A few notes: This crosses over with Private Practice, but I decided to post it in the Grey's section since it focuses solely on characters from the latter. Second, this contains a plot hole that I decided to gloss over simply for the sake of getting this out of my system and hair. Finally, this consists of two parts, and will hopefully be finished tomorrow!
Disclaimer: Grey's Anatomy is the property of Shonda Rhimes and ABC. This writing is for entertainment purposes only and is not for profit.
The decision to go to Los Angeles wasn't made on a whim.
It wasn't some arbitrary, spontaneous idea like their trip to Palm Beach three years ago had been. Mark had come home from work one evening, wearing a twisted and mischievous grin, with a glint of excitement in his eyes. He interrupted Lexie's viewing of a Sex and the City rerun to kiss her fiercely and tell her to throw two outfits, a swimsuit, her toothbrush, and "something really skimpy and hot" into her suitcase and meet him by the car in ten minutes. Confused but caught up by his smile and enthusiasm, she complied, and ten minutes later they were on the way to the airport, ready for a much-needed weekend getaway.
(that was a good time, a foreign memory that was wispy and distant)
The journey to Oceanside Wellness was one almost five years in the making. There was no reason for them to even think about it, at first. In the beginning, it was fate, or, as the more scientifically-minded Mark believed, a biological inevitability. Married and off birth control for a year, "trying" leisurely. It would happen, and when it did, they would be ready. They even had twin nephews to practice on – it was perfect. It would happen. They wanted it, they were ready, and it would happen.
But, a year and a half and many negative test results later, it set in that maybe it wouldn't just happen.
It turned to confusion first. More planning. More trying. Cycle and ovulation tracking. When eight more months passed and they were still not pregnant, shame took over. It was embarrassing and frustrating; their bodies were failing to do something that they were created to do, and neither of them liked to fail at anything. Incompetent as human beings – duds that were falling short of keeping the race alive. The obvious fears were there, but never voiced; what if it's him? or what if it's her? echoed in their minds after every failed attempt, only to be ultimately overshadowed by what if it's me?
When the Shepherds had their third pregnancy in four years and had proven themselves as the most fertile procreators in the history of the universe, the Sloans became desperate. There was so much happiness all around them, in their very family, but it was never directly theirs. Lexie would look at Meredith, at her swollen belly and full face and the baby girl in her arms, and a broad range of emotions would hit her simultaneously – joy, anger, pride, jealousy, humiliation, bewilderment, wanting to feel her baby bump, wanting to hold her niece, wanting to break down and cry. Derek and Mark would walk the trail in the woods with the boys; one would cling to each of Derek's legs as he ambled along, and all three would laugh while Mark would smile half-heartedly, shoving his hands into his pockets and hunching his shoulders to hide how fake his mirth was.
It killed them to feel that way. What Meredith and Derek had was beautiful, and they were glad for them.
But they wanted beauty for themselves, too.
Their desperation came with a hefty price. Life became a calendar obsession, all counted days and clinging to hunches. Sex was eventually reduced to the mere physical. Emotions were whittled down and pruned out by monotony when they began having intercourse several times a day, every day, proving that even sex can become tedious if it was so repetitive. But it would be worth it, they thought, believing that sheer volume would show results.
And when it didn't, Lexie would draw inward. No crying, but also no laughing, speaking, or barely any eating. She would sit and silently stare, dark eyes glassy and nose red, mourning yet another never-had. Mark, on the other hand, would lash out at anyone and everyone. The barbed feeling of failure would embed itself deep in his core and twist painfully, making him hate himself and hate her and hate how depressed she was and hate whatever greater being was responsible for it all.
The stress of calendar-keeping and mechanical sex and letdown combined with the stress from work and everyday life magnified the slightest of disagreements into huge arguments, heated and shouting. God forbid either of them would lose a patient, because those nights would come with a major fight after which Mark would storm out, slamming the door behind him so forcefully that the whole house would seem to shake on its foundation. And Lexie would be left alone in the house, no husband, no child, and there would finally be some tears to show for all the pain.
But, every time Mark left, he came back. In the wee hours of the morning, he would stumble in and creep into bed with Lexie, reeking of booze, cigarettes, and, something that Lexie tried very hard to ignore, women's perfume.
