[identity profile] lovemesomeowen.livejournal.com posting in [community profile] in_the_after
Title: "You're Getting To Be A Habit With Me"
Author: [livejournal.com profile] lovemesomeowen
Rating: PG-13
Summary: Episode 5 of Grey's Anatomy Season 10.5
Disclaimer: All characters belong to Shonda Rhimes, Grey's Anatomy, and ABC.
Author's Note: Thanks, as ever, to my fellow 10.5 team members [livejournal.com profile] angelamermaid and [livejournal.com profile] shli1117 for their insights, ideas, support and encouragement.




Any road to recovery is fraught with complications. Sometimes the patient has been ill for a relatively short time, but the intensity of the disease is vicious. Other times, the malady has been lingering for weeks or months or years, sometimes active, sometimes dormant. In either case old treatments may falter or fall short. Thus, new approaches and even radical, experimental procedures may be necessary if there is any chance of conquering the illness and restoring the patient back to health.

oooOOOoooOOOoooOOOoooOOOoooOOOooo

Dr. Cristina Yang
Director of Cardiothoracic Surgery


Cristina unlocked the door to her office and stepped inside. Setting her luggage in a corner, she walked to her desk and sank wearily into her chair. Over eighteen hours had elapsed since she left Seattle. Two flights, one layover, and a mercifully short train ride from the Zurich airport to the city center had left her exhausted. The fact that she had crossed nine time zones didn't help either. It was mid afternoon Central European Time. She longed for sleep but knew she had to try and push through, at least for a few more hours, if she wanted any chance of resetting her body's internal clock anytime soon.

Checking her watch, Cristina quickly calculated that it was just after 6 a.m. in Seattle. Owen would be up. She pulled out her phone and typed five short words. 'Home safely. Exhausted. Talk soon.' She paused and then added, 'Take care now...” and pushed SEND before she could change her mind. She was treading on dangerous ground. They'd had their week. They'd done things better this time. They'd resolved the loose ends from before, yet Cristina felt, simultaneously, both oddly disconcerted and filled with excitement, as if things were more jumbled now rather than less. They'd opened a box that had been tightly and safely closed for five years. Now they would have to navigate the fallout. But was that necessarily a bad thing? To the contrary, Cristina was pretty sure it was not. It was exhilarating.

She swiveled in her chair and looked at the photographs displayed behind her desk. Picking up the picture of her with Owen, Cristina smiled as she ran her finger across it, remembering their wedding day. A flood of memories, old and new, rushed over her. Owen's fingers through her hair as he kissed her that first night in the exam room. Gazing at the Seattle skyline from the top of the Space Needle. Eating cereal for dinner in the firehouse. Making out in Owen's backyard by the fire. Gusts of air making their scrubs billow as they stood on the vent, bodies intertwined. The beauty of the Northern Lights. Their first time in the on call room, in what seemed like another lifetime. Their last time, just hours before, in his shower, him washing her hair afterward. Parting in the OR five years ago. Saying goodbye at the airport...

“Cristina?”

Cristina jumped and whirled around in her chair to see Veronika in the doorway, a bemused expression on her face. “Don't do that! You scared me to death!”

“Sorry,” Veronika said. “That was certainly not my intention. What on earth are you doing here? I thought you'd go straight home.”

Cristina shrugged. “If I go straight home, I'll go straight to bed and that's a bad idea. I'm going to try and work here for a few hours at least. Nothing too complicated.”

Veronika nodded. “Very well. Every attempt shall be made to keep your presence here today a secret, but regardless, no one will disturb you. Trudi will see to it.”

“Thank you,” Cristina said, gratefully. “How are things? How are you?”

“Fine. Nothing new. We have survived your absence,” she said, eyes twinkling. “Dr. Ross' wife finally had their baby. A daughter. Thank heavens. That poor woman was miserable. How was your trip?”

Cristina considered her answer carefully. “It was good...in many...unexpected ways.”

Veronika raised an eyebrow. “You saw Owen?”

Veronika had a knack for ferreting out the truth in any situation.

“I did,” Cristina said, leaving it at that. She wasn't ready to discuss Owen yet.

