The Shadow of Lighthouse


AUTHOR: Rach L.
EMAIL: rach_jiwon@hotmail.com
CATEGORY: JC/JMC friendship
RATING: PG
SPOILERS: "The Greatest of the Gifts", "Piece of Mind"
DISCLAIMER: I'm just borrowing them. I promise to return them in relatively good health. ;)
AUTHOR'S NOTES: I've been a fan of John/Deb friendship for a long time, but there were not many stories concentrating on the two. So I did what I could--writing one myself. Not beta'ed (anyone who can help me out? *g*) and definitely my first ER story. ;)
Feedback: Always welcome at rach_jiwon@hotmail.com
SUMMARY: Carter finally realizes he still hasn't really gotten over his addiction.



***
"Darkness reigns at the foot of the lighthouse."--Japanese Proverb
***

"I'm not much of a help to you, am I?"

The shift had finally ended, and John Carter was just about to put his white coat back to the locker when the question from his long time friend, Jing-Mei Chen, stopped him dead.

"What?" He frowned, not understanding the question. It'd been Deb's --Okay, he knew she preferred to be called Jing-Mei, but old habits really died hard-- first day back to hospital after a brief maternal leave. He personally thought it was way too quick for her to be back at work, but he wisely held his tongue, not voicing his opinion. He'd expected her to show up in less than two weeks anyway when she'd left; he understood all so well that without work, she'd become a wreck, emotionally *and* physically.

The pretty Asian doctor repeated herself in a matter-of-fact tone, "I'm not much of a help to you."

He quickly closed the locker door and turned to her. "Not much of a help? What are you talking about?" He tiled his head, perplexed. Many things had changed for the last seven years, but the way Deb did things was always familiar to him--the enthusiastic way she talked about medicine, the immaculate way she cleaned the syringes, the way she filled out the chart carefully from the top to bottom. Even the little gestures she made unconsciously --a disconcerting frown on her face, chewing her lower lip or playing with a pen--- dated back to their medical school years. He liked the fact something did not change.

But her abrupt question came from nowhere and it definitely didn't feel familiar.

She chewed her lower lip again --a gesture that came out whenever she was nervous-- and closed her locker, hesitating. "You...wouldn't talk me even when you're going through hard times. I'm not much of a help to you."

He froze, suddenly realizing what she meant. Had she been talking to Abby? ...Probably, because the last time he saw Abby, she'd been trying hard to make him tell Kerry about his...episode. Abby must have gone to Deb so his oldest friend here could persuade him to talk to Kerry. Oh, damn. "Deb, I don't know what you've heard from Abby, but..."

She didn't meet his eyes and only looked down. "I know that I wasn't really there for you when you needed help, because I was so wrapped up in my own trouble, but..."

"That's not true," he interrupted quickly. "You're always a great help, you know that. I don't know what Abby has been telling you, but that's completely *not*--"

"--true?" Her tone wasn't accusatory or patronizing, but it contained apparent disappointment. "...is it really?"

And it was the disappointment in her voice that cut him like a knife. He felt something inside him snap. "It's none of your business, alright? I thought you knew better than paying attention to what Abby had to say."

"John," her low voice warned him, "You don't mean that."

"Oh, yes I do!" Suddenly an unreasonable, completely unnecessary anger boiled inside him. Even though he vaguely realized there was something wrong, that he shouldn't be this angry, but he couldn't contain himself anymore. "I really mean that hundred percent. Why, you trust some mere nurse's words over my mine, is that it? Well, think whatever you want then, but leave me out of it. Like you said, you're not much of a help."

He felt this strangely twisted pleasure at seeing her shaken up. He had hurt her, he knew. He had hurt her in the cruelest way possible--with his words. So now she wouldn't want to come after him with helpful advices or friendly 'you okay?'. She wouldn't, which was exactly what he wanted.

She wouldn't.

He couldn't stand there watching her hurt eyes, so he turned away.

"John, wait," Deb quickly tugged at his arm, "wait. I'm sorry. I shouldn't have thought like that. Of course Abby misunderstood. You're clean now, right? I should've understood that you went through hard times to get to this stage. I shouldn't have doubted you. I'm really sorry."

He stopped, frozen. Deb stood in front of him, looking incredibly guilty. Did she actually trust his words even though it should've been glaringly obvious to anyone with eyes that he was lying?

What did he just try to do?

He lied to his friend, the one he thought he could be honest with.

Which was just like what he'd been doing until Doctor Benton had come to stop him a few months ago.

Why?

Because he still had problems.

He felt his knees weakening. He couldn't breathe.

He was still addicted, wasn't he?

God.

"...John?" A soft voice asked worriedly beside him. "John, are you all right?"

A hand supported him to stand up straight, so then he could breathe easier. "No, I guess not," he mumbled.

"John, look at me. Concentrate. Sit...just sit down."

