Brief moments of tenderness accompanied with the even less frequent bouts of passion weren't enough to shadow the shattered remnants of what they had, or what they could have had.
These thoughts had been frozen alongside her emotions. Tucked away far from the surface of her mind, they weren't allowed to surface, yet the awareness never went away.
Carter's admission cracked the fragile barricade, and everything she had been hiding slowly escaped in wisps of smoke.
Everything had changed. Her mind was thrust into the reality of two relationship irrevocably changed.
The internal struggle was something familiar to Abby, having battled it many times with her alcoholism. The night was morose, and the gloom took the place of sleep. Her soul, her emotions, had long left the relationship with Luka, yet her body remained.
Trying to salvage whatever was left between them for the sake of physical routine wasn't going to work.
There would be no salvation in this; the light long blocked by angry clouds, and in the darkness of her apartment Abby could admit her own complicity in creating this dissatisfying emotional storm.
Realization that she'd been falling again dawned on her. This had been another journey towards the bottom -- the bottom where she would be forced to change if she was to get up once more.
Carter's admission had brought clarity; not for her feelings of him, but for her feelings of Luka.
The grasp she had on the edge of descent was slight, her mind mentally exhausted after this uncharacteristic bout of depressed introspection. Tethered by a string of clarity, one that would have to be enough for now, Abby slipped off into a restless and dreamless sleep.
* * *
"There is no disguise which can hide love for long where it exists, or simulate it where it does not." * La Rochefoucauld
* * *
It was so easy. Like the smooth slide of papers edge slicing the expanse of an unsuspecting finger; initially pain free. It's only afterwards the stinging sets in and the ravages of the ruin could truly have an impact.
There was no healing after the breakup with Luka two weeks ago, only a band aid to cover a wound that needed stitches. It hurt, now that she thought of his concerned face turned pleading and desperate as her intentions were unveiled during that conversation that changed everything yet changed nothing.
Sounds of reasoning, desperate words, and pain hadn't affected her defiant mission, her determination to end this cycle. Single mindedness blocked out the obstacles, and now that it was over work consumed her days and nights. The thin facade of indifference lasted during her working hours until she would arrive home to her apartment.
There were tears. She was alone. All alone and the reality of having no one would set in. This time it was in her living room, freshly showered and preparing for work. Bleak thoughts of long shifts and a dreary apartment as all she had left provided tonight's somber thoughts.
Wiping tears away angrily with her hands, defiance took over once more. It would be enough. It would have to be enough.
* * *
"Didn't you get any sleep?" Chuny asked, seeing the obvious condition Abby was in.
"A little," she lied.
Luka approached, asking Chuny for help. His eyes, dark pools of barely concealed pain, caught Abby's and she had to look down away from them. The damage was still too raw, working together a painful tug on the wounds.
A perverse urge to go to Carter to show him what his words had done rose in Abby once, during the long hours of the night. It quickly died down, though and any resentment she aimed towards Carter was directed back at herself.
Lately she wondered if Carter did know. Gossip and rumors that she learned to block out whispered through the halls. It was obvious, the way Abby and Luka studiously avoided one another, the sad, longing looks Luka would send her way, their generally bleak moods.
The uncertainty of attempting a reconnection between Carter and herself prevented Abby from doing so, and she avoided Carter too, feeling as though she had failed both of these men that cared for her.
The uneventful shift neared its end. Halls that had been buzzing with activity hours before now settled into a calm, doctors trying to catch up on sleep or paperwork before the next big trauma arrived.
Thankful when she entered the empty lounge, Abby went to the coffee pot for once last cup to get her through the last of her shift.
Solitude of the lounge and burn of the coffee left her feeling a shadow of her former self. Earlier depression was ebbed away by a life that refused to stop.
"Long night," Carter's voice filtered from behind her in a neutral observation. She hadn't heard him enter and briefly wondered at the length he had stood there in silence. Not too long, she thought, as she had only had time to make a cup of coffee and take three sips before he was voicing his comment.
Her reply of agreement was automatic, not knowing what else to say when he approached the coffee pot.
"I've been looking for you," he said softly with a masked voice and eyes that left nothing readable.
Endless replies bombarded her. They ranged from clueless to accusing. In the end, she replied lamely with a questioning "Yeah?"
"Are you all right?"
"Just tired," Abby said with reflex.
