Stronger Here Together
Summary: Derek has learnt from the worst patient he lost. Meredith has learnt too.
Author's Note: I started writing this back at the start of April. I had a very clear idea of what I wanted to happen and where I wanted to take it. As it turns out, it has become almost cathartic given recent events in the show, and has turned into something more of a character exploration than I was expecting. Nonetheless I have really enjoyed writing it, and there are just a couple of things to say before I leave you to read and hopefully enjoy. Firstly, the practical things you need to know. It's set at a fairly unspecific point, mid-season 7. Cristina is back at work; Meredith and Alex performed their unauthorised paeds surgery and angered Stark; Arizona is back from Africa; the race for Chief Resident is on. That's your timeframe. Also, if it isn't clear, sections in italics are flashbacks. Secondly, the pregnancy storyline, if you can call it that, will make only an incredibly brief cameo here. Blink and you might miss it. I don't particularly like the way it has been handled on the show, and I don't feel like I can do it the justice such a storyline deserves. I'm not discounting or ignoring, but it will not be a focus. In the context of what I'm writing with the characters I believe in, I don't believe that it would be a focus. Thirdly and finally, the title and quote at the beginning both come from 'Hold On' by Michael Buble (who, incidentally, I adore, possibly as much as Patrick Dempsey). So, that's it. That's all you need to know. I hope that in some little way after the closing of season 7, this might take someone back to the Meredith and Derek we've all fallen in love with.
Because we are stronger here together than we could ever be alone.
I've got faith in us, I believe in you and me.
Meredith sat quietly on the worn, battered couch that smelled ever so faintly of her husband, even though she suspected it had resided in the Head of Neurosurgery's office for many years before Derek's arrival. The small, windowless Head of Neurosurgery's office with a thousand times more character and the slightly worse for wear couch she had to curl up to fit on but had still taken countless naps on that she would choose every day over the plush Chief of Surgery's office with the floor to ceiling windows and the designer leather couch that she'd never once managed to fall asleep on during the months her husband had occupied the office for.
When she had needed to use her own key to enter said office twenty minutes ago, she had hoped against hope that it meant her husband had simply locked himself away. Instead, she had been greeted by an empty room and the mere lingering scent of her husband, so she had settled quietly on the couch, leaving the room bathed in darkness save for the dim, ineffective light of his desk lamp in an attempt to ward off the tension headache she could feel forming, and had waited.
It was the only place in the hospital that she would look for him. That was an unspoken rule. If he was there, it meant he wanted her to find him. She had a key, and he had told her that his office was hers whenever she needed a place to hide after watching her suffer through a particularly bad shift; or sleep after watching her struggle through one too many thirty-six hour shifts in a row. They sometimes ate lunch there together, and it was where she would wait for him if the end of their shifts coincided and they hadn't made plans to meet. They both kept an extra, spare set of clothes in there, and she knew she could always find a bottle of water and a Meredith-friendly snack in the bottom drawer of his desk. Most importantly, if she wanted him to find her, it was where she would hide.
It was shared territory, even though it was his.
If he was anywhere else, he wanted to be alone. He knew where to go when he wanted to be found.
Twisting her watch around her wrist repeatedly as she tried not to second guess her husband's whereabouts, she sighed and tipped her head frustratedly against the back of the couch before rolling her shoulders in an attempt to release the tension accumulated during the lengthy Ladd's Procedure she had scrubbed in on with Dr Robbins that afternoon.
Tapping the heel of her shoe against the carpet, she allowed herself a brief smile as she thought back over the surgery, finding it a welcome distraction. The moment she had been assigned to Stark's service at the start of her shift, her heart had sunk. Whilst Alex and his interest in paediatrics had managed to work his way back into something vaguely resembling Stark's good books, or at least a position where he could work in paeds, she was still the cavalier resident who had interrupted his dinner reservations more than once and operated without him, with a husband conveniently heading up her preferred specialty.
He'd already managed to turn most of the surgical staff against him in a matter of weeks, and as far as she was concerned he'd added a further nail in his coffin that day.
"Dr Grey, I won't be needing a resident on this case so you can just go ahead and find yourself something else to do," Stark had dismissed condescendingly in the early hours of the shift, with barely a glance in Meredith's direction. "I'm sure your husband is working today and I've never known Dr Shepherd refuse your help on a case so you go right ahead."
"I was assigned to Paeds today, Dr Stark," she had responded tiredly, running a hand through her hair. There were very few doctors in the hospital who took issue with her relationship with Derek anymore, but it stood to reason that the one doctor who didn't like her would also have a problem with it.
"Dr Stark, I could use Dr Grey on the Richards case, if you can spare her," Arizona cut in politely from her seat at a nearby computer, flashing the frustrated resident in front of her a quick, conspiratorial smile. The few times she'd worked with Meredith Grey she had found her sharp, inquisitive and talented, good with the young patients even if her interests didn't lie in paediatric surgery as a specialty. More to the point, she was a happy, pleasant contrast to the sour-faced attending she was working under. As Meredith smiled back, they both turned towards Stark and waited.
"Sure, whatever," he had eventually agreed, storming off with barely a second look.
"Thank you," Meredith offered gratefully, taking the chart from Arizona's outstretched hand and flipping through to familiarise herself with the case.
"Intestinal Malrotation," Arizona had told her, eyebrows raised in an implied question.
"Ladd's Procedure?" she questioned, working to hide the surgeon's smile that crossed her face at the prospect of a surgery she had never seen performed
"Correct. So an extra set of hands will actually be useful. And hey, it's nice to find someone who's pissed Stark off more than me," Arizona had answered with a smile.
"You have no idea," Meredith had muttered quietly, before glancing up and laughing along with Arizona.
"Oh I've heard, Dr Grey," she had laughed. "I wouldn't pay any attention to his comments about you and Derek, either," she added, logging off her account and standing up with a stretch. "No one else thinks that. Anyway, I'm much nicer to work with," she added as they started off down the corridor, both laughing, "and I'm feeling particularly generous today so once we get in the OR I'll let you open and we'll take it from there."
Arizona had been true to her word, and Meredith had opened, closed and performed a small but particularly tricky part of the surgery under her careful supervision. The surgery hadn't been free of complications and had taken significantly longer than it should have, but had been successful. It had been a well-needed boost in the race for Chief Resident, and she had been looking forward to sharing the details with her incredibly proud husband over the dinner reservations at their favourite steak restaurant that they had made for that evening.
He was constantly telling her that he thought she was in with an excellent chance of making Chief Resident, and whilst she passed most of that off as husbandly bias, the way the corners of his eyes crinkled above his mask in the OR every time he let her take the lead in a procedure told her another story. The first time she had really seen the look she had been flying solo in dark blue scrubs with Lexie by her side. The look in his eyes had taken her breath away and been strangely calming all at the same time, and the sex he'd rewarded her with that night...
Well, that wasn't something to focus on sitting alone in his darkened office.
She allowed herself a small smile, giving her mind time to drift back to that look of pride in his eyes that she loved producing. That was something she could think about for hours. In fact, she had already busied her mind during her routine post-op checks figuring out not only what she wanted to eat that evening, but also which parts of the procedure would get her the biggest smiles over dinner.
She was happily married, and for once she wasn't going to search for a reason to question that.
