Written in the River

A Carby Reunion Saga (Post-Season 10)

Rating: PG-13

Disclaimer: I claim no ownership of these characters.

Author's Note: Thanks to those who have taken the time to read—and also comment—on this story. I feel like I have made new friends. Now that it's complete, if there are any comments you'd like add, please do. As usual, I read all your input. Thank you so very much.

CHAPTER SIX: THE WAKE OF THE TORNADO (Final Chapter)

Note: This is the full-length, uncut version of this chapter.

"I'm sorry for your loss, Maggie," Carter said to Abby's mother as he shielded his eyes from the cold, blustery wind. She was walking away from Eric's gravesite just as Carter was approaching. The dark shadow around Carter's fractured eye socket was the only evidence of the incident preceding Eric's suicide—if you don't count the cracked rib that made it too painful for him to drive. Carter had to enlist the services of Alger, his family's chauffeur, whose company Carter rather enjoyed.

"Thank you, John," Maggie answered, struggling to keep her hair from blowing in her eyes.

Carter could see Abby several yards beyond Maggie. She stood alone at the edge of the hole in the ground where her brother lay as the diggers prepared to cover him with earth. Abby wanted Eric buried near her in Chicago despite the fact that none of his friends would be able to attend—if he even had any friends anymore. She didn't even want anyone from the hospital to come, and that worried Carter.

"How is she?" he asked Maggie.

"Hurt. Sad. Guilty. I hope she'll be all right. We've already said our good-byes. I'm heading back to Minnesota now. I have a taxi waiting to take me to the bus—"

"You're not staying with her for a while?"

"No, I have to get back for my therapy sessions. I think it's important—for Abby. She's afraid that if I miss any . . . Well, you know, she doesn't want to go through this again."

"Certainly. Well, it was good to see you, Maggie."

"And you too, John." She walked away but turned back to speak to him: "John, I don't know what happened last year between you two. I hope I didn't have anything to do with it."

"It was a lot of things, Maggie. But we're working it out."

"I'm sorry for what Eric did to you, John. He loved Abby so much, and in his state of mind, he just wanted to make sure no one would hurt her once he was . . . gone."

"I know. It was the disease."

"I'm sorry for what you went through also—with your son. It's a terrible thing to lose a child." She brought a handkerchief to her nose to catch her sniffles, but the wind kept whipping it across her face. "But I wish you the best, John. I really do."

He walked over and hugged her. Even over the howling wind, he could hear her whimpering as she headed for the taxi.

Now, Carter took a deep breath and headed toward Abby. He didn't know what to expect, but based on the last couple of days, he had a feeling it wasn't going to be good.

IT DIDN'T TAKE long for the mystery of what happened between Carter and Eric to be unraveled at County. Eric waited for Carter and attacked him in the wee hours of the morning before turning a gun on himself. Later that morning, Susan found Abby in the bathroom—sweaty, lightheaded, and sick to her stomach at the news of her brother's death. They filled Abby with fluids and made sure she got home. Carter, who had trouble maintaining consciousness, was admitted to the ICU for observation and remained there overnight.

By morning, Carter was much better—aside from the painful rib that prevented him from driving. He had Alger take him straight to Abby's as soon as he was discharged. He took the painful walk up the stairs to her apartment, only to discover she wasn't home.

Back in the car, he called the ER.

"Susan, is that you? It's Carter. Any idea where Abby is?"

"Yup, she's here—working."

"What?"

"I told her to go home, but she won't listen."

"What the hell is she thinking?" he mumbled to himself when he hung up with Susan.

"We're going back to County, Alger. Ms. Lockhart has decided to work a shift today."

"Yes, sir."

"WHY ARE YOU here?" he asked Abby when he found her.

"Why not?"

"Aren't there more important things for you to take care of?"

"I'm not planning a wake for my brother, if that's what you mean. He blew his head off, remember?" Abby's eyes were like steel. She turned and walked away from him.

"Hey." He stepped in her path and put his arms on her shoulders. "I know you're upset, but what is this?"

She stared at the floor. "If you don't mind, I have an elderly woman with a hip fracture in Trauma 1."

He hadn't seen this Abby for quite a while, but he remembered her well. He let her go but followed her.

