Author's Note: I am so sorry for the wait on this chapter. Hopefully the length will serve as adequate compensation. ;)
I'm a lot behind in replying to feedback because I wanted so badly to get this out, but I appreciate all of the comments more than I can express. You guys are awesome for being so incredibly patient, and I really hope you enjoy this installment. Have no fear—Derek reappears. Also, for the purposes of mood music, I highly suggest listening to "Your Mistake" by Sister Hazel.
Hope everyone enjoyed the finale!
RAIN LIKE WINE
Cristina cradled her head in her hand and stared blankly at the chart in front of her. She had exactly thirty minutes before she was supposed to meet Dr. Shepherd and Lexie in Carly Parker's room, and she had intended to spend all of those thirty minutes studying the changes that had been noted since the installation of the ventriculoperitoneal shunt.
She would've had the girl's vitals memorized by now if it weren't for the tinny voice that echoed repeatedly along the walls of her skull.
"He said he wanted something simple."
Cristina was trying to be supportive. She was trying not to judge. Because sex and mockery was evolving. Because they were on their way to Cinderella's castle. Because, according to Meredith, she was happy—really happy—and, after the wife and the mother and the drowning and the psych books, Meredith deserved to have at least something to smile about.
But, try as she might, Cristina couldn't ignore the fact that she too had been happy. And every time she closed her eyes and tried to force her unsupportive, judgmental feelings into a box in the corner of her brain, she was faced with the memory of Burke's frank, stoic countenance as he'd called off the wedding.
"If I loved you—if I loved you—not the woman that I'm trying to make you be, not the woman that I hope you'll become, but you… If I did, I wouldn't be up there waiting for you. I would be letting you go."
Cristina knew Meredith better than anyone, and she knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that Meredith was not something simple. That, try as she might, Meredith would never be something simple. In fact, Cristina saw complexity as Meredith's most redeeming quality. After all, dark-and-twisty was the cornerstone upon which their friendship had been built. Dark-and-twisty was the quality that had allowed Cristina to put Meredith's name on the form for the abortion clinic, the quality that had made it okay for Cristina to...leak on Meredith's shoulders after the not-wedding.
She was trying to be supportive, but she wanted to yell at Derek. Wanted to tell him that, if he was using dark-and-twisty as a reason not to be with Meredith, he didn't deserve her.
"He's happy, Cristina. He's happy, and I'm happy, and…it's enough. What we have right now is enough."
She was trying not to judge, but she kept hearing Burke's measured, muted baritone as he recited all the things she'd ever wanted to hear.
"There's no one else. You don't need to be in this line."
"You don't ask a lot of personal questions, and you're very hard to get to know."
"I'm not mad. I just wanted to know. I want to know things."
"I am Preston Burke, and you… You are the most competitive, most guarded, most stubborn, most challenging person I have ever met. And I love you. What the hell is the matter with you that you won't just let me?"
With Burke, she had been happy. He had been happy, and she had been happy, and it had been enough. But the thing about Burke was that it was enough until it wasn't. And when it wasn't, well…
Seeing the disappointment in Burke's eyes, feeling his unspoken condemnation as he stared at her with the stoicism for which he was famous and repeated "if I loved you" in the same tone he used to tell families that a patient had died; she had felt helpless. Helpless, and lost, and tired, and insignificant and anything but enough. She was a strong, capable woman and—if only for a moment—Burke had destroyed that.
She didn't ever want Meredith to know that feeling.
"No one should be that deep in thought this early in the morning."
Cristina started as a cup of coffee entered her peripheral vision and rolled her eyes at the Rolex-laden wrist that accompanied it.
"Yeah, well…some of us have more to ponder than the name of the chick we just walked out on," she retorted.
She heard his sharp intake of breath and almost—almost—felt guilty.
"Well, good morning to you too, Dr. Yang," he returned loudly before leaning into her field of vision with a concerned and curious frown. "You're getting to scrub in on a craniopharyngioma removal this morning," he hissed discreetly, "and I know it's not a facial reconstruction, but…shouldn't you be a little bit excited? Or, at the very least, a little bit less…" He trailed off and gestured vaguely to her surly expression. "You?" he concluded pointedly.
Cristina regarded him with obvious disdain. "The hospital is still full of burn victims from that fire yesterday," she returned dryly. "Shouldn't you be off proving that you're worth more than a few rounds in the sack and the occasional breast augmentation?"
"Do you see me trying to sell you a new pair?" he snapped irritably.
Cristina's eyebrows rose ever so slightly, and Mark's back hit the chair with a muted thud as his gaze sheepishly found the table.
"Look," he began, eyeing her meaningfully, "I've got a full cup of coffee, and you seem surlier than usual. You might as well tell me what's wrong."
Cristina nodded thoughtfully. "Okay," she agreed, glancing up at him with obvious apprehension. "Your best friend is an idiot."
Mark's eyebrows rose appreciatively at her response. "Well," he concluded in surprise, "I think we're finally at the point in our friendship where he won't be mortally offended if I agree with you." He furrowed his brow in curiosity and took a sip of coffee. "What did Derek do now?"
