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Sex and Caring in Seattle

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It's a slow morning, and Alex has spent most of it trying to convince Bailey that he should be assigned to an actual surgeon today without actually blatantly insulting Dr. Lambert, letting you and Cristina trail behind to gossip between yourselves. There are about a million things you really want to ask her, something along the lines of "seriously, where have you been and what the hell is up with you lately" topping the list, but she doesn't give you a chance to say anything, just starts right in with a smug, "So you've heard, right?"

"Heard what?" you ask, despite yourself.

"Shepherd's sister," she says. "Right here in the hospital. Natalie or Nelly or something, she showed up this morning, and here's the best part -- she cornered him in the elevator," she says. "Can you believe that? It's like, hereditary or something!"

"Why is she here?" George asks over his shoulder.

"To annoy him, apparently," says Cristina.

George nods sagely. "Yup, must be his sister."

Bailey turns around, hands on her hips, and glares. "I beg your pardon, am I interrupting your social hour with my trivial medical cases?"

"Sorry, Doctor Bailey."

"Yeah, I'm sure you are." She leads you through the door to oncology and starts handing out charts as you circle your next patient. "Okay, Karev. What have we got?"

-)(-

When you and George get out into the courtyard, Callie and Addison are sitting together at a table near the window, and George hesitates. "Do you -- would it be weird if we sat with them?"

"Why would it be weird?"

"I don't know. They're like, girlfriends. Not -- I mean, like, friends girlfriends, not dating girlfriends," he stutters. "Not that I think you would be upset if I meant dating girlfriends, unless you would be upset, because I would be upset, but I'm dating Callie, and you're not dating Addison. You're not dating Addison, right? Not that you shouldn't be dating Addison --"

You take pity on him. "I know what you mean, George," you tell him with the kindest smile you can manage (which comes out really far more amused than you intended). "And I'm dating Finn, remember?"

"So it wouldn't be weird? We wouldn't be, like, intruding?"

"You're her boyfriend, George. People usually like to eat lunch with their boyfriends."

"And you wouldn't be, you know, uncomfortable?"

You give up and just walk over there, and hear him stumble behind you to try and catch up. Addison sees you first, and a wide smile blooms across her face. "Hey Meredith, O'Malley."

"Hi. Mind if we join you two?"

"Not at all," says Callie cheerfully. "Pull up a seat. We were just talking about the disaster that is Star Trek V."

"You've seen the Star Trek movies?" George asks Addison as the the two of you set your trays down and sit. The "Seriously?" is implied.

"Not necessarily by choice," answers Addison dryly.

"No one sees Star Trek V by choice," Callie counters.

"In my defense, I saw it opening night, before anyone knew it was bad."

"Your defense is that you saw a Star Trek movie on opening night? George, if I ever get into legal trouble, remind me not to ask Addison to be my lawyer."

"Hey, I freely admit that I'm a Tolkien nerd and I've read every book Asimov ever wrote, but I am not a Trekkie," says Addison good-naturedly. "I just happen to have dated a lot of them."

"Sure," says Callie, and reaches for her sloppy joe before glancing across the table at you. Almost instantly, she drops the sandwich and rolls back in her chair, her peal of laughter ringing across the courtyard. "I -- think you broke -- Meredith," she gasps in between giggles, waving a mirthful hand in your direction.

You glare at her indignantly, and realize as you do so that you have, in fact, been staring at Addison in slack-jawed and probably somewhat comical disbelief. But seriously, you just found out that Addison freaking Montgomery saw a Star Trek movie on opening night and can accurately describe a hobbit, it's hardly fair to hold a little astonishment against you. It's not like George is any less surprised by all this, right?

Except clearly, he is, because he's also laughing at you. Only a little, it's mostly just that shy-but-still-smug grin he has, but still, you are apparently the only person at this table not currently being entertained at your expense.

"What?" he says innocently when he realizes you're glaring at him now. "You've never noticed the sexy librarian glasses? People with sexy librarian glasses are always secretly a little nerdy. It's some kind of law of geekhood or something."

