AN: We've finally come to the last chapter. Thank you for taking this journey with me. Hope you enjoy and thanks for reading!
It was relatively clear for a Seattle evening, and Meredith watched as the horizon moved up and down, up and down, up and down, as she swung back and forth like a shallow pendulum. Lying in the oversized hammock, Meredith controlled the movement with her foot against the back of the wrought iron patio chair that had been pushed close enough for her to reach.
A light breeze picked up, bringing with it a whiff of the steaks Derek had grilled them for dinner. It caused her stomach to grumble, despite the amount she had eaten only an hour earlier. Closing her eyes, she revelled in the peacefulness of the day.
She and Derek had been off work. They had spent the morning in bed, had gone out to lunch at a small restaurant they had found after moving into their dream house and had spent the afternoon on the couch watching movies until they had moved to the back porch for dinner.
A single, perfect day.
Such a contrast to the pain and terror of the three hundred and sixty-fifth day before.
Closing her eyes, she breathed in the clear evening air, unable to believe an entire year had passed. And a good year, at that. They hadn't allowed that one horrific day to control their life.
The eleven day hospital stay had only been the beginning, but even with Derek's slow healing process, his physical therapy and the trauma counselling they had both attended, they hadn't let the memories haunt them.
"I hate Dr. Hummel," Meredith muttered as Derek crawled into bed behind her and snaked his arm around her middle as he spooned against her carefully. "She's too nosey."
"She's a therapist," he reminded gently, pressing his lips into the base of her skull. Six weeks post shooting, and struggling to settle back into their lives, they had sought help. Dr. Hummel had been recommended by Dr. Wyatt.
Meredith made a face. Five weekly sessions later and she still wasn't sold on the trauma specialist. "She makes me feel like we're in marriage counselling or something. I don't like it."
He sighed, his exhale warm against the back of her neck. "It's helping."
She turned in his arms and pressed her lips to his. "I know," she whispered when she pulled away. "But I still don't like her."
The corners of his lips quirked upwards. "You're a strange women, Meredith Grey, have I ever told you that?"
"Yes," she responded easily.
He pecked her lips. "We could find someone else. We don't have to use her just because we were referred by Wyatt."
"Yeah, but Wyatt hasn't steered me wrong yet," she said softly, running her hand across his cheek and through his hair. "And we're making progress. I think starting fresh would be anti-progress."
"Mmm-hmm," she nodded against the pillow.
"Is that even a thing?"
"Yes," she said with a smirk, challenging him to argue.
He chuckled, and tightened his hold around her, pulling her against his chest so they were eye to eye. "I feel...safer. Stronger. More in control."
She brushed her lips against his. "I always feel safe here. In your arms. But I feel safer away from you now, too. At the hospital. I mean, I still can't cross the freaking catwalk, but I can be there and not feel out of control."
"I love you," she whispered.
"Mmm, you too."
"We're moving forward."
Withdrawing her foot from the chair she was using as a pillar, Meredith closed her eyes and allowed the rhythmical motion of the hammock to slow gradually with every radial swing back and forth. This was her favourite place in the world now. The house on the cliff was theirs. Inside and out. The memories were theirs alone. And all of the memories were good ones.
It had been almost eight months since she and Derek had moved into their dream house. And even though it had almost been winter by the time the furniture was arranged and the boxes unpacked, she had insisted on the oversized hammock for the back porch.
Derek had had to special order it for her due to the time of year.
After setting it up, they had spent the evening rocking together on their cliff as they watched the sun set over the city below. After the sun had dipped below the horizon and the last of the orange hues were disappearing, Derek had gone inside for blankets while she had lit some candles.
She had just finished lighting the final candle and was securing it in the holder when the back door swung shut. Derek shot her a warm smile as he draped the empty hammock with several warm blankets and dropped a pillow by the top. "Care to join me?"
After waiting for him to settle in first, she turned off the outdoor lights before padding across the porch in the dark, with only the candlelight to guide her. And once she had settled her back against Derek's strong, healed chest and he had wrapped his arms around her, she felt her breath catch. With the house lights off, all she could see was candlelight shining all around her, reminding her vividly of another night, now years before, where it was just him and her and candles on their cliff. Their lives hadn't been as intertwined as they were now, but their emotions had been just as strong.
