The Road Back Home

by Lynne Norris

© February 2001


See Chapter 1 for disclaimers.


Chapter Three


Alex stood in front of the large, rectangular board the ER department used to log in each new patient with her hands planted firmly on her hips and her legs slightly spread apart. It was the first thing she did before the start of each shift. A quick perusal and she knew how many patients there were in the emergency department, where they were in triage and what doctors from each of the major specialties from within the hospital were on call for the shift. Satisfied with what she saw, she walked over to the desk and quickly reviewed the charts for all the patients.

It was ten minutes to the start of her shift and she knew all the vital information that she needed to know about everyone in her care. Down the hallway, Dr. Torres strode out of the lounge and headed in her direction, carrying a steaming cup of coffee. He was sporting a new haircut since Alex saw him last. It was cropped close to his scalp and had an even spattering of gray throughout. Alex acknowledged him with a quick nod as he leaned on the counter in front of her.

"Rough night?" she inquired, observing the dark circles evident beneath the normally sharp brown eyes.

"I’ve had worse." He shrugged and stifled a yawn. "I hear you might be taking a trip downtown to restart the clinic they closed."

Alex raised an eyebrow in response. "News travels fast. The administration is scrambling to do damage control. Full-page ads in a newspaper aren’t going to win any support in this case."

"You’re right about that. I had two people refuse to be admitted here last night. They requested to be transferred to County General. Hey, let me know if you want help. I’d be willing to help out."

An eyebrow crept upwards as Alex’s surprise at Alfonse’s offer registered. "Thanks." Alex straightened up and winced at the sharp fleeting pain in her chest. "Shit."

"You ok, boss?" Dr. Torres looked up into her face and stepped closer.

"I’m fine, Alfonse." She let out a breath and braced herself on the counter.

He studied her for a moment. "If you say so. Just take care of yourself, Alex. No one expected you to be back this soon." He hesitated, and then added in a quiet voice. "Not after what happened to you."

She held up a hand to stop him. "Al, please let’s just…not go there. They’re not great memories and frankly I’m just trying to forget about them and move on."

The physician pressed his lips together and was quiet for a moment, debating the risks of telling his new director just what he thought of that. "All right. I guess I’ll talk to you later then."

Alex watched as her colleague walked away from her and for a brief moment wondered if she made the right decision in coming back when she had. The dark-haired woman dismissed the niggling doubt and looked around the department. It was quiet and Alex took the opportunity to go to her office and sort through the piles of inter-office mail and patient files that were sitting on her desk. Dr. Washington did his best while she was out to keep up with it all, making decisions and acting on some of the issues but there was still much that only Alex could make the final decisions on.

The medical director’s eyebrows arched as she listened to three different phone messages from directors who had been at the meeting the day before and all expressed an interest in their staff being able to use the clinic to provide services to the community. She tapped a pencil on the desk as she continued to listen and then shook her head in mild disbelief. Well, it seems as if some of the skeptics have broken ranks.

Alex turned her attention back to the remaining letters still sitting on her desk. One particular letter caught her attention and she sat back in her chair while she tore open the envelope. She blew out a breath as she read the contents that stated she would be required to give a deposition in the case of Dr. Jameson versus Saint Xavier’s Medical Center. Alex knew all along it would come down to this and hoped that a deposition was all that would be required and not a court appearance that would undoubtedly turn ugly with all parties present.

A knock on the door distracted her. "Come in."

"Hey Alex." Dr. Washington walked into the office and sat on the edge of the chair, his tall, lanky frame tensed as he looked around the office.

"What’s on your mind, Jon?" Alex asked, watching as her colleague settled back in the chair. She could tell something was bothering him from the expression on his face.

"Listen, I pulled your file the day…everything happened." He leaned forward and frowned before he continued. "There was nobody listed as an emergency contact person."

Alex looked down at her hands and absently rubbed a thumb along the palm of her other hand. "I know."

Jon stared at her incredulously. "But why?"

"Jon, since my father died I haven’t spoken to anyone in my family," Alex replied quietly.