They'd survived enough drama, trauma and near death experiences to last a lifetime. A moment of happiness was more than allowed, and a kick-ass surgery which she had expected to be followed by a dinner date with her husband definitely qualified.
Her stomach grumbled automatically in response, and with a sigh she twisted her watch around again to glance at the time before reaching for her phone reluctantly and making a quick call to cancel their dinner reservations. Steak tender enough to melt in her mouth would have to wait until another night, given the way the remainder of her afternoon had panned out.
"Grey!" she had sighed at the familiar outburst, taking a moment to rub a hand over her tired eyes before she had reached for her coffee and smiled a grateful thanks at the coffee cart's ever-patient barista. "Meredith!"
"You hollered, Mark?" she had answered dryly, falling easily in step with the plastic surgeon who had practically jogged over to her, realising by his own uncharacteristic use of her first name inside the hospital that this wasn't a work conversation.
"Have you seen Derek?" he asked, bluntly.
"Not since before your surgery this morning," she answered, hitting the elevator button and stopping to take a long sip of coffee. "I was scrubbed in with Dr Robbins most of the afternoon and I just finished the post-op..." she had trailed off at that point, finally taking a proper look at the face of her husband's best friend as he halted beside her. "Mark, no," she breathed.
"Damage was too extensive," he sighed. "We were in there for ten hours, Meredith. He took it pretty hard. I thought... hoped, he might have come looking for you. Took off right after the husband's sobbing turned into yelling. At us. Well, him." Meredith had winced, her mind shooting instantly back to the night she sat with her husband, his wounds and a bottle of tequila. And then the night her engagement ring lost an argument with a baseball bat. "We all know how that ended last time," Mark scoffed, the concern evident in his voice despite the harshness of his words, as his fingers worried against the skin that had felt the wrong end of Derek's temper.
"He's learnt from that, Mark," she had told him firmly, not sure if she was trying to convince Mark Sloan or herself more.
He had learnt.
Mark had told her there was nothing more they could have done. It wasn't the same. It wasn't down to a mistake on Derek's part, because Mark had told her that his craniotomy had been flawless, but she knew her husband. Ever since Jen Harmon, he took a slightly greater blow with every patient he lost.
He had been anxious as they drove into work that morning, and she had questioned him lightly about the case over the travel mug of coffee she consumed, while he kept his eyes fixed steadily on the road and gave her short, clipped answers. She hadn't held it against him. The fact that he cared enough to be anxious was something she loved about him. Even so, she worried, and the similarities of the two cases weren't lost on her.
Jen had been pregnant, but Claire, his patient today, had two children under the age of three. Both were happily married, with loving husbands, involved in traumatic accidents. Both were friendly and amiable, perfect patients.
Both had eased their way under Derek Shepherd's skin and held on tight.
Nevertheless, she repeated her earlier mantra. He had learnt from the worst patient he lost, from one of the darkest points of his medical career. He had learnt.
She had learnt too.
They had been sitting on the grass by the trailer on a hot summer's evening, somewhere close to the spot where her engagement ring had landed after it's interaction with his baseball bat. She had been reclining against her elbows, denim-clad legs stretched out in front of her as she ran her fingertips idly over the grass. He had been animated, recounting the details of a particularly exciting surgery as they enjoyed a rare evening off together, and she had been paying attention, but the delicate sparkle of the diamond perched on her left hand had proved slightly more distracting.
They had been married for about four months at that point, and although neither wore a wedding band, she had taken to wearing her engagement ring sometimes, outside of the hospital.
He had teased her for not listening, before his eyes had been drawn down to her focus. Warm fingers had pressed over hers, and as his thumb rubbed the stone, she hadn't needed to look up to tell what he was thinking.
It had been then that they had talked. Really talked, about why he had reacted the way he did. About how they could cope with anything in the future without things deteriorating to that point. Made promises that they would never let it get that bad again.
She smiled to herself. By that point it had been a given that they would deal with things. Together. With the brief interlude of his reckless driving, they had lived up to their promises.
Their marriage had been stronger than she had ever thought possible, even on that evening when they lay together in the grass, fingers intertwined until the lingering heat of the sun had disappeared and they had found their way to the warmth of the trainer, where they had made good work on sealing those promises.
Kicking off one beautifully expensive, high heeled shoe she sighed, drawn back to the present by the sharp, pinching pain between her eyes as she pulled her knee up to her chest. Resting her head against her knee she sighed again, closing her eyes and allowing herself a long moment to think happy thoughts about her husband and forget all the drama that was contributing to her rapidly forming headache. When she eventually opened her eyes, she studied the shoe that had toppled over on the carpet.
She wasn't materialistic and definitely wasn't one for dressing up in expensive clothes, but the shoes were beautiful. And when she had tried them on she realised that they would put her on more or less equal footing with her husband, and that, she had quickly realised, would make kissing him far easier. She had planned on a lot of kissing that evening. Followed by a lot of far more dirty things. Because Derek really did like the shoes. A smile crossed her lips, and she felt her headache ebbing away, ever so slightly.
Derek was the best medicine she knew.
Even just the thought of him soothed her. She could only hope that he found the same comfort.
Closing her eyes again, she relished the increased darkness and her mind began to work. Sorting through the list of coping mechanisms they had worked on since that night amid the grass. Stretching slightly, she let her foot fall back to the floor, seeking blindly for her shoe as a plan began to form in her mind.
Smiling tiredly, she stretched her arms above her head as she started to focus on the finer details of her plan, almost groaning in selfish anticipation at the thought that it would do wonders for her aching head and muscles.
Suddenly the door flew open, jolting her from her thoughts and reminding her of the real reason why she was making plans in the first place. The reason why she was sitting alone in his office rather than in a booth at Joe's.
"Derek," she breathed, allowing a warm smile to cross her lips as the familiar figure of her husband appeared in the doorway, tired and somewhere close to broken.
But looking for his wife.
"Meredith!" April had exclaimed the second Meredith pushed open the locker room door at the end of her shift. Her voice had been particularly piercing as Meredith collapsed on the bench and attempted to rub away the beginnings of the tension headache she felt forming, and she had found herself having to make a concerted effort not to snap, something she'd largely talked herself out of where April was concerned. She had hurried over, unconcerned as she spoke with barely a breath. "We're going to Joe's, everyone, I mean. We haven't all been off together for ages! Are you coming? You can bring Dr Shephe... I mean, Derek, if you want? Even Cristina's coming, and she's bringing Owen so-"
"Zip it, Kepner," Alex had cut in eventually, and she had felt a warm hand land on her shoulder as her longest standing roommate leant over to toss his scrubs into the laundry basket. "You okay, Mer?" he had asked casually, the real intention behind his question clear only to her.
"Fine," she had sighed, tugging her hair roughly out of its ponytail and praying that he knew her definition of fine well enough to leave it alone.
"Tequila with your name on it, if you need it. I'll even buy," he had offered simply, before turning back to bicker with Jackson as she marvelled at how the intern they had dubbed Evil Spawn had turned into one of the people who knew her best.
