One Candle Burns


AUTHOR: Samantha
EMAIL: dougandcarol_tlf@hotmail.com
CATEGORY: DR/CH
RATING: PG-15
SPOILERS: The Storm Part II
AUTHOR'S NOTES: Wow. Another series. Yes, I know, I’ve taken on a lot, considering I’m so swamped with school right now I can barely spew out one fic a month. But, the idea for a ‘Storm Part II' redemption fanfic has been mulling around in my brain way too long. So here it is. Maybe I should explain this... if you don’t wanna read a big introduction thingy, stop reading.... NOW.... cuz this’ll be a long one.

I was, as many of you were, incredibly disgusted and disappointed with the way TPTB wrote out the wonderful character of Douglas Ross. Along with the fact that they left him with NO dignity at all, and made him look like a big bad horrible, selfish Dr. Kavorkian, the writers went against the one thing they’d been pushing on us since season 3. That Doug had changed. That he was a different person, that the last thing in the world he would do was leave (a pregnant) Carol. Maybe the ‘old’ Doug would have just dropped everything, like he did. But contradicting themselves was a really ridiculous thing to do. So, the point I’m getting at (sorry! I guess I’m long-winded!) is that they could have found a much better, realistic way to write out a character who had been the center of the show for 5 years. And so, I took the task into my own hands. This little (I wish) fanfic is and alternate storyline to ‘The Storm’. Almost everything that happened between that episode and the end of season six will still be taken into account (ie. the twins, Luka, blah, blah, blah) later on in the series. Also, some of the dialogue from the actual episodes will be included, however butchered it may be, just so that we keep in context with the actual storyline. Am I making any sense?

Songs used in this piece are: The Change, by Garth Brooks, and Save Tonight, by Third Eye Blind.

Thanks go to: Tara, for approving my ‘scary scenes’, and Catherine, because I haven’t thank

Important: Views of the Kosovo situation expressed in this fanfiction are very ONE SIDED. Short explanation– the Serbians are not completely to blame for this tragedy, although Milosevic was a big part of the situation. Albanians killed a lot of Serbs too. I basically wrote this from an Albanian point of view because its much easier to appoint a ‘good guy /bad guy’ status than explain everything. If you’re interested, e-mail me, and I’ll give you a full account of the Kosovar War.
SUMMARY: Doug is asked by United Nations Missionary Officials to aid in the war effort in Kosovo. A rewite of 'The Storm'.



One hand
Reaches out
And pulls a lost soul from harm
While a thousand more go unspoken for
They say what good have you done
By saving just this one
It's like whispering a prayer
In the fury of a storm

February 17th, 1999 –
___________________________________________________________________

Over many miles of land and sea, over thousands of cities and towns that held thousands of people of different races and cultures and heritage, one candle burned in the still of the night. It cut through the darkness of fear and uncertainty that dwelled with acute alarm in the depths of a small, damp cellar in the heart of a modest Albanian town. It illuminated only a few foggy inches of the dismal place, casting phantasmal shadows of glowing amber light across the faces of two tiny, scared boys and their mother and father. The small family, huddled together in a corner, shaking more from fright than cold, gained whatever comfort they could from the weak, quivering firelight. Perhaps it was the warm glow that eased a fraction of worry from their trembling souls, or maybe it was the flicker of quiet hope a flame always provided. Either way, that one small candle was a lifeline. A connection, a gift, a precious glimpse of life and animation the Serbians had so precisely snuffed out weeks before. The small family could do nothing but stare with desperation at the stubby candle, trying to block out the sound of Serbian army boots stomping over their heads, and praying with grave hearts that God would see the faint little light and rescue them from this nightmare.

___________________________________________________________________

A sudden bolt of fear shot through Carol Hathaway, and she felt it like lightening, interrupting her dreams and sending her into an upright position in her bed. She was instantly awake, startled and slightly baffled from the striking sense of apprehension tickling the back of her neck. It took Carol a moment to catch her breath. She slowly placed her hand on her chest, feeling her heart racing, frantic little blips feeling like pounding thrashes under her fingers. She racked her brain, trying desperately to remember what she’d been dreaming about that could have sent her into such a panicked state.

Her breath caught in her throat once more as she looked beside her and found the left side of the bed to be empty. The pillow, lying dormant, showed no sign of being slept on, the sheets on his side neither creased nor rumpled. Her brow furrowed, and she glanced at the clock. 5:30 am.

Doug should have been home hours ago. Something was wrong.

Unsteadily, she slipped out from beneath the warmth of the covers, exposing her skin to the crisp, cool air. It hit her like tiny needles, sending a fleet of goose bumps rushing up her arms and shoulders. Carol shivered and plodded across the quiet room, snatching Doug’s robe from off the back of the door and pulling it over her shoulders.

She slowly made her way down the staircase, looking for a sign that he’d come home; shoes on the stairs, a jacket on the coat rack, anything. But the house was still and tranquil, the only noise rising from the old, creaky staircase under Carol’s feet.

Turning into the living room, she squinted against the dark. Finding only yesterday’s newspaper sprawled on an armchair, she peeked into the kitchen and entrance way. The porch light was on, and his shoes were at the door. She could make out his figure slumped over the kitchen table, starring into an empty coffee mug. Carol sighed in relief, closing her eyes momentarily.

“Doug...?” she called softly. He looked almost like he was sleeping, his shoulders rising and falling heavily with each breath, his head tilted downwards. “Doug?” she called again. His head rose slowly, his eyes wide, but unnerving, two bright, glossy embers glowing in the darkness of the cold kitchen.

Carol slipped into a chair, across the table from him. “What’s the matter?” she asked gently, worry once again rising up into her throat as she noted his grave stare.

