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smoldering ruins

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Did he just break up with her?

He’s having a hard time reconciling sadness – at her putting his job and his livelihood at risk, at her for dragging him from pillar to post throughout the process, at her accusing him of not supporting her when he went to jail for her – with his possibly-broken heart.

Literally all he did was tell the truth. He was reasonable. He was sane.

Maybe that’s why he can’t tell if his heart is broken.

It’s usually him fucking up and doing the wrong thing. But the past few months, the compass has shifted. He’s been there for her, over and over again. He’s helped her with her kids, her sisters, her feelings, her life.

But has she been there for him?

He knows he was right. She doesn’t love him the way she loved her husband. That might not even have been what he wanted – but he does know that he has felt superfluous to her, like an accessory, for months now.

He doesn’t regret saying he loved her all those months ago. To quote Dr. Shepherd, sometimes he needs to spew emotional vomit.

But he regrets telling her. She wasn’t ready, the timing wasn’t right, and their trajectory blew completely off course. Telling her that he loved her sowed doubt, resentment, and anxiety between them.

Of course, jail had something to do with it – but then, he might not have told her he loved her if she hadn’t put it all on the line for Gabi.

He finds himself staring into the bottom of a whiskey glass at Joe’s. He’d been ready to go home – her place is home now – and now he is completely off kilter. Does he sleep at the hospital, where it feels like everyone hates him and everyone’s uncomfortable around him? Does he go back to his apartment – essentially a glorified storage unit at this point – and feel the hollowness around him?

He’s pondering asking Schmitt if he can crash on his couch – he is Chief Resident now, after all, and they both have multiple, powerful enemies now – when he hears a familiar voice down the bar.

“Vodka soda, please,” and he snaps his head to see his sister. She looks surprised to see him and slides toward him. “Andrea. Hi. How are you?”

He laughs – he had basically forgotten about his own well-being for months at this point – but the laugh is mirthless and bitter. Carina starts at the sound. “What’s the matter?”

He lets out a long, low sigh. “I broke up with Meredith.” He watches her eyes flash dark and he prepares himself for the onslaught.

“Andrea.” Her voice is quiet. “Are you okay?”

Her voice brings him back to yelling and a smashed glass on the floor in Rome and her grabbing his hand, to skinning his knee on the sidewalk and her pressing a Band-Aid to it. When his eyes start to well up, he looks away, blinking rapidly to clear them. For everything else she’s been – girlfriend-stealer, roommate-romancer, family troublemaker – she has been his protector since day one.

“Andrea.” There’s some urgency to it now, and he sees her, out the corner of his eye, signal for the check. He crosses his arms on the bar and hangs his head, willing away whatever emotional onslaught is coming, at least for a few minutes. She quickly signs the check and grabs his arm. “You can’t be here. You know everyone here.”

They briskly walk to her car and she turns the key in the ignition – the inside of the car is freezing, even this early in the fall– but doesn’t shift it into gear. “What happened?”

And slowly, it spills out. Everything since Gabi Rivera. Her trial, his support. His job, Bailey’s anger. Her community service, and her activism, and her hanging herself on a cross for a sacrifice she didn’t have to make. The hearing today. Derek. His humiliation. Their love.

He feels a few tears finally leak out – he’s not made of stone – as the gravity of what’s happened hits him. He was ready to uproot and blow up his entire goddamn life for this woman, and now he’s dropped her from his grasp and all he sees in front of him is the smoking crater that was his whole life. His career, his personal life, his reputation, all a smoldering ruin. He looks over at Carina, fully expecting her rage.

“Thank god, Andrea. You came to your senses.”

He’s not surprised she feels this way, but it’s still a shock.

“Carina, I still love her and want to be with her. This might not be the end.”

“I don’t care. She shouldn’t treat you this way. You deserve better. After what she has put the hospital through, we all do.”

He’s not really that used to this Carina. Usually, after a breakup, she takes the girl’s side (or just takes the girl). This supportive, kind Carina is almost alien to him.

“I don’t want better, Carina. I love her. I just… want her to see me.”

Her head sharply swivels toward him. “She needs to see herself first, then she can figure you out. You are not her therapist! She doesn’t get to just throw everything at you and leave you with scraps!”

In spite of himself, Andrew laughs. “No, I’m not her therapist.”

She smiles, a small, pained one. “Do you need a place to stay?”

He looks at her quizzically. “Weren’t you meeting someone at the bar?”

She quickly looks away. “I was hoping to, but I’d rather do this now.” Before he can cut in to tell her no, she puts the car into gear and starts to drive. She puts on some music – he couldn’t identify it even in the best of moods – and he slowly loses himself to his thoughts, watching the trees fly by the window.

They arrive at her place, where he has rarely found himself before. It’s a nice apartment a few miles from the hospital, and when she opens the door he’s met with a vague scent of her perfume – the same their mother wore.

“Do you need something to eat?” He shakes his head no – he’s not hungry, and anyway, he just wants to sleep for a million years. Today lasted a hundred years.

She puts him in her guest bedroom – he spots a pair of his father’s shoes in the closet and a shirt – and he hugs her goodnight before closing the door behind her, whispering a thank you in her ear.

He strips off his tie and buttondown and sits down on the edge of the bed, thinking to himself.

He’s done it again. Another woman he loves, gone. Another opportunity for a real future – something beyond medicine and ambition – blown to smithereens.

He doesn’t regret doing it. He doesn’t regret saying what he said. He doesn’t regret being honest with her.

But part of him wonders if he’d be happier lying to himself.

He lies back on the bed, staring at the ceiling, and closes his eyes.

******

Meredith was curled on the couch when he got to her place after his shift, appearing to be dead asleep. She was wearing one sock and snoring loudly. He figured she’d had a rough day and probably forgot about their plans for the evening (he was going to make dinner for her after the kids went to bed), so he threw everything in the fridge and grabbed himself a beer.

He tiptoed into the living room to find her in the same position. He lifted a blanket from the arm of the couch and moved to spread it over her. Her eyes flashed open in that moment, wide and shocked and confused, then a smile graced her lips. “Is dinner ready?”

Andrew laughed and stretched himself over her, pressing a kiss to the tip of her nose. “I hadn’t started making it yet, I thought you were done for the night.”

She shook her head, blinking sleepily. “Nope. Just resting my eyes.” She looked directly at him and pulled him down to her, and he happily collapsed into a heap next to her on the couch. Her slender fingers went for his chin and pulled it toward her. He looked at her, quirking his mouth up in a smile, and she smiled back. “Let’s get takeout.”

*****

He wakes with a start, his memory of that moment so bright against the darkness he feels. He’s still in Carina’s guest room, asleep on top of the covers where he sat down what seems like hours ago.

How can it really be over, just like that?

The gravity of the situation starts to sink in; she does not need him, she does not need this, her love is not and might not ever be for him; and the tears start to leak out of his eyes.

He can’t do it again. He can’t handle it.

He gives himself tonight to feel it. To wallow in self-pity and allow himself to feel a broken heart for what feels like the millionth time.

*****

He spends the weekend keeping himself to himself, burying himself in medical journals and Italian novels in his apartment. He’s put things away and moved things around, readjusting to the feeling that he’s home now, this is home, just him.

He entertains the thought of getting a dog.

On Sunday, he says fuck it and buys himself a goldfish. He names it Lucente and watches it flip around and around in the bowl. It’s not a kid, it’s not a girlfriend, it’s not even a dog, but it gives him something alive to care about.

*****

He sees her at the hospital and he feels like that same heartsick person he was last year, and the year before, and the year before. He feels stupid when his heart skips a beat; he can’t do this, he can’t love her like this.

He resigns himself to avoidance; he chains himself to the Peds floor, getting ready for the new attending to show up. He starts studying for his boards in the downstairs coffee room, where he knows she never goes (“that coffee is absolute garbage,” she said once).

He signs up for a dating app, but doesn’t open it or do anything with it.

He knows better than to push anything with her, so avoidance it is.

*****

It wasn’t going to work forever.

A few weeks after détente, he’s in the elevator going up to the sixth floor when a skinny hand cuts in on the second floor. He silently curses to himself and finds himself face to face with her as she throws herself into the elevator.

She has the decency to look shocked, if not disappointed. He’s sure his fear is written all over his face.

“Dr. Deluca,” she murmurs, crossing to the other side from where he’s standing. She leans against the wall – getting as much space between them as possible – and reaches in her pocket for her phone. They both know there’s no cell service in here.

He clears his throat. “Meredith…”

Her head flies around so fast he thinks it might snap off her neck. “No.”

“No what?”

“You don’t get to call me Meredith anymore. I’m Doctor Grey to you.”

He smiles, just a tiny bit. “You were always Dr. Grey to me.”

He sees her melt – a tiny bit – for a fraction of a second, then watches the brick wall reassemble.

“Just no, Deluca. You don’t get to call me that.” With that, the door opens on the fifth floor, and she steps out. She turns around and looks at him.

“By the way,” she says breezily, like she’s telling him about a patient, “I’m seeing someone.”

Chapter Text

Andrew stands there in the elevator, his mouth gaping open, confused and aching.

He knows he broke up with her; he knows this is entirely his doing; he just didn’t expect it to happen so fast.

It took her months to decide to go out with him. It took her what – three weeks? – to start seeing someone after him.

Did he mean so little to her?

He barely registers the next hour: up to the peds floor to round on the new chief’s patients, barking orders at his interns, drinking coffee. All the while, his brain slowly processes what’s just happened.

It finally occurs to him to ask himself the question: who is it? He’s been so busy feeling bad for himself that he hadn’t yet considered who it is.

The hospital’s full of available, good-looking doctors. There’s also Pac-North. He can’t see her with a non-doctor, but who knows, maybe she met someone on Tinder.

The hopeful corner of his brain hopes she lied to him; she just said that to get a rise out of him. But he knows Meredith well enough to know that’s not her particular brand of manipulation.

When he’s done with charting, he heads to the on-call room on the peds floor to take some time to think things over. However, the door is locked.

And he hears two giggles. A deep one and a higher-pitched one that he would never, ever mistake.

The deep one sounds familiar, too.

And suddenly, it all makes sense.

He’d rekindled his friendship with Sam some months ago, when it was clear they’d both moved on and she was happy in Switzerland. If he was being honest with himself, she was probably the closest thing he had to a friend right now. So when he texted her about this doctor he was working with who came from a clinic in Switzerland, he had no idea he was asking her about Meredith’s new boyfriend.

The new guy was a widower, she’d told him.

He’s also a chief, he’s cocky, he’s thoughtful, he has kids. Andrew even likes him as a boss, in spite of their rough introduction; he’s pretty reasonable about schedules and likes to teach. Of course he’s who Meredith would pick. He’s better for her, more appropriate in every way, shape, and form.

Realizing his hand is still on the door handle, he flies backwards like an electric shock has gone through him, and flees for the stairs. He’ll go to the basement coffee shop and suffer through a crappy espresso. He needs to go somewhere she won’t find him.

***

He spends the rest of the day hiding, other than a surgery with one of the peds attendings. He decides the coffee shop in the basement is too close for comfort, so he escapes down the street to a Starbucks to drill some boards prep.

His life is so much more in the air than he even realized: say he passes his boards, where does he do his fellowship? He had always planned on staying in the Northwest, but now that seems stupid. He takes a break from test prep and starts researching his options farther afield; he could work for Dr. Robbins in New York, or he could go to Boston, or he could even go overseas. He still has Italian citizenship; he could work anywhere in the EU.

This is the kind of distraction he can deal with. His future is ahead of him. He has so many options now. He’s not tied down to Seattle; the world is his oyster. He writes out the beginning of an email to Dr. Robbins, trying to toe the line of professionalism-meets-former-roommate-meets-sister’s-ex-girlfriend.

He’s starting to talk himself into his opportunities when he hears a familiar voice. Two of them, in fact.

“I can’t believe that just happened,” he hears Helm say. She seems slightly upset, but then she kind of always does.

“You’re not the one who saw it, Helm. I did not need to see him shirtless. It looked good, but I didn’t need to see it.”

“I just can’t believe Dr. Grey would do that, in the hospital of all places!”

Andrew’s pretty sure all the color has drained out of his face. He’s thankfully back in a corner, where neither Schmidt nor Helm can see him, and he sees, rather than feels, his hands start to shake over the keyboard.

He needs to be done. Maybe just for today. But he’s no good to anyone – especially himself – when he’s like this.

He can’t get high and stare at a hallucination for hours. He can’t stare into an abdominal cavity. He can’t do a decent stitch. Right now, all he’s good for is aimless staring.

He shoots an email to the interim residency coordinator – it’s the head of the urology department, who has too many things to do to care about who takes the afternoon off – and lets him know that he’s coming down with something and is taking the rest of the day off.

He gets on his motorcycle, but rather than go home, he rides aimlessly for a few hours. He was about to sell it for something more reasonable when he broke up with Meredith; now, he sees it as a lifeline, connecting him to himself.

He thinks about how different they already are, compared with him and Meredith. On-call room trysts and only a few weeks of time. Compared with his and Meredith’s extended courtship and strict work-life restrictions, she and the new guy were already a lifetime ahead. By the time he realizes how far he’s gone on the bike, he’s married them and created their Brady Bunch happy family in his head.

The sun is setting when he turns around and heads home; he’d made his way deep into the forest, a few hours outside of Seattle. When he gets back home, it’s after eleven, and he lets himself into his apartment.

He trips over the mail in the doorway, dropping his helmet on the ground. He sees Lucente doing a flip in his bowl – the sound must have startled him. He goes about his nightly routine, trying to give himself a stable feeling. He shakes a small number of fish flakes into Lucente’s bowl, scrubs out the pan he made breakfast in this morning, and runs a sponge over nonexistent grime on the countertop.

This morning. Before his whole world collapsed, again.

He knows he needs time. This time, it won’t be a weekend, or a week. He’ll give himself three days to mourn; three days to figure out where his life will go. Three days can change almost anything.

