Second Chances by Lynne Norris (part 2)

Chapter Thirteen
Alex’s mind slowly roused her from her slumber. Opening her eyes, she blinked and groaned inwardly as she saw the sun streaming in the through the sliding glass window. She had every intention of getting up and going running this morning, figured it would be a good way to give her some time to think before she needed to face the realities of the new day. So much for that idea, Alex thought, as she reached out and groped for her watch lying on the night table. Staring at it, she realized that it had been a long time since she slept this late, let alone through the night.

Shifting her body, aware of the comforting warmth pressed up against her side, Alex glanced down at Regina, lying nestled against her shoulder. After last night, she wasn’t sure how Regina would feel if she woke to find her body draped over Alex, one arm wrapped snuggly around her waist and her leg thrown intimately over Alex’s thigh. Not that she minded, Alex thought wryly; nope not one bit at all, the rest of her body gladly chimed in.

Oh quit that. She knew that her own feelings were deeper than just physical attraction. She really did like Regina. That was the problem. Hell, Regina was involved with a man before she met you. No, she’d been with straight women before. Huh uh, no way, been there, done that, moved on. You’re not making that mistake again. It was safer for her to tell herself that it was nothing more than a fleeting interest and the feelings she had would pass with time. Alex quickly decided as Regina shifted in her sleep that neither of them needed to deal with the fact that they had quite comfortably curled up around each other during the night. As gently as she could, trying not to wake her, Alex disentangled herself from Regina’s snug embrace and sat on the edge of the bed.

She looked over her shoulder at the blonde and shook her head, wondering what in hell it was that the younger woman saw in her. Yes, she managed to get her life back on track, barely. She knew she was a good doctor, but that certainly didn’t change who she was or what she’d done in her past. In fact, based on the little that she knew, she and Regina were about as opposite as two people could get. With a shake of her head, Alex stood up and stretched. She walked into the bathroom to take a shower – a nice, long, cold shower.

A few minutes later, Regina woke up to the sound of running water coming from the bathroom. She stretched and yawned, rolling over onto her stomach. Yesterday seemed like it happened an eternity ago. She pulled a pillow under her shoulders, crossed her arms over it and buried her face in its softness, as she stifled another yawn. Closing her eyes, she inhaled deeply, and the scent of Alex’s perfume filled her senses. The memory of sitting on the couch as Alex reached out and touched her face, her eyes looking right through her, replayed in her mind and made her shiver involuntarily.

The intense feeling that flowed through her and settled in the pit of her belly as her body remembered Alex’s gentle touch and soft kisses startled Regina. Ok, obviously you’re attracted to her.

It wasn’t a foreign concept to Regina. She knew that she could love a woman. She’d been attracted to other women in the past, and endured the usual assortment of crushes on some of her female friends growing up, but she never acted on any of the feelings that she experienced. When she thought about a relationship with a woman in the context of how it would impact her family, friends, plans for her career, indeed every facet of her life, she found herself holding back; until now, that is. Despite everything that she was afraid of and everything that she knew about Alex, Regina still found herself irresistibly drawn to the doctor.

The blonde lifted her head up and let her gaze fall outside the window, as she remembered Alex lying there beside her in the bed. It was so easy to just curl up next to her and fall asleep once she got over her initial shyness. She hadn’t even given it a second thought when she felt the older woman slip her arm over her shoulder and pull her closer.

Thoughts of Alex, her now familiar gestures, the strength that carried through in her every movement, and an image of her crystal blue eyes, lit up by that dazzling smile when she let it cross her lips filled Regina’s mind. She shook her head and flopped over onto her back and stared up at the ceiling. Well, you certainly don’t have a wealth of experience in this department Regina, she thought wryly, and your timing couldn’t possibly be any worse.

“You’re up.” Regina lifted her head to see Alex dressed in jeans and a white shirt standing at the foot of the bed, watching her, as she towel dried her hair.

Alex shook her head and draped the towel over her shoulder. Her damp hair framed her angular face and her eyes sparkled in the morning sunlight that was streaming through the window.

“Uh, yeah.” Regina realized she was staring and pulled her eyes away, wondering how long Alex had been standing there at the foot of the bed before she said something. She quickly pushed herself up and sat over the edge of the bed, staring down at the floor.

“Alex, I’m sorry about last night.” Regina brought a hand up to her throat and rubbed the front of her neck. It was a nervous gesture that she did automatically, but she stopped as she felt an uncharacteristic tenderness on both sides of her neck, just under her jaw. Her heart fluttered in her chest and she sat very still as her world suddenly closed in on her.

“You don’t need to explain anything to me, Regina.” Alex walked over and sat down on the edge of the bed. “I understand.” You’re probably the first person I’ve ever met who’s worried about that. Doesn’t say much for me. With all I’ve done, you have more to worry about from me than I do you. “Listen.” Alex stared down at her hands. “If you want to talk later Regina, let me know.” She looked over at Regina and smiled faintly. “Hey, are you ok?” She looked closely at Regina’s face. “You’re as pale as a ghost.”

Regina nodded her head absently, dropping her hand down into her lap. “Yeah, yeah I’m fine,” she said, glancing quickly up at Alex.

“Ok, well,” Alex stood up and turned around, “I have to go over to Dana’s store.”

Regina shifted her attention outward and looked up at Alex. “Why?”

“Regina, I told you what I have to do.” Alex looked down at her. “I’m probably going to be gone most of the day.” She dug into her pocket and held out her hand to Regina. “I’ll leave the keys to the truck, if you want to go down to the beach or something today.”

Regina stood up from the bed. “Alex, let me come with you.”

“No.” Alex shook her head and stepped back. “You’re not coming with me Regina, so don’t even try and argue with me about it.”

“But-” Regina tried again.

Alex cut her off. “No. You promise me you won’t go there today. I don’t want Dana to be able to hurt you Regina.”

“What about you, Alex?” Regina asked, suddenly wondering if Alex just didn’t want her around because of what happened between them last night.

“I’ll be fine,” the taller woman assured her, before she left the apartment.

******

Regina sat in the silence of the apartment and stared at the wall. After Alex left, she took a shower and forced herself to eat something so she could take the AZT and 3TC that she was taking in the hopes of reducing the chances that her body would develop the HIV antibodies. She tried so hard not to be angry with Marcus, realizing that it was an accident, but right now she wanted to scream at him and if he had been standing in front of her she would have beaten him senseless with her fists.

She walked out of the bathroom and grabbed Alex’s keys off the table. Running down the stairs, Regina hopped into the truck and squealed the tires as she pulled out of the driveway. In a daze, she followed the signs to Race Point Beach.

There were a fair number of people at the beach already, so Regina walked for a long time until she found a deserted place far away from the sounds of people playing touch football and generally having a good time. Regina slumped down on the sand and leaned back against a large piece of driftwood and stared out at the waves, watching them swell and curl, breaking on the beach in a wash of foam. So this is how it starts. If she ever felt lower in her life she couldn’t remember.

“Son of a bitch. I can’t believe this is happening,” her voice cracked and the tears started to fall. She covered her mouth with her hand and rocked back and forth. The raw emotion passed after a time and she wrapped her arms tightly around her body. Maybe I’m just getting a bad cold. It was possible, right? Yeah right, Regina. Seven years of college, three years of residencies and you haven’t missed one goddamn day because you’ve been sick.

All right, come on, be rational. You’re a doctor. So what! You’re twenty-nine years old, her mind screamed back. This can’t be happening, oh god, please don’t let this happen!

Regina pulled her legs up to her chest and closed her eyes. Twenty-nine and it felt like her world was spinning wildly out of control. Her life was completely out of balance and there wasn’t one facet of it that she felt she was in control of right now.

Her family? If they were still talking to her it would be a miracle. She’d left in the middle of the night after an ugly fight with her mother, leaving a note, telling them that she couldn’t stay. Who knew what her mother told to her father. She hadn’t meant to say anything to her mother about her feelings. There was no reason to, except that she was tired of living up to her mother’s expectation’s of who she thought her daughter should be.

Professionally, she was standing on a tight rope until Monday. It was anybody’s guess what the board would decide. She hoped Jeffrey was right about the hospital not wanting to make them into scapegoats.

She stared out at the water as another sudden realization came to her making her heart skip a beat. Derrick. He had been driving up to her parent’s house and that meant he knew she had left there. Would he try and find her here? Could he find her?

Regina looked up, realizing for the first time that the sun was beginning its descent into the western sky. She’d been at the beach for hours and run the gamut of emotions, which left her exhausted as she walked back to Alex’s Jeep. She slid into the driver’s seat, settled back into the leather and closed her eyes, wondering if Alex was back at the apartment yet. She said if she wanted to talk to let her know. Regina shook her head. She did, but she wasn’t even sure she knew what she would say to Alex, knowing what she did.

******

Alex walked along the street heading toward the West End of town. She needed to make one stop before she went to the store. Even though it surprised her that Regina didn’t put up more of a fight, she was glad that she hadn’t. The truth of the matter was she couldn’t bring herself to do the things she would have to do if Regina was with her. She didn’t want her to have to see that side of her. It was bad enough that Dana slipped something into her drink the other night. No, she couldn’t let Regina get any closer than she was already. Maybe it was better that nothing happened, leaving no tangled emotions to deal with later. Best to just get the kid home.

Alex turned down a narrow side street and stopped in front of the gray two-story cape that sat at the end of the cul-de-sac. She walked up the worn concrete steps to the front door. The doorbell was broken and exposed wires poked through the faded shingles. Alex knocked loudly on the door with her knuckles and waited. When there was no answer, she banged on it again with her fist. She stepped back off the front porch, and looked up at the second story window; frowning, she climbed the steps again and turned the doorknob. It was unlocked so she pushed the door open.

The brunette stepped inside, shutting the door quietly behind her. She looked warily around the first floor of the house. All the shades were pulled down and the downstairs was hidden in a blur of gray shadows. She wrinkled her nose as stale beer and the heavy scent of marijuana reached her nose as she walked through the living room. stepping over a pile of dirty laundry.

Damn it Richard, why did you have to tie one on last night? Well, I hope you’re not too hung over because I’m coming up there anyway. Alex checked out the rest of the rooms on the first floor. They were all empty. You must be getting old Richard. In earlier years, it wouldn’t have been just dirty laundry lying scattered on your floor.

Quietly, Alex walked up the darkened stairwell to the second floor. There were two bedrooms at the top, one to the left of the stairs and the other to the right. Both the bedroom doors were closed. She opened the door to the one on the left and looked in. Empty. Come on Richard. Be here.

She turned the knob to the door of the other room and found Richard sprawled naked on the bed. Alex shook her head and walked over to him. She clamped a hand on his shoulder and shook him roughly.

“Wake up, Richard.”

He grunted and rolled away from her. “Come on, Richard. I don’t have time for you to nurse your damn hangover.” Alex nudged him roughly in the middle of his back.

The sleeping man moaned and rolled onto his back, his hand reaching up for her. She slapped his groping hand away. “Open your eyes you idiot. I’m not your damn boyfriend.”

“Jesus.” He blinked his eyes open and realized he wasn’t alone. “Don’t you knock, Alex?” Richard scrambled up in the bed and pulled the covers up over his waist.

Alex folded her arms over her chest. “I did. You were passed out, so I let myself in.” She watched as he fumbled around for something else to throw on his naked body. “Do you need a moment to uh, get yourself together, Richard?” She couldn’t keep herself from smirking at his obvious discomfort.

“You’re such a bitch, Alex,” he whined.

“Really, and you’re just figuring that out now? I’m disappointed, I thought you were quicker than that, Richard.” She pulled out a piece of paper from her pocket and shoved it in his face. She waited as he read the words scribbled on it. “Do you have it?”

He looked up at her and tilted his head. “I didn’t think you were into that kind of stuff, Alex.”

She ignored his remark and repeated her question. “Do you have it?”

“Yeah, yeah. Give me a minute to put something on. I’ll meet you downstairs.” He pulled the comforter off the bed and wrapped it around himself as he stood up and walked over to his closet.

Alex rolled her eyes, walked downstairs and waited in the kitchen, staring out the window into the tiny yard; as Richard entered the room, she turned her head, pushed off the wall and walked over to him. She reached her hand out to take the glass ampoule and the syringe he was holding.

“How much?”

“A hundred dollars.”

Alex pulled her wallet out and handed the money to him.

“So, what are you doing with this Alex?” He asked, as he tucked the money she handed him into his pocket.

“None of your business, Richard.”

His eyes gleamed and he leaned closer. “What’s wrong, the little blonde one not submitting to your charms, Alex?”

Alex carefully set the vial down on the table and slowly turned around. Her eyes were dark with anger when she faced him and instinctively he stepped back. “You pathetic, piece of shit.” She grabbed him around his throat and shoved him up against the wall. “Don’t you ever talk about her that way.”

Richard’s eyes bulged and he clutched at Alex’s fingers trying to pry them away from his throat. “I was only joking,” he croaked, as she let him go. He slumped against the wall, gasping for air and rubbing his throat.

“You would joke about it, Richard. Sex is just a game to you, it always has been.” Alex grabbed his shirt and pulled him to her. “Regina knows more about caring for someone than you’d figure out in three lifetimes.”

He stared at the dark-haired woman for a minute and then smiled. “Go to hell, Alex. You’re no better than I am.”

“I didn’t say I was.” She pushed him away from her, picked up the vial from the table and walked out of the house, slamming the door behind her. She could hear glass shattering against the door as he threw something after her.

******

It was late afternoon by the time Alex walked down the alley that bordered the store Lana had left to her. The brunette leaned against the side of the building, hidden in the shadows, waiting until several couples that had been walking behind passed her by. Nervously, she slipped the syringe and vial out of her pocket and twisted the cap off, holding it between her teeth as she tipped the vial and filled the syringe with the clear fluid. Alex recapped the syringe, slid it into her back pocket and walked up the alley.

The store was empty when Alex opened the door and slipped quietly inside. She immediately spotted Dana perched on a stool behind the counter, reading a paperback. A pack of Marlboros lay open on the glass counter top and several partially burned cigarette butts already littered the ashtray.

Alex let the door shut behind her, not bothering to keep it from banging as it did. “Slow day, Dana?” She asked, walking slowly over to the counter, keeping her eyes trained on Dana the whole way.

Dana looked up over the cover of her book and raised an eyebrow. “Well, well, look at what the cat dragged in.” Dana tilted her head to the side and peered behind Alex. “So, where’s the little blonde?” She asked, setting the book down on the glass counter top, regarding Alex with feigned disinterest.

Alex shrugged her shoulders, stopping on the other side of the counter directly in front of Dana. “Not here.” She leaned an elbow on the glass. Alex picked up the pack of Marlboros and shook one of the cigarettes out into her hand. “You’re smoking again.”

“Yeah. So what?”

“You shouldn’t be, not after Lana.”

“Give it a rest Alex, you are not my keeper.” Dana snatched the pack of cigarettes back from her.

Holding the cigarette between her lips, Alex lit the end, and took a drag, slowly exhaling the smoke into Dana’s face. “You didn’t need to slip that pill in Regina’s drink the other night. That was a pretty stupid thing to do.”

“Like I give a crap, Alex? Quit the lecture, already.” Dana waved her hand in irritation. “Why are you here?”

Alex leaned forward, resting her elbows on the counter and tapped the ashes from her cigarette into the ashtray. “I was thinking that maybe we could discuss the store.” She ran a finger up the bare skin of Dana’s arm. She lifted her head and looked into Dana’s eyes. “See if we could come to some sort of an…equitable solution.”

Dana eyed her suspiciously. She pulled her arm away from Alex’s touch and slid off the stool. “Don’t bullshit me, Alex. The only person you were ever good about looking after was yourself.” She looked Alex over and crossed her arms in front of her.

Alex pushed off the counter and walked over to the shelf at the back of the room. “Well, you did extend the offer of a private party, Dana. So, I’m taking you up on it.” She picked up a book of matches, ripping one off from the cover and dragging it across the black strip. It flared, and the smell of sulfur dissipated as the small flame sputtered to life. Alex turned, casually leaning back against the wall and looked at Dana with a smile on her face. She twirled the lit match back and forth between her fingers. “Or did you change your mind?”

She waited as Dana walked out from behind the counter. “Business is slow. Why don’t you lock up for the day?” Alex turned back to the shelf and lit the second candle from the left. She smiled to herself as she heard the latch click in the lock and the lights dimmed at the front of the store. Now we’ll see how you like it when the tables are turned, Dana.

She was aware of Dana walking up behind her, as she pursed her lips and blew the match out. Alex turned around and looked at her for a moment. Dana was a good-looking woman, but the years of abusing her body were beginning to show. Short, spiky blonde hair framed her small face and green eyes sparkled back at her, as the candlelight flickered from behind Alex’s shoulder. Alex took Dana’s hand and led her up the stairs to the small apartment above the store.

Dana slipped the key into the lock and opened the door; Alex let her walk past her and followed her inside to stand in the middle of the small kitchen. The brunette slipped her jacket off and hung it on the back of one of the chairs. She watched as Dana walked over to one of the kitchen cabinets and fished around in the back of it, pulling out a mirror and a razor blade. The woman then sat down at the small table and poured some of the white powder onto the mirror, efficiently cutting a few lines of cocaine.

“Come on, Alex, you know you want it. Go ahead, take it.” Dana slid the mirror over to Alex and smiled up at her. “I won’t tell.”

The doctor recognized the look as one of those sexy and seductive smiles that Dana used on her so many times before when she let herself be lured in. The line was clearly drawn and Alex could feel the old demons rising and tugging at her, inviting her to cross over again. For a few seconds, she held Dana’s gaze, then slowly reached a trembling hand out and pushed the mirror away from her.

“No, that’s not why I’m here, Dana.” Alex leaned away, closing her eyes, forcing herself to breathe slowly. You don’t need this. Just get done what you need to do and get the hell out of here.

“Oh what – is the good doctor all reformed now? Maybe it’s just all an act for Regina to buy until you’re finished with her,” Dana sneered, enjoying the fact that Alex was still tempted by the lure of the drugs.

Alex’s eyes snapped open at the mention of the blonde’s name. “No. I don’t need that stuff anymore, Dana. It almost killed me last time.”

“Yeah, whatever, Alex.” Dana pulled the mirror back to her, bent forward and quickly snorted the lines of crystalline powder.

Alex felt like someone hit her across the back of the head with a two by four as memories flooded her mind. She stared at Dana’s face, seeing the white powdery residue around the outer edge of one of her nostrils.

“So why are you here, Alex?” Dana leaned forward on her elbows and stared at the woman sitting across from her. She sniffed and wiped her nose with her fingers; reveling in the intense high she was experiencing.

“I already told you.” She stood up and walked around the table toward Dana. Reaching for her hand, she pulled Dana to her feet and slipped a hand behind her neck; she pulled her mouth to hers and kissed her roughly. Dana moaned and pressed into Alex, responding to her own body’s rising desire.

The doctor led Dana down the short hallway and into the bedroom, where she wrapped her hands around the blonde’s waist, turned her around, backed her up to the bed, and let the mattress buckle the smaller woman’s knees. She lowered the woman onto her back and pinned her underneath her weight, as she continued to kiss her.

Alex pressed her body into Dana, spreading her legs and sliding her thigh up against her. She felt Dana clutch at her shoulders and rise up against her body, and in response Alex ducked her head and nipped at the skin on her throat.

Alex quickly tugged Dana’s shirt free from her pants and without hesitation ran her hand up the soft skin of her stomach and over her breasts, eliciting a moan from the woman. Dana tried to reach down to pull Alex up to her for another kiss, but the brunette grabbed her hand and pushed her arm back down to the mattress roughly.

“No.”

The blonde growled in frustration, bucking her hips as Alex reached down to undo the buttons on Dana’s pants, bending over her and kissing the sensitive skin beneath her navel. Dana moaned and rolled her head back and forth, clamping her hands down on Alex’s shoulders in response.

Alex ran her hand down Dana’s thigh. Then calmly, she reached behind into the back pocket of her jeans, pulled out the hypodermic needle and twisted the cap off easily with her fingers. She distracted the woman easily by ducking her head, to kiss her neck again, pressing her thigh up in between her legs and rubbing against her.

Alex raised her body up and looked down at Dana – the woman’s eyes were closed and her neck was arched, burying her head back into the pillow. It was so easy.

The doctor ran her palm up the inside of Dana’s arm, stopping at her elbow and circling the sensitive skin with her fingertips; Dana grunted as the small needle penetrated expertly into the vein. Alex smoothly depressed the plunger, then watched with satisfaction as Dana’s body relaxed into the quick effect of the drug.

Alex carefully pushed herself back off the bed, picked up the cap from the sheets and quietly replaced it on the used needle. She slipped the hypodermic into her jacket pocket and scowled at Dana’s prone form. That’s for Regina, you bitch.

The dark woman walked out of the bedroom and over to the sink in the kitchen where she leaned heavily against it, her legs trembling from the adrenaline running though her system. She turned the cold water on and cupped her hands under the stream to bring a drink to her mouth; instead of drinking it, however, she sucked the water into her mouth and spat it back out into the sink, attempting to spit out Dana’s taste. She then washed her hands and her face, trying to rid her skin of the stench of Dana’s perfume. But she curled her lip in disgust when she raised her arm to her nose and smelled the perfume clinging to her clothes, assaulting her senses and refusing to let go, just like Dana.

The brunette turned and walked back to the bedroom, to stand at the door looking in at the woman sleeping obliviously on the bed; Alex studied her briefly, watching her chest rise and fall in a normal rhythm. Now, all she needed to do was find the book that she knew Dana kept hidden in the apartment.

It took her most of the afternoon and early evening to find what she was looking for: the little black book filled with all of Dana’s contacts. One thing about Dana was that she always had connections, and apparently, they had broadened significantly since Alex worked for her years ago. When she finally uncovered the book, she ran her finger down the entries and found a familiar name. Picking up the phone, she dialed the number and listened to it ring three times before the answering machine picked up.

The message was simple and Alex desperately hoped as she set the phone back in the cradle that Dana still set her drug deals up the same way. She walked back to the bedroom to check the passed out woman’s pulse and breathing – she would be fine, if a little groggy when she woke up, and completely devoid of any memory of today’s events.

Alex bent over and untied Dana’s shoes, pulling them off and dumping them on the floor. Well Dana, when Tommy comes to pick up his stuff tomorrow, the cops will be right behind him. They always knew you were dealing drugs out of this store, but could never prove it. One more phone call and it’s all over. Hope you enjoy the accommodations in the state penitentiary.

Alex sat back down at the table. She looked down at the bag of cocaine lying there and picked it up, quietly fingering the plastic baggie that held it. That very subtle base craving nudged at her seductively.

“Come on, Alex you know you want it. Go ahead, take it.” She could hear Dana’s voice tempting her and she gripped the bag, throwing it angrily down on the table. Alex stared across the room, wondering if it really was ever going to be over. She lifted her body out of the chair and walked out of the apartment.

As she shut the door behind her, she felt an overwhelming urge to get back to Regina. The thought of just being with her made some of the pain Alex was feeling inside fade away. She ran down the steps and headed back to the apartment.

******

Regina returned to an empty apartment. Still feeling emotionally dragged out and tired, she collapsed on the bed and fallen into a fitful asleep. It was dark out and raining when she woke hours later, finding herself still alone in the apartment. Regina felt a vague, unsettling feeling that something was wrong as she sat up from the bed.

The young doctor stood up from the bed, walked into the bathroom, and turned the light on. She looked at her face in the mirror and leaned heavily on the sink. “Shit.” She could feel fever attacking her body; her face was flushed and she felt like her movements were slow and clumsy. Oh Alex, please get back here. I need you. I’m scared.

Regina gave up trying to be patient, telling herself that Alex would be back anytime now. She paced anxiously back and forth across the wooden floor, then stopped at the sliding glass door to stare at her reflection. She listened to the rain as it pelted the ground outside and watched it run down the outside of the glass.

She sighed heavily. Alex did say she would be gone most of the day. Well the day had come and gone, and she still wasn’t back.

“Damn it Alex, where are you?” Regina asked aloud. Decision made, she turned and grabbed the spare keys off the kitchen counter.

She locked the apartment door behind her and walked down the narrow hallway to the stairs before she heard the hinges of the screen door squeak open and the sound of a key turning in the lock. Thank god. Turning the corner, Regina stepped down onto the small landing.

“Alex, what took you so long?”

Regina stopped dead in her tracks, feeling her heart jump up into her throat. She froze, staring like a deer caught in the headlight of an oncoming car.

“Hello, Regina.” Derrick leered up at her from the bottom of the steps. He was a terrifying sight. His hair was plastered to his forehead with rain and his blue sweatshirt from the police academy was soaked and clinging to his muscular shoulders. “Sorry to disappoint you, Regina, but Alex isn’t with me,” Derrick drawled, slowly climbing the stairs toward Regina, pinning her down with his eyes.

Regina’s body finally responded to her brain’s frantic message to take flight and run. Pivoting on her feet, she fled back down the hallway toward the apartment door. Her hands shook and she cursed herself as she fumbled for the right key. She finally got it and put it in the lock just as she heard Derrick reach the top of the staircase and call her name out in a singsong voice. Pushing the door open, she stepped quickly through and into the kitchen.

She turned to close the door, hearing the pounding footfalls of Derrick sprinting down the hallway after her. Regina felt the rush of air behind her, just before he tackled her through the open door. The impact against the molding cracked her chin, splitting the skin open; blood welled and began to ooze out. Her legs turned to jelly and she crumpled to the floor, gasping for breath. Rough hands grabbed the keys away from her and tossed them across the room, far out of reach. Regina watched helplessly as they clattered across the wooden floor and slid underneath the couch. She grunted, struggling against Derrick as he pinned her, face down, on the hard floor.

“Did you think I couldn’t find you, Regina? You used your credit card to buy the plane tickets to get here. Stupid, very stupid.” Derrick’s breath was hot on her face, as he straddled her body, pinning her arms painfully behind her back. He hauled her to her feet and spun her around, slamming her up against the wall. “You should be thankful I didn’t tell your parents where I found you. You’re mother would be devastated. Is that what you want?” He yanked her face to his.

“Derrick, let me go.” Regina struggled against his grip. She winced as his hands clamped painfully down on her wrists in a vice-like grip. Biting back tears, she slammed her foot down onto his instep. He immediately grunted and loosened his grip, just enough for her to wrench herself away from him. She staggered backwards, putting the kitchen table between them.

Regina held onto a chair and pressed the palm of her other hand against her bloody and swollen chin. Dazed, she stared incredulously at the blood on her hand.

Derrick curled his lip menacingly as he advanced on her. “What did she do to you? Give you drugs or something to get you to come to her? What spell does she have you under, Regina?” Derrick asked, as he stepped forward, slowly closing the distance between them.

Regina’s eyes darted to the door. “Stay away from me, Derrick.” Her voice trembled, her terror betraying her. She needed to get to the door, but the space between her and Derrick was too narrow for her to get by him.

He edged closer, watching her eyes and laughing as he realized what Regina was thinking. He lunged at her quickly and Regina ducked to avoid him, but got caught as his arm snaked out and wrapped tightly around her waist.

“Not so fast, Regina.” Despite her struggles, he was dragging her back to the couch and she knew with frightening certainty what he intended to do to her.

He pushed her roughly onto the couch and pinned her down with his hands. “You never complained when we were together, Regina. Did your tastes change or do you just like it both ways now?” he asked, leering down at her.

“Go to hell, Derrick,” Regina snarled back at him, struggling against his weight. A wave of anger washed over her as she saw him working his belt buckle loose. Regina braced her heels against the couch and slammed her knee up between his legs with all her strength. She felt her knee catch him high up on the inside of his thigh.

Derrick yelped and folded over, crumpling to the floor, moaning in pain with his hand clutching his crotch. Regina’s mind screamed at her to move. Pushing off the couch, she stumbled over his grasping hand toward the door.

Fear and adrenaline pumped through her veins, propelling her forward. She ran down the hallway, grabbing the wall and whipping around the corner. She almost lost her balance as she missed the first step, except that she clutched desperately at the railing, catching herself and wrenching her shoulder painfully in the process.

“Regina! Get back here.” She heard Derrick shouting from inside the apartment.

Move! Regina found her feet and fled down the steps, slamming the screen door open against the side of the house. She barreled headlong into Alex, knocking her off her feet and into a puddle, onto the rain-soaked ground.

“Hey!” Alex rolled over and scrambled to her feet, catching Regina’s arm and spinning her around. “What the hell is going on?” Her voice trailed off as she saw the fear etched on her face and heard the angry voice from inside the apartment.

Alex let go of Regina’s arm and turned, cocking her head as she recognized the now familiar male voice. She was edgy and in a foul mood anyway. Now, she had an excuse to vent her frustrations.

Alex heard Derrick running down the stairs and slipped up beside the door, standing in the shadows. As he burst through the screen door, she stuck her foot out, sending him crashing headlong into the fence. Alex let out a deep laugh as she watched him roll over and climb unsteadily to his feet. He staggered as he turned around to face her.

“You know, you’ve got to watch that last step, Derrick.” Alex smiled wickedly at him. “It really is a bitch.” She caught Regina standing on the outskirts of her peripheral vision, clutching the mirror of her Jeep, and breathing heavily. The light from inside the stairwell reflected off Regina’s face and Alex could see the blood staining her chin and the front of her shirt. Her eyes flicked back to Derrick and she clenched her fists as anger welled up and boiled over. “You bastard. What did you do to her?”

Derrick growled and lunged at her. Alex easily sidestepped him and hooked him under his arm, using his momentum to slam him into the side of the house. Derrick pushed himself up and swung blindly, catching Alex by surprise and cracking his fist into her jaw.

She shook her head to clear her vision and blocked his next punch with her forearm. Countering, she punched him hard in the side, doubling him over. Alex smiled as she heard the satisfying crunch of ribs breaking. He grunted and stumbled back, clutching his side. Alex stepped forward without hesitation, unleashing a powerful sidekick into his chest. Derrick stumbled backwards as she planted her foot, pivoting her hips and slamming her heel into his jaw, snapping his head backward.

“You can end this now, Derrick. Just walk away and leave Regina alone.” She stood with her hands hanging loosely by her sides and bounced on the balls of her feet. Her nostrils flared and she inhaled the scent of rain and blood.

Derrick lifted his head and glared at her. “Go to hell, you bitch. I don’t know what you did to her, but I’m taking her back home.”

Lunging forward, he dove at Alex, tackling her around her ankles and driving her back against the side of the house.

The impact knocked her down, slamming her head to the ground. Derrick picked himself up and looked down at Alex, lying sprawled out on the ground. “Bitch.” He kicked her hard in the stomach, before he turned around.

He walked around the Jeep. “Regina?” He said her name, listening for her as he walked on the gravel.

“I’m not going anywhere with you, Derrick. Not now, not ever.” Regina walked out from behind the Jeep, having retrieved the baseball bat from inside it.

Derrick turned around and took a step back. “Regina, put the bat down.” He smiled at her. “Come on Regina, what are you going to do? Hit me? You wouldn’t do that,” he laughed, lifting a hand up to reach out for the bat.

Regina edged back, gripping the bat tightly in her hands. Derrick just smiled and kept advancing on her. “Back off, Derrick. You tried to rape me, you bastard.” Regina shifted her hands on the bat.

“Come on, Regina. You wouldn’t hit me. Oomph!” Regina swung the bat down, clipping his ankles and neatly sweeping his feet out from underneath him.

“You bitch. You’re going to pay for that.” Derrick started to scramble back up to his feet, but Alex tackled him to the ground. They rolled over each other, with Derrick finally pinning Alex onto her back. She planted her feet and pushed her hips up, knocking him off balance. Using her arms, she shoved him to the ground and pounced on top of him.

“I don’t think so, you bastard.” Her fist sailed in, catching him across his face, knocking him senseless.

******

Regina sat on the bottom step, resting her head in one hand and holding a small icepack against her mouth that the police officer gave to her in the other hand. Her head was pounding from the collision with the kitchen cabinets and her lip felt like it would burst if she stuck a pin in it. The flashing lights from the police cruiser alternately bathed the house in red and blue, making her already pounding headache that much worse.

She watched as Alex talked to the officer who arrested Derrick. The woman wasn’t much taller than Regina, but she easily hauled Derrick to his feet and read him his rights as she stuffed him roughly into the back seat.

“This isn’t over, Regina,” he shouted as he struggled against the handcuffs. The door slammed shut, silencing his angry voice.

Moments later an ambulance rolled up behind the police car. She shuddered and glanced up as a shadow moved in front of her and blocked out the flashing lights. “Let me take a look at that cut.” The paramedic stooped down in front of her and examined the jagged cut.

Regina winced and pulled her head away as he pressed a wad of gauze against the broken skin to stop the bleeding.

“Here, let me do that.” Alex reached down, grabbed the gauze from his hands and motioned him to move out of the way.

“B…but,” he protested.

“Just go,” Alex growled at him. He hesitated and the taller woman curled her lip. “What didn’t you understand? Go, we don’t need you.”

Regina watched as the young man backed up and walked away. She looked up at her friend standing before her with a worried expression on her face. “Alex, what’s wrong?”

“You’re already hurt. He didn’t have to be that rough with you.” The taller woman frowned as she tilted Regina’s head back. “I can use a couple of butterflies to close that up.”

“Shit,” Regina groaned.

Alex stepped back and held out her hand. “Come on doc, we need to take care of that.”

Regina followed Alex up the stairs and into the apartment. She found herself being led over to the couch. “Sit down.” Alex disappeared and returned with a wet washcloth and a tube of antiseptic.

“Oh no, you are not-” Regina backed warily away from her.

Alex raised an eyebrow. “What do you think I’m going to do? Scrub it? Come here.” She held the warm cloth in her hand and laid it over the cut on Regina’s lip. “Just hold it there. It’ll loosen the blood so I can clean it.”

Regina closed her eyes and tilted her head back on the couch. She felt Alex get up and then return several minutes later. The warm washcloth was lifted off her mouth.

“Cold,” Alex warned her, as she touched an ice cube around the edges of the cut. Regina opened her eyes and watched as Alex rubbed the ice cube over her chin and caught the water with the washcloth.

She sat up off the back of the couch and pushed Alex’s hand away, taking the bloodied washcloth from her. “Don’t. I’ll do that,” Regina said softly.

Alex frowned as Regina took the bloody ice cube from her. “I…I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to make you feel uncomfortable.” She went to stand up, cursing herself silently, until a hand on her forearm stopped her.

“You didn’t Alex. It’s just, we don’t know.” She lifted the bloody washcloth in her hand.

Realization dawned; and Alex looked down at her bruised hands; turning them over, she looked at the bloody cuts on her knuckles. She looked back down at Regina. “I’ve got some gloves in my bag.”

Regina shook her head and smiled faintly. “Alex, you don’t have to.”

“I know that.” She walked away and rummaged through the small kit she carried with her and pulled out a couple of latex gloves. Pulling them over her hands, she sat down next to Regina and took the ice cube back. “Here,” she said, and moved the ice over Regina’s lip and chin again. “I doubt anything would happen though, even if you were.”

“You don’t know that, Alex.”

“You’re right.” Alex concentrated on moving the ice over Regina’s lip, avoiding the eyes she knew were watching her. Her heart was pounding in her chest as she struggled to maintain control over her emotions. If I was any later getting back here, God knows what Derrick would have done to you. “I’m sorry, Regina.”

“For what?” Regina stared incredulously at the woman sitting beside her.

Alex stared over Regina’s shoulder a far away look in her eyes. “Just…everything. You didn’t have to be here at all.”

“No, don’t say that, Alex.” Regina shook her head. A hand against the side of her head stopped the movement.

“Did he hit you?”

“No. He tackled me into the cabinets. I didn’t get my hands up in time.” Regina cringed as she remembered the sound of the impact.

Alex shook her head, feeling anger course through her once more, wishing she’d done more damage to the bastard when she had the chance. She touched Regina’s lip with her thumb. “Numb?”

“Yeah, I can’t feel anything,” Regina stopped talking as Alex applied the salve to her chin and then covered the cut with two sterile strips of tape to hold the cut closed. She watched as the dark woman peeled the gloves off her hands.

The young doctor was aware of Alex shifting her position so that one leg was curled underneath her on the couch. Regina sat very still, running her finger back and forth underneath her chin.

A hand reached up and gently pulled her fingers away from her face. Alex frowned and lifted her hand to Regina’s face. “You’re hot.” She shifted closer and looked at Regina’s glassy eyes.

Regina pulled her eyes away and tilted her head back, unable to look at Alex. She swallowed a lump in her throat and sank back into the couch.

“Regina, you’ve got a fever. What’s going on?” There was concern in Alex’s voice.

Regina shook her head and folded her arms over her chest. “My lymph nodes are swollen in my neck.” She choked on the words. “The fever started this afternoon.”

Alex sat frozen for a moment as her thoughts raced haphazardly in her head. She could see the fear in her eyes and she took Regina’s hand, gently squeezing it.

“Listen to me.” She slipped an arm around Regina and pulled her close to her as she saw the tears rolling down the woman’s face. “This could be a reaction to the medication or it could be the flu, or mononucleosis. You need to get it checked. The sooner the better.”

Regina nodded her head. “I know,” she cried through the tears.

Alex looked at her watch. “We could get to Boston in about three hours. You can sleep while I drive.”

Regina looked up at Alex. “Boston?”

“I know a guy, he’s an infectious disease specialist.”

“What about Dana?”

Alex closed her eyes and held onto Regina giving herself a chance to calm her racing thoughts. She hated leaving loose ends. She did what Lana asked her to do in the letter, setting Dana up to fall hard. It was a payback for ruining the store with her vile and reckless habit of selling drugs. The store was the one thing, outside of practicing medicine, that Lana loved to do and for Alex it was a chance to put behind her the anger and hate she felt for Dana for having given Lana the injection of morphine that ended her life.

Alex shook her head. “What’s done is done. This is more important.”
Chapter Fourteen
Alex ran back up the stairs. “Ok. That’s it.” She jogged back into the apartment and rounded the corner, stopping when she saw Regina standing with her back to her, staring out the window. She walked up behind Regina and laid a hand on her shoulder, peering into her tearful green eyes. “Regina, are you ready to go?”

Regina nodded her head. “I guess so.” She wiped her face with her hand. It was weird, she thought, that she didn’t feel scared or nervous; it was almost a sense of being on the outside looking in at all this happening to somebody else, not her.

“You can sleep in the back if you want,” Alex offered.

“That sounds like a good idea. I feel wiped out.”

They walked down the stairs together and Alex locked the door behind them. She waited as Regina crawled into the back of the Jeep and lay down, covering her body with the blanket Alex handed to her. The doctor shut the door behind her, slipped in behind the steering wheel and turned on the engine; she looked up into the rearview mirror and tilted it so it was focused on Regina’s huddled form, lying across the back seat. Just relax. It could be something else, Alex kept telling herself. She pulled out of the driveway and headed west on Route Six toward Boston.

After driving for about ten minutes, Alex dialed a number on her cell phone and waited for the operator to pick up. “This is Dr. Margulies, page Dr. Ivez for me. It’s an emergency.”

She waited impatiently for David to pick up as she negotiated through the sparse traffic.

“Alex? It’s been a long time; I can’t believe you’re calling me. What’s up?” It had been almost a year since he had last heard from Alex. The last time he had seen his friend was at the memorial service for Lana. He tried to offer what support he could to Alex but she kept everyone at a distance that day.

“David, I need your help. I’ve got a friend who’s in trouble and I need you to look at her.”

“Sure, when?”

“Tonight.”

“Well, I’m here all night so come on in.”

Two and half-hours later, Alex turned the Jeep into the emergency department parking area at Boston Medical Center. She looked over her shoulder into the back of the darkened interior of the Jeep and could see Regina’s sleeping form curled up on the back seat, underneath the blanket.

“Hey.” Alex reached over and touched her shoulder. “Time to get up. We’re here.” She watched as Regina blinked and sat up slowly. “How do you feel?”

Regina brushed strands of hair out of her face and looked up at Alex. “I’ve been better.”

“A friend of mine I know from medical school works here. He’s going to take a look at you,” Alex said, as she held out a hand to her.

Regina nodded her head and let Alex help her out of the Jeep. They walked through the doors of the emergency department where Alex looked over at the desk and spotted the scruffy looking, brown-haired man whom she’d formed a friendship with during her last two residencies in New Jersey. He was thinner than she remembered and his hair was beginning to gray around the temples.

“That’s him over there.” She pointed the doctor out to Regina. “David Ivez.” She put her arm over Regina’s shoulder as she felt her shiver against her. “Do you want a wheelchair so you can sit down?”

Regina shook her head vehemently and stepped away from Alex. “No. I can walk.”

Alex held her tongue in check and led Regina over to the desk. She knew her stubborn streak well enough by now to realize that arguing the point would be futile.

“David?” Alex called his name as they walked up to the desk.

“Alexandra.” He smiled as he stood up and walked around the desk. “You always hated when I called you that.” He pulled her into a hug.

“I still do,” Alex said, as she broke off the embrace.

“So I see.” He grinned back at her and directed his attention at her smaller companion standing next to her.

“David, this is Regina.”

He frowned and brought a hand up to her face, glancing quickly up at Alex. “What happened here?”

“It’s a long story,” Alex offered quickly.

“Well, let’s go in the back, Regina. I’ve got a booth set up for us.”

Regina looked back at Alex as David took her arm. “Wish me luck,” she said, trying to ease some of the nervousness she was starting to feel inside.

“You’re going to be all right, Regina.” Alex stepped forward as if to follow.

“I’ve got her, Alex. I’ll come out and get you when I’m done.”

Alex felt a pang of helplessness, coupled with jealousy as David took Regina from her. He glanced back at Alex as he led Regina down the hallway. “Alex, there’s some paperwork she needs to fill out for insurance. Maybe you could do it for her while you wait?”

“Sure.” She nodded her head and watched as they turned the corner and disappeared from her sight. So what did you think he was going to do, ask you to go in with them? You asked for his help. Alex stood in the middle of the hallway, staring at where Regina had just been standing a second ago, oblivious to all the activity that was going on around her.

“Hey, lady, get out of the way.” A paramedic yelled at Alex as he pushed past her, with a stretcher in tow.

“Sorry.” Alex awkwardly stepped back away from paramedics, who ran past with a patient strapped securely to the stretcher. She was vaguely aware of a loud rushing noise in her ears and a hand touching her arm.

“Ma’am are you all right?” a young twenty-something nurse with bright green eyes, asked.

“Yeah, yeah. I’m fine.” Ma’am? Shit, I’m not that old. Alex pulled her arm away, irritated by the nurse’s close physical presence. Come on, get a grip here Alex. You work in a hospital, what’s your problem? She turned to the woman. “I, I need to fill out some paperwork for a friend.”

“Sure, no problem. Let me get you a clipboard and a pen.”

Her heart beat rapidly in her chest and she felt slightly nausiated as she sat staring at the pale blue walls in the empty waiting room. This sucks being on the other side. I hate hospitals. No, face it Alex, you just can’t stand not being in control. The doctor stared at the paperwork and decided she answered all the questions that she knew about her young friend. The rest of them Regina would have to answer later. She stood up and walked over to the desk. The nurse who spoke to her earlier looked up and smiled a little too brightly at her.

“All done?”

Alex shook her head. “No. There are some questions my friend is going to have to answer. Can I go back and see her?” Alex asked, knowing what the answer would most likely be.

The woman’s smile faded. “I’m sorry, but only family members are allowed back to see the patients.”

All right, lets try a different attack. “Listen, none of her family is here with her. I brought her in.”

“I’m sorry, but the doctor will come out and talk to you when he’s done examining your friend,” the nurse said, her tone more official now.

Alex bristled. Ok fine, two can play at that game, sweetheart. Alex smiled at her and took the papers off the clipboard. “Is there a bathroom around here?”

“Sure, first door down on your left.”

Alex made a quick detour out to her Jeep and returned with her backpack. She walked down the hallway, found the linen room and picked up a set of scrubs. Five minutes later she emerged from the bathroom dressed in blue hospital scrubs and a lab coat. She clipped on her id badge and flipped it over so her picture was hidden from view.

With her clothes rolled up and tucked neatly into her backpack, Alex headed down the hall to the emergency room doors. She tapped the button on the wall and walked inside as the electric doors slid quietly open and headed directly over to the nurse’s station. “Where’s Dr. Ivez? He asked me to meet him down here to consult on a patient.”

