THE ROAD BACK HOME

By

Lynne Norris

February 2001

Disclaimers: All characters in the story are my own creation. This story is an original work and is copyrighted by the author. It cannot be sold or used for profit in any way.

Violence Warning/Disclaimer: This story takes place in and around a hospital. No patient confidentiality has been compromised in the creation of this story. It depicts scenes of violence, death and/or their aftermath. Some scenes may be explicit or graphic in nature. Readers who are disturbed by or sensitive to this type of depiction may wish to read something else.

Hurt/comfort Warning/Disclaimer: This story may be classified as a hurt/comfort story.

Love/Sex Warning/Disclaimer: The story depicts a love/sexual relationship between two consenting adult women. Some scenes may be explicit in nature. If you are under 18 years of age or if this type of story is illegal in the state or country in which you live, please do not read it. If depictions of this nature disturb you, you may wish to read something other than this story.

To all the women who beta read this story, offering their advice, support and friendship along the way – my thanks. You are all very special to me.

Comments and feedback welcome – L66n@msn.com

This story is dedicated to the woman who holds my heart and soul, Catherine, who believed in me even when I’ve doubted myself.

 

 

Chapter One

 

 

 

Steam pulsed from the bright yellow kettle followed by a high-pitched whistle a second later, announcing that the water was boiling. The tall, shadowed figure pushed off the wall opposite the stove and quickly turned the gas burner off, silencing the noise. The woman grimaced, her chest muscles still protesting the strain, as she lifted the kettle and poured the water into two white, ceramic mugs. Silently, except for the occasional gentle click of the spoon on the sides of the cup, she stirred the coffee and stared at the wall in the kitchen of her lover’s home.

Lost in thought, Alex absently tugged at the neck of her oversized, white tee shirt draped over her strong, athletic form. Her body was almost masculine in its carriage except for the soft curves and full breasts that were hidden by the loose fitting garment. Whether the cotton was irritating the slightly raised, vertical scar that ran the length of her sternum she wasn’t sure, but she was distinctly aware of the sharp, intermittent stabs of pain that drew her attention to the area.

For a split second, she was back in the trauma room and the sickening, vice-like clamp around her chest was making it hard to breathe again. The panic slammed into her like a freight train and she gripped the edge of the counter hard, steadying herself against the sudden weakness in her legs. She fought the rising bile in her throat and willed herself to stay upright against the tide of uncontrolled fear. Seconds passed and the hollow, empty feeling receded, leaving her with an almost irrational sense of giddiness. She exhaled hard and cursed softly as the sharp, staccato report of the gun firing immediately followed by the searing pain in her chest replayed in her memory.

She tilted her head, hearing a murmur coming from the bedroom that was a short distance from the narrow galley kitchen. It was still early, only five o’clock in the morning, but neither Alex nor Regina had been sleeping well as the day drew closer for them to return to work. The tall dark-haired woman sipped the hot beverage, and then set the mug down on the counter, deciding to let it cool for a couple of minutes.

She was expected at a medical director’s meeting at ten. The fallout from Dr. Jameson’s drug scandal was far reaching, and the community was quick to register its mistrust; the overall admissions to the hospital were down a drastic ten percent overall. Alex sighed, knowing ten percent didn’t sound like much, but in this day and age with the hostile competitiveness of the health care environment, the other hospitals jumped at the opportunity to capitalize on Xavier’s very public humiliation. Having been the catalyst that thrust the dirty little secret out into the open, Alex was left in the awkward position of being both a savior to the staff in the ER who worked for Dr. Jameson and a traitor to the administrators who were personal friends of the doctor.

A distraught cry jarred her from her thoughts and she moved quickly out of the kitchen toward the bedroom. At the door, Alex heard Regina moan from the bed as she thrashed beneath the blankets. She stepped closer and listened intently, straining to hear what the blonde was mumbling in her sleep.

"Oh God," Regina moaned. "No please…Oh God…Oh God…Oh-"

Unable to stand the tortured sounds as her lover struggled in her dream, her hands twitching as she clutched at the covers, Alex crawled onto the bed beside her.

"Regina?" Gentle hands shook the sleeping woman’s shoulders.

"Regina, hey, wake up." Alex reached up and stroked Regina’s face, trying to rouse her.

The horrible dream slowly receded and Regina’s body relaxed slightly as the desperate feeling of dread faded. Her hands slowly released their grip on the blankets and the worried frown on her face eased. The tousled blonde head turned and green eyes blinked, slowly focusing on the worried face looking down at her.

Alex curled up beside Regina, propping herself up on one arm as she wiped the damp tendrils of hair back off her lover’s forehead. "Shh, you were having a nightmare."

Regina’s eyes widened and she sat up throwing her arms around the dark-haired woman. She buried her head in Alex’s shoulder and held on tightly, scrunching her eyes together as she fought back the overwhelming sense of fear and loss.

"You’re here," she finally whispered, still clutching Alex to her.

Startled by the intense reaction, Alex just held onto her, rubbing her hand over her back and neck and murmuring soft words of comfort to her.

"I’m right here, Reg. I’m right here." She held back a grunt as she lowered herself onto her side and wrapped her body around the smaller one that was plastered to hers. Alex watched the young woman huddled against her and wondered what was haunting her dreams.

The blonde inhaled the warm, familiar scent of Alex’s skin, allowing it to calm her racing heart and ground her in the reality that her lover was alive and well and here, holding her tightly. Come on Reg. Get a grip. She’s here, she’s fine. Damn, why am I still dreaming like this?

"It must have been a bad one. You were crying out." Alex brushed her lips against Regina’s forehead. "Do you remember what it was about?"

Regina shook her head and rubbed the bridge of her nose as she closed her eyes, trying to pull back the fragmented pieces that were rapidly fading into her subconscious the more awake she became. "No, no it’s gone now."

The taller woman reached for Regina’s hand and squeezed it gently. "It’s ok."

Inside she knew they were both suffering from the after affects of the whole traumatic ordeal, but neither had ventured to broach the subject, afraid of the floodgates of emotion it would unleash and unsure if they could withstand the repercussions from it so early on in their newfound relationship. Alex rested her cheek on Regina’s head and closed her eyes, taking solace in the knowledge that they had grown so close as friends before having plunged into the emotional and sometimes turbulent waters of being lovers. The woman she held in her arms knew more about her vulnerabilities than anyone else in this world and she hoped their friendship would sustain them because right now, she felt her control slipping and it frightened her.

Alex squeezed her eyes shut and pressed her lips against the soft blonde hair. "I love you, Regina," she breathed. It was spoken as both a vow and a plea.

The blonde turned and reached up, encircling Alex’s shoulders with her arm. Her lips found their mark, and Alex tilted her head, prolonging the soft, gentle contact of their mouths as their lips joined in a kiss.

The contact created growing warmth down in her belly and Alex trailed her hand down Regina’s jaw, letting her fingers come to rest gently against the side of her neck. She felt the smaller woman ease up the contact and then pull back to look up at her.

"That was nice," she murmured softly, rubbing her cheek against Regina’s, enjoying the slowly growing intimacy they were both beginning to feel comfortable with again. The first few weeks out of the hospital were miserable, leaving them both emotionally and physically drained during Alex’s recovery.

"Yeah." Regina’s expression was wistful as she gazed back up at Alex. "I wish I’d stop having these damn dreams." She watched as her companion swept her mane of long black hair back over her shoulder and peered at her from beneath her rumpled bangs. There was something about the way Alex looked at her that made her feel like everything would be right with the world if they could just stay right here.

"You don’t remember what they’re about?" Alex asked softly.

"Just bits and pieces, but nothing that makes any sense to me." Regina rubbed her face, flopped back down onto the pillow, and groaned.

"Mm, you want some coffee?" Alex changed the subject, hearing the rising frustration in Regina’s voice.

Regina turned and snuggled closer to Alex. "Yeah, I’d love some. I feel like I have cobwebs inside my head."

Alex chuckled and let one hand stray down Regina’s side and rub gently over the soft, smooth skin of her hip before she climbed out of bed. "Come on Doc, let’s get that coffee. No cobwebs allowed on your first day back."

Regina followed the taller woman and grimaced as her feet touched the cold hardwood floor. "So, are you sure you’re definitely up for this?"

"Yes, Dr. Kelly released me yesterday," Alex assured her as she walked barefoot into the kitchen and handed Regina the steaming mug of coffee.

The blonde sipped the hot liquid and studied the angular face of her lover. Even though six weeks of rest and eating well had made a world of difference in the physical appearance of the taller woman, Regina was still worried about Alex. She’d voiced her concerns about Alex returning to work so soon, but was met with stubborn opposition about suggesting that Alex take more time off.

"You certainly look like you feel better and you’ve gained some weight back at least."

Alex smirked at this and wrapped an arm around Regina’s shoulder. "How could I not with the way you’ve been feeding me? I’m going to get love handles soon."

Regina snorted softly and rubbed Alex’s belly, grateful not to feel the pronounced outline of her ribs anymore. "As if that would ever happen. Hey, doctor’s orders. Remember?" The blonde squeezed her waist gently, mindful of the pain that still frequently plagued Alex from the injury.

The brunette set her mug down on the counter and turned so she was facing the smaller woman, linking her hands behind Regina’s back. "You know, I am not going to break. You can squeeze me harder than that."

In response, Regina tightened her arms around Alex’s waist slightly and tilted her head up to smile at her. "I know. I just don’t-"

Alex’s lips against hers cut off her sentence; Regina leaned against her, reveling in the sweetness of her lips, and the texture of her tongue as they gently explored each other. The taller woman ran her fingertips along the side of Regina’s cheek, letting them come to rest onto the sensitive skin of her neck before she broke off the contact and gazed down at the blonde wrapped in her arms.

"It’s ok. You’re not going to hurt me." Alex slowly released her and leaned back against the counter. Her mouth quirked into a hesitant grin and she glanced down at the floor before she spoke again. "You still interested in coming over to my place after your shift tonight?"

Regina reached over and interlaced her fingers with Alex’s, surprising the taller woman. "Sure, I already packed my bag." She squeezed the hand once, then opened the refrigerator and studied the contents, before deciding on making omelets for breakfast. "I assume we need to go shopping for food if we plan to eat anything," the blonde glanced back up at her companion.

Alex pursed her lips and tilted her head, eyes flashing mischievously before she spoke. "I don’t suppose macaroni and cheese out of a box is going to cut it, huh?"

"Not even close," Regina countered, tugging at the hem of her lover’s shirt. "Come on, if we don’t get a move on we’re going to be late. I have rounds with Dr. Timmons at seven."

*******

After dropping Regina off at the doctor’s entrance so she could make it to rounds on time, Alex entered the medical center through one of the lesser-used entrances and walked down the back corridor to the linen department. She signed out a pair of large gray-blue scrubs and was almost out of the area when she heard a woman’s voice call out her name from behind her.

Alex turned around and looked warily at the petite, red-haired woman who worked in the linen department. This was exactly what she wanted to avoid when she came back: those first awkward interactions.

"Hello, Margarite."

"It’s good to have you back Doctor Margulies." The woman walked up to Alex and smiled tentatively. "You must be feeling better."

The dark head nodded briefly. "Yes, I am feeling better." Alex started to turn to walk away, but felt a touch on her arm.

"I am glad that you are the Medical Director. That other man is mean. He treated everyone badly."

Alex looked down at her hands, not wanting to discuss her predecessor or anything having to do with him.

The tiny woman squeezed Alex’s arm. "My little boy still asks about you."