He opens up his laptop and emails the residency coordinator – again – to let them know that shot be damned, he came down with the flu, and he’ll be out for a few days. He splashes some water on his face, scrubbing away the dirt of his ride.

He strips off his clothes and slips between his sheets, sterile and clean.

That’s his life now. Sterile. Clean. Devoid of interest. It’s him, medicine, and his goldfish.

He can’t help himself. He’s held it back all day. He feels tears pouring down his cheeks; he feels himself taking giant breaths to compensate for the gasping sobs. He’s not a crier, never has been, but this feels so final. So funereal.

For the first time since his mother died, he cries himself to sleep.

***

Day one: Tears. Guitar. “Guess I’ll make a sandwich.” Feeding the fish. More guitar. Reading the Economist and trying to care about any of it. Crying some more. Going for a quick run around the neighborhood. Shower. Sleep again.

Day two: Guitar. More tears. A nap. Dreaming about being with Meredith on a mountain, only to have her fall out of his grasp and down a ravine. Waking up, laughing at the hammered-over-the-head-symbolism, crying again because that’s how he is today. Feeding the fish. Considering buying more fish. Going for a long run, to the point that he gets lost and has to ask someone for directions. Home. Shower. Guitar. “Have I eaten since yesterday?” A plate of pasta he barely touches. Bed.

On day three, he wakes up somehow invigorated, like he’s been in hibernation. He makes breakfast and checks his email: residency coordinator telling him not to show up until he’s been clear of symptoms for at least a day, an email from Carina about a concert she wants to go to in a few weeks, and a note from Sam about fellowship opportunities abroad.

He eats breakfast with his laptop open in front of him. He creates a spreadsheet with potential fellowship options. The OCD in him creates multiple tabs: local options, national options, international options.

He deletes the local tab almost as soon as he creates it. He is making Seattle his past. His future is somewhere else: he will be someone else. He might even be with someone else.

New York. Boston. Atlanta. London. Rome. Paris. Switzerland.

Putting his brain to work for the first time in two and a half days, he narrows down his options, bookmarks applications, and starts organizing his essays. He writes up the research he’s assisted on the last few years and the cases that have stuck out to him. He knows he’s got the skills; he’s just got to pass the boards.

He knows, even as he studies for the boards and prepares for his next phase – his post-Meredith, post-Seattle phase – that he’s got to move on.

He opens up his dating app and fills out his blank profile. Italian-American, doctor, loves to cook, that picture of him that Sam took last year when they went hiking one weekend. That will go over well, he knows; he just has no idea what he’s looking for in return. He figures it’s good to start with a broad spectrum, and anyway, he’s not looking for forever anymore.

Forever is gone, forever has a new Irish boyfriend, forever is his loneliness.

So, he swipes right. He knows he’s got to start somewhere.

Chapter Text

He wakes up the next morning feeling something. He’s just not sure what.

In the base of his chest, he feels fear and shame. But he wonders if some of that isn’t excitement for this new path he’s set himself on.

But he also wonders if maybe he’s just kidding himself. He’s terrified of Meredith, of seeing her and her new boyfriend, of being alone against them.

He corrects himself. He’s not against anyone. He’s just alone.

He closes his eyes, breathes in deeply. For a year now, his calming energy has come from Meredith – from how he feels about her. Now, it has to come from somewhere else.

***

He woke up, sweaty and confused, his heart racing. He hadn’t had a nightmare in months, but suddenly – suddenly – it was back.

Part of that might have been the night he spent in jail. Part of it might have been the uncertainty of his current situation – no job to speak of, potential criminal record – but he knew part of it was his fear of losing Meredith.

It took so long to get to where they are, and it would be so easy for that to be snatched away.

He rolled over and saw her, eyes open, looking at him. She was curled on her side. He slid over, resting his hand on her hip. Her hand came up to stroke his cheek.

“Andrew, are you okay?” He closed his eyes and absorbed the warmth of her hand, feeling his heart rate slow. Her hand slid down to his chest, where it rested on his heart. He opened his eyes to see her lips quirk up in a tiny smile. “That was easy.”

He pulled her close, feeling her breathe against his neck. Her hands scrambled around his waist, and they drifted off, tucked together. When he woke up in the morning, her hand still grasped his t-shirt.

***

Nope.

Can’t rely on that anymore.

“Wish me luck, Lucente,” he tells the fish, who drifts aimlessly in the bowl. Andrew reminds himself to get a plant for the bowl; might as well give the animal some excitement.

He hops on his bike, feeling like he’s living some ominous countdown until he sees her again.

When he gets to the hospital, he keeps his head down until he gets into the residents’ lounge. It’s mercifully quiet; he looks at his watch and realizes that against all odds, he made it to work a half hour early.

He changes into his scrubs. He’s got time before he has to go on rounds, so he sits at the round table, pulls out his notebook, and gets back to studying. He knows he’s always been good at this part: it’s why he was salutatorian in high school and second in his class in medical school.

He’s sketching out a response to a question in his study guide when he hears a knock on the open door. He looks up. Of course it’s her.

He feels the air go out of the room. He can tell she regrets having knocked, knowing full well she could have just kept walking through the hallway. He tries not to think about her hair – messy and loose around her shoulders – and focuses on looking her directly in the eyes.

“Hey,” he manages, sounding somewhat normal.

She stays mute for a moment, staring back at him, and her mouth opens and shuts a few times. He’s not sure what she’s planning on asking. Did she know he was “sick”? Did she even notice he was gone?

“Have you seen Helm?” Meredith asks. Her voice is oddly high-pitched and scratchy, like she’s got something in her throat. He’s about to tell her no when Schmidt flies around the corner and into her shoulder.

“Oh gosh, I’m sorry, Dr. Grey, I thought I was late.”

He watches Meredith shake it off and smile at him. “It’s okay, Schmidt. Have you seen Helm?”

Andrew takes this as his cue to look back down at his notes, having absolutely zero idea where he left off. He hears Schmidt tell Meredith that he hasn’t seen Helm, and when he looks up a moment later, she’s gone from the doorway.

You can do this, he thinks to himself. Be a grown up. Run your own life.

***

And, if he’s honest with himself, he can do it.

He rounds with Dr. Hayes, who is blissfully professional. Andrew compliments himself for how good he is at compartmentalizing, for enjoying working with the man who’s dating his ex-girlfriend, the woman he thought was the love of his life. Hayes trusts him, giving him interesting surgeries and tasking his interns with the scut.

He knows this whole façade he’s built – his ability to automate through the day – is hard-earned. A bipolar father, his mother’s death, and then the beating – he’s become expert in stowing his emotions away.

This isn’t necessarily harder, but it isn’t easier, either. He still has to see his mistake every day: see the woman he loves without him, and see the man who would otherwise be his mentor romance her.

His goal here is to be one hundred percent professional. Leave his emotions at home with Lucente and his journal. When he goes home, he can lose it all he wants.

That’s what he tells himself, all day. He avoids the cafeteria and buys lunch down the street from an execrable sandwich shop. He gets his coffee downstairs, and he stays in the residents’ lounge when not otherwise occupied.

He’s almost home free: he’s just finished surgery and is heading to the residents’ lounge to change when he’s crossing the bridge in the atrium and looks down and sees the two of them.

She’s leaning into him and laughing. He’s looking down at her, smitten. They’re both dressed casually and they turn toward the exit, hand in hand.

Andrew sits down right on the bridge and leans back against the cool glass.

On the one hand, it’s great. He’s seen them. The first time is always the hardest.

On the other hand, his heart has been ripped out of his chest and he’s watching it bleed out onto the floor in front of him.

He’s quite close to crying when he hears a throat clear.

“Deluca, you all right?” It’s Jackson, dressed casually, clearly heading home.

“Yeah man, I’m all right.” He lifts himself up off the ground.

Jackson looks at him, one brow raised. “No you’re not. I’m heading to Joe’s; care to join me?”

Andrew wants to say no. He wants to go home and nurse his broken heart with a beer, his guitar, and sleep.

He also knows that he’s friendless, and Jackson is the dinghy that’s going to drag him to shore before he drowns.

He assents and heads to the residents’ lounge to change. He grabs his bag from his locker and turns to leave when he hears something fall to the ground. He looks and sees a packet of brightly colored index cards on the floor.

He picks them up and thumbs through them. They’re well-worn and covered in scribbles with the occasional red wine stain, but they are undoubtedly someone’s set of study cards for the boards.

He has no idea who they’re from, but he appreciates the gesture. He tucks them into his pocket and heads toward Joe’s.

***

He’s three beers in with Jackson before he lets it out. Jackson has always been a good drinking companion, and he’s always been grateful to him for fixing his face. Jackson is quiet and doesn’t pry, which makes him ideal tonight. Until right now.

“Deluca, spill it.”

Deep breath in, and out, and he finds himself recounting the whole sorry business, up to and including Link and Nico telling him what a mistake he made. Jackson’s got no poker face, and he thinks he sees… disgust?

When he’s done, he finds his voice is shaky and his hands are trembling. He chugs back the rest of his beer.

Jackson looks at him. “You did a brave thing.”

Well, he wasn’t expecting that.

“How so?” He feels the beer coursing through his veins, deadening his senses.

“You can’t stay in a relationship with someone you think doesn’t respect you. Even if you love them, even if you want to have a family with them, even if they love you, someone who doesn’t respect your choices or your value – you were brave, Deluca. Not a lot of people would have stood up for themselves like that.”

Andrew’s honestly kind of amazed. He always assumed Jackson would be Team Meredith, all the way.

“Yeah, but now I’m regretting my decision. She’s with Hayes now. Clearly what I said had no impact. She went for someone on her level.”

Jackson rolls his eyes. “She might be with him, but I guarantee you, this is as much about you as it is about him. I’ve known Meredith a long time. Moving on isn’t something she does lightly. This has rebound written all over it.”

Andrew lets himself have a moment of hope before Jackson swoops in and crushes it. “That said, the woman has a lot of pride. If you wait for her to apologize to you, you might be waiting a long time.”

Andrew sighs and signals the bartender – whiskey, neat, two of them. He might regret it in the morning, but he needs it now.

The conversation evolves into other topics – Jackson’s daughter and her ongoing quest to collect every clothing item with a bear on it west of the Mississippi, the latest gossip on Webber, and general hospital goings-on. Andrew relishes the normalcy of it; for once, he’s not thinking all about how he fucked up his own life.

“That reminds me,” Jackson says, as he finishes up his whiskey, “are you prepping for the boards?”

“Yeah, of course,” Andrew says. “Started a while ago, been putting aside time every day, pouring over old cases and notes.”

Jackson smiles. “Good for you. I’m not worried about you at all.”

Andrew’s reminded of the cards he found in his bag. “That reminds me, though. I found these earlier – they were in my bag and I don’t know who put them there. The handwriting isn’t any I recognize. Do you know whose these were?” He pulls the rubber-banded pack of cards out of his pocket and slides it toward Jackson. Jackson picks them up and thumbs through them.

“Oh man. These are Torres’ cards!” He laughs and grins.

“Wait. Torres as in Arizona’s ex?”

“Yeah. You met her, right?”

“Of course I did, but why the hell would she give me her cards? Doesn’t she live in New York now?”

Jackson’s grin gets wider. “Torres took the boards before we did, and she picked one resident to prep in our year. Guess who that was.”

Andrew’s a little dumbstruck. Why would she…?

Jackson laughs, again. “I told you, rebound. If you’re looking for an apology from Meredith Grey, this is as close to one as you’re going to get.” He pushes back from the bar. “I gotta get home, April’s bringing Harriet over in the morning. You okay?”

Andrew feels as close to okay as he thinks he can. “Yeah, man. Thank you. This was – thank you.”

Jackson grabs his shoulder, a friendly gesture. “Anytime.” He turns and heads for the door, his bag slung over his shoulder.

Andrew signals for the check and lets the evening’s revelations cycle through his head.

Rebound.

Study cards.

Apology. Respect.

Even if Hayes is just a rebound – even if he’s just the guy Meredith’s with to get over him – he knows he has to accept it.

It’d be easier to accept if he did some rebounding of his own.

He grabs his phone and opens his dating app. A plethora of matches – he feels slightly smug about it – and he begins to sort. One, in particular, catches his eye – Laura, loves running, working for the state government, has a dog.

“Here goes nothing,” he thinks to himself, and taps out a hello.

Chapter Text

When he blinks awake, he’s momentarily confused.

The window should be over there, the shade should be closed, and his phone should be on that table.

After a few seconds, it clicks in his brain. He’s not at his place. He’s not at Meredith’s place. He’s at… Rebecca’s? He’s a little ashamed that he can’t remember her name on his first try.

He scrambles for his phone – it’s on the floor – and picks it up to check the time. 3:30am. Plenty of time for him to sneak out. His sleeping partner this evening – and now that he’s been awake for a minute, he remembers it’s definitely Rebecca – appears to be a heavy sleeper. She’s snoring, lightly, and has a pillow over her head.

He doesn’t feel bad, sneaking out. He thinks they were both scratching an itch. They’d met for drinks late, and had gotten along reasonably well, and he even felt the faint buzz of chemistry. She didn’t look a thing like Meredith, an average-height brunette with glasses, but she was funny and worked at a biotech startup and could carry a conversation.

When they tumbled into bed, he had been seized by a feeling of disloyalty, of betrayal. Not of Meredith, who, by his account, has forgotten who he is, but of himself. He told himself to let it go. Focus on the woman in front of him.

They had sex dispassionately, clinically. Moments with Meredith tumbled through his head, of arching spines and soft skin, of blonde hair and long hot showers, of gasps and cries. He’d feel guilty, but he knows that he and this woman – this is all they will ever be to each other.

It seemed like they were both getting what they needed. She told him he could stay as long as he wanted, but she didn’t appear to want to keep him there.

Andrew felt Meredith stir next to him. They’d both fallen asleep, a pile of sweaty skin and sheets and joy, after the kind of evening he’d dreamed about for months.

