lambourngb: Kirk in bomber jacket (Still I See Monsters)
[personal profile] lambourngb
In the beginning, I watched ER a lot. I always liked Carter. My interest wanned over the years, returning when they cast the role of Dr Kovac, and then I got really tired of the Abby-story lines, so I stopped watching.

This was written after I watched a season 8 episode called "Secrets and Lies". I was so pissed and ashamed at how ER handled this revelation that Carter makes that I wrote this. Eventually though, I ran out of steam and righteous indignation. *g*

Title : The Secret Sharer
Author : Lambourn
Pairing : Kovac/Carter (preslash).
Warnings : Rated R for discussion of mature subject matter.

Summary : First it was a secret, then it was a memory, now it was a joke, but it still hurt all the same.

Author's Notes: Serious spoilers for the 8th season episode "Secrets and Lies." I'm not a habitual watcher of the show, so I don't know if they ever dealt with this issue that was raised. For those who are like me, and more peripheral fans, "Secrets and Lies" was the episode that Carter, Kovac, Susan, Abby, and Gallant were remanded to a sexual harassment seminar, after an incident with a dominatrix bag of sex toys and some inappropriate joking around. The teacher of the seminar was delayed by many hours, so out of anything else to do, they all talked and revealed things.

It was the most bitter irony that while rounded up to learn sensitivity about sexual harassment, the group of doctors and friends were the most insensitive. Carter confessed he lost his virginity at 11, to a maid, who was in her middle twenties, and Susan and Abby were amused and awarded him a "prize". Even as trained health care professionals, they perpetuated a myth that the general public believes in. The law says that's statutory rape, and there should not be the double standard that there is between young boys/older women versus young girls/older men. If Carter had been a woman, confessed that 11 "she" lost her virginity to a 20s male butler, the reaction would have been vastly different.

* * *

"Five, four…three, two… one, that's it. I'm off." He tore off the surgical gloves, making an easy dunk in the trash can next to the front desk, and made a bee-line for the locker room to clock out and get changed. There was leaving work, and there was escaping work. John Carter was definitely doing his best to escape work.

Not that he could ever really escape it. Laying awake some nights in his old apartment, before he accepted the inevitable and moved back in with Gamma, he'd hear those sirens just as loud and clear as if he was standing outside County waiting for the next disaster to speed through a red light and bring it's gory message of blood, bone, and death. Those nights he'd turn up at work regardless, just because he'd rather try and save someone's life than dream about the same, only failing.

Awake he had a certain amount of control over his body and destiny that he lacked asleep.

He cleared the yard with sure steps, passing the basketball hoop and approached the corner. Turning the corner so to speak meant crossing an invisible divide between being available to the next page, and being in a place where it was possible his pager would be on the floor, under the bed, left in the car, battery dead, etc. Sorry, Dr. Carter is not available at the moment, but please leave a message...

"Dr. Carter! Hey, Dr. Carter!"

Turn the corner, walk faster, it was just a little further and the way the wind whips between the buildings in Chicago, anyone would think he didn't hear the call. Except that it was getting closer, and unless he started sprinting down the sidewalk toward the parking garage, he was snared. Sprinting looked good for a moment, but it would deal a blow to the carefully constructed public stage of "The Perfect Life", starring as the Man with Nothing to Hide, himself.

He slowed, and turned, shouldering his bag again to keep it from sliding off to the ground. "Gallant, what's up? Did Kerry send you? She could have just paged me." He did his best to try not and make a face in front of his med student about their mutual boss. It wasn't professional. Then, neither was leaving the strap-on in Kerry's locker. So he did his best not to look pained, but he wasn't going to toss himself in front of the next El train if he failed.

Professionalism had it's time and place, but that was a clearly a lesson lost on Dr. Michael Gallant. The Army had its mark all over Gallant, from the way he stopped just in front of Carter and stood at near attention to the fact he had just sprinted from the hospital after a double shift and he didn't even have the decently to be out of breath. "No, si- Dr. Carter, I came on my own. I uh, I need your help."

The words were there. The I'm sorry, but I'm tired, can this wait until tomorrow or after 8 solid hours of sleep, but they were ruthlessly swallowed in memory of Dennis Gant. He didn't know how much trouble Gallant was in, whether it was step off the platform type trouble, but he couldn't afford the risk. "Sure… um, you wanna grab some coffee? Or breakfast?"

