THE LINING

SECTION ONE: Hospital

It started off quiet enough. Well, relatively quiet.

It started with this minivan that one of the local senior's groups had rented and a small tour to see something. I never did learn what but something that fascinated about a half dozen people in their eighties and really, the point became moot as soon as they blew a tire on the Interstate and then the driver suffered an MI and they all ended up here.

Things got noisy when they all arrived. Six shrill voices demanding to know if Hank was okay and nurses and doctors and interns and surgeons.

Then they got noisier still when Mark arrived with Ellie. And noisier when he found out that Elizabeth had volunteered to do Hank's bypass surgery. Yelling about how she always put the patients before her children. How he worked hard to make sure she was safe and had time by making sure she didn't waste her time on patients like this. Yelling at everyone to shut up because his head hurt and he just wanted the baby to stop crying and Hank to just hurry up and die so Elizabeth could come home.

It got pretty noisy when security arrived.

But it quieted down when Mark grabbed a gun.

I really must memo Robert about changing security firms because these guys are as useless as tits on a bull, as my mother would say.

Anyway, everyone was nice and quiet now. Nobody was even, I think, breathing very loud. So when the elevator went ding and Deb -sorry, Jing-Mei- walked out it sounded like a cymbal. He turned and the noisiest place on the floor was his eyes.

My second last thought, as I looked down and saw a gaping hole in my favourite blouse was, Weaver, that is the dumbest ass stunt you ever pulled.

My last thought, as everything went black and still, was, Sandy, I'm still waiting for that favour.

+++++

The light, as per advertisement, is quite bright. Not blinding but bright enough to make me squint as my eyes adjust. Around me is a frozen tableau of people staring in shock and horror. I look down, noting the absence of gunshot wound, crutch, lab coat and pager almost absent-mindedly.

From behind me comes a sharp snapping sound usually only heard in Dorito commercials. I turn.

"I am dead, then," I say.

"What makes you think that?" Crunch as another potato chip bites the dust.

I gesture around at the people before finally pointing to her. I shrug and a thought occurs. "You're not dead, right?" Her death would be a tragedy while contemplating mine is a mere fact of life. So to speak.

"Nope." Crunch. "Actually, neither of us is dead. Technically. Yet."

"Good," I reply, relieved although that was the most qualified sentence I'd ever heard.

"And, technically, I'm not Kim."

I think it over, a horrible possibility forming. "So you're saying I'm having some kind of near death experience?"

"If you want to think of it like that?"

"This isn't going to be some terrible 'Scrooged' thing, is it?"

Her face lights up in a wide grin. "I love it when Carol Kane smacks him with the toaster."

"Kim..."

"Sorry. No, it's not a Dicken's like pilgrim's progress where we evaluate your past happiness and then your present drudgery before we make a worst case scenario for the future where you end up pushing a grocery cart of mementoes until finally dying alone and unloved in the cold rain."

"Good. Although you could have said that last part without quite so much glee."

"This is," crunch, "more like a 'It's a Wonderful Life' kind of thing."

I bury my head in my hands. "Oh, God."

Crunch.

"Right, lets get on with it then so I can either die or..."

"Or what?" she prompts when I trail off.

"I dunno. Not die?"

"The term is live, Kerry."

+++++

"Why the hell did you do it? She asks, standing nose to nose with Jing-Mei. Who is still staring back with shock, terror and the realization that she's going to die. Except that she didn't.

"I don't know."

"You threw yourself in front of a bullet for Jing-Mei Chen and you don't know why?"

I glare at her. She's standing there in her faded track suit, hair loose like it was that morning, munching on a potato chip.

"I slipped."

"You slipped five feet?" she asks, walking behind Jing-Mei and making the rabbit ear gesture. I laugh.

"I dunno."

"Your options are that it was a heroic move to save a co-worker."

"Yeah, right. Kerry Weaver doing something heroic to save a co-worker. Ask anyone here and they'd say that Kerry Weaver would be more likely to use Jing-Mei as a shield," I correct her.

"Whoa. Bitter much?" Crunch. "Okay, how about option B. You done her wrong and were trying to make amends."

That one gets me laughing.

"Okay," Crunch. "By killing yourself you insure massive guilt for Jing-Mei who thought so poorly of you when in actual fact you'd take a bullet for her."

"Ooooh, I like that one."

"Thought you would."

"Think she'll feel guilty?"

"Probably. But not too much and not for too long."

"There's an option D, isn't there?"

"Yeap."

"You're not going to tell me, are you?"

"Nope."

"Gimme a Dorito."

+++++

"I don't remember both Randi and Frank being here."

"They weren't. However, for the purposes of this exercise I've brought them both here."

"I see." I look the two of them over. "I don't suppose that if one had to be naked it couldn't have been Randi, right?"

"Sorry. He was in the shower."

"So, you going to tell me how I've made their life better and how much they're going to miss me when I'm gone?"

"Don't you think they will?"

I snort, "Not likely. Frank's more likely to toss a bag of marshmallows into the casket so I can have something to roast when I get to hell."

"And Randi?"

I don't answer. I cross my arms and put on my 'I ain't talking' face.

"Come on," she wheedles," don't you think Randi would miss you? Didn't you make Randi's life better?"

"Hardly. I'm always giving her a hard time."

"Maybe. But you've given her a job. Given her a chance."

"So all-knowing spirit guide that isn't Kim, where would she be?

"I think we already proved with the naked Frank that I'm not omniscient," crunch. "However, Randi would be pretty much where she is now if not exactly here. With a job that doesn't pay great and lousy hours and a criminal record that will always hang over her."

"I would think that spirit guides would be a bit more up beat."

"The point isn't that because you gave Randi a chance she had a shot at becoming a useful member of society," Kim replied, carefully shaking the last of the crumbs and potato chip dust into her palm.

"What is the point then," I ask, watching with fond amusement as she pops the handful of crumbs into her mouth and being largely successful. I resist the urge to brush the failures off.

"The point, Kerry, is that you took a chance. Took a risk. How did that make you feel?"

"Oh, god, you sound like a shrink. Are you sure you're not her?"

"I am merely what you need at this point for this journey."

"Thank you Master. Shall I try to grasp the pebble from your hand now?"

"How did that make you feel?"

I pause and try to remember. And strangely, although it was years ago and I hadn't really thought of it much in the time between, it was incredibly easy to call up the memory.

"Scary in a nice way. I mean, for all I knew she'd rip off the petty cash and loot everyone's locker and make off with the computer some night."

"Worth the risk?"

"Yeah."

"When was the last time you took that risk."

"Bandaging Sandy's hand," I reply without hesitation, trusting that I won't have to explain Sandy to this semi omniscient being.

"Who's Sandy?"

"My, umm, that is, ahh, she's. . ." I know I'm blushing.

"Kerry!"

"I asked her out and she said yes and then we were together but she found out I wasn't out at work except for Romano except she didn't know I was out to Romano or Luka either because they don't really count because Romano won't tell anyone because he can lord it over me and Luka won't tell anyone because he's so damn nice--"

I find a potato chip in my mouth and shut up.

"I think for all our comfort levels we'll just skip the Sandy portion of this exercise until later."

"Suits. What kind of chip is this?"

She shows me the package. Legs All-Undressed.

"How Freudian," I say.

"Your psyche, babe, I'm just along for the ride."

"Sure you're not Kim?"

"Positive."

"Do you know where she is?"

"Always in motion is the future."

"That's not what I asked Yoda."

"I'm not omniscient."

"So you keep saying." I sigh, "Who's next?"

She performs a credible Vanna pose next to Abby and Carter.

"I have this theory," she says.

"Which is?"

"Name one person in the ER that doesn't come from a dysfunctional family. Observe, the abandoned children," and now the Vanna pose includes me.

"Me too?"

"You especially. Do you even want to find her?"

"Yes. Maybe. No. I don't know. The disappointments are killing me."

"Yeah, that and the .38 slug in your chest."

"Ha ha ha."

"Which is better, do you think? The abandoned child turning to drugs and alcohol to dull their pain enough to get through their day or the abandoned child withdrawing from life?"

I make a rude gesture. "They're handling their addictions."

"Are they? They both slipped up. John at his grandfather's funeral and Abby on her birthday."

"I didn't know. . ."

"Know what? That his grandfather died? That Abby has a birthday?"

I shake my head. I knew those things. After the fact in the case of John and just because everyone does in the case of Abby.

"Are they okay?"

"I dunno. Go back and find out."

+++++

I look around. We're no longer at County and, after a few seconds, I realize we're at the 38th.

"This is Sandy?"

Kim is stooped a bit, examining Sandy's face that is frozen in concentration as she pulls on her big coat. Frozen, I know, is the sound of a loud speaker screaming out the details of their latest emergency.

"That's Sandy."

"Kinda cute, Weaver," Kim says, grinning at me. I shrug and sit down on one of the benches.

"Yeah, well, what can I say? Some of us got it."

"You need to work on your bravado a bit. What did she do to you?"

"Great sex, one hockey game, broke up when she found out I wasn't out at work, kissed me in front of everyone at said work and then broke up again."

"Wow."

"Yeah," I say, hiding my face in my hands because if she's grinning at me I'm going to grab a fire axe and chop her into spirit guide kindling.

"So you're finally out of your closet," she says. "How does that feel?"

"Feel? Feel! I liked my closet. It was big. You could walk right into it. In a pinch you could set up a cot in it. It had carpet and a light and two rods, one for work clothes and one for everything else. It had shelves for my shoes and boxes for my sandals in the winter and mittens in the summer. It was comfortable. It was safe. It was mine and when I shut the door the world could go to hell."

She looks at me thoughtfully. "I'd like you to think back about some of the words you used. Safe and comfortable in particular."

"Bite me, Legaspi! And the horse you rode in on. I'm not your patient, this isn't a session so teach me the great mystery that is my life so I can hurry up and die."

"But she--"

"Oh god, you're on her side. You think she did me a favour."

"Didn't she? Was it really safe and comfortable in your closet? Wasn't in uncomfortable every time someone said something, juggling your lies and cover stories, watching Luka and Abby or John and the blonde chick and wondering what it would be like to be able to look at me, at Kim or your Sandy without having to pretend it was just professional."

"She did not do me a favour!"

"Didn't she? Isn't it better now that you don't have to hide?"

"You agree with what she did?"

"Hell, no. If I'd been there I'd have gone after her with a baseball bat. So would Kim. I'm just saying look at the silver lining."

+++++

We're back at County.

"You know," she says, "Kim really should have made a play for Abby."

"Why didn't she?"

"You, you moron. Now, what have we learned?"

"Silver linings, the cup is half full and always look on the bright side of life."

"Very good."

"They're in trouble, aren't they?"

She follows my gaze. "John, maybe. You were very important but he's created a support group when you bailed on him. Abby, Benton, whoever the hell this blond chick is. What exactly does she do?"

"Annoy me for the most part. What about Abby?"

"Abby reminds me of you. Every time she starts to get close to someone she sabotages it."

"I do not."

"Oh, yeah," she says, stepping closer, "watch."

I look down at her hand pressing into my right breast. "I'm really interested in what you're demonstrating here."

"I'm supposed to be demonstrating me pushing and you automatically pushing back."

"I thought you were demonstrating copping a feel."

"Well, we spirit guides don't get out much. Another example of the silver lining theory mentioned earlier."

She removes her hand. "Anyway, like you Abby needs constant pressure to move forward. Too much and she rebels. Not enough and she'll slide back. Where did you go when you told them all you were going to Africa?"

"I got as far as Montreal. Fogged in and hit a bar and missed my flight and just stayed there."

"So you weren't going to Africa as much as running from Chicago."

"See, I knew you were a shrink."

"Spirit guide. Kim's the shrink."

"Whatever. Yes, running and hiding and fleeing and escaping and avoiding and terrified. Happy?"

"Not exactly."

+++++

I look at Elizabeth. She's looking at Mark.

"She really loves him, right?"

"She acts like it. Defends him. Protects him."

I walk up to Mark and look at him as dispassionately as I can. "So much for the moral centre of the emergency department of Cook County. Did he really kill Fossen and all those elderly patients?"

"Sounds like it. But I don't think. . . Here, let's look."