As was often the case, Veronika seemed to immediately understand. “Well, if you want to talk about it, I'm here. If you don't, I'm still here,” she said simply. “Tomorrow is a very light day for you. We have a few meetings and then you'll have lots of time to catch up and regain your bearings. Wednesday, however, is another story. Extremely busy. Fair warning.” She smiled at Cristina. “It's good to have you back.”

oooOOOoooOOOoooOOOoooOOOoooOOOooo

Owen had just started to watch the Mariners game when the phone rang at 7:12 p.m. He checked to see who it was and then grinned as he answered. “Hey! I didn't expect to hear from you so soon. Aren't you supposed to be sleeping?”

“Yes,” Cristina replied. She was propped up in bed covered by her duvet, her sleep mask on her forehead. “But I caved and went to bed too early and now I'm wide awake. I thought I'd call before I head to work.” She didn't even bother to make up an excuse. “I miss you.”

“I miss you, too,” he said. “How was your trip?” He lowered the volume on the TV and leaned back on the couch. “Start from the beginning. Tell me everything.”

oooOOOoooOOOoooOOOoooOOOoooOOOooo

“So what did you find out?” Owen said, sliding into a chair next to his son.

Kyle took a deep breath. “Okay. In a nutshell, it has to do with how things are routed. You're calling a US phone number, but that number rings in Cristina's apartment in Switzerland. You're texting a different US phone number, which is linked to Cristina's phone. Or tablet. Or maybe both. I can't remember. Anyway, because you're using the internet rather than traditional phone lines, it's like making any other domestic call or sending a domestic text. So it's included in the bundle we already have. You can call her at home and text her as much as you want and it's no different than if you called someone who lives here in the States. We'll probably also get a special plan so you can call her mobile phone without it costing a fortune. She's getting back to me on that. And we'll have face-to-face via web cam set up soon, too.”

Owen nodded while saying a silent prayer to the technology gods who were making it possible for him to keep in touch with Cristina so easily. Five thousand plus miles? No big deal. Who was he kidding? He missed her so much already. But this did make things easier. “Okay. That sounds good. Nice work.”

Kyle beamed. “I know you could do all of this yourself, but you have lots of responsibilities. This is something I can do for you, so let me do it. Consider it handled.”

Touched, Owen smiled and patted Kyle on the back. “Thank you, son. I appreciate it.”

oooOOOoooOOOoooOOOoooOOOoooOOOooo

“How are the kids handling exams?”

“So far, so good. Two more days. They're finished on Friday.”

Cristina rummaged through papers on her desk before finding the file she needed. “Summer plans?”

“Tricia is babysitting Zola and Bailey for Meredith and Derek. Kyle will lifeguard. Add time with their friends to the mix and I'll barely see them.”

“You'll see them.”

“I hope so. It feels like time is slipping away, especially with Kyle. I can't believe he'll be a senior.”

“Have you told them about the Alaska trip yet?”

“Nope. I'm taking them to dinner Sunday afternoon to celebrate the end of the school year. I'll tell them then.”

“They're going to be so excited, Owen.”

“You think so?”

“Absolutely. Hey, I've gotta go. My meeting starts in five minutes. Same time tomorrow?”

“A little later, probably. It's Tricia's Awards Night at school. I'll call you.”

“Okay. Take care now...”

“Take care now...”

oooOOOoooOOOoooOOOoooOOOoooOOOooo

Cristina had just finished brushing her teeth when she heard her phone ping.

Plopping down on her bed, she picked up the phone and read Owen's text: 'You still awake?'

'Yes. Barely. Trying to read, but I keep drifting.'

'Have you been reading medical journals again? They're so boring! No wonder you're falling asleep!'

Amused, Cristina typed back: 'Where are you?'

'Last track meet of the season. Kyle's events are over and Tricia's won't be for another half an hour.'

'So you're killing time by texting me?' She smiled, waiting to see how he'd spin that one.

Grinning, Owen replied: 'Texting you is better than almost anything else I could be doing right now. And most of those activities would also involve you. In very dirty ways.'

She shook her head, impressed. 'Nice one, Hunt. What else you got for me?'

'What are you wearing?'

'REALLY? So original. You're at a track meet. For your kids.'

