In-between episodes 1x01 and 1x02.

And then, 1x02 First Cut is the Deepest.

Chapter three: creating connections

Chief Webber

He misses Mari Grey.

Twenty-six years he kept himself severed from Ellis.

Richard. Let's do it. Leave your wife and I'll leave my husband, and we'll be so gloriously happy. Richard this is the time.

He remembers the fever in her eyes, being the youngest recipient, the only resident to ever be nominated for a Harper Avery. She was more beautiful, and more passionate, and more present than she's ever been in her life. She had the world spinning beneath her feet, and joy crowding her throat, and the certainty that Queens must feel, when they're newly crowned.

She had asked before, for him to leave Adele, had promised to leave Thatcher as easily, as dismissively, as brushing lint off her clothes. This time she didn't ask, she envisioned it.

But he didn't see the same thing she did. He didn't see a life of victory. He saw a spotlight directed solely at her. He pictured a life of a thousand cuts.

It wasn't duty, that made him stay with Adele. It wasn't love or it's lack.

It was pride.

Duty, repentance, came when he published in different journals, stopped himself from aiming for the same awards at the same times, when he stayed out of the same conferences, the same cities as Ellis. When he bought her book and read it in piecemeal, in a quiet cafe, so he wouldn't bring it home. Ellis stayed in a far peripheral, a shadow more than an image. An echo.

He knew when she left the U.N. He knew when she joined Mayo. He tallied her accomplishments, not as her partner, not as the man waiting in the wings, but as someone faceless in the audience. Or perhaps, standing even further back, looking up at the marquee.

What he misses in all that, is that Ellis had another daughter. Ellis had Meredith. Ellis got divorced. Ellis never re-married. He didn't look deeper into her life, because Ellis's life was surgery, was medicine.

Meredith lingered, as a regret, as a ghost, a child he could have provided for, could have given his care when she had so little in her life. Her choosing Seattle Grace is a chance, an opportunity, not peek at what could have been, but to be something substantial now. A mentor. A teacher.

Mari, he couldn't picture, not until she strode towards him, uncertainty in her brow, but challenge in her eyes. Eyes that saw, and moved, and deduced as quickly as Ellis.

I don't want surgery. I want more.

He realizes then, why he avoided her file, her picture.

It's not relief he feels, when he realizes Ellis didn't intentionally keep this from him.

He had never been a father. And he wasn't one now.

She's collected rumors - 007, and an underwear model, an intern that fainted in the OR, another that quit in the first 48 hours, one that was a whipping boy to the pissed off nurses - all as ice breakers, for the first time Meredith and her schedule's line up, 14-hour days 7 days a week juxtaposed to 12-hour days 6 days a week.

She orders two pizzas from two different pizza places, to judge which delivers faster, which tastes better. Any thought to constructing a balanced meal, a real meal, is discarded when she eyes her sister throughout the week. Meredith doesn't cook. Doesn't care about groceries. Doesn't care about the quality of her diet.

If Mari cooked for them, she'd probably have to make it seem like she accidentally made extra, and then pretend not to care if Meredith ignores it. Meredith is a turtle, slow to come out, always ready to tuck back in. Mari walks softly, learns to look sideways, lest Meredith get that look on her face like she's bearing something awkward. Meredith is more comfortable with informality, like eating on the couch, on their laps. She's more comfortable when it looks like Mari hasn't gone out of her way.

So it's that scenario, that engineered casualness on Mari's part, that has Meredith opening up to what's bothered her all week.

"What's up with you and McDreamy?"

At Mari's incomprehension, she elaborates. "Dr. Shepherd. There's obviously something between you two, so…"

She takes a moment to process the nickname, feeling a second-hand embarrassment, like she was the one who said it.

"I...haven't seen him since Katie Bryce's Angiograph."

It's a stall. She's been in the labs, he's been in surgeries, sure. But she's aware of him, when he's on the other side of the hallway. As he seems to be with her.

He's texted her. Little innocuous things, about the weather, about new things he's discovering about Seattle. Stepping closer in increments. Like he said, no sudden movements.

He returns the questions she's posed to him, in the same order, like their moment in the bar is crystalized.

She returns trivia for trivia. She sidesteps the personal, exaggerates the inconsequential.

He called her, after his first successful catch, while flipping through a guidebook to identify the tiny, young fish. There was something about his mood, when he released it. Like catching that fish had given him something, and he was glad to know it was out there, a representation of something loosened, and free, and possible.

Beneath her teasing, she understood that feeling, of fleeting, small moments that reverberate because you're paying attention.

The first time she calls him, she apologizes because he's ending a 36-hour shift in an on-call room, his voice hushed and gravelly. He hums, asks her to stay, to keep talking, as his breathing grows heavier in her ear, as he drifts off. When she hangs up, she realizes her eyes had been closed, her breaths matching his, and Derek Shepherd is -

"So, it's not anything then?" Meredith releases the tension in her spine, still looking straight at the TV. "That's good. I mean, he's an attending. I don't know if he's your boss, but he's definitely my boss. If you dated him people would think I was picked for surgeries because I had an in."

"Right," she says.