She stands directly behind me, so close I can feel the body heat. She reaches out over my shoulders and makes a rough square with her fingers, looking nothing so much as a director framing his shot. The area inside the frame shimmers and the layers of Mark peel away like a MRI scan.

"That is so neat!"

"You didn't know you could do that?"

"No, what's that?"

I look. "The tumour. Looks like it's back with a vengeance. It's a wonder he's still ambulatory."

"Yeah, well," she says stepping back and I turn to face her. She cocks her head to one side as if listening. "Right now he's not."

"Can you pick up FM with that?"

"Nope."

"Who's working on me?"

"Elizabeth."

"I'm dead. She hates me."

"I don't think she hates you. Besides, she's likely the most motivated to keep you alive."

I follow her gaze to little Ellie. "I guess she does."

+++++

"Let me tell you a story. It's from a comic book."

"God, now I have Malucci as my spirit guide." We've wandered to the cafeteria. No coffee but we have a table.

"Shut up, Weaver. Anyway, there's an accident and this man is changed into a monster--"

"The Hulk?"

"No, the Thing. Shut up. Anyway, he's this monster and all he wants to do is become human again."

"Sounds reasonable."

"Finally, after years of the frustration of failed experiments to become human he finally agrees to something that turns him into a monster permanently. Rather than suffer the disappointment of another failed attempt he removes the possibility of hope."

"There's a punch line in here somewhere, isn't there?"

"The punch line, as you so mood breakingly call it, is that when he's done this his friend tells him that he could have switched back to human anytime. That it was only his inability to see himself as anything but a monster that prevented him from being anything but that monster."

I stare at her. "You are so full of shit."

"Am I?"

"You're saying that I see myself as this unlovable person and therefore I become this unlovable person. That I'm some sort of self-perpetuating, wish fulfilling idiot. You're saying that the monster that I need to be sometimes at work is becoming my persona 24/7?"

"If the shoe fits."

+++++

We're sitting on the hospital roof, on the edge with our feet kicking the wall. Below us, stories below, is the ambulance bay with it's frozen people and vehicles.

"You have to decide now," she says, handing me back my crutch and lab coat. I put the coat on and work the cuff until it's comfortable.

"Decide what?"

"To die. Or not die."

"Can't I just stay here with you?"

"Nope. I got places to go, people to help." She hands me my pager. "Don't forget this."

"Thanks." We sit there for a few minutes. "Option D was I was committing suicide."

"Pretty much."

"Never thought that of myself."

"Kerry, we're always finding out things about ourselves. Today you found out you were weaker than you thought. Maybe tomorrow you'll find out you're stronger."

"I love you. Sorry I never said the words to you aloud."

"I'm not Kim, Kerry."

"I know. But this may be the only chance so. . . carpe diem and all that."

She bumps against me. "Love you, too."

We sit.

"So what are you going to decide?"

"You don't know, oh semi-omniscient one?"

"Un-huh."

"Well, neither do I. What do you think I should do?"

"I can't decide for you. I can't even hint. All I can do is show you what I've shown you."

"Cop out."

"'fraid so," she says cheerfully.

We sit. I figure we can sit forever if I don't make a decision.

"I'm going to tell you a story."

"Is this one from a comic book too?"

"No. Actually it's a joke. You remind me of it, Africa and all.

"A safari is winding its way through the jungle when they begin to hear drums. Night and day, day and night. When they stop to eat, when they stop to rest. It's the last thing they hear when they fall asleep and the first thing they hear when they wake up. They ask the native bearers continually what the drums mean but all the bearers will say is 'pray that the drums never stop'. Finally, they can't take it anymore and one screams 'why? Why can the drums never stop?' The bearer looks at him, fear and terror in his eyes. 'If the drums stop,' he says. . ."

She pauses dramatically, leans toward me.

"Bass solo."

I stare at her.

"I hate bass solos," she says, leaning closer, lips brushing mine, her hand on the small of my back. I can hear my heart, loud and rough in my ears, and my vision dims.

And then she pushes me off the ledge.

I fall.

+++++

"We're loosing her."

"Charge to 200. Clear."

Thwuunk.

"Nothing."

"Charge to 250. C'mon, Kerry, don't die on me. Clear."

Thwuunk.

"Nothing."

+++++

I fall, screaming her name. I clutch my pager and my crutch as if they could slow my descent. But the only thing that slows is my heart; the pounding so loud only seconds ago quieting and loosing the beat. Like a drum that's head has lost its tension.

Like a drum.

She hates bass solos.

I scream again, inarticulate rage or joy, willing my heart to beat. Willing a rhythm. Willing strength.

I will not die.

In my memory I hear her voice again.

"The word is live, Kerry."

+++++

"Live, Kerry. Damnit. I will not allow this. Charge to 300."

"Lizzie."

"Robert, charge the paddles or I'll use them on your testicles. She cannot die. Now, stand clear or sing soprano. Clear."

Thwuunk.

"I have a rhythm."

+++++

It sounds a bit like the Funky Drummer but I hear it. It grows in strength and volume to an almost painful level but I don't mind.

I fall into darkness.

+++++

I figure I must be alive if it hurts so much. I feel straps and the pinch of a couple of IVs and the tangle of fingers in each of my hands. My left hand is squeezed gently as my eyes begin to open.

"Kerry?"

"Carter?" I ask but that feels wrong. "John?"

"Welcome back," he says, giving my hand another squeeze. "Don't try to move, you're in ICU and pretty doped up. You've been out for about 48 hours."

"Jing-Mei?"

"She's okay. No one else was hurt."

"Mark?"

There's a pause as he glances over me to the other side of the bed. "We'll talk about him later. Anything you need?"

"No," I say but the memories well up. "Maybe. Yes. Turn down the pain meds, they're giving me weird dreams. Hallucinations."

"You're on minimal, Kerry. You shouldn't be altered."

"Oh. Then better call for a psych consult."

This time it's my right hand that feels the squeeze; a tugging that pulls my gaze from John to her.

"Will I do?"

+++++

"Doctor Weaver," someone says from the doorway. I look up and slowly recognize one of the ICU nurses. "She's gone. I figure you have maybe twenty minutes."

I nod my understanding and thanks slowly again because everything is slowly these days. Slowly out of bed, slowly into the hall and to the elevators. I rest for the short trip to ICU so that I can not quite so slowly get to the room's observation alcove and window. I don't have the nerve to enter the room and doubt I ever will. But here, behind a window of glass, is the illusion of safety.

I feel my pulse increase and my respiration quicken. Doubtless I'm exhibiting other signs of stress and anxiety but I don't bother to self-diagnosis those. Because now I'm there and I have maybe five minutes before she gets back.

He looks. . . peaceful. Helpless. I know I could slip in there and a few buttons and a few cords and all the devices and technology keeping Dr. Mark Greene alive would be so much junk. And maybe, without them, he'd slowly slip away or maybe he'd linger for decades. I've heard of coma patients doing either.

My five minutes are up so I turn to leave.

"What are you doing?"

Before I answer her I poke her, a quick jab with my index finger to her stomach but she's catching on and bats my hand away. Not my not-Kim.

Truthfully, she's not my Kim anymore. If she ever was.

"Why are you here?"

"I get to ask the questions here," she says. "What are you doing out of bed?"

"Just stretching my legs."

"Right," she drawls, looking over my shoulder and tracking someone into the room, either a nurse or Elizabeth. If a nurse then this little visit will be the talk of the hospital. If Elizabeth then this little visit will be the first and last. I find it doesn't bother me because I've just come to realize he doesn't hold the answers to any of my questions.

"I wanted to see him."

"Why?"

"How about I didn't want my last memory to be of him shooting me?"

"Nope, option B?"

I feel my eyes narrow and I jab at her again. This time I'm successful.

"Ow! Stop it! That is the weirdest post traumatic habit I've ever met."

I turn and look through the glass at Elizabeth holding Mark's hand.

"I was trying to ask him why. Not just me but all of it. If it was just the thing in his head or. . ."

"Why does it matter?" she asks when the silence shows no sign of breaking on my account.

"Because if it wasn't it, if it was him, then. . ."

Since my return I've only managed to complete about a third of my sentences.

"Then what?"

"John and the stabbing and the drugs," I say. "Mark and the beating and then this. And they were good men, Kim. They're liked and good and kind and it that happens to them. . ."

I trail off, confused because Elizabeth somehow disappeared and because I'm not sure what I was going to say. I turn back to Kim and find Elizabeth.

"Kerry, how are you?"

"Fine. Yourself?"

"Fine." She pauses and then smiles wanly. "We're both pretty poor liars, aren't we?"

I nod. I've run out of things to say about three words ago. Oh wait. "Thank you."

She looks a bit taken aback. "I didn't do it for you."

"I know."

"I'm glad you didn't die, Kerry."

"I know."

"I've got to get back to him. In case. . ."

"I understand," I say and I do. She nods and leaves.

I slowly hobble into the corridor where Kim is waiting.

"Ready now?"

"Yes," I say and take a step forward except it's only my torso and head that actually move. She catches me, momentum pulling her down as well but cushioning my fall. I try to tell her I'm sorry but I can't make the words form. I look up, past her, to another Kim; sweatshirt and hair loose.

"Whatever am I going to do with you?"

+++++

"File in, file in, there's plenty of room. All right, listen up."

I wake from my drowsy state to the sight of Romano and about a half dozen medical students. Working in a teaching hospital is one thing. Getting shot in one is quite another.

"Patient, mid-forties, female, general good health. Single gunshot wound to the lower chest. Dr. Weaver, I'd like to show these young geniuses your wound."

I glare at him before lowering the blanket and raising my top to expose the wound. He removes the dressing so everyone can get a good look.

"As you can see the original wound," he points to a star like series of stitches, "as well as the incisions necessary to allow the surgeon access to repair internal injuries. I draw your attention to this particular area with the Frankenstein effect. Anyone care to hazard a guess?"

Silence until one pipes up. "It looks like the stitches pulled out?"

"Excellent. Except phrase your answer like a statement. You're medical students, not game show contestants. Be sure even if you're wrong. Now, anyone care to guess how?"

Silence again that doesn't last long as Robert abhors a vacuum.

"No one? Usually pulled stitches are due to undo physical activity. Solution anyone?"

Silence.

"Apparently the threat of soft restraints works."

"However studies prove that psychological browbeating is not conducive to physical healing," says a lazy voice from the doorway. Robert tenses and grits his teeth. "It can also," Kim continues, "open the hospital to the threat of law suits. Dr. Romano is an expert on that subject as well."

"Okay, lemmings, meet me in the post op waiting room," he orders and they dutiful obey.

"How pleasant to see you, Dr. Legaspi. Long stay or are you jetting back to Gay Mecca?"

"Ah. I'm afraid the San Francisco rumour is as false as the Vermont and Provincetown ones. I'm still living in the area."

"How. . . nice."

"And you'll probably be seeing me around County a lot more."

"The. . . ah. . . charms of Dr. Weaver have drawn you back?"

"That and a high-end six figure, five year contract I've been offered as part of the wrongful dismissal suit. The lawyers are settling as we speak."

I can hear the grinding increase to new levels. "Good day, Dr. Legaspi," he finally manages.

"Good day, Dr. Romano."

Stepping back Kim allows Romano past before licking the tip of her index finger and writing a number one on the imaginary board. "Ker-ching. Score one for the psych dyke."

And then she turns her focus entirely on me and I forget to breath.

"What am I going to do with you, Kerry?"

"What do you mean?" I ask, trying to be suave and sophisticated while sounding like Kermit the Frog's nephew Robin. Not my fault. Gunshot wound. The silver lining is you're supposed to sound like you've been sucking helium.

"Pretty much what it sounds like, Kerry. A friendly little joke," she answers, an edgy annoyance to her voice. I consider my options. Talk or flee.

"Can you help me to the washroom?"

She considers it momentarily and then nods. My crutch has been confiscated to discourage any further escapades so I rely on her arm to support me until I reach the sink.

"Don't lock the door," she cautions.

I shut it firmly and turn the lock. I can hear the exclamation of disgust through the door.

I splash some water onto my face, close my eyes and when I open them she's there in the mirror.

"Don't bother poking me."

