AN: Big thanks for all of the feedback from the last chapter. I don't always have time to respond to each review separately, but I want everyone who takes the time to leave a review to know how much they are appreciated. After only being able to post sporadically lately, it's really nice to know you are all still so interested and invested in reading this fic. And I was especially appreciative of the feedback regarding Meredith's attitude. She's being irrational, but she knows it. I'm glad she didn't come off as having gone too far in her feelings/thoughts.
I decided to just post the whole chapter as one long chapter (actually came in at over 13.5k words). It's long, but it really doesn't split up well. We've pretty much come to the end of Meredith's therapy. This chapter hits some parts that border on dark, but everything is resolved by the end, so please stick with it.
"How was your time off?"
Meredith sat back against the familiar couch, content to allow Wyatt to ease her into the session. It had a month now since she'd fully opened up and told the therapist about her mother's suicide attempt. They had spent hours of therapy discussing its effect on Meredith. Hours of therapy. And countless more hours outside of therapy were spent thinking and debating what she was feeling. But Meredith had yet to feel relief from the memory that had plagued her for more than two decades.
If anything, she felt more haunted now by the memory. She thought of it every day; the blood, the fear, the helplessness. On multiple occasions, she had been woken from nightmares of that day to her husband's soothing voice and warm arms holding her tight. She woke up in the morning feeling less than fully rested, regardless of how much sleep she got.
She couldn't go on like this much longer. She'd opened herself up in order to fully heal from the inside, but the healing wasn't happening and the feelings were cracking her resolve and making her feel unstable and vulnerable.
She had managed to let go of her anger towards the Chief for her short time off with her husband. They had stayed home for two glorious days. They'd lounged around in bed both mornings, snuggled on the couch and gone out for dinner. For more than forty-eight uninterrupted hours, she was able to be happy and free. But then she'd returned to work that morning and the moment she'd stepped in the front doors of the hospital, it had felt like a vice tightened around her chest.
She couldn't be free inside the hospital. She couldn't step out from her mother's shadow or the Chief's control inside the hospital. She couldn't escape the feelings of hurt and vulnerability and anger inside the hospital.
"It was great," she said, honestly, wishing she could rewind and still be off work.
She sighed, but nodded. "One. The first night."
"The same as normal?"
The blood was warm as it pooled around her, soaking into her pants.
Terrified, but refusing to cry, she sat silent and still, staring at her mother's bleeding form.
Ellis's eyes were open, but dull. She seemed to be staring at the pool of blood surrounding her daughter. "Meredith," she whispered.
"Mommy," Meredith whimpered, feeling weak as her lower lip trembled.
Ellis's gaze flickered towards her, eyes as dead as they'd been since that day in the park when she'd left Meredith on the carousel. "Meredith," she said again, this time a little louder. "Be extraordinary." Her eyes closed for several moments and Meredith wondered if they'd ever open again.
She looked towards the phone hanging on the wall across the kitchen. Her mother had made her promise not to call for help, but that had been before she'd cut her wrists with the scalpel. And there was a lot of blood on the floor now.
Ellis's eyes opened again. "Be an extraordinary woman, Meredith," she said, more evenly than before. And for a long moment, she held Meredith's gaze before her eyes shut again.
This time Meredith knew they wouldn't open again.
She hated the tears that fell from her eyes because they made her weak. She didn't want to be weak. Making a decision, she stood and hurried for the phone. Her father had taught her to call 911 before he had disappeared. With shaking hands, she dialled the numbers-
"Meredith," saida familiar voice, calling her name.
She looked to the phone, but it was gone from her hands. And then the world around her changed as she opened her eyes.
The glow from the moon through the window gave off just enough light for her to recognize her bedroom. Her husband's arms were wrapped tightly around her middle and his face was pressed into the back of her neck.
"Meredith," he said again, his voice gruff with sleep.
She shuddered as the full effect of the nightmare-that-was-actually-a-memory washed over her. She turned in his arms and pressed her front against his.
He loosened his hold on her for her to roll over and then immediately tightened it again when she was still.
She snaked her arm over his middle to hold herself against him. "Derek," she breathed. She hated the way her chest hitched against his and her eyes stung. It made her feel weak.
"I'm here," he comforted, rubbing her back. He didn't ask what the dream had been about; he already knew. She had it more nights than she didn't have it now.
She closed her eyes. "She wanted to die," she whispered, ashamed. "And I almost let her."
"You were a child," he reminded. "You did everything you could. You saved her."
"He did that to her. He made her want to die."
"I'm so sorry."
"Are the dreams always the same?" Wyatt asked carefully, pulling her from the memory.
She shrugged. "Mostly. I wake up at different points, but the dream itself is the same."
"What do you think makes you wake up at different points?"
"Mostly Derek. He wakes me sometimes when he feels me shaking. Other times I usually wake up on my own when they won't let me see her when we get to the hospital." After the paramedics hadarrived, they had taken Ellis and Meredith to Mercy West. The doctors had immediately kept Meredith away from her mother and left her alone in the doctor's lounge. She could remember screaming for her mother as she was pulled away.
"You don't have the nightmare every night."
"That's right." At first it had been once a week, then twice. Now it was more, but still not all the time.
"What do you think triggers it?"
She shrugged. "I don't know."
Wyatt paused for a moment before giving Meredith the push she knew was coming. "I think you do."
She sighed and ran a hand through her hair. "I was mad at the Chief that day. I know that's what triggered it then. And I've been mad at him a lot lately, so that's probably why."
The moment she'd set foot on the surgical floor that morning, the Chief had paged her to his office and asked where her Date and Tell form was.
"Uh, I didn't fill it out."
"It's mandatory." He lifted a blank form without getting up from his desk and held it out to her, his gaze demanding she step forward and take the form to fill out.
"I'm not comfortable filling one out," she told him, standing her ground from across the room. She would not let him win this. She would not show him weakness.
Richard huffed and glared towards her. "Don't argue, Grey. Take the form – and take one for your husband – and get them both back to me by lunch time."
The use of her maiden name – despite the fact that it was clearly a slip of the tongue and not intentional – enraged her. She felt her hands curl into fists. She opened her mouth, prepared to spill all the deep, dark thoughts she had about the man. And then her pager had gone off. 911 to the pit. She'd excused herself and run.
"Has the anger gotten better since we started to discuss it?"
She shook her head. "It's gotten worse."
"Do you know why you're so angry at him?"
Wyatt had asked the question before, several times, but Meredith had always avoided giving a straight answer. I don't know. He hurt my mother. He's an ass. "I'm letting my feelings towards him control me at work."
Wyatt sat forward, surprised by the direct response. "And what are your feelings towards him?"
She shrugged. "Anger."
The therapist cracked a smile. "Other than anger, I mean. What do you think is causing the anger?"
She closed her eyes. Wyatt stayed silent, allowing her time to think. "I'm angry at him because he has too much control over my life. He's done bad things to me. He's hurt me. I hate him for being able to hurt me."
"That's an interesting statement. You hate him for being able to hurt you."
Meredith nodded. "He shouldn't be able to hurt me."
"Do you think you're letting him hurt you?"
"I'm trying not to. But it's hard. I can't help but think of all the things he's done to me. I may be able to protect myself from him now, but I couldn't before."
"Do you think he's gone out of his way to hurt you? Or do you think he's hurt you by accident?"
"I guess... I don't think he's done it on purpose, but it's definitely not been by accident, either. It wasn't an accident that he treated me like crap for weeks after I got married, or that he's treated Derek like crap several times because he feels protective of me."
"You think he feels protective of you?"
She nodded. "He told me he promised my mother he'd look out for me the day she died."
