TITLE: Through the Door (10/10)

AUTHOR: C. Midori

EMAIL: socksless@hotmail.com

CATEGORY: JC/AL Angst

RATING: R for adult situations and language

SPOILERS: All of Season 8, except "Lockdown."

ARCHIVE: Please ask first for permission.

DISCLAIMER: This story is based on characters and situations owned by Not Me. These Other People may include, but are not limited to: NBC, Warner Bros., Michael Crichton, etc. No money is being made and no copyright infringement is intended.

AUTHOR'S NOTES: Fuzz and thanks to everyone who reviewed Chapter Eight: Cathi, Maddy, Lily, hottie9752, Carolyn, pix, Theresa, Jane McCartney, Em, JD, Dana, Kate, Margarita, CorruptCarbyChickie, Alanna, Rebecca, Christe, and the anonymous reviewer on ff.net. Also, a double-helping of thanks to Heather and pix for being Fabulous Hosts. Finally, this is the last part of Through the Door. Read, enjoy, review. ^_^ And see notes at end.

SUMMARY: Endings and beginnings, addictions and assumptions, haircuts, ice cream, and an Epiphany with a capital E for the lovely lady with uncombed hair.

EPILOGUE

The End of the Day

And just when you mean to tell her
That you have no love to give her
Then she gets you on her wavelength
And she lets the river answer
That you've always been her lover
And you want to travel with her
And you want to travel blind
And you know that she will trust you
For you've touched her perfect body with your mind.

*          *          *

ABBY PACED THE PERIMETER OF THE AMBULANCE BAY outside County, one hand tucked close to her body and the other clutching a lit cigarette. Wincing, she wrapped her scrub top more tightly around herself as a sudden, sharp wind gusted through the bay. The breeze swept along the perimeter of the lot, gathering fallen leaves into a flurry and sending them aflutter, like torn pieces of colorful wrapping paper in the wind.

She took a drag on her smoke, her head swiveling slightly at the sound of approaching footsteps.

"I thought you were trying to quit," Luka joined her, a tease detectable in his thick accent.

"One thing at a time," she shrugged. She checked her watch. "You're off early."

"Half-shift." He secured the bag slung over his shoulder. "When are you off?"

"Not for another four hours."

"You've got that AAA meeting tonight, right?"

"AA," Abby smiled, raising the cigarette to her lips. "Yeah, that's tonight."

"Looking forward to it?"

"Beats working the night shift on a Friday."

"Night shift's not so bad," he replied mildly.

"Easy for you to say," she poked his shoulder. "Half-shift."

"Hey, I'm in at six tomorrow morning."

"Ouch." Abby smiled into her collar.

Luka ducked his head and pinned her down with his gaze. "What? What's wrong?"

She raised her head. Amused, "Is that cologne you're wearing?"

"Why?" He looked at her self-consciously. "You don't like it?"

The cigarette dangled precariously from her lips as she laughed. "It's very manly," she assured him.

"I'm going out tonight."

"So who's the lucky girl? Michelle or Terry?"

"Neither, actually," Luka admitted. "Susan."

Abby felt her eyebrows shoot up. "Lewis?"

"I...don't date coworkers."

Laughing, she sputtered, "And what do you call what we did?"

"Going study."

"You mean, 'going steady'," she smiled, flicking her wrist.

"Whatever." Roguishly, he grinned at her. "I don't date coworkers anymore. Happy?"

"Quite."

"Anyway," Luka pushed his sleeve back and glanced at his watch, "I should get going."

"You have fun," Abby nodded. He gave her a little wave. "Out of curiosity, you're not taking her to the Ice Capades, are you?" she called after his retreating figure.

"Very funny!" he yelled, without turning around.

Biting her lip, Abby watched him cross the expanse of the ambulance bay with his quick, purposive strides. She fiddled with her smoke, the lit cigarette trembling between the swell of two knuckles, and shifted her weight. Finally, with a decisive intake of breath, she made up her mind and ran after him impulsively.

"Luka!"

"Abby?" he turned around, a question on his face. "What is it?"

"It's just—I forgot—" She cut herself off, a bit breathless from her short trot, and pulled herself together as she managed to speak. "I wanted to thank you."

