Title: Break My Fall (3/?)
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: See Chapter 1. Jane's nightmare flashback was taken directly out of Titanic, and Morris's daydream was almost directly taken from the movie as well. Although I did change the dialogue around somewhat in both scenarios to better fit the situation.
Also, Abby and Jake did talk about his internship, but it happened a little differently than it did on the show. The flashback for this chapter was taken, in part, word for word from 11.21, "Carter est Amoreaux", but the rest of the scene from that episode was changed to fit the plot here where they're concerned. The bottom line? I don't own them. :)
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 vuleimoor and amber2403 for the help with the Titanic stuff.
I've been told by my fabulous beta (fc2001) that this needs a beverage warning. So, swallow whatever you're drinking or eating before you click. Your monitor (and/or your keyboard) will thank you later.
Chapter 1|Chapter 2|
Notes: See chapter 1.
Shrugging into his rain jacket, he surveyed himself in the hallway mirror. New dress pants, new shirt, new tie; oh yeah, he was going all out today.
Lookin' good, Archie.
A bark sounded from somewhere near his feet and he glanced down. "Don't look at me like that."
The Border Terrier stared up at him and cocked his head to the side; ears perking up and tongue lolling sideways out of his mouth.
The dog panted happily and stared at him.
Rolling his eyes, he turned back to the mirror and gave himself another critical glance. His face was still a little swollen, but at least now he could open his mouth wide enough to eat solid food; and the bruises - though still visible - were fading to a nasty looking mix of yellow, blue, and purple. Like a colorblind kid had used his eye for a fingerpainting pallette. All in all, he decided, he didn't look half bad for getting his face pounded in by a 300 pound gorilla in a baseball jacket.
He could only hope Jane thought so too.
He didn't know what was going on between them, but he really hoped he could manage not to mess it up because he liked it - liked her. A lot. But he wasn't so sure the feeling was mutual; their impromptu dinner date last week was awkward, to say the least.
His face was so swollen by the time end of shift rolled around that he could barely open his mouth. He'd ended up ordering a milkshake and struggling to drink it through the straw as she nibbled at her vegetarian platter. Conversation was limited to strings of nervous chatter - in which she did most of the talking on account of his swollen face - and punctuated by uncomfortable silences. To make matters worse, they'd been scheduled on opposite shifts all week and - idiot that he was - he'd forgotten to ask for her number, so they hadn't spoken since.
But he was going to fix that when he got into work, because - as luck would have it - she was on today, too. And he just happened to have tickets for a dinner cruise on the lake.
If he could just manage to ask her without making an idiot of himself.
Shouldering his bag, he leaned down to pat the dog on the head. "Be good, boy; I'll be home later," he promised, then left the apartment, locking the door behind him.
The ER was slow when he arrived, but then, it usually was on a Monday morning - especially this early. He made his way to the lounge and exchanged his rain parka for his lab coat before heading back to admit to have a look at the board and pick up his first chart for the day.
Lewis intercepted him before he'd even made it halfway to his destination. "Oh good, Morris." She handed him a chart. "Here. Take Jane."
"My pleasure," he grinned with his usual smarm, shooting the brunette a brief glance.
"You don't wanna finish that thought," she warned, deadpan, and he thought he detected the slightest hint of a blush in her cheeks, but figured he must've imagined it, because a moment later it was gone.
He remembered Ray's advice about impressing her and promptly wiped the grin off his face, mentally banging his head against the nearest wall. Stupid, stupid, Archie!
"Uh, right," he stammered, "sorry."
Awkward silence stretched between them as they walked toward chairs. Ask her, stupid!
"So," his voice was artificially bright, "how was your week?"
Not that question, dummy!
"Boring," came her sardonic reply. "You know, work."
"Uh, yeah. Me too."
Another long silence hung between them as they walked and he used it to study her profile. Unfortunately, he studied it a bit too long and a bit too obviously, because she looked over and caught him. Fortunately, he hadn't been staring at her chest this time.
He cleared his throat. "Uh, nothing."
Jane shot him a dubious glance. "Right. So why were you staring at me?"
His voice cracked. "Staring? Me?" Shit.
"Yeah, you know - eyes, not blinking? And yes - you."
"I - I - uh..." Dinner cruise...Lake Michigan...ask her, you idiot! He took a deep breath. "Are you doing anything tomorrow night?"
Her eyes narrowed. "Why...?"
"I won a couple of tickets for this little dinner cruise on the lake. You know, christen the new boat kind of thing? I thought maybe, uh, you might wanna come along."
She looked at him. "Like what? A date?"
His hand shot up to rub nervously at the back of his neck. "Yeah. The last one wasn't exactly planned. So -" his voice was too bright again, "what do you say?"
They walked in silence for a few more moments as she appeared to be considering his offer. Finally, after the longest minute of his life, she answered him.
"Sure, why not."
A crooked smile curved his lips. "Great. So I'll, uh, pick you up around six?"
"Okay. What's the dress code?"
"Oh, uh, semi-formal."
"Uh, right," she said, eyeing him with a small smile, "I guess I'll see you tomorrow night, then."