"'Sexy librarian glasses'?" says Addison, eyebrows arcing up and a quirk at the corner of her mouth, and George turns scarlet from his hair to the neckline of his scrubs and utters a single, terrified "Frak."

Callie turns towards him with a look that pretty clearly says she's going to make him pay for that, not so much because she's angry but because scaring the crap out of him is going to completely crack her up. Fortunately for George, she's interrupted by a tall brunette squealing "ADDISON!" at the top of her delighted lungs from the other side of the courtyard.

"Nancy?" Addison exclaims, and her voice is in a lower register and quiet enough that it probably doesn't carry much further than your table but the excitement is clearly mutual. Nancy is almost to where you're sitting by the time Addison is on her feet and you're a little surprised that one doesn't lift the other off the floor when they hug.

George leans in toward you and mutters, "Shepherd's sister?"

You shrug wordlessly.

"Oh my God!" Addison is saying. "When did you get here? How long are you staying? Why are you here? -- Not that I'm complaining, mind you."

"I got in last night and learned first-hand what a saint you are, sleeping in that miserable trailer of Derek's for so long," Nancy laughs. "If someone had only warned me, I'd have called you first. Wherever you're staying can't possibly be that... rustic. As for why I'm here -- we can talk about that later, I don't want to interrupt your lunch."

"Oh -- I'm sorry! Guys, this is Nancy, my sister-in -- uh, Derek's sister," she says, her face falling for a moment, and you fight the sudden urge to reach out and squeeze her hand reassuringly. "Nancy, this is Callie Torres, our favorite ortho resident, and a couple of our interns, George O'Malley and Meredith Grey."

Nancy smiles pleasantly through most of the introduction, but when Addison says your name her head jerks around in surprise and she pulls Addison back a few feet, although not actually quite out of hearing range.

"Meredith Grey? That's the slutty intern who slept with Derek?" she hisses in scandalized glee.

You wince and stare down at your salad, but jerk your head back up when you hear Addison snap "Watch your language, Nancy," with an angry edge in her voice. Callie shoots you a knowing look before going back to surreptitiously watching them out of the corner of her eye, and you take a couple seconds to try to figure out what she meant by it, but can't come up with anything before Addison and Nancy distract you again.

"Sorry, Addie," Derek's sister is saying, apologetic and a little bewildered. "I just meant --" She stops and a thought seems to strike her. "Addie, why are you sitting with the intern who slept with Derek?" Impressively, she manages to make one word do the work of two, dropping the "slutty" from "slutty intern" without in any way diluting the message. You find quite suddenly that you've lost your appetite.

"Um, I'm going to... go, now," you tell George and Callie, pushing yourself up from your chair with effort. Callie shoots you a sympathetic look and George scrambles to his feet as well. Nancy and Addison look over at you, and a slightly troubled expression crosses Addison's face when she sees you standing.

"Ah," George fumbles, "sorry Dr. Montgomery, Ms.... uh, Shepherd?"

"Doctor, but yes, Shepherd," says Nancy with a smile.

"Doctor Shepherd," acknowledges George with a dip of his head. "They paged us."

Nancy shrugs incuriously and waves. "Nice meeting you all," she says with a special emphasis on the nice when she looks at you. You smile back with all the fake sincerity you can muster as George leans down and gives Callie a quick peck on the lips, then subtly leads you out of the room, one hand on his tray and the other a light, reassuring pressure on your elbow.

-)(-

After lunch, Bailey releases you all to deal with your open cases, so you head back to 314 around 1 o'clock, to find Keiko Azuma propped up in her bed, flipping channels restlessly.

"Hey, Keiko, how are you feeling?"

"Bored out of my mind, but my hand doesn't hurt anymore. Is that a bad sign or just the drugs kicking in?"

"Probably the drugs. Dry gangrene progresses very slowly."

"So I have dry gangrene. Okay. Great. Dry gangrene." She turns off the television and looks over at you. "You have to tell me what that means. I freak out less when I know what things mean."

