AUTHOR: Victoria May
CATEGORY: JC/ensemble
SPOILERS: Last Eppy seen: May Day--however, I am chosing to ignore the events of that episode. Contains spoilers for much of season six. This is my first fanfic so bear with me!
ARCHIVE: Feel free to archive this on your sites, only be sure to email me and let me know if you do.
DISCLAIMER: I'm new to this so I hope I am crediting this correctly. ER, the show and its characters are solely the property of NBC, Warner Bros, Constant C Entertainment, etc. I do not take credit for them in any way, shape or form. I am writing this for entertainment purposes only.
SUMMARY: One man's journey through sorrow and despair teaches the ER staff the meaning of friendship and camaraderie.

John Carter sighed deeply before pushing open the heavy swinging doors to the ER where he worked. The sun shone warm and bright, and Carter lingered a moment before entering the ER. Carter had to fight a feeling of dread that began to overwhelm him as he walked towards the lounge.

Mark Greene was already in the lounge and greeted Carter with his standard, “Carter.” Carter wondered why their relationship had never progressed past this formality, why he was never greeted with a “Hey Carter, how are you doing?” or “What’s up?” Would he be forever the stumbling, nervous med student he once was?

“You just starting?” Carter asked Mark.

“Yeah, it’s going to be a long shift. Kerry’s at a conference and Cleo’s off today. It’s just us, Chen, and Malucci. Abby’s on also, keep an eye on her, she still needs a lot of work on her procedures.”

“Yeah.” Carter’s reply was weak, as if he had barely heard what the more experienced doctor had just said.

“You ok?” Mark glanced over at Carter. Lately Carter had seemed out of it, like he wasn’t really there--only going through the motions. He still did quality work, maybe even better then before, but it was lifeless and impersonal.

“Yeah, I’m fine.” Carter grabbed his stethoscope out of his locker. “I’ll see you later.” Carter closed his locker and walked out of the lounge without another look at Mark.

Carter went over to the main desk and glanced at the board. Possible concussion, finger laceration, hemorrhoids, and shortness of breath. Carter pulled the chart for the shortness of breath patient and went to exam one.

“Hello, I’m Dr. Carter. You’re having difficulty breathing?” Carter questioned a heavy set woman who looked to be in her late 50s.

“Yes, it started this morning, when I got out of bed I noticed I couldn’t breath very well. I thought it was just my allergies, but it didn’t get better after I used my nasal inhaler.”

Carter held his stethoscope to the woman’s chest and listened for a moment, then moved the stethoscope to her back. “I don’t hear anything irregular.” He turned to Chuni who had followed him into the exam room. “Let’s get an EKG and a chest x-ray, blood gas, tox screen...” Carter listed several more tests and then excused himself from the room, promising to return when the results were back.

“Hey John, you stole my shortness of breath patient!” Malucci was at the front desk scanning the board.

“You weren’t signed up for it Dave.” Carter sighed, he didn’t have the patience for “Dr. Dave” these days. Malucci came across as conceited and ignorant, whether he intended to or not. He wasn’t very popular in the ER, but didn’t seem to notice.

“Oh come on John, you left me with the boring stuff. You couldn’t have signed up for the finger lac, just this once, and left me with the interesting case?”

“Sorry Dave, the early bird gets the worm.”

“I was here before you! I just happened to be, distracted.”

“Flirting with the intake nurses isn’t working Dave. It’s fraternizing, you don’t get paid for that. And you don’t get the “interesting” cases by flirting either.”

“Yeah, but you do get to play “doctor” an awful lot.” Malucci grinned.

“You are a doctor Dave. You could start acting like one, and less like a . . .“ Carter stopped himself mid-sentence, and delicately finished, “Med student.” He was going to say “less like a child” but that would have revealed more of his dislike for Dave than he wished to share.

“Gee. Thanks for the compliment John. What bee got up your bonnet today?”

“Nothing.” Carter murmured and turned his attention away from Malucci. He fingered through the remaining charts and pulled out the finger lac.

“There, you happy now Dave? Finger lac...”

“Oh yeah, leave me with the hemorrhoids.” Malucci was a major pain in the butt. He could find something to complain about in heaven.

Carter threw the chart at Malucci and it landed on the desk in front of him. “Take it.” Carter’s voice was edged with anger. “I’ll be in curtain area 2 with the hemorrhoids.”

“Jeez, John, I was just kidding. Can’t you take a little ribbing?” Malucci was surprised by Carter’s reaction and actually felt regret for his comments.

Carter was embarrassed by his lack of control over his emotions. He knew Malucci was only joking, yet he let himself get angry over a stupid little comment. “Forget it, it’s no big deal. I don’t mind taking the hemorrhoids.”