“He’s in booth ten with some AIDS patient,” the nurse said without looking up from her paperwork.

Her heart leapt up into her throat at the nurse’s response. “Excuse me?” She leaned over the desk and roughly pushed the paperwork away from the nurse with her hand. She barely restrained herself from grabbing hold of the nurse’s scrub top. “Since…when… do…you…give…out…any information on a patient?” The nurse stared back at Alex with a look of shock on her face. “What if someone from her family was here? Then what? And how the hell do you know what’s wrong with her anyway?” Alex asked, bringing her face to within inches of the stunned nurse. “Well?”

The nurse’s jaw worked several times. “I, uh I don’t know. I’m sorry.”

“You’re damn right you don’t know,” Alex practically shouted at her.

“I’m sorry, really I am.” The nurse nervously gathered up her paperwork and backed quickly away from Alex’s hateful stare.

Alex stood, holding onto her desk for a minute waiting for her legs to stop shaking. Goddamn, son of a bitch, I can’t believe she just said that. Regina would freak out if she heard that. The brunette walked to the back of the ER, letting her senses filter out the familiar noises from all the activity going on around her. She heard David’s voice through the curtain as she approached and a muffled response that could only be Regina answering him. She rapped her knuckles on the wall dividing the booths.

“David?”

“In here, Alex.” He looked up as she walked into the booth. “No luck getting past the front desk in your street clothes, huh?”

Alex cuffed him on the shoulder. “Funny, very funny, David. Yeah, all it took was a pair of scrubs, a lab coat and a bad attitude.” She walked past him, trying very hard not to be angry with him. There was only one way that nurse knew why Regina was here and that was David. She set her backpack on the floor and walked over to Regina. “Hey, how are you doing?” She leaned over and squeezed her shoulder affectionately.

Regina shook her head, trying her best to muster a grin. “Ok. We were just talking…about options.” Regina closed her eyes, still feeling like the fever was sucking the energy out of her, and not wanting Alex to see how close to tears she was.

Alex turned around and looked at David. “So, do we have an idea about what is going on yet?”

He closed the chart he was writing in and looked back at her. “We drew some blood, so we’re waiting for the test results to come back. We should know something in the morning. Regina tells me she had a pretty severe reaction to the medication early on, so it’s possible it could be happening again. Obviously we’ll check to see if she’s developing the antibodies.” He looked at both of them. “In the meantime, we hope for the best.”

“Are you going to admit her tonight?” Alex asked.

David shook his head. “I can’t, Alex. I wish I could, but the hospital is full. We’ve got no beds available.” He looked at Regina. “I guess you’ll be bunking in down here tonight. Sorry.”

“That’s ok. Thanks for doing this, David.” Regina lowered her head to the pillow and closed her eyes again.

“Alex, I can show you where the on call room is if you want to crash there,” David offered.

She shook her head. “Thanks, but I’d rather stay here.”

“No problem. Besides, I got a chance to trade stories about you. Just between us, right Regina?” He laughed and nudged Alex in the ribs.

Alex rolled her eyes at Regina, who was looking back up at them. “Great, there he goes tarnishing my stellar reputation again.”

“Never,” Regina said, grinning as she recalled one of the stories David told her.

David snorted. “Yeah, I think that halo of yours needs polishing, Alex.”

“Mm, thanks for the reminder, David. I’ll get right on it,” Alex replied sarcastically. “David, can I have a word with you?” She motioned with her hand. “Outside.”

“Sure.” David looked at her uncertainly and walked out of the booth. He turned around. “What’s up?” he asked, holding the chart in front of him as he crossed his arms over his chest.

Alex walked past him. “Not here.”

David walked after her, seeing the line of tension in her shoulders. “Alex, what’s going on?”

“You,” She turned around and jabbed a finger into his chest, making him flinch, “Breaking Regina’s confidence; is what’s going on.” Alex stood in front of him with her hands on her hips. “Some nurse at the desk told me you were in booth ten with some AIDS patient.” Her eyes darkened as anger swept through her. “How the hell did she know that, David? The only answer I see is the one standing in front of me right now.”

David stepped back against the wall. He started to say something but stopped. “I must have let it slip after you called me.” His voice was a whisper. He rubbed his face with his hand. “I’m sorry Alex. I had no idea someone would repeat that, let alone to you.”

“That kid has been through hell the past few weeks. She doesn’t need any more bullshit to deal with. You should know better, David.” Alex gave him one last cursory glance as she headed back to the booth where Regina was.

“Hey, what took so long?” Regina pushed herself up onto her elbows.

Alex gave her a half grin. “What’s wrong, did you miss me or something?”

“Yeah, I did.” Regina looked up at Alex. “David is nice. I like him.”

“He’s a good doctor,” Alex replied, trying not to let her anger slip through.

“Alex, why don’t you go to sleep in one of the on call rooms? You must be exhausted after everything.” Regina could see the dark circles under Alex’s eyes and the normally startling blue color seemed subdued.

“I’m fine.” Alex walked out and rolled a vacant recliner back into the booth next to the stretcher. “Do you need anything, Regina?” Alex sat down facing her.

Regina opened her eyes and shook her head. “Can you lower this?” She rattled the rail on the side of the stretcher. “I feel like I’m in jail.”

“Sure.” Alex lowered the bed rail, resting her hands on the thin mattress.

Regina sat up and rubbed her temples, grimacing at the dull pounding behind her eyes. She looked down at Alex’s hand. “Did you put any ice on your hand? That looks awful.” She brushed her fingers over the swollen and bruised knuckles of Alex’s right hand.

“Quit worrying about me. I’m fine.” Alex pulled her hand away, all too aware of Regina’s touch and the tingle of sensation that ran up her spine from it.

Regina clucked her tongue. “You need to take care of yourself Alex. It might be broken.”

Alex sighed. “It’s not.” She flexed her fingers and made a fist to show Regina that it wasn’t broken. Unimpressed, Regina rolled her eyes. “You’re not going to quit on this are you?”

“Nope, go get some ice. I’m not going anywhere with this leash attached to me.” She waved her arm that the IV was in. She pulled the blanket up over her shoulder and motioned at Alex to leave. “Go on.”

“Fine,” Alex groaned with an exasperated sigh. “I’ll be right back.” She pushed her body out of the chair and walked out of the booth in search of an ice machine.

Alex returned a short while later, carrying a plastic bag filled with crushed ice. Regina opened her eyes as she heard Alex step into the booth and close the curtain behind her.

“Alex?”

“What?”

“I never got to thank you for um, taking care of Derrick.”

Alex looked at Regina as she sat down in the recliner. “Somehow I don’t think Derrick would think of it that way.” She gingerly placed the bag of ice over her swollen knuckles, hissing as the plastic and the cold made the raw skin sting. “He deserved it. How did he manage to find you, anyway?”

Regina shook her head. “He checked my credit card and found out I bought an airline ticket.”

“Slick. Nothing like using his position to get information now, huh?” Alex asked, settling back into the recliner and closing her eyes.

“It wouldn’t be the first time he’s done it.” Regina said, thinking back to the day he confronted her outside the hospital and told her about Alex’s suspension six months earlier.

“He’s an asshole, Regina. How’d you get involved with him in the first place?” The words were out before she could pull them back. Shit. Alex looked up and saw the surprised look on Regina’s face. “Ah, I’m sorry, Regina,” Alex apologized. “I, uh, I don’t censor what comes out of my mouth very well sometimes.”

Regina shook her head a sad expression covering her face. “It’s alright. He is an asshole.” She was quiet as she lay back, looking up at the ceiling. She let out a sigh. “I’m scared, Alex.”

Alex looked at Regina lying on the stretcher. I am too Regina. Damn, I wish I knew what to say to you. She tossed the bag of ice on the recliner behind her and moved over to sit on the edge of the stretcher next to Regina. She was used to being able to do something – change a medication, order a test, or recommend surgery. In this case, as much as she hated to admit it, she could do nothing except wait and hope, neither of which she was very good at. Alex touched Regina’s face and brushed her hair back over her shoulder. She sat quietly for a moment, looking at Regina and rubbing her hand over her back. “Your parents don’t live far from here, right?”

Regina nodded her head. “Why?” She was enjoying the comforting touch of Alex’s hand and the question brought her back from her quiet reverie.

“Do you want to call them and let them know that you’re here?” Alex inquired. She immediately regretted her question when she saw the look on Regina’s face. She’s not a kid, Alex. If she wanted them here she would have called them herself.

“They wouldn’t understand, Alex. They think HIV and AIDS are only something that my brother Jeffrey could get.”

“What do you mean?”

Regina glanced up at Alex quickly. “He’s gay.”

“Oh.” She was beginning to realize some of the pressure her young friend was getting from her family about her lifestyle. “Does he live around here?” Alex asked, probing carefully. She wasn’t sure by Regina’s response if she was uncomfortable about her brother’s lifestyle or her parent’s rigid beliefs.

“No, he’s in San Francisco. He hasn’t lived at home since he was seventeen. My parents,” Regina looked over at Alex and shook her head, “they’re not very liberal – minded. When he told them he was gay, it was like world war three. My mother threw him out of the house and told him never to come back.”

“That must have been pretty awful,” Alex said, feeling badly that Regina had seen that happen to her brother.

“It was. I still keep in touch with him, but my mother acts like he never existed. Pictures, awards, clothes, books – she threw all of it out.” Regina recalled the fight she had with her mother only a couple days ago. She’s probably filling up the trash bags with my stuff as we speak. “I miss him.”

“Can I ask you a personal question, Regina?” Alex looked down at the floor. “You don’t have to answer it if you don’t want to.”

“Yeah.” Regina rolled onto her side and fiddled nervously with the sheet. She had an idea where Alex was going with this and she wasn’t sure if she really wanted to answer the question.

“Well, the other night in the apartment, when I kissed you, and we, um,” Alex looked up at Regina. Just ask her will you? “Have you ever been with a woman before?”

Regina ran her fingers over the sheet and shook her head slowly. “No, I, I haven’t. I, um, when I realized I was attracted to women, I was in college.” She looked up at Alex nervously. “I mean I knew before then, when I was in high school, but after what Jeffrey went through with my parents, I just pushed it aside. I couldn’t deal with it or what it would do to them.”

“Yeah, I can see how you might not want them to know.” My parents hardly cared what I did when I was younger. Dad was too busy drinking himself into oblivion, and my mother wanted to pretend that everything was fine. She pushed the errant thoughts out of her head and looked back up at Regina. “But, what about you? How come you never got involved with anyone, Regina?”

“I had some friends who were gay in college that I hung out with, but I wasn’t interested in anyone.” Regina shook her head. “Besides, some of them went through relationships like water and I didn’t want that, I don’t want that.”

“I know what you mean.” Alex had a feeling that she fit those particular criteria Regina was referring to at one point in her life. There had been a time, Alex remembered, when she thought she would find that one person she could share her life with, but then things happened that altered what she always thought she would believe in, and she gave up hoping that she could find someone who she could spend her life with.

Regina flopped back down onto the pillow and covered her face with her hands as she flushed a deep red. “I can’t believe we’re having this discussion here,” she groaned, in embarrassment.

“I’m sorry, Regina. I shouldn’t have brought it up.” Alex stared at the cuts and bruises on her hand.

“No, it’s all right.” Regina rolled over and looked at Alex. “I’m glad we have a chance to talk. This week has been crazy; so much has happened since we left the hospital.”

“Regina.” Alex leaned forward resting her elbows on her knees. “It can stop right here if you want it to. I shouldn’t have pushed you, and I’m sorry if I made you uncomfortable the other night.”

“Alex, you didn’t push me.” Regina reached out and touched Alex’s face, stroking her cheek with her hand. “And…I don’t want us to stop,” she lowered her head, “unless you want to.”

Alex swallowed and shook her head, speaking quietly. “No, I don’t want us to stop, Regina.” Despite all the reasons why she thought she shouldn’t get involved – having lost Lana just less than a year ago; the differences between herself and Regina and the reason they were in the hospital tonight – Alex realized with startling clarity that she didn’t want to lose the bond that was starting to grow between them.

Regina flicked the IV tubing in disgust. “This sucks.” Tears ran down her face.

Alex was still absorbing what Regina had said to her when she realized what Regina was trying to do. “Regina, hey, don’t do that.” Alex tried to take hold of Regina’s hand but the woman yanked it away from her.

“This…fucking…sucks!” Regina cried through her tears. She started ripping the tape off of her arm.

“Oh no you don’t.” Alex jumped up, grabbed her arm and stopped her from pulling the needle out.

Regina struggled against Alex, trying to shove her away.

“Let go of me, damn it.” Regina struggled as the taller woman held her hand firmly over the IV. “All because of some stupid needle stick,” Regina cried as she finally gave up struggling and leaned against Alex.

Alex held onto Regina as she cried in her arms. She tilted her head back and closed her eyes. Oh God, please, please, don’t let this happen to her. She doesn’t deserve this. She felt a flash of panic rising in her chest that left her feeling weak-limbed as it passed. Alex hastily wiped her eyes with her hand. She placed Regina’s hand over the IV line. “Easy now. Hold this for me, Regina. I just want to re-tape it so I don’t have to get Nurse Sunshine to come in here.” She turned away to look for tape.

Regina held her arm out as the doctor re-taped the IV. She looked up at her and laughed softly through her tears. “You mean the one with the green eyes that lit up when she saw you when we first walked in here?”

Alex shot her a look. “You noticed?”

“I’m sick Alex, not dead – of course I noticed. It was kind of hard to miss her reaction when we walked up to the nurse’s station before.”

“Yeah, well somebody can tell her to save the effort.” Alex smoothed the tape down over Regina’s arm, idly stroking her thumb over the soft hairs on her skin.

Regina shifted on the stretcher and groaned. “Ugh, I’m going to get bed sores lying on this damn stretcher all night.”

“So switch with me. This lounge chair is pretty comfortable.”

After a minute of finagling with the IV pole and moving it around in the crowded booth, Regina settled herself in the chair with Alex’s help. She closed her eyes and dozed fitfully for a few minutes. The waiting was awful and for as tired as she was, Regina couldn’t stay asleep. Oh, somebody needs to invent an off key for the brain, she thought to herself as she shifted in the chair.

So much had happened this week – between their suspensions, Alex almost committing suicide and Derrick’s attack, it hardly seemed real. Regina turned her head and looked at the brunette stretched out on her side, head propped on her hand with her eyes closed.

“Alex, are you sleeping?”

A slight grin crossed the dark-haired woman’s lips. “No. Why aren’t you sleeping? It’s late,” Alex chided her as she looked at her watch and shook her head. “It’s two in the morning. Go back to sleep, Regina.”

“I can’t.” Regina huddled down into the chair and drew her legs up to her chest. All the sounds she hardly noticed when she was working in the hospital seemed magnified tonight. She heard every beep from the IV pumps, the nervous whispering of the patients and families around them in the other booths, and the soft buzz from the fluorescent lights overhead.

Alex reached out and felt her forehead. “How do you feel?”

Regina burrowed farther under the thin blanket. “I keep getting chills.”

Alex looked down at the blonde from her perch on the stretcher. “Gee, I wonder why? Let’s see, we’ve got cold IV fluid running into you, a fever, and a flimsy gown, in a lovely shade of faded blue, I might add. Too bad they don’t have it in green, it would bring out your eye color.”

Regina’s shoulders shook as she stifled a giggle. “I’m glad you’re here with me, Alex.”

Alex stifled a yawn. “Me too. Do you want me to get you another blanket?”

Regina nodded her head and shivered again under the blanket she already had. Alex slid off the stretcher and disappeared, returning several minutes later with another blanket and a pair of scrubs. “Here, I thought these might make you feel warmer instead of that gown.” She handed the blonde the bundle.

“Oh, thanks.” Regina sat up in the chair and slid the pants on over her bare legs. The blonde stood up, fumbled with the ties on the pants, then reached back and undid the tie holding the gown closed.

Alex backed up, realizing that Regina was going to just drop the gown onto the floor. “Uh, let me step outside while you do that.” She hastily slipped out of the curtain and leaned up against the wall.

She heard Regina snicker. “What are you laughing at?” Alex realized that Regina was enjoying her obvious discomfort with this.

“Alex, you’re a doctor. If you’ve seen one set of breasts, you’ve seen them all.”

“Uh, not quite, Regina.” Alex rolled her eyes and banged her head back against the wall. We almost made love the night before and I really don’t need to see you half naked now, Regina, because I’ll never get to sleep tonight. Shit, what is wrong with me? I shouldn’t be thinking like this. She’s sick. “Are you decent yet?” Alex growled through the curtain.

“Yes, I’m decent, Alex.” Regina pulled the blanket back up over her body as she sat in the chair.

Alex walked back into the booth, feeling Regina’s eyes following her as she sat down on the stretcher. She slipped her lab coat off and draped it over the front of her as she lay back on the stretcher and closed her eyes.

“What are you doing?”

“I’m going to sleep.” The woman crossed her ankles, folded her arms over her chest, then turned her head and opened one eye. “Which is exactly what you should be doing.”

“I know. I always have a hard time sleeping in a strange place.”

Alex could hear Regina shift in the recliner as she settled down. Well, this is about as strange of a place you can be in. She opened her eyes and looked over at Regina’s huddled form under the blankets. Bright fluorescent lights that don’t turn off, loud noises, strange smells and not even a decent bed to sleep in. Hmm, I think I will take David up on his offer of using the on call room. He owes me at least that.

Alex slipped quietly off the stretcher and went in search of the doctor. She found him in the staff lounge working on a pile of charts. “David.”

“So, you’re still talking to me, huh?”

“Yes, I am.” Alex ran a hand through her hair and sat across from him. “Can I still take you up on that offer for the on call room?”

“Sure, let me get the key.” David stood and walked past Alex, hesitating as she grabbed his arm.

“You know, I never thanked you for being there – at the service.”

He smiled sadly at his friend and patted her shoulder. “I know. I…I didn’t know what to say to you. You were hurting so bad.” David turned his head away as he saw the tears in Alex’s eyes.

He pulled the chair around the table and sat next to his friend. “You didn’t break your hand did you?”

Alex smirked and shook her head. “No.”

“You were always quick with your fists. Hit first, ask questions later.”

“I guess deep down I’m still that angry, pissed off, kid you met in college.”

David leaned closer and wrapped an arm around her shoulder. “That angry, pissed off, kid saved my life from a bunch of thugs that night.”

Alex hung her head, refusing to meet his gaze. “This woman, Regina, she means a lot to you.”

Alex smiled sadly. “You know, I’ve never met anyone in my life like her. She’s special.”

David nodded his head and stood up. “Let me get you that key.”

A short while later, Alex returned to the booth where Regina was now sleeping. She knelt down beside her and brushed her hair back behind her ear. “Regina?”

“Mmm. What? I just fell asleep.” Sleepy green eyes peered up at her.

Alex put a finger to her lips. “I’m sorry. I got you a room to sleep in,” she said, and helped Regina into the wheelchair.

“Where are we going?” Regina blinked at the bright lights overhead and pulled the blankets up around her shoulders.

“You’ll see.” Alex wheeled her down one of the hallways and stopped in front of an unmarked door. She unlocked it and pushed the door open. The room was small; the size of a closet in fact, and there was just enough room for a single bed. She flicked on the light next to the bed. “I thought you might be able to sleep better in here. It’s quiet and you can turn out the light,” Alex explained, as she helped Regina out of the chair and into the room.

Regina sat down on the single bed and smiled up at Alex. “Thanks.”

“I’ll come back and check on you later. Get some sleep.” Alex turned and reached for the door.

“Bu…wait.”

“What?” Alex turned back around.

“Don’t go. Stay with me.”

“You sure? That bed is awfully small.”

“Please, I don’t want to be alone.” Regina held out her hand.

Alex looked down at Regina, a smile playing at the corners of her lips. “Alright, let me get in behind you, that way you’re not up against the wall.” Alex crawled onto the bed lying down on her side, stretching out next to the concrete wall. “There’s not a lot of room Regina, are you sure you want me to stay?”

“Yes.” Regina lay down and snuggled up with her back pressed tightly against Alex. “Thanks for taking care of me today again, Alex.”

“Anytime, my friend.” Alex pulled the blankets up over the both of them. “Are you warm enough?”

Regina mumbled something Alex couldn’t understand then reached behind her, finding Alex’s hand and pulling it forward over her stomach.

******

Several hours later, Alex woke before Regina and lay next to her, listening to her breathe. The smaller woman stirred slightly as Alex lifted herself up on her elbow. Neither of them moved during the night, which surprised her because she was always a restless sleeper. She removed her hand from Regina’s grasp and felt her forehead. Good, it feels like the fever broke while she slept. That has to be a good sign.

She reached up and felt for the light switch, turning on the light. From the hallway she heard a voice coming through on the paging system. Might as well get up, she thought, and slipped out of the bed. She looked down at her rumpled scrubs and shrugged her shoulders. Oh well, at least I’ll fit in. I’ll look like any other resident in the hospital who was on call last night.

“Alex.” She turned to see Regina rolling over and stretching out onto her back. “What are you doing?”

“I figured I would try and find us something to eat that resembled real food. Any requests?” Alex ran a hand through her tousled hair.

“No oatmeal. I hate lumps,” Regina mumbled.

“No oatmeal,” Alex repeated. “Just sit tight. I’ll be back in a little while.” Alex leaned over and pulled the blanket away from Regina’s face and shook her head when she saw that the resident had already fallen back to sleep.

The doctor negotiated her way through the maze of corridors, following the signs that led the way to the hospital cafeteria. It was still early so only a few employees that worked the early shift were wondering around and looking at the possibilities for breakfast.

She picked up a tray. “Let’s see what’s safe in here.” She walked past the counters of hot food and stopped at the grill. She ordered two cheese omelets, figuring that was a safe bet since she wasn’t sure what Regina liked. While she waited, the doctor selected a couple of bananas, two muffins, and milk and juice for both of them.

She paid at the register and headed back towards the on call room where she left Regina sleeping. Alex opened the door, slipped inside and sat on the edge of the bed.

“Regina?”

“Mm. I’m awake.” Regina rolled onto her side and curled her body around Alex. She closed her eyes and snuggled against the taller woman, causing Alex to catch her breath at the sudden surge of heat that flowed through her belly.

“Sure you are. Wake up sleepy head. David said he would come down and talk to you before he starts rounds.”

“Oh, why can’t mornings start later?” Regina grumbled from beneath the covers.

“It’s the best time of the day. Come on, you need to eat.”

“Its the best time of day for who, the birds?” Regina protested.

Alex regarded her in silence and raised an eyebrow.

“Oh god, don’t tell me you’re one of those morning people.” Regina untangled herself from her cocoon and sat up. “Boy, I must look awful.” She brushed her hair back behind her ears. Hey, I think my fever broke.”

“No, you don’t and yes, it did.” Alex told her. “Here, eat this.” She handed her the paper plate with the omelet on it. “I hope cheese is ok. I wasn’t sure what you liked.”

“This is fine,” Regina said in between bites. She scooted back so she was leaning against the wall and set her plate in her lap. “Ugh, I’m eating too fast.”

“Slow down, nobody’s going to steal it from you,” the doctor teased gently. She eased back so she was sitting next to the blonde.

“You never ate a meal with my brothers. They were awful when they were teenagers. If you turned your head they’d swipe something off your plate.”

“You’re kidding me.” Alex laughed.

“No. I got them back though.”

“On no, what did you do?”

Regina sat up straighter and snickered before she started to tell Alex the story. “My parents weren’t home one night so I made the age old brownie recipe Ex-lax. It was easy, all I had to do was tell them not to eat them because they were for school the next day.”

Alex stared at Regina silently for a second and then broke into laughter. “Oh my God. That is cruel.”

“Yeah, but they never touched my food again after that.”

They sat side by side both eating in silence. Alex stole a couple of glances at her younger companion and wondered how Regina felt about her. We’re so different, Regina. I wonder, do we really have a chance at being together?

“That was good.” Regina reached in front of Alex, and snatched one of the muffins off the tray.

Alex stared at her empty plate with an amused look on her face. “I guess you were hungry, huh?”

There was a knock on the door. They heard David’s voice on the other side.

Regina stopped eating. “Oh, I think I just lost my appetite,” she said, her face paling slightly.

Alex tenderly squeezed her arm with her hand. “Whatever it is, we’ll deal it. You’re not going to have to go through this by yourself, Regina.”

Regina nodded her head. “Thanks, Alex. You don’t know how much that means to me.”

“Come on in, David.”

The door opened and the scraggly-looking doctor stepped into the cramped room. “Boy, I forgot how small these rooms were.” He leaned up against the wall and crossed his arms over his chest. “Not bad, room service. I wish I were that lucky.” He cocked his head, looking at the blonde thoughtfully. “How do you feel, Regina?”

“Better. My fever broke during the night. Did you get the results of the test back?”

“I did. The good news is there’s no sign of the antibodies yet in your system.”

Regina leaned back against the wall and closed her eyes. “Thank god. So, what’s going on with me then?”

“Well, that’s where the problem is. The drugs you’re taking to prevent your body from developing the HIV virus are doing some bad things to your system. For one, your red blood cell count is low. That’s one of the side effects of the drugs you’re on. The other problem is that your white blood cell count is drastically low as well. That concerns me because the drugs which are protecting you from developing the antibodies are essentially killing you’re ability to fight off any infection you might get.”

“So, what should I do?” Regina asked, looking first at Alex and then at David.

“If it was me, I’d stop taking the drugs, Regina. I know what you’re thinking.” He held up a hand to stop her sentence. “It’s a calculated risk. You’ve been on the drugs almost three months now. There’s a better than sixty percent chance you won’t develop the antibodies.”

Regina stared down at her hands. “How much better than sixty percent? Sixty-one, seventy percent?”

“I don’t know Regina. I’m sorry I can’t give you a better answer.”

“David, what’s the bottom line if she stays on the drugs?” asked Alex.

David shook his head. “Here, look at the lab values yourself.”

She took the papers from him. Running her finger down the list of numbers she frowned, not liking what she saw.

“What do you think, Alex?” The blonde leaned closer to read the lab values.

“You’re liver function tests are up. That’s not good. And look,” she pointed farther down the page, “your kidneys are being affected too.”

“If I stop taking the drugs will my liver and kidneys start to function normally?”

“If you stop now I would say they probably will.” David replied cautiously. “The other issue, Regina, is if you stay on them, they could make you infertile. I don’t know if that’s a concern for you or not but that’s something you need to think about as well.”

She stared up at him. “So if I stay on the drugs I could have permanent liver and kidney damage, be prone to infections, and possibly become infertile. On the other hand, if I stop taking the medicine I could still develop the antibodies. Great choice.” Regina groaned and slumped back against the wall.

“I wish I could have better news for you. The choice is ultimately yours to make. Give yourself some time and think about it, but don’t take too long. I’ll write the discharge order so you can leave whenever you want.”

“Thanks for doing this, David. At least now I know what’s going on.” Regina replied.

Alex stood up and held out her hand. “Thanks, David. I owe you one.”

“Don’t mention it, Alex.” He looked at his watch. “I’ve got to go. Listen, stay in touch. Regina, good luck.” He slipped out of the room, leaving the two of them alone.

Alex turned around and looked at Regina.

“It could have been worse, right?” Regina looked back at Alex.

“Yeah, it could have been, but it wasn’t.” Alex sat down beside her on the bed, her hands resting on her thighs.

“Do you think I’m making the right decision if I stop taking the drugs, Alex?”

“I don’t think there’s much of a choice. If it was me, I’d stop taking them, Regina.”

“I wish I had been able to stay on them longer before I started having the side effects.”

Alex turned and faced her. “Do you want me to see if I can find out if there’s anything else you can take? We can check out the internet and look at the latest research if you want.”

“No, no more pills, Alex. I’m sick of taking them. You know I forgot to take them yesterday?” Regina shook her head, then looked up at Alex. “How’s your hand feeling?”

Alex turned it over and made a fist. “It’s fine, just a little stiff.”

Regina leaned over and looked at it. “Wow, the swelling is almost gone. You heal quickly.”

Alex made a face and nudged Regina with her elbow. “Nah, just a good doctor looking after me, that’s all.”

Regina couldn’t help the smile that crossed her lips. She shook her head and rubbed her face with her hands. “Ugh, I feel gross. I need a shower and then I have to get my car back.” She looked up at Alex and her eyes widened in alarm. “What, why do you have that look on your face like something’s wrong?”

“Uh, with everything that happened last night, I didn’t get a chance to tell you.”

“Tell me what?”

“Derrick had your car towed back to New Jersey and impounded,” Alex said, casting a wary glance at Regina.

“Oh, that son of a bitch! How the hell am I going to get home? Ah shit!” She cursed and put her face in her hands.

“Hey, easy, I’ll drive you home. Don’t worry about it. We’ll get your car back on Monday after the meeting.”

Regina snapped her head up and stared at Alex. “Wait. Does that mean you’re going back to the hospital?”

A smile tugged at the corner of Alex’s mouth. “Dr. Mitchard won’t accept my resignation so it’s up to the board if they want me back or not.”

Regina stared at Alex. “Why didn’t you tell me?” She grabbed the woman’s arm, shaking it in her excitement.

“I didn’t get a chance until just now.” Alex smiled at the expression on Regina’s face. “I take it you think that’s a good thing, huh?”

Regina stood up facing Alex, put her hands on her shoulders and pushed her back so the taller woman had to look up at her. “Of course it is.” Regina resisted the urge to just lean in and kiss her. “So, any chance we can take a shower before we head home?”

“I think we can find a shower.” Alex stood up and reached for the younger woman. “Regina?”

“What?”

“Everything is going to work out.” Alex pulled her into a hug, wrapping her arms around her tightly. “Let’s go find the locker room so we can get the hell out of here.”
Chapter Fifteen
The ride home from Boston was a blur for Regina. As always the engine vibration and warmth of the sun streaming in the passenger side window lulled her to sleep minutes after they were on the highway. She didn’t wake up until they were coming off their exit from the parkway in New Jersey and Alex reached over and shook her gently. Regina decided as she looked out the window at the familiar scenery, that coming back home was strange especially after the crazy week she and Alex had spent together.

Not surprisingly, Alex retreated farther into her self by the time she pulled into Regina’s driveway. Regina suspected that Alex felt much the same as she did. Tired and nervous about the meeting on Monday, both of them wondered what they would do with the feelings they had for each other now that they were going back to the hospital. That is, if they didn’t lose their privileges on Monday.

Retrieving her bag from the back of the Jeep, Regina stood up and found the taller woman standing in front of her. Alex tilted her head and gave her a crooked grin.

“What?”

Alex simply leaned forward and gathered Regina in her arms, holding her tight. Regina started to pull away but the doctor held her close and whispered in her ear. “Thank you,”

Regina wanted to ask for what but decided against it, instead just enjoying the moment for what it was. There was a strength she found wrapped in those arms, a sense that no matter what happened, they would endure and go on together.

Finally releasing her, Alex picked the blonde’s bag up and followed Regina into her condo. She set the bag down and waited nervously as Regina turned on the lights. A part of the doctor wanted desperately to stay, but the other half was terrified even to ask, afraid that now they had returned to reality, Regina would have second thoughts about any kind of a relationship with her. So lost in her battle of self-recrimination that Alex didn’t realize Regina had walked up behind her until strong arms slipped around her waist and pulled her close. She gasped at the contact.

The sharp intake of breath wasn’t lost on the young woman and she laid her head on Alex’s back, kissing her through the cotton shirt. She loved the feel of the woman she was holding in her arms and pressed closer, savoring the contact. Regina felt the brunette relax slowly in her embrace and she realized how much effort it had taken for Alex to let her into her life as much as she had this past week. She released the taller woman as she turned in her arms and watched the flicker of raw emotions in her companion’s eyes.

“I should go. You must be tired.” Alex ran her thumb gently over Regina’s lip, then leaned in and kissed her gently on her lips. She felt the younger woman’s hand timidly rest on her hip and she backed off, letting her forehead touch Regina’s. Oh boy, come on – leave before you start something she’s not ready for. The dark woman stepped back and let her hand fall away. “I’ll see you Monday, Regina.” Alex turned away and walked quickly out of Regina’s house.

The blonde watched sadly as her friend left. She felt Alex pulling away from her and it made her heart ache in a way she never felt before. Just when she thought she was beginning to understand she woman better she’d turn around and do something like this. Too tired to think about anything, Regina slipped out of her clothes and crawled into bed falling asleep as soon as her head hit the pillow.

The shrill ringing of the alarm roused her from her sleep. Confused, Regina slapped her hand at the clock radio sitting on the night table knocking it to the floor. The irritating noise stopped and then started again a moment later. Through her sleepy haze, Regina finally realized it was the phone that she was hearing and not the alarm. Rolling out of bed she stumbled across the room to pick up the phone and mumbled a barely intelligible hello.

Her mother’s voice on the other end of the line brought her instantly awake.

“Where the hell have you been?” Her mother asked testily.

Regina sat down on the edge of the bed rubbing her face, trying to wake up. “I spent some time with a friend who needed me.”

“You were with that doctor.” Her mother’s voice was full of accusation.

So Derrick did tell you where I was. Damn him. After a moment of shocked silence, Regina found her voice. “Mother, who I choose to spend my time with is no concern of yours.”

“I can’t believe you just left like you did. That was a terrible thing to do to us.”

“You didn’t leave me a choice. You should never have called Derrick in the first place, mother.” Regina stood up, slipped into her robe and walked out of the bedroom. She’d been wondering when or how she would talk to her mother after the argument she had with her. Guess this is it. Wonderful.

“You could have at least stayed and talked with him after he drove all that way to see you.” Her mother continued to press the issue.

Regina almost laughed at this. “Mother, you don’t get it. I don’t have anything to say to him.” Regina pulled open the refrigerator door. She wrinkled her nose at the meager contents.

“He cares about you, Regina.”

“Oh bullshit, mom!” She remembered with satisfaction the sound of Alex kicking him in the ribs and wishing it had been her own self doing it, instead. “Mother, you have no idea what he’s really like. Besides, it doesn’t matter anyway.”

“What are you talking about?” Her mother snapped.

Regina rolled her eyes. “Mom, this is going nowhere. Why did you call me?”

“Have you thought anything about what this is going to do to your career? Do you think anyone is going to want a…a.”

“The word is lesbian, mom,” Regina interjected.

“I know what the word is. Do you think anyone is going to want you to take care of them when they find out what you are? Have you thought about that at all?” Her mother’s voice was thick with anger.

Regina turned around and leaned up against the wall. “Mother, just stop it. I’m the same person I was before and I don’t need to justify my life to anyone,” Regina snapped. The past three months and more – specifically the last forty-eight hours – had more than convinced her of that. “I’ve spent the last ten years lying to myself and to everyone around me. I’m not going to do that anymore.”

There was silence on the other end of the phone. Her mother’s voice, when she did speak, was cold and callous. “Well, I guess we don’t have anything else to discuss, then.”

“Mom.” Regina put her hand down on the counter to steady her self against the empty ache building in the center of her chest. “Please, don’t do this,” but the line was already dead. “Shit.”

She started to dial her parent’s number but stopped, setting the phone down on the counter. Regina knew her mother was upset. It was bad enough when Jeffrey came out to her and now it wasn’t just one child she thought she lost, but two. Why should her mother’s reaction to her be any different than it was for Jeffrey?

Wiping the hot tears running down her face, she walked out of the kitchen. She couldn’t believe her mother was doing this. She’d sacrificed a relationship with her oldest son for the past fifteen years and now it seemed like she was willing to do the same to her daughter.

Depressed, Regina crawled back into the bed and pulled the covers up, gratefully letting her body drift back to sleep.

******

In between mundane chores and mindlessly watching television, Regina ended up sleeping her way through most of the weekend back at her condo. Monday morning arrived too quickly and the resident was more than a little nervous as she sat across from the four doctors that made up the medical review committee.

She let her eyes focus on the wall behind them as she sat waiting. She knew two of them. One, Dr. Samuels, was the head of pediatrics and the other was Dr. Timmons, the head of radiology. The other two she had seen on a couple of occasions around the hospital but had no interactions with.

The door opened and her heart sped up as Dr. Jameson walk in. He made a point of greeting the other doctors and all but ignored Regina as he sat down at the end of the table. When he finally did look up, he made a show of checking his watch and sighing loudly.

“So, where is Dr. Margulies?” He looked pointedly at Regina and she met his gaze trying hard to hide her own nervousness. “Maybe she has decided to spare us all the aggravation and not show up today. That would be nice, wouldn’t it gentlemen?” He asked, as a self-satisfied smirk crossed his face.

“Oh, I wouldn’t miss this for the world, Dr. Jameson.” Alex stepped through the door and walked into the room, followed by Dr. Cassandra Mitchard and another man that Regina guessed was an attorney for the hospital.

Regina watched with interest as Alex walked over and pulled out the chair next to her and sat down. She was wearing a pair of black pants with thin suspenders crossed in the back of a white mandarin collared shirt. Her expression was hard and focused as she made eye contact with the medical director. The doctor’s facial expression softened slightly as she glanced down at the young woman who was looking back up at her.

“Well, now that we’re all here.” Dr. Jameson said. “Let’s get started. It’s no surprise that the Martin family has named the hospital in a lawsuit. They are suing for damages suffered as a result of the accident and the medical care rendered by this facility.”

“You’re talking about two different issues, Dr. Jameson.” The man dressed in the three-piece, black, pin-stripe suit who walked in with Alex and Dr. Mitchard, leaned forward in his chair.

“The police investigation already proved the ambulance driver was speeding and lost control of the rig. As for the autopsy report, well, let it suffice to say that someone with epilepsy should not have been driving in the first place.”

He sat back and scribbled a note on his pad. “By the way, Dr. Jameson,” he asked looking pointedly at the medical director, “aren’t you directly responsible for overseeing the hiring of the paramedics for the medical center?” The attorney tapped the tip of his pen slowly on the pad of paper and glanced up at the medical director with a predatory gleam in his dark eyes.

Cassandra leaned back in her chair, her eyes narrowing as she listened to the verbal posturing between to the medical director and the hospital attorney.

Dr. Jameson shifted in his seat, his face reddening slightly. “We’ve been over that already. His condition wasn’t listed in his history and physical.”

“Yes, well that’s not why we’re here. I think we can address that later.”

Regina leaned closer to Alex and whispered in her ear. “Sounds like he’s been taking some heat for this.”

Alex nodded her head, her attention focused on Dr. Jameson who did his best to appear unruffled by the question.

“Let’s get to the issue of why these two doctors were out there in the first place,” one of the doctors across the table said.

“Yes, Dr. Kingston, as senior resident you know the hospital’s policy. Why did you go out to the car?” Dr. Jameson remarked snidely.

Regina ignored Dr. Jameson’s attempt to rattle her and leaned forward looking at the doctor who spoke first. It was a split-second decision and she’d followed her instincts that night. “The husband was frantic. I wanted to see if the paramedics were there yet. I thought if he knew his wife was getting the help she needed, he would feel better.”

“So, why did you go out to the car, Dr. Kingston?” The first doctor repeated his question, obviously not satisfied with her answer.

Regina stared at him. “I’m sorry I didn’t get your name.”

“Dr. Newsome.”

“Dr. Newsome, are you married?”

“That has nothing to do with this, Dr. Kingston.” Dr. Jameson snapped testily from the other end of the table.

“I don’t think so.” Regina said, ignoring him as she continued to look at the solidly built brown-haired doctor sitting across from her.

“Yes, I’m married,” the doctor replied.

“Good. Then put yourself in that man’s place, Dr. Newsome. Your wife’s in labor and you have a serious car accident on the way to the hospital.” Regina set her hands on the table and leaned forward. “You run into an emergency room to get help and the staff tells you they have to call 911. Wouldn’t you want the hospital to do what it could to save your wife and your unborn child or would you rather stand by helplessly waiting for the paramedics to arrive and hope it’s not too late when they do?”

“That’s quite enough, Dr. Kingston.” Dr. Jameson slammed his hand on the table. “The fact remains you and your cohort here broke with hospital policy. You left the building to provide medical care you are not trained to provide.”

“Dr. Jameson.” Alex twisted around in her chair so she was facing him. “We might not be paramedics but we sure as hell are doctors trained in emergency medicine, so we are more than capable of handling a trauma outside in the field.”

He glared at her from across the table. “So well trained, in fact, that the woman lost her leg because of your actions,” he shouted at her.

Regina reached her hand out to touch Alex’s arm, seeing the doctor’s whole body tense at the obnoxious remark. Regina thought Alex was going to go over the table at Dr. Jameson.

“If we didn’t stop the bleeding, she would have bled out and died, along with her baby, long before the paramedics would have gotten to her,” Alex shot back at him. “I made the decision to use a tourniquet so we could save her life and give that baby a chance. If I had to do it again, I would.”

“You see!” Jameson was out of his chair waving his hand in Alex’s direction. “She puts the medical center at risk and admits she’d do it again. What the hell are you waiting for? There’s no question she should have her privileges to practice medicine here revoked.” His jugular veins were bulging and his face was flushed red by the time he finished his ranting tirade.

“Enough!” Cassandra said, slamming her fist down on the table. There was silence as everyone stared at her in surprise. She glared at both of them. “Jim, sit down. Everybody just calm down.”

Dr. Jameson huffed angrily and dropped into his chair, sulking.

Alex leaned back in her seat. She felt Regina’s grip relax on her arm as she took a couple of breaths to calm her racing heart. “I hate that bastard,” she muttered under her breath.

Cassandra looked at Regina and Alex. “The board needs to ask both of you some questions and then we’ll take a break. Dr. Samuels, why don’t you start?” Cassandra offered.

“Dr. Margulies, what did you find when you got to the truck?” The gray-haired doctor asked.

Alex leaned back in her chair and focused on the man sitting across from her. “Mrs. Martin had a compound open fracture of her tibia and fibula. She was losing arterial blood and was going into shock. We controlled the bleeding using a tourniquet just below the knee and started an IV using Ringer’s Lactate to start fluid resuscitation.”

“I thought you said you didn’t have any medical equipment with you?” Dr. Timmons interjected, leaning forward across the table.

“She didn’t.” Regina jumped in. “I took a trauma kit from the storeroom and brought it out to the truck.”

“Who applied the tourniquet?” Dr. Samuels asked, leaning forward as he read over some notes in front of him.

“I did.” The resident answered.

“Did you monitor the pulse in the foot while it was on?”

“I checked it once a couple of minutes after I put it on. The pulse was still strong at that point. Mrs. Martin was well into the second stage of labor by the time I examined her, and her labor was progressing quickly at that point,” Regina explained.

“Why didn’t you monitor the pulse, Dr. Margulies?” Dr. Samuels, asked turning back to Alex.

“I couldn’t reach down to where her foot was because the dashboard was pushed up in to the middle of the console. Dr. Kingston could just barely fit in between the seat and the dash herself to deliver the baby.” Alex nodded to a manila folder of pictures sitting next to the attorney. “You can see for yourself in the pictures what the truck looked like after it was hit by the ambulance and spun into the utility pole.”

“When did the paramedics arrive?” Another of the other doctors asked.

“I just delivered the baby and was checking its vital signs when they got to the truck.” Regina responded.

“What happened after they arrived?” Dr. Timmons asked.

“Dr. Kingston brought the baby to the ER and turned him over to the neonatologist. I stayed with Mrs. Martin until we brought her into the emergency department and transferred her to the OR.”

Alex leaned back in her chair and looked at the doctors sitting around her. She knew all of doctors sitting there; in fact, one of them trained her during her own critical care rotation. Under the circumstances, she knew they did everything medically possible. It was going to be a decision based on whether the hospital was willing to change its policy or not.

Dr. Mitchard broke the silence at the table. “I think we have enough from the both of you for now.” She looked down at her watch. “Meet us back here at one o’clock.”

Regina looked up at Alex. She was already pushing her chair back and standing up without another look back at the committee. Regina followed her out the door. The cool air of the hallway was a welcome relief from the heated atmosphere inside the conference room.

Alex turned around and looked at Regina. “You did great in there.” She rested a hand on Regina’s shoulder. “Are you hungry?”

“Starving, in fact.” Regina hardly ate all weekend, choosing instead to boycott reality and sleep more than half the time away.

Alex shook her head. “Come on, let’s get out of here.”

