair.  Not Luka.  Not a man.  Softer, more delicate.  Short nails against my scalp, stroking.  Kerry.

I raise my head and her hand slips from my hair.  I wish it would stay.

“Hi,” I mumble, rubbing at my eyes.  “How are you feeling?”  She never answered that question the last time.

“You should go home.”  Not this time either, it would seem.  I shrug.  Truthfully, I don’t really want to go home.  Home makes me think of Luka, and I’m tired of thinking of Luka.  Tired of feeling alone, of being alone in my apartment.

She eyes the water cup, just out of reach on the bedside table.  I grab it and hand it to her, watching as she sips at it.

“How are you feeling?” I try again.  “I can adjust your dose if you’re hurting.”  She shakes her head.

“It’s fine.”  She hands the cup back to me and I take a quick swallow before setting it back on the table.  “You watched my surgery?  Or did I imagine that?”  I smirk.  She does remember.  At least a little.

“No.  No, I watched.  It went fine.”  I slip my hand into hers.  It’s warmer now, and that’s comforting somehow.  “And you’re still Kerry.”  That makes her laugh, and I realize how rarely I’ve heard her do that.  I want to make it happen again.

“You sure about that?”  There’s a playful sparkle in her eyes – or is that the morphine? – and I slip onto the edge of her bed again, feeling her forehead with the back of my fingers, then taking her chin in my hand, turning her head from side to side, squinting at her, studying her.

“Yep.  Still Kerry,” I declare, cupping her face in my palms, smoothing my thumbs along her cheekbones.  Kerry has great cheekbones.  Oh my god.  Are we flirting?  We are.  I am flirting with Kerry Weaver.  And she started it.  It’s the drugs.  And I’m tired.  That’s all.

She laughs again, and it’s almost musical.

“Abby?”  She removes one of my hands from her face, tangling our fingers together.  I let the other drop to her shoulder, trying to ignore how soft her skin is beneath my thumb.  Why can’t these gowns be higher necked?  I should move my hand, but I don’t want her to notice how awkward I feel.

“Hmm?”

“Thank you.  For staying.”  I nod, squeezing her hand and smoothing my thumb against her collarbone.  My eyes fall to the scar at the base of her throat.  It looks like a trach scar, but I’ve never asked.  I’ve seen it before, but for some reason, it holds my attention now.  I want to run my fingers over it, but I don’t.  “Abby?”  My eyes slide back to her face.  The sun is rising, and the little bit of light coming through the blinds allows me to see her clearly, to see the softness in her features and her eyes.  She cares about me too, and it’s a nice feeling.

“Yeah?”

“You should go home and get some rest.”  Is she trying to get rid of me?  That’s the second time she’s said that.  Then she squeezes my hand and her expression softens further and I realize that she’s just concerned.  I probably look like hell.  I glance at my watch.

“I’m on in a few hours,” I sigh.  “Not worth going home.”  She frowns at me, obviously not approving of the fact that I’ve stayed all night when I have a relatively early shift.  Whether it’s the administrator of this hospital or my friend who disapproves, I can’t say.  Probably both.

“Well, then you should at least try to get some sleep.”  Her free hand points toward the window and I glance in that direction, realizing that she’s actually pointing at the empty bed.  “You can close the curtains if you’d rather stay here.”  I consider that.  Sleep does sound good, and I really don’t want to trudge all the way back down to the on call room.  I nod, then slip off the bed, making sure that she can reach the water before pulling the curtains closed, sending the room back into darkness.  Returning to her side, I stoop to kiss her temple, touched when her arms wrap around me in a loose hug, careful not to disturb her IV.  I set the alarm on my cell phone and toss it on the pillow next to me as I collapse on the spare bed.  It’s only moments before I’m asleep.

 

“Fuck.”  Hearing Kerry Weaver say that word makes me want to laugh, but I don’t.  I think she’d take it the wrong way right now.

“Just three more,” I encourage instead, trying not to grimace as her hand squeezes my own.  Taking long, deep breaths, she slides her left heel up the bed, slowly bending her knee and then straightening again.

I came up here intending to eat lunch with her, but found the physical therapist had beat me here.  So instead, I’ve spent most of my lunch encouraging her through her second round of post-op exercises.  Not that I mind.  One or two more rounds and they’ll have her out of bed and hobbling around on a walker.  I hope I’m here for that.

When the physical therapist leaves us alone, promising Kerry that she’ll be back in a few hours, Kerry is exhausted – slumped against the bed, flushed, sweaty, bangs limp on her forehead – but somehow still manages to look beautiful.  God, did I really just think that?

I pour her some water, reaching up to fluff her bangs as she drinks.

“Just think, by tonight you’ll be out of this bed.”

“I don’t want to think about it,” she groans.  I smirk and refill her water.  I know that she’s tired and in pain, but overall, she’s handling it like a champ.  Not that I’d expect anything else from her, but you never know with people.

“You know you’ll be glad.”  She nods – a little reluctantly – her eyes lingering on my face.

“What time is your shift over?”

“Six.  Lucky for me, I’m only doing eight hours today.”  Her face shifts – it would be imperceptible to someone who doesn’t know her very well, and a lot of the change is in her eyes, but it’s definitely there.  She feels guilty that I stayed with her last night.  I know because that’s how I would feel.  Time to put an end to that.  “I’m hoping I’ll be able to make it back up here in time to see you walk.”  Her smile is uncertain, and I wonder if maybe I misread her after all.  “Unless you’d rather I not.”

“No,” she says, reaching out but pausing before she actually touches me.  Her hand drops to the bed again.  “No, it’s not that.  I just…you’ve already done so much for me.”  I settle on the bed next to her, brushing at her bangs again.

“Yeah, well that’s what friends are for.”  Her hand shifts closer, but doesn’t quite touch me, so I reach down and pull it into my lap.  I rub her hand between my own, brushing over the callus from her crutch, just between her thumb and forefinger.  She still has that guilty look.  “Kerry, you know that I’m here because I want to be, right?”  Her face softens a little.  “Staying the night was my choice, and it’s not something I regret, so stop looking at me like you killed my puppy.”  That gets her and she chuckles, nodding and squeezing my hand.  “Now, I should get back to the ER before they send a search party, but I’ll see you when my shift is over, okay?”

“Okay,” she murmurs, leaning toward me.  Sensing her intention, I bend down and wrap her in a hug so she doesn’t have to sit too far forward.  My hands splay against her back and I can feel the warmth of her skin through the thin hospital gown.  “Thank you, Abby.”  I close my eyes and breathe her in, reaching up to tug at the end of her ponytail.

“You’re very welcome.”  Squeezing her one last time, I pull away, kissing her temple as I go.  “Get some rest.  Doctor’s orders.”  She rolls her eyes at me and I laugh, patting her stomach as I rise to go.

 

I hold my breath as her left foot hits the floor for the first time.  It seems like an eternity as she applies pressure and takes that first step.  I don’t know what I expected – they do hip replacements all the time.  It’s not like it’s going to give out.  And Kerry’s the strongest, most determined person I know.  She wouldn’t let herself collapse.  Not to mention the walker and two physical therapists waiting to catch her.  Still, it’s a relief.

She takes small, slow steps, inching her way across the room.  I’m doing okay until she reaches the wall and turns around.  Her face kills me.  Her pain is almost palpable, and it slices right through me.  She’s so, so tired – but so determined.  I manage what I hope is an encouraging smile as she starts back this way.

She’s getting a little shaky and I wonder if she’s going to make it all the way back.  Then she’s at the end of the bed, then taking that one last step, the walker an inch or so from my hips.  Looking down at it, I can’t help but notice that her knuckles are white.  Still, she made it, and I laugh in delight, leaning forward to wrap her in a tight hug.  Once she feels steady enough, certain that I’ve got her, she releases the walker and wraps her arms around me.

“You’re walking,” I enthuse, rubbing her back.

“Yeah,” she mumbles against my neck.  “But I’ve been demoted from crutch to walker.”  I laugh and hold her tighter.  She’s shaking ever so slightly and I don’t know how much is emotion and how much is physical exhaustion.

“You’ll get there.”  I want to keep her in my arms, but I know that she’s tired and probably aching to get back in bed, so I release her, making sure that she’s braced against the walker.  I’m so proud of her and so happy for her that I could just burst.  Walking with a walker doesn’t seem like that big of a deal when you look at it just for what it is, but as part of the bigger picture – well, it’s the first step toward something huge.  It’ll be some time yet before she can walk without aide, especially for any length of time, but this is the first step in that direction, and that makes it huge.  I know that she knows that, even though it may be a little buried right now.  Before long, she’ll be walking all on her own for the first time in her life.  And that’s incredible.

 

“You should be eating this, you know.”  I filch another apple slice as Kerry shrugs and snatches one for herself.  It’s been four days since her surgery, and she’ll be going home tomorrow.  She no longer needs the walker and is back on her crutch for the time being.  Her incision still needs time to heal, and after a lifetime of having a crutch to depend on, the muscles in her left hip are going to need to be weaned off of that support and learn to stand on their own.

She’s getting more mobile, but long distances are still difficult, and I’m a little worried about her being home alone.  What if she falls?  What if she stops eating enough because she’s too tired to make it to the kitchen and back on a regular basis?  I just…I don’t like it.  “Hey, Kerry?”

“Hmm?”  She’s crunching on another apple slice.  Since I’m pilfering her lunch, I’m sitting beside her on the hospital bed – we can only manage it because we both have relatively slim hips.  I like being pressed against her more than I’m really willing to admit, even to myself.

“I promise I’m not trying to baby you or anything, but…when you go home, would you maybe like some company?”  She doesn’t immediately respond, so I rush on.  “I mean, I just thought it might be easier to have a gofer for a little while.  Plus, I know I’d go batty if I had nothing to do for a while.  And…well, I worry about you.  But feel free to say no.  I promise I won’t be offended.”  I bite back on the urge to continue rambling.  Her long silence nearly kills me, and I’m beyond relieved when she finally speaks.

“I can’t ask you to do that,” she says, picking at her nails.

“You aren’t asking, I’m offering.”  She glances at me, and I can’t help but think I see a little bit of hope in her expression.  “I know that I have problems accepting help, even when I need it – even when I want it.  Just…I want to do this for you, so that’s not a factor, okay?  And, I mean, I wouldn’t be there all the time.  I’d still be working and all.”  I take her hand.  “Besides, I haven’t felt much like being at my place lately.  So…you’d really be doing me a favor.”  I hear her quiet huff of laughter, and then her head is resting on my shoulder.  The silence stretches between us, but it’s more comfortable this time, just resting against one another.

“Okay,” she murmurs, her fingers squeezing almost imperceptibly.  “If you’re sure.”  And just like that, it’s decided.  Somehow, I thought it would be more difficult.  Actually, I was pretty certain she’d refuse outright.  Then I remember what she said the other night about hating to feel alone.  That resonated with me – I know that feeling.  Maybe that feeling is what drove her to accept my offer – the chance to not be alone for just a little bit longer.  In any case, I’m relieved that she agreed, and kind of looking forward to getting to know her better.  I’m more than familiar with Kerry Weaver the doctor and administrator, but I have a feeling I’ve barely broken the surface with regards to Kerry Weaver the woman.

