Title: Causal Fallacy (20/20)
Disclaimer: I don’t own them. If I did there’d be a lot more lesbian sex on the show.
Pairings: Callie/Arizona, Owen/Cristina, Meredith/Derek, Amelia/Lexie, etc, etc.
Summary: Sometimes there is no link between cause and effect. Sometimes it is just the natural world bearing down on you and devastating everything in its path. A sequel to the Alternate Universe episode, “If/Then” and Another Statement of Causality. Callie and Arizona are at a loss with how to make a relationship work with three kids and Cristina and Owen are blindly moving forward damned the costs.
Author’s Note: This thing is done.
Nick was Arizona’s first, last and only boyfriend. They’d kissed once before puberty struck and Arizona had realized that even though boys weren’t that different from girls she still liked girls way more. Yet he was still that one guy outside of her brother that she didn’t mind cuddling up to. So they left the door to the beach open so they could listen to the waves and they curled up on Nick’s bed. Wrapping themselves tightly around one another and holding on like it might be the last night they could feel each other’s warmth.
‘She’ll find a way,’ Arizona told herself. If anyone could save Nick it was Callie. She’d mailed off all his scans with a powerful surge of hope and even opted to buy him dinner just because she felt so good.
“This is feeling kind of like a last meal,” he’d joked.
“Your last meal thinking you’re dying,” she’d insisted. They’d toasted each other and drank too much rum and stumbled back to the bungalow, falling onto the bed fully clothed and clutching each other not quite like lovers but not quite like sister and brother either.
So he didn’t ask and she didn’t answer and they fell into the restless sleep of the incredibly, incredibly drunk.
Callie was grateful for an ex-husband she was on good terms with and a father who’d do anything for her because it allowed her to sit in a room at the hospital and do nothing but stare at scans and think. No kids. No concerns.
She left her phone in her purse in her locker and she kept a pot of coffee on the desk and she stared.
Scans weren’t a heart. They were shadows of a heart. A man-made machine’s interpretation of a device only God could fully fathom. It was up to her to play God and try. To see muscle and sinew and blood vessels where a machine only gave her light and dark.
Sometimes she closed her eyes and put the heart in front of her. Traced its sorry state with her fingers. Her thumb moved over the tumor, hard and foreign and nestled in muscle turned soft from the onslaught. The whole muscle beat in her hands and she saw the blood pool in chambers that could not move and leak from strains put on it by that invading object.
Other times she’d open the program on the computer in front of her and move from one scenario to another. Her hand was always steady in the scenarios. Perfect and sure with none of the worry of operating on her lover’s best friend. A machine’s hands.
And machines just couldn’t understand the heart.
FAILURE. The words were there on the screen. YOU’RE A FAILURE CALLIOPE TORRES. Because every scenario ended the same way. The heart could not be saved. She could not do the one thing Arizona had asked of her.
Nick would die and it was with Callie’s hands in his chest.
Cristina passed her boards.
She shouldn’t have been so surprised by her success. She was the best resident in her class. The most confident surgeon. The most extraordinary. It wasn’t hubris, it was fact—one Callie or Teddy would have happily confirmed.
But she’d come so close to failing. They didn’t actually tell her that. There was no presentation of a score. Simply pass or fail. But she knew how close she’d come. She’d seen her testers. Seen their disdain. Seen their irritation. She’d walked a razor’s edge for half that test and cut herself badly in the last moments.
And before Owen that wouldn’t have happened.
Before Owen she was a machine. She was a construct— engineered to be the best. Pesky emotions never picked at her. She wore a thin veneer of humanity—not been suffused with it.
But she couldn’t just blame Owen for what had happened—or what she’d become. As much as she desperately wanted to put it on him and this cosmic pull she felt towards him it had been her choice to love him ultimately. There’d been a split in the path and an easy exit and she’d ignored it for ardor and the exquisite pain of their affection.
And it had nearly cost her her boards.
“You don’t know that,” Meredith urged in the dark confines of the basement, where their only company were abandoned beds and dusty brick walls.
“Six months ago that would not have happened.”
“And six months ago you wouldn’t have had anyone.”
But that was okay. “Maybe—“
Meredith was not the most expressive person Cristina had ever met. She didn’t get girly or giggle—not since her disastrous engagement. She was like a dense Russian novel. Impenetrable at first glance but fascinating upon closer inspection. It was an endearing trait and it kept Cristina fascinated by her best friend.
But sometimes—sometimes this veil would fall. Everything that Meredith was would disappear into this effigy of stone. No one could break it. No one would try. When it appeared it was best to back away. Give her space. Needling her was pointless—and Cristina liked that too. She was the same way. They went internal when wounded.
And she’d deeply wounded her with nothing but a “maybe.”
Meredith’s face went slack except for the grimace that turned the corners of her mouth down.
“That’s sad,” she said, “that’s really freakin’ sad Cristina.”
Then she turned on her heel and stalked out of the basement.
