Author's Note: This entire story was born from the line, "She talks about children sometimes." That line was eventually cut. The rest is what resulted.


And at the end of this tunnel of guilt and shame
There must be a light of some kind
- ani d. -

The night after Meredith tells you she doesn't want you to date anyone but her, you take the nurse out to dinner at your favorite steakhouse. She orders a house salad with extra croutons.

She has one younger brother who is majoring in journalism at UC Santa Cruz. Her father works on the railroad. Her mother is a florist. She attended college on scholarships. She was president of the student council and treasurer of the cheerleading squad. The man whose ring she wears around her neck was captain of the football team. They were high school sweethearts. They were engaged for three years before she realized that he didn't really want to get married.

She reads Danielle Steele novels. She watches Oprah. She loves daisies because they're friendly and roses because they're romantic. Her favorite movie is The Way We Were. She prefers chocolate ice cream.

She doesn't ask for your mother's maiden name, so you keep the information to yourself.

When the food arrives, you offer her the first bite of your steak. Her laugh is low and throaty.

"I'm a vegetarian."

For dessert, she orders a large piece of chocolate cake. It comes with two forks, but she doesn't offer to share, and you try to convince yourself that the craving for cheesecake will pass.

After dinner, you take her to Joe's for a drink. When you kiss her goodnight, she tastes like peaches, and you pretend that your lips aren't missing the sharp tang of tequila.


She starts calling you "Derek" in the OR, and she steals kisses in the scrub room after every surgery. You pretend it doesn't bother you. She likes to hold your hand as she's walking down the hall, but she has no secrets, and she breathes for herself, so when she presses her lips to yours in front of the elevator, you wrap your arms around her and inhale.

She doesn't smell like lavender.

You're in the middle of a corpus callosotomy when she leans over and tells you softly that she enjoyed making out with you against your car the night before. That she wants to do it again tonight, once you're done separating nerve fibers.

For the first time, you reprimand her for being unprofessional. You tell yourself it has nothing to do with the grey-green eyes that are growing damp across the operating table.

You're leaning over the sink, listening to the percussive sound of water against metal, when you feel a familiar presence beside you.

"I'm sorry about Rose," you say without looking up. "She shouldn't have been so explicit."

Moments later, the door slams. You inhale, and the stark scent of antiseptic overwhelms you.

The door to the OR slides open, and Rose enters with a huff. This time, you initiate the kiss.


She tells you how good you look in dress clothes. You push the fleece shirts to the back of your closet and start wearing suits.

Dr. Bailey thinks you look pretentious. The chief thinks you look sharp. Mark thinks you've run out of clean clothes.

Rose thinks the blue shirt brings out your eyes.

You step off the elevator, and Meredith hands you a stack of papers.

"I think I've found a way to save lives."

She rambles for ten minutes about a risky procedure involving gliomas and virus injections and walks away without mentioning the suit.

That night, you take Rose to the trailer. She asks you if you're planning to build a house.


Addison returns for a day, and you kill the first patient in Meredith's clinical trial.

You spend the evening doing research in the trailer. You want to save lives. You want to be published. You want to conquer a formerly inoperable tumor.

You are not slaving away in front of a computer to be great in the eyes of Meredith Grey.

The door opens, and the scent of coconut fills the trailer.

"So, your ex-wife seems to think I'm just a rebound."

You say something stupidly sentimental and reassuring. You pat her back and stroke her hair and whisper words like "forever." Deep down, though, you wonder if Addison is right. Because Rose is lovely, really lovely, but Meredith is the only woman you'd kill for.


The second patient in the clinical trial dies a day after surgery.

You show up at Rose's apartment with a bouquet of daisies. She greets you with a kiss. You don't let go.

Moments later, you are thrusting frantically, desperately, and mechanically as she writhes beneath you. Your name is a weak breath of air on her lips as she jerks violently through her climax.

You close your eyes, and her soft whispers escalate to violent screams as the strands in your fingers fade from brown to blonde. With one final thrust, stars explode behind your eyes, and you bite your lip to keep from screaming Meredith's name.

You collapse beside her, and she finds solace in the crook of your shoulder.

"I love you, Derek."