You walk over to her bed and put down her chart, suddenly struck by how very young Keiko really is, and search for that Patient Care tone that's the right balance of informative and compassionate. "When you burned your hand, you damaged some of your veins badly enough that blood isn't getting to your fingers anymore. Without blood, your cells can't get oxygen and they die. That's gangrene. Here's the good part -- 'dry' means that you don't have an infection, so the gangrene won't spread quickly and we have a better chance of saving more of your hand."

"Wait wait. 'More of'?" She gives you a weak smile. "That sounds an awful lot like I'm not leaving here with all my fingers, Dr. Grey."

You hate this part, and you kind of hate Dr. Boehm for sticking you with it, but you're pretty sure she'd rather hear it from you so you take a deep breath and do your job. "When we operate, we're going to repair the damaged blood vessels and restore bloodflow to your fingers. At that point, it's possible some of the less damaged tissue will recover. But the tips of your fingers are totally dead, at least down to the knuckle, and we're going to have to remove them, as well as anything else we can't restore."

She sinks back into her pillow with a heavy sigh, and you stand awkwardly at the side of her bed, unsure if you should stay and finish informing your patient or leave and give her some privacy. Finally, she looks over at you and asks resignedly, "My boyfriend?"

"We called him. He said he'd come as soon as he could."

"I'm left-handed, you know," she says, and it hangs in the air for a minute.

The silence stretches out painfully again and you blurt, "Why did you let it get this bad?" before you can stop yourself.

"I'm an artist," she says, and then, cheekily, "You couldn't tell from the hair?"

"I didn't want to assume," you smile.

"I'd been in the studio for a week straight. Caught by the muse, you know? I've been doing this piece in oils, Dusk Over Puget Sound. Sleeping on the couch, eating nothing but delivery, wearing the same clothes for three days until Anthony showed up with spares and made me change. Just to finish it, you know? I couldn't stop, couldn't let it slip away. So I finally got there, the whole thing finally clicked, I was done, and I staggered into the shower. I'd had paint on my face, in my hair, up to my elbows for six days, and my fingers were cramping and stiff from the cold studio and the detailing, and I finally got to be clean, but my hand wouldn't wash. All that warm water and all that turpentine and my fingers were still cold and black and lifeless. Freakiest moment of my entire life, and that includes walking in on my parents having sex when I was fourteen." She looks up, apologetic. "Sorry, was that TMI?"

You pull a chair over to her bedside and sink down in it with a wry smile. "Just a little. Don't worry about it, though, I've heard worse. People say all kinds of things when they're stressed."

"Stressed doesn't begin to cover it." She looks down at her open palms with a bitter scowl. "I'm an artist. I need my hands."

"Even if we have to take most of both fingers, you won't lose any dexterity in the others," you assure her.

"It doesn't matter," she says. "I use it all, I use everything. Especially when I sculpt, I need every finger on the clay. But even... It'll throw off my balance." She stares up at the ceiling again. "You don't understand."

"No, I probably don't. Probably no one does who isn't about to lose part of her fingers. I do know this, though -- surgery has a lot in common with art." You realize quite suddenly, and with surprising dismay, that you've never seen one of Addison's drawings. "You have to have good hands, at least. Steady, precise, just like an artist. And I used to know a surgeon with only four fingers. He worked with my mom, and he was pretty good from what I hear."

Keiko's quiet for a while, and then she looks over at you again. "Is that why you became a surgeon? Because your mom was one, I mean?"

"Sort of," you shrug, and then, struck by some odd impulse toward disclosure, add, "More because being a good surgeon was the one achievement she couldn't dismiss as being unimportant."

"That sucks," she says feelingly.

"So does losing your fingers."

She nods, blue hair bobbing against the pillow. "Truer words were never spoken."

-)(-

You're poking a shot of Jose Cuervo around the bar, making twisty shapes out of the sweat rings, when Addison appears in your peripheral vision and slides onto the stool beside you.

"Thought I might find you here," she says as she grabs a couple complimentary peanuts.

"You were looking for me?"

"I wanted to apologize for Nancy."

"Hey, it's not your fault the Shepherds all hate me."

"Um." She crushes a peanut absently. "That's not entirely true."