"Yes, that would be great." Gallant relaxed a little in relief, before falling in step next to Carter. "I'm really sorry to bother you with this, it's just I didn't know where else to go. I wasn't really crazy about talking to Dr. Weaver or Dr. Lewis about this…"

"Nah, don't apologize, Gallant. It's fine that you came to me." He glanced around at the surrounding diners, and then finally chose an all-night diner that boasted a full backroom bar, allowing it to skirt the mandatory last call laws that bracketed the city night life. It was also a decision weighed by the lowest occurrence of running into someone they worked with. "So we're talking personal matters?"

"Very. It's um, not really my problem, but it's my friend's."

Right. The ol' 'my friend' conversational game that meant everyone involved knew it wasn't really a friend, but yourself you were talking about. He loved those type of gambits. Taking a seat across from Gallant and picking up a menu, he readied himself for the proper dispensing of sympathy and the application of advice. "So what's *your* friend's problem, Gallant?"

"It's serious. I don't know exactly where to begin… this is going to run counter to all my military training but could you call me Michael? It's hard to talk about personal matters when I think I'm being addressed by someone above me in the chain of command."

"Of course. Call me, John. And don't think about my job title, okay?" He half-smiled, continuing, "though this is going to run counter to all that training we had a few days ago in that stimulating sexual-harassment seminar."

Gallant laughed. "It was stimulating, I don't think I've ever watched two attendings go after each other with swords."

"They were foils, and you have to admit, Kovac went crazy and attacked me unfairly. I should have killed him. You never go for someone's face."

"Well, you did try and stab him in the back." He pointed out.

Carter straightened and did his best to ignore that but his mouth was currently ignoring his brain's desire not to bring this mention into it, "Abby is the one sleeping on his couch"-

"Whoa!" He held up his hands and did his best to look confused, "I meant in the fight, err, not anything that is going on in your personal lives." Gallant paused and leaned forward in the booth, "it did get kind of personal in there."

"You lock any group of people into a room, isolating from their comfort zones of work or home, and you're bound to get into personal topics. Sex, religion, politics, it's any wonder we didn't all try and go for each other's throats after a while."

"It was kind of cool though, don't you think? Learning about one another. Like I had no idea Dr. Kovac did acting, or that Abby was into literature, or that Dr. Lewis was so determined about finding out who put that ..thing in Dr. Weaver's locker."

The kid had a point, even though he personally had felt very uncomfortable at the turn some of the questions toward him, like how much his family was worth. What his father did for a living. How could talking about managing investments and charities even begin to compete with hearing that Gallant's family was dyed in Army green, or that Kovac's father was a train conductor but that his real passion was art. Learning about one another had just made him feel a little inadequate, though according to Susan his wealth should have paved the way to superiority, or Abby's thought that becoming a doctor doomed him to believe that he was superior.

"Yeah it was interesting." He finally said, half realizing that Gallant, no, Michael was looking at him expectantly from across the table. He felt ashamed suddenly for his thoughts, when the man across from him didn't have the perfect family. "Interesting, but painful… I'm sorry about your sister, Michael. There's a lot of good research going on into CP, and therapies that can help-"

Again Michael lifted his hand but with a gentle smile. "Why do you think I became a doctor? She's my twin, and even though she surrounded by family, in all of the latest studies at Georgetown University Hospital, she still suffers and I always wanted to fix that. Cerebral palsy … it's like lightning, you never know where it will strike. It could have been me. Some days I think it should have been, cause my parents already have lots of healthy boys, but they've never had a healthy girl."

"I understand. Survivor's guilt." Carter replied, not with a medical surety, but a personal one. "I had a brother." His fingers drummed the menu lightly, before he looked up. "It was leukemia. All my family's money, it didn't stop or slow that disease at all. So regardless of what Abby or Susan said the other day, it doesn't buy the important things. It just buys things."

"Money can't protect you, can it?"

"No, not really. It can't protect you from the loss of a sibling." He smiled humorlessly, "it just buys therapy from strangers afterward for grief counseling." The word reminded him of why he was here with Michael Gallant when where he really wanted to be was home, in a house of many empty rooms, asleep. "Speaking of counseling, where were we? With your um 'friend'. What is his problem?"

"My friend… he's been hiding something. A trauma. And you wouldn't know it to look at him, that this bad thing happened to him. He looks so normal on the outside, and um it kind of makes me wonder that if he's even dealt with this bad thing, or if he's just covered it up. Or talked himself into thinking that his feelings don't matter and it's better to forget it all together." He stopped, and looked up at Carter with earnestness and a silent pleading to understand just what he was trying to say.

Never one to be able to walk always from that, he furrowed his brow, trying to do just that, understand what was being said to him. "Michael, being a doctor, you should know intellectually that what happened to your sister wasn't your fault but I can understand that emotionally it's harder to get that. You feel responsible. That is normal, but talking yourself into believing your feelings don't mean anything, that's not good."

