Title: O is for Occupational Hazards (response to third ABC challenge from smkfanfic)

Author: Chanda

Synopsis: An outsider's view of Lee Stetson

Rating: PG

Disclaimer: Original characters belong to Warner Brothers and Shoot the Moon Productions. This story is written for entertainment purposes only, not for profit.

Warning: This story invents some action in between scenes of "Mission of Gold" which some readers may regard as AU.

Timing: During "
Mission of Gold". It occurs after the last scene in which we see Lee capture the bad guy (Scott) and before the tag where he arrives at the hospital.

Feedback: Please be gentle. This is my first posted story to the list. Any comments or suggestions would be greatly appreciated, on list or off.

Archive: Smkfanfic and Chelfriends. Others, please ask first.

Acknowledgments: I would like to thank my wonderful beta, Miriam. Without her help, I would still be lost in a sea of confusion.

Notes: This story is based on the song "It Didn't Look Like Alcohol," written by Rebecca Lynn Howard and Trey Bruce. The song lyrics are listed at the end. The character Liesl (pronounced Lee-zul, for those not familiar with the movie Sound of Music) is loosely based on my colleagues that I work with as a NP and CM in a hospital.

Occupational Hazards

The local bar is dark and smoky when I walk in to forget a day filled with stress and grief. Located across the street from the
Community Hospital in Las Palmas, CA, it's the perfect place for me and my colleagues to unwind after a long, hard day. Especially since some days are more harrying than others are. Today. I need a drink.

Walking over to take a seat at the bar, I nod to some of my peers. They won't ask me to join them today; they know I need to be alone. Normally, we share our day, whether good or bad, seeking relief from each other. It's easier to share your frustrations with your peers than to take the stress home.but not today. As I sit on the tall barstool, I remember what brought me down today. Events that were devastatingly out of my control lead to the urge to drown my sorrows in alcohol.

For the past several years, I have worked as a Nurse Practitioner at the hospital. My practice focuses on bone marrow diseases, so most of my patients are in the medical intensive care unit: MICU for short. Early this afternoon, my friend Elizabeth died. She just stopped. Sadly, it wasn't unexpected. There wasn't anything else we could do.that I could do.

Some people would call Elizabeth my patient rather than my friend. I met her when she was admitted to the hospital for a bone marrow transplant several years ago. Over time, I grew very close to her and her family. Personally, I consider myself her friend first and her chosen caregiver second. But that's how I treat all my patients. Some say I become too attached, but it's my nature. It's the only way I know how to function in my job. I guess you could call it an occupational hazard.

On days like today, when my emotions are out of control, I call my husband to pick me up. Today, his last meeting is running late, and he has a long commute home from
San Francisco, 60 miles north. So, here I am.waiting.

I decide to order a drink to calm my nerves while I wait for Jim. I'll slip it slowly while I sit here and do research. In my spare time, I people watch to study human behavior, hoping one day to become a published author. I try to commit to memory things that will help me better understand the human spirit, hoping this will help me be a good writer, an improved practitioner, and a better friend. Sometimes, I write my observations on cocktail napkins, but today, I'll just watch.

While waiting for the bartender to take my order, I notice a man walking into the bar. He looks lost, and I don't recognize him. He must be a tourist.
Las Palmas is such a small town, that one notices strangers, especially in this part of town. He slowly crosses over to the other end of the bar and takes a seat in the corner while placing his order. He's too far away for me to hear him, so I move inconspicuously closer.only a few chairs.

He looks sad.troubled.almost devastated. He's tall and handsome, with sandy blond hair. He's wearing brown khaki pants; a white and brown plaid, cotton shirt; and a dark brown, leather bomber jacket. His clothes are very casual and normal except for the dirt and stains. He looks like a child who has been outside playing in the sandbox and forgot to dust off his clothes when he came inside.

