Disclaimer: I don't own Grey's Anatomy. It belongs to Shonda Rhimes. I'm not even sure why I wrote this, but February is a long way away and everything that happened in the winter finale is eating my brain, so...here we go. My version of how I'd like things to go.
The sensation she feels is something of a cliche, but appropriate in the moment.
April experiences several seconds of breathlessness. She literally forgets to inhale. And in that oxygen starved interim, while her lungs are seized in airless, terrifying suspension, Jackson's words clang around in her brain like crashing cymbals…I love you and I think you love me too. Do you?
Does she? Does she? April arrives at her answer with ridiculous ease. She does. She loves him. The emotion has become such an intrinsic part of her very DNA that she cannot even recall a time when she didn't love Jackson Avery. Acknowledging that truth in her heart is fairly simple. Voicing it out loud, however, when she is standing there in all her wedding finery alongside the man she promised to love and marry is tantamount to scaling Mount Everest with nothing but a pickaxe and sheer grit.
The words are there, tattooed on her heart, lodged in her throat, but she cannot push them past her trembling lips. She is too aware of the dozens upon dozens of eyes trained upon her face in that moment, but she is mostly aware of Jackson's eyes…that stunning, mercurial, confusing mixture of blue, green and grey that seem to see straight into the heart of her soul. Those eyes that know the truth without her uttering a single word. Those eyes that are begging, no demanding that she find the courage to say out loud what she knows is plain on her face for everyone to see. She loves him and she always has. She likely always will.
But April hasn't yet found that courage. Instead, she takes a gasping breath, flooding her brain with a draught of oxygen rich air, and asks in a hoarse, confused whisper, "Whuh-why? Jackson, why are you doing this?"
He blinks at her, seemingly as confused by her question as she is by his actions, and swallows roughly. "You asked me to give you a reason. I know I waited too long. I know my timing could be better, but this is it, April. This is my reason. I love you. Please, don't marry him."
Strangely, Jackson's second declaration seems to break the shocked stupor that has settled over everyone inside the barn and, suddenly, everyone is in motion. While April softens even more, Matthew comes alive with the rage that has been brewing inside him since Jackson stood the first time. With a snarling curse, he leaps down from the platform, his fist at the ready
April barely has time to react before he lands a punishing punch squarely to Jackson's face. As Jackson crumples to the ground, April's horrified scream is drowned out by the sudden scuffling of feet and scraping of chairs as several people scramble to both the men's sides to keep them from falling into a full-fledged brawl. The ugly scene is a harsh contrast from the beautiful wedding reception that had been taking place only moments earlier. For April, it is almost surreal…like she is dreaming. She hugs herself tight, surreptitiously pinching her bare, upper arm, waiting to wake up.
But the reality cannot be denied. In the aftermath of his scuffle with Matthew, Jackson's lower lip is bleeding and his pristine white shirt is stained with drops of red. Both his suit and Matthew's are wrinkled and pulled askew. The men continue glare murder at one another, spitting out infuriated insults while struggling against the hands holding them back from doing further harm. April can only look on with sustained stupefaction. Her life is spinning crazily out of control and there is not a single thing she can do to stop it.
She cannot imagine that the moment can become anymore chaotic than it already is and yet…it does. At that point, Stephanie materializes in the middle of the melee, her pretty features twisted with disgust and hurt. The instant he sees her, Jackson stops struggling and his features become shuttered with remorse, guilt and shame. But Stephanie does not look at him. Instead, her focus is trained solely on the reeling bride. She rakes April with a seething glower.
"Are you happy now?" she spits with clipped precision, "This is what you wanted, isn't it? This is the real reason why you wanted Jackson here today. You wanted him to stand up for you." She pauses to direct Jackson with a scathing once-over. "…and he did. How romantic!" April shakes her head in denial, recoiling from the vitriol being thrown in her direction, from the hurt and accusation she can see brimming in Matthew's eyes, but Stephanie is oblivious to her pain. She is too blinded by her own.
She hammers on, too angry and too humiliated to care that she is worsening the situation. She zeroes in on April's silence, needles her with the implications of that silence. "It's your turn now, Kepner. Jackson asked you a question and we're all waiting to hear your answer. Is he right? Do you love him?"
