DISCLAIMER: All television shows, movies, books, and other copyrighted material referred to in this work, and the characters, settings, and events thereof, are the properties of their respective owners. As this work is an interpretation of the original material and not for-profit, it constitutes fair use. Reference to real persons, places, or events are made in a fictional context, and are not intended to be libelous, defamatory, or in any way factual.
SPOILERS: Primarily season 4 through finale of Private Practice, season 11 of CSI, season 7 of House, season 9 of Grey's Anatomy, and Season 8 of Criminal Minds.

ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
FEEDBACK: To anthemw[at]gmail.com


And in Shiloh, They Lurk Amidst the Vines


They Took Wives For Themselves

Part One

"Then they said, "Look, each year there's a festival in honor of Adonai in Shiloh, north of Beit-El, on the east side of the road that goes up from Beit-El to Sh'khem, and south of Levonah."  They ordered the men of Binyamin, "Go, hide in the vineyards, and keep watch. If the girls of Shiloh come out to do their dances, then come out of the vineyards, and each of you catch for himself a wife from the Shiloh girls, and go on to the land of Binyamin.  When their fathers or brothers come to complain to us, we will say to them, 'Give them as a personal favor to us, because we didn't take wives for each of them in battle. You didn't give them to them; that would have made you guilty of breaking your oath.'" So the men of Binyamin did this - they took wives for themselves from the girls who were dancing, as many as they needed. They carried them off, went back to the land of their inheritance, rebuilt the cities and lived in them." 

- Rape of Jabessh-Giliad, Judges 21:19-23



It wasn't a gentle hand, a soft hand to cup the tender flesh just above her elbow.  It was a tight band of control squeezing and squeezing tighter.  Tighter till the skin pulped between the fingers white, then red, then purple, then numb.

She coughed, choked, rolled and crashed on her knees.  She stumbled a few steps, heaved, swallowed, then retched down the front of her t-shirt, felt bile slide along her rug-burned skin, prickling her shins and settling on the tops of her bare feet.

"Ames?  Amelia!"  Hands.  Amelia thrashed away twisting, falling back on her tail bone with a crack and kicked out blindly, scooting back.  She sniffed, felt tears leaking out from under shut lids, and brought her forearms up to protect and to hide.  Her knuckles scraped the hair over her ears so it rustled loud in the darkness.  Over it she could hear herself struggling not to make a sound.  It was a harsh silence, in which her breath puffed and skipped wild, explosive then not at all.  It was a moment before she centered on the fact that she'd only just returned from the terror of another dream.


"I'm okay.  I'm okay. I'm okay."  She chanted, struggling for control.  She felt a cool, damp spreading across her legs, her feet.  She let her arms drop and squinted into the dark.  Hands soft and gentle, wiped vomit from her neck.  She watched the hands and the cloth tracing a path down her bare arms, her fingers.  She felt the continuum of her heart's steady beat and the rhythm of her breathing even into near calm.  The words died from her lips and for a moment she shivered under the cool touch.  Fingers wiped hair from her brow, rested lightly on her cheek.

"Shhh.  You're fine.  I'm here."  Amelia couldn't stop the tears that gathered on her lashes, dripped down her cheeks as though they'd sprung, wildly escaping her eyes.  She couldn't bear that look, that compassion.  It wasn't pity but it was flawed, nonetheless, in its limitless depth.  She wanted to strain against it, deny it.  But moments like these, in the middle of the night waking from a dream out of control, it was all she wanted.  All she ever wanted was soft, gentle hands.  Her breath hitched on a sob and she shrunk into the embrace that wrapped itself around her shoulders, her waist, pulling her in.  She settled limply, encompassed by long arms, long legs, and nuzzled the warm skin and silky hair before her face.

"I'm sorry."  She managed her voice hoarse.

"What for?  You warned me.  You said and I quote – I still have them Addie and they aren't just dreams.  They can be pretty bad as nightmares go."  Addison gave a light squeeze as Amelia wiggled into a more comfortable spot.  "I don't feel misinformed or ill-prepared.  And look at me not freaking out.  No apologizing, agreed?"

"It's not that."  Amelia returned, snuggling closer.  Her hands were cold, shaking.  She clutched them together and settled them between her thighs.

"Then what?"

"I'm pretty sure I got puke in your hair."  Amelia couldn't resist the smile at the warm chuckle that reverberated under her cheek and shivered all the way through her.

"That's okay.  I'm pretty sure you got puke in your hair too.  We'll call it even."

"Not sleeping."  She mumbled, petulant.  Addison ran the tips of her fingers through curls clustered along Amelia's brow shushing her.

"Okay.  Tell me something."  Addison suggested.

"Mmm.  I had a friend in college – Brian."  Amelia stretched, her arms draped across Addison's lap.  She brushed the toes of one foot along the carpet and shifted her shoulders into a more comfortable position.  Addison tsked at Amelia's fidgeting and re-tucked the blanket against an imagined chill despite the liberal control of the thermostat.  "We used to go to these parties together, get totally wasted, and pick up girls, guys."

"Girls and guys?"  Addison asked, at last content with the warm cocoon she'd built around Amelia's trim shoulders.

"Neither of us were gender-specific about preferences. We found the idea of labels applied to sex unnecessarily dictatorial in reference to a construct otherwise marked by its fluid nature." Amelia added, inconsequentially, "Besides, we liked the challenge of seduction and felt that polarizing the rules based solely on gender was a bit of a cheat."

"I see." Addison didn't, not completely. She'd certainly been witness to how liberally Amelia dated across the spectrum of gender and sexuality but she didn't always comprehend. Her vision was somewhat clouded by the formal dissolution of her parents' marriage as it closely followed her mother's full disclosure of sexual preference seemingly in contradiction to the life she'd led. Yes, the Captain had always known, but certainly Addison hadn't.

"Brian and I, we'd go some place we'd never been and he'd point at anyone in the crowd, a girl with her boyfriend or some random guy posting up and playing it cool. What's the capitol of Belarus?" Addison shrugged, caught off guard at the obscure question.

"I don't know. What is it?"

"Minsk." Amelia whispered, yawning. "That's how we decided. If I asked some trivia, and he got it right, then I'd go make my move." Amelia giggled at the ridiculous characterization based upon the phrase, as if she had moves. "If he was wrong, he went. God, you should have seen us.  We were … we were shameless."

Addison snickered, "Somehow that isn't surprising. Your brother was the same when we first met." Amelia shrugged momentarily embarrassed.

"I had this notion that …" Amelia paused, suddenly aware of just how much she was about to reveal of herself.

"Hey Ames?"  Addison stilled the movement of her fingers and gave a reassuring squeeze at the base of Amelia's neck.  "There's no judgment."

"But …" Amelia recognized a line about to be crossed.  There were things she couldn't rescind, couldn't erase.  Once Addison knew, what could Amelia expect of her friendship?

"I already told you.  I'm not going anywhere."  Addison reassured, her fingers traveled a calming path.  "I've known you most of your life Bits. Nothing changes that. You know." She could little deny the action to be as much for her benefit as Amelia's.  She felt a ripple of dissipating tension along her limbs and an answering sigh from Amelia.

"I know." Amelia murmured, remembering. When she was eight Addison would promise with hugs and kisses at night before bed, I love you to bits and pieces. When Amelia had grown into a phase of being too big for I love yous, Addison would drop Amelia off at school and just say – You know Bits. A thousand such you knows over the years, and Amelia was sure that nothing could change the way Addison felt. "Brian used to say it was golden, the moment when you knew you had the mark convinced, that you'd pulled them in. He always knew the right thing – what to do, to say to charm anyone, make things seem better than they were."  Amelia shook her head again stilling Addison's gentle attentions.  "Me, I wasn't charming. I just let them know in no uncertain terms that they could have me. However they wanted, they could have me." Amelia swallowed, words failing. "I could tell by a look that I wouldn't need the practice of a pretty word. Not one, once I could see deep into them, wherever they'd buried their secret sins, no one wanted me to be charming. Unfailingly, they all wanted me, easy and undisputed. Every last girl who might insist she was straight then ditch her date or every guy who paid for a drink, gave me a ride – they all wanted what they saw when I hinted sex just by smiling." Amelia paused, asked spontaneously.  "Did you ever read the Hardy Boys when you were a kid?" Addison blinked, again thrown by Amelia's sudden change of pace.

"Yeah sure. I mean, I think I can remember reading one or two of those books."

"I loved them."  Amelia replied.

"I think I remember you having a ton of those." Addison chuckled, seeing for a moment Amelia at eight, pigtails trailing the pages of a dog-eared paperback.  

"I wanted to be Joe." Amelia confessed.  "I wanted that so much."

"So Derek could be Frank?"  Addison ventured somewhat unsurprised by Amelia's nod of affirmation.

"There's nothing strong enough to break the bond between brothers."  Amelia's words were sage.  "If life could be just like in those books, Derek could trust me, depend on me as much as I ... I wanted him. Obviously not the way all those girls and guys wanted me." Amelia made a sound of disgust in the back of her throat at the suggestion. "But I got it, you know – wanting something. Before Brian and college, I didn't understand that I could ever be something anyone wanted. If I'd been like Joe Hardy, if I'd been a brother instead of another sister, maybe Derek wouldn't feel like there was so little to make him stay." Amelia explained eager to convey the depth of this desire to be so categorically different from what she was. "Every day after our father was …" Amelia paused. "After he died, I could see it. Derek was thinking not if but when he'd leave." Addison remembered how Derek always seemed to hate visits home, yet they had been frequent when Amelia was still a child. He'd acted out of a sense of obligation that warred in him. He wanted to be present as the man of the house while wanting to forget the circumstances that had bestowed that mantle upon him. Addison attempted to massage away the tension radiating up Amelia's spine.

"I couldn't bear the thought of being alone at home.  When Derek and my sisters were gone, there was no buffer.  I bore the brunt of Mom's sadness and I hated it."

"He was thirteen when you were born, sweetie. Did you think he could stay forever? Even if you could have been a brother, a buddy, he would have had to leave eventually to become the man he is."

"It wouldn't have mattered one way or another." Amelia muttered. "I was always the typical nuisance of a younger sibling to him. It wasn't just the age. I couldn't be there when things were … bad." Amelia swallowed, acknowledging the implications of the world expressed in that word. "Not like he was always there for me."  Amelia's mind flashed back to the dream, the confining hands holding her stiffly. "I wanted to be there for him. I did, you know?" Amelia grimaced, offering understatement as explanation, "Life is never ideal."

"So you became a character in a book or whatever a stranger wants in order to … what?"  Addison prodded, "Make things seem better than they are?"

"Yes." Amelia confirmed then clarified.  "Why settle for the alternative?"

"I don't know if I agree that living in reality is settling." Addison countered.

"There's this picture that was taken right before Derek left home.  It's faded now, old. It's of him and I in front of Mom's old house you know the brownstone in Brooklyn?" Addison nodded remembering it well. Carolyn Wilson Shepherd had sold the family home in favor of a small beachside cabin in Montauk. "Right before that picture was taken I stole Mom's kitchen shears and went wild.  I'd decided I wanted the ultimate boy haircut."

"Mohawk."  They intoned.  Addison chuckled.

"Of course Mom was pissed. And Derek just laughed, said we had to immortalize the moment." Amelia grinned at the memory, "Mom's there, practically in tears over my darling, precious hair gone; and Derek is squatting with his arm around my shoulders like we're equals.  I remember thinking this is what it means to be brothers, this moment.  It wasn't the hand me downs I insisted on wearing even though my mother wildly disapproved, or that tragic haircut."  Amelia smiled.  "It was just us - Derek and I against the whole world, or at least the fucked up corner of it that was ours, and that was golden to me."

"But he did."  Addison stated, in the ensuing silence.  "He did leave."

"Of course, like you said, to become the man he is. A borrowed persona couldn't fix everything, no matter how I hoped."  Amelia confirmed, gazing into the distance as though into the past.  She could see the five year old, missing two front teeth but grinning wide and posing proudly, arms crossed over puffed chest.  In that moment, she'd looked almost happy.  "The day Derek left he said to me - bro, nothing in this world is as important to me as you are."  Amelia blinked back tears and continued.  "So I need you to understand why I have to leave."

"Was it your Mom?" Addison suggested.

"In every way it was."  Amelia paused.  "He told me I was right to believe nothing can keep brothers apart.  He was grateful he'd had so many chances to learn how to be a good brother with me.  But he only got one chance to be the kind of man he should be and he couldn't neglect that, even for me."

"A man like your father?"  Addison murmured a soft inquiry.  

"Maybe. I don't know." Amelia hadn't figured she'd share quite this much. "Derek says Dad got killed over a watch. A watch, Addison." Years after the fact, it was still impossible for Amelia to comprehend. "A thing he cherished, a thing that my Mom bought and engraved for him, but a thing nevertheless, was worth abandoning a wife and five kids." Amelia squinted, reasoning, "If he'd surrendered, given it up, those men would have only succeeded in taking something he easily could have had replaced. Instead, he refused. So they killed him and took it off his dead body while his kids watched. How could he have figured that was worth it?"

"Most parents, even those who don't have the opportunity to parent or see their children safely to adulthood, reflect on their lives concentrating on the struggles of those experiences."  Addison murmured thoughtful.  "They want to spare their kids but don't realize that they cannot discard the sorrows without eliminating the joys along with them." Amelia shrugged, nodding though perplexed.

"I think I would have preferred being spared the sorrow of losing my Dad or of Derek leaving. I can't think of a single joy in my life that adequately justifies either event."

Amelia was all angles and elbows in Addison's arms.  She marveled at the change, at the difference under so many irreverent layers.  She was thin, so small and starved for the cuddling Addison provided.  And though she'd protested with a wildness in her eyes and her adamant refusal to relate even the slightest details that disturbed her dreams, Amelia had fallen asleep, inside of Addison's sturdy embrace.

"I don't want to … I mean, I can't go back to sleep now.  Okay?" Amelia's voice had wavered, edged with panic and it had taken all Addison's resolve not to turn and run.  That was the line she'd blithely crossed.  Not when she'd first promised to stay, but the second time.  "Shhh.  Hey," Addison slipped a persuasive finger under Amelia's chin and deftly caught her eye.  "I told you already.  I'm here.  I'm not going anywhere."

Addison sat, feet propped, her long arms and long legs seemed endless, lanky when Amelia curled tight, or draped and dangled beside her. Dwarfed by the cushions of Addison's living room couch, Amelia had never really had a spurt and outgrown her pixie stage. Unlike her siblings who towered above her, Amelia was the petite outlier of the Shepherd clan. Addison marveled that even at twenty-seven years of age, she could still cuddle Amelia close as though she weren't a day over eight.

You're more of a sister to me than my own, a confession Addison cherished above any other gift she'd received in memory.  Amelia, wide eyes earnest and disarming, had a natural talent for slipping into hearts and minds.  Addison had practically watched her grow up, watched her develop and wield these impressive wiles for years before the capable young woman materialized.  "Addie, I missed you so much."  It was difficult to reconcile, this powerful new creature to the child that still populated her memories.  That Amelia was an adorable little bookworm that would curl up close, all bony elbows and knobby knees, while Addison tried to catch up on medical journals or study for exam practicum.  

"What's that mean Addie?"  Over and over again, explaining a term or a procedure the ever-curious Amy would read while tucked under Addison's arm.  There was no use in attempting to distract with enticements of television or discourage her with not now, go play. Amelia had her sights set on medicine at age six and there was little that could draw her away from peering at a textbook side by side with Addison. To be perfectly honest, Addison had probably learned more effectively explaining things to a young Amelia than she ever did plugging away in a library carrel overnight.  

When Derek would scold Amy for being under foot, more often than not it was Addison making excuses for her presence.  It was just that, even back then, Amelia was not so oddly Addison's.  As though it were more likely fated that Derek and Addison had temporarily drifted together for Amelia's proscribed benefit.  Thus it made a lot of sense that even frustrated, even incensed, Addison was never truly disappointed by Amelia.  

In spite of Amelia's earlier protestations, her eyes eventually drooped precariously toward slumber as she blearily pointed, commenting on the anticipated summer trends while Addison paged through a recent edition of Vogue. It wasn't exactly naming constellations but Amelia soon drifted, her voice softening to a whisper. Addison felt her heart catch then trip-hammer as a wrinkle of discomfort found a fleeting home on Amelia's forehead. "Hush, Bits.  Hush."  She wasn't ready to bear witness to another of Amelia's nightmares just yet.  She pulled the throw tighter around the puzzle of entwined arms and legs and dropped a kiss on fluttering lids. "Don't dream, Ames. Just sleep." She whispered, hoping.



"Isn't bad coffee at an NA meeting a bit cliché."  Amelia smirked at the expression on Charlotte's face.  Replacing the empty paper cup on a card table overloaded with pastries and presspot coffee, she cast her eyes away from Charlotte's grimace to get a feel for the crowd of addicts gathered in the multi-purpose room of Our Lady of Solace Catholic Church.

"So is making small talk next to the refreshment table."  Charlotte muttered, tossing her full cup of coffee into a nearby trash bin.  Her eyes roamed the other patrons of the meeting seated some feet away in rows of folding chairs.  There was a mountain of muscle-bound biker-type sobbing at the podium, leather vest, beard and a whole lot of give 'em hell in spite of the tears.  She'd tuned out the moment she heard him sniffling about a television ad that reminded him of his estranged father.  What she heard instead was white noise.  She'd been surrounded by it for days.  And despite every appearance of mottled bruises and bandages stained with blood oozing between the intricate pattern of stitches across her body, it was not pain needling to the surface from the very marrow of her bones.  It was more noise, ceaseless, waves of nothing crashing out of her.  

Numb would be ever so welcome.  Eyes rimmed in crimson, shaking on her heels, she stood with the bitter dregs of instant coffee on her palate and looked for a suitable alternative.  Out of the corner of her eye, she watched Amelia fiddle with a crumpled pack of cigarettes. "You don't seriously think you're going to light up in here?"  Amelia looked incredulous.

"And you're not actually going to lecture me about lung cancer right now are you?"  Charlotte rolled her eyes.

"I ain't your mama.  This is California and unless you want all these twelve steppers to jump down your throat you should probably reconsider the impulse to light a cigarette in a public place."  

"How about a real coffee?"  Amelia's brows arched in question.  She fumbled, twirling the lighter between deft fingertips and watched expressions play over Charlotte's pale features like shadows and light.  Tilting her head in the direction of the exit, she turned and waited patiently.  The awkward click-clack of Charlotte's adjusted gait drew little attention when they sidled out and the Biker's amplified weeping continued behind them.  Amelia recalled a twenty-four hour Starbucks about a block away.  She lit up and inhaled mightily barely half a step beyond the church's side door.  Holding the smoke in her lungs, she rasped, "You know something funny?"  Charlotte could say with some certainty that the last thing she could think of at the moment was anything funny.  The look in her eyes must have said as much.  "I'm twenty-seven years old."

"That's hilarious."

"And," Amelia proceeded, ignoring Charlotte's deadpan.  "I've always been the youngest.  It's impossible to help when you're the youngest.  Even when people come to you needing to depend on you, at some point they don't want to relinquish the assumed control of age thus implied intellectual superiority." Charlotte smirked, okay maybe a touch amused.  

"Is this a wholly unsubtle indirect reference to me now?"  Amelia, after another lengthy puff, offered the cigarette to Charlotte, patiently observing the bobbing ember at the end of a trembling hand.  Bloodless fingers weakly grasped it just beyond pale, pink lips.  Charlotte closed her eyes in unchecked appreciation, tensed shoulders dropping for an instant before she exhaled and they slipped back up nearly to her ears.  Amelia found it strangely intimate and her eyes wandered to gaze down the sidewalk at their destination.

