Author's Notes: Well, here we are. At the end. It's been a long, long journey. I want to thank everyone who's stayed with me despite the hiccups. I hope you got as much enjoyment out of reading this story as I did writing it. I want to extend a huge thank you to my beta readers. SSBR, who's been there from the beginning. SSSB, who joined late, but has been no less valuable. Finally, Super Special Last Minute Beta SSLMB. Without all your help and encouragement, this story never would have been completed.
Meredith stared through the latticework of the gazebo where she and Derek had gotten married, but no one in the moving sea of reception-goers stared back. The gazebo had been buried in ivy and floral arrangements, making its thick, foot-wide latticework slats into the walls of a lavender-scented fortress. She found the obscurement a comfort, because she could watch and listen and be while she tried to let her racing mind slow down a little.
Ellen's backyard was... Something. Sarah and Kathy had done a beautiful job with it.
Floating, twinkling lights dangled from invisible wires over the dance floor, and the four corner pillars holding up the tent stood up against the pinkish, purpling twilight sky, just like the tree trunks by the-- She saw a light wink on and off over the grass to her right. Another answered it. To the left. And another, and another, and another. Fireflies. She found the resemblance to that night on Derek's land uncanny, and Meredith wondered if Derek had confessed to his sisters about it.
Sarah and Kathy seemed to have a serious toehold into his psyche at times. And they were excellent interrogators. What would be the perfect way to set up the back yard for the wedding? He probably would have gushed about that night if they had tortured him with just the right sort of leverage. What would Meredith like? It has to be perfect for Meredith, you know.
Fireflies in the dark were perfect.
She closed her eyes and found the memory behind her eyelids, lambent, everlasting. Fireflies, a water-colored sunset, and a glittering, gurgling pond. She and Derek had made love for an hour under a canopy of stars and a pocked, pie-plate moon.
Her breath stopped as a familiar tightness rippled in her groin, deep within. Only a rush of laughter from the crowd compelled her back into the present, compelled her to remember that there were people. Stewart making jokes. Cristina drinking booze. People. All around. People who had watched her get married. Married! She scrunched her fingers tightly against the white latticework, forcing the ghost of Derek's palms running up her thighs to cease, beating down the whorl of sighs and touch and taste. People. All around. Ivy and lavender crinkled under her fingertips as she listened to the breeze and the movement of bodies.
People watching. It seemed like a weird thing to do when, theoretically, this was supposed to be her event. She was the people that people were supposed to be watching. Right? Except she felt ready to burst with the pent up sex and the I-really-did-it of it all, and if she watched, she felt less crazy, less like she'd hooked herself up to an intravenous line of espresso and overdosed. Less caffeinated was good. Less crazy was even better. So, she watched.
Izzie had dragged Alex onto the floor with her, but she stared mostly at George, who had paired off with Callie. Weird. Cristina and Burke and John and Kathy intermingled in Meredith's line of sight as they crossed paths. Meredith resisted a giggle at Cristina's bored expression. Cristina. Slow-dancing. It seemed wrong. She was more of a punk bouncer than anything else. Mike and Melinda Weller seemed to be cut off from their surroundings, staring into each other's eyes, as though they were buried in memories of their own wedding. Susan and Thatcher. Mark and Ellen. Sarah and... Wait.
It wasn't until Meredith's gaze drifted to Stewart that she frowned. He hopped up onto the platform on the deck where the disc jockey, who looked affronted to be sharing his space, sat behind a wall of speakers and electronics. Stewart grabbed the microphone in a brash act of thievery that left the disc jockey flailing, tapped it once, twice, three times, and cleared his throat. The people on the dance floor stuttered to slow halts and turned to look at him after the current tune screeched into silence, leaving only the whine of interference leaking from the speakers.
"Hello there, tonight," Stewart said in a low radio-announcer voice that just made it seem comical. Several people chuckled.
He paused to tip the lip of a beer can back to his lips. Beer. From a can. When they'd spent a ton of money on really good champagne. And crystal champagne flutes. Where had he gotten that?
"It seems we have a problem," he continued. "We're missing two very important people at this wedding."
Meredith bit her lip. Which two people were missing? She couldn't think of anyone not already on the dance floor except... Her fingers tightened. She'd lost sight of Derek. Where was--
Two arms slipped around her waist. Her heart jackhammered and she resisted the urge to shriek as a low, breathy voice whispered next to her ear, "I get it. This is payback."
"Payback?" she managed. She turned to find Derek smirking at her. How did you find me, wanted to tumble out of her mouth, but it halted with his look.
I know you, his sparkling eyes said. He winked. Winked! Which tossed her heart into overdrive. Hello, caffeine. Everything she'd worked to push down roared back, and she bit her lip.
"You want me to slave over the buttons tonight," he said, his voice a low growl. "Because of the garter toss." I know you. I know you. I know you.
"Derek and Meredith?" Stewart said across the crowd. "Anyone seen our two blissful trouble-makers anywhere?"
She quirked an eyebrow, settling into Derek's embrace. "The garter toss?"
His gaze wandered down. "You almost kicked me when I slipped my finger past--"
"Yeah," she said. "I mean no, it's just…"
She'd disappeared. She'd disappeared after their first dance together, after watching him with his mother, after all the special spotlight dances, barely breathing, relaxed, quiet, ready. She'd disappeared to change into the white sun dress she'd bought. The one she had intended to wear after the wedding while they were on the way to the hotel, because it was a bit more comfortable. Easy to get into and out of. Easier to freaking pee in. But she'd gotten into the bedroom to change, crazy caffeine had hit, and she hadn't been able to do it. Hadn't been able to hold still so Izzie could start picking her way through the buttons.
Meredith had stared in the mirror, at the gown she was only going to wear once in her life, on the day that would only happen once in her life, and she hadn't been able to bring herself to take it off. Not then. The sun dress lay unused on the guest room bed, and she still wore her wedding dress, but it certainly hadn't been to torment him.
Derek crushed her up against him, breathing softly into her hair near her ear. "It's okay, Mere. I know. We made it. And I get that you want to keep your princess feeling." I know you. I know you. "I get… Just…"
She petted the lapel of his tuxedo. He smelled so nice. She wanted to stand there forever. "What, Derek?"
"I don't think you'll ever lose it, to me."
Her breath halted, and she stepped back to peer at him. He had a quirky grin on his face, though his stare pierced her more sharply than a scalpel. Like he knew he'd said something incredibly corny but he also knew he meant it from the beginnings of each syllable to the wispy ends of them, and so he'd leave it there, hanging in the air. Joke fodder for anyone who happened across it. Because he didn't care if it was corny as long as he said it, and she heard it.
"I love you," she said. "I really, really do."
"All right," Stewart said. "I see drastic measures will be necessary. Behind the bench Knicks tickets to whoever can locate our perfect pair. It'll be very hard for them to drive off into the sunset for their honeymoon if they can't be located."
"I love you, too," Derek said as he pulled her with him into the shadow of one of the gazebo pillars. Flowers and latticework and frilly curtain things blocked them from the view of distant onlookers.
"Stewart's looking for us," she murmured. "He probably did something horrible and cute to our car, and he wants to see me cringe."
"Let them look," Derek replied, and she relaxed. Relaxed like a wave settling on the beach in his arms. Because she wanted to stay there for a moment. Stay there in this place where they'd gotten married. Stewart was the tide that would pull them back out into the crowd, but he hadn't found them yet, and they were safe. Safe to stop and breathe and... Just be.
Derek started to sway with her, and she laughed. "We already did the bride groom dance thing," she said.
He shrugged. "So what?"
She caught the mischievous look in his eyes only seconds before he dipped her backward.
When he'd found her standing alone in the gazebo still in her wedding dress, his heart had pinched with worry. Her soft fingers had been rubbing the wood of the gazebo almost... forlornly. What was wrong? What was-- But then she'd turned to face him, the worry had slipped away, and his heart had squeezed for an entirely different reason. Hopeful brightness had clouded her gaze. Not forlornness.
The moment. She'd been relishing the moment. A moment that involved him and only him, and she'd been relishing it. Something had closed his throat up, but he'd managed to punch his way through and form syllables.
Teasing. It seemed to be the only way he could communicate. Teasing. Because if he stopped finding humor in the situation, if he let himself pause, he'd think about that awe all centered on him from her, and thoughts wouldn't form coherently anymore.
It's on you. It's you. You. You can't mess this up.
"Can I convince you to lose the dress, now?" he murmured as he pulled her spindly body back to him. Her face flushed, and she breathed hard, just like she did after she finished, which brought him to a different kind of pause. Jesus.
He blinked as she laughed and swatted at his shoulder. "Derek…"
"Sorry, had to try," he said. His voice sounded rough and forced. Didn't it? "You're very lucky I'm a surgeon."
"And why is that?"
His palm wound its way up her spine, and he felt each little bump pass underneath his fingertips. Buttons. In his way. "If I wasn't, we'd never get to the sex tonight." Sex. Oh, god. How was he going to-- She wanted magic, and he could barely talk to her.
