DISCLAIMER: The characters Xena and Gabrielle belong to MCA/Universal. No copyright infringement is intended. However, Xena and Gabrielle will not be gracing us with their presence tonight - yes, this is an Über piece. The characters that appear here are mine, devil-spawn of my own imagination. Please let me know if you decide to borrow them for any purpose - I'm quite protective of my girls *G*. This story in its entirety is also mine, so please don't reproduce on any site without my permission, or in the absence of these disclaimers. Thank you.

VIOLENCE: No, no extreme violence here. The majority of injuries sustained are those of the verbal sort. Please excuse the language. However, there may be spates of physical action here and there, and (since some action takes place in a hospital) descriptions of blood and gore, but no more than a typical ER episode.

SUBTEXT: Yes, please. Should this bother you, go no further. Do not pass Go, do not collect $200.

ACHTUNG! This is a first (and probably only) attempt at Fanfic. Please be gentle with me.

This started as a series of dreams over several weeks, little vignettes that just wouldn't leave me alone until I got them down. Hence the slightly fragmented structure, kind of a collection of small scenes that give us glimpses into two drifting lives that somehow ran into each other. Hope I don't lose you along the way.

I've also noticed how there are very few works that take place in my beloved home town. So this is where I've set my story, in beautiful Sydney, Australia. Most (if not all) of the places actually exist, so you might like to bring a map and guide with you. And if you haven't dropped by for a visit yet, I strongly urge you to come by and see this beautiful city.

Although the companies and institutions I mention in my story actually exist, the way I portray their operations is completely fictional and have nothing to the corporations / institutions of the same name. Frankly, I have no idea how these places work, and I've just done some very light research on the relevant topics. Hope no one is offended, none was intended. Just keep in mind that this is my own little world - please, Suspend Your Disbelief.

Most heartfelt thanks and hugs for the people who have helped (and are still helping) me along with this, especially the one and only OGF - you know who you are, mate. I wouldn't know where I'd be without you - you made this story happen. Thanks for all the late nights, rants and piranhas from the deepest depths of my myocardium.

Oh, and one more thing. There's a name I'll be using that many may not be familiar with - Kai. It's a German name, with the "ai" pronounced "eye". I know it's a bit finicky, but my character doesn't feel like a "Kay" to me, as lovely as the name is.

Questions, feedback and constructive criticism gratefully received (jargon-deciphering and rough guides to Sydney also available) at fastenyourseatbelts@yahoo.com



An über offering by JuneBug

The din of her surroundings melted away as the sound of running water fought itself to the fore of Kai’s consciousness. Braced against the basin, her arms almost trembling from the weight of her shoulders, she let her head roll forward, slivers of raven hair escaping the loose knot and falling about her face like spider silk heavy with water.

Her shift had been long, and this was the first chance she had in the last 6 hours to take some time out. David insisted that she at least freshened up, got another coffee or something. Or something. She knew she had a reason to put this off - at least when she was working, she didn't have time to feel tired. Now it felt like the past 20 hours had run up from behind her, taken a flying leap and landed a dropkick-combination-punch right in between her shoulder blades.

She shifted her weight to her other foot, feeling her knee threaten to buckle. She took a deep breath, held it, and blew it out again, taking simple pleasure in the feel of air rushing through her trachea and into her lungs - reminds me I'm still alive.

Looking in the mirror, the doctor stared for a long instant into haggard azure before passing her hands up across her damp face, pushing her hair back into some semblance of order. The impulse to look at her watch was wrestled down with a roll of her protesting shoulders - some god-awful hour, no doubt - and a stretch as she tried to wring the stiffness from her muscles. She winced as the forgotten wound in her side made its presence known. Bloody hell - I gotta get that looked at again before I go home. Drying her hands on her scrubs, Kai shook her head slightly, willing her fuzzy brain back into order before pulling aside the curtain and slipping out into the whirlwind of activity outside.

"Everything in control?"

David looked up as the familiar, rich voice cut through the bustle of the Casualty department. "Yeah. I think we're finally starting to wind down." The briefest hint of a smile touched his eyes "You're looking better."

Kai let out a rueful snort. "What, only like a half-drowned rat?"

