Summary: This was supposed to be several Christmas drabbles, but I think several of the so-called 'drabbles' are too long to be considered drabbles. lol – I tried. Follow Meredith over several Christmas days in her life as she discovers the magic.
AN: I needed a break from WYB, and this was something fun and new and easy to write. Unfortunately, it didn't get finished in time for Christmas, but was done by the end of the December...and then there were internet issues that delayed posting until now. I hope you enjoy it anyway. The next chapter of WYB is almost done. I hope to have it posted tomorrow.
Disclaimer: I am not affiliated with Grey's Anatomy. I am simply borrowing the characters for my own amusement.
It was still dark when Meredith awoke. It was the first Christmas morning since her mother had moved them across the country. Knowing her mother didn't like her out of bed when it was still dark out – she'd experienced her mother's anger at finding her in the kitchen looking for water in the middle of the night exactly one time and never wanted to go through that again – she forced herself to stay in bed, despite the excitement she felt.
She'd only asked for one thing for Christmas from Santa. She'd even written two letters. The first had been written in class at her new school. She didn't like her new school, the other kids were mean to her, but she stayed quiet and ignored them because she knew she wouldn't have to be there much longer. As soon as her dad came to get her, he'd take her home. She had friends at her old school.
When she'd shown her mother the first letter, Ellis had stared at it for a long time before ripping it down the middle and telling Meredith that Santa Clause didn't exist.
Meredith had pretended to believe her, while knowing it wasn't true. She could remember her daddy telling her all about Santa the Christmas before while they waited together for Ellis to come home from the hospital. Her daddy wouldn't lie to her.
After Ellis had ripped up the letter, Meredith had picked the pieces out of the garbage bin and had carefully rewritten it. She'd snuck out of the house while her mother was working in her office and walked down the street by herself to mail the new letter.
The second letter had been the same as the first. Dear Santa, please bring me my daddy for Christmas.
He'd promised to see her soon before Ellis had taken her away from Seattle. She knew Boston was far away from Seattle, so maybe her daddy needed help to come and get her. It felt like it had been forever since she'd seen her daddy, but she wasn't sure how long exactly. She'd kept count for awhile on paper, like she'd seen on TV. Four lines in a row, and then one across made five days. She'd filled the front and half of the back of the piece of paper before it had disappeared from under her pajamas in her second drawer. She suspected her mother had found it and ripped it up like her letter to Santa, but Ellis never said anything and Meredith was afraid to ask.
A noise sounded from downstairs, and Meredith leapt out of bed, excitement getting the best of her. She didn't want to wait another second to see her daddy. It would be worth her mother catching her out of bed too early.
She ran down the stairs so fast that she nearly tripped once she reached the bottom and practically skidded into the living room.
The empty living room.
A small pile of presents sat under the sparsely decorated tree in the corner. Ellis had hung the lights before being called into the hospital. Three days later, Meredith had had enough of waiting for her mother to help her with the tree, so she had hung the ornaments. Unfortunately, she had only been able to reach half way up the tree. She'd left a few ornaments in the box for Ellis to hang, but they were still there now.
She spun around, but her daddy wasn't in the hallway. Another noise sounded, which she determined came from the kitchen. Smiling widely, she sprinted into the kitchen, only to stop dead at the sight. Ellis was standing by the sink, staring out the window at the dark morning, a coffee mug in her hands. Thatcher was nowhere to be seen.
"Merry Christmas, Meredith," Ellis greeted as she turned to face her.
Meredith said nothing. Where was her daddy? He was the only thing she had asked for.
"Do you want to open your presents?" Ellis asked, glancing at her watch. "I have to go into the hospital in an hour, so you have to be quick."
Meredith felt her lower lip tremble. Her daddy wasn't here. He wasn't coming. 'Soon' had passed weeks ago, months even. He had lied.
"Meredith?" Ellis prompted, with what Meredith would one day recognize as a forced smile.
"It's okay, mommy," she practically whispered. "I can open my presents later." It didn't matter what was wrapped up under the tree. Her daddy wouldn't fit into any of the boxes. "It's more important that you help people today."
Ellis's lips flattened and for a moment, Meredith thought she was going to insist Meredith open her presents now, but then Ellis nodded. "That's very mature, Meredith."
And then she sent Meredith to get dressed. It was still dark when they left the house. The hospital daycare was closed, so Meredith spent most of the day in the OR gallery and the staff lounge. The nurses kept bringing her Christmas cookies. She ate so many that she got a stomach ache. It was dark again when Ellis drive them home.
Her daddy never showed up. He wasn't going to see her soon.
