A/N: Wow, I posted this chapter, and then realized I forgot the important stuff!!! Sorry. Here we go! Ok, so this is the last chapter. I want to thank everyone who's reviewed this story; you really made me feel good. I was very nervous about writing in this show; I really wanted to do the characters justice, and your positive encouragement and support made all the difference. I want to thank my betas one last time - samsolace and AriaAdagio. Without you guys, this fic would have been nowhere near as good. I know I've said that before, but it really is true. Much love, chicas!!! Once again, thank you to everyone who reviewed!!!
Disclaimer: If I owned the show, this would have followed the ferry arc instead of what we got. 'Nuff said.
Testing the Water: Epilogue
Derek pulled his scrub cap off as he exited the scrub room and ran a hand through his hair. He was exhausted; today had apparently been the day for people to go out and get traumatic brain injuries, and he'd been going from surgery to surgery for hours. Checking the time, he groaned. "One in the morning? Not possible . . ."
"Burning the midnight oil, Shep?" Derek turned to see Mark coming up behind him, his trademark smirk covering his face.
"Not by choice," Derek said, making an effort to keep his tone neutral.
He was trying to fix things with Mark; the man was an ass who'd slept with his wife, but Derek knew that things had been rocky with Addison well before that event. Mark had also been there for him when Meredith had drowned; he hadn't tried to talk at all, he'd just sat there with him in the hallway, lending Derek support. It was hard for Derek to admit it, but he missed his best friend, his brother, and so he was working on letting Mark back in his life.
"Everyone just had to go out and bash their heads on something," Derek continued, as he reached the nurses station and leaned heavily on it. "I've been here almost twenty-four hours; I need to get home, in case Meredith needs me."
Mark stopped next to him at the station, managing to wink suggestively at one of the nurses before a frown settled over his face. "I thought she was doing better?" he asked, swiping a hand down his face. "I know you guys had that memorial thing for her mom earlier this week. I thought that helped."
"It did, and she's been so much better since then," Derek admitted. "She's had a few nightmares, though. They aren't as bad as they were before, but they're still not fun. Usually she can wake herself up, and we talk through them. I wanted to be home early tonight, since she's starting back on Monday, but apparently Fridays are good days to go out and try to kill yourself."
Signing off on the last bit of paperwork, he headed for the locker room. Mark followed along, and the two of them talked quietly about their day as they changed into street clothes and walked to the elevator.
"Give Meredith my best," Mark said as they exited the hospital doors. "She and I have a lot in common, you know."
Derek stopped, casting a skeptical glance at his friend. "Really?" he asked, folding his arms over his chest. "Somehow, I can't see it."
"Think about it, Shep," Mark argued. "We both had messed up childhoods and absent parents. We were used to people disappointing and abandoning us – but then we met you."
"And I fixed you?" Derek shook his head. "You make it sound like you were strays I took in off the street."
"No, Derek. You didn't fix us . . . You just . . . Never mind." Mark faced Derek squarely, his face going uncharacteristically red.
Derek smiled as he listened, both to the words Mark was fumbling through and the ones underneath, the real feelings that Mark couldn't express.
"What are you smiling at?" The redness was fading from Mark's face as he shifted, peering suspiciously at Derek.
"Meredith fixed me, when I needed it," Derek said softly, his mind straying back to his first meeting with the tiny blond who'd captured his heart. "I was drowning when I came here, and she saved me."
"You're lucky to have each other, then," Mark told him. Grinning, he fished in his pockets, looking for his keys. "Well, that takes care of my good deed for the year. I'm off; you kids have fun, ok?"
"Thanks, Mark," Derek said, a smile tugging at his lips. Mark looked startled for a minute, then nodded and headed for his car.
