****Author's Note: The backstory here is canon through S8, picking up right where we left off at the end-of-residency celebration dinner.
I'll be honest, I initially hated, HATED, and still really completely resent, the sudden OMG-I-love-Jesus thing. It just didn't, and still doesn't, feel in character for April to me, especially since they seem to be playing it straight. The writers had plenty of time to hint that she felt that way and they didn't, instead they just dropped this on the fans like they just dropped an entire airplane on Lexie, and now we're apparently supposed to forget that April already had her reasons ("I wanted it to be special", "I waited too long", "guys find me annoying") and was awkwardly trying to move past them anyway (flirting with the guys at the bar after Momma Avery told her to loosen up, and nearly sleeping with Alex). So at first, I wanted to write an April/Jackson fanfic that rewrote their recent history with none of that nonsense in it. I may still do that, I don't know. It hasn't all coalesced yet, but meanwhile this one won't leave my head until I get it down on paper (so to speak).****
Everyone waited, just as Chief Webber requested, sipping only water as the carbonation in their glasses slowly evaporated until the liquid in their flutes was motionless, no longer fit for toasting.
After almost an hour, Richard let them start eating.
When the last of the food was gone and efforts to make conversation had gone as flat as the champagne, and there was still no sign of Meredith and Cristina, Alex started drinking far less sparingly, as if he were hoping he could drown himself before the awkwardness suffocated them all. Jackson, on the other hand, seemed to be playing a one-sided tournament against the chief for Most Sober and Least Friendly. April didn't know what the hell was going on there, but decided trying to figure it out was less productive than attempting to keep up with Alex in the race for Highest BAC - something she might still have a chance at, one thing the boards couldn't take away from her.
Finally, Richard let them leave, sparing them the speech about their futures in medicine, for which April could only be grateful, given that she wasn't sure she had one.
Jackson drove them home in stony silence, while April looked out the window and tried to balance her efforts between hiding her hiccups and suppressing her nausea.
As he shut the door of Meredith's house, Jackson turned to her with a look of regret that was all too familiar lately, and let out a sigh at whatever he saw in her face. His eyes, normally a wide, light blue, turned much narrower and darker, nearly a stormy grey, when he was serious. Normally, April loved seeing the change - a subtle broadcast of his feelings for anyone lucky enough to know him well, as she did - but right now it just irritated her.
If he said he was sorry again, she was going to hit a guy in the face for the second time this week.
But, "Let's get you some water," was all he said. He disappeared into the kitchen before she could sneer at him like the last time he'd said that, and April, uninterested in his pity and reeling from mixing champagne and red wine, stumbled upstairs to sprawl face-up on her bed, staring upwards.
How had things spiraled out of control so quickly? she wondered, blinking as the light on the ceiling swam in and out of focus. Her life was in pieces around her, and she wasn't sure which ones to try to pick up first, or if she should even bother. She let herself drift into numbness, trying not to think about anything but the curve and shadow where the glass bulb met the bronze fixture.
An eternity later, but still much too soon, she was knocked out of her reverie when Jackson knocked the door open wide with one elbow. She rolled her head to the side and struggled to focus on him.
"I found some V8, too," he said. April didn't answer, just rolled her head back so that she was looking up at the ceiling again.
Jackson sighed. That was becoming too familiar too, April reflected listlessly. She felt the mattress underneath her rock once and tilt as he sat down next to her, and then he was sliding an arm underneath her shoulder blades to pressure and guide her, the firmness of his touch threatening to physically pull and prop her up if she didn't cooperate.
April sat up under her own power and direction - mostly - and accepted the glass that Jackson pressed into her hands. "Thanks," she mumbled, not meeting his eyes.
He waited until she'd taken a few drinks and appeared to have run out of energy, then he took the glass back and set it on her bedside table. April waited for him to leave, but he didn't, and exhausted, she slumped down and away from him to curl up in the fetal position on the edge of the bed. To her faint surprise, he rolled to lay down behind her in the slim space left over on her double bed, tucking an arm behind his head so as not to crowd her on the pillow.
