Too Late


AUTHOR: Samantha
EMAIL: dougandcarol_tlf@hotmail.com
CATEGORY: DR/CH
RATING: PG-13
SPOILERS: spoilers through Great Expectations
DISCLAIMER: Same as always, don’t own these characters, cuz if I did *this* is what would have really happened.
AUTHOR'S NOTES: Greetings! I’ve finally finished this new... thing. It’s basically a re-write of Great Expectations, something to keep me busy until I came up with an actual *good idea* (I’m still looking!). I’ve looked at the age old question that ER fans are always asking: “what if...?”. What if Mark had called Doug before Kate was born and Doug decided to come back for the birth? What if Carol had bled out during her C-section? Hopefully, if this story is not too confusing, it will reflect those questions. I’ve used some lines from the actual episode, although I really butchered them in some cases and gave them to different characters. Just for the record, yes, I know Doug’s mother’s middle name is not Katherine, but how was I supposed to work that?
Thanks to Tara (gotta have mosquitos in your dip, they’re good protein!)
SUMMARY: What if Mark had called Doug before Kate was born? What if Carol had bled out during her C-section? This story reflects those questions.



The cold November wind whipped the light flakes of snow around outside the Chicago hospital. Carol Hathaway sighed, exhausted, as she watched the little white flecks dance against the window. She pulled the sheets tighter around her swollen stomach and closed her eyes. She could hear the tiny ‘blip, blip, blip’ of the monitor, and could feel the tangle of wires and tubes attached to her body. Carol absently let her hand sweep over her abdomen. It sure didn’t feel any smaller with one twin out and one still tossing around inside. She glanced at Mark, who was flipping through the channels of the minuscule televison bolted to the wall of her OB room.

“What are you looking for?

“Mmm... I dunno.” Mark shrugged.

“Am I boring you?” She asked, half joking, through the silence.

“No.” Mark said lightly. “Wanna just talk?”

“Sure,” Carol sat up a little with the prospect of something to do. Something to take her mind off things.

“What do you want to talk about?” Mark asked as he reluctantly turned away from the TV.

“I dunno.” Carol shrugged. She watched as her friend’s eyes slowly crept back to the small television screen.

“Hey, the post game show’s on!”

“Whew!” Carol raised her eyebrows sarcastically. ‘Post game show...’ she thought, reminded that it was thanksgiving. She wondered pensively if Doug was watching the show. He’d be sprawled in a worn chair, his feet propped up on an old stack of magazines, beer in hand and potato chips in his lap. His dark eyes would have flashed excitedly as the game intensified, his front tooth nervously gnawing at his bottom lip as the score evened, his hands clutching the arms of the chair in anxiousness. Then, the potato chips would be scattered across the floor as Doug leapt from his chair with a victorious cry when his team scored a touchdown.

“How are feeling?” the perky question from Abby, the OB nurse, incisively interrupted Carol’s daydream.

“I’m in love with the epidural man.”

“Most people call him an anesthesiologist,” Abby smiled kindly as she adjusted the fetal monitor.

“Oh, he will always be the epidural man to me,” Carol stated, thankful for the cease in pain.

Mark shifted on his feet as he watched the two women. “You know what, I’m just gonna go get a magazine. So, uh, I should call Elizabeth too. She’s probably crawling out on a ledge by now.”

“Hey, could you call my mom?” Carol asked.

“Sure,” Mark agreed. “What do you want me to tell her?”

“You know, just what you said before, one down, one to go. Her number’s in my organizer in my bag.”

“Anyone else you want me to call?” Mark asked timidly.

Carol thought for a moment. She knew he’d want to know, but... “No, not yet, I just want to get through this first.”

“Are you sure?” Mark tilted his head. He knew how much Doug would want to be present for the birth of his children. He’d already missed one, and there could be enough time for him to get to Chicago before the next twin was born...

Carol was quiet for a moment. Then she looked up at Mark. “Do you think he’d want to see them?” she asked quietly.

“I think he would....I’m sure he would. He would at least want to know that they were coming into the world.”

“Try his number, but only once. If he doesn’t answer, then leave it. I can call him when they’re both out... when this is over.”

“Sure thing. You want anything from downstairs? A soda or a magazine? I think they’ve got some popsicles in the vending machine...”

“No, Mark, thanks.”

“Alright. I’ll just be a minute.”

