AN: Post 4.10 one-shot, where Derek shows up and does something new; is honest and apologizes. Obviously MerDer. I know I should be working on Where You Belong and currently untitled What I'm Here For sequel, but I've had this idea for a while, and I just needed a quick one-shot.

Disclaimer: I am not affiliated with Grey's Anatomy. I am simply borrowing the characters and promise to return them safely (and in better shape than they currently are on the show).

Meredith was pulled out of her jumping, spinning, thrashing trance by the sound of a knock at the front door. Cristina didn't seem to notice, and continued her bravery-inducing dancing. And Izzy and George were still dancing slowly together, despite the loud, quick paced music. And Lexie had stopped, but made no move towards the front hall in the unfamiliar house.

Lifting her wrist, Meredith glanced at her watch as she headed for the door. It was almost half passed midnight. She hoped the music wasn't so loud that a neighbour was over to complain. She hadn't realized the time when Cristina had walked through her front door, Lexie in tow. And the sudden dance party had been born because, really, they all needed to be braver. Lexie needed to deal with her place in the hospital and her father. Cristina needed to deal with Hahn. And Meredith... Meredith needed to deal with her inner demons. Going to Derek earlier in the halls and telling him she didn't want to lose him had been scary. But her opinion had shifted and she was glad it was scary. The chief had been right, if she waited until she was no longer scared, he wouldn't be something worth having. And if she was perfectly honest with herself, she knew if she had waited until she wasn't scared, she would never be ready. Because he would always be something worth having.

So she had found him in the halls, and she had smiled and touched his hand and spoken the words she had wanted to for so long. The words she knew he had been waiting to hear. But he had paused. She had expected him to smile and kiss her and tell her he was glad. Albeit, there may be a pause between her words and his reaction while he processed the information. But his pause had been a heartbeat too long for her shaky nerves. And she had been transported back to the last time she had bared her sole for him, and he had paused.

"...so pick me. Choose me. Love me."

The insecurities that had developed from that single moment had flared up. She had said the three words she had never said before. And she had told him how much he meant to her. And she had asked him to pick her, to take it on faith, just as he had asked of her not long before. But he hadn't said the three words back. He hadn't told her she meant anything. He had paused. And in the end, he hadn't taken it on faith. In an effort to spare her ego the strain of what came after the pause, Meredith had asked him to meet her at Joe's. Turns out, she hadn't spared her ego. And the hit she took was one she had yet to fully recover from.

She had thought that being with him again would heal her. She knew he believed he had made the wrong choice. She knew he wanted things to work out between them. But, being picked in retrospect wasn't something she wanted. It wasn't enough to heal her. And maybe she had been imperfect before. Maybe she was already cracked at the edges, and maybe she had been weak, but he had broken her. And that wasn't something she could splint and ignore anymore. She could remember yelling at him in an empty stairwell, telling him she was glued back together, but she didn't want to be held together with glue. She wanted to be whole on her own.

For the second time in a year, she and Derek had fallen apart, and she had taken the opportunity to try to heal herself. As much as she wanted to be with him, she had known it wasn't the right decision. Being with him hadn't healed her. But she didn't want to be without him. The S and M had been about feeling close to him, knowing he was still there. And the moments after did wonders to slowly weld the pieces back together. And even though they were technically not together, and even though it scared her, Meredith was secretly pleased he was still there, all the time, saying things. She just may have had to fight the urge to turn and run, but knowing that he still felt that way about her contributed in its own way to her healing.

And who knew what tomorrow would bring her; bring them. He had paused. And she didn't know what that meant. And the urge to spare herself had once again flared up, and she had told him to get back to her the following day. Maybe if she had given him more time the last time, he would have made a different decision. Either way, she definitely didn't ask him to meet her at Joe's that night. She knew how that scenario ended. And she feared if she was broken again, and lost all the progress she had made, she would never become whole.

So, Meredith was dancing. She allowed her best friend to take over her living room. And she allowed her half-sister to dance with them. Because dancing made you brave. And she definitely needed to be brave to face whatever was coming.

Sighing, Meredith stepped into the front hall and swung open the door. However, instead of meeting the eyes of a pissed off neighbour, she found a familiar blue gaze.

"Hey," she greeted softly, surprised to see him.

"It's tomorrow," he responded.

"What?"

"You told me to get back to you tomorrow, and it's after midnight."

Meredith blinked. "I meant..." she trailed off and tilted her head. "You definitely didn't waste any time."