Was it sad? Trying to maintain an edge? Was it really sad wanting to be the very best? Meredith couldn’t understand—not under her mother’s shadow. She couldn’t possibly see how vital it was to be alone and free of emotional entanglements. She should, but she’d been raised by a Cristina and thought her, and her mother, at the end of the day, were unnatural. Frigid bitches with no concept of humanity.
“If things were different you’d feel the same way,” she shouted after her.
And Meredith was back again, racing across the distance with her finger directed almost vulgarly at Cristina. “No, I wouldn’t. Because I don’t think loneliness is worth it.”
“But your mother—“
“Was a monster when I was a kid. A monster. And my dad came and saved her and put us all together. Without him I’d be a shell and she’d be some sad old bitch. People would know her and she’d be famous, but she’d still be sad, depressed and completely alone and if you think that’s worth a few awards then you’re sad.”
“You’ve got friends now. You’ve got a guy who loves you Cristina. You’ve got this whole family now—“
“And I don’t want it! Don’t you see that Mer? I don’t want to be a mom or a stepmom or anything. I don’t want to have to juggle surgeries to pick up the kids or call Callie to plan Thanksgiving.” She ran her hands over her hair, smoothing wisps away and feeling the rough tug of a tangle. “I’m losing myself Mer. Every day he’s taking a piece of me and I just can’t get it back.”
Her shoulders hitched. Something awful churned inside of her. The words were out—applied to something she’d purposely kept unquantifiable for so long. But now there it was. Defined. Crystilized into something tangible.
Meredith couldn’t seem to find words to respond with. She wasn’t shocked or horrified by the truth wrenched straight from the pit of Cristina. She was, if anything, just herself again. The woman Cristina had grown to understand with a look. And Meredith understood her too—which maybe was why she wasn’t horrified or angry anymore.
So she just stared at Cristina. Not touching or speaking, just being. And Cristina allowed herself to just be too.
Out of habit Owen sometimes still just called her his “wife.” He didn’t consider Callie his wife and he hadn’t for some time. But there were occasions in his head where the “ex” was forgotten.
It would likely always be that way. There’d be just this perfect alchemy of emotions and memories that would evaporate the “ex” and make her just his wife. It wasn’t pronounced with the kids—there she was their mother, and it wasn’t pronounced when dealing with Arizona or Cristina. A third party made the “ex” all the more stark.
But he stepped into the room where Callie had been brainstorming for the last two days and saw the dark circles under her red rimmed eyes and the way she stared blearily at the screens in front of her and she was his wife. A word that could not begin to adequately describe what their relationship had been, had become, and would forever be.
“Callie,” he called trepidatiously.
Her whole body seemed to creak as her eyes rose to meet his. There was something devastating there. An agony so horrid. And the worst wasn’t the pain but knowing that he’d never seen it before because Callie had never felt that way before. Not for him. She was a woman failing someone she loved more purely than she’d ever loved him.
“I can’t do it.”
He came and knelt next to her chair, her bad leg was propped up on a stool beneath the table and the foot below the massive brace was twitching with nervous energy. She ran her hands angrily through her hair, tugging at it and ruining that perfect coif that had come to define her since their marriage.
“I’ve spent two days just staring and—“ She groaned in frustration and fury.
Out of habit Owen’s hand covered hers. “Hey. You’ve got time. We can take time and—“
She snatched her hand away, taking umbrage with his attempt at comfort. “There isn’t time Owen. Arizona’s best friend is dying on a beach in Belize. This is it. I’m it.”
“Have you talked to Teddy?” Callie glared at the screen. “Cristina?”
“I have to do this.”
“You’ve got the best cardio department on the West Coast roaming this hospital. Have you reached out to any of them?”
She jerked away from him, gesturing at the screen, “You know what they’re going to say? The same thing I’ve been trying not to for the last two days. There’s no chance Owen. He's dying and there is nothing I can do."
"You have to—“
"I have been! I've been trying. I've been staring at that heart for days and trying to see a way—a path to fixing it."
"Callie," he waited patiently until she looked at him again, "you don't give up. Ever. You’re the most tenacious woman I know and one of the most brilliant surgeons I've ever seen. You can find a way."
She sniffed, and glanced up at him from beneath her eyelashes, “This a pep talk coach?"
"Getting ready for the day Allegra starts playing sports,” he said with a gentle smile.
Then her face cracked and Owen realized he'd approached her all wrong.
This wasn't about cheering her up or giving her inspiration. This was about allowing her to accept the pain. Accept what she could not fight.
She looked down at her hands, “The thing is…a pep talk isn’t enough Owen. Teddy and Cristina won’t be either. His heart’s a tumor, and it’s not the only one.”
“It’s fatal.” Not sad or nervous or worried anymore. Callie voice was steel when she said those words. The badass cardiothoracic go. She sniffed again. “There’s nothing to be done, and I told Arizona there was.”
“Would you? If it was your mom and I couldn’t save her would you understand?”
“Yes,” she shook her head and he raised his voice a little, tried to maintain their eye contact, “Yes I would. Because I’m a surgeon too and I know how good you are, and Arizona knows how good you are Callie. She knows you’re the best.”
“I’m just a fellow—“
“You didn’t even have a fellowship and Ellis was giving you feel run of this place.”