He can tell she’s probably confused – this is not her bedroom, nor her bed. He feels her hand slide across his hip and around him, and her body press up against his back. It’s the middle of the night, but the feeling of her naked next to him has him wide awake. He turns to look at her, and the wicked look in her eye tells him they’re not getting back to sleep for a while.

He stares at the ceiling, leaning his head back against the crook of his elbow. He’s slightly proud of himself. This is another big step he’s taken: a big step to get past Meredith and get past Seattle. Get past over-emotional, youthful, addicted-to-love Andrew. New Andrew can meet women on Tinder and not get attached. New Andrew is going to ace his boards. New Andrew is going to really crush this next phase of life.

He wiggles out of bed – no need to wake her – and shimmies into his jeans and pulls on his sweater. He should get home, get a few hours of sleep, before he has to head back to the hospital.

He remembers leaving Meredith little notes before he left in the morning. “You’re amazing.” “You’ve changed my whole life.” “I think we need more laundry detergent. Also, I love you.”

Love, admiration, domesticity. He’s left all that behind, and he leaves it behind again as he sneaks out Rebecca’s door.

When he gets on his bike in her complex’s parking lot, a momentous emptiness hits him.

He never wanted this to be his life. He’s never wanted a one-night stand, and even for how good-looking he knows he is, he’s never taken advantage of it. Until tonight. He can’t even blame alcohol – it’s not like they had more than a few drinks.

He chooses the rationalizing route. This is a vestige of old Andrew, he tells himself. A serial monogamist who would be horrified that he’d just slept with a woman for whom he had no real feelings. New Andrew can do this, and New Andrew will.

*** 

He sleeps a few hours and when his alarm goes off, realizes that he’s got a day of studying ahead of him. He’ll go into the hospital, but he deliberately scheduled today so he’s only rounding, not operating, and he can spend most of the day reviewing his cases and his cards.

In the shower, he runs over everything in his mind.

It’s been two months, at least, since she started dating McWidow (as he heard one of the nurses call him). In that time, Andrew’s been on a handful of dates, slept with one woman, studied for his boards, and sent in all of his fellowship applications.

He’s been efficient with this breakup. Made the most of the time he’s been afforded. His applications have flitted off to the ends of the earth. New York. Atlanta. London. Rome. Paris. Singapore.

He hasn’t applied for a single fellowship on the West Coast. Changed his online dating profile to “casual.”

He’s allowing himself to be proud of this. He’s not wallowing on the couch or weeping inconsolably. He is getting on with his life. He is trying to make his own career, his own happiness. He cannot live in the ruins of his old life forever.

So he sits down in the coffee room downstairs, piles of papers and books around him, where no one is likely to notice him. He drinks a few Americanos, mindlessly crunches on vegetables, and commits to memory his entire surgical career to date.

Looking at this past year has proven most difficult. So many cases with Meredith’s name on them. So many moments of joy and heartbreak and love and the two of them.

They were lying on his couch, her folded into his arms. It was late, and quiet, and he feels like they are both enjoying the calm. They’d spent all day in the OR with a complex appendectomy. He took the lead, and it was tricky, but they prevailed.

“You made good choices today, Andrew,” she mumbles into his neck. Her hand crept under his t-shirt and absentmindedly stroked his abdomen, but her words threw him off that path.

“How so?” he mumbles back, eyes still closed and breathing still regular.

“Just… you didn’t make a wrong move. You were thoughtful and confident. I didn’t question anything you did, and you know how hard that is for me.”

He laughs, and she giggles in response, a low hum that always thrills him.

“Thanks, Mer. It was easy with you there.” She resumes her hand’s wandering, and all surgical talk was banished for the rest of the evening.

Rather than linger on the personal – that memorable night, or the following morning, when she’d refused to let him get out of bed – he lingers on the professional. A successful outcome. He outlines his choices – choices she’d led him to make.

He’s writing up another case when he hears familiar voices in the doorway. It’s her, of course, and Dr. Shepherd.

“Meredith, I can’t even drink coffee, why am I down here?”

“I needed a break away from the residents. They’re studying for the boards and I can’t deal with it.” Of course, this is when he looks up, and her eyes meet his, and he wants to crawl away. But rather than longing or sadness, which he’s been feeling to some extent all day, he feels anger.

This is his spot. She owns the hospital. Can’t he have this one spot where nothing reminds him of her?

He doesn’t hear Amelia’s response, but sees Meredith’s eyes drift to the table he’s at, brightly colored cards strewn across it. There are a few empty coffee cups and an empty Tupperware, once filled with carrot sticks. The detritus of his board study.

Amelia turns her focus to him. “Deluca, what are you doing down here?”

“Just studying, Dr. Shepherd. It’s quiet down here.” He’s amazed at how modulated his voice sounds – has he convinced himself this much?

“I don’t know how you do it. I used to listen to punk rock while studying. The only thing that kept me focused.” She smiles at him, a warm, open smile, and he remembers that she’s always liked him, dating her sisters be damned. He’d make her coffee in the morning and she’d always thank him, make sure to ask him about what was going on with him. He appreciated it. He appreciates it now.

He wakes up on his usual side of the bed, Meredith’s arm thrown over his back. He wants to stay, so badly, but he should go downstairs and help everyone get ready. It’s only been a few weeks that she’s been comfortable with him being here, and there’s been a lot of drama, but he knows that, everything else be damned, he can be reliable.

He throws on a t-shirt and some sweatpants and heads downstairs. It’s quiet, so he tries to keep quiet as well – as quiet as he can be with the coffee grinder going.

Maggie and Zola come down at the same time, and Zola gives him a high five when he tells her he packed her favorite for lunch.

Meredith comes down with Ellis and Bailey, everyone miraculously dressed and ready for breakfast. He hands Meredith a cup of coffee, and she nods a thank-you while getting everyone to sit at the table.

Amelia rolls in last, still in pajamas. “Where’s the coffee?”

Andrew grabs the cup on the counter. “Right here, Dr. Shepherd.” She gives him a blissful smile and takes a big gulp.

“Andrew, when we’re here, it’s Amelia. How’s the Evans kid doing?”

Andrew smiles sheepishly. “He’s okay. I checked on him last night, he was still a bit groggy, but oxygen levels and cognition were perfect.”

“You still gonna ride to work on the motorcycle?”

“Hey, I wear a helmet!” She laughs and goes to sit with her sisters, and he catches Mer’s eye – she’s looking at him with something akin to pride or happiness, he can’t quite tell.

***

“That’s funny,” he says, but doesn’t laugh, and he realizes how stupid that sounds. She nods at him and she and Meredith head to the counter. He looks down at his sea of notes and cards and feels adrift. If one interaction with her can throw him this off-kilter…

He’s glad he’s applying everywhere but here.

He ducks his head down, back to studying. Back to science, the only thing that makes sense. Meredith and Amelia leave, engrossed in a conversation about some case they’re on, and he doesn’t make an attempt to say goodbye.

He’s finishing up a sentence when he hears his name – the guy behind the counter, calling him.

“Yeah?”

“Americano, extra large.” He leaves it on the counter, and Andrew knows it had to have been either Amelia or Meredith. But he’s not sure which. He appreciates the gesture, and hunkers back down.

*** 

He stops by the pet store on the way home; he grabs some rocks and plants for Lucente’s bowl. Once he’s home, he surprises the fish with his new and improved digs, then sets about making himself dinner. He’d gotten so in the habit of making giant meals for multiple people and age groups that it seems silly to exert precious board-study energy on a nice meal for himself, but he decides tonight’s a good night to treat himself.

He’s busy caramelizing onions when he feels his phone buzz in his pocket. Worried that it’s a patient, he grabs for it, but sees that it’s a text from Amelia.

Well, that’s weird, he thinks to himself. He clicks on it.

Hope you liked the coffee. So it was her. He tries to manage his disappointment – it’s still a very nice gesture – and exhales before responding.

Well, I’m pretty sure you owed me after months of hand-brewed cappuccinos made to order, he responds. Thank you.

He rests his phone on the counter and goes back to cooking.

So his ex-girlfriend’s sister bought him coffee. That’s still more than his own sister does most of the time. It’s nice to be cared about, even if just in a passing, here’s a cup of coffee kind of way.

He’s sitting down to his dinner when he remembers his phone on the counter and goes to grab it.

It wasn’t me. But I didn’t tell you that.

Chapter Text

“Andrew,” he hears, faintly, pulling him out of sleep. “Andrew…”

He shakes awake, finding himself on the bottom bunk of an on-call room bed. His heart is racing and he thinks he might have been having a nightmare. His eyes blink to focus and he sees Meredith sitting on the bed next to him. “Andrew?”

“Yeah, sorry.” His brain snaps back in and he realizes he must have gone to sleep after Gabi’s surgery and telling Meredith he loved her. Everything feels slightly off-kilter and he doesn’t know how to interact – with himself or with Meredith.

She’s looking at him, her glance full of meaning he can’t parse. Her hand is resting on his thigh, the meaning of which he also can’t parse.

“Gabi’s awake, and we need to go talk to her and her dad.”

Maybe that’s why he can’t parse her meaning. She’s upset about Gabi.

“Yeah, okay.” He pulls himself up, and she pulls her hand away. He knows better than to make another move right now, and he’s certainly not going to say anything to her.

He faces her, perched on the edge of the bed, and her eyes search his face. He has no idea what she’s reading there right now, but he doesn’t expect what happens next.

She pushes him back against the wall, and kisses him with a ferocity he can’t place. She’s launched herself into his lap, her fists are full of his scrub shirt, and he’s giving back everything he can.

As soon as they’ve begun, she sits back, brushes imaginary dust off her pants, and heads for the door. “Come on, we need to go talk to them.”

He has no idea what the hell is happening. At all. So he gets up and follows her out the door.

***

When he’s rounding with Hayes and they get to Gabi’s room, Gabi’s face lights up. “Hola, Andrew!”

“Buenas dias, Gabi. What are you doing here?” He watches her start to respond – her grip on English has improved during her chemotherapy – but then hears Hayes’ voice cut in.

“Can we let one of your interns go ahead and explain what’s going on?” He’s characteristically brusque, but Andrew feels the slightest bit put off by his response.

Schmidt cuts in before he can start thinking too deeply. “Gabi Rivera, seven years old, gastrointestinal bleed second to neutropenia caused by chemotherapy. She’s been on antibiotics for the last few days and we think we can operate on the bleed.”

“Why isn’t General here?” Hayes asks.

Schmidt visibly blanches. “We’re waiting on the resident; he might have gotten caught up with Dr. Grey or Chief Bailey.”

Hayes shakes his head. “Where is Grey, then?”

Schmidt clears his throat. “Uh… hospital board thing. She’s not allowed on this case.”

Andrew can tell Hayes doesn’t want this to derail the presentation, so he goes on to describe the procedure and ask the interns a few more rounds of question.

While Hayes is doing that, Andrew’s mind drifts, wondering to himself about their relationship. Why doesn’t he know about Gabi? Does he not know about the whole mess? Her license? Any of it? Does he even know that she and I…?

“Deluca,” he hears, and snaps back into it.

“Yes, Dr. Hayes?”

“You’ll be primary on this one today. Make sure she’s prepped and ready.” Gabi and Hector look at him hopefully, but all he feels is a sinking pit in his stomach.

They all file out of the room, and Hayes pulls him aside. “I’m not making a mistake, am I? You’ve been on her case for months.”

Andrew gulps. “Yeah. I’m good.”

Hayes looks at him, brow furrowed. “You better be. Grey sings your praises.” He turns and walks away, and Andrew is stupefied.

She sings my praises? How?! What does he even know?

“That’s enough of that,” he mumbles under his breath, and walks off, with purpose, to prepare for surgery. His disastrous former lover and her boyfriend can wait; he needs another good outcome. For his boards; for Gabi; for himself.

And for Meredith, the back of his mind says, but he shoves that thought deep down.

***

When they wheel Gabi into the room, she’s smiling with her stuffed cat in hand. Andrew laughs. “Gabi, you can’t have that in here, you know that.”

“Si, but I thought you could put it in the window.” And so he does – or rather, Schmidt puts the cat in the corner of the scrub room window.

“She’s looking right at you, and she’s comfy there,” Andrew tells her, and Gabi smiles. The anesthesiologist puts the mask over her face, and Andrew wishes her sweet dreams.

The surgery is simple enough; she has a small GI bleed that they’d hoped would resolve, but it hadn’t, so here they are. Andrew gets to work, while Hayes stands at a respectful distance and watches. He adds nothing; he’s just there for the assist if needed.

It’s not needed; Andrew does a thorough, clean job, and when he closes and sends her to post-op he feels a sense of completion.

Until he leaves the OR and heads to the scrub room.

“You didn’t tell me how you’d been involved in this case, Deluca,” Hayes says. He's stationed at the scrub sink, scrubbing away at his nails.

“I mean, you knew I’d been on it, and knew the case. Wasn’t that enough?” Andrew doesn’t know how much to say, or how much Hayes must have found out between this morning and now.

“Insurance fraud on an undocumented kid? You went to jail?”

Andrew resolves to say as little as possible. “It was a learning experience, sir.”

Hayes lets out a mirthless chuckle. “You were too close to this case. I shouldn’t have allowed you to operate.”

“Sir, all due respect, but there’s a lot more to it than meets the eye.”

“Is there?” Hayes has a glint in his eye. “I’d love to hear it.”

Andrew knows he’s backed himself in a corner, now. “It’s not mine to tell.” He looks down at his hands, which he’s scrubbing red under steaming hot water.

“Whose is it, then?”

He’s tense, and worked up, and he can’t help what comes out of his mouth next. “Ask Dr. Grey.”

He sees Hayes’ eyes flash angry, and immediately regrets it. This is not the person he should be pissing off.

“I’d rather ask you,” Hayes says, and Andrew knows he can’t say anything else.

