Starting From Scratch
"Friendship often ends in love; but love in friendship never." - Charles Caleb Colton
Friendship can get us through the hardest of times. It picks us up when we're sure nothing else can, listens to us when we ramble through our tears, and pushes us forward to a better future. Some friendships are made only to be platonic, to be there through out romantic woes, while others are there to pick up our heart and repair it. The shift from friend to lover is a rough one; you can never be sure if it'll work and the worry that it won't keeps us from trying it. But sometimes, friendship evolves, whether we want it to or not.
"Grey? You still here?" Mark called out, his voice being nearly drowned entirely out by the heavy rush of the shower. The phone was ringing incessantly and since he was waiting for a call from Chief Amory of Allen Pavilion, he didn't want to miss it. Meredith had said she was going out to get dinner though, since the Italian restaurant wouldn't deliver and they didn't feel like going out. When she didn't answer and the ringing continued, he finally gave up and climbed out of the shower, grabbing a towel and wrapping it haphazardly around his waist before hurrying out the door toward the living room, barefoot and dripping. Just as he reached the beginning of the bar, he heard Meredith's voice as she picked up the phone.
"Hello?" He stared at her a moment, wondering why it took so long for her to get it if she were still there, then realized the door was wide open and she was dressed to leave. Mark walked closer to her, turning his head to the side in question, wondering if he needed to wait around or if he could get back to his shower. She looked over at him, her eyes falling on his bare torso and her expression becoming blank as she apparently forgot whatever it was she was going to say. "What? Oh, right, yes. No, he's right here. Sorry, I was on my way out and he was stuck in the shower." She bit her lip, her eyes flickering up to meet his and this time avoiding looking at his bare body.
Mark smirked, enjoying the flush that rose across her cheeks. Despite their little pact to just stay friends, he couldn't deny the attraction he had for her. Mixed with the affection he'd grown for her, his attachment to her was dangerously close to becoming a lot more than it should. Their living arrangements didn't leave them much time apart and though he thought he'd get annoyed having a woman around so often, he actually grew to rely on their comfortable routine. Their mornings were busy and started earlier than he'd like, but they had their own way of getting through the haste and tiredness, while the nights were free for them to relax. They had a lot of friends they'd met over the last few months of living together and so they were never hard up for somebody to hang out with at movies or to go out for dinner with. Mark was surprised to find how easily he slipped into a relationship that involved everything but sexual intimacy. It should have been the hardest part, but aside from the moments where he couldn't take his eyes off of Meredith, he found that he was oddly content with the other aspects of his life.
Addison was his first love; the only women to make him consider a long term relationship. Forever had never been a concept he'd cared to explore. He loved living the life of a bachelor; of having a different beautiful woman whenever he pleased and not having to worry about a nagging wife or somebody he'd have to explain himself to every day. But when he saw how happy Derek and Addison were, he couldn't help but want it too. He just couldn't find a woman that met up to the standards he'd created in his mind; the standards Addison Montgomery set. And he'd had her; like every woman before her, she too had fallen for his wit and good looks. Unfortunately, he'd seen more in it than she had and when she left to get Derek back, he chased after her in hopes that she'd see she was better off with him. That she'd see he loved her far more than Derek ever could and he wouldn't ignore her like Derek had. But nothing turned out like planned and Mark found himself with a very broken heart; one he wasn't willing to risk again.
When he saw Meredith standing in the rain, broken and finished, he knew he'd found an equal. He'd heard around the hospital that Derek and Meredith had broken up; that he'd slept with Lexie Grey, Meredith's half-sister. Derek had already broken Meredith before, more times than either would account for, and Mark could see just how done she was with all of it. It was probably selfish and stupid of him to offer her a place in New York. He should've told her to go back and try and fix it, or at the very least to stay and face her demons. But when he saw her eyes, those usually vibrant green eyes that spoke volumes of the person who owned them, he knew that all she needed and wanted was an escape. Since he was already contemplating leaving and just needed that last final push, he figured there wasn't a better time to throw in the towel. They were on the next flight out of Seattle and while the plane ride was filled with a thick underlying doubt, he found himself doing all he could to distract her. Usually, he'd just let her wallow, but since he was beginning to feel like he'd dragged her away when she still could have had a chance, he suddenly decided he wasn't going to be another mistake of hers. He wanted her to want to be in New York. He wanted her to want to be on that plane, with him. He wanted her to want to leave Seattle and Derek and all the crap that she had to deal with. And maybe it was partly selfish, but deep down he knew he wanted it because she deserved to be happy and he thought he might be able to help her get there.
