Usual disclaimer - not mine, just having fun for fun's sake.
I've had this story in mind for a while, so I decided to write and share it. It's set after episode 6.9, Seven Feet Under. We see the progression, in several episodes, of Jordan coming to terms with her health situation, but I wanted to explore the possibility of a catalyst that started her on the journey through her fears, and that's what I did here.
How dare he? she thought as she stormed around the living room of her apartment. I mean, really... how DARE he? Go on MY trip to check out Cindy's bedroom, tell me all about the intriguing clues I missed because they slipped out of the office behind my back to exclude me, and then hang up MY phone like he gets to decide who I can or can't call? Talking to my doctor behind my back, practically telling me to quit my job? Who does he think he is?
Jordan paced a little more, focused on that last thought... she'd always described her colleagues at the medical examiner's office as family, but it was more of a Three Musketeers, "all for one and one for all" kind of thing, you know? What confusion of ideas could possibly have occurred in her boss's mind, to make him think it was appropriate to start managing her. God, he was acting like an overbearing talent agent trying to keep a leash on the ill-behaved young star who he'd turned into his meal ticket... like a political strategist trying to keep an irresponsible, impulsive candidate in the running for elected office... like some jackass who thinks he's in charge of, of a thing...
... like a father, Jordan finally let herself think, after she ran out of coherent ways of avoiding that word while describing Dr. Macy's inappropriate actions at work today. The acknowledgment did nothing for her mood. She opened her refrigerator and looked longingly at the Irish beer, knowing she couldn't drink it along with the pills prescribed to manage the pain of her brain tumor. Instead, she took a bottle of sparkling water, pinned it between her right elbow and her side, and opened it left-handed. She'd never been able to understand left-handed people before now. Not that she lacked rational comprehension - they must feel as partial to their left hand as she felt to her right, of course. But on some deeper level, she didn't get it. Now, though... it was beginning to be habit, to use her stronger, less shaky hand.
Manage her tumor, she thought, mentally replaying their conversation from earlier. He'd practically demanded that she manage it... but that's precisely what she was doing already... managing it. Not the way he wanted her to, but the way she wanted to, certainly. Who needed Garret Macy to be sticking his nose into their business, managing their health care like... she didn't allow herself to describe the man's attitude again, knowing she'd come right back to the f-word if she did. And not the kind of f-word that the fiery woman was comfortable with.
Jordan blew out an angry sigh. Her mind suddenly dragged her back to a time, not that many weeks ago, when Dr. Macy had helped her solve the murder of her on-again, off-again boyfriend... when he'd given her an awkward, unnecessary hug. He'd used that hug to relieve her of the illegally purchased handgun she was carrying for protection, just before the local cops would have found it on her, as part of wrapping up the case and clearing her name. It was far from the first time he'd taken a risk for her sake. He probably took that risk ten times a day as he defended her tendency to take an unusually investigative role in solving the deaths of those whose bodies came into her care.
But he took her case today! Jordan shook her head, bringing herself back to the angry lather she'd worked herself into. Garret wouldn't even let her make a freaking phone call to share important information with Detective Seely. Totally unacceptable. And then he just... said to let him know when she needed to talk?! Like that would ever happen. A grown person who'd been paying her own bills for nearly half her life, though, doesn't need to talk to her boss about her personal decisions, and she certainly had no need to let anybody know if or when she wanted to talk. He was treating her like a wayward teen... like far less than she deserved, especially after this case.
Jordan had proved she was perfectly capable of handling the case of Cindy the sixteen-year-old porn star. She'd worked with Seely, interviewing Cindy's partner in crime, the friend with whom she had apparently gotten into porn and prostitution. It was Jordan's passionate plea that had gotten them information from Melissa, on where Cindy was meeting the johns, what room she'd been in the night she died... Jordan's compassionate handling of the teen that led investigators to the discovery that, in the panic caused by finding Cindy's lifeless body, her own friend had dumped her in an open grave. Because of the information Jordan had skillfully drawn from Cindy's friend Melissa, they'd found the rest of the forensic evidence that led, rather spectacularly, to the discovery that Melissa's own father was one of the johns... that he'd killed Cindy to keep her from telling her best friend about daddy's penchant for underage hookers. Jordan did that. All of it! How dare Garret treat her like she wasn't able? She took a pillow off the couch, in her shaky right hand, and chucked it at the wall. It made a surprisingly satisfying thump as it impacted the wall, then the floor. Jordan smirked. Not bad... so that's why they call them throw pillows.
