She saw her the moment she was inside.
Kerry was sitting on the kitchen floor, half slumped against the big island in the center of the room, the phone set strewn across the floor nearby. She was hugging her sore ribs and taking heaving breaths. Kim sprinted the few yards between then and dropped to her knees.
"Oh, God, you're bleeding," she said, cradling Kerry's head in her hands. The gauze that covered the stitches on her forehead was stained with blood and a thin crimson trickle has escaped from under it, weaving its way down the side of her face, where it had dried some time ago.
"I hit my head when I fell, I think I opened the stitches," Kerry said and she started to cry again. She turned towards Kim and burrowed her way into the woman's arms. Kim held her tightly, dropping kisses on top of her head, until the sobs let up. Kerry struggled to sit up again, still shaking violently.
"Kerry, tell me what happened. Are you hurt?" Kim asked and she palpated Kerry's head, neck and shoulders, looking for signs of injury.
"I got out of bed and into the chair this afternoon. I was going to go to the bathroom to take out that damn catheter," she said. She steadied herself with a long breath. "I came to the kitchen first to get more water from the fridge because I'd drunk everything you left out for me."
Kim listened attentively as she checked Kerry's arms and wrists and then started feeling the bones in her legs. "What happened?"
"I sort of stood up on one leg but I lost my balance - it's my bad leg and I'm kind of weak I guess and I don't know how it happened but the chair flipped over and took me with it. That's when I hit my head."
Kim examined her cast for cracks, and then glanced over to the fridge. Her chair was still there, on its side, holding the fridge door open. Around it was a large puddle of urine.
"I tried and tried for hours to get back into it, but I couldn't, I just kept knocking the chair over," Kerry continued, still trying to strangle her sobs. "And then the catheter bag came loose and I couldn't get to the bathroom ... I'm so sorry, Kim. I didn't want you to see me like this ..."
"Shhh, it's all right. Don't think about that," Kim said, rubbing Kerry's arm tenderly. "How are your ribs?"
"They're sore, but no more than usual. I don't think I broke any others."
"You need an x-ray, Ker. You could've punctured a lung."
"No," Kerry said and she grabbed Kim's shirt. "No, please. Don't take me to the ER. Not like this."
"Kerry, it could affect your breathing."
"You can listen to my lungs," Kerry said. "My medical bag is in the closet by the front door. You can listen to them and then you'll see they're okay."
Kim's forehead was creased with indecision. "All right," she said finally, "but I swear, if I hear so much as a wheeze, I'm taking you in."
"When did this happen?" Kim asked.
"This afternoon sometime, I don't know when exactly."
Kim didn't have to look at her watch to know that it was at least one a.m., if not later. This poor woman had been laying in a pool of her own urine for somewhere close to twelve hours. God, stubborn, much? She took a deep breath and tried to calm herself.
"Okay," Kim said, "the first thing we need to do is get you up off this floor and into bed. And then I think you could probably do with some painkillers."
Kerry nodded miserably. "I must've given my cast a jolt when I fell because it's very sore."
`Very sore,' Kim thought as she moved across the kitchen, taking care not to tread in puddles of urine. From Kerry that meant, `Hold the Percocet, where the hell's the morphine?'
Kim righted the chair and wheeled it over to where Kerry was slumped, trembling and crying. Kim hesitated then sat down beside her again and took her in her arms.
"It's all right," Kim said, rubbing one hand up and down her shaking back. "I'm here and we're gonna take care of this."
"I didn't want you to see me like this," Kerry sobbed, hiding her face against Kim's shirt. "I'm so sorry for what I said yesterday. I know I've been awful. It's just that it's so confusing to be around you again."
Kim rocked her gently, rhythmically stroking her back. "Shhh, Ker. It's okay. I know."
"I just - " she struggled out of Kim's arms to look at her. "I'm just so confused, Kim. A week ago you could hardly talk to me and now ..." She waved a trembling hand at the chaos in the kitchen. "Now you're here and you're taking care of me like nothing had ever changed between us."
Kim nodded sadly. "I know. And you're right. It must make you wonder about my motivation." She gingerly turned Kerry around so that she could recline into her arms and then she pulled her close to her and began rocking her again.
"I was angry, Ker. I felt so betrayed when you didn't stand up for me."
"I know, Kim and I will always be sorry that I did that to you. I was such a coward."