They would wake the next morning, staring up at the ceiling, inches of space separating them from one another. For a long time neither would say anything, until Lexie would give the closest thing to an absolution that would ever come:
"Everything will be okay-" A pause, shaky breath. "-when we have our baby."
Then, automatically, she would roll on top of him for their first attempt of the day.
(his mouth would taste like stale smoke and she would recoil, but it didn't matter)
But was one morning when they woke up just like that – after an explosive fight, after Mark left and came back – and something was distinctly different. It was eerie. They could feel it; the frayed end of the rope had been reached. They were both just skin and bones, literally and figuratively: no life in her womb, no fight left in their hearts. No more fire for their arguments, no strength for denial.
They both finally gave in and acknowledged it out loud.
"Something's wrong," Lexie whispered, and Mark wouldn't have heard her if he wasn't listening.
"Something's wrong," he echoed in a rough voice. Her face drained and he rubbed at his eyes with his hand.
"We need help." Her eyes were huge and her voice was tightening. "We need to find out what…what's wrong." He made a curt noise of acquiescence, and that was all.
That afternoon, Mark got them some off-time from work (no small feat – he was still the head of plastics and she had just started her fellowship) a concurrent appointment at the Oceanside Wellness Center with Naomi Bennett. They had to have the best. He played the "What? What do you mean, 'waiting list' for a wonderful old friend?" card with more than one receptionist and placed calls to both Addison and Nae herself.
Two weeks later, they were getting off of a plane at LAX, nervous and dreading beyond belief, but also a tiny bit curious.
There was no sightseeing when the Sloans stepped out into the unfamiliar brightness that was the California sun. A towncar took them from the airport to their hotel, stopping just long enough for them to drop off their luggage before they climbed inside again on the way to the clinic for their initial appointment. Mark and Lexie mirrored one another's skeptical expressions. The place looked indistinguishable from the outside, unlike the huge sterile-white structure they were used to at Seattle Grace. It might as well have been a bank.
Nonetheless, the driver was confident in his sense of direction and dropped them off in the front. They squinted at the building as pinpricks of the clear sun assaulted their eyes. But it was so warm on their skin – warmth they hadn't felt for a while.
This would be scary. But maybe it would fix everything. That thought alone was what propelled them inside.
They boarded the elevator, still silent and edgy, and Mark's hand was shaking when he pressed the button for floor 3. But when it had reached its destination and the shiny silver doors slid open, Mark tenderly pressed a hand to the small of her back and led her out into the entryway. Her heart leapt into her throat. It was the tiny gestures like those that gave her hope and reminded her that there was still something worth fighting for.
His hand fell limp and to his side, however, when they stepped into the practice and saw the interior for the first time.
If they hadn't ever known culture shock before, they certainly did now. The pristine white-washed walls and gray-speckled floors of their hospital were a stark contrast to the décor all around them: soft lighting, parquet flooring, wood-paneled columns, non-commercial artwork on the walls, potted plants everywhere. The air conditioning hovered at quite a comfortable temperature. Trying to keep their jaws from detaching completely and falling the rest of the way to the floor, they once again doubted their location until Mark and confirmed that the words "OCEANSIDE WELLNESS GROUP" were indeed emblazoned above the entryway.
Maybe the other floor was more…well, conducive to medicine, Mark thought. After all, the merge of Oceanside Wellness and Pacific Wellcare was supposed to be the greatest move in the history of forever – or, at least, that's what everyone from L.A. was saying at their wedding, just after the fuse happened. Apparently there were actual operating rooms on the fourth floor, but judging by this first impression, that seemed strange.
As they approached the front desk, their nerves managed to overtake their incredulity. The young receptionist was a stereotype, to say the least. Blonde hair, blue eyes, bronze skin, very slender, the works. Without even looking, Mark could tell that her breasts weren't completely natural. She looked up from her computer and smiled cheerfully at him and Lexie, exposing a set of perfectly straight pearly white teeth. Mark and Lexie glanced at one another for a split second – there was no way that everyone in L.A. really was this happy.
"Can I help you?" she asked, still smiling, in a bouncy voice.
