He looked dapper in his black tuxedo, courtesy of Calvin Klein and even though some may complain about the hair on his chinny chin chin, he was told the beard gave him an edgy sex appeal – a quality he was more than pleased to claim.
He stepped out into the Grand Ballroom of The Waldorf Astoria, New York's premier hotel and nodded a greeting to some seated guests. Red caught his eye as it had been doing all this weekend and as he met the shocked gaze of the flame-haired beauty with an equally surprised regard, his breath hitched sighing out one word, "April"…
He blamed it on the redhead.
For a flash of a second his face contorted in pain as he limped towards the entrance of the hotel before he schooled his features into impassivity, hating to show even a moment of weakness. As he gingerly made his way up the entrance stairs of The Plaza to the lobby above he realized too late that he should have booked into The Four Seasons instead. Luckily he had avoided staying at The Waldorf Astoria too – the extravaganza being held there was more than enough.
The reason for his regret at not staying at The Four Seasons though was simply because their foyer was situated on ground level whereas the other two hotels required traversing a small but opulent staircase to gain entrance to the lobby and thereby accessing the bank of elevators that would transport him to his suite. Also he could have totally missed seeing the redhead and the resulting chaos she caused to his peace of mind and the flutter in his chest (an arrhythmia perhaps?) leading to the distraction which he attributed to being the cause of the painful position he now found himself in.
Arriving on an early flight from Seattle the previous night he had managed a restorative eight hours of sleep, awakening without the aid of an alarm or a wake-up call and raring to go. Although the hotel boasted first-rate amenities which comprised health and wellness facilities, including a gym by La Palestra, it all felt claustrophobic. He needed to be out breathing in the fresh air, or at least whatever fresh air there was to be found in smog-filled midtown Manhattan. Being away from home was no reason to eschew his early morning routine however, so donning running gear and a hoodie, the hood of which he pulled up to protect his almost shaved head and which would anchor his ear-buds, he set off for one of the trails through Central Park.
Gearing up for his run as he exited the hotel's main entrance onto Fifth Avenue, his attention was diverted to a redheaded woman who had just alighted from a taxi. Before April he appreciated attractive women in all shapes and sizes but after April his attention would zero in on petite redheads, ostensibly hoping to find that it was her, April, his best friend of years and lover on two momentous occasions. It never was though and it was a hope so deeply buried that he never even acknowledged it to himself.
Attired as she was in a chic, sleek business suit, he doubted that this was April but unable to clearly view her visage he knew he had to find out. The angle of his stance had the mystery woman facing away from him but as he shifted further left she moved as well, lifting her hand in greeting to the passenger of another taxi that had just pulled up. He watched with interest as a man, who looked to be about his age and who looked remarkably like the lead singer of the band Maroon Five, emerge from the cab and happily pull mystery Red into a welcome kiss. Yeah, this was definitely not April, he thought, yet he was loath to move away until he could be sure.
Realization hit him slowly. New Yorkers were normally obnoxiously rude and anonymous and even quite blasé about the presence of celebrities or wealthy on Fifth Avenue and its surrounds. Moreover, the newest trend of Police violence towards Black Lives had even the most uninterested native openly staring and not even mentioning the presence of wide-eyed tourists and paparazzi, both armed with either cameras or smart phones. Here he was, a clearly African American Man, wearing a hooded top and blatantly staring at a White Woman.
He was gawked at in passing by bustling New Yorkers going about their day, the two Plaza Hotel Doormen as well as being surreptitiously observed by two NYPD officers, who were in the midst of creating powdered sugar donut mustaches. It was fortunate that the couple in question were so immersed in conversation that they failed to notice the spotlight centered on them, but then if that was Adam Levine he was probably accustomed to ignoring unwanted attention.
He had underestimated The Plaza's loyalty to guests who patronized their establishment.
"Is there anything I can help you with sir, Dr. Avery?" inquired the Doorman surprising Jackson by remembering him from previous stays.
"No, thank you Frank, just on my way for a run through Central Park," he replied with a last glance towards Red and Maroon, as he mentally quipped. Jackson's memory was good too but it helped that Frank wore a nametag.
"There's usually a bunch of guys that have an early morning game of hoops. If you're interested I can show you where to find them?" continued Frank.
"Appreciate it Frank. I think I'm just gonna run though, but if I do come across the game I may just join in," he retorted, fist-bumping Frank and continuing across the road into Central Park.
Jackson Avery was not impressed.
He carefully maneuvered his way back to The Plaza, mentally castigating himself for his preoccupation as he painfully shuffled into the foyer. Even with the deafening beat of the music he chose to run to blasting via his iPhone, his mind had been fixated on April and the resounding vivid kaleidoscope of memories that the redheaded stranger had conjured up.
It was fitting that his mind was assailed with recollections as he ran, hadn't they both run as fast and far away from each other as it was possible to be? Well to be fair to him he had asked her to wait at Joe's that last day so they could discuss their 'relationship'. How was he to know that his friend and mentor would take a turn for the worse and that all his posturing to Jackson was just a final surge before he slipped into a coma, thereby derailing the planned meeting with April. It was still unfathomable to him that not only did they not have a proper goodbye but their last meeting consisted of a hurried exchange outside Mark Sloan's hospital room. No hugs, no kisses and no subsequent contact.
He prided himself on his strength of will – he had successfully managed to put April out of his thoughts since she left the then named Seattle Grace Mercy West Hospital but considering what was planned this weekend it was inevitable that he would dredge her up from the deep recesses of his psyche, even to the extent of envisioning her where she wasn't.
