Burden of Guilt


AUTHOR: Kristen
EMAIL: kdarganin@hotmail.com
CATEGORY: JC/PB/MG friendship
RATING: PG
SPOILERS: Last eppy seen "May Day" takes place afterwards with a few minor adjustments.
ARCHIVE: Anywhere as long as my name is attached and you tell me.
DISCLAIMER: I don't own them, please don't sue.
AUTHOR'S NOTES: This story would not be possible with the help of my supper editors Lyss and Megan. They have provided me with a wealth of help and suggestions. Special thanks for her wonderful medical knowledge to Debbie. Also, to Sharon, Debbie, Cathy and to everyone who has supported me. Mulderette, you should like this.
SUMMARY: Things don't go as planned on the way to Atlanta.



Mark, folded uncomfortably into the back seat of the car, shifted anxiously for what must have been the fiftieth time. His discomfort was not only caused by the long, cramped ride, but by the tense mood in the car. He transferred his gaze from Peter, who was driving, to Carter, who gazed dejectedly out the window. Peter never took his eyes off the road, probably to avoid looking at the sulking man in the passenger seat. Carter, on the other hand, looked totally lost in his own turmoil.

Mark was not in the best mood, either. After Benton had followed Carter, Mark was left to wonder what had transpired during their encounter outside. Peter had phoned him from the airport to inform him that he was going with Carter to Atlanta. Mark was a bit taken aback by this piece of news, but realized that Benton would ensure the young doctor's arrival in Atlanta, as well as make sure he checked into the clinic. Mark took the train to the airport in order to pick up his van. Standing in the parking lot, his cellphone went off: it was Benton, informing him that the flight had been canceled and there wasn't another one scheduled. The three met up in the parking garage, where Mark had the suggested they drive to Atlanta.

"We?" replied Peter.

"Yeah," Mark had answered. He didn't know why, but he felt an urgent need to accompany them both. Carter absolutely had to arrive in Atlanta by the next day, since the program ran in thirty-day cycles and if he missed this cycle, he would have to wait a whole month. Mark felt extremely guilty about missing the signs of Carter's drug addiction. He'd been so wrapped up in his own hell the past few months, he'd completely missed his friend's deterioration. After clearing things with Kerry, and agreeing to work double shifts to makeup for time missed, the three piled into the van and set out on the road, with Carter quiet and miserable in the front seat.

And so their adventure began. It was pouring rain as they drove along, and the car was thick with an uncomfortable, awkward silence. Carter had not said a word, and Peter's focus was concentrated on the road, which was becoming more and more difficult to navigate as the rain fell harder and harder. Mark was about to mention dinner when the rain began to taper off. Could that be a sign?

"Is anyone hungry?" Mark asked the solemn duo up front. "I thought we could look for a place to eat."

"You actually think we could find someplace in this weather?" Peter grumbled.

"I thought we could keep our eyes open, since it seems we're pretty far off from anywhere." Mark hoped to keep the conversation somewhat civil.

"We're in the middle of the mountains, and you think we can just pull off somewhere and find..."

"That's why I suggested it now, Peter." Mark knew Peter wasn't in the best of moods. He really hadn't agreed to the whole intervention, and was probably a bit steamed at them for not noticing any of Carter's problems earlier. Mark knew he, too, felt guilty for buying into Carter's excuses and facade of stability.

"What about you, Carter?" Mark asked his despondent friend. "You hungry?"

"I get a choice in the matter?" Carter said, his voice cold and hard. No, it wasn't anger; it sounded more like defeat. Mark hated it.

"Alright, I guess food can be put off till later." Mark settled back into his seat. It was very late, almost 2:00 a.m., and he was tired. He'd been working all day and driving all night, and his one desire was to simply fall asleep. He wished they would spot a motel or something. Then again, if the tension in the van were any indication, the three of them staying overnight together would be hell. Mark shifted again, trying to find a more comfortable position. Before he knew it, he'd nodded off.