He shook his head softly, a forced smiled fluttering across his face. “Nothing.” His voice was barely above a whisper, hoarse, like he hadn’t spoken in days.

“Did something happen at work?” Carol reached across the table and lightly touched his wrist with the tips of her fingers. Doug shook his head, again directing his gaze to the empty mug in his hands.

The sun was just beginning to let its ambitious rays climb over the horizon, and a few shafts of light wafted in through the kitchen window, revealing to Carol the dark, heavy circles rimming his restless gaze. “Whats wrong, Doug? Are you sick?”

He tilted his head and looked up at her. A smile, small and wavering, graced his lips. “No, no. I’m fine.”

“Then why didn’t you come to bed? Have you been sitting here all night?”

He was quiet again, for a moment. Then, slowly, he pushed his mug away and took her hand.

“Doug, you’re scaring me. What’s wrong?” She swallowed the lump of fear in her throat, feeling the apprehension she’d felt when she’d woken up creep back up her spine and spread across her shoulders.

“I got a call this morning, at County, from Dr. Bill Gregory, the head of the Medical Department of the United Nations, and affiliate of the World Health Organization.”

“Okay....” Carol nodded, confused. She was expecting him to tell her someone had died...

“Have you heard anything about the situation in the Middle East? In Kosovo and Yugoslavia?”

She nodded again. “Of course. The... uh... the Serbians are forcing the Albanians out of their homes so that they can take over their land. What do they call it? Uh... ethnic cleansing. Its– its horrible.” She finished quietly.

“Dr. Gregory explained it to me. All of it. There is so much more to the story than what the government media has let on. War has broken out. NATO’s started bombing, and the Serbian forces, led by Milosevic, have set up whole armies and are invading Kosovo. Thousands of civilians are getting caught in the crossfire, towns, communities.”

“I had no idea,” Carol shook her head increadiously.

Doug kept on. “People are suffering. They’re being killed, hunted down if they won’t willingly leave their lands... and murdered. Whole families are being stripped and robbed and killed, and thrown into mass graves.The ones who aren’t killed have no place to go. They’re sent to camps or cast out on the street. They’re getting sick; diseased from malnutrition and unsanitary environments. Children are dying, Carol.” Doug squeezed her hand tightly, his face more serious than she’d ever seen it, his eyes boring into hers. “Children are dying, and they don’t have enough doctors.”

With those words, Carol knew. She knew why he looked so desolate. She knew why she was experiencing a peculiar feeling of dread throughout her body. Her mouth dropped open, as if she wanted to speak, but no words would escape. Slowly, she shook her head back and forth as he spoke, a stricken, futile protest.

“The United Nations asked me to go to Kosovo. Out of all the pediatricians in Chicago, they asked me.”

Carol closed her eyes. This wasn’t happening. “How long?” A voice from somewhere inside her asked mechanically.

“Three or four weeks.”

“When?”

“I leave tomorrow morning.”

To her ears, the words were like a death sentence. So formal and final that a fierce fear rose through her chest like wildfire. She stood up slowly, not quite trusting her shaky legs.

Looking back, she was never quite sure how she ended up outside. She couldn’t remember walking out the door, couldn’t remember hurriedly pulling on her hat and gloves and coat over Doug’s robe. She only remembered feeling an icy wind whipping across her face and realizing she was on the porch.

“Carol...” she heard his voice, low and beckoning, behind her. She felt his warm hand, taking her arm, gently pulling her back inside. “ Come on, hon. Come inside.”

She shook her head, staring at the footsteps in the snow, marveling at how the morning sun reflected off the crystals of frozen ice like flecks of diamonds.

“Please... can we talk about this?”

“What’s there to talk about?” Carol spun around, fear erupting out of her in anger’s form. “Its not like you need my opinion. You’ve already made your decision!”

“Carol, I–,”

“You never even asked me, Doug! You just assumed that I would be completely fine with you traveling halfway across the world, to a foreign country, in the middle of a fucking war!” She clenched her teeth, seething, and stepped away from him, the tears in her eyes glistening in the early sunlight. “Well, I’m not.” she whispered, looking up at him, her voice cracking with shock and fear and fury. “I’m not.”

“Listen to me, Carol,” he pleaded, shoving his heads deep into his pockets. “I have to do this. There are hundreds of kids out there– dying kids, that need my help.”

“If you want a bunch of sick kids,” she scoffed shakily, “I can show you a whole ER full of them.”

Doug shook his head. “Not like these children. They’re really in a bad way over there. They need someone to help them, and I think I can be that person. Instead of fucking things up, I can really help! I need to do that. I– I need to do this.”

Carol looked to her feet silently, trying to keep the all-consuming rage at bay.

“And– and I think it would do some good to get out of the ER for awhile. I’m really not looked too highly upon right now.”

“They’ll get over the Double Blind Narcotics, Doug.”

“Maybe. But... the three weeks would help cool things off.”

Again, Carol said nothing. Slowly her sallow stare rose from her feet and she held his gaze. “Why, Doug? Why do you have to do this? Why now?”

“I need to fix things, Carol.”

“And you think taking off for a month to the middle... the middle of nowhere will fix things?” She shook her head with a solemn sigh. The anger she felt burning within her chest was like nothing she’d ever experienced. It was a fury born from fear and shock and the stinging sense of dread so present in every inch of her. Carol wasn’t sure why she was so infuriated, and it confused her. “You’re running away, Doug. That is so like you.”

