A/N: I wrote most of this oneshot before 9x02 aired last night, and since that one was a flashback and this continues on from 9x01, nothing really conflicts. Just a dynamic and then a scene that I couldn't get out of my head.
Ghosts That We Knew
But the ghosts that we knew will flicker from view
And we'll live a long life
So give me hope in the darkness that I will see the light
Cause oh that gave me such a fright
But I will hold as long as you like
Just promise me we'll be alright
It's one of the bad days.
Meredith's dad, who's sunk back into the bottle, had called her last night, drunk and slurring about it being Lexie's birthday, the same way he used to talk about Susan.
Except this time, Meredith knows he's lying, because she knows Lexie's birthday, has celebrated a few with her.
This morning Derek tried another surgery, but he had to leave the OR after forty-five minutes because of that mysterious, intermittent numbness.
And she and Cristina have gone three days having to cancel all appointments to Skype because of surgeries, and it's impossible to coordinate a visit when neither of them are able to get on a plane.
So yes, it's one of Meredith's bad days.
"Hey…" Alex taps his knuckles against her arm, and she snaps out of some distant reverie and stares at him. He waves at the tray in front of her. "Eat. You're just sitting there staring, it's freaking me out."
"Right, sorry." Dutifully, Meredith takes a bite of her salad.
He pulls a sympathetic expression. "This about Derek's surgery?"
She sighs, annoyed that he knows, only because she didn't tell him yet; it's all over the hospital. All of them, the Victims, have been the subject of constant scrutiny and gossip over the past few months, but she and Derek are the only ones in the hospital listening to it.
At that thought, familiar anger flares in her chest. "You should have seen how many people were in the gallery watching. A totally routine surgery, too. It's like they were all hoping he'd choke so they'd have something to talk about."
"People are idiots," Alex mutters, automatically.
Gearing up for a much needed rant, Meredith stabs her salad almost violently and continues, "It just sucks we're the only ones dealing with this. Cristina just took off, and Robbins just hides away feeling sorry for herself-"
"Hey." Alex bristles immediately, all traces of sympathy gone from his expression. Meredith immediately regrets bringing up the pediatric surgeon. Alex isn't over his guilt over the fact this his former mentor took his place on the plane.
He takes a deep breath, the anger fading on his face somewhat. "C'mon. Cristina was leaving even before the plane crash. And with Robbins…it's not like you know what it feels like to lose a leg."
"Yeah, well, she's lucky she's alive. She doesn't know what it's like to lose a sister." Meredith's throat tightens immediately; she hadn't meant to mention Lexie. She tries to avoid it.
Alex looks up at her, his face darkening slightly, but his eyes go soft around the edges. "Actually, she has some idea, probably."
"What does that mean?"
"Her brother died," Alex states simply. "Not a sister, but, you know. Sibling."
"Oh." Meredith frowns, an odd fluttering of guilt in her chest. "How do you know that?"
Alex looks away, an oddly pained expression settling across his face as a memory shoves itself, uninvited, into his mind.
He'd made some joke, he doesn't even know what, and caught his boss staring at him with an odd, faraway smile, her eyes shining with fondness.
Nothing, you just…you reminded me of someone, just then.
Oh, yeah? Who?
"She told me," he mutters.
"How'd he die?"
"He was in Iraq."
"Oh." Meredith goes quiet then, poking at her salad without eating it, and by now, Alex too is too distracted to remind her.
Two nights after her conversation with Alex, Meredith finds herself outside the door of Callie and Arizona's apartment, and she isn't entirely sure what she's doing there.
It takes her five minutes before she knocks, and soon Callie is standing in front of her, undisguised surprise not quite chasing away the beaten down expression on the orthopedic surgeon's face.
"Grey? What are you doing here?"
"Um…" Her eyes flick past Callie, scanning the apartment. She can see Sofia sitting on the rug in the living room, rolling a small rubber car over the back of a stuff bear. "I was…could I talk to Arizona?"
If possible, Callie's eyebrows shoot up even further. She hesitates, throwing a glance over her shoulder, then looking back at Meredith, eyes squinting, scrutinizing her.
Finally, Callie nods, and steps back from the doorway, waving a vague hand in the direction of the closed bedroom door. "You can try."