She’s deep and very complex, that much I know.  How deep and how complex remains to be seen.  Of course, spending large amounts of time in the home of someone with whom I’m quickly becoming infatuated probably isn’t the best idea.  This experience will either cure me of that infatuation or send me all the way over the edge into something more serious.  From what I’ve seen, probably the latter.  I’m quite certain she’ll be an entirely different person behind closed doors, and while she may not completely let her hair down while I’m there, I’ll still get a better idea of what the real Kerry is like.  My guess – passionate and fun loving and much more vulnerable than she ever lets on.  I could be in serious trouble, but I’m jumping right in anyway.  It’s what I do.

 

“Okay,” I soothe, stroking Kerry’s hair.  She’s pale and almost clammy.  That scares me a little.  The stairs out front were pretty killer, and we didn’t come close to making it all the way to her bedroom.  The den was closer, so she collapsed there instead.  “What can I get you?  Meds?” I ask, my hand still stroking her face.  She doesn’t reply, her eyes closed, focused on bringing her breathing back under control.  I’m surprised when a tear appears on her cheek, and I just now realize that her lashes are damp.  Tenderness wells within me, and I cup her face in both hands, thumbs brushing away tears.  “Hey,” I murmur.  “It’s okay.”  That seems to make the tears come faster, and I lower myself to the couch beside her and slip my arms around her shoulders.  She turns into me, hiding her face, and I reach up to run my fingers through her hair, trying to calm her.

Tears make me uncomfortable – I hate to cry, and I never know what to say to someone else.  So I don’t say anything, just sit with her, rubbing her arm and stroking her hair until she quiets.  Not that she ever got any louder than an occasional sniffle.  Nothing like the last time I held her as she cried.  I shudder as I think of the raw pain of that day.  I wonder if this is the home she shared with Sandy or if she’s moved since then.  I know it’s not where they were living two years ago – when she lost the baby – but they could have moved since then.

When she’s stopped crying, I crane my neck, trying to look her in the eye.  “Are you hungry at all?”

“Not really,” she sighs.  I glance at my watch.

“It’s past time for your meds.  I guess if you took them with milk or something.  Do you have milk?”  She’s quiet for a moment, tensing against me a little.

“Can…could we just stay here for a bit?”  Her voice is small and uncertain.  “It’s not bothering me right now.”  I lean my head against her, closing my eyes as my heart clenches.

“Sure.  Just let me know, okay?”  I trust her to know her limits, and I’m not one to begrudge her a little comfort.  She nods and I squeeze her.  I want to ask her how she’s feeling, but I doubt she’s eager to discuss her crying spell, so I don’t.

She’s so quiet and still against me that I’m beginning to wonder if she’s fallen asleep when she stirs and lets me know that her hip is hurting.  We untangle ourselves, and I feel a slight chill as I retrieve her Vicodin and a glass of milk.  It’s not that it’s cold inside, just that she was warm and I miss the physical contact.  She insists that after half a life of practically living off of prescription strength ibuprofen each winter, it’s unlikely that a single Vicodin will bother her, but she drinks the milk anyway.

We order Chinese takeout for dinner – there’s no way she would feel up to cooking, and my cooking skills are subsistence level only – and I help her through a set of exercises while we wait.  As the drugs work through her system, she loosens up and gets a little more talkative.  It ends up being a very pleasant evening, chatting and watching TV.

I introduce her to the wonder that is late night Comedy Central – specifically Jon Stewart – whom she seems to like, smirking through most of the show – and Stephen Colbert – at whom she frowns until I assure her that he’s poking fun at the ultra-conservatives by playing a misinformed right-wing commentator.  Just in time to prove my point, he launches into one of his infamous rants and by the end, she’s laughing along with me.

By the time the Report is over, it’s eleven and I can tell she’s fading fast – it’s been a very tiring day, so I’m not surprised.  I get her to take another Vicodin and then help her crutch her way to her bedroom at last – I’m so glad that the master bedroom is on the first floor.  The trip is nowhere near as harrowing as getting inside, but it saps her remaining energy reserves.

I can tell that she feels like she’s being a bad host, but I assure her that I can get myself set up in the guest room just fine.  As it is, the room is ready for me – I have a feeling that Kerry is a ready for anything kind of person and it probably stays made up just in case.  It’s a full size bed with super soft cotton sheets, and despite the fact that I tend to be a night owl, it takes me very little time to fall asleep.

 

I groan and slap at my cell phone until the alarm shuts up.  Damn early shifts.  I am not a morning person.  I slip out of bed and traipse downstairs to the kitchen, where I make coffee, downing a mug before heading back upstairs for a quick shower.

Once I’m dressed, I peak into her room, grinning when I find that she’s still asleep, stretched out on her stomach.  Back in the kitchen, I pour myself a second cup of coffee, then track down a travel mug and fix another – luckily, I’ve made enough coffee runs to know how she likes it.  I feel weird about poking around in her purse, but I manage to find her cell phone with relative ease.  I silence it, then tiptoe back upstairs to her office, where I am pleased to find post-it notes readily available on the desk.  Back downstairs, I write her a quick note.

Gathering the post-it, coffee, Vicodin bottle, and her phone, I ease back into her room and quietly set them all on her bedside table.  I pause to watch her sleep.  She looks so peaceful.  I really want to reach down and stroke her hair, but I don’t know if she’s a light sleeper and I don’t want to wake her.  She should get as much sleep as possible.  So I settle for watching her for a few seconds more, then, not wanting to be late, gather my purse and head to work.

 

It takes me a moment to sense her eyes on me, and as I realize that she’s awake, I’m a little disappointed.  I’ve developed a little morning ritual – I’ve been working a lot of morning shifts lately.  Once I’m up and dressed, I make her a travel mug of coffee and write her a brief note.  Sometimes they are simple reminders of what’s going on that day, sometimes just silly nonsense.  I bring her coffee, phone, meds, and note to her room and deposit them where they’ll be within reach and then spend a moment watching her sleep before I leave for work.

Today, however, soft green eyes are watching me as I arrange her things on the table, and I’ve been robbed of those peaceful moments of watching her.  Still, having a conscious Kerry to say goodbye to isn’t anything to complain about.

I perch on the edge of the bed and, after so many days of wishing that I could, reach out to stroke her hair, pushing the bright red locks off of her forehead so I can see her eyes.

“Morning.”  She smiles.  “You’re up early this morning.”

“Mmmhmm,” she hums.  “Cut the dose again.”  She’s awake, but still a little sleepy.  I have a feeling she’ll nap a little longer once I’m gone.

“That’s good.”  The dosage cuts have been gradual, and she’s moving around easily enough that I don’t think she’s pushing herself too hard.  They say that doctors make the worst patients, and for the most part I think that’s true, but in this case, I think having this hip replacement be successful is so important to her that she’s toeing the line pretty closely.  She’s diligent with her exercises and has already greatly increased her range of motion.  I think her healing incision is keeping her from moving quite as much as her muscles and the new joint are ready for.  Luckily, her staples come out in a few days and that should free up her movement a bit more.

“Yeah.”  I rub her back, just between her shoulder blades, still amused by how warm she gets when she sleeps.

“I don’t want to go to work.  Wanna write me an excuse?”  She chuckles, her eyelids drooping a little.  I was right, she’s still tired.  Of course, I’ve also discovered that she’s a total pleasure hound, so I’m not surprised given that I’m rubbing her back.  “All right, I better get going.”  I lean down and kiss her temple and am overwhelmed by the sweet floral scent of her conditioner.  Now that she’s more mobile, she’s bathing every day.  The every few days thing was driving her crazy.  I know she can’t wait until she can shower again, but that’ll have to wait until her staples are out.

I linger, breathing her in, hoping I’m not obvious about it.  “I’ll see you later.”

“Mmmhmm.”  She’s drifting off to sleep again, and I smile as I slip from the room.

 

“I’m gonna miss you.”  Is that surprise I see on her face as she looks up from her dinner?  I’ve been staying with her for almost two weeks now.  Tomorrow she gets her staples out, and I’ll probably stay the night to make sure everything is okay, but then it’ll be time for me to go home.  Does she really not know how much she means to me?  Well, no, she doesn’t, of course, but I would hope she at least has some idea how I feel for her as a friend.  I know she tends to be insecure, so maybe she’s having a hard time believing that I enjoy her company as much as I do.  It’s a shame.

I reach across the table, resting my hand over hers.  I’m disappointed and a little hurt when her hand starts to pull away, but then her fingers are lacing between my own and she smiles.

“I’m gonna miss you too.  Thank you for waiting on me hand and foot.”  I laugh.

“Hand and foot?  Hardly.  Enjoying home cooked meals and being generally spoiled is more like it.  I just made a few cups of coffee here and there.”  She smirks and shakes her head.

“It was more than that and you know it.”  I shrug.  “I’ve enjoyed your company, Abby.  Thank you for everything.”  I nod and smooth my thumb over hers.  Her hands are soft.

“We should schedule dinner sometime.  I can’t cook, but I could at least buy you dinner.”

“I don’t mind cooking.”  That’s modest – she loves to cook, and I know it.  It’s obvious just watching her.  She moves around her kitchen with incredible grace, even on her crutch.  It’s the same in the ER – she’s just in her element.  It’s beautiful and amazing to watch.  Almost like a dance.  And she’s an amazing cook.  I haven’t eaten this well – ever, actually.

“I know, but I feel guilty taking advantage.  Maybe we could trade off?” I suggest.

“I can live with that.”  Our eyes meet and it’s so intense for a moment that my eyes dart away and I know I’m blushing.  Did she feel it too?

“Good,” I manage, hoping I haven’t totally freaked her out.  I glance up and find her watching me.  I grin and she blushes.  Kerry Weaver is blushing.  For some reason, that fascinates me.  I don’t think she’d appreciate me pointing it out, however, so I change the subject instead.

“Wanna watch a movie after dinner?”

“Sure.”  Finally letting go of her hand, I get up to refill my water glass.  I squeeze her shoulder as I pass behind her, then pause as I realize how tense she is.

“You okay?” I ask, squeezing again.  “You’re really tense.”

“Yeah.”  Her head drops forward a little, encouraging me to continue.  “I think I’m leaning on my crutch differently than I used to and it’s doing weird things to my back.”  I hum in acknowledgement and set down my glass to spend a few more moments working on the part of her back I can reach.

“I can fix that later,” I offer.  “If you want.”  Is that too forward?  Friends give each other back rubs, right?  She sighs as my hands release her, rolling her neck.

“I just may take you up on that.”

 

I’m glad that it’s dark and even more glad that she’s facing away from me – and with a movie to distract her.  If she were to get a clear look at my face right now, there’d be no mistaking how I feel about her, and it’s far from innocent.  With the intention of making things easier for me, she removed the loose button up shirt she had been wearing, revealing a plain white spaghetti strap tank top that looks so good on her it should be illegal.  The first thing I noticed is how muscular her arms are – both of them, not just her crutch arm.

