Second Chances

part 21

by Lynn Norris

Please see part one for all disclaimers.


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, youíre 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. "Howís 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. Sheís in a lot of pain and pretty confused about what happened."

Sandy wound her arm over the residentís shoulders and squeezed her. "You know, Alex has the constitution of an old war-horse. Just wait, sheíll be full of piss and vinegar soon and then God help us all, sheíll be throwing the nurses and medical students out of her room in a few days."

Marcus patted Reginaís shoulder. "They have no idea what theyíre 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 didnít 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 wasnít my favorite doctor, Regina, but what Dr. Jameson did was disgusting. Now that heís got a big time attorney making noises for him theyíre 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 didnít tell me what she did with it. She didnít want me getting involved," Regina replied.

"Well, she doesnít really have much of a choice at this point. If sheís 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. Sheís 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. Iíll cover your shift."

Regina turned around and stared at him in shock. "Are you serious? What about your vacation?"

"Itís three days, I can go any time. Besides, youíre 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 womanís 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.

Heíd 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 Alexís shoulder. "Regina said you were awake."

The brunette grimaced as a jolt of pain took her breath away. "Ah, IÖfeel like aÖtruck ran over me."

"You wish it was a truck. I donít 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. Theyíve got a guard outside. As soon as sheís medically stable, sheís out of here." Jon studied her face and reached down to adjust the small tubes that were delivering oxygen into her nose. "Youíve got to keep that in or youíre going to piss off the nurses."

Alex closed her eyes and fumbled briefly, pulling the nasal cannula from her nose again. "I donítÖmake a good patient."

Jonís 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."

"Itís about Jameson."

Alexís eyes drifted closed briefly then, opened again. "ItísÖok. 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 didnít 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 Alexís 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 doctorís bedside as the darkness had slowly given way to the gray light of dawn earlier that day, she hadnít paid much attention to what else was going on around the unit. Sheíd spent the hours, focusing only on the rise and fall of Alexís 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 nurseís station. She waited as the nurse at the counter finished a phone call and looked up at her.

"Hi. Iím 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. "Itís probably not a great time to see her. They just the pulled the drain out of the surgical site. It hurt like hell and sheís not due for any pain meds for another thirty minutes."

Reginaís hand ran over her flank as she shuddered involuntarily at the thought of the plastic tube being yanked out of Alexís body. "Iím going to look in on her."

"Iíd let her rest if I were you. Sheís not exactly in a good mood," the nurse replied flatly and turned away from her.

The resident cocked a blonde eyebrow, annoyed at the womanís 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 sheís in that much pain sheís probably not going to sleep until she gets the damn pain meds, so until then Iíll be inside with her," Regina announced, ignoring the nurseís 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 womanís 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. "Itís you," she whispered in a rasping voice.

"Yeah, itís 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 womanís neck.

After a momentís 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 doctorís orders in the chart.

"Here." She offered a couple of chips, placing them between Alexís lips.

The doctor sucked them in and then reached up to grasp Reginaís hand that was resting on the pillow. "Donít go."

"Iím not. Iím 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. Reginaís 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.

"ThanksÖfor 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 Reginaís hand and pressed against it, seeking the comfort of her touch. "IÖdreamed of you."

"Shh, donít talk. You need to rest." Regina continued the gentle stroking at the base of Alexís neck.

The brunette swallowed and moaned softly, then looked up into the greenest eyes sheíd ever seen. "WÖwhen IÖget 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?"

"ThatísÖwhen I knew. You wereÖpointing out Orionís Belt to me and I knew."

"Knew what?" Regina tilted her head trying to understand Alexís slightly slurred words.

"I loved you. I always have, right from the beginning."

"I love you too, Alex. I donít 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. "JonÖwas here."

"Sandy told me he was going to come up and see you."

"See me?" Alex blinked, focusing on the blonde sitting before her. "Didnít 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 loverís chest and steeled herself against the gruesome image that flashed in her mind. "Sweetheart, donít think about it."

Alex struggled to stay focused and squinted as she looked at Regina. "It was bad, wasnít it?"

Regina closed her eyes, realizing what Alex was asking her. "Later, ok?" I donít think I can begin to tell you everything that happened.

Alex stared into Reginaís 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. Sheís 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 Reginaís 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 canít 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 didnít 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. "Youíve got to be kidding me?"

Sandy glanced over Reginaís 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. "Heís 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? ReginaÖtell 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, donít do this to yourself."

"Tell me." The attending reached out and squeezed Reginaís 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, Iím 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 Reginaís lips. "Shh, listen to me. I know I canít do this." The doctor groaned softly and dropped her arm down before she continued. "The files are in the back of my Jeep Ė 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 Reginaís face. "JustÖstay focused. No matter what he says in there, donít 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. "Thereís a lot of good people down thereÖthat stand to lose everything theyíve worked for. Donít let him do that to them."