She cried herself to sleep that night. Her daddy wasn't coming for her. She was stuck here, in the unfamiliar house and the school she didn't like. And Santa Clause didn't exist.
She decided she didn't like Christmas anymore.
At fourteen, Meredith screamed obscenities at the silence she woke up to Christmas morning. Ellis had promised she'd be home for Christmas this year, but she'd left before Meredith had woken up, leaving Meredith a note on the kitchen counter.
Meredith had ripped the note into as many pieces as she could manage, a call-back to her letter to Santa from her first year in the house she still hated living in.
Practically shaking with anger and ignoring the tears streaming down her cheeks, she paced back and forth in the living room, trying to decide whether or not to open the small pile of presents sitting on the couch. There was no tree this year, and hadn't been for several years.
Finally giving into her sadness, she collapsed onto the couch and reached for the first present. Maybe it would make her feel better. Maybe it would show her that her mother cared.
The paper revealed a book Ellis had given her for her birthday the year before.
She tossed it aside and reached for the next present. It wasn't any better. A game she may have liked when she was twelve.
She didn't open any more of the presents. Instead, she marched into the kitchen and opened the cabinet her mother kept the alcohol in. She reached for the half-full bottle of vodka – she'd been sneaking sips for months now – but hesitated. She really didn't like it. She reached for the next bottle, the liquid a darker colour, and pulled it out instead. Tequila. With a shrug, she unscrewed the cap and took a swig.
The drink was strong and she grimaced, but didn't put it back. If her mother didn't care, then neither did Meredith. Christmas didn't matter anyway.
It was her third Christmas away from her mother's house. She hadn't returned for a holiday since leaving for University. What was the point? Her mother wouldn't be there anyway.
She felt both better and worse about spending the holiday alone in her own apartment. On one hand, she couldn't be disappointed when Ellis once again chose the hospital over her daughter, but on the other hand, there was no hope that Christmas may actually turn into something positive.
With an annoyed sigh, she reminded herself that she hated Christmas and tried to force her attention onto the textbook laying on the table before her.
"I thought you were joking." A familiar voice called from behind her.
Meredith turned to face the man intruding on her self-induced isolation. "What?"
"When you said you were going to take advantage of Christmas day to do your laundry when the laundry room was quiet, I thought you were joking."
"Well, I wasn't," she snapped, wishing Jake, her neighbour, would take the hint and leave her alone. Despite the fact that the laundry room was a communal space, she had assumed she'd have it to herself on the holiday.
"Don't you have some family dinner to go to?" He asked, his tone still mostly light, but with a hint of something else; something he probably thought was sympathy, but she only heard as pity.
"My family doesn't celebrate Christmas," she said flatly, and added a glare so that he'd know not to push the issue any further.
Jake sputtered for a moment, uncertain of how to proceed. "I just came home to change and grab a few things I forgot," he told her.
She shrugged her shoulders, trying to look like she didn't care.
"I can...stay...for a while...if you want some company." His cheeks reddened slightly, but he kept his gaze fixed on hers.
For a moment, Meredith felt her resolve weaken. She'd known for some time that Jake had a thing for her. And he was a good person. She knew if she ever let him in that he'd be good to her. And it would be so nice to have someone to spend today with. But she didn't want his pity and she didn't want to be saved, not even from herself.
"I'm fine," she said.
He nodded, "Okay, but-"
"I'm fine," she repeated.
"Okay," he said again. "I should go, then." He shifted his weight, as if debating whether to follow through with his words. "Uh, maybe after the holidays, we could, if you want, I mean...we could grab a coffee?"
She could say yes. They could go for coffee, and then another, and then dinner. And then there'd be more dates, sex, a relationship. And as soon as she felt something she knew she'd be gone. Jake was a good guy. He deserved better.
"I don't do relationships," she said.
His face reddened more at her words. "I wasn't...I mean, I... I just..." He paused and took a breath. "I just want to be your friend."
She raised an eyebrow.
"Okay," he relented. "Maybe I'd like to be more than your friend. But we could start with just friends?"
Meredith shook her head. "No."
Because everyone lies. Because no one is ever truly there for you. Because nothing good ever happens on Christmas. "Because," she declared, "Now please go back to your family thing. I'm trying to get some work done." She turned back to her text book and pretended to read through the tears in her eyes.
After a moment, Jake sighed. "I'm sorry, Meredith," he said, before turning and walking away.
"I'm sorry, too," she whispered once he was long gone and couldn't possibly hear her.
A little more than halfway through medical school, Meredith sat facing her mother at a small table. Ellis was writing methodically onto a pad of paper, probably thinking it was a patient chart and that she was in a hospital. It made Meredith grateful that the Alzheimer's had progress far enough that Ellis no longer comprehended her prognosis. The surgeon would be horrified to know she spent her days scribbling gibberish onto blank paper in the corner of her nursing home.