"I know, but it's not me. We're talking about my friend."

"Come on, that's what everyone says when they're talking about themselves. It's easier to deal with if it's my friend's problem and not mine. It's called disassociation. That too, is normal."

"John, really… it's not me."

"Gallant, you asked me for help, are you really going to jerk me around like this?" Carter replied, annoyed and frustrated. He reached for some money to pay for the coffee that neither of them drank and started to get up.

First his family, and then the Army trained Gallant to act, not to sit on the sidelines. It was the only think he could do, he stood up and put his hands on Carter's shoulder to push him back into the booth, staring down into his eyes with deadly seriousness, "It's not me, it's you. You're the friend."

Carter froze out of surprise from the fact Gallant was actually holding him down, and then out of disbelief from what he was saying. He's crazy, Carter thought, another med student has snapped and this time he wasn't going to kill himself, he was going to kill me.

He rushed to explain. "Maybe I rushed the whole idea that you were my friend 'cause we don't know each other really well, and that this is a conversation you'd rather have with someone close to you, like Susan or Abby, but it looks like they don't get it, and so I'm the one you get. I apologize for that, you really deserve to have better friends when I'm the only one who heard you."

Carter worked on not panicking, on not remembering the last time he was confronted so personally with someone so obviously disturbed. The time he had walked into a darkened exam room looking for Lucy, and found a knife into his back instead. He'd been covered with a fuzzy darkness of pain killers after that. Good times with Vicodin.

Whatever was going to happen, Gallant wasn't going to kill him in this diner in front of witnesses. Already the waitress was looking their way in a mix of curiosity and concern. Go with the concern, he thought dimly. He wasn't going to lay odds of that happening though, no one really wanted to get involved with anyone else these days. It was better to save the investment of personal involvement for the television screen or the internet

"What did you hear, Michael?" Carter swallowed hard, trying to keep his voice even.

"I heard what you said. I heard you finally tell someone what happened. What I'm really sorry for, is that all you heard in return was laughter. They laughed. They shouldn't have laughed. John, what happened when you were eleven, that wasn't your fault." Slowly he let up the pressure on Carter's shoulder's and stepped back with a mix of sorrow and concern. Concern that maybe what he was saying was either not getting through or worse, getting through in the wrong manner. "Hey, you okay? I'm not going to hurt you… I just, I wanted to talk to you, and tell you that."

Maybe he wasn't as crazy as Carter thought. Or maybe he was. The two thoughts were doing battle, not unlike the duel that had occurred a few days earlier. "I don't know what you mean…" The denial was strong, but it was made weaker by the fact he couldn't make his legs move again to carry out the door and away from this crazy conversation.

"You didn't win a prize, and you didn't just lose your virginity when you were eleven."

Denial helped, but the best protection was a good defense, and what made the best defense but laughter. Jokes. Those therapists his parents employed while they decided to deal with their grief through travel, had taught him some very important skills in diversion. "So what is this? An intervention because I slept with the maid?" Carter laughed coarsely. "I know it's not very PC of me to take advantage of the help, but back then there wasn't the laws about sexual harassment like there is now."

Gallant just gazed steadily across the table, like he wasn't having to swim through layers of bullshit being thrown his way. "Were there laws about statutory rape?"

Rape. It was an ugly word, an ugly act, and it was destined to grab the attention of any casual observer or listener. The urge to slouch in his seat and make himself smaller, in hopes of deflecting that attention was strong. "God, lower your voice… it wasn't that. It wasn't rape, how could she rape me? She's a woman… it was just sex."

"John…"

"It's Dr. Carter, okay?" It really was time to reassert some boundaries.

Gallant didn't even blink at the correction. "Dr. Carter, you're a very smart man and a brilliant doctor. You know if a patient, a young thirteen year old girl comes in with evidence of sexual activity, and she reveals her partner was a twenty-eight year old man, you know what that is. It's statutory rape and you have an obligation by law to report it to the authorities. And if the girl says she was willing and she's in love with this guy… what do you tell her?"

Carter frowned, not liking the line of questioning at all, but readily replied. "She's not old enough to make that decision. She probably thinks she's in love, but really she's being used by that guy and she can't see it."

"Exactly, because a child cannot have a relationship with an adult without it being inherently unequal. That's why it's against the law. That's why it's wrong. It's wrong if it's a girl of thirteen with a twenty eight year old, and it's wrong if it was a boy of eleven, with a woman who's twenty-five."

"But it's different… it's just different. You don't know what it was."

