Regina pulled the large, clear plastic clipboard across the chest high counter and studied the lab values for the patient in room ten. They guessed by his weight and body structure that he was approximately sixteen-years old. With no means of identifying him, he remained a John Doe and in the twenty-four hours since he was admitted to the hospital, there had been no frantic phone calls from parents looking for a missing child or family members to stand vigil at his bedside while his battered body hung tenuously in the balance between life and death.
His condition was critical and his prognosis guarded. Both would remain so until the
pressure from the swelling in his brain resolved. The neurosurgeons were successful in removing the large blood clot that formed on the outer sheath of his brain as a result of the blunt trauma to his head, but no one could predict what his neurological status was going to be until he woke up.
Since the boy was under seventeen he was assigned to the pediatric service and the doctors there would be responsible for coordinating his care and ultimate discharge from the hospital.
Regina stood outside the boys room in the intensive care unit, looking in at what she could see of him. A four-legged IV pole stood next to the bedside with three separate pumps stacked on top of each other continuously pushing a combination of electrolytes and antibiotics into his injured body. An intraventricular catheter was inserted through the boys skull into a lateral ventricle to monitor the pressure of the cerebrospinal fluid.
A decision was made that morning on rounds to begin weaning him off the drug called Norcuron that was being used to paralyze him. It was always a calculated risk to do this. The longer he stayed on the drug the more chance he had of permanent muscle and nerve damage, but if he was agitated and still confused when the drug wore off, all it would take was one frenzied attempt to free himself from the tubes and wires that would elevate his intracranial pressure and possibly cause more damage to his already traumatized brain.
The click and whir of the pumps was all but drowned out by the continuous whooshing and beeping of the ventilator. Quietly, Regina stepped into the boys room after donning an isolation gown, mask and gloves that would protect him from potential bacteria that his body was still vulnerable to.
As she ran through her standard series of neurological checks Regina talked softly to the boy. She had no sense of what he looked like yet, thick, white gauze was wrapped around his head hiding what would be left of his neatly shorn hair, his features were distorted by the facial swelling and mottle bruising to his skin from the injuries he sustained. She peered closer at his cheek, noting the sharp outline of horseshoe shaped bruise that ran up underneath the bandages.
"I dont know your name my friend so I guess youll have to be John until you wake up and tell me what your real name is." She slipped her fingers into the palm of his hand. The skin was callused and felt clammy in her grasp. Regina leaned closer over the bed rail. "If you hear me squeeze my fingers."
Regina waited for a few seconds and got no response. "Thats ok, John. I know youre in there. You just keep trying."
She moved to the foot of his bed and lifted the sheets covering his feet. The doctor ran the metal end of her reflex hammer over the sole of his foot. The toes curled down in response to the noxious stimulus and Regina allowed herself a small smile. It was one small victory. The neurological tracts that controlled the movements of his muscles were still intact.
The blonde stepped back away from the bedside, wondering if he had parents and if so, did they even know he was hurt. It was no secret that patients with a supportive family presence faired better in these situations. Sometimes a touch, a familiar voice or soft words of comfort were the only things that could break through the coma and offer the patient a path to follow back to their life that had been so viciously turned upside down.
A sudden overwhelming sense of sorrow gripped her as she thought of Alex. Not once during the last eight weeks had the doctor heard from her mother or brother. She wondered if Jon was ever able to get hold of them. He never said and with all that was going on in those first few anxiety filled days, she never thought to ask him afterwards.
Regina quickly backed out of the room, stripped out of her gown and gloves and tossed them into the dirty linen cart by the door, fighting back a totally unexpected surge of anger.
Out at the desk, Regina sat and quickly scribbled a note in the chart, ignoring the banter of the staff going on around her. It wasnt until she noticed a shift in the light above her and inhaled a vaguely familiar cologne did she glance up from her work.
Her eyes widened and she fought the urge to push away from the desk. There, standing in front of her dressed in his black police uniform was Derrick. His face was thinner and his hair was cropped close to his scalp. He looked as frightening to her now as he did the night he showed up at Alexs house on the Cape. The memory of what followed was still fresh in her mind and she strangled a frightened gasp in her throat.
"Hello, Regina," he drawled casually as if his presence should be no big deal to her.
Her mouth was suddenly dry and her heart was double-timing it in her chest as she struggled to form a coherent thought. "What are you doing here, Derrick?" She had no reason to believe he came here looking for her but she couldnt help the defensiveness and fear that crept unbidden into her voice.
He must have sensed her discomfort because he crossed his arms and leaned on the desk, peering down at her through flat, emotionless eyes. "Im looking for the John Doe that got brought in here last night."
Regina stood up irritated with herself for letting him sense her unease and flipped the chart closed, handing it to the unit clerk who was sitting a few feet away. "Why?"
"I need to get the kids clothes and ask a few questions for the investigation."
