The Breaking Point
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Most surgeons will tell you that the hardest patients to cut open are the children. Theyíre smaller, your working space is tighter, and thereís more at stake with every move of the scalpel. Callie had always believed that the moment you opened up a child, you were stealing a piece of their childhood. The road to recovery would keep them on their back, or in a cast, or in a hospital instead of playing and the scars would cling for a lifetime. She hated working on children, despised it. After it was over, she would shake for hours, tremble a little just thinking about what could have been lost with one wrong move.
It was no different as she stitched up the goofy eared little boy. They had brought him into the operating room as a John Doe, but George had found his family. George was good like that. What George wasnít very good at was maintaining a professional level of conduct while they were at work. Callie understood it. She really did. She wanted to shout from the roof of the hospital how much she loved George and spend every waking moment holding his hand, but she couldnít. She was a *teacher*, a resident, and she had worked too hard and too long to lose face.
"Nice surgery, Dr. Torres," one of the nurses said.
"Itís Callie OíMalley now," another replied, snickering a little. "I have an aunt named Ruth Booth. Itís so funny."
"Iíd just keep my last name if I married a guy who rhymed. I couldnít be, oh, Heather Feather or Heather Weather."
Callie concentrated on the stitches, taking a deep breath. She had been the butt of the joke since she had returned from her honeymoon. She usually didnít care what people thought of her or what they said. Not giving a crap about opinions was something she developed in high school ... along with a tough layer of protective armor. In high school, she had been the Ďweird girlí, the girl in the very back of the class who had all the right answers, but never raised her hand or participated. She listened, she observed, she learned. She already got plenty of attention for her all black attire, black hair, and height.
In college, she came out of her shell. Suddenly being smart and having all the answers was cool. She tutored a few people, got invited to a few parties, and made a few friends. She added pinks and reds to her black wardrobe, cut her hair in a cute style, and learned the fine art of eyeliner. She spent more time walking to classes than she did pigging out and lost about four sizes and suddenly, she had dates. When she chose Orthopedic Surgery and walked into her first specialty course, all the guys had given her a standing ovation.
Most of her friends were male. She always had an easier time talking about car parts and football than make up and periods. It was just easier to sit down with a case of beer and a boxing match than it was to giggle with a group of girls about who was kissing whom or who had a crush on the hot jock. Addison was her first actual female friend and that suited Callie just fine. She didnít need to surround herself with a Ďfamilyí. Once a loner, always a loner.
Except that she was *married* now. She had become one half of a whole. She had exchanged vows, promised forever, and agreed to share her life with George. Maybe if they didnít work together it would be a little easier, but they did, and there were lines and boundaries that had to be observed despite the vows.
She put the final stitch in place and asked for bandages. Just as she anticipated, her hands began to shake a little as she secured the gauze with tape and took a step back. "Thank you all very much for your help today," she told the room at large. "Give yourselves a hand, people, because you just saved a life."
Everyone clapped and she smiled behind her mask. In the hospital, you had to have a little fun where you could. So much death, so much sadness could be absorbed into your skin if you werenít careful. She gave a few instructions to the main nurse and stepped back, taking off her gloves. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw the anesthesiologist nudging one of the nurses and whispering. It rankled her, rubbed her the wrong way. "Something funny?" she asked.
"We were just talking about how fast you stitched this time. Looks like someone canít wait to get home," the nurse wiggled her eyebrows.
Callie tried to take it in stride. This was foreign territory for her. George was her first serious relationship and it was equal parts aggravating and endearing to have people recognize that they were finally together. "Jealousy is so sweet," she replied with a chuckle.
But she wasnít laughing on the inside.
She realized that something was wrong in the hospital when she noticed the lack of attendings on the floor, saw the nurses huddled together whispering. It took less than a minute to get the story out of Olivia, who didnít really like Callie, but couldnít wait to share the latest gossip.
Meredith Grey had drowned. They were working to revive her in the trauma room.
Callie dropped the surgical chart into the pile and hurried down the hall. She stopped when she heard Izzieís voice coming from one of the exam rooms and caught Georgeís name. It was wrong to eavesdrop, but she drew up short when Izzie clearly said, "George knows he made a mistake. He knows it. Me telling him that marrying Callie was a mistake is not news to him. Did you see his face? He agrees!"
Alex Karev said, "You donít kick someone when theyíre already down, Izzie! What you did was inappropriate!"
"And you should know all about inappropriateness! You practically wrote the book!"
"This isnít about me. This is about what you said to OíMalley. He was already devastated over Meredith, crying like a baby, and you said that to him?"
