A Christmas Story

AUTHOR: The She Devil~>
EMAIL: SheDevl54@lycos.com
SPOILERS: Like, extremely really minor Season 8, specifically "The Longer You Stay" and "Blood, Sugar, Sex, Magic."
ARCHIVE: Ask and ye shall receive.
DISCLAIMER: I'm just borrowing, I promise to give back - well, except for maybe Dave…
AUTHOR'S NOTES: Yeah, I'm borrowing the plot too, but it was just too good to pass up. Once you read you'll know what I'm talking about, and if not then…buckle up and enjoy the ride. And I know it isn't Christmas anymore. Sue me.
SUMMARY: What if you made different choices? Said yes instead of no? Got a second chance? Thirteen years into the future, Dr. Jing-Mei Chen thinks she has it all. Then one day, when her past catches up to her, fate gives her a glimpse of what her life could've been.

------------------------------- Prologue: Ancient History -------------------------------

The wind carried the snow in a frenzy in the night air, allowing Nature to dance before the flakes fell to the ground, which was already covered in a thick blanket of white. The lake was open to ice-skating now that it had frozen over, and children and adults alike were performing a dance of their own, a song not unlike one a person would find at a carnival filtering softly through the closed windows of the office. Since it had been playing for most of the day to entertain the ice-skaters, it was almost like white noise to the Chief of the Emergency Department by now, who was sitting alone at her desk, enveloped in shadows because the room was only lit by moonlight and its reflection off of the snow.

Clutched in her hand was a piece of brightly colored paper, a memo given to her by a nurse, the same memo she'd kept in her pocket all shift and had only taken the time to look at once it was finally over. And she was glad she hadn't looked at it until now, otherwise she would've been distracted her entire shift at the startling news. He wanted to see her. The night before Christmas, and he'd called to tell her he wanted to see her. Thirteen years after he'd left her, after she'd decided to stay - refused to leave - and he wanted to see her.

Why?? Why now?

"Dr. Chen," she heard, startling her from her thoughts. The nurse that served as her quasi-secretary smiled apologetically in the doorway. "Sorry if I scared you. Dr. Weaver wants to see you - now. I tried to tell her you were gone but she spotted your car still here."

Predecessor to Dr. Romano, the Chief of Staff for a few years now: Dr. Weaver. Just exactly the person Jing-Mei wanted to see right now. "Tell her I'll be there in a second."

"Actually, she's right here," Adelle replied, pushing the door open fully to reveal Dr. Weaver standing in the hall, and the older woman quickly strode into the room. They were on relatively good terms these days, occasionally disagreeing over policy or a patient, but no bad feelings hung in the air anymore. One might even call them friends. Thirteen years can do that to people.

"Eight forty-five on Christmas Eve, and you're still here, Jing-Mei?" she asked with a slight grin, sitting down in the chair before Jing-Mei's desk as Adelle ducked out, closing the door behind her.

"I don't see you rushing home to trim the tree," the oriental doctor replied, but there was no malice behind her words, only warm tone that one gained with a coworker after several years of working side by side.

"That's because I'm a heartless bitch who only cares about her work," Kerry replied, with a full smirk on her face now. She suddenly sobered, and Jing-Mei could feel the bad news coming. "Can you do me a huge favor?"

"Depends…" she replied hesitantly, her eyes narrowed. "What is it?"

"Sandy just told me we're going on a surprise vacation for the holidays…" Oh, no, Jing-Mei thought to herself. She knew what was coming before her superior even asked. "I was wondering if perhaps you could take over some of my duties while I'm gone, which will be from tomorrow until next Friday. If you need help, you can always ask Dr. Gallant."

"No, I can't," she groaned, leaning back in her chair. "Erin just went into labor, and he really wanted to be there for her so I said he could take some time off."

"I'm sorry, Jing-Mei," she said then, her _expression showing her sympathy. "If you really need me here, I'll stay…"

"No, go, go," Jing-Mei said, holding her hands up in mock-surrender. She sighed for probably the twentieth time that day, before calling: "Adelle!" The young nurse soon appeared in the doorway, her eyebrows raised expectantly. "I need you to call my mother and tell her I can't make it tomorrow, I don't feel like telling her myself and listening to that."

"Thanks, Jing-Mei," Kerry said, standing as she moved to the door, while Adelle crossed the room to the phone. She exited the room quickly, probably to go home to her wife and kids, but managed to call over her shoulder: "Have a Merry Christmas. I think Santa might've left you something in the Lounge."

Grinning as she shook her head, she caught Adelle eyeing her pink memo, and quickly snatched it off of the desk, wrapping her hand around it. She was hoping that the young woman wouldn't mention it, but of course she did. "Who's Dr. Dave? Sounds cute."

"How can the name make him cute?" Jing-Mei said, trying desperately not to think of the fact that he *was* cute.

"Anyone with enough self-confidence to call themselves 'Dr. Dave' has *got* to be cute," she simply said, leaning against the corner of the desk. "So who is he?"

Sighing, Jing-Mei rolled her eyes, giving in. "He was my boyfriend a long time ago. Used to work at County too, before he got fired. Then he moved back to New York…"

"Why'd he get fired?"