Then she was settling herself in front of me, sitting in the space between my parted legs and all I can see is her back.  I’ve always found a woman’s back to be incredibly sexy.  I have no clue why, but I do, and hers is very nice.  About a third of her back is exposed, and I watch lithe, well-toned muscles as they move over her shoulder blades.

Swallowing hard, I bring my hands to her shoulders, finding her skin warm and soft and peppered with freckles – I love freckles.  Her muscles reluctantly relinquish their tension and I move down her back, feeling the ridge of each vertebra as I work along her spine.  She’s so thin.

I have no idea what’s happening on the television.  I can’t tear my eyes away from my hands against her back.  She hisses once as I find a particularly painful knot, but otherwise is thankfully silent.  I think that if she moaned or anything like that I would be unable to stop myself from doing something stupid like kissing her.

Dear god, I am in so much trouble.  I’m attracted to her, yes, but it’s more than that.  I think I’m falling in love with Kerry Weaver.

 

“No, you’ve at least got to let me treat you to one more dinner before you go.”  Kerry takes my coat and hangs it next to her own, then turns and crutches further into the house, expecting me to follow her.

“Well, if you’re sure,” I say, trailing off when I find that she has paused, glancing between the den and the hallway that leads to her bedroom.  She turns to look at me, a questioning, almost hopeful look on her face.  Did she ask me something that I didn’t hear?

“Would you help me with something?”

“What’s that?”  She hesitates, uncertain for some reason.

“I’d like to check my range of motion…now that the staples are out.”  And she needs help because the joint is still healing and an extra set of hands to help support her leg could mean the difference between a nice stretch and popping it out of socket.

“Sure.”  Looking relieved, she nods and leads the way to her bedroom.  Propping her crutch against the bedside table, she eases down onto the bed and lays back, both legs bent at the knee.  I squeeze her left knee, a little bony beneath my fingers.  “I’m gonna go slow because I do not want to have to reduce your hip.”  She smirks and nods.  “Let me know if I’m hurting you, okay?”  She nods again, her hand brushing my leg.

I bend over her – hospital beds are adjustable, designed to be the correct height.  Her bed is a little low, making it slightly awkward, but we’ll manage.  I slip my left hand under her left knee, my right resting on the outside of her hip.  She meets my eyes, a slight inclination of her head telling me that she’s ready, and I lift until her foot leaves the bed.  I have no clue what her range of motion was before the hip replacement, so I go slowly, waiting for that moment when she tenses in anticipation of pain.  Muscles bunch beneath my right hand and she grimaces, one hand gripping my forearm even as I pause.  I’ve barely gotten her knee half way to her chest, and I’m relatively certain she can go further than that.  “Relax, Kerry.  I’m not going to hurt you.”  She does her best to do just that, the grip of her hand loosening but remaining on my arm.  “Whole new hip in there,” I remind, watching her throat as she swallows and nods.  I wait until she is relaxed as she’s going to get, then ease her leg a little higher.

“Stop,” she says, her fingers pressing into my arm.  I freeze, my eyes flying to her face, looking for any sign of pain.  “The incision’s still a little tight,” she says by way of explanation.  “I don’t want to stress it too much.”  I nod in acceptance and ease her leg back down.  In the end, we made it about three quarters of the way up.  Not bad.

“Better?” I ask.

“Better,” she confirms.  “The joint could go further, I think, but I don’t want to push.”  That’s very sensible of her, very responsible.

“Okay.  Sideways?”

“Yeah.  Sideways was never much of a problem,” she adds.  “And up like we just did…it just wouldn’t go, but it didn’t hurt.  It was backwards that was the problem.”  So that will be the real test.  Moving her hip to the side, however, is where it is most susceptible to dislocating.  I’ll have to be careful.

“Does it hurt if I press?” I ask, my right hand pressing a little more firmly against her hip to better support the joint.

“No.  It’s okay.”  Content with that, I ease her knee to the side, parting her legs, getting her leg almost flush with the bed before she stops me.  Smiling at her, I return to center, rolling her hip.

“All right.  Ready for the big one?”  She draws a deep breath and nods.  It’s a bit uncertain, but she rolls over when I release her.  “Just relax and let me do the work, okay?  We’re not gonna push too far.”  She nods, her body still tense.  I reach for her hand, squeezing before returning my hands to her hip and knee.  After a lifetime of not being able to move this way, I expect that her muscles will be a bit resistant, so I don’t expect much.  I do hope, for her sake, that she will have at least a little mobility in this direction.  I think it might discourage her if she hasn’t.

I cup the back of her thigh, just above her knee, rubbing her hip until she relaxes, then pull her leg back toward me.  I don’t make it too far before I feel resistance and stop, but I can tell it’s atrophied muscles, not the joint itself.  With some physical therapy, that should improve.  When I lean back over to look into her face, I’m surprised to find tears on her cheeks and am instantly concerned.  “God, did I hurt you?  Why didn’t you say something?”  But she’s shaking her head, rolling onto her back to look up at me.  I cup her cheeks, brushing her tears away.  “What then?”

“I just…I’ve never been able to do that.  Ever.  I know it’s not much…”

“But it’s huge?” I finish, grinning as I sense her almost palpable joy.  She nods, sniffling.  I sit on the edge of the bed.  “Come here, you.”  I pull her up, wrapping her in a tight hug and rocking her.  “I’m so happy for you,” I murmur against her, feeling more than hearing her delighted chuckle.  I pull back, finding her cheeks a little red and still a bit tear stained, but her eyes are bright, sparkling.  In that moment, she is so beautiful and so very Kerry.

I don’t even realize I’ve kissed her until I’m already pulling back, taking in the shocked look on her face, the stiffness of her body in my arms.  Oh my god.  I kissed her.  I kissed Kerry Weaver.  I wasn’t supposed to do that.  Panic threads through me, a sinking sensation in my stomach.  What is it with me geeking out and kissing people?  “Oh god.”  She says nothing, her eyes still wide, her breath still caught in her throat.  Confusion is evident in her eyes – why did I kiss her?  Was it a spur of the moment friend thing or more than that?  So I do the only thing I can think to do – lean in and press my lips to hers again, determined to be aware this time.  It’s soft, not demanding, but lingering long enough to make it clear that it’s more than just a kiss between friends.

Her lips are so soft – I’ve always loved that about women, but this is a whole new level of soft.  For a long moment, she doesn’t move, rigid against me, then she sighs so softly.  Her hand is on the back of my neck, sliding into my hair, and her lips move against mine, kissing me back tentatively.  It’s heaven.  I could spend the rest of my life kissing her and be deliriously happy doing so.

It’s me who breaks the kiss, easing away and pressing my forehead to hers.  Our breath mingles between us while I try to find the courage to open my eyes.  Her hand slides lower, on my neck again, her fingers stroking, sending chills down my spine.

“Abby,” she murmurs, and I blink my eyes open, moving back so I can see her eyes.  I’m suddenly terrified of her reaction, half expecting her to kick me out of her house right this second.  “What are you doing?”

“Uh…kissing you?” I manage.  I resist the urge to say something snarky like ‘why, did I do it wrong?’  She rolls her eyes.

“Why?”  A hundred answers flit through my mind.  Because you’re wonderful.  I don’t know.  Because you’re beautiful.  Because I’m falling in love with you.  I didn’t mean to.  Because you smell good.  Because you’re so sweet to me.  Because you understand me.  In the end, I just shrug, unable to decide which one is truest.  I bite my lip.  “I mean…was it…just out of curiosity, or…”

“No,” I assure her, not wanting to trivialize it.  “I’m bisexual,” I blurt, then blush and add, “I’ve known that for a long time.”  Better to just get it out there, I guess.

“Oh.”  She fidgets, but I don’t let her go.  “How long?”

“Since college,” I reply.

“And recently?”  I quirk one corner of my lips up.

“Not really.  It just…hasn’t happened.”  I shrug again.  “I’m physically more attracted to women, but emotionally I’m more easily drawn to men.  Usually the ones with issues.”  She chuckles.  “I don’t know.  Susan knew.  So do Luka and Neela.  Carter’s just generally clueless, so…”  At that she laughs and murmurs her agreement.

“So you kissed me because…”  She leaves it hanging, waiting for me to finish the sentence.

“Because…it just felt right.  I just…I care about you a lot, Kerry.  The more than friends thing kind of snuck up on me,” I admit, “and I wasn’t planning on kissing you, but…I don’t regret it.”  Her eyes are studying my face, and I grow restless under the intense scrutiny.  “Tell me what you’re thinking,” I request.

“I…you surprised me.”  I chuckle.

“Well, you haven’t kicked me out yet, so I’m taking that as a good sign.”  Her smile is charming and a little bashful.

“Yeah.  I…I admit that I’ve felt very close to you lately.  I just…thought you were straight, so I tried not to consider any other possibilities.”  She shrugs, dipping her head.

“But…”  She blushes.

“But I wasn’t entirely successful.”  Relief spreads through me, and for the first time since I kissed her, I relax.  Kerry has feelings for me.  That gives me courage.

“Can I kiss you again?”  She nods almost imperceptibly, and I realize that her hand is still against the back of my neck as her fingers twitch.  I raise my own hand, cupping her cheek and pulling her in, closing my eyes as our lips meet.  It’s soft and sweet but a little more passionate than last time.  She shifts, pressing closer, her head tipping to the right, mouth opening against mine and she tastes so good and god this is the best kiss ever.  I turn to putty, sinking into her, shivering as I feel her fingers slide into my hair again.

Then she’s pulling back, and I’m disappointed, but sensation of her fingers smoothing tiny circles against the nape of my neck makes it easier to bear.  Her cheeks are flushed, her eyes lidded, and it’s all I can do not to lean in and kiss her again.  “God, Kerry…”

“I guess my gaydar needs a checkup,” she murmurs, leaning in to kiss me again as I laugh.

 

“Hey, you.”  I can’t help but grin as she leans down to kiss me before settling in front of me, snuggling back against me.  I wrap my arms around her waist and lean back into the corner of the couch.  “So how was the first post-surgery shower?”

“Heavenly.”  I chuckle and brush her hair away from her neck, replacing it with my lips.  Her skin has that damp, freshly showered feel, and her hair is cool against my cheek.  She smells incredible.  What did I do before I could cuddle her like this?

We’re quiet for a long while – Kerry distracted by the television; me lost in my own thoughts.  I didn’t mean to kiss her earlier, but I’m glad I did.  Otherwise, I may never have known that she feels the same way and we might never have…what?  I frown.  We never officially decided anything.  Is this a relationship?  I mean, she is snuggling with me.  That’s a couple-y thing.  But of the same token, we kissed and never talked about what it was going to become, if anything.  And she never actually told me how she feels about me.  ‘Not entirely successful at not considering other possibilities’ – what the hell does that mean, anyway?  I’m insecure, I know this, but I don’t think I’m being irrational here.

“Kerry?”

“Hmm?”  I sigh against her shoulder, closing my eyes as I pray that I’m not about to screw this up.

