Into the Fire

AUTHOR: brihana25
CATEGORY: JC/Ensemble Drama/Friendship
SPOILERS: minor S6 spoilers, mentions of events in "Surrender"
ARCHIVE: anywhere you like. Just let me know.
DISCLAIMER: ER, its characters, and situations, are copyright Warner Bros. Entertainment, Amblin Television, Michael Crichton, and Constant C Productions. No infringement of, or challenge to, their status is intended. This piece of fiction is being written strictly for entertainment purposes, and I am gaining no compensation for it.

This is a work of fiction. All characters and places discussed are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual people, living or dead, or actual places and locations, is purely coincidental.
SUMMARY: A high school shooting floods the Cook County General ER with injured teachers and students, and leaves Carter trapped inside the school with the gunmen. While Carter tries frantically to help the students escape, Drs. Green and Benton minister to the injured on the scene, leaving Drs. Weaver and Kovac to attempt to maintain some order in the midst of the chaotic emergency room.

April 24, 2001 10:12 AM

He would much prefer it outside. The Chicago winter was finally going to give up the fight, for good this time, and the smell of spring was everywhere. The inward-tilting windows let the sun-warmed air into the cramped room, bringing with it just a touch of the coolness that lingered in the shadows; the brightness of the sun blended with the harsh fluorescent tubes that were suspended in the ceiling above him. He closed his eyes and leaned his head against the wall, letting the scent of the world reborn, mingled with the nostalgic smell of dust-covered books, fill his nostrils, and he felt at peace. For the first time in so long, he knew that all was right with the world, and with himself.

It had been a long, hard climb, but he'd made it to the top. One day at a time, one foot in front of the other, one more demon he'd battled and beaten. He would keep walking, and keep fighting, every day for the rest of his life, and he knew that. But he now knew that he had it within himself to win, and took comfort in knowing that every fight was easier than the last. No matter how difficult the task, no matter how frightening and strong the demon, he had finally realized that he would persevere. He had made it to the top of his mountain. And that was where he was going to stay.

"Dr. Carter?"

John Carter turned toward the voice that had called his name, and opened his eyes, smiling at the man in front of him. He was in his late 40's, wavy dark hair greying at the temples, blue eyes that shined through the wrinkles that surrounded them. Dressed in a pair of blue jeans, a green polo shirt, and a tweed jacket with patches on the elbows, he looked exactly as John thought a guidance counselor should.

"Yes, Mr. Evans. Are we ready?"

"Almost," the older man answered, retrieving a small stack of files from his desk and handing them to the young doctor. "I thought you might want to take a look at these before they start coming in."

John sighed as he looked down at the dog-eared folders in his hands. There were far too few. "Is this all?" he asked, hoping that the other man might have more to give him.

"I'm afraid so," the older man said with a sigh, suddenly shaking his head quickly and smiling again. "But these are only the ones who've already expressed an interest. I'm sure there are more who are thinking about it. They just haven't told me yet."

John returned his smile as he sat, hearing a slight creak from the old wooden chair, opening the folder on top. No, there weren't any more. There never were. In fact, this was the largest group he'd ever talked to at one time. Seven out of nearly 400. At his last stop, he'd spoken to only three.

The older man left John to his files, and walked into his cubicle to wait. John tried to read the pertinent information in front of him, but soon found himself staring again out the window at beautiful day that was starting to take shape outside. The chill of an early April morning was lifting, and he could smell the dew finally evaporating from the grass and clover on the lawn.

The community service had been his idea; a sort of penance for the person he'd been these past twelve months, the burden he'd allowed himself to become to them all. Kerry had agreed immediately, and he'd seen the relief in her eyes. He had suggested it in the lounge, in a meeting he'd requested with her, Mark Green, and Peter Benton. He'd asked for time off to do it right after he'd admitted to them all, for real this time, that he was an addict. There had been tears covered with smiles on all four faces in that room, a bittersweet blend of pain that he had fallen so far and jubilation that he was climbing back up to the light.

