Title: For the Good of the Patient
Author: ella_bee / ellabell, depending on what site you're on
Author's Note: Spoilers for the end of the series. Written for Yuletide 2011.
The first time he sees her again he stops dead in his tracks. She's on the other side of the street and he steps back against the building to fade into the shadows. He examines her, then, strutting with all the confidence that she lacked a few years ago. Even a few months ago when he last saw her, there was no way that she was this happy. But then again, a few months ago, he had no idea that he could be this happy.
He feels a familiar pang in his chest. Of course he misses her. Of course he wishes that he could continue to train her, to be the one that she ran to with questions. But even after all this time, after all his training, two regrets remain: his inability to save Sarah, and that he had to give up Erica.
She has passed him now, and he examines her walking away from him. Walking away. This is how it will be from now on; he is hiding in the shadows while she in the sun, she moving on while he is left behind.
His phone rings and he smiles. Amanda. The one he gave it all up for. And she's worth it. Living his life is worth it. He just didn't know how much it was going to hurt having to leave her behind.
She can practically feel him watching her, and she does her best to not notice. If she allowed herself to care, allowed herself to wonder about what he was up to... no. She couldn't do it.
When she found out that Sarah was her patient, she made a decision. If she was going to do what was best for Sarah, she couldn't think about what was best for Dr. Tom. She just didn't expect it to hurt so much: to put him into a box and remove her emotional attachment to him. She just had to keep telling herself that it was for the good of the patient; it was for the good of Sarah.
She ignored the question if it was for the good of the Doctor.
The first regret she picks out of Sarah's list is from the time that Sarah was away from Toronto. So is the second. So is the third.
And the trend continues.
It isn't until Sarah has an argument with her court appointed sponsor that Erica realizes they need to examine her relationship with authority. She hides out in her office for the entire day picking through Sarah's regrets in her mind (the screen-play behind her eyes making it infinitely easier than trying to decipher the words on the page) trying to find the one that will best suit the situation (or maybe, the regret that only involves her mom and not her dad.)
He goes for walks with Amanda. They wander the city and find adventures: fringe shows and cultural performances, flea markets and craft stores. He avoids the art classes. Maybe one day he'll go to one again.
He mentions thirst and he finds himself standing in front of Goblins, Amanda pulling his hand inside and he falters. He has to run into her at some point, he reasons, but the flash of auburn through the window has him turning away. "Let's just go home," he says as he smiles sadly at her. He knows that she's concerned but he doesn't want to talk.
Even after six months the pain of separation is still too fresh.
It doesn't take long for Erica to learn the art of blending into the past. Sometimes she just appears as herself, an extra in everyone else's lives. This is the one she prefers.
Sometimes it's almost as if she takes over someone else's reality for a few minutes, and the only person that recognizes her is the patient. Slipping into someone else's consciousness is harder for her, but how else could she become the nurse, or the hot dog stand operator, or the cop that's pulling Sarah's car over?
And how else could she be in the direct company of her Doctor (while he was her doctor) without being recognized by him?
He hears Head on the radio, and for the first time, it doesn't hurt so much. He looks 50/50 up online and finds that they're publishing their first fiction book.
He sends her a bouquet of bright flowers that remind him of... something. He doesn't sign his name, but instead sits over the card for a good 20 minutes before finding the right quotation in his mind. "To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment. -Ralph Waldo Emerson"
He stands in the shadows outside the offices, and watches her when she reads the card. He doesn't feel fear this time, or pain, only admiration. The smile that breaks out over her face warms him to his toes. He sees her looking around as if to catch him, but he has too much experience blending into his surroundings. Still, he leaves a matching flower where he was standing.
Sarah tells her about when she robbed her parents, and everything from those few days come rushing back to Erica. Kai returning, her fight with Adam, but mostly how angry Dr. Tom had been, and how he eventually opened up to her.
She wished she could go back to that night, to ask him the questions that would make her own way much clearer… and that's when she started to laugh so hard she almost started to cry. She was a time traveller. Of course she could go back to that night!
She still had that shirt. Her hair was the same. The jeans could be faked, and Dr. Tom really wasn't about to be looking at her shoes.
She stood in the shadows watching Kai get into the cab, and then Dr. Tom conversing with her former self. "Dr. Tom, you have been there for me, and if you need anything, I want to be there for you."
He smiled, sadly, and turned away, and the other Erica went back to her apartment while she jogged after him.
"Dr. Tom," she started, careful to not seem too eager, "can you tell me what happened?"
And he tells her, and while his version of events is the same, the emotional journey is completely different. At the end, he seems like a weight has been lifted, and he genuinely smiles.
Her next move is risky, but she tries to keep herself sounding casual. "Was there anything that Sarah could have done to make this easier? Do you regret anything about what's happened these past few days?"