Derek was silent as he got into his car and drove home. Mark's words resonated through his mind, healing a bit more of the hurt that still lingered from his betrayal. Derek suspected that the ache would never fully go away, but he was moving on, working on getting his brother back, and it felt good. That was Meredith's influence, he knew. She had always been open to Mark. Maybe it was because of how charming he'd been when they'd first met, before she knew who he was. Or maybe it had to do with how similar they were. Mark had been right in that, at least. He and Meredith had suffered similar hurts in their pasts, and perhaps Meredith had recognized that similarity. Derek knew that Meredith really had saved him; she'd saved him enough to try again with Addison, and now she'd saved him enough to fix things with Mark. Derek wondered, once again, what he'd done to deserve such a loving and incredibly forgiving woman.
All the lights were off when he pulled into the driveway of Meredith's house. She'd mentioned once never being able to think of it as her own home, always as her mother's house, but since he didn't have the memories that she did, to him it would always be hers. He took off his shoes as soon as he entered the foyer, not wanting to wake any of the other occupants. Meredith could sleep through just about anything, he knew, including her own snoring, but he didn't know about Izzie or George. Easing open the door, he was halfway to the bed when he realized that it was empty. The sheets were neatly turned down, a direct contrast to the rumpled mess they'd left it in that morning, but the sleeping form of his girlfriend that he'd expected to find in them was definitely absent.
Frowning, he checked his phone. There were no new voice or text messages, so Meredith should have been home. She'd promised to be more open and to communicate with him more, and so if she was planning to go to Joe's with the other interns or just needed some time to herself, she usually let him know. He was about to head back downstairs to see if she'd fallen asleep on the couch waiting for him, when he heard a sound coming from the bathroom. Moving toward the doorway, he pressed down firmly on the memories that tried to surface, of the last time he'd found Meredith in the bathroom . . .
The sight that greeted him as he stepped into the bathroom took his breath away. Candles surrounded the tub, filling the air with the scent of lavender. Bubbles covered the surface of the water that rippled gently in the tub, creating the noise that had caught his attention from the bedroom. And in the middle of it all was the love of his life, her hair piled on top of her head with a few tendrils plastered to the back of her neck. She grinned at him, conveying both amusement and desire all at once, as she extended a hand to him. "Hey," she purred, her voice low and throaty. "Welcome home."
Derek opened his mouth to speak, but his voice had deserted him. He cleared his throat and tried again. "Isn't it a bit late for a bath?" he asked, struggling to keep his voice from cracking like an adolescent's.
Meredith shrugged, her shoulders rising out of the bubbles briefly before being hidden once more. "I had a nightmare, and I woke up," she said, her voice soft and hesitant. "I couldn't go back to sleep, not without talking to you about it. I almost called you, but I didn't want to do it over the phone. I wanted you here, to listen and to hold me while I fell asleep again. I called the hospital, and they said you'd just left, so I thought maybe a bath would help relax me while I waited."
A strange thing happened to Derek in that instant. He'd always known that he'd been in love with Meredith for a long time, since the first minute he'd laid eyes on her in Joe's. He hadn't thought he could ever love her more than when she'd finally taken him back, but now he knew he'd been wrong. Listening to her admit that she'd waited for him, that she trusted him enough to help her deal with her nightmares and soothe her back to sleep, filled his heart in a way he'd never thought possible. "I'm so proud of you," was all he could manage, a smile slowly creeping onto his face.
"For what?" Meredith asked with a puzzled frown.
Derek shrugged, waving a hand at the whole bath scene spread out in front of him. "You're taking a bath," he said simply.
Meredith caught his meaning, both in the words he said and the ones he didn't say, and blushed. "Would you like to join me?" she asked, lifting one hand out of the water and extending it toward him.
Derek wasted no time in shedding his clothes. Meredith scooted forward in the tub, and he climbed in behind her, wrapping his arms around her tightly as she curled into his body. A surge of desire shot through his body, begging him to kiss her, to make love to her, but he pushed it down. That could come later, after they'd dealt with her dream. "Tell me about the nightmare," he said once they were both comfortable. Closing his eyes, he let Meredith's soft voice wash over him, feeling a sense of peace he hadn't felt in years. She's going to be ok, he realized. We both are.