Grey’s Anatomy/Supernatural, Dean/Izzie, spoilers through “Drowning on Dry Land” and “Hollywood Babylon”.
Between the black of firsts and white of lasts are countless shades of gray, some too subtle to matter in the moment… until they all add up to contrast. The end of the beginning and beginning of the end.
And I am you, and what I see is me…
And no one sings me lullabies, and no one makes me close my eyes
And so I throw the windows wide, and call to you across the sky…
--- Pink Floyd
George had teased her about the moment – The first time, he’d warbled, tunelessly and completely annoying but ever the George she adored, ever I saw your face – ribbed her about it until she’d rolled her eyes and batted him away, proclaiming the very notion ridiculous. Not because she didn’t believe – she did, in a non-movie-meet-cute, swooning-and-bonbons kind of way.
It just hadn’t been the first time.
He didn’t drink often, she was sure – not like her mother’s latest boyfriend, Billy, who always smelled sour and slurred every word he spoke after sundown – but he did tonight, hunched on a splintered picnic table, long legs hanging over the edge and wrists dangling over his knees, with the bottle curled in his fist like a weapon.
She’d come out to think, to break away, to breathe in air that wasn’t stale and stifling and pick at the peeling paint on the tabletop until she couldn’t take the bugs anymore. Izzie usually had the space to herself – the solitary grill down the stretch hadn’t seen fire in years, and even then Mrs. Hurley had only been burning a pair of cheap panties and most of her husband’s clothes. And though she wasn’t exactly happy about it, she wasn’t going to give up a whole hour of peace just because she’d have to share.
Defiantly, she slid onto the cracked bench, marked years ago with shaky, broken letters that spelled out her name and unmarked just last week with heavy slashes that crossed it out in deep grooves – when she went, she didn’t want to leave anything behind.
He didn’t acknowledge her presence, but there was no surprise there. They’d never really spoken, never interacted – the only times she ever saw him, in fact, he was talking to her mother about her psychic friends or dropping his boys by the trailer before he crept out into the night.
His boys. The Terror and The Mute, her mother would say. But she’d smile and nod when the request came, smile again as she hustled them inside, smile still while they tore into takeout and crappy frozen dinners as if they’d never seen food before.
Then she’d lock Izzie in her room until the sun came up and they were gone again.
She’d rounded the corner and frozen, long enough for her eyes to blink and her breath to catch and the blood to slow in her veins, long enough to take in the strong curve of his jaw and the deep cleft in his chin.
And the name. That name, sung on a smile by Bailey, of all people, and so not the one that had sprung to mind. Her brain had sparked into overdrive, trying to sort out the mistake.
But he’d smiled, broad and bright, the only aspect of his face that was completely foreign, and she’d known then. Even felled, swallowed by stark sheets and machinery, his eyes held too much hope. Too much life.
He raised the bottle to his lips ever so often, leaving her to chew on her lip and chip away at the paint and swat at the swarming mosquitoes. A big one nailed her right in the crook of her elbow, and she flattened it with a palm and a yelp.
When she reached out as far as she could and wiped the bloody blob on the edge of the table, he chuckled.
“Girls.” The word was a clap of rolling thunder. “Thank god for small favors.”
But he didn’t sound thankful. He sounded lost, wounded, mad at the world and ready to take it out on her. Like everything she was trying to escape.
She started to stand, but he reached out a big hand and wrapped a lock of her hair around one finger, making her hover in thin air, transfixed with the contact and the faraway look on his face.
“She could’ve looked like you,” he said, flat and hollow and not really meant for her at all.
The sound of her voice seemed to break whatever spell he was under, and he dropped the length of blonde and took another swig, squaring his shoulders and looking away, obviously waiting for her to leave.
Sitting back down, she waited for an answer that didn’t come.
It didn’t matter anymore. They were both gone – the wide grin she’d burned into her brain, the grim line she’d long ago memorized – and George’s impromptu serenades had ended long before death had come to him, too. Maybe there just weren’t any songs about the last time.
If there were, she needed one now.
She’d rounded a different corner, seen another face, and lightening couldn’t have struck twice. Not here, in the shrine she’d built so carefully.
Not when he’d frozen, too.
The first time her mother forgot to lock her in was the first time the screaming had ripped her from sleep. There’d been raised voices in the night before, sure, but none like this – filled with fear, and close enough to feel every second.
She opened the door, moved through the creak and shoved past the place where it stuck on the uneven floor to step into the hallway. Her mother was at the bottom of a tangled heap of limbs on the bed at the end of the hall, undisturbed by both the screams and the snoring man wrapped around her. Billy was long gone – longer than he’d stuck around, anyway. Now it was Greg who kept the trailer smelling of scotch and sweat socks.
