Air

"There is only air, where I used to care

Where I used to care, there is only air."

--The Owls

Sloan had brought her in himself, and when Miranda saw the floppy tangle of blue scrubs in his arms, she sighed. "Another one?"

It was only after he deposited the bundle on the nearest bed that she saw it was Addison.

She moved into action, eyes already appraising the still, crumpled form. "She went in?"

"We were prepping Shepherd and Burke with filter suits when the anesthesia wore off. Addison saw it first."

"And she went in?"

"The kid was open on the table and fighting intubation. Yeah. She went in."

She touched a palm to her friend's forehead, noting the flush of heat in her cheeks. When she lifted up Addison's hand, it flopped back limply. Damn. She wasn't coming out of it as fast as the others had.

"Yang," she called out. Cristina had stopped in ten minutes ago to check on George. "Get me a couple more oxygen tanks, and a monitor."

Her intern nodded, and hustled away to fetch supplies. Good. If she was going to hang around, she may as well do something more useful than gawk.

Miranda gently lifted the oxygen mask away from Addison's face, hoping the cough reflex would kick in and jolt her back to consciousness. It didn't. She noted the concern on Sloan's face.

"I've got it," she said. "You'd better head back."

"But…"

"I've got it. Yang, the monitor?"

She pushed Sloan out of the way, and let Cristina help her hook the monitor up. "Pulse ox is low," Cristina noted softly.

"As it was with the others," Miranda said.

"She isn't waking up though."

"No."

"If she was pushing intubation, she might have got close."

"We assume she did. We assume worst case scenario, Yang." Even with a friend on the table, this was a teaching hospital, and Miranda was a teacher. "You assume worst case scenario, and treat from there. She's had a quarter tank by now. Let's try again."

She lifted off the mask, and this time, the reflex kicked in. Her eyes fluttered, she gave a weak cough, then her body twisted, eyes watering. Instinct kicked in for Cristina too, and she grabbed the other wrist and together, they braced her.

"Addison, it's Miranda." She pressed the mask back into place. "I need you to take some deep breaths for me, okay?"

The eyes fluttered again, rapidly this time. "Uhhh…"

"Uh huh. That'll pass. Just take some deep breaths for me, Addison, and this'll all go away."

"The…she…"

"The patient? She's fine, thanks to you. Burke and Shepherd are in there right now." She gave Addison a gentle smile. "You're the big hero."

"Head hurts. Heart…racing…"

"That'll pass," Miranda said again.

"Huh. Scary."

"Yeah. Here's what I'm gonna do, Addison. I'm gonna keep an eye on your vitals, let the oxygen do its work for awhile. If you feel like closing your eyes, you just go right ahead. And when you can manage more than two words at a time, I'll do a quick exam and make sure you're coming along okay. Sound good?"

"Interns…"

"What…you want me to leave one with you? Which…"

"No!"

It was nice to see her emphatic again.

"The…they…"

Or not. "Right. The surgery. More hands on deck." She spun around and caught Yang and O'Malley staring.

"Yang! Go see if Dr. Burke needs you."

"But…"

"Go! And you," she said, turning to O'Malley. "Don't you have anything else to do?"

He motioned with a pitiful hand to his own mask. "I'm sick, Dr. Bailey."

"Uh huh." She softened her tone a little, lowered her voice so Addison wouldn't hear her. "Just…thinking that we don't really need an audience here, you get my drift? It'll be rough, coming out of this. She took it hard."

He followed her glance to Addison, hands twitching, breath wheezily audible and eyes rabbit-like, too aware of the effort her pitiful gasps were taking. He looked just as terrified, as he stammered "Uh, I should check on Alex."

"Yeah. Do that. Check on Alex."

He picked himself up, dragging his oxygen tank behind him, and hustled away, behind the other curtain. They were alone.

--

She made her rounds, checking on the other afflicted staff. Most of them were well on their way to coming out of it. Chief Webber had been hardest hit of the first wave, and he still couldn't manage more than a few words at a time before needing a hit from the oxygen, but he was functional, clear-headed and steady of hand. He had already gone back to the hospital to supervise Burke and Shepherd.

She made her way back to Addison, who had, to their mutual surprise, become a friend. Even knowing that she'd be fine soon enough, it had still been hard to see her come in, unconscious, in extremis, barely able to form a coherent thought. She would be fine. Webber and the others had recovered quickly, and she would too. She would be fine.

She was awake when Miranda got there, and her hands were steady as they gripped the mask. Her eyes had lost the twitchy panic, and her breathing, while still a little more deliberate than was normal, had lost the unhealthy wheeze.

"Feeling better?"

Tiny shrug. "Guess so."

"The chief's back in there already. You'll be fine."

Addison pulled the mask off her face a little, then broke into a violent coughing fit. "Uh huh. Fine."

"Now, come on. You know that'll pass."

"Head hurts. Can I have something?"

Miranda moved for the drug cart, pressed a small syringe into the saline IV herself. No need to call a nurse over.

"Thanks."

"Any other symptoms I should know about?"

"A little nauseous. Okay, a lot nauseous. Almost lost it a few times."

"You wouldn't be the first."

"A little dizzy."

"You're getting oxygen. It'll pass."

She nodded, then pulled off the mask and turned on her side, retching into a bedpan. Miranda moved fast, holding back her hair, bracing her as she clawed for the mask again, gasping, eyes streaming tears.

"There, now," she soothed. She was glad she had thought to clear the interns out. "Easy, easy. You haven't got enough lung function yet to cry and breathe at the same time."