"Mark and Lexie Sloan," Mark answered quickly. "We're here to see Dr. Bennett. Naomi," he clarified when he remembered that Sam was there as well.
"Oh, awesome!" Mark and Lexie winced simultaneously. It was definitely not awesome. Failing to notice, the receptionist nodded and made a few keystrokes. Her nails were tipped with acrylic and painted sky blue. Her nametag read Jill. "Yep, here you guys are! It'll be just a few minutes, you guys can have a seat in the waiting room," she said, gesturing toward a group of comfortable-looking seats off to the side. "Dr. Bennett will be right out." She flashed another grin and Mark and Lexie obeyed. Lexie smiled gratefully at the girl, although she said nothing. She had a feeling that if she were to speak, her voice would crack very embarrassingly.
There was another couple sitting by the window, which framed the boardwalk like a very realistic painting. The man's arm was around the woman, and there was a major glow about them. Lexie caught the woman's eye and gave her a soft smile. Then, her gaze dropped to the woman's stomach. She was pregnant – not far along, but definitely showing, with a distinctive round bump. Lexie had to turn away.
They sat down. The seats weren't actually as comfortable as they had looked. Lexie began to tap her foot against the hardwood floor, peeking tentatively down the adjacent hallway lined with offices. Which one would they would enter in a few minutes? Mark's teeth were clasped around the first knuckle of his index finger. He tried to think of something to say to her, to lighten the mood and distract both of them, but he was at an absolute loss (and he was once so good at that kind of thing!). So he sighed instead, and she barely took notice.
They just needed to get this over with.
Another moment later, however, their prayers for a distraction were answered. It came in the form of an incredibly loud bang as the stairway door next to the elevator burst open. A small body came careening out of the open doorway, a blurred streak of blue, white, brown, and tan. Mark and Lexie automatically leaned forward to get a closer look at whatever had just bolted into lobby of the practice.
The thing skidded to a halt a little to the side of the front desk – it was a child, a little boy. He was about six years old, with wavy brunette hair and big hazel eyes. He looked over his shoulder at the door with a mischievous grin plastered to his little face, seeming to be waiting for something. Mark squinted at the boy for a moment – he knew him, somehow – before he recognized him. It was the kid who had been at Sam and Naomi's second wedding, the one who slept through the whole ceremony and then refused to let his father put him down at all during the reception. The son of a couple of the Bennetts' coworkers. He was just a little one then, a toddler, maybe two years old. Lexie had oohed and ahhed over him the entire time, smiling uncontrollably as the boy's dad danced with him during a slow song, elbowing Mark in the ribs and saying "Look, isn't he adorable?"
"So why don't you dance with him instead? I'm sure the dad would let you cut in," he had replied, smirking, pulling her body more tightly to his. She had laughed, really laughed for the first time in a while (the problems were just beginning then), eyes sparkling.
"Oh, shut up, Mark. Besides, I don't even know them…he is really cute, though, maybe even cuter than you." She smirked right back at him before standing on tip-toe to give him a feathery kiss on the lips. Then, she rested her head on his shoulder and they continued to dance lazily, swaying in place, breathing slowly and deeply, drifting gently in the sea of dancing couples.
In the present, Mark closed his eyes and remembered the happiness and peacefulness of that moment. God, he hoped they weren't gone forever. He was about put a hand on Lexie's knee when suddenly there were more rapid footsteps echoing over the floor and across the lobby. They belonged to a little girl, smaller and younger than the boy, probably four or so. Mark didn't remember this one at all. He heard Lexie inhale sharply at the sight of her. She was absolutely gorgeous. She had cornsilk blonde hair and gray-blue eyes; freckles were smattered across her cheeks and the bridge of her nose. She smiled at the boy and her face scrunched up charmingly. Mark turned his head to look at Lexie. She was gazing at the children, staring, with such longing that it made his stomach churn.
The little boy and girl took off toward the offices, then – what they were looking to do or find was beyond him, but it was probably trouble (he could remember enough about his and Derek's days as kids to know that much). But before they could even get halfway through it, voices exploded from two separate offices on opposite sides, one quick and one in a drawl but both of them feminine, shrill, and stern; voices that could only belong to their mothers. Shouts of "Jeffrey Wilder!" and "Marjorie Freedman!" overlapped in the middle, but the kids got the message well enough to freeze in their tracks, guilt written all over their little faces.
