TITLE: Love Me Now Forever
FANDOM: Grey's Anatomy
PAIRING: Mark Sloan/Lexie Grey, George O'Malley/Izzie Stevens, minor background Callie Torres/Arizona Robbins, mentions of various past canon pairings, especially with regards to Izzie, George, Mark and Lexie.
WARNINGS: Heavy discussion of the afterlife and ghosts, discussion of canonical character death, sexual situations
SUMMARY: Season 8 finale spoilers/minor season 9 speculation, but no known season 9 spoilers. "Word has it that it's a very bad thing if a living person sees a dead person." When Izzie and Mark start to see the ghosts of those they had loved prior to their death, they seek out answers. What those answers lead to is an opportunity beyond anything they could have ever imagined. Written for Het Big Bang 2012.

Lexie expected the first person she saw after she died to be her mother. Or maybe it would be Mrs. Weller, the older woman who lived down the street from her when she was a child and gave her chocolate chip cookies for every A on her report card, who had died when Lexie was ten. It had been a sudden stroke, the doctors had said. Nothing anything anyone could have done could have saved her. Maybe, just maybe, it would even be a complete surprise, like Audrey Hepburn or someone who lived and died in India in the 16th century. Or maybe St. Peter at the pearly gates of Heaven, making sure that she was a good person who deserved the right to enter and enjoy all the bounteous pleasures of ever after. Someone like that.

Somehow, she never expected her first to be George O'Malley, of all people.

Even though, after reflection, it was one of the most logical choices it could have ever been. They had known each other, and were friends once and then somewhat cordial after that, and of all the people she had been in contact with that had died since she started working at Seattle Grace, he was the one that was the most likely to want to see her again. For two people who had not really been overtly friendly when he died, she had found herself missing him quite a bit whenever she thought about him.

"Hey, Lexie?" he said, walking up to her and placing his hand on her shoulder in an attempt at a consoling gesture. "What are you -"

"Plane crash. I think a case is being made for doctors living in caves somewhere in Siberia, except then there would be a meteor strike or something." George frowned at her words and wrapped his arms in an endless loop around her shoulders without saying a word in reply. She trembled a little as she hugged him back, clinging to him for dear - well, life was not the appropriate word. Not here. But he was the one recognizable thing she had found so far in this strange, foreign land. Everything was so cold and starkly gray, in comparison to the vivid shades of blue and green that populated her daily life. She had never been one to bask in the colors of the world, but now she wanted every color in the palette.

For that fact alone, she was not going to leave his side; she would shadow him and follow in his footsteps. They did have forever to spend together, and he could be a good teacher for her as to the best way to live the life of the dead.

"Why did I always think that Derek was going to be the next doctor from Seattle Grace to join me over here?" George said, as they sat on a pile of rocks near a large crowd of people and talked in hushed whispers. "Him or Cristina, I could never decide. One or the other."

Lexie shrugged and watched the multitudes of faces pass by. There were so many people milling around, and she could catch snippets of conversations being held in what appeared to be different languages, although she could understand each and every one of them. It was a veritable Tower of Babel situation up here. A young girl darted in between the legs of an old man, her giggling echoing throughout the area. "They were on the flight with me, but - apparently they both lived."

"Who was all on it, anyway?"

She counted off on her fingers the six names of the six passengers. "Me, Mark, Arizona - the blonde peds surgeon that Callie was dating, if you don't remember her that well - Meredith, Derek and Cristina. Six of us were on that plane, and I'm the only one that dies. Fan-fucking-tastic."

His face dropped at the mention of Callie. "At least she's happy now?" His voice was barely above a hoarse whisper as he asked it. "That's what counts, right?"

"Yeah. She's married and has an adorable daughter that she adores, so. Life is good for her these days."

"That's good. I - I don't really spend much time around the hospital, even though I could totally get away with it."

"What do you do with your time then?"

"Visit Izzie, mostly, or just wander around here. I went to New York City once and wandered the streets surrounding Times Square, but it was just depressing to do that when you're dead. Wish I could have gone back when it would have meant something more."

"You can do that?"

"Go to Times Square? Yeah. You can go basically wherever you want. Some people up here talk about how many different places and countries they've been to and they only count the ones after death."

"No. Visit people like you visit Izzie."

