Disclaimer: I don't own Grey's Anatomy, et al.

Author's Note: I don't know what to say about this piece. It's a one-shot, extremely AU, Meredith and Derek pairing. And the song, the song ... it's one of Simon and Garfunkel's best.

I have no idea how describe this piece ... it's fact very carefully mixed with fiction. I don't know what possessed me to dig deep here, but I did. I would say it's meant to be a healing piece and you know by now how much I like to center my stories around the premise of hope. So I truly hope, if you read this story, that you'll tell me how you feel ... thanks.

Sounds of Silence

Lyrics for Simon and Garfunkel's, "Sounds of Silence":

Hello darkness, my old friend

I've come to talk with you again

Because a vision softly creeping

Left its seeds while I was sleeping

And the vision that was planted in my brain

Still remains

Within the sound of silence

In restless dreams I walked alone

Narrow streets of cobblestone

'Neath the halo of a street lamp

I turned my collar to the cold and damp

When my eyes were stabbed by the flash of a neon light

That split the night

And touched the sound of silence

And in the naked light I saw

Ten thousand people, maybe more

People talking without speaking

People hearing without listening

People writing songs that voices never share

And no one dared

Disturb the sound of silence

"Fools", said I, "You do not know

Silence like a cancer grows

Hear my words that I might teach you

Take my arms that I might reach you"

But my words, like silent raindrops fell

And echoed

In the wells of silence

And the people bowed and prayed

To the neon god they made

And the sign flashed out its warning

In the words that it was forming

And the sign said, "The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls

And tenement halls"

And whispered in the sounds of silence

###

Sounds of Silence

She opened her eyes. Her heart lurched. Dawn was upon them. And all was quiet. She blinked. The clock ticked forward. Her husband lay sleeping next to her. Their bed was warm … safe. She was safe. The shadows began to dance. Her heart rate began to slow down. The sun rose higher in the sky. The birds called to one another … chirping frantically, their urgent messages delivered and received to all who heard them: a new day had come.

She breathed, soon it would be quiet again – and so she waited – waited for the hustle of the birds to ease into the simple soundtrack that surrounded them here … far away from the bustle of the city and all the memories that came with it. The morning wind came in short gusts as it typically did this time of year, short bursts of energy whipping up and over their Columbia Heights apartment from Wallabout Bay, signs of late spring – the quintessential time of renewal – the time where the weather was just perfect and the sky would be blue most of the time and the humidity of summer was still on the precipice.

The leaves rustled outside and the lone wayward tree branch gently scraped along their bedroom window as it usually did, bringing with it the now familiar creaks of their home. She breathed again, closing her eyes for a brief moment wherein she listened to her husband breathe and there inside this private second – she matched her breathing with his and silently connected, with him and to herself – much how she had trained herself to do over the last several years, for this technique was something she had come to use as means of grounding herself, though now, she could never spend a night apart from him … for if she did, surely sleep would never come.

She opened her eyes again and this time let her gateways roam around their bedroom, this enclave of theirs where everything was private and simple and full of trust … this place where it was just them and those long-awaited morning shadows and the way they moved along their protective walls – billowy and full of life – adding depth to their chosen art pieces, keepsakes and family photos …and a large central canvas, a still life of the beach at Cabo San Lucas where they stayed on their honeymoon almost seven years ago.

Her mind wandered to that trip briefly wherein she blinked and let herself go there, a fraction of a second was all it took and she could still feel the warmth of the pristine white sand upon her feet. She opened her eyes once again to the bright accents of their bedroom, smiling in recollection of making her choice of the paint color, remembering the name as if part of her personal history now – 'lemon curd' – and as it would turn out … it was, the shade so reminiscent of the dessert topping – both sweet and bitter – just like life … and oh, what their lives had become.

And with that thought, a cautious smile spread along her face – her heart finally easing into a rhythm she could live with – the dark shadows of sleep having all but departed. Everything was all right, she reminded herself, and then her hand found her belly where she felt it – still barely a bump considering her delicate figure – though full of life nonetheless. Instinctually now she caressed this life, silently saying 'good morning'for she would feel this baby soon, any day now – and for that day, she anxiously awaited.

Still smiling, she pushed herself up, careful not to wake her husband, the heat of his slumbering body, both warm and alive. She took in the way he cradled his pillow, his plentiful dark locks wild from sleep – she tilted her head and regarded him for a moment longer then, watching him sleep as the sun rose and new light cascaded along his covered body – he was still 'him', the man he was when he fell asleep … perfect, untouched. More tears threatened to fall, for they were seemingly persistent now – with her pregnancy hormones in full swing – there was just something heightened about from whence they came and with that raging sensitivity came the reminders … reminders that, until recently, had miraculously moved to the history of her life.

Though the events were surely never to be forgotten, just like the small scar on her husband's forehead … the only knick they had collectively sustained from the tragedy. She sighed and pressed her lips together, resisting the urge to reach out and run her finger along its tiny grooves set upon his skin, a blemish so small – yet so hurtful and damaging – oh what could have been! Her heart pinched low and deep. Trembling now. Tears pricked her eyes again, though this time not a hormonal urge. Her stomach lurched, and with morning sickness long gone now too – she quickly got a hold of herself and peeled the comforter back – carefully getting out of bed and swiftly pulled her head out of her past as she did, for morning was upon her and so was a new day.

Slipping from their warmth, she pulled her robe on and glided out to the main living room – an all-in-one living space, more akin to a remodeled loft than an apartment – she moved promptly, slowly drawing the curtains, allowing the predawn light to filter into their bright and open space while she stood in awe of the city's skyline before her, so comforting to both acknowledge and believe in from afar, yet a caustic reminder just the same.

She blinked her intense green eyes and silently took her own inventory of the buildings there – the landscape just as it was yesterday, high peaks of concrete and steel, unchanged, standing tall and proud, the Brooklyn Bridge still there too – she shook her head and smiled tightly, pulling her robe around her body as she turned on her heel, crossed the small space and set the electric kettle on. She pulled down the canister of ginger tea along with a jar of honey before she slid the lock on the iPad situated in the docking station nearby.

Absentmindedly, she began to swipe her finger along the touch screen, her instinct somehow still drawn to look at the overnight markets, though she hadn't traded a bond in nearly ten years – ten years, a decade had gone by – sometimes she couldn't get over that fact alone … the fact of time and all that it did to them, to propel them forward whether they were ready or not … the pace insignificant, though the seconds … minutes … hours, days … months and years … were.

She toggled the news and reached for a tea cup simultaneously and that was when she felt it – her past colliding with her present – and with that realization, the porcelain cup slipped from her grasp and met the floor while her mind continued to reel over the first headline: 'BIN LADEN DEAD'.

