It's been one week since the last time she was here, one week since she has been inside her flat, one week since her whole world changed suddenly and irrevocably. She's a doctor, a surgeon, and everyday she is up close and personal with brutality and trauma and bad things happening to good people, and she is used to blood, lots of it, both human and pig. But this blood doesn't wash off, it's stuck to her, staining her hands and clothes, and this brutality happened to her, the bad things happened to her good people. It's been one week since she tripped over her best friend lying in a pool of her own blood, eyes vacant, warmth leaving her body. It's been one week since she ran into a situation she couldn't see clearly, since Chief Shepherd was shot right in front of her, eyes warning her off as he fell to the ground. It's been one week since a pair of cold blue eyes and a cold black gun stared down at her, since she pleaded for her life and ran for it too. It's been one week since she treated Dr Hunt's gunshot wound while Meredith miscarried next to her. It's been one week since the world made any sense and it's been one week since she knew herself.
She starts packing up her belongings, shoving books and clothes randomly into cartons, not bothering to pack neatly as she normally would. She drags the heavy boxes down to her car, filling it up with her chaotic mess of worldly goods. All the things she has carefully selected, things that have sentimental value, things she has saved up for - it all seems irrelevant and pointless and worthless. The final item of clothing in her wardrobe is the only thing that gets special treatment, her stiff black suit that only gets used for funerals and job interviews hanging there like a token of every dead relative and disappointment she's ever had. She carefully carries it down to the car, laying it flat on the back seat, she has to wear it tomorrow, and the day after. She takes a deep breath and straightens herself before she heads up the stairs again, preparing herself for the real task.
Reed's room is just as she left it, bed unmade, clothes on the floor, dirty dishes by the door, leaving behind a mess she fully expected to return to. This time she is more careful, folding clothes meticulously, labelling boxes, wrapping breakables in bubble wrap. She is packing boxes that will not be opened again for a long time, destined to sit for years in a garage until the time is ripe to reopen painful wounds again. She is packing away physical remainders of a life that is lost forever, lightening the load for a set of inconsolable parents who have just lost a child. She's kept it together so far, stemming the tide of tears that has been streaming incessantly from her eyes for the past week, but the sight of Reed's half-open make up bag stops her in her tracks. On the dresser in front of her a blunt eyeliner has been casually discarded, a blusher compact is open, brush resting on top at a funny angle, a tub of hair gel is missing a lid. She runs her fingers over them, the last things Reed touched before she left the flat they shared for the last time, fresh tears flowing from her eyes, burning her chest and blocking her throat. The mundane becomes meaningful, everyday items become precious when the person that gave them significance no longer can. She carefully packs up the make up bag, clutching it to her sobbing chest as she closes the door to the empty apartment for a final time.
She drags her boxes up the stairs to her new room, in this big unfamiliar house that has served as a refuge for the past week. They huddled together here, out of necessity, out of terror. No one wants to be alone, everyone wants to be able to see each other as a reminder that they have survived, they are still here. She has spent the last week doing the only things that made any sense, cooking and cleaning obsessively. Everything she cooks is heavy and comforting, full of cream and cheese and sedatives. Yesterday Jackson ate the whole cheese lid off a lasagna, bloodshot eyes staring silently into the table the whole time, as Cristina sat next to him, noticing but not saying a word about it, lost in her own thoughts. Lexie was admitted to psych a couple of days ago after Dr Sloan insisted, leaving Meredith to alternate her time between visiting her boyfriend and her sister in hospital. Alex was released earlier this morning, but no one has seen him since he climbed the stairs and shut the door to his room. No one says it but they all know neither of them are ok, that they are all far from being ok.
The church is hot and humid, a sea of black filling every seat, mourners lining up against the walls and the entrance. The dramatic and sudden loss of a young life has attracted far more spectators than any other funeral she has attended, as if the longer you live the less interesting your death becomes, the fewer people you have left to find it shocking and tragic. They are asked to pray and she bows her head dutifully, moving her lips silently and folding her hands in her lap. She prays out of habit, finding no comfort in the words that she has grown up believing are supposed to hold her together in a situation exactly like this. The last time she prayed, really prayed, she was hiding under Chief Shepherd's desk, hands stained with Reed's blood, knuckles turning white as she begged in vain for the nightmare to end, for her friends to be safe, for it all to make sense. She wonders at His timing, leaving her at the time she needs Him the most, severing lines of trust between them, flattening her with His sadistic and graceless will. She wonders how hope and belief has become so much harder than despair and uncertainty, if He gathers how deep her doubt and loss of faith runs. She prays anyway, hoping the action will somehow force the meaning through.
The priest launches into his eulogy, listing all of Reed's accomplishments, describing her character, reeling off the well-meaning anecdotes that have been fed to him, and the words ring hollow in her ears. She glances down to her lap, where a hand finds hers, long brown fingers wrapping around her pale, clammy ones. It already feels familiar, Jackson's hand in hers, where it has ended up countless times during the past week, though it still feels new. Their hands just seem to find each other automatically now, silently comforting her, stemming the urge to run out of the church screaming. She glances around the crowd, no longer paying any attention to the priest, recognising the solemn faces of her colleagues, the broken shadow of a woman that is Reed's mother, eyes finally resting on Meredith and Cristina leaning against each other, hands clasped together tightly. They remind her that everyone has that one friend they'd choose over anyone, to talk to, to cry with, whatever, the one that's always your first choice. Her stomach runs cold when she realises she is not that friend to anyone anymore.