Inside the trauma room, Abby ran the exam. "I'm going to need films on this pelvis stat. And run in a liter of saline, she's dehydrated. Am I ever going to get a BP?"

"As soon as I run the drip," Lydia responded.

"I need a BP now—do I have to do it myself?" she grumbled.

"Abby—" Carter tried to calm her.

Lydia walked out of the trauma room calling for Susan: "Dr. Lewis?" Carter knew Lydia was not about to tolerate Abby's ill temper.

"Is this your mother?" Abby asked of the worried woman standing in the room holding a small girl.

"Grandmother—she fell down the stairs when I wasn't looking. I just walked away for a minute."

"Well, she shouldn't be left alone."

"We have a homecare worker during the day, but she called in sick. I have a three-year-old who's pretty active. I was watching as best I could."

"Well you weren't watching carefully enough, were you?"

Susan burst in, "Abby, out."

"This is my patient, Susan. She is clearly not getting the supervision she needs at home."

Abby turned back to the patient's granddaughter: "Ma'am if you can't do it, she shouldn't be with you."

"But I love my grandmother!" the woman cried.

"Carter, get her out of here," Susan ordered.

Before Carter could respond, Abby stripped off her gloves and gown and pushed angrily through the doors and out into the drug lockup. Carter followed.

Abby began to rant. "That woman should have known—"

"—What are you doing?" Carter interrupted. "She's worried about her grandmother, and you're making it worse," he told her.

"I'm just trying to look out for my patient."

"I've never seen you talk to a patient's family that way."

She leaned against a cabinet, sulking.

He softened. He was worried about her. He brushed a piece of hair out of her eyes. "Look, you're upset. It's understandable. Let's get out of here, OK?" He leaned down to plant a calming kiss on her lips.

She turned her face away. "I'm fine," she said and went back to work.

Carter threw back his head in frustration and walked out of the lockup. When he emerged, Susan was there.

"Carter, why don't you go home and get some rest. Maybe she just needs to keep busy. I, on the other hand, could use a long, hot bath."

"Baby keeping you up?"

"She wails like a fire engine all night long. But she's so cute, so I don't mind—until I have to get up in the morning."

He smiled.

"Go home, Carter," she said, pressing the orbital bones around his eye to check his injury. "I'll keep tabs on Abby."

THAT EVENING, ABBY never turned on the lights in her apartment. She sat in the dark haunted by the last conversation she had with Eric.

"What are you doing here?"

"That's a nice greeting for your brother on Thanksgiving."

She turned off her phone so she couldn't hear it ring and lowered the volume on the answering machine so she wouldn't hear voices.

"You're off your meds—and you've been drinking."

"Don't forget the pills, you didn't ask me if I've taken any drugs."

But over the next few hours, the display on her answering machine went from flashing "0-0-0-0" to "1-1-1-1" and then "3-3-3-3" and then "5-5-5-5."

"Now let's see if we can get you a hotel—"

"I don't need a hotel. I'm staying with a friend. I just came because I needed to talk you."

In the middle of the night, she listened to five messages from Carter.

Beep.

"Hey, it's me. Are you home?"

Beep.

"Abby, if you're there, pick up."

Beep.

"Are you still planning on having the funeral tomorrow at 10?"

Beep.

"Call me, please."

Beep.

"Abby, don't do this—"

AND NOW HERE they were at the cemetery burying her brother. Storm clouds gathered all around. An unforgiving wind whipped at her long, loose hair. And then the rain started. He approached her. She stared at the ground as workers unceremoniously poured soil on the dark brown box. She was stone-faced.

"You didn't need to come," she said without turning to him.

"I would have been here sooner but I had to—"

"Don't worry about it."

"I had to get this rib checked and—"

"I said don't worry about it."

"I've been calling you," he said, still addressing her back.

"I know."

He was trying hard to hide his impatience. "I'm worried about you."

"There's no reason to be. I've been ready for this for years, Carter. I just thought it would be Maggie."

"Abby, don't do this."

"How're you healing up?" she said, changing the subject.

"Abby—"

"Look, I was due, Carter."

"You were due?"

"Yes. Something was bound to happen."

Her cold face showed empty eyes. She never once turned to look at him.

Déjas vu.

"Abby, I know you're hurting, but don't wall yourself up again. Please."