The older man grunted, the closest his gruff demeanour would allow to a laugh. His stern, bearded face softened as he shifted his attention from his patient files. "You haven't been in the game for a while now, Jamieson. You're doing pretty good for someone who's been out of it for so long."

She shrugged her shoulders, reaching for the stethoscope she had hung over the counter minutes before. David Foster was one of very few people who would still speak to her in that manner - if they'd come close enough to speak to me at all. To the others in the medical community, she was infallible - inhuman, according to some circles - the Sirius of the surgical world. Her mentor from her years as student, intern and registrar at St Vincent’s, David had remained a respected figure even after her departure from his department at Trauma and A&E to pursue neurosurgery; the quiet respect between them growing to a firm friendship even as her extraordinary skills became evident.

Kai felt the probing of his gaze and she forced a smile, tired muscles barely remembering how. "I'm fine, David. I've just got a bit more to go." She slung the stethoscope around her neck and made for the patient files.

David knew that tight expression - the smile she wore when she was close to her limits, but was still pushing. When was the last time you really had a break, Kai? He reached out and grabbed her arm as she tried to pass. "Hold on a minute, Jamieson." You're going to burn out, and I'm not going to stand here and watch it happen. Blue eyes rested expectantly on his face, waiting.

In their long years as friends, the dark-haired woman had surrendered precious little about herself - but if it was anything he knew, it was that the tall, reticent woman hated talks like this. Well, unpleasant things are often necessary, he mentally shrugged. The doctor cast his eyes to his feet, his voice low as he spoke. "Look, I know everyone else here thinks you survive on antifreeze in your veins, but -"

It came out before her mind could react. "Yeah. Cut me and see if there's any blood, hey?"

"You know I didn't mean that." He shook his head, feeling a shadow of the hurt in her voice. "We all have to distance ourselves to get through the day, Jamieson. It's practically a job prerequisite." And boy are you spectacularly overqualified - if I didn't know you better, I'd be wondering too. He searched her shielded face, summoning what authority he had remaining from his years as her tutor. "If bottling things up is the way you want to play, that's fine by me. But I know you're exhausted, and I know you're not used to the pace here. We can't be in control all the time." He bore his deep brown eyes into hers. "Not even you."

A perfect eyebrow arched sinuously, mild sarcasm in her voice. "Where did you get that from? Are you dating that Psychiatrist again?"

He blushed a little, unable to stop a tiny smile touching his lips before he spoke. His voice was hushed, as if he was afraid someone would hear. "Actually, I remember a certain RMO telling me that, before a few things changed. Years ago." He looked full into her face. Hey, paybacks are a bitch. Bet you didn't think I'd remember...

Stung, Kai's eyes shot venomous blue to his, but David went on undeterred, his gaze a little less intense than before. "You've done amazing things tonight... why beat yourself over the head about it? Casualty always takes getting used to, even if you've been here for years. No one's ever comfortable - not even the Iron Lady of Cahill 18." At that, his eyes sparkled, poking her slightly with the latest jibe to come out of the hospital gossip circles.

Kai couldn't help but laugh, a short bark that shattered the tension in the air. She softened her glare a little - It used to be so difficult, getting a good word out of him. I don't think I'll ever get used to his compliments. "Oh, David. I don't think I want to ever get used to 20 hour shifts again. I usually like to be asleep by -" she glanced at the clock, "3:37 in the morning." A crooked smile quirked on her lips. He's trying so hard - I've gotta give him that.

A deprecating voice. "If we had another pair of hands around here, we'd all be home and asleep at 3:37 in the morning."

"What, the busloads of interns you get every year not enough?"

David scowled. "They couldn't tie off a suture if their lives depended on it." You could run the bloody Cas department with a hand tied behind your back, damn it. He studied her face. "They don't make ‘em like they used to."

Beat. Kai shifted slightly under the scrutiny.

"I was just in the right place at the right time, David. I could've been one of those we operated on today." Her eyes grew distant. "The madman sprayed bullets everywhere - its not like Cas isn't a war zone already without his attempts at ambience." She fingered the bandage in her side for emphasis.

