Category: AU, Drama, Angst
Spoilers: Midnight, Damaged and Try Carter, kind of.
Description: Carter's going to try. He promises he will. Because...he's not alone anymore.
Notes: How I thought Midnight would end, and sometimes, how I still wish it had. Also, this fic was written before the episode named Try Carter. Weird, I know.
Disclaimer: Not mine. Not mine.
Feedback: I fiend for it.
Incessant crying. That was the background track to his life now. Wasn't there some silent way to get it all out? It was maddening. Carter wasn't ready for living and moving on and real life, not yet. Just give me a couple more days, he pleaded mentally.
"John, you have to come," Jack said, poking his head in from the other room. Carter bristled at the remark. If one more person told him what he had to do, he might repeal his views on sharp objects and pull a Sobricki on whomever was in his line of sight.
He didn't budge from the couch.
Inertia. A body at rest will remain at rest, and a body in motion will remain in motion in a straight line, unless acted upon by an outside force.
That might describe him. Except, he sure as heck wasn't in motion, and he couldn't walk in a straight line if the preservation of life, liberty and Gamma's gravesite depended on it. So he must be at rest. And by "rest" he meant feeling accosted by every negative emotion he had ever felt in his life to the 16th power and fighting off thoughts of death, dying, and horror to the point of paralysis. So maybe he wasn't at rest either. But he'd been here, the exact same way, sitting in this chair for the last four hours.
"John." Carter turned to find Vicky. The words reached his brain a second after she had said them (life slows during trauma) and Carter realized she had whispered his name, like if she were to speak in a normal voice, he might shatter. It made him even more furious. She advanced further. "We have a family room that you might spend the remainder of your stay in."
Carter wasn't sure if he was conjugating every verb perfectly, but he was pretty sure that was Doctor-ese for "Times up, get comfortable in triage, because someone who's bleeding needs this room more than you do." He snatched his outer shirt (rather fiercely) and stormed passed her. She flashed some facial expression that was an impossible mix of surprise, non-surprise, and effected innocence. She followed down behind him a little briskly.
"John," she repeated, still whispering. He spun around, almost dizzy, chafing at the intimacy of having a human within fifty miles of himself. She waited a beat before continuing. "Understandably you are incredibly...distraught. I know you already know this, but if you need to talk to someone, anyone, your priest, somebody from psyche..." she tapered off. Carter couldn't imagine what type of audience he must be to look at, but apparently he was a very speech-killing one. "...um, I'd be more than happy to get someone." Carter turned his head quickly and kind of coughed. Tears were not an option. Not when he was this angry...this panicked.
He walked off.
To the roof. The roof was such a great refuge. He didn't know if it was the feeling of omniscience from being on top of Chicago, looking out into the night. It could have been the oneness with the elements that drew him - he'd stood out here many a night in the pouring rain. Maybe it was the seclusion - even when you weren't alone, you felt...encapsulated. You emanated "Don't touch me." I mean, if you felt like company, would you be on the roof?
"Where are my cigarettes?" he asked himself, rummaging frantically through four pockets, over and over and over. On some level he knew he had quit - again - when Kem got pregnant, but, a boy could hope, right? He combed through the pockets one more time.
In an impulse, he hurled the shirt over the side of the building. Just like that. Wow, that felt good. Even better than he thought it would. He wasn't dizzy anymore.
Until he saw Abby standing there.
"Carter," she said simply, flatly, without looking. It said "speak if you want to - or not."
She wasn't that close - about 20 feet away. But, on the roof, sound carries. And so do secrets, and suppressed yells, and peripheral views of shirts being hurled off the roof.
"Got another one of those?" he asked, referring to the smoke she was puffing on. She shook her head. He sighed, clutching his forehead.
"But you can have what's left of this one. I think you need it more than I do," she said. Carter half expected her to bring it to him, but she didn't. He walked over to her (stopping as far as could while still being able to reach her) and took the cancer stick from her outstretched fingers. He brought it to his lips, before drawing the intoxicating ether into his lungs, and slowly, very slowly, exhaling. Moments passed with them in silence, both clearly sharing a bad day, mutually miserable. It reminded him of old times.
"You OK?" she dared to ask. Carter's head snapped in her direction. She was closer now - or maybe she wasn't. But now she seemed just inches away. And he couldn't reply. He didn't have a reply. Apparently his silence was reply enough. "You wanna talk about it?" she continued, this time looking at him. Her face was 100% concern with not the faintest trace of pity. Nothing to repel him, nothing to provoke him, nothing he could use to evade all the pain that was eating him from the inside out. She'd mastered the art of asking the questions that didn't want to be answered, and she could somehow bring the grisliest, ugliest, macabre depths out of him. Maybe it was because she knew those depths like the back of her hand. Carter looked into the almost starless, inky black expanse above him. He wanted to sink into it. Instead, he found himself speaking.
