AN: So, I have so many other things I should be doing instead of writing new stories, but the thought just hit me and I had to write it. Definitely MerDer, set after 4.11. Oneshot.

Disclaimer: I am not affiliated with Grey's Anatomy. I am simply borrowing the characters.

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The question hit her with a jolt.

Meredith stumbled into Joe's bar, exhausted after a long shift. She hadn't slept in over thirty hours, and even then she hadn't slept well since... well, it had been well over a week. She motioned Joe for a shot, and sighed when she caught sight of a familiar form at the other end of the bar. She turned her attention away from the sulking surgeon and smiled as her favourite bartender appeared before her.

"How's my favourite customer?" He greeted kindly as he set down a shot glass, and tipped the full bottle of tequila in his hand to fill it.

"Horrible," she told him honestly. "So, keep them coming."

"I've heard that before," he remarked and she glared at him, definitely not in the mood for any reminders.

"How's parenthood?" She asked.

He smiled. "Best thing I ever did." He was about to walk away when a random stranger appeared beside her.

"Oh, me too, please," she motioned emphatically at the bottle of tequila. Joe nodded and set a shot glass on the bar, but she shook her head. "Can I have two?" Joe complied.

The unfamiliar woman picked up her two shots and turned to Meredith as she was just about to down hers. "Cheers," she said, clinking one of her glasses against Meredith's.

"Cheers," Meredith responded with a small smile.

"What would life be like without tequila, huh?"

Meredith jolted. She froze, shot glass still in hand, stuck half way between her lips and the table. A series of images flashed through her mind, and she swallowed hard. She knew exactly what life would be like without tequila.

The night of the intern mixer, she would have been nursing a mixed drink when the hansom stranger approached her. She would have been unable to ignore him, and they would have spent the evening laughing and flirting, but when it was time to go home, she would have gone home alone.

And the next day, when her new resident had pointed out the new Attending, she would have sighed heavily, but approached him anyway. He would have been surprised, but they would have laughed. He would have pursued her anyway, of course, but she would have been better at countering his advances. She would never have jumped him in the elevator, and they definitely would not have been caught naked in the back of his car. But they still would have bonded, would have caught moments to talk as they worked together, or simply passed each other in the halls.

Still, when her personal life became too much, she would have gone to him and admitted that her mother wasn't travelling or writing another book. He would have been sympathetic and supportive and pulled her into a warm hug.

And when his wife had shown up from New York, Meredith would have been surprised along with the rest of the hospital. He would have come to her, and told her the whole story over coffee in the front lobby, and when he was offered divorce papers, he would have had no reason not to sign them. And Meredith would have taken him out for drinks at Joe's after Addison had gotten on a plane home. He would have done the same for her after her mother was admitted with possible liver cancer.

They would have quietly been there for each other as they both adapted to the demands of working at Seattle Grace. And after their patient died on Thanksgiving, Meredith would have invited him back to her house for dinner with her friends. Her roommates would have been surprised, but it would have been nothing more than a friendly invite because she knew he didn't have anyone else to spend the day with. Izzy would have been more than pleased, and immediately set an additional spot at the table. Her friends would have remained suspicious, but Meredith would have begun a mantra of 'we're just friends.'

When Christmas rolled around, Meredith would have spent the morning with her roommates and a quick cafeteria dinner with Derek as they would both have opted to work. And a week later, they would have hurried across the street to Joe's with less then ten minutes to go before midnight. The bar would have been packed, and Joe would have managed to slip them champagne with only seconds to spare. After the countdown, Derek would have settled his free hand on her shoulder and leaned in for a short, chaste kiss that was barely more than friendly. She would have smiled up at him and wished him a Happy New Year. And they would have clinked their glasses and looked forward to the coming year.

The day he found her sobbing in the supply closet, Derek would have sat with her and pulled her into his arms while she cried. He would have held her and whispered words of comforting into her ear. She would have clutched at his scrub top and let the sound of his voice calm her down.

When Izzy came to tell her someone was at the door for her, Meredith would have hobbled sorely down the stairs and smiled when she caught sight of his comforting face. He would have been concerned and relieved and glad she hadn't died. And she wouldn't have wanted him to leave, so when he turned to go, she would have asked him to stay for a coffee. They would have settled on the couch, and talked well into the night, and her roommates would have found them fast asleep, curled up together, the next morning.