"Wouldn't dream of it. Why are you still around?"

"Guess you still need me."

"I don't need anybody."

"Ah, well, I don't qualify as I do not, technically, have a body."

"Details."

"Why are you hiding out in the bathroom?"

"I'm not hiding."

She just looks at me until I look away, studying my reflection and ignoring hers.

"I don't like this place."

"Ah," says my spirit guide. "That, of course, reminds me of a story."

"From a comic book?"

"I'm sure your Kim would be fascinated about how your mind keeps harking back to comic book references."

"She's not my Kim."

"No, she isn't. Ready for the story?"

"If you must."

"Once upon a time there's this young man who thinks he's a superhero. Every night he goes into the city to fight crime and help the helpless and do good deeds. And one day a good deed gets him shot. Near fatally."

"You're comparing me to a superhero?" I ask in amazement.

"Hardly. Anyway, his girlfriend finds out and she and her brother rush to the hospital where they're about to operate again. And she turns to her brother and says she hates this place. The brother replies that no one likes hospitals. And she says, I wasn't talking about the hospital."

I wait for the punch line until I realize I've already heard it.

I nod slowly. "I don't like this place. I don't like Frank telling me I'm going to hell or Romano's jokes or being afraid to hold Sandy's hand or to turn on the TV and hear about another made for TV movie preaching to the converted. Worrying what the librarian or the video store clerk is thinking."

I'm vaguely aware of how my voice is rising and how not-Kim is growing dimmer while Kim is starting to knock on the door and call my name. I ignore her.

"I don't like how people suddenly leave when I enter the washroom. I don't like how I suddenly have to try to find excuses to have a second person around when I treat a young woman or worse, people find excuses to be there. I don't like the assumptions that are made about me. I don't like how some people bend over backwards to tell me how okay they are with it when they so clearly are not."

She's getting fuzzier and Kim's knocking frantically on the door. The rational part of my mind understands that Kim is concerned but the rational part is oh so small compared to what is happening in my brain right now.

"I don't like the whispers and I don't like how they stop. I don't like the speculative glances or the condescending glances or you're going to hell in a hand basket looks."

There's a pounding on the door and my name is being called. I ignore it, focusing on my so-called spirit, so-called guide who is literally doing a fade. "I'm tired of co-workers not visiting me or visiting me because its their duty and I am particularly sick of not hearing them ask why I survived when Mark won't. Come back here you coward!"

There's a thump against the door as I lash out at the fading reflection.

"Coward," I tell my spirit guide as she disappears. "Tell me how this is such a wonderful life."

There's another thud on the door, as if someone had slammed against it. Why don't they just call a nurse, they all carry the little unlock tool? She fades some more and I smash my fist into her face. There's a dull crack followed by louder thud and Kim nearly screaming my name outside the door.

"Coward!"

There's a splintering popping noise as the lock and jam give and a dull crack as the mirror goes.

"Coward!" I yell as long arms wrap around mine, trying to pin them but Kim's a runner while I've spent a very long time developing shoulder and upper arm strength. I get off another good shot at the coward in the mirror before she finally restrains me.

"Kerry."

"Lemme go."

"I can't. And you have to calm down before the attending gets here."

"Fuck you, Kim. Let me go!"

"No, Kerry, I can't. Calm down because he's going to bring the droperidol."

That sobers me up.

"Kim?"

"I'm here."

"I don't like this place, Kim."

"I know, baby."

"I don't want to be here."

"I know. We'll get you out of here."

"But I've been here so long. How can I escape?"

She realizes now that we're having different conversations because her embrace freezes, changing from the rocking comfort to still fear. "Kerry?"

I look up at her, "I don't like where I am, Kim. I don't like it."

I feel wetness along my ear. "It's not a good place for you right now." There's a pause. "We'll get you somewhere safe then."

"I can't go back," I say and even though it's not a question she whispers no into my ear. I sigh and relax against her, barely noticing the attending and nurse that finally arrive and are waved away. Doubtless there'll be rumours running wildfire within the half hour. Weaver and Legaspi in torrid embrace in hospital bathroom, film at eleven. My mind and imagination run with it and I begin to giggle.

"Kerry?" she asks, obviously concerned because everyone knows that Kerry Weaver just does not giggle.

"It's okay. I'm okay. Just thinking about the gossip."

She smiles and then it gradually fades. "The gossip hurts you."

"Of course it does." How can she not have seen that? I just smile my brave little steam engine smile. I think I won't, I think I won't, I think I won't, damn.

I feel the tips of her fingers as she brushes the tears away.

"C'mon, let's get you to bed."

We slowly get me tucked back into bed ignoring the semi-discrete peeks from the nursing staff.

"You think I need to see someone about this," I finally say.

"About what, Kerry?"

"What happened," I say, trying to keep my voice firm and focused. I think I'm successful but she just stares at me. "Or maybe about everything,' I add.

"I see."

"That's it?"

"Well, if I agree you'll infer that I think you're crazy."

"And if you disagree?"

"Then I'd be lying," she says, grinning and I laugh. Which hurts but feels good too.

"Kim. I've been hallucinating. Seeing and hearing things."

The grin fades slightly. "Since when?"

"On the table."

"Ah. And since too?" I nod. "How do you feel about it?"

"Annoyed."

An eyebrow arches. "Why?"

"Because she won't shut up," I mutter. She arches an eyebrow and its time to deflect as fleeing is not an option. "Do you believe in God?"

She makes a face at my blatant change of subject but nods. "Yes, I do."

4"In angels and saints and miracles?"

She looks at me thoughtfully and I can almost see the gears turning. "I believe in the innate potential of goodness in every human being that sometimes manifests itself in miraculous ways. Whether it's creating fish and loaves or connecting with people so that they spontaneously share what little food they have. Or a complete stranger risking their life or your own mind tricking you through hallucinations or voices."

I wait.

"But you're talking a Harvey the Pooka or Nicholas Cage sort of thing and I'm not sure."

"You're not going to say that if I really believe it then it must me my reality and therefore real?"

"I'm not your shrink, Kerry."

"Can you be?"

"Nope," she says and holds up a hand stopping my next question. "For the same reason I didn't want to be just a friend. You're too close to me."

"Ah."

"So," she continues, grinning again. "If I think you're bugfuck crazy and start measuring you for a straight jacket it's just my personal opinion, okay?"

"Kerry?"

I look up, laughter instantly gone. "Sandy."

She looks uncharacteristically hesitant, pausing in the doorway and glancing between the two of us.

"Kim Legaspi," Kim says, holding out her hand.

"Sandy Lopez," Sandy counters, shaking it. She pauses, still holding Kim's hand. "Kate Phillips' Kim Legaspi?"

"You know Kate?"

"Casually. I know Allison better."

And they're off in the six degrees of separation and I lose track of mutual friends and acquaintances.

"What are they doing?" asks a familiar voice at my shoulder. I'm not too surprised to see my spirit guide lying beside me, sharing the pillow.

"Equivalent of tail sniffing. They're trying to determine if they have an obligated hate on for the other. You don't know this?"

"I'm not gay."

They've mentioned a few bars and that's started a new round of names.

"I'm still mad at you," I whisper.

"I know. Normally we'd give you more time to settle down but she showed up and it might get stressful."

I nod. 100% of my ex-girl friends in one ten by ten room.

"Lord, but she's animated when she's animated."

I look at Sandy, talking excitedly to Kim about some concert that they had both apparently attended. She's in civvies, 501 faded jeans and a polo shirt and her hair only loosely caught up in a pony tail and I just know that if you pull the tie just so it spills free and. . .

"Hey, I don't think a cold shower would be any good for your stitches."

"Shut up."

"You think it's the hair?"

"What?"

"Long, curly, finger entangling. It's the only thing I can see that they have in common."

"Temper," I mutter as they shift their attention to me. Kim's eyes are narrowed speculatively at me and I figure she heard me muttering to myself. Diversion. "So, what's the verdict?"

Sandy grins. "We know a lot of the same people but I don't think we've mutually dated anyone."

"Other than me."

They turn to stare at each other, at me, at each other and finally at me.

"I can see what you mean about the temper," drawls not-Kim from my side.

"I can see what you mean about the stress."

+++++

Kim, both tangible and not, disappeared pretty quickly so that the visit was only awkward instead of excruciating. We chatted briefly, keeping to neutral subjects and finally she stood.

"Can I visit again?"

It was a bit of a shock. Sandy had never asked my permission for anything. A poke in my ribs prompted me.

"Yes. Of course. That would be nice."

She looks a bit doubtful but it's hard to sound sincere when you still sound like you're on helium. I try to elbow my returned spirit guide by making it look like I had a muscle spasm.

"Okay, good. I'll see you around," she pauses at the doorway, looking back. "Kerry, was she the one?"

The 'one' what? The first one, the only one, the heartbreaking one, the Christmas trees around my heart one? Which 'one'?

"Yeah."

She nods and leaves.

"That went well."

"Shut up."

"What did I say?" I hear in stereo as Kim re-enters the room.

"Not you," I say to tangible Kim as another fake muscle spasm pops not-Kim a good one.

Kim sits in the visitor's chair in full shrink mode. Quiet, listening, watching, annoying.

"What?"

"You dated her?"

Ah. I was wrong. She's not in shrink mode. I hear a subdued crunch beside me and see my spirit guide munching on popcorn, eyes wide as if watching a movie. I move to elbow her and she helpfully lifts the popcorn bag so I get a clear shot.

"Yes, I dated her," I answer, stressing the word dated to imply both the past tense and the fact that it was more than just coffee and a movie.

"Dated."

"You sound shocked."

"I am. She asked you out?"

"I asked her out."

"You asked her out?"

"Why do you sound shocked?"

"I never thought of you dating anyone."

I feel everything go icy cold. "Surprise, surprise, there is life after Kim Legaspi."

"Oohh, good one."

"That's not what I mean."

"Tell me what you mean? You meant who would date me? You meant you didn't think I'd get myself enough out of the closet to ask someone out? What did you mean?"

Kim pauses, staring at some point over my head as non-Kim the spirit guide mutters a mantra of say-it-say-it-say-it-say-it.

"I meant it hurt too much to think of you dating someone else. So I didn't."

There should be a law against punching a gun shot victim in the stomach. Especially while a spirit guide is thumping your shoulder in glee.

"Man, did she get you."

"Kim, I. . ."

She waves it away. "Not your problem. Mine. I am happy for you. She seems nice. Why aren't you dating?"

"She outed me by kissing me in front of Frank, Abby and Chen."

"Fucking son of a bitch wait until---"

The hiss of pain stops her before I can reach her belt. She looks back, warring between me pulling out the stitches and her causing some.

"Wait."

"---I'm going to get a bat and teach that little---"

"Kim!"

She turns and sits down in the chair with icy calm. "Yes, Kerry?"

"Its none of your concern."

She stares at me for a half minute before nodding stiffly. "Fine."

"Kim," I warn.

"No, really, fine. You have or will deal with it," she says firmly before staring at me intently. "Right?"

"I think this falls under the 'does Kerry need to see a psychiatrist' category."

"Fine," she says in a tone which means that it's clearly not fine and won't be fine any time soon. I smile and she catches it and glares at me fiercely, which only makes me smile all the more until she finally cracks and grins back.

"You can't run my life, Kim."

"I know. You think. . .?"

I wait, watching her eyes meet me before skittering away and then slowly coming back.

"What?" I finally ask as a spectral finger nearly bores through my rib cage.

"Well, probably a silly idea. But did you want to try again?"

I don't have to ask her 'try what?'. Not with the look of fear and hope and about fifteen minor emotions. The near constant munching has stopped and I sneak a look at the not-Kim. Who is staring wide eyed at the climax to this particular movie.

"No. I don't want to try," I say and there is a thump into my side and I'm told I'm an idiot but I ignore my guide because she's just that. A guide.

"No," Kim repeats and there is another thump into my side. She frowns as I elbow my ghost back. "What does your guardian angel say?"

I close my eyes as I hear the words hissed into my ear.

"Why can't I have a spirit guide that reads Milton and Shakespeare?"

"What did she say?" demands Kim, ignoring my rhetorical question.

I sigh and quote, "There is no try. Only do. Or do not."

