Disclaimers, etc. in part 1. and, again, the post #s of the other parts in this series are as follows:

In the Kingdom of the Blind (prequel to this one): 22297

This. Here. Now. 1/2: 23493 This. Here. Now. 2/2: 23494


Kerry was standing next to the tub in a moment. She slowly, awkwardly lowered herself to her knees, wishing she'd thought to bring her crutch along instead of having to rely solely on the edge of the tub. She'd have been more embarrassed if she thought Abby were even remotely aware of her clumsy maneuver, but she saw no indication that Abby even noticed. Once settle, she spoke softly, "Abby?"

She gently reached out to smooth a hand across Abby's wet hair, brushing a few locks aside and trying to coax Abby back to the present.

"Abby. Come on Abby. That's it. Come back to me," she soothed as Abby began to register her presence.

Finally, Abby looked at her--really looked at her--and almost immediately her face crumpled in on itself and she lurched over to latch onto Kerry in an awkward embrace, burying her face in Kerry's neck.

"Shhh. It's okay, Abby. You're safe. I'm here. I've got you," Kerry murmured as she rocked the young woman in her arms. She kept talking--not really conscious of what she said--just hoping the sound of her voice would help soothe the young nurse through her tears.

Abby clung to Kerry for some minutes--the only outward signs of her distress being the tears soaking into Kerry's thin t-shirt and the hitched rhythm of her breathing--Abby made not a sound, otherwise.

Kerry kept trying to comfort the young woman, alternately running her fingers through Abby's wet hair or cupping the back of her head. She resolutely ignored the sensation of Abby's warm, naked flesh where it pressed against her--she tried to, anyway.

Once Abby's breathing had evened out and her crying had quieted to the occasional sniffle, Kerry began trying to rouse her.

"Abby? C'mon. We need to get you out of here. You must be getting cold by now, huh?"

Abby nodded mutely against her shoulder and loosened her grip slightly.

"Okay. Okay." Kerry gently extricated herself from Abby's grasp. Bracing both hands against the side of the tub, she slowly and carefully pushed herself up. She gripped the edge of the tub tightly with her right hand to steady herself, then leaned over to pull the drain plug to disguise the move. As she moved to straighten up, she held out her left hand to Abby. "Come on."

Abby grabbed her arm and surprisingly managed to stand and step out of the tub without disturbing Kerry's precarious balance and toppling them both over. She was responding to Kerry, but sluggishly, and her eyes still had that glassy look from before.

Kerry grabbed the large bath sheet and one of the smaller towels she'd brought, handed the first to Abby and stepped behind her to concentrate on drying Abby's hair while Abby wrapped herself in the other towel. Kerry finished up by trying to wipe the remaining moisture from Abby's arms and shoulders before draping a dry towel across them.

"Come on, let me find you something warmer to sleep in than those scrubs and get you into bed so you can get some rest."

Kerry wrapped an arm around Abby's shoulders and guided her back into the bedroom and over to the edge of the bed. She reached over and turned down the covers as best she could with her free hand before pushing Abby to sit on the edge of the bed.

"Okay. I'll go get you some--" Kerry had already started to go grab a pair of sweats for Abby when the young woman's hand shot out to grip her wrist firmly, halting her retreat and holding her steady.

She turned back. "Abby?" She searched what she could of Abby's face, but the young woman's eyes slid away from hers making it hard to interpret the obvious tension in her body.

"I'll be right back. I promise." She gently tried to pull away again, but Abby's grip didn't lessen a bit.

"I was just--" Kerry tried to explain, but then noticed the shimmer of new tears in Abby's eyes and she gave in, stepping closer.

"Okay, okay," she reassured her, "I'll stay until you fall asleep, if you want?"

The barest of nods was the only response.

"Okay. Go ahead and get under the covers. I don't want you catching a chill."

Abby's grip on her arm tightened and she looked at Kerry, as if to make sure she wouldn't leave.

"Go on. I'll come around the other side."

