Disclaimer: ER/ characters are property of nbc, warner bros, constant c, amblin, etc. Stargate-SG1/ characters are property of showtime/ viacom, mgm/ua, double secret productions, and gekko productions. this is written purely for enjoyment purposes only-no profit involved.

SPOILERS: ER/ Night Shift, Exodus, My Brother's Keeper, Be Still My Heart, All In the Family, May Day. Stargate-SG1/ none.

Something Old, Something New
By: Victoria F.

John Carter sat pretending to review the chart he held weakly in his hand. He had been staring at the same chart for almost an hour now. Had anyone bothered to pay attention to the solitary doctor, they may have noticed this. They may also have noticed the slump of his shoulders, the occasional temple rub, and the glassy stare. Some may have misconstrued this to be a sign that the young doctor had again fallen prey to the cravings of a weak soul. They would have been wrong. No one would have guessed what really lay behind such a dismal front.

Sighing suddenly, and shaking his head wearily, the resident scratched his signature across the bottom and silently closed the chart, adding it to the pile that had steadily grown taller as the night wore on. His muscles screamed out in pain as he pulled himself out of the chair he had claimed several hours ago. Cursing under his breath, he massaged his back as well as his long arms would allow. A quick glance over his right shoulder alerted him to the small group of nurses and med students hovering near the nurse's station. Not feeling particularly social, he turned and walked the other way, towards the lounge.

The handsome doctor's subtle retreat did not go unnoticed however. Laughing at Yosh's joke, nodding at Lydia's comment about the man who came in wearing nothing but tights, and a casually tossed excuse about needing to freshen up parted the mass allowing the pretty Asian doctor to pass through. Jing Mei walked with as much nonchalance as she could muster, pausing near the ladies room door, stealing a look towards the desk; seeing that no one was watching she kept walking. Placing her petite hand against the lounge door, Jing Mei gingerly pushed it open and slipped into the room.

John stood with his back to the door, as if looking out one of the large windows decorating the rear wall. Dirt smudged across the window obscured the view, but it went unseen by the brown eyes clenched tightly closed, holding back tears which threatened to fall at any moment. Hearing the door open behind him, John's eyes flew open and he held his breath, hoping that whoever had come in, would have sense enough to leave him alone. He waited, expecting to hear coffee being poured into a cup, or cabinets opening and closing, but instead heard only silence. Finally accepting that his refuge had been compromised, John slowly turned to face the intruder.

Jing Mei's breath caught as John turned away from the window to face her. She wasn't prepared to see the look of total and utter defeat which hung over John's face and body. His eyes, usually so alive and energized were now lifeless and empty. She should have known that his self-inflicted exile from any fraternization amongst hospital colleagues was a sign of. . . something, but this? What could have sparked this total seclusion? Had no one noticed what was happening? Had everyone taken him so at his word that they left him so completely alone to spiral into this shell of a person?

Perhaps it was because he seemed so sincere about needing space to find his place again among them, a place which had seemingly dissolved as soon as he got on the plane to Atlanta. It was only natural for his colleagues to return to some form of normalcy, even without him there. They had afterall, had practice after Lucy had died and John was down for the count. A team can't win when one of its players is out of the game, if they leave a gaping hole where that player should be. They close in, making that space smaller, less of a handicap. They fall into new roles, new routines. Then, when the player is thrown back into the game, there is no room. For a while, they aren't even needed, so adept are the other players in their new positions.

But it had been two months now since John had returned to Chicago, and he was still on the outside looking in. Jing Mei hesitated to lay blame on any one person or event that may have caused this. In reality, it was probably an accumulation of many things. The shame that John wore like a brand, never faltering. The looks cast his way when they were sure he couldn't see. The rumors that more than once made their way to his ears whilst in the men's room or behind a high shelf in the storage room. And more pronounced was the feeling of betrayal felt by all in how the entire situation had come to be handled. Questions left unanswered, spurned on by the sudden disappearance of the prodigal son-resurging when he suddenly reappeared a shadow of his former self. Self recriminations that the intervention was in itself damaging and hostile. And finally, the slew of endless shifts and personal trials, trampling any thoughts of contacting John while he was in Atlanta. So that come August, the damage had been done.

Now, all that was left were the shattered pieces that no glue seemed strong enough to hold together. Oh, they had all tried, in one way or another. A smile here, a word of kindness there. Idle chitchat while waiting for the elevator. Compliments on the agile work his hands made of trauma after trauma. But still he withdrew, until they finally left him to face his demons alone.

Jing Mei stood, facing the man she had once called 'friend'. She hesitated to call him that now. She shuddered as his blank eyes stared past her, lost in some other place, some other time. Her mind stumbled, trying to find the words to reach him, to let him know he was not as alone as he must feel. But what words were strong enough to combat this impenetrable barrier?

