Of course, she knows it's only a matter of time before Arizona comes to her and tells her it's over, but even then, Lauren decides to stay. She takes an apartment in the city, moves in a week after the storm, and tells Hunt she's on an "indefinite vacation" in the area.
Not like any of it's a secret; God knows the hospital walls aren't thick enough for that. What are we even doing here, Lauren thinks, looking out the window of her flat. She keeps telling herself she deserves some downtime after that shitstorm, and so now.
Now here we are. The place is quiet -- a welcome change from all that hospital noise, although sometimes, when she listens close enough, she thinks she can hear people rushing with their pagers going off.
Great, she thinks, shaking her head. Now I'm actually going crazy. It is getting dark and the street lamps start lighting up, one after the other. One, two, three. Lauren counts, fingertips against the window, her vision blurring slightly as a light drizzle sets in. They weren't really joking when they said it's always raining in this city.
The sound of her phone buzzing startles her, and for a moment Lauren tries to remember where it is. She finds it face down on the couch, and when she turns it around in her hand, it says she's just missed a call.
Her heart pounds so hard that it hurts the underside of her chest, and Lauren paces around for a good while before deciding to sit still to consider her next move carefully.
Do I call back? Or is that too eager? Lauren fiddles with her phone before setting it down on the table with a shaky hand. When she looks at the clock, she finds it is barely after seven. Too early for drinks? Lauren sighs, sinking into her couch.
She's staring at her phone thinking of Arizona when it starts flashing. Fuck. Lauren snatches her phone off the surface, nearly dropping it in her haste.
A long pause on the other end almost prompts Lauren to hang up. Almost. "Lauren?"
There's a brief moment where she feels her heart go fucking still and Lauren holds her breath thinking, Good lord, I think I just coded there.
"Are you there?" says Arizona on the other end, when Lauren doesn't respond.
After a while, she manages a soft, "Yeah. I'm right here."
(When Arizona laughs, this thin, nervous sound, Lauren feels her heart grow a couple of sizes, filling her chest.)
That night Arizona asks her out to dinner, using so many words and taking extra care not to call it a date.
"Maybe a settling of scores," Lauren offers over the phone, to which Arizona just replies: "Or maybe--maybe we just shouldn't call it anything."
Against better advice, Lauren says yes.
It's a long drive to Arizona's restaurant of choice, and Lauren is not at all surprised -- if there are two people who need to meet as far away from the hospital as possible, it's the two of them. Not that Lauren is complaining -- she knows what she’s gotten herself into.
Truth be told, Lauren has thought about this moment a lot. It's only been days, but it has certainly felt eons longer, and all that time she spent thinking about seeing Arizona again, about preparing herself.
Like you could ever brace yourself for something like this, Lauren thinks, pushing the door open. She breathes in as she scans the room -- it doesn't even take her too long before she spots Arizona in one of the corner booths, her head down studying the menu, her hair half-covering her face. Always too easy, she just thinks, feeling her knees shake slightly.
Lauren takes a moment to hang on to a nearby chair as she feels her chest tighten. Get a grip, Boswell. When she straightens up and squares her shoulders, the girl behind the reception desk asks: "Are you all right ma'am?" And then, "Under whose name would our reservation be?"
Lauren forces a smile, holding her hand up and trying a small wave. "I'm fine," she says. "I think I've found her." And then, off the puzzled look on the girl's face, Lauren gestures to Arizona in the far corner. "I mean her."
Lauren lets the girl lead the way -- she'd been hoping she would be spared the audience when she and Arizona share that first moment, but then, she realizes it is too late to decline the offer. And so Lauren walks after her, trying to keep her distance.
Keep it together, she reminds herself.
When they reach the table, Arizona does not look up immediately, like she was waiting for the girl to leave.
"Is there anything else I can help you with?" the girl offers.
"This is all for now," they chorus, the timing perfect. How can anybody deny this? Lauren slides into the seat across, staring at Arizona's hands on the menu.
These hands, Lauren thinks, biting her lip.
"So," Arizona begins, and Lauren chooses that moment to lift her eyes from the table. There you are, Lauren thinks, and Arizona looks right back at her, the smile on her lips tentative. "Hi."
"Hey," Lauren just says, feeling the rest of the words slip away.
The first few minutes are awkward, but then again, did Lauren actually expect this to be at all easy? Come to think of it, she's lucky to even be here. So count your blessings. She starts by sneaking quiet glances at Arizona, who is busy focusing on her salad.
After a while, Arizona finally says, "Say something."