"Alex, that’s been a long time."

"Eight years to be exact."

"Maybe…" he started to say something, then, paused when he saw the grim expression on Alex’s face. "I guess it’s really none of my business." He rose from the chair and left the room without a backward glance at his colleague.

"You’re right it’s not." Alex whispered, listening to the click of the latch as the door shut behind the tall, lanky frame of the doctor.

By the time she extracted herself from underneath six weeks worth of accumulated mail it was late in the morning. Alex jogged down the stairs and walked into the emergency department. The overhead page system was blaring out a stat page for one of the surgeons to report to the ICU, several family members paced anxiously in the corridor outside the waiting room and the unit clerk at the desk was busy trying to locate a patient that was brought in hours earlier who was no longer on the unit.

The desk phone rang and the haggard looking unit clerk picked it up. "Emergency Department. Hold on, let me get the nurse."

The young woman stood up and looked around the department then keyed the intercom to page for a nurse. "Sandy, I need you at the desk now."

Alex watched as the nurse emerged from one of the trauma rooms and walked quickly over to the desk, pulling her unruly blonde hair back into a ponytail. Several doors down a technician ran out of an exam room and ducked into the supply room only to emerge a moment later with several sterile kits in hand. The nurse took the phone from the unit clerk, slid into the chair next to her and quickly scribbled a few notes on her scrub bottoms. She looked up at Alex as she hung up the phone.

"We’ve got a young male on the way, approximately sixteen years old, altered mental status, vitals stable."

"Go ahead and get room four cleared out. I’ll take him," Alex told the nurse.

Sandy stared at Alex for a second before she answered. "Why don’t you let one of the residents take it?"

"Why?" Alex snapped defensively, turning around to glare at the nurse.

Sandy recoiled then set her jaw, clearly annoyed at the doctor’s response. "Because you’re the Medical Director and you don’t have to take every case that comes through the door."

Alex felt the sudden flare of anger fade, knowing she overreacted. She sucked in her lower lip and blew out a breath, staring down at the floor as she considered Sandy’s words. Sandy was right she knew, but her pride and desperate need to answer her own questions about her ability to come back and do her job prevented her from backing down.

"I’m taking it."

"Fine." Sandy abruptly stood up and walked down the hall, grabbing Bonnie as she came out of the locker room. "Help me clear out this room."

Alex shrugged into a gown and pulled a plastic fluid shield mask over face as she walked quickly down the hall to meet the incoming stretcher. The paramedics were struggling to hold the patient down as they wheeled the stretcher along the floor.

"Blood pressure is one hundred over sixty. He’s been confused and combative since we found him."

Alex grabbed hold of the stretcher while she listened and guided them into the trauma room. "What happened to him?"

"A couple of firemen found him lying at the bottom of some concrete steps in an alley," the medic responded. "They don’t know how he got there. Maybe he fell, who knows."

"Not likely. Looks more like someone kicked him in the head. Let’s get him on the table," Alex ordered, still studying the dark purple bruise in the shape of a half moon on the boy’s cheek.

There was an air of tension in the room but Alex quickly dismissed it as she focused her attention on the patient. Four sets of hands grabbed the sheet and lifted the patient from the stretcher to the exam table. Sandy cut through his bloodied sweatshirt and slapped leads onto his chest as Bonnie and one of the techs quickly tied his arms down to prevent him from flailing his arms about.

As all this was being done, Alex pressed the diaphragm of her stethoscope to the boy’s chest, listening to his breath and heart sounds. She hesitated as a sudden wave of dizziness hit her and she broke out into a cold sweat. The doctor gripped the rail of the treatment table to steady herself.

"Alex, are you ok?" Sandy asked, when she noticed her leaning at an awkward angle over the table.

The tall doctor inhaled sharply and nodded before she spoke again. "His lungs are clear. Get a CBC, coagulation profile, electrolytes and toxicology screen. Type and cross his blood just in case we need any." She looked over at the paramedic. "Does he have any id on him?"

