Not The End Of The Road
Pairing: Meredith & Derek
Disclaimer:Nothing is mine. Nada. Rien. Lyrics are from "End of the Road" by Boyz II Men. Old school, I know, but I love the song for many reasons, largely to do with my obsessive personality.
Summary:"You've never been here before... it's only your first time." Meredith and Derek – how season 4 could've played out, from 4.07 onward.
Authors Note:so I've been sitting on this for a while, ever since I watched 4.07 a few weeks ago (I know, I was a little behind, but its exam season. Procrastination is everything.) and I was particularly inspired by that last scene in Derek's trailer, where Meredith didn't want to leave. My brain started thinking "how could this have gone differently?", especially as I watched the following episodes. So this chapter starts where 4.07 left off, and I have provisional chapters after 4.08, 4.10 and 4.11 at the moment (ignoring, to some extent, the obvious Rose issues, which will be resolved before we get to the kissing.) – I haven't decided whether I want to do anything with the latest two episodes and the clinical trial, because I'm not honestly sure it'd work in the relationship framework.
So, this is how the Meredith and Derek saga could've worked out a little happier, starting the night after 4.07. I'd really appreciate people's thoughts on it, it's always lovely to know what people think!
Girl, I know you really do love me, you just don't realise
You've never been here before... it's only your first time.
"So what did you do tonight?" Meredith offered with a slow smile, well-versed in their nightly routine as she dipped her head for another lingering kiss.
"Nothing much," he whispered against her lips, letting his tongue tangle lazily with hers in-between sentences. "What did you do tonight?"
"...you," she whispered, straight-faced until she caught a look close to indignation on his face, at which point the giggles started. "Sorry, I've been waiting to use that line for nights...Derek!" she giggled, squealing slightly as he pinned her to the bed with a growl, willingly giving in to his lips as they captured hers. Her laughter died slowly as she lost herself in a kiss that was surprisingly tender, especially when you considered the crass joke she'd just made. Tangling her fingers loosely into the hair at the nape of his neck, she allowed herself to relax into the firm pressure of his body against hers, the warmth of his skin... and the undeniable shiver that ran down her spine as his fingers brushed lightly against her cheek.
And the realisation hit.
That she'd never felt as at home in a kiss than she did in his. In a kiss, in an embrace, in a bed in a trailer... somehow, she'd grown to equate them all with safety and security.
With being wanted, even if she had imposed the strangest conditions on that feeling.
His fingers stroked her cheek with a little more intent, and as his thumb slid to rub gently underneath her ear, she realised that he'd stopped kissing her and was regarding her with an expression that conveyed just the right amount of concern... but didn't quite dare ask what she was thinking, lest it drive her out of his bed.
His very warm, and very comfortable bed. Which Meredith herself was beginning to realise was largely down to its occupant, not the quality of the mattress or sheets...
"Hi," she whispered softly, at a loss for anything else to say.
"Hey," he offered just as quietly, letting his fingers trail lightly through her hair as a slow smile crossed his face. "What's going on up there?" he ventured eventually, tapping her forehead gently.
"It's been a long day," she replied softly, shifting slightly to rest her head against his chest. He moved easily to accommodate her change in position, his arm resting lazily around her shoulders. "Izzie and George are treating me like their new agony aunt, Cristina's pissed because Hahn hates her..."
"Mark has a thing for Hahn," Derek commented lazily, smirking slightly.
"Really?" she questioned slowly, giggling slightly at the thought. "So... you and Mark are friends?" she questioned, tipping her head up to glance at him.
"I think we might be getting there. I guess... life's too short to focus on everything that's gone wrong," he replied, gently tangling his fingers in her hair. "He's... like my brother, I guess. Can't stay mad at someone you love for long..."
With that final sentence, she began to realise that not everything he was saying was directed solely at his relationship with Mark.
"I guess you're right," she said softly. "I'm glad. That you're friends, I mean."
"Me too," he replied. "And for what it's worth? Even if it goes way beyond the sex and mockery and scares you out of my bed, I'm glad we're..." he trailed off, suddenly lost for the words to define them.
Much like she was, if she was honest.
"It's not going to scare me out of your bed," she offered quietly, dipping her gaze away for a second. "I mean, it's far too warm and comfortable... and it's cold out there," she joked weakly, risking a quick glance up at him.