"For what?"

"For everything." Clumsily, she forced herself to look at him, forced herself to choose her words carefully, and her cigarette dropped to the ground, forgotten. "Thank you."

Intuitively, Luka seemed to understand what she was saying. He reached out and brushed a piece of hair away from the corner of her mouth.

"No problem," he winked. "What are friends for?"

*          *          *

"Better not let Carter see you," Susan remarked. She stepped outside, her eyes twinkling as she watched Abby approach the ER.

Abby glanced backwards. She could see Luka's tall head skirting the edge of a crowd before it finally disappeared into a sea of bobbing heads and faces.

Turning back around, she made a face. "Luka and I were just talking."

"Anything interesting?"

"He's got a date tonight."

"Really?"

"With someone named Susan."

"Hmm."

"You wouldn't know anything about that, would you?" Abby teased.

"Unfortunately not," Susan replied good-naturedly. "By the way, we've got a major MVA coming in about five minutes. Ice cream truck versus family van."

"Doesn't sound that bad." Idly, she wrapped her arms around herself. "Don't those trucks drive at, like, five miles per hour?"

"Apparently, not this one."

"I see. Sounds messy."

"About thirty one flavors worth," Susan commented, hugging herself as she stomped her feet. "God, it's getting cold."

"It's September," Abby yawned.

"Don't remind me. A mere stone's throw from another long and miserable winter."

"Nice optimism you've got going there."

Absent-mindedly, "Yeah." She squinted into the waning sunlight. "Hey, you're not working tonight, are you?"

"Thankfully not."

"Friday night," Susan said temptingly. "Let's go get a drink after our shift."

Abby looked regretful. "I can't."

"What, don't tell me you've got a date, too?"

"Nothing near that exciting."

"What, then?"

"AA meeting."

Startled, Susan snapped her head. "What?"

"It's not that exciting, really." Abby kept her voice casual. She glanced over at her friend and smiled. "I'm a drunk."

"I had no idea," she blurted. "I'm sorry."

Shrugging, "It's not something I like to advertise."

"Wow," Susan murmured, more to herself. "How long have you been sober?"

"Twenty five days and counting."

After a beat, Susan turned to her and beamed. "Congratulations."

Abby looked pleased. "Thanks."

"So I guess this means no more bar hopping."

"We could make it coffee," Abby offered.

Agreeable, Susan nodded. "We could."

"I know a place."

"Not Doc Magoo's."

"Damn."

"What do I look like, Carter?"

"Don't start."

"So how long is your meeting, anyway? Maybe we could do something afterwards."

"It's only a couple of hours." Abby paused. "Actually, I've been meaning to ask you something..."

An ambulance car screeched into the bay, drowning out the sound of her voice.

*          *          *

"Would it be wrong of me to be craving ice cream right now?" Carter watched the gurney roll out of the trauma room. "I could really go for some vanilla."

"Vanilla?" Abby snorted. "How..."

"Boring?" he supplied. "Bland?"

"How Carter," she finished, snapping off a pair of latex gloves.

"Hey," he protested. Peeling off his scrubs, he followed her out of the trauma room and dumped the discarded cover into a receptacle. "What's that supposed to mean?"

"Nothing," Abby shrugged, the beginnings of a smile on her lips.

"Nothing?" Carter tagged at her heels.

"Nothing," she confirmed.

After a moment, he spoke up again. "Wait, you're saying I'm boring!"

"You said it, I didn't."

Mildly indignant, he shadowed her until they were at the front desk. "I'm not boring," he insisted.

"Anyone have change for a dollar?" Frank piped up, waving a dollar bill in front of their faces as they passed by.

"Carter," Abby shook her head at Frank, "You like vanilla."

"Hey," Susan protested, dropping off a chart, "I like vanilla."

"See?" Carter gestured.

"Anyone?" Frank tried again.

"Just kidding," Susan smiled. She walked away, calling over her shoulder, "Too boring."

Abby smothered a grin.

"Anyone at all?" Frank hollered. He stared pointedly at Carter.

"I've got it," Carter said impatiently. He rummaged through his pants pockets, hands emerging empty-handed. "Sorry, Frank. Must be in my locker."