The man shook his head, his eyes darting nervously over to Sandy and then back to Alex. "Nope, you’ve got yourself a John Doe."

Alex glanced up as a resident ran into the room, tying a mask over his face.

"So nice of you to join us, Dr. Tanner," she remarked snidely, remembering the resident from the day before. Her first impression of the resident was not a good one and showing up late to a new admission was not winning him any brownie points with her at the moment. She flicked her penlight in the patient’s eyes and ducked away as the boy grunted and thrashed violently on the stretcher. "What kind of IV fluid do you want to use Dr. Tanner?"

"Ringer’s Lactate," the resident replied automatically.

"Wrong choice. You have an obvious change in his mental status; decreased blood pressure and you don’t have a diagnosis yet. Sandy, hook up a bag of hypertonic saline." Alex looked over at the resident who was inserting a catheter into the man’s arm to set up an intravenous line. "If he’s got a bleed the hypertonic saline won’t elevate an already increased intracranial pressure. Remember it." Alex stared at the resident as she finished her neurological checks. "Let’s get a CT scan and call Neurology for a consult. Dr. Tanner, you can baby sit him in radiology."

Alex stepped back from the table and pulled her facemask off, tossing it into the garbage. She yanked her isolation gown from her body and tossed it into the linen basket as she walked past it. "Page me when you know what the results are, Tanner," she ordered before she walked out of the room.

Out in the hallway, a door swung closed to a room and she could hear Jon barking out orders as another trauma patient was being triaged across the hall. Out of habit, she was already slipping into a clean yellow gown and pulling on a plastic fluid shield mask as she elbowed the door open.

"Do you need help, Jon?" The words echoed in her head and the sight of the bloodied patient lying helpless on the stretcher surround by a myriad of cables, lines and tubing brought her up short, her breath catching in her throat.

Jon glanced up from his work and shook his head. He stepped back from the table and glanced at the clock before pronouncing the time of death. The doctor pulled off his gloves and quietly thanked the nurse and resident for their help before he walked over to Alex. "There wasn’t much we could do for this guy."

He put a hand on her shoulder as he stepped up beside her. "You ok?"

Alex blinked and turned to look at him. "Yeah, I’m fine. I just remembered I forgot to do something earlier."

The tall, dark-haired doctor turned and walked hurriedly down the corridor dodging between visitors and stretchers. Alex slipped out the door into the cold winter air, sucked in a breath, stumbled over to the concrete steps and leaned against the metal railing.

The panic almost overwhelmed her; it was totally unexpected and she held her head in her hands. She felt another wave of dizziness and grimaced as the sour taste of bile rose in her throat. Her body started to shake, deep down in her gut and raced out until her arms and legs were trembling and she sat down at the top of the steps fighting for control.

Even in the cold, she could feel sweat trickling down her back as her body responded to the overwhelming emotions assaulting her. She knew all about post-traumatic stress syndrome and the symptoms that went along with it. Shit, what the hell is wrong with me? She gripped the edge of the concrete step beneath her, letting it bite into her fingertips, the pain somehow grounding her. Alex closed her eyes and rocked back and forth.

A moment later, she heard the outside door open from a few feet behind her. Alex pulled herself to her feet and turned away, attempting to compose herself. Tentative footsteps approached from behind.

Not now, please just go away.

"Alex, are you all right?"

She held her shoulders rigid as she continued to stare through watery eyes at the brick wall. She secretly wished the footsteps belonged to Regina but she knew they were not. "I’m fine, Sandy," she ground out between gritted teeth, refusing to turn around and let the woman see her this way.

The blonde haired nurse frowned as she stood behind the doctor. Half of her wanted to press the issue; she was worried about Alex, but the professional side of her dictated that she respect the doctor’s need for distance. It was obvious that she didn’t want company but after her unusual behavior in the trauma room she felt compelled to check on her friend. Sandy took half a step forward, stopped and then raised a hand, her frustration evident on her face as she let it drop helplessly to her side.

"Alex, if you need anything let me know. Ok?"