Abby released her then and climbed into the bed. She didn't lie down, just pulled the blankets up to her waist and wrapped her arms around her knees, waiting.

Kerry hadn't been as nervous about lying in bed with a woman since that first night with Kim, but it seemed unlikely that Abby would relent. She wasn't sure why she was so self-conscious--sex wasn't even a possibility, and Abby was obviously too preoccupied to worry about the implications of sharing a bed with her.

Abby had seemed totally unconcerned about her sexuality when they'd spoken last week. Kerry just hoped Abby could maintain that sense of perspective when she awoke the next morning to find herself in bed with the 'Nazi Dyke' of Cook County General while wrapped in nothing but a towel. She tried not to wince at the thought of those words. They shouldn't still hurt, but they did. She shouldn't have let them get to her in the first place. She didn't really give a damn what Malucci thought of her, but Dave's parting shot had cut her more than she wanted to admit.

A similar rejection from Abby would cut much more deeply than Dave's, or even Frank's, and she suddenly felt the need to retreat, if only long enough to regain control.

"Abby, I'm going to go turn off a couple lights and turn the heat up a little," she held up a hand to forestall the protest forming on Abby's features, "I'll be right back. I promise."

She was true to her word and was only gone a moment or two, but she used the time to compose herself so she could focus on being there for Abby rather than on her own confusing emotions.

Abby hadn't moved and didn't until Kerry had climbed into bed and gotten settled. Kerry held herself still as Abby burrowed her way under the covers and to her side. Abby only hesitated a moment before settling herself into the crook of Kerry's arm, resting her head on Kerry's shoulder and draping an arm loosely across her waist.

Abby said nothing, and Kerry was preoccupied as well, so the silence stretched out between them.

At first, it seemed to Kerry that she became more tense the more Abby relaxed. She was hyper-aware of the warm weight at her side, the gentle curves pressing against her, the fluttering of Abby's breath across her chest. She was equally aware of how little right she had to indulge in the feelings, even if her senses were alive for the first time since...the last woman who had shared her bed. She wouldn't-- couldn't--think about Sandy, or even Kim--the feelings such thoughts would bring to the surface were too dangerous. Simple comfort--and nothing more-- was what she owed Abby, even if it meant denying herself.

She did allow the both of them one indulgence: she idly combed her fingers through Abby's hair, hoping to gentle the young woman into sleep so that she could contemplate the ceiling until boredom triumphed over her hormones and she was able to drift off herself.

She thought she had succeeded. Abby's breathing had evened out and her own tension had lessened to the point where she thought she would be able to fall asleep with little trouble.

Then Abby stirred against her slightly and cleared her throat.

"Kerry? I'm sorry, I..."

"Hey," Kerry shushed her, "Say whatever you need to say, but don't waste time apologizing. It's okay. I'm just glad you didn't have to go through it alone." She hugged the young woman closer a moment, trying to reassure her.

Abby stilled, then took a deep breath.

"Life with Maggie was always one big adventure. Sometimes that was a good thing--like living with a big kid. But sometimes..."

She fell silent, but Kerry resisted the urge to prompt her to continue. It was so long before Abby spoke again that Kerry had assumed she wouldn't finish the thought.

Finally, Abby continued. "She would bring home the most spectacular losers. She was like a magnet for them. Most of the time it was just a matter of having a big, dumb stranger around who either ignored my brother Eric and me or who tried to be too nice to us. But sometimes... There were a few mean SOBs over the years, and things would get violent sometimes. Mostly it was just directed at Maggie, cuz she could give as good as she got, y'know? But, sometimes...

"There was this one guy when I was sixteen. Lloyd. One night I made the mistake of trying to protect her by jumping in the middle of it when he was slapping her around. Next thing I remember, I was in the emergency room with three cracked ribs and a black eye with six stitches above it. I'd passed out and missed all the fun, apparently. Eric told me later that she'd gone after him with a knife.

