AUTHOR: Victoria May
SPOILERS: Be Still My Heart, May Day, Season 7 up to Flight of Fancy
DISCLAIMER: ER belongs to NBC, Warner Bros, Amblin, Constant C Productions. No copyright infringement intended. No profit involved.
SUMMARY: An unexpected family reunion and confrontation aids in John Carter's recovery.
John followed Mark out of the bathroom and leaned heavily against the wall. Mark was still talking, but John wasn't paying attention to the attending's reassurances that the random urinalysis test didn't mean he thought John was using, just that a certain number were required to be done. Unconsciously, John folded his arms and he could feel a scowl spreading across his face. Realizing that he had taken the same stance as he had back in May, during the intervention, John dropped his hands to his side and forced himself to pay attention to what Mark was saying.
". . . so you're okay then?"
John grimaced at the familiar question and wavered for a second, unsure what Mark was referring to, having only caught the last part of Mark's question.
'Uh, yeah. I'm fine with this. I know it's what I have to do to keep working here."
"I meant about what happened with your patient earlier. I know it's hard, but we do our best. Sometimes they're just too far gone to save them. You did your best. It's all you can ask of yourself." Mark had that look on his face that he only wore when he was uncomfortable with something. Like now. He was even fidgeting like he had last spring in the darkened suture room, when he found John sitting there alone. When he gave John the list of psych referrals as some sort of proffered life line. He hadn't liked the burden John was becoming then, and he didn't appear to like it much now.
"I know Dr. Greene. One day at a time. I have to get going. Thanks." John offered the other man the quickest route out of this little heart to heart. John almost laughed at the look of relief that washed over Mark's face.
"Well, goodnight." Mark turned and walked away, faster than was necessary, but the tension he felt when he was near John was almost unbearable.
John sighed and ran his hand over his face and then through his hair. God, he hated these few moments following the ua's when Mark thought he had to say something to make it go over easier. John wasn't stupid. He didn't need to hear how it was for his own safety. How they were all there for him if he needed to talk. He'd gotten himself into this, and he was prepared for any consequences, the frequent ua's included. He really didn't need the little pep talks though. The forced, uncomfortable exchange between two men who were forced into new roles. For all his years working in the ER and supervising students, Mark still hadn't quite gotten used to encouraging or expressing concern for the junior staff members. Kerry on the other hand had this way that just sucked you in and soon you were unloading everything onto her shoulders. John had seen it happen with Jeanie and Carol and now himself. He hadn't been able to resist her concern after the whole Trent incident and had found himself sitting with her at some little Chinese restaurant having dinner. But tonight he wasn't in the mood.
Looking around quickly to make sure Kerry wasn't close by, John strode over to the admit desk and logged himself out of the computer. Wearily, John leaned against the desk, his eyes closed. It had been a hard day. Having yet another patient die at his hands was almost too much to bear. Almost. John couldn't help but dwell almost giddily on the save he'd made with that cardiac patient who'd presented as a bad case of the flu.
John was startled out of his thoughts when a gentle voice whispered close to his ear, "Hey good lookin'." John's eyes snapped open and he jumped back from the face that was inches away from his own. Then his eyes grew wide and a smile spread across his face as he recognized who it was.
John pushed himself away from the desk and hurried around the admit area. Reaching the hazel eyed woman, whose long, straight blond hair was pulled back into a conservative low pony tail, John wrapped his arms around her waist and hugged her. Barbara wrapped her arms around John and pulled him close, lowering her head onto his shoulder. The two held each tightly, neither wanting to let the other go. John finally loosened his grip as he realized that the pair was attracting a crowd. As he pulled away, Barbara reached her hands to John's face and locked her hazel eyes on his brown. Quickly, she pulled his face toward her and kissed him on the cheek, whispering,
"I missed you John."
John blushed and pulled away. "What are you doing here? I thought you were in Tokyo for at least another month."
"Well, things are running pretty smoothly there, so mom and dad and I decided to take a little vacation."
"Mom and Dad are here?" John looked quickly around the ER.
"Well, they're home. They didn't come with me. I asked them not to. I thought you and I could go have a little fun." Barbara's eyes gleamed.
"Oh. Well, I have a meeting I have to go to at nine." John's eyes flickered to the clock above the desk. 6:15.
"I know, Gamma told me. But we have a couple hours till then." Barbara reached into her pocket and pulled out a roll of quarters. "I thought we could go and play some pinball. You owe me a rematch you know. The last time we played I was dead on my feet. You didn't even let me sleep off my jet lag before you dragged me off. This time, I'm ready."
John grinned. It felt good to have his sister so near. It had been a long time since he had seen her. Both were busy with their careers; Barbara's unfortunately taking her to Tokyo with his parents.