The dark head nodded and Sandy slowly walked back into the emergency department, casting an anxious glance behind her before she let the door close. Alone out in the bitter cold, Alex exhaled and walked around the corner so she was out of sight from anyone passing by. Her breaths came in ragged gasps as she crossed her arms over her chest, hugging herself.

"Shit," she cursed, fighting back the tears that welled up in her eyes. The entire time in the trauma room she had to fight back the urge to bail out of the case and run from the room. She knew her fear was irrational but everything she felt was complicated by the intrusive fragmented memories that kept haunting her from that day just seven short weeks ago, right up until the point that she had lost consciousness and the green eyes she’s been looking into faded from view.

No longer able to stand the cold, damp wind, Alex angrily wiped tears from her eyes, straightened her shoulders and forced herself to walk back into the emergency department to face her demons alone.

The cafeteria was nearly empty except for a few scattered people sitting at the different tables throughout the large room. Regina walked up to the large industrial refrigerator and regarded the prepared lunches. She wrinkled her nose at the meager selections, tuna fish or egg salad. Ugh, I have no idea what I want to eat. I guess this will have to do, for now, she thought morosely as she selected a tuna fish sandwich. On the way to the cashier, she spotted a small silver bag of Hershey’s Kisses and quickly snatched them up, knowing how much Alex enjoyed the tiny morsels of chocolate.

After paying for her lunch she walked out into the nearly cafeteria and scanned the few occupants for any familiar faces. There was no staff that she knew so she headed to the door, preparing to eat alone and catch up on finishing her charts from the afternoon.

Almost to the exit, Regina stopped, recognizing the middle-aged, red-haired woman who was the mother of the patient she had admitted with the leg tumor the day before.

From where she stood, Regina could see the woman was crying. The young doctor hesitated for a moment, wondering if she should just let the woman alone to deal with whatever was troubling her. A memory of a hot and humid day, a bottle of water and an offer of support that started a fledgling friendship changed her mind.

She had seen the results of the girl’s lab tests in the computer earlier in the day and knew that the oncology doctors would most likely try an aggressive round of chemotherapy to see if the tumor would respond to it before trying a more aggressive approach.

"Mrs. Edwards?" Regina spoke her name hesitantly as she approached the table where the woman was sitting alone.

Red-rimmed brown eyes looked up at her in surprise and the woman seemed to shrink back down in her chair. She covered her mouth with her hand and shook her head, trying to collect herself.

"I…I’m sorry. I just can’t believe what’s happening to my baby girl." Her hands trembled as she folded them together in front of her on the table.

The young doctor sat down across from her and set the plastic container holding her sandwich down on the table.

The woman nodded and wiped her eyes. "I don’t know how she’s going to handle this. What if it doesn’t work and the cancer comes back?"

Regina sat quietly, listening to the woman’s heartbroken words. "Mrs. Edwards, if you can, try and take what’s happening with Terry’s treatment one day at a time."

"I just…my husband lost his job and now Terry being sick, it’s too much."

Oh dammit, she briefly closed her eyes. There was little Regina could say or do at the moment that would ease the mother’s worries. So little of what would happen in the next few months would be in the family’s control. The journey they were at the beginning of would be an emotional roller coaster and a positive outcome was far from guaranteed. The blonde reached across the table and squeezed the distraught woman’s hand. "The doctors will take good care of her, Mrs. Edwards."

Terry’s mother wiped her eyes and nodded her head. "I know you’re busy, Dr. Kingston, but could you check in on her from time to time while she’s here? I know Terry liked you."

Regina stood and rested her hand on the woman’s shoulder. "Sure, I’ll check in on her." She made a mental note to check the computer to see what room the young girl was in. The blonde left the cafeteria, walked down the back hallway, passing several of the dietary and housekeeping staff whose departments were located along this back corridor.

Regina walked up the metal staircase, her footsteps echoing in the empty stairwell as she headed to the back entrance of the emergency department. All day she struggled with the urge to beep Alex several times today to see how she doing. She knew deep down Alex was worried about coming back to work even if she hadn’t voiced her concerns to Regina.

