TITLE: All About Chemistry
PAIRINGS: Weaver/Lewis, Weaver/f; implied Carter/Abby and Weaver/Carter
RATING: NC-17 for explicit f/f sex
WARNING: References to canon character death. SERIES/SEQUEL: Happens in the same universe as "Underneath" (http://mosca.freeservers.com/fanfic/underneath.html ) but stands on its own.
SPOILERS/CONTINUITY: Begins soon after "Secrets and Lies," and more or less follows the continuity of the rest of season 8. SUMMARY: And so for a while they conducted experiments, and they were amazed by all the things they learned. ARCHIVE: Yes to list archives, ER Femslash, and Mmm... Doctor. Everyone else, please ask first and leave my disclaimers and notes as written.
FEEDBACK: Better than lutefisk. Send it privately to mosca6@m...
DISCLAIMER: ER is the intellectual property of Constant C Productions, Amblin Entertainment, and Warner Brothers Television. This original work of fan fiction is copyright 2002 Mosca and is protected in the USA by the fair use provisions of the Copyright Act of 1976. All rights reserved. All wrongs reversed. No parking during precipitation events. NOTES: Profuse thanks to my betas, k and Katisha. The title is lovingly borrowed from a Semisonic song. There's a brief quotation from "Once in a Lifetime" by the Talking Heads, and one from "Some Girls," from the musical Once on this Island, book by Lynn Ahrens. And yeah, I've probably been reading a little too much Dykes to Watch Out For.
One: Observable Phenomena
"So, who do I have chemistry with?" I said. Abby and I were taking our lunch break in the hospital cafeteria. I was hoping that if I stared down my chef salad long enough, it would start to look edible.
Abby stirred her iced tea with a straw. "You mean at work?"
"Okay." Abby was quiet for a minute, still stirring her tea.
"You have to think?" I said.
"Yeah. Wait. God, you're impatient."
"Well, I want to know."
"I don't want to leave anyone out," said Abby.
"There's enough to leave people out?"
"You know want I mean. Anyway. Mark Greene, obviously."
"Obviously?" I said. "That's obvious?"
"Obvious as in everyone thinks you have a history, so--"
"We do have a history," I said. "It's just not the history everyone thinks we have. In any case, he's married, and if something was going to happen, it already would have. Next?"
"The intern?" I said. "God, he's like, twelve years old."
"Yeah, but cute."
"Fine, he's cute, but--"
"Oh, you've thought about it," Abby said.
"I have not!"
"Maybe... once or twice," I said. "Thought about it."
"I think he's got these sort of Mrs. Robinson fantasies about you."
"Abby, I'm not old enough for anyone to have Mrs. Robinson fantasies about me."
"You are if they're twelve."
"Fine. Also not happening. Next?"
Abby fidgeted. "That's... it."
"No, it's not."
"Yeah, it is. That's it."
"I thought you had this whole long list for me," I said.
"Well, there's lots of crushes and little one-sided things, but that's different. You asked about chemistry. And that's it for obvious chemistry."
"You're lying," I said. "There's one that you... don't want to tell me, or something."
"You don't want to know."
"So there is one..." I said.
"Yeah, but you don't want to know," Abby said. "Really. You're better off not knowing. They're better off if you don't know."
"Okay, now I'm really curious."
"And that's too bad, because I'm not telling you."
"Yes, you are."
"No, I'm not."
I rested my chin in my hands and leaned forward towards Abby. "Tell me," she said.
"I'm telling you, you don't want to know."
"But I do," I said. "I'm a big girl. I can handle it. Tell me."
"I think... I think Weaver has a think for you," Abby said carefully.
"Weaver? Has a 'thing' for me?"
"Maybe. I think so. The way she looks at you and stuff, yeah."
"What kind of thing?" I said.
"The kind where you figure it's never gonna happen, so you kind of put it in the back of your mind and get on with your life."
"Oh," I said.
Abby sipped her tea. "I told you, you didn't want to know."
"I thought you said... the one-sided stuff didn't count, though."
"No," said Abby. "The one-sided stuff doesn't count."
"But Abby, I'm not-- I'm straight, Abby."
"I know, and that's why--"
"Then how can you think that I want--"
"This," Abby said, "is why I really, really didn't want to tell you."
"So you think I've got some kind of unconscious crush on Weaver."
"No, I think there's... some kind of weird energy."