****

<<< “Help me, Doug! Help me, please!” Carol’s anguished voice cried out to him from somewhere in the dark. He looked around frantically. He couldn’t see anything through the think grey fog he was surrounded in.

“Doooouug!!” The cry came again, more desperate and shrill than the last. Doug spun around in the haze. Where was she? Where was she?!

“Carol? Where– I can’t see anything! Where are you? Carol!” Black. Everything was so very black.

“Here! Here, I’m here! Help me!” Carol’s voice was jumbled in panicked sobs. She was close to him, but he couldn’t see her.

“WHERE?!” Doug despairingly fell to his knees and clawed at the cold ground. He had to get to Carol. He had to help her. Saving Carol was the only thought in his mind, his only purpose. If only he could see...

Suddenly, the fog began to clear. Doug looked around, still searching urgently.

“Doug? Why won’t you help me?!” He heard her yell, her voice full fear and betrayal.

There! There, through the clearing fog, he could see two hands flailing, clawing onto the side of a cliff.

“I’m coming! I’m coming Carol!” Doug ran desperately, feeling like he was caught in mud. He couldn’t get to her. She was going to fall...

“I’m slipping, Doug, please!”

Doug lurched to the cliff just as Carol’s pale hands disappeared off the edge.

“No!” Doug cried. He leaned over as far as he could and fumbled for her hands. He caught her fingers, for a moment, and felt their sacred softness. He looked down at her face, her eyes wide in blind terror, tears escaping from the corners, her mouth ajar.

“You abandoned me...” Carol mouthed.

“No, I’m here, I’m here. I wont let you go.”

“You’re too late.” Her expression was one of deep betrayal as she slipped from his grasp.


Too Late
Too Late
Too Late

Her words echoed accusingly as Doug watched her fall. >>>


The air rushed into his lungs like ice water as Doug sat up. Carol.... The image of her face as she fell from his gasp seeped into his mind. <<“Too late.”>> The words settled around him like the blinding fog.

“Another damn nightmare,” Doug tried to control his rapid breathing. He pounded his mattress as he tried to expel the dream from his memory. But the betrayal in Carol’s eyes haunted him. He had to know where she was... if she was ok.

“Of course she is,” Doug told himself in the dark. “Don’t be an idiot.” But he still had the irrepressible urge to see her. He wiped the beads of sweat from his temples and glanced at the empty, lonely side of his bed, wishing forlornly that she was lying there.

Sighing, Doug rummaged through the junk on his night stand until he found his cell phone. He was just about to dial when it came to life suddenly. Startled, he almost dropped the ringing phone.

“Ugh...Omph– Yeah??” he mumbled into it.

“Doug? Is that you?”

“Mark?”

“Yeah. Where you sleeping?”

“Um...no. Whats up bud?” Doug heard the slight waver of excitement in his friend’s voice.

“Carol’s in labor, and you have a daughter.”

Doug was up and out of bed immediately. “What?!”

“The next one is on it’s way.”

“Dammit! I wanted to be there.”

“Well, it happened kinda fast. But you still have time, I think, to catch the next birth.”

“Oh God. Oh my God.” Doug’s thoughts where swirling through his head. Daughter? He was a father?! “Is she ok?”

“Yup, she’s beautiful. Ten fingers, ten toes.”

Doug ran his hand through his hair, trying to register the information and sort out his thoughts.

“Doug?”

“Yes, yes! I’m coming, right now!”

“Hurry, ok? Hurry.”

Doug flew around his bedroom, trying to pull a shirt over his head, pack an overnight bag and call the airline at the same time. His heart was racing a mile a minute. He was going to be– he was, a father.

****

He’d just been able to squeeze onto the red eye to Chicago before it took off. It was a packed flight. He was wedged in between an old man who smelled of smoke, and a 300 pound woman who was trying to stick the heel of her shoe back on with bubble gum.

“Uh...Excuse me, miss?” Doug asked the attendant as she hurried by.

“Ya? Can I help you?” The young woman turned around sharply.

“How long is it to Chicago?”

The attendant put her hand on her hip and raised an eyebrow. “Impatient much?” She smirked and pointed to something behind him. “Why don’t you talk to him, he just asked me the same question.”

Doug turned to see a 4 year old boy grinning stupidly at him. He ducked his eyes, embarrassed, and sunk into the seat as she walked away.

“On a deadline, honey?” the woman sitting next to him asked in a thick southern accent.