“Because she didn’t care about cardiothoracic! She just needed a face to put on the wall of department heads and mine looked good. I was at the right place at the right time. That’s why I was in charge. Not because I’m some—-I’m not extraordinary.” Her voice was soft. “Not like your or Arizona. Cristina. She’s extraordinary. She’s the future. I’m just paving the road there.”
Owen reared back and forced himself to reappraise his ex-wife. She could be prickly and maybe even a little too emotional, but Callie was smart and when it came to surgery she wasn’t just good. Callie was…Callie was one of the greats. He knew it. Everyone knew it. All those years ago when she’d just recklessly walked into that room as a resident and demanded her help her save a man’s spine despite Derek Shepherd saying no he’d known she was great.
“Why do you think Arizona asked you?”
She wiped at her eyes and shrugged. “Because I’m her girlfriend.”
“Because Ellis flew in Teddy Altman and Erica Hahn to be your boss and you’re still the surgeon with the most consults. Because you published more before you were a fellow than most attendings will ever publish. Because you’re an artist. And because there is no one in this world she should trust that heart to before you.” He reached out for her hand and squeezed it tight. “No one,” he repeated. “She won’t be mad at you.”
“I’m failing her. And she’ll leave again Owen. If I can’t save her friend she’ll leave me.”
“Losing him will be the final straw. It’ll break her, and I guarantee you she won’t let me or anybody else pick up the pieces.”
Another monologue full of assurances and glowing praise formed on Owen’s tongue. But he paused. Because as much as he wanted Callie to be wrong he knew, in some way, she was right. With the plane crash and Arizona’s own skittish nature in relationships her friend’s death would be enough. Callie would lose her.
He took a deep breath and looked up at the scans. “Show me what you’ve got,” he said. “Let’s get as many eyes on this as possible.”
Maybe they were doing like Callie had first said—delaying the inevitable. But he’d do it as long as he needed if it would give Callie that chance. You did whatever you could…for the people you love.
They didn’t talk about the plane crash. Just like they never talked about the helicopter crash that took Tim’s life. They didn’t need to talk about it. She mentioned it once and he nodded and there was understanding.
“Thanks for coming,” was all he really said afterwards. A quiet acknowledgement of what it must cost her to get on the plane.
“Where else would I be?”
He was laid out on the bed, resting his head in his folded arms and watching the ocean. Arizona was seated on the ground in front of the bed and had to turn around to look at him. “What?”
“You like her,” he said with a grin.
“Well, I—Of course I like her! That’s why you date.”
“But you’ve been together a while right?”
“Off and on a few months.”
He blinked in surprise and then had to roll over to look at the ceiling. “Wow.”
“It’s not that shocking that I’ve dated someone a few months.”
“It’s pretty shocking.”
She had no words.
“You usually never last more than like, a week.”
“I…” Arizona was stuck. Callie technically was her longest relationship. Even if they hadn’t had a whole lot of sex— “Did you know we didn’t sleep together for like a month when we first started dating.”
“It’s the end times.”
She grabbed the pillow she’d been sitting on and twisted around to hit him in the face with it. “I like her, okay?”
He rolled back over and balanced his chin on his fists. Wagging his eyebrows he said, “Sooo. Tell me all about her.”
Nick could be such an asshole.
She smiled. “She’s—“ She’d been safety in a storm.
“Yeah,” she said smiling.
“And she’s a heart doctor.”
“An amazing one. The best.” She was surprised Nick was even trying to press her. They never talked about who they dated. Arizona normally went through women so fast and Nick through women so sparingly that it wasn’t a thing.
That both were insanely private when it came to romance compounded the—not problem—issue?
“You’ve been dating a month, she’s a heart doctor, and you’re in love. What got you to commit? She save your ass on that mountain?”
She didn’t say anything.
“Oh.” He looked embarrassed. “Arizona—“
“It was something before that. Then it wasn’t. Then it was. I guess.” She looked back out towards the beach. “I care about her.”
“Right. But why’d it take a plane crash to make it something real? You don’t think that’s a little convenient?”
“It could be fate!”
She winced as soon as she said it.
“You know, I’ve known you to be a lot of horrible things Arizona, but that was a whole new level of stupid.” He said her actual name.
She turned back around to find Nick staring pointedly.
Finally she sighed. “She has kids. And an ex-husband who’s not going anywhere.”
“And you’re the woman who travels to foreign countries with nothing but a backpack.”
“And you hate kids so much you got a job carving them up.”
“That’s not true.”
“It’s a little—“
“Okay a little—but I like her kids. And they like me. A lot.”
“Yeah because you swoop in, probably give them presents, and then swoop out. Wait until they’re fourteen and hate you then get back to me on how great they are.”
“You’re trying to talk me out of loving Callie and it isn’t going to work.”
“No. I’m trying to point out that you’ve made a very cozy life free of Thanksgiving obligations and they don’t fit that life.”
“Can’t I change?”
“Sure. Anyone can change. But you have you’re life and no one, not me or your parents or even Tim could get you to change it.”
