Mouths of Babes, Part 2, The

by Ainsley

Kerry came slowly back into her body.

The pain was everywhere and it throbbed in time with the beating of her heart. She winced and lifted a clumsy hand to touch her face, felt gauze with her fingertips instead.

She tried to force her eyes open and the pain felt like she'd been hit in the face with a shovel. One lid eased open, but the other remained stubbornly stuck. The wooziness welled up then and she concentrated on drawing in the next breath and then the next until it passed. It felt like a horse had kicked her in the ribs. At least one, maybe two broken ribs, she figured.

She stared at the ceiling with her good eye. This had to be the hospital. Only County could have painted a room the colour of bile, she thought. She experimented with her limbs, found one particularly leaden and gazed down to see her leg, propped on a stack of pillows, encased in a white fiberglass cast.

She sank back and let the air rush out of her. The room seemed misty somehow and the pounding ache below her knee made her stomach turn. She rolled her head to one side, searching for the call button and instead, saw Kim sitting in the chair in the corner, her head leaned back against the wall, asleep. Her arms were curled around herself in protection, or maybe for warmth. It was strange to see her in scrubs. She looked fragile and ... so beautiful. Kerry lay there a moment and watched her sleep.

A noise outside the door and Kim's eyes fluttered open. She was instantly alert, looking toward the bed.

Their eyes met.

"Kerry?" she said and suddenly, there were tears in her eyes.

She got up and hurried to the side of the bed. "Hey," she said, softly grabbing Kerry's hand and holding it between her own. "You're awake. How do you feel?"

Kerry opened her mouth to speak but nothing came out. She forced a cough, that made her head pound, then tried to clear her throat. Kim quickly poured her a glass of water and adjusted the straw so that she could sip it.

"I'm all right, I think. Kind of sore," she said, after she'd taken a drink.

Kim retrieved her hand and pressed it to her cheek, held it there. "You had me pretty worried, there." She was trying to smile through the hint of tears that remained and Kerry lay there watching her, unable to look away. Such gentleness in her touch, those hands, God, Kerry remembered those hands. She gave herself a little shake. Don't do this.

"What happened?" she asked.

Kim described the events of the night before, including the hypovolemic shock and the surgery.

"Was everybody all right? Malucci and Luka and the resident? Did he hurt anybody else?" Kerry asked.

"No, everybody's fine. I wanted to beat the resident within an inch of his useless little life, but cooler heads prevailed. A concussion was probably enough."

Kerry smiled slightly then winced. "My face," she said. "It's cut, isn't it?" She explored her forehead and nose with tender fingers.

"Don't worry about those," Kim said, stroking and smoothing back strands of fine red hair. "Dr. Kovac got on the phone and got the senior resident from plastics to come and stitch everything up. He guaranteed there'd be no scarring." She touched Kerry's pale cheek. "Are you in pain? Do you want me to get the nurse?"

"Maybe in a minute," Kerry said. She looked over at the IV bag. "Is it morphine?"

Kim nodded.

Kerry's good eyelid was dipping, lulled by the touch of Kim's fingers, stroking her cheek. How many mornings had Kim woken her just like this, tenderly caressing her face, her shoulders, her breasts.

She snapped back into herself and opened her eye. This wasn't right. She couldn't let herself need this again. Not after how it had all ended. She couldn't ever go through that again.

"Kerry?" Kim asked, sensing the change. "What's the matter? Are you all right?"

Kerry let her head roll to the side to look at Kim. She searched her face, plumbed the depth of those sapphire eyes and then saw it.

"So you were there. You saw it all happen?" Kerry asked.

Kim nodded and her smile faded and winked out. "Yeah. I was right there."

"What were you coming to the ER for?" Kerry asked, her face impassive.

"Uh, I was coming to check up on the psych resident," she said and confusion was slowly taking over her expression.

Kerry watched her closely but saw only the look on her face at the end of the hall when they'd spotted each other. Remembered the polite and firm rebuttal of her letter, the unanswered phone calls, the hollow ache that she had carried around for weeks that made her mangled tibia pale in comparison. She disentangled her hand from Kim's under the pretext of trying to shift position slightly.

"Kerry, what is it?" Kim asked and there was real concern in her voice now.

"I'm kind of sore," Kerry said and she avoided meeting Kim's questioning eyes. "I think I should probably just sleep some more."

Kim nodded numbly. "Okay. Are you sure you don't want more pain medication?"

"No, I'm just going to sleep for a while," she said. "You should go on home."

I want to be with you, Kim wanted to say, but instead it came out "I could stay, if you want."

"No, you look beat. Go home. Get some rest."

Kim hesitated, still trying to divine what had just passed through Kerry's mind. "Well, okay," she said finally. "Will you be all right? Is there anything you need?"