Her footfalls to the kitchen were silent, even on the ancient linoleum, so when she craned her neck to peek around the fridge – slowly, ever so slowly – she was the one who was startled.
His eyes were trained on her, dark and turbulent, twin hurricanes eroding hurt with hostility. So at odds with the gentle hands rubbing up and down his brother’s spine.
Crossing the tiny kitchen, feeling his gaze follow, she bent to flip the switch above the sink. The old light below the cabinets flickered, but worked, bathing the table and countertops in a faded, sallow glow. She straightened, shrugged for good measure.
“It used to help,” she said flatly, turning back to the hall.
He eased the other boy’s head out of his lap and down to the stained banquette bench, pulled the ratty blue blanket up to his neck, and stood, his long body unfolding with the sort of grace that was wasted on a boy. She watched him cross the space in steady strides, bang through the door without even struggling with the lock that always seemed to stick, his feet thundering down the rickety stairs as he stalked outside.
She should go back to bed, she knew – lock her door and wait for morning, when birds chirped instead of crickets and the shadows in his eyes didn’t have so much company – but the open door read like an invitation.
The air shifted near the exit, and crossing the threshold, she was pinned again. Goosebumps raced over her flesh, caused perhaps less by the breeze than by those eyes, so strikingly haunting. At first glance, he’d looked nothing like his father to her – lean build, fair hair, features that were almost delicate. But here, caught in the net of his stare, the resemblance was all too clear.
Something sparked between the shock and the disbelief, something she might’ve labeled regret if she’d ever seen it from him before. But it was there and gone in an instant, swallowed by the swirls of whiskey and seafoam that used to hold her hypnotized.
It had been coincidence the last time. Some weird karmic byproduct of creation’s assembly line, like identical chocolates with different chewy centers.
They couldn’t have lucked out again. Not her, and not these men. Not this time.
This time, he was a ghost.
He paced while she stood, pausing only to shake his head, once, when she tried to close the door behind her. Once was all it took.
There was always crap in the lot, trash and nails and slivers in the dull colors of Bud Light and MGD, but her bare feet weren’t the only reason she didn’t dare move closer. She sank to the steps after awhile, her t-shirt riding high as she dropped. He didn’t watch her yank it over her knees, and she smiled her surprise, just enough to tell herself that she appreciated the gesture. Her body had been the enemy at thirteen – a head above the delicate girls in her grade who looked forward to training when she’d skipped straight to bra – but she’d learned to live inside her skin since, and ignore the attention that came with it, unless it did some good in the long run.
He let her fall asleep there, hugging the fabric to her legs while the wind played in her hair, and by the time she stirred he had settled on the tabletop, his feet propped on the bench over the ruins of her name, watching. Not her, but in general, his eyes alert and alight.
She shifted on the step, feeling the grooves that had settled into her flesh and the tingle that came from sitting too long, and watched, too… the slight bow of his head, the hunch of wide shoulders, the way he slid his fingers together, over and over.
“Nightmares.” It was the first time she had heard his voice, rich and gritty and deeper than she’d thought it would be. “He has nightmares sometimes.”
When she nodded, it was as much in sympathy as understanding. She had dreams, and in a place like this, that was just as bad.
In the morning, when they were gone – their father’s voice had woken her the next time, deeper still, and Greg had seen them all out with a grunt – she sat at the table with a bowl of cereal, the threadbare blanket spread over her legs. Her mother shuffled into the kitchen, headed straight for the coffee pot and making Izzie pause over her breakfast.
“He isn’t mute,” she said, forcing her mother’s bleary eyes to attempt focus. “He’s looking out for his little brother, I guess. Whatever. He’s just… he’s not mute.”
Her mother laughed, sloshing coffee over the edge of a chipped mug, and said she’d meant it the other way around.
She recovered first, reaching into the depths of her denial arsenal and holding tight to unaffected while she flipped through his chart like an honest-to-god doctor who didn’t have doppelganger moments at every turn. The scrawled letters gave her pause – another name that wasn’t the right one, not nearly – but she’d learned, with them, with him, not to linger on the whys.
Besides… she’d had her own alter-ego, once upon a time.
“Mr.… Gilmour?” She cleared her throat a little, just to give herself a second, and felt the mask slide smoothly into place. “What seems to be the problem?”
Her fingers tightened, the chart a buoy to anchor her against the approaching swell of the easy drawl she remembered too clearly – all gravel and gossamer, pouring out of him like honey over broken glass.
He snorted, with the quirk of an eyebrow and a flicker of that smirk, and any shred of doubt left flew out the window.
“Right this second?”
Even after it became routine, she couldn’t quite get over how good he was at it. How easily it came.