Kim stares at me as if I've gone insane. Which, frankly, I'm not willing to dismiss as a very real possibility.

"Kerry, do you want to 'do'?"

I don't need the poke this time.

"Yes."

+++++

Fifteen months ago -a lifetime ago- I had the luxury of watching her sleep. The restless, early sleep. The still, deep sleep. The light doze when she'd try to burrow through me until she awoke. And looked at me, blinking once or twice before her face would relax into a smile of recognition that even now, 459 days, 3800 miles and three lovers later, still makes my heart stop.

Even when it's directed at the empty chair beside her hospital bed.

I pause, watching curiously. Her gaze is attentive, focusing on the point where a sitting person's face -if they were my height- would be. She speaks, too low for me to hear, then frowns, looks puzzled and then I watch her face die and the birth of tears. I watch her curl into a ball and pull the pillow to her face to muffle whatever emotion there is that is trying so hard to escape.

I realize that I don't have to tell her -to break the news to her- because somehow she knows.

I open the door an inch wider, wanting to go to her. To comfort her. To straighten her feral, fetal position of pain and anguish and tell her all the proper and healing words that I've spent a lifetime perfecting. But something stops me.

The woman I left -459 days, 3800 miles, three lovers ago- is dead. And the woman, who wears her face and speaks with her voice, is someone I don't know anymore.

Only the eyes, the mixture of pain and healing, of questions and answers, of trust and fear, are the same.

I curse them all. The three lovers. The 3800 miles. The 459 days. Myself. I close the door and do the only thing I can for the stranger that Kerry has become to me.

I stand guard.

+++++

I give it a good hour before I enter. During that time I've chased away about a dozen people and doubtless a few more where headed off at the pass when I left instructions at the nurses desk. Most, I hope, wanted to make sure that Kerry knew in person rather than through the grapevine or the radio station where I understand that death of the 'ER doctor who went postal' actually got them to interrupt a song.

Some, like Elizabeth and John I turn away gently and let them know that I'll tell Kerry they came by. Some, like Romano, I threaten physical force. Most fall in between.

Lopez falls in between.

"You'll tell her?"

"Of course I will," I lie.

"It's just, I heard it on the radio..."

"I'll tell her. She just asked for some alone time. But I'll tell her."

I don't tell her. I don't ask how she knew. I give her the list of people who I think she'll want to see and we just sit there until there's a knock on the door and we both look up to see Elizabeth standing there. No words are spoken but Kerry nods and Elizabeth comes into the room, taking the chair that I vacate.

I leave the two of them quietly talking and try to think of something to do with my time. I know I'm woefully ignorant of the last year of Kerry's life. I need answers. I need to find someone who has access to all the different camps and cliques between staff and who doesn't particularly like me or Kerry.

Abby Lockhart.

She looks at me mistrustfully when I track her down to the roof where she's on her lunch break at two in the afternoon.

"You're back then. For real?"

I nod and she shrugs.

"Congrats on screwing the administration then. Hope you sued their asses off."

I figure by this time the exact details of the settlement are common knowledge despite the non-disclosure clauses both sides signed. So I nod again.

"What do you want, Doctor Legaspi?" she finally asks.

"What happened to Kerry this year?"

"I don't like you, you know that, right?"

"I do."

"I don't like Dr. Weaver much, either."

"I know that."

She examines the tip of her cigarette a bit before taking a long drag.

"Reader's Digest version? She took off for three weeks after the Fossen shootings. She came back and ghosted around like she was walking on broken glass waiting for the other shoe to drop with a safe inside it. She fucked up a case by bending policy all to shit and a patient died and Chen and Malucci took the fall. She fired Dave and he called her a Nazi dyke. She apparently dated some woman firefighter and got kissed in the middle of the department. She found her backbone and Dr. Greene shot her. You show up. Taa-freaking-dah."

"Oh."

"Oh, indeed. I probably left some stuff out but it hasn't been a great year all around."

I bite my tongue and don't ask.

"Satisfied?"

"I guess," I say, watching her smoke. I'm always amazed that such a large percentage of medical professionals smoke. "Gimme one?"

She shrugs and hands me the pack and holds the lighter cupped until it catches.

"You smoke?"

"I have been known to burn cigarettes in my close vicinity on occasion."

"Okay. You owe me one then. I don't share with posers."

I laugh and she actually smiles a bit. "Why did you tell me all that, what with you not liking us and stuff."

She again examines the cigarette tip and then shrugs. "I don't like Dr. Weaver but I respect her. She doesn't have many friends in the department but mainly that's because she doesn't allow it. And she doesn't have much of a life outside of the hospital. Hell, none of us do, really. So, I guess I figure if you're asking it's because you want to be her friend and everyone deserves a friend. Even Weaver. Why ask me?"

"Because you don't particularly like either of us. So I'd get close to the truth rather than some sugar coated version that a friend would tell."

She nods and we stand there silently until my cigarette's done and she's on another.

"Better get back in," I finally say, grinding the butt into the coffee can of sand and heading to the door.

"Dr. Legaspi?" she calls out after me.

"Yeah?"

"Thanks. I didn't say thanks last year," she says. I look at her curiously and she adds. "About my mother."

"Oh. How she doing?"

"Good. As good as it gets. She, ah, I got a birthday card from her on my birthday. First time in fifteen years it didn't arrive three months late. If at all."

"I'm glad," I say sincerely.

She nods again. "Maybe that was the other reason I told you that stuff."

She turns her back to me, looking out over the city through the haze of cigarette smoke.

The room is empty of visitors when I tentatively knock. She makes some gesture and I enter.

"We have to start over, from the very beginning, don't we?" she asks without preamble.

"Ah, yeah. We do. We're different people now after a year."

"I've been thinking…"

"Yes?" I prompt after she falls silent.

She shakes her head in frustration. "No, I was trying hard not to think and that voice thing you don't really believe in kept telling me that we've, you and I, have changed and then she, it, told me this joke."

"A joke?"

"Apparently it takes the cryptic riddle thing a bit too far."

"Are you going to tell me the joke?"

She looks perplexed and shakes her head before finally sighing. “Okay, tell me if you've heard this one before. Two inmates escape to the roof of an insane asylum.”

“Heard it,” I say when she pauses.

“Good. Because the bitch of a spirit guide only told me the opening line.”

I stare at her, trying to decide if she's trying to jerk my chain or serious. But she looks too pissed off to be joking around. I gather up my memory of the joke.

“Okay, one night two inmates escape to the roof of an insane asylum. They look around and across a wide alley they see another roof and, therefore, freedom. The first inmate takes a running start and jumps the alley and lands safely. But the second inmate is scared and won't jump.”

My words hit me and I pause. Fucking smart-ass spirit guide.

“Go on,” she prompts after a beat.

“Okay, so the first inmate pulls a flashlight out of his pocket…”

“Where'd he get the flashlight?”

“Weaver, I'm telling a joke here!”

“Sorry.”

“Right, so the first inmate pulls a flashlight out of his pocket and says, 'I'll shine this across and you can walk along the light'.”

Fucking. Smart. Ass. Bitch. Of. A. Bloody. Spirit. Guide.

“Go on,” she prompts, eyes wide.

“The second inmate shakes his head. 'Are you crazy?,' he says, 'you'll turn it off when I'm half way across'.”

She doesn't laugh, thank God.

“I'm sorry I couldn't jump, Kim.”

“I'm sorry I turned off the flashlight, Kerry.”

"Now what?"

"Now we start over."

SECTION TWO: House

There is something peaceful, timeless, about cemeteries. A dichotomy of grief and peace where the meandering paths contrast with the ordered tables of headstones, rows and columns of history. Scattered in front of me is my personal history of Cook County Hospital. Supervisors and subordinates, my peers and my students and my teachers, physicians and nurses and support staff. All here to pay their respects to an honoured colleague and to show their support to the widow, another honoured colleague.

I shouldn't have come.

"I shouldn't have come."

"Why?"

I glance at the thorn in my side. She has taken special care with her manifestation today. She's given up the casual look and is clothed in neat and somber attire. Rather like her doppelganger on my other side.

"Why?" asks Kim.

I look at neither and answer both. "They look at me and they remember everything, not just what they want to remember."

Doug Ross is staring at me. He's too far away for me to see but I can imagine the hate. He hasn't left Elizabeth's side, supporting her, guiding her, but she hasn't looked at me since she first spotted me. Neither has Rachel who holds Emma on the other side.

"I shouldn't have come."

"Kerry?"

"I don't belong here. I should have just fallen. Bass solo and flat line and good night Gracie."

"Kerry!"

The real Kim Legaspi, psychiatrist and former lover, hisses it at me, not willing to break the somber mood of the cemetery by actually raising her voice. The fake Kim Legaspi, spirit guide and general pain in the ass, has a voice that could shatter crystal.

I breathe, simply breathe, for several minutes.

"Sorry. Lost it here."

"Bass solo?"

"Long story."

"Do I want to know it?"

"Probably. My shrink thinks it's hilarious."

I'm making my shrink work hard for the insurance claim. I swear the man rubs his hand in glee before every session just thinking of the papers he's going to write and the fact that I am probably responsible for putting his kid through Harvard.

"You'll tell me sometime?"

She tries hard. Even my shrink agrees. Kim is trying very hard not to be the ex-girl friend, the potential future lover and the mental health professional. She's trying so hard not to be these things, these things that she is, that it's driving me insane.

"Do shrinks get Munchausen by Proxy?"

"Do I want to know what prompted that question?"

"No."

I find her hand with mine, blindly and without much conscious thought. "I really need you to be my friend. Right now. All the other things can wait. I need Kim."

I know that I'm losing it. Right here and now, in public with everyone in the world who hates me watching and my only allies are a reformed addict, a virtual stranger, a figment of my imagination and a toddler.

"Kerry?"

She sounds as bewildered as I feel. I hold onto her hand so tight I can feel the pulse and I let its even beat steady my own.

"I'm okay," I half lie. "I just… this is harder than I thought."

She squeezes back and I try to listen to the rest of the service. I'm sure it's a nice one. The fact that its in English is a little disconcerting and I try to remember the last funeral I went to that was in English.

Oh. My parents.

The minister leads the 23rd Psalm from the Revised Edition and I find my brain translating it into Ol Maa while Kim recites the King James Version. The different words and sounds weave and take me back to my youth and I find some comfort in that.

"Better?" she asks when the prayer ends.

"Yes, I found the solace of the ritual." She looks confused so I repeat myself in English.

"What language were you speaking?" she asks after a few moments.

"Maa. The Maasai language."

"How many languages do you speak?"

I think. "I don't know. Maa, English, Spanish, American sign, a little Italian, Potok and French. Oh, Portugese but that's almost a gimme… Languages come easy."

She looks at me, a smile warring on her face. "Shall I skip the obvious pun?"

I think. I blush. "Please."

Needless to say Elizabeth picks this moment to somehow teleport over. It's the third time since I was shot that I've looked up and found her right there, staring at me. Disconcerting to say the least.

"Kerry. Please come with me in my car. You as well, Dr. Legaspi."

"Of course," Kim answers her. I'm still trying to process the request let alone the fact that it warrants an 'of course'. An 'are you nuts?' or a 'I would have though you'd rather gargle glass than share a ride with Kerry' seems more likely.

John is hovering, clearing torn between allowing this and insisting that we return with him but I give a small shake and he backs away. We get a few odd looks but the pall bears are going in one and the kids with Elizabeth parents and no one actually says anything as we get into the car. Which is actually a large sized limo with two rows of seats facing each other and even a small wet bar. Lots of leg room for both sets of Kim legs and the crutch.

"Why?" I finally ask.

"Because you won't try to console me with bloody inane platitudes and I won't have to stop myself from screaming at you."

"Oh." I'm slightly confused by the fact that there is a Kim sitting beside each of us and I've lost track of which is which in the confusion of getting into the limo. "They all loved Mark very much."

She nods, terribly seriously and it occurs to me that she's somewhat stoned. "I know. And everyone feels the need to tell me that it wasn't Mark that did those terrible things but the tumour in his head. I'm so glad that you dislike Mark and don't spout that crap."

"I didn't hate, Mark," I whisper but everyone is ignoring me.

