A/N: A response to Ginger S's elevator challenge. In the first season, it seemed like maybe Dixie and Dr. Brackett were An Item. Later? Not so much. Being trapped together in an elevator allows them to have a heart-to-heart.
"Well, that was tense," Dixie McCall said, as the elevator door swished closed. "I never like staff meetings, but somehow it's always worse when lawyers are there."
"I can't disagree with you on that," Dr. Brackett said. "I'll tell you, Dix, I think the whole field of medicine is going to hell in a handbasket because of concerns about privacy and liability. Sure, they're important issues, but it seems we're on the verge of doing more harm than good to our patients."
"Go ahead and speak freely, Kel," Dixie said dryly.
"Well, there's nobody here but us, and I kind of assumed I was preaching to the choir." Brackett looked at her, eyebrows raised and furrowed, like only he could manage. "Wasn't I?"
"Oh yes, you certainly were. In fact, if anything, I was a little surprised that—"
Dixie and Kel were tossed to the floor as the elevator came to a sudden stop, with a screeching sound that nobody would mistake for a positive thing.
"Whoa! You okay, Dix?" Kel asked, as he helped Dixie to her feet. The lights flickered, came back on again brighter than before, and then went out completely.
"Also fine." Kel felt around the panel on the elevator, and stabbed at what he thought was the "L" button, though the panel was completely dark.
"We're stuck," Dixie said.
"So we are."
"What do we do now?"
Am I supposed to have all the answers, for some magical reason? Kel thought. "I don't know. Wait, I suppose. Someone's sure to figure out that the elevator is stuck."
So they waited. Minutes went by, and neither of them said a thing.
"This is ridiculous," Kel said. "We can't just stand here."
"Let's yell—how about that? Maybe someone will hear us."
"Okay. On three, let's yell 'help.' One, two, three."
"HEEEELLLLLP!" they yelled together, while banging on the inside door.
"That felt ridiculous, too," Dixie admitted. "But oh! Wait! Hang on—oops, sorry, didn't mean to push you—ah, there it is."
"There what is?"
"The phone, Kel. There's a little door you can open, below the buttons, that supposedly has an emergency phone in it. I just opened the door, and sure enough, there's a phone handset in there."
They both thought about that for a moment.
"Who do you suppose it calls?" Dr. Brackett asked.
"One way to find out," Dixie said. She reached blindly into the compartment, and picked up the receiver. "Maybe we'll get the Bat Cave, or the White House, or—"
"Rampart General Hospital, Main Switchboard, how may I direct your call?"
"Oh—uh, this is Nurse McCall from the ER. I'm currently trapped in an elevator. We haven't moved for several minutes, and it's dark."
"Oh my goodness! Okay, let me find the index card for this situation—ah, here it is. Okay: is there anyone else with you?"
"Yes, Dr. Brackett. That's all."
"And is anyone injured?"
"No, we're fine."
"What floor did you start from?"
"Sixth floor, going down."
"Were you going up or—oh, you already said. Uh, okay—what I do now is, I call maintenance, and they'll take care of it as soon as they can. And I'm supposed to tell you to pick up the phone every fifteen minutes to let us know how you are, and so we can give you updates."
"All right. For now, we'll just, uh, hang around, so to speak."
The operator giggled. "Don't worry—this happens sometimes, and it's usually just something they can fix in five minutes. Call every fifteen minutes, or more often if you need to."
"Will do," Dixie said, and hung up. "Did you get all that?"
"I could hear her fine. Though I'm a little skeptical that this is going to be a five-minute fix."
Dixie snorted. "You never were very good at looking on the bright side, you know."
Kel shook his head invisibly in the darkness. "Not my forte, I'm afraid."
They stood there in the dark for a few more seconds.
"I guess we might as well sit down," Kel said.
"Says you, buster. I'm required to wear white, and not a nifty lab coat I can take off when it gets something nasty on it, either."
There was a rustling sound. "Here."
"Where?" Dixie said. "I can't see a thing."