Cristina scowled at something just above Mark's left shoulder and slammed her patient's chart on the table. "He told Meredith Grey—Meredith fucking Grey—that he wanted something simple."
"Simple?" Mark repeated. "As in no secret wives? No wayward proposals? No passive-aggressive martyr act?" His frown deepened in confusion. "Isn't that a good thing?"
"It would be," Cristina snapped impatiently. "Except that's not what he said. He didn't say, 'Meredith, I want to become someone simple.' He said, 'Meredith, I want something simple.'"
Mark shrugged into his peppermint mocha. "I still don't see how any of his former fuck-ups fit within the parameters of 'something simple,'" he replied wryly. "After all the shit he's pulled, 'something simple' sounds like an upgrade."
"Oh, God." Cristina's pointed features contorted in disgust. "You're both idiots."
"Really?" Mark retorted. "Both of us? That's funny, because a perfect MCAT score and three million dollars a year says I'm smart enough to surgically remove that stick from your ass without any scarring."
Cristina's lips twitched almost undetectably. "Shame you can't perform the same operation on yourself," she snapped. "Do you understand anything about women that doesn't involve getting them to sleep with you?"
Mark arched a single eyebrow in acknowledgment that she'd won this round.
"No," he admitted, leaning back in his chair with a slightly surly expression. "Enlighten me?"
Cristina rolled her eyes skyward and heaved a dramatic sigh as she slid her elbows onto the table and ran both hands through her unruly hair. "Look," she deadpanned, "it's not about what Shepherd's saying about himself. It's about what he's saying to Meredith—intentionally or unintentionally."
"That he's not willing to put up with something complicated."
Cristina tilted her head ever so slightly. "Yes," she agreed, her voice belying her surprise.
He shrugged nonchalantly and indulged in another sip of coffee. "So Derek says he wants something simple, and Meredith hears that he's not willing to handle her." Cristina's eyebrows rose expectantly, and Mark rolled his eyes skyward. "Those two were better off when they were just fucking each other."
Cristina's pointed features contorted in disgust. "You would think that."
"Can you blame me?" he retorted expectantly. "They don't know how to talk to each other!"
"Oh, whatever," Cristina grumbled. "Derek just shouldn't open his mouth."
"So, what, he's supposed to sit there in silence like Grey does?" Mark countered pointedly. "It's not that he shouldn't open his mouth. He just needs to think first. He needs to make sure there's something behind the pretty words. Something more than his not-so-secret desire to be Prince Charming."
Cristina heaved a sigh and dropped her hand unceremoniously on the table, where she began scratching absently at a black speck. "Meredith thinks they're headed towards Cinderella's castle," she admitted quietly.
Mark shrugged into his coffee cup. "Maybe they are."
Lexie Grey was pretty sure she was going to die. She was scheduled to meet Drs. Yang and Shepherd in ten minutes to discuss the removal of Carly Parker's craniopharyngioma, and she couldn't find the chart.
Craniopharyngiomas were incredibly rare. Operable craniopharyngiomas were even more rare. The fact that she was getting to see a world-class neurosurgeon attempt to remove a calcified craniopharngioma from the hypothalamus as an intern was unbelievable. She was an anomaly, and she knew it.
To demonstrate her worth, Lexie had gotten up incredibly early to pre-round on Carly. She'd taken the girl's vitals four times over two hours. She had run labs at the crack of dawn to determine whether the CSF levels had dropped significantly after the installation of the ventriculoperitoneal shunt. By a brilliant stroke of luck, everything had checked out.
She had a rare tumor case. Her sister had shown up. She'd even gotten a good night's sleep, and now she was going to lose everything because she couldn't find a stupid chart.
She was scrubbing her face impatiently with her hands when the scent of a familiar cologne wafted by.
Lexie cracked one eye open and glared at Alex's smug countenance. "Shut up," she grumbled. "I'm mad at you."
"No you're not."
"I should be," she snapped. "I asked you for one thing, Alex. One thing…"
"And I couldn't give it to you. I let you down. I'm a horrible person." Alex propped himself up against the nurses' station and rolled his eyes. "Just tell me one thing. Tell me that it wasn't nice having her there."
Lexie inhaled slowly and opened her mouth to protest for a mere moment before she pursed her lips and glared.
"Seriously," Alex goaded with a self-satisfied smirk. "Tell me she's a shitty big sister. I might even believe you."
Lexie paused for a moment too long as bits of the previous evening's conversation came rushing back.
"You shouldn't have to do it alone."
She narrowed her eyes maliciously to maintain some semblance of the upper hand, but she couldn't seem to stop her lips from curling ever so slightly at the memory.
"I hate you," she muttered, folding her arms defiantly. Alex's smirk widened as his hands found his hips.
"No you don't."
"She certainly wouldn't be the only one," Meredith remarked, her voice trembling slightly with controlled laughter. "We called him 'Evil Spawn' for the entirety of our intern year," she told Lexie with a wry smile.