"Stephanie, stop it!" Jackson bites out desperately. It is rather ironic hat only moments before he had made the same demand of April and had felt justified in doing so and yet, witnessing Stephanie do the same thing is what truly imparts the gravity his actions to Jackson.
He had known when he stood up in the middle of the ceremony that he was burning his life to the ground and he had made his peace with that. What he had not considered was that he would also be burning Stephanie's, Matthew's and April's lives down right along with his. However, it is too late to take back the words. He doesn't want to take them back. But he also doesn't want more pain to be inflicted…not on Stephanie and certainly not on April.
Jackson hopes that Stephanie can see that truth in his eyes when she looks at him, but her features are blank and cold when she meets his stare. Still, he implores her. "Please don't do this. This isn't you. Don't blame April. She didn't do this. I did."
Stephanie's internal struggle over his words is fleeting at best. Ten minutes earlier, the look on his face might have broken her. Ten minutes earlier, there was nothing she would have denied him. She loved him and she thought he loved her return. Ten minutes earlier, she had believed they had a future together and he had wiped all of that out with four, simple words.
Those are the words that reverberate in Stephanie's ears, not his heartfelt plea for mercy now. For Stephanie, there is only pain and hurt and confusion. There is no room for reason at all. "No! You both did this!" she grates, "You're a liar and so is she!" She is saved from disintegrating into bitter sobs in front of an audience that has already witnessed enough of her humiliation when Jo places her hands on Stephanie's heaving shoulders and begins leading her from the barn.
"It's going to be okay, Stephanie," she whispers commiserating as she and her friend are swallowed into the crowd, "You'll be okay…"
But even with Stephanie's departure, the atmosphere remains emotionally charged with Matthew and Jackson both looking at April…one stare filled with recrimination, the other filled with hope and April, tears streaking her face, unable to meet either pair of eyes. Seeing that all parties involved are too paralyzed with emotion to address the situation, it is then that Reverend Drew decides to take command of the misbegotten ceremony.
"Alright, I think it would be a good idea if we took a fifteen minute break. Matthew and April obviously have some things to discuss." He shoots a reprimanding look at Jackson when the man takes a step forward. "Alone. They should have time alone to talk." April does not protest to his suggestion. She is eager to get out from beneath the censorious stares of her and Matthew's family. However, as she trails Matthew from the barn, her last view is of Jackson pressing a handkerchief to his bleeding lip, his hypnotic eyes as focused on her as ever.
She and Matthew barely clear the doors of the barn before April is blurting out apologies and excuses. "I had no idea that he was going to do that, Matthew! You have to believe me! That's not why I asked him to come here today!"
Her words fall on deaf ears. Matthew's concern is not Jackson's declaration at all, but April's reaction to it. She has not answered the question, but her silence in the aftermath is telling enough. He rounds on her, stiff and angry and, for the first time April slowly comes to realize, afraid. He is afraid of losing her and, in that heartbreaking instant, April knows that she cannot reassure him to the contrary.
"You're not sorry, are you?" he demands softly, "You're not sorry for what happened."
She stumbles back a step, aghast by the charge. "Of course, I'm sorry! He humiliated us all in there, especially himself!"
"That's not what I mean. You're not sorry that he loves you. You're not sorry that he said the words."
She flinches, unable to answer. Unfortunately, Matthew does not need verbal confirmation. The truth has been written all over her since the moment Jackson Avery said the words, "I love you, April." He has been losing her in painstaking inches ever since. Matthew slumps forward in defeat, an acrid lump of sorrow forming in his throat as he makes his peace with the realization. "You do, don't you? You love him."
April chokes back a soft sob, sorrowful at hurting him and angry with Jackson for putting her in such an untenable position. "Don't, Matthew…" she whispers, "Don't make me say the words. It's our wedding day."
He snorts an embittered laugh at that laughable excuse before pinning her with a defiant glare. "Say the words, April!"
"Yes, okay!" she cries on a tearful hiccup, "I do. I love him. And…and, I told you that. You knew that already! But I promise you that I never expected what he did here today! I never asked him to-,"
"But you did ask," he interrupts keenly, harshly, "You asked him to give you a reason not to marry me, didn't you?"