He’d knock; two quick raps, one slow, right above the doorknob, and she’d echo the pattern in reverse. He always laughed about it later – It’s not like I don’t know you’re in there, Blondie, he’d said the first time – but it let her be a part of his spy game, instead of the involuntary inmate he was breaking free, and he waited for her answer anyway.
Tonight they sprawled on the old table, leaning back to face each other over opposite sides – trailer door wide open, as always – and it was fitting. They were opposite sides of the same coin, both with half a home and neither all that eager to trade.
“Big dreams for somebody without a plan,” he said, settling back on his elbows. “Seems like you’re all dressed up with no place to go.”
“The grass is always greener, right? Anywhere’s better than here.” She tipped her head back to the stars, but her periphery was full of him. “You really don’t want to leave? Not here, obviously, just… Really?”
“Why would I?”
Izzie could think of a thousand reasons, but they were all her own. “Like… ever?”
His head shook tightly. “That’s not the way we work.” The set of his jaw and tone of his voice said ‘so quit asking’ so clearly she almost heard it ring between her ears, so when he continued, she had to reign in her surprise.
“It’s together, or it’s nothing,” he said, so grave it sounded like penance. Then he flashed a smile, too brief and too bright, and she wasn’t sure which was worse. “We’re all we’ve got, y’know?”
She didn’t, and for the first time in her life, she was glad.
“God, that…” She stopped – already feeling the painful pressure in her throat and the breaking dam at her lash line – and cursed her tendency for instant waterworks. Izzie got the distinct feeling that he didn’t do well with tears, much less anyone crying over him. “Didn’t you ever want to be anything?”
“What, when I grew up?” He quirked his lips at one corner when she nodded expectantly, then rocked forward, dropping his head and his eyes and her heart, and coughed a laugh that said too much.
“Yeah, well… let’s see if I get that far.”
He looked… lived in. On anyone else it would’ve been older, but he’d never really been young to begin with.
“So.” He clapped his hands together, looking sheepish and startled and just a little green. “This is awkward, huh?”
“It’s a pretty bad gash, Mr. Gilmour,” she sidestepped, pointing out the obvious while she yanked on powdered gloves and squinted at his torn shoulder. The wound was deep and ragged, gruesome, ugly – just the kind of thing Cristina would’ve squealed over before she became Burke’s literal right hand – but the scrutiny kept her eyes from his for the moment, and it was all the victory she had.
“It’s going to need sutures,” she finally mumbled, straightening. “And you’ll need an antibiotic, to fight infection. Are you allergic to any medication?”
“C’mon, are we really gonna do this?”
“Unless you’re attached to the hole in your deltoid, then yeah, we really should.” She groped for a pair of scissors and cut his shredded sleeve away, hoping his tendency toward avoidance hadn’t waned with the years. “I’ll need to clean it first. There’s some kind of… something…”
He reached up with his bad arm to rub the back of his neck, which must have hurt like hell. “That’s not what it looks like,” he said – half grin, half grimace, all charm.
“Good to know,” she fired back, reaching for a swab, “’cause it looks like mucus.”
“Guess it is what it looks like,” he muttered. Then he seemed to get himself in check, amending the statement with a shake of his head and a self-deprecating smile and yanking her back in time before she could catch her breath.
“Dog. Big, big dog.”
She rolled sterile cotton through the mess and marveled at his resilience. Question me, his eyes challenged, all fire and flint and familiarity, I dare you. But she never had, not that way, and wasn’t about to start now. Not when time had obviously honed skills that had been razor sharp without much practice, and she’d been cut too deep already.
Even back then, he’d lied with just enough truth for her to know better.
His dad was a boxer. Or that was her translation, anyway – he’d said “fighter” and she hadn’t asked for clarification.
That there was more to it was obvious. Same as the response she’d gotten when she’d poked around about his birthday – What does it matter? – and the sketchy words he’d offered when she’d brought up his mother - Blonde. Pretty. Dead, he’d said flatly. Not much to tell. But it explained enough – why the man kept the hours he did, why he’d often come home black and blue, as he had tonight.
She’d broken herself out at his knock on the window. They were planted on the table again – not just her space anymore, but theirs, and the thought wasn’t even a strange one. The closed door of her trailer, though, was new. His watchful focus had shifted to his own hell on wheels, making them switch sides so her feet rested on her name for a change.
When she reasoned that his father might need some help, or at least some comfort, he chuckled. It was dry, a little bitter even, but certain.
“Nah. He doesn’t want me…” Something darkened in his face, but it wiped away so fast she could’ve imagined it. “Dad gets the bad end of a beat down, he likes to shake it off on his own.” He smiled, or attempted something along those lines, at least – a tight flash of teeth in the shadows. “You trying to get rid of me?”