After Carter was finished prescribing an anti-inflammatory cream for a mild case of hemorrhoids, he headed to chairs to grab a soda out of the vending machines. He dropped his money into the machine’s mouth and pressed the cola button. He heard his soda begin to move inside the machine, but then it stopped and nothing came out.

“Damnit!” Carter pushed the button again. The “Sold Out” light came on. Carter pulled on the change return, but no change fell out. “Damnit,” Carter repeated, the agitation apparent in his voice. He shook the machine, then decided that kicking it would get better results.

“Whoa, what’d it do to you?” Mark walked up beside Carter.

“It ate my money,” Carter responded. “I left my wallet at home, I had to borrow that fifty cents from Helai.”

“Well, here.” Mark put in another fifty cents. “What were you getting?”

“Cola, but it says it’s sold out now.”

“Would you settle for a Sprite?”

“Sure, that would be fine. Thanks.” Carter sat down on one of the chairs and watched as Mark effortlessly retrieved his Sprite from the machine.

Mark handed Carter the soda and sat down next to him.

“Bad hair day?” Mark joked to Carter.

“I guess I got up on the wrong side of the bed.” Carter answered Mark, trying to be as humorous as his colleague.

“I guess so, Malucci told me about your little encounter at the board.”

Malucci. He couldn’t keep his mouth shut if it meant saving his own life.

“Yeah, that. I just lost my cool. He can really push my buttons some days.”

Mark looked at Carter. He had opened his soda, but hadn’t taken a drink out of it. He just held it in his lap and stared at it, avoiding Mark’s eyes.

“It seems like everyone has been pushing your buttons lately. You know, if you need someone to talk to, I’m here.” The concern in Mark’s voice was evident. He had only recently realized that Carter was sinking into a deep depression. He was honestly afraid for the younger doctor, who’s life consisted of much more than the obvious fortune his family had built.

“I know. Thanks for the soda.” With that, Carter got up from his chair and went to check on the labs for the overweight woman with the shortness of breath.

Mark watched Carter walk away and felt guilty about not saying anything to Carter sooner. He wondered if anyone had taken the time to reach out to Carter since the stabbing. Mark knew Kerry Weaver had, but Carter had pushed her away. Even going as far as calling her “Dr. Weaver” when they had once had a close friendship and were on a first name basis. Had anyone else bothered? Mark hadn’t. He had been absorbed in his own father’s fight against cancer and ultimately his death.

Mark was surprised that Peter Benton hadn’t been aware of Carter’s growing depression. He seemed to be genuinely concerned about Carter when he was attacked and even during his recovery. But as Carter’s physical wounds healed, Peter seemed more aloof. Like he didn’t know what to do with this new truce he had developed with Carter. He let down his guard and everyone knew that he did care what happened to Carter, that those years as teacher and student had meant something to him. But Peter couldn’t take the relationship to the next level and see Carter as an equal--as a competent colleague he could call “friend”. To have a conversation with Carter about his feelings would mean forging that friendship, and Peter was still uncomfortable seeing Carter in that light.

Mark wondered what had happened to the camaraderie that once existed in the ER. He could remember a time when he and Doug Ross and Susan Lewis and Carol Hathaway were best of friends, quick to follow up when one of them had a problem. Mark didn’t see that happening in the ER any longer. He and Carol were still friends, but Carol was too busy with her twins to pal around any longer. Mark especially wondered why Carter didn’t’ seem to have many close friends in the ER. He was well liked by almost everyone, but hadn’t seemed to forge that bond of friendship with any one of them in particular. His relationships had all seemed to be of a sexual nature, dating the other interns and residents as his rotations wore on.

Now Carter wasn’t dating anyone and had pushed almost everyone out of his life entirely. Mark knew that Jing Mei Chen had beenhe felt good. Before leaving for work, her other had called to wish her a happy birthday and made plans to take her out to dinner that evening. Her mother had even told her to bring a date if she wanted. That was rare, usually her mother hated her boyfriends. But maybe things were changing. Her parents had, after all, supported her return to medicine. They had never liked her career choice in the first place, and had fought tooth and nail to talk her out of it. They went as far as to threaten to disown her. But she went into medicine anyway. Jing Mei had expected her parents to be elated when she went home that dreadful day years ago, proclaiming to have dropped out of medical school. But they had seen how sad and disappointed she was, and had talked her into going back and trying again. Now they were suggesting she bring a date to her birthday dinner, a date of her own choice. Not another blind set up that her mother so liked to arrange. Chen practically floated through the waiting area, her mind wandering. Who should she invite to dinner?

Chen knew that Dave Malucci would be thrilled if she asked him, but she wouldn’t’ give him that pleasure. She liked the little game they played--Malucci flirting and she giving him the cold shoulder. Malucci never tired of it, and frankly, neither did she. She could ask that nurse Frank, who she had treated for a fainting spell. He was definitely attractive and had seemed interested in her. Maybe.

