REST STOP

It's cold and dark, and it's three in the morning, and there are a number of ominous looking clouds in the sky, but it hasn't rained yet, and she's thankful for that. She's thankful, because she's been driving for the past three hours, trying to get her head straight, and she knows that it would be much harder to focus on the incoherent thoughts swimming in her head if it was raining.

In her head, it's been raining for awhile now. It's been raining since she opened the door to Burke's apartment and helped a sobbing Cristina out of her tight white dress. It's been raining since she drowned, since Susan died, since Thatcher slapped her. It's been raining since Derek pulled out of her, still slick with sweat, and stared at the ceiling in silence before admitting in a voice broken by resignation that he couldn't breathe for her.

Cristina had fallen asleep to the sounds of her own sobbing, but Meredith hadn't been able to leak out a single tear.

She finds that to be particularly ironic. It's been raining in her head for months now, but somehow, she still can't bring herself to cry. She feels strangely as though the lachrymal tear ducts have run dry. Or felt, anyway. Then Cristina's sobs turned into deep, raspy snores, and she'd tuned out the rhythmic sounds of her friend's breathing and tried to listen to the chaos in her head.

For months, she'd felt like her brain was full. As a wannabe neurosurgeon, she knew that wasn't physically possible, but emotionally, she'd felt as though she was carrying a leaden weight on her shoulders. So much had happened, from the ferry accident to her mother's death to Derek's erratic behavior. She'd collected hardships like baseball cards and stacked them neatly on top of each other, securing them with a rubber band and sliding them into, under, away. Lying there with Cristina, she'd had her first real encounter with silence, and the downward turn the evening had taken had proven enough inspiration for Meredith to dig deep down inside and retrieve her collection. For the first time, she'd laid her hardships out side by side in her mind and really, truly examined everything.

When she'd found Cristina, Meredith had been broken. Hours later, staring at Burke's ceiling in the dark and listening to her person snore, the debris seemed to dissipate. Staring at her line of metaphorical baseball cards, she no longer felt broken. She no longer felt martyred or helpless. No, as memories weaved their way in and out of her stream of consciousness, she felt a new emotion—anger—rising from the ashes. Once she'd gotten in her car to sort things out further, the feeling had only intensified.

Now, Meredith is royally pissed off.

"I met a woman last night."

She's not sure where she's going anymore. She's driven by the hospital, and her mother's house, and the hotel where she knows George is staying with Callie. She was sorely tempted to hunt Burke down and give him a piece of her mind and a swift kick in the ass, but she's been forced to reconcile her protective instincts with the fact that she has no idea where the cardio thoracic surgeon has gone. Besides, deep down, her anger is directed far more firmly towards a different attending.

"I can't leave you…but you're constantly leaving me."

She slams on the brakes for a red light, her chest heaving with the force of her fury.

"I spent the scariest hour of my life trying to breathe for you. I love you and I want you, but I don't know…I don't know if I want to keep trying to breathe for you."

Suddenly, she's driving down a winding dirt road in the middle of the woods, squinting at the trail in front of her and trying desperately to keep her hands from shaking.

"Put me out of my misery."

She shakes her head incredulously, trying to rid herself of the memories and the anger all at once, but all she can do is remember. All she can hear is his voice. And she hates that.

HATES that.

It's dark and it's cold, but there's a light shrouded in silver at the end of the clearing, and she knows he's still awake. She glances down at the neon numbers on her dashboard. 3:00 AM. She doesn't flinch. She knows that, if she starts this now, neither one of them is going to get to sleep tonight, but she doesn't care. He's been the cause of enough sleepless nights on her end. She figures that he can afford to sacrifice an evening on her behalf.

With a determination she'd almost forgotten she had, she pulls the car right up to the back of his trailer and cuts the engine. As the car's interior illuminates, she can see the outline of his figure on the porch.

It's dark, and it's cold, and Derek is outside sipping a beer. Only a few hours ago, there was a woman in a bar and a supposedly heartfelt confession and the mother of all monstrous almost-weddings, and Derek is outside sipping a beer.

She wants to break the Heineken bottle over his beautiful head of hair, but she settles for clenching her tiny, ineffectual fists at her sides as she steps decisively out of the car and slams the door shut. He glances up in surprise at the noise, opens his mouth to say something, but Meredith cuts him off immediately.