“Oh, erm...something like that.” Doug nodded wringing his hands.

The lady nodded and smiled at him.

“My...um...my– er- fiancee is in labor.”

“Oooh. How long’s she been at it?”

“Um, well, we’re having twins,” Doug smiled and tilted his head to the side. “One’s already out. I’m just hoping to make the next birth. I really want to be there.”

“I’m sure you’ll make in it time.” The woman patted Doug’s knee and went back to fiddling with her shoe.

Doug looked over the man beside him and out the window. He wondered how Carol would react when he showed up. He wished he could have been there to help her through the first birth

“Twins, eh?”

Doug looked at the old man sitting next to him and nodded.

“Quite a handful. First time parents?”

Doug nodded again. The man smiled with a mouthful of rotten, crooked teeth.

“How’s the girly?”

“Um...you mean....”

“Yes, your girl. How did she like havin kiddies? Not too fun for ‘er I betcha.”

“Oh, well, I don’t know. I haven’t talked to her yet.” Doug realized that he still had his cell in his pocket. Maybe he could call county...talk to Mark, or even Carol. He pulled out the little phone and dialed the area code.

“Excuse me,” he told the man, who cocked his head and smiled again.

“Cook County General Hospital, can I help you?” the dispatch deadpanned.

“Yes, what room is Carol Hathaway in, please?”

There was a pause, then the click-clack of fingers on a keyboard. “She’s not taking calls right now, sorry.”

“No, I– its ok, I’m the father, and I can’t be there with her cause I’m on a plane, but I– I need to talk to her.”

“Oh.” The dispatch was quiet for a moment. “Well, just let me see.” Doug was put on hold. He waited, while the large woman and old man starred at him curiously.

“Hello?”

Doug sat up quickly. “Carol? That you?”

“Hi Doug.” Her voice was raspy and a little slurred.

“Hi there,” Doug smiled into the phone. “How are you feeling?”

“Ugh. Fuzzy.”

“Oh. Well...” he found himself at a loss for words. “Are you in pain?”

“Not too bad. Epidural... you know.”

“Ah. You opted for medicine.”

“Are you kidding?” He heard her laugh weakly. “I had the first one without the medicine. Ugh.”

“Thats kind of a strange way of doing it. You get a taste of two worlds; with and without pain medication.”

“Didn’t plan it like that. Can you believe I almost had our firstborn on the El train?”

“You didn’t!” Doug shook his head in disbelief.

“I did! I was coming home from county and I just looked down and it was...Oh my God.”

Doug laughed at her imitation of herself. “Your water broke.”

“Yeah. And then I was trying to make my way back to county, and I passed out.”

“What?!” Doug exclaimed, getting worried.

“But I’m ok. Dr. Kovach was there, he brought me to the ER. Actually, I delivered in the ER.”

“Oh God.”

“Thats what *I* said.”

“Kerry Weaver delivered my daughter, didn’t she?” Doug asked, smiling at the irony of it.

“Yes. She’s an excellent doctor, Doug, you know that.”

He sighed quietly. “I know. And the baby, she’s ok?”

“Oh Doug, she’s perfect. Absolutely perfect.”

“I can imagine. But you’re ok? I mean, everything is going alright?”

“Yeah. It... it was pretty...it was pretty bad though.

A silence permeated the conversation as Doug felt his heart jump into his throat.

“I wish I’d been there, Carol,” he said softly.

Carol sighed. She wished he had been too. She wished he was there now... but she wasn’t about to tell him that. “Her name is Tess, Doug.”

“Thats a beautiful name,” he said after a moment.

“Yeah, I think so too.” Carol looked over to the cart beside her bed, where a bassinet and baby would soon be lying. And then there would be another... “Where are you, Doug?”

“On a plane,” he said with a smile.

“What?! You’re kidding!”

“No. I caught the first plane out as soon as Mark called.”

“You– you’re coming? You’re coming here?” Carol asked, her voice fading with emotion.

“Yes, of course. I just hope I’ll be able to make it in time for the second birth.”

“I’ll try to hold off as long as I can,” Carol grinned, unable to control her delight. She wanted nothing more than for Doug to sit by her side and hold her hand. She still wanted to share the birth of their children with him.

“You do that. I’ll be there soon.”

“Ok Doug. Hurry.” Doug nodded even though she couldn’t see him, and closed the phone. His seat-mates were still starring at him intently.