He studies her as if he knows that something is off but he can't quite place it, and she wants to babble but holds back. Finally he nods. "She stole a ring that I gave to her when she was young. She pawned and I haven't been able to reacquire it. I would've liked to give it back to her, one day."
Erica smiled. "Well, I hope things get better for you. I'm here, if you need it." He looked away distracted, and she squeezes his hand. "I should be getting back..." He nods again and she picks a brightly coloured flower from a balcony garden and presses it into his hand as she turns away and doesn't look back.
When Sarah arrives at his door, he almost didn't know what to do with himself. He knew when Sarah had been brought to the hospital, but by the time he had found out she was already out of danger. He decided that he had to wait for Sarah to be ready. He couldn't rush her.
He thought back to his own words. "When the doctor is ready, the patient will emerge." This was much the same, he believed. When Sarah was ready, he would be there for her. He wouldn't push. He couldn't rush. He would just be there.
And there he was. Whenever he could be. However he could be.
He pulled on his interactions with Erica to give him a framework on how to interact with Sarah. He found himself wishing that he could talk with her, let his patient be his doctor for just a little while. Without knowing why, he reached inside of his drawer and pulled out the ring of Sarah's that she had left behind and rubbed his thumb over the gold. Despite her stealing everything else, she had left the ring, and that had given him strength and the belief that she would return again.
And now she has.
If only he could get back Erica back in his life too.
Sarah and Amanda seemed to get along well enough, but there's always something in Dr. Tom's past that Erica doesn't quite understand. So she visits him, there in the 70s.
Seeing Dr. Tom (though, she supposes at this point it's just Tom) without any facial hair is startling enough, but interacting with him is even stranger. She speaks with him at his engagement party, and bumps into him a few weeks later.
She follows him to a bar, and allows him to buy her a drink. A few drinks. Then some more.
Adam's waiting for her at home, but she allows herself to be trapped in Tom's spell.
She can't decide if she's attracted to the younger Tom, or if she's just so starved for his attention that she cherishes every look and touch perhaps a little too much.
Still, when he leans in to kiss her, she kisses him back. "You're drunk," she says. "You're not even going to remember this in the morning."
"Does that matter?"
She can feel her shoulders slump, and she remembers that this is not the Tom she knew. "Yes," she says and she lets her hands linger just for a moment more. "Yes it does."
He's fuming and and he can't stop the feeling of blood rushing to his head. His fist are clenched, and he's yelling and as soon as he hears what he's saying he steps back.
Sarah stands in front of him, her own face red and her posture mimicking his, and he deflates. His hands loosen and he takes several deep breaths, imagining that as he's blowing out the air, he's also blowing out his anger.
She yells at him again, and this time he just takes it: his hands open, his mouth closed. She yells at him again and then stops abruptly. "Why aren't you mad at me?" she screams again after his silence, and she storms out the door.
He has time to rub his hands over his face and take a few more deep breaths before she comes tumbling back into the room, apparently tripping over the rug.
She finds her balance and smiles, the anger completely gone. "I'm sorry, dad. Can we start the conversation again?"
His breath catches in his throat. Is it possible..? He looks through the windows and scans the surroundings, perhaps looking for a flash of auburn hair on the street outside, but even if his deepest desires are true, there's no way they would let him know.
He turns back to Sarah and embraces her. "Of course we can, sweetie. Let's just do it this time without our tempers, okay?"
She laughs and they start again, but he spends most of the conversation staring at a bright flower that has appeared on the windowsill.
She and Adam get married, and when they're taking pictures in the park she notices him standing behind some trees, watching them and smiling.
She smiles back, and when she goes to point out his presence to Adam, he has already disappeared.
He likes to keep tabs on her, though if what he suspects is right, that Sarah is indeed in therapy, he knows he can't risk her treatment for his own selfish reasons. Still, he watches for those bright flowers. They appear from time to time in the most obscure places, and he knows Erica's the one that left them.
He leaves them too.
She gets another patient. When he appears in her visions, this young black man with dreads, it's all she can do not to go to the future and yell at the future Fred, or her future self.
Erica and Camilla run their group sessions together, combining patients. At one point, Camilla remembers that time that Dr. Tom yelled at her, and asks if she ever figured out why.
Erica shook her head. Some things maybe shouldn't be shared.
Sarah's doing well. She has a boyfriend that he thinks is good for her (not that it means that he likes him) and a stable job. He thinks of the girl that robbed him years ago, or the one that showed up again at his door and he can barely see the similarities.
He's all but proven that she's in therapy. He wonders if she would have gotten a doctor if he had stayed in the game, and can't ignore the fact that three events all happened on the same day: he retired from therapy, Erica received her first patient, and Sarah ODed and woke up in the hospital.