You still your hand over your tequila and give her an incredulous look, but she's avoiding meeting your eyes.

"See, Derek's family is sort of... everyone's family. Mark, Savvy, Weiss, Cab, Trish -- we all kind of revolve around Derek and Nancy and Kathleen. Cab and I married in, but even Savvy and Weiss still do Thanksgiving at Cab and Kathleen's place. So there's a lot of... gossip."

"Gossip."

She cringes a little. "I may have... called Savvy. After the prom." It's a testament to how embarrassed she is that she doesn't even do the eyeroll that everyone does when they actually say the word 'prom' out loud. "I was kind of drunk. And I think I ranted a bit."

"... and Savvy told Derek's family," you say heavily, trying not to think about Addison telling everyone she cares about what a home-wrecking slut you are. You toss back the shot and slap it down on the bar, nodding to Joe for another as he discretely slides Addison's drink toward her and fades away again.

"Well, not exactly. I guess I wasn't all that coherent, and she pretty much got 'slept with an intern' and 'divorce' and nothing else. So she called Kathleen to ask if she knew anything, and Kathleen called Mark but he didn't know anything new. And then Alicia heard that Derek sold the brownstone, so they finally decided to send Nancy out here to ask Derek what the hell he's doing skipping Thanksgiving and Christmas and throwing away New York and DerekandAddison over some intern, and to get us to come home." She says that last with absolutely no inflection, and follows it by draining the top two inches of her Long Island in a single gulp.

"... oh," you say.

"Yeah." She sighs. "I'm really sorry, Meredith."

You watch your watery designs evaporate and say bitterly, "Don't be. It's true. He gave up your marriage for me."

She reaches out, wraps her fingers gently around your chin and turns your face back towards her. Her eyes are fierce and intense and hold your gaze locked on her even after she takes her hand away, and when she says "Meredith. Listen to me," her voice is just as urgent and compelling. "We were over long before you came into the picture. We did this to ourselves, okay? You had nothing to do with it. We pulled you into it, and that was so incredibly wrong of us that I don't even know how to begin to apologize, but that does not mean you get a share of the blame."

"But if I hadn't slept with him at the dance --"

"Then I might still be with him? Yes. Which means you probably did me a favor," says Addison, tipping her glass in your direction. "Which, by the way, is pretty much what I told Nancy. Derek Shepherd is a brilliant surgeon, and a caring friend, and a wonderful human being, but he's a crap partner, and he hasn't been in love with me for a long time, and it's past time I accepted that. I'm done fighting for him."

You lean against her shoulder and notice for the first time that the lingering, tantalizing hint of aftershave that used to follow her is gone; she smells a bit like apricots now, and you're surprised by just how happy that makes you.

"You almost sound like you're over him," you say, and that's when you know you're drunk, because you wouldn't say something like that if you were sober. (You probably wouldn't be leaning on her if you were sober either but you're not going to think about that because if you do you might stop, and seriously? Addison smells like clean sheets and apricots and you are totally not ever going to stop leaning on her.)

"Let me tell you a secret, Meredith," she says, with that same straightforward melancholy, but there's something a little melodic in her tone too, like she's starting a bedtime story. "There is no 'over him.' At least, there never has been for me. Love isn't like that. It doesn't turn off or end. Even when there's hate, or pain, it's still there, just... different. Like scar tissue. I can't erase what he meant to me. I just have to decide to let it heal over as clean as it can, and move on."

"And go home?" you say, very quietly, in a tone of voice you haven't heard yourself use since the last time your mother was lucid, when you made the last promise you'll ever have a chance to make to her only to break it ten months later.

"Nah," she says, giving you a gentle, conspiratorial shoulder bump. "Karev still thinks he wants to go into plastics. I can't just hop across the country and let him grow up into another Mark, now can I? What kind of responsible attending would I be then?"

"Hmm, well," you agree, suddenly bouyant, and burrow a little deeper into her shoulder. "You're nothing if not a responsible attending."

".... yeah," she says quietly, and you're drunk and tired and comfortable enough that maybe you can be excused for not noticing that she's suddenly gotten just a little bit tense.