The apartment was just as he'd left it, with all of his furniture just as it was, the dishes still in their cupboards, and boxes leaning against the walls, waiting to be filled. Despite how cold and empty it was, it was still home. He'd felt a freeing sensation envelop him from the moment the plane touched down and after he entered his apartment, he finally felt himself relax. There was no drama here; no angry best friends or regretful ex lovers. It was just him and Grey, in a silent apartment that had been set up for a bachelor. They called out for dinner, plopped down on the couch, and the first friendly words out of her mouth in a lot of hours were, "You want to watch a movie?" They relaxed after that, remembering that they didn't have a past except for flirty banter and an honest almost-friendship.
Things were easier after the immediate awkwardness; they let their guards down and found they could be good friends. While showing her the sights of the city, they met couples and tentative friendships were formed outside of just one another. They created a social life that involved each other more than just friends should. Most people that met them assumed they were together and while they constantly had to explain that they were just really good friends, Mark couldn't deny that he thought a relationship with Meredith wouldn't be the worst to happen to him. She was attractive, intelligent, funny and had a quirkiness to her that he found endearing. She got him better than any woman before her and there was a comfortable feeling between them that he hadn't expected. She was one of few people that didn't end up annoying him just by being around.
"Mark?" her voice interrupted his thoughts and he realized she was holding the phone out to him. Clearing his throat, he took the phone and immediately took up his professional persona as he talked to Amory about their newest patient. Coby Smith didn't entirely understand what good would come out of the surgery, but he'd appreciate it later. The timeline for the surgery was bothering Amory though and Mark was getting tired of it being changed constantly. Originally, he'd planned on doing it as early as possible, then Amory changed it to the end of the following week, just two days away, but now he wasn't sure. It wasn't so much Amory's fault as the uncertain aunt's. He couldn't leave Coby's face for too much longer and while the boy enjoyed looking like he was wearing Halloween mask, it was gruesome reality that others had a hard time looking at.
As he listened to Amory voice his apologies he felt Meredith's hand touch his stomach and glanced down, surprised at how a childish flutter tugged at his insides. He let out a shaky breath, hoping she hadn't noticed and looked at her face questioningly. She motioned to the door, letting him know she was going and he nodded jerkily. She smiled at him, rather stiffly he thought, before turning around and hurrying out the door. He could still feel the exact spot that her hand had been and he wondered what that meant. He knew of his attraction and that she was potentially perfect for a long term relationship, but he was supposed to be relying on her friendship only and not thinking of anything more. Chalking it up to a lack of physical intimacy with anybody in the last… He frowned; he'd been celibate much longer than he cared to admit.
Amory chatted with him awhile about Smith's aunt coming in to talk to him. Since she was Smith's guardian, so she would ultimately have the final say. He sighed, knowing he and Grey would have to go in and convince her that it was the right thing to do. The kid's life would be harder than it had to be and he knew he could make it so much easier with a procedure that would restore as much of his original appearance as he could. From what Amory said, the aunt wasn't really looking at Smith's long term appearance but more at the cost of the procedure. She was going to have to pay for all of the medical bills, including that of the boy's parents, and she really wasn't liking how much it was coming to as it was. Mark didn't have the time or patience to deal with somebody griping about money and he wasn't interested in spending the rest of his night arguing with Amory about how he was going to convince the aunt, so he gave an excuse and got off the phone.
