One Thing Leads To Another
OBLIGATORY DISCLAIMER: Based on Grey's Anatomy, created by Shonda Rhimes, and produced by Touchstone Television.
"Where are you going?" Meredith asked George. She was trying to seem nonchalant. After all, she had only been wandering by his room, carrying a steaming mug of coffee, and caught the briefest glimpse of George packing a suitcase. No, 'packing' was the wrong word, she decided; that implied that there was care and concern for the items. What George O'Malley was doing was stuffing fistfuls of clothing into his mustard-yellow hardside American Tourister case, muttering all the while. It rang a too-familiar alarm bell in her head and made her stop dead at his door to ask him that single question.
"Going?" George replied in a wobbly voice, still shoveling. The word caused him to grimace, and the grimace gave him pause. "You know what? I'm not," he added. "I'm a doctor. A surgical intern. An important member of a team." He nodded, mostly to himself. "I'm not a little kid anymore. I can do whatever I want." He turned his head and smiled at Meredith, eyes alight. "Thank you. I'm not going." He dumped the suitcase on to his bed.
The genuine warmth of his expression gave Meredith a rush. Her friend hadn't smiled at her like that in some time, and she had missed it. As she felt a smile breaking across her own face, she could hear George's mood shift with a groan usually heard exclusively from heavy machinery.
"No. No. I can't not go," he said. She turned to see him behind her, dragging his open, empty suitcase across the floor. His eyes were miserable again. "My mom is all excited about it and I promised her - promised her - I'd do it and they know where I live and they'll call and they'll call if I don't show up and I...I...have to go. I have to." He turned back to his room, dejected, pausing only to do a little dance of frustration by the door, which didn't do the shell of his suitcase any favors..
Meredith followed him with her eyes, and the corners of her mouth turned down with concern. "Where are you going?"
"A class reunion? That's it?" Christina snorted as she slammed her locker door. "I swear, Bambi, you lose your mind over the stupidest things." Then she caught a glare from Meredith, and added, "No offense."
"It's not just the reunion," George groaned from his seat on the bench in front of his locker. "It's the whole...event."
"Oh, yeah," Meredith said. "Tell them about your itinerary."
"Itinerary?" Alex asked, putting his foot on the bench to tie his shoe. "I thought these things were, you know, pretty casual."
George rolled his eyes. "Not in my class. Things always have to be..." His voice trailed off, then returned. "See, tonight, there's this mixer. Casual, right? Sure. Lots of awkward conversations with people I didn't have anything in common with a decade ago. Then, tomorrow morning, there's a breakfast to honor retired teachers - and also to challenge the gag reflexes of those of us who couldn't get through the night before without a few hundred drinks." He stood up, his juices flowing. "This will be followed by a parents' luncheon - "
"A parents' luncheon?" Christina wondered.
"Yes indeed. Fun for the whole family as moms and dads share hilarious stories of how their children haven't changed in ten years. Then, there's a tour of the high school, where we'll meet and greet the members of this year's senior class, ninety-nine percent of whom could care less about meeting ninety-nine percent of us." George was hitting his stride as he flattened his back against his locker. "And then, as the cherry on top of this sundae, a 'formal affair' - which is code for the same kind of long, boring dance that we never thought we'd ever have to attend again when we finally graduated from high school."
Then he was silent, but just as wild-eyed, and the room was quiet. Finally, he added, "And the best part is that this entire death march will take place inside the walls of Seattle's beautiful Hotel Pacifica. Except, of course, for the high school tour, because, hey, there aren't any awful memories stalking those hallways." He spun to face his locker, and banged his forehead against the door.
The sound of the flesh and bone against sheet metal echoed in the locker room. And then Alex said what almost everyone had to be thinking: "So don't go."
"I have to." Another bang as punctuation.
The locker room crowd began to thin, now more interested in getting to work than watching a colleague have something akin to a nervous breakdown. Christina, however, had stayed. She looked at Meredith. "A formal affair...as in 'formal'?"
