Hold your box of matches tight…
- - -
His knee bounces of its own accord beneath the table, the already stilted conversation peters out slowly; leaves a fully loaded silence in its wake. And when their pagers sound in unison; a shrill chorus that can only mean disaster, again, it is Avery who thinks to slap a fistful of notes down on the too-white tablecloth to cover the cost of the drinks they’ve barely consumed.
The Chief drives them fast, too fast, back in the direction of the hospital, and he spends the entire trip with his forehead pressed against the passenger window, his cell-phone against his ear. He calls Meredith first. Then Lexie, Arizona, Lexie.
Perky voicemail messages push him to breaking point; make him want to scream against the glass, and his breath fogs the bright city-lights to a blur as they pass. He’s nowhere near optimistic enough to conjure images of survival; just blood and bone and death until he is the only one that is left.
The first rescue helicopter lands amid a cacophony of buffeting winds and wild heart-beats. Cristina ducks low beneath the whirling blades, catches his gaze mid-step as she stumbles forward and falters momentarily; pretends that she doesn’t.
She’s swallowed up in arms before he can get to her, hastily ushered towards the stairs before he can register anything further than a sling and the fact that she’s upright; at least, for the most part.
There seems a vacuum of space between one thunderous roar of departure and the next of arrival; an eerie stillness filled to full with white noise and anti-gravity and bracketed on either end by the all-consuming rush of the rescue craft.
A body-bag, under close escort, is removed from the belly of the next helicopter. And there’s a second or several, or maybe it’s whole hours, before he can drag together the concentration required to work it out; to work who out.
Who is it? Who is it? Whoisit?whoisit?whoisit?
Lost eyes lock on his, and her mouth is moving; opening and closing and opening, but the only sound he can register is the roar of the ocean between his ears.
She refuses to leave the helipad, her fingers hovering above the plastic covered body still parked by her side. Because she’s refusing to leave Lexie, too. Derek is coming, she tells him, plaintive. Derek is coming, Derek is coming… And her eyes are too white and too wild, and her voice little more than a foreign plea he can’t begin to fathom a response to.
Derek is coming, but Lexie has already gone.
He feels sick.
He pushes an ER cart ahead of him awkwardly with his right hand, uses his left to drag her, barely functioning, along behind. She’s encouraged into a seat in the OR gallery, as ghost-like as the white-washed wall behind her head, before he returns to the door, slaps a hastily hand-scrawled gallery closed sign on the outside and retreats back in.
There’s a moment or two where she can’t see him and he uses the opportunity to breathe, deliberately; a handful of inhales, matching exhales that serve to slow the trembling in his fingertips.
Her leg wound has been cleaned thoroughly by the paramedics; or so he’s been told. He sets up makeshift surgical drapes and decides to flush it one more time. The rest of her is filthy; bloodstained and bruised.
He’s beginning to think it has become their perpetual state of being; literally and metaphorically.
Her scrub pants have been pulled down, and her panties are blue with hot pink bands around each thigh. She’s crying silently; still. He doesn’t remember seeing her without tears since the helicopter touched down and the sight of them disturbs him more than the still sluggishly leaking slice in her upper thigh ever could. He re-wraps the heated blanket around her shoulders from where it’s fallen to one side; drags the edges up under her chin and pleads wordlessly for her to hold it closed.
Her fingertips are still and he can’t begin to fathom how.
If he turns his back to her he’ll see a team of surgeons, hastily assembled and preparing to operate on her husband. Her sister is dead.
Her fingertips are perfectly still.
He finishes the neat line of stitches before bandaging the mess with gauze and tape and all manner of sterile coverings. If he can no longer see it, is it still there?
He sees her chin drop then, and the steady puff and pant of her breath in his ears speeds up. He drags his eyes to hers reluctantly, is surprised to find she’s laughing, or trying to.
It’s the first deliberate sound he’s heard her make since…
“Look at us,” she says.
He does; scrub pants around her ankles and him crouched between her legs. He shrugs awkwardly because, yeah. That could be kind of funny, if the situation weren’t so completely horrifying.
“Derek could wake up right now and see this and…”
He waits for the moment her laughter morphs; turns into hacking sobs that he can predict will come with an almost eerie certainty. Three, two, one.
He doesn’t register Cristina’s arrival, just knows that she wasn’t there until suddenly she was; seated stiffly beside them in a gallery chair and resolutely observing the opera playing out below.
“Sloan’s dead, too,” she says without looking up; matter of fact.
He nods back in recognition; a sharp up and down of his chin.
There’s a smudge of dried blood disappearing into the tangled curls at her hairline, he’s fairly certain it doesn’t belong to her. He drenches a square of cotton gauze in saline and lifts it to her face, wordlessly scrubs away at the evidence.
The surgery ends amid murmured we’ll have to wait and sees. Meredith has shifted to sideways and is almost asleep in his lap. He recognises the sheer will-power she’s channelling into every slow blink of her eyelids.
“What do we do now?”
Cristina; he thinks.
Plan a double funeral he doesn’t say; scrubs his hands over his face roughly instead as the full of extent of the situation begins to unfurl in his gut.
“We do what we always do,” he says eventually, words choked out around the growing tightness in his throat; exhaustion and despair doing their best to tear him to shreds, to tear them all to shreds. “We stick together, okay?”
There’s a plea in there, he can feel the physical weight of it lodged in his chest; tangible.
“Okay?” Urgent. Insistent. Even as he can't bring himself to look at them.
Meredith’s head shifts in his lap, a rapid nod of agreement that delivers more relief than it probably should. There’s a beat, there’s several, then Cristina exhales around her own commitment; couples the word with a suddenly determined nod.