Phone number and address, you idiot!
"Uh, there's just one more thing."
The words tumbled out in a rush. "Ineedyouraddressandphonenumber."
She blinked. "Huh?"
He took a breath and forced himself to speak clearly. "I, uh, need your address - and, uh, your phone number." Smooth, Archie - real smooth.
She pulled a tablet and pen out of her lab coat pocket and scribbled it down, then ripped off the top sheet and handed it to him.
Yes! He shot her another crooked smile. "Uh, thanks."
She gave him a half-smile in return. "Sure. Be kinda hard to pick me up without it."
You have no idea.
It was late Monday morning when the sounds of Neela moving around the apartment roused Ray from a deep sleep. Groaning, he turned over with the intent of trying to catch another hour or two, but the loud crash of...something derailed his plans.
He was awake now.
Dragging himself out of bed, he attempted to rub the sleep from his eyes and winced as his fingers made contact with the shiner he'd gotten from that brawl in chairs last week. The bruise had faded to an ugly yellowish purple, but it still hurt. Padding out to the bathroom, he emerged from it a few minutes later to find Neela standing at the kitchen counter, pouring hot water from the tea kettle into a mug.
He yawned a greeting as he stepped up next to her. "'Morning."
She jumped and overshot the rim, nearly burning her hand. "Bloody hell!"
"Sorry, I didn't mean to scare you. You okay?"
"Yeah, I'm fine."
"Sure? You didn't burn yourself, did you?"
"No, I missed," she replied, wiping the water off counter. She looked up and smiled, but it seemed forced. "I'm fine. You just startled me, that's all; I thought you were sleeping."
She looked sheepish. "Sorry."
He waved her off. "S'all right. 'Bout time I got up anyway; got some errands to run."
"Oh, well don't let me keep you. I mean, you know, if you have things to do."
She added the last part quickly, and turned her attention back to her mug; removing the tea bag and fiddling with the sugar. Ray frowned. She seemed nervous, but he couldn't figure out why.
Her head snapped up and she smiled, but it didn't look genuine. "Never better."
Ray narrowed his eyes. "You sure?"
"Yes, I'm sure." He shot her a dubious glance and she sighed. "Didn't you say you have errands to run?"
There was definitely something off about her this morning, and he considered pressing the issue, but thought better of it. Whatever was going on, she didn't want him to know, and he respected her privacy. If she wasn't back to normal in a few days, he'd take another run at her and see if he could get her to talk about it. In the meantime, he'd pretend he believed her when she said she was fine.
He held up his hands. "I'm going, I'm going." He started back toward his room, but stopped halfway and turned around. "Hey, next Monday's Fourth of July. You mind if I have a couple of the guys over so we can watch the Cubbies game?"
She was staring down into her mug, idly stirring with the spoon.
She shook her head and looked up. "Hmm?"
"You didn't hear a word I just said, did you?"
She shot him another sheepish look. "Nothing after you said you were going."
"Don't jump down my throat or anything, but are you sure you're okay? You're kinda...I don't know...off...this morning."
"I'm fine, I just have a lot on my mind. So, what were you saying before?"
"Next Monday's Fourth of July. I was gonna have a couple of the guys over to watch the Cubbies game. I mean, if you don't mind."
She smiled again, a real one this time. "Yeah, sure."
Ray smiled back. "Great. You're not on today, are you?"
"Good. You look like you need the break." He gestured toward the bathroom. "I'm gonna hit the shower and get ready to go."
She nodded and he headed for his room to collect his clothes for the day before slipping into the bathroom to shower and change. He frowned as he rinsed the suds out of his hair. Something was definitely bothering her; he just wished she'd tell him what.
The front door had barely closed behind Ray before Neela bolted for her room, grabbed the bag from the pharmacy she'd stopped at the previous night on the way home from work, and locked herself in the bathroom.
It took her several minutes to get up the courage to open the boxes and prepare the tests - she'd decided to take two just to be certain - and the longest five minutes of her life to get the results.
The word on the digital read out taunted her. Twice.
It reverberated in her head and her stomach churned, but it wasn't just the morning sickness. Good God, Neela, how could you not have known? Even suspected? How could you be so bloody stupid! This can't be happening. It's not - it can't -
She squeezed her eyes shut and shook her head clear; opening them again, she chanced a second look at the read outs. Nope, still the same.
Reality came crashing down and the questions filled her mind, circling her brain with dizzying speed.
What am I going to tell my parents? And Michael? And -
The sound of the front door closing jolted her from her thoughts.
He couldn't be back already.
She heard movement in the apartment. "Neela?"
Or maybe he could.
Shit. Shit, shit, shit!
She didn't want him to know, though the rational part of her mind told her that she couldn't hide it forever; they lived together. Still, this was her mess and she had to live with it. Besides, she felt stupid and embarrassed enough already; she didn't need what would surely be his lessened opinion of her adding to it.
"Be out in a minute!" she called through the door.