They were still and silent for several minutes, and April was feeling almost ready for another sip or two of juice, or maybe water this time, when Jackson said calmly, "So. Tell me about Jesus."
April blinked, the alcohol providing a convenient buffer for the shock of such a question. "What?" she finally managed.
"Jesus," Jackson said with deliberate patience. "Tell me about Jesus. You keep saying I'm your best friend, but if Jesus means so much to you, why is this the first I'm hearing about him?"
It was a reasonable question. Even a brain soaked in ethanol could see that. That didn't mean that April wanted to answer it, but Jackson was right, he deserved to know why it hadn't come up before, and maybe it would be easier to just get it over with now, while she was drunk, and could hopefully forget most of the embarrassment she would feel while explaining.
"Jesus," she repeated. The word felt false, fake, on her lips, and her tongue felt a little too big for her mouth, and she closed her eyes against the confusion and pain.
Jackson didn't press her further, but after a minute or two she started talking anyway, keeping her back to him and gazing steadfastly across the room at her closet.
"I don't know," she said, slurring a little. "I... I didn't think it was a big deal, before. I mean, everyone did it." She stopped, thinking about that.
"Everyone did what?" Jackson asked, with the same deliberate patience as before.
"Promised," April said, sighing. "At 14, everyone in my church, almost everyone in my school, really, promised that I - I mean, that we - would save ourselves for marriage, that until we were committed under God, we would only be intimate with Jesus." She winced, realizing that it sounded a little weird. "I mean, it wasn't - that makes it sound like Jesus Camp or something awful, it wasn't like that. I don't..." she trailed off, not finding the words.
"I know," Jackson said after an awkward pause. "I get it. Everyone did it."
"Yeah," April said softly. "And then I got really interested in science all through high school, and I was too skinny, with stringy hair and braces, so there was never any danger me of breaking that promise. Other kids did, and most regretted it, and I..." she swallowed. "I was just a nerd, and it was nice to have something to feel..." she clumsily waved a hand through the air "...something...about. I might not have had the most friends or the coolest clothes, but at least I hadn't slept with a member of the football team in the back of, of, a pickup truck or something."
Jackson was silent, and April waited for him to tell her that high school April sounded like an annoying prude, but when he didn't, she continued.
"Then I went to college, and... I went to church less." She'd scaled back slowly, without consciously thinking about it much, she remembered. It didn't start until late in her freshman year, skipping one Sunday here, another Sunday there, until eventually, as a senior, she'd gone several weeks at a time without dropping in for a service. "I never really told my parents. I still go with them, when I'm home for Christmas. And I guess I still let them assume... it would just upset them, and it's not like I was doing anything un-Christian, and I still felt like a good person, because I was studying, and I hadn't broken any promises to them or anyone, like don't go to parties with underage drinking, and don't do drugs, and don't have sex before marriage."
She felt Jackson shift a bit, but he still didn't say anything. She wished she could tell if he was smirking at her, like he often did when she got wound up over silly things, but it was a relief to finally confide in someone, and somehow it was easier not being able to see him, easier not having to look him the eye, so she didn't turn around to see if he was finding her as ridiculous as she was feeling.
"And then I started med school," she continued, "and I stopped going completely." Her voice stopped completely there too, her throat constricting as she remembered her sudden crisis of faith, how she had looked up and found that the easy, sometimes vague belief of her childhood seemed to have just slipped away from her when she wasn't looking.
Jackson must have been able to hear it, because he rested a gentle hand on her shoulder and back, and asked only, "Why?"
"It just - it didn't make sense anymore," April felt guilty of betrayal as soon as the words tumbled out of her lips, but she couldn't keep them in anymore. "I wanted to believe, I did, I do, but...I majored in science, and I'd read all about the lack of concrete evidence for anything that happened in the Bible and some things that we even have evidence against, like the exodus, and," she swallowed thickly, "the more we learned about disease, and practiced opening cadavers, the less I could feel God working in the world the way that I could when I was a kid."