“I’d really rather not have this conversation. That’s all in the past. I’d like to check on Gabi now, if it’s all the same to you,” he says, and shuts off the water.

Hayes shakes his head. “You’re not checking on Gabi. The interns can do it. You’re off the case.”

Andrew feels redness flare at the back of his neck. “Can I ask what difference it makes, given I already did the surgery?”

Hayes looks directly at him, and it’s unnerving. “It makes a difference to me, and since you won’t clear things up, I’d rather not open the hospital up to liability. You’re off the case.” With that, he leaves the scrub room, and Andrew feels overwhelmed.

He mostly protected her. Not that she needs his protection; she has Hayes and his big, beefy, I’m-saving-the-children arms.

He didn’t protect himself. He remembers what Meredith said about an instinct for self-preservation and he knows he has to get better at that, especially now that he’s quite alone.

He moves to leave the scrub room but sees Gabi’s little cat in the window. He grabs it and exits, heading for her bed in post-op.

Hayes isn’t there yet, a small, saving grace. He gets to her bed and looks at her – vitals good, nurses attentive, ready to keep fighting this fight that she is entirely too young to have to wage. He puts the little cat next to her hand and turns to see both Meredith and Hayes walking into the post-op ward.

“Deluca, didn’t I tell you that you were off this case, like, two minutes ago?”

Andrew takes a deep breath. “Yes, sir. I’m sorry. I just saw – you know, her cat - ”

Hayes cuts him off. “An intern could have done that. Instead, you deliberately go against what I said. You need to leave. I told you, you’re too close to this case.”

Andrew stands there, dumbfounded. He looks from Hayes to Meredith, back to Hayes – they’re both looking at him. Hayes’ eyes are narrowed with contempt, anger, wrath, and Meredith’s – he recognizes nothing. Not pity, not anger, not concern – just a blank stare. She sort of shrugs her shoulders, and he knows she won’t defend him.

He sets his shoulders back. “Sorry, sir, you were right. There’s nothing for me here. I’ll go.” With that, he strides toward the door, letting it swing shut behind him.

***

How many times can it feel like the end?

He’s drowning his sorrows in a glass of whiskey at the bar around the corner from his apartment, having realized that Joe’s was no longer a safe space for him.

Today was a loss, front to back. He lost a favorite patient, a potential mentor, and the respect of his ex-girlfriend.

It’s all collateral damage. He torpedoed his relationship, and everything else is just shrapnel.

The collateral damage has got to stop.

Before he can stop himself, he turns to the girl at the bar – a short redhead on a laptop – and asks her if she’d like a drink. She smiles and nods.

Hours later, after they’ve returned to his apartment, after she picked her bra off the lampshade and headed for the door, he lies in bed and stares at the ceiling.

He doesn’t view her – or Rebecca, for that matter – as collateral damage.

And now that he thinks about it – he’s angry.

Why didn’t Meredith come to his defense in front of Hayes?

Why didn’t she explain to him what had happened?

He had received a text from Schmidt, while he and tonight’s companion had been doing fireball shots at the bar, that said that Gabi had woken up and was recovering well, and that she had asked for him.

He should have been there, to tell her how everything had gone, to promise her she was going to feel better, to make sure she was okay. But instead, he was here, with an anonymous redhead, making a desperate play to get in her pants so he couldn’t think about Meredith and Hayes anymore.

And now, in the dead of night, alone again, he is full of anger. He had protected Meredith, protected Gabi, protected the hospital. And he was getting shut out.

He feels betrayed in a way he hadn’t since he first found out about Meredith and Hayes.

He feels unglued.

***

He’s lying in bed with Meredith. It’s the middle of the day – they both had a free afternoon – and rather than spend it at the hospital, they went back to her place.

It’s still the first flush of fun, of lust, of joy, and as they languidly lie across her bed, he feels really whole.

“Do you want lunch?” he asks, looking at her across the bed. She’s naked, her head pillowed on her arms, and she smiles – a vibrant, quiet smile.

“I’d love some.” So he hops out of bed and heads downstairs wearing only his boxers – no one else is home – and starts shuffling through the cabinets and fridge to toss something together.

She comes down a few minutes later, dressed in a long t-shirt, and she wraps her arms around his waist while he stands at the stove. “Smells delicious.” She grabs a slice of pepper off the plate next to the stove and crunches, and he finds it utterly charming.

They’re smiling at each other and he’s considering ditching lunch and taking her back to bed when they hear her phone ring in the other room. Her smile falters and she runs for it. “Sorry.”

He turns back to the stove and suddenly hears a long string of curse words from the other room.

“Are you fucking kidding me? He said what?! That fucking piece of shit.” He whips his head round to get a look and she’s cross-legged on the couch, eyes ablaze.

“I swear to god, Cristina, if I were there I’d give him a piece of my goddamn mind. How dare he.”

The conversation goes on like this for some time, until Andrew switches off the stove and he hears her wish her best friend a good night and to “fucking kill that goddamn savage.” She pads into the kitchen, and it’s like night and day – she smiles broadly at him and strokes her hand down his bare back. “How’s lunch looking?”

“It’s ready, if you are,” and he turns and plants one on her. The kiss automatically deepens and she presses herself against him, and he leans back against the counter. Oh, he could stay like this forever.

“How about… I’m not quite ready for lunch yet,” and she looks at him with a deep glint in her eye.

He picks her up and carries her upstairs, picking up where they left off. It’s only later, once they’re snacking on cold grilled cheese sandwiches in bed, that he remembers to ask her what that phone call was all about.

“Oh, that,” she says dismissively. “A guy Cristina works with tried to steal first author on a paper they’re publishing, and she just found out about it.”

“Oh,” he mumbles softly, “that’s awful.”

“Yeah, so I told her, I know a guy at the journal, and he could really screw this guy, so she can keep that in her back pocket while she dukes it out with this guy.” She takes a giant bite of grilled cheese and he laughs.

“Do you really know a guy?” he muses aloud, and she looks at him like he has three heads.

“Of course I do. I’d never lie to Cristina.”

“Oh, okay.” And this is how he comes to understand the ride-or-die aspect of Meredith. He’s seen it with Alex, to his detriment. He wonders if he’d ever merit that level of loyalty.

He hopes so.

***

He wakes up still angry. He goes for a run around the neighborhood to burn off some of this nervous, angry energy. He knows he has to go into work and spend his day alongside the guy who humiliated him yesterday, and yet he knows that’s not even who he’s really angry at.

He’s more and more convinced that getting out of here is his best way forward. Everything at Grey Sloan is tainted; surgery, love, friendship. It’s time to get out.

And, he thinks, the timing couldn’t be better. He’s been interviewing for fellowships and his boards are in a few weeks. One way or another, he’s out.

He shakes images of Meredith out of his head and focuses on the future. This time next year, he could be in Rome. New York. Atlanta. Singapore. Geneva.

Correction – he will be.

By the time he gets back to his apartment, his rage has dissipated. He grabs his study materials, shoves them in a bag, and takes a quick shower before heading to work.

He can be sad, he can be angry. But he can’t let his only possible future – a future away from here – out of his grasp.

Chapter Text

When Andrew lands in Philadelphia, he feels a weight off his shoulders.

The last few weeks have been absolute hell – he’s been on his best behavior in front of Hayes, has been avoiding Meredith, and has been holing up in his apartment studying for most of it. He’s been looking forward to this – not just because he finally gets the chance to become a real doctor, but because he is out from under the oppressive feelings he has in Seattle.

Philadelphia is new. Philadelphia is interesting. Philadelphia is where he’s going to take his certifying exam to become a pediatric surgeon. Philadelphia is a big step for New Andrew, and New Andrew is going to enjoy taking it.

He gets to his hotel – nice enough, he supposes – and he goes through his pre-test checklist and rituals. He’s got a full day before the test starts, and there’s no use cramming, so he decides to take a walk around the city.

He’s looking at the Liberty Bell, having an “immigrant appreciating his adopted homeland” moment, when he feels a pair of arms grab him around his middle. They’re small, and freckled, and he can’t quite remember where he recognizes them from.

“Sofia! Slow down!” He hears Dr. Robbins’ voice and can’t help himself – a big, broad smile splashes across his face.

“Andrew! I suppose I should assume you’re here for the exam.” She smiles and gives him a big hug, and he realizes how much he’s missed her.

“Yeah. Just decompressing today, making sure my brain isn’t fried for tomorrow. What are you up to?”

“I’m an examiner,” she explains, grabbing for Sofia’s hand. “Not your examiner, of course, but someone else’s.”

“I feel sorry for them,” he laughs, and she smiles.

They walk around, catching up on professional news. He tells her about cases he’s had, work he’s done, his fellowship applications, and she tells him about all the work she’s doing with Dr. Herman. He hears a few scattered references to Callie and their new life, but she mostly sticks to work.

“I saw your application,” she mentions, and he feels his stomach squeeze. “It was impressive.”

“Really?” He’d assumed the New York program was out of his reach.

“Yeah. You’re on our shortlist. Not that I should be telling you that, of course. What made you change your mind about pediatrics?”

“A couple cases I worked on, I really bonded with kids, and Karev told me I was good with them. I figured he of all people wouldn’t lie to me about that.”

Arizona’s face falls and she reaches out and grabs his forearm. “Is it okay, working with him now?”

“Well, I don’t work with him anymore, obviously, since he left for Pac North,” he says, dancing around the subject. “But working with him before was fine.”

Arizona nods, her eyes narrowing. “And how is that whole… situation? We heard bits and pieces, and obviously I saw Meredith’s piece online, but I’ve been out of the loop on the gossip.”

He gulps – this is not what he needed today. “Fine, honestly. Dr. Grey is back at Grey Sloan and Pac North is improving.”

Arizona’s eyes narrow again. “Mhm.” She calls Sofia, who’d run a few yards ahead, and Sofia doubles back to them. “Tomorrow, after your exam, want to do dinner? We have plans tonight, seeing some of my family out here, but I’m free after. Unless you’re heading straight back to Seattle.”

Andrew weighs it in his mind for a moment. He knows if he goes to dinner with her, the truth – or some version of it – will come out. But he needs a friend, he’s always liked Arizona, and their friendship has always had compartments, anyway. “Sounds great. I’m in.” He gives her a hug, waves goodbye to Sofia, and heads back to his hotel.

***

Test day.

He wakes up early, having slept fitfully the night before. He does a quick workout in the hotel gym – surely surrounded by the other futures of pediatric surgery on the treadmills – and puts on his suit. He forces down a hotel breakfast, letting it soothe his frazzled nerves.

He’s ready. He’s sacrificed almost everything about himself to get to this point.

When he walks into the venue and gets his packet, he knows he’s ready. He can do this.

***

At the end of the day, he knows.

He knows he nailed it.

Call it machismo, call it self-confidence; his examiners were clearly impressed with his answers and his ability to keep calm under pressure.

He walks out feeling good. He’ll know by the end of the day and that’ll be that.

He heads back to the hotel and briefly considers swiping through Tinder, until he gets a text from Robbins about dinner. He’s meeting her at her hotel, so he changes into some more casual attire and heads out the door.

He’s managed to go most of the day without thinking of her. He’s concentrated on his work and his successes and failures. She’s played a tangential role in those, but he’s gone the day without thinking of her naked and in his bed.

Without thinking of his utter heartbreak and loss.

When he gets to Arizona’s hotel, he waits in the lobby for a minute, gathering his thoughts, before he texts her to let her know he’s there.

He’s going to have to talk about it tonight, before he gets on that plane tomorrow morning and heads back to everything complex and painful. So he needs to make sure that he’s in the right headspace.

She comes out of the elevator, sunny and bright, and he feels bad for having felt nervous about it.

“How’d it go?” she asks, though she would probably already know.

“I feel pretty good, actually,” he says, avoiding reading anything into her expression, and he offers her his arm as they head out the door to dinner.

“What’s Callie doing in New York?” he asks one day, while they’re sitting on the couch in her living room. Meredith has her legs crossed in his lap and she’s mindlessly eating apple slices and scribbling in her journal.

“I think she’s head of ortho at… Columbia Presbyterian, maybe? I forget.”

“Weren’t you guys close?” he asks, in that clueless way men have.

“Of course we were,” she responds, a hint of irritation in her voice, “but we were always more friends than anything else. I don’t keep careful track of her professional life.”

He nods, hesitant to continue this line of conversation but curious about the subject. “Why were you close with Callie, and not Arizona?”

Meredith looks at him, and he half-expects an outburst, but he’s surprised by her answer. “I knew her longer; she helped me with my boards, she’d been there for a lot. Even though Arizona was in the crash with me, I’ve always been closer with Callie. Just the way it was, I guess.”

He’s got nothing to say about that. He just rubs Meredith’s ankle, she smiles, and goes back to her journal, and he files another fact away for later consideration.

They’re halfway through dinner – and a bottle of wine – when the conversation takes an inevitable turn.

“What happened with Meredith, Andrew?” She looks him directly in the eye.

“Do we really…” he starts, annoyed, then realizes it’s pointless to argue. Their entrees aren’t even here yet. “Fine. I broke up with her.”

Her eyes narrow, but she doesn’t yell. “Why?”

“I’m not Derek, I’m not at her level, and I probably never will be.”

Arizona shakes her head, looks off to the side, looks down. When her head comes back up, he sees unshed tears in her eyes, and he immediately feels terrible.

“Arizona, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have…”

She cuts him off. “No. Andrew, that’s not it. I’m just sad for you both.”

He looks at her, curious. “…What?”

“It’s just… I thought you guys had a chance. I thought you maybe could make it for the long haul. You’ve both been through a lot.”

He grabs her hand across the table and she looks down at her lap again. “Arizona, is everything okay?”

She sniffs, loudly. “Callie and I, we’re back in counseling. It’s a lot. I was hoping for better for us, for you.”

Andrew’s heart clenches; he hates to see her cry. “Do you want to talk about it?”

She shakes her head, a firm no. “I just… I know where you’re coming from. That’s all.”