They rode the elevator down from the fifth floor in silence. Regina followed Alex through the back hallway into the cafeteria. She picked up a sandwich, a bottle of water and frozen yogurt, then waited by the door for Alex to appear with her tray of food. The doctor checked her watch as she waited in line to pay for her own food.

“Why don’t we just eat in here?” Alex offered as she walked up to Regina.

Regina nodded her head and walked with her over to an empty table in the back of the cafeteria. It was crowded and Regina saw several residents whom she recognized from the various rotations. Most of them gave her a cursory glance and ducked quickly over to their own tables. She realized as she ate her sandwich, that they probably knew about the meeting today and were uncomfortable about seeing her here, unsure of what the final outcome would be.

Alex leaned across the table. “You really threw them in there by making it personal. That was a good idea. I would have never thought to do that.”

Regina looked up and shrugged. “It should be personal. That could have been any of them that night. They needed to know that. What is with Jameson?” she asked in between bites from her sandwich. “He was ready to blow a gasket in there.”

“He wants me out.” Alex speared a piece of meat with her fork.

“Why? You never told me what happened between you two.” Regina looked up at Alex’s face. The dark-haired woman looked tired and despite the cool outer façade, Regina could see the nervous tension outlined in her face.

Alex shrugged her shoulders and sat back, pushing her food around on her plate with her fork. “It’s old history,” Alex explained as she looked up at Regina. “Some drug company offered Dr. Jameson a research grant to trial a new drug. He asked the doctors in the ER to take part in it. Every time we administered the drug we filled out some paper work for the study.”

Alex gestured with her hands. “I know it doesn’t sound like much, but then we started to get these ‘gifts’ from the company. First, it was tickets to basketball games, then as the volume picked up so did the size of the gifts. I backed out of the study along with some of the other physicians in the ER. Since I was the first to back out, Jameson blamed me when the hospital administration came down on him for accepting the gifts.”

Regina pushed her tray away from her and leaned across the table. “That’s Medicare fraud.”

Alex sighed and nodded her head. “I know. It was a long time ago and the laws weren’t as strict then as they are now. Today, it would be a whole other ballgame. He got a slap on the wrist for what he did, but he still blames me for the trouble he got into.”

“Nothing like holding a grudge, huh?” Regina looked across the table, at Alex, her mind straying from their conversation.

She decided she really liked the outfit Alex was wearing, especially the suspenders and how they accented her shoulders and narrow waist. Regina realized she was staring as Alex tilted her head and gave her a questioning look. She shook her head, trying to clear her thoughts. “Uh, sorry I just went off there for a minute. I guess we should get back,” the blonde quickly mumbled, looking down at her watch. “It’s almost one.” Went off? Yeah, right. Good thing she can’t read your thoughts, Regina.

“Right.” Alex said, gazing back at her. She leaned forward, ignoring the questioning glances from around them as she looked into Regina’s eyes. “Listen, whatever happens when we go back, don’t you ever think what you did was wrong. I told you the night that this happened that I’d do it again and I still mean that.”

Regina ducked her head feeling the heated blush creeping up her face. “Thanks, Alex.”

Alex straightened up and picked up their trays. Walking to the exit she dumped them on the conveyor belt and walked out of the cafeteria with her colleague.

They could hear angry voices shouting as they stepped off the elevator and walked down the carpeted hallway toward the conference room. Regina looked back at Alex, uncertain if they should go in, but Alex shrugged her shoulders, stepped forward,and opened the door.

Dr. Jameson was sitting at the end of the table, his eyebrows knitted together and jaw muscles clenched in anger. Dr. Mitchard was standing at the opposite end, leaning on the table with her hands, staring at him. She looked up as Alex and Regina walked in together and took their seats at the long mahogany table.

“Well, gentlemen. I think we have reasonably covered all the issues.” She glanced over at Dr. Jameson and then spoke to Alex and Regina. “Do either of you have anything you want to say or ask before we go on?”

“I do, Cassandra,” Alex said.

“Doesn’t that figure,” Dr. Jameson said, condescendingly.

Alex shot him a withering look. “Do you remember the fifteen-year old boy that was shot outside a medical center in Chicago about four years ago?” Alex asked, turning her attention back to Dr. Mitchard.

“I remember.” Cassandra nodded her head. “Go on.”

“His mother pleaded with the medical staff to come out and take care of him. They said they couldn’t because their hospital policy didn’t allow them to. So instead, they called 911 and transported him to another facility. He died before he got there.”

“What’s your point, Dr. Margulies?” Dr. Jameson asked, looking bored as he stared down at his hands.

“My point, Dr. Jameson is that we did the right thing. That hospital in Chicago changed its policy after the fact. But it took them losing a life to do so. I don’t think you would want that kind of publicity here,” Alex explained.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Dr. Jameson asked, his upper lip curling into a snarl.

“I’m just saying that maybe we need to look at the policy this hospital has before something like that happens here.”

“So you want us to re-write the policy so you can keep your ass out of trouble. Isn’t that convenient.”

Dr. Mitchard put her hands up. “Stop it, both of you. I don’t want a repeat of what happened earlier. We already covered all this, Jim, it’s a moot issue. If they didn’t go out there, the woman would have died along with her child. There’s no question in my mind or anyone else’s here that these two doctors did the right thing.” She looked at Alex and Regina. “The vote was four to one against revoking both your privileges.”

Dr. Jameson slammed his hand down on the desk and stood up, causing his chair to bang into the wall behind him. He threw his pad of paper across the table in disgust. “Like that was a surprise. Cassandra, you’ll regret this, mark my words.”

Cassandra leaned across the table and glared at him, her eyes darkening as her anger built up inside her. “Dr. Jameson.” Her voice was low and quiet. “I suggest you find someone to update that policy. Last time I checked, we were still in the business of taking care of people, not bickering over whether we do it in or out of the hospital.”

The medical director shoved the chair out of his way as he stormed toward the door and yanked it open.

She watched the door close behind him and shook her head. “Well, we’re finished here. Nice to have you back Dr. Margulies, Dr. Kingston.”

“Thanks.” Alex stood up from her chair and walked to the door.

“Dr. Kingston, a moment please.”

Regina hesitated and walked over to the vice-president.

“I know Dr. Jameson suspended you without pay, but we’re reversing that decision. You’ll get that pay check this week,” Dr. Mitchard told her.

“That’s great. Thanks, Dr. Mitchard.” A sense of relief flowed through her. At least that was one less thing to worry about.

Alex held the door as Regina walked out of the room. “Shall we check out the unit and see what’s up?” She grinned, knowing what Regina’s answer would be. The two walked together to the elevator.

“Absolutely.”

They walked down the corridor strewn with stretchers and wheelchairs, and passed through the double doors into the emergency department. It was in its usual state of organized chaos, a code cart stood outside one of the rooms, a baby was crying in another and a drunken man was shouting obscenities at one of the interns who was trying unsuccessfully to draw the man’s blood.

Regina stopped at the desk and looked up at Alex. “Feels good to be back, huh?”

“Yeah.” Alex stopped at the vacant desk and leaned against it, looking at Regina. “You had a big part in that, you know.”

Regina frowned and then her expression softened as she read the serious look on Alex’s face. “Alex.” She started to say something else but Alex held a hand up.

“Later. We have company.”

Regina turned around and saw Sandy and Dr. Torres heading toward them. Both had a hesitant but hopeful expression on their faces.

“Please, tell me that you’re down here because you’re coming back,” Sandy pleaded, giving Alex a wary look.

Alex folded her hands, looked down at the floor and didn’t say anything.

“Well?”

“We’re back,” Regina said, and yelped as Sandy wrapped her in a big hug.

“Oh thank god. That’s the best news we’ve had all week. This place has been a madhouse. A couple of us are going out to Merrigan’s, Friday night. You should come with us.” Sandy squeezed Alex’s arm and pulled her into a hug. “Damn it, I’ve worked with you for how many years now. Margulies? Give me a hug.”

Alex made a face and squeezed her back.

“So, what’s going on?” The dark-haired woman asked, breaking away from Sandy.

“What’s not, is more like it.” Sandy crossed her arms, taking in the thoughtful look on the doctor’s face. “When’s your first shift?”

Alex grinned. “Tomorrow. I already checked the schedule. Guess we’ll see you all then.” She turned to Regina putting a hand on her shoulder. “Come on, let’s go get your car.”
Chapter Sixteen
The following night it seemed things returned to relative normalcy as Regina walked down the hallway from the ambulance bay. A brown-haired boy about four years old was cradled on one hip, and walking next to her holding her other hand was his older brother.

Sandy looked up as she walked past the desk. “Hey, who do you have there?” She peered over the counter top at the two boys.

Regina shifted the boy in her arm, settling him higher up on her hip. “This is Mason.” She nodded her head to the one standing next to her holding her hand. “And this is his brother, Thomas. Their mom’s in room five. The ambulance driver brought them in with her. Nobody to take care of them at home,” she explained.

“Hi Mason. Hi Thomas.” Sandy smiled down at them.

“Who are you?” Thomas asked, standing up on his toes to get a better look at her.

“I’m Sandy.” Thomas nodded his head as if satisfied with her answer. “Guess they’re staying with us for awhile, huh?”

“Yeah, they may be admitting their mother.” Regina lifted Mason up onto the counter, giving her arm a rest. “Anything special we need to do?”

Sandy thought about it for a minute. “There’s no family we can contact?”

Regina shook her head. “No, the mother has custody of the boys and there’s no other family in the state.”

“I’ll call a volunteer and see if they can come sit with them.” Sandy drummed her fingers on the desk, thinking. “We won’t do anything until we know if mom’s being admitted.”

Regina looked up at the clock. “You’re not going to get a volunteer at this hour.”

“Nine o’clock? Ooh, I didn’t realize it was that late. You’re right.” Sandy looked around the ER. “Well, we’re not too busy right now. I think we can handle them for the time being.”

Sandy turned away, her attention drawn toward Alex as she walked out of one of the exam rooms shaking her head. “What are you laughing at?” The nurse inquired curiously, seeing the wry grin on the doctor’s face.

The dark-haired attending leaned on the desk, her braid falling over her left shoulder as she rested on her elbows. “I just got propositioned by an eighty-six year old – man.” Alex stopped mid-sentence, cutting off the less than flattering description she had on the tip of her tongue, when she caught Regina out of the corner of her eye standing at the end of the desk with two young boys in tow.

Sandy crossed her arms and grinned. “Lucky you. What did you tell him?” She couldn’t resist teasing Alex since opportunities arose so infrequently.

Alex smirked, leaning across the desk and whispered in her ear. Sandy glared back at her and smacked her hard in the arm. “You jerk! Great, just great. And now I have to go in there and put a catheter in him?” She stalked around the desk and grabbed Alex’s arm. “You’re coming with me.”

“Hey lady.” The young boy standing next to Regina pulled on Alex’s lab coat. “What’s a prop?” He stopped and frowned. “A proposition?” he asked, sounding out the word.

Alex stopped and peered down at the inquisitive face peering up at her. “Uh.” She looked up at Regina who scowled back at her, arms crossed over her chest, waiting for Alex’s response. Oh boy, you’re in for it now. “Um, it’s an offer,” she struggled to explain the word to the boy without getting herself into more trouble.

“For what?”

Alex swallowed and looked over at Sandy for help and got none. Ok, so this is what it means to be hung out to dry, Alex thought wryly. “It could be for anything.”

Regina snorted and shook her head. “All right, show’s over guys. We need to go find your mom.” She lowered Mason back down to the floor and started to turn away.

“No. I want to know.” Thomas demanded and tugged impatiently on Regina’s arm.

“Nope. Come on, let’s go.” Regina glared back at Alex.

Sandy snickered at the predicament Alex managed to get herself into and elbowed her in the ribs. “Ooh, you just pissed her off.”

“Yeah, thanks for jumping right in and helping me out there, friend.”

“Ah, but it was so much fun to watch you try and get yourself out of trouble.”

******

“Mrs. Frank,” Regina leaned over the stretcher and touched the woman’s shoulder. “Your boys are here. I know you wanted to see them before you went down for your tests.”

The frail-looking, dark-haired woman rolled over and peered down at the two boys standing beside Regina. “Ah, Thomas, come here.”

The older of the two boys stepped closer. “What Momma?”

“I need you to look after your brother while I’m here. You’re both going to behave yourselves, right?”

“Yes, Momma.” Thomas leaned up against the stretcher and took hold of her hand.

“Mason?”

“I don’t want you to go,” Mason started to cry.

“Now, there’s nothing to cry about. The doctors just need to check some things and I’ll be back in a while. Promise me you’ll be good.”

Mason nodded his head, wiping the tears off his face. “I promise.”

Moments later the transporter appeared and wheeled the stretcher out of the room, taking the woman down to the radiology department. Regina turned around and looked down at the two boys standing beside her and tried to think of something that might keep them occupied and out of trouble, while Sandy figured out who could watch them.

“Let me see. I want to listen,” Thomas said, reaching up for the instrument hanging around Regina’s collar.

“Ok.” Regina pulled the stethoscope from around her neck. She held the metal prongs open, letting him grasp the earpieces and stick them in his ears. Thomas walked over to his brother.

Regina sat back and watched them, enjoying the comedy being played out between the two of them. She glanced up at the clock. It was already ten o’clock and their mother wouldn’t be back from radiology for a while yet.

“Let me listen to your heart, Mason.” Thomas reached out his hand and placed the stethoscope on his brother’s stomach.

“I don’t hear anything.” Thomas looked back at Regina. He frowned and tapped the plastic covering, blinking in surprise as the sound registered loudly in his ears.

Regina stifled a giggle. “Thomas, where’s your heart?” Very seriously, he pointed to his stomach. “That’s a little low, don’t you think?”

He threw his head back, letting out a loud laugh. Regina grinned and slid off her stool, kneeling down beside him. “Here.” She lifted the piece up and placed it over his brother’s heart. “Do you hear it now?”

Mason looked up at his brother. “What’s it sound like?”

“Thud-thud, thud-thud,” Thomas said, as he listened intently and moved the piece around his brother’s chest. Mason’s lower lip started to quiver. “Hey, why you crying’?” Thomas pushed his brother in the shoulder.

Regina looked up at the younger boy. “Mason, what’s wrong?”

“Mom’s heart’s broken. Is it going to sound like that anymore?”

Regina cocked her head, suddenly confused. “Mason, your mom’s heart is fine,” she said reassuringly.

“No, it’s not. She told me so.” Tears rolled down the boy’s face.

Regina sat back on her heels and reached out for the boy. She heard the door open to the room and turned around to see Alex looking in at her. Their eyes met for a moment and Alex gave her a quick smile of apology. “Sandy is trying to find someone who can stay with them.” The dark-haired doctor walked over to the stretcher and sat down, watching the two boys warily. “Everything all right?”

Regina shrugged her shoulders and looked back at Mason. “What did your mom say about her heart, Mason?”

He sniffled and wiped his nose on his sleeve. “S…she said that daddy broke it when he left.” Mason threw himself against Regina and wrapped his arms around her neck, holding her tightly in his grasp.

“Stop crying, Mason,” Thomas said.

“Thomas, it’s all right if he cries.” Regina said, reaching out and ruffling the older boy’s hair.

Regina wrapped her arms around Mason and lifted him up. She walked over to Alex and deposited the smaller boy into her lap. “Here, hold him. I’m going to see if there’s a room I can get them settled in.”

Taken aback, the doctor’s blue eyes widened in surprise. She slipped her hands around the boy’s middle and set him gingerly on her thighs. “I…I think the room across from the nurse’s station is open,” Alex finally managed to get out, looking at the boy like she was holding a piece of china.

“Good. I’ll be back.” Regina turned and disappeared out of the room.

Alex peered down at the little boy. He curled himself up against the doctor, one hand clutching her lab coat and the other wrapped around her upper arm, holding her tightly. Thomas climbed up onto the stretcher and sat cross-legged peering up at Alex. “Are you going to make my mother better?”

“We’re going to try,” Alex said carefully.

A little while later, Regina walked back into the trauma room carrying a couple of stuffed animals and two small gowns from the pediatric floor. “You two ever sleep over at a friend’s house?” She looked at Thomas and Mason. They both nodded, staring back at her. “Well, that’s what this is going to be like tonight.” Regina looked at Alex. “Sandy got a couple of beds from the hallway so they can sleep in the empty room.”

“Did she find anyone to watch them?”

“Not yet and Jameson is already giving her a hard time about keeping them here.”

Alex’s brow creased at the worried expression on Regina’s face. “The Division of Youth Services isn’t open now so he can’t call them until the morning. We’ll figure something out.”

Alex stood up, cradling Mason awkwardly in her arm, and headed to the door. “Let’s go, guys. It’s bedtime.” She pushed the door open and held it for Thomas and Regina to walk through.

“Since when do we run a day care center?” Dr. Jameson asked, as he met them in the hallway. He stared down at the two boys in contempt.

“Since their mother is having testing done, and there’s no family for them to stay with.” Alex glared back at him defiantly.

“There has to be someone. Make sure you call family services as soon as you know she’s being admitted. We can’t keep them here indefinitely.” Giving them both a cursory glance, he walked quickly down the hallway.

Regina gave Alex a worried look. “He can’t do anything, can he, Alex?” The young doctor followed the taller woman into the room Sandy set up for them.

“He can’t do anything unless she’s going to be admitted and then it’s up to the mother if she’ll give consent to place them temporarily,” Alex reassured her.

“Hey, doc?”

“What?” Regina looked down at the serious expression on Thomas’s face.

“Mason can’t go to sleep unless mom tells him a story.”
“Oh.” Regina scratched her head and looked at Alex.

“Don’t look at me. I sure don’t know any.” Alex set Mason down on the bed next to his brother. She patted Regina on the back. “Good luck.”

“Thanks.” Regina looked back at Thomas. “Ok, I think I can do this.”

Alex listened for a minute as Regina started to tell them a story and then quietly shut the door behind her. She walked over and leaned against the desk, looking back into the room across from the nurse’s station.

“Alex.”

“What?” Alex asked without turning around. Regina was sitting cross-legged on the hospital bed talking to both of the boys; one of them tilted his head back and laughed, falling over onto his side in a fit of giggles.

“Why don’t you go in there? We’re not busy and your shift is over,” Sandy told the attending. “They’re just kids.”

Alex turned her head and scowled at the nurse. “Very funny, Sandy. You know kids aren’t my forte.”

Sandy looked up at Alex and chewed on the end of her pen. “Hmm.”

“If the mother needs to be admitted we’re going to have to call family services in the morning.” Alex looked back inside the room. She hated the thought of having them placed in a foster home even temporarily, but she hadn’t figured out a way to get around that particular problem yet.

Sandy stood up and put a hand on Alex’s shoulder pulling her close to her. “I don’t think it’s the kids that are bothering you.”

“What are you talking about?” Alex quickly shrugged Sandy’s hand off of her in irritation.

“I think you’re scared of her. She got in there, didn’t she?” Sandy leaned forward and tapped Alex’s chest.

“Yeah right, Sandy.” Alex pulled away from the nurse, giving her a puzzled, almost angry look.

“Oh don’t bullshit me, Alex. How long have we worked together, now?” Sandy saw the look of surprise on Alex’s face and smirked. “You bring the kid home when she got sick, you did the blood work for her tests -ha, you even resigned your damn position so Jameson wouldn’t go after her.”

“You know you are so full of shit.” Alex clamped her mouth closed as Regina appeared at the desk and looked up at the two women.

“Hi.” She was surprised to see the scowling blue eyes. “What’s up?”

Alex glared back at Sandy. “Nothing. Not a damn thing.” She pushed away from the desk and stalked off down the hall.

“Ooh, what got into her?” Regina asked, watching Alex disappear into the staff lounge.

Sandy shrugged indifferently and walked off to check on a patient.

Regina stood at the desk for a moment, trying to figure out what happened, and then walked down the hall. She opened the door to the lounge and stuck her head inside, seeing dark-haired woman sitting at the table hunched forward, her hands idly spinning an empty can of soda between them. The resident stepped inside the door and closed it quietly behind her.

“Do you mind the company?”

The bowed head raised up and Alex sat back in her chair. “Hi.”

“Mm. Hi yourself.” Regina walked over and sat down in the chair next to the doctor. “You ok?” She watched as the woman fidgeted nervously with the tab on the top of the soda can.

“Yeah, I’m just tired.” Alex rubbed her eyes.

“Did Sandy say something to upset you?” Regina leaned forward, trying to see past the guarded expression on Alex’s face.

Alex stared at her then dropped her eyes down to the table. “You’re getting the restraining order tomorrow, right?” she asked, ignoring Regina’s question.

Regina gave Alex a puzzled look. “Yeah, I go to the courthouse at ten in the morning.”

“You want me to come with you?” Alex broke the tab off the top of the can and dropped it inside.

“I didn’t think you could.”

“I might be able to get someone to cover for me at the meeting.”

Regina studied her companion from across the table. Something was bothering the older woman but for the life of her she couldn’t figure out what it was. “Alex…whoa.” The lights went out and they sat in total darkness.

“They’re just checking the emergency generator. The lights will come back on in a second,” Alex explained quietly.

“Oh.”

Seconds later, the emergency lights flickered on, dimly illuminating the lounge. “I’m going to go check on Mason and Thomas. Hopefully they’re already sleeping.” Regina stood up and walked out into the hallway.

She heard Mason calling out for his mother before she even got to the room. Regina walked over and picked him up off the stretcher. “Hey, you’re ok. Your mother will be back when she’s finished with her tests.”

The boy would hear none of it and continued to cry inconsolably.

“Geez, who’s got the set of lungs I can hear all the way down the hall?” Alex pushed the door open and walked inside behind the younger doctor. Mason hiccupped and reached his arms out for the taller woman.

Regina laughed. “Well, we know who his favorite is.”

Alex rolled her eyes and gathered Mason up in her arms. “God only knows why,” she replied as Mason wrapped his arms tightly around her neck and held on for dear life.

Regina frowned, hating when Alex put herself down. “Hey, isn’t your shift over now?”

The taller woman shrugged her shoulders. “I’ve got a ton of paperwork to catch up on. Figured I’d stay and get some of it done.” She looked down at the boy hanging off her hip. “You want to help me?” Brown, tear-filled eyes looked back at her and Mason nodded his head. “You agree now, but wait thirty years or so,” Alex chuckled wryly.

The blonde watched the interaction between the doctor and the boy quietly, then walked past the dark-haired woman. “I’m going to call radiology and see what’s taking them so long.” Regina slipped out of the room, glancing back as Alex gathered a pile of charts in one arm and set them on the counter.

The doctor sighed as she looked down into the brown eyes. “Listen, Mason, you need to go to sleep.” Alex placed him on the hospital bed behind her and glanced over at his sleeping brother. Who are you kidding? You’re just staying here so you have a chance to be around her. You just can’t admit it now, can you? With a sigh, Alex sat down on the stool and opened the first in a huge stack of charts she needed to review.

Moments later, two hands touched her shoulder, and Alex glanced up to see Mason standing on tiptoe in the bed, leaning over the railing and peering over her shoulder.

“What are you doing?”

“Reading.”

“What are you reading?”

“Work stuff,” Alex sighed. “Mason, you’re supposed to be asleep.”

“I’m not tired,” he announced and rocked back and forth on his feet restlessly.

“Uh-huh.” Alex spun around on the stool and regarded him seriously. “Do you know what happens if you don’t go to sleep?”

“I don’t believe in the boogey-man.”

“You don’t?”

“Nope.”

Alex rubbed her eyes. Shit, now what? “Come here.” She lifted her arms up, expecting the boy to just lean forward; instead he jumped from the mattress and she scrambled to catch him in mid-flight. “Whoa, what do you think, you can fly?”

“I like to fly,” he giggled, balancing himself on her muscular thighs.

“And how do you manage to do that?” She frowned, holding him firmly in her grasp.

“On a swing and then I jump.”

Alex chuckled as she got an idea. “I’ll make a deal with you. You get to fly once and then you go to bed. Deal?”

Mason eyes sparkled and he nodded eagerly.

“Ok, here goes Champ.” Alex stood up off the stool and lifted him up high over her head. He squealed and laughed as she turned him in her arms and held him upside down, before setting him back on his feet.

He smiled back up at her. “That was fun. One more time, please?” Mason tugged her hand impatiently.

The dark-haired woman glanced out the door then, quickly scooped the boy back up into her arms. Mason giggled as he was lifted overhead and then set back down on the floor.

“Oh sure, Miss ‘Kids Aren’t My Forte’. You’re just a an overgrown version, yourself.”

Alex jerked her head up to see Sandy standing in the doorway with her arms crossed over her chest. “I…I was just bribing him to go to sleep.”

The curly-headed nurse rolled her eyes and walked over to the doctor. “I could think of better ways.” She pursed her lips and regarded the doctor coolly. “Don’t stay too late, Alex. I let the next shift know about our two visitors here so someone can come in and watch them when you’re ready to leave.”

Alex nodded and sat down on the stool, feeling rather foolish for having been caught with her guard down. “Sandy, do you know if that nurse up on pediatrics still takes foster kids?”

“Sheila?”

“Yeah, the red-head.”

“I think so, why?”

“Their mother probably isn’t going to agree to being admitted if she has to give these kids over to youth services. There’s no guarantee they’ll keep them together in foster care.”

“So, you want to see if Sheila will take them for a few days?”

Alex leaned back against the desk and blew out a breath. “Yeah, I do.”

Sandy looked at the two boys. Thomas was curled up on his side fast asleep and Mason was leaning against Alex, his arms draped over her thigh. “He’s taken a liking to you.”

Alex glanced down at the curly brown head and then rubbed his back affectionately. “I think he reminds me of my brother.”

The nurse ran a hand through her hair and sighed. “I’ll give Sheila a call and see what she can do.”

“Thanks, Sandy.” Alex’s eyes watched her walk out of the room. She looked down as two small hands pulled on her lab coat. “What, Mason?”

“Can you do it again?”

Alex smiled crookedly at the boy. “Sandy was right. There has to be a better way to get you to go to sleep. Alright, just one more time.”

By the time Regina extracted herself from the sudden influx of patients, it was well after one in the morning. She finished writing the orders on her last patient and pulled the order tab up, slipping the chart into the cart next to the unit clerk. On her way to the on call room, she stuck her head in the room across from the nurse’s station to check on the two boys. She couldn’t help the surprised smile that spread across her face, when she saw Alex sprawled out on her back on the hospital bed, sleeping. A pile of charts lay untouched at her feet and Mason was curled up next to her, his head resting on her shoulder and a hand clutching the lapel of her lab coat.

The image stuck in the young doctor’s mind long after she left the hospital that night and headed home from her shift.

******

The blonde sat in the courtroom leaning back against the hard wooden bench, silently praying that Derrick wouldn’t show up today. It wasn’t unusual for him to have at least one or two days a week that he spent in court waiting to testify for cases he was involved in.

Regina closed her eyes, wishing that Alex been able to come with her. She got held up at the medical center at the last minute and left Regina a message that she probably wouldn’t make it over to the courthouse in time. Not that there was anything the doctor could do, but she just wanted her presence and moral support.

The resident sighed as she thought about Alex. It was so hard to read her. The older woman kept everything inside closely guarded and despite the time they spent together, Regina wondered where their friendship was ultimately headed. She really wanted to get to know the woman better but it was almost impossible to get her to open up since they had been back from their suspensions.

She closed her eyes trying to calm her nervousness. A part of Regina still couldn’t believe she was actually doing this. She had never been afraid of someone hurting her until Derrick changed all that several months ago. Her last violent interactions with him convinced her to stop making excuses for Derrick and get a restraining order.

It was a simple enough process and without Derrick to argue his side of the story, the judge quickly granted the restraining order after he read over the police and hospital reports Regina brought with her to the court.

The somber faced gray-haired man looked over the ornate desk at Regina. “You understand that he can’t come within five hundred feet of you. The only complicating factor is his job. Once his suspension is over, and he is reinstated to active duty, I can’t restrict his access to the hospital if he has reason to be there. Any questions?”

Regina shook her head, reaching up and taking the papers from the judge.

“Well, good luck then.”

The resident slipped on her trench coat and walked hastily out of the courtroom. A slight breeze was blowing and the first autumn leaves were swirling down from the trees, fluttering around her feet. Regina tugged her coat closely around her as she walked along the broken sidewalk. A car door slammed shut somewhere ahead of her as she approached her own car and she heard her name being called.

Looking up, she stopped in her tracks. “Shit.”

Derrick pushed himself off of his police cruiser and stepped around, blocking Regina’s path. He looked her up and down his dark, angry eyes boring into her. “You bitch. I can’t believe you did this.”

“Get away from me, Derrick.” Regina summoned as much anger as she could to hide the fear she felt inside her. Her heart hammered in her chest as she moved to step around him.

“You got me fucking suspended!” He moved, blocking her again. “They stuck me with desk duty for a month.” Derrick stared down at Regina. “Do you know what that’ll do for my chances of getting promoted?”

Regina stepped back. “I don’t care, just leave me alone, Derrick.” She heard another car door slam shut and footsteps came running up behind her.

“You better back off, Derrick.” Alex growled as she stepped up beside Regina protectively.

“What’s wrong? Didn’t I beat your queer ass enough last time?” Derrick taunted, his upper lip curling up in a snarl as he glared at taller woman.

“I’m not the one nursing broken ribs, now am I?” Alex retorted sharply.

Derrick glared at her. “Get lost, this is between Regina and me.”

“I’m not going anywhere.”

“You need to drop the charges, Regina,” Derrick growled, turning away from Alex.

“Like hell I will. I’ve got a retraining order, Derrick. Stay the hell away from me.” Regina stepped around him.

“What the hell are you talking about?” He reached out to grab Regina’s arm and yelped in surprise as Alex stepped forward and grabbed his wrist, twisting it painfully behind his back.

“Derrick, one last time, back off, unless you want a matching set of ribs. Believe me, I’ll gladly accommodate if you like,” she hissed in his ear.

“Let go of my wrist,” he snarled.

She yanked his arm up higher, forcing him to bend over. “You leave her alone, you sick bastard.”

“I meant it when I said I got a restraining order against you, Derrick.” Regina glared at him, feeling braver now that Alex was there. “A month is nothing. If you keep harassing me, you’re going to end up in jail again and next time you won’t just be suspended.”

Derrick blinked and hesitantly looked around them aware of several curious stares from people walking by. He shrugged away from Alex as she released his wrist. “You’re a damn fool for getting involved with this bitch, Regina.”

“Save it, Derrick. I don’t care what you have to say.”

“Yeah? Well, why don’t you ask her about her dyke friend who deals drugs? That’s right.” He took in Alex’s surprised expression. “It’s amazing who you meet when you spend a night in the slammer. Go ahead and enjoy your time with this one, Regina. When that bitch gets out of jail, Alex, she’s coming for you and there isn’t going to much left when she’s finished.”

“Go to hell, Derrick.” Regina stepped closer and put her hand on Alex’s arm.

Looking at the two of them in disgust, he spat at their feet and walked away. Regina felt Alex slip her arm around her shoulder. “You ok?”

“I didn’t think you were coming.”

“Dr. Ortiz covered for me at the meeting. Are you all right to drive back to the hospital?” Alex felt Regina trembling under her arm.

“Yeah, I just need a minute.” Regina steadied herself and walked slowly toward her car. “Alex, what’s going on with Dana?”

The dark-haired woman stared down at the ground as they walked, knowing she needed to tell Regina what was going on. “I can’t get into it now, Regina, it’ll take too long. We’ll talk Friday night.” She saw the doubtful expression on the blonde’s face. “I promise.” She knew she’d been keeping her distance from Regina since they got back, mostly trying to sort out her feelings for the younger woman. The doctor squeezed her shoulder and walked with the resident to her car.

Alex held the door open as Regina slipped inside behind the steering wheel. “I thought you’d want to know, one of the nurses on pediatrics is taking the boys for a couple of days. The mother gave her consent this morning,” Alex commented quietly, leaning against the side of the car as she watched Regina settle in her seat.

“How did you manage that?” Regina darted a quick surprised glance up at the blue eyes that were looking back at her.

The dark-haired woman shrugged casually. “I know a couple of the nurses on pediatrics take foster kids. I just got lucky that one of them could take Mason and Thomas for a few days.”

“So the mother is staying to get the procedure done then?”

“Yes, she should be ready to go home in a few days.” Alex nodded her head, wondering how something as simple as Regina’s smile could make her feel this warm inside. “I’ve got to get back or Dr. Ortiz is going to have a fit. Are you going to be ok?”

“I’m fine, Alex.” Regina reached out and grabbed her hand. “Thanks for finding a place for those kids to stay.”

“It was luck it worked out that way.” Alex smiled down at her. “I’ll see you tomorrow night.”
Chapter Seventeen
Regina sat on the rolling chair hunched forward over the stretcher. She spent the last ten hours totally immersed in patients with hardly a chance to breathe in between. She chewed on the end of her pen as she worked out the last calculation for a patient’s medication before she wrote it on the order sheet. Closing the chart, she sat back in her chair and stretched her arms over her head. Done, she smiled to herself.

It had been a good week overall, she reflected in the relative quiet of the empty trauma room. No one died in the ER this week, which meant there were no grieving families that she had to tell the heartbreaking news to; her fever had been gone since Sunday, so the most unpleasant thing the young doctor dealt with was getting the restraining order against Derrick. His suspension didn’t come as a surprise, since he was arrested, but if anything it left Regina feeling that he was becoming more unbalanced and desperate since his job was on the line.

Unexpectedly, the door swung open and Alex poked her head into the room Regina had hidden herself away in. “There you are. I thought you might have left already.”

Regina looked up and smiled at Alex’s slightly disheveled appearance. Her rumpled lab coat hung limply around her shoulders and there were a variety of suspicious looking stains scattered over the front of it.

“No, I needed a quiet place to finish up these notes. It was a zoo out there today.” Regina pushed the chart away from her and leaned back in the chair, watching as Alex stood hesitantly inside the brightly lit room. Her usual outwardly cool demeanor seemed to waver momentarily as she shifted her feet and glanced over her shoulder nervously. Finally, as if coming to some decision, Alex walked over and sat on the corner of the desk.

Alex regarded Regina for a second. “Do you still want to go out to the bar with these guys?”

Regina looked up at the woman before her. “Of course. You didn’t change your mind, did you?” Regina asked, hoping that Alex hadn’t. Regina and Sandy spent the greater part of the week cajoling and coaxing the doctor into going out with the small group from the ER Friday night.

“No, no I haven’t. Just wanted to make sure you were still up for it.”

“I am,” Regina said, cheerfully. She was looking forward to the time they would be spending together even if it were in a group.

“I’ll meet you over there then. I’ve got a couple of things to finish up yet.”

“Anything I can help with?” Regina asked.

Alex shook her head. “No, just boring administrative stuff. Thanks for offering, though.”

Regina smiled to herself as Alex turned and walked to the door. If she hadn’t known better, it seemed like Alex was nervous about going out to the bar. What’s going on in that head of yours, Alex?

The blonde waited until she was alone in the room and then picked up the phone. She dialed her number at the condo and waited until the second ring, then typed in the access code. There was only one message from Jeff returning her call, congratulating her on having her privileges re-instated at the hospital.

“Damn.” Regina set the phone back down in the cradle, a sad expression crossing her face. She’d left two messages on her parent’s answering machine during the week asking her mother to please call her. They’d both gone unanswered.

Knowing her mother could shut her out like this hurt her deeply. Even though she didn’t get to see them much they were still her family, and potentially losing that was hard to bear. Regina blinked back tears as she picked up the chart, walked out of the trauma room and slipped the chart into the rack by the unit clerk.

She walked into the locker room to shower and change her clothes. From what Sandy told her, the bar was an old local establishment where the medical staff often went to forget about work, engaging in what the residents affectionately called ‘liver rounds’.

******

Regina stepped into the darkened, smoky interior of the restaurant and walked past the crowded bar, ignoring some of the leering stares she got from the businessmen hunched over their drinks. She headed over to the room where the pool tables were.

Sandy was leaning up against one of the tables as Regina approached, watching intently as Dr. Washington lined up a shot. Regina watched as he sank the eight ball in the corner pocket. He hung his head and banged the edge of the table with his fist in frustration. The nurse let out a triumphant shout and danced around the floor.

“Ha! You’re buying the next round, Jon. That’ll teach you to tell me I don’t know how to play pool.” Sandy crowed as she taunted the tall, lanky doctor from across the table.

“Shit.” He set the pool stick on the table and flopped dejectedly into his chair. His face brightened when he looked up and saw the fair-skinned resident watching the commotion. “Hey, Regina. Come on over.” He pulled a chair out at the table for her. He glanced over her shoulder. “Where’s Alex?”

“She’s still at the hospital. She said she’d be here after she finished up.” Regina sat down in the chair and slipped out of her jacket.

Sandy set her mug of beer down on the table. “Hey, do you play pool Regina?” Her face was flushed and Regina figured that Sandy already had one or two beers in her.

“Be careful, Regina. She’s a shark, just like Alex. Don’t let her fool you,” Jon warned her playfully.

Sandy stuck her tongue out at him. “You’re just a sore loser. Why don’t you make yourself useful and go get us another pitcher of beer?”

Regina watched as Jon balled up a napkin and tossed it at Sandy before he walked over to the bar. “I’ve played once or twice.” The resident turned back to the nurse.

“Well, com’ere then.” Sandy tugged Regina off the chair and pulled her over to the pool table. “I’ll teach you, before the others get here.” She racked up the balls and set the cue ball down at the opposite end of the table. “This is how you break.”

Regina watched in quiet amusement as Sandy sent the balls scattering in several directions.

“Why don’t you try?” Sandy handed her the pool stick and reset the balls up in the rack.

Regina lifted the cue stick in her hands and looked dubiously at it. “I haven’t done this in years.”

“It’s easy. Just like riding a bike.” A warm, familiar voice floated down from behind her.

Startled, Regina turned around to see Alex standing at the table behind her. Her dark hair hung loosely around her shoulders and the black leather jacket contrasted nicely with the white shirt and faded jeans she was wearing. “Oh, hi,” Regina said, her face brightening. “I didn’t know you were here.”

“Just walked through the door.” Alex smiled back at her. “This is Tina.” She nodded to the woman standing beside her. “She works up in labor and delivery.”

“Hi, Regina.” Tina walked up, shook Regina’s hand, then glanced over at Sandy who was leaning against a table and draining her mug of beer. Regina watched as Tina walked over to the nurse and brushed her hand over the back of Sandy’s shoulder as she stood next to her.

“I take it Sandy is trying to teach you how to play?” Alex walked up beside Regina, eyeing the balls neatly corralled in the rack. She glanced over at the two nurses. “You have no shame do you?”

“What did I do?” Sandy asked, giving Alex an innocent look.

“You’ll teach her all of your bad habits and then challenge her to a game. I know your style, Sandra.” Alex looked back at Regina and winked at her. “She won’t admit it, but I taught her everything she knows.”

“Good thing you’re here to keep her in line, Alex,” Tina chimed in from the table as she poured herself a beer.

“No. Good thing you’re here. She’s your responsibility now, not mine, Tina,” Alex replied cheerfully.

Sandy swatted her hand at Alex as she walked past her. “Don’t listen to her, Regina. She’s just jealous, cause I beat her last time we played.”

“That was a fluke. Besides, we’re about to change that as of tonight” Alex hefted a pool stick in her hand and balanced it easily on two outstretched fingers.

Jon walked back over and set the pitchers of beer down on the table. “Oh boy, I sense a challenge here.”

“Hi, Jon.” Alex looked up at her colleague. “Where’s Chris? I thought she was coming out with you tonight,” she said, referring to his wife.

“She got called in to help out in the OR. A couple of people called out with the flu. It’s going to be one hell of a winter with this strain.” He looked at his watch. “I’m going to head over there and catch her in between surgeries. Hey, its good to have you both back.” He walked past Alex and patted her on the shoulder.

“Thanks, Jon.” Alex turned to Regina after he left. “Let’s see you break’em.” She pointed at the balls on the table and stepped back to watch.

Regina leaned over, and sent the cue ball careening across the table; with a loud crack, the tightly packed balls scattered. “Ooh, I think we have solids, Alex.”

“Indeed, we do.” Alex grinned mischievously at Sandy.

“Oh, I’ve only played once or twice,” Sandy said in a mocking voice, and gave Regina an evil look as she strode past her. “You are both in serious trouble. We’re playing best two out of three.”

Tina rolled her eyes. “Can’t we just make it one game?” she pleaded.

Sandy shot her a look. “No.”

“Ugh.” Sulking, Tina sat down on one of the empty stools. “Don’t get me wrong,” she said, leaning closer to Regina as the fair-skinned resident returned to the table. “I like the company but I hate straight bars.”

“Say it a little louder why don’t you?” Alex walked over to her and twirled the stick menacingly in front of her. “We’ll be using these sticks to fight our way out of here.”

Tina snorted and rolled her eyes. “Like I said, I hate straight bars. Sandy promised me we’d go dancing after this. I have to go make sure she still remembers she made me that promise.”

“While you’re at it, why don’t you two break first,” Alex told her. “I wouldn’t want Sandy to think that we have an unfair advantage or anything.” She settled down next to Regina and smiled at her, resisting the urge to brush a strand of blonde hair behind her ear. “How are you doing?”

“I’m ok.” Regina stared into the beer she was holding. They spent most of the week literally passing each other in the corridors, catching bits and pieces of disjointed conversations, settling back into a routine that made Regina fear that what small, tentative steps they made in getting to know each other the week before would quickly be lost.

“Just ok?” Alex asked, searching her face.

“I missed you,” Regina said, looking up at her.

Alex’s blue eyes widened in surprise, and then she stared down at the table. She wasn’t prepared for Regina’s blunt honesty and it caught her completely off guard.

Regina thought she could see Alex’s face flush in the dim light from the overhead fluorescent bulbs. For a long moment, they were both silent, until Alex finally met Regina’s steady gaze.

Sandy looked up from the pool table and cleared her throat loudly. “Hey, are you two going to sit there all night or are you going to play?”

Alex sighed and stood up slowly from the stool. “Why? Are you in a rush to get your ass kicked?” She picked up a cue stick and leaned down next to Regina’s head as she scraped chalk on to end of the long tapered wooden rod. “I missed you too, Regina,” she whispered softly in her ear.

Regina felt the warmth from Alex’s breath tickle her ear. A tingle of electricity ran up her spine as Alex brushed past her and walked over to the table.

The resident watched as Alex lined up the shot, nailed the cue ball, and sent two solids into a corner pocket. She cleared two more balls from the table as Sandy looked on in disbelief.

“That is not fair,” Sandy complained as Alex handed her the cue after finally missing a shot, and sauntered back to the table.

“No, not fair would be if I chose to clear the entire table on my first attempt.”

Regina couldn’t help the smile and warm flush she felt as Alex winked down at her. She heard the stool scrape on the floor as her companion pulled it forward to sit down behind her.

“Nice shot.” Regina turned around to see Alex’s eyebrows lift as she took a swallow of her beer.

“Thanks.” Blue eyes twinkled back her.

“Hmm?” Regina said, missing what Alex said after that.

“I think you’re up.” Alex gently nudged Regina from her chair as Sandy missed her shot.

Sandy stepped back as Regina stood holding the cue stick, looking at the disarray of balls on the table. “Great. You didn’t leave me anything, Sandy.”

“That would be the idea, Dr. Kingston.” Sandy reached out to pick up her mug of beer. “Hey, what are you doing?”

Tina smiled and wagged a finger at Sandy while snatching the mug from her reach. “You promised me, we’d go dancing if I came here. If you keep drinking, you’ll just fall asleep like you did last time.”

Regina laughed at the pitiful look on Sandy’s face. Shaking her head, she leaned over and stared bleakly at the table. Alex walked up beside the resident and looked over Regina’s shoulder, studying balls scattered over the table, then, pointed at the green ball. “There. You can get that one in the corner pocket.”

Regina turned her head and straightened. “Yeah, you might be able to make that shot.”

Alex grinned at her. She walked over to the ball and held her finger next to it. “Hit it right here. Not too hard. It’ll go right in.”

Regina looked at Alex and bent over, setting her shot up. She tapped the white cue ball lightly and heard Sandy smack her forehead and mutter several choice words as she watched the green ball roll smartly into the corner pocket and rattle down into the cup. Alex just smiled confidently at Regina and sat back down on the stool to watch as she cleared two more balls from the table.

They played two more games, splitting the last two. “My condolences, Sandy,” Alex teased her as she set the cue stick on the table.