Meredith looks over at her briefly but doesn't pick up on anything. "Luckily, I don't think Cristina realized that Dr. Shepherd took two interns into Katie Bryce's surgery because of-"

"You were in Katie Bryce's surgery?" she interrupts.

Meredith blinks. "Yeah, didn't I tell you?"

She almost mirrors Meredith's look, wondering how Meredith could think that she told Mari anything.

"I'm surprised you weren't in the gallery," Meredith thinks back.

Mari chews methodically to relax her jaw. He hadn't told her that he took Meredith into the OR. Why did he ask her opinion? Why hadn't he voiced his if he disagreed?

Did he think she was too harsh? Was her opinion, at the end of the day, irrelevant because she didn't enter the sacred OR? Was it because she was barely above an intern? Because she was younger than Meredith, who was closer to his own age?

It's Meredith's turn to look at her sideways, realizing that Mari's inattention is out of character, but not understanding the cause. "There's something I wanted to ask you, about the house." Meredith pulls in a fortifying breath, not sure how Mari will react. "What do you think about getting roommates? We have two empty rooms..."


A few months ago, Meredith's plan, if she got into the Seattle Grace program, and after their mother checked herself into the extended care facility, was to sell the house. She said it was just too big for one person.

Mari wasn't particularly attached to it, having never seen it, never lived here, not until Mom called it home, and Meredith treated the inheritance like she'd rather wash her hands of it. Not until she thought about their grandparents building this house, and that Meredith would have to sell it outside the family, if she wanted to keep to her promise that no one would find out about Ellis's condition.

It wouldn't be a bad thing, if she's determined to live here for the next three years of her residency, to fill in the empty, echoing spaces. To accept the buffer.

She gives it half a second of thought, and says "sure."

Most of House's patients came to him.

Mail. Email. Sometimes people specialty-expressed their entire files. Or called incessantly until you had to block the number.

When she left for med school, House went through eleven secretaries. Cuddy refused to let him hire another so he could go for a full dozen. Or a baker's dozen, or whatever number he wanted to reach after that. It didn't help that when one of Cuddy's secretaries quit, she found a way for House's to follow. Whether because she blamed House, or because he was an easy target for her frustrations. When Mari came back to a backlogged mess, she automated what she could to avoid being more his secretary than his intern.

When she was an undergrad, almost every case that came through had looked interesting. That's when she learned that most undiagnosed and misdiagnosis were the result of human and hospital error. That the answer was simple, if you listened. Sometimes it was the accuracy of the tests, which had more false positives and false negatives than people realized. And just as likely, just as often, was people who lie. Patients lied. Doctors lied. Families lied. They lied about who they were, what they did. They lied for cover.

The ones that came to House directly were trickier. It took time to find out which would grab him, which were actual mysteries. She learned the elevator pitch and figured out what to do with the rest. First, she reached out to other diagnosticians. If they were relatively young, they didn't want to talk to her, they wanted to talk to House. If they were older, and established, they didn't want cases House rejected because they weren't interesting enough.

So, instead, she created ties to the medical schools. Posed them as class exercises. Sold it as opportunities for papers. Med school students had the best libraries at their disposal, the right drive, less ego, less bad habits. Consequently, it heightened House's renown, as they compared the DDX to one of House's unique cases. She got the feeling Cuddy hated it. That it made her hospital seem like a circus.

The ones that came in through the hospitals required a different system. Again, she tried to stratify it with the Princeton-Plainsboro doctors, but found they were reluctant to admit when they were stumped. That they didn't want to deal with House, admit they didn't know what House would consider elementary. If they did approach him, defensive with indignation, still arrogant that it must be something impossible, House was at his most sarcastic, his most cutting. To him, they would rather their patient die, then admit they were wrong, to let someone else be right. Wilson became the de facto intermediary. The easier pill for the other doctors to swallow because of his intrapersonal skills. They went to Wilson, Wilson decided if it fit House.

So, here's her problem. There were no diagnosticians at Seattle Grace. No one was emailing her caseloads. No one was cluing her into the cases in the ER, in admitting. Seattle Grace didn't have a clinic.

It throws her for a loop.

She realizes in her internship she had spent most of it as another intermediary. She looked at a case for other's mistakes, after multiple symptoms have developed, instead of being the first to evaluate, to work with a blank canvas.

So, she asks for a rotation in emergency medicine, to start her career at Seattle Grace with a new perspective.

She takes a seat at the check-in, glancing around the short desk, ignoring the pictures of kids and pets, and zeros in on the "never say the Q word" and a chalkboard only visible to the nurses that says, "it's been 10 days since an ER nurse has been punched/shoved/spit on."

There might as well be one that says, never show up early for a shift. Because Mari's attempt to scout the landscape goes bust. She's a junior officer, freshly pressed, entering the war-tested enlisted quarters. It takes only a few moments to have a sergeant, a seasoned nurse, staring down at her.

She pulls the same card she's used since she was four, crawling into hidden spaces, with the hospital as her oyster. Big eyes, and a sheepish smile, too nice for someone not to feel bad about being mean to her.

"I'm curious about something..." she starts, finishing her rotation in the rolling chair, with the pilfered charts in her lap.

"Are you."

"There's only one attending working, and the two residents on call are surgical..."