"Someone had to," Izzie snapped. "Callie is like this poison gas who no one really notices at first, but it winds up killing you in your sleep."
"Torres is not that bad," Alex fired back. "And George loves her."
"George is grieving. George lost his father! George still loves Meredith and probably always will. Did you see him? Before they revived her? He was sobbing!"
"Which is why you should have kept your mouth shut! If he made a mistake marrying Torres then he needs to realize it on his own. Youíre supposed to be his best friend and -"
"And as his best friend I tell him when heís done something stupid! He agreed with me, Alex."
"Only because you were in his face."
Callie had heard enough. Her heart had been soaring the past few days, flying happily amongst the clouds and her body had settled on cloud nine. She was happier than she had ever been and Izzieís words shattered her joy. It hurt to fall back to the earth so abruptly, without a safety net to catch her. She swallowed the huge lump that was forming in her throat and pushed the double doors to the trauma unit open. Addison was standing in the hallway, gazing into one of the rooms and Callie stopped beside her. Addison reached down and took her hand. "We saved her. Somehow we saved her."
Callie nodded, squeezing her hand. "How is she?"
"Stable. Weak. Cold."
That sounded exactly how Callie felt. She glanced into the room and saw Derek clinging to Meredith, crying as if someone had gutted him. George stood a few feet away, watching the exchange with Christina. Callie could see the dried tears on his face, how puffy and red his eyes were. It was the wrong time to even think it, but that little annoying voice in her head said, ĎHeís never cried for you. Not when you broke up with him, not when you had sex with Sloan. He doesnít cry for you because he doesnít have that kind of passion for you. Look at him. He loves her. He doesnít love you. Never did.í
Addison felt the tremor when it raced through Callie. She looked at her and frowned. "You okay? Youíre really pale."
Callie brushed away a droplet of sweat that beaded on her brow and shook her head. "No. Iím not okay."
"Did you - are you hurt?"
"My heart hurts, Addison. I canít breathe."
When Callie burst into tears and raced down the hallway, Addison completely forgot her own problems and chased after her. Callie slammed into the stairwell and immediately fell to her knees, hugging herself around the waist. She let the tears come, let the pain wash over her. Addison dropped down beside her. "Oh my god. What happened?"
Callie could only shake her head. She couldnít breathe enough to form words. It took every ounce of her strength not to vomit up the meager lunch she had scarfed down earlier in the day. It rolled in her stomach, threatening her. She tried to force herself to calm down, to stop crying, to let Addisonís hands on her back soothe her, but she couldnít.
Alex appeared in the stairwell, took one look at Callie, and turned on his heel. While he had been talking to Izzie earlier, he had noticed a shadow under the partially opened door and had yanked it open in time to see Callie retreating. She had heard everything or at least enough to put it all together.
He stormed into the hallway, grabbed Izzie by the arm and said, "Torres heard us!"
"What?" The smile on her face faded and she stepped away from Christina, who was happily celebrating Meredithís recovery.
"Callie! She heard us talking about her."
"How do you know?"
"Because sheís hyperventilating in the stairwell!" He grabbed a bag from the nearest shelf and shoved it into her hands. "Take this to her!"
"Do it!" Alex opened the door to Meredithís room and said, "OíMalley, can you come out here, please?"
George smiled at Meredith, kissed her hand, and joined Alex in the hallway. "What is it?"
"I said something to Izzie about what she said to you. You know, about marrying Torres."
His forehead wrinkled slightly and George said, "Uhm, thanks?"
"Callie heard us, dude. She thinks that you regret marrying her."
"What?!" George scanned the hallway as if he expected to see his wife nearby. "What do you-"
"Sheís in the stairwell with Addison."
George broke into a run and pushed the door open. He ran into Izzie who looked terrified. "Where is she?" he asked, starting for the stairs.
"Wait," Izzie said, her chin trembling a little. "George, Iím sorry. I shouldnít have said-"
"Where is my wife?" George yelled at her.
"She left with Addison. And -" Izzie held her hand out, palm open. "She said to give this to you."
Georgeís heart wrenched in his chest when he saw the silver ring. The tiny diamond caught the light enough to reflect and he remembered the moment he had slipped it onto Callieís finger. He tore his gaze away from it and glared at Izzie. "What did you do?"
Izzie began to cry. "I - I was talking to Alex about what I said to you and she heard it."
"What did she hear!?"
"She heard me tell Alex that you agreed with me. That you made a mistake marrying her."
