[identity profile] burningeden.livejournal.com posting in [community profile] burningedenfanfic
Title: What Matthew Left Behind (1/1)
Author: Chelle Storey-Daniel
Pairing: Erica's POV, Callie/Erica implied
Rating: R
Summary: Erica reflects on the most important patient she ever worked on in Colorado when she was just a resident. Tissue warning.
A/N: This is for all the people who have decided to CONTINUE to flame me for writing Callie/Erica. You will not silence me. I'm sorry to disappoint you.










I knew that I ... maybe ... had same sex leanings in 1997.

Her name was Hannah and she had chestnut brown hair that smelled like apples. She was the Chief Resident ... I don't know how she managed to beat me, but there it is, and when she said 'Erica' she put the emphasis on the beginning to make it sound like AIR-ica. I pretty much floated on air when she was around so it was fitting. We laughed about everything and nothing and she was my only friend in Colorado. It was second nature for her to ask if I wanted to head to Lasko's for a drink after work and even if I was dead on my feet I would accept. I always accepted.

Because Colorado is a pretty cold and desolate place at times.

And sitting in front of a roaring fire with a brunette who called me AIR-ica was as close to Heaven as I had ever gotten.

I'm pretty sure she had feelings for me. She didn't chase after me like Mark Sloan, but I'd catch her looking a little longer than she should. And you don't just start finishing someone's sentences unless you care to be so far inside their head that you think like they do, but really, that's not the point. We worked well together. People called us Wonder Twins because if a dying patient rolled through the ER on our watch ... they'd be well on their way to recovery in no time.

She was into neuro.

I was into cardio.

And we were as competitive as we were congratulatory.

Every small victory for either of us was celebrated at Lasko's until we could barely keep our eyes open.

On October 8, 1998, I was ready to tell her exactly how I felt. I was ready to put myself on the line and confess that yes, she was my best friend, but I'd do anything to have more. It's like she read my mind because she brought me a red rose that morning and claimed that she found it lying in the snow. It was the perfect way to start a thirty hour shift and I tucked it safely into my locker thinking all the while that it was a shame to lock away something so pretty. And I don't even like flowers. Now that I think about it ... I don't like Hazelnut either, but I was always happy enough that she made my coffee to somehow swallow it down.

Hannah and I were griping about the choices in the vending machine when he was brought in. Our pagers sounded at the same time and we shared an eager smile because the worst cases brought out the best in us, literally. We raced each other down the hallway and down two flights of stairs and arrived in the ER at the precise moment that he was wheeled inside.

I remember two things ...

I remember that I had never seen so much blood in my life.

And I remember that her hand found mine and we stole a moment together, giving and receiving strength until we had to spring into action.

Some moments in life happen in a bubble and you're only aware of what's happening inside it. Our patient was nearly frozen, unconscious, and beaten so severely that it was hard to tell if he was male or female until we stripped his clothing off. He was so small, barely over five feet and I would have been shocked if he was a hundred pounds. As Hannah worked on his head and I listened to his heart ... I saw that he had been awake at one point ... because his tears had coursed through the dried blood on his cheeks, weaving a sad, broken pattern on his battered flesh.

This boy, whoever he was, had cried in pain or shock or ... to beg death away for just a while longer.

I had never seen a beating so significant. I felt his wounds like a cancer inside me.

Our attendings were called in and then the Chief of Surgery came rushing in off the slopes to see for himself. It was already making headlines. It was already in the news. I volunteered to bathe the boy's face and wash his hands, where he had received self defense wounds. Hannah echoed my sentiments and together we began the slow, arduous process of cleaning up the traces of a vicious, unbelievably brutal attack. To know that we could not operate on the fracture to his head that reached from the back of his skull to the front of his ear was a bitter pill to swallow. As surgeons, you think that your scalpel and your education can repair anything.

As human beings ... we knew that we had to sit, wait, and watch a small, blond haired boy eventually surrender to the grotesque assault on his body and go to sleep at last. Truthfully ... maybe a part of us hoped his suffering would end soon.

When you have severe brain stem damage your body loses the ability to regulate the smallest of things: body temperature, heart rate, any minor body function. We learned that the boy in room two nineteen was actually a twenty one year old man and he lost control of his bowels as I stitched the myriad of lacerations on his face, neck, and head. I bathed the rope burns on his wrists and spoke softly to him as I bandaged them, apologizing for my cold hands, telling him I was sorry if the ointments burned. He couldn't hear me, but I took comfort in hearing myself. It reminded me that I was still there ... I had not lost my mind over the senselessness of it all.