"John, are you alright?" Oh, that's great Jing Mei. The million dollar question. And here's the million dollar answer. . ..

"I'm fine."

"You're not fine. You look terrible." That's comforting, why not be honest and tell him he looks like shit? No response, that's not good. Okay, come on Jing Mei, try another one.

"Do you want to talk?" Mmn, psycho babble, I'm sure that'll get his attention. Wait! Did I just see his eyebrow raise just a little with that one?

"I'm on break-I have time." Oh, he shifted to his other leg, definite interest. That's good, come on, you can do it big fella. Just tell me what spirit possessed your body so I can exorcise it and have my friend back.

"Mn, yea. . .I gue. s.. s."

Was that a yes? Did he just agree to talk to me? Don't look happy Jing Mei, you don't want to scare him off. Please G_d! Don't let anyone come in!

Jing Mei quietly sat on one of the black leather couches and waited while John slowly walked over and sat across from her, slumping down as far as his tall frame would let him. The two doctors sat in silence for a moment. Finally, John opened his mouth and stunned Jing Mei with his words. He spoke so quietly Jing Mei had to lean forward to hear. She missed the first few, only to be startled by the next.

" . . . and I just don't think I can stay here. Nothing's the same. I feel like I'm just going through the motions. I know I'm doing a good job, everyone keeps telling me so. But whenever I look up, I catch someone looking my way or when I walk by conversations stop. I think I've pushed Kerry and Dr. Benton as far away as they can go. They don't even try to talk to me anymore, outside of surgical consults or staff meetings.

"And after Atlanta, I don't think anyone was really too interested in being my friend anyway. I don't think anyone would miss me if I leave. Jeez, no one even called let alone drop me a postcard while I was in rehab. Not that I really expected that; just . . . hoped.

"And when I got back here, yeah, there was work for me to do. But I don't feel a part of this place anymore. Maybe because I've used up all my chances. Maybe I should have taken the hint back in February and not come back."

John fell silent, and looked down at his hands, twisted together in some sort of gruesome reminder of how mangled his life had become. Why did he expect Jing Mei to understand? She had so much going for her now. Coming back to County was the best thing Jing Mei could have done. She's chief resident for G_d's sake! John was startled by the sound of Jing Mei's voice, gentle and reassuring.

"Is that what you want John? Do you want to leave?" Jing Mei rose from her seat across from John and walked around the table between them, finally sitting next to him. Taking his hand in her own, she looked at his face and noticed that the emptiness had been replaced by sorrow and loneliness.

"I don't blame you John if you think you have to leave. I forget how much you've been through. I've never been through what you have, and I forget. I'm so sorry that you've had to go through all of this alone. No one should ever have to endure what you've endured. You don't have to keep coming back. You don't have to stay."

Jing Mei's words brought a flood of memories rushing into John's brain, and suddenly he was staring at the lifeless body of Chase, surviving only because of life support machines. He should have let him die. Instead, unable to face his own mistake, he had brought his cousin back from the cold edge of eternity. A babbling gork. . .. Then he saw the train, coming full speed down the rails, smashing into the body of his friend and roommate Dennis. John hadn't been there, but he'd seen the image so many times in his mind he could almost feel the air rush out of his own lungs when the train impacted. John couldn't bring him back. Hell, he couldn't even recognize him. That damn pager was the only identifying feature left on his mangled body. And finally, an image that was almost a friendly companion by now-Lucy's small body struggling to breath despite a gaping wound in her neck. Large, frightened eyes pleading with him to get up and help her. But he hadn't. He couldn't. Once again, he was forced to watch as another innocent life was taken.

John felt something warm slide down his face. Reaching up, he realized he was crying. Jing Mei still clung to his other hand, a lifeline in his now defunct world of pain. Leaning forward, John lay his head in his lap and wrapped his free arm around his head. He let the tears come, some-years too late. He mourned for all that he had lost. He didn't notice as the lounge door opened and closed several times, as unsuspecting staff in hunt of caffeine or a quick bite noticed the pair and quickly backed out again. He didn't notice as Mark Greene quietly pushed open the door and kneeled on the floor beside him.

Finally, his tears ceased and John sucked in a long breath. Starting to straighten, John was puzzled as a wet cloth appeared in front of his face. Arching his head upwards, he finally noticed Mark, firmly clutching the cloth. Mark handed John the wet cloth, which he accepted gratefully, and wiped at his damp face. He was glad his face was already flushed from crying, as he could feel it begin to burn again with humiliation that Mark had seen his display of weakness. As quickly as the cloth had appeared, it was taken away and in its place was a cup of cold water. John brought the cup to his lips with trembling fingers. The cool water was soothing as it slid down his parched throat.