What would she make of the turn his life had taken, he wondered? Would she be pleased for him, that he was so immersed in the Harper Avery Foundation, that he was 'getting his legacy on'? Would she be proud of him, that he was a successful Plastic Surgeon, that he had a huge hand in the running of Grey Sloan Memorial, that he was even solely responsible for the name change, honoring two people that meant so much to all of them? Would she understand his decision?
He missed her. Unappreciated by many, her no-filter, unique views and refreshing honesty revealed itself in a surprisingly sophisticated wit that still managed to retain a fresh and unsullied purity of thought and heart.
Her experience as an A+ student and perfectionist who was fired not once but twice by the same hospital and who failed her Medical Boards too, was not sufficient incentive to douse the fire in her and he hoped that wherever she was life had not fatigued her to the point of becoming jaded and cynical.
Her compassion and always refreshing honesty were such rarefied qualities not only to the world in general but so astounding in their profession that he had yet to encounter it for a second time. Not to say that being pure of heart meant she was puritanical or prudish, far from it in fact…he still harbored very fond recollections of her confident enthusiasm their first time together, to the point of her taking control by being on top. And their second…in a public bathroom of all places – yeah April Kepner was the epitome of the adage 'Dynamite comes in small packages'.
He decided on a quick pit-stop on his way to the elevator, perhaps icing his knee would help. Approaching the concierge to request her to have some ice and painkillers sent up with his pre-ordered breakfast, he hesitated, an inadvertent eavesdropper to her conversation with one of the receptionists.
It quickly became clear that neither was aware of his proximity as their fangirling mannerisms would have been unbecoming of Plaza Hotel staff, especially considering how protective the hotel was of occupants' privacy. Unwilling to interrupt, yet wanting to convey his irritation with their unprofessionalism he braced his hands onto his waist and cocked his head in a waiting pose.
"Adam Levine! Looks a little shorter in person, but sooo hottt! Did he check in with that gorgeous redhead? Is she famous too? Do you think they're together? Saw her going into the Court alone. Damn, why couldn't I be the one to check them in?" The Talky Tina alternated between interrogating and stating, barely taking a breather between exclamations.
The concierge, who he was unfamiliar with and whose nametag he was unable to clearly focus on, was quite obviously accustomed to her friend's enthusiasm for celebrities. She continued scrolling on her handheld tablet before responding and from the information she relayed it was evident to Jackson that she had just looked it up.
"She checked in alone…a doctor! Can you believe it?" she started and whilst the Chatty Cathies continued chatting on in the same vein, Jackson tuned them out. His excitement at fever pitch, he carefully turned and made his way towards The Plaza's Palm Court Restaurant. It was April, he thought – he felt it in his momentarily unsteady bones.
Considering his handicap he approached the entrance to the restaurant quite swiftly and that's where he encountered his next obstacle – the beady eye of the Maître d'. He gazed askance at Jackson's attire before asking if he was a hotel patron and where he preferred to be seated. Unwilling to create an unnecessary scene by admitting to being on a scouting mission, he stood at the entrance and perused the occupants of the room, while giving the impression of examining the area for seating that met his requirements.
He spotted her easily – she was stunningly beautiful, more so than even his memory credited her with. Her two breakfast companions were held in thrall by her expressive hand gestures and musical laugh, but judging by her attire and having an inkling of who her companions were, Jackson surmised that it was a business meeting that he was observing. Knowing that now was not the time to barge in on her, he just stood there grinning foolishly and ignoring the fluttering Maître d'.
In the midst of his contemplation he noted that the party seemed to be drawing to a close, with all the participants moving to take their leave of each other. Motivated by instinct and no thought at all he scampered away and hid behind the tall potted fern standing sentry near The Palm Court's entrance doors.
He peeped through the plant's fronds and watched as April firmly shook hands with the two doctors as they escorted each other out of the restaurant, she then moving towards the elevators and the two men towards the lobby. As he emerged from his hiding place he was met by the stern faced Maître d' holding out a menu to him.
"Excellent choice, sir, shall I send a waiter to take your order?"
Being an Avery had really come in handy, he reflected, smiling. Not for the obvious reasons of wealth and privilege but for the learned experience that garnered him class and charisma enough to extricate himself from most any situation. Although if he were totally honest, it seemed that behind the stoic snobbery of Monsieur Maître d' there lurked the underrated and oft undetected humor of a born and bred New Yorker, who had let him off the hook, amused all the while.
Shaking his head at his antics he maneuvered his way to the elevators with his intended destination his suite but somehow found that he was knocking on April's door. His sonic hearing, he laughed to himself, for although he'd turned away from the conversation between the Talkies earlier, he'd subconsciously heard everything – including the hot redhead's room number. The concierge and receptionist had both been extremely unprofessional.
He waited impatiently and with bated breath – after all this time to see his best friend again!
"Jackson" she greeted, unsurprised by his unexpected appearance at her door.
"April" he sighed, startled by her composure and lack of surprise. "How did you...?" he continued.
"Did you think that potted fern was an invisibility cloak?" she wisecracked, with a genuine grin dimpling her cheek.
"God, I've missed you!" he laughingly responded, pulling her into a hug. She nestled perfectly into his arms and returned the hug, squeezing tightly, and it was as though they had never been apart.
"What did Mr. Bean do to you?" she asked curiously. Still within the circle of his arms she tilted her head back to better see his response.
Testament to their short-hand lingo he immediately knew what, or rather who, she was referring to – the Maître d'. He had to admit the guy had that stiff upper crust British vibe and although he was not technically a Mr. Bean type character, that was the only type of Englishman that April was acquainted with (or had been familiar with), via television of course. They may have been apart but he still knew her remarkably atypical thought process.
"Well he must have been taught in Maître d' school that the diner always gets fed – he tried to seat me next to the fern! He wanted to punish me I think, for ruining his perfectly run breakfast service. Anal retentive, like someone else I know," he rejoined, demeanor serious but with a twinkle in his eye that belied his solemn expression.