And when her patient asked her to send hate tapes to all his friends and family, she would have shook her head and done it anyway. That night would have been the first time she gave in and actually allowed Derek to take her on a date. They would have gone to a nice restaurant, quiet and casual. He would have made fun of how much she could eat, and she would have laughed and jokingly told him to shut up. Dinner, dessert and coffee would have flown by before they knew it, and when it came time to take her home, he would have walked her to the door and kissed her for real for the first time. And they both would have felt the shock of electricity. Then he would have smiled and hugged her and told her goodnight. There would have been no going back after this.

The night after a surgical intern from another hospital fell asleep behind the wheel on his way home, Meredith would have invited Derek into her bed for the first time. They would have been sober, and it would have been amazing. He would have gazed down at her, his eyes reflecting the emotion in hers. She would have smiled up at him and pulled his lips to hers, and he would have brushed his fingers along the hairline on her forehead and kissed her. The morning after she would have awoke to find a pair of strong arms wrapped securely around her lower torso. And for the first time in her life, she would have begun to believe that she was capable of a happy ending.

When the Chief demanded everyone attend the prom, she would have been his date, and they would have danced together, lost in each other's eyes until Callie grabbed her arm and insisted she come with her. Derek would have accompanied them in concern. And he would have driven her home after George and Alex took Izzy. She would have been terrified the next day upon hearing he and George were stuck in quarantine, but he would have shown up with a shrug and a gentle smile. And he would have helped them set Shiva, and hugged her every time she came down crying after talking to her broken roommate.

The day Meredith started throwing up at work, Derek would have been there, holding her hand as they waited for the results of her pregnancy test. He would have kissed her forehead and promised her that he would be there no matter what, that they would figure it out together if the test came back positive. And when the test came back negative and she was hopped up on morphine, he would have sat with her and laughed at her comments.

Instead of seven guys on an awkward camping trip, Derek would only have invited her. He would have taught her to fish and laughed when she reeled one in first. And later that night, curled up in his arms by the fire, she would have whispered the three words she had been feeling for a while. He would have smiled and kissed her and said them back.

The call from the nursing home would have pulled her out if his arms in the early morning, and she would have looked for him as soon as her mother was admitted. Ellis Grey would still have been disappointed in her daughter, but Meredith would have gone to Derek that night and he would have held her while she cried. They would have spent most of the night talking about her childhood and relationship with her mother. and the following day, instead of finding his girlfriend lifeless and blue beneath the waters of Elliot Bay, Derek would have discovered her soaking wet, dragging herself out of the water, chastising herself for letting her guard down so close to the edge. He would have been worried and forced her to take his jacket. And later that day, after he guided Izzy Stevens through a new set of Bur holes on the patient that had been crushed between two cars, he would have gotten paged to Ellis Grey's room to find his girlfriend sobbing on sofa across from the now lifeless body. He would have pulled her into his arms and sat for over an hour as she cried. She would have buried her face into his chest and breathed in his familiar scent and promised herself she would never let him go.Afterwards, when she was forced to take some time off, he would have taken her to wine country to get away for a few days. And she would have come home refreshed and ready to finish her year.

When Susan Grey was admitted due to complications following a simple procedure, Meredith would never have known. There would have been no angry father's yelling at the hospital, and no funerals to be uninvited from. Her test would have gone off without a hitch, and Derek would have congratulated her the next day before driving her to the church. And when she was forced to walk up the aisle alone, she would have spoke quietly to him before they stood together to announce the destruction of their friend's relationship. He would have been supportive and cancelled their plans for her two weeks off so that she could go away with Cristina.

Upon beginning her year as a resident, the fact that her best friend's intern shared her last name would be just a coincidence until weeks later that Meredith would spotLexie having lunch with a man who looked familiar. She would have stocked the outskirts of the cafeteria until Derek came up behind her and asked who they were spying on. She would have laughed and told him the man looked familiar. He would have narrowed his eyes and known that she and Lexie shared a name, and that her father had lived in Seattle. And when her assumptions were confirmed, he would have sat with her through many uncomfortable dinners as she slowly started to build some sort of relationship with her father and her half-sisters.

