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Sex and Caring in Seattle

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You shouldn't have let her buy you drinks at Joe's, and you really shouldn't have let her drive you home, even if she's right and you barely have the money to eat, much less pay for a taxi. You most definitely shouldn't have invited her in, regardless of how much your conversation called for her to be significantly more drunk.

Addison is on the couch in your living room, and your hand is under her shirt.

See, you're all trying to be friends now, and you knew that was a bad idea. Possibly the worst idea ever. Actually this is the Worst Idea Ever, but you're liking the taste of Addison's collarbone more than you thought you would, so for the moment, that's a detail you're willing to overlook.

You wonder if this counts as cheating, for her, and if it will set back all the progress she is making with Derek, and strangely, you get no pleasure from the thought. Which is when it strikes you, that maybe you really do want to be friends with Addison. She takes care of Doc, and she takes care of Izzie, and tonight after that fiasco with your sister she's trying to take care of you, and that strikes you as fairly admirable, even if it's turned into her blouse hanging limply off the coffee table because you've somehow managed to confuse caring and sex just like you always do.

But Addison, for all that she's nearly as plastered as you, is deft and tantalizing, her fingers burning tracks on your skin before they hook on your belt, and the muscles of your stomach jumping under her lips as they slide past your navel, and you're starting to get why Mark might have crossed the country chasing after this woman, so you're pretty sure there will be no crying this time around, although there might be some screaming, which could be a problem since you're pretty damn sure Izzie's somewhere upstairs.

You don't think you could explain this to her because you're pretty sure you can't begin to explain it to yourself. Women aren't your thing, for a start, but at this point you're beginning to think they might be Addison's, because her breath is warm between your thighs and she is really good at what she's doing. The thought that maybe that's why she went into gyno flits through your mind, followed by the realization that that's an incredibly stupid thing to think, and that if you said something like that out loud Christina would give you hell, and then you think that you'll never, ever be able to do this for her...

And then you don't think anything at all, because you're shuddering and grabbing her shoulders and falling right through the couch, pleasure roaring up your spine and wiping out all scent and sight and sound.

When you start to come back to yourself her smile is smug, and drunk, and you roll your leg off her shoulder and pull her to your mouth, your only thought that you have to kiss her hard and now. Her hair tangles against your skin and you wrap your fingers in it, cradle the side of her face as you breathe again, finally come all the way down.

She pulls back a little, and the look on her face is almost tender, and she says, "I get it now."

"Is that what this is about?" you ask, hand still on her cheek, one finger gently tracing the line of her bra. It strikes you as slightly unfair that all you have left is your shirt and that's the only thing she's taken off. She smiles against your palm, kisses your wrist, and you realize that Addison doesn't really know what this is about any more than you do, that it's Derek and loneliness and frustration and alcohol in unknowable amounts, and it's the fact that you really want to see her glow right now. You dance your hand lightly down her ribcage and find a snap.

Addison presses her lips against yours, and you grin into the kiss as your fingertips brush soft down. This, at least, is one thing you're pretty sure you can figure out.

-)(-

Much later, after you've both showered, you offer George's bed to Addison, who is still probably too drunk to drive back home. Nothing feels as awkward here as it probably should, although you can probably put that down to your blood alcohol levels at this point. The fallout when you're both sober again may be another story.

Speaking of which. You lean against the doorframe, watching her look gorgeous and out-of-place with damp curls and a borrowed robe, and can't stop yourself from asking. "What are you going to tell Doctor Shepherd?" You drag the "d" out, switching over from "Derek" at the last second, but she doesn't seem to notice.

"I don't know," she says. "Maybe the truth." She stops pressing the towel to her hair and her eyes meet yours. "Would that bother you?"

"Maybe. ... Probably." You sigh against the doorframe. "I'd get over it." You think for a moment about Derek in the trailer, alone all night, his wife's car parked outside someone else's house. Where it will still be in the morning. "Shit. What am I going to tell Izzie?"

Addison looks at you for a moment, then says, "Well, you only said you were giving up men, right? So technically you haven't broken your vow."

You award this with the full-body eyeroll it deserves, but even though you close her door and yours, you can still hear her laughing for quite a while after you escort yourself out.

Chapter Text

The first thing you do after you drag yourself out of bed is stick your head through George's door. She's gone. The bed is made and the robe you loaned her is folded neatly on the foot of the bed. The tidiness is just so Addison that you suddenly can't take it, and almost slam the door behind you before staggering into the bathroom for an aspirin.

Izzie's in the kitchen, and she gives you a look that you can't really read but might be sympathy. There's coffee, but she takes the mug out of your hands before you can reach the pot. Your "Hey!" goes ignored as she brandishes a glass of orange juice at you. You take a moment to revise your opinion - the look on her face is most definitely annoyance.

"I want coffee," you say half-heartedly, sounding petulant even to yourself.

Her response is pointed, but carefully not loud. "It's dehydrating and you're hung over."

"Yes mom," you sigh, chugging the juice and the aspirin. The ice pick behind your eyeballs is making you cranky, but she's right, and besides, you're a little too distracted to put up a fight.

-)(-

"Of course she fell off the wagon," you hear Cristina tell Izzie as you make your way towards your table. "She has a secret family. No one takes that well."

"At least this one was considerate. He made coffee on his way out."

"Which you wouldn't let me have," you say as you come up and put your tray down between them.

"Ooo, you denied her the post-coital coffee offering?"

"She was hung over!"

"That's like stealing a woman's Valentine's chocolate! Morning coffee is like the official male declaration of 'thanks for the ride'."

"It's no big deal," you interject, before Izzie can get more defensive. Your statement doesn't exactly have the effect you'd hoped, though, because Cristina immediately concludes,

"Bad sex."

"Was he hideous?" Izzie eagerly asks.

Surprisingly good and gorgeous, your mind answers, as your lips say "This conversation? Is one we are not having."

Izzie has more on the tip of her tongue, but you are saved - and cheered - by the arrival of George, who plops down opposite you and refuses to meet your eyes. "Coronary bypass," he crows. "Beat that."

"Acute oligohydramnios," Izzie fires back.

"Lack of amniotic fluid? What's so cool about that?"

"It's fun to say?"

Cristina is just getting fired up about the afternoon spinal surgery she's scored when your beeper goes off. You stand, and without missing a beat, she deftly snatches the pudding you never got a chance to start.

-)(-

You manage to make it all the way through the day without snapping, even though every time Alex sees you he tries to get dirt on "your night of shitty sex." You manage not to ask Izzie even one thing about Addison, mostly because you're really not sure what you want to ask.

When you finally get off shift, you decide you've had enough, and before you can think better of it, you find yourself at the door of the Shepherds' trailer.

Derek answers the door, Doc barking exuberantly behind him. His face breaks into a slow smile. "Meredith," he says. You fight with every fiber in your body not to smile back.

"I'm here to walk my dog," you say. "I've been thinking about him ever since I got back from the vet."

Addison appears behind him. "Doctor Grey," she says.

"I'm here to walk my dog," you tell her. Derek smirks that beautiful smirk of his and adds, "She's been thinking about him ever since she got back from the vet."

"I could use a little exercise myself," Addison says, not quite achieving casual. "Mind if I join you?"

Derek's eyebrows jump a bit at that, and climb even further when you tell her over Doc's yipping and prancing, "Sure. I mean, no, not at... Yes. Let's."

"Okay then, we'll all walk Doc together," he shrugs, trying to get a handle on things, as Addison produces a leash from somewhere to the left. Simultaneously, you both yelp "No!" and Doc immediately rolls over at your feet. It doesn't seem fair to you that Derek's still so gorgeous it hurts, even when he's wide-eyed and slack-jawed and utterly poleaxed.

"Is there something I should know?" he asks confusedly as Addison slips by him and down to the walk.

"What, a girl can't take her dog out to see if he made it home from the vet in one piece?" she answers. As weird as this is, you can't help but smile - there's something very viscerally familiar, almost comforting about Addison's deception, like you're running off with your girlfriends to giggle about the poor, cute, clueless boy that you like.

Derek seems to be having high school flashbacks too, because he's looking at you like he just realized the two of you might run off and talk about his penis size. It's hard to resist teasing him.

"Don't wait up," you toss at him. It's always easy to talk to Derek, after all, and you're walking your dog with Addison, you want something to feel halfway natural.

Addison.

You slept with Addison.

"You didn't tell Doctor Shepherd," you say, almost the second the trailer is out of sight.

"You didn't tell Doctor Stevens."

"I might have told Cristina."

"You might have told Cristina."

"I didn't tell Cristina."

"You probably should tell Cristina. You seem a little stressed about this."

"Cristina could tell Burke."

"Tell Cristina not to tell Burke."

"Burke could tell Derek."

"Then Derek would know."

Hearing her parrot his name back to you, and realizing that you said it in the first place, snaps you out of it and you finally look at her. You must look pretty much like you feel, because she sighs, and switches from casual to sincere.

"Look, I made a mistake. It's not the first mistake I've made with Derek, and it probably won't be the last, although I can only hope any subsequent missteps will be a little less dramatic." She matches your wry grin at this with her own. "And as much as I love him, and as much as I want things to work out between us, I know they might not, and I'm willing to accept my part in that. If he finds out, then he'll react, and I'll deal. Whatever that means."

She's talking to you like an equal, and she carefully didn't say "husband" or "marriage," and before those two facts can completely sink in, she grins. "Besides, I'm not that worried. It'd be a little hypocritical of him if he got too upset, don't you think?"

You can't really tell if she's serious, so you just shake your head.

"Addison - sorry, Doctor Mont-"

"No, don't worry about it," she cuts you off. "I think at this point we're well past 'Doctor Montgomery-Shepherd' and 'Doctor Grey'."

You're pretty sure you remember her, sweat-drenched and euphoric, eyes closed and a perfect aching curve in her back, whispering Meredith, her voice barely more than an airy gasp.

"Okay then." You breathe deep. "Addison. Why didn't you tell Derek?"

"Do you want me to?" she volleys back, her face casual but her voice fast and intense.

"No." You're pretty seriously confused by this whole situation, but you know you're sure about that.

"Well," she says, and kind of nods, and apparently that's all the answer you're going to get. You're pretty positive you've never wanted a drink as badly as you do right now, which is a fairly painful fact, considering your track record lately. It would be pretty safe to state, for example, that alcohol got you into this particular mess, because although everyone knows Addison is gorgeous and brilliant and twelve gallons of sexy in a ten-gallon hat, whatever that means, you usually think of that in more of a jealous, bitter way than in the way that leads to inappropriate and deeply confusing, if satisfying, sex.

"Are you planning on telling him?" you prod.

"Am I planning to? No, I have no plan. If that changes, I'll let you know before I say anything."

"Oh." Apparently, that settles that, then. "Thanks."

Doc must see something out in the underbrush, because he suddenly veers right and takes off between the trees, barking merrily and ignoring your cries as both of you try to call him back. Within thirty seconds he's completely out of sight, and Addison makes a half-smile and sighs.

"He'll be fine," she says, leading you ahead a few yards and settling on an overturned log. "He does this a lot."

You sink down next to her. The sun's getting low in the sky, down past the treetops, and everything is peaceful and dappled light. You can't help but think rain would be more appropriate, or at the very least some thunder in the distance to break the quiet.

"There's still something you want to say," Addison muses. It's something of an understatement. You want to know why she came into your house, why you kissed her, if she'd slept with women before, if you were alright, if maybe she wasn't telling him just so she'd have one up on Derek. You want to tell her that you're tired of being the Other Woman and it was just one drunk, profoundly stupid night, to swear to her, the trees and the heavens it will never happen again, but what comes out is,

"Why did you sleep with Mark?"

Addison doesn't say anything at first, and you look over at her. The wind teases her hair away from her face, red feather locks framing an expression of profound melancholy in perfect profile. She'd seem almost mythical, beautiful and remote, except that the look is so piercingly familiar to you, striking chords far too close to home. Mark is her George, and you don't need her to answer, because the reason is the same, and so is the pain.

You think about Derek, and dog walks on Tiger Mountain, and trading glances in the elevator, and in this evening light the kiss you've been holding onto so tightly, that precious memory of lavender that was his gift to you the night you almost misted off the face of the earth, turns suddenly bitter.

"He doesn't treat you like he should, does he. Even now," you say. There's something profoundly unfair about this. There's supposed to be a good guy and a bad guy in these things, she's supposed to be Satan and a whore, the wicked bitch of the West who shattered the man you love and divided the lovers pure. She's not supposed to be hurt, she's not supposed to be human, you're not supposed to feel this sympathy for her, she's not supposed to tarnish Derek in your eyes, to suggest that that beautiful, life-changing man could ever be anything like your father.

She's most certainly not supposed to surreptitiously wipe her eye like she maybe has a tear there, to have a catch in her voice when she too-cheerfully says "He's trying."

You want to whistle for Doc and make a show of scratching his ears, jump up off this log and go flying into the woods with him, and pretend this conversation isn't happening, because everything here is wrong. Interns shouldn't comfort attendings, mistresses shouldn't look out for wives, but here you are, putting an arm around Addison and leaning your head on her shoulder, like she were Izzie or Cristina, like you didn't have a part in ruining each other's lives, and at least you have a bit of comfort knowing you were right. This whole "we're friends" thing is seriously the Worst Idea Ever.

Doc, several seconds too late, chooses to dash back to you and bark, wagging frantically, leaping and trying to entice at least one of you to chase.

"I'm sorry I stole your dog," says Addison, and you look at her a moment, before both of you break down and laugh until you cry.

Chapter Text

You and Addison talk for a long time, in the woods behind the trailer, about Doc and how he's doing and the fat noisy chipmunk that likes to taunt him in the morning and will probably do so all spring and summer long. She tells you about Baron, a lab mix she used to have back in New York, and how she had to keep her heels on the top shelf of her closet because he liked to carry them around by the straps. You tell her about Seymour, who slept on your bed at night when your mom pulled double shifts and only barked twice in the six years you owned him.

It's almost not awkward by the time you get back to the trailer, late enough that stars are starting to show overhead and the city's glow stretches orange and yellow across the horizon. You say an apologetic goodbye to your dog and leave before Derek can realize you're back and come outside.

You come home to find the house smelling strongly of cinnamon, several dozen cookies littering the kitchen, and Izzie asleep in her clothes on the couch. You manage to find her a blanket without waking her up, and spend a couple hours on the internet at Knitting for Dummies sites, eating Izzie's ginger snaps, before crawling into bed yourself.

-)(-

Three hours into morning shift, there's a car crash, and Doctor Bailey is shouting assignments, and you find yourself pulling on gloves as you watch Addison inspect one Janet Hagopian, 22, who has a badly scraped face, a deep gouge on her right arm, and a ten-inch piece of metal jutting angrily sideways through the left front pocket of her cargo pants. She's looking around kind of groggily.

"Janet? Can you hear me, Janet?"

She rolls her head towards you a little. "Just Jay." She blinks, and her eyes clear a little. "Who're you?"

"I'm Doctor Grey, and this is Doctor Montgomery-Shepherd. You're at Seattle Grace."

"Grey. I like that name. Matches your eyes." She kind of grins painfully at you, and you think for a second that maybe it's a come-on, before she continues. "I gotta say, I'm glad to be here, Doctor Grey, because I'm kind of in considerable pain."

Addison puts a hand on her shoulder, soothingly, and her eyes crinkle a little like she's smiling behind her mask. "Don't worry, we can help with that. Can you wiggle your right thumb for me, Jay?"

Her thumb wiggles obediently, and she leans her head up as if to see, then drops back down, eyes wide. "There's rebar in my intestines! Holy shit!" She looks again, scared. "Are my nerves working at least?"

"Fabulously," Addison says. "Could you wiggle your fingers now, please?" Janet lifts her hand a bit and hisses slightly, watching her fingers move as Addison nods approvingly.

"Is there anyone we can call for you, Jay?" you ask, hoping to distract her.

"Um. Yeah, try my roommate, Alyssa. Speed dial three on my cell phone. Right cargo pocket." She looks down again. "So, hey. Which one of you is taking that thing out of me?"

"That would be me," Addison says.

"Well I sure hope you're good with your hands," answers your patient, her voice undercut with pain, but still playfully suggestive. Okay, that was definitely a come-on.

"I'm an excellent surgeon," Addison answers easily, while you struggle not to think about just how good she really is with those deft, strong and very sure hands.

-)(-

George is nowhere to be seen, but the rest of you have been sitting at your usual table listening to Cristina go on about Mr. Umbari's shattered arm for probably twenty minutes when you surprise yourself by opening your mouth.

"This may be a weird question, but, has Addison ever struck you guys as kinda gay?"

They all look at you like, well, like you just asked a question as random and dumb as "has Addison ever struck you as kinda gay."

Alex is the first to recover. "You mean, in the hot kissing other girls way, not the girly 'pretty, witty and bright' way?" Izzie shoots him a glare like he's the most monumental asshole on the planet and she can't believe he even has the nerve to wake up in the morning, much less pollute the hospital with is filthy presence.

"Well she did marry Doctor Shepherd," says Cristina. "And she did cheat on him with Mark."

"Clearly, she's gayer than a truck full of flannel," Izzie giggles, though her smile dies instantly when Alex barks a short laugh.

"I know you want him to leave her and all," Alex says, "but you're past 'reaching' here and pushing the border of 'freaking nuts.'"

"It's not that," you say helplessly, well aware that you lost all hope of defending yourself the minute you opened your mouth. "It's just... our patient from the car crash is a girl, and she keeps flirting, and I kind of wondered."

You've caught their interest with this. Alex, ever puerile, asks "Is she hot?" Izzie shoots him a glare and overrides him; "Wait, did Addison flirt back?"

"Not really." Addison, hot chocolate juju aside, is the calm and high-heeled paragon of professional, and you almost laugh trying to imagine her flirting with a patient. Of course, by denying any behavioral evidence from Addison, you've torpedoed your defense, and they've gone back to looking skeptical, except for Alex, who just looks kind of annoyed that you won't indulge him in his fantasy.

The table is quiet for a moment while they all digest what a freak you are, but only for a moment, before Cristina starts up again about Umbari's arm. "Seriously! Seventeen pieces!"

-)(-

Chapter Text

Burke has just closed a man's chest and gawkers are filing out of the observation room when Cristina grabs your shoulder with a "Hold it, Grey."

You take a seat on the bench and try to look casual while Cristina leans against the wall behind you. As soon as the door clicks shut behind the last of the doctors, she snaps "Spill."

"What are you talking about?"

"Don't play dumb with me, Meredith. You keep looking at me like there's something you want to say but you can't quite bring yourself to say it. Well, here we are, so say it."

You could deny everything, but it's Cristina, and anyway it's kind of a good feeling that anybody is paying enough attention to you to notice that you've been stressing. Well, anybody besides Derek, that is. When he's not giving you that smile that turns you to irresolute, drooling jelly, he can be very perceptive, but that's Derek, and Derek noticing you is always a queasy mix of wonderful and guilty. This, though, is Cristina, and shes not wrong, you have been trying to tell her all week now, so what can you do besides, well, spill?

"I slept with Addison."

You're not looking at her and she doesn't say anything, but you can feel her reaction all the same.

"I'm sorry, I must have inhaled some nitrous oxide last surgery because I just thought I heard you say you slept with Addison."

"I did, I slept with Addison. The She-Shepherd and I fed the beast."

"Doctor Montgomery-Shepherd Addison? Addison Addison? McDreamy-stealing Addison? Addison I reject your juju Addison? Addison run if she looks at you Addison?"

"The very same."

She steps over the seat and sinks down next to you. "Your life really never ceases to amaze."

You just nod. You can't disagree.

"Okay. So you slept with Addison." She says it like she's still trying to convince herself she believes you. "How exactly did this happen?"

"I went to the vet and I sat with Doc, and the vet was really cute and I ran out of yarn and my father's new wife told me my mother was a man-crushing bitch so I went to Emerald City."

You were sitting at the bar, nursing a lukewarm coke, when she sat down next to you. You didn't lift your head, all you saw was a caramel leather coat and the clean line of her neck, but you knew it was her by smell. Addison always smelled like baby powder and warm sheets and rain, and just a little, tiny bit of tantalizing aftershave. You greeted her with a "hey" and were surprised when it didn't come out sounding rude so much as tired.

"Rough day," she didn't so much ask as say, and it was just the right amount of sympathetic, and anyway you didn't have your knitting needles and didn't want to go home to a Georgeless house to get more yarn and you prefer conversation to lukewarm, flat, rumless coke and the biting specter of Ellis Grey, and sure this was Addison but she knew half the story already so what the hell, you pulled your head off the bar and looked up.

"He has a daughter. In med school. He's very proud," you said. "And why wouldn't he be. I bet she doesn't sleep with married men or break people." You almost winced - you weren't even drunk! - but Addison's smile remained intact and understanding.

"How involved do you want to be in her case?" she asked, gently, but not patronizing. "I can switch you in for George, though that may not be the best idea. Or just keep you informed."

"I don't know. Honestly, I kind of wish I could just pretend she didn't exist."

"Joe?" She rapped on the bar, somehow making the action cute and classy. "We're going to need something strong over here." She shoots you a look as you open your mouth in halfhearted protest. "Don't worry, I'll make sure you don't go home with any married men. And I'm pretty sure Mark's still back in New York."

"You know," says Cristina, "of the many ways to break up a marriage, this is probably not the one that will make Derek most likely to go back to you."

"I wasn't thinking that," you say mournfully. "She listened and then she drove me home and she was really sweet, and also, kinda hot, and it just sort of happened."

"This was at your place?" she asks suspiciously. You nod. "So wait, Addison's the one who made you coffee?"

"Why, does that mean something?"

"No. It's Addison. She probably just wanted coffee."

"See? See? See why this is a problem? I don't know these things. Guys make coffee to say thank you, girls make coffee because they want coffee. There are all these differences. Someone should write a guide."

"You want a guide? Does that mean you're planning on sleeping with other women now?"

"No. I don't know! That's another thing. I didn't think women were my thing. Men are clearly my thing. Men are a fabulous thing. I've never needed another thing. I didn't know I could have another thing. If I do have another thing. How do you know if women are your thing?"

"Okay, you need to stop saying 'thing'."

"Sorry."

"Look, you're making this a bigger deal than it is. The gay part of it, I mean." You jump a little when she actually says the word out loud. "Obviously the Addison part is a big deal. You know shes married, so you're officially a homewrecker now."

You wonder if you were destined to be a homewrecker from birth, but for the moment, you'd like to deal with one catastrophic issue at a time. "Cristina? Not helping."

She shrugs. "The married to Derek part aside, sleeping with one woman is not a life crisis. You don't feel obligated to sleep with men just because they're men. You only have sex when you're interested, right?"

"Or drunk, yes. But I see your point."

"And anyway, Addison's insanely hot and she's married to the man you're in love with. It could be a fluke. Call it transference. Besides, at least she's a real doctor."

"I'm not in love with him anymore," you say like either of you believed you. "And quit ripping on Finn. He's cute and male and most importantly, not married to Derek, and therefore possibly worth spending time with even if I am celibate. Though admittedly very bad at it."

Cristina smirks at you for that, and you feel obligated to retaliate. "Speaking of twisted love triangles," you toss at her, "how are things with you and George and Burke?"

You talk for a while about Burke and his violin hero and Cristina's conviction that shes an inadequate comforter in times of crisis, until her pager goes off and it suddenly occurs to you both that you're still on call.

-)(-

You think its still too soon after the first date to be calling about a second -- you don't want to be sending the desperate vibe -- so instead of calling Finn after shift, you head to Emerald City with Cristina and Izzie. Naturally, Addison is there, slumped over the bar with her back to the door. The three of you get a table and you sit facing out the window, trying to pretend you didn't notice her and gossiping at length about Denny and George.

The place is busy tonight and your glasses have been empty for a while, so you volunteer to get refills and make your way up to the bar. You give Joe your orders and cant stop yourself from glancing over at Addison, who's staring into her drink with the glazed sort of look you've come to associate with the relatives of coma patients.

"Hey Joe," you say impulsively, just as he turns away after handing you the third glass. "One last order. Whatever Addisons having, give her another on me."

He gives you an odd look, but says nothing, and you walk back to your friends. When the night wears out, you get up to head home with Izzie when you catch Addisons reflection in the window, still slumped.

"You know what? I'll see you back home," you decide. "I'm gonna stick around here for a little while longer."

Izzie starts to say something, but ends up yawning hugely as soon as she opens her mouth, so she shrugs and changes her mind. With a Suit yourself, she waves and heads out.

Cristina lingers a moment, eyes flicking quickly to the bar and back, her tone serious and hard. "It's only a fluke if its only once, Meredith. You cross that line and you're an idiot making the biggest mistake of her life."