Alex blinked, trying to recall the name. She had set the boy’s fractured arm last summer, that much she remembered. There were so many patients, their names and faces becoming blurs, and oftentimes she remembered them only by their diagnosis.

"Jose is seven now," Margarite offered, quietly. "He still wants to be a doctor."

Alex wasn’t sure why but she felt the subtle unease growing in the pit of her belly as she stood talking to the woman and desperately needed to be alone to get a grip on her emotions. "You tell him he’ll be good at whatever he wants to be." Alex responded quietly, before she turned abruptly and walked away down the dark, narrow corridor toward the back staircase.

She slipped into her office, shut the door and quickly changed into her scrubs. For a few minutes she stood in front of the window, staring out the window at the helicopter pad two flights below. She blew out a breath, her expression pensive as she wondered if she could still do her job after what happened. There was a part of her that felt like she would be looking over her shoulder all the time. Gone were the battle-tested defenses that protected her from the daily onslaught of human suffering and the toll it took on her psyche. With one last look out of the window, Alex collected her thoughts and left for her meeting.

Dressed in her usual attire of scrubs and a lab coat, Alex entered the small, rectangular conference room and regarded the group of physicians briefly before she settled into her chair. The conversation around the table dwindled quickly until the last two people talking finally looked up upon seeing the tall, dark haired woman take the last remaining seat at the table. Even ten pounds lighter than before her injury, Alex’s tall, sinewy frame along with her sometimes sharp, hawkish demeanor was imposing to even the most callous of the medical staff.

"Gentlemen." Her voice carried easily across the room and betrayed no evidence of the inner emotions she was struggling with. She knew all of the men sitting around the table, having worked with most of them throughout her career. She was the first woman to have been appointed medical director within the hospital and knew it would be the topic of discussion in the medical staff lounges until she either proved herself or failed. It seemed to be an ironic twist of fate that everything happened at once and knew without a doubt that she would be tested to the limits of her ability.

Dr. Timmons, the mild-mannered Chief of Pediatrics, raised his head from the pile of papers in front of him and offered a subtle nod of his head in way of acknowledgment. The rest regarded her quietly, and then Dr. Matthews, the president of the medical staff, cleared his throat.

"Dr. Margulies, I trust you are aware of the agenda here today, so let’s get down to business."

Good to see you too, Frank. She expected the icy exchange, knowing that the doctor was a close friend of Dr. Jameson’s. Alex pulled the stack of papers to her and flipped through them briefly. "Certainly, our ER admissions are down ten percent and the rest of the hospital is operating at sixty percent capacity," she replied without looking up.

There were a few coughs followed by an uncomfortable silence. The brunette raised her eyes and regarded the shocked looks coming at her from around the table. She settled her weight onto her elbows and looked at her colleagues. "What? It’s no secret. I’m sure no one here is surprised by it."

"The question is what the hell we’re going to do about it," Dr. Miller, a blonde-haired, lanky radiologist chimed in, looking plaintively around the table. "They cut my budget by another three percent in the past month. I can barely cover all the shifts with the staff I have."

"We laid off two more techs in Endoscopy, yet they want us to increase our caseload by at least fifty more a week," one of the other physicians complained.

Alex closed her eyes, steeling herself against a dull pain already starting in her chest and the vice-like headache that made her eyes feel heavy. So many times the problems became the sticking point in the meetings she filled in on, and the focus to find any worthwhile solutions were lost.

Not today. She was not in the mood for this bullshit and had better things to do, like treat patients. She needed to get her hands back in the mix of things and get over the nervousness that was more than beginning to annoy her.

As she listened to the complaints, she folded her hands together and rested her chin on her fingertips, going through the different options in her mind.

"Any suggestions, Dr. Margulies?"

Alex raised an eyebrow and glanced over at Dr. Matthews who was regarding her with a smug smile. Ah, let the games begin. You asked me to be here, Frank. Let’s see if you’re up to the task.

"We need to streamline what we do, make a fast track for those injuries in the ER that we can get in and out in less than an hour. It’s also time we update the computerized inventory system. We’re losing thousands of dollars a month because we’re not billing right." She glanced over at the Chief of Surgery. "David, I don’t envy your job but you need to get your doctors on board. They need to stop fighting over primetime in the OR. You can schedule similar cases in blocks of time so the set up and break down of the OR rooms takes less time."

The surgeon’s mouth set in a hard, thin line at the comment and his eyes darkened in anger. Several of her colleagues stared at her, having had the wind taken out of their sails. Good, Alex thought to herself, no need to let them get on a roll. We’ll be here all day and not accomplish a damn thing.

"Now as far as our reputation, I’ve had six weeks to read every bloody goddamn article the press has written about this drug fiasco." Alex stared down the table meeting each and every one of the doctors’ eyes, daring them to utter one word against Jameson’s termination.

In some respects, doctors were much like police officers in adhering to the unwritten code of silence they upheld when covering for one another. Alex had broken that code and knew she could expect little to no support in her idea for the hospital to regain the community’s trust.

"There’s a clinic on the other side of town that the hospital used to staff with doctors on a rotating basis. We pulled out of there three years ago and left the community with no place to go to but the hospital for their routine care. It was a bad move and it’s time we get our butts back in there." She spread her hands out on the table and waited.

"What are we supposed to do? Give our services away for free?" One of the directors complained loudly at the other end of the table.

Alex sat back in her chair, holding her temper in check against the lone skeptic willing to voice his opposition to the idea. The rest sat back in silent protest, staring down at the table in feigned interest. She learned a long time ago how to play the game with the boys. "We’re a non-profit hospital. Things like vaccinations, well-baby checkups are quick and easy to do. You forget, Bob," she addressed the physician at the other end of the table. "Most of the people the clinic served don’t have insurance. We don’t have to spend a lot of time down there. A few hours a week from each of the specialties should do it."

"We? You mean us? That’s a waste of our time. My department has research deadlines to meet." Dr. Miller pushed back away from the table, shaking his head and grumbling loudly.

Alex leaned forward and fixed a dark, icy stare on each of the doctors. "Listen, we can either sit up here in the ivory tower and hope the community will forget about what happened or we can go out there and show them that we have an excellent group of medical professionals who actually give a crap about what happens to them. Just remember, the public doesn’t have to come here, they have other choices and I think they’re making them damn clear what they are."

"I agree," Dr. Timmons chimed in, casting Alex a quick glance in her direction. "We see twenty kids a week in the ER for things that if caught earlier would take fifteen minutes to diagnose and treat in a clinic. Instead, they come to the ER sicker, wait three hours before anyone sees them, tie up the residents, equipment, and require expensive tests. I think it’s a good idea."

"It has some merit. Why don’t the two of you put together a plan and we’ll talk about it at the next meeting." Dr. Matthews looked between the two physicians then stood up and walked to the door, effectively ending the meeting.

The room quickly emptied and Alex met Dr. Timmons at the door. He smiled, briefly looking at her. "You look better than the last time I saw you. How are you doing?"

She studied his expression and relaxed her defenses, sensing his sincerity. "As well as can be expected."

"I hope you’re ready to take on this horde of non-believers, Alex. This isn’t going to be easy for you."

Alex straightened up and squared her shoulders as she gazed steadily at the pediatrician. "I’m ready. I have to be."

The pediatrician nodded, knowing the open hostility some of the doctors expressed at what happened to Dr. Jameson. "As far as I know, the clinic was stripped clean when they closed it. I never understood why they shut it down in the first place."

Alex shrugged, and then looked down at her beeper as it shrilled loudly at her side. "Politics," she muttered as she picked up the phone next to her on the wall.

******

Her footsteps carried her quickly down the hallway and she weaved her way around a small cluster of administrators talking quietly among themselves. One of them separated from the group, moved toward the tall, dark-haired doctor, and reached for her arm. Alex recognized the characteristic straight nose, short, blonde, wavy hair and blue eyes that peered up at her cautiously.

"Alex, I didn’t think you were coming back…so soon."

The doctor slowed her walk and glanced down at the Vice President’s hand that gripped her bicep. Vague recollections of a past conversation replayed in Alex’s head and she narrowed her eyes as she stepped away from the firm grip, her upper lip curling into a sneer.

"Your concern is overwhelming, Cassandra." Her words had the intended effect as the woman shrunk away from her. "At one point, I thought you were my friend." She snorted in disgust, angry at herself for being wrong about the Vice President’s loyalties. "I couldn’t have been more wrong." Alex resumed her walk down the hall, having no intention of discussing anything else with Cassandra.

"Alex, that’s not fair. I always had faith in you."

The doctor’s eyes darkened in anger, remembering what Regina told her about her conversation with the Vice President while she sat at her bedside. She whirled around, coming to within inches of the woman’s face and snarled. "You call interrogating one of my residents while I was in the intensive care unit, having faith in me?" Alex jabbed her finger at Cassandra’s chest. "You were willing to drag innocent people down, ruin careers, just to cover up what was happening right under your nose."

Cassandra stepped back. "Alex, you have no idea what rumors were flying around. Jameson already had an attorney and was threatening a discrimination suit against the hospital by the time I talked to you. Jesus, there are medical records that are missing and you were the only person who had access to them while he was out. What was I supposed to think?"

"Did it ever occur to you that he had them? He had plenty of time to do damage control after I confronted him."

"Alex, I didn’t know what was going on!"

"How could you not know what he was doing? You have to sign off on all the research that gets done in the departments," Alex growled.

The Vice President’s face was scarlet as she let the accusation sink in. "I have twenty departments I’m responsible for. What I read in his preliminary report looked perfectly legitimate."

"Legitimate?" Alex shook her head, incredulous at the Vice President’s response. "You were covering your ass, Cassandra. I can’t believe you let that slime pull you into his bullshit scheme! You knew what he was about a long time ago."

A vicious light filled Cassandra’s eyes as Alex turned away and walked off toward the emergency department.

Alex felt her pulse pounding in her head as she fumed silently over what had happened. The whole thing had turned into one convoluted mess. Now that the lawyers were involved, God only knew how long it would take to sort out the who-knew-what and- when. In the meantime, Dr. Jameson was terminated and Dr. Mitchard still held her position, although the rumors were already flying that she might be resigning within the month.

The dark-haired doctor slipped through the double doors to the emergency department, careful not to jar her shoulders as the pain it would bring with it still took her breath away on some days. She inhaled the strong antiseptic smell for the first time since her discharge from the hospital and for a moment she held her breath, anticipating the overwhelming feeling of fear to soon follow. This time it didn’t come and with it the hope she could resume her work and put this episode of her life behind her. Well, Alex let out a small sigh, maybe this won’t be so bad after all.

Her eyes scanned the department quickly and a smirk crossed her lips. Some things never changed, she mused to herself, spying radiology’s portable x-ray unit standing in the alcove by the door. One of the housekeepers looked up from mopping up a spill and stepped back in surprise as he met the sharp blue eyes looking back at him.

She spoke to him briefly in Spanish and he smiled back, answering in his native tongue. "I transferred here two weeks ago, Dr. Margulies."

"Good to have you, Jose." Alex clasped his shoulder briefly and kept walking. Jose was a tall, rugged looking man with curly dark hair and hazel eyes that twinkled when he smiled. As fate had it they both started working for the hospital at around the same time and Jose’s warm and sincere personality endeared him to the often remote and callous attending. Alex chuckled to herself, remembering the night he showed up with a bag of crushed ice for her bruised hand, the same night she was suspended for being judge and jury to an abusive bastard who beat his son.