Carter didn't look convinced, his eyes piercing through hers. After a brief pause he was trying again, "I'm taking a break in fifteen minutes. Want to get some coffee at Doc Magoos?"
Grateful feelings washed over her, chased by scorn at the neediness for this contact.
"Thanks, but I'm really tired," her reply was as automatic as her last, inverting back to her old ways of defensive shields.
Carter wasn't impressed with this pretense. Instead reading through the barriers of her moods in a way that left her irrationally vulnerable, afraid. She wanted this, someone to understand without words, yet she feared it.
The scrutiny was more than she could bare, and she blurted out the only thing she could think would stop it.
"Okay, one cup."
A half smile that didn't reach his shadowed eyes twitched briefly on Carter's lips, and their gazes locked once again.
Everything she wanted could be hers if she just stopped struggling, she realized, and for one fleeting moment -- the time of an inhalation -- barriers crumbled. Understanding became palpable, feelings that were deeply covered and hidden away joined with Carter's answering emotions.
It was anything but cinematic, and as soon as this clarity and connection appeared it was gone, leaving blurred confusion in its wake.
"I need to finish up with a patient." His voice was far too soft, this time the statement reaching his eyes. After a nod, he was gone.
A second of something wonderful between them was enough to release the pain before a mental shrug pulled her thoughts away from such things.
The now useless coffee was disposed of before she made her way to the locker room to wait.
* * *
Stars were rapidly disappearing in preparation for the sun that was soon to peak in the early morning hours.
Cool air provided a second wind for Abby. Energized now and taking comfort in the silence that was as much as a companion as Carter during this walk to Doc Magoos.
Bored, tired, and wrung out patrons filled few of the seats when they entered, still in silence.
Thought turned to cotton, fuzzy with no resilience. Though her mind still ached for rest, her body had a refreshed vigor. Coffee would help, she thought. Coffee and afterwards a nice, soothing cigarette.
Carter opted for a booth so they took their seats on the cool vinyl across from one another. Dishes clanked and whispering voices filled the background, dissonant in sound.
"I heard about you and Luka."
Carter's words grounded her thoughts, and immediately she wanted to escape; escape the cafe, escape the concern of Carter's eyes, escape her own thoughts.
Before he could continue, the waitress arrived. After quickly ordering two coffees she left, and instead of continuing Carter fell into a contemplative silence.
Weariness strained between them, and Abby kicked herself for agreeing to this. Her body tensed the moment he mentioned Luka, wanting to run, not wanting to face this yet.
"I'm sorry." Carter finally broke the silence.
"Isn't this what you wanted?" she asked harshly.
"No. I never want to see you unhappy." The words were meticulous, gentle.
The urge to leave returned, feeling sick of her own incessant pitying and unnecessarily over dramatized life.
Ashamed at her words that were meant to be cruel Abby looked down at the table, her finger scratching at the hard surface.
"Sorry." It was her turn to apologize, her eyes dulled from too much thinking and too little sleep never leaving the table.
"*Are* you okay?"
Doc Magoos had long disappeared. Only her and Carter existed for this moment. She was at a threshold. One final push would set things in motion for her: not knowing if she was strong enough to make the change, face the fear.
Instead of answering, her eyes lifted to his, deciding to be honest, deciding to tell him in the only way she could.
The response was everything she could have hoped for. Real, tangible comfort was felt when Carter's grasp settled on her hand, the one resting on the table. It was so much more than words could ever be.
The warmth of knowing yourself worthy of concern and care washed over her, and a different descent started to take place.
A true emotional bond was formed, one that Abby feared when confronted with. This connection was something she'd never had before, something so deep that if accepted and lost or ruined, like so many other things in her life, would bring incapacitating pain.
This moment was wonderful, though. Ache of denial ceased to be, fading out along with the rest of the world.
Moving her hand to feel the connection between them, Abby grasped Carter's hand in return. Her own tentative acceptance of this, she realized.
It was the final push. Restless thoughts of a choice she would have to make, a risk she would have to take, a fear she would have to overcome, pulsed through her.
She was falling again, a different descent; one filled with hope, tinged with fear and lingering uncertainty. A fall that could end in amazing joy, or one that could destroy them both.
Abby wasn't worried now; Carter was there beside her, body and soul, and of the many ways to fall this was the sweetest.
* * *
"Some of us think holding on makes us strong; but sometimes it is letting go" * Herman Hesse
* * *