AN: The way I see it, with two characters somewhere between life and death following the S5 finale, there are four potential outcomes. And thus, this new project of mine will consist of four oneshots to explore these four possibilities. They will be written mainly from a Mer/Der POV because that is what I am used to writing. I am still actively working on Where You Belong and Here We Are, but needed something different after writing the same storylines for so long. Hope you enjoy!
Disclaimer: I am not affiliated with Grey's Anatomy. I am simply borrowing the characters for my own amusement.
Tears that refused to fall stung the backs of her eyes. A strange, static-y silence filled her head, coupled with an emptiness that filled her heart. Today was supposed to be a happy day. Chaos had reigned in her life as of late, but she had found refuge in the man she planned on spending the rest of her life with; the one who had offered nothing but unwavering love and support since she had talked him back into being a surgeon. The one she had married today.
Today was supposed to be a happy day.
Meredith Grey had experienced loss before. Early on in life she had learned the intricacies of abandonment, loss, neglect and insecurity; the intricacies of feeling unwanted and unlovable. And decades had gone by before she had begun to believe in those seemingly irrelevant words. Love. Friendship. Commitment. Forever.
Co-workers (who became family), a one-night stand (who became everything) and a therapist (whom she had been determined to hate) had slowly but surely talked Meredith into believing in her future. She had experienced abandonment and neglect, but believed her new family would support her forever. She had experienced heartbreak, but believed the man who caused it would never leave her again.
She had experienced death, but believed in life.
And she had gotten married today, to a man who knew about the dark and the twisty, and loved her all the more for it.
It was supposed to be a happy day.
But it wasn't.
A familiar presence hovered beside her, defeated and sorry and worried. He said nothing, because right now there was nothing to say, and they both knew it. This was a moment that would never be forgotten. Not unlike the feeling of completeness she had experienced upon signing a certain small blue paper only an hour earlier and looking up to meet Derek's tender gaze, only this would be a memory she would look back on for another reason. Polar opposite had never meant as much before as it did right now.
"Mer," Derek spoke softly, still beside her, still there.
She opened her mouth, feeling the fabric of the surgical mask against her face, scratching at her lips and chin, but no words came out.
His shoulder touched hers, and the tears finally started to fall, but still she couldn't find the strength to look away.
He was still lying there on the surgical gurney, the patient she had felt empathy for and had offered several kind words. Only now he wasn't just a patient. Now she felt much more than empathy. She felt a love that only came with true friendship, understanding that came only with experiencing together what they had, and sorrow that came only with true loss. She felt grief.
"Meredith," Derek tried again.
This time she managed to shake her head. No, I'm not ready. No, I'm not okay. No, this can't be happening. It was too still in the room, too quiet. It didn't feel real.
Someone had turned off the monitor since time of death had been called, sending the OR into silence. It was no longer a secret that the brave man on the table was one of theirs. Had been one of theirs. He had fought hard. They had fought hard for him. But in the end nothing had been able to bring him back.
Not everyone can be saved.
Words she may or may not have ever actually heard filtered into her brain, and all Meredith could do was hope George was in a better place than she had been. He didn't deserve to experience the inability to save for an eternity. He didn't deserve to exist on only whiffs of the people he loved. And he didn't deserve the struggle of outrunning the water, or maybe in his case, the bus...
He deserved peace.
A sob escaped her lips as reality fell hard onto her shoulders. Dead. George was dead. Gone. Forever. He would never walk the halls of Seattle Grace again. Would never again roll his eyes in good nature when baited about his infamous appendectomy. Would never again save a life. And maybe it was a little ironic that the man that had spent so much of his life fumbling towards medicine to save lives had lost his own saving a life in the most heroic of ways.
Derek's arm found her back, his fingers wrapping around her arm. There were no more worries about keep sterile in this OR. "I'm so sorry," his whisper reached her ear.
Meredith leaned into his support, but still couldn't take her eyes away from her friend. Machines were being unhooked and moved away in silence. A different set of medical supplies were being moved forward. Preparations needed to be done. "What if we hadn't known?" She all but whispered back.
She took a breath, silent tears streaming down her cheeks and soaking her mask. "He tried to tell me earlier, who he was, but I didn't get it. What if I hadn't realized the second time? Would I even be sad right now?"
"Of course you would." He had so much faith in her. "You always are."
"But not like this."
"No. Because you need to distance yourself. It's part of the job." It was a hard rule to follow at times, and Derek had needed to re-learn it recently.