The nurse gives her a dry look. "Wondering who to suck up to?"

Mari runs through the numbers aloud, finding the ER attendings, residents, and interns surprisingly light for a big metropolitan area. They can't be this thin, surely. Can't have this much of a problem with retention.

"How can the hospital keep that up?" she wonders.

The nurse pulls the paper cup of steaming coffee away from her lips.

"Nurses," she answers, like it's obvious.

Mari looks back at this view behind the desk, at the shift chart that looks untenable, and hums with contemplation.

Dr. Bloom's advice is: fast discharges, fast admitting. If it looks surgical, just get out of the way, because the patient will be gone so fast, you'll feel like you're in a Bugs Bunny cartoon.

The nurses tell her she needs to pick it up. She tries to justify it, putting off admitting or discharges, until she has the full story. Until she knows what care they really need. Until she knows that heartburn isn't a heart problem, that the headache isn't precursor to a stroke.

"Don't confuse the ER for a clinic. Emergencies only."

"It's simple. 90% of this is drunk, stupid, or domestic abuse. Slap a band-aid on and discharge."

She can hear the lie in their statements, tries to get to the truth, and is told she belongs in psych.

Dr. Bloom pulls her aside. "Look, you spend enough time with someone, you'll eventually find something wrong with them."

"Like a titanium leg?" she broaches, having noticed the off-gait and stilted hip.

Dr. Bloom raises her brows at her, her lips twisting. "Wow. Here I thought you were nice."

"Sorry, I just…" she isn't sure where she's going with that.

"Hate that you're not automatically good at something?" she looks at her pointedly.

People always assume that's her problem, given her relation, given her age. She knows the raised hackles are her own fault, because she went offensive. She slumps into honesty. "I know how to stop a bleed and set a bone and keep someone stable. I know how to recognize a heart attack, and a stroke, heat exhaustion, and hypothermia, and seizures, but…it's different, when an ambulance brings them in, and when they do it themselves. If their instincts tell them that something is seriously wrong, I'm supposed to spend five minutes or less before I decide if they're right or they're not worth the time?"

Dr. Bloom's brows pucker. "Well…" she pauses for a moment "yeah. Basically."

Dr. Blooms holds up her hands at Mari's look. "Look, what you're supposed to do, is get experience. Learn the difference between the hypochondriacs and the people who really need help. You're just the gatekeeper. It's the job of the doctors after you to find out the full story, to come up with a treatment plan."

I can't do that, she thinks. She might as well start walking backwards and breathing underwater. It's the antithesis of what she was taught. Pushing the buck.

But she can't say that it's wrong either, when she's the slowest, the one the others are working around.

Is this the choice? Speed for quality, or quality for speed? (Can't she have both?)

Mari tilts her head, so it bangs softly against the wall behind her.

"Why do you like it?" Mari wonders.

Dr. Bloom shrugs, smiling but for a tightness around her eyes. "I don't know. I was search and rescue with the Coast Guard and the Rangers. Dropped out of helicopters, survived avalanches, rappelled down crevasses, flew into storms. I thought it wouldn't be that different. Just less adrenaline, more quiet."

She doesn't seem to care about the superstition of using the 'Q' word. Perhaps she wants to tempt fate.

Mari thinks about it for a moment, imaging herself facing those kinds of challenges, instead of what her day has been, trying to get a battered woman to admit that she didn't fall down the stairs, or a troubled teen that life is worth living, or a worried parent that their kid is the hydrate and rest kind of sick, not the ohmygodsomethingiswrong kind.

How can Dr. Bloom stand it? To go from that to this?

(Because she had to?)

She clears her throat, eyes cast down. "My…mentor," she isn't used to talking about House in those terms, but it's the best description she has. "He has a crater in his leg where a hunk of thigh muscle used to be." Dr. Bloom doesn't move, her eyes narrowing. "He was able to keep his leg, but…" her mouth tightens against what she wants to and doesn't want to say. Truth wrestling with loyalty. Pain being too inadequate of a descriptor. "He wasn't diagnosed in time. The ER thought he was screaming in pain because he was a drug addict. That...that's what I think about."

Dr. Bloom exhales shallowly, having thought Mari was going to make a different association. To offer sympathy, to say she understood, or to say there are worse things than amputation.

Life over limb. What they're taught to say.

Dr. Grey doesn't. What's more, Dr. Bloom can tell by her expressive face, and the matter-of-fact way she acknowledged Dr. Bloom's newly acquired disability, that she hadn't thought in that direction at all, isn't the type for scripted sympathies. Her confession wasn't aimed to garner Dr. Bloom's support. It was unflinchingly honest to why emergency medicine was proving her weak spot.

Instead of writing Dr. Grey off as someone to put up with in her ER rotation, she finds herself saying something awkwardly encouraging instead.

"Find what works for you. You'll pick up the pace once you have it down."

Mari straightens, nodding to herself as she determines to master this too.

She hears the one night stand, working in the ER, or 'the pit' as the surgical staff calls it, give his diagnosis of food poisoning with the disgust of having to treat something so minor.

"Make him take you out or take a cooking class."

She snorts. The intern looks over at her, brown eyes still annoyed as he tries to shoo the couple away.