“You’re making it sound like I’m some kind of selfish asshole.”
“If she asked you to move in tomorrow and raise those kids would you?”
The thought filled her with blind panic.
“I’m happy for you Yuma, but I don’t want you setting yourself, or this poor chick, up for a fall.”
“Did you know I’m a godmother?” He tilted his head. “Mark. This guy lives across the hall from me and has known me only a few months and he made me a godmother. If he and his fiancé die—which is very possible at that hospital—I’m a mom. And I’m okay with that Nick.”
“You were a godmother once before.” And Nick had been a godfather. Back when his sister had married her brother and they’d had a kid. Back before Tim died and Arizona self destructed and Nick travelled the world taking pictures of kids he didn’t know but could rescue with a smile and a camera.
She hadn’t seen her godson in years. Nick’s sister wouldn’t even take her calls.
“It’s different now,” she argued.
“Because of the plane crash?”
“Because of Callie. Because I—I love Callie.” She grinned—justing thinking about Callie and home had her smiling. “And I love her kids. And because I’m committed.”
“But nothing Nick! I’ve changed. I’m good now. And Callie helped. If you guys could just except that—”
“Guys—“ His eyebrows rose with surprise. “You mean your parents. You told them?”
“Of course not. Look how you’re acting. They’ll be five times worse.”
“You don’t know that.”
She did. And he did too.
He shrugged, “Okay, but right now you’re surprising me talking about loving a chick. Maybe they could surprise you.”
“They could. But they won’t.”
Parents rarely ever did.
“You really don’t have an opinion?” Callie had trouble believing that. Her father always had an opinion.
But he shrugged and crossed his arms, “I don’t know what to tell you mija. This isn’t my decision.”
“My leg, you had an opinion. Where I live you, have an opinion. You’d have one for which side of the bed I sleep on if I asked, but whether I should take this company’s settlement offer you’ve got nothing.”
“I wasn’t there. You were.”
Callie groaned and stood up abruptly. Her crutches were leaning against the fridge so she had to hop shuffle to the sink with her drained coffee cup. “I honestly don’t get you,” she ranted.
He interrupted, “What do the others think?”
“Derek’s now for suing because he’s got a white knight complex. Meredith doesn’t care. Sloan and Addison are wanting to settle—“
And Arizona she hadn’t spoken with in three days. She was trying to hold off calling her in the vain hope that something would change. That she’d ask about Nick and Callie would be able to give her good news.
But if anything Teddy and Cristina’s consults had just made it clear how lost the cause was. Owen was the only one optimistic, but he’d stayed in a marriage about 3 years too long once. He was optimistic to the point of stupidity.
“I don’t know—“
“Mija,” he scolded.
“I have to…I have to tell her something and I can’t. So we haven’t talked.”
The legs of his chair scraped across the floor as he stood up. He padded close enough to hug her if he’d wanted to, but he just put his hands on her shoulder and slowly turned her around.
“I’ve never known you to run,” he said seriously.
She hadn’t either. Not until Arizona.
“I can’t tell her Daddy.”
“You have to.”
“And if she hates me?”
“Then she’s a fool and she doesn’t deserve you,” he said very seriously. Something in her broke and tears blurred her vision enough that she couldn’t see her father’s frown. He pulled her into a hug, the first real hug he’d given her since learning she was bisexual. “A damn fool.”
Closing on the house went faster that Owen would have thought. It seemed like something that big, and that important, should have taken a while. There should have been lots of meetings and people quibbling over stupid things.
But it happened in three days. He made an offer. They accepted. He signed. The end.
The beginning of the week he was living with his mom and by the end of the week he had a home so close to his kids they could walk there.
“You really bought it,” Callie asked.
She’d smiled. That genuine smile of her’s that would probably always make Owen a little happy. “I’m glad.”
And Owen was glad too. The two of them were making lives, intertwined but apart. When all these other people had divorces that imploded a family there’s just made them stronger. Parents, friends, united against everything.
But the best part was—the best part was that when Owen had to call someone to show off the house he’d just received the keys for, he didn’t first think of Callie.
He thought of Cristina. He’d given her the address and told her he had a surprise.
It wouldn’t be that big a surprise. There weren’t a whole lot of reasons a guy would ask a woman to meet him at an empty house with a For Sale sign out front.
And the few reasons there were were almost universally good.
Owen kept telling himself that. He said it while he made dinner and lit candles and set them on the empty living room floor and he said it while he uncorked the wine and pulled the champagne out of the fridge.
He said it too when he heard her car stop, the breaks squeaking loudly.
But it was harder to believe it was so good when he opened the door and Cristina seemed so.
“Owen,” she asked, “What did you do?”
“I bought a house,” he guided her in with a firm hand and watched her take it in. He outlined which room was which from the foyer. Told her about the commute and how it wouldn’t be so bad if it was the two of them. “It’s a good home,” he said finally.
She smiled, “It’s wonderful. I’m sure your kids will love it.”
“I want you to love it too.”
“Owen…” She said his name affectionately enough, but there was a warning there too. One that glittered in her eyes like tears and mingled with the sadness that had clung to her since seeing the house.