"No … well not exclusively."  She reached out to reclaim the cigarette just as it seemed Charlotte's fine motor control was deteriorating.  One last drag outside the doors of the coffee shop, and the butt was crushed under her boot heel.  "It's just not uncommon.  I've always been surrounded by people who are older.  I'm expected to be frivolous.  I am not often relied upon."

"You're not a kid."  The vacuum in the vestibule created by the air conditioning inside the building had sealed the door tight and Charlotte struggled, bandaged arm visibly shaking, to open it for them both.  "You're a fine doctor and your patients rely on you to see them through the most difficult moments of their lives."  Breathless and even paler now, Charlotte managed to open the door under Amelia's pointedly silent observation.

"No I'm not a kid and yes I'm a fine doctor.  But I'm also …"

"If you intend to end that sentence with the words, a good friend, I'm leaving."  Charlotte interrupted, glancing back at Amelia halfway in, halfway out.  Here was the precipice.  The entire length and breadth of their acquaintanceship did not change in the moment Charlotte stood in the doorway of Amelia's office.  That was its own threshold.

"A screw-up, historically speaking." Amelia finished unfazed by Charlotte's defensive posturing.  She sidled past and up to the counter to order.  She took the liberty of doing so for both of them and paid.  By the time they were seated with two palatable coffees, Charlotte was no longer bristling.  Though she does stare challenge across the table.  Amelia has always risen to challenge with appreciable aplomb.  She returned Charlotte's gaze with a relatively unreadable expression of her own.  "I have a lot to prove to most everyone in my life for the very reasons I go to those meetings now."

"Ah, now you want me to be the measuring stick of that enterprise, your success or failure in turning your life around all determined by your ability to make me open up?  You think you can heal me?"  The way Charlotte's lips twisted seemed practiced, as though sneering has been a long-enjoyed refuge of her wit.

"Actually no." Amelia smiled.  Her wide eyes and wide smile patently designed to wheedle comfort out of those around her.  This smile, incurably ironic, appeared around the edges of her coffee cup.  "I'm not trying to save you Charlotte.  I'm not trying to save me for that matter."  Amelia's phone rang, and she slipped it out of her pocket to examine the caller ID.  She murmured absently as she hit a button to accept the call.  They posed across from each other in silence, Charlotte listening to the conversation behind Amelia's blank expression.

"Yeah …" A pause, Amelia looked up pointedly.  "No ...  coffee ..." She sighed, lips pursed as though hesitant then, "Yeah soon ...  I will."  She hung up and without the prompt of curiosity on Charlotte's face offered, "Addie.  Sometimes she still worries."

"Meddling doesn't seem her past time.  Thought that was more Violet's preference."  Charlotte huffed.

"When I was abusing prescription pills, my family …" Amelia forced a grin that didn't reach her eyes.  "Addison never judged me.  She never picked me apart.  She was just there.  If I was going to say the words good friend to you; they'd be in relation to Addison."



Amelia Shepherd, perhaps in direct relation to the turmoil that had long perched in the periphery of her life, could little recall an act of anyone insisting upon her.  The question of reliability becomes academic and to be quite honest, Amelia did tend toward self-indulgence even at her healthiest.  It was an imposing dilemma that everyone she encountered became a surrogate older sibling.  The attention she'd inevitably received for her youth, her brilliance, her tragic vulnerability was far from her preference.  

"Hey."  Amelia cleared her throat, startled by the husk in her own murmured greeting.  Addison offered a smile in response, before returning to gaze out at the dark just beyond the soft circle of illumination surrounding the deck.  Wood fairly hummed with warmth under her bare feet as Amelia crossed to join Addison.  She sat, knees drawn to her chest on a chaise and Amelia perched silent and leaned back against Addison's legs.  

"Coffee this late?"  Addison murmured, gesturing toward a glass with a generous amount of red wine.  Amelia shrugged a non-answer in response.  She picked up the glass, condensation quickly dampening her fingertips, and sipped.  Her lip gloss left a bare outline to the existing print along the rim.

"Where's Sam?"  Addison leaned forward to reach around and grab the wine glass, her legs slipping to bracket Amelia's hips.

"Post-op for a critical patient.  You smell like smoke." Addison sniffed then leaned back glass in hand.

"Don't be a cop Addie."

"Amelia, if you think for one moment that I'm going to just …"

"Power down the engines on that lecture."  Amelia interrupted.  "It was the last one in the pack.  I won't buy another."  She snuggled back against Addison's chest, entwining their fingers.  Addison gave her a squeeze, but said nothing.  "Remember when I was little?"

"And you used to cuddle with me like this?" Addison replied in inquiry.  "Yes.  Derek used to joke that you were going to grow into my side so we could live symbiotically like that horror movie …"

"Freaks." Addison laughed out loud at Amelia's shudder of disgust.  "I hated that movie."

"He teased you mercilessly about it.  You'd get so embarrassed the tips of your ears would turn bright red."  Addison chuckled, holding onto Amelia with her free arm.  She took a sip of her wine and continued.  "You were so sensitive to every little thing he said when you were a kid.  Even then …"

"I thought he was Atlas.  He held my whole world on his shoulders."

"He had big shoes to fill." Addison's voice was tentative, treading carefully around the edges of a painful subject.

"Everything shifts with time." Amelia murmured.  Addison relinquished her glass, watched patiently while Amelia took a healthy swig.  "He used to get so mad.  You guys had that little apartment and he'd come home from rounds to find me already asleep in your bed." Amelia snickered.  "He hated sleeping on that couch."

"No he hated not being able to …"  Addison chuckled.

"Ick, still my brother Addie."  Amelia took another long pull from the dwindling remnants of the glass and returned it.

"I liked having you around.  Having a younger brother was diametrically opposed to the times I got to hang out with you.  Little brothers prefer burning down dollhouses and reading diaries to cuddling and playing dress up."  

"Or reading the Journal of Gynecologic Oncology?  It's a wonder I didn't become an Ob/Gyn instead of a neurosurgeon."  Amelia disentangled her fingers from Addison's and pulled away to get to her feet.  "I'm going to turn in.  I'm pretty tired."

"Amelia ..."  Addison caught her hand before she could depart, relentless inquiry in the search that slid along Amelia's face.

"Am I okay?"  Amelia asked.  "What's on my mind?  Is there something I need to say?"  Eyebrows arched in confirmation, Addison was content to wait for an answer to any one of those questions.  Amelia shrugged, distress or confusion at play.  "I don't know."


Amelia glanced at her mobile phone just long enough to note the sender of the text before unceremoniously turning it off and dropping it in her bag.  Not a second later the door opened before her.  She returned the mute gaze of greeting.  The door opened only slightly wider and she slipped inside, dropping her bag by the door as it was closed behind her.  

It was anything but romantic.  Jeans and underwear shucked, she was pulled across leather-clad legs.  She didn't bite her lip or squirm in nervous anticipation.  She waited, and when the first, stinging blow cracked across the globes of her ass, she obediently counted, "One Mistress."  The leather warmed her skin to a neon glow long before her counting slowed.  "Thank you Mistress."  She murmured as the punishment drew to a close.  

The tops of her thighs were sweaty as was the hollow between her shoulder blades.  As the moisture cooled, she felt a familiar languor settling in her limbs.  Her knees trembled then locked stiffly beneath her as she slid back into her clothes.  Escorted to the door, she retrieved her bag and slipped out as silently as she'd come.  She walked a negligible distance to a relatively busy corner and waved down a cab with little delay.  Absently informing the driver of her destination, she gingerly slid into the back seat digging for her phone in the bottom of her bag.  She keyed a quick response to the text she received no more than thirty minutes before - On my way home now.

She paid the cab driver, wished him a good night, and walked slowly up to the house.  She inhaled deeply, closing her eyes for a moment to listen to night sounds, to the sea roiling beyond the walls.  It was invigorating and calming all at once.  Inside, door locked behind her, she discarded her keys, shoes, bag right there in the foyer.  Her steps bare, quiet paced a long length of hardwood to glass doors pressed wide, inviting the nighttime.  Burnished by the warm glow of the deck lamps, several strands of copper danced in a soft breeze.  Her gaze traced freckled shoulders and the movement of a long arm extended, hand capturing a delicate glass painted ruby by its contents.  Mouth dry, she swallowed, tentatively breaking the spell she'd fallen under with her own hoarse whisper.  "Hey."  



"An addict's gotta be addicted to something ..." Once she'd run obsessively.  Ten miles a day, rain or shine, she'd lace up her trainers and battle concrete.  A dozen obsessions later, she'd still be doing just that if New York legislation regarding cell phone use while driving had only been a few years ahead of its time.  She admittedly would not have made it through med school and a surgical residency touting such stunning success if she had been distracting herself running marathons rather than burying herself in books.  

That is not to suggest she had not found other adaptations, new appetites.  Fear carving its numbness through her was sound motivation for a flight from grief to addiction's doorstep.  It was a journey two cracked ribs and a dislocated shoulder may have inspired her to repeat were she not quite so fascinated by her own terror.  She was encouraged to choose a different approach as an addict makes no friendly gestures with anesthetics.

October 2000 Brooklyn, New York

Amelia navigated the rain-slick stairs out of the subway with excessive care.  She hissed as she was jostled slightly from behind, and looked up to watch the woman who'd pushed impatiently past her.  Water droplets collected on her lashes and she returned her concentration to placing one foot in front of the other.  By the time she traveled the ten blocks to her brother's brownstone, the rain was an indelicate embrace that had adhered clothing and hair alike to her skin.  She imagined its obscene squishes and slurps between her toes as they flexed with each step to the stoop, and refuge behind the heavy door.  She discarded coat and boots in the vestibule to dry, and slipped inside hoping …

"Ames?"  Waylaid at the front door.  Addison must just have arrived home herself.  She stood there in socks, wrinkled scrubs under an unbuttoned coat with a stack of mail in hand.  The cast of her shoulders said she hadn't had the chance to draw breath, relax.  That meant Addison was exhausted, and maybe she'd miss the fine details that sewn together would tell the tale of Amelia's most recent whereabouts. Maybe, as was often the case with Derek, she'd only inquire perfunctorily then tune out, eat whatever left over takeout was in the fridge and climb into bed entertaining minimal delay.  With any luck, Amelia thought, Addison wouldn't be the least bit curious about … "Where have you been?"  Teeth-chattering, Amelia shrugged and tried to shake her head nonchalantly.

"Nowhere."  Addison arched an unimpressed brow, curiosity peaked. She cast her full attention to regard Amelia.

"Come on.  Let's get you out of those wet clothes."  Addison tossed the mail on the hall console and unceremoniously made short work of the zipper on Amelia's soaked hoody.  She'd shucked it off Amelia's arms, discarded it and moved on to the button at the fly of Amelia's jeans before the thought to protest made its way to the forefront of Amelia's mind.

"Hey!  I'm not six.  I cannot be naked in the foyer of my brother's house."  She fidgeted away from Addison's determined efforts.

"Uh uh," Addison shook her head, forestalling any attempt at escape.  "You know how Derek feels about these floors.  I don't want to hear about watermarks and warping of his precious restored historic hardwood for the next month.  Out of these clothes and then into a hot bath, understood?"  Addison snagged Amelia's jeans, letting them bunch at the girl's feet.  Under the muted tones of the foyer light she halted, eyes drawn to the pale goose flesh on Amelia's thighs.  Uneven patterns in purple and blue twisted over the skin, winding up and around her hips, disappearing under the soaked cloth of her underwear.  

"Amy."  Addison whispered, tentative as though challenging the reality of what she was seeing.  Amelia's eyes hidden in shadow, under torrents of drenched hair were unreachable.  "What happened?"  Addison slipped her hands around slim wrists but quickly let go at the harsh inhalation in response.  Carefully, moving with the "shh shh" movements one employs around spooked animals and children, she peeled wet clothing in layers.  A trendy tee shirt with a quirky graphic and a long-sleeved thermal joined the hoody and jeans.  Addison held her breath at the revelation of more bruises in startling relief against semi-translucent skin.   Crimson stripes bloomed across bare chest and shoulders, a checkerboard between breasts and layered over ribs.  "Who did this, Amelia?"

"I …" Amelia struggled for words as sublime as the calm she felt inside.  How to explain that this had been her choice?  "I did."  She looked up into Addison's eyes, uncertain of how this puzzle would be received.

"Amy …" Addison teetered a sharp edge between stricken and calm. Searching the uncertainty in Amelia's expression she looked but could not read the signs of assault and though waterlogged and bedraggled was a fair imitation of shock, Amelia appeared aware and responsive. This was something else.  Given Amelia's struggles with sobriety, Addison steeled herself for an explanation that she imagined might send a teenager back to rehab.    "You did this?" At a loss for how the wounds covering Amelia's body could be self-inflicted she asked, "How did you do this?"

"I mean … I asked for someone to do this."  Amelia swallowed but didn't look away, anticipating judgment for the admission.  "I begged."  Amelia had never intended to confess this curious new obsession she'd chased for months through internet message boards, books purchased from so-called subversive booksellers, fantasies, and finally a moment some two hours before.  This had grown from an idle curiosity to an untamed deprivation.  It seduced her anxieties with every tick of the clock until she was caught.

"What are you saying to me?  Are you telling me you …" Addison ran her hands through her hair, trying to grasp what she was hearing.  "You … let someone hurt you like this?  A boy at school … I swear to God Amy they will not find his miserable corpse if you're seeing that little shit dealer again!"  Addison felt her chest constrict as memories surfaced of past scenarios with Amy's ex-boyfriend.  He was a cliché of privilege meets benign neglect.  When he'd been caught dealing prescription pills at school, his parents had smoothed things over with a sizable donation.  Amelia, on the other hand, caught with a handful of those same pills in her locker had lost a hard-won scholarship and been expelled.  

"No it's not like that. Addie I swear."  Amelia struggled, desperate to be understood.  "There's this club in Saint Marks.  I've been planning … I've wanted to go for a long time."  Amelia wrapped her arms around herself, shivering in the cool air.  

Averting her eyes, as though that would be enough to halt the meaning behind this confession, Addison gathered Amelia's wet clothes under an arm and placed the other around the girl's thin shoulders.  "A club … as in ..." Addison shook her head searching for an appropriate noun.

"S&M." Amelia was deliberate, in spite of rising turmoil. Would this be the inspiration for rejection from Addison, the only true constant in a world that seemed prone to crumbling around her? "I found it online."  Amelia peered at the soaked clothing Addison clutched against herself, a circle of damp spreading outward into her scrubs.  "I just … needed to feel something."

"So you let some stranger do this to you?"  Addison gave a disdainful shake of her head.  "I am dizzy with the list of countless what ifs. What if, Amy, just once you did something with your life that didn't leave the rest of us wondering if you'll be joining your father in an early grave?"  Amelia sucked in a shocked breath.

"Addie …" Addison held up a hand, shaking her head.  It was rare that Amelia found herself on the receiving end of Addison's disappointment.  More for Addison than any other member of her family, she'd striven to pull her life together.  

"No."  Addison turned expression taut.  "Go upstairs. Get in the bath.  You need to give me a moment to digest this."

Amelia sat, cast off droplets of bath water tickling the exposed skin of her shoulders and arms.  She looked up when Addison entered, but said nothing.  Crouching by the tub, Addison tested the cooling water with the tips of her fingers then reached over to fiddle with the knobs.  Amelia blinked unexpected spray out of her eyes, turning from the hot water as it splashed into the bath.  

"I think it best not to mention this to your brother."  Relief palpable, echoing off the tile, Amelia took a sobbing breath. She'd waited for Addison's verdict, terrified of further recriminations.  "I'm going to have a look at those welts after your bath, so they don't get infected.  We still …" Addison paused turning off the faucet, "have to talk about this."

"I know."  Amelia couldn't imagine a scenario wherein she'd receive such relatively easy acceptance from any other member of her family.  Addison managed a tentative smile.

"I see you struggling and I wish I could somehow …" Addison shrugged, leaving it unsaid.  "But I can't.  No matter how much I want to, no matter how much I care, I can't fix what's wrong in your life for you."

"Mostly I think everyone would be better off without me." Amelia murmured.  "I'm drowning at the confluence of every chaotic day that I don't break sobriety no matter how desperately I want to use. You keep telling me to fight and all I want is to give in."  Addison's steady hand on her shoulder made it impossible to bury the feeling deep where it couldn't peer out and decide to reveal itself in fractured sobbing. She gritted her teeth, felt it burning through her eyes until they slipped closed, remembering.  "Tonight I drifted in such peace.  It may have been another hand on my body but it was governed by my whim. I was in control."

Addison's hand traced a loving path along Amelia's temple.  Amelia reached up and slipped her fingers over Addison's.  They clung, thin and trembling.  "I cannot abide the thought of someone hurting you, even at your request." At war with what the bruises meant Amelia had endured, Addison arrested her need to protect. She considered the desperation in the act. What more would Amelia choose to suffer?

Amelia leaned back, letting her fingers slip from Addison's.  "Even bound and bloodied, I say when it begins, when it ends.  I don't just ask, Addie. I command." Amelia had never felt like she had a voice. How could Addison argue against the seductive call of years of broken silence? Amelia felt she'd been granted great power, relished it. Her pain was little in the way of a sacrifice.

"You'll go back. Won't you?"  There was no dread in the plodding certainty of Addison's words. She drew away, nearly out the door before Amelia truly considered a response.

"Why would I stay away?"

Present Day Los Angeles

Addison watched Amelia retire inside.  She finished the half swallow of wine left in her glass, balancing the stem between her first two fingers thinking back to a night some years ago.  Amelia panting like she'd just run up a flight of stairs, flushing under the wounds striped across her buttocks and back.  For an instant, she'd turned and gazed back pinning Addison over the jutting bones of her shoulder.  Addison froze in a parody of extinguished concentration, the sucking of breath and trembling hands. In the midst of applying salve to the lines of broken skin where upper thighs swelled to the round globes of Amelia's backside, she'd revealed a sin so deeply hidden she hadn't known it dwelled there herself.  

Addison remembered, seemingly small, seemingly fragile Amelia, womanhood peeking from the cracks of vanishing adolescence.  Amelia who seemed voracious in that moment, a sound of hunger buried in the back of her throat, digging itself out to claw deeply at Addison. In a half-breathed instant, what was before unthinkable became too real. Addison watched slim hips rise as though magnetized under her touch, just enough to spy glistening curls, damp with arousal.

Addison had sucked a deep breath, shocked at the scent filling her nostrils.  A thought half-formed to slip her fingers lower nearly acted upon, just as soon redacted.  She stumbled back as though yanked by her collar, in full flight.  Amelia watched her go, hurt wrestling confusion in her eyes.  Addison slept on the couch that night.  When Derek came home from the hospital early that morning to find her there, she'd fabricated some lie. She spent the intervening years pretending she hadn't crossed a very treacherous line of awareness.  Amelia, sensing Addison's need, made no mention of it and the pretense had stood as though in mutual agreement, to strike that moment from memory.

Nevertheless, they'd had their share of heady moments since. A lingering touch or look that held ardor absent any argument would prove an unexpected reminder of the heat that had long festered between them. Addison could not abide the thought of the ruin that would inevitably follow were they ever to give in to these lewd impulses. She struggled to remember the child she'd tucked in at night and not the desirous woman into whom Amelia had so ably developed. It was abhorrent she chided herself when her thoughts meandered along the possibilities harbored within supple limbs. Addison leaned forward on the deck chair and refilled her wine glass for the second time that night. The bottle was light, less than a sip circling the bottom, when she replaced it and drank heartily.