"Maybe another time," she had said eventually. Feeling Cristina's eyes on her, she had turned to shoot a look at her best friend, hoping that their ability to communicate was as strong as ever. "Derek and I have dinner reservations," she had added shortly, careful to get her answer in before April could open her mouth as she had pulled the grey pants and lightweight indigo sweater she had chosen because she knew it was Derek's favourite colour out of her cubby and started to change.
As she pulled her scrub top over her head, her fingers had brushed against the cool metal of the chain that held her engagement ring around her neck. Allowing herself a brief smile, she had unfastened it quickly and slipped the ring on her finger, uncharacteristically. Usually it stayed hidden beneath her sweater until they were alone together. Cristina had eyed her sceptically, but April's eyes had nearly popped out of her head and Meredith had actually fought back a smirk as she watched her roommate's mind zoom into overdrive.
"Is everything okay with you and Dr...uh, Derek?" she had questioned instantly, her voice rising with panic even as she struggled over which name she should use for the second time in as many minutes.
"Everything's fine," Meredith had answered shortly, pulling her sweater over her head.
"Well then... you should come for one drink at least, while you wait for him." April had pushed on, undeterred.
"I have some things to finish up here first."
"But Meredith, your shift is over. You're getting changed."
"Meredith's getting the full McDreamy treatment tonight, Kepner." It had been Cristina, interrupting in a way that only Cristina could. "She's even wearing the big, shiny shiny ring. That means she's getting laid. Sex trumps friends, and sex definitely trumps tequila so leave her to wait for her husband." In that moment, Meredith had never been more grateful for her best friend, and they shared a smile in a secret agreement that watching April squirm was simply an added bonus. Turning back to her cubby, she had picked up a long silver necklace, and was slipping it over her head when Lexie spoke up.
"You look nice, Meredith," she had offered quietly, and one glance in her direction had told Meredith that her sister was equally aware of the hidden meaning behind her words, where April was blissfully oblivious.
"You really need to get a new couch," she told Derek quietly, a gentle smile resting on her lips as she shook herself back to the present and revisited a well-trodden argument in the hope that its familiarity might ease his pain a little. He knew she slept better on this couch than most of the on call room beds, but she dreamt of an extravagant couch with comfortable, oversized cushions and didn't let him forget it. As he offered her the faintest hint of a smile in response, she shook away all thoughts of both furniture and her friends and stood, stretching out the ache in her limbs before moving across the office to his side, reaching behind him to close the door and flip the lock. "Mark told me about your patient," she continued softly, her voice hushed as she rested a hand against his back to guide him over to the couch, gasping at the sudden change in temperature. "Derek, you're freezing," she whispered, pushing gently against his arm until he sat. "Where have you been?"
"On the roof," he told her quietly. "I was... thinking." Her heart broke a little at the obvious pain in his voice and she perched on the edge of the couch, leaning across to press her lips against his icy cheek. His arm slid around her waist in response and she closed her eyes, reaching both arms around his neck to hold him tight.
In moments like this, his actions often spoke louder than words and he moved suddenly, trapping her in an almost vice-like grip as his fingers gripped the back of her sweater. The iciness of his fingers seeped through the wool but she simply held him a little closer, slipping her fingers gently into his hair as she blinked back the tears that pooled unbidden in her eyes.
Much as he was one to chide her for her sometimes stilted ability to communicate, it was an area where he was often equally flawed. Sometimes, she thought it was the acceptance of their joint flaws that had finally made them work so well as a couple.
And sometimes, she didn't need words to know how to take care of her husband.
"I cancelled our dinner reservations," she told him quietly, reluctantly entangling herself from his arms a little before kissing his shoulder lightly through the fabric of his scrubs. "Everyone went to Joe's about... forty minutes ago, so we should have the house to ourselves," she continued, keeping her voice low and soothing as she slid her hand confidently down the firm plane of his stomach to begin to remove the electronic devices clipped to his waist. "I thought maybe we could go home, make the most of that. It's been too long since it's been just the two of us there."
Two pagers joined his Blackberry on the couch, and she realised she was rambling as she tugged his scrub top free from his pants. He moved to help her at that point, and between them they pulled it gently over his head. Pausing, she smiled warmly and rested her palm flat against his stomach, feeling his skin slowly warm beneath her hand.
"I just... I wanted you," he whispered eventually, and she wondered for a moment whether he'd even really listened to her rambling as he struggled to find his words. "I stayed on the roof until... I wanted my wife," he added eventually, the broken emotions behind his words breaking her heart even more as she watched in rub his own hand roughly over his face before raking it through his windswept hair. Even before his eyes grew red with unshed tears, she read the gesture easily and moved, knowing again that words just weren't necessary.
He wanted her. They were already a million miles away from the worst time.
Kneeling on the couch as she faced him, she kicked her shoes free, and he flinched slightly as they fell to the floor with two thuds in quick succession. She rubbed his stomach gently, feeling him tense beneath her fingers. As he took a deep, shuddery breath she abandoned the fleeting thought that she might need to give him some space, slipping her arms around him and holding on tight.
And even when he was little more than a passive participant, he still gave the best hugs she'd ever experienced.
She felt him shudder a couple of times before he caught control of his breathing, and she smiled softly with the knowledge that she had something to do with that. It was a place in his life that she now accepted rather than questioned, and she sighed softly, tightening her hold a little as she rested against him.
But at the same time, she understood now why she had sat alone in his office for forty minutes. Why he was icy cold from god only knew how long up on the roof. She knew he would never be violent or aggressive towards her, but he did have a track record, and so he had sat on the roof not just until he wanted his wife, but until he had trusted himself enough to want his wife. And as his arms tightened almost imperceptibly around her, she knew there wasn't a hint of aggression left in his body.
If he needed time, she was more than willing to give it to him. It was something else they had learnt.
She realised that she had lost track of how long they sat there in their funny half embrace, but as she slid her fingers gently over the smooth skin of his back, she knew she wasn't making the next move. He obviously needed a little more time to battle the demons raging in his head and on a purely selfish level, if the thought of Derek had started to ease her headache earlier, the feel of him in her arms was nothing short of a miracle.
So she rested quietly, letting the closeness of her husband soothe her until he was ready to speak.
"What are you doing?" he asked eventually, the slightest hint of bemusement that finally mingled with the sadness in his voice bringing a smile to her face that she knew he would feel against his shoulder. No matter how bad things were, they had both learnt from the past and now she could always recognise her husband behind whatever was going on. His hand slid slowly up her side, settling flat against the small of her back, and she practically purred at the familiarity of the contact, rubbing her nose lightly against his skin.
"Hugging you," she mumbled eventually, her voice slightly muffled against his skin as she realised that he was waiting for an answer. Pulling back a little, her cheeks flushed slightly as he studied her quietly, silently accepting her answer. "I'm allowed some perks," she bantered quietly, rubbing her fingers gently against his bare chest, feeling the fine smattering of hair beneath her fingertips. "Half naked husband is definitely one of them, even if you are a freaking ice box." He laughed very quietly and she smiled warmly in response, settling for simply wrapping her arms around him again and breathing deeply.
"Thank you, Meredith," he breathed quietly. "If you hadn't been here, I don't..." He sighed, trailing off before he could finish his sentence. If his voice was slightly hoarse she wasn't going to call him on it, and she simply smiled gently, touching the inside of his wrist lightly in a well practised gesture that they both knew meant one thing.