“Can we talk for a sec?”  Her attention is suddenly focused on me – I can feel it in her body.  Her hand rubs my fingers where they rest on her stomach.

“Sure.”

“I just…you never really told me…how you feel.”  I bury my nose against her neck, feeling tears prick my eyes for reasons I don’t even understand.  I think I’m just afraid of losing her, even though she’s not really mine to lose.

“Hey.”  She shifts, struggling out of my arms and turning around.  “Abby.”  Warm fingers under my chin lift until I’m looking into her eyes.  “Honey, I’m sorry.  I thought you knew…when I kissed you back.”  She gives me a sad smile.  “I’m not so good at this part, I’m afraid.”

“So…you…you do want to be with me?” I ask.

“I’d like to see where this could go,” she affirms.  “If you’re sure you’re up for it.”  I grin and nod.

“Of course I am.”

“I’m not an easy person to be with.”

“Neither am I.”

“And…work is going to be tricky.  I’m your boss.”  I roll my eyes.

“More like my boss’s boss’s…boss.”  She chuckles and kisses me.  “Yes, Dr. Weaver,” I quip.  “Whatever you say, Dr. Weaver.”  She chuckles again.  “I promise I’ll still respect you at work.  I don’t care.”

“I don’t either, but some people will.”  She leans her forehead against mine and sighs.  She smells minty.  Toothpaste.  “I’m through hiding.  I can’t do that anymore.  This probably isn’t something we should go announcing at County, but I don’t want to deny it.  Are you going to be okay with that?”

“Mmmhmm.  I don’t give a damn what anyone thinks.  I think you know me well enough to know that.  And I don’t think it’s something we need to announce either.  It’s nobody’s business, but Neela will probably pick up on it sooner or later.  Luka, too.  And I’ll tell them if they ask.”  She nods once, her nose brushing mine as she does.  It’s hard to focus on her eyes at this distance, but I continue to try.

“Okay.”  She kisses my cheek.  “I need to sit down again.”  I nod, releasing her waist and allowing her to turn around, wrapping her back up as she settles against me.

“So…what now?”

“Dinner?”  I can hear the grin in her voice and roll my eyes.

“Smart ass.”  She chuckles.

“Seriously, though – are you hungry?  Because we can talk while I cook.”

“I could eat,” I allow.  “Are you sure you feel like cooking?

“Absolutely.  Come on.”  She eases off the couch and I resist the urge to steady her until she has her crutch.  “Where do you want this to go?” she asks, returning to my question but not answering it.  I shrug, trying not to stare as she bends over, rummaging through the refrigerator.

“I don’t know.  I just…I’m like the queen of dysfunctional relationships and I don’t want it to be that way.”  I lean against the counter, chin in my hands, my eyes following her around the room.

“I think it’s mostly a matter of communication.  It’s not necessarily my strong point, but I’m better than I used to be.”  She turns to glance at me.  “I’m sure you find that shocking.”  I just shake my head.  I feel like she’s pretty straightforward.  Maybe it’s harder for her in a personal relationship.

I push off the counter, approaching her.  She’s chopping vegetables, and I step up behind her, resting my hands on her hips.  “Hi,” she murmurs, glancing over her shoulder at me.

“Hi.  Need any help?”

“No, it’s fine.”  She reaches back, drawing one arm around her waist, silently letting me know that I can stay here.

“Where do you want this to go?” I ask, watching her hands, my chin resting on her shoulder.  She’s silent for a moment, the sound of her knife against the cutting board filling the room.

“I want…to take this slow and see what our options are.  Just spend some time together, maybe go out some.”

“Like actual dating type stuff?”

“Mmmhmm.”  I grin, looking forward to finding things we have in common.  Suddenly I’m feeling so much better about where we are.  I’m not deluded – it’s only been a year since Sandy died, so I don’t expect her to want to jump right into a serious relationship.  Truthfully, I’ve never had a truly healthy relationship, so taking things slow will be good for me anyway.

“Me too.”

 

“Hey.”  Oh god, he’s moping.  I take a deep breath and turn to face Luka.  He’s leaning against the door to the drug lockup, watching me take inventory.

“Hey.”  I turn back to my clipboard, hoping he doesn’t want to talk.  Maybe he’s just here to grab some meds.  This is a hospital, after all.

“I stopped by your place last night.”  Or not…

“Yeah…I wasn’t home.”  Don’t blush, I tell myself firmly.

“No.  I’ve been trying to call you, but you never pick up.”  Why he didn’t bother calling my cell, I don’t know.  He always does that, and it drives me crazy.  Maybe it’s some sort of control thing – if he can reach me at home, he knows exactly where I am.

“I haven’t been home much lately.”

“Where have you been?  Is everything okay?”  That’s none of his business, but I can tell that he’s worried.  I force myself not to blush as I think of where I was last night.

“Yeah, I’m fine.  I’ve been staying with Kerry, helping her out after her surgery.”  He raises an eyebrow.  He wants to ask, I can see it in his face, but he doesn’t.  Luka is kind that way.  “It’s a rough recovery and I just didn’t want her to be alone.”  I shrug.  “She’s my friend.”

“That’s fine.”  Like he has any say.  “Sometime though…can we talk?”  I sigh, giving up on inventory for a moment, wrapping my arms around my clipboard as I turn to face him.  I knew I’d have to have this discussion sooner or later – I was just hoping for later.

“Luka, you’re a great guy, but I just can’t do this anymore.  The back and forth all the time.  I think we should just stay friends.”  I can tell he’s disappointed, but doesn’t seem altogether surprised.

“If you think that’s best.”

“I do.”  Even if Kerry weren’t in the picture, I know that this on again off again thing isn’t healthy.  Besides, Kerry’s only barely in the picture.  I spent the night in her bed, but we didn’t sleep together.  She wants to wait until she’s ‘more herself’ – her way of saying she wants to wait until her hip has healed at least a little more.  Which is fine.  I may need a cold shower or two before then, but being able to snuggle up with her under the covers is very nice.  She very much likes to cuddle, which meant that I was nice and warm all night long.  “I’m sorry, Luka.”

“No.  I…I understand.”  I’m not sure he does, not really, but then he’s disappearing around the corner and I’m alone again.

 

“I’m not bothering you hanging around all the time, am I?”  Kerry tilts her head, looking up at me.  We’re in front of the TV again, and a commercial break provides the opportunity to check in with her.  We had originally planned on my going home four days ago, and yet I’m still here.  She smiles and I stroke her hair.  I’m slumped against the arm of the couch and Kerry’s head is resting on my stomach.  It’s remarkably comfortable

“Course not.”  She pats my side.  “But don’t feel like you can’t go back to your place.”

“Are you coming with me?”  She chuckles and puts her head back down.

“If you want.  But I meant if you need some time to yourself.”

“I know.”  I reach down, rubbing her back.  “I’m good, I just wanted to make sure that you were.”

“Yeah.  It’s nice having someone around.”  That makes my heart ache, but I have to agree.  I don’t like people much, yet I crave physical contact and intimacy.  It’s a curse.  If I’m lucky, I find someone I like to be around who is also willing to cuddle with me.  It was a pleasant surprise to discover that Kerry loves to cuddle, but I’m not complaining.

“It is,” I say, sifting my fingers through her hair again.

“That feels nice,” she murmurs, her fingers hooking in my belt loop.  I do it again, letting the fine strands run through my fingers.  I can’t remember feeling this at home in a long time.  Maybe ever.

I’m almost surprised when she speaks up again.  “Abby?”

“Yeah?”

“Uh…tomorrow…Margot wants me to try walking without the crutch.  I thought you might like to come along.”  Wow.  It seems soon, but I guess it has been almost three weeks.  Normally, I drop her off for her physical therapy and hang around in the waiting room until she’s finished.  I’m touched that she wants me there for the first time she walks unaided.

“Wow…I…do you want me there?”

“I asked, didn’t I?”  I laugh.

“You did,” I allow.  “I’d love to be there”

 

She’s nervous.  She spent the entire car ride wringing her hands and chewing on her lip.  Then, in the waiting room, she sat there, still worrying her lip, her good leg bouncing with nervous energy until I reached over and stopped her.  She gave me a sheepish grin and twined her fingers with mine, which was nice until the tech called her name and she nearly cut off my circulation clutching at me.  She had to release me to grip her crutch, but I moved to the other side, keeping my hand against her lower back as we moved into the back room.

Now, watching her from the other side of the room, I can still see the anxiety in her face.  Anxiety that increases as her physical therapist – Margot, I remember – relieves her of her crutch.  The bars on either side of her will catch her if she stumbles.  This set is short – only about five feet – and I stand at the other end, facing her.  I send her an encouraging smile, which she tries her best to return, but it looks more like a grimace than a smile.

“Okay, Kerry, I want you to walk with your hands out over the bars.”  Margot stands beside her, just outside the bars, and demonstrates, her hands held out at waist height on either side of her.  “It’ll help you balance and you’ll be ready to catch yourself if necessary.  Just take small steps and don’t rush yourself.”  Kerry nods and draws a deep breath, holding it as she stares down at her feet as if she can will them to move.  Finally, her left foot lifts, moving forward a few inches and pressing to the floor again.  I don’t realize I’m holding my own breath until she’s completed the step and I let it out in a rush.  Her eyes look up, meeting mine, and she’s beaming, taking another step.

“You’re doing great, Kerry.”  Her smile widens, and her steps grow a little more certain, though her palms still skim the smooth metal bars as she moves closer.  She’s steady, and it seems like no time at all before she’s falling into my arms, laughing.  “That was so great,” I breathe, leaning my head against hers.  “Looks like you’ve been promoted.”  She laughs in delight and nods against my shoulder.  Margot approaches, crutch in hand, and offers congratulations and a hug of her own.

In the end, Kerry makes a few more crutch free trips, growing more confident each time.  Then Margot puts her through her paces, helping her complete the exercises I’m used to, but with resistance.  This leaves her the tired and sweaty Kerry that I’m used to driving home.  I am pleased to see that she’s gained even more mobility in the past few days, especially in her backwards range.  Margot must have given her an exercise or two to strengthen and loosen those muscles.

She’s not nervous anymore.  She spends the car ride home holding my hand.

 

“What are you doing?”  She slipped into bed next to me a minute ago, but unlike most nights, has stayed a short distance away, watching me.

“Nothing.”  She shifts, the sheets rustling as she presses against me.  Her arm slips over my waist, her left leg easing between my own and her lips press against mine.  God, I love the way she feels against me.  I groan, my hand cupping the back of her head and deepening the kiss.  “Abby,” she murmurs against my lips.  I sigh, kissing her until the taste of toothpaste morphs into the sweet taste that is all Kerry.

I’m getting worked up, and beginning to think I should back off before I’m too turned on to sleep.  Then her hand is creeping lower, finding the hem of my t-shirt and slipping beneath it, her palm smoothing up my spine.  I shiver and that must encourage her, because her hand moves to my side, trailing up, brushing the side of my breast.

“God,” I breathe, feeling her smile into the kiss.  She eases away, meeting my eyes, her hand stilling against my side.

“Is this okay?” she asks.  “Are you ready?”  I lean in for a deep kiss, my hand against her cheek.

