Chapter 37: Epilogue

Personal Note: How awesome is it that after I finally finished editing this mammoth chapter, I get accepted to my (sort-of) first-choice college? XD Plus, I just printed out tickets to see The Hunger Games in IMAX, as well as at midnight at our local theater! Okay, ignore my all-around-squee-ing about life and please enjoy the story!

Author's Note: This chapter is incredibly long, and it is what I consider to be the final epilogue. If you love lengthy chapters, rejoice! If you hate them… Well, I am very sorry for this one, but I just didn't have the heart to break it up it into multiple chapters. If you don't have the time to sit down and read it all at once, though, that's okay—it's split into a bunch of sections, so there are plenty of places where you can stop and come back to it.

Anyway, I hope you manage to enjoy it after all! Thank you all so much for the reviews on the last chapter :)

. . .

Infancy

. . .

"Can we just sit here a moment?" Lexie asks softly, resting the crown of her head against her husband's neck as they recline tiredly against the couch in their apartment. "All three of us, together?"

"Of course," Mark replies, wrapping an arm around her and lifting his feet onto the ottoman in front of them. "I don't have anywhere to be."

Lexie closes her eyes, tilting her face towards his body and breathing in his scent. When she opens her eyes, a pair of dark-blue ones look up at her, wide and curious. Lexie smiles down at her daughter in her husband's arms.

"Hi, sweetie," Lexie murmurs lovingly. "Hi, baby girl." Lexie exhales softly, watching her daughter squirm slightly at the air passes by her face. "Oh, Mark, did you see that? She's adorable. Her face is so…" Lexie trails off, and her voice falls to a whisper when she realizes her husband has fallen asleep beside her. Lexie kisses his jaw softly, transferring Belle from his arms to hers. She cradles her daughter close, pressing a kiss to the fuzzy faint wisps of hair on her head, much like the fuzz of the skins of peaches.

"You are a peach, aren't you?" Lexie whispers, smiling at the odd endearment that came to mind. She brushes a hand against her daughter's head. "You're my tiny little peach." She yawns widely, lifting a hand to cover her mouth as she leans against her husband. "Look at you," she murmurs, watching her daughter through half-closed eyes. "Pretty little Belle…"

. . .

"Lex. Lexie, hey. Wake up. C'mon, Lex, wake up."

"Hrmpf." Lexie scrunches her face, twisting away from her husband's voice.

"You fell asleep," Mark informs her.

"So did you," Lexie replies, blinking her eyes open slowly to see Mark standing before her. He's holding a sleeping Annabelle in one arm, and his other is extended towards her.

"I know," he half-smiles. "Come on, let's go to bed."

Lexie takes his hand, rising to her feet. She wraps an arm around his waist, staring down at their sleeping child cradled in her husband's arms. "She's lovely."

"She is."

Lexie reaches out to touch her but quickly draws back, thinking better of disturbing the peace of her slumber. She lets her hand fall to her side.

"We should let her sleep," Mark agrees, noting her hesitance to wake up their baby. Lexie nods, letting go of his waist and heading towards the crib they placed outside their bedroom door after not being able to fit it in the room. They stop just a few inches from the crib, staring at it.

"I… I don't want to leave her out here, Mark," Lexie whispers softly. She bites her lip, glancing over at her husband and seeing him shake his head.

"Me neither," he agrees.

"Can she sleep with us?" Lexie asks, resting her head on her husband's shoulder. Mark smiles softly, kissing the top of his wife's head softly.

"I think that would be a good idea," he replies, wrapping an arm around her waist and walking into their bedroom. They stand at the foot of their bed, staring down at their daughter together in silence. "We should change," Mark points out after a couple seconds. Lexie nods, watching as he lays Annabelle down gently in the middle of the bed, feet away from any of the four edges. Mark and Lexie slip out of their clothes quickly, constantly glancing over their shoulders to check on their daughter. Each time they look, she's still sleeping peacefully on the sheets where they left her, not having moved an inch.

. . .

"She's perfect," Lexie whispers, cradling her daughter while she lies curled against her husband. "God, she's so perfect."

Mark kisses his wife's shoulder gently, pressing his lips against her warm skin. He feels her shoulders shudder, and when he looks up, she's taking a shaky breath and there are tears leaking out of the corners of her eyes. "Lexie," he whispers softly, his voice hushed with shocked concern.

She shakes her head immediately, and the action dislodges even more tears from her eyes. "Don't worry," she replies hoarsely. "I'm fine."

"You don't sound too fine," Mark points out quietly, kissing her skin one more time before pulling back to look his wife in the eye.

"I just…" Lexie inhales carefully, trying to find the right words as she stares down at the peacefully sleeping child in her arms. "I just can't believe this is real. I really… I really can't believe it."

"It's real," he assures her quietly, reaching over to rub her shoulder in soft comfort.

"I have a daughter," she sniffs. "We—you and me—we have a daughter. Together."

"We do."

"I…" She breaks off, turning her head and suddenly crushing her lips to his. Mark starts slightly at the surprising force behind the kiss, but returns it nonetheless. His hands reach up, holding the soft skin of her wet cheeks in his hands while hers cradle their sleeping daughter carefully. Lexie takes a deep breath when their lips separate. "You remember when I asked you to marry me?" She whispers, closing her eyes and leaning her forehead against his.

"I do," Mark replies. Lexie's lips flick upward briefly at his word choice, wondering if it was intentional or not, but she brushes away the thought quickly. When she speaks, her voice is solemn.

"I told you my life was overwhelming," she says quietly. "I said that that day, and at the time, I meant it… But now… This…" Lexie bites her lip, struggling to hold back her emotion. "This is overwhelming. And I—I don't mean in a bad way," she adds before he can worry. "I mean it in a good way, I've always meant it in a good way, and I've—I've realized recently that my life is…" She shakes her head against his, finally opening her eyes to his piercing and curious blue gaze. "My life is just overwhelming." She shrugs, and a second later, a brilliant smile blooms on her face. "That's just what it is, and I'm okay with that. I'm okay with that because this—" she pauses to look her husband in the eye "—this life I have with you, and this life I have with our daughter—is so worth it. It's worth everything."

Mark smiles, his loving eyes blinking at her slowly. He reaches out, placing his hand on the back of her neck and guiding her lips to his gently. "I'm grateful you think I'm worth it," he murmurs as their lips separate a few seconds later.

"It's not just you, remember," Lexie smiles, opening her eyes as their lips part reluctantly. "It's this little one, too." She hefts her daughter softly up into her arms, holding her up so they can both see her.

"You're right," Mark whispers, his voice breaking the silence a few seconds later as he stares down at their daughter with quiet awe. "She's utterly perfect."

Lexie smiles, tiredly resting her head against her husband's shoulder. "I'm glad we agree on this," she murmurs through a yawn. "It's a rather important issue."

Mark smirks, absentmindedly shifting nearer to his wife. "Who would disagree?"

Lexie chuckles softly, suddenly too tired to formulate a full response. Mark turns his head towards her, pressing his lips against her head for a couple seconds before pulling away with a quiet sigh. He leans his cheek against her hair, stares down at his daughter, and holds the two most important people in his life as closely as he can. "Go to sleep," he whispers.

. . .

Age Two

. . .

Lexie GreySloan is wringing her hands as she walks from her daughter's crib, situated in a darkened corner of the apartment, towards the kitchen. She calls her husband's name softly as she steps into the room. Mark glances up from the counter he's wiping, straightening up when he catches her serious gaze.

"I don't want to move," she states, her voice barely above a whisper. "I know you keep saying we have to, but…" She shakes her head. "Mark, I don't want to move. I really don't want to move."

Mark Sloan sighs, stepping back from the counter and taking a breath as he walks around the island to his wife's side. He stares at her for a quiet minute, watching as her worried eyes roam over the apartment that's been truly theirs for the past four years.

"I know you don't want to," he begins quietly, placing a supporting hand on her lower back gently. "I don't want to, either." He sighs softly, and his hand drops as he moves to stand in front of her and hold her attention. "But, Lex, we have to," he reminds her seriously. "All three of us can't fit in here, not with Anna getting bigger every second."

"We could try," Lexie excuses weakly, knowing her argument makes no sense. "We could—"

"We have tried," Mark interrupts quietly. "We have tried and it isn't working anymore. We don't have an extra room; we barely enough space for a crib now, let alone a bed when she gets big enough for that." He sighs, knowing how much it hurts her to hear this. "We can't live here any longer, Lex. I know you don't want to admit it, but we both know it's the truth. We can't live here anymore."

"But I…" Lexie closes her eyes, tilting her head down. "I don't want to leave," she murmurs quietly. "Mark, I don't want to live anywhere else."

"I know, love," he whispers. He pulls her into a hug, sighing softly when he feels her wrap her arms around him tightly. He knows exactly what this apartment means to her—and what leaving it will mean—because it means the same thing to him. It's the place that holds all their memories, good and bad. It's the place where they began anew. It's their place. "I know," he continues a moment later, "but like I said, we can't live here anymore. We've gotta find a house. Unless you want our daughter to grow up in a cramped apartment, sleeping on a couch until she's eighteen, Lex, we've gotta find a new place to live. A place where we can…raise her properly," he finishes softly.

Mark pulls away slowly, and as he does so, Lexie's eyes return to his, hurt and worried.

"But our life is here," she whispers sadly. "Mark, our whole life is here. Right here."

"I know," he replies quietly. Even through her sorrow, she can hear the heartbroken tinge to his words too, and she knows he's feeling just the way she is.

"It's—it's always been here," she continues. "We've always been here, Mark. Always."

"I know that."

"This—this is my home," she sniffs, biting her lip hard as she stares at him. "I—I can't leave it behind. This is my only home."

"We can find another home," he points out softly. "Now that it's me and you and Anna, we can find a place. We can do it. We can make our own home."

"I know we can, but I just… I don't… Mark," she whispers plaintively. "Mark, I don't want to. This—this apartment is our place. We've—we've always been us here, and Anna—Mark, this is her home. We can't just up and move her."

"Lexie…" Mark murmurs softly. "She's a baby, honey. She's two. She won't even remember this place if we move now."

"But this—this is the place I came home to," Lexie whispers, feeling her eyes prick and her throat tighten painfully. Nonetheless, she continues. "This—this is where we decided to marry each other and have children and—and spend the rest of our lives together. Mark, this is where we made our baby. This place is us. We can't—" she breaks off, sniffing as the tears fall "—we can't just leave our home behind," she finishes, her voice barely audible. "We can't do that to ourselves."

"What…" Mark clears his throat, moving closer. "Lex, what do you think is going to happen?" He asks quietly. "Do you think if we move, we'll forget?" He inquires softly. "Do you think if we aren't looking at these walls everyday, we'll forget everything that happened between of all four of them, between us?"

"I don't know," Lexie mutters dejectedly, avoiding his eye and looking down at the floor.

"Do you think I won't remember every time I stayed up in the dead of night, waiting for you to show up?" He presses in a hushed voice. "Do you think I'll forget that horrible rush of relief I felt every time you walked through that door, or the pain I felt every time you left? Do you think I won't remember when you promised you'd leave him for me or when you asked me to marry you? Or the day we started trying to make our family? Lex, baby," he murmurs, using a few fingers to tilt her head upwards to meet his worried eyes. "Do you really think I'll forget all that? Do you think you'll forget?"

"I…" Lexie sniffs, biting hard on the inside of her lip while she searches for the words. "I just don't want us to take anything for granted," she whispers finally, ignoring the tears pricking at her eyes. "If we leave—yes, what if we forget? What if we get lost in how—how perfect our life is now and we forget…" Lexie shakes her head sadly. "Mark, I love you more than anything, and Anna too; you know that, but… I won't dare take you two for granted. That isn't something I can allow myself to do. And if we leave… Yes, what if we forget?"

It's a long moment before Mark nods slowly. In reply, Lexie lets out the worried breath she'd been holding all the while.

"I get that," he begins softly. "I understand that, but… Lex, just because we move, that does not mean we're bound to forget the past." He gives her a sad smile. "I know we said we were done with it, but if I'm being honest, Little Grey, you should know that I'm never going to forget."

Lexie sucks in a sharp breath, turning away. "Oh, Mark," she whispers, brokenhearted. "I—"

"That's not a bad thing," he interrupts quickly, trying to smooth things over. "Remembering isn't bad, it's just—a reminder." He stares at her until she turns back to look him in the eyes. "It's a reminder of how far we've come, how much we've accomplished together. What we've been through."

