A/N- First and foremost, I want to respectfully say that if you have a problem with death of any kind, you should hit the back button. I posted this at first with my note at the end of the story, and due to the anons I received, I will say this: this story is under "angst" and "family" for a reason. "Tragedy" is not what this story is about. This story is about love, loss, and healing. Most importantly, healing. Will is not going to have any other love interests. Will and Alicia are still mainly what this story is about. As a writer, I am asking you to trust me. I am going to get you through, as a reader. I love ALL of the feedback I get, and I hate disappointing my readers.
This story means a lot to me, and it takes a lot in me to post it. Please be respectful of that. There's six more chapters waiting to be posted, so if you enjoy, once I hit a certain number of reviews I will post. Thank you, and buckle up. It's going to be a ride.
The clatter and clang of medical instruments echoes against the piercing drone of the electrocardiography monitor. A middle aged surgeon has her mouth set in a hard line as she makes the stitches neat and crisp as she would under any other circumstances. Someone else is smoothing down the hospital gown over the newly purple and blue skin, blotched with a desperate attempt at revival.
At the far end of the room, a technician is puking her guts up.
"How did we call it?" the doctor wonders aloud, eyes wide and unseeing. He strips himself of his gloves. Working this job for twenty years, and he thinks he's steeled until he watches the life go from someone's eyes, watches and can't fathom how anyone can ever truly forgive themselves for the things they've done, for the lives they've had a hand in. The flame put out with a thumb.
There's red on the floor, and it glistens so prettily under the fluorescence.
The doctor thinks 6:21, 6:21, 6:21.
Will's phone buzzes in his pocket, and Marissa sighs, leaned halfway across the table and holding his eyes in one of her searing, scintillating stares. "Thought it was off," he apologizes, but pulls it out anyway. He doesn't recognize the number, hits ignore because he can.
If it's that important, they'll call his secretary, and she can call him.
"You were saying," Will puts out lightly, but it's a joke, and Marissa knows it is, too.
"We weren't saying anything," she teases. "We are playing footsy. Scandalous of us."
"You know, considering we are in one of the finest restaurants in this city," she flips her blond hair and pulls back, groaning under her breath when she hears his phone begin to buzz again. "You should get it," she encourages. And he likes that about her, like that she's selfless in all the right ways. "Might be important."
"You're more important right now," he tells her, but answers it anyway. "LG."
Someone better be dying, he thinks, and then chastises himself mentally because his mother is getting older, isn't she, and wouldn't be wise to-
"Will Gardner?" the voice on the other end chimes, and it's like the person has bad connection, the way the voice breaks in two places.
Will's mouth parts, agape. "How did you get this number?"
The words are strangely hollow in his mouth. He hasn't thought about this in months, nearly a year, at least, has made himself cross out the breaks and dot the Is and never, ever stop to dwell on the little things, like the way she looked when he-
"Where are you right now?"
He looks down at the silver of his fork on the table, tries to keep his voice low. "New York. Why-
"You have to get to Chicago right now."
Will snorts loudly, and Marissa's eyebrows furrow, wincing at the way it disrupts the ambiance of the atmosphere in the room. His cheeks warm, but it's not in embarrassment.
"I am going hang up now. Do not call this n-
"This isn't a goddamn joke!" the shrill cry makes him pull the phone back from his ear.
This is also the moment his heart finds his throat.
"What's wrong?" he maintains steady, almost goes monotone. Marissa mouths something to him, but he shakes his head at her, half wanting to reassure her, half wanting to turn back the clock five, ten minutes. He wants to forget this call ever happened.
"There's- I've been told there's a flight in the next hour or so, that there's still tickets- I- I'll pay if need be, but please, please just be on that flight- please don't-
"What's wrong?" he stresses the ending, and there's sweat beading on the back of his neck, the phone slick in his hands. He's cold all over.
"You'll be on the flight, Will?"
"Yes," he tells her before he can think about it, that much decided, and he's not one to throw everything down and run, but this is different, it's always been different with this, but before he can say anything else-
The person hangs up.
The plane's engines thrum through his entire body.