“Very,” I murmur when we part.  “Are you?”  I assume that since she initiated it, she must be, but I have to check.

“Yes.”  Smiling, she trails her fingers along my ribcage, this time tracing the underside of my breast so lightly that it tickles.  She chuckles as I squirm, her touch growing bolder, cupping the soft flesh.

“I’m suddenly feeling overdressed.”

“We can fix that.”  I sit up enough to tug my shirt over my head, our arms tangling as she tries to help.  Tossing it away, I reach beneath the covers and slide my shorts down and off, sending them the same direction as my shirt.  Now naked, I focus my attentions on her.  Her eyes widen a little.  She’s been watching me, and I think I caught her a little off guard.

My fingers find the narrow band of skin between her tank top and her pajama pants with teasing strokes.  Her skin is softer than I imagined.  When she doesn’t shy away, I slide my hand higher, palming her stomach and smoothing slow circles.  The muscles twitch and I firm my touch, not wanting to tickle.

I shift, straddling her thighs, grinning as my second hand slides beneath the well-worn cotton of her shirt and pushes it up.  She pushes off the bed, allowing me to draw the tank top up and off.  The moonlight against her alabaster skin is almost too much, and I pull her in for a kiss.  Her hand slides up my midline, resting over my sternum as we kiss.  I take the opportunity to begin my exploration, tracing the muscles in her arms.

It is many long moments before I break the kiss, pushing her back down to the bed.  Her hair fans out on the pillow and she looks so beautiful smiling up at me that for a moment I think my heart might burst.  But there are more pressing matters, like getting the rest of her clothes off.

It’s a bit awkward – I worry about hurting her hip as she pushes off the bed to make things easier on me, but she doesn’t so much as grimace, so I guess she’s all right.  Then she’s nude and I’m not entirely certain I won’t die of happiness right here.  She’s so very beautiful, and I sink into her, feeling her wrap around me, meeting my lips.

She arches against me and I groan.  She’s already wet; I can feel her against my stomach, and the reality of the situation comes crashing down on me.  I’m about to sleep with Kerry Weaver.  I pull back, smoothing her hair away from her face and meeting her eyes for a long moment.  “What’s wrong?” she asks.  I smile and shake my head.

“Nothing.  I just…I’m savoring the moment.”  She gets this sweet, sappy look on her face, then her hands on my waist tug, urging me to come closer.

“Less savoring, more kissing.”  I laugh, lowering myself, my elbows on either side of her head, and kiss her with more passion than either of us has allowed thus far.

We don’t talk much, but that’s not to say that we don’t communicate – gasps, sighs, quiet moans, and that little noise Kerry makes in the back of her throat that’s not quite a whimper – I particularly like that one.

I lose my ability to concentrate when her hand slips between my thighs.  Her touch is maybe a bit slower than I’d prefer, but devastatingly skilled, making my mind blot out everything but the pleasure.

I hiss in surprise as two fingers curl into my body, arching in encouragement.  I feel the bedclothes slip away, puddling on her legs behind me.  Not that pretty, not that special… flits through my mind and I twist, searching blindly, trying to pull the covers back up around me, but her touch never lets up, inhibiting my ability to function.  “Don’t.”  Her hand is on my cheek, pulling me back to her, my face over hers.  “Let me see you.”

“Kerry…”

“You’re beautiful,” she whispers, pressing the tiniest kisses against my jaw.  “So beautiful, Abby.”  I can’t bear looking in her eyes.  It’s too much, too intense, too…real, so I close my eyes, dropping my head almost to her shoulder, my lips against her ear.  My right hand slips beneath her head, tangling in her hair and holding her close to me as I rock with the rhythm she creates.

Her free hand is moving against my back now, sometimes smoothing her palm up and down, sometimes teasing with her fingertips, sometimes scratching with her nails.  I can hear her soft whispers in my ear, but I’ve lost the ability to translate them into sensible English.

I’m already right there, so very close, and I can’t believe how quickly.  The pleasure is white hot behind my eyelids.  The gathering starts low in my belly, coiling before blooming outward, arcing up my spine to impact at the base of my skull.  She stays with me, drawing it out until my body can’t take anymore.  The shudders slow to a stop and I’m left exhausted, sweaty, and panting against her.

Tears prick my eyes and I swallow convulsively.  I absolutely will not cry.  Instead, I push up, finding her lips and kissing her with everything I have until all I can taste is her, until she arches against me with want.

My hands travel her body, mapping out new territory, desperate to show her how much she means to me.  She’s so slim, and I’m amazed at how her gentle curves fit my hands – as if we were made for each other.  It’s so good – I’m amazed at how much pleasure it gives me to make her feel incredible.

I want to know every inch of her body, the tastes and smells and the way her skin feels against me, but first times almost never satisfy that urge.  And sure enough, by the time her breath is coming in quick bursts, telling me that she’s close, I wish I had longer to explore her.  Then she’s coming apart in my arms, pulsing around my fingers, and I smile against her throat as she arches.

There will be second times, third times – other opportunities for me to try to slake my thirst for intimate knowledge of her lithe body, but right now I just want to hold her.  A fierce protective streak rises within me and I turn us, easing us onto our sides and cradling her against me, tangling our legs.

Lazy kisses and languid caresses occupy us until heartbeats and breathing return to normal.  This time she doesn’t protest when I draw the blankets back up around us, preventing the night air from chilling the fine sheen of sweat covering our bodies.

She curls into my embrace, one hand drawing idle patterns against my skin, letting me know that she’s still awake.  After a time, soft kisses begin to land against my throat and I smile, stroking her hair.  I want so much to tell her that I love her, but I’m also so afraid of scaring her away.  I pull back just enough to see her eyes, scooting down until our faces are level on the pillow.  My hand smooths up and down her arm as I gaze at her, trying to convey the feelings I’m too frightened to voice.

There’s a gentle smile on her lips as she meets my eyes, and it widens as she reaches for my hand, stopping its motion and bringing it to her lips, kissing my knuckles.  “You okay?” she murmurs, and I laugh.

“Better than okay.  Weren’t you there?”  Her response is not so much a laugh as a soft exhalation.

“Just checking.”  A tentative fingertip traces my cheekbone and she continues to eye me.  I reach for her, feeling her blissful sigh as she settles against me.  Those three words are on the tip of my tongue for the second time in as many minutes.  It’s the only thing I can think to say, so I say nothing, squeezing her instead.

“Mmm…I think I’m falling asleep on you,” she murmurs after a long, comfortable silence.  I’m starting to doze as well, so I rub her shoulders.

“’s okay,” I slur.  “Me too.”  She grows heavier against me and I relax into her, letting myself slip away.  There’s a lot to deal with, emotional issues to face – for both of us – but they’ll still be there in the morning.

 

We’re still tangled together when I wake.  I really have to pee.  I extract myself, brushing her bangs back from her face before making a quick trip to the restroom.  When I return, she’s shifted more onto her stomach, more of her weight on her good right hip than her still healing left one.  I slip back into bed from the opposite side this time and scoot until I’m pressed against her side.  It feels early, but the sun is up in any case, and I can see the generous spattering of freckles across the slender shoulders.  Unable to resist the draw of the soft skin and lean muscles, I reach out, tracing gentle lines from one freckle to another.

“What’re you doin’?”  Her voice is still sleepy and I smile.  It’s cute.

“Connecting the dots.”

“Bored?”

“No,” I chuckle.  “I just love your freckles.”

“Hmm.  Lucky me.”  My palm joins my fingertips, feeling the warmth of her, the soft, slow breaths she takes, the subtle musculature.  I think I’m the lucky one.  Sighing, I lean in, pressing a lingering kiss between her shoulder blades before draping myself against her back.  This is so peaceful, and I’m so glad.  Mornings after can be so awkward – I’ve had some bad ones.  Mostly when I was still drinking – nothing like waking up next to someone realizing that you have no idea who they are, what you did with them, or where you are.  Try explaining your way out of that one gracefully.

Still, even sober, it can be weird.  Luckily, we’ve spent several nights in the same bed, woken together, kissed good morning, gotten past the embarrassment of morning breath and morning hair.  I already know that if she can sleep in, she likes to linger in bed after she wakes.  I know that she’s a light sleeper when she’s well rested – which is why she woke as I touched her back – but can easily drift back to sleep.

There’s also the comfort of knowing that we both very much wanted this.  No awkward slipping away so you don’t have to face each other, no ‘here’s your hat, what’s your rush?’ dance, no wondering if ‘I’ll call you’ really means ‘you’ll never see or hear from me again’.  This time around, it’s almost familiar, and that makes it easy.  That has to be a good sign, right?

“Come back over here,” she requests, reaching back to rub my hip.  I crawl over her, settling down so we’re face to face again.

“Hi.”

“Hi,” she replies, smiling and brushing my hair behind my shoulder.  “Thank you.  I think it’ll be a while yet before I can be on that side.”

“It’s fine.”  I slide my hand down, rubbing her left hip, tracing the raised scar, which I know without looking is still angry and red.  Soon it will begin to fade to pink and eventually white.  Will I still be around to see that?  “How’s it feeling?”

“Fine.”  She moves closer, easing on top of me, pressing me into the mattress.  The entire length of her is so soft, skin sliding against mine.  She kisses the corner of my lips.  I smirk.  “Now…come let me make you breakfast.”

 

Kerry should come with her own personal NC-17 rating.  Or a warning label.  Something along the lines of Warning: Unexpected sexiness may occur.  Seriously, if you’d ever told me that I would find the sight of someone cooking so sexy that I wanted to rip her clothes off and take her right there, I’d have laughed.  I’d have told you that cooking isn’t sexy, and certainly not that sexy.  I’d have told you to go have fun with your fetish, I’m not interested, thank you very much.

And, really, cooking isn’t sexy.  It’s not the cooking that’s sexy, it’s the fact that it’s Kerry cooking.  I’ve noticed a definite trend in that direction.  I watch her doing the most mundane, every day things, and suddenly I want her with an all-engulfing hunger.  I think it has something to do with her hands – hands that do such incredible things to my body.  Not to detract from the rest of her – because, really, I’m attracted to every part of her, from the sparkle of her eyes when she’s happy to the fine bones of her wrists to the way her toes curl when she stretches – but it’s usually her hands that capture my interest and the rest of her that holds it.

Kerry can be very self-conscious, so I quickly learned to disguise my time spent watching her, at least until she’s absorbed enough in whatever she’s doing not to notice that I’m staring.  Most nights, she insists on cooking, so I’ve become a master at this.  Tonight, she announced that she was craving pasta primavera and set about chopping massive amounts of vegetables – is she cooking for two or for six?  As usual, I tracked down a magazine and settled at the counter to keep her company.  She gets so deep in concentration that it’s usually not worth trying to have a conversation with her, but I like her to know that I’m there.  It makes me feel a little less like I’m taking advantage of her.

Besides, once she gets in her groove, I can watch her as she moves about, graceful as a dancer.  Sometimes she hums – never anything I recognize, just her own personal internal soundtrack.  She has a nice voice – not spectacular, but nice – and I love to listen.  Anytime the humming starts, I know I can stop pretending to be interested in whatever catalog or magazine I’ve grabbed and watch her freely.

