Disclaimer: Nicole and I...We wouldn't be co-writing a story if the show was ours. We'd put this stuff on your TV screens ;)

Welcome on board!

Now, as stated in the summary, this is a story I'm going to co-write with Nicole aka Paisley Mae. Honestly, pinpointing who exactly came up with the idea for this is pretty hard, but it all began from a casual back and forth conversation, then snowballed into this. And it's a pretty cool snowball, if you ask me ;) Anyhow, we're having fun, that's for sure, so you know things won't be all fluffy and rainbows and unicorns all the time (we'll bring our shares of unicorns to the plate, don't worry), but keep in mind that there's a purpose for everything.

The title is from the Piers Faccini song that was featured on Grey's, so it will be familiar to all of you.

Now, I rambled enough for a lifetime, you'll notice in the end that Nicole is a lot more to the point than I am. [Be grateful we balance each other out as writers!]

I'm very excited about this, so if you have to crush our spirits, at least do it gracefully!


A Storm Is Going To Come

Chapter 1

Open the faucet. Set it on cold, ice cold. Splash wateron face. Towel-dry.

These daily steps seem both a mountain to climb and an oasis of solace for Meredith as she stares at her reflection in the mirror of the Attendings' lounge.

She looks like crap, and the water only helps with a little of the exhaustion embedded deep in her bones. Her day is not over yet, and she needs to find some residual energy to drag her body – and the kids – back home.

She doesn't see what's wrong in doing that in her scrubs.

Bailey is not even remotely bothered by the fact that she has decided not to change into regular clothes to take them home.

When she picks him up from the daycare center, he looks like he's about to fall asleep right there as he plays, his mass of curls drooping dangerously closer to the table as she silently watches him play with his buddies.

Bailey turns, and all the tiredness disappears from his eyes, the intense blue sparkling as he half-crawls, half-toddles towards her, still very unsteady.

"Ma!" He grins, looking so much like Derek it hurts. He might be her carbon copy ninety-nine percent of the time, but when he smiles, he's all Derek.

"Hey sweet boy, there you are!" Meredith hopes she's not failing at hiding how tired she is, and that the happiness in seeing her son can mask that.

Bailey is a very oblivious judge of her emotions.

She grabs his jacket and picks him up under his armpits, perching him against her hip as she waves goodbye to the teacher on the other side of the room. Bailey hooks his legs around her midsection, leaning his head against her shoulder, his breath tickling her bare neck.

Meredith stamps a kiss over the messy waves of his hair, then proceeds to retrieve Zola as well from the adjoining room, where they keep the older children.

She barely has time to show up that Zola has already spotted her.

"Mama!" Zola greets her brightly, her smile only dulled by the tiredness of an entire day filled with games. Meredith feels another smile stretch on her lips automatically.

"Hey there, Lovebug." Meredith opens her arm to receive her little body, wraps her around her stomach tightly, closing her eyes at the impact as Zola runs towards her in excitement.

"How was your day?" Meredith asks, breathing in the fading smell of watermelon in Zola's hair and juggling Bailey on her other side.

"So fun, Mama. We goin' home now? I wanna see Daddy."

Meredith sighs. It's late for the kids to still be awake and in need of dinner, since it's already past eight thirty, but she can't deny them that. It's not like they have a strict bedtime schedule anymore when she keeps being pulled into emergencies left and right a few minutes before her shift is supposed to end.

"We'll eat something then we can try to chat with Daddy, alright?"

Zola perks up, running back to grab her backpack from the rack, then goes back again to retrieve the coat she was about to leave there. Meredith smiles at her silly girl, barely minding the little delay.

"Put your jacket on," she encourages, grabbing her backpack and holding it for her, as Zola shimmies into the sleeves of the raincoat.

Meredith ends up carrying the backpack across the street, until they reach the car, Bailey still holding onto her, as Meredith holds Zola's hand together with the car keys. The scene might look slightly comical: with Meredith and her bag, Zola's backpack, a boy on her shoulder and a girl holding onto her. Except she can't let go of her children; she needs them to keep her grounded just as much as she needs some rest right in this moment.

She allows Zola to press the button to open the car doors, and the little girl jumps in her booster seat full of residual excitement. Bailey is a lot more mellow when settling next to his sister, clearly looking more tired.