Numbly, he followed whatever her concerned voice told him to do. The next moment, he was sitting on the couch, with Deb looking over him with her terribly worried eyes.

"...it's okay," he finally managed to choke out a few words. "I just feel a little dizzy, that's all."

"No, you're not okay," her voice wasn't detached and matter-of-fact like how it was supposed to be. Instead, it was filled with all-too-personal concerns. "Have you eaten anything for the last few hours at all?"

The dizziness slowly disappeared, so he looked at her face and met her gaze. "No, and she's right."

Deb blinked, not understanding. "Sorry?"

"Abby's right. She is...she's a great friend, and she understands what I'm going through. Maybe more than I do." He slowly leaned back to the couch and gave Deb a small self-deprecating smile. "She's right. I still haven't gotten over it."

"...I'm sorry..." Her eyes softened. She watched him for a second, then sat down beside him. "...I...is there anything I can do? I mean..." she sighed, "I wish I could be more helpful to you."

She'd been always supportive of him, never judgmental and never demanding. He was blessed to have her as a friend, he knew. "You are helpful. I'm....sorry about what I said earlier. I guess...I just didn't want you to see me."

"See you?" she asked. She looked pained as if she didn't want to be hurt by the implication that he didn't need her at all.

How could he explain this? "...It's...it's like this, Deb. The others, they know I'm going through hell right now, and even though they don't say it to my face, they all think I'm a time bomb waiting to explode. You...don't do that. You don't skid around the topic as if I'm a mine or something. I just....wanted to keep you that way. Didn't want you to be disappointed...at me."

His eyes didn't meet hers. Now *he* couldn't see her.

He'd thought he was okay. It'd felt okay, at least. He'd even deceived himself, pretended as if nothing had happened, as if he lived in the lighter side. He'd made himself believe that he was okay.

He hadn't realized that darkness reigned at the foot of the lighthouse.

"But there is no reason to feel that way," Deb's voice was earnest as she passionately tried to persuade him, "I'd never judge you. You've seen how weak I could be. We're only human, and..."

"You weren't weak," he grinned, "You're many things, but never weak. In fact, for the last few weeks, you were the bravest person I've ever seen."

"Oh." She looked speechless, which, knowing Deb, was a pretty rare event. "Well," looking slightly embarrassed, she quietly told him, "I wouldn't have been able to full it through it wasn't for you. So...thank you."

He smiled fully for the first time in a long time. "Well, guess we owe each other then, huh?"

"Yep," she grinned too. "And," she turned to him with a determined expression, her eyes glittering with humor, "if you go all dark on me again, I swear..."

"Swear what?" He looked back at her amusedly, his chin high.

"Well, I still got a few tricks here and there." Her eyes were laughing. "If you're willing to repeat the practical joke contest, you're always welcome to try."

At that, he had to laugh. It felt good to laugh like that, unconcerned and relaxed.

"You helped me get through my darkest hours, John," Deb whispered, "Let me help you. Please?"

He looked into his friend's sincere eyes.

He realized he trusted her.

"Thank you," he said truthfully. "Thank you, Deb."

She only smiled.

It was like as if heavy weight had been lifted from his shoulders. And at the same time, some hope seemed to be forming inside him. Maybe he would really get better this time.

Maybe he was ready to get out from the shadow of the lighthouse.

This was all he wanted. What more could he wish for?

What more?

....Maybe...just maybe... "Deb," he reluctantly started out, "...wanna have dinner with me tonight?"

He swore he could feel his cheeks burning in crimson. Why the heck did he have to feel like a teenager asking for a first date? He was *not* a teenager --at least he hoped he wasn't-- and this was definitely not a date.

It wasn't, was it?

Deb looked startled. "Tonight?"

Oh, great. She already had previous engagement. "Well, it's okay if you're busy--"

"No, no!" her face gradually broke into a genuine smile, "I'll be glad to. Since it's so obvious you haven't eaten anything for...how long?" She looked at him expectantly for an answer.

"Uh, I don't seem to be able to recall." He did his best to look sheepish.

"--so, eating it is. Where to?" She stood up slowly.

He suddenly realized he was incredibly hungry. Had he been starving himself so he couldn't recognize which craving it was that he was feeling? "You know what? I'm really, really hungry. Where can we go to get something really...filling?"

They looked at each other for a second.

"MacDonald?" "Oh yeah."

They both nodded vigorously.

"Then let's go." He grinned.

It felt like he was back at the medical school years, when they were both young and ambitious, and didn't know a thing about the real hardship of life. There was no pretense; just two friends sharing a meal. The concerns he had --what if he was just ruining what was left of their friendship with this? Was he sure this was what he wanted? Was he even ready? -- simply disappeared as he watched her bright smile.

Well, no worries, because he was perfectly content with simply being her friend.

For now, anyway.

END?
1/11/01




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