"So Close, Yet…" by Tris

A/N: Here is chapter two—not counting the bonus—of my weird story "When Doctors Can't Leave Their Faces Alone." Thanks for being patient, y'all. This one was tricky to pin down properly. You don't even want to know how stupid the first draft was. And, this is a bit darker than I originally planned, so don't read if you're already down in the dumps! Unfortunately, this story is inspired by real life. Mild gore warning.

Disclaimer: Markus, Val, Trauma Center, Dr. Chen, and Concord Hospital are from New Blood and copyright Atlus. Oh and I don't own Koosh balls either. Don't make any money from this, nope. I need to make something like, "Blood pools are red, bruises are blue, Atlus owns everything, writing's all I do." Or something. XP


"Okay, I see what you mean. But it's not all that bad, is it?"

Val sighed and brought her fingers to her right cheek, gently touching the lumps under her skin. "It's just going to get worse. Have you ever had it before?"

"Thankfully, no."

"The cysts will eventually break through the skin. There's bleeding, pus, sometimes scars. The cysts spread everywhere…and they hurt, dang it! I hate feeling like I have these…poison time bombs under my skin."

Markus' brows knit. "Have you contacted a dermatologist?"

"No. I will either today or tomorrow."

"Okay, just do it soon." He sat on the couch beside her, careful not to jog his coffee mug as he smothered a yawn with the back of his non-mug hand. "Just…try to forget about it for now."

"Yeah, I know I should."

"No coffee?" He took a cautious sip of the burning hot liquid.

"No; caffeine and I don't mix well."

"I don't drink a lot of it, but—Val, get your hand away from your face!"

"Hmm?" Her thumb and index finger had found their way on either side of a painful-looking swelling on her cheek, and were beginning to come dangerously close together. The swelling was starting to bulge. "Oh. Sorry, I wasn't thinking."

"You don't need to apologize, I'm just afraid for you."

"Well—thanks, Markus." Val smiled shyly.

"No problem." Markus slowly blinked heavily lidded eyes and gave a long yawn. Rubbing his jaw, he said, "Val, if you don't mind, it's my break and I'm exhausted. I think I'm gonna crash for a while." He set the hot mug on the table, rolled onto his side, drew up his knees, and was out like a light. He was warm, relaxed, and happy…Val was nearby, he was erasing a bit of his sleep-debt, and in a soft place at that. He drifted into the weird logic of dreamland and was sitting by a waterfall when there was a loud pop and…a gasp?

Jolted awake, his eyes flew open and he sat up quickly. He met an awful sight; the wandering finger and thumb had finally come together in a vice-grip. Val stared at him in shock as blood began streaming down her cheek. "Wh…wh..what?"

"Holy crap, Val! What the hell was that?"

"I…I must have burst a cyst!"

"Apparently so; you look like you've been shot in the face!" The words were out before he could stop them.

"Are you serious?" She touched her cheek and brought away fingers covered in maroon. "Oh, no!" She stood up quickly and crossed the room to the lounge bathroom.

"Val…!"

"I'm fine, Markus." She stepped in and shut the door behind her; the lock clicked.


All that had happened too long ago for Markus' comfort. He was flopped down in one of the lounge couches, berating himself for falling asleep. Eventually, though, he made himself get over it. He couldn't undo the past so he might as well live for the future…his eyes became fixated on the wall clock. As the second hand jerked to the 12 mark yet again, he sprang to his feet. "Val, you've been in there a long time, and something tells me this isn't a 'time of the month' thing." Markus stood in front of the bathroom door, arms crossed. "What are you doing?"

"Um…nothing." Her voice was preoccupied. "I'll be out in just a minute, Markus."

"Uh-huh…you said that 25 minutes ago."

"Oh…really? Um…well, this time I mean it."

"Open the damn door, Valerie."

Slowly, the doorknob turned and the door opened. Head lowered, Val stepped out. He could see from the trashcan overflowing with bloody Kleenex that she had been trying to staunch the flow, but blood was still wet on the side of her face. "Am I still recognizable?" she asked with a sheepish look.

"Val…" He sighed and put his arm around her. "C'mon, let's go get some gauze. O.R. three should be empty." She nodded, pressing yet another handful of tissues to her face as they left the lounge. As they paced down the hall, Val tried to keep her head at a casual angle so her short brown locks fell gracefully over her bloody face.

As they entered the vacated operating room, her nervous smile fell away and was replaced by annoyance and embarrassment. "I thought that hall would never end…" Her voice echoed, as did their footsteps.

Markus crossed the room, cutting across a sun square from the skylight. "I'd patch you up here, Val, but I think Dr. Chen is slated to use this room in ten minutes. Plus, I don't want to make more work for Lottie."

"Yeah, I'd feel more comfortable in my own office anyway. Let's just get what we need and leave." Val shot a glance out into the hall as a doctor walked past.