She shuts the door to her room, locking the door behind her, exhausted from crying and trying not to cry. She is exhausted from spending the day mumbling thank yous and nodding in agreement with half-truths about how Reed was such a lovely girl or how she was too young to die, when the truth is she was a hard ass and her dying would have been no less painful if she had been 95 and toothless. The day has passed her by in a blur, Jackson's hand constantly steadying her as she tried to convince people she is not catatonic, still physically alive. It doesn't feel like she is though, alive, that is. Her blood is still circulating around her veins, her brain still able to force her body to move, her synapses still firing, but she feels nothing but numb, because it is easier than feeling the raw agony that is lingering underneath. She slowly peels out of her stiff suit, hanging it up ready to repeat the performance tomorrow.
She lost her little red note book during the chaos of the shooting, the little book she used as a crutch to get her through her intern year and her first attempt at residency during the merger. In a way she's glad it's gone, one less reminder of the insignificance of her problems before her problems were big enough to make the national news, big enough to land her in lengthy interviews with the police. She understands from the way the police officers ask her that she somehow accelerated the situation that almost killed Chief Shepherd, she understands from the way Meredith looks at her sometimes, she understand from the things Cristina doesn't tell her. Her problems now warrant a much bigger book, black this time. This book is already filling up with ramblings she is afraid to express out loud, thoughts so dark and disconnected she would probably end up in psych right next to Lexie if someone found them. Here she dispels the lies she told the gunman, ripping her own defence to pieces. She hasn't done anything yet, she's done too much, getting her boss shot in front of his pregnant wife. She hasn't finished yet, truth is she hasn't even started and now she's not sure she wants to. She hasn't been loved yet, she doesn't know that she ever will be, that she could ever welcome it. She keeps her pain between herself and the black book, grasping at her anger and loneliness between the lines of the paper, burying her feelings in ink so numbness is all she is left with when she leaves her room. She is changed into something she never meant to be, transformed into a person she doesn't recognise, her biggest and unbeatable problem is now her. She is not herself anymore, and she doesn't know how to be. Exhaustion grips her bones, and she welcomes it, the chaos quieting down in her head, oblivion seeping in as dreamless sleep finds her.
Returning to work is a blessing, a distraction from feeling anything, an excuse to focus on something physical. It's a chance for her to give an appearance of a well-functioning human, someone in control, someone who deserved to be spared. She has to contend with stares and whispers, but the feeling of pity and intrigue is better than anything she grants herself, easier to bear than the judgement she holds over her own head. The others all feel it too, avoiding the large communal spaces of the hospital in favour of lunch breaks in the deserted hallways of the basement. Lexie is back from her spell in hospital, incredulous at her own failure to withstand her violent emotions, as if a near death experience isn't supposed to throw you off, as if it is a weakness to feel too much. On the opposite side of the scale is Alex, proudly using the bullet in his chest as a pick up line, burying any sign of emotion in bravado. They still don't talk about the fact that neither of them are ok, measuring relative degrees of healing in how quickly you can get cleared for surgery. She gets cleared without problems, crying easily in front of Dr Perkins, somehow finding words that convince him she is stable.
She feels stable as she assists Dr Shepherd later that day, even as their patient is gripped with all-consuming, raw pain. She feels rock solid as she helps calm him down, administering sedatives to the boy that has just had his skull split in half, and as Dr Shepherd's words and her sedatives take hold, she calms down with him. She is calmed by the display of physical pain, put at ease by a situation she can understand. It is a solid proof of life, this struggle that her patient is dealing with, and it gives her more hope than her constant attempts at prayer that has no recipient.
She feels stable as she puts her dress on that evening, layering water-proof mascara on her lashes. She feels rock solid as she walks down the stairs to face the wedding party going on in the living room. She is calmed as her hand once again finds Jackson's, leaning against him as Cristina walks up the improvised aisle together with Meredith. She is relieved as tears spill out of her eyes yet again, because she always cries at weddings, and she wasn't sure she was still that person.
She feels stable as she grips a scalpel in her hand again the next day, she feels rock solid cutting into flesh, calmed by the sight of blood flowing. Silver marks her skin and it turns red, puffing up into a swollen ridge, drops of blood beading up into a perfect dotted line. It tingles and burns at first, and then it calms down as her mind finds ease. And then her mind asks for more, so she cuts again, making fresh lines next to old ones, mapping her pain on her skin. She's in control and it's the best feeling she's had in weeks. She dabs the red lines on her legs with tissue paper before pulling up her scrub pants and slipping the thin blade into Reed's old make up bag, clutching it to her chest and breathing freely as she steps back into the residents' locker room.