Anxiety knifes through Meredith, but she nods in thanks and moves slowly toward the bedroom. Sofia looks up and sees her, babbling hopefully, "Zo?"
The almost-mention of her daughter momentarily relaxes Meredith. She smiles at the little girl who plays with Zola almost every day in hospital day care. "Sorry, Sof, Zola's not with me tonight."
Callie settles back beside her daughter. "Zola's mommy's here to see your Mama, baby girl."
At that Sofia perks up even more, tilting her head up at Callie hopefully. "See Mama?"
Callie sighs. "Not right now, sweetie. Maybe soon."
Meredith looks away and, sighing, knocks hesitantly on the bedroom door.
Arizona's voice immediately comes from inside it, annoyance badly concealing an undercurrent of panic. "Callie, I told you, don't bring her in right now-"
Off Callie's wave, Meredith opens the door, and Arizona abruptly stops talking. Shock at the identity of her visitor renders her momentarily incapable to even be annoyed or embarrassed. "What…what do you want?"
"Um…" Meredith is momentarily thrown by Arizona's appearance, messy and disheveled. She notes the way Arizona's hands tighten instinctually over her blanket, like she's afraid Meredith's going to come and rip the bed sheets off so she can get a look at her stump, and the gesture provokes an unexpected rush of sympathy.
Arizona feels the heat rising to her cheeks as Meredith Grey just stands there gaping at her. Shame threatens to overwhelm her, and she grits her teeth and shoves it away with her go-to defense: anger.
"Callie!" She yells, ready to make her wife forcibly evict Meredith Grey from their bedroom (God knows there nothing Arizona can do about it) and then ask why the hell she's letting random colleagues in to see her like she's some sort of exhibit…
"Wait, wait. Sorry. I just…I was hoping to ask you…about your brother."
For the second time, Arizona is so thrown off that she loses her grip on her anger. "What?"
"Alex told me that your brother died. And I just…Lexie…" Meredith inhales slowly, struggling with words, with what it is she wants from Arizona Robbins. "How did you deal with it?"
Arizona stares at her, shocked. Meredith isn't here talk about the plane crash. She isn't here to feign sympathy while secretly judging Arizona for shutting down. She actually thinks Arizona can help her.
Misreading the other woman's silence, Meredith starts to shake her head. "Sorry. If you don't want to talk about it, I can just go-"
"No." The sound of her own voice, soft and without malice, startles Arizona. "Um, it's okay…just. You surprised me." Arizona pauses, actually considering Meredith's question for the first time. "Well, first of all..." Her words come slowly, haltingly, like she's forgotten how to talk when it's not bitter and pained and screaming. "…you're always going to be dealing with it. I'm still dealing with it."
She can see Meredith's eyebrows shoot up, and Arizona reads her unspoken question: Really? Even now?
The answer is yes. Sometimes she lays there and wishes for her brother so hard she can't breathe, like this whole thing would be manageable if only he were there, listening to her rage at the world and helping her understand how to keep going.
But then other times, when she sinks frequently into a pit of self-loathing, Arizona thinks God, Tim wouldn't let you get away with this. He'd kick your ass out of this bed, remind you that he knows plenty of soldiers who deal with this and go back fighting, so what the hell is wrong with you? He'd think you're pathetic and weak, in addition to being a freak.
It's something she's sure Callie hasn't guessed; as angry as she is at her wife and Karev and the whole damn world…most of the time, Arizona hates herself just as much.
Arizona swallows hard, pushing away these thoughts and focusing on Meredith's pained, expectant expression. "There's…there's really no secret. I…I ate a lot of doughnuts. And I screamed sometimes and I broke things and I moved to Seattle for this fresh start, which is weird, because it's not like my brother had lived near me in a long time. But really it's like anything else. You get through it because you have to…you're not given a choice."
Silence falls for a moment, and Arizona can feel Meredith's eyes on her, and this time she senses the judgment. Maybe it's Meredith or maybe it's just her, but one of them is silently wondering why Arizona isn't getting through this particularly well.