Was that a smirk she saw on his face? You bastard, Regina silently cursed, knowing Derrick was probably enjoying the irony of the situation. This was how their relationship started over a year ago. She turned to walk away. "Talk to the charge nurse, Derrick."
"Id rather have you answer the questions. You do a better job of it, anyway."
The blonde turned and regarded him coolly. You have to be kidding me if you think flattery will get you anywhere, Derrick. "What do you need to know?"
"Was he awake when he was brought in?"
"Not enough to answer questions from what I heard." Regina walked around the desk and stood at the doorway to the boys room her arms crossed over her chest and her jaw set. She felt a need to be by the boys room with Derrick so close; it was almost a sense of protectiveness that brought her there.
Derrick stood several feet away from Regina and cautiously peered in at the boy. "Any idea what happened to him? A fall, someone hit him. We dont have anything to go on, not even a name, Regina."
Regina frowned, hearing the uncharacteristic break in his voice. "Derrick, I think the head nurse can answer any questions you have."
He stepped closer to the room and looked at Regina, ignoring her request. "Did they do a toxicology screen on the kid to see if there were any drugs in his system?"
"Ask his nurse Im not discussing this with you anymore."
"Hey, wait a minute." He lowered his voice when several nurses glanced up at the two of them. "Cant we, um, talk for a minute?" Derrick fingered his cap as he stood before her, looking penitent.
Regina stared at him for a moment. Talking was the last thing you were ever interested in doing and you expect me to believe thats what you want now. "No Derrick, we cant just talk. Theres nothing to say." As she turned to walk away the monitor alarm sounded shrilly in the boys room, his heart rate suddenly spiking sharply.
A nurse darted around the desk and threw a gown over her shoulders, quickly joining Regina at the bedside. "I can give him another dose of Ativan. Its not too soon." She glanced up at the blonde haired pediatrician.
"Do it," Regina ordered as she made a minor adjustment to the ventilator settings before she leaned over the bed and touched a gloved hand to the boys face. "John, can you hear me?"
The boy nodded his head ever so slightly.
"You hurt your head and youre in the hospital," Regina continued, watching as the nurse injected the sedative directly into the IV line.
His eyelids fluttered slightly and a single tear rolled down the side of his face.
"Its ok, sweetheart, everything is going to be all right."
"Whats wrong with him?" Derrick asked from just outside the door.
The boy grimaced and shook his head weakly side-to-side, straining against the restraints holding his arms down.
"Derrick, get out, now!" Regina ordered as she looked between her patient and her ex-boyfriend.
The nurse glared at the police officer over her shoulder and then whipped the curtain closed, blocking his view of the boy. Gradually, with the help of the drug and Reginas soothing voice the boy ceased his struggles and his heart rate slowed its frantic pace.
Regina reached up to the head of the bed and checked the readout for his intracranial pressure. "Were still ok with his pressure, but call the neurosurgeon and see if they want to keep him on the medication for another day." Satisfied that her patient was in no immediate danger, Regina left the nurse at the boys bedside.
She was more than disappointed to see Derrick still lingering on the unit, obviously waiting for her. Dammit, just go away, Derrick, she pleaded silently. Reluctantly, she left the sanctuary of the nurses station and headed for the door leading to the hallway.
"Regina." He reached out with his arm and blocked the door as she tried to walk by him.
The blonde held her hand up. "Back off, Derrick. You might be here for police business, but I still have a restraining order against you. Nothings changed. Dont forget it."
His eyes narrowed and he stepped forward. "Forget? No, I wont. How can I?" Derrick growled.
"Derrick, back off, please." Regina carefully skirted past him quickly and made her way down the hallway barely avoiding a stretcher as a transporter shoved it out of the elevator. Regina glanced inside the open door and recognized the young girl sitting slumped in the wheelchair. She looked over her shoulder warily then, ducked through the open door relieved to find that Derrick hadnt followed her.
"Terry?" Regina touched the girls hand then, looked up at the orderly who was standing behind the wheelchair, looking incredibly bored at the moment.
The girl lifted her head and blinked several times as she looked up at the blonde haired woman standing in front of her. "H hi." She cleared her throat, grimacing at the foul taste the medicine she took for the test left in her throat.
"Where are they taking you?" Regina leaned against the rail with her hands tucked in her lab coat pockets and watched in relief as the doors slid closed.
"Uh, radiology, I think." Terry shivered beneath the blanket and glanced up at the woman standing beside her.
"Do you want some company?"
Fearful brown eyes looked up at her and the young girl nodded her head eagerly, grateful for the offer since her mother was working and her father was looking for a job. "They have to put me in this machine to do a test and I hate closed spaces."
"Oh, theyre doing an MRI."
"Whatever." Terry stared down at her hands and twirled the blue wristband around her wrist nervously.