"It's bad Abby," he chuckled. It wasn't funny, but it was the only way he could deliver the line, warn her for the worse - warn himself for what he could scarcely acknowledge.
"The baby?" she asked, whispering. But not like Vicky. There was a trueness to her concern, to her fear. Carter's face lit up with what he could only guess was some grotesquely fake smile that neither of them had ever seen before, because she didn't smile in return, and almost looked...frightened.
"I'm a father," he said. Now she was smiling, kind of.
"Congratulations, Carter. I'm thrilled to hear it...that's great." He just nodded. More silence. Her eyes pleaded for the rest of the story, and she was visibly searching for her next line. "Boy or girl?" She settled for the standard fare.
Carter went to say boy, but his throat locked. And there it was. The first tear. And now he was angry again.
"What is it, John?" she asked. He could feel another tear fall, and his anger rising and wondered when the roof stopped being a refuge; how the haunting madness had come to reach even here? Carter stared intently at the cigarette in his trembling hand. He took another slow drag before answering.
"...And there ain't no nothing we can't love each other through...oooh oooh...What would we do baby, without us? Sha la la la." That was the sixth time he had heard that song today, and the third hour he had spent, hunched over and sinking into the plush pillows of the couch. There was a Family Ties marathon on TNT, and it had been about as good as a distraction as he could hope for. Which is to say, not one at all.
Carter didn't want to feel this way anymore, and more relevantly, he didn't know how to make it stop. He was familiar with desperation - he'd felt it before. He was intimate with death - he knew it well. He'd wrestled with grief and toyed with self-destruction, and more than once flirted with heartache. He even knew the odd compulsions of bewildering pain: urges to sleep in the attic, eat only one food, and watch the clock tick life away, one second at a time.
All of which, he had thought, would be some kind of vaccination against haunting dreams, inconsolable anguish and walking into your job, drunk, raving mad and wearing your god-forsaken, battered and bleeding heart on your sleeve.
He learned the hard way it isn't.
But it doesn't make it any easier this time. In fact, it might have even made it worse.
"John, you have to come," Jack said, babyless and pleading in the doorway behind Carter. "He doesn't want me."
"He doesn't want me either," Carter called over his shoulder. How could he watch the baby and watch Family Ties and mope at the same time. He couldn't.
"John, this is ridiculous," Jack said exasperated and walking back towards the bedroom.
"He wants to be breastfed," Carter shouted calmly to his retreating father, "He was supposed to be breastfed."
"Which clearly isn't an option at this point, Doctor," Jack shouted from down the hall.
"So there's nothing we can do." Carter replied, submerging the urge to mention Chuck. Hmm, My Name is Alex. That's a nice little depressing episode, he thought.
The doorbell wrung. Carter made his way to the door to answer it. Jack was heading back from down the hall, suit jacket and portfolio in hand.
"I have to go to a meeting or I'd - "
"What?" Carter sneered incredulously, "Take the baby with you? Since when have you been so paternal?" Jack was not amused.
"Take all the shots at me you want. But, what you're doing to Joshua borders on abuse," he replied, growing angry. The doorbell rang again. Neither man acknowledged it. "If you're not careful, one day you're gonna look in the mirror and see your mother."
Every inch of Carter's body flared. The two men's eyes were locked on each other. Carter was furious, answering quietly, but fiercely. "Don't you ever say that in my house again - ever."
The doorbell rung again. Jack answered it.
It was Abby.
"I hope I'm not interrupting anything," she said. The tension in the room was palpable.
"Actually, Ms. Lockhart, I was just on my way out," Jack said, before trading places with her. "Have a nice day," he said, and proceeded down the walk. Abby shut the door.
"You look...angry." she said, looking around for clues. "Is it because the baby's crying?"
"No," Carter replied, giving the front door one final, piercing glare before walking into the living room and resuming his place on the couch. He was more resolved than ever - he would vegetate or die. Maybe both. He flipped the channel - this episode was too depressing.
Abby stood by the door, a little amazed. "Carter, you, um, hear the baby crying, right?"
"Abby, do you need anything?" he said, turning around with a face that said "If there's nothing else, there's the door."
"I came by to see how you were doing," Abby replied, a little defensive. Carter said nothing. "You hadn't been into work in a couple days...since..." She paused.
"Since what, Abby?" John said, "Since I played 'Dr. Phil - the drunk remix' in triage?" Abby didn't reply. "I get a few days off sometimes too, you know. I'm fine." He returned his attention to the TV.
"OK," Abby said, biting her inside jaw and walking in the direction of the now blood-curdling screams. From the living room, he could hear hushing sounds, and high-pitched talking for several moments. Then...the crying stopped. Carter felt a surprise shot of relief pulse through him, followed by a pang of guilt. He maximized the former, and repressed the latter.
Moments later, Abby reappeared, baby in tow. "You do that all the time?" she asked accusingly. "Just let the baby scream like that?"
"Abby!" he snapped, "I can't take this right now!"
