Chapter Six: Truth and Consequence
Even before she opened her eyes, she knew he had left. She first felt gratitude that no one had come into the room and seen her sprawled naked on the lower bunk. But then she opened her eyes and saw that he had been careful to pull a blanket up to her chin and tuck it around her.
Keeping the scratchy blanket around her body, she dressed quickly and checked her pager. Her shift had ended over an hour ago. After her scrubs were back on, she sat on the edge of the bunk for a moment, palms on thighs. Folding them into fists, she hit the mattress once and then bounded off.
She traded her scrubs for jeans and a green sweater before slamming her locker shut. Scarf in hand, she wound it around her while running toward the hospital doors.
"Slow down, Grey," Dr. Webber called as they crossed each other in the hall.
She toned it down to a speed walk until he turned a corner and then she was off again. It wasn't until she crossed the glass doors that she realized she had forgotten her coat. There was no way she was going back now. Instead she ran through the parking lot and into her car, blasting the heat as she reversed. As she found the main road, the lights of Joe's bar illuminated the interior of her car for a fraction of a second. She didn't bother looking out the window.
Her fingers played with the strap of her bag while she waited. Foot tapping to the elevator music she had heard on her way up, her spine straightened when the knob turned.
"Hello, Mark," she said.
Maybe if it had been all that time ago, before they really knew each other, she'd think the deliberate greeting made no difference to him. But it wasn't all that time ago, it was now, and she knew him. She knew to look for the way his Adam's apple convulsed, betraying his reaction and belying his seeming apathy.
When it became apparent he wasn't going to invite her in, she moved around him, turning to him again only when she was in the middle of the room.
He closed the door behind him and while his body faced her, his eyes were trained on a corner of the hotel suite. She had the oddest sense of déjà vu, but then he met her gaze and there was no mistake about it: everything was different. They were different.
"What are you doing here?"
"I thought we were having dinner?" Reproach was evident in her voice and he didn't respond kindly to it.
"I thought you had a date with O'Malley," he shot back.
She shrugged with indifference and moved further into the room, lifting her arms to discard her scarf.
"Why aren't you wearing a coat?"
His sigh was exasperated. "Are you trying to get sick again?" He gave her his back as he poured himself a drink. He didn't offer her one.
She smiled, lowering herself onto the foot of the carefully made bed. Her hands on either side of her, she picked invisible lint off the comforter. "If I do, I have you to take care of me."
Entirely too flippant and assured, her tone wasn't received well. His eyes narrowed into metallic blue slits. "Don't count on it," he said tightly. Making it a point to sit on an armchair near the table, he lifted one ankle to rest on the opposite knee. Slumped in the chair, he stared at her over the rim of his glass.
He wasn't going to make this easy on her.
She sighed heavily. "Okay, truth time. I owe you an apology."
One brow arched up, but he remained quiet, studying her from across the room.
She sandwiched her hands between her denim-clad thighs. "Before I go to bed, I brush my hair and then I floss. In that order. Brush and floss. Do you know why?"
"Because hygiene is important to you?"
Ignoring the tone, she continued, "Because it's a habit. It's not something I stop and think about. I never wonder: 'Hey, why not switch it up?' or 'Do I really want to brush and floss?"
He squinted at her. "Is there a point to this?"
She squinted back. "Yes."
Making a show of checking his watch, he said, "Is there a chance you might be reaching it soon?"
Being a total beast was a right he had earned. So she took a deep breath and let it go. "Helping George, caring about what he thought…trying…it all became a habit. I'd been so used to wanting him to want me, it never occurred to me that what I wanted…" She looked up, hoping to meet his eyes, but he was staring at the nightstand. "…could change and I—"
"Yes," she shifted uncomfortably as he stood. "I—"
"Well, it's not the best meta—"
He snorted. "I'll say. 'Habit'."
Irritated, she stood as well. "Yes, well, we all have them. Take yours for interrupting people, for instance."
He glared at her and she glared back. Breaking eye contact, he went to pour himself another drink. "You should go."