Since his shower was shot, Mark made his way back to his bedroom and got dressed in a comfortable pair of dark sweats and a ratty t-shirt he'd had since med school. McSmokey was lying asleep curled in a ball in the center of his bed and since Meredith wasn't there, he didn't feel any less manly when he picked up the kitten and cuddled it to his chest, making his way back to the living room and sprawling out on the couch. He flicked through the channels on the TV, not really paying attention. He'd had a long day and he was beyond tired. They got home a couple hours later than usual and it seemed Derek's mom wasn't giving up on calling him. Yang was throwing a fit over Burke returning to the hospital, so there was a message from her too. Oddly, another two hang ups were left on the machine and Mark wondered why whoever it was didn't just leave a message. Addison hadn't called back, but he wasn't interested in talking to her anyway. His "finding himself" journey with Meredith was going well and he didn't want to fall back on old habits. He was happy for the time being and he didn't want to be the one to ruin it for himself.
SportsCenter was on and he was fading in and out, his eyes fluttering, when he heard the door open and a huffy sigh that signaled the bags were heavy and she was getting close to annoyed. He blinked rapidly, trying to wake up as quickly as possible and sat up on the couch, catching McSmokey before the snoozing kitten fell off of him. He put the half-asleep ball of grey back on the couch and stood up, running a hand over his eyes and stifling a yawn. He closed the still open door and followed Meredith into the kitchen, smiling lightly as he listened to her mutter to herself.
"They gave me the wrong order and then tried to blame it on me when I came back and told them," she ranted, her brows high as she turned to him. "Because I should have known it was the wrong order when I picked it up!"
"Did they give your ours when you went back?" he wondered, leaning against the counter.
"After fighting with the maitre'D for five minutes, the manager finally came over and made sure they got it right this time. I had to wait an extra half hour and for our patience they gave us a free lasagna. Except their lasagna turned out to be a container of ravioli. But I am not going back! If I do, I'm going to smash it into the smug little kid's face. I swear, he did it on purpose, Mark. He just kept staring with his beady little eyes, smiling at me all... meanly."
Mark snorted. "Meanly?"
"Yeah!" she exclaimed, nodding. "Never again. We're never ordering from there again. And you better love your three-cheese tortellini because I almost just left and picked up a pizza." Huffing, she pulled down some plates and pushed her hair back out of her face as she pulled the food out of the brown bags on the counter.
"I wouldn't have minded pizza," he said, smiling in amusement.
"Well it's too late now," she told him, glaring down at the silver container as she took off the white top. "And you know, they could have been a little nicer about it. I mean, obviously I didn't go in the back and tell them to replace my baked ziti with spaghetti." Letting out another frustrated sigh, she shook her head.
"Grey, is this really about the food?" he asked, lifting a questioning brow.
Her shoulders slumped. "I'm tired," she told him, her hands landing on the edge of the counter. "I'm tired and hungry and..." He nodded understandingly. "And I haven't had sex in so long." He paused, his expression likely quite comical though she wasn't looking. "And right before I left, you were standing there and I thought... Wow." He smirked. "Wow, I must be really desperate."
Mark's face curled indignantly. "Hey!"
She sighed, looking up at him apologetically. "Sorry. Not like that. I mean, come on, we both know that you're certainly no disappointment to females everywhere. But now, it's like..." She bit her lip, her eyes moving around as if searching for a way to explain it. "You're like one of my persons and to sleep with you would be like a replay of that time I slept with George--"
"Not that's offensive!" he interrupted, half-amused and honestly half-hurt.
"Not like that! Emotionally," she told him, rolling her eyes. "Besides, George was good. I think. I can't really... I think he was though. That's besides the point!" she said, shaking her head. "The problem is that I haven't had sex in a very long time and I don't want to have a one night stand but I also don't want to risk having a relationship because I don't think I could handle that. It'd just turn into another Finn or Derek and that it the last thing I need right now." Her eyes were wide with emphasis, the green becoming more vivid with her earnest expression.
