Disclaimer: Grey's Anatomy is the property of Shonda Rhimes and ABC. This writing is for entertainment purposes only and is not for profit.
You're dreaming of a bakery when you realize that the scent isn't just a figment of your imagination.
It's managed to creep through the house, wafting into your bedroom through the cracked door and straight to your nose. Half-lucid and thinking you still might be on that bakery tour, your body is heavy and warm with sleep, one arm cradling your pillow under your head and your legs tucked in close. A bird is chirping outside, and the noise of a pan clattering a floor below you skirts on the edge of your consciousness. It's familiar for an instant, like you might have been awakened like this early in your childhood. But the feeling is fleeting and gone as quickly as it came.
The sweet scent is a vaguely familiar way of being woken up, but, more than that, it's a nice way of being woken up. Nicer than any way that's in your recent memory. Much better than elementary and high school with the alarm clock or your mother's cold hands. More pleasant than barely waking up at all in college. More enjoyable than waking up in a sweaty tangle of limbs with Sadie and occasionally someone else in some unknown location in Europe, with a blind headache and a genuine bewilderment as to what happened the night before (and sometimes you'd think you were better off not knowing). You prefer it to regaining consciousness with your face pressed into a book during med school. It's not quite as good as waking up with Derek (and as you take inventory in that minute he's not there, but the initial panic is transformed into pleasant oblivion once again when you remember something about fishing and Mark), but worlds better than waking up without him there at all.
As you wake up more and more with each passing second, losing your grip on sleep and the dream world, the delicious smell creates a painful awareness of the emptiness in your stomach. It's uncomfortable enough to finally make you completely awake and move from your extremely cozy position. With a glance at the clock, you see that it's 10:08, and you realize this is the longest you've slept in about two months without nightmares about bus stops or the organ procurement that, at the time, sent you hurtling from the OR gallery to the nearest restroom to vomit copiously.
You swing your legs over the side of the bed and, rubbing your eyes with one hand and stretching with the other arm, stand. Your legs carry you out into the hallway and toward the source of the warm, yummy smell. When you do reach the kitchen you have to stop for a moment because the scent is like an invisible brick wall in the doorway, mixing invisibly with the soft sunlight. Pans and measuring cups and different containers you didn't even know you had litter the counters. A large mixing bowl stands alone with a whisk lying inside, propped up against the edge. Everything is strewn about in a reckless way that makes it look like an explosive went off, but you're sure there's still some order to it that makes sense to the chef alone.
And the chef happens to be Lexie.
She's standing in front of the stove, keeping vigil over the contents of a skillet, with a spatula raised and at the ready. You watch as she flips a pancake over and then she turns to look at you.
Like you, she's still in her pajamas: a light blue, worn Columbia t-shirt – probably the original property of Mark Sloan. It's huge on her and it reaches to a spot just below the middle of her thighs; it really makes her look like a child. When she smiles at you, you notice a smudge of flour on her right cheekbone just below her eye and you can't help but wonder if it got there when she went to scratch an itch, or stifle a laugh or wipe away a tear. Part of you is repulsed at how it accentuates her childlike appearance, but the other part wants to approach her and fondly, affectionately (you still reel for a moment) brush the flour away.
Fighting the overwhelming urge to do so, you make your way to the table and have a seat. "Good morning," she greets cheerfully, moving the pancake from the stove to a waiting plate. You parrot her, without as much bounce in your voice because even though you got to sleep in, you still just work up and are severely deficient in caffeine. As if she read your mind, she wipes her hands on a towel, tosses it onto the counter, points at the canister in the middle of the table, and says, "It's still hot."
There's an empty mug waiting beside it, too, and it makes you smile despite yourself.
With the coffee steaming in your hands, you're able to speak.
Lexie makes a nondescript affirmative sound as she turns off the stove. Turning to face you again, she smiles sheepishly and explains.
"I promise I'll clean it up. It's just…we've all been really sad lately. Really, really sad. So I thought for a while we could pretend that everything is okay again. And pretending begins with pancakes so…here they are!"
You smirk because she would think that. But you're definitely not complaining about the breakfast part. You're no cook. You've almost perfected cereal and toast, but sometimes the milk still sloshes out of the bowl or one side of the bread gets a little too dark. You sip your coffee and it's good coffee and you're already expecting the pancakes to be good as well.
"I wanted to make some for Mark and Derek too, but I slept in and by the time I woke up they were already gone," she admits with that same shy smile. "And I don't think Alex ever came home from the hospital last night. So it's just us."