The far corner of her mouth flickers in a weak half-smile. "How much we love each other?" She questions softly.

His returning smile is filled with soft encouragement. "Exactly," he replies. "So," he adds a moment later, "if I'm not going to forget, and you're not going to take anything for granted…" He reaches out, stroking her cheek gently. "Lex, I think that's a good balance to keep us grounded."

Lexie's lips spread in a genuine smile a second later, for she's overjoyed that he understands, right before she leans forward to kiss him. "Friday," she whispers against his lips, just before pulling away.

"Hm?" Mark asks, wrapping his arms around her and holding her close. "What about Friday?"

Lexie smiles, reaching up to hold his face in her hands. "I have Friday off," she murmurs, meeting his icy-blue eyes with her warm brown ones. "Why don't we start looking for houses then?" She asks, unable to hide a smile at the happiness that blooms on his face at the mention.

. . .

Three

. . .

"So you think we're done?" Mark asks, meeting his wife in the back doorway of their home, which resides just a few miles outside of the city. Lexie shrugs in response as she leans against the doorframe, her attention fixed on their daughter playing in the backyard with a few friends.

"Belle's three," she says, turning her head to look at her husband. He's leaning against the opposite doorframe, his arms folded over his chest. "What do you think?" She asks, eyeing him. "Do you want another?"

"Only if you do," he replies softly, his gaze flickering between his wife and his daughter.

"You know," Lexie murmurs, reaching out into the warm spring air to take his hand. His arms uncross automatically; his left hand drops to his side but his right stays enclosed within hers, bridging the small gap between them. "I think I'm going to be just fine with what I've got right here," Lexie finishes a moment later.

Mark smiles at her, squeezing her fingers. "It's decided, then," he replies, pushing off from the door and stepping towards her.

"But—you're sure?" Lexie asks, looking worriedly up at him. He watches as her eyes fly to the children playing in the yard before returning to his face. "Do you want another baby? Because we can—"

"Lex," Mark interrupts patiently. "Honestly, I am fine either way."

"So—you're alright with just us two?"

Mark smiles at the worried hesitation in her voice, squeezing her head and dipping his head to let their lips meet briefly. "I'm more than alright with just you two."

. . .

Four

. . .

"Anna's asleep."

Mark Sloan looks up at the soft whisper, and his eyes immediately zero in on his wife, who's walking towards him from the hallway. He can see quiet excitement light up her eyes, and he can't help but smile as he meets her halfway. Coming to standstill at the corner of two hallways, Mark glances over Lexie's shoulder to inspect their daughter's closed bedroom door.

"She's asleep?" He questions cautiously, as if the quietest whisper from yards away would wake her up. His eyes linger on Annabelle's bedroom door for a few seconds before flickering back to his wife's dark gaze. "You're sure?"

Lexie nods, checking over her shoulder as well for the briefest moment. "I just put her to bed; she's out like a light." An excited smile had begun spreading across the brunette's face even before she finished speaking. She grabs Mark's hand and heads down an adjacent hallway away from their daughter's room. "Come with me," Lexie grins over her shoulder, tugging her husband along behind her. She can hear him chuckle quietly at the determination written all over her face.

"Impatient?" He questions a minute later as she grabs fistfuls of his t-shirt and he closes the door softly behind them. Lexie simply kisses him deeply in response, her hands pulling his body flush against hers as his wrap around her slim waist. Their mouths open a few seconds later, letting their tongues meet and fuse together as they pull each other nearer. When the kiss breaks after a few minutes and their lips part reluctantly, Lexie leans her forehead against his.

"I thought she'd never go to sleep," she sighs in happy relief. "I've been waiting all day to do that." Mark smiles, stepping closer and dipping his lips to hers again.

"Me too," he murmurs against her lips. He can feel her arms wrap tightly around him and her lips spread into a wide grin as he kisses them.

Two minutes later, Lexie is falling back against the mattress with a contended sigh and not wasting a second as she reaches up and pull her husband's body on top of hers. She can hear him try to mutter something between kisses, but Lexie ignores him, instead curling her arms around his neck and twining her legs with his.

"I've missed this," Lexie whispers between kisses as she tugs him ever closer. "So much."

"Don't blame me, love," Mark murmurs back. He grins cheekily at her. "You're the one who wanted a baby three seconds after we got married. It's not my fault she doesn't have a normal sleeping schedule."

"Right," Lexie laughs quietly. "Like you would have wanted to wait any longer, weird sleeping schedule and all."

"Well, I want to wait now," he smiles, separating their lips and pulling away from her.

"What?" Lexie asks, clutching him closer in reply as he attempts to untangle their bodies. "Where are you going?"

"Just give me a second," Mark tells her, twisting their legs apart and getting to his feet. "And wait."

"Wait?" Lexie echoes in distress, flopping back against the mattress in displeasure. "Wait for what?"

He chuckles at her, kissing her quickly in assurance before getting to his feet. "One second," he says, walking to his dresser across the room. He rummages around in it for a moment before turning around. Lexie watches curiously from the bed as he heads back towards her, holding something enclosed in his fist.

"What am I waiting for?" She groans, her voice full of impatience. "What could be more important than the sex we were about to have?"

"This," Mark replies, sinking to his knees before her at the foot of their bed. Lexie swallows, managing to take a shallow breath as she stares down at her husband wide eyes and takes in the small velvet-covered box he's holding in his hands.

"Mark," she breathes. "Baby, what…"

"Happy anniversary," he whispers by way of explanation, and opens the box. Lexie stares at its contents in shocked silence, unable to say anything as she takes in the beautiful diamond ring resting within.

"You… You want to get married again?" She finally manages a few seconds later, tearing her eyes from the ring and lifting them to her husband. Mark just smiles and shakes his head.

"No," he replies softly. "No, I don't want to get married again. Our wedding was perfect. I just…" He takes her hand with his and sets the open box in her palm. "I thought you should have this."

"I—I know it's our anniversary, but, honey, you—you didn't…" She shakes her head, biting her lip in shocked happiness. "God, Mark, you didn't have to get me this."

"I wanted to," he replies simply. He stares at her, studying her face as she inspects the ring. "If you don't want it, I can take it back," he suggests softly after a moment.

"Are you kidding me?" Lexie scoffs, her eyes flying up to his as she immediately clutches the ring closer. "Of course I want it." She bends forward, examining the grandeur and precision of the ring's diamond presentation. "Good lord, how much did this cost?"
He shrugs, getting up and sitting beside her on the bed. "It cost what it cost," he replies evasively. She turns to meet his eyes and he nudges her side. "Come on, take it." He grins, leaning towards his wife. "You know you want it," he whispers in her ear.

Lexie chuckles at his words. She picks up the ring, turning it in her hand before passing it to him. Mark's eyes follow her every move, and his gaze tightens when she sets it in his hand. He stares at it for a second before his eyes fly to hers. "Lex—"

"Here," she says softly, holding out her left hand. "You should be the one to put it on." Her eyes flick to his, catching his warm blue gaze as she watches relief flood his features. A smile spreads over Lexie's face as he takes her hand in his, holding the ring at the end of her third finger before slipping in on in one fluid movement. He lets go of her hand gently and she holds the ring up to the light, watching it glow in the dimly lit room.

"It's beautiful," she whispers. She turns to her husband a second later, placing a loving kiss on his lips. "Thank you so much." She sighs softly a moment later, but instead of hearing contentment in the exhalation, Mark only hears sadness.

"What's wrong?" He asks softly, meeting his wife's eyes with a worried look in his. "What is it?"

Lexie shakes her head, tipping her lips forward to kiss him quickly in reassurance. "It's nothing," she replies easily, holding his cheek in her hand. "It's just…" She sighs again, and her hand falls from his face to his chest. "I don't have anything nearly as nice as this to give to you," Lexie admits guiltily, her fingertips lingering in the center of his chest. "My gift is going to suck in comparison," she mutters darkly.

"Lexie." She can hear half-hidden laughter in his voice, and it doesn't make her feel any better.

"I didn't know you were going to do this," Lexie explains in a defensive hurry. "I—I—If I knew you were going to get me a ring then I would have gotten you something so much better—"

"Whatever you got me is perfect, I'm sure," Mark interrupts quietly. He smiles at her, and part of her worry melts away when she sees the gesture light up his eyes. He sifts closer, reaching up and cupping her neck with a gentle hand. "Besides," he grins suggestively a moment later, rubbing his thumb over the sensitive skin on the back of her neck. His touch causes goosebumps to erupt on her skin, and she rolls her neck slightly in a knee-jerk reaction to the anticipatory sensation. He grins at her, his eyes bright. "You can make up the difference with sex." A small laugh escapes Lexie's lips, and she smiles at her husband before leaning forward to kiss him.

"Fine," she replies with a chuckle when their lips part. "But first," she instructs, "be honest."

Mark quirks an eyebrow in response, unsure of what she's asking him to own up to.

"Was this ring just an excuse to stage your own proposal?"

Mark laughs automatically. "No," he replies with a smile. "It was not. Like I said, I just wanted you to have the thing."

Lexie bites her lip, grinning knowingly at him. "You're still jealous that I stole the proposal, aren't you? It was your big moment and I took it from you."

Mark smiles warmly at her. "Love, I wasn't going to propose. You know that. But," he continues softly, "as long as we're married, I really don't care who asked whom."

"Aw," Lexie smiles, kissing him briefly. "Aren't you cute." She levels him with her gaze a second later. "And full of crap," she adds flatly. "I know you're jealous. Just admit it."

Mark shakes his head with a smile. "I'm never going to win with you, am I?"

Lexie grins triumphantly, putting on her best winning smile. She places her left hand on his leg and squeezes it; the pressure causes Mark to glance down, and when he does, Lexie turns her wrist so he can get a better view of the two rings on her fourth finger. When he looks back up to her face, her expression is solemn and serious. "I'd say you've won enough," she observes quietly.

Mark stares at her quietly before leaning forward to dip his mouth to meet hers. He brings his hands up to cup her cheeks, and as Lexie falls back against their familiar bed, Mark moves to hover above her, bending down and joining their lips together for the rest of the night.

. . .

4 AM

. . .

"Whose is it?" Lexie mutters groggily, forcing herself awake at the sound of incessant beeping from one of their pagers fills the previously still and silent room. "Mine or yours?"

"Mine," Mark replies from the other side of the bed. "It's mine."

"You have to go in?" Lexie yawns, stretching her body and blinking awake. The pitch-darkness of the room does little to help bring her to consciousness.

"Yeah," Mark mutters, half-stumbling sleepily out of bed. "It's an emergency. I've gotta go now."

"Now?" Lexie asks, feeling more awake at the news and propping herself up in bed as she watches him pull on a shirt over his bare chest and pants over his boxers. "Today?"

"Yeah," Mark sighs. He glances over his shoulder at her, and she can see the apology in his eyes without him even having to voice it.

"I thought we'd be able to spend the morning together," Lexie murmurs, wiping the sleep from her eyes, "before Anna woke up…"

"Yeah, me too," Mark mutters. His annoyance at being called in on his time off—and especially this day off—rings clear through his tone of voice. When he sits on the edge of the bed to put on his shoes, Lexie crawls across the mattress and hugs him from behind.

"You okay to go in?" She asks quietly, placing kisses along the curve of his shoulder while her arms wrap around his upper torso. She tilts her head, meeting his eyes in the early-morning darkness of their bedroom. "Did you get enough sleep?"

Mark smirks slightly at the question, shaking his head as he bends down again to tie his shoes. "No," he replies whole-heartedly. She can hear pretend-irritation in his voice, but more than that, amusement. She smiles at it, hugging him tighter for a moment. "But last night was worth the sleep deprivation," he adds as he straightens back up.

"Maybe overexertion from sex can get you out of surgery," Lexie teases with a grin, letting go and settling herself beside him. She leans her head against the sleeve of his t-shirt, breathing deeply and closing her eyes as she takes in his wonderfully familiar scent.

"It hasn't worked before," Mark replies with a slight chuckle. "Sadly." He stands up a moment later and Lexie shifts to the end of the bed. She watches as he shrugs on his jacket, putting his phone and pager into its pockets.

"You be careful, alright?"

Mark turns his head to look at her, feeling an involuntary smile spread over his face just at the sight of her. He takes a few steps back towards her, bending down to kiss her briefly. "Always am," he replies after he straightens up. He frowns a second later, the smile disappearing from his features. "You'll be okay here with Anna?"

Lexie snorts, rolling her eyes. "Please, you think I can't take care of my own daughter?"