"That's what I figured," Markus grunted, stretching to open a cabinet door where spare supplies were kept. He grabbed a small box of gauze, roll of cloth tape, tube of antibiotic gel and a package of rubber gloves. "Okay, let's go."

"Markus—wait."

"What?"

"I…I feel like such a fool. I'm sorry you got into this; just give me the supplies, I can bandage myself." She paused. "And I-I'm ashamed for you to see me like this."

Markus frowned, then shook his head with a faint blush. "Val, please, I want to take care of you. I'm not going to laugh, if that's what you're worried about. Besides," he added, cracking a gentle smile, "I'm not sure I want your hands anywhere near your face right now."

"Okay, Markus…you win." She shared the smile with him before following him out the door.


Val's office had a huge window overlooking the grassy field; at this time of late

afternoon it was the color of sun-melted gold. Sluggish, drunk-sounding cicadas were droning their day away, and a slight wind rippled the beige curtains as the two doctors entered.

"So how are you doing?" Markus asked, shutting the door behind them. "Lemme see. Val, I told you I wouldn't laugh! Don't you trust me?"

"Y-yeah. It's just embarrassing. I can't believe I did that—where was my self-control? You must think I'm a disgusting self-mutilator, Markus."

"Nah." Markus snapped on the rubber gloves. "I've never had cystic acne, but I think I understand. I'm guessing it's like when you have a loose tooth and it's not ready to come out yet, but you just keep twisting and tugging it. It would be a whole lot easier if you let it drop out by itself, but…that's not human nature, I guess. We're too impatient."

"Yeah, you're right." Val sat down in an armchair with a sigh, still pressing the Kleenex to her cheek. "When I know I have these little time bombs under my skin, I sort of lose it. Especially since the oral antibiotic made them go away for a while. And for some bizarre reason, I managed to convince myself that doing this would…make my face look normal again. Like nothing ever happened."

"The mind is strange sometimes. Take away the tissues, please." He looked carefully. "The bleeding has stopped. Let me see the damage." He reached out and gently took her jaw and chin between his thumb and index finger. As he examined the wounds a faint tightness grew around his eyes and mouth.

"It looks bad, doesn't it?"

"Well it doesn't look good, that's for sure. I'm going to disinfect it with the antibiotic gel now; this might sting a bit."

"Okay, I'm ready."

Markus gently applied the gel, making sure to cover every angry red puncture. "How's it going?"

"It…stings," Val admitted through clenched teeth. "It feels inflamed too."

"Yeah, your cheek is swelling some. Hang in there, Val, I'm halfway done." He glanced down and saw that her fingernails were gouging into her arm. Pausing in his work, he glanced around the room, his eyes settling on a purple Koosh ball atop the side table. He pulled off one glove, grabbed the toy and brushed her hand with it until she opened her eyes. "Here; squeeze this. Or pull all the little rubber strands out, I don't care. Where did you get this thing, anyway?" He yanked his glove back on and picked up the gel.

"Oh, I've had this since I was a little girl." Val curled her fingers around the toy and her knuckles blanched rapidly. "My best friend gave it to me for a—rgh!"

"Sorry, Val. You really clawed yourself up good." He finished dabbing the gel on her skin with his gloved thumb as quickly and thoroughly as he could. "Done with that part." He peeled off his gloves, balled them up and threw them into the trash. "Now…we just have to cover it up." He pulled a plastic-wrapped square of gauze out of the small cardboard laminated box, tore it open, and lifted the square out by a corner. "Hey, can you hold the gauze right here?" He lay it carefully over the wounds.

"Sure." Val held it steady with her fingertips as he got the white cloth tape. With practiced ease, he ripped off several sections and secured the bandage with the perfect tension.

"There. Good as new." He patted the bandage with infinite care, letting his fingertips rest on her face for a few seconds.

Val shrugged impatiently. "Markus, you know that's not true. I'm probably going to have scars, and with my skin tone, they'll be like screaming neon signs. What you did will keep down infections, but…"

"Oh. Um…wow. I…"

The drunken cicadas filled the silence with slurred, suddenly ugly singing.

"So…"

"Yeah."

"I guess I should—get back to work."

"Yeah, probably."

Markus forced a tiny smile and stepped back. And then he was at her desk, and then the door, and one foot was out in the hall, and all the time Val's chest heaved with repressed screams.

He pulled his foot back, oscillant, smile a pitiable mask.Giving a soft exhale of laughter, he closed his eyes in mockery of everything—and was gone with a two-finger salute.

Fin


A/N: Whoa…that was not how I planned it! It had a happy ending, but it felt extremely forced and cliché so in disgust I deleted the last quarter page, and rewrote from scratch off the top of my head. And…I wasn't expecting it to be so despairing! Kinda Hemingway-ish. Tell me if the style switch is too abrupt; I felt the story needed to be closed quickly.