"It does take dexterity," she replied, nodding. "Up to the task, Der?"
He coughed, trying to clear his throat as she stared at him, mischief wavering in her crystalline, gray gaze. His heartbeat slowed as he stared at her. Calm. You can be okay. "How did you turn this around on me?" he asked.
The corner of her lip quirked. He wanted to kiss it, wanted to lick, wanted to do... things. Sex. Sex. Sex. Her fingers wound against his neck. He tried not to watch the world spinning around as they spun around because he knew it would make him dizzy. "Turn what around?" she said.
"I was consoling you, and now you're teasing me."
"How is talking about getting rid of my dress consoling me?"
He paused, and their dance came to a jarring halt. They breathed. "I'll be able to ravish you quicker that way," he said.
"You're a confident man," she replied. They started to spin again. "You sure you're not rusty?"
"Oh, I'm confident." Not. "I'm very confident." Not, not, not. "It's like riding a bike."
"A sexy bike."
He slid his hand down. Low, low, lower, past the buttons. Her muscles tightened, which only made him want to rut like a fool, right then. Except rutting? Not magic. Not hardly. He swallowed. "Bikes need not wear dresses with one-hundred twenty-two buttons, you know." He cleared his throat again.
She frowned, concern finally interrupting her sparkling glow. Damn it. "Derek…"
He shuddered. "I'm sorry, Mere. I'm so sorry." He panted as he rested his forehead against hers, tried to breathe her in. It always used to calm him down before, and now he just felt more wired. More wired and ready for... Sex! Not. Not ready. He couldn't make it perfect for her if he couldn't even speak. "I don't think I'm making this very magical for you. I feel so—"
She kissed him, and the gazebo wall hit his back with a crunch as she rubbed up against him. She pulled away, his lower lip caught between her teeth. Release. He couldn't move. "Horny?" she whispered. Kiss. "Aroused?" Kiss. "Lusty?"
He moaned. "You're not helping." This is what happened when he took two months off from sex. This. Oh, god. He couldn't make this perfect when he wanted to rip everything off right there and--
She sighed, pressing up against him. The gazebo latticework dug against his spine, but he didn't care. "It's… caffeine," she mumbled.
The world spun. "What?"
She grunted. Her palm waved as she tried to find the words, and he couldn't help but grin, even in the whirlwind of him, feeling, lusting. "The magic thing," she decided on. "It's happening, Derek. Don't worry. It wouldn't be us without the innuendo stuff, would it?"
He snorted, leaning forward. Lavender. Sprigs of it. Hanging from the ceiling of the gazebo. Buried in the depths of her perfume. Everywhere. He breathed. "I guess not."
"And we've tortured each other for two months," she said. "Why stop at the finish line?"
"This isn't really a finish line, Mere. This is…"
His world came to a stuttering halt when he heard her sniffle. "We really did make it didn't we?" she said, pausing to look at him. The sick, twisting relief in her eyes, her quivering lower lip, and the salty tears plopping against the lapel of his tuxedo drove everything out of his head except her. He could deal with his nerves later. He could deal with...
He shifted, reaching for her chin with his palm. He tilted her face toward him and stared at her. She blinked. "We did," she moaned. "Oh, god, we did. And now we're…" Married. Finished. Just starting. New. "We're…"
He kissed her, nudged into her with his nose, and then he took her. Ravished her exactly like he said he would. Nerves gone. For a moment. She needed this. They spun around. Twigs snapped as he shoved her into the gazebo wall and tilted her head back for more. His fingers raked her neck, and he felt her. His belt loosened. "Mmm," he purred as he took a breath. "We are. We did."
She panted. A zipper screamed. "Karma can kiss my princess ass," she growled.
"Mmm," he agreed, and he found himself babbling like a thesaurus. "Karma. Fate. Destiny." He couldn't think of anything else. She tasted like wine. Her tongue rubbed against his.
And then it all stopped.
"All right, you two, break it up," Stewart rumbled. "This is public indecency. And you're scheduled for your theatrical exit in five minutes. Exits don't involve coming. They involve going."
The world felt like it was falling out from under his feet. His head spun. He wanted her. Two hours, and they would be alone in a hotel room. Two hours. Nobody would interrupt them. And it would be all on him.
His nerves came rushing back as Meredith put herself back together. Perfect, except one strand of hair that refused to be swept up. Only her flush remained. Somehow, he managed to tuck his shirt in. Somehow, he found his zipper. Even if none of it made sense. He fumbled with his belt. Somehow, somehow, somehow.
"Excellent," Stewart said, his fingers forming a stiff, O.K. salute. "No one will know. Well... No one will know for sure."
"Oh, shut up," Meredith growled. "We were good for two freaking months."
"And I commend you," Stewart replied with a wink.
"We were!" she insisted.
"Yep," Stewart agreed as he clasped her shoulder with a big, splayed palm and directed her back toward the waiting crowd. He buckled slightly as Meredith shoved him with her hip, and then he cackled. "Okay, okay. But you'd think if you could make it two months, you could make it until you're in a hotel room, when bodice-ripping is an acceptable form of foreplay. I mean, really."
"We wanted magic, damn it," Meredith explained fruitlessly while Stewart laughed. "It's a thing."
"Magic," Derek muttered. "Right."
"A magic thing!"
"Uh huh," Stewart agreed. "You said it. Not me." The crowd converged around them in a riot of well-wishers and cheers as they returned to the tables and the dance floor and the music, and Derek could only blink at the sudden onslaught.
Meredith slipped up beside him, wrapping her arm around his waist. "I think we'll manage," she told Derek with a wink. He swallowed as the pounding nerves threatened to bury him.
"Definitely," he replied. Barely.
Magic. All on you.
Despite the way her svelte frame reached over five-foot-six, Meredith Grey was a tiny person. He could easily encircle her wrist with just his thumb and pinky. He had long since mapped the paths he could meander up her slender neck with his mouth, though the choices always seemed infinite when in the process. His palm formed a vast expanse when he splayed it against the small of her back and followed the curve of her spine. When he spooned against her after sex, or just because he wanted her warmth, he felt massive. Strong. Virile. She had never felt heavy to him. Never, except in the days following his surgery when a bluster of wind or a light shove would have cowed him. And yet, as he shuffled down the hallway of the Algonquin, buried in the waterfalls of her body over his arms, feeling the light scrunch of her willowy fingers toying with the hair at the nape of his neck, he felt like he held the world in his arms, and the weight stunned him.
"Are we there yet?" Meredith murmured into his neck. Her knee tightened over the crook of his elbow as she flexed her leg. Her syllables hit the spot where his chin connected to his neck like a wave, and he felt her nails dip underneath his shirt collar, sensual, ready, waiting, needing.
"We're there already," he said, locating his voice in the din. He felt hot and cold, still and moving.
A flash went off in his face. His fingers tightened, and the dim, narrow hallway seemed to darken further as the fuzzy blackness and sharp angry white smears faded. The camera whirred, and the concierge in front of them slowly rematerialized in the haze. Derek blinked, lips parted, feeling slightly slow, slightly high, slightly…
"Smile," said the concierge – a tall man dressed in a sharp uniform, smiling, endlessly smiling – and the flash went off again.
Squeaks. Behind him. Wheels. The leather of their suitcases moaned as the luggage dolly came to a stop. The door to their suite opened as if by magic. The bellhop that had barely been in Derek's peripheral awareness began unloading the luggage, but it was just that. Peripheral.
All Derek could think was that when he flexed his fingers, he felt it sitting there, wrapped around his left ring finger. It pressed against the bone whenever he squeezed her. It. The ring. Platinum. Never to part. Never to…
I mean it this time, he swore silently. And I'm not screwing it up. Not ever. He found himself seeking the soft silk of her hair against his cheek.
"You really don't have to carry me all the way," Meredith said. She looked up at him, eyes glittering. He caught the flicker of his face against her pupils. He looked shell-shocked, white, and shaky. Stunned. How did I manage to get here? But not in a bad way. Not in a… His heart palpitated.
"I do," he replied, swallowing at the sudden blockage in his throat. "First threshold. Tradition, you know."
Her white satin dress shimmered as she shifted in his arms. World-heavy. But light and fragile like a dandelion seed at the same time. Paradox after paradox hugged everything into a tight little ball, and he didn't quite think he could get much beyond the fact that her skin was millimeters away from him, but he wanted it closer, and there were at least one-hundred twenty-two pea-sized obstacles in his way. And the bell hop. And the concierge. And… everything. Everything. Before, he'd had words, but now, the adrenaline was settling, and everything else formed a halo around the fact that they were there. Now.
He swallowed, wanting to reach for the silk bow tie that should have been at his neck, but was dangling from his breast pocket instead. Meredith weighed his arms down enough to stop him, but the nervous desire continued, and the memory in his muscles wouldn't go away.
No matter what Derek did, he couldn't get his tie straight. "Do you have the rings?" he asked as he struggled with his fingers.