I can't tell what he's drinking. It's a clear liquid.possibly vodka, gin, or some other drink I'm not familiar with. As he reaches for his drink, I notice his hand is shaking like a willow leaf that has been rustled by a gentle wind. Then he rubs his eyes tiredly with his hand, and I see they are bright with what look like unshed tears. He runs his hand through his hair and shakes his head as if trying to clear his thoughts. Finally, he rests his head on his hands, as his shoulders slump in defeat. Something really bad must have driven him in here and brought him to this state.

The worry and fear are reflected in his hazel eyes, like there's a storm brewing in his heart. Quietly, almost in a whisper, I think I hear him say somebody's name, but I can't quite make it out. It seems like he's silently pleading with someone that I can't see. I suddenly feel guilty for eavesdropping on his grief.

Abruptly, he stands up from the barstool, as if he's in a hurry to leave. As he turns toward the door, his eyes lock with mine. His hazel eyes are so expressive. it's almost like looking into the depths of his soul. There's definitely something dreadful happening deep within his psyche.

Then he looks away and strides quickly toward the door. I watch him as he leaves, pushing the swinging door just a little too hard. It has only been ten minutes since he walked into the bar.

Suddenly, I remember that I haven't ordered yet. As the girl behind the bar finally comes to take my order, she nods towards the stranger's abandoned glass. "I guess he forgot me."

"Don't worry," I say. "I'll get his tab. And give me two of whatever he had."

She looks at me in confusion. "Water?"

Remembering the pain behind the stranger's eyes, I change my mind. If he didn't need alcohol to relieve his suffering, then neither do I. Placing a couple of dollars on the counter; I call out to Lesley, the bartender, "Never mind about that drink. I need to get back to the hospital."

Noticing me as one of her regulars, she nods goodbye. "Okay, Liesl. Don't work too hard. See you later."

I decide to stop at the pay phone and call Jim so we don't miss each other. After dialing the familiar number, I ask for his extension and patiently wait to be patched through. "Hi, Jim. It's me." I sigh not knowing where to begin. I already talked to him once today after
Elizabeth passed. Now, I once again long for his strong arms to hold, comfort, and soothe me.

I can hear the love in his voice as he welcomes another call from me. "Hi, honey." A note of concern creeps into his voice. "Are you all right?"

"Yeah, I'm okay. Listen, I decided to go back to the hospital. Can you pick me up there instead?"

"Sure. Why are you going back?"

"I'm just not in the mood to sit in a bar tonight. Anyway, how much longer until you get here?" I brush a stray lock of hair away from my face. "I see you haven't left yet."

"I know, honey. I'm sorry." I can hear the remorse in his tone. "Something came up. But, if it's any consolation, I've been taken off the duty roster until Monday. So, how do you feel about a long weekend with your sexy husband? Huh?"

"Really? How did you manage to get off? What did you have to promise this time?" I raise my eyebrows in disbelief. "Of course, I would love to spend the weekend with you. I really could use a lot of Jim time this weekend. It's been a terrible week." Remembering the sexy comment, I feel my cheeks burn. After all these years, he can still make my heart flutter. "Sexy, huh? You better let me be the judge of that."

His deep, rich laugh immediately makes me feel better. "I'll get you for that.but later, much later." In the background, I hear his secretary's muffled voice. "Okay, I'm back. Susan just handed me some paperwork. Anyway, the reason I'm late is that I received an important phone call just as I was walking out the door. My old boss from D.C. called and told me one of my friends was in
Las Palmas. He want's me to check on him. It seems that his partner was shot and he's taking it pretty hard."

I gasp and swallow a sudden lump in my throat. "That's terrible. Maybe we can invite him over this weekend for dinner. He could probably use some support, and I wouldn't mind meeting one of your old friends. Do you know how his partner is doing?"

"Well, they're at the
Community Hospital. I don't know what room or how bad off she is." I hear him sigh. "I just hope she'll be okay. I haven't seen my friend in a long time.not since his last partner was killed. He was in terrible shape after that. I think he may just need someone to talk to, honey. We can invite him over, but he may turn us down. The last time this happened, he shut everyone out - including me."