"So, a lot of his behaviours towards you are a result of him trying to look out for you."
"I don't need or want him to look out for me."
Wyatt nodded. "But he's not doing these things to hurt you. He's not going out of his way with the intention to hurt you."
"No, I guess not."
"So, he's doing purposeful things, but with the intention to help, not to hurt."
"That kind of makes him sound human to me."
Meredith sighed. "Sometimes I wish he was less human. Then I'd feel better about hating him."
Wyatt smiled at the statement. "I appreciate your honesty."
"I know it's not always rational to hate him," she acknowledged. "Trust me, I know that. But I can't help it. He deserves it."
"And why does he deserve it?"
"Because he made my mother want to die." She'd said the same thing to Derek just days earlier, but the shock of verbalizing the words still brought tears to her eyes. She hated crying, but this was far from the first time she had cried within the four walls of this office. She ignored the tears on her cheeks and met Wyatt's eyes, as if challenging the woman to argue.
"That was a long time ago," Wyatt reminded.
She nodded, knowing what the therapist was doing. "I know. But that doesn't matter. Your psych trick usually works, but not in this situation. I can remind myself of the reality as much as I want, but it doesn't change the fact that I hate him. I hate him and I'm angry at him and I...I..."
"I want to hurt him," she admitted.
"No. Just... Sometimes, when the anger is overwhelming, I want to make him feel as bad as he's made me feel. I want to..."
"Give him a taste of his own medicine?"
She sniffed. "Yeah, I guess." Because of his history with her mother, she knew things about him that he wouldn't want the hospital to know. Not only did she have the power to hurt him with her knowledge, but she had the power to change the hospital staff's perception of him.
"He's a man who made a mistake."
"That doesn't matter. He destroyed her. She was extraordinary. And he made her want to die. He made her try to kill herself."
"You say he made her want to die, but she didn't."
"Not for lack of trying."
"Do you really think she tried?"
Meredith scoffed. "Of course she did. I was there. I watched her slit her wrists and sat in her pool of blood. She was extraordinary, and he crushed her."
Wyatt leaned forward, her elbows on her knees, and met Meredith's eyes evenly. "Meredith, I'm not sure your mother wanted to kill herself."
"So, you think she slit her wrists for kicks?"
"No, but I don't think her intent was death."
"How can you say that?"
"Think about it."
"Think about it, Meredith," Wyatt repeated. "This is something you need to work out for yourself."
Frustrated with Wyatt's vague instructions, Meredith left her therapy session feeling uninspired. Other than some realizations about her interactions with her friends and half-sister, she hadn't felt like she'd accomplished much in the last few weeks. The therapy was draining, and though she knew Wyatt had gradually been building her up to something, she felt discouraged. Wyatt seemed to think she had all the tools she needed to figure out what he mother had been thinking all those years ago, but Meredith felt like she was grasping at straws. All she could think about was the determined look on Ellis's face when she'd pulled the scalpel from her pocket.
She went to the Resident's Lounge and changed out of her scrubs before traveling the familiar path to her husband's office.
"Hey," he greeted warmly as she let herself in. "You're early today."
She shrugged as she came to a stop across the desk from him, not sitting in the spare chair as she usually did. "Apparently my mother didn't actually want to die when she slit her wrists and I have all the tools I need to figure out what that means." She rolled her eyes. "I guess another ten minutes of talking it through wasn't going to make me figure it out any faster."
He smiled sadly at her. "Anything I can do to help?"
"Tell me I'm doing the right thing sticking with therapy?"
He stood and stepped around the desk to meet her. One hand found her hip while the other reached up to cup her cheek. "I think you're doing the right thing, Mer," he told her. "I know this is hard, but I know you trust Wyatt. I'm sure she's leading you somewhere better." He ran his hand along her cheek and then through her hair, combing through the strands with his fingers.
She hooked her fingers around the collar of his top and pulled him down to press her forehead against his. "I just want it to stop."
"What's it?" He asked, stilling his hand against her back, fingers still tangled in her hair.
"The dreams, the anger, the memories."
"You dredged up your past," he told her, repeating the words she'd told him. Words she'd repeated from Wyatt.
"Yeah. And I was okay with that for a while, but it's been weeks now, Derek. I'm not sure how much longer I can hold on."
"I'll always be here to hold onto you," he told her, sliding his hand from her hip to the base of her spine and pulling her closer to him, as if to back up his words. "You're not holding on alone anymore."
She smiled, her forehead still pressed to his. "I know that, Derek. And trust me; I'm so grateful for that. I wouldn't have made it this far without you."
He pulled away and pressed a kiss to her forehead, and then to her lips. "Yes, you would have. You're so strong, Mer. So strong and so extraordinary."
Fingers still clutching to his top, she tugged him down to kiss him again. "Thank you," she whispered.
"Any time." He offered her a bright smile. "Do you have anything else to do here?"
She shook her head. "No. I just want to go home."
"Okay," he said easily. "Then let's go home."
He donned his jacket from the hook near the door and guided her out of his office with a hand on her lower back.
"Do you need comfort food for dinner tonight?" He asked as they approached the elevator. "We could order pizza?"
"Wow, I must really look upset for you to be freely offering pizza without me even having to bring it up."
He laughed as he pressed the elevator call button. "I'm just trying to be a good husband."
"You are an excellent husband," she told him.
"Mmm," he said, leaning down for a quick kiss, "Does that mean you don't need pizza?"
"No, I definitely need the pizza."
They were both laughing as the elevator doors opened, but the upbeat mood immediately fell away at the sight of the man on the elevator.
"Meredith, Derek. I've been trying to find you two all day," Richard said. He had to blank date and tell forms in his hands.
"Richard," Derek greeted neutrally as they stepped onto the elevator. "We're just on our way home. Shifts ended an hour ago."
"No worry. This will only take a moment." He held out the forms, ignoring Derek's comment about their shifts being over. "I need you two to complete these."
Derek hesitated, but did not accept the offered forms. He rested his hand on Meredith's back in a gesture she knew was supposed to offer comfort. "Sorry, Chief, but we're not going to complete those forms. It's an invasion of privacy."
"They're mandatory," he said flatly, still holding them out.
"Did you fill one out?" Meredith heard herself say before she'd thought through the words. She couldn't have helped the accusatory tone if she'd tried.
"Excuse me?" Richard asked, taken aback by her forcefulness.
Derek rubbed her back, trying to calm her.
"I asked you if you filled on out," she repeated evenly.
"I don't need to fill one out."
"You had a sexual relationship with my mother," she reminded, not that any of the three of them needed a reminder.
"That was in the past."
She shook her head. "That doesn't matter. You made Cristina fill one out when Burke hasn't worked here for more than half a year."
"This is not up for debate," Richard said angrily. "You don't get to question what I do or do not do."
She scoffed before she could help it.
"Dr. Grey," he threatened.
"It's Dr. Grey-Shepherd," she said shortly.
He stammered for a moment, caught by surprise at her correction. His slip clearly hadn't been intentional. "Dr. Grey-Shepherd," he started again. "You will complete this form. It's mandatory for every member of the hospital staff."
"Except you, apparently. Tell you what, Chief," she said, "If you fill out a form – correctly – I'll consider it."
"Meredith, might I remind you that I'm your Chief of Surgery. You don't get to give me demands. Show some respect."
She seethed at his words. Like she could ever forget he was her Chief of Surgery. "I respect those who deserve it," she said quietly. She was successfully resisting the urge to scream at the man before her, but she couldn't help but remain engaged in the conversation. And her ability to inhibit her words was at an all time low.
