Considering his track record, Alex is surprised he actually managed to get married. Sure, literally nothing about the day went according to plan, but right now he feels pretty damn lucky anyway.
Much to Kepner’s disappointment, they end up discarding the actual reception she had so carefully planned: they all pile onto the ferry back to the city, and at Avery’s ridiculously expensive penthouse, furniture moved aside and music already blasting through the sound system. Everyone is in various states of drunkenness, throwing their limbs around like insane people (it’s called dancing it out, Yang’s voice in his head). He used to hate it, coming home to housemates and random colleagues or friends dancing on the furniture, and having to herd them like cats back to their rooms most of the time. It’s like coming full circle, in a way.
But maybe it’s different now, because he watches Jo laughing hysterically at Pierce, completely drenched in the beer she spilled on herself, and he can’t help but feel like maybe this time he got it right. Finally, he has something to celebrate too.
“Hey, you okay over here?” Meredith shakes him out of his thoughts, smiling. She takes his hands, and Alex groans when she starts to drag him to the middle of the room, a slowish song coming out of the speakers. He knows there’s no point fighting her on it, so he just grimaces back at her, placing his hands on her waist as they start to swing to the music. Meredith laughs at his reluctance, and he feels himself soften, the annoyance dissipating. This is actually not half bad.
“Yeah, everything is perfect. Thank you, Mer.” He doesn’t need to say much else. Even through his snarky tone, she still knows that he means it.
“Thank me for what? Metaphorically saving your ass by officiating your wedding, or literally saving your ass by rescuing you from the shed of horrors?” she mocks him with a grin. He makes another face at her because come on, are you gonna make me spell it out for you? They just stare at each other for a few seconds, until Alex finally gives up, lets out a discontent huff of air as Meredith bursts out laughing.
“Okay, fine, you win. Thank you Meredith, for saving my ass. Twice.”
She laughs again, and if they weren’t standing so close he probably would have missed the way her laugher dies down a little as something seems to catch her attention, eyes widening in slight panic. It’s not in Alex’s line of sight, but now he’s curious, so he takes the dancing as opportunity to spin them around, and he glances at that side of the room: Pierce, still soaked in beer next to Jo; Hunt and Webber talking, DeLuca straddling a chair, elbows resting on the backrest, looking at something in their direction; Robbins furiously texting in a corner.
Nothing interesting here, really.
He looks back at Meredith, who is now looking sheepish and flushed, like she’s been caught doing something she shouldn’t have been doing.
“Mer, what is it?”
“Nothing” she tries, evasive, and now he knows for sure something is up. He just can’t possibly figure out what.
“What did you do?” he asks with a frown, tries not to sound too much like a parent berating their child. He’s painfully aware of the fact that he almost sounds like Bailey, who sometimes still treats them like interns, a full ten years later (and seriously, they are full blown adults now, that shouldn’t be a thing that still happens).
“Nothing” she repeats innocently, but this time her gaze flickers from him back to that same corner of the room for a second, and even if he didn’t know her as well as he does, he still could see that she is lying. Badly.
He pretends to believe her, resumes swaying to the rhythm of the music, and he mentally goes over what he saw before: Hunt and Webber weren’t doing anything particularly interesting, Pierce and Jo drunk off their asses isn’t something that would make her ashamed, DeLuca looked like he was even drunker, lost in his world, staring right through them, Robbins wasn’t fooling anyone by acting like she wasn’t texting Torres.... wait.
DeLuca wasn’t staring through them. He was staring at them.
Specifically, he was staring at Meredith.
“Mer” Alex gets her attention back to him, “you still haven’t told me why you were with DeLuca when you found us.”
“I- uh, we-“ she stammers, and as she tries to find the words Alex has a sudden flashback of the door of the shed getting kicked in, and Meredith and DeLuca on the other side. Holding hands. The fact hadn’t really computed until now, and now his brain is almost blacking out at the idea.
“Alex, are you there?” she worries, trying to get his attention, “I was saying, I was just trying to get him away from the reception, he was kind of making an ass out of himself” she says, and the way her tone softens toward the end of the sentence makes his brain short circuit again.
There are things forming in his brain, things he is deadly certain he doesn’t want to think about.
What does holding hands mean?