The elevator stopped its descent and the doors opened. Regina followed the young man out and walked beside the wheelchair down the narrow hall that led into the radiology department. A large fish tank with several large angelfish floating in the blue tinted water sat next to the far wall.
A technician walked out and took the chart from the pocket in back of the wheelchair, then glanced down at the girls wristband. "Terry, well all set for you. We can go right back and get started."
"Great, the only time this place is ever on time is when I get to go into a dark tunnel."
Regina walked with them to the door and squeezed Terrys shoulder before the woman pushed the wheelchair into the testing area. "Ill be here when youre done, Terry," the doctor reassured the young girl.
Terry stood up from the wheelchair and self-consciously pulled the faded blue hospital gown around her slender frame. The room was cool, and there was nothing but white walls in the expansive room. In the center stood the machine that would take pictures of her body to see if the cancer was anywhere else but the bone in her leg. The young girl swallowed hard and glanced nervously at the narrow bed she had to lie on that slid into the small tunnel like opening.
"I I dont want to do this," Terry stammered softly, fighting back the urge to cry.
"I know you dont, Terry, but your doctor ordered the test so we have to do it." The red-haired woman pulled a blanket out of a wall cabinet and laid it over the hard mattress. "Now hop up here and lay down for me."
Reluctantly, Terry climbed up onto the hard mattress pad and lay on her back. The table jerked as the technician unlocked the mechanism holding it in place. "You can close your eyes Terry. You might feel better if you cant see the tunnel walls around you."
The girl nodded her head and closed her eyes tightly just before the table started to slide into the machine. Already she was starting to breath faster and she squeezed her eyes shut tightly afraid that if she opened them shed find the ceiling of the tube inches from her face.
Over the speaker that was in the tube she heard the womans voice. "This is going to take about forty minutes, Terry. Ill let you know what were doing as we go along."
There was silence followed by a loud, hollow knocking that went on and on. Oh God, please just get me out of here. I cant do this. Her tears started to flow in earnest now as the loud knocking continued.
Alex finished writing an order to transfer two patients up to one of the surgical floors for observation. She rubbed a hand over her eyes and blinked as she looked up at the clock on the wall. The numbers blurred momentarily before her eyes adjusted to the distance and everything came clearly into focus. It was five oclock and she knew Regina would be finishing up with her patients soon.
She drummed her fingers on the counter as she considered whether to page Regina or not. Since they had been back they had fallen easily into the routine of paging each other once throughout the day. Alex carried the charts over to the unit clerk and then headed into the staff lounge.
The tall, dark-haired doctor lifted the pot and sniffed cautiously at the bitter brew, then thought better about drinking the day old coffee. As she poured the stale coffee down the sink and pulled out a fresh bag of coffee grinds to brew, Alex shook her head mentally chastising herself for her foolish insecurities. Oh, who are you trying to kid? You know you want to talk to her, just get over it and call her already.
She picked up the phone on the wall and dialed the hospital beeper system, punched in Reginas beeper number and the extension for her to call. Moments later as she was filling the now clean pot with cold water the wall phone rang.
"Hi," Alex answered absently.
"You were mighty confident it was me calling you back," Regina teased her on the other end of the phone.
"I knew it was you."
"How?" Regina challenged, a smile playing on her lips as she looked through the window into the testing area.
"You have a distinct ring," Alex answered dryly.
"Haha. Whats up?"
"I just wanted to say hi and see when you might be ready to go home," Alex answered.
"Actually, I ran into a patient I admitted earlier this week. Shes down in radiology right now for a test and I offered to wait until shes through."
The blonde brought her hand up to her face. "Im sorry, Alex. I didnt even think to look at the time," Regina lowered her voice as the technician reentered the room and spoke to Terry over the intercom.
"Hey, no its ok," the medical director answered quickly, pouring the
fresh grinds into the coffee machine. "What test are they doing?"
"Theyre doing an MRI." Regina glanced through the window into the testing area. She heard muffled cries coming from over the speaker that was in the tube. "Hang on, Alex."
Alex stared across the empty staff lounge, thinking about Regina and knowing that she was probably very worried about the girl if she had taken the time to go with her to the test. In the background she heard a voice and then Regina came back on the line.
"Whats wrong?" Alex leaned against the wall and rubbed the back of her neck, working out a knot caused from the stress of the day.
"The kid is claustrophobic and the doctor didnt order any sedatives for her. Listen, Im going to go. Maybe if I talk to her over the intercom shell get through this better."
The tall, dark haired doctor closed her eyes as a trickle of fear and anger swirled in her guts. She hated closed spaces and the mere thought of them made her break out in a cold sweat. "Ill be here. Just call me when youre done there."
Alex set the phone back in the cradle and sighed. A distant memory nagged her conscious thought and she grimaced trying to force it away while she walked back out into the department.
"Dad, stop. Youre hurting him." She felt the rush of air as the black leather belt sung through the air and whipped against her brothers bare backside.