Arizona starts talking again, wanting to distract Meredith and herself from this line of thinking. "The one thing that gets easier…or, it did for me…is talking about them. For awhile, your whole life is funerals and condolences and it's all anyone's thinking about when they look at you, and you just want to forget about it and stop talking about them. But then…then you get terrified that you're forgetting things, so you just…you want to remind yourself. You want to make sure it's not like he was never here." She blushes slightly, her statements inadvertently slipping away from the generalized, impersonal neutralities. Then, she adds quietly, "I talked to Sofia about him all the time. And Callie. My parents, it upsets them, but it upsets me when they try to pretend like he wasn't around…"
"I hate that Zola won't remember her," Meredith says in a tight voice. "She loved Aunt Lexie, and she isn't even going to remember her…"
"You'll tell Zola all about her." Arizona lifts her eyes. "Just like we'll tell Sofia about Mark."
They stare at each other for a long moment, the room crowded with ghosts and memories of those four days in the woods.
Then, her voice catching, Arizona says quietly, "I'm sorry."
Meredith isn't sure what she means, but after a moment of contemplation, decides to just accept it as a sympathetic statement, an I'm sorry for your loss. So she just nods, "Thanks for talking."
But the apology is more than just standard condolences. Arizona is sorry because she knows what Meredith must think of her; that she's pathetic, lying here acting like she lost the most in this plane crash.
Callie keeps reminding her about Mark, and Lexie, and that Arizona's lucky to be alive. That doesn't help. What she can't say to Callie is that half the time she finds herself jealous of Mark and Lexie, that she'd rather than die than live like this, angry and hurting and broken, disgusted with herself. She can never bring herself to pity the dead.
But she can pity Meredith Grey, because she's been there, and she knows it's worse. Meredith Grey lost her sister, and suddenly Arizona is furious at herself for acting as those losing a leg is comparable to losing her brother.
This is not the worst thing that ever happened to her. And if she had a chance to reverse something in her life, just one thing…she'd say screw her leg and bring Timothy back in a second.
Callie tries not to stare at the door the whole time Meredith's inside, but she starts to regret allowing this the second Meredith's inside.
Although, she tries to reassure herself wryly, it's not as though she could make things much worse.
Still, Callie's halfway to the bedroom after she hears Arizona yell for her, accusatory and annoyed and, though she probably thinks she's hiding it, scared. But something stops her when there's no immediate follow-up, and soon she can hear the low murmurs of voices.
So she settles back with Sofia and her brain races, trying and failing to figure out what Meredith could be saying to Arizona.
Meredith isn't fleeing in terror or discomfort when she finally comes out, which is an encouraging sign. Callie fights down the urge to demand details. Casually, she only asks, "Everything okay?"
"Yeah, it's good. Thanks. I'll get out of your way." Meredith waves awkwardly. "Night."
"Night…" Callie's voice trails off, and she glances curiously toward the quiet bedroom.
Curiosity and worry are eating at her, but Callie's reached a point where she has to overthink every interaction with her wife, so she doesn't rush immediately into the room.
"C'mon, Sof." Callie lifts her daughter. "Let's pick out which pajamas you wanna wear tonight."
Callie's sitting in the floor of Sofia's nursery, tugging a Little Mermaid nightgown over her head, when she hears the crash, followed by a strangled scream.
Callie's nerve endings come alive, and she swings Sofia swiftly into the crib she's almost outgrown and sprints into her bedroom.
Arizona's sitting dejectedly in a heap in front of the closet, one of her crutches on the floor beside her , and when Callie walks in, she's in the middle of another heart wrenching scream of frustration.
Forgetting to be hesitant, to walk on eggshells as usual, Callie hurries to her side and kneels down, only dimly registering the fact that Arizona actually got up. "Hey, hey what happened?"
Arizona shakes her head rapidly, and her next scream sounds like it's dying in her throat. "I can't…I can't…even walk…it was ten feet…."
"Okay, okay…" Callie threads her fingers through Arizona's limp blonde hair, and her heart hitches in her chest when Arizona doesn't immediately pull away. "You're just not used to the balance, babe." She doesn't mention the whys of this; that Arizona's barely tried to get around, only from the bed to the bathroom, and always with two crutches. Plus, months of lying in bed means hasn't helped the muscle mass in her remaining leg. "You'll get there."
Arizona barely seems to be listening; she seizes one end of the crutch and slings it against the wall, another scream slipping out and dissolving into a whimper.