The pain caused by her words was evident immediately. His eyes, previously bright and serious from explaining about his impending journey, clouded with offense and distress. His face fell and he turned away, disgrace robbing him of words. She was, after all, right. He did have a tendency to run when things arose that he couldn’t handle. But– it was different this time. “I would never run away from you, Carol,” he declared softly. “I would never leave you.”

“Doug–,” she faltered, her fury elapsed, leaving a bleak sense of shame for her harsh words..

He reached up, and, cupping her chin, lifted her face so that her gaze met his. “I need to go, Carol.”

“I don’t understand that.” She swallowed, unable to keep a small tear from gliding down her face. “Can’t they find someone else?”

Doug took off his glove and gently wiped the tear from her cheek. Her skin was cold to the touch, and he let his hand embrace the side of her face. “You’re freezing.”

Carol closed her eyes and leaned into the warmth of his hand. “Can we go inside?”

He nodded, circling his arm around her waist and leading her through the door.


___________________________________________________________________
And I hear them saying you'll never change things
And no matter what you do it's still the same thing
But it's not the world that I am changing
I do this so this world will know
That it will not change me
___________________________________________________________________

“I got a personal leave for a month.” Doug stated as he sent a skillet sizzling through a mound of half cooked eggs. “I think Weaver was happy to get rid of me.”

“I’m not going in today.” Carol slipped two pieces of toast into the toaster, jiggling the handle so that the bread would go all the way down. “I want to spend your last day with you.”

Doug smiled. “Alright.” He brushed his hands off on a towel and opened the fridge, searching for the Orange juice. “You know, its only three weeks. It’ll be over before you know it, and I’ll be back here being an ass, and you’ll be wishing I was still in Kosovo.”

Carol smirked. “I bet.” She reached into the toaster for her trapped toast, clamping down and burning her finger as the hot bread flipped out of the appliance. “Uh, shit, that hurts!” she exclaimed, shaking her injured hand.

Doug hid a smile and, putting down his O.J., took her hand and gently pressed the fingers to his mouth. Carol smiled. “Stupid toaster.”

“So, what are we doing today?” he asked, his hand lingering in hers for a moment.

“I dunno,” she shrugged, turning back to preparing breakfast, nursing her red finger with a cold washcloth. “Maybe we should just stay home.”

“I thought we could go to the ski hill.”

“Doug, I don’t know how to ski.”

“I could teach you...”

Carol laughed. “I’d probably end up crashing into a tree or something.”

“Come on, it’ll be fun!”

“Oh, I don’t know Doug. I figure, if I was meant to be a skier, I’d have learned already.”

“You’ll like it Carol. I promise.” He grinned his lopsided grin, tilted his head, and of course, she melted.

“Fine, we’ll go skiing,” she sighed, laughing uncertainly. “Just as long as we stay on the bunny hill.” She wanted to spend his last day with him– and if it meant braving the slippery slopes of Cook County Ski Hill, then, she’d oblige. She was attempting with great difficulty to push the morning’s conversation into the back of her mind. She was trying hard to forget he was leaving... to forget that he was traversing halfway around the world to an unstable and certainly dangerous territory. It took all her power, but with sheer determination, Carol was able to swallow her fear and resignations. It wasn’t just the simple fact that he was about to step into the middle of a war that made her uneasy– it was her intuition, the unsettling, queasy feeling at the pit of her stomach, churning and twisting mightily, that was making her hands shake and her throat contract.

“Bunny hill it is,” Doug agreed with a wink, turning off the stove with a flick of his hand, and gracefully flipping the scrambled eggs from his frying pan into two plates.

Carol nodded, tossing her toast onto one of the plates. She looked over at him- standing above the sink, rinsing off his spatula. A wild tuft of grey speckled hair fell into his forehead, his dark blue T-shirt perfectly presented over his forearms, the usual smirk dancing on his lips. You’d never know that just a few hours ago, he’d made the hardest decision of his life. You’d never guess that in just a few more hours, he’d be thrown into what could amount to be World War III...

___________________________________________________________________

“I changed my mind. I don’t want to do this.” Her trembling voice caught the wind- blowing violently at 40 feet above the solid snow, and faded as it was carried away.

“What?!” Doug shouted, leaning back casually, grinning as he watched her fingers clutch tightly at the metal bars of the chair lift.

“I don’t want to do this!” Carol repeated loudly over the clanking of the lifts and whirring of the wind, starring with obvious dread at the tiny trees and ant-sized people passing beneath them. The morning’s proclamation and conversation were forgotten, or, at least, dislodged for the moment.

“Maybe you should have made that decision while we were still on the ground,” he stated simply, his eyes dancing with the thrill of swinging with the wind, high in the air.

Carol looked down again, at the slippery contraptions strapped to her feet, then at the ski slopes; glistening with freshly groomed snow and dotted with spiny saplings.

“C’mon, Carol, you’re not afraid of heights.”

“No, I’m afraid of growing down that on these.” She pointed to the hill, then to her skis, dangling over the edge of the chair lift.

“Why are you afraid?” he asked gently.

“I’m going to crash!”

“No you’re not.”

“How can you say that? I fell three times on the way to the lifts and that was on flat ground!”

“Its better when you’re up there.”

“Yeah, right.”

“Carol, do you really think I’d let anything happen to you?” Doug tilted his head and took her shaking, gloved hand in his.

“What if I fall into an ice patch and you can’t catch me?” Her eyes were wide with fright and uncertainty. One hand was wrapped tightly around the lift bar, the other clutching Doug’s.

“That won’t happen. You might fall a few times, but....”

“Doug! I don’t want to fall either!”

“Hey, its snow. Its soft. Its like falling into a pillow. Really, you’ll be fine.”

Carol shook her head, the ever-approaching landing area making her stomach preform acrobats. “I can’t, Doug. I can’t do this.”