"Yeah," Meredith said. "Black ties and ball gowns, strictly enforced."
"It was on page four of the event schedule."
"In red block letters," George said, his voice muffled by the door. Another bang.
"Don't go," Meredith said.
"I'll second that," Christina added.
"I. Have. To," George replied, about to put his forehead into the metal again.
"Easy on the lockers, O'Malley." Every eye found Bailey, standing in the doorway. "Those things aren't exactly a dime a dozen. Besides, I could hear you down the hall."
"Sorry," George said sheepishly.
"You're forgiven. Rounds in five, people. Do not make me wait." She narrowed her eyes at George, then disappeared.
Meredith walked over to George and squeezed his hand. He gave her a weak smile, and she returned it, then left with Christina. Alex stayed behind, seemingly to wash his hands. But as the door closed again, his eyes met George's via the mirror. "O'Malley, if I was you, I wouldn't go," he said. "And no, you don't have to."
George started reaching for words. "I just - "
"What?" Alex asked.
"It's gonna suck. And except for my parents, nobody's gonna be there that I'd want to talk to."
"Then take somebody." Alex's eyes glinted. "That Callie chick, maybe."
George frowned. "Callie - Doctor Tor - Callie's not - we're not on good terms right now."
"Fine. Someone else then. I don't really give a rat's ass what you do or don't do." Alex grabbed the locker room door handle, and looked back at the other man. "I just want you to quit bitching about it. Think you can pull that off?" Then he was gone.
George was finally alone again. He took a moment to organize his thoughts, and felt a heavy sigh escape. Why, of all the people to take advice from, was it Alex Karev's that he would follow?
Around eleven, a disheveled Izzie collapsed onto a cafeteria bench next to Meredith, nose-deep in a text about spinal trauma, and Christina, who was picking at a salad while going over a patient's history. "Don't volunteer to take other people's hours, especially if ninety percent of them are in The Pit," Izzie mumbled. "Just don't."
Meredith didn't look up from her book. "You're off soon, right?"
"Two o'clock," Izzie said. Her mood brightened, which shone through one of her patented dazzling smiles. "And then, a whole weekend. Two entire days of just sitting around the house."
Still not a look. "Which is why you took the hours, right?"
"Yes, Doctor Grey," Izzie replied, her smile actually growing. "No pager, no codes, no nothing."
"So stop complaining. It's making me hate you," Meredith said, turning a page.
Christina speared some lettuce. "I still can't believe you want that much time off."
"I forgot the pace, okay? I just need to - recalibrate."
"See, Christina," Meredith said, "most of us non-robots have to come up for air."
"Har-har," Christina replied dryly. "Don't blame me if something cool happens that you could have been a part of, but because you had to - ahem - recalibrate, you miss out."
"The sick people will still be here when I get back."
"Maybe," Christina said, circling some numbers on the paper. "Or maybe not."
"I'll think negative thoughts," Izzie said.
George appeared with a lunch tray and flopped down on a seat. "I've never seen that much vomit in one morning," he said, taking a bite of a cold ham sandwich.
Christina dropped her fork and her pen on to the table, and threw a scowl at him. "Thanks a lot, George. I'd just managed to put it out of my head."
Meredith finally looked up at Izzie. "You missed it. The cutest five year old in the world meets a stomach virus. Just about broke my heart."
Izzie nodded. "Adorable, just up to the upchucking."
Christina shook her head. "Maybe that can be your excuse for not going to your event, George." She tried to mimic his voice. "'Please excuse me from attending the reunion; I'm puking my guts out, thanks to a member of the Peanuts gang.'" It was during her joke that she noticed the color draining from George's face.
Izzie's brow crinkled. "What event?"
She had dragged him by the elbow into an empty file room just off a nurses' station and slammed the door behind them. "I can't believe you wouldn't tell me about this," Izzie fumed.