"Yeah," Mike Weller answered from somewhere behind him. But Derek barely heard the syllable, eclipsed as it was by a roar.
Was it fingers over the loop? Or under? Or how did that go again... He should know this. He had an MD. Smart people knew how to tie bow ties. Stupid, stupid, stupid.
A vice grip squeezed his shoulders and wrenched him away from worrying at the mirror. The reflected world slipped out of view, and the real world spun until he found himself staring at Mike's chiseled, clean-cut face.
Mike stared intently at Derek's tie. "Let me get this before you choke yourself," he said, the corners of his mouth twitching with a restrained, buried smile. His tongue slipped between his lips as he stared at his dire task.
Derek swallowed, felt his best man's fingers at his throat. Thanks, he should have said, but other words commandeered his mouth. "What about Quin? Are you sure you and Melinda are okay taking Quin for two weeks? He's very--"
The tie jerked, and Mike inched closer. His face blushed, and the smile he'd tried withhold earlier escaped into a grin. "Derek, we're fine. Mel loves dogs to pieces. You need to breathe, or you won't need the tie to choke yourself."
"I know. I know. It's just..."
"The whole hospital has a betting pool on you two," Mike informed him. "Not about any ifs. Just whens."
Derek frowned, turning back to the long body-length mirror. He sighed and watched the way his tuxedo settled around him. He looked thin and pale. Shaky. His right hand found his hair and wandered back along his scalp, pausing over the c-shaped indentation in his skull as he grimaced at himself. "None of them know me, Mike."
Mike stepped up behind him and met his eyes through the mirror. "I think I do."
Time seemed to stop and settle in that moment. Derek's breaths came soft and slow. Mike Weller had saved his life. There was a level of intimacy in that sort of connection that no other experience in life could duplicate. In that brief ticktock, ticktock of seconds, Derek found some peace, but then it slipped away again.
Meredith had done more than save his life. She'd saved his soul. He'd never been more certain of anything. Panic burbled out of his mouth, unrestrained. "What if I--"
"Derek," Mike bit out, cutting off the messup messupmessupmessup that had gotten stuck in Derek's head and on his lips. "Nothing will go wrong."
Success. He wanted. But... Notafailure.
Knocks thundered against the door. "Okay, we're approaching fashionably late," a familiar voice said. "What's going on?" Footsteps. Swish, swish, swish across the rug.
"Nerves," said Mike. "We just need a few more minutes."
A warm hand clapped against Derek's shoulder, and the runnels of tension cutting through his bones felt like they were carting ice water. "This again?" Mark said. The deep scent of his cologne eclipsed everything else as he looked over Derek's shoulder into the mirror, eyes sparkling with confident mirth. "She loved you without the hair, man. Of course, you'll work out."
You'll mess up. Messupmessupmessup.
Derek yanked at his tie. It wasn't straight. It just wasn't straight, and it needed to be. Why? Why-- He let out a shuddering breath that could have been a laugh, were he more relaxed. He shrugged away from Mark and peered at Mike in askance. "They're not betting on our divorce, are they?"
Mike grinned. "No," he said as he jarred Derek around again and yanked Derek's hands away from his neck. "Relax. Just due dates."
"I'm in for Meredith's fifth year of residency. April 15th," Mark said. He crossed his arms, and his frame puffed up. "I figure you'll be celebrating pretty hot and heavy when she finishes her fourth year and Webber selects her for chief resident in July." He shifted forward with a grunt as Mike's shoulder slammed against him.
"Due..." Derek stuttered as he forced his fidgety hands to stop and stay at his side. "Oh." Ticktock. Ticktock. Ticktock. "Do you have the rings?"
"Right," Mark said. "I'll go tell them we need a few more minutes. Fashionably late is out of style, anyway."
"Izzie, I'm not nervous," Meredith assured her friend, but Izzie continued to babble away as she wandered around Meredith in a frenetic circle, adjusting this curl, fixing that eyelash, smoothing this wrinkle, tilting that bow to the precisely correct angle. She'd taken the maid of honor job very seriously, and apparently felt it was her duty to keep Meredith calm and sedate on this most auspicious day. Except Meredith was already fine, so she resigned herself to watch Izzie buzz about like an upset bee.
"See," Izzie jabbered, "The thing you have to remember is that he loves you enough to move the world for you."
Meredith sighed. "Izzie..."
"I mean, if he were Superman? He probably would literally. Move. The world. And you already dealt with massive hospital trauma, so you know he's not going to die on you."
"Izzie, shut up," Cristina snapped. "She's not nervous." She lay behind them on a puffy, lacy love seat, sprawled with her knees over the arm, hands behind her head as she pondered the ceiling, un-ladylike and uncaring.
Meredith nodded, trying not to laugh at Izzie's confused look. "I'm not," Meredith said.
"She's not?" Izzie asked, looking at Cristina instead of Meredith, as if Meredith weren't a reliable source of information on her own feelings.
Cristina tilted her gaze to the pair of them and rolled her eyes. "Nope."
Izzie turned back to Meredith. "Why?" Izzie demanded.
"I don't know," Meredith said, shrugging. "I'm just... not. I should be. I really, really should be. I mean... Look at me. I'm..."
She was unable to stop her hand from tracing her outline in the mirror. Her hair had been pulled up into a modified French twist, tight blond curls spilling out the top like waterfall. Her gown hugged her body in a swath of simple elegance, its narrow flare at the floor emphasizing the hour-glass of her hips and breasts. A small line of diamonds circled her neck, courtesy of Susan.
Izzie sighed, her breath accompanied by a high-pitched sound of glee. "Gorgeous."
The couch squeaked as Cristina stood up and joined them at the mirror. "He'll like it," she said, her voice flat and begrudging.
Izzie shoved her.
"A lot," Cristina corrected.
"Love," Izzie enunciated, glaring at Cristina. "He'll love it."
Meredith grinned as her heart began to throb. Cristina sighed. "McMarried," Cristina said.
"Yeah. I'm not sure I believe it either," Meredith replied.
"She has a sick, twisted idea that she's found true love," Cristina explained. "Of course she's not nervous."
Izzie brushed a hand down Meredith's arm, smoothing more fabric as she resumed her buzz, buzz, buzzing routine.
"I really kind of think I have," Meredith whispered as she watched her body sway in the mirror. Except she really didn't think. She knew. She knew, and it felt...
A smile stretched her lips, blush crept across her cheeks, and her eyes started to water.
"Oh, my god," Izzie shrieked. "You can't cry! I spent an hour doing your eyes!"
Cristina gripped Meredith's shoulders and lay her head against her friend while Izzie ran for the touch-up kit. "Mere?"
Meredith sniffed. "What?"
"Sometimes, I envy you."
They were married.
Meredith Grey found herself stuck, rewinding and pausing on that thought enough that were it a cassette, she would have probably rubbed it down into dust by then. Married, married, married. It had a nice ring to it. A... ring. A round-and-round, dizzy sort of ring that didn't make any sense.
Her skin felt hot and alive with crackling energy, and she couldn't help but blink and giggle softly. Married. She twirled her index finger in the hair at the nape of his neck, let the ring on her fourth finger rub against his skin. His body tensed, his sure step skipped, and an adorable hitching moan got stuck against his Adam's apple like a clot of confectionery that he couldn't quite swallow.
A shiver of excitement squeezed her heart for a beat, two beats, three.
"What?" Derek murmured, his eyes widening as he collected himself.
People. There were still people there, she had to remind herself, blinking away the thrill and the constant amazement that she barely had to move to drive him crazy.
She grinned, peering over his shoulder at the bellhop just behind them. The concierge had departed with the camera, saying he'd have the pictures for them when they checked out, but the bellhop still remained. Waiting. Well, not exactly waiting. Still being productive, thus not entirely deserving of her annoyance. But still. Go away, she wanted to yell. I want to be alone with my husband.
Husband. Mine. How did that happen to someone like her? At this point, she didn't quite care. Husband. I-really-did-it.
The thought brought another face-splitting grin ripping across her face.
Bellhop Man winked as he placed the last suitcase in a stack on the luggage tray by the closet. Winked. As if he knew exactly what was going on here. As if he had a clue. "Just wondering when you're going to put me down," she said. "We are over the threshold, you know."
"Sir, ma'am, your bags are here. Please feel free to dial the front desk if you should need--" Bellhop Man droned, but Derek, from the looks of him, wasn't paying any attention. None at all. His gaze lingered on her face, his blue eyes hooded but unblinking. She watched his throat ripple as he swallowed again.
"Oh, I have plans," Derek said, his voice rough with... Something.
She rubbed his neck again. "Plans?"
Derek's eyes narrowed as he nodded. Her breath stopped as he absorbed the sight of her, and his gaze glazed with a hint of desperation. His fingers tightened, and she shifted. "Mmm," he decided. "Plans."
"Have a pleasant evening," Bellhop Man continued, his eyes were twinkling with a sort of mirth. He turned to leave. It wasn't until she caught sight of her purse sitting on top of the pile of suitcases that she realized. Stupid. Stupid honeymooners. Wanted to be alone, and all thought processes beyond, "Married! Woo!" had simply ceased. Oops. She forced herself to focus. Just for a moment.