“Yes you can.” He squeezed her hand reassuringly, remembering his first time on skis.

“No, I don’t want to. Isn’t there a way I can take this lift thing back down?”

“I don’t think so, Carol. Just come with me, down the hill. We’ll go slow.”

She looked warily at the trails beneath them. “You won’t let me crash?”

“I won’t let you crash. I promise.” Doug grinned his assurance. The landing was coming up quickly, and they’d have to shimmy off soon. “Ok, Carol, when I say so, I want you to lift up the tips of your skis. When they’re completely flat on the snow, stand up and let the chair push you forward. Okay?”

“No, not OK. But I don’t have much of a choice, do I?”

“Nope,” he smiled and squeezed her hand as she clung to his arm. “Alright, lift up your skis.” Carol did as she was told. The flat mound of snow Doug was calling the ‘landing’ rushed up underneath them, making their skis slide across the snow.

“Ok, stand up,” Doug directed. Carol’s eyes grew wider, but she stayed glued to the chair. As the lifts rounded the corner, Doug took her arm and hoisted her off the little bouncing chair.

“Whoa, whoa, whoa, Doug, slow down!” She shrieked as they slid down the well-trampled slope and into a flat clearing. They skidded to a stop. Doug let go of Carol and she promptly fell over, landing in the fluffy snow with a “ploomph”.

“See?” Doug laughed as she struggled to untwist her legs from her skis. “You only fall on flat ground! The hill itself isn’t a problem!”

“Uh, this is not funny!” she sighed in exasperation. Getting one ski flat on the snow, she tried to drag the other leg around, but ended up falling on her rear again.

“Here,” Doug offered her his hand. She took it, huffing, and he lifted her into a shaky standing position.

“That was not enjoyable,” Carol stated, brushing the snow off her mits and hat. She watched in envy as a group of skiers flew down the slope and disappeared around the bend. “And how come I don’t get poles?”

“Its better to learn without them,” he explained. “But you can use mine if you want.” he pulled his hands out of the pole straps and handed them to Carol. She gripped the handles and poked the ends into the snow, balancing her weight over the poles.

“Okay... okay... thats better,” she nodded in satisfaction.

“Ready to go?”

“Go? Couldn’t we just stay here for awhile?”

Doug chuckled. “Not if you don’t want a serious case of frostbite. Relax, you’ll be fine.” He took her arm to steady her and straightened his own skis. “Trust me, ok? Trust me.”

Carol nodded, and let him guide her out of the clearing and onto the actual slope.

“Keep your skis in the snowplow position, you’ll go slower,” he instructed. “Thats good. Now, I’m gonna go slow, I just want you to follow me.”

“Uh... okay,” she agreed as he started to inch his way around the bend. She shifted her weight to the front of her feet, and was very surprised when she started to move. “Doug! I’m going to fast!” She shouted as she tried to follow his slaloming path.

“No you’re not,” he consoled calmly, “Just keep your snowplow.” They slowly made their way around the bend, and to the top of a long, open slope. Carol’s mouth dropped open and she struggled to stop. The hill looked a lot steeper than when she’d seen it from the lift.

“I can’t go down there.”

“Yes you can, Carol. There’s nothing to stop you. No trees, or rocks, just snow–and lots of it.”

“I’ll go too fast.”

“Thats the whole point of skiing. But you won’t have any fun if you don’t relax.”

Carol took a deep breath and, grasping her poles firmly, plunged down the hill.

“That’s my girl!” Doug shouted merrily behind her as she shrieked loud enough to wake the dead.

Completely losing whatever remnants of a snowplow position she had, Carol dove down the hill, the trees and shrubbery whizzing past her on both sides. She knew very well that she had no hope at all of stopping, and wobbled dangerously as she sped along.

Suddenly Doug appeared beside her, smiling, swishing back and forth like he lived on skis every day of his life.

“You’re doing great!”

“I’m– I’m gonna loose control!” She was shouting to him over the frantic, rhythmic swoosh of the snow beneath their skis.

“No, you’re not. You’re fine.”

“Doug!”

Even in the blustery wind, the mischievous tilt of his head was still very evident. The fluttering fear in her eyes prompted him to reach out his hand. Fumbling with her poles, she placed them both in one mitten, and quickly grasped onto his outstretched hand with the other. While their swift pace slowed only mildly, her balance and steadiness improved immediately as she poised herself against his steady frame.

“Better?” he asked, noting the tension still etched across her face.

“Uh huh.” She nodded curtly, watching in petrified fascination as acre after acre of slick spreads of snow disappeared behind them, new knolls and mounds of the cold whiteness always rushing up to greet their sleek, glossy skis.

“Let yourself go, Carol.”

She looked to him, confused.

“Relax. Close your eyes.”

“I– I can’t.”

“I’ve got you. Just close your eyes.”

Carol breathed in a mouthful of cool, bitter air, the frigid taste releasing chills of cold and excitement through her. She shut her eyes, clinging to Doug.

With the fast moving sights retracted from her senses, she was pummeled with a whole new ambiance of sensation. The first perception was the potent wind, sending tendrils of her hair whipping frantically around her face, her scarf, her woollen hat. It swept across her lips, blisteringly sharp and icy cold against the warmth of her mouth. It stung the soft skin of her pale cheeks and bit at her nose.

The other stunning sensation was that of motion. She was gliding over the snow, flying, without limitations. She could feel the slippery earth pass beneath her skis, could feel the small blips and bumps of correlated snow, and the winding curves and shallow trenches Doug was carefully guiding her through.

It was the closest she’d ever felt to flying. The unmistakable sense of freedom. Of adrenaline.

