Part VII

I know it had been a while, but was I *that* bad?

I exercise my "woman you just slept with" rights and call once a couple days after the fact, leaving a casual message.

Still nothing.

That gawd damn son of a bitch.

I have work to do. That's what I keep telling myself, "I have work to do." And I do, and I do it, mauling Special Collections in a blitzkrieg of research.

And if I have a few moments where a tear or two is shed or something is thrown against a wall or I'm scribbling terrible maudlin poetry, that's my business.

I'm deep in the throwing things stage when, ten days later, his number pops up on my cell. I stare at it as it rings a few times, and then throw it at the couch.

"Stew you bastard!"

And limp into my study, trying to maintain my state of high dudgeon. I let the anger set in and congeal into a hard mass, ignoring three more phone calls over the next two days. I don't pick up my voicemail.

That lasts until I open my front door to find him standing there, hands in the pockets of his jeans, an utterly sheepish expression on his face looking for all the world like a six foot, two inch boy apologizing for breaking a window with a baseball.

Damn it.

"Can I come in?"

I say nothing, struggling between hitting him and...I don't know what. He hunches his shoulders as if reading the former impulse.

"It was really shitty of me not to ring you earlier. I'm sorry."

"You think?"

He takes the hit. "Can we talk? Please?"

I sigh and hobble away from the door, shooing Pilot back into the bedroom and shutting the door after her. I turn to him, drumming my fingers against the wall.

"I'm sorry."

"You've said that." Nothing else is forthcoming so I continue, "Look, we're both busy, we both have our own lives, and understanding what you came out of in your last relationship I have just rolled with this little dance you are doing, but now I need to know. What the *hell*, Alec!"

He holds his hands out as if to fend off my temper. "I know you are angry and you have every right to be, but could we just sit down and talk about this?"

I sit on the chair catty-cornered to the couch where he sits, an end table between us. It my turn to glower as he rests his elbows on his knees and tries very hard to put his explanation rationally.

"You remember I told you a couple of weeks ago that I went to visit a friend, helped him with his roof?" I nod. "Well, that wasn't the entire truth. Mark, I've known him since residency actually, but that is beside the point." He shakes off the nervous blather. "Mark works for the GMC."

"General Medical...Commission?"

"Council."

"I could have said it was a truck."

He lets the bad joke pass with only a brief vexed look. "Mark advised through the mess I told you about, when my first team broke up. He helped me keep my job. So after you and I met for coffee and I realized I was interested in pursuing something with you, a former patient, no matter how briefly you were a patient, I did treat you, I went to talk to him. Which I paid for by helping him with this roof," he adds wryly.

"And what did he say?"

"Well, after asking me why I couldn't meet a girl in a pub like a normal bloke, he said we're in a fuzzy area. You were not my patient by choice and you did not reveal any personal information to me beyond the extent of your injuries. I did not mention that you said you were attending Greenwich," he scratches the back of his head guiltily as he sits back. "But if someone wanted to make trouble over it, they could."

"Someone...meaning me."

"Yes." He rushes ahead to forestall my response. "You have to understand, this is my medical license. My life. When I came close to losing my job, what would I do if lost my license to practice was a question I naturally asked myself. And I…I couldn't come up with an answer." He looks inward. "Sure there are loads of jobs in the NHS I could find, but...I could not even begin to know who I would be if that happened."

"I know that."

"Do you?" His attention flicks outward again with a piercing look.

"Yes I do. Do you think I have been around you, seen what you do, and haven't noticed how much it fulfills you, the person you become when a life is in your hands? Look, Alec, I could sit here all day and reassure you that I would never hurt you in that way, that until you brought it up it had not even crossed my mind, but the only way to trust someone is to trust them. I think Hemingway said that."

"You hate Hemingway."

"Well, everyone is right at least once in their life." I rub the bridge of my nose in frustration. "I looked up the rules about doctors and patients dating the day after I got out of hospital, but I figured you knew those rules better than I did and that you had made a choice."

"Well...I hadn't," he admits, picking an invisible piece of lint off the arm of the couch.

"What?"

"Every time before I saw you, I kept telling myself, "She is going to do something or say something, and you'll know this was a mistake, that you don't have to go any further. You've tested the waters and you don't have to risk it." Only...that didn't happen."

I'm struggling to suppress a whoop of joy and the laughter of relief as those last three words sink in. "So you're saying you were conducting our dates as experiments?"

"Aren't all dates?" he rationalizes.

"Should I be asking about the control group?"

He gives me an Oh shut up look before he continues. "And then you made me take the bike out, when I would have taken you out. You know, most women want to be more in your life when you start dating, not less."

"I know the assumption is based on the impeccable male logic that all women have breasts ergo all women are the same, but contrary to the order of the Universe, we're not. I'm not saying that I don't want more than what we have now. I'm just not interested in everything. I know I can't be everything, besides work, to you and you can't be everything to me. We would both go miserably insane if we tried."

"What do you want?"

"I want to spend time with you. Once a week would be great if you want it spelled out contractually, though obviously I can understand if something comes up, either work for you, school for me, or just a having our own lives, and occasionally we go a couple weeks between seeing one another. Monogamy would also be spelled out. Respect, friendship, honesty, affection, the usual. Communication would be a necessary write in, I can see. Beyond that, everything is negotiable."