The ride home is a quiet one, Zola's somewhat coherent recount of her day in preschool as the main source of amusement, together with Bailey's sleepy giggling and babbling as he tries his best to keep up with his sister. Meredith listens, sometimes cracks a smile, sometimes she turns back to watch her children play with one another, and the sense of not doing enough for them fades away for a moment.

She never thought doing it all alone would make her feel so helpless sometimes. Single parents should get gold stars for even waking up in the morning some days.

Her smile dims as they arrive home and she parks the car near their dark porch. They have porch lights with movement sensors, but Derek usually left her a light on when he came home before her.

He's in DC now; it's kind of hard for him to leave a light on.

She sighs, rousing Bailey from his doze and handing Zola her backpack as they all enter the house.

Meredith groans at the sight of her living room. And her kitchen sink. And her house, really.

The only thing that's still in its rightful place are the light fixtures, exactly because they are fixed. To a wall. With bolts.

What once was their safe haven for the mess in their lives is just the reflection of how messy their lives have become.

It's probably three days that she has to do the dishes, and she stopped seeing the point of picking up toys from the floor a long time ago. They can still use paper plates next time they will eat some pasta.

She opens her freezer, finding it bare, save for some mix of chopped onions, celery and carrots that Derek uses when he makes taco meat, and maybe some minced parsley too? She's not sure what that stuff is anyway. The dishes Derek pre-cooked for their survival barely lasted them a week, then Meredith had to get creative with take-out menus, drive-ins or the cafeteria. She regrets not lingering at the hospital a little longer tonight.

She sends Zola to her room to change into her pajamas, settles Bailey in the living room, then opens the fridge door. Maybe there's some leftover pizza or some other kind of leftovers that look edible, but the whitish lights only shines on very empty shelves.

They do have milk. It's most likely expired, but it's there.

She sets a plastic bowl in front of Bailey, fills it with cereal, before setting a place mat and a bowl for Zola and for herself. She grabs the spoons while she finds a suitable pot to heat up the milk, to see if it starts going sour even if the expiration date says boldly it should be fine until the next day.

Luckily for them, the milk is still good, and they have enough bowls to last them through one more night, one more dinner.

She calls down Zola, puts Bailey in his high-chair, then they silently start to eat. The cereals get soggy quickly, but the kids don't seem to mind that. Meredith surely doesn't. Dinner is a quiet affair, the kids' light subdued as tiredness gets the best of them, and they are almost reluctant to get up and go play as Meredith sets up the computer for the Skype call.

Derek is quicker than usual to accept the call, the beige wall of his apartment in DC as his usual background, a concerned expression marring his features.

He looks tired, maybe just as tired as she feels, and she doesn't know what to feel. At this point of the day, she's just too tired to feel anything.

"Where have you been?" Derek's greeting takes her aback, makes her frown. "I've tried calling you at least five times to see if you could Skype tonight."

"I'm here, aren't I?"

Derek huffs, but the first hints of an argument dissolve into the air.

"How are the kids?" Derek asks softly, but before he can get an answer out of her, they both hear a piercing cry coming from the living room and a desperate call for Meredith's presence.

Zola shows up at Meredith's side in a flash. "I did nothing, Mama. Bay kicked my doll."

Meredith sighs, trying not to snap and be the collected mother Zola needs. "I'm sure he didn't do it on purpose, you know how unsteady he is."

Almost as if he should be proving a point, Bailey crawls over them, propping himself up by using the chair near Meredith's legs, then promptly falls on his diaper.

"Are the kids still up?" Derek frowns, his gaze falling on his watch.

Both children's heads snap to the screen as they hear their father's voice, and they both grin in recognition, waving their little hands and calling his name, telling him about their days the best they can.

"Daddy, Daddy, you comin' home for my birfday?" Zola asks, bouncing on her heels in expectations.

"I'll be there, baby girl." Derek smiles, a smile Meredith is sure he only has for the kids. At least he still loves them just like the very first day. At least they have a father that loves them, even on the other side of the country. "Now, why don't you guys go back playing quietly, I need to talk to your mama about boring work stuff."

"Eww," Zola cringes, giggling as she grabs Bailey by his hand. "C'mon Bay, I don't wanna hear boring work stuff."

Bailey follows her lead, crawling and giggling like mad.

Meredith sighs, her eyes meeting Derek's when the children have disappeared in their playroom.

"I will be there for her birthday, I promise," Derek says solemnly, almost as if he needs to prove the point to Meredith.