Frank looked aggrieved. "Well, can you get it?"

Absently, "Yeah, yeah. Give me a moment." Out of the corner of his eye, he spotted Abby walking toward an exam room. "Abby!" he waved his hand. "Wait!" He grabbed her elbow. "Technically, I never said vanilla was my favorite."

Rolling her eyes, she let Carter drag her in the direction of the lounge. "Technically, I never said you were boring."

The door to the lounge swung open. They stopped in their tracks.

"Yosh?" Carter stared at the nurse who sat with his head tilted back into the sink. He then stared at Jerry and Chuny.

"What are you doing?" Abby looked at Jerry.

"We're giving him a haircut." Jerry waved a razor in the air. "For covering your shift, Abby."

Carter shook his head and walked toward his locker.

"Wasn't that awhile ago?" she returned.

"Better late than never," Jerry shrugged. "You owe him."

"You don't!" Yosh pleaded. His voice became muffled as Chuny turned on the water. "Abby, tell them."

Abby made it a point to look away. "I'm staying out of this."

"Don't worry, Yosh," Chuny assured him. She slathered her hands with shampoo. "We'll make you beautiful."

Stifling a laugh, Abby switched her glance to Carter. She watched as he grabbed a fistful of change and a small slip of paper out of his locker before walking back in her direction.

"Can't you guys do that in the bathroom or something?" Carter pointed out.

"We thought about that," Jerry conceded. "But we weren't sure whether to go men's or women's."

"Right," Carter said under his breath. He took hold of Abby's elbow again, steering her out of the lounge. "Anyway, I found this in my pocket the other day."

The lounge door closed behind them, muffling a howl.

She glanced down at his closed fist. "What is it?"

"Guess."

Plaintively, "I hate guessing games."

Carter stepped in front of her, blocking her way. "Please?"

"Not interested," Abby said, sidestepping him and quickening her strides.

"Okay, okay," he laughed, hurrying to keep up with her. Grabbing her hand, he spun her towards him and pressed a small slip of paper into her open palm, closing her fingers around it. He grinned and looked at her expectantly.

Reluctantly, Abby opened her hand. She glanced down at it. "It's a blank piece of paper, Carter."

Looking slightly crestfallen, "You don't remember?"

Patiently, she returned her gaze to the slightly crumpled paper, flipping it over and examining both sides. "I'm drawing a blank."

"It's your fortune. From...well, you know."

Immediately, Abby felt her cheeks warm.

Carter gave her a small, intimate smile. "You remember."

"Thanks," she mumbled, slipping the paper into her pocket. "I think."

"It's kind of cool, don't you think?"

"It's blank," she reminded him.

"Yeah!" he said, enthusiastic again. "How many people get to make their own fortunes?"

"Never mind," Abby laughed. "You are boring."

*          *          *

"...and give him 10 CCs of Haldol," Susan said, flipping through the chart on her hand as she walked toward the front desk. "Also, could you call security have them post a guard outside his door? I think he's a runner."

"Okay." Abby took the chart. "Want me to page you when Psych comes down for a consult?"

"Please." Susan erased her name from the board. "Oh, and did you start an IV on the woman in curtain three yet?"

"Doing that now."

"Looks like things have slowed down," Susan remarked, staring at the board. "Hey Carter, did you do the suture in curtain one?"

Carter looked up, the phone on his ear. "What?"

"Curtain one. Did you suture?"

"The taxidermist? I think Deb got him." Looking otherwise occupied, he dropped his voice and returned to the phone.

"Who's on the phone?" Susan said, looking interested.

"Huh?" He looked up again, then quickly answered, "Nobody."

"Must be a pretty important nobody."

"Dr. Phyllis Weston from Northwestern," Randi supplied.

"Phyllis Weston?" Susan arched her eyebrows. "Didn't you go to med school with her?"

Carter covered the mouthpiece with his hand. "How did you—"

"Susan," Abby propped her elbows on the front desk, "Your guy's gone."

"What?"

"The runner. He's gone."

"Damn," Susan sighed. "Call security—I'm going to go look for him."

Sliding her elbows off the counter, Abby nodded and turned to leave.

"So I'll pick you up at eight?"

Slowly, she turned back around.