"You heard me. Do you have any idea what you did to her? Do you even care?"
He faltered at her words. Though Ellis Grey's name hadn't come up between them in some time, there was no doubt she was who Meredith was referring to now.
The elevator doors opened on the ground floor. Derek reached for her hand and squeezed before addressing Richard. "We won't be completing those forms," he said evenly. "If you make an issue of it, we'll get our lawyer involved. And if we have to get our lawyer involved we'll make sure he's aware that you aren't following your own rule." With a nod to his boss, he tugged Meredith out of the elevator and through the lobby.
She stayed silent, allowing herself to be led away from the building that made her feel like she couldn't breathe. The rush of oxygen down her trachea the moment she stepped outside calmed her immediately. She gulped down breath after breath of clear air and got almost all the way to the car before she faltered. Her breath caught in her throat and she struggled suddenly to keep breathing. A sob escaped from somewhere deep down inside her. And then she was crying.
Derek's arms were around her in a heartbeat.
"I'm sorry, I'm sorry," she found herself telling him. She hated being like this. She hated crying. And she hated feeling so weak and so vulnerable. "I shouldn't have said those things. He's my boss. I should have kept my mouth shut. But I can't, Derek. I can't. I can't. I-"
"Shh," he quieted her. "It's okay, Mer. I thought you actually did a good job keeping calm. She wasn't my mother, but there's a ton of other things I'd like to say to him."
She sniffed. "Thank you."
He pressed a kiss to the top of her shoulder. "You can't keep going on like this, Mer. This isn't good for you." He hesitated. "I'm worried."
"I'm worried, too." She felt her body shudder as she struggled not to cry anymore. "No matter what I tell myself, and the number of times I remind myself he's my boss, he made my mother want to die. And I can't get past that. She was extraordinary. And he made her want to die. How am I supposed to get past that?"
"I don't know," he whispered. "But we're going to figure this out together."
She managed a full breath in and out. She closed her eyes and leaned into him. "Derek," she whispered. In this moment, she was pretty sure he was keeping her standing, both physically and metaphorically. She had no idea what she'd do without him.
He pressed a kiss to the side of her head. "I'm here, Mere. I'll always be here. We're going to get through this."
The following day didn't start any better than the previous.
Meredith flinched at the familiar tightness in her chest that occurred the moment she stepped into the lobby. It seemed every day the physical effect of walking into the hospital was stronger. Derek had been paged in early for an emergency, so she was on her own that morning. The path to the Residents' Lounge was quiet and – thankfully – free of Richard Webber. She knew she'd have to see him again soon, but she had no idea how she was going to deal with the situation. Not only was she still seething from her conversation with Richard the day before, but she'd had her nightmare – twice – the night before, so she was exhausted on top of everything else. All she'd wanted to do that morning when her alarm went off was to burrow back under the covers and pretend she didn't have a job to do.
And that wasn't fair. Because she loved her job. She loved being a surgeon and saving lives. She shouldn't feel such an aversion to the hospital because of one man. It wasn't fair.
Izzie was sitting on the bench by the cubbies, her head in her hands, when Meredith walked in.
"Meredith," she said, sitting upright.
"You okay?" Meredith asked as she stumbled over to her cubby and pulled out a fresh set of scrubs.
"What's wrong?" She didn't like the tone of Izzie's voice. "Is it Cristina?"
"No, it's Alex and Rebecca. She's not pregnant."
Meredith felt her brow furrow. "She's not pregnant? And this is a bad thing?"
Izzie sighed. "That's the thing I couldn't tell you before. She told Alex she was pregnant, which was why she was moving in with him. But she also came to the clinic and I did a blood test and she's not pregnant."
"Is she trying to trick him?" Meredith asked, concerned for her friend.
"That's what I thought. But now... She really thought she was pregnant, Meredith. Sloan thinks she has Acute Stress Disorder from her accident and plastic surgery. I kept telling her she wasn't pregnant, but she wouldn't believe me. And then Alex told her, and she thinks she had a miscarriage. Sloan told me to get a psych consult, but Alex refused and took her home. I'm worried, Meredith, really worried."
"Where is Alex?"
"He's home with her. I think he's afraid to leave her alone. He asked me to watch his patients today. But Meredith...there's something very wrong. She's just...out of it. And he has to dress her and clean her and feed her. This morning in the kitchen he made her breakfast and had to literally put the fork in her hand. And then he was all 'take a bite, take a bite, take a bite.' It's weird. She needs help."
Meredith ran a hand through her hair. This was worse than she'd expected. She had thought Izzie was just upset days earlier because Alex was moving too fast in his relationship. "Okay. Okay, we can figure this out. What does Alex think?"
"He says she's fine. But she's not fine, Meredith."
"Stop saying okay!" Izzie cried.
"I don't know what else to say!" She cried back. She had no idea how to handle this situation.
Izzie cringed. "Sorry. I'm sorry." He eyes welled, but she didn't cry. "I'm just at the end of my rope, Meredith. I don't know what else to do."
"We'll figure it out together," she found herself saying. It always made her feel better when Derek said it, even when she knew he didn't hand an answer for her as to how they were going to fix it. "Where's George? Is he home today?"
Izzie shook her head. "No, he's working. And you know how Alex is with him. He's not going to accept any help from George. I got George to try to say something to him, but Alex shot him down immediately, and now George is refusing to try again."
"Okay, what's your schedule like today?"
"I'm going to try to stay out of surgery. I want to stay in contact with Alex."
"I'm scheduled in surgery this morning and this afternoon. You stay in touch. I'll go check on them between surgeries. And tonight maybe we can all go and talk to him after our shifts?"
Izzie released a breath filled with stress. "Thank you, Meredith. Thank you. I can't do this all by myself."
She nodded. "Trust me, Iz, I understand."
Her morning surgery hit some complications, which had Bailey page the Chief in. She had tried to make an excuse to get out of the surgery, but Bailey had glared at her over the patient in the way only Bailey could, and Meredith knew she couldn't leave. When Richard arrived, his gaze caught hers for a fraction of a second, and then he looked away and focussed on the patient. He didn't say a single word to Meredith the entire surgery.
He left Bailey and Meredith to close and was long gone from the scrub room before Meredith had to scrub out. She released a breath of relief. Maybe she had another day to figure out what she'd do when she had to speak with the Chief.
However, as if he was reading her mind, she was paged to his office the moment her hands were clean and dry. She debated ignoring the page, but knew that would only make the situation worse.
The walk to his office felt longer than ever before, and when she finally reached it, her chest burned with tension.
"Close the door, Meredith," he said as she stepped in the door. She did so. He motioned for her to sit across from him at the desk. She did so, as well.
"Meredith, what happened yesterday shouldn't have happened."
"No, it shouldn't have," she agreed, "But a lot of things that happened should never have happened."
He sighed. "I know you think I'm a bad guy, but I'm not. I'm a good man, Meredith."
She met his eyes evenly and shook her head. "Not to my mother you weren't. She was extraordinary and you destroyed her. She deserved better."
"Your mother was a special person, but it wouldn't have worked for us. I did what was best-"
"You did what was easy," she cut in.
"I couldn't have made her happy."
"You didn't even try."
"No. You made her-" She couldn't say the words to him. "You destroyed her. And you did it with only yourself in mind. She didn't mean anything to you. You took the easy way out."
"I did not-"
"You did," she insisted. "You trapped her at the park that day. You knew if you left her there she couldn't go after you because I was there. Just like you're trapping me now. I can't say what I really want to say to you because you're my boss." She crossed her arms protectively over her chest.
