Salt in the Wound

A Chicago Hope fic. Set just after Jack McNeil's brother dies and Lisa Catera breaks up with him. Who will he turn to for counsel? How will he deal with it? A bit of fluffy romance at the end. Please read and review!

Disclaimer: I don't own Chicago Hope.

Salt in the Wound

Jack McNeil sat at his desk. Had he heard right? He had finally taken initiative and decided to try and make something out of his relationship with Lisa. The only problem was, she didn't want any part of it anymore. She had broken up with him. I can't do this anymore, I'm sorry Jack, I have to go. The words echoed in his head. She had put salt in the wound. It was bad enough his brother had just died and he wasn't getting along with his father, now the one woman he'd ever really loved had decided she didn't love him back. As the tears ran down his face, a wave of hopelessness washed over Jack. Everything in his life that was good was gone, and there was no way to get it back. Just then, there was a knock on the door. Jack cleared his throat and shouted.

"Come in." He yelled.

The doorknob turned and the door slowly creaked open. Billy Kronk strode into the room holding a patient chart in one hand and an envelope of x-rays in the other. Jack sighed and rolled his eyes. The door closed and Billy came to sit at the desk across from Jack. He opened the clipboard and slid it over to Jack before standing up and posting the x-rays on the lightboard. Jack scanned the chart and walked over to where Billy stood. After looking at the x-rays for a second, Jack turned to Billy.

"What's up, Billy?" Jack inquired.

"Jennifer Hicks, fifteen year old female. She was biking on a path by her house when she hit a patch of gravel. Closed compound tib/fib fracture of the left leg, normal foot pulses. I need a consult. She has a family history of leukaemia, arthritis, and osteoporosis. The story behind the mechanism of injury doesn't fit the severity of the injury. She said she fell off her bike toward her right side, but her left shoelace got stuck in the pedal. The injury fits, but it shouldn't have broken. At least not that badly. What do you think?" Billy asked.

"Her x-rays show a very jagged fracture and her PET scan shows increased metabolic activity in various spots on her bones. A sign of skeletal weakness. Before I operate I want to talk to her, examine her for myself and get a bone density scan and a bone biopsy." Jack listed.

"Sounds good. Are you alright? You look a little tired?" Billy asked concernedly.

"I'm fine, just tired. My brother just died, it might take me a while." Jack snapped.

"I'm sorry." Billy apologized sincerely.

"It wasn't your fault." Jack replied.

"Do you want to talk about it?" Kronk queried.

"Not with you, not right now. Not at all, actually." Jack deadpanned.

"Alright, then. Come on, I'll show you where Ms.Hicks is." Billy said.

Billy grabbed the x-rays off the lightboard and stuck them back in the envelope. Jack turned and followed him out of the office, toward the elevators. Once they got down to the ER, Billy led Jack over to one of the curtain areas. He pulled back the curtain to allow himself and Jack in. The girl on the gurney was thin and pale. Her leg had an obvious deformity and was a very deep shade of purple. She was lucid, but her eyes were closed. The pain meds were helping her relax. Billy put the chart and the x-rays down in the slot at the foot of her bed before walking over. Jack followed suit on the opposite side of the gurney. When she heard their feet shuffling, the girl's eyes snapped open.

"Jennifer, this is Dr.McNeil. He's an orthopedist and he's going to take a look at your leg before we take you up to surgery, okay?" Billy asked, taking her hand and giving it a reassuring squeeze.

"Sure." Jennifer said giving them a weak smile.

Billy let go of her hand and left the curtain area. Jack stepped closer to the gurney and rested his arm on the railing. The girl looked like she could definitely have leukaemia. She was very fragile looking. She gave Jack an appraising look.

"Wow. You look almost as awful as I feel." She joked.

"Gee, thanks. Now I really feel great." Jack laughed.

"So how bad is my leg?" Jennifer inquired.