She said it lightly, teasingly, but she saw that things were escalating. The eyes were fluttering again, jittery with sudden panic. The breath was coming in short, hyper bursts. But Addison knew what was going on. She knew she would be fine. This, whatever it was, wasn't just about air.

"There, now. Deep breaths, Addison. Do it with me. One, two…"

She had her down to semi-normal beats by five. She climbed all the way onto the narrow bed, edging close enough for body-on-body contact. She kept up the slow, hypnotic trace of her fingers through the long, red hair.

"Okay. You want to tell me what that was about?"

"Can't breathe. Head hurts."

"Uh huh."

"Don't feel good."

"I know."

Miranda let the silence fall between them for a moment. Then she said "Want to talk about it?"

The panic vanished at once, eyes glimmering again. Surprise, this time. "What, like girl-bonding talk about it?"

"I don't have to be at work right now. You don't have to be at work right now. Can you think of a better time?"

She managed a short, bitter laugh. "I really do feel like crap, you know. Self-pity mode kinda comes easier in times like these."

"Warning duly noted. Now, spill."

She coughed, took another ragged breath, then sighed. "My life is a mess, Miranda."

"What, that whole McMoron thing? Girl, you are too smart for that."

"Am I? So why'd I stay, Miranda? Why do I stay here so I can come in every day to see his face, to see her with him, and…you know, she's not a bad person. I would like her, if…"

"If you didn't have to come in every day, see her face, see him with her?"

"It's not like that. I want him to be happy. I mean, of course I do. We're doing the whole mature adults thing."

"Yeah. I see that."

"Just…"

"Just that you were hoping you'd get to be happy first?"

"No, it isn't that. He's not a wallow-er, and I sort of am. I knew he would move on first. He was just so…so…"

"So gleeful?"

At Addison's nod, she gave her arm a comforting pat. "Don't look so surprised. Haven't my interns told you I have special powers? I see things."

She still didn't think Addison had a steady enough hold on the breathing to cry again. Time for a break. "How's that oxygen holding up?"

Addison's hands wobbled a little as she held aloft the tank. "About ready for a change."

She did so. "Nausea?"

"Not so much."

"Head?"

In the distance, a car alarm went off. Addison moaned audibly and scrunched her eyes shut. "You've got to be kidding me."

"Deep breaths. Don't punk out on me."

She managed the pain with short, sharp pants, cheek unconsciously pressing into Miranda's outstretched hand. "Not punking. I don't punk."

Well, fine. She would go with the other distraction. Was the emotional pain easier to watch than the physical pain? She wasn't sure anymore.

"You've had a rough go," she said.

The breathing wasn't smoothing out. "Yeah."

"You managing it okay?"

Again, surprise jolted Addison back to her. "What? Were you listening just now?"

"Yeah, I was. Listening, and looking. Special powers, you know? And hon, if I might give you two tiny suggestions…alcohol, not gonna help you. Man candy? Only gonna make it worse."

And there was the breaking point. No tears this time, just a quiet deadness in the tone. "But what else can I do? I just…"

"Just want it to stop? Oh honey, we've all been there. Like that car alarm, isn't it? The longer you listen, the louder it sounds, and the more desperate you are to just make the noise stop."

That, ironically, got a laugh out of her. "Seriously, about that, if it doesn't stop? I really will claw my brain out of my skull. Damn. I don't need this right now."

"Agreed. What do you need?"

Addison frowned. "Are we talking about the oxygen again?"

"No. Look. This is none of my business."

"Okay…"

"It really, really is none of my business."

"Yeah."

"So why does your unbelievably inept stress management bother me so much?"

"Because, in spite of my disgustingly pedestrian insecurities and my self-pitying need for validation, I have many attractive qualities, and you find me endearing?"

The car alarm silenced, and Addison inhaled deeply, her first real breath since this whole mess began. "Oh, thank god."

"Look, if you need to wallow? Fine. A good wallow can be healthy if you cut it off before it sets too deep. But the other stuff…"

"Yeah, yeah, I know. Alcohol kills the brain cells, man-candy kills the common sense cells, and the two of them together lead to badness every time."

"I sense a 'but' in there."

"But…what else can I do?"

"Move back to New York, maybe?"

"Miranda!"

"Well, you wouldn't have to see his face again."

"But I like Seattle. I have friends here."

"Yeah." She stroked the hair again. "Yeah, you do."

"And running away? That's kinda how this whole thing happened, isn't it? No. I have to stay here, I have to see his face again. I have to get over it."

"Is that a hint of girl power creeping back into self-pity-girl at last?"

She smiled weakly. "It's gonna hurt though. It's going to take time."

"Let it happen. And when the noise gets so loud that you'll do anything to stop it, tell me. I know some ways we can work it off—without the man-candy, and the alcohol that comes with him."

Addison braced her hands on the side of the bed and tried to push herself up. "Okay. Consider me pep-talked."

"Not so fast. Lie down, let me listen."

She pulled out her stethoscope. "Better," she said, moving the pad across Addison's back. "Want me to move you in with the other ones? It's like a slumber party in there."

"Sounds good. Bring me some ice cream?"

"What, are you six?"

"Miranda!"

"They call me the nazi, you know. I don't do ice cream."

"I've had a bad day."

"Yeah, go on and milk it."

"Meanie."

"Suck."

Next thing she knew, she had faceful of pillow. That was more like it. Addison was going to be just fine.

The end