Written for the callie_arizona LJ annual Secret Santa. Big thanks to librarynerds for the cheerleading and the super-fast beta!
Disclaimer: All television shows, movies, books, and other copyrighted material referred to in this work, and the characters, settings, and events thereof, are properties of their respective owners. As this work is an interpretation of the original material and not-for-profit, it constitutes fair use. Reference to real persons, places, or events are made in a fictional context, and are not intended to be libelous, defamatory, or in any way factual.
Prompt: majincammy asked for "Any rating. I'd actually like a Christmas-y fanfic where Arizona is greeted by Mark's ghost in a dream and shown how her life would be crap based on her making different choices in her life (yes, A Christmas Carol, Grey's Anatomy style, starring Arizona as Scrooge)." I hope I did the prompt some justice. Happy holidays! :)
December had always been Arizona's favorite month, Christmas her favorite holiday. Much of her youth was marked by inconsistency: moving from place to place, never knowing what the next school would be like, how the living quarters would feel on the newest base, or how long her father would be gone this time. Christmas, though, had always been one constant in a lifetime of unknowns. The same songs always played on the radio. Barbara baked the same cookies from the same recipe every year. The tree was always green and always wore the same collection of ornaments - ornaments that moved with the Robbins family wherever they went.
When they were little, Arizona and Tim always tried to wait up for Santa; when they'd gotten older, they bickered over which classic movie to watch on Christmas Eve. They constantly competed to see who could give whom the best presents, who could decorate their side of the tree the fastest, whose stocking was stuffed with the most, or who could fit the biggest piece of fruitcake in their mouth.
The first December after Tim's death had been excruciatingly hard. How was Arizona supposed to navigate through a season of traditions, of family, of joy, without her brother? How was she supposed to think about ringing in a brand-new year that didn't have Timothy Robbins in it? She had been in her residency at Hopkins when he died, and coming home that Christmas season, to a house that felt too big and lights that shone too brightly, didn't feel like a homecoming at all.
Gradually, though, the charm and magic of Christmas worked their way back into Arizona's life. Working with children helped. They were awestruck at the mere mention of Santa Claus and reindeer. It was hard not to absorb at least some of their infectious spirit. And as she got older, Arizona began adapting some of her favorite Christmas traditions to pay homage to her brother. Pictures of his face adorned the tree alongside the old favorite ornaments. She spent time with Nick and her family, sharing their favorite memories. She held Christmas-movie marathons and ate two pieces of fruitcake.
When Arizona moved to Seattle, farther away than ever from her family, she held onto some of their traditions and started making her own. The movie marathon and the fruitcake stayed, and pictures of Tim stayed in her ever-growing ornament collection along with a couple of other family favorites that had been given to her. As her life evolved, changed, and developed new meaning, so did Christmas. Solo movie-marathon nights became something to enjoy as she basked in the warm company of Callie - after the two of them battled it out, each racing to decorate her side of the tree the fastest. Two stuffed-to-the-brim stockings became three with the addition of Sofia, whose baby pictures hung beside Tim's on the tree.
Arizona had even learned to enjoy Christmas morning with Mark, and not just because he made eggnog pancakes that were positively divine. Mark Sloan, she ultimately had to admit, was a welcome presence in her life. He cared deeply for the people important to him; he was trustworthy, he was a confidant, and he was a damn good father to Sofia. He was a friend. He was family.
So, just a handful of years after Christmas had felt like a raw, open wound, it had redeemed itself in Arizona's eyes, still as shimmering and magical as it had ever been.
Until she got on a plane and everything shattered.
Now, she couldn't smell a pine tree without finding herself in those damn woods again, amidst mangled bodies and wrecked airplane parts; couldn't look at stockings without feeling the incapacitating pain of the leg she no longer had. How could she watch a marathon of Christmas movies with a woman she could barely stand to be in a room with some days? How could she enjoy Christmas morning, staring at a door that was never going to open to reveal Mark on the other side? How could she share with Sofia the magic of the season when she was fully convinced there was no such thing as magic?
As if it weren't bad enough that she'd had to lose two dear friends, her leg, and the last of her sense of safety in that plane crash, she'd lost Christmas, too.
When Arizona had seen Callie for the very first time, all the words had flown out of her head. It had taken days for Arizona - usually so cool and confident with women - to gather her wits to approach one Calliope Torres.
