Benton charged through the ER, barely noticing the
attention he drew from the waiting patients, not
noticing that the reception desk had been almost
completely vacated. Randi started to say something to
the surgeon as he stormed past, but got no further
than "Dr" before he was gone.
Mark Greene stood in trauma one, staring blankly at the door. So he was the only one who had any warning before Benton charged into the room. Abby yelped in surprise as the doors imploded behind her; Chuny reflexively leapt towards the wall, barely avoiding being mowed over; Dave was startled into tripping over his feet, and ended up on the ground. No one noticed.
The only thing Benton noticed was that Carter wasn't there. But he had been there. Or someone badly injured had been there, not long ago. Medical waste lay strewn across the floor: emptied units of blood, wrappers from hypodermic needles, chest tube trays, intubation kit... The crash cart had obviously been utilized recently.
I'm too late, thought Benton, looking at Mark's tense features, then at Abby's pale face and Dave's stricken expression. Carter was dead. God, I'm too late. How could they have given up on him already? It had been less than twenty minutes! Twenty minutes - I should've been here. I could've been here. What did it matter? Carter was dead. And where was he? Did they just drag him out into the hallway and leave him there for the morgue to pick up? Could they have really done that: left him out in the hallway alone? Had he passed anyone on the way in? Oh God, Carter was dead. Twenty fucking minutes, and Carter was dead...
Thoughts, accusations raced through Benton's head as he fought to get his breath back. All that he managed to say was "What? Where?"
It was obvious to Mark what conclusion the surgeon had drawn, the tired look transformed into one of reassurance. "Carter went up to the OR - "
Benton didn't need to hear anything else.
So single-minded was the surgeon that he plowed directly into an arriving gurney, causing the patient on it to squeal in pain and nearly unbalancing the two paramedics beside it. He drew in a breath to mutter an apology, then he realized who the patient was and he stopped. For a long moment he stared at the writhing man, eyes dark and narrowed and hateful. The paramedics exchanged worried glances with the attendant policemen; they couldn't move forward, the surgeon effectively blocked their path.
For a second, Benton seriously considered standing there until the gunman slowly bled to death. A part of him wanted to watch. If Carter had been dead, the policemen would have eventually been forced to bodily move the surgeon. As it was, Benton paused only momentarily, then he shook his head and stepped aside, heading for the stairs in a run.
Half way up the second flight, he had a second collision.
"Hey, watch where you're going!" Her voice was highly indignant; he recognized it instantly.
"Cleo..." Again the apology died before it could begin. "Where are you going?" There was an element of suspicion in his tone.
"ER called me down for a multiple gunshot," she explained coolly.
Multiple GSW. She was going to work on the shooter, thought Benton, his expression hardening.
Dr Finch had been around long enough to know the situation, and she knew Benton well enough to read his thoughts this time. "I didn't ask for this guy, Peter. They called me."
"I know," he said flatly. He knew that the gunman had a hell of a better chance at living, even with only Cleo taking care of him, than Carter did, with probably the best surgeons in the city working on him.
Stung by his lack of understanding, she took hold of his arm. "Peter, you can't blame me for doing my job!"
"I'm not blaming you!" He shook her off brusquely, ignoring the look of hurt on her face. "I don't have time for this now, Cleo! Go! Do your job. I don't care. I have to get upstairs."
Dr Finch said nothing further, standing motionlessly on the staircase. She watched him hurry away from her, and mentally shrugged. Let Elizabeth handle him, she thought, before a stab of jealousy reminded her that Dr Corday was probably the only person aside from Carter who had any capacity to deal with Benton. She had never been able to before, and after this, what he probably saw as a betrayal, she had the feeling her chances were gone. With a sigh, Cleo resumed her way to the ER.
It was like a replay of the last time Carter had been hurt - there she was in the corridor, waiting for him, waiting to keep him from knowing what was going on, to keep him from helping.
Benton shook his head at her, frustration and denial evident on his face. "No way, Elizabeth. There is no way Romano is keeping me out here."
"It's not Robert," she said, as though that made all the difference.
"Anspaugh?" demanded Benton, looking over her head at the door.
"Peter, listen to me."
"No." He didn't care what she wanted to say.
"Yes!" Reaching up, she firmly gripped his chin in one hand and forced him to look at her. "Peter, I know this is hard for you, I understand that. But your anger and your fear are not going to help John right now; they would make you careless and get him killed, and I am sorry I have to say this to you but you know that I'm right."
He merely gazed at her, his eyes unreadable.
Elizabeth watched him cautiously, as though she felt he might make a sudden dash for the OR if she let her guard down. "Now if you want to help, you could get in contact with his family."
"No one's called his grandmother?" Benton asked, disbelieving. They wouldn't let him into the OR and they had waited for him to make that phone call? He felt as if he'd stumbled into some parallel universe.
"Mark tried earlier, but she's away on business. In Australia."
Benton nodded, remembering. "Yeah, she left me her phone number - in case of emergency." He started to laugh, but choked on it. Dr Corday squeezed his arm sympathetically. "I guess this qualifies," he said softly.