“Just wait until next time. That was just beginner’s luck,” she said, pointing in Regina’s direction.

“Hey! Who said anything about beginner’s luck?” Regina protested.

“Not me,” Sandy grinned. “We’re going to go dancing. You two want to come along?” she asked ignoring the elbow Tina quickly jabbed into her ribs.

Alex shrugged indifferently and looked over at Regina. “What do you want to do?”

“Can we take a rain check? I think I’ve had enough of bars for one night.” She was tired of the noise and the thought of another hot, crowded bar was not very appealing to her.

They walked outside to their respective cars and Tina ushered Sandy over to hers, opening the passenger door. She waved to Alex and Regina as she slid into the driver’s seat.

Alex turned so she was facing Regina. “What are you up to now?” She asked, fiddling with the keys on her key ring. She felt like a nervous teenager and wished she could come up with something more original than that to say to this woman.

Regina lowered her eyes and shook her head, stifling a laugh. “Nothing.” She looked back up at Alex and smiled. “I thought maybe we could just spend some time together.” She hoped her voice didn’t sound as nervous as she felt.

“I think we can arrange that.” Alex smiled down at Regina. “It’s nice out.” She looked up at the sky. “Why don’t we go for a walk by the reservoir?”

“Sure. Lead the way.” Regina waved her hand out in front of her.

Alex hesitated, looking back at Regina’s car. “How about we drop your car off at your condo first?”

“Why?”

Alex glanced down at Regina, raising an eyebrow. “So you still have one tomorrow. Unless of course, you’re trying to get rid of it.”

“Oh, I didn’t think of that,” Regina laughed.

“Come on.”

******

“Where are we?” Regina asked, as they stepped out of the Jeep. She shut the door and turned around, looking at the darkened landscape around them.

Alex walked around the Jeep and stood close behind Regina. “It’s just one of the parks that runs through the reservation. There’s a reservoir down there through that trail.” She pointed over Regina’s shoulder.

“What trail?” Regina squinted, trying to make out what Alex was pointing to in the darkness.

“Come on, I’ll show you.” Alex stepped forward, taking Regina’s hand in her larger one and leading her toward the dark shadows that slowly transformed into trees, as they walked closer. She led the way through the darkness, picking her way down the winding trail that she frequently went running on.

As the trees thinned out, Regina could see the dark outline of the water and heard the waves lapping gently up against the shoreline. She glanced up at Alex as she walked along side of her now silent companion. There she goes again, she thought to herself as she recognized the quiet pensive expression that frequently came over Alex’s face.

“Hey, where’d you go off to?” Regina squeezed Alex’s hand.

The taller woman glanced down at her, a smile twitching at the corner of her mouth. “Just thinking.” The brunette slipped her hand out of Regina’s and walked beside her companion in silence for a bit. She was nervous, wondering how Regina would react to what she had to tell her.

Regina stopped at one particular point to watch as she saw the moon starting to peak over the treetops on the other side of the reservoir.

“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” Regina turned, hearing Alex’s voice from somewhere above her in the dark.

“It is. The moon looks so close tonight.” She turned, looking around her. “Hey, where did you go?”

Alex chuckled softly. “Up here.”

“Oh, well that helps.” Regina yelped and jumped away as Alex dropped down beside her from her perch on top of a large boulder. “That was mean.” Regina glared at Alex.

“Sorry, I thought you heard me climb up there. Come on up and sit with me.” Alex scrambled back up the boulder and reached down to help Regina up.

The doctor sat down, leaning back against the smooth face of the rock behind her and reached a hand up to guide Regina down in front of her. “You ok sitting like this?” she asked, as Regina sat down between her outstretched legs.

“Yeah, I’m fine.”

She felt the smaller woman shiver as a faint breeze rustled the leaves overhead. Alex leaned closer, her breath warm against her ear. “Are you cold?”

“Just a little.” Regina wrapped her arms around herself.

“Lean back.” The taller woman slipped her arms over Regina’s and rubbed her hands up and down. “Is that better?”

“You’re like a hot coal.” Regina relaxed against Alex, feeling the softness of her breasts pressing against her back. She felt Alex’s chest expand as she took a deep breath and let it out.

“Mm. Just warm blooded.” Alex pulled Regina against her, inhaling the scent of her hair as she rested her cheek against the top of her head.

Regina closed her eyes enjoying the warmth of Alex’s strong arms wrapped around her. She felt safe and secure sitting here with her. Her thoughts drifted around their friendship and Regina decided that in the short time that she had known Alex, the doctor had come to mean a great deal to her.

The younger woman tilted her head back to look up at Alex. “Do you come out here a lot?” She reached a hand up and touched her palm to Alex’s face, feeling her smile and pressed into the touch.

“Yeah, it’s quiet and peaceful at night.”

I think I’d be afraid to come out here by myself.” Regina clasped her hands over Alex’s arms.

Alex glanced down at Regina. “Are you uncomfortable being here?”

“No, I like it, Alex. I like being here with you.”

Alex smiled at the last remark. There was no denying the bond growing between them. Since Lana’s death, she allowed herself to drift aimlessly, hardly caring that the world and everything in it was passing her by. It just hadn’t seemed worth the effort to take back her life until now. “Regina, have you thought about what you’re doing after this residency?”

“I’m not sure yet. I had a couple of offers. One was in Boston at a family practice. I thought I might go back home at one point, be closer to my family.”

Alex tried not to let her disappointment come through in her voice. “Is that what you’re still planning to do?” She looked down, biting her lower lip as she waited for Regina’s answer.

Regina rested her head back on Alex’s shoulder. “I don’t think it really matters anymore if I go home or not.”

“Why would you say that?” Alex asked, peering down at Regina’s face.

Regina sighed. “I had a fight with my mother and it just came out – about my lifestyle. It wasn’t exactly the best way to break the news to her and I haven’t heard from her since.”

“So, they’re not talking to you?” She wasn’t sure why she was so surprised considering what Regina’s mother had done to her older brother.

Regina shook her head. “Nope, they won’t return my calls. Hey, I don’t really want to talk about it.” Regina looked up at her friend. “What about you, Alex? You’ve never talked about your family.”

Alex gave Regina a surprised glance. “Not much to tell. My father was an alcoholic. He was a mean son of a bitch when he was drunk, which was most of the time.” Alex shrugged her shoulders. “My mother just endured it. I guess she didn’t think she deserved better at the time. The best thing that happened was when she gathered me and my brother up one night and walked out.”

Regina squeezed Alex’s hand. “I’m so sorry, Alex.”

“It was a long time ago.” Alex looked away from Regina. Damn, I can still hear them yelling at each other. Where the hell is this coming from?

“How old were you?” Regina could see Alex clench her jaw, turning her face away at the question.

“I don’t know, maybe thirteen or fourteen.” Alex closed her eyes trying to clamp down on the painful memories of what became a vicious cycle of going from one shelter to another as her mother tried many times to break away from her father’s abusive nature.

When her mother lost her job and couldn’t pay the rent, Alex and her brother Michael were separated and sent to different foster families. The whole thing had been one agonizing nightmare that seemed like it would never end at the time.

“Where’s your mother now?” Regina asked, keeping a firm hold on Alex’s hand. She could feel the woman behind her tense at the question.

“Last I knew she was out west in Arizona.” Alex told her. “I…we don’t really talk to each other that much anymore.”

Alex squeezed Regina against her and was quiet for a time, lost in her own thoughts. She decided that night in the hospital as she lay next to Regina while she slept, that regardless of the consequences, even if it meant losing her friendship, she needed to be honest with her. She cared about her young friend and she at least deserved to hear the truth about what happened with Dana and Lana. “Regina, I need to tell you something.”

“What?” She twisted around, hearing the catch in Alex’s voice.

Alex pulled her hand away and let her arms rest on her knees. “Listen, you know I sold drugs for Dana when I was in medical school.”

“Alex, you don’t owe me any explanations. It was along time ago,” Regina said quietly.

“Just let me say this. Please?” It would be so easy to simply omit the events that took place then.

Regina nodded her head, not quite sure that she wanted to hear what Alex had to tell her.

“I wasn’t stupid Regina. I knew what I was getting into and I was just desperate enough to do it so I could help Lana get the medicine she needed.” Alex’s throat muscles worked as she swallowed. “The medicine I thought she needed because I was so full of myself…thought I knew what was best for her at the time. I was too damn blind to see that all she wanted to do was to let go and die.”

“Alex, you don’t have to tell me this,” Regina protested feebly. She wasn’t sure if she was trying to protect herself or Alex from hearing what she had to say.

“Yes, I do,” Alex insisted, quietly. “If I don’t tell you now,” she looked up at the sky and took a breath, “you’ll just find out later.”

“What are you talking about?” Regina asked, frowning up at her friend.

“I’ve done some pretty fucked up things in my life, did more drugs than I care to think about, had sex just for the hell of it, and used people because it suited my purposes at the time.”

Regina was quiet as she absorbed all that Alex was telling her.

“There’s something else, Regina. I…I set Dana up last week.”

Regina turned around so she could see her friend’s face in the moonlit darkness. “What are you talking about? I don’t understand.”

Alex closed her eyes, unable to look at Regina as the shock slowly registered on her face. “I set up a drug deal the day I was at Dana’s store. The police always had a hunch that Dana was dealing drugs out of the cellar but didn’t have enough to get a warrant. I just helped them along.”

Regina’s jaw worked several times before she uttered a single word. “You what? But, wait a minute, what about the store? I thought it was yours, now. Doesn’t that connect you?” Regina asked, trying desperately to make some sense of what Alex was telling her.

Alex shook her head. “I never inherited the store.” She pulled the envelope out of her jacket that the lawyer gave to her and held it out to Regina. “You can read it later, if you want to.”

Regina took the envelope from Alex and held it loosely in her hands. “You told me that you inherited it, Alex.” Regina wasn’t sure what hurt more, the fact that Alex lied to her or that she didn’t trust her enough to tell her what was going on.

Alex felt Regina pull away from her. “I know I did.” The doctor lifted herself up from behind Regina and jumped down to the ground. She walked over and leaned against a tree by the water’s edge. Somehow the physical distance made it easier to tell Regina what she had done.

“The title to the store was always in Dana’s name, not mine. Lana set it up with the lawyer before she died. It was all a set up so Dana would get caught, if I kept my promise. Lana made sure of it.”

“What did you promise to do, Alex?” Regina’s voice broke the silence.

“It’s complicated.” Alex turned around in the dark. She could see Regina’s body silhouetted in the moonlight, still sitting on the rock, her arms wrapped tightly around her knees, watching her.

“Well, why don’t you try and explain it to me Alex, because I’d really like to try and understand.” Regina stared back at her.

Alex sighed and shoved her hands in her pockets. “Lana turned the store over to her sister when she got too sick to run it herself. When she found out what Dana was doing with the store, it just made a bad situation worse.”

“Didn’t she try and stop her?”

“Of course she did, Regina.” Alex turned around angrily. “It was her kid sister who’d been a screw up for half of her life. Lana kept trying to give her the benefit of the doubt. She always believed that Dana would turn around somehow.”

“I guess she never did.” Regina carefully lowered herself to the ground and walked toward her brooding friend.

Alex was quiet for a minute. “No, and when Lana found out what I’d done to get the medication for her – I might as well have stuck a knife in her back and twisted it.”

“So what happened?”

Alex focused on Regina for the first time since she started talking. “Before she died I promised Lana I’d take care of her sister, get her out of the store and off the drugs. It was Lana’s last request.” Alex stared down at her hands helplessly. “I would have done anything to make it all up to her. I messed everything up between us.”

“So you set Dana up? What was that supposed to accomplish?” Regina stared up at Alex, seeing the tense outline of her profile in the darkness.

“I already tried everything else. You can’t force an adult into drug rehab and Dana couldn’t handle stopping cold – she always went back to it. I figured if she lost the store and got thrown in jail, it would be hard, but she would be forced off the drugs and away from dealing them.”

“Why didn’t you tell me what you were doing, Alex?”

Alex ran a hand through her hair and stared out into the darkness. “I didn’t know what was going to happen, what I would have to do that day.” Her voice trailed off. “To Dana, sex and drugs have always meant power and control. She’s an expert at manipulation.”

Regina dropped her eyes, feeling a knot starting in the pit of her stomach, as she realized what Alex was referring to. “Did…did you sleep with her?” Regina stammered.

Alex jerked her head up and looked over at Regina. “No, no. Regina, please believe me. I just got her involved enough to let her think that we were going to. I injected her with Rohypnol so she wouldn’t remember anything afterwards. I needed time to find her book that had all of her contacts in it.”

Regina shook her head in disbelief and ran both her hands through her hair. “You what? How? Where did you get it? I mean, Jesus, Alex, that stuff is illegal.”

“So is selling drugs, Regina.”

“Damn it Alex, you know what I mean,” Regina snapped at her.

“I bought it from someone. Enough money can buy you just about anything you want today.”

“Alex, didn’t you think about what could happen if you got caught?” Regina peered up at the woman, her pale eyes hidden by her dark bangs. She could see the walls rising up, one by one, slowly pushing her away and shutting her out. The blonde leaned forward, gently cupped Alex’s cheek with her hand, lifting her head and watching her eyes close as a single tear ran down her face. Regina brushed it away with her thumb.

Alex let out a caustic laugh and wiped her face with her hands, pulling away from the smaller woman’s touch. “At the time Regina, I really didn’t care anymore. By rights I should have lost my license to practice medicine and been thrown in jail.” She let out a breath and turned away, crossing her arms over her chest. “You were the last person I ever expected to be on the other end of the phone that night you called me.” Alex’s voice was a hoarse whisper. She leaned back against the tree wishing it would just mercifully swallow her up and let her disappear.

“When you said you weren’t coming back, I knew you were talking about more than just the hospital.” Regina took hold of Alex’s arm and squeezed it. “I couldn’t let you do that, Alex.”

Alex shook her head. “You weren’t supposed to be there. If something went wrong, I didn’t want you involved.”

“And what did you expect me to do if something did go wrong, just walk away? I couldn’t do that if I wanted to, Alex.”

The taller woman shook her head. “Regina, don’t do this,” she pleaded. “Please I…I’m not…shit.” Her voice cracked and she pulled her face away from Regina’s touch. “I don’t know why you’d want to be involved with me. All I’ve ever managed to do is hurt people.” Alex turned her head away and angrily wiped the tears from her face.

“Damn it, that’s not true. And I already told you I didn’t know you then. I only know the person you are now. Alex, please don’t shut me out,” Regina whispered to her. Can’t you see I’ve been falling in love with you since we met?

She stepped up in front of her and slipped her arms around Alex’s waist, pulling her into a hug. She could hear the hammering of Alex’s heartbeat beneath her ear. Slowly it calmed, as the tension in Alex’s body relaxed ever so slowly. Alex slid her own arms around the blonde holding onto her tightly as she buried her face in Regina’s shoulder, her body shuddering as a sob quietly escaped her lips.

Regina felt a blanket of peacefulness surround them and she could have stayed like that wrapped securely in Alex’s arms, her head resting comfortably on her shoulder, listening to her heartbeat. Finally, she pulled away and took Alex’s face in both her hands feeling the soft strands of Alex’s dark hair brush against the back of her hands.

Regina smoothed her bangs and smiled wistfully at Alex and when she finally opened her eyes and looked at her, she wondered when her heart betrayed her and started to cross that invisible line between friendship and something much deeper. She realized as she stood there that she couldn’t walk away from Alex because the feeling of doing just that and playing it safe tore at her heart in a way she never imagined possible.

She wasn’t sure who initiated it, but they were both leaning closer, slowly closing the space between them. It was the barest of touches as their lips brushed together, then Regina felt Alex pull back and look at her, raising trembling fingers to touch her face. The taller woman ducked her head again to kiss Regina and then pulled her back into a fierce embrace.

Regina hardly remembered the walk back to the Jeep in the dark. She just remembered Alex handing her the keys and slumping down into the passenger seat, staring numbly out the window. She cast a couple of wary glances at Alex on the drive back to her condo and wondered what it taken for the woman to confide in her.

Regina couldn’t shake the image from her head of Alex leaning against the tree, eyes closed, with tears running down her face. It was obvious that Alex had been deeply hurt by Lana’s death and her involvement with Dana. It was as though a part of her had been destroyed and even now a piece of her was still missing.

Regina stepped out of the Jeep and tucked Alex’s keys in her pocket, firmly shaking her head as Alex reached her hand out for them.

“You’re not driving home like this, Alex.” Despite her protests, Regina took hold of Alex’s arm and guided her back to the condo. The blonde closed the door behind them and set the keys on the table. She watched as Alex walked over to the couch and slumped down, resting her head in her hands.

“Alex, are you ok?” Regina walked over and sat down next to her, resting a hand on her knee.

The brunette straightened her shoulders and pulled away from Regina. She never revealed to anyone what she told Regina tonight, and it left her feeling raw and vulnerable inside. A large part of her expected the resident to tell her to just get lost and she wouldn’t have blamed her if she had.

“Yeah, I’m fine.” She mentally slammed the doors closed on the emotions lying just beneath her ragged defenses. Alex stood up, avoiding Regina’s eyes. “I’m sorry, Regina, I don’t usually get like that. I should go.” She started to walk away, looking for her keys.

“Alex, wait.” Regina reached out and grasped Alex’s hand, turning her palm over and bringing it to her lips. She kissed the soft skin as she looked up at Alex’s face, watching as the dark-haired woman closed her eyes, swaying slightly as she stood in the middle of the floor.

Regina stood up and reached her hand out to touch Alex, running her fingers lightly over her lower lip. The taller woman leaned into Regina’s touch, closing her own hand over the smaller one and resting her cheek against it. She stood silently, not trusting her voice.

“Stop running away from me. I want you to stay,” Regina whispered, pulling her closer, wrapping her arms tightly around her waist.

They stood there holding onto each other until Alex finally opened her eyes, looking down into trusting green ones. Regina reached up, gently capturing Alex’s lips with her own. It was a long slow exploration, slowly building in its intensity, both of them feeling the desire building as they melted against each other caresses.

Alex felt an electric current go through her, followed by a sense of panic that she was doing the wrong thing. She didn’t want to force Regina into anything she didn’t feel comfortable with, and having made that mistake once already, she didn’t intend to repeat it. The doctor broke off the kiss and gently unwrapped Regina’s arms from around her waist. She leaned forward touching her forehead to Regina’s. “Oh god, you have no idea what you’re doing to me.”

“Then stay.” Regina let her hand drift down to Alex’s, clasping their hands together.

“No, I should go, so you can get some sleep. We’ve got to be in early in the morning.” Alex rubbed her back, enjoying the pressure of Regina’s body pressed against hers.

Regina picked her head up. “Alex, it’s late. Just stay, please?”

Alex regarded her quietly, then smiled, hanging her head down. “It seems I have no defense for you.”

“You don’t need one,” Regina whispered and tugged her hand as she led her into the bedroom. “Here.” She rummaged through one of her drawers and tossed a tee shirt to the doctor. “You look good in them.” She folded her arms over her chest and pursed her lips watching Alex’s reaction. “Hmm, it was especially nice seeing you stand there by the sliding door.”

“Y…You were awake?” She buried her face in the tee shirt and groaned audibly as she remembered standing by the sliding door watching the blonde sleep. “Let me go get changed before I get in any more trouble.”

When she returned from the bathroom, Regina was already curled up on the mattress, smiling as Alex approached the bed. The doctor crawled into the bed and stretched out beside the blonde. “I can’t believe you were awake,” she whispered into her ear.

Regina snickered and snuggled closer to her friend. “You’re blushing.”

“I am not,” Alex growled, covering her eyes with her arm.

“You are too,” Regina teased and pulled the blankets up over the both of them.

Alex smiled at the gentle banter and whispered back to her. “I am not.”

“Give it up, you’re busted and you know it.” The blonde rubbed her hand over Alex’s stomach, smiling as she heard the older woman’s breathing deepen as she relaxed in the bed. “Alex?”

“What?” The doctor slowly opened her eyes and looked over at the younger woman.

“Thanks for trusting me tonight. It means a lot to me that you do.” Regina said, her eyes twinkling gently as she smiled up at the woman.

Alex stared at Regina incredulously. “I…um, you’re welcome,” she whispered, then reached up and turned off the light.
Chapter Eighteen
Regina finished changing into her scrubs and shut her locker. She slipped an elastic band from her wrist and pulled her damp hair back into a braid. She wasn’t sure how she managed to wake up on time, because she laid awake in bed thinking for a long time after Alex had drifted off to sleep, emotionally exhausted from her confession.

Alex had held her firmly at arms’ length for so long despite the attraction that they both felt was there. Regina smiled to herself, knowing that last night had been a crossroads of sorts for them with the older woman finally letting her inside. She liked being there, knowing that for Alex there were few people who she trusted enough to let them get that close. It made her feel special.

The door swung open and Sandy bustled in, interrupting her thoughts.

“Hey, Regina.” Sandy walked over to her locker and opened it. “What did you and Alex end up doing last night?”

Regina stared at Sandy’s back for a few seconds before her brain finally kicked her mouth into gear. “Uh, we went for a walk.”

“Yeah? Where’d you go?” Sandy asked, as she tugged her scrub top over her head.

Alarm bells started sounding in Regina’s head as she tried not to stammer.

“By the reservoir,” Regina said, certain that her face was now three shades darker than when the conversation first started. She turned around and opened her locker, fishing inside needlessly for an extra pen. “How’s it look out there today? Busy?” she asked, hoping to change the conversation.

“Well, if it was going to be quiet, you just jinxed us for sure.” Sandy winked at her and opened the door. “Oh, hi Alex. Have a nice walk last night?” She smiled impishly up at the attending and walked out into the department.

Alex looked at the closing door, then back at Regina’s face. “Hi. You ok?”

“Yeah, I’m fine. I just need some coffee.” Regina stifled a yawn. She wasn’t sure what made her so uncomfortable about Sandy asking her about last night. Maybe it was just the fact that Sandy knew Tina and well, that’s how stories got started around here.

The taller woman nodded at the white bag she set on the bench. She had extricated herself from Regina’s embrace around five a.m. and kissed the blonde, telling her she would meet her at work. “I picked up a couple of cups at the diner. Milk and sugar.”

Regina watched as Alex slipped out of her shirt, leaving well-toned upper body clad only in a sports bra. “Thanks, you didn’t have to do that.”

“I know.” Alex pulled a set of scrubs from the pile on the cart. Quickly stripping out of the rest of her clothes she pulled on her scrub top. Regina blinked and felt a wave of heat rush through her body as she watched from her seat on the bench.

Alex turned around as she pulled on the bottoms. Noticing the slightly unfocused look on Regina’s face, she raised an eyebrow in question. “What’s wrong?”

Regina shook her head. “Nothing, I, uh, oh boy.” She quickly stood up and walked to the door feeling flustered by her reaction to seeing Alex undressing in front of her. “I need to go. I’m going to go check and see if we uh, have any patients.”

“What about your coffee?”

Regina turned and opened the door, slipping out of the locker room, and left Alex standing there wondering what she had just missed.

The resident didn’t see the medical director bearing down on her until it was too late and she collided into Dr. Jameson. The stack of folders he was carrying flew into the air and scattered across the floor in disarray.

“Oh, I’m sorry.” Regina dropped quickly to her knee and scrambled to pick up the papers that dropped to the floor.

“Son of a bitch! Why don’t you watch where the hell you’re going next time?” he said as he rushed to pick everything up. He glared at her and yanked the papers quickly out of Regina’s hand.

Regina stood up and took a breath, watching him walk down the corridor and disappear around the corner. “Prick!” She said under her breath and headed over to the nurse’s station.

Sandy looked up as Regina appeared in front of her. “God, is he always such a jerk?” Regina asked, still feeling stung by his obnoxious remark.

Sandy nodded her head. “He’s got absolutely no social skills whatsoever. Don’t waste your time on it. Hey, Marcus is down in room five. I think he could use a hand in there.”

“What’s he got?” Regina asked.

“A shoulder dislocation that he can’t reduce.” Sandy said. “The guy was screaming before Marcus even touched him.”

Regina switched directions and headed down the hallway, grateful for the chance to be busy with a patient. Marcus looked up at Regina as she walked into the room and gave her a pathetically relieved smile. “Regina, I can’t reduce his shoulder. He fell off a ladder and popped it out when he landed on the ground.”

Regina walked up to the stretcher and peered down at the man. “Hi, I’m Dr. Kingston. What’s your name?”

“Thomas.” He looked Regina up and down, his eyes widening. “You said you were getting help, doc.” He looked over at Marcus, a worried look on his face. “She’s half your size. What’s she going to be able to do if you can’t yank it back into place?”

Regina gave him a wry smile. She pulled on a pair of gloves. “You look like you play football.”

“Yeah.” He said, watching her warily as she filled a needle with medication.

“What position?” Regina asked.

“Linebacker.”

“Hold still. I’m giving you some more muscle relaxant.” He winced as the needle pierced his skin. “So what were you doing up on a ladder so early today?” Regina asked, glancing up at Marcus giving him a knowing look, as she threw the needle in the sharps container. “Thomas, I want you to roll over and hang your arm off the edge of the table. Marcus get me a sandbag so I can weight his arm down.”

“Is it going to hurt a lot?” He asked.

Regina sat on the floor and crossed her legs. “Probably when the joint slips back in place. Ok, Thomas I’m going to strap this weight around your wrist.” She took the sandbag that Marcus handed to her.

“Now what?” Thomas said, looking down at Regina.

Regina smiled up at him. “Tom, this will go a lot easier if you trust me.” Regina took hold of his arm after a few minutes and turned it slowly back and forth. She felt a subtle pop as the joint slid back into place. “Ok, that should do it. Marcus, let me know what the post-reduction film looks like.”

******

Alex walked into the conference room and spotted Jon sitting at the other end of the table. She walked over and slipped into the chair next to him. “Hi. How’s Chris doing?”

“Tired and she’s pulling a double shift today,” he said, reaching across the table for a donut.

Alex surveyed the table. “Oh great, Jameson calls us in here so we can listen to another drug rep. Wonderful, like we don’t have better things to do with our time.”

“How do you know it’s a drug rep?” Jon asked, wiping the white powder from his lips.

“Who else comes in here and plies us with this crap?” She pointed at the pile of donuts on the table, then crossed her arms and tilted her head so she could peer under the table. She spied a brown box and reached out with her foot, tilting it toward her. “Uh, huh a whole box of samples to give out.”

Jon shook his head. “Alex, you are getting too cynical in your old age.”

Alex sat back in her chair, her eyes narrowing as Dr. Jameson walked into the room smiling and laughing at what the woman walking beside him was saying.

“Thanks for inviting me, Dr. Jameson.” She smiled and looked around the room as he took his seat. “Hi everyone, my name is Donna Sanders.”

Jon turned his head and rolled his eyes at Alex as the bubbly personality standing in front of them, dressed in a snug fitting pant suit, launched into her monologue. Across the room, a beeper shrilled noisily and the medical director fumbled with the one on his belt in irritation, finally silencing it after several seconds.

“I know you’re all really busy so I won’t keep you long.” The rep breezed through several minutes of research about a new drug she wanted the doctors to try for their trauma patients.

Alex settled back in her chair and crossed her arms, letting her mind wander far from the meeting. A smile played at her lips as her mind conjured up an image of one blonde-haired petite woman smiling back at her. Jon leaned over and discreetly nudged her elbow.

“Care to let me in on what’s so amusing?” he whispered to her.

The dark-haired woman turned her head slowly and raised an eyebrow.

“Ok, I’ll take that as a ‘no’,” he said quietly and went back to listening to the woman at the head of the table.

Alex watched as the woman dug through her leather briefcase and pulled out a thick file that she set on the table.

“Dr. Margulies, I was wondering if you could look at something for me?”

Alex lifted her head and met challenging brown ones staring back at her. “I’m sorry, I didn’t get your name.” She leaned forward in her chair, folding her hands loosely on the table.

“Donna. Donna Sanders,” the woman replied impatiently.

Alex nodded her head, feeling the tension in the room rising palpably, as Dr. Jameson shot her a warning look from across the table. What are you up to now, Jim?

“What’s your question, Ms. Sanders?”

The drug representative opened the file and pulled out several packets of paper. “I was wondering why your team of doctors haven’t been using this medication on your trauma patients that are at risk for cardiac complications in this emergency department.”

Alex raised an eyebrow and reached her arm out across the table. “May I?” She smiled easily up at the woman and took the file from her. She scanned down a list of names -most of them were patients that had been treated over the second and third quarters of the year in the emergency department. She recognized several by the primary diagnosis and detailed medical history printed on the sheets. Her irritation growing at the presumptuous attitude, Alex shoved the papers over to Jon and picked up the file containing the research.

“Dr. Margulies?” The drug rep leaned forward on the table, watching with interest.

Alex scanned the data quickly, set the file down on the table and closed it. She looked up, her eyes narrowing as she focused on the adversary standing across from her.

“Ms. Sanders, this,” Alex looked down at the folder in disgust and shoved it back across the table at her, “research isn’t worth the paper it’s written on. For one thing, there aren’t enough subjects for it to be statistically relevant and a first year med student could put together a better research model than your staff did.”

“That research has been backed up by the AMA,” the rep defended testily.

Alex laughed. “Really? In what journal? Oh, and let me guess, T&M funded the research trials? From what I’ve read, that medication is useful on a very small population and there are no independent trials that have proven that its benefits outweigh the complications of prolonged use, which the FDA reports is longer than twenty-four hours.” Standing up from her chair, Alex ran her fingers along the surface of the table as she stepped closer to the woman. “Tell me Ms. Sanders, who’s paying who for the list of patient names from our ER?” Alex glared at Dr. Jameson as she said this.

The woman’s face reddened and her body stiffened at the accusation. “That is perfectly legal. You know that pharmaceutical benefit management firms approve every drug a patient takes. It’s in our database.”

“Legal or not,” Alex was face to face with the woman now, “I think these patients would find it rather embarrassing that some stranger knows the intimate details of their medical history, all for the sake of selling a drug and making a profit. I find that offensive. Why don’t you come back when you have something of relevance to discuss?” She stalked out, leaving the rest of the room in stunned silence.

She was halfway down the hall when Jon jogged up beside her. “Jesus, Alex, are you trying to make enemies in there?”

She turned to him, still bristling at the brazenness of the drug rep. “Do yourself a favor, Jon. Stay out of whatever scheme Jameson has going on.”

“I’m with you Alex, but be careful. Jameson is already gunning for you. All you did was just piss him off more.”

“So let him.” She took a breath and shook her head, letting go of some of the anger that welled up inside from the unexpected confrontation.

The door from the conference room banged open behind them and Dr. Jameson stormed past the two doctors. He stopped mid-stride and whirled around, glaring up at Alex. “This isn’t over by a long shot, Alex. I’m still the medical director here.”

“Then act like it.” She pushed open the stairwell door she looked back at Jon. “I’ll catch up to you later. I’m covering the clinic this afternoon.”

******

Aside from the normal minor accidents, mostly bumps and bruises, the day had been relatively quiet so far. Regina finished the paperwork for the man she treated earlier. He was in surgery now, having his index finger re-attached after a run in with a lawn mower and stick that was stuck in the blades.

The resident looked up at the clock and realized that it was late in the afternoon and she had yet to see Alex after they met in the locker room when they first came in to the hospital. She walked down the hallway toward the nurse’s station, hoping to find her.

Sandy was busy talking to a doctor at the other end of the room. Turning around, Regina noticed a man standing at the desk holding a clipboard, looking lost and definitely out of place in his suit and tie.

He smiled, obviously relieved as he saw Regina approaching him. She groaned inwardly, hoping that this wasn’t another drug rep peddling their newest, latest concoction that had a list of side-effects long enough to make a dead person roll over in their grave. They were always coming in, trying to get the doctors to use another medication, taking up valuable time spouting off statistics from supposed studies that had been funded sometimes from the company producing the drug.

“Hi, my name’s Dean. Is Dr. Jameson around?”

“I don’t know. I can have him paged, if you want.” Regina said, more than happy to pawn him off on someone else.

“That would be great. I have some new IV pumps he wanted to use in the department. I just need his signature to release them to him.”

The unit clerk looked up at Regina. “I got it, Dr. Kingston.” She picked up the phone and dialed the number. “Hi. I need Dr. Jon Jameson paged to the ER. Thanks.” She hung up the phone. “If he’s in he’ll call back.” She looked at the man standing in front of her.

Regina went back to pulling up some lab reports on the computer, then finished writing out discharge orders for two of her patients and called radiology to check on another she sent down earlier for a series of tests. She was aware of Dean fidgeting as he stood by the desk, looking nervous and checking his watch periodically.

“Excuse me.” He leaned over the desk. “Do you think you could page him again? I have another client I have to meet with and I don’t want to be late.”

Regina looked up from the computer and glanced over at the clock. This was sure to piss their medical director off, paging him twice in less than fifteen minutes. “I’d give him some more time.”

Two minutes later the ER doors banged open at the other end of the hallway. Dr. Jameson stormed toward the desk. “Who the hell paged me out of my meeting?” He ignored the startled glances he got from the staff and patients alike as he marched past the crowded waiting room.

Regina watched as his nostrils flared and the pupils dilated in his eyes as his nervous system shifted into overdrive. Oh shit. “He needs a signature to release these pumps to you.” She pointed at the rep standing across from the desk.

“Dr. Kingston, don’t you know anybody could have signed for these goddamn pumps! What are you stupid?” He shouted at the resident, leaning over the desk at her.

Regina stepped back, staring in shock at the doctor’s outburst. “Dr. Jameson, I…”

“Damn residents,” he cursed. “None of you can make a decision without someone holding your hand.”

Sandy leaned across the desk. “Why don’t you shut your mouth, before you have every patient in the waiting room out here watching your performance.”

“Stay out of it,” he snapped at her.

“Uh, Dr. Jameson.” The rep tried desperately to intervene. “You probably just don’t remember. You said you were the only one who could sign for these.”

“That’s ridiculous. I can’t believe you people would pull me out of a meeting to come down here and sign for this crap.” He grabbed the clipboard out of the rep’s hands and hastily scrawled his signature on the sheet, ripping the edge of the paper with the force of his pen.

Slamming his hand down on the counter, he glared at Regina. “Next time, sign for the pumps yourself.” He never finished his sentence as a look of utter shock came over his face. His jaw worked and his hand gripped the chest high counter, the skin over his knuckles whitening as he held on for support. His eyelids were fluttering closed and Regina could see the whites of his eyes as they rolled back up into his head.

“What the…?” Ah, shit.” Sandy jumped to her feet and darted past the desk.

“Get out of the way.” Regina scrambled around a chair, pushing the drug rep out of the way. She grabbed Dr. Jameson around his waist, as he started an awkward slide down to the cold tile floor. Regina staggered back under his weight, trying unsuccessfully to let him down slowly. She scooted around to his shoulders and shook him roughly. “Dr. Jameson?” His eyes fluttered open and for a moment he focused on her and then the light seemed to fade out of brown eyes, leaving them flat and lifeless.

Regina felt for his carotid pulse in his neck. She closed her eyes, willing her own heart to stop racing so she could concentrate on feeling for the heart beat. She shook her head and bent closer over his mouth, listening and feeling for air. Damn. “Sandy! Get the crash cart, now!”

“Do you have a pulse?” The nurse started backpedaling down the hall.

“No. No pulse, no respirations,” Regina called out to her. Son of a bitch, I can’t believe this is happening. She tilted his head back and pressed her mouth over his, pinching off his nose and giving him two breaths. She slid down to his chest and started pumping on his chest.

“C…can I do anything?” The rep asked, bending over her.

Regina glanced up at his face, as she kept pressing down on the medical director’s sternum. “Yeah, go sit down and put your head between yours knees.” I don’t need you passing out, too. She scooted back up to Dr. Jameson’s head and blew air twice more into his lungs.

Sandy pulled the cart up beside them. “I’ll get a twelve lead on him.” She ripped open his shirt, popping the buttons off and scattering them across the floor. The nurse started slapping the leads and wires onto his chest, then flipped the portable monitor on and waited for it to pick up the rhythm of his heart. “Stop compressions.”

Regina sat back on her heels and grabbed the ambu-bag off the top of the cart. She looked over at the nurse’s station and found the unit clerk staring down at them in shock.

“Call a code. We need help down here.” She looked back up at the monitor. “Shit, he’s in V-fib.” Regina watched the rhythm on the monitor that told her the chambers of his heart were contracting ineffectively, his blood pooling uselessly there. “Give me the paddles and charge to 200 joules.” Sandy squirted the gel on and rubbed them together, handing them to Regina. She waited until the machine charged. “Clear!”

Regina leaned over and depressed the buttons. The high-pitched whine of electricity powered through the cables and the medical director’s body convulsed on the floor as the counter shock tried to get the heart to start beating normally.

A door slammed open and she heard footsteps running down the hallway from behind her, then Alex was crouching down on the floor beside her. “What happened?” The attending looked up at the monitor, studying the rhythm briefly.

“He was yelling and then he just went down,” Sandy explained.

“Sandy, we need an IV line hook-up and a blood gas.”

“Got it.” She handed Alex the setup from the cart.

Alex bent over the doctor and snapped rubber tubing around his upper arm. “Someone, get these people out of here. We don’t need an audience,” Alex ordered as she saw several family members walking hesitantly toward the commotion on the floor. She jabbed the vessel with the needle and reached up, taking the line from Sandy and piggybacking it to the IV catheter.

Regina watched as the rhythm of the heart on the monitor fluctuated and then fell back into ventricular fibrillation. She reached up and turned the knob to 260 joules. “Clear.”

Alex sat back on her heels and lifted her hands away from the body.

Placing the paddles on the already reddened areas of his chest, Regina depressed the buttons and watched as the electricity shocked the heart briefly out of its near-fatal rhythm. “Shit, come on, don’t you do this.” Regina charged the machine to 300 joules and shocked him again.

Setting the paddles down, the resident yanked open the drawers on the code cart and pulled out an ET tube. “I’ve shocked him three times and he’s still in V-fib.”

“Give me one milligram of epinephrine.” Alex held her hand out for the syringe.

Regina tilted his head back and opened his mouth. Inserting the scope, she slid the ET tube down into the trachea. “It’s in. Bag him.”

“I’ve got it,” Dr. Torres said breathlessly as he knelt down next to Regina. He heard the code being called just as he was sitting down to eat in the cafeteria. The doctor took the bag and began rhythmically squeezing it. More footsteps came running down the corridor as the rest of the code team arrived only minutes after it was announced overhead.

“Charging at 360.” Regina leaned over Dr. Jameson’s chest. “Clear!” She depressed the buttons and shocked him again. Over the clamor of voices and the chaos around them as other patients were brought into the ER, they went through the same sequence three more times. After the third defibrillation and an injection of lidocaine, they finally managed to get a normal rhythm on the monitor.

Alex looked up at the crowd of faces, mostly junior residents and interns that always responded in code situations. She pointed at one of them. “You, go get a stretcher and make yourself useful. Somebody call the cardiac unit. Tell them we need a bed now.”

No one moved as they stared down in shock at the medical director lying splayed out on the floor, covered in a sprawl of wires and IV tubing. Alex glanced around and pulled herself up to her full height. “I said move. Now!” They scattered. She stared back down at the floor littered with bloody gauze, ampoules of medication, and packages of medical instruments. “Sandy, find out what attending is covering the cardiac service tonight and tell them to get them in here now.”

Several of the junior residents lifted the limp body of Dr. Jameson up onto the stretcher.

“Let’s get him up to the CCU now,” Alex said, as she slipped a portable cardiac monitor onto the stretcher and hooked the leads to it. “We’ve got it.” She looked over at Dr. Torres.

He turned the ambu-bag over to Regina, who took over squeezing the bag as she started pulling the stretcher and Alex pushed from behind. They stopped at the elevator and waited, neither saying anything as the shock of the whole situation settled on them. The doors opened and several staff members turned around laughing and joking amongst themselves.

“Off, now, we need the elevator,” Alex said, motioning with her head. The laughter died down and they filed quickly out to either side of the stretcher.

“Thanks,” Regina said quietly, as one of the nurses looked up at her and smiled faintly. The doors slid closed behind them and Alex punched the button for the third floor.

She looked down at the monitor, checking the rhythm, and then back up at Regina. “You ok?” she asked, seeing the haggard look on Regina’s face.

Regina nodded her head and went to move her hair back off her face until she saw the blood on her hands. She made a face and wiped them off on her scrubs. “One minute he’s standing there screaming at us because of some stupid IV pumps and the next,” she spread her hands out in a helpless gesture, “he just gets this weird look on his face and goes down.”

Alex looked up as the door opened. She leaned back and pulled the stretcher out of the elevator. It was a short walk down the corridor and through the glass doors, onto the critical care unit. Alex waited at the desk as Regina started writing a note in the medical record. She hesitated before she leaned over and touched her shoulder. “I’ll meet you downstairs while you finish up here. I’ve got to make some phone calls.”

An hour later, Regina still felt numb as she pushed the door open and walked into the ER department. The evidence of the chaos that took place earlier was gone except for a small group of staff, standing at the back of the department talking in hushed tones.

Sandy walked up to Regina as she neared the desk. “How is he?”

“Alive. He’s got an eighty percent blockage in three of his arteries. They’re going to take him down to the OR and do a triple bypass.”

Sandy stood beside the resident. “You ok?”

“Yeah, just great. I guess I need to finish seeing my patients.” Regina looked up at the board and noticed that most of the patients she had been treating before were gone. “Hey, who took my patients?”

“Jon and Alex.”

Regina walked down the hall and stuck her head into one of the rooms. “Hey, you didn’t have to finish all my patients, Alex.”

“I didn’t. Jon and I split them. We needed the beds.” She finished tying off a knot on the leg wound she was stitching closed. “Don’t worry, you didn’t miss much. Two head lacerations and this one,” she nodded at the man lying passed out on the stretcher, “kicked in a plate glass window.” She took the scissors and cut the silk thread. Alex looked up at Regina. “How is he?”

Regina shrugged her shoulders and repeated what she told Sandy earlier.

Alex nodded her head impassively. “Our shift’s over. You want to get something to eat? I’m almost done here.”

“That’s the best offer I’ve heard all day.” Regina felt a warm thrill pass through her as the tired blue eyes lit up and a radiant smile flashed back at her.

******

The diner was crowded and noisy, so they ordered Chinese food instead. They were both off tomorrow, the first time all week, and neither cared about staying up late.

“Hey, I know a great spot where you can see the New York City skyline. You interested?”

“Let’s go.” Regina chuckled, knowing that Alex couldn’t stand being around crowds of people for long, especially after a hectic day in the hospital.

True to form, Alex drove through a winding, narrow one-way road that led up to a vacant parking lot. Together they walked over to a couple of benches and settled down next to each other to eat. It was a clear night and they could see the skyline lit up from across the river.

Alex leaned back, stretching her long legs out in front of her and crossed her ankles. “You did good in there, today.”

Regina finished chewing her egg roll and swallowed. “Thanks. I don’t think I’d want to be in that position too often. It’s very surreal working on someone you know.”

“Mm.” Alex turned her head and regarded the blonde. “Have you heard anything from your parents?”

Regina shook her head. “I talked to Jeff yesterday. He wants to come out here for the holidays and bring Darryl with him.”

“So you could spend the holiday with part of your family.” Alex glanced over at the blonde, who was chuckling. “What’s so funny?”

“I was just thinking about you, meeting my brother.”

“Is that a problem?”

“No, except that I think he thinks you’re a guy.”

“What? You told him about me?”

“Kind of. I called him when we got suspended to ask his advice and he just made the assumption. I didn’t correct him and at the time it didn’t seem that important.”

Alex snorted and slumped lower on the bench. “Didn’t seem important, humph.”

“At the time, it didn’t seem important,” Regina corrected and poked her playfully in the side, trying to keep the conversation from getting too serious.

Alex grabbed her hand and kept Regina from trying to tickle her again. “Is it important, now?”

“You mean telling my brother about us? I think it is,” Regina replied softly.

“Why’s that?” Alex leaned closer, letting her lips graze Regina’s ear.

The blonde closed her eyes and gasped softly as Alex slipped her arm under her jacket and pulled her closer. “I can’t concentrate with you doing that,” Regina protested weakly.

“Do you want me to stop?” Alex stopped nibbling on her earlobe and pulled back to look at her.

