Another Ellis Grey baby. No Webber/Grey baby. No Merder. Early Seasons fun. The MAGIC interns.

Mari with an 'i' instead of a 'y' is the Welsh spelling. Because Ellis and Meredith are Welsh names.

House crossover. Another doctor show favorite of mine also referenced as the baby daddy. FC is Rose McIver, so I'm going to borrow quite a few iZombie characters (which is also set in Seattle).

Ellis Grey

Ellis knows the statistics; what's more, she knows that Richard knows them.

Men have more deaths, women have more attempts. With men: rope and firearms; with women: pills and razorblades.

Ellis Grey is a surgeon, not a housewife, and surgeons use scalpels. Scalpels, you pay attention to.

She's too intoxicated to realize, the whole point of a non-serious attempt is having someone get to you in time. She calls out to Richard, as if he's not out of reach, in a different house, with a different woman.


Only Meredith hears her.

Meredith placing washrags around her wrists, using the phone to call 911.

Meredith who's five. Meredith who Thatcher drags to the hospital, oblivious to what it does to her standing, needling her to work less when she has to work more. He doesn't understand mommies that stay home never get to the top, have the gates close on them if they retreat. She can't kiss make believe injuries when she has real injuries, real surgeries, real problems with real solutions, to deal with. Can't he do that? Isn't that what they agreed when they started this family? Doesn't he realize what she's up against?

A father and son were in a car accident where the father was killed. The ambulance brought the son to the hospital. He needed immediate surgery. In the operating room, a doctor came in and looked at the little boy and said I can't operate on him he is my son.

Who is the doctor?

She wants Meredith to be proud, to say I'm Ellis Grey's daughter the way people rarely mention, rarely consider, their mothers. In a way no one will ever speak of Adele Webber.

She sits in a pool of her own blood, tells Meredith to be extraordinary as if it's the last thing she'll impart. In case it is.

She wins the Harper Avery.

Thatch leaves.

Richard is gone.

And Meredith is left to remember her like this.

She reforms from the ashes. Hardens. Tells a version where she's the one that leaves, instead of being the one left.

Tells it to Meredith too.

With the U.N., she learns techniques city hospitals haven't seen yet, without a damn to who thought of it first, just who can utilize it better. It's about survival. It's always been about survival.

Half the doctors are bleeding hearts, of course. Wading into humanitarian disasters comes with it's savior complexes. She finds commonality with the war-weary. The ones who can compartmentalize. The ones who stay in the game instead of accepting something less back home, succumb after being used up, reduced to handing out suckers to mundane people with mundane problems.

She's Dr. Grey first. Foremost.

No one brings Meredith to come see her at every inconvenient moment. No one sits up, waiting to lecture her for the long hours, the promises she couldn't keep.

She gets to come home, to sleep, to drink, in silence.

Even Meredith's disappointments, are silent.

He's tall, older, steely eyed. A trauma surgeon who can't let go of the tiger's tail after conscription. She doesn't ask which war. Doesn't care. He gripes about meatball surgery but patented more than a few instruments and techniques that lets boys keep their limbs a little longer, que back to the front of the assembly line of war.

He's old fashioned, and not in a gentlemanly way, the kind who patted a nurse's ass, and covered callous, libertine ways with a charming grin. The kind of a man who broke every promise he made to a starry-eyed woman.

He's canny enough to know she enjoys the flirtation, takes her caustic remarks as banter. Under the ice, she likes being pursued, being reminded that she's still flesh and blood, that it's not a bad thing, being a woman. Not always an obstacle to overcome.

She watches the equipment lose power, watches him never skip a step, perform an arterial transplant without pledgets, under the flicker of a flashlight.

She doesn't swoon. But, for the first time since Richard -

She pulls him in and bruises him with her kiss.

(She had sabotaged her birth control, with Richard. Had her IUD removed, kept Thatch away.

For nothing, in the end. She didn't get pregnant, with Richard.)

It might have been Thatcher's name, but Grey was her own, she made it her own, made her career with it, made more of it.

The divorce isn't finalized. It could look like Thatcher's, like an attempt at reconciliation. She doesn't care what it would look like to Thatcher.

It wouldn't be Thatcher's, wouldn't be Richard's.