She nodded absently. Words were coming more easily to her now. Maybe it was a new way to avoid the horrible feelings that were ready to fill the emptiness in her chest. "How long until we would have known?"
"Don't do this to yourself, Mer."
She ignored him. "Would we have assumed he had shipped out without saying goodbye? How long until someone realized he was missing? The army could have thought he changed his mind, and never come looking for him, and-"
"Stop," Derek commanded. "None of that matters. You did realize who he was. And you were here for him. That is what matters."
Emotions swelled, but didn't fill her. They stood on a precipice and she was the bottom.
"And where is he now?" She continued, unheeded.
"Is he stuck in some sinister copy of Grace? Is he failing again and again to save someone? Is he still trying to outrun the bus? Who's there with him?"
"Meredith," he tried again.
"Where is he, Derek?"
"It's not fair!" She cried. "He deserves better than that. He doesn't deserve the constant failure. And who's there with him? Doc didn't like him...so who's there for him?" Teary eyed, she turned to Derek, searching desperately for an answer.
Derek was agonized. He had no idea what Meredith was talking about, but his heart cried out for him to make it better, to take away her pain. Only he couldn't. Nothing could bring George O'Malley back. "I don't know where he is, Mer," he admitted softly. It was a concept he had struggled with after his father had died. "But wherever it is, he's at peace. Because that's what he deserves."
Meredith nodded absently, another set of tears falling from her eyes.
Tragedy had struck her before, many times, smashing her carefully constructed foundation to smithereens. And each time she had picked up the pieces and hurried to put them back together, however they would stick, and maybe leaving a few behind. She had taken her time the last time, rebuilding her foundation piece by piece, and searching for the lost ones, but she had no way of knowing if it would hold up now.
With a deep breath, Meredith closed her eyes and let it all in. Grief and sorrow and loss shocked her, almost knocking her off her feet.
Derek caught her, his free hand gripping at her arm, keeping her upright until she stabilized. It was as if he had expected it.
"Oh, God...George..." He was gone. Really and truly gone. She had thought it minutes before, but now... Now it was real. Now it was too real.
"Come on," Derek murmured, trying to turn her.
She shook her head, refusing to move. Her feet felt like they were glued to the floor. George had been unhooked from all machines, but nothing more had been done yet. Unused to having a loved one in the OR, no one moved to prepare the body, simply stood on the outskirts of the room. Waiting.
Owen Hunt had fought long and hard for the life of George O'Malley. Long past the point where everyone in the room knew George was gone forever. Mark Sloan finally called a stop to the facade, reluctantly and quietly calling time of death when no one else did; when no one else could. Hunt had fled the OR (probably destined for the mystery place in the hospital only he and Cristina knew about), quickly followed by Mark and a teary-eyed nurse.
Meredith hadn't moved since Mark had called time of death. She had fought until the end, Derek beside her, not having the heart to be the one to do what Mark had. But now he had to be the strong one, had to get her away from her fallen friend.
"We need to go," he whispered.
"No. I can't."
Meredith finally turned her head, meeting Derek's eyes. Both were crying. "He's George. I can't leave him."
Derek squeezed her arm. "He's not George anymore."
Another sob broke through her lips. He was gone. Gone.
"Come and scrub out," he pleaded, "So that I can hold you like we both need."
She said nothing, and turned back to the still body on the gurney for a long moment. And then she closed her eyes and nodded, sending a silent goodbye.
One arm still secure around her back, Derek led her from the OR.
On autopilot, Meredith ripped off all surgical coverings and began to scrub out. Her hands were almost raw by the time Derek intervened.
"Shh," he whispered. "I'm here."
"Oh...oh..." she sobbed, her wet hands clutching to his scrub top. "He's gone. He's really gone."
Derek's strong arms closed around her, holding her tight as he supported them both. "I know. I'm so sorry."
"It's not fair," she cried into his chest.
"It never is."
Meredith fell into silence, losing track of time as she cried and Derek held her. It could have been minutes or hours when she finally raised her head from his shoulder and drew a shaky breath, knowing what she needed to do, but not how. "How am I supposed to tell Izzy that her best friend is gone?"
"We'll tell her together."
After wiping her face, she let Derek lead her from the surgical floor. Their elevator was, thankfully, empty and she allowed herself a whole minute to press herself against her husband and remember the good; remember that she could allow herself to feel the pain without losing herself.
And then her world was attacked once more.
She knew. Even before she rounded the last corner towards Izzy's room, she knew. Her gait faltered and she stumbled, only to have Derek catch her again.