"You know," she begins with gritted teeth, "you're not McDreamy. You're McAsshole."

His eyebrows climb a few inches on his forehead, obscuring the scar from his motorcycle accident, and the bottle falls a few inches from his mouth.

"You're an arrogant, hypocritical, ambiguous asshole," Meredith continues, undeterred. "An asshole," she repeats, spitting the word out as though the mere thought of him disgusts her.

Derek opens his mouth again, looking slightly offended by her accusation, but she holds a hand up and immediately silences him.

"I'm not done," she snaps. "You…you mope, and you whine, and you make pretty eyes at me across the operating table, and it's a grand fucking façade, but you can't fool me anymore, because I know now. Beneath it all, you're an asshole."

"I…" Derek sputters, but his posture is still relaxed, and he's still got his beer in his hand, and this only pisses Meredith off further.

"Not. Done." For a moment, Derek looks taken aback, and Meredith sucks in a deep breath. "It was a pretty speech, I'll give you that. You have a way with words. For a little while, I even felt guilty, like I was the one who did something wrong." The laugh that follows is a twisted, ugly sound that turns Derek's stomach. "I didn't do anything wrong, you scum-sucking schmuck. You did."

He sets the beer on the porch, and his look of pain fades to one of curiosity. He's listening.

He's listening, but she's not looking at him anymore. She's looking intently at the trailer, remembering the first time she saw it and hating him more for the warm and fuzzy feelings that the memory causes to surface.

"You wanted me to take the rest on faith. You wanted ME, the girl with serious mommy/daddy/abandonment issues, to take the rest on faith. And you know what's crazy? You know what's freaking insane? I did it! I shoved all of my issues into this tiny little hole inside of me and took the rest on faith. I gave you faith, Derek, and you know what you gave me? A secret wife!"

He winces, and she takes to pacing in front of his porch steps in quick, angry strides.

"You told me that she meant nothing to you, that we could just pick up where we left off, and I stuck around. I not only stuck around, but I confessed to you in the SCRUB room, of all places, that I'm crazy-nuts in LOVE with you! I tell you I'm so in this that it's humiliating, and you go back to Addison anyway. You go back to Addison, and I feel like I'm dying inside, but when you tell me you want to be friends, I agree. Even though seeing you makes me feel like someone is cutting my heart out of my chest with a dull knife, I agree to be friends. I give you my dog. I'm nice to your wife. I confide in you—good friend things—and how do you react? How do you react to getting what you ASKED for? You judge me. You! You judge me! You call me a whore and ignore me in elevators!" She bites her lip to keep from screaming without words and tries to keep a rein on her anger.

"So I ignore you. I ignore you, and I try to get on with my life so you can get on with yours, and you look at me until you're chasing me down in a hospital hallway and propositioning me over an exam table."

She shakes her head incredulously and stops in front of him. For a few seconds, she wields a tiny finger in accusation, but then the finger falls, and her brow furrows, and she can't remember how to be angry anymore.

"You said you were in love with me," she whispers. She closes her eyes, seeming to draw strength for a moment from the ground beneath her and the cold wind on her cheeks. When she speaks again, her voice is stronger. "You said you were in love with me, Derek."

"Am," he interrupts softly, his indigo eyes boring holes into her grey-green orbs.

She arches her eyebrows pointedly, and he reaches for the beer bottle again.

"Am," he repeats after swallowing. "I am in love with you."

He's giving her the look. The look. The McDreamy look that makes his eyes sparkle a little and the corners of his mouth turn up. Normally, she'd be putty in his hands, but now the look just makes her angry again. She narrows her eyes contemptuously.

"You said you were in love with me," she repeats icily, "and, for awhile, you made out like you were going to fight for me. I made up my mind to stay with you, even, and then YOU walked away. I chose you, Derek, and you told me in your melodramatic, high-horse, saccharine McDreamy way that Finn was the better guy." She shakes her head incredulously. "Seriously!"

