Title: Break My Fall (1/?)
Fandom/Pairing: ER - Ray/Neela
Rating: FRT (Fan Rated suitable for Teens and over) to start, but will most likely be FRM (Fan Rated Suitable for Mature persons) by story's end.
Disclaimer: ER and its characters are the property of Michael Crichton, John Wells, Amblin Entertainment and Constant C Productions. No infringement intended, used without permission, please don't sue, yadda yadda yadda. Italicized dialogue was taken directly from episode 12.8; it isn't mine either.
Content Warning: None at this point, but there may (most probably will) be sexual content later on.
Spoilers: Everything up to 11.17, "Back in the World", with bits and pieces of Season 12, but mostly minor stuff.
Summary: AU post-ep to 'Back in the World'. What do you do when the world comes crashing to a stop and you go tumbling down with it? You look for a way to break the fall. [past GallantNeela, eventual RayNeela, and MorrisJane, with other assorted pairings]
Thanks to fc2001 for the beta. :) You're the best, hun.
Notes: Post-ep for 11.17, "Back in the World". This follows the current season timeline right up through "Back in the World", but then diverges, so nothing afterward will be taken into account. Incidentally, I've shifted the timeline a bit for later plot points, so even though the actual episode likely took place in March or April, in this particular story, the events of the episode took place around the first week in June.
© 2006, By: Ash Carroll (a.k.a. Shadow_Diva)
I'm learning to crawl
I'm finding that you and you alone can break my fall
I'm living again, awake and alive
I'm dying to breathe in these abundant skies
- Switchfoot, "Learning to Breathe"
The blare of loud rock music filled the room.
Groaning, she snaked a hand out from under the covers and slapped the snooze button, desperate for a few more minutes' rest. She didn't get to enjoy it, unfortunately, because nature decided it just couldn't wait the ten extra minutes to call. Dragging herself out of bed, she padded down the hall and through the kitchen, ignoring Ray's greeting as the bathroom door shut behind her.
She went about her business, unable to keep from thinking that nature had been calling her a lot more frequently over the last few days. She sincerely hoped she wasn't developing the beginnings of a urinary tract infection or something, because on top of everything else that had happened in her life the last few weeks, it was the absolute last thing she needed.
Three weeks today since Michael had returned to Iraq. She hadn't heard a thing from him; not even a phone call. And she had kind of expected one after what had happened between them. She was sure he was just busy - what with the constant casualties she kept hearing about on the news - but she'd worry until she got a letter. Or better yet, heard his voice.
Finishing up her getting-ready-for-work-routine, she emerged into the kitchen, where Ray regarded her with a frown. "You look like hell."
She scowled. "Thanks a whole bloody lot. And you left your bloody towels all over the floor again." The scowl intensified as she glanced around the apartment. "This place is filthy."
"Sorry," he offered sincerely, but the frown remained. "I'm serious, though, Neela. You okay?"
She waved him off. "Fine. Just tired."
"You want me to drive you?"
She shook her head. "You just got off."
"I don't mind."
Lifting her bag, she slung it over her shoulder as she grabbed her car keys from the kitchen counter. "It's fine, really. I'm good."
He shrugged. "Suit yourself."
She headed for the door. "See you later, Ray."
"Have a good shift," he called after her, watching as she slipped out their front door.
Ray shook his head. She probably was fine; it most likely was nothing. She had a good reason to look like hell. She'd been mopey and depressed ever since Gallant had gone back to Iraq, and cranky as hell the last few days.
He hadn't actually had the occasion to be formally introduced to the guy; but he'd heard through the hospital rumor mill that he and Neela had had something going before he shipped out, so he couldn't exactly blame her for being depressed and cranky.
But maybe he could help cheer her up.
He looked around the apartment just as she'd done minutes before. She was right; it was a mess. He suddenly had the perfect idea. With a grin, he went to work, putting phase one of his plan into action.
Pratt glanced over at her. "Neela." He handed her a stack of charts. "Hand lac in four; fever and vomiting in three; back pain in one; abdominal pain in two. You've got Jane today."
"Thanks," she answered, deadpan.
The senior resident tapped the board. "Move it or lose it, people."
Neela rolled her eyes as Haleh spared her a glance. "Neela, honey, you look like hell."
She scowled at the nurse. "So Ray was kind enough to inform me. It's nothing. I'm just exhausted, that's all."
The older woman frowned. "Or maybe you're coming down with something."
"Infection, maybe. Every bloody time I turn around, nature seems to be calling." She sighed and held up her charts. "Not that it would keep me away from this place."
Haleh shot her a sympathetic smile as Jane approached, far too chipper for Neela's liking.