Alex snorted indignantly. "Whatever. That was all Yang."
Lexie arched an eyebrow skeptically. "Hey, if the shoe fits…"
"Funny," Meredith murmured, narrowing her eyes impishly in Alex's direction. "That's exactly what Izzie said yesterday." She ignored the glare he shot her in response and turned to Lexie with a bright smile. "Coffee?"
"Coffee?" Lexie repeated dumbly. She stared at the outstretched cup with wide, uncertain eyes.
"Yeah." Meredith's smile dimmed slightly, and she began to gesture weakly with her free hand. "I, um…I owe you one. After last night." When silence prevailed again, Meredith's teeth raked slowly across her lower lip. "It's…well…I made it with sugar. Lots of…" She trailed off and glanced up tentatively. "That's how you like it, right?"
"Yeah!" Lexie's eyes widened appreciatively as her gaze flitted from resident to resident to coffee cup. Meredith thrust the drink forward again, and Lexie accepted it, blinking rapidly. "Thanks." She studied the cardboard collar in awe.
Meredith gave a small, awkward nod. "You're welcome."
"Is that one for me?" Alex interrupted, bobbing his head towards the second cup in Meredith's cardboard quad.
The elder Grey narrowed her eyes incredulously. "No," she scoffed. "I made you coffee earlier this morning."
"Whatever," Alex grumbled. "Who's it for, then?"
"Oh." A pretty pink blush crept across Meredith's cheeks as her eyes darted nervously between her companions. "Um, exclusivity. It comes with coffee."
Alex dipped his chin skeptically. "Seriously?"
Alex grinned wickedly after Meredith's disappearing frame
"She brought me coffee."
His grin faded to something decidedly more genuine as he turned to face the younger Grey.
"She even remembered how I like it," Lexie murmured reverentially.
Alex stuffed his hands in the pockets of his lab coat and leaned against the counter with a small, satisfied smile. "Yeah, she's good like that," he agreed quietly.
Lexie closed her eyes, brought the cup to her lips, and took a cautious sip. Her whole body relaxed as she swallowed.
Lexie's lips curled just above the plastic lid. "Thanks for, um, making me mad and all."
He smirked. "Anytime."
Meredith strode firmly towards Derek's office, armed with an admirable amount of determination and one cup of black coffee.
It's just coffee, she reminded herself silently. Because he's been on call for the past twenty-four hours, and he has to remove a craniopharyngioma from a little girl's brain, and he found lavender-scented things and asked for no sex. Because you're exclusive now, and this is what exclusive people do. They bring each other coffee.
She clenched her jaw and swallowed.
You can do this. You spent years with your mother. You spent all night with your not-sister. You can totally do simple.
She inhaled sharply and raised her hand to knock.
"Sorry." A warm, familiar hand brushed the underside of her elbow. "I didn't mean to scare you."
"It's okay." She whirled around and put on a bright and shiny smile. "I brought you something."
Derek's mouth curled in a smirk. "I'm sure you did," he murmured, giving his eyebrows a suggestive wiggle. "Decided to reconsider yesterday's proposition about the office, did you?"
Meredith's eyes widened. "Derek!" she hissed, smacking him lightly with her free hand.
"What?" he laughed, sliding his warm hands from her shoulders to her waist. "Relax. There's no one around. We won't even have to be quiet." He leaned forward with mock solemnity and lowered his voice. "You probably shouldn't scream, though."
Meredith's eyes narrowed as he broke out another wicked grin. "Coffee," she bit out through gritted teeth. "I brought you coffee."
His brow creased as he accepted the cup she had shoved between them. He took a step back and began an intense study of the plastic lid, keeping one hand loosely on her waist.
Meredith fidgeted uncomfortably. "It's black," she offered quietly.
"I like it black," Derek murmured.
She directed a small smile at the floor tiles. "I know."
She watched as his fingers curled tightly around the cardboard collar. When she finally summoned the courage to glance up, he was staring at her with glittering eyes and a small, curious smile.
Meredith tucked a lock of hair behind her ear and studied her cuticles. When the silence became unbearable, she narrowed her eyes uncertainly. "What?" she demanded, scanning her figure self-consciously.
He slid his hand along her jawline until his thumb found her temple. Then, slowly but surely, he leaned forward and pressed his lips to hers.
When he pulled back, his smile was broader than she'd seen it in a long time.
"I'm in love with you."
Her breath hitched in her throat as he chuckled lightly and gave her shoulder an affectionate squeeze.
"Thanks for the coffee."
Cristina heaved a sigh as she spun the knobs on the scrub room sink and forced her hands into the spray.
"Excited about the procedure, Dr. Grey?"
Cristina rolled her eyes in annoyance as the indicated intern sprang to life beside her.
"Yes, sir. It's such a wonderful opportunity."
"A wonderful opportunity?" Cristina snapped in disbelief. "This little girl could die."
Lexie swallowed. "Well, yes, but…it's a very rare tumor, and the odds are much better now that she's no longer suffering from hydrocephalus."