A chill runs through Lauren's spine; it isn't that she totally does not expect this question, because she does, and many times she has pondered what to say when Arizona calls for it, and for so many times she has failed. Should I apologize? For what? For her marriage? But why? Lauren shakes her head and forces out a laugh, which comes out dry and flat. It terrifies her, just how much she wants this, that after all this time she hasn't actually found an acceptable answer to a very simple request.
"Lauren," Arizona calls out softly. "Tell me what's on your mind."
Lauren clears her throat. "Right," she says, leaning back into her seat. "Like there's anything else in my mind other than you."
She catches Arizona blushing in that small moment she pauses to consider what Lauren has just said before looking away. “Lauren.”
“Yes, Arizona?” Do I dare hope?
Slowly, Arizona turns back to her, and Lauren feels her stomach plummet at the slightest indication of Arizona’s smile wavering. “I-I have to tell you something.”
Lauren reaches over and touches Arizona’s hand lightly, like she’s saying, Just a sec. She holds her breath and waits for Arizona to pull away; she doesn’t. “Can we,” Lauren begins, staring at the small space of Arizona’s skin that is right under her fingertips. “Can this just – can it wait a while?”
“Of course,” Arizona says, breathing in herself. “Who’s in a hurry?”
Arizona bites her lip. “No,” she says, shaking her head and turning her hand, palm now up and meeting Lauren’s more openly. Lauren tries not to sink into her too quickly. Slow now.
“We can wait,” says Arizona, holding on.
Arizona waits for the third glass of wine before coming out with it. “I’m sure you’ve already heard.”
“Ah,” says Lauren, setting her wine glass down and crossing her legs. “Here we go.”
“Not that the hospital walls could contain all that shouting.”
If she weren’t already holding onto Arizona’s hand, Lauren would have chosen this moment to reach out and touch her. “I’m sorry,” she says finally. “Arizona, I—”
“It hurts to fix it,” she says, and it is at this point that she feels Arizona pulling away. No, she thinks, but then her hands open anyhow. “But we have to. We have a daughter.”
“You understand, don’t you?”
Lauren looks at her and tries – she tries really hard, but then all she sees here is how beautiful Arizona looks tonight, and how none of this is actually making anything easier.
“Lauren.” The way Arizona says her name – like this is really hard for her, too. Why should this be so difficult, Lauren thinks, by now painfully aware of her breathing. It all starts feeling like she’d just been kicked in the chest, and of all the inopportune moments to actually have a flashback, Lauren remembers that kiss. “You do understand. Don’t you?”
When Lauren looks at her hands on the table, they’re open and empty. Her mouth is dry, yet she doesn’t exactly trust herself to hold onto a wine glass at this moment.
“I’m sorry,” Arizona murmurs. “This wasn’t – if this had been some other time, you’d have been—we’d have been--”
“I understand,” Lauren finally manages, pulling her hand off the table in kind.
“You would have been perfect,” says Arizona softly. “I think you should know.”
Standing, Lauren just says, “I have to go,” hand on her mouth trying to keep her heart from spilling out her throat.
Certainly, Lauren’s had her heart broken before, but she hasn’t broken it this finely in years, in that she spends the first night post-impact sitting on the floor of her apartment staring at the ceiling. For the first time in years she contemplates a cigarette – how many years has it been since the last? Eight? Nine?
She remembers amusedly the last time it was this hard – she was sixteen and confused and in her mind’s eye she sees a younger her at the floor of her old bedroom, sitting with her back against the bed. How many years has it been since then, she thinks idly. But then again, who’s still counting?
She feels too weak to actually go back out to buy herself some cigarettes and almost, it makes her wish she had a friend to actually ask. When she makes the mistake of looking at her phone, all of it’s just Arizona.
Lauren, you fucking idiot.
When she wakes the following morning, she finds herself on her couch, and somewhere on her neck there is a tight aching knot, as expected. Idiot, she scolds herself again, getting up and stretching. Walking to the window and drawing the curtains, she finds that the sun’s already up and the streets below look lovely for a walk.
And a couple of cigarettes, she thinks, pulling her hair up in a haphazard ponytail as she makes her way out.
When Lauren returns half an hour later, she remembers her phone and finds it atop one of the bedroom drawers. She doesn’t really remember putting it there, but then again, she doesn’t remember a lot of things from the time she got home from dinner onwards.
When she finally looks at it, what she sees surprises her: Fifteen missed calls, she reads, and all of them are from Arizona. For someone who says this must end, Lauren thinks.
