Full Summary: When Arizona Robbins' brother dies in Iraq, her life takes off in a completely different direction. Now a highly-rated trauma surgeon with the United States Marine Corps, she spends the three years following his death serving their country overseas – until an insurgent attack leaves her with debilitating injuries. Traveling to Seattle at her father's request, she falls under the care of orthopedic surgeon Dr. Calliope Torres. Damaged emotionally and physically, Arizona tries to start the healing process with the help of a headstrong woman she never saw coming.
Future MA-rated chapters will be cut short to apply to FFnet's rules, but I will direct readers to my Livejournal account (username: kennedysbitch) where the full version can be found. Also found on Livejournal are the video, artwork and fanmix for this story, created by very talented friends of mine for a fic event in September 2011.
Updated Feb. 13, 2013 – I have fine-tuned some of the earlier chapters and replaced the originals with the new edits.
It's only once she's lying flat on her back, surrounded by a cloud of smoke and burning flesh, that she really begins to reflect on why she's there in the first place – a dead brother, a disapproving father, a guilty conscience that wouldn't let her sleep at night. She came from a cushy job, a cushy apartment, what most would consider a cushy life, and transplanted herself into the armpit of Hell. Voluntarily.
Arizona felt really fucking stupid right about now.
The Marines were an escape, a way for her to feel like she was contributing something to this planet other than the carbon dioxide she expelled into the atmosphere every three seconds. They were an excuse to run far, far away from her life, without ever looking back, and not have anyone judge her for it.
The biggest adjustment was, surprisingly enough, the sand. It was everywhere, all the time. That was probably a mundane observation in a place where everything one saw, smelled and touched was made of it. The first time Arizona took leave, she was still shaking particles out of her hair three days after arriving back on American soil. No amount of showering could make the stuff disappear. She became convinced that it was permanently ingrained in her skin and would continue falling out over time.
The heat was a secondary adjustment. She had lived in a lot of places growing up, some dry, some humid. Most of them hot. The scorching deserts of Afghanistan and Iraq were a huge leap from southern California summers. Especially when every soldier there had to lug their own weight in gear around on their backs, beneath an unforgiving sun, day in and day out.
The U.S. military covers their warriors in thick, heavy Kevlar and a backpack the size of a coffee table, instructing them to keep moving forward and never look back. Focus on the mission, save who you can, get the bodies out so we can bring them home to their families. Arizona had the routine memorized by now – she had been doing this for three years. Sweating twenty-four hours a day was just a part of the job.
At age thirty-two, she wasn't quite where she thought she would be in life. A surgical fellowship in pediatrics at John Hopkins hospital was a far cry from military trauma surgeon in the middle of a war zone. The old Arizona – the one who smiled and laughed and adored working with kids – had turned into a surgical shark, efficient and unafraid to make the hard decisions when it came to who lived and who died. She was damn good at her job and, as a senior surgeon, now claimed the Naval rank of Lieutenant-Commander. Three years into this new life and she was running a Forward Resuscitation Surgical System, or FRSS. They were a two-tent, nine-personnel, three-vehicle unit tasked to provide immediate support on the battlefield to critically injured soldiers.
Not quite the lollipops and roller shoes she had started off with in Baltimore. Losing her brother and best friend of twenty-eight years had altered her on a molecular level, rendering her old self useless and forcing her to make new tracks. Timothy was dead and, for all intents and purposes, so was his twin sister. Arizona was a different person than she had been three years ago – for better or for worse, it remained to be seen.
Surprisingly, her parents had been conflicted when she informed them of her decision following Tim's death. Her mother had cried and begged Arizona not to get herself killed as a part of some futile revenge mission. Arizona calmly explained to the elder Robbins that an inadequate number of trained specialists was the reason he had died of a sucking chest wound in the first place. She'd read the reports. Knowing that she might have been able to do something had she been there, yes, that played a part in the decision, but no, it wasn't a revenge mission. And she was doing it regardless of what they thought.
Her father had been relatively indifferent – though to be fair, his son's death within an organization he had been a part of for the last fifty years had changed him. He became cold and distant. He didn't put up a fight when she told him she was enlisting, nor did he praise her decision. He simply fell silent for a solid thirty seconds before finishing his scotch and referring her to a commanding officer in the San Diego office that would take care of her recruitment needs.
Technically speaking, Arizona was part of the United States Navy, on loan to the Marine Corps. They didn't have their own surgical staff so they borrowed personnel from other branches. She was able to secure a position with the Marines fairly easily because her dad was a Colonel, and a well-respected one at that.
In the end, she served her country just as her brother, father, grandfather and great-grandfather had done before her. Being a surgeon meant she did so in a different capacity but she served none the less, and she liked to think that a part of dear old Dad was proud, even if their family was already broken beyond repair.
Many of the soldiers that came to her unit died, but more of them survived because she was a rockstar with her hands. She saved lives. Some of those men and women had scars and wounds so horrific, they probably wished that she hadn't.