“No,” came the breathless reply.

“So, why is it important now?” She pressed as her lips moved softly over the exposed skin on Regina’s neck.

“Oh, I God, I can’t believe we’re doing this on a park bench.”

“There’s no one around besides us and a few animals,” Alex chuckled and rubbed her cheek against Regina’s. “You haven’t answered my question, yet.” Her hands started a gentle rhythmic stroking of her back.

“I…I care about you, Alex.” Her hands slid around Alex’s neck as she pulled her closer. “I don’t know where this is going, but I know how I feel inside.”

Alex backed off and rested her forehead against Regina’s. “I care about you, too, but I…I’m scared,” she admitted.

“Don’t be scared, Alex. This feels incredible.” Regina lifted the dark woman’s face and smiled before she leaned up and placed a slow, lingering kiss on her lips.

They sat there quietly absorbing the warmth from each other’s body as their heart rates and ragged breathing returned to normal. Alex spoke first, breaking the companionable silence between them.

“So, what are you doing tomorrow?”

Regina hugged her gently, burying her head against the black leather jacket. She inhaled the smell of the rich leather and smiled at the vague sense of familiarity. “Try everything that I should have done this week but haven’t. How about you?”

“The same and then I have to head over to the hospital and do some things in Dr. Jameson’s office that he hadn’t gotten to before today.”

“Want some company?” Regina glanced up at the pale blue eyes looking back at her.

******

Later the next day, the doctor sat behind the medical director’s desk, her dark hair hanging loosely around her shoulders. She looked forlornly at the scattered piles of medical journals, discharged patient records, and stacks of paper, littering the small office. Great. How the hell am I supposed to find anything in this disaster area? With a resigned sigh, she set to work on organizing the office for a while and then, when she finally found it, finished putting together the budget for the emergency department that was already long overdue. As she sat at the desk, finishing her work, the doctor glanced out the window, her thoughts drifting easily to a more pleasant subject.

It had been a long time since Alex had someone that she shared similar views with, not just about treating patients, although through their work they did have a lot in common. There was a synchronicity that she felt with Regina, something intangible, that she just couldn’t put words to, but nevertheless it was there and she liked the way it made her feel inside.

A knock came at the door and Alex pulled herself out of her daydream. A now familiar face peered back at her from the doorway.

“Hi.” Alex’s face brightened and she stood up from the chair, stretching the kinks out of her tall frame.

Regina pushed off the doorframe and held out a bag. “Here, I figured you could use some food by now. Since you probably haven’t stopped to eat anything all day.”

“You didn’t have to do this, Regina.” Alex leaned against the desk, peering inside the bag. “Thanks,” she added softly.

She’d never been comfortable with anyone doing things for her. Usually it meant they were looking for something in return, although Alex was slowly learning, for Regina that was not the case, it was just who she was. Pulling out the container, she looked over at Regina in surprise. “You cooked this?” she asked, holding it in her hands.

Regina turned away hiding the warmth she felt spreading over her face and looked around the office before she answered. “Yeah, when was the last time you ate something other than cafeteria or take out food?”

Alex chuckled. “Good point. Wow, this is really good,” she said, in between bites of the pasta.

“God, this office is a mess,” Regina leaned on the desk, looking around in disgust.

Alex nodded as she swallowed another mouthful of food. “I already spent two hours sorting through junk. Do you know anyplace where I could rent a fork lift?”

Covering her face with her hand, Regina snickered. “You want some help going through the rest of this stuff?” She motioned with her hand at the waist-high stacks of dust-covered journals.

“Sure. Why don’t you start over there?” Alex pointed to a pile of journals in the corner of the office. “Anything over two years, just throw it out. The medical library has copies anyway.”

They worked side by side for several hours, sorting through outdated journals and filling several garbage cans with trash. At one point, Regina looked up to see Alex folding up a piece of paper into an airplane. Sitting back, she watched quietly as Alex, totally engrossed in what she was doing, creased the folds into the paper, inspected her work carefully and then raised her arm up for a test flight. Their eyes met when Alex glanced up and the look of surprise on her face made Regina think of a little kid getting caught with their hand in the proverbial cookie jar.

“I…uh,” Alex cleared her throat and looked down at the paper plane. “Just some stupid game my brother and I used to play when we were kids.” She shrugged her shoulders and tossed the plane into the air. It arced lazily upward, looped once and then spiraled toward the floor, coasting out into the hallway.

Regina’s eyes lit up as she watched it and she scrambled quickly to her feet, retrieving it from the floor. Standing in the empty hallway, she tossed the airplane into the air. It flew upward and then spiraled down to the floor, hitting nose first.

Alex followed her out, watching as the plane hit the ground, crumpling its nose. “Hey, you busted my plane,” she protested, pushing out her lower lip into a pout. She bent over and stood up holding the paper plane in her hands.

Regina looked up, her eyes widening and then she burst into laughter at the comical expression on Alex’s face. “I think we can fix it,” she assured the older woman, after she stopped laughing. Regina took the plane from Alex and smoothed the nose out with her fingers and handed it back to her. “How’s that?”

Alex took the plane, looking quickly down the empty hallway in both directions. With a glint of mischief in her eyes, she turned Regina around, put the plane in her hand and stood behind her. “Like this,” she said, and pulled Regina’s arm back. “Let go when I tell you. Now.” Regina released the plane and watched as it looped twice and spiraled halfway down the corridor before it glided silently to the floor.

“Wow.” Her mind lacked for any other description as her body reacted instantly to the sensation of Alex’s strong hands on her hips and Regina somehow found herself leaning back into her body.

Alex backed up a step as the more rational and logical side of her brain tapped her soundly on the shoulder and asked her if she might be losing her mind. What the hell is wrong with you? Christ, all you need is one of those ultra-conservative, highly starched executives to walk down the hall and you’ll both be history. “Uh, yeah. I think I should get back to this stuff. I still have a lot to get through.” Alex quickly turned away and ducked back into the office, still berating herself for acting so silly around Regina.

Regina let the erotic sensation fade before she finally moved from the spot she was standing and trotted down the hallway. Retrieving the plane, she smiled to herself as she held it in her hands, wondering if Alex realized how much of herself she revealed when she let her guard down like this. Walking back into the office, she set the plane on the desk.

“You didn’t tell me you had a brother, Alex.” Regina went back to sorting through journals, noticing that Alex tense briefly before she answered.

“I guess it just never came up before.”

“What’s his name?” Regina asked, trying not to sound like she was prying. She wanted to know more about Alex’s family but it was like pulling teeth to get her talk about herself.

“Michael.”

Regina considered asking Alex another question but decided she would leave it for another time. “So how long do you think Dr. Jameson is going to be out?” She smiled, congratulating herself for backing off when she did, as she watched Alex relax visibly in her chair.

“If all goes well, I imagine somewhere between six weeks and three months.”

“Mm. Housekeeping is going to love this,” Regina commented as she stood up and dragged another overflowing container into the hallway.

Alex grinned and crumpled a piece of paper in her hand and tossed it at Regina.

“There’s more for your collection,” she teased, as Regina caught and flipped it into the can. Alex set to work on another pile, sorting through papers. Her hands stilled and she stared down at the documents she uncovered moments before.

“Aw, shit.”

“What’s wrong?” Regina wiped her hands on her jeans, leaving two dusty handprints on her thighs. She walked over and knelt down beside Alex on the floor, peering over her shoulder at the papers.

Alex threw them down on the floor and cursed again. Standing up, she paced back and forth across the office.

Regina picked the papers up and read them, a frown creasing her brow. “Alex, I don’t understand. I thought all the research projects going on in the hospital had to be approved by the research committee.”

Alex stopped pacing and stood with her hands on her hips. “You’re right,” she pointed at the papers Regina was holding. “Apparently, he’s got a deal going with this drug company. Every time he dispenses this medication to a patient, he writes a note about the effectiveness of the treatment, even if it isn’t.” She snorted derisively. “If that’s what you want to call it. And then, they pay him.”

“Didn’t you tell me he did this before?” Regina sat back on her heals still looking up at Alex.

Alex nodded her head, staring down at the floor. Talk about stepping in shit. She turned to Regina, her eyes darkening with anger. “That son of a bitch. No wonder he was so hot to get me out of here. He knew if I found this, I could bury him, this time.”

Regina watched as Alex paced back and forth across the office. “Alex, what are you going to do?”

“Well, that depends. I could report him to Office of Investigations for medical mal-practice and fraud or I could let the hospital handle it. Either way, he’s screwed.”

“Alex, couldn’t you go to him and tell him what you found?”

“What for? So he could try and weasel his way out of what he’s been doing?”

Regina stood up and held the papers out to Alex. “No, so he has the opportunity to come clean about it and let the hospital handle it how it sees fit.”

Her mind raced through everything that Jameson had put her through over the past year. You don’t owe that bastard anything. You know he would fry anyone in the emergency department for much less than this. Alex stared back at Regina, her jaw clenching and unclenching as she considered her options. “Why would you want to go easy on him? He tried to suspend your privileges as well,” Alex asked, trying hard to understand why Regina felt this way.

“Who says it’s going easy on him? If he won’t admit to what he’s done, then, go to the medical committee. He’s going to end up losing either way. Let the committee be judge and jury, not you.”

Alex contemplated what Regina was saying to her. It would be sweet to even the score with Jameson, with a very public humiliation. The bastard certainly deserved it for what he had put her through. Then again, Regina had a point. She could still make sure Jameson was punished for getting monetary kick-backs from a drug company. She’d just let him hang himself in his own good time.

Alex hastily retrieved the papers from Regina and locked them in one of the file cabinets. “I’ll talk with him when he’s out of the hospital.”
Chapter Nineteen
It took several weeks of wading through old medical records and reviewing the files in Dr. Jameson’s office for Alex to get to this point. The tip off that something was wrong was the list of patient names that the drug representative handed her at the meeting over several months ago. She cursed the fact that she had been asked to step in as medical director and then ended up stumbling into this mess, but Alex had never been one to back down from a challenge and she wasn’t about to start now with this. The attending slowed to a halt as she approached the medical director’s office, noticing that the door was ajar and the light was on.

“I didn’t expect to see you back here so soon.” She leaned against the doorframe and crossed her arms, holding the large envelope against her chest. She looked at the pale and gaunt visage of the doctor whose post she was temporarily occupying.

“Did you think I’d let you run this department for one minute longer than I needed to?” Dr. Jameson asked coldly from behind his desk.

For a long tense moment their eyes locked, then, the medical director returned to rummaging through the piles of paper that were stacked on his desk. “At least you did a half decent job of cleaning up in here.”

“Really? You look like you’re having trouble finding something.” Alex stepped inside the office and shut the door. Good thing I made copies of everything I found last week.

The medical director sat back in his chair and regarded the dark-haired woman standing before him. “What do you want, Margulies?”

Alex lowered herself into a chair and crossed her long, muscular legs. “I thought I might give you an opportunity to explain this to me.” She handed him a three-inch thick folder that she pulled out of the envelope.

“These are all patients you gave that new cardiac drug to in the emergency department. There’s at least twenty that should have never received it. They simply just don’t fit the protocol for it.” She waited as the doctor flipped through the medical records.

“It’s experimental. What’s your point?” He threw the file on his desk in irritation.

“It’s a pretty simple concept, actually. You prescribed medication that wasn’t appropriate, simply because this drug company was willing to pay you for using its products.”

“You don’t have any proof.” The medical director shifted uncomfortably in his seat, his eyes darting nervously from Alex’s face.

“Actually, I have enough proof to bury you and that woman you brought in here peddling those drugs. Here, why don’t you take a look?” Alex stood up and upended the envelope onto his desk, showering it with checks and vouchers for free airline miles that had been sitting in the top drawer of the doctor’s desk. She smirked as the smug expression slowly faded, replaced by a look of panic. This is bad; I’m enjoying this way too much.

“What the hell do you want?” Dr. Jameson asked, wiping a hand nervously across his mouth.

Leaning on her hands, she towered over the doctor. “Funny you should ask. I want you to go to Dr. Mitchard and the medical review committee and tell them exactly what you did. You jeopardized patients’ health for the sake of making money, you bastard.”

“What, are you nuts? I’ll lose my license,” he stammered.

Alex shrugged indifferently. “You should have thought about that before you got involved with this crap again. At the least, they’ll probably turn it over to the Office of Investigations. From there, who knows?”

“What makes you think I’m going to tell them anything?”

“Because if you don’t, I will, Jim. It’s your choice. I think your chances are a hell of a lot better they’ll be more lenient if you report yourself than if I do it.”

The medical director sat back in his chair and looked at the pile of papers littering his desk. “You know I could make this worth your while, Alex. There’s a bank account I have, here.” He fumbled through his desk and pulled out a folder. “You could take everything that’s in it and we could just forget about all this.” He waved his arms over the desk.

Alex shook her head. “Not interested. You’ve got a day to make up your mind, Jim. After that, I’ll go to Dr. Mitchard myself,” Alex leaned over and picked up the folder containing the bank account. “I’ll just hold onto this along with everything else I have. Remember, you’ve got one day.” Alex walked to the door. “Oh, by the way, if you’re interested, you can thank Dr. Kingston for saving your life.”

Not waiting for an answer, Alex walked out into the hallway and bypassed the elevator. Running down the stairs, she burst into the ER, the door swinging closed loudly behind her.

She spotted Sandy coming out of one of the trauma rooms and fell into step alongside the nurse. “Have you seen Regina?”

“Yeah, she’s in room four.” Sandy looked up at Alex suspiciously. “What’s up with you, that you’re in such a hurry?”

“I promised to do something for her and I’m late.” Alex slipped quietly into the room, leaving Sandy standing in the hallway with a perplexed look on her face. Peering around the curtain, she saw Regina sitting on a stool, leaning over the counter. “Regina?”

She heard the muffled curse, as the resident set the syringe down and glared back at her. “Alex, I wish you wouldn’t sneak up on me like that.”

“I wasn’t sneaking.” Alex protested, then walked up beside her and rested a hand on her shoulder.

“If I don’t hear you, then yes, you are sneaking.”

The attending chuckled softly as she looked down into the fiery green eyes. “Why didn’t you wait for me? I told you I’d do this.” Alex took the band from around Regina’s arm.

“I didn’t want to bother you.”

Alex sighed and looked down at Regina fondly. “You are not bothering me. Don’t you know that by now?”

Regina’s smile reached her eyes, making them shine brighter than they normally did. “Did you talk to Dr. Jameson?” Regina asked, looking up as Alex rubbed her hand over her arm looking for another vein.

“Yeah, I told him he could tell the board himself or I would do it for him.”

“So, what did he say?” Regina winced as the needle pierced her skin.

“Sorry,” Alex said, glancing up at her quickly. “He offered me his bank account to keep quiet.”

“He what?”

“It’s in that folder. Ah, ah, hold still or you’re going to have one heck of a bruise. There.” She slipped the vial on and watched as it filled with blood. “Ok, all done.”

Regina picked up the folder and opened it, her eyes widening as she read what was inside. “Holy shit. That’s a lot of money. ”

Alex looked down at the tube of blood she was holding. “Yeah, can you imagine how many people he gave these drugs to make that amount? I think what we found was just the tip of the iceberg.” Alex took a breath. “Let me get started running the tests for you.”

She looked at Regina’s face, her heart skipping a beat as she saw her eyes brimming with tears. “Hey, are you ok?”

Regina lowered her eyes. “I’m sorry. I can’t believe how nervous I am.”

“Hey, none of that, now. You’ve made it this far.” Alex moved closer and wrapped her arms tightly around the smaller woman. “Whatever happens, I’ll be here. You know that, right?”

Regina leaned into Alex, resting her head against her side. “I know.”

Alex slipped her hand under Regina’s chin, lifting her face up to hers. “As soon as I know anything, I’ll find you.” She pulled Regina into a quick hug and then let her go, disappearing out of the exam room.

******

Regina walked into the staff lounge and slumped down onto the creaky, old, vinyl-covered couch. She was exhausted after being at the hospital for forty-eight hours straight. Her shift was long over and she should have been home sleeping in her bed many hours ago. Instead, Mother Nature had alternate plans, engulfing the whole east coast in a major winter storm, dumping close to three feet of snow from North Carolina to Massachusetts overnight. All the medical and ancillary staff that were on duty at the medical center the day before had been mandated to stay until the state of emergency was lifted and the rest of the employees could get to work.

Curling up on the couch, Regina settled down for a quick nap. The door opened and she cracked one eye open, watching as Sandy walked in and collapsed unceremoniously into an old, orange, vinyl chair with a loud groan.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen this much snow before.”

Regina tilted her head back and yawned. “I looked out a couple of hours ago. I couldn’t see the tops of the steps down to the parking lot.”

Overtired from lack of sleep and too much caffeine, Sandy giggled. “Forget about getting your car out, it’ll be plowed in for days.”

“You haven’t heard from Alex, have you?” Regina asked, pulling her lab coat around her.

“No, she was scheduled off today and tomorrow.” Sandy sat up straighter suddenly more alert. “What is up with you two, anyway?”

Regina scrunched down against the back of the couch, folding her arms across her chest. “We’re friends, Sandy.”

“Oh please, spare me,” Sandy waved her hand in the air dismissively. “I’ve been there Regina, ten years; I tell you, I know the signs.” Sandy turned the chair around and propped her feet up on the couch, cutting off any chance for escape that Regina might have been considering.

“What do you mean, you know?” Regina resorted to closing her eyes against the probing look she was getting from Sandy.

“Listen, I know what Alex has been through in the past year and I’ll tell you I haven’t seen her look as happy as she does than when she’s around you, my friend.”

Regina hung her head, hiding the heated blush she felt on her face. “Come on, Sandy.”

“You don’t believe me? I swear, I’m going to throttle you both. Let me tell you something. Alex does not, I repeat, does not allow herself to take a personal interest in any of the residents she works with. So you tell me, then why she’s taken you home when you were sick, personally took care of your lab tests, and resigned her position so Jameson wouldn’t go after you three months ago?”

Sandy dropped her feet onto the floor and leaned forward, looking into stunned green eyes. “Didn’t know that, did you? Well, don’t tell Alex I ever told you that because she’d kill me if she knew.” Sandy stood up and stretched. “I’ll see you later, Doc. Get some sleep.” She left the young resident sitting in the lounge alone with her thoughts.

Next, Sandy snickered to herself as she walked out into the hallway and spotted Alex coming through the door.

“Hey boss, what are you doing here today?” Sandy smirked, knowing Alex hated when she called her that. She coined her new title the day after she found out the doctor was appointed acting medical director of the emergency department and had taken every opportunity to tease her about it.

Alex stomped her boots off inside the door and shook the snow from her hair, pointedly ignoring Sandy’s comment. “Figured I come in and help out. They held over the staff from last night. Right?”

Sandy nodded her head. “Yeah, we’re all pulling double shifts until they lift the snow emergency. It’s been dead here anyway. No patients are coming in and none are going home. Speaking of which, how the hell did you manage to get in here, anyway?” She crossed her arms and regarded Alex coolly.

“I have my ways.” Alex brushed past her.

Sandy made a face. “Uh huh. It wouldn’t have anything to do with the fact that a particular resident has been stuck here for the past day now would it?”

“Give me a break, Sandy.” Alex slipped out of her coat, trying her best to avoid looking at Sandy’s face. “Actually, I came in to check and see if her blood tests were ready. How’s everyone else holding up?”

“Exhausted. Most of yesterday’s day shift is passed out on anything that resembles a bed in the hospital.”

Alex turned around. “Where is Regina anyway?”

“In the lounge, asleep.” Sandy tried hard not to let the knowing smile creep across her face.

“When she wakes up, let me know,” Alex said, as she walked into the locker room to change.

She spent the next several hours checking on patients, giving the already exhausted staff a chance to rest. When she was done with her rounds, the doctor trotted down the stairs and walked into the emergency department. “Hey Sandy, is Regina awake?”

“She just went looking for you.”

Alex rolled her eyes. “Damn. She went up to Jameson’s office?”

“Yeah.”

Alex leaned on the desk, raising an eyebrow at Sandy’s ear-to-ear grin. “What are you smiling at?”

“Nothing,” Sandy said, as she quickly found something else to do.

Alex sighed, talking more to herself than to Sandy. “Might as well stay here. She’ll be back down as soon as she sees I’m not there.” She tapped her hands on the desk restlessly and looked down the hall.

Moments later, the door swung open and Regina walked through them looking rumpled and still half-asleep. Alex met her half way down the hall.

“What are you doing here?” Regina stifled a yawn.

Alex took hold of her arm and pulled her over to a room. “I just got your blood tests back.”

“Oh God.” Regina’s eyes widened. “Did you read them?”

Alex handed her the paper and smiled down at her friend. “You’re home free, kiddo.”

Regina let out a scream and threw her arms around Alex, pulling her into a bear hug. “Oh god, I can’t believe it’s over.” Tears ran down Regina’s face as she held onto Alex. “It’s really over. Oh this is so awesome.” She squeezed Alex again. “Thank you, thank you, thank you.”

Alex gave her a crooked smile and extricated herself from Regina’s arms. “Easy, I need those ribs.”

Alex found herself the recipient of another bear hug. “Um, Regina, I think maybe you should let me go. We’re going to have an audience out here in a minute.”

They both heard the nurse’s voice from down the hall. “What are you carrying on about down there?”

“Sorry.” The resident quickly released Alex from her grip, immediately self-conscious of the attention she was drawing to them. Stepping back, Regina saw Sandy leaning over the desk, looking down the hallway at them.

She laughed at the expression on Alex’s face and ran down the hall toward Sandy, briefly turning around and looking back at the doctor. “Don’t go anywhere.”

Alex rolled her eyes and shook her head. She could tell this celebration was going to take a while. Marcus staggered out from one of the rooms, still half asleep, to see what all the commotion was about. She watched the brief hesitation of emotion as Regina showed him the piece of paper and then he pulled her into a bear hug, lifting her off the ground and spinning her around in the air.

Walking over to the nurse, Alex tapped her on the shoulder. “When she’s done celebrating, tell her there’s something in the refrigerator for her.”

“Where are you going?” Sandy eyed the doctor suspiciously.

“I’ll be outside. I’m going to help Jon try and shovel his car out, so he can get the hell out of here and go home.” Slipping away quietly, she got dressed and headed outside into the snow.

A while later, Regina walked back to the desk and flopped down into the chair besides Sandy. “I think I know what it’s like to be floating on a cloud right now.”

Sandy reached over and cuffed her across the shoulder. “Now there’s a reason to celebrate. We should go out Friday night.”

“Yeah, that’s a great idea.” Regina sat up straighter and looked around the department. “Hey, where is Alex?”

Sandy rocked back in her chair and feigned boredom. “Outside, shoveling snow. She said to tell you there’s something in the refrigerator for you.”

“Oh.” Regina tilted her head and frowned. “I guess I should go see what it is.” She jogged into the staff lounge and opened the refrigerator door. A smile spread across her face and she closed her eyes. “Oh wow, she remembered,” Regina shook her head, pulled the box out and opened it.

The resident laughed, remembering the hopeful words she had uttered several long months ago. She pulled the bottle out of the box and noticed a card attached to it. Pulling it off, she opened it and sat down to read it.
Regina,

Here’s that bottle of chilled champagne.

Have fun celebrating.

Alex
Regina tucked the note in her pocket and headed to the locker room. Changing quickly out of her scrubs, she headed down the hallway towards the ambulance bay, carrying her backpack with her.

“I guess they gave up trying to shovel snow.” The resident stood next to Sandy, their breath fogging the glass door as they peered outside at the falling snow.

Sandy glanced over at her and chuckled. “Be careful out there, I don’t think Alex is taking any prisoners.”

Regina snorted as she saw several of the staff engaged in a snowball fight. Alex was perched menacingly on the hood of one of the snow-covered ambulances, gamely picking off anyone who came to close too her. Unable to resist the opportunity, Regina scooted out the door and packed a ball of snow in her hands. Oh, this is way too easy. Wading through the drifts of hip-deep snow she crept closer and took aim. The attending was busy nailing Jon with a flurry of snowballs and never saw the one that Regina threw at her with unerring accuracy until it was to late and the wet, hard-packed snow struck her in the side of the head.

“Hey!” Alex whirled around, her eyes seeking her attacker. She brushed the snow from her hair and cackled wickedly, jumping down into the snow. “You are in serious trouble, Dr. Kingston.” She shook a finger at Regina, her eyes gleaming as she advanced on the wide-eyed resident.

Regina started backtracking, laughing at the same time, knowing it was futile to try and get away. She tried anyway and was quickly caught by two strong arms curling around her waist. The blonde-haired woman screamed, flailing her arms, and got pummeled with snowballs as Jon and Marcus converged on the two of them. Regina felt herself lifted out of the drift and carried over Alex’s shoulder as the woman tramped through the white stuff toward a large pile of snow.

“Alex, don’t you dare.” Regina struggled in vain, trying to get loose from the two powerful arms wrapped around her legs.

Alex laughed. “Too late. Whoops.” She dumped Regina off her shoulder and into the drift of powdery snow.

Regina struggled to sit up, only managing to sink deeper into the pile of snow she was sprawled in. Alex reached down and pulled her up, grinning at her. Another volley of snowballs descended, pummeling Alex in the back. Turning around, she arched an eyebrow as she saw Marcus preparing to throw another one.

“Don’t even think about it, Marcus,” Alex warned him.

“Ah come on Alex, you’re no fun.”

“Oh, I’m lot’s of fun. Just remember I have keys to the on call room.” Alex looked over at Jon. “What was that we did to that resident a couple of years ago? You remember, don’t you? We rolled him down to the morgue one night. Toe tagged him and all. Should’ve heard him screaming when he woke up between two cases.”

“You didn’t,” Marcus asked, his face notably paler than a moment ago.

“Oh, yes she did, Marcus.” Jon swatted the packed ball of snow out of his hand. “I’m cold, how about you?” He winked at Alex before he started walking away.

Alex turned back around, green eyes regarding her curiously.

“You didn’t,” Regina asked, staring up at her.

“No, but I would’ve liked to. Ooh, you are going to be cold.” Alex bent and brushed the snow off Regina’s coat.

“Yeah, no thanks to you.” Regina threw a handful of snow up at Alex who ducked away from most of the powdery cloud. “You remembered what I said that day it happened.”

Alex looked down at her hands and then glanced up almost shyly at Regina. “How could I forget?”

Shaking her head, Regina looked up at Alex and ran her hand down the front of her jacket. “I just came out to say thanks – for everything.”

“Really? Heck of a way to say it, nailing me in the head with a snowball.” Alex smiled at Regina, her eyes sparkling a pale blue in the brilliance reflected off the white snow. “Here, I wanted to wait until you got your results back to give this to you.”

“What’s this?” Regina frowned and took the envelope that Alex handed to her.

“Just open it.” Alex stomped her feet, shaking the white flakes from her boots and pants then, walked over to where she had parked her Jeep and started brushing the snow off the windshield.

“Alex.” Regina looked up from reading the lab results and walked over to the where the doctor was standing a few feet away. “You didn’t have to do this.”

“Yes, I did.” Arms crossed her arms over her chest, peered down at her boots and rocked back on her heels. “Six months ago, I would have never considered it important; you changed that. You changed everything in my life.”

Regina tugged on Alex’s jacket. “Feel like celebrating with me? I’ve got this great bottle of champagne we can open.”

******

Slipping off her coat and boots, Alex followed Regina into the kitchen. She watched with amusement as Regina climbed up onto the counter and retrieved two wine glasses from the top shelf of the cabinet. “Need help?”

“No.” Regina slid back down the floor and turned around. “Can you open this for me?” She held the bottle out to Alex.

“Sure.” Alex popped the cork and poured the champagne into the glasses Regina was holding. “So, what are we toasting to?” Alex set the bottle down and met Regina’s gaze.

Leaning back against the counter, Regina ran her fingertips over the rim of the glass, trying to collect her thoughts. “You know, something occurred to me the other day, Alex.”

“Mm, what’s that?” Alex asked, her heart beating a little faster as she waited for Regina to finish.

“You’ve been the only person who’s been there with me, through everything the past few months.” Regina exhaled nervously. “You’ve been my best friend, my confidante-”

Alex looked down at her glass. “Regina, you don’t have to say anything.”

Stepping forward, Regina reached up and slid her hand around Alex’s neck, pulling her closer and kissing her thoroughly, leaving no doubt in Alex’s mind as to what she wanted. Pulling away, Regina looked up into half-closed eyes and smiled. “You didn’t let me finish,” she whispered.

“I guess I didn’t,” Alex leaned forward and touched her lips to Regina’s again. Slowly she increased the pressure, her tongue gently probing and teasing the blonde’s lips apart, slipping inside to caress and explore the smaller woman’s mouth. She pulled away, then dipped further, exploring the curve of her neck. Reaching behind Regina, Alex picked up one of the glasses. She held it up to Regina’s lips so she could drink the champagne and then did the same for herself.

“To my best friend,” Alex offered and kissed Regina deeply again, tasting the champagne they had just shared. She felt Regina press her body against hers in response, so she continued her nibbling, letting her hands roam gently over her back pulling the smaller woman against her. “Mm, you feel good.”

“So do you.” Regina let her head fall back, giving into the intense sensations she already felt stirring in her body. Alex’s touch was quickly driving coherent thought from her head and her legs were beginning to feel weak. “Oh, ah, legs, um, I don’t think I can stand.”

Alex chuckled and slid her hands around Regina’s waist. She boosted her up onto the counter and leaned forward. “Better?” she asked, blue eyes twinkling as she looked into Regina’s.

“Oh, yeah, I think I like this vantage point,” Regina wrapped her legs around Alex’s waist and pulled the taller woman closer between her thighs. Her hands ran up the front of Alex’s shirt, exploring the curves and valleys, before undoing several buttons to reveal the soft skin she was seeking. “Mm. I definitely like this.”

Taking full advantage of her newfound height, Regina ran her lips over the sensitive skin at the base of Alex’s neck, then working her way lower to the swell of her breasts. She heard the dark-haired woman gasp and lean forward, steadying herself on the counter with her hands, as she continued to nip gently at Alex’s neck with her teeth. “Having a problem standing?”

Alex growled in her ear and found Regina’s ear lobe, tugging playfully on it with her teeth. “Just you wait.”

“I’ve been waiting,” Regina undid several more buttons and slid her arms underneath Alex’s shirt, running her hands over the smooth skin of her stomach.

Alex found Regina’s mouth again, quieting the gentle banter and eliciting a moan from her as she tugged gently on her lower lip, pulling it into her mouth. Regina responded, deepening their kiss until they both were breathless.

Alex looked at Regina. “Um, I think maybe we should find somewhere else to continue this. What do you think?”

In answer, Regina hooked her legs tighter around the taller woman’s waist, pressing her pelvis against her and kissed her again.

“Do that again and we’ll both end up on the floor,” Alex gasped, in between ragged breaths. Regina held on and giggled as Alex slipped her hands under her thighs, lifting her off the counter. “You better stop that or I’m going to drop you,” she growled playfully.

Regina looked at her, grinned sheepishly as she stilled her hands from roaming over the full breasts, and taught nipples restrained by Alex’s bra.

The dark-haired doctor carried her into the bedroom and sat back on the edge of the bed with Regina kneeling astride her legs. Regina’s eyes widened and she yelped as Alex leaned backwards, falling onto the bed taking Regina with her.

“I…I’ve never done this before,” Regina admitted, a sudden surge of uncertainty plaguing her as she leaned over Alex, inches from her face.

Alex reached up and brushed Regina’s hair back over her shoulder. “Shh. It’s all right. Just lie here with me.” She shifted on the bed, pulling Regina up alongside her.

Snuggling against the taller woman, Regina settled her head against her shoulder. She let her arm drape over Alex’s waist, running her fingers idly over the soft cotton shirt. It was so easy for her to get lost in the sensation of Alex rubbing her hand lightly over her side, lightly grazing the curve of her breast.

She basked in the warmth radiating between their bodies as they touched along their length, closing her eyes, Regina felt soft lips press gently against her forehead. She propped herself up on her elbows and studied Alex’s face; Alex watched as she leaned in, and gently touched Regina’s lips with hers.

Regina let out a small whimper at the intimate touch and pressed into it, feeling Alex’s fingertips tracing the sensitive skin over her face and neck. Rolling over onto the dark woman, their bodies molding perfectly together, Regina felt a surge of heat flow through her as Alex moved her hips, rubbing slowly against her. Regina brushed her lips against Alex’s chin, then nibbled the corners of her mouth. She could feel Alex’s mouth curve into a smile as their lips pressed together and she pulled back to look at her.

Shaking her head, Alex tried to get a handle on the giddy feeling that was swirling around inside her gut. She ran her hand up Regina’s arm, grinning at the gooseflesh that followed her touch. Reaching down, Alex intertwined her fingers with Regina’s and brought her hand up to her lips.

“Are you sure you want to do this?” She kissed the back of Regina’s hand, looking up at the woman who had stolen her heart over the past few months. She was pretty sure she knew what the answer was but she wanted to ask Regina anyway.

Regina looked down at their hands clasped together between them, feeling herself being helplessly drawn toward Alex. “God…yes,” she answered, feeling an ache deep inside her.

She watched as a mischievous grin broke out on Alex’s face. “Alex what are you…oh, ah.” Her words cut off as Alex took Regina’s thumb into her mouth pulling, and sucking seductively on it with her lips and her tongue.

“This…mm…is what I want to do to you, all over,” Alex whispered hoarsely.

Regina opened her eyes and focused on Alex’s lips as she slowly took each of her fingers into her mouth, sucking gently and teasing her mercilessly with her tongue. Each stroke sent shivers up her spine and her head lolled forward as she gave into the exquisite sensation.

She felt Alex run her fingers through her hair, letting them rest lightly on the nape of her neck; Alex relinquished her attack on her fingers and instead nuzzled her lips against the soft skin below Regina’s ear. The blonde closed her eyes, letting her head fall forward onto Alex’s shoulder. “Alex…please hold me,” she gasped, her senses reeling.

“It’s ok.” Alex rubbed her hands over Regina’s back. “I won’t do anything you don’t want.”

The blonde nibbled the sensitive skin at the base of the dark woman’s throat. “No, I want you,” Regina whispered as she ran her hands through Alex’s silky, soft hair.

Feeling her own body responding to Alex’s touch, Regina knelt over Alex and quickly undid the rest of the buttons on the taller woman’s shirt, tugging it impatiently from her jeans. Briefly, she met pale blue eyes darkened with desire and she pressed her palms against the warmth of Alex’s skin, running them lightly over the well-toned stomach, and her own body, shuddering as she felt the muscles quiver involuntarily to her touch.

Alex sat up and pulled her lover with her so they sat facing each other, the blonde’s legs draped over her hips. Their eyes met and Alex took Regina’s face in her hands pulling her mouth to hers, kissing her gently, then, more intensely as Regina responded to her.

Hands trembling slightly, Alex reached up between their bodies and started unbuttoning Regina’s shirt. She felt Regina stop the gentle kisses to her neck and instead grin against her skin. The blonde pulled back to quickly unbutton the last few for her.

Regina shrugged out of her shirt as Alex slipped it from her shoulders; the brunette slid her warm hands across Regina’s back dexterously unclasped her bra, sliding it off her body. Her caress sent tremors through the younger woman’s body. Alex bent her head and pressed her lips to the skin at the base of the woman’s neck then trailed her mouth lower, cupping her breasts and teasing her nipples into erect peaks with her fingers.

“You’re beautiful.” Alex raised her head and looked into Regina’s slightly unfocused eyes, before she kissed her again.

Their lips parting, Regina helped Alex the rest of the way out of her own shirt. She ran her fingertips over the dark woman’s face, trailing them over her neck and exploring the strong curves of her shoulders. Tracing her fingers down over the taller woman’s ribs, the smaller woman slipped them down inside the waistband of Alex’s jeans, feeling the shallow, rapid breaths of pleasure in response to her touch.

Regina watched as Alex closed her eyes and let her head fall back on her shoulders. She undid the button and eased the zipper open on the dark-haired woman’s pants, sliding her fingers down inside through the curly hair, then finally between.

“Oh, Regina, ahh -”

She heard the sharp intake of breath as her fingers cupped, then brushed against, the silky wetness as she parted Alex’s lips. Her own desire skyrocketed as she realized the effect she was having on this woman.

Alex jerked her head forward, and clamped her hand over Regina’s wrist, stopping her hands from their gentle exploration.

“Come here,” Alex growled. She pulled the smaller woman to her, claiming her mouth.

The blonde’s world rotated and she found herself pinned underneath Alex’s weight, her breathing gone ragged as the dark-haired woman resumed her intimate exploration, leaving a fiery trail down Regina’s neck and belly, tasting her skin with her tongue. The blonde shifted her hips as Alex undid the smaller woman’s jeans and pulled them off her legs.

Alex leaned over her and let her hair brush over Regina’s body as she slowly kissed her way back up to her face.

She felt Regina’s hands on her hips pushing her back, and she protested the interruption. “W…What?”

“Uh, uh. These go too.” Alex caught her breath as Regina’s hands roughly tugged her jeans down over her hips. The blonde smiled up at her and pushed her over onto her back, pulling them the rest of the way off. “I want you naked against me.”

Her jeans landed in a heap on the floor.

Regina leaned over Alex, running her hands up over Alex’s ribs, letting her palms gently circle over her breasts and tease her already taught nipples. She leaned closer and captured one hardened nipple between her lips and then, tenderly caressed it with her tongue.

Alex arched her back and threw her head back, closing her eyes, willing her body to slow its eager response. She lifted Regina away from her and deposited the smaller woman on her back, shaking her head as Regina protested weakly.

“Not so fast. I get to lead first,” Alex teased, lowering herself down, slowly touching her lips to Regina’s in a long, slow kiss as their bodies came together.

Regina was trembling, only aware of her lover’s gentle touch and the contact of their bodies. Her body turned and arched under Alex’s capable hands as they moved over her, stroking and caressing her flesh. A soft cry escaped the blonde’s lips as she felt Alex’s hand sliding up the inside of her thigh, her fingers gently exploring, increasing her desire with her feather light touch.

“Do you like that?” Alex whispered, as her fingers swirled and dipped along the edge of her wet opening.

“Alex, oh god – need you inside, please.” She arched her back, her hips shamelessly rocking beneath the teasing rhythm of Alex’s fingers, moaning softly as Alex claimed her breasts hungrily with her mouth.

It was the contact of Alex’s fingers as she finally slid deep inside the blonde, filling her completely, then withdrawing slowly to her lips, and the rhythm of their bodies moving together, that brought a ragged cry from Regina’s lips. She wrapped her arms tightly around Alex’s back, holding her desperately, her body becoming taught; wave after wave crashed through her, leaving her struggling for breath, her heart hammering wildly in her chest.

The sensations were overpowering and when they finally released in a rush of warm, incredible feelings that suffused through her core, Regina felt Alex’s touch deep inside her soul. The blonde opened her eyes to look up into smiling blue ones and she knew with a certainty she couldn’t begin to explain that she had come home.

Alex lowered her head against Regina’s shoulder, still amazed at Regina’s response to her and no less surprised at her own climax that came seconds after her lover’s. Jesus, since when does that happen to me? Slowly, she pulled the young woman against her and held her tightly, wondering what she had done to deserve someone this precious in her life.

Afterwards, Regina lay curled tightly against Alex’s body, wrapped securely in her arms, listening to the slow steady beating of Alex’s heart in her chest, feeling content and peaceful. She didn’t know why but suddenly tears came to her eyes and she tightened her grip on Alex.

Her lover lifted her head and peered down at Regina, feeling the change in her breathing. Lifting a hand to cup her cheek, Alex wiped the wetness away with her fingers. “What’s wrong?”

Regina shook her head, embarrassed. “Nothing. I just – no one ever made me feel that way before.”

Alex ducked her head and captured Regina’s lips, gently exploring her mouth with her tongue. Clasping Regina’s hands in hers, she pressed them into the bed over her head as their kiss deepened and they finally broke away breathless. Slowly, sliding down Regina’s body, Alex caressed her belly with her lips.

“Let me do this for you,” she whispered and tugged Regina to the edge of the bed; Alex knelt on the floor, her tongue brushing the inside of Regina’s thigh.

“Alex, mm, oh God.” Regina gasped and arched her back in response to Alex’s warm breath, followed seconds later by the warm, delicate touch of her lips.

Alex watched as Regina closed her eyes, her mouth opening slightly in an ‘oh’ of pleasure. Listening to Regina’s breathing coming in ragged gasps, the dark haired woman touched her lips to the engorged flesh, tasting now what she had possessed with her fingers before. Feeling her own desire burning on the edge of control, Alex slowly explored Regina with her mouth.

Reaching down, the smaller woman clasped the dark woman’s hands, holding tightly, her body shaking as Alex’s mouth claimed all of her.

Wrapping her arms around the blonde’s hips, Alex felt Regina’s shuddering orgasm as she collapsed against her. She heard her lover calling her name and she slipped up beside her, cradling Regina in her arms. Alex lay on her side, rocking the smaller woman in her arms. “I’m right here, baby. I’m right here,” she whispered in her ear. Afterwards, they lay curled around each other slowly drifting off to sleep.

When Regina woke up it was dark outside the window and the clock on the nightstand read two o’clock. It took her a couple of seconds to shake the cobwebs out of her brain and realize that it was two o’clock in the morning. Lifting her head from Alex’s shoulder, she looked up at her face, for once relaxed and peaceful. She was still sleeping so Regina lay quietly next to her, soaking up the warmth of their bodies lying tangled together beneath the covers. Regina mentally shook her head as she let her body remember what they shared earlier. She pulled herself up onto her elbows and brushed an errant lock of hair out of Alex’s face. The moonlight was just reaching through the window, its soft light reflecting off of Alex’s face and Regina felt her breath catch in her throat.

In that instant, it was like pieces of her heart and soul that she didn’t even realize she was missing suddenly fit perfectly into place. Regina bent forward and gently kissed Alex on her lips. She settled back, watching the eyelids flutter open and sleepy blue eyes look back at her. Alex smiled and reached up, brushing Regina’s face with her hand.

“Hi there,” Alex said, her voice deep and husky from having just woken.

“Mm. Sorry I fell asleep before.” Regina said, as she smiled and lowered her head, nibbling at Alex’s earlobe, eliciting a soft moan from the woman.

“Don’t be.” Alex slipped an arm underneath Regina and pulled her closer.

Regina moved her lips to Alex’s neck, kissing the sensitive skin over her collarbone. She stretched her body out along Alex’s taller frame, rubbing against her, enjoying the simple pleasure of lying pressed up against her solid length.

“Oh, I want to make love to you.” Moving back up to Alex’s mouth, she kissed her lips with the increasing intensity of her own desire.

Slowly, she caressed Alex with her hands, feeling the sharp intake of breath as she lowered her head and kissed the softness of her breasts, remembering what Alex had done to her and wanting to give that same feeling back in return.

Regina slid her hands over Alex’s stomach, gently exploring the planes of the woman’s body and shifting her own body so she could reach down the long muscular lines of her legs. She stroked her lightly up her calves and behind the sensitive skin of her knees, before she finally moved her fingers back up between her thighs.

Alex’s hands tightened on Regina’s shoulders, her hips moving, responding to Regina’s gentle, stroking touch. “Oh god, Regina, can you be inside me…please?”

“Anything,” Regina whispered.

“Regina -” Alex’s finger’s dug into Regina’s shoulders. Her breathing quickened to ragged gasps and Regina felt Alex begin to tremble around her fingers as she moved inside her. Alex’s voice trailed off as she gave herself over to the overwhelming rush of sensations cascading through her body; she felt like she was falling but the fear and the doubt were gone.

After, Alex lay on the soft bed, looking down at Regina’s gentle face. Regina’s head was nestled in against Alex’s chin, eyes closed, her breathing slow and even. It was like the whole world had disappeared around them, leaving just the two of them and all Alex felt was a quiet sense of peace. With one arm wrapped around Regina’s shoulder and her other hand holding Regina’s own on her chest, Alex rubbed her thumb over the soft skin of Regina’s wrist.

They had been lying quietly together, absorbing the gentle contact of their bodies, when Regina stirred and looked up at Alex. “What are you thinking about?”