"Well, I think you're nuts," I said. "So I guess that makes us even."
So of course I spent the whole afternoon watching Weaver. The ER was a mob scene: mostly just minor illnesses and injuries, but lots of people around, demanding service like they were in line at White Castle. There wasn't much opportunity for quiet observation. I kept it up over the course of the next few days, but even when I had the chance to watch, it didn't do me much good. Weaver was totally unreadable. She was a cold, efficient, screeching departmental administration machine. She was sweet to her patients and permanently irritated with her colleagues. She treated me no differently from anyone else. There was nothing in the way she looked at me. I wasn't sure why Abby had said what she'd said. Maybe to get a rise out of me, see how I'd react. But there was no truth in it, just the usual games and the exhausting gossip and the need to go up on the roof and gasp for air even though I knew there would be a colony of smokers there. No place was private anymore. I had wanted to see Abby as some kind of exception. But Abby was no better than me. She played the game.
Everyone played the game except for Weaver. Sometimes she'd get dragged in, but that would infuriate her. And her stubbornness-- her refusal to succumb to those rules-- made people hate her. That was why anyone played along in the first place: if you didn't gossip and giggle and take everything like it didn't matter, then people wouldn't like you. Weaver seemed to have chosen to forfeit early rather than keep watching her step. And I realized that this was maybe what Abby had seen. Weaver was the road not taken. I envied that. I wasn't above the bullshit, but Weaver was.
I felt like I needed to apologize again. I'd meant it the first time, and maybe Weaver would have believed it if not for Carter's stupid fucking juvenile prank. I found Weaver during a lull in patient intake and asked if we could talk for a minute. Weaver looked like she was trying to find a way out of it. But she said yes.
There were people everywhere. Every exam room had a patient in it, and the lounge was full of residents. Weaver and I settled on the drug lockup, which was too narrow a space and pushed us too close together. "I wanted to talk to you about..." I began, but I wasn't sure how to finish the sentence. I took a deep breath. "I'm sorry about the way I've been acting lately. I haven't really been much of an adult."
"If this is about two weeks ago, then really--"
"No, it's about... in general," I said, finding my stride a bit. "I feel like I'm being pitted against you, and that's not-- that's not fair."
"No, it isn't, is it?" Weaver said. There was a long silence, like we were both praying the other one would say something. "It's all right," Weaver said finally. "I can't expect you to take my side."
"Why shouldn't you? I'm an attending. I should be supporting you."
"It's okay. I'm used to the friction."
"I just... don't want to create more than there already is."
"Good. Neither do I."
"I... I'm tired of the screwing around and the hooking up and the backstabbing like we're still in high school," I said. "I'm not expecting the two of us to be friends, but..."
"Are you calling a truce?" Weaver laughed.
"Yeah," I said. "Yeah, that's what I'm doing."
"All right," Weaver said. "Truce." We shook on it.
"I know you're not happy with some of the admin duties that Romano gave me," I said. "Do you think maybe... we could sit down and... rearrange things?"
"That would be... helpful," Weaver said, sounding like she'd just accepted a date.
"I didn't-- I didn't ask for that extra responsibility. I don't even really want it--"
"I don't mind," Weaver said. "Gives me more time with patients."
"So when should we..."
"I'll have a look at my schedule and let you know, okay?"
"Okay," I said. "Um. Thanks for... listening and... I guess we should both get back to work."
"No," said Weaver, "thank you." She took up her crutch and reached for the door. "Oh, and Susan?"
"I know it was Carter who put the... toy in my locker."
"The dildo?" I blurted.
"Strap-on," Weaver said. "It had a harness."
"Whatever. Did he tell you, or--"
"He used to have my locker," Weaver said. "I never changed the combination. He knew I would know he did it."
"Well, good, because--"
"Susan, I never thought it was you."
"I didn't say that I thought..."
"I'm... I'm sorry I assumed that you were taking sides against me," Weaver said.
"I can understand why you did."
"Doesn't excuse it."
"Still, I... apology accepted."
"Maybe we should..."
"So I'll, um, let you know about meeting about the admin duties and..."
"All right," I said. Weaver was out the door before either of us could say anything else. I wasn't sure what to do with myself; I wasn't sure what to do, period. It might not have been chemistry, but there was something so thick in the air that I could have scraped it off of the drug cabinets.