“I want you,” he stepped close and tried to smile—tried to be exuberant enough for the both of them, “I want you here. With me.”
She tilted her head and actually did smile before leaning up and gently pressing her lips to his. Her hand slipped through the hair at the base of his neck as if to keep him in place. They parted and she looked at him with such bright, intelligent eyes. “I took the fellowship in Minnesota. I leave in a month.”
“And me,” he asked.
Her voice cracked, “You just bought a house.”
It was funny how news could ruin a day.
Arizona had first hand experience with it, so it shouldn’t have surprised her. She should have known better. Her gut should have clenched when her phone rang. Her nerves should have frayed. She should have shared one last long look with a Nick that was neither dying or living.
But they’d been trying to make breakfast together and laughing at their awful attempt at eggs and the phone had rung and Arizona didn’t think. She just answered, laughter still on her lips.
And then she listened, and her face must have fallen because Nick stopped laughing too. He stopped cooking. He stood there silently staring through her while she silently stared through him and when she finally let the phone fall from her ear he sort of laughed.
A miserable and worthless laugh.
“Guess I should have called sooner huh?”
And Arizona would have cried or gotten angry again but she couldn’t seem to do either. She could just stand there staring at a dead man and thinking of the one who’d died before and wondering why whenever she cared they left.
Nick had tried to laugh again and looked a lot less scared than he was. “Any idea when I expire?”
The smile at the end of the question was enough for Arizona. It was enough to pull her out of the shock. She flung her phone at his nose and promptly collapsed to the ground crying.
It was awful to feel so empty and helpless.
And worse to feel so alone.
Callie had failed her.
And Nick had too.
One month later
Instead of buying the biggest iced coffee she could find, as was her usual habit, Callie took two elevators and walked across the hospital’s iconic catwalk (group photos were commonly taken there), to make her way the cardio floor. There she found a particular redheaded co-worker leaning against an empty bed and trying not to look exhausted.
It was Addison’s last day in the hospital as a patient, and while she’d improved a great deal, she still looked awful. There were dark shadows under her eyes and in the hollows of her cheeks, and her hair…. Callie winced.
Like a psychic Addison said, “First thing tomorrow is a hair appointment.”
“I don’t want to say good, but—“
“I have split ends Callie.” She jabbed at a pale streak near the part in her hair, “And I’m pretty sure that’s gray.”
Callie squinted. “Is it? It looks…blond. Just blond.”
“You’re worse than Mark.”
Callie glanced around the room for Addison’s other half, or the kid they shared. “Where—where is Mark anyways?”
“Getting the car, and no, he hasn’t spoken to Arizona. I know,” she folded a sweat shirt and shoved it forcefully into her suitcase, “because he won’t shut up about her disappearing act.”
“I think she broke up with me.”
“What gave it away? Her refusal to take your calls? Or her vanishing from the planet Earth?”
“I tried her parents—“
“But they didn’t know who I was or where she was.”
“Well, that’s—The Captain didn’t know I was divorced, engaged or near death until a week ago.”
“Whiplash for him.”
“He’s thinking of suing I’m sure.” She fiddled with a zipper on her bag. “She could come back you know.”
That’s what Owen had said too. And her father. And Amelia. And Mark the last time she’d asked him. “She could come back,” they’d all said. But really she wouldn’t. Callie had tried to save her best friend’s life and failed, and Arizona wasn’t about to forgive that.
And who could blame her?
“Have you called the place she was staying at?”
“I did. Apparently she and Nick aren’t taking calls and the place never knows if they’re even there are not.”
“It’s just…don’t you think it’s weird she’d just drop off the grid like this? It’s not your fault the guy waited until it was too late.”
Callie hoped that if she kept telling herself that too she’d eventually believe it.
The hospitals Arizona had worked at had all had nurses who administered hospice care. She’d never done it herself. She’d given the worst kind of news and she’d done what she could to make the dying comfortable, but she hadn’t been there. She’d had dozens of other patients every time she’d had a lost cause. So she’d never had to focus on just that one person.
Never had to live with the grief of impending doom.
She was used to hope. Even a tiny sliver of it. Just as she was used to the finality of death.
But this was just a march. Slow and unalterable. A long haul for which she was not prepared.
She wanted to leave—to just wait for a call in the middle of the night while wrapped up in her girlfriend’s arms half a continent away.
The reason she stayed was a ridiculous one. She’d tried to leave the day after Callie had called and Nick had set upon her. “Sure, just keep running,” he’d shouted, his own shock and anger turning his face red, “its what you do best right?”
He’d offered a challenge and Arizona’s own competitive nature had obliged her to respond. To stick around. To mop up vomit from bad meds and hold him through shivers from poor circulation and patiently wait for the day the tumor would rip open what was left of his heart and he’d bleed to death from the inside.
But Nick didn’t want to wait. He didn’t want to just sit on the beach and time the waves with his failing heartbeat. So they travelled. They hiked through forest and swam in gulfs and rivers and sampled foods Arizona couldn’t even pronounce.
And they didn’t answer their phones.