She heard Sandy’s exasperated voice as she neared the desk and smiled, realizing she actually missed the damned place.

"Guys can we take that off speaker phone? That noise is bloody annoying," Sandy called out to one of the technicians. A brief hesitation followed as she picked up another line and put the caller on hold. "Hey, Thomas." She pointed to the two boys sitting slumped miserably in wheelchairs on the other side of the desk. "I need that kid in the cast room and this one goes into the suture room." The nurse set the phone back in the handset and rubbed her temples. "Jesus, this place is a zoo today."

"Having a rough morning?" Alex deepened her voice as she leaned closer to the blonde haired nurse.

Sandy jerked her head up and gasped. "Oh shit, you scared the crap out of me Alex." The curly blonde turned around and stared up at the tall, dark haired woman standing behind her. "You’re back!" She reached up and pulled Alex into a hug, whispering into her ear. "I’m making good on that rain check."

The dark-haired woman gave a soft snort and brought her arms up around the blonde before she pulled away. "I think I would have passed out if you did that to me the day I was discharged from the hospital."

"I know." The nurse smiled up at her.

"So, what do you have?" Alex peered over Sandy’s shoulder at the board.

"We had a group of high school students that went skiing last night and thought it would be a neat idea to bring a couple of flasks of alcohol along."

Alex shook her head and sighed. "How many?"

"Five. Two are three sheets to the wind, toxicology screens are pending on both. One kid has a tibia fracture and the other two have lacerations in various places. The parents are being called right now."

Oh boy. "Do we have an x-ray on the tibial fracture?"

"Right here." One of the residents walked up behind Sandy and slipped the film into the view box on the wall next to them.

Alex ran her finger along the well-defined black line that spiraled down along the shaft of the long bone. "Where is he now?"

"Prepped and ready for the OR. We’re just waiting for transport to bring him up, now."

"Do we have a consent signed from the parents?"

Silence answered her question.

She turned around and regarded the round faced, rumpled looking resident. She read the name on the tag and inhaled before she spoke. "Dr. Tanner, do you have a consent from the parents for the surgery?"

"Uh, they’re not here yet," he stammered, staring up at the dark haired woman who stood a full head above him.

"Get the consent before you send that kid up."

"But they’re ready in the OR."

"That’s not my problem. Get it! No surgeon is going to touch him without that consent."

Alex turned away, angrily dismissing the resident with an irritated wave of her hand. "Sandy, where’s Jon? Is he on today?"

Sandy hesitated a moment before answering. "He’s in room three."

Alex nodded her head and walked the short distance to the trauma room. She stood by the door, feeling the slight irregular flutter of her heart as she looked into the white tiled space and tried to ignore the significance of the room number. In a vivid flash of memory, she heard Regina cry out and remembered the sharp contrast of the cold tile on her body and the heat of her own blood pulsing from the gun shot wound in her chest. The brunette blinked her eyes rapidly, dispelling the image from her mind and blew out a breath. Come on, this is what you do, Alex. Deal with it.

"Jon, you need help in here?"

The dark-skinned physician stepped back, fumbling with the emesis basin as one of the drunken high school students leaned over the edge of the stretcher and vomited.

"Agh!" He held his arms away from his body and curled his lips in disgust as he stared down at the vomit that spattered his shoes and scrub bottoms. "Son of a bitch! If my kid ever does this I swear he won’t be able to sit for a month!" He turned around and smacked the intercom button, calling for one of the technicians to come into the room. Only then did the doctor stop with his back to Alex and stand still for a second before he finally turned around, his eyes widened in surprise when he realized who spoke to him.

A moment later, Thomas walked into the room, brushed past Alex and grunted in disgust when he looked at the mess on the floor. "Great, just great."

Jon handed him the basin and pushed him in the direction of the stretcher. "Have fun, Ace, there’s plenty more where that came from." The doctor stood quietly studying Alex and then a warm smile crept over his face.

"So, welcome back to the trenches, boss. You ready for this shit?"

"Ready as I’ll ever be." Alex held the door open as Jon slipped past her into the hall.

"Good, let me change and you can splurge for a cup of coffee. Hell of a way to start the day off." He nodded his head in the direction of the boy lying listless on the stretcher.

Alex reviewed several charts while waiting for Jon to return from changing out of his soiled clothes. Her back was toward the small consultation area of the emergency department but she still didn’t miss the sudden familiar fragrance of perfume that caught her attention and made her breathing quicken. Now why would she be down here?

Slowly, she turned around and saw Regina, standing a few feet away alongside one of the oncologists, both peering up at a view box studying an x-ray. Alex felt a rush of pride as she discreetly glanced in Regina’s direction. The young, blonde-haired woman, her lover and best friend, was no longer a resident but an attending doctor with staff privileges in the pediatric department. Wow, you did great down here, Regina. I’m going to miss working with you. We made a great team together.

Out of the corner of her eye, Alex saw Jon step out of the locker room and head in her direction, stopping briefly to talk to both doctors. Alex didn’t miss the pat on the shoulder he gave Regina. Everyone always did have a soft spot for you. Dressed in fresh scrubs, Jon finally walked over to Alex, shaking his head.

"Damn, I’m glad I don’t have to tell the parents the news on that one."

"What is it?" Alex asked, her eyes focusing on the black film that was backlighted in the view box on the wall.

"Looks like it may be osteosarcoma. They have to run some tests to be sure, but the films don’t look good."

Alex rested her arms on the counter watching as Regina walked away from the desk, carrying the x-ray films with her. She formed a mental note in her mind and concentrated on the petite figure.

The blonde hesitated outside the door her shoulders lifting slightly as she inhaled and then pushed the door open, disappearing from Alex’s view.

"How old is the kid?" Alex turned back to Jon.

"Fourteen. The family support isn’t great. The father’s out of work and the mother is a wreck."

At the other end of the hallway, the double doors burst open with a resounding bang and Alex felt her body jerk in response to the loud noise of a stretcher bursting through the double doors. She stared down at the counter top, waiting for the sudden trembling in her legs to stop and hoped that Jon hadn’t noticed her reaction.

She felt her colleague move away from the desk but she grabbed his arm to forestall him. "I got this one," she told him.

"Why don’t you start easy and take minor traumas? It’s not like you can’t. You are the medical director now."

"No, this is my call. I need to do this, Jon." She walked quickly down the corridor toward the trauma room.

Alex’s hands trembled slightly as she pulled on her protective gear before she walked into the organized chaos of the ongoing admission. She took a couple of deep slow breaths to calm her nerves. Being an ER doctor was not for the faint of heart, and she knew her every move today and everyday would be under careful scrutiny by all the staff, checking to see if she still had what it took to do the job and be the captain of the ship.

She squared her shoulders and stepped up to the stretcher, glancing over at the head nurse as she did.

"We’ve got a thirty-two year old female with an apparent drug overdose. Her blood pressure is one ten over fifty and her pulse is weak," Bonnie reported.

"Nice and easy people. On my count," Alex called out as they started to lift the injured woman onto the treatment table. "Let's get a CBC, Tox screen and a blood gas," Alex ordered. I need two large bore peripheral lines, make them 14 gauge. Run ringer's lactate wide-open and get a catheter in her."

Alex started her examination, as a technician and medical student hustled to carry out her orders. "Does anyone know what she took?"

"The paramedics found a bottle of sleeping pills half empty on the nightstand," the nurse told her as she slapped electrocardiogram leads on the woman’s bare chest.

"Let’s get set up for a stomach lavage." Alex glanced up at the monitor and watched the girl’s respirations. "Give me a number eight endotracheal tube. Her sats are dropping."

It took twenty minutes to administer the sodium sulfate and pump the patient’s stomach contents out, but by the end it was clear that whether the woman appreciated their efforts or not, she was going to live to see yet another day.

Alex peeled off her gloves and tossed them into the garbage before turning to Bonnie. "Make sure you call psych for a consult and let me know when she starts to wake up."

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Two

 

 

The hours past by and day turned into evening. Regina raised her head and rubbed the back of her neck, working out a kink in her tired muscles. The blonde closed the journal she’d been reading and stared blankly up at the wall in the medical library, wondering how the young girl she admitted earlier to the oncology floor was doing.

She’d walked into that exam room dreading the words she knew had to speak to the family. Cancer. The word itself evoked images of something unholy and evil in most people’s minds. It was a silent enemy, once whispered in fear by some who held the superstition that the word itself would bring the scourge to one’s self or family. Today there was more hope for survival, but the simple fact remained that to society it was still a disease, a genetic defect, something that was somebody else’s problem until maybe one day it wasn’t anymore.

The girl’s father was a tall heavyset man with light skin and blonde, wavy hair. He stopped pacing as Regina entered the room, walked over to the view box on the wall, and flicked the light on. Thick eyebrows knitted together as he eyed her suspiciously.

"Christ, this one looks barely out of high school," he muttered contemptuously.

Regina ignored the obnoxious comment about her youthful appearance and walked over to the stretcher where the teenage girl lay fidgeting with the frayed edges of the blue hospital gown. Terry was fourteen and in the throes of those awkward sometimes painful adolescent years. Her reddish blonde hair was pulled back into a ponytail and her face still held some of the youthful innocence characteristic of her age. The girl’s mother sat in the corner; one hand clutched the small chain around her neck and the other hand wrapper tightly around a plastic soda bottle that was half empty.

"The x-rays are back," Regina told the family calmly, her voice belying the emotions she felt inside. She slipped the film up under the clip and stepped back to stand beside Terry.

"It’s not good is it?" the girl asked anxiously, looking up at the blonde-haired doctor.

"I’m afraid not, Terry." Regina directed her words to the girl. "That spot on the bone may be a tumor." Regina moved her finger in a circle pointing it out to them all. The mother stared up at the picture and said nothing.

"I want a second opinion," the father announced from his corner of the room. "Some wet behind the ears doctor is not going to walk in here and tell me that my daughter has a damn tumor on her leg."

Regina could feel the man’s animosity radiating from him. It was understandable given what she just told them and only added to the guilt she felt for having to deliver this news.

"Mr. Edwards, I’ve consulted with the Director of Oncology already but you can request another doctor look at the findings as well."

"You’re damn right I can."

"Dad, stop," Terry protested, the girl’s face reddening as she sat there on the stretcher, staring down at her leg. She looked up at Regina as tears washed across her eyes and spilled over, falling down her cheeks. "A…are they going to have to c…cut my leg off?"

There was a muffled sound as the mother jerked her head up, focusing on her daughter for the first time since Regina walked into the room.

The young doctor looked the girl in the eyes and laid a hand on her thin shoulder. "I don’t know, Terry. After we have all the tests done, we’ll have a better idea of where we’re going with this. Right now we’re going to get you down to radiology and get a CT scan done."

Regina left the family after answering a barrage of angry and fearful questions from both parents. It was an inauspicious start for her first day on pediatrics and she let out a heavy sigh.

"Hey." A warm voice floated down, interrupting her heavy thoughts. The blonde looked over her shoulder at the dark haired woman standing at the head of the table, gazing down at her.

Alex lifted her leather bag off her shoulder, set it on the table and pulled out the chair next to Regina. She sat down facing the blonde, one knee lightly touching a firm thigh.

"Hi there."

"Hi, yourself. You look beat," Regina replied.

Alex tilted her head and gave a half smile. "We had five drunk high school kids in the ER this morning. One went to the OR for an open reduction of his shattered tibia and the other four are working off their well-deserved miserable hangovers on pediatrics." She flashed a Cheshire grin at the petite blonde.