A short silence fell between them. Elizabeth thought she should get back to the OR, but Anspaugh was in there with Romano, and her presence was little more than as a spectator. And they already had Luka Kovac fulfilling that role. The Croatian doctor had not asked permission, had simply scrubbed in with the others and was currently watching over the proceedings as if vigilance itself could save the resident. Dr Corday suspected she had been called in for this: to contain Benton as peacefully as possible. So she waited.
"You know, I told her I'd look out for him," Benton continued, with a smile so grim it made her inwardly shudder.
"John's a grown man. He looks after himself."
Benton snorted, shaking his head.
"You are not responsible for him, Peter. And you are sure as hell not responsible for this."
"I know," Benton nodded, as though to make up for the lack of conviction in his tone. "I know that." The surgeon screwed his eyes closed, bowing his head. "How bad is it?" he asked, his voice quiet.
"Well, we've got his pressure up and they're repairing the damage to his lung right now - "
"Is he going to live?" Benton cut her off almost rudely, needing the bottom line.
"Peter, you know I can't - "
"Elizabeth!" he practically yelled. Then, catching himself, he lowered his voice. "Please."
She gazed at him steadily. "I think there's a good chance he'll make it through surgery. But after that..."
"The oxygen deprivation." Benton said it for her. She nodded wordlessly. "So, you think there might be brain damage."
Elizabeth could see the effort it was taking Benton to keep his voice level; part of her wanted to reach out and embrace him, but she had the feeling that would set off a reaction that even she was incapable of containing. It was better to keep this impersonal, to not say Carter's name again. "There might be. We can't know for sure until he wakes up."
"If he wakes up," the surgeon corrected her roughly.
"Peter - "
"Don't do that," he snapped, glaring at her. "Don't look at me like that! Don't say my name like you're trying to calm me down!"
"Well, you need to calm down!" she glared back at him. "You need to be reasonable, Peter."
"How am I not being reasonable? I said it, didn't I? I said brain damage, didn't I? Didn't I?" he challenged angrily. Then he realized what he had said, and whom he was talking about, and was brought to an abrupt halt in his tirade. "Oh God."
Elizabeth's expression was so sympathetic, Benton was torn between wanting to hug her and wanting to shout at her. She solved his dilemma, closing the space between them and wrapping her arms around him. He was rigid, almost unresponsive, his arms like leaden weights around her waist.
"I should have let him go," he muttered after a moment. "On the train, I should've just let him go."
She shook her head, unwilling to give him any false hope but equally unwilling to admit defeat. "We don't know that, Peter. He could be perf- "
"Don't say it, Elizabeth." Benton's voice was strained. "I can't..."
She nodded, her chin digging into his shoulder. Hope was sometimes just another four letter word. She squeezed him tightly before releasing him and stepping back.
They regarded each other silently. Then Benton said, "You should get back in there." He paused, shifting his gaze from hers to look at the ground. "And I have to call his grandmother." His reluctance was palpable; Elizabeth almost moved in for a second hug, but there was a distancing resolve in his eyes that held her in place.
"They don't really need me," she said hesitantly, an unspoken offer to stay with him.
Benton smiled at her, a brief and half-hearted attempt, but a smile. "I'd feel better if you were there."
She patted his arm lightly. "All right. You'll be okay?"
"I'll be waiting."
It wasn't actually an answer to her question but she nodded understandingly. Benton watched her disappear into the scrub room, then looked away. With a deep breath he turned towards the nearest telephone. He really did not want to do this, but there was no one else. He had seen the look on Elizabeth's face when she said he needed to be reasonable; he knew why she had said it. If Millicent had to make an informed decision, she would ask his advice and in all likelihood, she would follow it. In the end, it would be his decision.
"Yes?" Her voice was pleasant but business-like.
"This is Peter Benton."
"Oh, yes." She obviously thought this was a check-in call; she sounded pleased to hear from him. "And how are you today, Peter?"
"Uh..." Benton found himself lacking the words to describe his day.
"Peter? What's wrong?" There was no longer any pleasantness in her tone, only worry. "What's happened to John?" she asked.
"He's been shot."
There was a pause as the elderly woman tried to process the information. "How bad?" she asked, fear plain in her voice.
Benton shook his head, despite knowing she couldn't see him. "You'd better come as quickly as you can."
"Dr Benton." She hadn't called him that since the first night they met; Benton had forgotten how intimidating she could sound. "I need to know. How badly is John hurt?"
"It's... It doesn't look very good," he said, staring at the floor, not wanting to admit this to her or to himself. "He stopped breathing for a while, and they're going to have to run some tests." And you're going to have to decide whether it's better to keep your grandson alive like a vegetable, or to let him die, he added to himself. Aloud, he only said, "They're going to need you here."
"I'm on my way." The business tone was back, though a slight quiver belied it.
"Mrs Carter, I'm so - " Benton stopped. She didn't need his apologies now; she didn't need to hear his guilt. "I'll be here."
"I know you will, Peter. Thank you." She hung up.
Benton held the phone for a moment longer. Then he replaced the receiver with an almost exaggerated gentleness and dropped into the nearest chair, hunching over and lowering his face into his hands.
For some reason, he could still hear Millicent Carter's "And how are you today, Peter?" echoing in his head. It was so cheerful, so unsuspecting, so ordinary... So unlike the day he had been having, and so unlike this day that was far from over.