"That's fine," you say, and she tries to hide how hard she's blushing by pretending to yawn (you can tell).
"Yeah," she replies, and you can also tell that she's working hard to keep an even tone to her voice.
"Well, they smell good," you comment after a moment in an effort to keep the conversation going, something you would have been guilty of not doing just eight months ago. She tucks her chin to her chest and peers at you through her eyelashes with an enigmatic twist to her mouth, like excitement and pride and pain mixed together.
"It's my mom's recipe." Her voice is soft and you imagine a pang of loss behind it. An image floods your mind of a waist-high Lexie, on tip-toe in order to see over the counter, while a smiling Susan mixes the ingredients, excitedly begging to use the whisk for just a few seconds. And suddenly you don't even need to imagine that pang of loss, because a real one hits you. You were never that little girl. The only things that have been passed down from your mother to you are surgical talent, Alzheimer's, suicidal tendencies, and split ends.
You just stare so she overcompensates for the silence. "We used to make them the time when Molly and I were little. I had to think really hard last night to remember exactly how, but I'm pretty sure I got it. And I remember that they were delicious, or at least they were before I couldn't eat them anymore when my allergy developed…"
Her voice has trailed off and you quirk an eyebrow. "Allergy?" you ask.
A memory hits you with wild force, of avocado and cheese that might or might not have been viable. And suddenly you feel embarrassed and slightly guilty of poison. You falter, and then stammer. "Um…omelet. That omelet you ate, I..." She knows what you're trying and failing to say and waves it off with her hand, a quick absolution.
"But you should have seen the hives I got afterward," she laughs and you do too, nervously, and suddenly you wonder if tables have turned. "Anyway, Molly still swears by them and since I can't try them, you, uh, you're the guinea pig for my first batch. It's the least you can do after you put me into anaphylactic shock with the breakfast you made for me." She probably practiced this speech, since it's surer than a lot of things she's said to you before.
"I'm sure it'll be torture," you joke in keeping with the mood (it's a nice one). She grins and reaches for the plate on the counter, only to halt in mid-spin with a gasp.
"I almost forgot," she exclaims. "I know you're probably going to think this is dumb, but they're not really ready yet. My mom used to do this all the time when we were feeling down…" She grasps the bottle of syrup and makes a few speedy motions over the plate before her eyes brighten immensely. Satisfied, she lifts the plate up and carries it over to you, bare feet closing the gap quickly. She sets it down on the table and slides it in front of you before sitting across from you, folding her legs beneath herself.
You gaze down at the pancakes. She made a smiley face on the top one, with syrup for eyes and mouth and a pat of butter for the nose. Then you look back up at her with your eyebrows raised in a silent really? She shrugs and grins timidly before she says, "Come on, just try them." She gestures to the fork and knife and you pick them up, using them to cut a double-layer triangle from the stack.
Lexie is watching you closely. She's leaning over with her elbows on the table, eyes wide and biting her lip with anticipation. She's so desperately seeking your approval and you want to tell her that she's fine and well past approved, but that would be a bit much so instead you just put the forkful of food into your mouth.
It's almost like heaven exploded in your mouth. The pancakes are still warm, and the butter has just begun to melt. They're soft and fluffy and not burnt at all. The flavor is like a birthday cake straight from the oven. Along with the maple, there's a hint of coconut, vanilla, and cinnamon, and you swear that you can taste toasted marshmallow on the edge. It's nothing short of absolutely delicious and just might be the best home-cooked thing you've ever tasted (Derek's good, but damn.)
"Well?" she asks eagerly, leaning over even more so that she's stretched almost halfway across the table. When you look at her she's that little girl again, grinning and thrilled, and you realize that you haven't missed your chance.
It just came a little late.
"Well." Her expression doesn't change as you dig another chunk off and shove it in your mouth, chewing hastily and swallowing in order to meet your stomach's demand for more. If she can read anything from your facial expression, she should know that she's done something right.
You liked her mother. You honestly did. You could have seen yourself opening up to Susan even more, but fate took her in its stride.
But maybe Lexie can share this with you. Maybe pancakes are the answer for you two. Maybe it can become a thing for you and your kids, too (because you are sisters, after all, even if you didn't want to be before). Maybe you can cheat the family tree and the hand-me-down recipes just a little bit.
"Lexie?" you ask after your third mouthful, and she gulps in expectation. "Do you think you could maybe teach me how to make these?"
And when she beams in reply, the brightness of her smile rivaling that of the sunlight coming through the window, you know you've done something right as well.