My first ever crossover story! Some quick things to know:
You can read this even if you're a Librarians fan who doesn't watch Grey's. Definitely. For sure. This is 98% a Librarians story. There are a few scenes with only Grey's characters, but they mostly talk about the Librarians crew, so not knowing a damn thing about Grey's shouldn't affect your ability to read this story at all. How the Grey's characters relate to one another is mentioned in the exposition in this story, so don't worry about that.
I started writing this back in March, so let's just assume that is the setting for the beginning of the story (aka Derek is still alive and in DC working for the President.)
Every Grey's episode title is taken from a song, so I continued that tradition. This one is from "Nothing to Lose But Your Head" by the Augustines because some of the lyrics reminded me of Cassandra. I highly recommend you take a listen.
And every Grey's episode starts and ends with a voiceover monologue by (usually) Meredith Grey, so I've continued that tradition here as well, hence the first-person italicized paragraphs at the beginning and (eventually) the end of the story.
Expect 5 or 6 chapters for this one. As always, nothing Librarians or Grey's is mine; I'm just infinitely glad I get to play with them because this story was crazy fun to write. Hope you all enjoy reading it, too!
As surgeons, we save people's lives every day. But it's not all one-in-a-million diseases and spectacular disasters. Preventative medicine exists in surgery, too. We cut to prevent a problem from occurring – to prevent a problem from getting worse. It's routine to us, but to the patient, it might be the biggest leap they ever take. The surgery could change your life, or it could end it. It's a hard concept to grasp – walk in feeling fine, sign forms listing a bunch of terrifying risks, and turn yourself over to an over-confident, scalpel-wielding surgeon just waiting to cut you open. So why do it? Why take that chance? Do you trade what's left of your life for the possibility of more? For the possibility of better? How do you let us wheel you into the uncertainty of the OR when it's not a disaster yet?
The day had been saved, and the team was dispersing for the day, so Jacob Stone picked up a book and headed for the front door of the Annex, ready to call it a night. About halfway down the hallway, he heard an Australian accent calling his name in a hushed tone. Hurried footsteps followed the calls, but Stone kept walking, leaving the younger man's attempts to obtain his attention unanswered. The pace of the footsteps quickened, and Ezekiel Jones finally appeared in front of him, folder in hand, cutting off Stone's path to his truck.
"Stone, hey, hold on a minute," Ezekiel said, catching his breath.
"Case is over, Jones," Stone said, stepping around him. "I'm headin' home."
"I need to talk to you," Ezekiel said, keeping up with him.
"It can't wait?" Stone asked.
"I…" Ezekiel started. He hated to admit this, but he swallowed his pride and finished with, "I need your help with something."
Stone walked a little bit faster, leaving Ezekiel a few paces behind him. With a stern voice, he replied, "If you're stealin' something, you're on your own."
"No, it's not like that," Ezekiel said. He stopped trying to catch his reluctant colleague and said, "It's about Cassandra."
Upon the mention of her name, Stone stopped heading for the door and turned to face Ezekiel. "What about Cassandra?" he asked.
"I think I…" Ezekiel started. He glanced over his shoulder, afraid the redhead in question might be following them out. The coast was clear, and Ezekiel said, "Look, I think I found something, but not here, okay? I don't want her to hear."
"Why not?" Stone asked.
"Please?" Ezekiel asked. "Can we go somewhere else?"
Stone sighed and grunted, "Come on; get in the truck."
Later that evening, Stone and Ezekiel sat at a table in the corner of a local bar. Ezekiel munched on a bowl of peanuts that had been pulled towards him from the center of the table, and Stone's beer sat forgotten as he poured through the file of research Ezekiel had compiled.
"You wanted to show me doctors?" Stone asked.
"Derek and Amelia Shepherd – brother and sister - they're neurosurgeons…world class neurosurgeons," Ezekiel corrected. He chuckled to himself and added, "Their holiday gatherings must be awful."
"And you're showing me this because?" Stone asked.
"They, like, specialize in inoperable brain tumors," Ezekiel said, popping a peanut into his mouth. "And we know somebody who has one of those."
"How did you even find these people?" Stone asked, pulling out a profile of Amelia that Ezekiel had printed from the Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital website.
"I was doing some research," Ezekiel started. Stone's head shot up, shooting Ezekiel a disbelieving look. "Are you going to tell me you've never looked up Cassandra's tumor?"
"I might've done a Google search," Stone admitted.
"See? I don't know what an oligodendroglioma is, and if something happens out in the field, knowing what it is could save my life," Ezekiel said.
"Your life," Stone muttered, taking a drink from his beer upon the reveal of Ezekiel's slightly self-centered intentions.
Choosing to ignore him, Ezekiel continued. "Anyway, I was reading about these tumors, and it turns out that a lot of people end up having surgery to treat them, so I was trying to figure out what makes her brain grape so special that that wouldn't be an option, and you basically can't do a search on neurosurgery without coming across the Shepherds. One of them's even working with the President."
Stone put down the printed research and rubbed his temple. "What exactly are you proposing here, Jones?"