Mari bites her lip, caught, as she ducks out of sight for her own patient, thinking it might be something she can run with, if the patient or a nurse had sequestered it behind the curtain. A man in his thirties, in a retro t-shirt that says 'Good Times', yellow booty shorts, and sparkly roller-skates, looks up at her with pitiful big eyes, clutching a bloody knee to his chest and says, "I was murdered."

She's pushed out of the way, once, when she's doing a central line. He assumes she's an intern only pretending to know what she's doing. Treats her like a peasant trying to wear the garb of a king. A silly little girl in dress up.

Meredith's one night stand watches how she leans over Dr. Ross's shoulder, encouraging him to 'take a stab at it if he's so eager'. He falters, almost goes in wrong.

She's not interested in punishing the patient, so she backs off after her jab, heading to the nurse's desk.

"So, you're an ER doc?" the one night stand broaches, leaning next to her at the nurse's station as she writes up the paperwork.

"ER rotation," she corrects, curious that he's approached her.

He nods like that even slightly interests him. "You've got a patient you're taking up for a MRI, right? I could do it for you."

"Oh, could you," she deadpans.

"Or I could do something for you in return," he easily slides into a new tactic, body language shifting with it.

She side-eyes him, wondering if he's actually flirting with her. "You slept with my sister."

"A one-off," he excuses. "She's hot, but prissy."

It's not like she expected it to be a love match, but still.

"Does she know it was a one off?"

"Yeah," he drawls, like she's making too much out of it. "Shouldn't you know that? You live together."

She rolls her eyes, turning back to her chart. He's still a prickly cactus even when he wants something.

The resident who did the central line on her patient approaches the intern at her side. "Karev, you're on scut for the rest of the day. When you see Parvesh, tell him I need him to check on my pre-ops. I have ten new admittings since this morning."

"Yes, sir," Karev agrees, standing straight, and losing the attitude. Even his voice changes. "Maybe I can scrub in on your bowel resection this afternoon?"

"If you need more work, you can help Parvesh or head to the skills lab." He catches Mari next to Karev, and decides to add, "unless you rather be her intern. If you can keep up with the glacial pace."

She peeks over Karev's stiff form. "I may be the slowest gun in the West, but at least I know where to aim." She squints one eye, and shoots him with her finger-gun. Pow.

He sneers at her. She pretends to demur, as if he smiled instead, glad to see him walk away.

Karev slackens back against the counter with a short, quiet sigh.

"I haven't done an MRI here yet, you?"

"Uh, no, I haven't." And he scrambles up, realizing what she's offering.

Will, the technician, offers her a free MRI for a date. Karev, now Alex, says "dude" with a shake of his head, while she says, "wow...that's so..."


It's like he doesn't realize she'll blackmail him later, when she needs a patient to be pushed up the list for an MRI.

"So, how's your internship treating you?" she asks Alex.

He shrugs tightly like there's a wealth of frustration under his shoulders. "First week was mostly post-ops. Now I'm doing scut and telling idiots to stop coming into the ER. He has us doing his rounds, and S.O.A.P. notes. I haven't even seen the OR."

"Residents are like that," Will nods sagely. "They disappear unless they need you to do their work for them. Focus on getting the attendings to like you."

Mari swirls back and forth in her chair as the MRI starts up, and Will states in a radio-esque voice. "Alright, Mr. Peters, you're about to hear a lot of banging and clacking like you're in a tunnel with a train passing through..."

"He's not wrong," she whispers to Alex.

"Yeah," he agrees, watching the monitor.

Reluctantly, she learns why the surgical residents hate the ER interns.

When someone has a spongy tongue, they ask for an oncology consult. Neck pain, neuro. Heart burn, cardio. Diarrhea, they think it's colitis.

She stops an intern from calling ortho when someone comes in with a dislocated shoulder.

The ER interns, likewise, complain about the surgical interns stealing their interesting cases, not letting them suture, likening them to vultures.

After watching a fight break out like they were two young recruits from rival gangs, Dr. Greene, the other ER attending she's gotten to know, sends them out to wait in the ambulance bay. They take off at a run, bred for competition.

"Is an ambulance coming in?"

He shrugs, polishing his glasses sedately. "Eventually."

She works the ER for two weeks and asks for two consults.

One, is a guy who pulled out his own tooth with dirty pliers. He comes into the ER with the pliers still in hand, the tooth still gripped by the pliers' teeth, and his mouth still bleeding. He's fevered, fighting an infection that pre-dates the extraction, and is crying because he just wanted the pain to stop, and didn't have insurance.

She takes the pliers from him first, calls ortho, and deals with the pain and antibiotics. After that she debates back and forth on what to do, but figures it can't hurt to try a version of what she did with House.

She prepares her pitch to the first dental school that's willing to listen and leans into it.

"Dr. Davidson, the ortho consult just came in. I'm going to ask for her go ahead first. If she agrees do you think you can square it on your end?"

"I'll see what I can do and get back to you on this number Dr. Grey," the oral surgeon answers very properly, not yet committing.

"On behalf of Mr. Bridges, thank you for your consideration, Dr. Davidson. I hope to hear from you within the next hour so we can see how we can help him."