"Plans that include tipping the bellhop?" Meredith prodded. Bellhop Man paused halfway into the hall, turned, and smiled politely. She flexed her knee, and her foot shifted in the air.
Derek blinked. A small breath escaped, almost like a cough, but not quite. "Oh," he said. "Yes. Forgot at check-in."
The room shifted as he tried to get at his wallet, and the world became a juggling act. She would have laughed. Would have. But he seemed almost unwilling to let her go for some reason, and that? That was the sort of thing she could relate to. She leaned into his shirt and sighed, inhaling the spicy scent of his aftershave.
Derek gave up after a few minutes of juggling, and he set her down on the side of the bed so gently it made the breath seize in her lungs as she sank against the mattress. She clutched at the bedspread, letting the harsh weave of the fabric crumple in her palms as she sat there. The ring on his finger flashed, or maybe she had imagined it. The flash. Not his finger. His palm slipped behind the curtain of his black tuxedo and came back with a thin black billfold in tow. Money crumpled as it exchanged hands.
"Thank you, sir," Bellhop Man said. She vaguely heard the door shut followed by distant thuds as he disappeared down the hallway.
A deep sound rumbled through Derek's chest. He pivoted on a foot, staring at her.
"Derek," she said. His name felt like silk in her throat. She resisted the urge to say it again and again and again. She would save that for later.
His body seemed to seize with tension, as though hearing his name had snapped him back to reality. The world moved as though it were caught in one of those stupid six-million-dollar-man moments, where everything slowed to a crawl in order to denote super speed. She'd never really understood that, why they couldn't have things just zip around like they were supposed to.
The rumble-roar of Derek clearing his throat yanked her into the room again in a blink, and she found herself staring at the sleek back of his tuxedo. The door creaked open as he fumbled with the knob. The plastic privacy tag didn't seem to want to grip the handle, but even after his struggle went silent, and he shut the door again, Derek didn't turn around for a long, stretched, fat moment. That was when her quiet ease began to falter. What was... What? Was she doing something wrong?
Her fingers tightened against the bedspread, and her gaze found its way to her shoes. Cute shoes. One-hundred-twenty-dollars worth of cute, strap-y little heeled things that could technically be considered instruments of torture. Another reason why she hadn't protested when he'd insisted on gifting her with a reprieve from gravity.
They'd been checking in, and then the world had tilted back with a whirl. She'd laughed at first. "What on earth are you doing?" she'd said with a throaty chuckle as the room had swayed. But he'd insisted, and she'd wilted under his determined look. He'd humored her about so many things, so she'd relented, and the further he'd carried her, the more she'd settled in to enjoy the ride against him.
The ride, ride... Riding. Naughty. Bad thoughts. But wasn't that the point?
This was their wedding night. Their wedding night. I-really-did-it!
In less than a breath, she wasn't sitting there staring at her shoes, wondering why something was weird. He'd throw her down on the bed like a romantic hero in the midst of a torrid affair. Kyrian. Now. The dress would come flying off despite his insistence that it would be difficult. She'd heave and pant like an appropriate, heavily-busted romantic heroine. And then everything would melt away. Oh, yes. Yes, yes, yes. She liked that plan. That was a good plan. She wondered when he'd--
Derek inhaled, and the sound of it ripped through the quiet room as though he were the gale, the thunder, and she were the woman caught out in the middle of the woods in the rain. He fiddled with the door handle, staring at it, and then he turned. His eyes narrowed as he stared at her, wantonly letting his gaze roam from her toes to her face, but then it all disappeared. He stood at the door, unmoving, but... She swore she could detect a fine shimmer of movement. His hair...
The top two buttons of his tuxedo shirt had come undone as the evening had worn on and he'd presumably wanted to relax a bit more. Just a hint of his alabaster chest peeked out. The ends of his bow tie dangled from the breast pocket of his jacket. His coiffed hair had fallen loose out of impeccable style. An unruly curl swept down over his forehead.
When she stared at it, she could see it. He shook.
Something inside her broke apart when she realized. And then nothing mattered. She wanted to shove him against the door and... go. Go, go, go. Because this was... They were married. They'd been good for two months. She was hungry. And she loved him.
"Well, there's a bed," he said, breaking the expanse of silence. His breath whuffed with quiet laughter. But he didn't move away from the door, and when she searched for the playful sparkle in his eyes, it wasn't there.
"Mmm," she purred, trying to imitate her favorite sound of his, trying to... It's okay, she wanted to say. It's okay. You're perfect to me. You're perfect, and you're mine, and I love you. Instead, she merely agreed with a nod and a sly, "And walls."
He ran his fingers through his hair and swallowed deeply. "Yeah," he said. His eyes had found the bed. He watched it. Stared.
"Derek," she said when he couldn't seem to tear his eyes away. "I love you."
His frame wilted against the door, and he took a deep breath. "I don't want to mess this up." His breath hitched. "I don't want to..."
She stood, stepped forward, and he stilled. The spicy scent of him wafted against the back of her throat. His body thumped against the back of the door. She slipped her palms against the cotton of his shirt, underneath his jacket, and slid them against his body. Shifting in her arms, he groaned. "Mere."
"You won't mess this up, Derek. If you mess this up, there's really no hope for me, is there?" she said.
He leaned over her shoulder and his nose found her neck. He breathed against her. His knee nudged hers, as if he were trying to spread her apart, trying to find her center. He rubbed against her, his breath becoming a low purr. "You're perfect, Mere," he assured her, as if the mere suggestion of her being without hope was an abomination. "You're... You can't..."
"If I'm perfect, I can't be wrong. Right?"
"I guess not." He chuckled. "Is this okay?"
She nodded. "This is okay, Derek."
She found him sprawled on a reclining lawn chair on the dock by the lake, but the chair had been turned away from the water toward a muddy bank of land on the left. His head had tilted to the side when he'd fallen asleep, as if he'd simply nodded off while staring absently at the reeds and the edge of the water and... Their house. Well, what would be their house.
A small plank of wood with a spray-painted orange stripe at the top sat embedded in the mud. The contractor had visited the day before with a pack of surveyors, and it had been weird. Weird but thrilling. Thrilling to discuss their final thoughts on the blueprints she and Derek had slaved over with the designer. Discussing final thoughts, all while she had swapped her stare between Derek and the big gray bird things that darted in and out of the reeds. Herons, she corrected herself. Derek had said they were herons.
She left him alone at first, instead choosing to dart past him and turn around, trying to frame what he'd been looking at in her mind. She felt a little silly holding out her fingers like a square in front of her, but it made the world seem... Quaint. Like a postcard from a small village on the water. Idyllic. Which brought her to the problem at hand. Where in the post-card-y idyllic world would she be in May? She couldn't repress the smile that tore across her face as she tiptoed up behind him.
"So, where do you want to go?" she asked as she leaned over his shoulder and slid her hands down his chest.
"Hmm," he purred as his eyes slid open. His palm found her chin, and he leaned up and kissed her throat. As he pulled away, his lips parted in a small yawn, and two blinks took the blear of sleep away, which relaxed his face into a pleased but awake grin. "Go?"
"On our honeymoon," she replied. "You said we could go anywhere, but you can't tell me you don't have any idea where you want to go. Don't you have a list? I'd always wanted to go to France. Except I already went, so, no great desire for French anymore, but--"
"Stop," he said with a laugh, reaching for her. She skipped back, only to have his other arm ensnare her. The world tilted as he tripped her over the handle of the chair, and she landed with a squeak in his lap. His stare grew dark with hunger. "You're just making me think about planes," he said.
"As in sex-on-a-plane, or grr, arggh, flying?"
His lip twitched, but otherwise he ignored her. "I really don't have any idea where we should go, Mere. We agreed on a beach."
"Beaches, and I..." His voice hitched. He coughed, his gaze growing darker still, and she felt the fingers of his left hand flex around her shoulder, more firm than a gentle touch, but not harsh. When he spoke again, the words were raw to their bones. "You were so hot against the wall in that--"
"How about Key West?" she blurted.
"Okay," he whispered as he dipped his head into the juncture of her shoulder and her neck. Something soft and wet touched her, something... tongue. He was licking--
"It's close!" she snapped as she flinched away. Hot. She looked up to find that the sun still wasn't out. A thick layer of gray hovered overhead, masking a bright circle to the west. Why was it so hot? Hot and-- "Close-ish," she corrected. The murky, earthy scent of the water and reeds and mud melted behind a curtain of his musk, and she resisted the urge to let him-- To-- "Close-ish to Connecticut, so you wouldn't be stuck in a plane forever," having sex! "and--"
A soft breath of his laughter laved her skin, and she sighed. Do not relax. Do not relax, she swore to herself. Do. Not. No! No relaxing! Be good!