She was like a rock. She didn't move. The wall was already built—and it was impenetrable.

He walked up closer and touched her shoulder.

She pulled away.

"Abby, I don't want to go back to wondering what you're thinking, watching from the sidelines. I just don't want that."

"Leave me alone, Carter."

"I don't want to walk away, Abby, but I will if I have to."

"Then go. I didn't ask you to come," she said coldly.

The only thing stronger than the pain he felt at that moment was his anger. Feelings for her flowed out of him like water down a drainpipe. If this is who she still is, we don't have a chance, he thought.

The rain was steady now, the winds still fierce. He mustered the strength that his anger gave him—and he walked away.

Abby felt him leave, but could not bring herself to move. She stood there alone, and that's just how she felt.

Carter got in the limousine, closed the door, and rubbed his face in his hands.

"Everything OK, sir?" Alger asked.

"No."

"Are we waiting for Ms. Lockhart, sir?"

"No."

It was difficult to breathe. Carter felt like he was suffocating. "Alger, wait here for me. I need a walk." He grabbed an umbrella off the seat and opened the car door.

"In the rain, sir? I'd be glad to take you anywhere—"

"Just wait here, please. I need some air."

Carter walked with difficulty in the cold, hard rain. His side hurt, and he struggled to hold onto the umbrella in the punishing wind. He wove through tombstones and monuments, taking note of all the fathers, mothers, and children who rested peacefully together. Before he knew it, he had walked into another section of the cemetery. He recognized where he was. He kept walking until he reached a very large, white, marble family stone engraved with CARTER.

He sat down on a soaking-wet marble bench near the tastefully manicured graves of his grandfather, Jonathan Truman Carter Sr., and his grandmother, Millicent Carter. Next to them were spaces for his parents and for him—and his wife. And then there was the small grave of his brother, marked and filled too early. It bore the simple words "Robert Carter" and listed the short years of his life.

And just in front of Bobby's grave, there was an even smaller one—a tiny rectangle of still-fresh earth where his baby lay.

Sitting there alone in the rain, his spirits almost as low as the day the infant died, Carter finally allowed the small voice of doubt to creep into his head—the voice that wondered if the little boy was indeed his son. Kem had a boyfriend, Peter, when she and Carter met. She revealed just the other day that her relationship with Peter had never really ended. Could the child that bears his name be another man's baby?

He would never know—he didn't really want to know. Carter watched this child be born, he gave him his name, and he buried him. And now he was lonely for him—he just wanted to hold something that would truly be his forever.

A rare late-autumn thunderclap was accompanied by a fierce gust of wind that turned his umbrella inside out and ripped it from his hands. And that's when he heard her.

"I missed the signs." It was Abby's voice in the distance over his shoulder. It was faint because she was shouting into the wind. He gathered his coat around his neck, stood up, and turned toward her.

He saw her perched up on a small hill, her coat flapping in the wind, jaw chattering from the cold, lips blue. Her hair and face were soaked as much from tears as from rain.

"I missed the signs that he needed help." She was crying. The steel face she wore before was not strong enough to hold back the wave of emotions she showed now.

He didn't speak.

"My brother came to talk to me, but I was too wrapped up in myself—"

She was swallowing mouthfuls of rain as she spoke.

"He needed me, but I was too busy thinking about—you. About you and me." She was shivering.

He didn't move. He just looked at her.

She was having trouble catching her breath. "I w-wasn't there f-for him—and look what he d-did."

He thought of resisting her. She had toyed with his emotions these last 24 hours. But in a brief Scrooge-like visit to the future, he pictured what his life would be like without her—and he couldn't bear it.

He opened his arms, and she flew into them, and he caught her and held her. Despite the stinging pain it caused in his fractured rib, he wasn't about to let her go.

"You couldn't help him this time, Abby. Nobody could."

The rain came down in sheets, the wind howled, the clouds raced across the sky, but he stood there with her face buried in his coat.

"I'm sorry for the way I acted," she said.

"It's OK," he said, rocking her.

"I don't want to feel this way anymore."

"I know."

"Don't be angry."

"I'm not."

"Promise me you'll never—"

"I promise."

God, he needed her so much. Why did just the feel of her next him make everything better?

"You're freezing." He took off his overcoat and swung it around her.

