Spoilers: Seasons 10 and 11
Description: When Carter isn't outrunning his life, he's getting run over by it. But tonight might be different. Carter/Wendall
Notes: This might one day be AU, but I figured somebody had to write a Wendall story.
Disclaimer: Not mine. Not mine.
Feedback: I fiend for it.
Nightfall hardly mutes the walkways and passerby of Chicago, and there is no shortage of people milling about, doing activities that others might find are more suitably done by the light of day. There are people making purchases at shops that are curiously open at such an hour. There are people on the lake nursing the ambience of the seascape. There is a couple across the street that mirrors Carter in his own casual, late night stroll. There are even people who give no outward clue as to the reason for their presence on the street, yet there they are just the same.
So here's the one thing Carter has always loved about Chicago: walking, purposefully, going from one place to another, on foot.
In a very real way, Carter has spent the majority of his life in Chicago - his summer, fall and winter in Kisingani were probably his biggest stint outside of the area. Even still, he has been around long enough to know that the feasibility of a pedestrian lifestyle is rare in most places in America. But here in Chicago, people make groceries, catch the train, meet their friends, entertain their children, collect their thoughts, and live their lives walking purposefully from one place to another on foot. And so tonight, he's happy to savor a midnight stroll down paved walks in the city - it can be nice.
Nice for walking. Nice for watching. Nice for absorbing city life, on a brisk winter evening.
It's exceptionally warm here for December, at least forty degrees, and somehow he's managed to get by with only a parka that he broke out for the first time in two years - the last time he needed it. He'd love to say the air was clear, but that would be short of the truth. But it is breathable enough for him to feel fresh, and there's a breeze coming off the lake that is making everything a little crisper, a little fresher. He won't be out long enough to feel the cold. The theater's not more than a mile from his house, and he tends to keep a brisk pace - even when he's not chasing a gurney.
It was a small concert, tonight; no more than a couple hundred people were there. A small one he didn't think would still be possible for somebody as popular as John Mayer. But the venue was quaint and the ticket prices high, so the concert was small - small and wonderful. Wonderful enough to color his mood, already irrevocably branded by repressed longing, and wash it over with an acoustic bath of hope, stirred with nostalgia, pensiveness and untidy endings.
"You going anywhere for the holidays?" Wendall asks out of nowhere. Carter turns to his walking companion, his evening companion, a little daunted by the prospect of his answer. "No?" she replies to his shaking head. She can't help but hide her pity for him. Carter doesn't think he deserves it. "Where do your parents live?"
"Chicago," he answers, and she nods, apparently finding in the answer an explanation for his lack of travel plans. He lets her believe as she wishes.
"First winter without your grandmother?" she asks as a footnote, apropos of nothing.
"Second," he answers, but he can't help but think that it will be one of mournful firsts. "She died before the holidays last year."
"Right," Wendall chastises herself, as if she should have known it already, and Carter doesn't recall ever mentioning his grandmother to her at all. But he isn't so naïve as to think she hasn't been sufficiently briefed at the nurses' station. Maybe her next question will be about what it was like for him in rehab. "Was the first one hard?"
He thinks of being in the clinic last year with all those AIDS patients, of feeling purposeful and useful, being in love, finding out thatKem was pregnant. Of hiding behind the glorious legitimacy of altruism, while never being able to escape the fact that he was hiding. Hiding and hurting. And even then, the worst was yet to come.
And now Carter's mood, so molded by a delightful dinner at the bistro on the corner and the kind of engaging conversation he hasn't had in months, is eroding. Wendall's question begins to gnaw at Carter's feeling of introspective calm and the lyrical stupor that he's been soothing himself with. His efforts to cling to it only dissipate it more.
"You really are a psychologist, aren't you?" he answers, comically evasive.
"No - just a social worker," she replies. "I didn't mean to pry - I just," she stops walking suddenly, the patter of her steps against pavement fading, and Carter halts with her. Her eyes drop to the pavement with determined thought. Her voice is the empathetically professional one he's heard before. "I know closure helps with these things - I was hoping you had found some closure."
The statement almost makes Carter laugh out loud and vomit at the same time.
Carter knows nothing of closure. He knows volumes on the lack of it. Closure for Carter is getting stabbed and nearly dying at work, only to see your assailant, a couple years later, merrily free and surrounded by family, and life, and hope and absolution of all guilt.
Closure for Carter is hearing that his grandmother, his precious, beloved, needed grandmother, is dead while he's in the middle of a trauma, then making funeral arrangements alone, and staring at "Carter, Millicent" on his caller ID for weeks, while he fantasizes endlessly about a phone-call he was too tired to take the night before she died. Closure is a disastrous funeral, even worse post-funeral and a capricious trip to the middle of the third world.
Closure for Carter is a non-answer to a marriage proposal that degrades into a anxious, wired, self-destructing trainwreck, and that ends with a rescue in the Congo, and a letter back home, an ocean away.
Closure for Carter is a vulnerable, reckless, open, euphoric love with prospects so completely glorious that it absolutely, positively could not go wrong. But wrong it went. Terribly wrong. So wrong, it bites him in his sleep, sucks the taste from his food, and puts blind envy in his heart. It makes him feign a relationship with a webcam and make love to memories.
Closure for Carter is untidy endings.
They're quickly approaching Carter's house, and Wendall's car, and silence has fallen between them; Wendall, mercifully, doesn't press for an answer. They slow as they reach his steps - dallying in the chasm between the front door and the car. The night is predictably drawing to a close.
It's the awkward moment that the romantic comedy was made for.
Except that, in the movies, the heroes don't have sullen "girlfriends" that live on other continents, and "friends" with engaging conversation and midnight walks. They aren't broken, and tattered, and confused.
The heroines aren't so confusingly indifferent, don't turn a blind eye to unfinished business, nor do they smile in the pleasantly unintimidating way that makes Carter want to take Wendall in his arms and kiss the life from her body.
"I guess this is it," she finally says, and jogs a little in place as the wind picks up a little. And she's smiling. She cups her hands together and blows on them to warm up, and Carter can't help inhaling the vapors from her breath.
This might be the most perfect moment he's had in a long time, a very long time. And he doesn't want it to end. Because in real life, for every bone-crushing, malignant, unhappy ending, sometimes, just sometimes, there's this - a beginning.
She turns as she heads towards her car, but Carter grabs her elbow. He tugs her towards him until she's right under his chin. Her eyes are in his, and he has a feeling she's two steps ahead of him.
"What was that for?" she whispers warmly.
"Don't go," he whispers into the edge of her nose, "Stay a while."
She stares for what seems like an eternity, before a toothless grin crosses her face. "I'd like that," she says to a beaming Carter, "I'd like that very much."