THE ROAD BACK HOME

By

Lynne Norris

©

February 2001

 

Disclaimers: This is an uber story. The physical description may remind you of two people weíve come to know over the past five years. All characters in the story are my own creation. This story is an original work and is copyrighted by the author. It cannot be sold or used for profit in any way.

Violence Warning/Disclaimer: This story takes place in and around a hospital. No patient confidentiality has been compromised in the creation of this story. It depicts scenes of violence, death and/or their aftermath. Some scenes may be explicit or graphic in nature. Readers who are disturbed by or sensitive to this type of depiction may wish to read something else.

Hurt/comfort Warning/Disclaimer: This story may be classified as a hurt/comfort story.

Love/Sex Warning/Disclaimer: The story depicts a love/sexual relationship between two consenting adult women. Some scenes may be explicit in nature. If you are under 18 years of age or if this type of story is illegal in the state or country in which you live, please do not read it. If depictions of this nature disturb you, you may wish to read something other than this story.

To all the women who beta read this story, offering their advice, support and friendship along the way Ė my thanks. You are all very special to me.

Comments and feedback welcome Ė L66n@msn.com

This story is dedicated to the woman who holds my heart and soul, Catherine, who believed in me even when Iíve doubted myself.

 

Part 1

 

Chapter One

Steam pulsed from the bright yellow kettle followed by a high-pitched whistle a second later, announcing that the water was boiling. The tall, shadowed figure pushed off the wall opposite the stove and quickly turned the gas burner off, silencing the noise. The woman grimaced, her chest muscles still protesting the strain, as she lifted the kettle and poured the water into two white, ceramic mugs. Silently, except for the occasional gentle click of the spoon on the sides of the cup, she stirred the coffee and stared at the wall in the kitchen of her loverís home.

Lost in thought, Alex absently tugged at the neck of her oversized, white tee shirt draped over her strong, athletic form. Her body was almost masculine in its carriage except for the soft curves and full breasts that were hidden by the loose fitting garment. Whether the cotton was irritating the slightly raised, vertical scar that ran the length of her sternum she wasnít sure, but she was distinctly aware of the sharp, intermittent stabs of pain that drew her attention to the area.

For a split second, she was back in the trauma room and the sickening, vice-like clamp around her chest was making it hard to breathe again. The panic slammed into her like a freight train and she gripped the edge of the counter hard, steadying herself against the sudden weakness in her legs. She fought the rising bile in her throat and willed herself to stay upright against the tide of uncontrolled fear. Seconds passed and the hollow, empty feeling receded, leaving her with an almost irrational sense of giddiness. She exhaled hard and cursed softly as the sharp, staccato report of the gun firing immediately followed by the searing pain in her chest replayed in her memory.

She tilted her head, hearing a murmur coming from the bedroom that was a short distance from the narrow galley kitchen. It was still early, only five oíclock in the morning, but neither Alex nor Regina had been sleeping well as the day drew closer for them to return to work. The tall dark-haired woman sipped the hot beverage, and then set the mug down on the counter, deciding to let it cool for a couple of minutes.

She was expected at a medical directorís meeting at ten. The fallout from Dr. Jamesonís drug scandal was far reaching, and the community was quick to register its mistrust; the overall admissions to the hospital were down a drastic ten percent overall. Alex sighed, knowing ten percent didnít sound like much, but in this day and age with the hostile competitiveness of the health care environment, the other hospitals jumped at the opportunity to capitalize on Xavierís very public humiliation. Having been the catalyst that thrust the dirty little secret out into the open, Alex was left in the awkward position of being both a savior to the staff in the ER who worked for Dr. Jameson and a traitor to the administrators who were personal friends of the doctor.

A distraught cry jarred her from her thoughts and she moved quickly out of the kitchen toward the bedroom. At the door, Alex heard Regina moan from the bed as she thrashed beneath the blankets. She stepped closer and listened intently, straining to hear what the blonde was mumbling in her sleep.