Not too long after, there’s a knock on the door – another surprise, because the last time she checked, she didn’t have friends who are likely to come over, and between this moment and the last time she came in through the door, she doesn’t remember calling for delivery, so—
“Hi.” Lauren opens the door and finds Arizona on the other side, a cup of coffee in each hand.
“Arizona,” she says after a long moment of quiet; it’s out like she isn’t even entirely sure it’s really her. “Why–how—”
“You’d be surprised just how much is on the Internet about you,” Arizona replies, and Lauren allows herself a small laugh, crossing her arms and leaning against the doorway. Arizona shifts her eyes from Lauren’s to her shoes. “Or Hunt. Maybe Hunt.”
Of course, Lauren thinks, shaking her head.
“Can I come in?”
Lauren fixes her stare on a blank spot on the wall across, trying to think about what Arizona’s asking for. This is about to change everything, she thinks, chewing idly on her bottom lip. “Why are you here, Arizona?”
Arizona sighs. “I was hoping—well.” She’s stalling, this much Lauren can tell. But why? “Maybe we can be friends.”
It feels like Arizona had just punched her, taking all the air out of the room. “Friends?” Lauren repeats, exasperated. “Are you actually out of your mind, Arizona?”
“I asked a question first.”
Lauren breathes in. “No,” she says. “No, we can’t be friends.”
For a long moment, Arizona just stands there, coffee still in her hands, looking at Lauren’s hand braced on the door’s edge. Lauren swallows hard. Is this it? she thinks, hand tightening upon the edge. Arizona sighs, and just when Lauren expects her to turn around and leave, Arizona moves forward instead, pushing past Lauren and setting both cups upon the table by the doorway.
What is going on here? “Arizona?”
“All right then,” she says, closing the door. “Good to know we’re on the same page.” And before Lauren can even say anything else, Arizona’s reaching for her and pulling her in and kissing her, warm palms upon Lauren’s face; her lips are still as soft as she remembers.
“This isn’t being friends,” Lauren murmurs, resting her forehead against Arizona’s.
Arizona’s tongue darts out to wet her lower lip. “Shut up and just kiss me,” she says, moving back in.
They don’t talk about it, and against better judgment, Lauren just lets it go. It’s just for a short while, she tells herself, watching Arizona as she slept. One day, she’ll be ready, but for now.
For now. Lauren sighs, reaching over across the bed to touch Arizona’s face very very lightly. For now, we have this. Whatever it is. When Arizona stirs, Lauren quickly pulls her hand back for fear of waking her – she has surgery in the morning, and she needs all the sleep she can get and—
Jesus Christ, Lauren thinks, catching herself. What is this? When did this become that sort of thing where I keep track of her morning surgeries, and—oh I am so fucked, aren’t I. Lauren feels like laughing, but it’s 2 in the morning and she is not exactly alone.
It becomes a sort of routine – Arizona comes here after work, and Lauren learns not to ask questions, unless they’re about surgeries. Arizona loves talking about her surgeries, and Lauren’s just happy to listen to her voice.
Sometimes, Lauren cooks for two – when she’s feeling a bit generous. The first time Arizona tastes her cooking, she asks, “What else is there that you’ve been hiding, Dr Boswell?” and Lauren, unable to take compliments wholly, counters with, “It’s basic pasta, Arizona.”
“But it’s really good basic pasta,” says Arizona, in between forkfuls, and there it is, Lauren thinks. They’re having another moment, and these days, Lauren’s just living from one moment to the next and all this time she isn’t entirely sure if she’s going to come out of this intact.
“Lauren?” Arizona calls to her, shaking her out of it. Times like that, Lauren makes it a point to shush herself in her head, but this time Arizona beats her to it. It just gets harder, with every day that passes.
“Hmm?” Lauren says, putting a smile on.
“Thank you.” When Lauren looks at her, it’s almost too much – the smile Arizona has on, the way this light hits her face, those eyes. Don’t even start with these eyes, God, she just thinks, trying to catch her breath.
“It’s basic pasta, Arizona,” says Lauren, recovering. And then, “Any requests for tomorrow’s dinner?”
“Surprise me,” is all Arizona says, still grinning as she finishes off her plate.
Some nights, when the dishes are already done and put away and the energy of the day has begun wearing off Arizona’ skin, Lauren finds herself watching Arizona wind down on the sofa with her laptop open and the television on. It’s all strangely domestic, and all Lauren could think about is how she could get used to this. Oh, how the thought terrifies her.
So this is how it goes with you, she finds herself thinking, pouring herself a glass of wine in the kitchen. Arizona has the TV tuned in to an obscure baking show, though she isn’t really watching it as much as she’s listening to it. This is how it would’ve gone, had this been real.