There were moments, even after they were married, when Arizona caught herself looking at Callie the way she had in the beginning: with delight, wonder, and maybe just a tiny bit of drool. And likewise, there were moments when Callie looked at Arizona like she was the most miraculous thing she'd ever seen. They both lived for being on the receiving end of those looks - always when neither thought the other had noticed.
After the plane crash, the looks changed.
Arizona looked at Callie as if she were a ruthless monster - one glance was all it took to ignite the simmering pit of rage in her gut. Other times, she would start to let herself feel the delight and wonder again, only to stop short and realize that Callie still got to be a drool-worthy goddess while she herself had a fucking stump where her leg used to be.
Callie, for her part, looked at Arizona with sorrow and grief. Arizona was sure she saw pity in those eyes, too, and that just enraged her further. Callie looked at Arizona like she was a hideous beast, a curse, a burden, a breakable porcelain doll.
Or maybe that was how Arizona looked at herself.
Callie deserved better. Sofia deserved better. So Arizona tried to be better. And the harder she tried, the more it actually seemed to work, and the better she felt.
Despite her initial reluctance, and despite the constant, buzzing fear in the back of her head that Callie would realize it was all too much and run away, Arizona actually enjoyed herself at Bailey's wedding. Callie was an absolute vision in her red dress, and Callie's desire for intimacy had been a startling, but welcome, surprise. Curled up in a lavish hotel bed together, making out and holding hands, was about as good as it got. The cooking shows they watched weren't exactly Christmas classics, but they were them. Arizona had been sure that her unreadiness for sex would be the last straw that sent Callie running, but it wasn't.
The thing was, just underneath the enjoyment was despair. There were more and more good days; things were better, but they were still just so fucking hard. That was the thought that pounded in her head from the moment she woke up the next day.
Arizona couldn't give her wife sex - the one thing she really seemed to want - because she just wasn't ready to do that with a body that still felt so ugly and foreign to her. Callie told her she was so, so beautiful, but then she'd kissed her on the cheek and the two of them had fallen asleep facing away from each other. Arizona could still feel the cold air enveloping her where she'd so hoped her wife's arms would be, even two days later. And yet, she couldn't help also feeling a little relieved. Being with Callie, kissing her, cuddling with her...it was heaven, but sometimes it was just too much. Arizona loved Callie - wanted her, needed her - but she also kind of hated her.
Callie wasn't running - yet. Arizona couldn't be the sexy, confident, unbroken woman her wife deserved. She couldn't be the boundlessly energetic mother she wanted to be for Sofia, and she couldn't be the tireless, badass surgeon she'd always been. She hated her body and hated Callie for giving it to her.
She loved Callie for being Callie.
Christmas was coming, Mark and Lexie were dead, Nick was probably dead too, and there were no such things as magic or miracles. It was most certainly not A Wonderful Life, at least not today, because Arizona's phantom limb was absolutely killing her, and she had back-to-back surgeries scheduled.
It was all just too fucking hard.
"Oh, thank god. There's still coffee."
Callie's voice was unmistakable as the attendings' lounge door swung open, but Arizona didn't have the energy to turn and look at her. Her first surgery had gone fine, but the second ended up dragging on for a little over four hours - only for the little boy's heart to stop beating. Two weeks before Christmas, Arizona had had to tell two anxious, loving parents that their son wouldn't be coming home.
Her leg hurt. Her back hurt. Her head hurt. Her heart hurt.
"I just finished a bone graft on a woman who jumped out a window after her Christmas tree set her living room on fire," Callie was saying. "She's going to be okay, but she has some serious burns on her face and neck. One side of her nose looks normal and the other side is gone." Arizona winced at the imagery. "Man, Mark would've been all over it." Callie flopped into a chair across from Arizona. "I mean, Avery's on it, and he'll do fine, but it's just...you know." She sighed. "It's so weird not having him around at Christmas. He'd have loved seeing Sofia in those little reindeer pajamas and watching her open the mountain of presents he'd have gotten her."
Callie blinked back tears and tried to breathe some cheer into her voice. "We should really get our tree up. I keep meaning to find the ornaments and stuff in the basement storage. Meredith and Derek said we could have one of the trees in their woods. I could probably swing by there after work today and get it."
Picking out a Christmas tree was something you were supposed to do as a family. It was supposed to be fun; it was supposed to be magical. A splash of warmth amid all the cold of December.