She makes her way through genetic and infectious eponymous diseases the way she used to study for her boards. What's the most hideous disease she can think of, that no child would want, as no child would want her. A defensive pre-measure, a justification to what she intends.

And then -

She performs her own ultrasound, in a quiet, locked room, hears the baby's heartbeat. 156 BPM. No more reliable than a pin on a string, or where the pregnant woman holds the weight, but –

Some would say, it's a girl.

A girl who hasn't seen her at her worse, hasn't yet learned the limits of love.

A girl that was just hers.

Mari Grey

The closest her mother gets to attending her recitals is when she spreads her paperwork on the dining room table next to the living room, where Mari sits at the piano.

It's such an anomaly, that first time, that Mari halts her practice, instinctively seizing the chance to show what she can do with the music her mother weaned her on from the cradle – Wagner, and Beethoven, and Bizet, the romantic greats.

Her name had almost been Isolde. The tale of the adulterous, doomed love. Instead, it's Mari, common Mari. A name that means drop in the sea. Bitter and beloved.

Ellis Grey keeps translating her shorthand into in-depth surgical notes, writes her ideas into her wine-stained journal. She responds more to her younger child's expectation than any engagement in the music. "Is there a point in paying for piano lessons if you haven't advanced past simple pieces by now?"

Mari's grips the piano bench, looks down at the tips of her toes skating the floor.

She's watched Ellis berate or ignore Meredith. Seen how Meredith huddles, gets quieter, says no mom, and yes mom, and sinks into the hurt.

If Meredith were here, she would take a seat next to her, would lean their shoulders against each other, silent but there, there but silent.

But Meredith is fifteen, hair garishly pink, always somewhere else, even when she's home. She listens to lyrics that batter company away, pounding through a locked door. She doesn't smile anymore when Mari plays show tunes, or Charlie Brown, or bangs on the piano like a herd of elephants when Meredith runs down the stairs and straight out the door.

Mari thinks about having her piano lessons taken away, having Mr. Weisman who compliments her in Russian, and German, and Italian, so she'll know all the best words when her mother is called somewhere else with the U.N., and corrects her in the same languages so she'll know the creative ones too. She rather her mother never come out of her office at all, then lose this.

She pulls out all of her recitals sheet music from the past year and what's to come, neatly stacked and stashed in her piano bench, and plays them, starting with those simple tunes. She's never tried practicing the pieces she hasn't mastered when her mother is somewhere home and doesn't yet know why.

Mr. Weisman says she has a habit of cringing when she makes a mistake, of losing her posture, of waiting for the headsman's axe.

But she realizes it doesn't matter. It isn't medicine. Her mother doesn't care enough to know the difference.

It's disjointed, fast and slow, somber, and upbeat. She turns her own pages, develops her own rhythm, plays past raw, aching, cramping, flicks white pages to float to the floor.

She doesn't do it pithily, she doesn't slam the cover closed, doesn't stomp off, doesn't bow defiantly, and she doesn't cry. Her finger trembles, holding the final note, wondering if her mother is even still there. If she heard.

If she turns her head even slightly, if she sees that she's alone...

Ellis Grey, perhaps for the first time, listens. She leaves the medicine.

She gently take her wrists, right above her swollen hands, and leads her to the kitchen table, sits her down, and starts to bandage her hands. It's the first hurt in a long while that she's ever used her healing hands to soothe.

Mari's eyes are hot.

"I wouldn't take this away from you," her mother says, firm like with everything else, the self-inflected wounds between them.

She smooths the bandage, makes it perfect, turning over her own strong, plain hands to share her own stories of past blisters, past cramps. She makes medicine sound painful, and real, and human.

She makes it sound like music.

They pick up and leave again. Far from the corner of the world Mr. Weisman inhabits. Sometimes to a place with pianos.

Sometimes, she slips a harmonica in her pocket, like a G.I. with a Zippo. An identity touchstone.

Her next teacher, when private lessons are picked up again, tells her she needs to pick something to master, to slavishly devote to, if she wants Julliard, or Berklee, or symphonies in her future. What she hears, is that she needs to stop playing.

Music has to be serious now. Stop accumulating new instruments, and new styles, and new songs, and new eccentric teachers.

Mari thinks about what instrument she's the best at, compares each to someone her age who's better, and -

She turns to baseball.

