Benton hated the waiting game almost as much as he
hated the what-if game. At the moment, he was being
forced to play both.
He had sat as long as he could, then paced as long as it took him to realize that pacing wasn't helping. He couldn't think. Or he was thinking too much. It was hard to determine which was the case - the thoughts were jumbled, broken, unfinished and uncertain. There were too many ways this bad situation could get much, much worse and every time Benton tried to think rationally, his mind veered off on a tangent of possibilities. Interspersed with the multitude of 'what-if's were visions of what had happened. Flashes of the blood-splashed traincar would sporadically fall over his eyes: the baby's vacant, dead gaze, the mother tugging on his shirtsleeve, Carter lying in the narrow aisle, pale and unmoving. And Benton had done nothing, had been unable to do anything. Triage was not even a memory; all Benton could remember was everything he had not done.
And there was nothing he could do now. Sit, wait, hope: three things he had never been much good at. He needed to do something; he needed to act in some way.
He ended up in the scrub room, watching the surgery through the windows. He knew the moment he stepped foot into the OR, someone would usher him firmly out again. He couldn't help Carter.
Maybe he could help himself.
"Sorry it took me so long to get here," Kerry spoke over her shoulder as she hung her coat in the locker. "Traffic was unbelievable. It took me ten minutes to move half a block. Completely insane. Was there an accident round the corner or something?"
Mark had paused when she came in; now he put down his file and looked at her carefully. "Haven't you seen the news?"
Kerry shook her head, her expression clouding with suspicion. "No. Why?"
"You didn't even listen to the radio?" Mark pressed incredulously, amazed that she had somehow remained unaware of the incident.
"No, I - Mark, what's going on?"
"Look, Kerry, I think you'd better - " he stopped suddenly, eyes narrowing as he caught sight of something through the door window. "Damn." He pointed a finger at her with an unintentionally curt "wait", then rushed into the corridor.
He caught Benton's arm just as the surgeon leant against the door to trauma two, pulling him back a few paces. "Peter, what do you think you're doing?"
"I want to talk to him." He sounded almost reasonable.
"That's not a good idea," Mark understated.
"Why? What do you think I'm going to do? Think I'm going to try to kill him?" demanded Benton, shrugging off Mark's grip.
"Well, what would you do? If you went in there, what would you do? Try to help? Try to inflict more pain? Try to beat him up? What?" Mark looked at Benton helplessly. "What do you want from him?"
"I don't know." There was a long moment of silence. Benton stared in through the windows, not really seeing anything. The gunman was completely obscured from view by the numerous policemen; he couldn't locate Cleo past the crowd either. "An explanation, I guess. I want to know what he thought was worth it."
"You want this to make sense?" Mark asked, his voice gentle. "Because I can tell you right now, that man, in there, he can't help you. Talking to him is just going to piss you off."
"I'm already pissed off," Benton said with more weariness than anger. But he made no move to open the door.
Mark hid his surprise at the surgeon's defeated demeanor; he expected a lot more ranting and raving from Benton. The surprise turned into worry. "How's Carter doing?"
Benton shrugged, then shook his head. "They won't let me near him."
Dr Greene had figured out that much from the surgeon's presence in the ER. "Well, we could use a hand here. We're down a doctor - "
"Why are we down a doctor?" Kerry interrupted sharply, surprising both men. Neither had noticed her approach. "What's going on here, Mark?"
Benton frowned at her, but addressed Greene. "She doesn't know?"
"Know what?" demanded Kerry.
"There was a situation on the El," Mark began to explain.
"Carter got shot," Benton cut him off bluntly.
"What?" Kerry looked from Mark to Peter, as though expecting one of them to say 'just kidding'. "I don't understand. Carter should be at home; I sent him home early..." Her expression pleaded for some kind of explanation.
"He doesn't have a car!" Benton wasn't shouting exactly, but his voice was strained and it was clear that shouting was imminent.
Mark hastily resumed recounting the events of the afternoon. Kerry listened, paling as the account progressed but never interrupting. Behind them, Benton paced, throwing occasional glances into trauma two.
"What's John's condition now?" Kerry asked when Mark finished.
Mark cast a look at the surgeon before replying, “He’s in surgery."
"That doesn't really answer my question, Mark. Exactly how badly is he hurt?"
"Pretty badly. Actually very badly." Benton's voice was harsh.
Kerry's eyes narrowed. "Peter, I know you're worried but - "
"You should've known he didn't have a way to get home."
Startled at the sudden accusation, Kerry glared up at Benton with a disbelief that quickly gave way to anger. "And you should've realized he wasn't ready to come back to the hospital. He was so tired, he could barely focus his eyes, Peter. Didn't you notice he was overworked?" she asked.