"Well then," he said quietly, his rapid blinking alerting her to just the faintest sheen across his eyes. "I'm glad," he repeated simply, nodding decisively as a smile crossed his lips for a second. "I'm glad..."
"Do you think... maybe, I could stay here tonight?" she cut in softly, keeping her eyes locked on his.
"I think I'd be okay with that," he replied, with the most meaningful smile she'd seen in months. "Does this...?" he voiced tentatively, barely trusting himself to get the words out.
"I don't know," she replied honestly, allowing herself to reach down and link her fingers with his, in a gesture she hoped spoke louder than words.
"Well do you think, maybe... I could buy you dinner tomorrow night?" he asked, taking on the form of her earlier question.
"I think I'd be okay with that too," she offered quietly.
As Richard stepped out of his trailer the next morning, he was met by the delicate and unmistakable sound of female laughter. Unmistakable, in that it belonged to a female resident for whom he had a certain affinity. Their voices drifted over to him as he busied himself with collecting something from just inside the trailer.
"You see, this is the benefit of a proper breakfast!" Derek insisted, with a low chuckle that sounded perfectly in tune with hers.
"I still say leftover grilled cheese has some positives," she countered with a slow smile, huddled up on the step next to him, looking impossibly small all wrapped up in his coat, as she reached over to swipe another piece of toast off his plate. "In fact," she continued, resting her head against his shoulder, "one of these days I'm going to force you to sit down and eat it in the morning. Then you'll experience its redeeming qualities.
"I look forward to it," he teased, one arm resting easily behind her as he speared a piece of trout with his fork, waving it temptingly towards her.
Or so he thought.
"For now though, you can keep that... fish... to yourself!" she insisted, attempting to move as far away as she could. Not that he was letting her get very far at all.
Not that she was fighting that hard to get away, for that matter.
"I cook you breakfast and you reject it..."
"I'm very grateful," she insisted, waving her toast as evidence. "But I'm good with this... oh, good morning, Chief," she added as he neared. Richard watched as she clearly fought an internal battle over whether such a situation required her to be a professional distance away from the neurosurgeon beside her, and he presumed it was a combination of the knowledge that he'd caught them in a far more compromising position already, the warmth radiating off the man next to her, and the gentle tug of Derek's hand on her waist that persuaded her that her current position was perfectly acceptable.
"Meredith," Richard greeted warmly. "Derek," he added, to which Derek responded with a simple nod towards the table, which held another plate of breakfast.
"You know, you can just tell him you don't want trout every morning," Meredith offered perceptively, catching the briefest glimpse of a less-than-impressed look on Richard's face before nudging Derek lightly. "Don't you have some of that... muesli... health nut type stuff you could offer him tomorrow? I know, I know," she continued instantly, waving her hand at the look on his face. "It's fresh, hand-caught fish, it's the best in Seattle, you've told me that many times, but you're probably the onlyman who can eat it every single morning. Anyway, I have to go, so you can argue this out between yourselves and I will see you at the hospital," she finished with a smile, shrugging Derek's jacket off and reaching behind them for her bag and keys.
Richard caught Derek's quick squeeze of her hand as she stood up, and observed quietly the genuine smile that crossed her lips before she turned to face Derek a little more. "Seven thirty tonight, right?" she asked softly, nodding slightly in response to his affirmation. "Okay then. Chief," she added with a nod in his direction, before setting off towards her car.
Leaving the two men to sit in silence. One watching the young woman leaving with an almost paternal concern... the other watching her like she was the love of his life.
"She looks happy," he commented, drawing Derek's attention away from her retreating form. "You both do, for that matter..."
"I think we might finally be getting somewhere," Derek acknowledged, conscious suddenly of who he was talking to, and what he could be thinking.
"It is the first time I've seen her in the morning," Richard commented perceptively, gesturing a little as if to suggest he wasn't judging.
"I know how that must look, I... I'm taking her for dinner tonight," Derek commented quietly, realising himself how ridiculous their situation must look to an outsider.
"You deserve it," Richard commented eventually, glancing over at the younger man. "The happy ending, I mean. The both of you do. I know I should be concerned about the hospital politics, but... I consider her the daughter I never had, Derek, so if she gets her happy ending..." Derek nodded, accepting the unspoken warning gracefully. "Now, about this trout..."