"So, what exactly are you saying?" he wondered, his brows furrowing. "That you do and don't want to have sex with me because it's emotionally screwed up? But if you do then it's not a relationship, just sex?" He crossed his arms over his chest, not entirely sure if he should be offended or not.
"No. Yes. No." She exhaled heavily, closing her eyes tightly. "I don't know!" she admitted, her voice muffled around her hands that she was now pressing against her face. "I want to have sex. I'm not entirely partial at the moment. But I don't... I don't want to risk you, us, this," she told him, motioning between them. "Because it was weird and awkward and there were some feelings on one half when it happened between me and George and I really don't want that to repeat here."
Mark stared at her, not entirely sure how to reply. There was no doubt that he wanted to sleep with her, but he wasn't sure he could promise that some kind of emotional attachment wasn't already made. If he took that extra step he might actually turn into the O'Malley in the situation and he really didn't want to be that. Plus, it had huge potential for him getting hurt; for him to put that already broken heart out there and have it handed back crushed again. Then again, there was a chance that they could just have sex and still be friends. He didn't know who he was kidding with that one but it wasn't as if they weren't already just as close as any couple was outside of the bedroom. They lived together, worked together, spent their off time together. To their friends, they were the ultimate non-couple. How much could it really hurt to sleep together?
"Look, I can't promise that when we sleep together - not if, but when - one of us won't feel something more. This whole being each other's persons thing gets in the way, I know. You're the closest thing I've got to a best friend and probably a girlfriend and I don't want to risk that. We've had six months of one of the closest friendships I've ever had but I can't pretend it hasn't been just a little more than that." He sighed, running a hand up the back of his head, ruffling his hair. He stepped forward, briefly noticing how cold the linoleum was on his bare feet, and turned her toward him, his hands fitting on each of her hips. "One of O'Malley's problems was that he never told you how he felt. He was jittery and scared and he didn't think you returned those feelings. I couldn't be jittery on my worst day and I don't scare easy. But if we do this and either of us starts to feel something, then we either end it or we see where it goes. I'm not going to be Derek or O'Malley or anybody else for you. I'm gonna be me and that'll either be good or bad. I'm an either love him or hate him type of guy." He stared at her, watching her green eyes focus in on his face and stay there while she listened intently.
"This could turn out very badly," she said, her voice low as if trying to keep it just between the two of them.
"But it'll feel good too," he told her, winking as his mouth curved in a smirk. His hands on her hips tightened slightly and she let out a little gasp, her lips falling apart and her eyes leaving his to venture down to his mouth. "Are you ready for this, Grey?" he wondered, his eyes taking in the plains of her face. She really was beautiful, even without the makeup and the freshly washed hair. Her bangs were falling in her eyes again and the smell of their dinner was overpowering the scent of her shampoo and bodywash, but her body was small and softly feminine in his hands. The freckles on her nose stood out a little more and the flecks of blue in her green eyes made him a little intoxicated when her gaze met his. He'd asked her if she was ready and yet some part was asking him if he was sure he was.
Her hands lifted from his arms, where he only now realized they'd been resting, sliding up his biceps and around his shoulders. He felt her palms glide over his neck and suppressed a telling shiver, her short nails grazed his scalp as her fingers laced in his hair. She lifted herself up on her tip toes, her mouth slowly inching toward his. His breath caught and in a moment of anticipation, he thought he might have let out a shaky sigh. When her lips met his, his eyes fell closed and his fingers tightened against her hips, bringing her closer. Six months of seeing her sleep ruffled face every morning; of seeing her half-lidded eyes and her tired but somehow warm smile. Of watching her run around in her baggy pajama pants and fitted camisoles nightly, finding no problem in throwing her feet up into his lap while she sprawled on the couch or using his shoulder or chest as a pillow while she watched TV or napped. Twenty four weeks of seeing her dress up for movies or dinner or plays or concerts with friends or just each other; of waiting for her to find whatever shoe she'd lost that time and placing an innocent hand on the small of her smooth back. Over one hundred and eighty mornings filled with radio banter and sharing muffins and coffee and cookies; of an innocent friendship, playful banter, and a routine bred from sincere comradery. In that one kiss, he wondered if maybe it was leading to this all along.