"They say yes to people who have been told no all the time, and they succeed! They could help Cassandra," Ezekiel said.
"Why are you talkin' to me about this?" Stone asked. "You should be talkin' to her. It's Cassandra's decision. It's none of our business."
"I don't want her to know until it's a yes," Ezekiel said. "She's already had hope ripped away from her twice, and that's just in the time we've known her."
Stone sighed and took another drink of his beer, not wanting to think about how true the statement Ezekiel had just made was. He waved the beer bottle at Ezekiel and asked, "And how are you gettin' a yes without telling her, huh?"
"I think you mean how are we going to get a yes without telling her," Ezekiel said. Stone shot him another look, and Ezekiel said, "Do you think I'd willingly share the credit for this triumph if I didn't actually need your help?"
"What do you need?" Stone asked.
"Just…her brain scans," Ezekiel said, shrugging as if that were nothing.
"Why the hell do you think I could get those?" Stone asked.
"I broke my arm when I was eight, and the doctor gave us a copy of the x-rays," Ezekiel said. "So, I figure Cassandra probably has a copy of her MRIs. You went to her place to check on her after she went to the doctor a couple months ago. Did you see it?"
"I just went to make sure she was okay; she didn't show me an MRI," Stone said. He thought about it for a moment and added, "There was a big envelope sittin' on her table. She shoved it in a closet as soon as I got there."
"Closet?" Ezekiel repeated. "Near the front door?"
"In the hallway," Stone said. He realized why Ezekiel was asking and said, "Damn it, Jones, I said I wasn't gonna help you steal!"
"In this case, it's more like borrowing," Ezekiel said. "I'll put them back after we meet with one of the Shepherds."
"We?" Stone asked. "I have to go along with this?"
"I'll tell you when I've got an appointment."
Ezekiel gathered the file of paperwork he had put together on Derek and Amelia Shepherd and started to walk away from the table.
"Uh, Jones," Stone called. "You're going to need help from one more person."
"You want me to what?" Colonel Eve Baird exclaimed as Ezekiel finished his proposition.
Baird, Ezekiel, and Stone congregated on the upper level of the Annex. Cassandra Cillian was just one floor below them, standing at the center table, manipulating invisible equations in front of her eyes. Ezekiel peered over the edge of the second floor to make sure Cassandra's attention had not been grabbed by the unexpected shout as he shushed the Guardian. Cassandra thankfully hadn't noticed.
"Look, I don't know much about this medical stuff, but I've watched enough TV with my family to know that a world class neurosurgeon will take one look at that MRI and know the skull they're lookin' at does not belong to a man," Stone said.
"You're right," Baird said. "That is a problem. Maybe we should, oh, I don't know, not go to Cassandra's neurosurgeon appointment without Cassandra."
"That's one idea," Ezekiel agreed. "Or…"
"No, there is no or," Baird interrupted. "I know you guys mean well, and it's natural and wonderful that you want to help her. I wish I could help her, too, but you can't do this. There are laws that protect people's medical information. We don't even know if she would want surgery. If you want these doctors to look at her MRIs, you have to tell her, and you have to let her make that decision."
"I can't do that," Ezekiel insisted.
"Why not?" Baird asked.
"She thought the Serpent Brotherhood was going to save her, and they lied to her. Then, she was holding a magic sword that would have healed her in her hands, and she used that magic to save Flynn instead," Ezekiel started. "And that's just what we've witnessed."
"There's no tellin' how many 'almost' cures she's had over the years," Stone added.
"And I don't know about you, but I'm not going to be one who dangles hope in front of her face if I don't know for sure it's not going to be ripped away again," Ezekiel finished.
Baird was silent for a moment as she thought about what the men in front of her had just said. Finally, with a slight nod, she said, "Okay, you make a good point."
Without missing a beat, Ezekiel whipped out his cell phone and said, "I'm sorry, can you say that again, maybe on camera this time?"
"In your dreams," Baird said. "But this would be more complicated to pull off than you think. You can't just waltz into a hospital and claim to be someone else."
"You're saying that like I'm not an expert at making fake IDs," Ezekiel countered.
"Of course," Baird groaned. "But guys, as flattered as I am, I don't know if I can still pass for Cassandra's age."
"Sure you can," Stone said immediately.
"If it's a problem, we'll just say staring Death in the face every day has rapidly aged you," Ezekiel said, earning him a glower from both Baird and Stone.
"You guys know if these doctors say yes, you will have to confess to both them and Cassandra that you went behind her back to do this, right?" Baird asked.
"Yeah, but I'm hoping all will be forgiven when the admission of debauchery is followed by, 'hey, want to get that grape out of your head?'" Ezekiel said.
Baird sighed. "We really need to work on your tact, Jones."
"Are you sayin' yes?" Stone asked.
Baird looked up as if she were talking to the Library itself and grumbled, "Oh, I can't believe I'm doing this."
"She's saying yes," Ezekiel boasted.
"If Cassandra gets mad, I'm blaming everything on you," Baird said.