He shook his head. "No."

She swallowed. If he had doubts, he wouldn't have shown up. But he wasn't exactly pulling her into the passionate, heartfelt kiss she had expected. "So, this is you..."

"Showing up," he finished her sentence. "This is me showing up."

She felt the beginnings of a tender smile flutter along the edge of her lips. "Okay." She stepped forward, tentatively reaching for his hand. He welcomed her contact, and leaned in for a kiss. It was full of emotion, but still not nearly the heart racing, electric, breathless kiss she needed.

"Can we talk?" He asked gently as she pulled away.

He seemed quiet and down and...resigned. She didn't know how to read him like this. This wasn't a Derek she knew.

"Now?"

He nodded. "I know it's late, but I..." He sighed. "I couldn't wait any longer to see you, and I need to..."

"Okay," she nodded. "But can we talk outside?" It was a relatively warm night, and she was pretty sure she would want privacy for whatever it was he was going to say.

He nodded and she grabbed her coat from the closet and followed him onto the porch. They sat on the steps leading up to the front door, and Meredith was disheartened when he sat away from her. She remained silent, scared of saying the wrong thing, scared of prompting a conversation she was pretty sure she didn't want to have.

Derek sighed heavily and turned to her. "I don't want to be alone," he said quietly, as if he were admitting something horrible.

"Okay," Meredith responded, trying to understand what he was telling her. "That's okay, Derek. Being alone sucks. I don't want to be alone either."

He nodded. "I feel like I spent eleven years in a marriage, alone. I didn't realize it at the time. I didn't understand it. But you made me realize it. You made me understand. With you, I don't feel alone."

She swallowed hard. "That's good."

"Only, not being with you..." He paused and met her eyes. "Not being allowed to be with you felt like it was slowly killing me. I want to be with you all the time. I can't just make love to you and then leave your bed. I want to hold you after. I want to spend the night. I want to wake up with you the next morning. Not being able to do that made me feel more lonely than..." His voice broke and he trailed off.

Meredith inhaled a shuddery breath and gently slid a little closer to him, reaching hesitantly for his hand. "I'm sorry, Derek. I know that it was hard on you." And me. She would never admit how hard it had been to force him out of her bed so many times, but she had known it was necessary. She needed to heal. And when he had started refusing to come to her and she had started going to the trailer, she had thought it would be easier to be the one who left. But, as it turns out, it was harder.

He nodded, appreciating her words. "I don't want to be alone anymore," he repeated.

"I know. And..." She sucked in a breath. This truly was still scary. "You don't have to be, anymore. I'm not ready for all the things you said you want, but I am ready to...start moving towards them."

He closed his eyes for several seconds as he clutched onto her hand, but made no move to pull her closer or touch her in any other way. "I wasn't sure if you would ever let me back in," he stated quietly. "And when I told you I may find someone else who wants the same things I do... I didn't mean it to be harsh, or particularly real, even. I was trying to prompt you. I was trying to scare you, to see if you were afraid of..."

"To see if I was afraid of losing you?" She supplied.

He nodded.

Meredith sighed. "I was afraid, Derek. I still am. But that's a good thing. It means you and me is something worth having."

He shut his eyes again, and she fought to keep her heart rate under control as he collected his thoughts. This was the most they had talked in some time. This was the most she had put herself out there in some time. And it was terrifying. And it was all she could do to keep herself together, in the conversation, not running.

"I didn't mean it," he said when he opened his eyes. "I didn't mean that I wanted to move on. I love you. And I never want to move on. I want to spend every single day for the rest of my life with you. I don't want there to be anyone else."

"Okay," she responded as firmly as she could. "Derek, I don't understand why..." She met his eyes and she knew, just like last time, when she had met his eyes in the scrub room and she had known. "Oh."

He didn't resist when she pulled her hand away and covered her face with both palms. "Oh, god..." She had waited too long. She hid behind her hands for a long moment. "How long?" By how much did I miss the boat?

"It's not what you think," he said evenly, his tone taking on a sudden, firmer quality.

"I don't even know what I think," she snapped back.

"Okay, I deserved that." He sighed. "We kissed...today. She's a scrub nurse and she was in surgery when my monitor gave out. It was a stressful situation. And...after, when we were scrubbing out, she kissed me." He paused. "And I kissed her back."

Silence.