'I'm a dad. I'm not dead. Plus I'm by myself. No scandal here. You didn't answer my question...'

'I'm choosing to ignore your question...'

'Then I'll guess...T Shirt and boy shorts?'

'No'

'Nightgown?'

'You know I don't wear nightgowns...'

'Sweats? You're hot in sweats.'

'I'm hot in anything. Or nothing. Which is what I'm wearing. Nothing.'

Lord have mercy. 'Liar.'

'Maybe. Maybe not. You'll have to take my word for it. I'm going now. It's very late here. Bye.'

'Bye. Put on some clothes!'

'You wish. Go take a cold shower.'

' Goodnight. XXX'

'Goodnight. XXX'

oooOOOoooOOOoooOOOoooOOOoooOOOooo

“Dr. Hunt!”

The Chief turned around. “Dr. Grey,” he said.

“I need to talk with you. Privately.” She gestured towards the conference room.

“Okay...” He looked puzzled, but stepped into the room with her. She closed the door.

“I can't reach Cristina. It's been two days and I'm getting worried. Should I be worried?”

Owen shook his head. “No, I don't think so. She's in Copenhagen this week presenting at a conference. I'm sure she's fine. I'll be talking to her tonight. I can ask her to send you a sign of life,” he said, joking.

There was an unfathomable expression on Meredith's face.

“What?” Owen asked.

“How often do you talk to Cristina?”

“Well,” he hedged for a moment. “We talk at least a few times a week.” Every day if she's not traveling. “But we try to make a point of connecting most days, even if it's just a text. Why?”

Meredith paused, taking it all in, then said, “What's going on between the two of you?”

“I have no idea,” Owen replied, honestly. “I've communicated with her in some way almost every day since she left. But what it all means?” He shrugged. “No clue. Whatever it is we're doing, it makes us both happy. I'm just going with it.” He waited for her response.

“Okay,” Meredith said at last. “Fair enough. Tell her I've been trying to reach her, please?”

Owen nodded. “Of course. We're good here, right?”

Meredith smiled. “Yeah, we're good. Thanks. I've got surgery. Catch you later.”

oooOOOoooOOOoooOOOoooOOOoooOOOooo

“You did not!” Cristina exclaimed.

“I did,” Owen insisted. “And they weren't happy about it. But I don't give a damn. A child nearly died because of their incompetence. Who cares what they think of me? I couldn't care less.”

Cristina sighed. “I love it when you go all Badass Trauma Surgeon on some hapless twit.”

Owen chuckled. “Well, you missed a good show this time. Meredith and I double-teamed them. We were both extremely 'badass'. Oh! Call Meredith, will you? She cornered me today worried you'd fallen off the face of the earth.”

“I'll call her,” Cristina said. “But what do you mean she 'cornered' you? That sounds weird.”

“It was a little weird,” Owen admitted. “But I think everything's fine. She mostly wanted to make sure you were okay. She also wanted to know what's going on between us.”

Cristina didn't say anything for a moment.

“Cristina?”

“I'm still here,” she said. “What did you say?”

“To Meredith? The truth. That we have no idea what we're doing but we're happy doing it. I thought that seemed about right.” He hesitated.“Was that okay? We are happy, aren't we? I mean, I'm happy.”

“Yes,” Cristina said reassuringly. “That was fine. I'm happy, too. I just...hadn't thought about it.”

“Me, neither. I just assumed we'd figure it out.”

“Because we've always been so good at that?” Cristina said wryly.

“Because we're doing things better this time, you and I,” Owen said. “We are rockin' it, baby.”

“Oh, good lord, you really are the parent of teenagers...”

“Because I said,'rockin' it?'”

“No, because you are clearly under the impression that 'rockin' it' is a cool expression.”

“It's not?”

“It's not.”

“Fine. But we're still rockin' it. Even if we're dorky.”

“Speak for yourself. I am never dorky,” she said pointedly.

“That's true. You are cool. And yet hot,” he teased. “How do you do it?”

“It's a gift. I have many...”

oooOOOoooOOOoooOOOoooOOOoooOOOooo

The waiter set down two pieces of chocolate cake. Veronika's had a lit candle in it.

“Happy Birthday!” Cristina said. Veronika was clearly pleased. “Make a wish...”