Baseball is a thing, with the American expatriate kids, a patriotic stand against the universal soccer. Their coach has them test reflexes and do eye exams. The best hitters (and the best surgeons) have great vision, The kid, Ted Williams, had 20/10 at his enlistment.

When it's her turn, she realizes the last line is a dark blur, but she remembers what the kid with perfect vision had recited, so she repeats him.

She doesn't have the eyes of one of the greats.

Coach Rogers tells the other kids, open with their disappointment, that life is about more than innate ability.

It's not about keeping your eye on the ball. Watch that and you're swinging at air. Connection is reacting to the pitcher. A schema masquerading as instinct. She sees it in action, in her mother's continuous study, the brute force she wields to master it all behind closed doors, so she can be poised and untouchable under the lights.

She watches her mother build her instincts.

She turns over her own hands, feels it acutely, each time they fail her.

A chord that doesn't strike. A key that jars. Dropping the ball. Throwing it short.

A doctor she likes retires because the arthritis gets bad. He raged that he deserved more respect and her mom said, 'what did he expect?' as if he's used up his usefulness. The hunter being sent out on the ice. Failing hands.

And what does she do with hers?

She scrapes her knuckles, lashes her palms, because she leaps first, so that torn fabric and ripped seams would give her an excuse, an opening to 'hey Mom, what stitch should I use? What's a new one I could learn?'

She's bled, for a perfect composition.

It becomes a nightmare, that she's one of those creepy, homunculus creatures, with it's too big, too sensitive, too exposed hands.

The idea of being a surgeon, of having it and then losing usefulness, makes her wake with a pounding heart, in a cold sweat, and clutching her hands tight to her chest.

To Ellis Grey, there's no business like show business. And show business is surgery. Doctors who aren't surgeons are like extras, close to magic but not able to cut it. They're background. Unmemorable. As Robert Mitchem said, you either have it or you don't, and if you don't have it, you can't learn it.

When Meredith took a gap year that turned into two, Ellis wrote Meredith off as one of the extras. The real actors are the ones who want it, who are passionate about this and only this, who cut their teeth, and bleed, and shred their skin for it.

Mari gets Meredith to visit, Mom to take a night off, and Meredith brings up med school. Ellis dismisses it as a flight of fancy, or worse, a quest for approval, of doing what she thinks Ellis wants her to do.

And Meredith fumbles her defense, doesn't advocate for why she wants it, but hurt that Ellis doesn't want it for her.

Don't you want to share this with me? Can't you be happy that we'll finally have something in common?

Happy? Ellis parrots, mocking amusement fitting the lines of her face. In her mouth, happy sounds like an insult.

Mari sits silently, unable to mediate, or interpret, invisible but for the attention bestowed by the spying patrons. It's laughable really, that she can see their server regretting that he already lit Mari's birthday candle, as the flame flickers and the wax dips onto the single slice of chocolate cake, while he stands frozen, only a few steps from the table.

Ellis scoffs. Is that what you think, that I'm keeping it from you? That I could stop you if you had what it takes? Grow up Meredith, I can't give you the respect of your peers, of my peers, anymore than I can hand you talent.

Meredith deflates.

And you think I'll tarnish your legacy?

Ellis scoffs, dismissing it all.

You won't make it that far.

A young, blonde, candy striper follows a group of interns into the labs.

Someone asks if that's allowed, another corrects that it definitely isn't, and the candy striper diverts them by leaning over one of their shoulders and correcting the intern's lab with an imitated buzzing sound from Operation.

The grackles turn to make fun of their own. In under a minute, without even trying to blend in, they forget to shoo her out.

House watches her quick eyes dancing over the lab before they land on him, performing his own experiment, in a blue, wrinkled shirt with a Rolling Stones tee underneath, and his lab coat left behind in med school. She's intrigued, but she stops herself from moving closer, her daring just short from pursuing the other anomaly in the lab.

She gets a note, asking her to bring a pile of candy from her cart to an office on the fourth floor.

It's tied around the neck of one of the teddy-bears, and the 'oR ElSe' is made of mismatched letters cut from a glossy magazine.

It's funny. And ridiculous. And ridiculous in a hospital, where too many take themselves too seriously, has an enticing charm.

If they could leave this note, they could have pilfered the supply themselves. So, it's an instruction solely for her. And the only reason to single her out is because they caught her doing something she shouldn't.