April knew exactly how he'd gotten away with it – his 'Avery Sparkle' never ceased to get him out of any hot spot (exactly as it was doing now!). She let out an unladylike snort and gave him a light back-handed smack to the chest.
"He was probably just worried that you had nefarious intentions towards his fern," she joked. "Or else your reputation as an eating machine precedes you," she playfully teased.
Before either of them could move to extricate themselves from the others arms they simultaneously became aware of a buzzing sound. April glanced towards her notebook computer sitting on the writing table and Jackson's gaze followed suit when he failed to identify the source of the ringing on his own.
"Sorry Jackson, I've been waiting for this call," she explained as she rushed to answer her Skype-call, while at the same time motioning him to enter her room. Amazingly, this first encounter since their last also occurred within a doorway – hellos and goodbyes weren't meant for proper rooms it seemed.
Jackson entered the room with a much slower gait. His excitement at finding out that it was indeed April whom he'd seen earlier had caused him to ignore the pain in his knee and in his race to see her he'd probably caused more damage. The aftereffects of his neglect were not going to be pretty, he guessed.
He took a seat on the chaise lounge situated in front of the king sized bed and contemplated lifting his injured leg onto it, but quickly vetoed the idea. Not only was it extremely presumptuous and in poor taste to make himself comfortable in her space, but it also wasn't very manly and well he did have some pride to recover after the fern hiding incident.
He glanced around at the room, noting the differences to the suite he was booked into, which co-incidentally happened to be on the other side of the courtyard on this very same floor. He tried to give April some privacy for her call but proximity and the small space they shared made it impossible. Also he was extremely curious, especially when he heard her speaking French and when he was able to see the Frenchman she was speaking to. This was no longer his shy, virginal best friend he realized. First Adam Levine now this French dude.
Hearing his name mentioned by April snapped him out of his musings – she was explaining to Frenchie that he was her old friend from Seattle and being a big stickler for social etiquette she turned around to introduce the two men. With the introduction to Dr. Adrien Pascal out of the way, well really they were just made aware of each other's names; Jackson was left to his own devices once again while the pair conversed in rapid-fire French.
Even though Jackson understood every word of their conversation, where April had been did not register to him until she switched to what sounded like Arabic and moved on to speak to a young boy who looked to be between the ages of 4 to 6 years old. April had been in freaking combat zones, which probably meant she was affiliated with Doctors without Borders, the commonly used name of Médecins Sans Frontières or really known by its acronym MSF.
Although MSF as a humanitarian-aid organization concentrated most of its efforts in war-torn regions they also piloted projects in developing countries facing endemic diseases. Jackson vacillated between being extremely impressed and proud of April and being scared shitless. She could have died in any situation and estranged as they were he would never have known.
His internal reflections were interrupted when he noticed April gazing at him oddly. Had she been talking to him the whole while? When had she ended her call? Not only was it the height of rudeness to be so inattentive but after their time apart it could be perceived as just downright hurtful.
"Strip" she ordered.
"Wait…what?!" he exclaimed, he'd definitely just proven his previous inattention.
"Take of your pants…now Jackson," she bossily demanded, in a tone of voice that he remembered brooked no refusal and that commanded immediate compliance – and so he obeyed, removing his Jordans and socks too.
She lifted his bare legs on to the chaise, noticing the wince of pain he could not hide and then immediately knelt beside him on the carpeted floor to examine his injuries. He should have known. Nothing slipped past Dr. 'Observant' Kepner – as far as he was aware that was still her name. Could she be married? Was her name even still Kepner? There obviously was no lack of males vying for her attention, he bitterly reflected.
"What happened here?" she softly enquired, using that calm, soothing Pediatrician voice – well all Pediatricians except for gruff exterior Alex Karev.
"Game of hoops in the park, felt something give in my knee on a turn. I did warm up before though. I was going for a run when I came across the game. Damn, do you think it's an ACL tear?" he wondered. He was irritated and frustrated and unable to admit that he'd gotten into the game to rid himself of thoughts of her that he'd been unable to keep at bay while running. His knee looked swollen and now that he had time to pay attention to it was acutely aware of the throbbing radiating from it.
"Umm hmm," she quietly murmured examining his injured joint. "You didn't even bother to RICE it did you? Oh Physician, first heal thyself," she teasingly mocked. "It looks like your kneecap is dislocated," she continued and while he was still in the process of digesting her prognosis, she swiftly and firmly applied pressure and the force pushed the knee back into place.
The reduction was accomplished so speedily and with such ease that he had no time to anticipate the pain of the process, although a loud "oof" did escape on a puff of air. He did have time enough after to admire her technique. Dr. Torres could not have done better and that was saying something.
"What…How… did you…?" he started to question, slightly breathless from holding in sounds of pain. As usual he was preempted by her immediate response.
"I've done tons of these. In the villages that I've been to where life and death comes swiftly and you don't have X-ray machines or don't have time to hook up the portable one you have, which really you only use for extreme emergencies, you learn to diagnose quickly and you learn to treat even faster," she modestly remarked. "How does it feel? Think we should still go with the RICE, okay? I'm going to call down to room service to bring up some ice with the breakfast I ordered. You'll join me won't you? I couldn't eat a thing while meeting with those doctors!" she cutely rambled before making her way to the telephone to do as she'd said.
Wanting to spend this time with April, he mentally wrote off the breakfast he had pre-ordered the night before. He tried to recall the RICE method and what it entailed – rest, ice, gentle compression and elevation when you're first injured can help speed your recovery. So while it was not immediately after he was injured, he was apparently getting the RICE treatment.