"Wow," she murmured.
"Yeah," he whispered behind her. "Pretty amazing, huh?"
She sniffed. "I can't believe me made it." She had felt so vulnerable standing on the cliff that night, and she wouldn't have believed at the time how good life could be and how secure she could feel.
"I can," he responded, always the believer. "Like you said, we're extraordinary together."
With tears in her eyes, she turned and pressed her lips against his. Hard. And it didn't take long for their clothes to disappear as they found ways to keep each other warm despite the chill in the air.
Fingers danced along her hair line, pulling her from her memory. She opened her eyes and smiled up at her husband.
"Sorry, were you sleeping?"
"Maybe," she murmured, sitting up. "I was just remembering...that first night out here."
His lips curled into a tender smile as joy and contentment danced across his deep, blue eyes. "Kind of hard to forget." He ran his hands down her side to her swollen abdomen. "Not long now."
He bent down and kissed her. "I can't wait."
"Me neither," she breathed between kisses, and when he eventually pulled away she tugged on his shirt. "Come lie with me."
Derek did as requested and she tucked herself against him as best she could. "You know, this was a whole lot easier not so long ago..."
He chuckled. "It'll be easy again in another month. Until then we'll make do. We always find a way."
"Another month," she murmured. "That seems like so much time and so little all at once." She dropped her hand to the large bump she was now accustomed to. "Do you think he wants out? The way he kicks, it seems like he wants out."
His hand joined hers, and he paused to smile at the soft movement beneath her skin, as his eyes sparkled as brightly as they had the first time he had felt their son's small movements.
Meredith slammed her car door shut after a long and stressful day at work. Her feet hurt. She was hot and uncomfortable. And she was sick and tired of everyone treating her like a child just because she happened to be carrying one.
She stormed up the steps of the front porch and in the front door. Once inside the house she kicked off her shoes and slammed the door so that her husband, who had been off work today, would know exactly how irritated she was.
Something smelled good in the kitchen, but she bypassed it on her way to the living room.
Derek found her splayed on her back on the couch two minutes later.
"Not a good day?" He asked softly, kneeling on the floor beside her.
She removed her forearm from its position over her eyes. Her husband's handsome face loomed over her. Having not left the house today, his hair was mussed and his cheeks peppered with stubble. And his eyes, of course, shone dark blue as he met her gaze. She melted.
"No," she mumbled. "I hate the hospital. And the doctors. And the patients. And pagers. I freaking hate pagers. And...everything else."
Despite his best efforts not to, Derek chuckled.
She glared at him. "Don't make me add you to my list."
He kissed her. "I'm sorry you're miserable." His warm hand drifted to her stomach.
"Yeah, well, it's your fault."
"Funny; I seem to remember you being a willing participant at the time..." He rubbed his hand in small circles over the growing bump he was amazed by every day.
"I made lasagne for dinner," he said quietly. "Though I can make something else if you want."
This made her smile. She wouldn't admit to the mood swings, but the cravings were no secret to anyone. Her mouth watered. "Lasagne is okay."
He pecked her lips. "Good. It'll be ready soon. Now, tell me about your day before you start yelling at me again."
She couldn't stop the smile that fluttered to her lips. It was a routine they had worked out as her pregnancy had progressed; he would make jokes about the mood swings and she would pretend not to hear them. With everyone else she would snap and deny everything, but with Derek it was different. He was going through everything with her, as best he could. He had been there for the morning sickness, and the tears the first time she hadn't fit into her jeans. He had gotten her a larger pair of scrubs when hers had stopped being comfortable. And he made sure to keep the kitchen stocked with anything he could think of that she may want.
"I hate being treated like an invalid. And I'm going to start carrying a scalpel around in my pocket soon and cut the hand off anyone who tries to touch my abdomen. This isn't a freaking communal baby."
Derek pulled his hand away from her immediately.
The baby kicked in response to the change in pressure.
Meredith hooked her fingers around the collar of his shirt and pulled his lips to hers. "You're allowed," she mumbled after the kiss. "I promise not to cut your hand off." She paused and made a face. "Though, I'm not promising not to crush it when I have to push this thing out of me in four months."