He gives her a little smile. “But hey, I’ve started dating again, and that’s not bad.”

“Anyone special?” She dabs her eyes with her napkin and grabs at her wine glass, taking a healthy swig.

“No, no one special. Just kind of biding my time until I hear about fellowships.” He doesn’t mean to create a conversation segue, but there it was.

“Smart. You wouldn’t want to start something when you’re coming to New York next year.” His head snaps up and he looks at her; she’s got a bemused smile on her face.

“That’s not funny,” he mumbles, willing his heart rate back down.

“I’m not making a joke. I told you, you’re on the shortlist. If today went as well as you think it did, you have a job in New York.”

Andrew feels lighter than he has in months, and he can’t help smiling. “Really?”

She half-laughs. “Don’t make me change my mind. You’d be a great fit for what we’re doing. We’re a new program, but we have a ton of partnerships around the city, and there’s no baggage for you here. Just you and a whole city of single women.”

He laughs at that. “I just… wow. Guess I really have to hope I did as well as I think I did.”

She smiles, and they keep talking. They talk through the night; what he wants to accomplish, where he sees himself, where she sees herself, catching up on all the gossip.

When he brings up Hayes, Arizona grimaces. “He’s right, on paper.”

Andrew, again, finds himself lost. “What?”

“Hayes. He’s good for her, on paper. Widowed, kids, pediatrics. Tough nut to crack. I’ve heard about him. But I just… I don’t think that’s what Meredith wants. Not that I ever really knew, but…” she drifts off, clearly thinking aloud.

Andrew sighs. “She doesn’t know what she wants. And he’s objectively better for her in almost every sense. That’s an easy equation to solve.”

Arizona shakes her head again. “I still don’t buy it.”

The check comes then, and Arizona insists on paying for it (“next one, in New York, is on you”). They walk out, pleasantly buzzed, smiling and yet melancholy.

He feels his phone buzz in his pocket. He looks at his watch – 10 pm, exactly when they said results would be emailed.

He grabs his phone, feeling anxiety crawl up and grasp his throat. He wasn’t nervous before, but now’s the moment of truth. Arizona looks on, hopefully. “I guess this is it, then.”

He opens the email, scanning the words.

He passed.

He’s a pediatric surgeon. He’s a board-certified pediatric surgeon.

A giant smile overwhelms his face, and he grabs Arizona in a big hug. “Maybe I’ll see you soon,” he says, and she laughs and hugs him back.

He walks her back to her hotel, then starts a meandering walk back to his.

This is his buoy, this is his life jacket, this is his future, this is his life.

***

He boards his flight in the early morning, having slept the sleep of someone who’s no longer a resident. He taps out an email to Chief Bailey to let her know the good news, though he’s sure she was notified somehow. He spends his flight mostly awake, fiddling with the crossword puzzle in the back of the airplane magazine and trying – and failing – to catch up on television he’s missed.

When he lands, it’s midday in Seattle, and he’s got a shift in a few hours. Rather than go home, he decides to head to the hospital, catch up on sleep for a few hours, and then go in for his shift.

His cab pulls up to Grey Sloan and he feels free. He can walk in here knowing that his future lies beyond its walls, that his mistakes can be left here, that his life can go on as if none of this ever happened. Next year, he’ll be in New York, or Singapore, or wherever the hell else he wants. He will be thousands of miles from Meredith, from Hayes, from a tortured set of years.

He drops his suitcase in the residents’ lounge – another place he can put behind him – and heads to an on-call room for his well-deserved nap.

No sooner has he shut off the light and laid down between the starchy sheets that the door opens and light shines in his eyes. The noise of the hospital filters in and he snaps. “D’you mind? Some of us are trying to sleep.”

The door slams shut and he thinks, for a minute, that whoever it was has left, and he flops back down on the bed.

“What the fuck do you think you’re doing?”

His blood runs cold. For the first time in months, he’s alone with Meredith.

Chapter Text

“What – “ he starts, propping himself up on his elbows in the bed. “What did I do?”

She’s looking at him, eyes ablaze. She has her arms folded over her chest, her fingers tapping her forearms, her eyes darting from him to the wall back to him. Her mouth opens and closes a few times.

“Meredith?” That was clearly the wrong thing to say, because she looks directly at him now.

“You think I wouldn’t find out you’re leaving?”

Andrew knits his brow and sits up straight, looking at her. “I… didn’t think it mattered?”

“Doesn’t matter?” she exclaims, hands in the air. “We trained you from scratch, we created you, and you don’t even consider Grey-Sloan for your fellowship?”

Andrew rolls his eyes, feeling his anger boil. If this is what she chooses to care about, then he’ll fight as though it’s what he cares about. “Jesus, Meredith. You can’t be that mad. Grey-Sloan isn’t even really known for pediatrics anymore, since Karev left, and I’ll have more opportunities in the future if I do my fellowship elsewhere. You know that.”

She glares at him. “If Karev is the saving grace of peds, why didn’t you go to Pac North then?”

He can’t believe this. They haven’t spoken in months and she wants to fight about his job? “Pac North doesn’t even have a fellowship program. Besides, I wanted to explore a new place. I’ve been in Seattle for years.” He supposes that’s halfway true.

She sighs, and looks off to the side. “Why didn’t you tell anyone you were leaving?”

Andrew is confused and angry. “Because I didn’t even know if I was going to pass the boards! Have you not heard about counting chickens before they’re hatched?”

“You didn’t even tell Bailey.” She’s glaring at him again.

“Because I didn’t need to! I’m a grown adult, fully capable of making my own decisions, and quite frankly, neither she nor the head of Peds asked me to stay.” He looks directly at her, his own eyes blazing. This is the longest they’ve held eye contact since the day of the trial, and it’s unnerving. He’s enraged, confused, and upset, his earlier euphoria at having passed the boards having deflated the minute she started yelling.

He’s also, if he’s honest with himself, drawn to her.

He’s overcome by the need to wrap her in his arms and tell her he’s sorry, tell her he takes it back, tell her he would love to stay in Seattle, tell her to leave Hayes and come back to him. But he can’t, and he doesn’t, so he stands up and leans against the pole of the bed, folding his own arms and looking directly at her.

Her earlier blazing eyes have been replaced by a softer, sadder look. She opens and closes her mouth again, before casting a glance off to the side. He wills his arms to stay at his sides.

“You didn’t even tell me.”

He feels his heart break a little with that, before the crack fills up with anger. “I didn’t think you’d care. You seem perfectly happy.”

Her eyes narrow. “It’s none of your business how I feel.”

He stares at her. “And it’s none of your business why I’m leaving.”

Détente. They stand there, looking at one another.

“Why are you leaving, Andrew?”

He exhales. “You know very well why.”

“I need you to tell me.” She’s glaring again.

The rage bubbles up again. “Because there’s no future for me here, Meredith. Not in this hospital, not with these doctors, and not with you. You and, quite frankly, everyone else have made that clear. I’m not spending my life surrounded by reminders of how I fucked up. I’m a good doctor and I don’t deserve to be reminded, every day, of my failings.”

He sees her eyes well up, and for the second time in twenty-four hours, he feels guilty for having made a woman he cares about – in this case, a woman he loves – cry. He again wills his arms to his sides, but he takes a step closer.

“I can’t go through life not knowing what I’ve missed, Meredith. I might be really, really happy somewhere else, and I’d rather be happy thousands of miles away than miserable and distracted here. Surely you can see that.”

She nods, looking off to the side. “You didn’t fail here, though.”

Rage, again. “I did. I failed Gabi, I failed the hospital, I failed you when I broke up with you. I’ve spent months trying to be the best pediatric surgeon I can be, and it hasn’t worked. There is too much history here, and not enough of a future. I need to leave. I need a clean slate.”

“You didn’t fail Gabi and you didn’t fail the hospital. I told Cormac-“ and Andrew winces at this- “that he was wrong to have kicked you off her case. You did what you thought was right and you did it to protect her. And the hospital.”

“Don’t you see, none of that matters?” He feels like he’s drowning, like he’s in a conversation he can’t win. “This is where I lost Sam, where I lost you, where I had some of the worst years of my life. And I have to walk on eggshells around the one person who could help me grow here. That’s no way for me to work, or live. I needed out.”

Her next line is quiet, spoken to the floor. “But you didn’t need to leave Seattle.”

“Meredith,” he whispers, “I do. I really do.”

Her head shoots up, and he sees the unshed tears again. “Why?”

He wills his hands down – away from brushing the tears away from her face. His arms are at his sides, and he unfurls and furls his hands into fists to try to keep himself from reaching out to her. She’s close, now – they’ve been taking steps closer and closer to one another. He could just reach up and –

No. He can’t. “Meredith. I can’t do this.”

Unexpectedly, she explodes. “You broke up with me. You have proven yourself capable of doing whatever you want.”

“I broke up with you because I was never anything more than Andrew to you.”

“What the fuck does that mean?”

It’s freeing to have this conversation after so much time has passed, but it’s ripped his wounds wide open again, and Andrew feels vulnerable and trapped. “It means what it meant months ago. I’m not your equal.”

She looks furious. “I don’t know where you got the idea that we’re not equals. I’ve worked alongside you for years. We’ve more or less lived together, more than once. We were good together. You broke up with me on one of the worst days of my life. If this is some kind of male ego thing, then…”

Andrew feels something burst inside of him. “It’s not a male ego thing. I loved you when you could have crushed me like a bug. Equals has nothing to do with our jobs, it has to do with how we love each other. That was unequal. I’d have done anything for you, Meredith, but you wouldn’t do the same for me. We’re not equals. Even now, I’m not. I can never be what you want and I can’t want to be that anymore. I’ll drown.”

She looks deflated. “I can’t change my past, Andrew. You’re not the father of my children and you didn’t hold my hand in the delivery room, but that doesn’t mean I love you any less.”

He hears it. “I love you.” It sends chills up his spine.

“You can’t do this to me, Meredith.” He turns around and paces toward the wall. He stares at the floor.

“I haven’t done anything.”

He spins around, and she’s leaning against the door.

“You just told me you love me. You can’t do that.”

She smirks, and he feels the rage again. “You told me whatever you wanted, I told you what I wanted.”

The pressure on his chest is overwhelming.

***

The car pulls up to the house, and he breathes a sigh of relief.

Nothing is fixed, but nothing is quite broken yet, either.

He turns and smiles at her, and she looks at him with her ice-blue eyes. “Let’s go inside.”

He feels crusty, for lack of a better word, from his night in jail. He needs a shower and to brush his teeth. They head inside and it’s silent – kids at school, Amelia and Maggie at work.

“Go ahead and take a shower,” Meredith tells him, and he nods gratefully and heads up the stairs. When he gets to Meredith’s bedroom, he strips off all his clothes – they should be bleached, he thinks – and heads straight for the shower.

He stands under the hot water, scrubbing his skin off, letting the soap run down his body.

She loves him. She said it back.

For all of the horrific mess of the last twenty-four hours; she loves him back.

He smiles.

He feels a hand on his back and knows she’s come to join him. He spins her in his arms, holding her close while the water pours through her hair and down her back.

“I wanted to wait until you’d washed off all your jail funk,” she laughs, and he kisses her soundly. He was all too happy to go to jail for her if it meant they could spend the afternoon, the rest of their lives, like this. He presses her up against the glass and runs a hand down her face; she looks up at him, and he’s overwhelmed by his feelings for her. She presses herself against him and he’s done, lifting her up against the glass. They make love slowly, her legs wrapped around him, their cries echoing throughout the room. As their heart rates slow and her feet get back on solid ground, she rests her head against his chest.

“I love you, Meredith,” he mumbles, stroking her hair, and he hears her exhale.

“I love you.”

***

He shakes his head. “You can’t.”

She takes a step forward. “I can, and I did.”

“I’m leaving, Meredith. I can’t stay here. You have a life with Hayes, with your kids. I can’t stay here.”

“Is that what’s stopping you?” She takes another step forward.

“This doesn’t change anything,” he says, feeling like a disembodied voice. “I’m still leaving.”

“Even if I love you?”

“It doesn’t matter if you love me, Meredith, it matters that when it came time for you to stand up for me, you didn’t. Not with me, not with him, not with anyone.” He steps closer. “I don’t regret a single moment of being with you. I regret letting you go. I regret hurting you. But I can’t spend my life waiting for you to decide if you love me enough to stand by me.”

They’re toe-to-toe, now, in the middle of the room. She’s looking up at him, eyes wide with unshed tears; he’s looking down, still willing himself not to touch her.

She rests a hand on his chest, and he feels it burning through his t-shirt; his fists keep furling and unfurling at his sides.

“Andrew,” she says, drawing out his name, “you’re a coward, and I only want you.”

It’s too much. Her hand on his chest, her eyes blazing at him. He can either push her away or he can fall.

He chooses to fall.

Their lips meet, and it’s like no time has passed. Her arms wind around his neck and his hands, willed to his sides for so long, wrap around her. They stumble backward into the door, and he quickly reaches down to engage the lock. If this were any other time, any other moment, they’d laugh.

***

She pages him to the blue-light room; he actually hadn’t been in there, yet, but was hoping there was a good reason for him to be there now.

When he enters, there are no patients; just Meredith, relaxing in one of the chairs, eyes closed.

He clicks the lock with his thumb as he closes the door behind him.

He quietly settles in the chair next to Meredith, slipping his hand into hers while she sits. She turns to him, slowly opening her eyes. Her thumb strokes the base of his palm, leaving a trail of fire behind it, and they stare at each other for a brief moment.

“I missed you today,” she whispers, looking down at where their hands meet. He swallows, feeling desire and love bubble up inside of him. It’s only been since this morning that he hasn’t seen her – he left after handing Amelia her coffee – but he feels like it’s been an eternity.

He knows this is just what it’s like when you’re falling in love, but the fact that it’s her… he could get used to falling in love with her.