The bizarre nature of the situation strikes me again. I turn my head quickly, looking out the window but it is unnecessary as Kim and Elizabeth are oblivious to me.

"You okay?"

I nod.

"Do you feel like Meg Ryan or Russell Crowe?"

I pause and bring my hand up quickly, obscuring the sudden smile.

"God," the not-Kim sighs. "That was a pop culture analogy question, not a menu."

I nod.

"So, you're sitting here in a funeral limo while your ex-lover does an impromptu grief management therapy session on the widow of the man who tried to kill you and while you're talking, or rather listening, to either a figment of your delusional mind -the Russell Crowe option- or some otherworldly being sent to help you -the Meg Ryan option. Does that recap the story so far?"

I nod.

"When do you leave for England?" Kim asks and I pointedly turn my attention back to Kim and Elizabeth. I've always felt certain empathy to Elizabeth, a kinship she doesn't seem to acknowledge. Both strangers in a strange land doing a job still considered the domain of the male.

"Plus she has wanna bury your fingers in that long, thick, curly hair thing going."

I glare at not-Kim long enough to draw Kim's attention to me briefly.

"Soon."

"Will you be coming back?"

Elizabeth is silent, as if contemplating the idea for the first time. "It's strange," she finally says. "For centuries we sent you our undesirables. The people we didn't want or couldn't control. Our bastards and third sons, religious and political dissidents. Street urchins and orphans. We shipped our convicts and petty criminals to the colonies and the New World as virtual slaves rather than deal with them ourselves. We do this and then we question when America became this bold and aggressive people and when we became so pale and anemic. We ridicule you for being the bully and then look to you to protect us when the play yard gets too rough."

"Elizabeth?"

"I'll be back. I owe that to Mark. This is Ella's country." She pauses, looking out the window and addressing her reflection as she continues.

"It's my country too now. England's not home."

+++++

The gathering is quiet and solemn as befitting a church and a funeral. I stand by myself, off to the side as people, for the most part ignore me. Or give brief and abrupt nods. John is one of the exceptions. He has brought me a little plate with finger sandwiches and then a cup of punch. He has ensured that I have a ride from the church to home and that Kim will be there to settle me in. Generations of breeding and manners have given him a certain ease at these events. That and too much personal experience.

"I'll be fine. I just need to check in at the hospital for a few minutes. Check my locker and some insurance forms."

"Are you sure?"

"I'm sure."

"Because I'm going back to the hospital after this."

"No. I doubt I'll be staying much longer and you'll not want to leave anytime soon. Stay as long as you need. I know what Mark meant to you."

He looks doubtful but nods, warring duties. But he heads back into the thinning crowd to the inner circle and begins to ply the gentle balm of gentle manners and concern.

"He's such a good doctor," I say quietly.

"Carter?"

"He still has the wide-eyed innocence. He's not jaded yet."

"And that's a given?"

I turn, slowly reaching out and encircling her wrist and smiling slightly when I touch warm flesh. "No, not a given. Just so very likely."

She nods and turns so that she can see the entire gathering. "Quite the turn out. I thought we'd lose a few more between the cemetery and here."

"He was very popular. You should have seen the wedding. Twelve."

She looks confused. "Twelve people were there?"

"No. I wrote up twelve formal notices of reprimand for people calling in sick or leaving work early or coming in late."

"You reprimanded twelve people?"

I shake my head. "No. I wrote them up but didn't lodge them. I couldn't decide if I was punishing them for something that should have been directed elsewhere."

"Where you there? At the wedding?"

I glance at her. "You must be the only person at County that didn't hear. I wasn't invited."

Her eyes narrow and go icy and I can plainly see her thinking ill of the dead. "That was petty."

I shrug. "It's okay. I spent the time learning a valuable lesson instead."

She looks confused but doesn't press it. I've noticed that. Ordinary things that an ordinary person would ask she doesn't. That's her trying not to be the shrink and ending up not being a real person.

"I would like to leave," I say.

"As you wish."

+++++

Kim volunteers to grab the paperwork from personnel while I see to my locker. I am praying that I didn't bring a bagged lunch that day. There's a clatter from the shower area as I gingerly open the door.

"Dr. Weaver."

I don't bother to look. I know the voice and where her locker is. I stare into my locker, not that there's much there, and say the first thing that comes to mind.

"Have you been going to meetings?"

There's an icy quiet and I hear the shampoo bottle and deodorant slam into the back of her locker. "That's really none of your business."

I don't dare look at her. "Have you?"

"You're not my supervisor, Dr. Weaver. Not anymore. I show up, I do my job and what happens outside this hospital is none of your concern."

I nod at the calendar at the back of my locker. It's got cute and cuddly kittens and it's three months behind. "No. It's not. I just…'

"Just what?"

I sneak a look. She's angry and right there, mere inches away, hair slicked back from the shower and any doubts about my sexuality just fly out the window. I turn back to the kittens.

"I just can't lose any more of you," I say to the black tuxedo kitten.

There's silence that I'm not sure whose responsibility it is to break.

"Not as often as I should," she finally says. "The meetings, I mean."

"If you… if you need time off or your schedule rearranged let me know when I get back. I'll get it done without letting the nursing supervisor know exactly why."

"Why?"

I reach in and rip the past months off the calendar. It will be out of date when I return to work but I change it anyway. "I told you why."

"You have a brush with death and feel the need to save everyone around you?"

The words are sarcastic but the tone isn't. I brace myself and turn back to her. "Something like that. You're an excellent nurse and you'd make a great doctor, Abby. But, um, you should…"

"What?"

"Be a happy person first."

She nods once and slams the locker closed, giving the combination lock a double twist with her thumb. "I'll let you know if I need time off arranged."

I turn back to the locker. "Right."

She walks to the door but doesn't open it. She catches me peaking in the small mirror on my locker door and sighs. Like me she finds some emotions aggravating.

"Hey, Kerry. Thanks."

Like gratitude and concern. I simply nod and she's gone and I feel the tension slowly ease from my shoulders and spine.

"That wasn't so hard, was it?"

"It was a root canal."

"Oh, come on."

"It was an impacted fracture."

"It was words."

"It was a 38 caliber bullet to the chest."

"Well, maybe the occasional 38 slug to the chest is worth it if it stops a six pack to the brain a day."

My breathing finally steadies, leaving a dull ache in my chest. Until I touch my hand to the light dressing and nearly faint. My blocks fall and my hip returns to red-hot poker status.

"Hey." I wonder when the real Kim arrived but I'm glad because my grip on the locker door is the only thing keeping me standing.

"I think I need to sit down. For a bit."

She helps me to the couch, face closed and expressionless as it becomes when dealing with some emotion that she thinks is too strong for the moment.

"I'll just get some water," she says and leaves the lounge.

I'm in too much pain to point out the water cooler sitting in the corner.

"You okay?" asks the not-Kim.

"Fine."

"No, you don't seem fine. You seem like you're in a lot of pain."

"I am in a lot of pain. But I'm fine."

"This would be the suck it in and deal with it?"

I laugh which, strangely, doesn't make it hurt more. "Yeah. This would be the sucking part."

"Okay, here we go," Kim says as she returns to the lounge. I hold out my hand for the paper cup and am handed a small pill instead.

"This is?" I ask. But I recognize it.

"Oxycontin. For the pain," she explains as she hands me the water.

I resist the urge to roll my eyes. For the pain. "I'm okay."

"Take the damn pill, Kerry."

I contemplate her for a few seconds before bringing my hand to my mouth and then taking a small sip of water and a large swallow.

"Give it a few minutes to work," she says and I nod weakly. We sit in silence until I stand slowly.

"It's better now. Let's go."

She nods and, as she turns to open the door, I put the tablet into my pocket.

+++++

The house doesn't look like it was abandoned and left empty for nearly two months.

"When did you get a dog?"

"Little while ago. I inherited it from a complete stranger. Or it inherited me. I'm never sure which. But I share him."

"So I heard. I took the liberty of arranging for Mackenzie to take him for the day. Thought you'd like to settle in before being greeted."

"Thanks."

The interior looks just like I left it. Mackenzie has come by before and after school to feed, water, walk and play with Stinky. Frances has come every Monday, Wednesday and Friday to clean and polish. Mackenzie's older brother Laurier has kept the yards mowed and raked. It occurs to me that I'm really not needed.

"Hey. You're zoning out again. Too much meds?"

I give a small shake. "No. Not the meds. Just my thoughts. Let's get inside."

+++++

"You want the tour?"

She shakes her head. "John showed me around the first time. Kitchen, laundry room, your room, your CD collection that I wasn't allowed to touch upon pain of death."

"He exaggerates."

"He showed me the grave in the back yard."

I laugh and she smiles and any awkwardness about this being the first time in my house together is gone.

"Can I ask you something?"

"Yes," I say. Always a dangerous thing to say to a trained psychiatrist.

"What was the valuable lesson you learned instead of going to the wedding?"

I'm amazed it took so long.

"I learned that I could go back to my life like you said that day. That I didn't have to… that I could do the straight role and men would buy me drinks and leave their cards."

"That was the lesson?" She seems a little bewildered.

"Actually, the lesson was I didn't want to anymore."

"Ah."

"Ah, she says with a strangely satisfying smug tone of voice, as if she could take sole responsibility for the recruitment of Kerry Weaver."

"Kerry?" she asks, clearly confused by my choice of words but fatigue has put a surreal spin on things.

"It's been a long day, Kim."

"I should go," she says slowly as if she actually should and will leave. I remember my words in the hospital.

"Kim? What I said about starting over, from the very beginning?"

She nods, unwilling to speak.

"Not today, not after today."

"Kerry…"

"Stay?" I ask then try it again. "Stay."

"I should go," she repeats, even more slowly.

"Yes, you should definitely go. Absolutely," I agree. Because right now, if she stays, we both know what is going to happen. My fingers brush against her wrist. "Stay."

"All right."

+++++

The annoying thing is that the sex is great. Things would be much safer if it were mediocre.

+++++

I awaken to nearly six feet of angry, naked blonde and a small plastic box hitting me on the forehead.

"What the fuck is this?"

I look at the former contents of the box scattered over the bed and pick up one of the rainbow. "This one is Vicodin. This is Darvon. This is Percodan."

"That's not funny Kerry."

"How did you find these?"

"Looking for a toothbrush. Kerry, what is this?"

I pick up a few more pills, dropping them into the old lozenge box. I look up at her and see the fear, confusion and the hint of tears.

Seems to be my norm for the morning after with Kim.

"I don't keep spare toothbrushes in my own bathroom. They're in the main bath down the hall."

"Kerry," she says and I can hear the tremble and cracking in her voice. I scoop up a handful of pills and they slide down the funnel of my hand, making clattering thuds as they fill the box. I'm sure there's a few around and I'll have to pick them up before Frances comes next, but for now I simply snap shut the lid and set them onto my night table.

"What do you think they are?"

"Damn it!" she screams at me and I see not-Kim standing in the corner, staring at us with a very worried expression. "I think these are quitting. I think these are running away."

Something snaps. "And you should be the expert on recognizing that."

She pales. Then she turns, scoops up an arm of clothing and walks out.

"Go after her!"

"Why should I?"

"Stop acting like a six year old. Sometimes I wonder why the hell I bother with you."

This Kim doesn't storm out. She simply disappears.

+++++

It takes me nearly a half hour to make it to the kitchen. From the noise I deduce that Mackenzie has returned Stinky. Except that Stinky shouldn't be operating the stove.

"What are you doing?"

"Making pancakes."

She has obviously raided my laundry room as she is wearing an old, faded and paint splotched set of scrub pants. That and the T-shirt I stole from her house over a year ago.

I continue in, sitting at the island. She carefully ladles batter onto a pan, dropping it slowly into the centre and watching it slowly expand until it stops about a half inch from the wall of the frying pan.

"Why are you making pancakes?"

"I do three breakfast things. Bagels when I'm nervous and pancakes when I'm angry."

"You said three," I say, after a slight pause.

"Oh, take out."

"Oh."

She cocks her head to one side, examining the pancake. The top has gone from wet and glossy to dull with little pock marks. She nods, picks up the pan giving it a quick shake before flipping the pancake into the air. It turns once before landing in the centre of the pan.