That was Nick. “It’s just you and me Flagstaff. Gimme that?”
She gave him more than that. She fought her own upbringing, her own sense of self, to be present.
And through it all one horrifying fact made itself clear. Arizona would survive.
She gave Nick all of herself and as he grew weaker and weaker she stayed strong. She listened to her heartbeat in the dead of night. Lifted grocery bags when he was too weak. She laughed for both of them. And she cried too.
“Arizona,” he said, the use of her given name a hint of just how important his words were, “thanks.”
He had to fight to breathe to say those words. Had to pull an oxygen mask off and work to smile. He was so weak a slight upturn of the lips was all he could manage.
She lay next to him, giving her warmth to him. Holding him and saying nothing.
She felt him die that way.
He breathed quickly. He coughed. His whole chest rattled.
And then…just a sigh.
She looked up and saw vacant eyes. She expected him to be cold too. But it took a while for all the heat to evaporate. So at first he did seem alive. He looked alive and he still smelled like Nick.
But something was absent.
He was like one of those hollow bodies on the operating table, paper over their faces and their cool insides laid out for everyone in the gallery to see.
Sometimes a cut had to be made. No one wanted to make that cut. To slice through that bone or remove that limb. But it had to be done. It couldn’t be avoided. A body—a life—was in your hands.
Cristina made the cut.
Owen had showed her a house and told her a story and she’d made the cut. She’d ended things before he could ask her to move in or offer her a ring or promise her a world they both knew, deep down, he couldn’t deliver.
She still felt…drawn to him. The month between her decision to end things and her departure for Minnesota was a restless one. She found herself knocking on his door late at night. Found herself touching his arm on the elevator. Found herself looking and wishing they’d found each other at some other point. One where he didn’t want kids, or maybe one where she did. One where surgery could be everything for both of them.
But they’d been given just the one chance at life and there he had three children he loved and needed to be with and there she had the irresistible draw towards medicine and there in between them lay the chasm.
Her final night in town she was still compelled, once more, to try and cross the chasm. She drove to that new house of his, with the lamp on the front porch and bright lights illuminating the inside. She knocked and Allegra was the one to answer. Owen followed shortly after and instead of inviting Cristina in he stepped out.
She could hear the kids on the other side. See the warm light spilling from the windows. She could even see how content Owen seemed.
“You’re going,” he asked.
“Start my drive tomorrow morning.”
Silence fell between them. The silence of the chasm. It was empty and cold. Unfamiliar.
“Travel safe,” he said with a firm smile.
“Thanks,” she said, her voice suddenly deep.
He turned and she called after him, “Owen, I…”
Nothing. Nothing came out because there was nothing to be said. Decisions had been made and paths had been forged and this was the part where they separated. Where he lived one life and her another and there wasn’t an “I love you” in the world that could bridge the chasm.
A flicker of their old gift for talking without saying anything occurred. He understood what she couldn’t say and responded the same.
Then he closed the door, blocking out the warm light of the house. She turned and walked away, her head held high.
She wouldn’t cry.
She made a choice and she wouldn’t regret it.
Her shadow grew dark and long as the door opened again.
Heavy feet on the pavement.
A sigh culminating in her name.
She spun around and kissed him for the last time. Dug her blunt nails into his scalp and opened her mouth to his unbridled ministrations and relished the way his hands wrapped around her waist, holding her fast but letting her go.
It was their last kiss and more than the pleasant biology of a kiss. There was emotion there. Pouring out of him and into her and out of her and into him and she held tight and for just the briefest of moments never wanted to let go.
So he did. A subtle push with his thumbs and they parted. His mouth was red and his hair was wild and his eyes were calm.
“I love you too,” he said.
Nick had asked that she avoid a memorial at all costs. “The only people that show up will be the guys,” he’d said, “and they get enough death as is.”
No memorial. But he asked to be buried at Arlington.
So while a little man burned her best friend’s body to greasy ash and put it in a jar she filled out paperwork and bought a ticket to DC.
She’d insisted on making the internment as low key as possible. When it was over she wandered the cemetery until muscle memory took hold and she found herself walking to a familiar grave. She could still pick it out from amongst the identical slabs of white. She didn’t need to look at row numbers or count.
Tim’s grave. Where they’d buried him with full honors. Where her mother had wept and his wife accepted a flag while Arizona held her nephew’s sweaty little palm in her own.
The space around Tim’s grave had changed. Gravestones had filled the places where they’d stood.
It was funny, her life had fallen apart on the very site, but there was no memorial for Arizona Robbin. No remembrance for the woman who lost her brother and spun her life out of control as a result.
Nick had tried to pick up the pieces of her. Her sister-in-law had tried too. Arizona’s own parents had watched her fall apart while sitting in the ruins of their own lives.
And nothing marked the moment.
But nothing marked the moment the ruins started to rebuild. Nothing marked kisses in dirty bathrooms, or declarations of love in the wreckage of planes. There was no stone at the site she’d stood when she’d fallen in love with Calliope Torres.
And there’d never be a moment of remembrance for that instant she realized she loved Callie enough to try.