Mark tilts his head to the side, as if pondering her statement. "Well…"

"Oh, shut up," she grins, leaning forward to shove him away. "Go to work already," she calls.

"I'm going, I'm going," Mark chuckles as he heads to the door.

Lexie smiles, resting her head against her bended knees as she watches him walk away. "Love you," she calls after him.

Mark looks over his shoulder just as he's stepping through the doorway. "Love you, too," he replies with a soft smile. He glances down, looking to his watch quickly. "I won't be more than a few hours, at most. Hopefully I'll be back by the time Anna's awake."

Lexie nods. "Bye. Good luck."

"Thanks." He waves briefly before heading out to the car.

. . .

7 AM

. . .

"Mommy. Mommy. Mommy, Mommy, Mommy—"

"Annabelle, what is it?" Lexie groans, turning her head away from the pillow. She props herself up just a few inches above the bed, blinking open her eyes at the little face before her.

"Can we have pancakes?" Annabelle asks pertly, smiling widely at her mother in an attempt to win favor.

Lexie sighs, turning her head to her bedside table. She only manages to half-suppress a groan at its digital reading. "It is seven o'clock, Anna. On a Saturday."

"It's pancake day!" The little girl cheers.

Lexie sighs, propping herself up a bit in bed. "That's tomorrow, Peach," she smiles gently.

"But please?" The little girl whines, bobbing up and down on the balls of her feet. "We didn't have any last time—"

Lexie frowns, trying to remember. She'd had a meeting with Arizona that morning and missed breakfast… "Why not?"

Annabelle's mouth twists unhappily. "Daddy burned them." Her eyes widen a second later, and she stands on her tip-toes to see to the other side of the bed.

"He's at work, baby," Lexie explains before she can worry about being overheard. She sits up straighter a moment later, facing her daughter. "He burned them, huh?"

Annabelle nods vigorously. "Really bad. They were all black and gross, but told me not to tell you. We had oatmeal instead."

Lexie chuckles quietly, picturing the scene in her mind. And he pretends to be such a good cook, she thinks to herself. "Fine," she allows after a moment. "Pancakes it is," she smiles. "Just let me wake up and you can help me make them."

"YAY!" Annabelle screeches, jumping up and down for a moment before running out of the room and careening down the hall.

Lexie gets to her feet tiredly a minute later, smiling faintly when she hears her daughter chanting 'pancakes, pancakes, pancakes!' as she heads for the kitchen. Lexie grabs a thin robe that had been hanging on the door to her closet, slipping it on over her light pajamas as she walks out of the room, yawning all the while.

. . .

"Are they ready yet?" Annabelle asks for what must be the hundredth time not five minutes later.

"Not yet," Lexie repeats yet again, pouring all of the ingredients into a large mixing bowl. She grabs a whisk with one hand, steadying the bowl with her left as she beats the batter. After a few seconds of mixing, she turns to her daughter, holding out the bowl for her to try.

"Mommy, where'd that come from?" Annabelle blurts before her mother can offer her the whisk.

"Hm?" Lexie asks, scrutinizing the wide-eyed look on her daughter's face.

Answering her mother's question, Annabelle points to Lexie's left hand, poking the sparkling ring that rests on her fourth finger inquisitively. "Where's that from?"

"Oh," Lexie smiles. "It was a present, sweetie."

"Present?" Annabelle perks up, no doubt hoping that there's one for her, too. "From who?"

"Your dad," Lexie smiles. "Your Daddy gave it to me, baby girl."

"Why? Was it your birthday?"

Lexie shakes her head with a smile, setting the batter aside for a moment before bending down to speak with her daughter. "No, it was an anniversary gift, Belle. Your Daddy and I got married five years ago yesterday. That's why he got me the present. Here," she holds out her left hand. "Want to see?"

Annabelle nods vigorously, grabbing at her mother's hand with tiny fingers. She turns it this way and that, giving off little gasps when sunlight sparkles off of it. "Mommy, look," she whispers in awe, pointing at the reflected rainbows illuminating their kitchen. Lexie smiles, looking into her daughter's wide and deep blue eyes as she stares at the sparkling ring.

"Pretty, huh?" A familiar voice calls from the doorway. Lexie looks up, grinning when she catches her husband's warm and adoring gaze as he leans against the frame of their kitchen door.

"Very pretty," Lexie replies with a smile, getting to her feet as her daughter rushes across the room.

"Daddy!" Annabelle calls, sprinting towards him as quickly as her little legs can take her.

"Hey, li'l girl," he grins, bending down and scooping up his daughter when she comes towards him at a run. "What's up, Anna B?"

"You got Mommy a present!" She exclaims, her eyes bright and he smile wide and toothy.

"I did," he replies, cradling her in his arms.

"Did you get me something, too?" She asks excitedly, though her question sounds more like a demand than an inquiry. "Did you? Did you? Did you?"

"Now why would I get you anything, Little Belle?" Mark asks, smiling down at his daughter. "It's not your special day, is it?"

"But you got Mommy—"

"Well," he interrupts softly, holding her with one arm as his other digs in pocket. "I might have something for you…"

"Really?" She half-shrieks in excitement. "A present?"

He chuckles, grinning down at his daughter as he hands her the small ring box that had been emptied less than twelve hours ago. He glances to his wife, and when he notices her gaze is concentrated on the small box, he mouths the words, It's not diamonds to her before returning his attention to their daughter. "Here," he says, setting his daughter on the floor and bending down to look her in the eye. She grins at her father, twisting her body back and forth shyly as she awaits her present. "Take a look at this," he says, popping open the box. He watches his daughter's eyes go wide with a large grin. She reaches forward, picking up the plastic ring with something akin to reverence.

"It's so big," she whispers, staring at the plastic fake-diamond arrangement.

"What do you say to your Dad, Belle?" Lexie asks, moving to stand a few feet behind her daughter. Annabelle looks up and over her shoulder, catching her mother's eye before looking back to her father.

"Thank you, Dad-dy," she sing-songs with a huge smile.

"You're welcome, baby girl." He grins, watching as she slips it on her index finger before running out of the kitchen and dancing down the hallway. He chuckles, his eyes following her for a few seconds before he gets to his feet.

"You spoil her too much," Lexie points out from the stovetop. Mark looks over at her quiet words, smiling when he notices she's forcing herself to sound stern.

"What?" Mark asks innocently, walking up behind her. "What are you talking about?"

"You get her every little thing she wants," Lexie points out, bending down to grab a pan from a drawer beneath the stove. "Things she doesn't need."

"So?"

"So," Lexie replies, placing the pan on the stove, "she'll get used to it soon enough, and then you'll never be able to refuse her. You'll get her whatever she wants, no matter what it is."

"I think you're confusing your daughter with yourself," Mark replies, stepping closer. "Cause you know full well I've never had any self control when it comes to you, baby."

"Mark." Lexie lets out a warning tone.

"Anna's out of the room," he replies dismissively, taking one last step to close the space between them and wrapping his arms around her waist to pull their bodies close. Lexie opens her mouth to protest, turning her head to admonish him, but before she can, his head is hovering above her shoulder and his soft words are drifting past her ear. "Though," he muses quietly, "maybe if I spoiled you more, you wouldn't be so judgmental about how I treat our daughter. …And then I wouldn't have to bother trying to control myself at all." Lexie looks down, her smile widening as she places her hand on his two that are resting comfortably on her abdomen. "Hm?" He murmurs in her ear, lowering his head until it rests on her right shoulder. "Should I spoil you more?" He wonders aloud, pulling apart the sloppy knot holding her robe closed with one quick tug. "Would you like that, love?"

"Depends on what kind of spoiling you're talking about," Lexie replies, turning her head slightly to catch his eye. She grins, and he smiles in return when he sees her eyes light up.

"Oh, I think we both know what type of spoiling I'm talking about," he smirks, sneaking a hand beneath her pajama top and caressing her soft skin.

Lexie arches her eyebrows. "Do we, now?"

"I'll give you a hint," Mark replies, twisting his neck towards her until their lips are just a couple centimeters apart. Lexie glances down, a smile spreading over her face, as she stretches forward to meet him halfway. Her left hand cups his cheek, pulling him closer as his arms encircle her midsection more securely.

"Mm," Lexie murmurs happily when they pull apart a minute later, "good hint."

She can feel her husband smile against her lips. "That wasn't the hint," Mark replies.

"Oh?" Lexie raises her eyebrows.

He chuckles softly, leaning forward to capture her lips again. "Let's put it this way," he murmurs, his eyes locked with hers. "That ring I gave you?" She glances down to the piece of jewelry wrapped around her finger, and when she looks back up, there's a suggestive smile on his face. "It barely made up for what you did last night."

Lexie grins at the reference, and remembering how enthusiastically they'd celebrated their anniversary the night before, she presses her lips against his and kisses him hard for a few endless seconds. "So you'll be paying me back in the future, then?" She asks as she pulls away.

"If we didn't have that spoiled little girl running around the house," Mark smiles, "I'd pay you back right now," he replies huskily, capturing her lips easily. "Right here, right on this counter."

Lexie laughs aloud into the kiss, a wide smile spreading across her face as she pulls back.

"Oh, you think I'm joking, do you?" Mark smirks. His hands slips to her waist and cup her hips firmly. "I'm completely serious, you know."

Lexie just giggles in reply, kissing him chastely before meeting his eyes with a happy grin. "You're resenting the existence of your daughter right now, aren't you?" She teases. "Don't lie; I can tell."

"Just the tiniest bit," Mark replies with a smile, leaning forward. "But don't tell her," he adds before covering her lips with his own. Lexie sighs happily into the kiss, placing a hand on her husband's chest and clutching his shirt to draw him closer before they're interrupted by a loud shriek.

"Gross!" Annabelle shouts, glaring at her parents with narrowed eyes and pointing a finger at them from the kitchen doorway.

"Gross?" Lexie repeats in exaggerated disbelief, turning to her daughter. "What's so gross, babe?"

"Kissing!" Annabelle replies shrilly, pointing at her parents. "That's what's gross! You kissed him!"

"In my defense, Belle, he started it," Lexie replies seriously. She watches as her daughter scrunches her nose up, making a disgusted face, before turning around and running off again without so much as a backward glance. Lexie chuckles, watching the little girl dash out of the room for a moment before turning her head to meet her husband's gaze.

"You hear that?" Lexie asks, amused. "She just said we were gross. Her own parents."

"And she doesn't even know the half of it," Mark replies with his characteristic smirk that causes Lexie to roll her eyes.

"Move," she smiles a second later, pushing him gently away. "I've gotta finish making breakfast."

"Oh, and I'm in the way of that, hm?" Mark asks as he wraps his arms more tightly around her abdomen. "Am I bothering you?" He inquires. "Am I taking up too much of your time, Little Grey?"

"Come on," Lexie groans with a chuckle, prying his fingers away. "Go be useful. Find Anna and tell her breakfast's almost ready."

"Fine," Mark smiles. He kisses her cheek quickly before stepping back and heading out of the kitchen.

"Mark," she calls after him.

"Yeah?"

Lexie smiles to herself for a second before turning to catch his eye. "I might take you up on that offer."
He smiles slightly, and the tilt of his head lets her know he isn't completely sure about what she's talking about. In answer, the raps her knuckles on their marble counter. "Payback, remember?" She grins. "Plus, you've gotta make up for running out on me this morning, too. So it better be good."

He chuckles, shaking his head before turning away. "God, you're worse than I am," he mutters happily on his way out.

"You're the one who suggested it," Lexie calls after with a smile after him. "You can't expect me not to contemplate the offer!"

She hears him laugh from a room away. "You can't get the idea out of your head, now, can you?"

"Don't offer me things you aren't willing to come through on," Lexie warns him with a smile as she hears tiny feet pounding across their kitchen's wooden floor. She hears her husband's heavier steps a moment later, and as she sets a plateful of pancakes in front of their daughter, she catches Mark's eye with mischievous glint in hers.

"And," she smirks, "I heard you burned the pancakes last week." She nods toward their daughter. "You promised this kid breakfast and she ended up with oatmeal? What kind of a father are you?"

"Mommy!" Annabelle protests through a mouthful of pancakes, her voice cutting through her father's quiet laughter. "You weren't supposed to tell!"

"I think it was you who wasn't supposed to tell," Mark replies, tapping his daughter's nose lightly. "What're you doing, sharing secrets, Belle? That was top-secret information, you know."

"She likes me better," Lexie replies with a triumphant smile. "That's why she told me."

"She likes your cooking better," Mark corrects.