"Both the bones in your lower leg are broken right through. They're cutting into the surrounding tissue, which is why it bruised. I need you to answer some questions for me and then I want to get some tests done before I take you up to surgery." Jack explained.

After a few minutes, Jack's questions had all been answered and he had examined the girl's injury. He had sent her up for a few tests and was walking back up toward his office. On his way up the stairs, Jack looked down at the ground as he walked. A few stairs from the top he walked headlong into Bobby Yeats. Both men stopped in their tracks.

"Pardon me, Jack." Bobby said politely.

"If you insist. Later." Jack snapped.

"Are you alright?" Bobby asked sympathetically.

"Could be better, could be worse. Are we done here?" Jack snarled.

"I suppose so. See you later, Jack." Bobby said.

"Yeah, right." Jack replied sarcastically.

The two men went their separate ways. When Jack got back up to his office he dropped onto the couch, buried his face in his hands and sighed. On top of a dead brother, an estranged father, and an ex girlfriend, Jack now probably had to deal with telling a girl she has a debilitating bone disease that will leave her crippled in a few short years. Life couldn't get much worse. It might not have been so bad if his coworkers had been bearable and Lisa Catera wasn't one of them, but unfortunately he didn't have those luxuries. Jack just wanted to go home and sleep for a month. He was exhausted. Before he knew it, Jack had dozed off, only to be awakened an hour later by his pager. The test results on Jennifer Abernathy were in. Jack decided to head down to the ER and have a look at the results.

Once Jack reached the admit desk on the first floor he waited for Billy as he looked over the test results. The girl's bone density was very low, but her biopsy results were negative. Just as Jack had suspected. A few minutes later, Billy walked up. The two men conversed for a moment before Jack headed over to the curtain area where the girl was being treated. He entered the cubicle and pulled a chair over to the gurney. Jennifer looked at him questioningly as he took her hand and gave it a reasurring squeeze. Jack drew a deep, shuddering breath and sighed before speaking.

"Where are your parents?" Jack inquired.

"They went to get some coffee. Actually, I sent them out for a while. They were totally freaking out and I decided I need some peace and quiet. Why?" Jennifer replied concernedly.

"Your test results are back." Jack sighed.

"What's wrong with me?" Jennifer asked worriedly.

"You have a very rare, hereditary bone disease. It's called osteopetrosis." Jack stated.

"Isn't that something only old people get?" Jennifer queried confusedly.

"No, you're thinking of osteoporosis." Jack differentiated.

"What's the difference?" Jennifer continued.

"Osteopetrosis is a disease where your bones are very brittle. The smallest impact could cause a fracture. In a few short years, if the disease continues to progress, you will be confined to a wheelchair." Jack explained.

"Oh my God." Jennifer deadpanned.

"I'm sorry." Jack said apologetically.

"What am I going to do?" Jennifer sobbed.

"It's a good thing we caught it early. We can give you high concentration calcium supplements and delay the full onset of the disease. If you're lucky, you have a good chance of living an almost normal life." Jack stated.

Jennifer looked at Jack pleadingly, as if there was something he could do. He wished there was, but osteopetrosis was untreatable. Jennifer hung her head as sobs racked her body. Jack felt responsible. It just added to his guilt. By telling this girl that she was probably going to be a cripple by the time she was twenty five Jack had ruined her life. He grasped her hand tightly as she cried. After a few minutes, Jennifer's parents returned. When they saw their daughter crying, they demanded to know what had happened. Jack explained to them her predicament. He told them that he wanted to perform surgery to repair the fracture immediately. They signed the consent and Jennifer went up to the O.R.