Thirty hours came and went too quickly and my shift was over before I knew it, but I didn't leave the hospital. I couldn't leave. Because the truth was starting to come out and I had made a promise to Matthew Shepard, as I listened to his irregularly beating heart, that I wasn't going anywhere. I told him that I'd stay as long as he wanted to stay and I'd be there at the end ... so that he wouldn't have to go alone. His parents provided us with the grisly details. Matthew had been attacked by at least two people, pistol whipped, and tied to a fence to die. Police had already spoken with a couple of men who were in possession of Matthew's credit card, whose fingerprints had been found in his apartment, and little by little ... the truth was coming out. They had robbed his home as well as robbing his life from him ... and what remained, that little piece that he clung to ... it was enough to destroy me.

I didn't need to hear what had happened to him.

I had seen it with my own two eyes.

What I loved hearing about, as Mrs. Shepard held my hand, was what Matthew was like in Casper, Wyoming ... because the little boy who attended Crest Hill Elementary School, Dean Morgan Junior High, and then headed off to The American School in Switzerland ... was so different than the Matthew who was lying on his back down the hall. That old Matthew was attending the University of Wyoming and studying political science. Outgoing and energetic, he had been elected to the Wyoming Environmental Council and before long, his classmates were a common sight in the hallway. The new Matthew ... was a stranger.

The outpouring of grief, the sobs in the chapel, the pretty girls and handsome boys who would look at me expectantly as if I was about to announce that Matthew would be along behind me any moment ... their grief became my grief. My failure to save his life ... became theirs. And he came to life around me through their stories and I laughed until I cried with them.

On October 12, 1998 ... we just knew.

When you're a doctor ... there's a moment where you swallow hard, you clench your fists, you grit your teeth and you repress every urge you have to scream. Because in *that* moment, you know that everything you've done, despite it being the best you could, was not enough. At 12:53 a.m. Matthew Shepard's face was clean and dry, but I can't say the same for anyone else in that room. My tears did not course through my own blood the way that his had done, but they coursed through a mountain of regret to drip off my chin and I let them fall without bothering to mop them away. Matthew had EARNED our tears. Because Matthew Shepard was the kind of man, small, slight and unassuming, who didn't make demands. But he was the kind of man who commanded that we try everything and then he went as silently from the room as he had entered it.

At 12:53 a.m., Matthew Shepard's heart ceased to beat.

And mine cracked so hard down the middle that I was sure everyone heard it.

He was mangled and dead because he was gay. That was the only reason.

And they chose him because he was too small to fight back.

I never heard his voice. I never felt the strength of his hand clutching mine. I never got to see his battered face dance with glee. I never saw his smile. I never got to witness his eyes twinkling in the fluorescent light. But I got to stand there as he passed from this life to the next and I knew that I was watching the birth of his legacy in that moment.

I covered him with the sheet myself after I smoothed his blond hair back.

The path that I had chosen for myself with Hannah was out of the question. She looked at me over his body and I could see in her eyes that anything we had been planning, any attraction that we had danced with, any flirtation that we had entertained ... neither of us were brave enough now. Because either of us could trade places with the man between us ... and be beaten to death for living a lifestyle that was apparently so offensive to some ... that the sentence was death.

Hannah and I both took off work to attend the funeral and there were ongoing candlelight vigils and songs that we managed to croak our way through to celebrate Matthew's life.

Our friendship changed after that. We were still the Wonder Twins, but there was an imaginary line between us now that prevented either of us from being as close ... or as attracted ... as we had once been. The next year, on October 12, we drove to the field where Matthew was attacked and there were officers in attendance, there were firemen, nurses, and other doctors who had valiantly tried to save a twenty one year old man with so much life left in him. It was still so raw and had spread through us like poison that we were unashamed to cry. The savagery that ended such a beautiful life weighed on us all like a heavy beating. I closed my eyes and pictured sweet, innocent Matthew tied to the fence while they hit him again and again and again and again with the butt of the gun. I had heard his father's speech at the sentencing and I tried to imagine being in such a barren place, knowing that my blood was pooling from me, feeling every wound, every piercing wind that blew. I wondered if he felt every blow.

Over forty licks.

I counted them myself.

And why?

Because he was brave enough to openly live the life that I had fantasized about living myself?

Another year passed and on October 12, I told Hannah about Seattle and the fellowship I had accepted.