She read the unbelievable headline again and somewhere within the slow churning of her mind, she vaguely heard Derek's feet pound against the hardwood floors while she stood motionless and let time stop – the seconds ticked by like hours at a time, so reminiscent of that day almost ten years ago when the meaning of 'time' ceased to exist – her heart trumpeting into her eardrums, so loud now that she lost all sensory control. Sweat pooled at her brow and she felt the overpowering stress breaking through sound barrier of the peaceful morning silence – the lovely sound of that silence gone now too right along with the short gusts of spring air off the water – where all she could do was try to catch her breath as she stared at the small screen, the ugliness of the bold headlines blurred from her slow stream of tears.

"Meredith!" Derek called out as he stumbled into the room, his fight or flight mechanism in full gear; his eyes alert.

"Derek, don't!" she shrilled, her voice brandishing around the open space. "There's porcelain everywhere," she clarified more evenly, her voice cracked.

He held her gaze for a beat, terrified by her intensity, for it had been a long time since he'd seen that level of fierceness in her – and as he stared at her still, her eyes darted to the iPad screen and then back to his – her cheeks were wet, she was panting, one hand low around her belly … crisp white shards of porcelain at her feet. And in that split-second, he wasn't sure if he was looking at a ghost or she had seen one.

"The baby," he queried softly, stepping forward, once, twice, his heart pounded in a rhythm of suspense, 'boom-boom, boom-boom'.

"Baby's just fine," she murmured. "Shoes," she mumbled as the kettle chirped. She inhaled sharply, again attempting to regulate her heartbeat. She pressed her hands to the countertop and breathed, in, out.

Derek turned and made his way to the front door, slipping his shoes on and grabbing a pair for his lover. Walking carefully, he reached her, wrapping his arm around her wherein she promptly broke down and folded herself deep inside his embrace, his eyes falling on the iPad screen as it sat perched on the counter still. 'BIN LADEN DEAD'. And there he stood for a long while as he absorbed what the terrorist's death meant – for what did it mean – redemption … finality … due cause … he shook his head in a quandary, for it seemed it meant something and nothing all at the same time.

"We're still us," he soothed; for it was only coherent thought floating to the surface of his mind ... they had survived.

"We are," she agreed, letting the warmth of his breath cover her head akin to halo as he pressed his lips to her crown. She couldn't let go of him. Not yet. "I love you," she said simply, factually … she closed her eyes and connected.

"And I love you," he whispered, pulling back where he considered her. "Want to talk about it?" he prompted, his hands on her skull.

Smoothing her hair away from her face, checking for signs of the that woman – the one who survived 9/11, the one he had always loved, the one he clung to like a beacon amongst the soot and debris and smoke on that day – the one who saved him while he saved her. He sighed and smiled weakly, thankful to see that the glimpse of her he had gotten a minute ago was already easing back and away from her persona.

"What is there to say?" she wondered wearily with a weak smile. "Not yet … no, no talking," she exhaled.

"Why don't you go back to bed, hmm?" he suggested, tilting his head. "I'll make another cup of tea and clean this up," he soothed, turning her in his arms. She leaned into him and slipped her shoes on, wordlessly obliging as he walked her back into the bedroom, a small smile setting on his face as she slipped both her robe and shoes off and sat on the bed. "Good morning," he smiled weakly, holding her gaze before he knelt down and lifted her tee shirt, his hand caressing the small bump of life. "Bigger," he beamed.

Meredith giggled. "I know, everyday … everyday is amazing," she murmured, her hand joining his. "Hi, baby," she whispered, allowing the blessing of their lives encapsulate them.

"Yes …," he agreed. "Everyday is a blessing," he sighed as Meredith deposited herself back into bed.

She smiled and craned her neck up, cushioning herself on her pillows. "It is …," she blinked and thought to say more, though she knew she didn't have to.

Her heartbeat simmered down – one evil man was dead – gone, but not forgotten. And that didn't change the fact that they were still here … living, breathing … procreating.

"I'll be right back," Derek whispered, leaning down, he plucked his woman's perfect-fit lips, pulsing his mouth against hers as she kissed him back.

###

Moving quickly back into the main rooms, Derek headed straight for the iPad to read more than just the headlines. He walked without regard to the porcelain on the floor – he just needed to know more – something more concrete. He slid the lock and read the first article, absorbing the surface of the facts reported … where in his book, one evil man was dead. This person of interest … this primary suspect … this person of responsibility … was gone from this earth. And in all these years he wondered what it might be like to have this fact become part of his history or of Meredith's history – or of the world's history – and in all those years, he never thought it would be so easy to accept.

He sighed and righted himself – for despite one evil man's best effort – he was still alive … not to say that he was the target, but that if the target was the sum total, then some good had to come from those who had survived. And he and Meredith … they had done good – eventually after they got it all together – they did good things for those who lost someone … a mother, father, sister, brother … someone of significance, though it was a well known fact … the tragedies changed almost everyone they knew or met since in some fashion.

Everyone. His heart raced, tears pricked his eyes and he struggled to see. He braced himself on the counter; a wave of nausea overcame him. For though empty, his stomach curled, twisting and churning on nothing but the emptiness within. He closed his eyes and held onto the counter still; breathing while he listened to the morning silence he adored so much about their home here … so vastly different than the life they led in the city.

Opening his eyes once more, he slid the lock on the iPad and looked down at the floor, trying to spot the trajectory of the porcelain as he opened the long cabinet near the sink and grabbed the broom and dustpan wherein he systematically began to clean up. And as he worked – he began to focus intensely on the silence all around him as a means to stave his mind off from going back to that treacherous day – though try as he might, he knew it was inevitable. He knew, that after years of experience, there were certain times of year or headlines in the news or discussions with friends or family, that would leave him no choice but to reflect … and therein, as he swept the floor – his mind was propelled to the past – and to the single most horrifying and solidifying day of his life to date.

###

He'd been up since dawn. The one thing he'd always remember was how crisp and clean the air felt that morning, for he loved the first couple of weeks of September in the city, he always had – with the final heat waves of humid, oppressive air gone – and the exodus from the city over, it always seemed that the investment community returned to work right in time to wear a form-fitting cashmere sweater over that quintessential blue button down shirt.

So the sky was bright that morning, not a cloud above him and this was something he silently marveled at as the sun came up while he worked inside his office with a large expansive window behind him – seventy floors from the street – the city well below him. He remembered feeling restless, for he had been up with the markets, just as most of his firm was. They worked, the lot of them … a lot of the time. And it was true, the trading markets never slept and in order to be in tune with them, sometimes traders didn't sleep either (at least the good ones). And when things got really intense – time, in and of itself, became of little consequence – time zones meant nothing, though paradoxically each second mattered more than the next … because closing deals was exhaustive and energizing all at the same.