Veronika looked pensive for a moment and then closed her eyes and blew out the candle.

“That looked very serious,” Cristina said. “Clearly you need more champagne.” She topped off both of their glasses.

“Not so much serious,” Veronika said. “'Hopeful' is, perhaps, more accurate. I found out today than Andreas may get transferred back from Mumbai. But it hasn't happened yet. So I'm trying to temper my excitement.”

“Wow,” Cristina said. “That would be wonderful. I know how you've missed him.” She paused to take a bite of cake and then added, almost as an afterthought,“Do you think it will be weird? After so much time apart?”

Veronika looked incredulous. “Not at all. After two years of living on separate continents? I am counting the days until his return. I need more. I can't wait to have him back. He's the best thing in my life.”

They ate in silence for a few minutes, Cristina lost in thought, her brow furrowed.

Veronika finally said, “What is going on in your brain? You have a look.”

Finally Cristina said, “I want more, too. I...want Owen back.” She seemed to be working out the idea as it left her lips, but she knew in her gut it was true.

Startled, Veronika almost choked. Cristina had, little by little, over these last few months, opened up to her about the week in Seattle and her time with Owen. And Veronika was astute enough to have noticed the constant calls and texts Cristina and Owen shared. But this was something entirely different.

“Really?” she said, finally. “How would that work, exactly? He lives in Seattle. You live in Zurich.”

“I don't know,” Cristina said.

“Does he want more, too? Does he want you back?”

“I don't know,” Cristina said a second time. “We've never talked about it.”

“Owen has children and you don't want to be a mother. Can you overcome that?”

“I don't know.” There was some agitation in her voice now.

Cristina's mind was working feverishly. Veronika had a point. It wasn't just Owen anymore. Kyle and Tricia were part of the package, too, as, Cristina imagined, was Smitty. But these were teenagers, not toddlers. Plus, she genuinely liked the kids. And, she reluctantly admitted to herself, the dog wasn't bad as dogs go. He was kind of endearing, actually. Certainly she and Owen could figure this out somehow. Assuming he wanted her, too. Wanted a life together.

“Earth to Cristina. Hellooo?” Veronika teased.

Cristina snapped back into focus. “Sorry. I don't know the answer to any of your very sensible questions. I don't. But I need him in my life. I need us to be together. That I do know,” Cristina said.

“What are you going to do?”

“I don't know,” they said in unison.

“I guess I'm going to have to come up with a plan, aren't I?” Cristina said, laughing.

“Indeed,” Veronika agreed. “Here's to a very good plan!” she said as they clinked glasses.

oooOOOoooOOOoooOOOoooOOOoooOOOooo

“I'm sorry to call so early. I wanted to catch you before you left for work. Are you sure you have the time?” Cristina asked.

“I always have time for you,” Owen said huskily, recalling their early morning web chat a few days prior. He shivered slightly at the memory of her in a deep purple lacy bra and matching thong. He would happily start his day like that anytime. “I was just headed to the shower. How's Madrid? Have you checked into your hotel yet?”

“Just. I'm in my room now. I'm going to rest a bit before I meet Veronika. Why?”

“No reason, although I would be happy to provide you with some distraction if you'd like,” he said mischievously.

“Stop!” she chided him, laughing. “The reason I'm having to call now is because we got...distracted the other day. I need you to stay on task.”

“That's no fun, but fine. I'll behave for at least two minutes. After that, no promises.”

Cristina rolled her eyes. “Whatever. So, I was thinking, I'm going to be in New York in September to present a keynote...and I was wondering...if you'd consider spending the weekend with me?”

“I would love to,” Owen said without hesitation.

“You would?” She had expected at least a pause.

“Of course I would. Send me the dates and the details and I will do everything in my power to spend the weekend with you.”

Cristina exhaled. That was easy. “Okay,” she said. “That makes me happy, Owen.”

“Me, too,” he said, adding, “Time's up. Now I get to ask you a question. How happy does it make you that I'm going to meet you in New York? Just 'happy' or 'very happy'?”

Cristina smirked. “Very, very happy,” she said in a sultry voice.

“Would you like to be even happier?” he asked quietly.