He chuckled and returned his hand to her stomach, though she thought she saw a flash of worry in his eyes.
The baby kicked again, and she reached for Derek's hand, repositioning it to the side. She had been feeling movement for close to a month now. At first just brief flutters, and later small kicks.
She stilled his hand, and then pressed it into her stomach with hers, right over the area where the baby was kicking. "Feel?" She had done this a few times now, but he hadn't been able to feel the movements she desperately wanted to share with him yet.
He began to shake his head, and then stopped. His lips pursed and then opened slightly as his eyes stared unseeing at a spot on the back of the couch. The pressure of his hand changed as he now pressed into her on his own, feeling towards the movement.
"Wow," he finally breathed, turning to her. "Meredith..."
His eyes were glazed with tears, and her vision immediately became blurry in response.
He ducked his head and pressed his lips to her stomach, right beside his hand.
The tears in her eyes overwhelmed her lids, and before she knew it she had streaks of salty tears trailing down her cheeks. "You know his head is over here," she whispered, trying to make a joke as she moved her hand to show him, "You just kissed his feet."
He kissed by her hand too, and then shifted to kiss her lips. His eyes were still shining with extra liquid, but his cheeks stayed dry. Hers were soaked by the time he pulled away.
"Damnit," she muttered, trying to take control of her emotions.
"I love you," he whispered, "Both of you." And she was a goner.
"Mmm," Derek murmured, as if seriously considering whether their son was trying to kick his way out of her. "It does feel like he's on a mission." With only a month to go, the kicks were much stronger than they had been three months earlier. He could feel them easily without her guidance now.
She giggled at him playing along with her.
"Except I don't think he's aware there is an 'out' yet. We're probably just disembodied voices to him."
She made a face. "Weird."
"Normal," he reminded.
The baby kicked again, and she smiled. "I think he's proving you wrong. He knows we're out here waiting for him."
Derek pressed his lips against her forehead. "Maybe."
"We can do this, right?" Despite her strength and her immense personal growth over the past several years, short lived streaks of vulnerability still swelled out of her at times, especially as her pregnancy had progressed.
"We can do anything," he whispered knowingly.
"I worry sometimes," she admitted.
"I know, but that's because you're you, Mer. The fact that you worry proves you're going to be an amazing mom." He paused and rubbed his palm against her abdomen. "An extraordinary mom."
Tears welled in her eyes, and she shut them tight, pressing her face into Derek's chest. "Thank you," she whispered.
His free hand ran up and down her spine in lazy circles.
After the false alarm the month before that had had her in tears clutching the negative test, and Derek trying to soothe her despite the low odds they would have succeeded on their first try, Meredith took the test alone this time. She had hidden it in her purse before leaving the hospital and when she was good and certain her husband was fast asleep, she had slipped from his arms and headed for the on-suite bathroom.
Common sense, combined with her medical knowledge, told her it could take time. Told her it would likely take time. But after everything they had gone through in the past months, they were finally moving forward in leaps and bounds instead of small steps. They were both back to work full time. Derek was almost at one hundred percent. And they were settled in the dream house, with a specially designed room next to theirs, waiting to be decorated.
Waiting for a small occupant.
She wanted the test to be positive more than anything in that moment.
But when the result actually showed up that way, she wasn't able to believe it. She read and reread the instructions twice, comparing them to the test. And then the tears started to fall. Derek didn't know what hit him when she stumbled back into their bedroom, dishevelled and crying.
"What is it? What's wrong?" He demanded worriedly as he forced himself to wake up.
She held up the positive test.
His eyes widened as he fell silent. And then he sprang out of bed and snaked his arms around her waist. "Really?"
She nodded, still too choked up to speak.
His eyes welled to match hers. "Oh, Mer..."
"We're having a baby," she finally managed to whispered.
Derek's hands found her flat abdomen and he stared at her in awe.
"I'm sorry," she whispered before she could help it.
His eyes snapped to hers. "Why?"
"I...I just didn't want you to be disappointed again. I never meant to take the test without you. I didn't expect it to be positive. And then I didn't think..." She sniffed.