Cristina, Bailey and the Chief were standing against the wall opposite the hospital room. Bailey was crying, leaning into a half hug offered by her boss. Cristina met Meredith's eyes as she and Derek approached. And then she shook her head ever so slightly.
"No," Meredith whispered, shaking her head frantically. "No. No. No." Her gait faltered again as she slowed. This couldn't be happening. Today was supposed to be a good day.
"Meredith," Bailey whispered, pulling away from the Chief, her face streaked with uncharacteristic tears.
Her knees gave out. Derek caught her before she hit the ground, quickly sitting and pulling her into his arms. Cristina hurried to her side, also sitting, because it was just easier than standing right now.
Meredith throat ached as she sobbed openly into Derek's chest, clutching at his scrub top like he would disappear if she didn't hold on tight. "No, no, no," became her litany. Over and over and over. Because this shouldn't be happening. This should never be happening.
Derek and Cristina, both crying now too, met each other's eyes over Meredith's head. "She crashed about an hour ago," Cristina said quietly. "We ignored the DNR, but..." she trailed off, not needing to continue.
"Alex?" He whispered.
"He's still in there with her." Cristina sounded broken, for once letting her guard down in front of Derek; in front of anyone who wasn't Meredith.
With a nod, Derek closed his eyes and laid his head against Meredith's, holding her even tighter as he thanked whoever would listen that she was in his arms. He had been so close to losing her before, and today only made that threat more real.
Her body hitched in his arms as she cried harder, releasing his shirt with one hand to wrap her arm around his neck. They hadn't included a 'for better or for worse' clause in their vows earlier, but they hadn't needed to. It was unspoken. He would be there for her for everything, good or bad. And she would trust him to be there, without question. And she would be there for him. No running. No hiding.
This is forever.
Today was a horrible reminder of how easily one day could change everything, of how easily 'forever' could be over.
Meredith's arm tightened around his neck, her face moving from his chest to the crook of his neck. He could feel her breathing begin to stabilize. "Oh, God... oh..."
Bailey and the Chief came closer. No one wanted to be near Izzy's hospital room. No one wanted to watch the scene inside.
"Izzy..." Meredith murmured, her breath against his neck as her body trembled against his torso. "...And George..." Her chest hitched. "Oh, God..."
"We're not losing O'Malley," Bailey spoke. "His missed his own intervention, but we're going to pull ourselves together and march on over to his mother's house and talk him out of this foolish idea Hunt put in his head."
Meredith shook her head and buried her face deeper against Derek, more intense sobs wracking her tiny body.
With a resigned sigh, Derek opened his eyes. "Miranda," he said gently, shaking his head.
She met his eyes. "I am not letting that boy go off to war."
"He's not going to war," Meredith spoke up, finally lifting her head away from her husband. She swallowed hard, pulling herself together. This was what she did. She kept everyone else going through the crisis. Derek was there to help her now, but she still had a job to do.
Bailey narrowed her eyes, shifting her gaze between the resident and the attending collapsed together on the floor. "What don't I know?" She demanded.
Meredith opened her mouth several times, foundering in her attempt for something to say.
Derek squeezed her hand, taking the burden off of her. "George was our John Doe," he whispered.
The reaction to the news was as expected. Gasps. Head shakes. Questioning glances. And then Miranda's eyes darkened and she asked in a defeated tone, "What do you mean 'was'?"
Again, Derek gently shook his head. "We did everything we could..."
Miranda's hand came to her mouth as she shook her head in denial. "No. It's not true."
"I'm so sorry."
"He was unidentifiable," the Chief spoke up, joining the denial. "There's no way to know for sure that it was O'Malley."
"He drew double-oh-seven on my hand," Meredith whispered, drawing everyone around them to silence. She returned her face to the crook of Derek's neck, breathing hard as she closed her eyes and wished she had more tears. She clutched her left hand painfully in her right.
Today should have been a good day.
Noticing that Cristina Yang was paler than normal, Derek extended an arm, offering comfort to the shocked resident. They had had their disagreements in the past, but Derek would never keep away his wife's best friend.
Cristina hesitated before leaning close, resting her head against Meredith's back and relaxing slightly as Derek closed his arm around the two of them; his post-it wife and surrogate sister-in-law. And for many minutes they stayed like that.
"Alex," Meredith finally said, forcing apart the makeshift hug as she pulled away. She had wallowed in her own grief for long enough. Today was a horrible day, but it would be worse for Alex. And Alex, like her, hadn't grown up with supporters. She knew he would need to be reminded again and again that he had people. That he wasn't alone.
"Mer, you don't have to-"
"Yes, I do," she replied immediately, cutting off the rest of Derek's words.