"Morning." Addison smiled, leaning up for a kiss. Sam's lips were a welcome that spread through her body. He must have been later than anticipated for she had not heard him slip into bed. But she'd awoken to the comfort of his warmth pressed against her back rather than the jarring intrusion of her alarm into her dreams. Handing him a mug of coffee, she watched him sip gingerly and sit to examine morning headlines on the front page of the paper.

How'd you sleep?" He asked, glancing up briefly, the knowing cast of his features belying the true intent of his question.

"Did I keep you up with my tossing and turning?" Amber brows quirked into a finely sketched peak, her repost was easily recognizable as admission. "I'm worried."

"Amelia." Sam nodded, sliding the paper aside and giving Addison his undivided attention. "Has she given you any indication that she's …"

"No." Addison shook her head vehemently. "No. She's clean and I don't doubt for a moment the strength of her conviction to remain that way."

"Perhaps something else has you so preoccupied." Sam noted the posturing at his tone, and raised a hand, prepared to placate any argument. "I don't mean to suggest you and I are both losing sleep over unfounded worry. I only wonder if you're misplacing your concern for something else you're feeling." He dropped his hand back to the counter, gesturing to indicate their surroundings. "Is Amelia showing you anything in her behavior that is cause for concern?"

"I don't know." Addison paused, knowing the denial to be half-hearted. She didn't wish to audibly admit the evidence over which she currently despaired. "When Derek and I first met back in college," She began, on a change of tack, "I'd go with him to visit his Mom, any reason to spend some time off campus." Sam settled, listening. Addison continued, feeling his attention as distinctly as she'd felt his embrace waking up earlier that morning.  "While we were there, we'd give Carolyn a break and babysit.  I think Ames was about eight back then, this tiny little person." Addison chuckled remembering.  

"She was always on a mission to impress Derek. There wasn't any indulging childhood whims; she didn't have any. There were no tantrums over bedtime. There were no reminders to take baths. She ate her vegetables without being badgered and checked her own homework. Her life was so rigid, tempered. It was almost as if she didn't need an adult to step in with guidance or even comfort." Addison, hip perched against the kitchen counter, reflected for a moment on the past.  Sam sat on the other side of the island with a cup of coffee, his fingers tented over the morning paper.

"Even though she was so self-sufficient, I couldn't help thinking what she should be doing, what any kid would be doing and not be so damn serious." Addison rolled her eyes with a rueful shake of her head. "Of course, she wasn't just any kid. It was less than rare that she might make a knock-knock joke or color outside the lines, play dress up or pretend." Grimacing, Addison confessed, "It felt like a Developmental Psych experiment gone awry at times trying to get her to loosen up a bit. I'd go overboard trying to break her reserve and Derek would say I spoiled her." Caught in a moment delving into the past, Addison seemed eager to make someone understand, as though she were there again vehemently arguing against Derek's stance.

"She was seven and a half down to the minute, sitting around with us chatting about world politics and the rising price of gas and I would get so mad." Addison sighed, "One tragic moment in her life and she's sentenced to never have a childhood? It wasn't fair." It was ironic, though, Addison had to admit thinking that she and Derek had argued over Amelia like she was their own then never actually produced a child bearing the name Montgomery-Shepherd. In the midst of those arguments, Amelia had certainly felt like she belonged to Addison.

"I remember when Nay and I started dating." Sam interposed, a thoughtful expression smoothing his handsome features. "Amy would visit for a weekend and I can't think of once she wasn't this silent little sentinel at your side."  Sam smiled, "She'd get this look in her eye sometimes. There she'd be, surrounded by our lecture notes and textbooks diligently reading her own copy of the Iliad or Walden or something equally cerebral. Anyway, she'd stop. She'd just stop reading to look at you." Sam tilted his head, fascinated by how surreal such events tended to be when plucked out of their context in the past. "There was this intensity about it, like she was trying to make you more real, more permanent."  He took a prolonged sip of coffee, gazed at Addison.  "She still looks at you like that, you know." Nodding, Addison's act of agreement made more meaningful by the wistful expression touching her eyes. She couldn't deny that.

"Carolyn would be working third or coming off a double, exhausted and preoccupied with the financial considerations of Derek's three sisters in college. So Ame's was with us more often than not; and for as long as I can remember she's had these nightmares." Addison swallowed thinking of the episodes encouraged a chill she could not shake loose of her spine. "She wakes up terrified, screaming, not knowing where she is."  Addison folded her arms, willing herself not tremble as she gave herself over to the memories. "When she was little, I'd go to her room and try to calm her down. I'd tell her, I'm here." Addison shook her head.  "When I wasn't there, I wondered who came to her when she woke up in the middle of the night. Maybe that's why. Maybe she felt like I was one more person in her life to leave her behind."  

"You've always been there, helped her when she couldn't help herself." Sam's words coalesced into an astute rendering of past events. "Even now, you're a friend and supporter while she figures out whatever she's trying to figure out here in LA. Do not doubt that you are her unwavering constant."  Sam's voice was comfort and reassurance. There was no adequate reconciliation for Addison's feelings of helplessness when it came to Amelia. Too many unspoken variables had seen to that.

"I don't know how to help her, Sam."  He slid around the island and reached out to pull Addison into his arms.  Addison looked up, searched brown eyes as he brushed the hair from her face.  Sam was such a tender man with an unlimited ability to make her feel cherished and safe. She wished she had that ability. She wished she could do that for Amelia.

"She's not seven anymore.  You can't chase away all the monsters.  She knows that."  Sighing, Addison pulled away from his embrace.  Even Sam's considerate words could not rid her of this prevailing disturbance.

"Does she?"



"You want to explain this to me?"  Charlotte was all arched brows and expectation.  There was unchecked irony in her assessment.  It almost made Amelia smirk.  Charlotte was a persistent contradiction - all southern, no charm.

In the kitchen, Amelia reaching across the island for a piece of fruit, had attracted unforeseen attention as her shirt rode up her back.  Amelia had been alone, unthinking, and passing by the doorway Charlotte had spied the proliferation of fresh bandages in glaring white.  Wordlessly grabbing Amelia's arm, Charlotte directed the young woman into her office.  Amelia had known, faced with Charlotte's unbridled concern, not to prevaricate.

"It's an anniversary present commemorating my continued sobriety." She shrugged the rest of the way out of her tee shirt, allowing Charlotte an unobstructed view.  "The ink represents ..." Amelia turned to gaze at Charlotte over her shoulder hesitating for a second before proceeding. "Lashes."  She straightened her back, lengthening her spine.  On it, permanently inked lines intersected, laid out in careful precision, intricate patterns of minute text that appeared as carefully interlaced geometric knots at a distance.  From the small of her back, the black print radiated in half a dozen beams of these remembered punishments, elegant stripes, pinned to bend and wind perpendicular to her ribs. Under fresh bandages, the most recent addition to the set caressed the slim expanse of Amelia's back from shoulder to waist. Charlotte leaned forward eyes squinting.  Her lips moved in concert with her finger tracing over a thin line of near microscopic text.  Noticing the rising blush on Amelia's skin, she withdrew, seemingly sinking into herself.

"You let someone beat you, then you immortalize the moment with a tramp stamp?"  Charlotte pursed her lips, nodding her own confirmation.  "I'm not the crazy one here.  Clearly, you've got me beat."

"Explain to me how this qualifies as crazy."  Amelia grinned, realizing her expression didn't exactly provide the most convincing foundation for an argument in defense of her own sanity.

"Well, for starters, if I got a tattoo symbolizing a broken hand to commemorate my …" Charlotte took a deep breath, pressing forward. The rape couldn't be skipped over with a clumsy allusion. It seemed impossible nonetheless to acknowledge it with casual temperance errantly expecting to press forward unencumbered by the flashbacks every acknowledgement resurrected. "… attack, those busy bodies out there would put me on a seventy-two hour psych hold in my own damn hospital."  Charlotte snapped.  "And put your shirt back on, for god's sake.  This isn't spring break."

"Being a submissive isn't about trauma." Amelia hadn't come out to anyone of consequence in some time and she realized now why. Few things managed to trigger her temper so quickly as the suggestion that surrendering to pain for pleasure was not her choice. She refused to be categorized as some addle-minded victim in a cycle of violence. "It's about control.  It's the only space I have in all the world where I truly feel safe."

"Safe.  You think some psychopath with a whip is a security blanket?"

Amelia, eyes flashing, bit back her instinctive response.  "I am very selective as to whom I trust in the position of dominant, only people who are fully dedicated and comprehend that they are participating in an inviolate bond with their submissive."

"How many of those blows have you taken to the head?" Charlotte turned dismissively yanking the office door open in preparation to leave.   "I have far better things to do with my time than stand here and listen to you extol the virtues of violence as though it were high art or morality. It's abuse, Amelia, whether you're willing to accept it or not." Patience expended, Amelia abandoned any hope of her side of the conversation remaining civil.

"What kind of half-assed doctor of sexology ignores the long-accepted connection between pleasure and pain? Is this the shitty advice you give your patients? Tell them what they're feeling is depraved?" Amelia stepped forward pointing an accusatory finger at Charlotte's back and hissed her counterargument. "If the diplomas on the wall of your office aren't fakes, then you should know that BDSM has been practiced for thousands of …"

"The hell?!  Amelia!"  Timely as ever, Addison looked up as she passed in the hallway outside the door catching the young woman bare-chested and incensed as she faced Charlotte down, mid-retort.  Charlotte rolled her eyes and slammed the door succinctly in Addison's gaping face.  

"Fucking. Put.  On.  Your.  Shirt."  Charlotte yanked the limply held article of clothing out of Amelia's hand with considerable force.  It shook in her hand, emphasizing rage barely above a whisper.

"Sit down and hear me out."  Amelia inclined her head in challenge.

"Fine."  Charlotte flung the fabric into Amelia's waiting hands as she took a seat as far from Amelia as she could muster.

"Thank you."  Amelia murmured, slipping back into her shirt before taking a seat next to Charlotte in the only other chair besides the one behind her desk. She took a deep breath, grasping at a steady mark from which she could begin. Despite Charlotte's impatience, Amelia sighed, shook her head, grinned and jumped right in. "When I was a kid, I was terrified of hands. If someone touched me, someone I didn't know or trust, I was immobilized by my own fear and I didn't understand why."

"Just hands or the people connected to them?" Charlotte's inquiry bore a certain familiar vulnerability.

"Just the hands." Amelia gazed at her own hands in recollection of the unmitigated terror that had ruled her life as a child. "Over time my response to people's hands became ... violently problematic" Amelia managed a smile around the euphemism allowing Charlotte a moment to consider what it implied. "Years of therapists' insipid interventions and my own addiction hadn't succeeded in ridding me of the constant anxiety that I felt. I became more scared of what I'd do if someone touched me than the actual eventuality. It didn't matter that I had a well-used mantra telling me that helping hands, those that people have extended to comfort or assist rather than to hurt, were nothing to fear. My instincts, the visceral reactions I had, were more and more difficult to control, impossible to rescind. It wasn't until I was a teenager that anything worked."

"And that was?" There was this hoping that spilled forth, eager like desire as Charlotte asked this seemingly innocent question. Amelia spared a glance and looking into Charlotte's eyes could see her own fears, inescapable as a child.

"Frustration - I was tired of being isolated from everyone around me. So I decided I'd try an experiment." Amelia reached out a hand, letting it hover in the distance between their two chairs. Charlotte eyed it warily, while Amelia waited patiently, allowing Charlotte to enact the inevitable next step. Charlotte's hand was pale. Moreover, it was thin, marked by the distinct indentations of knuckle and bone beneath near translucent skin. It shook as it ventured into the empty space in an airless moment. Fingertips touched tentative, but that was it. The world did not end. The skies were not lit in flames to fall upon the heads of those deserving retribution. It was blameless of any preconceived notion of harm, this touch. Eyes locked on the trembling appendage, Amelia continued, "I called it aversion therapy. I thought if I didn't give myself a choice, if I absolutely had to face the hands, maybe I could destroy the fear and compel myself to live a life of closeness with people, strangers even. I needed to find a line to cross into reality. Because, in my dreams, hands were terrible; but, I wanted so much to be touched again." Charlotte cleared her throat, mouth working to form words. She sniffed, blinking back tears.

"Did it work?"

"It did." Amelia confided. "It took months, but I found a club on the internet and even corresponded at length with someone I decided could help me. And on my eighteenth birthday, I told my Mom I was going out with a friend."

"And?" Charlotte's inquiry suggested she was already aware of the conclusion, hearing in Amelia's tones a tale of lessons learned and happy endings. Amelia wasn't sure if her words confirmed anything beyond her inception as a submissive. She had no idea if the fable brooked a lesson or if it ended happily.

"Instead I went to meet my first mistress."

"A stranger off the internet?" Charlotte shook her head. "Your life sounds unavoidably similar to an episode of Law and Order.

"You're right, of course. I took a chance but it wasn't careless and I was very lucky that night." Amelia admitted chagrinned. She took a deep breath, knowing the exposure was necessary but feeling trepidation prick her nerve. "She stripped me naked, tied me down and ..."

"Stop." Charlotte jerked her hand away, clutching her own fingers against the thrumming in her chest as though Amelia's words had burned the tips.

"It wasn't abuse, Charlotte. I didn't even ask. I commanded it." Amelia gentled, placing her hand back in her lap. "It was my choice and it helped. It did." Charlotte got to her feet and opened the door to the office. Amelia expected the woman to flee, but she didn't. She stood in the doorway, shoulders tensed, as though on the precipice of a decision.

"Maybe I still think you're crazy." Charlotte's voice was hoarse, muted by unshed tears. "But maybe I … maybe I understand a little bit."

"Charlotte …" Amelia's next words, whatever they may have been, went unheeded. Charlotte disappeared, the swift rhythm of her heels bounced along the corridor with resounding finality.

October 2000 Brooklyn, New York

It was important to be present, in the moment.  She wouldn't page through a magazine or trap herself in a chapter of the book she was reading. Even the music that blared throughout the studio had receded into a dull, pulsing, softer than the rhythm of her own breathing. She intended full immersion, every second learned without distraction.  She'd seen others drink heavily, getting plastered first as though the pain sullied the moment. The pain, for Amelia, was what the moment was worth. The pain was offered in worship, dedicated to bottling the memory like preserves.

Stripped down to the waist, she'd lain flat on her stomach while the artist did a preliminary drawing.  It was simple really, two intersecting columns of varied length, radiating from the small of her back, indelible in black.  Not lines in actuality, but infinitesimal block text of her words, promises, a covenant she'd kept under the lash.

She luxuriated in the vibrations dancing outward along her skin as the needles were driven in from the thin blades of her shoulders to the base of her spine.  She laid in meditative silence, still but for the relentless sigh of her own quickened breath.  Hours later, when the work was finished and carefully covered by gauze, she smiled in reverence, tears coming to her eyes only then.

"What does it say?" Amelia met the gaze of the tattoo artist over her shoulder. Her hands had been steady, careful as they applied the last bit of tape. Now they seemed to tremble under Amelia's intent observation. She was young, Amelia's age, an apprentice. She'd done the work for free. Experience, a photo in her portfolio, a favor called upon for a friend, circumstances that had extenuated Amelia's presence. Ren had been equally quiet and focused from the moment she'd first pressed her fingers against Amelia's flesh to begin. As she worked, long hair had been pulled up and back, revealing a map of art on her own neck, hinting at the bare skin of her back under her tank top. Her arms, surprisingly, were comparatively bare. She was tall and thin with pale, delicate hands that Amelia found mesmerizing. Her eyes locked on them as she spoke.

"They are the lyrics of a love song from ancient Egypt." Amelia related softly. She looked up again and when almond eyes sparked in curiosity, Amelia dipped her head, looking away. It was easy now to give in to such simple human desires. She would smile, make coy conversation, and in a heartbeat they would have settled on a bar to share a drink. Amelia wondered how the steps to this dance might have ever seemed complex prior to her understanding of dynamic power exchange.

"You read this stuff … these hieroglyphics or whatever?" Ren asked, smirking. She'd permanently interred enough Chinese characters into the flesh of illiterate westerners to know how rare a capability literacy actually was. Ignorance indelible in ink, getting a tattoo for the sake of trying to appear esoteric still came off unsubtly capricious. Amelia tried not to perceive the scoffing tone as condescension. She reasoned if she did, her sensibilities would take a decidedly unfavorable turn and she would be forced not to seduce this woman. Her tongue curled around the ancient sounds of Amharic, confident in its turning of language Amelia had read though rarely spoken.

"Oh! Were I made her porter," Amelia translated the words into English inching close, her eyes fixed on lips parted in surprise. "I should cause her to be wrathful with me." A sustained puff cooled the sweat that had dampened her cheeks and Amelia felt Ren's expirations pick up with every word she breathed. "Then when I did but hear her voice," Amelia slid off the cushioned bench to straddle jean clad thighs. "the voice of her anger." Amelia glanced up, spearing Ren at the eyes. She could feel the accelerating thump and drum under thin cotton, and let her fingers rest over the swell of small responsive breasts. "a child shall I be for fear." Ren shuddered, arching into the touch.

"I'll take that as a yes." Ren's words chased the heat across Amelia's cheeks as she heaved near breathless.

Amelia brushed her lips against a taut jaw and whispered, "Nope. Not a word."



Stomach grumbling, Amelia sauntered into the kitchen of Oceanside Wellness making good on the intention to raid the cupboards in spite of an unexpected audience. Naomi looked up from leafing through the mail, half-listening as Addison raged sotto voce. Halting mid-sentence, Addison offered Amelia's wardrobe squinted assessment.  "Going with fully clothed for now?"  Amelia looked down at the well-fit cable-knit hooded sweater she wore.  The neck line scooped low to show off the fitted thread-bare tee she wore underneath it.  

"For now."  Amelia arched a wry brow. "I just made the sickest Tears For Fears playlist." Amelia sang, camping up a rock star shimmy and point for Addison's benefit, "Something happens and I'm head over heels." She broke off suddenly in hysterics, "Remember that time at Mom's when you and Der'k were rounding second base to Shout in that closet of a guest bedroom and Mom walked in just as you guys were uh, … letting it all out."


"Oh my, that's the, I'm serious, voice." Amelia mimed contrition, drawing a breath deeply into a widening grin.  "Please don't lecture me.  We're both well aware what that was."

"Well how about clue me in?" Naomi interjected, glancing between the two women.  "What was it that possessed you to strip half naked in an office in front of an open door?"

"Mine aren't the first pair of bare tits any of these offices has seen."  With a pointed look at Addison she added, "Mark Sloan."

"We're not talking about me!" Addison shook her head slightly embarrassed and determined not to have her none too recent indiscretions dragged in to offset Amelia's far more recent altercation.

"Besides, Charlotte took an inopportune moment to open the door while I happened to be topless." Amelia reported. Apparently that wasn't going to suffice as an explanation. Pursing her lips at the looks that tidbit of information garnered, Amelia tripped dutifully forward. "Why was I topless?" She offered a shrug in an attempt to minimize this revelation. More and more it was feeling uncomfortably like being caught in high school by her mother mid-coitus. The living room couch had been a poor choice for those multiple ill-timed trysts. "Charlotte caught a glimpse of the bandages from some new work I just had done. I took off my shirt in order to explain." Addison appeared scandalized, drawing the conclusion that if Amelia had explained the meaning behind those tattoos, Charlotte had gotten more than just a flash of bare chest.