"Meredith," he breathed. "How could I ever be disappointed being married to you?"
She took a shuddery breath. "I wanted to make it special when I told you."
He covered her lips with his. "It is special. I promise."
Meredith felt a smile bubble up from somewhere deep inside her and explode across her face. "It kind of is, huh?"
"It's amazing," was his response. "You're amazing."
"We're amazing," she corrected.
"We're having a baby," he whispered reverently, echoing her earlier words.
She kissed him. And the kissing quickly led to the dirty sex she had promised him almost five months earlier.
Smiling at the memory, Meredith shifted so she was resting her head below Derek's left shoulder and closed her eyes. It had become a favourite position after his chest had healed enough to take the pressure.
His heartbeat was strong and even beneath her ear. It was almost enough to lull her to sleep.
But she wanted to stay awake a little longer; wanted to stretch out the perfect day.
She ran her hand across his chest, barely noticing the minor imperfections under the thin cotton tee shirt that marked his scars. Now a year old, the swelling was gone and the scars themselves were smooth and light pink. They would continue to fade in colour as time passed, but would never fade back into his skin and disappear.
And Meredith was okay with that.
At first they had served as a reminder of what she had almost lost.
Now they served as a reminder of what she had.
When she was having a bad day, they reminded her of the amazing man who chose to be a part of her life.
When he was driving her crazy, they reminded her there wasn't anything they wouldn't do for each other.
When they were making love the scars reminded her that nothing would ever take him away from her.
Her hand stopped it's movements over the small dip that was all that was left of the bullet hole. His hand found hers, and they lay together, fingers entwined, remembering.
"Thank you for not leaving me alone," Meredith whispered. It was the first time either of them had verbalized why they had both taken the day off work and clung together. It wasn't an anniversary they would ever celebrate, but it was one they would always recognize.
His hand squeezed hers. "Never."
"I'm so happy," she admitted. "I mean, part of me is freaked out about the whole in a month we're going to be responsible for a tiny human thing, but the rest of me... The rest of me is freaking happy, Derek."
"Me too." He sighed. "I hate that I almost wasn't around to experience this."
She tilted her head to kiss his chest, right over his heart. "The important thing is that you're here. We're both here."
"We're all here," Derek corrected.
She giggled. "All three of us," she clarified. It had been a unique concept to gradually come to grasp as her pregnancy had progressed. There was a tiny, living person inside of her. A tiny, living person she and Derek had made together. It wasn't the same as her short lived pregnancy a year earlier.
"I was never the girl who wanted any of these things," she admitted, though he already knew. "But now I think it wasn't that I didn't want them. It was that I wouldn't let myself admit I wanted them. Marriage. Babies. Whatever."
"I'm glad you realized you did want them."
"Me too. I was so scared of becoming my mother."
"I get worried sometimes, but I don't think the worry will completely go away until I'm...doing the mom thing."
"Good. I don't want you to worry about being a bad mom, Meredith."
"The fact that you have faith in me keeps me calm," she assured.
"I'll always have faith in you."
"Thank you." She ran her hand down his chest and then shifted it to her own abdomen as she felt the baby kick. "What do you think he'll look like?"
"You," he murmured. "I hope."
"Hmm," she mumbled into his chest as she closed her eyes and tried to imagine their child. "No. I want him to look like you."
"Yeah." She lifted her head from his chest and propped it up on her right hand before reaching to run her left hand through his hair. "If our baby has your hair, he'll be the most beautiful baby ever."
"He'll be the most beautiful baby ever no matter what."
"I agree. Though, you know we're going to be a little biased.
He smirked at her, and she couldn't help but kiss him.
When she pulled away, she shifted upwards and resettled with her nose buried in the crook of his neck. Her left hand returned to her stomach.
Derek's arm stretched around her and his left hand closed over hers.
Meredith smiled at the slight clinking as their rings found each other.
Three months into the recover process and facing going back to work full time soon, Derek had decided he was finally up to the trip they had been planning since that first night in the hospital when she had wheeled him out to the patient garden and had decided they needed something to look forward to.
They flew down to the Bahamas for two weeks. And on the third day, they got married again, just as he had originally suggested, on the beach with drinks in hand.