Arizona hurt and that was Callie's fault and all Callie could think about was Mark and a little boy was dead and the last thing Arizona wanted to do was traipse through the cold woods with Callie in hopes that a tree would fill the gaping emptiness inside them, around them, between them.
Except she didn't want Callie to get the tree without her, either. How many more things was Callie going to take from her?
"Hey, are you okay?" Callie's voice cut into Arizona's inner tirade, suddenly softer and laced with a concern that set Arizona's teeth on edge.
"Gee, I don't know," Arizona drawled, almost dangerously quietly. "I've been standing and walking for six hours today, four of which were spent trying to save the life of a boy who ultimately died anyway." Callie gasped. "Which would suck on its own, but now, for some reason, standing for ten hours is awfully hard. Now, I wonder why that could be. What kind of surgeon has trouble standing and walking for six hours? What kind of surgeon starts aching all over just standing over an O.R. table?"
"Oh, I know what kind. The kind with only one leg because her wife cut the other one off!"
Callie's shoulders slumped. She'd thought they were mostly past this; that Arizona had forgiven her or was at least trying to. Things had been better - not perfect, but better. They were sleeping in the same bed again. They were making out like goofy teenagers and holding hands while they watched movies. That was something, wasn't it?
Of course there were still hard days. Callie knew there would be; would probably always be. That was just the way it had to be now. It was just that...the last couple of days had been so good.
"Just forget it, Callie." Arizona shook her head. "Go get the tree. Get the damn tree and decorate it while you mope about how much you wish Mark were there to do it with you." She began to haul her tired, sore body to her feet. "Don't worry about the Grinch ruining your Christmas; I'll just be here charting."
Arizona's words whirled in Callie's head as she tried to process all that had just happened. Did Arizona really think-? Didn't she want-? What did she mean-? Callie couldn't form a coherent thought; she couldn't speak. She could only watch, open-mouthed, as Arizona gathered her cane and stalked as best she could out of the room.
Arizona wasn't lying about the charting she had to do, but as soon as she sat down on the bed of the locked on-call room, her body sagged into the mattress and her eyes felt like they were weighted by cinder blocks.
She'd just rest for a few minutes.
Slowly, timidly, Arizona removed her prosthetic leg and socket and burrowed under the covers. As soon as she closed her eyes, her mind took over, feeling like it was simultaneously racing out of control and slowing to a complete stop. To her displeasure, she felt the pressure of tears building up, and she squeezed her eyes shut tighter to keep them in.
How had things gone from cautiously good to awful so quickly? Arizona hadn't wanted to lash out at Callie. Everything just hurt so much; everything was hard and that wasn't how it was supposed to be. It was Christmastime, damn it, and yet today felt like a wintry dirge.
"Mark should have lived," Arizona whispered to herself around the lump in her throat. "That would be so much easier. Mark should have lived and I shouldn't have. Then everyone would be happy."
"Oof. Would you move over? You're hogging the bed. Or, better yet, just get up."
"I'm sleeping," Arizona whined at the voice intruding into her rest. "Go away, Mark."
Wait a minute.
Arizona shot up in bed, wide eyes coming to rest on the unmistakable smirk of one Mark Sloan. "What the- How did- what?!"
"Never seen you at a loss for words before," Mark quipped. "It's kind of cute."
"How…" Arizona raked a hand through her hair. "How are you here? Where are we?"
"We're in your life." Mark said it like it should have been the most obvious fact in the world.
Arizona surveyed her surroundings. The walls around her were indeed those of the on-call room where she last remembered lying down, and her prosthesis was propped up against the end of the bed where she'd left it. She closed her eyes and pinched the bridge of her nose.
"You're dead," she supplied. One eye quirked open. "Right?"
"I'm somewhere else." He nodded. "I'm just visiting, because I think we need to have a talk."
Arizona opened both eyes and, surprising them both, fell against Mark's chest. "I miss you," she murmured, wrapping her arms around his shoulders. "Callie misses you. Everyone misses you. If you can visit, why can't you stay?"
Mark returned the hug. "I'm busy," he replied. "People to see, things to do. I'm a busy guy." Arizona sniffled. "Tim says hi, by the way."
"What?" Arizona's head jerked up. "You can- you've seen-?"
"He says he loves you and he's proud of you. And he says he'll take care of Nick when he sees him. Oh, and that he appreciates the tribute at Christmas every year, but a face like his deserves to be at the top of the tree."