Undeterred, Gallant shrugged lightly. "It's different because people will believe a girl about a man, but not a boy about a woman? That's prejudice, not fact. Not really that long ago, people thought I shouldn't be allowed to treat white patients, because I was inherently defective being black. It was okay for me to treat black people because they didn't deserve quality medical care anyway. Now was that fact? Was it based on anything but fear and misunderstanding?"

"I think this a little different," he replied, clinging to the cold rationality of argument. "Boys are supposed to go and get laid… you know that, you were fourteen in your church. Of course girls are supposed to wait until marriage, but it's expected of any red blooded male to go out and prove his masculinity and virility."

"I was fourteen, but my partner was sixteen and it was her idea." Gallant replied, and tilted his head, his eyes still bright with sympathy and understanding. "Was it your idea with the maid?"

He looked down, irrationally angry that even still the other man was looking at him in pity. What was there to pity, it was just sex. Dredging up the memory, Carter sighed. "I … I guess so… she came in to make the bed. I'm always an early riser, but I guess I wasn't out of bed, yet and she joined me…"

"You don't sound like you remember it well."

"I remember enough. How much do you remember from your childhood? It's not like it's crystal clear."

"Well, maybe I have a very good memory, because I remember very clearly my childhood, going all the way back until I was three years old. Though a lot of memory is based on what you create in your head later on… it's hard to be sure of it, so I guess I'm a good guesser." Gallant paused and picked up his cup of coffee, now cold, but he needed something in his hand in order to continue. "I can guess how it happened with the maid. It was understandable for it to happen in your eyes…. She came in to make your bed every morning. She would come in early though, a lot, didn't she? That's why you were an early riser. You're just at the cusp of puberty, and this embarrassing habit of waking up with sticky sheets or what is it, morning wood? It's starting to be like clockwork. So she'd come in early, wanting to catch you in bed, unaware. She'd probably watch you sleep for a while. Maybe she'd reach out and touch you, all under the guise of waking you up? It probably wasn't overt. It's easy to see a stranger touching you down there as being sexual, but someone just putting their hand on your shoulder? How could that be sexual? Even if it was weird that she kept her hand on your shoulder after you were awake, and touched your neck… played with your hair. You're probably burning up in embarrassment, because the sheets are messed up, or you've got that morning situation again, and she's not leaving to let you have some privacy. Did she offer to help? Make it seem like she was doing you a favor, even though you knew she wasn't going to leave short of you screaming for your mother to come or your grandmother. You didn't want to embarrass her by making a scene, and it was what boys were supposed to do with girls… so you let her. Let it happen. You didn't say yes, but you couldn't say no."

Silence spread across the table as Gallant gulped his stone-cold coffee like it was one hundred year old scotch, and Carter gazed out the window, not at the street passerbys but at something beyond his sight. His past.

"She got up and changed the sheets afterward. Not to hide what happened, but because it was Sunday, and Gamma wanted the sheets changed on Sunday. She thought it was good to start the week fresh. I had my sheets changed three, sometimes four times a week, until I was fourteen. Then Gamma decided I was old enough that I could have a door with a lock."

*

He was prepared to see anything when he knocked on Kovac's door, from Abby scantily clad rising from the bedroom with the ire that comes with an interrupted love making, to Kovac himself opening the door with the announcement that yes, they were back together, and no, she did not want to ever see his face again. He was prepared for everything but what he actually got.

"She's not there?"

Kovac sighed in frustration and repeated, "she's not here. I think she's out looking for apartments."

"But I have to talk to her. She has to be there, it's important."

"She's not here. Do you want to check the place to make sure I'm not hiding her under my bed?" He shoved his door open wider, and gestured ironically to Carter. "You're welcome to look, but you won't find her. In my bedroom or otherwise."

For lack of anything else to do, he stepped inside Kovac's apartment and proceeded to do just that, look.


* * *

Facts: Women make up 5 percent of the perpetrators in all cases of abuse of girls and 20 percent in the abuse of boys.

Resources: "Abused Boys: The Neglected Victims of Sexual Abuse" by Mic Hunter.
"Victims No Longer: Men Recovering From Incest and Other Sexual Child Abuse" by Mike Lew.

* * *

So it stalled there, before I could nail down a conversation with Kovac and Carter together. Carter sat down and waiting for Abby to show up, and end up talking, not about anything related to his past, but just for comfort. He left the apartment surprised he felt better, and that was the end of it.

The next companion story, which never even got started, "Heart of Darkness" was supposed to be much longer, picks up 2 years later and all about Carter in Africa with Kovac, sharing a tent. *g* That was where the pre-slash was supposed to become slash; Kovac noticing all the little details of Carter and then learning about the past abuse, hurt/comfort all the way.

March 2010

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