She waits for him to hangup first, before snapping her phone shut.

"Hey," she greets the other resident, idly wondering what year she's in, as she looks nervous.

"Uh, hey, I'm Dr. Torres," she offers her hand. "I'm the ortho consult?"

"Dr. Grey," she returns politely, handling over the baggy without explanation.

Dr. Torres blinks at the transition, instead of the expected handshake, but otherwise rolls with it.

"Wow," she looks it over like a paleontologist with a new bone. "Someone took out a part of their jawbone with a pair of pliers?"

"Yeah. Bad abscess. Lot of pain. A pair of pliers and a bottle of whiskey," she gestures to the consequences.

"So, what's the go ahead you want me to give?" she tilts her head at her. She's spunky, bright-eyed and curious. She has the weight to her that looks like someone who knows how to fight and snap bones into place.

"I called the nearest dental school, asked if they were willing to take Mr. Bridges on as an emergency case for their students. Show the dangers and realities of oral surgery."

"Uh-huh," she raised her thin eyebrows, prompting.

She crosses her arms over her chest. "He did this because he was frightened at the cost. I figured this wasn't interesting enough for the hospital's pro bono fund, but it might be for the dental school."

Dr. Torres rocks back on her heels, humming softly. "Yeah. Maybe." She relieves Mari by saying "I get it," with a small grin. "So, you want to know if it's safe to discharge him?"

"Yep," she agrees. "Assuming they call back with good news." She wiggles her phone.

"Yeah," Dr. Torres huffs a laugh. "I heard how you worded that. I guess we'll see how it works out for you."

She seems bemused. It's far from the cajoling Mari expected to employ.

"Dr. Torres," she says seriously, "this might be the beginning of a beautiful friendship."

Dr. Torres laughs, half self-consciously but half-delighted.

The elevator parts. And there's Derek.

His easy slouch over his cell phone gives way to a smile when he sees her. A smile that shines in his eyes.

She hesitates, like the moment isn't real, with him in there, alone, her waiting to enter, alone.

"Have you bought a motorcycle yet?" he asks, as she steps forward.

She shakes her head, pressing her lips together as she watches the doors close. Shutting them in together.

He's amused at her front of inattention.

"I caught my first trout yesterday."


"Not just that, but…" he stops, dragging the suspense "I found out Seattle has ferry boats."

"Uh-huh," she agrees, biting her smile at his enthusiasm.

"I didn't know about the ferry boats. I guess I'm going to have to like it here. I didn't think I would like it here."

Her brows furrow as she turns to him, wondering why he moved here if he didn't expect to like it.

He shrugs, sliding his phone back into his coat pocket. "I'm from Manhattan, I'm genetically engineered to dislike everywhere that isn't Manhattan."

"Oh? Is that why people don't like New Yorkers?" she teases.

He drops his eyes to her smile. If she thought his interest might have waned in the two weeks they haven't seen each other, well.

"No. It's because they're jealous."

She chuckles, hands stuffed deep into her coat pockets as she keeps her focus on the shining yellow numbers as the elevator descends.

"So where are you headed? Lunch? Lunch date?" he queries.

She smiles, tilting her neck. "Interesting lead in from talking about jealousy to asking if I have a date."

"Oh, no," he denies. "I don't get jealous."

"Must be the New Yorker in you," she quips.

The elevator dings. He gestures for her to walk out first while others are getting on, as they shuffle off together.

"So, this lunch date…" he prompts.

I don't get jealous, she thinks, replaying his words.

"Is with about five people," she shrugs, meeting his eyes meaningfully, enunciating each word. "One after the other."

He narrows his eyes, pressing down a smile, seeing what she's doing.

"I'm interviewing roommates," she confesses, still pretending like it's scandalous.

"Huh. speed dating, for roommates. Maybe I should throw my hat in the ring."

She laughs. She can't picture Derek sharing a house with at least three other people. She thinks he'd prefer something quieter, out of the suburb, near water.

"Not even five minutes?" he teases.

"Five minutes isn't enough for me."

She watches the impact of her words, the way his blue eyes turn heady.

She flushes, spinning on her heel, and stopping herself from saying another word, while he stares after her, shaking off his daze.

George and Izzie are begging Meredith to let them move in. In Izzie's case, by rattling off her virtues as a roommate, and with George lamenting "my Mom irons my scrubs, Meredith."

"I've already told you," Meredith sighs, pushing at her salad "Mari picks one and I pick one. It wouldn't be fair if I said yes to one of you and not the other, right?"

"Plus," Cristina adds "why would she want you? She already spends 100 hours a week in your company. Why would she take you home with her? Where you'd always be there."

Meredith points her fork at Cristina in agreement.

Izzie and George ignore them, turning to each other. "So, one of us should approach the other Grey."

"You do it."

"Pfft. No, you. She already gave you advice, remember? And she was right. Probably. Tell her she was right. People like hearing that."

"She's kind of intimidating," George confesses.

"Hey," Meredith interrupts. "She isn't intimidating. I'm intimidating."

The other three interns look at her, her slight frown and skinny fists. They look at each other. "Sure, Mer," Izzie agrees.

