Slow Turning Pain

AUTHOR: christyedna
EMAIL: shadowedsunshine @ (Please remove spaces to email me!)
CATEGORY: Angst/Romance with a side of fluff
RATING: PG-13 for language, nothing a fifth grader won't know
SPOILERS: Up to and including "A Thousand Cranes."
ARCHIVE: Iíll most likely give permission if you ask. If you donít, and I find out, then whatever happens to you as a result is your fault. (Do you really wanna mess with someone who believes in the Law of Three?)
DISCLAIMER: Iíll claim to have written this and Iíll claim to have whined about writerís block, but Iím not gonna dare claim to own Carter or Abby or anything else related to the show. I donít want Michael Crichton to sue me and be too busy to work on ER, so Iím going to state plainly: This was done for my entertainment and Melís. If you happen to like it, I guess it was meant for your entertainment as well.

FEEDBACK: If I donít get any, you donít get any (more fic, that is). My livejournal username is christyedna and my AIM SN is ThisIsEdnaB. My web page is (you can get my email from there; I get enough spam as it is).

AUTHOR'S NOTES (which I usually post at the end, but this story is special): This story is half of a whole. You need to read the story of the same title written by FigFan, because that's Abby's POV on this. [Croc Hunter] See, these two chicks, one in Indiana and one in Florida, decide they want a good Carter/Abby story that explains what happened after the end of "A Thousand Cranes" but also explains why Abby is wearing no ring. Wackiness through instant messages ensues for two weeks. Finally they post something. Let's take a look. [/Croc Hunter]

The title is from Crowded House's "Fall At Your Feet," which is [a] an uber-Carby song, but more importantly [b] written by Neil Finn (not me!) and an amazing piece of music. Go download it. This fic will be here when you get back.

SUMMARY: Post "A Thousand Cranes." Companion piece to FigFan's story of the same title. This one is Carter's POV.


We finally make it through the front door and into the house. "I'm gonna jump in the shower," I say quietly, dropping my coat and scarf on the table. I don't even wait for Abby to acknowledge what I've said. I just get to the bathroom like my ass is on fire. This awkward silence between us is making me crazy and nothing will get it off my mind faster than hot water on my skin.

I can't believe the ass I almost made out of myself tonight. I was ready to do it. I was going to lay it right out there for her and ask her for everything. And then at the last possible second those words, those damn words she said, made me rethink it all. "I don't think people can ever really change."

Who the hell did I think I was kidding? She told me last night that she thought I was crazy. She probably saw this coming and said that just to save me the embarrassment.

I turn the water on forcefully, yanking the knob in my anger. I wasn't mad at Abby, though. I was angry with myself for letting her get to me. I should have known by her reaction on the roof last night that she wasn't taking me seriously. There was no way in hell she was going to have accepted. "Idiot," I muttered as I tossed my shirt into a corner, right into a puddle of water that had been left where the shower curtain was sticking out of the corner of the stall. I grabbed an extra towel and soaked up the puddle before it could spread, then tucked the curtain the rest of the way into the shower. Finally throwing my pants and boxers on top of my shirt, I stepped into the shower stall.

I had never, ever in my life, felt like a bigger ass. I had the box in my hand, mere inches away from the table, from her line of sight...

From being on her finger where it belonged.

I move into the water quickly, beyond caring that it's stinging the hell out of my skin. I just want to wash away this feeling of dread that it's over, that she never meant for things to go as far as they had between us. I want more than anything to get rid of the feeling that, despite my telling her until it annoyed her, she had no idea how much I love her. I don't know that I've ever been this hurt before, and the most fucked-up thing about it is that no one hurt me but myself.

I reach for a washcloth and begin rubbing soap into it, forcefully enough so that the bar has imprints on it from the terrycloth. I place the soap back in the dish and rinse the cloth again; this shower isn't about getting clean. It's about getting calm enough to the point where I can go to bed and get some sleep. Things always looked better in the morning, right? All I had to do was slip under Abby's radar and make it to bed and I'd be home free.

The sudden presence of a hotter stream of water stings my face and I realise I'm crying. Me, the guy who can work a brutal trauma on a perfectly innocent child and never even break a sweat, crying my heart out over what obviously wasn't mine to begin with. I feel like an even bigger idiot now, but I let the sobs come, quietly attacking my body. Maybe this is what my shower was really for.