"Oh, that sounds like a challenge to me. You're on. I have to get my stuff and we can go." John started walking toward the lounge, Barbara in tow, but stopped and looked towards the cluster of nurses at the admit desk.
"She's my sister!" John knew how quickly rumors spread through the ER and he didn't need them all thinking he had some secret love life at the moment. It was bad enough they all thought he only went for blondes and the many rumors that came with that little tidbit.
John continued on towards the lounge and pushed open the door. There, sitting at the table, was the one person he had hoped to avoid-Kerry. Not that it mattered now, he was leaving with Barbara and nothing was going to stop that. John walked over to his locker and was fumbling with the lock when he heard Kerry's voice.
"John. Are you leaving?"
"Yeah. I'm done for the day Dr. Weaver. I was off at six," John replied, not looking up from his locker.
"I heard you had a rough day. Everything okay?"
John cringed at the observation and the question. Kerry was only concerned, he knew that. But sometimes that concern was just too much. Tonight, it was disastrously ill-timed. It only took seconds before Barbara was at his side, trying to look into his down turned face.
"Did something happen John?" Great, now Barbara sounded like Kerry.
"It was just a hard day. No big deal. I'll tell you later, okay?" he mumbled, as softly as he could, hoping that Kerry didn't hear him.
To Kerry he said, "Everything's okay Dr. Weaver. I already talked to Dr. Greene and all."
Kerry looked at the woman who was now standing next to John. Kerry hadn't noticed her come in with John. Kerry's stomach twisted a bit at the thought that John was jumping into a relationship so soon. Curious, Kerry stood up and grabbed her crutch. Approaching the woman, she extended her hand.
"Hello. I'm Kerry Weaver. One of John's supervisors. You are?"
Barbara smiled and grasped Kerry's hand. "Hi Kerry. John's told me about you. I'm Barbara, John's sister. I'm glad we finally have a chance to meet."
Kerry looked at John who was standing awkwardly holding his satchel. "Well, I won't hold you up. It was nice meeting you Barbara. John, have a good night."
"Yeah, you too Kerry." John nudged Barbara to get her to move and sighed with relief as they made their way through the busy ER to the exit.
"What's the rush little brother?"
"Nothing. Just glad to be done for the day." John shifted his bag and hooked his arm through Barbara's. It was good to have her home.
It was close to ten o'clock when John and Barbara pulled into the driveway of the large house. The lights were all lit on the first floor and they knew their parents must be up talking to their grandparents. John pushed open the kitchen door nervously and stepped in, followed closely by Barbara.
John smiled as he caught sight of his family sitting around the large kitchen table, drinking coffee and eating coffee cake. They were all there. Mom, dad, gamma, gamps. Barbara closed the door a bit loudly, calling attention to their arrival. John walked over to his parents who had stood up and were waiting for him to come over.
"John. Good to see you son," his father said as he pulled John into a bear hug.
"It's good to see you too dad." John's father released him so John could hug his mother.
"Mom." John's mother hugged him with the same intensity Barbara had shown earlier, and was a bit slower to let him go than his father had been.
"How are you John?" his mother asked, her hands wrapped around his own. Almost afraid to let him go.
"I'm fine mom." John smiled at her and gave her a quick kiss before pulling away. "Coffee cake. I'm starving." John cut a piece of the cake and sat down at the table next to Barbara who was already seated. He ignored the looks that passed between his parents and his grandparents.
"How long are you guys home for?" John asked.
John's father smiled. "We're home till New Years."
John choked on the mouthful of coffee he had just drank. "New Years? How'd you manage that?"
"Simple. I told the vice presidents we'd be gone till then and to deal with whatever came up. One of the perks of being the boss." He paused, and slipped his hand into his wife's. "We thought it was important that we be home for the holidays this year." He looked at his son who had ducked his head a bit at the statement.
"Oh. Well, I'm glad you're home. I missed you." John's voice was quiet. "So, what were you all talking about before Barbara and I came in?"
"We were just catching up on the Chicago news. Now that you're home, we can catch up on what's new with you. How's County treating you? Are you getting settled back into things there?"
John squirmed in his chair, a childhood habit he had developed when his parents brought up something uncomfortable. Like how he was feeling after the death of his brother. Or when they told him they were moving to Tokyo to run the business there.
"I'm slowly getting back into things. I'm working on traumas again, but only a few. Dr. Weaver wants me to stick to minor medical otherwise. It's okay. It's not always easy, but it never was. I'm glad to be back." John looked at his grandmother as he said this, and was disheartened when she averted her eyes.