If he didn't retire, that sequence of events may have never started. He had always known that he made the right decision. That the trade of Erica for Sarah was the right one... at least for the good of the current patient. He doesn't know if Sarah would have made it on her own.
He still misses Erica, though. Seeing without talking is good enough, most of the time. Other times he finds himself wondering what would have happened if refused to abide by the rules, and kept Erica in his life.
In every senario, though, Sarah's always the casualty. And that's always the thing that holds him back.
Sarah passes the test. So does Fred, but Erica already knew that one. Her other patient wasn't so lucky. Two out of four of Camilla's patients get through. They get Adam to talk to the ones that didn't. Other doctors get Adam to talk to their patients as well.
Erica starts to train Sarah, and wonders if she should ever tell her about her father. When she gets her full doctor powers, Erica wonders if Sarah will actually just find out one day. She can only hope that she doesn't. It could change things for them; Sarah could feel like Erica had betrayed her trust. She wonders if she she should have told Sarah at the beginning of her therapy. Or at the beginning of group. Or when she passed the test. She doesn't know.
Maybe if Sarah knew, she could talk to Dr. Tom again. They could see each other. They could visit. Be friends.
But that wouldn't actually do Sarah any good. This was Erica's selfish wantings. She didn't know if it would ever feel like Sarah wasn't her patient, if she could ever put her own feelings above her job.
He glares at the calendar with such malice that Amanda and Sarah notice. They both ask him why, but he avoids answering. He's on edge. He knows the future, but with such few facts that he can't navigate around the fear. "Just stay away from the subway," he tells Sarah. She looks confused and concerned and even a little bewildered.
He asks her why, and she mentions vaguely, "Oh, someone else I know said something similar. But she said next month."
He breathed out a sigh of relief, and even this many years later, he still puts a check under the "Erica is her doctor" column in his mind. Maybe after the attack, then he'll find her. Just to make sure she's okay.
It's been eight years since she's spoken to him. The year is 2019. She feels almost like a prophesy is about to be fulfilled.
She stays out of the subway, and so do all her friends and family. She survives. Others aren't so lucky.
She sees a familiar dress in a store window, and she realizes that it's time. She travels back to her former self, and the experience is just as surreal as it was the first time it happened.
After the younger Erica disappears back behind her door, she sees another and can't resist. They're not supposed to talk in her time, but what about his?
When she finally closes the door behind her, she knows that this has already happened for him, and yet he didn't tell her. Maybe it was one of the deciding factors for him to retire; he knew she would be okay.
He reads in the paper that a rock star has ODed. Sarah's over for breakfast and he mentions it casually. She swears under her breath and clenches her fists, and he can just hear her mutter under her breath, "dammit, Fred, that's not fair."
He smiles. He thinks it's finally time.
She orders a latte at Goblins (50/50 has long since moved to larger offices, but the coffee shop is still her favourite) and she can feel the atmosphere change around her, but only for her.
She turns around and he's standing there, his hands in his pockets, and a smile on his face. "Erica," he states, and she stands slowly, taking him in.
He's older, of course, but he has the same smile and demeanor. "Dr. Tom," she starts but when he shakes his head she tries again. "Tom. It's been a long time."
"Not for you."
She wants to stop but she can't. It's practically a lunge when she wraps her arms around him, tears coming, and her hands shaking. "I've missed you so much."
"Me too." He pulls away to examine her face and he wipes away the tears. "I'm glad you're alive."
A strangled laugh escapes and she's aware of her surroundings again. "We shouldn't be talking. There are rules..."
He nods, his own eyes becoming watery. "I know. I just..." he looked around, as if to see if anyone was listening, and he came in a little closer, tears finally escaping. "I wanted to thank you for my daughter."
She laughs again and this time wipes away her own tears. "She did all the heavy lifting. And you're not supposed to know."
"You didn't exactly try make it difficult for me to figure out."
"But she doesn't know, and I don't want her to find out. For her own good."
He nods, and he distractedly wipes his tears. "I know. This is goodbye, Erica. I just wanted to let you know how much it means to me. What you did for her."
He hugs were again and she watches him walk away. He almost reaches the door when she can't help but call after him. "No final quote?"
He turns back and smiles at her with his cheeks still wet, perhaps for the last time. "Laughter through tears is my favourite emotion. Robert Harling."
She watches him walk out the door, and knows she's not going to find any more bright flowers in interesting places. It took eight years, but it was worth the wait.
She was always going to miss him, but she knew that he was right. All the pain they've suffered was worth it, for the sake of another. For the good of the patient.
Writeen for idea_of_sarcasm for the Yuletide exchange of 2011. Cross-posted to LJ and AO3.