"Oh. Yeah. You've heard of ghosts, right?" He moaned and shook his hands in front of Lexie's face in an imitation of the stereotypical ghost; she nodded, and he took that as acknowledgment. "Yeah. That's basically what a ghost is. There are some limitations, I think, like I don't think you can visit a private residence that you have no connection to either the location or any of its residents at all, but other than that -"

"So I could visit Mark?" She was hopeful that she could. It would be nice to see him, and find some way to reassure him. Even if it meant being a ghost. Not ideal, but it would do.

"Do you know Mark?"

She looked at him with a confused expression on her face. "Uh - yeah? Mark Sloan. Not John-Mark Doe formerly of Chattanooga."

"Then yes, of course, you can visit him. Maybe we'll pop down there and visit him sometime soon. For you." He smiled at her and patted her hand. "At least you're not alone up here. You will always have me." He stood up and pointed off in the distance. "There's a bunch of trees and fields out there. It's nice and peaceful and not a madhouse like this can be. It's a good area to be alone and reflect on life."

"Sounds like a good place to spend a while."

Izzie thought she had put Seattle - and Seattle Grace and her disastrous marriage to Alex and everything related to it - in the rearview mirror of her life. She had moved past it, and had formed a new life for herself over in Tacoma. Still close by, but not close enough where she had to relive every day of her old life unless she had a burning desire to do so.

Until the day she opened her internet home page over her morning cup of coffee and saw the headline on the breaking news ticker - "1 Dead, 5 Injured in Washington Plane Crash." Her curiosity got the better end of her; it always did, and she clicked on the story.

And Lexie Grey's smiling face stared out at her from her computer screen. She had not seen Lexie in a few years, but she had not changed that much from the Lexie she remembered as one of the new batch of interns. Meredith's little half-sister. George's friend. The caption read: "Alexandra Grey, 27, of Seattle, Wash., the sole fatality of a medical plane crash near Albion, Wash."

She had seen so much death in her life, and come so close to it herself with her tumor, but it was still a punch to the gut to see someone she once knew and worked beside reduced down to a single caption line in a news article about her death. The article would be buried by another story once this one was no longer newsworthy, of course, and most people would forget about the victims.

A sudden jolt of a cool wind blew through her apartment, and she wrapped the blanket around her tighter. She was used to this by now - the sudden coldness only ever came when she thought too long and hard about any one thing, especially if the thing was something that made her upset. It was almost a form of comfort anymore. Maybe it had started once she left Seattle behind and no longer had the companionship of her fellow former interns to help console her; she could not remember anymore, but the cool wind was both omnipresent as well as welcome in her life. At one time she had entertained the thought of her apartment being haunted by the ghost of some former inhabitant who died a tragic death at a young age. Maybe a violent death - murder or suicide or something. However, after finding out she was only the fourth person to occupy the apartment and all the other former inhabitants were still alive when they left, she had put that particular theory to rest. It never failed though - every time the wind blew through her apartment, she could not help but feel comforted and secure.

A smile formed on her face as she reached for her coffee and clicked away from her home page to take a minute to check her email before starting the rest of her day. The thought of having her own private ghost to make her feel better was a positive thing that she was not going to take for granted. "Hi, Casper," she said with a forced smile, looking everywhere around her and trying to aim her words toward where she thought the spirit could be. "Hope your day is going better than mine is so far." In the absence of another name to call her ghost, she defaulted to the first thing she could think of; it was better to call him Casper than a series of muted screams and expletives. Nicer, too.

In response to her query, a bouquet of fake daisies she had resting on her end table tipped over. Petals came detached from the stems and fluttered to the carpet below in a colorful, silken cascade. She set down her coffee cup, walked over, and scooped the petals up into her cupped palms. A cool wind spiraled around her and made the petals dance in her hands, leaping up in the air and then falling back down, before repeating the process. She allowed the dance to go on for a minute or two, before the petals spilled from her hands and fell back to the carpet below. "Okay," she said, "if you want to make a point to me, you can just say it, you know."

Knock. Knock. Knock.

The repetitive knocks sounded as if they were coming from her kitchen table, almost as if someone was pounding their fist into the table over and over again. She huddled her back against the armrest of the couch and curled her arms around her shins. "What are you doing, Casper? What do you want from me?"