"Oh God," Regina moaned. "No pleaseÖOh GodÖOh GodÖOh-"

Unable to stand the tortured sounds as her lover struggled in her dream, her hands twitching as she clutched at the covers, Alex crawled onto the bed beside her.

"Regina?" Gentle hands shook the sleeping womanís shoulders.

"Regina, hey, wake up." Alex reached up and stroked Reginaís face, trying to rouse her.

The horrible dream slowly receded and Reginaís body relaxed slightly as the desperate feeling of dread faded. Her hands slowly released their grip on the blankets and the worried frown on her face eased. The tousled blonde head turned and green eyes blinked, slowly focusing on the worried face looking down at her.

Alex curled up beside Regina, propping herself up on one arm as she wiped the damp tendrils of hair back off her loverís forehead. "Shh, you were having a nightmare."

Reginaís eyes widened and she sat up throwing her arms around the dark-haired woman. She buried her head in Alexís shoulder and held on tightly, scrunching her eyes together as she fought back the overwhelming sense of fear and loss.

"Youíre here," she finally whispered, still clutching Alex to her.

Startled by the intense reaction, Alex just held onto her, rubbing her hand over her back and neck and murmuring soft words of comfort to her.

"Iím right here, Reg. Iím right here." She held back a grunt as she lowered herself onto her side and wrapped her body around the smaller one that was plastered to hers. Alex watched the young woman huddled against her and wondered what was haunting her dreams.

The blonde inhaled the warm, familiar scent of Alexís skin, allowing it to calm her racing heart and ground her in the reality that her lover was alive and well and here, holding her tightly. Come on Reg. Get a grip. Sheís here, sheís fine. Damn, why am I still dreaming like this?

"It must have been a bad one. You were crying out." Alex brushed her lips against Reginaís forehead. "Do you remember what it was about?"

Regina shook her head and rubbed the bridge of her nose as she closed her eyes, trying to pull back the fragmented pieces that were rapidly fading into her subconscious the more awake she became. "No, no itís gone now."

The taller woman reached for Reginaís hand and squeezed it gently. "Itís ok."

Inside she knew they were both suffering from the after affects of the whole traumatic ordeal, but neither had ventured to broach the subject, afraid of the floodgates of emotion it would unleash and unsure if they could withstand the repercussions from it so early on in their newfound relationship. Alex rested her cheek on Reginaís head and closed her eyes, taking solace in the knowledge that they had grown so close as friends before having plunged into the emotional and sometimes turbulent waters of being lovers. The woman she held in her arms knew more about her vulnerabilities than anyone else in this world and she hoped their friendship would sustain them because right now, she felt her control slipping and it frightened her.

Alex squeezed her eyes shut and pressed her lips against the soft blonde hair. "I love you, Regina," she breathed. It was spoken as both a vow and a plea.

The blonde turned and reached up, encircling Alexís shoulders with her arm. Her lips found their mark, and Alex tilted her head, prolonging the soft, gentle contact of their mouths as their lips joined in a kiss.

The contact created growing warmth down in her belly and Alex trailed her hand down Reginaís jaw, letting her fingers come to rest gently against the side of her neck. She felt the smaller woman ease up the contact and then pull back to look up at her.

"That was nice," she murmured softly, rubbing her cheek against Reginaís, enjoying the slowly growing intimacy they were both beginning to feel comfortable with again. The first few weeks out of the hospital were miserable, leaving them both emotionally and physically drained during Alexís recovery.

"Yeah." Reginaís expression was wistful as she gazed back up at Alex. "I wish Iíd stop having these damn dreams." She watched as her companion swept her mane of long black hair back over her shoulder and peered at her from beneath her rumpled bangs. There was something about the way Alex looked at her that made her feel like everything would be right with the world if they could just stay right here.

"You donít remember what theyíre about?" Alex asked softly.

"Just bits and pieces, but nothing that makes any sense to me." Regina rubbed her face, flopped back down onto the pillow, and groaned.