A knock on the door startles me and I struggle to regain my composure as Abby enters the bathroom. I feel the warm air from around me as it flows out of the small room, and I call out her name. My voice is raw with tears and I pray silently that she doesn't notice. She answers something about wanting to get her makeup off her face, which is a perfectly reasonable need to get into the bathroom, but I almost resent it that she's there. I silently wonder if she's here to check on me or if she's really taking her makeup off.

She must be here to check on me because I don't hear the sink turn on. She says something about the chocolate soufflť, but I don't pay much attention to it. I'm offering a noncommittal agreement but nothing more. I think this must be getting to her, because she tries again. "Can we rent out restaurants every time we go out?"

'Sure,' my mind cries out bitterly. 'You can break my heart like this every night for the rest of your life if you want to.' I know that if I say that she'll know, so I keep quiet. I can't think with her here, so I turn off the water, grabbing a towel and leaving the bathroom as quickly as possible. I can't look at her or she'll know. I hope she doesn't think I'm mad at her, because that's the furthest thing from the truth. I'm just hurt and I don't want to talk about it right now.

I leave her to her makeup removing and head to the bedroom to get a head start on going to bed. My mind is an endless stream of warnings: 'Don't let her see you like this. Be the strong one. It'll be all right in the morning. Maybe she was just nervous.' I know half of these statements are nothing more than lies I'm telling myself as I sit dumbly on the edge of the bed. Abby enters the room for a moment, wearing the pink satin pajama pants that she knows I love, and I can't resist talking to her. I can't look at her yet, but for some reason I need to hear her voice. "Did your mom get home okay?" Look at the floor. Look at the floor. Look at those glittery toenails I painted three days ago. Look at the hem of the bedspread. Look at anything but her face because if that happens it's over.

"She's stuck. There was a big snowstorm," Abby replies as I get up to switch off the lamp and climb under the covers. I mutter something about having an early shift, which isn't entirely untrue. I just can't stand this any longer and I need to sleep. The only thing complicating my plan is that I can't sleep. I know she's there and it makes my skin crawl.

We lie there in silence for the next fifteen minutes or so, barely even moving so not to disturb each other. When it's just shy of becoming unbearable, I hear Abby whisper, "I'm sorry."

I don't dare turn to look at her, because if I do, she'll know. "What are you sorry for?" I struggle to keep my voice even, because if I even hint at how I'm feeling the whole truth is going to come out and the shit's going to hit the fan. If she wants to end it that badly, I can deal with it tomorrow. Just not tonight.

When she doesn't answer, I ask again, "Abby, what are you sorry for?" All I can hear is her breathing, quiet and even, and then finally her voice, sounding tiny in the darkness.

"John-The ring... I-I found it. I was picking up your coat and it fell out of your pocket-" She sounds like she's ready to cry, but rushes on to finish. "I know you didn't plan things to go the way they did tonight, because if you had planned for it we wouldn't be lying here feeling like this."

My blood goes cold in my veins when I hear her say that she found it. What the hell was I supposed to think now? I'm lying here more nervous than I was at dinner, way more nervous than I was on the roof last night, and it's taking everything I have in me not to fidget with the stress that's threatening to start controlling my physical self. I can't even touch the fact that she found the ring right now. I have to force it out of my mind and try to stay calm. My insides feel like they've been put through an industrial shredder. "Wouldn't be here feeling like what?" I ask, still not able to turn and face her.

I can't look at her. I can't bring myself to see her face because I know what she's feeling. She doesn't want to go through again what she did with Richard. She hinted at it last night. Maggie all but spelled it out for me in the car. Maybe I really am a fool for trying.

She finally answers, "You feeling like my heart's not into this, and me feeling like this evil thing because I hurt you so badly." I ball my hand into a fist and squeeze my fingers tight against each other so hard the pain almost makes me stop. Everything I can think of to say to her at the moment is going to come out sounding angry, so I adjust the sheet around me and wait for her to continue. Damn right I feel like her heart isn't into this. And I know now that maybe getting it all out tonight will be better. There's no point in faking it if she doesn't want to be here. I mentally calculate how many hours of decent sleep I'll get on the couch versus the risks of driving to my grandmother's, angry, late at night. Not that it's even late. It's not even ten thirty.