And then he talked to her doctor, without her consent? Was that even legal, these days? He'd probably pretended to be another of her doctors looking for an update, Jordan thought, glaring even harder. The doctor wanted to do surgery... the risks were so far beyond what she was willing to accept, she couldn't even process the information. Stroke, paralysis, brain death, all-out death... no. Meningioma was, in her estimate, the safer risk. And the symptoms were so similar to those of stress... how did they know she was having symptoms, and not just an unusual amount of stress, related to the attorney general's recent investigation, her boyfriend's death... who wouldn't be stressed, really? Another pillow joined the first in its journey to the floor, by way of the wall across the room. And what was that lecture about formaldehyde, about the chemicals in the morgue, about saying that he wanted her to live, as if it would be fine with him if she quit her job and gave up everything that mattered to her!
A knock at the door jarred her from her thoughts. If it's those damn missionaries again from the religion of whatever latest craze... she thought as she stalked over to answer the damn door, throwing the half-finished bottle of water at the wall along with the pillows too, just for the satisfying sound of water splashing against the hard floor. When she opened it, she regretted her previous thought, and wished with all her heart for the figure standing before her to morph into the missionaries who'd annoyed her a few days ago. Obviously the meningioma was affecting her vision again. She closed her eyes in an extra-long blink, giving reality time to become clear, but when she opened her eyes...
Garret Macy stood on her doorstep, right where he'd been when she'd closed them.
Jordan's rational brain told her to slam the door shut, to leave her boss standing on the step, to not do anything she'd regret later. But without her consent, her foot took a step forward instead. Her anger and offense had simmered to a point where she was craving confrontation. "The hell do you want?" she asked, glaring at a spot she was pretty sure was directly between his eyes, making sure she didn't convey one instant of weakness or subservience. She was so close that she could only use her peripheral vision to see the watery lower lids of her boss's cool-toned brown eyes. Oh no... ohhh no. She took a step back toward safety, then another as he kept pace with her, stepping in her apartment, in her personal space. Before she could escape, she was firmly in her boss's arms. Ugh. Another hug. She'd long ago grown accustomed to his way of hugging her and kissing the top of her head, and even come to appreciate the gestures of a close, trusted friend who had her back no matter how far out on a limb she crept. But tonight, after all he'd done to her... she pushed him away, turning to get a shoulder against his chest as she shoved.
Instead of stepping back, though, Garret merely loosened his grip, clasping his hands together instead of grasping her, giving her latitude but not letting go. "Get away from me!" Jordan said in a low-pitched, calm, quiet voice... that voice that's somehow more powerful than all the yelling in the world, and when you hear it, you realize that the other person poses a threat to your safety. He should have been scrambling across the room by now... okay, not scrambling. Garret wouldn't do that. But at bare minimum, he should have drawn back and re-evaluated the situation that he'd very clearly misread when she opened the door.
Instead, he held onto her like a screwed-up edition of the children's game that went with the song, London Bridge. "Hold the reins too tight and it's controlling," he mused, his voice harsh and scratchy as he echoed his own statement from earlier in the day. "Let loose and it's neglect. Either way you're pissed off and I'm a failure." Jordan visibly flinched. He'd said that about Cindy's overly permissive parents; now he'd reframed it to talk about her brain tumor. F-word, indeed.
"Go home, Garret," Jordan said, careful to maintain a cool exterior. The last thing he needed to know was that his actions were affecting her emotionally. Especially when she had no idea why she felt overly emotional.
"Can't," Garret answered. "Pizza's going to be here in about five minutes. I have to pay for it."
"You ordered pizza to my apartment?!" Jordan shot him a disgusted look, even though he wasn't even making eye contact with her anymore.
"Maybe I should have ordered a mop." For just an instant, Jordan was utterly confused by her boss's statement, but as her eyes turned to follow his gaze, she remembered the water bottle she'd thrown in frustration at hearing his unwelcome knock on the door. She looked towards the kitchen where two throw pillows sat in a surprisingly large puddle. She thought she'd finished more of the water than that, before she threw it. Oh well.
"I'm going to throw stuff at you in a minute," Jordan said under her breath.
"If that's what it takes to get you talking," Garret responded. He closed his eyes against the dull pain that quickly followed. Idly, he wondered if Jordan was even aware that her balled-up fists were whacking away at his chest, little child-like punches as fear and frustration overflowed and overwhelmed her. She'd always been in control, always been the adult taking care of business even in her formative years. Even working with dead people and crime victims, she protected them and sought justice and truth at any personal cost. Her entire identity was wrapped up in being in charge, of being overly capable of every challenge that life brought her way. Garret's empathy caused him to imagine her fear at this new out-of-control situation, so vividly that his chest ached. Or maybe it was just that her punches, fairly ineffective on their own, were having a cumulative effect.