Chen pushed open the lounge door and went in. Carter was sitting at the edge of a couch, hunched over a pile of charts. Chen looked at him nervously as she crossed the room to her locker. Carter wasn’t himself these days, and had snapped at Chen the last time she worked with him. She wasn’t ready for another confrontation so skipped her usual greeting. Chen was putting on her lab coat when she got the feeling that she was being watched. She looked up to see Carter looking at her intently.

“You’re mad at me. I suppose I deserve that,” he said, remembering how he had yelled at her the day before for taking too long to insert a central line.

Chen paused, “No, I’m not mad. I just didn’t want to get into it with you today Carter.”

“Carter. That’s bad. You never call me Carter. You’re one of the only people who call me John--you and Malucci. And Kerry.” He added as an afterthought.

He looked upset, and Chen thought for a second that he might start crying.

Chen went over to Carter and sat down next to him on the couch.

“I’m not mad at you John. And you’re right. I was just being vindictive by calling you Carter. Well, I guess that means I was mad at you--a little.” She smiled and shrugged. “I promise I won’t call you Carter again if you promise me something.”

Oh no, here it was. Carter couldn’t escape the questions, the concern that everyone seemed to have for him these days. He didn’t know why he was acting the way he was, he didn’t have answers for all the questions. He wished that everyone would just leave him alone.

Carter managed a weak smile. “Shoot.”

“Promise me you’ll have dinner with me tonight.” The idea had just occurred to Chen that this might be a good opportunity to get John out to have some fun, to loosen up a little.

A smile was playing at Carter’s lips. “Gee Deb, a date?” he asked, half joking, half serious.

It felt good to hear John call her Deb. He was the only one she allowed to call her Deb. She was Jing Mei now. But “Deb” sounded so natural coming from John, and it made her feel special. Secretly, she liked it when John called her “Deb”. It was a bond they had developed years ago, which had not disappeared when she left the ER.

“Well, not a date really. It’s my birthday, and my parents are taking me out tonight to celebrate. They told me to bring someone, and I would like it if you would come.”

Carter sat quietly as he thought about the offer. He didn’t feel like being social, he hadn’t in weeks. He felt tired just thinking about having to sit and make conversation with two people he had only met a few times. The last time he had seen them was when he chased after Deb when she walked out of the ER years ago, and he ended up crashing a society function. And Deb was probably only asking him because she felt sorry for him, and the last thing he needed was a pity trip.

“I don’t...” This was as far as he got when Chen interrupted.

“I won’t take no for an answer. Dinner’s at eight o’clock sharp. We’re both off at six, that gives us enough time to shower and change.” Chen knew that if she gave Carter the leeway, he would turn her down for sure. She wasn’t sure if she really wanted Carter for company either, the way he had been acting the last few weeks, but she was his friend and he needed friends right now.

She looked over at Carter, “Ok?”

He nodded, “Ok. You win, I’ll go. I’ll do my best to be good company. I promise.” He managed a sincere smile that warmed Chen’s heart. She got up to leave.

“And Deb,” he paused.


“Happy Birthday.”

“Thanks John. I’m looking forward to tonight.” With that she walked out of the lounge, her day even brighter than it had been when she walked in.

Malucci was at the front desk when Carter walked up at six o’clock to log off the computer.

“You off?” he asked Carter.

“Yup.” Was Carter’s reply.

“Me to! Maybe we could go get a bite to eat?” He asked Carter.

“Thanks, but no thanks Dave. I’ve got plans.”

“Ooo, hot date I bet. Let me guess...that hottie who was in here earlier to get stitches.”

Carter could feel his back begin to tense up. Malucci grated on his nerves and his bantering just about drove Carter nuts. That was it, he’d teach Malucci a lesson and tell him what his plans were. Nothing would eat at Malucci more than knowing Chen asked him out, even it was to dinner with her parents. Malucci had been after her since he started working in the ER.

“Actually, Dave, I’m going to dinner with Deb. To celebrate her birthday.” Carter saw a grimace cross Malucci’s face, and Carter’s own mouth began to turn up a little.

“You and Chen. I didn’t even know it was her birthday. Is this a date? Who asked who? When did this happen?” Malucci gawked openly at Carter.

“Good night Dave,” was Carter’s only reply to Malucci’s jumble of questions. That had felt good. Really good. He might even enjoy himself tonight. Carter walked out of the ER feeling proud of himself for one-upping Malucci. Maybe Malucci would get over himself now.

Mark had been working at the other end of the desk and had caught parts of Malucci and Carter’s conversation. Carter and Chen on a date. Mark smiled to himself. This might just be what Carter needs.

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