“Do you have to ask?” Alex asked, smiling seductively and rolling over, pressing her body into her.
Chapter Twenty
The tall, dark-haired woman lay awake, her head resting on one hand, watching her new lover lying snuggled next to her, breathing deeply as she still slept. Life seemed so simple and uncomplicated lying there, under the nest of warm blankets with this sweet, gentle soul. What did I ever do to deserve this? The older doctor lightly ran her fingers through the blonde locks of hair, smoothing them away from Regina’s face. So, where do we go from here, Regina? What do you want out of this and am I even capable of giving it to you?

Alex closed her eyes trying to imagine what her life would be like without Regina in it; the future she envisioned faded to a murky black void and suddenly a terrifying feeling of desolation overwhelmed her. To lose Regina would be more painful than death itself.

Swallowing the lump forming in her throat, the doctor forced the foreboding thoughts into the far recesses of her mind. The taller woman leaned forward and woke Regina, calling her name softly and kissing her forehead.

The younger woman squirmed, hearing her name called from very far away. Slowly, she woke up over the course of several minutes, resisting the urge to sink back to sleep underneath the warm covers of her bed and the softness of Alex’s body that she was nestled against. Blinking, Regina lifted her head and peered up, finding a pair of blue eyes curiously looking back at her. She snuggled back down against Alex’s shoulder and wrapped her arm snugly around her waist, an impish grin forming on her lips.

“Morning.” Regina kissed the smooth skin beneath her lips, content just to listen to the beating of the woman’s heart beneath her ear.

“Good morning yourself, sleepy head.” Alex playfully ruffled Regina’s hair with her hand. Lifting her head, Alex smiled at the way Regina wound herself in a tight embrace over her body. “You look cute lying here all snuggled up.”

“I’m glad you think so.” Regina glanced up at her. “This is what I look like in the mornings.”

She liked the way that sounded. Mornings. Pulling Regina on top of her, Alex wrapped her in a hug. “Mm, I think I can live with it.”

Regina laughed and rolled off of Alex. “Yeah, well I hear the shower calling my name.” Sitting up, the young doctor stretched her arms overhead.

“Nice view.” A hand reached out and touched her, fingers gliding seductively down her sensitive flesh and wrapping around her waist, pulling her into a warm embrace.

“Hey, no fair.” Regina squirmed and laughed as Alex nibbled at the exposed skin.

“Who said anything about fair?” Alex arched an eyebrow as her lips meandered lower.

“Take a shower with me?” Regina offered as she slid out of the caress and walked toward the bedroom door.

“Well, now that’s an offer I can’t refuse.” Alex winked at Regina and chuckled as she watched the pink flush rise in the blonde’s cheeks before she disappeared out of the room. Oh, I am in deep here, the brunette mused as she rolled over and stared up at the ceiling before she crawled out of the bed.

Regina stood under the hot water with her eyes closed, letting it pound on her back, wondering how she could have ever been afraid of following her heart in the first place. She’d fallen in love with this woman and she couldn’t alter her course now even if she desired to. You’re all I want, Alex – having you here, holding you, loving you – is all I want.

After last night, just the thought of being with this raven haired, blue eyed beauty, left her breathless and wanting. She loved to bury her head against the doctor’s shoulder, pressing her face against the exquisite softness of her breasts, allowing herself to melt in the warm embrace of Alex’s arms, breathing in her intoxicating scent. Even her orgasms with Alex had been overwhelming and all encompassing, like a bright light exploding deep inside and speeding out from her core, warming her all over.

Opening her eyes, she watched as Alex slipped in beside her, and once again Regina felt a firestorm of desire building inside. Reaching out her hand, she ran her fingers down Alex’s stomach, teasing as she ran them through the curls below.

Alex bit her lower lip and closed her eyes, letting out a low growl as Regina continued her playful exploration.

“You’re going to kill me.” Alex captured her hand and brought it up, sucking on moist fingers and stepping closer so their bodies were pressed together. “Let me wash your hair.”

A sensuous wave coursed through the blonde as sure hands ran through her long hair, lathering it thoroughly. Regina let out a small moan and leaned against Alex, resting her head against her chest.

“Oh, what are you doing to me?” Regina gasped, sliding her hands around and caressing Alex’s buttocks.

“The same thing you’re doing to me, I think.” The brunette walked her back under the spray and rinsed her hair. Watching Regina standing naked under the stream of water her eyes closed and head tilted back, made Alex want to make love to her all over again.

Turning the shorter woman around so the spray was out of her face, the brunette bent forward, gently capturing Regina’s lower lip between her teeth and sucked, slowly pulling it inside her mouth.

Hands slid around her waist, pulling her close as Regina steadied herself against Alex’s body. “Mm, oh -” Regina’s words were cut off as Alex let the soap drop and curled one arm securely around her waist and slipped her other hand down her stomach. Her fingers slid between Regina’s thighs, teasing and promising more but not quite entering.

Regina gasped at the touch and pressed her hips into Alex’s hand, wanting the contact and needing her inside. Yelping at the cold tiles pressed up against her back, Alex caught herself from slipping and stared down into sultry green eyes. “I think we should get out of here before one of us falls and busts a hip.”

“I thought this was supposed to be the obligatory ‘let’s make love in the shower scene’?” Regina smirked up at her.

Alex rolled her eyes. “Maybe in the movies, but I’m not that acrobatic. Here.” She gave her a lopsided grin and handed the bar of soap back to the blonde. Leisurely, they finished washing each other and climbed out of the shower.

Alex left Regina in the bathroom and stood by the bedroom window, dressed only in an oversized white tee shirt, looking out at the snow-covered landscape. She turned and smiled as the blonde walked over to her and wrapped her arms around her waist, snuggling close.

“I can’t stop touching you.” Regina nipped gently at Alex’s breast through her shirt and watched with pleasure the reaction her touch had on the taller woman.

“I guess you feel more awake now?” Alex glanced down at her, the slightest hint of a smile playing at the corners of her mouth.

Regina poked her in the side. “Hey, it’s not my fault, I was at the hospital for twenty-four hours straight and then was up most of last night.”

“Uh huh, and whose fault was that?” Alex nudged her back, playfully reminding Regina of just who had ambushed whom several hours before dawn. “You just couldn’t let me sleep, could you?”

Regina groaned and buried her head in her hand, knowing that further discussion along this topic were only going to get her deeper in trouble than she already was.

Alex took mercy on her and nuzzled her face in Regina’s hair. “Sorry, you’re just fun to tease, that’s all.” Regina’s hair was still wet from the shower and Alex could smell the fresh scent of the herbal shampoo and soap on her body.

It was nice and somewhere inside stirred a memory, just beyond the reaches of her consciousness. Weird, kind of like hearing an old song and having all those emotions wash over you, bringing you back to that one moment in time. Alex blinked and shook her head discarding the thought as being disgustingly romantic.

“You must be hungry. I know I am.” Regina patted Alex’s stomach.

“I’m starved.”

Regina felt the subtle change in Alex’s breathing as she looked back out the window. “What’s on your mind?”

Alex glanced down at the green eyes peering back up at her from underneath the blonde, wet, tousled hair. “Mm. You.” She tilted Regina’s face up to hers and kissed her, feeling a stirring of desire course through her again. The tall woman tightened her arm around Regina as she felt her lean heavily against her.

“Oh,” Regina breathed out, blinking to clear her vision and focus her thoughts. “I, um… Alex?”

Regina caught her breath as warm lips trailed down her neck, and she felt the terry cloth towel that was wrapped around her torso loosen and fall away, against the gentle but insistent tugging of Alex’s fingers.

“Um, I thought you were hungry?” Regina’s hands reached up, trembling slightly as she slipped them around Alex’s neck. Alex walked her back to the bed, laying her down on her back across it. The tee shirt grazed the blonde’s naked skin and she gasped at the contact.

“I am.” Alex’s eyes twinkled as she crouched over Regina, pulling her arms up over her head, holding them there as she bent forward, and started kissing her.

******

Regina lifted her head and looked at the clock next to her bedside table. “You know, we’re not getting very far today.”

Alex rolled toward the smaller woman and cocked an eyebrow upwards. “Really? I thought we were.”

A pillow shot across the bed and smacked Alex in the head.

“Hey!” Alex grabbed it from Regina and pounced on top of her. “Careful, you’re going to get yourself in trouble here.”

“Promises, promises.” Regina challenged her playfully as she lay pinned beneath Alex’s body.

“Don’t push your luck.” Alex rocked her hips against the woman lying beneath her and let out a low, guttural growl.

“We’ll just have to see about that.” The young doctor smirked as she sneaked a hand out, catching Alex off guard, and tickled her just below her ribs. This got her rewarded with a frenzied wrestling match with both of them almost falling out of the bed – except that Alex grabbed the head board, catching them before they tumbled over the edge of the mattress. After a few minutes of lying on the bed and catching their breath, the two women lay quietly beside each other.

Looking at Alex, Regina saw something as their eyes met that raced through her like

electricity and then it was gone. “Alex -”

“Regina -” They laughed as they both spoke at the same time.

“You go first,” Alex said, rolling onto her side and touching Regina’s face. God, you take my breath away.

Regina turned her face and kissed the palm of Alex’s hand. “Can I ask you a question?”

“Yeah.” The taller doctor shifted uncomfortably as she anticipated the question that was forming in Regina’s mind.

“What are we going to do about this?” Regina motioned between them with her hand.

Alex tilted her head and smiled, a relieved chuckle escaping her lips. Ok, well at least we’re not onto a more serious topic. “You mean, what are we going to do about us and work?”

Regina looked up at her and nodded her head, suddenly feeling like the entire world would know about them the minute they walked out of the condo.

She hadn’t given much thought about how it would be for Regina at work after last night. Alex had walked down this road before and frankly she really didn’t give a damn what other people thought about her. There was certainly a significant contingent of gay and lesbian employees at the hospital, but she kept to herself over the years and chose not to socialize with them except for the rare occasion that she went out with Sandy and Tina.

“People see what they want to see, Regina. Some people might think we’re just friends and others,” Alex shrugged, “who knows? Let them think what they will. As long as we don’t bring our relationship to work, nobody can say anything.”

“What about Sandy? She asked me about us yesterday.” Regina stared down at the rumpled sheets lying between them and nervously toyed with them.

“What did you tell her?”

“That we were friends.”

“Well, we are friends. Right?” Alex replied, leaning in and gently caressing Regina’s lips with her own.

“I don’t think she believed me. She said she wanted to throttle the both of us.”

“She did, did she? I’m going to have to a word with that woman.” Alex chuckled. “I don’t think we have to worry about Sandy saying anything. She’s known about me for as long as we’ve worked together. The mystery was over the night we spotted each other in one of the local gay bars. We both just looked at each other and then laughed because there was no sense trying to pretend we didn’t notice the other.”

Regina leaned into the caress and sighed quietly. Rationally, she knew Alex was right. It was the side of the young doctor that was still reveling in the dizzying heights of passion that Alex brought her to, that wondered if by just looking at her, people would be able to see what she felt inside for this woman, when they started back at work in a few hours.

Later in the morning, as they readied for their shifts, Regina stood in front of the mirror, pulling her hair back into a braid and watching as Alex slipped into her clothes.

Sensing the resident’s eyes watching her, Alex looked up from tying her bootlaces and returned the gaze into the mirror.

“What’s on your mind?” She stood and stomped her feet, shaking her jeans down over the boot tops as she looked at her lover.

A blush crept up into her cheeks, as Regina realized that Alex had caught her pensive stare. “Nothing.”

“Uh huh, and I’m Queen Elizabeth. I know that look Dr. Kingston, don’t lie to me.” Alex set her hands on the shorter woman’s shoulders as she looked at their reflection in the mirror. “Well?”

Regina turned, wrapped her arms around Alex’s waist and buried her head against the doctor’s shoulder. “It’s nothing. Come on, we have to get to the hospital.” Nothing, except I’m head over heels in love with you.

******

Alex propped her elbow on the desk of the nurse’s station as she regarded the new residents milling about her uncertainly. Today the rotations were changing; it was out with the now well-trained, experienced residents and in with the new ones. God help me, she thought.

Marcus was staying on to give the report on the current patients and to help get the new residents settled before he left in two days for a short vacation. Regina, having missed a week with her suspension, although nullified by the board, was staying on to finish her time out before deciding what she was going to do after this rotation. Alex knew she had several offers on the table from various hospitals and clinics, including Xavier’s pediatric department. She hadn’t pressed Regina about what she wanted to do, deciding that despite her own personal feelings for the doctor, Regina needed to do what was best for her without any outside pressure. Besides, Alex thought, you have no claim on her.

“Ok people, can someone please start rounds? We don’t have all day and I know Marcus would like to start his vacation as soon as possible.”

She listened as Marcus stepped closer and started rattling off the vital statistics for each of the patients in the emergency department. Alex frowned at one point and shook her head. “Wait, back up. I want you to run a set of complete lab values on this guy in bed seven.”

Out of the corner of her eye, she caught a flash of blonde hair as Regina emerged from one of the exam rooms. Her throat went dry and she swallowed hard as the resident turned and found the tall dark-haired doctor standing in the midst of the group, her eyes softening and a shy smile crossing her face before she walked to the sink and washed her hands.

Alex pulled her attention back to Marcus, nodding in agreement with his diagnosis. “So you’re getting a CT scan to confirm that, right?”

Marcus nodded. “Yes, he’s on his way as we speak.”

“Good, good, surgery won’t touch him without it.” Alex glanced back to the space where Regina had been moments before, finding it vacant. She sighed and then realized Marcus’ pupils were dilating, a look of panic setting in as he thought she was about to rip into him. “All right, we’ve got an MRI in two, wound cultures pending in four, a CT scan in seven and an ultrasound in eight. Any questions?” She stared hard at the group. “If you’re not sure about something, find Dr. Kingston. She’s your senior resident until the end of the week. Marcus, enjoy your vacation.”

As the residents scattered to their various duties, Alex scanned the assignment board. She turned toward the sound of heels striking the linoleum floor and the Vice President came up beside her.

“Alex, I need to speak with you, now. Where can we go?”

“The lounge, if it’s empty,” Alex offered to the woman.

Alex held the door for Cassandra as they stepped into the staff lounge. “Sandy, would you give us a moment?” She motioned for the nurse to leave them alone.

The blonde looked up, surprised to see the Vice President standing next to the dark haired attending. “No problem.” Quickly she gathered her clipboard and coffee before she slipped through the open door.

Cassandra turned to Alex as the door closed and crossed her arms. “There’s a rumor going around and I hope you can shed some light on it.”

“If I know anything.”

“We have a drug distributor whom Dr. Jameson has been working closely with for the past several years.” Cassandra paced back and forth across the room. “It turns out that the Office of Investigations is looking into this company’s practices and is filing a suit against them for fraud and malpractice. The trail has unfortunately led to our back door.”

“Why aren’t you talking to Dr. Jameson about this?” Alex leaned back against the counter and folded her arms.

“He’s refusing to cooperate and now he’s got an attorney. Alex, I need to know if there are any more surprises before OIG ends up on our doorstep.”

Alex met Cassandra’s gaze. “While he was on medical leave I found some things in his office that were suspicious. I confronted him three days ago when I finally put everything together. I gave him a day to make up his mind how he wanted to handle it – come to you himself or… I guess he made his decision.”

“I’m surprised you didn’t call OIG yourself.” Cassandra cocked her head and stepped up in front of the taller woman. “Why didn’t you, Alex?”

“I probably would have, except someone gave me a different perspective on how to handle it.”

The VP regarded Alex thoughtfully. “Well, I’m in meetings all day and tomorrow I’m off site until the evening. Bring what you have to my office and we’ll go through it together.”

“As soon as I’m done with my shift, I’ll bring it up.” Alex walked over to the sink and ran some water before filling a cup with it.

“Good.”

The attending took a deep breath as she walked out of the lounge behind the Vice President. She guessed that the medical director was running scared now that his carefully devised plan was falling down around him. She looked up as she heard her name and couldn’t help the grin that spread over her face. “Hey, are you doing ok?”

Alex had purposely kept her interactions with the young resident to a minimum during their first shift back to work, sensing Regina’s awkwardness with this new facet to their relationship and how it might affect them.

“Yeah, fine.” Regina pulled her eyes away from Alex’s piercing gaze. Ok, breathe, Regina. Yeah right, you’re only standing inches from the woman you spent half the night making love to.

Sandy looked up from her work, as the two doctors approached. “God, I’m glad this day is almost over. They must’ve had a two for one sale today. I don’t think I’ve seen this many people come through here with the flu at one time.”

“I didn’t see any signs posted out at the road. How about you, Regina?” Alex leaned on the counter and plucked a potato chip out of the bag that Sandy was holding and popped it into her mouth.

Regina, still recovering from her initial shock at her body’s visceral reaction just stared at Alex in disbelief.

Sandy waved a hand in front of her face. “Earth to Dr. Kingston. You all right, Regina?”

“Yeah, I’m fine,” she responded, looking up at the nurse, a perplexed expression on her face. “Why?”

Sandy’s eyes flicked slowly over the two of them and rested on Regina. “You looked uh, flushed.”

Regina dropped her head into her hands and groaned, feeling the warmth from the heated blush creeping up her face. “Great, this one’s making jokes, maybe I’m getting hot flashes.”

Alex choked on the water she was swallowing and started laughing. Seeing the incensed look she got from Regina, she stepped back and held up a hand. “Sorry,” she gasped in between coughing fitfully.

Sensing something else going on, Sandy looked back and forth between the two doctors and rolled her eyes. “Hey, we’re all going out Friday night, right?”

“Yeah, I thought we already decided that.” Alex glanced down as the beeper on her waistband vibrated. She frowned, wondering who would be paging her to an outside line.

The brunette reached over the desk, grabbed the phone and quickly punched in the numbers, waiting for the operator to connect her. “This is Dr. Margulies.”

The voice that came over the line sent a chill down her back.

“Well, well. If it isn’t the illustrious doctor, herself. You should feel quite honored, Alex. You’re the first person I’ve called since I posted bail.” There was long pause as the doctor held onto the phone. “What’s wrong, Alex? Cat got your tongue?”

“What do you want?” Alex shifted her feet and leaned on the desk, holding her head in one hand and wishing desperately she had taken the call elsewhere than at the desk. Now, whether she liked it or not, she was going to have an audience with Sandy and Regina standing on either side of her listening.

“How nice of you to ask. Tell me, how’s your girlfriend? You know the cute blonde. The one that was following you around like a puppy last time I saw you.” Dana started to laugh.

Alex turned away from Regina and lowered her voice. “Get to the point, Dana.”

“The point, hmm, oh I remember now. Yes, there is a point somewhere.” The voice on the other end of the line taunted.

“Are you drunk?”

“Nope I’m drunk and high. Get it right, Doc.” Dana’s voice turned suddenly menacing. “You bitch. You set me up Alex. I know you did.”

“You got sloppy, Dana. It was just a matter of time before you got caught.”

“Bullshit! I hate you, Alex. I hope you die and rot in hell.”

“Dana, where are you?”

“What do you care, where I am?”

“You’re Lana’s sister; I care. I don’t want you ending up in the morgue with a toe tag on you.”

“I don’t need your help.”

“Where are you?” Alex tried again. There was silence on the other end of the phone as Dana stubbornly refused to answer Alex. “Damn it, Dana. You’re in enough trouble already.”

“I’ll be seeing you Alex, real soon, love.” The line went dead and Alex held the receiver in her hand for a moment, staring at it numbly before she placed it back in the cradle.

“Alex?” Regina asked, looking up at the dark haired woman with a worried expression on her face.

“Alex, I don’t know why you waste your time,” Sandy hissed at her from across the desk.

“Don’t go there, Sandy. I…I have to find her.” Alex backed up a step, her eyes darkening at Sandy’s remark.

“When will you learn? Nothing you say or do is going to change what Dana does with her life. She is not going to give up using drugs for anything or anybody. Least of all, you.”

“Alex, wait.” Regina hurried after the attending as she disappeared around the corner and banged through the ER doors. Regina caught the door as it slammed back off the wall into her and pushed it open, calling out the doctor’s name out as she rounded the corner.

Alex hesitated and slowly turned around, waiting as Regina walked up next to her. “Can I walk with you?” the resident asked.

The doctor nodded her head and continued walking down the empty corridor. She pushed open the glass door and a blast of frigid air met them as they walked outside. Alex stuffed both her hands in her pockets, ducked her head against the wind and strode silently up the hill that led past the loading docks. She changed directions as an eighteen-wheeler beeped as it backed up the drive. The taller woman didn’t have to look back to know that Regina was walking quickly trying to keep up with her.

The resident crossed her arms over her chest, tucking her hands under her arms. Her scrubs and cotton lab coat were little comfort against the cold wind and the snow that was blowing around them.

“Alex, slow down.” Regina jogged along as the taller woman slowed her gait, allowing the blonde to catch up with her again.

“You know you are incredibly bull-headed, Alex. You don’t even know where Dana is. Do you?” Regina stood in front of Alex defiantly blocking her path. “Sandy’s right; whether you like it or not, it’s Dana’s choice to do what she wants with her life.”

Regina shivered and looked down at the ground, studying her sneakers. “Listen, I know you feel like – you have to make things right, because of what happened with Lana, but ultimately it’s Dana decision, not yours, Alex.”

The doctor looked out off in the distance, her jaw muscles contracting as she clenched her teeth together. “I promised Lana I’d take care of her. Hell of a job I’m doing, huh? She’s like a bad penny that just keeps coming back. I don’t know what to do anymore.”

Regina stepped closer to the woman and took hold of her arm. “Alex, look at me.”

Alex pivoted slowly and her blue eyes looked slowly at the blonde, then stared down at the ground. “She’s going to keep coming back as long as she knows she can manipulate you. Don’t you see, Alex? You’ve got to just let her go. Whatever happens, no matter how bad it is, you can’t be there to keep picking her up.” Regina let go of Alex’s arm, afraid she had pushed too far. “Just…just think about it, Alex.” The blonde shivered, her teeth starting to chatter from the cold. “I’m going back inside.”

The wind whipped Alex’s hair off her shoulders as she stood watching Regina’s retreating form. As the door closed behind the resident, the doctor turned and continued walking up the hill.

Regina didn’t see Alex for the rest of her shift and she worried that the doctor had gone out looking for Dana anyway. The young woman, resolving to let doctor do what she felt she needed to, quietly finished her work. Later, in the locker room, she carefully taped a note to Alex’s locker and then returned home alone.

******

Regina hurried to turn the key in the lock as she heard the phone ringing inside. She ran across the living room in her wet boots, almost falling on the hardwood floor in her effort to get to the phone.

“Hello?”

“Regina, it’s dad.”

“Dad? Is everything alright?” Regina sat down heavily on the couch, catching her breath as she listened. This was the last person she expected to hear from, considering the blow out she had with her mother over a month ago.

“Yes, everything is fine. Well no, it’s not. It’s your mother.”

“Oh, Jesus, what’s wrong? Is she sick?”

“No, no. I know you tried to call and even though she won’t admit it, this whole thing is killing her.”

Regina hesitated. “She told you about me?”

“She didn’t have to. I heard the whole thing from the living room.”

“Oh.”

“Regina, I wanted to know if you would come up this weekend and talk with her.”

Regina groaned and buried her head in her hand. “Dad, you know I want to but I’m working all weekend.”

“Oh.” His voice became muffled as he turned and talked away from the phone.

“Mom doesn’t know you’re calling me, does she?”

“No, she doesn’t. It doesn’t matter, Regina.” He sighed before he continued. “If I find a way to bring her down there, will you talk to her?”

“Do you think she’s even going to want to see me?” She was surprised to hear his voice choke when he spoke again.

“Regina, I already lost one son, I’m not losing my daughter as well. I want you back. I want you both back.”

Regina wiped tears away and leaned back on the couch. “I’ll talk to her dad. Have you talked to Jeff, yet?”

“No, that’s going to be a lot tougher. Your mother and I did a lot of damage to that relationship. It’s going to take a long time to repair all that.”

“I think the sooner you start, the better, dad. You’ve lost so much time already.”

“I know, little one.”

Regina laughed softly. “You haven’t called me that in years.”

“Eh, your old man’s getting sentimental. Let me get off this phone before I make a fool of myself.”

“You’re really going to bring her down here?”

“Kicking and screaming if I have to.”

“I get off at nine tomorrow night.”

“We’ll be there.”

“Goodnight dad.”

Regina pressed her head against the wall and sighed heavily before she hung up the phone. Over the next couple of hours, she tried unsuccessfully to distract herself by watching television and reading, but her thoughts continued to revolve around the fact that her parents’ impending arrival was coinciding with her newfound relationship with Alex.

She wasn’t even sure she wanted to tell Alex that her parents were coming down. Things were complicated enough already without adding them to the mix. Oh boy, this is going to be interesting. Finally, unable to resist her body’s need any longer, Regina drifted off to sleep as she lay on the couch.

It was shortly after midnight when the shrill ringing of the phone jerked her awake. She fumbled for the phone and mumbled a barely intelligible hello.

“Hi, I just read your note. I woke you up; I…I’m sorry.”

Regina smiled. The familiar voice was deep and sensuous as it came over the phone line and her ears reddened as she felt the heat stirring in her guts. “No, it’s…it’s ok. I fell asleep on the couch. Are you still at the hospital?”

“Yeah. We had a couple of admissions come in, so I stayed and helped out.”

“Do you want to come over, Alex?” Regina inquired hopefully, staring into space and thinking about her lover.

“Aren’t you getting tired of having me camped out at your place?” Alex joked to hide her nervousness. She found her thoughts frequently revolving around the blonde, wondering what she was doing throughout the day.

Regina blushed. “I hardly call one night camping out Alex, and no – I miss you.”

“Give me ten minutes,” Relieved, Alex chuckled softly into the phone. “I’ll be right over.”

A short while later, Regina heard the Jeep pull into the driveway. Regina opened the door before the taller woman made it to the steps, letting Alex walk inside. The doctor looked tired and the stress from everything going on showed with the dark circles shadowing her pale blue eyes. After she shed her coat, scarf, and gloves, Alex reached over and pulled Regina into a tight hug.

“God, I’ve wanted to do that all day.” Her arms pulled the blonde into a tight embrace and she buried her face in the smaller woman’s neck, inhaling the fragrance of her perfume.

Regina reached up behind Alex and slipped the leather band off that held her braid in place. She ran her hands through the woman’s thick hair, settling it around her shoulders.

“Are you ok?” Regina rubbed her hands over the bulky sweater that Alex wore.

Alex tightened her arms around Regina again, gathering strength from the contact. “Yeah,” she breathed out. “I…thanks for being there and talking some sense into me. I’m not sure what the hell I was planning on doing.” She knew it was an automatic reaction for herself to try and help Dana. She’d promised Lana that she would take care of her, but despite all her efforts over the past year, Dana continued her uncontrolled downward spiral.

“She scares me. I don’t want her to hurt you, Alex.” Regina buried her head against the taller woman’s shoulder.

“Don’t worry, nothing is going to happen. I won’t let it,” Alex reassured the young woman. The brunette lowered her head and gently kissed the soft lips. She felt a stirring sensation deep down in her belly as they slowly re-acquainted themselves; their caresses becoming more fervent as memories of their recent lovemaking ignited the passion that had been dampened by the long day at work.

After several more minutes, they slowly broke off their embrace and gazed quietly into each other’s eyes.

“Wow.” Regina peered up at Alex, very aware of her racing heartbeat and the pulsing she felt between her legs. “That was some kiss.”

The taller woman slid her arms around Regina’s waist, pulled her close and nibbled an earlobe. “Mm, let’s see what else you like.”

“Oh, that’s…not fair, Alex.” Regina tilted her head back and groaned as her body began to tremble under her lover’s touch.

Still holding onto her, Alex walked Regina backwards until the smaller woman was pressed firmly up against a wall in the bedroom. She ran her hands against the blonde’s skin, running lightly over the swell of her breasts, smiling as she felt the nipples harden at her lingering touch.

Regina pulled Alex’s head down to her and kissed her hungrily, their tongues and lips teasing each other. The blonde lowered her hands to Alex’s hips, pulled her close and rubbed her body against the taller woman. “Oh, I want you so much.”

Alex obliged her need by slipping a thigh up between the blonde’s legs. “That’s it, just let go,” she coaxed her. The taller woman slipped Regina’s shirt off and ducked her head, first drawing one nipple and then the other into her mouth.

“Oh, your lips, they’re so soft,” Regina gasped, feeling the dampness from her arousal as she rocked her hips over Alex’s muscular thigh. “Don’t let me go; I’ll fall.”

“I’ve got you.” Alex worked the button free on the blonde’s pants and tugged the zipper down. She slipped her hand down through the blonde curls and caressed her, tightening her grip around Regina’s waist with her other arm as she felt the younger woman tense against her.

“Alex, I…don’t think I can come like this.”

“Yes, you can. Just relax, you’re ok.” Alex lowered her head and captured Regina’s lips in a heated kiss. She nibbled at her lips and tongue, as her hand continued to caress and stroke the younger woman’s hot and swollen flesh. “Ah, Regina, you’re so wet. I want you right here.”

The blonde closed her eyes and tilted her head back, her breaths quickening in response to Alex’s touch. Her lover’s tongue and lips played along her neck, slowly gliding lower over her breasts. Regina felt Alex move against her, kneeling in front of her and at the same time pulling her pants down so she could step out of them.

Alex rubbed her face over the silky skin of Regina’s belly, inhaling the scent of her arousal as she sank back on her heels and brushed her lips against the damp curls. She heard Regina moan softly as she pressed up against her, tasting the moistness on her lips.

The blonde’s hands clenched and unclenched at her side, her hips undulating against the exquisite sensations coursing through her center. She clutched at Alex’s shoulders, steadying herself against the tremors that threatened her legs to give out on her. “Alex, oh…oh God. What are you doing…to me?”

The dark haired woman pulled away, her fingers replacing her lips and tongue. “Making love to you, baby. Making love to you.”

Regina’s head lolled forward and she held tightly to the shoulders in front of her. She gasped as Alex’s fingers slid inside. Her hips moved in rhythm with the slow stroking movements that sent a fire speeding out from her center. “Alex…I, oh right there,” she whispered, her hands clutching Alex’s arms. She cried out as Alex’s tongue covered the engorged head of her clitoris and stroked over its length.

Regina’s words caught in her throat and she sobbed, her body and soul overcome by the intensity of her climax as Alex claimed her. She collapsed against the woman, holding onto her, panting from her release. “Oh, God. Don’t move, just hold me.”

“I’m right here.” Alex continued to hold onto Regina as her body shuddered several more times.

“I can’t move.” Regina responded drowsily, her body limp and spent after she came. She gasped again softly as Alex removed her hand and stood up, gathering her into her arms. The blonde brushed the dark hair back, lifted Alex’s head and kissed her mouth, tasting the evidence of her own passion.

Alex pulled back and searched her eyes, before she ducked her head and kissed the blonde thoroughly. Ah, Regina, never in my dreams did I imagine it could be like this. After a few minutes, Alex felt the blonde’s body relax against hers. “Hey, are you falling asleep on me?” she teased, wrapping her arms tighter around the woman.

Regina lifted her head off Alex’s shoulder and smiled crookedly, stifling a yawn. “Mm, you make a nice pillow.”

Alex looked down at the smaller woman and patted her side affectionately. “Right now, you look like you could fall asleep standing up. Come on.”

The resident didn’t resist when Alex tugged her into the bedroom and crawled into bed beside her.

“I think I could fall asleep on a bed of nails,” Regina said, as she leaned into Alex’s body.

“I think the bed is a much safer option, don’t you?” Alex whispered as she nuzzled Regina’s neck with her lips. Her fingers drew a lazy pattern over the firm muscles of the smaller woman’s stomach, dipping lower between her thighs.

Regina curled against Alex’s body, sighing in contentment. “You’re incorrigible,” she whispered, her mouth closing softly on the earlobe in front of her.

Alex shivered at the touch. She slid her arm back up around Regina’s waist and pulled her close. “I can’t help it. You drive me crazy.”

Regina rested her head on her hand as she watched the doctor’s eyes drift shut. I never dreamed I could feel this way, want someone the way I do you. I love you, Alex Margulies.

Alex felt Regina watching and turned her head, looking over at the blonde. “I thought you were sleepy. Now, what’s going on inside that head of yours?”

The blonde closed her eyes and shook her head. “My father called before you came over.”

Alex propped her head up on her hand and raised an eyebrow. So, your father’s the one that breaks the ice. She remembered what Regina told her about her fight with her parents. “I guess that was a surprise.”

Regina blew out a breath and ran her finger over the sheets between them. “Yeah, he wants to bring my mother down here, tomorrow – to talk.”

The brunette noticed the pensive look on her lover’s face, slid her hand under Regina’s chin, and lifted her face up. “How do you feel about that?”

Regina shrugged her shoulders. “I don’t know what I’ll say to her that will change how she feels.”

Alex let her hand caress Regina’s cheek as she studied her face. “You’re not going to change how she feels, Regina. She’s the only one that can do that. Just be yourself.”

Regina smiled and reached out, sliding her hand into Alex’s larger one and entwined their fingers together. She brought the woman’s palm to her lips and kissed it gently, then slid it down so it covered her heart. “I want to spend more time with you. I don’t care what we do; just being together…it makes me feel…whole.” When she looked back up she saw the startled expression on her companion’s face.

Alex swallowed nervously as her mind registered what Regina said to her. “I make you feel that way?”

The blonde let go of Alex’s hand and ran her fingers through her lover’s hair. Her hand rested lightly on the nape of her neck and she rubbed the soft skin, eliciting a low growl from her companion. “Yes, you do. You have no idea how amazing you are to me. You make me feel alive, Alex.” She smiled as she saw the wide-eyed look of shock on Alex’s face.

Alex shook her head. “How can you say that, after everything I’ve told you? I see things in you I wish I could be, your strength, your courage -”

“Alex, I think I lost track of how many times you’ve taken care of me or protected me from Derrick.”

“I’m not talking about that kind of strength, Regina. What you have inside, that’s what makes you strong.” The taller woman touched the blonde’s chest with her hand. “I don’t have that kind of strength.”

“Yes, you do. You’re alive and here, and talking to me. If you didn’t have that strength, you wouldn’t be here right now.” Regina pulled her into a tight embrace.

Alex wrapped her arms around the smaller woman as if her life depended on it. “I wouldn’t have made it through the past few months if it hadn’t been for you,” she whispered hoarsely.

“You would have found a way, Alex,” Regina reassured her, keeping up the gentle rhythmic pressure of her hand on her neck.

“I did find my way, you.”

Regina lifted her head and looked quietly into blue eyes that reflected back to her an understanding that extended beyond words. Wrapped securely in each other’s arms they held each other, content to drift peacefully off to sleep comforted by each other’s presence.
Chapter Twenty-One
The next day brought more snow and foul weather and the ER was busy again as people fell victim to their own carelessness and various other sundry afflictions. Regina walked out of one of the exam rooms and washed her hands for what seemed like the twentieth time today. She’d seen her tenth flu patient already and from the way things looked in the waiting room, nothing was going to change anytime soon.

Down the hallway, she saw Alex leaning over a man, listening to his chest with her stethoscope. The doctor’s braid hung over her left shoulder and she brushed it back as she straightened up and wrote something in the chart that she then handed to one of the medical students, standing next to her.

Their eyes met as they both walked back toward the nurse’s station and the resident swore Alex winked, as she got closer. “Crazy day, huh?”

“You love it when it’s like this,” Regina smiled up at the doctor, knowing how much Alex thrived on the chaos. She’d seen it time and again over the past few months; it was when things fell apart and life hung tenuously in the balance that the doctor was at her best.

Regina had seen in those moments a side to Alex that was devoid of all the emotional turmoil that haunted her subconscious. The blonde stole a glance up at her taller companion and wondered if what they had discovered in each other would be enough for Alex to let go of the past and allow them a chance at a future together.

The young resident’s attention was drawn to Sandy as she spoke sharply into the phone. “Well, tell them we need the beds. Community Medical Center is already diverting major traumas so we have to take them.” She slammed the phone down in aggravation and muttered under her breath.

“That bad?” Regina asked.

“Can that patient be discharged?” Sandy pointed to the chart Regina was holding.

“As soon as the IV is finished. The orders are already written.”

“Good.” She grabbed the chart from her and glanced up at Alex. “Dr. Mitchard was looking for you earlier and we have another patient the paramedics just brought in.”

“What did she want?” Alex asked.

“She said she’d find you later.”

Regina glanced down the hallway toward the entrance of the emergency room and gasped. “Oh my God.”

“What?” Alex turned to follow her partner’s gaze and saw a man standing just inside the door. She recognized the family resemblance and leaned closer to the blonde. “I take it that’s your father.”

Regina nodded mutely. “Oh, shit. I can’t believe he’s here. I…I told him I got off at nine.”

“Well, you better go get him away from the ambulance bay doors before he gets run over by an overzealous paramedic,” Alex advised her quietly. She watched as the younger woman stepped hesitantly away from the desk and walked awkwardly down the hall toward the man.

Regina felt her heart hammer rapidly in her chest as her father turned and focused on her. Oh this is not good. How is it that parents can reduce you to feeling like a little kid again just by the look they give you, Regina questioned herself as she walked closer.

“Dad?” Regina stopped, standing awkwardly in front of him. “I…I still have an hour to go. I wasn’t expecting you for a while yet.”

He gave her an apologetic grin. “I know.” He turned towards her and tucked one of her hands into his larger one.

Regina started at the unfamiliar gesture. “Dad, what’s wrong?”

“She wouldn’t come with me. I’m sorry, Regina.”

The blonde swallowed and averted her eyes to hide the pain from her father. Why did I think that she would? “It was a lot to expect that she would, dad. She’s upset.”

“You’re her daughter.” His voice was filled with hurt and anger.

Regina mustered her own reassuring smile when she met his gaze again. “It’ll be alright, Dad. She needs time.” She turned back towards the desk. “Come on, at least you can get some coffee while you wait.”

“So, this is where you work,” he commented as he walked past several stretchers lined up against the wall.

“This is what I do, Dad.” She replied and guided him past the exam and trauma rooms that were mostly filled with sick and injured in various stages of triage. The resident winced inwardly as she saw his eyes react to pain and suffering that was part of a daily routine to her now. It wasn’t that she was immune to it, not by a long shot. In the months she had been here, she had developed her own defenses and learned to hang onto the successes, so the memories carried her along during the really bad traumas.

Regina had been trying to decide since last night if she was going to introduce her parents to Alex and if she did what she would say. Now as she neared the desk and saw the tall, statuesque woman, her dark hair pulled back in a thick braid, crouched in front of a woman who was sitting in a wheelchair, she knew her answer. I don’t care what he thinks. He’s down here, this is who I am and that is the woman I love.

The resident waited as Alex stood up and motioned to one of the medical students to come over. She handed him the chart and gave him instructions before she turned the patient over to the tall, lanky man. The doctor stood with her hands on her hips watching the medical student disappear into one of the exam rooms. Her dark head turned and her chin lifted slightly as she met Regina’s gaze.

“Alex, this is my father.” She saw the imperceptible softening in the blue eyes as Alex stared at her for a second then turned and offered her hand to the man.

“Mr. Kingston.” She grasped his hand, her demeanor still guarded as they sized each other up. Next time, we’re going to have to discuss strategy before we do one of these impromptu introductions, my friend. “You’re daughter’s an excellent doctor.”

“It’s Roger and I know she is.”

Regina let out a breath as she saw both of them relax slightly. She heard an exaggerated cough behind her and turned to see Sandy standing behind the desk, arms crossed and a comical expression on her face “Well, I know where I rate now, huh Dr. Kingston? Good enough to work by your side in the trenches, but -”

“Sandy,” Regina objected and then saw the nurse wink at her and reach over the desk to take her father’s hand.

“Hello, Mr. Kingston. I’m Sandy. Don’t let that tall dark-haired one fool you. She thinks she runs the emergency department. I just haven’t let her in on the joke yet. How about I show you where we have drinkable coffee in this joint while they go save the world?”

Regina’s father smiled disarmingly as the curly, blonde-haired nurse walked around the desk and took his arm. “Thanks, I think I could use some. It’s cold out there tonight.”

The blonde turned and glanced at the taller woman standing behind her. “Breathe, Alex.”

Alex snorted from behind her. “I am.” She watched Sandy walk down the hall leading Regina’s father into the lounge then grumbled something about going to check that the medical student was x-raying the correct arm.

Regina scratched her temple and blew out a breath as Alex brushed by her and headed down the hall. She let a smile tug at her lips as Sandy came up beside her a few minutes later and poked her in the back. “Thanks.”

“Don’t mention it. I really wasn’t relishing the prospect of having to do CPR on the two of them right here in the middle hallway. Too much paperwork to fill out.”

They both snickered and then started laughing as they looked at each other.

A moment later the radio crackled and came to life on the desk. “Aw shit. This can’t be good.” The blonde-haired nurse turned and quickly picked up the microphone.

Alex re-appeared from the exam room and stepped forward, listening to the garbled voice coming through over the receiver.

Sandy glanced up as she wrote down a few quick notes. “Motor vehicle accident. One critically injured. They’re five minutes out.”

Alex stepped away from the desk, grabbed an isolation gown from one of the bins, and started slipping it on, her mind already running through all the clinical scenarios they might be up against. “I’m going to need your help, Regina.”

Regina quickly followed, grabbing a pair of gloves from one of the wall boxes. She stopped one of the medical students as he walked out of the lounge.

“Michael, we’ve got a trauma coming in. You need to be there to work on your procedures.”

“I just have to run something down to the lab.”

“Well, hurry up and get back here,” Regina told him as she pulled her protective goggles on and ran toward the ambulance bay just as the paramedics banged through the emergency room doors.

“We’ve got a twenty-six year old male, ejected from his vehicle, and thrown approximately fifteen feet. We intubated him in the field. His pulse is thready, blood pressure is ninety.” The litany continued as the doctors and paramedics rushed the patient down the hallway and into the trauma room.

They wheeled the stretcher up alongside the table and efficiently transferred the boy over. “What’s his name?” Alex asked.

“Tim, Tim Johnson.” The paramedic glanced down at his clipboard. He collected the backboard from the technicians and started walking slowly out of the room. He bumped into one of the medical students who barged through the door, tying his mask behind his head.

“Sorry,” Michael mumbled.

“Tim, can you hear me?” Alex called out. She bent over, flashing her penlight over his pupils. “His right pupil is fixed and not reactive.”

Regina rubbed the knuckles of her fist over his sternum. “He’s unresponsive to pain.”

“Let’s get a CBC, type and cross match for four units of blood. Do a drug and alcohol screen. I need two more IV lines, sixteen-gauge with normal saline. Hang a Dopamine drip and get a catheter in him, now. Let’s move people! Get his clothes off.” Alex barked orders, as she ran skilled fingers over his skull and face. Probing gently, she felt a depression in the back of his head. “He’s got a depressed skull fracture.”

As Sandy reached around Alex hooking the tube coming from his mouth to the ventilator,

one of the ER techs was already on the phone calling the OR and another was quickly cutting away the boy’s clothes.

Regina listened for breath sounds, moving the stethoscope deliberately over his chest. “I’ve got decreased breath sounds on both sides. Check the position of the tube.”

Alex bent over and pulled the endotracheal tube out a couple of inches. “Anything?”

Regina shook her head, still listening with the stethoscope. “Decreased breath sounds, both sides. I need two chest tube kits.”

“I got it.” Sandy grabbed the kits out of the cabinets. Ripping the covering off of them, she dropped the kits on the instrument tables then reached over and handed Regina a scalpel.

Regina grabbed the instrument from the nurse and quickly made a six-centimeter long incision between the boy’s ribs. Using her fingers, she spread the hole and inserted the tube until she felt it break through the outer lining of the lung. Working quickly, she sutured the wound closed.

“I got the lines in,” Michael announced moments later, as he hung the bags up on the IV pole. He backed up and bumped into the instrument tray, knocking it over with a loud crash.

“God damn it, watch what you’re doing,” Alex growled as she made a quick incision and pushed her fingers inside, making the hole wider. “Sandy, get me another kit, now.”

Embarrassed at his clumsiness, Michael skulked behind the attending and picked up the tray stand, setting it upright. He stood at the foot of the stretcher watching awkwardly at the two doctors working feverishly over the patient. Sandy shoved a plastic kit in his hands. “Make yourself useful and catheterize him.”

“Thomas,” Regina called to the technician. “Dress this wound for me.” Moving around him, she grabbed the portable ultrasound unit and performed a scan of the patient’s abdomen. “He’s got blood in his abdominal cavity. The aorta is torn.”

