A/N: This is it, the final chapter. I just wanted to say that I'm really grateful to you guys who reviewed the chapters, especially the readers who kept coming back and reviewing chapter after chapter, giving me some con-crit when necessary, but mostly just bolstering my confidence and making me feel good about myself. -grin- So without further adieu, the final chapter!
Chapter 12: Love
"Izzie, the reservations are at six, we don't want to be late!" George called up the stairs.
"I know, I can read a clock!" she shouted back, though not in a displeased tone. You could hear the smile on her voice, and sure enough, she was grinning at her reflection in the mirror. Elegant but simple, every girl's little black dress she keeps in the closet for going out. Nice but understated, dressy but fun. The cute, flirty, yet sophisticated little black dress. Heels and a clutch pulled it all together, and she couldn't remember the last time she looked so nice. Probably Denny's funeral.
It was getting to where she could think about it without her stomach clenching into several tight knots – only a slight twinge remained. Her final month of suspension from the hospital had passed with relative speed, and tomorrow she returned to work. Her stomach flip-flopped at the thought; part of her was excited to be getting back to Seattle Grace, and the other part was incredibly nervous about caring for sick and dying people again. She didn't know how much her heart could handle, what she'd be able to deal with upon returning.
But now wasn't the time to worry; all of the interns had arranged their schedules to have tonight off, and they were going out to celebrate Izzie's return to the hospital. Alex was waiting downstairs, Callie had come with George from the hospital to Meredith's house to get ready, Cristina and Burke were meeting them at the restaurant – a classy Japanese restaurant downtown – and while Meredith had invited Derek to come along, he'd gracefully declined while sending his regards and congratulations to Izzie with Meredith. His divorce from Addison was final now, and had been since shortly after the prom 'incident', but he felt that it would be inappropriate yet for him to start coming to functions where her friends would be. After all, her friends were not quite his friends yet – some of, or more appropriately put, all of, the interns still had mixed feelings about McDreamy and his track record with Meredith, and he wasn't naïve to this.
"Hey, it's five-thirty, are you done looking at yourself yet?" Meredith asked, poking her head into Izzie's bedroom. She sighed softly, a look of awe crossing her features.
"Wow, Izzie, you look great," she said, and it was true – she really did look great, the best she had looked in a long time, and it wasn't just the dress. She shone, inside and out. A smile lit up her expression, her eyes danced with laughter, and she was very much Izzie again. It really was a beautiful thing.
"Thanks, Mere," she said, grinning. "So, are we ready?"
"We've been waiting on you for the past fifteen minutes!" Meredith laughed, holding the door open for Izzie as they both left her bedroom, bouncing down the stairs and joking like giddy schoolgirls. Life hadn't been this close to normal in a long, long time, for any of them. It was weird, really, almost surreal – how often did this happen, and for how long was it going to last?
Everyone else was gathered in the atrium by the front door, waiting for Izzie's grand descent from on high. Three pairs of eyes gave Izzie the same awed, joyful look Meredith had upon seeing her. The change in her demeanor showed through the way she looked, the way she carried herself, and it showed greatly. Alex looked almost beside himself.
"We're ready!" Izzie announced, and George rolled his eyes.
"Finally," he said, and Izzie laughed and punched him in the arm as she approached.
"Ow! No physical abuse!"
"Suck it up, Bambi, she's just a girl," Alex laughed, Izzie's eyes flashing at him.
"Just a girl, huh?" she said, and Alex quickly shook his head.
"Er, that came out different than I meant it. You're a woman, a woman with very painful attacks. I remember," he said, reverie playing across his face as he touched his hand to his cheek, where he had been on more than one occasion slapped.
"Besides," he added, "Meredith's the one with the ineffectual fists around here." She glared at him and laughed.
"You had to bring that up, didn't you? Just couldn't leave it?"
"Nope, of course not. C'mon, you know me," Alex said, grinning lop-sidedly as Izzie and Callie laughed. In the past months since Callie's aid to Meredith during the prom fiasco, the female interns had opened up a space for Callie in their 'circle', letting her in as more of a friend and less of "George's girlfriend".
"So how are we doing this?" George asked, looking at the cars in the driveway.
"George, you and Callie will take my car with me… and I'm sure Alex can give Izzie a ride there, right?" Meredith suggested with only a hint of a smile, raising her eyebrows.