She’s humming now, so softly that I can barely hear, and I smile, leaning my head in my hand as I study her back.  She’s moving to the beat of the unknown tune – the sound of the knife against the cutting board, the inching of her fingers along the squash she’s chopping, her steps as she moves from the sink to the cutting board to the stove and back.

I know a lot of people who’d be surprised to see this, would be surprised by how graceful she is, but it’s only because they’ve never taken the time to look.  I’ve always seen that underlying grace.  Watching her move about the ER – until recently, that was my only frame of reference – I can see how every movement flows, crutch and all.  It’s just another case of her being totally in her element, utterly comfortable with what she’s doing.  It’s confidence.  Only when she’s uncertain or aware of being watched do her movements grow stilted and awkward – and that has nothing to do with her disability.  I like that side of her too, because it shows that, as strong as she is, there is still a part of her that is vulnerable and insecure, just like the rest of us.

I blink, surprised to realize that the pile of vegetables has disappeared, already chopped and ready to be sautéed.  When did that happen?  A slow smile spreads over my face and I slip off of my stool, sneaking up behind her.  She jumps a little as my arms slide around her waist – I made sure she wasn’t holding a knife for that reason.  I support her weight as she leans back into me – it’s nice to know that she trusts me – and my lips fall to her shoulder.

She pivots in my arms, a knowing smile on her lips as she meets my imploring kiss, twining her arms around my neck.  I push her back against the counter and spend a few moments getting lost in her.  Her lips are soft and yielding under mine, her hand against my face keeping me close, drawing it out.  Have I mentioned how much I love kissing her?  She approaches it with the same determination she approaches everything else, striving for absolute perfection.  It’s intense.

Then she makes that soft sound in the back of her throat – almost a whimper, but deeper.  It’s a sound of letting go, telling me without fail that she’s aroused.  I can’t even begin to describe what it does to me.  It doesn’t help that she also makes that sound just as she climaxes, as if her breath gets caught in her throat.

She moans against me and eases away, cupping my face and smiling at me.  Her lips are a little red from kissing and I can feel how quick her breathing has become as her chest expands against mine.  Her eyes slide over my face and she leaves one last gentle kiss against my lips before turning back around, firing up the gas burner to finish our dinner.  Her hair is up, leaving the delicate curve of her neck exposed to me.  I nuzzle the soft skin, the superfine hairs tickling my face.

“You drive me crazy,” I breathe against her, feeling a tiny tremor run through her body.  The back of her neck is so sensitive, but I resist the urge to linger.  I don’t doubt at all that I could interrupt her dinner preparations, but there’s nothing wrong with a long, slow burn.  She’s worth the wait.

 

She doesn’t even acknowledge me as I crawl over the arm of the couch and creep toward her.  If I hadn’t heard her laugh at my teasing ‘honey, I’m home’ when I walked in the door, I’d think she hadn’t heard me come in.  As I reach her, however, her legs part, heels sliding down the couch to make room for me to settle between her thighs.  Then she’s using a bookmark to mark her page – Kerry’s so gentle with her books; I tear them up – and twisting to set it behind her.  Grinning, I reach out to pluck her glasses from her face, folding them and setting them atop her book.

“Hi,” I murmur as her arms slide around me.

“Hi.”  Her palm smooths over my stomach before joining its counterpart on my back.  “I missed you.”  That makes me smile.

“I bet I missed you more.”  Jesus, what am I, five?  Still, her gentle smile says that she’s willing to indulge my inner child for a bit.

“Mmm…I don’t know.  You had scores of sick people to distract you.  I just had my own company.”  I steal a kiss, then slide down to rest my head on her stomach, gratified to feel her fingers thread through my hair.

“Scores is probably…a little over the top.”

“Slow day at the office?”

“Something like that,” I chuckle, raising my head to rest my chin on her abdomen – that way I can see her face.  “Plus I think you underestimate your ability to entertain me.”  Oh, how I love that soft look.  Then she sticks her tongue out at me and I murmur, “Promise?” just to see her blush.  Works every time.

I push up until we’re face to face and lean in, pressing my forehead to hers.  I can’t focus on her eyes at this distance, can’t make out the deep golden flecks that make them look almost hazel sometimes, but it’s okay.  “Can I tell you something without you freaking out on me?”  Her hand skims my belly.

“Abby, are you pregnant?” she deadpans, and I crack up, kissing her, glad that she brought a little levity to the moment, even though she doesn’t know what I’m about to say.

“Yes, Dr. Weaver, super human.  You knocked me up.  Congratulations.”  She chuckles, tipping her head up to kiss me.

“No freaking out, I promise.  What did you want to tell me?”  My shirt has ridden up – I know because her fingers are very distracting as they brush over the exposed skin.

I can’t believe I’m about to do this, and I still against her, forehead to forehead, her breath against my face and mine against hers, calm and serene, and that’s how I know that it’s right.

“I love you,” I breathe.  Her hand pauses against my skin and I can’t see her soft smile, but I feel the way her forehead crinkles beneath my own and know it’s there.

“I love you too.”  And then she’s kissing me and the world couldn’t be more right.

 

“Do you want me to drop you off so you don’t have to walk?”  I glance at her just in time to see her shake her head.  She’s nervous again.

“Unless you’d rather?” she murmurs, her voice quiet.  Unless I’d rather not be seen with her is what she means.  I will admit that I’m a little nervous, but I’m in no way ashamed of this.  In all likelihood, no one will even see us, but I don’t care if they do.  They can think and say what they please.  Besides, it’s not like we’re going to be walking in holding hands or anything.  Just showing up together isn’t suspicious – especially not when several people already know that I’ve stayed with her to help after her surgery.

“No.”  I reach over, blindly untangling one of her hands from where she’s wringing them and holding it in my own.  I squeeze and glance over long enough to send her a reassuring smile.  Her return smile is a little weary, but she squeezes my hand and nods before falling silent again.

She’s finally returning to the hospital.  She’s still not supposed to drive for about another week, so until then, she’s working when I work, just to make it easier on both of us.  After that, it’s back to the El for me unless our schedules happen to mesh.  I don’t mind – I’ve been doing it for years – but for now, it’ll be nice to come and go with her.  I know she’s glad to be getting out of the house.

Long periods of activity are still hard on her – her hip starts aching, even though she tries to ignore it and rarely admits it.  Luckily, she’ll mostly be doing paperwork – it’ll be awhile yet before she tries to get back in the habit of picking up sporadic ER shifts to ‘keep her skills up’ – I think she just misses it.

I ease into a parking space and turn off the car, unhooking my seat belt and turning toward her.  “Ready?”  It’s a moment before she nods, and I squeeze her hand tighter.

“Ready.”  Releasing her hand, I cup her cheek, thumb stroking, just gazing at her with all the love I can muster.  I lean in, moving slowly to give her every chance to pull back, but in the end she meets me half way, kissing me so softly.  Kissing in the front seat of a car is awkward, but, as with so many other things, it’s more than worth it.

She takes my hand off of her face, squeezing it, looking much less nervous now.  With a resolute nod, she reaches for the door handle and slips out of the car.  I follow her lead, waiting for her as she gets her crutch situated.  She won’t need it much longer and I think that on some level, I’m going to miss it.  Mostly just because it’s so familiar – she was right, it is a part of her.  I’ll miss knowing she’s in the ER before I even see her by hearing her unique gait.  Still, I’m proud of her and happy for her for taking this step.  I noticed a long time ago that she leans on her crutch a lot more when she’s tired or hurting, and she’s been leaning on it pretty heavily lately.  Her voice calls me back to the present.  “If you catch a break and want to grab a bite to eat, you know where I’ll be.”

“Buried under the pile of paperwork that has taken over your office?”

“That’s the place.”  Her hand smacks my arm.  “Hey, do me a favor, huh?”

“What’s that?”

“Don’t kiss me in the middle of the ER, okay?”  I laugh, wishing I could take her hand, but that probably isn’t a good idea this close to the hospital.  Not because she’s a woman, not even because she’s the formidable Kerry Weaver, but because she’s my boss.  I feel certain that people will find out eventually, but I’d rather not rock the boat for now and I know that she doesn’t want to either.

“Deal.”

 

I sigh, blinking in the early morning light.  I don’t know why I’ve been waking up early lately, but I don’t mind.  I can almost always go back to sleep, and even if I can’t,  it gives me a chance to cuddle with Kerry.  I glance down at her where she’s resting against me, her head on my chest.  She looks so very peaceful like this.  I brush her hair behind her ear.  My eyes trace the slope of her nose, the angle of her prominent cheekbones – those beautiful, beautiful cheekbones that I love, the delicate shell of her ear, the softness of her lips.

I want to trace her features but I don’t want to wake her, so I put my head back down, staring up at the ceiling.  I am so in love with this woman in my arms.  It scares me.  Terrifies me.  I’ve been waiting for the other shoe to drop, waiting for her to realize what a nutcase I am and tell me to take a hike.  We said we were going to take it slow, but we really haven’t.  I mean, I’ve practically moved in with her.  There was no official ‘have some closet space’ discussion.  I guess she got tired of me lugging my overnight bag back and forth – I came home from work one day to find my clothes washed and hanging in her closet.

We’ve barely been together a month, but I haven’t been back to my place for longer than it took to grab clothes in almost two months.

It is encouraging that we’re getting along so well.  After a point, Luka used to drive me crazy and I’d go home for a few days.  That’s not to say that everything’s perfect.  We do fight every now and again.  Little things mostly – Kerry doesn’t like that I leave my shoes lying around or my tendency to throw my jacket over a chair instead of hanging it up.  It’s habit, so I still forget sometimes, but I’m trying.

The only big one we’ve had – and it wasn’t really a fight – was over alcohol.  She asked me to move a few things down into the basement for her, which led to the discovery that she has a rather impressive wine collection.  I’m not at all surprised that Kerry is a wine aficionado – it’s the kind of refined that is right up her alley, along with the gourmet food.  I didn’t look closely, but I don’t doubt they’re the good stuff.

I only intended it to be a passing comment.  As she cooked dinner, I told her that I didn’t mind if she had a glass of wine now and again.  She resisted, telling me that she didn’t feel comfortable drinking in front of me.  I insisted that it was fine – and it is, especially because I know that it would only be an occasional thing, probably with dinner.  Luka could be insensitive about it – he never really got it, never really understood why I didn’t mind one beer but did mind four or five.  It amounted to – well, one beer versus an entire evening of drinking.  One beer was about relaxing at the end of the day.  Four was about drinking.  Drinking to feel drunk.  And that bothered me.  I don’t think that Kerry would ever do that in front of me.

Anyway, we went back and forth on the subject the entire time she cooked.  We both ran out of arguments and found ourselves saying the same things over and over until we fell into an awkward silence.  I pouted, picking at my dinner, finally telling her that she didn’t need to baby me.  I could see it stung, at which point she clammed up on me, which made me even more miserable.