You look at the window again, for a moment, then meet her gaze. "I know," you say quietly.

Cristina just looks at you, then finally sighs, and her expression softens. She heads out with a tired "goodnight."

Addison puts her elbow on the bar and turns when you sit down next to her.

"No knitting tonight," she says.

"It wasn't working," you answer. "Despite reassurances by a friend who shall remain nameless that she wouldn't let me do anything stupid, I still managed to get drunk and have sex."

"Hey. I told you I wouldn't let you go home with any married men. Did you sleep with a married man? You've got to pay more attention to semantics."

You glare at her, and she gives you a sheepish grin.

"And anyway, I'll have you know," you continue, "I had a very good date with a very cute man and didn't have sex, so I didn't need the knitting anyway."

"Oh? Who with?" she immediately asks. On some level, it makes sense that she be supportive of you dating, since it strengthens her claim on Derek, but its still kind of odd (if rather surprisingly comforting) to hear the friendly sincerity in her question.

"Finn Dandridge, actually. Doc's vet? I helped him birth a horse, and he made dinner."

She looks impressed. "That is a good date."

Your cheeks kind of hurt, and you realize its because you're grinning like a fool. "Yeah."

"But no sex?"

"No sex."

She raises her empty shot in salute, with a "nicely done," and clinks your glass.

You both contemplate your empty beverages for a moment, and when you look at her again she's doing that kind of glossy stare again, and you remember why you came over here in the first place, and you wave at Joe and order another round.

"Rumor has it you're being sued," you say, sounding more sympathetic than you'd expected to. If you're honest with yourself, you're probing, because Addison and malpractice don't really mesh as concepts -- you suppose that in a world where Burke can leave a towel in a woman's chest cavity, anything is possible, but still -- and this is a really, really inappropriate conversation to have with a superior, but you're friends now, plus there was that thing with the sex, so you figure appropriate is not the biggest issue at the moment when it comes to you and Addison.

She blinks at you, and clearly she's buzzed, because she actually answers. "Apparently I trusted someone I shouldn't have, and now I just have to hope I can survive the consequences." She tosses back her shot, and the muscles of her neck shift smoothly under the skin. You swallow hard. She sighs. "Maybe its karma."

You try not to think about the implications of that, and end up letting your mouth get way ahead of your brain. "Not malpractice then?"

You don't need to see the sudden stiffness in her posture to know you stepped way over the line, and you scramble madly to change the subject. "Rumor also has it you've claimed exclusive rights to Alex."

Not the most brilliant thing you could have said. You attempt to convey an apology via painful wincing.

"Rumor's a busy creature around here," says Addison.

"Well, that one was mostly Izzie. I think she's jealous," you continue to backpedal madly.

Addison looks at you sideways, and seems to relax. "Stevens doesn't have as much to learn as Karev when it comes to obstetrics."

There's still something a little dangerous in her voice when she says his name, so as strange as that statement is, and as much as you really would like to know what the deal is with her and Alex, you decide not to press.

Joe plunks down your drinks and gives you that odd look again, but he still doesn't say anything, and continues to not say anything for the rest of the night, while you and Addison play Patients Who Should Have Died and eat all his pretzels. Addison wins, but she reassures you that considering you're an intern, you put up a good fight.

When you help her to her cab, she's warm and laughing against your side, and you almost kiss her under the streetlight, but instead you smile and say "Goodnight, Addison," and she grins and says "Thanks for the hangover, Meredith," and then she's gone.

Chapter Text

You've learned to expect a lot of things at Seattle Grace. Yet somehow, your ex-boyfriend's wife shouting at her husband for loving you more than her in the middle of your workplace in front of you, your boss, her boss, and all of your friends is not one of them. Guilt curls between your ribs like an old friend. You did this, with your elevators and your illicit dog walks and your lavender shampoo, and you need to make it right but you can't.

You have to try anyway. You catch her at the end of the day, at the bottom of the stairs, leaning on the railing as the Chief walks away. "Addison!"

She looks up for an instant, then turns and heads in the opposite direction. You speed up, and before she can tear off her heels and make a run for it, you try again. "Please."

At that, she stops, head down, and waits. When you reach her, she strides ahead to the next door and you follow her in. It's an empty ICU, dark, the blinds drawn shut. She locks the door.

"What do you want, Grey?"

The last name stings, somehow.

"Addison, I just... I... I'm sorry," you finish pathetically, and wince at how meaningless and hollow the words sound. Her face is a blank mask. "I don't... I wish it wasn't like this. If I had known..."

"He should have told you." She closes her eyes. "He should have told you, and the worst part is that I can't even hate him. God, I'm not even strong enough to let him go."

You open your mouth, to say you don't even know what, but she cuts you off. "No. No, the worst part is that I can't even hate you. You, overworked and underfed and abandoned and still all patience and compassion and fortitude and excellent instinct for surgery, not to mention heartbreakingly beautiful when you come, how could he not fall in love with you? So that leaves no one to hate, except myself, the dumb bitch who doesn't even have the grace to leave when her time is up."

There's a line of wilted crimson hanging woundlike against the naked pain on her face, and without quite realizing what you're doing, you reach out and tuck the stray lock behind her ear, trailing your fingers softly along her jawline as you pull away.

She presses you up against the door, captures your mouth with her own, hard and desperate, and you know twice can't be a fluke, but it doesn't seem like enough to be a pattern, so you settle on calling it a trend, and you wonder how long it will be before you don't have to be drunk or broken for this to happen between the two of you.

Her fingers are under your shirt, playing your ribs like a concert pianist. You feel the warm, smooth hardness of her wedding ring and a hot flare shoots up your spine. You unbutton her blouse, push back the shoulders of her coat, your lips on her earlobe, the corner of her jaw, make her gasp, and think about how much you hate sneaking around, how much you hated when it was Derek and you were just trying to keep it from the Chief. How much worse to not even be able to go back to your own home, to book a room for a clandestine meet, to fuck in a car not for the thrill, but because like a couple of teenagers, there's nowhere else to go.

This isn't what you want or who you want to be. You have a vet who is cute and sweet and makes your face hurt from smiling to think about, and she has Derek. Not just any husband, but Derek, and this is wrong, so, so very wrong, but damn it feels amazing standing here, tasting her all sweat and motion and need. Derek and Addison have boring sex, and you and Finn have no sex, but you and Addison, now that you're getting the hang of this and considering that you're still pretty sure you're not attracted to women, have damn near amazing sex, and twice is a trend not a habit.

And there's nothing in the world that could possibly hurt Derek more than this, and if that means Addison is using you, maybe that's okay, because maybe you owe her, and maybe you want Derek hurting just as much as she does. And maybe it's all so fucked up now that it doesn't even matter, maybe there's no way to make anyone here hurt more than they already do, so maybe this is a blessing, Addison's nimble hand snaking along the inside of your thigh; maybe this is sacred, the way her breath catches when your tongue slides along her jugular, and how you can feel her heart pounding through your fingers splayed on her back, or maybe that's yours. Maybe her wordless moan, her hair cascading back, her shuddering euphoria against your palm is as close to healing as the two of you will ever get.

She breathes deep and moves her hand higher and any thought you had as to the wrongness of this shatters. Your legs buckle, and she pushes her free hand against your shoulder, hard into the door to hold you up. You arch against it, pressing against her like her into you, and her lips are on yours again, swallowing your scream.

She has one hand on your hip, the other locked against your shoulder, and when your vision clears, she won't meet your eyes. You can't quite tell if she's crying, but her shoulders say anger, and maybe shame. It doesn't track, except for the one hand on your shoulder, which you know will bruise. It makes you ache.

You hold her face, bring her eyes up to yours, and kiss her, as gently and deeply as you know how, and now you're sure she's crying, and you don't stop.

Chapter Text

You're standing in the middle of the hospital in a slinky black dress, you have no idea what happened to your underwear, and two men are calling your name. You look from Finn to Derek, Derek to Finn.

"I..."

You know where you want to go. He's smirking, just a bit, smug and self-assured. It makes you hot again just seeing it.

"Meredith?"

You know where you need to go. He's a little wary, now, looking at Derek, then you, not quite letting himself believe what he sees. You're hurting him, already, and this might just be the fastest you've ever ruined someone's life.

You’ve slept with both Shepherds in the span of twenty-four hours. There's nothing but hotel rooms and shame in choosing Derek and you can't go home with Finn.

And then Callie, of all people, walks up to you, coat on her arm, pretends like she doesn't even see the two of them, just says to you quietly, "Come on," and you realize that neither of these men are where you need to go right now.

"I'm sorry, Finn," you say, "I have to be with Izzie."

-)(-

Izzie sits catatonic on the couch for half an hour before you can't take it anymore, and retreat to the kitchen under the pretext of getting drinks. You lean over the sink and wonder why you ever thought you could be anything but a selfish whore, what right you have to search with George and Cristina for some way to make Izzie understand what she's done when you're still sick with the scent of a married man.

Callie comes into the kitchen, looking lost. She shouldn't be here but she can't leave, so she's standing in your kitchen in a prom dress waiting for someone you’re pretty sure she still hates to give her answers, any answers at all.

You lead her upstairs and send her into George's room while you dig through Izzie's. You meet again in the hallway, arms full of sweatpants and oversize shirts, and walk silently back down. George and Alex, coats off and ties loosened, flank Izzie on the couch, Alex speaking low and urgent and George gently stroking her hair. Cristina is pacing, and looks at you uncomprehending for a long moment when you hand her the clothes before she gets it.

"We're going to clean her up," you tell the boys, and Alex looks at you almost angrily, not letting go of Izzie's hand.

"Alex," says George, gently. "Hey, man. It's okay. Let them help." Izzie still doesn't look up, as reluctant, frustrated, Alex stands, giving you and Cristina a long warning look before taking the clothes Callie offers and following her and George out of the room.

"Iz?" She doesn't resist or even respond as you and Cristina lift her to her feet, pull off her shoes, unzip her dress. "We're going to make you comfortable, okay? Come on." She stumbles into her pants, closes her eyes obediently when you seat her in the kitchen and wash off her mascara, and makes no protest when you lead her up to her room.

“I should have worn that one,” Izzie says dully, as Cristina moves a frilly coal-dark dress off the foot of the bed.

“You didn’t know, Iz,” you tell her, and tuck her in, but she doesn’t seem to hear you.

When you're finally all changed, Callie and Cristina into borrowed sweats, and Alex into George's last clean pair of scrubs, Izzie has fallen asleep. Alex is holding vigil, slumped in the hallway outside her half-open door, and the rest of you sit silent and exhausted in the living room, making your way through the last of the ginger snaps.

"What have we done?" asks Cristina finally.

You're on the front porch dialing Addison's cell phone before you even realize you've moved.

She picks up on the fourth ring. "Hello?" Her voice is low and just as tired as Cristina's.

"Addison?"

"Oh." Her tone drops from the businesslike 'I'm on the phone' to a curt and wary fatigue. "What do you want?"

"I..." You don't really know what you want. Reassurance? Absolution? To live out your legacy and just keep fucking things up as much as you possibly can?

"You what, Meredith?"

What you want is for Addison not to sleep with Derek, not tonight or ever again.

"I need to talk to you."

"You're talking to me now," she snaps, and it's no more than you deserve, but you still wince.

"No, I... It can't be on the phone."

"Meredith, do you know what time it is?"

"Yes. Well, no, not exactly, but yes, I know it’s late, or early, or just a bad hour whatever side you’re counting from, but I need to meet you.” Everything in the world is wrong but you think that if you can just get this one thing done, maybe you’ll survive. “Addison. Please."

There's a long silence, and you start to wonder if maybe she hung up and you somehow missed the sound when she finally says that she'll see you in half an hour at the coffee place down the road from Emerald City.

You turn around and jump about ten feet when you see Cristina watching you silently from the doorway.

"This better not be what it sounds like," she says. She's backlit, standing there, and you can't see her face.

"It isn't," you say. "It's so, so much worse."

-)(-

You haven't changed - you didn't even go back inside, just told Cristina she was welcome to crash in your bed if she got tired and you weren't back, and left - and now you're standing in the most empty coffee shop you've ever seen, even at close to four in the morning, in sweatpants and a long-sleeved Michigan tee, thinking you haven't gone out in public looking like this since you were twenty-two, and wondering why that should bother you when there's no one here but some kid tuned out of the world behind a laptop and an iPod, and Addison.

She gives you a tired, suspicious look when you hunch into the booth across from her. Her hair's hanging kind of droopy and stiff, like she never got the chance to wash the spray out of it, but she's dressed, unlike you.

"Dated a Wolverine?"

"Not really dated," you tell the plastic placemat menu in front of you. "My shirt got vomited on, he gave me his." In truth, you can't even remember the guy's face, much less his name, and you're not even sure which one of you had thrown up, or if it happened before or after the sex.

"Party school," she says dismissively, and you sort of laugh, but she cuts right to the chase. "Meredith, why are we here?"

“Where did you go after Denny died?”

Her look says you’re trying her patience, but she answers anyway. “The Chief called Denny’s family, so we talked to them for a while, and then he asked me about his niece. Why?”

“You didn’t go home with Derek?”

Her expression is intense, and a little dangerous. “Meredith, why?”

“You.” You shake your head a little. “He…” You can’t face her, and stare at a coffee stain in the laminate. “I had sex with Derek.”

She doesn’t respond, and you risk a glimpse up at her face. She knows, she knew the moment it happened, that’s been clear since the first barbed syllable of your name when you called her, but she’s still waiting for you to tell her that she’s wrong, that you mean months (feels like years) ago, before she arrived, she’s waiting for you to give her permission to lie to herself.

“At the prom," you say, because as much as you both wish otherwise, you have to. "He was looking at me, so I left, and he found me, and Finn has plans and Denny died and I couldn’t find my underwear and you never took off your wedding ring and he said my name and he wouldn't stop looking at me and I left with Callie and you were down the hall. You were right down the hall.”

You drop your eyes, and you’re six again, hunched over before she even starts shouting.

“That’s the best you can do? You call me out to a coffee shop at three-thirty in the morning after a Godforsaken prom to tell me you had sex, with my husband, in the middle of a DANCE!, you snuck off with my HUSBAND for adulterous, exam-room panty-losing sex and all you can say is that he was LOOKING AT YOU?”

Out of the corner of your eye, you notice that iPod guy has angled his laptop down and is pretending not to stare at your little drama. Addison is on her feet, taking a deep breath and maybe counting to ten in her head so as not to brain you with the pepper mill. You’re not sure if you’re trying to defend yourself when you open your mouth like an idiot and interject. “It was the first time. I needed – I wanted you to know that I didn’t lie.”

That sounded every bit as stupid out loud as it did in your head.

Addison, it seems, agrees with you. “Oh, thank you, Doctor Grey, that’s just exactly what I was worried about. Good to know that when the chips are down, you’ll fuck the man I married but you draw the line at lying. Care to outline the rest of your moral code for me? Can you take candy from children, but not teenagers? Kick puppies, but not full-grown dogs? Is identity theft okay? Or are you really a good person all the time, except for the minor detail of sex with married men who LOOK AT YOU WHILE DANCING WITH THEIR WIVES!”

However you may feel at the moment, you are not six and you are not going to cower, and you are not sixteen and you are not going to yell at Addison. “You don’t seem to have a problem with me having sex with married women.”

THAT IS NOT THE POINT AND THIS IS NOT THE TIME FOR LOGIC!” she practically bellows, and you have never seen Addison act less Addison, until she sighs and pushes a hand against her forehead. “Goodnight, Meredith,” she says tiredly. “It’s always a pleasure chatting with you.”

The mood shift is so sudden that by the time you’re halfway ready to react, she’s out the door.

You follow, walking past the iPod kid and slamming his laptop closed on him with a petulant snap.

-)(-

Alex is sleeping uncomfortably half-slumped in the hallway, and the MD in you is sure he’s doing horrible damage to his neck, but you step over him quietly. Cristina is propped up in Izzie’s bed, the blonde twitching fitfully in her lap, and she looks more lost than any human being you have ever seen in your life.

“She was crying in her sleep,” Cristina says, and it’s sort of compassion and a desperate plea for help at the same time.

You climb, carefully, half under the covers next to her, and Izzie stirs and sort of whimpers, but doesn’t wake as you maneuver her out of an oddly reluctant Cristina’s hands. She seems relieved but surprises you when she leans her head on you instead of leaving the bed.

“How’s Addison?” she asks softly.

“Really mad,” you breathe tiredly at the ceiling. “I slept with Derek at the dance. She didn’t take it well.” Cristina kind of snorts at that. “How’s Burke?”

There are a lot of things in her voice you can’t quite make sense of when she looks down at Izzie and says, “Well. He isn’t dead.”

Chapter Text

You wake to chaos. Somewhere, an alarm clock is screaming, and Cristina yelps and flies out of the bed, tripping backwards on the unfamiliar floor and hitting the carpet hard. The blankets go with her. Izzie’s legs, tangled in the sheets, swing sideways, knocking her head into your knee and jolting her upright. In the hallway, Alex is cursing angrily and painfully, and Izzie gives you a look of complete noncomprehension for the space of one, very long breath, before memory floods back and her face cracks and falls, and she shoves you away, yelling for you to go, get out, get your skinny ass to work.

You and Cristina stumble into the hallway and practically slam into Alex and George, pissing and snarking at each other outside the bathroom. Callie, bleary-eyed, comes hollering out of George’s room to join the fray, and you’re still a little fuzzy from your less than two hours of sleep but there seem to be two arguments running, one over the bathroom and the other over who’s cutting work to keep an eye on Izzie. Cristina solves the first by shoving right between the boys and slamming the door behind her, but the second rages for the next twenty minutes. Somehow, in the end, and to Alex’s great fury, the carpool leaves without you on it, primarily the doing of Callie and Cristina, who argued things like it being your house and you having a secure enough place in the program to get away with it, but were probably mostly thinking about Derek and Addison.

George will tell you later that they spent the ride over to the hospital going through roughly twenty years of combined medical knowledge to give you a perfect truancy excuse, but when just the three of them showed up, late, stumbling and hastily groomed, Dr. Bailey didn’t even ask.

You clean the house, change all the towels. You take George’s tux back to the rental place, drop off the evening’s dresses at the dry cleaners, and swing by a gas station on your way home to stock up on comfort food, hoping against hope that you’ll walk through your front door to the smell of pie crust or the clatter of mixing in the kitchen.

Izzie still hasn’t left her room.

But you are determined, and desperate to do at least one good thing in your life, so when George shows, Alex in tow, they find the two of you on her bed, knitting, and she’s actually scolded you a bit for your uneven rows, and she eats the Thai they brought home.

Later, you and Alex are alone downstairs, topping off the evening with a pair of beers and wondering if you should drag Izzie out of the house, and if she’d go.

“The Wicked Bitch of the East asked about you today,” he says off-hand.

“Isn’t it supposed to be ‘of the West’?” you ask.

“I don’t know,” he snides at you, “which direction is New York?”

“She’s here now, though.” You shrug. “What did she say?”

“She said, ‘did Grey come in today? I haven’t seen her’,” he says. The “like, duh” is implied.

As casual as you can humanly manage, you ask, “What did you tell her?”

Obviously not casual enough, because Alex’s eyes narrow. “I told her I didn’t know, but I heard you were sick. So what I’m wondering, is why did she want to know?”

“I don’t know, why didn’t you ask her?” you snit.

“Please,” he says. “Like she needs more reasons to keep me stuck on Vagina Patrol. She was pissy enough today as it is. I still don’t get why everyone’s so torn up about this Denny dude.”

-)(-

You take another day off, and have somehow convinced Izzie to start dinner when the world reminds you that you can’t actually hide from your problems in the guise of a ringing phone.

“Meredith? Is everything okay?” Finn’s voice is low and sweet and a little bit afraid. “That was such a bad end to a good night, and I haven’t heard from you, and I have to worry a little…”

“Yeah, yes, I mean, no, everything’s not okay, but I’m fine.” The lie rolls lightly off your lips like you were born to it. You feel a little queasy. “It’s just, Izzie is taking Denny’s death pretty hard, so we’re taking care of her, and there hasn’t been much time.” Deep breath. “Listen, I may not be able to see you for a while.”

“Oh, no, absolutely. Don’t worry about it, Meredith. I understand. You should take care of your friend.”

The thing that hurts the most is the understanding you can picture in his eyes, the fact that he thinks more of you for this, and what kind of vile creature must you be, to trade on the memory of his wife?

Izzie has thrown herself into dinner in earnest, and presents you and George with some insanely savory form of glazed poultry with six kinds of texture- and flavor-coordinated sides, and you pick at it gamely, trying to pretend you have even the shadow of an appetite.

-)(-

The fourth day after the prom, you’re scheduled to work again and Izzie, while profoundly despondent, is at least no longer catatonic and is beginning to grouse about not needing a babysitter, and frankly you hate missing work, so you find yourself standing in front of Bailey praying fervently to anyone up there who’ll listen that she assigns you anywhere in the hospital but OB/Gyn or Neuro.

“O’Malley, you’re with Dr. Shepherd today. Yang, Karev, pit. Grey, so nice to see you again, just in time to suit up for Dr. Montgomery-Shepherd.”

Nietzsche was right; truly, God is dead.

“What?” Alex demands, head spinning incredulously between you and Bailey. “She’s on crotch duty today?”

“Karev, don’t make me think you shouldn’t be here at all,” Bailey snaps, and Alex barely manages to swallow his scowl before chasing Cristina down the hallway.

You slouch resignedly out after in search of Addison, wondering what your punishment will consist of. If you're lucky, maybe you'll get to spend the day with your ass in a chair, staring at a monitor running ultrasounds. It's a small consolation to you that you're less inclined than Alex to flip out for getting afterbirth stuck in your shoelaces.

But strangely, when you finally find her, Addison just says briskly, "Good morning, Dr. Grey. Ready to do a hysterectomy?" and leads you in to meet your patient. All morning, through two surgeries and five consultations, she behaves perfectly normally and you wait for the other shoe to drop. Finally, after Mr. Cliffton wheels Mrs. Cliffton somberly away just past noon, and Addison mentions that it seems like a good time to go scrounge up some food, she stops you on the way out.

"Just one last thing."

Your stomach sinks and you can't bring yourself to turn around, and make a pretense of being busy with your lab coat, but all she says is, gently, "How's Stevens holding up?"

You look at her, now, and all you see is genuine concern. "She's... she's in pretty bad shape, honestly, but she's coping."

Addison sort of nods, and looks a little sad, and goes back to filling out her paperwork. For just a second, you open your mouth to ask her what the hell is going on, but then you're out the door and down the hall and trying not to give it any thought.

-)(-

You and Cristina are walking out of the cafeteria when you finally see Derek. His eyes catch yours and he widens his stride, but so does Cristina, and she intercepts him a good fifteen feet away.

“Dr. Shepherd,” she says, and he tries to brush her off.

“Not now, Cristina.”

“It’s about Burke.” He stops and looks at her. “I need to know – I read his chart, but I need to know what you did. I have to hear it from you.”

You escape into the elevator, thinking Cristina is without question the most wonderful person on the planet Earth, even though you know that wasn't particularly about you.

When the doors open, Callie is on the other side, and she blinks and sort of pulls back, clearly surprised to see you.

“Hi, Callie,” you offer, stepping off the elevator.

“You dry-cleaned my dress,” she says, and you can’t tell if it’s accusatory or just a statement of fact.

“Yes,” you acknowledge cautiously.

“You didn’t have to do that,” she says, and now you're pretty sure you hear reluctant gratitude, so you go with it.

"You didn't have to help with Izzie, either," you tell her, then add, "Thank you for that," just to be clear.

Callie nods, and hits the elevator button again. The cab hasn't moved and the door slides open, but as she steps through the door, she pauses and looks back.

"It's not really my business. I haven't said anything, because it's not really my business." She pulls her arm out of the way and lets the doors roll shut, and you think her look might be sympathy before the last inch-wide gap stutters to a close.

"There you are, Grey," says Addison, and you turn to see her hanging out a doorway down the hall. Her face and voice are still reading that profoundly unnerving friendly-professional tone. "We've got a tumor to excise, come on."

-)(-

By the end of the day, you've almost convinced yourself that you imagined everything - the sex with Derek, the blowout with Addison, all of it just a weird daydream, because if any of that actually happened, this straightforward cheer of hers would be seriously freaking you out. That could be the point, you suppose, but although admittedly you don't actually know Addison all that well, you're still pretty sure that head games like that aren't really her style. There was that first day she showed up, of course, but that was before she knew you didn't know, and this is weird and not like that at all and you really, really wish she'd get it over with.