And it was only Monday.
The med student smiled too brightly as she glanced at Neela. "So, who's first?"
He scanned the living room, admiring his work so far.
His guitar rested neatly on its stand; the pizza boxes from last Thursday had been broken down and put on the garbage pile; two weeks' worth of newspapers bagged and ready to be recycled.
At least now you could see the couch.
The floor, unfortunately, was another story.
Giving it a thorough vacuuming, he bagged the remaining garbage that was too big to be sucked up, and - turning his attention to the kitchen - he wrinkled his nose in disgust.
The place looked like a disaster area, and he suddenly found himself wishing he had a Hazmat suit handy. He didn't, of course, so he was going to have to tackle this the disgusting way. Starting with the sink, he picked up a dish, holding it between his thumb and forefinger the way some people held dirty diapers. With all the bodily fluids he saw at work every day without so much as batting an eyelash, he didn't know why this tested his gag reflex.
Suck it up, Barnett. And damn, I'm never letting it get this bad again.
It took him the better part of two hours, but he finally managed to complete his task.
Four days' worth of dirty dishes washed and put back in their proper place; sink, floor, stove, and countertops spotless; refrigerator cleared out of all the spoiled food and scrubbed clean.
Surveying his work so far, he reviewed his mental to-do list for phase one of his plan.
Clean living room. Check. Clean kitchen. Check.
So what was next? Oh, right.
Clean bathroom. Eww.
He picked up his dirty wet towels and tossed them into a laundry basket with a sigh. If this didn't cheer her up, nothing would.
He turned to see Neela coming toward him. "Problem?"
She shook her head. "I just need you to sign off my charts."
He looked over them as she rattled off the specifics. "Thirty-year-old male with abdominal pain in two. BP's 140 over 90, temp 102. Lower right quadrant pain with belly tenderness. Dubenko came in for a surgical consult and took him up for an appendectomy. Twenty-five year old female with a hand lac in four. BP and temp are normal, sutured the lac, gave her a tetanus shot, a round of IV antibiotics, and a Z-pack. Ready to be discharged with a wound check appointment in a week. Febrile five-year-old with vomiting in three. Waiting on labs. Seventy-six-year-old male with back pain after a fall in one. BP's normal, pulse-rate steady, but due to age I've ordered a CT to rule out any breaks. Still waiting on the results."
Jane approached. "Labs are back on the five-year-old."
Neela studied the paper as Carter signed off her other charts. "Looks like a bacterial infection." She glanced at Carter, handing him the lab results.
He looked it over and nodded.
"So a round of antibiotics, drink plenty of fluids-"
"And have the mother bring him back in if he's not better in a couple of days."
Neela nodded in response and updated the chart, handing it over to him.
He scrawled his signature on the appropriate line and handed it back. "So just the CTs on the guy in one. Why don't you guys take a coffee break, you look like you could use it."
"I feel like I could use it."
He grinned. "Ray's band keep you up last night?"
"No, actually. I'm just exhausted this week."
"Happens to the best of us. Take a little break, since we're slow. If your scans come back on the guy in one, or it gets busy, I'll page you."
She sighed in relief. "Thank you, Dr. Carter."
He nodded. "Gotta learn to take the breaks when you can get 'em."
Neela watched him leave, forgetting all about Jane until the other woman spoke.
"So, coffee. Where? Jumbomart?"
Neela shrugged. "I guess. Let me take care of the boy in three and hit the restroom first."
Jane frowned. "Again? That's like, the third time in four hours."
"I think I'm starting with an infection, or something." She sighed. "I'll meet you in a bit."
With phase one of Operation: Cheer Up Roomie finally complete, Ray moved onto phase two. Wandering aimlessly through the local video store, he scanned the titles, trying to find the perfect movies.
Stupid comedy. Stupid comedy. War movie. Stupid comedy. Stupid comedy. Horror movie. Stupid comedy. Stupid comedy. Another war movie.
He sighed. Everything was either lowbrow comedy - which Neela hated - or war movies - which would defeat the whole purpose of trying to cheer her up. He kept browsing but stopped when something else caught his eye.
Bend It Like Beckham.
Nothing to do with war...Indian girl with an ultra conservative family...funny, but not obnoxious by Neela's standards...
He grabbed it off the shelf and kept looking.
League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.
Famous people from books. Neela liked books. Action movie...not a chick flick...
Taking both rentals to the counter, he paid the clerk, then collected his movies and left. Time to move onto phase three. Next stop: grocery store.
They studied the menu above the register. The clerk looked up. "What can I get you?"
Jane glanced over at Neela before giving her order. "A venti vanilla soy latte, please."