Stuffing the garbage into the pharmacy bag, she took one more look around to make sure she'd gotten everything. Satisfied that she had, she plastered a smile onto her face, took a deep breath, and emerged out into the living room.
"Hey." He gestured to her hands. "What's in the bag?"
"Oh, uh, new face cream," she lied, trying for nonchalance as she shifted the conversation away from herself. "So, what are you doing back here already? Didn't you have errands to run?"
"Well, I did. But the van broke down, and my cell battery's dead." He sighed as he picked up the apartment line and punched in a number. "So I had to come back to call Riles so he can tow it to his garage and have a look at it."
"Oh. Well, I've got some stuff to do, so I guess I'll see you later."
"Okay," he replied absently, turning his attention to the phone. "Riles, it's Ray. Hey, listen, the van broke down..."
Neela retreated to her room; she had a call of her own to make. Closing her door, she stashed the bag - she'd dispose of it later, when she could sneak it past Ray. Retrieving her cell phone from the nightstand, she punched in the number for County's main switchboard, followed by the appropriate extension.
Someone picked up on the fifth ring. "Obstetrics, Dr. Coburn's office."
"Good afternoon, this is Dr. Rasgotra from the ER. I need to schedule an appointment, please."
Tuesday evening found Jane in front of her bathroom mirror, shakily trying to apply her makeup. The hand holding the lipstick tube faltered, and she muttered a curse as she reached for a tissue to wipe her lips clean. Her thoughts kept returning to the nightmare about her impending date with Morris - equal parts Titanic and The Poseidon Adventure - that had woken her early that morning.
"I'm so cold."
"Listen, Jane. You're gonna get out of here, you're gonna go on and make lots of babies, and you're gonna watch them grow. You're gonna die an old - an old lady, warm in her bed. But not here, not this night. Not like this, do you understand me?"
"I can't feel my body."
"Winning those tickets, Jane, was the best thing that ever happened to me - it brought us here. And I'm thankful for that, Jane. I'm thankful. You must do me this honor, Jane. Promise me you'll survive; that you won't give up - no matter what happens, no matter how hopeless. Promise me now, Jane, and never let go of that promise."
"Never let go."
"I'll never let go. I'll never let go, Archie."
Jane shook her head to clear away the memory.
"Good God, Figler, get a grip," she muttered. "Everything's going to be fine, but even if it isn't, you won't get to be the tragic heroine. Who do you think you are? Kate Winslet?"
She attempted to apply her lipstick again, and managed to actually get it on her lips instead of around them this time. Much better. Dropping the lipstick tube into her evening bag, she smoothed the material on her dress and reached a hand up to tuck a stray curl back into place as she regarded her reflection with a critical eye.
The dress worked nicely, and her makeup was as good as she could hope for - but her hair was a mess. The front still hadn't grown out long enough and some of the curly tendrils had freed themselves from the French twist she'd managed to secure. She didn't have the time to work them all back into place, though, because the door buzzed a moment later.
Jane smoothed her dress again, and snatched her evening bag as she went to greet her date; the back of her high heel narrowly missing Samson's tail as he and Delilah scrambled across the hardwood floor in the opposite direction.
She drew another steadying breath as she pulled open the door. Show time, Jane.
Morris stood in the hall, wide-eyed and slack-jawed. He floundered for a few moments before he finally managed to locate his voice and remembered how to form actual words.
"Wow. You look - I mean - " He nervously averted his eyes and suddenly held up the bouquet of Gerbera Daisies he'd been clutching in white-knuckled fingers. "Uh, these are for you."
Despite his uncanny resemblance - literally and figuratively - to a fish out of water, Jane couldn't stop the delicate blush that stained her cheeks as she accepted the flowers.
"Thanks." She managed a nervous smile as a swarm of butterflies began furiously beating their wings in her stomach. "Let me, uh, just put these in some, uh, water."
Archie flashed her a toothy grin and shoved his hands into his pants pockets; she could feel his eyes on her as she retreated to the kitchen for a vase.
Oh, that was very eloquent, Jane. Way to wow him with intelligent conversation.
But she couldn't help it; she hadn't expected him to look so...good. And he did look good. The suit was conservatively tailored, in a shade halfway between khaki and olive green that set off his brown eyes and red hair. She stole another glance at him and nearly overfilled the vase; scrambling to shut off the kitchen tap. Wiping up the mess she'd made, she carried the vase into the dining room and positioned it in the center of the table before rejoining him by the front door.
He shot her a charming smile. "Ready?"
She smiled back and plucked her evening bag from its resting place across the back of the recliner nearest the door, nodding as she dug out her keys to lock the door. "All set."
"Great," he said brightly, then bowed and offered his arm. "Come then, milady, your chariot awaits."
Morris smiled as he stood at the railing with Jane, overlooking the prow. So far, so good. So good, in fact, that it could be a movie. Like Titanic. Well, not the sinking, but the boat, the beautiful girl...
He grinned as he thought about it.
He turned to find Jane standing behind him.
"I changed my mind."
He smiled as he gazed at her with appreciative eyes, drinking in the sight before him; her cheeks, flushed pink from the wind, and her unruly curls gradually freeing themselves from their French twist to blow about her face.