"I did not agree with you, Izzie! I didnít make a mistake!" He snatched the ring from her hand and fisted it in his. "I married the woman that I love! That I want to spend the rest of my life with!"
"I just think you rushed it and -"
"And what did you do with Denny? You fell in love and got *engaged* to a man that you never saw outside the walls of this hospital. You didnít date him. You didnít even know he was a millionaire!"
"That was diff-"
"Different? How in the hell is it any different, Izzie!? You knew him the same amount of time that Iíve known Callie. Less time, actually!" He shook his head, pulling his cell phone from his pocket. "You better hope that I can fix this because if I canít-"
"Donít." Izzie shook her head. "Please donít say things that you donít mean."
He dialed Callieís number and cursed loudly when it went to voice mail. He slammed the phone shut and glared at Izzie. "Because if I canít fix it ---then you and me? Footnote in history!"
"Izzie, you are supposed to be my best friend! Part of being a best friend is accepting the things that you donít always agree with!" He dialed Callie again and quickly shut the phone when it went to voice mail again. "I didnít agree with what you did to Denny, but I jeopardized my medical career, my future, to help you do it. I stood by you, took the fall for you by saying that I was the one who cut the LVAD wire and this? This is how you thank me."
"I told you! I told you the other night that if you pushed her away then you were pushing me away! Guess what? It worked!" He turned on his heel and stormed down the stairs.
"Iím sorry!" Izzie called, choking on the words. "Iím so sorry!"
"I so donít care," he yelled back.
Callie sat in the passenger seat of Addisonís car, her head leaning against the window. The air conditioner was on full blast, blowing into her face as Addy navigated the parking lot, which was crawling with news vans and camera crews. She had calmed down a little after she threw her ring at Izzie, telling her that she had won, that she could rest easy now. Swallowing hard, she listened as Addison called Chief Webber and explained that Callie was having a personal issue and Addison was helping her take care of it.
When they finally pulled out of the parking lot, Callie lifted her head and said, "I donít want to go home."
Addison nodded at her. "Joeís?"
"No. Just drive."
Addison drove past the Archfield and headed for the open road. Her heart ached for Callie. It had taken every ounce of her strength not to slap Izzie Stevens. Addison wasnít sure what had happened, but it was obvious that Izzie was the mastermind behind whatever it was. "Did you ever see Mean Girls?" she asked, switching lanes and picking up speed.
"The movie. Lindsay Lohan. Rachel McAdams. These pretty, popular girls are horrible to the regular girls. Thatís what Stevens reminds me of. Sheís like one of those pretty girls who can only have one friend at a time, who gets jealous if that friend has another friend. She pitches a little tantrum until the focus is back on her." Addison patted her on the arm. "But the mean girls never win."
"She did this time."
"She doesnít have to. Why donít you call George?"
"My marriage is over." She laughed a little through the fresh tears that were falling. "At least I beat Britney Spearsí first marriage."
"You donít know that itís over."
Her wedding band had left an indention on her ring finger and Callie absently worried it, massaging it with her thumb. It would fade eventually. Her finger would return to normal and the final traces of what had been the happiest time of her life would be gone. "She said he was still in love with Meredith."
Addison couldnít help but roll her eyes. "What is it with that girl? Sheís got a body like a ten year old boy, acts like a twelve year old, and for some reason half the hospital, including my ex-husband, wants her."
"Sheís vulnerable. Guys like that."
"And she does stupid shit like putting her hand on a bomb in someoneís body and falling into frigid water." Addison made a face. "Sheís the quintessential damsel in distress."
"What are we?"
"Alone," Addison agreed. "But itís like you told me the other day, Cal, we havenít ended up anywhere yet. This is just a chapter in whatever story we have to tell."
"Iíd rather skip to the end." Callie brushed the tears off her face. "Maybe we did make a mistake. We got married so fast that neither one of us had time to really think about it. I mean, for the past couple of days Iíve been trying to figure out how to juggle working with him and being married to him. How to be his boss *and* his wife. How to balance everything. Itís exhausting."
"The best things in life usually are. You have to work your ass off to get what you want and then when you get it, you have to work twice as hard to keep it. I mean, weíre doctors. We struggle through medical school, finally get a degree and placement, and the first thing you notice is that there are twenty other people just like you who want your job, who could probably do it better. Life is one big exhausting struggle. And it sucks."
"Okay, at this point, Iím thinking that youíre the last person Iíd call to talk me off the ledge."
"Thatís just it. You wouldnít have to call because Iím standing right next to you. All the time."
"I slept with Mark. Again."
