DISCLAIMER: I don't own any characters herein, and I will return them (mostly) unharmed once I'm done playing. I am making no money from writing these stories. As a non-profit interpretation of the original work, this constitutes fair use under USC 17.107.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
FEEDBACK: To rachel.mercer[at]hotmail.com
SPOILERS: through "Rise Up" (5.07)
I Want To Come Over
I stay on the roof until the steady rain drives me into the hospital. It doesn't matter what Bailey said to me, I know it's over between Callie and I. I've let her see too much of my heart, and it's broken me. I gave her everything I am, but it isn't enough. I compromised every moral and ethical belief I've ever held for a woman who doesn't know what she wants. She's turned me into someone I don't even recognize anymore. Mixing work and life is so counter to my own rules that I think I need to rewrite the rulebook.
That's a good plan.
The first rule in Erica Hahn's New & Improved Guide to Life is this. No more Callie Torres.
I make my way to the locker room as quickly and unassumingly as possible, knowing that awkward questions will be asked if anyone sees me now. I stood out in the rain so long that my scrubs are soaked through, and my hair is sticking to my head. I don't think anyone would know if I let myself cry, because the water dripping from my hair is running down my face, but I'm not going to break down. I've done far too much breaking down in this hospital in the last few weeks, and it ends here. Somewhere along the way, I lost sight of who I am, but I know now. I remember.
It's not until I walk into the locker room that I also remember something else. This is where Bailey said Callie was hiding.
Her back is facing the door when I come in, and I have a rare moment of indecision before I start to back away. I'm not quiet enough though, because she turns around, an almost hopeful look on her face.
"Doctor Torres." I fumble with the door handle, somewhat afraid to turn around, though I don't know why. Before I can get it open, though, Callie crosses the small space, grabbing my wrist and holding me still.
"Please don't Doctor Torres me, Erica. What was that?" She sounds lost, and I don't know how to take that. I can't let her back in again though, even as the heat of her touch warms my frozen skin. She's hurt me too much, and I've given her too much power. I don't let that happen, so as much as it tears at me to pull away from her, that's exactly what I do.
"I told you." I don't do a good job of keeping the devastation that's flooding my body out of my voice, and I see the shock that tells me exactly how unaware of how she's been hurting me she really is. Somehow, that makes it worse. She's so unaware of my feelings that she's surprised that watching her be with someone else is killing me. It's a lack of attention that threatens to buckle my knees, and I don't know how I keep standing.
"No, you told me you can't do this. Talk to me, Erica. What's changed?"
"That's the problem! Nothing's changed. Nothing's going to change, is it? This is just... fun for you. It's just a game. But it's not a game to me Callie. I may not always show it, but I do have a heart, and you can't even see that you're breaking it." My emotions, again, are bleeding out all over me, all over both of us, and she steps back a little at the hint of venom that's definitely in my tone.
Before she can respond, I leave again, my pace taking me briskly towards the lobby, hoping against hope that she doesn't follow. That doesn't explain why the pain deepens when I don't hear her footsteps behind me, or her voice calling my name. I don't stop though, telling myself it's better this way, even as I fail to believe the sentiment.
It's the end of my shift anyway. I'll just change at home.
I've lost track of what glass of wine I'm on as I stare at nothing, sitting in my study because it's the only room that doesn't hold the ghosts of Callie's laughter. I tap the edge of the glass, the rhythm as unsteady as my equilibrium, easily losing myself in thought. I was sure that I would cry as soon as I got home, but I didn't. I'm not sure I can.
I don't know if that's because I know I did the right thing... or if it's because I don't believe that this is really the end of us.
When did I become this woman? When did I let myself be blinded by a pretty face? When did I decide that the sensible thing to do was to fall in love with the straight girl who, apparently, is just using me for a little fun? This isn't right. This isn't the way my life was supposed to go at all. I know better than this.
It's going to be a long night.
Day One Post-Callie: It's my day off, so I don't have to see her. I ignore at least ten phone calls, delete numerous text messages without reading them, and I fill my day with stupid little chores so that, if she decides to show up at my door, I won't be tempted to open it. The hours drag past interminably slowly, everything I do seeming like both the most essential and the least pressing of all the tasks that I know await me as I try to find a way not to run straight back into her arms. I find myself staring at the bottom of yet another wine bottle in the evening, even though I know I have surgery tomorrow. This isn't something I would usually entertain the thought of, but alcohol is the first place to which most people turn when they don't know what to do with themselves. And that's a category that I definitely belong in. I stop myself before I work my way to a state that would impair my work, but it takes the edge off enough that I can sleep without running every moment I've spent with Callie through my mind on an endless loop.
Day Two: The urge to call my mother has never been so strong. I stand in the parking lot, at the boundary between work and life, wondering if I'm really ready to walk in there and treat Callie like she's nothing special to me, just another colleague, another person that I have to deal with in order to do my job. I need that pep-talk that parents are supposed to be good at. Hell, I need a friend. I need anyone to tell me that I am strong, independent, accomplished and I don't need her to make me complete. I am complete all by myself, and if she can't treat me the way I deserve to be treated, that's her loss. I know that's not what my mother would say, if she'd even speak after she heard my voice, if, after all these years, she'd still recognize me.
Why have I never been good enough for anyone? Dr. Hahn is the best, and I know it, but Erica? Apparently Erica doesn't have anything to offer. I try to shake of the melancholy, forcing my emotions into the cage I've kept in my mind for just this reason. They never stay there long, but I just need to get through today. One day at a time, that's the way to do this. One day at a time? Maybe I should aim lower; an hour, a minute at a time. If I get through this one, I can get through the next. I will not let Callie destroy me. I won't let her cause me any further pain. With a deep breath and that resolution, I straighten my shoulders, hold me head up high and step forwards with a confidence I don't really feel. I am Erica Hahn. I can do this.
Every step I take feels heavy, and I'm convinced that Callie's going to be waiting just around every corner. She's not in the locker room though, and I should feel relieved, but it just makes me more apprehensive. Sometime today I am going to have to face her. Sometime today, I'm going to have to be strong enough to stand by the fact that we're over, that the game isn't worth playing anymore. I stand outside my office for what feels like forever before I can open the door, certain that she's going to be inside.
Callie looks as exhausted as I feel, her eyes red like she's been crying. She's slumped in my chair, her hair a mess, her entire demeanor that of someone completely lost. I wonder what Sloan did to bring that on. It can't have been over me. She's never treated me like I'm someone worth crying for. She stands up to meet me, and I do the only thing I can. I leave, ignoring her plaintive "Erica" as I go.
The rest of the day, Callie always seems to be just a step behind me. Whenever I turn around, she's watching me, the look in her eyes something that I can't explain. She seems utterly despondent, and, even when I see Sloan trying to comfort her, she shrugs him off, heading towards me when she sees that I'm watching.
A week ago, that would have made my day. Now though... I disappear.
Day Three: More of the same, only now, even Sloan has noticed the way that Callie seems desperate to talk to me and I keep running away. I wonder what he's thinking; a dark part of me wishing that he's figured out our charade. I don't really know why, and neither option that my brain presents me with is something that I want to admit to having thought. I know though that he hasn't, that he probably thinks I "finally" made a move and Callie shot me down, and now I'm too ashamed to spend any time around her.
I almost wish that was the reason.
By the end of the day, I'm more tired than I've ever been before from the effort of staying away from her, Every time I see her, it reignites the battle between my mind and heart that I foolishly thought had been settled in the scrub room. My heart refuses to give in, no matter how much I tell it to. If I thought it would help, I'd give myself a bypass. Hell, I'd even let Yang do it, if it would bring some relief, some respite.
Day Four: I'm standing at the surgical board, trying to decide whether to change my schedule a little when the Chief pulls me out of my thoughts, his voice sudden and unexpected. If I hadn't been on edge for several days, overly aware of my surroundings in case Callie tries to catch me off-guard, he may have startled me. Instead, he gives me something to put a slight spring in my step. "Hahn. Walter Tapley is coming in today. Do we have anything special that he can scrub in on?"
I turn knowing that the surprise and slight joy is showing on my face. "Walter Tapley is coming here?"
O'Malley, the idiot, is standing right beside him, a pile of charts in his arms and an eager look settled on his features. He won't make a great surgeon, O'Malley; just like his friend, Stevens, he's much too invested. He doesn't know when to step away, to distance himself... and I never thought a part of my brain would be comparing me to him. Fortunately, his impulse to involve himself in a conversation involving two of his superiors brings information that might distract me for a few more minutes. And I'll more than happily take that. "The Chief was his student."
"You studied at the right hand of God? Wow." I can't help but let a smile cross my face, and I know it's clear in my voice. I'm impressed. I'm more impressed with Webber in this moment than I ever have been before. In the few short months I've been working here, I've been discovering that he's not as strong a leader as I had been led to believe in brief visits and employment negotiations. He has a staff who don't respect boundaries, or authority, and there's nowhere more dangerous for that than a hospital. It's just simple. Fear shouldn't run rife either, but here, the lack of fear is palpable. There is no leader who everyone is afraid to upset. In this moment though, I can almost forget all of that. Almost. He studied with a man I've looked up to my entire career. I don't know how to explain the awe that races through my body as I think about working with Tapley. It's a rush more powerful than almost anything I've ever felt before.
"We need something impressive."
Eyes narrowed, a reflection of how serious I am, I nod. "I will stab someone in the chest if I have to." Guess who's still at the top of that list? O'Malley laughs, but I don't think he realizes that I am deadly serious. I know that Sloan is somewhere around here, and I'd save him, especially with Tapley at my side. Though, actually Tapley might well be the only reason that I'd save him. It's so wrong that my anger is still mainly for Mark. It's her, Callie, his wife, that I'm angry at. I can't blame Mark simply for falling in love with her. After all, it's the mistake that I made. I know how easy it is to do.
"O'Malley" The Chief turns to said intern and I turn away, no longer needed here. I can't deny that the thought of meeting and working with Tapley, even if only for one day, brings a little joy into my world. I really needed this right now. Something concrete, vital and fascinating to keep my mind firmly away from Callie. Tapley may be overkill, but I'm not about to complain.
"Hahn?" I turn, a question on my face as I continue to walk "Plan to be free at ten." He doesn't need me to respond. He knows I will be.
At exactly ten, I stride into the conference room, completely ignoring O'Malley as he stands outside guarding Tapley from the wannabe surgical junkies that are his friends. The image I know I present is one of supreme confidence, of someone who knows her place, but I can't help that, inside, Dr. Tapley makes me a little nervous. This, for me, is like a political junkie meeting one of the Clintons, or a music fan meeting Springsteen, or Bon Jovi. I keep it locked inside though, leaning across the table to shake the hand that Tapley extends to me as Webber introduces me. "There she is. Doctor Erica Hahn, our chief of Cardiothoracic Surgery."
"It's an honor to meet you Doctor Tapley. I use your modified bypass procedure all the time." His grip on my hand is not as strong or sure as I thought it would be. He doesn't really look the way I was expecting either. On some level, it's a shock, but I know that, really, I should have been prepared for this.He's an old man now, after all, but it's strange to realize that I have put someone on a pedestal, despite my beliefs that I've never done that. I force away the insistent, nagging voice in the back of my mind that's chanting Callie's name.
"Yeah, well that was an afternoon well spent." His voice is deep, certain, resonating with an authority that I did expect, and I can't help the smile that tugs at the corners of my lips as I respond.
"You came up with that in an afternoon?" I want to believe him, even though I know, logically, that that would have been impossible. This man is a hero to me, someone who I've always seen as infallible, the perfect example of a surgeon. He eschewed family, love interests, maybe even friends to be the best he could be in the OR. It's something that I've tried - consciously or unconsciously - to emulate throughout my own career. Surgery always comes first. Surgery, I can always count on.
"It took him six years." My eyes shift to Richard as he looks to Tapley, a gentle, friendly reprimand in his tone.
"You're a killjoy, Webber." Webber laughs, shifting his hands. Immediately though, Tapley turns serious, and something in me senses that I'm not going to like what I'm about to hear, even in the split second I have to register anything before he continues, moving smoothly from the mild rebuke to a more solemn tone. "I didn't really come here for a visit." He casts his eyes down to the table, and the slight bouyancy that entered my mind this morning flees my body. He doesn't pause long though, cutting straight to the heart of the matter, like any good surgeon. " I have aortic and mitral stenosis with tricuspid regurge." My mouth falls open and my eyes shift slightly between the two men, only half-registering the shock and worry that settles on Richard's face. "I need a double valve replacement, and tricuspid repair."
For what feels like a long time, it feels like the floor has dropped out from underneath me. I was expecting to meet a legend, not have a consult on that legend.
"Are you sure?" It's Webber who breaks the shock that's overtaken all of us, and Tapley turns to his briefcase, pulling paperwork out and sliding it towards me.
"Charts. Echoes. Chest X-rays. Everything you need." Maybe it's slow of me, but it's only really in this moment that I register that he wants me to perform this surgery. I don't know what to feel. A part of me knows that this is an honor, really; that of all the surgeons in the country, even with Burke having won the Harper Avery just recently, it's me who Walter Tapley has chosen to fix his heart, but more than anything else, it's just shock that I feel. Fortunately, I don't have to find the words, Tapley's self-assurance restoring itself as he keeps talking, oblivious to the slightly horrified look that passes between Richard and I. "I may have invented the modified bypass, but I can't operate on myself... and my colleagues won't touch me because I have chronic a-fib, pulmonary hypertension, and a clot in my left atrium. They think if they operate, they'll kill me."
Just like that, every trace of the high is gone. "What makes you think we'll do it if your colleagues won't?" My voice is wry, and gives away none of the uncertainty that I'm most definitely feeling.
"I didn't start their careers. They can say no to me." He looks sideways at my Chief of Surgery, and I see the truth in his words register on Richard's face before he even says them. "Webber can't."
I can though, and I plan to.
"Absolutely not!" I'm standing in front of Webber's desk, having retreated to his office to discuss the bombshell that's just been dropped on my day. I shake my head, my arms crossed firmly across my chest as I look at the man seated in front of me, by tone not allowing for argument. I know Richard won't back down that easily, but if he thinks that I'll bow to the wish he hasn't yet expressed, but that I know is coming, he doesn't know me at all.
"Hold on, we haven't even dis-" He leans slightly across the table, gesturing emphatically, but it has no effect on me, and I cut him off before he gets the chance to broker any argument.
"Have you read the file? His pulmonary arterial pressure is through the roof!" My voice shows the strain I've been experiencing for the last few days. Hell, maybe for the last few months. I'm aggravated, and I have a right to be, but I wish it wasn't so clear in my voice while Webber presents a calm front. That's what I'm usually best at, but this is just too much. On top of everything, my Chief of Surgery wants me to risk my reputation - my career - on a surgery that's almost guaranteed to fail.
"He's aware of the risk." His tone suggests that he believes that's all the convincing that I'll need. He hasn't thought about this at all, I swear it, and I shake my head again, turning away, pacing across the room.
"Oh, well in that case, fine! I don't know what I was so worried about. I may go down in history as the surgeon who killed Walter Tapley, but hey, at least they're writing about me?!" My words tumble from my mouth without any real thought, a frown settling as I finish the outburst. I know this isn't all about Tapley. It's a combination of everything I haven't been able to express, all the anger and frustration that's built inside me. It's found an outlet now, and I'm working up to an explosion. I can feel it, and I try to temper it, but I don't know how successful I can possibly be. I normally have a strong grip on my emotions, but I can feel them slipping from my grasp, and I'm not entirely sure that I want to keep hold of them. It hasn't been helping so far. And there's only so much I can take before I explode. Maybe this is the opportunity I need to let go of some of that anger. As much as she deserves it, I don't think I can aim it at Callie.
"Erica, sit down." I do, but it's clear that I'm not comfortable. This is ridiculous. As if my life doesn't have enough drama lately.
"Let me tell you a story. 38 years ago when I was-"
"I'm sorry. Is this gonna be a story about how you were a struggling black med student who wanted to be a surgeon, and no one would give you a chance and Walter Tapley gave you that chance, he mentored you, and without him you wouldn't be in this hospital today?" Does he really think that he's the only one who had to overcome people's prejudices to become a surgeon? Does he really fail to understand that I've had to work harder than everyone else to be thought of as anywhere near as good as the others simply by virtue of my gender?
"Yes." His tone is flat, and I think he knows that - for now, at least - there's no further he can get with this discussion. His trump card hasn't worked, and I don't think he can flounder for anything else to convince me in this moment.
"I'm still not gonna operate on him." We sit in silence for a moment as Webber tries to stare me down. I'm not intimidated - I just stare right back. This is my call, and this is my decision. I am not going to risk killing this man. I've worked too long and hard to get to where I am. I won't be made a joke, and if I fail - which is likely this time - that's exactly what will happen.
I wasn't going to be with Callie, but then I was, and I broke myself by the time I picked myself up and found the strength to tell her that we couldn't - I couldn't - do it anymore. I'm not letting anyone else take my decisions away from me, no matter how much my ego taunts me with the idea of being the surgeon who saved Dr. Tapley. The risks are too high. I didn't get here by making stupid decisions, and my quota for idiocy has been more than filled by Callie Torres.
I'm sitting alone at lunch, picking at the salad I don't really want, hoping that hiding away in the corner of the cafeteria will allow me a little peace. It doesn't. I've only been here about five minutes when Callie slides into the chair across from me. I haven't seen her since she turned away from her husband yesterday, and it's a shock to see how broken she really seems. I'm broken inside, but I think I'm holding myself together fairly well. No one seems to have noticed that I've spent a lot of my free time in the last four days fighting off the tears, and the only person who looks a little worried when they see me is Bailey. I'm not sure if that's because she can see through the calm exterior to the turmoil that's raging underneath, or if she's waiting for repercussions from our little talk on the roof.
"Go away, Callie." I look back down at my food, pushing a limp piece of lettuce across the plate with my fork.
"At least I'm Callie again." She sounds small, devastated. I can't have done this to her. It's just not possible. I would have seen something to indicate that I matter to her, beyond a silly little fling, if that was the case. Something else must have happened. If she wants to talk to me about a fight she's had with Mark, I think I might scream.
The silence eats away at me, but I know she didn't leave. I can feel her eyes burning me, her gaze almost as branding as her touch.
"Erica. Please talk to me. I don't know how to make this right."
"You can't." At least, there's nothing she can do that she'll be willing to do. I understand why she's still by Mark's side, but she can't have both of us. And she chose Mark over herself. There's no reason she would choose me over him.
"There has to be something. I... I can't lose you."
I risk a glance up at her, hating the way my heart clenches at the tears that are welling in those eyes I've come to love. How could they have seemed so sincere when she was in my arms when this was always going to be the outcome? I don't know what to say. I know what I should say, and I know what I want to say, but those are two completely different things.
Before I can figure out whether my heart or mind wins, Webber appears. I'm absurdly grateful - until he speaks.
"I am the Chief of Surgery." This is ridiculous. I am the head of Cardiothoracics. That means that I have the last say on any surgery in my department - especially as I'm the one who has to cut him open. Webber is head of the surgical department at Seattle Grace because he's a good administrator along with being a good surgeon, but he does not know more about my specialty than I do. That's why he needs me.
"I am not killing Walter Tapley. I don't care who you are."It's simple, really. Does he think I'll back down on my principles and my career just because he says I should?
"Should I leave?" Well, maybe I'm thankful for Webber's absurdity after all.
"No." Or not. To add insult to injury, he turns back to me and continues trying to convince me that the best thing I could possibly do for my career would be to fail to heal one of the most important men in the history of surgery. I can't believe how stupid this all is. When did my life get this crazy? "He's dying anyhow. You'd rather see him die on my watch than under your knife?"
"I should leave." Callie starts to stand, but Webber's evil eye has her sinking back into her seat.
"I said no. Is there something going on with all the women that when I speak they simply ignore it? You don't leave. You, review the file again" He heaves a sigh as I roll my eyes. "And if either of you see my wife, you tell her the polite thing to do is to return a man's damn phone call." Callie and I look at each other as he walks away, trying to make sense of what the Hell has gotten into the Chief. If nothing else, it eased the awkwardness between us. For a few minutes at least.
Callie offers me a small smile, but it doesn't reach her eyes. I appreciate what she's trying to do, but seeing her like this... it shouldn't, but it breaks me more than I've already been broken. I stare at her for a long moment, sure that the conflict is clear in my gaze but unable to shut it down. I can be so powerless when it comes to this woman. I drop the fork to the plate and push myself up from the table. "I should go look at that file."
I don't wait around to see if she crumbles.
Therapy. The most terrifying word in the English language. And in a few others, I'm sure.
I've avoided it for years, but I finally accept that I need to talk to someone. I'd rather it was someone who didn't spend any time around the same people that I do, but Doctor Wyatt is highly recommended, and I really don't have the time to drive across town to see a therapist when there's one right here and available to me without even leaving the hospital. Her job is to be discreet, so my secrets should be safe with her, whatever I choose to tell her. I'm still not sure if I can share my conflict over Callie with her. I know what her advice will be, and I'm trying to follow it. The mistress never gets the happy ending, it just doesn't happen.
Luckily, today at least, I have plenty to deflect with. My frustration over Richard's refusal to listen to the myriad reasons I have for Tapley not to go under my knife has boiled over, and I honestly don't know what I'm more pissed at: that, or my inability to keep Callie out of my mind for more than five minutes at a time. Even if I wanted to, or knew where to start, I don't think I could talk about her. I'm in my workplace, dressed in scrubs, and just being with Callie - having been with Callie here is bad enough.