He glanced over at the roadway alongside the cemetery and saw Alger holding a large, black umbrella with the door to the limousine open, inviting them out of the rain.

He led her to the car and helped her in.

"I thought I asked you to stay put, Alger?"

"Forgive me for finding you, sir, but Ms. Lockhart looked like she needed to see you." And then he added softly, "I thought perhaps you needed her, too, sir."

"You did, did you?" he said, slightly amused by Alger's presumptuousness.

"Yes, sir. But Ms. Lockhart refused the umbrella, sir."

"That's because Ms. Lockhart is a pain in the—" He clamped his lips. "Stubborn," he said instead, loud enough for her to hear.

"Yes, sir."

He closed Abby in the car and came around to the driver's side.

"Alger—," Carter held out his hand.

"Sir?"

"Thank you."

"My pleasure, sir," he said, taking Carter's hand and shaking it.

"John."

"Sir?"

"I'm still John, Alger."

"Yes, John. Sir."

They smiled at each other.

The icy rain began to let up.

SEVERAL ER STAFFERS stopped by Abby's apartment that night to pay their respects. Those who couldn't—like Susan, who was home caring for her colicky baby—sent food and flowers. But they all couldn't leave soon enough for Abby.

When they were finally alone, Carter took off his suit jacket, laid it on her round wooden dining table, and moved over to the couch to sit close to her.

"Want to see a picture?" she asked. Abby pulled from her pocket a photo of a dirty-faced toddler with a mess of brown curly hair. He held the hand of a little girl with straight flowing hair and pretty, squinting brown eyes, and those unmistakable rosebud lips.

Carter smiled at the sight of her as a child. "You were beautiful. I wish I knew you then—but I'd have been too scared to talk to you."

"Lucky for you. I would have beaten you up on the playground every day."

"I bet you would have."

She touched the picture of her baby brother. "I could never keep his little face clean, no matter how hard I tried. Maggie never bothered, but I always tried."

He kissed the top of her head. "You were great with him."

"Not good enough."

"Abby, you gave him his childhood. Nobody else did that but you. You are going to be—"

"What?"

He swished his hand in the air, dismissing what he was about to say, and made a face that said "nothing."

"What?" she insisted.

"—a great mom."

She looked away from him. He wanted to kick himself for bringing up motherhood right then.

But a few moments later, he heard her say softly, "I wanted it to be me." She sounded sad and was careful not to look at him.

"What?"

"I was jealous . . . that Kem was . . . carrying your baby." She held the photo in one hand, but the fingers of the other picked at the fibers of the sofa so she wouldn't have to watch his face as she spoke. "As much as it scared me and everything . . . I wanted it to be me."

It was painful to watch Abby reveal her emotions. But when she did, it melted him instantly.

She tossed the photograph on the coffee table. "I don't know what to do without him, you know? It was always Eric and me against the world," she said, aware of the cliché. "But now it's just me alone." Her voice was sad. She curled up on the couch and leaned against him for comfort.

He sat for a while stroking her hair and planting small kisses on her forehead, and then he said suddenly, "How about some tea?"

She sat up. "Right now? OK, I guess."

"I've got to take off this tie," he said, fussing with his collar. He went in the bedroom, and she went to heat the water. While he was inside, Carter's pager rang in an annoying series of shrill beeps. He yelled from the bedroom, "Abby, can you check it? It's in my suit jacket on the table."

She lifted his jacket and as she reached into his pocket for the beeper, a tiny box came tumbling out. It was a box she'd seen before—a ring box. She picked it up and examined it, and out of the corner of her eye, she saw him watching her from across the room. In his hand, he dangled the telephone from her bedroom—which he had just used to dial his own beeper.

"This time I'm not going to shout it at you on the roof . . ." He started toward her slowly.

It woke the butterflies in her stomach.

". . . and I'm not going to buy out a restaurant . . ." He moved closer.

She started trembling.

". . . and I'm definitely not going to make the mistake of letting you go again . . ."

She wasn't sure she was breathing.

". . . It's probably not appropriate to do this today, but I don't care. I don't want you going one more minute thinking that you are alone—because you're not—not anymore."

He reached her and took the box from her hand. He opened it and turned it toward her—it held the most beautiful diamond she'd ever seen.