"I know."

"It's just...never mind." Derek sighs, his eyes darting away from the monitor for a moment.

"I found the present we were looking for, I have it with me." Derek smiles gently. "That's why I wanted to call you."

"Great, I'm glad."

"Do you even care what the thing looks like?"

Meredith shakes her head, too tired to let the bitterness of his words sting too much. Derek seems completely oblivious to her exhaustion.

"Why are the kids still up at ten, Meredith?" he asks, sounding every bit like the father he is. Except, he's not her father.

"Because I was working. Like you asked me to. Until I can cure death."

Derek rolls his eyes. "You should get home to get the kids into bed on time."

"I try, Derek. Every single night something comes up. It's just me, you know?"

"You were the one so adamant in sending me off on the other side of the country." He seethes.

"Let's stop fighting that fight, I'm tired." Meredith shakes her head, sighing loudly, pinching her nose between her eyes.

"So am I."

A moment of long silence stretches awkwardly between them, only the far away voices of the kids filling it.

"I'm going to be home at around two tomorrow, if they don't delay our flight."

"Okay. Do you need to be picked up? Because I don't think I can be there on time."

"Are you sure you can't make it?"

"I can try to free up my schedule, but I'd have to go back later, most likely."

"It's just...my mother would really like to spend some time with you."

Meredith stares at him for a long moment, dumbfounded. Maybe the audio is doing tricks again, or maybe she's just too tired. Carolyn couldn't possibly coming with him without her knowing that.

"Your mother?"

"Yeah, she's coming down with her train then we'll fly together from DC since it's cheaper." His voice is almost neutral, maybe even a little happy at the mere idea of seeing his mother, when he clearly doesn't see the train wreck he's about to slam into.

"She can't."

Derek's eyes widen. "What? Why?"

"I can't do it. The house is a mess."

"I can see that," he snickers, getting fired up. "You have time."

"No I don't, because in less than ten hours I'll be back at work and then I'll stay there."

"Of course, it takes more than ten minutes to wash the mountain of dishes in the sink, you're right."

Meredith's blood boils in her veins. "What is your problem?"

"What was it tonight? Pizza? Chinese?"

"It's none of your business!"

"It is, if my children are surviving on fast food!"

"Right, because you were so kind to leave us food. Poor martyr." Meredith's mocking tone sends him spiraling into anger, and she can see his body twitching not to snap at her.


"Your food disappeared by week one, Derek! And since then, I was home barely enough to go grocery shopping twice. Once, I only brought milk and eggs, the other time, Bailey had a blowout in his diaper and I had to leave with half of the stuff before he could be all covered in poop. I apologize for feeding your kids cereal for dinner." Derek is about to say

something, but he can barely open his mouth before she gets more words in. "Now, if you excuse me, I need to put your kids to bed."

And a second later Derek's image disappears from the screen.

She slams the laptop lid down on the keyboard. She exhales, turning around to find her almost four-year-old daughter already dressed in her purple Tinkerbell pajamas. "I not tired," Zola announces. "It's almost my birfday! I almost four. I a big girl."

Meredith smiles, struggling to stay upset even though he had just questioned her parenting skills and continuously manages to speak to her like she is his teenage daughter rather than his wife who is supposed to be his equal. She doesn't know how anyone can stay mad when they have an adorable face like Zola's peering up at them.

"Well, you're not four yet," and a big grin fills Meredith's face, and a week's worth of worries vanishes in that second. "So," Meredith adds, bending over to lift her child up. "You're still a little girl, and little girls need sleep."

"But I'm not sleepy!" Zola protests, sticking her lip out.

"You might not be sleepy, but Mommy is sleepy," Meredith insists in the midst of a yawn.

"Then Mommy go to bed, and I stay up," Zola argues persistently. Even though she isn't their biological child, Zola has managed to acquire both of her parents' stubbornness. When Zola has made up her mind about something, she will do anything to get it.

Meredith carries Zola into the playroom, where she finds her toddler son passed out on the floor. Even though her daughter isn't tired, her son clearly is. Meredith is reluctant to move him, because she dreads the possibility of waking him, but she knows it must be done. She sets Zola down and embarks on the journey of moving Bailey from the playroom floor to his bedroom. Gently and carefully, she lifts him into her arms and carries him into his room, placing him in his crib. She heaves a sigh of a relief as she sets Bailey on his back and his eyes remain closed. It can't be this easy, she thinks. Bailey rolls over on his side, and Meredith is convinced he will wake. She swallows, preparing herself to handle a fussy baby, but he doesn't even open his eyes. Meredith breathes a sigh of relief. Mission accomplished. She tiptoes quietly out of her son's nursery.