"But I was thinking about Alex Karev the entire time. You were right. I am that starving bear and heís that cooked turkey and there are lines of deliciousness all over the place." She blew a strand of hair out of her face. "And he turned me down. Alex, I mean. He said that just because he kissed me it doesnít mean he wants me. He basically blew me off. But then tonight, he told me that he would notice if I went missing and those lines of deliciousness almost burned me to death all over again."
"Jesus," Addison agreed, glancing at her friend. "Listen, I was married to Derek for a long time so I know a little bit about the married thing. You have to communicate. You have to talk. Even if the conversation isnít what you want it to be about ... you still have to have it."
"Iím willing to drive all night. We can go to California or head on down to New Orleans in time for Mardi Gras, but postponing the inevitable is just that. Itís postponing what you know has to happen. And thatís never wise."
"We should go back."
Wordlessly, Addison took an exit and turned around, pointing the car back towards town. They sat in silence as a few miles ticked past, then Callie said, "So, if I get a divorce or whatever ... does it eventually stop hurting?"
"So, either way Iím screwed."
"I didnít say that. It hurts, Callie. But weíre strong and independent, remember. We make it. Because we have to."
"Weíre quite a pair you and me."
"Damn right we are. Weíre gonna be fine. Women like us? We always are."
"I hope youíre right."
In the elevator, Callie watched the floors tick past. As the eighteenth floor grew closer, the pain in her heart intensified. She had been staying at the Archfield for a while, but it hadnít really felt like a home until George had moved his things in. Every morning, she tripped over the same box and smiled, happy that his belongings were strewn all over the place. She hated to imagine what it would feel like when he was gone. It would return to being four walls and nothing more.
Her life would return to existing and not living.
Addison hugged Callie as the doors opened, imploring her to call her if she needed anything. Callie took a deep breath, promised that she would, and slowly trudged down the hallway toward her room. She doubted that George would have been able to pull himself away from Meredith so she confidently unlocked the door and stepped inside.
George grabbed her immediately, pulling her into his arms and hugging her. Tight.
"You scared me to death," he said, leaning his face against her neck. "Where have you been?"
She shook her head and stepped back, shocked to see him. Her emotions had been reined in enough for her to get a handle on them, but seeing him, feeling him, caused her to let go. Her eyes burned with tears and her throat constricted again. Saying nothing, she practically flew across the room and locked herself in the bathroom. It was a seventeen year old thing to do. It was a pathetic display of weakness, but when she heard the lock click she was finally able to breathe.
"Callie." George tried the knob and swore. "Let me in. Please."
There was nothing she could say. She turned on the water in the bathtub so he couldnít hear her crying. The last thing she wanted was to let him see the big, gaping hole in her armor. If he saw it, then he had the power to make it bigger or to pierce her right through the heart while she was unprotected. Sliding onto the floor, she rested her back against the bathtub and her forehead on her knees, willing herself to calm down, willing her breath to stop hitching and her tears to stop falling.
George leaned his head against the door, listening to her sobs. He had never seen her cry, never heard anyone cry the way she was. Even the running water could not conceal it. It hurt him to the core to think that she would rather suffer alone than let him help her. Glancing around, he grabbed a coat hanger and quickly straightened out the curve. It took him a while, but he managed to unlock the door. Steam was heavy in the room, already fogging the mirrors, but he saw her and dropped down next to her, shutting off the faucet as he went.
She jumped as if his touch burned her and tried to get to her feet. He wrestled with her, holding her still. "Callie! Stop! Whatever Izzie said to you, whatever happened, itís not true."
"Donít," she sobbed. "Just let me go."
"No!" He gripped her upper arms, shaking her. "Listen to me! I love you. I knew exactly what I was doing when we got married. I wouldnít change it for the world."
"You said it was a mis- a mis-"
"Look at me!" He gripped her chin, forcing her face up. "Izzie is the one who said it was a mistake, not me. I - I could never think that."
She renewed her efforts to get away from him. "I want you to leave."
Georgeís anger intensified as she struggled against him. "Damn it, Callie!" he yelled. "Iím not leaving! This is my home now and this is where Iím staying."
"Then I have to leave," she cried, yanking her arms free. "I canít do this."
"Canít do what?" He shot to his feet, blocking the door as she tried to leave the bathroom. "What?"
"I canít stand to look at you!"
"Because I can see it all over your face."
"Youíre still in love with Meredith. Everybody knows it. I - Iíve known it all along, but I pretended that I didnít, that I had a chance with you, but I donít. I donít. And I canít look at you because thatís all I see."