I offered to load the dishwasher, and she agreed, disappearing into the other room.  By the time the dishwasher was running, I was kicking myself for making such a big deal out of it and sought her out.  She was curled into the corner of the couch reading.  I just wrapped her in my arms, sitting in silence for a long moment – and she let me – before telling her that I loved her and just didn’t want her to feel like she had to deny herself something she enjoyed because of me.  I told her that I trusted her not to shove it in my face.

She sighed and relaxed against me.  She didn’t say anything for a long time, just rubbing my arm.  What she finally said was one of those things that brings you to your knees – at least figuratively.  She said that wine was nice, but in the end, it wasn’t that important and I was.  I took her to bed.

We have talked about it since then, and she promised that if she really felt like a drink, she would have one.  She stirs against me and I look down as she stretches and settles against me.

“Mmm…hey, don’t stop.”

“Don’t stop what?”

“Scratching my back.  Felt nice.”  I smile.  I didn’t even realize.

“Was I?”  I resume the motion of my hand, running my nails up and down her spine in a slow, languid motion.  She practically purrs, her hand patting my stomach in silent thanks.  “You are such a pleasure hound.”

“Mmmhmm.”  I beam and squeeze her close.  I can’t help but have hope for us.  It just feels too right not to.

 

She glances over her shoulder at the sound of the door opening.  Seeing me, she smiles, albeit a bit nervously.  She turns back to her locker as I move closer.

“Big day.”  It’s her first shift back in the ER.  Her physical therapist has officially given her the okay to leave her crutch behind for good.  She crutched in on it just a moment ago – my shift started two hours earlier – so she can have a moment of peace before everyone starts asking her about it.  I hope she doesn’t mind me saying hello – I couldn’t help myself.  It’s slow and I saw her get here.

“Yeah.”  I lean against the locker next to hers, watching her as she gets ready.

“Still nervous?”  I know that she is, I just want to get her talking.

“Yeah.  It’s…strange.”

“I know.  You’ll be fine.”  She nods, not seeming convinced.  “And I’m here if you need me.”  Knowing that my body is blocking the view from one door and her open locker is blocking the view from the other door, I reach out and squeeze her arm.  This time her smile is more genuine.

“I know that.  Thank you.”

“Mmmhmm.”  I wish I could kiss her.  Glancing behind me to make sure no one’s looking through the door or anything, I kiss my first two fingers and place them against her lips.  She smirks, kissing the pads of my fingers.  “You know, because we’re five.”  She nips my fingers.  “Ow!”  She chuckles and kisses my fingers again.  “You’re evil, you know that?”  She nods, and I allow my fingers to drop back to my side.  “All right.  I’m going to get back out there, let you two have a minute alone.”  She glances at her crutch and rolls her eyes.  “See you out there.”

 

“What are you still doing here?”  I grin and tip my head back, smiling at my favorite redhead as she walks toward me.

“Waiting for you.”  With only two hours difference, I decided to stick around until her shift was over.  It’s an important day for her, and I want to be a part of it.

“You didn’t need to do that.”

“I know.”  Overall, I think her ER debut went well.  She has more friends here than she thinks she does.  Luka gave her a hug.  Pratt patted her on the back.  Neela gave her a rather excited congratulations.  The nurses were sweet – of course, I know from experience that Kerry is very considerate of the nurses, so most of them like her.

“Yeah, you’re just using me for my car.”  I chuckle and push off the couch.

“Yeah, that must be it.”  I ruffle her hair.  “Good day?”  She smiles.

“Yeah.  Good day.”

“I’m glad.”  She gathers her purse and crutch, eyeing it awkwardly.  I guess it’s weird to carry it but not use it.  “So, I was thinking that maybe we should stop by that Thai place and get some takeout.”  Kerry lives just out of their delivery area, and we haven’t eaten there in a while.  Luckily, it’s on the way.  “I’m craving curry.”

“Sounds good to me.”  She closes her locker and we make our way to the car.  She drives – it is her car after all, and I think she’s still enjoying the ability to do so.

“Hey.”  She turns to me, an eyebrow raised in question.  “C’mere.”  She smirks and leans closer, kissing me.  I’ve wanted to do this all day.  I linger and she sighs against me, easing away.

“Mmm…keep that up and you might get lucky.”

“Oo, in the car?” I tease.  She huffs and gives me another quick kiss.  “No?”

“No.”  I chuckle and spend a few more minutes kissing her.

“Okay, then.  If you insist.”

“Mmm…you gonna let me drive or are we just gonna make out in the car?”

“Do I have to choose?”  She cups my cheek and eases me back.  I can see desire in her eyes.  Guess I will be getting lucky tonight after all.  “Okay…driving first, making out later,” I murmur.  She smiles, thumbing my cheek.  Finally sitting back in her seat, she puts the car in reverse and backs out of the parking space.  Once the car is in drive and we’re moving, her hand reaches for mine.  I smile as she tugs it across the car and kisses my knuckles.  I squeeze her fingers.  Yeah, I’m definitely lucky.

 

I will not stare.  I will not stare.  I will not stare.  Of course, if she wouldn’t wear those pants, it would be much easier not to stare.  She has on those gray slacks that are beyond flattering and I can’t stop staring at her backside as she walks through the ER.  She’s not even working down here today – then her lab coat would cover the area in question– and I’m pretty convinced she’s doing it just to torture me.

“Abby!”  I jump, putting on my ‘I totally wasn’t just staring at Kerry’s ass’ face.  Neela appears beside me.

“Hey, Neela.  What’s up?”

“Do you want to grab dinner or something later?”  I cringe a little, glancing in Kerry’s direction.  I feel guilty because I haven’t spent much time with Neela in a long time, and I do miss her.

“I can’t,” I allow with regret.  “I have plans.”  Plans that hopefully involve removing those pants…

“Oh.”  She sounds disappointed.  Damn it.  “So are you and Luka…”

“No.  No, that’s over.  I think for good this time.”  She smirks at me.

“You said that last time.”

“I know.  But this time…it’s really over.”  How can I assure her of that without giving myself away?

“Oh my god!”  My head snaps up and I find her studying my face.

“What?”

“You’re seeing someone!”  I tell myself not to blush, but I can feel the heat in my cheeks anyway.  “Oh my god, you are!”  She hits my arm.  “Who is it?”  Crap.

“Uh…”

“Oh, come on!  You have to tell me!”  I force myself not to look at Kerry, even though I can hear her voice.

“Okay, okay.  Um…”  I lean closer, hoping to keep this private.  I don’t mind telling Neela, but I really don’t want everyone to know just yet.  “It’s Kerry.”  I watch her expression, waiting for it to register.

“You mean…”  I grip her arm – hard.

“Don’t.  No one else knows.”  She glances toward Kerry.  I don’t follow her gaze, but I’m very much aware of where Kerry is.  Then she’s pulling me toward the lounge.  I look up just in time to see Kerry watching us as we disappear through the door.  I send her a look that clearly says ‘help me.’

I’m not sure if I’d rather the lounge be empty so we can have this discussion or have someone in there so I can put it off a little longer.  In the end, we’re alone, so I guess it doesn’t matter.

“Kerry Weaver?” she exclaims, arms flailing.  “And you didn’t tell me?”  God, just thinking about her makes me grin like an idiot.

“Well, it’s kind of new,” I hedge.  It’s been six weeks, but still.  “And she’s my boss, so we’re kind of hesitant about telling people here.”

“I’m not people.”  Okay, she has a point.  I shrug.

“Sorry.”  It’s lame and I know it, but she’s already moving on.

“How?  I mean…it’s Weaver.”  I cross my arms and shrug again.

“She’s really different than she is here.  I mean, I know she can be a first class bitch around here, but it’s only when she has to be, you know?  She just does whatever it takes to get the job done.  But outside of this place, she’s really sweet and…just different.”

“You are so smitten.”  That makes me grin, because I know it’s true.  “Wow.”  I turn at the sound of the door and smile as Kerry eases inside, looking hesitant.  It’s still weird to see her without her crutch, especially here.  Every once in a while, I catch her reaching for it, just out of habit.  I think it frustrates her, so I don’t comment on it.

“Hey, Kerry.”

“Hi.”  She sounds uncertain, looking for a cue as to whether she should stay or go.

“Neela…put two and two together, so I spilled.”  I told her I would if asked and she seemed okay with that, but I’m still a little nervous.  Neela’s the first person we’ve told.

“Okay,” she says, moving closer.  I glance at Neela, who’s watching both of us.

“You’re happy?”  I grin and nod.  She puts her hands in her lab coat pockets and shrugs.  “Good, because Luka treated you like crap.”  After a moment of shocked silence, I laugh and nudge her.  “Well, he did.”  She nudges me back.  “Seriously, I’m happy for you.”  Her gaze moves to Kerry.  “For both of you.”  She smacks my arm.  “Call me sometime, though, okay?  I miss you.”  And then she’s gone, leaving me alone with Kerry.

“Well…that went well.”  She nods and steps a little closer.

“We should have her over for dinner sometime, if you want.”  I smile.

“Yeah, I’d like that.”  Her hand brushes my arm.

“Don’t feel like you can’t go out with your friends.”

“I don’t,” I assure her.  “Most of the time I’d just rather spend my time with you.”  There’s that soft look – it totally melts me.  “Besides, you know how I feel about those pants.”  Her grin can only be described as impish.  Yeah, she knows what she does to me.  “What brings you down here, anyway?”  She sighs and rolls her eyes.

“Luka and Clemente are fighting again.”  More like still.  I wonder if she knows that last time she told them to get along, they spent the entire day competing to see who could be the most agreeable.  Men are idiots.

“Yeah, so what else is new?”  She laughs and nods in agreement.

“You’re off at seven, right?”

“Yeah.”

“Okay.  Come upstairs when you’re ready to go.”

“You don’t have to stick around if you don’t want.”

“I know.  I don’t mind.  Believe me, I’ve got more than enough paperwork to keep me busy until then.”  I chuckle and squeeze her arm.

“All right.  I’ll see you then.”

 

I knock and push the door open when I hear her soft “come in.”  She’s still buried in paperwork – the only thing missing from the picture is a pair of glasses perched on her nose, but she only wears her glasses at home now, opting for contacts most of the time.  I like her glasses, but part of me kind of likes that I’m one of the only people who gets to see her in them.  It feels special somehow.

“Hey,” she greets when she looks up.  “Is it seven already?”

“Almost seven fifteen, actually.  I’m running a little late.”  She raises a surprised eyebrow and tosses her pen on her desk, taking a moment to stretch before getting up.  She looks like she could use a back rub when we get home.  Huh, I just thought of Kerry’s place as home.  I’ve been doing that a lot lately.  The weirdest thing is that it doesn’t freak me out.

“Hey, I wanted to ask you something,” she says as she gathers her things.

“Yeah?”

“Umm…what Neela said earlier…about Luka?”  It’s not really a question, but I’m pretty sure that I know what she’s getting at and I don’t mind.