"Exactly," Lexie grins, stepping to the side of her daughter's chair. "And everyone knows the way to this little girl's heart is through her stomach!" She reaches out, tickling her daughter's tummy for a few seconds at the little girl squeals in laughter.

Mark heaves a heavy sigh. "And here I thought I was on the right track. I got her jewelry and everything." He looks to his daughter, his expression serious. "Didn't you like the pretty ring I got you, Belle? Isn't it better than your Mom's food?"

Annabelle stares at her father for a few quiet seconds before picking up her plate. "Can I have more pancakes?" She asks, deflecting his questions.

Mark stares at her for a moment before laughing and taking the plate. "Fine," he replies easily. "But you're going to miss my attempts to buy your favor someday, Belle."

Lexie watches her husband with a smile, still standing crouched by her daughter's chair. She almost jumps when a little voice whispers in her ear. "Can you make them instead?" Annabelle asks her mother; her whisper comes out, no doubt, much louder than she intended. "Daddy'll burn 'em all."

"I heard that," Mark warns from the stovetop, not relinquishing his post.

Lexie grins, kissing her daughter's head before straightening up and walking over to the stove. "Don't worry, Belle," she calls over her shoulder. "I won't let your Dad burn your breakfast, no matter how proud he is."

. . .

Five

. . .

"This is pathetic," Lexie whispers raggedly, "but I think I might actually cry."

Mark smiles faintly, wrapping an arm around his wife's waist. "She's our only child," he reminds her. "You're allowed to cry over leaving her." He squeezes her body against his. "Just remember that it's only for a few hours, okay? She'll be back home before you know it."

Lexie takes a ragged breath. "I want her home now. I don't want to leave her here." She turns her head, looking up at her husband. "Mark, why do we have to let her go?"

"Lex," he murmurs, leaning down to kiss her temple as he reaches for her hand. She grips it tightly. "She has to go to school sometime, love."

"But why does it have to be today?"

Mark looks at her seriously. "Would you feel any better if it was tomorrow instead?"

"No," Lexie replies reluctantly after a moment. "I guess not." She sighs, closing her eyes. The brick building before them disappears behind her eyes, and for a moment, the past is alive in her memory. "I want her to be a little baby again," Lexie whispers. "I want to be able to hold her and carry her and…" She breaks off, without words. She opens her eyes to find Mark's staring at her.

He pulls her close for a hug immediately. "I know," he whispers into her hair. "I wish we could get all that time back, too."

"She's going to grow up," Lexie whispers, feeling the tears really threaten to fall now. "She already is grow—"

They jump slightly when there's a loud banging across the small lawn. Mark and Lexie look over to see their little girl waving through the window with enthusiastic smile on her face. A young woman holding her aloft seems to be the kindergarten teacher. She shouts loud enough to be heard through the glass. "Bye, Mommy! Bye, Daddy!"

Lexie bites her lip, trying not to cry, as she and Mark wave back. Anna smiles at them quickly before being deposited back to the floor. She runs away to play with the other kids immediately, but Mark and Lexie's eyes linger on the space she left long after she's left their line of sight. When they hear a sharp rap on the glass, their eyes shift over a few feet to see the young woman who had held their daughter a moment ago.

The kindergarten teacher is holding up a whiteboard in front of the window so they can see. She'll be fine, I promise, it reads. Now GO TO WORK. Mark mouths an exaggerated 'Thank you' so she can see it and waves with a smile. Lexie laughs slightly, offering the woman a weak smile before turning away to lean her head against her husband's shoulder.

"You must think I'm such a freak," she mutters, wiping her eyes as they turn to head back to the car a moment later.

"I've always thought you were a freak," Mark replies casually, causing Lexie to chuckle, "but why are you bringing it up now?"

"Well, because…" Lexie moves her head to stare at him. "Aren't most parents dying to get their kids in school so they can go back to their lives? And here I am freaking out about leaving her here and dreading going back to work."

Mark smiles gently. "Well, if it makes you feel any better," he tells her, "I'm freaking out, too."

Lexie rolls her eyes at him, knowing he's only attempting to make her feel better. "No, you're not."

"Yes, I am," Mark replies seriously. He holds her gaze while they get into the car. "You have no idea how many times I've thought about whether that Miss Royola is a serial kidnapper or not."

Lexie cracks a smile, taking his hand as they walk to the car. "Maybe she is. She did look suspiciously happy to see Anna."

"And the way she just told us to get to work?" Mark adds. "In all caps? Seems suspicious to me. What if that was only a ploy to get rid of witnesses when she makes off with our baby?"

Lexie laughs quietly, but when Mark opens his mouth to say something more, she waves him away. "Okay, okay!" She chuckles. "You're only going to worry me, so stop!"

Mark smiles, leaning over the console to get a good look at his wife. "She will be perfectly fine at school," he tells her earnestly. "I promise you nothing will happen."

Lexie nods, reaching out to touch his cheek gently. "I know," she whispers. "I just…" She takes a challenging breath, shifting in her seat to face him fully. "She'll come back to us, won't she?" Lexie whispers, staring at her husband. "She'll be back?"

Mark closes his eyes with a smile. "Honey," he whispers patiently, "she's five. She has nowhere else to go."

"No," Lexie mutters, "I didn't mean now. I meant after… After she's gone off into the world… After she's married and had kids of her own, she'll…" Lexie bites her lip, looking to her husband. "She'll come back to us eventually, won't she?"

Mark smiles, and he leans forward to kiss her briefly. "Of course she'll be back." He grins a moment later. "But come on, Lex. Why would she ever want to leave us in the first place?"

Lexie gives him a small smile, caressing his cheek for a moment before dropping her hand. "What time were you going to pick her up? Three?"

Mark nods, reversing out of the parking space.

"I have an appendectomy at two, but if it finishes early…" She trails off, and Mark looks over with a smile.

"You wanna come with?" He asks.

Lexie nods.

"Good, then it's decided. We'll pick her up together." He reaches over, meeting her eyes quickly before looking back to the road. "She'll be excited to see you; I told her it'd just be me and her this afternoon."

"Were you going to take the day off or bring her into work?"

"I can take off if you need me to, but I already told Robbins' I'd do her kid with the middle ear infection later today before I left…"

Lexie nods. "Want us to hang around until you're done? I can get Anna a coloring book or something and we can sit in the gallery."

Mark smiles, averting his eyes from the road for a second to catch her eye. "I'd love that," he admits softly. "I would… I would really love that."

. . .

Seven

. . .

"We're good parents, aren't we?"

Mark Sloan looks up from the itinerary he'd been studying at the voice, his head swiveling towards the sound. He meets his wife's eyes as she looks over her shoulder at him from the doorway of their daughter's bedroom. He makes his way quietly across the floor, leaning against the other side of the doorframe. He stares at his wife in silence for a second before asking, "Where is this coming from?"

"I don't know," Lexie whispers, her eyes trained on her still-slumbering daughter in the small bed. She watches as the early-morning light filters in through the slits in the blinds. "It's just that…" She pauses, chewing on her lower lip. "Lately, I've been wondering, with Anna getting older and everything… Have we really done right by her? Have we been here enough? Have we… been in her life enough?"

Mark sighs softly, tilting his head to meet her eyes more clearly. "This is because of the New York trip, isn't it?"

"I'll be gone for two entire weeks," Lexie whispers, her pained eyes finding his. "She already doesn't see me all day—"

"She's at school all day," Mark points out. He pauses a moment. "Are you saying you don't want to go?" He asks quietly. His eyes flicker to the suitcase, all packed and ready to go, sitting just a few feet away. "Because it's kind of too late—"

Lexie shakes her head. "No," she replies immediately. "No, I want to go. Of course I want to go. It's an honor to be chosen to speak. But…" She bites down hard on her lower lip. "I don't want to leave her. Or you," she adds, meeting his eyes. "I don't want to be gone that long."

"It's just fourteen days."

Lexie scoffs quietly. "'It's just fourteen days,' he says."

Mark gives her a small smile, reaching out to squeeze her hand. "Call us every night, okay?"

Lexie sighs slowly before reluctantly closing her eyes and nodding. "Okay. I will."

Mark glances to his watch, forcing himself to break the easy silence in their house. "If we want to get to the airport in enough time for you to leave…"

Lexie nods. "Okay. I'll wake her up."

"I'll take your suitcase out to the car."

. . .

"I better get in line for security," Lexie tells her husband an hour later, "before it starts getting too crowded."

Mark nods, coming slowly to a stop as he holds his daughter's hand. He forces a smile for his wife. "Knock 'em dead, okay?"

"I'll do my best," she smiles back, laughing quietly before stepping forward and hugging him tightly. Mark drops his daughter's hand for a couple seconds to hug her back. After they pull apart, Lexie kneels down in front of her daughter. Mark takes a few steps back to give them a moment of privacy.

"I've gotta go now, baby," Lexie explains quietly, forcing herself to stay calm. "But I'll be home as soon as possible, okay?"

Annabelle stares up at her mother with deep, blue eyes. "I don't think you should go, Mommy," she whispers.

Lexie gives her daughter a small smile. "Oh, I don't want to go, either, Annie. But I have to, sweetie. I'm sorry."

Annabelle turns her head to look over her shoulder for a moment, and after deeming her father to be far enough out of earshot, she takes a step closer to her mother, lowering her voice. "Daddy gets sad when you're gone, Mommy. I don't think you should go."

Lexie freezes for a second. Her eyes fly immediately to Mark's, but he truly does seem to be far enough out of earshot. A second later, she composes herself, forcing a quick smile. "Well," she murmurs to her daughter after a moment, brushing some of her wavy light-brown hair behind her little ears, "will you promise me that when you see Daddy get sad, you'll try to make him feel better?"

Annabelle nods vigorously.

"Or have him call me, okay?" Lexie suggests. "Tell him not to worry about the time difference. Just call me."
"Okay, Mommy."

Lexie smiles bending forward to envelop her daughter in a tight hug. "I love you, baby girl."

When she pulls back, Mark is back by her side. He takes their daughter's hand as Lexie gets to her feet. She kisses him quickly, unable to help herself from putting a bit more force behind the gesture after what she'd just heard, and whispers her love in his ear. She bends over to press a firm kiss to her daughter's forehead, telling her to take care of her father before heading toward the growing line of flyers with a final wave.

. . .

"Hey," Lexie says seven hours later, answering her phone on the first ring. "How are you? How's Anna?"

Mark Sloan smiles on the other end of the phone. "I'm fine," he replies. "Going over some cases in my office. Anna's at school. More importantly," he adds, "how are you? Excited?"

He grins when he hears her laugh. "Sure, excited," Lexie replies sarcastically. "That's what I am."

"You can't say you're completely dreadingit," Mark smirks. "How was the flight?"

"It was fine. I'm on my way to the hotel now."

He nods, remembering the itinerary he'd glanced at early this morning. "At least they put you up somewhere nice," he recalls.

"Yeah," Lexie mutters, "a fancy room I'm going to do nothing except sleep in is a great trade-off for having to present in front of hundreds of people. For three days straight."

"You're practiced your talks," Mark reminds her patiently. "Arizona double-checked everything you're presenting. Richard signed off. Lex, you're golden. Stop worrying."

Lexie sighs, closing her eyes momentarily. "I just hate making speeches, is all," she mutters after a second.

Mark smirks across the length of his empty office. "Well, you really struck out with this one, then. Maybe if you stopped being such a successful surgeon people wouldn't want to make you fly across the country for week-long lectures."

"Two weeks," Lexie corrects, the misery seeping back into her voice. Mark listens to her sigh on the other side of the phone. "I wish you could've come," she whispers plaintively.

His lips twitch in a sad smile. "Me too. But someone's gotta take care of Anna."

"Yeah, yeah," Lexie replies. "I know. One of us needs to be responsible."

"Funny it should be me," Mark jokes.

Lexie chuckles quietly before asking very gently, "Mark? Are you going to be…okay while I'm gone?"

"I'll be fine," he replies immediately. "Don't worry about me, okay? Just focus on you and what you have to accomplish in the next couple days."

Lexie sighs quietly, knowing the sound won't be distinguishable through the phone among all the other ambient noises. She'll press him on this another time. "Okay," she replies reluctantly. "I have the first leg of my presentation this afternoon and then a dinner tonight, but will you have Anna call me tomorrow night? I love your voice, but I'd like to hear hers, too."

Mark smiles, blinking slowly. "Of course," he replies. "Good luck today. I love you."

"I love you too," Lexie replies. "And thank you; I'm going to need it."

. . .