Your lips brush her crown, and you tell yourself that you could learn to enjoy this.


She stops wearing the engagement ring around her neck. When you mention it, she smiles coyly and says that her heart belongs to someone new now.

She asks if you've given any more thought to a house on your land.

You take a cautious sip of coffee and wonder if this is what it feels like to drown.


When the trial's third patient dies on the table, Meredith closes her eyes and breathes before calling time of death.

You rip the headset off. When you reach the scrub room, you shed the surgical gown and slam your fist against the wall.

The OR door slides open, and you feel her tiny hand on your shoulder.

"Dr. Shepherd…"

"Damn it, Meredith," you growl, "I'm not perfect!"

She laughs—a hollow, bitter chuckle that reminds you of broken glass and barstools. "Dr. Shepherd," she murmurs wryly, "the only person who expects you to be perfect is you."

She moves towards the sink, and your entire shoulder feels cold.

"It was a pleasure working with you today," she sighs.

The door slams shut behind her and, for the first time since she drowned, you find yourself crying.


You spend the night at the hospital, sifting through post-op notes and scanning medical journals. You pile the research in the upper righthand corner of your desk.

Rose calls. You ignore her.

At 6:00 AM, the stack is a foot high, and you think you have an answer. You reach for your phone and dial a familiar number.

"She doesn't expect greatness. She deserves greatness."

"Derek?" Your ex-wife groans loudly. "Derek, it's six o'clock in the morning."

"You asked me what the hell I'm doing," you murmur softly. "I'm…"

"You're what, Derek?"

"She deserves better than me." You inhale sharply, and suddenly, you're crying again.

She sighs. "Derek…"

"She told me she loved me once, before I decided to stay with you. We were in the scrub room, and she asked me to pick her because she loved me." Your tears form a lump so large that you can't swallow. "She hasn't said it since."

The line is silent for a long time, and you begin to wonder if she's hung up.

"Maybe you haven't given her a reason."


You wait for her by the residents' locker room in wrinkled scrubs and a creased lab coat, brandishing a stack of papers with a new proposal.

As soon as she steps out, you grab her wrist and pull her aside.

"I think I know what we've been doing wrong."

She smiles, and you feel more like yourself than you have in weeks.


The fourth patient in the clinical trial survives the surgery. This time, when Meredith tells you it was a pleasure working with you, you counter that the pleasure was all yours.

Rose meets you in the scrub room with a congratulatory smile.

"We should celebrate," she murmurs against your lips. "How about drinks at Joe's?"

You decline. Something about post-op notes and observation.

"Isn't that Dr. Grey's job?" she asks.

Before you can formulate a reply, the door closes behind you.


You sit down with your laptop in a chair beside the bed. Every hour, she comes in to check the patient's vitals. She has to lean over you to read the monitors, and the scent of lavender overwhelms you every time.

"Any change?" you ask quietly.


When she returns for the fourth time, she greets you with a curious smile.

"Don't you have somewhere you need to be?" she inquires casually as she slides the blood pressure cuff over the patient's forearm.

"Yeah." You return her smile easily. "Right here."

She continues to make notations in comfortable silence.

"Any change?" you ask when she stands.

"The pupils are responding to light."

"Mm," you murmur. "That's a good sign."

"It is," she agrees. "I'll see you in an hour."

It is the most you've spoken in six weeks, and something gnarled inside of you starts to relax.


The patient regains consciousness less than twenty-four hours after surgery. All scans indicate that the tumor has decreased in size, and some of the patient's symptoms have abated.

You page Meredith with the results, and her eyes widen as she skims your post-op notes. When she finally meets your gaze, her expression is one of incredulity.

"We did it," she murmurs.

"We might have done it," you correct absently. "We need to keep him under close observation. You'll need to have an intern in there for the next forty-eight hours in case something goes wrong. The first twenty-four hours are the most crucial, yes, but complications could still arise."

Her grin is contagious, so you abandon your solemn expression for a tentative smile.

"You're right," you concede quietly. "We might have done it."

"I can't believe…" She shakes her head. "I never thought we'd actually succeed."