"I think I could handle that," Alex said, shrugging off-handedly, also concealing a grin. Izzie's gave Meredith a questioning look, but she pointedly refused to meet Izzie's gaze.
"Let's get on it, I'm hungry!" George chimed in, breaking the silence, and everyone either laughed or rolled their eyes, or both. Izzie let herself into the passenger-side door of Alex's car before he had the chance to help her, and was looking around the interior when he got in.
"I didn't know you even had a car," she said, digging through the things in his glove compartment nosily.
"Yeah, I just don't drive it much," he replied, watching her sift through his things with an amused expression on his face. "Don't think much of personal privacy, do you?" he asked with a chuckle.
"What, you got something to hide?" Izzie asked, raising her eyebrows and smiling as she shoved his proof of insurance and registration back in among the other things, pushing the compartment shut with her knee. He shook his head, and they shared a smile before she turned to the window, looking out as they drove. They rode in silence for a few minutes before either of them spoke again.
"You excited about going back to work tomorrow?" he asked, and she shrugged.
"Yeah, kind of. I'm kind of nervous too," she admitted.
"Don't be, you'll do fine," he said encouragingly, a rare tone for Alex to take, and Izzie turned to look at him, leaning against the window.
"You think so?" she asked.
"Yeah, definitely," he responded immediately, and then there was a pregnant pause before he spoke again. "I think you're going to find that the way you deal with patients has changed since last time you were working, though." Izzie nodded, not saying anything. She was most worried about that, dealing with the patients. Would she turn into Cristina, socially-retarded when it came to interpersonal relations, or would she just cry at everyone's bedside until they either got better or died?
"I don't want to turn into Cristina in the way I deal with people," she said, and Alex laughed aloud at the comment, shaking his head.
"Don't worry, it takes years of twisted psychological training to turn into Cristina," he assured, and Izzie burst out laughing.
"You're so mean!" she said, and he shrugged with a smile.
"Hey, you know me, I'm just honest," he said, and she nodded quietly, a smile still hovering. He was honest.
"Alex, I have a question," Izzie suddenly said after another moment of silent driving. He raised his eyebrows, still watching the road.
"I know this might be kind of weird, and kind of bad timing, and if you don't want to then just say so and it won't bother me," she prefaced, and he nodded.
"Okay, what do you want?"
"Uhm… do you think we could go by the cemetery?" she asked quietly. There was a pause so tense and silent that even the road noise from driving ten over the speed limit to get to the restaurant on time disappeared. Then he nodded.
"Yeah, sure, if that's what you want," he said cautiously, switching lanes so that he would be able to turn in when they came up to it. They didn't speak as they turned onto a quieter street, traveling it for a few minutes until they saw the roadside cast-iron sign, casting sunset shadows of the cemetery name backwards onto the grass. Only the clicking of the blinker made any noise as they turned onto the gravel path, cruising slowly until they came into the parking lot. They were the only visitors there. It was Izzie, Alex, and the dead people, and that was it.
"It's strange here," Alex muttered, shaking his head. Izzie shrugged; it didn't really bother her. It was very quiet, the only sounds their footsteps through the grass, careful not to tread on anyone's grave, and cars driving past them in the distance. Shadows stretched across the grounds, thrown by the setting sun, and the face of each solitary tombstone was slowly darkened as dusk approached.
It struck Izzie that each slab of stone represented a loved-one lost, an individual person who had left it all behind. Beneath each of the silent markers was a parent, a child, a spouse. Somebody's somebody. A lover, a best friend, an enemy. A rival, a boss, a teammate. A person who wrote thank-you cards and paid bills and went to school and drug the trash out every Thursday morning. And some of them never even got that far. Some of them were small bodies in small caskets, wearing small suits and small dresses, never to see their graduation or their first love. Dreams buried beneath the grass, with only a commemorative slab of marble to recognize what once was. It was poignant and only slightly distressing, less so due to the knowledge that she could do nothing about it.
They did not speak, only wandered through the springy grass, eyes to the ground, watching for graves they did not wish to tread upon. Alex's hands were shoved into his coat pockets and he followed Izzie as she lead the way, looking a little windswept in this large expanse of memories in her dress and heels, giving each grave they passed her thoughts as they wandered deeper into the plot of land, seemingly aimlessly. Their wandering was not aimless, though, and they both knew that.
There it is, the voice said, and Izzie was surprised to hear it speaking to her. She hadn't heard from the Voice in a long time.