I love you.
She had started it. He was the only person she'd ever said it to, and the only person she ever planned on saying it to for the rest of her life. It was a really, really big deal, and she suspected that she would never be one of those people who threw the three little words out at any given opportunity. She hadn't been raised that way. She did say it, but she was cautious with its frequency. And sometimes she didn't want to vocalise it. Sometimes, even when they were alone and there was no one else around to hear, she wanted it to be a private thing that only he knew the meaning of.
She had started doing it almost instinctively, when she'd been thinking that she loved him. Then, in the middle of the darkness on a rare night uninterrupted by Cristina when she'd been feeling particularly brave, she had told him that she loved him and showed him that when her thumb rubbed lightly against his wrist, it meant she was thinking that she loved him. He had told her that he thought it was just a sign of affection, but the look in his eyes was worth every second of vulnerability in her admission, and before she knew it he had picked the gesture up too. And suddenly she was one of those people who threw the three words out at any given opportunity.
She just said them physically, instead of verbally.
It was something that had served them well during his recovery, when words were sometimes just too hard.
"I promised you I'd always be here Derek," she whispered eventually, "but you're welcome," she added softly, shaking herself out of her memories and back to the present. Back to her very present, half naked husband. She stopped for a moment, considering her next words. He was down, but he wasn't out. Close to breaking point, but still her husband. "Now get changed before the half naked husband thing puts us in another situation where I definitely want to take advantage of you, and let's go home."
She had pocketed his keys before they left his office and had quietly driven them home in his Cayenne herself, her heart melting the entire way from one simple, teasing comment he had made as she refused to give up the keys. But you're only a liability when you're driving my car, he had complained. His words hadn't been accompanied by a sustained fight to regain said keys, and even though that told her more than his words could, she didn't care. Those ten words had sustained her for the entire drive home.
He had looked confused when she drove past their house to park down the street. If they only see one car in the drive, they'll think we aren't home, she had told him, twisting in her seat as she killed the engine just in time to catch him smile a little. Trust me, she had added, climbing out of the driver's seat. The combination of the sudden movement and fresh air meant that the headache that had surged back as she had navigated her way home hit her full throttle, and she reached out a hand to steady herself against the car as she was knocked off balance for a second.
Shaking her head slowly, she had righted herself quickly, stepping carefully onto the sidewalk as Derek shot her a concerned look. She had hooked her arm gently through his as they walked back towards the house as much for herself as for him, smiling very softly as he broke his silence. We're good sneakers, he had told her. Nudging his hip lightly, she had grinned at him as they both lost themselves in memories of another time, another car and another altogether more compromising position. She had laughed to herself for the rest of the walk.
Although he was quiet, the drive home had done him some good, and as he chuckled at the memory his expression seemed slightly clearer. It melted her heart a little more, and she had stepped a little closer as they continued to walk, united in laughter until they found themselves standing in the hallway bathed in a comfortable darkness as she reached up to hook both arms around his neck. Her heels brought her equal with him and she leaned forward, her lips brushing his in the quickest, lightest of kisses.
His fingers gripped a little tighter to her waist in response, and she kissed him slowly, letting herself linger against his lips and breathe in the scent that was uniquely her husband. As his arms moved and wound tightly around her waist, she could feel her headache ebbing away once again as she let herself believe, just for a moment, that it was simply Derek kissing her in the hallway after a long day. That they would go upstairs, crawl into bed and settle comfortably in one another's arms. They would discuss their days and he would kiss her senseless, asking if there was anything else he could do to help ease her headache before spooning behind her as they fell asleep.
"Mer?" he breathed softly, drawing her out of her daydream as she realised he was watching her, concern for her alone clouding his exhausted expression.
"It's just a headache," she told him quietly, pre-empting the question as she pressed another, gentler kiss to his lips. "I promise. Besides, I have plans."
"Plans?" he asked.
"Plans," she confirmed. "I'm hoping that they'll help both of us," she said softly, reluctantly stepping out of his embrace with one final kiss. "Go upstairs, I'll be right behind you," she told him, waiting until he started up the stairs before walking through to the kitchen. Picking up a muffin that someone had baked, she bit into it as she swung the fridge open, contemplating silently. "Derek, are you hungry?" she called, catching her lower lip with her teeth as she waited until he answered that he wasn't. Pouring a couple of glasses of juice and picking up a couple more muffins, she stood them on the table in the hope that they would tempt him enough to raise his blood sugar slightly.
They didn't turn to alcohol after a bad day anymore. Tequila and scotch, well they led to engagement rings being hit into the woods, and they had both learnt. Alcohol was banned, and they turned to one another instead.
It was an unspoken rule, and she had quickly learnt that once she really let him in, Derek was a better cure than even the best tequila. It wasn't an artificial cure, and it left no after-effects the following morning other than an undeniable feeling of being loved. He had told her that it was the same for him.
Because no matter how bad it was, that was what they had promised one another and that was what they delivered. That was what they had learnt.
Scanning the kitchen as her headache made its presence inconveniently known once again, she grabbed a bottle of painkillers, swallowing a couple quickly before picking up the things she had collected and heading upstairs. As she was making her way down the hallway to their room, she heard the front door bang open as the house burst to life. She stopped immediately, frozen to her spot as she listened to the clearly intoxicated voices of her roommates drifting easily up the stairs.
April's voice got even higher in pitch and actually bordered on downright whiny when she'd had a few drinks and it pierced through her headache, shattering it into a million, painful pieces as she shouted at the boys. The volume level increased dramatically as Alex and Jackson joined in boisterously, and she darted into action, realising that not only could she not stand the noise level much longer, but that the longer she stayed in one place, the greater the chance was of being discovered.
And Derek definitely didn't need that. Much as no running had been his rule, he favoured solitude when things got tough. Although he had learnt that the familiarity of her presence calmed him, and he could tolerate Mark and even Owen when he needed to hit golf balls off the roof, anyone else did more harm than good.
Particularly her roommates. In any combination.
And if there was one thing she was gaining experience in, it was hiding from her roommates. She hadn't gone to the trouble of parking the car down the street for nothing. It was a well-practised move, and if she was careful she might be able to fly completely under the radar of her intoxicated friends.
Ignoring the pain that sparked lights in front of her eyes as she hurried down the hallway, she let herself quickly into the bedroom, shutting the door as quietly as possible before leaning against it, flipping the light off with a well-trained hand and closing her eyes tightly as she waited.
"...Meredith?" Derek asked eventually, confusion pushing tiredness out of the way for prominence in his voice as he tried to adjust to the sudden change in lighting. She opened her eyes slowly, groaning softly as she let the darkness start to chip away at her headache. Squinting slightly, she focused on her husband, sitting at the foot of the bed watching her as he spoke again. "What are you doing?"
"Waiting," she told him quietly, sighing gently as she pushed herself away from the door, standing the drinks and food down and reaching for his hand. She allowed herself a smile as he intertwined his fingers with hers and squeezed gently. "How are you doing?" she asked, smiling a little more as he tugged gently on her hand until she perched on his knee.
"You're helping," he told her quietly, leaning forward a little to nuzzle his nose into the hair at the crook of her neck. "You always help." She felt him inhale deeply a few times before he continued, returning to his earlier question. "Waiting for what?"
