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His face was no longer confused, but showed deep concern at the sight before him. "What happened?" he demanded.
Amber felt his gaze burn into her as she continued to stare down, silently observing the contrasts between his clean tennis shoes and her dirty ones, suddenly finding it interesting.
When she didn't make any attempt to answer, Alex tried again, his voice firmer, "Amber, what's going on?" This was the last thing he had expected to be thrown at him today. He was fully aware that she wouldn't have come without a reason behind it, and he needed to get to figure that out now.
Sensing the frustration in his tone, her head shot up, but she immediately noticed that his face didn't reflect what she'd heard. His brow was furrowed in confusion and traces of worry wrinkled across his forehead. She was momentarily taken back by the genuine concern visible behind his eyes.
"I just wanted to see how you were doing," she said nonchalantly, throwing in a half smile to convince him. This definitely wasn't the time or the place to go into any kind of detail. There were too many witnesses within earshot that could overhear them and that would surely cause problems later.
He shifted his weight to the other foot in annoyance, before tossing the chart on the desk beside him. Why was she making this so hard? "The phone doesn't work for you?" he threw back, lowering his voice, not wanting to cause a scene either.
"Does it work for you?" she challenged, more emotion behind those words than she had wanted. Now is not the time for feelings, she mentally reminded herself.
Alex ran his hand along his hardened jaw line, becoming uncomfortable at what she was implying by that. Sure, it had been years since he had last called home and even more since he'd actually been there physically, but he had never stopped sending checks, so it wasn't like he had cut them off from his life completely. Wanting to take the conversation off him, he reached out and grabbed her elbow, pulling her arm out in between them. The florescent lights brought everything into clear view: the obvious fracture and discoloration around the wrist. He paused for a moment, digesting everything and starting to draw his own unwanted conclusions. He knew that judging by the color of the bruising, this didn't happen in the last 24 hours. He gently turned her arm slightly to the side and the marks that faintly resembled fingers didn't go unnoticed.
"When did this happen?" he inquired, wanting to get some kind of real information out of her before he had to take her to get this fixed.
"The other day," she replied, softly tugging against his grasp.
Without removing his hold, he took a step closer to her, narrowing the distance between them to just inches. "Who did this to you?" he demanded in a hushed tone.
She took a step back, acting as if she were taken off guard by the insinuation. "What? No one!" she lied through her teeth like a natural reflex. "Alex, look, can we go somewhere and talk about…."
"Dr. Karev!" someone shouted. An intern came jogging down the hallway, her black haired ponytail flapping back and forth as she hand on to her stethoscope around her neck. Both Karevs turned their attention to her. "Your patient in 503 is coding. Dr. Bailey needs you," the doctor explained as she tried to catch her breath.
Alex looked between the two, hating that this happened at the worst possible moment. "Okay," he replied, taking a few steps in the other direction and the intern had already turned back, jogging off just as fast as she'd arrived. Alex quickly looked to see who was nearby, and his eyes fell on Meredith, who was standing on the far side of the counter, writing something in a chart. "Hey, Meredith," he called, rushing over to her. "Do me a favor and take her to get a wrist x-ray and get some food," he said more as a command than a question. He pointed to Amber before turning on his heel and running around the corner toward the patient's room.
Meredith hesitated for a moment, unprepared for his sudden request and abrupt disappearance before she'd even had a chance to reply. She nodded back to him, but he was already long gone. She turned to Amber and offered a polite smile as she walked over to her. "I'm Dr. Grey, what's your name?"
"Elizabeth," she replied without even thinking. When the name she'd said hit her ears, she froze, not even realizing that she'd let the lie roll right off her tongue in the first place. She was so used to lying to everyone in the last few days as she made her way out to Seattle that she'd forgotten that the people here would find out about her lies. She was on the verge of correcting herself, but couldn't do it. What would this doctor think of her when she tried to explain that she'd said the wrong name? She'd be hauling her off to a whole different department, imagining her to be as crazy as the rest of her family, so she decided to remain silent. She took a deep breath, momentarily relieved that she'd been using her middle name, so at least it was semi-plausible in its own strange way.