"Mom," Meredith prompted, only to be rewarded with an unfocused stare from Ellis. "Are you having a good Christmas?" It was a stupid question to ask, and she knew it, but she was supposed to remind Ellis of the reality when she could.
Ellis didn't respond to the question. "I have to finish updating these charts," she said.
Meredith nodded. "Okay."
Ellis returned her attention to the notepad.
Meredith sat back in her chair and blinked away the stinging behind her eyes as she silently asked herself why she had shown up for her mother today when Ellis had never done the same for her. For each of the three Christmases since Ellis's diagnosis, Meredith had promised herself she would not visit the nursing home. She'd even taken pleasure in the bitterness of it all. Ellis had always left her alone on Christmas, so it was right for Meredith to do the same to her.
Unfortunately, Meredith followed the trend of lying to herself. Despite three years of promises, she showed up at the nursing home each time.
She'd been there for over an hour, and Ellis clearly wasn't going to be pulled away from her 'charts' any time soon. If she went home now, she could get drunk sooner. She'd found that was a good way to deal with her holiday depression.
"Well, I'm going to go," she announced, not expecting a response. She stood.
Surprising her, Ellis looked up. "Going home?"
"That's good. You should go home on Christmas if you can."
Meredith nodded. "Okay."
"I always wanted to," Ellis continued, surprising Meredith again. "But there always seems to be...something..." She shook her head. "I wanted to make Christmas special for my daughter, but it never worked out that way when she was young. And then she grew up and I guess I stopped trying."
Meredith felt tears spring to her eyes. If she didn't know better, she'd think Ellis was...sorry.
Ellis sighed. "Do you have kids?"
Meredith shook her head. She knew she should remind her mother that she was her daughter and not simply a random co-worker, but she was afraid Ellis would stop talking if she did so.
"If you do, don't ever stop trying. You can't go back."
Ellis said nothing more. She simply turned her attention back to her notes.
Meredith swallowed the lump in her throat and hurried out the door. She cried in her car for half an hour before driving herself home to her empty apartment.
Even if Ellis had truly regretted her actions each Christmas, it hadn't changed a thing for Meredith. She'd still been alone.
Her first Christmas as a doctor greeted her with an all new level of holiday depression.
She'd been stupid and weak and had broken all of her rules. She'd allowed herself to let someone in and fall in love.
And her heart had been shattered. She hated him and she loved him all at the same time, and the two conflicting emotions were only escalated as the holiday she already dreaded neared. She was confused and conflicted and really, really angry. Angry at him. Angry at herself. Angry at the freaking universe.
She should have known better. Of course he wasn't as perfect and available as he'd made himself seem. Of course he wasn't going to sign the divorce papers. Of course he wasn't going to pick Meredith. Everyone lied.
She should have known better.
Had she known better, she would not have been surprised to wake up alone after dreaming of spending the holiday with him. It was bad enough to be alone, but now that she'd gotten a taste of what it felt like to not be alone, she craved company. His company.
But that wasn't going to happen. There was no hope. She couldn't write a letter with her uttermost wish. Santa hadn't existed since she was five years old.
In her third year of surgical residency, Christmas kind of snuck up on her. She was busy at work and didn't have a lot of time to invest in dreading the upcoming holiday. On Christmas morning, she dragged herself out of a cold, hard on-call room bed and into the hustle and bustle of the hospital.
It wasn't until he appeared that she realized she really wasn't alone this Christmas. She caught sight of him heading her way down the hall. She smiled, expecting to share a look or maybe a quick word, as had become normal, but was surprised when he stopped her, snaked his arms around her waist and kissed her.
"Merry Christmas," he said against her lips, before kissing her again. This time she got over her surprise quickly enough to kiss him back.
"We're at work," she sputtered when he pulled away. They had a no kissing rule at work – well, in public at work. Most of the time, anyway.
He shrugged, his eyes sparkling. "It's Christmas," he said, as if that explained everything.
She wasn't able to suppress her smile because that statement – It's Christmas – didn't immediately cause a sense of dread in the pit of her stomach. And that felt really, really good.
A few hours later, when her mentor asked for an invitation to their home for Christmas dinner, she felt even better. Very grown up. And very much not alone.
Nearly a dozen people showed up for Christmas dinner at their home, including the man who hadn't shown up nearly three decades earlier. Meredith chose to try and consider Thatcher simply several Christmases late. It worked...sort of.