And then, finally, you find yourselves alone in an empty OR, and she says, careful, just barely keeping her voice level and strong, "So. What happened, exactly? Between you and Derek?"

You think seeing her like this might break your heart, but you can't in good conscience turn away. At the very least she deserves to be looked in the eye.

"Are you sure you really want to know?"

After all, you’re positive you don’t want to tell her.

"Don't patronize me, Grey," she almost growls, and you sigh.

"We were dancing. You and Derek, me and Finn. And Finn was talking about me, and us, and how he was making all these plans, but Derek kept... he kept giving me that look... like any second he was going to rip Finn's arms out of their sockets to get them off me, and I had to get away from him, so I ran. And he followed me, so I tried to hide in an empty ICU." You almost laugh, it sounds so childish out loud. "I told him to stop staring at me, and he told me he wished he could, and then he kissed me, and he was so angry, and hurt, and he wanted me so much, and so I kissed him back. It didn't even seem like it was happening until it was over."

You think that if it was that hard to say it, it must have been nearly impossible to hear, and you're sort of amazed that Addison is still standing, and you were wrong, you were so, so wrong when you actually thought that none of this could get any worse.

“You know, it’s crazy,” she says shakily, “I was actually almost glad. I thought to myself, ‘It’s finally over. He’ll finally end this hopeless sham.’ So I asked him where he went when he left the dance floor, and he said nowhere. He said he’d gone to the bathroom, and wandered around.” Her tone is bitter, and dismissive, and she’s leaning on the bed, eyes pressed tightly closed.

“Addison…”

You take a half step forward, but she stops you cold with a “Don’t you dare,” as her hand snaps up, one perfect fingernail aimed knifelike and dead on your left ventricle.

You put your hands up, placating, and move back. You never have known where you stand with Addison, not from the very start.

“Why do you stay with him?” It’s a dumb question and you don’t know why you ask it. He’s Derek. Maybe you just needed to say something, and it does feel like Addison should be stronger than this, should have left him back in New York. Sleeping with Mark is something you would have done, and Addison is supposed to be better than that.

“Would you believe I won’t give him the satisfaction? I won’t be the bad guy.”

“You aren’t,” you say, and mean it.

She stares at you intently. “So what’s your excuse?”

“What?”

“He gets to be married, but you’re not allowed to move on? He treats you with about as much respect as… well, me,” she mutters bitterly, her head falling. “The saddest part is, I think you actually believe you deserve it.”

Completely taken aback by that, you almost defend yourself, before you wonder, suddenly, what kind of woman gets called a whore by her ex and then helps him prove himself right.

You’re both silent for what feels like a very long time, when finally, forlorn, worn out, but composed, she says, “Thank you for telling me.”

“I’m sorry,” you say, helplessly.

“I know,” she tells you. “That’s the worst part.”

Chapter Text

Alex finds you Wednesday morning, loitering at the board, updating your mental "avoid dealing with the Derek situation" schedule. You didn't know it was possible to go this long in a hospital this size without running into someone, especially with Burke out on medical, but somehow, you've managed to not talk to him since the sex. It's not like you run when you see him - you like to think you're a little more mature than that, although as your presence here at the board shows, obviously not much - but you'd think that Bailey would have assigned you to him by now. Instead you're doing rotations with Dr. Boehm the hand specialist or being reminded just how much you hated Psych in college.

"You slept with him, didn't you," Alex says, and when your jaw actually drops, he grins smugly. "You seriously did? Wow."

You glare. "How do you do that?"

"It's really not hard. You look all guilty any time anyone mentions his name, and completely relieved every time Bailey assigns him to one of us instead of you." He chuckles obnoxiously. "Plus Frau Fuehrer gets all pissed off and bitchy whenever anyone says 'Meredith Grey'. Well, more so than usual."

"You're such an ass."

"Aw, I'm hurt. Actually, I should be thanking you. You did manage to get me a day off. I'm kind of shocked it was just the one. All I did was mouth off to her, but you seduced her man."

"Addison doesn't do revenge." You're surprised to realize you believe this, even as you say it, and you kind of wonder what you think your point of reference is, and why you're defending her when you're the one Alex is ragging on.

He snorts. "Yeah, I'm the fallopian whipping boy because she likes me."

"It would never even occur to you that she's actually trying to teach you something, would it?"

"Since when are you on her side?" he asks with narrowed eyes. "You're the one who just banged her husband."

"And you have no idea how much I wish I hadn't," you start, but Alex suddenly points his gaze past your shoulder. You turn and see a nurse whose name you're sure you should remember coming around the corner, brandishing a dry-erase marker and mouthing what might be "quarter to four" over and over to herself.

"We're going to try to get Izzie to come to the bar with us tonight," you tell him instead. "Around ten, if you want to be there." He nods, and looks at you almost thoughtfully as you walk past.

-)(-

"She bakes," says George. "Constantly. Unceasingly."

"To be fair, she also sometimes sleeps," you say, not wanting to speak ill of the bereaved.

"Yes, and cries, and uses the bathroom, and even occasionally knits, but mostly, she just bakes," George says, somewhat crazily. You're both stressed over Izzie, but the past couple days, George has been taking 'worried' to a whole new, and slightly unstable, level. "Pies and meatloaf and cracker crumb cod and lemon bars and basically anything you can put in an oven, she bakes."

"So, she bakes," says Olivia, clearly rapidly losing any patience she had for this conversation.

"It's just, she quit her job," you try to explain.

George cuts you off. "And now she's baking us out of house and home. You can't open the fridge without something falling on you and we've already spent this month's water bill in baking flour alone."

That's an exaggeration, but you probably have spent that much on at least a few ingredients combined, particularly eggs, which are more expensive than you ever realized when purchased almost daily and in bulk.

"So..."

"So we had an idea. Well, technically, Alex said it, so you could say it was his idea, but I don't think he was being serious, so by default it becomes our idea."

"We want to sell her food," you clarify, before Olivia can smack George. "We bring it in, and people put a couple dollars in a can, or something, and they get a home-baked lunch. Or, you know, today, just oatmeal cookies, because that's what we brought, but if it works we'll get more elaborate later."

"So you're profiting off the misery of your friend?"

"At two dollars a head, we will not be turning a profit," George mutters.

"We don't like it either," you say, shooting a glare at him. "We're just worried about her, and we want her to be able to cope, and she really can't afford to if things go on like this."

Olivia softens a little. "All right. I'll spread the word with the nurses."

"Thank you," you tell her. "That's all we ask."

It's a solution, but George isn't wrong, you'll still be losing money. You head back towards the OR, trying not to think about how you're going to pay the bills when the end of the month comes and Izzie can't make rent.

-)(-

Cristina is in the hallway, staring at nothing, sitting on that gurney that never seems to move and which you're beginning to suspect is only left there so the surgeons know where to look when they've got interns to find. She doesn't say anything when you sit down next to her.

"I have no idea what's going on with them," you say. "Which to be fair is my own fault for avoiding him. But what if they're finally getting divorced?"

"Burke has hand tremors," she blurts.

"Then he'd be single. He'd be single, but I'd be with Finn, and he'd want me to choose."

"He might never operate again. What if he never operates again? He wouldn't be Doctor Preston Burke, renowned cardiothoracic surgeon. He'd just be Burke the man."

"What right does he have to make me choose? He already chose. And Finn is great. He's sweet and he has plans. Did I tell you about the plans? Because that was about the most romantic thing a guy has ever said, and after that, Derek has the gall to try and make me choose."

"What if I don't actually love just Burke the man? What if I only love Burke the surgeon?" She pauses for a moment, then, terrified, "What if I love just Burke the man and not Burke the surgeon?"

"Of course I'm the one who slept with someone else ten minutes after hearing the most romantic thing a guy has ever said, so where does that leave me? My God, the transformation is complete. Slap a scalpel in my hand and call me Ellis."

"Did I just say I love Burke?"

You look over at her. "You've said it before."

"Yes, I've said it before, in carefully deliberated speeches and pre-planned moments in painstakingly directed conversations because that's the kind of thing that normal people need to hear on a regular basis for some reason in order to feel secure about the state of a relationship. This was not that. This was spontaneous and off-hand and totally not at all planned for and not at all the kind of thing that I would ever say."

"Well you do love him."

"I do! That's the point! I've never been like this! I don't know how to do this 'functional, decent person' crap! None of it makes any sense!"

"Hey, Cristina, you do better than you think."

She snorts dismissively. "Right. Like you're a great judge of character."

Her pager goes off, and she starts to get up, but you stop her. "What's that supposed to mean?"

"Two words: Derek. Shepherd."

"Hey, he's -"

"He's a cheater and you're his piece of ass on the side, Meredith. Do whatever you want with your vet, but next time Shepherd gets all moony on you, try to have a little self-respect."

You watch her leave, thinking you can't really be angry, because she's right, but it still doesn't help you any. You’ve got a lot of things down pat at this point in your life, but self-respect really isn’t one of them.

-)(-

You're in the locker room when your cell phone rings. It's Finn - you kind of love Caller ID - and you let it go to voicemail. You'll have to actually talk to him eventually, hell, you'll have to see him eventually, but as patient as Finn has been, man can't live on kisses alone and it's only been ten days since the prom, and you still feel Derek (you still feel Addison) on your skin and behind your eyelids when you sleep and you don't want this stain to poison him, don't want to taste like someone else against his lips and you can only hope he'll still be willing to speak to you when the filth of sweat and pain and deceit you carry finally fades.

-)(-

Derek is at Emerald City, hurling darts at the wall and looking fabulously sexy. The four of you take a table in the back corner, far from the bar, far from other people and far, far, far away from Derek and his sexy. Alex shows up about half an hour late, winding his way past nurses and lab techs and the occasional actual member of the outside world with a mocking grin on his face.

"Not hiding back here or anything, are we?"

"Shut up."

"Hey, whatever. What’s on tap tonight?”

George holds up about thirty bucks in ones and fives, and declares hungrily, “Wings.” From where you’re sitting it looks suspiciously like oatmeal cookie earnings, but since the point of tonight is to get Izzie out of the house and distracted and drunk, you figure it’s probably a fair use of the money.

“What’s McDreamy’s deal?” the girl in question asks eventually.

You sigh tiredly. You should have sat with your back to the room, because every time you look up he's staring at you, making that mournful face where his hair droops just a little and his eyes get impossibly dark and liquid and you itch to kiss the confusion away.

Sometime around the second plate of snackables - little hot-pocket pizza things this time, because Joe keeps pushing you to try them - he starts making these little detours. He'll get up from his table and walk about five steps towards you, then turn and grab another round at the bar. He'll get up again and sort of lean in your direction, then spin and head off into the bathroom. He'll walk halfway across the floor, then suddenly stop and talk to a scrub nurse sitting in a window booth.

By the time the pizza bites are gone and the boys have ordered another plate of buffalo wings, you've had enough. He makes another false start, this time towards the phone, and makes it about ten feet from his chair before you cut him off.

"I thought you were avoiding me," he says, all self-assured now that you're talking to him, beaming that cocky smile that shows just that top row of achingly perfect teeth.

"I don't choose my assignments," you say, which is true, but doesn't make it any less a lie.

"Well if you weren't avoiding me, I've just been terribly unlucky, because I've been looking for you for a week."

He's leaning in, just a little, intense, the shadow of a dimple on his cheek, head cocked at the slightest of angles like you're sharing a secret. It's warm, and intimate, and you smile back instinctively except he's flirting openly in the middle of Emerald City.

"So now you've found me," you say curtly, and his smile falters.

"I just - I just want to talk about what happened," he says, placatingly, one arm sort of half in the air like he wants to lead you away, get you out of the crowd before you make a scene, and by now your blood is boiling. Last time you fled to avoid making a scene caused by that particular pair of intense dark eyes, you betrayed two very nice people and lost a rather expensive pair of underwear. So yeah, fuck that.

"You want to talk about what happened? Here's what happened. You fucked me in an ICU, Derek, with your wife a hundred feet away, you made me a whore, and you still wouldn't leave her until you knew I'd take you back. Well, newsflash, I already chose you, way back when Addison first showed up, and you spat in my face, and you strung me along. So you know what?"

"Meredith -"

"I'M NOT DONE." He jerks back, nostrils flaring, and you rail on. "I'm tired of letting you have your cake and eat it too. We're not friends, and we're not lovers, and I am not at your beck and call. And when Addison decides she's had enough of you acting like an overgrown child, don't come crawling back to me, Derek Shepherd, because we are finally, completely, and irrevocably over. So stay. Away. From me."

He is livid, and speechless with fury, and the heat in his eyes leaves your skin burning, and you want nothing more than to throw him against the bar and tear his clothes off, smash against him, devour his mouth, pull him inside you, anything to get closer to that fire.

You set your jaw and storm back to your table, and he says something probably angry or dismissive behind you, but you don't hear, because you're not listening, because you're concentrating much too hard with every single fiber of your being on not turning around.

-)(-

"You slept with him?" Izzie hisses when you sit back down.

"Yeah, Meredith, wow," George adds, all furrowed brow and concerned frown. Alex just rolls his eyes.

"You know, as much as I support that truly awesome demonstration in the proper way to dump a man, you do realize this will be all over the hospital in, oh, about five minutes," says Cristina.

You groan and bury your head in your arms. "I'd rather not think about it."

But of course the pertinent thing is that it will be all over this table for the next half hour.

"He really slept with her? Wait, so he cheated on Addison?"

"Yes, George, that is what it's called."

"Also 'adultery,' and 'screwing around.' A time-honored practice with many wonderful names."

"How about 'breaking your damn marriage vow'?"

"Well, they're probably not married now. Hey, what if he went right home and told her it was over after the prom?"

"No," you say, angry enough at that to pull your head up and join the conversation. "He lied to her face, told her nothing happened."

Maybe it's just you've got dog on the brain because you're still missing Doc, but you swear to God their ears honestly perk up at that. George, all open confusion, is the first to speak. "How do you know?"

"W - well -" You feel a sudden, creeping doom. "She told me."

"She - She told you?" Izzie this time. "When was this? And… doesn’t that mean that she knows?"

"Oh, she knows," Alex says smugly. "And she is pissed. She's been storming around the hospital like she's gonna go all Medea psycho and start cutting people up. What? I read," he says defensively off Izzie's skeptical look.

"Alex, seriously, shut up. At least she has a reason to act like an asshole," you snap.

The rest of them just kind of blink at you in mild surprise, but Cristina has this look on her face like it's a lightbulb moment, and she stares at you and says, "... Oh." And then she gets all shifty and looks down and throws herself frantically into finishing off the wings.

And now everyone is looking at her for a change.

"'oh' what?"

"Nothing."

"Come on, Cristina."

"Yeah, that was definitely a something."

"No, it was definitely a nothing."

"Cristina Yang, what are you hiding?"

"I'm not hiding anything. I'm just sitting here eating buffalo wings. See? Mmphf! Mmm! Delithith!"

It's not so much a creeping doom, now, as a doom that has crept, reached its destination, and settled down with a book and an iced tea for some hearty summer reading.

"You better not be thinking what I think you're thinking," you tell her. "Because if you are thinking what I think you're thinking you should know you're wrong. You're very very wrong."

"What is she thinking? What are you thinking, Cristina?"

"You couldn't be more wrong if you tried. If 'right' were Seattle, you'd be in some jungle in Cambodia, that's how wrong you are."

"Okay. I'm wrong. Forget I said it."

"Well I'm not forgetting it until one of you tells me what the hell's going on."

"It was just sex. Not even sex. Like you said. Transference."

"Whoa, sex? Did she just say sex?"

"She definitely said sex."

"Okay! Transference. No 'oh.' No sex. Whatever you say."

"What sex?"

"Good. Because that is what I say."

"Grey! Yang! Focus! Some details for the peanut gallery here please!"

"Seriously."

"Sorry, you heard what Meredith said. There's no 'oh' and she doesn't actually like her and it was just transference sex."

"Wait, her?" says Izzie, thrown off track, just a half-beat before the gears click and Alex looks right at you, cocks his head and accuses, "You had sex with Addison!"

"Sex with WHO?"

"SERIOUSLY?"

"Cristina!"

"Um. Sorry?"

Alex is about to fall out of his chair laughing, and George's beer is all over Izzie's shirt, and the whole bar is staring at your table, and you sink down into your seat thinking you don't care how many times she runs interference or reassures you during the occasional crisis of sexual identity, you will never, ever, ever forgive Cristina for saying that.

"When was this?"

"You remember Coffee Guy?"

"Bad Sex Coffee Guy was Addison?"

At least they're keeping their voices down now.

"Bad Sex Coffee Guy was Addison."

"You had sex with Addison under our roof and I didn't know?" Izzie looks at you like she's never seen you before. "How could you keep this from me?"

"Iz, I would have -"

"No, I mean literally. How did you manage to keep this from me? You're terrible at keeping secrets."

"What? I am not."

"You kinda are," Christina says.

You aim your best glare at her. "You shut up, Miss 'Hey Everybody, Guess Who Meredith Slept With?'."

She shrugs and leans back. "Hey, I never said I was good at secrets. Besides, you're the one who brought her up."

"Bringing her up doesn't mean you have to tell people about it."

"Hey, whoa, calm down, Rosie, it's a moot point now," Izzie says, and Alex snickers.

You roll your eyes at her. "Oh come on, like you've never."

She sits up in shock. "Wait, what?"

Christina chips in, aiming her fork across the table accusingly. "She's got a point. You've seriously never slept with a woman? Because I'd have pegged you for it about a million years before I'd have guessed Hetero McManloving over here."

"Seriously?"

"Seriously."

"Seriously."

"Seriously," Alex says tauntingly, and Izzie smacks his shoulder.

"I... I wouldn't have," says George tentatively, bright red even in the dim bar lighting.

"Thank you!" Izzie gestures broadly at the rest of you. "See?"

"'Hetero McManloving'?" you mutter at Christina.

"What? You totally are."

"Oh, come on. He's lying through his teeth," Alex is telling Izzie, as George stammers another denial.

"You're both missing the point," Izzie declares. "And that point is that our very own Meredith Grey had sex with Addison."

"Yeah, see now I don't get it," says Alex. "You've done the dirty with both of them, so why all that 'stay away from me' drama? Just move into the Shepherd Shack and call it a day."

"You're joking."

"Alex, you did not just say that."

"What?"

"Look," you cut in, trying to escape the sensation of hanging frantic and helpless out the back of a runaway bus. "I won't be with someone who doesn't respect me and I'm not into Addison."

"... but you had sex."

"I WAS DRUNK!"

"You've defended her to me. Twice. Rather vehemently."

"You're an ass!"

"You can't argue with that."

"Shut up, Izzie."

"Was she good?"

"I am so not answering that question!"

"Oooh, she was good."

You grab your purse and start fishing for a tip as you stand. "You know what? I'm going to go home and take a bath and try to pretend that none of tonight ever happened. Tomorrow, everyone at work is going to know about me and Derek. I'd really appreciate it if you guys could shut up just a bit so they don't also all know about me and Addison."

They have the grace to look chagrined as you toss your money on the table, but you know perfectly well they'll be grilling Cristina for at least another hour.

At least, you suppose, you've finally gotten Izzie completely distracted.

Chapter Text

Izzie, having exhausted her supply of Scolding Admonitions for Adulterers when she got home yesterday evening, only manages to muster a "Morning, Ellen," when she wanders into the bathroom while you're brushing your teeth. You roll your eyes at the mirror, but you suppose it's still better than George, who can't seem to look you in the face and has developed a permanent proximity-activated blush in your presence.

"We didn't have a chance to tell you last night, but the Chief dragged us all into his office yesterday afternoon." She doesn't say anything, but she looks away from her whitening strips to meet your reflection. "Denny died from a post-op clot, like you thought. Chief says that since you quit, and Denny's death wasn't a direct result of the cut wire, he's going to 'keep it an internal affair.' So basically no, we don't need lawyers."

You've given her a vastly abbreviated version. Like George said after the meeting, it's basically a massive cover-up - a hospital that loses its transplant accreditation might as well shut down, even without the lawsuits and criminal charges that could be brought against Seattle Grace as a whole as much as against any of you - but somehow you don't think "Don't worry, you pulled enough people into this mess that there's an actually criminal conspiracy going to keep it under wraps" is exactly the right message to be sending Izzie at this point.

-)(-

"You heard, right?"

"What?"

"Grey slept with McDreamy."

"Dude, everyone's heard. Old news."

"No, I mean she slept with him again."

"Like, recently?"

"Like prom recently!"

"She told the whole bar last night. Shouted at him like a spaz, told him to leave her the hell alone, and ran out."

"Crazy."

"I know, what a slut, right?"

"Can you blame her? Have you seen McDreamy?"

"Ooh, do you think his wife knows?"

"Didn't she totally cheat on him first? How twisted is that?"

You lean your head against the cool metal of your locker, trying to ignore the cramping in your stomach and will yourself into invisibility as you wait for them to leave. They finally do, filing out still gossiping and not looking back, but your relief is short-lived. You've barely pulled your cap on when Alex appears, leaning against the end of the row and grinning.

"Well well, if it isn't Portia."

You sigh and slam your locker shut. "You know, you two are going to run out of famous lesbians pretty quick at this rate."

"That's fine, I've got plenty of euphemisms to fall back on. How does 'rug-muncher' strike your fancy?"

"Crude, and descriptively inaccurate," says Addison, suddenly leaning in the doorway and waving a chart at him. "You going to scrub in or not? Because I've always found in-utero endoscopy pretty interesting, but if you'd rather sit around jealousy disparaging other people's sex lives, I can always find you an ultrasound or two to run when you're ready."

The look on his face is priceless, and as he gets up, grumbling, you glance over at Addison to smile your appreciation, but she's gone.

-)(-

Today's reward for donating to what some of the nurses have started calling the Denny Duquette Memorial Fund is banana bread, and some kind of basil-pea-and-mushroom thing that you've decided to just refer to as a salad for expediency. You sit by the coffee can for about twelve minutes, taking money, enduring the various gradations of pitying, knowing and contemptuous looks, and handing out cups of salad that would look really good if you could muster an appetite past the clenching pain in your abdomen, when suddenly, there he is in the line.

"I'll have a slice of bread," he says, pointedly, like you're ringing up his order at a McDonald's and still haven't given him the fries he's asked for six times now. There are faint dark shadows under his gorgeous cerulean eyes, and his scrubs are wrinkled and creased.

"One-fifty," you say, and are inordinately proud of yourself when your voice comes out level and strong.

He tosses a five dismissively into the can and grabs a napkin, and storms off into the courtyard without so much as a "keep the change". You look after him for a moment, then notice the next person in line - Laurel Jennings, scrub nurse and queen gossip, with a light in her eyes that reminds you, somehow, of Scrooge McDuck seeing dollar signs.

You toss the can at George as you leave, hitting him square in the sternum. It's the first time since the bar that he's looked at you without blushing, and you realize now just how much you prefer his embarrassment to his pity.

-)(-

Bailey is the only reason you make it through the day; you spend the whole shift hopping from one patient to another, running tests, administering medication, and performing the occasional minor procedure under her direct supervision. She claims it's part of the Chief's promised punishment for the Denny disaster, but all it means to you is avoiding interaction with every other member of the hospital staff.

When you finally stagger through your door around nine, you find yourself in an empty house. You pop a pair of ibuprofen and collapse limply on the couch, blinking blindly at the crack in the ceiling. Impossibly, the air smells like Old Spice and aftershave, and your eyes burn and the world blurs into a cloudy mirage but you can still see him, half-shaved and mouth turned down broodingly, writing off your redemption with a toss of Lincoln's face into a rusty can.

Chapter Text

Burke is in-house for his scans today, so you bring lunch up to his room for Cristina (leftover roast turkey sandwich and some kind of chocolate-almond-brownie thing, plus the blue cafeteria jello). You try not to watch his hand for any sign of trembling. You're not supposed to know about it, after all, but Cristina brushes you off when you ask, which means it’s probably not getting better.

"How's Izzie doing?" he asks you as he swipes the jello out of Cristina's hands.

"Baking," you shrug, holding up your own brownie by way of demonstration. "I guess as well as you could expect. Sad. We can distract her. Get her to laugh, or lecture us," you mutter that last part but Cristina catches it and snorts anyway, "but she goes right back to sad again as soon as we stop making an effort."

He nods somberly, and looks as impressively grave as a man can while holding a cup of blue jello. His spoonful wobbles a little as he scoops it up, but that's what jello does, right?

"Denny's funeral is this Saturday. I don't know if you can come, but I think she'd really appreciate it."

"I'll be there," he says.