“Doug?” She called to him, opening her eyes, letting them grow accustomed to the bright sunlight. “This is wonderful.”

“It is, I know,” he grinned and abruptly let go of her arm.

“What– what are you doing?” She wobbled, suddenly unsure of herself.

“Letting you fly.”

She struggled for a moment, but once she gained her balance, she thrust her arms out from her sides and tilted her head back, into the sun, her laughter rippling from her exposed throat with graceful momentum.

He was overcome by her. The way stray curls, escaped from beneath her hat, fluttered carelessly around her face, the way her eyes shone and crinkled beneath her pale cheeks as she laughed, the way she reached out to him, the way she called his name. His love was pure and absorbing, a feeling he couldn’t keep from engulfing him.

Slowly coming up behind her, he reached out and, grabbing Carol around the waist, lifted her, skis and all, right off the snowy ground.

She squealed and wrapped an arm around his shoulders. “Doug! We’re gonna crash!”

“We’re not–,” he laughed, just as his ski traveled over a branch lying in the middle of the mild slope. In a second, they were in the air, then, landing in a pile of snow. It flew out from beneath them, little flakes puffing out like wheat flower.

“Told ya,” Carol grinned, wiping her snow covered face with her snow covered mittens. They were sprawled in a snow bank, on the side of the run. Both her skis had fallen off, as had Doug’s. She was slightly on top of him, her arm still around his neck.

His face was the picture of surprise– eyes wide, mouth slightly agape, with snow matted in his hair and eyelashes. Suddenly, he shook his shoulders and shivered, exaggerating.

“Brrrrrr, cold snow!” Laughter erupted from his throat, and he pressed a new handful of the frigid white fluff down her neck.

Carol screamed and reeled away from him, cupping her hands around a mound of snow and crumbling it in his face. He grinned wickedly, tackling her, holding her wriggling frame down by the shoulders as she hollered, helpless against his firm grip.

Doug stared down at her- face alight with giddy merriment, eyes dancing– but almost superficially, masking the ardent apprehension present within the very essence her. She, in turn, looked up at him, his lips pressed into a soft smile, eyes bright with affection, cloaking their darkness. Their gaze met in a moment of unquestionable tenderness, where the impending anguish was ultimately acknowledged.

“Doug...” her voice was soft and wavering, and he quieted her with a caress of his hand against her face and a shake of his head, not yet ready to face the imminent truth. That, come morning of the next day, he would have to leave her.

Clearing his throat rather awkwardly, Doug averted his eyes and scrambled to sit up in the snow.

“Come on.” He took her hand, pulling her up with him.

“Where are we going?” Carol inquired curiously as he led her through the trees dotting the side of the slope. Even though their skis were lying in a heap were they’d landed, thick, debilitating boots were still strapped to their feet, making the trudge through the deep snow a chore.

“Up,” Doug answered.

“Yeah, I got that impression. Why?”

“You’ll see.” He continued to direct her through well-worn trenches and over snow laden underbrush. Finally, just as Carol was sure her feet were going to fall off, he stopped. They were standing in front of a big rock, jutting out away from the slope. A spruce tree, alive with deep green quills, hung over the boulder. Doug found a knotted crevice in the slippery vertical surface and swiftly swung his foot into it. In one quick motion, he’d hoisted himself onto the rock. Reaching down, he took her hand and pulled her up. Raising a skeptical eyebrow, she settled into a sitting position beside him.

“What are we doing up here?” She asked, somewhat out of breath, shaking her head at his strange antics.

He motioned to the steep cliff and sweeping landscape in front of them with a flicker of a wave. “Just look.”

The sun was reflecting off the acres of snow spread out like whipped frosting, gleaming with pearly white majesty. They were up high, the rock positioned just above a plunging cliff, and the soaring summit took her breath away. After the mellow fields of snow, a grove of elms grew in a scattered, haggard excuse for a forest. And then, it was Chicago, in all its Harlem glory, bustling with city lights and cars and exhaust and fast paced el cars and tall windowed buildings. The view from their little rock perched on the side of a cliff was extensive, driving on for miles.

Carol turned, tearing her gaze reluctantly from the gorgeous view, and smiled softly at Doug. “This is what God must feel like.”

He grinned and took her hand, feeling the wetness from her soaked mittens seeping into his gloves.

“Just looking, you know, on Chicago. Seeing all the little people in all the little buildings with all their little problems.” She sighed and tipped her head, studying the city. Her city. “How’d you know to come up here anyway?”

Doug swivelled around and pointed behind them. “I used to come here when I first moved to Chicago. There are little trails all through the woods back there.” He smiled, reflecting quietly. “It looks different in the winter though. Everything’s covered in snow.”

Carol was silent for a moment, then she looked back over the city, tilting her face into the blowing wind. “Thank you,” she breathed.

“For what, Kiddo?”

“For bringing me out here. Its beautiful.”

“Hmmmm...” he smiled and slipped an arm around her waist, pulling her to his chest. He rested his chin on her shoulder, his warm breath fluttering across the cold skin of her neck.

Gazing ahead, across the grand bay of snow and city, she took in the magnificent horizon. “Chicago looks so tiny from here.”

“Like you could almost hold it in your hand.” His voice was low and gentle.

“Yeah,” she agreed, remembering the children’s song. “She’s got the whole world, in her hands...”

Doug closed his eyes and drew his arms tightly around Carol’s shoulders, relishing their gentle intimacy, wondering what he would do without her for a whole month. “I’ve got the whole world in my hands,” he whispered into her hair.