"There it is," she echoed aloud, and Alex looked up to see what she was staring at, feet rooted to the spot. A broad white marble marker protruded from the soft, rolling grass, the name 'Denny Duquette' engraved deeply into it. It was followed by his years of birth and death, and that was it. No epitaph, because Izzie had been entirely too distressed to think up one, and any family that he might've had did not step forward.
You're not alone, the voice said abruptly. Izzie bit her bottom lip, tearing her gaze from the white stone ahead to glance behind her, to where Alex was staring at his feet, rocking on his heels and looking uncomfortable.
"No, I'm not," she said, and despite herself she just faintly smiled. It wasn't just Alex standing with her that made her realize how true that statement was, although literally he was the reason that, at that moment, she was not alone. It was Meredith, who let her cry and held her until she could not cry anymore. It was George, who bought her pizza and pushed her on the swings, who against all rational expectation was emotionally vast enough to understand where she was coming from. It was Cristina, whose friendship was surprising but exceptionally helpful. It was Callie, whose book Izzie was just in the beginning chapters of, so to speak. It was Bailey, supporting her; it was the Chief giving her a second chance.
And it was Alex, who fifteen minutes late to dinner and surely ravenous, was standing quietly in a cemetery, because Izzie had asked it of him. Alex, who she just realized had given her everything she had asked for during this hard time, and never asked anything of her. Alex, who waited and waited, and was still waiting, because he had faith that if he waited long enough, the door would finally open.
It was then she realized – by intuition, perhaps, just one of those feelings – that she wouldn't be hearing from the Voice anymore. That was the end of that. Doors open, doors shut.
Izzie approached the grave, wrapping her hands around her elbows as she shivered – partially from the cold, and partially from something else that she could control perhaps just as much as the dropping temperature. She didn't speak, maintaining the silence and just staring at the grave. She didn't know why she felt the need to visit, but she had, and it felt right to be there at that moment. Bringing what left she carried and laying it to rest, or better yet, releasing it. Letting it fly away, into the sky and beyond. Weightless.
Alex came up behind her after a few minutes, and she could hear the rustling sound of his coat coming off. He draped it around her shoulders, shielding her against the cool that evening was fast bringing. She turned and looked over the collar of the coat at him, truly connecting with his gaze for what felt like the first time in a longwhile --in her life, maybe.
"I'm not alone," she said, and he nodded, putting an arm around her. She leaned her head against his shoulder, and they both looked upon Denny's grave, each engrossed in thought; individual thoughts, or perhaps one united thought, neither could know.
"No, you're not," he agreed, putting his chin gently on top of her head and giving her shoulder a gentle squeeze.
No, she was not alone. Not by a long shot.
A/N: -sob- I'm really sad that it's done. It's bittersweet for me -- I want it to go on forever, to just keep writing it, exploring the depth of the characters and making new advances. But it has to end somewhere, and from the very first chapter I wrote, I envisioned this as the ending place. Coming back full circle, to where it began. So this is it; the buck stops here.
I got some questions about the Voice that Izzie kept talking to, who it was or why she was hearing it. No, the voice is not Denny, or God, or anyone else. The Voice is in a way Izzie -- it's her rationally thinking part of her brain, the subconscious part of her that sees the truth above all things, kind of like her conscience. It helps her realize the things that may very well be painful to realize, to face the things she's been avoiding.
You see more of the Voice when she's being avoidant and not talking to anyone, because she has left herself with only herself for company, keeping all of her thoughts and emotions bottled up and sharing them only with the Voice, herself. It's not healthy to keep painful emotions like that bottled up, hence why she starts hearing this Voice and talking to herself when she's doing this self-destructive behavior. The more she opens up and lets other people into her heart to help her, the less she hears the Voice, because she doesn't need to rely on only herself to get through this -- she has the voices of others to listen to, so she doesn't need that Voice anymore. I had hoped you'd picked up on that on your own, but I don't think everyone did, so I thought I'd explain it now that it's all over.
I also had some requests to write a sequel fic to this one, and I don't know whether or not I will do that. I kind of like the idea ofclosing the "book" on this one, leaving it be, and picking up a new fic to work on. Probably more Izzie fics, because I enjoy writing her, and not a lot of people do. But there is always the possibility, so who knows. Never say never, right?
Thank you all for reading my fanfic and giving me reviews, it means so much to me. Happy days to all of you!