He frowns. "Meredith…"

"NO!" she shrieks, her voice echoing shrilly through the trees. "No! You don't get to 'Meredith' me this time! You don't get to McDreamy your way out of this! I had a hard time, okay? I had a hard time, and I drowned, and Dylan and Denny and Bonnie and my fucking mother were showing me white lights and Doc and a world without pain, and I came back. My mother was calling me anything but ordinary, and I came back. Why? Because I couldn't stand the thought of leaving you. Because, in my stupid little brain, a whiff of you wasn't enough. Because Denny said that if I stayed I would break you, and I didn't want that on my conscious. So you know what, Derek? You don't get to blame me. You don't get to stare at the ceiling after sex. You don't get to whine about how I'm mocking your need to hover, and you don't get to bitch about how you spent an hour trying to breathe for me. Because I spent three miserable hours trying to live for the both of us, and when I was done, when I came back, you gave me nothing but a guilt trip and another girl at a bar."

And it happens. Finally, she takes a breath, and her shoulders deflate, and her chest deflates, and her eyes take on the sheen that so obviously means tears. The tall, angry, pacing pillar of fire seems to crumble before his very eyes, and a myriad of unidentifiable feelings begin to pool in his gut. In slow motion, the blast is beautiful, but in fast-forward, it just makes him feel like…well, like an asshole.

He drains his beer and hopes for alcoholic indifference, but he can't tear his eyes away from her as she collapses next to him on the porch steps. When she speaks again, her voice is strangely soft.

"You told me that you couldn't breathe for me, so I tried to breathe for myself. You got angry because I was being distant, so I tried to be present again. I made an effort to be vulnerable and communicate with you, and you told me you'd met a girl in a bar. And, then, when I swallowed my pride and my infatuation and my love and my lust and found the—I don't know, the strength?—to set you free, you had the audacity to tell me that I was always leaving you."

He swallows without beer. Once. Twice. He runs a hand over his stubbly cheeks. He heaves a sigh.

"Why…" It comes out as a croak, so he clears his throat roughly. "Why are you telling me all of this?"

She vaults up until she's standing in front of him again, her head tilted incredulously.

"Why?" she repeats in disbelief. "Why? Because I don't know what you want from me, Derek! I keep trying to take your cues, to give you what you're asking for, to be that girlfriend that does everything for her man, but I'm always wrong! No matter what I do for you, you're never satisfied. It's never enough to keep you here. You keep telling me that I'm constantly leaving you, but I've never left, Derek! Do you hear me? I've. Never. Left. Even when you were married, even when you were walking away to fill some manly notion of misplaced nobility, even when you fucking told me you weren't willing to be there for me if I decided to become dark & twisty again. I. Never. Left. I'm still here." Her hands form tiny fists, and the ironic part of him has to fight the urge to smile. "I'm still here, and I hate that I'm still here, but I don't know how to change that, so I'm here. I'm here, and I'm begging. Put me out of my misery. Stop demanding things from me with one foot in the doorframe. Take your own advice and swallow some of those abandonment issues for the greater good."

She folds herself into the front step again, winding down, and takes a deep breath before locking her watery eyes with his.

"I fought death for you, Derek," she all but whispers. "I'd say that's a pretty good indication that I'm a sure thing."

Silence.

He can hear the crickets chirping, and an owl hoots somewhere in the distance.

Her pretty brow furrows in concern, and something ugly twists in his stomach. "This isn't about me. That speech in the locker room, that's not about me, because I'm not the one leaving, Derek. You are." She laughs, softly and hollowly, and the gentle twinge of bitterness is like a stake through his heart. "You've spent this whole relationship with sneakers in your hands. You say you're here, but deep down, you're always ready to run."

Gently, deliberately, purposefully—with a surgeon's hands—he begins peeling the label from the bottle, leaving no residue behind. He knows she needs something, but he can't figure out how to give it to her, and the sudden role reversal makes it painfully obvious why she's on his doorstep ranting at three o'clock in the morning.

The first thin strip of label slides onto the porch step, and he takes a breath.

"So…McAsshole, huh?"

A furious flush creeps up her cheeks, and she runs a shaking hand through her hair. "I…" she stammers, guiltily. What am I supposed to say? "It sounded good in my head"?

He musters a small smile as he inclines his head towards her. "No, you're right. It fits. After that…it fits."

Her first instinct is to apologize. She was fuming. Irate. Angrier than she can ever remember being at anybody, and he says less than ten words in that soft, sweet, reverent tenor of his, and suddenly she wants to apologize. Then the image of Cristina in a wedding dress with no eyebrows and the ugliest necklace in the world surfaces, and she sits a little straighter.

She scoots away from him and shoves the urge to apologize deep beneath the pile of stuff she's unearthed with her ranting, because she doesn't need to apologize. He does. He needs to apologize, and she's sacrificed enough for him already.