I became preoccupied with Mark's illness, to the point that I hardly noticed how smoothly things were running at work. I watched him lose control of the muscles in his face and refuse to admit to anyone that this was the end. At work, I was on autopilot, although no one seemed to notice. But I blamed myself for my aloofness: I had let myself become so invested in a single patient that the others had ceased to matter.
Restless one night, I counted all of the paperwork I had to do. It became urgent enough in my mind to keep me from sleeping. I threw on jeans and a hooded sweatshirt, packed my laptop into its case, and drove to the hospital to take care of my responsibilities. It was the first time in a while that I had found myself worrying about something unrelated to Mark, and I wanted to keep my mind there.
I was in the lounge getting a stack of forms together when Weaver walked in. "What are you doing here?" Weaver asked.
"Couldn't sleep," I said. "I thought I'd get something done."
"Luka and I were going to take care of those for you," Weaver said. "We figured maybe this month you ought to go easy."
"I'm going crazy either way."
"Listen, I-- there's this diner in Greektown where I go sometimes to get that stuff done when the hospital is too distracting and Doc Magoo's is full of doctors."
"I don't know," I said. "I've got my laptop and..."
"They don't mind. I bring mine all the time. The place is full of UIC grad students doing the same thing."
"Do they... have those stuffed grape leaf things?"
"Probably," Weaver said. "Usually I just have them keep bringing me Turkish coffee until sunrise."
"So it's where? On Halsted?"
"Yeah, on that main strip where it's all restaurants. I think it's called Zorba's. It'll be the only place open."
"Wanna join me?" I heard myself say.
"It looked like you were leaving anyway, and..."
"I really ought to..."
"Sleep," Weaver said.
"Come on. Please?"
Weaver sighed. "All right," she said.
We were quiet in my car, and even quieter at the restaurant. We ate and did our work like strangers who happened to have been seated at the same table. I reminded myself that I was at least getting my resident evaluations done, and the grape leaves were good, and the coffee was strong. Once in a while, I'd look up at Kerry, then go back to my work before Kerry could return my gaze. I was supposed to be writing about Mahesh Shah's rapport with patients, but my mind got stuck trying to determine exactly when Weaver had stopped being Weaver in my mind and started being Kerry. I was wondering if that was what Abby had meant by chemistry. If so, then chemistry didn't mean much of anything.
"What?" Kerry said.
"Oh, what? Nothing. I was just-- nothing. Sorry. I guess I spaced out for a minute."
Kerry half-smiled, obviously not satisfied but willing to let it go. It wasn't like she ever told anyone anything. She returned to typing furiously. It didn't surprise me that Kerry could type so fast, but she seemed to be writing passionately. Kerry was working, definitely, but it wasn't the kind of work she was going to hand over to the hospital. She was writing in a diary. Or composing an epic poem.
"Dr. Shah presents himself to patients as compassionate and concerned. He listens carefully and thoroughly to patients before drawing conclusions. He still seems to get overwhelmed by some cases, especially those that involve a lot of blood or vomit, and he has trouble dealing with mentally altered patients. He's very good with children." It seemed pretty flat, but resident evaluations weren't supposed to be epic poetry.
"The sun's starting to come up," Kerry said.
"Sun's starting to rise," Kerry repeated.
I turned in my chair. A strip of yellow-orange lit the bottom of the sky. "I didn't realize it was so late," I said.
"They're gonna start serving breakfast soon."
"I'm on at seven," I said. "I'd better--"
Kerry motioned to the waiter for the check.
"Do you need a ride home?" I said.
"I'll take the El."
"No, really, it's not a problem."
"I live all the way up in Andersonville."
"That's not far out of my way," I said. "I was all set to take you out to Lake Forest or something."
Kerry gave a little laugh. "I could never live that far out of the city," she said. "I had a house in Oak Park for a while, and it was like living in exile."
I grew up out there, in the West and Northwest suburbs. Nowhere as nice as Oak Park. Now, I only went out that way to visit my parents. The Ike seemed like an expressway to Mars. "I know what you mean," I said.
Kerry acquiesced to accepting a ride. "So, do you do this often?" I asked, once they were in the car and under way.
"Do what?" Kerry said.
"Stay out all night in diners, pouring your heart out into your computer."
"It was just work."
"Didn't look like it," I pressed. "You looked like... you were enjoying it too much."
"I keep a journal," Kerry admitted. "Maybe... that's what you saw."
"Say anything about me?"