"She didn't do much damage, but I guess even Lloyd wasn't brave enough to face her down when she was in a full-blown manic cycle and in protective-mother mode. He took off and never came back after that.

"Can't say I blame him. She came after me with a knife once..." She shivered slightly at the memory.

"Did she ever hurt you, Abby?" Kerry couldn't help but ask.

"No. Not really," Abby answered quickly. "She's embarrassed me more times than I could possibly count, and she's scared me a few times, but mostly it was her safety I was worried about, not mine. She never hit me. She'd grab me and shake me sometimes, when she was manic. But I had to do the same to her sometimes, when she was depressed. I guess it...kinda evens out, in a way."

"How's she doin'?" Kerry asked quietly after Abby fell silent.

"Well, actually, by all accounts. She's sticking with her meds, according to her therapist and the friend she's staying with. She's managed to hold down a job for a little over six months now. I'm almost tempted to be optimistic."

"Almost?" Abby had sounded optimistic in spite of her protestation.

"I dunno. It's hard to trust it. Trust her." The doubts were clearly creeping in, evident in her voice as much as her words. "I've been down this road with her more than one too many times. But..."

"But she's your mother," Kerry finished for her.

Abby sighed. "Yeah. And I guess she'll always have the power to make me *want* to believe. To hope that this time can be different."

"Maybe this time it will be."

"Maybe," Abby managed to sound hopeful and doubtful, all at once.

They fell silent again for a few minutes, each listening to the other's breath, and her own thoughts.

After a while, Abby spoke up again. "It's hard to imagine you with your parents."

She wouldn't have had to feel the redhead stiffen beside her to know she'd said the wrong thing--it had sounded much more horrible to her own ears than it had when she'd had the thought.

"Oh, God, Kerry! I didn't--" she pushed herself up to look Kerry in the eye. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean that the way it sounded, really--it came out all wrong."

"It's all right."

"No, it's not," Abby insisted. From the look in Kerry's eyes, it clearly wasn't, despite her assurances. Abby could sense the wall that Kerry tried to retreat behind, and the hurt--this one and a multitude of others that had forced Kerry to build it. It was all there in her face. It was a very expressive face, Abby was beginning to realize, if you looked closely enough. She was sorry it had taken her so long to notice it.

She had the urge to reach out and stroke Kerry's cheek, trying to soothe away all the pain, old and new, but she suspected that would just drive Kerry further behind her defenses. She couldn't fix those old wounds, but she could fix this one--she hoped.

"I just..." She took a deep breath to brace herself. "I have this picture in my head of you as a little red- haired girl. Five, maybe? Anyway, you've stubbed your toe or something and you're just standing there, biting your lip and breathing hard--willing yourself not to cry. And, you know, a parent would usually be the one to soothe away that kind of hurt. And..." she shook her head, "I don't know. I guess I just see you as so independent and as such a caretaker yourself. So, it's hard to imagine you at that age, running to Mom or Dad for comfort. That's all I meant."

Abby had watched the gentle smile spread across Kerry's face and couldn't quite figure it out. At first she had thought it an indulgent smile directed at her, as though she were some precocious child or a dog that had done an especially cute trick. But that didn't quite seem like Kerry, and now the redhead was staring off at something apparently only she could see.

"What?" Abby had to ask.

The question brought Kerry back to the present.

"I'm sorry," she replied, but her grin grew. "It's just that the picture you described sounds suspiciously like a story my mother used to tell about me, except I was three, I think. She'd go through this elaborate pantomime of me with my hands fisted at my sides and my face all scrunched up, trying not to cry. When I was little, it was fun to watch her, but as I got older, it became more embarrassing for me... which of course meant that it became her favorite story to tell about me." Kerry smiled. "It's a good memory." My mother. The only one that matters.

Abby breathed a sigh of relief, "Good." She settled back against Kerry's side. She noticed the hitch in Kerry's breath as she nuzzled against her shoulder.

She rolled to the side slightly to take some of the weight off Kerry's side. "Is this uncomfortable for you?"

