Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in.
It begins on a Wednesday. The morning dawns like any other: grey clouds low overhead, cool air heavy with the threat of rain. Light slanting through the plate glass window of Seattle Grace is muted, soft. The sound of quick footsteps, the beep of monitors, the hiss of lowered voices fills the halls.
Meredith is eating an apple, elbows propped on the railing, looking down off the mezzanine at the people who flow across the floor below. George is standing with Doctor Burke, hands deep in his pockets. Even from this distance, she can tell by the way George holds his shoulders that the news they are delivering is not good. He's gotten better at this, she thinks absently. Takes a bite of her apple and makes a face at the texture, overripe. Behind her, someone coughs.
Across the lobby below, there's a ripple of movement, a ring of people drawing back and rushing forward. A heavy man seizing on the tile.
She pushes away from the railing, drops the fruit as she flies down the stairs.
"The morgue," Alex says. He's holding down a thrashing patient as Meredith tries for a third time to close the restraints. She manages this time to force them closed, withdrawing from the chill of the man's skin. He's covered in a thin sheen of perspiration and his lips are bloodless.
"The morgue?" Meredith asks, breathless. Alex has one hand braced against the wall, head low and inhalation fierce. "The morgue," Meredith repeats, because the man in the bed died twenty minutes ago.
"It doesn't make sense," Cristina says. She's pacing, hair twisting its way in waves out of its ponytail. Her steps echo, sharp.
"That might be the understatement of the year," George says, distracted. He's balanced precariously on a chair, one hand pressed to the glass as he peers out the high windows at the world outside.
Cristina's eyes flicker over to him briefly but she continues to pace. Meredith finds herself watching her friend's hands, fascinated by the length of her fingers, the shape of her palms, the blood worn beneath her nails. "Think," Cristina says, voice low. "Come on, think." Her hands come up to dig into her loosely bound hair, words fading to a murmur and eyes turned to the ceiling.
Derek didn't show up for work this morning, Meredith thinks.
Izzie is in the cafeteria kitchen when Meredith finds her. The counters are covered in canned goods, produce. She's wearing the same clothes as she was the day before, as she was the day before that. Meredith is not much better, scrubs cleaner than her hair. There's a blister on her left heel, because three days ago she wore her less comfortable shoes to work (her good ones were upstairs by her bed, and she was running late). With a sudden, almost violent lurch of her stomach, she can see them, one half-under her bed, the other upside down on the hardwood, laces trailing.
"Izzie," she says, and there is not a catch in her voice. The cafeteria is mostly empty, dotted with men with sidearms and shadows beneath their eyes, a nurse with bowed head pressed to her interlaced fingers. "Izzie," Meredith repeats. Most people stick to the upper floors, away from the windows, away from the barricades and the horribly cheerful sun. "Izzie, we were worried. Are you –"
"Okay?" Izzie's back is still turned to Meredith, hands braced on the countertop and shoulders forward. She releases her fingers one by one, brings a hand up to scrub at her face. She barks a laugh and turns. "You know what? I think I could use a pedicure. I was booked in for one yesterday, but the zombie invasion kind of threw a kink in my plans. Do you think they'll let me reschedule?"
"Izzie," Meredith says, voice full of every bit of weariness she is feeling.
Izzie starts slamming cupboard doors. "Don't. Just, don't."
Meredith straightens her spine, fights gravity for every inch. "We're going to get through this. You have to believe that."
"Some of us, anyway," Izzie says, laugh short and bitter, and walks away.
Seattle Grace is one of the few hospitals still open; one of the few where the security dispatched by the city is holding their ground. Cristina has been in surgery almost constantly since it started, running on caffeine and adrenaline, lack of communication and staff allowing her to slip from operating room to operating room. Meredith is watching from the gallery, eating peaches from a tin. There's a doctor stretched out on the bench in front of her, lab coat draped over his shoulders, dead to the world, neck at an awkward angle.
Out in the corridor, she hears murmured voices. She closes her eyes and leans back against the wall, hum of conversation a comfort. "Last night," she hears one of them say. "Heart just couldn't take it."
"After all this time," another says.
"Can't say as I'm not sure he's better off," the first says.
"Tsk, tsk," the other says. Sighs. Their voices begin to fade away. "Can't think like that, now. We're still breathing."
"Poor Denny," one of them says, too far for Meredith to pick out the voice. Her eyes snap open.
The doctor on the bench before her continues to slumber, eyes moving rapidly beneath his lids and breath uneven. She slips out quietly, leaving him to sleep.