"I don't think …"

"I hope you aren't preparing to suggest that Charlotte, a grown woman and a certified sexologist, is unable to process my kink in the wake of her personal tragedy?"

"You know I hate it when you do that."Addison muttered, feeling all the more contrary for Amelia's uncanny ability to slip into her head. Hearing Amelia's disdainful characterization of the very thoughts rousing her alarm only served as aggravation.

"Your kink meaning what exactly?" Naomi pressed ignoring the momentary deviation.

"My …" Amelia gave Addison a pointed look then contemporized, "Tattoos.  They are a key aspect of my sobriety."

"I doubt anything you showed her dispelled much in the way of concern." Addison replied with the weighty tone of implication.

"Well, any concern she had, perhaps thinking that I may have fallen to some unexpected harm was both misinformed and misplaced."  Amelia's point was equally blunt.

"You two obviously have some unresolved issue to which you rather make allusions than speak plainly."  Naomi rose, headed for the door.  "And I have budgets I rather manage than listen to your ill-disguised innuendo."  She paused, leveling a pointed gaze, "Amelia, try to remain clothed while working in future."

"With pleasure." Amelia conceded. Were it not for her jovial expression her eyes might be characterized as blank. Naomi looked away, happy to leave any further discontented finger wagging in Addison's capable hands.

"You're being ridiculous." Amelia murmured, sitting down across the kitchen island. Her indifference withered a bit under the invective of Addison's long-standing disapproval.

"I am worried, Amelia, as I always am, as I always have been.  Why not dispel some of the concern that has occupied my mind for a change."  Addison lowered her voice to a harsh whisper.  Few conversations in the kitchen ever remained private for long.  Distress wormed itself across Amelia's features.  It was ever the same with them as it had been since she was eighteen.  She couldn't change, not even for Addison.

"You know I can't do that."

"You won't do it.  The word can't, would suggest you are incapable rather than simply unwilling."  Addison ground her teeth, settling in for the often ill-received guilt-trip.  "I would do anything …:

"Don't."  Amelia jumped to her feet, turmoil in her eyes as she made a hasty retreat. "You know perfectly well what I mean when I say I can't and it's unfair of you to ask me." This was the one thing she couldn't bear in these conversations, like torments in purgatory, recycled over and over again.  Pleading, Addison was a minefield of hurt that Amelia could not traverse.  Nor could she ignore the spike of need under her skin, in her limbs, no matter how anxious she was to grant Addison comfort.



Amelia huddled next to Charlotte in a recessed doorway.  The shifting wind periodically blew heavy sheets of rain into their temporary shelter.  They'd braved the downpour to pass a cigarette back and forth, or to escape all the sharing for a moment. Thus far, they'd spent more time smoking than they had participating in any meeting.

Would that life at the practice grew as consistently mundane. For now, Amelia cut as she was called upon, saving lives to pass the proverbial time.  There was little comfort in repetition but at least it wasn't tragic.  Attending weekly meetings with Charlotte, dutifully working her sobriety, Amelia did not feel healthy or revived.  She felt imprisoned in her own skin.  On a whim, she had submitted a paper to the American Academy of Neurology and received a gushing invitation to present a key note address on her recent work. A successful procedure on a comatose patient categorized as high risk due to the complication of a pregnancy, had gained international attention. Neurosurgery is always inherently given to the taking of risks. But this, inserting a stent to relieve fluid build-up, was the kind of procedure that rocketed a surgeon into academic scrutiny. The receptionist at the practice had fielded quite a number of calls requesting her appearance at every obscure medical convention the world over since she'd published that paper.

Amelia had tentatively accepted, but held the news close to her chest. It wasn't necessarily meant to be a secret but she had little desire to draw attention from Violet's book or Naomi's awe-inspiring work with the foundation. The key note address at the annual AAN conference was super star status and she'd have plenty of lime light in which to bask in due course. These conferences had a way of manifesting offers that had precious little to do with her scientific method. She'd have far more intriguing propositions than she could ever realistically manage. In the interim, Amelia found herself hesitating to move forward in any specific direction. She could reliably obtain another competitive fellowship, salvage her career.  Yet here she remained, standing still. She contemplated the pouring rain, unexpectedly finding in herself the unpalatable subject of a trite ballad.

"This thing with you and Addison ..." So much for a moment, Amelia took a long drag and turned a wary eye on her companion.

"Is this the part where I say - what thing? And you let loose whatever semi-insulting but on the nose observation of my interaction with my ex-sister-in-law you've concocted?"

"Or you could just elaborate without provocation." Charlotte snagged the cigarette.  Amelia enjoyed Charlotte's gradually returning confidence. Well … mostly.

"She married my older brother when I was fifteen - friends in college, dated in medical school, and the inevitable wedding. She's as much a fixture in my childhood as any member of my immediate family." Amelia took a deep breath, then. "She gave me baths and read me bedtime stories, took me to Planned Parenthood to get birth control, did my make-up for prom and she's the first one who noticed when I started using." Pausing Amelia glanced at Charlotte, a moment of undisguised turmoil clear in her eyes.  "She knew and she stepped in to help when everyone else disappeared, caught up in their own disappointment or shock. She was always there."

"That's closer than family." Charlotte reflected.

"Yeah.  She's …" Amelia's expression was telling.  She huffed at the unexpected tightening in her chest, pursing her lips, and blinked away tears.

"Shit. Kindly, do not start that.  Save the boo hoo for confession." Charlotte nodded towards the church's side entrance, and dropped the dwindling cigarette butt in a puddle on the sidewalk.  It was impossible to hear it sizzle over the drumbeat of the rain, but Amelia watched it die. "Your Daddy died when you were little more than a toddler and your Momma was overbearing, right? She worried about you turning out perfect and she tried to hide her grief? That didn't work, did it?" Amelia shook her head, swallowing. Charlotte gave her a look of assessment. "I get it. I do. She's a nurturing figure in your life that represents consistency, more so than any other. Part of you wants that consistency in other areas where you haven't had the benefit of it. In love, for example, you crave something a bit more constant."

"You are sounding awfully like Violet and Sheldon these days. Please refrain from eschewing platitudes. That programming is too creepy." Amelia intoned in fake solemnity. Charlotte smirked. If nothing else, her time in Amelia's presence these last weeks had dissuaded any fear she'd never experience a moment of levity again. "She's in love Charlotte and I won't be selfish. I have to carry this."

"That's a load of crap." Charlotte rolled her eyes, "Addison may be enjoying carnal bliss, but she's no more in love than when she was with Pete. It's convenience, if anything. She thrives on the chaos caused by her affairs. Naomi's adjustment to the new normal only serves as an indicator that the smoke's cleared. It's just a matter of time before Addison Montgomery starts fiddlin' with matches." Ironically, Charlotte pointed out, "That pretty much makes you an ideal candidate."

"For chaos?" Amelia shook her head, vehement. "That's precisely what I won't introduce into either of our lives. If anyone deserves a bit of happiness and stability it's Addison. And me," Amelia allowed herself a moment's consideration, trite gossip traded like a dwindling cigarette between them was not so staggering as this. "I'll cope."

"As much as I'm sure you meant that to sound like prudence I know what you're hoping for is martyrdom. I guarantee no one will be impressed." Charlotte gestured towards Amelia's shoulders, hunched against a hard spattering of cold rain. "With those tattoos, you aren't commemorating penance. You're drawing her attention the only way you think you can and deny culpability should she take the hint and run with it."  Charlotte got it, didn't entirely agree, but she got it.  "You're Eve in the garden Amelia." A flash of teeth as Amelia bit her lip, looking out, away.  "You know, temptation is temporary.  Inevitably …"

"Yeah, I know." Amelia spared Charlotte a glance, starkly honest, riddled with the pain of insight. "the truth is impossible to resist."  Charlotte looked on, her expression softening. She appeared to focus inward, her words coming of their own accord.

"People kill. I understand why. I understand that there is always an excuse and murderers rally with reasons to take lives. Heroes have to pick and choose, sometimes forfeiting their own well-being to save another. Or we make a decision as doctors, refrain from desperate measures, and take a life to ease a patient's pain." Charlotte paused, thinking. "People avenge and I can understand. Vengeance is the natural instinct that we intellectualize into the concept of justice. We devour it and reason that it exists to prevent a famine of moral turpitude." Charlotte is quiet, and Amelia listens, reverent. Even the rain seems unwilling to disturb this testimony as the downpour subsides. "These things, these terrible acts exist and all flourish at the hand of human ingenuity. But no matter how I try, what I just cannot seem to understand is why men rape. It defies reason, yet exists. If I tried," Charlotte confessed, gaze intent, "really tried to understand, I would be clinging to a lie … like you are now, with Addison."

Eventually, glimpses of Addison walking the halls of the practice would no longer cause the ache to spike beneath her ribs.  Until then stripped to the waist, hands clasped in her lap, Amelia would kneel, obedient.  The hours she spent counting lashes, breathless, hoarse, barely able to speak, were respite.  She counted, ever hungry for the heavy hand of her mistress, and refused to break.  Having developed a unique palette boasting many shades of pain, she welcomed it.  Amelia learned to tune the notes of external hurts by the deeply rooted dull twinge that bore a single name – Addison.  Still, she never used it.  She disavowed its knowledge, savoring the possibility that she could exist in a place of agony unrestrained, come completely undone and reknit the fault line in her chest with the stalwart threads of punishment.  Some pain was much easier to take than uttering the one word that had always been her safe.

Each time, each lash she vowed she would really feel something, not just denial scraping dutifully away at her insides.  Biting fervently into her own lip, she fought every encouragement to give up, to break. She howled behind gritted teeth and pursed her lips with every strike across her battered limbs.  Her mistress had panted, wild with determination and whipped until Amelia's back was a pulpy, bruised mess in mottled purple, blue and grey.  Her buttocks and thighs were livid, cross-hatched in crimson and still Amelia had endured, wanting to be flayed.

Hovering in a world awash with pain, Amelia drifted steadily farther away from consciousness. Cuffs cut deeply into her wrists and a crimson trail trekked down her forearms. There remained a periodic drip of saline from her chin. She bent at the elbows, arms shaking as she tried to rise. Heavy headed, her body pulled forward but not up. Damp strands of hair covered her face, trembled as she huffed though frantically tried to breathe shallow.  



Amelia stumbled out of the cab, and flailing dropped her purse.  She slammed the rear passenger door on the driver's inquiry if she was alright.  She'd seethed as his persistent concern elevated from periodic looks in the rearview to questions about her evening meant to sound like light conversation. The chorus of complaint rising from her body negated any patience she might have had for a stranger nosing after someone to save. She bent, stiffly snatched her purse, and made slow progress towards the front door.  It was yanked open in the midst of fumbling and cursing.  She couldn't seem to find her keys.

"Ames?" Addison gazed at her blearily, pulling her dressing gown tighter around herself.  It was late. "Where are your keys?"  Amelia shrugged wincing at the movement and slipped awkwardly past Addison into the foyer.  She dropped her bag, widely missing the in table on which was already stacked a few spare pieces of mail.  Amelia's fingers brushed Addison's set, no doubt cast their earlier upon her arrival home from work.

"These mine?" Amelia asked.

"No." Amelia hummed at the hard denial. Wobbling treacherously, she ignored though could feel the deft assessment as she kicked out of her shoes.  How the hell had she made it up the walk in those heels, she pondered momentarily amused.

Amelia shook out the tangled mess of her hair, finally casting a disinterested glance at Addison. "I'm tired.  I'm going to take a shower and get some sleep."  Addison reached out wanting to stop her, but withdrew, noting the tensed cast of Amelia's shoulders.  The stiff way she carried herself, agony a grim trial across her face.  Addison recognized it, had seen it before and could only imagine what lay in wait beneath Amelia's stylish sweater and jeans.

"Okay." Addison murmured, then, "Ames, I'm here if you …" Amelia half turned, eyes downcast, as she hesitated in the hall leading to her room.

"I know."

Returning to bed, the house quiet but for the sound of Amelia in the downstairs bath, Addison called Sam. He'd been delayed prepping patients for morning surgeries. He sounded exhausted and perhaps relieved as she asked him not to come by whenever he'd concluded his business at the hospital.  Unsure exactly why, she did not mention Amelia's disheveled arrival home.  "I'm just tired." Addison said simply, recycling the bland excuse she'd been offered by Amelia. If he suspected the statement a sham, he didn't let it deter his support.

"Okay, babe, call if you need me."   Addison laid awake after that, listening to the soft sounds of running water over the relative stillness of the house.  It persisted long enough to nearly lull her back to sleep. It was complete silence that startled her awake.  Not sure what she was listening for, Addison slipped out of bed, creeping downstairs in the quiet dark.  Amelia's door stood slightly ajar, and poking her head just past the door jam, Addison could discern a shadowy figure huddled on top of the blankets.

"Ames?" Addison pushed the door open, inching slowly forward.  She could make out the wet tangle of hair and the porcelain gleam of damp skin.  Amelia curled away, shivering as Addison hunted about for a towel. Finding none, she grabbed the spare blanket folded at the foot of the bed and shaking it loose, Addison moved to drape it over Amelia's naked body. She froze shocked at the carnage someone's hand had wrought over Amelia's skin. She'd seen Amelia bruised and even seen the upraised wounds that resulted from what she knew to be a lashing. But this was like nothing she'd yet witnessed.

Gasping, the blanket fell from limp fingers as Addison dropped to her knees.  She reached forward, brushing tentatively at the wet strands crisscrossing Amelia's face. She appeared a gaunt specter, wasting silently away.  "Ames, sweetheart, you have to stop this."  Amelia opened her eyes, a muted glimmer in the darkness.

"I can't."  Addison slid onto the bed, careful not to jostle and placed a gentle hand on the crown of Amelia's dark head.

"No Bits, I can't." She murmured.  "I can't watch you do this anymore."  

"I could leave." Amelia's response was soft, burdened. Her tone made it clear how little she truly wanted to be anywhere else but right there.  

"Yes you could, but this is your home." Addison shook her head.  "You're my family, Ames. I'm not going to let you run away that easy." Amelia raised herself into a sitting position to level accusation in her gaze.  There was no anger, just the old familiar. Here they were as they ever were again and again. Amelia was far too exhausted to abide any further in charades.

"Leave it Addison. Or I swear we'll both regret this conversation." Amelia wiped at the dampness under her eyes, wanting very much not to cry.  Grabbing the discarded blanket from the floor, she wrapped it around her naked body.  The effort left her breathless; and shaking, she lay down and closed her eyes, pressing her cheek against the soft fabric.  

"Ames, I can help." Addison insisted, mindless of the warning. "Just help me understand why you do this?"  

"You know why, Addie." Amelia murmured. It may as well have been a shout. Addison watched the shifting dark, thoughtfully quiet.  It was as close as they'd ever come, toeing the line of broken silence.  With admissions hovering on her lips, there remained no room to pretend.  Pretense was impossible whenever she was confronted by Amelia in this state.  These visceral urges, protective and loving, crossed into territory that was far from sisterly.

There was no reassurance that with patience and understanding they might see themselves clear of these troubles in the light of morning.  Promises of resolutions were fairy tales when impulse is victorious over reason.  In all these years of complicity, neither had surrendered to this feeling that threatened.  Addison drew close against Amelia's back, her breath a whisper against shoulder and neck.  Amelia shivered, under the blanket, shifted her hips until her backside fit snug against Addison's stomach.  It was a warning or an invitation.  Addison could heed her sense of propriety, retreat, sturdily reconstructing the arguments that buffered the ambiguous space between them.  Or she could stay, and let the inevitable crumble around them like calamity.

Addison rocked her hips forward, feeling herself swell against the soft fabric of her pajamas.  Her hand slipped under the blanket, fingers brushing warm skin.  They traced a slim hip, across the soft round of buttock, and danced lower.  Amelia moaned, pleading a mumbled litany.  Addison cupped the cleft between sporadically clenching cheeks, slid her fingers forward toward damp heat.  The short brush of fuzz was replaced by the enveloping slick between the lips of Amelia's pussy.  Addison explored the length with two fingers, rubbing quick short circles over the extruding flesh of Amelia's engorged clit.  Amelia pushed back making an appreciative sound when Addison responded with a prolonged rhythmic humping.

She rolled onto her stomach spreading her legs, feeling Addison's weight roll with her.  Amelia gave a startled "oh" as fingers pressed in, pushed further with every movement from Addison's hips. "Addie."  Her voice was distorted by the blankets pressed against her lips.  She came with the duvet between her teeth, and three of Addison's fingers held tightly to the knuckles.  Her muscles clenched around the digits, not letting go. Addison draped herself along Amelia's back still rolling her hips lightly.  Amelia lifted to meet every thrust and grind of Addison's hips, delighting in the renewed sting from welts and the cacophony of disturbed bruises.

Pajamas sticking against her own drenched thighs, Addison wanted nothing more than to slip out of her pants and rub herself off against the soft flesh. When Addison slipped her fingers free, Amelia groaned at the absence.  She turned on her side and leaning forward, pressed her lips against Addison's.  She didn't really think of it as a first kiss.  She'd thought of running her tongue along Addison's lips countless times.  Now, as she did it, her perception tilted. She embraced what strangely felt far from new, simply unexplored.  Twisting free of the blanket, she ran her hands over silk pajamas, pulling until she once again felt Addison's weight pressing her into the mattress.  Her lips parted, in a moment to catch a breath and Addison shook her head anticipating a question.  Amelia meant to justify or illuminate this indiscretion.  That was a fruitless enterprise.

"Shh," Addison, caressed hair away from limpid eyes.  No amount of explanations could justify this. It was an inexcusable indulgence and there was nothing either of them could now say or do to preserve it beyond the moment.  Much like the morning, there would be no dissuading the havoc they reaped as consequence.  "Tomorrow is too late." Addison reasoned, brushing a tender kiss against Amelia's lips.  "Tonight we have this."  Amelia nodded, fingers trembling as she worked open buttons, tested warm flesh, accepting that heartbreak rose on the horizon.  



"You're in Vegas for three days?"  Amelia rolled her eyes at the resounding disbelief. Even over the phone she could imagine the stern expression accompanying that tone. She'd awoken to the alarm on her PDA and realized it had been set for days. How her impending trip to Las Vegas had slipped her mind, she couldn't say. Her reticence in sharing the auspicious invitation to speak at the annual AAN conference was a bit of procrastination she now admittedly regretted given the impeccable timing of her looming departure. Pitted against the events leading to the woman still asleep in her bed, hopping a plane to Vegas at daybreak could only be read as a cowardly demonstration of panic. She'd watched Addison, uncomplicated in sleep, and certainly Amelia had panicked, but escape hadn't been her first reaction. That had been memory.

She'd watched spun cotton drapes bloat to expel the stuttering breath of evening.  It tripped past the darkened fringe of interior shadow to brush milky shoulders and Amelia had suppressed the urge to shudder – not cold, but exhilarated.  She'd breathed deep, relishing the pull of the strap across her waist, arched her back.  There was no comfort in the weight slung low against her hips, slow and steady.  A riptide of blood, the heated flush that suffused chest, breasts and neck, and unmistakable satisfaction in the "oh" that shaped pouting lips.

Her head dropped forward and the damp of dark strands fell in a tangle with lashes, catching about the corners of her mouth, flinging itself into random space.  Her fingers trembled a speedy ballet at once delicate and powerful.  She hadn't the least measure of control over the sensation rolling through her.  The shift of hips, thrust forward as her chin spiked to the ceiling, an escaping "ah" in this moment as her body swayed, dipped forward, and rocked back, riding an elongated crest, a final cathartic wave.  