Neela bit her lip in concentration, trying to narrow down her choices as the girl behind the counter rung up Jane's sale. Unfortunately, nothing sounded very appealing.
Once Jane's drink had been made and paid for, the clerk turned to Neela. "And for you?"
She tore her eyes away from the menu, finally deciding. "Can I have a grande hot jasmine tea, please?"
Jane shot her a strange look. "Since when do you not drink coffee?"
Neela shrugged. "I don't know, I just don't feel like it today. Besides, with as much as I've drunk these past couple of weeks, I should probably cut down on the caffeine anyway."
Jane grabbed a seat at one of the two small tables near the counter, and Neela joined her after paying for her tea. An awkward silence descended as they sipped their drinks. Neela wondered what she'd done to piss Pratt off this time. Why, out of all the students she could've had today, had he stuck her with Jane?
Sure, the younger woman was eager, competent, and smart. She was also a tactless gossip and habitual brown-noser. She'd even have taken Urbanis and his goo-goo eyes; he only made them at Abby, anyway.
"So," the med student remarked, intruding on Neela's thoughts and breaking the silence, "pretty slow today, huh? Think it'll pick up by tonight?"
Neela sighed as she sipped her tea. "Good God, I hope not. I can't deal with a busy ER."
"Not up to it?" Jane replied. She must have thought about how it sounded, because she amended her statement quickly. "I mean, because you're tired. You do look tired."
"I don't understand it. I had the apartment to myself last night, I slept later this morning than I intended to...I wasn't even this tired when Ray and his band kept me up half the bloody night with their rehearsals."
"Maybe you're stressed, or your body clock's just off, you know? Or maybe, like, you're used to being kept up by Ray's band so you slept too much and it made you tired."
Or maybe I'm just pathetic; moping and depressed because I haven't heard from Michael. She scowled. "Men. Who needs them?"
Jane sipped her latte. "I don't know, I don't think they're all bad. I mean, Ray's pretty hot. But then, you'd probably know more about that than me."
Neela almost choked on her tea. "What?"
"Well, you guys live together. Haven't you ever...you know...seen him naked?"
"Uh, no. And I'm not planning to." She considered for a moment. "Though I do suppose he's rather good-looking."
"Uh-huh," Jane smirked.
"If you're into the rocker-type, I mean," Neela added quickly in a miserable attempt at nonchalance. She gave up at Jane's raised eyebrow. "All right, I admit it. He's good looking. He also leaves dirty dishes all over the place, forgets to go grocery shopping, doesn't clean out the refrigerator, blares MTV at all hours, and leaves his wet towels on the bathroom floor. As tempting a catch as that sounds, my heart belongs to someone else."
"Oh, right, that Army guy that was here a few weeks ago. He's pretty hot, too."
"Yes, he is." She couldn't hold back her smile, and she couldn't believe she actually said what came out of her mouth next. "Listen, I don't think Ray's seeing anyone. I could put in a good word for you if you wan-"
Jane waved her off. "Nah. He's hot, but," she grinned, "I'm not into the rocker-type. I wouldn't mind getting noticed by Archie, though."
This time, Neela did choke on her tea; coughing and sputtering as she tried to wrap her mind around the idea. "Morris? He's-"
Her conversation with Ray in the Jumbomart a few weeks before came back to her. An unethical, talentless dolt who surrounds himself with sycophants.
"- perfect for you."
Jane smiled shyly. "You think?"
You're both tactless, you both gossip...you're a brown-noser, he's in constant need of having his arse kissed...
Neela forced a smile and sipped her tea. "Absolutely. You should go for it."
The younger woman finished off her latte and smiled wider. "Maybe I will."
Fortunately, Neela was saved from having to make any further small talk by the vibration of her pager against her hip. She unclipped it from the waistband of her pants and checked the message. "That's Carter. Scans are back."
Ray ran over the mental grocery list he'd made before leaving the apartment, checking it against the things in his cart. On the menu for tonight: fettucine alfredo with broccoli and chicken, tossed salad, and Ben & Jerry's. Speaking of which, he still needed to swing by and get the ice cream and the wine.
He picked up a bottle of white zinfandel, then headed for the freezer cases and grabbed a pint of Neela's favorite as a thought nagged at the back of his mind. There was something he was forgetting...
As he turned down the next aisle - which just happened to be cereal - he remembered what it was. Plucking a box of Special K with the berries off the shelf, he tossed it into the cart and headed for the checkout.