He remembered looking at the clock in his office at about 8:00 AM and wondering where the morning went, for apart his job, his days and nights had recently become one in the same – and at twenty-five years of age – Derek Shepherd honestly felt like he couldn't go on another day … without some kind of progress or movement. And he wasn't referring to his latest transaction – for once in his life he was dealing with a personal crisis – and that, more than anything, had tipped him to the side and turned him to the point of no return. For he'd gone too far, asked for too much and therein he threw, his lover, his partner, Meredith Grey, into a tailspin.

His heart broke. Because he knew her and he knew asking her to marry him was terrifying for her. He knew, but his own sense of who he was and whom 'they' were had gotten the better of him. For the last couple of years he'd been asked by countless friends, family and co-workers – 'when are you and Meredith going to make legal, settle down' – and for years he just smiled and nodded because he truly believed they were perfect together. Unstoppable. Kindred spirits. Soul mates. And deep down, he hoped one day she'd be ready. Except the thing was, there was always this small sliver of doubt that she might not ever be. And so, he tested her.

He wanted 'everything' with her, though in her summation … they already had 'everything' they needed. They were happy. They loved each other and she wanted to know why that suddenly wasn't enough. And with those words, she up and moved out and had been staying with her best friend ever since.

And in some respects, she was right. They were happy, they were in love and they were successful – they both were – they were the up-and-coming big shots, the calls they made, both together and apart from one another … the deals they closed as a team, had over the years afforded them to live a life of relative luxury. They owned an apartment together in TriBeCa, made well into the mid-six figures, each. They were a dynamic duo – and as much as their working relationship remained intact since their separation – and as much as he saw her almost every waking hour of every day, he still went home and missed her. Terribly.

And he knew she missed him too. For their separation had not been good to her – her genuine smile was gone from her intense green eyes and she'd lost considerable weight – and while her professional stamina never waned, he would be a liar if he said he wasn't concerned about her overall health. And that was where the regret began to infiltrate.

And so, on this bright morning as the sun shone brightly in the sky, he vowed to not let another day (and night) pass by without talking to her again, pleading, begging her if need be, to give 'them' another chance on her terms – for the last six weeks at home alone had nearly killed him – the deterioration was slow, crippling as he literally ached for her – loving her more now than ever before – his skin crawling at the sound of the silence as it reverberated, ringing into his ears until the wee hours of every morning when he would invariably take leave and get to the office. Only to find and seek and see her again.

About a half our later, he remembered slipping into the men's room and splashing cold water on his face before he dared to look at himself – dark circles under his gateways, his skin on the pale side – the fire gone from his blue eyes. He'd aged and he felt like crap and he wanted his life back. What he wanted was her happiness. It fulfilled him like nothing else. For not even the flawless execution of a deal and the adrenaline that came with it was close to anything he ever felt when he was with Meredith. Straightening his collar, he sighed heavily, staring at himself for another minute until he got his nerve up and left the private space on a mission to grab a moment alone with her.

Making a beeline for her office, he recalled feeling a renewed sense of energy then, suddenly invigorated by this all-consuming power she had over him … and it was about then that he felt a small smile crack along his tired face … and it felt good. And therein, he felt alive for the first time in weeks, and this time, he wasn't going to let that inertia go without a fight (or a fighting chance at rekindling what they had). The heartache he felt somewhat alleviated by his bolstered confidence – because he loved her, so much and because he knew, deep down, that she missed him, needed him – that much was obvious, now all he had to do was convince her to come home … to try to make it work.

And that good feeling stayed with him as he stood in the doorjamb of her space and watched her for a beat – her back to his as she stood at her window, her new frailer frame accentuated by the natural light, her wool twill pants a size too big now – her hands resting on the windowsill as she tilted her head and sighed. She was restless and suddenly looked so small, with the sky in front of her – the glass windows of the North Tower reflecting off the sun as it shone down from above – Meredith … blue sky … sun; his eyes crinkled with happiness. He smiled and knocked on the door, her head snapped back in response. He smiled weakly and so did she. She turned back to the window. He stepped inside and closed the door, leaving it ajar.

"I have a feeling," she murmured quietly from her same spot. Her eyes trained on the city for a beat longer. Her voice unsteady as she turned around, her gateways beleaguered and fatigued.

"I get those," he mused, his heart tugging at the mess she had become. He crossed the space where he came to stand in front of her. Her eyes darted to the door before she looked up; her expression muted … calm and unsure.

"Derek …," she breathed his name.

"I'm so sorry … I know I've said that countless times before but … I just … want you to believe me," he appealed, pushing her chin up with his fingers as he stepped into her personal space.

"I know you are … and …," she answered, her eyes vacillating; she felt warm and familiar. She looked away.

"I asked for too much," he whispered, looking to hold her gaze.

"I think so … things were so perfect …," she sighed, her eyes downcast, skillfully avoiding him.

"We can't go on like this …," he murmured, stepping closer, their brand of heat suddenly upon them.

"No … we can't," she sighed, barely meeting his gaze.

Derek's heart pinched somewhere low and deep as he moved his hands along the soft, angular planes of her cheeks. "Look at me … please," he pleaded softly, quietly tucked away inside his confessional. Her wet eyes found his, brilliant and faceted. "I love you and I'm sorry … I miss you and I want you to come home, where you belong … please, Meredith …," he husked, the wells of his eyes thick with unshed tears. "On your terms … I promise, I just can't … function, without you … and I'm worried about you …," he rambled, his innermost thoughts spilling out, wave after wave … with regret, reluctance, love … he appealed.

Meredith closed her eyes; tears popped free and cascaded down and along her beautiful face. She trembled, setting her hands upon his hips where she pulled him closer – her body so warm and familiar, it felt like home – they swayed and Derek walked them, moving out of the center of her space to the small darker corner, where the wall met the window and no one could see them should they push the door open. It was 'their' spot, the semi-private place they used to use when no one at work knew they were a couple.

And there they stayed; holding one another against the storm their lives had become, desperate to connect … privately, intimately, as he waited for an answer from his woman. His lips found her temple where he breathed her in before she tilted her head up and back and stared at him.

"I'm worried about you too …,"she whispered, her hot breath breezing against the underside of his neck. "And … I want to come home, I do … I love you, of course … I'll always love you …," she blinked, releasing more tears as Derek did the same. She reached up and danced her fingers along his cheeks and therein, he let himself break, just a little bit, a throaty sob strutting its way out as his body convulsed. "I can't be without you either, Derek … I can't … sleep … eat … breathe … I can't breathe at night …," she confessed, cradling his skull in her hands where she held him there, firmly committing to him with her eyes … until she blinked, looking to the doorway for a beat before she met his gaze again.