"Waiting for them to turn some music on so that we can fly under the radar," she told him softly, irritation working its way into her whispered words. When he pulled back to look at her, she realised that she was being a little too cryptic for his state of mind. "Everyone," she clarified. "They all went to Joe's but I heard them coming in as I came upstairs, so they obviously decided to move the party back here. I don't think they noticed me and I really don't want them to know we're here, so I'm waiting for them to turn some music on so that I can run us a bath without them hearing. I have plans, remember," she finished, a smile gripping the corners of her mouth as his eyes softened at her quiet ramble.
"I have one more question," he offered eventually. "Why does that involve sitting in the dark?" She laughed softly, dropping his hand in favour of winding her arms around his neck.
"If they come up here and see the light under the door, they will interrupt," she told him. "You don't need that, and I could do without it." She paused, her mind running over the conversation she had endured with her friends in the locker room. "Come to think about it, April definitely didn't believe that I actually had dinner plans with you tonight," she groaned, lifting her tired limbs into a standing position again, pulling him up as she continued, "so she'll probably come looking light or no light." Once he stood she turned, picked up everything she had put down and headed for their bathroom.
"We parked down the street," Derek commented eventually, causing her to almost jump out of her skin as he appeared quietly in the doorway. "They won't even think we're home."
"Just come in, Derek," she urged quietly, stepping around him in the doorway and surveying the room, kicking his discarded shoes out of sight before following him back into the bathroom. He stood in the middle of the room, looking thoroughly disorientated even though he was facing away from her. The tension seemed to have returned to his body in its entirety, and she sighed, abandoning her plans of hiding for a second to step up behind him, whispering his name as she slid her arms around his waist. Secrets had very nearly been the death of their relationship on more than one occasion, and no matter how trivial, they still stressed him out. Resting her cheek against the strong plane of his back, she took a deep, calming breath. "Do you remember the last time we thought we were safe?" she asked quietly. She felt him sigh and nod in response.
They had driven separate cars to the hospital on the morning in question, but had opted to leave one there overnight when they had finished work at the same time. Thinking that their roommates would assume that one car missing meant they were both out, they had closed themselves in their bedroom and had been well on their way to a steamy sex session that should have been for no one's eyes but their own when Jackson had burst in, intent on inviting whoever was home to join in an impromptu drinking session.
Sighing to herself, she rubbed his stomach gently, feeling the tense muscles rippling beneath her fingers as he breathed. He knew she was trying to protect him. She had promised him they would deal with these things on their own, and warding off her roommates who he admitted were a source of frustration to him was part of that promise. But on this occasion, he didn't know that it wasn't all about him. "I feel like there are about a thousand drums beating in my head," she told him quietly, "I can't deal with my roommates, I just want you all to myself. Call me selfish," she added with a smile, loosening her grip as he turned to face her, "but all I want is a hot bath and my husband. It's as much for me as you, Derek, so I'm saying please." He nodded slowly, and she stretched up, pressing a gentle kiss to his lips before pulling away, reaching for the lighter that lay on the side and turning to light the candles scattered around the room.
"I know what you're doing," he told her quietly, his voice warm as she nodded, making no attempt to deny the truth in his words. She hadn't expected to fool him.
"Lighting candles?" she asked eventually, turning in the shadowy candlelight to catch his eyes. His mouth creased into a reluctant smile at the literal truth in her words, and she held his gaze for a long moment before nodding again. To take care of Derek Shepherd, sometimes she had to make him feel like he wasn't really being taken care of at all.
Sometimes she had a genuine excuse to hand, sometimes she didn't. This time she did, and she knew that he had accepted the truth in her statement without question. He knew her well enough to know when she was really suffering. He knew her better than anyone.
And they were learning together, about tough days at work and about everything else.
Once there was enough candlelight for them to actually see, she flashed him a smile and walked over to the bathroom door. Listening carefully, she picked up the faint beat of Alex's favourite CD drifting up from downstairs and closed the door carefully, picking up a towel and crouching to press it firmly into the crack beneath the door. He was leaning against the sink when she straightened up, and she shrugged off his stare of mild bewilderment.
"What, you think I haven't done this before?" she asked, leaning over to turn on the taps before making quick work of the rest of the candles. "I used to hide from Izzie and George all the time," she added, tipping a generous amount of bubble bath into the water and smiling as it foamed. "Just remember that I sleep in the same room as you, so it's not an effective technique if you want to hide from me," she added teasingly.
"I never want to hide from you," he answered sweetly, and she mouthed 'McDreamy' at him. Receiving a warm smile in response, she lifted off her necklace, laying it on the side along with her watch before picking up one of the glasses of juice she had poured and passing it over to him.
"Drink this," she told him quietly, reaching for the hem of her sweater and pulling it over her head. "It'll do you good. There's some food here if you want it too," she added, kicking off her heels and dropping her sweater on top of them before crossing over to shut off the taps, testing the water with her hand. Turning again, she smiled at the barest hint of desire that crossed his face as he watched her, clad only in her bra and pants. "See, even when you're in the dark and twisty place, you still get that dirty look in your eyes," she chided, crossing the room in a couple of steps.
As he slid his arms around her waist, fingertips settling against bare skin, they were a world away from engagement rings and baseball bats. She smiled softly, tilting her head back to look at him as she lifted his shirt and jumper off as one. She was reaching for the buckle of the belt she had watched him fasten earlier that evening, when three short, sharp knocks burst their bubble. She reached up and pressed a finger to his lips, dropping her forehead gently onto his chest as they stilled and waited.
The knock had come from the bedroom door rather than the bathroom, and Meredith held her breath as April's disjointed voice drifted through, calling both their names. There was silence, followed by another round of knocking and more silence. Meredith let out her breath and was about to move when they heard the bedroom door opening, and April's voice resonated far more clearly as she called Meredith's name again. Clenching her fingers into fists, she sent up a silent prayer that April would retreat.
Derek's fingers slid slowly towards the centre of her back and she looked up in concern, April forgotten for a second as she felt him shaking slightly. Once her eyes met his though, she realised he was shaking not with the stress and upset of the day, but with the struggle to conceal his laughter. Pinching his side firmly, she allowed a grin to cross her face and reached up to kiss him soundly.
It was moments like that when she realised she loved him more than words would allow.
They were interrupted by Lexie's voice ringing through the closed door. "April, what are you doing? Meredith told you they were going to dinner and they're clearly not here, so get out of their room!" Covering her own mouth with repressed laughter, Meredith shook her head, waiting quietly until she heard the two women retreating and the door being pulled to, wondering who would've thought a couple of years ago that her half sister would end up being one of her biggest allies.
Once they were certain their roommates had left, she met Derek's eyes again, letting loose a soft chuckle.
"God, I needed that," he breathed, laughing with her before crashing his lips gently down onto hers again. Breathing deeply, she returned the kiss with equal tenderness, snaking her fingers up to wind into his hair.
The tension had all but gone from his body, and whilst she might have planned a night with no interruptions, it actually turned out that the interruption had been just the entertainment he needed, so maybe she couldn't curse her roommates too much on this occasion.