All Meredith could hear was the pounding of the blood rushing by her ears. The thought of him kissing another woman made her stomach clench. "You only kissed once? That's all." Her voice sounded oddly neutral, and not like herself. She felt numb.

"Yes. One kiss. Nothing more."

She very carefully met his brooding eyes, cautious to keep her expression solid and cold. She wasn't going to let him see how much this hurt her. "How long have you known her?"

"A few weeks. I never wanted her to be... I was just trying to be her friend. I promise you, it was nothing like you and me. There were never any sparks. She was just friendly, and I was..."

"Lonely."

He nodded, and she felt her gaze soften just a touch at his sad, honest eyes. "Yeah."

"How did you meet her?"

"She yelled at me, or more lectured me. Called surgeons cliquey because we don't know many of the nurses. And to be fair, she was right. I don't know many names."

Meredith nodded. She remembered Derek coming to her a few weeks prior and asking if she knew the name of a brown haired scrub nurse. And he may have hurt her in the past, but he would never purposely hurt her by flaunting a new woman. If he said he had been looking for a friend, he meant it. "So, what changed?"

"I'm sorry?"

She hardened her gaze again. "If you were friends, what changed this morning?"

He shook his head. "I don't know. I never meant for it to happen, I promise you that. I was just tired of being alone. And the surgery was very stressful, and she fixed the monitor, and...she was there, I guess."

"Do you...want it to happen again?"

"No." He said firmly. "I don't ever want it to happen again. The only person I want to kiss for the rest of my life is you."

Meredith ignored his second comment. "What if it does happen again?"

"It won't."

"But-"

"It won't," he repeated, just as firmly. "I want to be with you."

"You said that last time." The words were out of her mouth before she could help it.

"Meredith-"

"No. You don't get to ignore the fact that this has happened before. You told me you wanted to be with me. You told me you were sure, that there was nothing to think about. And then you chose her."

"Meredith, I felt-"

"Obligated. I know. And I get it, but it doesn't change the fact that you left me. It doesn't change the fact that you promised up and down that you wanted to be with me, that you were leaving her. You picked her. You didn't show up at Joe's and you picked her."

Derek's eyes flashed in a way she'd never seen, and he opened his mouth to retort, but remained silent, slowly closing his jaw. "I didn't realize you still felt that way," he said quietly after several moments had passed. "I didn't realize..." He shuddered as tears formed in his eyes. "I didn't realize how much I let you down."

Meredith felt pricking at the back of her eyes, but she was determined not to cry in front of him. Not now. She crossed her arms protectively across her chest. "Yeah, well, you did."

"I'm sorry," he said softly. "I'm so sorry that I let you down. I'm sorry I lied to you. I'm sorry I picked her. And I'm more sorry then anything that I hurt you."

Meredith clenched her jaw in an effort to control the emotion threatening to explode out of her.

Derek sighed. "But I learned from my mistakes," he continued. "A good man learns from his mistakes, and that's what I'm doing now. I'm not going to lie to you anymore. I'm not going to keep things from you anymore. I'm not going to let you down anymore. This time around, I'm not going to hurt you."

She wanted more than anything to simply slid over the space on the step between them, burrow herself into his arms and let him hold her while she cried. But she had learned the hard way that she couldn't always trust what came out of his mouth. "What's supposed to make me believe that you won't pick her?"

He shook his head. "Because I've already picked you."

"But-"

"Meredith. I talked to Rose before I left today. I told her nothing more could happen between us. I promise."

"You already...?" She asked quietly, her throat feeling dry.

He nodded. "Absolutely. And even if you need more time after this, I promise I will wait. You're it for me, Meredith. They will never be anyone else, because I pick you. I choose you. And I love you more than anything else in the world."

Meredith squeezed her eyes shut as her body trembled. "So, this is you..."

"This is me doing what I should have done last September." He told her. "I'm here. I want you. And I'll do anything for you to take me back. I'll wait as long as you need."

Meredith found the strength to open her eyes, still trying to keep a solid gaze, even though there were tears flowing freely down her cheeks. "You want me?"

"More than anything else in the world."

She shuddered, and fought to stay under control, but it was no use. Her body shook as she sobbed, and it was only a moment before he closed the space between them and wrapped his strong arms around her.

"I'm so sorry," he mumbled into her hair as he held her. "I'm sorrier than I can begin to describe. I'm so sorry I hurt you."