"So … you're really coming home …," Derek breathed, drawing her near, already lost in the promise of her warmth … the promise of more time with her to make this right.

"Yes," she cried. "Kiss me," she whispered, her gaze steady … her eyes already brighter.

And so he did – and as he did – in that moment, everything was okay again, aligned, perfect … and he remembered thinking as his lips mated with hers, pulse, pulse … that he would never let anything come between them again – that they were perfect together, just as they always had been – just how they were, so flawless together … married or not … they were partners and all he wanted was to work and live and sleep and wake up with her … for as long as they both shall live.

And so lost were they within this solidifying symbol of a kiss, that they did not hear or feel or realize that the North Tower had been struck by … something. A moment later, they pulled away from one another with intimate, beaming smiles – Derek's mind already on Meredith coming home and how they both might actually sleep tonight – he kissed her cheek again before they heard an urgent rap on her door. Meredith smiled sheepishly and stepped out of 'their' corner headed for the door.

From there on out, things were hectic … a series of events and decisions, some small, some big, all of them set to change the course of their lives, though at the time, they would never know just how much of an impact those small moments would have.

So as the managing partner informed them that something had hit the North Tower – a small plane perhaps – though nothing was confirmed and with that news, they were jarred from their apparent euphoria and pushed right back into the swing of life.

Derek slipped his hand through Meredith's – a small knowing smile cracking along the partner's face as he did – a silent acknowledgement that he too, was happy they had reunited. The three of them swiftly crossed the office to the windows where they craned their necks back and up, pressing their cheeks against the glass to see up – and there inside this tiny moment all they could wonder was what chaos had ensued for the people working there – with plumes of black smoke whirling into the sky and unidentifiable debris there too, paper floating, bursts of fire, bright and orange – wherein Derek remembered Meredith telling him, her voice low and small as she squeezed his hand tightly … 'I want to leave, right now'.

The partner then informed them that building security had advised all tenants to evacuate as soon as possible, using the fire escape routes as instructed during drills. He said they should move quickly, that all relevant business would eventually vet itself out. They bade him farewell and he did the same.

Derek remembered looking at Meredith then – she was typically cool under pressure and this was no different – as he watched her quickly toss her heels off of her feet and grab her tennis shoes, mumbling something about putting them on while they waited in the long line of people to get to the their designated stairwells where they would start the long walk down … floor by floor by floor. She grabbed her over-sized purse, threw her phone into it and they set off to his office where he grabbed the apartment keys – looked around for a beat and left it all behind – a confident belief instilled within him that they might be back at work by around lunchtime.

So, they hustled then, making their way through their offices, nodding and saying a word here or there to colleagues and friends as they did. They filed out and into the main lobby of their floor, hundreds of people walking with them. Meredith slipped her shoes on as they paused. They inched forward. The mood was quiet, though there was an undercurrent of desperation there too as people speculated on the condition of the North Tower and those who were likely injured and what might have crashed into it. And so it was no surprise, that at some point, just before they got to the stairwell – his PDA buzzed on his hip – it was 8:59 AM and it was his mother.

He snapped the device from his hip to take her call, but heard his name and instead, looked back to see a friend of theirs motion to him … the freight elevator had room enough for two. And though unorthodox for evacuating, Derek tugged on Meredith's hand and ushered her inside.

The doors swiftly closed and he held her close, his chin atop her head as he nodded to his friend while they all watched the numbers descent in order – sixty-seven, sixty-six – the air was musty, a steady murmur was the soundtrack, the elevator holding enough nervous energy to power a subway car. His PDA buzzed again, this time it was Nancy, his eldest sister. He gripped the device. Meredith looked up and found his eyes briefly before turning her attention back to the scroll of numbers – and that's when they felt it – the elevator powering down amidst the ignition of what sounded like … a match … this sound that to date, Derek had yet to figure out how to explain … for it was like nothing else he'd ever heard – the lighting of a match was the closest thing he could ever liken it to – like a fire sparked inside a wind tunnel ... a shift.

The doors opened, they filed out; they were on the fortieth floor – people were still evacuating of course – but now most of the overhead lights were off – and the energy had changed too, people were moving with more purpose. Derek glanced at his watch, it was 9:04 AM and something was amiss … and then he learned the cause, straining to hear, he listened now to bits and pieces of conversations all around him … 'we've been hit, an airplane, South Tower, deliberate, attack, another airplane'. Fear gripping him, he tightened his hold on Meredith's hand and moved her in front of him as they once again began to merge into the stairwell.

"Derek … what should we do?" she asked, her faceted eyes, sparkling even in the dark. "What about … I wonder where the … where did it impact … what do we do?" she asked again, her voice shaky, unsure, but ready to press on.

"We walk … we just move … we're on the fortieth floor, no plane could fly that low with all the buildings surrounding us … we just need to go … to move on, it should be passable," he rambled in reply, holding her gaze for a beat before they were ushered through the stairwell entrance.

Once inside, they quickly moved into the slow groove of traffic, many people talking softly on their cell phones as they walked, the air stale and hot, save for the slight addition of something else: a metallic, smoky residue.

To Derek, the best he could tell, they were moving at about a floor every minute or so, he calculated – that if there were no other obstacles – they would be out of the building in about forty minutes. He glanced at his watch and timed them again, the pace, even and somewhat predictable. Meredith looked at him over her shoulder; he tugged on the strap of her bag and took it from her, slipping it over his head and across his chest where he loosened the leather strap to accommodate him.

"Call your mother back," she murmured before she turned to once again focus on the task at hand.

Derek inhaled sharply, noticing now that there was more smoke than there was a few minutes ago, his lungs were far from burning, but … the residue, the smell of jet fuel, burnt rubber and something else was definitely there. He snapped his PDA from his hip and pressed the send button to call his mother, it was 9:09 AM. She answered before the end of the first ring.

The one thing he would always remember from that phone call was that his mother did not want to say, 'good-bye', he kept hinting, as he processed everything she told him – that they were now more sure via news reports that some radical terrorists had flown two commercial airliners into the Twin Towers – he kept telling her, they were okay, but she was frantic and insisted he stay on the line. He remembered listening to her ramble off the few known facts at the time, asking him every few minutes what floor he was on and what stairwell he was in. She told him and he listened, that they estimated the plane had crashed into the building between the seventy-fifth and eighty-fifth floors, much lower than the North Tower – she of course, had her eyes on the television and her ear pressed to the phone – she was fixated on their descent, repeatedly asking of Meredith, especially after Derek informed her that they had worked things out and were together … reunited and together.