Hearing the hurt in Jim's voice, I want to reach through the phone and pull him close. "I'll find out what I can when I get back. What's your friend's name? "Lee - Lee Stetson. The call was such a shock that I didn't get his partner's name. But maybe you could check around. There's not many gunshot wounds in
Las Palmas."

I nod, forgetting that Jim can't see me over the phone. "I'll find out what room she's in and what her diagnosis and condition are before you get here. When are you leaving?"

"As soon as I get off the phone with you," he teases.

"Oh, okay. Go, get.and drive carefully in all that crazy rush hour traffic. I love you."

"I love you, too. Bye," he whispers.

I hang up the phone and begin the walk back to the hospital. This has been a day filled with such sadness:
Elizabeth's death, the news about Jim's friend, and that poor man in the bar. I wonder whether the stranger in the bar also has a loved one who has just died or is very ill. Most of the people who stop in the bar are in some way affiliated with the hospital, after all. It's hard to imagine that anything but the loss of a loved one could drive him to become so unnerved.

I shake my head to clear the daze. Now I have another soul to worry about. Someone I might actually be able to help.

It's late spring, but with the sinking sun, the wind has become cooler. Looking up toward the sky, I notice that it's almost dusk and the moon is beginning to peek through the fast approaching blanket of night. I wonder if the old tale is true: "Pink sky at night, sailor's delight; pink sky in the morning, sailors take warning." If so, we're going to have a beautiful day tomorrow.

Reaching the hospital, I take a deep, cleansing breath as I pass through the automatic doors. Doors that less than a half-hour ago I ran through seeking escape. I begin the trek to my office down the long, winding corridors, knowing that I will pass the nurses' station along the way.

Unexpectedly, I see the man from the bar walking toward the MICU. I pick up my pace just a little to make sure I don't lose him, but not enough for him to notice. He must be visiting a friend - or maybe a loved one. His hands are shoved in his jacket pockets, and his head is down. Based on his demeanor, now and at the bar, I would guess the prognosis isn't good.

I continue to follow him into the MICU since my office is located in the back. I stop at the nurses' station to inquire about my husband's friend, as well as this stranger. To my good fortune, my friend Becky is working. If you want to know anything about the internal workings of the hospital, Becky knows everything, including things you don't want to know.

Catching Becky's attention, I motion for her to meet me in the break room. When she walks in, I start my barrage of questions. "Hey, Becky. What do you know?"

She grins at me and looks around slyly to make sure we're alone. "Well, what do you want to know?"

I laugh and shrug my shoulders. She knows I always come to her for the juicy gossip. "First, did you see that tall guy down in the waiting room? Who is he and who is he with?" I give her a wink. "Second, has anyone been admitted lately with a gunshot wound?"

"Hey, I thought you were happily married." She teasingly shakes her finger at me. "He is handsome, isn't he? I guess there's no harm in just looking." Her face becomes more serious. "He's here with a woman named Amanda King, in room 346C. She's been critical but stable. And she's the only person I know who was recently admitted with a gunshot wound."

Pausing for a moment, Becky seems to weigh a decision, as if making up her mind about revealing a big secret. "It's strange, Liesl. At first I thought they were married, but they have different last names. I guess that's not so strange; lots of women keep their maiden name for professional reasons. At first, though, I noticed that he was wearing a wedding ring. But the moment her Mother showed up, it began to disappear - except when he's visiting her alone. I think he may be slipping the ring in his pocket. I wonder why they would try to hide something like that?" She shrugs her shoulders. "Of course, it's none of my business. And you didn't hear anything from me, okay? Remember patient confidentiality. I know you won't tell anyone."

"Thanks, Becky. I saw him earlier. He looked awful, and I just wondered who he was. Do you know his name?" I assume an innocent expression.

"Yes," she drawls out. "It's Lee Stetson."

I try to hide my surprise, but it must have shown through.

