Grey’s Anatomy, Miranda Bailey, general spoilers for the series so far
Title borrowed from Kate Bush, lyric snippet courtesy of Regina Belle.
The nature of sacrifice… No one ever said being the breadwinner was easy. Written for the Mother’s Day Challenge at loveforthefolks.
Sometimes she misses being pregnant.
Not the aches and pains and queasiness, the penguin waddle and swollen ankles of it, but the days when she didn’t have to share him with anything but her own body. When she could do her job and carry him along, hold him safe, keep him close. When she was a good surgeon with an extra heartbeat, instead of trying to her damndest to be Dr. Mom.
She still can’t get used to failure.
The sun is up when she wakes, peeking over the horizon and painting the sky purple and gold, and she’s almost forgotten what it looks like from her own bedroom window. She glances at the alarm clock – the numbers are still huge, blaring in a sea of neon blue. But for once it’s not screaming in the dark, so she can deal with the glow.
There’s a solid body beside her, pulling deep breaths through his nostrils and reminding her, loudly, that she can go back to sleep if she wants to. Roll over and put a dent in the deficit, in comfortable clothes and a bed without rails, with no pager on her hip.
But there’s an angel down the hall, his cooing gibberish and self-amused squeals crackling in her ears. Today, he’s waiting for her.
They eat in the kitchen, her oatmeal going cold while she spoons carrots and applesauce into his mouth and hopes most of it stays there. His hands slap at the tray of his high chair, and he’s humming a happy song that almost masks the ringing.
Tucker shuffles in with the cordless, shoves it in her fist even though her eyes are shooting daggers. Marriage has made him immune.
It’s barely tucked under her chin when the barrage starts, and the words go unprocessed – she’s still making faces and whirring her lips like a propeller. But Tuck shoves at the spoon, sending orange puree flying, not amused anymore, and reality’s trapped her again.
He’s freed from the chair and carried away, and she’s finally listening to flat words and bad news. The situation is grim. It always is.
The call closes with a request that isn’t one at all – I need you here, Miranda – that leaves her wanting to snap and yell and smack somebody. But she can’t muster anything in protest, just an icy, pointed You can count on me, Richard that he answers with silence until she disconnects. He’s not the Chief now, not yet – not when she’s still in pajamas and her own damn house and headed back to work when she shouldn’t be, when he’s pulled her away again. Not when she’s had to choose where there’s no choice, on this day of days.
By the time she’s ready, so is he – she in fresh scrubs and headed out the door, he fresh from a bath and wrapped in strong arms. He reaches out, squishes her face between his palms, and she wishes for a moment that any of this made sense to him. But it doesn’t even make sense in her own mind, and all she should wish is that he’s young enough to forget.
She kisses them both, and he’s done this so many times that his little fingers open and close on their own. Wave bye-bye to Mama.
One day soon, they’ll be his first words.
The doors slide open with a hiss, revealing chaos and confusion, but it’s business as usual.
And then it’s not. She takes a step, two, crossing the threshold, and already she can smell it – blood and death, hanging thick and heavy in the air, far from the OR.
They’re here already, huddled in a cluster by the admittance desk, silent and wide-eyed and watching. Waiting, with stricken faces and eyes full of dread. Their necks follow the pass of each full gurney, swinging back and forth like pendulums – slow, synchronized.
Finally they spot her, but stay rooted in place, locked behind the steady stream of traffic. Only one looks surprised to see her at all, and she wonders if it’s because the date doesn’t mean much to the rest of them – Karev’s never mentioned his, Yang wants to strangle hers, O’Malley’s is still in mourning. Grey’s lost two in as many months.
The apology she sees is a flash in fair features, smeared through the anguish for a long second, and she hopes all that pain is just Stevens feeling too much again, and not the thought of what they have in common. How many of these days the girl’s seen and never had.
She spares a second to shake her head – fair-haired, light-eyed, pink-skinned as they are, they’re hers. And after all the headaches and heartsickness, they’ve got a hell of a lot to prove.