One of the technicians watched the automatic cuff around the patient’s arm inflate and measure his blood pressure. “His pressure’s ninety and dropping.”

The door to the trauma room swung open and one of the nurses stuck her head in. “Dr. Margulies, we’ve got another trauma on its’ way.”

“Page Dr. Washington and Dr. Jack. We’re busy,” Alex snapped, without looking up from the patient as she inserted the tube into the chest wall. “Give him point five of atropine and open up the IV’s all the way.” Alex looked up at the monitor. Shit, we’re losing him.

“They are,” the medical student said.

“Then squeeze the bag in,” Alex ordered. “He’s losing volume as fast as we’re putting it in.”

One of the nurses ran into the room and handed Sandy the four units of blood. “Here, check it with me.” Sandy said, pulling her back. Quickly they compared the labels with the patient’ blood type, then Sandy hung the bags and piggybacked them to the IV lines.

“There’s a hundred cc’s of blood in the bag,” Regina said, as she held up the catheter bag.

“He’s bleeding out. Do we have the O-neg yet?” Alex demanded

“It’s already going in,” Sandy told her.

One of the surgeons, still in his bloodied surgical scrubs from his last case, ran into the room pulling on a mask. What’ve we got?”

“Blunt abdominal trauma, closed head injury, internal bleeding, blown pupil, his blood pressure is ninety over palp,” Sandy quickly reported.

Moments later, outside in the hallway, they heard a frantic voice calling the boy’s name. Alex glanced up as the man’s voice drew closer. “If those are the parents keep them the hell out of here. They don’t need to see this.”

One of the other nurses stepped out of the room and looked down the hallway. She cursed under her breath and jogged in the direction of the police officer and the two people she guessed were the kid’s parents. She heard the father’s question as she came up alongside them.

“What happened the hospital called and said my son was in an accident?”

Derrick pulled his cap of and scratched his head. “Sir, a drunk driver hit your son’s car.”

“He’s all right, isn’t he?” The woman’s voice trembled and she clutched her husband’s arm.

“Sir, please come with me.” She glared up at the officer, angry that he had told them about the drunk driver. “The doctors are taking care of him right now.”

The father turned and stared down at the nurse, who had spoken to him. “Where’s my son?” he demanded, pushing abruptly past the nurse. “The officer just told me a drunk driver hit my son. I want to see him. Now, dammit.”

“Sir, please, the doctors will be out to speak to you when they can.” The dark haired woman dressed in blue scrubs, tried to guide him toward the waiting area but he shrugged her hand off his arm.

“Where is he?” he demanded, wrapping an arm around his wife’s shoulders as she stood beside him.

The nurse had the couple almost past the trauma room when the doors behind them crashed open and the paramedics, followed by two more police officers, rushed the driver of the other car into the emergency department.

Dr. Washington ran past the nurse in the direction of the paramedics. “Let’s go,” he said, pointing with his finger. “Room three is open.”

The man turned, watching the stretcher disappear through the doors and then his eyes were drawn to the movement in the room adjacent to him.

Inside the chaotic trauma room, Alex looked up at the monitor and watched the short bursts of abnormal heartbeats. “He’s throwing PVC’s. Give him a loading dose of Lidocaine.”

Regina reached behind Sandy and grabbed the vial of medication from the med cart. Quickly drawing the medication into the syringe, she grabbed the IV and jabbed the needle into the port, depressing the plunger.

Everyone watched the monitor as the medication at first controlled his heart’s wild contractions and then gave way to the failing muscle. The monitor alarmed shrilly as the boy’s heart rate suddenly flat lined on the monitor. “Asystole. Give him one milligram of epinephrine, now.” Alex leaned over him and started compressing his chest.

Regina grabbed the defibrillator paddles from the code cart, charging them to two hundred-seventy joules, and brought the paddles down onto his chest. “Clear,” she said, and Alex backed away, raising her hands from the body. She pressed the buttons and watched as the body convulsed on the stretcher from the intensity of the current.

Alex met Regina’s eyes briefly in a knowing glance. They were in a battle against time and it was quickly running out on the boy lying beneath them on the stretcher. They repeated the sequence two more times, increasing the drugs and charging the paddles higher each time in an attempt to restart the boy’s heart.

“What about a thoracotomy and cross-clamping the aorta?” Regina asked, as she stood by with paddles charged and ready, watching as Alex pumped on his chest. She wasn’t ready to give up just yet.

The surgeon shook his head as he watched with growing detachment what was going on at the table. “The mortality rate is ninety percent with a blunt abdominal trauma. There’s too much damage; nothing we can do.”

They worked on the boy for several more minutes, desperately trying to bring him back from death’s door, but to no avail. Finally, Alex straightened up, looking up at the flat line on the monitor. She hated admitting defeat. “Time of death – eighteen forty-five.”

She ripped her gloves off and threw them on the floor in disgust.

The surgeon shook his head and walked back outside the room. “What a waste. The kid never had a chance.”

Outside, the father shoved the nurse away from him and grabbed the door as it started to swing closed. “No! Why are you giving up? You can’t stop.”

Everyone in the room stood still rooted in place, shocked at the sudden, unexpected appearance of the man and woman, both obviously the boy’s parents.

Regina who was the closest to the distraught father, hesitantly stepped closer, putting a hand on his arm. “Mr. Johnson, I’m sorry, your son sustained a severe head injury and massive internal damage to his organs. We used all our resources…”

The woman who had been standing mutely, clinging to her husband’s arm, buried her head against his chest and let out a low, keening wail.

Regina looked into the man’s face wishing desperately that she didn’t have to say the next part. “I’m sorry, Mr. Johnson, but we couldn’t save him.” Regina clenched her jaw nervously watching the anguished expression she saw on the man’s face.

Sandy grabbed Alex’s arm and directed her to the adjacent door. “Jon needs you next door. I’ll help Regina with the parents. Go.”

Alex could hear the commotion coming from the trauma room as soon as she stepped through the adjoining doors. Her gut clenched as she heard the struggle that was going on with the patient on the table.

“Let me go, damn it. You’re not taking my clothes off.”

“Thomas, hold her down.” There was a struggle as the woman on the stretcher fought against the doctor.

Two quick steps brought Alex up beside the stretcher and she grabbed the woman’s arms and pinned her down to the stretcher. Her eyes widened as she realized for the first time who was lying on the stretcher. “Dana, shut up and stop fighting with them.”

“Let go of me, you bitch.” She spat in Alex’s face.

“Whoa, Jesus Christ, get that!” Jon grabbed Dana’s arm as she reached inside her coat.

Alex’s ears picked up the clatter of metal on the tile and her brain slowly registered the fact that a gun tumbled from Dana’s hand and rattled across the floor. Quickly retrieving it, she handed it to the technician.

“Make sure this gets into the lock box and call security,” she growled as she shoved the butt of the gun into his hands. The technician’s eyes bulged as he gingerly took hold of the shiny, black handled weapon and ran out of the room.

Jon grabbed Dana’s hand and pinned it to her side, quickly tying it in a restraint. “She’s got a tender abdomen and she needs to go to the OR for an exploratory laparotomy.”

“Fuck you! Let go of me,” Dana growled.

“Shut up, Dana.” Alex leaned over the struggling woman, helping him tie the other arm down. “What happened?”

“She broad sided the kid you were working on.”

“Shit.” A wave of revulsion swept through Alex as she stared down at Dana in disbelief. She yanked the restraint tight around her wrist and glared down at the wild-eyed blonde, struggling to contain her anger at the senseless loss of life that Dana had caused. “Let’s get her to CT scan, now.” Alex jerked the rails up on her side of the stretcher.

There was a loud crash just outside the door, followed by several cries of alarm as a supply cart slammed into the wall and tipped over, sending boxes and plastic bins scattering across the floor.

“What the hell is going on out there?” Alex heard angry shouts and then the door to the trauma room slammed open behind her.

“Let her die.”

She felt a prickly sensation on the back of her neck as her hair stood up at the sound of the voice.

The two doctors looked up at the same time and stared at the man pointing the gun at the woman lying on the stretcher. Outside the door, they caught a glimpse of the technician pressing his hand against his jaw and Sandy leaning over him.

“She didn’t give my son a chance. She doesn’t deserve one.”

Alex straightened up slowly, aware that Jon was now moving the stretcher toward the side door away from the man with the gun. “It’s not our decision to make, Mr. Johnson. Give me the gun, no one wants anyone else hurt tonight.” Alex slowly reached her hand out.

The man stepped closer, his hands trembling as he held the gun in front of him. “You’re not taking her anywhere.”

“Mr. Johnson.” Regina stepped through the door behind him, holding her hands up in front of her as he whirled around pointing the gun at her.

“Regina, get out of here,” Alex hissed at her.

The resident shook her head and held the man’s gaze as she stepped closer. “Please, Mr. Johnson, your wife just lost her son, she doesn’t need to lose her husband, too.”

“Alex, we’ve got to move her. Her pressure is dropping.” Jon set the portable monitor on the end of the stretcher and hooked the EKG wire to it along with the pulse oximeter.

“No!” The man spun around now holding the gun on Jon as he worked on the injured woman.

“Get a dopamine drip started and push another liter of fluid, Jon.” Alex didn’t take her eyes off the distraught father.

“That bitch killed my son!” He stepped closer to the stretcher, his whole body shaking as he started to squeeze the trigger.

“I know.” Regina stepped up beside him and held her hand out. “Give me the gun, Mr. Johnson. You don’t want to do this.”

He turned part way around and stared down at the blonde pleading with him.

There was the sound of footsteps running down the hallway and more shouts of alarm as two uniformed police officers raced towards the trauma room. Alex edged closer, thinking she had the best chance to grab the gun away while he was focused on Regina. Out of the corner of her eye, she picked out the blur of blue fabric as the officers filled the doorway.

“No!” Alex waved them back. She could sense the man’s resolve crumbling as he stared at Regina, the hand holding the gun slowly lowering to the floor.

Startled by the officers’ appearance, the man cried out and spun back around, pulled the gun up and aimed it at Dana lying on the stretcher. At the same time, Alex darted forward; her outstretched hand grabbing for his wrist. For one instant, Regina met Alex’s eyes as the doctor struggled to wrestle the gun from the father’s hands; the younger woman’s cry was drowned out by the sharp staccato report of a gun firing.

A look of surprise registered on Alex’s face as the sensation of being punched in the chest stole her breath away. She stumbled, her legs collapsing underneath her, and she fell to her knees. Far away, she heard voices shouting as pandemonium broke out around her.

She dropped face down on the floor, feeling the cold tile on her face and her hands. The two police officers barreled through the door, knocked Regina aside, and tackled the man, knocking him into a code cart that crashed to the ground, its contents spilling across the floor.

As Jon pulled the stretcher with Dana on it out of the room and into the hallway, Regina scrambled forward, dropped to her knees, and grabbed Alex by the shoulders, rolling the injured doctor over. A dark red stain was blossoming over the front of doctor’s scrub top.

“Regina.” Her voice was little more than a whisper as she slowly focused on the blonde haired woman bending over her.

“D…Don’t say anything, Alex. Just hold on.” Regina’s hands were trembling as she grabbed a package lying on the floor and ripped it open, slapping the pressure bandage over the ragged hole in Alex’s chest, and pressed her hand over it, slowing the flow of blood. She looked around frantically. “I need help in here!”

She could hear Jon in the hallway barking out commands as he turned Dana’s care over to a surgical resident and a nurse. In front of her, the officers were dragging the man to his feet, stumbling and tripping over contents of the code cart as they hauled him out of the room.

“Sandy! I need help.”

The nurse bumped into the officers as she ran into the room, followed by one of the techs. “Oh my God! I told them he had a gun.”

“Help me,” Regina pleaded, still pressing her hand down over the bloody wound in Alex’s chest. “We’ve got to get her on a stretcher.”

“On three – one, two, three.” Regina directed and together they quickly lifted the attending off the floor and onto a stretcher. Alex groaned and passed out as a wave of intense pain exploded inside her chest.

Meanwhile, Jon raced back down the hallway and caught Maggie’s attention, as she talked frantically into the phone.

“No, I can’t hold on, just tell them to be ready. I don’t care who they have to bump, tell them it’s one of their own doctors dammit!” She slammed the phone down and caught up with Jon as they got to the trauma room. “The OR’s on standby.”

“Good. Thomas,” Jon called to the technician as he ran out of the trauma room across from them. “I need four units of O – negative blood.”

“I gotta get something for one of the residents.”

“Just get me the damn blood,” Jon snapped, as they turned the corner into the room.

“I needed a blood pressure on her.” Regina turned around to grab a pair of gloves and bumped into one of the police officers coming back into the room. Shock registered on her face as she recognized who it was.

“Move, Derrick.” She shoved him out of the way.

“I have to get the gun and the shells.” He shoved past her and then got stopped short as Jon grabbed him with both hands and hauled him away from everyone.

“Get the hell out of here!” he ordered, shoving Derrick out of the room. “Move!”

Regina looked up as Marcus ran breathless into the room, from having been stat paged overhead. “Marcus, get over here and help us.”

“Son of a bitch,” his voice cracked as he saw Alex lying covered in blood on the stretcher. “What happened?”

“Blood pressure is one-hundred over fifty,” Sandy reported.

“Good breath sounds bilaterally,” Regina said, as she listened to Alex’s chest with the stethoscope.

“She’s losing volume. Get two 16-gauge lines in now and start a Dopamine drip,” Jon ordered.

It was dark and eerily quiet around her. Blinking her eyes, Alex heard a rushing noise in her ears, then a searing pain exploded in her chest and her world spun around her as a blinding light assaulted her eyes. Above her, she could hear disconnected voices shouting frantically.

“I need a larger needle.” She heard Regina’s strained voice and she stared up at the blonde through the oxygen mask that covered her face. From a distance, someone shouted back at Regina and she pulled away out of Alex’s line of sight.

“I don’t care what size. Just give me a larger needle.”

Cool air hit her skin as scissors ripped away her scrub top to expose her chest. Something cold and wet swabbed her neck and Alex felt a prick in her arm and then a burning pain in the base of her neck as another line was inserted.

“Alex,” Regina was staring down at her now. Setting her hands on either side of her head, she leaned over her.

“R…Regina?” Alex asked hesitantly, trying to focus through the pain and the confusion. It hurt to breathe; everything was all jumbled in her mind and she couldn’t remember what happened, only knew that something went terribly wrong.

“Alex, look at me.” Blue eyes drifted away, then slowly tracked back to meet Regina’s. “Do you know where you are?”

The doctor nodded her head slowly. “Hospital. I…I’m sorry.”

“Don’t say that.” Regina shook her head fighting back tears. “You stay with me. You’re going to be ok, I promise.”

“C…cold.” Her teeth were chattering and everything seemed to be fading, getting farther away and harder to hold onto, as she tried desperately to stay focused on Regina’s face. A swirl of red, blue, and green lights danced in her peripheral vision and then everything started to go a fuzzy white. Oh God, please not here. Not like this. Mercifully, the drugs injected into the IV pulled her down into a blissful indifference as the opiates coursed through her veins.

“Pulse is one-twenty.”

“Where’s the blood?” Regina demanded.

“It just came in.” Sandy grabbed the units of blood from Thomas and pushed him over to the table. Jon helped Sandy hang the blood, piggy-backing the lines and slipping the pressure sleeves over the IV bags to force the fluid in faster.

“We need to move her, now,” Dr. Washington said, as he watched the monitor.

The doors to the room banged open and Dr. Kelly, one of the surgeons, ran in pulling on a gown and gloves. “What the hell happened?”

“Gunshot wound to the chest. We’ve pumped in two liters of fluid and she’s on her first unit of O – neg blood,” Jon told the surgeon.

Sandy pointed to the catheter bag. “She’s bleeding out. There’s another one hundred cc’s in the bag. Her systolic pressure is dropping.”

“It could’ve hit one of the kidneys,” Regina said, as she searched for another vein in Alex’s arm. “She needs volume. Squeeze in another bag of fluid.” Regina jabbed another needle into a vein and set up another line.

“Let’s go, let’s go,” Dr. Washington ordered, pulling up the rails of the stretcher.

The surgeon stopped the stretcher. “No, she won’t make it to the OR.” He turned and grabbed a clear plastic package from the shelves behind him. “We have to stop the bleeding. Intubate her and prep for a thoracotomy, now,” he ordered, as he tore open the plastic wrapping and pulled out the sternal saw.

There was a split second hesitation as everyone realized what they were about to do. Sandy grabbed a large sterile bundle off one of the shelves and broke the seal, setting the instruments on a tray that was next to the surgeon.

“Give me an amp of epinephrine and a number eight endotracheal tube,” Jon barked as he slipped up to the head of the stretcher. He ripped open the package of tubing and tilted Alex’s head back. Seconds later the tube was hooked up to the ventilator, pumping oxygen into Alex’s lungs.

Regina quickly moved to the side of the table, shrugging into the sterile gown that one of the techs shook open. She glanced up at the monitor and saw the rapid heartbeat displayed on the monitor. “She’s tachycardic.”

One of the nurses squirted Betadine down the center of Alex’s chest, lengthways between her breasts, and then hastily laid the sterile drapes that one of the techs handed to her, around the site. By the door, Thomas slammed the phone down. “The OR’s waiting for us.”

Jon made the incision down the length of Alex’s sternum with the scalpel. The moment he lifted the scalpel away, Dr. Kelly leaned over Alex and pressed the blade of the reciprocating saw against the bone, then pressed the trigger. Regina physically recoiled at the high pitched buzzing sound and the sight of the serrated blade ripping through the length of the glistening white bone, spraying a mist of bone dust and blood into the air. It shattered what was left of her control.

The resident grabbed hold of the stretcher to steady herself, fighting back a wave of nausea, as she looked down in disbelief at the ashen face lying swathed under blankets and medical equipment. Voices swirled around her as she struggled desperately to get her bearings. Her mask was damp and she realized that she was crying as she watched on in horror.

As all this was going on, Jon grabbed the rib spreader from the tray. He inserted the tool between the space in the breastbone and rapidly turned the crank and locked it in place, opening the area so the surgeon could see inside the chest cavity. He held it steady and moved back a step to give the surgeon room.

Dr. Kelly bent over the open cavity of Alex’s chest. “Dammit, give me more suction. I can’t see a goddamn thing with all this blood.”

Marcus reached over and the sound of the suction gurgled loudly, almost drowning out the sounds of the ventilator as it whooshed and beeped at the head of the table. As he was doing that, Sandy ripped open the sterile packaging around a stack of sterile gauze towels and shoved them inside. She quickly pulled out the blood soaked towels and threw them on the floor, then repeated the process several more times.

Regina watched as the surgeon groped inside, desperately trying to find the source of the bleeding. They were losing her. Regina could feel it happening. A strong sense of dread filled her and she fought to control her fear. Oh God, no, please don’t let this happen. Hang on Alex, please, just hang on a few minutes more.

The resident stepped forward. “You’re taking too long,” she said, through clenched teeth. She grabbed a pair of sterile gloves from the box behind her, tore open the package and quickly shoved her hands into them.

The surgeon glanced up at her. “You’re not a surgeon, Dr. Kingston,” he grunted, as he continued to search futilely with his hands.

“We’re losing her. Let me at least try.” Regina didn’t hesitate as she stepped forward and leaned over Alex’s body. She grabbed a sterile towel from Sandy and reached inside, stopping the flow of blood with the pressure, then watching for the split second when the damaged vessel uncompressed and started to pump out the crimson colored blood again.

“There it is.” The surgeon moved his hands, exposing the torn vessel.

“I see it,” Regina said, as she searched around with her hands. “Give me a clamp.” She grabbed the instrument from Sandy’s hand and clamped the large vessel. “I need three-o silk. Hurry up, dammit.”

“Jon, I need more resection,” Regina ordered, and waited a moment as the doctor cranked the rib spreader, allowing her more room. “That’s it, good. Hold it there.” Regina worked quickly, sewing the hole in the vessel closed.

“Good, good,” Dr. Kelly said, as Jon applied more pressure to the rib spreader and held it in place.

Sandy glanced up at the monitor. “Her pressure is stable: one hundred over fifty and holding.”

“Ok, let’s move, now.”

“Here,” Dr. Washington threw several layers of sterile gauze over the open wound in the doctor’s chest and poured sterile water over it to keep the exposed tissues protected and keep from drying out on the short trip to the OR.

“Come on, let’s move.” There was a flurry of activity as the team unhooked the myriad of lines and tubes.

“Don’t forget the drug box,” Sandy called out, as she backpedaled pulling the stretcher with her towards the door.

“I got it. Watch the lines!” Thomas rescued one of the IV’s from snagging on a med cart.

Jon grabbed the supply cart and hauled it upright. With Marcus at the head of the stretcher, squeezing the ambubag, Regina and Sandy pulled the stretcher into the hallway.

At a dead run down the hallway, the surgical team met the stretcher half way to the OR. “We got her from here guys.”

Regina stared after the stretcher as the doors swung closed behind her. The silence in the hallway was deafening as they stood there without a thing to do now but wait. Regina’s breath went ragged as she collapsed back against the wall. She slid to the floor as she finally let go of the rigid control she’d been holding during the whole ordeal. She felt two pairs of hands take hold of her arms, lifting her up, then her vision narrowed suddenly and she knew only darkness.
Chapter Twenty-two
Still dressed in her bloodied scrubs, Regina sat outside the operating room suites in the waiting room, oblivious to the noises and activity going on around her. All that she could think of was that she had told Alex not to go after Dana and now a day later an innocent boy was dead and Alex was in critical condition with a bullet in her chest.

Whatever happens, no matter how bad it is, you can’t be there to keep picking her up. The words kept running through her head and she couldn’t help but feel somewhat responsible for what happened tonight.

The blonde-haired resident tilted her head back against the wall and closed her eyes, seeking a respite from her clamoring thoughts. It had been two hours and Alex was still in the OR. There was damage to her spleen and her lumbar vertebrae had barely been spared the damage that the bullet did as it penetrated her body.

“Here, Regina, take this.” Sandy sat down next to her and handed her a cup of soup and some tea from the cafeteria.

“I can’t eat this, Sandy.” The resident shoved her friend’s hand away and lifted her head, a forlorn look in her tear-stained eyes.

“You’ve got to try and eat something, Regina.” Sandy squeezed her arm. “Jon is getting her personnel folder for an emergency contact. Is there anybody I can call? Any family that could be here for her?”

Regina stared at the opposite wall, fighting back another wave of intense emotion that was threatening to overwhelm her. “I don’t know. Her mother – she hasn’t spoken to in a long time. I…I think she’s in Arizona. I really don’t know. Oh God, Sandy, I told her not to go after Dana. What if she had found her?” She dropped her head down into her hands and stifled a sob. “None of this might have happened.”

Sandy shook her head vehemently. “Don’t even think that. No one is responsible for that boy’s death except Dana. Besides, if Alex did find her, who knows what might have happened. Dana might have been crazy enough to shoot her in some back alley and leave her for dead. At least it happened here, and thank God we were here for her.”

Regina shuddered at the thought. “Sandy, you know she was coming after Alex.”

The nurse nodded her head grimly. “I know.”

“Oh God, this is such a mess.” Regina jumped to her feet and paced anxiously back and forth across the crowded waiting room.

Sandy sat quietly watching her distressed friend. “Regina, there’s not a whole lot you can do right now. Why don’t you get some rest? I’ll wake you as soon as I hear anything.”

Regina stopped pacing and turned around to face Sandy. “I’m not leaving her. I want to be here when she wakes up.”

The nurse pushed herself up to her feet and caught Regina’s arm. “Hey, you need to take care of yourself right now so you can be there for Alex when she does wake up.” She held up a hand to forestall the protest on Regina’s lips. “I don’t want to hear it. Sleep in one of the on call rooms.”

Regina hesitated as her green eyes searched the nurse’s. “You promise you’ll call me as soon as she’s out of surgery?”

“I swear you’ll be the first to know.” Sandy wrapped her arm over Regina’s shoulder and led her out of the waiting room.

Together they walked down the quiet corridor passing the doors that led into the surgical suites. Sandy felt Regina stiffen at her side and clutch at her arm as soon as they turned the corner into the hallway that led to the ER.

“Shit, what is he still doing here?” Sandy growled under her breath. “Didn’t you get a restraining order?”

“Yes, but he can still be here if it’s work related. Oh God, I can’t deal with this now.”

Derrick walked toward the two women. “Regina, I was looking for you.”

“What do you want, Derrick?” Regina asked warily.

He spread his hands a part as he got closer. “I just wanted to make sure you were ok.”

Sandy gave him an incredulous look as she strategically guided Regina around the officer. “You want to make sure she’s ok? That’s a laugh. You were there, you asshole. What do you think?”

Derrick persisted, following them down the hallway. “You know Regina, none of this had to happen. All you have to do is just walk away from that doctor and everything would be back the way it was – your family; us.”

“Us?” Regina whirled around and glared back at Derrick defiantly. “You self-serving son of a bitch! Don’t you dare walk in here and talk to me like what we had was something special. It was a lie, every last bit of it was a lie!” She was so angry she was shaking as she stepped closer to him. “If you hadn’t run into the room and scared the crap out of that man he would have never pulled the trigger on that gun. We almost had him talked out of it. You might as well have shot the gun yourself!”

The door burst open at the end of the hallway and Dr. Washington stormed toward them. “Hey! What the hell is going on out here? I can hear the noise all the way down at the desk.” His eyes narrowed as he recognized the police officer standing in front of Regina.

He stepped up in between Regina and Derrick and went nose to nose with the taller man.

“You! Haven’t you caused enough trouble around here for one day? If you had kept your mouth shut about that drunk driver that man would have never reacted the way he did.”

“The father had a right to know what happened to his son.”

Dr. Washington grabbed Derrick’s shirt and shoved him back against the wall. “It was bad enough they had to deal with losing their son today, but you had to go and dump that piece of news on them as well. There was a time and a place for it. Outside the trauma room as their son was dying was not it.” His eyes flashed angrily and he balled his right hand into a meaty fist.

“Jon, no!” Sandy grabbed the doctor’s arm to keep him from hitting Derrick. “Let it go, Jon. He’s not worth it.”

The doctor’s nostrils flared as he let some of the anger fade, then slowly he released his grip on Derrick’s shirt and stepped back from him. “You get your ass out of this hospital, now,” he growled. He turned to Regina and Sandy. “Come on, let’s go ladies.”

As Regina walked by Derrick he grabbed her arm and sneered at her. “Regina, maybe you ought to wake up and realize your real family is more important than whatever that woman can offer you.”

Regina reacted without even thinking and backhanded him hard across his face, snapping his head back. “Get out, Derrick. Just get out, you bastard!”

Stunned by her reaction, Derrick rubbed his jaw and blinked, clearing his vision. He watched in a daze as the three of them walked toward the ER, leaving him standing alone in the hallway.

Most of the staff was quiet, talking in hushed whispers as the three of them entered the ER. It was always difficult losing someone so young. It was an exercise in carefully preserving their own composure for their own sakes and the sake of the loved ones who were only beginning to grieve the tragic loss.

This, coupled with the additional strain of having one of their own critically injured in the melee that followed, taxed the staff to their emotional and physical limits.

Jon quietly disengaged himself from the two women and walked over to a small cluster of medical staff. “Come on people, I know this has been a shitty day for us, but we’ve still got patients to take care of.” Reluctantly, the small group dispersed quickly, the routine of their work a balm to the chaos that had reigned earlier.

He turned to Marcus who had stayed on beyond his shift to help out. “Everyone has their assignments?”

“It’s all taken care of, Jon. I called Dr. Ortiz and let him know what happened. He’s going to help cover Dr. Margulies’ shifts in the meantime. I’ll stay and help too.”

Jon nodded his head, knowing that Marcus was voluntarily giving up his vacation to help out with everything. “Thanks, man. I owe you one.”

Across the hallway, Sandy guided Regina into one of the exam rooms and ushered the resident up onto the treatment table.

“Sit. Let me see your hand.” She shook her head as she inspected the growing purplish discoloration on the back of the resident’s hand. “Nice job, slugger.”

Regina slumped forward as her body acknowledged the pain shooting up her forearm. “I broke it, didn’t I?”

“Looks like it. Hold still,” the nurse admonished gently, inspecting the resident’s swollen hand.

“Great, a perfect end to the day.” Regina winced as Sandy wrapped a bag of ice around her hand with an ace bandage. “Is my father still here?”

“One of the nurses sent him down to the cafeteria when all hell broke loose up here. He’s around here somewhere. Things are still pretty wild around this place. I’m going to get one of the docs to x-ray this and then cast it for you. Just rest for awhile.” Sandy saw the look of worry in her friend’s face and squeezed Regina’s shoulder. “She’s got the best people taking care of her.”

Sandy left the room and returned several minutes later with one of the new residents in tow. “Regina, this is Roger. He’ll take care of you.”

Regina looked over at the exhausted looking doctor and sighed. “All right, let’s get this done with.”

The resident that Sandy commandeered to take care of Regina gingerly held the woman’s arm. “Dr. Kingston, this will go a lot faster if you sit down,” the dark-skinned man advised her as he wrapped strips of fiberglass around her hand and wrist.

Green eyes flashed angrily and then she relented, sitting down on the stretcher. “Sorry,” she muttered, trying to contain her nervousness.

“Regina.” Her father walked into the exam room as the intern finished wrapping the fiberglass strips around her arm to cast the fracture. His eyes widened when he saw the cast being applied to her arm. “What happened to you?” He laid a hand on his daughter’s shoulder as he came up beside her.

“It’s a long story, Dad.” Regina looked up at him miserably.

He sat down beside her on the stretcher, waiting in silence until the exhausted looking intern finished his job and hastily left the room.

“How’s the doctor who got hurt?” he asked softly. There was no need for him to ask about the boy. He overheard some of the staff talking as he walked back into the ER minutes before.

The fair-skinned resident’s body sagged and she shrugged her shoulders in response to the question. “She’s in bad shape. They don’t know if she’s going to make it,” she whispered, fresh tears falling anew and staining her scrub top.

Gently brushing the blonde hair back behind his daughter’s ear, Robert pulled her against him. “You’re good friends with her?”

Regina remained silent, watching her father’s eyes as they looked into hers. She hesitated, moving her hand idly over the lightweight cast she was wearing, as she studied him anxiously.

He dug inside one of his pockets and pulled out a hard candy, offering it to her. She shook her head and smiled at the familiar gesture from her childhood. I wish it were still that easy to make everything all better, Dad. “No thanks.”

“You’re my only daughter, Regina. There was a time when you could tell me anything.”

She laughed suddenly. “I was a kid then, Dad.”

“You’re still my kid, no matter what.”

She swallowed nervously and gathered her courage as she gazed up at the anxious brown eyes. “Dad, what would you say if I told you I’m in love with her?”

A startled expression came over his face and he looked down at his hands while he fiddled with the plastic wrapping around the hard candy. “H…how long have you known her?”

“Six months.” Regina stared down at her hands. Six of the best months of my life, she thought to herself. Everyday was an adventure. She looked forward to each shift they worked together, and felt a soul deep loneliness each time they parted company.

“How can you be sure?”

I’ve never been surer of anything in my life. “How did you know you loved mom?”

Her father’s breath caught and his eyes widened in surprise and anger. “You’d compare this to your mother and I?” His voice was tinged with disbelief as he stared at his daughter.

Regina sat up straighter and squared her shoulders. “I’ve never felt more complete than I do when I’m with her.” Why didn’t I tell her that when I had the chance to?

The door opened and Regina looked up as Sandy poked her head in and motioned her over.

“Tina called. They’re just bringing her up to recovery now.”

“Dad, I’m sorry. I’ve got to go.”

He held her arm for a second, his eyes filling with tears when he let her go. “I’ll be at the hotel until tomorrow night if you need me.”

Regina jumped off the stretcher, ran out of the room, dogged a stretcher being wheeled down the hallway by an orderly, and barely missed plowing into one of the housekeepers who was mopping the floor.

The surgeon’s words echoed hauntingly in her head long after he had left the recovery room.

She lost four units of blood…there was damage to her spleen…swelling in her back from the bullet…compressing the spinal cord…the next seventy-two hours are critical for her.

She lost track of the hours while she sat in the uncomfortable chair, facing the hospital bed in the recovery room and then later in the Intensive Care Unit after they transferred Alex. Her eyes watched the steady rise and fall of the dark-haired woman’s chest as oxygen was pumped in and out of her lungs by the ventilator.

“Regina.”

The blonde looked up over her shoulder and gave a tired half smile as Tina walked into the dimly lit room. “Thanks for letting me stay with her.”

The nurse rested a hand on the resident’s shoulder. “It’s good that you’re here for her, but you need to get some rest, too.”

“I will,” the resident answered absently. She stared at the steady green fluorescent blips on the monitor recording Alex’s heartbeat and respirations.

Tina stood next to Regina for a moment before she spoke. “Alex is strong, Regina. She’s going to pull through.”

Regina nodded her head and said a silent prayer that Tina was right. Right now all she wanted in the world was her best friend and her lover back.

“If you need anything, let me know.” The nurse squeezed her shoulder and then left her alone in the room.

Not watching as Tina retreated from the room and left them alone, the blonde moved to the edge of the hospital bed. Carefully, to avoid the tubes and IV lines that snaked over her body, she slipped her hand under Alex’s and squeezed it gently.

“Alex.” She brought her lips close to her ear. “I’m right here.” The blonde brought the back of the woman’s hand up to her face and held it against her cheek. “You hold on, you hear me?” She reached up and stroked Alex’s face with her other hand. “I can’t lose you.” Not after I just found you.

The rhythmic whoosh and click of the ventilator at the bedside penetrated the drug-induced fog. Alex blinked and opened her eyes. Her eyes focused briefly and she saw the white speckled surface of the ceiling tiles above her bed. She didn’t know how long she had been out, only sensed the passage of time by the amount of light reflecting through the window on her left. Her first clear realization was the bone-deep throbbing pain in her chest, followed by the strong perception of someone sitting by the bedside, watching over her.

Echoes of frantic voices replayed in her head as vague memories slowly surfaced and then disappeared. She remembered seeing the flash of metal and feeling the sudden, intense, crushing sensation in her chest as she fell to the ground.

A surge of pain rolled through her and she thrashed her head against the pillow, briefly fighting the ventilator. A soft voice whispered re-assurances in her ear and a gentle hand brushed her bangs off of her face before she slipped back into the opiate induced stupor.

Regina closed her eyes, feeling the tears starting again. “You’ve got more courage than anyone I know. I need you to be strong and fight; promise me you’ll fight. I’m going to be here when you wake up.” Regina bent over and kissed the brunette’s forehead. Please don’t leave me.

She was dressed in scrubs, standing alone in an empty room devoid of light. Her hair hung loosely around her shoulders and was pulled back on the sides by two small braids that were bound in the back by a leather barrette. Am I dreaming? She turned around, rubbing her hands over her arms as a chill settled over her. Why am I so cold?

Behind her she felt a faint breeze and looked over her shoulder to see a door cracked open with a soft, white light filtering into the room, casting a bluish hue along the wooden floor. She could feel it gently beckoning to her and moved toward it.

There was no fear, just a sense of restfulness and peace. Her hand was on the door, pulling it open when she felt a momentary heart-wrenching wave of emotion that left her breathless and doubled over.

Alex turned and found herself standing face to face with Regina, close enough to touch the smooth skin of her face, to whisper in her ear, to feel her heartbeat, only she couldn’t. Something separated them. She felt her heart breaking as she felt the pain of their separation and then the room, Regina, and the light were gone.

Someone cleared their throat from behind her and Regina turned around to focus on the tall, blonde-haired woman standing outside the door.

“Dr. Kingston, I know this isn’t a good time but I need to talk to you.” Dr. Mitchard’s eyes flicked once to the bed where her chief attending laid hooked up to a myriad of lines and tubes and then returned to Regina.

The resident straightened slowly and walked to the door of the room as the Vice President motioned Regina to follow her. Reluctantly, she followed the stern looking woman down the hallway and into an empty ICU room.

“I’m asking you this in strictest confidence, Dr. Kingston,” the doctor said as she turned around and made eye contact.

The resident felt her heart constrict at the words. A thousand confused thoughts whirled in her head, closing her eyes she willed her heart to stop racing and think clearly. “I understand, Dr. Mitchard.”

“Before tonight I asked Dr. Margulies about Dr. Jameson’s interactions with a specific drug company. I need to know if she discussed anything with you.”

Her first reaction was anger that the VP didn’t even bother to ask how Alex was, followed by a gut reaction to proceed cautiously. The blonde hesitated, remembering that Alex had told her to stay out of the whole mess. I’m sorry, Alex. I know you didn’t want me involved but I don’t have a choice anymore.

“She didn’t tell me anything specific,” Regina answered carefully.

The doctor studied her closely and Regina had a strong sense that the woman didn’t believe her. “Dr. Kingston, I know you’re good friends with her and I understand your concern over what happened tonight, but I need to know if she has any documents that might help with the investigation. Without them, things look very bad for the whole ER department, your attending included.”

“Why? I don’t understand.”

The executive’s eyes narrowed as she studied the young doctor. “Dr. Kingston, the drug company is under suspicion of fraud and the hospital is linked to them. We need to disassociate ourselves from whomever, or whatever happened, as quickly as possible.”

It suddenly became very clear to Regina what the Vice President was trying to do. Alex told her she needed to find out just how many people knew about what was going on and from the urgency in the woman’s voice she guessed their illustrious VP had either tacitly approved of it by not intervening or had been a willing party to it all along. Regina seethed as she stood in front of the woman.

Disassociate, my butt. You’re looking for a fall guy and you think with Alex out of commission she makes an easy target. Well, think again, Dr. Mitchard.

“Dr. Mitchard, I’m afraid I can’t help you. I don’t know anything about any documents.” Regina turned and walked quickly out of the room. The landscape had shifted dramatically in one short meeting and the person she once trusted was no longer the ally Regina thought she was.

She slipped back into Alex’s room and stood at the bedside for a few minutes, until one of the nurses came in and asked her to leave so she could change the bandages. The blonde leaned over and kissed Alex on the forehead, ignoring the curious stare she got from the woman.

Regina wasted little time returning to the ER and immediately went in search of Dr. Washington. She found him tucked away in one of the exam rooms pouring over a pile of charts.

He looked up and sat back in his chair when she walked in the room. “How is she?”

“They gave her four units of blood and repaired the damage to her spleen. They’re worried about what damage there might be in her back from all the swelling.”

His eyes narrowed, sensing the conflict within. “What else is bothering you?”

Regina looked up at the ceiling and blew out a breath. “Dr. Mitchard just paid me a visit. She wants to know if Alex told me anything about Dr. Jameson.”

Jon set his pen down and crossed his legs. “At this point I think everyone knows he was getting kickbacks from the drug company.”

Regina shook her head. “They’re looking for someone to take the fall. I think they’re going to point the finger at Alex.”

“How can they? She didn’t do anything wrong.”

“No, but she’s looking to do damage control before the investigation shows that this was going on right underneath her nose and she didn’t know about it.”

The doctor sat back in his chair and blew out a breath. “Shit! Allright, let me think about this, Regina. In the meantime, go home. You need to sleep.”

Regina didn’t go home and what little sleep she did get through the night was fitful. Her mind played tricks on her and she kept suffering through the same dream that replayed each time she fell back to sleep.

She kept seeing herself reaching out and holding Alex’s face between her hands. Her friend, her lover, was dying, and she could feel her slipping away in the dream. She couldn’t do anything to stop it from happening. Finally, after waking with a cry the last time, Regina hauled herself off the stretcher she had collapsed on in an empty exam room and stumbled up to ICU.

The blonde walked up to the nursing night shift on the unit and asked for Alex’s chart. She knew she shouldn’t be doing this; she was using her privilege as a doctor to read the medical record but she had to know how she was doing. She flipped the pages to the last entry and felt a weight lift when she read that they had taken her off the ventilator. She headed directly to Alex’s room, drawing the curtain and pulling the chair up beside the bed. No one contested her being there. Dressed in her scrubs and lab coat they didn’t question her presence, at least for now.

Regina pulled a chair up and sat next to the bed. She rested her head on the bed rail and watched as Alex slept unaware of what was going on around her. Scooting closer she reached her hand out and traced her fingers over woman’s face.

“Alex, it’s me.” She glanced up as a nurse entered the room, but continued to talk to her softly. Heavily sedated or not she knew that many people could hear what was going on around them even if they couldn’t respond to it. “Everyone in the ER is asking about you. Jon said he was going to come up later today and see you. I miss you, Alex, please come back. We need you.” Bending forward, she kissed her forehead.

******

The room was dark again as it was outside when Alex blinked and opened her eyes. Her first clear realization was the deep, throbbing pain in her chest although the tube in her throat and chest were gone. She heard the whirring and clicking of the IV pumps as their motors pumped the fluids into her veins. Slowly she turned her head and saw blonde hair spilling over the shoulders of the body sitting slumped forward onto the hospital bed.

She turned her head slowly to the right and saw a bed rail, beyond it was a sink and a cabinet. A window to the outside world told her it was dark out. She turned her head back to the left and saw the body sitting slumped forward on the bed, head resting on crossed arms.

Tentatively, she moved her hand, touching the soft blonde hair splayed out over the mattress. A sense of utter relief flowed through her when she felt the soft strands of hair run through her fingers. You’re real, it’s not a dream.

“Regina?” It came out in a hoarse whisper.

The blonde head lifted, eyes blinking in slow comprehension. “Y…You’re awake.” Regina slipped up beside the doctor and caressed her face with her good hand.

“I…love…you,” Alex whispered, leaning into the hand that was touching her face.

“I love you, too, sweetheart.”

Alex swallowed painfully, her throat still sore from the breathing tube. “Dana?”

Regina swallowed and slowly nodded her head. “She’s alive.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Shh, get some rest.”

“You saved me.” Alex moved her arm and took hold of Regina’s hand.

The resident shook her head. “It was a group effort, believe me.”

Alex winced and swallowed painfully. “My chest hurts.”

Regina leaned over and kissed her lips. “It should after what you went through. Go to sleep.”

Alex shook her head. “Don’t want to miss you.”

“I’m not leaving,” Regina whispered.

“No?”

“Not ever.”

Alex reached up weakly with one hand and pulled Regina to her. “I love you.”
Chapter Twenty-Three
Regina stayed with Alex, talking softly to her until the injured woman slipped back to sleep. She knew that the doctor had a long road ahead of her, but that was later; right now, she was just happy to have her alive. Whatever was laid out in front of them they would deal with as it happened.

“Shh, you’re going to be all right, Alex,” the blonde re-assured her, trying to soothe whatever demon Alex was struggling with as she cried out briefly in her sleep.

Later, she dragged herself down to the ER for the start of her next shift, having gotten little more than a few hours of sleep in the past forty-eight hours. It was hard to believe what happened as she looked around the department, now relatively quiet compared to the bloody chaos that had reigned just a day before.

Sandy and Marcus were standing together at the desk talking quietly to each other as Regina approached. The rosy-cheeked nurse pulled away from the conversation when she saw Regina walking toward them. “How’s she doing?”

The resident swayed slightly on her feet as she struggled to focus her sleep-deprived mind. “They took her off the ventilator a few hours ago and she woke up briefly. She’s in a lot of pain and pretty confused about what happened.”

Sandy wound her arm over the resident’s shoulders and squeezed her. “You know, Alex has the constitution of an old war-horse. Just wait, she’ll be full of piss and vinegar soon and then God help us all, she’ll be throwing the nurses and medical students out of her room in a few days.”

Marcus patted Regina’s shoulder. “They have no idea what they’re in for when she feels better.”

Regina allowed herself a small grin at the description, knowing full well the wrath that her lover could muster when she was good and riled up about something. Her expression turned more serious as another thought invaded her mind.

“Do you know that Dr. Mitchard paid me a visit when I was up in the ICU earlier?”

“Really?” the nurse asked.

The resident snorted. “Sandy, she didn’t even bother to ask how Alex was doing. All she wanted to know was if Alex had told me about any documents that might point the finger at Dr. Jameson. She had the audacity to say that the hospital needed to disassociate itself from the whole mess.”

Sandy unleashed a string of curses. “Nice of them to care so much.”