"That means you don't get any of the credit if she doesn't get mad," Ezekiel countered.
"That's a risk I'm willing to take," Baird agreed.
"So you're in?" Ezekiel asked.
Baird sighed again. "Yes."
Meredith Grey peered into the windowless room as she walked down the Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital hallway and found her sister-in-law twirling back and forth in a swivel chair, staring at a wall of brain scans in front of her. Meredith slipped into the room, returning the door to its almost-shut position behind her.
"There you are," Meredith said.
Amelia turned around. "What's up?"
"I'm between surgeries. Want to get out of here for lunch this afternoon?" Meredith said.
"Sure," Amelia agreed. "Just let me finish up this consult."
"What are you looking at?" Meredith asked. Amelia swiveled back around to look at the scans illuminated on the wall.
"Grade II oligodendroglioma in the frontal lobe of the left cerebral hemisphere. I don't have her entire medical history yet, so I don't know if she's ever tried treatment before, but it appears to be really slow progressing. The woman was diagnosed as a teenager, so, assuming she had it for a year or two before the symptoms got bad enough…she's probably been living with this thing for almost two decades. The scans you're looking at are limited to the last 18 months, but it doesn't look like it's changed in that time frame," Amelia said. She looked behind her and met Meredith's eyes. "Want to sit in?"
"On a neuro case?" Meredith asked.
"For old time's sake," Amelia said. "Come on, I bet I'm more fun in the OR than Derek."
Meredith wandered up to the scans to check them out for herself. "Aren't these tumors usually considered inoperable because of the high morbidity risk?"
"Yeah, by people who aren't as awesome as I am," Amelia said. "Plus, I…I don't know; I want to help. I like the people."
"Yeah?" Meredith asked.
"I've got the woman and two guys in a room down the hall. They're like the band of misfit toys," Amelia laughed. "I spent maybe ten minutes with them before I came in here to check out the MRIs, and that's all it took to know that those are three very different people. Something's up with them, though."
"What do you mean?" Meredith asked.
"Haven't figured that one out yet," Amelia admitted. "They got a little weird when the questions about the tumor got a little specific, but I like them," Amelia said. "You can tell they really care."
Meredith's phone began ringing, and she pulled it out of the pocket of her white lab coat. Her face contorted into a grimace as she sneered, "Oh, he must have known we were joking about him."
"Derek?" Amelia asked.
"Yeah," Meredith said. "I think I have to answer it."
"Why?" Amelia asked.
"Because I've ignored the last four calls." Meredith reluctantly touched the place on her phone to accept the video call, and Derek's face appeared on her screen. She mustered up a smile and said, "Hi, Derek."
"Hey," Derek said. "What's going on?"
"Oh, just standing here with your sister, looking at a brain tumor."
"What kind of tumor?" Derek asked with interest.
Meredith described the tumor to him, restating the information Amelia had given her, and turned the phone around so Derek could check out the scan on the wall. A scowl crossed Derek's face when she turned the phone back towards her.
"Amy wants to operate on that?" Derek asked.
"I think so," Meredith said.
"Put her on the phone," Derek said.
Meredith handed the phone to Amelia, mouthing an apology to her. Amelia rolled her eyes and held the phone up so her face would be in view.
"Hey, big brother; I can't wait to hear your opinion on my patient," Amelia said sarcastically.
"Are you out of your mind?" Derek asked sternly. Amelia simply sighed, knowing nothing she could say would stop the forthcoming rant. "You can't operate on that. She's young; she's been living with it for a long time; she's not in immediate danger. Why would you risk killing her under those circumstances?"
"She's a synesthete, Derek. The tumor is amplifying it. She has full-blown sensory hallucinations, fainting spells, nosebleeds, and headaches on a regular, if not near-daily, basis," Amelia said. "Why should she live with that if she doesn't have to? Why should she live with a tumor in her head if she doesn't have to?"
"It's not worth the risk, Amy," Derek maintained. "You're talking about a woman's life. She could live with that tumor for another decade. Maybe more."
"Well, I want her to live for another five decades," Amelia said.
Meredith popped into the back of the video frame and asked, "You don't think it's accessible?"
"Sometimes it's not about whether surgery is possible," Derek said. "Sometimes it's about weighing the risks against the patient's circumstances, something Amy's never been very good at, by the way, and determining the best course of action from there."
"Offering surgery is the best course of action for her circumstances," Amelia argued.
"In this case, I disagree. This girl does not need to risk this right now. We call it watchful waiting for a reason. Sometimes the best thing to do is wait," Derek said.
Amelia groaned, just as she used to do when they were children and having an argument. "Seriously, Derek, how much experience do I have to have under my belt before you'll stop second-guessing my every decision?"
"I don't second-guess your every decision, just the reckless ones," Derek asserted.
"You know what? I am the Head of Neurosurgery at this hospital, and I don't need your permission to…" Amelia started.
"Oh, that's very mature, Amy," Derek said. "Really, you're…"
Amelia hung up on him before he could finish his sentence. Meredith held back a laugh as Amelia put the phone on the table and sighed.