The hospital room was as deathly quiet as the OR had been as Meredith cautiously stepped through the door. Alex was lying on the bed, clutching to his dead wife, her head still swathed in the scarf. If she didn't know, she may have been able to think Izzy was simply sleeping.
"Alex," she whispered.
"I thought I could fight enough for the two of us."
"But she's gone."
"She tried so hard."
They fell into silence for a long moment. No one else had followed Meredith into the room, and she wasn't sure if she was grateful or sad.
"I knew how sick she was. I knew. But I thought maybe... maybe she could make it. She's the one good thing that ever happened to me."
"We happened to you too, Alex. You're not alone."
He nodded absently, no other movement save for the hand that he was running up and down Izzy's still arm.
"She tried so hard, was so determined..."
"That's because you were here for her the whole time. She was strong because you were strong for her."
"I love her."
"I know." She stepped forward, laying a hand on Alex's shoulder. "You need to come with me."
"No. I have to stay with her."
Meredith swallowed hard, before speaking the words that had already been spoken to her that day, words that Alex himself had once said. "She's not Izzy anymore."
It took some more convincing, but Meredith managed to persuade Alex away from Izzy's body. Derek drove them home. Cristina showed up with food and Owen in tow some time later. Callie volunteered to talk to what was left of the O'Malley family, and then she and Arizona arrived later with alcohol. Lexie got home late; she had been unreachable for hours, and the look on her face when she walked in the door told everyone that she had no idea what had transpired that day. Cristina took her into the kitchen, and when they came out both were in tears. And it only took one short phone call to bring Mark to the house as well, where he and Lexie silently put aside their differences for the night.
It was supposed to be a good day.
Hours went by. People dropped by. People went home. Alex eventually passed out on the couch, for which Meredith was grateful. No one should be in that much pain. Silence reigned in the living room, and Meredith found herself tucked up against Derek, taking whatever solace she could from his arms as horrible phrases ran loops in her mind.
She's not Izzy anymore.
He's not George anymore.
He's not Denny anymore.
She had been present to hear all three uses of the statement, had even uttered one herself. Derek had said it to her. She had said it to Alex. Alex had said it to Izzy. And despite the events of the day – or maybe because of them – Meredith felt her mind drifting back to the day she had drowned.
Denny had told her she couldn't die, that people had been lost, but she was the big one. And even though not everyone could be saved, Meredith had found her way back to life. And she had never been more grateful for her new lease on life than right now. Because Alex was broken. Devastated. Destroyed. And she couldn't imagine having done that to Derek. She had heard the stories of how he had sat on the floor, cried and allowed Mark's presence, but she had never faced them.
She had never been able to face them.
But now she wondered what would have happened if she had died? Would Izzy have completed the twisted circle and spoken the fateful words to Derek.
She's not Meredith anymore.
Meredith snuggled closer to her husband, vowing now more than ever that she would cherish her life; that she would walk far away from the line between life and death. She was certain the scenario of Derek being pulled from her bedside would haunt her dreams in the nights to come, but she vowed never to let it happen. And it was a day for vows; so maybe that meant a little something extra.
"I love you," she whispered for only him to hear, because you had to take the chance to tell the people you loved that you loved them when you had the chance.
"I love you too."
It wasn't any easier the following day. Meredith's house became ground zero for mourning. People came by at all hours with thoughts and prayers and food. Meredith and Derek left only once, to drive to Mrs. O'Malley's house with condolences. Alex spent most of the day locked in what had been Izzy's room, but tolerated his friends' checks.
The Chief came by on day two, explaining there were grief counsellors available to all who needed them, and that they would be offered as much time off as needed.
George's funeral was on the fourth day. Izzy's was on the fifth. A combined memorial service was held at the hospital a week after. Tears eventually ran out, but emotions barely faltered. Food stopped tasting, and every batch of muffins a well-meaning hospital employee brought over was disposed of immediately.
Alex eventually retreated to his own room, but no one could bare touching a thing in Izzy's, so the door was shut and the room was ignored. Out of sight, out of mind.
Only it wasn't out of mind.
Two weeks to the day no one wanted to remember, the three remaining of the five gathered in am awkward semi-circle on the floor of the upstairs hallway, equal distance between Alex's and Izzy's rooms. Alex was scheduled back to work the following day. Meredith had been back for a week. Cristina had been back immediately; her only proven activity to keep her mind off of her loss.
"I think I'm going to move out," Alex announced.
"What? No. Alex, you're family. You stay as long as you want."