"Let's take a bath," she told him softly, reluctantly stepping away from his embrace as they shed the rest of their clothes. Ever the gentleman, he offered her a hand as she stepped into the bath, and she shot him a coy smile of thanks as she watched him settle in the water before easing herself down against his chest. She let out something akin to a purr of delight as the water warmed her, and settled languidly against him. His arms settled around her waist and she sighed softly at the strength of his embrace, resting her hands on his calves, fingers tangling with the coarse hairs as she felt him start to relax, just a little.
"Meredith," he breathed eventually, sending a shiver through her body that she couldn't decide if she hated him for or not. The way he said her name was warm and familiar. Comfortable. Irrelevant that you couldn't hear every syllable clearly. Shiver inducing, in essence.
"Hey," she told him softly, sliding one hand up to rest on his knee. His lips brushed against her cheek in response, and he moved one hand from her torso to rest on top of hers. "Do you think we should add taking a bath to our list?" she asked eventually, turning her hand over so she could tangle her fingers through his.
"Definitely," he breathed, kissing her cheek again.
They had started their list that night lying in the grass, as they'd tried to figure out what would work. What they could do when things got bad that didn't involve engagement rings ending up in the woods. It had started as a relatively general, vague list. He had suggested that they should always be alone, and she had agreed because it meant there would be no one around for him to hit. She had followed with the no alcohol rule, which he had accepted easily because he knew how she (and he) got after one too many shots of tequila.
He needed to do something physical that didn't involve hitting anything, be it with his fists or with a cricket bat. They had added it to their mental list, and golfing on the roof had evolved. She needed peace and quiet, and somewhere to curl up. It tended to do little to release the tension in her body, so he had agreed with the addition of a massage, should she need it.
As they actually experienced bad days the list got more specific, and they found themselves adding favourite foods, crappy made-for-TV movies, comfort clothes and now baths, all cross-referenced to particular types of bad days. Were it a written list, not unlike their post-it, things would be crossed out, arrowed off and added haphazardly, and she found herself laughing before she realised.
"What are you thinking?" Derek asked curiously, pressing a kiss to her cheek.
"How big a post-it we'd need for that list," she told him, still laughing.
"It'd be more of a poster, don't you think?" he chuckled, tightening both arms around her again.
"It would sit perfectly alongside your giant tumor," she teased lightly, turning a little to rest her cheek against his chest.
"How's your head now?" he asked eventually, brushing a feather-light kiss against her temple.
"Getting better," she said, realising that she hadn't actively thought about it since they settled in the water. She found herself smiling again as his lips brushed her temple once more. The piercing pain had settled into a dull throb, one that wasn't unfamiliar after a long shift and one that she was used to coping with. "I scrubbed in on a Ladd's Procedure with Arizona this afternoon," she told him, feeling him nod in recognition at the name, "she let me perform part of it."
"I've never heard you mention it before, was it a new procedure or have you done one before?" he asked. She always marvelled at his memory for the surgeries she had assisted on and performed. Even though he was a neurosurgeon, she could talk about a general or cardio procedure, and if she had performed it he would remember more times than he didn't
"No, I hadn't," she told him, "I'd read about it and I've seen it done once, so it was actually an interesting procedure to assist on. I was assigned to Stark's service this morning and he was all but ready to kick me off, told me to come and find you actually, and Arizona rescued me."
"Stark still hasn't forgiven you?" he questioned, distracted momentarily by the intonation in her words.
"No, and I'm married to you so that's another strike against me in his book because he assumes that you favour me," she told him, waving the hand that was linked with his to show him she didn't mind when she felt him tense. "You and I and everyone else know that's not the case. I don't even like paeds that much anyway, and now Arizona's back I think he'll probably just ignore me as much as possible, which is fine because he's sort of an ass... which I'm saying to my husband not my attending, by the way."
"I figured, considering we're currently naked in a bath," he retorted. She laughed, ignoring the pulse of pain behind her eyes as she lifted herself enough to turn and kiss him. Because he'd had a horrible day, and he was making a joke. For her.
"So describe it to me," he told her when she pulled away. It wasn't over steak and a bottle of wine, but she settled comfortably back in his arms before doing just that, taking him through the surgical intricacies Arizona had guided her through that afternoon.
It was a distraction technique that fed the surgery junkie in both of them. Neither of them were oblivious to that fact, but she knew without a doubt that no matter how bad a day it was distracting from, it was one he genuinely cared about. He wanted to know. He was proud of every story of accomplishment she came home with, no matter how minor or trivial it might seem to his years of experience.
"The procedure was successful, though?" he questioned once she had talked him through the complications they had faced, and she knew he was searching for the reason behind her headache. Trying to judge whether he'd missed her own bad day while he'd been absorbed in his own.
She had every confidence that he never would. That was something else they had experience of already.
"Completely," she agreed, stretching very slightly and letting the water wash over her again. "I think what you said the other week might be true, much as it hurts me to admit it," she continued reluctantly, careful to keep her voice light. "My head is pounding." As an attending, he was accustomed to spending upwards of eight hours in charge of an OR on a daily basis, and as such his body was used to it. For Meredith, even as a fourth year resident the majority of her hours in the OR were spent observing or at the most assisting.
As such, although adrenaline helped her through the procedures she was starting to perform herself, afterwards she often found herself complaining of aches and pains, and more recently tension headaches from the increased amounts of concentration and focus she needed. She had tried to ignore them at first, but when she had crawled into bed one night with her very warm, very comfortable husband and the ever-familiar pounding behind her eyes, she had found herself confessing the details to him in the hope of a little sympathy and tlc. She had found them in full supply, and even though she knew he was speaking from experience when he suggested that it was just her body trying to adjust to the new situation, the headache had brought out her grumpy side and she had sniped at him that she didn't need to adjust.
But they were married, and he didn't hold it against her, because that's the type of person he was.
"It does take time to get used to," he told her softly, unhooking his arms from around her waist to rub her arms gently. "I have some tricks I can teach you though, if you want." She smiled to herself, and nodded her agreement. "They're top secret though," he continued. "So you can never tell anyone, ever."
"And you should think about stopping stealing my lines," she retorted, laughing very softly. No matter how trivial the stories had been all that time ago, she still thought it had been a turning point in their relationship. Anything they discussed was done so in confidence, to the best of their abilities. Neither of them were perfect, but they were working on it.
"The tricks are yours, he told her softly, kissing her cheek gently before settling back into the water a little more. She adjusted her position easily with his, picking up the shift in his mood without question or comment as they both fell silent.
Distraction could only work for so long. The easy part of the conversation was done.
His fingers wove through hers again, squeezing a little tighter than before and she smiled, bringing her other hand round to stroke his wrist lightly. Saying three little words, until he was ready to continue.
Eventually, he found his voice. "It was flawless, Mer," he told her quietly.
"I know. Mark told me," she assured him quietly, knowing without having to ask that they were talking about his craniotomy. There was no more dodging the issue. She felt a shudder rip through his body, and she fought the urge to turn around and hug him properly. She found it easier to talk in the comfort of darkness. He found it easier to talk when he wasn't looking into her eyes. She understood. She loved him, and she would give him that. "This isn't about Jen, remember," she reminded him softly as she felt his fingers shaking slightly between hers. "It wasn't her, and it wasn't the same," she continued, squeezing her fingers tighter. "Just take a breath."