Before their mothers needed to intervene, a third voice broke the air. "You two, come here. Now." Mark and Lexie followed it to its source: a short, mousy twentysomething woman wearing khaki slacks and a purple polo with the insignia of the daycare Mark had seen listed on the floor below. The children pouted, but recognized that they had been caught fair and square, and stomped over to the woman. They each took one of her outstretched hands. The receptionist let out a bubbly laugh.
"Hey, guys!" she gushed at the little ones. "You can't run off like that, okay? Your parents have work to do."
"She's right," the daycare worker concurred, nodding at the kids. Then, she turned her attention to Jill. "They're good kids, they really are. Just rambunctious. They'll do this every so often, sneak away during naptime." Jill must have been new. "What can you expect when their parents work a floor above where they spend their time?" Then, she began gently tugging the kids toward the exit. "Come on, or you'll miss your snack." Two sets of eyes widened in horror as the kids scrambled into the elevator. Lexie watched them closely until the doors slid closed, then sighed deeply as if she was reluctantly waking up from a wonderful dream.
The clack-clack of designer heels they heard next might as well have been fanfare. Addison Montgomery had exited her office and was flitting down the hallway, looking quite preoccupied, digging through her handbag. Mark only felt a phantom ache when he saw her, the pain having dulled immensely over the years. She tucked a piece of hair behind her ear, muttering a curse word, and almost passed right by them without noticing. Maybe she didn't recognize them, especially Mark. Maybe she wasn't used to seeing him with lines on his face. Maybe she wasn't used to seeing Lexie with dark bags under her eyes.
But as they ran fleetingly across her peripheral vision, she stopped her determined marching and wobbled in place, torso still moving even though her feet had halted. Regaining her bearings, she turned toward them with a cool half-smile. "Mark," she greeted happily, heading over to them. "Lexie. How are you?" She hugged Mark first and then Lexie, and the Sloans raised their eyebrows at one another. What Meredith had said all those years ago was true. Los Angeles made people want to give a lot of hugs.
"Hi," Lexie said shyly, taken aback as usual by Addison's always-glamorous presence. She looked the same, even after five years. Not often, but sometimes, especially when the woman was hugging her like that, she still couldn't fathom how Mark could settle for her after being with Addison.
"We're good," Mark lied for the sake of making things with her go as quickly as possible. "Just here for some tests." Addison's face fell to a sympathetic expression and she nodded. A pause followed. Mark cleared his throat and Addison smoothed her hair again.
"How are Meredith and Derek? The kids?" She cringed as soon as the innocent question left her mouth, after she remembered why they were here and the error she had just made.
"Everyone's fine," Mark told her, immune to it, and Lexie made a noise of affirmation. Another pause, just as uncomfortable as the first.
"Well…what do you think of the place?" Addison asked, indicating her surroundings with a broad sweep of her arms. Mark involuntarily zeroed in on her left ring finger. It was bare. He ran his thumb along the base of his own, the pad gliding along the gold band that rested there.
"It's really beautiful," Lexie answered to appease Addison's anticipating smile.
"Yeah," her husband agreed. "Very nice. Different."
"From Seattle Grace? Most definitely." Addison quirked a thin auburn eyebrow. "I think that's why I like it so much." The corner of her mouth turned up into a joking smirk. Then, a rapid beeping filled the air, one so familiar that it sent Mark and Lexie's hands flying for their hips. They both patted at their waistlines for a few seconds before they remembered that they weren't wearing their pagers. "Shit," Addison hissed under her breath, pulling hers out of her bag and looking at it. She grimaced. "I've really got to go, this is the second time they've paged me," she told them apologetically. "I've got a high-risk patient about to deliver at the hospital. Maybe I'll see you when I get back. I hope I do." She placed a hand on Lexie's arm, giving her a look of sympathy. "If you need anything while you're here, anything at all, you know how to find me."
