Rats in a Maze


AUTHOR: Kristen
EMAIL: kdarganin@hotmail.com
CATEGORY: JC/DM/MG/PB Friendship/Angst/Action
RATING: PG-13 for some language and violence.
SPOILERS: None for season 7.
SUMMARY: When Carter takes on a personal challenge to finally heal himself some of his friends decide to come along to help. Unbeknownst to them all is that the journey of one man gets them all entangled into a more complicated encounter then anyone ever expected.



Tuesday xxxxx



Mark Greene was doing his best to keep from running into any of the staff as he headed towards the men's room to wipe off the vomit that was becoming a permanent stain on his shirt. After washing away the residue and realizing that his shirt was ruined, Mark balled it up and threw it away. He re-entered the hallway in search of a scrub top. After locating one in a supply closet, Mark dodged various patients wandering around and headed towards the admit desk.

His shift was about to end, and Mark scanned the board to verify that his name had been wiped away. He wanted to tell Randi something, but she was too tuned in to the television to hear him calling her name.

"Hey Randi?"

The desk clerk glanced up at him, "They just cleared that terrorist guy mentally fit for trial and his lawyers are having a fit," she replied excitedly.

"Um, Randi, could you please make sure I don't get assigned to any new patients on the board?" Mark asked.

"Sure, no new patients for you. So, do you think that guy was crazy or do you believe..."

"Randi, I don't care." Mark interrupted, tired from his long day.

As he massaged his neck he heard some high heels clicking on the tile behind him. He turned around to see a red headed woman in a navy business suit staring back at him. Her hair was pulled back in a ponytail and she wore designer eyeglasses. Before he could address her, she held her hand up to speak.

"Hi, I've been trying to locate someone who works here and maybe you could help me."

Mark fiddled with his new shirt, "Ah, maybe. Who are you looking for?"

The woman took Mark's outstretched hand and shook it. "I'm looking for Dr. John Carter. Do you know where he might be?" She asked, smiling and looking over the attending's shoulder.

"Its possible, may I ask who is looking for him?" Mark asked, not wanting to reveal any more information concerning one of his staff members without knowing whom he was speaking with.

The woman laughed, "Oh...sorry, I forgot my manners. I'm Dr. Jill Ebright."

Mark stood there a moment once he understood that the person in front of him wasn't about to lend out any further information then that. She just smiled brightly.

"Well, Dr. Carter is with a patient right now I believe. If you take a seat over in chairs I'll see if I can find him for you." Mark watched Dr. Ebright leave and he could not help but wonder what she wanted with Carter. She was a doctor, perhaps she was part of his AA group, or she could be a family friend. Knowing it was none of his business, Mark found Carter heading towards X-Ray and he walked along side the younger man.

"Hey, Carter, how's it going?" Mark asked casually.

He saw the slight hesitation spread over the other doctor's face. Mark hated the fact that anytime he spoke with his resident that the other man seemed at unease. Mark felt more like a school principal always following around the problem student, sneaking into his locker when he wasn't looking. The camaraderie he once shared with Carter died back in May; and Hell it was shattered before then.

"I'm doing good, Dr. Greene. I'm just checking over a fractured wrist," Carter looked at his boss with weariness. Anytime the attending spoke to him with about non-medical issues he felt the air fill with tension. Mark Green viewed him like some kind of great burden to shepherd and he hated it. It was almost impossible to carry on a conversation with the man anymore.

Mark blew out a breath. All he wanted to do was tell him someone was looking for him. "That's great. There is someone asking for you, so I sent her over by the chairs." Mark motioned with his eyes and Carter followed their gaze.

The younger man did not recognize the attractive looking woman scanning the ER. Her appearance spoke of money and the way she composed her self radiated confidence.

Carter sub-consciously shook his head. "I don't know who she is. What did she want?" He asked the other doctor.

Mark's curiosity was sparked, "She introduced herself as Dr. Jill Ebright. Why? You don't know her?" He asked, trying to keep himself from prying too much.

"Nope." Carter stared at Mark for a moment. It amazed him that his boss seemed intent on trying to gain as much detail regarding his personal life as possible and this bothered him a great deal.

Mark knew the silence was an indication that the conversation was over. Wishing that he had more to say, he nodded and walked away. He heard Carter walk towards the chairs, and unable to keep a strange feeling at bay, Mark stood in the corner and watched the interaction between Carter and the woman doctor.

Xx

Carter was a little hesitant approaching the woman who was eyeing his stride towards her. He felt completely comfortable around women, but he had no idea why another doctor was in search of him. Paranoia was just one of the feelings that weighed him down at work lately. Taking a deep breath, he greeted her with a charming smile.

