RATING: NC-17 for slightly kinky f/f sex
SERIES/SEQUEL: The fifth of Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Redhead, following "Of Mice and Cookies."
SPOILERS/CONTINUITY: Becomes an AU after "Chaos Theory." Takes place in autumn 2002.
SUMMARY: Kerry gets the feeling she's being seduced.
DISCLAIMERS: 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. I make no profit, so it's protected in the USA by the fair use provisions of the Copyright Act of 1976. All rights reserved. All wrongs reversed. Just like every cowboy sings a sad, sad song.
NOTES: Thanks to k and Katisha for being awesome beta women, and to The Distraction. The poem excerpt at the beginning is from "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird" by Wallace Stevens, and the whole series is a homage to that poem.
I do not know which to prefer,
The beauty of inflections
Or the beauty of innuendoes,
The blackbird whistling
Or just after.
Every time Elizabeth and I have sex, I'm sure it's the last time we ever will. I've slept with her four times, and I've found good excuses for the first three. The first time was a one-night stand; the second a lapse of judgment; the third the result of one too many glasses of wine. But I'm stuck on the fourth time. The fourth time came after a nice dinner and three long hours watching an Ibsen play at the Goodman: a date. Afterwards, we went back to my house and made love like people who intended to do it again. And that's where I'm confused, because we both made it very clear that we knew better than to let this turn into a love affair. Neither of us wanted that kind of complicated situation.
This time, I'm not comforted by the fact that this might have been the last time, but fearful of it. I think that it will be my fault.
I got the first rose in my mailbox at work four days ago. One blood-red long-stemmed rose, there when my shift started. I must have looked shocked to the point of paralysis, because everybody behind the admit desk grew quiet when they saw my reaction. None of them knew who it was from; a deliveryman had brought it earlier that morning. Randi handed me an empty Snapple bottle that she'd rinsed out, and she told me I could use it as a vase until I found something better.
I'm working my second shift since then, and there are now three red roses in the Snapple bottle. I think I may have to buy something larger and more permanent to house my flowers. I've gone back and forth between assuming that they're from Elizabeth and wondering who else they might be from. And then there's the part of me that doesn't want to know, because it doesn't want anything to change.
The next four shifts bring four more red roses. I buy a simple blue glass vase from Crate & Barrel. Seven more shifts and seven more roses in different colors: peach and yellow, pink and white. The vase is getting crowded. The first few roses begin to die off. I keep trying to say something to Elizabeth at management meetings or during surgical consults, but I chicken out every time. We go out to a movie together and end the evening with a few rounds of wild sex. This time, I'm far from surprised. Once or twice, I start to say something about the flowers, but there's not much of a chance to talk. I tell myself later on that I could have made the opportunity, but I'm not sure what I would have said. The flowers have gone on long enough that they're starting to make me uncomfortable. People file restraining orders for this kind of thing, when they don't like the sender.
The fifteenth shift is a night shift, and I don't know what to expect. An iris, maybe, or an orchid. Instead, I find a dozen red roses wrapped in paper waiting for me at the admit desk. There's no card, but they must be mine. They don't all fit in the vase; I wish I hadn't tossed that Snapple bottle. In the lounge fridge, I find an abandoned carton of cranberry juice, a few sips lining the bottom. I dump the old juice into the sink, wash out the carton, and fill it with leftover roses.
I'm halfway to the door, struggling not to spill my carton of flowers, when Elizabeth walks into the lounge. "I've been looking all over for you," she says.
I put my roses down on the table. "Yeah, sorry, there's a surgical belly in exam 3. I'm just taking over for Luka; I haven't had a chance to look in on the patient yet."
She says nothing; she looks at the flowers; she looks at me with a suppressed smile that threatens to explode all over her face like bubble gum.
"Did you I-- I didn't know what to think."
"Is that why you didn't say anything?" she says. "Because you were worried about what would happen if it wasn't me?"
"That, and I was afraid that if I brought it up, you'd stop sending me roses." I sound flirtatious instead of petrified. I wonder where it's coming from.
"I'm glad you did," she says. "Pretty soon I was going to have to resort to other tactics." She drapes her arms over my shoulders and leans her face so close to mine that I can't focus on her eyes.
"Oh, chocolates, stuffed animals... backrubs... sex toys."