Food delivered and welcome worn out, you wander out of the room to give them their privacy, but you don't actually make it further than the stairs, where you sit to finish your own turkey sandwich. You're about halfway through and debating throwing the rest away when Cristina drops down next to you, glee coloring her voice.

"Did you hear about Alex?"

"No, do I want to?"

"He almost started a fight with Dr. Shepherd."

"What?"

"Yeah. This morning when you walked into the stairwell, Shepherd saw you and tried to chase after, but Alex got in his face."

"Oh, my God."

"I wasn't there, but the nurse who told me described it as 'very gallant'." As excited as she is by this story, Cristina is clearly not impressed by that phrase in particular. "He told Shepherd that you'd told him to leave you alone, and he knew it could get him kicked out of the program and so even though he'd totally kick Shepherd's ass, he asked him to please not take another step so he didn't have to deck him."

Your head is in your hands, but you can still picture Cristina's face from her tone of absolute relish.

"And Shepherd's looking at him like he can't even believe this is happening, and says in his Authoritative Attending Voice, 'Don't you have somewhere to be, Karev?' And Alex says 'You mean with your wife? Yeah. How about that.' And then everyone thinks Shepherd's about to hit him, but he just turns around and walks away instead."

"Please tell me that didn't actually happen."

"Oh, it definitely did. The Chief is on the warpath, I was there when he came looking for Alex, but Bailey told him that none of the witnesses remember Alex actually threatening him."

"Bailey lied to the Chief?"

"How should I know? I wasn't there when she talked to the nurses."

"It wasn't supposed to be like this," you mutter, as you toss the rest of your sandwich into your bag, uneaten, and try to remind yourself that you really don't actually hate Alex.

-)(-

You and George have both had your fair share of less-than-ideal elevator rides, but you're pretty sure this is the first one you've ever had together.

"H...h... hi Meredith."

"Hey George."

It should probably squick you out at least a little to know that the reason you're flipping him out like this is that he keeps imagining you and Addison in bed. Somehow, though, your only emotion is a sort of remote fascination as you watch him get redder and redder, to an extent that you honestly didn't think was possible on a healthy human being.

"George."

"Ack!" He actually jumps, then turns towards you without actually looking at you, rubbing his hands on his shirt, then against each other, then putting them behind his back as he talks. "Uh. Sorry. Yes?"

"Relax."

"Um. Okay."

All right, to be fair, that wasn’t very helpful. But you still have to bite back a laugh.

"You know, it might help if you actually looked at me," you tell him.

To his credit, he swallows hard, then does. For a moment he actually flares even redder, but then his hands stop moving, and his ears fade a little.

"Sorry," he says, and this time it's genuine. Then he looks at you a little harder. "Hey, so are you okay?"

You cried yourself to sleep on the couch last night, everyone in the hospital stops talking when they see you come around the corner, you've taken eight hundred milligrams of Advil since noon and your stomach still hurts, Finn called you again this morning, Burke has hand tremors that you're not supposed to know about, it's four days to Denny's funeral, and every time you close your eyes you see Derek, wounded and angry and gone.

"Yeah.” You stare at the blinking floor lights and lean against the back wall. “I’ve been through this before, right? I’ll be fine."

-)(-

You still don’t know how things stand between Addison and Derek, because impossibly, the hospital rumor mill has been silent, not a single sentence uttered on the state of the Tragic Marriage of Doctor McDreamy. Oh, there's been plenty about the Sordid Affair – your general avoidance of the cafeteria can attest to that – but no one seems to know word one about the actual marriage part of it, who's sleeping where and if the papers are signed or if the therapy's stepped up to five times a week.

And the thing is, it's not even your business anymore, because you told Derek to stay away from you (at which, apart from the stairwell chase apparently aborted by Alex, he's been succeeding admirably, as the part of your brain you like to refer to as Lovestruck Fool is quick to remind you), and you and Addison were never really friends, juju and dog-walking aside, because friends can have a normal conversation without being drunk, and also usually refrain from sleeping with each other's husbands.

But still, you have to know what's going on with them, even if you can't justify it. And you suspect that asking Derek about it would be a pretty clear case of sending mixed messages, and although obviously that wouldn't exactly be a new thing for the two of you, not actually indulging in ridiculously bad habits is this new thing you'd like to try. So that leaves Addison, who's not answering her cell phone – you kind of hate Caller ID – which is why you're standing at the door of the trailer, secure in the knowledge that Derek is scheduled late tonight, but somehow expecting him to answer the door anyway.

You knock four times to no answer, and you're just about to lose your nerve when she pulls the screen open and glares at you a little.

"Addison." To your own ear, at least, you sound more than a little relieved.

"Grey," she answers, and she says it like a slap, and turns back into the trailer, letting the door swing wide. You almost make a crack about vampires and invitations, but decide now is really not the time, and besides not everyone lives with George and ends up watching constant weekend Buffy marathons so odds are she wouldn't get it anyway. Also, admitting to any form of non-surgical geekhood would probably not impress Addison all that much, and considering the very, very thin ice you're sensing here, you think it's best to keep your mouth shut and just follow her inside.

And thus you find your answer – there're suitcases propped against the walls, and a pile of cardboard boxes on the floor in front of you, labeled "books" and "coats" and "toiletries" and "drawing supplies" in permanent marker. That's weird, you think, you never pictured Addison as an artist – not that a surgeon of her caliber couldn't put a pencil exactly where she wanted it, it's just odd to think of someone as ordered and professional as she is being creatively inspired.

You haven't been inside the trailer since Addison moved here, and the difference you see between its current state and how you remember it is one of vacuum and shadow. A spot on a shelf where a lamp used to sit – the lamp has moved over, but whatever displaced it is gone, boxed or shipped. The closet in the bedroom, opposite Addison, who's folding clothing into a suitcase – the shoe-shelf, where dirty laundry lay before, is bare, and a only a few forlorn scrubs and flannel shirts hang from the once-packed metal bar.

"You signed?"

"Free woman at last," she says, without inflection. "You're looking at Doctor Addison Montgomery-nothing, as of last Sunday. At least that's what it says on the plane ticket."

"You're going back to New York," you say redundantly.

"On the twenty-first, if you need to take the day off, buy a little champagne and have a good laugh."

You blink at her, taken aback. "I wouldn't –"

"Or if you can't wait that long, you should know this is the last time I'll be here," she waves vaguely around the trailer, "since this is the last suitcase I need to pack."

"It's over with me and Derek," you say, trying very hard not to get mad.

"Oh, yes, I heard about your little shouting match in the bar. However long that will last."

"I don't get this. We were okay a week ago, where is this coming from?"

"Okay? Grey, you fucked my husband. In what world does that constitute 'okay'?"

So much for that.

"Seriously? You're going to act like this now? When we had sex you said he'd be a hypocrite if he were mad, so what does that make you? How am I worse now than I was when it was you in the ICU with me?"

"Why confess him to me, but not me to him?"

"You didn't tell him about me either!"

"Maybe I just don't tell. Maybe that's the kind of woman I am. Maybe I slept with Mark for months before Derek found us, maybe I'd have done it for years and he'd never have known. How would you know? But you called me, Grey, you couldn't go ten hours without giving up to me what you've still kept from him for how long now?" Her tone is so condescending you're shocked the wallpaper doesn't melt. "So you tell me, why is this different?"

Because even after you slept together, Addison still tried to make it work with Derek, but you know, you know so well now, that even before you slept together, Derek never tried to make it work with Addison, would never have tried to make it work with Addison so long as you were "friends." Because you and Addison both walked away thinking you'd never do it again. Because Addison trusted you for the truth when she couldn't trust Derek. Because Derek punched Mark in the face, but Addison didn't tell your sister your name. Because Derek already thinks you're both whores, but Addison still believed her sin was greater than his. Because Addison is not Derek, and Derek is not Addison.

"Maybe I wanted you to break up," you yell. "Maybe I made a filthy, drunken mistake with you that I never wanted anyone to know about, least of all the man I love, but I knew that if you knew about us you'd finally take your damn ring and get the hell out!"

You kick the closed suitcase on the floor, hard. It moves about an inch as you almost yelp, and grab your foot, sure you've fractured your tarsals. "God! Ow! What's in this thing, an emergency set of thirty-pound barbells?"

She furrows her brow at you. "What are you, Grey, ten?"

"I don't know, which one of us is running away?"

"Running away? Did you seriously just say that? I have friends in New York. Great friends, who email me almost daily to tell me about all the amazing parties I'm missing. I have family in New York, the kind of big crazy half-Irish family that has fabulous drunken barbeques all summer that you never hear the end of for missing. I have an established practice and a flawless reputation, untarnished by the frivolous lawsuits of cowardly, backstabbing, unreasonably fertile women. I have a rent-controlled apartment with an immaculately gay doorman who invariably keeps me one day ahead of the latest fashion trend.

"And what do I have in Seattle? An ugly divorce, out of which I stand to get, at best, one-half of a cramped, bug-infested trailer, and the gossip and sneers and, if I'm lucky, pity of an entire hospital with apparently nothing better to do than wait for my marriage to die. So you tell me, Meredith, why should I stay?"

You're the last person in the world she should be asking, and you really are very mad at her right now, but somehow the words come tumbling out of your mouth all the same. "If you leave it's like saying you lost, when you didn't. And you're the only attending here who treats Alex like he's worth any effort, which might be the only thing keeping him from slipping through the cracks. And you should be here for Izzie, because Burke can't and you're the only other actual grown-up she halfway thinks of as a friend. And I –" you stumble, you don't want to say this but can't seem to stop yourself - "If you leave, I'll never be able to make up for what you've done for me, or what I've done to you."

You think later that if she'd called you Grey again – and you're sure she meant to – you'd have shrugged your shoulders and said you couldn't think of a single reason.

"How exactly do you figure I didn't lose in all this?" she asks, but it's soft, and sad, and she doesn't seem offended, or angry, anymore. She's just deflated now. You sit down on the bed, looking out into the ransacked trailer.

"Well, not in the ending-up-with-Derek sense, but at this point, do you really want that?" You don't look back and you don't wait for an answer. "I just mean, you said you wouldn't sign because you wouldn't be the bad guy, and you got that. He cheated."

"I cheated first."

"Yeah, but he took you back. And he held Mark over your head. If your cheating was unforgivable –" poor choice of words, and you stop for a moment to drive away the anger – "then his was twice as bad, after he spent so much time clinging to that."

It's strange, that you can do this, that you can talk about him like this, but somehow, with Addison, you can be detached. Sitting here on his bed, on sheets that smell like him, his clothes tossed everywhere in the confusion of packing, you should be drowning in him. He called you a whore, to your face, and you still came back to him, never even thought that you could turn him away, because it seemed so insignificant next to his passion, the thick dream of him clouding your brain. But with Addison, the illusion shatters; you can see his selfishness and arrogance, his denial, the way he'll blame you and her and anyone else for his actions, but never himself. You almost hate him for what he's done to you – what he's done to you both – and you feel dirty and weak, and that's a little strange because she's quite possibly the only person you know who would never call you that.

You should despise her for it, for the way her presence turns his burning glory to ashes, but you can't, because somehow it makes you feel like you haven't in ages, like you can think again, like you can finally start to feel trust or inspiration or affection without that underlying sting of dull-ringing despair.

"...yeah," she breathes. Then, completely deadpan, "What a bastard."

-)(-

You help her carry boxes out to the truck she borrowed from Bailey's husband, and if she's been moving out for a couple days now then she sure has a hell of a lot of stuff.

"You did tell Karev," she says out of nowhere, as you haul a particularly overstuffed load of books into the bed.

"Well, Cristina did. Sort of. It was an accident. He's very perceptive sometimes." You close your eyes and mentally brace yourself. "God, I just gave him all kinds of ammunition, didn't I?"

"Actually, he hasn't been that bad." She sounds as surprised as you are about it. "He's roughly doubled his daily quota for inappropriate sexual insinuations, and for about one day he tried to step up the disrespect, but his heart wasn't in it, I guess."

"So why is he your pet project?" you ask.

"I had a patient who wanted her tubes tied without her husband's knowledge. Karev was disrespectful to her, insubordinate to me, and smug when the woman told her husband and the whole thing bit me in the ass."

"Sounds about right for Alex."

"Yeah, well, I'm sick of that. Of course I don't think I realized when I made the decision just what having him around all the time would actually be like."

"If it's any consolation, I was serious before. Most people write Alex off as a lost cause, but I think he's actually starting to respect you."

You would never have guessed that Addison even had a shy smile, much less that it would look so natural, almost endearing for the quick second it flickered across her face.

You're at the bottom of the big pile, now, and you each grab an end of the "drawing supplies" box. It's heavier than you expected.

"Ugh, what's in this?"

"Paper, folding easel, erasers, pens. You know, drawing supplies," she answers, tapping the permanent marker with a grin.

"Is your easel made of lead, by any chance?"

"Oh, come on, this doesn't weigh half as much as the books."

"I'm still tired from the books. The heaviest thing I carry on a regular basis is my car keys."

"Well then, you clearly need the exercise. Step one in living a healthy lifestyle."

You roll your eyes. "Since when do you draw, anyway?"

"If you must know, since sophomore year of college. My girlfriend convinced me to take Figure Drawing so I wouldn't forget to 'appreciate the beauty of the human body' while I was learning to 'slice it to little pieces'. Turns out it was actually kind of fun, so the hobby stuck."

Well, that answers that question. You're pretty sure she didn't just let that slip by accident, and the look on her face suggests that you're not doing a very good job of pretending you didn't just learn something you've really wanted to know for a while now, but since neither of you are actually going to mention it, you just hoist the box up onto the truck and move on. Because really, of course it was nothing new for her and of course she would have known forever because Addison is not the kind of person who is ever new to anything or who has ever not known what she wants.

"It was the first time," she says, as you pile the last of the suitcases into the bed and swing the hatch up. "With Mark, I mean. When Derek found us."

You rub your sore palms absently, looking out past the treetops to where you buried Doc.

“Yeah, I know,” you say, finally, because you do, and you always have.

Chapter Text

The four of you are loitering at the nurses' station when Addison comes looking for Alex; just as she rounds the corner, Bailey shows up, and the two ignore you for a moment while they talk obliquely about Addison moving out of the trailer.

"I thought you were gonna call us last night when you got around to the hard part?"

"Nah, that's what interns are for. I had one on hand, so I decided not to bother you."

For some reason that comment makes you grin, which only serves to validate the suspicious looks all three of your fellow interns are suddenly shooting at you.

"Dr. Montgomery," says Bailey, and she's got that tilt in her eyebrow that means she'd better not be seeing what she thinks she's seeing, "can I talk to you in private for a minute?"

You restrain yourself to glancing over your shoulder at them as they conference just down the hall, but Cristina is openly staring, eyes narrowed. "Come on, Bailey, move so I can see your mouth," she mutters.

"You read lips?"

"No!" she says, and you're once again amazed by how many different words Cristina can make sound exactly like "damnit."

You watch Addison's face, which is earnest with a touch of that carefully practiced "I'm going to fix you right up" doctorly reassurance.

"Open supinated palms," says George. "That's supposed to be a sign of agreement."

"All I know is crossed arms are supposed to be aggression."

"Yeah, but Bailey's always got her arms crossed."

"And Bailey's not always aggressive?"

You move your head to the side, trying to catch a clear image of Bailey's expression in the glass. After a moment, George looks at you and says, "They are talking about you, right?"

You can only stare at him, flummoxed, while Bailey walks back down the hallway, and it's not until Cristina kicks you that you jerk and point your head down, pretending to be engrossed in an upside-down chart.

"Yeah, yeah, you're all so clever," Bailey scorns. "Now tell me something. This is a NURSES' Station, so why are a bunch of aspiring DOCTORS standing around pretending not to eavesdrop like they've got nothing better to do?"

The four of you disperse obediently, and you head off to check on a burn patient, trying to shake the profoundly uncomfortable sensation of Bailey watching you walk away.

-)(-

"Finn?"

"Oh, hey, Meredith! Listen, can I call you back in an hour?"

"Um, I should be in surgery by then," you tell him, which is true, but also why you picked right now to call.

"Well, it's good you caught me, then, because I'm on my way out of town tonight. Week-long conference on equine dietary advancements. I was wondering if you wanted to have dinner when I get back?"

"I'd love to," you say, and you didn't realize until you said it how much you'd missed him, but it hits you now, a sharp and completely unexpected pang to the chest.

"Great. I’m getting back late Thursday, I’ll give you a call when I get in."

You breathe deeply, fighting nausea, and hang up the phone.

-)(-

Izzie wears the frilly coal dress to Denny's funeral. She sits in the front row with Denny's brother and parents, though she doesn't get up to speak. From where you sit, three rows back, it's impossible to tell if she's crying, but you don't think she is.

You don't cry either. It's not that you didn't like Denny, because you did. Everyone did; it seems like half the hospital is here, and you catch the Chief out of the corner of your eye, sitting a few rows back with Bailey and her husband. Derek you don't need to look for - you can feel his hotcold gaze burning against the back of your neck, as tangible as Callie's purse bumping up against you when she digs into it for tissues. George takes some, weeping unashamedly, but you can't follow suit. With Izzie and Cristina and Derek and Finn, you've got nothing left for Denny. You feel like a dried-out husk, empty of everything but the dull twist of pain and guilt rattling along your ribs.

Just before the first shovel of dirt gets dumped in, it starts to rain. It's terribly atmospheric, but honestly, it always rains in Seattle.

Which is possibly why no one is deterred by it in the least. Black umbrellas spring up like a macabre field of mushrooms as the host of mourners makes its slow way away from the grave, and you find yourself in quiet conversation with Cristina and Denny's mother. You watch across the rows of wet chairs as Burke gives Izzie cooking tips.

Denny's mom follows your gaze and sighs sadly. "He never stopped talking about her. I feel so bad, she seems like a sweet girl."

"She really loved him."

"Do you think she'd mind if we... well, do you think she'd mind getting to know our family a little?"

"I think she'd like that," you tell her.

"Good," she says, her eyes welling with emotion. "It's just, if she's important to him, she's important to us. I know she must be very busy, being a doctor and everything, but if she can find even a little time for us, well... we'll take good care of her."

"She's not going to be a doctor anymore," Cristina says, then suddenly stops and looks briefly panicked.

"Oh, my, whyever not?" Denny's mom asks.

Heels sinking in the wet grass, Addison greets Izzie with a warm hug, and you watch as your housemate's face smiles, wavers, and collapses, pressed crying against the dark leather of Addison's coat.

"She doesn't think she can have a job where she has to watch men like Denny die," you tell her.

"The poor dear," she says, tearing up again, and you watch Izzie cry and think about the man who didn't get the heart.

-)(-

Denny's family takes Izzie out to dinner, so the rest of you end up heading off to Emerald City with half the staff of the hospital. Your genetics prof was right - hospitals can be scary insular and incestuous. You can't think of the last time you've been out anywhere and been the only doctor in the place.

Burke leaves early, stoic in his pain, and Cristina goes with him. Then Callie takes George off somewhere around five, Bailey and most of the nurses leave about half an hour after that, and suddenly it's dinner, and everyone's gone except for you, your flat beer, Eugene the CAT tech, and Addison.

And, well, Eugene was in the bar when you blew up at Derek, and he’s been looking at you kind of funny ever since then, so you flop down on the empty barstool next to Addison.

"I'm a very bad doctor, you know," you confide. "They should take away my letters. Except for the M. I need the M for Meredith. But the D can go. Ds are bad. Ds are very very bad. And the little dots, they should take the dots."

Her expression is bemused. "You're a great doctor, what are you talking about?"

"The rules! First, do no harm. See, it's the most important one, that's why they put it in the front. That’s what First means, ‘most important.’ I'm bad at that. I hurt lots of people. Hurt you, hurt George, and the thing with Denny - hey, that's another D! And now he's gone. My fault."

"Denny's death was not your fault."

"Was too. I was the... you know... in-charge person. I had a plan, it was my plan."

"It was your plan to steal the heart?"

"What? No! Don't be silly. I should've known, though. Shoot up the place, steal a heart, same difference. See? It’s my fault. I made Alex help. Oh, and Cristina. Don't know about George, he called me, so maybe that's his fault. See Izzie was waiting for Burke, and Burke got shot, so I made a plan. See? Denny's a D, like my D, and Do no harm. That means it's my fault." You contemplate this for a moment. "First do no harm starts with an F, does that still count?"

She doesn't look like she's exactly following. She must be drunk.

"So, what you're saying is,” she says eventually, “in a moment of fear and crisis, instead of panicking, you took control of the situation and did what was necessary to protect your friend and save a life."

"That can't be right," you argue. "It doesn't sound bad when you say it." You gesticulate for emphasis, but there's something heavy in your hand interfering with the process. Investigation reveals an empty glass, which is dumb, because what reason do you have to hang on to an empty glass? Oh well, that's easy enough to fix.

"Hey Joe!" you call, and he starts towards you. "You got any more of this?"

"Not for you he doesn't," says Addison, deftly plucking the tumbler from your fingers and handing it to the bartender. "And don't pout, it won't get you anywhere. I'm going to go call you a taxi."

She gets up and heads towards the pay phone while Joe clears away the napkins and empty drinks in front of you. After a moment, he leans over like he's got a secret, so you tilt your head toward him and listen intently.

"If I had to pick a Shepherd to be stupid in love with," he says, knowingly, "it would definitely be her."

"Joe, you can't be stupid in love with Addison," you grin. "She's a woman."

"Hasn't stopped you," he says, as he pulls out a rag and ambles away wiping down the bar.

"Don't know what you're talking about. She's not even a Shepherd anymore," you mutter at his retreating back.

Later, though, you think to yourself, somewhere near the end of the taxi ride, that if you could pick which Shepherd you were stupid in love with, you would probably choose her too.

Chapter Text

Finn's plane gets in late, and you miss your reservation, so you end up at an Olive Garden at quarter to nine at night, watching the muscles under the curve of his jaw as he explains how vets can be divided into small and large animal practice by how they behave when they're drunk. He hasn't shaved, and you're not quite paying attention to what he's saying, too distracted by the urge to run your fingernails through the scratchy stubble.

You're loaded up on enough ibuprofen to drop one of the horses Finn is now an expert in feeding, but the salad and breadsticks are still sitting in your stomach like twisty, painful rocks by the time he finishes his rigatoni, so it's a almost a relief as much as nauseating terror when his face goes suddenly serious, and he lays out a sober "So. You think it's about time to tell me what that whole thing was about with Dr. Shepherd at the dance?"

It's not a question of what happened, and you both know it. Somehow that makes it easier.

"I met Derek in a bar and we slept together. And it was just supposed to be a one-time thing where I couldn't even remember his name in the morning, but three hours later I find out he's my boss - well, my boss's boss - and he was sweet and beautiful and around all the time and he made me feel wanted, maybe even needed, and I just couldn't see why not anymore.

"And then Addison showed up and I find out all that time we were together, he was married. But it didn't even matter, because he was Derek, so I knew there was a good reason, that if I knew his side of the story I'd understand. And it took a very long time to find out that they weren't really good reasons at all. It didn't make a difference, though, because he went back to her... Except he didn't. He didn't leave her but he didn't leave me either, not exactly...

"And I tried to get over him, and there was the dog, and the slutty sex, and then there was knitting, and then there was you. And that sounds really awful, I know, but I tried, and you said you didn't care, and you had plans, and I really thought it could happen. And then he followed me, at the prom, and he was just..."

You can't do this again. It hurt too much the first time, it hurt her too much the first time, and you don't want to see that look from him. He doesn't need to hear it.

"The important thing is I told him we're done. We are. No more shared dogs, no more pretending to be friends, no more guilty cheating sex. No more Derek." You take a deep breath and steel yourself. "But I'm not over him."

He flinches, just a little, when you say it, even though you're pretty sure he knew it was coming, and then he's quiet for a long time, pushing a lonely piece of pasta around his plate.

"I like you, Meredith," he finally sighs. "And I don't want to give up what we might have. But maybe I didn't know what I was getting into after all."

You nod, and quietly try to remember to breathe as he says "I think I need some time to figure this out."

-)(-

Addison is leaning over the bar and toying with a martini when you walk in, and you're surprised by how relieved you are to see her. It's that same sense you get when you feel like shit and run into Cristina - a sort of comforting reassurance that she won't let you do anything too monumentally stupid. Which is in and of itself weird, because it's not like both of them haven't actually helped you do things that were monumentally stupid, but it's also a little extra strange because, seriously, Addison. You've lived with George and Izzie for feels like forever now and it's still not a feeling you get around them, after all.

Still, the important thing is, she's a friendly face, and you need one.

She's also, judging from her flush, well on her way towards sloppy drunk, although given that she's Addison, she's doing it with more class than you've ever had sober.