"You stay out of this Alexandra or youll be next. You hear me?" her father snarled at her, then turned back to her brother. "Teach you to lie to me about what you did with my liquor,"
Michael grimaced, refusing to cry out as the belt bit into his flesh again. It wasnt the first time he took a beating so his mother didnt have to, but this time his father had found out about him pouring his vodka down the drain and now they would all pay. Lord knew his mother already had. "Alex, be ugh quiet."
The tall, lanky girl stood outside the bedroom door with tears running down her face. "You bastard, stop it!" She could hear her mother crying in the bedroom, helpless to do anything after he beat her moments before.
Alex felt the anger boiling up inside her as her father continued to hold her brother down as he whipped him again.
"Im warning you girl. Keep your damn mouth shut!" A rush of air escaped his lips as a solid form slammed into him sending him tumbling to the floor. As he scrambled to his feet he saw his daughter pulling Michael from the room.
"Go! Get momma and go, now," Alex hissed.
"You stupid bitch. This time youre going to pay for what you just did."
Alex stepped back and ducked under an errant swing of his meaty fist. She waited another second hoping her brother had enough time to get out of the house before she turned and sprinted down the stairs. Behind her, she could hear her father bellow her name. She bolted out the back door and ran around the back of the house away from the lights of the car in the driveway.
She needed to keep him away from them just long enough so they could get away. Her feet pounded across the wet grass and she skidded as she rounded the corner, losing her balance for an instant. As she stumbled, a blur of motion caught her attention and she realized as she closed her eyes and braced for the impact of the bat that she had unwittingly run right into her father.
It was hours later when she finally woke. Alone, hurting and scared she blinked her eyes trying to make out objects in the darkness around her. Tentatively she reached her hands out and inches from her face she felt dry, splintered wood. Frantically, she kicked her legs out and heard the echo of her shoes on the side of the wall.
Desperately she tried to calm her breathing and not panic. She felt around her, trying to figure out where he put her and realized as her hands ran over the sharp edges of wood that her father had locked her in the crawl space underneath the stairs.
By the time her brother snuck back home later that night, her fists were raw and bleeding from pounding on the walls and her voice was hoarse from shouting. As she lay huddled in Michaels arms after he pulled her out of the crawl space she vowed she would never let her father beat any of them again. ******
She wasnt out at the desk for a minute before the abruptly lights went out and she was bathed in darkness. Anxious cries from patients and families alike erupted from around the department.
Alex cursed softly and waited for her eyes to adjust before the emergency lights came on. She heard several of the staff around her as they moved awkwardly, finding their way through the maze of equipment and rooms in the darkness.
When nothing happened seconds later, Alex ran her hands along the back of the desk and found the flashlight they kept there for emergencies. Just as she turned it on the lights flickered and came back on.
"Figures," Sandy muttered as she stepped up beside the doctor, holding another flashlight.
"I thought they fixed the emergency generator." Alex turned to the nurse.
"Oh, they did. Cant you tell?" Sandy remarked snidely and set the flashlight down on the desk.
Overhead the operator announced a code ten in radiology. "And thats probably the new MRI unit that just crapped out again. Every time theres a power surge it blows a fuse."
"Youre kidding, right?" Alex turned and stared at the nurse.
"No, Im not kidding, Alex," Sandy replied.
An eyebrow arched up under dark bangs and Alex grabbed the phone quickly dialing radiologys number.
A frazzled clerk picked up the phone. "What?"
"Is Dr. Kingston there?" Alex demanded.
"Yeah, but shes busy. We got a broken unit and a patient is stuck in it."
She didnt even remember sprinting down the hallway or taking the stairs two at a time and bursting into the observation room. Inside she saw a technician and Regina desperately trying to pull the narrow table out of the tube. Two engineers and one of the biomedical technicians were already working on a panel at the other end of the unit.
"What happened?" Alex panted as she knelt beside Regina and looked at what she was trying to do.
Regina answered over the panicked cries of the girl, pleading to get her out of the machine. "The motor malfunctioned after the power surge. We cant," she grunted as she pulled on the end of the narrow bed, "get it to release."
"Let me see." Alex crouched beside her and tugged experimentally on the end of it. It didnt budge.
"Get me out of here," Terry sobbed desperately from inside.
Regina stood up and leaned into the tube, touching the frightened girls ankle. "Terry, listen to me. Were going to get you out. I promise."
"Get me out, please! I I cant breathe."
Alex sat back on her heels and tugged on the stretcher again. She glanced up at Regina and shook her head. "Its jammed," she whispered. "You think you can get her calmed down enough so that we can pull her out."
"You cant do that. Youll damage it," the technician protested loudly.
"News flash, it already is." Alex glared at the woman and stood up, stepping past her and muttering angrily. "One million dollars they spend on this state of the art technology and a power surge does it in." She walked over to the engineers and peered at what they were doing. "Any idea whats wrong with this hunk of metal?