A few hours later, the surgery was over. It was difficult to repair the fracture because the surgical screws kept splintering the surrounding bone. Jack walked into his office, slamming the door behind him. He dropped onto the couch and rubbed his forehead. He ran a shaky hand through his hair and closed his eyes. He felt as if he would never be happy again. Jack put his face in his hands and let a few stray tears flow down his cheeks. The tears of pain that had been stinging his eyes for the past few hours. The pain of loss, the pain of rejection, the pain of defeat, the pain of responsibility, the pain of guilt. The list went on. Jack hadn't even heard the knock on the door or the creak of the hinges as the door opened. All he could hear was the phone call that his brother had died, Lisa's goodbye, and his revelation to Jennifer, replayed over and over in his head. He was lost in his own mind, trapped in a web of grief.

Bobby Yeats walked over and sat down on the couch. He was looking for Lisa for a consult when he heard the strangled sobs coming from Jack's office. Surprisingly, Jack hadn't heard him come in, or noticed him sit down. Bobby reached out and put his hand on Jack's shoulder. Jack jumped, startled by the sensation. He wiped the tears from his face before looking over to his side. Unfortunately, he hadn't been able to disguise his red, puffy eyes. Robert looked at him questioningly. Jack didn't know whether to be angry or grateful. He needed someone to talk to, but Bobby was the source of all his problems. He decided angry was the better choice.

"What are you doing here?" Jack snarled.

"I heard you from outside, I came to see what happened." Bobby said sympathetically.

"Nothing. I told you I'm fine." Jack snapped.

"It doesn't do to dwell on our pain in silence." Robert said philosophically.

"I don't care, that's how I like to dwell. Just leave me the hell alone." Jack growled.

"I'm just a page away if you need me." Bobby said.

"Whatever. Lock the door on your way out." Jack sighed exasperatedly.

Bobby sighed and stood up. Jack really needed someone, but was so unwilling to open up to anyone. Bobby knew it was about Lisa, and Jack was probably uncomfortable talking to him about it, but he shouldn't just keep it quiet. Bobby knew Lisa was worried as well. Worried that Jack would resort back to gambling because of her. He walked over to the door and locked it before leaving the office, as per Jack's request.

Jack sat oh the couch and stared unblinkingly out the window. It was pouring rain outside. Just what he needed to end the worst day of his life. Jack was just about to stand up and go home when he heard a knock on his office door. He sighed and got up to open it. The last person he had expected to see was standing outside his office.

"Kate." Jack deadpanned.

"Hi Jack." Kate replied.

They stood by the door in silence for a minute. Kate was patient. Jack had done her a huge favour in putting in a good word with N.A.S.A. so she decided this was one good way to repay him. Bobby had mentioned that Jack seemed under the weather, so Kate decided to come see how he was holding up. She had heard about his brother's death and knew how hard it must have been on him. Especially since they hadn't been getting along for a while before his death. Jack seemed lost. Kate reached out a hand and rested it lightly on his shoulder. Jack snapped out of his reverie.

"Oh, sorry. Come in." Jack said wearily.

Kate walked into the office and sat down on the couch. Jack closed the door behind her and followed suit. Kate looked at him as he collapsed next to her. He looked overwhelmed, tired. She decided she would hang around for as long as it took him to open up with her. Even if that did require the assistance of a mind expanding drug, Kate thought. Jack rubbed his eyes wearily. Kate was the first to break the eerie silence.

"Are you alright?" She asked sympathetically.

"Fine, just tired." Jack sighed.

"I'm sorry about what's been going on the last few days." Kate said, choosing her words cautiously.

"It's not your fault." Jack reiterated for the hundredth time.

"I know, but sometimes it helps. It helps to open up to people, too. Do you want to talk about it?" Kate asked lightly.

Jack thought it over for a minute. She was as good a person as any to talk to. Kate sat, waiting patiently for Jack to answer. After a few seconds, he spoke.

"It's not easy for me to talk about my problems." Jack stated.

Kate simply nodded. She understood what it was like. She took his hand and gave it a reassuring squeeze, encouraging Jack to go on.

"My brother died. My father and I have disowned eachother. Lisa broke up with me. I had to tell a fifteen year old girl that she has a crippling bone disease. The worst thing of all is that I'm so tempted to gamble my problems away, or to drown them in a glass of whiskey. I know it's not that easy, but it can't be any worse." Jack admitted.