"Things are so much more peaceful around here when he's not," Amelia said.
"This was a bad idea," Baird muttered as she sat on an exam table in the center of a small room. Stone stood to her right near a small window, and Ezekiel paced back and forth to her left.
"She has been gone a long time," Ezekiel agreed.
"That's actually probably a good thing," Stone said. Ezekiel halted as both he and Baird turned to look at him, seeking an explanation. "I just figure if she had pulled out those scans and thought she couldn't do anything, she would've come right back in here and told us so."
Before anyone had time to ponder that possibility, Amelia Shepherd opened the door to the exam room, the envelope full of Cassandra's stolen scans in her arms. She offered the envelope to Baird, who took it.
"The good news is the tumor is right on the good side of the border of what we would consider to be accessible," Amelia said. "Because of its proximity to that line, surgery would come with a slightly elevated risk, but I am confident that I could successfully perform the procedure with no lasting damage."
"Really?" Ezekiel asked with a big grin. Stone and Baird shared a hopeful glance as Amelia's attention turned to Ezekiel.
Amelia nodded and looked to Baird again. "If you decide that's something you're interested in, I'll need a complete medical history, and then we can talk more in depth about the risks and the procedure itself. The most recent scan in that package is about two and a half months old, so even though your tumor is slow to progress, I would like to do my own scan while you're here so I can get the most up-to-date picture of what we're working with."
"You…you want to do that today?" Baird asked, her eyes slowly traveling to Ezekiel.
"Yes," Amelia answered slowly, suspiciously watching the nonverbal encounter happening between the three people in the room. Ezekiel suddenly looked blameworthy, while Baird's teeth clenched, and Stone let out a scoff. "I'm sorry; is there a problem?"
"Um…no," Baird said. "No, we just…umm…"
She sighed as she realized she still hadn't gotten any better at producing explanations on the fly and looked to Stone for help. He shrugged, also at a loss for what to say.
"We just didn't really know that you'd want to do a scan…today," Ezekiel said.
Amelia eyes bounced among the three people standing in her exam room, a confused expression on her face. She suddenly gasped, "Oh my god…" in the midst of a nervous laugh. "Oh, I knew it was something."
"Uh…knew what was something?" Baird asked.
Amelia looked directly at her and said, "You're not Cassandra Cillian, are you?"
Baird, staying true to the words she spoke before agreeing to this plan, said, "Jones, I think she asked you a question."
"That's Colonel Baird," Ezekiel admitted.
"And I'm assuming you don't have a brain tumor?" Amelia asked.
"I hope not," Baird replied.
"Well, that explains why you seemingly couldn't answer any of my questions about the diagnosis," Amelia said. She took a seat on a stool near the door. "So tell me about Cassandra."
"You're…not going to throw us out of here?" Ezekiel asked in disbelief.
"Nope," Amelia said, leaving it at that.
"She's our friend," Ezekiel said. "And our colleague."
"She's had a couple moments of hope recently, but none of those options have panned out," Baird continued.
"We didn't want to do that to her again," Stone finished. "She's got that thing in her head, but she still manages to be the happiest person in just about any room."
Amelia nodded, taking in the crestfallen looks of the three people sitting in front of her. "Which one of you loves her?" she asked.
They were all silent for a moment before Baird said, "I think it's safe to say we all do."
"Does Cassandra know you're talking to me right now?" Amelia asked. Ezekiel admitted she had no idea. Amelia pointed to the envelope in Baird's hands and asked, "Then how did you come to possess those?"
Baird realized she hadn't thought to question that part of Ezekiel's plan and shot him an accusatory look. "Yeah, Jones, how did you get these?"
"How quickly everyone forgets…" Ezekiel said with a dramatic pretend sigh. "I'm a thief…world class…I got them from her closet around four o'clock this morning. She was fast asleep down the hall."
"How did you know they were in her closet?" Baird asked.
"Stone pays attention," Ezekiel said.
Stone looked at Amelia and said, "That's pretty unethical, right?"
"This entire meeting is pretty unethical, but it sounds like your friend's been jerked around a little bit, and you want to help her, so I get it," Amelia replied.
"You're not gonna report us or something?" Stone asked.
Amelia chuckled a bit. "No."
"And if I bring her back here, you can definitely help her?" Ezekiel asked.
Amelia nodded. "If she doesn't kill you before you can bring her back here, yeah. I think I can help."
Cassandra stood at the center table in the Annex, wringing her hands against her chest as she processed what the three people standing across from her had just told her. She hadn't said a word since Ezekiel finished his confession, and her friends nervously waited for the blank look frozen on her face to be replaced with a reaction. Her hands momentarily balled into fists as she pursed her lips. Cassandra finally let out a sigh, unclenched her fists, dragged the envelope containing her MRI scans off the table to hug it protectively against her chest, and walked away, heading into the main Library.
"Cassandra!" Stone called, immediately following her.
"Well, that went well," Ezekiel said, turning in the opposite direction.
Baird grabbed his collar and yanked him back. She used her other hand to point towards the others and said, "Go."