"Lovely. Rounds will be a blast tomorrow." Regina shook her head in bewilderment. "Wait, you said they were drunk this morning."

"Yeah, a couple of seniors thought it would be cool to bring alcohol with them on their skiing trip last night. We even had the police stop by since one of them was eighteen. What a friggin’ mess trying to convince them that he needed to stay until he was medically stable." Alex caught the alarmed look in Regina’s eyes at the mention of the cops being there. "Easy, Derrick wasn’t there." She reached out and touched Regina’s hand. "Rumor has it he’s on foot patrol now."

The blonde sunk back in the chair, her head dropping forward onto her chest. "Great, one more thing he can be pissed off at me about."

Alex leaned forward. "If he values his job at all he won’t come near you, Reg."

"I know but he just makes me nervous. He’s not the type to just give up and go away."

"What are you reading?" Alex changed the conversation and lifted the corner of the journal, reading the initials then glanced back up at weary green eyes. There was no sense trying to tell Regina that Derrick would stay away. The restraining order might help her piece of mind but it was not a guarantee of safety.

The blonde rested her head in her hands and rubbed her eyes. "I had a fourteen year old with an osteosarcoma on her tibia. I just wanted to review the different options for treatment." Regina pushed the journal away from her. "Not that it will make much of a difference. The best chance for a cure might be an amputation depending on the biopsy and lab results."

"Shit." Alex folded her hands together and hung her head, knowing that it was a highly malignant tumor and if not treated aggressively could metastasize to the lungs quickly.

Regina nudged Alex’s leg with hers and tilted her head to look into the pale blue eyes. "How did your day go?"

The doctor shrugged. "Not bad, just weird getting back into the swing of things. Nobody quite knows what to say to me."

Regina glanced up as an exhausted looking resident staggered blindly past their table toward the rear of the library. She remembered those nights when she was so exhausted that her whole body ached and the only thing that kept her going was the knowledge that each minute that ticked by brought her one step closer to going home to sleep. Once all was clear again, she reached out and squeezed Alex’s shoulder through her brown leather jacket, enjoying the feel of the well-worn soft leather beneath her hand. "You have no idea how proud I am of you, Alex. I don’t know if I could have come back if it was me."

"Yes, you would have." Alex lowered her head and stifled a yawn. "Besides, it’s the only thing I know how to do. Come on, let’s get out of here."

******

Home. Alex drummed her fingers restlessly on the steering wheel as she guided the Jeep around a turn, squinting as the headlights from another vehicle illuminated the inside of the Jeep for a brief moment. The vehicle jostled over a bump at the beginning of the driveway and the blonde mumbled softly as she stirred in the passenger seat.

The dark haired woman glanced over at her companion and smiled wistfully. I think there are too many memories here for this place to really be home to me anymore. She reached over and touched Regina’s face after she turned off the engine.

"Wake up, sleepyhead."

The young woman startled and opened her eyes, a fleeting look of confusion clouding them until she got her bearings.

"Oh, I fell asleep. Sorry, I guess, I wasn’t much company for the ride home."

Alex smiled warmly at the slightly disheveled look Regina had from just waking up. "It’s ok. Come on, let’s go in."

Regina pulled her bag out of the Jeep and met Alex at the front door to her townhouse. The fact that Regina practically slept walked to her car on the way out to the parking lot at the hospital earned her a ride in Alex’s Jeep. She waited as the doctor keyed the lock and pushed the door open. Inside the taller woman turned on the overhead light, walked over to the kitchen, and set down a bag of Chinese food they had picked up on the way home.

The blonde walked slowly around the first floor, and then poked her head into the kitchen to see what Alex was doing.

The taller woman looked over at Regina and motioned to the closet behind her. "Just hang your jacket in there. I’ll get some plates out and we’ll be ready to eat in a minute." The Chinese food was a compromise to a full-blown shopping trip that neither of them was up for after their first day back.

Regina shrugged out of her jacket and glanced around kitchen. The floor was tiled in a white and blue diamond pattern and the appliances looked new. "Do you want some help?"

"No, I got it." Alex reached up into a cabinet and pulled down some plates, wincing at a pain that shot through her chest.

Regina stepped back out of the brightly lit room, missing the look of pain on Alex’s face and opened the closet. She located a hanger and as she reached in to hang her jacket up she noticed the black guitar case shoved in the back corner behind the coats. Curious, she leaned closer and made out the initials A.M. etched into the black vinyl case.

Hmm, Alex didn’t tell me she played the guitar. She made a mental note to herself to ask Alex about the guitar later on. Straightening up, she shut the door and turned around.

There was an entertainment center with a large television at one end of the living room. A brown leather couch faced the TV and a top of the line stereo system filled the shelves. Always intrigued by electronics, the young doctor walked over to investigate the sound system.

A single picture on the third shelf, caught Regina’s attention and she stepped closer to see the youthful faces looking back at her from within the silver brocade frame. A much younger looking version of her lover stood with her arm draped casually over the shoulders of a teenage boy she was standing beside. They shared the same strong angular facial features, piercing blue eyes, raven hair and wiry athletic builds. There was no mistaking the family resemblance.

The blonde jumped as the floorboards creaked behind her.

"Sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you." Alex stopped a couple of feet from where Regina was standing.

The blonde looked up at the pair of wary blue eyes watching her. She folded her arms over her chest and smiled nervously. "You didn’t." Regina turned around and looked at the picture. "Is this your brother?"

Alex glanced at the picture and nodded her head, avoiding Regina’s eyes. "Michael. Yeah, that’s him."

*****Her mother had taken that picture outside in the backyard of the single-family house they were renting. Alex felt her heart rate go into high gear, remembering how the moment was shattered seconds later when her father burst through the backdoor, drunk and pissed off at the world. He was out of work again and his drinking always got worse during those times. He hated that his wife showered Alex and Michael with love and affection; hated it because he wasn’t a part of it.

His drunken anger guided his actions and he ripped the camera out of Anna’s hands and slapped her viciously across her face. There was no hesitation on Alex’s part when she let go of her brother and bolted across the yard, tackling him against the picnic table. Her father grunted in pain as he tumbled onto his back.

Alex found herself in a brief stranglehold and then was shoved facedown in the dirt. Overhead, her father’s gravelly voice broke through the momentary fog.

"Well, it seems your sister has a pair of balls, Michael. Good thing one of ya does ‘cause you sure as hell don’t," her father sneered. *****

She felt a touch on her arm and looked down to see Regina peering up at her. "Are you ok? You looked a million miles away for a second."

"Yeah, I’m fine, just hungry and tired." Alex slipped an arm over Regina’s shoulder, guiding her away from the picture and the memories she wasn’t prepared to deal with yet.

"Let’s eat, then I’ll give you the nickel tour."

Alex filled their plates with food and handed one to Regina. She glanced up at the blonde and tilted her head, as a wistful smile played across her lips.

"What?"

The smile faded and the brunette ducked her head, trying to hide the light blush coloring her cheeks without much success. "I guess I didn’t think the first time I brought you here with me we’d be having take out Chinese food for dinner."

Green eyes sparkled and Regina set her plate down on the table. "Oh? What did you have in mind?

Alex pursed her lips and folded her arms over her chest. "Well now, if I tell you it won’t be a surprise anymore will it."

Regina pouted and slipped into her the chair. "Fink."

A moment of silence hung between them and the blonde felt her heart speed as she decided whether or not to pursue her earlier curiosity about what she found the in the closet. "Can I ask you a question?" Regina leaned forward, resting her chin on her palm.

Alex’s fork stopped mid-motion and she studied Regina for a second before she answered. "Sure," she responded and then popped the noodles into her mouth.

"Do you play the guitar?"

Blue eyes widened briefly, Alex stopped chewing and nodded her head slowly. "Oh, you found that old thing," she finally managed after she swallowed.

"It was in the closet," Regina offered quietly, trying to read the perplexed look on her lover’s face.

"I…I thought I got rid of it with all of Lana’s things. I just forgot." Just leave it, Regina. I really don’t want to go there right now.

"So…do you still play it?"

Alex dismissed Regina’s question with a wave of her hand. "No, not for a long time."

The blonde toyed with her fork, feeling dejected by her friend’s response, but still wanting to know the answer. "Alex, I’m sorry. You just don’t talk a lot about yourself. I just want to know you better."

Alex’s eyes darted nervously away from Regina’s gaze and she stabbed at the pile of noodles on her plate. What’s to know?

They sat across from each other at the wooden kitchen table eating in silence for a few minutes. Finally, Alex sighed and peered across the table at the blonde who was focusing on the food on her plate. Only you could bring her over and manage to get into a fight in less than thirty minutes, Alex.

"I think there’s a chance we may be re-opening a clinic downtown," the brunette offered as way of a truce.

Regina lifted her eyes and focused on Alex. "Oh, was that what Dr. Timmons was so excited about?"

Alex swallowed some water and nodded her head, feeling her way tentatively. "Nothing fancy, just routine check-ups, giving vaccinations and treating bumps and bruises. It really helped those people that couldn’t get up to the hospital or didn’t have insurance."

"So, why did they close the clinic?" Regina asked, trying not to let the disappointment come through in her voice.

"The hospital was losing money on it." Alex shrugged. "Now with all the negative publicity that the hospital is getting the administration might go for it again and try to win some public support back."

She’s trying, Regina give her a break here. "How convenient." Regina leaned forward and slid a hand across the table to touch Alex’s hand. "I missed you today."

"Me too." Contrite blue eyes glanced back up at Regina. "I’m sorry, Regina. I didn’t mean to bite your head off before."

Regina squeezed Alex’s hand and smiled.

For a moment, they stared at each other, in quiet contemplation both wondering what the other was thinking. Alex broke off her gaze first and rubbed her face, feeling the fatigue from the day starting to weigh her down.

The young doctor watched as Alex finished off the last of the chicken fried rice and quickly rose from her chair to rinse her plate off in the sink. There was an air of edginess around the dark-haired woman tonight and she wondered what was troubling her, beside the questions about the guitar.

The blonde rose out of her chair and carried her plate over to the sink. Alex turned around, colliding with Regina just as she reached out to put the plate on the counter. The smaller woman lost her grip on it and gasped as it crashed to the floor, shattering on the ceramic tile.

"Shit I’m sorry, Alex." Regina knelt to pick the pieces up, then stopped and looked up when she realized that Alex hadn’t moved or said anything. "Alex?"

Blue eyes blinked and then slowly focused on her face. "I…I’ll get it. Don’t worry about it, Regina." Alex took the pieces from Regina and quickly knelt to gather the rest from the floor.

The blonde stepped back, confused by the hollowness to Alex’s voice. Regina realized as she watched the taller woman that her hands were trembling as she picked the broken pieces up. "Alex, what’s wrong?"

The dark haired woman turned away from her and shook her head. "N…nothing."

Regina frowned and walked up beside her. Bullshit. "Hey, look at me."

Alex’s jaw clenched and she blinked several times before turning her head. She didn’t meet Regina’s gaze, just looked out into the living room over her shoulder. No…no not now. You can’t let her see you like this. A soft mewling sound escaped her lips and Alex shook her head, fighting back the tears threatening to fall.

Alarmed, Regina reached up and touched her face. "Honey, what’s wrong. Does something hurt?"

"It’s nothing…just a pain inside." Alex tried desperately to brush it off. "Dr. Kelly said I’d have them occasionally."

"This bad? You’re pale as a ghost."