His face frowned with concern, letting the subtle change in subject slide for now. He remembered the events all too clearly - it had been a long time since the neurosurgeon stepped foot in Emergency. She was finished for the day, and was looking to surprise him...  

"Guess who?" A low, familiar voice wafted from just behind David's ear.

The silver-bearded doctor knew the answer even before he turned around, a rare smile creasing his weathered features.

"Well, if it isn't Ms Jamieson." A slight mocking bow, mischievous glints peppering his eyes. "How good of you to call on an old man." A lopsided grin betrayed his genuine pleasure at seeing her. "It's been a little while, hasn't it?"

A brilliant smile crossed Kai's angular face, a smile that reached her eyes and lit up electric blue irises. He's playing. He hasn't been like this in so long... "Oh, just a little while." Not since the promotion - how long ago was that? 10 months? "Amazing - could you actually be looking younger?" She drawled, mirroring the playful teasing in her mentor's voice. 

Still smiling, David did not reply, but regarded the tall woman for a long moment. "You've gotten older." Older. More than that, Jamieson. You're looking worn. Have the last few months been that unkind to you, my friend?

She rolled her eyes, throwing her head back as she laughed. "Oh, you really know how to impress a girl, don't you? Here I was, about to ask you out to dinner. It's been the first time in months that I've had the time to ask a friend out to dinner, you know."

"Dinner? Whatever did I do to deserve that?" Eyebrows frowned in mock protest.

"Come on. Don't tell me - "

A loud scuffle from the waiting room diverted their attention.

A large, unkempt man in a shabby Drizabone stood in the large doorway of Casualty proper, confronting a warden who had tried to return him to his seat in the waiting room. "Hey, look mate, I've been here waiting for hours, and -"

The warden held up his hands apologetically. "I'm sorry, Sir. But I'll have to insist you go back into the waiting room."

A growling, rough voice issued fro his throat. "You listen to me! I've been here waiting for my fix for hours, and I'm going to get it now. No more waiting."

"Ah - you want the methadone clinic. That's not here in Casualty, sir. You'll have to  - "

"No!" The man whipped his arm out, and grabbed the warden by the collar, boring into his face with feverish eyes. "No excuses. I need my fix, now. And you are going to get it for me, NOW."

Kai silently signalled for David to call Security, and walked towards the pair. Junkies. This was not an uncommon event for the doctor, who had seen and controlled dozens of disorientated patients in advanced stages of withdrawal. The hospital was the major centre for the treatment of illicit drug use and addiction, situated in the inner city suburb of Darlinghurst with its opposing affluent and seamy sides. Kai had seen her fair share of ODs and addicts passing through the hospital doors on a daily basis, and her eyes now evaluated the familiar scenario as she approached, her long stride steady and unrelenting.

Her voice commanded attention. "Excuse me sir. May I help you?"

There was a feral glint in his eye as he spoke, hands still gripping convulsively at the warden's shirt. "You damn well can help me, lady. I'm getting my fix now, or - " He reached inside his battered jacket, and Kai's mind screamed at her in warning - Wait, this is wrong...

He whipped out a gun and pressed it to the warden's head, who cried out in alarm. "Or I'm going to blow his brains out. So - what's it going to be, lady?"

Kai's blood pounded in her ears, her body shifting up a gear as she felt her senses heighten. From the edge of her vision, she caught people behind her preparing to approach him, and motioned for them to stay back.

She spoke - an even voice, akin to the tone one might use to placate a rabid dog. "Of course, we'll give it to you right away. As soon as you drop your gun." Quickly glancing past him, she noticed a well-dressed businessman in the waiting room attempting to steal behind him. She threw a death look at the slowly approaching figure. Don't you dare.

The gunman laughed, a hollow, choking sound. "I'm not falling for that, doctor." Wrapping his arm around the terrified warden's neck in a choke-hold, he edged backwards slowly towards the doors that separated the Casualty department from the waiting room. "I'm not going to ask again." He took a few more steps, not seeing the row of wheelchairs parked at the side of the corridor. With his last step, he backed into a wheel and stumbled - a startled curse, and he sprang around, his gun leaving his hostage's head and directed straight at the businessman, who was now standing directly in his sights...