Garret hated doing this. Inserting himself into Jordan's relationship with her doctor wasn't an impulsive choice. He'd researched meningioma carefully, verifying that no new research supported Jordan's assertion that the wait-and-see approach was best, then he'd slept on it a couple nights before making the decision. Garret still wasn't sure if he was relieved or terrified by the discovery that the surgeon was just as alarmed as he was, by Jordan's refusal to schedule surgery. He'd considered the surgeon's information very carefully, yet again, before deciding to push Jordan away from her duties at work. He'd acted as though he was concerned with protecting his job security, the morgue's reputation, and the integrity of criminal cases, all of which could be jeopardized by the blunders that Jordan's memory lapses trembling hands, and seizures had caused. But in his heart of hearts, as his mother would say, Garret knew that on his priority list, his job and the morgue in general, they didn't even rank an honorable mention. The entire list could be summed up as the well-being of, and his relationships with, his staff. And Jordan was the uncontested king of that particular mountain. And that right there was reason enough for him to prod, badger, and harass her into this state of emotional overload, as a way to break through her fear and provoke her to choose the surgery that would give her the best odds at a long and productive life.
Garret drew his eyes away from the wet sofa pillows, turning to Jordan instead as her outburst faded. The tears cascading down her cheeks took him by surprise. Jordan's displays of emotion were usually along the lines of anger, stubbornness, and passion for her work. Not tears, not this stuff... not while people were around, anyway. He tightened his grip around her again, and the overflow of anger gave way to a shaky gasp, then a sob. That heartbreaking sound seemed like the very definition of terror, to Garret. He took a deep breath, careful to control the exhalation so it wouldn't come off like an impatient sigh. He had been waiting for this moment, where something, or the culmination of everything he'd done over the past few days, would tilt the balance in Jordan's world, pushing her from anger and denial so they could have a rational discussion about her health care. Now that he'd tipped her balance, though, he wasn't entirely sure what to do next. Not that this was unusual... nothing about Jordan had ever been predictable or conventional, after all. For the moment, he opted to just hold on, to be the one stable thing in her world that was spinning out of control. Together, they stood in the center of her apartment for a few moments until the storm of emotion dissipated.
Jordan hadn't quite come back to her usual calmness when there was a knock at the door. "You really did order pizza," she muttered, between crying-induced sniffles.
Garret gave a wry smile and finally released his captive, reaching for his wallet. "Go wash up."
"Yeah, and then what, are we going to braid each other's hair?" Jordan asked as she made her way for her bedroom.
"And after that, you can paint my nails," Garret said, provoking a humorless snort of almost-laughter from his subordinate.
When Jordan returned, face washed and wearing more loose-fitting, comfortable clothes, dinner waited for her, while her boss rummaged in his overnight bag, something she'd not noticed him carrying when he first entered the apartment. "What are you planning? You ordered pizza, came over, shoved your way in... what's the game plan here, Garret?" Her boss grunted, still rummaging, then stood up with a satisfied expression, holding his laptop computer and a folder that looked suspiciously like a medical record.
"We're going to take a closer look at your MRI, and your other test results, and then we're going to do some research and decide what to do about your tumor."
Jordan's lips turned up in a barely-concealed grimace. "Or we could drink every bottle of whiskey in this apartment, get wasted and go for a jog on the railroad tracks."
"We could," her boss acknowledged, "but then I'd have to call my AA sponsor, and it's a whole big thing." Garret dropped the file folder onto the counter between the two place settings, while Jordan stared in wide-eyed horror for just a second, stunned that she could have suggested drinking to this man, after all they'd gone through to help him overcome the habit. She opened her mouth to apologize, quickly and thoroughly, but instead an unexpected laugh emerged. The silliness of the situation had finally made it through her protective layers, to reach the dry sense of humor that had been absent in recent weeks. Garret smiled in response. "Go get your computer, or I'll do it for you," he said, signaling his expectation that they settle down and be productive. Jordan's expression darkened, but when she locked onto his gaze in preparation to do battle, she froze. The last time she'd seen that look in her boss's eyes... was it when they'd found his daughter's crack-head boyfriend dead, and her blood at the scene? Fear. Garret Macy, the man who let nothing shake his confidence, was frightened.