Dr. Wyatt sits quietly across from me, clearly thinking through what I've told her about my clash with the Chief, the look on her face telling that she knows I'm still holding something back. Today though is not the day that I'm ready to go into that. My thoughts are a jumbled mess, my head is still at war with my heart, my emotions much too close to the surface for comfort. I can't discuss them with any degree of clarity. She may be a therapist, but Wyatt is still a colleague, and I can't break down in front of her. I won't let that happen. I think she's waiting for me to break the silence, to tell her what I'm really feeling, but I'm more than content to wait her out.
"What exactly is it that you're afraid of?" It's a calm question, and I'm sure it wasn't meant to incense me, but it's exactly what it does, proof of the struggle I'm having to keep hold of my feelings, sparking the anger that underlies every other emotion. Anger at Callie, anger at Mark, at Richard... at myself. More than anything else, at myself. I try not to let it show, but it's there in my voice. "I'm not scared."
"Tell me then, Erica. What's the worst that can happen if you do the surgery?"
"What do you mean, 'what's the wor-' I could kill him!"
"Isn't he dying anyway?"
"That's not the point!"
"Then what is?"
I'm lashing out in directions that don't make any sense, but I can't control myself. That's almost more disconcerting than anything else. The words bubble to the surface, tumbling across each other in their urgency to be heard, to relieve some of the tension that's gathered across my shoulders since I started working here. "You're not a real doctor, so maybe you didn't take it, but everyone knows the Hippocratic oath 'first do no harm.' Does it sound familiar?"
I'm looking for a fight, but, to her credit, Wyatt doesn't rise to take the bait. "Will doing nothing help him?"
It stops me in my tracks, the realization washing across me that she's right. I don't have to like it, but doing nothing condemns him to death. It's really my reputation that I'm worried about, but would not doing this operation be helpful in any way? I have to admit that it won't be. Can I, in good conscience, allow him to die because people might take pleasure in my downfall if I fail to save him? I have confidence in my ability. I know I'm good. Hell, I know I'm great, and whatever happens, I can fight my way back to the top again. Can I let Walter Tapley die because I don't want to have to face that?
Before I can find any words to respond, there's a frantic knock on the door. For a moment, it seems as though Wyatt is going to ignore it, but, as the knocking continues, she sighs heavily, and we share a resigned look as she stands. I can't hear what's being said, as she stands in the doorway talking quietly with whoever is on the other side, and I don't really care. I'm fighting with myself again, one half of my brain still reluctant to operate, the other raring to go. I'm pushing aside the reluctance as well as I can when Wyatt closes the door, moving back to her chair. Before she can even sit though, the door bursts open and, unsurprisingly, really - she's at the center of the majority of the considerable amounts of commotion that happens in this hospital - Meredith Grey stumbles in, her mouth open and prepared to speak. I'm not really paying enough attention to know if she speaks or not, but I fix a deadly glare on her, allowing my frustration to enter my voice.
"Make an appointment, Grey. It's what we do." Just seconds after the door closes behind her, my pager goes off, cutting this session short. I reassure Dr. Wyatt that she'll see me next week as I leave. Truthfully, if I fail today, she'll probably be seeing me sooner. I'm chagrined to realize that it won't be about having killed Tapley. It will be because my failure is more likely than anything else to make it almost impossible to stay away from Callie. As much as it hurts me that she's not mine, when she's in my arms, the rest of the world falls away.
If I can't do this, I don't know if I'll be strong enough to stay away.
For the first time since I became an attending, I'm standing in an OR and I'm nervous. This has always been the place I can rely on, it's always been the one thing that never lets me down. Until Callie walked into my life, I'd never faltered. That changed a few days ago, but I've never felt anything less than certain when I'm standing here. This insecurity is new, and I need to shake it.
"Is everything alright?" Richard's eyes find mine across the table, a hint of impatience in his tone.
I try not to snap, knowing that I need to stay calm. "One of the founding fathers of Cardiothoracic surgery is on the table and I'm about to slice open his chest." I know my voice is shaking a little, and I curse it, but I can't stop it. This is reckless and stupid and I may be about to throw everything I've worked my whole life to achieve away. "Give me a minute."
In those few moments, I run through everything I've ever learned about this surgery, every step, every possible mistake I could make - or anyone else could make - that I need to anticipate. I run through every way this could go wrong, and reassure myself that I know how to recover if it does.
"Okay. Scalpel." My hands are steady, and I silently thank God that I at least have that as I take the scalpel from the scrub nurse, immediately moving to make the cut.
"Don't screw it up." How the fuck is that supposed to be helpful? I freeze for a moment, looking back up from where I'm poised to make the first cut.
"I am gonna kill you." Right now, I mean it with every fiber of my being. I'm not sure that I've ever meant anything more than the sudden impulse to kill my Chief of Surgery. But, before that can happen, I need to make sure that I don't kill a man that I've looked up to like a God for my entire surgical career. And that is easier said than done.
Nearly three hours later, we're nearing the end of the surgery. It's taken me a little longer than a normal valve replacement, but this is hardly an ordinary day for me. I'd rather be on my feet longer than I need to be than make a mess of it. So far, I've kept all possible distractions from my mind, and it's going well. As soon as that thought enters my brain, I try to banish it, but once it's there, there's not much I can do. And, like always recently, just when I think things might be okay, fate intervenes. I'm starting to think that I'm going to get us all through this, but when we take him off bypass, things go horribly, horribly wrong. "What the Hell is... there's a leak, go back on bypass. Now." I'm trying to keep the panic out of my voice, but I'm not sure I manage it. I have to trust myself though. This is high risk, but I've done the procedure a thousand times. I let my hands work, the actions a muscle memory as I think ahead, calculating every move, every option before I actually need to make it.
"Bailey, take the clamp off the aortic and venous lines." I know I can't do this alone, and that he's doing what needs to be done while I should be - and am - focused on repairing the tear, but just having Richard in the room with me right now makes the anger surface again. I lock it down, forcing my brain to stay where it needs to, even as it tries to drift off to ways that Webber will pay for his pressuring me into something that I knew should never have been done.
"The whole left atrium is torn where that clot was adhered." I call for the scissors. "This was a mistake." I lift my eyes briefly, making sure that he knows that my irritation is entirely for him. "Irresponsible and stupid and I cannot believe that I let you talk me into it." My voice is rising, my temper close to taking over, but my hands know what they're doing. I know what I'm doing. "My reputation's gonna be in the toilet at the end of this day. Dan Slocombe at Mercy's going to have a field day with this. Condescending tool that he is."
"Erica." Richard's voice is placating, but I'm in no mood to listen to him right now.
"Don't Erica me, Richard. It's not your good name we're going to destroy here today, much as I wish that it was."
"Doctor Hahn?" I don't know exactly what it is, but something captures my attention, and I look up at him, knowing that my eyes are widened with the flurry of emotions that are passing through me. "It's done."
I drop my gaze so rapidly that I feel a little faint, but what I see is almost flawless, no tear, no leak, nothing but a heart beating the way it should. Relief floods through my veins, the release of the day's negative tension too much to really articulate, even in my own mind. I move my hands away completely, and Bailey voices what we can all see.
"No leak. The repair's holding." Something about it being aloud makes it real. We didn't just get through this. We did what should have been impossible. I run my eyes across my work, noting every detail, checking carefully for imperfections, nodding almost absentmindedly as I realize that there aren't any. I don't know how, but we repaired Tapley's heart. I don't think there's any way to describe the rush of endorphins that flow through me. Or the hope that this gives me that it really shouldn't.
"You were saying?" Richard's voice draws my attention once more, and the irritation almost flashes again until I remember what we've just done, and a relieved laugh almost escapes me.
We got through this. I am a rock star. It's the first time in a long time that I really feel like I could take on the world and win. I still kind of want to kick Webber's ass though.
I didn't see this coming. I knew I wouldn't be able to resist the allure of turning to Callie for whatever false comfort she could offer if I failed, but I never foresaw that she'd also be the one person I'd want to turn to in my success. The elation I feel makes me want to kiss her hard, to let her know that, no matter what, I will be victorious in the battle for her heart, the same way I was victorious in the OR. I'm resisting the urge to hunt her down for one reason only - I haven't forgotten the pain of the last few days, and I'm a lot of things, not all of them positive, but a masochist isn't one of them. I don't want to share every bright moment with her. It hurts so much more when I come back to earth. After Richard's congratulations, I retreat to my office, the smile on my face unable to be tempered, until I realize that I don't really have anyone to share this with. Before I can really descend from the cloud I've been perched on since Tapley's heart beat in perfect rhythm once again, there's a knock on the door to my office. I look up to find O'Malley standing in the doorway, that deer in the headlights look of his firm upon his features.
"Dr Hahn, Dr. Tapley is awake and asking for you." I didn't realize that I'd been sitting here retracing my success for long enough for Tapley to wake up, but I nod, dismissing O'Malley without a thought. Glancing towards the clock on my computer screen, it startles me to see how late it has gotten. I don't need to make a decision tonight, and Callie has probably gone home already anyway. Before I can dwell too much on what that means, I stand, gathering my jacket and purse, deciding that stopping in to see Tapley will be the last thing I do before I go home for the day.
I stand just outside the door to the private room, uncharacteristically indecisive. Before I can fully gather the Dr. Hahn mask that's been slipping all day, I hear Tapley's voice, not reverberating and echoing with authority like it was this morning, but just a man who's only recently come out of anesthesia. I can do this. It's not a problem. I don't know why I even managed to convince myself that he's someone I should worry about. I saved his life today, against my better judgment. How can he possibly be anything but grateful? One last deep breath, and I stride into the hospital room, my facade sure, certain, even as my mind isn't even on this moment. Callie shouldn't be anywhere near my mind right now. A month ago, I'd have been hanging from this man's every word. Now, I'm distracted, impatient. I try not to let it show, and I think it works. "Dr. Tapley, how are you feeling?"
"Like a man who just had heart surgery." It could be a reprimand, but the tone of his voice is teasing, friendly, so I meet his smile with one of my own, hoping desperately that it doesn't seem forced. Before I can speak again, he continues, his eyes fixed on my face. I wish he'd look away so I could, but he seems to want to communicate the depths of his sincerity, so I look back at him, forcing myself not to fidget, or shift my stance too much. Even in a hospital bed, Tapley has a presence and an authority that it's hard to deny. "I wanted to thank you for what you did today. It was against your better judgment, I know. If there's anything I can do to repay you, don't hesitate to let me know."
"I'm just glad we got you through it." Glad is an understatement. I don't know how to respond to the rest of his words. I don't think there's anything he can do for me right now, but, Seattle Grace could easily become nothing short of a nightmare for me, and it might be useful to have a man as powerful as Tapley feel like he owes me something. Really, all I did was my job, but I think he knows, if not for his influence on the Chief, I would have listened to my instincts and never done the surgery in the first place.
"Well, I can hardly argue with that." He chuckles slightly, and I can't help the smile that pulls at my lips. Some day, probably in the not-too-distant future, I'll likely be thankful that they pushed me. Even Burke can't take this victory from me. This time, I took the long shot, faced something that seemed impossible... and it paid off.
Swallowing hard, trying to cover the complexity of emotion that's welling up, I murmur, "I trust you'll behave tonight."
"Of course." There's a twinkle in his eyes that says the nurses might report differently tomorrow morning, but I know whatever paces he decides to put them through, he's not about to do anything to endanger his recovery. "Is there anything I should be worried about?"
"The surgery went very well. I don't expect any complications, but-"
"That doesn't mean I should take any chances."
"I hear you did very good work today. You should be proud of yourself." He offers another smile, and I don't think I can hide how much his praise means to me. "Go home, Dr. Hahn. Get some rest."
"You too, Dr. Tapley." Smiling properly now, I start to leave the room.
"Dr. Hahn?" I turn back to Tapley, still looking small and weak, and nothing like the hero I've always believed him to be. His voice is still sure though. "A little... collegial advice?" I nod. "Don't make the same mistakes I have." I feel the frown settling on my features, and my mind immediately moves straight to Callie. "Don't forget to do what's best for you, not just for others."
I don't know that it's best, but I do know what I want. I wonder how that changes things. I don't ask though, choosing to offer him a small smile before I leave the room. Am I really going to give up this easily? Things got tough today, really tough, but I still pushed through. I wonder where else that might work. Is it worth the chance?
Is it worth trusting her enough to find out? I guess, the question I'm really trying to find an answer to right now is... is it worth the risk? I'm fighting a losing battle, I think. The longer I spend running away from her, the more compelled I am to see her. She draws me to her like a moth to a flame, and no matter how much I try to resist, I can't help burning myself every single time. I need her to know what she does to me, that I think I'm in love with her. I don't know what, if anything, that will change, but I'm certain that Mark doesn't let her forget that he loves her. That's a disadvantage I don't have to let myself have, and admitting to it will change nothing about the way I feel. But it might change everything for Callie. I have to hope that it will.
I'm not prepared for the sight that greets me as I step into the hallway outside my apartment. Callie's leaning against my door, looking small and broken. I hate that it hurts so much to see her this way. She affects me too much. I've never been this invested in another person before, and it feels like it might kill me every time I realize that I might be chasing an impossible dream. My head is torn between rushing to her, gathering her in my arms, whispering words of love and devotion against her neck as I breathe her in, or darting back into the elevator before she can see me. I stand frozen as my body tries to decide in which direction it needs to run, and it's only a brief moment before she looks up to meet my gaze. I know I decided I needed to tell her exactly what she makes me feel, but this is too soon. I thought I'd have time to figure out exactly what I need to say.
"It's not a game." Her cheeks are tearstained and it almost hurts to look at her. I don't know how long she's been sitting in the hall like this, waiting for me to get home, and as much as my head tells me to walk away, to leave, to go anywhere but here before she drags me back in, it tugs at my heart to see her this way. She looks up at me, her eyes wide, her lip trembling a little, tears on the verge of falling down her face once more. How can I have done this? It makes no sense.
"I love you so much it hurts." My heart is pounding so hard I'm sure we can both hear it. I feel like I'm frozen, sure that I'm imagining it. She's not been behaving that way, and I've wanted this so badly that it's entirely possible I'm going insane. "Erica, please say something." She's begging me now, the pleading look on her face hopelessly endearing. This is stupid and wonderful and terrible and everything I want.
As much as she hurts me, she stuns me with everything about her that makes her Callie. She's Callie. She's a better person than I even imagined, and I don't think I can criticize her for what she's doing. I wish I could... but I think she's trying to make us all happy in the long run. It's doomed to fail... but it's noble. I can't have her halfway, and I don't think Mark can either. I can wait for her to make a decision, and I'm not going to lay down and let her forget that I need her the same way he does. I've been struggling with this all day... but I think I've made a decision. I think I know that I'm in this all the way, wherever Callie wants to lead me. It's pathetic that I'll follow her even as she beats my heart into the ground... but I can't help it. I can't fight it, so I don't think it's worth it to even try.
There are still too many questions, so much we have to talk about, but I can't stop myself from going to her. It's like someone flicked a switch and reoriented my poles so that, suddenly, we're not both facing south anymore. She steps forwards to meet me and this... this is like coming home.
Her arms wrap around me, pulling me as close as she possibly can and I breathe her in, my face in her hair, her fruity. almost too sweet perfume like a salve to my heart. "God, I've missed you." She buries her face in my neck as she says it. so the words come out muffled - but she definitely says it.
I know better than to get carried away, but I feel almost dizzy with the relief of having her back in my arms. There's no way that we could ever fit together this well if we weren't supposed to be. I'm stupidly attached, especially given that nothing has really changed. Except that she loves me.
Callie Torres loves me. I have to swallow the hysterical giggle that bubbles up in my chest, a smile spreading across my face as she continues to cling to me, like she's been alone in the desert and I'm her oasis. On the heels of that thought comes Reality. Maybe this is as fleeting as the illusion of water in the stories. Maybe she's my oasis, and I'll dive in head first only to end up crumpled on the ground and covered in dust. I try to disentangle myself from her embrace, trying to prepare for the conversation I know we need to have, but Callie holds tight, a sob in her voice as she whispers, "Don't."
"Please baby, I need to feel you. I need to know that you're really here, that I'm not dreaming."
Trying to pull back enough to at least see her face, I cup her chin with my right hand and tilt her head. When her eyes meet mine and I see the sincerity in them, I have to force myself not to pin her against the wall and kiss her until neither of us can breathe, Swallowing hard at the image, I remind myself that believing in her feelings for me is what got us into this mess. I've never doubted that she loves me - or, at least, that she could - I've doubted her ability to put me, Hell, to put herself above Mark. There's still nothing here that's really changed.
Even as my brain tells me that, my heart is pounding a staccato beat, the rhythm sending her declaration of love racing through every part of my body. It's like a weight has been lifted.
Callie's soft voice breaks through the fog of my thoughts, "What?"
"I'm really here. You're not dreaming. But, we're in the hall, and I don't want my neighbors to hear us talk."
"Oh." There's a look of disappointment that flashes across her face that doesn't bode well. But, if she was hoping that we would fall back into the same pattern because of some pretty words, she's wrong. I've lost my head over her, and I know it, but I'm not that stupid. I'll never be that stupid.
I guess it's time to find out what Callie's willing to do to get what she claims she wants.
I leave Callie sitting on the couch while I bring two bottles of water from the kitchen. She looks up at me hopefully as I re-enter, her fingers barely brushing against mine as I hand her one of the bottles. A split-second decision has me taking the armchair to her right rather than joining her on the couch, and I watch as she tries not to show how much that decision hurts her. A small part of me feels victorious, like her pain validates my own these last few days - or weeks - but the bigger part feels ashamed that I can even think that. But, I remember what happened the last time we sat on my couch together, and my mind wins out, even as my body calls for Callie's touch.
Callie studies her hands like they're the most interesting things in the world, the thanks so muted that it barely exists. I nod in acknowledgement, no words coming to mind that do justice to how truly fucked up this all is. We sit in silence for a long time, both lost in thought. I wonder if we're thinking even close to the same thing. I desperately want to know what's running through her mind; how much her admission of love changes things between us from her perspective, but I'm not going to be the one who breaks the awkward silence. Honestly, I don't even know what to say. I don't know if there's anything I can say, or if there's any way back for us. Until I know what she wants from me - what she really wants - I can't make that decision. And the realization that she might just want more of the same is like swallowing razor blades; it rips me apart that badly.
I'm determined not to be the one to speak first, but, as the minutes drag on and the presence of Callie in my home when I'm not sure I want her to be here becomes unbearable, I realize that I'm going to have to. If only so this day can end. I think Callie's going to regret not speaking though. I don't have the inclination to make this easier on her, no matter how good it felt to have her back in my arms. Why should I be careful with her when my feelings have never seemed to be one of her considerations?
"What do you want?" All the pent up emotions that I've been hiding seep through the words and Callie's head snaps up from her intense study of the label on the water bottle.
"To talk to you."
A bitter laugh escapes me, and a part of me hates the look of hurt in her eyes. The bigger part is angry. At her, but, most of all, at myself. I still can't believe that I've let this become my life. "So talk."
"I don't know what to say."
"Because " She pauses, struggling for words, and I try to calm down, even as I brace myself for the woman I love to say the wrong thing again. I refuse to let myself hope that she's willing to lay herself on the line. She may have told me that she loves me, and I needed to hear it to remind me that I've not gone totally insane, but it's not the only thing I need to hear. Callie's voice shakes as she continues. "I don't think I'm going to get another chance, and I need to say the right thing. I need you to understand."
"Well I don't."
"I know that. And I don't know what to say to make you."
"Why don't you start with what you want?"
"You." The single word sets my heart beating faster, despite my intentions of not letting her get to me. Her tear-dampened eyes lock on mine, and I can't look away, the sincerity and desperation locking me in place. My brain doesn't stop racing, warring frantically with my heart. Nothing's changed, runs through my mind, a constant mantra reminding me that this, I've known for a long time. It's all the things I don't know that need answers.
I force my mouth to work, words seeping around the lump that's taken residence there. "More than Mark?"
I'm aiming for facetious, but it comes off bitter, and I silently curse my inability to control my emotions where this woman is concerned. I don't know how she gets to me so goddamn easily. I don't know why it has to be her who I feel this inexplicable connection to. All the women in this world who know what they want and are free to chase it, and Callie Torres, or Sloan, or whatever it is she thinks of herself as it the one my heart bleeds for.
"Mark it's complicated, Erica."
"So you've told me." She's repeating every placating comment she's ever made, and I hate myself for the brief moment in the hall that I allowed myself to hope that things are different now; that's she's had the wake-up call she really needed to make a decision once and for all. But everything she's saying now is to maintain the status quo, to keep me quiet while she plays the same come closer go away games she always has. I think maybe I'm starting to see who Callie is, a devil in an angel's body, and I don't think I like her.
But I still love her more than words can say. I can't reconcile my mind with my heart, and it's destroying me.
"I don't know how to explain it. Erica, baby, I want to be with you, but I can't this would destroy him."
My heart sinks like a stone. As much as I know I can't be with her if she's with him, it kills me to hear her say that she can't be with me. "Here's the thing, Callie. When is Mark, the man you 'don't love' going to stop being more important than the woman you claim you love 'so much it hurts'?" The last four words are almost mocking, full of a callousness I don't really feel. I wish I could feel it. Bringing us to the end that's inevitably coming if Callie can't make her own choice would hurt so much less if my heart wasn't cracking open inside of me.
"I lost his baby, Erica! I don't know how to tell him he's losing me too!" Her words drip with anguish, a whisper so loud that it feels like a scream. I knew this too, Addison gave me that much, but from Callie herself her pain is so deep it echoes around me, an unrelenting reverb as tears start falling from the eyes that have failed to deliver on every promise Callie ever made. Despite my resolve, I can't not go to her. I break like the clouds that hover over Seattle, tears burning my cheeks as I move beside her, pulling her into my arms. I'm making excuses for myself even as I do it: I can't watch anyone shatter this way and not try to comfort them; I can't keep my distance while faced with a pain this loud, but I know, deep down, that it's just Callie, it's just as much as she doesn't seem to feel the same, I can't watch the woman I love suffer. As much as I wish I was immune to her tears, I'm not. I don't know that I ever will be.
