Through the Door

AUTHOR: C. Midori
RATING: R for adult themes and language
SPOILERS: All of Season 8, except "Lockdown." (Crappy season finale? What crappy season finale?)
ARCHIVE: Please ask first for permission.
DISCLAIMER: This story is based on characters and situations owned by Not Me. These Other People may include, but are not limited to: NBC, Warner Bros., Michael Crichton, etc. No money is being made and no copyright infringement is intended.
      A long time reader of fanfiction but a relative newbie to the ER-verse, this is my first foray into both writing fanfic and the ER fandom. *Worries* So forgive me if this first author's note is a bit on the lengthy side!
      I became engrossed with ER at the beginning of Season 7--just in time to fall hook, line, and sinker for the Carter/Abby dynamic. I think TPTB did a wonderful job of crafting a complex, layered, and fascinating relationship. (Of course, the natural chemistry between NW and MT didn't hurt.) So imagine my disappointment with Season 8, in all its inconsistent and careless glory. Bah. Consequently, I think I'm writing in response to that.
      A warning of sorts: this is not a Carby fluff-fest. I'm sort of letting this story grow organically, so I'm not sure if there will be a Happily Ever After (in the romantic sense) for Carter and Abby. And after writing the first couple of chapters, I'm not so convinced that they *should* end up together, either. To put it simply, they've both been carting around a U-Haul of emotional baggage, and dealing won't be easy.
      Credits: The title of this story is taken from Darren "Badly Drawn Boy" Gough's song "Epitaph": "Just promise that you'll try / To give me all you can / I'll never ask for more / There's new life through the door." It's off his superlative album "The Hour of the Bewilderbeast." The title of the prologue is from Margaret Atwood's poem "The Burned House," which is about our inability to ever fully return to a point in life once it passes. I've also taken liberties with the plot of "A Simple Twist of Fate," the episode of ER in which Abby's neighbor beats her.
      Finally, as mentioned, this is my first fanfic, so any and all feedback is greatly appreciated. Hit me, baby, one more time!
SUMMARY: [Complete] When a series of tragedies blurs the fast-disappearing line between friendship and what lies beyond, Abby must decide how far she is willing to push the line--and Carter, how far to let her.

The Burned House

In the burned house I am eating breakfast.
You understand: there is no house, there is no breakfast,
yet here I am.

Margaret Atwood, "Morning in the Burned House"

*       *       *

SHE STUMBLED BACKWARDS when his anger struck her. Like a pane violently ripped out of the blackest midnight, the door slammed up against her face, and she felt herself cry out at the impact. The faint palpitation behind her eyes began to wail with increasing intensity-louder, and louder, and louder yet again-then with one violent rush her vision fractured, and she felt a small explosion of light, white and hot and burning-

And then there was darkness, nothing but darkness. A thousand nights congealed in a pool of black in which she drowned.

A few minutes, a few hours-just how much time had passed, she couldn't tell. The kettle was ready. Its high-pitched scream lanced through the murky depths of her mind, catching on a thin thread of consciousness that ran like a wire of pain through an unknown land. Then something hit her nostrils with an overwhelming force-metallic, pungent, like the salt sea on a cloud-heavy day.

Blood. Of course, her blood.

She blinked, awareness returning to her in a dizzying rush, and stumbled to her feet.

*       *       *

John Carter walked through the halls of the ER, happiness lighting his frank, boyish face. He had spent much of the day in pediatrics. His mother had brought in a boy from the orphanage where she volunteered, the young child's body stricken with leukemia like Carter's brother so many years ago. They had done as much as they could for the boy, but they had managed to do so much more for themselves-the feeling of his mother's arms wrapped around his body warmed him, and he smiled.

Whistling, he greeted several of the nurses brightly, checking the board and then the charts. He flipped through several of them at random and then froze when his eyes clapped upon one name in particular.

Lockhart, Abigail.

Incredulous, his eyes widened as he stared at the folder in his hands, fingers growing numb. Sluggishly, mechanically, his body lurched through the halls of the ER until it stopped at the threshold to her room. And as he opened the door, the world seemed to hold its breath-then exhale in one fell swoop, nearly knocking him to the ground.

"Abby," he whispered, her small frame lying still on the bed. She was asleep. Her face was a bruised, bloody mess, the discoloration only partially hidden by the white bandages that glared across her nose. Even in repose, she looked tense, defensive, her hair matted with dried blood and fanned out behind her on her pillow, her body rigid and defiant.

He crept to her bedside. Numbly, he lifted a hand to tuck an errand tendril away from her face. This isn't real, he thought, vague, colorless thoughts swelling his head like helium, this isn't happening.

"She's going to be okay, Carter."

He spun around. "Susan," he blurted, lips parched. "What happened?"

"Her neighbor," she replied, looking extremely sorry. "He beat her."

Carter swallowed, fury strangling his throat. "He beat her," he repeated faintly. "Is she okay? What's her condition?"

"For the most part, yes, she's okay. A nasal fracture, and some cuts. They're closing up already."

"Someone should stay with her tonight." Absently, he smoothed his hand along her forehead, thumb sweeping along her crown, then pulled back guiltily.

Susan looked at him strangely. "Don't worry. She's staying with me. I'll make sure she's okay."

Avoiding her gaze, he reached for her chart and flipped through it. He froze. "A rape kit," he croaked, turning his eyes to Susan in alarm. "You ordered a rape kit for her?"

"We had to," Susan explained. Her voice was quiet. "There was a six centimeter contusion on the inner thigh."

Carter tried to find his voice. When he spoke, he felt as if it came from someplace far away, a time not of his own. "And, uh, did you find anything?"

Susan shook her head slowly.

"That's good, good." Nauseated, he felt himself begin to gag, the taste of bile rising in his throat. He backed away from her bed. "I have to go." His voice grew more distant. "Don't tell her I was here."

"Carter? Carter! Are you okay?"

Ignoring her, he stumbled out of the room blindly. Down, then, through the corridor to the men's bathroom, through the door. Knees ground against the cold tiled ground, hands gripped the sides of the toilet seat until knuckles turned deathly white, and he threw up.

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