Jordan fetched her computer, took her seat, and at dinner in thoughtful silence. Fear... he thought that if he didn't change her mind about surgery, he would lose her. Jordan allowed herself to sink into quiet introspection, wondering if she was also acting from a place of fear, as her boss clearly was. She wondered if she was choosing the outcome that had the most predictable outcome instead of the one that gave her the best odds of survival. It was a thought process she'd not allowed into her mind before tonight, but now that it had entered, she couldn't will it away. Instead of trying, she drew Dr. Macy's copy of her medical file across the counter and opened it. None of the information was new to her, but if she was expected to perform research, she felt obligated to go back to the primary source and do it properly. Garret watched for a moment, then scooted his barstool closer so they could begin to wade through the data.
As they looked online, reading medical journal articles and looking at the data and scans from other patients, Jordan gradually came to the same conclusion that her doctor and her boss both had already. Wait-and-see would lead to the most predictable outcome, a slow degeneration towards an early death. Surgery would provide the best odds... cutting the benign tumor out could potentially solve the problem. She was relatively young and in good health otherwise, and it hadn't invaded brain tissue, all suggesting that the surgery would improve her life. But it was positioned near and wrapped around vital structures. If they couldn't get all of it, the remaining cells could continue growing. If they misjudged and nicked the wrong surface during the removal process, she could have a stroke, become paralyzed, suffer brain damage, die... any combination thereof, and probably a million other things besides. The odds of long-term benefit were better, but surgery also took those not-so-distant future odds of death, and brought them into the present. And there was always the chance that whatever was causing her pain, weakness, and seizures, might already have done permanent damage. Gradual decline, or Russian roulette. Some choice.
The overwhelming feelings came back with a vengeance as the weight of this choice hit Jordan all over again. She burst into tears so quickly that Garret didn't even have time to abandon the article he'd been reading aloud, before she had leapt off her stool and fled to her bedroom. Garret allowed himself to sigh heavily, now that she wasn't right there to hear it. He glanced at his watch, noticing that it had gotten late. He felt like they'd made progress in coaxing her brain towards logical decision-making, but clearly it was time to shift gears now. He stood at the doorway of her bedroom and watched her pace for a minute or so before he took action, sitting on her bed. He waited until she looked at him, then turned one hand palm-up in a wordless invitation. It wasn't exactly the sofa in his office to which they were both accustomed, but it would do. She sat beside her boss, stiffly tilting herself towards him, allowing him to wrap his arms around her and cradle her head in one large palm, the way he'd done many times for many different reasons over the years.
"I understand that it's terrifying, and you're not ready," Garret said, his voice low and gravelly. "But you have to do the surgery. You know that, don't you?" It was more of a statement than a question, and he didn't expect a response, not tonight. It'd take a couple weeks to have any effect on his strong-willed young friend, and he knew it. All he could do was hope and pray that she didn't wait until it was too late.
Garret's eyes squeezed shut, trying to block out the pain and worry that had become his constant companions since she'd told him about her diagnosis. He felt a small movement and he responded, adjusting his hand slightly, letting her head tilt a little more, pressing his lips to the mop of hair behind her ear almost out of habit. It was in that moment that his brain finally got its figurative hands around the information that his tactile sense had sent. That wasn't an uncomfortable squirm, that had caused him to instinctively change his grip. She'd nodded. She nodded; that was a nod! Garret's eyes flew open and he loosened his grip, causing Jordan to gasp in surprise as he practically dropped her towards his lap in his rush to establish eye contact.
"You know you have to do it?" he asked again, his pleading tone belonging to a man placing his hope in a lost cause. Jordan's eyes welled with tears as she nodded again, ever so slightly. Garret nodded in reply. He recognized this point in her change of heart; he'd seen it many times as they'd worked together over the years. She wasn't ready to act. Wasn't even ready to talk about acting. But she was, in her own way, mentally preparing herself to make the right choice.
"I'm going to be there with you the whole time, whenever you decide to schedule it, okay?" he asked. "You don't have to go through one single moment alone if you don't want to."
"Okay," Jordan said with a smile, relieved that she didn't have to ask him to do just that. She knew this wasn't anywhere near the about-face he wanted her to make. But, she reasoned, he certainly knew not to expect her to have some kind of religious experience, see the light, and call the doctor right then and there begging for a surgery date. He'd just have to content himself with her settling against him more fully, drawing on his strength to timidly, for the first time, consider the possibility of changing her mind.