Her voice snaps orders before she’s out of her jacket – You screw up, people die, her eyes stab. Little lives are at stake. Do not make me end yours. Unlike her husband, one good glare still sends them scattering like headless chickens.
She doesn’t say make me proud, never does. If at first they don’t succeed, they always try again.
By the time her stomach misses the oatmeal, she’s lost count – of the hours, of the surgeries, of the cuts and compressions and codes she’s called.
She’d stopped long enough to inhale a granola bar and slather her hands in cocoa butter, but it had just gotten washed away again. Her skin’s back to splitting from the soap and the latex – slice, suction, suture, lather, rinse, repeat – and she doesn’t have the time or the energy to care.
Sheppard ducks into OR2 mumbling that they’ve lost the driver, and she nods and keeps stitching, unable to feel anything for the fool who’d plowed his Hummer and his hangover into Seattle Center and mowed down an entire kindergarten field trip. Not with this tiny soul still on her table, a broken china doll, pale beneath raven ringlets and railroads of new scars and fighting for a life she hasn’t lived yet.
O’Malley swabs with a steady hand and holds another layer closed, but he’s George when he squeezes her arm and slides his eyes away from the needle that trembles in her fingers.
She breathes, pulling the thread taut, and starts again.
The waiting room is full of fractured families, of parents and aunts and cousins and friends, huddled in staggered circles like jigsaw edges missing their middles. They know her on sight now – dozens of eyes that turn when she steps into the space, all filled with equal parts hope and fear.
This time, at least, she’s brought relief.
The girl’s mother sinks to her knees at the news, heaps a litany of thanks at her feet, and she wonders, watching the bow of a dark head, if little Ashley’s eyes are the same cornflower blue.
Her own stray to the clock on the far wall – he’d be up from his nap by now, strapped into his swing and kicking his feet in the air as it sways. The thought will have to be enough. Her baby’s safe at home, and she has to fight for someone else’s.
Stevens tells the last family herself. Explains the measures, assures them the team did everything they could, the very picture of composure. She’s lingering in the doorway – as support, backup, doesn’t matter, because it’s all running together in her head.
She finds her in observation, watching the team shroud the body. A gangly, freckled thing, not blond at all. Not even a girl. But Izzie’s held on all day, lived this day alone for eleven years, and the dam was bound to break.
A golden head bends to her shoulder. She holds it there, hair tickling the lump in her throat as the warm rush hits her skin, and she’s proud as she’s ever been.
It’s after three when she drags herself home, and she climbs the stairs to the saw of Tucker’s snoring and the sound of her own voice in her head, feet falling to the beat of each word – Too old for this, too old for this.
The shadows in his room have swallowed the crib and she’s tiptoed her way to his door, but he still curls chubby fingers around the wood and rolls to play peek-a-boo between the slats.
She’s bone-tired and brain-weary, but her heart’s still got a little gas after everything, so she clicks off the monitor that never wakes his daddy and leans over to smile into his sleepy face, hoping he’ll answer with round cheeks and bare gums and the flash of his only two teeth. But he blinks owl-eyes, solemn and baby-wise, and she can’t blame him – six procedures and two consults had meant no cell phone serenade tonight.
Her hands are heavy, numb, but they hitch under his arms anyway. He raises his arms like he trusts her, and she takes a breath before scooping him up and clutching him tight, another before she crosses to the rocker in the corner.
There’s a card in the seat, her first, beneath a wilted flower plucked from someone’s garden. She sets them aside as they settle – it’s the middle of the night, and her day is over. This is about him now.
And doesn't he know it. He hooks a finger inside her lip, hanging on even when she smiles - stubborn through and through, demanding to a fault. Truly his mother's son.
She lifts his hand away, smooths a palm over the back of his head, and tucks him close to breathe in the baby scent of him.
“If I could,” she croons, “I would take away the sadness in your eyes, give you courage in a world of compromise…”
She’s hoarse, and can’t tell if it’s the tired or the tears. He doesn’t seem to mind.
darkmuse_ic, this isn't your birthday update, but I'm stalling with fic until I finish the real thing. Happy 2-4, babes.