It was the first time she had held my hand since Matthew's death and she threaded her fingers through mine in the car. Despite how cold it was ... she was warm. "Erica," she said, "you're going to do a great job out there. It's a good hospital. And - I'll miss you."

"I'll miss you, too," I told her, but what I wanted to add ... was that I'd miss what might have been a hell of a lot more.

*~*~

It's October 12, 2008 and ten years have gone by since Matthew died and I'm back where it happened. I'm back where Matthew was attacked.

I can see Hannah with her husband and daughter and I lift my free hand in greeting. She picks her way slowly through the rain soaked field, leaving her husband and child behind. As she walks toward me, I'm struck by how different she looks. Her long, flyaway hair has been cut into a serviceable bob and her pregnant belly is preceding her, making her unbalanced in her short heels. She's still Hannah, though. She's still got the same bright smile, but I see that it doesn't reach her eyes. It's not possible to smile in this place and mean it. This ... this cold, dirty field is where Matthew Shepard cried through his blood and hung for hours until someone found him.

"Hey, you." Hannah finally gets close enough to hug me and she does, holding on tight. "It's good to see you."

"You look wonderful," I tell her and her hair doesn't smell like apples anymore. She smells like cigarettes. I pull away first and turn to my right, where the new person in my life is standing. "This is Callie Torres. She's an orthopedic resident at Seattle Grace."

I watch with pride as Callie extends her hand and clasps Hannah's. I can't help but compare the two: my first possible love with the real deal. Callie's black hair is whipping in the wind and she has given up trying to tame it. It's shiny and impossibly curly and I give in to the urge to touch it, to slide my fingers through the silky strands. Hannah's hair has been sprayed so much that it doesn't lift at all in the breeze. Callie's cheeks are rosy in the cold and her thick, full lips are shivering a little as her teeth chatter, but she smiles and it makes ME smile, which I didn't think was possible, as she takes my hand and kisses it. I see Hannah's eyebrows go up just a little and I nod at her when she questions me with her eyes.

Callie is my lover.

She's my partner.

My roommate.

Hell, she's my *everything*.

The sun goes down on the ceremony and we all light our candles as the high school choir sings an Irish Blessing.

May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind always be at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
and rains fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of His hand.


Callie sings along beside me and I listen to her beautiful voice break little over the words. I think maybe, ten years later, she's the voice that Matthew left behind.

She's the life that Matthew left behind.

She's the strength that Matthew left behind.

She was brave enough to kiss me, to love me, to pull me out of the closet and into the world ... this world ... that Matthew left behind.

I no longer fear being attacked for loving a woman. I'm not afraid to take her hand when we're in a crowded room and when I dance with her ... I dance like someone is watching because I know he is. This ... this life is what Matthew Shepard died for and it's this life, this wonderfully different life, that my heart beats for. There's nothing wrong with us. There's nothing that should be punished or ridiculed. We have a wonderful relationship, Callie and me. We laugh, we fight, we make love with passion and hunger, and when she goes to sleep at night ... I put my finger on the pulse in her neck just to make sure that she's not going anywhere. Not yet. It's too soon.

Matthew went too soon.

I'm living enough for both of us, I think. I try extra hard for him ... for her ... and for me.

What Matthew left behind is a legacy and every time I tell Callie that I love her ... I say it long and slow for Matthew, because he never got the chance to find 'the one'.

I watched Matthew Shepard die.

And I hope that wherever he is ... he's watching me live and he knows that what he left behind ... is hope. Is courage. Is awareness. Is love. Is devotion. Is education. Is hurt. Is devastation. Is ... us. And we're all here tonight because a man, slight of frame and big of heart, is still memorable enough to bring us all together ... ten years later.

That ... that is what Matthew Shepard left behind.

And I'm finally brave enough to live the life that killed him with no regrets, no worries, and the courage that I know kept his heart beating for as long as it possibly could.

When the crowd disperses, Callie hands me the dried rose that I brought with me. I preserved it meticulously and carefully ten years ago. It's the one that Hannah gave me, the one that she found in the snow ... and that's where I return it. I place it on the small mound of snow where Matthew waited to be found.

And I leave it behind.

Because I have so much more to take with me now.

The End




A/N: Thanks for reading me, folks. I can't tell you what your support, comments, and personal stories have meant to me as you read 'One Heart Too Many' and hopefully this fic. Take care of yourselves. Love? Is love.
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