Her lips were soft, her tongue warm and sweet, her hands in his hair were tugging lightly and her body was arching up into his. The kiss started out innocently enough, just a seal of sorts to a deal that would likely burn them both. But within seconds, it was heated and passionate and though he could blame it on far too many months of celibacy, he knew it was more. Because he'd had six months with this woman and he'd been wondering and fantasizing and hoping it would come to this. He always wondered what her kiss would taste like, if she'd be the type to take charge or just let it happen and he found she was a mixture of both. She let him control it to an extent, but she didn't just stand there and let him kiss her. She met him, full throttle, with her teeth and her tongue and her frenzied lips. He forgot about dinner and how he'd previously been ready to sleep away the rest of the night on the couch. He forgot about telling her that they were going to have to talk to Coby Smith's aunt about his surgery. He forgot everything but the woman in front of him.
His hands had left her hips and were sliding up her back, fingertips digging in, as if trying to draw her into him. She let him pull her closer, let him practically lift her off the ground with the need to have more of her. They broke apart only when the need for air was so much that he was left gasping and shaking as their lips parted. Her arms wrapped tighter around his neck, trying to hold herself up as she panted for breath against his shoulder. His fingers let up on her back, arms moving to circle her waist and hold her against him almost tenderly. He wanted to say something, reassure her that they'd made the right choice, but he was too busy searching for the breath she'd stolen.
"We should've done that sooner," she said, the words stilted with her still heavy breathing.
He laughed, his eyes closed as he rested his chin on her shoulder and ran a shaky hand through her hair. He wouldn't admit it, but if they'd done that any sooner, he was pretty sure he would have died. He'd never felt that before; that passion in just one kiss. There was the natural desire for more, burning in his stomach and tightening much lower, but there was a contentness in his chest that he hadn't felt before. To an extent, Addison had made him feel complete. But he was never really sure if that had more to do with the dream of perfection that she embodied or the feelings he felt for her. He couldn't say he'd seen Meredith with Derek and wanted that relationship; if anything, he wanted the opposite of their tangled and messy relationship. They were heartbroken far more than they were in love and he could barely stand what had happened between him and Addison, so he knew he couldn't go through anything close to that again. Meredith wasn't offering happily ever after though, she was offering a physical release between friends. He knew it was naive of them, knew it was probably stupid and reckless. And in the past, that likely would have turned him on. But in that moment, holding her, some part of him hoped that maybe they could do this and it would evolve for both of them, rather than just one. Maybe, just this once, the deal wouldn't go bad but good. Maybe these two friends, these two broken hearts, could make it with each other.
It was risky, putting their friendship on the line in hopes that she might grow to care for him. She'd loved Derek and he'd already lost one woman to his former best friend. He couldn't lose Meredith too. The whole reason he'd left was to mend and he'd brought her along thinking she would do the same. But what if in the end, when she was done fixing herself, she left him behind and went back to Seattle. What if the new and improved Meredith Grey was able to have a stable relationship with Derek? All bright and shiny instead of dark and twisty in New York with him? He couldn't go through that again; wouldn't risk chasing after her for another episode of the Seattle Grace soap opera. She wanted the friendship though, no matter what they did or who they loved. Which meant that if she did leave, if she went back to Derek and Seattle, he'd have to paste on a smile and pretend he was happy for her. Just like how it started with Addison.
Meredith's arms fell from around his shoulders, hands sliding back down his arms and then wrapping around his waist. She pulled her head back and looked up at him. "Dinner?" she asked, lifting a brow.
Mark nodded, wondering if this meant the deal was shelved for now. In a moment of rare tenderness, he leaned forward and pressed a kiss to her forehead. She stared up at him, her eyes softer and inquisitive. "You want wine or a beer?" he asked, breaking the silence.