"Mm, you want some coffee?" Alex changed the subject, hearing the rising frustration in Reginaís voice.

Regina turned and snuggled closer to Alex. "Yeah, Iíd love some. I feel like I have cobwebs inside my head."

Alex chuckled and let one hand stray down Reginaís side and rub gently over the soft, smooth skin of her hip before she climbed out of bed. "Come on Doc, letís get that coffee. No cobwebs allowed on your first day back."

Regina followed the taller woman and grimaced as her feet touched the cold hardwood floor. "So, are you sure youíre definitely up for this?"

"Yes, Dr. Kelly released me yesterday," Alex assured her as she walked barefoot into the kitchen and handed Regina the steaming mug of coffee.

The blonde sipped the hot liquid and studied the angular face of her lover. Even though six weeks of rest and eating well had made a world of difference in the physical appearance of the taller woman, Regina was still worried about Alex. Sheíd voiced her concerns about Alex returning to work so soon, but was met with stubborn opposition about suggesting that Alex take more time off.

"You certainly look like you feel better and youíve gained some weight back at least."

Alex smirked at this and wrapped an arm around Reginaís shoulder. "How could I not with the way youíve been feeding me? Iím going to get love handles soon."

Regina snorted softly and rubbed Alexís belly, grateful not to feel the pronounced outline of her ribs anymore. "As if that would ever happen. Hey, doctorís orders. Remember?" The blonde squeezed her waist gently, mindful of the pain that still frequently plagued Alex from the injury.

The brunette set her mug down on the counter and turned so she was facing the smaller woman, linking her hands behind Reginaís back. "You know, I am not going to break. You can squeeze me harder than that."

In response, Regina tightened her arms around Alexís waist slightly and tilted her head up to smile at her. "I know. I just donít-"

Alexís lips against hers cut off her sentence; Regina leaned against her, reveling in the sweetness of her lips, and the texture of her tongue as they gently explored each other. The taller woman ran her fingertips along the side of Reginaís cheek, letting them come to rest onto the sensitive skin of her neck before she broke off the contact and gazed down at the blonde wrapped in her arms.

"Itís ok. Youíre not going to hurt me." Alex slowly released her and leaned back against the counter. Her mouth quirked into a hesitant grin and she glanced down at the floor before she spoke again. "You still interested in coming over to my place after your shift tonight?"

Regina reached over and interlaced her fingers with Alexís, surprising the taller woman. "Sure, I already packed my bag." She squeezed the hand once, then opened the refrigerator and studied the contents, before deciding on making omelets for breakfast. "I assume we need to go shopping for food if we plan to eat anything," the blonde glanced back up at her companion.

Alex pursed her lips and tilted her head, eyes flashing mischievously before she spoke. "I donít suppose macaroni and cheese out of a box is going to cut it, huh?"

"Not even close," Regina countered, tugging at the hem of her loverís shirt. "Come on, if we donít get a move on weíre going to be late. I have rounds with Dr. Timmons at seven."

*******

After dropping Regina off at the doctorís entrance so she could make it to rounds on time, Alex entered the medical center through one of the lesser-used entrances and walked down the back corridor to the linen department. She signed out a pair of large gray-blue scrubs and was almost out of the area when she heard a womanís voice call out her name from behind her.

Alex turned around and looked warily at the petite, red-haired woman who worked in the linen department. This was exactly what she wanted to avoid when she came back: those first awkward interactions.

"Hello, Margarite."

"Itís good to have you back Doctor Margulies." The woman walked up to Alex and smiled tentatively. "You must be feeling better."

The dark head nodded briefly. "Yes, I am feeling better." Alex started to turn to walk away, but felt a touch on her arm.

"I am glad that you are the Medical Director. That other man is mean. He treated everyone badly."

Alex looked down at her hands, not wanting to discuss her predecessor or anything having to do with him.

The tiny woman squeezed Alexís arm. "My little boy still asks about you."