I can taste the salt on my lips as I continue to cry, Callie's tears soaking through the thin cotton of my shirt, the coolness burning my skin. I hate that, even now, I want to make everything okay for her, whatever the cost to myself. If I thought I could without making Callie miserable too in the end, I think I would. As much as I've spent the last few days convincing myself that I don't need her, that I can be okay with the end of us, I still hold onto the hope that she'll realize that she has to make herself happy and that if she loves me, she'll start thinking about what our relationship is doing to me. I know that Mark has been a consideration for her longer than I have been, that she's made commitments that she should never have made, and that she's in a difficult situation, but will she ever really look at me and know that this is just as hard for me? I want to say that I know she will but I know that I can't. I can give her time, even though I've already given her too much, but I can't be with her while she takes it. I can't get any further into this than I already am. If my heart is breaking now, what will another week, another month, or another year do to my heart when she decides that she'd rather take the safer road of being with him? I can't let that happen. As much as I know I'll wait for her I have to give myself a chance to survive if the moment that she's truly mine never comes.
Stroking silky hair, sliding my hand soothingly across the smooth contours of muscle and bone of Callie's shoulders, I can imagine her here in my arms every time she cries; I can see me kissing away her tears and promising that I'll always be there, swearing to make everything better for her, but the truth is, it's not my place. However much I'd give for it to be where she belongs when the world collapses around her, as much as I want to promise her that I love her and we can make this okay, I know I can't. She's the only one who can fix this. All I can do is promise to pick up the pieces if she chooses what's right for the two of us, instead of what's right for a man she thinks she owes something to. And maybe she does owe him something, but not this; not being the sacrificial lamb so that he can strive for an ultimately unfulfilling happy ending that will never come. Because if he loves her, truly loves her the way that I know I do, he can't be happy unless she is, and she swears that what makes her happy is me. If I could believe that she'd be happier with him than with me, I could step aside; I could break my own heart to see her smile. It would kill me, but it wouldn't matter. I'd walk away if her life would be better without offering her my love. But I know I've always known that's not the truth.
I still can't live in limbo. I won't let her destroy me as a result of her own self-destruction. I'm not going to tell her what she should choose, however much I want to yell at her that I'm the one she needs to be with but I can tell her that she has to choose. And no matter how she feels in my arms, no matter that even with her sobs wracking her body painfully against mine, and the way my heart aches more for her pain than it ever has for my own, the simple fact that a choice must be made hasn't changed.
When her tears stop flowing and she's clinging to me for more than comfort, I don't want to let her go. I take a moment to breathe her in, the sweet floral scent of her perfume and indefinable undertone of something that's all Callie, branding her on my lungs, memorizing the feel of her in case this becomes the last time we can be this close. She nuzzles closer against me, heat searing through my veins as her lips brush softly across the hollow of my throat and I pull away, still reluctant to let go of her, but determined not to lose my senses in her like so many times before.
Callie. I raise a hand to stop her leaning closer, elongating her name until it's a warning I don't want to have to issue. My fingers are splayed on her chest, keeping the distance between us enough that I can still think. I can feel the heavy pounding of her heart, and I swallow hard, fighting to keep the thoughts of her full lips on mine away from my mind. I can't, we can't keep doing this. The crestfallen look that settles on her features is almost too much, but I haven't forgotten how intensely it hurts to love her and know that someone else is loving her too; someone who, no matter what she says, has a far greater claim on her than I have. Even though I know now that she loves me, that she doesn't love him, I'm still feeling it. It permeates every atom of my body, and I can't be with her with that simple, unbelievably complicated, fact underlying every word, every touch, every kiss.
I love you. My heart soars at those words, and crashes in a ball of flames at the ones that follow, feeding the anger that's beginning to build again. I don't love him. Isn't that enough?
Not this time. I wish it was, Cal, but I can't share you. I just... can't.
I don't want to hurt him.
You're killing all of us. You're... he's hurting. I promise you he's already hurting, and I'm... I don't know what to say. I don't know if I can tell her how much it destroys me to only have a part of her, no matter how big a part of her she claims that is. I'm... I can only be your friend if you're with him.
I need time, Erica.
Six months ago, that's what I thought. I thought you'd see that... I thought you see that you don't want him as much as you want me, but I'm not sure anymore.
It's true. I've never wanted anyone as much as I want you. I just... I need to figure out how to tell him. Erica... he loves me.
I love you. I love you. And you say you love me, but you won't let us have the chance to see if we can be together. I'm not asking you to commit to me, Callie. I'm asking you to let us see. If you don't love him-
I don't. Not like I love you. Her eyes are welling, and I can feel her sincerity, but I can't let it wear me down. She needs to know what the rules are, where the line is. She needs to see that I can't be her dirty little secret anymore.
If you don't love him... why are you still with him? I know it's hard to break someone Callie and with your history " I pause, searching for words, hoping that something I say will make her understand that this is something that has to be done if she wants us to be together," but on some level, he knows that what you have isn't what it should be... and I can't watch you leave me to go back to him again. It breaks me every time.
"It's him or you, is that what you're saying?" Her voice is small, but I know that I'm doing the right thing. It may not feel like the right thing to push her away when all I want to do is wrap her in my arms and never let her go, but I know that it is. If she won't be with me, then I have to give myself a chance to heal. I have to give myself my life back.
"I can be your friend, Callie, but I can't do this dance anymore." I don't know what torture even that closeness might become, but I've found it as difficult to be away from her in the days since I told her that I couldn't keep on the way we have been as she seems to, and I'm not sure how much longer I can force myself to outwardly pretend that she means nothing to me. "I want more than just a game. I want to be with you, really be with you can you honestly say that this is enough for you?"
She stares down at the floor again before pushing herself up from the couch, moving away from me. I don't know why, but it gives me the time and space I need for clarity of thought, and I'm thankful for it. She watches me silently before whispering "I can't."
I'm not sure what she means. I hope she means that she can't tell me that this life in the shadows, secret love act is enough for her, but she could still be talking about telling Mark. I search out her eyes, noticing the shadows that swim within them, the clouds that obscure her thoughts from my gaze with images of an abiding sorrow. I don't even know that I'm holding my breath until her next words expel it from my lungs in a relieved sigh that's almost a laugh. "I wish I didn't have to hurt him."
"I know." I wish it was possible to make that happen for her, but at least we're moving forwards maybe. I won't be able to breathe easily until I wrap her in her arms and breathe in the freedom to love her until I can feel her love without the shackles that bind her to someone else tingeing us with melancholy. The regrets that haunt me won't disappear until I can kiss her without the knowledge that we can't belong to each other looming behind every caress.
"How much time do I have?"
"I don't know." It's a lie, but I know I can't tell her that I'm willing to wait forever with the promise that she'll eventually be mine to cling to. Even though I hate the way we're both behaving, how indecisive she is, how weak I am, I feel like she's the other half of me, the part that I've always felt is missing.
Picking up her purse, Callie's head is bowed; her shoulders slumped like the weight of the world rests on them.
"Callie." I stand as she turns back to me, her eyes misted and shrouded with emotions I can't name. Hope shines through beneath them, and I don't know if that's something to hold on to, or if it means that she's still praying that I'll change my mine and decide that this half-life is enough for now. I can't deny that my heart is tempted, but my head knows that, if I back down now, I'll always be backing down. Unless I give her a reason to choose, I don't think she ever really will. For some reason, she seems to think that lies and deception form the easier path.
I know as well as anyone that the easier path isn't always better.
"Yes?" She sounds so small, and I want to sweep her up in my arms and tell her it will all work out, but I know I can't promise that. And that allowing myself that close will just make things harder for both of us.
"What does your heart tell you?"
Her eyes find mine, and I believe every word she says; I feel it, all the way to my core "That I love you."
I know I should just let her go, but I walk her to the elevators, reluctant to leave her presence. It brings me as much comfort as it does pain, and I'm not ready for the hurt to hit me again. Somehow, even this lack of resolution has brought me a little clarity, and I'm keen to hold on to it. I think it might only stay while she's close enough to touch if I want to, while it's my own choice that I'm not holding her.
We stare at each other for a long time before I whisper "I'll see you at work?" Callie nods, and her eyes burn through me as I try to decide whether or not to hug her.
It's a moment's hesitation, but Callie sees it - and uses it - for what it is; an opportunity, a weakness that I fear will always be there when it comes to her. Her lips are on mine before I have time to realize she's even leaning in to kiss me. I wish I could claim some resistance, but I can't. I think I've used up all my willpower on insisting that, until she leaves Mark, friends is all we can be. I'll take this kiss, this intense, powerful, hungry need for her and use it to sustain me until she's really mine.
I know I'm shaking as I wrap my arms around her, tasting my sorrow on her tongue as it dances against my own. A need for oxygen overrides the desperation to feel her against me, and I reluctantly pull away, unsure when, if ever, we'll really be free to pursue the love that flows between us so poignantly. Our foreheads rest together, and I open my eyes to see the sorrow I feel reflected in velvet shades of brown. My cheeks feel wet, and I know I'm crying for everything we could be if life wasn't standing in our way.
If Callie wasn't standing in our way.
Closing my eyes, I take a deep, shuddering breath and step backwards. It feels so wrong to move away from her, but stepping back is exactly what we're doing, into a past that I'm not sure ever existed. I don't know how to just be friends with the beautiful woman in front of me, but, for now at least, I know I have to learn. It's a harder lesson than anything that's come before, a class I'm not sure I can ace, a challenge I don't know how to overcome.
Once I feel the distance is enough to stop me racing back into her arms, I let myself look at her. Callie's face is as despairing as I feel, and I clench my hands so hard it hurts, tensing my body against the urge to soothe her, to promise her that things will be okay, that we can endure this parting and become stronger. The words would be empty though. I don't know that they're true. While Mark is still in her life like he is now, I can't give in. I've compromised so much for Callie, but I can't back down on this. I can't fall back into the way things have been. I won't suffer that way.
"Friends." It's not a question, but it almost sounds that way as I force the words around the harsh lump that's settled in my throat.
Friends don't kiss like that. Her words are soft, laced with emotions I can't describe.
And we're not going to. Firming my jaw, I blink rapidly against the fresh onslaught of tears. She takes a small step forwards, and I reach towards the door, longing to lock myself behind it, clutch a bottle of wine, and lose myself in the tears I've rescinded the right to cry over her. Callie freezes at my obvious urge to flee, her lower lip trembling slightly as she looks at me.
The whisper carries across the distance between us like there's not a huge obstacle blocking our path towards each other: "I love you."
I still believe her, and I'm powerless against the answering confession. I'm not sure I'd want to stop it if I could. I need her to know, to remember as she lies beside him tonight that I wish things were different with an urgency that surpasses desperation. "I love you too, Callie. So much."
As I watch, she steels herself, a deep breath swelling her chest as she straightens her back, knowing that this had to happen, that she has to leave to come back to me. The adage of setting something free has never resonated so well, or seemed so cruel. "I'm going to tell him."
"I'll be waiting."
The sad thing is; I know that that's true.
She turns away from me so slowly that I know the pain is wracking her body the same way it is mine, but she's the one with the power to change it. I try to watch her leave, but the tears spill over, blurring my vision. By the time I've forced them back, she's gone.
Trudging back into my apartment, I collapse back against the door. I hope that this is the last time I kiss her and have to watch her walk away; slowly sinking to the floor as I let my sorrow overtake me.
I wake up with the sore, reddened eyes that always follow a night of crying, the detritus of the night's sadness on the coffee table in front of me. The empty wine bottles speak of further explanation for the pounding in my head than the dampness that I can still feel against my cheek. I've never, ever let a woman get to me like this, and I couldn't explain why Callie is the exception to a lifetime of rules if a gun was held to my head. She just is.
What she also is, is married. I force that thought to the forefront of my mind, hoping it provides the impetus I need to stop wallowing in my own misery.
Apparently, at some point last night before I really started drinking, I had the wherewithal to know that I was on a downward spiral that would require Tylenol this morning. I'm obscenely glad of that as I struggle onto my elbows and dry-swallow two of the tablets.
As soon as the throbbing in my head starts to dissipate, I become aware of another ache, flashes of the night's dreaming emerging through alcohol-induced fog to replay on an endless loop.
Callie, her eyes clear and smile bright, whispering "It's always been you" as she captured my lips in a soul-searing kiss.
Long caramel legs wrapped around me, heat emanating between us as slick warmth slides easily against me, Callie's urgency to touch and be touched matching mine.
Soft lyrical proclamations of love; whispers that soothe the battle that rages inside me, the tone no longer just imaginary, the sound of "I love you" from her lips the exact twin of her words from last night. With every touch against my hyper-sensitive skin, Callie bestows a butterfly kiss on my lips, "I love you" warm as it washes over me, surrounding me with its reality, with the overjoyed feeling that erupts in my chest.
But it wasn't true, just a dream, and I'm still in limbo, waiting for Callie to make a decision that she swears is easy, yet seems to be taking too damn long. And I can't help but wonder if none of the things I've wondered are true. Maybe Callie just likes having both of us on puppet strings, dragging us wherever she needs or wants us next.
In the shower, I try washing away everything that's passed in the last twenty-four hours, willing myself to lose or at least hide my soft underbelly. It doesn't work, as the images from my dreams flood over me, leaving me wet from more than just the shower. As I soap my breasts and then stomach, I consider sliding lower, bringing myself the release that my body demands. It would be so easy, but I'd be thinking of Callie, and, right now I don't want that, so I deny myself the satiation I crave. I know it will leave me on edge, which in the hospital might equate to mean, but mean might be exactly what I need to make it through the day. I don't know which incarnation of Callie I'll be faced with after she's had the night to think about my ultimatum. I'm not sure I'm ready for it.
The second Callie sees me, she bounces towards me, and though I feel my brow furrowing slightly in my confusion, she has me wrapped in her arms before I can really try to understand what's going on here. I can't stop the question slipping past my lips as my arms encircle her without conscious thought or decision, "What are you doing?"
Her face nuzzles against my throat for just a second and I feel her smile against me as my pulse picks up speed at even this simple contact. Whatever her aim, she's not making things easy for me. "I'm saying hi to my friend." She releases me, and I loosen my grip as she steps back, my arms falling back to my side. She's too close, but not close enough to arise suspicion. The flowery scent of her perfume floats around us, and, despite myself, I breathe her in, cursing how weak I am around her.
Eventually, her body heat diminishes, my mind clearing further with each step back she takes. Even as I'm relieved, I'm disappointed, and the incongruity of the conflicting emotions throws me; just another of the hundred things I hate about the way my feelings have betrayed me, over and over again since I met Callie.
Seattle Grace was supposed to be a step forward for me, but I feel like I'm a teenager again, fighting with everything I have against feeling I don't understand.
We stare at each other for a long time, emotions racing across Callie's eyes so fast that I barely have time to register them. A cocky "Ladies" is what breaks our gaze. I turn, expecting to see the last person on earth I want anywhere near Callie, and I'm inordinately relieved to see Karev standing beside us, a thoughtful look on his face. It's almost as though he's putting the pieces together and figuring us out.
If he can, then so can anyone else, so I turn away, heading rapidly for my office. I don't want Mark to hear it on the grapevine, or to figure it out. I want to know that she told him. I need to know that she chose me, that she didn't come to me by default. I need to be able to trust that she wants to be with me as much as I want to be with her.
I said we could be friends, but I don't think we could ever only be friends. There'd always be something more lingering beneath the surface.
So I'll have to do the only thing I can.
Despite my best intentions, that plan lasts until lunch. I take it late because a surgery ran until two. By then, I'm starving, and I'm pretty sure I won't be at risk of running into Callie, so I'm shocked when I walk into the cafeteria and she's sitting at our table, my usual salad on a tray with a soda in front of the empty space across from her.
My hesitation shows as I make my way towards her, trying to decide if it might be better to run in the opposite direction. It's probably not a great plan if I want to avoid conflict, so I keep walking as though I'm facing my judge, jury, and executioner. Callie's greeting holds a hint of infuriation, "Friends do eat lunch, Erica!"
I nod, trying to lighten up; to look and feel like I'm just talking to a friend. My smile feels forced, and it's clearly how Callie sees it too, muttering under her breath, "Don't try too hard, Hahn."
"This isn't easy, Torres," is my immediate response, and I see her flinch at the venom I tried to keep from my tone. I'm angry again though, and I wish I could keep my emotions under control where Callie's concerned, or that I could at leas understand them. She studies my face intently, reading me as easily as if I had my thoughts tattooed across my forehead.
I can see that she's picking her words carefully, slowly maneuvering across the minefield to attempt to soothe me. "I know that this is hard. I do. But it's just a little while, Erica. We just have to do the friend thing a little while."
"I don't think I can." I push lettuce across my plate. It looks as lackluster as I feel, and I sigh heavily, trying to avoid Callie's gaze. To meet her eyes might mean the downfall of my resolve, and I hate every time that my weakness is revealed to this woman. I still don't really understand exactly what's so special about her. I just know that she is. Maybe if I could unpick it, decode it, unveil the enigma that is my love for her, I could tackle it, or even beat it, but no matter how hard I try, I can't.
"It's too hard to just be your friend, Callie. I don't know how."
"We were friends before." She sounds small, and I still can't look at her, unsure which section of the rollercoaster I'll be propelled to by her face. As best I can, I need to remain calm, to get through this with as little emotional scarring as is possible.
"Not really. We tried and failed to be just friends." It's true, and I know that even she can't deny the veracity of my statement. We tumbled over a friendship line that was two feet behind us when we first met, and now we're clawing to get back to a point that never existed for us. It's a losing battle that I don't have the energy to fight. All I can do is try to stay out of the trenches while she decides on a strategy, a plan of action, a way for us to go forward without taking two steps back.
"We just need practice."
"No. We don't. We need space. I need space." To not hurt every time I see you, is the thought that I leave unspoken as I push my chair back and lift my tray from the table. "Thanks for lunch." I don't turn around as I leave the cafeteria, not wanting to bear witness to the crestfallen look on her face.
I expect her to leave me alone after that; to let me have the time and space to push my feelings to the back of my mind. I can't let myself be around her anymore if I want a chance to recover if her promises don't come true. I expect her to have that much respect for me.
But I'm not surprised when she doesn't.
As I step out into the drizzle that so aptly matches my mood, even in the darkness I see someone sheltering under an umbrella on the bench furthest from the lights that flood the hospital entrance as though it's the middle of the day. I briefly wonder who's sitting there, but I push the thought down as the options flash before me and Callie is one of them. My heart speeds up at the thought, and I can't tell if its anticipation or anxiety that moistens my palms. I wish it could be neither. I wish I could be oblivious to her.
I'm cursing myself for not being able to keep her beneath my radar as I walk past the bench, and I'm halfway through a sigh that might be relief when a voice caresses the syllables of my name. It can only be Callie. No one else has ever sad my name that way but her. She lets it roll across her tongue, as though it's a precious secret, the most treasured sound. When she says my name that way, it's a siren call that I can't refuse, any more than I could let a patient die so I don't have to tie back my hair. It's an automatic reaction to turn to face the sound.
She's looking up at me from mascara-stained eyes, as though she's been caught in the rain although the evidence says otherwise. The darkness has her shadowed from me, difficult to read in a way she's never really been before. My heart feels like it's beating out my chest as I take a shuddering breath and move, almost against my will, to sit beside her. I don't know if I should be hopeful as I arrange our umbrellas so they don't bump together. I'm getting a little wet now, the rain splashing against my jacket, but I focus on her, trying not to let myself jump to conclusions. I try to tell myself that she could be here to tell me that she can't leave him, that she can't ask for a divorce, that she can't tell him that she doesn't love him. I can't see it though because I know she loves me and some part of me trusts implicitly in her heart, no matter how often she cracks mine open.
It takes all the willpower I have not to brush her cheek as I ask "What's wrong, Callie?"
"I don't know how. I know I have to, I just don't know how."
"You don't know how to do what?" The melancholy tone her voice has taken on throws me, and I have to hold tightly to the umbrella and clench my other fist to stop myself reaching out to pull Callie into an embrace. As much as it hurts me to be around her, the pain that cuts through me at the sight of the woman I'm not allowed to love so lost is sharper than that. The dark trails of makeup across her face tell me everything I need to know about her emotions, and I hate that she's hurting. I hate that I hate that she's hurting when I'm broken because of her.
"I've never had to do this before." Her eyes well up with fresh tears and I have to remind myself that she's not mine to comfort, and that I'm supposed to be remembering how to live without her.
"Callie, what are you talking about?" I can't be her friend, I can't be her lover, and I don't want to admit even to myself the reasons why this pulls at my heart, ripping it further to shreds. I'm a heart surgeon, and I didn't think it was possible for a heart to be more damaged than mine already was, but every day, Callie makes me feel more than anyone else ever has. I don't know if that's a good thing or not, if it confirms that what we have is worth fighting for, or is incontrovertible proof that Callie's no good for me, but I know I was telling the truth when I told her I'd be waiting, no matter how long it takes her to leave Sloan. She makes me more Erica with every smile. But she's not smiling now. Her sadness and confusion is painted in broad strokes across her face, her sorrow contorting her into a Callie I've never truly seen before.
I hate that all it does is make it harder for me to walk away.