Zola proves to be more difficult. She's in her room now already sifting through her clothes.

"Zozo, what are you doing?" Meredith asks her child.

Zola exclaims, "Picking out my birthday outfit!"

Meredith frowns, looking at the lock on the wall. It's past eleven o'clock now. It's well past Zola's normal bed time now. Then again, it's not like she has a normal bed time these days. Meredith worries that if she doesn't get her daughter to bed soon that she'll be difficult to wake up tomorrow and will be cranky during her birthday party. And no one wants a cranky birthday girl.

"Zola," Meredith smirks, having an idea. "How would you like to open one of your birthday presents early?"

"Really? Can I?" Zola's eyes light up.

"Sure, why not?" Meredith grins. "But first you need to get into bed. You can only have the gift if you're in bed."

Zola is already snuggled into the comforter, eyes closed, before Meredith can blink.

"How can I see the pwesent if I'm sleeping?" Zola wonders out loud, finally forcing a giggle out of Meredith's lips.

"You can open your eyes, Zozo, Mommy needs to go get the present first."

"Okey dokey!" Zola grins, sitting up a little.

She plays with the polka dots sheets, curling it and uncurling it in her fists, her excitement blubbering by the second, her eyes sparkling when Meredith comes back with a lumpy bag the size of a pillow, but thicker and rounder around the edges. Zola bounces a little in her spot, looking up at her mother in expectation.

"Alright," Meredith says, sighing loudly. "This is a very special present, Zola."

Zola nods, her excitement not dampened by the solemn words of her mother. Unlike what Meredith expected, Zola pulls slowly at the tape messily stuck to the gift, the improbable shape of the present making her miss Derek even more. After all the nieces and nephews he has, he's a pro gift-wrapper; this is another thing she sucks at.

Zola turns the gift around, trying to find the upper side, then she finally manages to push the paper aside and reveal a doll. Her eyes are full of questions when she looks up at Meredith, clearly knowing that this was not in the list of gifts she tried to bargain for.

"This was Mommy's doll when she was a little girl like you are." Meredith explains, touching the flimsy, a little worn out hospital gown of Anatomy Jane.

"I can't play with your toys, Mama. You gotta play with them."

Meredith grins at the stupor on her daughter's face. "Look," she explains, lifting up the gown and showing the detachable organs. "This is a special doll. This doll has all the organs like a real person, she's just smaller. Little girl sized."

"I'm a little girl."

"That's why I'm giving it to you," Meredith says with a smile. "Her name is Anatomy Jane."

"She's pretty, Mama."

"Do you like your gift?"

Zola nods eagerly, removing the plastic belly, then touching all the colorful organs. "I wanna know all the names of the things she gots inside!"

"All together they are called organs, but it's too late to explain all of them tonight." Meredith caresses her cheek slowly while Zola pokes Anatomy Jane's liver. "We'll study her better tomorrow, okay?"

Zola sighs, disappointed.

"Wanna know one more secret?" Meredith grins, trying to lift Zola's spirit. "Mama made up all the names when she was a little girl."

Meredith winks, kissing the crown of Zola's head as the little girl giggles, squishing the doll closer to her chest as mother and daughter share a hug.

"Can she go to sleep in my bed tonight?" Zola asks, her eyes already wide and pleading with her.

"Of course." Meredith grins, squeezing her daughter one more time. Even if the house is a mess, her husband is an idiot and life seems to be crumbling under her feet, Zola is still there, loving her, looking at her like she's the center of the world, her lighthouse in the storm, and nothing will ever compare to that feeling.

"Is it my biftday in the mowning when I open my eyes?" Zola mumbles into Meredith's shirt, before she pulls away from her and slides down under the covers.

"It is, Zozo."

"I'm gonna be four." Zola perks up, but allows Meredith to lay her head on the pillow.

"Yeah." Meredith hums, caressing Zola's back in circles, then rubbing her neck right under her ear, Zola's eyes closing in bliss. "One more sleep, though." Meredith's voice is now barely a whisper, Zola sighing contentedly under her touch.

