With a sudden, deep gasp for air, as if he’d just surfaced from under water, Derek Shepherd jolted awake. His hand tentatively found the back of his head, nursing a lingering, almost phantom like pain. Blinking groggily, his eyes slowly adjusted to his unfamiliar surroundings. His confusion grew as he realised he was currently occupying a large leather arm chair; that bore an uncanny similarity to the one he would often curl up in in his father’s study when he was a boy.
“Where the hell am I?” He mused out loud, glancing around the room for any sort of clue to his current whereabouts. Irritation flared within him as Derek realised that asides from a threadbare rug and two doors, the empty mahogany walled room revealed no further clues as to his current whereabouts.
“Okay, no need to panic, Derek. Just think about this logically…” He once more spoke aloud, trying to quell the rising sense of unease within his body. Resting his head back against the soft leather, Derek closed his eyes, his brow furrowing in concentration as he worked to remember what exactly he’d been doing in the moments leading up to now…
He was in the car. He was driving somewhere… The airport! That was it. He was going to DC. He was smiling and softly singing along to an old rock song on the radio. It reminded him of the times he and Meredith would sing together, as if they didn’t have a care in the world. It wouldn’t be long now until they were reunited…
The accident. Derek’s smile instantly dropped as he turned the radio off. Hearing the sobs and cries for help had him instantly slamming on the brakes of his car. The instinct to help completely taking over his body; erasing every other thought from his mind as he sprinted towards the nearby wreckage.
He helped them. He saved them. He reassured them everything was going to be okay. And then… and then… Nothing.
Why couldn’t he remember what happened next? The memories were there, lingering in a far corner of his brain. But every time he reached out towards them, they somehow danced impossibly further away from him.
“Hello stranger.” A comforting and oh so familiar voice echoed around the previously empty room, and as Derek Shepherd’s eyes flew open he was suddenly grateful he was still sitting down. Because standing before him, impossibly so, and wearing that ridiculous leather jacket that Derek had always mercilessly mocked him for, was Mark Sloan.
“Mark? No… You can’t be. You can’t be here. The plane.. Lexie, and you…” Derek muttered half to himself as he pushed himself up from the armchair, and took a few shaky steps towards the best friend he hadn’t seen in years.
“What exactly is going on and where the hell am I?” He asked, his voice more confident as he echoed his previous question. The sad smile etched onto Mark’s face had Derek’s heart plummeting into his stomach, but he forced himself to stand his ground.
“The accident,” Mark replied, and the vague nature of his words had Derek groaning and frustratedly running his hands through his hair.
“Yes I know, the pile up. I stopped and I helped, I know all of that Mark,” Derek insisted impatiently, his gaze never wavering from his best friend’s inexplicably alive face.
“Derek… That’s not the accident I’m talking about,” Mark explained patiently, raising his eyebrows slightly at Derek’s incredulous expression.
“What do you mean? What other accident?” Derek’s voice was barely above a whisper as the phantom pain in the back of his head slowly began to build.
“You might wanna sit back down for this,” Mark instructed him sympathetically.
“Just… Just tell me. Please.”
“You helped with the pile up, you saved all those people… and then you got back in your car,” he began speaking, working to keep his voice calm as he noticed Derek’s rising distress.
“You got back in the car. You were starting the engine when your phone rang…”
“Meredith… No, please…. No,” Derek moaned, now clutching the back of his head with both of his hands. He struggled to hold onto Mark’s words as the pain spiked, bright spots of light permeating his vision.
“I’m sorry Derek. I’m so, so sorry. You didn’t see the semi until it was too late…”
The memories that Derek had previously been unable to reach now came flooding to the forefront of his mind, carving a fiery path through every part of his being.
The split seconds of abject terror.
Then the darkness.
How could he have forgotten that?
His stomach heaved, and he felt his legs give way as he collapsed to the soft carpet beneath him.
“I’m dead. Aren’t I?” He managed to choke out the dreaded question in between breaths.
“I’m afraid so.”
The gentle confirmation of his greatest fear weighed down on him like a ton of bricks, forcing him further into the carpeted floor. Derek Shepherd couldn’t contain the gut wrenching sobs that escaped him as for the second time that day, his entire world came crashing down around him.
“So, what happens now?” Derek asked curiously, dragging his gaze from the far wall to focus again on Mark Sloan. When his sobs had finally subsided, Mark’s ghostly hands had helped him to his feet and guided him back into the leather armchair. A comfortable silence had engulfed the pair as Mark waited patiently for Derek to attempt to process his newly rediscovered memories; and after what felt like an eternity Derek had finally found his voice.