They fumbled around until Dixie's hands grasped the bundle that Kel was holding out.
"Here—sit on my white coat. It doesn't matter if it gets dirty."
"Thanks." Dixie folded the coat, and sat down, leaning her back against the side of the elevator. "You always were a gentleman, I'll give you that."
They sat silently until it became too awkward for one of them.
"What happened, Dix?"
"I don't know—maybe a fuse blew, or a cable broke, or—"
"No, that's not what I meant. I meant … whatever happened to you and me?"
There was another long silence.
"Never mind—if you don't want to—"
"No, it's all right, Kel. I'm just thinking. To be honest, I don't think I have a really good answer for you, other than all the answers I gave you twice before."
"Both times you said 'no' to me, you mean."
"Yeah, Kel, that's what I meant."
Kel sighed. "And in the last five years, has anything changed?"
"Of course things have changed. It's been five years since the last time you asked me to marry you and I said no. A lot of things have changed. But nothing that would make me change my mind. So do us both a favor, Kel, and don't ask again."
"No, I won't. I know you're seeing someone, anyhow; that other Captain from Johnny's station. I just …"
It was Dixie's turn to sigh. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean that last remark to sound the way it came out. I know you won't ask again, and yes, I am seeing someone, but I also think this is a conversation worth having. Though I'm sorry it took us being stuck in an elevator to get here."
"So am I."
Kel was surprised to feel Dixie lean into him. He put his arm around her, cautiously, and she didn't pull away.
"It might actually be easier to discuss this in the dark," Dixie said, "when we can't look at each other."
"It seemed like you were about to say something else, when I interrupted you."
"Yeah. I just … I know you were completely right, that we're both married to our jobs. We were—and we are. That won't change, for either of us."
"No. Not at the moment."
"But … that really wasn't all, was it, Dix?"
"No." Dixie sighed in the darkness, so heavily she thought she ought to be able to see her breath. "No, that wasn't the only thing, Kel. The second time, I almost said yes. I really almost did."
He waited for her to continue, but she didn't. So he took the plunge.
"But you didn't. What was the reason?"
"Do you really want to know?"
"I do. And I won't hold it against you, whatever it is. We've been through enough together, you and I, that whatever it is, it won't matter."
"All right. Well, the fact of it is, I doubt I could ever have been the kind of wife you really wanted." Dixie could imagine the shape of Kel's brows knitting, and almost thought she could hear them coming together on his forehead.
"What do you mean?"
"Look. I know you think you'd be fine with a working wife—a career woman."
"Yeah, I think I would."
"Well, I didn't think so. You see, Kel, you would want things from me that aren't, well, me."
Kel's frown deepened invisibly in the dark. "Like what?"
"Okay, here's an example. I don't cook, unless I have to. I clean, just because I like things not to be a mess. I do my laundry, because I have to. I don't love doing those chores, especially when it's been a really hard stretch at work. But that's what I can afford, on my salary. But you? You order in, or eat out. You send your laundry out. You have a cleaning woman. Because you feel the same way about those chores, and you can afford to pay someone else to do them for you. Don't feel guilty about it—that's not what I'm getting at. I like my life—I like it a lot."
"So … what are you getting at?"
"Let me ask you something. When you were growing up, who did all those things around the house?"
Kel was glad it was dark enough that Dixie couldn't see him blushing. "My mother."
"Did she work outside the home?"
"Of course not—that would've been practically scandalous, in those days, amongst the kind of people we knew."
"And, what about when you were in medical school, and an intern? Who did those chores for you?"
"Well, I guess my mother still did. I had an apartment, when I was at UCLA and medical school, but … yeah. I still took my laundry home, and she cooked most of my meals."
"Don't get me wrong, Kel; I'm not criticizing. That's just how it was, then. That's what everyone did. Hell, I mean, I knew men in college whose families lived far away, and they'd send their laundry home on the train!"
"So, do you think I would've expected you to do all those things?"