"How does muesli suit you?" Derek replied dryly, unable to stop a smile crossing his lips.
"Hey, it's the dirty stop-out!" Alex called cheerfully, foiling Meredith's attempt to slip up to her friends unnoticed as they stood behind the nurse's desk.
"Thanks," she muttered dryly, resolutely ignoring Cristina's piercing gaze. "Now not only has the Chief seen me naked, we've also had breakfast together," she muttered to Alex as he leant against the wall next to her.
"The Chief's seen you naked?!" Izzie screeched, just a little too loudly.
"Izzie!" Meredith hissed, shooting her friend a glare. "I'd prefer it if the whole hospital didn't know that particular piece of information..."
"Staying over now, are we?" Cristina questioned dryly, raising an eyebrow at Meredith. "Really good 'broken up' behaviour there..."
"It... shut up!" she hissed at Cristina, running a hand anxiously through her hair.
"Are you and McDreamy together again?" Izzie asked excitedly, dropping her charts down next to Meredith. "Oh this is so exciting! ...and at least someone is getting some good sex at last," she muttered, more to herself than to the group.
"Meredith's never not been getting the good sex," Alex countered smoothly, with a smirk. "And who's to say she's the only one here getting some?!"
"Shut it, evil spawn," Cristiana snapped. "I don't need, or want, to know about your sex life. Izzie, you can keep yours to yourself too, I really don't need to think about Bambi in the sack any more than I have to; and Meredith." Dragging her friend's name out and turning on her, she paused for a long moment. "Stop dodging the question."
"We're not back together. We haven't talked about it, yet..."
"So you're thinking about it?" Izzie questioned instantly.
"No... maybe. I don't know. Cristina!" she exclaimed desperately. "Bitch about Hahn, anything, please!"
"You stayed over," Cristina just repeated calmly, regarding Meredith silently.
"Okay, okay. I asked if I could stay. I did the asking, okay? It still scares the crap out of me, but maybe..."
"You're ready?" Cristina asked slowly, just nodding to herself. "To talk about it, at least."
"It's safe," she replied quietly, a look passing between the two friends, before Meredith lowered her voice even further. "He's safe. I guess it just... took me a while to realise what that meant." Cristina nodded slowly, before turning back to her charts.
"Man, if sex and mockery can change your mind about dumping Shepherd, then the sex must be amazing." Alex commented, accompanying the thought with a low whistle, dragging the conversation away from Meredith's confession as she shot him a look that mixed gratitude with a dash of contempt.
"I've heard it," Izzie commented dryly, rolling her eyes in memory.
"So have we, Iz!" snapped Alex and Meredith simultaneously, causing the blonde to blush a furious shade of red.
"Okay, so everything's on its way to happy in the land of McDreamy, Izzie and Bambi are having issues... can we go now?" Cristina asked impatiently before anyone could start another conversation, marching off down the hall without waiting for a response.
"How did you end up having breakfast with the Chief anyway?" Izzie questioned, desperate to drag the subject away from herself as the other three began to follow Cristina, unaware of the presence in dark blue scrubs, conveniently hidden behind a corner.
"Oh, Derek cooks for him," Meredith replied with a giggle. "Since they're, you know... practically living together and all. It's really very domestic..."
"Derek's got his own little trailer park!"
"So, you cook the Chief breakfast now?" Mark questioned, dropping himself somewhat dramatically into a seat in the gallery next to Derek.
"Your intern... resident... whatever. Grey should be more careful about who's listening when she's gossiping with her friends," he replied with a smirk.
"Mark, I swear if you make one more comment about the Chief staying–"
"So Grey's staying the night now, hmm?" Mark cut in smoothly, relishing with a certain sense of pride in the second shocked look on his friend's face in a matter of minutes that he was responsible for. "Does this mean the sex and mockery is over? Hey, I'm only asking," he added quickly, holding his hands up in surrender at the venomous look Derek shot him, "in the nature of us being friends and all..."
"You just want the gossip," Derek shot back perceptively, still focused on the surgery taking place in front of them.
"Oh I got quite enough of that from Meredith without having to go through the trauma of asking... and now I realise why you were so snappy with the Chief the other day," he commented casually. "That's gotta be top of the embarrassment list, right, especially with the Chief and Meredith..."
