Cristina comes out of surgery to see Owen hanging around the scrub room, trying to look casual. He signals towards the stairwell that goes down to the boiler room and she nods.
On the vent, he wraps his arms around her and kisses her silly for a few minutes. Then he steps off the vent and says, "I have something to ask you."
She steps off, and nods for him to continue.
"Well – it's like this," he stammers. "My family has decided to have a gathering for my mother's birthday next month, and I was wondering if you'd come with me?"
"You want me to meet your family?" Cristina starts pawing at her hair and pacing. "Seriously?"
"Yeah." He watches her pace. "One of my brothers is flying in from Hawaii with his wife, which he rarely does, so my folks decided to make a reunion out of it. It's been a long time since all of us were home at the same time."
"So we're talking your brothers, their wives, their kids, aunts, uncles, third cousins once removed?"
"Brothers, wives, kids."
She stops pacing in front of him. "Isn't – isn't this kind of sudden? We haven't been dating that long, Owen. This is serious."
"What do you mean, serious? It would be our first trip together, yes, but I don't get why you're freaking out."
"But – you're supposed to bring a woman home when your intentions are serious. About the future."
He manages to chuckle. "I thought you didn't care about social conventions that much. Well, don't worry, I invite you to come along with the assurance that I'm not being serious about our future and I have not been shopping for a ring."
"I still don't get why you're asking me, though."
He ducks his head down and shrugs. "I thought it might be fun to go away somewhere together." He looks up at her with that yearning face, the one that is so damn magnetic.
She nibbles her lower lip. "Can I think about it?"
"He wants you to meet his family?" Meredith stops eating and smiles. "That's serious!"
"I know! But he's acting like it's nothing."
"So are you going to go?"
"I don't think so."
Meredith gives her a look. "Talk to me."
Cristina sighs. "Well, he and I are in a good phase right now. God, I hate that he has me thinking about 'phases' and 'relationships'. But it's like he won't let me in any further. He still won't stay over at my apartment, and never lets me stay over at his. Just because he had one nightmare on our first night. Okay, the nightmare was serious, and it is serious if he still has them. But I'm not scared to sleep in the same bed, he's scared to let me. So how can he invite me to meet his parents but not let me sleep in the same bed?"
"Talk to him, Cristina."
"I hate talking these things out."
"I know." Meredith smiles encouragingly. "But you're really crazy about each other, you're good for each other, and talking about serious things with him won't kill you."
"You sure it won't kill me?"
"I am a doctor, I know these things."
That night, they go to his small apartment and order in Chinese food. They settle on the couch and watch TV while they eat.
She likes it when they're just hanging out like this. He's learned to relax and joke with her, away from the eyes at the hospital. He has a subtle sense of humour that can move lightning quick. He no longer stumbles for words and his movements are loose and casual.
She doesn't get why she is different during these casual times. It seems like the most natural thing to curl up beside him and let him sling an arm around her shoulders. To pull his face down and kiss him just because she wants to. She has never liked being touched, and she certainly has never been called touchy-feely. But Owen keeps reaching out, touching her hands, her face, her hair, and she keeps reaching back.
He cleans up after TV while she checks her messages on her Blackberry. He sits down next to her on the couch.
"So have you thought about it? The trip?"
She looks down. "Owen, I still don't know why you're asking me to a family gathering. There will be all of your family plus their wives and kids, and me. I just think I'll feel out of place." She looks at him quickly – oh, he's got that yearning look again. She feels that she just caused their relationship to go back a step and feels strange. She feels strange that she is thinking about a relationship. Can't we just skip the talking and go into your bedroom?
He nods thoughtfully. "I wouldn't ask if I thought you would hate it. My family is really casual, they'll welcome you with open arms, and I'll make sure they know we're not one step away from getting engaged. I think my parents would like you, my father's a veterinarian and my mother is a nurse. They love to talk science and geek stuff all the time and so do you."
"Tell me about them," she says, sitting back.
"Well, my parents got married right before my father went to Vietnam as a medic. I was born while he was away, and then my brothers were born when he came back. Bryan and Dylan are dentists who married dentists, Cameron, Cam, is the one in Hawaii, he's an engineer and his wife is an architect, and Ethan, the youngest – he's studying pre-law. I think his wife is a teacher. We have fun when we get together. Our tradition is to playtouch football whenever we're home – and that includes my sisters-in-law."