On or about the twenty-fifth floor, he felt the need to disengage from the call and focus, having a small difficulty breathing – Derek promised his mother he would call as soon as he was able to – but that the smoke was seemed to be getting heavier, thicker and he wanted to focus on the steps. She, of course told him she loved him and he, her. Tears pricked his eyes and he tossed the PDA into Meredith's bag. He rested his hands on her shoulder blades as the pace seemed to slow, ever so slightly for a brief moment.

"She didn't want to hang up," Meredith surmised evenly, she coughed and then cleared her throat.

"No … I can't blame her," he breathed, exhaling sharply. "We're almost there, about twenty more minutes …," he calculated.

And so they stopped talking and just walked and walked and walked and listened – the sound was thunderous in way, hundreds of footsteps, shoes of all sizes and models, clapping against the concrete steps – down, down, down, they held onto the metal railing, atypically warm from all the human contact. The air thicker, hotter now that they were lower to the ground – harder to breathe – the inside of his mouth and nose burning, dry, singed … where all he could think about was the impact and jet fuel and debris and people and death and from whence they came … the point of impact, perhaps so very near from their home away from home. Righting himself, he walked with purpose then; step over step over step, his eyes fixated on Meredith in front of him – his ray of hope, his beacon for the moment – with her golden waves hair, still pretty, though wild and unkempt.

On or about the tenth floor, he remembered looking at his watch, 9:31 AM and for a brief moment; he wondered what happened to that sunny day full of promise. The pace slowed considerably, he imagined now that people not too far in front of them were exiting the building, moving as far and away as they could. And he wondered what kind of hell they were going to be met with once they were there. He wondered what was going to happen next. He stood still now, Meredith on the step below him, the heat from her body comforting, despite the hot, filthy air they breathed.

She reached up and set her hand upon his then and they began to move again, this time at a much faster clip. Within the next few minutes, they exited the stairwell, were greeted by teams of rescue workers who asked what floor they came from and if they had any injuries. When they were finished, the man they spoke with advised them to run and so they did … without looking back.

They held hands and ran, his legs elastic like rubber bands, the cool outside air attacking their throats as they ran out and into the wild, the city they knew so well – they ran and ran and hundreds of dodged people – barely daring themselves to look up and take in the sights above them. There were sirens and calls of the wild people everywhere … all disheveled, spent and disoriented … and suddenly lost under the September blue sky and circling helicopters. And so, with their hands clasped together, they finally exited the compound at the south side of the complex and onto Liberty Street where they continued to run until they hit Broadway … and then they heard and felt it … another snap, another shift.

Stopping, they panted, gasping for air as they looked up and into the sky, the brilliant blue marred by the scenes all around them – their beloved towers still ablaze, injured, emitting black smoke, jet fuel, papers and other unidentified forms of debris – where time seemed to stand still for one last brief moment wherein they paid homage … and watched to their horror as the South Tower began to collapse … metal twisted, concrete snapped, the ground shook and thick plumes of gray, ashen soot bellowed, plume after plume. It was mayhem, the screaming all around them, intense, drowning out everything else.

The screaming, for as long as he would live, Derek knew he would remember that moment. Everyone, everywhere … screaming – 'oh my God' – it truly was all anyone could say, it was mantra, inside their minds and for the whole to hear, 'oh my God,' they repeated as the ground continued to rumble with aftershocks … there were cries of pain and despair … and hopelessness and helplessness … collective hearts plummeting in unison, dreams and hopes gone too as the tower continued to collapse upon itself.

Meredith trembled in Derek's arms and he in hers. "We're okay …," he soothed, ducking his mouth down to her ear. "Oh, God, you're okay …," he murmured, blinking rapidly as he rocked her back and forth, saying a prayer to God over and over again as his mind lingered on their friends, hoping for their safety with all of his might.

He prayed, with his eyes still pinned on the cascades of smoke, the sunshine suddenly gone where all he could see was this figment of where the building used to stand along with the lives it took – one single tower – still standing, still ablaze and suddenly alone. He stood there, stymied for a beat longer before he realized they needed shelter … immediately, for the debris would soon be too thick to see through.

"Come … we have to get moving," he whispered, huddling, protecting her against the thick, gray soot as they walked hurriedly along Broadway for about a half of a block before a group of police officers ushered them, along with many others into a nearby building.

###

Derek blinked and slid the bits of porcelain into the trash compactor. He pressed his lips together and breathed deeply, shaking the last of the debris away – those haunting memories, cobwebs that swayed deep inside his mind's eye – he turned back on and grabbed another teacup, his eyes landing on the iPad briefly before he turned on his heel toward the refrigerator where he pulled out some pears and began to cut them.

He breathed again – his body half expecting to inhale that stench of the city thereafter – this odd combination of earth and minerals, metal, fuel … and the salt of the earth, the victims who perished that day … the soot that lingered and sat on the surface of the city for an undetermined amount of time. The kettle chirped and time began to move again – the silence still comforting – the air clean, the sun high in the sky as he let himself relax.

He glanced at the clock, poured the scalding water onto to the teabag – set the fruit upon a tray, added a half of a loaf of wheat bread, some peanut butter and strawberry jam there too – along with two small plates, a knife and the teacup before he headed into their bedroom to see about Meredith. Smiling when he glided in the room, he watched his woman for a beat, spotting a tiny smile pressed upon her face as she leafed through a volume of one of her pregnancy magazines.

"Well, that didn't take long," she mused, watching her husband for signs of wear, knowing that he, much like she, had already been thinking about their narrow escape and survival that day.

Derek smiled and set the tray down on the bedside table, his energy already repaired, for one look at Meredith, pregnant and happy, could do that for him. He sat down on the edge of the bed and handed her the cup of tea, glancing at the clock as he did. They had time, with Meredith rising so early in the mornings, they always had time to take their time and relax, even during the week.

"Thank you," she smiled, cradling the hot cup in her hands. She blew on the steaming elixir.

"Welcome," he breathed, setting his hand upon her covered toes; he rubbed, massaging her there.

Meredith sighed and took a sip of the tea – letting it warm her from the inside out – her free hand instinctively going to her belly where unforeseen tears sprang from her eyes. She sniffled and watched Derek falter as he watched her succumb to her unearthed emotions. He took the cup from her then and wasted no time before he crawled into bed with her where they burrowed deep into the sea of bed linens where no one could find them – so reminiscent of that night – when they finally made it back to the apartment … and found one another again.

"You know what I keep thinking about?" he asked of her, arms and legs reflexively wrapped around one another now, their heat percolating as he pressed his lips to her neck, following a path down to clavicle where he pulsed and breathed.

"Tell me …," Meredith sighed, allowing the feelings of both safety and love consume her.