She'd blinked, both of this world and apart from it. Eyes all at once open, transforming features slack in ecstasy and grinning she'd gripped a slim expanse of neck loose, tender.  Silent, there was only the excited drum of her heart beating its contentment.  It was a rapid tattoo woven within the frantic rise and fall of her chest.  There it was, this moment where she felt the chafe of leather, pink and damp with sweat in spite of the frigid air from the doors to the balcony left open.  

There was such pleasure in the discomfort of her frailty, the fragile tissue and flesh of the body.  Discomfort wasn't pain, just an indelicate reminder to the living. In the morning after such symphonic orchestrations of pleasure, Amelia had awoken with time enough to watch Addison open her eyes.

"We should talk." Frozen, under Addison's calm regard, Amelia felt sick. In the undisputedly clear light of morning, how could they reconcile this? It was betrayal, what they'd accomplished in a night of impropriety. It was only natural, these feelings of disgust at having destroyed something so inviolate. Amelia had reveled in her own promiscuity so long. She had in fact felt empowered by it, boasting the lengthy roster of women and men with whom she'd pursued a sincerely gratifying though inconsequential moment of connection. But this with Addison, she wished only to bury.

"What's to talk about?" Amelia shied away. "I love you but last night was a mistake."

"I don't believe that Amelia and neither do you."Addison swallowed.  "I can do this, with you."  Fingers innervated with the desire to soothe, Addison reached out, stroked the soft pout of Amelia's lips sending a tingle of shock from the pad of her thumb to sizzle between her shoulder blades. Feeling arousal spark and wiggled the length of her spine, she leaned forward but was immediately denied.

"You'd hurt Sam?"  Amelia shook her head, her face twisting, ashamed.  "And Derek?  I can't do that Addie."

"This wasn't supposed to happen, but it did.  Are you so certain you want to forget?"  Addison drew back, puzzled.  She'd woken feeling sure. As though the certainty had constructed itself in her dreams, after much internal argument, she'd surrendered and gleaned a modicum of peace.

"Forget?"  Amelia looked incredulous.  "I'll never forget Addison.  I'll compare every touch, every kiss and find any but yours insignificant.  I love you, will love you as I always have, endlessly." Amelia, voice hoarse, fought back tears.  No more crying, she vowed.  "If only I could forget."  Addison faltered.  It would be cruel to press.  She leaned forward, cupped her hands around Amelia's face and relented, offering a single chaste kiss.

"Okay." Addison idled only a moment, savoring it.  Amelia was pliant under her hands even so resolved against continued pursuit.  She reached up, wrapping her fingers around Addison's wrists, as though clinging to the moment.  But all moments, like this one, are soon to pass. Amelia pushed firmly away, extricating herself from Addison's grasp and abandoned the bed, virtually fleeing to the bathroom.  Gathering her own convictions to respect Amelia's request, Addison made to leave, hesitant at the foot of the bed, regarding the tangle of sheets as witness to the night they'd spent.  Unable to stem one last curious impulse, she raised her voice just enough to be heard and asked, "Why should it be so impossible for me to love you?"  

Amelia reappeared, framed in the doorway of the bathroom. The morning light filtering in through the blinds cast her face in a glow and Addison wondered if innocence could ever be completely extinguished. "It's no more impossible that I should love you."  Amelia replied, smiling despite the tears threatening in the corners of her eyes. "We're unlikely is all. We're just not meant to be." She watched Addison leave, the door closing softly.

Amelia packed a bag with negligible forethought and called a cab, fingers crossed she'd make her flight to Las Vegas. The sound of running water from Addison's shower upstairs had droned as Amelia pulled the front door closed. A text message probably wouldn't be Addison's preference in the way of an explanation. In concession she'd opted to call Naomi from the tarmac.

"I'm presenting a paper at the American Academy of Neurology Conference, Nay. I'll be back in three days, a week maybe …" Naomi had awoken to a host of hysterical text messages from Addison that sounded as though they should be calling in an amber alert to the state police. Before she could compose a response in the form of a request for a bit of clarity, she'd received a timely call bearing this ground-breaking revelation from the runaway in question. All this preceding a solitary cup of coffee or even setting a single foot out of bed, and Naomi had been thrust well-beyond the bounds of tolerance. She cut impatiently into Amelia's attempt to make something completely unexpected sound rational.

"Typically a time-off request comes well in advance and is formulated as paperwork." Naomi muttered. "First things first, you need to call Addison before she has a coronary. She's left me ten text messages that are twenty different types of alarmed. Then after you make this presentation of yours, you need to get on the first plane back here. "

"I am not a child to be ordered home in time for dinner.  I'd intended to mention this to you. It just slipped my mind." Amelia felt herself blush. It wasn't entirely a lie but it didn't make her any less relieved that Naomi was not standing before her to detect the obvious tell. "My presence at AAN brings further international attention to the practice, a fact you undoubtedly can appreciate given your recent travels." Perhaps international attention to the practice was a bit of a stretch as it had not exactly topped her list of priorities when she'd first accepted the invitation to speak. Had she heard it, Addison would have abortively challenged the assertion given the manner in which Amelia had woken up that morning. Boarding a plane with little more than an overnight bag and a vague text explaining her sudden absence was inherently suspicious as epilogue to a night spent having sex with one's brother's ex-wife.

"Amelia no. Just no. What exactly does picking up showgirls have to do with our visibility?"  Naomi countered.

"How did you …" Amelia froze, then recognizing sarcasm for what it was, initiated a strategic retreat.  "The only reason Addison is worried is because I won't return the fifteen calls she's left in the last five minutes and I have little use for mothering right now, Naomi.  I'll call when I'm not busy. A plane preparing for takeoff qualifies as busy."  Amelia refrained from stomping her foot, pulling herself together.  "I'll be back in a week."

"Whatever is going on between you two …"

"Nothing.  There's nothing going on between Addison and I that should worry you."  Amelia tried for dismissive but only managed guilty. "Look, I'll call later. Just tell her not to worry. I'm fine. Really."

"I'm fine isn't exactly reassuring, but I'll pass on the message." Naomi paused and added, "I am willing to concede that this conference is important to you. However, I also recognize that it's in Vegas. So try and …"

"Keep my shirt on while I'm working?" Amelia bitterly interjected. "I'll do that. Bye Nay." Amelia hung up, uninterested in the response.

Amelia downed a glass of champagne, watched clouds roll past her window and waited for the thump of touch down welcoming her to Vegas. The unanticipated but appreciated luxury of a hired car was waiting to transport her from McCarran International. She sat in the back seat and ran her fingers over an unopened pack of cigarettes while the driver rattled off the block by block best of shows, buffets or gambling one could find on the Strip. When he deposited her at the front lobby of the Olympus, she gave him a generous tip but ignored his grinning offer of a hometown escort over the course of her visit. She pushed through the front doors, crossed a gleaming expanse of marble echoing the sound of tourism, and checked-in. She unceremoniously passed her bag off to the bell hop, in little hurry to marvel over her accommodations for the duration of the conference. Instead, she headed straight for the casino floor.

"Now." She murmured, eyes roving over flashing lights and elegant furnishings. Past slot machines and black jack tables, the ever-milling crowd of gamblers, Amelia spied a peaceful oasis at the center of controlled chaos, the bar. Among a host of patrons, tourists, businessmen, some no doubt fellow conference attendees, Amelia's eyes locked on a decidedly feminine silhouette. "Where to begin."

"Buy you a drink?"  Amelia sidled up to the bar.  Las Vegas was way better than Disney Land, Amelia mused with a grin.  Mid afternoon presented like midnight at the hottest club in LA.  Better, she thought drawing her eyes up a pair of shapely legs.  She'd spotted the woman from the entrance and could not readily think of when she'd ever seen a dancer in a business suit. There was no way those legs belonged in any other career.  

"Have one."  The blonde was gorgeous, but austere. Amelia noted fine lines in the corner of bright blue eyes and welcomed the visual assessment that accompanied the shrewd gaze.

"Okay, buy me a drink?"  Amelia's lips curled in a broad grin, she arched a subtle brow under the assault of icy blue perusal.  She expected a dismissal, but received a smirk for her brazen approach. Amelia tracked the delicate grace of a simple movement, the articulation of the elbow, the arm, the fingers combing through golden waves.  It was mesmerizing choreography, the toss of hair, straightening of lapel and broad smile in syncopation.

"You even old enough to be on the casino floor?"  Amelia chuckled, sliding onto a neighboring stool.  Feeling a rush of exhilaration, the one that came when casual intentions were clearly mutual, Amelia shook out her long dark hair and leveled a smoldering glare.  The blonde was taut, steely under Amelia's scrutiny.  Lawyer, maybe?  

"Plenty."  Dark lashes fluttering, the pale pink tip of Amelia's tongue traced a full bottom lip.  It was amateur hour seduction.  If she'd been wearing a low cut blouse rather than the tee shirt and jeans she'd traveled in, she would have leaned forward in a tantalizing display of cleavage.  Instead, she placed her elbow on the bar, tucking her fingers into glossy chestnut and tipped her chin downward to gaze expectant, waiting.  

"You look like you could be my daughter's age."  The blonde slung back a half empty tumbler of amber liquid.  Amelia stared mesmerized by the movement of sultry mouth and sensuous neck.  

"You don't look old enough to have a kid anywhere approaching my age."  The blonde chuckled, not quite charmed but clearly amused.  It wasn't subtle but not necessarily untrue, and she'd be damned if flattering any woman about her age wasn't a universally effective tool.

"Hey Bill," The blonde raised a hand gesturing for the bartender's attention and looked expectantly to Amelia.  "What will you have?"

"For now?" Amelia chewed her lip, peering challenge until the blonde smiled.  There it was.  Internally, Amelia gloated, visualizing fanfare in that earnest expression.

"For now." The blonde murmured agreement, then nodded pointedly at Bill waiting patiently for instruction.

"How about a ginger ale?"  Amelia requested.  Bill lent his quick attention to the task but Amelia's was drawn to the tumbler twirled in an elegant hand, ice clinking in the glass.  "And your name."

"Catherine."  She humored Amelia with a look then nodded her thanks to Bill as he placed a glass already pebbling with condensation on the bar.

"And dinner." Amelia turned on the bar stool to face the other woman fully.

"Well …"Sanguine, Catherine raised her brows, holding the moment in suspense.


"…Amelia," Catherine repeated it slow, the syllables rolling seductively until Amelia virtually beamed. "You certainly aren't lacking for requests."  She turned on her own stool, granting the younger woman her undivided attention.  Amelia watched as Catherine downed the last of her drink and slipped off the stool onto her feet.  

"Indecision has never been my wheel house." She murmured in fascination as Catherine moved with preternatural grace. She was two steps ahead by the time Amelia gained her feet or her senses, asking "How's the food here?" Catherine barely turned as her body tracked a libidinous curve, casting a lure in the round shift of her hips.

"The room service is phenomenal."



"As you can see, despite a severe cardiac event after the insertion of the stent, stats returned to normal and we were able to complete the procedure thanks to the quick work of the doctors on my team establishing bypass." Amelia gestured toward the last slide in her presentation. "The patient is now six months into her recovery. She's regained full motor capability and only slightly impaired speech and cognition. Long term cognitive effects have been determined to be negligible should progress continue as anticipated." Amelia felt dwarfed in the auditorium style seating. She stifled the urge to sigh audibly at the sea of hands that bobbed for her attention as she asked, "Are there any questions?" She was hoping she'd be drawing the curtain on this circus by now. She had very specific plans involving a hot blonde, an extra large bathtub and a bottle of Veuve Clicquot.

Jeans halfway down her thighs and her arms caught over her head by her tee shirt, Amelia had watched in incredulity as Catherine fumbled in her purse for her cell phone only to be "called away" pre-coitus. There'd been little to no time for explanation as Catherine shrugged her blazer back on and smoothed the wrinkles in her skirt. The vague reference of work in a hastily worded apology had only accented the flat, unfulfilled feeling that took up residence as lust spontaneously broke camp.

She'd watched Catherine bend to slip on a hot pair of heels, swallowing disappointment that the fantasy brewed by every hint of movement under snug material would never be revealed. Mustering just enough chivalry to walk Catherine to the door, Amelia had slipped her business card into the woman's hand.

"Doctor Shepherd, is it?" Catherine looked over the card with interest.

"Yes it is. I'm here the next three days for a conference. So …" Bypassing any further awkwardness, Amelia caught Catherine by the lapels of her deliciously tailored suit bestowing a kiss that left them both panting. She closed the door with a wink. Welcome to Las Vegas, Amelia thought feeling a tinge of disappointment for the anticlimax. She spent the early evening reviewing her presentation notes and rather than spend a night uselessly tossing and turning, Amelia departed the refuge of her hotel suite. She was short on time in the city of sin and she planned to make good use of what little remained at her disposal. Beckoned by Vegas's countless vagaries, she hadn't returned until dawn was already peaking over the skyline.

She'd woken early to the buzzing of her phone on the bed-side bureau and an explicit text. It was the naughtiest apology and dinner invitation she had ever received and served as reaffirmation of her prior confidence at the art of seduction. Apparently Ms. Catherine Willows deigned try again. Amelia sent a quick yes and fought the urge to return to sleep. Drawing a blank on the name of the cocktail waitress slumbering under a fiery mess of red hair, the concierge had been far more helpful than she'd ever expected, Amelia had devised to shower and grab a decent breakfast before her speech. Now all that stood between her and the evening plans she'd spent all day anticipating, was a room full of academically curious surgeons. Amelia pointed to a random hand in the crowd, "Yes sir. Your question?"

Topless, Amelia tugged at her jeans with one hand, fumbling for her phone with the other. The device vibrated on the bed under a pile of discarded clothing. She was distracted from her search by a soft knock at the door to the hotel suite. "Really?" She muttered. Ignoring the phone she half-jogged, half stumbled her way to the door. Pulling it open breathlessly, she managed a harried grin. "Hey …" Catherine glanced from Amelia's face to her bare chest, marveling a bit at the lack of tan lines framing pert breasts.

"It's casual but you might rethink your wardrobe choice." Amelia tossed long hair fastening her jeans and stood up straight. She'd never lacked confidence in her appearance but something about Catherine, the untold grace in the length of her legs perhaps, encouraged Amelia to adjust her posture. Catherine's furrowed brow was a physical manifestation of mental chiding as her focus persisted in drifting downward from Amelia's smiling face.

"My afternoon ran a bit long. I'll only be a minute." She gestured Catherine to come in and shut the door on the thankfully empty corridor. Catherine was a vision in a viciously low cut hot pink cocktail dress. Sleeveless and backless, it lovingly embraced Catherine's taut length from cleavage to thigh. Amelia paused in open appreciation, her eyes frozen on the hypnotic sway of round hips. She lifted her gaze at a directed cough, blushing at having been caught, and instructed, "Please make yourself comfortable." Pausing by a well-stocked mini-bar, she relied on polite affectations in a moment spent trying to regain thought and breath, "May I offer you something to drink?"

"Thank you. No, I'm quite alright." Catherine declined, her inexcusably impish smile acknowledged Amelia's momentary lapse. Amelia succumbed for a moment to visions of slim ankles uncrossed and hooked behind her waist as she examined Catherine perched demure on the edge of an armchair in the sitting area. Catherine followed Amelia's progress under a hooded gaze, a fairly accurate guess of the thoughts preceding the flush that painted the girl's chest and face. As Amelia turned, hurrying away to complete her preparations, Catherine caught a glimpse under the shifting waves of dark hair, just enough to make out the intricate lines of artwork gilding Amelia's skin. Raising her voice to be heard in the next room, she inquired, "I'd love a closer look." Amelia's head popped back out of the doorway.

"Oh?" She hadn't packed much in her haste. What little she did have at her disposal, she wielded with confidence. She slid into a sheer pullover in black and white stripe that plunged towards her navel, baring the delicate bones of her collar and chest. The shirt hugged her body like a fine sheath and was a perfect accompaniment to a simple pair of skinny jeans. The ensemble seamlessly accentuated curve and line, and would easily hypnotize at the turn of her shoulder or swing of her hip.

Notably, Catherine was lanky in comparison to Amelia's rather diminutive stature, an obstacle to spontaneous intimacy easily remedied by a pair of stilettos. Ready in moments, her hair fell in an artfully constructed mess past her shoulders as she put the finishing touches on her mascara and lips. She decided fervently that she wouldn't fuss and allow nervous effort to devolve into frightful excess. She ran her fingers over the wide leather band she belted low on her hips and grinned wolfishly at her reflection in the mirror.

"I'd love to show you." Reemerging, Amelia wasn't sure if Catherine's look was approval or residual lust. Either way, she didn't intend to be interrupted again. "Just for clarification's sake, what are we talking about??"

Catherine stood gracefully, all smoky seduction, "You look great." If her expression was any indication, great was a woeful understatement. Amelia sidled up, sliding her palms over the satiny material of Catherine's dress in appreciation. She pulled the taller woman tight against her hips, leaning up to place a demanding kiss against lips wide in welcome.

"Thank you." Amelia murmured, between softer persistent kisses. "You are absolutely gorgeous."

"Dinner?" Catherine leaned back, russet rinsing her cheeks. Her eyes sparkled with mischief. Amelia was far more interested to see just what that look promised than she was in any dinner reservations.

"Sure. I'm starving." Amelia agreed, forcing herself to step back. She placed her hand on the soft skin at the small of Catherine's back and felt herself heating noticeably at the warmth.

"Your tattoos."

"Hmm?" Amelia glanced up at Catherine, reading curiosity as she pulled the door closed behind them. Her fingers traced the curve of Catherine's waist, her palm coming to rest on that warm stretch of bare skin. Amelia kept pace down the corridor, delighting at the firm touch teasing the nape of her neck and tangling in the thick of dark hair. She felt herself pulled close and trembled under sultry examination.

"I'd love a closer look at your tattoos." Catherine reiterated, mapping the girlish planes of Amelia's face. Amelia swallowed short of breath, feeling herself relinquish control, give into something undeniably magnetic.

"It would be my pleasure to give you a personally guided tour."

Yet again an unforeseen halt had been called on their evening plans. Amelia had clung to her like static, knees locked around Catherine's hips while they kissed on her living room couch. Carried away in the passion of the moment, feeding on the theme of an indiscreet romp with soft music and wine sitting untouched, Catherine vaulted toward the impropriety of having a stranger in her bed. Empty house on a night off, she intended to have Amelia as often and as vigorously as her will might conscript eager flesh until the ringing of her mobile phone undermined that vow.

"I'm beginning to suspect these interruptions of yours to be the fruit of some well-planned conspiracy." Amelia arched a brow, heaving slim shoulders. She slid away and sipped decorously at the glass of red Catherine had poured yet subsequently ignored since the moment they'd come to sit. She listened to Catherine's half of the abrupt telephone conversation with mounting disappointment.

"I'm so sorry about this." Catherine took in the beckoning cant of Amelia's hips as she leaned back into the couch cushions.

"That's too bad." She hadn't even managed to divest the young woman of those indecently tight jeans. Shame really, Catherine shook herself.

"I'll drop you off at the hotel on my way in. Be right back." Getting dressed for work on the fly was habit. There was no such thing as a night off for a supe. Catherine was always on call, which meant having her gear packed and ready just in case her phone rang in the middle of the night. She was out of her dress and into a pair of slacks and her work boots in no time.

"Is that … what is that?" Catherine turned, looking up at the unnaturally hoarse sound of Amelia's voice. Double-checking that the safety was on, she buckled her weapon into the detachable holster she typically wore on her belt. Confident the weapon was secure she redirected her full attention to the young woman standing in the doorway of her bedroom.

