What We Do
Will sank down onto the couch in his navy blue t-shirt and gray sweatpants, thankful to finally be out of his scrubs. He put the television on and absentmindedly flipped through the channels, not really noticing nor caring what was on. He finally settled on the Blackhawks game, but stared right past the TV, his gaze unfocused. He just couldn't get the day's events out of his head. Natalie had been concerned at his withdrawn demeanor after Lexi had died, asking him more than once if he was okay. After receiving her third "I'm fine" with Will barely able to look at her, she gave up and decided to let him be.
His eyes finally fixing on some distant point beyond the TV, Will's mind drifted back to the beginning of his shift, when he first saw Al in the waiting room, embracing a woman whom he soon learned was Lexi's mother, Meredith. He could hear himself explaining that Lexi had burns over 60 percent of her body and that they had to incise her chest to enable her to breathe. Closing his eyes, Will felt Meredith's hand on his arm and heard her tearful plea.
Opening his eyes again, Will glanced down to find that he was grasping his own arm, just as Meredith had done. Slowly, he shook his head, trying to blink back the tears that were beginning to sting his eyes. I couldn't save her, he thought, and his grip on his arm tightened. I just couldn't save her.
A few moments later, knocking on Will's apartment door drew him out of his trance. Sighing, he rose and walked slowly to the door. Opening it, he was slightly surprised to see his brother standing there, a six pack of beer in his hand.
"Hey, man," Jay said, offering a small smile. "I figured maybe you could use this tonight." Will shook his head.
"Jay, I appreciate it, but I kind of want to be alone right now." Anticipating this response, Jay looked Will directly in the eye.
"Look, Will, it's been a rough day for both of us. I hate to drink alone after a day like this. C'mon, man, what do you say?" Will knew that Jay wouldn't take no for an answer, so he shrugged and opened the door all the way.
"Sure, why not?"
"Thanks," Jay replied as he entered the apartment, handing Will a beer. The brothers walked into the living room, Will flopping back down onto the couch, Jay settling himself in the chair across from him. They drank their beers in silence for what felt like an eternity to both of them, although no more than a minute had passed. Finally, Jay spoke.
"Hey, so, one reason I wanted to stop by...well, Al asked me to pass a message on to you."
Slowly, Will set his beer down on the coffee table, trying to keep his hand from shaking. Unable to look at Jay, he stared down at the floor.
Jay leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees. "Yeah. Will, he wanted to say thank you."
Startled, Will looked up. "He what?" he asked, finally meeting his brother's gaze. Jay's blue eyes were sad, expressing sorrow for Will as well as Al.
"He asked me to thank you for working on Lexi. He said he knew you gave it everything you had."
Will tried to swallow the lump in his throat as he looked back down at the floor. When he raised his head again, Jay saw a pain in Will's deep brown eyes that he had never seen before. Tears filled them to the brim, and as Will slowly shook his head a few of them spilled down his cheeks.
"Jay, I've never felt so helpless in my life," Will said softly. He wiped away the tears and took a shaky breath in an attempt to steady his voice. "It was Al, man. His daughter. One of ours. If you had seen the look on his face when I had to tell him Lexi wasn't going to make it..." his voice broke and he covered his face with his hands and sank back into the couch, trying to hold himself together. For the first time since he started at Med, Will felt dangerously close to breaking down.
Jay looked briefly down at his shoes, relating to what his brother was feeling. "Will, I know it's hard. In Afghanistan I watched my friends die right in front of me, not being able to do anything to help them. Then I had to come home and tell their wives and girlfriends and parents that they wouldn't be coming home...it sucks, man. It really sucks."
Will let his hands fall away from his face as he leaned forward again. "Yeah, but you weren't a doctor. Jay, I took an oath. It's my job to save lives!"
"No, it's your job to do your best with what you have," Jay countered. "Will, you know there was nothing you could have done. You can sit here all night and play the what-if game, but the fact is her injuries just wouldn't allow her to be saved." He reached out and put a comforting hand on Will's shoulder. "You're not a magician, you're a doctor, and a damn good one. You can't save everyone. Al knows that, and he appreciated what you were able to do for Lexi, and for him and Meredith." Jay felt himself beginning to choke up, tears burning his eyes as he tightened his grip on his brother's shoulder. "Will, you kept her alive long enough for them to say goodbye."
Will stared at Jay's pained expression as he slowly nodded, feeling the tears start to fall once more. "I know, Jay, I know." He closed his eyes for a moment, then looked at his brother again. "But...she...she pleaded with me. Begged me to save her. And I didn't." Jay looked slightly confused.
"Meredith," Will whispered. He looked down at his arm. "Jay, man, she grabbed my arm, just begging me to save Lexi...and the look in her eyes..." he looked up at his brother once again, his expression plaintive. "I let her down." Jay shook his head, hating to see his brother hurting like this.
"Will, I know it feels that way now, but trust me, you didn't let her down. Or Al. He knows that. They really are grateful for everything you did. You've just got to see that." Sighing, Will nodded, running a hand through his hair.
"Yeah. It's just...this one really hurts."
Jay nodded. "Yeah, it hurts me too. All of us," he whispered.
The brothers sat in silence again, each lost in his own thoughts. After a few moments, Will spoke, his voice soft.
"How do we do it, Jay? How do we see this crap day after day and just keep going? I never really stopped to think about it until now."
Jay shrugged. "It's just the nature of it, man. It's what we do. We help. Or at least, we do our best." Will shook his head.
"My best just wasn't good enough."
"This time," Jay said, looking Will directly in the eye. "But you know what? The next time, maybe it will be. And the time after that, and the next one hundred times. And you know why? Because you always give it one hundred percent, everything you have, just like Al said." He shook his head. "I know you, man. Every loss motivates you to try even harder, be even better. Always has. And because of that, Lexi won't have died for nothing."
Will was silent for a moment, letting Jay's words sink in. Finally, he looked intently at his brother, cocking his head slightly.
"How do you do it?"
Will shook his head, the corners of his mouth upturning slightly. "Just when I feel like some part of my life is about to go to hell, you manage to pull these words of wisdom from God knows where. Like I said once before, cop and philosopher." Jay smiled, raising his beer.
"What we do." Will nodded and raised his beer as well, clinking the bottle against Jay's as he finally allowed himself to smile for the first time all day.
With that, the Halsteads turned their attention to the hockey game, each knowing that no matter what, they would always have each other's backs. They're brothers-it's what they do.