"I'm Dr. Carter, is there something I can do for you?" John asked as he shook hands with the stranger.

"Well, I really do hope so, Dr. Carter. Do you think we can speak in private?" She asked, her smile overly pleasant.

Carter lifted his head up as he pondered her request, a million questions racing through his head. "Sure, why don't we go into the lounge."

"That would be great." Jill let Carter lead the way and she followed him eagerly. Both doctors entered the room and closed the door behind them.

Xx

Dave Malucci was bored off his ass as he scavenged the ER for some interesting case to get his hands on. It had been a slow day, with little excitement or any serious trauma to run through. He had almost called the entire shift a wash when he saw an extremely attractive red head sitting in chairs looking in desperate need of his attention. She did not seem like a patient, but there was always hope that she could be ill or in some other need of his service.

As he was preparing his opening line and his smooth stride towards Ms. Redhead, he was frustrated to see John Carter intercepting his target. Dave grunted and strode pass the couple on their way the lounge.

"Hmmm, she's not a patient. This could be good, this could be bad," Dave said under his breath. Not wanting to waste an opportunity to learn the hot chick's identity, the resident found himself a niche in the wall to lean against to watch the goings on inside. If he waited them out, perhaps he could find out if Carter was involved with her. He was thinking that perhaps no, since the other doctor had no room in his complicated life for a new girlfriend. Maybe he could be introduced and the ball would in his court.

Dave watched through the window at the stillness in the lounge. The two of them must be sitting down, because he couldn't detect any movement. After several minutes, Dave was beginning to get bored, but as he was about to find another place to observe he thought he heard Carter's voice.

The fact that Carter could be heard at all meant that he was talking loud enough to be heard through the door. It wasn't very common that John Carter raised his voice at anyone. The curiosity getting the better of him, Dave crept up closer towards the entrance of the lounge to see if he could pick up any of the conversation going on. He knew that eavesdropping on a private conversation was wrong, but he told himself that if Carter was upset, then maybe he could help out.

That was his excuse as Dave made his way along the wall, oblivious to all the activity around him. As he got closer, Dave heard a word here and there. It was obvious that Carter was having a one sided argument.

"I said, no!" He heard Carter shout.

The lady was saying something in a calmer voice, but it seemed to only cause the other doctor to get more irate.

"I have a lot to deal with right now," Carter said. The resident continued on, but Dave couldn't make all of it out.

Dave looked around to see if anyone else noticed the drama unfolding in the other room, but it was clear he was the only witness to the turbulence next to him.

Carter was pacing inside the lounge from what Dave could observe from occasional peeks into the window. Carter was shaking his head and his hands were stuffed into his lab coat. The hot chick looked to be placating him, but Carter was in rare form. He heard the other man, "Not now, maybe another time."

Some staff members brushed by Dave and he retreated away a bit so it wasn't so obvious that he was spying. He strolled down the hallway and back acting as nonchalant as he could. When he thought it was a good time to get next to the door again, Carter stormed out with Ms. Redhead hot on his heels.

Carter whirled around to face her, his eyebrows arching in resentment. "Listen, I told you not now. I'm sorry if that is inconvenient for you, but..."

The woman held out her hands in mock surrender, "Dr. Carter, I think this is in the best interests for both parties."

Carter glanced around, noting the attention that the outburst was creating. He bit his lip as he tried to suppress his irritation, "I think that you should go. I have patients to attend to."

This did not seem to dissuade the determined woman, "Just think about it, please. You have my card, and I'll call you once you've had time to think about it."

Carter looked like he was at a loss for words and he walked off leaving the lady in the hallway. Dave noted that the rest of the staff went about their duties as if nothing had happened. The rumor mill was bound to go into over time over this little display. Dave decided it was now or never and raced after the attractive redhead. Now it was a challenge with more rewards. He could possibly get a date out of the effort or he could gain some information on the strange woman that got the usually calm Dr. Carter all riled up.

As he almost caught up to her retreating form, a bulky body stepped right in his way.

"Malucci, where do you think you're running off to? You have patient with a head injury that you're suppose to keep updating me about." Peter Benton gruffly informed the resident, who lost his prey to the hustle and bustle of the ER.

Knowing he hopelessly lost her, Dave stared up at the overbearing surgeon. "He was cleared for medicine over an hour ago, Dr. Benton. Don't they keep you trauma guys well informed?" Dave asked, annoyed that the man caused him to lose a possibly exciting Friday night.