"I thought I might find you out -"
"Shh." He put a finger to her lips, then leaned in close and dropped his hands to her waist. "Close your eyes."
She did as she was told, allowing him to turn her around so she was facing out over where the water would be. He leaned into her, pressing her gently against the rail of the boat, and lifted her arms out to her sides. They stayed up as his hands found their way back to her waist and he leaned in to whisper in her ear.
"Okay. Open them."
Her eyes widened and she gasped as she looked out over the water that rushed forward to meet the boat's prow . "Archie! I'm -"
"- gonna be sick."
The grin slid off his face as he snapped out of his fantasy, just in time to see Jane double over the railing and spew her dinner down the side of the boat.
He glanced at the other passengers, gawking at his date while she tossed her cookies into Lake Michigan, and gave a nervous laugh. "You know, Jane, when they said christen the boat, I don't think this was what they had in mind."
Jane turned long enough to glare pitifully at him before her stomach heaved again.
Oh, good going, Casanova, she's never gonna go on another date with you.
Thunder rumbled in the distance and the crowd of onlookers began to disperse, leaving him to watch helplessly as she stood there retching until she had nothing left in her stomach.
And the evening had been going so well, too; he'd even managed not to ramble stupidly through dinner. He should've known it was too good to be true, though; nothing ever went right for him.
Jane's stomach finally settled enough to stop heaving and he eyed her warily as she straightened up, looking more than a little shaky.
"Are you okay now?"
The brunette swallowed thickly, looking for all the world like she wished the deck would open up and swallow her. "I think so. Sorry I ruined the, you know, date ."
He shot her a lopsided grin. "I wouldn't say ruined, exactly. More like...messed up...a little."
She turned to look at him, eyes widened in disbelief. "A little? I just spent the last half hour with my head hanging over the side of the boat."
"That just means I had a really great view of your -"
She turned and glared at him. "My what?"
"Uh, nothing," he replied, rubbing a hand at the back of his neck as a nervous laugh escaped.
Her eyes narrowed suspiciously, but she didn't press the issue, choosing instead to turn her attention back to the water as Morris silently congratulated himself on avoiding the close call.
He cleared his throat. "At least the night can't get any worse, right?"
Lightning split the sky, followed by a loud crack of thunder as a hard rain began to fall; fat drops splashing against their faces and clothes.
Jane glanced at him. "You just had to say it, didn't you?"
He laughed nervously, but abruptly stopped when the boat pitched unexpectedly starboard.
"Oh God, not again," Jane groaned, and doubled over the railing as her stomach started with another bout of heaving.
Archie wiped the rain out of his eyes and scowled up at the sky.
Neela arrived at the hospital Wednesday morning to find Abby standing in the ambulance bay, enjoying the cooler breezes blowing in off the lake - the previous evening's storm bringing a much needed end to the stifling heatwave.
"'Morning," she greeted Neela with a smile as she approached, "where's Ray?"
"Not on till this afternoon," Neela replied, swallowing thickly as she struggled to keep her stomach down.
Abby shot her a sympathetic look. "Rough morning?"
"You could say that," she grimaced, "I think I left my stomach back on the El." She frowned. "I thought you weren't on till later."
"I wasn't. Morris made me switch with him." Abby eyed her warily. "You okay?"
Neela breathed a heavy sigh. "I'm about 35 weeks from being okay. My life is a mess."
"Have you decided what you're going to do?"
She looked at her. "There's nothing to decide, Abby."
The other woman nodded after a beat, shifting the conversation in a different direction. "Does anyone else know?"
She shook her head. "Just you. And I'd like to keep it that way, if you don't mind."
"Sure. But - what about Michael?"
"What about him? He's on the other side of the world, Abby, what can he do from where he is?"
Her tone was gentle. "He has a right to know, Neela."
She knew Abby was right. It was one of her more annoying qualities. But she couldn't even begin to think of what she would say to him now. How was she supposed to tell Michael when she was still struggling to take it in herself?
"He will, when I'm ready. But can I please have some time to process it myself, first? How am I supposed to break the news to him when I haven't even completely absorbed it yet?"
"Fair enough, but what about Ray? You live with him, Neela, it's going to affect his life, too."
"Then I guess it's time for me to start looking for my own place."
Abby's face registered her surprise. "You don't really mean that, do you? I thought you liked living with Ray."
Neela gave her a rueful smile. "I can't believe I'm actually gonna say this, but yeah, I do." Her smile faded and she sighed again. "But I can't ask or expect him to rearrange his life just because I made a mess of mine; it's not fair."
"You know, I think taking some time to process everything is probably a good idea," Abby said cautiously. "Just - promise me you'll seriously think things out before you make any huge decisions? Like moving?"
"I promise," she smiled, then paled and ran for the nearest garbage can.
Abby grimaced. "I'll tell Susan you're running a little late."
Neela could only groan and nod weakly in response as she watched Abby disappear through the ER's double doors.
"There you are," Susan said, greeting her with an armful of charts. "Is Neela here yet?"