Alex allowed herself to be led to a chair and slumped into her it, praying for the sickening feeling to go away. The broken pieces of the plate were lifted from her hand and Regina knelt in front of her. She felt like a runaway car careening out of control down a dark, wet, winding highway and the wheels were starting to come loose from the undercarriage.

"Your pulse is racing and your soaked. Are you short of breath? Any chest pain?" Regina asked, as she took hold of Alex’s wrist, feeling her pulse.

The dark head shook slightly. "I…I’m ok. It’s gone now. Just caught me by surprise, that’s all." Alex glanced up at Regina from underneath her bangs and forced a wan smile. "I think ten hours back to work took more out of me than I thought it would."

The worried look on Regina’s face gave to mild displeasure as she studied her lover’s face. "Maybe it’s too soon for you to be back full time."

Alex shook her head again and ran her hand up and down Regina’s arm reassuringly. "It’ll be fine, Reg. I just have to get used to it."

"Well, if that’s the case then we can skip the nickel tour and get you straight to bed."

Alex wrapped her arms around the blonde’s waist and buried her head between the smaller woman’s breast inhaling the warm, clean scent of her, glad that at least for now she had avoided any further questions about what was really bothering her. She glanced around at the kitchen quickly and decided that she could clean up the dishes in the sink tomorrow. The dark haired woman stood up onto shaky legs and pulled Regina into a hug.

"I’m glad you came over tonight," she whispered into the blonde wavy hair.

Regina rested her head against Alex’s shoulder and held on to her tightly. "I’m glad you asked me to come over."

Alex led the way up the stairs to the second floor of the townhouse, all the while holding onto Regina’s hand. A few photographs mostly landscapes, decorated the walls in the hallway. She stopped at the first door on the left, stepped into the darkened room, and turned the lamp on the nightstand on. She stood quietly, waiting for Regina to join her.

Everything was as she left it, weeks ago. The room had a Spartan like appearance to it, with bare hardwood floors and what looked to be an almost new coat of white paint on the walls. A few toiletries sat on the bureau in a silver tray and some loose change lie in a pile to the left of it.

"I, um…" Alex ran a hand through her dark hair and blew out a long breath. "I got rid of a lot of stuff around here after Lana died. Most of it was hers anyway." Her hands hung limply by her sides and she glanced nervously around the room. Christ, what is wrong with me? It’s not even the same room I shared with her.

Regina glanced up at the tortured blue eyes and rubbed her hand over the small of Alex’s back reassuringly.

"That had to be so hard; losing someone you…loved, I don’t know how you dealt with it." Regina stopped, as a memory that haunted her subconscious sprang forward with a sudden harsh clarity, leaving her breathless until it slipped away.

"I didn’t."

"What?" Regina blinked her eyes, focusing once again on Alex

"I didn’t deal with it." Alex leaned over and pulled the maroon comforter back off the pillows. "It took almost eight months for me to make it back up to Provincetown to settle her will with Dana." She shook her head and turned to the blonde. "You don’t need to hear any of this."

Regina gabbed hold of Alex’s arm and pulled her back as the taller woman started to walk away from her. "Hey, it’s the first time you’ve been here…with me anyway, since she died. It has to feel strange somehow," her voice faded away as she looked up into the blue ones cautiously peering back at her.

The dark head tilted forward and Alex rested her forehead against Regina’s, smiling into the green eyes. "Thanks," she whispered.

The blonde pulled away, a pink blush coloring her face. "W…Why?"

"Because no matter what’s wrong, you always have this way of making me feel better," Alex replied, softly brushing her lips over Regina’s cheekbones.

Regina slid her hands around Alex’s waist and pulled her closer. "Funny, you do the same thing for me."

They stood quietly, just holding each other until Alex stepped back, breaking contact first. The brunette was aware of the younger woman standing pensively behind and she kicked off her shoes before she turned back around. "Thanks for putting up with me these past few weeks," she whispered, gathering Regina into her arms and tugged her down onto the bed beside her. "I know I’ve been a bitch most of the time."

"You were in pain, correct that, still are and no you haven’t been a bitch – not all the time anyway," the blonde conceded with a smile. "I’m just glad you’re alive, Alex." The smaller woman rested her head against the strong shoulder and sighed, letting her body relax into the comforting embrace. It felt incredible to be lying here on the bed curled against the tall, lean body of her partner, the strong, yet gentle hands massaging her arms and shoulders. "God that feels wonderful."

Alex nuzzled her neck and turned the blonde’s head to plant a gentle kiss on her lips. She was exhausted and if the nagging pain in her chest wasn’t so obtrusive she would have gone farther, but she just wasn’t ready to.

The blonde snuggled closer and pressed her lips to the base of the taller woman’s throat. "I love you, Alex"

In response, the brunette tightened her arms around Regina.

She had struggled with herself over dinner whether to share the significance of that damned guitar. It was difficult for her to open up the doors to her past and share them with anyone. They opened up old festering wounds. Alex ran her hands over the soft blonde hair and sighed, letting her heart guide her decision for the moment. "The last time I played that guitar…was at Lana’s memorial service." Another piece in her well-constructed defenses fell away and she clenched her jaw tightly.

A small noise came from Regina’s throat, her eyes filling with tears, knowing the pain that Alex went through during that time in her life. She reached up and stroked the dark haired woman’s cheek. "I didn’t mean to bring up sad memories for you, Alex."

Alex shook her head, blinking her eyes to hold back the tears. "You didn’t know. I never told you before."

"I’m glad you did. Please don’t shut me out, Alex. I couldn’t bear that, not after…."

"Shh, it’s all right. I know," Alex whispered, and squeezed the smaller woman tighter.

It wasn’t long before Alex felt Regina’s breathing deepen and slow as the young doctor started to fall asleep in her arms. She nudged her gently; smiling at the mumbled protest she received and thought better of waking her slumbering partner. Carefully, Alex rolled Regina onto her side and tugged the blonde’s shoes off, dumping them onto the floor.

Alex sighed as she stripped out of her clothes and pulled a clean tee shirt on over her head. The dark haired woman pulled the leather clasp of her barrette loose and shook out the thick French braid she was sporting, then crawled into bed beside the woman and curled up, spooning her body against Regina’s. The doctor lay quietly for a while watching her friend sleep before she leaned over and pressed her lips to Regina’s temple. "Sweet dreams, love."

******

Derrick walked into the empty locker room and set his bag down on the bench in front of his locker. He had a few minutes before the rest of the guys from his shift would start arriving so he took his time getting ready. Part of the disciplinary action following his arrest and the subsequent fiasco at the hospital included being put back on foot patrol with a veteran, ‘so he could gain some perspective about what it is that cops do.’ As far as he was concerned he didn’t need a new perspective, but he kept that opinion quietly to himself knowing the Captain could make his life a living hell if he chose to.

He stripped out of his street clothes and changed into his neatly pressed uniform. Derrick inspected his reflection in the mirror that was glued to the inside of his locker door. His hair was cropped so short now it looked military style and accentuated his jaw line. He narrowed his eyes and looked down at his body. Since he was working out more in the gym over the past couple of months he had regained some of his bulk and definition that he had lost over the past year. Who needs her, anyway? All she did was mess with your head, man.

The door to the locker room slammed open and brisk footsteps rang out on the concrete floor. "Hey, Black. How do you like your new digs?"

It was Mark Reilly, one of the foot patrolmen on his shift. Derrick shrugged his shoulders, ignoring the snide remark. From the time they were in the Academy together, he never liked the younger officer and liked him even less now that he had to share a month worth of shifts with him.

He could see the smug look on the cop’s face and knew the kid was thinking that maybe his shot at a promotion within the department was looking better. Go screw yourself kid, one of these days you’ll realize its who you know that gets you where you want to go.

"What’s wrong? You’re think you’re shit doesn’t stink is that it?" Reilly persisted. "From what I hear you stunk up the whole detective division with your bullshit."

"Why don’t you shut your trap, Reilly?" Derrick finished buttoning his shirt and then turned to face the ruddy faced man. The locker room door opened and several loud, rowdy voices announced the remainder of the officers arriving for their shift.

Derrick slammed his locker shut, spun the lock and stepped past the shorter and stockier officer, knocking him hard with his shoulder.

Reilly grabbed his arm and held Derrick fast for a moment. "Man, it must really piss you off, knowing your little lady ditched you for another woman." Mocking laughter bubbled up from the man’s gut as he watched Derrick’s face turn brick red with anger.

The officer curled his lip and snarled, before he shoved Reilly back into the locker, rattling the whole row. "Go to hell, Reilly."

The younger man threw an elbow up catching Derrick under the chin, snapping his jaw shut and splitting his lip.

"You little shit," Derrick spat the words out, balled his fist and cocked his arm back to hit the officer in the face. Before he could unleash it, two other officers rounded the corner having heard the scuffle and forcibly pulled Derrick off of Reilly before a real brawl got started.

"Ok, break it up guys," the taller of the two officers growled, pulling them apart.

"Derrick, you’re in enough trouble already. Keep it up and you’ll be behind the desk doing dispatch again," one of the officers hissed.

Derrick wiped the smear of blood from the corner of his mouth and curled his lip, glaring menacingly at Reilly.

"Get off me," he growled, pulling away from the man who was restraining him. "This isn’t over, Reilly." Derrick grabbed his gun belt from the bench, shoved past Reilly and the other officers. Angrily, he yanked the door open and stormed into the hallway. Still muttering to himself on the way to the equipment room he walked right past his partner.

"You look like your shift is starting out in the crapper."

Derrick glanced up at the middle-aged man standing behind him. His new partner, Ed Carrotta, was a twenty-year veteran on the force. Ed had salt and pepper hair, thinning on the top and an average build. He had a reputation as being a tough but fair cop on the street.

"Don’t you start in on me too," Derrick snapped, defensively.

"Hey, its not my business what you do on your own time." Ed raised his hands up to ward off the verbal attack, then tilted his head listening to the crackling static of the handset as the dispatch radioed in a report of a young male acting suspicious. "We’re on anyway, let’s go check it out."

Since there was hardly any traffic, the ride through the darkened maze of side streets took less than fifteen minutes. Derrick peered through the passenger window of the police cruiser, silently brooding over the earlier confrontation in the locker room. His attention was drawn to a flash of movement in the shadows backlit by the overhead street light.

"There’s our guy," he told Ed.

"It’s too dark. Let me get him with the light."

The lone figure froze as the light blinded him momentarily and then bolted down the dark alleyway. Derrick cursed angrily and shoved the door open, his feet hitting the pavement as he jumped out of the cruiser and flicked his flashlight on. He heard Ed curse loudly, then call for backup before he started running down the alley between the two run down buildings.

Ahead of him he heard the sound of fleeing footsteps and the crash of garbage cans as the man he was chasing blindly knocked over whatever was in his path trying to slow Derrick down.

"Police, stop!" Derrick shouted and increased his pace. He hurdled a trashcan and quickly gained on his prey. The figure ahead of him grabbed hold of a railing and leapt over it, landing at the foot of the darkened stairwell.

Derrick redoubled his efforts, and chased him down the narrow concrete staircase. He grabbed the door jam at the bottom of the stairs, swinging his body through the opening ducked under a broken door hinge and raced down the narrow hallway following the echo of retreating footsteps.

The radio attached to his shoulder strap crackled and he heard Ed’s voice requesting his location. Completely focused on catching the suspect, Derrick ignored the request. His chest burned as he sucked the moldy, dank stale air into his lungs. On no you don’t, you bastard. You don’t get away that easily.