Weary of the direction the conversation was taking, John turned to Barbara. "Why don't we leave the folks alone and go catch up in the living room?" Quickly hugging his parents and grandparents, John grabbed his plate of coffee cake and left the room. Barbara looked at her parents and shrugged her shoulders before following.
As John walked into the living room, he noticed that someone had started a fire in the fireplace. Walking over to the fire, John held out his hands and crouched in front of the flames. The heat radiated out, soaking into his clothes and caused a flush to work its way up his neck and face. He turned as the t.v. flicked on, and saw Barbara aiming the remote at the large projection set.
"What do you want to watch John?"
"I don't care. You pick." John walked over to one of the velvety couches and threw his body ungraciously down onto it. Pulling a pillow under his chin, he looked at his sister. She was lying on the other couch, identical to the one John had taken, her head cradled on her hand. She stopped channel surfing and put the remote down. John looked at the t.v. and laughed when he saw what Barbara had picked.
"A Christmas Story? I can't believe they're playing this already. I thought they at least waited until Thanksgiving."
Barbara shrugged and looked at John. "I'm thinking about moving back to Chicago."
"What?" John sat up and looked at his sister. She hadn't moved and she didn't look like she was joking either. "Why? I thought you loved your job."
Barbara turned onto her back and looked up at the high ceiling. "I do. But I can do the same thing here. I don't have to be in Tokyo. I can take over one of the divisions here."
John repeated his question, with a nagging feeling he already knew the answer. "Why Barbara?"
"I miss you guys. I miss gamma and gamps. I miss Chase. I miss you. I miss my friends. I miss Chicago."
"Please tell me this has nothing to do with what happened to me, or because I got myself addicted to drugs." John covered his face with his hands.
"I can't," came Barbara's quiet reply.
"You don't have to move back here because of me. I'm doing fine."
"It's not because of you. It's because of me. I feel bad. I feel somehow responsible. Like I should have been here. Maybe if I was here, you would have felt like you could talk to me and wouldn't have started using drugs."
"You were here when Chase starting using and it didn't stop him. That was his choice, and what I did was my choice. I don't think it would have changed things."
"I don't want you to be alone anymore." Barbara looked over at John and saw that he had turned his face towards the back of the couch.
"I'm not alone. I've got gamma and gamps."
"That's not the same thing. Besides, dad told me about the fight you and gamma had."
John sat up and looked at Barbara. "What? We didn't have a fight. She just wanted me to quit my job in the ER and I asked her not to ask that."
"If it wasn't a fight, how come you haven't been talking to her? She told dad you never talk to her anymore. She's really worried about you."
John sighed. "Is that why you all came home?"
"Yeah, it is. Mom and dad feel bad about not being here when you got hurt. And when gamps told them about the drugs, they flipped out. They were really angry, but more so at themselves. When gamma called and said that something happened at the hospital and you had come home, but wouldn't talk about it, they decided we had to come."
Barbara stopped talking as footsteps sounded in the foyer. John looked up as his father stuck his head in the room.
"Mind if I join the party? I brought popcorn. . .." He set the bowl down on the coffee table and grabbed a pillow off the end of the couch and settled on the floor in front of the t.v.
"Oh good, A Christmas Story! I love this movie."
The three watched the movie silently, each wondering what the following days would mean for their family.
The next week went by quickly and John began to relax, thinking that his family was not going to start bringing up sore subjects. He really didn't feel like talking about the stabbing, Lucy dying, or his subsequent drug addiction. He was happy that his family was home and he could feel an energy at work that hadn't been there before. He felt good.
The feeling was short-lived. He should have known not to get too comfortable with this new peace of mind. Things were never that easy for him. He should know that by now. But how was he to know that he would walk into a trauma room and look down into large blue eyes set in porcelain skin, with blond hair surrounding the girl's face like a halo? Of course he thought about Lucy. It didn't matter that the girl had been in a car accident and with no puncture wounds anywhere on her body. Her face was enough to set off a flashback. If muttering Lucy's name wasn't embarrassing enough, finding himself being physically removed from the room by Dr. Kovac was. Of course everyone said they understood. It takes time to recover from everything he had gone through. But when Kerry called his father and asked him to come, that was something entirely different. He didn't need his father there. He wasn't a child.
His father had come. He didn't act condescending in any way. He just asked John if he was ready to go. Didn't make a big deal out of it. Not at the hospital at least. He waited until they got back to the house for that. He had decided that the time to talk had come and John wasn't getting out of it. He led John by the arm straight into the living room and gently pushed his son down onto one of the couches. He asked the rest of the family to come in; called for a family meeting. They had come in quietly, unsure what to expect of this sudden confrontation. John sat on the couch, his head lowered, his face burning.