"You're right. I am your boss," he stated, voice raised and in that authoritative tone of his that made her blood boil. "Which means you are going to have to figure out how to get along with me, or you're going to have to find a new job."
She took a breath. His words were not unexpected. "Are we done?"
He looked surprised, but then covered quickly for it. "Let me know what your answer is."
She stood and left silently. Like there was anything to think about. He was just trying to intimidate her into submission. She wouldn't give him the satisfaction. Despite how difficult she found being in the hospital and working under Richard Webber, she would never give him the satisfaction of leaving. Because that would be letting him win.
The hospital air was suffocating her once more. She glanced at her watch and saw she had an hour before she was expected back in surgery with Bailey; just enough time to drive to her old house to check on Alex and Rebecca and get back in time to grab something to eat and report to surgery.
She cranked the music and allowed herself to cry and rant and yell all the things she wanted to say to Richard Webber on her way to the house. She was so worked up when she got there she actually had to sit in the driveway for three entire minutes, just breathing, before she took off her seatbelt and got out of the car.
No one answered the door when she knocked. She tried the knob, which turned easily.
"Hello?" She called. "Alex? Rebecca?"
No one called back.
"It's Meredith," she announced.
Still, no answer.
She closed the door behind herself and stepped into the front hall. The house was quiet. She walked into the living room and glanced around. It struck her that she hadn't been back here since she and Derek moved out. Nothing seemed much different from before, but the tightness that plagued her chest at the hospital seemed to have followed her here. Too many memories.
"Alex?" She called again.
She pushed through the door to the kitchen, hoping to find them eating a late lunch. The sight that met her, though, was completely unexpected.
Her heart clenched and her chest felt like it was falling through her abdomen. The world around her spun, and she felt herself falter. She reached for something – anything – to steady herself, but found nothing. The world toppled and she found herself on her knees, staring at the horrific sight.
There was blood. All over the kitchen floor. Just like before.
A small part of her asked if she was hallucinating, but she was already too far gone to be certain of anything. She'd dredged up her past and suffered worsening nightmares for weeks now. She'd been careening towards rock bottom for days and she'd let herself get worked up in the car on the way over to the house. It would have taken only a nudge to push her over the edge, let alone the shove that did it now.
Blood. Her mother's blood. All over the kitchen floor; bright red mixing with the rich brown of the hardwood floor.
She crawled forward, unable to stay away. She had to know for sure that this was real. She reached a shaking hand and touched it.
It was cold; a direct contradiction to the last time there had been blood on this floor. If she was hallucinating, was reliving the day her mother had wanted to die, why would the blood be cold? It had been warm the last time. Sticky and warm. She had watched it drain from her mother's wrists and travel towards herself. She had felt it soak into her clothes. She had watched the life drain from Ellis's eyes.
Her chest hitched as she struggled to draw oxygen. She was right on the verge of a full blown panic attack and there was nothing she could do but wait for it to recede.
She managed to crawl away from the blood and sit back against the wall. She pulled her knees into her chest and closed her eyes. Her chest closed up and she wasn't able to breathe. Her body trembled as she struggled to stay conscious. Her throat screamed in pain. Her head throbbed. Visions of her mother lying on the floor and the scalpel and the blood played behind her eyelids on repeat.
She felt dizzy. The world spun around her. The only thing keeping her upright at all was the wall behind her back.
All she could see was pools of red, so she closed her eyes. But she even with her eyes closed all she could see was blood. And she couldn't shut out the smell.
She couldn't do this again. She'd been so close to this spot the last time.
Her cheat heaved as her diaphragm tried unsuccessfully to expand her lungs; tried to draw a breath.
She flashed back to the last time she hadn't been able to draw a breath. She'd been underwater. She'd fought the urge not to breathe in, only to have water invade her lungs and drown her alveoli. She'd been completely at the mercy of the water.
Despite her panic, that realization somehow caught her attention.
She wasn't underwater this time. There was air all around her. She wasn't at the mercy of the environment. She was strong.
She was stronger than this.
She had come too far to let this happen to herself again.
She wouldn't give up; she wouldn't give in to the crushing sensation around her chest. She wasn't a quitter.
The first breath she forced into her lungs was painful and burned from her lips to her lungs. The second wasn't much better. But eventually it became less of a struggle. She just focussed on breathing in and breathing out. She reminded herself she didn't give up. She reminder herself she was strong. It helped. She clutched her left hand in her right and felt her wedding band. She thought of Derek and imagined him there, telling her it would be okay, telling her she could do this. She reminded herself she wasn't alone anymore. She had a husband. She had a family; two, actually. One on the west coast and one on the east.
The world stopped spinning around her.
Her chest finally released. Every breath still burned its way down her throat and through her trachea to her lungs, but she was breathing regularly now. Fast and shallow, but regularly.
She opened her eyes.
The blood was still there.
She closed her eyes.
The blood was still there, too. Different blood, the same blood; she wasn't sure.
She opened her eyes again and stared. This couldn't be happening again. There couldn't be blood on this floor again.
She stumbled to her feet and into the laundry room, knowing it was where Izzie stashed the cleaning supplies. She returned with a bucket and cleaners and sponges.
She had to get rid of the blood.
Falling to her knees again, she pulled out a sponge and started scrubbing.
She had to erase all evidence that this had ever happened.
She didn't know how long she stayed there, crouched over, scrubbing furiously as hot tears fell from her eyes and mixed with the blood. He knees started to protest, but she kept going. Her fingers ached, but she kept going. He back cried out from the position, but she kept going.
She had to keep going. She had to get rid of the blood. This couldn't be happening again.
The sky outside the window began to darken, but she didn't see it. She didn't hear when the rain started to fall outside. She didn't hear when her pager went off – several times. She didn't hear her phone ring.
She didn't hear the front door open. She didn't hear the footsteps that made their way to the kitchen. She didn't hear the kitchen door open.
The first sound that registered was the surprised gasp from behind her, but she didn't turn or stop.
"Meredith?" A familiar voice called. "Meredith, are you okay?"
Footsteps approached her and a hand fell onto her back. She kept scrubbing.
"Meredith, are you hurt? Is this your blood?"
She kept scrubbing. She had to. She couldn't stop.
"Meredith!" The voice was raised now. Hands grasped onto her wrists, stopping her. She struggled, but didn't have the energy to put up much of a fight. "Meredith! Stop!"
She allowed herself to be pulled from the floor. She stumbled blindly. Comforting hands guided her. She found herself sitting on a chair. She noticed she was shaking. Her entire body was trembling. And she was cold.
"Meredith, what the hell happened? Are you okay?"
Eyes stared at her. A concerned face. She blinked.
George had found her.
She opened her mouth, but no words came out. Her throat felt raw and dry.
"Stay here," he commanded.
She stayed. Her body was shaking so badly she didn't know if she could move if she tried. She wasn't sure where she'd want to go, anyway.
He returned a moment later and pressed something cold into her hand. "Drink," he said.
She stared at her hand. A glass of water. She lifted it to her lips and took a sip. Then another sip. And another. She downed the rest of the glass quickly. The cold water hit her empty stomach violently.
And then she was retching.
George pulled the garbage can close just in time and rubbed her back while she threw up. When she was done, he moved the can away and offered her a half glass of water. "Slow sips this time."
She took a single sip and stopped. He left her side and returned with a damp towel. "There's blood all over you," he said, wiping her forearms clean. "Is it yours?"
She shook her head.
"Are you sure?"
"Whose is it?"
"My mother's," she whispered.
She said nothing. It wasn't like she could explain how her mother's blood had returned to the kitchen floor all those years later.
He knelt down in front of her. "Meredith, please. I need you to concentrate for a moment."