"She stayed last night, it was her decision, I'm buying her dinner tonight, are you satisfied now?" Derek reeled off smoothly, unable to stop the slight smile that quirked at the corner of his lips.
"Uh huh," Mark replied, nodding his head. "So if you want to change the subject, you won't be interested in hearing what she had to say..."
"I'd rather hear it from her, thanks all the same," Derek answered. "How's that... thing you have. For Hahn?"
"Yeah, I'm going to leave now," Mark muttered, exiting the gallery to the sound of Derek's laughter.
"Remember the last time we did this?" Meredith asked with a slow smile, gently swinging their linked hands as they walked up her driveway. Derek chuckled to himself, shaking his head slightly.
"Promise me there's going to be no vet when I go to kiss you at your door?" he asked with a smirk. She rolled her eyes, smacking his arm lightly.
"No vet," she confirmed with a smile, hesitating as they reached the doorstep.
"Do you... want to go sit, for a while?" he asked, gesturing to the porch swing. She nodded quickly, and he led her over, settling for continuing to hold her hand rather than slipping an arm around her shoulders, conscious as he was that this night had to be a success.
In more than one way, the entire future of their relationship rested on it.
"Thank you for dinner," she said eventually, turning a little to face him, tucking one leg underneath the other. "I was... I'm not gunna lie," she told him with a smile, "I was a little worried that you'd choose some stupidly fancy place where I'd use the wrong knife and fork and spill my water all over the place, but... it was perfect."
"Most of the times I've been to restaurants like that, it hasn't been through choice," he told her with a slow smile. "Just because I know what order to use my cutlery in doesn't necessarily mean I enjoy it."
"That's... surprisingly reassuring," she commented, laughing softly. He grinned, squeezing her fingers gently.
"So on a scale of one to ten," he started, shaking his head as she started to look confused. "On a scale of one to ten, tell me how scary all this is." She managed to shoot a grateful smile in his direction, their well-tested scale putting her at ease a little.
"It was a seven," she said softly. "After that line, maybe a six?"
"Six is... workable," he said quietly. "I mean, it's no five, or four... three even," he continued with a smile, just squeezing her hand again. "But at least it gives us plenty of scope for improvement." Meredith laughed a little, letting her head rest against his shoulder.
She knew that silence wasn't really an option in response, but she was honestly lost for words. Asking if she could sleep in his bed the night before had been a colossal achievement on her part, and this was about as far out of her comfort zone as she imagined she could possibly ever get.
But something inside her told her that it really was now or never.
And that was the clincher, really. All the other times, it hadn't really been over. It had just been close. But now she'd started this thing, there really was no going back.
"I guess we have a lot to talk about," she said softly, her voice betraying the lack of confidence behind her words. "The last year's been..."
"Pretty intense?" he asked softly. "Meredith, I... I'm not expecting us to talk about everything all at once. Just so you know that."
"So I don't have to sit here all night and bare every inch of my soul to you?" she asked softly, managing a slight smile.
"Let's just talk for a bit," he said softly. "We haven't done that for a long time."
"Derek I don't know if we've ever talked properly," she countered softly, with a gentle shrug of her shoulders.
"Well there can be a first for everything," he told her after a moment, smiling softly. "Maybe you could start by telling me about the conversation you had with your friends when you got to work this morning," he offered, dragging the conversation back to what he hoped was a more comfortable point for a moment.
"You... I..." she spluttered, blinking rapidly. "How do you know I had a conversation with my friends this morning?"
"Mark has a habit of hiding behind corners," he replied with a slight smirk. "Somehow he managed to pick up on the fact not only that I cook the Chief breakfast, but also that the Chief has seen you naked, and that you stayed last night..."
"Ah. I... sorry about that," she replied sheepishly, shooting him a remorseful grin. "I'll check round corners next time." She paused for a moment, letting her fingers slip comfortably between his. "Alex noticed that I didn't come home last night, Izzie got a little over-excited that we were getting back together, and Cristina grilled me," she told him eventually, smiling as he chuckled at the stereotypical behaviour of her friends.
"Mark was offering to tell me the gossip," Derek told her softly, letting his thumb rub lightly over the back of her hand. "I told him I'd rather hear it from you, if you want to tell me."