“You know, Alex wasn’t my favorite doctor, Regina, but what Dr. Jameson did was disgusting. Now that he’s got a big time attorney making noises for him they’re looking for the easiest target,” Marcus grumbled his assent.

“We need to get everything that Alex copied and go to the Executive Committee with it, before this gets anymore out of hand than it already is,” Regina stated, her voice furious at the implications.

“Do you know what she did with the files?”

“No, she didn’t tell me what she did with it. She didn’t want me getting involved,” Regina replied.

“Well, she doesn’t really have much of a choice at this point. If she’s up to it, maybe Jon can ask her when he goes up to see her at the end of his shift today,” Sandy offered.

“Maybe. She’s really out of it for the most part,” Regina told her, still very much worried about Alex. A second later, her attention was drawn to the ambulance bay doors as they banged open and two paramedics wheeled a stretcher down the hall. She turned to the nurse. “Sandy, who else is on with me today?”

Marcus stepped up beside her. “No, Regina, go home. I’ll cover your shift.”

Regina turned around and stared at him in shock. “Are you serious? What about your vacation?”

“It’s three days, I can go any time. Besides, you’re dead on your feet, Regina. Go on.” He turned her around and gently pushed the exhausted resident toward the locker room.

A sense of profound relief flooded through her and she leaned against the counter as she let her guard down for the first time in many hours. “Thank you. You have no idea how much I appreciate it.”

He waved her off. “Get out of here and get some sleep will you?”

Relieved from her shift, Regina hastily gathered her belongings and headed home for a few hours of desperately needed slumber.

Later that day after finishing his shift, Jon stepped quietly inside the cramped room in the intensive care unit. For a moment, his eyes scanned the room before coming to rest on his injured colleague. Every bit of information about the woman’s vital functions was being displayed on the monitor over the bed via the wires and tubes hooked to her body.

He tried, in his mind, to reconcile the sight of the woman he had worked with over the years, and the one that was lying so vulnerable in the bed. She had always been somewhat of a loner, but her tireless dedication and loyalty to the patients had made him believe there was a whole other person hidden inside the armor she wore.

He’d caught glimpses of that person, moreso he realized, since the young resident had befriended Alex over the past few months. Jon wondered briefly about that friendship and what had drawn them together, then set his thoughts aside when pale blue eyes fluttered open and slowly focused on him as he approached the bedside and took hold of the railing.

“Hey there,” he said, leaning over and laying a hand lightly on Alex’s shoulder. “Regina said you were awake.”

The brunette grimaced as a jolt of pain took her breath away. “Ah, I…feel like a…truck ran over me.”

“You wish it was a truck. I don’t recall the oath we took, saying anything about taking a bullet for a patient.”

“Where is Dana?” Alex rasped, through the pain.

“Three doors down. They’ve got a guard outside. As soon as she’s medically stable, she’s out of here.” Jon studied her face and reached down to adjust the small tubes that were delivering oxygen into her nose. “You’ve got to keep that in or you’re going to piss off the nurses.”

Alex closed her eyes and fumbled briefly, pulling the nasal cannula from her nose again. “I don’t…make a good patient.”

Jon’s face turned serious and he pulled a chair up beside the bed. “Alex, I need to ask you something. Are you with me?”

Alex stared over at him, still feeling in a fog from the narcotics they were giving her. “Yeah,” she breathed. “Still here.”

“It’s about Jameson.”

Alex’s eyes drifted closed briefly then, opened again. “It’s…ok. Mitchard knows.”

“That may not be good enough. Alex, I need to talk to the executive board about it. Where are the documents?” He touched her shoulder when she didn’t respond, muttering under his breath when he realized she had already drifted back to sleep while he was talking.

******

After having stumbled home into her bed and sleeping for several hours, Regina wasted no time returning to the hospital after she showered and threw on clean clothes. The resident walked down the stark white corridor that led into the Intensive Care Unit, slipping past the large food cart being pushed by one of the dietary staff. She grimaced when the smell of warm hospital food reached her nose and then rolled her eyes when she thought about what Alex’s response to a liquid diet the first day or two after the surgery would most likely be. It was true for the most part that doctors made the worst patients and in this case her lover was probably going to set new standards in the industry as soon as she was physically able to.

She chose to dress in jeans and a sweatshirt but still wore her identification badge to limit the hassles she would get from the nursing staff since Alex was still in the ICU and visiting hours were technically limited to family members only. Family. I wonder if Jon was able to get in touch with anyone? Regina thought, as she pushed open the glass doors to the ICU and stepped into the brightly lit unit.

When she had been at the doctor’s bedside as the darkness had slowly given way to the gray light of dawn earlier that day, she hadn’t paid much attention to what else was going on around the unit. She’d spent the hours, focusing only on the rise and fall of Alex’s chest, willing her to fight against the nearly fatal damage the bullet had left in its wake after it ripped violently through her body.

Now, as the resident walked through the unit, she noticed an armed police officer standing at the far end of the horseshoe shaped row of rooms and realized as she passed him that he was standing outside the room Dana was recuperating in. It was a somber reminder of the tragic events and what had led up to them.

The blonde pulled her eyes away from the still form lying in the bed and walked up to the nurse’s station. She waited as the nurse at the counter finished a phone call and looked up at her.

“Hi. I’m Dr. Kingston. How is Dr. Margulies doing?”

The nurse studied her for a moment and then called over her shoulder for one of her colleagues. “Mary, the Doc here wants to know how your patient is doing in room six.”

The tall red head at the other end of the counter looked up and then slowly walked over to Regina. She eyed the young resident dubiously as she stepped up in front of her. “It’s probably not a great time to see her. They just the pulled the drain out of the surgical site. It hurt like hell and she’s not due for any pain meds for another thirty minutes.”

Regina’s hand ran over her flank as she shuddered involuntarily at the thought of the plastic tube being yanked out of Alex’s body. “I’m going to look in on her.”

“I’d let her rest if I were you. She’s not exactly in a good mood,” the nurse replied flatly and turned away from her.

The resident cocked a blonde eyebrow, annoyed at the woman’s attitude. “When did you last check on her?”

“Ten minutes ago.” The red head bristled defensively at the question.

“Was she asleep, then?” Regina asked, looking over at the curtain that was pulled across blocking the bed from view.

“No.”

“If she’s in that much pain she’s probably not going to sleep until she gets the damn pain meds, so until then I’ll be inside with her,” Regina announced, ignoring the nurse’s indignant response and turned from the desk.

The blonde walked into the room and pulled the curtain back to look in at her lover. Her chest constricted at the sight of Alex in pain. She was curled into a fetal position on her left side, her head tucked down on the pillow and arms wrapped tightly over her chest.

Regina immediately pulled the chair over, sat down in front of her and lowered the bed rail so she could be closer to her. Sweat glistened on the older woman’s face as her body responded to the pain and the trauma of the surgery she had endured the day before.

“Hey, Alex,” she whispered softly. Regina brushed the damp bangs back off her forehead and leaned in to gently kiss her temple.

The dark-haired woman groaned and opened her eyes. “It’s you,” she whispered in a rasping voice.

“Yeah, it’s me.” Regina let her hand rest on the nape of her neck beneath the tangled locks of her hair. “Is this ok?”

Alex licked her dry lips and nodded her head slightly. “Ah, it hurts.”

“I know. Can I do anything?” The blonde scooted the chair closer and continued to lightly massage the woman’s neck.

After a moment’s hesitation, the woman responded hoarsely. “Ice?”

“Let me check.” Regina disappeared for a few moments and returned with a cup of crushed ice after the nurse checked the doctor’s orders in the chart.

“Here.” She offered a couple of chips, placing them between Alex’s lips.

The doctor sucked them in and then reached up to grasp Regina’s hand that was resting on the pillow. “Don’t go.”

“I’m not. I’m right here, love,” Regina assured her and leaned in to kiss her damp forehead.

Alex was quiet for a while before she worked up the strength to ask for some more of the frozen chips. She let out a small sigh as she felt fingers brush over her lips and then slide through her hair, lifting it back over her shoulder. Regina’s touch was a welcome balm to the pain and the haze of the narcotics. After she swallowed the ice she looked up at the blonde through glassy eyes.

“Thanks…for being here.”

“Where else would I be?” Regina asked quietly, brushing her hand lightly through the dark locks of hair.

Alex moved her head closer to Regina’s hand and pressed against it, seeking the comfort of her touch. “I…dreamed of you.”

“Shh, don’t talk. You need to rest.” Regina continued the gentle stroking at the base of Alex’s neck.

The brunette swallowed and moaned softly, then looked up into the greenest eyes she’d ever seen. “W…when I…get out of here,” Alex took a breath before she continued. “I want to lay under the stars with you. You can point out the constellations.”

Regina wiped a tear from her own face. She looked down at Alex as she struggled to say each word. “Why?”

“That’s…when I knew. You were…pointing out Orion’s Belt to me and I knew.”

“Knew what?” Regina tilted her head trying to understand Alex’s slightly slurred words.

“I loved you. I always have, right from the beginning.”

“I love you too, Alex. I don’t remember what it was like not to have you in my life.” Regina looked up as one of the nurses walked in and then adjusted the setting on the IV pump.

The blonde watched as the nurse fiddled with the settings and, then walked out of the room. She wondered how much of their conversation the nurse had overheard and then shook her head as she realized how little she cared about who knew about them. This was the woman she loved and she was done worrying about what other people thought.

Regina looked back down as she heard Alex say something to her. “Jon…was here.”

“Sandy told me he was going to come up and see you.”

“See me?” Alex blinked, focusing on the blonde sitting before her. “Didn’t he see enough earlier?”

Regina blinked, not understanding what Alex meant. She did when the woman weakly lifted a hand and flicked the top of the blue gown that was draped over her body. Regina caught site of the bulky bandage covering most of her lover’s chest and steeled herself against the gruesome image that flashed in her mind. “Sweetheart, don’t think about it.”

Alex struggled to stay focused and squinted as she looked at Regina. “It was bad, wasn’t it?”

Regina closed her eyes, realizing what Alex was asking her. “Later, ok?” I don’t think I can begin to tell you everything that happened.

Alex stared into Regina’s eyes, seeing the tormented look and nodded her head slowly in silent acknowledgment.

Regina lifted her head when she heard a knock on the glass door. “Come in.”

A moment later, Sandy peered around her curtain. “Hey. She’s awake?”

Regina nodded her head. “They took the drain out.”

Sandy winced and stepped quietly toward the bed. Her eyes ran over the form of the tall doctor lying on her side, holding onto Regina’s hand. I think she saved you in more ways than one my friend, Sandy thought as she looked at the two of them. She stepped to the side of the bed and knelt next to Regina. “I need to talk to you.”

Regina lifted herself slowly out of the chair and walked to the door. She leaned heavily against the doorframe and yawned.

Sandy tilted her head and studied the resident for a moment. “You doing ok?”

Regina blinked several times and rubbed her face in an effort to be more alert. “I feel numb. I know I should be passed out somewhere, but I can’t sleep.”

“Hang in there. She should be out of the ICU tonight if she keeps doing this well,” Sandy reassured the blonde. “Listen, the medical committee called an emergency meeting for later today.”

Regina groaned. “What for?”

Sandy shifted her feet uncomfortably, knowing Regina didn’t need more stress right now, but being that she was closest to Alex there was no one else to go to. “Dr. Jameson is claiming that Alex harassed him and his attorney is filing a lawsuit against her and the entire department.”

Regina tilted her head back against the glass and closed her eyes. “You’ve got to be kidding me?”

Sandy glanced over Regina’s shoulder, watching as Alex stirred in the bed. “What better way to deflect the attention away from him than stir up trouble for somebody else?”

Regina took a breath and nodded her head. “He’s using all this to his advantage, the bastard.”

Alex turned over and opened her eyes, focusing on Regina and Sandy standing just inside the room. “What about Jameson?” she grumbled from the bed.

Sandy looked to Regina who shook her head, silently letting the nurse know not to say anything else.

Alex blinked her eyes and struggled to shift her position in the bed. “What? Regina…tell me.” Her hand crept up over her chest as the movement brought more pain.

The resident walked back to the bed and sat down. “Alex, no, don’t do this to yourself.”

“Tell me.” The attending reached out and squeezed Regina’s hand, fixing her eyes on her lover.

Regina hung her head and quietly related to Alex what was going on with Dr. Jameson. Her fears about Jameson taking as many people down with him as he could were confirmed with the executive committee meeting on such short notice. When she was done, she looked over at weary blue eyes. “Alex, I’m sorry. I know you told me not to get involved with this, but-”

Alex shook her head and slowly lifted her hand up to cover Regina’s lips. “Shh, listen to me. I know I can’t do this.” The doctor groaned softly and dropped her arm down before she continued. “The files are in the back of my Jeep – under a blanket.”

“You want me to do this?”

Alex nodded. “No one else can. You were there with me; you know what he did. Just tell them what we found.”

“Are you sure this will work?” Regina asked.

Alex nodded her head and touched Regina’s face. “Just…stay focused. No matter what he says in there, don’t let it shake you.”

“Right.” The blonde stared down at Alex and smiled nervously.

Alex moved onto her back and closed her eyes. She concentrated on her breathing, focusing on what she needed to tell Regina and pushing the pain to the far recesses of her mind. “Regina.” She looked over at the blonde. “There’s a lot of good people down there…that stand to lose everything they’ve worked for. Don’t let him do that to them.”

Regina leaned in and rested her forehead against Alex’s. “I won’t. I promise.”

The curtain pulled back and the redhead glared in at Regina and Sandy. “This is an intensive care unit if you hadn’t noticed.”

“I liked her better when I was out of it,” Alex growled in Regina’s ear.

Sandy leaned over and touched Alex’s shoulder. “Hang in there, Alex. This will all be over soon.”

“It’s time for her pain medication. You should leave, now.”

Regina looked up at her without making a move to leave. “Go ahead and give it to her. I’ll leave as soon as she falls asleep.”

Obviously displeased with Regina’s statement, the nurse huffed her agreement and jabbed the syringe into the IV port.

The blonde leaned over Alex’s ear and whispered to her. “I’ll be back later. Just rest, baby. I love you.”

Alex grumbled something back to her as she slipped under the effect of the injection of morphine and valium.

******

“Which lock do you need removed?” The balding engineer stood at the door scratching his head as he looked at the two women.

“This one.” Regina pointed to Alex’s locker.

“Uh, I need a work order to be able to do that.”

Sandy glared at him and rolled her eyes. “No, you need a bolt cutter – like the one you have in your hands.”

“Now listen, I don’t need you getting huffy with me. I’m just doing my job,” the engineer protested, his already ruddy complexion turning a brighter red.

Regina walked over to him, reading his name tag as she got closer. “Sam, go get a cup of coffee in the lounge, whatever, just let me have the bolt cutter and nobody will be the wiser, right?” She took the tool from his hands and shooed him out of the locker room.

“Pretty soon we’re going to need a work order to wipe our butts around here,” Sandy complained. She helped Regina position the jaws around the lock.

With a loud metallic snap the lock broke and fell to the floor. Regina quickly retrieved Alex’s keys from her jacket.

“Thanks for coming in and helping me with this, Sandy.” Regina glanced over at the curly-headed blonde.

The nurse looked over at the resident and raised her eyebrows. “Are you kidding me? When Jon told me what Jameson was up to there was no way I wasn’t coming in.”

Sandy pushed the door open and let the resident walk past her outside. The bitter, cold wind swirled around them as they walked carefully through the partially plowed parking lot. They held onto each other, trying not to slip on the patches of ice as they carefully worked their way towards Alex’s Jeep.

“That slimy bastard has been pulling this shit for years and no one has ever been able to pin anything on him. If he wasn’t treating the nursing staff like dirt, he was always leaving early and dumping his work on the other docs in the ER to pick up.”

Regina disarmed the vehicle and opened the rear hatch door. Just as Alex told her, there were two cardboard boxes underneath the blanket. She flipped quickly through the contents with her good hand as Sandy looked over her shoulder.

“What are those?” The nurse pointed at a stack of papers with a rubber band around them.

Regina looked back at her. “Vouchers for airline miles and checks that the drug company sent him. Nice, little, unbiased research study the pharmaceutical company and our medical director was conducting, huh?”

Sandy shook her head in disbelief. “How could he allow himself to do that?”

Regina shrugged indifferently. “I don’t know and I don’t care.”

Sandy grabbed Regina’s arm. “Are you sure about doing this, Regina?”

“Sandy, if I don’t go in there with this, Jameson’s lawyer is going to spread the blame on every staff member and doctor who had anything to do with treating these patients.” Regina pulled out a folder of papers and shoved them at Sandy. “Your signature is on some of these patient charts; so is mine.”

Sandy flipped through the pages, her expression growing more grim with each page as she scanned the patient flow sheets and other notes, looking for signatures. “This is bad, Regina.”

The resident nodded in agreement. “You know how the ER gets – everyone helps out with each others’ patients when it gets crazy. Jameson is going to try and weasel his way out of taking responsibility for his actions and if he can take Alex down in the process, all the better.”

“B…but none of us did anything wrong. We didn’t give the medication, he did.”

“You’re right and we can all sit back and do nothing; Jameson will get another slap on the wrist, the hospital will sweep it under the rug and everyone whose name is associated with these patients will be on some kind of disciplinary action to satisfy OIG. Do you want that in your file? Do you want to work with someone who you wouldn’t trust to take care of your dog? I don’t.” The blonde took the folder back from Sandy and tossed it back into the box.

Sandy was silent, staring down at the two cartons, weighing out what Regina said to her. “You’re right. It just scares the crap out of me what the hospital will do if they take a hit for this and then come after us.”

Regina stacked the two boxes on top of each other and lifted them out of the back of the Jeep. “Shut that for me?” The resident turned around and looked at her friend. “Sandy, look, it’s your decision what you want to do. Alex found all this in Jameson’s office. He knows that, so right now she’s the one who’s most at risk from him. He’ll try and make her take the fall if he can.”

Sandy took one of the cartons from Regina’s arms. Together they walked back to the department. Jon met them inside the ambulance bay doors after they walked back to the ER.

“Man, I hope you have something good to tell me.”

“As far as he’s concerned know one else knows anything. Without Alex to confront him, he thinks he can bury this completely,” Sandy growled.

Regina turned to Jon. “We have everything that Alex copied.”

Together they walked down the hallway and rode the elevator to the fifth floor. “I know this is a hell of a time to ask, but you do have a plan, right?”

“The plan is to go in there, dump this stuff in front of him and let him try and explain his way out of it.”
Inside the conference room, Dr. Mitchard was sitting at one end of the table huddled over a pile of charts. Dr. Timmons stood against the wall, with arms crossed, glaring back at the Vice President.

“I can’t believe the level of incompetence and outright negligence these staff members have displayed,” Dr. Jameson’s attorney stated, as he looked between the Vice President and Dr. Timmons.

“For Christ’s sakes, Cassandra, you expect us to believe that you didn’t know any of this was going on. This is bullshit!” Dr. Timmons looked up and shoved the file across the table in disgust. “Do you know the kinds of fines the hospital is looking at?” The gray-haired pediatrician asked.

“Peter, I told you, none of this came to my attention until the Office of the Inspector General called three days ago,” Dr. Mitchard replied.

“I told you, you would regret keeping Dr. Margulies on board. You should have listened to me,” Jameson snarled at Dr. Mitchard.

“The board put it to a vote. There was nothing I could do.” The Vice President’s voice wavered at doctor’s harsh words.

“How do you expect me to run a department when I have the likes of Margulies running around undermining everything that I’m trying to do?” Dr. Jameson slammed his hand down on the table. “She had access to my office when I was out. It’s clear to me what happened here.”

“Jim, let me handle this,” his attorney warned.

Dr. Timmons held up his hand and pushed himself away from the wall. “That’s not what I heard. Your department budget was a month overdue, so it fell in Alex’s lap to finish it when you were out on leave.”

The lawyer walked over to the doctor. “It’s no secret that Dr. Jameson and Dr. Margulies have an adversarial relationship. What better opportunity for her to drive him out than when he is incapacitated.”

The pediatrician snorted and walked to the end of the table and looked directly at the medical director. “Jim, who’s Donna Sanders?”

The physician’s face blanched at the mention of the woman’s name and Dr. Mitchard snapped her head up at the end of the table. “How the hell should I know who she is?”

“It seems she worked for T&M up until two days ago. According to the gentleman I spoke to at the Office of the Inspector General, she knows you rather well.”

A small cry escaped the Vice President’s mouth as she turned her face away.

They all looked up as the door opened and Regina walked in followed by Sandy and Dr. Washington.

“This is a closed meeting. What are they doing here?” Dr. Jameson waved his arm angrily.

Regina dug into one of the boxes and pulled out a sheath of papers. “We know what you did, Dr. Jameson. You’re accusing Alex of harassing you because of what she found in your office.”

“What the hell are you talking about?” Jameson growled. He looked around the room at his colleagues. “I don’t have to stay here and listen to this crap.”

“Why? Do you think that you’re above it all? The laws don’t apply to you? Is that it?” Jon demanded, as he leaned across the table and glared at his medical director.

“You are out of line, Dr. Washington,” Dr. Mitchard snapped, jumping to the Medical Director’s defense.

“We’ve seen the medical records already. They don’t tell us anything.” The medical director’s attorney remarked snidely, after he glanced through the stack of papers he took from one of the boxes.

Regina looked over at Dr. Timmons, the head of the pediatric department. “That only tells half the story. I’d like Dr. Jameson to explain why T&M regularly sent him vouchers for airline miles.”

“What airline vouchers?” Dr. Timmons asked as he stepped away from the wall and held his hand out to take them from Sandy.

“Oh for Chrissakes’,” Dr. Jameson threw his arms up. “Alex can’t be here so she sends her bitch instead.”

Regina stopped mid-stride and stared at the doctor in shock.

“What?” The medical director leered at her from across the room. “Do you think nobody knows about your fling with that whore?”

The rest of the room fell silent as Regina’s face paled and she continued to stare at the medical director before she stepped closer to the table and quietly set the folders down. Ok Regina, you could leap across the table and bean him in the head with your cast or take him down with what Alex has on him.

Her hands trembled slightly as she took a breath and looked down at the stack of files in front of her, collecting her scattered thoughts.

She raised her head and glanced anxiously at Jon and Sandy, before she met Dr. Jameson’s arrogant gaze. “A whore, Dr. Jameson, is someone who compromises their own values for personal gain. Something you’ve become quite good at over the past year.”

“Dr. Kingston I’d be careful here if I were you. You have your career to consider,” Dr. Mitchard snarled.

Dr. Timmons cleared his throat. “Dr. Kingston, I assume you are here because you can contribute something relevant to this meeting.”

There goes any chance at the pediatric position, Regina thought as she looked over at him. “Sandy, can you give me the checks that were written out to Dr. Jameson?”

“Right here,” the curly-headed nurse replied and stepped up beside the resident.

“This is ridiculous.” The medical director stood up and walked to the door. “I am not listening to this crap.”

“What checks?” Dr. Timmons asked, holding a hand out to stop Dr. Jameson from leaving the room.

Regina allowed herself a small smile as she looked over at the medical director and then at their department’s Vice President whose face was now several shades paler than when she first walked in the door.

“The checks that Dr. Jameson received after he submitted his research to the drug company.”

“That’s a lie!” Dr. Jameson shouted angrily, backing up to the door.

“Shut up, Jim! Who signed these checks?” Dr. Timmons demanded.

“A woman by the name of Donna Sanders from T&M signed them all.” Regina handed the papers across the table to the doctor.

“Cassandra, did you know that Dr. Jameson was getting paid by the drug company to conduct this study?”

The Vice President shook her head and buried her face in her hands. “I swear I had no idea,” she moaned.

The gray-haired pediatrician leaned on the table and flipped through the checks that were written out to the medical director. Dr. Timmons turned around and crossed his arms, grimly regarding his colleagues. “Dr. Jameson, you’re suspended immediately. I can tell you right now that pending the investigation by the hospital and the OIG, I’ll personally move to have your medical license revoked. I’m not sure which disturbs me more: the fact that you actually did this, or that you were willing to discredit your colleagues to save your own hide.” He looked around the table and shook his head sadly. “Dr. Kingston’s right. You did prostitute yourself, and worse, you’re a coward as well.”

Quietly, Regina and her two colleagues left the room to angry shouts and accusations being hurled back and forth as Dr. Jameson desperately argued his innocence to whomever would listen. Regina turned around as the conference room door slammed shut and watched Dr. Mitchard stalk angrily down the hallway in the opposite direction.

Sandy walked up next to her and whispered in her ear. “You did good, kid. Wait ‘til Alex hears Jameson is gone.”

The blonde looked down at her feet as she started walking again. “Does everybody really know, Sandy?”

The nurse turned around and stared at the resident. “Regina, I think Jameson was baiting you when he said that. Everyone knows the two of you are close but what difference does it make?”

Jon held the door for them as they approached the elevator. Once the door was closed the normally mild mannered attending tilted his head back and whooped loudly. He laughed at the two women staring at him. “Sorry, but it’s probably better than me breaking out into a rendition of ‘Ding Dong the Witch is Dead!”

Sandy doubled over and held her sides as she laughed until she was clutching at the wall to hold herself up. “Oh, I know I shouldn’t laugh but no one deserved to get what he got more than Jameson did today.”

“Do you think he’ll lose his license?” Regina asked quietly from the corner.

Jon looked over at her, noticing the conflicted look on her face. “If that’s all that happens, he’ll be lucky. Regina, you did the right thing. If you feel badly, just think about all the patients he put at risk by doing what he did.”

Regina followed her two friends out of the elevator and reconciled with herself as she walked down the hall; Dr. Jameson had chosen his own path and nobody else was responsible for what happened except for him.

As she walked through the ER doors, she saw the familiar profile of her father standing by the nurse’s desk. He turned to face her as the unit clerk pointed in Regina’s direction.

“There you are,” he exclaimed. “I’ve been trying to call you at home and then I had you paged.”

Regina leaned against the desk and smiled wearily. “This hasn’t turned out the way either one of us wanted it to, I guess.”

“No, I don’t suppose it has,” her father remarked quietly. He glanced uncomfortably around the department and sighed. “I don’t want to talk here. Can I drive you home?”

Regina glanced up at the clock: eight p.m. Too late to visit, Alex. You’re probably sleeping anyway. “Yeah, that would be fine.”

He led the way out of the ER and down the hallway and out to the parking lot. He waited until they were standing beside his car to restart the conversation. “Regina, what are your plans now that your residency is done?”

Regina slipped into the passenger seat, leaned back in the seat and folded her arms over her chest. “I don’t have to make a decision right away. I have some leeway with that.”

Her father started the car and pulled out of the parking space. He glanced over at her before he accelerated across the intersection. “What I mean is, there are plenty of jobs up by us if you want to come back home.”

Regina stared up at him and tilted her head, trying to comprehend what he was saying. She rubbed her hands together nervously as she realized that what she had said to him several nights ago about her feelings for Alex obviously weren’t taken seriously.

“Dad,” she looked off into the distance trying to find the words she wanted to say. “If I went back to Massachusetts, I’d be leaving behind the one person in the world I don’t ever want to be without.”

Her father nodded his head and turned his blinker on, signaling the left turn onto her street. “You know how your mother feels.”

“Yeah, I think I have a pretty clear idea on how she feels,” Regina said as she watched her condo come into view. She waited for him to turn the engine off, before she stepped out of the car. “Dad, what are you trying to say?”

“Always to the point, aren’t you?” He shook his head and glanced sadly at his daughter over the roof of the car. “I don’t know if she’ll ever change how she feels. She thinks being…” he motioned with his hand, “is just wrong.”

“How do you feel about,” she mimicked her father’s hand motion. “My being gay, Dad?”

“Christ, Regina do we have to discuss this here?” he hissed, obviously uncomfortable with their very public surroundings.

“I’m sorry, Dad, well no, I’m not,” Regina struggled to find the words. “Dad, I almost lost the most important person in my life and I realized that I never told her just how much I love her and if that bothers you or anybody else, I can’t help that.”

Her father closed his eyes and rubbed his forehead, trying to stave off the headache he could feel coming on. “You can’t expect me to be comfortable with it. I need time, Reg, please.”

Regina stepped closer and lowered her voice. “Time? Dad, you’ve had seventeen years worth of not having a relationship with your son because of this. How much more time do you need?”

Her father lowered his eyes and shook his head. “I…I don’t know. Are…are you sure about this?”

Regina looked up at him and then glanced into the back seat of the car and saw his suitcase on the backseat. “Are you leaving today?”

“I have to get back home, Regina.”

The blonde pressed her lips together, wondering if all this had been a token attempt after all to draw her away from the woman she loved. “The answer is yes; I’m sure, Dad.”

“Well, you know you can come home anytime you want,” he said, stepping around the car.

“As long as I come alone, right?” Regina muttered bitterly.

“That’s not fair. Your mother and I just want you to be happy.” Her father held his hands out, pleading with Regina.

“How do I make you understand, I am happy…with Alex?”

“It’s just hard to believe that she can make you feel…” his eyes left hers and he looked at the ground. “She’s a woman, Regina. You need a man to take care of you.”

Regina spun around and stared at him. “You would say that. I don’t need someone to take care of me. I just want someone who loves me. Is that so hard to understand?”

Her father looked up at the sky and shook his head. “Please, I don’t want to argue, Regina.” He stepped forward and wrapped an arm around her shoulder. “I just hope you know what you’re getting into.”

“I do, Dad, I do,” she whispered and rested her head on his shoulder.

He squeezed her to him and kissed the top of her head. “I’ve got to go. Take care of yourself.” He stepped away and started to walk to the car, then stopped and looked back at her. “I hope Alex is going to be ok.”

“She will be.” After all these years, all I ever wanted was for you and Mom to tell me you loved me. Why is that so hard for you? I guess you always sensed that Jeff and I were different. Is that why you pushed me to be with Derrick, because you were afraid to see the truth? Regina watched as her father pulled out of the driveway and then walked over to the door and let herself inside.

Chapter Twenty-Four
The next morning Sandy slipped into Alex’s room during her break. She hesitated as she stepped around the curtain and then started to back out of the room when she saw Alex sleeping in the bed and right beside her, lying in the reclining chair was Regina with her eyes closed and her left hand enclosed in Alex’s larger one.

A gravely voice broke the silence. “Sandy…don’t go.”

“Oh, hey, I didn’t think you were awake.” Sandy sheepishly stuck her hands in her lab coat and moved to the end of the bed.

“It’s all right. I don’t really sleep, just kind of drift in and out.” Alex squeezed the smaller hand she was holding.

“Mm, ah, oh I must have fallen asleep,” Regina grumbled softly, as she wiped her eyes and sat up blinking. “Hi, Sandy.”

“I thought you went home last night.”

Regina ran her hand through her hair. “Just for a little while. I snuck back in after visiting hours.”

Sandy peered around to the other side of the room. “No roommate?”

Regina gave Alex a sidelong glance. “Would you believe this one called the woman’s attending and reamed him out on the phone at eleven o’clock last night?”

Alex arched an eyebrow and volunteered her reasons. “He hadn’t been in to see her in two days and the woman had peritonitis. She needed surgery to repair the defect and the intern hadn’t picked it up when he examined her on rounds.”

The nurse shook her head. “Alex, you’re supposed to be resting, not working.”

“I can’t help it,” the attending grumbled. “I knew something was wrong with the woman. I couldn’t just ignore it.”

“Is she behaving otherwise?” Sandy looked over at Regina.

The resident snorted and rolled her eyes. “If you don’t count her throwing one of the phlebotomists out of the room last night, removing her own IV, and threatening Dr. Kelly with bodily harm unless he discharged her today.”

“I don’t need to be here and I’m tired of them sticking me with needles,” Alex groused.

“Sounds like its time for you to go home.” Sandy sat down on the edge of the bed and dug into the pocket of her lab coat. “Here, I wanted to give this to you.” She handed Alex a sealed envelope, which contained a card. She watched as the doctor turned it over before looking at her with uncertain eyes. “It’s from everyone downstairs,” the nurse explained.

Alex looked at Regina who smiled and nodded at her to open it. The doctor’s hands trembled slightly as she ripped open the seal and pulled the card out. Her eyes scanned over the hand scrawled notes and she quickly closed the card. “I, I don’t think I can read them all right now,” her voice shook slightly and she bowed her head, fighting the tears that threatened to start falling. Get a grip Alex, it’s just a bloody card. What the hell is wrong with you anyway?

Sandy cleared her throat softly. “Alex, just know there are a lot of people here who care about you.”

The dark head shook imperceptively and Alex took a shaky breath before she allowed herself to look up at Sandy. “Thanks,” she whispered.

The nurse sat up straighter and furrowed her brow. “Oh, Christ, now look. I am not going to sit here and start this shit.” She wiped her eyes and stood up quickly. “You get your ass better and get back here. I am not dealing with all these residents that are still wet behind the ears all by myself.”

“You’ll whip them into shape.”

There was a knock on the door and the conversation stopped. “Alex?” Dr. Timmons stepped around the curtain. “I heard you caused quite a stir up here last night.”

Alex shifted uncomfortably, feeling a dull ache returning in her chest. “If that doctor wanted banker’s hours he should have gone into dermatology, not surgery.”

The pediatrician raised his hands and waved them in front of him. “Whoa. I agree with you. Actually, that’s not why I’m here.” He looked at Sandy. “I need to speak to the two doctors here.”

“I’ve got to go anyway.” She pointed at Regina. “Call me before you leave.”

Dr. Timmons waited for her to leave and then turned to Alex. “How are you doing?”

Alex raised an eyebrow at the question and cocked her head. “As well as I can. Just another scar to add to the collection,” she commented, trying to ease the tension she felt.

The pediatrician pressed his lips together and nodded his head. “I didn’t want to you to leave without speaking to both of you.”

Regina scooted to the edge of the chair and leaned instinctively closer to Alex.

“Alex, you take whatever time you need. I’ll be managing the administrative duties in the ER while you’re gone. When you’re ready, the department is yours to run if you still want it.” Dr. Timmons held up his hand at her protest. “Listen, I know it’s a lot to throw at you so soon, but I’d have your entire department after me if I didn’t tell you just that. You have a loyal bunch down there and they want you back.”

Alex swallowed hard and blinked, trying to comprehend the significance of what he had just said. She looked over at Regina as the pediatrician turned toward the resident.

“Dr. Kingston.” He focused on the blonde and gave her a warm smile. “You’ve left quite the impression on the medical staff.”

Regina’s eyes widened and she felt her heart start to pound faster. “I, I…”

He continued before she could finish her sentence. “There is a fellowship position available in surgery and one for pediatrics. Your choice, but I need an answer by the end of next week.”

Regina stared up at the doctor in shock. She was sure Jameson’s comment in the meeting was going to be her downfall at the medical center and had been preparing herself for the fallout from it. “Y…You’re offering me a fellowship position?”

“I believe that’s what I just did.” The doctor stepped back and looked at both of the women. “Take care of yourselves, ladies. Regina, you know where to find me; Alex, please think about what I said.” With that, he inclined his head and backed out of the room.

Regina scratched her head and looked at Alex. “Did that just really happen or am I dreaming?”

Alex tilted her head back and stared up at the ceiling before gazing over at the blonde woman. She reached over and touched Regina’s face. “Nope, not a dream.” Her eyes were solemn as she continued to look at her lover.

******

Regina stepped down out of the Jeep, her eyes scanning the front entrance of the hospital. A smile touched her lips when she saw her fair-haired friend, carefully pushing a wheelchair through the automatic sliding doors. Its occupant straightened slightly and blinked several times, her eyes adjusting to the sunlight reflecting off the snow. Alex’s surgeon argued valiantly, trying to get her to stay another day, but the recovering doctor flatly refused and threatened to sign herself out against medical advice if he didn’t agree to discharge her today.

The dark haired woman grimaced slightly as the cold, damp wind buffeted her slender form and she shivered despite the layers of clothing that she was dressed in. She lifted her head and a fleeting, tentative smile crossed her lips as she looked around her. Even though the cold air made her lungs ache, she inhaled deeply, trying to rid herself of the pungent, antiseptic hospital odor that she had come to loathe over the past week.

Sandy leaned over the taller woman’s shoulder and pointed Regina out as she walked around the front of the Jeep. “There she is. Your chariot awaits, my friend.”

There was a brief moment as Regina met Sandy’s gaze and the two women smiled at each other, silently acknowledging the events of the past week and the bond that had formed between them as a result. Sandy stopped and bent over, locking the brakes and offered Alex her hand. With some effort Alex lifted herself out the wheelchair, ignoring Sandy’s offer of help, and slowly straightened up before starting to walk toward the Jeep.

Regina walked up to the taller woman. “Do you need help?”

Alex shook her head, but rested her hand on Regina’s shoulder anyway as they approached the taller woman’s truck. Before she climbed up into the passenger seat the dark haired woman turned to the blonde haired nurse who was standing behind her.

“It’s not enough I know, but thank you.” Alex clasped her hand and smiled into the woman’s eyes. “You’re a good friend, Sandy.”

The nurse smiled back at Alex. “I’d hug you, but I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

“Rain check will do.” The doctor nodded her head and then ducked into the Jeep, grunting as she settled herself into the seat. She felt a hand touch her arm and she looked over at Regina, who peered at her with a worried look on her face.

“I’m ok,” Alex murmured as she tilted her head back against the seat and closed her eyes. Her first instinct when Regina offered to have her stay at the condo was to go curl up somewhere alone like a wounded animal. You weren’t going to win that battle and face it, she wasn’t offering, because ‘no’ was not an option she was willing to accept, Alex thought wryly as the image of Regina standing at the foot of the hospital bed, glowering at her when she balked at the idea the night before crept into her mind.

The blonde smiled and shut the door. Regina turned to Sandy and found herself wrapped in a bear hug.

“Thanks, Sandy.” She squeezed her back and held on for a few seconds before letting go.

“I’m going to miss you.” The nurse pulled away and smiled at Regina.

“I’ll be back. I want to be able to help Alex out and figure out what we’re going to do after all this.”

“Are you two going to be ok?”

Regina glanced over her shoulder at the profile of her lover, her heart lurching up into her throat as their eyes met and held each other. “I think so. Alex needs some time to deal with everything and so do I.”

“Call if you need anything.”

“I will. Go on; you’re freezing out here.”

Regina waved and started back to the Jeep. She climbed in beside Alex and regarded her quietly for a moment. “You ready?”

The dark head nodded. “Just take me home.”

******

A gripping, clamp like pain constricted her chest. Alex sat bolt upright in the bed with her heart pounding, then collapsed slowly onto her side, gasping as she let the dream recede into her subconscious. Easy, you’re ok, she told herself, willing the pounding beat of her heart to slow.

It was the same dream she’d had when she was up on the Cape, the same feeling of dread, hopelessness and futility and now she knew its’ source. She’d dealt with mortality every day, her actions impacting the outcome of whether someone lived or died. Death was always there on the periphery, waiting patiently, always a grim reminder of how fragile the human body was.

In the past, she had kept it at arms’ length; young, healthy and at the peak of her career, it would not touch her, but now it had. She’d dealt with first her lover’s death, miserably failed in her attempt to accept the impending loss and now come face to face with her own mortality and survived. Luck, fate, sheer will and determination, Regina’s heroic effort to save her had kept her alive to see another day and now it was up to her to put the demons aside and move on.

Quietly, so as not wake Regina, she eased her body out of the bed and crept out of the bedroom. Almost two weeks after her surgery, she could at least walk without being bent over at the waist from the pain she experienced. Stubbornly, against everyone’s wishes, she refused to take anymore of the painkillers and sedatives, secretly terrified that she would fall prey once again to her old addictions.

Alex settled onto the couch and turned on the lamp next to her. She tilted her head back and stared up at the ceiling, turning her thoughts inward. It felt like she spent forever, searching for someone to love. She thought she found that person with Lana, had learned to trust, even believed she deserved the happiness, only to have it slowly torn from her as she watched the woman she loved wither away. Now one tumultuous year later she’d been offered a second chance at life and love.

“Alex.”

The sound of her name startled her. She turned her head and saw Regina, a blanket wrapped around her shoulders, standing by the edge of the couch. Alex sighed, seeing the soft, contemplative expression on her lover’s face.

“Did I wake you up?” Alex asked softly.

Regina shook her head, walked over and sat down beside her on the couch. “No. Did you dream again?”

Alex pulled her eyes away and stared down at her hands, her silence answering the blonde’s question. She felt Regina’s fingers brush her hair back over her shoulder, the comforting gesture bringing tears to her eyes.

Regina waited patiently for Alex to finally focus on her. When she did, Regina smiled and ran her fingers over Alex’s face, wiping the tears away. “Talk to me love.”

Alex let out a shaky breath. “Regina, there’s a part of me that wishes I’d just let him shoot Dana.” There; it was out. She’d said what haunted her since she woke up and realized what happened.

Regina moved closer, slipping her hand underneath Alex’s arm. “I’d feel the same way, Alex. After what you’ve been through, most people would.”

“I don’t know if I can go back there. Just thinking about it makes me break out into a sweat. Even if I do, it may be months before I’m able to work again.”

“Dr. Timmons said to take all the time you need before you come back.”

“As medical director.”

“If you want,” Regina acknowledged quietly. It had been a shock to say the least, to see the gray haired pediatrician in Alex’s room the morning before she was being discharged home.

Alex turned her head and looked at her friend. “What if I can’t do it?”

Regina caught the flicker of fear in those eyes. “It’s too soon to worry about it. Give yourself time to get past all this.”

“I don’t want to let anybody down and it’s not fair to you to have to be the one to deal with all this crap.” Alex tapped her head and smiled sadly. The nightmares plagued her almost every night and frequently she would wake to Regina quietly holding her, whispering gentle reassurances in her ear.

“What are friends for, Alex? I just want to be with you, for better or for worse.” Regina held her hand out and interlaced her fingers with Alex’s, then lifted her hand up to kiss it. “I’m in love with you, Alex. Nothing changes how I feel for you.”

“Regina.” Alex bowed her head forward.

“Alex, I see your smile and it feels like I’ve seen it a hundred times before. It stays with me, makes me think of what you’re doing when you’re not here with me. I couldn’t bear to lose you.”

“I don’t know what I can give you,” Alex’s voice cracked. “All I have is what I feel inside and I know that I’d be lost without you.”

Regina moved closer and laid her head on Alex’s shoulder. A thousand times in the hospital she felt the strength of the bond that drew them together. Not just as lovers, but as friends. Together they had seen each other through the darkest times in their lives, survived the worst and come out stronger in spite of it all.

There were still so many things for them to deal with, bridges that would need to be crossed. Derrick was still out there, most likely stewing over his last public rejection. Regina knew in her heart her parents would never accept Alex as her partner and the most important part of her life would go unacknowledged by them. It hurt, but not as much as the thought of losing the love she had found. The thoughts passed through her mind, and then faded when she blinked and looked up at her lover. She watched the facial muscles twitch reflexively as Alex stared back at her pensively.

“Alex, you’re my best and truest friend, my partner and the love of my life.” Regina slid from the couch and knelt at her feet. “I want us to share our lives, plan our future, together.”

Intense blue eyes edged with gray blinked back at her in surprise. “Are you asking…”

Regina lifted Alex’s hands and kissed each palm. “Yes, I’m asking you to share your life with me. I want us to be together, forever.” She sat back on her heels watching Alex’s reaction nervously.

Alex scooted forward and raised her hands to Regina’s face. She kissed her, brushing her lips over her eyelids and along her cheekbones. Regina’s lips were warm and soft. They opened, willingly taking Alex inside. Her tongue moved slowly, rediscovering and exploring Regina’s mouth.

“I love you, Regina,” Alex whispered through the kiss.

“Always,” Regina breathed back, capturing the sweet lips again. She gasped as Alex lifted her up and guided her onto her lap. “Alex, you’ll hurt yourself.”

“Let me be the judge of that.” Alex stretched her legs out on the couch and settled Regina against her. She reached up, pulled the blue and green-checkered afghan off the back of the couch, and laid it over their outstretched bodies.

She felt Regina rest her head on her shoulder and she reached around, caressing the blonde hair with her hand. Alex tilted her head and watched green eyes reflecting back the love she felt. She smiled and touched her lips to Regina’s.

Finally, after all this, she found a companion for the journey ahead, someone who she knew would stand beside her no matter where the road led. Her heart raced as the love she felt claimed her heart and soul and she knew as she kissed the woman in her arms that it would never, ever let go.
The end
Continued in The Road Back

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