“She sounds like a very sweet girl.” The woman said.

“Her name’s Carol,” Doug nodded. “She’s real sweet. And caring, and kind, and beautiful. But I tell ya, she packs *quite* an attitude.” He laughed lightly. “ Makes her a great nurse.”

“Sounds like you’re a luuuuuucky guy,” the old man barracked.

“Yeah,” Doug agreed as he thought of the life he could have: two children, a lovely wife...that is, if he wasn’t too late. If he could revoke the damage he had caused in leaving... “I am pretty lucky.”

“Do you have a picture, by any chance?” The woman asked.

“Actually, I do.” Doug took out his wallet and pulled out a picture of Carol and himself at a Christmas party. They were laughing and holding their drinks up to the camera.

The man whistled softly through his teeth as he leaned in to look.

“My, my. Ain’t she a doll?” The woman remarked.

“She’s pretty, huh?” Doug smiled. He hadn’t seen Carol in almost a year, but he could still see the image of her face as clear as if she were standing right in front of him. He shoved the picture back into his pocket and, sensing that he was done talking, the southern woman turned back to her book. The old man grinned once more, then turned to look out the window.

Doug leaned back in the seat and clasped his hands in his lap. In a few hours, he’d be meeting his children. He’d be able to sort things out with Carol, and they could be a family. ‘What a concept,’ Doug thought to himself. ‘A family....’

****

“Uh oh.”

“What is it?” Abby turned to Carol and cocked her head.

“I think my water just broke again.” Carol shifted as best she could and laughed softly at the sensation.

“Sure did,” the pretty nurse confirmed and smiled.

Suddenly, one of the alarms came to life.

“What?” Carol asked of the loud beeping. It was something about the stern noise that send chills of worry through her.

“Fetal heart rate’s down to 90,” Mark stated. Carol searched for a hint of concern in his voice but found none.

“But we’re good over 80, right?” Carol asked, looking from Abby to Mark, sensing that something was wrong.

“Relax Carol, I’ve got to check you again.” Abby told the new mother.

“Heart rate’s down to 75.”

“Dammit,” Abby cursed. “She’s got a prolapsed cord. The cord’s being pushed out before the baby.”

Carol felt an almost insane sense of dread flush through her. “Cutting off the oxygen?!” she asked, shrilly.

“We have to get this baby out now!” Mark shouted, controlling his own worry only in the sound of his voice. Memories of that fatal crash C-section he’d performed in the ER so many years ago ran rampant in his mind. “We’ll have to crash C-section!”

“Oh my God,” Carol sobbed as she felt the bed being wheeled out of the room. As of that minute, her world was falling apart, and there was nothing she could do. The ripping fear was so strong inside of her, the need to protect her child and not being able to. “This isn’t happening,” she said frantically as she squeezed her eyes shut. “Oh, Mark, don’t let this happen!”

“Don’t worry, I’m right here, ok?” Mark consoled as he hurried along the side of the moving bed.

“Mark, you’ve gotta save the baby!” she begged blindly.

“We will.” He promised sternly and took her hand.

“No, promise me, Mark!”

“Don’t worry, we’re gonna get him out.” Mark closed his eyes briefly. ‘Hurry Doug,’ he pleaded silently.

Carol sobbed woefully as she was rapidly prepped for surgery. “Please save this baby,” she prayed. “Please, God, please...”

****

“Bomp, bomp...bomp, bomp bomp....bomp, boom, whooooosh.” The plane landed shakily and Doug opened his eyes.

“Thank you for flying Delta Airlines!” The all-too-chipper voice from the loudspeaker boomed in his ears. Doug looked over to the passengers beside him. The old man was looking out the window with wide eyes, and the woman was still sleeping, her book hanging precariously from one hand.

“Miss...” he called, softly tapping her shoulder. “The plane’s landed.”

She opened her eyes and looked around. Then her eyes fell on Doug and she smiled.

“Well, aren’t you a dear to wake me up.”

Doug grinned. He wasn’t necessarily trying to be kind; he needed her to get up so he could get out. “No problem.” Now that he was in Chicago, the time until he would see Carol and meet his daughters was rapidly approaching. His stomach was in knots, and his hands were visibly shaking.

“Don’t you worry, Honey,” the southern woman took his hands in hers. “You are gonna do great with those babies.”

“Thank you,” Doug said, ducking his head. “Thank you very much.”