"I gonna have a pawty?" Zola's words become hazy as sleeps drags her under, her lips opening in a yawn at the very last word.

"A great party." Meredith smiles, keeping up the relaxing motions, as Zola's breathing evens out.

"I wub ya, Mama," Zola murmurs in the quiet of the room, blinking one last time.

Zola is barely conscious when Meredith replies: "I love you too, baby girl."

Meredith listens to her soft breathing, watches her chest rise and fall, rise and fall, rise and fall, as she feels her own blanket of exhaustion pulling her under, Zola's hands still curled tightly around Anatomy Jane. Her brain is still so wired after the day she had, and she doesn't feel like leaving Zola's room just yet.

She doesn't want to be Ellis. She can't be Ellis.

Surely, she's stressed out, the kids go to bed at unreasonable hours and the house looks like a war zone, but she made time to give Zola her gift. She tries to give both her children some alone time with her, though these days it's almost impossible for her, and she loves them. She's sure Ellis loved her, but Meredith could never tell for certain, not before discovering another side of her mother.

As she tried to juggle two kids, a house and a very demanding job alone, she realized how much her mother had on the plate after she left Thatcher, and that in fact she just...prioritized. She would have liked to be her priority, much like her kids are a priority for her, but her mother made a choice, and they had to live with it.

These days her brain is so messed up she sometimes wonders what it would have been like if her mother had kept the baby and she would have grown up side by side with Maggie. It would surely have made her lonely Boston nights a little more lively. She's glad that Zola and Bailey have each other, no matter how dirty they fight some days, or how epically she's going to screw up at some point if she can't catch a break.

"Goodnight Zola, sleep tight," she whispers, before placing one last kiss on Zola's forehead, careful not to jostle the mattress too much as she stands up.

Zola doesn't move a muscle.

Meredith exits the room to check on Bailey one last time. The little boy is still asleep, curled up in a ball, his socked left foot peeking out from under the blanket, his deep breathing akin to a snore.

She listens to his little sounds, closing her eyes, trying to keep her tears at bay, her head going to dangerous places.

She slips out of his room when she feels like she can barely breathe, taking a minute to gather herself out of the nursery's door, leaning against the wall, trying to keep herself upright. She can't sleep just yet, no matter how tired she is.

The weight of the matter in her eyes makes it difficult for her to stay awake. She thinks of Derek, feeling somewhat bad for snapping at him earlier. It's past midnight in Seattle, which means it's three in the morning in Washington DC. She's certain he's asleep now, but that doesn't stop her from returning to her laptop and propping up her computer screen.

She thinks about the hell of a week, no: the hell of a month, she's had with Derek away. The worst of it just happened to blow up a few days ago when she realized she was late. She hadn't told Derek. The last thing she wanted was to get him riled up for nothing, and it had in fact been for nothing. She'd taken three tests and all were, fortunately, negative. Meredith isn't able to begin to fathom what she would have done had the tests been positive. Now, with Derek in DC, it was the worst possible timing to expand their family. Also, considering the fact that they had been close enough once in the past three months - the night before he left - in which they'd even had the chance to conceive a baby, the universe would have surely been mocking her if the tests were positive.

Meredith is taken aback when she sees Derek is still online. First, she wonders if he's just left his iPad on or his computer on. She knows that Skype will keep you logged into a device as long as it's on and you haven't logged out of Skype. She swallows, debating on if she should call him back and try to end things on a good note. The thought of him flying when her last words weren't so kind terrifies her, considering their history with planes.

So, she calls him, and she's shocked when he answers shortly after. It's dark on the other end, so she can't see him clearly. Quickly, he turns his video off so his picture replaces the darkness.

"You just got the kids down?" he asks.

She rolls her eyes. Her video is still on, so she knows that he can see her rolling her eyes. "Yes, Derek, I just got the kids down, because your daughter is excited about her birthday. She didn't want to sleep. She's stubborn like her father."

"And her mother," Derek notes. "Look, if you just called to argue - "

"I didn't," she says, her voice softer. "I called to apologize, okay?"

"Apologize?" Derek questions, dumbfounded.

"I snapped earlier, and I know you have the best intentions. The kids' well-being is what's most important. I get it, I do. And I'm trying, Derek. I really am. Derek, I can't do it anymore," she sighs.