"Wine. We're having Italian, after all. It'd be sacrifledge or whatever," she replied with a shrug before she dropped her arms from around him and returned to dishing out the food.
Mark immediately noticed how empty he felt without her around him and shook his head. He should stop this before it went too far.
"Are you still having that boy's poker night Sunday?" she asked, looking at him over her shoulder. At his nod, she grinned. "Good. You'll never guess who's coming down to visit. While you're drinking beer and losing all your money, I'll be out with my other person." Her shoulders lifted as if she'd achieved something intensely gratifying.
"The crazy one?" he asked, lifting a brow and smiling lightly. "Didn't think Yang had it in her to leave a whole day of surgeries to fly out here." He frowned, remembering what else she'd said. "And I'm good at poker."
"She's been ordered to take a few days off," Meredith explained, shrugging. "Everyone says they're good at poker. Just don't bet anything important. Like our movies... Or any of my stuff... And not the cat!" She pointed at him, as if that would warn him off.
Snorting, Mark rolled his eyes, pouring them each a glass of red wine. "Like I could get anything for McSmokey."
Meredith chuckled. "Who am I kidding? You'd never get rid of the kitten. You enjoy cuddling with him too much."
"I do not cuddle it," he said indignantly.
"You do too," she replied, smiling.
Mark frowned and glared down at the kitten as it appeared at his feet, clawing at the end of his sweatpants and meowing up at him needily. "You're giving me a bad rep," he told the cat, his frown melting into a grin. "We should get a dog," he told her, remembering what Jake had mentioned the weekend before.
Snorting, Meredith brought their food out to the table and set them down across from each other. "What are you going to do with a dog?"
"What kind of question is that?" he asked, sliding into his chair. "I'd raise it or whatever a person does with a dog."
"Love it? Walk it? Feed it?" she replied, lifting a brow. "You won't even go running with me in the park but you'll take a dog for a couple walks a day?"
"A couple? Isn't one enough?" he asked, frowning.
Shaking her head, Meredith chuckled. "A dog would be stifled in an environment like this. The apartment is too small for a dog to run around in. There's no space. We'd need a back yard." Sipping from her wine, she licked her lips. "And knowing you, you'd want a really big dog. Meaning we'd need a lot of space."
"Small dogs are yappy," he said, shrugging. Absently, he picked the meowing kitten up off the floor and let it sit in his lap. It curled up and purred against his stomach while he stirred his steaming tortellini. "We could take it out on weekends though. There's a dog park around here somehwere. Toss a frisbee or whatever."
Rolling her eyes, Meredith shrugged. "Maybe."
"What you're really saying is no," he accused, closing one eye and pointing his fork at her.
"What I'm really saying is maybe. I'll think about it. It might be nice to have a dog again. I'm just not sure it's a good idea with the apartment. If we get a puppy, it'll chew on everything and if we get an older dog, it might not like the closed in space." She shook her head. "So, maybe."
Sighing, Mark scratched the small head of the kitten in his lap and smiled down as it purringly stared up at him in adoration. "We'll wear her down," he told it and it meowed in response, standing up and waving it's stubby little tail around. "McSmokey wants a dog."
"You could've asked him if he wanted to be eaten by rabid squirrels and he would've meowed," she replied, frowning.
"But I didn't," he replied, smiling.
"Eat your dinner," she told him, pointing at the food in front of him. "I went through a lot of trouble to get that for you."
"Beady eyed maitre'D's and all," he replied cheekily.
"That's right," she said, winking as she lifted her fork up to her mouth.
Maybe it was a little late to stop whatever it was that was starting. It was already coming at him full force and he was pretty sure he didn't want it to end.
To be continued...
A/N Luckily, I was able to get to the computer again today. Hope you enjoyed this. A little MerMark-ness to hold you over. I kind of like insecure-Mark. He's not overly dramatic or emotional. He just had his realistic fears. OH, and some Cristina is coming too! That should be interesting... Leave a review, I'd like to know what you think about this chapter!