"No?" The glass made a terrible sound as he slammed it down. And the glare was back.
"No." Shrugging, she sat back down, reclining against the pillows as if she belonged there.
He planted his hands low on his hips. "Dammit, Grey, get out."
She shook her head. "Not until I'm good and ready."
"You realize I'm your attending?"
That brought her feet to the ground as she sat ramrod straight. "Oh, so now you're my attending? Were you my attending when you were bringing me coffee or taking care of me or throwing me against walls?"
Color flushed high across his cheekbones. "I—"
"No, you don't talk now. I talk. You listen." With her index finger accusing him, she came closer. When she reached him, she poked his chest to punctuate her words. "This is half your fault, you know? All that garbage about when you like someone you let them know and life being too short and blah, blah, bullshit." As she stepped forward, her pointer finger a weapon, he moved back until his legs met the armchair.
"How exactly did you let me know, Mark? By calling me derogatory nicknames? Or did you make a move? I've heard about the way Mark Sloan makes a move and bringing me coffee isn't a move—it's as vague as decorating someone's locker." She was shouting now, towering over him after he slumped back into the chair.
"I asked you out on a date."
Here she slowed down. "That did make me wonder," she admitted, pacing in front of him. "But then I thought you were being kind, just like all those other times."
"Kind?" he echoed. "I'm not kind."
"Yes, you damn well are!" Back to shouting it seemed. Then she stopped in front of him and smiled, changing tactics. Holding his gaze, she braced herself against his shoulders as she sat on the chair with him, her knees digging into the cushion on either side of him.
Taking in the sudden mood swing, he stared at her as if she'd grown another head. When her arms lifted to link around his neck, his fingers circled her wrists to tug them free. She refused to budge.
"When you think about it," she said thoughtfully, tilting her head to side as she looked at the buttons on his shirt, "it's more than half your fault. You know more about this kind of stuff than I do. You have years of experience over me."
A grimace played across his mouth. "Experience. Is that a reference to my age or my sluttiness?"
She refused to take the bait. "Both." When she felt him tense beneath her, she rushed on, "Don't feel badly. We all do slutty things sometimes. What do you call coming into your hotel room and taking off all my clothes?"
Instead of trying to pry her off of him, he smoothed her hair back. "That wasn't slutty," he said. "That was brave."
She took the tenderness as a good sign and pressed forward. Leaning in closer, she whispered against his mouth. "You could have just come out and said: 'Lexie, wanna go steady?'."
His jaw tightened underneath her fingertips. "Lexie," he warned. "Don't try to be cute; I'm still damn angry with you."
She sighed, resting her forehead against his collar. "I know." Lifting her head, she bit her lip. "But I am trying to make it up to you. To thank you for—"
He exhaled long and deep and she felt his chest shift under her. "I don't want your gratitude, Lexie," he said quietly. Then he stood up, obviously expecting her to fall off as he did so, but she held on tighter, wrapping all four of her lean limbs around him like a koala. Legs cinched at his waist, she buried her face into his neck and shook her head, denying his next words before they were even born.
"You don't have to feel sorry for me and you don't have to try to make it up to me." His voice rumbled through his throat and she felt every word vibrate against her cheek. He sighed and put his hands on her hips to haul her away. "Even I get it now." His voice grew self-deprecating. "Derek was more than happy to rub it in."
Face still pressed against his skin, she asked, "What do you mean?"
He laughed, the sound hollow. "Meaning he enjoyed the irony: I was crazy about you and you didn't see me."
She pulled away far enough to look at him, apathetic to the moisture he'd see in her eyes. "Didn't see you? How could I not see you? You're hard to—" Her eyes scanned over his features and upper chest before swallowing hard. "—miss."
She gripped him tighter with one arm while releasing the other to swipe at her eyes. "And why would I feel sorry for you? The only person I feel sorry for here is me." Brown eyes turned accusing as she thumped her fist against him. "First you make me want you, then you make me beg."
"Beg?" Interest perked up his voice. The grooves around his mouth flashed. "I see no begging."