Jo comes over to them right then, and before she can even ask to cut in, Meredith’s already detangling herself from Alex’s hold and guiding him toward his wife with a flashy smile and a silent nod, and just like that she’s walking off the makeshift dance floor.
Still in a haze, Alex spins Jo around and takes a look at the scene unfolding in front of him: as he suspected, DeLuca is not very subtly following Meredith with his gaze, and Alex can only see the back of Meredith’s head, but he just knows she’s reciprocating the look, probably even blushing.
The realization is... unsettling, to say the least.
“Is everything alright?” Jo asks, and on his tongue there are a bunch of things threatening to come out, like no it’s not, the world is upside down, or Meredith has lost her mind and crushing on a resident, or why do these things always happen when Yang isn’t here, but as he snaps back to look at Jo, her eyes watery from the champagne and her smile crooked in the cutest way, every seriously disturbing thought disappears from his head. He kisses her, chaste and sweet and lingering.
“Hi” she greets him, like she’s just seen him for the first time. She crinkles her nose and smiles, and she is the best thing he has ever seen in his life. There’s still the hint of her previous question in her eyes.
He leans in, “everything is perfect” whispered against her lips before he kisses her again and forgets about everything else.
Alex almost doesn’t turn around. He’s still getting used to being Chief of Surgery, and most of the times he gets to the hospital in the morning and Jo has to remind him he’s supposed to get upstair and into his office, instead of the attendings’ lounge. It’s weird, but he’s getting better, and so he stops at the voice, turning around to wait for DeLuca, who catches up to him with a light sprint. “What is it, DeLuca?”
“I prepped Flor for surgery, she’s waiting to be wheeled up to the OR, just…” he trails off, and he looks almost guilty all of a sudden, and Alex has to do his best to stifle a groan. He’s developed a newfound appreciation for Bailey in the past few months: he never realized how monumentally frustrating and stupid the people working in this hospital seem to get on a daily basis.
“...I just wanted to let you know I’m not going to be able to assist you during surgery.”
This time, Alex doesn’t even try to police himself. He groans loudly, also dragging a hand over his face for good measure. “What do you mean you’re not going to be in surgery?”
DeLuca bows his head in front of Alex’s deadly glare, shifting his weight uncomfortably on his feet. It’s clear that he’s aware of how silly what he’s about to say actually sounds. “It’s a little embarrassing, but it seems like Flor has developed a bit of a… crush on me. She’s more comfortable if I’m not there, and Dr Grey...” He trails off again, still not meeting his eyes, and Alex scoffs impatiently at his indecisiveness, but then he notices something.
DeLuca blushes. Why is he blushing?
“Fine, DeLuca” Alex is quick to brush him off, pushing the question out of his head. “Just… Go find Dr Grey and tell her yourself, I have a meeting before I can scrub in.”
“Yes, sir” DeLuca quickly perks up, a glint of excitement in his eyes. He nods at Alex briefly, and he’s already walking away before Alex can really interrogate him on his sudden change in mood. Alex looks at his retreating figure for a moment, sighing loudly.
Why is everyone in this place always so weird?
He wasn’t actually serious, this morning, when he told Meredith he wouldn’t be able to come to Bailey’s birthday party. He might be drowning under the mountain of work his new job entails, but there’s no way he’ll ever miss Meredith’s kids’ birthdays.
He’s just a little late, that’s all.
Actually, he’s so late that all the other kids have already gone home, but Bailey doesn’t really seem to mind. He’s clearly on a sugar high, hyper-excited to show Alex all the presents he got from his friends, and that’s how they spend the next hour, sitting on the living room rug, surrounded by toys. At some point, Zola ropes her brother into playing a new game they haven’t tried yet, and Alex gets unceremoniously sent to spend some time with the other adults. From her tone, he’s not sure if he should feel offended by that.
He moves into the kitchen where the grownups have retreated, mostly to finish off the birthday cake in secret. There’s Pierce and Shepherd, obviously, and Hunt sitting with them, trying to feed Leo tiny bites of cake. Jo, who came over with him after their shifts ended, is tidying up the kitchen, putting away leftovers and collecting dishes in the sink. She catches him staring at her, and she smiles brightly from the other side of the room, before going back to her task. His own gaze lingers, and he smiles at how at home she looks among the rest of his friends, his family.