"I can't do it anymore, Derek," she levels. "I seriously can't do it anymore. You've turned me into some contortionist who bends and blurs and says things and feels things just so I won't lose you, and I can't do it anymore." She sucks in a deep breath and fixes her eyes on the grass below them. "I won't…I won't do what Cristina did. I'm keeping my eyebrows, and I'm not wearing any necklaces, and…" She trails off, unable to explain the rebellious streak running through her. "I just won't."

The wrinkles in his brow define his scar more clearly as he frowns at her and reaches out a hand to brush against her knee.

"Hey," he begins cautiously, softly. "I'm not arguing with you. This…this thing between us is different, Meredith. You're not Cristina, and I'm not Preston Burke. I can admit that I was an asshole. I might not have put all the pieces together before you started screaming across my lawn, but I get it. I get that I haven't been fair to you." The frown deepens, and he follows her gaze to the shrubbery. "I…I don't expect you to change for me," he says, his tone belying his confusion. He shakes his head in surprise, hating that he's done anything to give her that impression in the first place. A small, sardonic chuckle escapes. "God, I don't want you to change."

She glances up at him through hooded eyes and, for the first time, he can see exactly how much he's hurt her. The unidentifiable feelings in his gut become a leaden weight of self-loathing.

"What do you want, then?" she persists woundedly. "'Cause, Derek…I'm in this, but it hurts, and I need to know if I need to figure out how to walk away."

The soft words reverberate loudly against the walls of his skull. "Figure out how to walk away." You asshole. She's openly telling you that she has no idea how to remove herself from your life. What the hell have you been doing?

He presses the bridge of his nose between his thumb and forefinger, trying to stave off the headache and the guilt all at once. When he speaks, his voice trembles beneath the weight of unshed tears.

"I don't want you to walk away."

For a moment, they're both silent. He's swallowing forcefully, trying to regain some semblance of composure, and she's working his words into every inch of her skin.

"Okay."

He looks up in shock, surprise written on every single one of his rugged features.

"What?"

"Okay," she repeats softly, offering him a tiny smile of acknowledgment.

"No," he counters violently, almost angrily. "No. It's not okay. None of this is okay. I…you…" He shakes his head as if to clear it. "It's three in the morning, and you just spent close to an hour yelling at me for everything that's happened between us over the past year, and…I haven't even said anything. All I've told you is that I don't want you to leave, and you're okay?" He gives a decisive shake of the head and hurls the beer bottle into the grass with more resignation than anger, frowning in frustration when it doesn't break. Because, really, something should break. Something other than him should be breaking right now.

"You're not okay," he concludes darkly, thickly. "I'm not okay. No one is okay."

Meredith swallows the words of consolation that threaten to surface. "Okay."

He sucks in air like it's vanishing, like he has five seconds left before he'll never be able to breathe again. He can feel the blood rushing in his ears, feel his pulse thumping against the base of his skull. His heart is racing all of a sudden, and he doesn't know why, but he can't calm down.

"I…"

His voice shakes violently, and he hates that. Hates that. Because Derek Shepherd is a neurosurgeon, the best in his field, the brightest in his class at med school and the strongest candidate for Chief of Surgery, and Derek Shepherd does not know insecurity. Derek Shepherd does not whimper like an abandoned puppy. Derek Shepherd is Dr. fucking McDreamy, and he does not get all teary-eyed at the notion that he might've accidentally screwed up his chance with the girl.

He closes his eyes for a moment in a vain attempt to regain composure, and a tiny voice in the back of his head acknowledges that maybe, maybe the Derek Shepherd that loves Meredith Grey is an exception to the rule.

"I love you," he says finally, but it doesn't sound like a sweet declaration. He sounds raw and irritated.

"I love you too," Meredith frowns gently and reaches for his hand.

He shrugs her off. "No, you don't get it. I hate how much I love you. It scares me. Hell, it fucking terrifies me. I don't just want to breathe for you, I want to cover every inch of your skin with mine so that we're sharing oxygen. I want to open your car door and pull out your chair and give you my jacket and hold your hand in public places and steal kisses in the darkness of supply closets and abandoned conference rooms and that tiny corner of the trailer where you throw your clothes before you crawl in bed with me. I want to permanently bury my nose in your hair. I want to fuse our lips together. Hell, I want to stay awake even after you fall asleep beside me because I don't want there to be a single second we spend together that I don't remember." He shakes his head incredulously, hating the words that are spilling forth of their own accord, but knowing all the same that he wants nothing less than he wants to stop them.