Alex blinked, trying to recall the name. She had set the boyís fractured arm last summer, that much she remembered. There were so many patients, their names and faces becoming blurs, and oftentimes she remembered them only by their diagnosis.

"Jose is seven now," Margarite offered, quietly. "He still wants to be a doctor."

Alex wasnít sure why but she felt the subtle unease growing in the pit of her belly as she stood talking to the woman and desperately needed to be alone to get a grip on her emotions. "You tell him heíll be good at whatever he wants to be." Alex responded quietly, before she turned abruptly and walked away down the dark, narrow corridor toward the back staircase.

She slipped into her office, shut the door and quickly changed into her scrubs. For a few minutes she stood in front of the window, staring out the window at the helicopter pad two flights below. She blew out a breath, her expression pensive as she wondered if she could still do her job after what happened. There was a part of her that felt like she would be looking over her shoulder all the time. Gone were the battle-tested defenses that protected her from the daily onslaught of human suffering and the toll it took on her psyche. With one last look out of the window, Alex collected her thoughts and left for her meeting.

Dressed in her usual attire of scrubs and a lab coat, Alex entered the small, rectangular conference room and regarded the group of physicians briefly before she settled into her chair. The conversation around the table dwindled quickly until the last two people talking finally looked up upon seeing the tall, dark haired woman take the last remaining seat at the table. Even ten pounds lighter than before her injury, Alexís tall, sinewy frame along with her sometimes sharp, hawkish demeanor was imposing to even the most callous of the medical staff.

"Gentlemen." Her voice carried easily across the room and betrayed no evidence of the inner emotions she was struggling with. She knew all of the men sitting around the table, having worked with most of them throughout her career. She was the first woman to have been appointed medical director within the hospital and knew it would be the topic of discussion in the medical staff lounges until she either proved herself or failed. It seemed to be an ironic twist of fate that everything happened at once and knew without a doubt that she would be tested to the limits of her ability.

Dr. Timmons, the mild-mannered Chief of Pediatrics, raised his head from the pile of papers in front of him and offered a subtle nod of his head in way of acknowledgment. The rest regarded her quietly, and then Dr. Matthews, the president of the medical staff, cleared his throat.

"Dr. Margulies, I trust you are aware of the agenda here today, so letís get down to business."

Good to see you too, Frank. She expected the icy exchange, knowing that the doctor was a close friend of Dr. Jamesonís. Alex pulled the stack of papers to her and flipped through them briefly. "Certainly, our ER admissions are down ten percent and the rest of the hospital is operating at sixty percent capacity," she replied without looking up.

There were a few coughs followed by an uncomfortable silence. The brunette raised her eyes and regarded the shocked looks coming at her from around the table. She settled her weight onto her elbows and looked at her colleagues. "What? Itís no secret. Iím sure no one here is surprised by it."

"The question is what the hell weíre going to do about it," Dr. Miller, a blonde-haired, lanky radiologist chimed in, looking plaintively around the table. "They cut my budget by another three percent in the past month. I can barely cover all the shifts with the staff I have."

"We laid off two more techs in Endoscopy, yet they want us to increase our caseload by at least fifty more a week," one of the other physicians complained.

Alex closed her eyes, steeling herself against a dull pain already starting in her chest and the vice-like headache that made her eyes feel heavy. So many times the problems became the sticking point in the meetings she filled in on, and the focus to find any worthwhile solutions were lost.

Not today. She was not in the mood for this bullshit and had better things to do, like treat patients. She needed to get her hands back in the mix of things and get over the nervousness that was more than beginning to annoy her.

As she listened to the complaints, she folded her hands together and rested her chin on her fingertips, going through the different options in her mind.

"Any suggestions, Dr. Margulies?"

Alex raised an eyebrow and glanced over at Dr. Matthews who was regarding her with a smug smile. Ah, let the games begin. You asked me to be here, Frank. Letís see if youíre up to the task.