"Not yet," she fibbed easily. "Missed her first train, so she had to wait to catch the next one. But she's on her way; should be here soon."
The other woman gave a relieved sigh. "Good." She fanned out the metal clipboards in her hands as well as she could. "Pick a chart, any chart," she quipped.
Abby grabbed two and headed over to update the board, her gaze catching a pair of cold blue eyes on the other side of the counter. They held hers for a moment - bitter and hard - before turning away, and she remembered their last conversation with perfect clarity - the fact that it was nearly a month ago notwithstanding.
"So, I was thinking...that I might rank County as my first choice for internship."
She looked up at him. That was news. "What about UCSF?"
"I don't wanna go to UCSF. I wanna stay right here."
He broke into a grin and she shook her head. "Don't do that for me."
His grin faded and a myriad of emotions flickered through his eyes before they hardened and settled on her. "When did I say I was doing it for you? Is it so hard to believe I might want to stay at County because I like it here? Or because I have family and friends in Chicago? Not everything is about you, Abby."
He turned and moved to head back inside as Ray and Neela came out.
"Don't go away mad, Jake," she called after him.
He rounded to face her. "But do go away," he finished coldly, then turned and disappeared through the ER doors.
"Hey," Luka said, stepping up behind her.
She turned and glanced back at him as she picked up a marker, shooting him a half-smile. "Hey."
He shot a glance at Jake before turning his attention back to her. "How are you holding up?"
"I'd be a lot better if he wasn't so angry. But I can't say I blame him. I should've been more honest with him; communicated more."
Abby followed Luka's gaze as it slid briefly to Sam. He sighed and looked down at her. "I guess that's always been our problem, hasn't it? Communicating."
Something flickered in his eyes and then it was gone. Abby swallowed, suddenly getting the impression that he wasn't talking about Sam and Jake anymore.
"What time are you off?"
"Uh, seven. You?"
"Same." He cleared his throat. "Do you want to maybe get some dinner later, then?"
She smiled and nodded. "Sure. I'd like that."
Luka shot her a grin, the first she'd seen out of him in weeks. "Good. I'll meet you in the bay."
Abby turned back to the board and finished scribbling her name next to her new patients. "Okay."
She moaned as something pounced on her stomach, sending a jolt of pain through her midsection. Peeling open an eye, she found Delilah looking down at her, mewling loudly in annoyance, and she groaned as she tried to swat the cat away.
"Not now, Delilah."
God, she felt lousy. Her stomach and back muscles were killing her, her throat burned, and her mouth tasted like a sewer. But the ball of black fur was insistant, the mewling escalating into outright yowling as she pawed at the blanket.
The cat looked at her with expectant eyes and Jane sighed. "I guess you want your breakfast."
Delilah mewled softly, nuzzling her head under her mistress's chin.
"Why can't you be more like your brother," Jane muttered, reaching over to stroke Samson's ears as he slept. Delilah gave another yowl and Jane rolled her eyes. "All right, all right, I get the message. Let me at least have a shower first."
Delilah jumped down and scrambled out of the room, waking Samson. The tabby stretched and followed lazily behind his littermate as Jane sat painfully upright and pushed back the covers. She pulled herself gingerly from the bed, wincing as her aching muscles protested.
She fished through her drawer for clean undergarments and a change of clothes - deciding on a lightweight pair of pajama pants and a ribbed tank top - before heading for the shower. Stepping under the hot spray, she closed her eyes, allowing it to soothe her sore muscles as she thought back to the complete disaster that was her date with Archie the night before.
Oh, it had started off well enough. He'd been on time to pick her up, brought her flowers, and he'd looked so good she'd had to force herself not to openly stare for fear she'd start drooling. Things had gone amazingly well, right up through dinner, and then...
She should've known it was too good to be true. Aside from the fact that it was her and nothing ever went right for her, it was a boat. She couldn't even sit on a waterbed without feeling seasick; why should she have assumed she'd be able to handle an actual boat? Archie was probably so embarrassed he never wanted another thing to do with her, and she didn't blame him. She should've known better than to think she'd ever be anything other than a Plain Jane.
With a heavy sigh, she rinsed the last of the shampoo from her hair and toweled herself off, changing into her clean clothes before heading for the kitchen. Samson and Delilah mewled softly, rubbing around her ankles as she moved to the cupboard where she kept the cat food and pulled it open. The cats parked themselves in front of their food dishes and looked up at her expectantly.
Jane picked up their bowls and reached into the cabinet to pull out their food. She stared down at the pop-top with trepidation, hoping she could get it out of the can without gagging. She managed - just barely - after a thick swallow, and plunked the bowls on the floor before them just as a buzz sounded from her apartment door.
Frowning as she tried to figure out who could possibly be visiting her, she pulled it open to find Archie standing on the other side, wearing a grin.
"Archie," she laughed nervously as her hand shot up to try and smooth her unruly curls. "What are you doing here?"
"Thought you might need someone to check in on you. You didn't look so good when I dropped you off last night."
She remembered the previous evening and cringed inwardly. That was putting it mildly. She'd looked like death warmed over, and she'd felt just as bad.