It all happened so suddenly - too quickly for Kai to register the businessman hurl himself at the crazed addict, too soon for the surprised doctor to see the man uncoil from his stumble, aim his gun reflexively at his charging adversary, and fire.

The waiting room erupted in screams and cries as rapid volleys cracked the air, and the businessman slumped forward, a shaking, weakening arm reaching for the wall, propping his shocked body upright even as his knees began to buckle. Turning around with startling speed, the gunman fired several shots into Casualty, desperately looking for an escape route. Kai felt a searing pain streak across her right side and a sensation of seeping warmth as darting eyes sought an opening. In three bounding leaps, she hurled her body at the gunman's even as he prepared to bolt for the exit beyond the waiting room, sending the butt of his gun connecting sharply with the businessman's head as he went.

A split second airborne, and she caught a glimpse of armed guards rushing through the entrance before her shoulder collided with his left side, her strong arms gripping a rank-smelling body as they fell to the floor...

David mentally pushed away the images. "How is that? Do you want me to have a look at it?"

"No, it's just a graze. The dressings are holding up okay - maybe later." Lucky. Any closer and it would've gotten my Liver. "I've just got to follow up on the last guy I opened up - He was the one that nearly had his skull cracked by the gun slamming into his head. Ran a MRI on him... results should be back by now." She thought for a moment. "Had to get 3 slugs out from the epigastrium as well."

David grimaced sympathetically. You spent 5 hours in theatre working on the man's brain, and you gave him a bonus bullet removal procedure? His silvered head shook slightly. You are too much. "Yeah - I remember him. They've got him at the ICU." He nodded at the padding at her right hypochondrium. "When you want to get that looked at, I'll be here." Brown eyes caught blue ones, but, unlike earlier this evening, there was no mirth in this glance. "Good seeing you."

Kai nodded, and grabbed her patient files. Richard Stamford. Double-checking his location on the directory board, she quickly located his name and turned purposeful steps to the intensive care unit.

One - Impact
Parting the curtains, Kai was surprised by the presence of another person in the room. Her patient was still out cold, cannulas and IV feeds suspended above his body. Seated beside him was a woman, her blonde head bowed over the patient's shoulder.

She hadn't noticed Kai’s presence, and Kai made no sound, her movement arrested as her eyes flickered over the setting before her. The woman was seated on the edge of a bright plastic chair, her back hunched over almost in supplication, with small, careful hands cradling the patient's larger, pale one. Her back rose and fell in a slow, steady rhythm - must be asleep - the cream silk shirt she was wearing shifting slightly with her low breathing. Her hair, almost butter-yellow in the harsh fluorescent light, fell in a luxuriant puddle about her on the bed and her shoulders.

Kai blinked, and let out a breath she didn't know she was holding. Hey - what's going on up here? Get to work, you. She took several deliberate steps towards the bed, the heavy heels of her shoes clicking loudly against the vinyl tiles.

When the woman did not respond, Kai walked closer, and laid a hand on the woman's shoulder. "Excuse me…"

Green eyes flew open, startled awake by a touch that was so familiar... "I - oh. Hi." A hand passed over tired eyes.

Kai slipped seamlessly into her professional mask. "I'm Dr. Jamieson. I'm looking after Mr. Stamford." She extended her hand, looking into green eyes that almost defied forests in their richness.

The woman cleared her throat. "Thank you. Richard's my - husband." She missed the slight reaction registering in the doctors eyes as she took the proffered hand. Feeling the fleeting warmth of her grip, the memories of anxiety and seemingly-endless waiting returned to a mind jolted to alertness. Hours. I've sat here for hours, and no one's told me what's going on. She forced calmness like a curtain around her, and looked directly into the doctor's eyes.

"I've had questions chasing me all night, doctor. I hope you can provide some answers." A London accent clipped her words as irritation and worry played on the edges of her smooth, even voice.

Kai had shook hands with more people than she could remember, but when she gripped this woman's hand, it was like... like...

Momentarily taken aback by the lapse, she steeled instantly and silently scolded herself. Wherever the hell that came from, now is not the time, Kai. The doctor held the unwavering, penetrating gaze, consciously suppressing the tingling running up and down her spine. That look. I know a challenge when I see one. She spoke quietly, her tone betraying nothing but a cool confidence.