He shook his head. The once arrogant surgeon had let down his walls with Meredith and Cristina. They had seen him at his very bottom, so there was no reason to hide now. "No offence, Mer, but your house is fucking cursed. The three of you lived here for so long, and you're the only one left. And even you almost...died." It still hurt, but it was getting easier to say.
Meredith sighed. "I never thought of it that way." Maybe the house was cursed. Maybe her mother's blood had started it; had stained it.
"It's all I can think about. I'm getting out of here before it comes after me too. I made Izzy a promise."
The sound of her name had the three of them falling silent.
"I'm a fucking widower," Alex scoffed. "What a fucking joke."
"Alex..." Meredith tried, tears welling in her eyes.
But he shook his head. "Don't."
She sighed. "Just remember that you're not alone."
"How could I forget? You've said it a hundred times today alone."
"You have a history of being dense," she countered.
"It's true," Cristina piped up.
"Great, now you're picking on me too."
"Maybe," she said with a shrug. "But I'm here for you too."
Meredith smiled as she watched Cristina reach out to Alex, knowing how hard it was for both of them, for all three of them, really.
"I guess if you're moving out, I should too," she said eventually.
"What are you going to do with the house?" Cristina asked.
She shook her head. "Hell if I know. You're not living here, though," she said before Cristina could ask. "Alex is right. This place is cursed. We all need to get the hell out."
And they did.
Alex moved to an apartment close to the hospital.
Lexie reluctantly left the safety of the attic, and eventually realized the merit of Mark's side of things. The loss she had been exposed to made her realize how little a professional life meant when that was all you had.
And Meredith and Derek moved into the trailer as they waited for their house to be built.
"I miss them," she whispered against Derek's chest in the safety of the darkened trailer several months later. The air around them was cool, but she was anything but cold, curled up against Derek's warm body. Winter was coming, but the house on the cliff took more and more shape everyday.
"I know," he whispered into her hair, his hand finding the small of her back.
It was still hard to be at the hospital. Meredith hated being in the clinic. And she couldn't hear the word appendectomy without thinking of George. And it made her heart ache to know that Izzy and George's presence became less and less every day. She would never forget them, she knew, but she ached at the realization that others would. Years from now all that would remain was a vague rumour of a story about how two residents had died on the same day.
"It's so strange," she murmured. "The new interns don't even know who they were."
She smiled at the thought. "I think that would be a bit morbid."
He chuckled. "That's not what I meant. Teach them what Izzy and George taught you. Teach them compassion. Teach them to go the extra mile, to do everything they can for every patient, to test even those who are supposedly brain dead."
Meredith smiled at the memory, at the reminder of the woman who was alive because George had pressed his knuckles against her sternum. She remembered the daughter who had been tested for a disease that had claimed her father, only because Izzy had pushed for an unauthorized autopsy. She remembered the young cop who had taken a bullet on his first week, only to wind up in a stalled elevator with two interns. She remembered the man with the tumour behind his eyes that only Izzy had noticed.
She remembered a million things.
"They were my family," she whispered.
Derek's arms closed securely around her. "They still are. They'll always be a part of you."
"I hope so."
"I know so." There it was again; so much faith.
"Derek?" She murmured.
"Promise me you'll always be you, that you'll always be Derek. I don't ever want for you to not be you. I don't ever want for someone to have to tell me that you aren't Derek anymore."
"I'll do my best," he promised, understanding her request.
"I'll do my best too," she returned, knowing he needed it as well. She sighed and snuggled closer. "I wish we had some way of knowing. I wish we knew ahead of time when tragedy was coming."
He drew formless circles on her back. "But that would stop you from living when you have the chance."
"Yeah," she breathed. "I never thought of it that way." She had stopped living more than once in her life because she had thought she had nothing to live for. "I have a lot to live for now."
"I'm glad. Me too."
She closed her eyes as she felt sleep pulling at her. "I miss them, but I don't regret having known them, having loved them. I wouldn't change a thing."
He pressed his lips against the top of her head. "Good."
With a deep breath, Meredith let herself fall into sleep, knowing there would be no more nightmares now. There would be no more warped scenes of being dragged away from Derek's lifeless body with the words 'he's not Derek anymore.' And there would be no more visions of her husband being pulled from her.
She loved her friends, and she would always miss them. But she was going to be okay. Life would move on, and she would make sure every intern she ever taught knew of her two fallen friends, knew of their strengths and their hearts. One day she and Derek would have kids, and they would know about their Aunt Izzy and Uncle George.
They wouldn't be forgotten.