His voice broke into her thoughts. "So, uh, can I come in?" He shot her a timid smile. "Or should I admire your apartment from the hallway?"
She blinked and stepped back, closing the door behind him as he moved past her. "Uh, yeah, sure."
"You're looking a lot better," he observed, giving her an appreciative once-over.
She reached a hand up to smooth her hair again, suddenly self-conscious. "Uh, thanks." She frowned. "Aren't you supposed to be at work?"
"I got Abby to switch with me."
"Shame I missed the fireworks."
"No fireworks," he replied with a smirk, "just the perks of being Chief Resident." He looked at her. "But speaking of fireworks," he gave her a nervous smile, "are you busy Monday night?"
Her stomach fluttered and she blinked. Did he just ask me out again? After last night? How is that possible? "Uh, I don't think so," she responded, eyeing him with nervous curiosity. "Why?"
"They're having a big display over the lake, and I thought we could watch them together -"
"Watch fireworks. Over the lake." Has he lost his mind? "Did you already forget what happened the last time we were on a boat? Like, you know, last night?"
" - at the park."
Her mouth abruptly closed. "Oh."
"Yeah, oh," he mimicked with a smirk that dissolved into a nervous smile. "So? What do you think?"
After the disaster last night, he's still willing to be seen in public with me? I think I'd be an idiot to say no.
She smiled. "I think, it's a date."
Sitting on a bench in the ambulance bay, Neela watched as the late afternoon sun painted the summer sky in brilliant shades of yellow, orange, and pink. Armed with a hot cup of chammomile tea to combat the nausea which had returned to her full force in the middle of the day, she sighed heavily as bits of her earlier conversation with Abby kept replaying in her head.
"Then I guess it's time for me to start looking for my own place."
"You don't really mean that, do you?"
Did she? Despite her initial misgivings, she'd come to like living with Ray. She thought back to the night she'd come home from a long shift to find that he'd cleaned the apartment and cooked her dinner, even gone and rented movies to cheer her up over not hearing from Michael. She remembered his worry and overprotectiveness the day she'd passed out; how he'd cancelled rehearsing with the guys in order to take care of her. He'd turned into a far better friend than she'd ever thought possible when she'd moved in all those months ago. She didn't really want to move out, but her life was a mess and it was only going to get messier. It wasn't fair to expect him to turn his upside down, too.
She stared down into her cup with a heavy sigh, her thoughts running themselves around in circles until her head hurt. She had a lot of decisions to make; huge, life-altering decisions.
Sam's voice broke into her thoughts. "Neela. Labs are back on the kid in three."
But they were going to have to wait.
Rising from the bench, she downed the last of her tea and tossed the cup in a nearby trash bin as she made her way toward the ER entrance. Sam studied her briefly, frowning as she approached the double doors.
"Hey, you okay?"
"Yeah." Neela sighed, forcing a smile as Sam handed her the lab results. "I'm fine. Just have a lot on my mind."
Ray frowned at the chart in his hands. From the looks of things, Rebecca Maddox was a perfectly healthy woman. Her vitals were normal and everything appeared to be in order. Nothing at all out of place to explain why she'd fainted in the middle of a market ten blocks away, scaring the hell out of the friend she was with.
He knew how her friend felt. He hadn't forgotten the day he'd come home to find Neela literally passed out on their couch with his panicked bandmates standing around her. And speaking of Neela, she was still acting weird. She still wasn't feeling well, but it was more than that, he could sense it. He hadn't brought it up again since Monday morning, but he was thinking maybe it was time to take another run at her. He'd talk to her when he got home and see if he could get her to tell him what was wrong so he could find a way to help.
But that would be later - he still had quite a few hours left of his shift. And right now, he had a patient to take care of. He sighed as he turned his attention back to Rebecca Maddox's chart. He wouldn't know anything more until he got her lab results back, but it wouldn't hurt to review her symptoms in the meantime, just in case he'd missed something.
Exhaustion. Just like Neela, his mind added before he could stop it. Frequent need to urinate. Just like Neela. Nausea. Just like Neela. Passed out. Just like Neela -
"Hey," Jake said as he stepped up beside him and handed him the printout he was carrying. "Labs are back on Rebecca Maddox."
"Thanks." Ray took the paper and scanned it.
Pregnant. Just like -
Dammit. He hadn't meant to say that out loud. Jake was still looking at him, waiting for an answer, and he couldn't very well tell him the truth.
Ray shook his head. "Uh, nothing. Just remembered I have a gig on Saturday, and I'm, uh, out of eyeliner."
Eyeliner? Okay, Barnett, that? Was lame.
"I thought you usually just stole Neela's," Jake teased with a grin.
Normally Ray would've laughed at his joke; they'd become fast friends since Jake had matched at County and decided to stay on. But the mention of Neela reminded Ray of what the problem with her likely was, and didn't leave him much in the mood for laughing.
He rolled his eyes instead, the corners of his mouth turning upward as he forced a teasing smile into place with practiced ease. "Watch it, Scanlon, or I'm gonna pull a Pratt and start giving you the shit cases."