Several times while she was still recuperating, Alex brushed off her attempts to talk about the shooting and the blonde felt the unwelcome yet familiar walls starting to rise around her lover. Regina vowed she wouldn’t let Alex shut her out, especially now, not after everything they had been through.

The day shift was finishing up, signing off orders and giving report to the incoming nursing staff. A door banged open at the end of the hallway and one of the technicians pushed the portable x-ray machine through the entrance. At the nursing station, Regina spotted the curly blonde locks of her friend, Sandy. The nurse was bent over the desk, speaking to one of her colleagues and didn’t see the young doctor walk up to her.

When the nurse finally straightened, Sandy’s face lit up and she walked around the desk to pull Regina into a hug.

"Hey, stranger. I was wondering when you were going to make it back down to here to visit the trenches."

"It’s been less than a week," Regina defended with a chuckle, as she glanced around the busy department. A part of her missed the frenetic pace and the organized chaos that characterized a normal day in the emergency department, but she was very happy with her decision to work in pediatrics. It gave her the ability to treat a wide variety of patients and Regina knew she would have many opportunities to still work in the emergency department.

"How’s Pediatrics doing?" Sandy slipped out of her lab coat and slung it over her shoulder.

"Busy. We’ve got a bunch of kids with respiratory viruses and the flu."

"I can’t believe you gave up the ER for Pediatrics," Sandy replied, as she walked with Regina to the staff lounge.

The doctor gave Sandy a sidelong look and shook her head. "I didn’t give it up, Sandy. I’ll still have plenty of patients who’ll be admitted through the emergency department. What, do you miss me or something?"

"I said no such thing." Sandy scowled, her face flushing red. "It…it’s not the same without you down here," she whispered conspiratorially in Regina’s ear.

"I miss you guys, too." Regina nudged the door open with her hip and motioned Sandy into the lounge, watching the pleased smile that crossed her friend’s face.

The nurse wrinkled her nose as she sniffed the half-day old brew, and then poured herself a cup of coffee. "Do you want some?" She held the pot up offering Regina a cup.

"No, I haven’t been sleeping well, so I’m trying to cut back to see if it helps at all."

"Mm, I could drink a whole pot and still fall asleep after a day here." Sandy sipped at the coffee and studied her friend closely. "Alfonse told me Alex is trying to reopen the clinic downtown."

Regina nodded her head. "Yes, she is. It might help with all the non-emergent admits to the ER."

"Mm." Sandy sipped the coffee. "I’d be willing to help out if Alex needs any. So…how come you’re not sleeping?"

Regina folded her arms over her chest and her face took on a distant almost detached look as she stared at the tiled floor beneath her feet. "Would you believe nightmares?"

"About what?" The nurse frowned and leaned against the counter.

Regina moaned softly and rubbed her face. "I never remember them…clearly."

"I wouldn’t be surprised if you’re dreaming about what happened to Alex." Sandy offered, venturing a guess that Regina might very well be suffering from nightmares about the shooting.

"I don’t know. You’d think I’d remember if I were."

"Maybe not, Regina. Have you two talked about it at all?" Sandy asked quietly.

The blonde shrugged her shoulders and slid her hands into her lab coat pockets. "A little. It’s not exactly a popular subject with either of us."

"I can’t imagine that it is, Regina." They both looked up as the door opened and Alex walked in with her lab coat slung carelessly over one shoulder. The taller woman hesitated when she spotted the Regina standing beside the nurse. Her eyes bore into Sandy. I hope you didn’t say anything to Regina about today. This is my problem and I’ll deal with it.

"There you are." The tense expression on Alex’s face relaxed as her eyes met Regina’s. The affectionate smile she was rewarded with warmed something deep inside her and she let herself revel in the sweet feeling. "I was just going to page you to see if you were ready to get out of here."

"Yeah, more than ready." Regina couldn’t help the impish grin that crossed her lips as she reached into her lab coat and tossed the bag of chocolates to Alex.