"Sorry. That was... none of my business."
"Most of the time, I just write about my day," Kerry said.
"I always wanted to keep a diary," I said. "Every time I tried, I wrote two or three entries and then forgot about it."
"You... can't feel like you have to write something every day," Kerry said. "Only... when you have something to say."
I found myself suddenly without a word. I concentrated on driving and on the soft drone of the car radio. "And you may ask yourself, 'How did I get here?'" It was a fair question to ask as I passed the Drive's North Avenue exit and, out of the corner of my eye, watched Kerry watch the sunrise.
"Should I keep going up Sheridan once the Drive ends?" I asked.
"Yeah. I live right on Sheridan."
Quiet again. The radio station cut to commercials.
"It's going to be a pretty day," I said.
"I'll be sleeping through it," Kerry said regretfully. "I've been up for--" she checked her watch-- "27 hours."
"Oh, God, I'm sorry," I said. "I didn't realize--"
"I would've been up anyway, getting that stuff done. It was... it was nice to have company."
"Thanks," I said.
"Thanks for inviting me."
"Well, I couldn't not-- not after you--"
"Yes, you could have," Kerry said. "You easily could have."
We arrived at Kerry's building, and there was nowhere to park, of course. I pulled in front of a fire hydrant and put my emergency flashers on. "Sweet dreams," I said to Kerry, who was gathering her things together.
"Thanks for the ride," Kerry said. And for a moment, we were looking at each other, not saying anything. I could hear the blood pump past my ears. And in the space of that moment, I would have let Kerry kiss me. I would have kissed back. Right there, illegally parked, with the mostly risen sun baking my arms through my sweatshirt, I would have kissed my female boss, and I would have liked it.
I returned to reality, in which I was not kissing anyone. Kerry was opening the car door like she hoped she could leave unnoticed. "See you-- see you at work," I said.
Kerry managed an "Mmm-hmm" before climbing out of the car. I pulled back onto the road without watching Kerry go. I hated Abby for noticing, for knowing, for not lying when I had pressed her for an answer. This was too hard. This was fucking impossible. There were things I didn't want to know, and this was high on the list.
For days, I watched women wherever I went. I needed to prove to myself that this wasn't some kind of perverse Weaver-only situation. Most of the women I saw didn't do anything for me, but there were a few: a woman in tight jeans at the grocery store; a cop with long braided hair extensions and eyes that went on forever, directing traffic near the community center where I took my yoga lessons; the actress who played Ling on "Ally McBeal." I realized that I'd never paid attention. There'd always been enough men that I'd liked and wanted, and I'd never considered any other possibilities.
Strangely, the discovery made me feel better. The moment in the car with Kerry had terrified me, but now I saw it in the scheme of something greater. I was attracted to Kerry because I was sometimes attracted to women. In that context, everything made sense. I could go out and choose to date men, knowing there was another, more difficult option that I was choosing not to take. I could decide to be straight, even if once in a while my eyes wandered in another direction. And if I ever got curious, I could go to a bar, pick up some girl, and get it out of my system. Nothing had to change.
But it changed anyway-- because of Kerry. Because Kerry was there at work like a little red-headed flag. Kerry was no longer annoying because she was shrill and short-tempered, but because I had important things to think about, like whether Mark was right now still breathing, and then Kerry would walk by and I would be wondering what Kerry's breasts looked like. It made me feel adolescent. I wanted to blame Kerry, but that wasn't fair. I was going to have to get over my stupid crush.
Or. There was the other option. The one that involved facing Kerry and letting her know. The one that could at worst destroy my career and queer my relationship with my boss, and at best could result in some kind of clandestine romance. There were times when the idea tempted me. I'd sit imagining ways to ask Kerry out, or just to get her into bed. Then, I would get angry with myself for even thinking that way, and I'd push away the fantasies.
And time passed. And Mark died. It was late spring and drizzling appropriately, and I was so numb I couldn't react. I felt guilty for not having been with him, even though he'd been in Hawaii and happy. I cried once in an exam room, the day after I heard, and after that there was nothing left in me.
Two nights later, I had the night off. I hated myself for feeling nothing. I thought I should be doing something dramatic: tearing my clothes and cursing the gods. Instead, I was wide awake at two in the morning and craving gyros. I was too distraught to drive, but taking the El at that time of night was just asking to be mugged. There was no traffic on the way down to Greektown, just squad cars and the occasional fellow late-night lost soul. I wanted to know where they were going. I wanted to know what they had lost.