Cristina sucked in a breath as she recalled the grin on the pudgy girl's face when they'd first entered that morning. "Dr. Shepherd! My head doesn't hurt as much today!"
She closed her eyes and forced herself to remain objective. Focused.
"That's very true, Dr. Grey," Derek agreed in a low, measured tenor.
"Dr. Grey," Cristina began sharply, "other than hypothalamic injury, what are the risks involved in this surgery?"
Lexie shifted from one foot to the other as she shook her hands dry. "Um…a rupture of the cyst during removal?"
"Yes," Cristina agreed darkly, "and cystic rupture causes what, exactly?"
Lexie frowned. "Seizures?"
"Yes," Derek interjected. His brow furrowed in concern as he sought Cristina's gaze.
"Not only seizures," Cristina persisted. "Chemical meningitis. Meningitis, Dr. Grey. Which means what?"
Cristina felt a small twinge of satisfaction when Lexie's eyes began to dart nervously around the scrub room. "Um…a delay in radiation treatment?"
"Dr. Yang," Derek interrupted forcefully. "We've been over this. Dr. Grey is very familiar with our patient's condition. She knows more than enough to get her through surgery."
Cristina's brow smoothed as she shook the water from her hands and turned to face Dr. Shepherd. "Of course she does, sir," she agreed calmly. "I'm only trying to emphasize the delicate nature of the procedure."
"Consider it emphasized," Derek replied firmly.
Blue eyes met brown in a blaze of defiance.
"Dr. Grey, go ahead and get suited," Derek murmured softly. "I'd like a moment with Dr. Yang."
Lexie hurried into the OR. With a gentle pfft, the door slid shut behind her.
Derek's eyes flashed. "Dr. Yang, I respect your skill as a surgeon, but I cannot have this kind of negativity in my OR. As you've so frequently mentioned, this is a risky procedure. I need all hands on deck, yes, but I need those hands to be optimistic."
Cristina swallowed slowly and forced herself to appear neutral.
Derek's eyes narrowed. "Can you be optimistic, Dr. Yang?"
"Yes sir," Cristina replied quietly. "It's just…"
Derek's lips parted slightly as he watched his girlfriend's confident best friend fidget like a nervous teenager. His brow furrowed, and his tone softened significantly. "What is it, Cristina?"
Her eyes darted to the window, where Carly Parker's short, stocky body was spread languidly on the table.
"She doesn't deserve this."
Derek's frown deepened as Cristina's soft, sad voice echoed along the walls of the scrub room. "No, she doesn't," he agreed quietly, "but we caught it early. The tumor has yet to extend into the pituitary fossa or the ventral pons. It's a bad situation, yes, but there's a good chance that we could still give her the life she deserves."
Cristina snorted. "What, six weeks of radiation treatment and the possibility that the cancer will metastasize?"
"No," Derek countered meaningfully. "A clear head and a healthy life." He paused for a moment, allowing his words to settle. "We have to think long-term, Dr. Yang."
"She might not get long-term," Cristina argued bitterly.
Derek set his jaw and lifted his chin defiantly. "We have to believe that she will."
He used his elbow to activate the OR door, which slid open to allow him access. With a deep preparatory breath, he flashed a terse smile at his staff and exhaled.
"It's a beautiful day to save lives," he announced, glancing pointedly towards his resident. "Let's have some fun."
"You did good work in there today, Grey," Mark declared gruffly as he scrubbed at his fingers. "You should be proud."
Meredith allowed herself a small smile of self-satisfaction. "Thank you, Dr. Sloan."
"I'm serious," Mark continued. "You show a real knack for plastics. Sure you don't want to switch specialties with your friend Karev?"
Meredith glanced up in amusement. "Mark!"
"Alex is a good surgeon," Meredith chided. "You don't get to kick him out of your department just because he slept with Addison."
Mark scowled. "Unfortunately, you have a point." He switched the sink off with a sigh and reached for the paper towels. "I guess I'll just have to continue to torture the poor bastard."
Meredith rolled her eyes and accepted the roll of paper towels. "You know," she began dryly, "the two of you are pretty similar. You could be friends."
Mark scoffed. "Right. Friends." He shook his head in amusement and let out a hollow chuckle. "Hey, speaking of friends…what's wrong with Yang?"
Meredith glanced up from her hands in alarm. "Something's wrong with Cristina?"
"Sure seemed like it this morning," Mark shrugged. "She was being all quiet and introspective and shit. Plus, I think she actually let me win an insult war."
Meredith's eyebrows buried themselves in her hairline. "Cristina lost something? Voluntarily?"
"Exactly," Mark agreed. "The girl once told me to shove silicone implants up my ass, and today she passed up the opportunity for a snide remark." He shook his head in bewilderment. "I've gotta say, I'm a little bit worried."
Meredith tilted her head gently to the side and frowned teasingly. "Mark," she exclaimed softly, "are you actually being sensitive?"
Mark narrowed his eyes to mere slits. "No," he snapped. "'Sensitive' was searching through four different Bed, Bath, & Beyonds for lavender-scented tiki torches to redeem myself in the eyes of your lame-ass boyfriend. This is scholarly concern."