"How we saved each other … that day, how you saved me," he breathed, pulling back to find her eyes, glassy as a still lake. "And thank God you did …," he husked, his hands flanking her skull, his fingertips laced through her wild tresses.

"I love you," she whispered into their confessional, clean, warm … safe. "So much …," she blinked, setting another small wave of tears free. She inhaled. "I … all I can think about is us … like this – just us in bed, safe and warm and blessed – remember, Derek?" she breathed with wonder. "Remember how that felt … when we finally got home …together …," she rambled, her mind wild with unkempt memories.

"I do … come here," he husked, drawing her near.

She settled herself into the envelope of his warmth then, where they wasted no time in treasuring their brand of warmth, already lost and found again – their minds and hearts and souls aligned – though their thoughts surely drifted, in and out of the past and the present and all it took to get them to this place, right here, right now.

Meredith burrowed deeper into Derek's heat – this comforting kind of heat only he could supply – for he had become her lifeline over the years in too many ways to count and that, she wouldn't have changed for anything – for their reunion almost ten years ago on that day had proven that to her – that she could trust him (on her terms) and that no, she could not live without him. Overcome with emotion, she trembled, her lips pressed to the underside of his neck as she began to relax into his touch as he ran the pads of his fingertips up and down her spine.

Soon, she felt herself grow heavy in his capable arms; and though she knew he would not go back to sleep … it was always enough to just feel him there with her. He would rise soon – she knew this – he would press on with his day and hop in the shower where she would wait for the water to warm up before she joined him. And when she did, she would turn the hot water onto the maximum setting … where he would invariably get out, get dressed and make some breakfast.

And this was their routine – so why would today be any different – and then she wondered … should it be different? And there inside this private moment – she worked tirelessly once more to suppress those lingering feelings she felt so familiar with – the endless hurt and terror … along with her shaken faith … those feelings that came back at certain times of the year or with the breaking of certain news announcements relative to the tragedy that still ran through the veins, the heart and soul of the city and the world at large.

The bed shifted and Derek dropped a smooth, long kiss to the crown of her head before she released her hold on him. Still warm, he covered her with the comforter and she listened with a trained ear as he brushed his teeth and started the shower. And as she lay, try as she might – her mind did go back in time – back to her solidifying memories of coming home with Derek that day.

###

Everything was eerily quiet. And soon she realized this would be her most single resonating memory of that day – because it was – she remembered waking up that morning at Cristina's, her best friend having already gone off to work at Mount Sinai, she was a surgeon, a workaholic, much like herself … she was paged in the middle of the night and when Meredith woke up the next morning, and all she could remember was how quiet it was, and lonely too. And so she moved through her morning, just as she had every day since she'd walked out on Derek and the life she loved, the one he was so inclined to change.

She also remembered feeling imbalanced, though this was nothing new as of late – for she found it increasingly harder not to miss him, her heart pining for him, her body for his touch – and even though she knew she would never stop loving him or wanting him … she was conflicted and scared. She truly wanted to make an extraordinary life with him, but somehow – she believed they were already were living it while he wanted more from her – he wanted 'everything' where she was secretly terrified to be his 'everything' or to give so freely of herself in the process.

She had intimacy issues and this was no secret between them. And so she balked at his beautiful marriage proposal, she lost herself as she stared at him and he and her – the awkward silence between them such an anomaly – and so painful that she had eventually gathered a few things together and walked out, the air that summer afternoon was both hot and thick and muggy, and the streets empty … but she paid no mind as she walked out and into the din of the city … her mind instantly deluge with fearful regret.

And that fear stayed with her – for duration of their separation – it never, ever waned, perhaps in large part due to her seeing Derek everyday at the office where they would spend considerable time working together or smiling awkwardly at each other or trying to read one another's thoughts. Admittedly, communicating (about deep, childhood issues) was not her strong suit, but she never pretended it was. And so for most of her life (until she met Derek), she avoided relationships, especially relationships with men. And when they met, she always felt like she should have hung a noose around her neck that read as warning sign – 'Buyer Beware' – because there were times where old memories would die hard and she would feel inferior, no matter how hard he tried to allay her fears, those memories won … and with all of that in mind, she somehow allowed herself to walk out on the love of her lifetime.

So when she woke that morning and everything was so quiet, she was startled enough to be able to hear (and listen) to her most treasured thoughts about him … she could feel her body, yearning for him … gravitating … urging her to fix what was broken between them. And inside that silence – she realized how loud her thoughts were and that it almost hurt to listen to herself – to her pain and agony … and therein she realized that she couldn't let evening fall without making things right for the both of them – because she was no good without him – and even if she wasn't ready to be his 'everything', she truly wanted to be his 'something'.

Later, having made up her mind, she remembered going through the motions, working all morning as the sun rose higher and higher into the sky, the cool, crisp air of fall circulating – signifying that change was coming with the arrival of a new season – and therein she felt that the time for her to change her own ideals about the destiny of her life with Derek, was suddenly thrust upon her. And so as she worked that morning, amassed in the closing paperwork of their latest deal, the tasks set before her, suddenly seeming so inconsequential that she could have almost screamed into the raging silence that rang into her ears.

She just needed a minute. One minute alone with him to make it right. Then she could focus, then maybe her swirling mind would relax enough … enough to know that she would be going home that night, for good.

And with certainty, she wanted to come home, she knew this, of course the minute she walked out she wanted to turn around and go home and lose herself in him. She knew that, but suddenly time held no consequence when they weren't together and swiftly, days turned into nights … that somehow turned into days again. And she became lost in other ways, wayward, stymied … and then angry, because everything was beautiful – so how was it that he couldn't see that everything already was perfect – the way they were together was perfect and she longed for those perfect days and nights and began to wonder if he did too.

And to this day, she would never forget the thoughts running through her mind the moment Derek walked into her office and apologized yet again on that morning. Because she did, 'have a feeling' … for she had been thinking about the eyes of storms and how she wondered if this was it, if this was how it felt – this calm and quiet place before everything went haywire, the eye – this time immediately before women, like her – who had abandonment issues and trust issues and intimacy issues – would finally let all of those valid insecurities go to accept a marriage proposal.

And even though the events that followed their quick, but not hasty reunion that morning, were crude and ugly and unforeseen – all she could focus on was getting safely home with Derek – and her desperate hope that everything would be okay and that if they just walked fast enough or kept quiet enough, it would be. And what felt like days later, those reverberations – her silent little prayers she whispered to herself were still there – still a part of her new genetic make up, even now, as she and Derek turned onto Worth Street en-route to their apartment.

And she listened, with her ears alert and her eyes wide open and the city now dark – she listened, straining to hear those sounds that had enveloped her all day – sirens, helicopters, the crack of concrete, the bending of metal, the repetitive mantra of her fellow citizens from both the US and abroad.