Stop, he told himself. Stop, stop, stop. Be good. Despite the fact that she was curled in his lap, rubbing up against his--
"Mere, I can deal with a plane trip," Derek murmured. "Especially if--" You're there. Close. Closer. "I mean. If you want Italy or Greece or something half a day away, I'll live. Don't pick something on home soil just because--"
"And there's Hemingway's house," she babbled. Her tiny frame jerked restlessly against his, as if she wanted to move but was forcing herself to hold still and not aggravate the situation further. He closed his eyes and tried to relax as he listened to the cadence of her voice. "You could see all the polydactyl cats with seven toes, and see where the Bell Tolled for Whom, and all that stuff."
He snorted. "Cats."
"Yes, cats," she confirmed, as though they were discussing the fact that yes, the sky? Gray. He kept his eyes closed, but was unable to stop his index finger from tracing the line of her spine. She sighed and shifted. Closer. The lake fell away from his awareness, and he breathed, breathed, breathed. Lavender. Heartbeats. Just her.
"What?" she gasped.
He let his eyelids drift open, and found her soft, gray pupils inches from his own. She licked her lips, and the raw desire staring back at him made him fall apart. "I want you," he said. He pushed into her, jouncing her on the chair. She squeaked and swallowed. She had a long, pale, delicate throat that he wanted to ply. To touch. To...
A groan rumbled out of his chest as her face reddened, and she looked down.
"No sex!" she scolded his lap, as though his brain had nothing to do with it. "Stop! Focus." She sighed, agitated, and shifted in his lap again, which didn't help. At all. He slid his eyes shut and inhaled. One, two... Three. Thre-- no, four. Four, right? He found her frowning when he looked at her again. "Sorry," she whispered, and then her pitch rose into a rant. "But we should have figured this out ages ago. Why do we keep putting it off? I mean, honestly. Is it that hard to figure out what location in the world we want to spend having magic sex until we can't walk?"
Sex. Sex. Se--
"It's been two weeks since..." he managed.
Her fingers tightened against his neck. "And it's supposed to have been two months!" she snapped. He felt his hair getting pulled and tangled and twisted. Except it felt good. Not painful. She did that when they were making love. Or kissing. Or... He wanted more. And more. He took a deep, cleansing breath, but it didn't seem to help.
"I don't care where we go, Meredith," he snarled, unable to stop himself. "I just want you." Now. Two weeks without was torture. Pain. Awful. Needed it to end. "I want you on the beach, and in the bed, and on the balcony like I promised, and--"
His words drowned in her mouth when she kissed him.
"I want you, too," she whispered when she pulled away. Millimeters. Millimeters between him and more.
He stared. "Please."
"Derek, no," she said, her voice soft. Not scolding. She wanted this. She really... "No, we can't, we--"
"Key West is fine," he replied, leaning against her. She tasted good. Like strawberries. He breathed, nosing through her hair. He found the small spot behind her ear that was ticklish.
"Key West," she said. "Derek..."
No, his inner voice wailed. He wanted to touch her more. But... Magic. You're supposed to give her magic. On her wedding night. Stop. Stop it, now. Right now. You don't want to mess this wedding up before it even starts. Right?
"I'm stopping," he whispered.
Her nails traced runnels in his hair. "No, you're not."
"I'm not," he confessed.
"I'm not either." She sighed, and the soft touches ceased. Her frame hitched as she breathed deep. "On three."
"One, two, and then stop?" he murmured. "Or stop after..."
"After," she confessed as she leaned in for one last taste. "We get one extra... second."
"Mmm," he agreed as she collapsed into him, a whirlwind of touching and tasting. He let the seconds pass. Their counting was glacial.
When she pulled away, panting, he was okay. He was okay, because later? On their night? He would definitely give her magic.
The mattress sank with a vague moan as he sat down beside her, wordless, silent. She watched him through hooded gray eyes, and the silence stretched into infinity. She breathed. Her eyelids swept down, and the glitter of her pupils disappeared for a blink. Long, soft, brown, each eyelash seemed almost holy. Meredith. He wanted to kiss them. Meredith. He wanted to touch her.
Meredith... He wanted everything about her.
A nervous laugh rumbled out of his mouth as he stared at her. "Is it weird that I don't even know where to start?"
Her eyes ticked back and forth as she stared at him. Without speaking, she raised her palms and slid them against his chest. He sighed as the fabric of his shirt rustled, as the warmth of her skin seeped through the cotton. "It takes two," she said, and in those words he found a little comfort. Nerves loosened. "Maybe I should start."
Magic. Not all on you. Relax.
"Flip you for it?" he murmured, and she laughed. Laughed, and he melted more, though he couldn't stop his tone from wavering. How could she do this? How could this woman flatten out his nervous kinks with just a sound?
His heartbeat slowed, and then it started to thunder, for a different reason than nerves. For passion. For wanting. He licked his lips.
"You don't have to be nervous, Derek," Meredith said. "Wherever it is you think I should be right now, I'm there. I swear. We're there."
His body shook. "I didn't even have this much trouble on the damned plane."
For a moment, she stared. Her lip quivered, as if she didn't know what to do. Pity, perhaps. Meredith, confusion, and sex didn't work together. It had to be him. Anger welled in his soul. He wasn't supposed to mess this up. He wasn't supposed to-- "Meredith, I'm so sor--"
"Shut up," she snapped. Her eyes blazed. "Shut up, and kiss me, Derek."
He swallowed. "Yes, ma'am." He started awkwardly at first, awkward and unsure, and he sort of hated himself for it. He'd kissed people before. He'd kissed her before. He'd kissed her until she couldn't breathe or think or speak. Now, he fumbled. How was this magic? But then she moaned. Deep and low, like a cat, and it drew him in. Their hands fell into conflict. She wanted. He took. She took. He wanted. Clash. His fingers interweaved with hers. He and Meredith wavered together like a pair of dancers, arms outstretched.
"Kiss me again," she murmured, and he fell into rapture. He couldn't breathe. The world started to tumble, and he forgot about the room. The shivers racing through him changed gears. Thrill instead of nervous energy.
"Again," she said, the barest whisper, and he did.
When he paused to take a breath and reinvigorate, his body tensed and tightened, but not with nerves, with urge. Urge to feel the fire and go. Urge. Need. She stared at him, gaze deep and unblinking, her face flushed, desire thrumming in every feature.
He panted. "How do you always do this?"
Her gaze narrowed. "Magic," she replied, in a tone that thundered down his spine like a burst of octane.
"I love you," he said.
Her expression melted. "Definitely magic."
"Do I get this kind of treatment on the plane tomorrow?"
The flat of his hand found her cheek, and he rubbed his thumb along the ridge of her cheekbone. Soft. Silk. Supple. "Yes," she moaned. She tilted her head, and he raked his fingers back along her scalp. He got caught in bobby pins and barrettes and other things, and so he focused on those. One at a time. Watching in the silence as her hair came free and tumbled to her shoulders.
Ten minutes before, he would have thought this bumbling. Silly. But he focused past that. She liked his fingers in her hair. Twisting. Running. He could see it in her face, the way her breath slowed and skipped, the way her stare deepened. She liked it. Relax. Not all on you.
"I like your hair down," he said.
Her nose crinkled. "It's gross right now," she said. "It's a twisty block of hairspray."
He quirked a grin at her. "There's always the shower, you know." The hopeful look in her eyes gave him ideas. Thoughts. Gave him fuel. He burned. More.
"The bend-y thing?" she said.
He smirked. "Maybe."
Her smile turned into pouting as she took him down into another well of fire with a kiss. "But I love the bend-y thing," she sighed against his ear. "Only maybe?"
He panted, blinking, trying to keep purchase on himself. Then we'll do it, he wanted to say. Because she wanted, and she would get and she-- Had him wrapped around her little finger. A frustrated growl rattled in the space between them as he clawed for something. Magic. He was supposed to give her magic. He'd damned well give her magic, but not if she was going to trick him into--
"Beg me," he said.
"That was lacking."
"I suppose we can do that if you want," he murmured, fighting for nonchalance, but it wasn't working, wasn't working at all. He pushed her back. Her dress rustled. Her body squirmed underneath him, and he felt like he was going to explode. He couldn't stop himself from thrusting against her. His groin met with hers, painfully separated by pants and lace and other things. How was this magic? This wasn't--
She moaned as he palmed her throat and kissed her until he had to pull back to breathe. She moaned, her eyes rolled back, and the purest expression of bliss he'd ever seen swathed her features with a tension that looked almost like pain. Her body arched backward. Her fingers found the lapels of his jacket, and she clawed at him. The tension remained in her muscles, and her breathing lashed against him like a whip. Her expression screamed. Two months. Two months without you. The turmoil he'd tried to hide found its mirror image in her, except she wasn't hiding at all.
She bore her soul to him. She bore it, and all the things that came with it, beautiful or ugly, all for him.
In the space between her current pant and the next, a millisecond of silence wrapped around them like a cloak. "You're all mine," he managed, but the words barely made sense. It wasn't a command, or a haughty statement, or anything. It was a moment. Of realization.