Alex is not sure why, but Jo’s friend is here too, the one he hasn’t decided if he likes yet. It’s not even because of the Paul thing, they’ve settled that, it’s just that he is so… cheery, and it makes Alex deeply uncomfortable. No one should be that happy all the time.
Meredith is leaning against the counter, by herself, her head buried in her phone. Alex takes a beer out of the fridge and approaches her, taking a sip from the bottle as she keeps typing furiously, his presence going unnoticed.
“I’m sorry I was late. Did the party turn out okay?” he asks, and she recoils in surprise. It takes her a second before she focuses on him, but then she smiles reassuringly.
“It was great, actually. Linc did fine in a pinch” she tells him, and he wants to ask for more, but the second her phone pings with a new text her attention shifts again, ignoring him in favor of whoever it is on the other end of the line.
“Who are you texting? Everyone you know is here.”
“That’s- uh- that’s nothing” she supplies, not even looking up from the screen, “I’m ordering labs for a patient.”
He props himself up on the counter next to her, and he sips at his beer silently as she types away, perfectly content to spend this quiet moment together with her, with everyone.
Alex didn’t mean to pry. Really.
But from his place on the counter he has the perfect view of her phone, and when he turns his head to shoot a look at her, he just so happens to glance at the text thread she has open in front of her. The line at the top of the screen says DeLuca, which is fine. The last text she just sent is a little more unsettling.
maybe i’ll just take you up on it next time :)
Alex opens his mouth to speak, but he doesn’t actually know what to say.
What is going on?
“Alex?” Jo’s voice brings him back to reality, and he whips his head up to look at her. “Do you mind if we go home now? I have an early surgery tomorrow.”
“Yeah, sure” he jumps off the counter, emptying the rest of the beer into the sink. “Huh- Mer? We’re going.”
“What? Oh- oh, of course!” Again, it takes her a second to come back to reality from the conversation she was having on the phone, but as soon as she realises what he’s said to her, she shuts the device off and tucks it into her pocket, taking the few steps to Jo and going in for a hug. Jo whispers something into her year, and they both laugh, and when they let go they both turn to look at him, Meredith smiling.
“Thank you for coming, Alex.”
“Shut up, of course I came. ‘Night everyone” he raises his voice for the others, and a couple minutes later he and Jo are driving down the street of her house, headed home.
The thought of that text is long forgotten. It’s not a big deal anyway, he decides: it’s perfectly normal for her to text DeLuca if she needs labs done, and he must have read the text wrong, surely.
There’s nothing to worry about.
“Can you hand over that box of streamers?” Jo asks him, extending a hand from where she’s perched at the top of the ladder.
She’s really going all out on this New Year’s party, and Alex would find it annoying if it weren’t for the fact that Jo is so excited about it that it’s making him fall in love with her a little harder every day. The loft looks straight out of a magazine, decked with every kind of holiday-themed decorations she could get her hands on.
He hands her the box and plops down on the couch, back to staring at his laptop. It sounds weird even for him to say, but he’s starting to enjoy being Chief. He doesn't even mind having to do paperwork this close to the holidays.
“This looks great, Jo” he praises, when she finally climbs down from the ladder and all but throws herself on the couch next to him, “it’s going to be one hell of a party.”
“Thank you” she smiles, kissing his cheek, “I just hope there’ll be enough space for everyone. Wait, let me…” She pulls out her phone, and opens the notes app to a page he’s gotten very familiar with in the last couple of weeks. She’s been so obsessed with getting everything right, going over and over every list for every aspect of the party, that he could probably recite the guest list by heart and not miss a single name. He goes back to his work, Jo curling up against him as she murmurs to herself, checking people off the list in hushed tones. Like clockwork, when she gets to that specific name, she lets out a frustrated groan, and Alex rolls his eyes at her predictability. They’ve been doing this for a week now.
“Jo, seriously, again?” he huffs, closing his laptop and facing her. “What’s the problem with DeLuca?”
“It’s not that it’s him” she says, for the umpteeth time they’ve been having this conversation, “I just wanted this to be a dark-scrubs-only party, and he’s ruining the guest list!”
“This is the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard, it’s not even a real thing. Also, Schmitt is coming, and so is DeLuca’s sister, and neither of them wear dark scrubs. Why are you still hung up on this?”