___________________________________________________________________

“Oh God, I’m freezing!” Carol burst through the door in a flurry, her wet mitts and hat flung immediately to the kitchen floor in order to rid some of the chill that resided in the dampness of her skin. “Why don’t you start a fire, Doug?” She waited a moment, and when her suggestion was answered with silence, she turned around. “Doug?” He wasn’t behind her as she though he’d been. Somewhere between the car and the front door, she’d lost him.

Shaking her head in puzzlement, Carol peered through the screen door. He was sitting on the porch step, staring out at the road, his arms crossed at his chest.

With a sigh, she opened the door and stepped once again into the bitter cold. They’d spent the entire day at the ski hill, residing in the cozy chalet when her fragile skin could take no more of the icy wind. Now, a blanket of heavy darkness had descended on Chicago, and with it, the biting frost of night. It was too cold even to snow. The sky felt extended and curdled with pent up frustration, stilled and petrified by the debilitating, hostile temperature. The weather made Carol edgy, uneasy, as if it reflected her own trepidation.

“What are you doing out here, Doug?” she asked as she sat beside him, sliding her bare hand into his gloved one. “Its freezing. Come inside.”

“Not yet.” He looked at her then, the gentle plea in his eyes bringing her prodding to a halt. She understood his need to linger outside in the cold. It was a subdued way to preserve the day, to stretch the contentment they’d experienced at the hill a little further, to fight off his impending departure. By going into the warm house, the day would be ended, and the night begun. Then, morning would come.

Carol nodded and Doug pulled her closer, taking off his gloves and slipping them over her fingers.

“Thanks,” she whispered softly. “Its cold.”

“Hmmm...” he smiled his agreement, and, placing a warm hand on each side of her head, drew her face up to his and gently pressed his lips against hers.

She sighed against his mouth, the short burst of warmth sending sparks of heat and plaintive desire through her. Closing her eyes lightly, Carol leaned into him, kissing him fully, her arms creeping around his neck. She could feel his lips, hot and tender, caressing her mouth, warming her from the inside.

He pulled away slowly, lingering, his breath fluttering against her eyelids.

“That better?” he whispered lightly.

She shook her head, pulling him nearer, not wanting to let the cold back in, needing to be lost in his touch.

Silently, he stood up, pulling her with him, leading her into the house, escaping the frigid darkness.

***

Their clothes were still damp and uncomfortable from sitting in the snow, and they fell to the bedroom floor without regard.

He stood away from her, for a moment. Savoring, preserving, memorizing every detail of her face, every ringlet of her hair, every dimple of her skin. Then, he was enveloping her, his large hands warming her cold, damp skin, his face in her hair, breathing in her scent, needing her desperately.

Carol licked her lips, a small moan escaping through them, and let him lay her down onto the crisp sheets of the bed. Her control was willingly offered from his first tender kiss, and with it, she lost the careful walls she’d been building since his bleak, unfaltering announcement that morning. The barriers against her own fear and panic crumbled, and she unraveled in his arms, under is touch, within his gaze.

Their eyes were locked in a fierce bond of smoldering panic, each fear so raw in their passion that it was one dread, one terror, one thread that connected their shaking souls, the lifeline they both would cling to in the next weeks.

“Doug...” Carol’s voice called out as trembling emotion threatened to overtake her. “Promise me you’ll be safe...”

He said nothing, but moved the path of his avid kisses from the soft, supple skin of her neck to her lips, tasting her, breathing her, relishing her.

“Promise me,” she pleaded, a desperate supplication so harrowing her tears could no longer be withheld and they spilled down her face.

Doug gently wiped them away, and smoothed the hair from her face. “I promise,” he whispered, as their bodies merged, intertwined, into a frightened, feverish nirvana.

___________________________________________________________________

Save Tonight
Fight the break of dawn
Come tomorrow
Tomorrow I’ll be gone
___________________________________________________________________

His eyelashes were so long they fanned out in thick, black cascades that brushed his cheeks lightly. His lips were soft and moist, parted slightly, his warm breath fluttering out in even sighs. His hair was tousled, falling into his forehead in lazy waves. He looked so calm, sleeping there, beside her, his face turned towards her so that she couldn’t help gazing at the loveliness of it. Unable to resist, she reached out and brushed a strand of greying hair from his forehead.

His eyelids twitched once, and he stirred. “Carol...” he smiled and his eyes opened lazily.

“Shhh...” she hushed, laying a hand over his cheek, their faces inched apart. “Go back to sleep.”

“How long have you been awake?” He asked, glancing at the neon, blinking 3:49 of the digital clock.

“Didn’t sleep,” Carol answered, smiling softly.

Concern crept into his sleepy eyes. “What’s wrong?”

“I don’t know,” she lied. “I’ve been tossing and turning all night.”

Doug blinked and, in one practiced motion, gathered her in his arms.

“No use you staying up too, you’ve got a big day ahead of you tomorrow. Go to sleep.”

“Uh huh,” he mumbled into her hair, his fingers playing over the soft skin of her stomach.

She relaxed against the warmth of his body, slowly slipping her hands over his.

“Doug...?” she asked quietly, after a moment.

“Yeah?” he murmured, easily slipping back into slumber.

“...are you scared?”

Doug was pulled back into waking, and he stiffened. Then, his chin pressed against her smooth shoulder, he nodded slowly.

“Me too,” she whispered.

“Why are you afraid, Carol?” His voice was hushed.

“I’m afraid for you,” she turned her head so that her face was next to his, her nose just resting under his chin. “ And– and I’m afraid for me. I’m afraid that they’ll need you more than they thought and you’ll stay– for months, or even years. Or– or that you’ll get hurt, and... you won’t come home.” The horror of losing him was so hard to imagine she shuddered at the very thought. “I’m so scared you’ll get hurt, Doug.”