"I think I stopped you too soon," I say. I'm trying to decide whether it's safe to kiss her.
The door creaks open. Elizabeth and I scramble apart, but it's too late. "I'm sorry," Carter says. "I'll-- I just wanted to get-- I'll leave you alone now-- I--"
"It doesn't matter now," I say. "Go do whatever it is you were going to do."
"No, really, it's--" he stammers.
"Don't worry about it," Elizabeth says.
Carter pours himself a cup of coffee and grabs an orange out of the fridge. On his way out, he says, "I didn't see anything."
"Didn't see what?" Elizabeth teases.
"I don't know," he says, "because I didn't see it."
"Good," she says. When he's shut the door behind him, she puts her arms back around me and says, "Well, that could have been much worse."
"I guess so," I say. The moment is dead. I want to get back to work; I want to not think of her.
She seems to pick up on my discomfort. "I'll-- I'll phone you later on," she says. "Exam three, was it?" And she's gone.
I pick up the juice carton, intending to carry it back to my office. I bury my face in the sweet-scented petals. Their fragrance is overpowering, and I don't want to be anywhere near it. I leave my roses on the table in the now-empty lounge.
I don't have another shift for two days. In the interim, I think of calling Elizabeth. Once, I pick up the phone, only to realize I haven't memorized her number. I wouldn't know what to say to her, anyway. I am torn between desiring her and fearing that what I feel for her is shallow and empty; between the possibility of falling in love with her and the certainty that she could never love me back as strongly; between the hope that we can go on like this indefinitely and the experiential knowledge that we won't. I keep myself busy running errands and cleaning the house, but all I want to do is sleep. The cats rub my legs with their faces and even resort to baring their bellies, begging for affection. I feel like I have none to give.
When I get to work on Thursday, there's a big white gift box sitting behind the admit desk. "Delivery guy brought it, like, an hour ago," Randi says. "It's got your name on it."
I pick it up. I'll take it to my office, where I can have some peace. But Randi says, "Aren't you going to open it?"
"Not here," I say.
Now I've got the sad eyes of half a dozen nurses fixed on me. Clearly, they've spent the past hour wondering what's inside. It would be a cruel and lovely abuse of power to take the box away and leave them in the dark.
I set the box down on the counter and peel the tape away from the flaps carefully. Most of the ER staff is watching me with rapt fascination, like kids in a Spielberg movie.
Sitting on top of a nest of tissue paper is a single red long-stemmed rose. I hold it up to my nose, brush the petals across my lips, roll the thornless stem in my fingers.
"Somebody likes you, Dr. Weaver," Randi says. Carter has joined the throng, and he's got a knowing, self-satisfied smile on his face. If he says anything, I will kill him; this is a statement of simple, unmetaphorical fact.
In the box, there are several smaller boxes. There are numbers written on them in black marker, like there is an order I should follow when opening them. The box marked "1" is wrapped in gold foil paper and a gold-and-white ribbon. As with the large box, I unwrap this small box neatly, then fold the paper and place it and the ribbon next to the rose. The small box contains six handmade Belgian truffles. I consider popping one into my mouth right now, but then I might have to share. I close up the box and set it aside.
"What was it?" Haleh says. "I didn't see."
"Chocolate," I say. "Good chocolate."
"Is there a card or anything?" Chuny asks.
"No," I say. "But I know who it's from."
The second small box is wrapped in Lincoln Park Zoo gift paper. "Rip it," Malik says.
"Oh, let her build the suspense," says Abby.
When I try to peel the tape off cleanly, it tears, and I end up ripping the paper, swiftly and loudly. There's a plain cardboard gift box inside, and that houses a little white plush fur seal. I hold the toy up so that everyone can see it.
"Cute," Yosh says.
If the pattern holds, I'm not going to be able to show off item number three. Tellingly, it's wrapped in glossy black paper, and sure enough, there's a pair of shiny handcuffs inside. I gasp in spite of myself and shut the box before anyone has seen them.
"Hey, let me--" Randi says, and before I can pull the little box away from her, she's peeked inside. "Wow," she says. "Whoever your secret admirer is, she's serious."
"What? What is it?" Lydia says, standing on her tiptoes like it will help her see what's inside the closed box.