Almost as sudden as it started, the knocking abated; she looked up with tentative hope, only to see the blanket that had been sitting on her couch inching toward her. She sat paralyzed, unsure of what was happening - she had seen more than her share of horror movies before, because, for some reason, guys she tended to date enjoyed taking her to them and watching her scream. But she had seen this too many times in the horror movies: the blanket would cover her and tighten around her and suffocate her. And considering no one else was around, no one would be there to hear her calls for help, and she would die, and - and then she looked up. The blanket was being tucked with careful precision around her chin, and instead of suffocating her, it was as if the ghostly hands that did the work were trying to comfort her.

It was an odd dichotomy that was at work, between the sheer terror she had felt at the knocking sounds and the relaxed comfort she felt now, but such was life with her own personal Casper floating around.

It had been three months and ten days since they had boarded that flight.

Three months and ten days since his life as he knew it had come to a screeching halt.

Lexie. His Lexie. It was not fathomable. It was not fair. Why would she be taken and he be spared? There was no rhyme or reason to it.

Prior to the crash, and its aftermath, he never could have imagined his life without Lexie being in it - once she was there, she left an unmistakable imprint that no amount of dating other people or other quantifiable factors could remove. He had taken it for granted that she would always be there, his Little Grey, with the wide, easy smile and a heart that had more love to give than she knew what to do with. They had both taken each other for granted, and - and now there were no more tomorrows.

He was stuck somewhere in the abyss between denial and acceptance, with no visible signs pulling him toward one or the other.

If only there could be.

The blankets on his bed were warm, uncomfortable and somewhat stifling as he shifted around under them, squirming against the weight of Lexie's memory and the - what was it that his hospital-provided therapist called it again, survivor's guilt? Something like that. And in a way, the blankets and sheets were like cloth vises, suffocating the life out of him.

Lexie had had survivor's guilt too, he remembered, sitting straight up in bed with a flash. That damn shooting - he could have lost her then too. And then they would have never had the chance to work things out, or screw them back up, and it would still be the same end result, just in a different order and with a different catalyst - human, instead of machine. It would be easier to hate a human for taking her away, because then he could put a face to his hatred. Instead. Instead he was stuck hating airplanes, of all things. He liked airplanes, for the most part. The feeling of flying through the air and being above the clouds was one that he always enjoyed - until that day. Now, he wanted nothing more to do with them. Ever.

It was not like he had gotten away without a physical scratch himself - looking down at his body, he saw the scars and lines that had not been there before, tracing the pattern of his survival through the crash and the months-long aftermath. The other doctors, the ones who had saved his life, told him that he was lucky - told him that not everyone could have survived what he just did. And yet, he could not help but feel like spitting the word back in their face. None of them were lucky. Arizona was walking on a prosthetic leg that Callie had made, working day by day to re-learn the basics of walking again. He and Derek had both spent days in medically-induced comas. All of them had a new collection of scars that made them look like they had survived something akin to a war, and if the gossip he overheard was accurate, they were all tormented enough by their emotions and memories of the day for that to be more than sufficient for the rest of their lives. That was not what he would call luck. It would be what he would call pure hell on Earth. Surviving was a worse punishment than even the most agonizing of deaths.

One day, some of the physical scars would fade into a silvery thread winding their way around his torso, others would then dull to a shade of brown fairly close to his own skin tone. And yet, they would never leave him, forever serving as a reminder of a day he would much rather forget. But, still, his emotional scars ran deeper than any physical scar ever could.

As he sat there thinking about what had been going on, he felt a brush of something cool brushing at his shoulder. The air conditioner was off, and the windows were sealed, so there would be no way for anything - it was like - maybe he was imagining things. And still, the brushing continued for a minute or two, while he sat there immobile and quiet. The feeling crept up to the side of his neck, fluttering back and forth along the muscle that was there, and then he knew he was not imagining things. If he did not know better, he would swear it was the light touch of a human hand, and, acting on instinct, he leaned into the touch. It had been too long since he had felt someone - anyone - touch him in anything but the most perfunctory and professional of manners.

And then he stopped.