They'd had numerous meals together in the past, at varied locations – the hangouts they frequented as Mercy West residents always with Charles and Reed; Meredith Grey's house when they roomed there together; the apartment that they shared with Alex Karev and of course anywhere and everywhere at the then Seattle Grace Mercy West Hospital. This was however a first for them, the two of them entirely alone. On a date? Yes, he reassured himself, a breakfast date with him pantless, right leg elevated and with an ice-pack on his knee.
Although, he reflected, in San Francisco at the Medical Board Examination it had ended up being just the two of them at supper. Not technically a date but a memorable night all around. It began with the fistfight with the Case Western douche bag, followed by their wild first time together and sex in the Mens bathroom stall the next day to cap off a weekend neither would ever forget.
He caught her up on basic news about all their old colleagues – old for her and current for him, but they seemed to shy away from personal news about themselves. Speaking for himself he just needed a few moments to gather his thoughts. He didn't want to ruin what was turning out to be a rather pleasant reunion with accusations and counter arguments escalating into a fight over who left who first.
Their breakfast over, April approached him with a painkiller and a glass of water. He had to admit that her treatment had been very successful, all he felt after was a dull ache but even that abated somewhat with the ice compress and the painkiller eliminated the last of the twinges. He felt ready to leap tall buildings in one bound, he lightheartedly declared.
He didn't want to leave though, especially when he caught her checking out his calves and thighs. She leaned over the backrest of the chaise to assess the improvement to his knee and he took the opportunity to return the favor by admiring her behind, which was just as asstastic as he remembered.
He grabbed her hand and pulled her around the chaise and then dragged her further up to straddle his body, her legs on either side of his. Mindful of his injured limb, she didn't allow her legs to rest on his so as she arched her back leaning away from him, she effectively stretched into the Yogic Camel Pose.
"Jackson, what are you doing?" she protested. "Do you want to damage your knee some more?"
"Shh, my knee is fine. Just answer me this, are you married?" he asked.
Her face scrunched up into a frown and he couldn't say if it was due to her uncomfortable posture or his out of the blue question.
"No," she exasperatedly responded. "Why are you…" she started and was this time preempted by him.
He gently and unhurriedly leaned in and kissed her softly, requesting permission and entrance. Her reply was an unhurried parting of her lips, allowing access.
"Wait…you?" she questioned stopping where this was leading until he answered in the negative too.
Being very cognizant of a woman's right to refuse as well as considering himself a feminist, Jackson, ever the gentleman, requested confirmation of either her acceptance or rejection.
"April, do you not want to do this?" he voiced.
Her immediate answer though was non-verbal. Leaning fully with her knees on either side of him, she latched onto both sides of his face, over the small beard he had growing, and proceeded to kiss him senseless.
"I want this!" she confidently responded.
He was thankful that the bed was right there, within reach. As romantic as the gesture would have been, carrying her even that short distance would have put a strain on his healing limb and he needed to be upright for the next day. He quickly pushed the thought away; he would think of it tomorrow. After all tomorrow was another day – damn when did he start channeling Scarlett O'Hara?
April was never one to let the grass grow under her feet; when she made a decision she followed through with action immediately – she'd once laughingly said, "He who hesitates doesn't get the early worm." He had been amused at what he considered her misuse of phrases, surprised actually by how someone so compulsively precise could mix them up.
It was only recently that he came across the term Malaphor which he found out is an unintentional blend of idioms and phrases, only in April's case it was intentional. April had been way ahead of the pack, even in her rambling and general discourse and he had the feeling that she'd been throwing the Malaphors at them as her own personal joke, hoping that someone would make the effort to get her humor and to join in. It was a sad indictment that none of her so called friends attempted to know her and sadder still that his name topped the list.
He would forever regret that he never fought Owen Hunt when he fired her and that he was not more insistent that Owen rehire her when he casually suggested it after he became the major shareholder of the hospital, courtesy of the Harper Avery Foundation. It seemed though that his inaction was the best thing for April. Her astounding confidence was the reason that he was standing beside a king size bed in a deluxe room of The Plaza in midtown New York being slowly undressed by her. He loved it when she took charge!
He let her set the pace and she surprised him. She'd been the instigator both of their previous times and it had been hurried with no lingering sleepovers, discussions or analyses. Not to say that he'd been disappointed in the past, the very opposite in fact. But this slow unhurried pace was new for them.
Perhaps she'd brushed up on her technique with Levine and Pascal, he thought – they sounded like an effing law firm – but no animosity there he reassured himself. She'd obviously made peace with Jesus and moved on and while he maybe harbored some resentment at not being included in that triumvirate (fittingly apt description of their situation!) he was just now appreciating the moment. Appreciating her.
She was so beautiful with her milkmaid skin; buttery-soft and it surprised him that she was still so lily-white – even the parts exposed to sunlight were of the same hue. For a second he imagined what a child of theirs would look like, with both of them having such diametrically opposite skin tones. Would his melanin prevail or her farm-girl roots? His striking peepers or her doe-eyed softness? His muscular physique or her slenderness? They would make beautiful babies together, for whatever combination the gene pool was strong. Immutable genetics be damned, this was absolutely the wrong time to become broody.
Shutting down all thought, he concentrated solely on her – the softness of her skin, the scent of her hair, her breathless sighs and her musical laughter. Her taking control, her elevated posture, the mystery in her eyes and the gentleness of her touch. Her gaze down to him, his worshipping all of her, her tender touch and his heightened sensitivity. They gelled quite seamlessly as lovers he realized, fully focused on the other and how much pleasure they could bring to each other – actions speaking in lieu of words.