"I'm lost, Meredith. You're the one who said I should go to DC. In fact, you insisted that I come here. You wouldn't have it any other way. Isn't Amy helping you?" Derek inquires.

"She is when she can. Usually in the mornings with breakfast and getting the kids ready, but she's also swamped running the Neuro department. There's only so much she can do. She's just the aunt, Derek. You can only expect her to do so much," Meredith explains rationally. "And that's not what I'm talking about."

"Then what are you talking about?"

Silence erupts. Meredith swallows difficultly.

"Earlier this week," she begins to confide, "I thought I was pregnant."

"You what?" he gasps. "Wait. Thought. You're not?"

"No," she breathes steadily. "No, I'm not. I took three tests. All negative, thankfully. That's the last thing we need on our plates right now, and that's exactly what I can't do anymore. Derek, we're swamped, and I love both of our children to death. But I can't do it. I can't cure death if I'm chasing a houseful of children. So...I was thinking about making an appointment with my OB to get my tubes tied." The words just slip out in the heat of the moment. She's frustrated and exhausted. The thought has crossed her mind many times since the scare, though she hasn't actually contemplated revealing those thoughts to Derek.

"You what?" Derek barks instantly. "What? Don't you think you should discuss this with me before making a decision that involves prohibiting us from ever expanding our family? I'm not always going to be in DC. You're not always going to be swamped at work. What if in two or three years we decide we want to have another baby? Tying your tubes is permanent, Meredith! Aren't you on the pill?"

"Okay, first off, what does it look like I'm doing, Derek? I haven't done it yet. Unlike you, who accepts job positions on all continents without talking to your wife, I am talking to you before I make a decision, since you apparently missed the memo. Two, no form of birth control is one hundred percent reliable. You can get pregnant on the pill. You're a doctor, you know this. The only thing that's one hundred percent reliable is abstinence."

"And you seem to be pretty good at practicing that. Three months, Meredith. We have sex once in three months, and now you're bringing this up? We used to have sex several times a week, and you weren't worried about getting pregnant then. Why are you worried about it now?"

"Maybe because you're in DC? Maybe because I want to have a career too? Maybe because it's my damn body, and it's my choice?" Meredith scoffs. "Derek, I almost died giving birth to Bailey. I don't want to go through that again. I'm not saying we can never expand our family. We can always adopt if and when the time feels right. I don't want another accident, and I certainly I don't want to risk getting pregnant again only to miscarry or risk my life or the baby's. It's not worth it."

"But you didn't die, and we have a healthy baby boy. You're calling him an accident?" Derek abruptly demands

"No!" she gasps at the accusation, immediately frustrated by Derek's selective hearing and twisting of her words. "I love Bailey, and I wouldn't trade him for the world."

She hears him heave a loud, obnoxious sigh. "You know what, Meredith. Do whatever you want. You're going to get your way no matter what, because you always do. You got to stay in Seattle just like you wanted. You even got me out of the way. Meredith gets what Meredith wants. My opinion is invaluable."

"That's not true," Meredith protests.

"Clearly it is. It's three-thirty in the morning, and I'm going to bed. Goodnight, Meredith."

His picture fades away as the call ends.

Meredith swallows a wad of spit in her throat. Mission "make things better with Derek" before going to sleep had resulted in the opposite effect.

She studies the mess that surrounds the house, specifically eying the pile of dirty dishes. It becomes clear to her that she won't be sleeping tonight. She shuts down the laptop and places it in its computer bag and puts it away. Meredith returns to the kitchen and begins loading the dishwasher. Fortunately, she hasn't used any pots and pans, so loading the dishwasher comes easy. Unfortunately, she has so many bowls, cups, and plates that there isn't enough room in the dishwasher for all of them, so she will have to do some by hand.

As she starts the dishwasher, she hears the turn of the front doorknob. Within moments, her sister-in-law groggily walks through the front door. She's carrying a purple and pink Polka dotted gift bag in her hand.

Amelia enters the house, unable to ignore the fact that it looks like a tornado has torn through all layers of the usually tidy home. She's fairly certain that it looks worse than it did the first time she babysat for Derek and Meredith. Now, she's alarmed to find her sister-in-law still wide awake and apparently doing the dishes. In her scrubs. It doesn't take a medical degree for Amelia to realize something isn't quite right with Meredith. She notices the bags of dark circles surrounding Meredith's eyes. Morose. Glum. Distress. It all reads on Meredith's face.