One of the engineers scratched his head and blew out a frustrated breath. "Yeah, it blew another fuse and short circuited the wires."
"How long does it take to fix that?"
"We have to replace the wires and the fuse. It could be a couple of hours."
"Is there a manual override for the bed so we can get this kid out now?"
"Not that I can see on the schematics," the biomedical technician muttered angrily.
Alex moved back to the opening and placed a hand on Reginas back as she leaned in next to her. She inhaled sharply as she peered into the tube. Oh God, thats small in there. "Terry."
"I need you to lie very still. Were going to pull you out, ok?"
"If you break this machine its on your head, not mine," the technician spluttered from behind the two doctors.
Regina glanced up at Alex with a surprised look on her face. "Can we do that?"
"You take one ankle and Ill get the other." Alex closed her eyes and leaned into the small tunnel, reaching for the girls leg. "Terry, I want you to scoot toward the opening when we start to pull. Ok?"
"Ok," her voice trembled and Alex could hear her sniffling.
"Here we go."
It took them another ten minutes before Alex and Regina could finally extricate the girl from the machine. She clung to both of them as they lowered her carefully to the floor. Alex ducked her head and unwrapped the girls death grip from around her neck. She knelt beside her and draped a blanket that the technician handed to her over the traumatized girls shoulders.
She watched as Terry buried her head against Reginas shoulder, holding on for dear life as her sobs quieted down to soft whimpers. The pediatrician rubbed her hand over the young girls back and raised her head, rewarding Alex with a heartwarming smile and mouthed the word, thank you, to the dark-haired doctor.
The medical director smiled back and helped Regina pull Terry to her feet. "Well, I think were done here for the day. How about we get our young friend here back to her room and give her parents a call? I dont think theyre going to want to hear about this tomorrow morning."
The dark-haired doctor waited outside the Terrys room while Regina did her best to reassure the girl and her worried parents that what happened with the machine was a fluke.
"Thanks for waiting, Alex," Regina offered when she walked out of the room some time later.
"No problem. Is she ok?" The medical director started down the hallway with the blonde walking beside her.
"Shes better now." Regina glanced curiously up at her taller companion as Alex held the door open to the stairwell. "How come you came down to radiology? It wasnt a medical emergency they announced."
Alex avoided the green eyes peering up at her. "Sandy told me the problems theyve been having with the new unit and when I called down the clerk told me what happened."
Regina raised her eyebrows and tilted her head up at Alex. "Uh huh. That still doesnt explain why you came down."
Alex lowered her eyes and sighed. "Its a long story and it doesnt really matter. I just wanted to help," Alex finished sheepishly and started down the stairs.
Regina recognized the defensive tone in Alexs voice and sighed inwardly, knowing further discussion was off limits about the subject for now. The blonde decided on a different tactic and glanced quickly above to make sure no one was coming down the stairs, then reached out from the step above and grabbed the collar of the taller womans lab coat, halting Alex and pulling the taller woman back against her. "Even if you wont tell me why, thank you, anyway," she whispered in the taller womans ear and smiled when she saw the faint flush of pink against her tan skin. "When the electricity went off and the machine failed, I hoped you might come down."
Alex tried not to let the smile break over her face but it was futile as her senses were momentarily overwhelmed in this sterile environment with the physical closeness of her lover and the warm clean scent of her body mingled with a hint of her perfume. She swallowed trying to control the sudden racing of her heart. "Regina," she growled, drawing the womans name out.
"Problem?" the blonde asked innocently.
"Youre not playing fair," Alex groaned when she felt Regina lean against her.
"Who said anything about playing fair?" Regina laughed and bolted down the stairs ahead of her.
Alex leaned in close, brought her lips to the back of Reginas neck and gently nibbled the silken skin as she waited for the blonde to unlock the front door of her condo. She chuckled, enjoying herself for the moment as her younger companion squirmed and pushed back against her.
"Im never going to get this door unlocked if you keep oh, doing that." Regina protested as her body reacted to Alexs playful teasing.
Alex sighed dramatically and straightened up, allowing Regina the opportunity to unlock the door without any further distractions. She followed the blonde inside; watching curiously as Regina tossed some mail on the table and then glanced over at the blinking light on the message machine.
Regina felt her companions gaze penetrating her back and she turned, giving the woman a quizzical look. She waved her hand at the phone. "Ah, Ill listen to that later." Regina gazed up at Alex and smiled warmly. "Thanks for helping out today."
Alex shook her head and stepped up to Regina slipping her arms around the shorter womans waist, pulling her close. She intently studied the sea green eyes that looked back up at her and lit up when a smile touched her lips. "Mm, you already thanked me once."
"I know, but to that girl, you were a hero today. She was terrified when she got stuck in that machine."