"Oh my god! Are you kidding me!? You have officially lost your mind."
"No! For the first time since meeting you Iím actually thinking for a change! Izzie was right!"
"God!" he yelled. "Izzie! Did she tell you that? That I love Meredith? Is that what she said to you? Because sheís wrong! Meredith died for a few minutes today, Callie. She *died*. And when I was looking down at her all I could think was how sad it was that she didnít have the chance to marry Derek. To be as happy as youíve made me! I love *you*. I know I didnít say it when you wanted me to, but Iím saying it now and Iím going to keep saying until you believe me. I love you!"
"We made a mistake."
"Donít." He backed up a few steps, the wind knocked out of him. "We did not make a mistake."
"Look at us! We live in a *hotel*! Iím your boss at work and I donít know how to be married to you and still be your boss! I donít know how to handle people laughing at us or you telling me that Iím sexy in the middle of a triage drill! I donít know what to do when you run into my operating room and proceed to tell me what you want to do to me when we get home! You undermine my authority. You make me look like a fool!"
"I had been looking for that little boy all day. He was lost. And I found him with you. Every single time Iím searching for something ... you have what I need." George glared at her, then his gaze softened and his eyes filled with tears. "Today? I saw a lot of people die. I saw pain and devastation and death. I watched Meredith die. And Izzie hugged me. Addison hugged me. Hell, even *Christina* put her arms around me and all I wanted was you.
"When Meredithís heart started again, when she choked and coughed and opened her eyes ... I was thinking of you. I was thinking that it could have been you. I was thinking about all the time we wasted and how thereís never really enough time at all. And for you to stand there and say that it was a mistake because you donít know how to be my boss at work or because I called you sexy or because I donít care if the entire hospital knows that I want you ... I donít make you look like a fool. You make yourself look like a fool!"
He angrily threw his hands in the air. "They laugh at us, they joke about your new last name, because they want to be us. They want what we have. And you canít wait to throw it away."
Reaching into his pocket, he pulled out her wedding band and showed it to her. He held it between his thumb and forefinger and shook his head. "You gave this to *Izzie* to give to me."
Callie swallowed hard. "I didnít know what else to do."
George grabbed her hand and pressed it into her palm. "If itís over, Callie, then *you* give it back to me. Look me in the eye and tell me that this was a mistake."
She held her hand out, hating the way it shook. "Iím not doing this."
"George, just take the damn ring and go!"
"YOU HAVE TO SAY IT!" he shouted, shoving her hand away from him. "Tell me that weíre through! Tell me that the vows we said were meaningless to you!"
Callie lowered her head and her tears freely dropped onto the cool tile floor. She heard the change in his breathing, heard his voice hitch, and quickly looked back up at him. He was crying. He was openly crying, openly broken. With a gasp, she reached for him. "Oh, George-"
He dropped to his knees in front of her, wrapping his arms around her hips. "Donít do this, Callie. Please. Please."
"Shhh, itís okay," she whispered, cradling his head as he cried. George OíMalley was crying for *her* and instead of making her feel wanted ... she felt like the most despicable person alive. She eased down to her knees and wrapped her arms around him. "Iím sorry."
He buried his face in her hair, clinging to her as if he were adrift in a raging sea and she could save him. "Iím sorry, too."
"Marriage is hard. I never expected it to be so damn hard."
"Thatís why weíre in it together, Callie." He pulled back, kissing her softly. "Donít do this. We didnít make a mistake. I believe that with everything that I am."
"I dealt with her. And if she doesnít apologize to you tomorrow then Iím done with her. I already warned her once."
"I donít want you to pick a side."
"I chose my side and if Izzie canít respect that then sheís the one making the decision. Not me." He held out his hand. "Now, give me the ring."
"But I thought-"
"Callie, let me have it."
With a troubled expression on her face, she opened her hand and watched as he took it from her. "I want-"
"The last time I put this ring on your finger I promised you Ďtill deathí. Now, you came pretty close to killing me today, but close doesnít count. So, Iím going to do this again." He slowly eased the ring back onto her finger and kissed it. "I promise you, baby, this is forever. This is for good and I donít regret one minute of it."
"Me either." She kissed him and fresh tears began to course down her cheeks. "But we have to have boundaries at work."
"I get it."
"I mean, you canít take my picture when Iím teaching or -"
"And you canít undermine my authority by being -"
"And for the love of God, George, donít tell me what you plan on doing to me in front of everyone."
He smiled at her. "Iím going to keep my word on that one."
And for hours ... he did just that.
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