“Yeah.  Neela…doesn’t like Luka much.”  I perch on the edge of her desk, not wanting to carry this conversation out into the hall.  “Really, it’s just that he’s never gotten over his wife.  I kind of think that she was…I don’t know…the one…or whatever.  And no one will ever be her, which makes things hard for him.  And everyone he dates.”  I shrug.  “Most of the things Neela heard from me were during the times we were driving each other crazy.  Things would be great for a week or two and then we’d get to the point that we couldn’t stand each other and I’d go home for a while and call Neela and vent.  Things weren’t as bad as she made it sound.  He’s sweet and he’s got a good heart.  He just never understood me.”  I reach for her hands, having to stretch because she’s just out of reach, and pull her closer until her thighs are against my knees.

“He is sweet,” she says, and I can’t help but think that she sounds a little uncertain.

“He means well, but we’ve talked and he knows it’s really over this time.”  I run my thumbs over her knuckles and smile.  “I mean, I don’t think we ever went more than two weeks tops of staying in the same place before I had to get away and have some space.  And we’ve gone how long now without driving each other mad?”  Her fingers squeeze mine and she smiles a little.

“Almost three months.”  One spent helping her out after her surgery, two that we’ve been a couple.

“Mmmhmm.  I think that’s a good sign.”

“Me too.”  I part my legs and pull her one step closer so her body is pressed against mine.  “Can I ask you something without freaking you out?”  I chuckle – she stole my line!

“Sure.”

“How long before we have to discuss whether or not you’re going to renew your lease?”  Okay, I can handle that.  She’s not asking me to move in, just letting me know that she would like to discuss it at some point in the relatively near future.

“About four months.  Maybe four and a half.”

“Okay.  Does that scare you?”

“Yes,” I allow.  “But not in a bad way.  In a good, moving forward kind of way.  I think it would freak me out a little if we were talking about it right now, but talking about talking about it in a few months…doesn’t.”  I tilt my head, studying her for a moment before leaning in to kiss her.  She brushes her nose against mine in a kind of Eskimo kiss.

“Let’s go home, okay?”  I grin.  She did it too.

“Yeah.”  I allow her to slip away and follow her out of her office, waiting as she locks up, then trail her to the elevator, staying a step or so behind in order to admire how amazing those pants make her backside look.

“I know what you’re doing,” she murmurs as we wait for the doors to open.

“What?”  Was I doing something?

“Standing to the side and slightly behind…Sandy used to do that and I finally got her to admit why she did it.”  With a ding, the elevator doors slide open and we step inside, luckily alone.  I can feel my cheeks burning, embarrassed at being caught staring at her ass.

“Well…it’s a nice view,” I say in my defense.  “Especially in those pants.”  She smirks and nudges me, looking modest but pleased at my assessment.  “You should wear them more often.  You know, so I can take them off.”  She laughs and glares at me, the sparkle in her eyes assuring me that she doesn’t mind the lewd comment.

“You’re incorrigible.”

“No, just inspired.”  I allow my hand to brush her lower back, slipping lower until she slaps my hand away.  I chuckle and lean in to place a quick kiss against the back of her neck.  The elevator slows to a stop and I step back to a respectable distance as the doors slide open.  She steps off, not objecting when I fall into step a pace behind, though she does grin at me over her shoulder.  What can I say?  It’s a really nice view.

 

I growl as my cell phone rings, vibrating its way across the coffee table.  I untangle myself from Kerry enough to lean forward and grab it as Kerry reaches for the remote, muting the television.  Luka, the display announces.  I consider not answering, but if he’s bothering to call my cell, it must be important – at least in his mind.  He’ll keep pestering me until I talk to him, so I might as well get it over with.  Sighing, I flip open the phone.

“Hello?”

Abby.”

“Luka.”  There’s a moment of silence.  Awkward silence.  I guess I didn’t sound happy to be hearing from him.

I, uh, just wanted to see if you wanted to see a movie or something.”  I groan inwardly and rub my forehead in frustration.  I don’t need this right now.

“Luka…we talked about this.”

It’s just a movie.”  Just a movie that he will have every intent of trying to turn into something more.

“I can’t.  We just don’t work.  I mean, don’t you think it says something that we couldn’t live together for more than two weeks without driving each other crazy?”

Fighting is a part of every relationship.”

“I know that, but what we were doing was not the productive kind of fighting, Luka.  It shouldn’t be all the time like that.”

It wasn’t all the time.”  I groan.  I hate when he fights like that.  Semantics are apparently everything.

“I’m not going to play this game, Luka.”  Kerry shifts as if to get up and I reach for her arm, meeting her eyes long enough to mouth ‘stay, please.’  She nods and settles back down.  I release her and drop my head again – it helps me focus somehow.  I just want her here because her presence comforts me and I have a feeling I might need that by the end of this conversation.  “My point is that you should be able to be with someone and just…be with them, you know?”  I glance at Kerry, who smiles.

I…are you seeing Carter?”  It’s so out of left field that I actually shake my head in disbelief.

“What?  Luka, he’s in Africa.”

Okay, okay.  I’ve just been thinking about that thing you said.”

“Which thing?”

A long time ago.”  I roll my eyes.  Oh my god, he is so frustrating sometimes.  I am not a fucking mind reader.

“You’re gonna have to be a little more specific than that.”  I hear a tired, mopey sigh and grit my teeth.  I always hated that sigh – it says ‘poor, misunderstood me.’  It’s not that I mind the wallowing – I am the queen of wallowing, but learn to keep it to yourself or at least express it coherently.

About Danijela.”  It takes a moment to register.  His wife.  God, that conversation was forever ago.  And it wasn’t really a conversation, it was a fight.  The same fight in which he let me know I was not that pretty and not that special, as a matter of fact.  It feels like a lifetime ago.

“Luka, that was a long time ago, and we both said things…well, I won’t say we didn’t mean them, because I think we both did, but maybe we didn’t mean to actually say them.”

Abby…

“I can’t, Luka.  If you’re ready to work on that, I think that’s great, but I can’t be the one to help you do that, okay?”  I push off the couch, feeling the need to pace.  I feel Kerry’s eyes on me but my eyes are trained on the floor, watching the pattern of the rug as I move.

Why?”  I stop, squeezing my eyes closed against the threat of tears.  Why does this hurt?

“Because I can’t be her stand in, Luka.  I know how much you loved her and that a part of you always will.  I respect that, I really do.  But at some point you have to stop expecting everyone else to be her.  No one else is ever going to be.”

I know that.”

“You think you know that, and your mind does, but I’m not sure your heart has caught up yet.”  I sigh.  “I can’t, Luka.  I remember that fight very well and with you I would always be not that pretty and not that special.  For my own sake, I need to be with someone who wants to be with me for who I am, not for who they want me to be or who they want me to replace or because I’m a good fuck.”  I can practically hear the hurt.  Luka has this way of radiating his pain, and I can feel it now, even through the phone.  I know my words are harsh, but they’re truthful, and I need him to see why this has to be over.  I don’t want to have this conversation a third time.

You were more than that to me,” he says, his voice quiet.

“Okay.”

Abby…are you seeing someone?”  My instinct is to get defensive and tell him it’s none of his business, but I push it down.  Maybe knowing the truth, or at least part of it, will help him let go.

“Yes.”

And do you have those things?

“Yes.”

You’re happy, then?  You’ve looked happy lately.”  I don’t necessarily like that he’s been paying that much attention, but whatever.

“Very happy,” I confirm.

Okay.  I’m sorry, Abby.”

“Me too.”  A soft click is the only goodbye I get and I lower the phone, flipping it closed.  I turn and throw the phone, watching with satisfaction as it rebounds off the back cushion of the armchair, then bounces on the seat before sliding to the floor, hitting the rug with a muffled thunk.  Avoiding Kerry’s eyes, I return to the couch and sit, head back and eyes closed, still trying not to cry.  I hear her shift and reach for her.  She moves into my arms, allowing me to draw her into my lap.  I bury my head against her and hold on with everything I’ve got, letting her ground me.  It’s amazing how much her embrace calms me, how safe I feel right here, surrounded by her arms and the familiar scent of her.  How is it that she always smells so good?  “I love you.”

“I love you too.”  I feel a soft kiss against the crown of my head.  She just sits with me, rubbing my back, not asking anything of me, not expecting me to talk about it.  God, I love her.

“I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have answered,” I mumble when I’ve finally come back to myself a little.

“It’s okay,” she assures me.  “Sometimes it’s better to just have it out and get it over with than to try to put it off.”

“Yeah.”

“Did he really tell you that you’re not that pretty and not that special?”

“Long time ago.”

“Doesn’t really matter when.  He’s a bastard for saying it.”  I swallow hard and shrug, not wanting to get into it.  “It’s not true.”  She tries to ease back but I cling to her, not sure I can stand to look in her eyes.  Then her hands are against my shoulders, pushing me back into the cushions – have I mentioned that she’s strong?  My eyes are closed and I feel her cup my chin, holding my face steady.  “Look at me,” she requests.  I stay still.  “Look at me.”  Her voice is firmer this time, but somehow pleading at the same time.  I can’t resist her.  I force my eyes open and she dips her head, meeting my gaze.  “I don’t care what you were to him.  To me you are beautiful and wonderful just as you are.”  Tears pool in my eyes, blurring her image.  I try to turn my head but her grasp is firm, preventing me from doing so.  “Can you understand that?”  Her hand relaxes and I move my head in a confused circle that is neither yes nor no.  She returns my face to center.  “Even if you can’t be beautiful in your own eyes, you’ll always be beautiful in mine.”  She leans away and I hear her pull tissues from the box and then she’s wiping my face, not caring that my nose is running and I’m a teary mess.  “Blow,” she requests, holding the wad of tissues under my nose as if I were three years old.  I comply.  My vision is a little clearer now, the tears slowing as she presses her lips to mine in a feather light kiss.  “I love you.  Just as you are.”

“I’m a mess, Kerry.”

“Yeah, but you clean up nicely.”  I huff, unable to hold back a small smile.

“That’s not what I mean.”

“I know,” she soothes, tucking my hair back.  “Abby, no one is perfect, least of all me.  I certainly don’t expect you to be.”  She kisses me again, lingering for a moment.  “I love you, baggage and all.”

“Ditto.”  She smiles, running her fingers through my hair.

“Are you okay?”

“Yeah.”  I rub her back, watching her face.  “I’m glad you were here with me.  I’m glad you’re still here,” I add, and she presses closer, her lips resting against my temple.  I close my eyes and rest against her, matching my breathing to hers and letting myself calm.  She does that for me.  In the past, when I got all high-strung, Carter or Luka couldn’t deal with it and they tended to make it worse.  Kerry is like my own personal lightning rod.  When I’m around her, she has this way of just drawing all of the negative energy from me and leaving me at peace.  She grounds me.

I know that soon life will move on.  Kerry’s hip will start to ache; we’ll let go of each other and reposition.  We’ll unmute the TV.  Maybe we’ll talk about this some more, maybe we won’t.  But that’s later and this moment right now is way better and way more important than any of that.  So I’m going to soak it up while I can, while everything around us is paused and there’s only warmth and comfort and love.  This is where I belong and I wouldn’t change it for the world.