"I think she'd tell you if she wanted you to know," Randi, my new hero, says. I shoot her a smile of gratitude and open what looks to be the last of the boxes. It's one of those gift card boxes from Nordstrom's, held shut with silver ribbon. I am curious to see how Elizabeth has managed to box up a backrub. Inside the box is a note, nestled atop a pallet of synthetic cotton: "Meet me at 8:30 tonight in room 1507 of the Drake Hotel. Bring box #3 if you want." A small drawing of a heart, comma, "E." I must be grinning, because the crowd around the admit desk is silent with anticipation.
"It's the card," I say.
I put everything back in the big box and cart it off to my office, where none of them can get at it. I am territorial not from humiliation at the contents of box number three but from a sense that I should not have to share any of this with any of them. If there is any reason that I should end this bizarre fling with Elizabeth before it becomes a bizarre affair, it's that the secret will be impossible to keep and the fact of it harrowing to state openly. I have an audience, and they won't leave their seats even if the curtain is down. To torture the metaphor, they'll keep peering under the curtain to see if they're missing any of the drama.
But short of vowing celibacy or quitting my job, I've got no chance of finding safer ground. It takes me only a few seconds to reject the idea of standing Elizabeth up tonight. When my shift ends, I slip the handcuffs into my purse. "Be brave, little pilgrim," I tell myself.
In the hotel elevator, I am checking my nails, adjusting my blouse, trying to suck down the rest of a breath mint before I reach the fifteenth floor. I am looking for the panic button, because it feels like I should be pressing one.
The design of the hotel halls is simple, but I feel like I'm in a maze. I find the right room. I breathe. I knock.
Elizabeth opens the door a couple of inches: not enough for me to see inside. "Close your eyes," she says. It's not worth arguing; I'd just ruin her plan. I obey her. I hear the door open the rest of the way, and she leads me through. The door slams shut behind us. She passes silky fabric across my face, and then I feel the pressure of knots and know she is blindfolding me. I don't tear the blindfold off and run away because I know that if I did, she would let me. I am more interested in finding out what she will do if I leave it on.
"I'm glad you could make it," she says, kissing me softly. She smells, incongruously, like raspberries. She is unbuttoning my shirt; she is taking off my bra; she is still kissing me. She leads me to the bed and lays me down on my stomach. "I leaned your cane against the nightstand," she says. The bed bounces a little as she climbs on. She strokes my hair. "You can talk if you want," she says.
"I-- I don't-- I don't know what I should say."
"Then don't say anything," she says. She starts rubbing the back of my neck. She begins just below my hairline, high enough that I can feel it in my jaw, exerting hardly any pressure at first but increasing her force gradually until her touch is almost, but not quite, painful. Then she scoots down half a vertebra and repeats the process. I hope that she will never reach my shoulders. She is straddling me, and I know from this what she is wearing: a short skirt or dress with nothing underneath. Her pubic hair and the hem of her skirt brush my lower back as she presses her fingers into my neck.
She works her way down my back systematically, kneading each tortured muscle until it aligns and relaxes. I don't feel like talking, and-- unusually for her-- she keeps quiet. All the conversation we need is between her precise, tireless surgeon's hands and my body. To keep myself from getting so calm that I fall asleep, I place all of my focus on the spot where her hands are; I follow each circle and wave of pressure like I am drawing a map on the inside of my skin. I lose track of time to some extent, but it must be at least an hour before she reaches my lower back and the waistband of my pants. She undresses me swiftly so she can go back to massaging my tailbone. I realize that my clothes must be strewn everywhere: I only think the room is clean and orderly because I haven't seen it. All I know is that it contains a bed and that, because Elizabeth has been using scented massage oil, it smells strongly, but not overpoweringly, of roses. Without my eyes, I know next to nothing. Maybe there's nothing I need to know.
Her fingers travel to my right hip. My instinctive reaction is to tense away from her, even though this is the part of my body that suffers the most and could probably benefit most from her touch. "I'm sorry," she says.