"My gun." Catherine dug in the bag she kept packed for work and finding her LVPD issue vest, slipped her badge out of the front pocket. "This is my badge." Observing the wariness in Amelia's stance, Catherine straightened slowly, her voice placating. "I always keep the safety on when I'm at home." Even from the distance of the doorway, the shaking in Amelia's hands was pronounced.

"I don't …" She swallowed, crossing her arms tightly over her chest, eyes locked on the weapon at Catherine's hip. "I don't …"

"You don't like guns?" Catherine asked. Amelia nodded jerkily. "Well, I guess I can understand that. A lot of people feel that way. Unfortunately, I have to carry one in my line of work." Catherine carefully shifted her holster to the small of her back.

"What … what is it you do?" Even with the weapon out of sight, Amelia gulped a breath as Catherine took a steady step closer.

"I work as a crime scene analyst with the Las Vegas Police Department." Catherine took out her phone, jiggling it in demonstration. "I'm the night shift supervisor. I'm always on call particularly if …"

"… if someone important is killed?" Amelia finished, a note of sorrow entering her voice.

"Well yes certainly, but any kind of emergency that might require my supervisory attention." Again stepping closer, just enough to reach out and run her hands along the younger woman's biceps, Catherine noted how cool the skin was under her palms. Amelia virtually vibrated under Catherine's touch. She'd seen survivors of trauma thrust to similar reactions, an object or a moment triggering symptoms of shock. The vacant daze clouding crystalline blue inspired a sympathetic pang. Catherine felt about for her objectivity, the mask of her professionalism, both painfully absent. Faced with this young woman she did not know beyond two exceedingly innocuous attempts at seduction, Catherine typically empowered in a moment like this, wrestled the confusion of sudden impotence. Amelia was not just a name on a case; further, unlike the victims whose perpetrators Catherine toiled to catch, this was a warm, breathing body, alive under her hands.

"Amelia?" Amelia looked up, blank-eyed, huffed a shallow breath and just barely managed to gag the remnants of their romantic dinner into the waste basket suddenly filling Catherine's hands. Further demonstrating her unaccountably swift reflexes, Catherine discarded the soiled bin to slip a steadying arm around Amelia's waist whose knees all rattled together somewhat comically in her now wobbly appearance. Had it not been for the predominantly full glasses standing on the coffee table, ruby contents abandoned, Catherine might make the mistake of discounting the young woman as tipsy. Amelia, in a moment, had gone blank and unsubstantial as a piece of linen terrorized by a magnificent breeze.

"Dr. Shepherd?" Catherine tried with a note of authority, leaning down to examine Amelia's pupils. "We're going to take a little ride, alright?" Amelia nodded, her eyes drifting away somewhat perplexed. Catherine grabbed a hooded sweatshirt from her closet, directing Amelia's arms into the sleeves. She zipped up the front and placed her hands on icy cheeks. Tracking Amelia's gaze again, Catherine tried a smile of encouragement. "You're okay. There's no crisis. You're safe. You understand?" Amelia nodded, confounding clouds dispersing enough for her to murmur a response.

"I don't like guns." Catherine sighed, pulling the young woman in, she pressed a kiss against soft skin.

"I know."

"It's cold in here." Amelia pulled her knees close to her chest. Her hands, fisted inside the sleeves of the hooded sweatshirt Catherine had given her, were trapped between her thighs for warmth. She looked up feeling the light brush of fingers across her forehead. Catherine smiled down at her. She'd pulled a bulky utility vest over a cardigan. Willows, Amelia read the stitching over one of the pockets then looking down at the sweatshirt, its blue law enforcement sigil over the left breast. "You're a cop."

"CSI, a criminalist. Remember?" Catherine corrected. Amelia nodded though with little conviction. She ran a hand over bland upholstery, thinking Catherine's office needed a new couch. It was otherwise pristine, even the desk with its orderly collection of case files stacked at one edge. Framed credentials on the wall all read Catherine Willows but no family photos or newspaper clippings. It was spartan down to the precisely arranged furniture, like one of those extended stay hotel suites. It sang of recent promotion.

"Listen, you'll be okay here for awhile. I have to … I'm needed at the scene." Catherine reached past Amelia to pull a half-folded throw off the back of the couch. Draping it around hunched shoulders, she took a second to gauge the look on Amelia's face. Not so terrified any longer, though blank. Blank enough that Catherine felt an inkling of worry. Once, something significant had been damaged. Amelia wore it there in a vacant place, passive, staring that Catherine read with a queasy feeling too much like caring. "Rest a bit. I'll be back before you know it. Okay?" Amelia mimed agreement, sliding down to curl under the blanket. Catherine rose from her crouch and was stopped by chilly fingers slipping quickly into hers. She gave them a reassuring squeeze and as quickly they slipped away.

Outside her office, as she pulled the door, Catherine attempted to reestablish some emotional distance. This was not a time for indulging romance with strangers, now was it? She'd just watched her only "something serious" in far too long crack up over what, Sam's damn inheritance? Certainly Detective Vartann was no prince, but Amelia was little more than a half-formed adult from a broken kid. Tourists, for all intents and purposes, were sex not sentiment. This wasn't a rule she'd ever been poised to forget. "Hey? What's the hold up? We've had a call out for nearly forty-five minutes." Sara Sidle was anxious expectation, a kit in each hand. Catherine reached out to take one and fell in step down the empty corridor.

"I had something personal to handle on my way in." Catherine murmured, she ran a hand through hair, a nervous tick she hoped would divulge little under the intensity of Sara's focus.

"Cath …"

"Is Greg already on the scene?" Catherine interrupted, hurrying her steps to draw a bit ahead.

"And Langston. Nick has a 480 off the strip, pedestrian versus party bus." Sara acquiesced, willing for now to take the hint. "Multiple 419 in the desert at some kind of campground. David's en route and Ecklie's calling in swing."

"How many?" Catherine blew through the front doors headed for her Tahoe. Sara matched her pace an uncertain hum reverberated in her chest.

"Ten maybe. Still counting." They slid into the SUV and Sara punched the location into the GPS. Catherine watched patiently, her face taking on a gruesome light in the glow of the electronic device. Catherine pulled out of the parking lot, letting the silence seep in, needing it for what was ahead. "Who is she?" Sara's voice barely touched her over the din of engine noise, the rough rumble of rubber on concrete and late night traffic.

"Not now, later. When we get back, okay?" Catherine's grip tightened, but her attention never wavered, as though she could already see their destination. There was a pleading in her tone that Sara, despite the underlying accusation of her inquiry, could not dismiss. "I have to be the job right now." Sara said nothing, only leaned back under the tight pull of her seatbelt and fiddled with the CB until police chatter jumbled unanswered questions and tension like a discarded jigsaw puzzle.

Amelia felt quite certain she'd been hit by a car. She'd fallen asleep squeezed onto the lumpy couch in Catherine's office. CSI Supervisor Willows, as said the plaque emblazoned outside her door, was still in the field. She'd called with profuse apologies. The husk in her voice, rather than gravelly seduction, hinted at what lay before her eyes, a crime scene that was, well, horrific.

"Are you okay?" Amelia had asked softly, inexplicably touched in that shared moment over the phone. It was intimate in a way she could not explain and she felt an obligation to shelter it in the piety of her concern.

"I'm fine. I should be asking you." Catherine's voice was low. In the background, Amelia could hear police radios and distant sirens.

"I'm okay." She paused, sure she shouldn't ask but couldn't help but say, "It's bad, isn't it." Catherine didn't answer and in the silence that ensued, Amelia closed her eyes listening to several long breaths brush across the receiver.

"I'll try and be back soon, but I …"

"I understand." Amelia looked at her phone, somewhat puzzled at the anxious beating in her chest as she hung up. A tentative invitation to breakfast had been extended earlier as Catherine drove them toward CSI, eyes flashing between the road and Amelia's pale visage. She'd sketched a succinct illustration of the duties she'd need to attend on the scene, vowing that once those were wrapped up, she'd return even promising to buy Amelia the best midnight breakfast in a city that truly didn't sleep. Unfortunately, those plans were unhinged confronted by the full weight of the crime Catherine was investigating. She would be unable to return to headquarters for some time. Subsequently, Catherine had offered a rain check on breakfast and hired a car to drive Amelia back to her hotel.

Amelia never had much trouble sleeping in strange places, a characteristic she was demonstrating dreamlessly when her escort arrived. He was a young man in a painfully starched black uniform and dapper hat, every bit the cliché of chauffeur. He'd fidgeted at the door of Catherine's office offering a steaming hot latte and a sincere message direct from Ms. Willows that Amelia was in good hands. Dawn breaking outside tinted windows, Amelia gazed about her in surprise, trying to fathom her presence in the back of a black sedan. The car service was provided by the Olympus where AAN had booked the conference and her stay. Frank, the driver, had referred to Catherine in such deference that Amelia could only assume some personal confidence lest it be a very odd coincidence. When asked, he'd looked at Amelia askance as though it were common knowledge. "Well, she's my boss ma'am."

Sitting back in silence for what remained of the ride, Amelia tried to absorb just what that meant. She'd fiddled with her phone until Google coughed up a few interesting tidbits about Catherine Willows CSI. It was, however, the homepage of the Olympus that provided an unanticipated host of revelatory information. A page dedicated in memoriam to recently deceased owner Sam Braun had offered florid summary of Vegas's golden age and concluded the biographical sketch of Braun with the dispersal of his estate in its entirety to his wife Lily and his only other surviving heir, their daughter. Amelia blinked tired eyes at the vertiginous view of Catherine Willows poised in front of the seemingly endless heights of the casino and hotel high-rise. Unbelievable, Amelia shook her head. What were the chances she'd make a pass at the only woman sitting in the bar who happened to be a crime-fighting casino heiress?



Amelia, predatory when she fucks, was not what one thinks of scientists so much as carnivores. Famished for a captive subdued under her hands, Amelia was equally caught by Catherine. Beautiful, could they both enchant and dispatch predators poised to snatch unwary prey. Thus Amelia observed her quarry vibrating under fingertips, arching under grinding hips, Catherine was perfect, a specimen Amelia could examine with endless curiosity.

Running her tongue from navel to neck, Amelia traced the pale thin line, cleft through Catherine's heaving chest. Lengthy raven strands traced a languorous path along ribs and a cheek, soft as sin. She rubbed delicately against a hardening nibble of erect flesh. Catherine puffed a sound somewhere between groaning pleasure and pleading request. Amelia pressed, hips sliding the snug nook of Catherine's thighs. Her knees were unforgiving against the hotel mattress and she huffed, captured, wild and fighting to get loose. Shoulders round, stomach tight, she hovered, peering over the brink of a massive consequence and seized careless abandon.

"Catherine." Her whisper was a siren in the hot dark. She could barely make out pupils, dilated jet black as they rolled up then back under Catherine's furrowed blonde brow. "Catherine."

"Ungh." It was as close to an acknowledgement as she'd get. Their foreheads met, slick with sweat, and stuck at the intensity of Amelia's gaze. In her mind, she saw the ever widening arm of conflagration under which she could disintegrate, be nothing but her constituent atoms spread wide across the universe. More than anything, Amelia wanted to be the ash left in Catherine's wake.

"Come for me."

Breathing deep she relished the auditory awareness, the wet sound of fingers sliding free, loose in her ears. "You are terrifying Catherine Willows."  Amelia tilted, head tipping, blinking dissipating remnants of the fugue and the fury of sex and smirked at the play of amusement and desire over sharp features.

"I'm conducting scientific research." Catherine replied in mischief, rolling her hips and squeezing Amelia close with the tightening of her ankles. There was a muffled groan shared as breast slid against breast in the slick of cooling sweat. Catherine reached up to tangle her fingers in dark locks, lifted her hips and welcomed Amelia inside again.

"Hypothesis?" Amelia closed her eyes and captured a lush kiss, not quite so lust filled as those shared when Catherine had first appeared in the doorway of her hotel suite, but stimulating in a whole new context.

"I'm determining how long I can keep you right here in this bed utterly distracted."

"I take it your data is conclusive?"  Another kiss followed a teasing nip to her chin, her neck, Amelia had begun to rock so thoughtful and slow.

"mmm . . . I'll have to conduct further study before I can …"  Catherine broke off, enthralled by the ardent moan in response to her lips circling a taut nipple. "Amelia." Catherine smiled, watching reason disintegrate in dark blue. She breathed deep, tugging meaningfully forward until her lips were pressed against the crease traced above Amelia's tensely drawn brow. Catherine's movement was precise, choreography she once displayed to much appreciation on stage under the lights. Quick breaths sputtered across her chest and Amelia's fingers became insistent, grasping at Catherine's thigh as she rode for leverage or control. She groaned, helpless against the rising tide, but trying mightily to hold. Catherine closed her eyes to revel in the keening cry from Amelia's parted lips and whispered with a satisfied smirk, "Your turn."

Amelia pulled gently away.  Being this close to someone was not a careful maneuver like so many other aspects of her life.  There was a noise like a thousand newspapers rustling, shaken by willful hands in the background, in the foreground, dispersing every moment into incongruous thoughts.  It was panic, uncontrolled but allowable.  Well, when time permitted. Taking a breath, Amelia waited for it to clear.


"You know I didn't come here for this."

"Little late then, isn't it?" Amelia lay on her stomach above a nest of rumpled sheets. Her hair was a damp, prickly mass stuck to her back. It would be uncomfortable if she felt even a little bit lousy. Luckily, she was shagged senseless enough not to care. She leveled lurid blue on Catherine sitting propped against the headboard and stared pointedly at bare breasts. She reached out and ran her fingers through a carefully landscaped triangle of hair at the juncture of toned thighs. Amelia adored Catherine's immodesty. She certainly deserved to flaunt a body that looked half her age. She felt her thighs grow slick at the thought of Catherine on stage. It hadn't been said outright but Amelia had spent enough time pinned under the rhythmic ministrations of dancers to know one when she'd seen one. "Were you unfairly distracted CSI Willows?" Catherine lightly brushed Amelia's fingers away.

"Are we suddenly so formal we require titles Dr. Shepherd?"

"Depends on what you expect me to say." Amelia rolled onto her back, eyes on the ceiling. She felt the bed shift and the unmistakable warmth and weight as Catherine straddled her hips. She watched mesmerized at the cascade of blonde locks as Catherine settled, shaking long hair behind her shoulders.

"You don't strike me as someone afraid of the truth." Catherine braced herself, hands bracketing along the thin cage of Amelia's ribs. "I think you know I've seen plenty of trauma in my line of work. Why don't you begin with why you're terrified at the sight of a gun?" Under her hips and her hands, Catherine could feel the beat of Amelia's body change. The pace shifted, kicked forward into an anxious skip. "Shhh." She leaned down, placed a light kiss on Amelia's lips. She felt the exhalation of breath speed against her cheeks. "You're safe. Just breathe." Amelia obeyed, drawing in deep, calmed by the lingering scent of sex, perspiration and underneath whatever the hotel used to clean the sheets. "Good girl." Catherine whispered genuine praise, filling Amelia with a sudden need to do whatever might further please. She could hear the practice in Catherine's voice, the familiarity with interviewing the victims, the survivors. "Now, can you try and tell me?" Amelia nodded, closed her eyes, reveling in the comfort of Catherine's body against her own.

"I was three." Amelia began. "My Dad owned a pawn shop. It was late. He was closing up and my brother was helping, well trying to help but mostly watching me." Amelia paused, felt the familiar fog closing in around her. The memory was in it. She could never recall those moments without it commandeering her mind, her limbs. She was powerless against it, like a riptide relentlessly pulling her back to those events.

"There were men." Catherine's voice prodded her forward. Isn't that where the story began? An idyllic moment transfigured into terror by intruders, men who murdered and tragically rent asunder the expectation that life proceeded in serenity.

"Three." Amelia swallowed. "With masks. They waved their guns and shouted at my Dad." Amelia felt tears sliding from the corners of her eyes. They pooled in her ears, threading a wet trail along the sides of her face. "I hate shouting. I'd been playing behind the counter and the shouting scared me. I wanted to go to him. I wanted him to tell me everything was okay. But I knew ..." Catherine reached forward, gently brushing at tears. Amelia looked even younger, chin mournfully crumpled like the child in her story. "I tried, but I couldn't get to him. Derek snuck behind the counter and had his arms around me, holding me back. He covered my mouth with his hand, trying to keep me quiet. And I remember when I heard the gun shots it was so loud like the sky was falling down on our heads."

"Deep breaths." Catherine demonstrated the in and out, urging Amelia to remain calm, remain apart from the story.

"It frightened me so much." Amelia continued, voice shaking. "I bit him. I bit him so hard." Pursing her lips against a sob, she could almost feel the hand against her lips and the rush of liquid down her chin. "And there was this taste. It was like I was holding a penny on my tongue."

"You heard the gun go off and then these men," Catherine encouraged Amelia ever forward in the account even as it was apparent she was slipping deeper into the past where these events lived. "What did they do next?"

"One of them came behind the counter for the money. He saw us hiding there and he pointed his gun."Amelia could see it so clearly, transported back to that moment. He hadn't wavered. That hand holding the gun had been so steady. "He laughed. He looked at us and laughed like we were the funniest thing he'd ever seen." Amelia's chest constricted, feeling that same old fear. "He took the money out of the register and he said, you don't want to end up like your old man, you'll keep fucking quiet." Amelia opened her eyes, gazing up, Catherine's hands framed around her face. "My Dad was … lying in the middle of the floor. And the other two were grabbing things out of the display cases and off the shelves. Derek just held onto me, didn't say a word." With what typically came next, Catherine was careful in the wording. She was tragically aware of how much worse the story could get, should get when men like these described so chillingly were involved.

"Did they lay a hand on you or your brother?" Amelia shook her head, eyes fierce.

"No. They took everything they could carry and left." Amelia licked her lips, shrugging. "Just like that, it was over. When the police came, they tried to take me from Derek and I screamed. I wouldn't stop screaming until they … they sedated me." Blinking, Amelia remembered the red under the flashing lights of the ambulance. It had been everywhere. "There was blood all over and the paramedics thought I'd been shot. They didn't realize until later that it was Derek's blood. I'd bitten right down to the bone and he never let me go." Catherine stretched her body out on top of Amelia, felt arms form a tight circle around her waist. It would be impossible to be closer than this, she thought. She whispered soft, hushing the tears that lingered. Amelia felt so small, tiny really, pressed underneath Catherine's hips, her chest, her lips. When she trembled, when she cried, Catherine whispered a dozen chaste kisses across Amelia's mouth until she lay still as a note pining after a song.

"You know," Amelia murmured, sniffling against the tender pocket between shoulder and chin, "crying after sex rarely endears anyone to a repeat performance." Catherine chuckled, her laughter tickling against Amelia's stomach and chest.

"No I suppose not." She tilted her head back to flash an impertinent grin, "Then I guess it's a good thing you lick pussy like a champ." Amelia felt the damp of fresh tears as she barked sudden laughter.



"What aren't you telling me?" Naomi swirled the wine, watching the miniature whirlpool in red whip along the sides of her glass and waited for an answer. The stiffening of Addison's posture was anything but forthcoming.

"Nothing Nay." Addison gulped, abandoning the pretense of a sip and reached for the bottle.

"You seem spooked and she's behaving like some teenaged runaway." Naomi grasped the neck, holding the bottle momentarily out of reach. She waited until Addison gave in and looked directed at her.

"We had a disagreement. That's all."