Two days later, Lexie Grey Sloan can't help to hold back a smile as she concludes the end of her three-day presentation. Glancing at her watch after the applause dies down, she's surprised to notice that her talk ended a few minutes early.

"Well," she says with a smile, facing the once-daunting but now-familiar crowd before her, "if there aren't any questions..." She trails off, waiting for interruptions that don't come. "I think it's almost lunch, so for those of you who need to be first in line..." She holds an arm to the side doors. "The exit's right there. Don't worry, I won't hold it against you if you run out; I know how good the chicken is." She smiles at the quiet laughter, stepping back from the center of the platform.

. . .

At the back of the lecture hall, Mark Sloan is smiling as well, holding onto his daughter's hand and watching as the varied assortment of doctors and medical students rise to their feet. He waits, loitering by the back door for a few minutes until the last few people finish congratulating his wife and leave through the side door. He puts a finger to his lips, looking pointedly to his daughter. She grins, mimicking him. He picks her up, stepping quietly down the side stairs. When they reach the landing, Mark sets her down. He clears his throat quietly, and when Lexie doesn't look up from the notes she's studying, he speaks up.

"I had a question, actually," he says, taking a couple steps closer.

"One second," she replies, scanning the paper in her hands. She smiles quickly in the general direction of the door, waving the voice forward without sparing a glance to see who the owner is. "Sorry," she says, tucking the papers away in a folder. "I was just going over my notes, seeing if I missed anything," she mutters, turning to the visitor and flashing a quick smile. "Your question?" She prompts, just before registering who's standing before her.

"Did you miss us, Dr. Sloan?" Mark asks, grinning at the shocked, frozen look on his wife's face.

Before Lexie can even begin to formulate a reply, let alone process the two people standing before her, Annabelle is running towards her at full tilt. "Mommy, we came to surprise you!" She shouts, running into her mother's legs with a dull thump. Lexie's eyes flick from her husband's face to her daughter's bright and energetic eyes, looking up from just below her waist. She shakes her head in disbelief, finding Mark's eyes and biting her lip to hold back her emotion. He smiles gently, knowing what she's feeling.

A second later, Lexie reaches down and scoops her daughter. She wraps her arms around the little girl, holding her tight. Thank you, she mouths over the little girl's shoulder to her husband. He just smiles, taking a few more steps forward to join them. Lexie presses an emphatic kiss to her daughter's head before setting her down. She looks between the two in wonder, shaking her head.

"Now what are you two doing here?" She asks happily.
"Well, I couldn't very well miss your big moment, could I?" Mark replies with a smile. He glances down to their daughter. "And Anna wanted to see it, too; who am I to deny her?"

Lexie's lips spread in a happy grin, and she spreads her arms, stepping forward to greet him with a fast hug. "Thank you so much for coming," she whispers hoarsely in her husband's ear. "Thank you, thank you, thank you."

Mark smiles, gently untangling them. He reaches out, squeezing her hand tightly. "You're more than welcome." He glances down to their daughter. "So, Belle, what did you think of your Mom's speech? Good?"

Annabelle perks up, pointing two thumbs to the sky. "So good!" She replies. "And everybody clapped, it was like you were famous!"

Lexie lifts a hand to her mouth to hide her laughter. When the sobers a moment later, she thanks her daughter graciously. "So," she continues a moment later. "What do you two want to do while you're here?"

"Can we go to the park?" Annabelle asks excitedly. "The big one, with all the horseies?"

Mark spares a quick smiles for his wife before turning to their daughter. "Why don't we get some lunch instead?" He asks. He glances to Lexie. "You're probably starving."

Annabelle immediately pouts, but before her mother assuages her worries a second later.
"No, I think I'd like to go to the park," she announces.

Mark frowns at her. "Lex, you don't have to—"

"I want to," she interrupts with a smile. "I have an hour and a half for lunch…" She takes her husband's hand. "Why don't you show us around?"
. . .

"Have I told you recently that you're a perfect husband?" Lexie whispers a half-hour later as they meander along the twisting paths of Central Park. Mark smiles absentmindedly, his eyes following the little girl chasing after butterflies a few yards away.

"Not too recently, no," he murmurs.

"Because you are," Lexie replies softly, reaching out for his hand while her eyes, too, stay glued to their frolicking daughter. "You're the best."

Mark squeezes her hand, averting his eyes for the briefest moment to lean over to kiss his wife's temple. "I did it for you."

"I know." She shakes her head with an ever-widening grin. "But—how? What about work? And school—"

"It was all taken care of before we left," Mark assures her with a smile. "Don't worry about anything."

"I'm not," Lexie smiles. "I just…" She trails off, not knowing what to say. "I can't believe I missed her first plane ride," she finally settles on.

"Oh," Mark grins. "Was that an adventure."

"Oh, no," Lexie moans in laughter. "What did she do?"

"I'll put it this way, she's easily excitable," Mark replies.

"Give me the details later," Lexie chuckles. She turns her head, finding her daughter bent over a clump of wildflowers. She's systematically picking out different colors, holding them in her tiny fist like a miniature bouquet.

"Mark, I…" She turns her head back around, facing her husband again. "I can't believe you did this for me," she whispers, staring into his eyes. "I really can't believe it."

He smiles down at her lovingly. "I would've brought Anna sooner, but I didn't want us to distract you before your talks."

Lexie nods quickly, pulling away and continuing down the path as their daughter skips ahead of them. "Good idea," she replies softly, squeezing his hand. "I would never have been able to pay attention."

. . .

"I missed you," Mark whispers later that night, running the tips of his fingers over her cheek. Lexie smiles softly, taking his hand in hers and squeezing it. She moves her head towards his to kiss him.

"I missed you too," she murmurs after pulling away. Her fingers linger on his skin, and a second later, she can't ignore it any longer. "Anna told me not to leave," she whispers, rubbing her thumb lightly against his cheekbone. She smiles slightly when his forehead creases in confusion. "I thought it was just cause she'd miss me," Lexie explains a moment later, "but then she said it was because you got sad whenever I left." She stares at him, barely blinking. "She was worried about you, Mark."

Mark's eyes close, and he lets out a long sigh. "That little traitor," he mutters when he opens his eyes a moment later. A half-smile plays on his lips. "I can't believe she sold me out."

Lexie doesn't return his smile. "I don't want you to worry about me," she tells him seriously. "I'm already uneasy whenever I leave you two, and if Anna has been noticing, Mark, then really—"

"Lex, it's nothing," he interrupts her quietly. Her sharp glare conveys more skepticism than her words ever could. "Fine," he mutters a moment later. "It's just…" He exhales, trying to find the words. "I don't like it when we're apart, okay? I get nervous, and worried—what if something happens to you, and I'm not there?" He sighs quietly. "I'm sure she can sense things like that. It isn't hard to tell when one of us is upset about being apart, Lex, and she spends her entire life around us. She was bound to notice eventually."

Lexie exhales softly, absorbing this. "Fine," she replies after a moment. "But in the future," she tells him. "If you get worried about me or nervous or sad—just tell me, okay? Call me, text me…" She smiles, kissing his lips briefly. "Mark, I'll fly home if it's that bad."

He smiles, but shakes his head. "It's not that bad," he replies. "I just…" He reaches an arm out, pulling her body against his. "I don't like sleeping without you. I don't like being alone in our bed."

Lexie smiles, snuggling herself closer to him. "Well, you won't be alone much longer."

Mark grins, holding her close. He glances over her shoulder, reading the clock on the far bedside table. 12:23 AM. "You should get some sleep," he tells her softly, separating their bodies by just a few inches so they can lie back against the mattress comfortably. "You've got a big week and a half ahead of you."

Lexie nods, resting her head against a pillow but keeping it within reach of his. "Thank you so much for coming," she whispers softly after a moment. "And for bringing Anna. You have no idea what this means to me."

"I saw how unhappy you were to leave," Mark replies gently, wrapping an arm around her waist as well. "And I knew this was an important trip for you. I didn't want you to be worried about us the whole time, not when you should be concentrating on work."

Lexie shakes her head. "This isn't work. Surgery is work. This is just—talking and presenting research and shaking hands…" She sighs tiredly. "It's boring." A smile curves up her lips a moment later, and she turns her head to press a kiss against the fabric covering his shoulder. "I'd whine and complain and say I want to go home, but you've brought home to me."

Mark smiles. "I tried my best."

Lexie lifts her head, looking him in the eye. "You and Anna are here," she replies seriously. "That's all I need. That's all I want."

Mark blinks slowly, and she can see the simple contentment written all over his face just at their proximity. "Good, then," he whispers, just before leaning forward and kissing her softly.

. . .

Ten

. . .

"Dad?"

Mark Sloan looks up from the research he's studying to see his daughter sitting next to him at the kitchen table. "Yeah?" He asks, pushing the papers away and turning to face her.

"I wanted to ask you something…" Mark nods, waiting for her to continue. "Well, I was at Hannah's house yesterday, and she was showing me these crazy old pictures of her parents, from when the got married and stuff and…" She trails off, staring at him. "Why don't you and Mom have any wedding pictures?" She asks quietly.

Mark smiles at her. "Your mother and I, we… We didn't exactly have what most would consider a traditional wedding," he replies slowly.

"But you are—you are married, right?" Annabelle asks, her forehead creasing in worry. "Because if—"

Mark smiles, holding out his left hand for her to see. "What does that look like to you?"

Annabelle stares at the ring on his hand for a second. "It looks like a wedding ring," she finally admits with a smile.

Mark smiles back, pulling it off and passing it to her. "Here," he says, "wanna see?"

Anna takes it delicately, weighing it in her hand for a moment. Her eyes flick up to her father's momentarily before she slips the ring on the second-to-last digit on her left finger. It hangs loosely on her tiny fingers. "It's too big," she laughs, moving it to her other fingers in an attempt to make it fit. She passes it back when it doesn't even fit around her thumb, and Mark slips it on easily.

"You said you didn't have a traditional wedding," Annabelle reminds him. "What…" She frowns. "I don't really know what that means."

Mark smiles, feeling oddly happy sharing this part of his life with his daughter. "It means your Mom and I decided not to have our wedding in a church."

Annabelle frowns. "But don't you have to?"

Mark shakes his head with a smile. "Not really. When people get married in churches, it's just so they can invite all of their friends and family and share their moment and their day with the people they love—"

Annabelle grins. "What, you and Mom didn't have any friends?"

Mark chuckles. "No, we had friends. We just felt like having our ceremony in private."

"So where was it?"

"In the courthouse."

"The courthouse?" Annabelle repeats. "Why there?"

"Well, that's where you have to go to get legally married," Mark explains. "No matter what sort of wedding you're having, every couple has to have an official sign off on it and make it legal. So we went and did that, and we decided that it was enough." He smiles. "We didn't really want a big church wedding, anyway."

Annabelle absorbs this in silence before noting, "Well, I think you should have had one anyways."

"Oh, yeah?" Mark asks. "Why?"

She grins. "Cause then I could make fun of how funny you would look in the pictures."

Mark chuckles. "Nice, Belle. Real nice."

She laughs along with him for a few seconds before sobering. She stares at him covertly for a couple second before speaking. "Hey, Daddy?" Annabelle asks quietly. "What did you say to Mom to get her to marry you?"

Mark smiles to himself, and just as he opens his mouth to reply, his wife answers for him, walking in from the far side of the room. "He didn't say anything, actually," she informs their daughter.

Annabelle turns around, staring at her mother in confusion as she approaches. "What does that mean?"

Lexie grins, and there's an amused glint in her eyes that shows when she glances to her husband. "I asked him, he didn't ask me."

Annabelle's eyes go wide. "What? You did?"

"I said something," Mark replies, turning around with a smile as she walks up behind him. "I said 'yes,' didn't I?"

Lexie grins, putting a hand on his shoulder and squeezing lightly. "That was definitely my favorite word at the time."

"Belle was trying on my ring," Mark explains a second later, "but it was about five sizes too big." He smiles over at his wife. "Maybe she could try yours?"

Lexie smiles, twisting her ring off and passing it to her daughter. "Let's see how it fits, then."

Annabelle grins, reaching out to grab it. Just before she's about to slip it on her finger, the light catches the metal, and she sees some letters written on the inside. She holds it up to her eyes, inspecting the inscription. Lexie feels a smile bloom on her face when Mark reaches over to squeeze her hand.

"Can you read it?" She asks quietly.

"'I will always be yours,'" she reads. She smiles before lowering the ring. "Who put that there?"

Lexie smiles, bumping her hip against Mark's as she points to him. "This guy."