I know I should tell her to find someone else to talk to, to call Addison, because Addison knows that Callie and I share something different than she and Mark do, but I can't leave her this way. For the first time in days, maybe even weeks or months, all the shards of my heart are dragging me in one direction, and it's not away from the woman who destroyed everything I thought I knew about myself. I've always tried to lead with my brain, but when emotions this strong are involved, can anyone really do that? So, I wait for Callie to answer, for the woman I love to articulate what has her a confused mess. I think I probably already know, but I can't be sure. I don't know how I feel that she might be asking me for advice on how to tell Sloan that they're over, that she doesn't want to be with him anymore, that there's someone else. Part of me feels like that's something we should do together, the discussion of the hows and whens and wheres, but another part just wants her to be certain, to do it now, to prove to me that there's no question in her head or her heart as to who she truly wants to be with. And even if she did it yesterday, at this point, would that be enough to quell the questions that have overtaken me, the doubt that grows with every minute she's someone else's to love?
"I don't know how to tell him about us."
And there it is, exactly what I was fearing, and I know now how I feel about Callie wanting to talk to me about Mark. It makes me sick to my stomach to think about them even in the same room, and I don't need to hear all the reasons this is hard for her, especially since thanks to the friend she should be talking to instead of me I already know. And it wasn't until that thought that I realized how much it bothers me that Callie's not the one who told me why she almost feels obliged to stay with her husband.
Callie, though, is oblivious as she continues, "I've never had to break someone's heart before. I don't know how."
That's possibly the only thing she could have said to give me the impetus to leave. "You know how." My words are full of the resentment I've been trying to pretend I don't feel, and I'm moving away from her almost before I realize it.
Callie's on her feet too, and, maybe for the first time, I don't see how beautiful she is, or how desperately I want her. I see the woman who's crushed my heart with almost every move she's made, the woman who seemed happy to keep doing that until recently, giving me just enough to keep me beguiled by her, but not enough to ever truly make me happy. Instead of seeing her strength, I'm seeing her weakness, her idiocy, and all the things I've been completely blind to. "No, I don't. Erica, I've never broken someone's heart!"
I'm stunned; shocked into silence and stillness, a breathing statue with racing thoughts. They're running too quickly for me to really grasp them, and even though I want to leave, to escape this conversation, this hopeless situation I was stupid enough to trap myself in, I can't. I'm trying hard not to unleash my anger, and as the gap between Callie and I diminishes, I lose sight of why. "You break mine every day."
The words are hissed, the venom real, and it stops Callie in her tracks the same way her words did me. How can she not have seen this? I thought she got it, I thought she knew how much I love her, how much I need for her to love me. I was sure that she finally saw how it's destroying me to live this way, in this limbo I can't escape as long as she's around me.
She doesn't. She so clearly doesn't, and I find the strength somewhere inside to just walk away. I take two steps before the tears start falling, but my stride doesn't falter, and I ignore the sobs that ring in my ears; both mine and hers.
The following day, I'm not scheduled to work, and instead of actively avoiding Callie the way I did the last day I had off, I passively ignore her. I don't want to see her, talk to her, or so much as hear her voice until the words she's saying are that she's left him, or that she's not going to leave him. I don't want to even acknowledge that she exists until she's made a final decision, either way. I need to think about myself instead of her for a while, and so that's what I try to do. I laze in my apartment, refusing to do anything I don't expressly want to do. The irresponsibility is nothing like me, and I'm surprised to find that it feels good. I set no goals, no timetable, and although there's a paper I could be writing, laundry and cleaning that needs to be done, and cupboards that should likely be stocked, I put no pressure on myself at all. I read one of the books I've been meaning to pick up for a long time, and though most people probably wouldn't consider a text book about forensic science to be light reading, something about it fascinates me. I think it's the attention to detail, the specificity that's both familiar and foreign to me. That world is so different to my own, and yet it stems from the same principals, and the same scientific advancement. Whatever it is, it's interesting and involving enough that it takes my attention entirely away from the hospital and anything and everything there.
It's getting dark before I decide I should find something to do, and I'm amazed that the day has passed so quietly and quickly. Before I hit on the idea of reading something unrelated to work, I was a little like a caged animal, wanting to relax for one day in my all-too-stressful life but not really knowing how to do that. Even as I sat down though, I was thinking I'd kill an hour or two and that that would probably be interrupted by the shrill ring of my cell phone; the woman whose name I refused to think doing everything wrong again. But the day passed in peaceful silence except the iPod playing on the speakers in the corner of the room, and though I've achieved nothing, I feel good about it. I'm no further forward with the decisions I need to make, but, for today, that's okay. For today, I've almost managed to forget about the pain that's ever present in my chest.
Before I go back to work though, I need to figure out how to handle this thing that Callie and I have devolved into. I have to know how I'm going to handle her, if I'm going to engage her at all. And I have to get out of this apartment to do that. If I let all the memories of Callie in, as I'm sure I'm going to have to, I can't do that where I live. It has to be somewhere that's already tainted by the memory of her, somewhere that I can't make it more difficult to be if this doesn't turn out the way I hope. I knew when I got into this thing - this more than friends but never lovers mess - that she would probably never leave Sloan for me. Somewhere along the way, I lost sight of that. I don't know if it was in that bar with her breath warm on my throat and her jealousy at the eyes of another woman on me, or if it was when she near as begged me to kiss her, one leg across my body and determination in her eyes, or if it was later than that, but I forgot the one rule I've always known; all cheaters are the same, they will never, ever leave their partner for their mistress, and even if they do, you can never truly trust them. Somewhere along the way, I decided that this was different somehow, that Callie and I could be the exception. It might not be. We might not be. I'm starting to see that now. I have to go back to work tomorrow, and I have to know how best to face her. My apartment already holds the essence of Callie, but I don't want to make it worse, and, other than the hospital, there's really only one place I can go that will forever be a tangible reminder of her whatever happens tomorrow, or the day after.
Shrugging on my jacket, I check the pocket for my keys and grab my purse. The jeans and sweater I've been wearing all day are adequate for silent contemplation on the waterfront, even if it will still be busy at this time of day. That may be better, even. In public, I can't let my emotions take control and my brain can lead this battle with my heart for a change. The other way round hasn't been serving me well recently and it's about time my mind got its fair share of decision making.
The day hasn't been quite as lonely as I intended for it to be though. When I head for the door, I notice a piece of paper has been slid beneath it at some point during the day. I fully expect it to be some kind of communication from the management of the building, though this is the kind of place where any correspondence is kept in locked cubby-holes for each apartment. I can't think of anything else it could be, so it doesn't even occur to me that I shouldn't pick it up.
I turn the paper over, and a scrawl that shouldn't be familiar, but is, meets my gaze. Erica, I miss my friend. We were friends, whatever you say, and I miss that. I miss you. Can you just be Erica again and I'll just be Callie? Please? It's signed off with a kiss that she's crossed out and then replaced, as though she couldn't decide where the friends line is drawn for us. The thing is, we were about 2 feet across that line before we even began anything that anyone could definitively say is something more than friendship, really. Emotionally we were over that fence a long time before I learned that making love to Callie is the most incredible experience I've ever had, even with the anvil that hangs above us in the form of her marriage. We're so far past that line at this point that I don't know if I could find it again, even if we could go back. And yet, even knowing that I can't be near her without feeling things I'm not allowed to feel, without falling back into a pattern I've sworn not to repeat, the simple note warms something in my chest, and I find myself reconsidering the strict lineation I've already mapped in my mind as I drive downtown. What can I allow myself to have with Callie without making this situation impossible for myself? I don't know.
I'm no closer to reaching an answer when I sit down on the bench closest to the spot that I felt Callie's lips against mine for the first time. I want to be as specific as possible. I don't want the entire of the area around Pike's Place to become some kind of painful reminder. I still want to be able to come here. One of the reasons I brought Callie here the night I decided I was going to take a chance on her was that I love it so much. It's so beautiful and full of life, a reminder of everything I work so hard to give people. It's full of people living their day to day; the good, the bad and everything in between, and yet it can be so full of peace when the noise dies down. It's a place where it's okay to be alone, because you're not really alone. There's no one to try to make you talk, yet with just a few steps, you can be swallowed into a crowd and feel like you're a part of the heartbeat of Seattle. This place, this life, this atmosphere it's why I didn't look beyond Seattle Grace when it felt like it was time to take a step up towards the ultimate goal of Chief of Surgery at Hopkins. A part of it, at least. Seattle has felt like home for so long, and it's where I learned to be self-sufficient, to make my own way through life, to take charge of my decisions and my future. That's what I need to do now. It's what I needed to do six months ago, but late is definitely better than never. This waterfront has helped me sort through the pieces of my life when it's felt like it's crashing around me before, and I'm hoping beyond hope that it can help me do it again.
I soon find that the problem with this spot has become that it's the place I was probably happiest to be in Callie's arms. I was so innocent back then in the joy of feeling her body warm against mine, in the intoxication that began with that first kiss. I didn't know the pain that would come, I didn't know anything but that Callie was beautiful, fun and captivating, and she was kissing me back. That was amazing to me back then, that I could be so interested in her at that she might maybe return that interest almost blew my mind, and I could probably make an argument that it actually did. Because my mind sure hasn't been leading me recently. I've not come back here since that night, and the memory washes over me easily, tinting my thoughts with a hope that I have no reason to feel. I hate being out of control, and that comes as a surprise to no one who's so much as heard my reputation, and being unable to dictate the flow of my thoughts and the reactions of my body is like a nightmare that I can't wake from, at least with things the way they are. I can't be with Callie, but I can't truly want to be away from her.
As the air grows colder and the darkness folds in around me, I stare across the water, not seeing the lights of the boats as they float easily across the deceptively calm surface. I know that beneath the tranquil appearance, the water eddies and swirls, but from my standpoint, it's clear as glass. I run through everything that's brought me to this moment, and I'm still not sure where to go from here. This should be easy for me. It should be a simple matter of right and wrong but it's not. It's wrong to knowingly chase a relationship with a married woman, it's wrong of Callie to look outside her marriage for the things she should be getting from it, but when we're together and it's just us with no outside distractions, it feels so right, like the world is finally falling into place. It's wrong of Callie to try and put me in a position where fighting my feelings is so much harder, wrong of her to push for friendship when the lines that define us can shift so fast, but I understand the reasons why she wants that. I can't fault her for not wanting to lose me, for wanting to remind me of how great we could be together in a different situation, because I want those things too. I want to be close to her, even if we can't be together, but I don't know if it's something I'm capable of doing. It's a vicious circle, and it's a habit that I have to break, but I can't see how. I can't see a decision that doesn't make me miserable. The only thing that stands a chance of stopping my heart from breaking is a decision that only Callie can make, so the only question I can really ask myself is, how long do I wait?
Eventually, the cold urges me into one of the many bars that surround the area, and before I walk in, I make sure that I notice the name. This isn't a place I want to accidentally find myself in again, since tonight I intend to wallow in my misery somewhere that breaking down isn't an option. If there isn't an easy cure for the hurt that resides in my body over Callie Torres, I have to learn to live with it until time gives me clarity and perspective, or Callie finally commits to trying for a real future with me instead of a life of hiding in the shadows and waiting for Mark to leave before I can steal some happiness from her embrace.
Ordering whatever beer is on tap, I settle at the bar stool furthest from the door. As I cast my eyes across the room, I notice a woman who can't seem to stop glancing my way. I'm not really interested, but it feels nice to know that Callie isn't the only possibility for me. She might well be the only one that I want, but that won't always be the way. If I have to, I'll get over her; I'll survive the heartbreak. I may never have compromised everything I am for someone before, but I have loved before, and I didn't just give up when that relationship ended. I may not be able to see it right now, but whether Callie makes it possible for us to try to be together, or I get tired of the waiting, there will be an end to the purgatory in which I'm languishing. So, even though I still have no answers, and the only idea I have for dealing with Callie is still to avoid her, I have found hope to cling to tonight, and I suppose that makes it a worthy excursion. It's not what I was looking for, but I'll take it.
"Pirates or ninjas?" I frown as I turn towards Callie's voice in the doorway, trying to keep all emotion from my voice. The tumult that rises inside me at the sight of her is impossible to quell, so I'm just trying not to let her see it. I think it works well enough; she hesitates before taking a step towards me. I knew I should have hidden myself away in my office, but I needed to feel the motion of the hospital around me, to hear the noises that it's almost sick to find just a little comforting. This is what I'm used to though, where my whole life has been dedicated to get me, and anything that reinforces my self-worth is essential today.
"What?" I must have been more lost in thought than I realized, because I could swear the words that came out of her mouth were the strangest thing I've ever heard. No way did Callie just walk into the break room and ask a question that strange.
"Who'd win in a fight? Pirates or ninjas?" Except, apparently, she did.
"Does it matter?" My face must paint quite the picture, and it seems to be a hilarious one, if the laughter in Callie's eyes is any indication. It's layered with a million other emotions, but it's definitely there, and even though my plan today was to avoid her, it feels good to be around her when she's in this kind of mood. I don't know what brought it on, but I'm not about to ask for fear of breaking it, and there's far too much damage already where Callie and I are concerned. I can let us have this moment to just play at friends, for as long as the air stays clear of the confliction that plagues me in Callie's presence, I can let us have this. It's nice to remember that we can have fun, that there's something more than the mess we created to our relationship. It's nice to remember some of the feeling that I'm fighting for, the times when it's just easy to be with Callie for everything she is beyond the woman who drives me crazy.
"The fate of the world might rest on your answer." She grins at me, bright and cheerful, and it brings some levity to my soul.
"When would the fate of the world ever rest on whether ninjas or pirates would win in a fight." Before Callie, I'd never have dreamed of participating in a conversation as silly as this, but with Callie, everything takes on a new element. This isn't really my style, but I can't deny that it's brought a smile to my face, and for that reason, I'll play along. Eventually.
"Now." I feel the smile broaden on my lips, and I curse myself for allowing this moment to cheer me up so drastically. I'm probably only making it harder for myself to stay away from her, but to be honest, I'm not sure I really even want to be distant from Callie. Maybe it would even be my best weapon, trying to be the best friend as long as there are no allusions to the love we share. The reminder of how much more fun she has with me than with Mark might hasten her journey back to me.
I lean forward and drop the chart I was trying to concentrate on to the table, shifting slightly in the chair to face Callie. The pen is still in my hand, and I tap it absently as I consider my answer for a second. "Ninjas." I semi-triumphantly drop the pen on the table too, and watch Callie, waiting for the punchline I'm sure is coming. Her face stays passive though, and I wonder what she's waiting for. My voice is a little harsher than I intended it, with the dark suspicion that this is a joke at my expense, "What?"
Callie gestures as she steps forward, and I relax a little. "You can't just say 'ninjas' and leave it that way! Why would ninjas win?"
I feel my brow furrow as I contemplate her. "The ninjas would win before the pirates even knew they were there. Better?"
"Yes! See, now I can argue."
"You want to argue?" If she wants that, why didn't she just walk in here and try to cross the boundaries she promised to respect?
"Not argue, argue. Fooling around. Just being friends." Callie's eyes seem to soften as she looks at me, but then she catches herself and continues "What if it was a fair fight?"
I'm confused again, and she sees it. "You're not really cut out for this, are you? The pirates and the ninjas, if it was a fair fight and the pirates know the ninjas are there, who wins?"
"Stop jumping around so much. If the pirates know the ninjas are there, the ninjas still win. They still have more fighting skills."
"But the pirates have swords; that gives them a pretty long reach." She doesn't sit down in one of the chairs beside me, sinking into the one across from me instead, with a cheeky grin, as if she's expecting to change my mind, or have me give up on such an absurd conversation. While she'd probably normally be right, today it just feels good to be thinking about something so frivolous. All my thoughts have seemed so damn important recently, and this break from that is nice.
"The ninjas have weapons they can throw, Callie. And they're much more flexible than the pirates. Just face it, the pirates would be annihilated."
"Should have known you'd go for Team Flexible." She laughs as she speaks, and I can't help but catalog what a beautiful sight it is.
I also can't help but laugh with her, "What's that supposed to mean?"
"How does that mean I win? I know I win. I always win. What did you mean about Team Flexible?"
Callie pushes herself up from the chair, "I'll leave you to figure that out yourself, Dr. Hahn."
She turns just before she leaves, flashing me a heartfelt grin. She must read my confusion as to what just happened, because she looks at me with all the sincerity she can muster, and I feel it to my core. "We can have fun, Erica. It doesn't always have to be life and death." She's gone before I can find any words to respond.
The next time I see her, I'm almost certain I smell a little like a muskrat. From that conversation in the break room I was paged straight into an emergency thoracotomy and I've been on my feet ever since. I don't know if it's Idiots Day in Seattle or something else is going on, but emergency after emergency rolled into the pit all day. I've been rushing from consult to OR and back again, and it's nearing the end of my shift by the time I have a moment to breath. I stand on the bridge that overlooks the hospital lobby nursing a coffee, my scrub cap still on my head, thanking whatever power is out there that the hospital seems to be calming, and though it's been close I haven't lost any patients today. When Callie steps through the doors at one end of the walkway, I don't think she's been as lucky.
As our eyes meet, I cringe internally. I'd give anything for anonymity in this moment, to just be another face in the crowd to Callie. Not because I don't want to comfort her, but because I want to too much. Plus, there's the smelling awful and looking worse issue. Callie doesn't seem to see any of that though, her steps not faltering as she walks towards me. Her scrub cap is twisted in her hand; her hair a mess where strands have escaped the clips that held it back through the surgery that her face tells me was unsuccessful.
She comes to a stop in front of me, her eyes seeking mine beseechingly, begging me to let her have this moment, to just forget everything else but that she needs me to ground her, to remind her why we do this. I can't deny her what I know is scant comfort for failure. Failure for us really is life or death, and after we lose someone, it's pretty common for a boring 9-5 desk job to start looking appealing. We can't wallow for long, we can't become too attached, but when you fail to help someone, when all you can do is watch them die it's human nature to go back over every step, to make sure that there really is nothing more you could have done. And those times you do find a mistake, a split-second hesitation that means the different between life and death? Those are the patients that stay with you, the memories that spur you to be better, to never let it happen again. We have to know. We have to know if we helped hasten a death we were trying to prevent. Holding my coffee towards Callie is my silent permission. I can give her this because I so easily could have needed the same today.
Wrapping both hands around the cup, Callie's hands brush mine, but she doesn't smile like I know she would any other time. She doesn't seem to savor the taste of the coffee as she brings it to her lips either and I know she's not really here. She needs me to be here, but she's not quite here yet. She's still in surgery, envisioning everything that led her to seek me out.
Not wanting to break her reverie, I wait for her to stop looking through me, trying to keep the look on my face patient and open, wanting her to know that I'm ready to listen to her whenever she's ready to talk. Finally she sighs deeply and the connection between our eyes is reestablished. It's just a moment before she drops her gaze to the coffee, but it's enough for me to know that she's back here with me, fully and completely. That's a good thing. It means she's not obsessing, not involved or any of a hundred other things that make a surgeon burn out.
"I scrubbed in with Shepherd on a craniotomy. Just a little boy on his way to soccer practice, he ends up with a subdural hematoma and a displaced tibial plateau fracture. He stroked out on the table. There was nothing we could do." She sounds so pained, and I want to pull her into my arms. Even if I could, though, I wouldn't. Most of the surgical staff are still in the OR, but this is still a public place, and while I may have brought my drama inside these walls, I'll be damned if I'll let it play out in front of everyone else. I settle for rubbing her shoulder, a poor substitute for what I know we both truly wish for.
"I'd hug you, but I smell like a muskrat."
"You smell just fine." As if to prove her point, Callie takes a minute step closer. There's no reason for her to do it other than she wants to, and I don't know if that warms me or sets of screeching alarms at the unnecessary proximity. I'm well aware that where Callie Torres is concerned, my decision making is far from at its best. I don't need the reminder.
"Callie." It's a warning, and I know she sees it, her position falling back to a more comfortable distance.
"There's nothing wrong with reassuring your friend that she doesn't smell. I've done it for Addison."
Yes, but Addison she hasn't slept with. It's a thought I keep quiet, not even sure how we got round to this topic, and hating the questions that brief consideration has raised in me. I know the answer to that, even asked the question when Addison was visiting, I think, but the jealousy still starts to bear roots. I have to get control over my possessiveness. This wasn't supposed to be about this, about us, and somehow I've made the conversation carry that undercurrent, and I know I have to be the one to fix it.
"Are you okay?" Callie inclines her head slightly, and with the new weight I've added to the conversation, I know it makes sense that she's hesitant about what I'm really asking and rolling all the possibilities around in her head. "About the surgery. Are you okay?"
Callie's sigh is heavy, and I don't blame her. Okay isn't really the word. What I'm really asking her to confirm is if she's free of any guilt. I think she must be, but I have to check. "There was nothing we could do. I think the pressure in his brain shifted when Derek opened him up, and there was just nowhere we could go. He just there was nothing we could have done differently."
"That's something at least." I'm not good at this part. I'm uncertain what to say. I've never allowed myself to get close enough to my colleagues that they've sought me out to talk to after an experience that can only truly be understood by other surgeons. I know what I tell myself, and I'm hoping that I can fumble through this moment with Callie. She's never had a problem steering our conversations before, so I'm hoping she'll lead me to where she needs to go.
"It's not enough though. I hate this part. He was seven years old. He should be kicking a ball around or watching TV. Maybe he should be in bed. Instead " She sighs again, knowing I don't need to hear where that little boy is instead of with his family.
Making a decision that I know might be stupid, I let my hand slide down her arm before looping it gently around her wrist. "Come with me."
Callie follows easily, without even questioning my intentions. I lead us past the on-call room she's probably half-expecting to be our destination and tug her into a nearby conference room instead. Closing the door behind us, I hesitate for a second before realizing that she did this for me, and the least I can do is offer her the same relief. If she finds any of the peace in my embrace that I felt when she comforted me about Tucker, the slight ache that will settle in my body until I can regain my equilibrium will be more than worth it.