"No, I'm fine, Kim, thanks," Kerry said and she was already settling deeper into her pillows.

Kim got to her feet. "Well, okay. I'll come by later to see how you are," Kim said.

"You don't need to worry about me."

Kim stood there for a long moment. You're not fine, she thought. But she could take a hint.

"All right," she said. "Sleep well." She impulsively dropped a kiss on Kerry's forehead and then smoothed her hair once more. "I'll see you later."

Kerry nodded sleepily.

Kim left, stopping once at the door to glance back at the tiny woman in the bed and wonder what the hell had just happened.

Kerry waited a full five minutes before she let herself cry.

It was suppertime the next day before Kim returned, a half hour before her shift started, bearing a very large bouquet of richly coloured tulips, roses and irises in one hand, and a bag from a deli in the other. She got off the elevator and headed for Kerry's room with a little bounce in her step. She felt much better than when she'd left. She'd gotten a little sleep, had taken a shower and mainly, when she'd called to check on Kerry's condition, she was told that she seemed to be improving. Apparently she'd even eaten a little bit. Kim had chuckled at that, wondering what sort of culinary hell they'd presented her with. The thought of Kerry trying to choke down cream of wheat and green jell-o had prompted her visit to the "The Bountiful Bagel" near her house to secure a vegetarian and cream cheese on whole-wheat bagel for her.

The place had made her smile wistfully. They'd spent a few Sunday mornings sitting in "The Bountiful Bagel," eating breakfast, drinking coffee and working their way through the Sunday paper. There should have been more days like that.

Maybe it wasn't too late to correct that.

She pushed open the door to the wing where Kerry's room was and was sailing past the nurse's station when someone called her name. She turned.

A tiny little thing in nurse's scrubs hurried out to talk to her. Kim remembered her from the other night.

"Nancy, hi," she said. "I'm just going in to visit Dr. Weaver."

"Well, that's the thing," Nancy said, wringing her hands. "Dr. Weaver has asked for no visitors."

Kim looked mutely at her. Finally she shook her head to clear it. "I beg your pardon?"

"She asked that we not allow any visitors at all," Nancy said, eyes full of sympathy.

Kim stood there, staring blankly at Nancy. "Oh," she said. "I see."

"I think she mustn't want all of her co-workers dropping in all day," the tiny nurse continued. "She was pretty badly hurt and I think she just wants to rest."

Kim's mind was humming as she worked her way through possibilities and explanations. "I see," she said again. "And I suppose that she doesn't want any phone calls, either?"

Nancy shook her head. "No, she specifically asked for no phone calls. No one has been in or out except Dr. Anspaugh and Dr. Carroll from plastics." She gestured towards the flowers. "That's a gorgeous bouquet, Dr. Legaspi. I'd be happy to bring it in to her and tell her you were here."

"Sure," Kim said, handing over the flowers in slow motion, her mind still reeling. "Oh and this," she said, giving her the bag. "It's a sandwich and it could spoil. It should probably be refrigerated."

"Sure thing, I can do that," Nancy said, taking the flowers and the bag. "And would you like me to give Dr. Weaver a message?"

Kim stared at the vivid purples and reds and yellows in the bouquet. "Yes, please. Would you tell her that I send my love?"

Nancy smiled and nodded. "I will tell her," she said as she headed for the nursing desk. "And I'm sure she'll love these."

Kim walked away suddenly feeling very cold and stiff. She wasn't sure of that at all.

She rode up the three floors to the Psych ward, buzzed her way in, nodded to the clerk at the main desk and headed straight for her cubbyhole of a workspace. A quick search of the hospital directory and moments later, Donald Anspaugh was answering his phone.

"Dr. Anspaugh, I'm so glad I caught you," Kim said. "This is Kim Legaspi in psych. I wonder if you could tell me what time you expect to do your post-op rounds tomorrow?..."

Kerry hadn't been surprised to see Kim, but she hadn't seemed exactly delighted either. Fortunately, all the pressure was taken off Kim when Kerry announced that she intended to leave the hospital the next day. Kim could do little more than stand in the corner with her arms crossed and watch the tennis match.

"For heaven's sake Kerry, it's only been a little over forty eight hours since we operated on you," Anspaugh said. "There's no way I'm releasing you yet."

"But Donald, I feel fine," Kerry said. She was propped into a sitting position, a handful of pillows stuffed behind her. One eye was still purple and swollen shut and the bruises on her face were crisscrossed with neat little rows of sutures and butterfly bandages. She still cradled her broken ribs with one arm and she winced whenever anyone came near her leg. Kim studied her carefully. Jesus, why won't she just admit she's in pain?