Arizona laughed and then breathed out slowly. "How come he never visits?"
"He does," Mark said. "Not in human form. He visits every day, in the little things."
"What does that mean?"
"Think about it. Look for him. You'll find him, I promise." He squeezed Arizona's shoulder. "Now, I'm kind of on a tight schedule, but tell me, how's Sofia?"
That got an effortless smile from Arizona. "Adorable. Growing like a weed. She's talking, too. Not full sentences yet, but pretty close."
Mark smiled in return. "And Callie?"
Arizona sighed. "She's...okay. Throwing herself into work. She misses you. I've been...it's been really, really hard, Mark. You should be there with her."
"That's my cue." Mark sighed and shook his head. "Come on. We've got places to go."
Before Arizona could ask any more questions, she found herself in her apartment, Mark at her side.
Mark was also on the couch.
Arizona furrowed her brow. "What the…"
"We're not really here," Mark promised. "Don't worry, they can't see us."
"They" were Callie and Sofia, seated on the couch and living room floor respectively. Sofia sat amidst a hurricane of wrapping paper, ribbon, and new toys. Callie was leaning forward, staring into the coffee mug she held in both hands. Mark, next to Callie, was hard at work opening the plastic packaging on one of Sofia's toys.
"I don't understand," Arizona said. "Where are we?"
"We're in your life," Mark repeated. "Well, maybe life isn't exactly the right word...this is what you wanted, isn't it? For me to be alive and for you to be...not? It's Christmas morning. Looks like everyone got what they wanted."
Callie looked like she was about to cry.
The shades were drawn. The room felt so...cold.
Mark sighed deeply as he handed Sofia the freed toy.
"Look, Mommy!" Sofia chirped, scampering to Callie and all but shoving the toy - a blue-eyed, blonde-haired doll - in her face. "Like Mama!"
Callie closed her eyes and took a shuddering breath. "I see, baby. Do you like the doll Santa brought you?"
"Pretty!" Sofia cheered. "'Sanks, Santa!"
"There are pictures of you everywhere," Mark clarified for Arizona. "Callie talks to Sofia about you all the time."
"Lookit toys!" Sofia exclaimed, as if suddenly noticing her bounty for the first time. She pulled on Mark's pant leg. "We play, Daddy?"
Mark glanced at his watch. "I'd love to play with you, Sof, but I have to go to work. Maybe later, okay?" He stood up from the couch, flashing a smile that didn't come close to reaching his eyes.
"No!" Sofia pouted. "We play now. Pease, Daddy!"
"Sorry, chickadee. Maybe Mommy will play with you, huh?" Mark glanced at Callie, who offered a weak smile in return. "I'll see you later. Merry Christmas." He stooped down to plant a kiss on Sofia's head. "I love you."
"Love you," Sofia parroted, still pouting.
"Merry Christmas, Callie." Mark stopped and squeezed Callie's shoulder on his way to the door.
"When's it going to stop hurting so much?" Callie asked hoarsely.
Mark laughed mirthlessly. "I'll let you know," he said as he opened the door and left.
"You're working on Christmas?" Arizona looked at Mark with wide eyes.
"It was either that or more of what we just saw," he replied. "At least when I'm working, I'm doing something besides watching Lexie die in front of me over and over."
Realization dawned on Arizona. "Lexie didn't…"
"Lexie didn't make it." Mark nodded as he finished the sentence. "I pulled through somehow. It seemed like you were going to, too, but then you went into septic shock and...didn't come out."
"Oh." Arizona wrapped her arms around herself. "Well, what about Callie? Don't you hang out with her? She has to be happy you're around."
"I guess," Mark said. "But it's not like before. We don't go out for drinks or anything. She works more than I do, and when we do get together, we talk about work, Sofia, or how much we miss you and Lexie."
"I thought this was what she wanted," Arizona whispered. "For you to be alive. I thought it was what you wanted."
"Mommy, we play?" Sofia gazed up at Callie.
Callie nodded heavily and set down her coffee mug. "Okay, Sofia. We'll play. But just for a little while, okay, princesita? Mommy's very tired."
"She worked all night," Mark whispered to Arizona.
"Oh, Callie," Arizona breathed.
"She hardly sleeps. She drags herself to bed when she can't hold her eyes open any longer, and she keeps your side of the bed exactly like it was when you left for Boise. She's afraid to mess it up."