“I would,” she replied. The intensity of his voice was turning her on in a major way. “But I shouldn't keep you. You're getting ready for work.”

“So?” He crossed the room and locked his bedroom door.

“Owen...”

“I told you, I have plenty of time. The kids are still asleep. I have no compelling reason to get to work early today and an extremely compelling reason to take my time. Plus,” he added, “I really feel it's my obligation to help you relax after your flight. I'm sure you have a strenuous evening ahead of you.”

“I do,” she agreed, playfully. “Maybe you're right. I should get in bed. I've already taken off my dress.”

“Have you? Very good. Now take off your bra...”

oooOOOoooOOOoooOOOoooOOOoooOOOooo

“You're twisting my words.”

“Am I?” Cristina retorted in frustration. “You're supposed to be on my side.”

“I am on your side,” Meredith said in a measured tone. “And I want what's best for you. Always. But I'm also on Owen's side...”

“Since when?” Cristina asked.

“You're the one who told me to look after him. To not let him get all 'dark and twisty'. I did that for you. Ironically,” Meredith was struck by the strangeness of it all, “after you left, Owen and I finally became what you always wanted us to be...real friends.” She took a deep breath. “Look, I know this isn't what you want to hear, but we've always told each other the truth. I just don't want to see Owen hurt. I don't want to see either of you hurt.”

“I would never hurt Owen,” Cristina said.

Meredith said nothing.

“Mer...for god's sake...I would never hurt him on purpose. I love him.”

“I know you do. You've always loved him. And he's always loved you. From the beginning. And you've brought each other a lot of happiness. But you've also brought each other a world of pain.”

“Things are different now,” Cristina interrupted. “Really. We're doing things better this time.”

“And I get that. I do. It's just...you can be capricious...”

“You think I'm considering all of this on a whim?”

“I think you need to be damn sure of what you want before you go down this path,” Meredith said quietly. “You weren't there, Cristina. You didn't see it every day. That man was broken when you left for Zurich. He was gutted.”

“It wasn't easy for me to leave him...”

“I'm not saying it was. But you did leave him. And it took him a long time to rebuild his life.” She exhaled. “Just really think this through. That's all. Be certain that this is what you want...forever. Otherwise you have no business turning his whole life upside down. You need to be sure and you need to be willing to make some sacrifices, too, because you'll basically be asking him to change his entire life for you.”

There was a long silence. Finally Cristina asked softly, “Do you think he'd do it?”

“I don't know.” Meredith paused for a moment. “It's not just himself he has to consider now. He has the kids and a house and a dog. Not to mention his work. There's his mom...”

“His mom loves me. She was very upset when we divorced.”

Meredith smiled. Cristina always did know how to spin things. “I agree that his mom isn't a deal-breaker. Kyle is probably even a moot point because he's graduating next spring anyway. But there's Tricia. Her feelings and how this would affect her...that will be huge for Owen. And the fact that he'd be moving to Europe.” She checked her watch. “I've got to go. Here's the bottom line. You have no way of knowing how this might go. If you ask, you have to be okay with his answer, no matter what it is. Or you'll lose what you have now. And I know you don't want that. You have to say what you want and really listen to what he wants, too. And then try find a solution that satisfies you both, which is not always easy. I speak from experience. Just don't jerk him around, okay?”

“I...” Cristina started to protest.

“Poor choice of words,” Meredith said. “Just...remember that what he wants matters, too. That's all I'm saying. I really have to go now. Bye.”

“Bye,” Cristina said.

“I'm on your side!” Meredith added.

“I know you are,” Cristina admitted. “And, believe me, the last thing I want to do is screw this up.”

“So don't screw it up,” Meredith said. “Things will be be okay.”

Rubbing her temples, Cristina said, “I hope so...”

oooOOOoooOOOoooOOOoooOOOoooOOOooo

Owen scanned the crowded lobby area for the registration area and then walked to the “will call” line.

“Good afternoon, sir,” said the woman sitting behind the table. “How may I help you?”

Owen handed her his ID. “Dr. Owen Hunt, Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital. I'm hoping you have some credentials for me,” he said with a smile.