“What are you doing back there?” Arizona asks, turning around and smiling at her. “Come sit with me.” Lauren quirks her brow, and Arizona turns back to the TV with a soft laugh, stretching her arms above her head.
Lauren slips into the couch next to her, setting the bottle of wine and a fresh glass for Arizona on the table. Arizona looks at her, still smiling. “What are you thinking about?”
How none of this is real, Lauren almost says, but she bites her lip and takes another sip from the glass in her hand. “Nothing,” she says, and when Arizona pokes her on the side lightly, Lauren concedes: “You.”
Arizona breathes in deeply at that, closing her laptop and trading it for the glass of wine on the table. “Okay then,” she says, crawling closer to Lauren and settling herself comfortably beside her, face nestled into the crook of Lauren’s neck. “Good answer.”
It takes some time before Arizona lets Lauren touch – Lauren understands just how much this is about Arizona taking matters into her own hands, and so she just lets Arizona take everything. For the most part, or so Lauren likes to believe, this is why Arizona comes back, night after night – Here is a place where she has control. Funny, though, how this all began with Lauren convincing her to lose it.
And here I am, giving it all back.
Not that Lauren minds – Arizona certainly knows what to do with her hands, though there are times when she lingers far too long in places, like she were trying to remember what to do. It surprises Lauren, how the Arizona here is different from that Arizona in the on-call room in the middle of the storm – that Arizona, rushed and breathless and confident, all at once. The mere memory of that makes Lauren blush.
But the Arizona here now – studious and patient, like she has all the time in the world. All too often, she draws it out of Lauren very, very slowly, and Lauren wonders how she is able to take it at all. Arizona watches intently, every time, and every time, Lauren struggles to keep her eyes open, thinking: Oh, those eyes. And then, shifting slightly lower: Those lips. The tip of that tongue between those teeth.
When the tremble starts deep within Lauren’s belly, Arizona quirks her brow, like she’s saying, There you are, and the mischief in her eyes is what sets Lauren off ultimately, hips arching off the bed.
At the end of it, Arizona smiles, waiting for Lauren to catch her breath. “One of these days,” Lauren says, inhaling deeply and sinking further into the bed, arms outstretched over her head. “You’re going to kill me.”
“I know CPR,” says Arizona, biting down on her lip. She runs her hand across Lauren’s torso and leaves goose bumps in her wake. And then, in a tender voice: “Why are you so good to me, Lauren?”
Lauren’s breath catches in her throat. “Oh,” she just says. “I haven’t even been able to show you just how good I can really be.” Arizona laughs at that, though Lauren can spot that bit of nervousness there that Arizona’s trying to mask. “But we have time for that, don’t we?”
Lauren knows it’s mostly a lie, but when Arizona leans in to kiss her, it feels like she wants to believe it.
One night, Lauren opens the door to find Arizona crying, and Lauren feels a panic in her rising as she pulls Arizona in and checks firstly for injuries.
“Arizona?” Lauren pushes her jacket off her shoulders and sets her bag down on the kitchen counter, taking Arizona’s hand.
“I lost a kid today,” is all Arizona says.
Fuck, Lauren just thinks, opening her arms. She’s seen this coming from a mile away – some nights when Arizona’s not around, it’s all she thinks about: One day, this will be more than just playing house.
She leads Arizona to bed and sits her down, wiping at her tears and thinking, This is Callie’s, right here. I shouldn’t be here. The guilt that hits her this time is new and harder; sure, Arizona has always been someone else’s wife, but this transparency – she doesn’t deserve any of it.
“I’m sorry,” Lauren manages finally, crouched on the floor before her. “What can I do?”
When Arizona looks up, her face is so open, and Lauren touches it gingerly, thinking, This is the closest I have been to you. When Arizona moves in to kiss her, Lauren feels the tears still damp against her cheeks, and Oh, she thinks, pushing Arizona down, gently.
Arizona doesn’t resist, and all Lauren can think about are walls falling down. Slow, she breathes in, putting a hand on Arizona’s hip lightly. Her heart is in her throat, and it is beating fast, like it is afraid.
“Just so you know,” says Arizona finally, after. “This isn’t the body I was born with.”
Lauren nods, swallowing, measuring her words. “This is the body I like,” she says, gripping Arizona’s hip firmly.
This is real, Lauren tells herself, watching Arizona’s breathing even out, much much later.
In the morning, she finds Arizona in the kitchen making breakfast, a solemn look on her face as she hands Lauren her coffee.
