Title: The Long Way

Author: KenzieGal (a/k/a It's Always Something)

Disclaimer: Carter and Abby do not belong to me - they are the property of the wise minds of TPTB at Warner Brothers. No copyright infringement intended.

Notes: This story has been crystallizing in my mind for quite awhile - I just was looking for a post ep to attach it to. I have always been intrigued by Carter's POV and fortunately, it seems an untapped wonderland in fanficdom. My intention is for it to be the start of a regular post ep series. I've been lurking at this site for a month or so, blown away by the creative juices flowing here. I'd love some constructive criticism as this is my first attempt to channel carby's telepathy.

Thanks to some of the regular posters at The Carby Board - to Lanie for her quietly persistent encouragement and for setting/raising the carby bar with her spectacular "Reflections" series. And to Pemberley whose unparalleled belief in the magic of carby helped me find my way back home.

Spoilers: Everything during Season 9 up to and including "First Snowfall."

Enjoy.

****

The Long Way

"Can I get you something to drink?"

The voice was coming from a distance, interrupting my forty winks.

I bolted upright in my seat and opened my eyes to the sound of a perky blonde flight attendant with a nasal southern twang.

"Diet coke with a twist of lemon, please."

I rubbed my hands across my face as I glanced out the window at the sun setting underneath a cloudless midwestern skyline . By my calculations, we were somewhere over DesMoines, Iowa. It hadn't seemed to snow anywhere else besides Chicago. Blame it on the lake effect.

I took in my surroundings. With a flurry of cancellations and missed connections, I had managed to get the last seat in first class. There was an elegant-looking older woman seated next to me. She reminded me of Gamma.

I soon learned that she was en route to Lincoln, Nebraska to witness the christening of her first great-grandchild. I sat there half listening, amused by her endless chatter about the lives and loves of her assorted offspring and their extended families.

The conversation eventually turned to the circumstances of my trip. I tried to put a similarly cheerful spin on it, dancing around the Wcynzenski family's latest mental health crisis, instead embellishing my valiant efforts to get out of Chicago in three feet of snow to be with my globe-trotting girlfriend. She was suitably impressed as I recounted my ill-fated attempt to reach O'Hare by snowmobile.

"You must really love her a lot, dear," she said soothingly.

I conjured up a mental image of what I must have looked like packing the contents of Abby's underwear drawer.

"Love makes you do crazy things," I opined, not for the first time.

The flight attendant appeared again with an offer of headphones and a basket of CDs. I quickly selected one from the bottom -- any excuse to go back to my quiet, happy place. I listened to the first track and glanced at the jewel case. Norah Jones. Good stuff.

I leaned back in my seat and closed my eyes. My mind wandered back to a conversation that had taken place in my apartment the morning before she and Gallant had left for Nebraska.

We had crossed some sort of invisible threshold in the days since what I had mentally filed away as our "constant comment" conversation. Despite her obvious worry about Eric's whereabouts and his mental state, there was an air of tranquility about her. She seemed to have found immeasurable solace in the fact that she was no longer alone in her lifelong vigil to keep Maggie and Eric out of harm's way.

And I had derived immense comfort from being drawn into the circle of her concern.

After an evening of tender lovemaking, my eyes fluttered open to find her propped up lazily on one elbow watching me sleep. She pulled me over to her so that we faced one another, navel to navel, not more than mere inches separating us.

"You awake?" I loved the way her voice sounded so husky in the morning.

"I am now."

"Good." She traced a circle on my bare chest. "Can I ask you a question?"

"Do I have a choice?"

"Not really."

"Shoot."

"When did it happen for you?"

I knew where she was going, but decided to play along. "When did what happen for me?"

"You know." She wasn't making it easier.

"Not really." I pretended to yawn playfully.

"Do I have to draw you a picture?"

"Depends. Can you do better than wolves with leprosy?"

"Carter," she groaned. "When did IT happen for you? When did you realize you couldn't spend another moment without me?" she chided.

I chuckled. She had been spending too much time talking to Susan.

"Is this what you, Deb and Susan spend all your nights out with the girls' club talking about? Exchanging war stories?"

"Sometimes. C'mon, tell me."

I fell silent, struggling to find an answer. Who knew what the truth was anyway? I had spent two years running from it. There would be plenty of time to dissect the twists and turns of our relationship with a generous sprinkle of revisionist history. Someday I would tell her everything, such as it was. But first I had to admit things to myself.

"When did it happen for you?" She was nothing if not persistent.

My memory reached back into the dark rolodex of suppressed emotions. What to tell her?

All the nights I had willed myself to sleep to prevent the image of her lying in Luka's arms, naked in his bed?

The night I "rescued" her after the explosion in the ER?

The night we danced at the museum gala?

The Valentine's Day night up on the roof after she lost her first patient?

As the memory of that ill-fated evening came flooding back, it struck an imaginary nerve, precipitating a dull ache deep in my gut. I recalled brave attempts to conjure up the memory of Abby's face in the soft moonlight as I floated in and out of consciousness during the days that followed.

Then. That was it.

But I couldn't tell her. Not yet.

"Earth to Carter." She jolted me back to reality.

"OK. I've got it. The trip to Oklahoma. After Rena broke up with me, I wanted to jump your bones. You looked so cute in the convertible."

She looked at me disbelievingly. "That's the best you can do? Hey wait. So I was rebound girl?"

"Technically, no, since nothing happened."

The ringing phone interrupted our conversation. It was Susan asking Abby if she would trade the day shift for the night shift. Needless to say, we never finished the discussion.

The captain's voice nudged me out of my quiet reverie, booming over the PA system announcing that we were beginning our descent into the greater Omaha area. After a flawless landing, I went in search of the rental car counter.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

The drive across the flat Midwestern terrain was uneventful. I found the base easily enough. The directions from the rental car agent had been spot on.