"What?" she murmured. Her eyes opened. Her stare was glassy. She was already in her dream. With him. She smiled. Her fingers raked his sleeve and pulled him down, down, down. He let himself fall.
He recovered, barely. All his. Never to part. He smiled as the thrill and jubilation made him want to burst.
"Please," she said. "We're there, Derek. We're already there, and I want you."
"Yes," he nodded, finally able to agree. He'd found it. He'd found what he'd been looking for. He'd found it in her stare and in her breath and in her scent. He'd found it, and he wouldn't ever forget it.
Magic. He didn't feel like he'd been married before. He felt new.
"But first thing's first," he said as he took command, a thrill of triumph overwhelming him. Oh yes, he still had his game, and he would play. He sat up. He reached into his pocket, almost wanting to laugh at her anticipatory look of glee, only to watch it burst in a flutter of discombobulation as he continued, "I'm hiding my tie."
She burst into laughter as he crumpled up his bow tie with a clenched fist. "I'm not going to tie you up unless you ask me to," she said as she recovered.
"Really?" He quirked an eyebrow. "I don't trust you. You're very untrustworthy in this hotel."
"Are too!" he countered. "One-hundred percent of the nights we've spent here, I've been tied up."
"But that was just one!"
"Still, it's a bad record if I do say so myself," he said. "Mistress Meredith is a dangerous creature." Because she only has to ask. And I'm in pieces. I am glass. I am hers.
Her eyes glinted. "Is she?"
"Oh, yes," he said, relaxing into a low moan as her fingers slipped against the buttons of his dress shirt. "She definitely is." Pop went the first button. Pop went the second. Pop. Skin slid against skin, and his body screamed. Not fair. She was still in her dress. Take this back, his body roared.
"You know, you're the one who's bringing this up," she whispered against his ear. He leaned into her and met the slice of her teeth. Nibbling. Licking. "Are you sure you're not subliminally hinting?"
He panted. "Subliminally what?"
"Maybe you want to be tied up," she said.
"I don't think so."
"I do," she said. Her palms slid back against his shoulders, and his tuxedo jacket fell to the bed. How had she turned this around? How had she... "You're very passive aggressive," she continued. "You don't always say what you want. You imply it."
"I want you," he growled, leaning his weight against her. She tilted, and he meandered along her throat. Sucking. Teasing. Take this back. Take her. "Is that direct enough?" He captured her mouth, ripping away her replies as they became a twist and tangle of wanting in her throat. A soft moan rumbled against his teeth. She was his. She wasn't going to turn this around. Not yet.
She drew away, panting. Her lips, swollen, deep cherry, scrunched as she explored them with her tongue. Battlefield. Was he winning or losing, and did he care? Yes, yes, yes. She laughed, rubbing an index finger along his cheek. Her nail came away with flecks of dark lipstick. "You mean you want me to tie you up," she said, hamstringing any sort of hope he had that he'd flummoxed her into submission.
"Thank you, no," he said. "How will I touch you if I'm trussed up like a--"
She kissed him. Deep and full and lusty. Her fingers squirmed against his shirt, the bed came up to meet them as they tilted to the side, and then his shirt disappeared behind him. His suit jacket rubbed his bare shoulder, but he didn't care. Pieces. She took him to pieces. He moaned against the fullness of her lips. Moaned and surrendered. It definitely took two. The room blurred, only to snap back when he felt her inching toward his pocket.
He ripped his tie out of her grasp. "Nice try," he said.
"Bastard," she hissed.
"Nobody's touching anyone until we get you out of this dress."
"You mean you're not touching me."
"Men are so much easier to undress," she said as she ran a palm against the flat plane of his stomach. Up. Into the whorl of hair between his pectorals. He breathed, hitched, sighed. She licked her lips. "Just zippers, five buttons, and boom. Done."
He rolled onto his back, trying to recollect himself, but she came with him and rested atop him. "That's a good thing," he said, staring up at her. Her index finger idly stroked his bicep.
"Oh, yes," he whispered. Hands. He brought his palm up and brushed her cheek. Her skin had flushed, and she smelled like lavender and sweat, sex and his cologne, and it made him dizzy. Dizzy with want. Her hair twisted around his fingertips as he ran his palm against her head. "We finish faster. We need less..." Past her scalp. Down her neck. He hit the bump where the dress started, and he kept going, down her spine, softly over the ripples of each button and curve. "Unbuttoning."
She grinned. "Are you saying I'm a lot of work?"
"I wouldn't call this work."
"What would you call it?"
"Hmm." He breathed, tipping up to kiss her. "Delicious torture."
"You speak like a man who wants to be tied up."
"I might have a stroke if you do that." He needed.
"I would definitely stroke you."
"No," he growled, summoning all his will and strength, and he rolled them until he was there. In command. Owning the moment. Magic. He found the first set of buttons and gently popped them open. Only one-hundred twenty to go. His mind screamed. Everything screamed. "I want you," he panted. "I want you, now."
And the fire burned.
He found her in the residents' lounge. Residents'. He'd paused at the doorway, his fingers impulsively going to the plaque beside the door. Residents'. Meredith. He smiled before stepping across the threshold.
She sat at the far table by the refrigerator, engrossed by a pad of paper. She tapped the pen in her hand on the table while she twirled and twined a strand of sun-brightened hair around the index finger of her other hand. Twirl, twirl, twirl. Tap, tap, tap. Twirl tap. Twirl tap.
"You're staring," she growled without looking up as she lowered the pen to scratch something out. Viciously. Her lips drew into a grim line, and her eyes narrowed.
Frowning, he approached. "I'm not allowed to stare?"
He pulled a chair behind her, leaned in, and kissed her neck. "Not even at my fiancé?" he murmured.
"No." The pen slammed down on the table and she let loose a growling sound of disgust. "I can't. I can't do this, Der."
His heart stilled. For a vague moment, he wasn't sure what to say. She's finally running. She's finally going to freak out about all this and run. Calm. Stay calm. Don't flip out. You always flip out before— Talktalktalk. "Can't do what?" he said evenly.
She stared at him. Her skin reddened, the muscles in her jaw clenched. She was going to-- "This!" she snarled as her hands flailed at the offending sheet of paper. She ripped the top sheet and crumpled it into a pulp before he had a chance to see what was on it. Her tiny frame heaved, and even though her frustration unsettled him, he felt his tension unwinding, uncoiling. This wasn't about them. This was something work-related. He wanted to shake himself for being happy. Because she wasn't happy. And whatever this was, it mattered to her.
"Okay," he said, his voice low and soothing. He inched his chair forward and rubbed her back with the flat of his palm. "Maybe I can help you..." He reached around her shaking frame and took the crumpled paper from her fingers. She didn't resist. She didn't anything.
"They're stupid," she said.
Frowning, he smoothed the paper out on the table. "Nothing you do is stupid. You're brilliant Mere. I'm sure this is--" He stared. He blinked. He swallowed. The words on the sheet slapped him with reality. Hard. "Vows?"
Something inside of him quivered. Vows, you hopeless coward. She's not running. Not...
"Yes, I'm writing vows!" she snapped. "Okay? Vows. Stupid, stupid vows. I mean... How am I supposed to freaking fit..." She looked up at him, her eyes blazing. Her hand made a weird gesture. You. Me. "This..." You and me. "Into a paragraph?"
He swallowed again, speechless as she fumbled with her ring finger. The diamond engagement ring sparkled even in the dim light. "These aren't stupid," he offered, his voice barely serving as sound. He cleared his throat with an awkward rumble. "Mere," he said as he recovered. "These are not stupid."
He kissed her ear. "You know our song."
She blinked as it sank in. "You can read me anything," she said, echoing some of the lyrics.
She stared. For a long time, she didn't say anything, but as he watched, her frame loosened, and a little sigh fell from her lips. Her eyes plead with him. Can I ask you anything? Can I? I can, she decided, if her determined look were anything to go by. "What did you do?" she said. "With her?
He licked his lips. "A speech."
He smiled as he looked at the crumpled paper. "A really corny, sappy speech."
Her chair squeaked as she shoved it back and shifted. Her body leaned against him, ear to his chest. She sighed. "How did it go?" Her palm found his chest and the lapel of his lab coat. Her touch raced down the line of button holes. Warmth. "Is it weird that I want to know?"
"No," he said without pause. But it just made her feel worse. No pausing meant he was placating her. Right? Placating. He hadn't thought about it at all, and it was a freakish question. He didn't even take time to digest... anything. He didn't. There was a difference between being sure and being patronizing. Yes. Right. There was!
She was a freak. "It's weird. I knew it," she babbled, unable to stop the rush of words, the rush of saving face. The rush of back-pedaling. "I'm being weird... A weird..." A freaking freakish freak who was obsessed with whether she was lesser or just different. Different, a tiny voice screamed. He's proven to you over and over and over and over and over that you're just... different.
Not lesser. Not.
He sighed against her skin. His palms slipped down her arms and she found her fingers interlocking with his. It felt good. It didn't feel good. It did! She was being silly. "Meredith..." he said.