She’d been mulling over these fears for the past five hours, and they were so pent up and cruel now that they seemed to be eating away at her. She felt bad admitting them to him. That, somehow, if she acknowledged her dread, it would be reality.

“Its gonna be ok, you know,” Doug reassured gently. “Its only three weeks. I don’t care how much they need me, in three weeks, I’m coming home.”

“I know... but what if...” she sighed and her voice wavered. “– its dangerous out there, Doug. From what you’ve told me, its sounds like brutal war. I just don’t want you in the middle of it.”

He was silent for a moment. “I have to do this, Carol. I have to go.”

She shook her head, her eyes closed, her fists tightening around his hands. She was trying to understand the reasons driving his stubborn insistence, why he felt helping refugees was so important, why he would risk his life for Slavic children he would never know. “I don’t know what I’d do without you.”

Pulling her forward, Doug leaned in and pressed his lips to her shoulder, her neck, her cheek. “I’d never leave you,” he whispered into her ear, echoing his words from the morning’s conversation.

“I know, I know...” she gulped, her voice tight with strained emotion. “I’m sorry...”

“For what?”

“I must be ruining this for you. I just– ...I don’t know why I’m so upset.”

“Do you want me to tell you about what’s going to happen tomorrow?”

Carol nodded silently, afraid her voice would deceive her.

“I’m going to take the 747 straight to a base outside of London, England, then switch to a small 10 seater. Then, we’ll fly to the edge of Albanian country, and take the rigs down to the refugee camps. It’ll take about a day in all.”

“Is any of that dangerous?”

“Well.... we have to cross over a short field of Serbian-claimed territory, but other than that, the land’s all neutral.”

“Maybe...” Carol whispered slowly, “maybe I can come with you.”

“No, Carol–,”

“They would never turn away volunteer nurses, right?”

“They need you here. Mark and Kerry and the ER. They need you.”

“I need you.” Her voice shook. She knew he’d never let her come. He’d never lead her into anything dangerous or risky.

He could feel her hands shaking in his, every muscle stiff with an anxious uncertainty that reflected his own reverence perfectly.

“I love you,” he offered softly, solemnly. “Go to sleep, now.”

She sighed deeply and nestled her face into the warm skin of his neck.

“Go to sleep, Carol,” he repeated, gently kneading the tightness between her shoulder blades. “Go to sleep.”

___________________________________________________________________

Come tomorrow,
Tomorrow I’ll be gone
___________________________________________________________________

February 18th, 1999–

Gentle rays of sunlight cut through the bedroom window, bright shafts highlighting patches of lively, dancing dust particles in the air. One soft beam fell upon Carol’s face, catching the light red flecks of color in her hair and reflecting off the gold in her earings.

“Carol...” Doug spoke her name softly, his stomach so knotted and nervous he was sure it would fly up and out of his throat if he were to open his mouth wide enough. “Carol...”

She stirred and breathed in deeply, the smell of his cologne and his voice gently tugging her from a light slumber.

‘What is that peculiar feeling of anguish nestled at the pit of her stomach?’

“Carol... you awake, hon?” He was crouched down on the floor on her side of the bed, his face almost level with hers.

‘Oh, right. He’s leaving today.’

“Uh huh...” she managed to mumble. Her eyes opened groggily and met his deep, doleful, brown stare.

“I’m leaving now, babe.”

‘What?!’

“Now?!” she was instantly wide awake, struggling to sit up.

“Yeah. My flight leaves O’Hare at 7:00.”

Carol looked to the clock. It was 6:30.

“Why didn’t you wake me up?” she was out of bed, throwing on her robe, rustling through the dresser drawers.

“You needed to sleep,” was his simple answer. “You don’t have to come to the airport.”

“And leave the jeep there for a month? I don’t think so!” She pulled on a T-shirt and managed to stuff her feet into a pair of socks.

Doug sighed. He had been hoping she would stay home. Maybe it was the old Doug shining through. The Doug who avoided big, emotional scenes at all costs. The Doug who felt it better to slip away in the still of the night. He shuddered. It would be nice to have someone to wave to. Someone to kiss goodbye.

“Besides,” Carol countered, zipping up her jeans and spraying a misty cloud of perfume on her neck, “I want to come.”

“Okay,” he shrugged, plucked a sweater from the closet and handed it to her. “Here. Its cold this morning.”

It was this endearing gesture that sent a wave of sadness from her toes to the fine hairs on the back of her neck.

“Thank you,” she croaked, her voice barely above a whisper.

Doug smiled a half-hearted smile through his nerves. “Stop for coffee on the way?”

“Yeah,” Carol nodded, finding her voice after a beat. “Coffee would be nice.”

****

O’Hare was slower than usual that morning. The common frenzied bustle of people rushing to catch their planes was replaced with a few relatives waiting at the windows and scattered passengers dragging their suitcases through the terminals. Even the travel desk was only dishing out useless brochures to a selective number of people.

“Are you sure you won’t need more than that?” Carol asked absently about the small duffel Doug had slung over his back.

“Yep, I’m traveling light,” he grinned and patted the bag.

She glanced at her watch, then out the windows at the planes taking off into the sky. “Its 10 minutes to 7:00. You should probably get going.”

“Yeah...” Doug looked around at the empty depot and cleared his throat. Slowly, he set the duffel bag on the ground, painted a smile on his on his lips and looked at Carol. The expression on her face was so desolate he nearly broke.

“Hey,” he drawled, cupping her chin softly and tracing the length of her jaw line with his thumb. “Its only three weeks.”

