Title: Across The Universe

Author: Beth Pryor

Rating: T

Summary: Following his accident, Ray returns to Baton Rouge for a time of recovery and rehabilitation, but unresolved issues in Chicago follow him as he attempts to determine which path he wishes his life to take. Spoilers for the end of Season 13 and all relationships pairings that implies.

Disclaimer: ER belongs to the good folks who created it and put it on the air. I'm just borrowing their characters and injecting a few of my own ideas. No copyright infringement is intended.

Author's Note: This is my first ER fanfic, even though I've watched the show from the very beginning. I don't have time to write this, but I'm doing it anyway. I hope you enjoy!

Across The Universe

Chapter 1 – The Funeral March of Ray Barnett

Ray Barnett wasn't dead, but really, he might as well have been. He was fairly certain that his life could not get any worse. Leaving Chicago earlier that day had been bad enough, especially after Neela had shown up at Northwestern as he was on the way out. He'd been hoping for a clean break from the city and her, but she'd found him and she'd insisted on making sure he was "okay." Obviously, he wasn't okay.

Now he was about 30,000 feet above the earth in a First Class seat. Life should be good, but he wasn't sipping champagne with his arm around some supermodel. Instead, his mom was flagging down the stewardess to get some ginger ale and another airsick bag. He'd thought the morphine had been bad, but the Fentanyl patch had jacked him up. He was still in pain; he assumed that wasn't going to change anytime soon. He was well aware that the stimulation of the opioid receptors was supposed to make him not care about pain even though he still felt it. And he didn't care, but that was because he was too busy vomiting. He couldn't decide what was the worst part, the pain, the vomiting, the constipation that was sure to come, or the overall situation that had led to him being drugged up and puking beside his mom on an airplane. He decided to go with "all of the above" right before his mom shoved the bag in his hands and he went at it again.

No, check that. The worst part was watching his mom. For as long as he could remember, it had been just the two of them. It wasn't as though Jacy Barnett wasn't an attractive woman; she was very attractive, and there had been many would-be suitors. But she wasn't interested in anything other than making sure he had been safe and happy and had everything that he'd needed as a child. As he aged, he realized how much of her life she had given up for him. He worked hard in school to earn a scholarship to LSU. When he'd actually applied himself in school, he found out that he enjoyed learning, and he was good at it.

Ray had loved college. He was handsome, popular, smart and confident – everything a successful coed needed to be. During his sophomore year, he and a few guys he knew on campus had formed a band. All those music lessons his mom had insisted upon finally paid off. They were surprisingly pretty good and quickly found most of their weekends booked with gigs which meant girls and money. Ray had saved well, not only from the band but also from a variety of odd jobs that he juggled throughout the year, so that when his advisor had suggested that he apply to medical school, the staggering cost of attendance wasn't so far out of range. His mother had been so proud but lamented over how in the world they could possibly afford it. Ray confidently told her not to worry about it; he had it all under control. He'd never felt more like a man in his life. Of course, there were loans, but his mom didn't need to know about that. When he finished and got a job, there'd be plenty of money and no need for her to know later, either. He had taken care of it all, and soon, he'd be able to take care of his mom, too.

Actually, his mom had been taking care of herself pretty well lately. The last time he'd gone home for the holidays, he'd been introduced to Jack Adams, a real-estate developer from Nashville who had relocated to Louisiana post-Katrina. It was almost as though she finally believed that she could be a woman as well as his mom now that Ray was settled in Chicago. Jack seemed like a stand-up guy, and it was obvious that Jacy enjoyed his company. In fact, they had been away for the weekend when the hospital had attempted to contact her. Ray hated to have to intrude on her life now that she was finally living one of her own, but he didn't know of any other option.

Luckily, money wasn't going to be a problem, at least not for a while. The company who owned the truck that had hit him wanted quickly to settle things, and the Barnetts didn't want to have to worry about ongoing litigation halfway across the country. Apparently, it hadn't mattered too much that Ray had been as drunk as shit when he stumbled into the street, trucks still weren't allowed to hit you. And if they did, the company paid. His lawyer had encouraged him to settle when the company offered $10 million. Ray had no idea how much his new life was going to cost, but he guessed that would be a good start. The first order of business was to pay off his loans, just so his mom didn't have to worry about that, too. Next, he'd be focused on rehab; he really didn't have anything else to do. He'd seen all the stuff on TV about the troops returning from Iraq and shit, and Neela had told him about the guys Michael visited at the VA, so he knew that his life didn't necessarily have to be over if he didn't want it to be. He just wasn't sure what he wanted. He knew he didn't want to sponge off of his mom or disrupt her life any more than he had too. The money would see to that, and he guessed he'd see where rehab would get him.