When her mentor showed up with her own father in tow, he had quickly become his charming self in an obvious attempt to win points with the woman who could boss around anyone and everyone at the hospital. "Hello, Mr. Bailey," he'd greeted warmly. "Welcome. We're so glad you could make it. This is my wife, Meredith."
The ease at which the term slipped off of his lips tugged at her heart, and looking around at the room full of people, she realized she had a family.
She cried again that night, but for once not out of sadness or anger or frustration.
When her husband – the man who had lied and left, but who had come back – admitted to spending five-digits worth of their money towards building an instrument to save the life of a little boy with a nose bleed, she'd burst into tears. He'd opened his mouth to apologize, but she'd cut him off with a kiss.
"I love you," she'd told him.
"I love you, too," he echoed, pulling her bare body to his and wrapping his arms tightly around her.
"Derek?" She whispered after several minutes of simply not being alone. "This was my best Christmas ever."
Instead of pity, he hugged her a little tighter. "This is only the beginning."
Half a year after that day, Meredith awoke early in the morning. A glance at the bedroom window told her the sun had yet to begin its daily trek through the sky. She lay there for a moment, trying to determine why she was awake, and decided she was cold.
Rolling over, she snuggled into the warmth heating the bed next to her. His chest rose and fell evenly as she lay there quietly, listening to him breath. It was a habit she'd picked up recently. He watched her sleep and she listened to him.
Eventually, her fingers twitched, wanting to feel the life in his lungs. She ran her hand down to his abdomen and slid it under the thin tee shirt he'd fallen asleep in. Following a familiar path, her hand slid up along his sternum and then back down and to the left to the small scar that reminded her he'd almost been lost forever. She felt him breath against her palm before running it up and down the scar along his sternum again – the reminder that he had been saved.
When her hand returned to the smaller scar and remained there, she could tell his breathing had changed. He was awake.
"Merry Christmas," she whispered against him. She had him to feel grateful for, so she could take the initiative to speak the words first.
He laid his hand over hers on his chest. "Merry Christmas," he whispered back.
For several minutes, they lay there together, savouring the moments that had almost been taken away from them.
Eventually, he shifted and pressed a kiss to the top of her head. "Do you want to get up and open presents before we go into the hospital?"
"No, I want to lay here a little longer," she told him. "There's nothing under the tree that I could possibly want more than this."
He turned onto his side and wrapped her in his arms. "Me neither," he whispered into her hair.
She closed her eyes and allowed herself to think about the upcoming day from the safety of his arms. There wouldn't be a family dinner like the previous year. She suspected the hospital would be a morose place to be with little celebration – too many people wouldn't be there that should – but she vastly preferred this Christmas to the ones in her past. She had a family to spend the day with and a home to return to that night. There were no more lies. He'd promised not to die and he was still alive, warm and breathing and holding her tight. His heart thudded under her hand as proof.
A single tear ran down her cheek, though she wasn't sure why. Sadness for her past or appreciation for her present. Grief for those who had been lost, gratefulness for those who had not been lost, or even hopefulness for those who may one day be with them.
Meredith stifled a yawn as she stared out the kitchen window into the dark Christmas morning, clutching to a steaming mug of coffee. She knew her eldest would be up soon, and she hoped against hope that her husband would make it home. He'd promised to do so the night before when his pager had gone off at bedtime, but she'd woken up that morning to find his side of the bed empty.
Her heart had clenched the moment the words had been out of his mouth, because she knew how little control he had on delivering that promise. She also knew from experience how damaging the promise would be to their six year old daughter if he didn't make it.
Footsteps sounded on the stairs, and she closed her eyes, dreading the expression on her daughter's face. She wondered briefly if her mother had felt like this so many Christmas mornings ago, knowing Meredith had only wanted her father and knowing she couldn't give that to her. That had been the Christmas Meredith had stopped believing. She would do anything to stop that from happening for her daughter.
The footsteps reached the bottom of the stairs and paused before shuffling into the kitchen.
Meredith took a deep breath and turned to face her daughter, determined not to start a cycle of bad memories in this moment. "Merry Christmas, Zola."
Zola smiled up at her. "Merry Christmas, mommy." She paused, cocking her head in the same way Derek did. "Where's daddy?"
Meredith had to swallow the lump in her throat before she could respond. "Daddy's still at the hospital."
Zola's lower lipped trembled. "But it's Christmas. He..."
Promised, Meredith heard the word even though Zola didn't say it. She quickly put her coffee mug onto the counter and closed the distance between herself and her daughter. She knelt onto the floor so that she was more on the same level. Placing her hands onto Zola's shoulders, she offered the best smile she could. "Daddy is doing his best to be home as soon as he can."