"Tell me you didn't," Meredith says. Her arms are crossed, fingers wrapped tightly around her own elbows. They're in the locker room and the light spilling in through the window is obscenely cheerful. Izzie has her back to the wall and her head up, unwashed hair pulled back tightly off her face.
"Oh, she so totally did," Cristina says. Her voice is flat, controlled, sharp.
George's eyes are softer, stubble and lines around his mouth aging him. "Izzie, please."
Alex is standing by the door, back to the wall. "Come on, guys," he says. His voice is low, hoarse. "Izzie wouldn't have…"
Meredith watches Izzie, tries to catch her eye. Izzie's hands are twisted in her scrubs, knuckles white and fingers constantly in motion. "Hey," Meredith says, reaching out to catch her hand. "Hey, talk to me." Reaches out with her other when that doesn't work, catches Izzie by the jaw and tilts her face in. "Izzie, please."
Izzie's voice is her small, her grip on Meredith's hand tight. "It's Denny," she says.
Someone, probably Alex, punches one of the lockers.
"Okay," Cristina says, voice still clipped. There's a pause, like she's drawing in all the air in the room, but when she speaks it is curiously free of heat. "What the hell were you thinking?"
"It's Denny," Izzie says, low and broken. Her eyes are on Meredith, only on Meredith, glossy and bloodshot and so very, very tired. "How could I not?"
"We're going to have to deal with this," Cristina says. She's sitting cross-legged on the edge of the hospital roof. Her back is to them, hair down and fluttering limply in the early morning breeze. Meredith is sitting with her back to the stairwell door, head dropped back to rest against the cool metal. She watches the sky, the gravel of the roof below them.
"Where is he?" Alex asks, just like he's been asking for the last half hour. The knuckles on his left hand are bleeding sluggishly, and he sits without moving as George wraps his hand in gauze.
Izzie is standing a careful distance apart from them, all gold and shadows in the light of dawn. "No," she says, shaking her head. Her eyes are miles away. "No, I won't let you do this."
"You won't let us –" Alex stops with a hiss of indrawn breath.
George wraps one more layer of gauze, tears off a strip of tape with his teeth. When he speaks, he is addressing Alex's hand. "You've put us all in danger," he says.
"I can't," Izzie says. "I –"
"Not just us," George says, lift his head. Meredith, looking towards him, looking up, can see the resolve in his face. "Every single person in this hospital. Every single person we've been working to save, and every single person working to save us."
"It's Denny," Izzie repeats, not looking at them, but instead watching the sky. There's smoke on the eastern horizon, burnished copper in the sunrise, and her voice cracks. "It's Denny, and I couldn't just –"
Cristina's voice is devoid of emotion. "It's not Denny any more," she says, back still to them.
"What if it was Dr. Burke?" Izzie says, chin up, turning to watch Cristina. "What if it was –"
"No," Cristina replies. Turns her head back towards them, face catching the full dawning light of the sun, hair fluttering behind her dark against the sky. "No, you do not get to play that card." Her eyes are flat. "When was the last time any of you saw Dr. Burke?" she asks.
"Oh no," Meredith whispers, pushing up against the door, standing. All she can see is Wednesday morning, Dr. Burke running across the lobby before her, the line of his back, the man thrashing on the ground up ahead. "Oh, Cristina, no."
"You do not get to play that card," Cristina says, and turns away. She is rigid when Meredith wraps her arms around her, but does not move away.
"Izzie," Meredith says, cheek pressed to Cristina's shoulder, "where is he?"
"Subbasement, A-wing," Izzie says, voice like something torn from a wild thing. There's a crunch as her knees hit gravel, and Meredith turns her head to see George reach out, tentatively, for her shoulder. She collapses into his touch, and he crouches beside her, rubbing circles on her back.
Alex reaches out a hand to brush her hair, but withdraws, face impassive. "I'll talk to the guards," he says. "Say I heard something moving around down there."
Izzie doesn't make a sound, eyes dry, watching the sky. The door closes behind Alex with a violent and final bang, startling a pigeon up into the air.
"We'll get through this," Meredith says, whispers. Tightens her arms around Cristina from behind, feels the scream wound up in her friend's body. Watches the sun rise, the slow movements on the ground below. Her eyes water in the light.
"We will," Cristina says, finally. Time has passed, shadows drawing in upon themselves. Meredith can feel the rise and fall of her chest. "We'll get through this, because otherwise none of it means anything."
"We're going to make it through this," Meredith says, stronger.
The smoke on the horizon hasn't cleared yet, but they're still breathing.