Blue eyes blinked and Alex ducked her head, hiding her discomfort with the label before she answered. "Im not a hero, Regina." I wonder how you would feel about me if you saw the way I ran out of the ER like a coward the other day.
The blonde snorted and ran her hands up over Alexs shoulders, feeling the strength still evident there. "You think what you want, but I know better." She silenced the protest rising on Alexs lips with a gentle kiss, enjoying the soft, fullness of her lips as they returned the steady pressure in turn.
Since the accident neither of them had pushed the issue of being intimate with each other, they held hands, kissed and hugged often but that was the extent of it and Regina sorely missed the physical part of their relationship they had yet to regain. She knew part of Alexs reluctance was because she was still in considerable pain at times, but there was so much going on behind those turbulent blue eyes that made the young doctor believe it was much more than that alone. What her dark haired companion wasnt willing to discuss with her left Regina feeling anxious and unsettled about their relationship.
The taller woman slowly opened her eyes, pulled back from the kiss and then briefly brushed the back of her fingers over Reginas cheek. "You must be hungry. Do you want to order something to eat?"
The blonde frowned and shook her head. "No, no more take out food. I can whip something up for us," Regina replied, before she walked into the kitchen. "Let me see what Ive got."
Alex followed the blonde into the kitchen and casually leaned against the wall, watching as Regina rummaged through the cabinet and pulled out a box of linguine, followed by several cans of clams.
"Linguine and clam sauce, sound good?"
"Sure, but wont that take awhile?"
The blondes shoulders shook as she snickered at the concerned expression on Alexs face. "You really dont cook very much do you?"
Dark eyebrows furrowed and Alex folded her arms over her chest. "Hey, Ill have you know I can cook "
"Yes." Regina leaned against the counter and folded her arms waiting for Alexs answer."
Alexs frown broke into a sly grin. "Do hard boiled eggs count?"
Regina tilted her head back and let out an exasperated sigh. "You are too much."
"So, I took wood working and metal shop in high school," Alex protested good-naturedly.
The young doctor rolled her eyes, pulled a large pot out from inside the cabinet, and set it on the stove. "Well, get over here and fill this pot with water, Ms. Butch."
"Hey," the taller woman grumbled and then gave up, knowing shed been pegged as Regina just smiled impishly at her and pointed to the pot. "Watch it. You are treading on thin ice, here," Alex warned as she turned the water on in the sink and nudged the blonde with her hip.
"Ooh, I am so scared." Regina waggled her eyebrows and tried not to laugh again. It felt good to tease each other and laugh like this; releasing some of the tension they both were feeling around each other of late. So many things had gone unspoken since the day Alex was shot and the more time that passed the harder it was to talk about what was bothering her. "Aah, hey," she puttered as cold droplets of water suddenly splashed on her face. "Stop, that. Alex!"
The taller woman cupped her hand under the stream of water and flashed an evil grin. "Dont mock my skills."
"Ok, ok. Truce, please?" Regina pled as she wiped her face with her hand.
"Ill consider it," Alex mused, a smile tugging at the corners of her lips as she set the pot full of water on the stove.
Alex retreated back to the doorway and watched with interest as Regina quickly went about creating her clam sauce while the pasta cooked on the stove. Her talents certainly did not lie in this area and a rueful smirk crossed Alexs face when she thought that most of her dinners consisted of cereal and milk when she was alone. It felt nice to have someone want to do this for her, but there was also another part that railed against having to depend on anyone for anything. She sighed inwardly knowing that the last two months she felt like shed done nothing except rely on Regina for everything.
"You want any help?"
Regina shook her head, glancing up at Alex. "No, why dont you go relax. This wont take long."
"Ok." Alex disappeared into the living room and settled herself onto the couch. She let out a quiet sigh and pressed her hand against her chest, the contact offering a different sensation than the pain that seemed to be more pronounced when she wasnt distracted. The brunette sorted though her experiences over the past two days searching for why she was having such a hard time adjusting to being back at work. Alex youre a jerk, you get shot, almost die, have major surgery and are back in less than two months. She shook her head, slightly disgusted that it was affecting her this much. Get past it, dwelling on it isnt going to help any.
She glanced down at her leather bag and then reached inside it, pulling out a folder. Work had always been a distraction for her and it was no different now as she opened the file and sifted through a pile of papers until she found the equipment list she was working on for the clinic and started reviewing it.
Alex made a note in the margin to ask Dr. Matthews for a requisition order to get equipment out of the warehouse that the hospital owned. It was convenient for the hospital to store old or unwanted equipment since the warehouse was located right next to the clinic, which was minutes away from the hospital. Once she found what she needed it would only be a matter of scheduling the movers to transport what they needed over into what would hopefully become the new community health center.
"Alex, come on its ready."
"Oh, sorry. I didnt hear you." Alex pulled herself out of her thoughts when Regina set a steaming plate mounded with pasta and sauce down on the table a few feet away.