By the time they caught up to the others, Stone was standing on the stairs into the Library, and Cassandra was several feet in front of them, still on the move.
"Cassie, say somethin'," Stone begged.
She furiously turned to face them, red curls striking her reddened cheeks as she abruptly changed directions. "What is the matter with you? All of you!" she screamed. She frantically shook the envelope in front of her and continued, "This is the most personal, the most private part of my life, so who the hell are you guys to just hop over to Seattle and show it to some doctor I've never even heard of before?"
"I just thought…" Ezekiel started.
"No!" Cassandra screamed. "I don't particularly approve of your methods for procuring things to begin with, but I never thought you would steal from me, and I certainly never imagined it would be my confidential medical records! I don't think you understand what a complete violation and betrayal this is, Ezekiel!"
Stone took a few steps towards her. Cassandra threw the envelope to the ground with a stomp of her foot that stopped Stone in his tracks.
"And you!" she screamed, turning her attention towards Stone. She gestured wildly with her hands as she yelled, and Stone tried to creep closer to her without her noticing, worried she was going to work herself into a hallucination. "I make one stupid mistake immediately after finding out that magic is real, and you walk around here all high and mighty and preaching trust and punishing me for my betrayal, and then you go along with this, you big sanctimonious hypocrite!"
"Okay, that's fair," Stone agreed, grimacing at her words.
"What about me?" Baird asked, thinking it best for Cassandra to let everything out before offering a defense or trying to calm her down.
Cassandra sucked in a breath and put her hands on her hips as she turned her attention to the colonel. "You…well, I don't know, but I know I'm mad at you, too," she said.
Just then, Jenkins appeared in the doorway to the Library. "What on earth is all the yelling in here?" he asked. "Miss Cillian, I could hear you all the way in my lab."
Jenkins's appearance served as a calming force on Cassandra. She took a deep breath and let her hands fall from their defensive position on her hips. "I'm sorry, Jenkins," she said. "If you knew what they did, you'd be screaming, too."
"I have no doubt about that, but just try to keep it down," Jenkins said. Cassandra nodded, and the older man headed back out the way he came.
Grateful, for once, that he didn't care enough to stick around for the story, Cassandra took a deep breath and bent over to grab the envelope full of scans from its place on the floor. She held it delicately against her chest again, and let her eyes meet each of her friends' in turn.
"Do you want to know the worst part?" Cassandra breathed, her voice finally beginning to shake. "If you had just asked me to meet with her, I probably would've said yes because I trusted you. All of you. That would've been enough."
With that, she turned back around and headed deeper into the Library before any of them could actually see her start to cry. She heard footsteps behind her and Baird's voice calling Stone's name. Cassandra vaguely heard her tell him to give her an hour before she turned down one of the aisles and escaped from their view.
Stone turned around and said, "I didn't expect her to be thrilled, but I didn't exactly expect that reaction, either."
Baird sighed. "None of us did."
Ezekiel finally chimed in with, "She's gonna do it, though, right?"
Stone scoffed in disbelief and shook his head. Baird glared at Ezekiel.
"I don't know, Jones, why don't you go ask her and see what she says?" Baird asked.
"Uhh...no thanks," Ezekiel said. "She's kind of scary."
"Nevertheless, you will apologize to her later, and you will not say anything that would lead her to believe you don't mean it, and then you can gently ask her to please consider talking to Dr. Shepherd," Baird ordered.
"Yes, ma'am," Ezekiel muttered.
Forty-nine minutes passed before Stone found her sitting on the floor in a section of the Library filled with children's books. She was leaning against the bookshelf, fingering the edge of her MRI envelope.
"Cassandra?" he said quietly. She glanced up at him, and his stomach twisted into a knot when he saw her bloodshot eyes and tear-stained face. Her eyelashes still looked wet, and she sniffled as she rubbed her cheeks with the sleeve of her purple sweater. "What are you doing in this section?"
"I thought math would be too obvious," she replied.
"And you didn't want to be found," Stone finished.
"Not really," Cassandra answered. After a few seconds, he asked if he could sit. She lightly tilted her head towards the empty ground next to her, and he slipped down to the cool floor, leaving a respectable distance between them.
"I'm sorry, Cassandra," he said.
"It's okay," she replied. "Now I know how you guys felt when I betrayed you."
"No, this was different. This was personal," Stone said. He sighed and admitted, "This was worse."
"Why did you do it?" she asked.
"Watchin' what the tumor does to you…it's scary sometimes," Stone said. "But after you got so close with Excalibur, we didn't want to get your hopes up again. Our hearts were in the right place, Cassandra; you've gotta believe that."
"I do," she nodded. "I also still believe you're a hypocrite."
"I can't argue with that," Stone agreed.
She finally let herself meet his gaze, and they shared a small grin as a comfortable silence fell between them. Her eyes eventually fixed firmly upon the envelope in her hands as she raised it slightly and began twirling it around.
"Stone?" she finally asked.
"Yeah?" he replied.
"What exactly did Dr. Shepherd say?" she asked.