Unable to feel the cold seeping into her hand from the drink clutched tightly within her fingers and unable to make sense of the words being spoken by the officiary, Meredith lost herself in Derek's deep, blue eyes.
They were already married, and had been for well over a year. Neither of them would consider their marriage to have begun today.
But there was still something amazing and new about marrying the love of your life on a beautiful beach, even if you were already married.
At first they had planned to simply go down to city hall and make the post-it legal. Derek had wanted to wait until he had his strength back, because they may as well take advantage of the second wedding night seeing as they hadn't got their first one. And as the time passed, Meredith found herself wanting something more. So, when he had asked about going down to city hall one day, she had gently declined and given him her counter offer. The trip was already planned; they could just add to it.
Her voice shook slightly as she repeated the vows offered by the officiary. Terms and conditions they were already living by. Love and cherish. Honour and protect. In sickness and in health. Till death.
Her eyes welled as Derek repeated the vows back to her, his voice wobbly, but firm. She was certain the love in his eyes was reflected in hers.
"Do you take this man to be your husband, partner and friend?"
"I do," she said as her heart fluttered in her chest.
"And do you take this woman to be your wife, partner and friend?"
"I do," Derek echoed her words. Strong and certain. The token McDreamy smile was in full effect.
They exchanged the rings they had been wearing for months for the sake of doing so – a slight challenge while holding the drinks.
"I now pronounce you husband and wife."
Meredith's eyes welled as her heart beat furiously in her chest. Derek didn't need permission to step into her and capture her lips with his. She fell into the kiss, unable to remember ever feeling this whole and healed and perfectly happy. All too soon Derek grumbled and pulled away.
Before she could say anything he pulled the drink out of her hand and passed it away, along with his own. Her giggle at the look on his face – the drinks had been his idea – was cut off as his lips crashed down on hers again. She pressed into him as her hands ran up his chest and her fingers buried themselves in his hair, wanting to feel him even closer. His arms closed around her, holding her tight.
And in that moment she felt safer and more loved than ever before.
Derek's family – now their family – hadn't said anything about the appearance of the wedding rings on their left hands when they had flown to New York for Christmas. Though, they may have been distracted by the good news Meredith and Derek delivered after meeting their newest niece.
Out of her element, but not entirely uncomfortable, Meredith smiled at her husband's enthusiasm and allowed him to take her hand and lead her into his mother's house three days before Christmas. The house was filled to the brim with bright lights, red decorations and shiny presents.
Having only ever really celebrated two Christmas before – the last two with Derek – and spending most of the holiday at the hospital anyway, Meredith hadn't known what to expect. But she was quickly pulled into the Christmas spirit when she and Derek were swarmed by sisters and brothers-in-law and a small army of children she couldn't keep straight. When no one so much as blinked an eye at her presence, she realized she wasn't the slutty intern anymore. She was the wife. Hell, she was the wife who had saved the brother/son's life.
She was family.
"How was the flight?" Carolyn asked when all the activity of saying hi and introducing Meredith to the family she hadn't met yet died down.
"Good," Meredith answered. "The airport was really crowded, but the plane left on time."
"We almost didn't," Derek added.
She giggled. "We were a little late getting there. Derek had to tell the girl at the front desk we were in surgery saving a life before she'd let us through."
He scoffed. "You make it sound like a bad thing. It was true."
"You didn't have to make her feel guilty," she bantered.
"Don't argue with your wife, Derek. You know she's right," Jenna cut in.
He chuckled and shook his head. "We've been here five minutes and already you're taking her side. I can tell this is going to be a long week..."
"Well, she is much better company than you," Nancy spoke up.
"How do you figure?"
"We flew out to Seattle to see you in the summer and you couldn't even be bothered to show us around." Amelia this time.
Derek grumbled something unintelligible under his breath.
Meredith giggled, secretly pleased that Derek and his family could joke about the shooting. It was a sign they were healing and had moved on. Calling Carolyn six months earlier and telling her that her only son had almost met the same fate as her husband had been nearly impossible. She had been afraid to break them. But now she saw the strength the Shepherd's drew from each other.