Becky looks at me, obviously curious. "Do you know him?"

"No, but I know someone who does. What happened to Amanda King?" I wonder out loud.

"Well, she was shot down by the marina a few days ago. It's really a sad case. She's been wavering as far as her status is concerned. Worst of all, this morning, she went into cardiac arrest. I thought we had lost her for a moment." Becky looks sad, remembering, but then she smiles. "The cardio-version must have been what she needed. Her vital signs have improved and she's doing much better now.but I guess he doesn't know that yet. He left right after they brought her back. But he'll be happy soon enough. Her prognosis is good now, and," she grins, "she just woke up."

"That's wonderful. I'll peek in on them later, and see if there's anything that I can do. Thanks for the
4-1-1, Becky." As we walk out into the hallway, I call out, "Don't work too hard tonight."

Feeling better than I had since morning, I begin to smile at what was finally a positive ending to this once rotten day. I walk to room 346C and slowly ease the door open just a little. I want to peek into Mrs. King's room just to make sure they're all right. As I do, I overhear their conversation.

The man from the bar, Jim's friend, is kneeling beside her with a look of relief on his face. His attitude is very different than it was earlier, in the bar. Now, I can see hope rather than despair on his face.

The woman looks pretty groggy, but she's smiling at him. She seems to be struggling to keep her eyes open. In a raspy, breathless whisper, she asks, "If I go to sleep.will you sit with me for a minute?"

He smiles and tenderly says, "I love you, Mrs. Stetson," as he leans forward, lightly brushing his lips against hers. Then he relaxes back into chair beside the bed, keeping his eyes on her face, apparently oblivious to everything but the woman in the hospital bed. He takes a deep breath, releasing a ragged sigh as he wipes a silent tear from his cheek.

Feeling like an intruder, I quietly close the door and head to my office. Shaking my head ruefully, I chuckle at myself. Here I go again, getting attached to a stranger and a patient that isn't even mine. That's okay, though. I know Dr. Neely would love to let me help on this case. He always lets me assist. He says it's just to further my knowledge base. I think it's really because I care about my patients as if they were a part of my own family.

I walk into my office, turning on the florescent lamp while I collapse in the high-back leather chair. This couple will have a long recovery period. I'm sure I can help out with that. She's going to need extensive cardiac rehab and lots of moral support. If, by helping, I make another friend in the process.even better.

Taking a deep breath, I look at the clock. Jim should be here soon. I begin to laugh at a wicked thought that passes through my mind. Of course, I'll tell him what room Mrs. King's in and her prognosis. I did promise to find that out for him. As far as what Becky told me about the wedding ring and the conversation I overheard.well, that's a secret. A need to know secret. And Jim doesn't need to know.

The End (or is it?)

"It Didn't Look Like Alcohol," written by Rebecca Lynn Howard and Trey Bruce.

It didn't look like alcohol to me
But his hands were shaking like a willow leaf
Reaching out for one more drink
He didn't look like a loser to me
But he was lost behind his tears
Something had to drive him in here
He don't fit in with this crowd
Somewhere, sometime he was proud

There's a storm stretched out a million miles across his heart
And a war he's fighting in the dark
Whatever it is, something bigger than him drove him too far down to crawl
But it didn't look like alcohol

Thought I heard him say somebody's name
But I pretended like I didn't hear
I just wished that I could disappear
He was cracking like a desert of burning shame
Pleading with someone that I couldn't see
He might as well have been on his knees
Like a bomb ticking ready to blow
He got up in a hurry to go

There's a storm stretched out a million miles across his heart
And a war he's fighting in the dark
Whatever it is, something bigger than him drove him too far down to crawl
But it didn't look like alcohol

The girl behind the bar says she guesses he forgot her
I said, "Don't worry I'll get his tab and give me two of whatever he had."
And she said, "Water?"

Whatever it is, something bigger than him drove him too far down to crawl
But it didn't look like alcohol

It didn't look like alcohol to me