"I'm sorry," she said, vomited, babbled, bled. "It's just that this is new, and I don't know what I'm doing, and it's vows, Derek. I can't write vows. Bad poet, remember? Bad. Freaking. Poet."
The rumble in his throat vibrated against her ear. His palms squeezed, and he enveloped her. "I, Derek," he whispered in a low soothing rumble, "Take thee Meredith, to be my lawfully wedded wife."
"Well, I..." She stuttered, moaning as he nibbled at her ear. "Well, yeah."
"I told her she was the love of my life," he said.
Sinking. She'd never felt so small in his arms before. "Oh."
"I died," he told her hair. His soft breaths rustled through the loose strands. You did, she wanted to say. Oh, god, you really almost did. But then he continued, "On that night. When I found her with Mark." Different. Realm of thought. Entirely. She blinked. "You're not the love of my life," he told her. No hesitation. No placation. Certainty. "You're my heaven."
The analog clock on the wall ticked as she stared at him.
That... That was... That was just...
Burning heat lashed across her skin like a brushfire. She snorted. And then she giggled. His arms tightened around her.
"I'm sorry," she gasped. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry." Laugh. Chuckle. "It's just that that was..."
The chairs creaked. His body shifted. She couldn't see his face, couldn't help but wonder if she'd wounded him with her heartless response. But she couldn't help it, and her chest imploded, or at least it surely felt that way. She couldn't keep the air in. Couldn't. Inhale. Enough. Oxygen. She giggled as the room blurred with her tears and black, fuzzy spots formed in her vision.
This is what happens when you stress too much. Freak! Queen of England! No, freak! Her skin shivered. Vows shouldn't be stressful. And so she laughed. And it didn't stop. Not for a while.
He let her chortle on her own, but when she finally twisted her torso around to look at him, she found him red-faced, mirthful, eyes twinkling. "See?" he said, a rough cough rattling his frame. He wasn't laughing, but not because he didn't want to. "A really corny speech," he added as if he'd read her mind. He probably had. He was so good at that. Knowing all her nuances. Interpreting Meredith-speech, which, really, should have been classified as a language all on its own.
He gifted her with a rueful, apologetic grin. "Really corny speeches are all I'm capable of when it comes to love."
"Oh, shut up," she said with a giggle. "You know you could read the telephone book, and it would sound like sex."
His eyebrows raised. "Don't you mean it would sound sexy?"
"No," she countered. "I definitely mean it would sound like sex."
"I can't really imagine reading a phone book during sex."
"Whatever. You turn corny things into sex."
"I can't help it," he said with a wink that made her want to die. "It's a quality."
She tipped up and kissed him. Long and deep. "It so is," she growled.
He grinned. "If I read you your medical textbook, would you--"
"No," she snapped. "No sex, damn it. Remember?"
"Mmm," he purred, pouted, moaned. "But you said--"
"I say stupid things," she countered as she wiped her face with her palms and rewound. "All the time. And you know it." Be kind, rewind! "And it's not corny, Derek," she protested.
The look on his face was sheer astonishment, and his eyes clouded with a confused, well why were you laughing then? sort of haze. "Okay, well, that speech thing about heaven was really corny," she continued. "But it's not... The thing we're being corny about isn't corny... And I don't want..." Stupid, stupid, stupid freaking vows. "I guess we couldn't just stare at each other?"
He snorted. "That would be a little corny, Mere."
"Yeah," she agreed softly. "I guess it kind of would."
Derek had a look. The sex-with-Meredith look. His eyelids would droop a fraction over his sparkling irises, and the personality in his stare would blur as though someone had smudged it with an eraser. His features would tighten with hunger as he made clear three very important words.
Derek had had that wicked, barely-controlled look all evening, and she'd expected her dress to get ripped off the moment they'd crossed the hotel room threshold. She'd expected a war of skin against skin, touching, sliding, needing. And at the pinnacle, cradled between the remnants of a torn wedding dress and the weight of her sweaty, working husband (husband!), she'd expected bliss.
She'd expected a brushfire. Something fast, out of control, and vague in the sense that chaos was vague. Like an emergency in surgery. Thrilling. But blurred. Because there were always so many things going on that the specifics of where the scalpel was and what scrub cap the attending was wearing that day disappeared into the sheer act of doing, into the roar. Except this wasn't thrill. Or fear. Or the crunch of chaos. It was just... Rapture. Or... She didn't know. But it certainly wasn't fast, out of control, or in any way vague.
He'd overcome his nerves, but he hadn't returned to the want, mine, now persona she'd expected, not even close. Her wedding dress lay on the floor next to his discarded tuxedo in a white, frothy heap, each button neatly and carefully undone and open, not ripped or torn or popped off, and her? He'd splayed her underneath him and approached every inch of her skin as though it were the buttons he'd tried so very hard to maintain some civility with.
Delicate. Do not break.
"Okay?" his voice rumbled as he worshiped her from toe to hip, lips trailing over her skin.
"Mmm," she managed to moan, clutching at his hair. "Yes." Her breath hitched as he found the underside of her knee with a feather-light touch. "Stop asking me that." His fingers brushed her calf, and she flexed, inhaling the sharp, remnant scent of his aftershave. "I'm freaking fine." More than fine. She leaned back against the pillow, willing herself to focus – except he found the spot she loved, near her femoral artery, and he lick-- Focus. Foc-- Fuck. "Really fine," she squeaked, wanting to bemoan the fact that this simply wasn't fair.
He was too far gone to chuckle. The look in his eyes was deep and strained and blissful, very much the sex-with-Meredith look as he slid up against her and met her eyes. "Okay," he replied, his voice an octave lower than it should have been. His gaze roamed her face, irises ticking back and forth as he soaked in the sight of her.
Her breaths came in short, effort-ridden gasps that she couldn't quite muster the effort to control. Everything inside her body tightened more with every heartbeat, until she couldn't help but grind backward into the bed or forward into him or whatever might relieve the freaking pressure in her groin, in her abdomen, everywhere. He'd stroked and licked and teased her into the pain of the near-oblivion. She couldn't even bring herself to feel guilty for letting him do all the work because every time she formed a thought, he obliterated it. She was ready, and she was ready now. Her toes curled, gripping the sheets, and another whine escaped.
He gave her a dark, withering look and a haughty smile that said in a faux Super-Derek voice only her ecstasy-tripped mind could conjure, "My work here is done. Or is it only beginning?" Oh, she wanted. Wanted!
Revenge. More bliss. Whatever. Anything.
Fleeting down his shoulder, she found his hips. It had been months. Two months. And he had spent twenty minutes on torturous foreplay. Unbuttoning. Stupid dress. She splayed her fingers against his lower spine. He leaned to kiss her clavicle, and her fingers, barely relaxed before, tightened into a rake. Skin shifted as she clawed at him, wrapping her legs around his back. "For the freaking love of god, go," she growled.
He licked his lips and grinned. "I'm not quite sure this is magical yet."
Her lips peeled away from her teeth as she arched into him. Anything. She wanted. Let her go. "It's fucking magical. It is. Oh, Jesus, it freaking is. Please. Just fuck me."
His eyebrows raised. One of her hands found his hair – damp, just a bit sweaty -- and she clawed again, moaning. His body shuddered, and the vague look of being in control snapped and shattered, leaving his dark sex-with-Meredith stare behind.
And he took.
She gasped as he filled her with a single thrust. She squeezed around him, thrumming with shock and thrill, and then... She sighed. He bared his teeth in an animalistic expression, and feeling him inside her nourished one defining thought. I know you. I know you at your worst, your best, and all the spaces in between. Nobody else has seen you make the sex-with-Meredith face. It's mine.
Want. Mine. Now.
Everything else fell away from her.
His hot breaths gusted against her face as she watched his expression morph and change. He was losing whatever battle he was fought. A bluster of a bashful smile replaced the dark wanting for a moment. "Oh, this could be embarrassing," he offered breathlessly. His whole body shuddered.
He slid in and out once, and she was gone as the world started to tilt. The pressure released, and she jammed her body against his. Falling. She was. Oh, god. Freak-- She didn't know if she moaned or shrieked or said something sensical. It didn't matter. There was a roaring sound in her ears. Him, maybe. Maybe not. His torso ground into hers. He twitched and panted, and it was done.
He lay still, mostly on top of her, shifted slightly to keep the weight off, breathing. "Yeah," he croaked, a small grunt of air following that could have been a laugh if he'd expended more effort. "That could have gone better."
She twirled her fingers in his hair, smiling. "No, it really couldn't."
He grinned back at her, lecherous, dark. "We can go again," he said, panting. "I can go again. I can." He didn't move. "In a minute."
Time seemed to slow as she lay against him. She stroked his back idly, connecting his sixteen freckles with invisible lines. Like constellations. Want. Mine. Now. Nobody else's. She watched the ceiling, blissed out, spent. Two seconds of sex, and she was blissed out and spent. How did that happen?
"Magic," she whispered.
"Hmm?" he rumbled.