She met his eyes. He looked so worried for her. She would try to push away the fog that seemed to have fallen in her mind.
"Are you hurt?"
It was a loaded question. Of course she was hurt. Her knees, back and hands ached. Her throat and lungs burned. Her head throbbed. Her emotions were so high that her mind felt completely fried to the point where she could barely form coherent thoughts. But that wasn't what he meant. "No."
"Do I...do I need to call the police?"
She blinked at him, confused.
"Meredith, there's blood on the floor. A lot of blood. I don't know if... Is someone hurt?"
She looked around him to what was left of the blood. She hadn't done much more than move it around. "You can see the blood," she said, the fog slowly clearing.
He nodded. "Yes, I can."
"My mother died. Almost a year ago. It can't be her blood."
George nodded. "That's right. Do you know whose it is?"
She shook her head. Reality was starting to push its way into her mind. "I found it. I came to check on Alex and Rebecca. Izzie and I made a deal. It was here. I...I don't know whose it is."
"Izzie knows you were coming here?"
"Okay. I'm going to call her." He sat beside her in another chair. She waited while he placed his call. He said words into the phone, but she couldn't find the energy to make sense of them. She closed her eyes. "Meredith," he eventually said, drawing her attention. She opened her eyes.
"George," she said.
He met her gaze. "I talked to Izzie. Rebecca cut herself. It's her blood. Alex took her to the hospital. She's going to be okay."
"Rebecca's blood." She took a breath. Not her mother's blood. Not a hallucination. A simple explanation. Everything was okay.
He nodded. "Izzie thinks she slit her wrists."
The world teetered at his words. Okay, not a simple explanation. "She shouldn't have done that. People shouldn't do that."
He looked at her strangely, but nodded. "You're right. How about I get you to the hospital? We can find Derek."
"Derek..." She whispered.
"Yes, Derek," he repeated, standing up and reaching a hand to her. "Because I really think you need him right now. Come on, I'll drive."
She stood, but caught sight of the blood. "No. I need to clean first."
"It's okay. I'll come back and clean it."
She hesitated. "It can't stay there. It can't." Had she had any energy to spare, she would have felt embarrassed at the tears that welled in her eyes.
"I'll come back," he promised. "As soon as I know you and Rebecca are alright."
She stared at the blood. The kitchen floor. The memories. The helplessness. The words from her mother.
"Meredith?" He prompted.
"Okay," she agreed.
He led her from the room and out the front door. She let him without protest. It was raining outside. She stood for several moments, watching the water wash the remaining blood from her arms. Eventually George prompted her into the passenger seat of his car.
He said things on the way to the hospital, but she couldn't make much sense of them. All she could think was that he was a good friend for letting her sit in his car soaking wet from the rain and with remnants of Rebecca's blood on her clothes. She wanted to thank him for that, but she couldn't find the words.
He parked and they walked through the rain together into the hospital.
"Do you have a change of clothes in your cubby?" He asked.
"Okay. We'll go there first." He led her up the elevator and towards the Residents' Lounge. The moment the door shut behind them, it swung open so hard it bounced against the wall. She flinched.
"Meredith Grey-Shepherd!" Bailey's angry tone shouted into the room. "Where the hell have you been? You were supposed to be in my OR hours ago. I paged you a dozen times..." She trailed off as Meredith turned to face her.
"I..." She began, but found no words. Her schedule for the day slowly came back to her. Derek had been paged early. He'd kissed her goodbye before he'd left. She woken again to her alarm later and struggled through getting ready for the day. She'd been in surgery that morning with Bailey and the Chief. She talked to the Chief; they'd argued. She'd gone to check on Alex and Rebecca. She'd only had an hour. She didn't know how much time had gone by. Considering it had gotten dark, she'd missed her surgery by a very long time.
"What's wrong with her?" Bailey demanded.
"I don't know," George said. "I found her scrubbing blood off the kitchen floor at home. She didn't even hear me at first."
"Grey, sit," she demanded before turning to George. "Whose blood?"
Meredith sat onto the bench by her cubby and listened as George explained the situation to Bailey. She managed to numbly follow most of their conversation as she realized how stupid she'd been.
"I'm sorry, Dr. Bailey," Meredith tried to apologize when the talking had stopped. "I lost track of time."
"I'm much more concerned with your wellbeing at the moment." She crouched in front of her, eyes narrowed. "What happened?"
"I went to check on Alex and Rebecca because Izzie was worried. There was blood."
"Why didn't you call for help?"
She shrugged. "I had to get rid of the blood."
"It couldn't stay there. Not again."
She fell silent. Ellis hadn't wanted anyone to know.
"When I first asked her, she said it was her mother's blood," George explained quietly. He and Bailey exchanged a glance.
"Go and find Shepherd," she demanded. "And O'Malley, keep this quiet."
"Of course. Mer, I'll be right back, okay?"
"Okay," she answered.
Bailey sighed once it was just the two of them in the room. "Grey, are you okay?"
She shrugged. "I think so. I lost track of time."
"I'm concerned about what made you lose track of time."
"There was blood."
"You said that. But you're a surgeon, so why would blood bother you?"
"It shouldn't be there."
"Has it been there before?"
Bailey sighed, but didn't ask any further questions. She disappeared from Meredith's view for a moment, before returning and pushing a towel into Meredith's hands. "Grey, go have a shower, warm up and wash off the rest of the blood."
Meredith took the towel, surprised to find herself shivering. When had that started? Probably sometime after she'd stood in the rain and before getting in George's car. Meredith stood and dutifully walked towards the women's showers. She left the blood soaked clothes by the wall and stood under the spray for several long moments. The remaining fog in her mind cleared away with the blood. She'd massively overreacted to the situation. Reality and embarrassment started to settle in.
Bailey passed her fresh clothes, which she pulled on as soon as she was dry.
George was waiting for her the moment she stepped back into the lounge. "Derek's in surgery," he explained, "But I'll make sure I get him as soon as he's finished."
"It's okay," she told him. "I'm okay now. It was stupid that I reacted like that. How is Rebecca?"
"She'll be fine. Izzie's getting her a psych consult."
"They won't let her go back home?"
"Good." She sat on the bench. She knew Bailey and George were exchanging a glance above her head, but she couldn't bring herself to care. She was too tired to care.
The door opened. She looked up and flinched when she saw who it was. Of all the people she most didn't need to deal with right now, he was definitely at the top of the list.
"Dr. Grey-Shepherd," Richard said her name angrily. "You do not get to pick and choose which surgeries you show up for. Unless that's your way of answering my earlier question."
"Dr. Webber," Bailey tried, "It seems there was a good reason."
"I'm sure she thinks so."
"Chief," she tried again, but he waved his hand to stop her.
"You two get out. Meredith and I are going to have a little chat."
"Now, Dr. Bailey."
Meredith sat quietly as George and Bailey left the room.
"What do you have to say for yourself?" He demanded.
"I lost track of time."
"You weren't even on site. You ignored pages and phone calls. What in the world was so important?" He didn't give her a chance to answer. "The lack of responsibility and judgement that you showed today makes me question your readiness to be a surgeon. That along with the way you've been acting-"
"My mother tried to kill herself after you left her. Did you know that?" She hadn't meant to ask him, to say anything at all about Ellis's suicide attempt, but the words slipped out unbidden. Her ability to filter was just gone.
His expression immediately transformed from one of anger to one of shock. "I didn't know that," he told her. His tone was earnest, giving her no doubt this was the very first he was hearing of it.
