A/N: Oh man, as Addison would say, it's hard to see the end when you're too close. And that's why this story is 36+ chapters long. But it's done, and I thank you all so much for the lovely feedback on the last full chapter. Please enjoy the epilogue and please read the author's note at the end, because I'm hoping you'll weigh in on what to do next. Here we go...
there's an ordinary world somehow I have to find – and as I try to make my way to the ordinary world, I will learn to survive...
- six months later-
Laughing, Annabel shakes out her cap of short, wet dark curls like a puppy before jumping back into the pool. Her hair has grown out significantly since it was shaved for surgery and has been evened out, with great fanfare, at Addison's salon.
It's been a golden summer of slow sunny days for all four of them. Derek, the NY team and Annabel's physical therapist agreed that swimming was the best way to continue to improve and maintain Annabel's strength and coordination, so they've spent almost all of July and August in Connecticut together.
And for the first time, this summer, it hasn't just been the four of them. The rambling house in Connecticut was always another Sloan bubble, a warm cocoon for just the four of them – their own family's much loved, treasured, and protected version of ordinary.
But the extraordinary thing … is that their world has expanded now.
Part of that expansion has been seeing the grace of old friends – even those that have drifted away – and of new friends, who have much to lose but give anyway. The first time Annabel returned to the ice for class, eight weeks after the surgery that saved her life, all seven other little girls in her group skated toward her wearing helmets and full gear, just like Annabel. Both Mark and Addison had to blink back tears that day.
Then there are the guests. Savvy and Weiss drove up the weekend before, with children the Sloans had never met, and somehow they picked up where they left off. Annabel finally got her sleepover with the twins from skating class – and their parents. The Johnsons flew out to visit them, all four children splashing in the pool together, Annabel delighting to see that Caitlin wore the same small protective pack in the pool that she did.
Sloan visited too, and brought her boyfriend. Mark regarded the young man with suspicion at first, but after he patiently threw a Frisbee with Max long after politeness would have permitted giving up, Mark started to warm up to him. A little. And seeing the daughter whose childhood he lost playing in the pool with the daughter whose childhood was just saved – well, there aren't really any words for that.
Annabel has asked after Derek and Meredith – well, Dr. Shepherd and Dr. Grey and Thomas, hoping for a visit. But it will have to wait because Derek and Meredith are adding a little girl to their family in just about two months. They'll come back east after the baby is born, that's what they've said. Possibly for Christmas – the Sloans aren't the only East Coasters who missed Derek when he left. Maybe, just maybe … Derek's world has expanded too.
For now, the Shepherds and the Sloans make do with calls and emails – Derek checks in on Annabel, and Addison checks in on Meredith, who looks very different these days. Mark watched Addison pack up numerous little outfits that Annabel had worn – each cuter than the next – alternately all but crying with nostalgia, enjoying the memories of Annabel, and exclaiming that their seven-and-a-half year old had ever been so tiny. Annabel wrote her own card to send with her old things, her handwriting nice and steady now – addressed, in amusing and not inaccurate older sibling fashion, to Thomas's new baby sister. There's a sonogram attached to the refrigerator in the country kitchen and even though Mark teased Addison about it, he's been known to supervise cross-country skype sessions that consist of nothing more or less than Max walking Thomas through dinosaur diets, habitats and fighting style.
And Mark was there when Addison took a deep breath and called Naomi Bennett, her old close friend from medical school, with whom she hadn't spoken since she divorced Derek, and the two of them exclaimed over Meredith's pregnancy and then laughed together that despite all their years of expensive training, their extraordinary knowledge of human fertility and biology – sometimes the old wives' tales really do hold up.
Their children continue to grow; theirs is more visible from the outside. Max hit a growth spurt in the springtime, so much rangier now than the softly rounded little boy who flew to Seattle with them. He's still pure sunshine, out of the dark circumstances of his birth – in their different ways, he and Annabel were both born at the end of something and created a new beginning each time. It's hard to believe Max blew out six candles – five years old, one to grow on – right here under the shady trees of the Connecticut house just a week ago, and told everyone – even when Annabel reminded him not to – that his wish was for a green racecar and for Annabel to be all better. His sister gave him a little shove and said you're supposed to wish for stuff that's just for you, Maxy, and you're not supposed to tell everyone but he just shrugged and smiled up at her.
It's been a full, rich summer of gratitude and presence. On this bright hot Sunday, it's just the four of them. No one paging them, no one needing anything from them except splashing in the pool, lazing in the hammock, and enjoying the relaxed schedule.
Max is swimming confidently alongside Annabel in the shimmering clear waters of the pool, something new in their relationship growing since Annabel's illness, along with the hero worship he's had since birth: protectiveness. Addison, shading her eyes with her hand, is standing in the shallow end watching them both. And Mark is watching all three of them, the three people he loves more than he would have thought possible, the family that ten years ago he would have considered impossible … all four of them part of a larger world they're no longer shutting out.