"It's not important, anymore," Kim said, and she smoothed Kerry's bangs back off the stained gauze. "And I realize that now. I realized it the moment before that man attacked you. Here I thought I was all conflicted over you, you know? And I had tried to talk myself out of being in love with you. But he laid his hands on you and suddenly I realized that I was making everything too complicated. It was all very simple. In that split-second, I realized that nothing mattered but you." She caressed Kerry's one unblemished cheek. "Watching that happen to you and not being able to do anything was the most horrible thing that I've ever experienced. I thought he was going to kill you and I nearly went out of my mind."
Kerry watched her as she talked, felt some of the fear and shock draining from her body.
Kim manufactured a smile. "You're a hell of a lot of work, Weaver, but I love you anyway."
Kerry winced. "Kim, I don't know if - "
Kim laid a gentle finger on Kerry's lips. "I know. This isn't the time. You're hurt and in pain and you must be very confused right now. We don't have to decide anything now ... we don't even have to talk about it just yet. I just needed you to know how I felt. That I was not here in some misplaced gesture of guilt or something. I'm here because I really want to be here. You need someone to take care of you and I want it to be me."
Kerry squeezed her eyes shut. "I hate this. I hate being so - "
"I know you do. But the reality is that you're just human, like the rest of us, Ker. No more, no less. Sometimes everybody needs a little support. So please let me help, okay?"
A long pause and Kim held her breath. Then Kerry nodded.
"And I'll try not to be quite so ... fascist," Kim said with a tiny smile.
"I can't stand the catheter anymore Kim," Kerry said and Kim thought she saw fear in her eyes. "Please take it out."
Kim nodded. "We'll do that when we wash you up, okay? And I'm pretty sure I can lift you back and forth to the toilet, so you can take care of yourself in the bathroom, how does that sound?"
Kerry smiled a little and for the second time that night, Kim's heart skipped a beat.
"All right," Kim said, helping Kerry to sit up. "Let's get you cleaned up."
Kim wrung out the facecloth and tenderly washed Kerry's back.
"Too hot?" she asked.
"Mmmm, no. It feels good." Kerry's voice sounded slack and relaxed. Kim glanced at her watch. Twenty minutes since she'd taken her painkillers. Good, they were starting to work. They'd washed her hair and found a clean nightgown, so now all that was left was a little bath.
She dragged the soapy cloth across Kerry's shoulders and neck, followed the curve of her spine down to the deep hollow above her buttocks, then rinsed the cloth out and wiped the same path again, slowly, deliberately.
She hadn't realized how much she'd missed Kerry's body until she'd shed her soiled nightgown and stretched out on the hospital bed. Their first somewhat clumsy fumblings together had quickly given way to long languid hours in bed as Kim explored every dip and curve of this soft and powerful body. All those months working beside her in the ER, she'd wondered what exactly lay beneath the billowing lab coat and the conservative blouses. And then that first night, Kim had undressed her and had thoroughly kissed every inch of skin she could, nibbling and caressing her belly, her shoulders, her breasts. She had lain there afterwards, holding Kerry in her arms, in awe of what she had uncovered. She had been totally and irretrievably lost from that moment on.
She toweled off Kerry's torso. "Okay, next side, please," she said and she helped Kerry turn over. She covered her from the hips up with another sheet, and turned her attention to washing her legs.
The incredible thing was that it seemed that Kerry had no idea how beautiful she was. Either that or she was determined to hide it because she acted oblivious to it, as if she sincerely believed she was awkward and unattractive. She wondered what a lifetime of limping and coping with a crutch had done to plant that last thought.
She checked the toes on Kerry's broken leg for colour. A little dusky, probably from swelling in the cast. They'd have to ice it when she finished.
She soaped up the facecloth again and then paused.
"Um, Kerry?" she asked. "Here's the facecloth, so you can wash your, uh ..." Kim's mind searched for the right word. Pubes? Too clinical. Groin? Too athletic. Crotch? God, no.
Kerry opened her eyes. "Kim I'm so sore from everything, I honestly don't think I could bend enough to wash anything myself. Would you mind?"
"Uh, sure, I can do it." She summoned up a clinical detachment that didn't quite catch, and started with the inside of Kerry's thighs. She refreshed the cloth and tenderly scrubbed her pubic mound. A few gentle swipes at hidden parts, a quick rinse and she was ready for the towel. It was then that Kim realized she'd been holding her breath.
Oh well. She was entitled. It had been a long day.
She rearranged the sheets again, leaving Kerry's torso exposed and covering her legs and hips for warmth. More deliberate, soothing strokes across her stomach and her breasts with the hot facecloth and she could see Kerry physically relaxing.
It was probably not very widely known, Kim thought as she worked, how very much Kerry Weaver loved to have her belly kissed. Way down at the bottom of her belly, below the navel where the gentle curve bottoms out, there was this one particular spot that sent her into spasms of ecstacy. Kim rinsed the soap off and smiled to herself. She wondered if anyone else had ever discovered that spot and what exactly her ER colleagues would make of that fact. Now that would be a memo to remember.