"It's not a big deal," George lied, literally through his teeth. "It's a class reunion. I was planning on going alone."
She gave him a hard glare, right between the eyes. "Why would you want to do that? I'm available, George. Whenever, wherever, like you'd be for me, right?"
He shifted under her gaze. "Yeah, I know. It's just that this - "
"This?" Izzie folded her arms and waited.
George decided to lay it plain for her. "It's going to suck, okay? And not in an ordinary 'this-is-horrible' kind of suck, where having your best friend around would be useful. We're talking 'end-of-days, hide-the-women-and-children, save-the-last-bullet-for-yourself' kind of suck. Something that you desperately want to keep any and all loved ones away from."
She frowned at him. "Your parents are going."
"Yeah, but they want to," he groaned. "Doesn't that tell you anything?"
Izzie was steadfast. "You need someone with you," she declared.
"I need someone?" he asked, a hint of incredulity leaking into his voice.
"That's right. You need someone to protect your sanity, such as it is."
He had to admit she had a point. Maybe this would be something he could use to break the ice with Callie - or at least chip away at it a bit. "Fine. Who?" George asked. The smile she gave him answered the question. "No..." he whined, like a man who'd taken a solid punch to a kidney.
"Too late, I'm volunteering my services. And you aren't talking me out of it." She turned to leave, eyes twinkling.
George felt the tightening knot in his belly let loose. "Dammit, Izzie!" he barked, in that deeper voice he never used unless he was serious about something. It made her stop at the door, and turn to look at him.
He took a breath. "I'm glad that you care about me. I'm glad that you want to be present at what is likely to be the most mortifying thirty-six hours of my life. And I'd be glad to walk into any of the - " he paused for a cold shudder " - activities - with you right next to me. But - "
"But what?" Izzie asked.
George shook his head. "I might - possibly - cross paths with some people. And while I don't like them in any way, shape, or form, I can deal with them, because I'm an adult now. And that's what adults do."
"And you're saying I'm not an adult? I'm not capable of 'dealing'?"
"No. What I'm saying is, I don't want you coming with me to save me. I don't need saving."
Izzie blinked. "I'm not trying to save you." She paused. "Okay, maybe I am." She rested a hand on his shoulder. "But you would do it for me. And you know that as well as I do."
He grasped her hand and squeezed it. "You're not wrong. But I'm having visions of a riot starting in the ballroom of the Hotel Pacifica because somebody I haven't seen in ten years or so starts teasing me and you stand up to him or her, and the next thing you know, it's lights and sirens. I've seen you in action, Izzie Stevens; I know your speed."
She nodded. "So what's your plan?" she asked.
George was about to bring up the Callie idea, but he thought better of it - her name in Izzie's presence led nowhere he wanted to travel. He would track Callie down later. Talk to her about it, casually, of course. Maybe it would actually go well this time, and she wouldn't slam a door in his face before he could get two words out.
He noticed Izzie noticing him lost in thought. He shook off the cobwebs and said, "I'm going. By myself. I'll suffer, but I'll survive. Then on Monday, I'll tell you all about it, and you'll make me feel better, like usual."
"That's certainly a way to handle it," Izzie said.
They were both quiet for the moment. "If I hurt your feelings before - when I yelled - I'm sorry." George said. "It just happened. I didn't mean to."
"No need to apologize," she said, leading him to the exit.
"Thank you," he replied. He stopped in the doorway, letting her pass. She was being very reasonable about this, he thought. Maybe they finally had reached an understanding. Maybe she finally saw that he didn't need her protection all the time. And that might give him the opening he needed to convince Callie that he was really and truly his own man now.
Izzie started to walk away, then about halfway down the hall, she turned back, and asked, "So, do I need to pack for one day or two?" Her voice echoed through the corridor, and around his brain.
George's forehead banged against a much more solid door this time.
To Be Continued...