"What are two more days in a hospital bed going to accomplish?" Kerry continued. "It would be so much more restful to be at home. And you know I'm perfectly capable of monitoring my condition."

"Maybe so, but may I remind you that you had one hell of a fracture. You've got more screws in that leg than I've got in my Buick. You are probably a couple of weeks away from even being able to use crutches because of the swelling. How could you manage at home?"

"Look, Donald, if you're worried about a lawsuit -- "

Anspaugh stiffened. "I'm sorry Kerry, but I think you've mistaken me for Robert Romano."

"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to offend you, it's just that -- "

"For heaven's sake, be reasonable," he shouted. "You're still on a catheter, Kerry! Even when we do release you, you're going to need home care."

"Donald, you know darn well that I can leave AMA," Kerry said.

"Yes and you're just about that stubborn, aren't you?" he shot back.

"I could take care of her," Kim said, quietly.

Anspaugh and Kerry turned to look at her, blank expressions all round.

"What?" Kerry said.

"I could take you home and take care of you there. If you wanted."

Anspaugh flipped the chart closed. "She's much better off here," he said, shaking his head. "She's going to need physio and nursing care and I want her meds carefully -- "

"I can do all those things," Kim said, moving a little closer to Kerry's bed. "That is, if you want me to."

There was something cold and hard in Kerry's gaze and it made Kim want to take a step back. "You see, Donald," she said, without taking her eyes from Kim, "I'll be fine."

Anspaugh rocked back and forth on the balls of his feet and looked very much like he would like to hit something. Finally, he sighed. "All right. All right. Since there's no talking sense to you ..." He opened her chart again and scribbled something down, then pointed his pen at Kim. "I'm holding you responsible, Dr. Legaspi. I want you to follow my discharge orders to the letter and I want to know the moment there is a change in her condition. Do you understand?"

Kim just stopped herself from saluting. "Yes, Dr. Anspaugh," she said.

The stocky man stormed out, muttering to himself.

There was a heated silence.

"Nice flowers," Kim said, indicating the huge bouquet that sat on a table near the window.

Kerry nodded. "They're lovely," she said lifelessly. "Thank you."

Kim's smile faded. "What?"

"What the hell was that about?" Kerry demanded.

"What was what?"

"I didn't ask for your help."

Kim felt the words like a slap. Colour rushed to her cheeks. "I just thought that if you wanted to get out of here -- "

"I can take care of myself," Kerry said.

Kim approached the bed, tried to meet Kerry's eyes. "No Kerry, the reality of it is that right now you can't take care of yourself. Not completely anyway. You're going to be in bed for a while and then in a wheelchair. You're going to need -- "

"I can hire a private duty nurse."

Kim laughed. "On our benefits? I don't think so." She sat down on the side of the bed. "Kerry, please. What's the matter? What is this about?"

Kerry pursed her lips and looked away. Kim saw a bead of blood well up where a cut had opened on her bottom lip. She reached for a tissue.

"I see how you look at me, Kim," Kerry said, her voice low and wavering. "You feel sorry for me." Her eyes, cold and angry, met Kim's. "I am an object of pity to you. Well, I don't need your pity."

Kim froze, tissue in hand. "Pity? What are you talking about? Kerry, I don't feel sorry for you. I care about you. Very much. You must know that."

Kerry turned and fixed her good eye on Kim. "A few weeks ago, you didn't care enough to return my phone calls or even speak to me about anything besides an admit."

Kim hung her head. "Okay, I realize that I may have been acting selfishly, but at the time -- "

"Oh come on, Kim, I'm not stupid. You're here because you feel guilty, plain and simple. One minute you're avoiding me like the plague, then I'm hurt and suddenly you're my best friend."

Kim tried to touch Kerry's hand, but Kerry pulled it away. "I know it must seem to you that -- "

"You said it to me once, Kim and now I'll say it: I don't want to be your friend." Her voice cracked. "I can't."

Kim said nothing. She looked at the tissue she held in her hand for a long moment. "You're lip is bleeding," she said and she handed her the tissue. Kerry dabbed at her lip with it.

Kim took a measured breath and let it out slowly. Clearly, we weren't going to be talking sense here today. Might as well move on. Kim stood up.

"Well, it seems to me you have a dilemma. Do you want to go home or not? If you do, I'm part of the deal," Kim said, crossing her arms and suddenly, she was the no-nonsense psychiatrist. "I'm offering because I want to do this, Kerry not because I feel sorry for you. So what'll it be?"

She watched the tight line of Kerry's jaw as she clenched and unclenched it. Finally the red head nodded, shoulders slumped in defeat. "Okay. But you don't have to stay over. You can just come during the day. Part of the day."

Kim headed for the door, already thinking about where she was going to order a hospital bed from. "We'll see," she said as she left.

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