“Say hi to that girl of yours too. Wish her well. I hope the next birth goes perfectly.”

“I will,” Doug assured as he followed her off the plane and headed towards his waiting cab.

“Darlin!”

He turned back to see the woman waiving at him with her large purse.

“Congratulations!”

Doug smiled and stepped into the cab. Congratulations....congratulations....to him. Congratulations to him....because he just had a baby. A baby! His baby!

“Cook County General,” Doug told the driver with glee. He was going to meet his babies.


Every stop light made Doug nervous. He’d drum his fingers along the top of the cabby’s seat and tap his feet, until the driver would shoot him a dirty look and he’d settle for wringing his hands.

“Whassa matta? You got a medical emergency or som’tin?” The driver asked. Doug looked at his ID on the back of the seat.

“Havin a baby, Fred. Two of them, actually. Right now!”

“Oh,” he nodded knowingly and pressed down on the pedal a wee bit harder.

For Doug, the ride over took a thousand and one years. When they finally pulled up at CCGH, Doug threw a few bills at Fred and ran to the ER’s ambulance bay doors, which, he decided, was the fastest way in. He flew through the doors and past the lounge, but Randi stopped him as he passed the admit desk.

“Dr. Ross, wait!”

“Hey, I can’t talk, I’ve gotta get to Carol,” Doug spit out.

“I was told to tell you, she’s not in OB.”

“What?” Doug asked, confused. “Where is she?”

“Surgery...um...”she checked the paper tacked to the desk. “OR 3.” Randi put the paper back, then looked up at Doug. “Whoa, are you ok Dr. Ross?” His face had turned so white she was afraid he might keel over.

“Why?” he asked, very calmly. Too calmly. Much too calmly.

“Um... I don’t know they didn’t tell me, ask Weaver.”

Doug nodded, reminded himself to breathe, and searched around for Kerry. Spotting her, he ran over, feeling like he was in slow motion. “Kerry? Kerry?” he asked, trying not to let his voice sound frantic.

“Doug,” the doctor turned to face him. To his surprise, her face showed no hint of resignation or hatred towards him. This was more frightening to him than anything.

“Kerry?” was all Doug could ask. His voice rose with distraught concern.

“Doug, Carol had a prolapsed cord... that means”

“Yes, I know what it means,” Doug nodded, frustrated.

“So they had to do an emergency C-section.”

“I– is she Ok? And the baby, is it ok?” he had to hold on to the side of the table to keep himself from falling over. This had not been in the plan. This was not supposed to happen.

“I honestly don’t know. Do you want me to take you up there?”

“No, I know my way,” Doug hurried past her and to the elevator. He pressed the buttons madly, waited half a minute, and proceeded to run up the stairs. With every step tension built up in his chest. The closer he got, the more the worry overtook his mind. It was the one thought that drove him, that one demand that propelled him: He had to get to Carol.

Doug turned the corner into the surgery hallway, completely out of breath. The place seemed deserted, except for a nurse standing at the door to OR 3, taking off her gloves. “Snap... Snap...” The noises sounded deafeningly loud in his ears.

“Hathaway?” He shouted at her. The nurse looked confused for a moment, then pointed at the swinging doors beside her.

Doug barreled through them. A thick fog had encompassed his brain and he was finding it hard to sort his thoughts.

He stopped cold when he got through the doors, and stood there, trying to catch his breath. Carol. Where was Carol?

A tall figure stepped infront of him before he could run to the operating table.

“Doug?” his name was called, and two hands were placed firmly on his shoulders. “Doug?” A voice repeated.

Doug looked up. “Where is she, Mark?”

“Listen...” Mark started but Doug shook his head.

“Where IS SHE?!”

“The baby had a prolapsed cord. We had to do an emergency caesarian.”

Doug stepped back. “I know that. Please Mark, where is Carol? And the baby? Where are they? Can I see them?” He suddenly noticed how horrible Mark looked. Dead on his feet.

“Carol’s uterus wouldn’t stop bleeding. We held off on the hysterectomy because Carol didn’t want it. But we were too late–,”

“She had a hysterectomy?”

“No Doug,” Mark blinked back the tears that stung his eyes. “She bled out. She... she died.”

The words didn’t process right away. Doug had to think about them, run them over in his head a few times. And still, it didn’t really make sense.

“Has the second baby been born yet?”