A dim light at the end of the narrow hall filtered onto the concrete floor as a door swung open. Derrick yanked the door open and lunged at the figure scrambling frantically up the steps. The police officer grabbed the man’s belt and threw him against the wall.

"Get off me, man. I didn’t do anything wrong." To Derrick’s surprise, the voice was young and hardly sounded like that of a grown man.

"Yeah, then why did you run?" Derrick hissed into his ear.

"Cause you’re a cop," he spat back at him.

"Wrong answer." Derrick drove him to the floor with a vicious kidney punch. A sharp cry escaped from the boy’s throat as he curled into a fetal position. Across the street from the alley a dog started barking.

Derrick glanced up as he shoved his knee into the boy’s back pinning him to the floor.

"Teach you to run next time, you jerk," the cop panted as he crouched over his quarry and roughly handcuffed his wrists together.

"Ow, they’re too tight," the boy cried out, struggling beneath his captor.

"Shut up."

Derrick’s radio crackled again, this time Ed’s voice was louder telling him to stop his chase, another unit having found the suspect in question.

"Son of a bitch," Derrick muttered. Shit, shit, shit! I went after the wrong guy. A friggin’ kid, no less. God dammit all to hell!

"Did you hear that? You got the wrong guy, you bastard. Let me go."

Derrick knelt on top of him, still panting as he considered what to do. If someone found out he would be screwed for sure this time. Across the street, the barking grew louder and more excited. He didn’t think the kid had gotten a good look at him and he intended it to stay that way.

"Must be your lucky day, kid." He quickly unlocked the handcuffs, and then shoved himself roughly off of the kid’s back. Before the boy could roll over, Derrick kicked him in the head with his boot sending blood and spittle splattering across the cement floor. Without a second look back he slammed the door behind him and strode angrily back through the basement.

The boy curled up into a ball and clutched his head, moaning in pain. He could feel warm sticky blood dripping down his neck and the skin on the side of his face burned.

Somewhere above him, the boy heard a scrabble of claws as a large dog bounded down the concrete steps and circled around him curiously. A low growl rumbled deep from within the Shepard’s chest after he sniffed along the base of the metal door. In response the boy curled up tighter and rocked himself as he heard a snuffling noise come closer and then a cold, wet nose nudged at his neck.

"P…please d…don’t hurt me," the boy pleaded before he started to slip into unconsciousness.

The dog cocked his pointed ears, wagged his tail and lay down next to the boy, whining a little as he pawed at the boy’s shoulder.

It was several hours before the large trucks with the flashing lights pulled back into the building across the street. He could hear his master calling for him, but instinct told the dog not to leave the boy’s side. The large Shepard raised his face to the sky and howled; a low, mournful sound that rose in crescendo and then faded into the night. Once, twice and three times he howled before the sound of running footsteps across the macadam told him that help was coming.

"Lucky? Hey, are you hurt boy?" A bright light swept over the stairwell and the Shepard raised his head, sniffing the air and identifying the familiar man’s scent.

"Ah shit. Guys we need help over here, now! We got a kid down here."

The fireman climbed down the stairs and crouched beside the limp form. "You did good, Lucky. It’s ok. We got him, now."

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Three

 

 

Alex stood in front of the large, rectangular board the ER department used to log in each new patient with her hands planted firmly on her hips and her legs slightly spread apart. It was the first thing she did before the start of each shift. A quick perusal and she knew how many patients there were in the emergency department, where they were in triage and what doctors from each of the major specialties from within the hospital were on call for the shift. Satisfied with what she saw, she walked over to the desk and quickly reviewed the charts for all the patients.

It was ten minutes to the start of her shift and she knew all the vital information that she needed to know about everyone in her care. Down the hallway, Dr. Torres strode out of the lounge and headed in her direction, carrying a steaming cup of coffee. He was sporting a new haircut since Alex saw him last. It was cropped close to his scalp and had an even spattering of gray throughout. Alex acknowledged him with a quick nod as he leaned on the counter in front of her.

"Rough night?" she inquired, observing the dark circles evident beneath the normally sharp brown eyes.

"I’ve had worse." He shrugged and stifled a yawn. "I hear you might be taking a trip downtown to restart the clinic they closed."

Alex raised an eyebrow in response. "News travels fast. The administration is scrambling to do damage control. Full-page ads in a newspaper aren’t going to win any support in this case."

"You’re right about that. I had two people refuse to be admitted here last night. They requested to be transferred to County General. Hey, let me know if you want help. I’d be willing to help out."

An eyebrow crept upwards as Alex’s surprise at Alfonse’s offer registered. "Thanks." Alex straightened up and winced at the sharp fleeting pain in her chest. "Shit."

"You ok, boss?" Dr. Torres looked up into her face and stepped closer.

"I’m fine, Alfonse." She let out a breath and braced herself on the counter.

He studied her for a moment. "If you say so. Just take care of yourself, Alex. No one expected you to be back this soon." He hesitated, and then added in a quiet voice. "Not after what happened to you."

She held up a hand to stop him. "Al, please let’s just…not go there. They’re not great memories and frankly I’m just trying to forget about them and move on."

The physician pressed his lips together and was quiet for a moment, debating the risks of telling his new director just what he thought of that. "All right. I guess I’ll talk to you later then."

Alex watched as her colleague walked away from her and for a brief moment wondered if she made the right decision in coming back when she had. The dark-haired woman dismissed the niggling doubt and looked around the department. It was quiet and Alex took the opportunity to go to her office and sort through the piles of inter-office mail and patient files that were sitting on her desk. Dr. Washington did his best while she was out to keep up with it all, making decisions and acting on some of the issues but there was still much that only Alex could make the final decisions on.

The medical director’s eyebrows arched as she listened to three different phone messages from directors who had been at the meeting the day before and all expressed an interest in their staff being able to use the clinic to provide services to the community. She tapped a pencil on the desk as she continued to listen and then shook her head in mild disbelief. Well, it seems as if some of the skeptics have broken ranks.

Alex turned her attention back to the remaining letters still sitting on her desk. One particular letter caught her attention and she sat back in her chair while she tore open the envelope. She blew out a breath as she read the contents that stated she would be required to give a deposition in the case of Dr. Jameson versus Saint Xavier’s Medical Center. Alex knew all along it would come down to this and hoped that a deposition was all that would be required and not a court appearance that would undoubtedly turn ugly with all parties present.

A knock on the door distracted her. "Come in."

"Hey Alex." Dr. Washington walked into the office and sat on the edge of the chair, his tall, lanky frame tensed as he looked around the office.

"What’s on your mind, Jon?" Alex asked, watching as her colleague settled back in the chair. She could tell something was bothering him from the expression on his face.

"Listen, I pulled your file the day…everything happened." He leaned forward and frowned before he continued. "There was nobody listed as an emergency contact person."

Alex looked down at her hands and absently rubbed a thumb along the palm of her other hand. "I know."

Jon stared at her incredulously. "But why?"

"Jon, since my father died I haven’t spoken to anyone in my family," Alex replied quietly.

"Alex, that’s been a long time."

"Eight years to be exact."

"Maybe…" he started to say something, then, paused when he saw the grim expression on Alex’s face. "I guess it’s really none of my business." He rose from the chair and left the room without a backward glance at his colleague.

"You’re right it’s not." Alex whispered, listening to the click of the latch as the door shut behind the tall, lanky frame of the doctor.

By the time she extracted herself from underneath six weeks worth of accumulated mail it was late in the morning. Alex jogged down the stairs and walked into the emergency department. The overhead page system was blaring out a stat page for one of the surgeons to report to the ICU, several family members paced anxiously in the corridor outside the waiting room and the unit clerk at the desk was busy trying to locate a patient that was brought in hours earlier who was no longer on the unit.

The desk phone rang and the haggard looking unit clerk picked it up. "Emergency Department. Hold on, let me get the nurse."

The young woman stood up and looked around the department then keyed the intercom to page for a nurse. "Sandy, I need you at the desk now."

Alex watched as the nurse emerged from one of the trauma rooms and walked quickly over to the desk, pulling her unruly blonde hair back into a ponytail. Several doors down a technician ran out of an exam room and ducked into the supply room only to emerge a moment later with several sterile kits in hand. The nurse took the phone from the unit clerk, slid into the chair next to her and quickly scribbled a few notes on her scrub bottoms. She looked up at Alex as she hung up the phone.

"We’ve got a young male on the way, approximately sixteen years old, altered mental status, vitals stable."

"Go ahead and get room four cleared out. I’ll take him," Alex told the nurse.

Sandy stared at Alex for a second before she answered. "Why don’t you let one of the residents take it?"

"Why?" Alex snapped defensively, turning around to glare at the nurse.

Sandy recoiled then set her jaw, clearly annoyed at the doctor’s response. "Because you’re the Medical Director and you don’t have to take every case that comes through the door."

Alex felt the sudden flare of anger fade, knowing she overreacted. She sucked in her lower lip and blew out a breath, staring down at the floor as she considered Sandy’s words. Sandy was right she knew, but her pride and desperate need to answer her own questions about her ability to come back and do her job prevented her from backing down.

"I’m taking it."

"Fine." Sandy abruptly stood up and walked down the hall, grabbing Bonnie as she came out of the locker room. "Help me clear out this room."

Alex shrugged into a gown and pulled a plastic fluid shield mask over face as she walked quickly down the hall to meet the incoming stretcher. The paramedics were struggling to hold the patient down as they wheeled the stretcher along the floor.

"Blood pressure is one hundred over sixty. He’s been confused and combative since we found him."

Alex grabbed hold of the stretcher while she listened and guided them into the trauma room. "What happened to him?"

"A couple of firemen found him lying at the bottom of some concrete steps in an alley," the medic responded. "They don’t know how he got there. Maybe he fell, who knows."

"Not likely. Looks more like someone kicked him in the head. Let’s get him on the table," Alex ordered, still studying the dark purple bruise in the shape of a half moon on the boy’s cheek.

There was an air of tension in the room but Alex quickly dismissed it as she focused her attention on the patient. Four sets of hands grabbed the sheet and lifted the patient from the stretcher to the exam table. Sandy cut through his bloodied sweatshirt and slapped leads onto his chest as Bonnie and one of the techs quickly tied his arms down to prevent him from flailing his arms about.

As all this was being done, Alex pressed the diaphragm of her stethoscope to the boy’s chest, listening to his breath and heart sounds. She hesitated as a sudden wave of dizziness hit her and she broke out into a cold sweat. The doctor gripped the rail of the treatment table to steady herself.

"Alex, are you ok?" Sandy asked, when she noticed her leaning at an awkward angle over the table.

The tall doctor inhaled sharply and nodded before she spoke again. "His lungs are clear. Get a CBC, coagulation profile, electrolytes and toxicology screen. Type and cross his blood just in case we need any." She looked over at the paramedic. "Does he have any id on him?"

The man shook his head, his eyes darting nervously over to Sandy and then back to Alex. "Nope, you’ve got yourself a John Doe."

Alex glanced up as a resident ran into the room, tying a mask over his face.

"So nice of you to join us, Dr. Tanner," she remarked snidely, remembering the resident from the day before. Her first impression of the resident was not a good one and showing up late to a new admission was not winning him any brownie points with her at the moment. She flicked her penlight in the patient’s eyes and ducked away as the boy grunted and thrashed violently on the stretcher. "What kind of IV fluid do you want to use Dr. Tanner?"