"Feel better?" Mark was perched on the edge of the opposite couch, in the spot Jing Mei had abandoned.

'Feel better?' John could remember saying those exacts words to Abby after she had told Mark about the Fentanyl. John nodded his head numbly. Oddly, he did feel better. In those few moments of despair and comfort, John had made a decision. Reaching into his back pocket, John's fingers wrapped themselves around the crumpled letter. It had arrived last week and John had carried it with him every day since then. Fingering the envelope and rereading its contents whenever he was alone. He handed the envelope across to Mark and watched as his mentor pulled out the letter and began to read.

Mark's eyes cycled through several different emotions before growing wide with the realization of what the letter meant.

"Are you accepting?" Mark looked at the young doctor, finally noticing how young and tired he looked. Too tired for someone his age. Defeated-like he had given up on the hope that anything would ever be okay again. Mark silently prayed that John's answer was 'yes', despite what it would mean to lose him. John Carter had been at County for over six years, growing from a gangly, awkward rich kid to a damn fine doctor. Hell, he was going to waste here. His answer had better be 'yes'.

Jing Mei's eyes were wide as she looked from John's expressionless face to Mark's intense look. What was in that letter? As if reading her mind, Mark handed the letter to her already outstretched hand. Jing Mei devoured the letter in seconds and sat back shocked. The military wanted John to work for them? At some top secret base out in Colorado?

Jing Mei found her voice and held the letter out towards John. "John? What is this? How. . .?" Jing Mei was again at a loss for words and sat gaping at John, trying to comprehend what this all meant.

John struggled to remember what had started it all. The Benzene leak which had contaminated the ER, putting Weaver and several other ER staff out of business. No one seemed to know what they were doing, the emergency manual was no where to be found, and help had yet to arrive. John had watched helplessly, unsure who was in charge. When he finally realized no one was in charge, his natural leadership surged forth. It wasn't often that there was room for his light to shine that brightly, but that day he was a hero. Taking charge of the situation, he had cleared the ER, staking out the cafeteria as the emergency staff's new playground. He'd even risked his own life to save that of a patient, contaminating himself with the Benzene in the process. He was an unsung hero that day, but he still left there feeling as though he had just saved the world. Unsung, but not unnoticed.

Amongst the chaos, a lone figure watched the young doctor spring into life. Dr. Janet Fraiser, an Air Force physician, was among the contaminated victims that day. She had been in the ER consulting on an upcoming medical conference when all hell broke loose. She had watched as a young doctor, obviously an intern or resident, began to herd the patients and staff out of the ER and to safety. She watched as he used ice to revive a patient when the battery operated defibrillator refused to cooperate. She watched as he stood his ground when his actions were condemned. And finally, she had watched, most impressed, as his superior was given credit for the good save. She watched, and remembered.

Almost three years later, the letter came. The military was looking for an emergency physician to work at a top secret military base at Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado. Would he be interested? He would be working closely with one Dr. Janet Frasier, head of the medical unit at the base. Enclosed was a hand written letter from Dr. Frasier, highlighting the now historic feat from long ago.

John wasn't sure if he could ever bring himself to leave County. It was his home. This is where he grew from a child into a man. But at what price? And when would that fee ever be repaid? John felt like each day, a little bit of his soul was being stripped away, and he feared that one day he would be left with nothing but a hardened heart.

Looking first at Jing Mei, then at Mark, John felt a smile tug at his lips and grow outwards until he was grinning. Mark could feel his own grin spread as a weight lifted from the almost oppressive atmosphere in the room. Laughing, he pulled John off the other couch and into a bear hug. Happy was not the word Mark felt in light of John's new adventure. Ecstatic, jubilee, joy, rapture. . . these words barely came close.

Just then, the lounge door swung open and Luka Kovac walked in, his face immediately taking on a look of pure bewilderment.

In response to his look, Mark replied, "Carter's joining the military!"

"What?" Luka looked from John to Mark to Jing Mei.

"I'll explain later Luka," Jing Mei said, laughing.

Jing Mei looked up at her friend and knew that finally, John had a chance at happiness. She would miss his wit, and miss watching him spar with Dave Malucci. But those were small sacrifices in light of the new adventure her friend was about to partake. Realizing how late it had gotten, Jing Mei got up to return to work. Pausing at the door, she looked back at John and saluted. That small gesture spoke volumes as John's eyes melted and Jing Mei caught a glimpse of the friend who she feared had died in February at the hand of a madman. G_d speed John Carter.