Jackson's thumb moved upward on her shoulder blade just a fraction of an inch, a small, reassuring stroke.
"I mean, I still thought something was...that God had to be out there, He just wasn't very...accessible," she said, sighing. It had felt like seeking approval from a parent who suddenly never came home, never saw you, didn't care how clean you kept your room or how high you kept your grades. "But I kept my promise," April said again.
"Because you felt like it made you a good person," Jackson said, neutral.
"Yeah, and because," she sighed in defeat, "it's not like there was some great opportunity to break it anyway, and because I wasn't the prettiest, or the smartest, or the funniest girl, but by then I was the only virgin I knew, so it was the only thing I had that other girls couldn't offer." She winced, hearing how petty that sounded, then sighed in defeat. "And because I really did think it would be fairy-tale romantic to be a virgin on my wedding night. And because I was scared. And because... just because."
She fell silent for a moment, remembering how grateful she'd felt for having all of those reasons when she started as an intern at Mercy West, then at Seattle Grace after the merger. The other residents suddenly had to worry about their careers in addition to their love lives, and worse, about their love lives screwing up their careers, but she'd only had to worry about her career.
Well, now she didn't even have to worry about that. She laughed humorlessly, realizing that, by elimination, she had nothing to worry about anymore. Rock bottom, nowhere lower to sink, nothing else to lose.
"And now Jesus hates me, and that's why I failed my boards and lost all my job offers and have no future."
"April," Jackson said, some other emotion laced in with the patience still in his voice, though her still hazy and boozy mind couldn't put a name to which one. "Jesus doesn't hate you."
"Yes," April said morosely, "he does. I know I just said I've had doubts, but I can feel this, it's like a crushing, horrible weight that I've never felt before, like my soul got a freaking text message from God."
Jackson snorted with a suppressed laugh, unable to help himself, and rolled up onto his side, his hand pushing down on her shoulder so that she had to roll onto her back underneath him. His slight grin faded as she managed to look him blearily in the eye, and suddenly he looked nothing but serious and sincere.
"Your soul did not get a text message from God," he said gravely. "Jesus does not hate you."
She flushed, feeling patronized, and raised her voice a little in self-defense. "Look, I know it sounds crazy, but my parents' whole church was praying for me! I was chief resident! I had studied!" She caught her breath and added savagely, "And I am fantastic at studying!" She glared at him, as if daring him to question that last point. He didn't.
"All I had to do was show up, and do my best, and instead I get in a bar fight and have a one-night stand," she continued, frustration seeping through her voice. "And I fail my boards, because Jesus hates me, because that's the only way that it makes sense to feel that horrible after feeling that great." She drew a breath, and saw the careful concern on Jackson's face, like he was trying to figure out the best way to tell her how she was completely wrong, that she was deluding herself, that she wasn't really good enough to pass the boards and everyone knew it, because she hadn't, and they did. "It's not that I didn't know the answers," she insisted. "I should have passed that test."
But Jackson surprised her by nodding, agreeing. "Yeah," he said. He paused and his eyebrows drew inward they way they always did when he wasn't happy about something. "You should have." He paused. "But April, you didn't fail because Jesus hates you."
April sighed, closing her eyes, not wanting to hear about how ridiculous she was acting right now. This is why she didn't talk about her religious background in front of doctors.
But instead of deriding her, he said seriously, "Because if God is against you having premarital sex, he wouldn't punish you by making you fail a test that you were qualified for, he-"
"Jackson, he's God, he can do anything," April interrupted tiredly, watching the darkness inside her eyelids spin lazily.
"Yeah," Jackson said, "he can, but he wouldn't. How many lives have you saved or help saved in the past few years as a resident?"
"I... I don't know," April said, disoriented at the sudden change of subject. She opened her eyes. "I didn't count."
"Well, rough estimate then," Jackson said, tucking his chin to his chest and looking at her squarely. "Maybe 25 a week."