She looked over her list and said, “I do. One moment.” She retrieved a manila envelope and handed it to him. “Here you go, Dr. Hunt. There's a conference program inside along with your name badge. It will get you into the keynote address and the afterglow party. You're only attending the conference tonight?”

“Yes, I have other plans the rest of the weekend.”

“Well, you're in for a treat. Dr. Cristina Yang is our guest speaker and she's supposed to be quite remarkable.”

“That's what I understand,” he said. “I expect I'm in for a memorable evening.”

oooOOOoooOOOoooOOOoooOOOoooOOOooo

A short while later, Owen knocked on the door of room 1024. He had his own key but didn't want to startle Cristina by bursting in unannounced. Getting no response he let himself in and set down his luggage. He had no sooner stepped inside when he heard speaking. Cristina was finishing up a phone call. He made a point of closing the door more loudly than was necessary. She looked up with a start and said to whomever she was speaking, “I'll call you right back.”

A huge smile on her face, she bolted across the room and jumped into his arms, kissing him passionately. “You're here,” she said, happily, wrapping her legs around his waist.

“I'm here,” he murmured as he planted kisses on her lips and ran his fingers through her hair.

When they finally pulled apart a few minutes later, Owen said, “So what's the plan? I'm told that Dr. Yang has an exceptional keynote address prepared for this evening.”

Cristina made a face. “Oh, she does. But, first, she and Dr. Hunt are invited to dinner with the executive board of this organization, followed by the keynote, followed by an afterglow. So do you think Dr. Hunt will agree to be Dr. Yang's 'plus one'?”

Owen smiled. “I think he could persuaded. In fact he's looking forward to it. It's not often that he and Dr. Yang get to attend such a fancy shindig. But Dr. Yang should be aware that Dr. Hunt has put another item on tonight's agenda.”

“Oh he has, has he?” Cristina's mouth twitched.

“Yes. He has an afterglow party of his own planned for tonight, right in this very room...”

“Black tie?” Cristina purred.

“No.” He shook his head. “No tie. In fact, clothing optional...”

oooOOOoooOOOoooOOOoooOOOoooOOOooo

A siren wailed as Owen was jolted out of a sound sleep. The hotel room was still dark, despite the sliver of light peeking from a break in the curtains.

He sat up and looked around. “Cristina?”

“I'm over here,” she said, quietly. She was curled up on the couch working on her laptop.

“What time is it?” he said, yawning.

“Almost ten,” she said, smiling at the look of incredulity on his face.

Owen shook his head. “I can't remember the last time I slept that long.”

“Don't get too excited. Your body thinks it's seven,” she said, finishing her work.

“Still...even seven is late for me.” He walked over and gave her a quick kiss. “Of course, we did have a strenuous night,” he said with a wink. “How long have you been up?”

“Ages,” she sighed. “My body thinks it's four in the afternoon. But I got quite a lot done. The rest of today belongs to you and you alone.” She set the computer down. “What do you want to do?”

“I have several ideas. And we have a brunch reservation. Good thing I made it for one o'clock!” Owen said, heading towards the bathroom.

“Why so late?” Cristina asked, curiously. She was getting hungry.

“Because I have other plans for you before we leave,” he called out over the running water. Emerging from the bathroom a few minutes later he said. “What are you doing so far away? I have very minty breath.”

Cristina chuckled. “Oh, you do, do you?” She walked towards the bed where he had laid down again.

Owen nodded solemnly. “I do. Extremely fresh.”

“I'll be the judge of that,” she said, straddling him. She brought her lips down to his and kissed him deeply. “Very nice.” Tipping his head up, she pulled him closer as their kisses rose in intensity. His hands began to roam her body...exploring...probing. He pulled her tee shirt over her head as she wriggled out of her shorts and tossed them aside.

He started to kiss her again but she stopped him, saying, “Stay there,” as she kissed his mouth and his neck, then his chest before trailing kisses down his stomach, her hands on his hips. “Stay right there.”

oooOOOoooOOOoooOOOoooOOOoooOOOooo

By mid-afternoon, having eaten brunch at The Boathouse, they walked hand in hand through Central Park. The park was teeming with people. Tourists exploring the city, yes, but also city dwellers enjoying all that the picture-perfect Saturday had to offer. Children romped in multiple playgrounds and rode the carousel. People sunned themselves on towels, tossed Frisbees, and rode bikes. It was warm enough that Owen stopped at a vendor and bought two bottles of water. Handing one to Cristina, he gestured to a nearby bench where they could sit down.