“Always,” she laughed, rolling her eyes. “You just won’t take the hint.”
Her heart jumped a beat when his smile turned genuine, and her breath stuttered and hitched when she tried to hold on to the feeling. She wondered, sometimes, if it would always be like this with them; if she’d ever get tired of coaxing the real from the projected, if succeeding would ever stop being a rush.
If he’d ever stop letting her.
She bagged the swab, and his chin jerked toward her hand as she set the bag aside.
“Whoa, hey… what’s the slime sample for?”
“Tests,” she mumbled, reaching for a suture kit and a fresh pair of gloves. “In case your big, big dog had a big, big case of rabies.”
“First,” he countered, “not my dog. Not even close. And it might’ve been the mutt from hell, but we’re not exactly talking Cujo here.” She shot a pointed look at the wide expanse of ripped skin, and his mouth twisted into a smile full of irony. “You know, apart from the vicious bloody attack.”
“Right,” she said wryly. “Funny how somebody could take that the wrong way.” Her hands continued to gather supplies with a steadiness she didn’t feel. “The tests are a precaution, Mr. Gilmour.”
“You know what’s funny? The way you keep saying that like it’s my name.”
“Well I go with what I’m given.” She spun to yank the curtain closed, grateful for an excuse to retreat, but when she turned back, it had only closed her in with him.
His gaze kept her rooted in place, tracing the contours of her face without ever really leaving her eyes, and the control faltered, with a tremor that started in her shoulders and rolled to her fingertips and made the curtain sway behind her. Or with her; she couldn’t tell.
It was insane to hope that he hadn’t noticed. He never had missed much.
“What?” His grin wiped away as if it never was, and he pinned her with penetrating eyes. Tonight, apparently, he’d decided to humor her again. “Come on, Izzard. Out with it.”
It had taken her nearly a week to even think about bringing it up again. But here he was, giving her permission, and she didn’t want to waste the opportunity. “Do you remember her at all?”
His nod, somehow, was less answer than approval. “I remember some,” he said evenly, cautiously, chewing the inside of his lip.
‘Some’, she guessed, was probably the understatement of the year.
“Trying to fit in her lap with her belly in the way. I remember that. She’d tell me…” He paused, scratching the hairline at his nape. “She said I could name the kid. Don’t know what she was thinking, and Dad swore she was nuts, but she promised.
“I had all these damn names picked out… They thought he’d be a girl.” He shook his head, blew a puff of air through his nose. “Close enough, I guess.”
She pressed her mouth into a flat line, willing herself not to snicker. He could get away with it, but the intensity of his eyes on that trailer and the undercurrent of love in his voice told her that jokes at his brother’s expense were his privilege alone.
“Would she still have been Sam?” It came out in a rush, in the eagerness to soak in everything she could while she had the chance, but he was already slipping back into the safe deflection of humor.
She nearly did laugh when he blinked at her, his brow furrowed and heavy. “If he had been a she, I mean. It could work. In a ‘short for Samantha’ kind of way.”
“That’s actually his full name. Thought you knew.”
He always seemed to signal before she pushed too far – it never was twenty questions with him. Last one, the tilt of his head told her. Make it count.
“How old were you?”
His swallow was audible, even with the pulse pounding in her ears. “Not old enough.”
He cleared his throat, rubbing his palms together, and she’d picked the wrong one again.
By the time he looked away, she’d been counting down the seconds. But she leaned forward to scrape at the splintered edge, hiding her fallen face behind her hair. Just in case.
“Sarah,” he said into the wind, forever surprising her. “I picked Sarah.”
“Iz – ”
“No.” One palm shot up, spread fingers shaking as steady left her in a rush. All at once, it was too real. “We’re not doing this, okay? This absolutely cannot happen, not today.”
The fabric at her back moved as if caught in a breeze, but stepping away wouldn’t make anything better at all.
“This is a free clinic, and I am here to treat you. As long as I have an accurate medical history, I couldn’t care less what your name is. That chart could say ‘Jesus H. Christ’, and I’d still have to sew you up and clear this bed.
“You’re a patient,” she ground out, trying not to remember that he’d been something else once, hating the plea that bled into every syllable. “You’re a patient, Mr. Gilmour. Anything beyond that is… just isn’t relevant. It’s not my job to ask questions.”
The old veil dropped over his eyes, spun of quiet detachment and even indifference. She still envied him that.
“Now that’s a shame,” he replied, the chill in his voice burrowing into her spine, “since you’re so damn good at it.”
“I’m going to need you to lie down,” she said, reed-thin and hollow, her gloved hands curling into fists.
The slap of his words faded to a dull sting, a slow ache, and a lingering urge to remind him that it hadn’t really mattered.