Their thumbs continue their duel, desire licking up his spine, when she suddenly stands, turns, and sits atop him in his chair. Her knees frame his hips, and her hands fall behind his head on the back of the chair.

“Yes?” he grins, stroking one hand down her arm and gently grasping her hip with the other.

“Like I said, I missed you.” She leans down to kiss him. It’s never enough, and their hands begin to snake around each other’s bodies. “Wait.”

He pulls back, trapped between her and the chair, and searches her face. “What?”

Her eyes dart toward the door, then back to him. “Did you lock that?”

He laughs and reaches for the hem of her shirt. “Fuck yeah I did.”

***

Her hands slip under his t-shirt and pull it off; he hears her practically purr. He grabs at her scrub top and pulls it up to reveal just a camisole, something he knows she wears when she’s tired and busy.

“Andrew,” she says breathlessly, looking up at him, “please.”

They’d always been so in sync; it feels strange to him that he should feel so lost now. He picks her up and carries her to the bed, stretching himself over her and capturing her lips again. He has no idea what she was pleading for.

They divest themselves of their clothes quickly, and he takes his time to memorize the planes of her body that he’d forgotten. They’re both overwhelmed, grazing full palms over each other’s skin, greedily touching what’s been forbidden for so long. He runs his fingers through her long, blonde hair, and she weaves her hands through his brown curls, messy from travel. When he takes her, he stifles her moan with a hand over her mouth, and she sinks her teeth into his pinky finger. The pain mixed with pleasure is divine, and he buries his face in her neck.

When they’re finished, they’re wrapped around each other, a tangle of limbs and perspiration. He pushes her hair back from her face and they regard each other solemnly.

“Andrew,” she rasps, voice scratchy with exertion, “what now?”

He’s overwhelmed. She still loves him. He has no idea what any of this meant, but she loves him still.

And he’s leaving.

He feels emotion bubble up in his chest, emotions he hasn’t allowed himself to feel since the three days he locked himself in his apartment. He keeps looking at her – the ice-blue eyes, the messy blonde hair – and he presses his lips together to keep from crying.

“Meredith,” he whispers, his voice low, and he pulls her toward him and presses a kiss to her forehead. She rests her head on his shoulder.

This is all he wanted, for the longest time. For some of that time, he even had it.

But he can’t just pretend the past few months haven’t happened.

“I can’t,” he whispers, and he feels a few tears stream down his face. She turns into him, and he squeezes his eyes shut. “I just… I can’t, Meredith. Getting past this was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.”

She nods, a resigned shake of her head. “I know.”

“He’s better for you, anyway.” He sees her eyes freeze while she looks at him, and she pushes back.

“I suppose.” And with that, the spell is broken; she stands up and gets dressed, pulling her wayward hair into a ponytail. Andrew lies there, beneath the sheets, looking at the ceiling. She moves toward the door and rests her hand on the handle – the hand that, until a minute ago, had been resting on his chest.

“He’s better for me, yes. But I still love you, Andrew, and you’re still a coward.” She turns the handle and is out the door, leaving Andrew shell-shocked and empty.

Chapter Text

When he arrives home after his shift, he collapses onto his couch immediately.

Lucente is flipping about in his bowl, so Andrew walks over and taps a few flakes in.

He stares at the fish as he mouths his dinner, and is assaulted by memories of what happened before his shift began.

Meredith, pressed up against the door.

Meredith, looking up as she sank to her knees in front of him.

Meredith, arching beneath him and above him.

Meredith, saying “I love you.”

Meredith.

He feels goosebumps up and down his arms.

You’re a coward.

You’re not, he thinks to himself, defending himself from imaginary Meredith. She wasn’t invested in you. That was breakup sex. She has a boyfriend.

You’re still not her dead husband.

He sits back on his couch, watching Lucente swim around the bowl.

What did it really mean?

She said he loved him – and he was the one who couldn’t say it back, this time.

It’s not that he doesn’t love her anymore.

It’s that he can’t let himself be hurt like that anymore.

Andrew Deluca, forever doomed to be unlucky in love. Andrew Deluca, homewrecker. Andrew Deluca, no self-control, nice to meet you.

Letting Meredith back in – that’s asking for a world of hurt. Hurt that, at this point, he doesn’t think he can afford.

Doesn’t think he can survive.

He exhales a breath he didn’t know he’d been holding, gets up, and heads for the fridge. He sends a silent thanks to himself three days ago for buying a six-pack and grabs one. He feels his phone vibrate and reaches into his pocket; he’s not on call, so he doesn’t know what to expect.

It’s an email. From the fellowship he’d applied to in Singapore.

It’s an offer.

He cracks open that beer, smiling to himself in his kitchen.

His options are open.

***

He repeats the same process in the coming days; fielding calls or opening emails.

He gets Rome. Singapore. Atlanta. Waitlisted in Baltimore.

Arizona sends him a long-winded email about what he can expect in New York. Two days later, he receives a formal email about his offer; money, travel stipend, lab time.

He knows most residents use these opportunities to drum up bidding wars; get more cash, research labs, assistants.

He just wants out, so he puts everything he knows in a spreadsheet and stares at it. Salary and distance from Seattle are the metrics he’s after.

He’s staring at the spreadsheet in the resident’s lounge – where he doesn’t quite belong, right now, but where he still is – when his sister floats in.

“Andrea,” she murmurs, sitting down next to him. “Annnnndrea…..”

“Yes, Carina, I hear you,” he says, tearing his eyes from the screen. “What do you need?”

She sneaks a look at his screen. “New York and Singapore?”

“Who told you that you could look at that?” He snaps the screen shut, smiling at her, but she looks at him, stricken.

“You’re leaving?”

He kicks himself. He’s been so selfish – so self-absorbed – these last few months, he hadn’t even told his sister about his fellowship applications.

“Oh god, Carina…” he trails off. He sees tears brim in her eyes as she looks at the wall behind him. He leans into her and puts his arms around her. “I’m sorry.”

She pulls in a shaky breath. “It’s okay. I understand. You need to get away.”

“Yeah, but that’s no reason not to warn you…”

She smiles, a small uptick of one corner of her mouth. “I guess this is what I get for dating all your exes.”

He laughs at that, squeezing her hand. “New York is the best offer.”

“It’s also still in this country. Please, Andrea, don’t make me go halfway around the world to torture you.” She smiles at him and he smiles back. She’s always on his side, somehow.

“I know. It’d be the easiest, anyway. And you could come visit me, and see Arizona.”

She shakes her head. “I don’t want to fly across the country just to see my ex-girlfriend.”

He looks at her. “I can relate.”

She laughs. “Maybe we can meet in… where is the godawful place you and Mama moved to? Wisconsin?”

He giggles. “Yes, Wisconsin. You’ll fit in well there.” They both fall into a giggling fit.

“When will you leave?”

“I have to make my decision first,” he says, like he’s picking a pizza topping, “and then maybe a month or so? I can finish up in Seattle.”

“Can I ask a question?” she says. He nods. “Did the hospital not make you an offer?”

He looks confused for a moment, then realizes she means Grey-Sloan. “I didn’t apply here, actually.”

Her brow knits. “I wonder who they’ll get in pediatric surgery.”

His confusion deepens. “What about Dr. Hayes?”

She shakes her head. “He came out here on a six-month contract and chose not to extend it, apparently. I found out this morning, he operated on one of my patients and told me he’s heading out soon.”

He’s a little struck by this. “Heading out where?”

She shakes her head again. “He didn’t say. He just said he was leaving.”

His body fights the urge to jump up and immediately shake down the nearest scrub nurse to get the gossip. Did they break up? Is she moving with him to Scotland? Did he find out about the on-call room?

Carina snaps her fingers in front of his face. “Andrea!”

“What?” He looks at her dazedly.

“What did you do?”

“Nothing!” It comes out too quickly, too sharply, for her to believe him.

“Oh, Andrea. You slept with her.”

He swears she has x-ray vision. “I…”

“She broke up with him, you know. Before you go crazy thinking about it.”

His jaw drops a little bit. “What? This week?”

She shakes her head. “A few weeks ago. I only found out this week, though.”

His mind is whirling. So at least I didn’t break them up, he thinks to himself. I’m not a homewrecker.

She shakes her head again. “Andrea, you’re an idiot. I don’t know what you think you’re doing.”

He stares down at the floor for a moment.

“I… I am… giving myself a chance.”

“What does that mean?”

He takes a deep breath and looks up at her. “I tend to be codependent.”

She smiles. “I think it’s genetic.”

“I want to know what I can do. What I am capable of. I just became a surgeon, an actual, real surgeon. I want to know what I can do without all that.” He gestures with “all that,” hands waving in the air, referring to the women he’s loved and the life he’s lived around them.

“And,” he takes a deep breath, “I don’t think I can be with anyone while I figure that out.”

Carina smiles again, a broad one he rarely sees. “I’m proud of you, Andrea.”

It’s his turn for his brow to knit. “Why, exactly?”

“You told me she didn’t respect you the way she respected her ex-husband. You told me you just didn’t think you could be what she wanted. But now, now… you respect yourself.”

He grins. “I guess I do.”

She leans in and hugs him, burying her face in his shoulder. “I love you, Andrea. Just please don’t go to Singapore.”

He laughs. “I’ll let you know. I promise.”

***

In the end, he takes his sister’s plea to heart. He tells Arizona he’d be thrilled to join her in New York.

He begins the process of packing up his life in Seattle. He reverently packs his records away, cushioned between layers of bubble wrap. He snugly packs his books, which he’d had no time for over the past few years, and entertains hopes of rereading his favorites in his apartment in New York.

He ponders talking to Meredith, but she’s scarce in the hallways. When he does see her, she’s with other people, or she disappears down a hallway or into a patient room. He doesn’t even know what he’d talk to her about.

Arizona warns him about Manhattan real estate, so he finds an apartment off the Graham Avenue stop in Williamsburg – he can bike to work – and begins to write that address on all his boxes.

It’s his last week at Grey-Sloan, and he’s finishing up his cases. He’s jotting down some notes at the nurse’s station outside the ICU when he feels a tap on his shoulder. He looks over, and it’s Alex. “Hey.”

He feels unsettled, like he’s back to avoiding him in the ER and constantly nervous in his presence. Even when he had been with Meredith, he’d always been slightly uncomfortable around Alex.

Every time he saw his face, he remembered flashes of what happened to him in their apartment. He remembered not being able to see out of his left eye. He remembered the gnawing pain in his collarbone, one that sometimes returns on especially rainy days.

It makes him feel better to read the same level of discomfort in Alex’s face.

“Hey. What are you doing here?”

“Consult.” He supposes that makes sense, since Hayes left a week ago and there’s no chief of pediatrics. “Do you have a minute?”

“Uh, yeah.” He finishes his scribbles and snaps his notepad shut. “What’s up?”

Alex looks off to the side, then looks back at Andrew. ‘She’s… well, just know I’d never do this if she weren’t important to me.”

Andrew starts to interrupt. “Alex, I don’t –“

“Deluca, she’s too important for you to run off like this.”

Andrew feels annoyed. “Are you her messenger?”

Alex frowns. “No. She didn’t ask me to say anything to you. She doesn’t talk about it. That’s how I know it’s a problem.”

He feels ice run through his veins. “Or it just means she doesn’t care.”

“Don’t be stupid, man. She cares about you. Don’t just go off to New York without saying anything to her.”

Andrew exhales forcefully. “She’s been keeping herself pretty scarce. I couldn’t say anything to her if I wanted to.”

Alex shakes his head. “You know where to find her if you need to. Just… don’t leave it like this.”

It’s Andrew’s turn to shake his head. “This is really none of your business, Alex.”

Alex looks… well, almost hurt, and Andrew feels a little bad. “I know. It’s not my business what you do, or what makes you happy, or any of it. But she’s my business. And she’s hurting. She would never say so. But you hurt her.”

Andrew interrupts. “She –“

Alex talks over him. “Shut up. I know she hurt you. But you can’t leave it like this. You still mean a lot to her.”

Andrew swallows his pride. “Okay. Thanks.”

Alex cocks one eyebrow. “Okay.” He offers his hand to Andrew. “Good luck in New York.”

Andrew, reluctantly, shakes it back. “Thanks.” He watches Alex walk off, and sinks deep into thought.

***

When he gets back to his apartment that night, full of boxes and recycling bags, he’s not quite sure what to do with himself.

He’s leaving in a few days; he’ll pack all of his belongings into a rented truck and take himself cross-country.

Well, himself and Lucente. He’s spent some time devising a way to bring the fish across the country without too much hassle; it involves a large plastic pipe, bubble wrap, and a sheet.

Everything he owns, minus what he needs for the next few days, is packed away. Even his guitar is in a box.

He pops off the cap of a beer he’s grabbed out of the fridge and surveys the room. There’s very little left to pack, and he has nowhere to be.

He’s still unsettled, not having had the time – or inclination – to consider the Meredith situation. He hadn’t been responsible for breaking them up. She’d called him a coward. She’d told him that she loved him.

He reaches for his phone and taps out a quick text to Amelia. He knows she’s on bed rest and maybe she could use some distraction.

Has your sister said anything to you?

He gets almost an immediate response. Yes. You’re lucky I can’t get out of bed, I’d flatten you.

Well, that’s a good sign. Is it a good idea or a bad idea to talk to her before I leave?

A few minutes go by, and he checks to make sure he sent it. He swigs his beer, looks into space.

Good idea. But spring it on her. If you give her time to prepare, she’ll waste you.

Noted, he types back.

So, he has to talk to her. But what – if anything – can he say?

He’s leaving. He still loves her. She still loves him. But he’s leaving, and he’s still not Derek.

He picks up his phone and dials Amelia. She picks up on the first ring.

“Hello, Helm. What do you need?” He waits until he hears a door click shut in the background. “Sorry. Maggie was in here. What’s up?”

“I don’t know where to start with her. Saying ‘I still love you, Meredith, goodbye’ doesn’t really seem appropriate.”