"Aw," Annabelle smiles. "That's so cute, Dad."

Mark grins. "I'm glad you approve. I may not have done a whole proposal—"

"—or any proposal," Lexie cuts in with a smile.

"—but at least I made the exchange of rings romantic," he continues.

Annabelle smiles at their light bickering, studying the ring again before looking to her father. "Does yours say it, too? Do they match?" She asks, slipping the ring on. It's still a little too big, so she takes it off and hands it back to her mother, who promptly returns it to the fourth finger on her left hand.

"They match perfectly," Mark replies. He reaches out, snaking a hand around his wife's waist. "Just like you and me."

Annabelle giggles when her mother groans, pretending to sound embarrassed. But she can see the smile only half-hidden on her mother's face, and she grins back.

. . .

Age Eleven

. . .

"Hey, Mom?"
"Yeah?"

"How did you and Dad meet?" Annabelle asks softly, sitting in a chair next to her mother. Lexie looks up from the medical journal she's reading, turning her head to look at her daughter.

"Hm?"

"You and Dad," Annabelle repeats. "How did you meet? You've never told me what you did on your first date or anything."

"Oh, we…" Teach me. Lexie glances away, forcing herself not to blush in front of her pre-teen daughter at the memory.

"What?" Annabelle smiles, noticing her hesitation. "You can't remember? You're not that old, Mom."

"Oh, thanks, Belle," Lexie replies sourly. "And, no, I do remember. It just took a moment, is all. We met at work."

"At the hospital?"

"Yup."

"And…what?" Annabelle grins. "Did your eyes meet across a crowded operating room?" She snickers. "Was it love at first sight?"

"Not exactly," Lexie chuckles in reply.

"Well, what happened, then?" Annabelle questions seriously a moment later. "Did he ask you out or something?"

Lexie sets down the journal in her hand, staring at her daughter. "Belle, why are you so curious?"

"I'm just wondering, is all. You've never told me about you and Dad. And everyone else knows about how their parents met," she adds defensively.

"Okay," Lexie replies, drawing out the word as she thinks quickly. "Well, no, actually, he didn't ask me out."

Annabelle stares at her, waiting for a response.

"I asked him out."

"You did?" Annabelle asks with a surprised smile. "But girls never do that!"

Lexie shrugs. "I felt like it."

"Why?"

"He…" Oh, no, I'm not judging. He is kind of insanely hot. "He seemed like an interesting person."

"So what did you do?"

"Hm?"

"On your first date," Annabelle presses. "What did you do?"

"Oh…" Lexie trails off, searching for an appropriate answer. "We, you know, we saw a movie. Had dinner." Showed up at his hotel room. Stripped.

"Mom," Annabelle replies with a faint groan. "I'm not an idiot. Come on, tell me what you really did."

"We ordered in food at the hospital and watched a surgery together for a couple hours," Lexie replies quickly before the truth can come out. We stayed in bed all night.

"That's it?" Annabelle asks dubiously, the smile from a minute ago disappearing off her face.

"That's it," Lexie replies.

"Oh my god," Annabelle moans dramatically, throwing her head back for emphasis. "You two are such dorks. And that is so boring," she adds.

"Hey," Lexie replies, half-defensive at her daughter's judgment of her fake date and half-relieved she didn't see through this lie as easily as the other. "We were on-call. It's easier to stay on the premises in case an emergency rolls in."

"Well, yeah, but… Surgery? Really? Isn't a date supposed to be fun? And don't you get enough of cutting people open at work?" She makes a disgusted face. "And how could you eat with all that gore going on like two feet away?"

"Ah, Belle," Lexie sighs indulgently. "You can never get enough of cutting people open when you're a surgeon. It's like oxygen."

Annabelle frowns, crossing her arms. "Well, did you even talk to each other? Or did you just sit there in silence while Aunt Meredith or someone cut some guy to pieces? I bet you didn't even say one word to each other."

"It was your Uncle Derek's surgery, actually," Lexie replies. "And yeah, we talked. Got to know each other a little bit." Come on, am I really so bad?

"And what then? Did you ask him out again?"

"No," Lexie replies slowly, remembering, years ago, when he'd muttered in her ear at Joe's about his hotel room being closer to Denver if she wanted to come along for the ride. "He asked me out. And before you complain, we did go out to dinner," she fibs. "I even wore a dress, so there you go." I even kept my clothes on. …For a half-hour or so.

"Good," Annabelle sighs in mock-relief. "I was starting to think neither of you were even the least bit human."

"We're plenty human," Lexie replies with an amused smile. "We're just a subspecies."

Annabelle shakes her head, muttering, "you're crazy," under her breath before raising her voice. "So what happened after that?"
Lexie shrugs, trying not to look like she was making things up as she went along. "We dated for a while."

"Did you break up?" Annabelle questions, latching onto her mother's vagueness.

"We had some fights," she admits truthfully after a few seconds. "There were a lot of things we didn't agree on while we were dating."

"Like what?"

Lexie licks her lips, noticing that she's inadvertently piqued her daughter's curiosity. "Lots of things, Belle," she replies absentmindedly. She tilts her head towards the young girl, catching her eye with a warm smile. "But nothing that matters anymore."

. . .

10 PM

. . .

"So Anna asked me how we met today," Lexie says as she walks into their bedroom.

"She did?" Mark asks, glancing over at her with interest from the dresser.

"Uh-huh," Lexie affirms. "She wanted to know what we did on our first date."

Mark smirks at the mention, pulling a t-shirt over his bare chest. "And what did you tell her? Not the truth, I'd hope."

Lexie shakes her head. "Just the usual. I met you at work, liked you, and asked you out." She grins over at him. "We ate Chinese while watching a corpus colostomy."

"Oh, we had our first date in front of Derek?" Mark frowns. "Really? Derek?" He grins a second later, nudging her with an elbow. "So was watching a surgery while eating take-out better than showing up at my door naked?"

"I wasn't naked," Lexie corrects, shoving him playfully. "And plus, how would I know? You've never watched a surgery with me."

"Oh, do I hear the winds of complaint blowing my way?" Mark asks, lifting a hand to his ear to mimic listening to far-off sounds. "Should we have more surgery-and-Chinese dates?"

"Maybe," Lexie smiles, walking over and crossing her arms above his back so her elbows are resting on his shoulders.

"Okay, I'll make you a deal," Mark offers, turning to catch her eye as she places her head on his shoulder to look in his eyes. "I'll take you out on a surgery date next week…if you'll pull another 'Teach me' afterwards."

"Nope," Lexie replies automatically, stepping back and shaking her head as he turns around. "Not happening."

"Why not?" Mark groans.

"I gave you a repeat once," Lexie reminds him. "I'm not doing it again."

"Oh, come on, that time was amazing." He grins, catching her eye with a mischievous glint in his. "I really didn't see it coming, you know."

"Yeah, I could tell," Lexie smirks, walking to her dresser. "You stared at me silence for a good two minutes. Good thing that didn't happen the first time, by the way," she adds. "I would have run out without a backward glance. I only had so much courage, you know."

"You would have left in just your bra and jeans?" He smirks. "Right. I think I would've been able to come to my senses quick enough to stop you. And come on," Mark pleads. "One more time. Our twelfth anniversary is in a few weeks, you know," he reminds his wife, walking up behind her and placing his hands possessively on her hips.

"No." Lexie shakes her head adamantly, but Mark can see a small smile on her face and hear laughter in her voice.

"I can rent a room at the Archfield," he offers suggestively into her ear.

Lexie sighs, turning around to face him. "And what will we do with Anna?" She asks in exasperation.

"She has friends," Mark shrugs. "She can sleep over at one of their places."

Lexie puts her hands on her hips, looking away in disapproval. …But it doesn't take more than ten seconds for her to look back over, catch her husband's eye, and let a secretive smile spread her lips wide.

"Come on," Mark goads. "You know you want to."

Lexie looks down, shaking her head briefly before looking up to meet his eyes. Oh, what the hell? She thinks. "You know what?" She smiles. "I'll do it."

Mark grins at her, leaning forward to kiss her. "You pick the OR and I'll pay for the food," he tells her.

"Well," Lexie begins. "Arizona's got a tonsillectomy next—"

"Eh," Mark interrupts. "Peds is boring."

"Hey!" Lexie protests.

"Oh, I'm sorry," Mark apologizes quickly as Lexie rolls her eyes at his insincere words. "Did I say 'boring?' I meant 'incredibly interesting.'"

"Right, and watching you manipulate a single piece of skin for three hours isn't boring," Lexie shoots back.

Mark grins. "I don't think you'd be complaining if it was your skin."

Lexie exhales loudly in disapproval, causing the air to gust up past her forehead and scatter a few stray strands of hair. "Everything has to turn into an innuendo with you. Really. Everything."

"It keeps you on your toes. Plus," he murmurs, walking behind her back. "I remember you saying once that my surgeries turned you on."

"That was a joke," Lexie corrects, feeling her shoulder twitch involuntarily as his breath passes by it. She turns around to look him in the eye as he walks to his side of the bed. "If you care to remember, I was joking."

"Yes, and that's why you showed up demanding sex after watching me operate."

"I thought we established that it was more than that," Lexie reminds him testily.

He grins. "Was it, though? I mean really, Lex?" He laughs aloud when she glares at him. "Okay," he murmurs a moment later, as they settle into bed beside each other. "What about Derek? I think he's doing some kind of aneurysm thing tomorrow."

Lexie frowns. "There's a huge chance that surgery could end up in death, though," she tells him. "And I don't want to be depressed after our date."

"Fine," Mark replies. "Should we go to Meredith's general, then?"

Lexie sighs loudly. "I guess."

Mark waits a minute before sighing just as loudly. "Or we could go to Arizona's tonsillectomy…" He offers reluctantly.

"Oh, can we?" Lexie gushes with exaggerated fervor.

"You're the worst," Mark chuckles, knowing her enthusiasm was only half-staged.

"Thank you," she replies genuinely, kissing him quickly. "The surgery's next Wednesday." She pauses, and he's half-convinced that, even after all these years, she's still forcing herself not to blush at the mention of their first night together. "And, um, just tell me the room number and I'll meet you there on the twenty-second."

Mark grins, leaning forward to place his hand on her cheek and kiss her lovingly. "You truly are the best wife."

Lexie smiles, pulling away for a moment to turn off the lights beside their bed before settling back against him again. "I know I am," she grins smugly, happily listening to his amused laughter.

. . .

"This is my fifth surgery today," Arizona Robbins calls up to the gallery. "And I will you ask one more time: Are you sure you don't want to take it off my hands?"

Lexie smiles, shaking her head. "Sorry, I'm off the clock. Just here for enjoyment."

Arizona shakes her head. "You're here to taunt me with your time off, aren't you?"

Lexie chuckles, smiling down at her old mentor. "Maybe just a bit," she replies as she hears the door open behind her and the aroma of freshly cooked Chinese food fills the small room. She turns, catching her husband's eye with a smile and tapping the seat of the chair next to her.

"Okay," he says, setting the food on the ground between them a moment later and taking his seat. "What did I miss?"

"Not much. It's just starting."

While the surgery went on below them, Mark and Lexie quizzed each other on obscure medical facts pertaining to the operation. Whoever missed an answer had to let the other take some of the their food. The game ended after five minutes, when Mark declared her photographic memory to be an 'unfair advantage' and argued that it was practically cheating since she could simply look up all the answers in her mind. Lexie replied that if he'd only been half as smart as she was, he'd be able to win back some of his food.

It took almost all of his self-control not to dump a container of lo mien on her head in retaliation.

Upon seeing his annoyance, though, Lexie had leaned over, deliberately brushed her breasts against his arm, and whispered in his ear that she'd make it up to him later. Mark didn't complain about her stealing his food the rest of the operation; at times, he even went so far as to offer her some of his.

. . .

"This won't work," Lexie calls through the door a week later.

"Why won't it work?" Mark asks. His reply comes muffled, as if he's on the other side of the room.

"Because," Lexie groans. She glances down either side of the hallway, but upon seeing no one else around, she leans her forehead against the wooden door. "I'm old," she explains. "And I need to look young. And hot," she adds.

"What?" She can hear him laugh from the other side of the door. It opens a moment later, and his smirking face meets hers. "To impress me?"

She eyes him momentarily before muttering, "Maybe," under her breath.

Mark grins, reaching out to brush his fingers against the side of her hip. "Well, don't worry about that," he tells her. "You look hot."

Lexie glares at him. "You are a terrible, terrible liar, Mark Sloan."