"I don't usually disappoint."

Surprise registered briefly on the woman's face, and her eyes narrowed in response. Arrogant, I see. But that kind of thing should be expected with doctors, right? She nodded expectantly, waiting for the doctor to begin.

Kai spoke, her resonant voice flowing like blood red velvet even in the sterile cubicle that deadened all sound. "Your husband was shot, Mrs Stamford. A man carrying a gun came in earlier today and began to harass our staff, eventually threatening the life of one of our wardens."

The woman's pale face became very still, her eyebrows touched with a frown as her eyes darkened and grew serious.

"Your husband tried to wrestle him down, and sustained 3 gunshots to his epigastr- " She amended herself. "stomach area and concussion to the left side of his head in the process."

The tenuous grip she had on her emotions slipped precipitously. But... oh god - Richard...?  The blonde woman's eyelids involuntarily fluttered shut for an instant, lips parted in a silent breath.

Kai wrestled down the strange impulse to reach out... No. "The bullets have been removed - bleeding was controlled quickly and deep tissue damage has been kept minimal, but he won't be able to take food by mouth for a while." She indicated the the IV lines.

The woman recomposed herself, but confusion played visibly under the stoic face, in the verdant green eyes.

"But that's not what I'm really worried about." Kai pulled a large folder from the pile had tucked under her arm, and walked to a white panel. "I ordered an MRI earlier to determine the extent of his cranial injuries. The results have only just come in, so..." Lifting her glasses from their resting place tucked in the V of her collar, she pressed a switch, and the panel jumped alight. "... if you'll just excuse me a moment."

In the forbidding silence that ensued, Piersen watched the tall figure standing in front of the illuminated panel, her eyes instinctively falling into the familiar task of assessing the image before her. Even in the shapeless blue scrubs she could sense that the doctor was a formidable presence; the blue-black hair that was swept back from her face in a loose knot, freeing up her features and its angular planes... Her well-trained eyes immediately made the association - the cheekbones, her nose, her eyebrows... hard, like a Rodin in polished copper. Her long frame was weighted back on one leg, folded arms holding a collection of papers to her chest as she idly caught the end of her glasses with her teeth. The bright back-lit panel cast a pall over her olive skin, and reflected in her intent, seemingly-colourless eyes. Soulless. I can almost feel her look through me, and she's not even looking my way...

Eyes which, now catching her own, revealed an intense, vibrant blue. Surprised, Piersen felt her breath stop in her throat, knowing that she had never known blue like that in any palette or painting she had seen...

MRI Scan"Let me explain what's going on." She used her glasses as pointer. "These are cross-sectional images of your husband's head - the bright white ring on the edge is the skull. Here's the brain in the middle, and this black/grey area in between is the fluid around the brain." She turned to the woman. "When we examined Mr Stamford, we suspected some bleeding into his cranial cavity - where the fluid is. We had to control the bleeding and ease the pressure the ensuing increase in volume had caused... but I think there is some specific injury, and looking at different sections on these scans helps to pinpoint the site of the injury." She turned back to the panel. "This slight difference in colour here in the brain corresponds to tissue damage, which indicates that there might be some loss of function in limb movement. But the diffuse nature of cortical damage might spell other complications - I've tested his reflexes and responsiveness, and while he seems fine for now, his situation is very delicately balanced. I would be lying if I told you that his position wasn't serious."

She paused a moment. "Ideally, I wouldn't have liked to put him under general anaesthesia with this kind of injury - he might have suffered adverse reactions that could increase the time he'd take to fully wake up from the surgery. But in this case it was absolutely necessary to do this so we could go in there and prevent further damage because the bleeding was tearing up his brain. We'd like to perform some more basic motor and consciousness tests on him, but we won't be able to do very much until he wakes up. And we might not know when that is - like I said, his condition is a little unstable. I'm afraid that for now, we wait."

She saw the slightly bewildered expression on the woman's face, and the slightest hint of a weary smile touched her lips. You and me both, Mrs Stamford. Her head felt heavy as every neuron in her brain cried for sleep. Damn... I don't think I can talk anymore, any more of this and I'll just -- but, she mentally shrugged, you wanted answers... "Do you have any more questions?"