"Ringer’s Lactate," the resident replied automatically.

"Wrong choice. You have an obvious change in his mental status; decreased blood pressure and you don’t have a diagnosis yet. Sandy, hook up a bag of hypertonic saline." Alex looked over at the resident who was inserting a catheter into the man’s arm to set up an intravenous line. "If he’s got a bleed the hypertonic saline won’t elevate an already increased intracranial pressure. Remember it." Alex stared at the resident as she finished her neurological checks. "Let’s get a CT scan and call Neurology for a consult. Dr. Tanner, you can baby sit him in radiology."

Alex stepped back from the table and pulled her facemask off, tossing it into the garbage. She yanked her isolation gown from her body and tossed it into the linen basket as she walked past it. "Page me when you know what the results are, Tanner," she ordered before she walked out of the room.

Out in the hallway, a door swung closed to a room and she could hear Jon barking out orders as another trauma patient was being triaged across the hall. Out of habit, she was already slipping into a clean yellow gown and pulling on a plastic fluid shield mask as she elbowed the door open.

"Do you need help, Jon?" The words echoed in her head and the sight of the bloodied patient lying helpless on the stretcher surround by a myriad of cables, lines and tubing brought her up short, her breath catching in her throat.

Jon glanced up from his work and shook his head. He stepped back from the table and glanced at the clock before pronouncing the time of death. The doctor pulled off his gloves and quietly thanked the nurse and resident for their help before he walked over to Alex. "There wasn’t much we could do for this guy."

He put a hand on her shoulder as he stepped up beside her. "You ok?"

Alex blinked and turned to look at him. "Yeah, I’m fine. I just remembered I forgot to do something earlier."

The tall, dark-haired doctor turned and walked hurriedly down the corridor dodging between visitors and stretchers. Alex slipped out the door into the cold winter air, sucked in a breath, stumbled over to the concrete steps and leaned against the metal railing.

The panic almost overwhelmed her; it was totally unexpected and she held her head in her hands. She felt another wave of dizziness and grimaced as the sour taste of bile rose in her throat. Her body started to shake, deep down in her gut and raced out until her arms and legs were trembling and she sat down at the top of the steps fighting for control.

Even in the cold, she could feel sweat trickling down her back as her body responded to the overwhelming emotions assaulting her. She knew all about post-traumatic stress syndrome and the symptoms that went along with it. Shit, what the hell is wrong with me? She gripped the edge of the concrete step beneath her, letting it bite into her fingertips, the pain somehow grounding her. Alex closed her eyes and rocked back and forth.

A moment later, she heard the outside door open from a few feet behind her. Alex pulled herself to her feet and turned away, attempting to compose herself. Tentative footsteps approached from behind.

Not now, please just go away.

"Alex, are you all right?"

She held her shoulders rigid as she continued to stare through watery eyes at the brick wall. She secretly wished the footsteps belonged to Regina but she knew they were not. "I’m fine, Sandy," she ground out between gritted teeth, refusing to turn around and let the woman see her this way.

The blonde haired nurse frowned as she stood behind the doctor. Half of her wanted to press the issue; she was worried about Alex, but the professional side of her dictated that she respect the doctor’s need for distance. It was obvious that she didn’t want company but after her unusual behavior in the trauma room she felt compelled to check on her friend. Sandy took half a step forward, stopped and then raised a hand, her frustration evident on her face as she let it drop helplessly to her side.

"Alex, if you need anything let me know. Ok?"

The dark head nodded and Sandy slowly walked back into the emergency department, casting an anxious glance behind her before she let the door close. Alone out in the bitter cold, Alex exhaled and walked around the corner so she was out of sight from anyone passing by. Her breaths came in ragged gasps as she crossed her arms over her chest, hugging herself.

"Shit," she cursed, fighting back the tears that welled up in her eyes. The entire time in the trauma room she had to fight back the urge to bail out of the case and run from the room. She knew her fear was irrational but everything she felt was complicated by the intrusive fragmented memories that kept haunting her from that day just seven short weeks ago, right up until the point that she had lost consciousness and the green eyes she’s been looking into faded from view.

No longer able to stand the cold, damp wind, Alex angrily wiped tears from her eyes, straightened her shoulders and forced herself to walk back into the emergency department to face her demons alone.

******

The cafeteria was nearly empty except for a few scattered people sitting at the different tables throughout the large room. Regina walked up to the large industrial refrigerator and regarded the prepared lunches. She wrinkled her nose at the meager selections, tuna fish or egg salad. Ugh, I have no idea what I want to eat. I guess this will have to do, for now, she thought morosely as she selected a tuna fish sandwich. On the way to the cashier, she spotted a small silver bag of Hershey’s Kisses and quickly snatched them up, knowing how much Alex enjoyed the tiny morsels of chocolate.

After paying for her lunch she walked out into the nearly cafeteria and scanned the few occupants for any familiar faces. There was no staff that she knew so she headed to the door, preparing to eat alone and catch up on finishing her charts from the afternoon.

Almost to the exit, Regina stopped, recognizing the middle-aged, red-haired woman who was the mother of the patient she had admitted with the leg tumor the day before.

From where she stood, Regina could see the woman was crying. The young doctor hesitated for a moment, wondering if she should just let the woman alone to deal with whatever was troubling her. A memory of a hot and humid day, a bottle of water and an offer of support that started a fledgling friendship changed her mind.

She had seen the results of the girl’s lab tests in the computer earlier in the day and knew that the oncology doctors would most likely try an aggressive round of chemotherapy to see if the tumor would respond to it before trying a more aggressive approach.

"Mrs. Edwards?" Regina spoke her name hesitantly as she approached the table where the woman was sitting alone.

Red-rimmed brown eyes looked up at her in surprise and the woman seemed to shrink back down in her chair. She covered her mouth with her hand and shook her head, trying to collect herself.

"I…I’m sorry. I just can’t believe what’s happening to my baby girl." Her hands trembled as she folded them together in front of her on the table.

The young doctor sat down across from her and set the plastic container holding her sandwich down on the table.

The woman nodded and wiped her eyes. "I don’t know how she’s going to handle this. What if it doesn’t work and the cancer comes back?"

Regina sat quietly, listening to the woman’s heartbroken words. "Mrs. Edwards, if you can, try and take what’s happening with Terry’s treatment one day at a time."

"I just…my husband lost his job and now Terry being sick, it’s too much."

Oh dammit, she briefly closed her eyes. There was little Regina could say or do at the moment that would ease the mother’s worries. So little of what would happen in the next few months would be in the family’s control. The journey they were at the beginning of would be an emotional roller coaster and a positive outcome was far from guaranteed. The blonde reached across the table and squeezed the distraught woman’s hand. "The doctors will take good care of her, Mrs. Edwards."

Terry’s mother wiped her eyes and nodded her head. "I know you’re busy, Dr. Kingston, but could you check in on her from time to time while she’s here? I know Terry liked you."

Regina stood and rested her hand on the woman’s shoulder. "Sure, I’ll check in on her." She made a mental note to check the computer to see what room the young girl was in. The blonde left the cafeteria, walked down the back hallway, passing several of the dietary and housekeeping staff whose departments were located along this back corridor.

Regina walked up the metal staircase, her footsteps echoing in the empty stairwell as she headed to the back entrance of the emergency department. All day she struggled with the urge to beep Alex several times today to see how she doing. She knew deep down Alex was worried about coming back to work even if she hadn’t voiced her concerns to Regina.

Several times while she was still recuperating, Alex brushed off her attempts to talk about the shooting and the blonde felt the unwelcome yet familiar walls starting to rise around her lover. Regina vowed she wouldn’t let Alex shut her out, especially now, not after everything they had been through.

The day shift was finishing up, signing off orders and giving report to the incoming nursing staff. A door banged open at the end of the hallway and one of the technicians pushed the portable x-ray machine through the entrance. At the nursing station, Regina spotted the curly blonde locks of her friend, Sandy. The nurse was bent over the desk, speaking to one of her colleagues and didn’t see the young doctor walk up to her.

When the nurse finally straightened, Sandy’s face lit up and she walked around the desk to pull Regina into a hug.

"Hey, stranger. I was wondering when you were going to make it back down to here to visit the trenches."

"It’s been less than a week," Regina defended with a chuckle, as she glanced around the busy department. A part of her missed the frenetic pace and the organized chaos that characterized a normal day in the emergency department, but she was very happy with her decision to work in pediatrics. It gave her the ability to treat a wide variety of patients and Regina knew she would have many opportunities to still work in the emergency department.

"How’s Pediatrics doing?" Sandy slipped out of her lab coat and slung it over her shoulder.

"Busy. We’ve got a bunch of kids with respiratory viruses and the flu."

"I can’t believe you gave up the ER for Pediatrics," Sandy replied, as she walked with Regina to the staff lounge.

The doctor gave Sandy a sidelong look and shook her head. "I didn’t give it up, Sandy. I’ll still have plenty of patients who’ll be admitted through the emergency department. What, do you miss me or something?"

"I said no such thing." Sandy scowled, her face flushing red. "It…it’s not the same without you down here," she whispered conspiratorially in Regina’s ear.

"I miss you guys, too." Regina nudged the door open with her hip and motioned Sandy into the lounge, watching the pleased smile that crossed her friend’s face.

The nurse wrinkled her nose as she sniffed the half-day old brew, and then poured herself a cup of coffee. "Do you want some?" She held the pot up offering Regina a cup.

"No, I haven’t been sleeping well, so I’m trying to cut back to see if it helps at all."

"Mm, I could drink a whole pot and still fall asleep after a day here." Sandy sipped at the coffee and studied her friend closely. "Alfonse told me Alex is trying to reopen the clinic downtown."

Regina nodded her head. "Yes, she is. It might help with all the non-emergent admits to the ER."

"Mm." Sandy sipped the coffee. "I’d be willing to help out if Alex needs any. So…how come you’re not sleeping?"

Regina folded her arms over her chest and her face took on a distant almost detached look as she stared at the tiled floor beneath her feet. "Would you believe nightmares?"

"About what?" The nurse frowned and leaned against the counter.

Regina moaned softly and rubbed her face. "I never remember them…clearly."

"I wouldn’t be surprised if you’re dreaming about what happened to Alex." Sandy offered, venturing a guess that Regina might very well be suffering from nightmares about the shooting.

"I don’t know. You’d think I’d remember if I were."

"Maybe not, Regina. Have you two talked about it at all?" Sandy asked quietly.

The blonde shrugged her shoulders and slid her hands into her lab coat pockets. "A little. It’s not exactly a popular subject with either of us."

"I can’t imagine that it is, Regina." They both looked up as the door opened and Alex walked in with her lab coat slung carelessly over one shoulder. The taller woman hesitated when she spotted the Regina standing beside the nurse. Her eyes bore into Sandy. I hope you didn’t say anything to Regina about today. This is my problem and I’ll deal with it.

"There you are." The tense expression on Alex’s face relaxed as her eyes met Regina’s. The affectionate smile she was rewarded with warmed something deep inside her and she let herself revel in the sweet feeling. "I was just going to page you to see if you were ready to get out of here."

"Yeah, more than ready." Regina couldn’t help the impish grin that crossed her lips as she reached into her lab coat and tossed the bag of chocolates to Alex.

The brunette’s pale blue eyes lit up and she snatched the bag out of the air. "Thanks." She smiled conspiratorially back at the blonde.

"Ok, I’ll take that as my cue to leave." Sandy grabbed her coffee and slipped past Regina, mouthing the words ‘talk to her’, as she walked by. "See you guys later."