She listened inside the silence, squeezing Derek's hand still, even now … her body numb and humming with vibrations of both energy and exhaustion. Her physical and spiritual selves tormented, her bones aching, her throat on fire – her eyes burning from soot and tears – her stomach churning … exhaustion imminent now as they almost reached the beacon of their destination … home – a walk that normally would have taken them less then fifteen minutes – that had somehow taken about seven hours once the North Tower had collapsed and they were eventually cleared by the police to leave the building they were ushered into at just after 10 AM.

Reaching the front door, Derek entered their pass code where they decided to walk up the stairs, bypassing the elevator in favor of safety. Holding hands, they stood at just outside their enclave, her coming home a much more somber occasion than either one had anticipated that morning, but a homecoming it was, nonetheless. Smiling weakly, Derek turned the key, but Meredith stopped him.

"The windows?" she asked of him, for he typically opened the windows on fall mornings; it was one of his habits she had picked up on during their years together. "It's fall …," she elaborated, tilting her head up where she looked at him, his face covered with a sheen of soot.

Derek turned to her and pressed his lips together. "I haven't … been myself, I forgot ... everything was so …," he sighed with a weak smile as he tried to articulate. "They're closed … everything should be as it was …," he breathed, stepping closer.

Meredith felt tears prick her eyes for this tiny miracle, knowing the stench would eventually find their home, she was secretly happy, if for just one night, that there would be a reprieve. She fisted his shirt in her hands.

"I don't want this filth in our home," she breathed, her eyes pinned on his until she looked up and down the small, deserted hallway.

Derek removed Meredith's bag from his shoulder and let it fall to the floor. "We'll leave everything here, come … no one's here … get undressed," he urged as he began to unbutton his shirt.

Minutes later, they had disrobed down to their undergarments, their weighted, soiled clothing in a heap along with their shoes. Meredith fished into her bag and took anything of value – their dead cell phones, wallets – leaving everything else as she set the bag on top of their things before Derek turned the key and they slipped inside the safety of their home.

Once inside, Derek closed the door behind him, his backside sitting against it as Meredith held his hand and they breathed into the quiet. Their enclave untouched, the sirens wailing in the distance, the dark city sprawling before them, visible through the floor-to-ceiling panel of windows. The silence was deafening. She shifted on her feet; the cool floorboard creaked under her weight.

Without another word, Derek tugged on her hand and they began to move, crossing over the space, which suddenly seemed so big. She looked around and surmised that Derek was right, everything was at it always was – he hadn't changed a thing – it was like she never left, though it felt like a lifetime since she'd been ensconced here. She leaned into his touch, his hand on the small of her back while he guided her into their bedroom, moving straight into the bathroom where he dimmed the lights and started the shower. She sat down on the small teak bench and listened to the sound of the water as Derek disappeared, returning a beat later with some clothing for her, a pair of sweats and a Henley.

He smiled weakly and nodded to the shower, but she stood instead and turned around where he unclasped her bra, the flimsy fabric floating to the floor as it fell from his fingertips. She turned around again and pinned her fists to the waistband of his boxers before she inched them down, staring into his blue eyes – watching them grow softer around the edges, though etched with pain his bore witness to – his face still handsome, despite his apparent exhaustion. His hands found her hips, where he slipped his fingertips beneath the silky fabric, pushing the garment down and out of the way.

Naked, they stepped into the small space together, the air hot, humid – clean, heavy – she inhaled sharply, Derek's eyes still fixed on hers, the scalding shower pummeling his back where he turned her around and brought her under the spray of water with him, his hands in her hair, she tilted her head back, resting it on his chest briefly before he moved back and began to shampoo her hair. 'Her shampoo' was all she could think as the floral scent consumed her – both the familiarity and the usualness of it striking her – for what a blessing it was that they were home, uninjured … what a luxury this shower seemed to be.

Heartbroken, a raucous sob expelled from the core of her being – her whole body aching with grief and pain, her mind deluge with images of the towers ablaze, her eyes burned with fresh tears – her thoughts and prayers lingering on all those who were surely suffering, those who perished. She turned into Derek's arms and he held her there and she him, cradling and massaging one another, cleansing one another of all of the soot and debris and mire … they cleaned one another, slippery hands met tired muscles over and over again until the water began to run cold.

Reaching up, she spotted a small cut on his forehead and without thinking; she cradled his skull and idolized him for a lost beat in time. Her mind wild with fear as she held him there, trembling like a leaf on a vine. She caressed his wound and watched the small knick open up, a trickle of his blood, bright and red, came to the surface where she wiped it away with haste … he winced and drew her near, ducking down to claim her chapped lips with his – soothing her then with a series of searing kisses – kisses that made promises … kisses that foretold their future.

Stepping from the shower, they dried one another, brushed their teeth, a new brush for her … they brushed and watched one another in the mirror. Eyes sunken, skin sallow, bones tired … they looked over one another, checking, making sure. Meredith slipped her hand through his and they stepped over the threshold and into the bedroom. The lights dim, their room just as it always was – their space, this small slice of heaven on earth – her magazines, still there, though already outdated. Her books, a photo of she and Derek in Aspen two winters ago … her things, still there on her bedside table. She sighed, her chest heaving, her heart pinching as Derek moved her around to her side of the bed where he held the linens up for her and she slipped inside, her skin reacting to the billowy softness, the instant warmth and familiarity … so soft after the hardness of the day.

And this was her memory – this was the one thing she cherished – this privilege of … being home. The privilege of 'being' at all.

More tears flooded from her eyes as she caught Derek faltering, watching him walk slowly around the bed, he sniffled, his body shaking briefly before he mumbled something indiscernible and slipped into bed with her. Reflexively, they rolled into one another, heads on her pillow, nose to nose, they breathed … alone, in, out, in, out … warm, clean air, alone in the relative quiet.

Her eyes welled up with tears, at a loss for words, she couldn't explain her range of emotions and nor could he, his wet eyes searching hers, back and forth, his hands on her skull where he held her there. He inhaled sharply and opened his mouth … but nothing came out. She caressed the smooth skin of his back, lacing her legs through his where they stayed. His hands seemed to move everywhere they, gently massaging her body, he caressed her and she remembered the need she felt to touch him and feel him too … to make sure of him … warm and alive.

"What do you need?" he asked softly into their space.

She swallowed hard. "You," she answered simply. "Just you … like this, you and me, perfect together … at home," she breathed.

"Me too …," he answered softly, his nose brushing against hers. "Kiss me," he whispered and so she did.

