Spoilers/Setting: Season 1-3
You really donít know what to make of the guy. Heís so eager, like a new dog hungry to please. Or just hungry, sometimes, for something, anything. You can see it in his eyes; you recognised it on his first day in the ER when he witnessed a child being born. Itís been almost three years since that day and that energized keenness is still there. Heís become family now, has weaselled his way in like a virus through perforated skin, though the effects of this infection are far from unpleasant.
Sure, Carter can be annoying Ė always asking questions, always firing off possible hypothesis and ailments. But what he has to say and all of his questions are directed with needle-point precision and with the aim to better something, if not someone. He not only advances through medicine himself, but he pulls along with him anyone within his proximity as well. You find youíre a better surgeon just for teaching him. The competition between you for the paediatric surgery spot didnít set you back, either, even though you didnít get it. Any mistakes that happened during that mad time were yours, though. That infant was entirely your responsibility. You should have asked for help when it was obvious that you had made an error, but that was another thing that Carter had shown you. He asks for help when heís unsure, his ego doesnít get in the way of his doing what is right. Sometimes you think that you know more than you do, Carter always assumes that he never knows enough.
The Carter infection also has some unforeseen side effects. It makes you very short-tempered around him. Sometimes you break out in fidgets. Other times you slouch and are unable to meet his direct stare for some reason that you canít explain. Even with most women you can at least meet their gaze when talking to them. Unless youíre rebuking Carter you find it difficult to even turn your body to face his.
Itís his eyes, you decide. They make you uneasy, make you feel as though thereís something missing, something that he wants that you canít provide. As his mentor it became habit to get it for him when he needed it, to teach it to him when he had to know, to answer when he had to ask. But his eyesÖ they ask too much, always reaching out. Hopeful. Thereís always a Ďpleaseí floating around in them. And half of the time you donít know what heís asking for with them, and that annoys you. He is your student, even though youíre sharing him now with almost everyone in the hospital. You feel that youíre supposed to know everything there is to know about his needs, requirements, wants and aspirations. But now it seems that youíre out of the loop. And youíre not really sure how you feel about that.
You made a mistake with Gant. You assumed that all of your students would be like Carter, would be as even parts easy and difficult to teach, though differences allowed for personality and race, obviously. You were wrong. You pushed Gant no harder than you did Carter at times, but you didnít cater to his personal needs. You forgot that not everyone was as strong and stubborn as Carter; that not all students could live, grow and thrive on the small amounts of positive feedback you dish out. Carter, he needed discipline and challenge, something to work for Ė a nod of approval, a smile, a look over the surgical masks and across the body being operated on; a request for him to be present in the OR. Gant just needed to know that he was doing well, that he had potential, that his efforts were appreciated. You really messed up with him, you know, and the guilt still eats at you. Youíre not sure if you could bring yourself to mentor another student. You donít trust yourself anymore to read people correctly. You find that youíve been pulling back from teaching Carter, and letting more compliments slip through in fits of insensible fear. You know in your gut that Carter isnít as weak as that, isnít as needy or in want of direct approval, but itís like you canít help yourself. You can tell that Carter is getting a little concerned by it, but he hasnít confronted you about Gant since that time at the El. For a while there you were barely talking at all. Things have picked up since then, but now thereís this strain between youÖ twanging like a thread held taut, as knotted as a suture.
Carterís acting like he has a secret that he wants to tell but knows that he canít. It lurks there beneath his face like a creeping thing, agitating. Itís distracting. You wonder what it isÖ
You also wonder what is wrong with you. What youíre feeling isnít easy to identify, isnít easy to inspect, because itís unfamiliar and alien and weirds you out more than youíre willing to admit to yourself. Youíre keeping secrets too. Secrets from yourself that youíre not sure you want to know yet. Your body has been telling you something in the way that bodies usually do, free from the consciousness and uninhibited, but you would like to ignore it for as long as you can. Unfortunately, things seem to be out of your control at this point and youíre not sure how much longer you can keep on pretending that they arenít happening.
All it takes is one glance these days. You wish it wasnít that simple, but things rarely go your way outside of the OR. One glance, and there it is Ė the quick flash of warm brown eyes in your direction, a ďis this right?Ē question in them, and the heat floods through you like Niagara Falls through a rapid infuser plugged into your chest. You respond without even thinking about it. You flash a small smile, nod in approval, then hunch over and turn away slightly when your mind catches up with what your body has just done. And standing there right in front of you now is Doug, and that twinkle in his eyes lets you know that heís recognizing what it is that youíre trying so hard to deny. Now youíre embarrassed, your face flushing with a mixture of shame and anger, but you canít turn away this time because thereís a bleeder on a gurney in front of you in need of a surgical consult and itís your job and not your personal life that needs addressing at the moment.
You give as much of your attention to the patient as you can, wishing that you could direct it all, but some small part if it is always fixed on Carter. Part of the teacher/student thing you would like to think, keeping an eye on his actions and choices, but youíre beginning to consider that maybe that isnít quite it. You watch his hands as you inspect the torso of the patient, speaking aloud what you find and what you donít by a mixture of habit and instinct. His hands are busy a small number of inches from your own, moving in a language that is more familiar to you than your own reflection. Youíre both doctors, youíre both surgeons, and you talk to each other over this half-conscious manís chest in a way none of the nurses or the other doctors could understand. Not even smug Ross who is now in the other trauma room with the patientís son. Oh, they might have an idea, might even grasp some of the phrases and maybe even the meanings of some gestures, but the entirety of the conversation will belong to just the two of you.
All too soon the conversation is over, though, brought to a close by your ďtake him up to the OR,Ē and you almost let that small amount of regret you feel show in your face. You chance a glance over to Carter and the burn of the infection runs in a fiery line down your abdomen when your eyes lock and your identical stares pull taut. Another metaphorical suture, another metaphorical knot, and now you know youíre doomed.
The sound of the gurney clattering as the nurses start to move the patient away from between the two of you is the cut of the scissors that snaps the gaze that holds you still. You canít stay here. You have to go with the patient, you have a job to do, and yet those eyes are still asking you questions. Thereís a few in there that you donít know the answers to, a few that you do, and one that youíre not afraid to voice aloud.
ďYou coming, Carter?Ē
And there, that smile. Sometimes you wonder, especially now as you walk besides the gurney towards the elevator, if you werenít working for a reward, as well. Because, if you were, youíre certain that that smile would be one of them.
And the kiss later that evening, up against the wall of the empty ambulance bay when youíre both on break, would become another.