“I love watching people,” he said, opening his water and taking a large drink. “I don't do it enough, but I never get tired of it.” He slipped his arm around Cristina's shoulders and she nestled close to him.

“I can't remember the last time I just wandered around a city with nothing to do,” Cristina said. She thought for a moment. “I supposed it was in Paris awhile back. And that's only because Veronika made me!”

“When do I get to meet Veronika?” Owen asked. “I thought she always came with you to conferences.”

“She usually does,” Cristina said. “But she knew I'd be spending most of the weekend with you. And she had some romantic plans of her own. Her boyfriend flew in last night. Back home after being stationed abroad.”

Owen raised an eyebrow. “What kind of work does he do?”

“Works for the World Health Organization. Based in Geneva, but he's spent the last two years in India. It's been rough on them. She's ecstatic that he's back.”

Owen nodded. “Good for them. Long distance relationships can be challenging.”

Cristina didn't reply and they sat in silence for a few minutes before she finally asked, “Are we in a long distance relationship?”

Owen turned to look at her, unsure as to how to respond. “Do you think we're in a long distance relationship?” he asked at last.

“I think maybe we are,” she said, smiling at him. “Do you like that idea?” She touched his face.

“I like that idea very much,” he said. He set down his water and took her in his arms, kissing her gently on the lips. “Very, very much...”

“Good,” she said between kisses. “So do I.”

And at that moment she realized that his response had given her hope. He liked being in a long distance relationship with her. One hurdle down. Perhaps he just might be open to the idea of being in a relationship that was in much closer proximity, if she could only muster the courage to ask.


oooOOOoooOOOoooOOOoooOOOoooOOOoooOOOooo

That evening they stood at the top of the Empire State Building looking down upon the city below. It was a clear night and their view from the observation deck was spectacular. The temperature had dropped considerably from the afternoon, however, and Owen pulled Cristina close, his arms wrapped tightly around her.

“We seem to be making a habit of tall buildings,” Owen said softly in her ear.

“So gorgeous...” Cristina said, gazing out upon the city.

“I agree,” Owen said, burying his face in Cristina's neck and curls, inhaling her perfume.

“I don't want this to end,” she said, quietly.

“We've got tomorrow,” he said, gently. “And I'm not even sure we should leave the room.”

“That sounds nice,” she said. She leaned back into his chest, then added, “I love you.”

Stunned that she had said the words out loud, Owen couldn't speak for a moment.

Cristina turned around immediately, saying, “You know that, right? It's not a surprise that I love you.”

“I know you love me. But it's still nice to hear it. You haven't said it a very long time,” he said, his eyes tender and knowing, the last five years of longing for her finally falling away.

“I had to work up the nerve to say it again,” Cristina admitted. “It makes things more real. Whatever we've been doing, whatever we've been playing at...this is real. At least it's real to me.”

Owen looked at her seriously. “You know it's real to me, too. I haven't wanted to push.”

“I know. And I appreciate it,” she said. “I appreciate it more than you know.”

“And I love you, too,” he said. “Always...”

She turned her face up towards his, tears welling up in her eyes.

“What is it?” Owen said with concern.

She shook it off. “Nothing.” She'd been hoping all day for the perfect moment to present itself to ask him about Switzerland. But it hadn't come and she wanted it to feel right. “I just...love you.” Always.

She took his face in her hands and kissed him again and again under the New York sky.

oooOOOoooOOOoooOOOoooOOOoooOOOoooOOOooo

They made love again that night, after returning to the hotel, the tenderness of it almost overwhelming them both. Afterward, they fell asleep wrapped around each other, Owen's arm snaked around Cristina's waist, cupping her breasts, his breath warm on the back of her neck as they spooned.

She woke early again the next morning, though not as early as the morning before, her body finally beginning to adapt to the new time zone.

Too bad I'm flying back to Zurich tonight, she thought ruefully. She gazed at Owen sleeping. Too bad in so many ways. Her heart was already aching for him and they hadn't parted yet.