In a feeble attempt to busy himself, he reads through the redundant instruction manuals thrice, contemplates getting out his laptop and working on briefs. He asks himself why he's even bothering, lets the tension crawl over him until he's literally pulling at his cuffs, scratching pink lines onto his forearms. Hives from the anxiety. He passes time in the struggle, in the worry, finds himself an hour in, one hour to go.
Will doesn't even realize he's fallen asleep until he's in dreamland, or maybe some memory palace, where his life is in boxes on a moving van, and she's at his door. Her curls tousled from October breeze, and her eyes green, so green in the dimmed light of the hallway.
"You're leaving," she had said aloud, more statement than question.
Her lips had been so red that night. Wind chafed, swollen from biting. He'd always loved how she'd do that, nervous or no. Sometimes she would bite her lips just to tease. He could imagine licking her lips and tasting wine, imagine kissing a cross onto her back and making a religion out of her and her stubborn pride. He had bled her mouth raw, backed her up against an empty blue wall and fucked her until she screamed his name. Hateful in their crashing, like junkies hitting rock bottom.
Then they had rolled across the wooden floor, something that used to be a living room but now just looked like an empty home. Echoes of making love, but really it just felt like a funeral, all moaning and crying out. They'd loved in an ugly, lovely way.
Came together again, again, and then again, because the last time didn't feel like it was good enough to be the end. Sometimes silent, like waiting for bombs to explode or car alarms to go off. Intense, until she'd finally buried her face in his shoulder and cried herself to sleep.
They'd been naked, desperate for every inch of skin, pressed sticky and taught, and it didn't feel like leaving when he took the time to wrap them both up to fend off the cold after she'd long since fell unconscious. It didn't feel like leaving to watch her chest rise and fall for five or six hours before sunlight streamed through the curtainless windows. To memorize the swells of her breasts, the smell of her hair, the curve of her nose, although if he was honest with himself he knew her like the back of his hand. Biblically.
But no matter how he tries to spin truth into a lie, it didn't feel like leaving when he reassembled himself into something broken. Didn't feel like going when he slid his belt back through the loops of his slacks. Didn't feel like reckoning when he shut the door to her form, her holy form, all wrapped up in a spent white sheet.
He hadn't said goodbye. He'd had a flight to catch. There was nothing left in Chicago he could take with him. Nothing that belonged to him.
But if Will Gardner is honest, it didn't feel like moving on when he found himself in his new condo, overlooking a city that wouldn't just let him heal, still unbearably exposed to the lights and the people and the sounds. All he could remember was her voice, her moans, the way she said his name. He had tried to remember how to forget her.
Built up a new firm around him, walls came easy, expanding as much as he could. In middle school they'd taught him that every seven years the body is entirely made up of new cells. He lied awake at night and marveled at how one day there would be parts of his body she had never touched. It made him feel comforted, that he could expand and grow into new skin.
He is a thousand miles in the air when he remembers the dream of her lying in his arms, unaware he was telling her, "I love you."
Because in that moment, three in the morning, it didn't matter that she had taken his heart and run in the other direction. It didn't matter that she had been doing this for the past twenty years. It didn't matter that she had betrayed him like a fist to the jugular. It only mattered that she was his, for that second or two. Like she had been his in the shoulder between March and November three years prior. In that moment the fairytale was real. It was always real.
In that moment, it didn't matter, because he could look at her and pretend she felt the same.
Will wakes. Eyes bleary.
The pilot is rambling over the intercom, saying it's a warm late July evening. The clock has turned back an hour, but Will wants to turn it back years. He wants to go back to the moment he first laid eyes on her and he wants to forget the way she ever spoke his name. He blinks hard to wake himself from the dream.
He has cotton mouth, a jet lagged heart.
She's waiting for him there, at the pick up and drop off. Circular, black frames shield her eyes-even though it's nearly ten at night. All he'd brought is a carry on, and it's heavy on his weighted shoulders. A thousand pounds of doubt.
"Veronica," he acknowledges. "What's this about?"
"Get in the car, please," she says, and her voice grinds. The woman has been crying.