"I want you to have this ring, Abby. It was my great-grandmother's. Gamma was keeping it for me. She said I should give it to whomever I want, and the only person I ever wanted to wear this ring was you."

"What about—"

"Hey—" He interrupted her gently and looked deep in her eyes. "The only person I have ever offered this ring to is you," he staunchly reaffirmed, holding her chin in his thumb and forefinger. "I want to marry you, Abby."

Despite being well rehearsed, he got a large lump in his throat when he said, "You are—"

He cleared his throat again before he could go on. He waited until he could say it without trembling. Still, it was little more than a choked whisper by the time it came out.

"You are the love of my life."

And he took the ring from the box and picked up her hand. Her fingers were clenched tightly in a fist of nerves. He slowly unfolded them one by one and held the diamond near the tip of her ring finger. But before he slipped it on, he looked at her, seeking her eyes for permission. Large tears welled up, and as she shook her head yes, they slipped from the confines of her lids and down her face. She looked at the ring on her finger, and then wound her arms around his waist.

"What are you thinking?" he asked.

"Me?"

"Yes, you."

"I'm thinking . . ."

"Yes?"

"I'm thinking . . ."

She buried her face in his sweater and finally spoke her deepest thoughts: "Wi wo win wuh wi woo" was what he heard.

He laughed out loud. He reached down and hooked his fingers beneath her chin and tilted her face up to his.

Still chuckling, he asked, "What did you say?"

She wasn't laughing. It took all her strength to look him in the eye and say, "I said, 'I'm so in love with you.'"

Hearing the words and seeing her eyes glistening with emotion quite simply took his breath away.

Now she smiled, proud of herself.

He brought his mouth to her lips and whispered "I love you" between kisses.

She knew then she needed to feel him near her—all of him. With their lips locked, she unclenched her arms from around him and reached down and started unbuttoning her deep-gray blouse.

He pulled his lips away. "Are you sure?"

She nodded yes.

He moved her hands away from her shirt, and he finished unbuttoning it. He slid it off her arms and hugged her, kissing the side of her neck. His fingers unclasped the hooks of her satin bra, and he took off his own sweater so that he could feel her against his skin. He moved them to the couch, and he made love to her—slowly, intensely, deeply—like it was the first time they were ever together.

Carter fell asleep with Abby's head on his chest, his lips buried in her hair. But she lay awake with her cheek against his skin and his ring near her face. She stared at her hand for a long time, trying to take in everything that had happened to her over the past few days.

She looked over at the photo on the coffee table. The girl in the picture stared back at her—the sad little girl who never really was a child, who would cry in the bathroom with the faucet running so no one would hear. They stared at each other, she and the little girl in the photo, until Abby said to her: "Everything's going to be OK."

Abby's past died that day. She buried it in a box along with her beloved brother. But also on that day, her future was born. And she was ready for it.

WHEN CARTER AWOKE a little later, Abby was already dressed. "Come on," she said. "I don't want to eat any more funeral food. Let's go get some coffee, Dr. Carter."

"Deal," he said, stepping into his pants. He glanced at her hand and felt proud that she was wearing his ring, proud of her. A thought came to him: "I guess after we're married, you'll be Dr. Carter, too," he realized, pulling his sweater over his head.

"Oh brother, I didn't think of that," she said while running a brush through her hair and tying it into a quick ponytail.

"Well," he said, "how about I'll be Dr. Carter, and you can be 'Dr. Abby,'" he teased as he slipped into his shoes.

"No way! You've been Dr. Carter long enough; let somebody else have a turn," she said as she grabbed for her coat.

"Forget it!" He put his arms in his jacket.

"Then I'll stay Dr. Lockhart," she said, folding her scarf around her neck.

"After we're married? Your ex-husband's name? Now you're acting crazy," he said as he swung open the door.

She stepped out before him and spun around in the threshold to face him. "Then maybe we ought to rethink this whole 'getting married' thing," she teased.

"No way!" he said, kissing her on the head and shoving her out the door.

They could be heard bickering out in the hall, down the stairs, and out into the snowy Chicago night.

THE END

Once upon a time, there was a rich, handsome prince and a beautiful peasant girl. They met and fell in love and lived happily every after—once they learned what "love" meant.