Meredith gave an amused nod. "Right. Well. Thanks for the tip."
"Yeah, well…" Mark trailed off and reached around to scratch the back of his neck. "Like I said, Grey, good work today. I'm putting Karev on post-op, so you're free to go fix Yang."
"Thanks," she muttered wryly. "See you later, Dr. Sloan."
She slid out into the hallway and jogged to OR 1 in hopes of catching the rest of the craniopharyngioma removal. When she rounded the corner, she saw Cristina emerging from the scrub room, and her shoulders sagged ever so slightly in disappointment.
With a regretful sigh, she squared her shoulders and hurried towards her friend. She hadn't been able to see the surgery, but she knew Cristina would be happy to recount the entire procedure in graphic detail.
"Hey," she called as she slowed to a stop. "How'd it go?"
Cristina glanced up, looking pale-faced and stricken. "It went," she concluded dully.
Meredith's brow immediately creased in concern, and her eyes darted over Cristina's shoulder in a vain search for Derek. "Did she…?"
"She's fine." Cristina's voice was little more than a breath of air. "It's gone. It's all gone."
Meredith narrowed her eyes suspiciously at Cristina's vacant, unblinking stare. She'd heard that tone before.
"It's fine," Cristina murmured. "She's fine. She's going to live a long, healthy life."
Meredith's frown deepened. "You sound like that's a bad thing."
Cristina snorted. "Can you blame me? Look at us. A lot of crap can happen in a lifetime."
Meredith inhaled sharply and folded her arms. "Is it drinking time? 'Cause we can go to Joe's."
"No, we can't," Cristina grumbled. "I'm on call tonight. Someone's got to keep watch over the girl with a hole in her brain."
Meredith arched an eyebrow doubtfully. "You're sure one of the interns can't do it?"
Cristina finally met her gaze with a look of painful resignation. "I'm sure." She heaved a sigh and rolled her neck, allowing her curls to fall in front of her face. "Look, I've got to go. I have to round up the crackheads and make sure they haven't killed anybody."
Meredith cracked a small smile of acknowledgment. "Okay. If Derek lets one of the crackheads take your place, let me know, and we'll fill your hole with tequila."
Cristina pursed her lips wryly. "Not gonna happen," she countered. "Enjoy your post-surgery orgasm."
Meredith was just about to ask for clarification when the scrub room door swung open behind her. Almost immediately, two warm hands found her shoulders and spun her around.
Meredith's eyebrows rose considerably as she gave her boyfriend a concerned once-over. "Excuse me?"
His grip on her shoulders tightened noticeably. "Kiss me," he demanded breathlessly.
"Derek," Meredith scolded, "we're in a public hallway."
"Mm," he mused in agreement, "which means sex is temporarily out of the question." His eyes were closed, and his forehead was dangerously close to hers. "Just one kiss," he murmured against her cheek. "One kiss, and I'll whisk you off to the nearest on-call room."
"On-call room, huh?" Meredith teased. "What happened to the office?"
He leaned forward and nipped her earlobe. "Too far," he whispered.
"I see," Meredith deadpanned. "What makes you think I'm having sex with you?"
He pulled back ever so slightly and opened his eyes. The intensity of his gaze warmed her to the core.
"Because I just removed a suprasellar, calcified craniopharyngioma from a six-year-old's hypothalamus without any complications or injuries," he informed her, his eyes sparkling wickedly in the neon light of the hallway. "I've just added years to her life."
"And now you want me to take a few years from yours?" Meredith teased.
"I want to engage in lots and lots of this," Derek murmured huskily, brushing her lips roughly with his.
Meredith closed her eyes for a moment in hopes of regaining some semblance of composure. She failed. "I think that can be arranged," she agreed breathlessly.
It was ten o'clock in the evening when Mark finished his last post-op. For the first time in a long time, he'd had back-to-back surgeries; victims from the restaurant fire had kept him busy all day. Sometime after the last burn victim, he'd come to the conclusion that Alex Karev had a decent future in plastics.
Moments later, Karev had bailed on a scheduled rhinoplasty to help with an emergency caesarian. It seemed that Karev had developed a taste for obstetrics during his time with Addison. Mark had a feeling that the resident's interest had less to do with the specialty than the teacher, but Mark couldn't really blame him. Once upon a time, Mark too had had a taste for all things Addison.
He had been grateful for the fire. He missed her less on busy days.
He rounded the corner and smiled when he saw a familiar shock of curly black hair. Addison had never liked Cristina Yang, but Mark did. He had a unique appreciation for brutal honesty, and he—more than anyone—understood the need for a shield of sarcasm.
She was sitting against the wall with her knees propped up and her head in her hands, and although it had been a long, long day, he slid down beside her without invitation and nudged her gently with his shoulder.
"How'd it go with the tumor?"
She glanced up with a tinge of disdain before leaning her head back against the wall. "We got it all," she admitted. "The whole thing."
Mark let out a low whistle. "Impressive," he murmured. "No complications?"