Regina leaned in and rested her forehead against Alexís. "I wonít. I promise."

The curtain pulled back and the redhead glared in at Regina and Sandy. "This is an intensive care unit if you hadnít noticed."

"I liked her better when I was out of it," Alex growled in Reginaís ear.

Sandy leaned over and touched Alexís shoulder. "Hang in there, Alex. This will all be over soon."

"Itís 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. Iíll leave as soon as she falls asleep."

Obviously displeased with Reginaís statement, the nurse huffed her agreement and jabbed the syringe into the IV port.

The blonde leaned over Alexís ear and whispered to her. "Iíll 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 Alexís 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 Ė like the one you have in your hands."

"Now listen, I donít need you getting huffy with me. Iím 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 weíre 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 Alexís 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 wasnít 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 Alexís 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 wasnít 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 donít know and I donít care."

Sandy grabbed Reginaís arm. "Are you sure about doing this, Regina?"

"Sandy, if I donít go in there with this, Jamesonís 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 othersí 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."

"BÖbut none of us did anything wrong. We didnít give the medication, he did."

"Youíre 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 wouldnít trust to take care of your dog? I donít." 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. "Youíre 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, itís your decision what you want to do. Alex found all this in Jamesonís office. He knows that, so right now sheís the one whoís most at risk from him. Heíll try and make her take the fall if he can."

Sandy took one of the cartons from Reginaís 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 heís 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 canít believe the level of incompetence and outright negligence these staff members have displayed," Dr. Jamesonís attorney stated, as he looked between the Vice President and Dr. Timmons.

"For Christís sakes, Cassandra, you expect us to believe that you didnít 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 Presidentís voice wavered at doctorís harsh words.

"How do you expect me to run a department when I have the likes of Margulies running around undermining everything that Iím trying to do?" Dr. Jameson slammed his hand down on the table. "She had access to my office when I was out. Itís 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. "Thatís not what I heard. Your department budget was a month overdue, so it fell in Alexís lap to finish it when you were out on leave."

The lawyer walked over to the doctor. "Itís 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, whoís Donna Sanders?"

The physicianís face blanched at the mention of the womanís 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 Presidentís 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. Youíre 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 donít have to stay here and listen to this crap."

"Why? Do you think that youíre above it all? The laws donít 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 Directorís defense.

"Weíve seen the medical records already. They donít tell us anything." The medical directorís 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. Iíd 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 Chrissakesí," Dr. Jameson threw his arms up. "Alex canít 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 Reginaís 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. Jamesonís arrogant gaze. "A whore, Dr. Jameson, is someone who compromises their own values for personal gain. Something youíve become quite good at over the past year."

"Dr. Kingston Iíd 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 departmentís 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."

"Thatís 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, youíre suspended immediately. I can tell you right now that pending the investigation by the hospital and the OIG, Iíll personally move to have your medical license revoked. Iím 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. Kingstonís right. You did prostitute yourself, and worse, youíre 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 Ďtil 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 itís probably better than me breaking out into a rendition of ĎDing 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 shouldnít laugh but no one deserved to get what he got more than Jameson did today."

"Do you think heíll lose his license?" Regina asked quietly from the corner.

Jon looked over at her, noticing the conflicted look on her face. "If thatís all that happens, heíll 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 nurseís desk. He turned to face her as the unit clerk pointed in Reginaís direction.

"There you are," he exclaimed. "Iíve been trying to call you at home and then I had you paged."

Regina leaned against the desk and smiled wearily. "This hasnít turned out the way either one of us wanted it to, I guess."

"No, I donít suppose it has," her father remarked quietly. He glanced uncomfortably around the department and sighed. "I donít want to talk here. Can I drive you home?"

Regina glanced up at the clock: eight p.m. Too late to visit, Alex. Youíre 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 donít 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 werenít taken seriously.

"Dad," she looked off into the distance trying to find the words she wanted to say. "If I went back to Massachusetts, Iíd be leaving behind the one person in the world I donít 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, arenít you?" He shook his head and glanced sadly at his daughter over the roof of the car. "I donít know if sheíll ever change how she feels. She thinks beingÖ" he motioned with his hand, "is just wrong."

"How do you feel about," she mimicked her fatherís hand motion. "My being gay, Dad?"

"Christ, Regina do we have to discuss this here?" he hissed, obviously uncomfortable with their very public surroundings.

"Iím sorry, Dad, well no, Iím 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 canít help that."

Her father closed his eyes and rubbed his forehead, trying to stave off the headache he could feel coming on. "You canít expect me to be comfortable with it. I need time, Reg, please."

Regina stepped closer and lowered her voice. "Time? Dad, youíve 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. "IÖI donít know. AreÖare 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; Iím 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.

"Thatís 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 happyÖwith Alex?"

"Itís just hard to believe that she can make you feelÖ" his eyes left hers and he looked at the ground. "Sheís a woman, Regina. You need a man to take care of you."