Kerry took a deep breath, "Umm...no. Not really."

The tone in her voice gave Kerry away. Abby was certain something was wrong, but she wasn't sure what it was. She rose up again to look at Kerry, afraid she was about to step into a minefield of some kind.

"Is this the wrong si--" she began hesitantly and then stopped, started again, "Am I...?" Abby stopped, unwilling or unable to finish the question.

Kerry looked confused at first, but she seemed to understand when Abby pushed away even further.

"It's okay, Abby. You weren't hurting me."

"Oh, good," slipped out before she'd had a chance to think about it. Once she did, she asked, "then what?"

Kerry looked away, embarrassed. "It's nothing, really. It's just..."

Abby watched in fascination as Kerry's ears and cheeks flushed a light pink. Just when she was convinced Kerry wouldn't continue, she did.

"Certain things are just...more complicated for me now."

Abby asked, "like what?" before the answer hit her. "Oh."

Kerry looked away again and Abby realized what Kerry *hadn't* said.

"You're attracted to me."

Kerry looked back quickly. "No! I mean-- That's not what I mean," Kerry stammered, obviously flustered by Abby's assessment.

Kerry took a deep breath, trying to calm herself. "You're an attractive woman, Abby, really, but... It's more generalized than that. It isn't just this; it's all sorts of odd moments--most of them utterly inappropriate and with little or no...provocation. It's embarrassing, and I spend too much time worrying about what I'm feeling or what I might do or worrying about what other people think about me and what I might do."

Listening to the growing frustration in Kerry's voice triggered something in Abby's memory.

"Sounds a lot like puberty."

"What?" Kerry was incredulous.

"This is pretty new for you, huh?"

At Kerry's nod, Abby continued. "Then it makes sense, in a way. Puberty changes everything--forces you to look at males differently. And the hormonal issues complicate things and make it awkward. Granted, the hormonal issues aren't the same for you now as then, but you're still not used to dealing with being attracted to women. That should even out eventually, don't you think?"

"Maybe. I hope so." Kerry wanted to believe it, Abby could tell.

"It'll get better. You're still just adjusting, that's all. Pretty soon you'll be ogling women on the sly and not even thinking twice about it," Abby joked, earning a slight chuckle from Kerry.

"Oh, yeah. That's something to aspire to," Kerry smirked.

"Come on," Abby lightly poked Kerry's side for emphasis. "You did it with men. I even caught you at it a couple times, when you thought no one was looking."

"I did not!" Kerry tried to sound indignant but was sure Abby could recite specifics, if prompted.

"Did too," Abby's grin was too smug. Kerry was a little uncomfortable being the target of her teasing, but she was glad to see the change in Abby's mood and was more than willing to encourage it.

"Nuh-uh." Kerry grinned.

"Uh--" Abby broke into a loud yawn, "--huh. Ooh, sorry..."

Kerry turned serious again. "You should get some rest."

Abby nodded, feeling the events of the day crash in around her again. "Yeah. I guess." She looked away a moment, too embarrassed to ask, but compelled to, nevertheless.

"Um... Just *how* uncomfortable is this for you? Cuz, um, this is... I mean, I'd like it if..." she gave up, unable to finish the request. While she was trying to resign herself to curling up with a pillow, she heard Kerry's low voice saying, "c'mere," and felt an arm slide across her shoulders. She gratefully allowed Kerry to pull her back into an embrace and settled in against her side once more. She snuggled in as close as she dared, enjoying the feeling of Kerry's arm wrapped protectively around her.

Once she'd made herself comfortable with her head settled on Kerry's shoulder again, she murmured, "thank you."

Kerry petted her hair a couple times and urged her to, "just get some sleep."

"Um-hmm." Her voice was already heavy with fatigue, and the sounds of their combined breathing were quickly lulling her into oblivion. Her last conscious thought was: 'Kerry Weaver is attracted to me.' It probably should have been a sobering thought, one guaranteed to keep her awake, but somehow...it wasn't.