He swallows forcefully, and the next words rake painfully across his vocal cords. "I love you so much that I physically hurt when we're in the same place and I can't touch you. I love you so much that it actually makes me ill to ignore you in an elevator. I love you so much that just smiling at that girl in the bar made me feel like I'd never be clean enough for you again. I've never been a jealous man, Meredith, but I saw Mark talking to you for all of two seconds, and I had my fist at his temple." He laughs, and the low, raspy chuckle reminds him of sandpaper and razor blades and broken glass. "You want to talk about sacrifices, about transformations? I don't even know who I am anymore. Not until we're brushing hands over an open skull. Not until you're pressing your nose into the nape of my neck and crickets are chirping around us. Not until I've got one hand in your hair and the other on the small of your back. I…"

He stops for breath, finally, and runs a hand through his coarse black curls.

"No," he chuckles sorely, "I don't want you to walk away. But that's not what terrifies me. What terrifies me is that I actually need you to stay. I love you so much that I can't imagine remaining intact without you in the vicinity. And I've never felt this way about anyone, but the last time I cared just a tenth as much about a woman as I care about you, I found her in bed with my best friend, and I can't…" He sucks in another deep breath, praying for peace and knowing that his nerves are far too frayed for peace to come tonight. "I can't go through that again. I was drowning the first time. Had you not come along, I don't…" He coughs and swallows the confession. "I'd be one hell of a neurosurgeon," he says instead, locking gazes with her, "but I'd be a shell of a man."

She reaches for his hand and, this time, he doesn't pull away. Instead, he weaves his thick, warm fingers through hers and squeezes ever so gently.

"Meredith," he entreats sadly. With everyone else, her name is another proper noun in the sea of American English, but with him…with him, her name is a prayer.

"Meredith," he repeats, more strongly this time, "you make me feel like a man. And, as much as I hate that I love you, I hate it more that I haven't given you the same strength you've given me." He glances away for the briefest of moment, and when he finds her eyes again, his indigo orbs are shining with unshed tears.

"I'm sorry," he all but whispers.

She nods thoughtfully, rubbing the pad of her thumb along his rough knuckles.

"I don't need you," she says finally.

He throws his head back and laughs, really laughs. He wipes his eyes and squints up at the stars and tries to convince himself that the pain he feels when he inhales has everything to do with the cold and nothing to do with the incredible woman sitting next to him.

"I know," he chuckles. "Believe me, I know."

She nods again, a small, mischievous smile illuminating her elfin features.

"You don't need me either, you know," she continues softly. "If I left, it would hurt, but you'd be all right."

"You say that now…" He glances down and winks at her, suddenly needing to counter the serious nature of their conversation. He hates that he can't remember the last time he flirted with her, the last time they were playful. Earlier, in the hallway, she was trying to be lighthearted again, but he'd ruined that by mentioning the girl in the bar.

He's really, really beginning to despise the girl in the bar.

She shoves him gently, playfully, and all thoughts of the girl in the bar vanish with the gentle lavender wind that wafts his way.

"I'm serious, Derek. You don't need me. You've spent enough time pushing me away to make that perfectly clear."

She sounds as though she's joking, but he knows that a lot of truth is said in jest, and he hates how much he's hurt her.

The corner of her mouth curls upward, and he silently vows to try and keep that smile on her face. No more ultimatums, Shepherd. No more mixed signals.

"I was a jerk," he agrees, clasping her tiny hand in his. "McAsshole, even," he continues with a playful smile. His features soften, though, and he turns his body ever so slightly towards her. "I am sorry, though. I…" The appropriate words fail to arrive, and he shrugs. "It wasn't my intention to push you away," he concludes honestly.

Meredith nods. "I know." He dips his chin pointedly, and she laughs. "Okay, I didn't know, but…well, I know. I do know. Now."

They share a small smile before each looks down shyly. The crickets chirp loudly for a little while before Meredith dares to break the silence again.

"Derek, I…" The appropriate words fail to arrive, and she shrugs. "I'm not Addison," she says finally, firmly, her grey-green eyes boring into him.