She nodded, unable to shake the sinking pit of angst settled like a brick in her chest. “I love you,” she told him, leaning up to quickly peck his cheek. “Be careful, ok? And... wear your sunscreen.”

“Yes mother,” he smirked half-heartedly. Again, he looked to his watch. “Watch out for Mark. I think he’s gonna miss me.”

“Hmm,” she smiled, picked up his bag and handed it to him. She stared at him for a moment, until hot tears stung her eyes and she had to look down.

“Its only three weeks,” he repeated, more to reassure himself than her.

“Goodbye,” she choked, nodding.

“Goodbye, Carol.” He licked his lips and took a breath, and turned around.

She watched him walk away. Slowly, carefully, steadily, his back to her. All the while a fierce apprehension building within her, pounding through her, screaming the words she would never say. ‘Please don’t go. Please, please don’t go.’

And suddenly he was turning around, jogging towards her, bag hurled to the floor, hands shaking.

“Doug...” she squeaked, her composure breaking, her face crumbling, hot, wet tears streaming down her cheeks in torrents. She threw her arms around him, holding him to her, sobbing into his chest.

He was kissing her, deeply, desperately, wiping away her tears with his lips. Her eyes were screaming her fear, crying her dread. In that moment, every ounce of stubborn will he had dissolved, and he’d made his decision. He couldn’t leave.

And then she was pushing him, weeping still, urging him in the direction of the terminal.

‘Carol...’ he tried to utter, but the words caught in his throat.

She pushed him towards the gate, summoning every once of strength in her soul.

“I love you,” he whispered hoarsely, took her wet face in his hands and kissed her one last time. Then by some unseen, driving force, he was propelled through the gate and down the terminal.

He turned around once, and saw her, standing there, one hand clasped over her mouth in attempt to hold back the sobs that still tickled her throat. He waved as he was almost through the long exit, and she waved back, tearing her hand away from her face and smiling the prettiest, brightest, saddest smile his eyes had ever seen.

___________________________________________________________________

There is nothing love cannot face
there is no limit to its faith,
its hope, and its endurance.
Love will never come to an end.
     I Corinthians 13:6-7 ___________________________________________________________________

A sudden bolt of fear shot through Carol Hathaway, and she felt it like lightening, interrupting her dreams and sending her into an upright position in her bed. She was instantly awake, startled and slightly baffled from the striking sense of apprehension tickling the back of her neck. It took Carol a moment to catch her breath. She slowly placed her hand on her chest, feeling her heart racing, frantic little blips feeling like pounding thrashes under her fingers. She racked her brain, trying desperately to remember what she’d been dreaming about that could have sent her into such a panicked state.

Her breath caught in her throat once more as she looked beside her and found the left side of the bed to be empty. The pillow, lying dormant, showed no sign of being slept on, the sheets on his side neither creased nor rumpled. Her brow furrowed, and she glanced at the clock. 5:30 am.

The realization hit her then, ripping through her chest like fire. He was gone. He was probably at the refugee camps by now... or in a raided Albanian village looking for survivors.

Her bed was cold. So very cold.

She took a deep, slow breath and slipped out from under the covers. Pulling on his robe, she smiled at the scent of his cologne. Then plodding to the closet in her slippers, she rustled through the very top shelf until she found the desired item. It was a church candle, white and red, tall and thick and sturdy. She grabbed a packet of matches and brought the candle into her room, setting in on the dresser. With one quick stroke, she lit the match and watched as the fire danced and flickered, engulfing the end of the little wooden stick. Then she tipped it, down, over the wick, letting the flame latch on to the thick string and turn its pristine white threads to charred black. Blowing out the match, Carol stepped back and watched the candle burn. The orange-red flame was deep and rich and warm, like the fire in his eyes when he was happy or angry or aroused. There was something comforting about the church candle, something symbolic that lessened the load on her heart, if only a little. Something of petition, of prayer. Something of rich, warm, fervent hope.

___________________________________________________________________

Over many miles of land and sea, over thousands of cities and towns that held thousands of people of different races and cultures and heritage, one candle burned in the still of the night. It cut through the darkness of fear and uncertainty that dwelled with acute alarm in the depths of a small, damp cellar in the heart of a modest Albanian town. It illuminated only a few foggy inches of the dismal place, casting phantasmal shadows of glowing amber light across the faces of two tiny, scared boys and their mother and father.

And then, there was a face in the cellar window. Then two faces, and three. Then more glowing candle light was flooded into the small room as the smiling, reassuring faces of American soldiers reached down to pull the Albanian family up, out of their nightmare.

The tiniest boy hung back. The last soldiers he’d encountered had whipped him across the back, giving him welts. Shrinking into the boggy walls, the young boy starred out at his family and the soldiers with wide, frightened eyes. His name was called, by his mother, then his father. Their voices were etched with joy and relief, but still, he remained petrified against the cellar wall.

Two feet appeared the window. Then two legs, and a then a body. A soldier smiled down at him warmly, speaking gently in English, crouching down to his level. His eyes were deep and friendly and reassuring and the young boy smiled, tentatively, back.

“That’s a boy,” the kind man grinned. “Come on, buddy. Let’s get you some cookies.” The small Albanian boy let the soldier gather him into the solace of his arms and carefully lift him out of the cellar.

Back in the dark corner, the small, weak candle that had provided one family with so much hope flickered out, unneeded. A prayer had been answered.

___________________________________________________________________

One hand reaches out
And pulls a lost soul from harm...
___________________________________________________________________

Second installment coming soon (I hope!). It should be a bit more exciting. Send all that lovely feedback now! =)



Part 1   Part 2   Part 3   Part 4   Part 5   Part 6   Part 7   Part 8
Fanfiction Home