“Well, the simple answer would be that you follow me through that door there and I buy you a well deserved scotch,” Mark replied, nodding his head towards the heavy wooden door to the left of the pair.
“I’m assuming that door leads to the Afterlife then?” Derek couldn’t help the laugh that escaped his lips at the absurdity of this entire situation.
“Afterlife, Heaven, the Other Side, whatever you want to call it. But yes, that’s where that door leads to,” Mark clarified, smiling down at his best friend. His smile faltered however as Derek’s attention turned to the door on the opposite side of the room.
“And what about that door? Where will that take me?” Mark sighed deeply and anxiously brushed his hand across his stubbled chin.
“I was worried you’d ask that… I see you haven’t lost any of your curiosity over the years… That door leads back to earth, and no it won’t bring you back to life,” he added hurriedly as he saw Derek’s eyes light up.
“It’s generally used by those who have, unfinished business, who aren’t ready to move on. If you go through that door Derek you’ll remain on earth until you find whatever closure you’re seeking.”
A long silence wrapped around the pair as Derek found himself warring with the myriad of conflicting emotions swirling within him. A high pitched beep from Mark’s watch startled the pair out of their silence, and Mark frowned briefly as he glanced down at his wrist.
“We need to get going. I’m sorry I can’t give you more time Derek, but you need to decide,” he implored his best friend, his heart aching as he surveyed the torn expression on Derek’s face.
“Tell me what to do Mark, please.”
“I can’t, whatever decision you make, whichever door you choose has to be solely your choice Derek,” Mark stated as he slowly crossed the room and pulled open the left hand door. He paused and turned to smile a final time at Derek.
“Whatever you decide, and no matter how long it takes, I’ll have a scotch waiting for you over here. I’ve missed you, man.”
With that he stepped through the doorway, and following the soft click of the door gently closing, Derek was once again left alone in the strange room.
After taking a few steadying breaths in an attempt to clear his head, Derek found himself initially confidently striding towards the same door Mark had just left through. However, with each footstep he found his mind becoming increasingly clouded with memories of his life back on earth.
They wrapped around him, flooding his senses, and making each step feel impossibly heavy. Fresh waves of pain battered against him, as with each memory, came the heartbreaking realisation that there would be no more.
He would never see another Christmas, another birthday. He would never again sit on their sofa, one arm wrapped casually around Meredith’s waist as they watched Zola and Bailey excitedly tear open various gifts.
He would never be able to teach Bailey how to fish, how to play baseball, all of the things he’d promised himself when he’d first cradled his son in his arms.
He wouldn’t see Zola continue growing into the amazing woman he knew she’d become. He’d never be a proud face in the crowd, watching her graduate. He wouldn’t feel that ache in his chest as he saw her all dressed up, ready for prom and leaving him wondering where all the years had gone.
Derek’s hand stilled against the smooth brass doorknob, his eyes burning with tears that refused to fall. How was he supposed to leave them all behind? Zola and Bailey and… Meredith.
Meredith Grey, the love of his life. The woman who had saved him countless times, who had appeared in his life right when he needed her the most, his fresh air when he felt like he was drowning…
… It’s okay.
We’ll be fine.”
His fist curled and tightened, the intricate designs engraved into the brass digging into his skin as Derek fought to keep himself upright. His brain felt as though it was on fire as Meredith’s final hushed words burned brightly around him.
He had her blessing.
He could go, follow Mark through the door and reunite with all the friends he’d lost over the years.
She’d promised him that his family would be fine, and god knows, if anyone had the ability to survive in the face of insurmountable trauma, it was Meredith Grey.
So why was it that Derek Shepherd had already let his hand fall from the door, and why were his feet already tracing a path towards the other side of the room?
The answer became apparent to him the closer he came to the door that would lead him back to earth, back to his family. It roared loudly around his head, drowning out any lingering doubts or desire to follow Mark into the Afterlife.
He didn’t want to go.
He wasn’t ready to say goodbye, to leave behind the people he loved and cherished so fiercely.
And he really wasn’t fine.
Determinedly straightening his shoulders, Derek pulled the door open, shivering slightly at the cool breeze that stretched out from the darkness before him. Allowing himself one final glance around the room that he wasn’t sure he was ever going to see again, his eyes settled once more on the other door.
“Sorry Mark, I’m gonna have to call a rain check on that scotch,” Derek called out ruefully, before finally making the choice to step headfirst into the abyss.