Something in the room hissed with static and then a small cry sounded. For a moment Meredith didn't know what she was hearing, but then Kathleen sighed and tiredly reached for the small baby monitor sitting on the table beside her, and then left the room.
She returned ten minutes later carrying her two week old daughter. "This is your Uncle Derek and Aunt Meredith," she told the small bundle.
Derek held out his hands and took his niece easily. "Hi, Emma," he cooed, rocking her until she settled and then holding her against his chest. "You look just like you mommy." Cradling the baby in one arm he reached his free hand to rub her chest.
Meredith felt her heart swell as the tiny baby latched onto Derek's pinky finger with her entire fist. She had seen him interact with young patients before, but she had never seen him like this. Comforting and tender, cradling a baby he loved. He was a natural. And he'd make an amazing father in seven months.
"She's got a good grip," Derek commented, smiling at his sister.
Kathleen nodded as she sat herself down across the room, obviously content to leave her daughter in the care of her brother. "And she's got an attitude already. Fights everything; especially sleep. She's going to be a challenge."
"But only to your mommy and daddy, right?" He cooed at the baby. "Not to your favourite uncle."
Meredith smiled at the interaction. The older kids had all greeted him enthusiastically. Derek was obviously a loved uncle, despite the distance.
"You want to hold her?"
She froze as she realized Derek was directing the question at her. "Oh, I don't think..." She glanced at Kathleen. Just because Meredith was readily accepted as Derek's wife didn't mean there was any assumption she could be trusted with small children.
To her surprise, Kathleen smiled at her and nodded. "It's okay. She is your niece."
Derek didn't wait for her to respond, and she quickly found herself holding the baby.
After working at a hospital for three and a half years, Meredith had held babies several times, so cradling the small bundle was relatively easy. However, this was the first time she had ever held a baby that wasn't a patient.
Emma squirmed at the movement. Her forehead wrinkled and she stared up at Meredith with bright blue eyes.
"Uh, hi," Meredith stammered. Her free hand rubbed the baby's chest like she had seen Derek do. Emma settled, but one flailing arm reached for her hand and impossibly tiny fingers wound around her index finger in a small vice grip.
"Wow, she does have a strong grip."
Once again stationary, the lines on Emma's forehead disappeared. She continued to stare wide eyed at Meredith, her small blue irises shifting as she took everything in through new eyes.
She didn't seem worried to be in Meredith's arms. She actually seemed pretty comfortable.
"She's beautiful," she told Kathleen honestly.
Emma's free hand came up to the side of her small head in a fist and she yawned. Meredith smiled down at her niece as she closed her eyes.
Several minutes passed before Kathleen spoke up, interrupting the quiet conversations in the room. "Is she asleep?"
"You're hired," Kathleen responded immediately.
Kathleen offered her a tired smile. "It's impossible to get her to go to sleep or stay asleep. You're a natural."
Not wanting to admit how much the comment meant to her, Meredith shrugged. "She's kind of awesome."
"You'll need one of your own soon."
Meredith tried to hide her reaction, but she instinctively glanced at Derek at the same moment he glanced at her. And their reactions weren't lost on anymore in the room.
"Derek Christopher Shepherd, is there something you haven't told us?" Carolyn demanded.
Derek met Meredith's eyes, asking for permission. She smiled and nodded. It was their turn to give good news.
"We'll have our own in about seven months."
The reaction was just as animated as it had been six months ago when Kathleen had announced her good news. Derek stood to accept excited hugs from his family. Kathleen hurried over and plopped herself down next to Meredith, offering her a half hug. "Congratulations."
"Do you mind if we hug you later and leave the sleeping monster with you while she sleeps?"
"Monster? She doesn't look like a monster," Meredith teased.
"Oh, you just wait. In seven months and two days you'll be calling yours a monster."
The baby kicked against their joined hands, pulling Meredith from her memories. "He's going to be very spoiled," she whispered into the warm skin along Derek's neck.
"Yes," he murmured back, "He is."
"Lots of people love him already." His family. Hers. Their friends. Far more than ever loved her growing up. Derek's sisters and mother had sent more baby clothes than Meredith could imagine being able to use. Cristina was taking her role as God Mother very seriously and had bought the baby a custom made onesie proclaiming him 'Future surgeon.' Lexie was excited about becoming an Aunt again. Mark had already sworn to take his nephew to every kind of sporting event possible. Even Alex was involved.