"Meredith Shepherd," Meredith whispered as she shuffled four nameplates back and forth. They flickered in the dull lighting of the residents' lounge. She sat at the small round table, the one that had been technically deemed the lunch table, and sighed. No lunch for Meredith Grey. Or was it Meredith Shepherd? Meredith Shepherd-Grey? Meredith Grey-Shepherd? Madame Anonymous? Jane Doe? She didn't know.
She hadn't really thought about it seriously before. Names had been a tiny detail in a freaking monsoon of details. Huge details that were a little more demanding. Like what guests to invite? How long should the honeymoon be? What day did the contractors break ground for building their house? But then Izzie had bought Meredith nameplates. For her office, which was kind of silly, because there was limited space, and people didn't even get offices at Seattle Grace until they were attendings. But Izzie was a silly, sentimental person. And she... Whatever. Meredith had nameplates.
She glanced up at Derek, who was paying very little attention to her at that moment. He was sprawled on the couch, face buried in some notes for a trial study on spinal tumors he'd been in the middle of before his accident and was finally able to devote serious time to again. His pen ripped across the paper, and all that surgeon-y focus he possessed was directed at the words the ink was forming. She smiled anyway. He seemed to have been hanging out in the residents' lounge more than his own office lately.
"I like the view better," he'd said when she'd asked.
She turned her gaze back to the table. The Meredith Shepherd tag sat in front of the others, almost glowing. It seemed perfect, really. It seemed... "Meredith Shepherd," she said, this time louder, trying it out on her tongue. It rumbled through her throat and settled on the air like a sticky sort of caramel. Smooth. Rich. She wanted more. Definitely perfect.
Derek's pen stopped scratching across his notepad. He looked up. "What?"
"Meredith Shepherd," she repeated. "I think I like the sound of it."
He blinked. "You do?"
"Yeah." She smiled. "I think I do."
"You're not keeping--"
"Why should I?" she snapped. Meredith Grey. It was the name she'd had for over thirty years of her life. But for some reason, she didn't feel the need to mark its passing into history. Meredith Grey was...
Gone. Damaged freak of nature... gone. She liked who she'd become, and that wasn't Meredith Grey anymore.
Derek shrugged as he placed his notes down on the seat cushion beside him. "I just thought you'd keep it," he said. "It's a huge name to lose, and--"
"It's a great name to drop, Derek," she interrupted. "Your family is more mine than mine ever was. I..." Her voice fell away. He'd never pressured her. Never even asked her if she was going to take his name. The fight drained away. Derek Shepherd. Already a world-class neurosurgeon. He'd made a name for himself. Maybe he hadn't bothered her about it because... "You don't mind, do you?"
He blinked as the confident spark glimmering in her eyes muted and dulled. He stood up, leaving his notes behind, and launched toward the table. She had nameplates arrayed in front of her. A smile twitched at his lips. Every single iteration of her name that involved Shepherd had usurped Meredith Grey, which hung at the back, lonely, discarded, and he couldn't help but feel a rush of... Something broke in his chest. He didn't know what, but it became hard to breathe. She really...
"No, I don't mind," he said, his voice rumbling low against his throat when he found it again. "Why on earth would I mind?"
She leaned into the hand he'd placed on her shoulder. "Because I'm going to be an astounding neurosurgeon, too," she said. In a fluid motion she stood and turned, and what little of himself he'd recovered, she obliterated with a sly, dangerous smile. The sparkle in her eyes returned and he felt like he was staring at flawless diamonds.
"You will," he managed. "Dr. Shepherd."
Her lip twitched. "Me." She stepped closer.
"You," he confirmed.
"Me, Derek," she whispered. Her arms slipped around his waist, underneath his lab coat, and he breathed softly as she melded against him. "I'm... me."
He kissed her forehead. "And I love the you that you are."
"And the we that we are," she said. She looked up at him, diamonds relentless, and the breath caught in his throat. "We'll be a good team."
He inhaled deeply, trying to gain some footing. Lavender. Like a drug. She constantly overwhelmed him with the mere fact that she was his. Somehow. "Oh, yes," he whispered. "Definitely a good team."
They already were.
"Are you still in Egypt?" Meredith murmured.
Derek regarded her through the blur of his eyelashes. He'd been watching her skin, staring at the way the fine blond hairs on her arm shifted back and forth as he stroked her idly with his palm. They were like reeds, cowing to the wind, and he found fascination there. Fascination as he rested against her, fascination and warmth. Cool air from the buzzing air conditioner laved his naked hip, his back, his thigh. It didn't bother him. He shifted closer.
"There is no Egypt here," he replied. "I can go again."
The whisper of her fingers at the nape of his neck paused. "You're not moving."
He grinned. "You're not either."
When he looked up, he found her glittering gray eyes centimeters from his stare. She smiled, and her fingers started twisting through his hair again. "I kind of love it where I am."
Ditto, he wanted to sigh. Where she was, where he was. Love. Moving seemed overrated and underrated all at the same time. If he forced himself to fight inertia, the warmth he felt could turn rapturous. If he fought.
Ten. Nine. Eight. He stared at the way she lay beside him, relaxed, open. Seven. Six. The languishing sluggishness of finishing began to bleed away, and he felt himself tense as need began to override everything else. Five. Four. Three. He thought about the way she quivered when she came, about the long climb that was so, so worth it in the end. Two. Oh, yes. His fingers clenched as he arrived at one, and his body didn't want to be still anymore. He didn't want to be still.
And so he fought.
The sheets rustled as he slid onto his side. She surrendered her hand to him, and he kissed his way from elbow to wrist. "What do you want to do tomorrow?" he muttered against her heat. "After the flight?"
"Mmm. You owe me some balcony time."
"I do," he replied. "And I'll gladly pay you." He dropped his voice an octave, working his way from her elbow to her shoulder. "In spades."
He pressed his nose into her neck, felt the rumble of her words more than heard them. "I can't believe we're here," she said. "Every time I think I get it, I have to do the be kind, rewind thing, and I'm back in Holy Crap Land."
"Now, who's in Egypt?"
"I'm not in Egypt."
"I won't discuss the irony of that statement," he murmured against her skin. Her hand flopped against the pillow, useless for a moment as he took away her senses, but then she started to move with purpose.
Her first moan crawled down his spine like a feather. Her knee nudged his hip, pushing him, guiding him. He shifted, growling as her hand found his back, roamed lower, and squeezed.
The reddish tinge of blush had crept across her cheeks, onto her neck, and down her chest. Her nipples puckered. Her breaths shortened. A thrill ran through him. He loved what he did to her. He loved the way she trembled when she breathed. He loved the way she didn't have to say a word, and he knew exactly what kind of landscape existed in the thoughts between them.
"I don't want this to end," she gasped.
"It won't. Let me refresh your memory."
He devoured her energy, took charge from every motion. "I, Derek," he said, "Take you, Meredith, to be my friend, my lover, my wife." He dipped his tongue against her teeth, ran his palm against the side of her cheek, and drank the moan escaping from her lips. "Loving what I know of you, and trusting what I do not yet know."
When she walked into the aisle, a serene hush came over the crowd. Hands found his waist. He realized he'd misstepped, nearly tripped, but it was a passing, barely there, did-I-do-that? sort of thought. His heart tripped right along with him. She looked more beautiful than ever, simply because of the fact that she was there. In a white wedding dress. For him.
"I will be yours in times of plenty and in times of want," he said. "In times of sickness and in times of health, in times of joy and in times of sorrow, in times of failure and in times of triumph." She rose to greet him this time like a cresting wave. He crashed down with her in a war of movement and fleeting touches.
She bit her lip as he took the ring from his best man. Her right palm found his, gripped it so he wouldn't shake. He worried that the engraved platinum band wouldn't fit. It seemed like such a tiny thing. But it slipped on with an easily overwhelmed catch at her second knuckle. He didn't let go for a long crawl of moments.
He didn't feel like he could ever let go.
"I promise to cherish and respect you," he said. "To care for and protect you, to comfort and encourage you, and stay with you, throughout the seasons of life." He plied her for every breath, every shudder, every moan.
He clenched his fist at the extra weight, weight he hadn't felt in over a year. He brushed the band on his ring finger with his thumb. The cool metal slid under his skin. It felt right.
He didn't blink when he met her watery eyes.
Pain blossomed as her nails made war with his shoulder blades. Her breaths ricocheted against his skin, little pants like heartbeats. In-out. In-out. In-out. Her lashes swept down over her eyes. "Entreat me not to leave you," she whispered in percussive syllables. "Or to return from following after you."
The soft cinnamon scent of the unity candles swept against the back of his throat, and for a moment, he couldn't breathe or think or do anything but watch the fire flicker and burn.
"For where you go, I will go, and where you stay, I will stay," she continued. "Your people will be my people, and your life will be my life."
He groaned. Mine. Yours. Ours. "Yes."
"Take me for a ride, Derek," she whispered in his ear.
Her legs wrapped around his waist, and he smiled. The glitter of her eyes flashed in the dim light.
"I can do that," he said.