"Honestly, you two don't seem alike at all," Cristina frowns. "You're kind of, dark and frowny. She's like…. Tinkerbell. You've seen her walk, right? She dances," she scrunches up her face in disgust.

Izzie nods thoughtfully. "Yeah, Meredith, you kind of swagger. Like a pirate."

Meredith frowns, not sure how to take that.

"Pirates are cool," George defends, a little too earnestly.

Meredith scrunches her nose, oblivious.

Meredith has her flyer. Mari asked people to ask people if they knew anyone interested.

Somehow, by interviewing near each other, Meredith finds a way to dismiss all of them.

That's when Meredith's fellow interns attack.

George says in one breath, "The Pointer Sisters. The Go-Gos. The Bangles."

The blonde she labeled naïve and optimistic on that first day, turns to Mari. "Night owl, early bird, I can be whatever, and I'm out like a light-"

"I was in first grade, but I've always been very mature for my age-"

"I usually tuck my shoes under the coffee table-"

"The Godfather? But I like all kinds of-"

"I can bake!"

Mari holds up her palm to forestall the barrage. "What is happening?"

"We want to move in," the other blonde pleads "and we're very good roommates."

Meredith shakes her head. "Guys, you haven't thought this through."

Mari watches Meredith's expression, wondering if she means it. She was pretty arbitrary to the applicants' answers. Mari wanted to rule out people who were likely to be inconsiderate, annoyed at changing sleep schedules, or passive aggressive. Meredith seemed like she just wanted them to fail. Best girl band of the 80's? Where were you when the Challenger exploded?

"Maybe you should think about it," she directs to the two other interns, sort of siding with Meredith. "You're in a competitive program, you'll fight. All that drama will follow you home, and vice versa."

", if we think about it, you'll pick one of us?" George questions, both of their eyes glued to her.

She raises her brows in amusement. Obviously that advice was in one ear and out the other. "Well…" she baits them, tapping her chin. "You seem to be a package deal, so…if Meredith says yes to one of you, then I'll 'pick' the other one."

The blonde wraps her arms around George and gives a bouncing hug.

"Thanks for that," Meredith groans, dropping her head in her hands.

Mari is the picture of ambivalent.

A guy comes in with palpitations, dizziness, and hiccups. He isn't in the right state to give a history, but when she examines his chest, she calls for cardio.

It's a malfunctioning pacemaker, and Alex successfully smooches up to Dr. Chang, who lets him scrub in with him.

He puffs up, looking at her over his shoulder with a smug, victorious grin. She puckers her lips to imitate his ass kissing, and he pretends to catch the kiss she did not blow him. She chuckles, secretly glad for his good mood.

The rumor about Alex's resident is he's bitter that the Head of Plastics is currently helping cleft palate children in Central America. And he hates everything else. And he hates having interns, except to give them his work.

Alex says it's just hazing. Something to put up with, with enough yes and no and right away sirs. She thinks it's deeper than that, that Jeremy's disdain and ill-treatment is going to grow the more dissatisfied he is with his career. That he's going to take it out on the people beneath him.

Alex uses the right words and the right tone when Jeremy is in a mood, but something about his straight back, his defiant brown eyes, and his refusal to be cowed, makes Jeremy seek him out more than his other interns.

So, she steals Alex, when she can.

She teaches him central lines, and LPs, and supervises his CT's, shows him what to look for. A shifty guy comes in with a laceration on his arm from broken glass that she's pretty sure came from breaking into a house. When he complains about being a test dummy for a bunch of interns, she reminds him that doctors are supposed to report suspected crimes to the police and teaches Alex two different stitches on his cooperating arm. He absorbs everything, and his presence helps remind her to treat the emergencies only, as she slips information of the better clinics and pharmacies in their discharge forms.

More than once she sees the Chief in her peripheral. Had almost been caught, sneaking the pliers-jawbone guy out.

This time though, when Jeremy is building up to a tear because Alex was scrubbed in Dr. Ramsey's Angioplasty instead of doing Jeremy's rounds, never mind that Jeremy hadn't talked or paged him in two days, and she sees the Chief around the other corner, she thinks: screw Alex's way.

Alex didn't want her help with Jeremy. He didn't want her 'getting in the way'. He didn't want her 'girlish defense'. She tries to tell him standing firm without fighting back, is only going to embolden Jeremy. There's no winning when dealing with abuse, just lesser hits. He shoots back with his own observation, that she knows how to handle a drunk, how to stay clear, keep her guard up to sudden mood swings. How she did the same thing when he met her, waking up Meredith.

Whatever is under the surface of Alex Karev, abuse isn't an abstract to him.

"Wait, Chief," she catches him, steps around the right corner, hopes that Jeremy is vicious enough, hopes the Chief sees it as a problem.

"Your job is to do what I tell you," Jeremy sneers, the vitriol like a thick, slimy oil. "You don't see an OR unless I tell you you can. You don't piss unless I give you permission. And for the next 48 hours, I'm going to page you every thirty minutes. You're going to handle my pre-ops, my post-ops by yourself-"

The Chief steps around the corner, his voice as even-keeled as tempered steel.

"So, what did the Chief say?" she shares her lunch with Alex, having found a spot in the little garden at the back of the hospital in her exploration. Alex prefers to be open in seclusion, in quiet, on his own terms.