I don't say anything; she must take this as a sign to keep talking, especially when I finally turn to face her and actually look at her in what little light is in the room. She's sitting up now, playing with the sheet in the exact same way I'm clenching this damn fist. For a second it looks like she notices it and wants to reach out for me, so I relax my fingers as secretly as I know how. My arm hurts well past my wrist now, but at least the urge to get out of bed and run has passed. My ears finally tune into what she's saying. " things easily. But I love you." She keeps going and her voice starts to catch.

I can't help feeling like I don't want to be guilty over her crying, but at the same time I can't help the urge to reach out to her. I succeed at fighting the latter and wait for her to finish. "I believe it now. I really do."

I can no longer tolerate the fact that there are tears in her eyes and silently will her to wipe them away. There's no reason she should be upset over this; she's the one that was perfectly capable of avoiding it this whole time. My mind is a swirled mess right now; I'm stuck in a pool of feelings ranging from "But why?" to "You don't get to cry" to "You don't know how badly I want to rewind time just so you don't have to feel like this."

Finally I sort a few words out of the storm in my mind and say them to her. "Abby, if you felt that way, why didn't you say so?"

She's quiet for a minute and I think she might actually get out of the bed and leave the room. Finally she speaks, her voice still raw with tears. "You didn't ask me how I felt."

This is bullshit. She had every reason to say how she was feeling. Hell, she did say how she was feeling, and that's why the ring went back into my coat pocket. I'm so frustrated right now that I can barely think straight. I settle for listening to her as she tries to explain herself. "You asked me if I thought we were changing and growing. And yes. I did say that I thought people never really changed. Part of me really does believe that. I will always be Abby the alcoholic. Abby with the screwed up family. I can't change that, no matter how much I want to. But I have changed. If not, I wouldn't be here with you. I would have ran away the first time I felt like you were trying to fix me. But I didn't. Change. It happened."

She's quiet for a minute, almost as if she thinks that saying that will make things all better, but we've only gotten to the very beginning of this. "Did Maggie tell you anything?"

"Maggie said a lot of things to me. Maggie all but tried to talk me out of this. I had to convince her that I know what I'm doing, that I know what I want."

I sigh heavily and run my hands through my still-wet hair. If I don't get some sort of physical outlet I'm going to go crazy. I don't know whether to run or to kiss her. "But I don't think your mother is the problem here. If you were feeling all of this when I was sitting there with that goddamned ring in my hand then why didn't you say something? Why would you say something like you did?" I know she wants to get past this part, and I do too, but I have got to know what she meant when she said it. Or at least why.

"Why would I say something like that? I don't know. First thing that came to my head. I was fucking terrified. I didn't know you had a ring. I knew something was up though. I love you and want to be with you, but that doesn't give me a free pass to not be nervous when I know something big is about to happen!" She's quiet for a second, but I don't say anything. She needs to finish. "I slipped. I told the truth though. I feel like I'm in the right place now. I want this to stick."

We're lying there staring at each other like a couple of idiots and I know she wants me to say something. I can feel it. She'll call the psych ward at County right here and now if I tell her so, but I have a sixth sense about what she's thinking sometimes. "I still don't know how much nerves had to do with you throwing me for that kind of loop, but I can live with it for now. Do you want to know what Maggie said to me?" I ask, and she nods like my answer is water to her dehydrated spirit. "Maggie was telling me things in the car today- when I was driving her to the bus stop we got stuck in trafficÖand everything she said, I knew already. So I told herÖ" I sigh heavily and continue. "I told her how I spend 23 hours a day wondering if we're going to work-" Another pause. It's hard to put it to her this way, especially the way the words flowed earlier when I was talking about it with Maggie. "With all the extra baggage we carry around...but then there's that 24th hour. And I realize that I've spent the past 23 hours thinking about you. And everything makes sense, everything is worth it because I keep coming back to the fact that I love you. Ever since that night on the rooftop, Abby... I've been living in that 24th hour. But then.. tonight at dinner.."

It's at this point that I finally lose it. I have never, ever cried in front of Abby Lockhart and this is possibly a more monumental thing for me than the nerves I felt the first time I told her I loved her. But I can't help it. I have to wonder if this woman has any idea of the hold she has on me, and though I don't doubt how she feels, I have to wonder if she knows. The next thing I know she's throwing herself at me from three feet, a sobbing mess of apologies. I'm overwhelmed with the instinct to comfort her, but tonight I fight it because we have to finish this conversation, and teary snuggles won't work for either of us. I back up gently but keep slight contact. The way we're touching is funny: I'm holding one of her hands but even if I hadn't been, our feet are brushing up against each other way at the foot of the bed. Finally she whispers, "Tell me how to fix it..."