His nostrils flare, but he gets in, he doesn't know why, but he does. A puppy on a leash, dragged along. The sedan glides through the streets, and he'd forgotten how quiet Chicago is at night.
He knows where they're going the moment they turn down a certain street.
"Is Alicia hurt?" he asks her, breathing jagged and sharp. "Veronica? Answer me."
"You just. You just have to see, alright? Just trust me," Veronica pleads with him in a way he's never heard her before, and even though he doesn't know the woman all that well, in that moment she seems so much like Alicia, how she's desperate and vulnerable and shielded like those stupid sunglasses all at the same time. "Please trust me."
He does, despite the gnawing in his chest.
"This is insane," he tells her, when they pull up to the hospital.
Veronica doesn't miss a beat.
"Everything about the past twenty four hours is the definition of insane."
She finishes the sentence with something that sounds suspiciously like a sob, but Will can't tell. He can never tell, with people like her. She stops after she unbuckles her seatbelt though, and Will definitely knows the tell tale quiver in her bottom lip, like she's struggling not to fall apart.
"You've just gotta see," she repeats to him, before she opens her door.
Veronica takes them straight up to the eighth floor, and she knows where she's going. Pinks and blues splash into his view, some kind of disarray of squiggly prints and cute sayings. "Veronica? What the-"
She grabs his hand tight, and it hurts, makes him want to jerk away, but she's got him caught. Veronica physically drags him through one hallway, down another. Then comes to an abrupt halt. Won't let go of his hand, still. Will gaze searches, confused, desperate.
The windows are huge, like he's only seen in movies, in televisions shows.
Little cubicles, plastic, blue, blue, pink, blue, pink. Small, squirming bundles.
"Alicia had a baby," he pieces together, blankly, and Veronica finally, finally lets go.
"The one on the- wait, no, no, no- it's the one- yes, there," Veronica juts out a finger sharply to the one on the end, the pink on the end, closest.
Will wouldn't have had to be told, anyway. The baby is kicking its limbs, a mass of energy for apparently only being a few hours old, and Will wouldn't have had to be told it was Alicia's child because look at it, with all its fuzz of dark hair and porcelain skin, with the curve of the nose-
"That's your daughter." Veronica begins to babble. "I don't believe in God, but may God have mercy on my soul, that's your daughter."
He forgets how to breathe.
Veronica begins to shake, and the fluorescence gives way to a lot, buried beneath those shades. "That's my granddaughter," Veronica states roughly, and a fat, smeared tear falls down her weathered cheek.
Owen Cavanaugh chooses that moment to stumble down the hallway, like a bull barreling through a starting cage. "Mom!" he growls, and Will can see he's already a storm with skin. "Mom, why in the hell did you bring him here? She didn't want him to-
"That doesn't matter anymore, Owen!" Veronica bursts out, in his face. "Who is going to take care of that little girl? I can't do it, I'm too old. You? And I'll be damned if she goes to the system. I've seen the news, the statistics-
Will finds it within himself, finds something in him to tear his eyes away from the newborn through the glass and look at Owen, look at Veronica, demand answers.
"Alicia doesn't want her?"
Owen bows up, all the five feet eight inches he is. "Of course Alicia wanted her. Why in the fu-
He stops, then, and Will manages to keep his cool, despite Owen practically spitting words in his face. Something in Owen's manner goes out, emptying to the hallway and the window and the two people standing there with him. His eyes redden and begin to water, all in the course of a few seconds, and then he turns to his mother.
"He doesn't know," Owen realizes quietly.
There's a gnawing, persistent, like claws scratching at a door, in Will's chest. "Know what?"
Veronica wipes her face, ignoring him. "I didn't want to."
"Where's Alicia?" He sounds small. He sounds far away to his own ears. He sounds like he's in a dream.
It all feels like a dream.
"Where's Alicia?" he asks again, pitch climbing. A part of him doesn't want to know, a part of him is screaming. Veronica begins to babble, again.
"She started to bleed, and they couldn't get it to stop. The walls of the uterus keep contracting after birth, you know, but it stops, it usually stops, and even when it doesn't they can fix it, they just have to clip something or something, but she's just so- so old to be having a baby, and I told her it was too risky, I told her-"
He doesn't mean to.