"I was just thinking," she says distantly as you settle in next to her, and then she turns to you, suddenly sharp and focused. "Do you ski, Meredith?"

"Uh. Not since undergrad?" you venture cautiously.

"I don't ski. Well I didn't. More of an ice skater, myself." She pokes at her olive. "Derek skis."

Oh.

"Every year it would snow and every year it was 'Let's go to Sugarloaf, Addie!' or 'There's eleven feet at Mammoth, Addie! Eleven feet!'," and you laugh a little, because she does a pretty good Derek. "But I never wanted to go.

"Then one spring, maybe around Mother's Day, he picked me up from work with the car all packed and new K2s strapped to the roof and drove us to Stowe without so much as a please. I don't even know why I got in the car. I wouldn't speak to him the whole way there, and he kept going on and on about how much fun we were going to have, and 'please don't be mad, Addie, spring skiing is the best, we'll be the only people on the mountain,' and promising he'd fall just as much as me, even on the bunny slopes.

"So we got out there, and it was honest-to-God raining. The mountain was slush and dirt. We hopped off the first lift, Derek slid about three feet, caught an edge and rolled head over heels halfway down the hill, spitting sand and snow and laughing like a maniac the whole way."

"No skiing after that, I assume."

She shakes her head. "We toured all the local ice cream and cheese factories instead, and made up dubs for the weird cartoons on the French channel, and watched the last of the snow melt, and read each other passages from the bad romance novel the last tenant left in the condo and tried to figure out how many of them were physically possible. And I made Derek model nude for me." She flashes the patented McSatan grin. "It ended up being two of the best weeks of my life."

You're smiling too, you can't really help it - picturing Addison all intense and precise behind a sketchpad, peering over her reading glasses at Derek, buck naked with skis crossed strategically in front of his body, face oscillating between cocky and embarrassed, and suddenly it's very warm in this room.

But she's not smiling anymore. She tosses back her martini, almost slams the stem on the bar, and her voice is bitter and hard. "But he gave all that up. God knows why, but somehow work was more important."

"I can think of a few things you could do that might serve him right," you tell her, giving her your best come-hither, the one with the shoulder drop and the knowing smile, although you're not really sure why except that it seems like the thing to do somewhere in the melancholy haze of your mind.

"Meredith."

"Addison."

"I'm extremely tired of the sex I have being all about people who aren't even there."

Only fair, you suppose, but still, if that was meant to hurt then hey, point to the red team.

She sees your flinch, and looks apologetic. "Sorry. I just meant, I won't use you. Besides, you need at least one responsible adult in your life a hell of a lot more than you need one more drunken lover."

She pulls her olive off its floral toothpick and pops it in her mouth, looking at you thoughtfully. "And anyway, I thought you were with the vet?"

You slump against the bar and hear yourself sigh, and her facial expression flips from engaging friendliness to cold irritation with painful speed. You can't really blame her.

"I'm sorry, Addison," you say mournfully. "I don't know what the hell is wrong with me. I'm scary and damaged and you should probably not sit next to me when there's alcohol on hand, or probably ever, come to think of it."

She doesn't say anything for what feels like a long time, but you can't bring yourself to look at her. Eventually, though, she just sighs, and offers, "We really need to work on your coping mechanisms," with only the barest edge in her voice. "So. What happened with Finn?"

-)(-

"You're not drunk."

You blink at Izzie, who's sitting on the couch with flashcards, looking as together as you've seen her in weeks. "Should I be?"

"Yes. Well, obviously, no, but you never come home this late not drunk unless you have a late shift, and you didn't have a late shift."

"How do you know my shift?"

"I came by the hospital today and George told me."

You gape at her.

"What? Oh, the hospital? Yeah, it was really weird to be there and all the nurses kept looking at me funny, but I had to find Bailey and ask her if I could use her as a reference."

You sit and watch her suspiciously, waiting for the shoe to drop, but she's gone back to her flashcards, studiously mouthing things and shaking her head and trying on various expressions of interest, earnestness, and something that could be "knowledgeable" and could be "constipated," which she's going to want to work on.

You finally venture a statement. "What did Bailey say?"

She looks up and seems surprised to find you still there. "Huh? Oh. She looked at me like I was batshit insane and said 'Stevens, you do not want to know the answer to that question.' I've decided to interpret that as a no."

She's much too cheery about this, and you sniff the air discretely, but you don't smell brownies or anything else. Not that you really thought you would, of course, but people react to grief in strange ways, after all. And it would explain the weird faces.

"Izzie? What are you doing?"

And now she looks at you like you're the one acting completely bizzarely. "Practicing for my job interview."

Well, in that case, she can act as crazy as she wants. You resist the urge to jump up and hug her, but you make no effort to stop the smile that threatens to split your cheeks at the news. "Iz! You got a job interview, that's great! What's it for?" Don't say anything remotely medical, the back corner of your mind pleads, and you swat at the thought in annoyance.

"Well, you know how I went over to the Duquettes' for dinner the other night? I took some of the extra muffins and Chris - Denny's brother - he co-owns a catering company, and he said that if I didn't have anything else lined up yet, they could use me. Of course, I might have to learn to cook, but Preston's not doing anything these days and I'm sure Cristina would love to have a place to put him so she could quit with the nursemaid thing for a while. I really don't know how the two of them stay together."

It's late, but you stay up for a while longer, finishing off the cake and kahlua and helping her with her flashcards (the constipated face was actually apparently supposed to be "concerned," as a possible response to questions like "what would you do if you discovered a co-worker sneaking snacks from prepared trays?"). Finn broke up with you, and Derek hates you, and you're pretty sure Addison's pretty mad at you to boot, but still, you fall asleep smiling.

-)(-

"Oh, morn', 'allie," you say through your toothpaste, tossing a towel at her as she climbs out of the shower. "'Orry fr bu'ing 'n on 'ou. 'Ought 'ou w'e Ihhie."

"No worries," she says, scrubbing her hair down quickly before wrapping her chest and padding out into the hall. You brush, rinse, and start in on your pore cleanser before you realize you just had a totally casual family-type exchange with naked Callie, and it doesn't even seem strange to you.

Honestly, now that you've all gotten to know each other a little, you pretty much like Callie. She tends to make breakfast when she's around in the mornings, which none of the rest of you have the time or patience for, and she has mostly good taste in movies (apart from the slasher flicks, which are just gross and freaky, but still preferable to letting George make you all watch The Search for Spock for the tenth movie night in a row). And she has a calming effect on George, which is nice because you love George, but frankly he can be a little spazzy.

And really, you've always kind of suspected, McDreamy or not, that if one of you ever got it right, it would be George. And if that means a little naked Callie in your life, well, you can deal with that. It's just the naked George that you really want to avoid, you think, and your abdomen twists up as you turn off the faucet.

-)(-

Addison has only been here since noon, but you're absolutely convinced that even if she'd worked the same twenty-two hour shift you're just getting off of, she'd still be as completely pitch-perfect gorgeous as she is right now, cheery and bright-eyed and every damn hair in place. Your own reflection, even ghostly and transparent as it is against the window, is glaringly not perfect - it's practically cadaverous, in fact - and you take a moment to bite down a tiny surge of resentment before you brace yourself and reach for the door.

"Addison?"

"Meredith?" You must really look like shit, because she sounds way too concerned. You slip inside and close the door behind you, swallowing hard.

"I, uh, I need a consult."

She puts down the chart she's holding and walks over to you, reaching past your shoulder to pull the blinds shut, and it's weird because she's not really that much taller than you and she's even wearing her shortest heels, but she seems suddenly towering, an unshakeable and terrifying avatar of everything you'll never be. You stare at the lapel of her lab coat, hands jammed firmly in your pockets.

"Okay. What's wrong?" Her tone is open and friendly, and somewhat calming, and you remind yourself that you're a freaking surgeon, and you're damn well going to act like one.

A very fast-talking one. "Cramping. And spotting. But mostly cramping. A lot. I was putting it down to stress, but then there was the spotting, so I'm thinking not so much."

You fire the words off so rapidly that you almost hope she didn't understand you, but no such luck. She puts one hand on your arm, and steers you gently into the chair against the wall. "All right. I've got some time now. So let's consult."

It's easy enough to call up your medical records, and she reads through them absently while you do the rundown, so it takes her a moment to catch your hesitation at her "Last time you had sex?" But only a moment, before her gaze flickers up, and you look away, your insides churning. "Prom, then," she answers herself calmly, but suddenly you swear you can see your breath, because the air's just that cold.

As you start working through your recent sexual history, though, the mood thaws, and despite her best efforts, you watch her eyebrow steadily climb and the corner of her mouth quirk, until you can't take it anymore and grin sheepishly yourself.

"The word you're looking for is 'whore'," you tell her.

"Actually, I was thinking 'stud', but if you prefer a chauvinist invective, 'slut' would be more accurate. Unless any of these guys paid you."

"Only in free tequila."

She laughs and turns her focus back to your history. "Ah, well, in that case we're all whores."

You smile at the incongruous image of some frat boy sliding up to classy, sophisticated Addison with a drunken grin and a bad pick-up line, but then her face falls, and she looks up at you again. "Oh, Meredith," she says, "an IUD? With your lifestyle?"

Better than trying to take a pill at the same time every day, when you might be out cold after a thirty-hour shift or elbow-deep in someone's chest cavity, better than hoping you're never too drunk to get talked out of demanding a condom.

Because that's happened. On more than one occasion. Which is why you're not going to look at Addison anymore, because you don't want to see her react when she gets to -

"Azithromycin, huh." She's so professional and off-hand about it, like you weren't a dumbass who had unprotected sex and got chlamydia. "I'd have given you doxycycline."

"I'm not good at 'twice daily'."

"Why does that not surprise me," she says dryly. "Okay. Let's start with an ultrasound."

-)(-

Alex is in the elevator when you get on, lounging against the rear wall, and he smirks at the two of you, completely ignoring your glare. Addison just says "Karev," with a nod, and leans against the back corner, and she actually might be smirking a bit too. You lean next to the buttons and try to act casual as Addison grills him on the status of their patients.

A floor up, the elevator stops, and Addison's eyes go wide as the door opens. You turn your head and it's him, loose scrubs and five-o-clock shadow and his "I just saved a life" smirk, which only gets broader, if a little harder, when he sees you.

"Your floor, Dr. Shepherd?" Alex asks, sliding firmly into the half-foot between you and Derek, hand on the console.

Derek looks at him, and at you, and at Addison, and at Alex again, and finally says, perfectly friendly, for all his eyes promise he's anything but, "Five, please," and steps back.

Alex punches the button and moves forward, giving you a little space; he's in the middle of the cab, between you and Derek, and between Derek and Addison. The smirk is gone, and he's more respectful and professional than you've ever seen him - than you ever knew he was capable of - when he tells her that the last of Mrs. Petrova's labs came back and he discharged her.

Addison nods approvingly and asks about the psych consult for Samantha Miles, but there's a subtle tightness to her smile, and when the two of you finally get out on four, you don't have to remind yourself that you don't hate Alex; in fact, he's suddenly bumped Cristina as your favorite person of all time.

-)(-

You've never had an ultrasound before. Your first thought is that you did not expect the gel to be so cold. Your second thought is that the whole process tickles like hell, but Addison solves that for you at least when she finally speaks and knocks any kind of mirth from your mind.

"Your gyno really let you walk out of your four-month with a clean bill of health?"

Her voice is hard, and you're almost afraid to answer. "Yes?"

"He should lose his license," she mutters.

"Okay, Addison? That's kind of a terrifying thing to say to a person."

She gives you an apologetic look. "Your IUD is embedded. It's hard to tell how bad it is from this - in fact, it's barely out of position, so if it was already out of place then, I can see why your gyno missed it - but the most likely cause by far is secondary infection from the chlamydia. If he'd been responsible then, fifty to one you wouldn't have a problem now."

"You mean if I'd been responsible."

She glances sideways at you. "You weren't the one sitting at the instruments. If he told you there were no complications, you had no reason to disbelieve him."

Except that you're supposed to be a doctor, and you know perfectly well the risks of STIs in a patient with an IUD. You close your eyes and sigh.

When you were eleven, you were going to have two kids, because it wasn't fair to a kid not to have a sibling, and you were going to raise them a hundred times better than your mother had raised you, and you were never going to miss a single play or recital or soccer game ever, and you would never ever tell them that you couldn't stop for ice cream on the way home or that they didn't need that pair of jeans with the butterfly on the front pocket.

When you were nineteen, you were never going to have kids, because you were going to be a surgeon and surgeons don't have time for their kids, and you didn't have the first clue how to be a good mother anyway, because you'd never had one, and it wouldn't be fair to put any child through that.

When you were twenty, you forgot the condom for the umpteenth time, after forgetting the pill for the first time in your life, for two days in a row, and you walked down to your doctor's office with a fistful of twenties, had them stick a copper wire inside you, and never looked back. That was the last time you ever thought about having children one way or the other.

Except that, and you're not sure exactly when you decided this, but it's just that you know, deep in your bones, that "Jonathan Shepherd" would be a wonderful name for a son.

"Meredith?"

You break out of your reverie and meet Addison's eyes, warm and clear and steady, no judgement or pity or anything but confidence and reassuring strength behind them.

"I'm the best."

Impossibly, it makes you smile.

Chapter Text

"Off the record?" says Izzie, passing the ice cream back across the bed.

"Not 'off the record' off the record, just discreet off the record. And flat rate, which equates to free on our insurance."

She taps her spoon against her lips thoughtfully. "That's almost suspiciously cool of her."

"Yeah." You chisel around a frozen strawberry. "I seriously wasn't even expecting the ultrasound, just a ten-minute chat, and then she's all 'I'll do the whole thing, don't sweat it, and remember no breakfast tomorrow morning'."

She sort of nods for you to hand the carton over. "Man, I gotta start boning more people."

"Hey!"

"Oh, come on."

"It's not about that!" She gives you a look. "Seriously! It's not. She's not interested."

"What, you asked?"

"I - no. Not exactly." You're an idiot, clearly, but you do manage to stop yourself before you can say "she wants to be friends," because seriously. "I'm not interested either."

"Okay," she says, but you don't think she believes you. Which is fair, because you're not entirely certain you believe yourself at this point. Still, there will be plenty of time to worry about the implications of that when your uterus stops trying to kill you, so you steer the conversation away artlessly.

"Just, don't tell George or Alex about the surgery, okay? Talk about, oh, I don't know, your new job instead."

You get the little squeal you were aiming for, although it almost costs you a scoop of ice cream on the sheets.

-)(-

"Have you ever done one of these before?" Addison asks as she pulls on her gloves.

"A surgical scope? A couple polyps, and that septum you had me do a few months ago."

She angles the monitor so you can see it. "Right, the Dokas case. Did I tell you why I prefer saline for uterine inflation?"

The procedure takes about forty minutes, and the whole time she's in teaching mode; pointing visual cues out on the monitor, comparing placement and technique to previous cases, explaining the merits of different scope angles and making you explain the minor things she's doing to prevent complications. For a few moments, here and there, you almost forget that it's you, your body and health and future on the line, instead of just another organ, just another surgery.

It's a lot less weird than it should be, on pretty much all counts. You've never even been particularly comfortable with your own gyno - the one you didn't come to with this, because he missed it the first time, because he treats the whole check-up process like he was cleaning a turkey (which normally you mostly appreciate but you really want to be thought of as a person right now), because really, you kind of always knew what was wrong and at least Addison understands - so even though it's Addison, even though she's putting her fingers in places they've already been for very different reasons, even though you're going to have to look her in the face tomorrow, it's not that bad. Because she's gentler than Dr. Jacoby, and friendlier, and if she's thinking "Derek's been here" in her head, you can't tell, and that's really already more than you could ask.

"Do you need a ride home?" she questions as she tosses her gloves in the trash, but you shake your head, showing her your phone. Cristina shows up about a minute after the page; Addison is packing up the scope, back turned as you pull your clothes on. Your legs are heavy and awkward from the local anesthetic, and you can tell that even though she's not looking, she's listening.

"Thank God you're a slut," says Cristina as she rolls a wheelchair into the room. She kicks it off to the side and walks up to you, lifting your feet into your pant legs without even pausing her thought. "Do you know where I'd be right now if I weren't playing nurse for you?"

"Playing nurse for Burke?" you suggest as Addison slips out of the room.

"Maid is more like it. And not even in the good, dirty way. Down," says Cristina, flicking your shoulder, and you lie back obediently so she can get your jeans over your hips. "Ice chips, Meredith. He wants ice chips. Not ice cubes, no, the perfectly adequate ice in the freezer is not sufficient for Doctor I Am Preston Burke. Which means I have to either go buy actual ice chips from the store, or break ours with a hammer. Not that the hammer thing doesn't appeal to me at this point, but I wouldn't stop with the ice, if you know what I mean. Where did you hide your socks?"

"In my shoes. Under the bed."

"God, neat freak. Would it kill you to just leave them where they fall? Seriously. The world will not end because your shoes are a half-centimeter left of where they're 'supposed' to go, whatever that means, and if you're so obsessive-compulsive that it's going to give you a grand mal just looking at them then you should get up and move them back where you want them your damn self."

"Cristina?"

"What?"

"Do I look like a sexy, male, black, cardiothoracic surgeon?"

She hands you your shoe, but utterly fails to look even a little sheepish. "Well I certainly wouldn't sleep with you, if that's what you're asking. Don't forget, I know where you've been."

Addison knocks on the door, saving you from your total lack of a scathing retort. "We're good, come on in," Cristina calls, rolling the chair over to the bed. "I'll probably need a hand getting her into this thing anyway."

"You're sure she needs it?" says Addison, eyes flicking down in concern.

You move your leg over the edge of the bed and it flops gracelessly. "I could walk. If 'walk' meant 'not actually walk so much as fall'."

Addison joins Cristina at your side, and with a hand under each elbow, the two help you lever yourself off the bed and down into the wheelchair. "Santo's in three," she warns as she folds out a footrest, "but he shouldn't be done for another twenty minutes at least, so you're clear to the elevator."

"Hey, we're just a couple of interns horsing around with hospital equipment," says Cristina, and you yelp as she pulls back on the chair's handles and you go up in a wheelie. She and Addison get in a good chuckle at your expense, unimpressed by your glare, and you wash your hands of them both with an elaborate eyeroll and a quick spin towards the hallway.

You reach down and grab the wheel at the door, braking and turning to look back. "Addison?"

"Yeah?"

"Thank you."

"Don't mention it," she says with a smile. Then her eyes flick over to Cristina, and you catch them exchanging what you can only describe as a Significant Look. You find it mildly irritating, particularly since you have no idea what precisely it signifies.

"Alright, let's go, Cristina. You're wasting valuable Burke sponge-bath time here."

"You know, I would watch who I antagonize if I were you. I just bought a whole bag of ice chips and hey! Guess who can't run."

You snipe at each other all the way down, and then the elevator dumps you on the ground floor right in front of George and Alex, George sitting pretty in a leather and chrome recliner of his own. "Wheelchair race!" Alex and Cristina scream, and the four of you tear like banshees all the way to the parking lot, ducking past hollering doctors and nearly running down three patients and a lab tech. Alex and George win and take a victory lap; it lets you stumble into the car discreetly, but Cristina is still bitter about the loss and bitches the whole drive home.

-)(-

The local finally starts to wear off around nine, which happens to be the dinner hour tonight, since that's when George gets home and he's grilling, apparently, in celebration of Izzie's new job. You're not sure if this is his idea or hers, but if it means real steak, you're down. Ever since Izzie quit and started learning to cook on top of baking, the three of you are eating the healthiest you have since probably high school -- your meals both balanced and pretty close to regular -- and it's sort of inspired you to actually care about food again beyond shoving down enough calories to make it through the next surgery.

It ends up being something of an event. You can't decide if you're pleased or annoyed that your housemates no longer feel the need to clear it with you before they invite half the hospital over. Probably annoyed. Although "half the hospital" is an exaggeration. It's just Alex and Cristina, plus Callie and Burke, but Burke is a life-of-the-party sort of guy, and Alex and George's fight over the grill is loud and excessive (you're sure George would have handed over the fork the second Alex walked through the door if Callie weren't here), and it all seems a lot bigger than you want to deal with.

Which, of course, is why you and Cristina are getting quietly drunk in the kitchen.

"You. Should not be drinking so soon after surgery," she accuses, grabbing the Ballantine's out of your hand.

"Hey! Not fair. I earned that. I had a weird and scary day. Alcohol is allowed after surgery if the surgery is weird and scary."

"What, my day wasn't weird and scary? I went home and Burke was moping. You tell me that's not weird and scary."

"That is weird and scary. But I had Addison looking at my girl parts for an hour. In a professional capacity."

"That's not just weird and scary, that's unwholesome and wrong," she concedes, and shoves the whiskey back into your sternum.

Callie crashes through the door and sticks her hand in your face. "Give me that."

You blink and pass it over, and she throws her head back and chugs. You and Cristina can only stare in amazement as she downs a quarter of the bottle before wiping the rim with her sleeve and giving it back.

"I liked Izzie better," she declares like she's daring you to contradict her, "When she was mourning."

"She's just very protective of him," you say placatingly.

"Also kind of a psycho," Cristina adds, and you kick her ankle. She stares at you. "Remember Denny? LVAD wire? Quitting her job? This ringing any bells for you?"

"She's our friend," you say.

"I'm just saying," Cristina says. "Kind of a psycho."

You let that pass and take another swallow of the Ballantine's.

"Hey, Meredith," says Callie, sounding a little nervous and a lot like she's trying not to. "While I'm here. Can I ask for a favor? My apartment... well, I'm not cool with my landlord's rules anymore. But I haven't found a new place to stay yet, so...,"

"Oh, sure," you cut her off. "No problem. You keep making those waffles and you can stay here as long as you want."

"She makes waffles?" asks Cristina. "You make waffles? Can I move in?"

"Don't you live with Burke?" Callie says.

"Exactly," says Cristina, swiping the whiskey again.

-)(-

Callie goes home, maybe to pack, and you and George and Izzie end up lying on each other on the living room carpet. Izzie is spinning the empty Ballantine's in an idle circle on her stomach.

"You sure you know what you're doing, George?" she says.

"What?"

"You. Callie. Callie moving in with you. It doesn't seem a little quick to you?"

"She's not moving in. We're not moving in together. She's just keeping her stuff here for a few days. Right, Meredith? You're not letting her move in?"

"She can move in if she likes. She takes short showers and doesn't leave the lights on, I could probably even lower the rent."

"What?" they say simultaneously in almost the same tone of dismay.

"I don't see what your problem is, George. Callie really likes you, and she's got a fabulous body and a good sense of humor, and I bet she doesn't cry during sex."

"I'm glad we can joke about that now," mutters Izzie darkly, while George looks over and nervously demands, "Hey, are you into my girlfriend? You're totally not allowed to try and steal your housemate's girlfriend. That's got to be against some kind of law."

"What?" You roll your head and peer over at him. "You're insane."

"Well you are all bi now. And still slutty. The man's got a point."

"What?"

"This conversation needs a thesaurus."

"I'm not bi."

"Define sleeping with Addison in the context of 'heterosexual'."

"I -- That was an isolated incident." Well, two of them, but they don't need to know that.

"But you enjoyed it."

"Didn't I already tell you people that we weren't going to have that conversation?"

"You weren't drunk then."

"Still not drunk enough now."

"Well. Would you do it again?"

"What, with Addison?"

"With anyone. Any woman. Angelina Jolie."

"That one's not fair," George says. "Anyone would have sex with Angelina Jolie."

"I wouldn't."

"You wouldn't?" You look at Izzie skeptically.

"You would?"

"Of course I would. Anyone would."

"Ha! See? Bi."

"Angelina doesn't count," insists George. "Someone else. Um. Tricia Helfer?"

"I don't even know who that is."

"Nevermind, then. Do you think Billie Piper is sexy?"

"Maybe somebody we're likely to have heard of, George. Like, I don't know. What about me?"

George claps his hand over your mouth before you can even think. "Don't say anything, Meredith. There is no safe answer to that question."

His fingers smell like whiskey and you lift them away from your face as Izzie giggles. "I am not interested in Callie. I am simply, as your friend who loves you, advising you to know a good thing when you see it."

"Now she's avoiding the question.," says Izzie. "See? You're totally bi. Bi and slutty and permanently in denial. You're lucky you have us around to point these things out to you."

"Fine. I'm bi." You grab the bottle off Izzie's stomach and turn it up optimistically, but there's not so much as a single drop left. "I'm bi, and I'm slutty, and I'm drunk."

There's a moment while you all digest the truth of this statement.