Amelia walked down the hallway of Grey Sloan Memorial; her usual resident Stephanie Edwards trailed close behind her. Amelia glanced over her shoulder and asked what was next on her agenda.
"You have a consult with Cassandra Cillian in Exam Room 3. She had an MRI this afternoon," Stephanie said. "Cassandra…wasn't she on your schedule for a consult last week?"
"It's a long story," Amelia laughed, heading for the designated room.
Amelia knocked on the door of Exam Room 3 and walked in to find the three schemers she had met the week before and a young redhead in a floral dress sitting on the exam table.
"Cassandra Cillian, I presume?" Amelia said.
"Dr. Amelia Shepherd, I presume?" Cassandra replied, surprised at how young the doctor herself seemed.
"That's me," she said. "This is Dr. Edwards, one of the residents here. Is it okay if she helps me out with your case?"
"Oh, of course," Cassandra replied, more than happy to help a fellow scientist learn.
"Great," Amelia said. "Now that we all know who everyone really is, I'm going to need to see an ID before we get started."
Cassandra looked momentarily taken back and then leaned over the exam table, reaching for her purse on the floor. "Treacherous, deceitful…" she mumbled, shooting a look at Ezekiel. "I still can't believe you…"
Amelia laughed. "Well, I guess we haven't all been forgiven," she said. "I was kidding about the ID, by the way. I'm glad you agreed to meet with me."
"They said you think you can operate," Cassandra said.
"Has anyone ever talked to you about surgery before?" Amelia asked.
"Not since the biopsy I had as a teenager," Cassandra said. "Everyone just says it's inoperable; it's too close to…something or other. It's too dicey."
Amelia pulled out a printed copy of the new MRI and hung it onto the small x-ray reader on the wall. "I hear you're kind of a STEM genius, so what do you think?"
"Oh, I don't really…" Cassandra started. She sighed. "The aftermath of the diagnosis was a little traumatic, and I've kind of purposely remained ignorant about most neurological science. I don't think I could tell you much beyond pointing out the tumor."
"Understandable," Amelia said. She pointed to the gray spot on the MRI.
"Is that the brain grape?" Ezekiel asked.
"Brain grape?" Stephanie asked.
"Ignore him," Cassandra groaned with a roll of her eyes.
"Well, he's right. This right here is what the oligodendroglioma currently looks like, and this," Amelia said, placing her pen horizontal against the scan almost directly next to Cassandra's tumor. "Is about where we draw the line of accessibility."
"Does that mean it's accessible?" Ezekiel asked.
"Barely," Cassandra muttered.
"Barely counts," Amelia said. "As I told your friends here, I believe it's in accessible territory, and I'm confident I could remove it with no lasting damage."
Amelia went on to describe the craniotomy procedure in detail, including the angle at which she would come at the tumor, where the incision would be made, and the image guiding technology that would be helping her along the way. She used an animation on her iPad to illustrate the steps and show Cassandra what the procedure would look like. Baird's face contorted into a disgusted grimace, and Ezekiel's eyes grew wide when the animation showed the skin and nerves of the head being peeled back to uncover the bone. When Amelia got to the part about removing a bone flap from Cassandra's skull to access the tumor, Ezekiel audibly shuddered and stepped away from the screen.
"Oh, this was your magnificent idea, but you can't take it, huh?" Cassandra sneered accusingly.
"To be fair," Baird said. She was beginning to look a little unwell herself. "He's not the only one who's not loving the sound of all of this."
"How are you doing back there, Cowboy?" Amelia asked Stone, who was sitting behind Cassandra on the edge of the exam table.
"I'm okay," Stone promised, mimicking Cassandra's cool demeanor.
Amelia finished her animation and asked if Cassandra or anyone else in the room had any questions. Baird, Stone, and Ezekiel looked to Cassandra to take the lead, and Cassandra looked up at Amelia.
"Why?" she asked.
"Excuse me?" Amelia asked.
"Every doctor I've ever seen has recommended that I be put on Watchful Waiting status. None of them have even, as far as I know, considered surgery to be an option," Cassandra said. "So it's just been a lot of waiting and a lot of MRIs and a lot of literal and figurative headaches. Why do you think you can successfully operate when all of the other doctors, including your own brother, have told me no?"
Amelia looked at Cassandra's friends. "You told her Derek said no?"
"You didn't witness the explosion," Ezekiel said. "We're not hiding anything from her ever again."
"Two reasons," Amelia said, turning back to Cassandra. "One, technology's come a long way. Imaging, mapping, navigational tools, all of the things I mentioned I would use to help me during your surgery…the advances in these resources have increased the threshold for what is considered operable. A tumor that's considered operable today may not have been considered operable a decade ago or even a few years ago. Yours falls into that category. Like with any new technology, a lot of the seasoned surgeons are more reluctant to try, my brother, sometimes, included."
"Old way's best?" Cassandra asked softly. Stone shifted uneasily behind her.
"That's what they think," Amelia said. "I think they're wrong."
"And the second reason?" Cassandra asked.