She felt him nod, and moved with him easily as he took in a large, shuddering exhale of breath.
"Tell me what happened," she urged eventually. "Tell me what makes it so similar."
"He said the same words." His voice was choked when he finally found the strength to continue. "The husband, he said..." she touched his arm, squeezing tightly. Stopping him.
"Don't say it," she told him firmly. "You don't have to say it, Derek." If the words were ingrained in her brain, she knew they were even more so in his. Neither needed to say them out loud, and she would be the strong one. "Your craniotomy was flawless," she continued softly, "you said so yourself. But Derek, from what you've told me it sounded like a horrific accident, and she had really extensive injuries." Aside from the subdural hematoma Derek had operated on, his patient had suffered substantial crush injuries which Mark had been operating on as Derek worked. He nodded slowly, and she squeezed his arm once more. "Mark told me she probably wouldn't have made it through the rest of the surgery, even if she hadn't coded at that point."
"But it was under my scalpel," he whispered, the sob that broke his words leaving her unable to stay still any longer. Twisting onto her knees, she straddled his right leg awkwardly and cupped his face in her hands, wiping away his tears gently with her thumbs.
"Derek," she whispered soothingly, pressing a finger gently to his lips as he struggled to speak, tears falling unbidden from his eyes. She knew he knew the logical, medical reasoning as much as she did, but she also knew that his nerves were shot, and his brain wasn't connecting logic with the interlocking, confusing memories of Jen and Claire he was struggling with. "It wasn't your fault," she whispered again. He looked up at her, his eyes wild and unfocused as he tried to speak.
"I can't... I don't..." he mumbled, his words confused and his voice hoarse. If she could hazard a guess, she imagined that he was mentally adding Claire's file to the pile of patients he couldn't save. She knew that the physical manifestation of his death rate had had a profound impact on him, and whilst he had largely managed to push it to the back of his mind with logic and reason, she knew it only took a patient like Claire to bring it right back to the forefront of his mind.
"You wouldn't be the man I married, Derek, if you didn't react like this," she reassured him quietly. "It hurts me to see you like this, but I wouldn't change you for the world. I love that you care, and I think it makes you a better surgeon. This is what we talked for, remember," she added, pressing her lips to his cheek and wiping his tears away once more as they finally slowed. His eyes focused, settled on her and softened. "We can deal with this. We are dealing with this," She told him quietly, stroking the delicate skin beneath his eyes tenderly before reluctantly shifting out of her uncomfortable position to settle back against his chest before he saw the tears pooling in her own eyes. She wasn't really one for crying. But if there was one thing that never failed to bring her to tears, it was Derek Shepherd crying.
And it didn't just hurt her to see him hurting. It almost killed her to see him in pain in any way, and they both knew from all too real experience that she would do almost anything to try and take that away.
"I love you," she whispered eventually, forgoing the language of touch with the knowledge that he needed to hear the words out loud almost as much as she suddenly needed to say them.
His fingers grasped her hand, holding tight until he could control the shaking. She sat quietly in his arms and stroked her thumb lightly across the back of his hand, waiting.
Because she was on his side, right or wrong. She had promised him that.
She hadn't promised him that she would always agree, because she knew that she was the only one he would let call him on his stupidity, justified or not. But that didn't mean she wasn't on his side. Quite the contrary, she was able to talk him down with complete confidence because she was on his side. She knew when to push. She knew when not to.
In this particular situation, everything he had done was right. Being on his side meant helping him to see that. And for Derek, that meant not pushing.
Trusting him to talk at his own pace.
"Did I ever tell you," he asked eventually, proving her right as his fingers closed around her engagement ring, "that she knew I was going to propose?" They were back to Jen, in a conversation shift she hadn't been expecting, but accommodated easily.
"You did," she agreed softly, "but you never told me how." She hadn't pressed the conversation when it came up. The fact that he had shared at all had been enough for her at that moment. But she would be lying if she said she wasn't curious.
"She saw the box in my pocket," he told her, his voice lightening for a moment. "I told you to... go and set up an MRI," he prompted, and she nodded, unable to stop a smile crossing her face.
"I remember," she told him quietly. "I thought you were just acting crazy that day." She paused, shaking her head. "She told me not to worry when I was ranting to Cristina," she added, laughing very softly as it all fell into place.
"She actually... kind of inspired me with the elevator," he told her quietly. "Her husband proposed to her in a supermarket aisle. It was where they met, so it was personal to them. I didn't want to propose in Joe's, so I..."
"Picked the elevator," she finished with a smile. "Which you never explained the logistics of, incidentally," she added. Might as well get all her curiosity out there, after all.
"I told you, I have to have some secrets," he replied instantly, falling back on another well-rehearsed argument as he took a deep breath.
"I'll get it out of you," she countered smoothly, turning her hand in his so that she could hold on tight as the realisation hit her that they were talking about Jen with smiles on their faces. She was a special patient, despite the tragedy that had unfolded, and she had been hoping that they would be able to get to a point where they could remember her with a smile.
Jen Harmon had changed Derek, for the better in her opinion, but it was important that he remembered the good stuff alongside the bad.
"It was perfect, Derek," she told him quietly, knowing that her realisation wasn't lost on him, either. "Did I ever tell you that? It was the perfect proposal."
"You told me you loved it..." he offered quietly.
"It was perfect. It was..." she shook her head, smiling. "It was something had never even crossed my mind, and I'd thought about it a lot. How I wanted you to propose, where we would be, what you might say. I knew there was a ring, and... it got me through," she told him, and she didn't need to finish her sentence for him to know that she meant it had got her through the time when he wasn't there. The time her engagement ring spent lying in the grass. "So I thought about it a lot, and you were right about Joe's because I would've hated that," she added emphatically, shaking her head slightly before she let herself ramble too much, "but I didn't think of a single way that I would have preferred, so it was perfect. It was us."
"Just like you would've hated the big wedding in a church-y church?" he asked eventually, and she could hear the smile in his voice once again.
"Post-it's and elevators," she confirmed with a nod. "You really do get me."
"Us," he corrected instantly, and she twisted uncomfortably in his arms again to kiss him. "You really think it was perfect?"
"I really do," she told him with a smile, before twisting back to settle back against his chest. He loosened his hold on her a little, dipped his hands in the water and then rubbed warm, soapy palms gently up and down her arms. She let out a small moan of contentment and sank a little deeper into the water. It was a simple gesture, but one that relaxed her every time. Particularly, but not exclusively, when they were lying in a bath.
She had been about to rouse herself from her relaxed state to point out that they weren't actually talking about the moment they had decided to spend the rest of their lives together or about Jen at all, and that he hadn't actually really answered her earlier question at all, when he continued.
"She asked if I was married." Back to Claire, she guessed. "Asked me about you. We talked about marriage. Kids," she didn't miss the pause, and closed her eyes for a moment. That wasn't a topic for tonight. His palms continued their slow, soapy journey up and down her arms. "She... got under my skin," he confessed quietly, before adding quickly, "I know she wasn't Jen, and I know it was flawless, but it was all too similar and she... got to me." He sounded almost defeated, and she crossed her arms over her body, resting a hand on each of his on her arms.
"See, you don't even need me anymore," she told him lightly. "You can talk yourself down on your own when you need to."