When he woke up a few hours later, Owen found Cristina staring out the window.

“Hey,” he said, coming up behind her. “Penny for your thoughts...”

When she turned around, he was shocked to see tears streaked down her cheeks.

“Cristina,” he said, emphatically. “What's going on? Talk to me.”

Her lip quivered as her mind raced. It was now or never. Don't screw this up. Don't. Screw. This. Up.

Owen cupped her face in his hand, his eyes filled with concern. “Talk to me...”

“I love this,” she said. “I love you and I love us. What we are together.”

He looked confused. “I do, too.” Was he missing something?

“It took me a long time to learn to live without you. And I can do it. I can make myself live without you. But I don't want to do it anymore. I don't want to be without you. Ever. I want more. I want you in my life...more.” She looked at him earnestly, willing him to understand, to know her heart.

“More time with you would be a wonderful thing,” he said carefully. “But what would that look like?”

“I don't know,” she said honestly. “That's why I want you to visit me in Switzerland.”

“You want me to visit you in Switzerland...” he said slowly.

“I want you to visit me in Switzerland,” she repeated, “so you can consider whether you might be willing to join me there. Permanently.” Seeing the shocked look on his face, she added, “I realize that would be a huge decision with many things to consider.”

“I'm a father now...” he said haltingly.

“I know you are and I realize that this would impact your kids, especially Tricia.”

“You don't want to be a mother,” he added, thinking out loud.

“I don't,” she agreed. “But I don't see that as a deal-breaker. The kids don't have a mother now and they're doing just fine. Because they have such a great dad. And I like your kids. I would be their friend.”

“They'll want to know if we're going to get married again...” he said, his brow furrowing.

Cristina thought for a moment, choosing her words carefully. “That's a reasonable question. One we probably don't have the answer to yet. Honestly, I see that coming later if at all. But we're getting ahead of ourselves.” She looked directly into his eyes. “This isn't a decision you can make quickly or lightly. I get that. You have a family.”

“And a job,” he interjected. “A big job.”

“Yes, but there are jobs everywhere. Jobs that might offer you new challenges.” She paused and took a deep breath. “Look. I don't know if this is something you'll end up wanting to do. Maybe it's not a great idea. Maybe it's a horrible idea and we'll decide to leave things just as they are.” She wanted to be clear on that point. She didn't want to lose what they already had. “But you'll never know if you never visit. Just to see. Worst-case scenario, nothing really changes and you get a vacation to Switzerland...”

Owen's mind was working furiously. He was completely dumbfounded by her suggestion. He would never have anticipated it in a million years. And the idea was crazy. Crazy. Right?

“I can't promise you anything,” he said finally. “This is huge...”

“I know,” she said. “No expectations. Just say you'll come and visit. No decisions right away. Please?”

He decided, as he usually did in these situations, to go with his gut. “Okay. I'll visit you in Switzerland.” It's just a visit, he rationalized.

“Soon?” she persisted.

“As soon as we can figure it out,” he said. “I promise.”

She gave him a dazzling smile and then let out a shriek as he pulled her into his arms.

How can I possibly resist this woman? he thought as he kissed her over and over again.

His mind was swirling with thoughts of Kyle and Tricia and Smitty. Of the house they loved so much. Of the mother he wasn't sure he could leave again. Of the hospital that had been his project and his refuge when he'd had nothing else. And yet part of him was drawn to the idea of a new adventure, especially if it meant a life with the woman he loved so much. The woman he thought he'd lost forever.

But he'd sort that all of that out later. For now all he wanted to do was be with her, savoring every moment they had together before they returned to their respective cities, before he had to deal with the ramifications of what he'd just agreed to do. Right now all he wanted was her. Right now all he wanted was them. All the rest could wait.

oooOOOoooOOOoooOOOoooOOOoooOOOooo

Even in the face of severe illness, patients sometimes resist innovative treatments. They can become set in familiar routines and methods of treatment because they are known and because they are comfortable, not because they are actually working. Sometimes, in order to restore exemplary health, the patient must be willing to take a risk, to go out on a limb, to put him or herself on the line. There are no guaranteed outcomes. Some trials fail. But others succeed. Spectacularly.

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In the After

December 2014

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