Mark looked at him peculiarly. Then he put his hand back on his shoulder and sighed heavily. “About ten minutes ago, Doug. You– you’re too late.”

Too late. Too late. It was those words that sent realization through him, quickly, like a cold splash of water, like a sharp knife. He saw the image of Carol, falling away from him, in his dream. Then he looked past Mark, to the still body on the table. It almost bowled him over. Doug felt prickly anguish rise up inside of him, until it exploded.

He felt his body being hurled forward, by a force greater than he could control. Mark caught him firmly around the shoulders. “Hold on, Doug. Just let me finish.”

“No!” he shouted, a voice from somewhere hidden inside him. He threw himself out of Mark’s grasp and to the side of the operating table. He could see now. The nurse was pulling a sheet up over her face. Doug tore it back frantically. “No,” he repeated softly. The nurse shrugged and stepped away.

Doug gazed at the calm face. Carol’s face. Her eyes were closed, but the left one was only so halfway. Her skin was pale, but only slightly paler than usual. Her lips were parted tranquilly. She wasn’t even intubated. Doug lightly traced his fingers down the length of her face. An appalling sense of dread had settled in his chest like a brick. If only he’d been here ten minutes sooner. If only he hadn’t left! It had been almost 9 months since he’d seen her. Doug had never imagined it would be the last time.

“I’m sorry, Carol,” he told the body. “ I never thought it’d be like this. I am so sorry.” He willed her eyes to open. He willed her lips to curl into a smile and laugh with the lilting ring he’d been yearning for. Doug took the net off her hair with shaking fingers. Her black curls spilled out onto the white sheets like the contrast between life and death. He leaned in and let the aroma of her shampoo fill his nostrils, hoping that it would cease the ache in his being. It didn’t. He blinked, feeling hollow, and slipped his hand under her neck, bringing her face to his. He kissed each of her eyelids, the tip of her nose, her lips, wishing desperately that it was he who was lying cold on the table. She didn’t deserve this. “I love you,” Doug whispered despairingly as he gently laid her head back on the hard table. “I love you.” He stepped back and brought his hand to his chest in attempt to draw out the sour grief that had percolated there.

Doug was aware that somebody had stepped up beside him. He heard a noise, a cooing sound that he distinctly recognized. He turned. Mark was standing beside him. In his arms was a tiny baby girl, her eyes wide, her arms flailing.

Doug let Mark pass him the baby silently. He cradled the tiny body next to his, feeling her soft, new skin. A flood of emotions was barreling through him, complete, anguished grief, confronting this new feeling of astonished love. Doug looked woefully at Carol’s placid body, and closed his eyes. His last hope was that when he opened them, she’d be alive.

Doug opened his eyes. Carol was lying still in front of him, a brand new baby in his arms, and another waiting for him in the nursery.

The bottom had fallen out of his world. He was falling, off that cliff, with no one there to help him.

****

“Bomp, bomp...bomp, bomp bomp....bomp, boom, whooooosh.” The plane landed shakily and Doug opened his eyes.

“Thank you for flying Delta Airlines!” The all-too-chipper voice from the loudspeaker boomed in his ears. Doug looked over to the passengers beside him. The old man was looking out the window with wide eyes, and the woman was still sleeping, her book hanging precariously from one hand.

For a moment, he wondered why his pulse was racing and his breath coming in short gasps. He was confused as to why he had hot tears spilling from the corners of his eyes. “Oh God,” Doug bolted upright in his seat. The image of Carol’s still body flashed through his mind like pungent lightening.

“Just a dream, just a dream, just a dream,” he told himself repeatedly. “Just another nightmare. Its not real.” But the relief he should have felt in the fact wasn’t there. He couldn’t shake the dread that was still so present. Doug swiped at his wet face. How stupid he must look...

The woman was jolted awake and her book dropped to the floor. She groggily rubbed her face, then looked at Doug. Upon seeing his pained expression, she sat up straighter.

“Whatever is the matter?”

Doug cleared his throat. “I– uh...I...” He swallowed, and ran his hand through his hair.

“Its ok, love.” She patted his shoulder consolingly.

Doug turned to her. It was something about her sweet southern accent put him at ease.

“I had a dream. A– a nightmare, really,” he said, not sure why he was confiding in a complete stranger . Maybe that was the entire reason– he would never have to see her again.

“You poor dear. Do you want to talk about it?”