Lost in her thoughts, the change in the doctor's tone reminded Piersen that she was being spoken to. She pulled herself back to her stark reality, and saw the expression on the doctor's face - the smile that in that instant screamed to her of condescension, and her mind reacted immediately to the ensuing blast of adrenalin shooting through her blood. Is this some game to you? The weight of the last few hours came crashing down around Piersen's shoulders and flared briefly into anger. The frantic calls from the hospital, the endless waiting without knowing why, now this. I have to deal with a patronising doctor that obviously left Social Skills 101 out of her curriculum.

She remained silent a moment, willing herself to calm, before turning her gaze from the floor to the doctor's shadow. You're so clinical, so caught up in yourself - it's almost like you don't have a heart in there, and you're so damn proud of it... Her eyes flickered to the doctor's passive face. Do you feel anything at all?

She raised her eyes to the doctor's, and they locked for a moment, then another. "I suppose bad news is the order of the day, then? Nothing to soften the blow?" Her voice was calm, despite the insistent pressure of simmering emotions pressing at the back of her eyes.

"I didn't promise answers that would please you, Mrs Stamford. I only guaranteed the satisfaction of your questions." Pale blue eyes rested calmly on the woman's face, her solid unwavering gaze a stark contrast to the crushing exhaustion she felt in her bones, sapping away her reserves.

Piersen's eyes flashed; the built-up annoyance flared momentarily out of her control, consuming her thoughts in an instant that came and went before the consciousness kicked in. "Ah. How magnanimous of you. I should be so grateful." She muttered in a voice that was almost too low to be heard, from lips barely moving.

Kai drew in a silent, tight breath, her body remaining still for an interminable heartbeat. Her insides broke apart like brittle glass - she was in front of the basin again, the claustrophobic feeling from earlier returning in full force.

She had to leave, now.

Like a film played in slow motion, Piersen watched the doctor stiffen, then turn towards the curtain. Blonde brows knitted, her mind still caught in the dying whirl of bright anger that felt so foreign as to make her dizzy. What...? She remembered feeling like she was drowning in a strange dull headache, like having blood red velvet wrapped around her senses... red velvet - the smoothest sound of crimson blood...

Then it finally registered, her mind snapping back to equilibrium after hearing what her own voice had said. Oh god - I can't believe I said that... she closed her eyes, the image of the doctor almost imperceptibly stilling herself still lingering in the darkness. For crying out loud, Piers - wake up! Green eyes flew open as she grabbed her leather attaché case. Sorting through it briefly, she found and held out a card. "Wait - "

She thought she caught the briefest flicker of pain in the doctor's eyes as she slowly turned back towards her.

"If you could, please, call me if there are any changes."

Cold, professional eyes caught Piersen's expectant gaze. "If you could leave your information at the desk outside, I'm sure the Head Nurse would take down your details." The condescending tone was not lost on the listener even as nerveless fingers took the business card of their own accord.

"If you have no more questions..." Crisp footsteps started towards the curtain. "Good night, Mrs Stamford."

Kai stopped outside as she let out a breath. Damn. Where did that come from? Trembling hands smoothed out her hair, the professional mask falling away as she fought the waves of tiredness that broke over her. I can't take this. Not right now, not when I'm like this. She reached for her patient records, scribbling with determination knowing that, once the paperwork was complete, she could finally go home and sink into blissful sleep.

But there was a voice that yelled over and over in the back of her mind, a tiny spark almost obscured by the haze of exhaustion.

I've never felt so alive.

Piersen's eyes followed the tall figure as she turned and disappeared behind curtains. She closed her eyes and swallowed the strange taste of remorse and frustration she felt rising inside of her, wincing as the unbidden memory of ice blue eyes tore through her cerebral cortex and spread cold fire tingling across her skin. An apology hovered on her lips, - no, wait - why am I sorry? I've got nothing to apologise about. She was the coldest - A frown marred her features as she touched her temples, the strange, blurring headache having already faded to the dullness of fatigue. But I swear I saw something in those eyes - before she walked out on me...