"We need to streamline what we do, make a fast track for those injuries in the ER that we can get in and out in less than an hour. Itís also time we update the computerized inventory system. Weíre losing thousands of dollars a month because weíre not billing right." She glanced over at the Chief of Surgery. "David, I donít envy your job but you need to get your doctors on board. They need to stop fighting over primetime in the OR. You can schedule similar cases in blocks of time so the set up and break down of the OR rooms takes less time."

The surgeonís mouth set in a hard, thin line at the comment and his eyes darkened in anger. Several of her colleagues stared at her, having had the wind taken out of their sails. Good, Alex thought to herself, no need to let them get on a roll. Weíll be here all day and not accomplish a damn thing.

"Now as far as our reputation, Iíve had six weeks to read every bloody goddamn article the press has written about this drug fiasco." Alex stared down the table meeting each and every one of the doctorsí eyes, daring them to utter one word against Jamesonís termination.

In some respects, doctors were much like police officers in adhering to the unwritten code of silence they upheld when covering for one another. Alex had broken that code and knew she could expect little to no support in her idea for the hospital to regain the communityís trust.

"Thereís a clinic on the other side of town that the hospital used to staff with doctors on a rotating basis. We pulled out of there three years ago and left the community with no place to go to but the hospital for their routine care. It was a bad move and itís time we get our butts back in there." She spread her hands out on the table and waited.

"What are we supposed to do? Give our services away for free?" One of the directors complained loudly at the other end of the table.

Alex sat back in her chair, holding her temper in check against the lone skeptic willing to voice his opposition to the idea. The rest sat back in silent protest, staring down at the table in feigned interest. She learned a long time ago how to play the game with the boys. "Weíre a non-profit hospital. Things like vaccinations, well-baby checkups are quick and easy to do. You forget, Bob," she addressed the physician at the other end of the table. "Most of the people the clinic served donít have insurance. We donít have to spend a lot of time down there. A few hours a week from each of the specialties should do it."

"We? You mean us? Thatís a waste of our time. My department has research deadlines to meet." Dr. Miller pushed back away from the table, shaking his head and grumbling loudly.

Alex leaned forward and fixed a dark, icy stare on each of the doctors. "Listen, we can either sit up here in the ivory tower and hope the community will forget about what happened or we can go out there and show them that we have an excellent group of medical professionals who actually give a crap about what happens to them. Just remember, the public doesnít have to come here, they have other choices and I think theyíre making them damn clear what they are."

"I agree," Dr. Timmons chimed in, casting Alex a quick glance in her direction. "We see twenty kids a week in the ER for things that if caught earlier would take fifteen minutes to diagnose and treat in a clinic. Instead, they come to the ER sicker, wait three hours before anyone sees them, tie up the residents, equipment and require expensive tests. I think itís a good idea."

"It has some merit. Why donít the two of you put together a plan and weíll talk about it at the next meeting." Dr. Matthews looked between the two physicians then stood up and walked to the door, effectively ending the meeting.

The room quickly emptied and Alex met Dr. Timmons at the door. He smiled, briefly looking at her. "You look better than the last time I saw you. How are you doing?"

She studied his expression and relaxed her defenses, sensing his sincerity. "As well as can be expected."

"I hope youíre ready to take on this horde of non-believers, Alex. This isnít going to be easy for you."

Alex straightened up and squared her shoulders as she gazed steadily at the pediatrician. "Iím ready. I have to be."

The pediatrician nodded, knowing the open hostility some of the doctors expressed at what happened to Dr. Jameson. "As far as I know, the clinic was stripped clean when they closed it. I never understood why they shut it down in the first place."

Alex shrugged, and then looked down at her beeper as it shrilled loudly at her side. "Politics," she muttered as she picked up the phone next to her on the wall.

******

Her footsteps carried her quickly down the hallway and she weaved her way around a small cluster of administrators talking quietly among themselves. One of them separated from the group, moved toward the tall, dark-haired doctor, and reached for her arm. Alex recognized the characteristic straight nose, short, blonde, wavy hair and blue eyes that peered up at her cautiously.