Sighs accompanied pleasure of course, but this was a leisurely trip culminating in a destination of fireworks – psychedelic colors and shapes, ensnaring all the senses. His eyes beheld, his lips caressed, his fingertips explored, her fragrance enchanted and her breathless moans were his melody. She brought out the freaking poet in him.
He could not stop touching her. Their breathing had slowed back down to normal; he'd grabbed all the pillows creating a mountain for him to lean on while he became the mountain she leaned on. Her arms adjacent to each other lay across his chest with her chin resting atop them. Her sleepy-eyed gaze locked onto his.
"What's with the beard?" she wondered aloud.
"It's day is numbered, meeting the razor tomorrow," he replied.
"Why? It looks good…you look good…very sexy!" she rebutted with a cute eyebrow waggle. "As long as you don't let it morph into a Lumberjacks beard you're good. A LumberJackson!" she sniggered, following it with peals of laughter. She tried to smother her hilarity by burying her face into his chest but all that accomplished was him both hearing and feeling the vibrations of her mirth. He smiled to hear her enjoyment.
"Tell me about Médecins Sans Frontières," he requested once the quiet was restored.
"Aah, you picked up on that, did you? Love the enunciation by the way," she retorted.
"Keen powers of deduction…and language – you have noticed my weapons of mass observation, right?" He maneuvered the index and middle finger of his right hand pointing it to his eyes and then motioning in a sharp gesture towards her – an 'I'm watching you' pantomime.
She smiled at his theatrics; reached out for his gesticulating hand and proceeded to kiss each of the digits. "I prefer these weapons of mass seduction," she whispered and of course he had to defer to the doctor's wishes.
"I wasn't deflecting you know? I'll tell you all about where I've been and I want to catch up on your life too. I just…I wanted this moment free from any baggage…you understand right?" she bit her lower lip and gazed up at him, unaware what her combination smoldering look coupled with shy hesitancy did to his equilibrium.
"Yeah, I know. How about this – I'm gonna go to my room, grab a quick shower and then get us the best Pizza New York has to offer. We'll have lunch, catch-up and then maybe…some dessert?" he planned.
Truth be told he was reluctant to leave her, the room, or the bed just yet, so when she said "I have a shower" he grinned contentedly and dragged her butt along to the luxurious bathroom and into the spacious shower stall with him.
He didn't want to have to dress in his sweaty sweats again but he figured he'd caused enough of a stir at the hotel already without being caught walking the hallway in just a towel or even the hotel provided robe borrowed from April. He raced through his ablutions, anxious to get back to her, his lover.
Something vital was missing and it came to him just as he was about to exit his suite; his phone hadn't rang once today! While he admitted to being preoccupied with his lovely companion, the lack of meddling family members at this juncture should have tipped him off; if not Harper confirming his acquiescence than Catherine with her not so subtle disapproval of his compliance. Way to avoid them altogether, he decided, securing but leaving his uncharged phone behind.
Exactly an hour later he was once again at April's door. Not wanting to lose a moment with her but also wanting her to experience New York's best pizza he spent a total of fifty minutes getting to and returning from Lombardi's in Lower Manhattan. It was well worth the effort; clay oven wood-fired pizza catering especially to her unusual taste buds with toppings of aubergine, courgette, black olive, mushroom and sesame seeds. For him it was too much hale and hearty goodness in one pie, but since it was on a tomato sauce based flatbread with cheese he could live with that. Also, it made her happy, so eating healthy was a small sacrifice, he mused self-effacingly.
"So…how did you end up with MSF?" Around a mouthful of pizza he launched the conversation again. This impromptu, inside picnic was a grand idea, he thought, all the romanticism of al-fresco dining none of the pesky outside influences of weather and insects. Best of all though, no audience, so they could get as freaky as they wanted…after.
"Well, lucky for me The Tastee Freez wasn't hiring," she laughingly started, reminding him of one of their conversations after she was fired, having failed her Board exams. The previous hospitals that had been competing with each other for the opportunity of having her complete her fellowship at their hallowed institutions, all rescinded their offers, wanting a surgeon that was Board certified. "I'd sent out my résumé to all the hospitals in the vicinity and they were interested. It ended up that I had interviews scheduled at two hospitals the day I met the Syrian Doctors – they changed my life, Jackson," she reminisced fondly.
"How?" he probed.
"I was on my way to Bay Park Community Hospital or was the interview at Toledo State first?" she wondered aloud. "Well, one of them. Anyway, as I was approaching an intersection driving through town I witnessed an accident. A mini-bus plowed into a stationery vehicle that had a pregnant woman in it and the excitement sent her into pre-term labor. The mini-bus had at least twelve children – their coach was driving them to a soccer match. Dr. Darwich and Dr. Azizi also witnessed the collision and it ended up that the three of us controlled and triaged the patients' and helped Anne deliver her baby right there! This wasn't a trauma exercise, this was trauma in the field, without equipment, Jackson, and they taught me, which was ridiculous since at home they were just normal GP's but they were in the US to learn trauma techniques – how crazy is that? There I was all mopey and full of self-pity and here were these doctors in a foreign country saving lives – this was my wake-up call, this was my calling!" she excitedly responded.
Seated cross-legged on the floor, delicately eating her slice, she was still able to wave her arms in that expressive way she had of talking with her whole body – her exhilaration was palpable and it took him back to San Francisco and their first kiss.
"So you just up and joined Doctors without Borders?" he ventured.
"Not immediately, no. It turns out that personal epiphanies are inconvenient to everyone else's timetables and my parents were hella resistant to the idea," she mocked, throwing in some street slang that he was unaccustomed to hearing from her. "Not to mention the bureaucratic red tape was a nightmare! You'd think MSF would want more doctors but like any organization they also worry about liability and an unaccredited surgeon is a huge risk for them and well my pride took a huge beating. I didn't even want to approach Dr. Hunt for a reference – I just left it to them to vet my résumé. Apparently Military Man Hunt views MSF on par with combat service so he gave me a glowing review and you know what? Being Chief Resident finally was a win for me," she breezed through the telling.