"Ok, Elizabeth. How about I take you to the cafeteria to grab something to eat and then I'll drop you off at x-ray." Meredith led her down the hall into the elevators once again. Trying to make small talk to fill the silence and realizing she literally had no idea who this girl was, she asked, "Are you a patient of Dr. Karev's?"
Amber wavered for a second, uncertain how to respond. There was no telling who she could trust with any information in this place, so she replied, "No, he, uh, he used to treat my mom. I just came to see if he could help with my arm." There, that was essentially the truth. No harm done.
"Do you want me to see if I can get something to help with the pain? I can look for your chart," she offered, trying to help. Between the dark bruising and deformed arm, she knew this poor girl had to be in pain.
"No, thanks. It doesn't hurt," she replied softly as she stared at her arm. It had hurt for the first few hours, but then the pain always subsided, or she just learned to ignore it like all the other times. Either way, for her, the pain was minimal and that's all that mattered.
The doctor looked at her skeptically and Amber gave her a reassuring smile. "Okay…," Meredith trailed off as the elevator doors opened. "The cafeteria is this way," she pointed to the left. They entered a large room with numerous tables filled with doctors and nurses in scrubs, but there were a few 'normal' people mixed in here and there, making Amber not feel so out of place.
They walked up to the counter and Amber ran through the list of items, everything sounded appetizing. Hamburgers, french fries, pizza. All the foods she hadn't touched in a long time. Then she glanced over at the prices and felt her hopes of eating suddenly deflate. The measly $2 she carried in her bag wouldn't be enough to buy even a bottle of water. She took a small step back before mumbling, "I don't think I'm really hungry."
Meredith instantly picked up on the crimson color of her cheeks that were flushed with embarrassment. "It's okay if you don't have cash on you right now," she reassured. "We will just charge it to Dr. Karev's account and you can pay him back later," she encouraged, thinking they must have some kind of personal relationship since she'd come here looking specifically for him, so she didn't think he'd have a problem with doing it this way. If he threw his typical bitch fit, she'd just pay for the food and be done with it.
Amber felt slightly alleviated at hearing that, but guilty at the same time for taking more money from her brother. She opted to buy a simple yogurt parfait, since it was the cheapest thing this over-priced cafeteria offered.
After purchasing the food, Dr. Grey led her down the hallway to radiology and pointed toward some over-sized chairs in the waiting area. "I'll go let them know what you're here for and tell Alex where you are."
Amber politely nodded before taking a seat. She slowly took in her surroundings. There was one other couple sitting on the other side of the room in the corner, speaking in hushed voices to one another. Dr Grey was speaking with the receptionist as she typed away fervently on the computer. Once she had finished, Meredith took a few steps toward her and said, "I'll be back to check on you a little later, okay?"
Amber nodded and smiled appreciatively at her. "Thank you for your help."
Meredith returned her smile and threw her one last wave goodbye before heading out of the room.
Turning her attention to the yogurt still in her hand, Amber beamed with eagerness at her small container of food, unable to wait any longer to eat. She sat the yogurt between her legs, taking off the lid and eating with her good hand, while her other rested on her lap.
With each consecutive bite replenishing her malnourished and weak body, she began gathering enough strength to think of her new game plan. She was obviously getting the x-ray, because even if she disappeared again like she had earlier, Alex was sure to bring her back down here himself to get it. So now it was time to consider damage control for when the results showed up. Every scenario ran through her head and the implications each one would bring. The only logical option that occurred to her, even though it was the one she'd wanted to avoid the most, was that Alex had to be the one, the only one, to read the x-ray. He may not want to believe what she knew it would show, but there was no way he would call child services on his own sister. He knew all too well torrential nightmare that would be for her and their family. Should any other doctor read the scan, there wasn't a doubt in her mind that a social worker would be over here in less than 5 minutes.
So that was it. That was what needed to happen. Alex and only Alex.
"Elizabeth?" the middle-aged radiologist technician asked from the doorway. "Elizabeth?" he repeated, glancing between Amber and the other couple, trying to decide which was his patient.
Suddenly realizing the name he'd called, Amber looked up and politely greeted as she neared him.
"Let's get that wrist of yours x-rayed," he announced enthusiastically, motioning for her to follow him down the hallway.
She shuffled a few steps behind him, before suggesting, "I think I'm supposed to wait on Dr. Karev for the x-ray."