She supported Kerry's arm against her hip while she washed it and had a sudden, unbidden recollection of being in bed with Kerry, naked, limbs intertwined. There were candles in the bedroom and Kim could see the snow falling through her bedroom window. Kerry, her cheeks flushed with arousal, had straddled her, near her waist, pressing her hot, moist center into Kim's belly. She sat there for a long time, pinning Kim to the bed, slowly grinding her hips while pushing Kim into a frenzy by caressing her breasts and gently tweaking her nipples.
It had been the look on her face that had made Kim pause. Hair damp from exertion, mouth slack with need, her jade-flecked eyes half-lidded, Kerry had literally glowed from within, had looked utterly radiant. Kim smiled again . That had been the first time that she'd made the very disciplined and starched Dr. Weaver howl when she came. Kim had also seen to it that it had not been the last time, either.
"What are you thinking?" Kerry asked sleepily.
Kim rinsed off her arm, drawing the cloth lightly across the bruises. "I'm thinking how glad I am that you called me."
Kerry watched her slyly for another moment. "Liar," she said.
Kim chuckled and washed the other arm.
"Really, what were you thinking?"
Kerry nodded, her tired eyes trained on Kim's face.
I was thinking about how incredibly beautiful you looked when we made love.
"Really, I was thinking that I'm grateful you called me." She wrung out the facecloth. "Okay, let me just get your nightgown and then I'll check to see if the soup is hot."
Kerry watched her head to the kitchen, the basin of water on her hip, and wondered what Kim had really been thinking about.
The clock alarm read 5:53 a.m. when the phone rang the next morning. Kerry had been awake for a little while and was really starting to feel the effects of yesterday's disastrous trip to the kitchen. She ached everywhere, shoulders, back, legs, but nowhere as much as where they had mended her splintered bones. It was a dull, pervasive, pounding pain that didn't seem to let up. It was definitely time for more Percocet. And of course, she had to pee, but Kim had only gotten to bed around three after she had finished cleaning up the kitchen floor, so another half hour's sleep was the least Kerry could do for her. The Percocet and bathroom could wait.
Of course the phone had changed all that. Three rings, a thump and a muffled curse, followed by Kim's voice, still husky with sleep.
"Hello? ... Yes, this is Dr. Weaver's residence ..."
Kerry had known then that it was starting for the day. Yesterday, there had been twelve phone calls for her from the hospital, by noon. After that, she'd yanked the phone out of the wall. Let `em deal with it themselves.
"No ... No, she's not. Don't you know what time it is?" Kerry smiled a little at the sound of Kim's voice. When she knew she was right, she didn't take any crap from anyone. Not even her.
"Then I suggest you contact the Acting Chief of Emergency Medicine ... Oh really? Well, that sounds like something you should take up with Dr. Romano. I'll bet he's at home. Good bye."
Kerry heard the phone hit the desk and winced. But then, that was one less problem she would have to deal with.
She heard rustling from the den and then Kim appeared in her trademark sleepwear - t-shirt and nothing else - with a pale blue blanket wrapped around her. She peeked to see if Kerry was awake. Kerry gave a little wave. "Was that for me?"
"Christ, what is the matter with people?" Kim asked, trudging across the living room, blanket ends trailing behind her. "That was someone from finance who wanted to know if you could get him your budget projections for the fiscal year 2005 by this afternoon. I figured it could wait."
"It was like that most of the day yesterday."
"No," Kerry said. "Apparently I'm much more crucial to the operation of Cook County General than my paycheck would suggest."
"Well, that's going to stop. You need rest."
Kerry took in the tangled mane of hair, the slitty eyes and the dark circles. "Did you sleep at all?"
"No. Well, some. That couch isn't the greatest."
"You should sleep upstairs in my bedroom. You'd be more comfortable."
Kim was shaking her head even before Kerry finished. "No, I wouldn't be able to hear you from there," she said. Well, that and the fact that it would break my heart to sleep there without you, she thought. "How are you feeling?"
Kerry took a deep breath. "I'm sore." She lowered her voice apologetically. "And I need to go to the bathroom."
"Kerry, you should've woken me earlier," Kim said.
"You'd hardly gotten any sleep."
Kim waved her words away. "Let me just get some clothes on." She went back to the den and grabbed her clothes from where she'd flung them a few hours ago when she'd laid down. She had one leg in her jeans when the phone rang again.
"Oh for Christ's sake," she muttered.