Then George says, "That's really hot."

You both smack him.

Chapter Text

The morning of the eighteenth, you hunt Addison down in Pedes and find her standing at the door of the nursery, talking quietly to Alex about respiratory failure in premature infants. They glance up in surprise when they see you, but you don't even look at Alex; you just lock your eyes on Addison's and swing a thumb over your shoulder. "Alex, get out."

"Excuse me?" he demands, as Addison narrows her eyes a little and looks at you. "And you get to give me orders as of wh--"

"Karev," Addison cuts in, looking over at him. "Beat it."

You see him glancing between you in your peripheral vision, and after a moment, he clearly comes to a conclusion, because you can hear the Dirty Uncle Sal grin in his voice when he says "Oh, come on, can't I watch just a little?"

Both of you snap your heads around at the same time with probably the same glare -- you assume hers is more intimidating than yours, simply because come on, Addison, but otherwise probably the same glare -- and he puts his hands up in supplication, but doesn't lose the grin. "Lucky bastards," he shoots at the babies as he walks out.

You turn to Addison, and she's got a look on her face that reminds you a great deal of your mother. Specifically, the look your mother gave you after you broke Trisha Cummings' bike - the "just because I defended you to Mrs. Cummings just now does not mean you're not in a world of shit, young lady" expression.

"This better be good, Meredith."

"Cancel your plane ticket."

That throws her, and she blinks at you in confusion. "What?"

"You're leaving. In three days. For New York. Cancel your plane ticket. You shouldn't leave. You should stay here."

"I'm not going."

"I get it. Believe me I get it. If there is anyone in this universe who understands the need to just go after something like Derek, it's me. But you can't just -" You stop, breathe in, and rewind. "Wait. Did you just say you're not going?"

"I'm not going," she repeats, and smiles in amusement, which is frankly rather patronizing and therefore pretty damn irritating and not at all what you need right now, thankyouverymuch, so you turn around and stalk out.

"Whoa, whoa, whoa, Meredith. Wait," she says, catching your shoulder -- how she moves that quickly, wearing a skirt and in heels, will always remain a mystery to you -- and leading you back into the relative privacy of the nursery hallway.

"I can't believe you," you hiss, mindful of the sleeping babies. "I had this big speech all planned and I spent all last night coming up with it and enduring constant crap from Izzie and George for my trouble and Bailey is going to kick my ass when she finds me for ducking out on assignments to come looking for you and here it turns out you're not even leaving after all and you didn't even tell me."

"You had a big speech all planned?" she repeats, and there's something in her face you can't quite read, but at the moment you can't bring yourself to care.

"Don't expect to hear it now. Next time all you're getting is a postcard four weeks later that says 'good riddance'."

"Hey, Meredith," she says, squeezing your arm gently, which is when you notice that she didn't actually let go of you when she shuffled the two of you over here. "I'm sorry. I'd have told you before the twenty-first. I only actually decided a couple days ago."

You glare at her suspiciously. "A couple days ago?"

"I promise. Honestly, I'd been waffling back and forth ever since -- well, for a while. And only you and Richard even knew I was thinking about leaving, and you'd have tried to convince me to stay if I said anything, so. I didn't," she says, with a bit of a sheepish shrug.

"You're not going back to New York," you say, slowly.

"I'm not going back to New York," she nods, firm and sincere.

"Okay," you say, and leave to go find Bailey and make your presence known before you get kicked out of the program. Alex is lounging and smirking against the windows of one of the delivery rooms on the way out, and you shove him into the glass as you go by. You're pretty sure his grin doesn't even flicker.

-)(-

Bailey is, naturally, already standing next to Mr. Andrew Lancaster's bed when you scramble hastily back. George is with her, methodically listing possible non-head-trauma-related causes for comas. He stutters for a moment when he notices you, but Bailey doesn't dignify your entrance with so much as a snarky comment, just waits for George to finish and sends him off to run the labs and gives you a look that suggests she's waiting for you to follow him.

You nod, but hang behind for a moment, take a deep breath, and put on your polite, contrite intern face. Your timing is not exactly the greatest but if you don't get this out now you'll never say it. "Dr. Bailey?"

"Yes, Dr. Grey?" Bailey gives you the look Cristina has aptly dubbed Not Buying It #3.

"I haven't had a neuro case..." You hesitate. "In a while." Since the prom, for obvious reasons, but no need to emphasize your stupidity just now by elaborating.

"What's your point, Grey?"

"I can't learn the field if I can't stand in on surgeries," you say, trying to strike a balance between deference and assertiveness.

Bailey stops walking and gives you a long, hard look, and you bite down hard on the urge to fidget, wondering how it's possible that she can look down on you from an eye level near your sternum.

Finally, she speaks, without relaxing her scrutiny even an inch. "I'm not going to say I told you so, because I am a professional. And professionals conduct themselves professionally in the workplace. Do you understand what I'm saying to you, Dr. Grey?"

"Yes, Dr. Bailey."

"Good. Now Dr. Grey, it is possible that some people in your workplace may conduct themselves in a less than professional manner. But I am sure that, if you encounter this kind of behavior, that will not change your understanding of what is appropriate of a professional. Am I right?"

"Yes, Dr. Bailey."

"Good. Now go find something to do in the pit."

"Yes, Dr. Bailey."

-)(-

Izzie is watching your mom's surgery tapes when you get home, her eyes red-rimmed and distant. She mutes the sound as you lean in through the threshold, but doesn't look up. You hang against the wall for a while, waiting for her to speak, and finally try a hesitant, "Izzie?"

"Why did you help me?" she asks abruptly, still not looking up at you.

"What?"

"When I cut Denny's LVAD wire. Why did you help me? It was stupid and crazy. You could have lost your job. You could be in jail right now. Why did you help me?"

"Iz --"

"Seriously," she cuts you off, and she looks angry now. "Why didn't you go find Bailey, or the Chief? Why didn't you try to stop me, or just take George and Cristina and go? You're good at this, Meredith!" she shouts, waving at the television furiously. "You were born to do this, and you were going to just throw it away? What the hell is wrong with you? You are so far in debt, you have worked so hard to get into the program and you didn't even think -- Christ, Meredith!" she shouts, hurling the remote at the floor. You jump at the impact as the batteries spring out and fly across the room. "You and your stupid plan! Why the hell would you DO that? Why would ANY of you DO something THAT STUPID?"

She stops, choking on tears, and bewildered, you sink down next to her on the couch. She collapses into your shoulder, and you hold her for a long time, as sobs wrack her body and she throws an occasional half-hearted punch at your arm with a mewling, desperate "why?"

Finally, mercifully, she subsides into a sniffling cry, and the two of you watch your mother's deft hands make clean lines and tight stitches in the flickering silence.

"Why did you risk it?" Izzie asks after a while, her voice calmer but still broken and raw.

"You fought your way out of a trailer park and paid for school on your own in the third most humiliating way possible," you say, wry but not unkind. "Why did you risk it?"

"I don't know. I was.... I loved Denny. All I could think was I needed him to survive, needed him to be okay and not lying there with an LVAD and a DNR when there was a heart so close, when just one thing could make it right, I just... I loved him, and that was more important than anything else."

You lean your cheek against the top of your head. "We love you," you tell her quietly.

Her hand twists in the fabric of your sweatshirt, like she's holding on for dear life. Onscreen, someone starts to close the patient as your mother's hands drop out of frame; if the noise were on, you'd hear applause, and one of the nurses saying something about calling her husband in the background if you turned it up high enough. The camera flickers to black and a new patient pops up, a tenblade just beginning to slice down the sternum.

Izzie murmurs something into your clavicle, so soft it takes you a moment to even realize that she's spoken, much less parse what she's said -- a lost, forlorn, "I'm sorry."

-)(-

When George and Callie come home that's how they find you; laying out on the couch with a tear-stained, sleeping Izzie wrapped around you. Wordlessly, George crouches down beside you, sliding his arms around her shoulders and beneath her legs and carrying her to bed just as Alex had done on that last prom night.

She wakes up halfway up the stairs. "George?"

"Yeah. It's me."

"I need to say something to you, George."

He glances back at you and Callie, pleading for direction, and you shrug and nod at him, leading Callie back downstairs as your baffled housemate takes his best friend up to her room. You've barely stepped off the stairs when Callie unhesitatingly strides into the kitchen, pulls out the tequila and tosses it at you.

"What's she telling him?" Callie asks after you've silently worked several shots toward the bottom of the bottle and she's finished most of a beer.

"Probably that she's sorry," you tell her, and are pleased when Callie has the grace not to say "about time," even though you suspect she's thinking it. "I think the shock is finally starting to wear off."

"She hasn't done the crazy baking thing for weeks, though. I thought she was... I don't know, better. Past the massive crying jag stage, at least."

"Turns out she's a high-functioning emotional wreck," you say broadly. "I respect that in a person."

"Here here," she says and clinks the glass necks of your drinks together. You raise the bottle to drink the toast but are interrupted halfway to your lips when your phone rings.

Callie takes your tequila and carries it over to the counter as you scramble through your pockets and flip your cell open. "Hello?"

"Meredith?"

You choke down a heart attack. "Finn?"

"Hi."

Callie's face breaks out in a knowing smirk and it takes you a second to stammer out a "Hi."

"... Did I call at a bad time?"

"No, no. I just, didn't expect to hear from you."

"Well. About that. I've been thinking. And I'm thinking maybe it was too soon for plans, because my plans are all gone now, and that kind of hurt."

'Sorry' would feel a little trite, you think, so you say nothing.

"But I admit. I still have some ideas."

"Ideas?"

"Ideas."

You turn around so you can't see Callie's ever-broadening grin. "What kind of ideas?"

"Well, for starters, breakfast seems like a good idea."

"Breakfast?" You really need to stop parroting everything he says and contribute an actual sentence to this conversation, but Finn called and you suddenly have warm fuzzies curling in your belly and you can feel Callie grinning at the back of your head and it's weirdly difficult to pay attention.

"More of a brunch, maybe. This Saturday. Away from the hospital. There's this park I know, and there are geese, and with the right application of checkered blankets and killer secret recipe quiche, it could potentially be quite a nice place."

Ah, excellent. That was much too long to repeat. "Well, Dr. Dandridge, I admit. As ideas go, that's a good one."

"Yeah, Dr. Grey? I thought you might think so."

"I'm glad you did."

"Well then. I guess my ideas and I will pick you up at nine."

The phone clicks in your ear, and you turn around to glare Callie's grin into submission, but find yourself beaming back instead, and by the time she's handed back the bottle of tequila, you've both broken down into the same helpless laugh.

Chapter Text

"You get the feeling today is going to be a bad day?" you ask George as you clip your nametag to your scrubs.

"I dunno. Not really," he shrugs.

"I do. I get the feeling that today is going to suck."

"Every day around here kind of sucks," mutters Alex as he tosses his jeans into his locker with rather more force than necessary.

Bailey pops through the door and doesn't even wait for a 'good morning' before she launches into your assignments. "O'Malley, cardio with Dr. Nedeau. Grey, you're with Shepherd. Yang, Montgomery. Karev, pit."

"Wait. Yang's on obstetrics today?"

"'Obstetrics'? Don't you mean Vagina Squad?" says Cristina suspiciously, speaking for all of you as you stare, as one, at Alex.

He shrugs and tries to look like he didn't just sound as hurt as he did. "Hey, better her than me. I'd just rather be on an actual surgery than running around with a bunch of hypochondriacs and runny noses."

Even for Alex, who you pretty much see through on the best of days, he's not being very convincing. You open your mouth to tell him as much, but you're cut off by Bailey's sharp "Excuse me. Am I hearing complaining from you fools? Am I somehow wrong in believing that the only thing I should ever hear from you is 'yes ma'am', 'of course ma'am', 'how damn high, ma'am'?"

"Sorry, Dr. Bailey," you chorus, and scatter to your assignments. You make it as far as the board, looking for Derek's first surgery, when Bailey leans into the hall and calls after you.

"Grey?"

"Yes Dr. Bailey?"

"Professional," is all she says, with a long hard look.

"Yes, Dr. Bailey."

She nods with satisfaction and strides off, and you start digging through the charts for Nicholas Priest, AMTR. You were right. Today is seriously going to suck.

-)(-

"Nice of you to show, Dr. Grey. I hope my surgery didn't pull you away from anything too important."

His tone isn't quite aggressive, but the disappointed chastisement is almost worse for its condescension. And you're not late.

"Not at all, Dr. Shepherd," you say as pleasantly as possible.

"So tell me what I'm doing here."

"Nicholas Priest, 36. The patient presents uncontrolled complex partial seizures as a result of mesial temporal lobe epilepsy, and is nonresponsive to antiepileptic drugs. Recommended treatment is anteromedial temporal resection, AMTR."

"I didn't ask for a patient history, Dr. Grey. I asked you what I'm doing." He doesn't even look up at you.

You hesitate for a brief moment, trying to decide what precisely he wants from you. His eyes snap up at the delay and you quickly jump to describe the procedure. "Uh, AMTR involves the removal of the middle and inferior temporal gyri –"

"I'm not looking for the Cliff's Notes, Dr. Grey. Take it from the top. How would you begin?"

He can't seriously want you to describe the procedure blow-by-blow. And yet he curtly demands exactly that, from the first curvilinear incision all the way to the closing of the dura, as you stumble through the exact order of lobe removal and try desperately to remember which blood vessels belong to the thalamus and which need to be severed. You're not learning, you're being tested, and you might as well have been in the gallery for the total lack of hands-on experience you're being allowed to get.

You hurt him, you think, and you can't expect him to just pretend nothing happened; and he's a bastard on top of that, and I've heard almost this tone of voice before and I wasn't allowed to touch anything then either and it's not fair tarnishing the memory of perfectly good sex; but loudest of all, you repeat Bailey's "professional" to yourself over the clamor, and somehow manage to escape the OR with your polite facade intact, even when he casually dismisses you from his service for the rest of the day after you're a little slow on the draw with naming the exact closing stitch.

And if you spend a good ten minutes in the on-call room with your head in your hands remembering just how draining it is to hate Derek, well, if no one sees you than it's like it never really happened, right?

-)(-

Cristina and George are nowhere to be found and you and Alex spend lunch alone, arguing over the probable fish content of the cafeteria tuna fish. You are, as usual, a more optimistic soul than he, willing to believe that at least five percent of the stuff is actual meat from an actual tuna, because seriously, they couldn't actually call it "tuna fish" if it didn't have at least some tuna in it, could they?

"If that's what you have to believe to get through the day," Alex finally concedes amiably.

You shake your head in sympathy for his hard, cynical heart and finish your sandwich without reply.

"So how'd your surgery with Shepherd go?" asks Alex out of the blue, just gently enough to be sympathetic but still off-hand enough to emphasize what a big deal it isn't. There really are moments when you love Alex beyond the telling of it.

"It wasn't so much a surgery as an interrogation. With convenient visual aids," you sigh. "I guess neurosurgery's not in the cards for me any more than you're going into plastics."

"Hey, man, fuck 'im. If he's being a hardass be a hardass right back," Alex says, casually leaning back and ignoring your plastics jab. "It's not like he can do anything as long as you know the answer to anything he asks."

"I don't know if I can deal with that," you say. Which isn't really true, you know you can deal with exactly that because you have been for twenty-six years and it never gets better, but Derek was supposed to be a sanctuary, not the same exhausting race of running and running and never quite catching up to what's expected.

"You can deal with anything," says Alex, with such simple honesty that you're completely taken aback. "Except the reality of the cafeteria tuna fish," he adds as a speculative afterthought, and breaks into a wide grin as you throw your napkin at him with a reluctant but irrepressible laugh.

-)(-

"Dr. Grey, you busy?"

It's one of those things you're not sure who taught who, but Addison has a way of saying "are you busy" that really means "even if you're defusing a nuclear bomb right now, you'll still grovel to stop that and listen to me as soon as you realize what I have to say" that's almost identical to the way that Derek says it.

And damnit, you're not even doing charts, you're just loitering.

You still try to put up a fight, though. "I might be. Why do you ask?"

"Well. I was looking for an intern to scrub in on a cystic adenomatoid malformation of Mrs. Barrowman's baby's lung, but if you're not available, perhaps you could point me in O'Malley's direction?"

The problem is, they're always right. You manage to pull your jaw shut with great effort. "No! I mean, yes, I'm available. To help. I can scrub in on that, Dr. Montgomery. If you wouldn't mind."

Her smile, though... her smile is nothing like Derek's. He always looks smug, confident, like the world is a joke and he's in on it, and it's intoxicating when you know you're in on it with him or at least you will be soon. But Addison, Addison looks... just happy. She wanted you to be interested – she knew you'd be interested – and you are, and she's glad. And it's that simple.

Addison is always heart-stoppingly gorgeous, but she's pretty when she smiles, and the idea that you had anything to do with that, that anything you could say (or not say, clumsily, as the case may be) could soften her, could put that expression on her face, is the polar opposite of intoxicating. It's humbling and a little terrifying.

Which, really, is par for the course with Addison – you're always stumbling a few steps behind her, which fact apparently this morning extends to the hallways of SGH as well. You jog a few graceless strides to catch up.

"So what's this really about?" you ask, finally gathering yourself together enough to do a little teasing of your own. "You're just trying to make Alex jealous, right?"

She quirks an eyebrow at you, but her grin is as good as an admission, despite her words. "Maybe I was just feeling charitable. What are you doing these days, burns? Appendectomies? Have you scrubbed in on anything remotely interesting in the last couple of weeks?"

You haven't scrubbed in on anything remotely interesting in more than a month, not counting this morning (since you don't feel "interesting" and "traumatic" are very synonymous), while Cristina's gotten a finger reattachment and George actually nearly soloed a liver transplant, leaving you pretty much unable to win this round, so you just shake your head ruefully and follow Addison into the stairwell.

Where Cristina is sitting – well, hunching – under the lowest flight, giving you both a patented Cristina look of innocence that doesn't even remotely convince you that she hasn't been chewing on her knuckle and reminding herself that Cristina Yang Does Not Cry for the last half an hour. You know her too well to not recognize that combination of poor posture and general dishevelment.

"I think George is somewhere in the ER doing triage," you tell Addison as you stop between the doorway and the alcove.

She gives you a long look and a short nod and leaves without comment.

"Finn called me last night," you say as you slide down against the wall next to Cristina.

"The vet? I thought you were done with him."

"I thought he was done with me," you correct. "He said he needed time. Who knew that actually meant he needed time and not that I'd never hear from him again?"

"Men don't make sense," she says bitterly, and she slumps back against the wall, her head making a dull thud as it hits the concrete. You wince and scoot so your shoulders are touching a little and wait for the rest.

"He doesn't do anything," she finally says, small and quiet. "He doesn't cook, he doesn't clean, he doesn't even yell at me. His tremors are gone, his hand is fine, his chicken technique is perfect, he's fine. But he doesn't do anything."

"Hasn't he come in for a follow-up?"

"He lied. I talked to Shepherd and he lied. He said he still felt weak and wanted to do more PT before he came back." She leans her head on your shoulder and says forlornly, "He's a surgeon, Meredith. He can't not do anything. He's a surgeon."

You wrap her hand in yours and lean back, and can't think of a single thing to say.

-)(-

The house is dark and quiet when you get home, and you wander around for a while in confusion before finally finding Izzie in the tub, knitting furiously.

"... hi," you say, plopping down on the floor.

"Hi Meredith," she says shortly, without looking up or slowing her fingers.

"Where's George?"

"Out with Callie," Izzie answers with a bit of a sneer, then snorts, stills her needles, and starts counting stitches.

"I see."

"Yeah. As usual. I can't believe her."

This is not good. In fact, this is getting to be something of a Situation, and while you get that Callie takes some getting used to and Izzie doesn't handle change that well, the worse you let this get the harder it's going to be to make it right. You flop down backwards onto the floor. Today seriously, seriously sucks. Seriously.

"Why are you still so down on Callie?" you ask, trying to sound simply curious and not at all antagonistic.

"Come on, Meredith. She's a freak. She's pushy and weird and thinks she can just bull her way into the family because she's somehow tricked George into liking her."

"She is his girlfriend."

"She's his rebound, Meredith. They met all of ten seconds ago, he doesn't even know her."

You prop yourself up on your elbows and take a deep breath, not quite able to believe what you're about to say but compelled to say it anyway. "How well did you know Denny?"

She gives you a look more venomous than any you've ever seen, even after you slept with George. "I knew Denny," she practically snarls.

You shrug as inoffensively as possible. "George knows Callie."

"It's not the same!" she shouts, knuckles white on her unmoving knitting needles. "She is nothing like Denny! Denny was kind and beautiful and everyone loved him. I loved him. George doesn't love Callie, she's just a bitchy rebound and they barely know each other and she's not good enough for him!"

"Is anyone good enough for him?" you ask softly.

"Callie isn't," she growls, almost petulant under her anger.

"So she got off on the wrong foot with us, okay. She's protective of him and it made her kind of a jerk. But if you get to know her –"

"I don't need to get to know her! I know what she does to George. I know he's different now that they're together," she seethes.

"What, you liked the old George better? He stutters less, he trips less, he hasn't spilled anything on himself at breakfast in weeks. Isn't that a good thing?"

"He rambles less! He's always out of the house! He doesn't make us watch stupid eighties sci-fi with him on the weekends! He doesn't – he doesn't – he doesn't talk to me anymore, Meredith!" she blurts, furious, and then quietly murmurs, pleadingly, "I can't lose him. I can't."

"Oh, Iz." You sit up and lean forward, a hand on the edge of the tub. "Is that what this is about? You won't lose him, it's not –"

"I won't? What happens when he's at the hospital and he thinks of something funny and I'm not there and she is, so he tells her instead of me? What happens when I miss Denny so much I can't breathe but she's already there and there's no room for me in his bed? What happens when they move out and get a place and he has no reason to ever see me again?"

"Iz, he's your best friend –"

"And he came second to Denny," she says, cold and angry again, putting the knitting down on the floor with tight, measured movements. "I didn't even think about him. I pulled him into that room and told him to watch the door. Watch the fucking door, Meredith. I would have dragged him right down with me. I didn't even think about him." She's tearing up, angry and pleading all at once. "I can't be that to him, Meredith. I can't be the person he doesn't even think about when it comes to Callie."

"Iz –"

"He's all I have, Meredith. It's you and Cristina, and Alex and whoever he's getting the syph from this week, and Denny's dead and I'm a fucking caterer." She's shaking now, anger breaking with her voice and replaced by total helplessness. "I put George second and he risked his career for me anyway and I've lost him."

The problem with this scenario, you sitting on the bathroom floor with Izzie trying to shake her out of it and fix this, is that if you had any actual idea of how to deal constructively with guilt and terror and loneliness, you would be a very, very different person.

"You put him second and he was your best friend anyway," you say finally. "So do that for him. Even if you are second to Callie. If it didn't matter to him, don't let it matter to you. Do something crazy for him so he realizes you do still love him and need him."

"Like what?" she says mournfully.

You shrug. "Like make friends with Callie."

She slumps down past the edge of the tub with a resigned sigh. "Can't I just bake him some muffins?"

Chapter Text

Your car won't start Friday morning, so you have to wake up your neighbors and find a pair of jumper cables and you end up at the hospital decaffeinated, harried, barely awake and thirty minutes late. Naturally, Bailey's been in surgery for the last hour and will be for the next two, and all your frantic rushing was for nothing.

Cristina is nowhere to be found and Alex is napping in the on-call room; George decides to do the same but you're already awake enough that you won't fall back asleep easily. So you wander down to the lobby to buy coffee and maybe a danish and kill some time, and run into Addison at the vending machines.

"Good morning, Meredith," she says, sounding far too chipper and looking far too gorgeous for someone who's been at the hospital since eleven o'clock yesterday.

"Morning, yes. Good? Maybe after caffeine."

She grins. "Not an early riser, eh?"

"You're not helping," you mutter.

"I'm sorry," she says, totally unapologetically, smiling at you over her coffee.

"You just pulled a night shift, how are you so cheerful?"

"It's a Friday and I get a three-day weekend, how could I not be cheerful?"

The stupid coffee machine finally takes your dollar and gurgles a little before it finally spits out a steady stream of watery, low-grade, shoe-tasting coffee into your waiting styrofoam cup. "Lucky you. I only get tomorrow and I don't even get to sleep in."

"That gets better once you're not an intern," she assures you. "Why don't you get to sleep in?"

It's weird, because you really want to tell Addison about Finn -- it just seems like something she ought to know, and she'll be happy for you and that's supposed to be the point of having friends, right? -- but you also sort of really don't. Which is dumb, of course, because Addison's not interested in you, and therefore you refuse to be interested in her, so there's absolutely no reason whatsoever that you should feel nervous about telling Addison that you have a date with Finn tomorrow.