"Mark, you joining us?" Addison is laughing as Annabel and Max swim at her together at once, and she gathers them both into her arms. "Bring reinforcements! I'm all alone here with these … fish." Annabel laughs with delight, pursing her lips into a fish face, and Max helpfully splashes his sister and mother at the same time. Addison tucks Max under her arm. "Mark!"
"I'm coming." He shucks off his shirt and cannonballs into the deep end to make the kids laugh. The temperature is perfectly, pleasantly cool. He makes it to the shallow part of the pool in a few long strokes, and splashes with both children, letting them jump off his legs.
"Race you," Annabel offers Max, and then the two of them are off by themselves, swimming next to each other, Annabel's strokes as coordinated as he's ever seen them. Max is all speed and pure enthusiasm, splashing everywhere.
Mark slings an arm around Addison's neck as they watch the children swimming, feels her cool damp skin against his, the strength in her fingers as her hand closes around his waist. "Addie … you're not alone."
She kisses him, quickly, before Annabel can see and say yuck and without losing a moment of supervision as the two little humans they created giggle and shriek their way across the pool. "Oh, I know."
Together they watch their children swimming, enjoying the sunshine and the cool water and the shade of the tall trees. It's perfectly, imperfectly ordinary.
Ordinary is all he's ever wanted … and it's better than he ever could have imagined.
"I won!" Annabel shrieks as she and her brother hit the other side of the pool together. Max is doggie paddling next to her, looking mostly pleased with his sister's triumph. Not that he wouldn't prefer to win. Annabel is beaming, new freckles on her nose, her hair grown out over the scar that saved her life. Strong. Healthy.
"Mom, Dad, did you see?" Annabel's excited voice echoes down the length of the pool. "I won!"
Actually, we all did.
…and we're out, for real now.
Final notes: Thank you so, so much to everyone who traveled this journey with me. I haven't finished a multi-part story for years and as someone who struggles a lot with organization and structure, this story challenged me many times. (My original outline had 17 chapters, if that tells you anything.) Switching the story properties on this one to "complete" is gonna mess with my head, I'm sure of it.
Some process and character thoughts: Ultimately, I wanted to explore what would happen if a Shonda-style crisis brought the three of them back together and they had to face what happened so many years before. I am always interested in the Mark/Addison/Derek backstory, and I liked the idea that Addison and Mark kept the baby and the disastrous non-reconciliation between Addison and Derek never happened. That would do two things: keep Derek "clean," so to speak: without cheating on Addison at the prom, and without the misery of Season 2, he's just the injured party who rebuilt his life honestly out in Seattle. No, he didn't immediately tell Meredith he was married, but he did it before Addison could. Also, it let me explore how Mark and Addison could create a healthy, loving family when the pregnancy came at such a crisis point and both of them come from damaged families. In the end, they both brought with them what they could – Mark, the experience of Derek's loving family, and Addison, the influence of a few different styles of caring nannies. But because they were defensive and protective of their family, they turned inward to such a degree that they were very isolated. It was important to me to show that Addison's loss of people like Savvy and Naomi felt to her like they'd turned on her in the divorce, but in reality she'd made no effort to keep up the relationships either, just as she also backed away from the Shepherd sisters (not that I'm saying they would have stayed close, just that she's equally responsible). I wanted them to realize they can open up their family and still protect it at the same time – and I think they did.
Derek's journey was more proving things that he knew all along: that Annabel isn't his biological child, and that he doesn't care about having a biological child – he cares about parenting the child he has. That said, I love Meredith and Derek's relationship with Thomas and I loved that Shonda gave the real MerDer both adopted and biological children to make their beautiful family. I never thought Thomas was less than in any way and neither did Meredith or Derek – but Meredith did worry about mothering a biological child. She and Derek both got past their Stuff, and boom. Pregnant.
This story was, in many ways – at least in my head – about fathers. First, Annabel, and Derek's fleeting, illogical worry he was her biological father, Derek's relationship with his own child, and Mark's relationship with his children – including Sloan. Mark's father's sudden death that in many ways affected him less than losing Derek's father, and Addison's relationship with her father both as a child and now.
Where to go next? I would love to know... are you interested in a sequel that will revisit the two families about a year after this epilogue – and be more of an exploration of mothers? My plan is to reunite the two families, on the East Coast this time – and involving the larger Shepherd family – but to structure it a bit differently – give Meredith and Derek a chance to narrate their own passages, which opens up a world of flashbacks I've previously been unable to show. I'll put it this way: I'm writing another Sloan/Shepherd family story, because I love it, flat out. But I'm open to a sequel or new families, and I'm very curious if people have a preference. So please, weigh in!
Thank you again for reading and reviewing. I am so grateful. Good night, sleep tight, see you in the morning light!
Oh yeah, one last time: Title lyric from Duran Duran's Ordinary World.