"Hey, Jake," Sam interjected as she appeared next to them, "your diarrhea kid's spewing from both ends now."
"Too late," Jake deadpanned, looking briefly skyward as if praying for patience, before turning and following Sam down the hall.
Morris hummed softly to himself as he walked the few blocks from the El station to the hospital's ambulance bay. Last night might have been a disaster, but today...today was perfect. He and Jane had spent a leisurely afternoon at her apartment, watching daytime soaps and re-runs of The Golden Girls, and he'd even managed to ask her out on another date without stuttering like an idiot. And she'd accepted.
Oh yes, life was good.
The double doors parted to admit him and he greeted his co-workers brightly. "Good evening, everyone," he called in a sing-song voice.
His colleagues stared, dumbstruck, as though he'd somehow grown another head.
Abby nudged Neela. "Go ahead," she whispered.
Neela glanced back. "I don't wanna sign out first," she whispered back, "you sign out first."
"Ladies, ladies," Morris laughed, "I won't bite, I promise." He held out his hand. "Ready to sign out, Rasgotra?"
"Am I ever," she groaned, and handed him her charts. "Exam 1 is waiting on an x-ray to rule out a fracture, and Exam 5 is waiting on labs."
Morris turned to Abby. "What about you, Lockhart?"
She handed him her charts. "Exam 6 is ready to be discharged with a round of antibiotics, and Exam 2 is waiting on a consult from Urology."
He nodded. "Go on, get outta here. Especially you, Neela, you look like hell."
"Thanks," she replied, deadpan, then covered a yawn. "Good night, everyone," she called as she and Abby headed for the double doors, a chorus of goodnights and good-byes echoing behind them.
He distributed the charts Abby and Neela had just signed out to him, then took the rest from the basket and handed them out as well. "All right, people, chop chop. We've got a board to clear."
Chuny glanced sidelong at Frank. "What's with him?"
He shrugged, answering with one of his usual acerbic barbs. "Maybe he's high again."
Morris called over his shoulder, but didn't turn as he headed for chairs. "I heard that, Frank."
It was nearly half past seven when an exhausted Neela finally let herself into the apartment, wanting nothing more than a shower and sleep. A hundred years or so would be nice, but since she wasn't on till the following afternoon, she'd settle for the next sixteen hours.
Forty minutes and one lukewarm shower later, she was curled up on her bed, clad in her favorite ribbed tank top and a pair of boxers she'd stolen from Ray the last time they'd done laundry together.
The shower had relaxed her, giving her a chance to sort out her muddled thoughts about the baby.
The words still felt foreign in her head. But then, it'd only been three days; barely enough time for the reality of it all to sink in. Which was why she couldn't tell Michael yet. That, and it was still early; the risk of miscarriage was highest right now. It was going to be hard enough trying to find the words to tell him she was pregnant; she didn't think she'd be able to find the ones to break the news if something went wrong.
She sighed and stifled a yawn with one hand, the other coming to rest on her abdomen as her eyes slipped closed and she surrendered to fatigue.
Only to be woken up an hour later by a horrendous bout of nausea.
Vaulting out of bed, she sprinted for the bathroom - just barely managing to make it in time - and heaved over the toilet.
His shift wasn't officially supposed to have ended until eleven, but the ER looked like a ghost town, and he'd pulled two doubles the previous week, so Lewis had let him go at nine.
He took his time getting home, too, unable to think of anything except what was going on with Neela. To be perfectly honest, he didn't know. All he had was a suspicion, but something in his gut told him he was right. The nausea, the constant need to use the bathroom, her passing out, the way she'd been so distracted and jumpy lately...it all made sense.
But he didn't know for certain, and it wasn't like he had any real right to demand to be told. Still, they were roommates, friends, and it affected his life, too; didn't that grant him at least some right to know what was going on with her? He was torn between respecting her obvious wish for privacy and demanding that she talk to him so he could help her.
The angel and devil seated on his shoulders continued to duke it out until he finally had enough and silenced them both. He needed to talk to her, but he'd wait until he had more than just suspicion to go on. Letting himself into the apartment, he grimaced as the sound of retching met his ears.
It stopped, the toilet flushed, and Neela emerged from the bathroom in a tank top and a pair of his boxers, one hand resting over her abdomen as if to hold it down. She pulled up short as she noticed him and her hands shot to her hair, trying to make herself look like something the cat hadn't dragged in.
"What are you doing home? You're not supposed to be off till eleven."
Ray shrugged. "It was dead and I worked two doubles last week. Lewis let me go early."
Silence descended and held for a few awkward moments before she jerked a thumb toward her room. "Well, I'm gonna.."
He watched as she turned to go, all intentions of waiting to talk to her forgotten as the words tumbled out of his mouth before he could stop them.
"How far along are you?"
Neela rounded to face him and a mixture of shock and fear tore through her eyes as her gaze locked with his.
"You're exhausted, nauseous, constantly in the bathroom, you passed out...I'm a doctor, too," he reminded her quietly as she sank down onto the couch. "So, how far along are you?"