"I'm kind of a rock star," Amelia said with a grin. "I'm better than my brother. That's why I have his job now."
"And that's why he's working with the President, too, right?" Cassandra replied.
Amelia laughed. "Are you always this sassy?"
"I'm sorry," Cassandra said. "I don't know where that came from."
Amelia shook it off. "Oh, that isn't the worst thing a tumor patient has said to me, not even close," she said.
"That…wasn't the tumor," Cassandra admitted.
"Look, I'm not going to stand here and lie to you and tell you it's not risky. It's brain surgery. It's risky. The location of the tumor makes it slightly more so than usual," Amelia said. "But I'm telling you I can do it because I can do it."
Cassandra processed Amelia's confident assertion for a moment and then turned to Stephanie. "And what do you think?"
"I think you're in the best hands you could possibly be in," Stephanie said. "I've seen her. She's a superhero."
"What happens to my synesthesia if you manage to resect the tumor?" Cassandra asked.
"Nothing," Amelia said. "The tumor is intensifying the effects of your synesthesia, not creating it. You were a synesthete long before you got the diagnosis, right?"
"Right," Cassandra nodded.
"You'll be a synesthete after, too. Numbers and letters will still look like colors."
"And math will still smell like breakfast?" Cassandra asked.
"Seriously?" Stephanie asked.
Cassandra smiled and nodded. "Usually."
"That's awesome," Stephanie grinned.
"That's pretty cool," Amelia agreed. "Nothing I do should affect that. You'll probably even still see numbers and patterns as points in the space surrounding you."
"Wait," Stone asked. "Isn't that part of the problem?"
"I've always seen numbers like that," Cassandra said. "They just used to be…focused."
"There isn't an abundance of research concerning synesthesia, but from what I know, and from what you all have told me about Cassandra's experiences, the tumor is not doing any of it; it's just affecting how her brain handles those anomalies and associations," Amelia said. She looked at Cassandra again and said, "No more tumor just means you won't have the tail spinning hallucinations and other physical symptoms holding you back anymore."
Baird and Stone shared a look, mutually pondering the possibility of how powerful a tumor-less Cassandra might be under those circumstances.
Amelia gazed knowingly at Cassandra and said, "But you already knew that, didn't you?" Cassandra, a little embarrassed at having been caught, sheepishly nodded. "It's okay to be nervous. I know willingly signing up for something like this when you, more or less, feel fine is daunting. It seems crazy. But think about it. You don't have to decide right at this moment. We're not going to do this today."
"Okay," Cassandra said.
"Anything else I can answer for you?" Amelia asked.
"I'm sure there is, but I'm having trouble thinking," Cassandra admitted.
"That's okay. Do any of you have any questions?" Amelia asked her friends.
"What kind of recovery time are we looking at here?" Baird asked.
"It's long," Amelia admitted. "A couple months, at least, until things feel normal again. She'd be here for three days, with a follow-up appointment about a week post-op, and then she'd need to come back at the three to four month mark. You guys are…Portland, right?"
"Right," Baird said.
"So you're close enough that you could go home upon initial discharge if you wanted to. I wouldn't advise it, but we could coordinate with your local hospital in the case of a post-op emergency. A lot of out-of-town patients prefer to stay local at least until that first week is over. And she'll need you; she'll need help," Amelia said. "Dr. Edwards will give you some information to look over, and you can talk it over and take your time making a decision."
"Thank you for your time, Doctor," Baird replied.
"My pleasure," Amelia said. "Cassandra?"
"Yes?" Cassandra asked.
"Promise me you'll think about it, okay?"
A few days later, Baird and Ezekiel, having arrived at the same time, entered the Annex to find a bewildered Stone sitting at a desk in the corner of the room. Jenkins stood next to Stone with a concerned look on his face. Baird and Ezekiel followed their worried gazes to the center of the room where Cassandra stood, still dressed in the previous day's clothes, hurriedly running around the center table and muttering quietly to herself.
"Cassandra," Baird said gently, moving towards the table. If Cassandra heard her, she didn't let it show.
"Miss Cillian has been here all night," Jenkins said with a hint of a disgruntled tone.
"Yeah, I got that, Jenkins," Baird said.
The table was covered in books, paperwork, and hand-scribbled notes. The pamphlets Dr. Edwards had given them laid among neurological and surgical textbooks, chapters on determining statistical risk analysis, printouts from the Internet, and pages upon pages of Cassandra's notes, equations, and drawings. She had taken over the entire table, running back and forth to see information on whatever subject popped into her head.
"Cassandra," Baird said again.
"Grey Sloan Memorial had a 1.6 percent morbidity rate on elective craniotomy procedures last year," Cassandra whispered, never missing a beat with her frantic pacing. "One is red, and six is indigo; indigo and red make purple; purple like jelly."
Stone stood from the desk and walked towards Cassandra. He held out his hand and said, "Cassandra, hey…you can do this. Focus."
"Purple like grape jelly…with peanut butter and bread, and…oh, yummy; grapes, though…grapes are bad…grapes like the tumor in my head," Cassandra continued.