Loosely, I wrap my arms around her, very carefully not pulling her in too close to my body, the way my arms seem to want to. I have default settings where Callie's concerned, and in the balance of this moment, they need to be reprogrammed. This distance, the slightly awkward, no hip contact hug is safe. This is what friends do.
I wonder if friends do this until the moment feels like it's been stretching out forever, but still don't want to let each other go. I don't think it is. Callie's not the first friend I've ever had, but she is the first friend I've ever had who I love so hard it burns and sometimes it's too difficult to tell the difference.
She chuckles slightly into my throat, and I feel the reverberation in my spine. "I look like a zombie."
"Shh. You look beautiful." I know it's a dangerous thing to say a split second after I say it, but the damage is already done, and I feel Callie melt a little more into our embrace.
Time stretches onwards, minutes ticking by in silence except for the sounds of our breath intermingled in the air around us. There's nothing but us in the world, and my head is spinning, my heart is pounding, and I'm sure I'm going to stop breathing at any second. I don't know what she does to me. I don't know how to stop it. The response takes a long time to come, but when the woman in my arms speaks, I feel her words everywhere. "This is why I love you. You always know how to make things okay." She snuggles in tighter to my body, and I stiffen, the antagonism between what I want to do and what I can do too much to process. My head's screaming at me to run, and my heart calls for me to stay. It's not the first time I feel it, and it won't be the last. I wish I had the power to make things okay for me, but I handed control to her with the first brush of my lips, and however hard I try to win it back, Callie won't let go.
Eventually, Callie's arms drop from the small of my back and I let her go, instantly missing her warmth. Crossing my arms across my body, I find Callie's eyes, and I'm relieved to see that some of the sorrow within them has faded.
"Thank you." The words are a whisper and I can't really be sure I heard them.
I can't not respond though. "You're welcome."
We stare at each other for a few moments longer, rememorizing each other, words we can't say lingering between us. I squeeze my eyes closed to break the connection, knowing that it's not good for me to categorize every inch of her, to let our emotions hang between us like a cloak. They'd be so easy to slip on, it would be so easy to say she needs my comfort and my touch, that she needs to feel alive, to be reminded that we have to go on after every loss, but I can't do that. I have to stick to the boundaries I've been so insistent on. I never imagined it would be this difficult.
I feel the atmosphere in the room shift, the intensity ratcheting down, and I open my eyes again. Callie has turned away from me, and her hand is on the door. She looks back at me over her shoulder. "I should go. I think I have another surgery on the board." Her eyes drop to the door handle, and she whispers, "Thank you, Erica. Really. I needed that."
As I watch her go, I try not to admit to myself that so did I. I can't make sense of my emotions. Everything with Callie and I is so complicated, and yet, I still can't completely tear myself away. I know where the lines should be, but I trample all over them in my efforts to be near her. As much as I know my life would be simpler, I can't bring myself to regret the decision to come to Seattle Grace. And as much as I try to convince myself that I can, I can't honestly wish that I'd never met her.
God, I hope she finds the words to tell Mark soon.
I push down the dark voice that asks me if soon will really be soon enough. It just has to be.
In the days that follow, I find myself falling back into a dangerous pattern. I can see it, I can feel it, but I can't stop it. Whenever I'm not with Callie, there's a powerful feeling that I should be somewhere else, that there's something I really need to be doing, and it only abates when I'm close to her again. Hours with her doing nothing pass by in an instant, but when I'm actually doing something useful, like saving lives, the time seems to drag on, interminable. It makes no sense to me. Or it makes too much sense, and I don't want to have to examine it too closely; I can never decide.
We're not dating I'm keeping us as close to 'just friends' as I possibly can but we may as well be. Two weeks have gone by since I last kissed Callie, since I told her that this was all we could be, and Callie seems hell-bent on making this as hard as possible for me. There are only so many 'innocent' touches that leave me shaking I can take before I snap, and I don't yet know what form that will take. It could be anger at her or misdirected at someone else or it could be throwing her into the on-call room and ravishing her in ways I hate myself for still wanting. And yet, I can't stop wanting her. I still wake up with visions of caramel skin and tempting curves branded on my mind, sheet clinging to my body, twisted around me by the writhing below dream-Callie that, apparently, somewhat equated to reality.
I wish I knew a way to make it stop.
The cycle goes a lot like this: Callie makes a seemingly innocent comment that evolves into conversation, we talk for a while, the tension builds between us, and I have to leave before I do something that I probably should regret but wouldn't. At least, not at first. The pain she's caused me is still too fresh for me to do anything truly stupid, but the more comfortable our conversations become, the more I find myself imagining things I'm not allowed to imagine, the more I envision our lives intertwined.
Callie ups the ante at Joe's one night. This was my concession. My heart decided that it couldn't keep the distance from her that my head knows I need, so everywhere we spend time together is a place we could be interrupted at any moment. If she comes to my office, I pretend like I was just leaving, and we walk through the halls in conversation. If the room has a lock, I don't go there with the all too tempting woman I can't seem to stop wanting, not even for a second.
We're sitting at our usual table, the very same one we slid into the first time we interacted outside hospital. Back then, I was so full of hope and my feelings were comprehensible, they made sense. I knew I was attracted to her, but it was under wraps, easy to control. I had no way of knowing that it would become this. The walls of the booth are high, and it's pushing the limits of safe places to be with her, but I allow myself a little slack. I've been so good lately, trying to balance the most difficult friendship I've ever enjoyed with the hardest situation I've ever had to endure. I've been quite good at this in the last two weeks. I've managed to keep the tears and moments of longing to a bare minimum, and if that intensifies the dreams until they almost feel real, that's just the way it has to be. I deserve a night where I give myself a little freedom. It's still a safe way of letting go. Joe's is always full of Seattle Grace staff, and half the surgical department are here tonight. Yang and her cronies are at the bar, Karev and that idiot O'Malley focused entirely on the TV screen, where the biggest concentration of people is watching the Mariners play the Angels. It doesn't seem like it's going so well, if the noises that erupt from the crowd every so often are any indication. The Emerald City Bar is about as busy as it ever gets, but fortunately Sloan is nowhere in sight. He won't be anywhere in sight. He's on call at the hospital, and Joe's is the absolute last place he's allowed to run off to. That's another reason I can let myself relax a little. Callie and I haven't exactly been scheduling our time together for when Mark is working, but it tends to be that way. Even then though, if we're at their apartment, which I try to avoid hospital scheduling is erratic, and we never know when Mark might be around. A part of me wants him to catch us, to see us talking too closely and figure us out, but another part knows that I'll doubt Callie's devotion to me for a long, long time if that happens. Maybe I'll never be able to truly believe that she's not with me by default, because I was just there when her marriage ended. That wouldn't be fair to either of us. Because I know she means it when she says she loves me, and I want to trust that she loves me more than she ever loved him. I think I need that.
We're talking about some singing reality show that Callie follows. Well, we're debating its relevance to the world and to the industry it claims to represent. I'm really just playing devil's advocate, enjoying the flashes of passion in her eyes whenever I tell her that it's just glorified karaoke and a quick-shot at fame that will never result in any longevity. I think she was a little surprised at the intensity with which I can make the argument, but music is as big a part of my life as anyone else's. We're slowly shifting closer together as we talk, and I know I should stop that, but we're in some safe little bubble here; a place where it's okay that the definition of what we are to each other is so fluid and unmovable at the same time. Our boundaries are set by our location, not by our willpower, and that lifts some of the pressure that's ever-present.
Every time someone yells over by the TV, Callie's eyes shift towards them, her annoyance not shielded by the genuine smile that stays on her face. "I don't get it."
The non-sequitur throws me for a minute, and I frown slightly as I look at her. She takes the cue, continuing, "Baseball. I don't get it. There's no point to it, they barely seem to do anything and they're rarely even attractive."
"They're not trying to look attractive. They're playing baseball." I don't know where to start with the rest of it. There's a logic inherent in baseball that intrigues me, an almost scientific parallel where angle + force = distance hit. I wouldn't say I'm exactly a fan, but it's one of the few sports I can bear to watch.
"Would it hurt to make the uniforms look better?" The look on Callie's face is expectant, and I resign myself to discussing the finer points of baseball uniforms with her. Where she leads, I follow, apparently. Even on the ridiculous things.
"It might, actually. They kind of need the pads."
"And what's with the huge ass glove?"
"The mitt? Some of those balls are flying at 90 miles an hour, Cal. Can you imagine the damage to their hands without it?"
There's something almost creepy about the smile that comes over her face. I know it's the same kind of exhilaration I get when faced with a challenging cardio procedure, but to truly see that she has that same passion for orthopedics? It's strange. And a sight to behold. It's amazing to see her like that, but it flashes me back to uncomfortable places, places where she's above me, around me, inside me. Places I'm definitely not allowed to think about with her, with the illusion of privacy around us.
My palms itch irresistibly to touch her, and I down the rest of my beer, pushing myself out of the booth where I know that anyone could turn and look at me at any second. "Another drink?" I don't wait for an answer before I turn on a dime and hurry towards the bar. If it looks to anyone like I'm running away from something, it's because I am. I don't run away from things, but right now, I have no choice but to be someone I don't recognize, because I don't recognize the woman who'd stand there wanting more than anything to touch a married woman either. I think I like the coward more.
As I stand at the bar, it truly dawns on me for the first time how incredibly unfair this is. I've never felt this level of love before. Nothing has ever been enough to sustain me without my medical career, but for Callie, I'm increasingly certain I'd give it up for her. If she asked me to, if I had to; I would choose her over surgery, and I never, ever thought that would be possible. She would never ask that of me, but if the exchange was really having her to call mine, to love her in the way I want to be free to love her, I would do it. It's not fair that I should find this love that I can't handle, that's overflowing inside of me because no one else can be allowed to see, and have this purgatory be my reward. It's not right.
When Joe turns away from the bar to face me, I'm rapidly blinking back tears. This was not the time to notice that, or how schizophrenic I am when it comes to my feelings towards Callie. My head is such a confused mess that my emotions can turn in an instant, on a single thought.
"You okay, Dr Hahn?"
Finding Joe's eyes on me and clearly reading the concern within them, I force a smile. It's small and obviously not genuine, but it does - just barely - qualify as a smile. "Two of the same please, Joe?" I know I sound exhausted, but I am. I've been fighting with myself for far too long. Joe doesn't move immediately, his eyes boring into mine with laser precision. He's almost begging me to make him the stereotypical bartender, but I have my suspicions that Joe is at least some of the reason why everyone at Seattle Grace is in each others' business. Still, I do eventually want the beers, so I concede a little. "I'm fine, Joe. It's just been a long week."
Sensing he's not going to get the information I know he's searching for, Joe brings me the drinks. I'm grateful for the moment that his back is turned; it gives me time to breathe, time to soothe my equilibrium and prepare myself for an awkward return to the booth. Callie will almost definitely ask why I disappeared so quickly, and I honestly don't know what I can tell her. I don't want to lie to her, but I can't tell her the truth, either. I can't let her know that just the promise of the warmth of her body sets my nerves on fire, that when she looks at me with such obvious affection as she did earlier, it becomes almost impossible to kiss her; that I had to leave before I did something really stupid, something we'd probably regret. However much we wanted it at the time.
Before Joe slides the beers towards me, he seeks out my eyes again, holding the contact. The distinct possibility is that he's trying to psych me out, but I can't be cowed this way. Only one person in the world holds the power to manipulate me this way right now, and the owner of the closest bar to the hospital I work at certainly isn't her. With a heavy sigh, Joe pushes the beers toward me. Just as I turn to go, my name falls from his lips, and I turn back to him, starting to feel the irritation creeping up my spine. "You and Dr Torres? You fit better than she and Sloan ever did."
I offer him another smile, this one pained because of all the things Callie and I so clearly have together that we're holding back from because of one stupid mistake. One desperate, silly, thoughtless action that's bound her in a way it sometimes seems so clear she doesn't want to be bound. "We'll see."
That's all Joe's getting and he knows it, already turning away as he speaks. "She'll make the right decision. Give her time."
Yes, I'm thinking, as I walk back to the table as though I'm about to face a firing squad, but how much more time is she going to need? It doesn't even surprise me that people see through the friendship façade Callie and I struggle to keep intact to what's really there underneath, not anymore. The only surprise is that Sloan has yet to put the pieces together. Probably because he doesn't really want to believe that it's true; that Callie isn't his to keep, and maybe she was never even his for a little while. I know how much that hurts to realize, but I'm also selfish, like everyone else. I took an oath to do no harm, and what I'm praying for will do irreparable harm to Mark, but better him than me. If she's going to break someone's heart, better his than mine. It doesn't make me a great person, but it does make me entirely human. We all want to believe we're capable of great sacrifice, and maybe we are, but this this is beyond what any benevolent God would ask me to suffer.
When I place one of the beers in front of Callie and settle back into my seat at the safe distance I established at the beginning of the night, she doesn't question me at all. It's a relief that sends the air rushing from my lungs in a weak laugh, and she laughs in response. "Thanks. Joe ask you silly questions about baseball too?"
Wondering if the look on my face is somewhere close to harried or if Callie was just watching me while I stood at the bar, my words come almost on autopilot. "I think Joe knows about baseball." I gesture back toward the bar, where Joe is once again at the end of the bar closest to the crowd. He could just be hanging around that area since that's where most of his customers will be ordering from, but from the way his eyes linger on the screen and he participates in the banter, he's definitely interested in the game. And like Callie pointed out, it is unlikely to be for the flattering outfits or any other reason that isn't entirely about the sport.
A loud cheer emanates from the group near the television, and Callie's sighs heavily, "I don't get the fascination with sport."
"I think I do."
"So explain it to me."
I wonder what she's doing, but I go along with her anyway. Sport should be another safe, non-suggestive subject, something to alleviate the tension that still builds in the air every time we're together for more than a few minutes at a time. Sometimes I think that something a whole lot bigger than us is pushing us together, and no matter how hard we try to pull away, we'll never be able to succeed. And then I remember that I'm a rational woman, and I believe in free will and autonomy, not fate and destiny.
"It's about escape. If we care about hitting a ball or how many baskets we can score, it takes us away from anything else that's going on. It's a release. You yell and scream and cheer, and somehow it makes things easier. It's something to care about that doesn't really matter, instead of worrying about bills, or love, or work. It gives us somewhere we fit in. Something to talk about with people. It gives us competition."
"Should have known you'd thrive on the competition aspect." Callie smiles at me, her voice slightly breathy, and I'm not sure if it's just my imagination, but she seems like she's closer than she was when I sat back down.
"No. It's not about that for me. I compete every day. You know that. You do it too. We're fighting death and sickness and each other. I don't want competition when I get home." I drop my gaze to the table, and when I look back up again, Callie's definitely closer.
She doesn't give me a chance to get any words out. "So what is it?"
"The simplicity." The distance between us is still friendly, but the crackling in the air isn't. That probably is just my imagination, but it feels like something's pressing in on us, binding us closer, reminding us of all the things we've said are behind us for now, of all the things that we're very carefully not talking about.
"Simplicity?" Callie frowns, and I can't help but laugh, low and throaty. It doesn't help to alleviate the atmosphere. The tension is thick in the scant inches of air that now separate us, and I have no idea how she even got so close. I have no idea how I'm supposed to move away.
"Yes. Think about it. If you do everything right, if you outscore your opponent, you win. It's not that simple in life. Sometimes you lose even when you've done absolutely nothing wrong. Sometimes there's nothing you can do to even compete." It doesn't feel like I'm talking about sports anymore, and I'm sure that Callie knows it too. Maybe this was even her plan all along, but I think that's paranoia. That stems from my inability to change the way I feel about her. If I could I think I would. This hurts too much. It's too hard to be this close to her and not be able to touch her. It's too much to ask of me.
Callie clears her throat, and I know for certain that it's not just me who senses the change in the atmosphere around us, the heavy weight of everything we really are to each other. "And sometimes it's not even a competition." Her words are soft, and I know she's trying to reassure me.
It doesn't work.
Her hand lands on my knee, squeezing slightly in an attempt to soothe my clearly battered emotions. All I feel though is the spark that begins with that one point of contact and infuses my body with a heat I don't want to feel. I wish my nerve endings weren't so alive to Callie, that I could just let myself enjoy the contact that's clearly supposed to be friendly. And then I glance over at her. Beneath the concern, genuine as it is, there's something else, something that tells me she's enjoying pushing the boundaries. It shouldn't surprise me, after the weeks that led up to the night that changed my life and the way I see myself. The night that we gave into the need to touch each other, the need to be as close as physically possible. I know that what Callie truly wants is for our relationship to continue quietly while she searches for the words to tell Mark about us. Or maybe it's not. Maybe it's more insidious than that and she never, ever intends to tell Mark. I waver back and forth on that point with the same regularity that I hold a scalpel, but the thought still freezes me to the core.
Pushing her hand from my leg, I do the only thing I think I can: I snap "Don't. Don't lie to me, Callie."
"Lie to you?" Her brow furrows, honest confusion blending with her beauty in a head-tilt that somehow makes her even more endearing, even harder to resist. I didn't know that was possible.
"If it wasn't a competition, if there wasn't something that you're clinging to you'd have left him already."
"Erica!" Callie reaches a hand out, but I swing my arm away from her touch. I can't have her touch me right now. I'm picking the fight we need to have for all the wrong reasons. It's not because I'm really angered by her words. It's because I'm poised on the verge of giving in, of leaning in to kiss her, of bowing to the feeling of inevitability that's bearing down on me. Gamely, Callie tries to continue, "You should know that's not true."
I've never felt more disdain for myself, and I don't like the feeling. I don't like that Callie can inspire this self-loathing in me as easily as she inspires love, and, sometimes, when I can forget that she's married, as easily as she makes me feel like she loves me more than anyone ever has before. It's a dangerous, potent cocktail that's no good for me. I have to stay away from her. I have to. Before she makes me do something else I regret.
Ignoring the little voice in my head that points out that Callie isn't making me do anything, I push myself from the booth with enough force that I stumble a little as I stand. Turning, trying to hold onto the anger as I see the loss that's wrought across her face, I toss a glance over my shoulder to the crowd near the bar. They could hear me if I yell, if I really let loose the way my frustration is begging me to, so instead, I hiss: "I know that if you want someone else enough to cheat, then the relationship you're in isn't working, and you should break it off before anything happens with someone else. You should have enough respect for the person you're with to tell them that things aren't working anymore." With that, I stalk out of Joe's. The thing is; I'm not really angry with Callie. I'm angry at myself for being so tempted by her, for how close I came to caving in, how I nearly compromised my own insistence that she has to tell Mark if she wants to be with me.
Callie approaches me hesitantly when we cross paths the following morning, her head bowed slightly and doubt showing in her eyes. I don't speak, not trusting myself to say the things I think I need to say, not trusting myself not to lash out. She'd deserve it, I know that, but I'm tired of it all. I'm just tired. I want this over one way or another. I want to start rebuilding my life, and I just want it over. I want a decision, I want some action. I have to move forward, and I just want to know if it's with or without her. I can't deny that without her it will be so much harder, but I can't keep running this over and over in my mind, hoping desperately for something that I'm not sure is going to happen. I can't do it anymore.
"I'm sorry." They're not the words I'm expecting to hear, but I don't think they really mean anything right now. I've heard her excuses, as bad as they are, and there's only two reasons I want to talk to her in this moment: if I'm needed for a consult, or if she's about to tell me that what I've been praying for has finally happened.
Taking a deep breath, I pull on the Dr Hahn mask that has always worked for me in the past. I don't want to treat Callie this way, but I have no choice but to. "Did you want something, Dr. Torres?" There's a flash of stone in my words, and I can tell by the way Callie's eyes widen that she hears it.
"Erica?" Her voice is small, but I don't bow to it. I just keep looking at her, the expectant look on my face never wavering. Glancing down at the floor, Callie mumbles "I guess not," before she turns around, hurrying back down the hall in a way that tells me she wants to be as far away from me as possible as quickly as possible so she can cry. I ignore the way my heart clenches painfully, telling myself that this is what I wanted as hard as I can. I have surgeries to do, and I need to decide which of the residents is going to be with me today. I'm hoping for Grey; she's semi-competent, not a kiss ass, and too intimidated by me to chatter away all day, but I know she's working on a clinical trial with Shepherd, so I don't expect to get her. Maybe I'll ask Bailey for Karev. Maybe someone who's not afraid of me is exactly what I need today anyway. If I snap at him, Karev won't be damaged by it, and if he snaps back, it will give me the excuse to do the yelling I need to do without having what amounts to half a doctor on my service for the rest of the day.
All day, I distract myself this way, thinking about the junior doctors who make it so hard to teach them, about nothing but my work. Every time my mind tries to wander, I force it back to the topic at hand, asking Karev question after question during a CABG. It's a surgery so routine that I rarely have to think about it, and listening to and correcting Karev on the rare occasions he doesn't know the answer keeps me focused in the moment. It's the most tiring day I've ever had, and I still have an on call shift to complete. When 5 o'clock rolls around, I dismiss Karev with a gruff "Nice work," and instead of the toadying response I'm sure any of the others would have given me, Karev just nods and goes on his way, probably to go play his part in whatever drama is overshadowing that little group this week.
Stumbling into an on call room, I lock the door behind me so I can't be disturbed, kick off my shoes, and collapse onto one of the beds. I'm certain that sleep won't find me quickly, but my exhaustion is so complete that I drift off easily, not waking until I'm summoned by my pager nearly six hours later. That's a pretty good stretch of sleep for me lately, and I'm feeling quite refreshed as I haul ass down to the trauma bay.
The junior resident on call is Stevens and she meets me in the bay, but fortunately some of her cheerleader Barbie enthusiasm seems to be missing at one in the morning. "What's going on?" is forced out from behind a small yawn, and I lead her to the ambulance bay, watching as the driver comes to a halt.