He rolls his eyes at her, but he can't hide that he's more relaxed.

"He's taking Jeremy's interns away from him, sending us out to the other residents. We get to pick who we want."

That was better than she hoped for. She was glad it wasn't just a reprimand.

"Who's the best?" she prompts him.

He shrugs, kicking out at pebble. "I don't know. Patel's published. I heard Disher lets his interns assist if they answer everything right in pre-rounds. The Nazi does the most surgeries."

"Meredith's group." She tries to picture it, wondering if he'd fit. "You know, two of them might actually become my roommates?"

"Yeah, I saw the flyer. I was going to ask you about that, but I already signed a six-month lease to my crappy apartment."

She snorts. "Sorry," she says at his look, "I'm just picturing Meredith's face."

He smirks. "Yeah, whatever."

She stretches her toes, feeling the slight breeze through the trees touch her face.

"Thanks, by the way," he murmurs, without looking at her. "For what we're pretending you didn't do."

She pauses in her stretch, a little guilty as she peeks over at him. He had told her to leave it alone. That he was handling it.

He raises his brow slowly, mouth wry.

She shuffles over to bump her shoulder against his.

When the rape victim comes in, the injuries are severe enough she's immediately declared surgical. She evaluates her GCS, notes the dilated right pupil, while Phyllis listens to her chest, declaring unequal breath sounds.

There's a congregate growing outside the room, or interns and residents and nurses, while they cut her clothes to continue the examination, and Mari steels herself to check if she was violated. Shirley uses her body to block the window, holding up the sheet so Mari can see better, and give the girl, Allison, every privacy they can.

She shakes her head in answer to everyone's question. The room almost collectively sighs with relief.

The surgeon she hands Allison off to for x-ray, is Meredith.

Meredith looks dazed in her discomfort, staring at Allison's clothes being put into bags, and Mari bites her tongue instead of asking if she can handle it. This is Meredith's arena too.

"Alright," Meredith gathers herself "let's go."

"I hear my sister has a pen-is," she sings, as she finds Meredith looking mostly blank, sitting under the windows of the front entrance.

"Yeah," she jokes blandly, in her tired, gravelly voice, the cooler sitting in its own seat beside her "it's a conversation starter."

She catalogues Meredith's mood, taking a seat near her, sitting on the wooden armrest, with her feet on the cushion. "What's up?"

Meredith is silent for a long moment, looking at her hands.

"She was wearing my shoes. Allison," she pauses, tangled in something. "She just moved here, and she doesn't have anyone. No one who knows her knows what happened to her. If something happened to," she pauses, twisting her mouth "would we even know that the other needed help? We're not even each other's emergency contacts. No one would know to call."

She doesn't know what to say. It's the first time Meredith has ever, ever, acknowledged that they aren't close, that she'd even like to be.

"Well….who is your emergency contact?" she asks tentatively.

Meredith slumps her shoulders. "It was Mom. And then…" she doesn't need to explain why that changed. "I changed it to Sadie and left it. Do you remember her?"

"The friend that was in love with you? Yeah." Not that she particularly liked Sadie.

Meredith whips her blue-green eyes to her, "she wasn't in love with me."

"Yeah, okay," she placates her, not buying it. Honestly, she thought that was what their falling out was about, that Sadie made a move and was rebuffed, or that she wanted more than Meredith wanted to give.

Meredith crosses her arms, blowing the hair out of her eyes. It's still pulled back in a lazy bun, but she's noticed Meredith has updated her conditioner to something that gives it a nice shine. She'd compliment it, if Meredith didn't react to unprompted compliments with wariness.

"So, who's yours?" she returns, still grumpily.

"James Wilson. He's the Head of Oncology at Princeton-Plainsboro."

"Oh," Meredith frowns, probably because she doesn't know who that is, hadn't expected a stranger.

Mari takes a deep breath, preparing herself to offer to change it to Meredith, when Cristina knocks on the glass behind her, and Meredith greets her like she's relieved for the interruption.

Mari swallows.

Before she can leave, the commotion outside alerts them that the rapist has driven to the front steps of the hospital, staggering with pooling blood, as he passes out before them. Mari starts at a run, moving to roll him over with Justin, one of the surgical residents, while Cristina and Meredith watch in mute stillness.

"What are the odds he'd show up at the same hospital?" Justin grunts as enough help arrives that they can get him on a gurney.

"Maybe when you lose the tip of your penis, it works like a homing beacon," she suggests, realizing that she's surrounded by all men as they collectively cringe.

"That's going to give me nightmares, Grey."

Derek is camped out outside Allison's ICU room. Has been, off and on, since her surgery, when the 72-hour window to see if she'll wake up, started ticking down.

She saw him briefly to see how the surgery went, but otherwise stayed focused on the ER until her shift is over.

Derek isn't like Meredith, who she can check up on in a spare five minutes as they split off in separate directions. She's used to short bursts with Meredith. Derek makes her never want to leave.

"Tea?" she offers, finding him exactly where she expected.

He blinks, bleary with sleepiness, as if she's a sudden mirage. He brushes his fingers against hers as he takes the steaming cup, looking at her burgundy blouse, and her fitted jeans, and realizing that she's delayed leaving to visit him, and his face softens. "Thank you," he says quietly, as if not to disturb Allison.