He hadn't known just what he would do to reach out, but when Dr. Benton had mentioned that he could use some help with a new medical school admissions project Dr. Romano had assigned him to, John had jumped at the chance. He knew that he was a long way from becoming a member of the faculty himself, but that didn't mean that he didn't believe in what it was they were trying to do.

And that is why John Carter was sitting in a guidance counselor's office when he would much prefer to be outside. That is why these seven kids were coming to see him. All of them had expressed an interest in pursuing medicine as a career, and it was his job to see that as many of them as possible did so. He'd been to eight different high schools in the past ten days, and had so far managed to convince all but three of the kids he had talked to to apply to college as pre-Med majors. The other three had applied as Biology majors, and he still held out hope for them. Perhaps, after their first four years, they would apply to medical school after all.

The bell rang, pulling John back to reality. The first of the students walked in slowly, looking around in typical teenage uncertainty, and John smiled. 'He looks just like I did at seventeen,' he thought to himself, as he extended his hand to the dark haired, slightly gawky looking young man in front of him. His legs were still a bit too long for his body, and his head still a bit too large, but he had very long, thin fingers. 'This one would make an excellent surgeon,' he thought.

"I'm Dr. John Carter," he said, by way of introduction. "And you are..." He paused for a moment, trying to match the face with one of the files he had so hastily scanned.

"Marc Baker," he answered, his voice slightly shaky and cracking.

"It's a pleasure to meet you, Marc," he answered truthfully. "We'll get started just as soon as the others...and here they come!"

Two more students were looking through the wire-crossed rectangle in the door, and John gestured them in. In a matter of moments, four more had joined them, straggling in in ones and twos, and John greeted them all in the same cheerful manner. As he looked at their faces, so young and innocent, their minds wanting so desperately to be filled with the knowledge that he could give, he again felt the peace inside himself. He knew he could make these children into doctors. And he knew it was going to be a good day.

"Well, everyone seems to be here," he began, taking his seat at the head of the heavy wooden table Mr. Evans had pulled out from the wall for him. "If you'll all take a seat, we'll get started. I've taken a glance at your school records, and let me tell you, you are all prime candidates for med..."

A burst of staccato pops echoed down the empty hallway, startling everyone in the room, and John stopped. "What the hell...?" he began. He turned quickly in his chair as Mr. Evans came out of his cubicle with an expression of confusion on his face.

"Dr. Carter, did you hear that?"

John stood and walked to the door with the older man. "Yeah. What was that?"

"Well, it sounded like..."

Another burst, closer this time. John felt his heart begin to pound in his chest, and his eyes widened with sudden understanding. "Kids! Get down! Under the table! NOW!" he ordered, turning toward them. He and Mr. Evans grabbed the side of the heavy table and pulled it down, sheltering the students from anything that might come through the door. They walked again to the door, their steps as rapid as their heartbeats, and John reached out to lock it.

"We need to get down too. They're coming this..."

To the seven high school seniors who were cowered behind the makeshift barricade, time seemed to freeze. They heard the rapid fire of a gun, right outside their refuge, and heard and saw the glass in the door to the counselor's office shattering into a thousand pieces at the same time. One girl drew in a breath to scream, but Marc Baker reacted quickly, placing his hand across her mouth to silence her. He looked around at his fellow students, and they all read his eyes. Whoever it was didn't know they were there. And he'd be damned if he was going to let anyone tell them.

After a few seconds, the sounds of the shots had moved down the hallway and Marc dared to peek around the side of the toppled table. Dr. Carter lay on the floor in front of the door, his hair littered with shards of glass, blood oozing from a thousand tiny cuts on his arms and face. He saw Marc lean around, and gestured him back hastily, wordlessly. Mr. Evans sat with his back against the wall beside the door, breathing heavily, bleeding in much the same manner as John. But as Marc pulled his head back around the table to comfort his classmates, he saw the large red stain that was beginning to seep through the tweed jacket with the leather patches on the elbows.