We leap forward, listening to the paramedic as she explains to us what has happened. "Patient is Maria Duvall, 37, in her third trimester. I curse the fact that we don't have a pediatric surgeon on staff anymore, but some of my disgruntlement is salvaged with the paramedic's next words, "Patient presents with sudden onset severe pain in the chest, hypertension, but no diaphoresis." That instantly makes me suspect an aortic dissection or aneurysm, and I snap off orders for an MRI as we hurry through the hospital.
Sure enough, the MRI confirms an ascending aortic dissection, so we rush into surgery, and I'm glad for the sleep I managed to get earlier in the evening. It's a good job that Stevens manages to keep a handle on her obvious fatigue, her hand remaining steady throughout the hours of surgery. I don't bother trying to quiz her, just directing her as I need her. My concentration needs to be on this patient, and we have to monitor the baby too, just in case. Stevens' clear flair for obstetrics is more useful than I could have imagined, and for once, I'm actually glad to have her in the OR with me.
The clock has rolled round to five in the morning by the time the patient is stable again, and we scrub out in silence. As we leave the scrub room, I look her over, rethinking the instructions I was about to give her to monitor the patient for the next few hours. She looks like she'd be completely useless by her bedside. "Get your intern to monitor her and page me if anything changes. Go home, grab a few hours sleep. Nice work tonight, Stevens." I think she's scheduled to work tomorrow too, and if she doesn't get some rest, I fear for the patients that will come under her care. That's the only explanation that comes to me.
Glancing at my watch, I decide that the three hours sleep I could get before my next shift starts is worth an attempt, and I head off down the corridor in the opposite direction to the relieved resident. As I turn the final corner before I reach my favored on call room, my relatively upbeat mood shatters.
Callie is standing at the nurses' station, her eyes unfocused until she notices me. It's a shock to my system to even see her. All day, I've been avoiding her, almost unconsciously, and I didn't realize that she was on-call tonight too. The corridor is eerily empty as I glance around us, and it's too late for me to fake a page. I could leave with no reasoning, or something that I've just remembered, but I just want this conversation out of the way so I can catch a few hours sleep while the hospital is quiet. Callie's persistent, and I know she knows the on-call room is where I was heading. I know she'll stand here until I come back. There are others in the hospital of course, but this one is the furthest away from the foot traffic, and, strangely, the one least used for activities other than sleeping. I have a theory that the doctors in this hospital are all secretly exhibitionists, and that's why none of them seem to have a problem playing out their messy personal lives in the public arena. Not that I'm in any position to judge anyone for their messy personal life. The proof is standing in front of me, watching me with watery eyes. She bites her lip, and I have to force down the urge to comfort her, even in the smallest of ways. The power that Callie has over me is ridiculous, but I'm making a conscious decision not to let it control me any more. As much as I can avoid it, at least.
I don't move as she walks toward me, her steps tentative, as though she's unsure if I'll let her talk to me. She stops further away than she normally would, and I feel grateful. My emotional pendulum is swinging out of control again, and I don't know what's about to happen. Depending on what she says, my reaction could go in any one of a million directions. I hate that she has the power to do that to me. I hate that I don't have any control of my feelings. I'm too far over my head.
"Hey." Her head dips down slightly, her hair falling in her face, and she looks back up at me. "I, erm, I was paged for a consult, and I saw your name on the board. How'd it go?" Her hesitation is somehow endearing, and I scold myself for the thought.
"My patient's stable." My voice comes out surprisingly smooth, and I'm glad that Callie chose an us-neutral subject to open the conversation. I know that's the direction we're heading in, but the few seconds not actively thinking about how we continue to handle this indecision between us is a relief.
"Good. That's I'm glad." She shakes her head slightly, as if telling herself that what she just said is stupid.
She's cute like this, and I never thought that would be something I'd find appealing, but on Callie, it is. I disregard the fact that I'm so stupidly in love with her that almost everything she does makes me love her more. "It is. She was in her last trimester of pregnancy, and the baby's okay too. You should tell Addison that she trained Stevens well."
There's an almost imperceptible tightening of Callie's face at the mention of Stevens, and I realize that she probably isn't the best topic of conversation. By all accounts, her relationship with O'Malley is long over, but there's a lingering animosity between the two women involved, and I know that well. Trying to steer back away from the subject, I ask her, "How did the consult go?"
She frowns, and I offer her an apologetic grin. "They woke me up to go look at an X-Ray. Damn incompetent interns. The guy's leg wasn't even broken." Only a surgeon could be irritated about that. To be woken up on call for something that doesn't end in the OR is one of the most frustrating experiences we can have. The adrenaline starts to flow as soon as our pagers sound, and it's a bitch to get rid of it if we don't get our hands on a scalpel.
"Can't sleep?" I don't know if she's angling for an invitation to join me, if she wants me to ask her if she thinks she might sleep better beside me, but I am certain that I'm not going to offer it, as much as a part of me wants to.
She shakes her head, "Too wired."
"We could go grab some hot chocolate."
That's the best offer she's getting from me, but she smiles anyway, shaking her head. "From the machines?"
She wrinkles her nose and I can't help but laugh at the disgust that's painted across her features. "I see your point."
We stare at each other for a long moment, our smiles freezing as our eyes lock, the gaze almost as good as a touch. The smiles fall from our faces slowly as the walls start to feel like their closing in on us. I have to close my eyes to break our gaze, afraid of all the things I'm starting to feel tempted to do. I hear her deep, unsteady breath though as she prepares herself to speak, and I hold my own breath, hoping and praying that she isn't about to make things impossibly harder. "I'm telling him today, Erica. I can't do this anymore. I can't pretend I'm happy with him when all I want is to be with you. Not anymore."
I don't know what I'm supposed to say. I thought I'd feel a million things in this moment; an elation so strong it's what happiness would be if it could be bottled and sold, anger that it's taken her so long to walk the road towards me, a rush of love that overpowers me. I didn't expect to feel doubtful, for the disbelief that is running through my veins to be all that's in my mind. I've wanted this, desperately, with an intensity that's broken me, but now that she's saying it's time, I'm not sure I'm ready. I'm not sure that my emotions when it comes to her are settled enough that I can be who she's going to need me to be. I'm not sure that I even trust her enough to believe that this isn't just another false start for us just like those that have come before. My eyes open slowly and I force a weak smile as Callie crosses the distance between us in an instant. She reads me so well sometimes. How is it that she's missed what she's put me through since I met her? How is it that she couldn't see my pain before, not really?
Raising a hand to cup my face, Callie looks deeply into my eyes, and I can see that she thinks she means what she says. She means it now, standing in front of me, her thumb stroking gently across my cheekbone. It freezes me in place, and, despite myself, I want to believe her. I do believe her, that she intends to tell him, but until it's happened, until we can really make a decision on where we go from that moment, I can't take it as fact. How do I know that she won't freak out; that she won't back down from the conversation as soon as it's time to tell Mark the truth? I don't. I'm protecting my heart now, but it's too little, too late. I should have protected it before it belonged to Callie, before I gave it to her and she broke it over and over again. She might be the only person who can fix it, but I don't know that. I don't know anything. "Erica. I am going to tell him. It's not right that I go home to him when I want to come home to you."
I've been telling her that for months, but I suppose it's better that she catches on now than never. I search my brain for words that won't come, and Callie takes a step back. My cheek feels cold without her palm to warm it, and, almost beneath my notice, I raise my own hand to trap what heat that still remains. Closing my eyes once more, I take a shuddering breath, trying desperately to calm my racing thoughts. There has to be something I know how to say. I've been using the English language for long enough that I should be able to string a coherent sentence together. Hell, I'd even take a word right now. There must be something in my mind that's appropriate for this situation.
Callie seems to take it in stride though, and it's so different from the hesitant, uncertain, incapable of making a decision Callie that I've come to expect that it throws me even more off-balance. If any of our colleagues stumbled upon us right now, I'm sure they'd have no choice but to wonder when I was replaced by a goldfish. I'm struck dumb by the resolve I can see in Callie's face and body. "You don't believe me?"
She doesn't wait for an answer, and that's probably better for us both. I can't predict which of the thoughts that cross my brain would have fallen from my mouth. "That's okay. I get that, Erica, I do. I've given you no reason to trust me. I've backed away from this too often, but I promise you. God, baby, I swear to you. I want to be with you. I've wanted to be with you for so long, and I can't take not being able to hold you anymore. Mark he's so good to me. But he's not good for me. He doesn't make me happy. You make me happy. I want to be with you, Erica. Please, please believe me. If you never believe another thing I say, please believe that I love you."
Those three words from Callie still set my heart racing. I've never been the kind of girl who gets tied up in this stuff, but who I am with Callie? It's a different person. I'm still flawed, but I'm a better person for loving her, and though I've made decisions I regret, though I've been stupid time and time again when it comes to her hearing her say that she loves me makes so much of the pain drift away. It can't all disappear, and I can't revel in the words the way that I want to, but somehow this whole situation becomes more bearable. I can't explain it, but I trust those words from her more than I've ever trusted anything, even science. It's the look on her face when she says them, the depth of emotion in deep brown eyes. It's the tone of her voice, the way she pauses just before she speaks as though she's about to say the most important thing in the world. And she is saying the most important thing in the world. That she loves me is the most important thing in the world. Everything else is just background noise.
The words are hard, but they're the only things I can say. I can't lie to her. It goes against everything in me. "I do." My eyes find hers again and hold them. I'm trying to pour everything I'm feeling into her, to make her understand without having to say the words how very much I love her, and how deeply I trust those words from her lips. I'm sure I'm trusting her too easily, that I shouldn't believe her just because she says it, but I feel the truth of those three words running through me every single time she looks at me.
"You do?" Her words are laced with emotion, sounding a little choked, like she was expecting to have to argue her point. The idea that she was prepared to thrills me more than it should. I'm starting to believe that she's ready to fight for what so clearly flows between us; this connection we can't deny.
I smile gently at her, a little sadly, knowing that the way things are isn't good enough, no matter how much I love her, how much she loves me. "Yes."
The simple word washes over us both, and I watch the relief crest over her face, all other emotions dissipating in its wake. Before I realize what's happening, Callie's arms are wrapped around me, an almost exuberant laugh in my ear, her curves pressed to my own. I feel the desire start to build inside me, and yet I don't pull away. I slide my own arms around her back, letting myself have this moment, this one moment of joy in the emotional battlefield my life has become since I met her. She murmurs against me, "God, Erica, I miss touching you." Her voice is husky and I can't stop the warmth that trickles down my spine in response.
Reluctantly, I disentangle myself from the embrace, trying desperately to push down the desire that's rising in me. She might well be about to tell Mark that she can't be with him anymore, but she hasn't done it yet, and I'm trying to temper myself, to not rush into something we're not ready for yet. It seems ridiculous that there's anything we're not yet ready for, but I know that it's true. My body doesn't want to listen to me though, and I find it harder than I should to take two steps back, to put distance between us that's desperately needed.
Callie looks a little lost as I watch her, and she crosses her arms across her chest as though she's trying to stop herself from reaching out to touch me again. "I'm sorry."
There's a lot that Callie could be apologizing for, but I think this apology is for the moment we just shared, and I'm not sure that the regret is needed. "What for? Friends are allowed to hug. Especially when they've shared good news." I shouldn't jump to believe her, and I know that the reason my belief comes so easily is because I want so badly for her words to be true. I really want to end my shift tomorrow with the certainty that Callie and I finally have a starting point, knowing that we can begin to truly explore what we mean to each other. I'm trying to force down the frisson of heat that washes across me at her answering smile, but I'm not very successful.
It's even harder to ignore it at her next words. "We're not friends though. At least, I don't want us to be. Not just friends, anyway." I can sense that she's fighting the urge to babble, and I take another step back to stop myself from sweeping her up into my arms and showing her exactly how much I want us to not just be friends. Even after everything. Maybe especially after everything.
I'm struggling to keep my hormones in check at the simple idea that she's finally ready to move forward in this dance we've been doing for far too long now. It's ridiculous that I respond this strongly to her, and I know it is, but it doesn't stop this from being a battle I'm not sure I can win.
"Will you talk to me for a little while?" The question is quiet, but she inclines her head a little towards the on call room, and as my lust flares, I panic a little. If I set foot in that room with her, talking isn't going to be on the agenda. I know she reads the confliction on my face because she continues, "Just until I'm tired again. I'm back on in a few hours. I need to sleep."
"I don't know if that's a good idea." My words are strained as I battle with myself again. This is how quickly I respond to her. Sometimes I feel like I'm a marionette and she's pulling the strings. Even now, even with how close I truly believe we are to being able to do this without the added guilt of her marriage weighing us down, I'm not sure I can wait to touch her again.
Callie pouts at me. "Really, I just want to talk."
That one pout is too much for me. I can't take it any more. I can't take the desire that washes across me with the undeniable strength of a tidal wave. That one adorable, sexy-as-hell pout sends all thoughts but one a million miles from my mind, and if my mind was working on the higher levels, I'd be pissed at myself for letting her get to me so easily. It's not though, so the thought echoes again in my brain as I almost stalk towards her.
What happens behind closed doors never stays hidden there. For a fateful moment, I forgot about that.
Callie's above me, her hips pinning me in place, the warm, welcoming weight of her body undulating against mine. Our lips are fused, as they have been almost continuously since the door of the on-call room swung closed behind us and Callie flipped the lock. It's been so long too long but this feeling is so familiar and new all at the same time. It's always new with her. I could never tire of feeling her hands on me, her mouth on mine. She tastes of the coffee she's been drinking during the long hours of what amounts to a double shift, but there's something sweet beneath that, a taste that I've been addicted to since the first kiss we shared.
Sliding a hand beneath her shirt, I feel Callie moan more than I hear her. The skin under my fingertips is so warm, and somewhere in the back of my mind, I wonder how I managed without this for so long. I clutch her tightly to me, threading my other hand into her hair, struggling to breath through my nose so I don't have to relinquish her lips. Callie's hands aren't still either, the fabric of my top bunching up as she traces smooth paths up my side. Our tongues battle for dominance, and I know I'm losing, but I don't care. How could I care when I'm still winning everything I've wanted for so long? Everything outside of this room, this moment, is forgotten. We're the only people in the world right now, and I love her so damn much that this is the only time in months that I've felt whole. How did I ever tell her that we couldn't do this? There's an answer to that question nagging at the minute part of my brain that's able to think of anything but the arousal that courses through me as Callie rubs one hand across my stomach and the muscles jump at her touch is all I can focus on. I'm not used to reacting this way to a woman. I've never been completely lost in abandon except for with Callie, never been so desperate for anyone else to touch me that I can't think, can't hardly breathe.
It feels like forever and no time at all until I have her naked beneath me, our breasts pressed together as I kiss her deeper. We both moan as our hardened nipples slide together, and I begin the slow journey down her body, doling out affection with my lips to each spot of skin I can reach. My fingers work against one nipple as I tease the other with my tongue, loving the feel of her in my mouth, the hard nub that tells me just how turned on she is. I slip my other hand between our bodies, letting my fingers dance in the slick heat that I inspired before continuing my path towards her core. I let my tongue trail across her stomach, tasting the salt of the perspiration that's gathered, feeling her hips rise in none-too-subtle invitation as I take my time enjoying her body before burying my face between her legs and breathing in the scent that I want to believe is mine and mine alone.
This is benediction and damnation, everything I've wanted, but nothing I need. And it's everything I need. The familiar taste of the woman I love is addictive as I slide my tongue through the wetness that's gathered for me, and even as my body pushes towards her, begs desperately for me, my brain screams at me, begging me to think again about my capitulation, to pull away, to put an end to everything between us. She clearly doesn't respect anything I say. This seduction has been coming since I told her it couldn't happen anymore, and there's no true sign that she's any closer to ending her marriage. I have her word, but I've been burned that way before. The tangy sweetness of her heat fills my mouth, my tongue rolls across the bundle of nerves that begs for my attention and I moan against her, the reverberation pulling a groan from Callie's chest. I'm an addict, and I know it as I slide two fingers into clenching velvet, pressing against her, pulling the reaction from her body. Sex Addict's Anonymous couldn't help me, and I don't think there's a twelve-step program solely for Callie Torres. There can't be that many bleeding hearts in her wake. Callie murmurs my name, begs me not to stop and I don't. Sucking her clit between my lips, I tap against the walls that encircle my fingers, and Callie's body spasms, clenching, holding me in place as I drink in her orgasm.
With her release comes my own; a new clarity, an understanding I've not experienced before. Callie's body relaxes, her grip on my hair loosens and the part of me that trusts her I think it dies. Everything I should be feeling, dreamed of having when I could finally love her again, is absent; a gaping hole where reconciliation, love and the knowledge that she's really mine should be. I move as Callie urges me towards her head, but instead of the kiss she's wanting, I disentangle my fingers from her hair, glad that she's naked but my scrub pants and shoes are still in place. It gives me the head start I need to get away from her, to put enough space between us that I can think this though and dampen my desire. As much as she wants to touch me, I can't let her. I can't give myself over to her without losing the last little shred of my heart that doesn't belong entirely to her; without making everything I believe even more of a lie than I already have.
I ignore Callie's plaintive call of "Erica" as I tug on my scrub top, not worrying about the bra that no one but Callie will ever link to me. And Callie knows I've been doing much worse than leaving my underwear in on-calls rooms. Callie knows I'm compromising everything I am, everything I know, everything I trust and need. I shrug my arms into my lab coat, refusing to look back as the noises behind me tell me that Callie's already on her feet. I'm out the door before she can dress though, and I'm berating my own sheer stupidity, my uncharacteristic weakness, as I turn the corner and almost walk straight into the second to last person I have any wish to talk to right now.
Sloan flashes that cocky smile at me, running his eyes across my body; my disheveled clothing, my hair messy in a way that I'm sure screams sex. "Hahn, you dog." He sounds bizarrely proud, happy in a way I can't quite understand. I just had my hands buried inside his wife, and it colors my thinking. I can smell her all over me, and I'm surprised that Mark doesn't recognize her scent. I'm almost certain that I would. It's clear that he knows the basics of what I've just been doing. "I'd shake your hand, but I'm not sure I want to do that right now." He smirks again, and I cringe, knowing that any second now, Callie will come barreling around the corner, chasing me. All I can hope is that Mark lets me escape before that happens. If he doesn't see us together, maybe Callie can still tell him; maybe Callie can do things the right way. If he sees us together though, everything collapses around us, and the road that Callie and I have to fight our way down to stand even a chance of being able to build a relationship will become a Hell of a lot rockier. Because I'll never now if she was going to keep her word. I'll never know if she really would have given up the safe and unfulfilling relationship they share for me. I'll never know if she wanted me enough to take the leap I need her to make.
I try to walk around Sloan, but he sidesteps, his grin bordering on a leer. I know he knows how I feel about his wife, and I think he's hoping that I've found someone else to occupy my time. I know he's hoping that the cracks he's felt in their marriage recently can be fixed now. I think he's always been a little worried of my 'friendship' with Callie, and, honestly, can anyone blame him? "Go find someone else to bother, Sloan." I drag his name out in the condescending way that always removes people from my path, but he stands firm, his eyes fixed on me. I can't look directly at him. My face would give me away, and it isn't my place to tell him about us. If Callie wants me with her, I would be there, of course I would, but she hasn't asked me to be there, so it's not my place to be the one who gives the game away, and I know that the guilt in my eyes right now will be all too easy to read if I let our gazes meet. I flinch away as Sloan slaps me companionably on the arm, "Who's the lucky lady?"
I see it coming before it actually does. Karma won't let that opening pass us by. I make one last desperate attempt to escape as I hear the telltale slap of rubber against the floor, the footsteps harried, rushed. It's true that in a hospital, that could be anyone, at any time, but Callie's had more than enough time to dress and come after me, and I know with certainty that those footsteps belong to her even before they reach the corner. There's a slight squeak of sneakers on polished floor as she turns the corner, and she sees me before she sees him. The night we met, I remember being pleased by that, but my stomach is sinking, my heart is in my throat and this is so very much not the same situation.
"Erica, you can't just- Mark." There's no denying that Callie's timing is completely perfect, and if I wasn't standing in the middle of this awful situation, I'd have to laugh. This is exactly what I should have expected to happen, one of the many things that should have given me pause before I entered that on-call room.
He looks between us; our hair mussed, our lips swollen, and puts the pieces together. We're frozen in the moment, all of us afraid to move. The second we do, we have to deal with this. I hoped so hard that the truth would out, but now it has, I wish I could take it back. I don't know if I'm ready for this anymore, if I can honestly say that I can be with her. I don't know if I can trust her to keep her word ever again.
I don't know if I'll ever believe that I'm more than just the second place trophy in her eyes.
When I'm paged 911, it's a relief. I've been hidden in my office for what seems like forever, working over the possibilities of the outcome of Callie's discussion with Sloan. I've almost convinced myself to send security down there more than once in what is apparently less than an hour, and I need something else to occupy my mind. As I stride into the Pit alongside Bailey and Sloan, I find myself even more worried about what has happened to Callie. If she and Sloan have finished talking, where is she? Why didn't she come to find me? The look on Sloan's face tells me that he's far from happy, but that could just be the discovery that his wife has been sleeping with me. I'm trying to stop from getting ahead of myself; the melancholy anger in his eyes as he glances across at me doesn't mean that she's finally left him. I don't know that.
Fortunately, I don't have to focus on Sloan. Stevens and Yang are having an argument that's just aggravated enough to provide a completely reasonable alternate point of focus. As I slide on the yellow trauma gown, I vacillate between watching them and watching the door nervously for Callie. If this is a big enough trauma to warrant Bailey, Sloan and me, there's a high chance that orthopedics will have representation here too, and Callie seems to be trusted more with the big cases than any of the attendings in her department. I need her to be here to ward off the ridiculous notion that's entered my head; that she's left Mark, but decided she doesn't want to be with me. I hate what I've let happen to me. I hope Callie can help me fix it. I hope Callie turns out to be worth it. After the months of angst and indecision, and pain, I can't not give being with her a shot but after she allowed us to be caught, after she let the seed that she's with me only by default take root, I'm thinking about it.