“Sorry,” Arizona begins. “You shouldn’t have had to see that.”
“Ah,” says Lauren, sipping slowly. “That was Callie’s, wasn’t it?” It’s out before she could stop herself, and the way Arizona’s eyes widen at that makes Lauren regret it immediately. “That was out of line.”
“In case you haven’t noticed – a lot of this hasn’t been Callie’s, for a while.”
And this is supposed to make me feel better? Lauren shakes her head. “And what do you tell her?”
“We don’t talk about it,” says Arizona, moving away from the table. “And really, let’s not.”
“I thought you were fixing it?”
Arizona looks at her, hurt flickering in her eyes. “Yeah,” she says. “That’s exactly what we’re doing here.”
Later, when they’re both more sober, Arizona approaches her on the couch with a tentative smile. Lauren sighs, putting her magazine away. “I know this isn’t going to last,” she says. Arizona’s face falls, and for a moment, it gives Lauren hope that she will try to contest it.
“Why overthink it, then?” Arizona asks instead.
Oh, all this reckless hope, Lauren chides herself. This is why your heart gets broken all the time.
“While it lasts, yeah?” Lauren just says, trying to smile.
Arizona disappears for a while without explanation, and Lauren starts spending more nights in a row alone. At first she doesn’t mind – after all, she’s spent a considerable time navigating nights solo, so what’s a few nights more?
Right, she thinks, watching the nighttime traffic from her window. Some nights she wants to just pick up the phone and call, but then, she holds herself back. Not your wife, remember?
And it kills her, really, that she is in no position to make demands, but then again, she backed herself into this corner, didn’t she?
You idiot, she just thinks, resting her forehead against the window, staring at the dizzying headlights of cars passing by until her eyes tear up.
On the night Arizona comes back, Lauren is holding her phone. She’s been fielding calls all day – she knows it was only a matter of time before her hospital comes looking for her.
“Hey,” Arizona greets, setting her bag down on its usual spot by the door. The gesture is so casual and familiar that Lauren has to look away, momentarily stung. This is what home feels like, she tells herself, turning her phone over and over in her hand. Just so you’d remember.
Arizona’s smile falters a little when she finally slides into the couch next to Lauren. “Everything all right?”
Like band-aid, Lauren reminds herself, breathing in. “Arizona,” she begins, hand on Arizona’s arm. “The hospital called.”
“The hospital-hospital?” Arizona asks back, confused for a moment. And then, off the expression on Lauren’s face: “Oh. Your hospital.”
There’s a long wordless while in between – what is there left to say, even? When Lauren looks at Arizona, she’s fiddling with the strap of Lauren’s watch idly. Time’s up.
“Sooner or later, right,” Lauren says, and when Arizona turns back to her, she’s actually crying. “Oh, Arizona,” she just says, reaching for her. “I think I’m going home.”
Arizona opens her mouth like she’s about to say something, but nothing comes out of the effort apart from a small whimper that ultimately breaks Lauren’s heart. This isn’t fair, Lauren thinks, gathering Arizona into a hug.
“There’s nothing for me here,” Lauren says quietly. Even with Arizona in her arms, it all feels terribly true. “Tell me – is there?”
Arizona pushes herself off Lauren, hand still upon Lauren’s chest. “You’ll always remind me of this feeling,” she just says. Her palm is warm right above Lauren’s heart.
“A lot like love, when it is new,” says Arizona, and almost, Lauren feels her heart stilling. “Not everybody gets to remember.”
Of all the women in all the hospitals in the world, and you had to choose this one.
“You’re welcome,” Lauren just says. Arizona leans in to kiss her on the cheek before pulling away very very slowly.
It feels like it will never come again.
The next time she hears from Arizona, she’s telling her about the amazing surgery that Avery and Alex performed the week before. The e-mail is relatively lengthy – it goes on from one run-on sentence to the next, and Lauren smiles at the screen, imagining Arizona talking animatedly with her hands, running them into her hair every so often, her eyes lighting up—
Stop. Lauren closes her eyes for a moment and tries to recover, and when she reads further, Arizona continues the message with a small bit about Sophia, and how she and Callie are doing better.
I hope you are well, she says in closing, before signing it simply with, Arizona.
Lauren allows herself a brief moment to remember Seattle: The image in her head is that of Arizona in her couch, sipping wine while watching a cooking show, an open magazine in her lap. She hangs onto it for a moment before letting it go.
You remind me of a feeling.
When she opens her eyes, Lauren exits the e-mail and breathes out, deleting the message without replying. #