UPDATED Introduction to When I Grow Up
I plotted and posted the first three chapters of this story in 2012, sparked by a prompt from someone on twitter about Addison and Mark with a sick child. The GA universe was a different place then: Mark and Derek were still alive, PP was still on the air, and there was still a lot of Mark/Addison/Derek fic out there.
And now I'm back, five years later, to finish it. Everything starting with Chapter 4 is newly posted this year.
This story takes place in an alternate universe starting from right before the show did, but here: Addison kept the baby, stayed with Mark, and, like the proverbial butterfly beating its wings, there are changes both large and small in their universe as a result. The timeline on GA/PP was often frustratingly vague, but suffice it to say this story takes place somewhere between seven and eight years after Derek first left NY and arrived in Seattle.
This story is narrated by Mark and Addison in turns (Mark has the odd chapters, and Addison the evens), with flashbacks in italics. Derek and Meredith are together in this story, and their relationship and the family they've built is part of the journey as well. Rest assured, if you like reassurances, that this is not a story about switched-up romantic pairings or anything along those lines.
While it's Mark and Addison's story, it's ultimately about where all three of the original trio ended up – and why, and how they dealt with it – and whether, in crisis, they can find some way to come back together.
I hope you'll give it a chance, and let me know what you think!
When I grow up, I want to be a forester
Run through the moss on high heels - that's what I'll do
Throwing out a boomerang, waiting for it to come back to me...
"She'll just need to sit up for takeoff," the flight attendant says carefully, eyeing Annabel, who is curled up in her window seat, head in her mother's lap - maybe sleeping, maybe not.
Her cheek is resting on a fuzzy panda-shaped travel pillow. She loves that thing. Mark's throat tightens. "That's fine," he says shortly, as if it's simple. Maybe they should have flown private. Addison made a brief suggestion of calling her father, but he hadn't wanted to put her - any of them - through that.
"You all set there, honey?" The flight attendant - Caroline, he sees, glancing at her nametag, has turned to gaze at the seat next to Mark now, where their four-year-old son is strapped in with both small hands clutching Mark's iPad, which is safely in family mode. It's early, weak light streaming in through the open windows. First class is barely half full, which suits him just fine.
"Look what I drew." Max lifts the screen to show the flight attendant, pointing with a proud flourish at the colorful scrawl and waiting to be praised. Addison likes to say he's his father's son - the world is full of friends for him and sure enough, Caroline looks charmed.
"Wow, you're a real artist!" The flight attendant smiles at Mark now and Mark smiles back - carefully, hoping his fatherly pride is clear. He can see Addison eyeing him from her aisle seat and his fingers clench on the end of his seatbelt. Slippery nylon doesn't offer much in the way of comfort. Of all the timing in all the world...
I can't deal with this now. I honestly don't think I can take one more thing, so if you can't-
"I don't need a carseat anymore!" Max announces now, beaming, still flashing his mouthful of baby teeth at the flight attendant.
"That's right, buddy." Mark focuses on his son's smile, the freckles dusting his nose. Max is still having fun. And why shouldn't he? He's too little to understand and too little to leave behind, and he's always loved airplanes. Meanwhile, Mark's own stomach is churning with anticipation and a healthy dose of fear. He's not sure he's let out a full breath since she was diagnosed. Certainly not during the longest cab ride of his life, Annabel sleeping in his lap while planes landed overhead in the pre-dawn grey.
"We're going to take off shortly, sir," Caroline says now, and he nods.
Across the aisle Addison is still smoothing back Annabel's hair, leaning over her. She's speaking softly and Mark can't make out the words.
"Addie," he says quietly and she glances over without lifting her head. He tilts his chin in the direction of Annabel's seat. They don't need many words; they never have.
Addison bends low again, lips pressed to their daughter's dark hair. She helps her sit up and tucks the horseshoe-shaped pillow around her neck. "Comfortable?" he hears her murmur.
He can't make out Annabel's answer.
As if it's just another flight, Addison produces gum from her purse for Annabel and passes Mark a lollipop for Max, who has outgrown the drink-a-bottle-on-takeoff method of keeping his ears clear. He never minded flying though; it was Annabel who used to scream at the change in air pressure. Was that a sign? Something else they'd missed?
"Why are we going, again?"
He puts his hand on his son's head for a minute, ruffling his sandy hair. Then he smooths it down again. "To see a doctor who's going to help your sister."
"Why can't you and Mommy help her?"
He swallows hard. "She needs a different kind of doctor."
"Buddy, can we just - can we talk about this later? We're going to be taking off any minute. Here." And, feeling like a bad parent, he shucks the plastic wrap off the yellow lollipop - the only kind Max likes - and passes it into the little hand that is somehow already sticky.