It shouldn't matter anyway, if she loses this spot.

Her mother calls these places St. Elsewheres. (She calls everything that isn't a hallowed institution St. Elsewheres). They survive on grant money. The equipment isn't new. The patients - the surgeries - weren't as interesting. They stay shy of understaffed. The dean is too young for her position. Her mother would scoff that it's 'an obvious ploy to entice investors'. The youth, the attractiveness, the attitude, the way she dresses provocatively. They're skating somewhere in the top 20 teaching hospitals – which does the work for drawing talent that would otherwise go somewhere else. You'll be paid less, but if you're quick, you jump straight into the deep end. Go-getters like the deep end.

Not that she'd know, really, doing this.

Having someone threaten to turn her in for being in unauthorized areas with a kidnapper note and a demand for candy is the most interesting thing to happen to her here.

Said kidnapper is the guy from the lab. Long face, intelligent blue eyes, irreverent demeanor. 'Gregory House, M.D. Infectious Diseases' is stenciled on the door.

His legs are stretched out over his desk, one of the teddy-bears from her cart resting against his chest as he lifts his head and turns the teddy to face her at the same time, like they're both watching her entrance. The affected air tells her he likes the performance. She slows her steps to find out more about him by taking in his office.

His records outnumber the books. Medical indexes at that, like a writer surrounded by dictionaries. Some of the titles are in Latin and in Greek. The pile of articles in his inbox are in a variety of fonts, colors, and type that are obviously non-English. None are fanned out, like a catalogue to impress, more lazily looked through, perhaps as easily discarded as a tabloid. Mandarin. Hindi. Greek. Spanish. The more recent, with a pair of reading glasses on top, is in Italian.

There's a burst of nostalgia, just seeing the titles, trying to improve her foreign languages with the articles her mother took home.

He shifts the teddy to sit up on his desk, turned to face her.

"The Grey Method," he ponders aloud, easily rattling off the laparoscopic technique.

She shifts back, and realizes this wasn't about her at all.

"I've heard of it."

"Was that a secret?" He rocks back in his chair. "Because it's interesting that the daughter of a famous doctor would choose the only Ivy league without a medical school. And yet, contrary to a music major she's then taking bio, biochemistry, organic chem... classes that sound like pre-med."

She fakes thoughtfulness as she scrunches her brow. "I don't remember filling out that much paperwork for the volunteer form."

He answers quickly. "Unvoluntary volunteering. Otherwise known as academic probation. For sending a student to the morgue."

"To sleep off a drunken stupor."

"In a body bag."

"It wasn't zipped up all the way."

"Four students in the pathology class dropped out."

"Dropped out of the program, not the school," she defends quickly, and then immediately regrets it as it breaks the affected aloofness.

He turns the bear towards him, shakes his head meaningfully, like can you believe her?

She returns the look, to him, not the bear.

He drops his legs from the desk and shuffles to lean forward. The investigator about to explain the crime to her. "Yet you choose to take your volunteering at a hospital. You got in trouble for sneaking into the med school on another campus. There seems to be a pattern here," he mock-muses.

She bites the inside of her cheek.

"Twice is only a coincidence," she murmurs.

"Nope," he pops the 'p'. "Dr. Mommy makes it three. That's enemy action, Mr. Bond," he finishes with an upper-crust British accent.

Dr. Mommy. She dares him to say that to Ellis Grey's face.

"You want to do something more useful than handling out teddy bears to babies and lollipops to the cancer kids?"

She stares down at the glassy eyes of the blue teddy bear, away from his very direct, challenging stare. A part of her can't believe the way he says cancer kids with disregard. "Like?"

He waves his hand. "Make coffee, filter emails, filter calls. Be my barely-legal Moneypenny."

She raises her brows, waiting for the enticing part.

"Also..." he grumbles, like it's grudging "you could figure out if you're going to stop flirting and commit to the dirty mistress you call medicine."

She blinks.

It should be serious; isn't it supposed to be serious? Taking the Hippocratic Oath. Joining the higher calling – sacrificing all else.

Instead, she mouths dirty mistress, and laughs.

Mari tells her family she's going into medicine by sending two postcards from the school gift shop, after she's already in. She hasn't a clue where her mother, or sister, think she is.