Jo whines in frustration, burrowing deeper into his side, pouting. His annoyance vanishes immediately, and he chuckles as he places a kiss on the top of her head. “Come on, what is it?”
“He- he… He basically invited himself! That’s so rude!”
“That’s not even true” he mocks her, squeezing her shoulder, “Meredith invited him.” Jo doesn’t respond to that, and it that moment it finally clicks for him what this whole thing has been about.
Oh, no. Not this again.
“Oh, come on! Jo, stop it. Meredith does not like DeLuca.”
“But she does!” Jo shrieks, re-emerging from where she was buried in his shoulder, “You’ve just been so busy with all the Chief stuff that you didn’t see it, but she’s not even being subtle. It’s honestly upsetting.”
Alex tries to think. He’d never confess it to Jo, but lately he’s being replaying in his head all the weird things he’s noticed both of them do in the past couple of months. That text, DeLuca blushing…
No, he tells himself, this is not a thing that is happening. He’s been there for all of Meredith’s stupid decisions, but this would be so monumentally dumb he can confidently say even she would never do it.
This is not a thing that’s happening. Period.
“You just want her to date Linc and you’re trying to make the whole thing more interesting by making up some sort of inexistent love triangle” he accuses his wife, who’s still looking at him like he’s lost his mind.
“Of course I want her to date Linc, they’d be perfect together!” she cries, pushing herself off the couch. “Doesn’t mean I am wrong about her and DeLuca.”
“You are, too.”
“Am not!” she yells, stomping off in the direction of the bathroom.
“Are too!” he yells back, over the sound of the door slamming shut.
God, this is getting ridiculous.
It’s DeLuca that opens the door.
“Hi! You made it!” he’s smiling brightly, stepping aside to let them into the house. He and Jo immediately get lost into their usual chit-chat, and Alex ignores them as he shrugs off his jacket and makes his way to the kitchen. Meredith is standing by the stove, glass of wine in one hand and wooden spoon in the other. She looks very focused on the contents of the pot in front of her, but Alex can spot the tiny frown on her forehead that says she’s just faking it, and probably has no idea of what she’s supposed to do with the food.
“Since when do you cook?” he mocks, his words turning her attention to him.
“I still don’t” she laughs, turning back to the pot, not evidently worried she’s going to mess up, “Andrew left me in charge for all of ten seconds and I might have already ruined it.”
She seems relaxed, tone easy, and still there is something in her words that instinctively irks him.
“Since when you call him Andrew?”
Meredith whips her head back to him, eyes wide in confusion. She opens her mouth to speak, but before she can say anything DeLuca and Jo join them in the kitchen, and whatever remark dies in her throat.
“Did you manage to burn anything?” DeLuca jokes, approaching Meredith with a smile. He goes to stand behind her, taking the spoon from her hand and giving the pot a quick stir. Alex watches as his hand flies up to rest on the small of Meredith’s back, and she tilts her head up slightly to gaze at him softly. He clears his throat, loudly, and the sound has the intended effect of making DeLuca jump back a couple feet.
God, this is so weird.
They sit down at the table, and the first part of the evening goes easy enough, talking about work and, surprisingly, Alex’s wrestling career, of which Andrew is apparently a big fan of.
“I tried to take Meredith to a match last month, but I couldn’t convince her” he says with a smile that morphs into a mocking pout, and Meredith is having none of it, staring him down like she’s daring him to cross her.
“Sweaty guys punching the lights out of each other isn’t exactly my idea of a fun date, Andrew.”
“Wait” Alex coughs around a sip of beer, “since when are you two dating?”
Silence falls around the table. Meredith and DeLuca are looking at him confused, and when he turns to Jo for support he finds her facepalming into her hands, shaking her head in frustration. Why is no one making sense right now?
“Are you serious?” Meredith stares at him, jaw-slacked. DeLuca is trying to hold back laughter, his shoulders shaking. “Alex, it’s not news. We’ve been dating since Valentine’s Day.”
“It is now the end of April, are you kidding me?”
Alex’s gaze keeps bouncing between Jo and Meredith, helpless, finally settling on his wife’s still disbelieving face. “Why didn’t you tell me about this?!”