She smiled, then, and the corners of her eyes wrinkled and Lexie marveled at how good the years had been to her. "Thank you," she stammered, and Mark said it also, just a second out of sync. With that, Addison began briskly toward the elevator, rummaging in her purse before tearing a pair of sunglasses from its apparently cavernous depth, giving Jill a curt nod as she exited.
No sooner had the elevator departed than Naomi was finally making her way across the lobby. "Good morning," she said, grinning cheerfully. She was as beautiful and voluptuous as ever, wearing a navy blue skirt suit and her pristine white smile.
"Naomi." Mark's heart began hammering at the sight of her. It would be time soon. Lexie's adrenaline level spiked. She tried to swallow but there was nothing there to swallow, so she had to make a jerky motion with her neck to stop from choking.
By then, Naomi had closed the gap and was embracing Mark, then Lexie (more awkwardly). "Oh," she said, unable to suppress a grin of excitement at seeing her old friend again, even under these circumstances. "You two look wonderful." Mark and Lexie knew she was lying. They both knew perfectly well that they looked strained and tired. "It's been a while, since…the wedding, right?"
"Yep," replied Mark. His heart was threatening to jump out of his chest. When would they go back into her office?
"Sam's with a patient right now, so maybe he'll say hi later," Naomi went on happily. "And Maya sends her love, she's getting ready for her sophomore year of college. But enough about us, let's get down to business," she said, definitively, fluidly changing from chatty to serious. "We're going to do everything we can to help you, I promise. Come on back…"
Mark and Lexie didn't need to be bribed. After Lexie stole one more look at the pregnant woman and her husband, they all but trotted after her down the hallway and into her office, their nausea and jitters swelling to capacity. Her office was decorated much like the rest of the practice, antique in a cozy kind of way. Naomi nodded toward the plush seats across from her desk and they sat down, on the very edge. She took a seat behind her own desk and grabbed a blank chart.
"Okay." She clicked a pen and bridged her fingers, gazing at them from over her fingertips. "There's nothing to be afraid of. Fertility problems almost always have a solution," she reassured them when she saw their terrified faces. "Before we run the tests, I have to ask you to answer these questions." She slid the chart and a pen across the desk, and Mark picked them up.
He scribbled down the answers to every question the paper asked him, and Lexie provided hers when needed – they gave information about their medical and family history, medications, use of alcohol, caffeine, and drugs, sexual habits, preference for boxers or briefs, birth control methods, relationship history, exposure to toxins and radiation, menstrual cycle, and a million other things until their brains hurt. When the final line was filled in, Mark handed the chart back to Naomi. She scanned it, tongue pressed to her cheek.
"Alright, looks like we're ready to start," she told them when she had read all that she needed to. "Here's what we're going to do. Lexie, you're going to come with me and I'm going to perform a pelvic exam, including a transvaginal ultrasound-" (Lexie flinched just a bit) "-as well as a few blood tests. We'll send your samples to be analyzed first." She stood, then, and made her way over to a supply cabinet. "In the meantime, Mark," she went on, taking a wrapped plastic cup from it, "we're going to find you a nice, private room and some magazines. You know the drill." She handed the cup to him and he faked a dirty smirk and eyebrow wag, because that's what he would normally do. She bought it. "We'll hold your sample until Lexie's results come back. No unnecessary testing, you know. Well, what do you say? Ready?"
Mark and Lexie didn't answer right away. They glanced at one another, faces pale and eyes wide. This was it.
"Discovering the problem is the first step to a solution," Naomi said softly, relaxingly. She stood once again and Lexie followed suit. She took a deep, steadying breath. She could do this.
"Don't have too much fun without me," she told Mark, a smile breaking out on her face despite everything.
"No promises," he quipped, the corner of his own mouth curling.
"I love you." She realized that it had been a long time since she had said it without forcing it.
Mark felt pricks of warmth all over his body. The fact that she still loved him and meant it after all of the mistakes and disappointment and sadness and stupid decisions he had made said so much.
"I love you, too."
They would survive this.
She bent at the waist and kissed him, chaste and close-lipped, and he tasted right. Not like nicotine or alcohol. Like Mark. Satisfied and elated, she allowed Naomi to lead her out of the room.
They would definitely survive this.
(but the fear crept back up almost immediately, suffocating and crippling)