“Aw, no thanks. I’ll be ok.” Doug forced a shaky smile and got out of the seat, as the attendant was starting to let people off the plane.

The woman smiled back kindly. “Don’t you worry honey. You are gonna do great with those babies.”

“Thank you,” Doug said sincerely as they shuffled off the plane. But that wasn’t all he was worried about. At the moment, he had a much scarier image pressing into his mind.

“Congratulations!” The woman called out as they parted.

Doug stopped. No. This– this was just like...no.

“Darlin? You sure you’re gonna be alright?” She called out again.

Doug turned to her, waved quickly, and lunged into his waiting cab.

“Heyyyyyyy, where to?” The driver drawled.

“County General.” Doug barked.

“Whoa. Anxious much? You got some kinda medical emer–,”

“Just go!” Doug ordered. His heart was beating in his throat, his hands shaking. He looked down at the drivers ID.

“Fred...” It couldn’t be...

“What?”

Doug shook his head at the driver. This couldn’t be happening. He couldn’t be too late... he just couldn’t.

“I said, what?”

“Just take me to County. Quickly, to county.”

“Yeah I heard you the first time.”

For Doug, the ride to county took a thousand and one years. When they finally pulled up at CCGH, Doug threw a few bills at Fred and ran to the ER’s ambulance bay doors, which, he knew, was the fastest way in..

“Oh, Dr. Ross–,” Randi started when he leaned over the admit desk.

“Carol? Where is Carol?”

“Um... OR 3, I think, she–,”

Doug didn’t wait to hear the rest. He flew through the ER, not even bothering to stop at the elevator, and ran up the stairs. He felt his pulse so strongly in the sides of his head that he was sure it would explode. When he got to the Surgery hallway, he looked around for the nurse. There was no one. He burst into OR 3 to find an empty room.

He jogged to the main desk. The secretary was on the phone and didn’t look up when he called to her. Doug pounded hard on the marble surface. She looked up, and put the phone to her chest.

“Do you want me to call security?”

“Where is Carol Hathaway?!”

“Who? Hemingway?” she furrowed her brow and looked up at him, clearly annoyed.

“HATHAWAY! C-Section, multiple births, she was in OR-3.” He couldn’t keep his voice from cracking with fright and swelling emotion. “CAROL HATHA–,”

The secretary saw the raw dread in his eyes, and she softened. “She was taken up to OB awhile ago. Room.... uh.... 286.”

“OB?”

“Yeah, Obstetrics,” she said, cracking her gum loudly, her voice cold again.. “Thats usually were they bring people after they’ve delivered babies...”

Doug was up the stairs to OB before the secretary could close her mouth. ‘280...282...284...’ he frantically searched the room numbers on the doors. ‘286!’

Doug rushed into the room. He almost expected to see a very pale, still, Carol lying on a cold operating table. Instead, he found a pale, still, Carol, lying in a hospital bed.

He slowly stepped up to the bedside. For what seemed like an eternity, he stood, watching Carol’s chest gently rise up and down, until tears of deep relief stung his eyes. He blinked them back, ran his hand through his hair, and took a shaky breath.

“Doug.”

He whirled around at the sound of Mark’s voice. He and a nurse where heading into the room with two small bassinets. He felt his pulse quicken as he saw two sets of arms moving in the air.

“Hey,” Doug greeted softly. He couldn’t pull his eyes away from the tiny forms squirming in blankets. These were his children...his very own... his flesh and blood. Carol was right– they were absolutely beautiful.

“Did someone explain to you about what happened?” Mark asked softly, as the nurse left.

“Sort of...not really.” Doug reached into one of the bassinets and gently traced the tips of his fingers over the top of the baby’s head, feeling her soft, new hair. She starred up at him with wide eyes.

“The second baby’s cord had prolapsed and we had to do an emergency C-section,” Mark explained. “The baby was fine, but Carol’s uterus wouldn’t stop bleeding. She came very close to having a hysterectomy, but we held off, and were able to control everything. She came out of it well, and everything seems to be ok.”

Doug sighed mirthfully. Carol was alive– better than alive– she would be fine. And his daughters, both of them, were beautiful. He’d missed their births... but he was relieved that they were ok.

“Thank you, Mark.”

“For what?”

“For being there. For helping her.” Doug gave him a small smile.

“You would have been there if you could. Carol knows that.” Mark put his hand on his friend’s shoulder.