Jackson had to clench his fists to keep from angrily banging them on the nearest viable surface. Why didn't Hunt tell him this? More importantly how could Hunt foister his own beliefs on someone who he hadn't even bothered to mentor?
"Chief Freaking Resident," he murmured, just as he had all those years ago, just as proud now as he had been then but this time perhaps tinged with a modicum of worry and maybe a smidgeon of envy – she'd found a calling and pursued it literally and figuratively to the ends of the earth.
"Actually I'm just recently back in the country from West Africa. Well more accurately Syria was my previous destination before the US, I had to check up on Umar. How fortuitous was our meeting, Jackson? I'm basically here to retake my Boards, with a little schmoozing of potential donors thrown into the mix," she continued with her tale leaving him with quite a quandary – which question to ask first? West Africa?! Syria?! Umar? Boards? Did she pass this time? Donors?
"Okay, go," he replied gesturing for her to continue, knowing that she would understand that he wanted to know everything and that he was patient enough to wait for her own distinctive spin.
"Médecins Sans Frontières isn't the only organization dispensing medical assistance you know, they're just the one the world is most familiar with and while I've been on some missions with them, Indonesia after the Tsunami, earthquake hit Haiti and after the volcano erupted in Iceland, they held back sending me to the front-lines – mostly because of the liability and partly because I'm a woman. Their insurance carrier wouldn't cover me until I was fully certified. So I flitted between institutions that would have me. Red Crescent, Red Cross, Aid International, Disaster Response Teams and the one that I'm hoping to join permanently – Waqful Waqifin or Gift of the Givers Foundation. They're based in South Africa and a more dedicated bunch of doctors I've yet to come across. I've been with them to Bosnia, Pakistan, Somalia and just recently Syria. The work that they're doing in the midst of the insurgency in Syria is just…just incredible Jackson! They've built self-sustaining hospitals and they're training these young Syrians in the art of swift trauma resolution. We're really trying to get into Palestine next but we're being embargoed. I have faith in Dr. Sooliman though, he's kinda my hero!"
"You've been to all these places? Who are you Amazing Amazon Woman? I lo…really like this bad-ass you!"
"I lo-like her too," Amazon April confidently replied, pointing out in her inimitable way that her sharp mind picked up on his slip of the tongue. Perhaps he should be putting his tongue to better use, he reflected.
"What were you doing in West Africa?" he swiftly three-sixties the conversation back to where they started, where he could comfortably eat, with no foot in mouth.
"Treating Hemorrhagic Fever."
"Well yeah, but only in the six countries most affected: Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea, Senegal, Mali, and Nigeria," she serenely ticked off on her mental list.
"Calm down, Jackson. Obviously we had protective gear and took precautions and preventative measures. Oh my gosh, I just realized…I'm so, so sorry Jackson…"
"Huh? What are you sorry for?"
"I should have told you before we had sex. I just didn't think about it. I've been tested – when I was over there and when I returned State side. I'm virus free…but still…"
"Calm down, April. I was concerned about..."
"About you. For you, April!"
April is the hesitant one this time, so even though she's googly-eyed at his admission, she continued with her explanations. "WHO and CDC were more at risk as they were doing all the testing – I mean it's what they specialize in. We were just ancillary to them, but nevertheless we employed all the requisite precautions during our time there."
"It's just…it's Ebola, April, a close relative to The Marburg Virus and a viral pathogen!" he exclaimed, not bothering to mention, sarcastically of course, that he could give a fuck about The World Health Organization or even The Centre for Disease Control.
"Well you were more at risk then I was, Jackson, and not because of me," she intoned, quite straight-faced.
"Wait, what? How'd you figure that?" He mentally smacked his forehead – the conundrum that was April still boggled his brain.
"We scoured the media down there in Africa. The world was so concerned about the Ebola Epidemic in the US and I was really worried about those four people that didn't die from it," she very facetiously responded, a huge smirk on her face. "I know there were two health workers from Texas, one doctor from New York and one technician from Atlanta, Georgia that contracted the virus. The FDA was also under enormous pressure to come up with a vaccine for those four people that recovered without it. You can see why I would be more worried about you, can't you?" she finished on a passive-aggressive high note.
"Alright, alright, you've made your point," he laughingly conceded, shaking his head in disbelief at the inherent bias of America, where four white lives trumped the thousands of black lives lost in so-called third-world countries. He wondered at what point The Food and Drug Administration would have distributed a vaccine to Africans? Probably never, he thought. He knew this country of his birth and he figured that the most likely scenario was that the Ebola virus was created as a biological weapon and possibly even in US labs. Perhaps it was time for him to return to his roots…
Jackson resumed eating the pizza he'd been sidetracked from. The distraction was all April, he acknowledged. As he'd proven numerous times before, nothing, not blood, pus or Ebola could divert him from satisfying his hunger – for food of course.
While April nibbled on another slice, she reminisced about her first time abroad.
"I was so nauseous those first few days, and you know what a cast-iron constitution I have. If I didn't know better I would have thought that I was pregnant!"
It was unfortunate that he happened to take a huge bite just as she said that and she had to pound his back to stop the coughing fit that resulted from his choking. He gazed at her with questioning, streaming eyes.
"Don't worry, I wasn't," she replied. "And…," she trailed off obviously hesitant to bring it up.
"What? Tell me please," Jackson entreated.