Your eyes widen in surprise, and your breath catches in your throat. "But…but the point of a clinical trial is to discover something new. Discover a solution."

"She wants greatness from me. She's expecting greatness."

"Yes," she agrees, "but…success is like a far-off goal, you know? It's the holy grail, or whatever. Solving a medical mystery…" She trails off. "Everyone wants to find a solution, but…I guess I'm a realist, you know? I understand that, while everyone wants to do it, the reality is that very few people—if anyone—actually will."

"And you didn't think we'd be part of that group," you finish lowly.

You've essentially found a cure for a previously inoperable brain tumor, but you feel like the sky is falling. Like someone just told you for the first time that Santa Claus isn't real, that Sleeping Beauty never woke up and Rapunzel died in the tower and a stampede of drunken ball guests ground Cinderella's glass slipper to dust before the prince ever left the castle.

"Dr. Shepherd," she chides softly, and her voice comes to you as though through a tunnel. "Look at my life. Do I really seem like I belong in that group of people?"


You want to say it, but you can't find the breath. You've spent the last six weeks settling for "good enough" because you didn't think you deserved the best but, really, you've only made the best feel like a failure.

You wanted to be her happy ending, but you're merely another reason that "happy ending" is an elusive stranger.

You've just found a cure for an inoperable brain tumor, and all you can think is that you're going to be sick.


You find it strangely fitting that the one time you want to see Rose, she's nowhere to be found.

You've made three laps around the surgical floor before the drive to drink sends you to your office.

She's waiting just outside the door.

"Derek!" she chirps. "I heard the news! Congratulations!"

Her arms snake around your neck as she presses her lips to yours. You pat her back nervously and tell yourself to breathe, but she doesn't smell like lavender, and suddenly, that matters more than anything in the world.

You stumble through the door of your office, and she buries her hands in your hair.

"I love you so much," she whispers into your neck. "Let's get married."


It's the first thing you've said since you left Meredith in the hallway.

She pulls away and frowns. "I'm sorry. It's too soon, isn't it?"

"It's not that." You step back until her arms are no longer around you. "I just…I don't love you. And I should, I'm sure, because you're a wonderful woman, but I just…can't."

A crease forms in the center of her brow. "Why not?"

Because you're a vegetarian. And because you call me Derek in the OR. And because you've never asked me for my mother's maiden name. Because you don't order cheesecake, and you don't taste like tequila, and you don't like the trailer and you prefer me in suits and your hair is brown, not blonde.

Because you have a father who loves you and a mother who's alive and a brother with whom you've spent a lifetime.

Because you've never drowned.

"Because you don't smell like lavender."

Her lips part in confusion. "Derek…"

"It's a dealbreaker," you interrupt softly. "The lavender thing, I mean. It's a dealbreaker."


You return to the patient's room five hours later, and Meredith is shining a penlight into his eyes.

"Any change?" you ask quietly. She whirls around in surprise and gives you a smile that steals your breath.

"Mr. Reicher," she prompts gently, "why don't you tell Dr. Shepherd what I just told you."

The patient sighs heavily. "My blood pressure is stable and I'm reacting well to light. I've also regained a bit of my peripheral vision."

You nod. "Any headaches? Seizures?"

The patient shakes his head, and you inhale sharply in astonishment.

"Well…good. Great. I mean, we're not out of the woods yet. Symptoms could reappear over the next week. The tumor's decrease in size could be temporary. We'll have to continue to observe and monitor any changes, but…" You trail off. The patient is smiling.

"It's good news," he offers when your silence becomes apparent.

"It is good news," you agree. "It's very good news." But you're not looking at the patient anymore. You're looking at Meredith.


You start wearing jeans again, and the fleece shirts reappear.

Dr. Bailey thinks you look scruffy. The chief thinks you're going through a hard time. Mark thinks you've given up on the idea of getting laid. Ever.

You step off the elevator, and Meredith hands you a stack of papers.

"Mr. Reicher's latest scans," she offers by way of explanation. "The tumor's still shrinking, and his temperament seems to be returning to normal."

You flip through the pages absently and agree to meet her in ten minutes to reassess. She agrees with a smile.

"Oh, and Dr. Shepherd?" she calls over her shoulder, gesturing towards your attire. "Welcome back."


