Hey there

Gosh, I'm sorry about the lack of updates. This fic has been harder to finish than I thought it would be. A few chapters ago I mentioned that a close friend of mine passed away, and that she read my fics. Well, I didn't finish this fic before she passed away, as much as I tried to and yeah, every time I went to update this I got weighed down by sad thoughts but I've forced myself to soldier on so here's a long overdue update. I thought I owed you guys an explanation, but I'm glad that it's done. I really wanted to complete it because it's my favourite of the fics that I've written. Plus, I know that my friend wouldn't be impressed with me if I quit.

This is the final chapter of this fic. Than you to everybody who read it and who reviewed it. I really, really appreciate it.

CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR

The twenty-four hours after Derek's induced coma felt like twenty-four years. Meredith left the room only when absolutely necessary, feeling as though she was leaving a bit of herself behind every time. Any doubts that she had about her commitment to Derek were a thing of the past now. She felt sad that it had taken something this big to put those fears to rest.

Finally Mark and Izzie announced that Derek would be able to come off the ventilator. As he slowly came back to consciousness, Meredith held on tightly to his hand, willing him with everything that she had to return to her. Outside the door of his ICU ward, Richard and Bailey had remained a close vigil, praying and willing everything to go smoothly. They couldn't bear to lose someone else and they couldn't watch Meredith go through everything that they were going though. Their hope grew as Derek's status grew stronger. His respitory function was improving steadily and Izzie had been very pleased to report that the innovative spray on skin procedure had been a great success. It was working better than they had expected.

Cristina, cast and all, hadn't wandered very far from the ICU ward either. Her concern for her person trumped any embarrassment that she had felt over her many morphine induced sexual advances on the Seattle Grace staff. She was back to her old self, snapping at anyone who dared to make fun of her and stopping any curious interns from finding their way near Derek's room.

Lexie and George had also stayed close by. When they heard that Derek was being brought off the ventilator and would be breathing on his own again, they stood in the hallway, holding hands and hoping for the best. Everything that had happened over the last few days had brought them together closer than they had imagined that they could be.

Finally, Derek opened his eyes and the first face that he saw was Meredith's.

"Hey," he moaned, groggily.

"Hey there," Meredith replied with a smile, unable to hide how happy she was to have him back. She leant forward and kissed him passionately on the lips. The smile that broadened across her face made her giggle. "I'm so glad you're back," she said as she kissed him again.

"Me too," Derek replied. "Especially if you're gonna keep kissing me like that."

Izzie smiled to herself as she stood, a couple of meters away from Derek's bed. She turned to Mark only to see that he wasn't beside her. He was standing in the corner of the room, facing the wall, with his thumb and forefinger over his eyes. Izzie went over to him and could see that he was crying silent tears of relief.

"Are you okay?" she whispered. Mark nodded.

"Damn allergies," Mark replied, making excuses. Izzie smiled and patted Mark on the back gently before turning her attention back to Meredith and Derek and breaking the long awaited good news to them. Derek would need to stay in hospital and have a few more procedures but the verdict was that he was expected to make a full recovery. He was now out of the woods. The new procedure had worked and he would be left with minimal scarring and would be pain free, his breathing was stable and there was no reason to believe that he couldn't go back to surgery in due time.

Derek was moved out of ICU and back to a regular room where he and Meredith talked quietly amongst themselves laughing every so often. Mark found himself needing some time alone to deal with his 'allergies' and his relief that he would not lose his best friend, his brother.

In between dealing with burns patients and feeling more and more as though she had found her calling in surgery, Izzie was busy writing up her and Mark's innovative study for publication.

As roads reopened in Seattle, Bailey and her baby went to stay with some of Tucker's relatives where they could all mourn their loss and try and put off thinking too far into the future. Unable to go back to an empty house and all of the things left unsaid to the love of his life, Richard set up a bed on the couch in his office, unsure of how long he would be living there, but expecting it to be a long time.

George, Lexie and Alex stayed back at the hospital with other staff members, surviving on massive doses of caffeine, to assist the injured who continued to stream in. Every now and then Lexie would go to check on Meredith and Derek and for the first time in her life, she felt a real attachment to her older sister. Meredith seemed grateful for Lexie's concern and Lexie was left hopeful that maybe they would be able to build on this over time.

Only two staff members returned to their homes that day.

Callie sat outside the hospital on a bench, staring into space and obviously deep in thought.

"Hey," a voice said, snapping her out of her reverie. Callie looked up to see Erica standing in front of her.

"Hey," she replied, exhausted.

"You have blood in your hair," Erica said to her.

"So do you," Callie replied, glumly.

"Were you planning on just sitting here all day?" Erica asked.

"I don't even know if I have a home to go to," Callie said. "I've been toying with the idea of quitting medicine all day. I'm just exhausted," she admitted, her voice close to breaking with emotion.

"That makes two of us," Erica said. "I don't know if I even have a house anymore. I don't know if my neighbours are alive." She sighed and extended a hand towards Callie. "I can't go back alone and neither can you." Callie nodded, knowing that Erica was right. She took Erica's hand and got to her feet. They both left the hospital grounds exhausted and as unsure of the future as everyone around them.

THE END