"No," I decide. "Go ahead." I have stored up pain in my hip and my thigh all my life, always fearful that any outside attempt to ameliorate the pain will only make it worse in the long run. And I have evidence for that: the surgery when I was fourteen that nearly locked the joint rather than freeing it; the surgery two years later, to repair the damage, that led to a kidney infection that nearly killed me; the parade of medications that left me distracted or manic or paranoid, nauseous or bloated or aridly thirsty, but never any better than where I started. Acupuncture and physical therapy help at the time but have no lasting effect. I know that when Elizabeth's attention turns to other things, my hip will start to ache again. But she is working witchcraft now.
She inches up my back with her hands until she reaches the knot of the blindfold, which she unties. She turns me over so I am lying face up on the bed. I want to look around, but she kisses me before I get the chance. My eyes are dry, and I have to blink the cloudiness out of my contact lenses. She leans back on her haunches. "Are you all right?" she asks.
"Yeah, just--" The room is filled with roses. Vases full of them on the tables, bowls of petals everywhere, a trail of them from the door to the bed. And Elizabeth in a rose-red knit buttondown dress. If there were a sign on it that read, "Remove Dress, Ravish Contents," it would be redundant.
"It's too much, isn't it?" she says.
"Maybe a... lot."
"I-- I know I went overboard," she says. "But I've tried subtle, and-- I get nothing from you. If all you want from me is a sexual relationship, that's fine with me. It wouldn't be my first choice, but... I'd be content with it. But I need you to talk to me. I need you to tell me what you want from me. Because-- if you don't tell me, I can't give it to you."
"I would have told you," I say. "I would have told you when I knew what to say."
"Would you have? Really? Or would you have waited for me to make the decision for you again?"
I don't know if she's trying to start a fight, but it's working. I don't know if she realizes that there are two ways to open me up: get me drunk or get me angry. She tried the first once, and it just landed us in bed. She's been around County long enough to know that making me mad is dangerous, but she might be that desperate. I've driven her there. "It's so easy for you. Why do you just assume it can be the same for me?"
"No, you only think it is. You let yourself believe that it's so much harder for you than for anybody else, but it's not. You make it harder, Kerry."
I struggle to get out from under her, but she holds me down. "I didn't make any of this," I say. "You're the one that keeps coming on to me."
"You could say no," she says.
"I couldn't," I say. "That's the only thing I'm sure of. I'm not even sure I like you, Elizabeth. You've said things to me that stick in my mind every time I look at you. Everything that went wrong with Mark, you took out on me, and you act like I'm going to suddenly forget that because you took me out a few times and sent me flowers, and-- and-- the problem is, I do. I forget everything."
"And it hasn't occurred to you that you do the same thing to me?" she says. "I watched him die. I took a one-year-old on a nine hour flight so that I could watch. Him. Die. When I close my eyes, I see him dying. I look at my daughter's face and I see him. I go to work and expect to hear his voice. And the only time-- the only time-- that doesn't happen is when I'm with you."
"I... I didn't know," I say.
"I didn't tell you," she says.
"It would have worked better than-- than flowers."
"You didn't like them?"
"They made me feel even less... like I could say anything," I say.
She leans over me, her breasts almost spilling out of the top of her dress. "What can I do?" she says.
"Give me time."
"I've given you-- It's been months, Kerry, and--"
"No," I say. "Give me your time."
"I'm yours," she says.
There is nothing else I can say, so I kiss her instead. Usually, when she kisses me, it is an act of control: she pushes her tongue deep and hard into my mouth. I won't give her the chance to do that now. I kiss her jawline. She stretches her head back to give me her throat and her shoulders. It's difficult to do much from underneath her, so I pull her down by the front of her dress so she's tight against me and roll us both over so I'm on top. I undo a few of the buttons of her dress, and the fabric recedes from her breasts. She is sexier this way than she would be naked. I kiss the soft pale flesh along the border of her clothing. She sighs.
I run a hand up her thigh and under her skirt. Slowly, still kissing her breasts, I work the skirt up over her hips. Elizabeth doesn't speak, but she isn't quiet, either: she's the most vocal lover I've ever had. Usually, she offers some commentary, but tonight she reserves it, like she is too curious to see what I will do next. I feel like I should be doing something more creative than going down on her, but she doesn't seem to mind. She digs her nails into my back as I suck on her clit; it feels like she's drawing blood.