"I know Amelia is … troubled." Naomi prevaricated, "As a board member of this practice, should I be worried?" Even absent the farce of Amelia's sudden departure and Addison cracking under the torment of perceived indiscretion, the very idea of questioning Amelia's competence as a doctor was absurd. Addison's expression conveyed how exiguous the likelihood of Amelia failing in her devotion to medicine.

"She's fine." Addison maintained, divesting the bottle from Naomi's loose grasp. "We're both fine." Glass refilled, she raised it, toasting despite visible consternation in Naomi's gaze. "She's at a conference."

Addison dug through her purse, double checking to confirm she had both her cell phone and her keys. Dodging Naomi's inquiries about Amelia had served only as a reminder that Amelia had yet to answer Addison's own questions much less her phone calls.

"Hey, I've barely seen you." Addison looked up, startled.

"Sam!" She exclaimed in relief. At the late hour, the practice was empty, quiet, and he'd managed to sneak up rather soundlessly. She gave him a chastising look for the scare. He smiled an apology. "I know. Things have been …" Addison waved her hands mimicking the disarray into which she felt her life had dissolved.

"This thing with Amelia?" Sam questioned. Addison's eyes shot up as though caught. "You guys had a disagreement, right? And she's off stewing in Vegas. We have an expedient little news corridor in the kitchen."

"Oh yeah." Addison sighed. "Well, you know Ames. She's rarely subtle." Sam leaned in the door frame, outwardly casual with hands in his pockets. Nevertheless, his tone was ill at ease.

"Is that all?" From a distance, he searched Addison for some indication that there was more she might be hiding.

"Of course." Addison stepped around her desk and placed her palms against his chest. She looked up into rich brown eyes and tried for a reassuring smile. "Why?"

"You've been pretty distant. I thought perhaps there might be something else." Sam had an uncanny knack for reading her. Thankfully that talent had been paired with the instinct never to push when she wasn't ready. "Is there?"

"I …" Addison hesitated, feeling the confession fight for dominance over the lie as it brushed past her lips. "I'm fine. There's nothing. I'm just worried about Amelia. That's it." Sam nodded, pulled his hands out of his pockets and wrapped her up in warmth. Addison closed her eyes, waiting and relatively certain that even if he knew it was a lie, for now he'd pretend it wasn't.

"Alright." He leaned back, placed a light kiss on her lips. "Alright."



"She looked like a kid." Sara remarked. Catherine glowered, but showed restraint. She nodded thanks as Sara placed a mug of coffee on her desk. Instead of waiting for an invitation, Sara collapsed in one of Catherine's office chairs. Her lanky body uncoiled in a stretch. It was late or early, depending on perspective. Work on the desert 419 had slowed while waiting for toxicology on seventeen bodies and trace evidence. It was a fucking nightmare. Most of the vics were UNLV students, partying on designer drugs, dead because one of them hadn't been paying close enough attention in Chemistry class.

"She's hardly a child, Sara." Catherine shuffled papers absently, tempted to back away from the subject.

"But young … very young." Sara persisted. "What, is she here on Spring Break?" Sara forced a glimmer of humor into her smirk that cooled significantly at her eyes. "Seriously Cath, what the hell are you doing?"

"What does it matter?" Catherine countered, unflinching at the judgment in Sara's hard stare. "You made a choice, remember? You gave up any remote reason you might have had to question my actions."

"We're friends. I have every right to be concerned."

"And no right to be jealous!" Catherine retorted, palms hitting the top of her desk with a stiff smack. Sara pursed her lips and counted, trying to subdue her own rising temper.

"I'm …" Sara took a deep breath, searching. "I'm trying very hard to be here. I'm trying, okay? Costa Rica was necessary."

"And that ring, was that necessary." Catherine stared at the band of gold Sara toyed with absently. It was a stone, heavy in the pit of her stomach every time she laid eyes on Sara's slim hands. Sara's hands had always been hypnotic to Catherine. The very first time they'd met, Sara had extended a hand in greeting and Catherine had just stared breathless. The sudden immobilizing wave of arousal that suffused her body had been misinterpreted as a rebuff, pretty much setting the stage for subsequent years of persistent animosity. Sara's hands twitched in her lap. She'd never admit it was a mistake, even as she pointedly covered the ring in the clasping of those hands across her abdomen.

"Certainly you'll admit that taking in strays isn't exactly your modus operandi." And there it was. Catherine rolled her eyes, the truth under feigned comity. She didn't want to do this, retrace the same steps with Sara repeatedly. Catherine ignored the self-referential dig, taking a sip of her coffee.

"She's here for a conference at the Olympus. She's a doctor." She volunteered, going so far as to admit, "And no, I don't know what I'm doing."

"What about Vartann?" Sara's inquiry was an anxious mix of hope and curiosity. Catherine accurately suspected that Sara's preference was that Catherine's current dalliance was indicative that she had again walked away from something somewhat serious.

"What about him?" Catherine shrugged. "He couldn't cope with the family business." That ever present sorrow struggled to surface momentarily in Sara's brown eyes. Her voice was soft though her point far from subtle.

"Not many who can." Catherine shook her head, in refutation of Sara's corollary. This dance had grown old over the years and she'd learned to be unforgiving for her own piece of mind or Sara's demons would swallow Catherine up in turn.

"No Sara, there are plenty of people who can handle the family business if you choose to let them." Angry, Sara leaned forward in a moment illicit with tension. So often assailed by those flashing eyes, these moments in their history were decadently erotic. Catherine blinked. The flirtation that tripped the border between enemies and friends might never be sorted. There would always be something pushing back against every movement forward, leaving them at an impasse.

"My fault then? I see little use in torturing myself with the past. I choose to live without a cloud of tragedy hanging over my head." The heat of Sara's argument flushed brightly across pale cheeks, as the timbre of her words shifted imperceptibly. Catherine could nonetheless anticipate with precision the instant containment was breached and Sara gave in to outrage.

"But it's still there, Sara. You want someone as damaged as you and equally as unwilling to deal with it. You got exactly what you bargained for with Gil." Catherine sighed, waving Sara's argument aside. "I can't live in the present without acknowledging the past. I won't. Sam Braun was a criminal and he left me the fruits of that enterprise in his will. As much as I'd like to choose to ignore it, I am forced to reconcile the way he led his life to the fortune he left me. How can I do that without recognizing he was a crook and a murderer just as much as he was my Dad?"

"It doesn't make him any less of a crook if you spend every day immersing yourself in that fact." Sara muttered, disgust among the potent interplay of emotion on her face.

"And it doesn't make you any less of a survivor if you never admit why you get spooked by domestic violence." Catherine's statement had exactly the impact she expected. Sara rose without another word and walked out of her office. If nothing else, they'd learned over the years when to retreat. Screaming matches in the halls of CSI had never bestowed upon either of them a meaningful victory, not when there were so many angry words to regret.

Catherine looked upon the source of sudden noise, disturbing the quiet and dissipating tension. Her phone, set to vibrate, danced a jig on her desk. "Desert Palms." She murmured with a glance at the caller id, and tried to remember which open case might have a vic waiting in the ER. She answered on the second ring. "Willows."



"Why would you do that?"

"Beg your pardon?" Amelia glanced over at the only other occupant in observation. She'd been mumbling, staring through the glass of the surgical theater. A resident, young eager to learn, sat next to a pile of charts and a half-eaten bag lunch. He was cute, with an unkempt shock of red hair and thick glasses. He reminded her of the boy from that movie about wizards, not the famous one but the other.

"Why would you do that?" Amelia repeated, tipping her head toward the glass. This boy, or doctor really, shrugged, eyes already returning to focus on the diligent scribbling of notes.

"Maybe he lost." Amelia looked away, swallowing a sudden bout of nausea. It wasn't often, rarely, she reviled her occupation, stacked end over end full of pretentious climbers emotionally numb and anxious to cut. She shoved her hands in the pockets of the hoody she wore and silently watched a flurry of activity erupt. In sudden interest, the young doctor looked up and tsked bland disappointment. "Looks like he blew a clot. Ah well, he lives, he's produce." Amelia walked swiftly over to where he sat, leaning in so close her breath condensed on the surface of his glasses in a thick fog. He recoiled in surprise.

"Shut. The Fuck. Up." Straightening, Amelia turned back to watch the surgical team dutifully fighting over the final heartbeats of a dead man.


Amelia walked along the strip, reading bright lights and big names. Catherine had left, called in to another shift. The apology, plain on her face, was stale by the time it met her lips. Shrugging, Amelia had quipped about the towering responsibility of a crime fighter in Gotham City. "Gotham is New York, darlin'. This is Vegas." Catherine had winked, pressing a quick kiss. She disappeared with promises to call and dinner maybe if she could manage to wrangle an hour away.

Sitting now, a lone figure pool-side in the dwindling dusk, she fiddled with an unopened pack of cigarettes. Having made her speech and doled out business cards, tomorrow Amelia would board a plane for LA. Why then, she could not conceive her contemplation of the artificially blue ripples of The Olympus's outdoor pool. "I should be slipping dollars into the g-strings of failed showgirls and politely declining the passes of creepily intoxicated businessmen." She shook her head, leaning back on the thickly cushioned chaise. She wasn't the only late evening reveler. She'd spent a few moments watching a young couple make out in the shallow end. It hadn't been incredibly erotic though she'd observed with curiosity. "Newlyweds." She'd muttered when playful splashing and giggling had become frantic necking.

Getting to her feet, Amelia reconciled herself to enjoying a quiet evening with pay per view and room service. The concierge had provided a host of tantalizing options for a night of first rate hedonism, but all she really wanted was a bit of rest. In the morning she had to face the fact that she'd run away from something but she hadn't escaped it in the end. She'd have to face Addison … Amelia screamed. Falling hard on her backside, she wiped mechanically at the sudden splash of viscous liquid over her cheeks, running into her eyes. Blinking she looked up, measuring the line of the hotel, tier after tier of balconies. Then down, she focused on the body lying at her feet. He'd barely missed her. If he'd waited to jump by a fraction of a second, Amelia reflected, astonished at the luck of his timing. Laughter tripped out beyond a jaw slack with shock and bounced along the path from the swimming pool to the entrance. Behind her, she could hear hurried footsteps and shouting. Amelia rolled to her knees, laughter in thick spurts like blood pooling on concrete.

"Miss, are you okay?" The touch on her shoulder was gentle and Amelia shook her head, doubling over. Putting her hands down, Amelia could not catch her breath, her stomach clenched with wave after wave of uncontrollable mirth. The rough surface beneath her palms was wet. Sitting up, Amelia wiped red against her tee-shirt and bent again, to ha, ha, ha. She felt hands slip under her arms in an attempt at assistance. On her feet she wiggled free. "Are you okay, Miss?" The pool attendant looked pale, the shade of green that precedes thorough emptying of the stomach. Amelia nodded, snickering.

"Oh my God!" Drenched and peering, a young woman, the newlywed in the arms of her fresh-faced husband, urgently pointed a finger. "He's moving! He's moving!" Amelia watched and held her breath. Sure enough, a sporadic twitch reverberated down a garishly twisted thigh. Amelia dropped to her knees, swallowing as she felt another round of laughter rise.

"Call 911." Her fingers slipped as she palpated the neck and felt the thready whisper of a fading pulse. Frozen by confusion or disbelief, the pool attendant gazed at her as if asking - for what? Amelia reached out, leaving a crimson stain on his starched white pants as she gave him a firm shove. "911! Go!" She focused on her training, hands steady, determined. Amelia leaned close as she worked. "You'll be okay."

She started CPR, counting compressions and ignored the gathering crowd around her. Tragedy was entertainment. Sirens whined, dulled by distance and the murmured speculations of spectators on what happened and why brushed at Amelia's awareness. Ignoring everything but the cadence of her own steady counting, Amelia breathed and pushed the rhythms of life into spongy tissue. To her, he wasn't even a name. He was some guy who had dropped barely a foot from ending her. Frenzied, she knelt in a widening puddle of blood and promised, "You'll be okay."



Meredith glanced at her sister-in-law, wondering if Amelia had taken on a somewhat blue tint over the course of their drive. Streams of condensed air trickled from slack lips as she visibly trembled in the passenger seat. God forbid Derek's sister died of hypothermia on the ride from the airport. Meredith cranked the heat to little avail. Her mother's old station wagon was an antique. It was a fool's errand to hope for climate control in extreme temperatures. "I take it you've never experienced a winter in the Pacific Northwest." She commented. Amelia shrugged, oddly circumspect. This half-frostbitten specter was not the coquette who'd sashayed into Seattle Grace to harangue her brother. Meredith had expected luggage-bearing devotees trailing in her wake. Instead she'd found this sage antithesis waiting at arrivals with no luggage and wearing nothing to combat the winter freeze beyond a thin blue hooded sweatshirt bearing the shield of the Las Vegas police.

"Right, so Derek's on a late rotation. He'll be home in the morning. You can sleep in Lexie's." Meredith navigated the icy streets of the suburban neighborhood that had long been her home. It had been snowing earlier as evidenced by the corridor of snowdrifts created by parked cars she carefully steered her way past. The streets would be treacherous on the way to the hospital and she imagined a hectic shift punctuated by victims of vehicular accidents. Amelia's flight arrived late that evening, leaving Meredith little time to maneuver as momentary chauffeur. She'd raced to the airport, pushing the old station wagon to its limits in the icy conditions. The trip back had been navigated with equal alacrity, though primarily spent in contemplation of the mystery of Amelia's uncommon caginess.

"Does he know I'm coming?" Amelia asked, eyes focused out the passenger window. Meredith spared another look to the girl's shivering profile. Quiet and pale, these had been the first words Amelia had offered since a mumbled greeting.

"Yes, of course he does. I told him right after you called. He would have picked you up himself if he wasn't scheduled for surgery." They rode again in silence. Meredith chewed away, progressively de-glossing a smooth lip in her disquiet. How unfortunate was the timing of Amelia's unscheduled visit? The last thing Meredith wanted to tackle was another family member in crisis. Was it not enough to contend with Derek's strange lack of sympathy since the shooting? Her relationship with Christina was inching torturously back from cold civility. A successful return to surgery and a few shared drinks at Joe's had been a temporary patch not so much a repair to gaping damage.

Meanwhile Lexie was still so fragile and anxious for attentive mothering ironically enough from Meredith. What could Lexie possibly expect when Meredith still struggled to accept her role as sister and had no personal reference on how to hover from which to draw thanks to a childhood of emotional neglect. Finally that tragic reality of her very own hostile uterus post miscarriage defied every earnest baby-making endeavor as Meredith daily found herself polarized between the desire to meet so many expectations and the yawing chasm of her own devastation. Neither she nor Derek was exactly primed for a family reunion.

"Is he mad?" Amelia's voice wavered and Meredith wondered if there would be tears as there had been in profusion over the phone.

"No, Amelia." She replied. "No he's not mad. He's worried. He wants to know …"

"Nothing happened." Amelia interrupted. She hunched a bit lower, arms folded tightly over her chest. Meredith fiddled with the heat again and kept her eyes on the minimal traffic sharing icy streets. Earlier that afternoon when her cell phone rang, Meredith had been as much caught off guard by the timing as the caller. She had a scant window in which to manage such simple life-prolonging necessities as four hours uninterrupted sleep. Her competitive nature had discouraged any desire to leave the hospital while Chief Resident remained unnamed. Nonetheless, a few hours rest in her own bed was a siren call she could not resist with any indefinite success.

"Amelia?" Meredith had taken the number at the end of Amelia's last visit. What would it hurt to mediate the strained relationship between her husband and sister-in-law? Amelia seemed harmless enough. In fact, she reminded Meredith unerringly of her own past, reckless and untamed. She knew better than to remark on how uncanny the similarities between herself and Derek's sister. She anticipated it would be a sore point of vociferous denial as she imagined how unpalatable the reality that he'd married a woman startlingly like his youngest sibling. On the phone, Amelia hadn't offered greeting or explanation for her call. She'd been distraught, sobbing hysterically in lieu of even a hello.

"Meredith … I … I …" Meredith sat up immediately, thinking the worst.

"What happened? Are you okay?" She listened as Amelia hiccupped struggling to breathe. It was an easy step to assume the girl to be in trouble given the history Derek had disclosed during Amelia's visit. Drug use, theft, promiscuity were highlights but not the extreme depths to which Amelia had sunk during her teens. Meredith climbed out of bed, debating calling the police on another line. Reminding herself that every second of indecision could be fatal in an emergency, she resolved to wake one of her roommates, either Avery or Kepner would be home . She'd use one of their phones while keeping Amelia on the line. "Amelia, try and calm down. Take a deep breath. You need to tell me what's happening." She waited while the sound of deep breathing came across the line.

"I need … I need to come see Derek." The sound of sniffling continued as Amelia's voice dropped off, barring further explanation. Meredith wrestled with concern as to how serious the circumstances given Amelia's level of agitation. "Please?" Amelia sobbed, the minute control she'd wrangled deteriorating at Meredith's hesitation.

"Yes of course that's fine." Meredith willed herself to calm, trying to relay comfort in her words. "I can pick you up at the airport. Just text me your flight information. Alright?" Meredith waited for a response then repeated, "Alright, Amelia?"

"Yes … yes. Thank you." Meredith sighed, her pulse rate slowing as she hung up. She anticipated that Derek would not be overly excited at this turn of events. Whatever Amelia was wrestling with would not be met with much welcome. Despite the advances in the relationship between brother and sister, Derek remained somewhat jaded in dealing with his family. She scrolled through the contacts on her phone, selecting Derek's office number and primed herself for what would be a rocky reception.

"Here's Lexie's room." Meredith opened the door, rolling her eyes at its disarray. "Sorry about the mess. She's been on call the last three days." Amelia walked in to perch on the edge of the unmade bed. She appeared absolutely exhausted.

"Jesus, Amelia! How the hell did you get through airport security?" Meredith noticed for the first time the truly unkempt state of the young woman's appearance. Underneath the hoody, Amelia wore a tee shirt, once a vintage rock depiction now liberally splattered in thick rust-colored stains.

"It's not mine." Amelia explained her voice flat.

"That's not as reassuring as you might think." Meredith countered. "Whose blood is that?" Amelia ran her fingertips over the stiff material as though seeing it for the first time.

"He died." Meredith blew a breath, grasping at the last of her reserve. She watched Amelia pick at the edge of the shirt with thin fingers.

"Who died, Amelia?"

"Stop saying my name like that." Amelia snapped, gazing at her hands. Lips turned down in a disturbed frown, she seemed to break loose of whatever internal confusion had eclipsed her attention over the course of their journey from the airport. "Some guy jumped off a balcony and I couldn't save him."

"Okay." Meredith slipped her hands into the pockets of her coat, cleared her throat uncomfortably. "Are you alright?"

"May I use your shower please?" Ignoring the question, Amelia looked directly at Meredith for the first time. She had eyes like Derek's, dark blue almost navy. She blinked away tears, drawing herself up stiffly.

"End of the hall. Linen closet is on the right." Caught off guard by Amelia's sudden laser focus, Meredith faltered. "Do you need anything?"

"Just a change of clothes, I think." Amelia offered a wan smile. "It's okay. You don't need to babysit. Think your sister will mind?" Amelia gestured toward a haphazard pile of clothes at one end of the bed. They could as easily have been dirty as clean. Meredith doubted Lexie would be upset at the charity.

"No, make yourself at home. There's also plenty to eat in the fridge downstairs if you think you're hungry." Meredith nodded, gazing at Amelia then glancing over her shoulder anxiously.

"I'll be fine. You should go." Amelia urged.