For the second time in less than half an hour, April feels like she has been gut punched. She wraps her arms around her middle, groaning inwardly. "That was so long ago, Matthew…"
"But you did ask him."
"Yes…yes," she confesses miserably, "I asked him." He emits a pitiable moan as April rushes to explain herself. "You have to understand…what I feel for Jackson is so…so complicated and I…I can't help it. I can't control it! I tried to make it go away! Believe me, I tried and I tried!"
She wants to soothe the hurt she knows is ripping him asunder, but her words only serve to worsen the pain rather than ease it. He can barely look at her. He is too angry, too miserable, too heartbroken. "Why did you even agree to marry me then? Was it because you couldn't be with him? So what was I? Second choice? You settled for me?"
"No!" she cries desperately, "Ever since I was a little girl I envisioned what I wanted my future husband to be and that was you, Matthew! I wanted you! I wanted us to be married! I wanted to be a good wife to you! I wanted to have a family with you!"
Her declaration is genuine, sweet, heartfelt, yet he zeroes in on one word in particular. "Wanted. You keep saying wanted. As in past tense, as in that all changed the moment he stood up in the middle of our wedding and said that he loved you! Now none of us can go back!"
"I didn't plan this!" she flares.
"You keep saying that and it doesn't mean anything, April!" he flings back. And then he deflates again, suddenly tired and beyond it all. "No matter what you say, we can't just walk back in there and get married and pretend that none of this happened. It happened. I love you. I want you. And you want him. You have all along. So do yourself a favor, do me a favor…hell, do him a favor and just admit it."
Helpless, April watches him walk away, feeling as if she should call him back yet knowing she has nothing to offer him if she does. She does not even realize she is sobbing until she feels a pair of arms slip around her waist and pull her heaving form back into a solid wall of comfort and warmth. And, for a fleeting instant, she allows herself to be comforted by him, to be enveloped in his scent and his closeness…to bask in the feeling of being held by him. But the moment is altogether brief…because inevitably she remembers the mess and how he is at the heart of it all and she rips out of his arms with an angry, embittered cry.
"No!" she spits, swiping furiously at her wet cheeks, "You don't get to do that! You don't get to hold me after what you did in there, Jackson! Oh my God, what were you thinking?"
"I know you're angry," Jackson replies calmly, "You have every right to be. I get it. But I'm not sorry."
"You're not sorry? What are you talking about? You ruined my wedding! You turned this entire day into a fiasco!"
"I did it for us!"
"For us?" she snorts derisively, "Are you insane?"
"Yes, for us," he retorts, "April, if you had married him, it would have been a disaster. Come on! We wouldn't even be standing here right now if you didn't love me…if you didn't want us to be together."
She draws back, suddenly losing her bluster in the face of that bold statement. "I…I've never said…"
"You don't have to," he whispers, "I know you do. But it still would be nice to hear it."
"I'm supposed to be getting married right now," she chokes in protest.
"April, please…" Jackson pleads softly, "You and I have run from each other long enough. The damage is already done. All that's left right now is us…this moment. Just…be honest with me." His tone lowers an octave as he takes a step to close the distance between them. "Please…"
And like that she is drowning in his eyes like she always does. In that moment, she is stripped bare, vulnerable and figuratively naked…having lost everything that ever mattered to her and yet, conversely, having gained so much more. April knows the time for cowardice and fear has passed. She knows that what Jackson says is true. They cannot run anymore. She cannot run. She doesn't want to.
"Yes," she whispers finally, causing him to sag with joyful relief, "Yes. I love you, Jackson. I love you and I want us to be together." He takes a grateful step towards her, a slow smile turning his lips as he clearly wants to seal that declaration with a kiss. But when he moves to take her into his arms to do just that, April unexpectedly dances out of his reach with a small, panicked cry. Undeterred, Jackson takes a closer step, but she throws out her hands to stave him off when he would have reached for her again. "No, Jackson! You can't kiss me! There can be no kisses."
Jackson shakes his head, his brows knit in a bewildered frown. "What are you talking about? April, I'm going to have to kiss you. I need to kiss you."