'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' only complicated things in a minor way. The military wasn't about to tell one of their top surgeons to get lost when there was a dire shortage of medical personnel to begin with. Arizona didn't talk about her private life and had no partner to speak of. The fact that she was a lesbian was irrelevant; her last relationship had ended before enlistment, after Timothy's death. Since then, a series of one-night stands during each Leave was enough to tie her over. She was married to the job and for now, Arizona was perfectly okay with that.
On the day that her life changed forever, she was wrist-deep in a soldier's chest, doing what she did best.
Centred in the chaos, through the yelling and trampling of feet as medical staff ran by carrying stretchers, Arizona was as calm, cool and collected as always. Her focus was sharp and undisturbed as she cracked the patient's chest open, her expert fingers searching for the source of the bleeding. They had maybe thirty seconds before his heart went into arrest and they lost him for good.
The scent of charred flesh made her nose curl as she twisted to the right and called out for another hand. One of the younger medics appeared by her side, clamp at the ready for the moment she needed it.
More people poured into the tent, total chaos erupting as others were carried inside and assessed in a hurry. Arizona blinked sweat from her brow and breathed heavily through the mask strung across her face. She wished she had a cold drink handy right about now, knowing it would be hours before she could peel off her gloves and sit down for a much-needed nap. She said as much to the woman standing across the table, earning a crooked grin and a wager on which one of them would make it out of there alive before the day was over. Surely the heat would do somebody in first.
Locating the bleeder, Arizona reached for the clamp and was suddenly, brutally assaulted by a complete sensory overload. She saw nothing, smelled nothing, heard nothing, felt nothing. Not even the beating of her own heart. She thought she was dead; she knew she was.
So she lay there for a moment, convincing herself that she was dead. That the people around her were gone. That the universe had somehow imploded and taken the entire human race with it at an incredibly inopportune time.
Or, quite possibly, just her.
When her senses slowly began to return, it occurred to Arizona that maybe she was being a tad over-dramatic. She still couldn't see anything, couldn't really hear much other than muffled, far-off echoes, but she could smell. Nothing distinct, just a myriad of scents that choked her sinuses and made it almost impossible to inhale. Surely if she was dead, the world beyond this one would smell better than a burning pile of skin and garbage.
Which is how she got to where she was now, lying in a bloodied heap on the ground while all hell broke loose around her.
December 23rd, 2008
A violent cough erupted from Arizona's lungs as she tried to blink away the layer of dirt caked to her eyelids. She found it nearly impossible to move upon trying, successful only in making her head swim and the world above spiral out of control. Each limb felt entirely too heavy for its own good and both ears rang to the point of vertigo-induced nausea.
A shapeless mass appeared overhead as a gust of wind cleared away some of the smoke blurring her vision. She was just barely able to make out the features of Dr. Teddy Altman, smeared with dirt and what she assumed to be blood.
"Fuck," Arizona rasped, her voice sounding alien to her own ears as it clawed its way out of her throat.
Teddy almost laughed, visibly relieved that her friend was in good enough shape to curse and sound that pissed off while doing so. "Hold still, Arizona. Don't move."
"I'm fine," Arizona murmured, squeezing both eyes shut in an attempt to clear her head. Miraculously, she wasn't in a lot of pain, but in the back of her mind she knew adrenaline was all that stood between her and a world of hurt.
But she was alive. That was awesome.
"What happened?" Uttering those two simple words used up more energy than her six-mile perimeter jog each morning.
Dr. Altman glanced around and grabbed the first towel she spotted. It was covered in sand and required a good shake, but it would do. "Multiple mortars, RPG, grenade...I-I don't know. Some kind of explosion."
"Thanks, Lieutenant Obvious," Arizona wheezed, cracking a weak, barely-there smile.
Teddy did a quick visual sweep of the injured woman's body, careful not to show any outward reaction to what she saw. "This is going to hurt."
Arizona didn't even have the chance to ask what was supposed to hurt when a searing pain unlike anything she had ever felt before ripped through her body.
It took a moment for her to realize that the sudden, loud noise erupting from nearby was actually her own attempt at screaming. It came out sounding more like a shrieking cat with asthma than a human being in pain.
Suddenly the fog in her head cleared. Her right leg was in an excruciating state and she was too afraid to look down; afraid that it wouldn't even be there anymore. She couldn't distinguish the pain well enough to know if her foot was a part of it – at least that would indicate whether or not it was still attached to the rest of her body.
The hot poker burning through her insides provided a poor distraction for the time being. Arizona managed to look down and see a too-large-for-comfort piece of metal shrapnel protruding from her gut.
Teddy pressed around the edges with the towel, attempting to stem the bleeding without disturbing the shard. She pushed her hand down despite the cry of protest and moved the other one to do something with Arizona's leg, immediately making the pain worse.
Arizona coughed violently again, dismayed to recognize blood as it invaded her taste buds. Her breath hitched in her chest and she could feel the substance bubbling up in the back of her throat. Dark red began oozing from the corner of her mouth as it became harder and harder to breathe. Her hearing started to dissipate, something she knew from experience as a bad sign. Losing consciousness was generally a no-no in situations like these.