"Are you expecting me to play touch football?"
"Have you ever played it?"
"Then yes." He grins. "I want you to try it to see if you like it. It gets pretty competitive, and you'll like that. I bet you were pretty fierce in gym class."
"I might have made a few little kids cry in my time," she admits. "But I haven't played any sports since then. Touch football, huh? I was a little afraid that I'd be stuck with all the wives and your mom in the kitchen."
"Ha! My mother says she taught us all to cook and help out around the house so we could live independently and not starve or run out of clean underwear. We think she just hates to cook and clean, like somebody I know, so she got us to do it." He pauses. "And my sisters-in-laws aren't June Cleaver either."
He reaches over and holds her left hand, tracing patterns in her palm. She senses his nervousness. She takes a deep breath. Here goes nothing.
"Owen, where would I sleep?"
"Where would you sleep?"
"Where would I sleep if I went with you? You won't let me sleep in the same bed as you, so where would I sleep?"
He exhales. "It's not that I won't let you, I just don't want to accidentally hit you."
"So you won't let me." She removes her hand from his and crosses her arms over her chest. "I mean, you immediately bolt after sex if we're at my place, or if we're here, you're rolling out of bed and getting dressed to drive me home. It's the same as not letting me, as far as I am concerned."
He looks at her curiously. "That really bothers you?"
She nods and looks down.
"You want to – cuddle after?" She looks up to see him attempting to smile.
"That's not it. It's how you pay very close attention to me during sex, leaving your fingerprints over every inch of me, and that is not a complaint, because you're good and it makes feel that what we have is amazing, then boom, you're out of the bed. It feels like you're hot and cold." Did I just talk about us being amazing?
He sighs and runs his fingers through his hair.
She uncrosses her arms and takes his right hand into her hands. "Owen, do you have nightmares every night?"
He shakes his head. "Not any more, but I do get them."
"Are they always – do they make you thrash around like the one I saw?"
She softly caresses his hand. "I trust you, Owen. So much so, that I think even subconsciously you couldn't hurt me. I don't pretend to understand what it's like to be like you, and I do respect that what happened in Iraq changed you in ways that I can't ever know, but I trust you, and it would be nice if you trusted yourself with me and didn't just jump out of bed after."
He looks at her. "You're really willing to take your chances with me?"
"Does that mean you'll come with me if we can sleep in the same bed?"
"I see what you did there."
His eyes twinkle playfully. "So?"
"So if I were to go, I'd go as your what? Significant other? Girlfriend?"
"I like the sound of girlfriend." He looks at her. "So?"
"If I try touch football and I hate it, I'm going to sit on the sidelines after, just so you know."
"Does that mean you're coming?"
She takes in another deep breath. "I have something to confess."
He nods for her to go on.
"I've never gone home to meet a boyfriend's parents before. I've always been more interested in surgery than relationships. I have no idea of what I'm getting myself into."
He smiles. "I'll take good care of you."
She shakes her head and smiles back. He watches her carefully. If we go away, we can be like this for one whole weekend, just hanging out, casual, without getting in Callie's way, away from the gossips at the hospital. "I suppose there's a first time for everything. Okay, I'll go with you," she says.
He smiles and leans over to kiss her. She holds onto his face and deepens the kiss. He lifts the hem of her shirt, his fingers caressing the skin on the small of her back. Soon she's flat on her back on the couch, unhooking her bra, as he's pulling off his shirt.
"Want to spend the night?"
Lying on her side in his bed, Cristina watches Owen sleep. She longs to run her fingers over his face – he has such interesting cheekbones, his whole face is an intriguing composition of planes and angles. But she lets him sleep. If he's sleeping without a nightmare, that's a good thing.
She props herself up on one elbow and continues to watch him in the soft light of his bedroom. So Meredith was right. Talking about it did not kill me. And now she has the pleasure of watching him sleep, his body relaxed, his face unguarded, with a vulnerability that she doesn't get to see when he's awake.