"Where are you going?" Alex asked.

"Home," Sandy replied.

Alex watched the door close and then turned to Regina. "Everything ok?"

"Yeah, I’m fine, now." Regina stepped closer and tugged at the bottom of Alex’s scrub top as she continued to look up at her blue eyes. The dark haired woman leaned closer and barely stopped herself from kissing the blonde as she inhaled the scent of Regina’s perfume that lingered on the collar of her lab coat.

What she really wanted to do was just go home and curl up alongside of Regina, but Alex knew if she wanted a chance at making the clinic a success she needed to get started on it and soon. "I need to run downtown and check out the clinic we might be opening. Do you want to come along?"

"On one condition."

"What’s that?" A dark eyebrow arched.

"We pick up something to eat."

"I thought that’s what these were for." Alex shook the bag of chocolates, holding over Regina’s head.

The blonde snorted and poked Alex in the side.

******

The clinic was located on the first floor of a three-story, non-descript, brick-faced building that sat across the street from the fire department. The lights from the inside of the two open garages reflected in a half moon shape, casting Alex’s shadow over the macadam as she stepped out of the Jeep and waited for Regina to join her at the entrance of the clinic.

Alex spotted several kids lounging against the hood of one of the cars parked along the side of the street and studied them for a moment before she unlocked the front door and quickly keyed in the numbers to reset the alarm.

The taller woman stepped inside with Regina close behind her and turned on the overhead fluorescent lights. While Regina set down the brown bag filled with take out food from the local late night diner, Alex relocked the door.

"Here, you must be starved. I know I am." The blonde held out the neatly wrapped egg sandwich that Alex ordered.

"Thanks." The taller woman leaned in and wrapped an arm around the blonde as she took the sandwich from her. "Come on, let’s check this place out."

The clinic itself was empty except for the reception desk that separated the waiting room from the treatment area. The curtains that hung from the ceiling, separating the four booths from each other, ruffled slightly as the two women walked past. Dust balls tumbled across the floor, stirred, as they walked across the room and several broken ceiling tiles lay on the floor unmoved from where they had fallen some time ago.

"Well, what do you think?" Alex asked as she gestured at the room. She rotated on her heel and stepped back a few paces, shrugging. "Besides the obvious," she added quickly with a grin, seeing Regina’s arched eyebrow as she looked around the clinic.

"It’s smaller than I thought it would be," Regina offered, before she bit into her sandwich.

"Yeah, but for what we would do here it doesn’t need to be big. Remember, we’re just looking to do follow up visits from the ER, in addition to baby check ups and pre-natal care. They’re quick visits but doing them here would save us a lot of time in the emergency department. All we need to do is rotate a doctor and a nurse down here three times a week for five hours at a time. Most of our non-emergency, walk-in visits come from right around these two towns." Alex motioned with her arm as she talked.

"Who’s going to use it the rest of the time?" Regina asked, as she walked alongside her companion.

"The medical center is always looking for more space, especially for its medical training programs. I’ve had three directors call and ask about sharing the space with us."

"That’s awesome!"

"Yes, it is. After the meeting the other day I wasn’t sure there would be a great response to do this."

"Why did you think that?"

Alex bit into her sandwich and shrugged. "Regina, I ratted out a fellow doctor."

"Who was a sleaze and abused his authority! Everyone knew it, Alex, but you were the only one willing to do something about it."

"Some people might not think about it that way."

"Then screw them," Regina said, her voice rising in frustration.

Alex’s eyes widened in surprise and Regina blushed slightly.

"I…I mean it Alex. It took a lot of courage to do what you did."

The brunette hovered over the smaller woman. Her fingers tilted Regina’s face up to hers. "You were the one with the courage my friend," Alex said sincerely

Regina pulled her eyes away, feeling suddenly awkward and undeserving of the compliment. "Hey, did they leave any equipment here?"

"I doubt it. Dr. Timmons remembers the place being stripped clean of everything. If there’s any left its locked in the storage room. I think I may have the key." Alex suddenly realized as she dug in her pants pocket, pulled out a ring of keys and started to walk toward the back of the building.

Regina turned around to look at the space again and let out a gasp when she felt an arm unexpectedly slip around her waist and pull her back into one of the booths. A low chuckle sounded in her ear and Regina let herself lean against the taller woman’s body.

"Come here, you." Alex growled playfully and leaned back against a treatment table, plucking the half eaten sandwich from her hand. She pulled Regina between her thighs and wrapped her arms around the blonde, pulling her into a hug. After a moment, Alex slid her hands up underneath the blonde hair and cupped Regina’s face in her hands, her blue eyes searching the green orbs.

"What?" Regina caught the fleeting look of uncertainty in the blue eyes and linked her hands around the woman’s lower back.

Alex shook her head and brushed her lips against Regina’s, softly at first and, then, with more ardor as the smaller woman moaned softly into her mouth.

Regina braced a hand on the top of Alex’s thigh, and slid the other around the nape of her neck as they continued their long, slow kiss. A small cry escaped her as Alex’s hands lingered over the skin of her neck and then slid over her shoulders her thumbs lightly grazing the curve of her breasts on the way down to her hips.

After several minutes of gentle exploration, both women, their faces slightly flushed, eased up and gazed into the others eyes. Regina plucked at the top of Alex’s scrub top and leaned in to kiss the base of her neck. "Too bad we’re not home, huh?"

"Mm." Alex quirked a smile and leaned back on her hands. Her eyes glanced down at the v-neck of her scrub top, where she could see the top of the reddish scar that ran down the length of her sternum. "Pretty ugly looking thing, isn’t it?"

The entry wound of the bullet had left an ugly, purplish red mark on her chest just below her left breast, from there it had glanced off a rib, torn through one of the major arteries in her chest and imbedded itself in one of the vessels that fed life giving blood to her kidneys. The seconds between her living and dying had been that close. A thin red line with railroad tracks as the surgeons liked to call the marks the staples left ran down the length of her sternum.

Regina felt a lump form in her throat as she followed Alex’s gaze and waited for the dark haired woman to look back up at her. When her lover finally raised her head the uncertainty Regina saw in her eyes made her heart ache. "All I see is you, Alex. You’re here and that’s all that matters to me." The scars I worry about are the ones you carry on the inside.

Alex swallowed and looked away. "Thanks." It was barely a whisper. "I know it shouldn’t matter but sometimes I look at it and it makes me feel…violated." Her eyes blinked rapidly and she stared down at her feet.

The younger woman clasped Alex’s larger hands in her own. "Can I do anything for you?"

The brunette shook her head and leaned toward Regina, resting her head on her shoulder she closed her eyes and sighed. "Just hold me, please." I hurt inside.

"Always." Regina wrapped her arms around Alex and rubbed her hands over the taller woman’s back. "You don’t have to go through this all alone. Let me help you, Alex."

Alex tensed as a sharp rapping echoed through the empty clinic as someone banged on the front door. "Oh, go away. We don’t want any," she growled into Regina’s neck.

The blonde giggled at Alex’s comment and continued to hold onto her.

Another more urgent knocking broke the momentary silence.

"Shit," Alex cursed and pulled reluctantly out of the warm embrace and stood up.

She walked to the front of the building and saw a man standing at the front door peering in through the glass. A large dog lay quietly at his feet, panting. Alex sighed inwardly as she unlocked the door and opened it partway.

"Sorry, but the clinic isn’t open, " she said, as she partially opened the door. Underneath the streetlamp, she could see the man had dark curly hair with a light beard covering his jaw line. He wore a dark jacket with the fire department’s insignia embroidered over the left breast.

"Oh, no it’s ok," the man replied. "I saw you walk in and just wanted to check on you. A kid got beat up pretty badly in the alley last night. If it weren’t for Lucky here, finding him he might not have made it."

Alex glanced down at the German Shepard and felt her breath catch when she recognized the familiar markings.

"Hi," Regina walked up next to Alex and glanced up at the fireman.

Brown eyes smiled back and the fireman reached out his hand. "I’m Todd. I work over at the station house."

"Regina," the blonde said and shook his hand.

"I’m Alex," the taller woman followed reluctantly, giving up on her idea of getting rid of the guy quickly.

"Do you two work over at the hospital?"

"Yes, we’re both doctors," Regina offered, ignoring the slightly irritated look she got from her taller companion.

"Hey, that’s right. I thought I recognized you," Todd continued, looking up at Alex. "You work in the Emergency Department. I read about what happened to you. I guess you’re doing better, huh?"

Alex shifted uncomfortably. "I got a clean bill of health."

"A bunch of the guys worked that accident. What a mess that whole thing was. That kid never had a chance. It took us forever to get the woman and her dog out of the car. He’s a lucky fellow." Todd reached down and scratched between the dog’s ears. "He’s kind of adopted us, I guess."

Regina glanced up at Alex, the realization of what the man was saying slowly sinking in. She held her hand out and the dog sniffed her fingers enthusiastically, and then practically sat down on her feet. She laughed as he lifted his head and whined quietly for her to pet him.

"We named him Lucky, well, cause he is," the fireman announced as he bent over to ruffle the dog’s ears. I think he likes you." Todd beamed like a proud parent.

"Alex, do you think this is Dana’s dog?" The blonde looked up at her companion, missing the admiring glance she was receiving from the fireman.

Alex cringed, hoping that Regina wouldn’t have recognized the dog. It wasn’t that big of a deal, but for once she just wanted her past not to come back and haunt her. "He certainly looks like it." The taller woman looked down at the Shepard and reluctantly held her hand out. The dog nudged her fingers and gave them a friendly lick.

"You know him?" Todd asked cautiously, a worried look suddenly crossed his face.

Alex lifted her head and looked over at the fireman, her facial expression a mask of neutrality. "I know the woman who was his owner."

"Oh, y…you don’t want him do you?"

Regina glanced up at her friend and smiled at her while she tilted the dog’s head to look up at Alex.

The doctor quickly shook her head. "Not home enough. It wouldn’t be fair to him."

The blonde pushed out her lower lip in a pout as Alex returned her gaze then, rolled her eyes upward and emphatically mouthed the word, no, to Regina. She’d had enough of the social pleasantries and was feeling a growing annoyance at the appreciative glances that Regina was on the receiving end of and gave the bearded man her best ‘drop dead before I have to kill you myself’ look.

Todd glanced between them and shoved his hands into his pockets, sensing a distinct change in the taller woman’s demeanor. "Well, I just wanted to make sure you were ok over here. I won’t hold you up anymore. It was nice to meet the two of you. Come on, Lucky."

Regina tilted her head as the fireman walked back across the street with the dog trotting along at his side. "He seems nice."

Alex shrugged her shoulders and grunted before she quickly turned away to hide the jealous look she knew was plastered all over her face. "I’d say you just made a new friend there." She winced inwardly as the words came out more sarcastically than she planned. Ooh, very nice Alex, you just leapt back twenty years in your maturity level. Are you planning on re-entering high school again maybe?

Regina’s eyes narrowed and she cocked her head, placing her hands on her hips. "What do you…oh, the dog? Yeah, he is cute." The smaller woman lingered behind Alex as the taller woman strode through the door, appreciating the view then, walked up behind her friend, a knowing smirk growing across her face.

Alex blinked and turned around to look at her companion. "Regina…what…oomph…" She found herself suddenly wrapped in a fierce hug. "What are you looking at?"

"You, love" Regina whispered before she pulled Alex’s head down into a slow, lingering kiss.

Continued

 


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