After she comes, she relaxes her hips like she assumes I'm finished with her. I slide a finger into her vagina. She gasps a syllable of protest before she understands that she's supposed to lie back and enjoy it. I stroke her clit with my tongue and dig deep into her vagina with three fingers. She is saying, "Oh, God," but she isn't saying my name; I wonder if she's worried about saying the wrong one. I wonder if making love to her forever will keep her from leaving me. Eventually, she'll get tired of me and move on. I'll make some mistake, and she'll decide I'm beyond toleration. Either that, or I'll start cataloguing her faults, until those imperfections are all I can see. She's better off leaving me first: that way, I can hate her for the one dramatic act of dumping me rather than for the thousand tiny sins that will have accumulated. Maybe with this attitude, I shouldn't bother making her come now.
That decides things for me: she's getting it three times in a row. She deserves at least one untarnishable memory.
I've still got my fingers inside her after she comes for the second time. She's soft and wet, and her muscles yield effortlessly. I pull out of her, and she lets out a slow breath. "Have you still got that massage oil?" I say.
"You want it?" she says, and she tosses me the bottle without waiting for confirmation.
"Stop me-- stop me if I hurt you," I say.
"Oh, Kerry, you're not going to--" she says, but she doesn't finish the sentence. "You're spoiling me, you know."
"I know," I say, covering my hands in rose-scented oil. I unbutton her dress upward from the skirt, so there are only a few buttons holding it closed in the middle, and also, damn it, well, that's what dry cleaning is for. I oil my hands again and flick her clit with my fingers. She doesn't really need that-- she's plenty aroused already-- but I want to tease her, keep her guessing. My fingers inside her, when I get them there, are like the answer to a question. I kiss her belly where her dress opens away like a curtain, distracting her abdominal muscles while I push my fist inside her. She howls, but it's a happy howl, almost triumphant. I press my lips to her soft stomach and let her do all the rest of the work.
I get up afterwards to wash my hands; she is lying on the bed, flushed and transcendent. "You know," she says when I return from the bathroom, "I've never done that before."
"Really?" I say, and I am surprised. Elizabeth's so willing to try anything that I've been operating under the assumption that she's actually gotten around to everything. "My first time was with my-- my first girlfriend," I admit.
"So have I lost my lesbian virginity?" she says with a grin, sitting up in bed.
"No, I gather that involves a U-Haul," I say.
She laughs. "I hate to think I lost my lesbian virginity to Mark."
I want this heavy silence to hang in the air. She is pretending that she didn't say what she said to me in the heat of anger, but now I hear it under everything she does say. She's only with me because I make her forget about him. "Only." I shouldn't treat this like such an inconsequential feat. I am the only thing that makes her forget. I ought to be encouraged, not resentful.
"Do you-- do you want something to eat?" she says hurriedly. "We could get room service, or--"
"I'm fine," I say. "I had dinner."
She looks panic-stricken.
"But a bottle of wine might be nice," I add.
One out of about a thousand things that I say is exactly the right thing. I want to frame these utterances and hang them on my wall.
"It might be," she says with a smile.
She calls room service while I try to locate my clothes. I'd feel awkward being naked when a waiter came to the door. I wish I had my bathrobe. I settle for my panties and my shirt, and I fold the rest into a neat pile that I put on top of the dresser.
I sit down next to Elizabeth on the bed. She slips an arm around my waist and kisses me. "So," she says. "I suppose you're applying for the Chief of Staff position."
I'm not entirely sure why we're talking about work, but it's an easy thing to discuss. Maybe that's why. "The... the position's not officially open," I say.
"It will be shortly. Robert's going to some retreat in Thailand-- he's been depressed since the accident, I guess, although who can tell? And can you imagine Robert doing transcendental meditation?"
"Whatever works, I guess," I say.
"At least he'll be out of our hair."
"I heard from Donald Anspaugh that he's handing in his resignation on Monday. Robert. But I'm not sure if it's true," I say.
She squeezes me close. "Don't give me that," she says. "You've already handed in your resume."
"I'm not applying for the position," I say.
"Oh, come on. Of course you are."
"I'm not. I told Donald and Robert I'd head up the search committee."