John was quiet as his father began pacing, back and forth in front of him. He glanced over and saw Barbara who tried to give him an encouraging smile, but it looked more like a grimace of pain. Comforting. His grandparents were sitting in the twin arm chairs and his mother has sat down next to Barbara. Finally, his father stopped pacing, and stood in front of John.
"I want to see the scars."
John's head jerked up and he looked at his father. He hasn't expected this. A lecture, a dressing down, the third degree, anything but this. "What?"
"I want to see the scars. I want to see what happened to my son." He stood, staring at John, his face intense with a 'don't mess with me' look.
John crossed his arms across his chest and shrank back against the couch. "No."
John watched as his grandmother got up and walked up to her son, putting her hand on his arm. "Leave the boy alone. He doesn't have to show us the scars. I don't need to see them. I know what happened."
"Well, I don't. I wasn't here. God help me, I wasn't here when I should have been. I need to know what happened to my son." Was he crying? Sure enough, a tear was rolling down his cheek.
This was too much. John could feel the urge to get up and run building in his body by the second. He couldn't do this. He couldn't handle this. Not right now. Not yet. John turned to his mother, hoping for some salvation and saw that she too was crying. John could feel his defenses breaking down and his breath caught in his chest. No! He wasn't going to cry. John stood and started walking towards the door. Just as he reached the doorway, he could feel his father's hand on his arm. Stopping him. He tried to shrug it off, but his father only tightened his grip.
"Let me go."
"Look at me John. Look at me!"
John slowly turned to face his father. He could see the pain intermingled with anger. John's own anger flashed for a second and he glared at his father. His eyes locked on his father's in some kind of contest of wills.
"Let me see." The words were soft, not angry. John could feel his father's hand loosen its grip on his arm. He could leave or he could stay. His choice. John wavered. He so desperately wanted to share his pain with his family, but if he let them see it, could he control it any longer? He was afraid that once he admitted how great the pain still was, it would cripple him. His soul. Kill him, like his grandmother feared. His father was still looking at him, waiting.
John raised trembling hands to his dress shirt and slowly began to undo each button. He shrugged off the shirt and hesitated.
"What are you hiding from John? Why are you so ashamed? Are you ashamed because someone hurt you? Because that little girl died? Because you're afraid? Because everything's not 'okay'?"
John stiffened as his father stepped closer. "You don't have to be ashamed John. You're human. It's okay to need help. It's okay to less than 'okay'. Don't be ashamed. I'll love you no matter what."
John could feel his eyes filling with tears and wiped at them hastily. He was ashamed. He wasn't as strong as he thought he should be. He wasn't in control. He was making mistakes. Lots of mistakes.
John reached down and slowly pulled his white Hanes tee-shirt over his head. He heard his father's sharp intake of breath and started to cross his arms over his stomach. Hands caught his arms and stopped them. No more hiding. The same hands turned John around and he could feel warm fingers trace over the pink scar tissue of the two stab wounds. John felt himself being turned again and found himself in his father's arms. His father was crying and holding John tightly. John wrapped his own arms around his father and clung to him. He lowered his face against his father shoulder and could feel the tears flowing freely. The two stayed that way for some time, before John could feel his father pull away.
"I want to see all the scars." He was looking into John's eyes. John knew what he wanted. He fumbled with his watch, finally releasing it from his wrist. He felt his father pick up his wrist and looked at it. Still holding John's wrist tightly he said,
"If you're ashamed of anything John, it should be this. The fact that you turned to drugs instead of coming to your family. This I am ashamed of. I don't know what I've done to make you think you couldn't come to me, I guess it was just not being here. Don't ever let it come to this again. Promise me. Promise me that if you ever feel like you just can't handle what's happening, that you'll call me or your mother, or talk to your grandparents. Or Barbara. Promise me!"
John sniffled and wiped his free arm across his nose. "I promise," he whispered.
John felt himself pulled back into his father's embrace, and for once, he was not ashamed. Not of his tears, not of the scars on his belly or his back, and not for being human. For needing his family. Needing to be in his father's arms. John could feel more arms slip around him and realized that his mother had joined them and was holding onto him tightly as well.
John pulled free from their embrace and walked over to his grandmother. Kneeling in front of her, he took her hands in his own.
"I'm sorry gamma."
"I'm sorry John. I love you. I don't want to lose you." John stood up as his grandmother got out of her chair and hugged him.
"You won't lose me gamma."
John was surprised when his usually stern and proper grandfather wrapped his long arms around them. John smiled at the show of affection he saw so rarely. Finally released from their grasp, John turned to Barbara.
"I'm glad you're staying." John flung his arms around his sister and held her tightly. He did need her. He needed all of them. It would take time, but with their help, he would be alright.