"Cassandra," Stone said again.
"The tumor in my head that Dr. Shepherd wants to remove," Cassandra muttered. "If I could just figure out how many craniotomies Dr. Shepherd performed last year and then how many of those were elective…"
"I think she's lost it," Ezekiel said quietly.
Cassandra bolted around the table and grabbed information printed from the Internet about Amelia Shepherd. She furiously shuffled through it before taking a seat on a stool at the center table, tossing the papers into the air and, with a sigh, dropping her head onto the tabletop.
"I don't know how to do this!" she cried. Her head still on the table, she whimpered, much more calmly this time, "How do I do this?"
"What am I missing?" Ezekiel asked, noticing the sympathetic looks on Baird and Stone's faces.
Cassandra picked her head up from the table. A defeated look had replaced the mania from just a few moments earlier. "How do I make this decision? I'm…I'm not there yet," she said softly. On that note, a trail of blood began trickling from her nose. She moaned again and swiftly dabbed it away with the back of her hand, embarrassed. "Though I guess it would be nice to not do that anymore."
"Have you slept at all?" Baird asked with concern.
"I can't sleep. I can't…" Cassandra said. "This thing, this idea of surgery is just out there…unresolved, and I can't…I can't sleep." Her nose started bleeding again, and Stone handed her a tissue. "Thank you."
"What are you thinkin'?" Stone asked.
"Talk to us," Baird said.
"I'm thinking that I actually like my life right now, and I still could live many more years if I do nothing, but if I have the surgery, I could live longer and better…or I could stroke out and die in the OR. What would you guys do?" Cassandra asked, looking towards her friends with hopeful eyes.
"I haven't really had to think about my mortality for quite some time, so I'm afraid I won't be must help," Jenkins replied. "But, for what it's worth, you're the most pleasant of you scoundrels that have ruined my peace and quiet."
Cassandra's lips curled into a tiny grin as she raised her shoulders slightly. Baird and Stone each shot Jenkins a glare.
"Thanks, Mr. Jenkins," Cassandra said.
"Well, this sounds like something to be worked out amongst yourselves, so if you'll excuse me," Jenkins said, heading back to his lab.
"Colonel Baird?" Cassandra asked.
Baird shook her head slightly. "I like to think I would take that chance if I was in your position and someone was offering it to me, but I can't make this decision for you," she said. Cassandra nodded in understanding. "But Dr. Shepherd seems more than competent, with an impressive record. I have faith in her."
"Stone?" Cassandra asked.
"Whatever you want, Cassie," Stone said. "I'll support you either way."
"I think you should do it," Ezekiel said with a scoff.
"Of course you do," Cassandra sighed.
"You just said the morbidity rate for elective procedures was only 1.6 last year," Ezekiel said. "That sounds good to me."
"It's not just that," Cassandra said. "There are a lot of factors, like recovery time, and all the help I'd likely need..."
"Hey, no," Stone said. "That's not a factor. You've got us."
"It is a factor," Cassandra said. "This is days…weeks, maybe months, of doing things like waking me up to take medicine when all I want to do is sleep and fighting me to get out of bed and move so I don't develop blood clots, and I won't want to, and I might be mean, and I'll need help with really simple things like changing clothes or maybe even just standing up, and I need you guys to understand that. This isn't just helping out a friend who has a fever for a day or two. This is more like taking care of an articulate toddler, at least in the beginning."
"Cassandra," Baird said seriously. "We're talking about saving your life. If this is what you want to do, we're in. All of us, we'll make it work."
Cassandra took a moment to let Baird's words sink in before turning to the guys. Stone nodded in agreement.
"Damn right we will," he agreed. "If this is what you want, we'll take care of you after. Don't worry about that."
"Even you?" Cassandra asked Ezekiel.
"That'd be a pretty dick move to hand the surgeon to you and then not help after, don't you think?" Ezekiel asked.
Cassandra fought back tears, touched by their willingness to support her. She looked at Baird and asked, "And I can keep doing this after, right?"
"Not for a little while, but you're not a soldier, remember?" Baird asked. "This isn't going to keep you out of the field forever."
They all watched silently as Cassandra nodded and swiveled the stool she was sitting on to face the center table. With shaking hands, she pulled her cell phone from underneath a mountain of research and took Amelia's card out of her pocket.
"Are you sure?" Stone asked quietly.
"No," Cassandra said. "But I think this thing is going to stay out there, unresolved, unless I try, so…yes."
Nobody bothered to move when she started dialing, and Cassandra didn't ask them to leave. Stone sat down again on the nearest seat he could find, Ezekiel leaned against the doorway, and Baird stood next to Cassandra, carefully watching in case the younger woman needed a comforting hand. After a few minutes, Cassandra hung up the phone and shifted again to face her friends. Baird crossed her arms against her chest.
"Two weeks from Wednesday," Cassandra said nervously. When she saw her own trepidation reflected on each of her friends' faces, she forced a little smile and, with a shrug, said "It might be nice to be able to look in a mirror again."