Thirty minutes later, he struggled through their front door, juggling two bags from Dominick's and one from the video store. Depositing the bags on the kitchen counter, he unpacked quickly; setting Neela's Cherry Garcia in the freezer alongside his Chunky Monkey before putting the rest of the groceries in their place. A quick glance at the clock told him he had just enough time for a shower before moving onto the final phase of his plan.
And she might really need it when she gets home, he mused as he stepped under the spray, Pratt's on this afternoon.
Exhausted, Neela let herself into the apartment and stopped short, glancing around in confusion. No clutter, no garbage, and she could actually see the couch.
Am I in the wrong flat?
She looked more closely. The drums were there, and Ray's guitar and amp. No, this was the right place, it was just...clean. She frowned. Wait a minute...why was it clean? When she'd left earlier, it was filthy. That means Ray-
"Hey, you're back," he greeted her, smiling.
"Yeah," she answered absently as she shifted her gaze to look up at him. "You cleaned."
He nodded. "I cooked, too. Come on, Roomie, dinner's ready."
She didn't feel much like eating, but followed him to the table anyway. He was making an effort and she didn't want him to think she didn't appreciate it. Managing a small smile, she seated herself on the chair he pulled out for her, watching as he uncorked the wine and poured it into the glasses.
"You made this?" She looked down at her plate and took a hesitant sniff, surprised to discover it actually smelled pretty good. A tentative bite told her it tasted pretty good, too. "It's very good; I'm impressed."
He grinned. "Hey, just because I don't cook that often-"
She shot him a dubious look.
"- okay, at all," he amended, "doesn't mean I can't. What do you think I did before you moved in?"
"Ordered out?" She suggested with a cheeky grin.
Ray scowled, but the corners of his mouth were inching upward. "Funny."
A comfortable silence descended as they ate, and held for a few moments until he broke it.
"So, how was your shift?"
"Long. Lots of mundane cases, very few traumas," she sighed, "and Pratt stuck me with Jane."
"Oh come on, she's not that bad. And hey, it could've been worse. It could've been Morris in charge."
"Interesting that you mention Morris. Seems dear Jane has something of a crush on the wanker."
He cocked his head to the side and looked at her. "You know, I can actually see that?" He shrugged. "Good for her. Maybe Morris won't be such an ass if he actually gets some."
Neela almost choked on her dinner. "Ray! I was eating!"
He gave her a sheepish look. "Sorry."
"It's fine, just warn me next time. You know, that I might want to swallow?" She thought for a moment. "And have a sick bag handy? Because that was one mental image I definitely did not need."
He smirked. "What, Morris in his tighty whiteys doesn't do it for you?"
She groaned and covered her face. "Stop...I'm going to need a gallon of sulfuric acid to burn the horrid image away."
Ray grinned. "Will Ben & Jerry's and a couple really good movies do?"
She was exhausted, but he'd gone to a lot of trouble for her, and she did appreciate the effort; maybe she could manage at least part of a movie and a little ice cream before she collapsed.
She smiled as she rose to help him clear the dishes from the table. "Sure."
"Just leave them," he told her as she started running water for the dishes, "I'll wash them later."
Pulling open the freezer, he took out the pints of Ben & Jerry's, and grabbing two spoons from the silverware drawer, handed one to Neela along with the Cherry Garcia.
She followed him into the living room, settling on the couch as he set his pint and spoon on the coffee table and picked up the DVDs he'd rented.
"Which one first? Bend it Like Beckham or League of Extraordinary Gentlemen?"
She shrugged. "Doesn't matter. Beckham, I guess."
He placed the disc in the player and joined her on the sofa with his pint of Chunky Monkey.
Neela looked over at him. "You didn't have to go to all this trouble, you know."
"Yes I did; the place was filthy."
Neela recalled their brief conversation before she'd left for work and gave him a guilty look. "I'm sorry about this morning."
"It's okay, you were right." He glanced at her. "And I'm sorry you've had it so crappy the last week. Or three."
He knew. It was in his eyes - and the cleaning, the dinner, the ice cream, the movies...it had all been meant to cheer her up. She decided she'd have to take back some of the things she'd told Jane about him; he could actually be rather sweet when he wanted to.
She gave him a soft smile. "Thank you."
He waved her off and they turned their attention back to the movie. She managed twenty minutes before she finally succumbed to sleep, head resting back against the couch at an uncomfortable angle. After putting the ice cream back in the freezer, Ray returned to the sofa and pulled the throw pillow into his lap, guiding Neela's head down to it. She stirred slightly, but didn't wake, adjusting to the more comfortable position. Pulling the blanket off the back of the couch, he covered her and smiled, brushing the dark hair from her face with gentle fingers.
"Sweet dreams, Roomie."
To Be Continued..........