Taking a deep breath she answered, "Well all the female doctors and auxiliary volunteers who are female are required to have a Tubal Ligation before entering countries where there's civil unrest, and…"
"Wait…what the fuck April? A sterilization procedure?! You've got to be kidding me! You had to have your tubes tied?!" he interrupted angrily, to the point of almost shouting.
"A reversible Tubectomy, Jackson, and totally for our safety in case of rape," she calmly replied.
"Damn, and you're okay with that answer? See I don't know how you do that," he replied at her nod to his question. "Nice deflection by the way. You led me straight into this one after our Ebola talk. But you know what they say, 'Fool me once, strike 1 but fool me twice, strike 3," he replied, expressionlessly.
"Did you just Michael Scott me?"
"Yeah. How does it feel, huh?"
"I miss watching 'The Office' with you," she sighed.
"So, what about you?" she asked as they were clearing up after their spontaneous interrogation.
"Sloan died. I gave up Tulane. Fellow at Grey Sloan. The End," he responded.
"What about the part where you're running the hospital?"
"Oh right. Hospital bankrupt, to be sold off to Pegasus. Avery Foundation intervenes and my mom buys me a hospital. End of Jackson Avery, Surgeon!"
"See I donno how you do that, it's like pulling teeth!" she groaned. "Are you happy, Jackson? You never wanted to be an administrator! Are you performing any surgeries, huh? Are you running any cutting-edge trials? Any projects you're initiating to help those who can't afford basic health care? I remember when you spoke so passionately about Sloan's Burn Unit and the ideas you had to keep it viable. Are you getting to practice the type of medicine you always wanted to?" she questioned in her own rambling format.
"Not all of us are as lucky as you April! To be able to follow our dreams and not worry about obligations."
"Is that really valid Jackson? Or is the 'obligation' a crutch, an excuse to not pursue your dreams wherever they take you. Fear has a handy vindication when it's cloaked as duty."
He gazed intently at her, ruminating on her words, albeit briefly and did what he promised himself earlier. He put his mouth to much better use.
"Okay, so where's this dessert you promised me?"
"I'm looking at her!"
"Hmm, while I'd love to be on your menu, what about me, huh Jackson? I'm still hungry!"
"Well you know I'm an equal opportunity Pâtissier, I'll be your dessert."
They'd thoroughly christened this room of April's, Jackson fondly reflected and recalling her strong Christian faith he mentally added 'No pun intended'. No sheet had been left unturned – bed, chaise, floor, shower – all utilized in the pursuit of maximum pleasure. Their bodies felt completely satiated, climaxing with both satisfaction and sustenance – gratification like he'd never experienced.
Having her at hand and in his arms he was unable to stop touching her, so even in that state between sleep and wakefulness his thumb gently caressed the skin of the shoulders he encircled. He opened an eye and glanced at his watch to detect the time, noting while he did so that it was extremely ridiculous to be wearing nothing but a watch.
He briefly considered waking April up for one last hoorah, but he knew if she was awake he would be unable to say goodbye. He gently shifted her onto the bed, placed a soft kiss on her forehead and moved out from under her body. He searched out his scattered clothing from the floor, swiftly dressed and with a last loving glance to the beauty he'd loved all of the day and night before, he left.
April was gazing at him in shocked stupefaction and he couldn't really blame her. Not even four hours ago he'd left her asleep after a night of stupendous love-making, only for her to wake up abandoned with no idea if she'd ever see him again. Kinda coming full circle on his abandonment issues, which yes she played a major part in too, if not the lion's share.
He reached out a hand as if to entreat her, but she stood up from her seat and excused herself to the man seated next to her, Adam fucking Levine (where the hell had he come from!) and tried to make a run for it. He stopped her with both, his words and by latching on to her hand, as he did a quick sprint down the aisle.
He mentally thanked her RICE treatment for his knee holding up, while at the same time wondering what she was doing there. He'd been having doubts the whole morning, but he'd made a commitment and an Avery never shirked his responsibilities. Seeing her here threw a wrench into his well thought out justifications and all he wanted to do was spill his guts and man-up even if it meant burning his life to the ground.
"I want you, April. I want you," he gasped out.
"Jackson…" she intoned.
"I haven't been fair to you, I know, and I've really hurt you…" he continued.
"And you're getting married!" she softly exclaimed.
"When I saw you here, when I'd given up on us…"
"You're getting married," she reiterated.
"Unless you can give me a reason not to," he wistfully responded, cupping her cheek with one hand while keeping a tight grip on the hand he'd grabbed with the other. He gazed directly into her eyes, slowly leaning forward to rest his forehead against hers.
"Jackson?!" he heard, his name coming to him from behind where they stood in the center of the aisle of The Waldorf Astoria Grand Ballroom, where he was scheduled to marry Morgan Chase of the New York Nouveau Riche Chase's as per Harper Avery's grand design.
"Jackson!" he heard again, spotting his mother as he swiveled his neck to confront the interrupter of his declaration. The disapproval on her face had him realizing how inopportune the moment was and that he could have done without the audience. "April!" she exclaimed next, glancing at the woman her son had his hands all over.
"Dr. Avery…err hello," April greeted, still looking stupefied at the situation she found herself in.
"Mother…" Jackson began, momentarily letting go of April's hand and turning to face Catherine Avery.
"Jackson, this is not the time or the place," she swiftly overrode him. "Let's go to the suite they arranged for the groom and we can discuss this civilly there and without creating a spectacle. Morgan's maid of honor also gave me this to give to you," Catherine continued handing him a very expensively scented missive.
Mentally agreeing with his mother, Jackson turned around to grab a hold of April to lead her to the suite set aside for his use, when all he encountered was air. He glanced at the seat that April's escort had occupied to find that too was empty. She had disappeared on him.