"I always need you," he told her instantly. The honesty in his words was enough to bring tears to her eyes. "Meredith, you..." she felt him shake his head, and she could hear the telltale change in his voice that told her he was close to tears again.
"I know," she told him quietly. "I feel the same," she added softly as he ducked his head, nuzzling against her neck. She sighed, twisting an arm back awkwardly to tangle in his hair, ignoring the tears that formed in her own eyes once again.
"You talk me down," he told her quietly, his voice firm and insistent. You got me into the OR, her mind added, transporting her instantly back to the elevator, once again. "You get me to see sense. Move forward. Survive. Every time." She knew he was right there with her, in that virtual elevator, and she turned to look at him, not bothering to wipe away the tears that spilled over her eyelashes.
"And I am spending the rest of my life with you," she whispered in response, pressing her lips firmly to his until she felt him smile.
"See," he whispered, the smile staying on his lips as she shifted to straddle his hips, wrapping her arms tightly around his neck. "You are the only person who could get a smile out of me today."
"You're welcome," she told him softly, closing her eyes. She could still feel the sadness in his body, but as his arms slid around her waist and tightened, he was warm and comforting and everything that she loved about her husband.
"Shall we go to bed?" she asked eventually, reluctant to extract herself from the warm cocoon of his arms, but finding herself craving the comfort of her bed and a pillow to rest her aching head on. He nodded, and she shifted back on her knees a little, watching as he braced strong arms on either side of the bath, lifting himself tiredly before helping her to her feet. She felt herself wobble slightly, knocked off balance for a second as her headache pulsed behind her eyes once more, but he steadied her easily, his palms strong and secure against her hips until she nodded slightly.
"I forgot you even had a headache," he apologised, stepping out of the bath and wrapping a towel around his waist before picking up a second and turning to dry her off gently.
"Just bad timing," she told him softly, submitting easily to the comforting combination of his hands and the soft, fluffy towel. Stepping out of the bath eventually, she knotted the towel he wrapped around her body, reaching for another to dry off the damp ends of her hair while she allowed herself just a moment to appreciate the picture he made, towel slung precariously low on his hips.
She was only human, after all.
"Thank you," he continued quietly, his voice quiet and sincere and seemingly oblivious to the dirty thoughts vying for unbidden control in her head. "I know you need to lie down when you have a headache that bad."
"It was close to lying down," she assured him, pulling the towel free from the crack in the door as he blew out the various candles she had lit. His hands found purchase on her waist as they both adjusted to the darkness, and she opened the door quietly, shedding her towel as she made a beeline for her side of the bed, slipping gratefully under the covers.
He joined her in what felt like little more than a second, and as his familiar weight settled onto the mattress to her right, she felt his fingers land expertly on her hip. In a practised move, she shifted back into his arms, letting her head fall comfortably into the pillow she had been dreaming of.
"I love you," he whispered quietly, his lips brushing the sensitive skin just below her ear. It was the first and only time he had spoken the words out loud that evening. When he continued with a quiet, repeated "thank you," it meant more to her than the three little words every girl dreamt of hearing.
Because it meant that together, they had dealt with his horrible day. It meant that she had helped.
"Do you think you can sleep?" she asked quietly. He nodded slowly, his lips brushing her shoulder as he moved.
"Don't stay awake for me," he told her quietly. "You need your sleep too," he added, his thumb rubbing lightly against her hip. It was another argument they had had more than once. Factor the tiniest bit of stress into Derek Shepherd's day and he would struggle to sleep. Factor in a day like the one he had just endured, and that struggle would be magnified tenfold.
At first, she had been adamant that she would stay up with him. She knew he had appreciated it, and even after a terrible day he was still her favourite company.
Unfortunately her hectic residents' schedule had interfered with her good intentions. She worked far longer hours than him, and much as she protested otherwise, she knew as well as he did that she really did need her sleep. They had eventually settled on a compromise that once he was calmer she would sleep, on the promise that he would wake her if he was anything less than okay.
He had done, once or twice. And she trusted him. They were in this together, and he knew he didn't have to suffer on his own.
In any case, sleep was alluring - particularly with the headache still throbbing against her temples. Besides, she knew that she actually would need the sleep. Because, even more than she wasn't one for crying, Meredith Grey was not a runner, jogger or anything in between. And she was absolutely certain that running would be the first activity she would be participating in the following morning, at his request. One that she was powerless to say no to.
She would go so far as to say that she was the very antithesis of a runner. To the extent that the first time she had collapsed on a gurney next to best friend earlier that year, exhausted and complaining that everything ached, despite the fact that neither of them had been anywhere close to being cleared for surgery post-shooting and Cristina was barely hanging on by a thread, she had laughed openly in Meredith's face.
Because they didn't jog. It was something they had established early on in their friendship. Nonetheless, she found herself running again without complaint four days later, and with ever-increasing frequency after that.
The reason was simple. Derek had hit a point in his recovery where he was in a position to start to regain his physical fitness, and had declared his intention to start jogging. Meredith had still been in a frame of mind in which she didn't want to let him out of her sight for any longer than she absolutely had to. Particularly not for something as risky to someone recovering from major cardiothoracic surgery as jogging.
He had read the worry on her face, and had immediately offered to call Mark to accompany him. She had silently shaken her head, and turned to her closet to dig out the well-hidden trainers and sweatpants.
He was her husband and she loved him. And if loving him meant getting over her hatred of running, well that had been a compromise she was willing to make.
As it had turned out, the fact that she was little less than awful at jogging had ended up being the perfect way to pace him without making him feel like he couldn't do it. He was just making his wife feel better about her shocking level of fitness by keeping pace with her, she had joked the first morning, hunched over with her hands on her knees as she struggled to catch her breath.
Much to her surprise they had improved together, and much as she was reluctant to admit it, particularly to him, she would be lying if she said she couldn't pinpoint the improvements her increased fitness levels had had on her everyday life.
She hadn't been surprised when the jogging had continued past his recovery and into a new realm as he had confessed that it was actually helping to clear his head after a bad day, because she had noticed it herself during his recovery. He had asked if they could add it to the list. It did still surprise her that she hadn't found herself spending a single second regretting that she had ever agreed to the pastime in the first place, but she had found herself adding it to their list without complaint anyway.
Granted, she did normally extract a promise of an entirely different kind of exercise in return for donning her running gear, but he never complained, and really? That promise was good for both of them.
So she knew that she would be dragged from her bed by her husband the next morning without a single genuine word of complaint, and more to the point, she knew that was why she really did need to get some sleep.
Sighing softly, she burrowed a little deeper under the covers, allowing herself an already sleepy smile as his fingers tightened a little against her hip in response.
He was still awake, but that was okay. In fact, from a purely selfish angle that was more than okay, because he really was the best medicine she knew. She could sleep, because being strong for one another didn't have to be exclusive events. They could be strong together.
And that was why they had such a strong marriage.
Later, when April and Lexie would poke confused heads round the slightly ajar door after hearing a gentle, unexpected snoring, they would find the couple fast asleep without an inch of space between them. They would look at one another in confusion and would wonder for days just how they managed to pull it off, but they wouldn't be surprised.
Because Meredith Grey and Derek Shepherd were a law unto themselves.