The brunette’s pale blue eyes lit up and she snatched the bag out of the air. "Thanks." She smiled conspiratorially back at the blonde.

"Ok, I’ll take that as my cue to leave." Sandy grabbed her coffee and slipped past Regina, mouthing the words ‘talk to her’, as she walked by. "See you guys later."

"Where are you going?" Alex asked.

"Home," Sandy replied.

Alex watched the door close and then turned to Regina. "Everything ok?"

"Yeah, I’m fine, now." Regina stepped closer and tugged at the bottom of Alex’s scrub top as she continued to look up at her blue eyes. The dark haired woman leaned closer and barely stopped herself from kissing the blonde as she inhaled the scent of Regina’s perfume that lingered on the collar of her lab coat.

What she really wanted to do was just go home and curl up alongside of Regina, but Alex knew if she wanted a chance at making the clinic a success she needed to get started on it and soon. "I need to run downtown and check out the clinic we might be opening. Do you want to come along?"

"On one condition."

"What’s that?" A dark eyebrow arched.

"We pick up something to eat."

"I thought that’s what these were for." Alex shook the bag of chocolates, holding over Regina’s head.

The blonde snorted and poked Alex in the side.

The clinic was located on the first floor of a three-story, non-descript, brick-faced building that sat across the street from the fire department. The lights from the inside of the two open garages reflected in a half moon shape, casting Alex’s shadow over the macadam as she stepped out of the Jeep and waited for Regina to join her at the entrance of the clinic.

Alex spotted several kids lounging against the hood of one of the cars parked along the side of the street and studied them for a moment before she unlocked the front door and quickly keyed in the numbers to reset the alarm.

The taller woman stepped inside with Regina close behind her and turned on the overhead fluorescent lights. While Regina set down the brown bag filled with take out food from the local late night diner, Alex relocked the door.

"Here, you must be starved. I know I am." The blonde held out the neatly wrapped egg sandwich that Alex ordered.

"Thanks." The taller woman leaned in and wrapped an arm around the blonde as she took the sandwich from her. "Come on, let’s check this place out."

The clinic itself was empty except for the reception desk that separated the waiting room from the treatment area. The curtains that hung from the ceiling, separating the four booths from each other, ruffled slightly as the two women walked past. Dust balls tumbled across the floor, stirred, as they walked across the room and several broken ceiling tiles lay on the floor unmoved from where they had fallen some time ago.

"Well, what do you think?" Alex asked as she gestured at the room. She rotated on her heel and stepped back a few paces, shrugging. "Besides the obvious," she added quickly with a grin, seeing Regina’s arched eyebrow as she looked around the clinic.

"It’s smaller than I thought it would be," Regina offered, before she bit into her sandwich.

"Yeah, but for what we would do here it doesn’t need to be big. Remember, we’re just looking to do follow up visits from the ER, in addition to baby check ups and pre-natal care. They’re quick visits but doing them here would save us a lot of time in the emergency department. All we need to do is rotate a doctor and a nurse down here three times a week for five hours at a time. Most of our non-emergency, walk-in visits come from right around these two towns." Alex motioned with her arm as she talked.

"Who’s going to use it the rest of the time?" Regina asked, as she walked alongside her companion.

"The medical center is always looking for more space, especially for its medical training programs. I’ve had three directors call and ask about sharing the space with us."

"That’s awesome!"

"Yes, it is. After the meeting the other day I wasn’t sure there would be a great response to do this."

"Why did you think that?"

Alex bit into her sandwich and shrugged. "Regina, I ratted out a fellow doctor."

"Who was a sleaze and abused his authority! Everyone knew it, Alex, but you were the only one willing to do something about it."

"Some people might not think about it that way."

"Then screw them," Regina said, her voice rising in frustration.

Alex’s eyes widened in surprise and Regina blushed slightly.

"I…I mean it Alex. It took a lot of courage to do what you did."