"I have a lot of reasons to be mad at you. You've abused your power and treated both me and my husband badly for a lot of things," she said neutrally. After the day she'd had, all desire to yell was gone. She was just...broken. She'd reached rock bottom. "But you seem to be trying to change, so I could let those things go. But you made my mother want to die. And that I can't let go."
Silence reigned for several moments. He sat on a bench across from her. "I didn't know, Meredith." All the fight was gone from his voice, too.
"She slit her wrists in front of me on the kitchen floor. Today I went to check on Alex and found blood all over the kitchen floor. That's why I wasn't here for my surgery. I think...I think I had a panic attack."
"Oh, Meredith. I heard about Rebecca Pope. I'm sorry."
"I don't want to hear your apologies. You made my mother want to die. And there's nothing that can make that go away." Her heart ached in her chest. She just wanted to go home and lie down and have the day be over. She was so tired.
"I...don't know what to say."
She sniffed. "She was a brilliant surgeon. And you destroyed her. How could you do that to her? She deserved so much better. She was a talented, gifted, extraordinary surgeon," she said.
"I didn't know, Meredith. If I'd known..." He trailed of, but Meredith didn't even notice.
Her attention was still on her own words. Her mother had been an incredible surgeon; smart, focused, determined. Ellis Grey did not know failure. At anything. Slitting her wrists didn't make sense. Not the way she'd done it. If she'd really wanted to die, she would have gone for the carotid artery. It was much faster and much more efficient.
If she'd really wanted to die...
Realization washed over her. Everything Wyatt had been working her towards suddenly made so much sense. Her mother hadn't wanted to die. Not really. She just hadn't wanted to keep living the way she was. Maybe Meredith had had to stop fighting to understand it, but it was there now. The knowledge. Ellis Grey didn't fail at anything. She hadn't meant to kill herself all those years ago. If she had, she would have dies decades before she actually had.
She looked up at the Chief, who was looking at her in concern. "She was a brilliant surgeon," Meredith whispered.
"She was," he agreed. "Meredith, I'm sorry about everything that happened with your mother. I never meant to be that guy. I was young. I thought I was doing the right thing."
She knew he was talking, but she wasn't hearing him. She stood. "I have to go."
"It's important, Chief." She hurried out of the room and down the familiar path that took her to her therapist's office. She knocked and let herself in when she heard Wyatt call out, 'come in.'
Wyatt looked up from her desk. Her expression said she knew Meredith had had a breakthrough. "Tell me," she prompted.
"She was a surgeon," Meredith said. "A very talented surgeon. If she'd really been trying to kill herself, she wouldn't have slit her wrists. She knew better. She would have cut her carotid artery. She didn't want to die." She released a breath she was pretty sure she'd been holding since that first day on the kitchen floor. "She didn't really want to die," she repeated.
"What did she want?"
"She wanted Richard to come back to her."
"And why didn't he come back?"
"Well, because he never knew about it. And she never asked. And there was probably a reason they weren't together." Her mouth was working as fast as her mind as clarity started to settle.
"And what does that mean?"
She hesitated. "I...I'm not sure."
"Puzzle it out. Don't think of this whole thing as some epic story of Richard Webber wronging your mother. Try and see it as an outsider."
Meredith pursed her lips as she thought. "They were both married and had an affair."
Wyatt nodded encouragingly.
"And they decided to leave their spouses and be together."
"She went through with it, but he didn't. Which means...he probably would have had doubts before they agreed to leave their spouses."
"So...he probably didn't make her leave Thatcher. And Ellis Grey would never have taken an order like that, anyway. He wouldn't have wanted her to be on her own. He cared enough to want her to be happy."
"Just not enough to sacrifice his own happiness."
Meredith nodded. She collapsed onto the couch across from Wyatt. "He cared, just not enough to leave Adele. Which means he didn't make her leave Thatcher. She didn't take orders from anyone. She probably left Thatcher and told him to leave Adele, only he didn't go through with it."
Wyatt nodded. "It looks different when you're not the daughter who got caught in the middle."
"He didn't mean for her or I to get hurt," she continued, the whole story suddenly changing in her head as she saw it in a new light. "He was an ass for having an affair, but that's...all. Because in the end, he chose his wife, the woman he had committed himself to."
"Right. Because what is he?"
Meredith shook her head. "I don't know."
"You do. I said it in our last session. What is Richard Webber?"
Meredith thought back before realization washed over her. "Human."
Wyatt smiled. "That's right." She got up and moved behind Meredith to close the door, giving them some privacy. She returned to Meredith's view and sat again. "He's human. He made a mistake. A mistake that ended up hurting you dearly, but a mistake all the same. He didn't mean for you to suffer like you did."
"He's the bad guy to me, but he's not a bad guy."
"I think you're right."
She ran a hand through her hair. "Why didn't you just tell me this from the beginning?"
Wyatt smiled. "You had to be ready to understand it. Care to tell me how this realization came about?"
Meredith told her about Rebecca and the blood. She explained her reaction to the situation and George bringing her back to the hospital. She told her about her conversations with the Chief over the past two days.
"Do you still feel so strongly about him?"
"No," she said honestly. "He still hurt my mother, but she loved him. He didn't set out to do the damage he did. He made a mistake. Because he's human."
"And do you know who else was human?"
Wyatt smiled encouragingly. "Your mother."
"She put herself on a pedestal for you growing up and made sure you never felt good enough for her. She told you that you were a waste of space and you believed her. She made you think of her as someone larger than life. She made you struggle every day to live up to her expectations. And she made you feel like a failure every time you couldn't be what she wanted you to think you should be."
"She made me look for role models and fall apart when I couldn't live up."
"Exactly. But, Meredith, and this is very important, your mother was just a regular person. She may have been a surgical god, but she was just a person. She was human. She had the same doubts and fears and emotions as you or I. She probably set out to make herself superior to you after she slit her wrists in front of you."
"She did something stupid and felt weak," Meredith said, making it make sense for herself. "She hated weakness, so she made herself look strong to me. And all the while, she was sad and lonely because she lost the man she loved."
"It looks different now, doesn't it?"
Meredith nodded. "Her words to me. 'Be extraordinary.' She said that at her lowest, when her guard was down."
"Yes, she did. What do you think that meant?"
"Be extraordinary," she said to herself. Her mother had lain their on the floor in a pool of her own blood and stared at Meredith as she'd said the words. She hadn't really wanted to die. She'd wanted the love of her life to come back to her, but she hadn't been able to fight for him. She'd wanted to be stronger. "She wasn't talking about surgery," she whispered the sudden knowledge. Ellis had done what she'd done when her personal life fell apart. It had nothing to do with her professional life. She'd never struggled at the hospital. If surgery had been the only important thing in her life, she'd never have brought the scalpel home.
Meredith flashed back to almost a year and a half ago. After falling in love with a man, she'd been devastated to find out he was married. She'd been angry and she'd pushed him away. But when push came to shove and she saw herself losing him to her, she'd fought. She let down her walls in that scrub room and said a host of horribly embarrassing things that could have crushed her had he said no.
But he hadn't said no. He'd picked her, too. He'd chosen her and loved her.
She'd fought and she'd won.
"She wasn't talking about surgery at all," she said confidently.
"No, she wasn't."
Tears streamed from her eyes, but she made no move to stop them. For the first time in so long, they weren't tears of anguish or pain or frustration or anger. They were tears of relief. Her mother hadn't wanted to die. Her mother had wanted Meredith to be better than her. Her mother was human. And Richard Webber was human. She laughed through her tears. Everything looked so different now. She'd somehow managed to live up to her mother's hope without knowing what it was. Ellis, in her lowest point where her own walls had been down, hadn't wanted Meredith to be an extraordinary surgeon. She'd wanted her daughter to be an extraordinary woman; to fight for happiness. And Meredith had. She'd built herself a family. She'd built herself happiness.
