The sirens feel louder, from here. The man with the bike goes white, a little grey in the shadows, the light, and she tries not to think in terms of triage and bleeders and bullet-holes, because the whole of it spikes in her pulse, dries in her mouth, clenches in her fists and crumples the pamphlet, the little color map with the star where the Needle’s meant to be.
He points her westward, and her feet are heavy, leaden; she turns from the echoes in her ears and the blood on her hands and she takes a wrong turn and stops for a coffee that tastes rich and sweet and full of flavor -- better than what the hospital served, fresh where it should be stale, and she hands them a credit card because cash feels rough, feels tangible and textured and is more than she can give.
She doesn’t remember her first day in Seattle.
She’s oblivious when she turns the cup over, hangs it upside-down and lets the latte spill from the tiny hole in the lid, and tiny holes can be dangerous, lethal -- her shoes stick with the residue when she veers along sidewalks and dodges cars between crosswalks, lets the adrenaline take her back before fear was a luxury, before stopping was a choice: when lives were on the line and the hands that baited hooks and poured shots were buried in a chest -- she can’t look at him, can’t look at any of them without feeling the metal at her temple; without hearing the beat inside her head.
She looks up, can’t make out the skyline; feels for north, and she’s off-balance, unfettered -- she brushes her hair from the side of her face and listens for a second, just listens; thinks about the steps that brought her to the very place she stands.
She lets her eyelids flutter closed, and sees a Polaroid in her mind’s eye -- she breathes, and tastes dew on the breeze, and she knows that she’s crazy, broken: she knows, but it might be okay, now. It might be okay.
She doesn’t expect to see anything when she opens her eyes; she’s given up expectations for how they haunt her, how they settle sick inside her ribs. She’s not weighed down by what she thinks she’ll see, anymore -- she’s seen the worst things this world can give.
So the first thing she does is to blink, make sure that it’s real, that he’s standing there, cleaning sunglasses he doesn’t need on the hem of his shirt -- still familiar. The second thing she does is touch the ring on her finger, wrap her hand around the band and squeeze until her pulse thrums through the metal, until she can remember, until she knows with a certainty that time has passed and bridges have burned, that gunshot wounds are different now, and she’s a woman he wouldn't recognize: hers is not the same heart he’d wanted, wasted years ago.
She is not the same person who stood to marry Preston Burke.
But she can’t help it: she stares at him, for seconds that feel like minutes and years -- and they’re all feeling like that, now, like they’re stuck somewhere, tied down; and it doesn’t matter than she hasn’t set foot inside an OR in longer than her hands know how to handle, than her mind cares to delve and parse: it doesn’t matter, because she’s cut wide where she stands and cracked open, bleeding out, and she can’t stop the tears when she turns and walks, walks, walks -- if he saw her, she never wants to know it. If he was looking, she hopes she’s never found.
She sits near the waterfront and shakes, cries -- thinks of fish, and is quiet where her mind screams mercy, is still and silent and no one comes, no one comes; all sleeping, all elsewhere, and she’s alone. Quiet.
She’s quiet, so quiet, and she’s lost out at sea.
She leaves the Space Needle for another day.