He was alone. All alone. And had been since the last time Callie and Arizona had stopped over to check on him and give him a frozen lasagna - and he could not remember how long that had been by now. It had been at least a few days by now, and his next therapist appointment was not for a few more. As he came to the realization about his current status, it was his delusion about the situation that made it all the more unsettling for him. His therapist would have a field day with this, if he told her about it. He would more than likely have to.

He was alone. No one was there to be touching him, let alone stroking him with such affection and love. It was all in his head.

Leaning his head forward, he buried his face in his hands. This was what his grief had done to him. This was what the past three and a half months had done to him.

This was what loving - and losing - Lexie had done to him, and that was the most painful part of all.

Lexie stepped back away from Mark and faded into the wall, where, in short order, she was joined by George. "How did it go?"

"I wish I could have done more," she stated, burying her face into her hands. "He seemed so -"

"Lost?" George supplied, trying to help her find the word she was searching for. "Upset? Grieving?"

"Yeah. All those. He just -" She wanted to cry. She felt like she needed to cry; that welling-up feeling inside her threatened to spill everywhere, and yet - there were no tears that fell. It was difficult being dead and trying to express her emotions in the traditional ways. "I wanted to read his mind, know what he was thinking about, and be able to comfort him. And all I could do - all I could do - was brush my hand on his shoulder like it was nothing at all! Like I was petting a puppy!"

"You do realize that he was thinking about you, right? In all the times I've gone to see Izzie, I've never touched her."

"Does she think about you, though?" She deflected the first question, the hard question, the million-dollar question. It was too hard to think about being the reason for Mark - confident, suave, sexy Mark - wallowing in a dark bedroom alone at night, lost in memories of a bygone time.

"She sometimes talks to herself and -" George dropped his voice to a whisper and moved in closer to Lexie, and then finished his sentence. "- and, she mentions me from time to time. As a regret."

Lexie tilted her head to one side and pressed her index finger to her pursed lips. This was brand new information to her. "Why would she -"

"The one thing I wish I could have told her before - before I - well, you know - is that I love her? And, I don't know exactly why, but maybe she thinks that Alex was a mistake? She's impulsive, and - and she likes to go back and try to fix her old mistakes, but -"

"Something her and I have in common." Lexie could not help but draw the parallels that were begging to be drawn: Izzie with both Alex and George, her with both Alex and Mark. They both followed their hearts to their logical conclusion. And she could not help but feel a strange kinship with Izzie in that moment, beyond their chosen profession and workplace. "Does she know about you, though?"

"That I pop in and visit unannounced every now and then? No. Does she know something does? Yes. She calls me Casper, of all things. Her best friend, reduced to being a friendly ghost in a white sheet."

"So you've never appeared to her, then."

"How would I do that? 'Oh, hi, Izzie, it's George, remember me? I've been haunting you for the past three years or so.'" He laughed, and then shook his head. "How about I don't do that?" Pausing for a moment, he continued. "She's alive. I'm dead. Besides, I don't think we're supposed to be visible. That's what the others say."

Her heart sunk a bit at the final thing he said. She had hoped - one day - that maybe she could appear to Mark. Show him that, despite all the barriers in their way, she could still be a part of his life, that she was still thinking about him. Given what she knew, she knew that he could feel her, and she imagined that if she were to speak in his presence, he could hear her. But they were deprived of one of the most crucial of the senses: sight. "Are you sure?"

"Before you came? There wasn't much for me to do besides rehash old sports scores with my pa and haunt Izzie. So I listened. A lot."


"People are really chatty when they're dead and they don't think it matters anymore."


"How much do you want to know about dead people's former lives? I can tell you who killed JFK, who Jack the Ripper was, where Jimmy Hoffa's body is -" He waggled his eyebrows in a titillating manner. "All the sex scandals of nineteenth-century Italy, what's up with the Bermuda triangle -"

"Get to the point."

"So, basically, word has it that it's a very bad thing if a living person sees a dead person. There's a difference between dreaming about us and actually, you know, seeing us in the flesh, as it were."

"But they can't, you said. I could dance around naked in front of Mark and he wouldn't blink, because he couldn't see it."

"Exactly. So if they can -"

"Then something's very wrong. Apparently." She frowned.

George nodded and placed his hand on her shoulder. "Don't worry about it, though. At least we can still see them, and they haven't seen us. And they shouldn't ever see us, so it's not going to be an issue."

-to be continued-