She sighed. "If I've figured it correctly, about five and a half weeks."
Ray crossed the living room and folded himself onto the couch beside her. "You make an appointment with Coburn?"
She nodded. "Two weeks from Monday, but I took two home tests. Both positive."
He knew what that meant. False negatives were fairly common, especially this early, but false positives were very, very rare.
She fisted her hands in her hair. "God, how could I have been so bloody stupid!"
"You're not stupid."
Neela turned to look at him, incredulous. "What the hell else do you call it, Ray? I've prescribed birth control to God knows how many patients, but I don't remember to use it myself?"
"Mistakes happen," he answered softly, watching as she stared down at her hands. He cleared his throat. "Does Gallant know?"
She shook her head. "I haven't told him yet."
"Don't you think you should?"
"He's in Iraq, Ray. What can he do from thousands of miles away?"
"If it were me, I'd wanna know."
Neela sighed heavily before raising her head to meet his eyes. "I know. And I'll tell him. But not till after the first trimester. It's still early, anything could happen, and I don't want to have to turn around and tell him if..."
She let the implication hang between them and he acknowledged it with a short nod. "That's smart, I guess. Don't want him in a warzone with that on his mind." Another stretch of silence passed before he spoke again. "What about Lewis? She's gonna have to know; no x-rays or contagious patients..."
"I'll let her know when Coburn confirms it."
"Right." He nodded again. "So when were you gonna tell me?"
"I hadn't actually planned on it."
Tension was building, thick and uncomfortable between them, and he tried for a little humor to lighten it. "We live together, Neela. Did you think I wouldn't notice when you started buying your Cherry Garcia with a side of pickles?"
"To be honest, I was hoping I'd be out of here before I had to cross that bridge."
Out of -
The full impact of her words crushed him and he struggled under the weight, chest tightening until it was almost hard to breathe. She was his best friend, she couldn't -
"Wait a minute, wait a minute," he shook his head and looked at her, "you're leaving? Moving out? Is that what you want?"
She sighed. "Ray..."
"Just answer the question."
"Which one?" she retorted flatly.
That sounded more like the Neela he knew - he'd have smiled if he wasn't still reeling from her announcement. "Do you really wanna move out?"
A rueful smile split her lips, but didn't quite reach her eyes. "I can't believe I'm actually gonna say this, but...no. I actually rather like living here."
"And I like having you here, so what's the problem?"
She averted her gaze. "My life is a mess, Ray. I can't ask you to turn yours upside down, too."
Hey." He tipped her chin up, green eyes meeting brown. "You don't have to ask."
"But what about your band? You have rehearsals and gigs...a baby's going to complicate all of that."
He shrugged. "So we'll find someplace else to rehearse, we'll figure something out. I'm getting tired of always buying the beer anyway; you know how they guzzle it."
The corners of her mouth inched upward and a small laugh escaped. Mission: accomplished. He grinned and pointed a finger at her.
"Was that a laugh I just heard?"
Her smiled abruptly faded and she sighed. "I just don't want to ruin anything for you."
A gentle smile curved his lips. "The only way you could do that is by leaving me." He stared at her with unguarded eyes, unflinching in their honesty. "You're my best friend, Neela, let me help."
Her gaze held his for a moment, the stiff set of her shoulders slackening in defeat as she gave in with a sigh. "Okay."
He slipped a supportive arm around her shoulders and leaned back against the couch, pulling her with him. She leaned her head against his shoulder and he ran his fingers through her hair, a comfortable silence enveloping them until her soft query pierced it.
"Abby's the only other person that knows."
"Don't worry, Roomie, your secret's safe with me," he promised, then frowned. "But I am gonna have to tell the guys. They're gonna wanna know why we have to find a new place to rehearse."
Neela sighed again and nodded. "I just don't want it around the hospital yet; I'm not ready."
Her body stiffened, and Ray moved his hand to her shoulder, rubbing in slow rhythmic circles until the tension ebbed away and she relaxed against him. "I know, it's okay."
His fingers found their way back to her hair and he rested his cheek atop her head. "Hey, that's what friends are for, right?"
He could hear the smile in her voice. "Right."
"You think you can manage to keep down some dinner?"
She shrugged. "Maybe, if it isn't something too heavy."
"Broth and crackers? I think we have some saltines."
Neela pulled back to look at him. "Guess I'd better get used to eating those, huh?" she queried with a rueful grin as she made a move to get up.
He disentangled himself from her and shook his head. "You sit here, I'll get it."
She looked like she was going to protest, but ultimately sat back and nodded. Ray headed off to the kitchen and heated up a can of broth, splitting it between two mugs. Placing them both on a tray, he added a dish of saltines and opened the fridge for a couple of drinks. He'd reached for two beers out of habit before he realized what he was doing and shook his head. His hand changed course, snagging a couple of bottles of water instead. He placed them on the tray as well, then picked it up and headed for the living room, unable to keep from thinking that life as they knew it was about to change.
To Be Continued .............
X-posted to neela_ray and morris_jane