"It all seems so stupid now."
"You were living with blinders on for a long time, Meredith. You did a lot of the work yourself, but this last bit has been something you wouldn't have been able to see without an objective look."
"I can't believe...all this time..."
"It's not easy to realign after you realize something you've believed for so long isn't what you thought."
"No, it's not." She took a deep, easy breath. Her chest no longer tugged or tightened or fought against oxygen.
"How do you feel now?"
"Exhausted," she said honestly. "All I want to do is go home and sleep." She smiled suddenly at the thought.
"What is it?" Wyatt prompted.
"I just realized I won't ever have that nightmare again. The memory changed." She paused. "It can't haunt me anymore."
"And neither can your mother."
"Because she was human."
"I can't believe it's finally over."
Wyatt offered a supportive smile. "You've made an incredible amount of progress today, Meredith. And you've definitely worked through the worst of it, but there's still work to be done," she cautioned.
"You couldn't let me have my moment, could you?" She found herself joking.
Wyatt laughed. "Just reminding you of the-"
"Reality," Meredith finished for her. "I know, I know." She took another freeing breath. "I just feel like it's going to be so much better now."
"It will be. Now that you understand what started you on the track you didn't like, everything will make more sense. Your reactions to certain events will make more sense."
"It all already makes more sense," Meredith said. Why she'd looked for role models. Why she'd fallen apart over some events and not over others. Why she'd feel out of control when she thought her world should be falling apart but nothing had actually changed.
"And we'll talk it all over in your next session. I think you've probably had enough for today."
Meredith nodded, but before she could speak a hurried knock sounded at the door.
Wyatt shot her an apologetic glance, but seeing as Meredith had barged in unscheduled she could hardly be upset for being interrupted. She watched as Wyatt opened approached the door, prepared to make a quick exit if need be.
Wyatt opened the door a crack, as if shielding Meredith from view, but then swung the door open, revealing one very concerned husband.
Derek's anxious expression was overtaken by relief when he spotted her sitting on the couch. He didn't hesitate as he strode across the small room to her, but he did apologize. "I'm sorry," he said, glancing at Wyatt on his way by, but his focus and apology directed at Meredith. "I'm sorry. I'm not sure if I should be here, but...I couldn't not be here," he said, both desperation and relief lacing his words.
She stood and allowed him to pull her into a tight hug.
"Bailey told me what happened and then the Chief said you took off while talking to him. And when you didn't answer your cell and you weren't in my office... This was the only other place I thought you would go. Are you okay?" He pulled back far enough to meet her eyes, but was so worked up that he didn't pause long enough to let her answer. "I'm sorry I wasn't there. I'm so sorry, Mer. What happened? Are you...are you okay? Was it the Chief? What did he say to you this time? Do you need me to... What can I do? I can't change him, Mer, or what he did, but you shouldn't have to deal with him. Not after everything. We can move, if you want? Find another hospital. Start fresh. I'll go anywhere."
"I'm sorry if I shouldn't be here," he said again before she could speak, glancing to Wyatt and then back to Meredith. "I'll go if you want, but I needed to make sure you were okay." Despite his offer to leave, he made no move to release her.
She wrapped her hands around his arms and squeezed, telling him she was okay. "I'm glad you're here," she said. "I'm sorry I scared you, but I needed..." She let out a breath, trying to find the words to explain. Across the room, Wyatt met her eyes, asking a question. Meredith nodded and sat back down on the couch, pulling Derek down with her.
Wyatt shut the door and returned to her chair.
Derek glanced between them, concern still lining his eyes, but calmer now that he knew she was okay.
"I'm okay now," she told him, placing her hand on his thigh, just above his knee, and squeezing.
He immediately wrapped her hand in both of his.
She smiled. "Today...sucked. But I think I needed to have this happen to understand."
She felt those tears of relief well in her eyes again. "Everything."
His brow creased at her tears and his jaw tightened. She knew he hated watching her cry. She knew it made him feel like he wasn't enough for her.
She squeezed his hand, trying to communicate to him that for once her tears were good. She met his eyes for a long moment before turning her gaze to her therapist. "Do I need to give you permission for him to be here?"
Wyatt shook her head. "I have it from last time."
Meredith nodded and turned back to Derek. "It wasn't what I thought it was."
"My mother's..." She trailed off before she could say suicide attempt because that's not really what it was, was it? "When my mother slit her wrists."
"What was it?"
"A human being making a cry for help. A lonely and sad human being trying to get the love of her life back but not knowing how to do it. And being afraid."
He nodded, following her words and urging her to continue. His eyes showed very little understanding, but were filled with trust she would lead him to an understanding. And love, always love.
With a deep breath, she began to explain, and though she'd expected to need Wyatt to help her explain, she found the words coming more and more easily. Because it all made sense now. It all looked so very much different now.
She cried as she explained – some tears of sadness for the despair she'd once felt, but mostly in relief for the future she now had – but she made no move to stop or wipe away the tears. Derek held her hand and followed her story silently, letting her get everything out.
"And then you showed up at the door," she finished.
He smiled. "I'm sorry I wasn't here for you today."
She lifted her free hand to rest at the junction of his neck and shoulder. She squeezed. "You had no way of knowing what would happen today," she soothed first, knowing his impulse would be to blame himself. Second, she allowed herself a proud smile, "Plus, as much as I love you, I'm kind of glad I got to do this by myself. I figured it out, Derek."
"You did." He smiled and she didn't see any self doubt in his eyes. He looked full of pride and love and something else... Adoration, maybe. Or admiration. Wonder. Awe. Joy, for her. Or some combination of them all. "I'm so...happy for you," he said, saying the word 'happy' as if it didn't mean nearly what he wanted it to mean.
She leaned in and pressed her forehead to his. "Everything is different now. Everything looks different."
He shifted, brushing his nose against her affectionately. Then he tilted his head and pressed a kiss to the corner of her lips. He meant for it to be quick and soft, but she met his move and captured his lips with hers. Closing her eyes, she channelled all of her emotions into the kiss and-
The clearing of a throat interrupted. Derek pulled back and shot a sheepish look towards the therapist.
Meredith ran a hand over her face, but couldn't find it in herself to be embarrassed. Not today. Today she earned the right to feel like this. So, she would kiss her husband if she wanted.
"Meredith, you've made exceptional progress, especially today. But I think that's enough for today. My advice is to go home and...celebrate that progress."
Meredith stood and Derek followed her movements. "Thank you, Dr. Wyatt. I know you said I had to figure this out on my own, but I would never have gotten there without you. I...I don't know how to thank you."
"Just promise to be here for your next session."
"And on time?"
Meredith smiled. "I'll try." With one last smile, she reached for her husband's hand and tugged him out of the office.
"Is it just me," Derek said when they got out of hearing range, "Or did she just advise us to go home and have sex?"
She laughed out loud. "I think she did."
He squeezed her hand. "Well, doctor's orders."
She bumped his hip with hers. "Soon. First I need to do something."
He nodded. "Here?"
"Do you want to page me when you're done or do you want-"
"I want you to come with me."
"Okay. You lead; I'll be the wingman."
She laughed. "You're good at being my wingman."
She stopped for a moment, not caring that they were standing in the middle of the hospital, and despite the late hour it wasn't exactly deserted. It didn't matter if they were overheard. Everything she needed to tell him was the truest thing she knew. And she had to tell him now. "I love you so much, Derek. You're the best thing that's ever happened to me, and there's no way in hell I would have been able to do all of this without you."