"None. No hypothalamic injury, no chemical meningitis, no lingering calcifications…" She shook her head in amazement. "It's like it was never there at all."
Mark arched a skeptical eyebrow. "Sure," he agreed dryly, "except for six weeks of radiation treatment and five years of freaking out every time she gets a headache."
Cristina let out a low, humorless laugh. "Yeah," she agreed dryly. "Except for that."
"Well, at least she knows what to look for now," he offered with a tasteless smirk.
Cristina snorted. "That's one way of looking at it," she muttered bitterly.
They sat in cynical silence for a moment before Mark spoke again.
"You want to know secret?" he murmured conspiratorially.
Cristina gave him a skeptical sideways glance. "If I say no, are you going to tell me anyway?"
He shrugged. "Probably."
Her pointed features contorted in the barest hint of a smile. "Figures," she muttered dryly. "Okay, McSteamy, let's hear your sob story."
Upon hearing her call him "McSteamy" in a tone dripping with sarcasm and disdain, he couldn't help but see a flash of red hair in his mind's eye. Addison hadn't taken his shit either.
He cleared his throat gruffly and began an intense study of the floor tiles. "Addison and I made a bet the day Meredith drowned."
Cristina's body went dangerously rigid. "You made a bet on the day Meredith drowned?" she repeated incredulously. "Are you trying to make me hate you?"
Mark rolled his eyes in a combination of amusement and exasperation. "Like I was saying," he continued pointedly, "the day Meredith drowned—after she woke up—Addison and I made a bet. She was watching Derek and Meredith with this awestruck, heartbroken look of confusion, and the moment I walked up, she told me that he'd never felt that way about her."
"So you told her you had." Her voice was crystal clear, but stoic. Resigned. Like she knew all the answers already, but had no clue how to feel about any of them.
"Yep." He paused for a moment to recall the gentle sheen of tears in Addison's eyes as she'd turned to him, and cleared his throat. "She told me that, if we could each go sixty days without having sex, she'd give us a shot as a couple. A real, honest-to-God shot. In public this time; no sneaking around."
"Let me guess," Cristina interrupted dryly. "You couldn't keep your dick out of trouble."
His laugh was a bitter, ugly, broken thing. "No, actually," he countered, scrubbing his face with a tired hand. "She couldn't keep her legs closed. She slept with Karev before time was up. I caught her coming out of the on-call room with her skirt on backwards."
Cristina's lips curled humorlessly. "Classy."
"Yeah." Mark paused for a moment and considered the underside of the countertop in front of him. "You know," he began, his voice uncharacteristically soft, "it's funny. I should be angry, right? I should be pissed off, because she didn't love me, and she ultimately didn't want me—no matter how much I changed for her. And I am pissed off, sometimes," he admitted with a sigh, "but mostly, I just miss her. And I hate that."
They sat in silence for a moment before Cristina's frame shook with a tired, hollow chuckle.
"You know, I actually feel better now," she mused incredulously.
Mark cracked a small smile for the floor tiles. "Yeah," he agreed. "Me too."
After the mind-blowing sex against the wall of the third floor on-call room, Derek had suggested they go out for dinner. At first, Meredith had been hesitant. Despite the romantic beauty of their steak dinner picnic, she'd never been much for lavish displays. She hadn't wanted to pull rank with another "no money, no crowds, no dress" buzz-kill, but she also hadn't wanted to serve as the socialite to his surgeon at one of Seattle's five-star establishments.
She should've known that she'd have no reason to worry. New York Derek may have donned a tux to indulge his high-society wife, but Seattle Derek was—thankfully—more into high-class hole-in-the-walls. With a needling smile and an eager laugh, he'd tugged her into an old, run-down sports café that boasted burgers, fries, and personal pan pizzas. She'd ordered an overstuffed calzone to Derek's modest chicken club, and they'd bantered back and forth over Heineken bottles while they watched part of a Seahawks game and waited for their food to arrive.
"Hey," he'd prodded gently during one of the commercial breaks. "Why don't we get the food to go and head over to the docks to watch the ferry boats?"
Once they'd arrived at the docks, watching had turned to riding. They'd ended up on the observation deck, sitting across from each other and making idle conversation. Dinner had ended quickly, but Meredith had proposed game of Truth or Dare to keep the evening going. In the spirit of conversation, Derek had reduced the game to Truth.
Meredith had just finished answering a particularly grueling question about her favorite part of the brain when the sun dipped completely below the water and the lights flickered on.
"So," she began, grinning impishly, "why the thing for ferry boats?"
"Mm," he mused, leaning back into his chair. "My dad used to take me," he admitted with a reverent smile. "When I was little, he'd have consults in the city, and so we'd take the ferry together. He'd hoist me up onto his shoulders and point out all of the famous buildings along the Manhattan skyline. And then, whenever he was done at the hospital, we'd visit one." His eyes glistened in the lamplight. "The Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty, the World Trade Center…he introduced me to all of them."
Meredith's breath hitched in her throat. She was mesmerized by the bittersweet tenderness in his. "That must've been amazing," she murmured softly.