He makes the appearance of mulling over this for a moment, "Alright. Get over here." He takes my hand and pulls me into his lap. I know we have not gotten to the real root of the problem, that Alec's fears about his medical license, while real, are covering up something else, but he's come far enough for now. Especially since his kisses are driving every thought from my head again.

After a while he growls in regretful frustration, covering the growling of his stomach, as he drops a light kiss on my neck before pulling back. "It is very tempting to kick Pilot out of the bedroom, but truth be told I came here right after my shift ended and I'm starving."

"Oh good..." I put my glasses back on. "…because you're going to be paying for this one for a while. You can start with dinner."

The food is Thai, the wine white, the restaurant cozy. Candles on the table would make up for lost romantic time, if we weren't too busy squeezing the zest from the orange peels of our complimentary dessert through the flame to make sparks.

"Do you miss living in the country? No, thank you." I say, waving off formal dessert.

*Fssst* A small shower of little flames blooms from the candle as he shakes his head at the waiter before sitting back in his chair. "Well, it's home. I go up there to visit the family, kick over some old stones, but I don't think I could live there again."

"Why not? Last one." *Fsst*

"Too quiet. It's a great place to recharge, and it was fantastic as a kid…"

"Yeah?"

"Oh yeah. I grew up on the edge of a nature preserve. What boy could ask for more?"

"Seriously?"

"Yeah. The Rutland Water, well, the west end of it, is part of the Wildlife Trust. Birds are the big thing, lots of migratory species, but there's woods with stoats, foxes, and fishing and swimming of course. We were all over that place, hauling all kinds of stuff back to the house. Plants, insects, snakes, injured animals, the occasional carcass for dissection," he says with an embarrassed cringe.

"Where it was promptly rejected, I take it."

"Most of the time not, actually. Mum and Dad were pretty cool about their kids being into science and encouraged it. The necropsies did have to stay out in the shed, however, with a very limited duration of residence. My sister actually teaches it now in Leicester. Biology."

"So why aren't you teaching biology somewhere?"

"Why did I go into medicine? You know, that's usually one of the first things people ask."

"I didn't want to be boring, besides I came to realize you did not go into medicine so much as the two of you found each other. But c'mon then, let's have the Official Story."

""The Official Story?"" he laughs.

""The Official Story" The one you wrote for your entrance essay. The one you tell at charity functions and parties when some cute young thing asks, "So why did you become a doctor?"" I fold my hands under my chin and bat my eyelashes at him.

""The Official Story." Well, "officially" I was eleven, and Em and I were heading home from the Water late, worried about getting an ear bashing for holding up dinner, when we hear this odd noise. This weird thump. A few hundred yards further on we see this car, a yellow 1970's monstrosity, sitting on its top in the middle of the road. The driver had taken the curve too fast and rolled the car off the embankment."

"Was he o.k.?"

"He was out cold and bleeding. I know now it wasn't serious, but you know what head wounds are like. I thought he was going to die. And the car was in the middle of the road. I was terrified someone was going to drive through that blind curve and smash into it. I sent Em on to get the help, and from there…I didn't know what to do. All I could think was "I'm not big enough to get the driver out". So I just stood there staring at it…until I heard a noise from the rear seat. I went round and crawled under the boot, the rear window had been blown out, and there was this little girl there. She couldn't have been more than seven."

"Oh no."

"No, she was fine. She was just sitting there on the ceiling of the cab in her school pinafore. Not a hair out of place in her black ponytail, and big brown eyes. She wasn't even crying. I know now she was in shock, but then….She didn't say anything, she just stared. I just remember the look in her eyes, haunted. It was years before I could put the right word to it, but she looked haunted, like the accident had taken a piece of her."

"What did you do?"

"I reached in and took her hand and told her everything was going to be alright."The Ambulance was coming. Everything will be alright." I didn't know what else to do. This little girl staring at me like her soul is missing and I didn't know what else to do."

"And you really hated that feeling."

"I still hate that feeling," he says ruefully, draining the last of his wine. "I try to feel it as little as possible."

"Yet no one can have all the answers all the time."

"I can try," he replies with quiet conviction. "Barring that, in trauma you do not have the luxury of being indecisive. If choices present themselves, you pick one and commit to it, now. So even if you don't know what to do, you know what you are doing."

"But why medicine? There are other fields in which you could have had the answers."

"Not that mattered to me. It's a really boring answer for an entrance essay, "I always wanted to be a doctor," but I never imagined anything else. I can't even imagine getting locked up in a hospital doing research. I know it matters in the long run, that advances in the lab help me in the field, but when your choices are: "I can help people that need my help right now" or "I can sit in a lab and hope by the time I retire I've done something to help medicine in general," to me there is no choice."

"And jumping out of helicopters is cool."

"And jumping out of helicopters is *very* cool." He says with wicked grin.

"Can I ask a hopelessly self-absorbed question?"

"Go ahead." His eyes narrow warily.

"Did I give you "that feeling"?"

He considers me carefully for a moment, his eyes silvery grey in the candlelight as he brushes a lock of hair back from my face. "You did," he says softly.

"And now you know what to do?"

"No. But I do know what I am doing."

And there's that smile again.

~fin~