Suddenly very aware that she was not alone, Piersen angled her head and regarded the prone man beside her for a long moment.

"What are you doing here, Richard?"

Her gaze lingered on his unresponsive face, her expression unreadable. Then she rose abruptly, leaving only the harsh blip of the ECG for company.

Two - Jim Beam, M.D, FRCPsych

Soft lights seeped along darkened walls, barely reaching the cavernous ceiling.

Kai Jamieson walked into her house, her body moving with unaccustomed difficulty. Slipping off her shoes, she padded down the dimly lit hall to the living room, dumping her bag on a chair as she went. The polished wood felt good under her feet, the rich brown imbuing her with the familiar sense of home, the feeling she had been craving since the moment the bullet grazed her side. She went on to the adjoining kitchen, grabbing a glass, some ice and a bottle of bourbon in a nightly ritual she had been performing for as long as she could remember.

I should be getting to bed, she thought. But her body was on autopilot now, and her mind was restless...

Her feet returned her to the living room - it was almost bare, save a couch, low table and some paintings, all facing the window. Laying her items on the teak surface in front of her, she poured a generous volume over ice, the sound of the gulping bottle already drawing away some of the tension from her body. She eased herself slowly, almost mechanically, onto the couch, sighing with the leather as her body melted into its soft embrace. Her long body unfolded its length along the surface, darkened eyes looking over the glass as she sipped.

Sydney HarbourThe windows ran floor to ceiling in the living room, opening up an uninterrupted view of the magnificence of Sydney Harbour. The illuminated bridge stretched like a sleeping dragon over the water, spawning tiny lights that bobbed incandescent all along the waterline. On the eastern horizon, a faint wash of light spread slowly into the deep blue of evening, creating the ever-changing fugue of colours at twilight. The jewel in this crown of lights lay in the brilliant neon of the business district, the colours streaking into the slightly overcast sky and bleeding into obsidian waters. Here in this large, empty room she held her nightly communion with her drink, the bone-weariness dissolving with every glass; every sound of the waves lapping the rocks below.

Liquid burning a gash down her throat set buried thoughts in motion. It hasn't been the best of days, she mused. Perhaps it was a test, some bizarre test... Events seemed to conspire against her today; shortly before she was about to leave for home - for the second time tonight, damn it - an intern ran into the nurses' station, reporting that Richard Stamford may have entered into a coma. All hell broke loose once again as she rushed him back into theatre to stabilise his condition. The procedure was quick and uneventful, but it pushed Kai closer to the brink of collapse. And it irked her to have David see her that way. Trembling, weak, like some bloody intern on her first shift.

Kai didn't enjoy having weaknesses. It's an omnipotent doctor thing. She loved her job - loved the challenge, loved the beautiful logic of it, the power of knowing the secrets of the body... the feeling was so exquisite she'd slip into work for the sheer pleasure of it, researching at her office, operating in the theatre, following up with patients... losing herself in the interface between scientific logic and biological inconstancies.

So what happened today? Kai took another sip, throwing her question to the crescent moon hovering low above the horizon.

Amidst the jumble of images that rushed to her head, David's words to her earlier that day came back to her with startling clarity. Antifreeze in my veins... She chuckled. Oh, I bet I know which ward the new one came from, too - that's probably the nicest thing they've called me at O'Brien 14.

She didn't begrudge the comments. She was willing to put up with her reputation if it meant she was given her space, spared the bullshit that came with being Kai Jamieson. They all want a piece of me. Nearly two years has passed since she turned the field of neurology upside down with her research in CNS neuron regeneration, published in the several journals along with her pioneering work on the concomitant neurosurgery techniques - the fruits of nearly a lifetime's research. Since then, every neuro department in the Western Hemisphere had been clamouring for her like crocodiles at feeding time.

St. Vincent's, eager to keep her and her reputation within their walls, promoted her to Chairman of Neurology and Neurosurgery in an unprecedented move that caused an uproar amongst the established specialists. She was young, much too young, and - she glanced at her dark reflection in the window - very obviously not a man. She smiled in spite of herself. But I got my own department. That alone was worth all the crap that piled up at my door afterwards.