"Impressive."

"It's a zen thing," she says.

"I was surprised to see you here."

"I know, blow the whole klutz in the kitchen thing I have going."

"That's not what I meant."

"I know. You expected me to quit. To run away. To jump into the first plane or bed I found."

Not exactly how I would have phrased it.

"Yeah," I say.

"I decided to make you breakfast instead. That okay?"

I consider it. "That's okay."

"I found this in your pocket when I put them in the laundry. You'll probably want to add it to your collection."

She hands me the Oxycontin.

"I should explain."

"You don't have to. I haven't earned the right."

"No," I say. "You haven't."

There's a hissing intake of breath as her eyebrows rise. "I see we're not into social niceties mode today."

"I'm not. Pancake."

She looks startled and then grabs the pan handle and slides the slightly blackened pancake onto the plate.

"That one's yours," I inform her seriously.

"Kerry," she says, drawling two syllables into about five just chock full of meaning and pleading and grudging humour.

"With the hip and now this it would be very easy for me to get too dependent on painkillers. And one crutch is enough in my life."

She nods, opens her mouth and then shuts it. Stabs the burnt pancake. Goes to speak again and then stops.

"Say it," I tell her.

"That explains why you had the ability to store about fifty tablets of various narcotic analgesics blends. It doesn't explain why."

"Oooooh, she's good," whispers not-Kim in my ear.

"She's very good," I reply. "Will you accept the fact that while they may be running away or quitting they aren't something that I intend to use on a whim or after one bad day? Because, frankly, I've had a few of those and the pills weren't even an option."

"What are you scared of, Kerry?" she asks, almost silent and to herself.

"Princess Taffeta," I reply.

"Mr. Rogers use to scare the hell out me. He had all these normal things and then some magic toy or picture. I had a really hard time separating the reality from the fantasy."

I look at not-Kim, her face inches from the pancakes as she examines them as if she'd never seen one before.

"Tell me about it."

+++++

We eat the pancakes, even the crispy one, with breakfast tea, jam and maple syrup. The conversation is light and intimate with renewed ease. There is a great mountain of unresolved issues between us but today we simply enjoy the view rather than trying to climb it.

Breakfast drags into brunch, a light lunch and an early supper. There are absolutely no protests as I tuck the lozenge box of drugs back into the bathroom vanity although I can see one hovering in her eyes. There are absolutely no protests as I lead her to the bed although I suspect that she feels there should be. And that tomorrow Everest will be tackled.

"The pancakes were wonderful," I say as I drift off to sleep in her arms.

"It would be safer if they were mediocre," not-Kim says.

+++++

There are scars. I knew them all when I left and now, now that I've returned, I can see the ones that have happened since. Because of me.

Hubris, I know.

There is the physical scar across her lower chest. While the surgeons and later the cosmetic surgeons did their best there is no way to hide such a massive invasion of the human body. It is mostly healed; pink new skin puckering up against the white.

There are the little scars. The added lines around her eyes and forehead, far more than a simple year should produce. Lines of tension and stress, lines of squinting into the bright lights of work and self knowledge.

And there are the unseen scars that I can't see directly. The scars that make her eyes darken warily. The scars that make her take a step back and brace defensively. The scars that disturb her sleep and cause her to turn and twist.

I call her name softly, hoping to rouse her enough from the nightmare but not awaken her. Instead she grows more agitated.

I place my hand on her waist and she stills instantly.

The ramifications of that do not escape me.

I touch her shoulder and whisper her name and she shrugs my hand off.

I pull gently on the shoulder and she moves into me, cuddling into me and holding me tight.

The ramifications of that do not escape me.

I lie in a bed I shouldn't be in yet, holding a woman I shouldn't be holding yet while Kerry dances a new dance of distance and distractions that I do nothing to stop.

And the ramifications of that do not escape me either.

+++++

I hear the front door shut as Kerry heads of to her session. She mentioned shopping for a few things and gave a vague ETA of about four hours. I had nodded and mentioned checking in at my place and maybe taking a run.

Mostly the truth.

I dial the number from memory and the phone rings about a half dozen times before it's picked up.

"Phillips Graphics."

"Kate. It's me."

There is a pause. "Kim."

"How you doing?"

"Cut to the chase, Legs. What's up?"

"Do you know a--"

"Sandy Lopez. Yes, what do you want to know?"

"How did--?"

"She called me asking about you. Therefore, when you call me a couple of days later for the first time in half a year, I got four for an answer. So, unless I'm totally wrong and you've called to get together for coffee…?"

Six months?

"Can I bring the coffee?"

"Super large café au lait with a cinnamon bun."

"I'll be there in half an hour."

Forty five minutes later I'm knocking on the door to her loft.

"Punctual as always, Legs."

"I sense hostility."

"You should be a shrink. You have this intuition…"

"What is up with you?" I ask, interrupting her. She gestures for me to follow her deeper into the loft.

Kate's loft is an amazing thing; a techno-geeks wet dream as she likes to call it. One huge room with a twenty foot ceiling jam packed with audio visual and computer equipment. Areas are divided by shoji screens and the exact arrangement changes each time. The only constant is the kitchen, an island of chrome and marble in the centre of the loft. I plunk the bag of cinnamon buns and the pressed cardboard cup caddy onto the countertop before turning back.

Arms crossed, head down, double the usual personal space between us.

"What is up with you?" I ask again.

"I had a client lose a server and all the data because they didn't have a backup system in place and they're likely to lose a couple thousand in orders while I fix it. And they'll blame me because I didn't break their arm insisting on having a backup server. Plus I accepted an invite on Sunday and Allison accepted one on Sunday so we either have to stag it or do an appearance at each or blow one off or blow them both off. Plus, my coffee maker gave up the ghost and I dropped my last thermos and was seriously considering just trying to strain the glass shards out when sanity returned. And then you called and I get to take all the frustration out on you."

"That's not fair."

"I know. And I'd like you to remember that you said that to me in about five minutes. Now, what do you want to know?"

"Sandy Lopez," I said, cutting to the quick. Kate is a strange combination of mechanical cut to the chase with a smattering of the artist thrown in to dull some of the sharp edges. But she was clearly in mechanical mode today.

"Friend of Allison's who I know somewhere between casual acquaintance and friend. She dated Kerry Weaver for a few months until they had a fight over the exact use of closets. Sandy told me that she kissed Weaver at her hospital effectively outing her to any of her staff that weren't stupid and hadn't figured it out already. That's about it."

"And you're still her friend even though she outed someone? That's almost a form of assault. Do you know what kind of…"

"Hold it!"

I stop. Kate angry is a rare and scary sight. "Remember what you said about it not being fair about me taking out the server and coffee machine on you?"

I nod.

"Then stop taking out on Sandy what you did to Kerry. And stop taking out on Kerry what Michelle did to you."

I somehow find a stool and sit down. Kate sits beside me, calmly pressing a coffee into my hands before taking her own.

"How long have you waited to say that?" I finally ask.

"The second part since that dinner with Kerry and Christie. The first since you called today. You have issues, you know?"

"I know."

"You're seeing her?"

"Kerry. Yes. No. Sort of."

"Ah," she says, smiling and playing with the little plastic tab on the takeout lid. She grabs a ceramic mug from the counter and carefully transfers the coffee. "It always tastes better in a mug, don't you think?"

"Only if you think it does."

"I think it does," she insists, sipping experimentally. "Sandy is a good friend to Allison. She's active in both the Latino and lesbian community."

"She's a saint."

"Hardly. But she's not this villain you want to paint her. Why don't you go talk to her? She's at the fire hall until tomorrow midnight."

"You know her schedule?"

"Yeah, well, I do since I called her forty minutes ago."

I sigh. "Fine," I concede.

"Good. You two don't have a lot in common."

I blink that one through a few times. "There's Kerry."

Kate nods thoughtfully. "I'm just not sure if that's something you have in common or not."

"We're both out. We have that in common."

"No. I mean," she says quickly when I start to protest, "that you're out. But you're a psychiatrist. People like you and Allison, no one is surprised that you're gay because you're in those touchy-feely professions. Sandy's a firefighter, for the love of Pete. She might as well have Lesbian tattooed across her forehead."

"I don't automatically assume that a person's profession is dictated by their orientation."

"Yeah, right. That's why you had that shocked look on your face when that female cop turned out to be straight?"

I try a different tack. "They're called stereotypes for a reason."

"I don't care, Kim. People see a woman, doing that job with that whole stereotype thing going and suddenly there's all this added pressure not to let down any of her communities. A gay, Latino, female firefighter. We have it easy. So, no, you two don't have much in common."

Which sort of explains why, two hours later, I'm sitting on my ass in the middle of the back lot of a fire hall as Sandy Lopez waits patiently. I get to my feet and, as I'm dusting off my butt, she does this spinning fake out that has me on my ass again and the ball going through the hoop with a metallic rattle.

"You pretty much suck."

"I told you."

"I thought you were trying to hustle me."

"Wouldn't I have gone for a bet then?"

"There's hustling and hustling. Ready?"

I make the mistake of nodding and suddenly I'm on my ass and the metal net is shimmering.

"Damn, you really suck."

"Basketball is a spectator sport."

"Good thing the guys ain't watching. This would be a heckling sport then."

"Don't I get the ball?"

"Sure. Here." She fires the ball at my stomach and I catch it awkwardly. "Ready?"

Again, I make the mistake of nodding and suddenly I'm on my ass as she charges, slaps the ball out of my grip and I trip on my own feet trying to avoid a collision.

"Lemme help you up there, Blondie."

"Thank you. Ready to talk or do you want to humiliate me some more?"

"Little of both. Little of both. I can multi-task."

I grin despite myself and nod.

"You didn't tell Kerry I stopped by that day, did you?" she asks.

"Nope."

"How come?"

I don't object to the fact that I came here to ask her questions and she's the one asking. Sometimes you learn more just listening to what the other person asks.

"I was scared," I answer. If I'm going to do this I'm going to be honest.

She nods to herself and bounces the ball halfheartedly. "Why?"

I shrug. Basically honest.

"Couldn't stand the idea of competition?"

"Maybe," I say grudgingly.

"Maybe couldn't risk the chance of me being able to comfort her when you couldn't?"

I shrug. "All of the above."

"Okay, your turn?"

I'm taken aback and ask the first thing that pops into my head. "How did you meet?"

"That's complicated. I was just laying there and looked over and saw her."

I actually tap my ear a few times, convinced that repeated jarring to my ass has affected my hearing. "Laying?"

"Middle of the street. Damn thunder and lightning. Pouring down rain. Red flashing lights and sirens and all kinds of yelling and crackling from the power cables. And they all just went away for a second." She has a distracted tone, obviously reliving a vivid memory. "Didn't actually meet for a few days when we caught each other on a call and she stitched up my hand and she asked me out."

"She asked you?" I ask, tone almost proud at the thought of my shy Kerry asking someone out.

"Yeah, movie, ice fishing, red hot sex right there in the stitch up room. She was pretty open for suggestions."

I gape like a fish out of water before I catch the smug look. "Okay, got me."

"Gullible and sucks at basketball. The stereotypes are just falling all over the place."

"What do you mean?"

"Tall people rock at basketball. Shrinks are hard to fool. But you suck at basketball and I can yank your chain easy."

I shrug. I want to avoid any more talk about stereotypes having been humiliated with the subject mere hours ago. She passes the ball and I quickly turn and shoot it toward the basket. It misses and bounces between some parked cars causing three alarms to go off.

"Damn."

"You two back together?" she asks from behind me.

"Sort of," I reply as we retrieve the ball.

"You sleeping with her?"

"Is that any of your business?"

"About as much as you being down here giving me hell for outing her at the hospital."

"I can see why she likes you."

She grins. "This body, this personality and-" she slaps the ball out of my hands, spins and shoots and the net barely rattles as the ball passes through, "-this amazing gift at b-ball."

"Don't forget the modesty," I mutter.

"Didn't dump you on your ass. Say thank you."

The ball bounces to my feet. "Thank you," I say, refusing to pick it up.

"She and I," she says, looking down at the ball as well, "I don't think we would have got back together, much as both of us maybe wanted to. Too many little things. And with you back in the picture-" she looks up, smiling wistfully, "I figure I don't have much of a chance at all. I envy you."