"And I need you to kiss me," she whispers back, "You have no idea how much I want that, how much I've missed that. But if I kiss you, I'm not going to want to stop kissing you and that's a problem because it's my wedding day and Matthew just walked out on me and his family is in there hating my guts for hurting him while my family probably thinks I'm the most indecisive idiot to ever walk the planet and my life is a mess and I cannot kiss you when my life is a mess, Jackson!"
At the conclusion of her rambling monologue, he falls back with a mournful sigh. "I'm sorry."
She offers him a sad smile and lifts her hand to gingerly finger to swelling corner of his mouth. "No, you're not."
His lips quirk in a humorless smile. "You're right. I'm not."
April drops her hand with a heavy sigh. "Neither am I. But it's still a mess and I have to fix it."
"Not alone. You didn't do this, April. I did this…because I was afraid. I tried not to have feelings for you. I thought it was behind me, but it wasn't. I saw you up there with him today and I knew it wasn't. I waited too long to tell you and I hurt a lot of people because I did."
"Why did you, Jackson? When I came to you the night of the storm, why didn't you tell me then? Why did you say all of those horrible things to me?"
"I was angry with you," he sighs, "It's not an excuse, but it's the truth. That night when you came to me, I just...I couldn't hear you. I didn't want to."
The answer is hardly satisfying to April and she makes that clear in her next statement to him. "You were angry with me? Why? Because I wanted us to be together? Because I loved you and I told you so?"
"Because you had said yes to him, April! And I made my peace with the fact that we were over and we weren't going to be together. I wasn't what you wanted and I didn't have to be in knots about it anymore. I could breathe. I could be okay without you because I knew you were happy and that's what mattered. And then you throw it all into chaos again, telling me you want me and then the knots were back again and I couldn't breathe and it pissed me off!"
"So you were mad at me because you didn't want to have feelings for me?" April sputters in confusion.
"I was mad at you because I couldn't trust that you meant it," he whispers, "You said you wanted to give me your virginity and that it was okay, but then when we slept together…"
"…I acted like it was the worst thing that ever happened to me," she finishes quietly.
"And you couldn't know that I wouldn't do the same thing again."
"Oh, Jackson…" she groans, "We really made a mess of things, didn't we?"
It hits her then that they are having this profound conversation which should have taken place months and months before in the middle of what should have been her wedding and yet it all seems appropriate. This is what she and Jackson have always done. Always backwards, always coloring outside of the lines, always outside of the box and yet…always right. They have been "right" from the beginning.
"It wasn't the worst thing that ever happened to me," she murmurs after some silence has passed between them, "I know how I acted, but it was always about me, not you. When we were together, it was the best thing that ever happened to me. And I knew what I wanted from you and for us pretty soon after we started sleeping together, Jackson. I want a life with you, but I never wanted you to feel obligated."
"I didn't feel obligated then and I don't feel obligated now."
Her wet lashes flutter as she regards him with a hopeful stare. "You don't? Really?"
"No, I don't."
And then he breaks her rule, leaning in to kiss her despite the fact it's her wedding day and her groom walked out on her and his family likely hates them both. He cradles her against him and kisses her like he's starved for it, ignoring the stinging pain it causes and sighing with contentment and relief when she kisses him back with equal fervor. When it is over they are both breathless in the aftermath, foreheads touching and hearts racing as they struggle to regain their composure.
April closes her eyes, nuzzling against him, overwhelmed by what lay ahead for them but excited to face it as well...excited because they would be facing it together. "So what do we do now, Jackson? Are we supposed to date? Do we pick up where we left off before? Do you want to start over?"
He cradles her face in his hands, silently urging her to open her eyes and meet his gaze. "What do you want, April?"
"I want to be with you. I want to have a life with you."
"Are you sure?" he prods softly.
She offers him a reassuring smile, her eyes conveying not only the love she feels for him in that moment, but the peace she feels as well. "I'm sure."
"Then I guess you should probably marry me then," Jackson proposes, leaning forward to seal his mouth to hers in yet another kiss even as April exhales a sharp breath of pure shock, "because that's what I want too."