"Any change?"

He shakes his head. The heart monitor quietly beeps.

"Do you remember me telling you I had four sisters?"

She nods.

"They're…" he pauses, thinking of his sisters "a hassle. Very girly. Tons of kids. Loud. Annoying the way sisters can be." She raises her brow at that. He smiles slightly. "I'd want them here. If I was in a coma. They'd be here. Having no one?" He shakes his head. "I can't imagine that."

She bites at the corner of her lip, looking at Allison's still figure. "It's not always a bad thing, being alone. You get used to it. It's just on the really bad days when you realize what's missing."

He watches her softly.

She takes a small step closer, until her thighs are against the arm of his chair. She can hear the machines. Hear his quiet breaths as she slides her hand along his shoulder, feather-light, before sliding her fingertips, warm from holding the tea, up the back of his neck, into his curls. He shivers, his head tilting back, his eyes closed as she cards through his curls the way she's always wanted someone to do for her. To sooth.

"Do you wish you were still in New York?" she murmurs, wondering if he, like Meredith, sees something similar in Allison. If he feels a sympathetic loneliness.

He blinks his eyes open, staring up at the ceiling, looks like he's considering the question deeply.


She leans down, slow to take in the curve of his throat, the colors in his eyes, his long, dark lashes. His fingertips slide against the curve of her cheek as she brushes the tip of his nose to hers. He waits for her, with shared breath, as she delicately presses her lips to his.

It's different, from kissing him in the rain, held against him. Quiet, and soft, and resonating.

Meredith drops beside her, on the top of the comforter, while the morning sun is streaking through the window.

It's the first time she's been in Mari's room. The first time she's done this in…she tries to think back, remembering the Boston house, which is sold now. Where Mari had spent more time in, growing up, then anywhere else. What she thought Mom meant, when she said she wanted to go home.

"I heard Allison woke up," Meredith tells her, when Mari moves slightly, her eyes still closed and turned to the pillow.

I know, she almost says. Because Derek called her after it happened, as she was slipping into her covers.

I'm glad, she had said, quietly and meaning it, feeling like the possibility was tangible. That it had the power to spread to Allison too.

"That's great," she mumbles to Meredith.

"Yeah," Meredith agrees, pausing. "I told Izzie and George they could move in."

"I figured."

Meredith shifts noisily to look at her. If she were to guess, she was leaning on her elbows to look down at her. "You knew I'd cave?"

Mari peeks, to see that she was right. "I knew you wouldn't be comfortable with strangers."

Meredith slumps back on the bed, chews on that for a long moment. Mari is starting to drift off again. "I realized that…life is messy," she declares. Mari tries to bury her head against the pillow. "I didn't tell you, but, there was this blue baby. I noticed he turned blue in the nursery, and the Peds intern said it was benign and the murmur would go away with age, and she could have been right, but…I went to Burke and it wasn't benign. It was a birth defect. A pulmonary atresia. I got to hold the clamp in surgery, and that was…" she sounds blissful. Happier than she has in a long time. Mari opens her eyes. Wondering if Meredith realizes this is the first time she's ever talked about surgery. Ever opened up about her interest in medicine since Mom told her she wouldn't cut it. "Burke warned me that if I ever tried it again, stealing a patient from another service, going to the parents behind a doctor's back, he would make my residency hell."

Mari chuckles, reaching over to pat Meredith's cheek, because she's too bundled to move much. Meredith blinks, like a cat is batting her face.

"You haven't even made it a month as an intern and you diagnosed someone else's patient, got a stuffy by-the-book attending to listen to you, and got to scrub in on the surgery? I'm proud of you."

Meredith is quiet for a moment, unmoving. "Seriously?" she murmurs, with an undercurrent she's trying to suppress.

Mari lifts her head, squinting at her. "Yes?" Meredith's expression doesn't change. "Meredith, you...saved that baby's life. Who cares what Burke said after the fact, when you were the only one who advocated? All you need to take from this is how to be sneakier about not letting your attending know you talked to the parents, or creating the right inroads with the other specialties for when it comes up again." She pauses, as Meredith is still watching her in a particular way she isn't used to. "You had a lot to lose, but you did it anyway, because you knew the worst thing wasn't you being reprimanded, it was that baby going undiagnosed. So, yeah...I'm proud of you. Obviously."

Meredith's blue-green eyes shimmer. She ducks her head, and hesitates, slowly like she's out of practice, as she reaches out to squeeze Mari through the comforter.

She moves away before Mari can return it, and instead of leaving, or letting the moment turn awkward, she wiggles down, more relaxed than she's been in years, just drifting off to sleep.

Notes: Dr. Cuddy from House. Homages to: MRI technician from Parks and Recs. Terry, the rollerblader, from Reno 911. Dr. Greene from E.R.

I've also put in other names, because Grey's does that thing where it makes it seem like there are only the five MAGIC interns and Bailey. And they take all of the cases that of course the Heads of Department are doing.

I didn't know where to put in Izzie stealing supplies to help out the Chinese lady she couldn't understand. Maybe I'll reference it later.