"Oh, what, you don't trust me?" He asks, pretending to act offended.

Lexie cracks a smile. "Not at all."

"Come over here, then," he smirks, reaching out to tug her closer. "Come over here and I'll tell you just how good you look, baby."

"Mark," Lexie chides.

"You're not old," he assures her. "I'm serious," he adds when she raises her eyebrows skeptically. "And—what, you said you won't look as good?" He shakes his head sadly. "Lex, you look amazing."

"Please," she dismisses, looking away. "You're just saying that so I'll come inside."

"No, I'm saying that because it's true." He smiles at her, reaching up and brushing some hair behind her ear. "You look beautiful, baby. I promise that's the truth."

She sighs, closing her eyes for a few moments.

"If you don't want to do this, you don't have to," he tells her. "I'm not going to care—"

"Of course you're going to care," Lexie replies impatiently. She sighs a moment later, waving him away. "Fine, fine, go inside."

Mark opens his mouth to tell her again that they don't need to do this, but instead, knowing she'd only push the subject, he turns around and closes the door behind him.

She knocks on the door a second later, still wondering how to act. She's torn between staying normal and attempting to re-enact that first time when he opens the door. Not knowing which to pick, Lexie simply steps forward, kissing him hard on his surprised mouth. Her hands sweep through the short hairs on the back of his neck and across the unshaven scruff on his cheeks.

"I love you," she whispers when she pulls back, her hands still splayed across his familiar cheeks.

He smiles at her and rests his forehead against hers. "I love you, too," he replies softly.

Before he can speak again, her hands are sinking down to his chest and undoing the buttons on his shirt. She decides that tonight will fall somewhere between the old and the new. "And I want you," she whispers, leaning forward to trail her kisses across the neckline of his undershirt. She brings her body against his as she can feel his hands wrapping around her waist and drawing her closer. "I want you so badly, Dr. Sloan."

"Lex," she hears him murmur as he shudders against her.

"What?" She whispers softly, innocently. "Don't you want me too?"

He stares at her, holding her head securely between his hands, and offers her a genuine smile. "I've always wanted you," he replies, his voice coming out so soft she knows he's dropped the act. "And I'll always want you."

She smiles up at him. "Good," she replies. A second later, she bends forward, letting their lips meet and seducing him into a long, slow kiss. "Will you make this night something I'll never forget?" She asks quietly, her eyes sultry as they find his when their mouths part for a moment. Her lips ghost over his, soft and loving. "Will you make this a night to remember?"

He stares at his wife, stepping forward and pulling her closer to him with a familiar hand on her waist. "Isn't every night?" He murmurs with a gentle smile, staring down at the love of his life. She smiles back up at him, her eyes lit up with excitement and warmed with happiness.

"Let's make this one stand out, then," she suggests, wrapping her arms around his neck. He pulls her close, drawing her inside and shutting the door loudly behind them.

. . .

10 AM

. . .

Coming back into consciousness slowly, Lexie takes a deep breath before blinking her eyes open. She hears Mark wake and yawn beside her, muttering a few incoherent syllables. She positions her head more comfortably against her husband's shoulder, burrowing her cheek against his skin, and letting a small smile spread over her lips as she lets her eyes open slowly.

"Morning," he murmurs, leaning down to press a kiss to her forehead. Lexie tilts her head, lifting her mouth to meet his.

"Morning," she whispers back a moment later as they pull apart later. She lets her head rest back on his chest again, and in return he reaches out an arm to draw the rest of her naked body against his.

"So," he begins quietly, rubbing the soft skin of her bare back. "How'd it compare?"

"Shouldn't I be asking you that?" Lexie smiles to herself, letting her eyes wander around the room, and letting the memories from the night before flood her brain, fueled by the sight of scattered clothes and half-eaten dinners. "It was wonderful," she tells him after a moment. "As always."

He chuckles at her quiet reply, leaning over to press a kiss to her hair. "Good to hear. It was for me, too."

They lie in silence for a few minutes more before Lexie sighs, rolling to her side to look her husband in the eye.

"Do you miss this?" She asks softly, her eyes only half-open as they stare at him.

"Miss what?" Mark asks with a yawn, turning on his side as well.

"This," she replies, moving closer until their foreheads touch. Her hand cups his shoulder lightly. "Things being lazy and easy and… and us. Just us. Do you miss us, the old us?"

"I like the new us," Mark replies.

"But do you miss what we used to be, when we were young and just… fooling around?" She smiles, her eyes darting around the room as she remembers the first time she'd showed up at his hotel.

"Yes," Mark replies truthfully after a moment. "I do miss the old us. But you know what?" He pauses, and she stares at him, waiting. "I like the new us better," he finishes, catching her eye. "A lot better. We've…" He sighs slowly, staring into her eyes. "We've evolved," he settles on softly. "We're married, we have a daughter… We're a family. We aren't just two idiots sneaking in and out of on-call rooms and hotels anymore."

Lexie smiles, kissing him. "Twelve years."

Mark grins back. "If I had champagne in my hand, I'd toast you."

Lexie looks over her shoulder at the table across the room, her eyes scanning the leftovers from their room service. "I think we drank it all last night," she observes with a smile, her eyes lingering on the tipped-over bottle.

"Well," Mark says, popping himself up against the headboard. He reaches an arm out, snaking it around his wife's waist and pulling her towards him. "We'll just have to order more, then, won't we?"

Lexie chuckles, kissing him quickly before attempting to get up. "I'd love to, but—"

"No 'but's," Mark murmurs, kissing her again. She laughs into the kiss, returning it for a moment before forcing herself to pull back.

"Again," she begins, "I'd love to. But we have to get back home…"

"No, we don't."

"Mark."

"What?" He replies innocently, pretending not to hear the disapproval in her tone.

"We have a daughter waiting for us to come home."

"Right." He grins. "About that, I called the Franklins last night and told them we wouldn't be home until noon."

Lexie stares at him blankly. "You didn't," she states a moment later in disbelief.

"I did," he affirms with a smile. "What?" He asks a moment later. "Jackie understood; she said Anna could stay at their place with Hannah until we got home. And come on," he smirks. "You can't tell me you're not grateful for my forethought."

Lexie just shakes her head, but shifts towards him nonetheless. Their lips meet immediately, crashing together and breaking apart over each other's skin in growing excitement, just before Lexie pulls back. "We're bad parents," she whispers breathlessly, putting a hand on his chest to separate them.

"We're fine parents," Mark murmurs back, his hands drawing her closer despite her half-hearted attempts to put some space between them. "And don't worry about Anna," he adds a moment later, "I'm sure she's more than happy to spend a few more hours at her best friend's house."

"I know that, I just…"

"Lex," Mark murmurs, moving to cradle her face in his hands. She holds her breath, staring at him. "We get one day a year, all to ourselves. One day. If that," he adds with a small smile. He stares at her. "Look, I love Anna as much as you do, but I'm not running to pick her up if she's having a perfectly fine time at Jackie and Greg's place with Hannah. …Especially when I know that you and I have a couple more hours to ourselves for once…"

"Mark…"

"Lex," he murmurs. "We get one day a year, baby." He stares deep into her eyes, and for a split-second, Lexie is transported back to another time—another life, almost—when words to that effect were uttered much more seriously, in broken fragments, with sad eyes. "One day," he repeats, and his expression snaps her back to reality. "All for ourselves. Just us." The smile just barely turning up his lips and lighting up his eyes cause her to forget all about the past and what they used to be.

"Oh, come on," he mutters after a moment. "Enjoy it with me, will you?"

Lexie closes her eyes, and he watches with satisfaction as a smile spreads over her face. She sighs a moment later, finally giving in as he knew she would. "You're just lucky I love you so much," she mumbles by way of explanation, leaning forward to kiss him.

"Yes," Mark murmurs through the kiss. He smiles when she pulls back. "I am."

. . .

Fourteen

. . .

"Hey, Anna B," Mark greets his daughter cheerfully as she walks in the front door. "How was school?"

"Fine," she mutters, walking quickly past him and heading for her room.

Mark stares after her, following behind as she climbs the stairs to her room. "What's wrong?" He calls from the foot of the steps.

"Nothing," Annabelle replies over her shoulder. Her breath catches for a moment, but she covers her mouth before her emotions can betray her. "I'm—I'll be upstairs," she manages before darting to her room.

Mark stares after her, confused, curious, and worried. "Okay," he mutters, reluctantly walking back towards the kitchen.

. . .

There's a knock on her door ten minutes later. "Can I come in?"

Her response is muffled by the white door. "I'd prefer it if you didn't."

The door eases open anyway, and Mark sticks his head in. "Sorry. My house." He glances at her, watching as she hangs up her phone before wiping her face quickly with the back of her hand. "What's wrong? What happened?"

"Nothing," Annabelle replies, looking away.

Mark put his hands in his pockets, taking a step into the room. "Is this about a boy?" He asks carefully, glancing at his daughter out of the corner of his eye.

"What?" Annabelle snaps, outraged. "God, no, it isn't about a boy. And I wouldn't talk to you about it even if it was!"

"Okay, okay," Mark replies easily, holding out a hand to calm her down. "Fine. What is it, then? Did something happen at school?"

Annabelle ignores the question, taking a sharp breath. "When's Mom getting home?"

"She's at work," Mark replies.

"Yes, I know she's at work," Annabelle snaps impatiently. "Will you just tell me when she's getting back?"

Mark sighs, glancing down at his watch. "In about forty minutes," he answers. He looks back up, staring at his daughter. "Belle," he begins softly. "Are you going to tell me what's wrong?"

"I'd rather talk to Mom about this."

"Well, she's not here right now." He pauses, waiting for her to explain what she's so upset about. "Anna," he murmurs after a few seconds. "If you'd just tell me—"

Annabelle's lip trembles as she turns to look at him. "Dad…"

"Yeah?" He asks softly, sitting on the edge of her bed. "What is it?"

"Hannah's parents are…" She sniffs, looking away. "They're getting divorced."

Mark takes a steadying breath, absorbing this. "Hannah Franklin's parents?"

"Yes, what other Hannah do you know?" Annabelle replies angrily. "She's only been my best friend since, I don't know, I was five!"

"Okay, easy. I was just checking."

"They're getting divorced and she—she was so upset she had to leave school. And I—I heard…"

"What?"

"I heard her dad was sleeping with someone else, and that's why they're getting divorced. He's—he's running off with some skank from his office and Hannah can't even look at him and all her mom does is cry and—" Her voice dissolves into tears as Mark's tackled head-on in a hug that takes his breath away.

"Annabelle," Mark whispers, hugging her back. "Sweetheart, it'll be okay. These things work themselves out—"

"But it won't be okay," she cries into his shoulder. "Lauren told me on the bus that Jacob Bresley's parents are getting separated too and—" She pulls back to look him in the eye, her chin trembling. "And what if you and Mom get divorced? What if—what if one of you leaves and—" She leans forward, catapulting herself into his arms again. "You can't go, Daddy, please—I love you."

"Hey," Mark murmurs, rubbing up and down her back soothingly. He smiles slightly at the use of the name, 'Daddy.' He can't remember her calling him that since she was ten. "I love you too, Belle. And I promise you I won't ever leave you or your mother, okay? We're a family. We love each other."

Anna hiccups through her tears, pulling back slowly. "That's what Hannah, thought, too," she whispers. "And now her Dad's leaving."

"I'm not going anywhere, Belle."

"It doesn't have to be you!" She protests desperately. "What—what if Mom leaves? What if she leaves us and I—I won't have a mother anymore?"

"Anna," Mark murmurs. "You'll always have a mother. And yours isn't going anywhere anytime soon."

"But what if she does—"

"Annabelle," Mark cuts in, more harshly than he'd initially intended. He softens his voice a second later, staring his daughter in the eyes. "She isn't leaving, okay?"

Anna shakes her head, thrusting herself neck-deep in denial. "You don't know that. Hannah's mom didn't know and one day he just left. He just left her all alone and—"

"If I tell you something," Mark interrupts quietly, "will you promise not to worry about either your mom and I leaving again?" Annabelle pauses, considering the offer, before nodding.

"Alright," he sighs. He begins quietly, with the basics: "Before we were married, your mother was with someone else."

"A boyfriend?" Anna guesses.

"No, no, not a boyfriend. She was… Belle, your mom was married to someone else."

"She was? Why didn't she…" Annabelle trails off, lifting her hand to cover her mouth. "Did he die?" She whispers, seeing that as the only logical conclusion as to why he wouldn't be brought up in conversation.