"Alex, I didnít think you were coming backÖso soon."

The doctor slowed her walk and glanced down at the Vice Presidentís hand that gripped her bicep. Vague recollections of a past conversation replayed in Alexís head and she narrowed her eyes as she stepped away from the firm grip, her upper lip curling into a sneer.

"Your concern is overwhelming, Cassandra." Her words had the intended effect as the woman shrunk away from her. "At one point, I thought you were my friend." She snorted in disgust, angry at herself for being wrong about the Vice Presidentís loyalties. "I couldnít have been more wrong." Alex resumed her walk down the hall, having no intention of discussing anything else with Cassandra.

"Alex, thatís not fair. I always had faith in you."

The doctorís eyes darkened in anger, remembering what Regina told her about her conversation with the Vice President while she sat at her bedside. She whirled around, coming to within inches of the womanís face and snarled. "You call interrogating one of my residents while I was in the intensive care unit, having faith in me?" Alex jabbed her finger at Cassandraís chest. "You were willing to drag innocent people down, ruin careers, just to cover up what was happening right under your nose."

Cassandra stepped back. "Alex, you have no idea what rumors were flying around. Jameson already had an attorney and was threatening a discrimination suit against the hospital by the time I talked to you. Jesus, there are medical records that are missing and you were the only person who had access to them while he was out. What was I supposed to think?"

"Did it ever occur to you that he had them? He had plenty of time to do damage control after I confronted him."

"Alex, I didnít know what was going on!"

"How could you not know what he was doing? You have to sign off on all the research that gets done in the departments," Alex growled.

The Vice Presidentís face was scarlet as she let the accusation sink in. "I have twenty departments Iím responsible for. What I read in his preliminary report looked perfectly legitimate."

"Legitimate?" Alex shook her head, incredulous at the Vice Presidentís response. "You were covering your ass, Cassandra. I canít believe you let that slime pull you into his bullshit scheme! You knew what he was about a long time ago."

A vicious light filled Cassandraís eyes as Alex turned away and walked off toward the emergency department.

Alex felt her pulse pounding in her head as she fumed silently over what had happened. The whole thing had turned into one convoluted mess. Now that the lawyers were involved, God only knew how long it would take to sort out the who-knew-what and- when. In the meantime, Dr. Jameson was terminated and Dr. Mitchard still held her position, although the rumors were already flying that she might be resigning within the month.

The dark-haired doctor slipped through the double doors to the emergency department, careful not to jar her shoulders as the pain it would bring with it still took her breath away on some days. She inhaled the strong antiseptic smell for the first time since her discharge from the hospital and for a moment she held her breath, anticipating the overwhelming feeling of fear to soon follow. This time it didnít come and with it the hope she could resume her work and put this episode of her life behind her. Well, Alex let out a small sigh, maybe this wonít be so bad after all.

Her eyes scanned the department quickly and a smirk crossed her lips. Some things never changed, she mused to herself, spying radiologyís portable x-ray unit standing in the alcove by the door. One of the housekeepers looked up from mopping up a spill and stepped back in surprise as he met the sharp blue eyes looking back at him.

She spoke to him briefly in Spanish and he smiled back, answering in his native tongue. "I transferred here two weeks ago, Dr. Margulies."

"Good to have you, Jose." Alex clasped his shoulder briefly and kept walking. Jose was a tall, rugged looking man with curly dark hair and hazel eyes that twinkled when he smiled. As fate had it they both started working for the hospital at around the same time and Joseís warm and sincere personality endeared him to the often remote and callous attending. Alex chuckled to herself, remembering the night he showed up with a bag of crushed ice for her bruised hand, the same night she was suspended for being judge and jury to an abusive bastard who beat his son.

She heard Sandyís exasperated voice as she neared the desk and smiled, realizing she actually missed the damned place.