He met her gaze with a warm smile that stole her breath. "It was."
He inhaled sharply and gave his head a gentle shake. "How about you?" he prodded with forced cheer. "Why do you have a thing for ferry boats?"
Meredith ducked her head shyly and fingered the frayed ends of a hole in her jeans. "Same reason, actually," she admitted with a terse laugh. "It was the only real time I got to spend with my mother."
She met his frown with an ironic smile. "Yeah. My school was just across from the hospital, and she had to take the ferry to get to work, so we'd sit together in the car on the cargo deck, and she'd tell me—in a very important voice, mind you—about all the surgeries she had scheduled for the day."
When he didn't immediately reply, she heaved a cleansing sigh and forced an impish smile as she met his gaze again. "My turn. Why The Sun Also Rises?"
If he noticed the abrupt change in tone, he didn't address it. Instead, he tilted his head to the side and arched a challenging eyebrow. "Why not?"
"I don't know," she laughed, "I guess I just figured from all the trout that you'd be more of an Old Man and the Sea kind of guy."
He laughed, and the tenor staccato made the corners of her mouth curl.
"Oh, man," he sighed, running both hands through his hair. "You do have a point. Seriously, though, I liked the adventure. The travel, the bullfights…" He trailed off with wide, excited eyes. "Besides," he offered, shooting her a sheepish smile, "there's more romance in The Sun Also Rises."
Meredith snorted. "I know an English professor who would be more than happy to debate that subject with you."
"Mm," he hummed sardonically. He took a moment to stare out over the water before turning to her with a frown that was both confused and apologetic. "You know," he confessed, "I don't think I know your favorite novel."
Meredith acknowledged the statement with a reserved smirk. "Is that your question?" she asked teasingly.
His chuckle was warm and relaxed. "Sure."
Derek leaned forward in surprise. "Dickens," he murmured. "Really?"
Meredith's brow furrowed in something like offense. "You sound surprised."
"I am," Derek admitted with a laugh, "although I don't know why I should be. He rambles just like you." He shot her an impish smirk, which she met with a playful glare.
"He was paid by the word," she retorted.
"Really," Derek smirked. "And what's your excuse?"
She tossed a stray bottle cap in retaliation, and he let loose with another stream of laughter. She continued to glare good-naturedly until he piped down, but she couldn't deny the surge of pride she felt each time his laugh lines deepened. Derek was romantic and suave and introspective, but he was also terminally serious, and she loved that she could make him laugh.
"Okay," he chuckled, holding his hands up in surrender. "Great Expectations. Why not Oliver Twist?"
Meredith narrowed her eyes suspiciously. "That's two questions."
"Go with it."
She tried in vain to hide her smile as she considered the question. "Well, first of all, I never finished Oliver Twist. And secondly…" She trailed off and heaved a thoughtful sigh. "I don't know. I like the characters in Great Expectations."
"Seriously?" Derek prompted skeptically. "You prefer the tortured artist—who is it, Pip?—to the triumphant Oliver Twist?"
"Not just Pip," Meredith laughed. "There's also Estella and Miss Havisham…"
Derek squinted just over Meredith's right shoulder and ran a hand through his hair as he struggled to remember Dickens's complicated cast of characters. "Estella was…the girl Pip fell in love with, right?" He furrowed his brow as he waited for confirmation. "And Miss Havisham was the angry lady in the wedding dress? The one who burned herself alive?"
Meredith's smile softened significantly as the beloved characters came tumbling back in beautifully gory detail. "Yes."
Derek's frown deepened. "Wasn't Miss Havisham obsessed with Estella?"
"Kind of," Meredith agreed hesitantly. "She was more obsessed with shaping Estella."
Meredith arched a doubtful eyebrow. "You want to turn our game of Truth into a lit class? Seriously?"
His eyes softened as a crease formed just above his eyebrows. "It's your favorite novel," he protested. "And I know I've read it before, but…I don't remember enough of the plot to…"
"To what?" Meredith prodded jokingly. "To attempt literary surgery?"
Derek shot her a playful glare, but his eyes conveyed a solemnity that didn't entirely escape her.
"It's your favorite novel," he repeated firmly. "Tell me about Estella and Miss Havisham." Let me know you.
Meredith squirmed uncomfortably under the heat of his gaze and found a hole in the deck to stare at while she tried to explain her affection for Estella. "Basically, Miss Havisham wanted Estella to be a bitch—and, when Estella succeeded in becoming a bitch, Miss Havisham yelled at her for being cold."
Derek inhaled sharply. "And then what happened?"
Meredith shrugged and gestured vaguely with her hands. "Dress. Fire. Death."
Derek swallowed visibly and forced himself to ignore the limp blue frame that floated just behind his eyelids. "Estella dies?"
"No. Miss Havisham." Meredith shot him an odd look. "I thought you said you'd read it before?"