"Take what? I haven't done anything," Abby replied, offended.
"Just shut-up!" Carter yelled, running his fingers through his hair and closing his eyes. His headache kicked into high gear, and for the first time in he didn't know how long, he got that feeling again. It felt like the room was spinning, the whole world seemed too bright, and, blinking his eyes, he felt like he may be going blind. His brain hurt, his spit was salty and...he dropped is head between his knees, and placed his hands on the back of his neck. He only remembered feeling this way once before, and then, it almost killed him.
And there was silence, for the first time in a long time. Silence, except for the screaming and yelling from done-wrong girlfriends and double-crossing ex-lovers parading across the TV screen.
"Todd, I hate you, I always will, I'll never forgive you for this,"
"Alexandria, you know my love for you. She's no one."
"No one except the mother of your child I didn't know about."
"She'll never come between us."
"You're right, because we're over."
The inane banter was maddening. Even more maddening than Carter's own internal madness. He hit the button to turn it off, before hurling the remote control with all his might and cracking the mirror on the far wall.
Then there was a whimper. Carter looked up. Abby was rocking and bouncing Joshua, but was looking and Carter. Her face was confusion and shock.
"You want me and the baby to head out for a little bit, maybe, um," cough, "I have an errand I have to run. I could be back in a couple hours."
Carter stood and snatched Joshua, yelling "I can take care of my own baby, Abby. And I don't need you, or my father, or anyone else telling me what I have to or should or shouldn't be doing." He paused. "So GET OUT!"
Abby was frozen, her hands still holding a baby that wasn't there. Silence was between them for several seconds. "Fine," she whispered, near tears, grabbing her purse from the couch, and heading from the door. "Fine." Carter heard the door slam.
There they were: Joshua was dangling from the tip of his father's outstretched hands, looking at the picture or fear, anger...and regret. And all of sudden, Carter felt like an incredible idiot. What kind of over-grown man would rather watch As the World Turns than tend to his newborn son? A newborn son that was screaming bloody murder in the next room, and didn't want anything in the world other to be held? What kind of jackass was he?
Carter ran for the door.
"Abby!" he called. She was already at the bottom of the walk, and stopped, without turning around. "Abby," he repeated, barely over a whisper. He could see her pondering, wondering, deciding.
She kept walking.
Carter watched her drive off until she turned at the corner. Then, he turned, and walked back into the house, without even shutting the door.
He'd blown it. Big time.
And for his life he couldn't figure out why. He hated himself. He hated what he was becoming. He'd been blaming the headaches - he'd been having head-splitting headaches for days, weeks. He'd been blaming his parents - those bastards who hadn't shown him how, how to do this. He blamed Gamma - gone when he needed her most. He'd blamed Kem. Boy had he blamed Kem. This was all her fault. All of it. He'd blamed everybody.
And where had that got him? Standing in a dark hallway, staring at a newborn baby, a newborn son, his newborn son, alone, and guilt-ridden.
He walked in the bedroom. He placed Joshua in the middle of the humongous bed, and then followed suit, sitting crossed-legged in front of him. Even at three weeks old, Carter could see he favored Kem. He looked at him, really looked at him. Looked at his hair, fine as silk, and black as coal. Looked at his lips, full and red. Looked at his toes and fingers, curled, wrinkled - and tiny, so tiny. Everything about him was that way - delicate, fragile, helpless. It was like he was seeing this baby for the first time. In some ways - he was.
And then Joshua laughed. A merry chuckle that said that he didn't have a single care in the world. That said he didn't know that he narrowly had escaped death himself, or his father was breaking before his eyes. He had no idea he would be one of those kids that grew up without a mother, or that his father felt woefully unprepared to raise him. The laugh showed that he didn't want anything in the world other than to be held. Held and loved.
He deserved that. And Carter would give it to him. Right now. Starting right now.
Carter grabbed a picture of Kem, from under the bed (where most of her things could be found), and placed it in under his own chin, facing Joshua.
"You know this lady?" Carter asked, half-hoping for a nod, or laugh, or a spit bubble. "Her name is Kem. Makemba Lisaku." The name sounded so alive, so real. And yet, Carter knew her body was en route to London even as he spoke. "This is your mom. She loved you very much. She loved me - very much. I loved..." his voice trailed off. "She would have been a better parent than I ever could be." A tear dropped from his cheek. "But I'm gonna try, Joshua, I'm gonna try." Carter leaned forward, all the way down, and kissed the infant on his forehead. Joshua replied with another cooing giggle. It made Carter want to weep. "I promise, Kem, I'm gonna try." He felt a hand on his shoulder. He turned.
It was Abby.
"I'm so sorry," he said, wrung-out from emotion.
"Shhhh," Abby embraced him from behind, resting her chin on the crown of his head. "You can do this thing."
"Help me, Abby," he said. He hadn't realized just how terrified he was.
"We'll figure it out, John" she whispered in his ear. "You're not alone."