Sofia squinted. "You no have toys, Mommy."
"No, I…" Callie shook her head and blinked back her tears. "I forgot to give Santa my Christmas list. Can I play with some of yours?"
"Yeah. Here." Sofia thrust the blonde doll into Callie's hands and picked up a toy stethoscope for herself.
"Thank you." Callie held the doll - how was it that a toy could look so much like her wife? - tenderly. "Does she have a name yet?"
"Yeah!" Sofia chirped. "Mama!"
This time Callie couldn't keep her tears in.
Sofia immediately forsook whatever game she was conjuring and climbed into Callie's lap. "No cry, Mommy," she whimpered.
"I don't get it," Arizona said. "You're her best friend. You're her person."
"You're her wife," Mark retorted.
Arizona watched in despair as Callie grabbed at the heart pendant around her neck and tried to stop her tears.
"Why you sad?" Worry softened Sofia's little voice. Mommies weren't supposed to cry.
"It's okay, baby." Callie wiped at her bleary, red-rimmed eyes with her free hand. "I just...I just didn't get what I really wanted for Christmas, that's all."
"Callie," Arizona called softly, dropping to her knees beside her wife. "Callie, I'm right here. It's okay, sweetie. I'm here."
"She can't hear you," Mark admonished, "or see you."
Arizona tried to place a hand on Callie's back, but whatever form her body took wouldn't allow her to feel her wife's warmth. She shook her head. "This isn't right, Mark."
"Isn't it?" Mark's eyes bore into Arizona's. "This was what you wanted. You wished for this."
"Well, I was wrong," Arizona snapped. "Do something!"
Mark smirked, a playful twinkle in his eye. "Oh, what I wouldn't give to hear you say that again."
"I was wrong," Arizona repeated, rolling her eyes. "Do something! Please!"
"What did Santa bring you, Maya?" A six-year-old Sofia tried to capture the attention of the blonde two-year-old beside her on the floor.
"Why don't you give her a hand, Sofia?" Callie shuffled into the room holding two steaming mugs of coffee. "I think she's having trouble with the tape." She handed one of the mugs to Arizona, who sat smiling on the couch, prosthetic leg temporarily forgotten in the bedroom.
Arizona took a sip. "Mm." She turned her head up for a kiss. "Thank you." Callie obliged, indulging them both in a long, sweet kiss before settling in next to her wife.
"Where are we now?" Arizona asked, transfixed by the scene in front of her.
"We're in your life," Mark said. "How many more times are you going to ask that?"
"No, I know," Arizona replied. She motioned to the room around them. "But where are we?"
"You don't recognize your own house?" Mark quipped.
Arizona gasped, taking in her surroundings with new understanding. They were in a spacious living room with a bay window, which overlooked an in-ground swimming pool covered with a tarp for the winter. From her vantage point, Arizona had an unobstructed view of the kitchen: marble countertops, a similar marble work bench, a refrigerator cluttered with children's artwork. The whole house sprawled ranch-style across one floor, light filtering in through the many windows.
It felt so warm.
"We...we live here?" she whispered in awe. "Callie and me? And Sofia and...we have another baby?"
Mark nodded. "Welcome home." He nudged Arizona with his shoulder. "You and Callie needed a place to make some new memories, and the elevator in the old building kept breaking down. Not very safe." He gestured to Arizona's leg; Arizona's gut bubbled with anger and shame. "Come on," he goaded. "You can't tell me you liked climbing all those stairs before. And it's not like you moved into a nursing home. Look at this place!"
Arizona's spirits lifted as she looked around the homey, light-filled room again. Sofia had gotten the wrapping paper off of Maya's new train, and the girls were giggling as they took turns steering it around the living room. Callie's head rested on Arizona's shoulder, where she placed butterfly-soft kisses on any exposed skin she could find.
"Besides," Mark was saying. "You have two kids now. Where would you have put them in that apartment?"
"But what about you?" Arizona asked. "Your apartment was in that building, too." She exhaled slowly. "You should be here."
"I'm where I belong," he corrected, shaking his head. "Lexie and I are together forever now, and that's how it's supposed to be. And look." He pointed back toward the couch. "You're where you belong, too."
"I got you something," Arizona said almost bashfully, holding out a box.
"You haven't given me enough?" Callie teased. Her hand found Arizona's stomach and rested there affectionately.