After a few moments more, Dr. Carter appeared around the side of the table, dragging behind him the quickly weakening body of the guidance counselor. He pulled the older man to the relative safety of the hiding place, and pulled his feet up under himself, sitting back on his heels with his arms on his knees.

"You kids did great," John whispered. "Now, you've got one more really important thing you need to do."

They all listened, some in rapt attention, others in near hysterical states of shock. John heard the sirens echoing around the outside of the building, in the windows and back out again, and let out an inward sigh of relief. "Someone in the office managed to call the police. That's good. That means that this won't last long."

He saw the looks on their faces; the hope, the fear, the undaunting trust in what he was saying. He hoped to hell that he was right.

"But," he said, motioning to the silent, older man on the floor, "Mr. Evans needs to get out of here now." He crawled to the windows and looked out, seeing the police cars, fire trucks, and ambulances already forming a line in the street. "You kids are going to climb out this window and take him out there. Can you do that?"

"But what if they see us?" the girl who had tried to scream earlier asked. "What if they start shooting at us out the window?"

"We'll do it, Dr. Carter," Marc spoke up, placing his hand on the terrified girl's shoulder. "We have to. Mr. Evans needs us to."

"Good man, Marc," John said, listening for the rapid bursts that continued to echo down the halls. They were upstairs now, on the second floor, possibly the third. This was the best chance that they were going to get. "Come here, Marc. And you two," he added, gesturing for the two strongest looking boys on the floor. "Help me pull this window loose."

The four grabbed the top of the titled-in window, and pulled as hard as they could, but it wouldn't budge. "Damn!" Carter swore under his breath, looking around quickly. He had to get Mr. Evans to medical attention, but more importantly, he had to get these kids out of this building. He ran to Mr. Evans' cubicle and grabbed the heavy oak chair from in front of his desk.

"Stand back!" he ordered, and the teenagers complied. He swung once, twice, three times, and was finally rewarded with hearing the shattering of glass around him. "You, here, now!" he called out quickly, motioning for the larger of the two boys. "Climb out. We'll pass Mr. Evans out to you."

The boy did as he was told, careful to avoid the jagged pieces of glass that still jutted from the metal frame. "Marc!"

Marc grabbed Mr. Evans by the shoulders of his jacket, quickly dragging the injured man to where Dr. Carter stood. It took all three boys in the room and Carter to lift him through the broken window and out to the safety of the front schoolyard. The other boy lowered him quickly to the ground, and Carter started helping the others out after him. As they were climbing out, John noticed the grass was suddenly full of students; some running out the doors closest to their rooms, others climbing out windows just as his charges were doing. As Marc lifted his foot to receive his boost from the young doctor, Carter spoke quickly.

"Marc! You get Mr. Evans out to one of the ambulances just as quick as you can, you hear me? I need you to do that, all right?"

"All right, Dr. Carter," the boy answered, suddenly hesitating in the window as he noticed something about the doctor's shirt. "Dr. Carter!"

"Go, Marc!" he answered quickly, hearing the staccato bursts approaching the door once again. "They're coming back this way! GO!" And he reached up and shoved the young man out the window, knowing that the drop on the other side was only two or three feet.

Carter dove behind the table quickly, pulling his feet in just as the gunmen walked past the shattered door again, breathing a sigh of relief as they continued down the hallway without stopping.

"Everyone just stay where you are!!" one of the gunmen yelled, and Carter's head twisted in shocked horror. "We know where you all are, and if you try to run, we will shoot you!! We've already killed a whole bunch of people this morning, and we don't really give a damn if we kill any more!! Just stay where you are, and don't piss us off!!"

John Carter closed his eyes and leaned his head back against the wall, tears rolling down his cheeks.

Those words had come out of the mouth of someone far too young. These "men" that were running up and down the halls of this school, shooting anything that moved, were boys. Just little boys.

'Just little boys with very big, very real guns,' he thought to himself, looking down.

That was when he noticed that he'd been shot.

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