"She, Kerry I mean, she cares for you," I say, sounding so lame I wince.

"Kerry? I was talking about your height. Can you imagine how good I'd be with reach, woman?" She moves to bat the ball again but suddenly the air is split with a loud claxon and she spins toward the hall. "Gotta go," she yells over her shoulder.

"Hey! Be careful!"

She turns, jogging backward for a few steps. "You too."

"Me?"

"Think about it, Blondie. I'm going into a burning building. You're---" She shrugs, turns and disappears. But she doesn't have to finish the sentence.

I'm going home to Kerry and explain this afternoon.

SECTION THREE: Adjustment

"Oh, God, Kerry. Where do you learn to do that?"

I pause. "A lady doesn't tell."

"I'm not sure a lady would know how to do that."

"Well, I wouldn't want my reputation--"

"And a lady certainly wouldn't stop," Kim says. Just before she loses it and we both start giggling that turns into outright laughter and suddenly she's cradling me against her chest, all thoughts of sex replaced by simple joy. She runs her finger along the edge of my ear and I sigh happily.

"I like that," I say. "I missed that."

"No one else tickled your ears?"

"No. Just you," I say, sighing in contentment again.

"How was your session?" she asks.

"Fine. I think he's started a monograph. Middle aged latent lesbian with post traumatic stress syndrome, a case study. Expect to read all about me in the Journal. Or see me on Springer."

"Does he know about this," she asks, hugging me tight to indicate that 'this' is her in my bed.

"Yeah. He said it was perfectly normal to seek someone out when confronted with death. He kind of hinted that you should have known better though."

"Hinted. How hinted?"

"Damn woman is a psychiatrist. She should know better."

She draws back and looks me in the eye. "Please don't tease me, Kerry. My ego was thoroughly trashed yesterday."

I look at her.

"You think this is wrong."

"I think the timing could have been better."

Somehow I get myself away and up and out the bedroom door. Where I am stopped abruptly.

"Get your butt back in there, you snivelling coward."

"She said--"

"The timing could be better. Is she wrong?"

"No, but--"

"There is no but. The timing sucked. If Mark hadn't died leaving you feeling guilty and alone you wouldn't have pressed it and she wouldn't be in there right now, sitting in your bed, trying to decide if she should come after you or let you talk to yourself some more."

"God damn it!" I yell at the top of my lungs.

"Kerry?" asks Kim, voice muffled by the closed door.

"Grow up."

I sigh. "God damn it," I repeat before turning and going back into the bedroom.

She's sitting cross legged on the bed, sheets and blanket pooled around her waist. Her hair is all over, a halo of bright against the darker wood and paint of my room.

"The timing could have been better," I say. She nods. "But we can work with this, right? I haven't screwed everything up because of this, right?"

She pats the bed beside her and I walk slowly there and sit.

"We'll work with this. As long as both of us come back when we need to run away then we can work with it," she says as she crawls behind me. Long legs snuggle mine and long arms hold me tight. I close my eyes and lean slowly back against her. "Now, how was your session?"

I smile. "Good. I figure another ten years or so and I'll be done."

She chuckles and I enjoy the feel of it along my backbone. "Optimist. It took you nearly forty years to get this fucked up; you think a mere decade is going to straighten you out?"

I laugh and marvel how good it is to laugh with her. Laughing was something we use to do, first time around when we were just friends. Jokes about popsicle enemas and howling at the moon. I sigh. We lost the laughing somewhere along the line.

"How about you? Did you get your errands done?"

"Ahhh, some. I picked up some clothes from the new place but didn't get to the old place yet. And then I got here and puttered a bit until I got sleepy."

"Sorry I zonked out so early. I did try to stay awake but who knew talking was so tiring." She hugs me tight and I can feel her nuzzling through my hair toward the back of my neck. "So what else did you do?"

The nuzzling stops. "I visited a few exes," she says with forced casualness.

"Christie and Kate?"

Her arms tighten and I can't tell if it's tension or to brace me for something.

"No, actually. Kate and Sandy."

My eyes snap open, taking in the second Kim making wild gestures with her hands.

"Is it here?"

I nod.

"What's it doing?"

"You know that hand sign Mackenzie is teaching Stinky? The stay and sit and you get a treat?"

"Yeah."

"That's what she's doing."

Kim laughs softly. "If I knew this I'd have picked up some doggie biscuits for you."

We sit for several minutes while not-Kim slowly sits on my vanity bench. She doesn't bother to speak. She doesn't have to.

"Why did you go see them?" I finally say, breaking the silence before it got awkward.

"Bad reasons," she says, burrowing into my hair again. "Kate to get the dirt on Sandy and Sandy to yell at. To give her a piece of my mind."

"Didn't turn out that way?" I ask.

"Hardly. Kate yelled at me and then Sandy whipped my ass at basketball." There's a slight pause before she adds, "She wasn't at all like I was expecting."

It occurs to me suddenly that she's holding onto me, not to stop my flight, but to stop hers. I lace my fingers into hers and she squeezes.

"What's it doing now?" she asks.

"Watching. Listening. Worrying."

"Why. Why worried?"

"She says some of our conversations are like minefields."

"It is good at metaphors."

I laugh and an earlier thought returns. "You and I didn't laugh much in bed the first time, did we?"

She's silent and the spirit guide is giving me a golf clap. Apparently I done good.

"No," she finally says. "We were more passion, exhaustion, unconsciousness." She pauses and I can almost feel herself willing all the negative emotion out of her next sentence. "Sandy taught you that?"

I turn my head, grinning back at her. "A lady doesn't tell, remember?"

She laughs, falling and pulling me backwards onto her. "Come here, lady. And tell that spirit voyeur to buzz off."

But I don't have to because she's gone.

+++++

The house is quiet.

Too quiet.

There is noise of course. This is Chicago in the summer. There is the muted roar of various lawn mowing that didn't get done on the weekend. Children playing and the regular clicking noise of skateboards and scooters hitting the sidewalk cracks. Dogs, Stinky amongst them, barking as they play. The deep rumble thumping of cars with their sound systems far too loud stopping all too briefly at the stop sign at the corner. And, it being Chicago, there is always a plane flying overheard or sirens in the distance. I'm playing her favourite CD on the stereo and I left the radio on in the kitchen plus I started a load of wash, filled the dryer and dishwasher a little while ago.

But the house?

Too quiet.

"Because she's not here?"

"She's at work. She may come by later."

"Why don't you call her? Maybe… oh… ask her?"

"She's busy settling in at the hospital. Plus she got the ED on-call pager. I don't want to bother her."

"Right. Bwaaak bwaaak bwaaak."

"You're pretty childish for a figment of my imagination."

"If that's true what does it say about your imagination?"

I ignore her, turning back to my book.

"Bwaaak."

I throw my book at her and pick up the cordless phone. "Don't think I'm doing this because of your juvenile behaviour, I'm doing it because…"

"You've reached the desk of Dr. Kim Legaspi," begins a familiar voice in my ear. I'm happy to see that the long promised telephone upgrades have finally come through. "I'm in the office today but can't take your call at the moment. If your need is immediate please press zero and the Desk Nurse will direct your call. If you wish to leave a message press one, leave the necessary contact information and I'll return it as soon as possible. If you wish to have hot torrid phone sex then press six nine followed by the pound sign and…"

I slam down the phone. I stare at it for a few seconds and then pick it up ever so cautiously when it rings.

"Call display, Kerry. Or have I scandalized your cleaning woman?"

"No, just gave me an MI. Your day is going well?"

"Yes it is. Romano sent a large bouquet of crimson roses and pink pansies. De Raad arranged for new furniture and it was all here when I arrived. The psych residents have been bowing and scrapping as if I have the power of life and death over them because, well, because I do. All in all a good day. How about you?"

I debate internally how cool and self-reliant I want to sound. Until I hear myself say, "The house is really quiet."

There's a pause. "You want me to pick up some take out and come over after work?"

Again begins the internal debate about want and need and dependence and distance but my mouth is saying, "Yes, please."

"Anything you feel like?"

"You," I say. "I mean, you choose."

There's a longer pause. "Kerry, do you want me to come over now?"

"Yes," I say honestly. "But come after work, okay?"

"Okay. I will. I… I'll see you then."

"Right."

I hang up and look at the foot of the couch.

But it's empty.

+++++

Six hours later I awake and it's occupied again.

The kids are in at supper, the stereo and radios are off, the lawns are mowed and all the various major appliances are silent.

Yet the house isn't quiet.

She's reading a journal from the dim light of the end table, glasses perched on the tip of her nose, still wearing the dress trousers and blouse that she wore into work this morning. I watch her for several minutes, how her brow furrows and how she nods in seeming agreement and how she sometimes tracks the words with her index finger. Finally she becomes aware of my scrutiny and looks over.

"Nice nap?"

"You didn't wake me."

"No, I didn't. I figured you needed it."

I stretch cautiously, a slight twinge in my hip and tightness around my chest. But everything else feels good.

"I guess I did. The first day was all right?"

"Hmm. Elizabeth popped in on her way to the airport to say good bye. I'm to pass that along to you. And to tell me that crimson roses are a sign of mourning. Apparently that's covered in a British public school education."

"A hint of subtle that I didn't think Robert was capable of," I say.

"Subtle is all he has left in his arsenal what with the documentation my lawyers dug up on him. You hungry?"

I think and nod. "What did you bring?"

She blushes. "I couldn't decide. So I stopped by a few and picked up a selection and anything we don't eat tonight you can reheat for your lunch tomorrow. Or I can brown bag to work if I leave from here."

If?

"It makes sense to stay here. You have enough clothes and I'm closer to the hospital."

She nods without looking at me. "Yes, that's true." She stands abruptly. "Thai, Polish, Italian or Mexican?"

I stand much slower, following her into the kitchen. "Ker-boom," says a voice behind me. I glance over my shoulder at the spirit guide. "Another mine."

"Damn it, what did I say?"

The real Kim answers me. "Nothing. Very logical reasons. The Italian is simply spaghetti. We also have…"

I zone her out as I turn, rudderless, to my guide. "Logic is good," she tells me, "if you're dating Spock. Why don't you tell her she should share your bed in the winter so you can turn the thermostat down a few degrees and save on your gas bill?"

"Damn it," I mutter.

"You don't like Polish?"

"No, I mean, yes. Polish is fine. I mean, I didn't mean that you should stay here because it's closer but because I want you to stay here."

"When you're awake you do."

What?

She's busying herself, opening up two Styrofoam containers and dividing the contents of each onto two microwave plates, very intent on the sausage, sauerkraut and potatoes.

"Kim?"

She looks up briefly. "But when you're asleep you still mistrust me. You toss and turn. Move away from me," she says before turning and sticking the first plate into the microwave.

I find myself unable to defend my subconscious.

"It's okay," she continues, watching the microwave turntable. "I understand. We skipped a few steps. We could have taken it slower, kept it casual, seen other people while we were learning about each other again. But it would have been artificial, right?"

I nod.

"If we weren't sleeping together it would be hanging over us. If we stop it's artificial and forced. If we continue," she takes a deep breath, "you'll use it to avoid talking and, God help me, I'll let you."

"I…" I try to explain but she holds up her hand and I fall silent.

"Some ways, Kerry, you're exactly the same. And sometimes I don't know you."

I take the step and a half necessary to reach her, holding her tight around the waist until the microwave's ding when she pulls away, quickly switching the plates before she leans back against the counter, opening her arms to me. I step inside and we hold each other.

"Sorry," I say.

"It's okay. I'm told I was a bitch to sleep beside after we broke up," she says into my hair. There's a double heartbeat of a pause. "Damn, that was insensitive of me."

"I knew that there were others after," I say into her collarbone as the microwave dings again. "Let's eat and figure this out."

We eat at the island in the kitchen, our only conversation along the lines of pass the salt.

"No help from your little friend?" she asks.

"No, I think I'm on my own."

"So, on your own, what do you think?"

"I think," I say slowly, "that I need you to stay tonight. Because the house is too quiet without your heart beating in it."

She stares at me looking as surprised at my words as I feel. "Wow."