Still, you don't look up from your coffee when you finally say "I have a brunch thing. With Finn. And quiche. Picnic quiche."

"Do you now," she says, and her tone should be teasing but there's something just a little off about it; still, when you look up, she's smiling and she looks genuinely happy for you. And that's exactly what you wanted and you positively do not feel just a little disappointed by her reaction. Whatsoever.

"I don't actually like quiche," you confess wryly.

"But you like Finn," she says with a knowing smile.

"I do like Finn," you say. "I like him enough that I forgot I don't like quiche."

"Better have Izzie bake you some backup muffins."

"That's a very good idea," you say. "Thank you, Addison."

"Anytime," she says with a grin, and sort of tips her coffee towards you in salute, and then she saunters off. And she totally does saunter, which, again, is seriously uncalled-for at this hour in the morning, and is certainly not making you smile, not at all.

-)(-

Alex and George come out of the lunch line jostling each other, arguing about, as far as you can tell, Alex being a cold-hearted bastard and George being a cry-baby wuss. They don't actually seem to be paying that much attention to each other, though -- or anything else around them, as George hits the leg of a chair just as they reach you, and trips forward, dropping his tray instinctively and grabbing the edge of the table to catch himself.

"Frak!" George hisses as his food goes flying, and Alex laughs so hard he actually falls into his chair.

"Frak?" you say with a raised eyebrow.

"Uh, fuck. I said 'fuck'," George says, settling into his seat with all the dignity he can muster.

"You said frak, you giant nerd," grins Alex.

"I am not a -- wait, how do you know what frak is?"

Alex goes shifty-eyed. "I know things."

"You watch BSG!" shouts George with an accusing finger pointed across the table.

"No! Sometimes. Maybe. Look, robot chicks are hot, okay? Am I right, Meredith?"

"What? How should I know?"

"Nerd," gloats George. "What's your favorite Star Trek, Alex? Do you have a Kirk poster over your bed?"

"Dude!"

"You know if you're looking for a D&D group, all you had to do was ask."

"I am not a nerd."

"Whatever," George says, still grinning. "Nerd."

Just then, his pager goes off, and his smile collapses into dismay as he reads it. "Hama's coding," he says as he stands, and runs off leaving you and Alex to deal with his still-upended tray.

"I'm not a nerd!" Alex hollers after him, and you take a huge bite of your sandwich and choke back a giggle. "I'm not," he tells you grumpily.

You take a deep breath and manage to restrain yourself to a wide, amused grin. "I believe you."

He rolls his eyes and jabs his spoon into his jello rather more aggressively than is really necessary.

"Why are you so touchy this week, anyway? You're usually much better at pretending you don't give a crap what any of us think about you."

For a moment, his eyes narrow and you're ready for a typical Evil Spawn denial, but then he shrugs, and jabs at his jello again. "You wanna know the truth? It's Montgomery. Stupid, smarmy, arrogant, power-tripping Doctor frakking Montgomery," he says, almost forlornly.

"Addison? But she let you off her service," you say in confusion.

He just digs around in his jello some more, and that's when you get it. "She kicked you off her service."

"Look, there was a plastics case, okay? Case of a lifetime. Total facial reconstruction. The girl looked like ground hamburger. She shouldn't have lived. And we didn't even have a real case that day, just a bunch of follow-ups. She looked at me like I'd killed her dog or something!" He sees your expression and has the grace to look contrite. "Oh, sorry. I didn't mean --"

"No, forget it." You shake your head dismissively. "She let you scrub in on the reconstruction?"

"She said if it was that important to me, she wouldn't stand in the way of my learning, whatever the hell that means," he says. "Then Tuesday I come in and she gives Yang my spot, and then Bambi got to scrub in on the Barrowman case!"

"Your spot?"

"Whatever," he mutters, tossing the mutilated bowl of jello back onto the table sullenly.

Any response you might have made to that is lost, when Cristina pops out of nowhere. "Calling Alice Nedeau a 'doctor' is not only an insult to surgeons everywhere, it's an insult to freaking chiropractors," she announces as she drops her tray between yours and George's from about six inches up, causing her orange to bounce twice, go flying, and roll to a stop two tables over wedged between two chair legs. She doesn't appear to notice. "In fact, there are witch doctors in Uganda with leeches in their pockets and pieces of bone through their noses who know more about medicine than that woman."

"Wouldn't let you cut, eh?" Alex says, leaning back, suddenly all smarm and toothy grin again.

"Like I haven't done it for Burke a thousand times," she complains.

"And they say we shouldn't date our attendings," sighs Alex, shaking his head in mock disappointment.

"Shut up," says Cristina, as she reaches her fork out and stabs a clump of your fries.

-)(-

You're not going to go into ortho. This fact is patently obvious to everyone with two functioning eyes -- bodily shoving someone's shoulder back into place isn't ever going to be a specialty of yours. But the program is what it is, and so today you're on Callie's service.

And she's looking at you funny.

Oh, it started out normally enough, cheerful "hello"s on both sides and a matter-of-fact discussion of Paget's disease. Callie's a decent teacher -- not as awe-inspiring as Bailey or patient and perceptive as Addison, but she's thorough and amiable about questions and clearly passionate about the material, and her occasional flashes of humor make hard cases easier to take. On slow days especially, you almost think you're beginning to actually be friends instead of two people who happen to have George in common and don't mind interacting when you have to.

Which is why it's so weird that you notice, right around two o'clock, that she's watching you. Every time you glance over at her she does that incredibly obvious thing where she suddenly jerks her head down and looks completely fascinated by the reflex hammer she's holding, or peers intently out the window, like she hadn't just been staring at you. It takes you a few glances to be sure she's doing it; when you look over and catch her for the sixth time, you've had it.

"Callie!"

She jumps about a foot in the air and juggles the labs she was holding for a second. "Um. Yes. What?"

"Why are you staring at me?"

"What? I'm not staring at you."

You've learned the past few weeks that Callie is usually a pretty good liar, which makes that feeble attempt all the more pathetic. You just give her a look and wait.

"Okay, fine. I was staring at you. I'm sorry. I'll stop."

"Callie? Why were you staring at me?"

"I can't tell you." You notice, not for the first time, that Callie is in many ways a lot like George. Her expression of slightly apologetic defiance, for example, you were very familiar with long before you met her. "I really can't. I'm sorry."

You sigh and go back to prepping, trying to forget about it. Ten minutes later, when Callie abruptly blurts, "You really slept with Addison?", you realize you shouldn't have bothered.

"George told you that?" you demand incredulously, suddenly irrationally furious with him, and Callie meets you narrowed eyelid for narrowed eyelid.

"No, George would never tell on Izzie or Meredith," she says with a bit of a sneer. "I actually heard it from Addison."

You blink, anger forgotten. "Addison told you that?"

Callie takes a deep breath and seems to will herself to calmness. "Addison tells me a lot of things."

"Oh," you say dumbly. "I didn't realize you were friends."

"She needed one," shrugs Callie. "So did I. It seemed like the obvious solution."

You spend a moment in awkward silence.

"I'm sorry," she finally says. "It's none of my business."

You sigh, staring down at the x-rays you're supposed to be assessing. "No, don't worry about it. My friends know how slutty I am, hers should too."

"Why'd you do it?" she asks quietly after another uncomfortable pause, and you look up, surprised at her contrite tone. "I mean, I understand the thing with Shepherd -- well, I don't, really, because from what I hear he's pretty much a jerk, but he was your boyfriend and you were in love with him. So I get that. But why her?"

You give a noncommittal shrug. "The first time? I was hurting and she was there. The second time I guess I returned the favor."

Callie furrows her brow and looks at you for a long moment, and finally, civilly but with an edge of disappointment in her voice, says "Hand me that x-ray again, I want another look at that fracture," and you spend most of the rest of the afternoon wondering what you said wrong.

-)(-

George has been waiting around for about twenty minutes when you and Callie finally make it out front, and he looks pretty down as the three of you head off toward the car. When you ask him what's up, though, he just shrugs it off and says he's on a hard case, and he spends most of the ride home telling Callie about Alex's secret nerdhood.

"I always knew that kid was hiding something," Callie says. "He's totally a closet comic book fan."

"He doesn't know Green Lantern," says George.

"He claims he doesn't know Green Lantern," counters Callie.

When you finally get home, you can smell chocolate before you even walk in the door; the three of you follow the scent inside to find brownies stacked up on every flat surface in the kitchen. Izzie pops up from behind the counter and smiles brightly, pulling off an oven mitt and striding toward Callie with hand outstretched. Callie watches it like a live snake and takes a half-step back.

Undaunted, Izzie pulls off the other mitt and says matter-of-factly, "We got off on the wrong foot."

"Yes, you could say that," Callie says warily, still eyeing Izzie with profound suspicion.

"Well, don't you think we should start over?" Izzie says like it's the most obvious, natural thing in the world. "For George's sake if nothing else." She sticks her hand out again, still beaming. "You must be Callie. I'm Izzie Stevens, and if you're important to George you're important to me."

Slowly, carefully, and clearly waiting for the guys with cameras to spring out of the closet and shout "You've been Punk'd!", Callie reaches out and takes Izzie's hand. When she fails to explode, collapse, or otherwise come to sudden and violent harm, she gets more confident, and after a moment, breaks out into a smile.

"Callie Torres. Nice to meet you, Izzie Stevens. Any friend of George is a friend of mine."

"Great! Anyone want brownies?"

George, who has been watching this exchange with the air of a man whose subject got up and started walking in the middle of an autopsy, asks cautiously, "Are they maybe special brownies?"

Izzie rolls her eyes, sort of tsks, and ignores him as Callie digs in to the nearest pile with a will. "Almonds, hey. Mm, you know, these are actually better than my grandma's, I think."

"It's probably the buttermilk," says Izzie. "No one ever thinks to add buttermilk."

Callie chews her brownie thoughtfully. "Hmm... Yeah. That could be it. You know my grandma used to add chocolate chips in halfway through the bake so they'd only partly melt -- do you think that would be too much on top of the extra sweetening?"

You miss the rest of the debate as George hisses "Meredith!" in your ear and you nearly jump out of your skin. "Is Izzie on drugs?"

"I'm pretty sure Izzie's not on drugs," you tell him, grabbing a brownie yourself. "Ooh, try the frosted ones."

"Gas, maybe? Is the house full of toxic, mind-altering gas?"

Izzie giggles, disrupting his train of thought, and he stares, slack-jawed, at the girls as they slap Izzie's worn Betty Crocker recipe book onto the table, displacing two batches of brownies, and start flipping through pages toward, presumably, the desserts section.

"George?" He looks at you, still frozen in bewilderment, and you shove a frosted brownie into his open mouth. "You're being ridiculous."

You're halfway up the stairs when he shouts after you, "I'll figure it out, you know! You can't distract me forever with your delicious chocolatey snacks!"

"Eat your brownie, George!"

-)(-

It's late, almost one-thirty, when the door of your room cracks open. "Mer?" asks Izzie softly, and when you sit up a little, she pads quietly in and crawls beneath your covers without preamble.

"Your bed is bigger than George's," she says.

"It doesn't have a George in it, though."

"Or a Callie."

"It would be pretty weird if my bed had a Callie in it."

"It's pretty weird that your house has a Callie in it."

"Hey, you were getting along pretty well three hours ago."

"Yes, fine, I admit, she doesn't totally suck beyond all recovery, okay?"

"Okay," you smile.

"Still," she says.

"Still?"

"Still."

"Okay," you say again.

There's a pause, then she asks "It's okay that I'm here?" in that very Izzie way where she tries to say it like it's a foregone conclusion but it comes out with just the slightest undertone of total insecurity.

"Of course. My alarm will go off at eight, though."

"Oh, right, your date with Finn," she says knowingly.

"He made quiche."

"Mer, you don't like quiche."

"I know. I was going to ask you to make backup muffins."

"Backup muffins aren't very romantic."

"What, quiche is romantic?"

"Not really, no. Why are you having such an unromantic date?"

"Hey, picnics are romantic."

"Picnics are domestic. Forgetting you don't like quiche is romantic."

"Well there you go."

You lay there in the dark for a while, Izzie warm against your side, and you're drifting off when Izzie suddenly says, "Hey, if I stay here, you're not gonna, like, grope me in the middle of the night, are you?"

"Goodnight, Izzie."

"Not that I'd blame you. Who would? I'm hot. I'm just saying, it could be awkward."

"Goodnight, Izzie."

"I mean, I love you, Mer, but you're just not my type."

You hit her with your pillow, but she doesn't stop laughing.

Chapter Text

Emerald City is surprisingly empty for a Saturday night, and when Izzie gets there she finds you at one of the big tables in the back, working your way slowly through your first beer and thinking much too hard.

"How was your unromantic date?" she says without preamble, as she sinks down next to you with a bowl of pretzels.

"You made muffins," you tell her, because you still can't quite believe it.

"We had this big corporate breakfast thing, I was up anyway. It's no big deal." She shrugs. "And don't think you can avoid the question like that, missy."

"I wasn't avoiding the question. I was just voicing my appreciation for the muffins. The date was fine."

"Fine?" she repeats, with more humor in her voice than you feel is really necessary.

"Fine. Good," you correct, a little chagrined to realize how defensive you sound. "It was a good date."

"Cold day for a picnic," she says skeptically.

"He loaned me his coat. Which, by the way, is very romantic."

"Still a lot of ground to make up for those unromantic backup muffins, though."

You put your beer down on the table and reply austerely, "Finn was not bothered by the backup muffins. He thought they were a good idea and loved the chocolate chip. Honestly," and you slump a little and give up the attempt at dignity, "it was weird how nice he was about it. Derek would have pretended to be offended and given me crap for the rest of the date." Addison would have laughed, you think in some back corner of your mind that the rest of you quickly shushes -- that clear, rich, joyful laugh you've only heard once and would give up a dozen adenomatoid malformation surgeries to hear again.

Izzie cuts into your reverie. "Weird good or weird bad?"

"Weird good, I guess," you say with a shrug.

"You know, for a girl who had sex less than ten hours ago, you don't sound very enthusiastic."

You glare at her indignantly. "What makes you think we had sex?"

"Come on, Meredith," she says, rolling her eyes. "How's that sweater coming?"

"Okay, that was months ago, and it was one minor infraction!" you protest. "And we only said we were giving up men, anyway."

"Two days. You couldn't go two days, Meredith."

"Fine," you mutter. "Finn and I had sex. And it really wasn't that cold out, you know."

"Wait, seriously?" she blurts with unholy delight. "At the park?"

You cradle your warm, nearly-empty beer defensively. "What?"

"It's just... Finn. I didn't really get the sex-in-public vibe from him."

"We weren't in public. We were in a totally secluded corner."

"Of a public park."

You sigh. "Fine. We were in public."

"I don't get why you're even arguing. This is a good thing, right? He's sensitive and kinky. That's like, the perfect Meredith package."

"I guess. I don't know. It sort of seemed like he was trying to... prove something, maybe. Like he could be dangerous too, he wasn't just Mister-Picnic-in-the-Park-With-Quiche."

"So he did something he doesn't usually do to try to impress you. I'm still not seeing where this is a bad thing."

"Did I say it was a bad thing? It was good, the date was good, the sex was good, everything was good." You give her a huge, toothy smile.

She just rolls her eyes again. "Don't do that, Meredith. It's creepy."

You hear the door ring and look up to see George walk in, and you wave at him and then point him at the bar. He shoots you a long-suffering look, but obediently fetches the next round and brings it over to the table with him.

"Thanks, George," you say as he hands you a beer. "Where's Cristina?"

"Busy," he says as he pulls off his sweatshirt. "She said she'd come when she could."

"Isn't she supposed to be off today?" asks Izzie.

"When has that ever stopped Cristina from coming in?" George shrugs irritably.

"What about Alex?" Izzie says. "He was supposed to get out at seven, right?"

"Don't know, don't care," snaps George, and throws back his drink as you both stare at him in surprise.

Izzie is the first to recover. "Let's hear it, George," she says, in the Hardcore Izzie voice that dares you to try to say you don't want to talk about it.

George doesn't try to argue. "It's this patient," he sighs. "She came in for a cold. A cold. Just some stupid pitiful little rhinovirus, but every single day she's been here her T-cell count falls. And you'd think, you'd think that that would be enough, you know? You'd think that it would be bad enough if all we had to do was say 'Hey, Ms. Ganguly, you came here with HIV but lucky you, we're sending you home with AIDS!' But apparently. Apparently, you'd be wrong, because Dr. Lambert thinks she probably has cervical cancer too." He takes a huge swallow of his beer and slams it back down on the table. "Life sucks."

"This is often true," says Izzie, and reaches out her bottle. George meets the toast with his own, and the door chimes gently over the clink of contact as Alex finally shows up. He sees your table right away and nods in your direction, and heads straight to the bar.

"Heard you had a hard day, O'Malley," he says when he comes over, dropping a tall glass of what's probably vodka in front of George. "On me. Drink up."

George eyes both the alcohol and Alex dubiously, and Izzie shoots Alex a puzzled look, but Alex just flops down into his seat and tosses his own beer back, and so George takes a breath and then takes a chug.

Immediately, he coughs and splutters, but instead of laughing, Alex just reaches over and gives him a thump on the back and goads, "Come on, O'Malley, man up, that's the good shit right there."

Izzie shoots you a look that clearly says who is this guy and what has he done with Alex, and you shrug back, as George chokes down the last of his vodka and gives a very un-Georgelike grunt of manly victory, and Alex claps him on the back again.

"That's more like it," he says approvingly, "I knew you couldn't be all fetus."

"I'm all man," says George, and Izzie giggles. "That's right. You laugh," he says, undaunted. "You just can't handle my manly drinking prowess."

"Don't ever say 'prowess' again, O'Malley," says Alex, shaking his head before moving on to the important stuff. "You guys hear about Bailey yet?"

"What about Bailey?"

"Get this -- she's opening a free clinic."

"No way."

"God's honest truth. Doc Lambert spent half the afternoon bitching about how the big bad Nazi bullied him into donating his precious time."

"That's what he was talking about?" George muses. "Dr. Nicholson must have signed up too, then. She said something about putting in her time too when Dr. Lambert first showed up."

"Where did Bailey get the money to open a free clinic?" Izzie asks.

"That's the best part," says Alex. "Rumor is, she got a nine point eight million dollar check from Derek Shepherd."

"McCheater gave Bailey nine million dollars?"

"That's... I don't believe that. Where did Shepherd get nine million dollars?"

"He's a neurosurgeon who lives in a trailer. Where do you think he got nine million dollars?"

"Yeah, but in ready cash?"

"New York," you breathe, and they all stop and look at you. You shake your head a little. "In the divorce. They had a bunch of property in New York. He must have sold his. That could be four or five million right there."

"... Wow."

"I know."

"McCheater gave Bailey nine million dollars," repeats Izzie, and you all sit there in silence and digest that for a while, until George has his horrible realization.

"Um, guys...?" He slides his beer from hand to hand uneasily. "You don't think she's going to try to make us work there?"

It hangs there in the air, ominous, and Alex says with quiet horror, "She wouldn't. Would she?"

"She's on shift when we're there. They wouldn't let her go off-site on her own shift."

"It's Bailey. Who's going to stop her?"

"She could claim it was a learning experience."

"She couldn't make us work there if it's not surgical, could she?"

"Anything is surgical if Bailey says it's surgical."

"Oh, God, she's going to make us work there!"

"Guys, relax," Izzie says, not making any effort to hide her amusement. "It takes months to build a clinic and more to stock it. You'll be residents by the time it's up."

This calms everyone for all of ten seconds, before George moans, "Lambert and Nicholson are attendings. Even the Chief is scared of Bailey."

"Oh, God. She's going to make us work there."

"She'll have us drawing blood."

"Giving people antibiotics."

"Fitting them for diaphragms!"

"Safe sex talks!"

"Bedpans!"

The next round, Alex orders everyone a vodka, and by the time you stagger into your cab at ten, Izzie is the only one of you still able to stand. She shuffles you out with a strange blend of long-suffering maternal chagrin and intense humor at your expense, and Alex doesn't even put up a fight when she insists he sleep at your place so she can keep an eye on him.

Cristina never shows.

Chapter Text

You finally find Cristina Monday morning, getting dressed in the locker room like she hadn't fallen off the map for two days with no warning or explanation. Before you can even begin to figure out what to say to her, though, you're all lined up in front of Bailey and she's barking assignments at you.

"Grey, you're with Boehm today. O'Malley, Karev, you're still on the Ganguly case. Yang, you're on scut."

"Scut? Seriously?" Cristina complains, tired and irritated.

"Did I stutter, Yang?"

The turnaround is eerie, as Cristina flips like a switch into a pleasant, "No, Dr. Bailey," not even the barest hint of insubordination in her voice, and heads out the door with almost unnatural calm.

"Hold on a minute, Grey."

You hang back as the others scurry away – no one ever walks away from Bailey, something about her just demands scurrying – and she leads you a little further back from the door.

"What's up with Yang?" she says, once she's sure you're alone, tone perfunctory.

"I – what do you mean?"

"You know what I mean. She's jumpy. She doesn't fight for cases. She mouths off to her superiors. She. Is not. Herself. I am asking you to tell me what is up with that."

You squirm a little. That's a Bailey thing too – squirming and scurrying. Even Addison does it, sometimes, and you're pretty sure they're actually full-blown friends and Addison is not the squirming type, so no one could possibly blame you if it takes every ounce of willpower in your body to not give in, but somehow you manage. "I can't tell you."

"You can't –" She turns away from you in disbelief, like some kind of intentional double-take, expecting to see a contrite, obedient intern when she looks back. You shrug miserably and a bit of compassion sneaks into her face.

"Look. Meredith. I realize that she is your friend. But this is not high school, okay? This is not the Secret Sisterhood with special code names for boys who share diaries and promise never to tell any grown-ups that they're thinking about having sex. This is the real world, and this is a girl who helped steal a heart. If something is going on with her, I need to know."

Some tiny corner of your brain – probably the snarky, sullen part with pink hair and black fishnet sleeves – collapses into hysterical laughter at this and points out that, in fact, you are far closer to that girl now than you have ever been, especially in high school, when the idea of actually calling someone "McDreamy" with any kind of sincerity would have had you vomiting all over whatever sparkly, bubbly person had been fool enough to suggest it.

Most of you, though, is just twisting uncomfortably, because the thing with Burke lying to Derek? Is Way Over Your Head, and you would like nothing more than to lay the whole thing at her feet and wait for her to fix it and never worry about it ever again.

But even though this isn't high school, Bailey is definitely a grown-up, and there's a reason you don't tell the grown-ups. You don't even know what the reason is, but it's a rule, you've known that forever, like knowing trees change color without understanding exactly how it works, that's just the way it is. If you can, tell no one; if you must, tell a friend; under no circumstances do you ever tell a grown-up, not even Bailey, not even when you're long since twenty-five and theoretically a grown-up yourself.

And Cristina wouldn't want Bailey to know, and in the end, it's really as simple as that.

"I'm sorry, Dr. Bailey. I can't."

She sighs, and gives you a look of such genuine disappointment that you almost can't breathe for a moment, and you nearly break right there, but she just says "I'm sure Dr. Boehm has better things to do than wait around on his interns, get going," and you flee the room, shame warring with relief and that snarky 17-year-old Meredith still cackling at you in the back of your head about how, even after all these years, you still can't seem to leave her behind.

-)(-

"Oh, good morning, Dr. Grey," says Dr. Boehm as you catch up to him right outside the door of 314. He sounds, as ever, a little surprised to see you. "We've got a fun one today; digital necrosis with probable debridement."

"Gangrene?" you repeat in astonishment, as he hands you the labs and swings open the door.

The girl in the bed is probably about twenty and has a bright smile and short, electric blue hair, and the last two fingers on her left hand are so black and withered that they could have been pulled out of a mummy exhibit.

"Ms. Azama, this is Dr. Grey, one of our interns. She'll be asking you some questions about your history and how this happened while I look over your labs."

"Call me Keiko, please. Everyone around here is so formal, it's intimidating as hell."

"All right, Keiko," you say, pulling out a pen and paging through her charts as Dr. Boehm wanders out of the room.

Keiko watches him leave, and then leans toward you and says suspiciously, "Is he actually a doctor?"

"As far as I know," you deadpan.

"You sure? He doesn't quite seem to know what he's doing."

You roll your eyes before you catch yourself and remember that this is a patient and Dr. Boehm is your superior. "That's just how he is," you say, and mentally smack yourself in the forehead when it comes out sort of peeved instead of reassuring.