"Okay, let me know then. Great. Yeah. See you tonight." Looking mildly pleased, Carter hung up the phone. "Hey, Randi? If Dr. Weston calls again, page me."

Feeling oddly misplaced, Abby cleared her throat. "Hot date?"

"Abby?" Carter spun around. "I didn't know...uh...I didn't know you were standing there."

"I work here," she reminded him, keeping her voice light.

For a long, uncomfortable half-moment, he watched her walk away.

"Wait," he blurted, rushing after her. "It's not a date."

"Don't worry about it," Abby interrupted. "You don't have to explain it to me."

"But I want to."

"But you don't have to." Without meaning to, she laughed, the words oddly familiar to her ears. "It's none of my business."

"Abby," he began helplessly.

"I've got to go look for a patient."

"It's not what you think."

"Would you let go of my arm?"

Reluctantly, Carter let her go. He watched as she disappeared down the hallway.

*          *          *

Night flamed over the city in a smoldering black fire; burning sapphire, then navy, then finally obsidian as the ashes from its blaze smudged the sky with smoke-colored clouds. The stars gleamed white and needle-thin, a handful of salt spilled across a heavy black cloth, and in the space between the stars a fragile crescent carved a sliver of light out of the night-burnt sky. Though it was only autumn, the breeze that flapped Abby's curtains and ruffled her mussed hair carried a sharp chill that spoke of ice and knives, cold crisp winters and Christmastime.

Abby shivered. Behind her, the room darkened to a near lightless spill, the air mixed with the musty odor of wet leaves and the heavy, sweet fragrance of gardenia blooms. Breathing in this pungent scent, she drew the blanket on her shoulders more tightly around her and continued watching the lights of the city twinkle.

Her eyes groped the darkness; though to be sure, she did not know whether she was looking for something she had lost, or simply reaffirming the presence of something already there. If it was the former, she had no idea what she was looking for—she had lost many things in her young life. Once she was a daughter, once a wife, once even a mother; and now, none of those things, not anymore, and it grieved her.

But if it was the latter, she had a pretty good idea of what she had, and it made her smile.

Issuing a little sigh, she tapped the face of her watch with one slender fingertip. She had two more hours until her first meeting. Idly, she wondered if she should eat something, or whether she'd just throw it up anyway from sheer nervousness.

A knock at the door interrupted her thoughts. Half-reluctantly, she rose from her seat by the window and wrapped the comforter around her slight shoulders. The blanket dragging in a long train behind her, she padded over in her socked feet and pressed her ear to the door.

"Who is it?"

"It's me."

Abby blinked. "Carter?"

"Yeah."

Tiptoeing, she peered through the small lens. Of course it was Carter, from the messy cowlicks to the suspenders to the large, expressive eyes—the color of wet wood in the dark. There was a rumpled look to him that she correctly identified as that post-twelve-hour-shift feel.

Closing the blanket more tightly around herself, she undid the locks and opened the door.

"Hi," he said.

"Hi," she said back.

There was a long silence.

Finally, Carter cleared his throat. "So I here there's an AA meeting tonight."

"Yeah." Cautiously, Abby looked at him. "How'd you know?"

"I talked to Susan." Another awkward pause. "Can I come in?"

"Yeah. Sorry." She moved aside, one hand flitting carelessly in the air. "I wasn't expecting anyone."

Ignoring the pointed comment, he spoke. "When's the meeting start?"

"Ten." Abby closed the door behind him, glancing at her watch. "It's eight right now"

"Yeah?"

She tried again. "Aren't you supposed to be somewhere?"

Thoughtfully, "No."

"I thought you had a date."

"I told you, it's not a date," Carter said quietly, his face clouded by shadows in the unlit room. "Aren't you cold?"

"A little." Abby shrugged underneath her blanket. "It sounded like a date to me."

"We were just having dinner." He examined her profile studiously as she moved about the room, her slim arms reaching out from beneath the folds of the comforter to close each window. "We're writing an article together."

"An article?" Her voice was muffled as she slammed the last window shut.

"Yeah. A joint study between County and Northwestern."

"So..."

"So...?" Carter prompted her.