"You want to know how to fix it." I sigh, feeling like every bit of air in the room is moving in and out of my lungs at the moment. Tears still sting my eyes as I say words I hate myself for. "I don't know if it's something that can be fixed. "

The look on her face is probably an exact replica of what must have been on mine a few minutes ago. "If we try to fix it it's going to make an even bigger mess. We should just move forward and try to fix it a little bit at a time."

I'm so tired. It's 10:28 and I'm emotionally drained to the point where I can barely keep my eyes open, but something my grandmother told me years ago sticks out in the back of my mind: "Never go to sleep angry, John. If you do, your problems will have grown overnight. Better to lose a night of sleep than a life of love."

Too bad Gamma's probably in bed; I bet she'd have pages of advice for me now.

I look back up at Abby again and she looks petrified. I don't know where to go from this point. A range of emotions crosses her face, then finally she speaks. "Whatever needs to be fixed- We'll work on it. And if it can't be changed, so be it. All I know is that this is where I want to be. Right here. Always."

I close my eyes and breathe deeply again. If I keep this up I'll hyperventilate. I feel like a huge weight has been lifted from my chest, but it's like that huge weight as replaced by several smaller ones. Is she just saying this so we can call it a night? Does she really want this? What are we going to do if something goes wrong? She must sense my apprehension because I feel her hand slide up against mine, fingers taking the long way up my palm. I suddenly remember something she said earlier and it forces its way to the front of my mind. I have one question left for her tonight.

"Do you really want to do this?"

There goes the confused expression again. She's going to say no. I shouldn't have brought it up.

I start worrying slightly less as her hands reach to touch my face. Her skin is so soft, and she smells so good, and I want so badly to hear her say she does. But she doesn't say it exactly. "Yes. I do. But I can't-"

If I ever thought a person's heart can only be broken so many times in one night, I was wrong. "I can't-"

These words scream at me, mocking me, but I push them away because she's still talking and if the answer is no, then I better damn well find out why. " much I've been wanting to scream yes..." The weights I felt earlier are disappearing and I open my eyes to watch her face. She kisses me suddenly and my soul screams out at the contact, fighting to keep her there with me, where I know she belongs. Only now I know she feels like she belongs there too and I almost want to leap out of the bed and dance.

I have a better idea, though, one that involves getting out of bed, not dancing, and coming back to her as quickly as possible. I just have to get something for her. I hurry to the kitchen, where she's hung my coat over the back of the chair, and practically dive in my pocket for the blue box.

It's not there. Shit. What happened to it? My blood freezes in my veins and I finally think to check the other coat pocket. When my hand closes around it, I smile widely and rush back to the bedroom, to Abby. She looks like a deer in headlights and I know what she's thinking. "That's not what I was going to say," I whisper, and she relaxes instantly.

I sit down at the foot of the bed and hold out my hand for hers, which I grasp gently but as if I'll never let her go again. I almost lost her tonight and I can't ever let that happen. Her fingers are warm in my hand as she accepts the small box. "When you're ready, let me know." She's looking up at me expectantly so I just keep talking. "And not a minute later. I don't care what kind of hell I have to go through to get to you, when you're ready, tell me, and I will be there."

She's still staring at me as if she's in a trance, her liquid eyes filling with tears as I stroke her fingers.

She reaches up with her free hand to wipe at her eyes, and I catch her wrist halfway, wrapping my hand around the base of her thumb and holding it firmly. I lean in to whisper to her, "I thought we were done crying for the night," and she laughs.

If I don't get to hold her I'm going to burst. So I go for it. We're touching almost completely and she's burying her face in my neck and crying, and I'm laughing, and I know now that what happened earlier tonight was supposed to happen, just so I could feel this joy. I pull back to look at her and wipe her tears away lightly. "Abby," I ask. "Does this work for you?"

She laces her fingers through mine and sets the box down for a second, then kisses me fiercely. Finally she looks up at me with the biggest smile I've ever seen on her, and I barely hear her reply in my joy.

"Yeah, it works fine."

Companion: Slow Turning Pain [Abby's POV]
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