Before long she was fighting to stay awake, knowing it would be only too easy to close her eyes and slip into a blissful, pain-free sleep. A sleep she would likely never wake up from again.
"I think her lung is collapsing," Teddy shouted from somewhere above, though her words were nearly drowned out by the ringing in Arizona's ears.
More shapes appeared and she kept trying to tell them to forget about her right now, she would be fine. They needed to help Stan, the soldier she had been operating on. She hadn't been able to clamp his artery before the explosion hit and it needed to be done before he bled out on the table.
Another surgeon in their unit tried to tell her something three times while he held her neck immobile, the words leaving his mouth sounding like indistinguishable gibberish. She frowned at him, wondering why he was surrounded by a white mist. She was pretty sure smoke was supposed to be black.
It was so hard to breathe.
It took a fourth repeat for Arizona's sluggish brain to make out the word "gone" as it left his lips. Her vision swam heavily as she tilted her head to the left. Another form came into focus, lying broken and twisted on the ground ten feet away. Eventually the clear picture of Stan's body registered in her mind's eye – he was dead, although that barely covered the extent of it. Whatever explosive projectile had hit them, he had taken the brunt of it. She wondered if she looked like that to the others.
Before long the image began to fade, taking with it the rest of the world. Teddy was yelling, grabbing Arizona by the chin and telling her to focus, to try and stay awake. But it was hard – too hard. She was so damn tired and her head was stuffed with cotton.
Teddy patted the blonde's cheek roughly, trying to keep her conscious. "Arizona, I need you to keep your eyes open, okay? Look at me; you need to stay awake and keep breathing. Arizona!"
It was a losing battle. Arizona barely managed an incoherent mumble before the rest of the world dissolved into a pit of blackness and the sound of distant gunfire faded into silence.
February 18th, 2009 – Two Months Later
Callie Torres was drinking Mark Sloan under the table and every patron in Emerald City Bar knew it. She was well aware of the judging eyes watching their every move, no doubt making bets on how long it would take her to wrap him around her little finger and guide him upstairs to bed.
Fuck them. Fuck 'em all.
His woeful moan as she tipped back another shot and slammed the glass down on the table between them brought a great big smile to her face. "Pay up, bitch," Callie slurred, beckoning his wallet forward with a wag of her finger.
Looking green, Mark reached into his jean pocket and fished out twenty dollars. He tossed it across the table and shook his head in disbelief. "I'm done. You win, Torres."
Callie replied with a good natured chuckle, stuffing the bill clumsily into her jacket. "Told you you couldn't out-shoot me, mister. I am the Queen of Bourbon-Sheba, or...whatever. You lose."
Mark grunted as a wave of nausea swept through him. "No work tomorrow," he mumbled, dropping his face into his hands. "Sleep. Lots and lots of sleep."
Callie sagged back in her chair and picked up the water glass to her right, chewing on the straw. "Not for me," she sighed, less than ecstatic at the idea of going to work the next morning. She wasn't too drunk to know that she would be hurting when her alarm went off at 7:15 a.m. It was already 12:25.
Mark frowned and leaned forward, resting his elbows on the table. "What're you doing tomorrow? I thought you had a long weekend finally. Hence the shot competition."
This whole exercise had been about making Callie forget that Erica Hahn ever existed. He had deemed it necessary when she broke down in the middle of an OR for no apparent reason, other than she was miserable with her life. Now his mind was too saturated with whisky to remember why this had been such a bad idea in the first place.
Other than it cost him twenty bucks. The girl could drink.
Callie grumbled, swirling ice cubes around her glass. "The Chief asked me to do a consult for him. For a friend, or a friend's daughter or something. I don't really know yet." She slumped forward, the cool surface of the table soothing against her flushed cheek. "He told me I had to be there at nine or he'd make me run the ER for an entire week."
She groaned pitifully. At this point it wasn't clear which was the lesser of two evils. In approximately seven hours, she would be leaning favourably towards ER duty instead.
Mark watched Callie revert back to her sulky form. The light in her eyes dimmed, having only returned for that brief period of time when she had been distracted. It made him sad to see his best friend so down and under, and he felt too useless to do anything about it.
He stood up on shaky legs, nearly tipping his chair over backward. "Okay, c'mon. Home time for you." Mark gestured with a hand and helped Callie wobble to her feet. "You need a shower and some sleep so you don't puke on the patient tomorrow."
Callie grinned smugly and allowed Sloan to tug her toward the exit, forever grateful that they both lived in the apartment building next door. "I don't puke when I drink. I can hold my liquor, unlike some people." She raised a drunken finger and pointed it in his face, squishing it against his nose.
"That was one time and really, really bad beer," Mark pointed out defensively, swatting it away.
"You threw up in your bowling shoes, loser."
"That was from watching you stink up the place with your lack of skills."
Callie snickered and elbowed him hard in the side, a move which sent both equilibrium-challenged individuals stumbling awkwardly through the doorway.
Tomorrow morning would come much too soon, Callie was sure of it.