"Guys can we take that off speaker phone? That noise is bloody annoying," Sandy called out to one of the technicians. A brief hesitation followed as she picked up another line and put the caller on hold. "Hey, Thomas." She pointed to the two boys sitting slumped miserably in wheelchairs on the other side of the desk. "I need that kid in the cast room and this one goes into the suture room." The nurse set the phone back in the handset and rubbed her temples. "Jesus, this place is a zoo today."

"Having a rough morning?" Alex deepened her voice as she leaned closer to the blonde haired nurse.

Sandy jerked her head up and gasped. "Oh shit, you scared the crap out of me Alex." The curly blonde turned around and stared up at the tall, dark haired woman standing behind her. "Youíre back!" She reached up and pulled Alex into a hug, whispering into her ear. "Iím making good on that rain check."

The dark-haired woman gave a soft snort and brought her arms up around the blonde before she pulled away. "I think I would have passed out if you did that to me the day I was discharged from the hospital."

"I know." The nurse smiled up at her.

"So, what do you have?" Alex peered over Sandyís shoulder at the board.

"We had a group of high school students that went skiing last night and thought it would be a neat idea to bring a couple of flasks of alcohol along."

Alex shook her head and sighed. "How many?"

"Five. Two are three sheets to the wind, toxicology screens are pending on both. One kid has a tibia fracture and the other two have lacerations in various places. The parents are being called right now."

Oh boy. "Do we have an x-ray on the tibial fracture?"

"Right here." One of the residents walked up behind Sandy and slipped the film into the view box on the wall next to them.

Alex ran her finger along the well-defined black line that spiraled down along the shaft of the long bone. "Where is he now?"

"Prepped and ready for the OR. Weíre just waiting for transport to bring him up, now."

"Do we have a consent signed from the parents?"

Silence answered her question.

She turned around and regarded the round faced, rumpled looking resident. She read the name on the tag and inhaled before she spoke. "Dr. Tanner, do you have a consent from the parents for the surgery?"

"Uh, theyíre not here yet," he stammered, staring up at the dark haired woman who stood a full head above him.

"Get the consent before you send that kid up."

"But theyíre ready in the OR."

"Thatís not my problem. Get it! No surgeon is going to touch him without that consent."

Alex turned away, angrily dismissing the resident with an irritated wave of her hand. "Sandy, whereís Jon? Is he on today?"

Sandy hesitated a moment before answering. "Heís in room three."

Alex nodded her head and walked the short distance to the trauma room. She stood by the door, feeling the slight irregular flutter of her heart as she looked into the white tiled space and tried to ignore the significance of the room number. In a vivid flash of memory, she heard Regina cry out and remembered the sharp contrast of the cold tile on her body and the heat of her own blood pulsing from the gun shot wound in her chest. The brunette blinked her eyes rapidly, dispelling the image from her mind and blew out a breath. Come on, this is what you do, Alex. Deal with it.

"Jon, you need help in here?"

The dark-skinned physician stepped back, fumbling with the emesis basin as one of the drunken high school students leaned over the edge of the stretcher and vomited.

"Agh!" He held his arms away from his body and curled his lips in disgust as he stared down at the vomit that spattered his shoes and scrub bottoms. "Son of a bitch! If my kid ever does this I swear he wonít be able to sit for a month!" He turned around and smacked the intercom button, calling for one of the technicians to come into the room. Only then did the doctor stop with his back to Alex and stand still for a second before he finally turned around, his eyes widened in surprise when he realized who spoke to him.

A moment later, Thomas walked into the room, brushed past Alex and grunted in disgust when he looked at the mess on the floor. "Great, just great."

Jon handed him the basin and pushed him in the direction of the stretcher. "Have fun, Ace, thereís plenty more where that came from." The doctor stood quietly studying Alex and then a warm smile crept over his face.

"So, welcome back to the trenches, boss. You ready for this shit?"

"Ready as Iíll ever be." Alex held the door open as Jon slipped past her into the hall.