The brunette hovered over the smaller woman. Her fingers tilted Regina’s face up to hers. "You were the one with the courage my friend," Alex said sincerely

Regina pulled her eyes away, feeling suddenly awkward and undeserving of the compliment. "Hey, did they leave any equipment here?"

"I doubt it. Dr. Timmons remembers the place being stripped clean of everything. If there’s any left its locked in the storage room. I think I may have the key." Alex suddenly realized as she dug in her pants pocket, pulled out a ring of keys and started to walk toward the back of the building.

Regina turned around to look at the space again and let out a gasp when she felt an arm unexpectedly slip around her waist and pull her back into one of the booths. A low chuckle sounded in her ear and Regina let herself lean against the taller woman’s body.

"Come here, you." Alex growled playfully and leaned back against a treatment table, plucking the half eaten sandwich from her hand. She pulled Regina between her thighs and wrapped her arms around the blonde, pulling her into a hug. After a moment, Alex slid her hands up underneath the blonde hair and cupped Regina’s face in her hands, her blue eyes searching the green orbs.

"What?" Regina caught the fleeting look of uncertainty in the blue eyes and linked her hands around the woman’s lower back.

Alex shook her head and brushed her lips against Regina’s, softly at first and, then, with more ardor as the smaller woman moaned softly into her mouth.

Regina braced a hand on the top of Alex’s thigh, and slid the other around the nape of her neck as they continued their long, slow kiss. A small cry escaped her as Alex’s hands lingered over the skin of her neck and then slid over her shoulders her thumbs lightly grazing the curve of her breasts on the way down to her hips.

After several minutes of gentle exploration, both women, their faces slightly flushed, eased up and gazed into the others eyes. Regina plucked at the top of Alex’s scrub top and leaned in to kiss the base of her neck. "Too bad we’re not home, huh?"

"Mm." Alex quirked a smile and leaned back on her hands. Her eyes glanced down at the v-neck of her scrub top, where she could see the top of the reddish scar that ran down the length of her sternum. "Pretty ugly looking thing, isn’t it?"

The entry wound of the bullet had left an ugly, purplish red mark on her chest just below her left breast, from there it had glanced off a rib, torn through one of the major arteries in her chest and imbedded itself in one of the vessels that fed life giving blood to her kidneys. The seconds between her living and dying had been that close. A thin red line with railroad tracks as the surgeons liked to call the marks the staples left ran down the length of her sternum.

Regina felt a lump form in her throat as she followed Alex’s gaze and waited for the dark haired woman to look back up at her. When her lover finally raised her head the uncertainty Regina saw in her eyes made her heart ache. "All I see is you, Alex. You’re here and that’s all that matters to me." The scars I worry about are the ones you carry on the inside.

Alex swallowed and looked away. "Thanks." It was barely a whisper. "I know it shouldn’t matter but sometimes I look at it and it makes me feel…violated." Her eyes blinked rapidly and she stared down at her feet.

The younger woman clasped Alex’s larger hands in her own. "Can I do anything for you?"

The brunette shook her head and leaned toward Regina, resting her head on her shoulder she closed her eyes and sighed. "Just hold me, please." I hurt inside.

"Always." Regina wrapped her arms around Alex and rubbed her hands over the taller woman’s back. "You don’t have to go through this all alone. Let me help you, Alex."

Alex tensed as a sharp rapping echoed through the empty clinic as someone banged on the front door. "Oh, go away. We don’t want any," she growled into Regina’s neck.

The blonde giggled at Alex’s comment and continued to hold onto her.

Another more urgent knocking broke the momentary silence.

"Shit," Alex cursed and pulled reluctantly out of the warm embrace and stood up.

She walked to the front of the building and saw a man standing at the front door peering in through the glass. A large dog lay quietly at his feet, panting. Alex sighed inwardly as she unlocked the door and opened it partway.

"Sorry, but the clinic isn’t open, " she said, as she partially opened the door. Underneath the streetlamp, she could see the man had dark curly hair with a light beard covering his jaw line. He wore a dark jacket with the fire department’s insignia embroidered over the left breast.