He nods, surprised by the extent to which that small sentence comforts him. "I know." She arches an eyebrow skeptically, and he chuckles. "Okay," he concedes teasingly, "I didn't know, but…well, I do know now."

Meredith rolls her eyes. "Stealing my lines? Seriously?"

"It was a good line!" he insists, feigning defensiveness. "Fitting, and conclusive in that cute, rambling, Meredith way."

She snorts indignantly, and he cracks a genuine grin for the first time in months.

"Seriously, Derek," she grumbles. "We were having a moment! You ruin the moment when you tease me about my rambling."

He reaches out a hand to tweak her nose, unable to stop himself. "You act like we're never going to have another moment," he teases. "Seriously, Mere, there will be other moments." He inhales gently, drawing strength from the wind and the trailer and the crickets and the warmth of her hand in his.

"Look," he begins, "I…I know I've hurt you, and I hate that, and I'm sorry for it, but…much as I want to, I can't change it. I can just…you know…be thankful for the fact that you called me on it."

She levels him with a doubtful look. "Are you?"

His brow furrows. "Am I what?"

"Thankful that I called you on it," she clarifies, staring out across the grass. "I mean, there was a lot of shrieking, and flailing, and…I was mad. I was really, really mad, and I said things, and…"

He reaches up and pulls her chin gently to him with his thumb and forefinger. "You said things that were well-deserved," he assures her sternly. "You said things I needed to hear."

Meredith dips her chin pointedly. "And the shrieking? The flailing?"

He smiles slowly. "I might have been a little bit buzzed," he admits sheepishly. "The shrieking was…sobering. And the flailing was cute."

He leans in to kiss her, and she shrugs away.

"No! Derek, no, okay? You can't kiss me and make it better just yet. You can't just say that the flailing was cute and expect me to melt into your arms and call you McDreamy again."

He runs his free hand through his hair, bewildered. "What? I don't…"

"I meant them!"

Her shout echoes in the empty space, louder than the chirping crickets and the hooting owls and, mercifully, louder than the blood rushing in his ears.

I meant them! I meant them…I meant them…i meant them…

"What?" he repeats, softer this time.

"Those things?" Meredith snaps. "Those things I said? I meant them. I meant every last one of them. And I know I was mad, but…I don't regret saying things, Derek, and I haven't changed my mind."

"So you're leaving."

"No," she cries, exasperatedly. "I'm not leaving. I just…things aren't bright and shiny right now. You met a girl in a bar, and Burke left Cristina, and something weird is going on with Izzie and George, and…things aren't bright and shiny, and I can't deal with you keeping one foot outside the door all the time. If this thing between us is going to work—really work—you need to drop the sneakers."

He nods firmly, his lips pursed and his face a mask of solemnity. "Consider them dropped."

"Really?" she entreats. "Because I know you have issues, and I know they're not gone, and…"

He smiles hesitantly, trying to ignore the relief coursing through his veins. She's not leaving.

"Meredith, stop. Okay? Breathe."

And she does it. She breathes, and he breathes with her, and a tiny voice in the back of his head acknowledges that maybe, just maybe, they can breathe together and everything will be okay.

"I do have issues," he agrees seriously. "I have issues, and you have issues, and I know now that I've given you a lot of issues, but…you're right, okay? You're not Addison, and I really do love you, and I have been unfair. And you weren't communicating, and you were being secretive, and you were being a contortionist." He inhales sharply and chances a small smile in her direction. "You shrieked, though, remember? You shrieked, and you flailed, and then I yelled a little, and…as long as you keep shrieking and I keep yelling and we keep talking and not leaving, I'll drop the sneakers, and…I think we'll be okay." The smile fades, and he swallows. "That is…if you want us to be okay."

The right corner of her mouth curves a little. "I do."

He lets out a breath he didn't know he'd been holding and smiles broadly. "Well, okay then! Then we'll be okay. You'll shriek and flail and communicate, and…and I'll make a valiant effort to stop being McAsshole."

"Okay."

His eyes widen, and the relief he felt before is nothing compared to the relief he feels now. "Okay?"

"Okay," she affirms, sealing the silent contract with a nod and a smile.

His rugged features relax into a smile of their own. "Well…good. Okay."

He breathes. She breathes. He removes his hand from hers so he can wrap an arm around her shoulders. And suddenly, it's not quite so cold or quite so dark, and it doesn't feel quite so much like four in the morning.