"Mer..." He trailed off, taken aback not only by her words, but by the intensity.
"You made me want to be better," she said softly. "You made me see how much better life could be and you made me want that. You gave me the strength to fight for it."
"Hey," he said softly. "I may be able to take the credit for opening your eyes to some things, but I can't take credit for your strength. That's all you, Mer. That's always been all you. I saw that that very first case we worked together. You never gave up."
"On the patient or on turning you down?"
He laughed out loud, his eyes shining with so much happiness. "Both," he joked back, "Though I knew I'd wear you down eventually."
"You did," she agreed.
He cocked his head. "Any regrets?"
"Not a single one."
"Good. Me neither." He pressed a kiss to her cheek. "Now, let's do this thing you need to do so we can go home and follow Wyatt's advice."
She rolled her eyes, but nodded and led him down the hall to the Chief's office.
The door was ajar, but she still knocked as she walked in, dropping Derek's hand as she did so, knowing he would follow.
Richard looked up from his desk, his expression uncertain. "Meredith," he greeted. He looked to Derek. "You found her."
Derek nodded, but remained silent in his support, allowing her to lead.
"I'm sorry," Richard said before she could organize her thoughts. Knowing what she needed to say didn't immediately translate into how to actually say it.
"I'm sorry about you mother. I didn't know, Meredith. If I'd known..."
"If you'd known, things may have been different, but you didn't know. And that's not on you. That's on her."
Richard looked surprised at her words. She took advantage of the silence to keep going.
"You didn't make her want to die. You've made a lot of mistakes, but that's not one of them. I'm sorry I accused you of that. It wasn't right. I was working through some things, but I realize now that she didn't want to die. She wanted her life to be different. She wanted you back. But she didn't want to die."
He nodded. "Okay."
She took a breath. "You've overstepped your bounds and authority several times."
He went to speak, but she held up a hand.
"But, as I said before, you seem to be trying to change. So, as long as you keep your professional distance, I can let all of that go now." She glanced at her husband before clarifying. "We can let all of that go now."
Richard nodded. "I'm sorry for how I've acted, Meredith. I'm sorry for hurting your mother. I was trying to fix some of the damage I did. I know it's not enough, and I know what I did upset you, but-"
"You don't need to fix the damage. I'm fixing the damage," she told him.
"Okay. I'll keep keeping my distance."
"And I'll let the past go."
He nodded. "I have one thing to show you." He held up a piece of paper. She stepped forward to take it. A date-and-tell form. One with Richard Webber's personal information on it, listing Ellis Grey as a sexual partner two and a half decades earlier. "You were right about this," he told her. "If I expect my staff to follow the rules, I need to follow them as well."
"Thank you," she said quietly as she stared at the form that suddenly didn't seem nearly what it had only days prior. Stupid and invasive, yes, but not cheap and not targeting. Not something she had to cling to avoiding in order to maintain some semblance of control. Not anymore. She'd needed the control – the ability to say no – then, but not now. Things were different now.
She glanced at her husband, who was watching her with a soft, trusting expression on his face, like he was prepared to follow her anywhere. And he really was. Had she walked into this office and given her resignation, he'd have done so without second thought. He'd follow her lead no matter what. Even if it meant putting up a stand against a new policy that didn't really mean much to them only to back down a few days later. He smiled at her and nodded, encouraging.
"Do you have a couple blank copies we could fill out?" She asked.
Richard managed to hide his surprise quickly as he opened a file on his desk and pulled out two copies. "Do you want to fill them out now or get them to me later this week?"
"We'll fill them out now," she said as Derek stepped forward.
They both sat in the visitor's chairs opposite the desk and filled in their own personal information before recording each other's names. Meredith smiled to herself as she scribbled in 'forever' in the 'relationship end date' column, just like Derek had done on his first form (the form he'd torn up for her).
When they were finished, they passed Richard the forms and left the office together. And together they stopped by his office and her locker room. And together they left the hospital.
Meredith made it five steps out of the hospital before she realized she hadn't felt the same moment of relief at leaving that she'd been feeling for weeks. She made it another four steps before she was smiling and nine before she was laughing.
Derek glanced at her, meeting her eyes, an eyebrow raised in question.
She shuffled to a stop, the tug on his hand causing him to stop as well. She glanced over her shoulder at the building before dropping his hand and tuning to face the building. He turned as well, his hand falling against her back and rubbing comforting circles.
"Are you okay?" He whispered.
She nodded, eyes still staring up at the hospital. "I am," she whispered back. "I really am."
His hand stilled against her for a moment. Then he stepped closer and wrapped both arms around her waist, pressing his chest up against her back.
She found his hands and threaded her fingers through his as she leaned back in his embrace. She closed her eyes and breathed. "I had this tightness in my chest," she told him. "It's been getting worse and worse every time I stepped foot in the hospital lately. And I thought it had developed over the past two months because I opened myself up in therapy. But now I think it's been there for longer. Since that day..." She trailed off, still not sure what words to use. Because her mother hadn't tried to kill herself; not really. The memory was the same as it had always been, but the connotation was so much different now.
"And now?" Derek asked, urging her forward. Finding the words to describe the memory now wasn't important. Moving on was important.
"And now it's gone," she said simply.
She nodded, smiling when he shifted to rest his chin on her shoulder and press his cheek to hers.
"I feel...free of it. Everything, my whole past, looks different now." She opened her eyes and stared up at the hospital again. "She wasn't a good mother, but she was human. She didn't set out to do what she did to me. But she got hurt and it...happened. Maybe she didn't have it in her to be different. I always thought she just didn't care. But now I think she did care, she just couldn't change. So she stuck to what she was good at."
"Surgery," Derek supplied.
She took a deep, easy breath in, and then slowly released it. There was no tension left. She turned in her husband's arms and smiled up at him. "I want to be different than her."
She nodded. "It's my choice who I am."
He nodded, the corners of his lips rising and his eyes shining with love and adoration. "It is."
"I like who I am." She'd never allowed herself to say it out loud before, let alone think it to herself.
"I like who you are, too," he told her, pressing a kiss to her cheek and then rubbing his nose affectionately against hers. "In fact, I love who you are."
She leaned into him and rested her forehead against his chin, needing to be closer. His arms tightened around her. "I get to choose who I am. I don't have to fight to not be like her. I get to chose."
"It's not a struggle," he said, telling her he understood what she was saying.
"I was so afraid for so long of becoming her. And then I met you and you showed me there was so much more to life. You made me want to fight for that life, and I did. But now..."
"But now you can stop fighting."
"I can stop fighting." She laughed again. It was freeing. She was living her own life for the first time, without even a hint of a shadow overhead.
"I'm so..." He trailed off, voice suddenly thick.
She pulled away far enough to meet his eyes. His face was a myriad of emotions. His gaze told her he was bordering on being overcome by being included in her new outlook on life.
He raised a hand to cup her cheek, his thumb brushing along her face. "Meredith, I am so happy for you," he said, voice still thick with emotion. "And relieved for you. And so very grateful to have you in my life."
"Derek..." She whispered, feeling tears spring to her eyes at the intensity in his.
He shook his head, marvelling at her. And she let him. Because maybe he was right and she was something worth being marvelled at. "You are so strong," he told her. "And extraordinary." He offered her a tender smile. "You amaze me, Mer, every day."
"Thank you," she told him. "You amaze me, too, you know."
"We're a good match, then," he said lightly.
She laughed. "Definitely a good match." She leaned in to kiss him and then pulled away and reached for his hand. "Let's go home."
He closed his hand around hers and easily fell into step beside her. And together, they went home to celebrate.