"Doesn't exactly inspire confidence, is all I'm saying," says Keiko. "Shouldn't doctors strut around like they own the place? All 'I save lives, what have you got that's as cool as that'?"

The best ones do, you think, trying to picture Derek or Bailey or Addison shuffling around with Dr. Boehm's usual aimless air, but you just smile and say "Probably. But despite appearances, Dr. Boehm really is a very good surgeon."

"So I shouldn't be worried about, say, losing my fingers," she says with forced levity.

"If I told you no, would that stop you from worrying?"

She looks down at her hand, then back up at you. "Probably not," she admits.

"Well, then, I won't waste your time. Now, let's try to figure out how this happened."

-)(-

When you get off the elevator on the third floor, there's no one there but Alex, looking around almost nervously with his hands jammed in the hem of his scrubs.

"Alex? You paged me?"

"Yeah. It's about Montgomery." He glances over his shoulder. "She's... I dunno. She didn't look too good when she was talking to AIDS girl and now she's... I think she's freaking out or something. I thought maybe you could talk to her."

"You want me to talk to her?"

"Why not?" He shrugs and looks over his shoulder again. "You two are friends or whatever, right? And you're a chick. You're supposed to be good at the whole talking about feelings thing. You know." He looks anywhere but your face, his voice a little too casual, "I always feel like I could tell you shit, if I had to."

Taken aback, you stare at him, but he doesn't give you time to process that, just goes on with, "And anyway, she's not gonna talk to me. I'm an intern."

"So am I!"

"Dude," he says, like he can't even believe how ridiculous you're being, and then he sighs. "Look, are you coming or what?"

"I'm coming, I'm coming," you say, and follow him over to the third floor women's bathroom, where he stops and gestures a broad "after you" at the door.

"Seriously?"

He gives you the "dude" glare again, and you roll your eyes. "Fine. Be useful and guard the door or something," you say, and then you head inside.

Addison is definitely in here, and she's definitely crying, the harsh sniffles echoing off the sterile tile. The sound makes your chest ache; Addison should never cry, she should never hurt that much, it's wrong. She's Addison, she's not sad, she's composed and brilliant and second only to Bailey in how quickly she'll kick your ass if you cross her (except not really, Addison doesn't just lash out, she treats anger like a symptom and goes after the cause and that makes it even worse because she goes out of her way not to hurt people and people like that should never, ever be hurt themselves). You rap gently on the door of the stall.

"Go away," she says petulantly in a wet, broken voice.

"Addison?" you plead softly, and there's a half-beat break in the sniffling, and then the door creaks open a couple inches and she looks out.

"Perfect," she says as she slams the door shut and thumps against the back. "Just perfect. This absolutely needed to be more humiliating."

"Addison. They brought my mother in here on a gurney, raving that everyone I know is an amateur and a failure and that I, personally, shouldn't even be here. Half this hospital, including my ex-boyfriend's wife, knew I have a sister before I did. Whatever you think you know about being humiliated, you're not going to top me, so just come out here and talk to me, okay?"

You hear a chuckle in there between the sniffles, and then the scrape and clunk of the bolt as she draws it and steps out. She doesn't look as bad as she sounds – her mascara has left dark tracks down her cheekbones and her nose is red, but her face isn't blotchy or swollen and her eyes are clear, even if they won't meet yours. She sinks down gracelessly onto the floor, her back against the partition, and you grab a roll of toilet paper and sit down next to her. She pulls off a swath gratefully and wipes at her eyes, breathing deep to get the sniffling under control.

When she's breathing normally again, you venture an off-hand, "What happened to your three-day weekend?"

She shrugs. "Well, you know. Cervical cancer. AIDS patients are tricky, so they wanted a specialist."

You nod. "Always on call, even when we're not."

"Exactly."

You're both quiet for a while, and eventually she scoots over a bit, leaving some leaning room against the partition. It's an invitation and you take it, moving around to sit closer.

"You don't have to say anything, you know. I know I said to come out and talk to me, but I just meant –"

"No," she says. "I know. It's fine. It's just..." She closes her eyes and sighs deeply. "It's always hard, knowing your patient won't make it, but it's almost.... With infants, babies, it's all potential, lost chances, grieving mothers. Maybe I've forgotten how to cope with the ones who can talk back."

You can't think of anything to say to that, so you don't; you just reach over and take her hand. Her fingers are warm and soft under yours and the silence stretches out between you, unhappy but not uncomfortable.

"That girl in there," she says after a while, with a minute tilt of her head toward the door. "Right now, she's so brave, and strong, and cracking jokes, and it's all such a wonderful, desperate lie. Like she'll just walk out of here and slip away quietly in her sleep with a noble smile and be well thought of by those who loved her."

She closes her eyes again. "But she won't. It's a horrible, ugly way to die. She'll be so covered in sores that her own family will be afraid to touch her. She'll be exhausted all the time, but she won't be able to sleep because she won't be able to stop coughing. The truth is, there won't be any dignity, or courage, or noble smiles in her sleep. Just loneliness and horror and constant, unrelenting pain. And there's nothing I can do."

Now you're on firmer ground, and you shake your head in angry denial. "No. Maybe you can't save her, but that doesn't mean there's nothing you can do."

Addison starts, and looks down at you with something that's almost surprise.

"Maybe you can't give her another sixty years, or even another thirty. And that sucks. But you can give her another two. And two years is so much time, Addison." You hold her eyes with yours. "The whole world, your whole life can change in a quarter of that time."

She actually smiles at that – a weak, sad smile, but a smile nonetheless – and she squeezes your hand gently before letting go and reaching up to rub the stiffness out of her cheeks.

"You're right," she says as she pulls herself to her feet and helps you up, and then, "Sorry." She gives a self-depreciating laugh, and turns on the sink to start fixing her makeup. "Every now and then they hit a little close to home."

"You wouldn't be human if they didn't get to you every now and then," you tell her, and promptly cringe. "Wow. That doesn't sound nearly that trite when Bailey says it."

That earns you a short chuckle. "Trite or not, I suppose it's true." She turns to face you, and this time her smile is bright and genuine. "Thank you, Meredith."

"Sure," you say with an awkward shrug, before making your way to the door and sliding outside. Alex, it turns out, took you seriously and has actually been guarding the door, and you bite back a sudden, irrational bark of laughter. He's sitting on the floor against the doorjamb, looking profoundly worried, and he clambers to his feet almost as soon as he sees you. "She's okay...?"

He trails off uncertainly, almost like he expects you to tell him off for asking.

"She will be." You try to look reassuring. "Rough case."

"Yeah," he says. "Is she –" He sort of jerks his head at the door.

"Fixing her makeup. She'll be out in a minute."

"Okay. I should probably get out of the way, then," he says reluctantly, and stalls a minute, shifting his weight on his feet, before he turns and makes his unwilling way back down the hall.

"Alex –"

He stops and looks over his shoulder, hands in his pockets, wavering.

"Thank you."

He ducks his head in a quick nod and keeps going. You go back inside the bathroom, and Addison turns, rolling her lipstick away.

"Good?" she asks, her voice clear and strong with no trace of tears in it.

"You look great," you say, because she does.

-)(-

Dr. Boehm goes home around one and leaves you taskless, and so you wander aimlessly for most of the afternoon, ostensibly searching for a resident or attending to assist, but really mostly looking for Cristina. Mostly, you find her on the board – all over the board, booked well into tomorrow morning. You scrub in on an appendectomy and a kidney transplant and eventually find yourself lounging across from George at the nurses' station, bored out of your mind, watching Alex sort charts and act even more surly than usual, when Addison wanders by.

"Karev," she says in that light but expectant attending voice, "shouldn't you be with Dr. Lambert somewhere?"

"Like I have anything to learn from that guy," he sneers.

Addison raises one eloquent eyebrow. "There something wrong with being an internist, Karev?"

"I just prefer a specialty where I actually get to do something important to a specialty where I spend all my time crying to someone else." He tosses a chart disdainfully.

Arms crossed, she gives him a long, level look. "Diagnosing a problem is the most important thing we do here. No one in this hospital can do anything surgical until we know what's wrong."

"The guy runs tests, he's hardly a –"

"Karev. Shut up and listen to me."

He closes his mouth with a reluctant snap, the click of his teeth audible from where you're sitting.

"You do any electrical wiring, Karev?"

"No," he grumps.

"So if rats chewed through your walls and shorted out your power, you couldn't repair it."

"No."

"So you'd call the electrician."

"Yes."

"And if you never called the electrician, would the power fix itself?"

"Well, no, but –"

"So in a pretty real sense, you fixed the power by being the guy with the genius to call someone about it."

"Only if you –"

"You fixed the damn power, Karev. Don't argue with me, I'm your boss and I'm smarter than you."

"Yes Ma'am," he says, and she gives a satisfied nod and keeps walking, nodding to you and George with a friendly "Afternoon" as she passes. Alex keeps filing charts and doesn't say a thing, but he's not surly anymore. In fact, you think he might actually be smiling.

Chapter Text

It's a slow morning, and Alex has spent most of it trying to convince Bailey that he should be assigned to an actual surgeon today without actually blatantly insulting Dr. Lambert, letting you and Cristina trail behind to gossip between yourselves. There are about a million things you really want to ask her, something along the lines of "seriously, where have you been and what the hell is up with you lately" topping the list, but she doesn't give you a chance to say anything, just starts right in with a smug, "So you've heard, right?"

"Heard what?" you ask, despite yourself.

"Shepherd's sister," she says. "Right here in the hospital. Natalie or Nelly or something, she showed up this morning, and here's the best part -- she cornered him in the elevator," she says. "Can you believe that? It's like, hereditary or something!"

"Why is she here?" George asks over his shoulder.

"To annoy him, apparently," says Cristina.

George nods sagely. "Yup, must be his sister."

Bailey turns around, hands on her hips, and glares. "I beg your pardon, am I interrupting your social hour with my trivial medical cases?"

"Sorry, Doctor Bailey."

"Yeah, I'm sure you are." She leads you through the door to oncology and starts handing out charts as you circle your next patient. "Okay, Karev. What have we got?"

-)(-

When you and George get out into the courtyard, Callie and Addison are sitting together at a table near the window, and George hesitates. "Do you -- would it be weird if we sat with them?"

"Why would it be weird?"

"I don't know. They're like, girlfriends. Not -- I mean, like, friends girlfriends, not dating girlfriends," he stutters. "Not that I think you would be upset if I meant dating girlfriends, unless you would be upset, because I would be upset, but I'm dating Callie, and you're not dating Addison. You're not dating Addison, right? Not that you shouldn't be dating Addison --"

You take pity on him. "I know what you mean, George," you tell him with the kindest smile you can manage (which comes out really far more amused than you intended). "And I'm dating Finn, remember?"

"So it wouldn't be weird? We wouldn't be, like, intruding?"

"You're her boyfriend, George. People usually like to eat lunch with their boyfriends."

"And you wouldn't be, you know, uncomfortable?"

You give up and just walk over there, and hear him stumble behind you to try and catch up. Addison sees you first, and a wide smile blooms across her face. "Hey Meredith, O'Malley."

"Hi. Mind if we join you two?"

"Not at all," says Callie cheerfully. "Pull up a seat. We were just talking about the disaster that is Star Trek V."

"You've seen the Star Trek movies?" George asks Addison as the the two of you set your trays down and sit. The "Seriously?" is implied.

"Not necessarily by choice," answers Addison dryly.

"No one sees Star Trek V by choice," Callie counters.

"In my defense, I saw it opening night, before anyone knew it was bad."

"Your defense is that you saw a Star Trek movie on opening night? George, if I ever get into legal trouble, remind me not to ask Addison to be my lawyer."

"Hey, I freely admit that I'm a Tolkien nerd and I've read every book Asimov ever wrote, but I am not a Trekkie," says Addison good-naturedly. "I just happen to have dated a lot of them."

"Sure," says Callie, and reaches for her sloppy joe before glancing across the table at you. Almost instantly, she drops the sandwich and rolls back in her chair, her peal of laughter ringing across the courtyard. "I -- think you broke -- Meredith," she gasps in between giggles, waving a mirthful hand in your direction.

You glare at her indignantly, and realize as you do so that you have, in fact, been staring at Addison in slack-jawed and probably somewhat comical disbelief. But seriously, you just found out that Addison freaking Montgomery saw a Star Trek movie on opening night and can accurately describe a hobbit, it's hardly fair to hold a little astonishment against you. It's not like George is any less surprised by all this, right?

Except clearly, he is, because he's also laughing at you. Only a little, it's mostly just that shy-but-still-smug grin he has, but still, you are apparently the only person at this table not currently being entertained at your expense.

"What?" he says innocently when he realizes you're glaring at him now. "You've never noticed the sexy librarian glasses? People with sexy librarian glasses are always secretly a little nerdy. It's some kind of law of geekhood or something."

"'Sexy librarian glasses'?" says Addison, eyebrows arcing up and a quirk at the corner of her mouth, and George turns scarlet from his hair to the neckline of his scrubs and utters a single, terrified "Frak."

Callie turns towards him with a look that pretty clearly says she's going to make him pay for that, not so much because she's angry but because scaring the crap out of him is going to completely crack her up. Fortunately for George, she's interrupted by a tall brunette squealing "ADDISON!" at the top of her delighted lungs from the other side of the courtyard.

"Nancy?" Addison exclaims, and her voice is in a lower register and quiet enough that it probably doesn't carry much further than your table but the excitement is clearly mutual. Nancy is almost to where you're sitting by the time Addison is on her feet and you're a little surprised that one doesn't lift the other off the floor when they hug.

George leans in toward you and mutters, "Shepherd's sister?"

You shrug wordlessly.

"Oh my God!" Addison is saying. "When did you get here? How long are you staying? Why are you here? -- Not that I'm complaining, mind you."

"I got in last night and learned first-hand what a saint you are, sleeping in that miserable trailer of Derek's for so long," Nancy laughs. "If someone had only warned me, I'd have called you first. Wherever you're staying can't possibly be that... rustic. As for why I'm here -- we can talk about that later, I don't want to interrupt your lunch."

"Oh -- I'm sorry! Guys, this is Nancy, my sister-in -- uh, Derek's sister," she says, her face falling for a moment, and you fight the sudden urge to reach out and squeeze her hand reassuringly. "Nancy, this is Callie Torres, our favorite ortho resident, and a couple of our interns, George O'Malley and Meredith Grey."

Nancy smiles pleasantly through most of the introduction, but when Addison says your name her head jerks around in surprise and she pulls Addison back a few feet, although not actually quite out of hearing range.

"Meredith Grey? That's the slutty intern who slept with Derek?" she hisses in scandalized glee.

You wince and stare down at your salad, but jerk your head back up when you hear Addison snap "Watch your language, Nancy," with an angry edge in her voice. Callie shoots you a knowing look before going back to surreptitiously watching them out of the corner of her eye, and you take a couple seconds to try to figure out what she meant by it, but can't come up with anything before Addison and Nancy distract you again.

"Sorry, Addie," Derek's sister is saying, apologetic and a little bewildered. "I just meant --" She stops and a thought seems to strike her. "Addie, why are you sitting with the intern who slept with Derek?" Impressively, she manages to make one word do the work of two, dropping the "slutty" from "slutty intern" without in any way diluting the message. You find quite suddenly that you've lost your appetite.

"Um, I'm going to... go, now," you tell George and Callie, pushing yourself up from your chair with effort. Callie shoots you a sympathetic look and George scrambles to his feet as well. Nancy and Addison look over at you, and a slightly troubled expression crosses Addison's face when she sees you standing.

"Ah," George fumbles, "sorry Dr. Montgomery, Ms.... uh, Shepherd?"

"Doctor, but yes, Shepherd," says Nancy with a smile.

"Doctor Shepherd," acknowledges George with a dip of his head. "They paged us."

Nancy shrugs incuriously and waves. "Nice meeting you all," she says with a special emphasis on the nice when she looks at you. You smile back with all the fake sincerity you can muster as George leans down and gives Callie a quick peck on the lips, then subtly leads you out of the room, one hand on his tray and the other a light, reassuring pressure on your elbow.

-)(-

After lunch, Bailey releases you all to deal with your open cases, so you head back to 314 around 1 o'clock, to find Keiko Azuma propped up in her bed, flipping channels restlessly.

"Hey, Keiko, how are you feeling?"

"Bored out of my mind, but my hand doesn't hurt anymore. Is that a bad sign or just the drugs kicking in?"

"Probably the drugs. Dry gangrene progresses very slowly."

"So I have dry gangrene. Okay. Great. Dry gangrene." She turns off the television and looks over at you. "You have to tell me what that means. I freak out less when I know what things mean."

You walk over to her bed and put down her chart, suddenly struck by how very young Keiko really is, and search for that Patient Care tone that's the right balance of informative and compassionate. "When you burned your hand, you damaged some of your veins badly enough that blood isn't getting to your fingers anymore. Without blood, your cells can't get oxygen and they die. That's gangrene. Here's the good part -- 'dry' means that you don't have an infection, so the gangrene won't spread quickly and we have a better chance of saving more of your hand."

"Wait wait. 'More of'?" She gives you a weak smile. "That sounds an awful lot like I'm not leaving here with all my fingers, Dr. Grey."

You hate this part, and you kind of hate Dr. Boehm for sticking you with it, but you're pretty sure she'd rather hear it from you so you take a deep breath and do your job. "When we operate, we're going to repair the damaged blood vessels and restore bloodflow to your fingers. At that point, it's possible some of the less damaged tissue will recover. But the tips of your fingers are totally dead, at least down to the knuckle, and we're going to have to remove them, as well as anything else we can't restore."

She sinks back into her pillow with a heavy sigh, and you stand awkwardly at the side of her bed, unsure if you should stay and finish informing your patient or leave and give her some privacy. Finally, she looks over at you and asks resignedly, "My boyfriend?"

"We called him. He said he'd come as soon as he could."

"I'm left-handed, you know," she says, and it hangs in the air for a minute.

The silence stretches out painfully again and you blurt, "Why did you let it get this bad?" before you can stop yourself.

"I'm an artist," she says, and then, cheekily, "You couldn't tell from the hair?"

"I didn't want to assume," you smile.

"I'd been in the studio for a week straight. Caught by the muse, you know? I've been doing this piece in oils, Dusk Over Puget Sound. Sleeping on the couch, eating nothing but delivery, wearing the same clothes for three days until Anthony showed up with spares and made me change. Just to finish it, you know? I couldn't stop, couldn't let it slip away. So I finally got there, the whole thing finally clicked, I was done, and I staggered into the shower. I'd had paint on my face, in my hair, up to my elbows for six days, and my fingers were cramping and stiff from the cold studio and the detailing, and I finally got to be clean, but my hand wouldn't wash. All that warm water and all that turpentine and my fingers were still cold and black and lifeless. Freakiest moment of my entire life, and that includes walking in on my parents having sex when I was fourteen." She looks up, apologetic. "Sorry, was that TMI?"

You pull a chair over to her bedside and sink down in it with a wry smile. "Just a little. Don't worry about it, though, I've heard worse. People say all kinds of things when they're stressed."

"Stressed doesn't begin to cover it." She looks down at her open palms with a bitter scowl. "I'm an artist. I need my hands."

"Even if we have to take most of both fingers, you won't lose any dexterity in the others," you assure her.

"It doesn't matter," she says. "I use it all, I use everything. Especially when I sculpt, I need every finger on the clay. But even... It'll throw off my balance." She stares up at the ceiling again. "You don't understand."

"No, I probably don't. Probably no one does who isn't about to lose part of her fingers. I do know this, though -- surgery has a lot in common with art." You realize quite suddenly, and with surprising dismay, that you've never seen one of Addison's drawings. "You have to have good hands, at least. Steady, precise, just like an artist. And I used to know a surgeon with only four fingers. He worked with my mom, and he was pretty good from what I hear."

Keiko's quiet for a while, and then she looks over at you again. "Is that why you became a surgeon? Because your mom was one, I mean?"

"Sort of," you shrug, and then, struck by some odd impulse toward disclosure, add, "More because being a good surgeon was the one achievement she couldn't dismiss as being unimportant."

"That sucks," she says feelingly.

"So does losing your fingers."

She nods, blue hair bobbing against the pillow. "Truer words were never spoken."

-)(-

You're poking a shot of Jose Cuervo around the bar, making twisty shapes out of the sweat rings, when Addison appears in your peripheral vision and slides onto the stool beside you.

"Thought I might find you here," she says as she grabs a couple complimentary peanuts.

"You were looking for me?"

"I wanted to apologize for Nancy."

"Hey, it's not your fault the Shepherds all hate me."

"Um." She crushes a peanut absently. "That's not entirely true."

You still your hand over your tequila and give her an incredulous look, but she's avoiding meeting your eyes.

"See, Derek's family is sort of... everyone's family. Mark, Savvy, Weiss, Cab, Trish -- we all kind of revolve around Derek and Nancy and Kathleen. Cab and I married in, but even Savvy and Weiss still do Thanksgiving at Cab and Kathleen's place. So there's a lot of... gossip."

"Gossip."

She cringes a little. "I may have... called Savvy. After the prom." It's a testament to how embarrassed she is that she doesn't even do the eyeroll that everyone does when they actually say the word 'prom' out loud. "I was kind of drunk. And I think I ranted a bit."

"... and Savvy told Derek's family," you say heavily, trying not to think about Addison telling everyone she cares about what a home-wrecking slut you are. You toss back the shot and slap it down on the bar, nodding to Joe for another as he discretely slides Addison's drink toward her and fades away again.

"Well, not exactly. I guess I wasn't all that coherent, and she pretty much got 'slept with an intern' and 'divorce' and nothing else. So she called Kathleen to ask if she knew anything, and Kathleen called Mark but he didn't know anything new. And then Alicia heard that Derek sold the brownstone, so they finally decided to send Nancy out here to ask Derek what the hell he's doing skipping Thanksgiving and Christmas and throwing away New York and DerekandAddison over some intern, and to get us to come home." She says that last with absolutely no inflection, and follows it by draining the top two inches of her Long Island in a single gulp.

"... oh," you say.

"Yeah." She sighs. "I'm really sorry, Meredith."

You watch your watery designs evaporate and say bitterly, "Don't be. It's true. He gave up your marriage for me."

She reaches out, wraps her fingers gently around your chin and turns your face back towards her. Her eyes are fierce and intense and hold your gaze locked on her even after she takes her hand away, and when she says "Meredith. Listen to me," her voice is just as urgent and compelling. "We were over long before you came into the picture. We did this to ourselves, okay? You had nothing to do with it. We pulled you into it, and that was so incredibly wrong of us that I don't even know how to begin to apologize, but that does not mean you get a share of the blame."

"But if I hadn't slept with him at the dance --"

"Then I might still be with him? Yes. Which means you probably did me a favor," says Addison, tipping her glass in your direction. "Which, by the way, is pretty much what I told Nancy. Derek Shepherd is a brilliant surgeon, and a caring friend, and a wonderful human being, but he's a crap partner, and he hasn't been in love with me for a long time, and it's past time I accepted that. I'm done fighting for him."

You lean against her shoulder and notice for the first time that the lingering, tantalizing hint of aftershave that used to follow her is gone; she smells a bit like apricots now, and you're surprised by just how happy that makes you.

"You almost sound like you're over him," you say, and that's when you know you're drunk, because you wouldn't say something like that if you were sober. (You probably wouldn't be leaning on her if you were sober either but you're not going to think about that because if you do you might stop, and seriously? Addison smells like clean sheets and apricots and you are totally not ever going to stop leaning on her.)

"Let me tell you a secret, Meredith," she says, with that same straightforward melancholy, but there's something a little melodic in her tone too, like she's starting a bedtime story. "There is no 'over him.' At least, there never has been for me. Love isn't like that. It doesn't turn off or end. Even when there's hate, or pain, it's still there, just... different. Like scar tissue. I can't erase what he meant to me. I just have to decide to let it heal over as clean as it can, and move on."

"And go home?" you say, very quietly, in a tone of voice you haven't heard yourself use since the last time your mother was lucid, when you made the last promise you'll ever have a chance to make to her only to break it ten months later.

"Nah," she says, giving you a gentle, conspiratorial shoulder bump. "Karev still thinks he wants to go into plastics. I can't just hop across the country and let him grow up into another Mark, now can I? What kind of responsible attending would I be then?"

"Hmm, well," you agree, suddenly bouyant, and burrow a little deeper into her shoulder. "You're nothing if not a responsible attending."

".... yeah," she says quietly, and you're drunk and tired and comfortable enough that maybe you can be excused for not noticing that she's suddenly gotten just a little bit tense.