I need to talk to her. I need to hear her justification, to feel the words when she says "I love you" without also feeling the guilt and sorrow. I want to revel in the joy of those words and let myself believe that that's all we need, and everything else is just a distraction. I want to let myself feel the happiness I've been craving, just for today. We can deal with my worries and insecurities tomorrow or the day after. I'm not sweeping them away; I'm just trying to ignore them. At least, I hope that I can revel in her freedom maybe if I'm lucky.
The thought I can't push away is that she didn't leave him, that even after he caught us, almost red-handed, she still hasn't told him that their marriage is over; that she and Mark are going to give it another try. Glancing at Mark again from the corner of my eye, rationally I know that can't be true. There's something too broken in his face, in his posture. I know that discovering someone's cheating breaks a part of you even if you do think there's something you can work on, but looking at Mark, this seems like so much more than that. He looks like he's lost everything, and from the heated glares he keeps throwing my way, he blames me. I can't protest. Some of this is my fault. I stopped being able to claim innocence the second I let her kiss me after I knew she was married.
All of this runs through my mind in a matter of seconds, and Bailey breaks my thoughts with a terse "Hey, what do we have?" directed towards the bickering children. I'm not sure which of Yang and Stevens I would prefer to be working with today. Stevens did a good job last night, but she's probably tired, and nearly always chatty. Yang will always work well, but thinks that she's invaluable when she's still just a student. They all think that really, but because of Preston's inappropriate behavior following the shooting that brought me to Seattle Grace for the very first time, Yang is worse than any of the others; forever threatening to tip over the line into insubordination.
Both the residents respond at the same time, a power struggle playing out even in their words. "I don't know yet. " That's Stevens, but before her words have finished, Yang is layering "I don't know," over the top of them. Waiting until Stevens started speaking is probably the smart move, because it makes Yang's words more audible than the other woman's. Of all the things Cristina Yang is, stupid is not one of them.
I watch with disinterest as Izzie tries to protest and Yang holds out some stupid glittery pager as though it proves something, accompanied by an annoyingly superior "Sparkle pager." If I were Stevens, I think I'd be tempted to slap her, but then, that could just be a side effect of how on edge I am. It's been several hours since Callie made me leave her after the awful tableau that was the three of us, frozen in the moment outside one of Seattle Grace's almost infamous on-call rooms, and I've seen nothing, heard nothing. I don't know what's going on, and that's not a situation I cope well with at even the best of times. I have important decisions to make; decisions I shouldn't be thinking about now, and I feel like if I could just see her, if I could just get some idea of where we stand now, I can put those thoughts to the side and focus on whatever the crisis of the day might be.
Stevens seems incensed by whatever the power Yang seems to think she's invoked, if the cocky 'I win' smirk on her face is anything to go by. That look is enough to tilt my internal preference of resident over to Stevens, and in that moment, I know that Yang will win the battle. My life just seems to go that way at the moment. "You can't sparkle pager-" Stevens swings round, fixing her eyes on Bailey, who seems unperturbed by what's going on. "It's not her pager!" I'm sure it would beneath my notice normally too, on days when I'm not looking for something anything to shake me from my own thoughts.
Bailey shakes her head slightly as she looks between the two junior surgeons. We're not sure what we're facing in there, and she's probably weighing up which of them will be more useful if the trauma is on the scale that a general surgeon, a plastic surgeon, and a cardiothoracic surgeon are all needed. Grudgingly, I have to admit that that would probably be Yang, and I'm not at all surprised when Bailey speaks, her voice terse, decision made. "Yang, it's yours." Yang does a stupid little victory dance that immediately grates on my already shredded nerves, and Stevens opens her mouth as if she's about to protest, her shoulders slumped just a little in disappointment. To be fair, I understand where she's coming from. It would have really sucked when I was a resident if someone had been able to walk in and take my traumas away from me for reasons as arbitrary as their pager was prettier than mine. I've heard about the sparkle pager before, now I see it in action, but I've never really realized exactly how stupid a concept it is until now. No wonder the standards of this hospital are slipping rapidly. Not one single person seems to treat it as anything more than a game. Bailey continues, effectively bringing closure to the conversation. "Stevens, you need to cover the pit, and didn't you volunteer to oversee Karev's post-ops?"
Stevens makes one more doomed attempt at protest, and I think that even she knows it's futile. "yes, but-"
As expected, Bailey cuts her off mid-sentence, "I don't have time for pettiness, go!" Stevens leaves, her shoulders slumped, and as I follow her exit, I catch sight of black hair shimmering in the florescence of the hospital lights.
The same confliction of emotion I've been fighting with fills me, but I am relieved to see her, to know that she's okay. She looks flushed and a little panicked as she walks through the doors, and before I really realize the words are coming, I'm greeting her. "Hey, Callie." My words are in a tone that's far from normal, but I don't think anyone but Callie will notice. Once again, it's like we're trying too hard to play the roles we've been given, instead of those we inhabit. We can't try to deal with that now, but, stupid as it might be, it does soothe me a little to see her, to know that she is actually okay. Even through the layers of resentment and animosity I've felt towards Mark in the last few months, I knew, intellectually that she would be, but I couldn't help the dark thought that had nagged at me. Mark might be a great guy, at the root of it all, but this isn't a normal situation, and the anger sculpted on his face in the hall earlier worried more than it probably should have.
Callie looks between Mark and me with an expression that borders on flustered, and I wish that I could see inside her head. I wish that I'd had just a moment to talk to her to put my mind at ease at least. "Hi Hello, Erica." It's not quite what I was expecting, but then, what was I expecting? Callie to throw her arms around me in celebration, scream "Finally I'm free!" and kiss me in front of our colleagues? I wouldn't react well to that once I'd had a few seconds to get over the elation of her being in my arms and not having guilt course through me. At least, not the 'this is a married woman' guilt that has always eventually struck me in the past. And I'm still not certain whether there's anywhere we can go from here, anyway. This is better.
If only I could make my heart believe that.
I'm trying desperately to keep the illusion of 'just close friends' that our colleagues believe when I force out "What's the matter with you?" with an appropriately perplexed look on my face I hope. There are a lot of other things I want to ask her, like what the fuck she was thinking when she let it come down to Mark catching us almost red-handed, whether she truly was ever going to tell him, what she expects from me now but that's the only question I can ask, so I do, hoping that her answer will give me some of the clarity I need to push my thoughts of she and I to the back of my mind and focus on the task at hand the task we still have no idea of the true magnitude of.
Her almost frightened, "Nothing. Nothing," does little to ease my mind, but she does hold my eyes as she says it, and, not for the first time, I desperately want to be able to read her as easily as she seems to see right through whatever façade I choose to wear. Whatever she was trying to tell me is lost in translation, and, my face feels tight, the emotion rolling inside me completely inexplicable.
Bailey tilts her head sideways a little, studying Callie the same way she would a slide under a microscope, and I don't like it at all. I know that Bailey knows more than I'd like her to about this situation, and I hope with an intensity that borders on desperation that she doesn't say anything to spark the anger that I can feel threatening to break free around us. It's the last thing anyone needs right now. We need to go help now, not get dragged down into our own drama. That degeneration happens far too often in this hospital, and I refuse to let a situation involving me become just another one of Seattle Grace's dubious statistics. I'm better than that.
I ignore the voice that tells me I'm clearly not, since I let myself get entangled in this disaster. The heart might well want what the heart wants, but that doesn't mean I get to absolve myself here. There are a million ways I could have handled things that are better than how I let the situation develop.
Sloan ignores Callie completely, and I try not to let that build my hopes; I still don't have any better a view of the big picture here, and I try to push my confusion down, as unsuccessfully as I manage to put any emotion to the side when it comes to Callie. I'm trying to tell myself that it doesn't ultimately matter because I don't know where I stand on this even if their marriage is over and done with now. I don't know if I can ever forgive her.
But I still want her to be free to be with me.
I don't even understand what's going on inside my head.
When Bailey opens her mouth to speak, I hold my breath. "You look flustered, Torres." There's no judgment in her voice, which is as big a surprise as I've gotten all day, but I do notice that she casts a quick glance at both Sloan and I before turning back to Callie. I can only assume she's wondering which one of us has caused the slight sheen on Callie's face, the slight hitch in her breath, the flush that's spread across her cheeks.
I'm praying it's just that she ran here and doesn't know how to behave with both Sloan and I in front of her. I think that's true. But with Callie I can't be sure. I can't predict her because she throws off the shackles of my expectations at every turn.
Her gaze still flickering between Mark and me as though she's watching tennis, Callie still looks freaked out, and it's setting my nerves on edge. Intellectually I know that, whatever happened in that room, it's not easy for her to be in the same room as both of us while the emotions are still running so high, but intellectually, I know a lot of things that there's no way to feel. And it's not like either Sloan or I would choose to be in one another's company now, either, if there wasn't a job that needed to be done. Callie's words confuse me even further, the high note of fear that's escaped into her voice setting my nerves further on edge. They don't entirely make sense to me, and I need a moment with her to find out where I stand. "No, it's just that there's a trauma, and it's really big. That's all. It's big it's a big trauma." I can almost see her slap herself as they escape her, and I wonder if she's even making any sense to herself or just letting the first words that come to her mind be voiced. If I was a betting woman, I'd probably put money on the latter. I may not be able to read her like an open book the way she can me, but I'd like to believe I know her that well.
Bailey's tone is derisive when she speaks again, and her face is screwed up in the way that only Bailey can really pull off, her eyebrow raised, lip curved slightly in distaste. "You're acting weird." We start to move, and I have to admit that Bailey's right; Callie is acting exceedingly weird. Whatever message she's trying to send, I can't decode it, and it sets my nerves even further on edge.
Callie's frozen in place as we walk around her, and Sloan leans in to murmur something in her ear. I have no idea what it is, but it seems to upset Callie even more, if the barely controlled air of desperation in her too-loud "Really big trauma" is anything to judge it by. And that makes my frown deepen. Even when I'm suffering because of her, I can't bear to see anything upset her, however much she may deserve it.
There's no coming back from this for me. I'd swear to it.
If things didn't happen the way I'm hoping, the way I mostly believe they did, I don't know what I'm going to do.
Callie turns in the middle of the crowd, and as I walk past her, she reaches out to touch my hand. It's just a brief moment, but I think it's mean to reassure me, to make us both realize that, yes, what's happening between us, the developments of today, they're important, but we can't focus on them now. I think it's the only way she can find to tell me that we'll talk about everything later, but not to worry, it'll all be okay. At least, I hope that's what she's saying, even if I'm not sure it will be, and I'm not really paying any attention to Bailey's words as she leads us towards the room where our patient is located. It's something about Callie's strange behavior, but I'm steeling myself for a long day of uncertainty, so I don't hear the exact words.
When we walk into the trauma room, the sight there knocks everything else out of my mind, and as awful a situation as this boy has managed to get into, I'm thankful for it; terrible as it may be. I valiantly fight my jaw as my mouth tries to drop open, and in the end I control my reaction to just a muted "Oh my."
The kid, who can't be any older than eighteen takes center stage in the room, as well he should, rescue workers standing around him, looking at us expectantly. He's encased in cement, and I've never seen anything like this before. As uncertain as my tenure at Seattle Grace has been, this is the reason I came here. In Seattle, there's no better trauma center, and the strange cases that end up here are worth the trade of never-ending drama. Or, that's what I thought, when I moved from Pres and my colleagues all tried to convince me not to join the infamous drama club. I laughed at their concerns, certain that I wouldn't allow myself to get dragged in. I was wrong about some things. But on the challenges presented to surgeons here, I was right, and while I'm no longer sure that it was really worth the pain that coming here brought to my life, this is certainly a challenge. I don't think I've even ever heard of surgeons facing a prospect like this one.
I don't know where we can start.
I don't think any of us do.
I hear Yang's disbelieving whisper of "Really big trauma," and internally, there's a moment of levity that's almost enough to make me laugh at how accurate Callie's overreaction was and how silent she is now.
One of the rescue workers, the guy I assume is the crew leader turns to face us, his face showing us that this has thrown even him just a little. Credit where credit's due though, his professionalism shines through where ours probably doesn't and I immediately school my face into a more appropriate expression than outright disbelief. "So, how you wanna handle this?" His words are very matter of fact, and that's the mindset all of us need to get into if we stand any hope of getting this boy through surgery successfully. Forcing my emotional turmoil down, I start running our options through my mind, never settling on one for long enough to make any real progress.
My gaze flickers to Bailey, who's heading up the group of us. It's a slightly bizarre arrangement, when I think about it. She may well be one of the most professional doctors in this hospital if not the most, now that I have to rule myself out but she's still just a resident. In a room with Sloan and me, both accomplished, renowned attendings, Bailey shouldn't have to take point. But everything at this hospital is upside down and inside out, and I think I'm going to give up on trying to instill order on the chaos that rolls around me at every opportunity. I don't step forward to take charge, even though I probably should. Bailey is probably the best person to handle this anyway, since Sloan and I are going to be distracted, however hard we try not to be. Even Bailey doesn't seem able to find words though, and the silence is broken by a weak, almost whimpered "Help me" from the poor kid in front of us. It can't be very reassuring to be faced with a group of surgeons this large, with every one of us looking completely bewildered.
And still, the only words that escape from any of us are a second echo of Callie's panic from Yang, this one a little louder, a little more certain, as though the scene in front of us is beginning to sink in.
Yang's words are followed by an even more pathetic, almost begging "Please."
We need to figure this out, and it probably needs to be fast. I may not know all of the things we need to be concerned about, but crush injuries and rhabdomyolysis are definitely in there, and we're going to need to get in there quickly.
If only I could pin down where we need to start.
I don't know how long with been in the room adjacent to the trauma room in which the rescue crews are doing nothing because we don't know what to tell them to do, but I do know that, somehow, we've stopped being able to discuss this rationally, and Callie, Bailey, Sloan and I are arguing passionately about the best way to approach this problem, Yang trying to keep up with the ideas that we throw out as she writes on the board. There's definitely an undercurrent of real anger that has absolutely nothing to do with our jobs as Mark and I trade dissenting opinions, and it feels oddly good to be yelling at both him and Callie, even if it's not about what we really do need to find the time to discuss Callie and I, anyway. I'd be perfectly happy to never speak to Sloan again, and that goes double for how I feel about him talking with the woman we've been locked in a war over since the day I met her.
The argument is escalating rather than reaching any sort of a conclusion, and I'm starting to fear that the subtext is about to become text when the Chief's voice rises above the commotion. "Why is there a patient in there, and all of you are in here?" I don't know where he came from, but, incompetent though he can be, I'm relieved that someone with more authority is here to try and impose some order on the chaos the five of us are creating as I spin in tandem with my fellow surgeons to face him.
It's Yang who speaks up to explain, and maybe that's for the best. I'm sure that anything that any one of the more qualified doctors in the room could say now would only make the argument flare once more. "Doctor Torres is worried about the limbs, Doctor Bailey is worried about the abdominal crush injuries, Doctor Sloan feels the third degree burns should take the first look, and Doctor Hahn feels the heart and lung issues will kill him before we get to any of this." I'm oddly proud of how succinctly she sums up the issue, and though my opinion on the obscene amount of time she's allowed to spend prioritizing cardio over the rest of her education is unchanged, I do feel like this moment of unbiased summation is the tiniest step forward for her as a surgeon.
Richard for some reason seems to need clarification on what is a perfectly reasonable explanation, "So, in other words?"
Cristina manages to boil it down even further. "No one can agree on where to start."
Somehow, that simple sentence is the trigger for the argument to begin all over again.
We've paused briefly in our battle for superiority since that's what it really is to look through the window into the room where Andrew and the rescue workers are still waiting for us to decide what we're going to do.
It would help if we knew.
It would also help if my brain could stop drifting to Callie and other untenable situations with unclear answers. No matter how hard I try to focus, a part of my mind is thinking about her. A part of my body is pulling me toward her, and it takes all the willpower I have to not drag her into the hallway so we can talk. I'm used to Callie being the undercurrent of every thought I have, I'm used to having to force myself to focus, but this boy is trapped in an impossible situation, and so am I. So is Callie. So is Mark. And the three of us are trying so hard to work together when it would be easier to let everything implode. Under the circumstances, the parallel is just too easy to find.
Callie turns back from the window, her voice impressively matter-of-fact as her gaze skips over first Mark, and then me. "Cement's contracting. If I don't get in there, he could lose both his legs and his right arm." If Callie can remember what the heck she's doing here, then so can I. We'll have time to work through our issues later, but Andrew may have no time at all if we can't find a course to follow soon.
That snaps me back to the topic at hand, and I don't miss Bailey's instant rebuttal; "He could live without a leg. I'd like to see him live without a liver."
"So, we're saying we'd prefer to see him suffer a long, slow, painful death as the alkaline in the cement continues to burn through his skin?" Typically Sloan's voice is arrogant as he cuts over her, but there's an undercurrent of honest anger that's probably absolutely nothing to do with this situation. I'm sure he's not a violent man but I don't want Callie anywhere near him on her own. Everything else may be fuzzy where she's concerned, but I know without a doubt that I don't want her left alone with him.
How that's any different from how I've always felt about Callie being near Sloan is beyond me.
Shaking my head, swearing that surgery will be top of my mind for the rest of the day, but knowing I won't be able to completely avoid my mind wandering, I wade back into the argument, hoping that action will keep me sharp. "You can't just start chipping away. Once his circulation opens up, the built up toxins will stop his heart, not to mention rhabdomyolysis."
I've barely had time to finish my sentence before Yang's chasing the tail of it, sucking up to someone. I'm not sure if it's me, Webber, Bailey or all of us, but she's trying to impress us. "We can treat that with dialysis."
She's right. We could. If it weren't for the many, many other problems this boy has. Still, the irritation in my tone is less about her than it is about the fact that I still don't know what's happening in my own life. It's not something that's familiar to me, and I hate it; "Yang, let us work." Well, okay, it's partly about her. She needs to learn that she's not an attending yet, that she needs to respect her superiors a hell of a lot more than she does right now. I'm starting to think that she might be a hopeless case.
Before anyone can say anything in response to me, one of the few people in this hospital who could possibly make this situation worse both professionally, with his incurable idiocy, and personally, since he too has been closer to Callie than I want to imagine anyone but me having been, walks in. George's arms are piled with folders, one of which he hands to the Chief. "Chief, I found an article, but it doesn't say a lot."
I ignore him, trying to figure out how to help the boy in the other room, the boy whose time is slowly slipping away with every moment we spend in indecision. "I could put in a Swan-Ganz."
George continues talking to the Chief, "People who are encased in cement are also usually at the bottom of a river." If I were the melodramatic type, or at least, more melodramatic than whatever I have with Callie has made me, I'd probably be tempted to wish that I were at the bottom of a river right now. Especially as Sloan wades back into the argument. We're going to be forced to interact today, and it's going to be far from pleasant for either of us. I guess I shouldn't expect anything else.
"That's a little overboard." Mark's tone is condescending, and it immediately puts me on the offensive.
My voice is louder and harsher than it really needs to be as I bite back, "You are so wrong."
"I'm wrong?" I wonder if the disbelief in his voice is holding the subtext that I know mine would be if I were in the same situation. As reluctant as I am to admit it, I know that, if it does, I deserve it. Callie deserves it too, but, he's in love with her. He wants to believe that it's all me, I think, that I seduced her and confused her, when, in reality, it's definitely closer to the reverse of that. Still, I knew she was married, and I can't absolve myself of that guilt. I have to let Mark have his anger, even if I don't like it.
Callie, apparently, feels no such impulse. "You are wrong." Is she just talking about surgery here, or did he say something to her about us that she's railing against. I almost want to believe that's true, that she's finally fighting for us. It would make the decision I have to make so much harder, but I so badly want to believe that she's finally standing up for what she feels for me, for what I feel for her.
Her words just raise Sloan's ire even further. "You two working together on this?"
It's a good job that the Chief chooses to step in when he does. We're perilously on the verge of Callie, Mark and I screaming out our own issues in the subtext of our words, and I don't know how long it would stay subtext. I may have allowed my personal life to infringe on my professional persona, but I have no desire for everyone in this room to know the finer points of Callie and me. Especially with Yang and O'Malley in the room. It would only be a matter of minutes before the entire hospital would know. More people than I would like to admit can already see through the shroud of normalcy that Callie and I have attempted to cloak ourselves in. I don't need to expand that knowledge to anyone else.
"Everybody stand down!" Callie, Mark and I all freeze mid-argument at Webber's words, and he pushes on, sensing that he has to take this moment of silence as the opportunity that it is to reassert his authority. Honestly, it's about damn time. I don't know how this man became Chief of one of the best teaching hospitals in the country with the lack of backbone he shows most of the time. "We are fighting the clock, people. It took one hour for the kids to call 911." He glances around at us all, impressing the severity of his words with what almost passes for a glare. "It took three hours for search and rescue to get this guy cut out of the cement. That gives us less than four to six hours to get him out of the cement and into the OR before he is dead." He gives himself a moment to breathe, a moment to meet all of our gazes to press home exactly how emergent this situation is. "Now, we are fighting one hell of a clock. Every minute counts. We work as a team, or that man dies. Do you understand?"
Sufficiently chastened, we all reply in a disjointed kind of unison, "Yes, sir," but I imagine that the same thought I'm having just raced through Callie and Mark's minds. How? The three of us, right now we're about as far from a team as anyone ever could be, and I knew I was wrong to bring my private life inside these walls.