They've barely crossed paths in the last week due to their hectic, busy schedules. Amelia feels for Meredith, knowing she's struggling to raise two young children with Derek away and also somehow managing to keep up with a high demanding surgical career. Amelia doesn't know how she does it. Admittedly, seeing her brother and his wife struggling only confirms for Amelia that she was right to leave James. There was no way it would have worked. She is nowhere as strong as Derek, and if Derek is struggling, then she doesn't stand a chance at making a career and a family life coincide.

"Hey," she greets Meredith. She scopes the room carefully. "The munchkins are asleep?"

Meredith nods. "Yeah."

"Oh, good. Then I have time to hide the gift I got Zola," Amelia smiles. She holds up the bag, which carries the gift she had purchased her niece at the mall on her lunch hour. It had been so long since Amelia had had the opportunity to shop for a girl Zola's age. She hadn't known what to get her. Her sisters never let her near their children, since according to them, she was a bad influence. Charlotte's girls are much younger than Zola; they're a few months older than Bailey. "Want to see what I got her? Then you can let me know if you think she'll hate it and I can take it back."

"I doubt she'll hate it," Meredith replies nonchalantly. "Zola's easily pleased. You can't go wrong."

Amelia pulls out the purple apron. She unfolds it, revealing the princess design on the front of the apron. "What do you think? Zola's always wanting to help out in the kitchen. I thought she'd like her own apron."

"She'll love it," Meredith nods with approval.

"I hope so. I'm trying to win Aunt of the Year," Amelia smirks. "I think the competition is pretty tight. I worked with your sister tonight…"

"Don't call her that," Meredith rolls her eyes. "She's not my sister."

"Okay, then, I worked with the woman who once shared the same womb as you…"

"Don't," Meredith's face fills with disgust. "That's gross."

"Right, well, I sort of mentioned Zola's birthday is tomorrow...well, today...and Maggie thought she might get Zola a gift. I didn't tell her about the party because I know you want it to be small, and that wasn't my place, but…"

"Well, I'll just have to tell her that she doesn't need to get Zola a gift. Why would she? That's weird. She's met Zola like twice." Meredith wrinkles her forehead.

"Right, yeah, weird. I shouldn't have said anything. I needed someone to bounce gift ideas off with, and she was there," Amelia sighs. She moves to her room, where she hides Zola's gift in the closet then changes into a pair of sweats. When she returns to the kitchen, Meredith is rounding up all the dishes in the house. Amelia joins in helping her. "What are you doing up so late? It's like one in the morning."

"If you can't tell, the house is a mess. I'm cleaning it, because otherwise it won't be clean tomorrow," Meredith responds dryly, moving the remaining dishes to one side of the sink so she can fill the other side with soap and water. Meanwhile, Amelia begins picking up the toys in the living room.

"Oh, right. Derek's coming home tomorrow," Amelia observes. "But he's seen the house on Skype. Surely he can't expect it to be in pristine condition. I know he's Derek, and he's an ass, but he won't be too bent out of a shape over a messy house."

"Not just Derek. Your mother is coming tomorrow, too," Meredith blurts out.

Amelia freezes, feeling every limb in her body go numb.

"My mother is coming? What? No! She can't."

Amelia hasn't seen her mother since her medical school graduation, the day her mother oh so vibrantly made the comment that she never expected the black sheep of the family to graduate college, much less medical school. The same day she and her mother had gotten into a heated argument over topics Amelia can't remember now; she just remembers telling her mother to stay out of her life. Amelia knows that her mother has never forgiven her for the decisions she's made. Carolyn Shepherd never understood how Amelia could be so selfish: How her youngest daughter could turn against her after she'd done everything in her power as a single widowed mother to make sure her children had everything life could offer. Amelia knows that her mother sees her as a disgrace to the entire Shepherd family.

"She's taking the Amtrak into DC tomorrow and flying to Seattle with Derek," Meredith enlightens Amelia.

"You've got to be freaking kidding me," Amelia spits.

The storm hasn't even begun.

A/N: Dun dun dun… I hope you've enjoyed this first chapter as much as I've enjoyed working with Irene on it. Irene has promised to "keep me in check", though I can just say this: expect the unexpected! It's a balancing act: Combining her love for fluff and my love for angst. I hope you'll join us for the ride!