“Yeah,” Doug nodded. He looked down at his girls and smiled. His gaze traveled a few feet to where Carol was lying.

“Uh... I’ve gotta get back downstairs. Will you let me know after she wakes up?”

“Sure,” he looked up at Mark, who gave him a supportive smile, a tilt of his head, and left.

Doug turned back to his new daughters. One had fallen asleep. He slowly stooped over the other and let his face come within inches of the baby’s. Her tiny arm swung up and the small hand patted clumsily at his nose. He leaned in to look at the hospital bracelet. Hathaway/Ross, Baby B, it read. Doug felt a smile being pulled onto his face by some unknown force. He reached into the bassinet and gently lifted the baby into his arms. She opened her mouth, her little pink tongue peeking from the corner.

“So you’re my little troublemaker, huh?” Doug whispered, his voice thick with emotion. He pulled both bassinets with him as he sat down in the chair beside Carol’s bed with his infant daughter. “I’m sorry I wasn’t there,”he told her, letting her fingers wrap and unwrap around his thumb. “ That I wasn’t there for your first breath. But I promise, I’ll be around for everything else– Your first step and your first word... your first day of school.” Doug cleared his throat quietly. “I’m gonna get to see you grow up, you and your sister. I’ll be there for your graduation and your wedding...” He softly kissed the baby’s forehead and tried to imagine her in 20 years, all grown up, with Carol’s dark, curly hair against a white dress...

“You’re here.”

Carol’s groggy voice interrupted his daydream. Doug turned to her and smiled.

“Hey kiddo,” he drawled softly. She starred at him, tears collecting at the corners of her eyes. Then her gaze traveled to the baby in his arms, and she smiled back at him. But when the memory of the C-section came back to her, her eyes widened and her hand flew to her abdomen.

“Don’t worry, you still have your uterus,” Doug reassured.

“Is she ok?” Carol worriedly motioned to the baby in his arms, who was slowly falling asleep.

“She’s perfect. They’re both perfect.” Doug smiled. “But she needs a name.” He turned to the other newborn in the bassinet. “Tess needs to know what her little sister’s name is.”

Carol smiled feebly. “Why don’t you name her?”

“Me?” Doug looked down at his daughter.

Carol nodded. “You *are* her father.”

“Um...what about naming her after my mom?”

“Sarah...?” she played the name around in her head.

“Middle name Katherine,” Doug supplied.

“Kate, oh, I like that.” She smiled at her new daughter, then turned to Doug. He got up and gently handed the baby to her. The slight contact of their arms sent a cascade of flickering chills through them both. He hadn’t touched her for so long– the simple brush against her gown felt like a pious gift. Doug couldn’t resist brushing his lips against her forehead lightly as he stood.

New and old emotions were swirling within him– the love and longing for Carol that had always been there, the new adoration coursing through him for his daughters, and the complete relief of knowing that his little family– though they hadn’t been a family for more than a few moments– was safe.

Doug carefully lifted Tess out of the bassinet and sat on the edge of the bed. They sat there, in quiet happiness, watching their new daughters –Tess and Kate– breathe. It was, in every way, the most marvelous thing Doug had ever experienced. He closed his eyes briefly, trying to savor the feeling.

“This is good,” Carol said, looking up at him. “This is good, isn’t it?”

Doug nodded, knowing exactly what she meant. “Its hard to believe I’m here,” he motioned to the babies. “With them, with you.”

“Whats going to happen, Doug?” she asked softly after a moment. He looked down at the baby girl in his arms, her tiny chest rising and falling with every breath.

“I don’t know.” Doug smiled. “But... I guess we’re going to find out.”

“I’m glad you’re here,” Carol admitted.

“Me too,” he agreed. “I just... I wish I’d been here for the beginning. For their beginning.” He sighed softly and looked to the women beside him– the mother of his children, the love of his life. “I guess I was a little too late, huh?” A quick sense of apprehension ran up his spine as he finally said the words that had been haunting him all day.

Carol slipped her hand out from under Kate and took Doug’s. “They have their whole lives ahead of them, Doug. And we have the rest of our lives to help them grow. To be parents.” She shook her head and shrugged. “I’d say, you’re right on time.”

The End (finally)

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ya. I know that wasn't very... sophisticated, and a little more corny than I like, but, as I said before, I'm still looking for something interesting to write about. Any ideas? Send them (and questions and comments on this fic) to dougandcarol_tlf@hotmail.com




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