"No," Mark replies slowly, trying not to remember all those years he had spent wishing just that would happen. "He didn't die."

"Then…what? What happened to him?"

"Your mother left him," Mark replies. He lets his voice trail off, staring at her unblinkingly for a short moment before her eyes widen in realization.

"For you?" Annabelle asks, her eyes wide. "She left him for you?"

Mark nods. "Don't look so surprised," he tells her, giving his daughter a small smile. He sobers a second later. "We were… very much in love, your mother and I, and it took some time, but we both eventually realized that we had made a mistake by letting each other slip by. And, at one point, I spoke with her about it and she agreed to leave him… But she wanted to make sure I'd be there for her if she did."

"And you were?"

"And I was," Mark affirms. "I haven't left her side since and she hasn't left mine, either."

Annabelle sits back, processing this. She wipes her eyes with her palms.

"So," Mark begins. "Next time, before you start freaking out that I'm going to leave or your mother's going to leave, just remember that this has already happened with us. We survived through it and we're still together. And we're… we're very committed to each other, okay, Belle? We won't be leaving one another, or you, anytime soon. Ever."

Annabelle nods. "Okay."

"You alright?"

"Yeah. Thank you."

"Anytime, sweetheart."

"And Dad?"

"Yeah?"

"Thank you for telling me."

"You should know," is his only response before getting up, leaving the room, and closing the door quietly behind him.

. . .

"I'm home," Lexie calls as she walks in the front door twenty minutes later. She takes off her coat, hanging it up by the peg on the door before calling up the staircase. "Anna, you here?" She frowns at the muffled reply, walking through the ground floor until she finds her husband in their bedroom. "Hey," she calls with a smile. "How was your day?"

"Fine," he replies shortly from his seat on the edge of the bed.

Lexie stares at him for a moment before crossing her arms. "Okay," she begins, "want to tell me what's wrong? Anna didn't even open her door to say hello when I walked in, and then I find you in here skulking…"

Mark sighs, taking a few steps toward her. He decides not to sugarcoat things. "Jackie and Greg are getting divorced."

"What?" Lexie breathes, her face going blank with shock. "What happened? I just talked to Jackie last week—"

"Apparently," he begins slowly, coming to a stop in front of her, "from what I heard from Anna, Greg was…" He meets his wife's eyes. "Screwing around."

"With who?" Lexie whispers.

Mark shrugs. "Someone from work, I guess."

Lexie lifts a hand, rubbing her forehead. She takes a deep breath, and she drops her hand a moment later. "Anna knows?" She asks quietly.

Mark nods. "She's the one who told me."

Lexie closes her eyes, bringing a hand to her forehead. "This must be so hard on Hannah…"

"I think she's taking off school for a couple days." Mark pauses. "But, Lex, what I wanted to talk about… It wasn't exactly that."

"Then what did you want to talk about?"

He swallows, forcing the lump in his throat farther down. "I… I told her."

"You told who what, Mark?" Lexie asks tiredly, already lost in planning what she'll have to say to her daughter.

"I told Anna about…us. About what we were, about Jackson."

"You… You…" Lexie trails off, shaking her head in disbelief. "You what?" She wonders aloud, not completely comprehending his words.

"Lex, she was sobbing," Mark explains himself quickly, his quiet tone matching hers. "And she wouldn't listen when—"

"What did you tell her?" Lexie whispers, her eyes wide and frightened.

Mark stares at her in confusion, stepping forward and placing his hands on her shoulders. "Lex, I didn't tell her anything. What are you so worried about—"

"How much does she know?" Lexie whispers. She sniffs, staring at her husband. "Please," she whispers a second later. "Just tell me. Just—"

"Lex," he interrupts softly, his voice hushed in confusion. "What are you talking about? What are you worried about?"

"Don't stall," she mutters. "Please just tell me what you told her."

"I… I told her you were married to someone else," he begins slowly, watching her expression. "I told her we were in love, and that I convinced you to leave him for me… I told her we'd never been apart since then. That's…all I told her, Lex."

"That's…" Lexie trails off, staring at him straight in the eyes as if trying to force the truth out. "That's… it?" She whispers after a moment, her gaze softening as her face washes with relief. Mark stares at her, his eyebrows drawn together in confusion at the air of wonder about her words.

"Yes," he replies slowly. "Why?" He asks a second later. "What were you expecting, that I'd tell her everything, every little detail?"

Lexie swallows, looking up at him and pressing her lips together like she's struggling not to cry. "You didn't… You didn't even mention what happened between us? All—all those years we were together? Seattle, Portland, everything that…" She swallows roughly. "Everything that happened between us?" She finishes softly.

"Of course not," Mark replies, slightly alarmed. He stares at her. "Why in the world would I tell her all that?"

Lexie shrugs, a relieved laugh bubbling to the surface. "I—I don't know," she replies. "Maybe you…thought she deserved to know the truth, or something…"

"And what?" Mark asks. "What then? Why would it be so bad to tell her, besides the fact that there's no reason she should know all those details?"

"I just… I didn't want you to have told her and then…" Lexie bites her lip, meeting her husband's eyes. "Mark, what if she hated me over it?" She whispers. "I—I couldn't stand it if she hated me."

"Lex," he murmurs reassuringly. "She doesn't hate you. Nothing you've done could make her hate you."

"Mark, I am her mother. I'm supposed to be her role model, I'm supposed to show her the difference between right and wrong. I'm—I'm not supposed to be a lying adulterer." She stares up into his blue eyes, hoping to find some solace in them. "I'm not supposed to have run away from my family in the middle of the night, year after year…"

"Yes, to be with your real family," Mark corrects quietly.

Lexie stares at him, cracking a small smile after a tense minute. "Exactly," she whispers after a moment.

Mark smiles at her, reaching out to lift her chin up so he can look in her eyes. "Are we okay here?" He asks softly.

Lexie nods, letting her eyes fall closed. When Mark steps forward and wraps his arms around her a second later, she hugs him back, tucking her head into his shoulder. "I love you," she whispers into his ear.

. . .

A few minutes later, Lexie is ascending the stairs in her home, slowly heading for the room on far end of the upper hallway. She knocks on her daughter's door lightly. "Anna?" She calls. "Can I come in?" She pushes open the door a moment later, after receiving an affirmative answer, and steps inside. Her daughter is lying on her bed, staring off into space.

"I heard you wanted to talk to me…"

Annabelle looks over, catching sight of her visitor. She stares at her mother for a long minute before whispering, "Dad told you about Hannah's parents, didn't he?"

Lexie nods, leaning against the edge of her daughter's bed. "He did." She glances over to her teenager. "How are you doing?"

Annabelle shrugs. "I'm… okay, I guess. I was talking to Hannah before, but she said she just wanted to be alone for a while."

Lexie nods slowly. "If you want, and it's okay with her and her mom, I can drive you over there later."

Annabelle's eyes light up with gratitude and a smile takes shape on her lips. "Thanks, Mom," she whispers. "That's—that'd be great."

"So," Lexie murmurs a few minutes later, breaking the still silence in the room, "your Dad said—"

"Mom?" Annabelle interrupts quietly, catching her mother's eye when the older woman turns her head. "Were you really married to someone else?"

"I was," Lexie replies softly, finding the admission not as hard to say aloud as she thought it would be.

"And you—you left that other guy for Dad?" Lexie nods. "…Why?" Annabelle wonders.

Lexie shrugs. "I didn't love him, Belle. Simple as that."

"You loved Dad?" Annabelle guesses with a small smile.

Lexie smiles back, nodding. "I did." She looks her daughter in the eye a moment later. "Now, Belle, I haven't spoken to Jackie yet, so I don't know what her situation with Greg is like… But in my experience, divorcing someone is a very serious action. You shouldn't do it unless you're sure you have to."

"I think she had to," Annabelle mutters under her breath. A half second later, she raises her voice, directing her words at her mother again. "But… What about you? Did you have to?"

Lexie nods sadly. "Yeah."

"So you couldn't have stayed with him? That first guy?"

"Not when I felt like dying everyday."

Annabelle's face twists in sympathy. "Oh, Mom…"

Lexie shakes her head, smiling softly at her daughter's pity. "Annabelle, this is important, okay, so I want you to listen. I know you're young," she cracks a smile when Anna rolls her eyes, "but I hope if I tell you now, you'll remember this: if you find someone you love—and they love you just as much—you stay with them. No matter what the circumstances are, no matter what the situation is, if you find someone you truly love, hold onto them with all you've got, okay? If you're strong enough to hold on, they'll be strong enough to stay with you, to come back."

"Is that…" Annabelle licks her lips, curious. "Is that what Dad did with you? He held on because he loved you?"

"We both did, but yes, he held on very tightly." Lexie smiles. "He's never been good at letting people go. I'm sure it'll be hell when you go off to college," she adds lightly a second later.

"He'll survive without me," Annabelle laughs.

Lexie gives her daughter a small smile. "I wouldn't be so sure."

"He'll have you."

Lexie's smile widens as she stares at her daughter. "Yes. He will."

"And come on, Mom, that's four years away. That's forever."

Lexie chuckles quietly, straightening back up and walking to the door. "Oh, just you wait. Time will start flying by soon, I'm sure."

"Mom?" Annabelle calls just before her mother leaves. Lexie hesitates in the doorway, turning towards her daughter.

"Yeah?"

The young girl bites her lip, looking down at her bedspread before meeting her mother's eyes. "Thanks for telling me," she whispers. "And about you and Dad, I'm—I'm glad you let him hold on. I'm glad you came back."

Lexie feels herself grin at her daughter's words, unable to hide her gratitude for her daughter's approval, no matter how ignorant it might be. "Me too," she replies after a second. "I'm glad too, Peach."

. . .

"How'd it go?" Mark asks quietly, meet his wife at the bottom of the stairs.

"Fine," Lexie replies with a smile. She stares at him, easily noticing that old worried look in his eyes. "Hey," she begins softly, walking towards her husband. "That was one conversation, okay? She knows about him, that doesn't mean anything—"

"Yeah, yeah," Mark waves a hand, brushing away her reassurance. He looks to the floor, chagrined at being so easily seen through. "It's just… old wounds, you know?"

"I made a life with you, Mark," Lexie reminds him seriously. She steps towards him, making a point to hold his gaze even though he tries to avert hers. "I married you and I have a daughter with you."

"I know," he replies quietly. He glances up to the second floor a moment later, but their child is nowhere near. "Speaking of that daughter we have…" A smile curves up his lips. "She called me 'Daddy' today."

"Aw," Lexie smiles, already feeling her mood grow light again now that they're all on the same page. She takes one last step towards him and slips her hand within his, squeezing his fingers. "That's sweet," she murmurs warmly.

"She hasn't done that in years," Mark mumbles softly, almost to himself. Lexie nods, looking into his worried blue eyes. "She's growing up," he states a moment later, grasping her hand firmly and meeting her dark eyes.

"I know," Lexie agrees.

"Fast," he adds, looking away.

Mark hears his wife sigh slowly, and when she speaks next, her words come out much softer than before. "I know," she whispers.

"We'll all be okay?" He asks quietly, turning his head and focusing his worried gaze on his wife.

She smiles encouragingly in return, squeezing his hand with the quiet reassurance she knows he needs. "We'll all be okay," Lexie replies. She lifts his hand to her mouth, kissing his skin gently. "I know we will. Don't worry, alright?"

He squeezes her hand tightly. "I won't," he promises, staring into her dark brown eyes.

. . .

We can always look back at what we did

All those memories of you and me, baby

But right now, it's you and me forever, girl

And you know, we could do better than anything that we did,

You know that you and me—

We could do anything.

. . .

Author's Note: Wow. I can't believe this story is finally over.

I'm not sure if you guys have realized this, but I originally began this story as a solution to a worst-case scenario. I wrote almost all of it during the time that Mark and Lexie were broken up and while she was dating Jackson. Personally, I'm a very pessimistic person—I was sure Mark and Lexie were done for, so I wrote this fic to make myself feel better about their ruined relationship. I figured that even if she stuck with Jackson on the show, I knew that behind the scenes, she was still with Mark. And through this, I got to have my own little happy ending :)

But thankfully, I (we) don't have to worry about that possibility anymore! XD And hopefully he'll dump Julia soon so they can get back together… Maybe we'll get a real happy ending by the end of the season :)

Thank you all so much for reading! Your continued support and feedback has meant so much to me, especially considering what a long haul this story turned out to be. (I still can't believe it's over…)

Please leave me a final review on the story (and this chapter) below!