Arizona's head snapped to Mark; Mark just smiled knowingly. "Don't worry, she made you decaf."
Arizona couldn't stop a giggle from escaping and a goofy grin from appearing on her face. "Open the present, Calliope."
Callie accepted the gift with a mock-dramatic sigh. Arizona hadn't bothered to wrap the it, and Callie lifted the lid of the box to reveal a bracelet. Two strands, one gold and one silver, wove around each other to form the band. "Arizona," Callie breathed.
"I hope you like it," Arizona said. "I just...I saw it and I thought of us. Two different pieces that keep coming together to weave into...into something beautiful." She gazed into Callie's eyes, almost as if she were unsure of what she'd see there.
She barely had time to think about Callie's eyes before she was being pulled into a strong hug. "Like this?" Callie asked, arms twining around her wife. She kissed Arizona's neck. "Arizona, I love it. It's beautiful." She pulled back to look at Arizona, and this time Arizona could see the delight and wonder shining in those eyes.
Just the way Callie had always looked at her.
Just the way Arizona was afraid to hope Callie would look at her again.
"I love you," Callie murmured. "Today and every day." She glanced at the two girls on the floor, their giggles turning gradually into No, stop it! and It's my turn! amid grabs for the train. "I have something for you, too, but I think there's about to be a trainwreck if we don't get some breakfast into these two."
"Mark." Arizona had tears in her eyes and her voice came out raspy. "Mark, I want to go home."
"What do you mean?" he challenged.
"I want- I want Callie. I want Callie and Sofia and Maya and our-our new baby and the big house with the pool. I need to go home!"
"Are you sure that's really what you want?" Mark tilted his head. "Because you said-"
"I know what I said!" Arizona cried. "I-I was wrong, okay? I was wrong. Because you're supposed to be with Lexie and I'm supposed to be with Callie and-and she's my wife. Callie is my wife and I love her!"
"And she loves you," Mark added. "So does Sofia."
"And she loves me," Arizona repeated slowly, reverently. "Please, can we just-"
Mark took Arizona's hands in both of his. "Arizona, go home. You know where you're supposed to be, so go there." He squeezed her hands. "It's okay for things to be hard sometimes. It's okay for them to be really fucking hard. It's okay to miss me. It's okay for Callie to miss me. She can miss me and still love you. Even the day I died, she loved you. She never stopped. You have to believe that."
Arizona wiped her suddenly teary eyes on her shoulder. "I thought you couldn't cry in dreams," she mumbled. She sniffled and took a breath. "I believe you."
"Good. Now let's-"
"Wait a minute," Arizona interrupted. "We saw Christmas present and Christmas future. Aren't you supposed to show me Christmas past?"
"Do you really not remember your past Christmases? Are you telling me you don't remember when you got hit in the face so hard with Tim's snowball that it knocked out one of your baby teeth? Or when Bailey gave her father that ultimatum at a table full of people? Or when you and Callie stayed up so late watching Christmas movies that you fell asleep on the couch and almost didn't put Sofia's presents under the tree?"
Arizona smiled. "Okay, yeah, I remember those."
"Good," Mark tried again. "Now let's go home."
Arizona jolted awake. She felt both groggy and clear-headed; fuzz and nervous energy clamored for space in her head. "Mark?" She blinked a few times and recognized her surroundings: same dim on-call room, same prosthesis at the end of the bed. Same pile of charts still left to review. "Holy…" Arizona's voice trailed off. She shook her head and groped for her phone.
It was just past 9:30. She'd been asleep for three hours. Sofia was probably sound asleep by now; the Christmas tree was probably standing hopefully in a corner, waiting for someone to do something with it.
There were two missed calls and a large handful of texts from Callie. Four texts and a missed call from Alex. There was even a call from Derek. How had the ringing not woken her up?
"I'm going home," Arizona mumbled to herself as she reached for her socket and prosthesis. "I have to get home."
Each time she attached and detached her artificial limb, Arizona found that it got a little easier. At first it had been overwhelming - straps and buttons and things that almost fit, but not quite. Now it was starting to feel more routine. She wasn't sure she'd ever be used to it, but it was, slowly and somewhat surely, starting to make more sense - both as a piece of equipment and as a part of her life.