He hears a sigh. “Deluca, it’s not about that. You need to give her the opportunity to talk. You broke up with her and she hasn’t been able to talk to you since then. And Meredith needing to talk is groundbreaking.”

He laughs at that. “Yeah, I guess you’re right. But what then?”

Amelia blows a raspberry into the phone. “You are so fucking dense sometimes. Nobody knows, Deluca.”

He rolls his eyes. “So I just roll up to her house and say, ‘Sorry for the silent treatment, you broke my heart both before and after we broke up, but tell me how you’re feeling’? Is that right?”

Amelia’s yes in response catches him off guard. “You just have to listen. You’re so good at spewing your own emotional vomit. Let her spew hers for a change.” The line clicks off, and Andrew realizes he’s been hung up on.

He’ll go out to dinner with Carina tomorrow. He’ll talk to Meredith the night after that. Then – then – he’s leaving. Seattle will be the past. Old Andrew will be dead and buried.

He knows Carina is right – he’s regained self-respect, self-worth, self-assurance in the time since he broke up with Meredith. He feels confident again. He feels worthy. He feels like going to New York and doing this fellowship is entirely the work of New Andrew. New Andrew might be avoidant, but New Andrew is also successful and driven.

But Old Andrew is still in there, with sweaty palms and a heart full of broken glass. Old Andrew wants him to settle his scores with Meredith. Old Andrew wants him to declare his love and start over from the beginning, because there’s nothing as romantic as a new beginning, and after all, it worked with Sam.

He sets his phone down on the coffee table in front of him and sits back on the couch – the couch that, two days from now, will be in the back of a U-Haul.

He puts his beer down between his knees and brings the heels of his palms to his eyes, rubbing away the sleepiness and confusion. He stares into space, again.

These past few months have been all about himself – how to grow, how to get on with life, how to succeed without a support system. He feels good and confident. But he also feels empty, and he knows exactly from whence that emptiness comes. It’s why he got Lucente in the first place – it’s because he doesn’t feel whole without someone to care for.

The last time he felt whole was with Meredith. And he doesn’t know if he’ll ever be able to feel that again. He wants to give New Andrew a chance to succeed, to thrive. But he’s also not sure he wants to bury Old Andrew, full of hopes and dreams and love.

He needs to hear what Meredith has to say.

Chapter Text

Here he is, on her doorstep. It’s been months since he was here. The last time he was here, he told her that she needed time.

He’s been standing there for about five minutes, passing his car keys back and forth between his palms.

He talked about this with his sister last night, who told him he had nothing to lose, and he took a bit of that machismo with him when he got on his motorcycle to get here.

But now, that confidence has evaporated, and it’s pure butterflies in his stomach.

Now or never, he tells himself, and quietly knocks at the door.

He hears nothing for a bit, and wonders if he should knock again. He’s lifting his hand when the door opens and there she is.

Her jaw drops just the slightest and he’s proud he kept the element of surprise. She’s wearing leggings and a long-sleeved t-shirt, an outfit she had sarcastically referred to as “soccer mom gear” when he’d watch her fish it out of a drawer.

“Andrew,” she says, her tone flat.

“Hi,” he says, keeping eye contact, “I’m leaving tomorrow.”

She looks at him, blue eyes unreadable. “I know. It’s not a big hospital, and anyway, Callie told me.”

He swallows and looks away. When he looks back, she’s shutting the door.

His heart cracks.

He stupidly stares at the door for what he imagines is thirty seconds but feels like an eternity.

He starts rationalizing to himself that he’d already lost her, anyway. She wasn’t his to lose anymore.

He sits down on the porch step, knowing he can’t get back on his bike like this. His hands are shaking and his whole body feels like it’s ice cold.

He stares off into the middle distance. I’d already lost her, he thinks, so why does this hurt so much?

He’s shocked by Meredith sitting next to him on the step. “Sorry. Zola and Maggie were at the kitchen table. I didn’t want to disappear without telling them.”

Andrew feels some warmth flow into his chest. “You had to close the door in my face?”

She smiles wryly. “I did that because I could.”

He could be mad, but he’s not. He’s spent the past few days practicing his speech. He doesn’t even know what he’s trying to accomplish. He’d say closure, but he doesn’t think he’ll ever be able to close the book on her.

He doesn’t love Meredith Grey because she’s a world-renowned surgeon or because she owns a hospital or because she has a Harper Avery (no, a Catherine Fox). He loves her because of how she makes him feel. He loves her because no one has ever felt so much like home. He loves her because he can see forever with her.

He needs to know if she ever loved him because of how he made her feel.

“I owe you an apology.” As always, she throws him off guard.

The “How?” comes spilling out of his mouth so fast it could have split an atom.

“You were right. Not one hundred percent, and you botched the delivery, but you were right. I wasn’t treating you as an equal.”

He feels vindicated and heartbroken all at once. He was right – but he was right.

“And now that I’m board-certified and have a real job, you can see me and treat me as an equal?”

Again, she smiles wryly. “No. I realized some time ago that’s not what I cared about at all. I cared about you being the guy Bailey looks up to, I cared about you making coffee for my sisters, I cared about you being next to me in the morning. I missed you, Andrew. It didn’t have anything to do with Derek. It didn’t have anything to do with your job. You were so good for me that I let myself get complacent. You supported me and you loved me and you did things for me, and I didn’t give you that back.”

He’s blown away.

“I should have said that months ago, but you blindsided me. On one of the worst days of my life.”

“Meredith,” he breathes out, “I’m so sorry. That was selfish and stupid.”

She nods. “But brave. You stood up for yourself. I’ve been where you were, and it was ultimately good for me.”

He lets that wash over him, and she continues. “It looks like it’s been good for you, too.”

The corner of his mouth turns up, a ghost of a smile. “How?”

She shrugs. “You look more confident. Like you have it together.”

He laughs, shakily. “That’s only because I’m leaving my problems here and moving three thousand miles away.”

“Am I one of your problems?” She gives him that laser stare of hers, and he knows he can’t lie.

“Yes.” He stares down at the ground in front of him. “I applied everywhere but here. But you knew that.”

“Yeah.” They sit in companionable silence for a moment, and Andrew turns over what she said in his head.

Being next to me in the morning is not love, is it?

She starts again. “I’m … sorry about all that.”

He laughs a little. “What, exactly?” There’s been a lot of that. “You’ll need to be more specific.”

“The whole … ‘I’m seeing someone’ thing. It wasn’t fair.”

He looks at her. “Meredith, you can do what you want.”

She shakes her head. “Of course I can. And I did. But it was hurtful, and I did it for the wrong reasons.”

“Like what?”

This is the most honest they’ve been with each other in a long time; since months even before they broke up, he thinks.

“I wanted to hurt you, I wanted to prove to myself that it wasn’t you that had gotten under my skin, it was the idea of love. I wanted to… I don’t know, snatch back some of my youth and do something just for me, but I’m too settled for that.”

He laughs, and she frowns at him. “Sorry. I mean, doing something just for you… you’ve earned that, Meredith. You’re a single mom with three kids and a big job, to quote you. You don’t have time to think of yourself.”

She smiles, resting her chin on her knee and looking at him. “All the same, I realized that being with him… it wasn’t really what I wanted, for me. You were what I wanted for me. I wanted to give to you everything you’d given me. I just… I wanted to love you.”

Again, he’s blown away.

“Except maybe the jail thing. I don’t want to do that.” They both laugh, in spite of themselves.

His heart swells. “And the on-call room…?”

Her cheeks redden. “That was… me saying what I’d been too chicken to say before. Except I mostly didn’t say it.”

He’s almost stunned by her honesty. He wasn’t expecting this.

“I’ve been doing all the talking,” she says. “What did you come here to say?”

He doesn’t know what to say. He had a whole speech – about how he’s sorry, how he doesn’t want to leave things this way, how he doesn’t want to assume anything, how he wishes he could take it back. But she’s robbed him of his well-rehearsed speech with her frankness.

“I mean… I think we both learned something over the past few months,” is what he says, and she frowns again.

“What do you mean?”

He exhales. “I mean… I realized I can be alone. I’m codependent and have been for a long time. It was good for me to be on my own.”

She smiles, but it doesn’t reach her eyes. “That’s great, Andrew.”

“Yeah. Except I wasn’t happy. I was fine, but I wasn’t happy.”

She shakes her head a little. “I mean, I imagine a lot of that was my fault.”

He laughs, a bit more steel in it than intended. “Don’t flatter yourself. I was also studying for my boards and trying online dating. It wasn’t all you, just mostly you.”

“I deserved that.” She clears her throat. “And did you meet anyone significant?”

Much to his surprise, he nods. “I did. Well, that’s not true. I didn’t meet anyone significant, but it clarified things for me. It showed that I need someone to be significant. I’m not really the one-night-stand type.”

He sees hurt in her eyes and he feels a flash of pain – and a flash of victory. Now she knows what it’s like. He’s not a vindictive person, but he allows himself this ounce of pettiness.

“At the same time,” he says, and it comes out before he can think about it, “you’re significant. You’ll never not be significant.” He can’t quite look at her as he says it.

She covers his hand with her own, which until now had been resting on the step next to him. “Andrew.”

He finds himself blinking back tears. “I still love you, Meredith. I should have said it then.”

He sees her shake her head out of the corner of his eye. “No, Andrew. That was… fraught. I took advantage of you.”

He chuckles in spite of himself. “I was a very willing participant.”

She rolls her eyes. “Not that. The conversation we had. I was pushy and emotional myself. I did an Amelia thing and spewed emotional vomit. It’s hard to be on the same level when that happens.”

Organically, his hand turns over and he weaves his fingers through hers. He feels a fullness in his chest – a reminder of what love was like. Is like.

“All the same, I was a coward. You were right.” He feels her thumb stroking over the base of his palm.

“So what? We were both wrong.” She’s looking at him earnestly now.

“We were both wrong, but it doesn’t change anything. I’m still leaving tomorrow and there’s nothing we can do about that.” The fullness in his chest has been replaced by a lead weight.

She leans her head on his shoulder. “Yeah.”

They sit there for a while, hand in hand, her head on his shoulder.

He is reminded of the earliest days of their relationship.

Her, sprawled on his bed, blonde hair swept across the pillow.

Her, nestled in his arms late at night.

Her, laughing on his lap.

Her.

He’s overwhelmed with frustration, with anger at himself. He had this. He had all this. And he knows, realistically, that they might have broken up regardless. But he can’t help feeling like his life, his future, everything could have been much different had he not been so insecure. So distrustful. So scared.

He snaps back to the present to find things are much the same.

He’s leaving tomorrow.

He’s not leaving tonight.

He picks up their intertwined hands and lays the gentlest, briefest of kisses on the back of her hand in his. She slips her other hand through his hair. “Oh, Andrew.” He leans his head into her hand, feeling her long fingers against his scalp. He turns her hand outward, kissing his way across her inner wrist, pushing her sleeve up toward her elbow. Her skin like a prayer against his lips.

Her hand slips down from his scalp, over his cheek, to his chin, and she turns it upwards toward her. His eyes drop to her lips and they’re done for.

He feels waves of love, of contentment, of utter devastation as their lips meet, over and over again. She folds herself into his arms, her own encircling his neck. Her lips ghost down his neck as his palms glide under her shirt, against her abdomen.

As quickly as it started, she pulls away and brings herself to stand. Andrew feels his heart rate start to slow and he looks up at her, rising to meet her from his place on the step.

“I love you, Andrew. But this might hurt too much.” Her eyes are filled to the brim with tears, and he wants to take her in his arms and promise her he won’t leave. He’ll find another way.

But he can’t, so he doesn’t.

“Meredith,” he whispers, his voice barely steady. She shakes her head and looks away.

“I never stopped thinking of you,” he says, unable to stop himself. “You were on my mind constantly. Even when you were with him. Even when I hated you. All I could think about was you, Mere.”

She’s still looking away, and he sees a tear streaking down her cheek.

“I missed you. I still miss you. I miss you and you’re standing right here in front of me. I don’t think that’s ever going to change.” This is not the speech he envisioned or practiced. He’s not begging – he doesn’t even know what he’s asking for. It’s a plea, but for what?

“I might live the rest of my life fine. I’ll feel fine. I’ll be fine. But I’ll never be happier than I was with you.”

The tears are falling in earnest now, and he can’t stop himself. He pulls her into his arms and she lets him. She looks up at him, tears rolling down her cheeks.

“God, we’re stupid,” she laughs shakily, big shuddering breaths in and out. He slides his fingers across her cheeks, pushing her tears away.

“We are.” He bends down to kiss her, again, and this time she doesn’t push him away.

The house is quiet when she fumbles for the doorknob and they tumble inside. The lights are off and it seems as though everyone has gone to bed. She pushes him against the wall of the foyer, gluing her body against his. He pulls her legs up to frame his hips and nips at her pulse.

She pulls back, eyes wild and lips bee-stung. “Not here.” And so he pushes away from the wall and carries her upstairs, her arms laced around his neck and legs wound around his back.

He’d almost forgotten what it was to lie beside this woman; to feel her entirely around him. The room smells of her and he feels an almost-delirium. She strips off his sweater and jeans; he pulls off her shirt and leggings, revealing planes of her body he’d committed to memory. The feeling of skin on skin is too much; his entire body feels alive, like there are ants under his skin.

“Andrew,” she murmurs, nipping his earlobe, “should we use something?”

His slow, addled mind processes this. “No, we don’t need to,” he whispers, “unless you want to.”

She bites her lower lip, a gesture that drives him insane. “No.” And she winds her legs around his hips, bringing her to him.

It’s a bliss he’s eager to reacquaint himself with; the feeling of her all around him, arching beneath him and over him, her cries and moans.

He knows it’s corny and cliché, but he breathes “I love you” in her ear as they both come undone.

They lie together for a while. They laugh. They talk. They kiss. They go again. They sleep for a bit. And then.

Then, the sun shows around the edges of the leaves outside the window.