Jo’s mouth flies open, shocked. “Are you serious? I did tell you!”
“No, you didn’t.”
“I did! The week after Valentine’s Day. You know, when I found out!”
“By the way” Meredith’s voice pipes up, “I also told you. I came into your office and I talked to you about it.” At that, a memory starts to form in his mind, cloudy and vague.
“I- I might- I might not have been listening to you when you did” Alex confesses, wincing at the face Meredith makes at that.
“No. No, Andrew... Andrew!”
Meredith slams her palm against the plexiglass windows of the chamber, and the impact makes everything into the small space rattle too. Alex has to hold onto Gus’ IV to stop it from dropping to the floor.
“Mer-” he tries, and when she turns around she looks lost, her eyes already filling with tears. It takes her a second to put him into focus, but when she does a loud sob wrecks her body, and Alex has to be fast, crossing the space and catching her as she doubles over.
“Hey, hey- everything is fine, everything’s okay… It’s going to be okay.”
She doesn’t seem to hear him, not right then. Alex exhales deeply, guiding her carefully as he lowers them to the ground. She sags against him, burying her face in his shoulder while she continues to cry, her whole body hiccupping with sobs. Alex loops one arm around her shoulder and drops a kiss to the top of her head, bringing her closer. There’s not much he can say right now that would help her, and he knows that. He just sits there, holding her, waiting for her to stop crying.
This day had started with Meredith being the one that was trying to help him with his own relationship problems, and look where they are now. If this were a better time, he most definitely would be making a self-deprecating joke about it.
He’s not really sure how long they stay like this for (the hyperbaric chamber really does warp your sense of time), but Meredith eventually shakes herself off of him. She looks a mess, hair mussed, eyes red-rimmed, and blotchy face. She’s still frowning, and so Alex does the one thing he know how to do in situations like these. He makes fun of her.
“You look terrible” he says, his tone dry and even, and he’s almost glad that they’re alone because when he says things like this in front of other people he always gets dirty looks; but Meredith seems to understand, and she bursts in a short, watery fit of laughter that brightens her up for a second.
“Shut up” he shoves at him lightly, “I don’t even know why I reacted like this.”
It’s his turn to laugh, the sound echoing around the room so loud that it almost covers the beeping machines. Meredith furrows her brow at that, shooting him a dirty look, a warning. What’s your problem now?
“You reacted like this because you love him, you idiot.”
She is silent for the longest moment, and Alex wants to laugh again. She’s staring at him, mouth open and eyes fixed on his, stunned. “I do not” she swallows thickly, barely audible.
“Hate to break it to you, but you really, really do.”
“But I- I can’t!”
“Seriously?” Alex sighs, starting to get frustrated. They’re going to be stuck in here for who knows how long, he has no idea whether his wife is going to be okay, or if she’ll even want to still be with him; and Meredith is sitting there, still pretending that her life sucks when it doesn’t, and that she’s cursed when she very much isn’t. “Mer, stop it.”
“You do love him, you’ve loved him for a while now. You two have been acting disgustingly smitten for months, and you weren’t even trying to hide it. It’s obvious.”
This time, it’s Meredith that stares at him for a long moment with a pointed look on her face. Alex mimics her from a moment ago, cocking one eyebrow and tilting his head, to the point that it’s getting so annoying that he just has to ask. “What?”
“I thought you hadn’t noticed that we had gotten together until we had to tell you.”
“Shut up” he groans, “I was just trying to protect my brain from the total nonsense that’s you dating a resident.”
Meredith makes a face at him, like she wants to stick her tongue out to him but she knows she’ll end up looking like a child. There’s also pain in her eyes, and worry, and it’s not like he needed it, but it’s confirmation that Alex was right. She cares way more than she’s letting herself show, in some misguided attempt to protect herself, or whatever. He’s known her for too long not to notice that’s a pattern she’s been living in all her life, and that’s something she has to break free of. It freaks him out a little that she’s breaking patterns for Andrew DeLuca, of all the people in the world, but at least there’s one good thing coming out of today.
He scoots closer to her again, and she immediately relaxes, letting herself lean against the wall of the chamber, her shoulder brushing his.
“What he did was so stupid, Alex, I- what am I supposed to do now?”
“We’re gonna figure something out. We don’t give up on the people we love, right?”