"No worries, sweetie," he answered. "I'm sure he's busy, but he will see the scans as soon as we have them, okay?"
She stuttered, "But…I…uh…"
Just as they were about to enter the room, Alex's voice came from the other end of the hall and he jogged toward them, "Hey!"
Amber felt her shoulders relax in relief at seeing him. Her plan was going to go smoothly now. "Just in time, Dr. Karev," the man smiled. "You can wait in there while I take her in," he finished, motioning toward the adjoining dimly lit room filled with a few chairs, a desk, and big computer screen where the scans could be read.
"I'll be right here," Alex reassured, more to comfort his sister than anything. He hadn't missed the scared look behind her eyes before he'd caught up to them.
The tech led her into the room and started setting up the machines for her x-ray. Meanwhile, Alex stepped into the area behind the plated window, sitting down in a chair in front of the computer. He leaned back, running a tired hand through his hair, as he fully took in the sight before him. There she was, his now teenage sister. He was really seeing her for the first time in what was probably seven years. She had changed so much, how could he have expected her not to. Her hair was longer and she was obviously taller, but she didn't fill out her body, making him wonder when was the last time she'd eaten a proper meal. As she sat up on the x-ray table, he began to notice all the tears and stains scattered along her clothing, adding to his ever-growing uncertainty about how she'd actually arrived in Seattle. He had a long list of unanswered questions that had plagued him since the moment he laid eyes on her. He let out a long sigh; this was the last thing he needed right now. His own personal life was full of all the disaster it could take at the moment, but if there was one thing he'd learned to accept about his family, it was that there was enough crazy and drama to go around for years to come.
Alex sat impatiently bouncing his leg up and down as he waited for the snail of a tech to begin taking the x-rays.
"Oh, hey. I'm glad you made it down here. I was just coming by to check on her," Meredith said as she stepped inside the room. Alex just nodded, not taking his eyes off Amber, who was trying not to wince in pain as the tech adjusted the position of her arm.
"Looked like a painful break, but she didn't want me to get her any meds. Must be a strong girl," Meredith added, feeling sorry for whatever that girl was going through.
"Yeah, must be," Alex repeated. Of course she was strong, she was a Karev after all. He took it all in for a moment, suddenly realizing just how brave she must have been to make it here clearly on her own. He didn't say anything more, not sure what else there was to say and not really interested in striking up a conversation at the moment.
Not taking a hint, Meredith pulled up the other chair and sat beside him. "So you know her well?" she pried, curious about this whole strange situation.
"I used to," he replied shortly and simply, not offering up any further information. It was the truth. He grew up with her, hell, practically raised her for the better half of her first decade. But then life got in the way, well his life did anyway, and things had changed drastically.
Alex was never one to just come out and share any kind of information. Meredith knew she would have to literally pull it out of him, so she continued to pry, "She said you treated her mother a while back." It was more of an open-ended question than a statement, but Alex didn't show any signs of responding.
They sat in silence for a few moments when Cristina appeared in the doorway, taking a huge bite out of her sandwich. "So are we hiding out in here now?" she asked through a mouthful of food. She glanced through the window and noticed who was sitting on the x-ray table. "Oh hey, you guys found my Kathy patient. I've been wondering what happened to her." Both Meredith and Alex turned to her with perplexed looks. "What?" she snapped, offended by their glares. "There was this amazing trauma that came in and…"
Meredith cut her off, "That's not Kathy. It's Elizabeth, Alex's patient." She turned to Alex for some sign of agreement, but he hadn't acknowledged them.
Cristina took another bite of her sandwich before retorting with annoyance, "No, I'm pretty sure I can remember which patients are mine."
"But you clearly can't keep track of them," Meredith jabbed, playfully.
"Shut up, Mer. At least you got a name out of her. The brat wouldn't tell me so I dubbed her Chatty Kathy." She let out a small laugh and was joined by Meredith.
"You're cruel," Meredith joked, knowing to expect that kind of stuff from her.
Cristina took a few steps further into the room, standing behind the other two doctors as the image began to slowly appear on the screen, piece by piece. "So why are you going around kidnapping my patients anyway?"