And as she did, she let, for the briefest of moments – the world fall away – she let go of all the pain and ugliness, she let it go … for a brief flicker of time, just enough to really feel his lips upon hers and cherish the way in which he loved her and she loved him. Together and perfect, fitting perfectly together.

###

An hour later, Meredith emerged from their bedroom, a small smile upon her face as she watched Derek read the Wall Street Journal for a beat before he noticed her there, his brow knitted, one hand on his coffee cup, one foot on the seat of another chair. He looked up and smiled warmly, his eyes crinkled with happiness as she approached and dropped a long kiss to his perfect-fit lips.

"You're a breath of fresh air," he complimented against her lips, his hand moving up to cradle the back of her skull where he held her there, drawing her near, massaging her mouth, the tip of his tongue flirting with hers, kiss, kiss. "I like this dress … shows off the little one nicely," he mused, his fingertips dancing along her small band of baby.

"Hmm … thank you," she murmured, her eyes twinkling as she pulled back and looked him over – he was okay – his eyes told her as much… faceted … beautiful … clear. "Ready?" she asked, pressing her lips to his once more.

"Yep," he smiled as he stood, spilling out the balance of his coffee before sticking the mug in the dishwasher.

Meredith grabbed her bag and tossed a lavender pashima along her shoulders, the lightweight cashmere just enough of a coverall when the studio would invariably become drafty. She slipped her ballet flats on while Derek put his shoes on and grabbed his briefcase where they exited the apartment, hand in hand. The elevator opened and they stepped inside without a single hesitation, riding the short distance to the ground floor. Crossing over the threshold, they exited the building – the cool, spring air filling their lungs on the first inhalation – clean, fresh, pure.

It was gorgeous morning, Derek decided as they began walking, his mind already alighted – the coming of spring could do that for him – even on a regular day, for he always enjoyed the change in the seasons, he appreciated those subtle differences – those indicators of the passage of time – no matter how joyful or painful the time was, the point was that seasons did change and things evolved … and most of the time for the good. He squeezed his lover's hand and looked on to her, smiling as he caught her looking up and into the sky, watching a robin take flight.

"I thought we'd hit the studio first today," he murmured, his free hand draped along her shoulders, his fingertips toying with a silky lock of her golden hair.

"I figured as much," she acquiesced, knowing her husband well enough to anticipate that he'd want to get her to work first, despite having to walk by his office to get there. She smiled; her cell phone chirped from the depths of her bag. She fished for the device and smiled when she saw the name flashing on the LDC. "It's mom," she beamed as she engaged the call. "Hi mom," she smirked at Derek, leaning into his heat as they walked. "We heard, we're okay," she promised, listening to her mother-in-law go on about the morning's headline. "He's fine … we're good … he's right here …," she sighed breathlessly. She smiled widely. "Sounds good, no nothing yet … I love you too … hang on," she sighed as she passed the phone to Derek.

"Mom," he breathed into the clean air, his hand moving to Meredith's neck, her skin warm and smooth. "We're absorbing the news, but focusing on the good … on the happy times ahead," he promised, a smile forming along his handsome face. He listened to his mother, her words always so wise and encouraging. "Yes, this weekend … absolutely," he answered. "Will do … I love you too," he smiled as he ended the call.

Meredith giggled. "One would think this is her first grandchild," she smirked, tilting her head up to meet her husband's eyes where she briefly wondered who the baby might take after.

"I know, right … she's so excited," he husked as their stroll came to a stop outside of the building that housed her art studio, his eyes landing on hers where he was once again stricken by her natural beauty accentuated by the natural light of the morning. "You're here," he murmured, unable to look away.

"I know," she mused, her thoughts catapulting into the future where she and Derek would finally welcome the first 'Shepherd' baby into the large family.

"See you for lunch, we'll go for Thai," he winked.

"Hmm, now you're talking," she smiled. "Kiss me again," she ordered breathlessly, tilting her head up where she met him halfway as he ducked down to kiss her fully on the mouth, their passion for one another ignited once more. "I love you, Derek," she husked, opening her mouth to his where he made love to her there under the springtime sky.

With their heads in the clouds somewhere, the lovers managed to part ways. Smiling still, Meredith entered her art studio – her place, her sanctuary and refuge – this place where she initially came to vet out her own feelings all those years ago, using her passion and intrigue for art as therapy to heal herself after the tragedy of that day.

She turned the lights on and looked around, once again marveling at all that had changed, and that even though this place still represented so much of her depth and despair … those feelings were now replaced by joy. For in what Derek liked to call her 'infinite wisdom', Meredith eventually realized that the idea of art therapy surely shouldn't stop with her. And with that idea in mind, she ended up hitting the books once again – when the 'dust' cleared – she went back to school and became a Certified Child Therapist, the concentration of her studies and her master's thesis: the benefits of art for therapy.

She clicked her computer on and checked her schedule with a satisfied smile – her days were busy – but not in the frantic way they used to be, today her time was passed by helping children express themselves through art. And while she did have a core client base of young people connected with the Twin Tower tragedies, she also has a fair number who were not. But in the end, she realized that the source of horror didn't really matter, for what mattered most was that it happened … no matter how damaging, it happened – her own childhood a testament for that – because after a lifetime of abandonment she was conditioned and had it not been for Derek's persistence, perhaps she would not have overcome the ugliness she endured.

Sighing, she began to ready her space for her first client, her mind still on the past as it merged with the future that became their present. She thought of Derek, probably just about at his office now – his deals not nearly as big as they used to be – but enough that he has been able to work his angles and keep his small cluster of wealthy clients more than afloat. He worked hard, but now, he didn't stay at work until all hours of the night like they used to – he didn't because as he'd said many times over since that day – there was more to life … to this chance they'd been giving and with that chance, he thought they should live a little for everyone.

Still smiling, opened the window, the spring air funneled through the space, taking with it, the stale air of the night. With the sun high in the sky now, she opened a can of primer and began to apply a coat of the white paint to the over-sized canvas she planned to use and that was when she felt it – the paintbrush falling to the floor – as she stopped all movement and caressed her belly, a slight flutter tickling her, like a kitten's whiskers or a butterfly's wings, the sensation centralized low and to the right wherein tears of joy sprung from her eyes as the baby moved again and again.

Swiftly, she reached for the phone and pressed send, Derek's voice funneled through the line. "Meredith," he answered and she could hear the smile on his face.

"Guess what?" she asked, her eyes pinned to the blank canvas in front of her, so rich with possibility. "I just felt the baby," she confided with a small secretive smile.

And as they chatted animatedly about this monumental milestone, Meredith felt those gentle spring gusts of wind push against her back as she turned to face the window, the silence of the morning all but gone now where those gusts also seemed to chant … 'go, love, live long … and prosper' … and so they did.

-END-