"25," April said in disbelief. "No way. I'm not some rockstar like Cristina."
"10, then," Jackson said, shaking his head at her with narrowed eyes. "To be on the conservative side." He gazed sternly at her, now daring her to disagree. When she didn't, he continued.
"So assuming you take four weeks of vacation - and you never do - and work 48 weeks of the year, you save around 480 lives a year. How many will you save next year if you can't find a surgery position because you failed your boards?"
"None," April said, depressed. None. That was also how many options she had right now, she thought, wondering how this was supposed to be making her feel better. All she felt like right now was crying.
"Right," Jackson said. "You won't save any. That's 480 people whose lives won't be saved because you failed your boards. God's an asshole if he would let 480 people die, if he would let just one person die, just because you had a one night stand, and God's not an asshole, right?"
April forgot to feel miserable for a minute, caught by the logic. "Well...wait, it doesn't - it doesn't just work like that."
"Yes it does," Jackson said, clearly sure of it. "And even if it didn't, Jesus wouldn't hate you because that's not what Jesus does. He forgives people. Like, everyone. Anyone who wants forgiveness. So he doesn't hate you, and if you don't feel forgiven and loved, it's because you haven't forgiven yourself."
April stared at him, stunned at his sudden theological confidence. He must have seen the disbelief in her face, because his eyes got that forced twinkle, like when he was trying to hide that he was about to be defensive, and he said, "I went to church as a kid, too. Uhh, I think Episcopalian."
April couldn't help but guffaw at that. "You're not sure?"
"It could have been Catholic," he admitted sheepishly. "Or both. I get them mixed up. I think my mom went mainly for networking." He grinned down at her, and her mouth twitched in response, a little amused despite herself. His grin melted into a smile, and he continued, "But I remember enough. Enough to know that you're just using Jesus as a convenient excuse for beating yourself up," he finished pointedly.
The smile slid off her face at that, and tears pricked at the back of her eyes. "It really does feel like I'm surrounded in someone's anger and disappointment," she whispered. She hated being this vulnerable in front of him, but she was too inebriated and too tired to fake toughness anymore.
"I know," he murmured softly, lifting a hand to stroke her hair. She felt comforted by the gesture despite herself. "But the only person angry and disappointed in you is you. I wish you weren't, I wish I could make you see you have no reason to be -" he paused, searching her eyes, and they filled up with even more water under his scrutiny. "I wish that you could understand that any guy good enough for you - Jesus included - will see everything else you have to offer, and not give a damn that you're not a virgin."
"But why else," she reiterated with a shaky voice, weaker in her conviction now, "would I feel so bad after doing something that feels so good?"
"April," he said, sliding down and laying on his arm so that he was facing her at her level, almost nose to nose. "Because everyone feels like shit after their first time."
April shook her head. "No, that's not -"
"It is," Jackson said softly, firmly. "It's true. Even if sex is the best thing to have happened to you yet, even if there's no real reason it wasn't good for you, there's always some time afterward where you freak out a little bit that you actually did it and you can't go back. Everyone does. I did."
"You did," April said flatly.
"Yeah, I did," Jackson said, "I wasn't always the unrepentant man-whore you know me as today." His voice was light, trying to keep her at ease, but she could see something unsaid flicker in his eyes. "Your first time didn't live up to the ideas you'd had about it. Hardly anyone's first time does."
Her eyes filled up again. Was it possible that he was right? Other people slept around, and she'd never thought that was a huge deal or that Jesus was judging them. God, if He did exist, probably wasn't micromanaging at such a frivolous level for them. So why would he do that for her? Just the idea of the way she was feeling being a temporary, normal response that would fade with time made April's tired, crampy heart untwist a little from its knot of dread and pain.
"And you're right, you should have passed the boards," - her chest tightened again briefly at that - "because you are an amazing doctor and a great surgeon, and the only reason you didn't," Jackson said, determination now showing in the glint of his eye and tight corners of his mouth, "is because I was dumb enough to take your virginity while you were drunk and then leave you alone the night before you took a life-changing test you were already nervous about."