Derek didn't even try to conceal his sigh of relief. "It was a long time ago," he admitted. "So Miss Havisham dies, Estella feels like a failure, and…Pip doesn't get the girl either, does he?" He met Meredith's curious gaze with a skeptical smile. "I'm not sure I see the redeeming aspects of this novel," he joked.
She didn't laugh.
"You're looking at it glass-half-empty," Meredith insisted. She leaned forward and planted her elbows on her knees as her hands flitted urgently through the space in front of her. "Miss Havisham dies because her own bitterness drives her crazy," she replied frankly. "And Estella…"
She trailed off and sucked in a deep breath. When she spoke again, her voice was soft, but fervent. "Estella's strong enough to be resentful."
Derek quirked a small, understanding smile. "And Pip is what? The tortured hero?"
"Pip has his own story," Meredith shrugged, "but to Estella…" She heaved a sigh and met his gaze with defensive apprehension. "Look, Miss Havisham spends her lifetime pointing out Estella's faults, but Pip…" She allowed herself the barest hint of a smile. "Pip loves Estella. Despite the fact that she's kind of a bitch."
Derek bit back a smile at the frank characterization. "Okay," he conceded delicately, "but the ending still isn't a happy one. I mean, from what I remember, his love remains unrequited."
"In the first ending, yes," Meredith acknowledged, "but Dickens wrote a second ending, where Pip is broken, and Estella is broken, and they meet each other at the ruins of Miss Havisham's old house and agree to be broken together."
"So they've destroyed each other," he concluded with a disappointed frown. He found it both painfully poignant and tragically fitting that this—two broken people co-existing—was Meredith's idea of a happy ending.
Meredith rolled her eyes. "No."
Derek's frown deepened in confusion. "So they're going to fix each other?"
"No," she muttered impatiently. "It's not about that."
"What's it about, then?"
She wanted to tell him. She did. But she needed him to figure it out for himself, so she pursed her lips together and fixed him with what she hoped was a seductive smile. "Read the book," she retorted. "It's my turn to ask a question."
For a moment, Derek looked like he was going to argue, but he gave her a tight smile instead. "Fine."
She released a breath she didn't know she'd been holding. "What's your favorite part of the brain?"
"The cerebellum," he answered immediately.
"Seriously?" Meredith's chuckle was one of disbelief. "Four years of med school and seven years of residency, and you choose the cerebellum? Why?"
"Because the first time I saw one, I thought it was a piece of cauliflower," Derek retorted. "Is it my turn to ask a question now?"
Meredith considered him for a moment before rolling her eyes good-naturedly. "Yes."
"Good." His smile widened boyishly. "What is the end of Great Expectations about?"
Meredith's eyes narrowed. "That's not a personal question," she countered dryly.
"Ah," Derek grinned, "but I think it is. I think it's an extremely personal question."
Her chest constricted painfully in a combination of fear and hope. Conversation had prompted them to speak openly in a way that had never been possible before, but they were still speaking in metaphors. They were still putting stock in the spaces between the words, and she felt at once amazed and terrified by the fact that he could still decipher her bizarre code of secrecy.
It still wasn't enough to incite a confession.
"I told you," she returned dryly. "Read the book."
The corners of his mouth curved in a wry smirk. "I just might," he volleyed. His impish grin dimmed to something decidedly more genuine as he reached out to tangle his fingers with hers. "I meant what I said, you know," he continued softly. "I do want to know you."
She squeezed his hand reassuringly and gave him a smile that stole his breath. "I want to know you, too."
Suddenly, he needed to be near her.
He released her hand to pat the spot beside him, and he breathed a warm sigh of relief when she stepped over the aisle and stretched out against him. He uncrossed his legs and propped his feet up on the chair she'd occupied moments before, and her head found its way into his lap. "Mm," he mused softly, mesmerized by the honey-blonde curtain that covered his thigh. "What do you want to know?"
She closed her eyes and smiled when she felt his warm palm on her crown. "Mm," she purred, reaching for his free hand. "Lots of things."
His eyes sparkled in the lamplight as he breathed her in. "All you have to do is ask," he told her seriously. When she glanced up in disbelief, the corner of his mouth quirked in a mischievous half-smile. "Technically, I'm required to answer."
He laughed at the cute frown she gave him. "We're playing Truth," he reminded her. "Those are the rules, right?"
Meredith inhaled sharply. When she spoke, her voice was laced with shame. "Derek," she began hesitantly, "I don't want you to tell me things because you feel like you have to."
The statement was one of multiple layers, but Derek understood them all.
"Conversation was my idea, remember?" he chided gently. "I want you to know things." She glanced up apprehensively, and he met her gaze with a reassuring smile as he continued to stroke her hair. "I'd tell you anything," he murmured reverentially.
She snorted, and Derek's brow immediately creased in offense.
"Sorry," she snickered, "it's just…it's quite a change from 'that's all you've earned for now.'"
Derek's stomach churned painfully as he recalled the cruelty with which he'd treated her initial curiosity. He wanted to apologize, but Mark's words—"Prove it"—twisted painfully in his ears.
"What can I say?" He smiled ruefully. "I'm growing."
This time, she believed him.