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by Marisol

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He hasn't been with her in a long time. It's been months since he even allowed himself to imagine such a moment. Carter had fought so hard to push Kem out of his mind. Not Kem The Doctor and Colleague. Not his Former Lover or Fellow Mourner. Not the Confidant. Not the Best Friend. That Kem was a constant companion, a voice on the phone, a line in the inbox, a name on an envelope. Somehow, he'd contented himself with that, had deceived himself into thinking that that Kem was enough, all he wanted. Because, like any doctor, Carter's learned to accept what he can't change. But on a lovelorn, rainy night in Paris, the crush of defeat can be too much for anyone, and the ensuing hopelessness can creep up around you and knock the wind from you like a blow to the chest. Ten minutes ago Carter was drowning in that shallow feeling, trying to accept what he could barely acknowledge as he rode in the back of a taxi cab conjugating verbs through his tears. But standing just inside the door of her mother's apartment, his wet items strewn on the floor, the two of them stand tangled in each other, feeding off the euphoric rush of the moment. He is convinced that this is right, that this is what he had wanted, needed, ached for all those months. And finally here she is, in his arms -- the object of his affection, of his dreams...of his heart.

She'd invited him in and barely a word passed between them before those eyes, her eyes, captured him in the way that makes his hairs stand on end and his body quake with passion. Carter had forgotten how soft her skin is, how thrilling her touch is, how compelling her lips feel when they are pressed against his own. Kem is slight and petite in his arms, and Carter is taken with just how electrifying it is to feel her body rising to meet his. He'd been deprived of this intensity of anticipation, of the kind of heat when you love someone. He picks her up and eagerly her legs wrap around to his back. As if possessed, Carter carries her over to the couch and there they collapse. Her eyes are closed and her hair cascades down her now bare shoulders, and Carter gets lost in the hollows of her neck, as she writhes beneath him. She smells fragrant, and he tingles as he feels her breaths against his face. "John," she whispers breathlessly in the delicately European way that no one has ever said his name, and Carter thinks he might burst. They pause a moment, and Carter looks at the woman tucked under him, radiant, luminous and...

And suddenly it dawns on him like sunrise over the Eiffel Tower. The insanity of waiting all this time, of deceiving himself, or pretending that they could go on like that. That he could give his evenings, his time, his body, his superficial, anemic love to someone else, all the while reserving the depths of his very soul for Kem. Lying here, her gentle hands pressed to his cheeks, it's then he sees it...hesitation.

"You have to tell him," he says suddenly, sitting up, breathless and flushed.

"John," Kem repeats, not wholly following, "Who?" She pushes herself up on the couch.

"Michel," Carter replies, and its suddenly so clear. "You have to tell him."

Lying back down, she takes Carter's hands in her own, wordlessly imploring him to love her, right here, right now. She sits up, and running her fingers through his hair, she brushes her lips against his, and they share a lingering kiss. "Can't that wait?" she purrs, leaning against his chest. But for Carter, the spell of the moment has already given way to images from earlier. He knows his ties with Kem are fragile and that a doorstep confession and a emotion-fueled romp can't compete with the grind of Reality that tomorrow surely will bring and the tempting simplicity of Michel.

"You have to tell him Makemba," Carter insists, and he's not sure why he called her whole name, but he wants her to know he's serious - about her, about them. Kem moans as she pulls away, pulling her nightclothes back over her shoulders and flashing him a look of frustration.

"And what shall I say?" she asks, with half a smile and half a look of hesitance. Carter notes the latter. In that moment he doubts his capricious decision and wonders if he shouldn't really be on a plane back to the States even as they speak. And all of a sudden he's back on a park bench a year ago, the night she left, aching for confirmation and commitment -- and coming up painfully short.

"Kem--," he says, and he clasps her shoulders in his hands. There's urgency written all over his face.

"Mon chou," she replies, and she hasn't called him that in probably a year, "I'll call," she says rising, "I'll call."

She walks over the phone and dials.

"Bonsoir...Comment allez-vous?" Good evening, how're you? That sentence is among the scant French that Carter understands, and more than ever he's resolved that the first thing he's going to do is learn more French. Just as soon as he settles down. In Africa. The tone Kem is using is heavy, and he is sure that Michel must know something is wrong. There are long stretches where he has no idea what she is saying, and even moments of silence, but he can hear the reluctant discomfort in her voice that he himself has heard so many times before. He wonders if the difficulty in ending it is for the sake of Michel...or for her own. "*...Cela dpend...*" "It depends." There are parts he can pick up, clips of phrases that are all awkward and point to the end. "Je ne suis sorti avec toi ..." And she says those words with so much weight that Carter is transported back to that last night with Wendall. And now he understands why he was *so wrong. And he regrets it. "Je regrette, mais...*" And her voice becomes strained. "Je ne crois pas."

Kem hangs up the phone and walks over to Carter. Her gait is shuffled, her head held low and she snuggles in next to him. It's a moment before either of them says anything. Carter is a little ashamed at his relief, and torn as to everything that's happened tonight. He pets her head, running his fingers through her silky, dark brown hair. "What did you say," he asks finally. It's a moment before she responds, and glancing down it's then he notices that she is just barely crying. "I said, um," starts, "I said I'd made a mistake. That I'd tried to love him when really I was in love with someone else. I said I was sorry that I may have hurt him." She stops suddenly. A moment passes. "Why are you crying?" Carter finally asks, because he's an adult, and adults aren't afraid to ask questions, even if they fear the answer. "Because," she says, "Because, um, this is a very messy business, isn't it?" She sits up. "Besides, I've never been very good at goodbyes."

With those words, Carter feels so confused that he thinks he may never have another coherent thought again. He's had awkward moments and complicated lovers, but comforting his girlfriend as she cries over dumping her boyfriend is probably too much to ask. He stops stroking her hair, and he's virtually overcome with the desire to ask her for some profession of love, some assurance, for the truth, something, anything that will make him feel like he isn't about to make the biggest mistake of his life. Because he's fairly sure that even if he knew it were, he would do it anyway. He has to clear his head. He has to leave.

"I'll go," he says starting to rise.

"John," Kem cries out, and he turns to meet her eyes. "Don't leave. Please, stay." She pulls his arm, imploring him to remain, and gently touches his face. Her voice is vulnerable, but sincere...and without a trace of hesitation, the hesitation that's plagued him all night. "I love you. And no one else." She glances down at the bracelet that has graced Carter's arm for over a year. And she speaks faster now, crying anew. "I've always loved you all along, every moment. But, I was in a fog, and I couldn't see. My mother was right; I couldn't come to terms with, or...I couldn't see, and I was hurting so very much. But it was never you, never, and, um, and I'm sorry, because I--"

"Shhh," Carter says, cradling her in his arms. Because he has heard all he needs to know. "I'm not going anywhere."

There are patches of time, snippets of life, that one will always remember. Those dynamic spans that are so momentous that even in the moment you know it - that this, this is a turning point. And you know your life forever will be...different. So there they sit, Carter and Kem, battleworn but hopeful, and for better or worse, they are going to give this thing another shot. Together.

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Fandom:  Other (ER)
Title:  Tangled
Author:  Marisol   [email]
Details:  Standalone  |  PG  |  het  |  8k  |  07/13/05
Characters:  Carter, Kem
Pairings:  Carter/Kem
Summary:  Carter might be making the biggest mistake of his life.
(Spoilers for Carter est Amoureux)
Disclaimer/Other:  I do not own ER. I do not own the characters. I do not own the idea of Romano getting eaten by a chopper. That one is all yours.

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