Two weeks later…
The little guy looked familiar. He spoke in a mixture of his native tongue and a bit of broken English. He reminded him a lot of himself when he'd being younger – resemblance wise only though. He'd never been a chatterbox the way that this pint-sized dude was. Even not understanding every word, Jackson enjoyed the running commentary that started from the airstrip to the camp. Immediately once they made camp, the tiny fellow jumped from the Jeep and disappeared only to return moments later with the very person Jackson's heart longed for.
"He's here Dr. Red, new doctor is here!" little Umar exclaimed pulling April towards him and so reminding Jackson where he'd seen him before – on April's laptop at the hotel.
"Jackson…what…" she whispered.
Well, he may as well go for broke he thought, Mark Sloan's encouragement ringing in his ears.
"I love you, April. I always have. I love everything about you – even the things I don't like, I love…and I want you with me. I love you. Do you love me too?" The declaration he should have made in New York, instead of scaring her with 'I want you' especially since he said it on the day of his wedding to another woman.
"Yes…yes Jackson, I do…and I want you too," she replied with a catch in her voice before she leapt straight into his waiting arms.
As he leaned in to kiss her, she placed her hand over his lips.
"Why not?" he asked the words passing through the spaces between her fingers.
"We're not married and even if we were we respect the customs of the country. No PDA's please!" she explained as she quickly moved out of his arms.
"Then we better get married quickly. No way am I sleeping without you while we're here!" he smiled.
"That's no reason to get married…err, how long do you plan on staying here? Did you come here just to get me to return to the States?" she ran on.
"No, of course it's not. I want to marry you…so much, and I'm going to be following you around wherever you go. I'm the new recruit. You know I've always wanted to be the kind of doctor that helps others and especially those with no other recourse. I want to visit the African continent too, get in touch with my roots and it's a good way to keep an eye on you," he finished with a wink.
She smacked him lightly on his chest for that and forgetting her own rules (twice!) she threaded her arm through his and lead him further into camp, Umar scampering in front of them.
"So this is Umar," he said, pointing to the lad. "Why did he call you Dr. Red?"
Her musical laugh peeled out and gazing with fondness at Umar she replied, "They all do, because of the red hair. Umar reminded me so much of you, I immediately fell in love with him. The difference though is that you can't get him to shut-up!" she finished, making faces at Umar when he turned around, knowing that the two adults had been discussing him.
Jackson smiled at the pair's antics then asked April another question...or two. "So what's with the Hijab? Have you become a Muslim?" he wondered out loud, strangely remembering their 'christening' of her hotel room.
"No, Jackson. It's a matter of courtesy and respect and the people here have allowed us to wear it. Also, they've told us it's a matter of safety. I don't wear the face covering though, only the head one. If you come across any women whose faces are open, please lower your gaze."
"You look beautiful, even with your spectacular hair under wraps. So will I not be allowed to treat the women here?" he wondered.
"Well if they require your specialty then one of the female doctors will assist you, otherwise the women will mostly be seen to by the female doctors."
"What happened at your wedding?" she hesitantly voiced the question that brought up the last time they'd been together, with yet another goodbye unsaid.
He glided his hand over his mostly shaved head and watched her eyes move appreciatively over the beard that he was keeping. He was growing it simply because she found it attractive. He laughed out loud and came straight out with it. "Apparently both Morgan and I were only doing this to please our families – her dad and my grandfather pushed us into it. I never fought it because, well there was no alternative for me. I never believed in soul mates…then. As I was going to tell her that I couldn't go through with it, she was doing the same thing, except she wrote me a letter."
"Well that was convenient!" she replied closing her mouth that had dropped open in incredulity at his explanation. "I should have just waited," she continued.
"Why didn't you? Didn't you believe I wanted you?"
"You were marrying someone else, Jackson. You left me alone in that hotel room and only seemed to remember me when I happened to be there…at your wedding."
"I'm sorry I did that. You were on my mind the whole time and only the thought of disappointing my grandfather yet again, drove me to even contemplate going through with it," he sighed. "Not to be crass about it but how is it that you were there and with that clown?" he asked, extremely agitated at the thought of Maroon Adam.
"You have no idea that Maroon Five was booked by your bride as the band for your wedding reception, do you? And they paid a hefty sum too," she quirked her eyebrow at his question, only answering part of it.
"What? No I didn't know. But how is it that you were with him?" he doggedly continued, not giving up until he had all the answers. He was very aware that his jealousy was apparent, but he didn't give a crap – he had to know.
"Adam and I met when I returned to Moline after I left Seattle. Alice was getting married and around that time Adam and the band were going around the country gatecrashing weddings and performing impromptuly in place of the hired band. We hit it off and started dating. When I started travelling with MSF and the others we'd get together only on the very rare occasions when I was Stateside. That day…the day I bumped into you, we both came to New York from different parts of the States and for different reasons. I came from San Francisco to hit up those donors and Adam was there to perform at your wedding reception, which he asked me to attend with him. So I was actually on a date at your wedding," she very cheekily finished.
He was the one open-mouthed this time.
"Don't worry," April laughed at his expression. "I broke up with him."
"Did you stand down at your wedding just because you saw me there?" April asked, later, when they were alone.
"Yes and No. You were a sign, you know, to overcome my fear. Someone wise once said to me that fear has a handy vindication when it's cloaked as duty and my love for you is far greater than fear or duty."
"Wow, that's profound!"
"You should know, you said it."
"I love you," she said it out loud, rubbing her nose with his – an Eskimo kiss.
"I love you too," he repeated, an utter sigh of contentment escaping him.
Who would have thought, that being here in the middle of a war-ravaged country, he was the happiest that he'd ever been in his entire life and it was all because of Dr. Red…
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