The first few weeks were a circus, with interviews and press conferences at every turn. Kai knew she was being paraded like a trophy, but that was inconsequential compared to what she had planned - a state-of-the-art neurology department she had only envisioned in vague dreams of grandeur. For that, she smiled for the cameras even while her insides cringed, played puppet for the Hospital Board even though instinct told her to run from the incessant onslaught of attention. Almost like prostitution, isn't it? Funny, I never made that association before. Her eyes were lost in the glass, chasing the ice as they swirled in the bourbon.

But I got there, in the end. In spite of this, of everything.

Another sip of 40% ethanol worked its way down her throat, pulling her thoughts away from unwanted memories.

Oh yes, David. We all have to distance ourselves, don't we? Her friend's voice echoed in her mind as she chuckled to herself. Pushing away emotions was something they all had to do, each in their own way...

Her professional mask was her lifeline, one that she was forced to learn to wear from the very first day, all those years ago. With every fleeting hour, every passing year, a layer of it sank into her skin, so much so that it was now effortless for the emotions to drain from her veins.

But we can't be in control all the time. Not even you. Was it his voice, or hers?

"Oh, shut up." Her voice echoed a little in the large, silent room.

She shifted absently, and was somewhat surprised to feel something in her pocket. I never put things in my scrubs... She stuck her hand inside, fumbling a little in the loose, starched material. The card. She held it up to the soft glow of the rising sun gently flooding the room .

Piersen Evans.     Director and Chief Curator, Museum of Contemporary Art.
It often happens that when given the right stimulus, a person who is tired enough will allow the tight controls on the mind to evaporate. Call it hypnosis, or what you will - it causes hidden thoughts to run free in a consciousness helpless to do anything but watch.

The truth of the matter may never be known, but as Kai stared at the neat white square, running her thumb over the raised print, she fell softly, imperceptibly, like Alice into another plane of thought.

An art curator - it suits her. Kai smiled.

Wait a minute, Her own voice spoke. You've only just met her. You're treating her husband for god's sake, and you played the asshole with her so well you deserve a medal. She barely spoke a kind word to you... and you think you know her? The left half of her brain berated her like a mother to her wayward child.

How magnanimous of me, huh? A humourless laugh. Of all the things people have said about me, I think this was the first I've heard 'arrogant bastard' said like that, and in my face as well... She remembered that feeling - the sensation of her guts burning and cracking into a million pieces. Damn. Just like being that first-time intern again, only... She searched for a way to describe the subtle difference that she felt, but the words eluded her. Well, if that's the general consensus, maybe it was a good thing I took up surgery after all. All I have to worry about is cutting them to pieces and sewing them back up, right?

She sighed, not knowing why the dull ache was still there. Maybe I'm too tired for it to go away.  It wasn't the first time she had taken harsh words from her patients and their spouses, but this strange woman...

Her right hemisphere whispered sadly, She must've hated me...

Her body snorted in disgust. When did that ever matter?  

But there was no denying the faint feeling of exhilaration when she left the cubicle, the slight rush of her heart that came every time the woman briefly caught her eyes. It was a strange feeling, something she had never experienced before. It was...

Delicious. She sighed, left-hemispheric protests giving way as the word burrowed its way into her chest, spreading warmth across her body like maple syrup on snow. The sweet diffusion worked its way into stiff joints and aching muscles that had protested at the hours of constant activity.

Stretching, Kai tore her eyes from the business card, pleasantly surprised at the exquisite feeling enveloping her. Damn, this is some good bourbon. She downed the rest of the glass in a fluid motion. The tension was thoroughly worked out from her system now, and her joints grew pliant, her limbs weighted down by remembrance of sleep. Sable brows knitted weakly as an errant thought rose to a mind already half-sleep from warmth, exhaustion and alcohol. "Evans, Piersen Evans..." The rich voice caressed her name, eyes squinting from the effort to form coherent thoughts. God, what is it?

It came to her even as her eyes fluttered shut.

"Her husband's name was Stamford..."

Had she been awake for a moment longer she would've remembered a pair of green eyes, the almost-tangible memory burnt into her retina.

Continued - Part 2

Continued on Page Two
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