Eight days later, Mr. Reicher's tumor is small enough to operate. You're in the OR for six hours, bent over an open brain with Meredith by your side.

You get it all, and you step aside to watch her close.

"We did it," she breathes once you reach the scrub room. A chuckle of disbelief escapes her. "We really did it."

"Mm," you murmur in agreement.

She halts the flow of water and leans back against the sink with a sigh. When you arch an inquisitive eyebrow, she smiles.

"Thank you," she says softly. "For doing this, I mean. I know it was a risky project to take on, and I know how much you hate not being the expert, but…I really appreciate your support. Without your help, this whole thing would've failed."

Like everything else.

She doesn't say it, but the words echo poignantly against the silence.

"We make a good team."

She smiles. "Yeah. Yeah, I guess we do."

She reaches for the doorknob, and your lungs seize fearfully.

"Meredith," you blurt. "Wait."

She glances up expectantly, and you have to think of something to say. Something that doesn't involve lavender and cheesecake and her love of red meat.

"We should celebrate," you offer with a lopsided smile. And it's a corny proposition, maybe, but you think it sounds okay. "Drinks at Joe's, maybe?"

She inhales sharply, and her gaze falls to the floor. "Derek…"

"Mark will be there," you assure her. And it isn't true, but it will be soon, because he fucked your wife, and he owes you one. "Bring your friends."

She arches an eyebrow, and her lips curl upward in a cute little smirk that makes you want to smile back. "You're volunteering to go drinking with Cristina?" she prods doubtfully.


She tilts her head to the side, and her brow furrows gently. You're not sure what she's looking for, but you hope she finds it.

"Okay," she agrees finally. "I'll see you at eight."


"Okay, just to review…we're having drinks with the interns?"

There's laughter in Mark's voice. You're not sure whether it's mockery or disbelief.

"They're residents now," you remind him pointedly.

"Not O'Malley."

"I'm not sure O'Malley's coming." You glance at the door for the countless time in fifteen minutes.

Mark snorts. "Are you sure Grey's coming?"

Your jaw tightens, and your stomach dips, and you tell yourself it has nothing to do with desperation.

"She'll be here. She said she was coming. She's probably just late."

You still heave a sigh of relief when you spot her honey-blonde hair through the door. She glances up, and you wave eagerly.

"Smooth," Mark chuckles.

"Shut up."


She's on her third shot when she scans the bar in confusion and levels you with an uncertain frown.

"So, um…where's Rose?"

You shrug. "No clue."

Across the table, Karev snorts. "You mean you finally grew a pair and demanded some space?"

Mark grins approvingly and raises his glass to the former wrestler. "I like you. From now on, you can scrub in."

"Whatever," Yang grumbles. She's on her second tumbler of Maker's Mark, and the expression on her face is scaring you a little. "Evil Spawn has a point, McJackass. Why aren't you attached to the scrub nurse?"

"We broke up." You swirl your scotch around absently. "I ended it."

You can feel Meredith's eyes on you, but you can't bring yourself to meet her gaze as Mark slams his open palm on the table.

"About damn time," he mutters gruffly. "What the hell were you doing with her, anyway?"

"Drowning," you reply poignantly.

Yang rolls her eyes, and Karev snorts again, but Meredith inhales sharply and tilts her head to the side.

"But you survived," she murmurs gently.

"I survived," you agree. You take a sip of scotch and force yourself to smile. "Some things are bigger than the weight of the water."

The corners of her mouth curl slightly upward. "Yeah," she nods, "I guess they are."

She leaves to get another shot of tequila, and Yang reaches across the table and grabs your shirt collar.

"Look," she sneers, "she may not get what you're doing, but I do, and if you hurt her again, I will rip your balls off and make you eat them. Are we clear?"


"Drinks at Joe's" becomes a weekly appointment.

One night, Meredith is on call and can't make it. The rest of the residents come anyway. Mark challenges Cristina to a game of darts, and you make a fishing appointment with Alex. Izzie invites you to brunch on Sunday and promises to make whole wheat waffles.

You ask her about George, and she answers.