"We were working on a patient together and misdiagnosed him," Jing-Mei replied, the night coming back to her with a chill. "We worked on him for a long time, trying to fix our mistake, but he died anyway. Dr. Weaver fired him after the family was looking for more than just money, and she was going to fire me too, until I quit. After that…Dave and I just kind of…fell in love."

"You?" Adelle asked, with a grin. "In love?"

"Yes, I can fall in love, too, you know," she joked back, though the nurse could see something else hidden in the Chief's dark brown eyes.

"What happened?" she said, hoping to sound like she wasn't prying but knowing that she was. She was just curious to see the side of her boss that usually never showed - the romantic side. "I mean, why didn't you two go off and get married, or something?"

Jing-Mei laughed bitterly. "He wanted that for us, but I wouldn't leave here."

"So he left you?"

"No…" she said, sadly. "He might've left Chicago, but in truth…I left him."

"Sounds like a sappy romance," Adelle decided, and then picked up the phone quickly, grabbing the memo out of her superior's hand and dialing the first few numbers. "I'm going to get him on the phone."

"No!" Jing-Mei exclaimed, reaching out and hanging up the phone before the nurse had a chance to dial the whole number.

"No??" Adelle asked, astonished. "You were in love with this guy and you were gonna marry him! Aren't you even curious about what he wants?"

"He's probably just having a fit of nostalgia," Jing-Mei stated, brushing the whole thing off as she reached up and grabbed her jacket, so she could go home and get a few hours of sleep before coming back here to cover Michael's shift. "You know, lonely Christmas Eve, call the one that got away, that kind of thing." She suddenly smiled slyly, saying: "Or, knowing Dave, a night of great sex. But I'm telling you, Adelle, it's ancient history…" She was suddenly quiet for a moment, before a sadness crept into her voice. "Nothing but ancient history."

But Jing-Mei Chen could still remember the day at the airport as if it were yesterday. It had been a few weeks after they'd worked side by side and killed a patient, a patient who haunted her still after all of these years, a patient she was sure still haunted him. One too many cursory examinations and one too many small oversights, both leading to one immense misdiagnosis, and that had been the one to finally catch up with Dr. Dave Malucci. Not that he was a bad doctor, just sometimes a bit reckless. But he had learned his lesson, and she had known it the minute the time of death had been called, the minute she'd seen the look of horror in his eyes. But that hadn't been enough for County General - they'd wanted his job, his reputation…his life. And they'd taken it, without a second thought. At least she'd managed to save her dignity by quitting, before they'd had the chance to fire her.

After that, he'd had no choice but to leave. There was nothing left for him in Chicago after they'd ruined him here, but a few family connections in New York had gotten him a Residency at another hospital, a better hospital that wasn't supported on a county budget, with better pay and better benefits. And there was an opening for an Attending there as well, something she could take since there was nothing left for her here either. But how could he expect her to leave everything in Chicago, the place where her family and friends were, the place where her son was? He'd insisted that she could come with him to New York and visit them whenever she'd wanted, it wasn't as if she wouldn't see them ever again. He wasn't making her choose, but she chose anyway.

And she hadn't chosen him.

He'd realized this on the night he'd began packing, and she didn't budge from the couch. She hadn't said anything, just sat there, until he was finished packing and sent off the boxes with a shipping company, until only her things were left, and the apartment was devoid of anything that remotely reminded her of him. She hadn't even looked at him, and she still regretted that, still regretted not sitting down and talking with him about it. But she rarely ever took the bull by the horns, always kept her mouth shut until it was too late.

Too late had been about three days later, when they were at the airport, the tension between them built up to a mountain since she'd chosen to stay in Chicago. She couldn't even remember the last time they'd had sex and it wasn't mechanical, when it'd actually meant something besides them just going through the motions. Last night, they hadn't even spoken to each other, had just lain in bed back to back, neither of them sleeping and both of them so terribly sad she could feel the melancholy dripping off of the walls. And it was no better now, as they were waiting for the inevitable to come.

It soon did. "This will be the final boarding call for Continental flight 35 to Newark, New Jersey."
Standing, Dave glanced down at her with pleading eyes, and she stood as well, catching them and unable to let them go. They were so beautiful sometimes it hurt, and right now was one of those times. God, she would miss him.

"Do you have your ticket?" she asked, mostly only because she couldn't think of anything else to say. He withdrew a blue ticket envelope from his long jacket, nodding as he did so, and she nodded as well, absurdly feeling a burning in her eyes.

"Jing-Mei…" he tried, but didn't know what else to say that he hadn't already. He was standing impossibly close to her, so close she could feel his body heat. She would miss feeling that at night too. "I don't know why you can't come with me. There's nothing left for you at County…"

"I'm not staying for County," she said, but the words sounded lame to even her own ears.

"Yes, you are," he said quietly, an almost pained expression on his face. "And that's what kills me the most, knowing you're leaving me for some stupid hospital because you're stubborn."

"You're leaving me."

"No, I'm not, Jing-Mei…you left me…" His voice was not angry, just sad…so, so sad… "You left me days ago, when I made the decision to leave, and we both know it." He suddenly glanced off towards the boarding gate, taking a step away from her and adjusting the knapsack on his shoulder. "I'd better go, or I'll miss my flight." He looked back at her one last time, his eyes begging for her to give him a reason to stay, but when she said nothing, he only nodded and turned away from her, walking into the terminal and out of her life forever.


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