“Guess we don’t really need it for the big stuff huh,” she asked a silent grave. She knelt and brushed her hand across the cool stone, her finger dipping into the etched name. “You’d like her Tim. She’d make you laugh, and she’d wow you with her brain and she’s hotter than just about every woman you ever dated. And…she put me together again. And—” she hadn’t cried in days, so the pain as the tears built was alarming. Almost new. “—You would have had a helluva time dancing at our wedding.”
When the tears broke they weren’t for the brothers she’d lost.
They were for the happiness she’d found and they’d never get to see.
The drive from Seattle to Minnesota took over twenty hours. It was a two day drive for Cristina. While she could easily run on 20 hours with no sleep she knew for a fact she’d pass out from sheer boredom on the drive.
But she still had to leave early that morning. When the sky was still pink with a rising sun and a layer of dew gave the grass the appearance of frosted glass.
What she didn’t expect to find, as she dragged her suitcase down the stairs, was her two roommates and one girlfriend of a roommate waiting for her on the porch. Lexie was swimming in one of her sister’s old Dartmouth sweatshirts and an awake, if bleary eyed, Amelia stood next to her in pajamas and a leather jacket.
Meredith was the only one dressed. A loose flannel shirt and skinny jeans. A far cry from the woman she’d first met as an intern in her slacks and sweater set.
“We just wanted to see you off,” Lexie said.
“I didn’t even think you liked me Pacemaker.”
Lexie took a deep breath at the sound of the nickname, but dropped her hands to her side and came closer. She shrugged, before punching Cristina in the bicep as hard as her tiny little fist could. Before Cristina could yelp in pain Lexie was wrapping her arms around her in a bear hug. “Call us when you get there,” she whispered in her ear.
There was genuine concern in the younger woman’s voice. Enough that Cristina, who never hugged or cried or showed emotion if she could help it, involuntarily reached around Lexie and squeezed back. “Take care of your sister,” she replied.
Lexie squeezed tight again and let go. She stepped back and Amelia immediately laced her fingers with her own before looking up from their joined hands to shrug at Cristina.
“I didn’t really want to get up, because I don’t actually know your or anything. But Lexie kind of demanded it.”
Cristina had figured as much.
“But, I don’t know. I’ve seen you work Yang, and honestly I can’t wait to see what you’ll do. You’re gonna be extraordinary.”
Lexie pulled Amelia closer at that, the whole length of their arms touching.
“She will,” Meredith said softly.
Her sister and Amelia both ducked their heads and went inside, giving the best friends for half a year the space they seemed to need.
Meredith dug her hands into her pockets and dragged her feet across the lumpy boards of the porch deck. “I wish I could say you were running.”
“I have to go.”
“I know. You’ve got to go be great,” she said with a crooked smile.
“Meredith…tell me I’m right. Putting surgery before him.”
“Most people would say you’re wrong, but you’re right Cristina. For you Minnesota’s right. I just don’t want you forgetting us when you’re swimming in Harper Averys and Carter Madisons.”
She tried not to let the crack in her voice sound too loud. “Never.”
That crooked smile almost twisted into a full one. “I’m gonna have to do that hug thing now you know.”
“Lexie already did it.”
“I know,” Meredith said, “but she’s got spindly junkie arms. It’s not as good.”
She’d never quite been hugged like Meredith hugged her. Never felt quite so whole out of an OR as she did in that second. And all it was was the two of them wrapping their arms around one another and squeezing.
But it felt right.
She didn’t know if she’d ever feel that right again. Outside.
But in Minnesota there’d be an OR where she’d heal a wounded heart. And that would feel right too.
And that. That was enough.
“Be great,” Meredith said when they parted.
“Only if you are too.”
“I’m a Webber and a Grey, Yang. I’m the best there’ll ever be.”
Her dad tried to hide the pitying looks, but Carlos Torres had never been one to hide his emotions, especially when they concerned his daughter.
It had been five weeks since she’d last spoken to Arizona. Five weeks of silence. Five weeks of Mark and Amelia’s confusion. Five weeks feeling like she’d been left at an altar.
And Carlos Torres felt it was time to move on.
“You’re better than her,” he said sincerely.
Which ignored that fact that Callie had chosen Arizona and kind of implied (he insisted it didn’t) that her decision making faculties were impaired.
Besides suddenly being a shit talking best friend her father was actually on good behavior. He didn’t insist she move back to Miami.
Stuff with the hotel he was building was picking up speed and he was out of the house often, which was why Owen came over for dinner that night.
Cristina’s departure had left him sullen and Teddy—TEDDY—had called Callie and asked for help cheering him up. “I can’t do much,” Teddy had said. “I couldn’t keep her here and I think he hates me for it.”
Callie suspected he hated himself more—but that was because her ex-husband had a near endless capacity for self-recrimination.
The night was cool, but pleasant, and they opted to grill outside while watching the kids run around and around and around the back yard. Allegra had her bike out, and her helmet on, and was taking it in jerky circles while her brothers chased after her with sticks.
“We should probably stop that at some point,” Callie mused.