Two years later, Meredith sends her own postcard from the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth. Mari has a friend who forwards it from her old dorms.




Her mother forgets her graduation.

"Don't be silly," she dismisses, while Mari stands at the phone booth, watching other families smile and hug and take pictures while Meredith watches her through the glass, with commiserating eyes and bitten lip. "Your graduation is weeks away."

She grows frustrated when Mari tells her, no, actually, it's happening right now.

She's used to her mother breaking promises, making things sound unworthy of her time, but to not be here? It isn't one of her concerts, or games, or triathlons, all those other things that never seemed important. This is graduating from medical school.

People are loud and cheering around her. She has to plug her ear, huddle closer to the phone as her mother long-sufferingly and impatiently goes to her desk to find the calendar. She almost misses, may even have imagined the hitch in breath, her mother trailing off, "It seems I was..."

Mari tries to listen, as the feeling of something being very wrong, grows. Graduates passing by, future doctors, bang on the glass, hooting and hollering. Whatever else her mother says, if she says anything at all, is lost in noise, lost in silence.

It takes a year before she has enough to write symptoms on a white board.

It isn't a definitive diagnosis. There's no way to get a definitive diagnosis.

(Not until autopsy.)

House nudges her dropped luggage out of the doorway, limps into the dark, quiet room, where she's sitting in front of the white board, a day before she was meant to return, hours after the rest of the floor have gone home.

"You're looking for an alternative diagnosis," he intuits, after a long moment, as if the symptoms are too obvious, too perfect, that the answer couldn't have escaped her.

She doesn't turn to face him. Her eyes are red and scratchy from not blinking, and if she turns her head even slightly, she's afraid of the torrent to start spilling over.

"Your mother," he guesses.

She closes her eyes.

Don't say this is pointless, that the answer is obvious, that it's done. Accept, move on, next case. Don't...

"You never want it to be auto-immune," she murmurs quietly. "Because then there's nothing you can do. Not everything has a cure, but you always want something that at least has a treatment."

You do it too, she's trying to say, so let me.

"There are...trials..." he shifts, like his leg is bothering him. It's more a question to what the intended course is, instead of there being a great Hail-Mary treatment to consider.

"No." She doubts there's a trial for this happening that Ellis Grey hasn't looked into and thus rejected. Her mother had kept the show going, while she could keep the mistakes out of the OR. And then she couldn't. And then the plan changed. She pulls her legs in, rests her chin against her knee, and wraps her arms around herself. Everything is catching up to her. She realizes she doesn't even remember the flight, the cab from the airport to House's office. "She had me sign an NDA."

And isn't that just...defining. A label on their relationship that makes everything hollower.

"She wants to put herself in a nursing home in Seattle. At 'home'," Her brows furrow, as she mimics her mother's voice, but with her own confusion. "What home? The one they lived in before I was born? The place that's been rented out longer than she ever lived there? She actually said, don't be obtuse, like I should know what the hell home means. Then it's 'let's move on'. This is the care facility I've chosen, and the rules for when you visit, and what to say when people start asking questions."

Like it was a business transaction. And usually, she can tell when her mother is pushing logic over emotion, but this time? She couldn't tell if there was anything below the surface. If her mother really is that cold.

House says, "You have a sister."

Maybe she's too sensitive, too reactive from realizing she's spent her life interpreting her mother as more human and attached than she should, and that she should take people, relationships at face value. She hears the uncomfortableness in House's voice, and she hears you have a sister, when he knows she hardly talks to Meredith, and she hears I'm not the person you should come to. There's no comfort here, on offer. The man she looked up to like – well, it doesn't matter how she did, it's not like she has much to compare it to.

She hugs herself tighter, eyes tightly shut before she breathes.

"Right," she answers, lifting her chin. "I have a sister."

But it feels like she has nothing at all.

She wasn't here when it happened. Hadn't seen the immediate aftermath, the violation of it, the rejected physical therapy, of Stacy leaving him.

What she did see, was him unbridling on another doctor who unprompted, unwanted, advised he was using his cane wrong. The rule, for most people, is it's supposed to be on the opposite side of the injury. Only, not when you suffer a vascular infarction to the quadricep muscle. House isn't using his cane as an aid; he's using it to lessen the weight he has to bear on his limb. Every step, every contraction of the muscle, is pain. The cane is, essentially, his leg.