I wondered if she'd be as surprised as I wanted her to be. My last phone call from the snow- burdened ER had been purposefully misleading.

I steered the car into the parking lot. A wide berth of stone steps flanked the main buildings. I saw two women seated in the distance, deep in conversation. I recognized the familiar cream-colored coat. My heart did its familiar flip flop at the very sight of her. The other looked like - no wait. Could it be? Where the hell was Gallant?

I punched in the numbers I knew by heart. The phone rang a couple of times. After several seconds, the figure I knew could only be Maggie wandered off and disappeared into one of the buildings.

She picked up on the fourth ring.

"Hello," she answered breathlessly.

I tried to sound nonchalant. "Hey. You turned on your cell phone."

"Hi." From the distance, I could see the smile creep into her voice as the car drew closer.

"Well, did you find him?"

"Yah. I found him. They might court martial him, but I found him." She stared at the ground.

I pulled up in front of her. She still didn't see me.

"Did you tell her that he's sick?"

"They already knew. It's a long story. You still snowed in?"

"Oh, the city's a mess." I climbed out of the car, still maintaining the charade, and slammed the door. "How're you holding up?" Just then, she looked up. I turned off my cell phone.

I had never seen her look more exhausted. Or more vulnerable. Or more pleasantly surprised. Or more beautiful.

She pulled the phone away from her ear and tucked it under her chin. She stared at me wonderingly with the faintest hint of a smile.

"Here we are." My voice caught low in my throat. I plopped my aching limbs on the step next to her, our knees barely brushing. I offered her my hand and she laced her fingers in mine. She leaned her head against my shoulder.

"So did you remember my underwear?"

I nodded dutifully. "Only the respectable ones. Just like you said."

She looked up at me. "You made it. I'm so glad," she whispered.

"It was nothing. You know what they say. Neither rain, nor snow."

"Maggie's here."

"Yeah, I know. I saw her when I first pulled into the parking lot. Where'd she go?"

"To find us a hotel room. Like I said, it's a long story. Remind me to tell you about it after I sleep for a couple of days."

"Where's Gallant?"

"I sent him off to hit the books. Don't want him to fail his rotation. Of course, if he did, he'd definitely have a future as a high end attaché. He's been amazing. He'd been great to have along on the Titanic. Things might have turned out differently. He's going to meet us back here at oh-eight hundred."

I smiled wryly and pulled her to her feet. We went off in search of Maggie.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

We found two rooms at an all-suites motel chain about a mile from the base. It was "déjà vu all over again" as we checked in and said our good nights. Maggie looked at us with quiet approval. She knew something was up between us. I wonder what Abby had told her, if anything.

This time, however, I was the one who got to be Abby's roommate. Talk about having come a long way from Oklahoma.

She crawled into bed immediately while I sat up and watched The Weather Channel to see how the Windy City was faring in the aftermath of the season's first snowfall.

After awhile, I made my way into the darkened bedroom, still bathed in soft light. She had left the light on for me. Under a mountain of blankets, I could make out her silhouette. She slumbered serenely, her back toward me. I was soothed by the gentle sound of her breathing. I undressed quickly, leaving my clothes next to my half-opened suitcase in an untidy heap on the floor. I'd worry about it in the morning. After turning out the light, I groped in the darkness and climbed into bed. I lay on my back for awhile. I didn't want to wake her. She was sleeping so peacefully. She smelled like warm sugar.

My thoughts drifted back to our unfinished conversation several nights previously.

The question formed in my mind. It was my turn to ask it.

"When did it happen for you, Abby?"

Maybe she'd let me know the answer someday. I wasn't sure I wanted to know just yet.

I found myself drifting off to sleep. Or at least I thought I did. Suddenly, I heard a soft voice in the darkness.

"The day you saw Sobriki again in the ER. The day you turned down my offer of coffee and pie. I wanted to take all of your fear and pain away."

Wait, I hadn't said anything, had I? Was I dreaming? I pinched my finger. Great. Now I was hearing things. Go to sleep Carter.

She rolled over and propped herself up on her elbow, her hair falling softly against the pillow. She traced that tender circle on my chest once more. Underneath her palpable worry for Eric and his uncertain future, there was an unmistakable lightness in her voice. A faint smile formed in the corners of her mouth. I wasn't dreaming. And I know I hadn't uttered a word. Somehow she had channeled my telepathy.

"Things are just going to keep happening, aren't they? Promise me that."

I tried to match the lightness in her voice, even though her very nearness caused my chest to constrict. I was barely breathing.

"I seem to be promising you a lot of things lately."

"I know you have your chaos theory. But there has to be a less cerebral word for it."

There was a pregnant pause.

"Delicious ambiguity?" I said matter-of-factly.

She playfully folded the other half of my pillow over my face, pinning me underneath a tangle of hair and supple skin. She released it and kissed me fully on the lips.

"You're hopeless," she said contentedly, spooning herself behind me.

"G'night John Boy." She squeezed my thigh.

I felt my body relax a little. I thought about the unpredictability of life, of love, of relationships. I thought about how far we had come since that night on the roof, nearly three Valentine's Day's ago, and all the places in between. I thought about how far we still had to go. We still weren't there yet.

Oh, I still wanted to know where she was taking me. But for the first time, the journey seemed enough. At least for now.

As always, she was the last thing I thought of before I fell asleep. I smiled. Tomorrow was another day. I would just sit back and enjoy the ride.

The End

P.S. Let me know what you think. TPTB willing, this is the start of a regular Carter POV post-ep series for the remainder of Season 9. Hopefully, they will continue to lift carby higher and higher and make the job easier.