"Thanks," she offered quietly and slid into the chair opposite Regina.
As the blonde haired doctor ate and watched her friend sitting across from her she sensed the dark cloud of uncertainty and doubt that seemed to plague Alex ever since the shooting, descend once again. Regina winced inwardly at the memory of it, all too aware that the outcome could have been unthinkable given a slightly different set of circumstances. They had been lucky that day.
"This is really good Reg," Alex remarked in between bites.
Regina watched Alex quietly finish the food on her plate, her eyes hidden by the dark bangs. She thought of everything they had been through and all the things they had yet to experience and share together.
It came without warning and she found herself consumed by a flood of grief that choked her throat and brought stinging tears to her eyes. Without a word, the blonde shoved her chair back, fled into the bathroom, quickly shutting the door behind her. Her chest heaved as she covered her face with a hand and fought back a sob that threatened to burst out.
"Oh God," she uttered and leaned heavily against the door. Through the tears blurring her vision, Regina studied her hands and clenched them tightly into fists to stop them from shaking. Images flashed through her mind and she pressed her clenched fists against her eyes trying to block them out.
******There was blood everywhere and it quickly soaked through the front of Alexs faded blue scrub top. "Oh God, Alex Sandy! I need help in here, now!" ******
Her voice echoed in her mind, starting a cascade of memories she couldnt control. Regina could see herself clamping her hands over the bullet hole in Alexs chest and with a detached sense of horror watched as the blood stained her hands red.
Maybe if I listened to Alex when she ordered me out of the room that night, none of this would have happened, Regina thought and shook her head, staring up at the ceiling. "This is all my fault."
Behind her came a soft knock on the door and she cursed softly, knowing she left Alex at the table wondering what in the hell was going on with her.
"Regina, are you ok?"
The young doctor swallowed the lump in her throat before she spoke. "Yeah, I Im fine. Ill be right out." She moved to the sink, turned the faucet on and splashed water on her face.
When she emerged from the bathroom a few minutes later, she glanced over at the table to find it empty and cleared of dishes. Across the room, Alex was standing by the window with her arms folded over her chest, staring into the darkness, a pensive expression on her face. Im so sorry, Alex.
When the brunette heard Reginas footsteps she turned her head and watched her approach warily. She spoke first, breaking the heavy silence between them. "You know if you want to talk about anything, Im here, right?" Alex asked in a neutral voice, trying to mask the hurt that lay just beneath the surface.
Regina started to say that everything was all right, but something in the way Alexs penetrating gaze captured hers broke the blondes resolve. In two steps she was wrapped in the taller womans embrace and holding onto her with all her strength.
"I cant lose you, Alex. Please, not again," she whispered into the fabric of her shirt.
The brunette tipped Reginas head back and studied her face intently. "Youre not going to lose me, Regina. Im staying right here." Alex sensed Reginas anguish and squeezed her tighter, whispering quiet reassurances in her ear. "Talk to me, please. Whatever it is, well work it out. I promise."
Regina closed her eyes unable to look at the pained expression in Alexs eyes. Im sorry, Alex. I just dont know how to tell you that I just stood there and watched you slipping away. Everything I learned, everything you taught me, just flew out the window. I almost let you die in there.
"Hey, come on. It cant be that bad," Alex joked; Reginas uncharacteristic silence unnerving her.
The younger woman sniffed and wiped a hand across her eyes. "I dont even think I can put it into words right now."
Alex frowned and tilted her head. "Why? Just tell me whats wrong." She glanced over at the couch, deciding that it might be better if they both were sitting because this sounded like it was going to be one hell of a conversation. "Come here." She tugged the reluctant blonde over to the couch and sat, pulling Regina down beside her.
The younger woman curled her legs underneath her and leaned back against the corner of the couch, studying her hands, acutely aware of Alex watching her.
"Regina." Alex turned and rested her arm on the back cushion, waiting. "Did I do something?" She felt her heart jerk erratically in her chest when she heard a muffled sob.
Regina shook her head vigorously, several strands of hair falling over into her face as she fought back the tears. "No, Alex. Its not you. I mean I am worried about you. I know its got to be hard going back to work."
The taller woman pursed her lips and then leaned closer to her younger companion. "No. This isnt about me, Regina. You didnt just bolt into the bathroom before because youre worried about me. Maybe you dont remember youre dreams but I hear you every night. Somethings been bothering you and its eating you up inside."
Reginas eyes widened and for a moment she worried that she said something in her sleep that Alex might already know. "I I dont remember them," her voice faded away as the pale blue eyes watching her darkened and Alexs jaw muscles clenched briefly before she stared straight ahead.
"I dont understand. Why wont you tell me whats wrong?" Alex asked in a small voice. Behind them on the table the phone rang shrilly. "Dont answer it,"
Regina pulled her hand back and cautiously glanced up at the dark haired woman sitting rigidly beside her. How did this conversation end up like this? Were practically arguing with each over something I dont even know how to explain. Then she heard her fathers voice over the speaker. Shit, this cant get any worse, she thought and then it did.