Regina spun around and stared at him. "You would say that. I donít 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 donít want to argue, Regina." He stepped forward and wrapped an arm around her shoulder. "I just hope you know what youíre 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. "Iíve 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 Alexís 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 Alexís larger one.

A gravely voice broke the silence. "SandyÖdonít go."

"Oh, hey, I didnít think you were awake." Sandy sheepishly stuck her hands in her lab coat and moved to the end of the bed.

"Itís all right. I donít 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 womanís attending and reamed him out on the phone at eleven oíclock last night?"

Alex arched an eyebrow and volunteered her reasons. "He hadnít been in to see her in two days and the woman had peritonitis. She needed surgery to repair the defect and the intern hadnít picked it up when he examined her on rounds."

The nurse shook her head. "Alex, youíre supposed to be resting, not working."

"I canít help it," the attending grumbled. "I knew something was wrong with the woman. I couldnít just ignore it."

"Is she behaving otherwise?" Sandy looked over at Regina.

The resident snorted and rolled her eyes. "If you donít 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 donít need to be here and Iím 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. "Itís from everyone downstairs," the nurse explained.

Alex looked at Regina who smiled and nodded at her to open it. The doctorís 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 donít 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, itís 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."

"Youíll 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 bankerís 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, thatís not why Iím here." He looked at Sandy. "I need to speak to the two doctors here."

"Iíve 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 didnít 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. Iíll be managing the administrative duties in the ER while youíre gone. When youíre ready, the department is yours to run if you still want it." Dr. Timmons held up his hand at her protest. "Listen, I know itís a lot to throw at you so soon, but Iíd have your entire department after me if I didnít 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. "Youíve left quite the impression on the medical staff."

Reginaís eyes widened and she felt her heart start to pound faster. "I, IÖ"

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 Jamesonís comment in the meeting was going to be her downfall at the medical center and had been preparing herself for the fallout from it. "YÖYouíre offering me a fellowship position?"

"I believe thatís 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 Reginaís 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. Alexís 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 didnít 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 womanís 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 Sandyís 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 Sandyís 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 Reginaís shoulder anyway as they approached the taller womanís truck. Before she climbed up into the passenger seat the dark haired woman turned to the blonde haired nurse who was standing behind her.

"Itís not enough I know, but thank you." Alex clasped her hand and smiled into the womanís eyes. "Youíre a good friend, Sandy."

The nurse smiled back at Alex. "Iíd hug you, but I donít think thatís 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.

"Iím 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 werenít going to win that battle and face it, she wasnít offering, because Ďnoí 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.

"Iím going to miss you." The nurse pulled away and smiled at Regina.

"Iíll be back. I want to be able to help Alex out and figure out what weíre 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; youíre 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, youíre ok, she told herself, willing the pounding beat of her heart to slow.

It was the same dream sheíd had when she was up on the Cape, the same feeling of dread, hopelessness and futility and now she knew itsí source. Sheíd 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 armsí length; young, healthy and at the peak of her career, it would not touch her, but now it had. Sheíd dealt with first her loverís 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, Reginaís 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 everyoneís 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 sheíd 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 loverís 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 blondeís question. She felt Reginaís 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 Alexís face, wiping the tears away. "Talk to me love."

Alex let out a shaky breath. "Regina, thereís a part of me that wishes Iíd just let him shoot Dana." There; it was out. Sheíd said what haunted her since she woke up and realized what happened.

Regina moved closer, slipping her hand underneath Alexís arm. "Iíd feel the same way, Alex. After what youíve been through, most people would."

"I donít 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 Iím 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 Alexís room the morning before she was being discharged home.

Alex turned her head and looked at her friend. "What if I canít do it?"

Regina caught the flicker of fear in those eyes. "Itís too soon to worry about it. Give yourself time to get past all this."

"I donít want to let anybody down and itís 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 Alexís, then lifted her hand up to kiss it. "Iím 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 Iíve seen it a hundred times before. It stays with me, makes me think of what youíre doing when youíre not here with me. I couldnít bear to lose you."

"I donít know what I can give you," Alexís voice cracked. "All I have is what I feel inside and I know that Iíd be lost without you."

Regina moved closer and laid her head on Alexís 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, youíre 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 askingÖ"

Regina lifted Alexís hands and kissed each palm. "Yes, Iím asking you to share your life with me. I want us to be together, forever." She sat back on her heels watching Alexís reaction nervously.

Alex scooted forward and raised her hands to Reginaís face. She kissed her, brushing her lips over her eyelids and along her cheekbones. Reginaís lips were warm and soft. They opened, willingly taking Alex inside. Her tongue moved slowly, rediscovering and exploring Reginaís 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, youíll 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 Reginaís.

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 endÖfor now.

 

It was truly a great experience to write this story. I want to thank everyone who took the time out of their busy lives to read this story. Your support and feedback along the way was greatly appreciated.

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