"Good, let me change and you can splurge for a cup of coffee. Hell of a way to start the day off." He nodded his head in the direction of the boy lying listless on the stretcher.

Alex reviewed several charts while waiting for Jon to return from changing out of his soiled clothes. Her back was toward the small consultation area of the emergency department but she still didnít miss the sudden familiar fragrance of perfume that caught her attention and made her breathing quicken. Now why would she be down here?

Slowly, she turned around and saw Regina, standing a few feet away alongside one of the oncologists, both peering up at a view box studying an x-ray. Alex felt a rush of pride as she discreetly glanced in Reginaís direction. The young, blonde-haired woman, her lover and best friend, was no longer a resident but an attending doctor with staff privileges in the pediatric department. Wow, you did great down here, Regina. Iím going to miss working with you. We made a great team together.

Out of the corner of her eye, Alex saw Jon step out of the locker room and head in her direction, stopping briefly to talk to both doctors. Alex didnít miss the pat on the shoulder he gave Regina. Everyone always did have a soft spot for you. Dressed in fresh scrubs, Jon finally walked over to Alex, shaking his head.

"Damn, Iím glad I donít have to tell the parents the news on that one."

"What is it?" Alex asked, her eyes focusing on the black film that was backlighted in the view box on the wall.

"Looks like it may be osteosarcoma. They have to run some tests to be sure, but the films donít look good."

Alex rested her arms on the counter watching as Regina walked away from the desk, carrying the x-ray films with her. She formed a mental note in her mind and concentrated on the petite figure.

The blonde hesitated outside the door her shoulders lifting slightly as she inhaled and then pushed the door open, disappearing from Alexís view.

"How old is the kid?" Alex turned back to Jon.

"Fourteen. The family support isnít great. The fatherís out of work and the mother is a wreck."

At the other end of the hallway, the double doors burst open with a resounding bang and Alex felt her body jerk in response to the loud noise of a stretcher bursting through the double doors. She stared down at the counter top, waiting for the sudden trembling in her legs to stop and hoped that Jon hadnít noticed her reaction.

She felt her colleague move away from the desk but she grabbed his arm to forestall him. "I got this one," she told him.

"Why donít you start easy and take minor traumas? Itís not like you canít. You are the medical director now."

"No, this is my call. I need to do this, Jon." She walked quickly down the corridor toward the trauma room.

Alexís hands trembled slightly as she pulled on her protective gear before she walked into the organized chaos of the ongoing admission. She took a couple of deep slow breaths to calm her nerves. Being an ER doctor was not for the faint of heart, and she knew her every move today and everyday would be under careful scrutiny by all the staff, checking to see if she still had what it took to do the job and be the captain of the ship.

She squared her shoulders and stepped up to the stretcher, glancing over at the head nurse as she did.

"Weíve got a thirty-two year old female with an apparent drug overdose. Her blood pressure is one ten over fifty and her pulse is weak," Bonnie reported.

"Nice and easy people. On my count," Alex called out as they started to lift the injured woman onto the treatment table. "Let's get a CBC, Tox screen and a blood gas," Alex ordered. I need two large bore peripheral lines, make them 14 gauge. Run ringer's lactate wide-open and get a catheter in her."

Alex started her examination, as a technician and medical student hustled to carry out her orders. "Does anyone know what she took?"

"The paramedics found a bottle of sleeping pills half empty on the nightstand," the nurse told her as she slapped electrocardiogram leads on the womanís bare chest.

"Letís get set up for a stomach lavage." Alex glanced up at the monitor and watched the girlís respirations. "Give me a number eight endotracheal tube. Her sats are dropping."

It took twenty minutes to administer the sodium sulfate and pump the patientís stomach contents out, but by the end it was clear that whether the woman appreciated their efforts or not, she was going to live to see yet another day.

Alex peeled off her gloves and tossed them into the garbage before turning to Bonnie. "Make sure you call psych for a consult and let me know when she starts to wake up."

Part 2

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