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Carter had no choice but to stare out the window. There wasn't anything to talk about, and he didn't want to listen to the radio. He was completely and totally miserable. His back hurt like hell from sitting in one position for too long, and he was surrounded by two colleagues who had figured out that he was unraveling at the seams. It was so odd. He had really thought he had things under wraps. He had been certain that one day, his mind would recover, which in turn would allow him some nightmareless sleep. His back would get better and, he would simply stop taking medication for it.

The days turned in weeks, and the weeks started to turn into months. The sleepless nights wouldn't go away, and the shifts at the hospital became longer, the pain in his back became worse. The only way to keep the trauma in his head from consuming his life was to dive into work, which caused as many problems as it solved. To work and avoid his personal hell, he had to take more pain medication: double, triple, quadruple doses. He'd managed to keep his narcotic use, which was quickly becoming abuse, from coming to the attention of other doctors, but he'd failed. Mark knew, Kerry, Deb, hell the list went on. He just wished that Benton had not been involved. He would never be able to look him in the eye again, let alone work alongside him in the ER.

Carter continued to gaze at the slowing raindrops, lost in his own thoughts. Suddenly, he heard Benton curse and the van lurched violently to the left. Before he knew what had happened, the van screeched to halt on what seemed like the side of the road. Carter looked over at Benton. The surgeon glanced over at him. The two locked eyes for a brief second before Carter adverted Peter's gaze.

"What the hell was that?" Mark called from the backseat.

"I don't know!" Peter replied. "One second the road was clear, and the next there were some tree limbs blocking the path. I think we're stuck." He sighed, considering. "I'm going to check things out." Peter hesitated a moment before exiting the van. "Is everyone alright?"

"I'm good," Mark said as he climbed up towards the front of the vehicle.

"I'm fine," Carter said in a low voice. He looked over at Peter and gave him a nod, trying not to laugh at himself. How many times had he been asked that question and given that same answer? Life was ironic that way. Carter watched Peter exit the van and inspect it for damage. He listened to him, out in the rain, since it was difficult to see outside in the dark. For the first time, he noticed they were in the middle of nowhere. He wasn't sure, but Carter thought that they could be in the Virginian mountains. Great, he thought to himself. If they had a flat tire up here, they were in trouble.

Carter could feel Mark's eyes on him. He could tell the other man was wondering what to say, or how to start up a conversation while they waited for word on the van. It was Mark's van, why wasn't he the one looking to see if it was damaged? Was he that afraid to leave him alone? Did he think he would actually run away in the middle of the woods, in the dead of night?

"Strange trip, huh?" Carter muttered, when the silence became too much to bear. Someone had to break the ice.

"Yeah. One of my more eventful ones, I guess." Mark was happy that the younger man wanted to speak to him. Hopefully, Carter would one day understand why he had to force him to take these actions.

"One for the scrapbook," Carter replied. Before he could continue with such mindless small talk, Peter banged on the window. Carter leaned over and unlocked the door, pushing it open to allow Peter in. Benton sat back down, staring out the windshield.

"Looks like the axle is busted."

"Busted axle?" Mark gasped. "Are you sure, Peter?"

"Yes, I'm sure, Mark!" Peter barked.

"Where are we?" Mark asked.

"It looks like we're on an embankment on the side of the road. I'm going to go walk to a phone or something, because we're not getting out of here without some help." Peter banged his hand against the steering wheel.

"Hold on a second, we don't even know where "here" is, Peter," Mark warned. "I have my cell phone; I'll call a tow truck or something."

"And tell them what, Mark? Do you know where we are?" Carter could tell that Peter was trying to hold back his temper. He wasn't doing a good job.

"It's better then walking around aimlessly," Mark reasoned as he dug his phone out of his briefcase. Mark tried dialing, but the line was dead. Carter wished it were possible for him to sink deeper into his seat, maybe melt through the center of the earth, or run away somewhere safe and warm, but he had no place to go. Instead, he twiddled with his hands, absently staring out the window at the falling rain. God, he was dying for a cigarette, but he didn't want to catch hell from Benton.