At midnight, you bid them good-bye and head across the street to the hospital. Meredith is in the library, illuminated by the neon glow of the computer screen. Months before, the bluish tint would've sent you into a tailspin, but you have an understanding now.

You know what it's like to drown.

"We missed you at Joe's tonight," you tell her softly.

She jumps at the sound of your voice, but then she glances up, and she stretches, and her soft features relax into a smile.

"I had lives to save," she murmurs wryly. "Besides, there's always next week."

It's an offhand comment, casual and nonchalant, but the fact of the matter is that you've made yourself a staple. You've managed to become a regular part of her life.

"True," you agree lightly.

Her eyes stray to the monitor once more, and a comfortable silence falls.

"So…" you offer finally, "why are you staring at a computer screen at one o'clock in the morning?"

"Alzheimer's research," she answers tersely.

"Fuel for another clinical trial?" Your tone is cheeky. Light. Flirty. Not unlike it was in the beginning, before…everything else.

She heaves a sigh and spins the chair around until she's facing you expectantly.

"Derek," she demands gently, "what are we doing?"

It's the million-dollar question, and you're not even sure you know the answer anymore.

"We're taking steps," you reply carefully. "We're getting to know each other again."

She leans back in the chair, and you realize how woefully inadequate your words sound against the silence.

Your arms fall to your sides, and you finger the hem of your jacket nervously. And suddenly, it doesn't matter that she's loved you or that you've loved her or that you've seen her naked more times than you can count. Because you know her now. You know that she giggles a little too loudly after four shots and starts slurring her words after six, but anything less than ten keeps her from hugging the toilet all night. You know that she tells Cristina everything, but that she waits until the wee hours of the morning to mention anything sentimental, because Cristina's less likely to make fun of her if they're both half asleep.

You know that she cried more over Susan's death than her mother's.

You know that she's been going to therapy, because Cristina let it slip last week. You know that she's the one who got Izzie off the bathroom floor after Denny died. You know that she's the reason that Alex and Izzie are locking lips again, and you know that she's the only one who can mention Burke to Cristina and live.

You know that she's the glue holding the family of residents together, and you love her for it.

You love her. And telling her was scary enough the first time around, but now…now, you know what you stand to lose, and you really, really don't want to lose Meredith.

"We did it wrong," you all but whisper. "The first time around, with the secrecy and the sneaking around and the midnight trysts behind closed doors…"

You close your eyes, and you can hear her voice, loud and indignant in your ear. "See? This is going somewhere weird."

When you open your eyes, she is watching you intently, and you heave a sigh.

"I want to know your friends. I want you to know my friends. I want to be able to hang out after work and talk to you about things that have nothing to do with surgery. And, when I ask you to trust me again, I want you to have a whole host of reasons to do so."

Her eyebrows rise ever so slightly, but the words keep coming, and you don't try to stop them.

"You were right about Rose. She wanted a house and a marriage and a bunch of bright and shiny children. And I thought I wanted that too, but…at the end of the day, all I really want is you. House or no house, ring or no ring, children or no children. I just want to be with you."

She narrows her eyes and studies you for a moment, and you begin to wonder if you've said too much, but then she inhales sharply and everything stops.

"You want to be a couple again," she clarifies, dipping her chin uncertainly. And you know it's a statement, but it feels like a question, and you're terrified of giving her the wrong answer.

"I want to ask you to dinner one night this week—just you, me, and a bottle of wine—and I want you to say yes." A sheepish, hopeful smile surfaces. "That's as far as I've gotten this time."

She gives you a small smile in return. "I'm off at six tomorrow."

Your heart begins to pound excitedly against your ribcage. Her smile broadens slightly, and you wonder if she can hear it.

"Are you saying yes?"

She gives her eyebrows a suggestive wiggle. "Only if there's a steak involved."


The next evening, you take her out to dinner at your favorite steakhouse.

For dessert, she orders a piece of strawberry cheesecake. It comes with two forks, so she shoves the plate towards the center of the table and hands you one.

After dinner, you stop for drinks at Joe's. When you kiss her goodnight, she tastes like tequila and, this time, when you come up for air, your lungs aren't full of water and your feet find solid ground.