"Its your job to keep us updated, so why don't you go attend to someone with some level of basic care," Benton replied and went about his way.

Dave thought it was strange that the other doctor would choose this precise moment to chew him out for something so pointless. He wandered back to see if anything was brought in while his mind was pre-occupied elsewhere. It would bug him the rest of his shift as to the reasons for the odd disagreement that he had witnessed, but Dave thought he could dig it out of Carter later. Xxx

Mark Greene rubbed his chin thoughtfully after watching the odd chain of events transpire in the lounge. He saw that little weasel Malucci spying on his co-worker, no doubt after another woman. Mark even caught a thoughtful glance from Peter Benton when the conflict spilled out from behind closed doors. The surgeon, along with a few other eyes, observed the supposed private argument, and then Carter was aware of attention he was drawing. The doctor stormed away and Mark was left with more nagging questions which were not really any of his concern.

That is what he told himself for the rest of his shift. Unfortunately for him, those pesky voices of concern would not leave him alone the rest of the day.

Xx

John Carter sat in the lounge playing with his pinky ring. He slid the piece of jewelry up and down his finger aimlessly as his mind wrestled with the events of this afternoon. Ever since Dr. Ebright introduced herself and told him her proposition, he had been on edge. It seemed as if things were slowly becoming somewhat normal minus the drug tests and extra supervision. He was clear to take part in most traumas and he was beginning to take on regular shifts. So how come this woman had to come in and throw a wrench into the somewhat smooth mechanism that was his life?

He felt as if he finally had some hands on control over his life and had come to terms with certain feelings. He was following everyone's strident rules for his return to work and he was going to every meeting that was required. He didn't guard the door to his emotions as tightly, but what this doctor wanted from him was too much right now.

Despite his mind telling him this, there was that little voice accusing him of being a coward. The nagging little annoyance had been getting louder as the day went by and Carter was beginning to have doubts of his own. As he was struggling with conflicting emotions the door opened and Mark Greene entered the room.

The uncomfortable silence followed him in and Carter closed his eyes with hopes of shutting out the unavoidable questions. Instead of the dreaded onslaught of inquires into his well being, the attending went about his business of changing clothes.

Carter was bemused that there were no barrage of questions and he felt slightly less burdened. He didn't want to share his news with his immediate superiors; he needed to face his problem alone. The movements in the lounge quieted down as Mark finished gathering his things. The other doctor turned around and began to speak when the door burst open with a flourish of activity.

Elizabeth bounded in and hurried over to her lover. "Mark, we're going to be late for that dinner."

Mark seemed confused and realization dawned on him. As soon as he put his coat on, he slipped it off and began to search for a different set of clothes, "Yes, the dinner meeting, I forgot."

Giving him a few seconds to put on more formal attire, Elizabeth turned her attention to the resident. Since speaking her mind was one of Elizabeth's traits, she just faced her co-worker, "So, who was the young lady who caused the big scene earlier, Carter?"

Mark almost dropped his dress shirt at her directness, but his ears perked up for any answer.

Startled by the promptness of her question, Carter didn't have time or the readiness for a diversion. "She wanted me to participate in some new research paper," he stammered.

Elizabeth arched an eyebrow and decided not to let up since Carter choose to be so open, "Oh really? And what kind of research does she do?"

"Nothing that a surgeon would be interested in, I assure you." Carter responded, recovered enough to gloss over his misgivings.

Aware that Carter was not in a talkative mood and seeing her boyfriend's warning glances, Elizabeth walked over to Mark to help fix his tie. "You look splendid as usual."

Carter ignored the niceties that went along with a normal, healthy relationship. He rolled his eyes at the wave of self-pity that washed over him; he hated it when he was in one of his moods. He woke up every morning ready and determined, but lately he couldn't control the nagging self-doubt or self-reproach. Finally, after want seemed like an entity, the happy couple left and Carter sat with his thoughts.

He pulled out the business card that he meant to throw away hours ago, but each time he was tempted to dispose of it, his mind told him he was taking the easy way out. He ran his fingers over the phone number and dared himself to take some responsibility. No whispered encouragements from others, he needed to see if Dr. Ebright was right and he wasn't about to share his fear with anyone else. He certainly knew the kind of burden his needs had manifested before and the resulting disaster. He certainly wasn't going to add to the weight of burdenship he was to everyone around here.

Carter stood up and strolled over to the phone on the wall. His finger trembled slightly, but he told himself now was the time to take control. He dialed the number, and after the second ring Dr. Ebright picked up the phone.



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