One morning they would wake up together in the trailer, and he would insist she accompany him on a walk. He would have taken her to the most scenic point on his forty acres and tell her he wanted to build them a house. She would have smiled and bit her lip and reached for his hand. It would have been scary, but in a good way. And not long after that, he would present her with a ring, and she would have no other answer on the tip of her tongue than yes.

A simple ceremony would follow in the next year, likely outside on their land. His entire family would fly in from New York and tell her how glad they were that he had found someone so perfect for him. He would have been all she could see as she walked down the makeshift aisle to join him. He would smile the dreamy smile that always made her melt, and he would have taken her hand and promised to love her forever. She would have been surprised to feel tears running down her cheeks as they were declared husband and wife.

Eventually Meredith would have decided she was ready to start a family, and after a few months the stick would turn blue. And he would hold her hair back every morning as she threw up. And she would mutter at him and blame him for making her feel like that. And he would take it all in stride and smile and tell her he loved her.

In the early hours of the morning, days before her due date, she would wake him and tell him it was time. He would blink groggily at her and then throw himself into action, and made sure she had nothing to worry about as he got them to the hospital. He would have sat by her through hours of labour, and would have held her hand without complaint as she finally gave birth to their first child, a beautiful baby girl. The nurses would wrap her up and place her in Meredith's arms. And Derek would sit on the bed beside her and wrap his arms around them. And Meredith would sigh happily as they both stared down at their new daughter. And he would cry and kiss her head and she would finally know what it was like to have a family.

Back in the present, stuck in the lonely life she didn't want to be leading, Meredith blinked several times and set her shot glass back down on the bar, untouched, as she tried to figure out how she had let it get this bad. She could see it; the life time. She could see it. But the path to get there was out of her sight, marred from the very beginning.

She sighed heavily and shook her head at Joe when he motioned for a refill. She wasn't going to be drinking any more tequila. Slowly and cautiously, Meredith made her way though the throngs of people to set herself down on the empty seat next to the dejected neurosurgeon who was nursing his single malt.

He glanced over at her, his dark eyes showing a flash of surprise, but he stayed silent, slowly turning his head back.

"Tequila sucks," Meredith spoke.

He looked back at her, his eyes narrowed and he nodded slightly.

She sighed, wishing she could properly explain what she wanted to say. "It should have been different. The whole thing. We started off on the wrong path."

He nodded. "I guess we did." There was very little hope in his voice, as if he convinced himself she was here to make amends, not to make and advances.

"Can we still get there?" She asked quietly.

He looked surprised, but shook his head. "I don't know."

She tightened her lips in thought. "We need a new path," she said simply.

Derek nodded. "Yeah..."

"Would it get us there, a new path? Would it get us to the end, the finish line?"

He sighed and angled his body more to face her, realizing she was being serious, and this was not a moment to simply let slip by like so many others. But even as he spoke, his voice had low affect. It was clear he didn't expect much from the conversation. "A new path would only get us there if we didn't get lost, and stuck together so we don't get separated."

She nodded, understanding exactly what he was telling her. "Do you think we could make it, without getting lost?"

"Do you?"

She took a breath. "I hope so."

He was surprised at her words, but didn't respond.

"I can see it now," she told him quietly, averting his eyes. "I can see the finish line. And I can see the path we should have taken to get there. And even the path we started on could have gotten us there, but..."

"But we got lost a lot," he finished. "We both got lost, with and without each other."

Meredith nodded. "I'm ready to commit to a new path," she told him gently. "I'm ready to start off together and never get lost again. I'm sure we'll make some wrong turns, but together we'll be able to go back to where we went wrong and fix it."

He regarded her closely, still hesitant.

She inhaled shakily as her resolve began to fail at his reluctance. She held out her hand, face up on the bar in front of him. "Do you think we can find a new path?" She asked gently.

He sighed and swallowed and she was just about to give in to the hopelessness and pull her hand back when he offered her a tired smile and placed his hand on hers, expertly entwining their fingers. "I hope so," he mirrored her earlier words. "I hope so, Meredith."

They turned to face forward, still holding hands and shoulders resting against each other, both lost in their own thoughts. They had strayed far from the original path, but for the first time in a long time, they were both hopeful.