Later, he'll say he didn't mean to, but in that moment something grinds to a screeching halt within him, something, something, and before he knows it he's got his hands clamped down around Veronica's upper arms, practically shaking her. "Veronica, please. Give me a straight answer."
The glasses fall off her face, clatter to the ground like metal instruments and wasted things. Veronica's eyes are rubbed raw with black mascara, and it hits him, it hits him and he lets go of her like she let go of his hand, like he's been burned.
Will's knees buckle, and he almost, almost slides to the ground. But Owen holds him up, Owen helps him get over to a wall. Will's blood pressure drops too quickly, and then there's just a cold sweat on the back of his neck. Shock. He's in shock. Something lurches and jerks then, and Will pushes away from Owen, stumbles and trips, almost hits his head up against a wall.
By some thread of fate, he makes it to a trashcan before he starts to heave.
The thing about grief that nobody can ever explain right, is that it's like a sea in its swallowing. Like tides, falling across in short and large spurts, but no matter which way it's dealt one is still left with a mouth full of seawater and soar limbs, kicking, kicking. Trying to stay afloat, eyes burning with the salt. The water is dark, too dark to see to the bottom of the ocean, what lies beneath. Whether it's unknown or the unwanted. Cold and unforgiving, freezing enough to numb but not nearly enough to kill, yet. Yet, at least.
Sometime after, Will finds himself with his back against the drywall.
Veronica had gone off to find some coffee, and Owen had staggered over to sit down next to him.
"Alicia had arrangements made," Owen tells him, eyes watering. "I can't believe my sister is dead. She's too young. And she was just here, she was just making me help put together a crib, and I don't-
"Owen," Will whispers, cutting him off. "Owen, what kind of arrangements?"
"Well, I have the power of attorney. Since the divorce went through she had wanted- Alicia had wanted all of what she had to go to her kids. Zach and Grace have a trust, but I don't know about the baby."
"It's a girl," Will's eyes start welling up at the thought, at the knowledge that there's a tiny being living and breathing, not twenty feet and a wall or two away. "Did Alicia give her a name?"
Owen starts shaking his head back and forth, looks down at his hands. "There wasn't any time. The doctor…the doctor said Alicia got to hold her, though, before she…before…Alicia got to hold her, once. Told her, "I love you," and then…and then..."
Owen begins to cry in full, pulling his knees in to his chest. Will looks up at the ceiling and tries to focus.
Tries to breathe.
"She's such a good mom," Owen sobs, nodding. "She was such a good person. Such a loving person."
Will remembers Alicia peppering kisses across his face, remembers closing the door behind him nine months ago. Feels the nausea with every fiber of his being.
"Uncle Owen? What are you- Will?"
Grace starts down the hall, stops.
She looks older than Will has ever seen her, face white as a ghost. There's makeup smeared all over her face, but she's got a look in her eyes, a set to her mouth like she's two, three times the age she actually is. She looks hardened, and Will is struck by the fact Grace has just lost her mother.
She looks furious.
"What are you doing here?" she demands, crossing the space until she's only a few steps away. She leans up against the other side, arms wrapped around herself.
Will swallows, goes to stand. "Your grandmother told me," he explains simply.
He shoves his hands in his jean pockets.
Grace looks down at her feet. "Are you going to be her dad?"
"I," Will sighs, a migraine building beneath his temples, and everything hurts, everything. "I think so."
He doesn't know the first thing about babies. He doesn't know how to be a parent.
"You can't just think," Grace splutters, and Will's head snaps up, meets her eyes and the fire in them. She's all Alicia, trembling and emotional, convicted. "You're her dad, okay? Because she's not gonna have Mom. Mom's not here anymore, so you have to be her- her shelter."
Will nods, at a loss for words.
And then Grace Florrick, in all her seventeen year old might, begins to weep. Softly, so much quieter than her grandmother, than her uncle. "You're still going to let me see her, right? Promise you're still going to let me see my baby sister."