I had been fortunate that the people who mattered to me had always told me and had always thought, always believed in one thing. That I could do anything I wanted.

I wanted this. And all it would take was a leap of faith and a bright light to guide me.

I reach out to her, hand over her heart and press until I think I can feel it against my palm. "I'm about to leap."

She nods. "I've got the flashlight locked on."

One of us moves, slowly and then the other until we're standing, touching only through my hand on her heart until she slowly covers my hand with hers.

"I'm staying," she says.

I nod and lead her upstairs.

+++++

I wake in the night to find her staring at me, head propped up on her hand while her other hand plays with the hem of my t-shirt sleeve.

"What are you doing?"

"Watching you sleep. Calling your name softly and watching you turn toward my voice. Touching you like this," and she strokes the curve of my ear, "and watching you move into it."

I smile sleepily. "You going to do that all night?"

"Probably."

"Okay."

I wake again and she's sleeping, head cradled in the crook of her arm and her other hand lying on my newest scar.

"What happened in the kitchen?"

I glance at the foot of the bed where she sits. "You weren't watching?"

"I'm always watching. But I'm not always reading your mind."

"I realized that I don't need to trust her. I need to trust me. My feelings." I turn back to the sleeping Kim who looks even more fragile and young. "I don't think I trusted her the first time. Not really. Not to stay or to not hurt me. Like I was expecting us to hurt each other."

"And now?" the guide asks softly.

I glance down. "I died. Heh, in some ways I've been dead for forty years. Living should be a piece of cake."

"But you will hurt her. She will hurt you."

"Maybe. But she's worth the risk of getting hurt. We're worth the risk."

"I'm glad you think so," Kim murmurs sleepily from beside me. I face her, her eyes half lidded, and brush a strand of her hair back.

"I do," I say. "Do you mind sticking around for the next couple of decades or so? Maybe longer?"

Her eyes snap open and she nods once, more to herself than me. "You're just in it for the pancakes."

"Not to mention the lower heating bill in the winter," adds not-Kim.

"Shut up," I say.

"Make me."

"Not you."

"Crowded bed again?"

I move even closer to her. "No, just right."

+++++

UPDATE

The ER is business as normal. 'Chairs' is full, children trying to play tag while parents try to stop them. The corridors are full of patients waiting for tests or results or just someone to tell them that they can get dressed and go home. Staff thread their way through, carrying supplies and trays and pushing carts and wheelchairs and gurneys.

I glance at the board and smile.

Despite the apparent chaos there is order and method. Names, printed neatly on the clear plastic in alphabetical order. Colour coded to differentiate between students, residents and attending. My name is in bright red at the bottom.

"Donut, Chief?"

"Thanks, Jerry."

"Coffee, Dr. Weaver? Double double."

"Thanks, Frank," I say, taking my mug, name in red just like on the board.

"Doctor Weaver?" Randi says from her seat by the phones. "Dr. Romano's office called to say that your budget projections are approved and to start the hiring process for the new attending positions."

From beside me Mark laughs. "You'll need a bigger board, eh, Kerry?"

I laugh with him as John hands a file to Randi who quickly files it. He erases 'curtain 2' and carefully prints 'suture rm' across from his name. Carter is written in yellow as befits a resident but outlined in green to signify his position as Chief Resident. Visual cues help staff and students keep the chain of command clear when there's an emergency.

"I'll do that slasher next," Carter says cheerfully, heading to Curtain 1.

"Carter! You need to go to sutures!" but he ignores me.

"Kids," snorts Mark as the screaming starts. "Can't tell them anything."

I look up at the black and white board as the letters begin to flip rapidly. Knight - cancelled. Gant - cancelled. Carter - delayed. Green -

"You know," Mark says. "The more you stay…"

- cancelled.

I spin around, looking for anything to anchor me and stumble on my crutch. "Kim?" I call out.

"Sorry, Doc," Randi says, popping a large pink bubble, "Legs is in California dating Melissa Etheridge."

"But, she was here."

"Yeah," says Malucci. "And I have the tape to prove it." He holds up a video tape, a colour picture of Kim and Christie naked on the cover and the words 'Kimmie does County' written in neon pink.

"Wanna watch it with me?" he asks. "Chick on chick."

"No, I…"

"The more you stay," Mark says again. Slowly, stumbling and searching for his words.

Chen and Pratt run by and Malucci joins them in a game of tag with the defib paddles. They crash into Luka, all going down in a heap. Luka rises first, grabbing an IV pole and smashing it into the pile of bodies again and again and again. To the side Carter and Abby watch, sitting on a gurney and sharing a giant sized popcorn tub of Percodan and a pitcher of beer with two straws.

"The more you stay."

There's moisture on my hand and I look down as drops of blood fall. I look up as the last of my name disappears from the board.

Cancelled.

"The more it kills you."

There is someone yelling my name, shaking me and I awake. My nightclothes and hair are plastered to my skin. The bed sheet is tangled around my legs and Kim around my arms. I'm awake but still fighting her.

"Kerry. It's a dream."

It's a good thing she didn't say 'only a dream' or 'just a dream' because then I'd probably have started screaming again.

She holds me, brushing my hair away from my neck, not speaking, as my breathing slowly returns to normal. I squeeze her forearm and she releases me.

"What was it?" she asks.

"I think I may be a little bit nervous about tomorrow."

+++++

Despite my protests she insists on driving in with me even though it will strand her there. She drives my car easily in the rush hour traffic, pulling into the parking garage and heading to my favourite spot on the roof.

"You just like the handicapped tags," I say.

"Ya got me there," she agrees as she sets the parking brake. Her car, largely unused, is at her new apartment, also largely unused. "But it's not my fault your street has such tight ass parking wardens."

I nod, making no move to get out of the car while she gathers up the paraphernalia. Cell phone, mp3 player and adaptor from my cassette deck, briefcase from the back seat.

"Ready?"

It amazes me that an otherwise intelligent woman can ask such stupid questions.

"Yeah, sure."

"It's just a few hours, Kerry. Touch base, say hi, pick up some papers and go home. That's it."

That's it. Both of my therapists, physio and psych, think it's a great idea to get my feet wet for a few hours. Adjust slowly. Baby steps.

"Do you consider this work?"

"What?" I asked, confused.

"The parking garage. Is it 'work'," she asks again, putting little air quotes around the word work.

"No, not really, why?"

"Because I know you'd be uncomfortable if I did this at work."

Rational though flees as she pulls me to her, one hand on the back of my head and the other on my thigh as she kisses me in a way I haven't been kissed since before the shooting. It's the 'Damn I want to make slow love with you right now or at least grab a quicky in the back seat' kind of kiss that chases the butterflies away.

"Wow," I say as she finally draws back.

"Still nerv-- umphff."

About fifteen minutes later we finally leave the car.

+++++

The ER is business as normal. 'Chairs' is full, children trying to play tag while parents try to stop them. The corridors are full of patients waiting for tests or results or just someone to tell them that they can get dressed and go home. Staff thread their way through, carrying supplies and trays and pushing carts and wheelchairs and gurneys.

I glance at the board and wince. A voice, shrill and carrying, can be heard over the din.

"Pratt, find dates on your own time. Get into curtain three or I'll make sure you get the next three hemorrhoids."

I catch Randi's eye at the admin desk and wink. She nods once before turning back to her nails and I approach unseen.

"Goddamnit," Susan mutters. "Its not the person it's the job. I'm beginning to sound like her."

"Nah," I say. "You knew me before. I was pretty much always a shrill, heartless harpy before I was made Chief." Susan turns, starts to smile, thinks better of it momentarily before a full grin appears. I find myself smiling back. "You might try threatening him with stomach flu. Nothing like serial projectile vomiting to whip a resident into shape."

"Kerry! You look good."

She seems sincere so I smile back and nod. "Just stopped by to get my bearings. I don't want my job back."

I'm rather proud of not adding 'yet'.

"Yet anyways," she says with a laugh. "Well, when you want it you can have it. I swear I'm constantly either losing my voice or getting an ulcer. Anything I can do for you?"

I shake my head. "I just wanted to do some reading in m… the office. Catch up on some of the memos and changes so it doesn't all hit me at once."

"Great. Middle drawer, right hand side. I've been saving stuff for you," she says as the ambulance bay doors crash open. She looks over my shoulder. "Gotta run."

+++++

After a few hours I give it up. Apparently I've lost the knack of merely skimming through Robert's bullshit to find the core of the matter. Or he's been honing his obfuscation skills.

I put the thick folder back into the drawer and lock the desk and office door.

I leave the admin side corridor and find myself back in the Emergency Department. They're busy and the few that see and recognize me nod but continue on with their jobs. Today I elect to take that as a compliment, that I've trained them so well that doing their job comes first.

I'm on my way to the elevator bank with the intent of saying goodbye to Kim before heading home. I make it to the center of the open area when I hear the ping and the elevator door begin to open.

I don't know how long I stood there before becoming aware of the loose circle of people staring at me and John's hand on my elbow.

"Kerry?" he says, voice loud enough that it's obvious he's been repeating my name a few times. He gives a fierce look at the people who all immediately remember what they were doing. "You zoned out there for a bit."

I nod. I don't ask how long because I don't really want to know. "I ah, I…"

He squeezes my elbow and I give up trying to remember English. "It's okay," he says. "I walk in there some days and…"

Apparently the inability to complete sentences is contagious. He clears his throat and his hand falls away from me. "Are you seeing someone? I mean, a therapist? I mean, ah damn."

I feel a genuine smile at the question and the blush that crosses his cheeks.

"Yes, John. I'm seeing a therapist about the… incident. And other things."

He nods. "Good. I mean, people said that I should but I thought I could handle it."

"I should have made you go."

"Yeah," he says lightly. "You should have. But I forgive you."

He says it as if a joke but I catch the sincerity. "Thanks, John."

"What else are friends for, Kerry?"

"Guess I'm just realizing that."

+++++

She waves me to a chair, intent on her conversation and whoever is on the other end of the phone.

"And I'm telling you that I don't care if he's smarter than Einstein and his daddy is the president of the United States. He doesn't belong in psych so get him into another residency program within the week. Because I won't clear him to see patients, not even as an observer. Last thing my patients need to see, especially State patients who've waited over six months for an appointment, is some smug rich bastard who seems to think their problems are for his amusement."

She listens, opening a drawer in her desk. She reaches in, pulls out a small foam ball and pitches it. It strikes a picture of the gathered board of directors and falls neatly into a garbage can.

"Go ahead. Ask for another attending to take him over. But ask at another hospital because I have the full backing of both my department head and my chief of staff. And be sure that I'll be sending whatever poor bastard gets him my full evaluation report."

She listens some more, tossing three balls and frowning as all three go in.

"Fine. I'd suggest research because he has the bedside manner of a night table. One of those decorative ones that's not big enough to hold both a lamp and your book. Goodbye."

"Hey," she says to me, tossing the sponge ball so that it hits me on the chest.

"I thought basketball wasn't your game?"

"This is more like, um, vertical pool. You done here?"

"I'm heading home. Dealt with as much written bull as I can for now."

"You want me to bring home something? Polish? Thai? Pizza?"

"It's okay. I'll stop by the market and pick up something simple to make."

"Everything was okay down there?" she asks.

"I had a slight black out by the elevator banks. I seem to have trouble concentrating on technical memos and am worried that it may stretch to my medical reading. I'm terrified at what is going to happen when I get my first gun shot patient to the point where I don't know if I can work down in Emergency. I don't even know if I can work in another hospital as anything other than administration."

She blinks a few times, obviously taken aback. "I see."

"And no, I am not comfortable admitting weakness, even with you. That was as hard as hell."

She smiles. "What are we having for dinner?"

"Trout. Spiced potatoes. Baby carrots. Snow pea pods."

"That's simple?"

"Ice cream for desert."

"Okay then," Kim said. The smile broadened. "How does this feel?"

"This whole terribly domestic spousal conversation?"

"Yes," she says and I smile inwardly at her startle over the word spousal.

"I'm adapting," I say, my eyes drifting momentarily over her shoulder where Not-Kim stands holding a white card with bold black lettering over Kim's head.

9.9.

"And apparently the Russian judges agree."

+++++

1