Owen shrugged, “It’s fine as long as they don’t catch her.”
Neither talked about the girlfriends they didn’t have.
It was funny. Callie and Owen had worked so hard to be separate, to find real love and move on from their doomed marriage. But there the two of them sat in apparent domestic bliss.
Callie almost felt bad for moving him out of the house.
“How’s the new place so far?”
“Kitchen remodel’s done and we’re starting on that upstairs bath tomorrow. Tell your dad thanks for the recommendation on the tile guy by the way. He gave me a fantastic deal.”
“Because you mentioned Daddy. I’m pretty sure that tile guy is getting a new yacht out of him from all the orders he’s made. I saw some of the bills yesterday?” She shuddered. “Boutique hotels are not cheap.”
“Neither are home remodels.”
She smiled up at him. And he smiled down.
Someone looking in on the scene would have seen only the content smiles. They would have missed that dull gleam in their eyes. Would have missed the incompleteness of both of them.
“We should start doing dinners with Mark and Addison,” she said abruptly.
Owen raised an eyebrow, “I thought you hated Mark.”
“He’s been okay,” she looked out to watch the kids. “Last couple of weeks we kind of bonded, you know, waiting for the person who rip our hearts out.”
Owen’s eyes softened. He set the tongs he’d been using to tend meat down and came to sit on the bench beside her, shifting her and pulling her back to his chest.
It was an old and familiar position for them. But it felt…it felt like more than it had before. He pressed his lips to her hair in a platonic—almost brotherly—fashion. “She’d be here if she could.”
“Maybe, but not from you Callie.” His hands rubbed up and down her arm to ward off any chill. “She’s not gonna run from you. She couldn’t.”
“It’s hard to get you out of the system Torres. And that’s from personal experience.”
It was hard to get Arizona out of the system too. “I wish there was a way you could just exorcise a person from you. I’m not saying we need to swing incense or anything, but just cleanse.”
“Like…a juice cleanse?”
“Ew, no, have you met me Owen? No, I mean like how they always serve sorbet between meals at my dad’s restaurant.”
Owen sounded out the idea, “Human sorbet.”
She twisted to look up at him, the setting sun had caught in the pale stubble on his chin making it a fiery red. “A palate cleanser.”
They shared what Callie could only describe as a look. A big, bold lettered look where their recent divorce and the reasons behind it disappeared and a lot of emotion that was never gonna go away, no matter how hard they tried, lingered.
Then the doorbell rang and whatever spell cast by their proximity and the magic light of the setting sun, paused.
“I should get that,” Callie said in a low voice.
Owen swallowed, “Yeah, and I should check…on the…on the burgers.”
Neither made any attempt to move.
Arizona hit the buzzer again.
She could smell meat cooking on a grill and hear kids laughing and see Callie and Owen’s cars in the driveway.
She’d come too late.
Waited too long.
She brought her finger up to ring a third time—even though she could hear her dad in her head telling her that was rude. Her finger grazed the button and the door suddenly swung open to reveal a wary, surprised and exhausted Calliope Torres.
“I didn’t call,” Arizona started, “I wanted to but I didn’t and I’m sorry, but I wasn’t talking because of Nick not because of you. I mean—because Nick asked me to be present and I wanted to be present. You taught me how to be present so I wanted to be there for him when he died and not be a couple thousand miles away and I was. When I talk to you or think about you I’m here and not there so I didn’t call.”
Callie searched Arizona’s features with an unrivaled kind of hunger. So Arizona took another step forward.
“He died Callie and I think that it was supposed to break me. I think him and the plane crash and my parents and everything else was supposed to break me, but they didn’t, because I knew, at the end of the day, you were here. You and the kids and my life were here and waiting.”
Another step and Callie had to look down and Arizona had to look up. The difference in height was small, but just enough. “You understand me,” Arizona whispered. “You look at me and I’m…”
Whole. Home. Loved.
Arizona didn’t know how to say the words and she kept looking at Callie’s lips. Soft and full. Relaxed. Parted slightly. She’d missed Callie. Missed her in this wholly un-Arizona kind of way where she’d wanted to see her face and feel her arms and just…talk.
She’d never missed a lover like that.
Callie was looking at Arizona’s lips too, and then back at her eyes and her whole face. And Callie—she had such an expressive face, so she didn’t need to say a word. Arizona could just see the hurt she’d caused by not calling. Could see the anger. And there was sadness too.
She should have called. Should have thought. That was Arizona’s whole problem wasn’t it? Nick had even said it. She was selfish. She thought about herself first and other people second and now she’d gone and hurt the woman she loved.
She tried to say a word. Her mouth worked to say something that would ease the pain on Callie’s face.
And then Callie’s hand was snaking through Arizona’s hair and pulling her up and into an open mouth kiss where her teeth grazed Callie’s tongue and her breath caught in Callie’s mouth and Callie’s entire body was pressed up against her own.
They finally separated with a sigh and Callie leaned forward to press her forehead to Arizona’s. The only sound was their breathing.
Callie whispered, “Welcome home.”
Arizona was right where she was meant to be.