Meredith lost track of the time she spent locked in his embrace, clutching to the collar of his jacket as if it were a lifeline. All she knew was she was in pain, but he was helping. He was there, and he was saying things. And she was starting to believe them. He wasn't picking her over the scrub nurse. He was picking her over everyone. He was picking her for life. And even though the thought of committing herself to him was terrifying, the thought of losing him vastly outweighed it. "I want you too," she murmured against his chest when her sobs died down.

"Thank-you," he whispered into her hair, pausing to inhale before continuing. "And I mean it, no more pressure. Take as long as you need. I'll be here when you're ready."

"No." She shook her head and lifted it off his chest to meet his eyes.

"No?" He seemed apprehensive.

"I don't want to wait anymore."

He blinked. "You mean you're..."

She nodded. "I don't want more time. I don't want to be away from you any longer."

"Really?"

"Really." Her voice was shaky, but honest. She knew it was important for her to open right now.

"Oh, Mer..." He pulled her close again, though this time to comfort himself.

She wrapped her arms tightly around his neck, revelling in the feeling of truly being back in his arms. "We have to do it right this time," she said quietly.

"We will." He pulled back and met her eyes, his hand reaching to brush a few strands of hair out of her face. "We'll do right, from the beginning this time. I promise you, Meredith. I promise I'll make you happy."

"No more secrets."

He shook his head. "No more. I promise." He reached for her hands. "We need to sit down and talk through everything. And I need to do a lot of apologizing."

"So do I," she added.

He nodded. "We need to get everything out in the open, so that we're on the same page. And afterwards, maybe we could have that dinner we never got to..."

"And actually make rules?"

Derek nodded. "Yeah."

"Okay." She hesitated. "Derek, you're going to have to help me. I know I'm not good at the talking thing, but I want to be. I want to be good for you."

"I'll be there every step of the way this time."

"Good." She leaned in and pressed her lips against his. He responded immediately, and her heart jumped into action as electricity shot through her body. This was the sign she had been waiting for. This was the kiss she had needed. No pauses.

"Good," he said when they finally pulled away. He threaded their fingers and gently pulled her into a standing position. "It's late," he said quietly. "I don't want to keep you out in the cold."

She smiled. "I'm not cold right now, Derek."

He kissed her lightly. "Can we do something tomorrow night? Dinner maybe?"

Meredith nodded. "That would be nice."

He smiled and kissed her one more time. "Okay. Good. I...thank-you, Meredith. Thank-you for letting me be here."

"Thank-you for being honest. I never meant for you to be lonely."

"I don't feel alone anymore." He sighed and kissed her forehead. "I'll let you go back inside, and I'll see you tomorrow?"

"No." She shook her head. "Stay."

"But-"

She inhaled a deep, shuddery breath as she felt her eyes well again. "I don't want to be alone anymore either. It kills me too, to not have you sleeping next to me."

"Oh, Meredith." And she was wrapped in his arms again, not sobbing this time, only crying quietly. "You never have to sleep alone again, if you don't want."

"You'll stay?" She asked quietly.

"I'll stay forever."

Her heart jumped as she pulled away to meet his eyes, fear suddenly welling in her chest at the words she knew she felt but was afraid to say. She forced a breath of oxygen into her lungs and she met his gaze. "I love you, Derek."

His expression melted at her words. "I love you, too, Meredith," he said back for the first time.

The fear was swept away by a wave of elation. She had finally said the three important words again, and he had said them back. They had finally said it together. And she knew exactly how it would have felt the first time. But all that mattered was that she was feeling it now. And she knew she would always remember this moment at their first I love yous.

"Come on," she coaxed, clutching his hand and pulling his up the steps to the front door.

Once back inside, the music was still playing. They silently shed their jackets and their shoes, and Meredith made to lead him quietly past the living room to the stairs, but she hesitated by the doorway.

"Do you want to dance?"

His deep, blue eyes met hers and he nodded. "Sure."

She smiled as he followed her into the fray of her friends, her family, and pulled him in close, similar to George and Izzy, but without letting any unnecessary space accumulate between them.

"This is nice," she spoke as they swayed back and forth to their own rhythm.

"It is," he agreed, his hand moving to rub gently along her spine. "Is this what you were doing when I got here?"

"Yeah, dancing, uh...it makes you brave."

"Good thing for it, then," he answered evenly.

"Very good," Meredith agreed, sighing contentedly as she glanced to her still dancing friends. Although it had felt like forever, she and Derek had spent less than half an hour outside. But Meredith was pretty sure that in that half hour, she had gained a forever.