He glanced over at his mom who was trying to pretend that she wasn't watching him. Sighing, he put his head back against the seat. His mother turned to him.

"Do you need anything, honey?" she asked, lightly rubbing the flesh on the inside of his right wrist with her thumb just as she had when he'd been too afraid to sleep during thunderstorms or after watching a scary movie on TV that she had forbidden him to see.

"Maybe just some water?" he asked hoarsely. His mouth tasted incredibly gross and it was dry, as well. She turned to grab a sweating bottle from the tray table in front of her. As she handed it to him, he grabbed her wrist. "I'm really sorry about all of this, Mom."

Tears welled in her eyes and she nodded, not trusting herself to speak. She took her other hand and held his in both of hers. She coughed lightly and eventually spoke.

"It'll be okay. I'll make sure it is." She vowed.

"Mom," he tried to protest, but Jacy just shook her head. Ray gave up, too weak to get into anything with her now, anyway, and slumped back into his seat. The Captain interrupted the moment with the announcement of the impending landing, confronting Ray with a brand new set of terrifying situations.

Trooping through O'Hare in the freak parade was one thing, but Baton Rouge was home. It was not all that likely that he would run into someone he knew, but all those people staring at him – he just wasn't sure he could do it twice in one day. Oh, God. What if he got sick again? He prayed to every deity he could think of that it wouldn't happen, at least not until they made it through the terminal.

When the plane landed, Ray and Jacy were met by a Skycap with a wheelchair. He accompanied them to the baggage claim where the crew from the rehab hospital was waiting to collect him and his things. The attendants helped him transfer from the airline's chair to his own, which miraculously had arrived without incident or injury. They loaded his luggage onto the van, which looked more like a short bus than Ray was comfortable with, but screw it; he didn't have any pride left anyway. This was his life now. He wheeled himself onto the ramp and sat helplessly as he was lifted into the vehicle. Inside, his mom helped him secure the chair with a safety strap and they were on their way.

Ray stared silently out of the window throughout the entire trip. He was exhausted. Hopefully this wouldn't be like drug rehab where they assembled everyone for an impromptu group session when a new person came in. He wasn't sure why he had thought about that. Probably too many movies or too many episodes of Intervention. Before he could contemplate it any further, they pulled up in front of the facility. They unloaded him, his luggage and his mom and followed them into the lobby where a somber-faced Jack Adams was waiting. The sight of Ray took his breath for a second, but he recovered quickly, stepping forward to shake Ray's hand.

"You're all checked in, Ray. These folks will help you get settled in, and your mother and I will be right here if you need anything."

Ray thanked him. Jacy leaned in to kiss him, and then he followed the nurse and two orderlies down the hall to his room. When they arrived, they helped Ray unpack some of his things. The nurse helped him freshen up a bit before the orderlies moved him into the bed. She took his vitals, checked his pain level and explained the daily routine to him. She further explained to him that his physician and rehab team would meet with him the next day to set forth a plan of action but that if he needed anything between now and then, he could call for her at the nurse's station. Ray thanked them all for their help but really wanted to do was sleep. Before he was able to, though, his mom popped her head in through the door. He smiled tiredly and waved her and Jack into the room.

"Are you all settled in?" she asked quietly, noting the heavy lids blinking in an attempt to stay open for a few minutes more.

"I'm fine. You should go home and get some sleep. I have a feeling I'm going to be pretty busy for the next few days, but I'll call you as soon as I know what's going on," he assured her.

"As long as you're okay."

"I'll be fine, Mom. I just need to sleep now."

"Alright. I love you Ray and I'll see later."

"Thanks, Mom. I love you too." He didn't even make it to goodbye before he fell asleep. Jacy and Jack stayed a few moments more to be sure he was asleep. When she was satisfied that he was, Jacy allowed Jack to lead her to his car waiting out front. He opened the door of the passenger's seat for her and she slid in. By the time he had gotten around to his side of the car, she had broken down into sobs. He reached across the center console and pulled her close to him. Her breath came in choppy heaves as she tried to speak.

"Shh," Jack soothed. "Take a deep breath," he encouraged as he slowly rubbed her back. Although she tired, all she could do was continue to weep into his shoulder. Finally, she breathed out a few words.

"Oh, my baby," she whispered.

Jack smoothed her hair and held her. "I know, love. I know," was all he could manage and he struggled to hold back his own tears. He wiped his eyes and put the car in gear all the while holding Jacy close.