"He has to help people," Zola said bravely, her voice wavering slightly.
Meredith felt her heart tug at the reasoning she and Derek used on their children, the same reasoning Ellis had used on her as a child. It was the truth, but she knew from experience how little comfort it gave. "Oh, Sweetie," she murmured, wrapping her arms around her daughter. Zola quickly wrapped her arms around Meredith's neck. "It's okay to be sad. Daddy wants so much to be here right now. He loves you so much. He loves all of us so very much."
Zola sniffed against her shoulder. "I know."
She had to smile at that, because at least her daughter knew. That was more than Meredith had had growing up. "I'm glad you know, Zola." She pulled back far enough to meet her daughter's eyes. "Daddy and I love you so much."
"I love you, too, mommy."
Meredith couldn't begin to fight off the tears that welled in her eyes.
Zola cocked her head again in that way that reminded her of Derek. "Mommy, why are you crying?"
"Because I feel so lucky to be your mommy."
Meredith smiled back, proud of herself for putting a smile on her daughter's face in such a tough situation. "Okay. How about we go and wake up your sister. Then we can call your daddy together."
"Okay," Zola agreed.
They walked together to the stairs, and Meredith watched with a proud smile as Zola made the effort of ascending the steps look so much easier than it probably was for her with her leg braces. She wasn't lying when she told Zola she was lucky to be her mom. She was amazed by the little girl every day.
Twenty minutes later, Meredith followed Zola back down the stairs with a half-asleep, half-excited almost-four year old Grace in her arms. They reached the lower floor and rounded the corner into the living room where the tree sat in the corner, fully decorated. But her eyes didn't see the tree. They only saw her husband, sitting at one end of the couch, the mug of coffee she'd left in the kitchen in his hands. He must have made it home while they'd been upstairs.
"It's about time," he said with as much enthusiasm as he could muster, though she could hear the exhaustion in his voice. But that was the Derek she'd fallen in love with. He'd work all night at the hospital and them come home and be the perfect father to their children. "I was beginning to think no one in this house was interested in finding out what Santa brought."
"Daddy!" Zola cried, hurrying across the living room as fast as her legs would take her.
Derek put his coffee down in time to catch the excited girl and lift her into his arms. "Merry Christmas, Zo." He planted a kiss against her cheek.
"I knew you'd come home! I knew it!"
Grace struggled slightly in Meredith's arms. She put her down and watched as she too hurried across the room to her father.
Derek scooped her up as well, so they both sat on his lap. "Merry Christmas, Gracie."
"Merry Chris-mas, daddy," Grace said, giggling when he kissed her on the cheek.
Derek hugged them both tightly to him, and Meredith felt her heart swell at the sight of her two daughters wrapped in their father's arms, neither having ever doubted his love for them. Even given the option of fixing her entire childhood, she wouldn't give up this moment for anything. This was everything she had wanted at Zola's age, and the fact that she could give that to her kids still took her breath away at times like these. She hurried across the room to join her family.
"Merry Christmas," she said the words that no longer held negative connotations as she leant down between her daughters, took Derek's face into her hands and kissed him softly.
"Merry Christmas," he echoed.
The girls quickly got started on their stockings, and Meredith curled up against her husband as they watched. At six, Zola understood the concept of Santa and presents, and seemed quite excited and happy with each item she opened. Grace, as almost four, wasn't quite as advanced as her older sister. She kept getting distracted by the wrapping paper and bows.
"I'm so glad you're here," Meredith whispered to her husband.
He hugged her tight to him. "I promised I would be."
"I know, but if there was an emergency it wouldn't have been your fault if you didn't make it home for them-"
He cut her off with a kiss. "I didn't just promise them," he told her. "I promised you, too."
She smiled, even though his form was slightly blurry through the tears in her eyes. He'd kept his promise to her on Christmas. "Thank you."
"Do you want to open our presents?"
She settled against him as she watched their children open their presents. "I have everything I could possible want right here in front of me. What else could there possibly be to match this?"
He huffed, and then said sarcastically, "I guess I can return the pony I got you."
And then they were both laughing at his joke. Zola had taken to asking for a pony leading up to Christmas. She had told them several times that a pony was the best possible present Santa could bring.
"Come on," he prompted, tugging her off the couch and onto the floor to join their daughters so they could open presents as a family. She smiled when Zola showed her a toy she'd opened, laughed when Grace flourished multi-coloured tissue paper that was her favourite thing ever and cried when she opened a small box from Derek containing a necklace with a small heart-shaped charm that held the four birthstones belonging to the Shepherd-Grey family.
She decided in that moment that she loved Christmas.