"I didn't hear any disagreement from you guys," Benton snapped.
"I sent him home, didn't I?"
"Great job, excellent idea."
"Okay, cut it out!" Mark interceded before Kerry could respond; he was almost as angry as they were. "Let's just get this straight: some psychopath takes twenty-two people hostage, shoots ten of them, including Carter, kills five, including a baby, and you two are trying to blame each other?" Kerry and Benton separated their gazes guiltily. "I know you're not stupid, but you're both doing a really good job of pretending to be right now."
Without looking at one another, Benton and Weaver muttered apologies. Mark knew he couldn't expect any more emoting from the individuals before him and decided to move on. "Good. Peter - "
"Yeah, I'll stay." Anything to distract him from his thoughts. "Why is he still down here?" Benton asked, tilting his head at the door.
"I... don't know," Mark admitted. "Maybe - "
"No!" Cleo yelled suddenly, her voice carrying easily to the three doctors in the corridor.
Before they could react, a bullet splintered one of the windows, embedding itself in the wall just above Mark's head.
A second shot rang out. Benton unexpectedly found himself flat on his back on the ground.
It took him a second to realize that the swinging doors had knocked him over, and that a uniformed policeman lay motionless before him. A rapid succession of gunfire halted him in his move towards the cop.
Then there was silence.
After a moment, Mark released Kerry, stepping away from her, a little embarrassed at how quickly and perfunctorily he had grabbed her and shoved her in the corner. "You okay?"
"Yes." Her voice was shaky; she cleared her throat before she spoke again. "You?"
"Good. Thank you," she said, with a sincere smile. It instantly faded as she caught sight of the surgeon on the floor. "Peter?"
"Yeah, I could use a little help here," Benton growled, trying to staunch the blood flow from the policeman's shoulder.
"Dr Benton!" Malucci called.
Benton frowned up at the door, wondering what they could possibly want from him inside.
"Go ahead, we got this one," Mark assured him, taking over the surgeon's pressure hold with one hand while motioning to Malik for a gurney with the other. The male nurse, who had ducked behind the admit desk at the first shot, hurried out to help.
"What?" demanded Benton, as he struggled around the cluster of policemen surrounding the now-dead hostage-taker. He tried to care about the gunman's death and found that he couldn't. There was not even the vague sense of vengeance or relief. Nothing.
Once he had circumvented the crowd, his gaze lit on Dr Finch was standing, rigid, in the corner, staring fixedly at the dead man.
"I think she's wigging out," Dave told him quietly. "She won't say anything to me. I don't know."
Benton nodded at the resident, approaching his lover cautiously, as though afraid of frightening her. "Cleo? You okay?" he asked her softly. There was no response. "Cleo, are you okay?" he asked, more stridently this time.
Still she said nothing, wide-eyed and panicky. She didn't meet his gaze, staring past him to where the gunman lay sprawled on the ground.
"Are you hurt?" Benton resorted to shouting at her.
She shook her head, still shocked.
"Okay, good." The surgeon sighed deeply in relief, smiling at her. She didn't smile back. "All right, it's all right." Benton enveloped her trembling frame in a fierce hug. "Everything's okay."
It took her a few minutes to relax, to reciprocate the embrace. He maneuvered them so that her back was to the dead criminal; all she could look at were medical supplies. Benton could practically feel her heart racing against his chest, and pulled her closer, resting his cheek against the top of her head.
Benton lifted his head, searching for the source of the call. His gaze found Haleh, standing in the corridor. She didn't say anything, just pointed upwards with her index finger.
"Cleo, I have to go."
"What? No." She tightened her grasp around his waist.
Benton tried to disengage himself gently, but discovered he couldn't: she was clinging too tenaciously. After a few seconds of struggle, his voice hardened. "Cleo, I mean it, I have to go."
"Carter is - "
He didn't get to say anything more; she dropped her arms and stepped away, her eyes blazing. "I can't believe you. You're going to leave me for him. You know, that man could've killed me two seconds ago - "
"But you're fine," Benton reminded her, trying not to let his impatience show.
"Peter - "
"Cleo." His tone precluded argument. "Not now."
She laughed a sharp, bitter laugh. "Not now. I could've been killed and you say 'not now'." She shook her head. "Fine. Just go. Be with Carter."
He had already left.
Benton sprinted up the stairs. It hadn't been enough time; Carter couldn't be out of surgery already. Which could only mean something had gone wrong. This isn't happening, he thought. It's not happening.
Except that it was.
He could tell even before Elizabeth spoke; it was plain in her expression.
"Peter, there's been a complication."