She was plotting her escape. Again. It was something she'd been trying to accomplish for hours--apparently even while asleep.

She and Abby had begun the night near the center of the bed. The first time she'd awakened, they were a few inches away from where she remembered and Abby was curled even more tightly around her. Trouble was, Abby's towel had come loose. From what she could glimpse above the sheets and what she could feel below them, it was going to be an uncomfortable morning for both of them.

She'd been on the run ever since. Knowing the state they were both in--and what would likely happen when Abby awoke and discovered it--made her increasingly more restless and sleep had become impossible. She had dozed off a few times, each time waking to find herself a little closer to the edge, either from her last waking escape attempt or from a shift in position while asleep. Now she was curled on her side as close to the edge of the bed as she could get without being on the floor, her bent knees hanging over the edge, legs clenched against the throbbing she'd been trying to ignore for the better part of an hour.

Abby, from what Kerry could tell, seemed to remain content and sleep peacefully only as long as they remained in physical contact. She hadn't awakened that Kerry could tell, but she had still managed to counter every one of Kerry's retreats with an advance that left her wrapped around Kerry all over again. Kerry had begun to wonder what demons Abby might be running from that pushed her to seek out such constant physical contact.

Kerry was now convinced that her presence had a calming effect on the slumbering woman curled against her back, but the situation was doing nothing to calm her own nerves. Abby 's warm breath against the back of her neck was distracting enough, and the way Abby's arm was wrapped around her just made things worse. When Abby had last shifted position, she'd slipped an arm across Kerry's chest. At first, she had seemed to be reaching for Kerry's neck or shoulder, but when she finally settled, her arm lay across Kerry's right breast and her hand was resting just above the upper curve of the left. Kerry had very carefully shifted position to ensure that Abby wouldn't awake to find an aroused nipple poking into her forearm, but the move had done little to ease Kerry's discomfort.

Kerry had nearly convinced herself that she could finally escape without disturbing Abby's sleep when she felt Abby stir behind her. She held her breath, waiting for whatever Abby might do.


She woke up warm, content, wrapped around...someone. Without stopping to think about that, she automatically pulled whoever it was closer. Still half-asleep, she nuzzled her face into the warm flesh before her and planted a light kiss at the junction of neck and shoulder. She felt as much as heard the sharp intake of breath that shook the body in her arms at that simple touch of lips on skin.

She opened her eyes then, blinking rapidly until the world around her began to come into focus. The body in her arms was slight, obviously female, red hair... No, these days it was more brown than red...


Details from the night before came flooding back. She reviewed them all in her mind--every word, every gesture, every touch.

The more she thought about it, the more natural lying in bed with Kerry seemed. She remembered Kerry holding her the night before, remembered Kerry's rather embarrassed admission about dealing with her newly discovered attraction to women.

That was when it struck Abby that the towel she'd been wearing had long since abandoned her--or she it. Had they...?

No. She took in Kerry's rigid posture and the way she was curled around herself. Abby also noticed how close they were to the edge of the bed and how Kerry had very carefully positioned her arms to avoid touching the one Abby had wrapped around her.

Kerry was awake and Abby knew it. She couldn't possibly be comfortable, either, given what Kerry had said last night, and the way they were positioned now. It was obvious to Abby that she had initiated this particular embrace, and equally obvious that Kerry was doing her best to endure it without allowing herself to enjoy it.

Of course nothing had happened between them. Kerry wouldn't take the chance, no matter how badly she might want to. Assuming she might actually want to. Kerry was probably lying there now worrying about how she would react, Abby thought.

She found herself admiring Kerry's capacity for self- denial, thinking maybe it was a quality she should cultivate. But then she remembered that kiss in the ER the week before--the longing in it, and the way Kerry had quickly tried to shut it down to keep any of the onlookers from noticing her need and her hurt. Abby *had* noticed, though. She had been touched by what she had seen in Kerry's eyes that day.

Suddenly, self-denial seemed like a very bleak thing. Sometimes you just had to reach out, take chances, grasp at straws, and damn the consequences.