"Oh, no it’s ok," the man replied. "I saw you walk in and just wanted to check on you. A kid got beat up pretty badly in the alley last night. If it weren’t for Lucky here, finding him he might not have made it."

Alex glanced down at the German Shepard and felt her breath catch when she recognized the familiar markings.

"Hi," Regina walked up next to Alex and glanced up at the fireman.

Brown eyes smiled back and the fireman reached out his hand. "I’m Todd. I work over at the station house."

"Regina," the blonde said and shook his hand.

"I’m Alex," the taller woman followed reluctantly, giving up on her idea of getting rid of the guy quickly.

"Do you two work over at the hospital?"

"Yes, we’re both doctors," Regina offered, ignoring the slightly irritated look she got from her taller companion.

"Hey, that’s right. I thought I recognized you," Todd continued, looking up at Alex. "You work in the Emergency Department. I read about what happened to you. I guess you’re doing better, huh?"

Alex shifted uncomfortably. "I got a clean bill of health."

"A bunch of the guys worked that accident. What a mess that whole thing was. That kid never had a chance. It took us forever to get the woman and her dog out of the car. He’s a lucky fellow." Todd reached down and scratched between the dog’s ears. "He’s kind of adopted us, I guess."

Regina glanced up at Alex, the realization of what the man was saying slowly sinking in. She held her hand out and the dog sniffed her fingers enthusiastically, and then practically sat down on her feet. She laughed as he lifted his head and whined quietly for her to pet him.

"We named him Lucky, well, cause he is," the fireman announced as he bent over to ruffle the dog’s ears. I think he likes you." Todd beamed like a proud parent.

"Alex, do you think this is Dana’s dog?" The blonde looked up at her companion, missing the admiring glance she was receiving from the fireman.

Alex cringed, hoping that Regina wouldn’t have recognized the dog. It wasn’t that big of a deal, but for once she just wanted her past not to come back and haunt her. "He certainly looks like it." The taller woman looked down at the Shepard and reluctantly held her hand out. The dog nudged her fingers and gave them a friendly lick.

"You know him?" Todd asked cautiously, a worried look suddenly crossed his face.

Alex lifted her head and looked over at the fireman, her facial expression a mask of neutrality. "I know the woman who was his owner."

"Oh, y…you don’t want him do you?"

Regina glanced up at her friend and smiled at her while she tilted the dog’s head to look up at Alex.

The doctor quickly shook her head. "Not home enough. It wouldn’t be fair to him."

The blonde pushed out her lower lip in a pout as Alex returned her gaze then, rolled her eyes upward and emphatically mouthed the word, no, to Regina. She’d had enough of the social pleasantries and was feeling a growing annoyance at the appreciative glances that Regina was on the receiving end of and gave the bearded man her best ‘drop dead before I have to kill you myself’ look.

Todd glanced between them and shoved his hands into his pockets, sensing a distinct change in the taller woman’s demeanor. "Well, I just wanted to make sure you were ok over here. I won’t hold you up anymore. It was nice to meet the two of you. Come on, Lucky."

Regina tilted her head as the fireman walked back across the street with the dog trotting along at his side. "He seems nice."

Alex shrugged her shoulders and grunted before she quickly turned away to hide the jealous look she knew was plastered all over her face. "I’d say you just made a new friend there." She winced inwardly as the words came out more sarcastically than she planned. Ooh, very nice Alex, you just leapt back twenty years in your maturity level. Are you planning on re-entering high school again maybe?

Regina’s eyes narrowed and she cocked her head, placing her hands on her hips. "What do you…oh, the dog? Yeah, he is cute." The smaller woman lingered behind Alex as the taller woman strode through the door, appreciating the view then, walked up behind her friend, a knowing smirk growing across her face.

Alex blinked and turned around to look at her companion. "Regina…what…oomph…" She found herself suddenly wrapped in a fierce hug. "What are you looking at?"

"You, love" Regina whispered before she pulled Alex’s head down into a slow, lingering kiss.


Continued in Chapter 4

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