She met a new House. One who was so much more reclusive. Sharper in his sarcasm. Diagnostician at the head of his title instead of the back. An understanding of nephrology that's now unparalleled. (It was the kidneys that pointed to muscle death. The kidneys that proved the pain wasn't imagined.)

She doesn't regret coming back for her internship, but –

She wonders. If she met this version of House, would he have offered her the same opportunity, or would he have figured out why the candy striper was loitering in the labs, and said something cutting, in passing, just because he was bored in-between cases.

What's her mother to become, with a disease that strips, and takes, and erodes?

And is there even foundation there, to break?

House starts screening applicants for fellowships, and Wilson takes her to lunch.

"You know...assuming patients are all...liars or idiots...that's not how doctors usually go about things..." he hesitates, and she wonders if he's conflicted on what he's going to say, or how he's going to say it. He sighs. "You're about to stop being an intern and there are great programs out there. I know House has a way of making the rules seem irrelevant, but they aren't. Not all of them anyway. And if you keep spending your career with House, I'm worried you're not going to be able to work anywhere else."

It's not like she hasn't heard versions of this.

By be able he could mean House will make her un-hirable. That any other hospital, and their in-house counsel, would consider her a rogue agent. A liability. House's brilliance lets him be the anomaly. Let's him bend when he wants and refuse when he doesn't.

She used to bristle, when other doctors told her House would supplement his own morals onto her, as if prophesizing her ruin. But through experience, she's learned how hard it is to not say yes when someone charismatic, someone you admire, wants you to. And then, to not say no to counteract it, like there's a scorecard where you're either the winner or the loser. Especially when the other person is keeping a scorecard, is constantly testing what they can get away with.

House has never been easy. He's thrown her into moral quandaries with uneasy answers, with half-answers, with no answers. He's taught her the value in knowing right, in trying to fight for right when others settle for wrong. Won't be able to work anywhere else, could, at the heart of it, mean she won't want to work anywhere else.

She touches the condensation on her water glass, as it sweats in a beam of sunlight.

"You're not angry," he observes, trying to read her, guilty for having to say it at all. "You're...pensive?"

She rubs the beads of water on the tips of her fingers, and wonders what House has said, for Wilson to get this all wrong.

She tells him, absently, the kind of things she's read in the fellowship applications. The kind of things that blow her career out of the water.

"That's not –" the matter-of-fact tone, the weak smile, punches him in the gut.

"If he wanted me, he'd be needling me right now. The way he did when I was on other attendings rotations. He'd disparage other hospitals programs. Tell me other specialties are lame." Like he did when she was considering medical schools other than his original alma mater.

"Sometimes House sabotages what he wants," Wilson offers quietly.

She shrugs, agreeing but uncertain if she's wanted at all. "He hasn't interrupted, Wilson." When has House not interrupted their lunch? "And he knows I already accepted a residency at Seattle Grace."

Wilson looks gob smacked. He might have attempted to offer genuinely meant advice, and recommendations, and a cushion to what he thought was an upcoming blow in House's rejection, but he didn't consider that she was already leaving.

And he thinks: House saw this coming. And he wonders at the timing, for House to start a fellowship.

"And we both know he hired the first fellow today. The kid of some successful, international, surgeon."

Hence, Wilson taking her to lunch. Hence, her agreement to put off talking to House. Because House is going to draw the comparison. Maybe he'll try to get her to make the comparison first and say, don't you think that's a little egotistical?

Maybe he'll needle her, talk about the guy's credentials, say he's upgrading. Say I need a blond around the office and ask people to vote on who's the better eye candy. Anything to avoid the ridiculous suspicion that she'll be missed.

"I suppose that's...flattering, in a way," Wilson struggles with, always trying to interpret House for others in the most human light.

"In a way," she agrees.

"You look contemplative," says the bartender as he slides over a ceramic with extra cherries. It's a cliché, that the first person in a new city to throw an opening at her, is a bartender.

"I guess you don't get too many people contemplating a Shirley Temple?"

"Eh," he shrugs.

Right. He probably does see people contemplating ginger ale, and club sodas, and Shirley Temples. People who settle into a barstool to hold their hands close to the flame they know they shouldn't touch.