She found it surprisingly easy to just let her hand slide down a few inches to cup Kerry's breast, to feel the warmth of it in her hand, the hardness of Kerry's nipple against her palm. Kerry's strangled gasp sent a shiver of arousal through her. It was the last thing she'd expected to happen when she'd shown up at Kerry's door, the last thing she'd expected to feel for Kerry, of all people, but... She found herself wanting, needing more.

She moved carefully, hoping Kerry would think she was still asleep. She lightly caressed Kerry's breast and nuzzled the back of her neck.

The strangled, low noise Kerry made in the back of her throat and her whispered, 'Oh, God,' spurred Abby on. She leaned in to place a light kiss on Kerry's jaw, just below the ear, as she rubbed her palm against Kerry's erect nipple. "Good morning, Kerry."

"Abby!" Kerry squeaked, jerking so violently that Abby was convinced the other woman would have wound up in a heap on the floor had she not been holding her securely.

"Mhm-hmm," Abby murmured, pulling back just far enough to watch Kerry. "In the flesh, apparently," she teased, pulling Kerry even closer.

"Nuh-- I didn't... Nothing happened last night," Kerry sputtered, still refusing to look at her.

Abby reached up to place a light kiss on Kerry's temple, "I know," then kissed her cheek, "that was then." Abby hovered expectantly over Kerry, watching her reactions carefully. She squeezed Kerry's breast, then rolled and pinched the erect nipple between her fingers. "This is now."

Kerry was looking at her now, riveted.

"Wha-- What are you doing?"

Abby smiled down into Kerry's wide eyes, reaching up to lightly stroke her cheek. "Well, if you have to ask...maybe I should work on my technique," she teased.

Abby tried to lean in for a real kiss, but Kerry turned away, stammering, "Abby, I-- We can't do this."

"Why not?"

The question was so simple, it left Kerry speechless a moment and she stared dumbly back at her would-be paramour.

Abby pushed on, afraid to give Kerry too much time to think.

"I want this. And, despite what you say, I think maybe you do, too."

Next thing Kerry knew, Abby's hand was warm against her belly and edging downward toward the hem of her thin shirt. She was sure enough of Abby's next move to scramble out of bed and away from that hand before Abby could complete the maneuver.

"Abby, please," Kerry's voice was low, breathy, verging toward hysteria. It might have been funny, were Abby not so invested in the outcome of this battle of wills. "I can't," Kerry continued in a somewhat more normal tone.

Abby scrambled out of bed right behind Kerry, and tried to ignore the slightly chilly air against her exposed skin. She was glad Kerry had thought to turn the heat up the night before. She thought about going back for the towel, but only for a moment. She was afraid Kerry might bolt, and some twisted part of her liked seeing Kerry so off balance.

She slipped up behind Kerry and placed her hands lightly on the other woman's shoulders. "Kerry?"

Kerry pulled away and spun around to face her. "Abby--" Kerry stopped short and looked down quickly before continuing, "I'm your boss, Abby."

"Not here, you're not." Here, you've been kind and supportive. Here, you look really cute when you're embarrassed--and not half bad in your jammies. Here, even here, you try to deny what you want for my sake, but I saw it. You looked. It was just a moment before you caught yourself, but you did look at me. I saw it, saw the hunger and frustration mixed in with shock when you saw me just now.

"And when we're back in the ER?"

"I can 'Yes, Dr. Weaver, whatever you say, Dr. Weaver' you with the best of them."

"Do you really think it would be that easy?"

"Does it really have to be that hard?" Do we have to define and map everything out before we even start?

"You have an answer for everything, don't you?" Kerry asked, still staring at some spot on the floor.

Abby crossed her arms over her chest. "Hardly!"

They stood like that, not exactly facing each other, and not really knowing quite what to say to convince the other.

------------------ Continued in "This. Here. Now." with Kerry's question: "Why are you doing this, Abby? What do you want?"