As O'Malley tries to ingratiate himself with an almost cheerful "Where do you want me, Chief?" I'm reminded they all do it. Every one of them. If the rumors are true, even the Chief is far from immune to that tendency. I don't know how we practice medicine sometimes.
Webber dismisses his intern, and I'm glad of it. He's right when he tells him that there are already "too many bodies in the room," but, also, I'm not sure I can handle another person with intimate knowledge of the woman who both tortures and thrills me being here. As George leaves, the bands that seem to be wrapped around my chest, waiting to crush me, loosen a little and I breathe easier. The small difference is noticeable, but I can't wait for them to break free. I know that can't happen until Callie and I have a direction, even if that's away from one another, and that that can't happen until we don't have a trauma on our hands, so as much for that reason as any other, I turn to the Chief, hoping that he has some kind of a plan.
Apparently, the extent of his planning is this: "What's the patient's name?" Is that somehow as important as figuring out how to tackle this?
Yang, in classic kiss-ass fashion, provides the answer the Chief is looking for; "Andrew Langston." That's great, but it's not getting us any closer to a solution. The just on the verge of too personal battle that was going on in this room before Richard walked in was at least medically relevant. Mostly.
I'm still hoping the next words out of the Chief's mouth will give us a definitive plan of action. It's not a surprise when his leadership fails me once more, though. "Let's go save his life," escapes him. It sounds authoritative enough, but it still leaves a vital question.
I'm asking that too much lately.
There are still too many people in this room, and I'm starting to feel a little trapped. The Search and Rescue workers are chipping the cement away from Andrew's body, and I'm pushed close to Callie as we're gathered around him, trying to monitor his vitals and administer as much care as we can. I'm trying to focus on pulse ox and breath sounds, rather than anything else, and I'm doing quite well. Mostly, I'm even managing to block out a lot of the conversation. It's difficult to find my stride properly right now, but it's medical things that are filling my brain, and that's better than any number of alternatives.
I don't hear what Sloan says to induce the sudden spike in Andrew's pulse, but I definitely hear the panic in the boy's voice as his words almost trip over one another in their rush to escape his mouth, "I'm burning from the inside out? I'm dying. I'm dying, aren't I?"
Trust me, kid, you can live a long time while it feels like you're burning from the inside. A look flutters across Sloan's face that suggests that he feels the same way. I'd have more sympathy if it wasn't for the fact that I've been feeling that way for months, and I don't know for sure if my own torture is over yet. Even if I'm right, and right now Sloan is feeling so many of the feelings I've had recently, it may not be over.
I'm glad for Bailey's intervention, and I force myself to listen to her words, to center myself on the very real problem that's right in front of me, rather than the hypothetical and emotional problem I know I won't be able to escape for very long. "Hey. Hey. Andrew, that's word's not allowed anymore. I'm banning that word from your vocabulary."
Moving down the boy's body slightly, worryingly closer to where Callie is looking more and more concerned at the pressure in Andrew's limbs, I ask, "Can you move your fingers?" He does, just a small amount, and I carry on checking the circulation in the few extremities I can get to. It'd be great if I don't have to try and re-haul his entire circulatory system, and, so far, it's looking like I might be lucky. I don't yet know what we might be facing with his heart and his lungs though, so my optimism is cautious. We're not going to know until we can actually get him onto the OR table, and that's a bigger risk than I'd like to take, under normal circumstances. I have no choice today though.
It's not exactly improving my mood, but I offer him "That's very good." I'm not the greatest when it comes to bedside manner, but at least I'm trying. And even the smallest reassurance can do nothing but help him right now. I'd give anything for the same consideration, I think.
I don't think Andrew's listening to any of our attempts to comfort him though. And why should he? He saw our faces earlier; the shock that was plastered across them didn't exactly say 'trust us, we know what we're doing.' His words seem to be coming faster as he babbles on. It's understandable. "I'm not usually this dumb. I make the Dean's list. I tutor. I'm not usually the guy who's dumb enough to jump into a tub of cement for a girl."
Trapping yourself in a ridiculous, overdramatic and dangerous situation because of a girl? This metaphor isn't exactly subtle, is it?
I wouldn't know what to say, so it's a good job that Callie leaps in. I wonder if she's seeing the parallels between Andrew and myself. Knowing Callie probably not. She's certainly been almost oblivious to what she's been putting me through at times. "Wait. Not the girl you came in with?"
Andrew's only response is a slight nod of confirmation, and I sense that he's trying to regain his equilibrium, to put on the stoic front that people expect to see. I don't think it's working any better for him than it ever does for me.
"You did this for her?" Callie's voice is heavy with disbelief. I don't know why. Whatever that girl said when she went to talk to Andrew's friends, it can't be worse than toying with him for months, jumping back and forth between people, drawing someone in just to push them away again. It can't be. Callie should know exactly what kind of stupid things people will do for love; exactly how many of their own rules that they'll be willing to break.
She's made me break every one of mine a thousand times.
Andrew's answer is the simplest and most complicated thing in the world, wrapped up in the insecurity of a teenager who clearly feels unworthy. "Lola. The guys dared me, she was watching and I she was watching." He's almost on the verge of tears, and my heart aches for us both. Love is a bitch. I have to shut down this train of thought too, as a large block of cement is lifted from his leg and he groans, clearly in pain as the blood begins to circulate more freely now that some of the pressure has been relieved. I'm identifying with him, and as a surgeon, feeling too much of anything for your patients usually leads to disaster. Even if it is only empathy. He continues talking through the pain though, and I have to keep working through mine. "And now, not only is she totally unimpressed, but now, after I'm gone, she'll remember me, forever, as the idiot who was dumb enough to jump into a tub of cement."
Bailey interjects, "Hey, we all mess up," and I try not to notice the look that Sloan gives Callie. The only good thing about that look is that Callie doesn't seem to notice it. Bailey's right though. We all mess up. And we're all idiots when it comes to our emotions.
If he's looking for evidence, Exhibit A is standing in my shoes.
The reassurance doesn't do anything for the boy on the table though. "I'm the guy who died in a block of cement trying to impress a girl. I'm like, Hans Solo." I exchange a confused glance with Richard, and it seems like everyone else is doing the same in the sudden silence that descends across us all. Bailey is the only person who's not looking confused, her eyes fixed intently on Andrew's face.
"In Star Wars?" Andrew asks. "He was encased in carbonite?" It doesn't clear anything up for me, but I shake my head and turn back to the heart monitor. Bailey sighs heavily, not sure what to do with that statement. I wouldn't know, either.
Sucking on the straw of my water a little while later, I'm watching the search and rescue guys cut Andrew further from the concrete, but I'm not really seeing him. I'm wondering what Callie said to Sloan, where she was between talking to him and arriving in the trauma bay, what had her so flustered when she looked at me. Yang is yawning in the corner, taking a moment to stretch in preparation for the long hours of surgery that extend before us. Sloan is here too, leaning against the window as he watches the workers try to free our patient. Somehow, I think his mind is in a different place too, probably with the woman who's not in the room, having left to make sure that when we free this boy, we can get him straight on the table. Just as I think of her, she reenters, confident strides hiding whatever she might really be feeling. She smiles at me just slightly as I hold out the drink I got for her, and the gentle brush of our hands as she takes it sends an entirely inappropriate shiver down my spine.
"The OR is booked and standing by." She comes to a stop just beyond my reach, and I have to remind myself that that's a good thing; that, as much as I might want to, I can't reach out and touch her right now.
Yang breaks the moment of silence that falls over the room, "Dr Bailey, what is it?" I glance across and notice that Bailey does look worried, like she's thinking of something and can't quite imagine what.
"There's something we're missing." Her words are unsure, but with the next time she speaks, they're certain again, and ring with a truth none of us can deny. "We're forgetting something." She starts to list all the things we've remembered to do and watch out for, and I listen carefully, cursing myself for being distracted and not noticing that something was amiss before. "Gangrene, compartment syndrome, compression, fluid balance, electrolytes. What is it? What is it?"
I feel my eyes narrow as I concentrate harder on her words, the cycle beginning again. It repeats three more times before there's a pause, and the next sound is the cup Bailey was drinking from dropping on the ground. In the next moment, I figure it out too, but Bailey's already started to talk. "Bladder. His bladder. We've been hydrating him and hydrating him for over four hours now."
Just like that, I'm all action, my mind entirely where it's supposed to be. It feels good, and I can't believe that I'd forgotten how soothing this can be for me. "If we don't get a catheter in him quick-"
"His bladder's gonna explode." Bailey finishes my sentence, and we both rush from the room, the others on our tail. This is exactly the kind of action I need today. I need to be rushing to save lives, not standing around waiting for the 'right time' to do my job.
I've had just about enough of waiting for the right time.
I catch Callie watching me intently as I finish up my part of the surgery. Just as I start to leave, I see Sloan appear behind her. He doesn't seem happy. That's potentially the most redundant thought I've ever had.
I take a deep breath before I enter the scrub room, knowing that I can't avoid this. There's no other way for me to go, and I can't pretend I'm still needed in surgery. Other than anything else, I'll just be in the way. The doors slide open, and I'm stripping off my gloves as I step into the separated room. We can't make a scene here, though no one would hear our words. The gallery is full of interns, and the Chief is standing just feet away. He may not be able to hear us, but the chances of him not seeing us if the tensions between us erupt are slim to none. A second deep breath allows me to look up, taking in the distance that separates Callie from Sloan, desperately hoping that there's some significance in that. She and I haven't had even a second for reassurance, and I've been searching for it with the same intensity I usually reserve for a heart under my scalpel.
Before I can even think of anything to say in the unstable atmosphere of this room, Sloan's snarling at me, posturing. I don't know if he's trying to regain some masculinity he thinks he's lost or if he's just that pissed, or it's a combination of the two. I can't blame him if he is pissed off. I would be too. I would be ready to castrate him if our roles were reversed, and I steel myself under his angry gaze, trying not to let my emotional volatility affect this situation any more than it has to. My anger with Callie has to stay anger with Callie. I have no right to be yelling at Sloan.
I have no right to be in this moment at all, and Mark doesn't waste a second letting me know that: "Go away, Hahn."
I suppose I should be thankful that he makes my name a pejorative; instead of any of the other things he could potentially call me. He might be well within his rights to cuss and scream and call me every insult he can think of, but I wouldn't stand for it, even now. There are some things I just can't stand, and that's definitely one of them.
Glancing back at Callie's face, I can't read her eyes, but her nod tells me that it's okay to leave her, and I hope, oh God, I hope, that this is it. This is the last time I'll see her like this with him, in a position too intimate for someone who claims to love me. I know they have things to address even if she has finally chosen me, but can't she find just a second to let me know what she's decided? After everything she's put me through, I deserve that at least. Even if she's chosen to try and make it work with him, I must deserve to know.
Andrew's crashing. I was checking on my other patients, since despite popular staff belief in this hospital life doesn't stop just be cause you want it to, but I came as soon as I was paged. When I almost fly through the doors of the OR, Yang already has him open. Which is the right thing to do, what Webber should have had her do, but my emotions are so up in the air I can't figure anything out.
I speak before the mask is completely tied over my mouth. "What is it? What happened?
Webber's voice is matter of fact as he replies, "He threw a PE."
A pulmonary embolism? No, they didn't do the right thing in not waiting for me. Yang has experience - too much experience for a junior resident but a PE could kill him with just the tiniest mistake, and I'm not willing to leave that in the hands of someone who's still little better than an amateur. Richard might be, but I won't take that chance. "So, what; you decided Yang'd be the best person to open him up?"
I know it's not just the frustration at this particular situation that's seeping into my voice, and I don't blame the Chief for raising his voice a little and trying to assert his dominance. It's one of the few leadership qualities that he does seem to have. "She's a bit of a cardiac savant if you haven't noticed."
"Oh really, is that why she went through the fourth intercostal space instead of the fifth?" Webber's tone irritates me, and I can't help but snap back at him. He's supposed to trust my judgment on when surgeons are ready to go it alone. Yang has a defacto specialty, even though none of the junior residents are supposed to clock significantly more hours in any one discipline than the others, and she's not ready to operate alone. If something goes wrong that isn't related to the heart, she'll fuck it up because she doesn't know how to do anything but cardio, and if Webber ever took the time to ask me what I thought the way he's supposed to, he'd know that too.
It's Yang who responds to me though, sounding harassed and insubordinate, and Webber should put a stop to that, but he always lets it pass him by. He doesn't have the balls for a confrontation, for a conversation that he doesn't want to have. It's pathetic.
"Couldn't get in through the fifth, there's gauze pushing the diaphragm up from the abdominal surgery." She doesn't look up as she speaks. I suppose at least she's focused on the surgery she shouldn't be leading for several years.
Trying to guide her, to make sure that this is done right, that no more damage is done than this boy has already done to himself, I respond, "This could be easier if you did it under floro."
I glance at the heart monitor, worrying about the stats there. If she fucks this up and Andrew dies, she can still celebrate the surgery that our incompetent Chief allowed her to work through. I'm the one who's going to have to explain what happened to his parents without making this hospital look bad, without getting us sued. I'm the one who'll have to see the heartbreak on their faces and take the hit because, if they discover that we allowed a surgeon barely three years into her training to take point on a surgery of this magnitude, we're all screwed.
Instead of listening to me and calling a nurse to set her up for the floro, Yang snaps back at me, as though I'm not her superior "Well, I only have the TE here, so I'm doing just fine with that."
Growing frustrated with trying to get her to do this properly, I start speaking, "Yeah, but you could reach it better if-"Then I give up, changing tack completely. "Alright, forget it. I'll do it myself. Gown please!"
The scrub nurse starts bringing the surgical gown over to me and my palms are itching for surgery as Yang replies, her voice tense. "I've got this."
This is the one thing I can control right now. I can't control the emotional rollercoaster I've found myself riding, but I can control surgery. I can control who does tricky work like this on hearts. That's my job. I snap back at her, "No. If you had done it under floro-"
"Shut up and let me work!" Yang's words come from nowhere, shotgun rapid. I couldn't be more incensed by it if I tried.
Everyone pauses except the younger surgeon and my eyes fly to Richard's, my shock probably evident. I've been trying to tell him for months of the problems with the confidence and 'God-given right to be a surgeon' idea that so many of the junior residents have here. But, instead of finally seeing what I've been trying to tell him, his gaze and voice are steady as he tells me, "Let her work, Dr Hahn."
I feel like just saying 'fuck this hospital, and everyone in it.' It's brought me nothing but trouble since I started here.
After a moment, I leave the room, wondering what else can go wrong today.
I'm charting at the desk, steadfastly ignoring Yang's presence while I hang around hoping that Callie hasn't left yet. She must be in another surgery, or on a consult, or something. She can't have deliberately left me hanging like this. The reason I'm not in my office is that I'm hoping to catch a glimpse of her, to steal a moment as she walks by to tell me how things are now, where we're going from here. I'm still fuming about the OR, but it seems far from the most important thing on my mind. As unthinkable as that would have been just six months ago, Callie makes me break all my own rules. I wish I could work out why that is. If I could explain it, maybe I could make it stop. Sometimes, it just hurts too much to love her. Today is definitely turning out to be one of those days. I still don't know what's going on, my career is falling to pieces, and still the first person I want to see is the woman who pulls the marionette strings when it comes to my uncharacteristic actions.
I look up at the footsteps approaching me, knowing instinctively that it's not Callie, but, by now, the reflex is to check. I sigh heavily as I realize that it's Richard. Great. Yang one side of me, the Chief the other all we need is for Mark Sloan and my mother to appear from nowhere and it's all the last people in the world I want to see surrounding me.
My eyes lock with the Chief, but he must not see the exhaustion creeping in around the edges of my mood, the frustration that's building inside of me when everyone tells me that I'm wrong when I know that I'm not, and the tears that are just barely under control. His voice low and even, the man who just might be the most incompetent boss on the planet starts speaking. "Yang flew solo. You should be celebrating, because that means you're doing your job." He's totally failing to realize that that's not all our job consists of, but fine, if that's what he wants me to aim for, instead of aiming for competent and well-rounded surgeons, I'm sure I can create a few more rebels for him to have to deal with. That's not all he has to say though. "Residents are like puppies. Eager and enthusiastic, and you need to learn how to teach without crushing their spirit. Now, you wanna work here, with my residents, then you need to do better. You need to be a better teacher."
I hold his gaze for a moment, too stunned to think of any response. He wants me to improve and has no plans to address the rampant issues with the residents' behavior? Really?
Just like that, there's not really anything more for me to cling to. Richard has decided, even in the face of Yang's insubordination, that there's nothing wrong with their behavior. It's probably what Callie's decided too.
I'm not so sure anymore that I do want to work here.
Picking up my chart and leaving, my steps slow as I walk past Yang, and our eyes meet. I'm exhausted right through to the bone, and I'm scheduled to work again in just a few hours. Maybe I can just get Callie to meet me in an on-call room. To talk. I'm much too tired for anything else. And I'm not sure that it's an idea that should even be crossing my mind.
In the end, I couldn't find Callie anywhere. I don't know where she is, but if it turns out that she was with Mark I'll probably still be the pathetic puppy that trails after her with my tail between my legs. I'm sick of it, and after everything today, I can't find my damn keys. I don't even look up when I hear footsteps, and when they stop beside me, I don't want to stop rummaging in my purse. I haven't seen Callie since the surgery, and I've been at the hospital for three days on practically no sleep. I want to go home. I want to sink into the oblivion of sleep and not think about anything, least of all Callie and what the Hell happened in that on-call room after I left.
Even in my wish not to think about her, my spirits lighten at the timbre of her voice. "Hi. I wanted to see if you wanted to grab a drink?"
I'm so stupidly in love with her and I wish I wasn't. I want so badly to break away from this torture. If she can't be mine, she can't be mine, but I can't keep being a yoyo on the end of her string. This pull you closer, throw you away dance she's been playing needs to end. I need an answer tonight, but I'm not sure that I want to hear it, so I deflect her, continuing to rummage through my bag. "I can't find my keys."
Callie continues on the same trajectory though, and for a moment, my heart soars, hoping the determination is because she can't wait to start the next part of our journey, the part where we walk side by side instead of forever out of sync. "Maybe we could, um I had something I wanted to talk to you ab-"
I cut her off. "I had the damn keys this morning. I put them in this bag, but I can't remember. This whole thing with Yang has got me so messed up." I know that's not fooling Callie. I know that she knows that it's not Yang who has me screwed up. But, I'm so afraid to hear what this woman has to say; the hesitancy in her tone terrifies me more than I'd ever admit. Why would she be nervous to tell me that she's chosen me instead of him?
Her voice is suddenly simultaneously calmer and more assertive, and I make the mistake of looking up as I ask, "What?"
It's my undoing.
Her hair is loose around her shoulders, curling perfectly. Her lips are a pale pink that make them look incredibly soft, and I just want to drink her in, those lips against mine, to lose myself in her. There's something about her attitude that's different, a freedom about her that I dare not hope is because her marriage is categorically over. I try to remember that she has a lot of explaining to do, and I'm still pissed that she let it come to the point where Mark just discovered us, instead of telling him, but I wished for him to put the puzzle together for so long that it's probably more than vaguely hypocritical that I'm still trying to fault that. As my gaze sweeps down across her body taking in the leather jacket, the pink shirt that hangs loose around her, providing just a hint of the body underneath, and the enthralling tightness of her jeans, I try to focus on the fact that I've had no idea where she was or what was more important than telling me how their conversation went. I fail. It's all I can do to let her speak, to not sweep her up in my arms and cling to her. What I want, more than anything in the world, more than kissing her, is just to hold her. To feel her close, to know that she's really here, and I'm really here, and this is all going to be okay. Everything that happened today can be fixed. And maybe, just maybe, we can be fixed. But, no matter how much I might want it, I can't do that. I still have some pride.
I don't know what the expression on my face is telling Callie, but some of her confidence seems to drain away, her voice shaking a little as she speaks. "I'm saying something here." She finished with a nervous smile, and, despite myself, my heart seems to clench, and some of my anger falls to the back of my mind. It's not gone far from it but it's not near the top of the emotions that are bubbling within me. I don't say anything though. I don't know what to say. I don't know where we stand, or what happened after she made me leave her with Mark.
The silence between us seems to drag on for an eternity, and I can hear my heart pounding in my ears. I'm on the verge of begging her to tell me what's happening; to break my heart or start helping to fix the cracks she's caused to form when she opens her mouth once more, her words halting and uncertain. It's endearing, despite that I swore earlier today that I wouldn't make this easy for her after all the torment she's put me through. "Just I wanted to say " There's another pause, much shorter this time, and I'm fearing that she is about to break my heart. I've made it clear enough with my inability to stay away from her that I'm not going to reject her if she's finally coming to me unencumbered by the bonds of marriage, and I swear that my heart stops as a slightly terrified expression flits across her face. It's replaced by resolve just as quickly as it arrives, and that does nothing to start my heart beating again, my breath feeling restricted as I wait for her to finish. Her eyes fall upon my lips though, and I think that's her undoing, because she's coming towards me even before she starts to find words again. "I just wanted to say-"
And then her lips are on mine, and it's better this time, a million times better than it's ever been like before. If kissing Callie used to spark electricity, this kiss is a lightning bolt to my body. I forget how tired I am, the utter exhaustion that invaded my bones. What I want more than anything is for this kiss to never end. I don't care that we're in front of the hospital, or that everyone will know if anyone should happen to pass. I don't care, because she doesn't care, and that means it's over. That means Callie is free, free to love me the way I need her to love me, the way this kiss says she does.
For now, that's enough to salve the wounds she's inflicted. We have to talk, and I have decisions to make. She has decisions to make, and nothing is solved, but the feel of her against me, the warmth of her lips and tongue they fortify me, strengthen me after the day from Hell, and, just for this moment, that's enough.
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