She winced a little as she attached the leg; today had been a long day and her residual limb was protesting having to work anymore. Arizona waited for a wave of anger that never came. Pain usually invited wrath directed at Callie and the life she'd given her; tonight there was no such response.
Arizona rose to her feet and, leaning heavily on her cane, made her way out of the on-call room into the harsh, fluorescent light of the hallway.
The charts could wait.
"Arizona!" Callie's head snapped up when she heard the apartment door open. Her phone fell from her hand to the couch cushion beside her. "Oh, thank god!" She was off the couch and at Arizona's side in an instant. "I was so worried! I've been calling and-are you okay?" She touched a cautious hand to Arizona's arm.
Arizona fell readily against Callie, immediately wrapping her arms around the soft, welcoming form of her wife.
"Whoa," Callie said, adjusting to the new balance of weight. "Arizona-"
"I love you," Arizona murmured into Callie's shoulder. "I love you." She felt it when Callie's body juddered in surprise against her. Slowly, timidly, she pulled her head up to find her wife's eyes.
"She loves you. She never stopped. You have to believe that."
Arizona took a deep breath.
Arizona was the most miraculous thing Callie had ever seen.
Callie shook her head as her mouth spread into a bewildered smile. Her mouth opened and closed a couple times as if savoring the taste of the words before she spoke. "I love you, too."
"I'm sorry you were worried."
"It's okay." Callie kissed the corner of Arizona's mouth. "You're home now."
Arizona smiled. Home. Then she looked around the living room. "You didn't get the tree?"
"No, I, uh…" Callie looked down and played with the hem of Arizona's shirt. "I thought...I thought maybe we could go together tomorrow. We can take Sofia. If-if you want."
"I want." Arizona grinned. "Sofia will love it."
Callie's shoulders relaxed and she smiled easily again. "Good. Are you hungry? We had spaghetti and chicken. I saved you some."
"If I can eat it on the couch while we watch It's a Wonderful Life, I'm in," Arizona replied. "Let me just give Sofia her goodnight kiss and change into something more comfortable."
When Arizona wheeled herself back into the living room, she was greeted by a steaming plate of food and a gorgeous woman on the couch, movie queued up and waiting for her. She maneuvered fluidly from wheelchair to sofa and curled into Callie's side.
Their hands found each other as if it were a reflex, two different pieces that came together to weave into something beautiful.
"Lookit toys!" Sofia exclaimed from the floor, surrounded as she was by a sea of wrapping paper, boxes, and toys.
"Santa brought you lots of presents, didn't he?" Arizona agreed.
"Lots!" Sofia grinned. "'Sanks, Santa!" She picked up her new toy stethoscope and held it to a stuffed panda she'd just gotten. "I make you all better!" she promised the panda, and she was off to a world where a menagerie of patients awaited her care.
"Hey." Arizona nudged Callie's ankle with her right toe. "Look, I know Christmas this year is...I know it's been really hard. I know you miss Mark, and I know I've been hard to-"
"Stop it," Callie interjected quietly. "It's been a really hard year. I mean-yeah, a really hard year. But Arizona, I love you." She pushed a lock of hair behind Arizona's ear. "I have something for you." She pulled a small box from behind a couch cushion and presented it to Arizona. "Merry Christmas."
The box was tiny, and unwrapping it would have been easy even if Arizona didn't dive in and tear the paper off. Lifting the cover, Arizona peered inside the box to find a silver ring. It looked almost like a wedding band, but it was engraved.
"It's a promise ring," Callie said before Arizona could look at the engraving. "It's kind of silly, because I know we already have wedding rings, but I just...I wanted you to know that I...I promise you forever."
Arizona was pleased to find that the word "promise" coming from Callie this morning elicited nothing but joy.
"Even if you yell at me every day, even if we never have se...s-e-x again," Callie was saying. "I love you. Okay?"
"Okay." Arizona gazed at Callie.
Delight. Wonder. Maybe just a tiny bit of drool.
"I have something for-"
A tiny hand pulled at Arizona's pant leg. "We play, Mama?"
"Sure, Sofia." Arizona grinned. "We can play." She slid from the couch to the floor. "Later," she mouthed to Callie.
"I'll start breakfast," Callie said as she got up off the couch. "Movie marathon later?"
As Sofia set about listening to Arizona's heart (and stomach and thigh and forehead), Arizona reached for her ring, still in its box on the couch. Holding it up to the light, she could make out the engraving:
Today and every day.