Callie isn't sure what brought this on, but she's mentally running through a list of ways to kill Meredith Grey. She glances up at the open closet. "What did you need…"
Voice hitching, Arizona forces out, "Tim's jacket, I need his jacket…"
The request surprises Callie, but she immediately stands and reaches back into the far end of the closet, pulling out the hunter green army surplus jacket that was apparently Timothy Robbins' favorite.
She hands it gently to her wife, and Arizona curls around it, like a scared child with a security blanket, and suddenly she's sobbing into the fabric, deep, plaintive sobs that tear at Callie's heart.
Callie's arms are tentative as they go around her wife, but Arizona sags against her immediately, and the weight of her sends tears spilling over Callie's eyelashes as she tightens her arms, holding onto Arizona like she's the only thing keeping her from breaking into pieces.
When her sobs finally begin to weaken, Arizona pushes away slightly, forcing out words between halting, shallow breaths. "My…my brother…my brother was killed by a roadside bomb…"
Callie isn't sure what's brought this on, so she just waits, her fingers still absently stroking Arizona's hair, her dark eyes never moving from hers.
"…there were five guys and f-…four of them d-died. The other one, he, he was Tim's…friend and he…he just lost a leg….if Tim had lived, he wouldn't…he wouldn't have given a fuck about his leg…"
Arizona's face crumples. "He'd hate me for this, for the way I've been…"
"Of course he wouldn't."
Wide, wet blue eyes find Callie's, and Arizona asks in a small voice, "Don't you?"
A sob rounds in Callie's throat, and she shakes her head vehemently before she can swallow the tears and answer fiercely, "Never."
"You should…" Arizona wipes her sleeve under her eyes, and there's something oddly childlike about the gesture that cuts Callie to the quick. "This isn't worse. I don't…losing my leg isn't worse than losing Tim."
Callie slides her hand from Arizona's hair and cups her face with it. "Of course it isn't."
"Then how come…how come I could get through that? How come Meredith Grey can get through the plane crash and losing Lexie, and I got through losing Tim but I can't…I can't get through this?"
"Arizona, you will get through this," Callie tells her firmly. "It isn't over, you're still in it, and I haven't given up on you." Drawing a shaky breath, Callie uses her fingers to brush away the stray tears trailing down Arizona's cheek, and the blonde leans gratefully into the touch. "You can't compare every shitty thing that happens to you. It doesn't work like that. You don't always react the same, and you need to go through whatever it is you need to go through. So if you need to be angry, if you need to hate me-"
"I don't hate you." Arizona tells her softly. Then, as an afterthought, she adds, "Or Alex. Or anyone really, except…except maybe me."
"Now that I don't know if I can let you get away with," Callie tells her gently. "I'm still pretty protective over you."
Arizona sniffles, leaning her head against Callie's shoulder. "But I'm…I'm pathetic. Callie, Meredith was standing there, talking about Lexie and asking me about Tim and I swore to myself that I'd stop feeling sorry for myself and stop acting like this was the worst thing that's ever happened to me…and not two minutes later I'm lying on the floor screaming because I can't walk, which is my own damn stupid fault-"
"Sssh, sssh…enough of that, alright?" In spite of the reprimand, Callie's voice is gentle. "You don't have to be strong all the time, Arizona. What happened to you wasn't fair. What happened to you sucked. And you didn't deserve it, so you don't have accept it right away. I know you, ad I know eventually you're going to fight to get your life back. But you can take your time. You don't have to be the stoic hero. You get to be sad, and you get to be pissed. But…" She draws a breath. "I wish you'd let me help you."
Arizona doesn't answer for a moment. Finally, she lifts her head from Callie's shoulder and nods. "I can do that. I mean…I can try. I really want to try." Her lower lip quivers, sobs threatening her again. "I'm so sorry. I love you."
Relief weakens her, and Callie drops her forehead against Arizona's shoulder for a moment, her whole body trembling. She doesn't remember the last time Arizona said those words.
Finally, she pulls herself together and sits up again, her eyes fierce and determined as she looks at her wife. "I love you, too. We're going to be okay. You will be okay."
For the first time in months, Arizona almost believes that might be possible.
A/N: Well, I'd love to hear what you think. The Callie/Arizona stuff ended up being more prominent than I intended...once I wrote the Mer/Arizona scene, I wanted to see some aftermath, and once i was in it the conversation got away from me. Anyway. Reviews would be fabulous.