I had no reason to expect Kerry to be at Zorba's. Part of me hoped for it, but I didn't expect it. I was going purely to get myself out of my apartment, to get myself to eat and relax and not hate myself for my failure to mourn. Anyway, Kerry's presence would mean facing my sexuality issues and my crush-on-the-boss issues, and I was pretty sure I didn't have the emotional resources for that. Besides, she had a girlfriend, or something that had looked a lot like a girlfriend when they'd shown up at the Lava Lounge the day Mark died.
So of course, Kerry was there. She was alone in a booth, typing at light speed, oblivious to my entrance. I felt inadequately prepared, walking in with only yesterday's Tribune and the latest issue of Jane magazine. I couldn't decide whether to take a table by myself or to bravely sit down with Kerry. The waiter stood behind the counter, staring at me impatiently.
I decided that it was worth my time to at least say hello. Kerry looked startled and unwelcomely interrupted. "Oh-- I just didn't expect--" Kerry said.
"You didn't expect me to come back?" I said.
"I like this place," I said. "I... I was just... going to sit over there." I cocked her head towards the counter. I liked sitting at counters in diners; it was like I could see all the machinery of the place.
"Oh, no, I wouldn't want to--"
"No. Go ahead. Sit here."
"As long as I don't talk to you?"
"You can talk," Kerry said.
"That's not really... what I wanted to do," I said.
"It's all right if you want to."
"No, I-- I wanted to read. My apartment was getting claustrophobic."
Kerry seemed to accept that, and she returned her attention to her computer. I read my newspaper and, when they came, ate my gyros. The food was satisfying in a way that food hadn't been for a while. For a couple of hours, I felt almost stable. And then, without warning, Mark's death hit me. They say it's like that. You're fine for days, and then all of a sudden, you're in a restaurant, and it's four in the morning, and you lose your shit. Silently, I walked out of the diner. When I got outside, I broke into a run. I reached my car and locked myself inside. I thought I was going to cry, but when I leaned my head against the steering wheel, my eyes and my mouth were dry, and my own arrhythmic breathing filled the small space.
It was some amount of time between five minutes and an hour when Kerry pounded on the passenger window. "Are you okay?" Kerry shouted.
I reached over to unlock the door. "I'm a... a little shaky," I said as Kerry opened the door and sat down in the passenger seat.
"Because of Mark?" Kerry said.
"I-- Here's your paper and your magazine. I wasn't sure if you wanted them or not."
"Oh... um, thanks."
"I paid for your food, too."
"Oh, wow, you didn't have to-- I'll pay you back. How much was it?"
"Don't-- don't worry about it. I wasn't sure if you were coming back, and I didn't want to..."
I leaned over to the passenger side and kissed Kerry softly on the lips. Kerry clattered backward desperately, tangling herself on her crutch. "Don't," Kerry said. "Don't do this."
I hadn't planned on telling Kerry in quite this way, but it was too late now. "I-- I'm sorry," I said. "I... meant that."
"I don't... think you did."
"I want to--"
"No. Don't. Don't."
"I want to prove it to you," I said.
"That I meant... that."
"You didn't. Susan, I don't know if you're... looking for someone to comfort you or... but-- but tomorrow this will not seem like a good idea."
"I've been wanting to kiss you," I said, "since before I needed someone to comfort me."
"I just don't think... it's the right time," Kerry said.
"Then we'll go on a date. A real date. We can... go bowling." I said it because it was the most absurd activity I could think of. Except maybe bungee jumping.
"I can't bowl," Kerry said, righting her crutch and scooting out of the corner she'd backed herself into.
I laughed. "Obviously."
"We could-- we could have lunch sometime," Kerry said. "In a couple of weeks. When-- when things have calmed down."
That was better than I had feared this would turn out, at least. "Sounds good," I said.
"We'll-- we can talk about it later on," Kerry said.
"Are you-- are you going to be able to get home all right?"
"I'll-- I'm going to--" Kerry stammered, then gave up on language altogether. She opened the car door. Then, like an afterthought, she kissed my cheek gently before getting out of the car. I thought I could feel a spark where Kerry had kissed me, and it seemed to tingle the whole way home.
When I got back to my apartment, I bellyflopped on my bed and let myself cry. It might have been for Mark. I wasn't sure.