Dixie nodded, and then realized that Kel couldn't see her. "Yeah, Kel. Whether you'd admit it to yourself or not, your concept of 'wife' includes 'caretaker of household.' That's not something I could do. Especially when it was assumed."
Kel was silent for quite a few seconds. "You're probably right. I probably do kind of assume that. It's not right, really, but it's how I grew up. And I know I'm not good at changing how I think about things."
Understatement of the year, Dixie thought. "Well, neither am I. I suppose that would be another problem—we were both old enough, and set enough in our ways, that we would've butted heads over everything."
"You're right again—we're both cussedly stubborn. Neither one of us is the type to just let things slide, either."
"Nope. We would've been fighting like cats and dogs within a week of living together."
They sat in silence, leaning together on the floor of the elevator.
"I feel like I just broke up with you. Again," Dixie said.
Kel laughed. "How many times did we do that, anyhow? Break up and get back together again?"
"Oh, I don't know. Six? Seven? Enough, in any case, that Joe actually told me we both needed to make our minds up once and for all, before we drove everyone in the ER crazy."
"Oh, you bet your butt he did!"
The silence felt lighter, somehow, after that mutual laugh.
"Dix, can I ask you …"
"Go ahead, Kel. You can ask me whatever you want. And if I don't want to tell you, I just won't."
"All right. I suppose I want to ask you about this fellow you've been seeing."
"Who, Len? We have a good time together. We understand each other."
"Is it serious?"
"Do you mean, are we moving in together, or getting married, or anything like that? No, we're not. Neither one of us wants that at this point. We're both happy with the way things are."
"Meaning, he knows not to ask you for more?"
"No, meaning we discussed it, and we're both content with living separately, and seeing each other when we can. He'd get married if I wanted to, but I don't, and he doesn't either, so that works out well. We had a good laugh the other day when we realized at the same time that maybe we would get married after we both retired."
"Well, that won't be for an awfully long time, Dix, will it?"
Dixie's silence spoke louder than any words she could've said.
"Will it?" Kel repeated. "I can't see you giving up your job."
Dixie sat silently for a few more seconds. "Kel, nursing is hard, hard work, and you know it. I'm no spring chicken, and even though you're kind enough never to say so, you know that, too. I'll be forty-eight on my next birthday. And yes, in case you're wondering, Len's a few years younger than me. But neither of us minds that. And … well, we've talked about what might happen in a few more years when he's put in his twenty years. So I guess, when you look at it a different way, yeah, it's serious."
Kel found himself feeling smaller, older and lonelier than he ever had.
Whatever Dixie was going to say was interrupted by a creaking sound. She and Kel were blinded, after many minutes of total darkness, by a narrow slit of light that appeared halfway up the front of their cage, as the doors were pried open from the outside.
"Dixie? Doc? You okay in there?"
"Hank Stanley? Is that you? Of course it is. 51s to the rescue, as always. We're fine," Dixie said.
"You just hang on."
The narrow strip of light widened, until Dixie and Kel could see the floor of a hallway, about four feet up from them.
"Dr. Brackett, can you boost Miss McCall up?"
"Of course." Kel got to his feet, and made a stirrup with his hands. Dixie put her foot in his hands, and he tried to boost her up, unsuccessfully.
"Well, I guess that's harder than it looks on television," Dixie said, laughing.
"Uh, well …" Dr. Brackett got down on one knee in front of her. The irony of his position wasn't lost on either of them. "Try this. Maybe I'll work better as stairs than as an elevator."
Dixie accepted his help, and stepped up on his leg, which gave her just enough of a boost that the firemen on the floor above them could hoist her up.
"That wasn't very dignified," she said, as she brushed herself off. "But thanks."
Captain Stanley and the three men crew, who except for Marco Lopez were strangers to Dixie since everyone else had moved on, helped Dr. Brackett through the forced doors and onto the linoleum floor. He stood up quickly.
"Any time," Captain Stanley said. "You both okay?"
"Oh, we're fine," said Dixie. "Right, Kel?"
"Yeah," Dr. Brackett said quietly. "Yeah. We're fine."