"Her name's not Kathy or Elizabeth," he said, speaking for the first time since Cristina had come in. He leaned up closer to the desk, wiling the image to show up faster.
"Are you sure, Alex? Because she told me it was Elizabeth," Meredith countered.
Alex took a deep breath before explaining, "Yes, I'm sure…because it's Amber." He hesitated a moment and added, "She's my sister."
Meredith and Cristina shared a shocked look behind his back, silently asking one another if they had any idea he even had a sister, to which both shook their heads.
Before any other words could be exchanged, the x-ray fully appeared on the screen and they all leaned a little closer to get a better look.
"Woah, Alex," Cristina interjected, holding her sandwich in mid-bite.
"…How many times has your sister broken her wrist?" Meredith asked, her eyes wide.
Alex's gaze went back and forth between the x-ray and his sister delicately cradling her wrist as she began to exit the room. "I don't know," he mumbled in a low voice.
"What do you mean 'you don't know'?" Meredith questioned, confused as to why he wouldn't know something as basic as that about his own sister.
"Because I've been here, Meredith!" he shot back, anger growing in his voice as he shot up out of his seat. There was more weight behind what he'd just said than they'd ever be able to understand. "But I'm going to kill whoever did it," he declared as an afterthought, his voice dripping with rage.
He took a step toward the door, but Meredith grabbed his arm, forcing him to turn around. "Alex, you need to calm down. You can't go out there, demanding answers from an already petrified teenager," she tried to reason. She searched his eyes, waiting for any sign that he was actually understanding what she had said. He ripped his arm from her grasp, but didn't make any other movements. She saw his face relax slightly. "Good. How about you let me take care of Eliza-, I mean Amber, while you get your anger management under control, okay?"
He hesitated, unsure about accepting her offer. He sighed and responded through clenched teeth, "Fine. But don't either of you breath a word of this to anyone, much less CPS, got it?" The last thing he needed was child protection services to show up and for everyone to find out about his family disaster. All he could think about was his mom having to come to the hospital to pick her up and the entire mess that it would bring down on them.
Cristina's face shot up at the mention of CPS, catching the attention of the other two doctors. "You didn't," Meredith uttered in disbelief.
"What? She was a Jane Doe at the time," she defended. Meredith narrowed her eyes at her, urging her to help. "Okay, I'll fix it," she announced almost reluctantly before shoving past Alex and out the door.
Meredith turned back, looking him square in the eye. "Now, you sit in that chair until you have it together enough to handle this properly. Got it?"
Alex's jaw remained firm and his eyes fierce; he hated being told what to do, especially after what he'd just found out. When he realized Meredith's glare wasn't budging, he sighed before moving back to his chair and throwing himself down in it. "Fine," he spat.
"Good. You can come find us when you're ready. I'll make sure she's okay," she reassured before stepping out into the hall to meet Amber and take her to a room to get her cast put on.
Alex watched them walk off down the hall as Amber kept turning around, trying to catch a glimpse of her brother. He quickly averted his gaze, not wanting to see whatever she was feeling because he was too full of anger. He turned his attention to the x-ray image on the screen, unable to take his eyes off it now. He tried to convince himself that she'd just had multiple bike accidents…or maybe she was big on sports and had hurt it a few times…but the pit in his stomach wouldn't let him actually believe any of that bullshit he was making up. He knew that whatever had happened, he was to blame. And there would be no way around that. The anger continued to build up inside of him as all these thoughts kept swirling around in his head. He had the sudden urge to punch something, to take his anger out on someone, but he held it in. This was not the place he wanted to be breaking things.
Suddenly, he shot up out of his chair with such force that it rolled back and crashed into the wall behind him. Alex took a few seconds, resting his fists on the wall and breathing deeply, as he tried to bury as much of this crap down into his internal safe box as he could, so he could go out there and face the world again. He had to get his shit together right now because his sister had unmistakably come to see him for a reason, so he just needed to brace himself for whatever was coming.
He lost track of time as he continued to stand there, letting the anger slowly subside until he was able to see clearly again. Pulling his shoulders back, he stood up tall, adjusted his white coat, and stepped out into the hallway in search of his sister's room. He didn't have a plan, much less know how he was going to start off the conversation, but what he did know was that he needed answers sooner rather than later.