"It might seem like that now, but you'll be glad you didn't turn to anything like that as a source of comfort. Life has to get worse before it can get better." Kate comforted.

"I don't know how much more I can take. The worst thing about my brother being gone is that we never got the chance to reconcile our differences. Actually, I never got around to forgiving him for something that wasn't even his fault." Jack said monotonously.

"Don't blame this on yourself. Your brother would want you to go on with your life. You have to be strong. You may not have been able to help your brother, but you help so many patients everyday. You make a difference in the life of every person you meet, whether or not it's evident." Kate reassured.

"I know, but it's hard not to feel responsible. As for my father. All those years he spent pushing me and my brother to the extreme, I never got the chance to justify it. I just pushed him around like he used to do to us. I sunk down to his level." Jack explained.

"It's the only thing you could think of that would work for you at that time. I respect that. You can fight your whole life for your parents' approval, believe me. In the end, you have to do it for yourself." Kate said.

"The whole Lisa thing was the death blow. She said she couldn't do it anymore, try to work out this relationship. She said that no matter how much work she put into it, it was never enough. What about me? Over the past few months I've worked harder on loving her and trying to make her happy than I've done in my whole life. I finally agreed with her on seeing a couples therapist and she left me. I gave up gambling for her. She was my constant. Lisa was the reason I never wanted to resort back to gambling in tough times. Now, I might just be tempted. With her, I never knew what to expect, but that's what I loved about her. It's what I still do love about her. She can't just leave me like this and expect me to move on. Even I have a heart." Jack said, on the verge of a breakdown.

"Oh Jack. It may have started out for Lisa, but you can't give up now. You have to keep it up for you. So what, she can't appreciate everything you've done. There are people out there who can." Kate said tearfully, overcome with emotion.

"Really? Like who?" Jack said doubtfully.

"Like me. I know how hard it is, but you have to promise me that you won't give up." Kate said.

"I can't make a promise I can't keep." Jack sighed.

"I'll be with you every step of the way." Kate reassured.

"Okay." Jack said, too emotionally drained to continue arguing.

Kate looked at him approvingly. Jack closed his eyes and took a deep breath. Kate moved her hand over and gripped Jack's firmly. He was grateful for the comforting gesture. He opened his eyes and looked deep into hers. Whether it was out of desperation or appreciation, Jack never understood what drew him to her. Before either of them knew what was going on, Kate and Jack's lips locked in a passionate kiss. It was over almost as quickly as it had been initiated. 'Just what I need,' Jack thought. Kate couldn't get the beastly blush that had invaded her cheeks to fade. She had never thought of Jack McNeil as they kind of guy she would want to kiss, but now that it had happened, she wondered why.

"I'm sorry." Jack said flatly.

"No, it, it's okay." Kate stuttered.

Jack smiled. Maybe she was the one that would appreciate him for who he was. Oh, and how Kate wanted to be that person for him. However, for the timebeing, it was safer just to be friends, with benefits. Kate moved closer to Jack and put her head down on his shoulder. She placed her hand on his chest and felt his deep, ragged breaths. Jack wrapped his arms around her and kissed the top of her head. The odds of their relationship working out were low, but neither of them cared at the moment. All that mattered to them at that time was that they had someone to depend on. They laid in eachothers' arms for hours, unmovingly. Silence was exactly what they needed.

Suddenly, it seemed that what happened with Lisa was just another insignificant notch in Jack's life. She hadn't been worth all the heartache. It had only been a few hours between Lisa and Kate, but those few hours were tremendously emotional. None of it mattered anymore. All that mattered was Kate. Jack looked down and noticed she was asleep in his arms. He smiled and closed his eyes. If he was lucky, he would wake up and live the same dream all over again.

A.N.: How was that? I like the idea of Jack and Kate. Please review! Danke! -Julia-