She sits at the bar, alone, and debates with herself if it's more or less boring than suntanning. Nothing to see, with her back to the room, no time for deep thoughts with a forgettable pop song in her ears. She could take a seat at the window, but all she'd see is the lights from the hospital across the street. She tries not to look in that direction at all.

"I dropped my sister off at this orientation mixer," she confesses. "Now I'"

He forgoes wiping down the bar, realizing she isn't the type that needs to be drawn out. "And you're waiting until it's time to pick her up?"

She tries to make her words seem less than what they are. "Waiting to see whether or not I need to tell the nice bartender my name and number so he knows who to call when a dirty blonde shows up asking for a dozen shots of tequila."


Vodka was Mom's, colorless and scentless and hider of sins. Meredith likes tequila. How well did she like tequila, and how did tequila like her?

So what if Meredith shows up? Does that have to mean anything? What is she measuring here, how quickly, as if that will correlate to a level of dependence or self-destruction?

"I feel kind of like the parent waiting up in the dark. Waiting to see if the teenager is going to tiptoe in, and just when they think they got away with it, click, the lamp comes on." She tells him, plucking a cherry to drop in her glass. "I don't want to be that person. That person gets a groove in their forehead from frowning too much. They spend their life worrying if the people around them are having too much fun."

The bartender wipes his hand on a rag, brow furrowed. "Your sister is old enough to drink right?"

"Older sister," she answers promptly, dunking the rest of the cherries into her glass one at a time.

He nods, very much the quintessential bartender, listening and judgment-free. She hopes her patients see her, will see her, the same way. It helps with at least half of the lies. "Okay. Maybe you're the non-frowning concerned party that's just looking out. And maybe you don't have anything to worry about," he gestures to the bar, the lack of sister in the vicinity, with a touch of optimism.

"So, this isn't me sitting under the lamp, waiting to turn it on?"

He shakes his head companionably.

She considers it, as the ice melts, as she loses interest in cherry ties. A life without a shoe waiting to drop.

Is that even possible with the daughters of Ellis Grey?

Joe relieves her boredom, passes her a worn deck of cards, and seeing how it barely fits in the package, and most lay on the bar top like pringles, she starts on a house of cards. She's on her third layer, with unwavering focus, when Joe drops off two more decks.

"That seems highly ambitious."

"Maybe someone will offer to help you with it," he teases.

She looks to the empty seats to the left and right of her. She raises her brows at him. "Yeah, I'm filtering offers."

"You never know," he shrugs.

She exaggerates her look to include more of the room, on this slow Sunday night, a bemused smile quirking her lips. Her eyes catch at the window, not at the hospital's reflection, but the man haloed beneath it.

She stares as he stares, drops her eyes to the slight smile on his lips. She turns to her cards, struck in a way that doesn't shake off.

She carefully lines up her next card, while he gets up, moves closer.

"Double scotch, single malt please," he tells Joe, with just a hint of his cologne drifting to her as he leans both hands on the bar. He clears his throat slightly, and for a second, she wonders if she hears nerves in it as he turns his head and smiles towards her. "Hi."

She lifts her eyes, spies dark blue eyes, a slight curl to his dark, wavy hair.

She purses her lips to deny her fluster, almost exasperated with him. "Do you always look at girls in bars that way?"

His smile widens, charmingly and an ounce shy. "In what way?" he teases.

She gives him a look without answering. His eyes crinkle. He takes the seat without turning away from her.

"Do you come here often?"

It sounds close enough to a line that she snorts.

"First time."

"Really?" He looks at her house of cards and at the bartender. Joe lifts his hand in a brief wave, not even pretending not to watch.

"Me too. I'm new to Seattle. Just got here."

She leans towards him. He follows. What was meant as a quip temporarily stalls her, their breathes catching in near mirror. Maybe she just wanted an excuse to lean closer. "Well then, welcome to the Emerald City."

He laughs under his breath while in the background Joe groans, probably at the joke he's heard a million times, here at the 'Emerald City' bar.

They both look at him, cheeks almost touching as they turn their heads.

Joe rolls his eyes. "Bust my buttons," he quotes, like he was the doorkeeper at Oz.

She chuckles, and feels his, this stranger who's name she doesn't know, as if it were against her lips.

"Mari," she offers, smile warm and curling.