"Hi, uh Regina, its your father. I guess youre still not home." Regina wrinkled her nose, realizing now who had left the message before. "Your mothers birthday is coming up in a couple of weeks and um, I thought you might want to come up for the weekend. It might be a good way for us I called your brother, Jeff and hes uh, well, hes thinking about it. Ill tell you the same thing though. If you decide to bring your friend with you, you should plan to stay elsewhere than at the house. I think it will be better "
Completely mortified, Regina reached out and grabbed the phone from the cradle. "Dad, shit," she cursed when she heard her voice on the speaker and turned the volume off on the machine. "Hi, yeah, Im home. No, I wasnt screening calls."
She glanced over at the brunette and cringed inwardly when she saw Alex slumped back against the couch with her head tilted back and eyes closed. "What weekend? Oh, ok." Regina pushed several flaxen strands of hair back off her face and rested her elbows on her knees, wanting nothing more than to just crawl into a hole somewhere and hide. "Is Mike going to be there with his wife? Ah huh, yeah, great." Her voice sounded more resigned now. "Yes, Dad, Ill switch my schedule if I need to. Ill talk to you later."
Quietly, she hung up the phone and rubbed her face before she looked over at Alex and noticed her eyes were still closed and could tell from the erratic rise and fall of her chest that she was breathing irregularly, obviously more upset now than before.
"Im sorry," she breathed out, wanting nothing more than to reach out and touch the woman but the pang of her upset prevented her from doing so.
"What are you sorry about? Its youre parents prerogative who they want staying in their house." Alex started to say more but bit back the sarcastic remark about knowing how Reginas parents felt about her now. It wasnt Reginas fault and it would only serve to distance them further from each other, which they didnt seem to need much help with at the moment.
She hadnt meant for the conversation to go this way, but it seemed that no matter what she said only made Regina more anxious and determined not to tell her what was troubling her. The taller woman sighed, seeing the unhappy expression on her partners face. "Listen, its late and were both tired." Alex reached over and tentatively brushed a lock of hair behind Reginas perfectly shaped ear. "Why dont we call it a night? When you need or want to, you can talk to me." The brunette stood up and ran a hand through her hair, not sure of what else to say or do that wouldnt make the situation worse.
She turned around looking at Regina uncertainly. "What?"
"I was thinking that maybe it would be nice if we could get away for the weekend. You know, just so we could be together."
The tall, dark haired woman pressed her lips into a thin line before she answered. "I wish I could Regina, but I planned to start work on getting the clinic set up downtown."
"Oh, I didnt realize it was going to happen that quickly," Regina replied, trying unsuccessfully to hide the dejection evident in her voice.
Ah shit. Alex hesitated before she walked back over and sat down on the couch. "Well do something, I promise. Maybe after you go visit your parents we can take a few days off and go somewhere. Ok?"
Regina rested her elbows on her knees and stared off across the room. "I um, I was hoping that maybe, you would come with me if you want." She nervously clasped her hands tightly together, her knuckles turning white from the pressure while she stumbled over her words. "I Ill understand if you dont want to." She wanted Alex with her but the prospect of her mother meeting her lover, the same woman Derrick had badly maligned to her, was enough to make her stomach start doing back flips.
"Oh." Alex coughed and cleared her throat, floundering in deep water at the unexpected invitation. "Of course, Ill come with you Reg. I just wasnt sure if that was what you wanted."
"Why wouldnt I want you to come with me?"
Alex blinked and looked back into questioning green eyes before she answered. "I know your parents gave you a hard time when you told them about yourself. Im sure they think that Im stealing their daughter away, corrupting you or something." Alex tried to keep her voice light as if joking about it, but realized there was more truth in that statement than she cared to admit. "I I just dont want to make things any more difficult for you, thats all."
"Oh." Regina sat back, considering this for a second before she glanced back over at her companion. "Alex, it would be more difficult if you werent there with me."
"All right, then," Alex responded still feeling a bit overwhelmed by the prospect of not just meeting Reginas parents but being there for a weekend. No problem, right? Youve been up to your ankles in blood and gore I think you can handle a weekend with her parents, Alex thought wryly. "I guess well have to plan to take some time off then."
A smile broke over the younger womans face and she leaned into Alex, placing a feather light kiss on her temple. "Thanks, Alex."
"Your welcome." Alex turned to face Regina. "Do you think you can get the time off so we can spend a few days together after we leave your parents?"
"I can switch some shifts around with some of the other doctors. It shouldnt be a problem."
"That would be nice. Youre right, we do need some time for just the two of us." Alex slid her arm around the Reginas shoulder and pulled her closer, wishing that for tonight both of them would sleep without dreams.
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