Will moves forward, and it is instinct that makes him take Grace in his arms, lets her sob quietly into the crook of his neck. "Of course," he reassures her brokenly. "I promise, I promise. I'm so sorry, Grace."
Will holds her tight, like he did her mother, what feels reminiscent of a lifetime ago.
"I'm so sorry."
There are ten thousand ways this could go wrong.
And Will knows he's the king of screw ups, knows that if coward had a face it would be his mug shot, knows the way his hands shake and shake isn't entirely healthy, knows that nothing could prepare him for this moment. Nothing.
He started loving the baby the moment he saw it through the pane, in all the recognition he could muster. He started loving it then, but it is the moment the nurse picks her up, makes him position his arms just so as that he won't harm her, and proceeds to place the warm, squirming body into his arms-
That's the moment he starts to feel solid ground again.
The waves are still rushing over his head, but it's as if in the bleakness there's a single, solid beam of light, beckoning. Will inhales, smells baby powder, feels the warm, tiny hand slap against his cheek. He'd never thought, in a million years, there'd ever be enough room in his heart for someone other than Alicia, at the head of the throne, overtaking it all. But now there's expansion, all high and wide, and it's breathtaking, the way her little eyelids flutter and her mouth forms a pink o.
She's beautiful, and a part of him, and so tragically fragile.
And although through the acceptance and news Will had kept a rigid hold on the dam of tears threatening to consume him, it is the moment he holds his daughter in his arms for the first time that something in him snaps. He looks down at her, this creation of love, and he gasps at the onslaught of tears. He gasps at the feeling.
Grace laughs through her own crying, something resembling happiness at the sight of it all.
Before long, he is smiling with her. Wet and blithe.
Veronica must have forewarned Zack of his presence, because instead of attacking him the boy just looks at him in a way that makes Will think maybe not boy, but a man. A cup of coffee is passed to him without a word, and Grace is busy stroking the baby's baby who is fast asleep in his arms. Will looks around the room, and a sad, pathetic part of him is almost waiting for Alicia to walk right in too. It would seem right. He adjusts his grip on the bundle, and exhales sharply.
"What's her name?" Will asks.
Grace smiles, although it holds none of the light it should, under normal circumstance. "Mom didn't want- wow."
"It's weird to use past tense," she mumbles under her breath, continuing on with the thought after a pregnant pause. "Mom liked Rose, but now that she's going to have your last name I don't know if that would be the best idea."
"Yeah," Zack agrees, "Wouldn't want her to be entirely screwed come middle school."
"And I don't think Alicia would have approved of naming her daughter after her, so no Alice or Alison either."
"She doesn't look like an April," Will admits aloud, shifting her gently so that she can rest more comfortably. At the looks he's given, he concedes, "My grandmother, April. Good woman. Your mother met her back in law school."
"What about a themed name?" Owen suggests, finally joining in the conversation. "It's trendy enough to not make her too old fashioned."
"There's nothing wrong with old fashioned," Grace defends lightly. "But I know what you're saying. What would it be? Ruby? Or July- Julia? Juliette?"
"Julia," Will says, soft. He lets the syllables roll off his tongue. They feel at home, there. "I like it."
"What about a middle name?" Zack cracks his neck, checks the clock. It's nearly midnight. He can't believe his mother has been dead for almost six hours. A part of him really can't believe it. "Rose?"
Owen shakes his head. "No. I don't think Alicia would want to subject Julia to that at all."
"If not Alice or Alison," Veronica juts in quietly. "Then what about Cavanaugh? That would be honoring my daughter. It would be honoring her father, too. And she'd love that. She'd love it."
It's the first time Veronica has spoken since Will had grabbed her earlier, and for the first time Will realizes just how shaken she truly is, just how off the hinges. She's quiet, polar opposite of how she usually is, bated and unsure. Everyone seems to soak it in, tilt in the silence.
The baby chooses that moment to start whimpering, chubby cheeks stretching to expose gums.
"Julia Cavanaugh Gardner," Will acknowledges, and the Julia stops, eyes wide and questioning at the sound of her father's voice. "She seems to like it enough."