He’s flat on his back, her pressed against his chest, arms and legs wound around each other. He’s pulled the blanket over both of them, a quasi-cave with just their heads sticking out. He thinks she’s awake. He knows he is.

In just a few hours, he’s out of here. He’s dropping his key with his landlord, hopping on I-90, and charging toward a new life.

He wants to. He really wants to. He wants to start his career, specialize, get really good at his job. He wants to do good in the world.

But part of him is beating himself up. He’s leaving this woman – this woman he loves, this woman who loves him – because he was stupid enough to break up with her in the first place. This woman who has already lost everything, several times over, and he’s making her lose something else. Again.

“Andrew?” she mumbles, and he stills for a moment.

“Mmmmm.” He can’t bring himself to form words. He can’t trust his brain right now. Instead, he strokes his hand down her side, feeling her soft skin under his fingertips.

“I love you.” She says it so quietly, with a finality that breaks his heart.

“Yeah,” he says.

“You love me.”

“Yeah.” His voice shakes; he knows he was right to not trust himself.

She’s quiet for a minute, and he just holds her closer, tighter. He wants to tie her to him, selfishly drag her wherever he is.

“You’re leaving.” And he swallows, hard, keeping the tears at bay.

“Yeah.”

She looks up at him then, and he sees her eyes on his lips, pressed in a straight line, willing away the deep sobs that are hair’s breadth from escaping.

Her eyes lock with his, and they stay there.

He’s leaving.

Chapter Text

Fifteen months later

Andrew walks down the hallway, handing off a tablet full of orders for his patients.

It’s still relatively early in the evening, and he might make it home in time to make dinner at a reasonable hour.

His kid with the ruptured appendix is doing great, car-accident-broken-femur kid is enjoying some ice cream, and leukemia kid has been turfed to oncology for the time being.

As he heads toward the lounge, he’s stopped by appendix kid’s mom. “Dr. Deluca?”

“Hi, Mrs. Robeson,” and he angles himself away slightly. He’s taken Alex’s advice about being careful around the moms pretty seriously – especially now that he’s really a doctor and solely responsible for their kids’ well-being.

“Dr. Deluca, I just can’t thank you enough.” She reaches out and squeezes his forearm, and he smiles at her.

“Of course. Happy to have been able to help her. Let her know she can have whatever flavor of jello she wants tonight.” He’s saved by the beep, as his phone goes off in his back pocket. “Gotta take this.” He steps back and checks his messages.

Out of the corner of his eye, he sees Mrs. Robeson head back toward her daughter’s room and breathes a sigh of relief. Here’s to you, Mrs. Robeson. Saw her heading for you and figured I’d help.

He laughs and looks over toward Arizona’s office – she’s peeking out the blinds with a characteristic smirk. He wanders over and she waves him inside her office.

“You really are like catnip to these women, Andrew. A young, attractive pediatric surgeon? You are batting them off with a stick.”

“No, with a magical phone,” he says, waving his phone in the air. “Anything else you need tonight, boss? Thought I’d head out.”

“Nope,” she says, “enjoy your evening. You’ve earned it.”

He lets the floor nurse know that he’s heading out and to page him, should anything change. He grabs his bag out of his locker and throws on jeans and a flannel shirt, throwing his dark blue scrubs in the communal hamper. It’s a little brisk for the season outside, and he’s going to ride his bike home.

He strolls out of the hospital, smelling the air for the first time all day and enjoying the light breeze. When he’d woken up in the morning and left his apartment, the air was uncommonly still, with a big-city stench he just didn’t care for. He’s gotten used to living here, but some elements of it are not his favorite.

He hops on his bike – helmet snugly in place – and heads off.

When he arrives, there’s still some sunlight in the sky, and he’s endlessly glad he took this job – reasonable hours and the sleep he couldn’t get as a resident.

He lets himself in, only to be met by an armful of Bailey. “Andrew! Zola’s being mean.”

He raises an eyebrow. “She’s being mean, or you’re misbehaving?”

Meredith pops out of the kitchen. “Both, actually.” She directs a pointed glance at her middle child, who hides behind Andrew.

“Nope. Go apologize to your sister.” Andrew lightly pulls on his hand. “Zola?”

She peeks around the corner from the kitchen. “Nope. Not my fault.”

He shakes his head and gives Bailey a light shove toward the kitchen. “You guys have to work this out.”

Bailey shuffles toward the kitchen, and he watches as they shake hands – formally and hilariously – before running up the stairs.

Meredith steps toward him, kissing him softly and grabbing his helmet out of his hand. “Hey.”

“Hey you.” He grabs her hips and pulls her closer, giving her a deep kiss. She hums appreciatively before stepping back.

“How was work?” She leans against the bannister while he toes off his shoes.

“Fine. The usual. Ruptured appendix kid is doing great – thanks for the help, again.”

She smiles. “Anytime. You still have the energy for dinner?”

He nods vigorously. “Sure do. And I try to keep my promises.”

 ***

He makes a giant pot of spaghetti and meatballs – his mom’s recipe – and watches with amazement as the entire pot is consumed in record time. He’d been hoping to get at least one kid’s lunch out of it, but it looks like he’ll be up in the morning to make sandwiches. In the time since he’d returned from New York, he’d thought he’d gotten used to three kids’ growing appetites.

Not so much.

He’s scrubbing out a pan in the sink when Meredith comes up behind him, lacing her arms around his abdomen. “Are you staying here tonight?”

“I was going to. That okay?” He hears a murmur of contentment and feels her head rest between his shoulder blades, and drifts deeply into thought.

After he’d left for New York, he wasn’t sure where they’d stood. They’d had that wild, emotional night, and he wanted to give himself time to consider what was next. What was real.

But he didn’t. And, ultimately, he couldn’t.

She called on his first night, after he got lost getting off the subway. He texted her the next morning about the bodega next to his apartment with great coffee.

Texts and calls turned into marathon phone sessions; marathon phone sessions turned into Skype calls (some unforgivably dirty); Skype calls turned into a weekend in Chicago (her suggestion: “let’s meet in the middle, we’re equals, after all”); and by the end of his fellowship, he was flying back to Seattle once a month, and she was keeping a toothbrush in his apartment in Brooklyn.

When Arizona was rehired as chief of pediatrics and maternal/fetal medicine at Grey Sloan, it was like the world had sent him a present. She hired him as an attending, and once he’d completed his fellowship – under Dr. Herman for the last three months – he came back.

Having graduated from his resident apartment, he’s living in a two-bedroom near the hospital; he has a fireplace and a guest bedroom. Carina and her flavor of the week come over a few times a week; he, Arizona, and Richard hit up trivia night on Tuesdays when they’re all free; and Lucente is thriving in a big new tank with a view of the park.

Settling back in with Meredith is something else all together. They’re in staff meetings together, do surgeries together, consult on each others’ patients. They keep a polite, professional distance in the hospital. He can count the number of people who know they are back together on one hand.

And – for the first time in their relationship – it is him pumping the brakes.

It wasn’t that he didn’t want people to know. He is intensely in love with Meredith, with the way she makes him feel, with how much he feels at home with her.

But he is a new version of himself, a blend of new and old. He loves her and needs to be with her. He also loves his new job, his identity as a surgeon, his ability to build a practice and be responsible for the patients who come to him.

Before, his ambition had taken a backseat to his personal life. Then, after the breakup, his personal life had taken a backseat to his ambition.

He’s trying to find a balance, and he can sense her getting frustrated with him.

He comes back down to Earth, Meredith’s arms still around his waist, and one spot on the pan entirely scraped down to the base. “Whoops. I might need to re-season this pan.”

“Eh, whatever.” He has to smile at that – of course Meredith doesn’t care about cooking implements.

He spins around, and she’s smiling at him enigmatically. He steps closer to her, and she steps back. “Are we playing a game?”

She shakes her head no. “Come to the living room with me.” He threads his fingers through hers and they take a seat on the couch. They both lie back, feet up, her nestled into his chest. They’ve gotten somewhat in the habit of this after long days at the hospital. He traces his fingers down her spine over her t-shirt – well, his t-shirt, if he’s being technical – and thinks back to his months in New York, where this was an occasional intimacy he yearned for constantly.

He doesn’t expect what he hears next.

“Move in with me.” She’s looking up at him, eyes searching and tentative.

He knows, almost immediately, that he can’t.

It’s not a love thing. It’s not a commitment thing.

He’s just not there yet.

“Mere…” and she’s up and out of his arms, sitting cross-legged at the other end of the couch.

“I don’t get it.” Her voice is a mix of anger and sadness, and he knows he needs to let her get this out before he tells her the truth. “You moved back here for work, but you can’t tell me it wasn’t to be with me.”

“Of course it was to be with you,” he says, emotion choking his voice. “There’s no way I wouldn’t have. Even if Arizona weren’t here, I would have done the same thing.”

“So what’s the problem?” She’s glaring at him, and he’d laugh if he didn’t feel so bad.

“Meredith. I’m just not ready yet.”

She grumbles under her breath. “How, exactly? You’re an attending with a stable job, patients, research. We’ve been together for a while now; longer if you count the first time. Do you think I don’t love you?”

“Of course not.” He scoots closer to her and grabs her hands. “Meredith, I love you. I know you love me. I just don’t want to fall into a pattern.”

She raises an eyebrow suspiciously. “A pattern?”

“I practically moved in with you like… two days after we first said ‘I love you.’ We moved too fast, too soon, and it bit us in the ass. I want to make sure we have the best chance we can have.”

Her face softens, and she weaves her fingers through his. “This isn’t like that.”

He smiles. “Of course not. But I’m just getting my life, my career started – when I move in –“ and he puts emphasis on the when, letting her know it’s an eventuality – “I want to be able to be here. Fully. One hundred percent. For you, for the kids, for Amelia, for Maggie.” He knows this sounds feeble; he hasn’t even convinced himself of the need to wait.

She bites her lower lip. “When do you think that might be?”

He strokes his thumbs over her hands. “Let’s check back in in… three months?” In his heart of hearts, he wants to say tomorrow, I’ll move in tomorrow, I never want to spend another day not under the same roof as you.

She nods. “Okay.” Her face is still pensive, and he tilts his head and looks at her. “Sorry. I get it. I really, really do. I just… I wish you had said yes.”

His heart clenches. “I do too, Mere. I really do.” He puts his arms around her, and she nestles into him, resting her head over his heart. “But I have an idea.”

“Hmmm?” She doesn’t raise her head, but he hears her curiosity in there.

“Bailey’s been telling me he wants a dog. Why don’t I bring the fish here?”

“Lucente?” Her head pops up, and he almost laughs.

“Yes, Lucente. Bailey can take care of him, maybe a test case for a dog. Or a cat.”

She wrinkles her nose at that. “Dog, please. Cats are for when we’re old.”

He laughs at that. “And maybe rather than three nights a week… four? I do want to keep an eye on Lucente, after all. Make sure that Bailey doesn’t try to feed him fish sticks.”

She laughs and squeezes him around the middle. “That’s a great idea.”

She settles back into his chest and he weaves a hand through her hair and massages her scalp. His eyes fall closed, and he lets the quiet contentment wash over him. At the same time, he feels a pull in his chest; she’s giving him the sign she wouldn’t all those months ago, and maybe he’s making a mistake by not taking her up on it.

He feels her hand snake under his shirt and a corner of his mouth turns upward. “Yes?”

“Nothing.” The hand drifts toward his belt buckle, and his eyes snap open. She’s looking at him with her eyebrows mischievous, and she slides off the couch onto her knees in front of him.

“Meredith,” he whispers, eyes wide open. She smirks as she works open his jeans, maintaining eye contact. He’s already wildly turned on, and knows they can’t do anything down here – not with all three kids home and at least one sister in the house. He picks her up, throwing her over his shoulder. She laughs over him, eyes sparkling, and he dashes for her bedroom.

***

Later, after their breathing has slowed, they’re wound around each other in bed. The covers are up around their ears, and they’re nose to nose. Andrew kisses her gently, softly, and she smiles with her eyes closed.

He wishes he hadn’t said no earlier. He wants to take it back, even though he knows it’s for the best.

But does he know that, really? How would he know what’s best? Isn’t it about time they both threw themselves headlong into it – now that there’s nothing between them?

“Andrew, what,” she murmurs, sensing his discomfort.

“Nothing,” he whispers, wrapping his arms tighter around her.

“Out with it.” Her eyes flash open, and he looks directly at her. He swallows. He realizes his nervousness isn’t what her reaction will be; it’s whether he’s dooming them. “Andrew.”

He realizes, almost like a thunderclap, that nothing’s magically going to change in three months. Last time it wasn’t a conversation, it was a clusterfuck. They’ve done things better this time; slower, more carefully. It’s time for some impulsivity.

There’s no jail time, no sentencing, no sword of Damocles swinging over their heads. Just him.

“I take it back,” he says, and her brow knits.

“What?”

“I’ll move in with you.” The minute it’s out of his mouth, his anxiety dissipates; this is a step they were meant to take. She smiles at him.

“What if I say no now?” She smirks at him, and he kisses her soundly.

“Would you? Throw me out on my ass?”

“Absolutely,” she says, holding him tightly to her. “Is this only because I blew your mind just now?”

He laughs, in spite of himself. “No.” His face turns serious, and she looks at him. “It’s because I love you, Meredith, and there is zero reason to wait.”

She smiles, softly, happily at him, and slides her hand down his cheek. “I love you, Andrew,” and presses a kiss to his brow. She settles against his chest.

“Guess you really didn’t trust us with your fish,” she murmurs, voice getting steadily sleepier.

He laughs, reaching backward for the light, and switches it off. “No. I really didn’t.” He tightens his arms around her, and his eyes drift shut.

He knows this is not the last time they’ll disagree; hell, she might even kick him out at some point, in a fit of pique and rage. But this new, happier, more-stable version of them: it’s worth some recklessness.

It’s worth a lifetime of recklessness, he thinks.