"I can't get through, it must be the storm or something." Mark snapped the useless phone shut.

"It could also be the mountains," Carter said in the same low voice he had used all evening.

"Could be," was all Mark said.

"Like I said, I'll go try to find some help, or a phone." Peter opened the door and went outside. The car door had barely slammed shut behind him before his fellow passengers were following him out.

"Dr. Benton, you shouldn't go alone. Why don't we go with you?" Carter ventured to ask.

"I don't need any company, Carter, I think both of you should stay in the van just in case someone comes by."

"We've been sitting in that van for hours. I, for one, could really use the walk." Carter said, with more strength in his voice then he thought possible.

"Peter, you shouldn't walk around by yourself out here." Mark glanced at Carter then looked back at Benton. "I'll stay with the van. Carter can go with you to look for help."

Peter looked over at his former student. He knew the doctor could really use this exercise to burn off energy and frustration. "You sure, Carter? Do you think you could walk a long way without..."

"I can walk a couple miles, Dr. Benton," Carter interrupted sharply. "My back really hurts, and I would like to loosen it up." Carter hoped that by being honest, Peter would relent.

"Alright, Carter let's get going; who knows how long we'll be." Peter turned his back to both of them and started up the road. Carter glanced at Mark, who nodded.

"I'll be waiting, you know, in the van. Hey, at least it sort of stopped raining." Mark turned the other way and climbed back into the relative safety of his broken down vehicle.

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The walk wasn't very pleasant. It was hard to see without the aid of flashlights and the road was slippery. Carter kept up as best he could with his former teacher. He could tell the other man was trying to keep his pace slow enough so that Carter could manage. He really wanted to say something to his mentor, but everything that came to mind sounded weak. He had cried like a baby in his arms. How could Benton ever respect him again? Carter realized that he owed him so much, not only for his teaching, but also for being brave enough to risk alienating him. He wouldn't take any of his stubbornness. Carter knew that Peter saw it for the illusion that it was. He was amazed how screwed up his life had become in just a few short months. In a way he was happy about the connection he felt with Peter. He just wished it hadn't been fear that brought them closer together. He'd always thought he would earn Peter's respect, and they would eventually talk some more. Or he would make a heroic save in the ER, and Benton would open up to him, treat him like an equal. All he ever wanted was the man's respect and attention: he wanted to make his former teacher proud of him.

They would have to start all over when this whole ordeal was finished. He would make it up to him somehow. It was hard to see Benton with his black leather jacket on, and Carter nearly collided with him when he very suddenly stopped short.

"Carter, watch it man. I think I hear something." Peter stood motionless for a second.

"What is it, Dr. Benton?" Carter asked.

"Quiet, I think I hear a car or something coming around the curve." Peter squinted in the darkness and Carter noticed an engine's noise. He could just barely make out some faint headlights. The beams of light seemed to dart from left to right in some strange fashion. Peter stepped away from the side of the road in order to catch the driver's attention. Carter watched the car coming around the bend. It wasn't slowing down to help the two men who were trying to flag it down. Both Carter and Benton began yelling.

Benton approached the road and, just as the car neared, slipped and fell to the ground. To Carter, the world seemed to slip into some weird form of slow motion. Peter tumbled to the ground, and the car continued on its path, oblivious. Carter yelled at Benton to get up and started towards him to give him a hand. The surgeon had not recovered from his fall and was trying awkwardly to stand. Headlights were coming from the other direction now, and, panicked, Carter lunged at Benton, desperate to get him out of the middle of the road before the car came bearing down on them.

But he wasn't quick enough. The vehicle struck him as he attempted to dive out of the way. He collided with a tire and rolled over onto the windshield, then bounced off the hood and onto the hard asphalt. Carter felt the impact on his right side as he landed in a heap on the edge of the road. He only had a few seconds to register what just transpired before seismic waves of pain rippled through him. Before he could cry out, the world went black before his eyes.



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