"But I thought-- I mean, everyone assumed--"
"The worst part of my job is handling unpleasant personal matters," I explain. "Making those difficult decisions, hurting individuals for the greater good-- I can do it, maybe even well, but the more I do it-- I feel like my heart is two sizes too small." Elizabeth rubs the small of my back like she's trying to reassure me that it's not. I lay my head on her shoulder. "I hardly get to practice medicine as it is, and with my specialty-- if I was Chief of Staff, I'd never have the chance to spend a whole shift in the ER. I'm a doctor, not a hospital administrator. I'm-- I think I'm happy where I am."
The truth is, I got as far as printing out my resume and publication history before it occurred to me that I didn't want to be Chief of Staff. The cats were unusually obtrusive that night: Glinda fell asleep on my feet, while Kialio leaped around the office furniture making as much noise as she could. She swatted the papers as they came out of the printer, then sat down on the keyboard and refused to move. Defeated, I stroked Kialio's fur; she climbed into my lap. There was something about that moment of contentment and affection that was difficult to relinquish. It became clear to me that moving into administration was not the brave and ambitious choice, but the safe and clear-cut one. I am a good doctor-- a good ER doctor-- and compared with that, good managers are a dime a dozen. I am doing more good where I am than I ever could from behind a desk. The thought of becoming Chief of Staff made me feel like someone had punched me in the chest. Making the decision not to apply for the job made me feel like I'd been unpunched.
I would be lying if I said that what's been going on between me and Elizabeth had nothing to do with my decision. If I got the position, we'd have to break up.
"Sounds like you've really thought about this," she says.
"I have," I say. "So, are you?"
"Am I what?"
"Applying for Chief of Staff?"
"Me? No," she says. "With Ella and-- I haven't got the time for that kind of responsibility."
"Good," I say, and I kiss her on the cheek.
"That way I can pack the search committee."
"Oh," she says, and she waits before laughing. "You're serious, aren't you?"
"Half," I say with a smile.
The room service waiter knocks on the door and announces his arrival. Elizabeth and I realize in the same instant that neither of us is dressed to answer the door. After a brief silent standoff, I say, "I'll get it."
"You haven't got any trousers on," she laughs.
"He's probably used to it," I say. I grab my purse on the way to the door. The waiter knocks again. When I let him in, he notices my crutch and looks down at me sheepishly. He appraises the situation astutely and leaves me a cart with the wine, two glasses, and a bottle opener. I tip him extravagantly.
I open the bottle and pour us each a glass of wine. We sit next to each other on the bed with our Bordeaux. Elizabeth swirls the wine in her glass. "Kerry, is there something on your mind?" she asks.
"Aside from the fact that I'm passing up a great promotion because I don't think I'm happy enough?"
"I suppose that would take care of it," she says, but she doesn't seem convinced.
"And with you... there's... a lot to work out, I guess."
"Listen-- Kerry-- if you want this to be the end of it... I'd understand. I wouldn't like it, but I'd understand."
"That's not what I want," I say, and it's the one thing I can say about us that I am certain of. I don't know when I want this to end, or if I ever want it to, but I know that now is not the time. "But do you really think-- I mean, the two of us..."
"You're worried that this isn't going to work out."
"I'm... I'm worried about something you said-- and it was months ago. You probably don't even remember. You said-- you said you didn't think you could fall in love with a woman."
"I do remember saying that," she says. "And now I find myself in the process of figuring out whether it's the truth."
"So do you think--"
"I think... you're good for me right now," she says. "I don't know if I'm on the rebound, or in denial, or if what I need is not a lover but some intensive psychotherapy. But I'm-- What you said about being happy? I am happier when I'm with you than I feel like I have any right to be."
She is allowing for the possibility that this will fail, and that she will prove only that she was right in the first place. But I have taken my chances with women who were sure of what and who they wanted, and those love affairs found plenty of other reasons to fall apart. I cannot help but believe that being with her and staying with her are possible, at least as possible as the most promising of my past relationships. I sabotaged those, each and every one. Maybe I've learned something by now. "Me too," I say.
"Then, Kerry Weaver, will you be my girlfriend, in name as well as in deed?" She says this like she is trying to sound solemn, but there is a tickle of laughter around her voice.
I put down my wine glass and kiss her deeply. "I'll do my best," I say. She kisses me like we weren't finished kissing-- like we'll never be finished. She slips her hand between my legs. I want so badly for her to be happy. That would make one of us, at least.