He had been in the hospital for longer than Derek, even after being transferred to Seattle Grace. But once he had first decided to fight, he had improved every day. It had taken him months to return to work, but he hadn't let his time off or his injury slow him down.
"Why are you knocking? This is your house." Alex said, standing in the front hall as Meredith stood on the porch.
"Not anymore. I moved out, remember?" She teased, stepping into the house she hadn't lived in for months now.
"That must be why it's so quiet at night," he countered.
She swiped a hand at him, before hissing, "Shut up."
Alex laughed and followed her into the living room. "So, what did he do?"
"Shepherd. Do you need me to kick his ass?"
Laughing at the – coincidental – memory, she shook her head. "Derek didn't do anything wrong."
"I don't need you to check up on me."
"I'm not. I came to tell you something."
He raised an eyebrow, expectant.
She smiled. "You're going to be an uncle."
"So, Shepherd did do something..."
"Congrats, Mer. You deserve it."
"And you're going to be good; I know it. You're nothing like you mother."
Biting her lip, she nodded as tears sprang to her eyes. And then, despite his initial unwillingness, she hugged him. "Thank you, Alex. For some reason that means more from you than anyone else."
He had hugged her back. And months later, when he had presented her with a small blue onesie that said 'My Mommy Loves me' they had repeated the process all over again.
Derek's hand left her stomach and ran up and down her side. "There will never be a shortage of love," he promised, turning his head to kiss her forehead. "He'll never stop to question that he's loved and important, that he has people who would do anything for him."
Tears fell quietly from her eyes, but they weren't out of sadness from her own childhood. They were out of relief. Her son would have a childhood. A wonderful childhood, full of love and laughter and good memories.
"I wonder if my mom ever felt this way," she murmured thoughtfully. "Did she feel this way before I was born?"
He sighed and his hand stilled along her side for a moment, hugging her. "I don't know, Mer."
"She missed out if she didn't," she whispered in response. "And that's on her. I love him so much already. And I want him to be happy and healthy and safe more than anything. More than surgery. I don't know if she started out feeling this way and it changed, or if she never felt this way. But I can't imagine feeling any other way."
"I'm glad." He stroked her stomach again. "I love him, too."
"We're really doing this."
He chuckled. "We are."
"I love you so freaking much, Derek."
"I love you too. Just as much. Forever."
The past year had pushed her boundaries. She had experienced more horror and pain and loss than ever before. She had cried and she had hurt. She had had to be strong for other people and let her own needs slide. But the whole time she had known life would get better. She had been able to let the grief and the pain and the defeat in knowing she wouldn't succumb to it.
And she had gotten through it.
They had both gotten through it.
Despite the experience he had been through, her husband had been able to return to the optimistic, caring, charming man he had been before. If possible, he was even more compassionate. Their relationship had only gotten stronger. They had seen each other at their lowest, had learned to accept support from the other, and were all the closer for it.
The next year would bring new challenges. Parenthood. Chief Residency. Fellowship applications.
Meredith couldn't wait. Derek's eternal optimism was contagious, and she couldn't help but expect all sorts of good things in her future.
The baby kicked again, as if declaring himself to be the top good thing she had coming. And he would be right. Her success as a surgeon meant nothing without her family. If she had spent the last year living without her husband, none of the other stuff would mean anything.
Closing her eyes, Meredith inhaled the comforting scent wafting from the crook of Derek's neck and snuggled as close as she could, ready now to fall asleep in his arms. She hadn't had the nightmares since he had been released from the hospital. Her dreams were now filled with visions of the future.
Derek held her hand as she lay in a hospital bed, suffering through contraction after contraction as they prepared to meet their son. "Almost there, Mer. You're doing awesome."
Holding the small bundle that was her son, with Derek's strong arms wrapped around the two of them, Meredith didn't thing she had ever felt so safe. "He's amazing," she whispered.
"He's extraordinary," he corrected, pressing his lips to Meredith's temple and then their son's forehead. "You both are."
"We all are. All three of us."
"An extraordinary family."