She glared at him, aware of his hands cupping her upper thighs as he sat them on the edge of the bed. "Not funny."
"And what about the safe guy? The friend?" His hands ran up and down her thighs, from knee to hip. The heat created by the soothing gesture was welcome. Her old friend, hope, rose at his touch, clenching her chest.
She sniffed. "You're my friend," she said. "You—you're a lot of things." Pressing her thumbs against the corners of his mouth, her hands curled around his neck and she forced him to look at her. "I'm sorry I didn't realize sooner. I just—every time you were there, I just thought you were—it didn't occur to me that you might—"
"Why?" he interrupted. When she looked confused, he said, "Why wouldn't it occur to you that I could feel that way about you?"
"Because you and I had already…"
"Slept together," he finished. "So naturally I'd lose interest."
Afraid he'd get angry again, her legs unconsciously tightened around his waist, her ankles rubbing against the comforter of the bed. "It's just that you have a bit of a reputation," she said helplessly.
He sighed, his expression bleak. "Yeah. Yeah, I guess I do." He tried to turn his head to look at some spot on the wall behind her, but she kept her fingers firm on his face. When she met his eyes, she recognized the vulnerability that was staring back at her. This man—this hard, caustic man with the ego and arrogance of a double board certified surgeon was just as emotionally bruised as the rest of them. Just as fearful of rejection.
"But it doesn't matter," she rushed on to say. "It doesn't," she insisted, when it looked as if he didn't believe her. "Now that I know."
"And what do you now know?"
Insecurity was a hard chip to shake off and she hesitated as she spoke. "That you like me. As in like me like me."
"Is that really so hard to believe?"
And then she let her hands fall from his face, ducking her head to hug him. He let her for a moment, stroking her hair. "You try so hard to get people to notice you, Lexie. You try to learn it all, share it all, give it all—so that people will think you matter." Then he refused to let her hide against his chest any longer. Grasping her shoulders, he pulled her away so he could look at her. "But you do matter, Lexie," he said, his voice suddenly gruff. "You matter a hell of a lot."
She turned her head to kiss the palm cupping the side of her face. Then she took his wrist and replaced it around her waist. Her fingertips traced his eyebrows and the slope of his nose before saying, "You're beautiful."
"I think you mean handsome." The smirk and conceit was pure Sloan, but she didn't smile and shook her head.
"No. I'm mean, yes, you have a handsome face, and I'm sure people have told you as much, but right now, here, I think you are beautiful."
His throat convulsed and he held her to him as he stood up briefly to flip their bodies. She landed on her back, her limbs still wound around him.
He grinned over her, the grooves deepening. "Are you ever going to let go?"
Her head shook solemnly. "Is that all right?"
The answer was in his kiss. When they finally broke apart, she propped herself on her elbows and moved backward to the pillows. He followed her slowly on all fours, his body over hers, their faces brushing the entire journey.
As he worked the button fly of her jeans and grumbled about whatever happened to zippers, her head turned to the nightstand. Angling her head until she got a better look, she then tried to sit up. "Is that my underwear?"
He gave a negligent look to the nightstand and then finished tugging her jeans off. "Yes."
She lifted her hips to assist him. "That's sweet…in a perverted old man way."
He straightened his spine and looked down at her supine form, her hair molten in the dim light. He opened his mouth and she was certain he was going to get sardonic about the 'old' crack. Then he narrowed his eyes and said, "Yeah, I'm working on a collection. Now give me yours." They were off in record time and joined the pair already on the nightstand.
It was much later when, as his frame moved over hers and she clasped him to her, that he said, fingers lost in the cool satin of her hair, "I adore you, you know that?"
She shook her head mutely, throat clogged with emotion. Sliding her hands across his shoulders, her fingers dug into his skin. By the time she found her breath to tell him what needed to be said and shared, he stole her words as he bent his head to kiss her.
When dawn came, it streamed light on tangled limbs. Some time later, the limbs stirred, shifting to find each other in a new expression of what could be love, what could be love.