"I..." she shook her head slightly, thinking back over the conversation from that morning. "I said you were safe," she continued eventually, looking down at her lap for a long moment. "I'm not sure how that translates into gossip though, because it wouldn't make that much sense if you weren't Cristina."
"You think I'm safe?" he asked softly, reaching out to tip her chin up gently. She nodded slowly, unable to stop a whisper of a smile crossing her lips.
"I, uhh..." she shook her head slowly, trying to get her head around the whole situation. "I told Cristina that this wasn't all about the sex, it was... about afterwards, when we'd just lie there for a while, and it felt safe. There's not a lot that feels safe at the moment, Derek," she added quietly, completely unaware of where her confidence was coming from. "But you do, no matter how much I've tried to deny it. I stayed last night because it was safe." She paused, suddenly at a loss for words once again. "But I can't translate safe into a relationship, no matter how much I want to. I have... abandonment issues. Cristina diagnosed me. Well, the psych textbook did really, I suppose."
"You looked for answers to our relationship in a... psych book?"
"I've never done this before, remember? We're doctors, it made sense," she defended quietly, dropping her gaze to her lap again and trying to ignore the sinking feeling that she was screwing everything up.
Derek sat up a little, running his hand through his hair in frustration, more at himself than at the girl in front of him, who was making every effort she could to talk to him.
"I'm sorry, Mer," he said quietly. "I forget that you've never been here before. You looked for answers, that's the important thing."
"Yeah," she said softly. "Derek I don't want to date other people," she started shakily, raising her eyes to look at him. "I don't want you to date other people, I don't... want to get over you. But I don't know where to go from here. You've said... you've said a lot of huge things recently, Derek, and I just can't handle those right now, so I don't know what happens next. I don't know how we
work on it, but... I know that I want to. Even saying it petrifies me," she added, her voice dropping to a whisper, "but if you want to work on it too..."
He closed his eyes, and for a heartbeat she thought she'd said too much. Said the wrong thing, no matter how hard she'd tried not to.
"Do you feel safe now?" he asked eventually.
"Vulnerable doesn't quite cover it right now," she offered quietly, biting her lip sharply between her teeth. "In fact, it's a huge freaking understatement. This couldn't be further out of my comfort zone, but this is me compromising, Derek. This is how much I want this."
And for him, that was the clincher.
"Those huge things I told you," he said softly, finally daring to look at her. "They don't... they don't have to happen right now."
"You're sacrificing..." she whispered quietly. "Settling."
"Every relationship involves sacrifice," he said simply. "I want those things, Meredith, and you have to know, you deserve to know that they'll always be on the back burner. But I want them with you. So if I have to wait a while to get that, then it's a sacrifice I'm willing to make." Drawing her eyes up to his, she nodded slowly, well aware of the raw edge to his voice.
"So we're fighting? For this?" she asked quietly, finding her own voice had a rough quality to match his.
"We're fighting," he agreed, squeezing his eyes shut for a long moment as she scooted across the swing, closing the gap he hadn't even realised had formed between them. And as she let her head rest against his chest, her arms encircling as much of his torso as they could, he realised that she hadn't vetoed the huge things he'd told her.
In fact, she'd acknowledged them straight on.
And as he wrapped his arms around her shoulders, letting a whisper of a kiss brush against her forehead, somehow it was more than enough for him.
"Do you remember when you said you'd show up?" she asked quietly, risking a quick glance up at him to check he did. "Well... this is me. Showing up." He nodded slowly, leaning down to close the gap between them. And for the first time in weeks, as she reached up a little to seal her lips against his, neither of them felt like they were standing on thin ice. Just like she hadn't been scared out of his bed the night before, she hadn't been scared out of the relationship that night.
It wasn't all right again, but it certainly wasn't a train wreck either.
And even though it seemed like neither of them were really cut out for perfection, compared to all the nights they'd spent alone even when they were together, it felt pretty much like what they imagined perfect would... without the rose tinted glasses.
"I don't want it to be a six," she offered eventually, going back to the start of their conversation after a long silence. "It just might take a little time, but... I'll keep you updated every time it changes."
"Is it still a six?" he asked, pressing a kiss against her lips once again.
"Maybe a five and a half?"
"I think I can accept those odds."