Her eyes welled and her heart ached. She had a family. She nodded. "We really are."
After waking alone in the middle of the night, Meredith found her husband and son together in the nursery. Ten months old, Chris Shepherd lay fast asleep on his father's bare chest as Derek slept in the rocking chair. With their matching brown hair, they were the perfect picture of father and son. It was several minutes before Meredith could bring herself to wake her husband.
"Hey," she murmured, running her fingers through his hair.
He sighed and opened his eyes, whispering, "What time is it?"
"Almost four. How long have you been here?"
She kissed him. "You should have woken me. It's my night."
"You were exhausted." He stood and carefully placed their son into his crib.
Meredith snaked her arms around him from behind. "Thank you," she mumbled into his back.
His fingers threaded through hers, their rings clinking together in the quiet of the room. "I can't believe he's almost a year old already."
"I want another one," she blurted.
He turned in her arms, his quickly snaking around her middle. "Meredith..." He breathed.
"We said two," she reminded.
He kissed her softly. "God, I love you."
The test in her hand declared her undeniably pregnant. She glanced up from it to her husband's hopeful gaze. All she had to do was nod and his arms were around her.
"Chris is going to be a big brother," she whispered against his chest.
He kissed her. "We have to celebrate."
With a giggle, she allowed him to pull her into their bedroom. "We have to be quiet," she reminded.
He groaned. "Maybe Chris can spend a night with his Aunt Cristina this weekend..."
She giggled again. "I'll ask. She'll pretend it's an imposition, but you know how much she loves it."
He chuckled against the sensitive skin on her neck. "Owen said last time he complained about her letting him sleep in the bed. She threatened to kick Owen out of the bed if he complained again."
Curled up with her husband on their hammock, Meredith kept a watchful eye as her kids played on the grass. Five years had passed since the shooting, and it had become routine for her and Derek to take the day of work and stay home.
Running her hand along his chest, she felt for his scars. It seemed like a lifetime ago now.
Derek hummed softly, obviously content to lie there all day with her.
Barking sounded from around the house as their two dogs – both rescues from the pound of unknown breeding – bounded around the corner of the house together, tongues lagging out of their mouths, and attacked the kids with wagging tails and sloppy kisses.
Their daughter screamed in delight and wrapped her arms around the smaller dog's neck.
Meredith laughed. "She loves them so much."
Derek chuckled. "Told you we needed two." When they had gone to the pound a year ago, they had gone for one dog and had returned with two because of Derek's insistence.
"Yes, dear, you were right," she said, placating him.
Their daughter was pointing at the dogs now, demanding they sit. Her big brother stood beside her, laughing.
"Bossy, just like her mom," Derek murmured.
"Interesting how you say whatever every time you don't have a valid argument..."
She sighed. "Sometimes I feel like I have five children."
"The kids, the dogs and you."
He laughed out loud. "I'm not that bad."
She couldn't stop the smile from taking over her face if she wanted to. "You, Derek Shepherd, are an amazing husband and an amazing father." It was the simple truth. He was committed to them one hundred percent. The kids loved him and never slowed down to wonder if he loved them. There was no fear that he would be there one day and gone the next, the only memory of someone who poured their cereal in the mornings.
"I am, huh?"
She kissed him. "Yes."
He kissed her back. "Well, then you are an even more amazing wife and mom."
"Yeah," he repeated, his gaze even as he met her eyes. "And it's a good thing."
"Why is it a good thing?"
"You're already juggling five children. The sixth will barely make a different to you."
She laughed as he rubbed his palm against her swollen stomach. After having two, they still felt like someone was missing. Cristina had told her she was crazy, but Meredith knew she and Derek could make it work. Her family was everything to her. Gun to her head, her family or surgery, she would pick her family every time. She understood now, what Carolyn had told her five years ago. She still thought about the miscarriage sometimes, and if she had had that baby she would have loved him or her just as much, but she wouldn't have Chris.
"We can do this, right?" She asked him, knowing his confirmation would chase away all of her worries.
"Yes," he said, his tone strong and even. "Together, we can do anything. We're extraordinary."
Wrapped in her husband's arms, her kids happy and secure and loved, Meredith smiled. "Extraordinary..."