Max sucks the candy contemplatively for a minute. Mark tries to remember what it was like to be four, to be distracted by a mouthful of sweetness when everything around him was bitter instead.
Just another flight...when was the last time all four of them flew together? He tries to remember. St. John's, he decides, a few endless months ago. Annabel had been her normal chatterbox self-
Normal can change.
-carrying her panda pillow, stuffing the seat pocket with chapter books and pleading to sit alone with Max instead of split up, each with one parent. They'd acquiesced after takeoff and let the two of them spend a surprisingly bicker-free hour sharing a juice box and a word find puzzle. Addison had smirked as she slid into the seat beside him. Look at them - like actual humans, she'd whispered. He wrapped an arm around her and let himself enjoy the sight of their children entertaining themselves, sitting up in their seats and whispering.
He remembers now being struck by how odd it was to see them existing so surely outside of himself and Addison. From the first moment he saw their fluttering hearts in black and white and felt their swimming kicks against his palm they'd felt so deeply connected that he forgot, sometimes, that they were individuals outside of their parentage. That hour on the plane felt like the beginning of something: they'd grow up, take their own flights, travel without them.
His mind sticks on grow up. Carefully, trying not to bother Max, he leans into the aisle and keeps his voice low. "How is she?"
Addison purses her lips slightly. That means no change, which is what he's learned. He cranes his neck to see his daughter, impossibly small in her window seat, leaning back against that silly black and white panda pillow. Addison strokes her cheek. "Don't sleep yet, love. I want you to chew your gum while we're taking off."
They're divided by so much more than the aisle. Max is bouncing restlessly in his seat, robust as ever. That's what children should do, Mark reminds himself for the umpteenth time. Not slump tired in a leather seat far too big for them.
No one can answer that.
For the hundredth time he questions whether they are doing the right thing.
You're really going to call him?
He's the best.
"Have I been there before? Daddy?"
Mark smiles at his son, who's still in full chatty mode. "Nope."
"No, I haven't."
"But Mommy has?"
"Yeah. A long time ago." He can't resist ruffling his son's hair one more time, reminding himself that he's real. It was so long ago, but it feels like yesterday.
Richard called. He needs me for a case.
That's all you're going to say? It's for a case?
Mark, you have nothing to worry about. It's a few days, a week at most.
I have everything to worry about!
She took his hand then, placed it on the spot that would later become Annabel. We'll be back, Mark. We're coming back. I have no reason to stay.
He'd vowed then, once she'd flown back and he had both of them in her arms - he swore the bump was bigger, closer to real by the time she landed - he'd never go to Seattle.
But if anything would break his promise to himself, of course it would be his daughter. She was sleeping that day, when Addison turned red-rimmed eyes to him. "I'm calling him," she'd said simply.
"Please." Her voice was congested. "I can't argue about this. It's been seven years, Mark, I-"
"Of course," was all he'd said then. "Of course you should call him."
Mark wasn't there when she called but she walked back into the room with purpose and fresh tear tracks on her cheeks. He folded her in his arms and they watched their daughter sleep.
Annabel's almost seven. He swallows hard on the word almost, weightier than it should be when discussing his child. Almost seven. And they almost went forever without having to speak to him.
He acceded, of course. All he wants is for his daughter to be all right. All he wants is for his family to stay intact. All he wants is nothing less than everything. If that means flying across the country to face his former best friend - after all these years, after all that's past - then that's what they'll do. He's faintly nauseated at the thought of throwing himself on his mercy. I'm sorry I fucked you over. I'm sorry you had to see us like that. I'm sorry you never answered my calls or listened to my apologies and most of all I'm sorry I have to ask you now to please, please help us.
Her words the last time they discussed Seattle: You have nothing to worry about. But everything is different now.
He watches Addison's other hand tighten on the armrest. Almost unconsciously, his mimics. "Here we go," he says, almost to himself, but his son's indrawn breath of anticipation - Max has always loved taxiing down the runway - serves as the response. Mark's fingers clench and unclench as the jet picks up speed. He glances across the aisle; Addison is turned in her seat toward Annabel. Silently he lets his hand drift toward her. There's no reason she should see him and maybe she doesn't, but while she doesn't turn around her own hand loosens on the padded armrest and travels the rest of the space between them. Her fingertips brush his lightly as the plane lifts into the air.
"We're off!" Max cries happily.
We sure are.
There's no going back now. Weightless, pinned against his seat and still terrified, Mark holds on to his wife's hand and braces for what's coming next.
Thank you for giving this story a try! Reviews make my heart sing (especially after all this time).
Chapter title from Rilo Kiley's Go Ahead
Story title and introductory lyrics from First Aid Kit's When I Grow Up