"Jackson," she said, exasperated, her sore heart forgotten for the moment, "you have nothing to feel guilty about, I told you, I was the one who -"
"No, I don't want to hear it again," he interrupted, his voice hard. "You don't have anything to feel guilty about either," he said, staring at her stubbornly. "And I'm not forgiving me until you forgive you."
April took in the set of his chin, and closed her eyes tiredly, shaking her head. "Fine," Jackson said, irritated, "let me know if you change your mind." She felt him roll away from her, the bed shaking once more as he stood up. They hadn't really been touching, but suddenly the bed felt colder. She wished he would stay, but she couldn't say that out loud, didn't yet believe she deserved either forgiveness or to ask for what she wanted. Instead, she just listened to the whoosh of air as the door swung, and the soft thud as he closed it behind him.
Jackson walked down the hallway to his room, mechanically taking off all but his boxers and falling into bed.
He hated seeing her so distraught, he thought as he stared up at the ceiling. Hated it. He had been so pissed at Karev for not treating her with the respect she deserved, and now he felt obligated to be just as pissed at himself. Even though his mind kept repeating in desperation, no, I'm not like him, I'm not like that.
He'd thought she was sure. He'd tried, he thought, tried to make sure that she was sure. Well, he'd at least tried a little. He tried to recall every detail about those thirty seconds. He'd asked her, hadn't he, if she was sure? Well, no. But she'd said she was, she'd said it was okay. And she'd kissed him, like - fumbling kisses, enthusiastic amateur kisses, nothing like the practiced way most girls kissed, as if they were reciting Cosmo instructions in their heads the whole time - and the charm of it, the unexpectedness of it, her sweet excitement...his brain had sort of shut off as his body responded, but he'd tried to remember all of the reasons that this was a bad idea, she was stressed out, she wasn't acting like herself, she'd had a little to drink at dinner, she was a virgin, she was a virgin...
But then she'd said a bunch of words, a lot of words all strung together too fast, and he couldn't remember any of them now, barely heard them then. He could only focus on her eyes, bright and animated and hopeful, the eyes that even as her friend, he'd always struggled to say no to. And she'd said, "when something feels really, really good - it can't be bad, right?" And all he could do was breathe for a minute, wanting that to be true, and then she was kissing him again and he was backing her through the door, and then they were -
His skin grew hot as he thought about what had happened next. He couldn't help but to replay it, watching in his mind's eye as her clothes came off haphazardly. He had been so caught off guard, marveling at the incongruity of it all: April the good girl naked in his arms, picking him, the pretty boy screw-up. Then he'd been almost surprised to feel himself sliding inside her - he was chagrined to feel himself go hard again now, just remembering.
He had no trouble identifying the moment that followed as the essence of what she would never be able to give to anyone else. Even the very next day in the bathroom, thrusting into her again, she'd let out a staggered, surprised sigh, but it still wasn't like that first night... after a tiny wince of shock and discomfort, her mouth had dropped into a perfect oh, and her dark eyes filled with a wonder he'd never seen. Her lip had trembled, and Jackson had almost stopped breathing, captivated at the sight. She'd moaned then, moving against him slowly, awkwardly, and Jackson had gently pulled her down towards him, wrapping his arms around her, tilting his hips, showing her how much better it could be.
In the present, he was the one groaning quietly, finding it impossible to fully regret that moment even though he knew he should, remembering her breasts pressed against his chest and the soft sounds of pleasure she'd made in his ear, and he dropped a hand below his waist to finish the rest of the memory.
A mere half minute later, he shucked his spoiled boxers and tossed them on the floor. Spent, confused, and a little ashamed of himself, he rolled over onto his stomach. Realizing that this was the third night in a row that he'd ended the day this way, he wondered at how abruptly it had become a habit to guiltily jerk off to his best friend. Troubled, he tossed and turned until he finally fell asleep.
**** Please review. ****