"So..." Trailing off, Abby turned to face him. The expression on her face was blank and her voice was colorless. "Why are you here?"

"Tonight's your first meeting."

Wrapping her arms around herself, she nodded.

"Is it an open meeting?"

She nodded again.

"I thought you might need the company."

"I don't."

"Well, I thought you might want it." Carter fiddled with the keys in his hands. "It's no big deal. Phil cancelled on me."

Abby looked skeptical.

"Okay, I cancelled on her."

"You did."

"It wasn't a big deal." He paused. "But your meeting is...and if I'm going to be your sponsor, I want to attend."

"My sponsor?" A short, sharp laugh escaped her lips as she shook her head. "Carter, I never asked you to sponsor me."

His eyes flickered like leaves turned by the wind. "I'm volunteering."

"Okay."

There was a long, drawn-out pause.

"You kept the flowers," Carter said, his voice low.

"I did."

"Do you like them?"

"They're a little alive for my taste." Her face was completely dark, her rumpled form silhouetted against the street lights that poured in through the windows. "But yeah, I like them. Thanks."

In the darkness, he thought he heard her smile.

"Carter." Delicately, Abby paused. "Thanks for the sentiment, but I don't need you to sponsor me."

"It's not a problem," he misinterpreted her statement. "You don't have to ask."

"I'm not." She stood her ground. "I'm not asking. I don't need a sponsor."

"Of course you do."

"Actually," she replied, mildly annoyed, "I don't."

"Abby." Wounded, Carter fought to keep the indignation out of his voice. "You can't do this on your own."

"Do what on my own?"

"Deal with your drinking," he said bluntly. "You need someone to help you through this."

"I know," Abby said, her voice flat. "Which is why I asked Susan."

"Oh." For a moment, Carter looked foolish. "I'm sorry."

"Her sister used to be an addict."

He felt his face burning. "I know."

"And she's my friend."

"Yeah."

"Besides," she continued, after a moment. "It's easier this way."

"Easier?"

"Less complicated."

Before he could stop himself, he felt the words fall on his palate. "What's less complicated?"

"You know," Abby smiled. "You. Me."

"Us."

"Exactly."

Unable to speak, he cleared his throat several times. "Abby, I'm sorry. I thought—"

"Coffee and pie," she interrupted, her face a blank page. "Before the meeting. Your treat. Then maybe I'll think about forgiving you."

There was a dull, consumptive ache in her chest—half pleasure, half pain—as she looked at him with a steady seriousness; never flinching, never wavering, never breaking away. The blanket fell slack around her shoulders, the expression on her face unfolded like a flower, but she held her gaze steady. Though there was darkness behind her and darkness before her, in that moment she felt as if all her world, the good and the bad, was written there on his face, plain as day.

And she could deny what she felt for him no longer, no more than she could deny what he felt for her.

"Coffee and pie's on me," Carter said.

Abby nodded and the moment was gone. She shucked the comforter aside and tossed it onto the couch, grabbing her purse and her keys in one neat motion as she felt his eyes on her. Though she unlocked the door, it was Carter who drew it open for them both, and he tucked his hand securely against the small of her back as they walked through the door and into the night beyond.

*          *          *

CREDITS: There are two recycled lines in this chapter from earlier chapters in the story; see if you can find them. The requisite quotation is from the song "Suzanne" by Leonard Cohen. Abby's admission of her alcoholism to Susan is more or less the admission she made to Carter in "Sand and Water." The last scene in which Carter places his hand against the small of Abby's back is a tiny homage to The X-Files. And, of course, any Carby worth her salt knows from whence the coffee and pie came. ^_^

ENDNOTES: Holy schmuck, I'm done! *puts down pen with a flourish* But the saga of Carter, Abby, and their thirty one flavors of unrequited love continues in the yet-untitled sequel, which hits web browsers near you in October 2002. Until then, feel free to visit the fanfic journal at www.livejournal.com/~cmidori for periodic goodies, or you can even reread Through the Door until your eyes bleed if you're so inclined.

Coffee, pie, and my repeated thanks to everyone who ever took the time to review. When I started writing Through the Door back in May, I never thought that I would end up enjoying it as much as I did—but I did, and that's all your collective fault. ^_^ Thank you.