"Right." Meredith turned for the door, hesitating for an instant. "If you need anything …" Amelia's wave was timid meant to be disarming. Meredith wasn't entirely convinced. She sighed, mumbling a hasty good night. She was already formulating the conversation she'd have with Derek when he inquired after Amelia's state of mind. Luckily they'd all had plenty of recent experience with temporary bouts of insanity.

"Um … you're Derek's sister." Amelia rolled over, blinking at the sudden disturbance of light and sound. She hadn't been sleeping, but laying there gazing out the cracked window curtains. She marveled at how the snow shone at night, though the moon was hidden in cloudy seclusion. She tried to focus on the amorphous shadow, backlit from the hallway.

"Yes." Lexie stepped in, pulling the door closed behind her in deference to the pained squint on Amelia's face. She shuffled, trying not to disturb the clutter while adjusting to the dim. Amelia watched, inexplicably amused. She'd only met Meredith's sister in passing on her first trip to Seattle. Quirky and attractive were the descriptors that stood out in her recollection.

"And you're in my bed." Lexie stood, indecisive. Her hands fiddled, smoothing down her scrubs then wound behind her neck in a posture somewhere between a stretch and ill-concealed frustration. Amelia couldn't resist an easy target.

"You're startlingly observant."

"Why are you in my bed? Aren't you supposed to be in Los Angeles?" Lexie prickled, hands splayed. Amelia imagined her foot tapping in agitated expectance.

"Apparently I'm cracking up. There's room." Turning on her side, wet hair and bare shoulders momentarily exposed to the chill air, she shifted the blanket to lightly pat the mattress, unmistakably flirtatious. Lexie stepped back, drew nervous hands through her hair then for lack of anything else to do with them, folded her arms across her chest.

"Yes you are if you think I'm getting into bed with an apparently naked stranger."

"We're practically family." Amelia minced the wide-eyed ingénue. Lexie flinched, finding the wholesome lilting tones suddenly lacing Amelia's voice particularly unsettling.

"Not that kind of family." Amelia laughed, amusement genuine and contagious. Lexie couldn't help but grin. She eased a step forward, dropping her hands to her sides. Amelia couldn't help but tease, seeing Lexie relax.

"You're right. We could be friends …" Lexie shook her head in response, then perched on the side of the bed.

"Somehow that sounds worse." She paused, chewing over her words then asked with genuine concern, "Did you stop sleeping and have to spend three days in a psych ward?"

"Uh … no." Amelia sat up, pulled the blanket tight against the cold and crossed her legs to make more room. She laughed and repeated the disavowal thinking the question extremely odd. "No. That was disturbingly specific." She shook her head, thinking their game of hot and cold had severely derailed. Even in the dark, Lexie's expression was momentarily telling. She seemed to shake herself, not wanting whatever brooding images that troubled her thoughts to surface.

"Oh well I …" Lexie flailed, then called back to the true purpose of her inquiries asked, "Why are you here?"

"In your bed? Your sister said you wouldn't mind." Amelia wondered from the look that crossed Lexie's face if that had been an egregious error. She had enough experience with her own sisters to recognize the hints of sibling angst.

"No I meant … never mind. I'm too tired." Lexie's shoulders drooped in exhausted surrender. She kicked off her shoes and crawled onto the bed. "No funny business, got it?" Amelia shrugged, laying down nearly shoulder to shoulder.

"Got it." She stared at the ceiling, listening to Lexie's slow breathing in the semi-dark. "Hey Lexie …" Amelia grinned at the heavy sigh of exasperation in response, then whispered loudly, "Are you asleep?" Lexie bubbled then broke with unrestrained merriment.

"I banged a cop in Vegas." Amelia confessed. An impromptu emotional foraging in the absence of alcohol had simply become traded confessions following baited inquiries of, have you ever? "Actually she's more like a scientist who gathers evidence and investigates crimes."

"Was she attractive?" Lexie asked, curious.

"Very. She's a bit older, late forties maybe."

"Someone has mommy issues." Lexie murmured then winced at the subsequent elbow digging into her side.

"Well this mommy had an incredible body. She never said it outright but I think before she became a cop she was an exotic dancer." Lexie snickered.

"Stripper turned cop, sounds like a screenplay."

"No kidding. Anyway, she was amazing." Amelia relayed, then softly. "She drove me to the airport."

She seemed tiny, deflated, when Catherine spied Amelia in the hospital waiting area. In the chaos that typified Desert Palms emergency room, Amelia was serene, a statuette, her expression polished as flat as a marble surface. Catherine sat next to her for sometime without comment, at a loss how to proceed. Amelia's call from the admitting desk had been short, a simple pleading request, "Please come and get me?" This slight girl, this stranger, evoked a precedent of emotion that Catherine was as yet unwilling to examine.

"You must think I'm pretty troubled." Amelia held Catherine in stark challenge. Catherine did not attempt to deny it.

"First impressions?" She shrugged, "Troubled but worth it."

"Think you'll see her again?" The lightly spoken inquiry catapulted Amelia back into the present. Her time with Catherine had been abbreviated but terrifyingly invasive. The woman had left an impression well inside Amelia's comfortable boundaries. The depth of that impact was yet revealing itself in Catherine's absence. Lexie could feel the tell-tale movement of a shrug across the mattress in response to her question. "What is it a two, maybe three hour drive from LA or barely an hour by plane. That's not horrible for a long distance relationship."

"I didn't go to Vegas to get married." Amelia countered, instantly tired of the subject.

"That's how you equivocate a second date? Marriage?" Lexie tittered, laughter careening forth in unperturbed humor. "Jesus, you are a slut."

"Thanks." Amelia smiled, amused under cover of darkness. "Apparently Seattle is teeming with my brethren."

"So let me see if I have this right." The softness of Lexie's voice belied her concentration. Reminiscent of a slumber party, they'd giggled and gossiped. It was nice. Amelia hadn't once thought of the disturbing realities that lurked outside, not of LA or of Vegas.

"Alright, I'm listening."

"You live with Doctor Montgomery who is your brother's ex-wife. She had an affair with Mark Sloan, leading to the dissolution of her marriage to Derek. Subsequently, you slept with Mark Sloan … yes I know about that." Lexie's words are a bit pointed if not venomous. "I also had a …. situation with Mark Sloan." Lexie tripped over the euphemism, Amelia snorting in response but continued to listen without interruption. "And my sister, half sister, is married to your brother." Lexie concluded the accounting, somewhat breathless for its length.

Amelia grinned impishly, adding "And now I am in bed with you."

"Laying ON my bed. On it, not in it as in together like … sexy or anything." Lexie babbled in a failed attempt at clarification and added dispassionately, "This place is insidious."

"Isn't it." Amelia marveled at the convoluted mess of human relationships the two of them had been puzzling over.

"It would be even worse if you'd slept with Dr. Montgomery …" Lexie joked. Her chuckling halted precipitously at Amelia's sudden silence. "Holy shit …" Murmured as though anything above a whisper would reveal this unsolicited secret, Lexie pressed a hand to her own mouth.

"I know, right." Amelia sighed with the weight of this revelation. Lexie could little hide her shock, turning on her side to peer as though searching for evidence painted on Amelia's face.

"Does Derek know?"

"No. Not yet." The tone of Amelia's confession suggested that it would be her preference that he should never find out.

"No wonder." Lexie nodded her head eloquently.

Amelia pulled a face at the ominous tone and inquired with some heat, "What?" Lexie all but intoned a duh, as though it were more than obvious.

"You're cracking up."

"Oh." Amelia frowned, her face comically grave in the first hint of dawn creeping from the window. "Yeah."



Derek gazed at the scene before him with a little less charity than he'd promised his wife after her depiction of his sister's seemingly precarious state of mind. Amelia lay pillowed against Lexie Grey's chest, eyes intent on the screen of a laptop while the two took turns eating Cap'n Crunch dry out of the box.

"Der'k!" Amelia greeted, spying her brother standing mutely in the doorway. She sat up in the bed disturbing the computer, and smiled widely. "We're watching the Neverending Story. I was just telling Lexie how we used to watch it over and over again when we were kids." Derek glanced at his sister-in law, noting the rising blush on her cheeks despite a fair attempt at a smile.

"Uh… hey, Derek." Lexie sketched a weak wave, pulling blankets higher to cover her bare legs.

"Amy …" Derek, heaved a sigh as though asking for temperance. Amelia, despite the rapidly rising tension in Derek's features, pretended ignorance.

"Come watch. We can start it over." She grinned, giving the cereal box an enticing jiggle. "There's breakfast!"

"God damn it, Amy!" Derek slammed a fist against a nearby wall for emphasis. Lexie jumped startled, eyes snapping between the two siblings. Amelia only seemed to grin wider at this eruption. "Meredith's sister? Really?"

"Woah, hold on a minute." Lexie raised her hands not liking where that assumption was headed. She could already imagine the look on Meredith's face as she made a weak attempt at mustering a lecture, Really Lexie? Seriously?

"What the hell are you doing? More importantly, why are you here?" Derek rubbed at his now smarting hand and then crossed his arms, fighting the urge to shout.

"I came to see you big brother. That's quite the welcome, by the way." Amelia nodded at the fresh dent in plaster. "I hear you're doing great." She added conversationally. "I'm fine. Thanks for asking. Guy almost fell on my head and killed me at AAN in Vegas. Awesome right?" She glanced over at Lexie nodding, hand up for a high five. "Right?"

"Maybe I should …" Lexie slipped out of the bed, stumbling over the sheets and haphazardly gathered whatever was closest in the way of clothes off the floor of her bedroom. She edged warily past Derek and headed down the hall towards the bathroom. "Jesus." She shook her head. And here she'd thought she and Meredith had issues.

Derek looked on, brow tented. Amelia dropped her hand with a shrug, expression gradually turning brittle as she stared back. "I just gave the key note speech at the annual conference of the American Academy of Neurology and couldn't save a guy who jumped off his balcony. And I came here … I needed to ask you if those two events are mutually exclusive? Cause I don't know and I thought maybe you could help me with that." Derek regarded his sister silently. If he didn't look too hard, she was five again, wide-eyed, laughing.

"I didn't have sex with Lexie." Amelia added. She wiped fiercely at a lone tear sliding down her cheek.

"I'm sorry." Amelia couldn't remember the last time she'd heard those words from her brother, at least not as a prefix to a contradictory statement led by the word "but". I'm sorry Amelia, BUT I don't have time to deal with your shit anymore. That was the sorry she was always prepared to hear. At present, it was not forthcoming. Stepping into the room, Derek took a seat on the edge of the bed. He regarded Amelia who tried for nonchalance, but only managed sad and hurt.

"Not that I wouldn't have. She's definitely hot." She joked, lamely.

"And now I retract my apology." A moment, and then mutual laughter, Amelia grabbed Derek's hand pulling him to sit next to her.

"Tell me about LA. How's the practice?" Derek inquired. He sat back and listened as Amelia talked life, gently touching upon the people who populated it.



Amelia gazed at herself in the mirror. She was a mess. Her gaunt features belied the last several months of ready access to L.A. beaches. She'd pulled her hair back and could catalogue her wardrobe thus, borrowed tee-shirt, borrowed sweatshirt and borrowed jeans scrunched at the bottom to accommodate several inches difference in height. If nothing else, her appearance was a convincing enough argument that it was time to go home. She'd come empty-handed but had acquired a well-worn messenger bag for the return trip. Her jeans and ruined tee-shirt were an ill-defined and unaccompanied bulge. Nevertheless, she was less likely to raise eyebrows traipsing through airport security if she was carrying something that resembled luggage.

She noted how drawn her face was, as though she'd aged over the course of her abbreviated excursion. If she had, she was the better for it. She hadn't resolved the imbroglio that had usurped her life, but she'd relished the respite from it for a little while. Amelia dug through her pockets and finding them empty, searched the disorder on top of Lexie's dresser. She uncovered a solitary tube of lipstick, unsurprisingly bright pink, and uncapped it. Painting her lips in the garish color, she leaned forward and bestowed a kiss against the mirror's surface. Her night with Lexie Grey had perhaps been one of the better nights of sleep she'd spent in years. Amelia was unsure how to say thanks. Recapping the lipstick, she slipped it in her front pocket and gave her reflection a wink.

"Just say the word and I will make arrangements for a fellowship at Seattle Grace." Derek was earnest, hopeful and concerned as he gazed. He expected her to say yes. Why wouldn't she? Regain the momentum lost in her flailing career and be close to family, it was an obvious yes. What could prompt her return to LA? The city was a hurt that beat its way deep into her chest. Seattle could be home.

"I think having your wife as an intern smacks enough of nepotism without adding your kid sister to the mix." Amelia commented, raising a brow.

"It wouldn't be nepotism Amy. I've read your work on reversing diagnoses of long term coma using stents. It's brilliant." Derek remarked, letting an inkling of pride show in his voice. "The most I would do is make a recommendation to Chief Webber. You'd be welcomed at Seattle Grace purely on your own merit. You deserve the chance to take full advantage of your talent in an environment truly suited to fostering it."

"I'm flattered that you think I'm worth risking the temerity of your own reputation for the sake of endorsing mine." Amelia shook her head, "But I'm happy where I am."

"Just take some time and consider it." Derek glanced up at the rearview mirror to check the traffic behind them. It was only a moment but enough time for Amelia to unbuckle her seat belt, lean over and plant a quick peck on his cheek. He'd barely stopped in the carpool lane before she'd slipped out of the car, waved and turned, walking abruptly into the terminal. Amelia's goodbyes were rarely sentimental. Nonetheless, Derek watched her depart, feeling the familiar warmth of pride tempered with concern. Somehow, he'd known she'd say no. It would have been nice though, to have her so close, to be a family. Furious honking behind him jolted him in his seat and he pulled the car easily back into traffic away from passenger departures.



Amelia threw the door wide, grinning.  "Dr. King.  Welcome to my humble little corner of the universe."  Charlotte allowed herself a smile of amusement and accepted Amelia's invitation into the small studio apartment.  It was well lit with honey-colored hard wood and high ceilings. LA street sounds drifted up and in through a pair of double doors, open to the morning breeze off a small balcony. Charlotte eyed the modern kitchen nook and cooking island partitioned just beyond the front door. It was equal to the description of fancy that Amelia had given it. The young neurosurgeon hadn't stopped talking about the studio and its huge sky lit bathroom since she'd signed the lease. The bay window, tiled flooring and expansive tub had been the deciding factor on the place. Apparently Amelia had a fetish for bathroom fixtures. It was a spectacular find really.  

Not a week before, Amelia strode into Charlotte's office at the hospital, leading with, "I'm moving out of Addison's." Charlotte nonplussed, ignored the non sequitor. She hadn't so much as received word from the young woman since an early morning text that simply read – Vegas for AAN. Back in three days. Three days had actually been over a week and these were Amelia's first words of greeting?

"Hey, welcome back. How was Vegas?" The lack of expression on Amelia's face was as effective a confession as walking in on her and Addison mid thrust would have been for all Amelia's flat affect revealed. No wonder Addison had been walking around exhibiting polar vacillations of spooked and shattered since Amelia's abrupt departure to this conveniently timed conference in Las Vegas. A week away from those shenanigans could only do both of them good, even if Charlotte had yet to observe any positive effect. Choosing to keep her own counsel on the whole matter, she continued blithely "That's great. Yep, things have been quiet here. A day without tragedy striking Oceanside Wellness is a bit like finding a two-headed nickel in the swear jar." Amelia blinked stonily. "Good then, nice to catch up." Flipping idly through her rolodex, Charlotte handed over the business card of her realtor. "Meeting tonight?" Amelia nodded, appreciation easing her drawn expression.


It hadn't taken Amelia three days to find a place she could conceivably call home. It was the one true benefit of a renter's market as it suited Amelia's spontaneous decision-making perfectly. From what Charlotte gathered, Amelia had spent at least one night on the couch in her office in the interim. While obvious tension brewed in silence between the young woman and Addison Montgomery, Charlotte wasn't entirely sure if it was because Amelia had yet to venture back to Addison's condo on the beach. More likely it was because of the buxom brunette that had dropped Amelia off to work on the back of a Harley looking ill-rested but well-fucked two days in succession. Addison had taken to retreating behind the safety of her closed office door though not before Charlotte could read the stark mixture of anger and hurt in her countenance.

"So um," Charlotte looked around handing Amelia a coffee carrier bearing two tall cups and a bag of goodies.  "Exactly what am I helping with today?"  The space was vacant with the exception of a single large box in the middle of the floor.  She'd stepped forward to peek past the open flaps, noting the motley collection of items dwarfed by the container.  "Some paperbacks, a few medical journals, and a to-go coffee mug - you sure the two of us can manage all of this?"

"Sarcasm is the last refuge of the intellectually uninspired." Amelia's rejoinder was less than artful in its attempt to provide a smoke screen for the obvious. Handing Charlotte one of the coffees while sipping gratefully on her own, Amelia asked, "Did I say help unpack?  I could have sworn I said take a trip with me to Ikea for necessities."  Amelia turned to dig through the pastry bag.

"Oh, hell no!"  Charlotte shook her head.  "Absolutely not.  That place is the seventh circle of hell.  Find somebody else."  She was already halfway to the door, tuning out Amelia's imaginative protests, halting only at the sound of the knocker echoing through the empty space.

"Mmm, company!" Immensely relieved at the timing, Amelia swallowed a sip of coffee and slipped past Charlotte to give the door a yank.  Standing in the opened doorway, her greeting died on her lips.

"Hey, Ames."  Addison beamed hands full, she held up two paper to go cups bearing a Peets logo as if to say, surprise.  She had a white bag tucked haphazardly under her arm and smiled lopsidedly despite Amelia's awkward silence.  "Thought I'd bring by a housewarming."

"I … uh, thanks.  Come in?"  Amelia stepped aside with a weak gesture.

"I brought your favorite.  Sugar-free vanilla latte and a pumpkin muffin."  Addison noted Charlotte's presence with a sedate nod.  "Charlotte."

"Dr. Montgomery." Charlotte quirked a brow at her colleague's unannounced visit.  As determined as she was not to pass judgment on whatever mess Addison and Amelia were making of their lives, this was downright silly. All this ill-disguised melodrama between the two women surely couldn't be fooling anybody. Charlotte rolled her eyes, exhausted at the very idea of delving into Amelia and Addison's collectively poor decision making. "I'm not spending my morning off wandering aimlessly through that house of horrors. Never get the smell of god-awful Swedish sausage out of my clothes.  Call me when you actually need help unpackin' somethin'."  Charlotte gave Amelia a pointed look, and slipped past Addison to exit.

Amelia heaved a sigh.  Charlotte was never subtle if she could afford it.  Her advice when she'd offered Amelia the card of a reputable realtor a week ago hadn't extended beyond what she could find sagely hidden inside a fortune cookie – communication is the key to any relationship.  Amelia decided, instead to fall back on old habits, sublimating desire and avoiding the difficult topic of her feelings for Addison in their entirety. After all these years, apparently Addison was better at adapting than Amelia.  Their mutual code of silence had been broken and Amelia was the only one trying to reengage it.  She rolled her shoulders trying to dispel, rising discomfort in the wake of Charlotte's abrupt departure.  "Come on in, Addie.  Make yourself at home."  She gestured wryly at the empty space.

"It's a great place."  Addison remarked setting the pastry bag and coffees down next to the similar goods Charlotte had proffered.  "Looks like mine wasn't the first welcome this morning."

"Yeah." Amelia mumbled inarticulately, placing the coffee she'd barely more than sipped back on the counter.  Her stomach had noticeably soured to the taste.  She dug her hands under folded arms, feeling the telltale shaking of nerves.  "Listen Addie."

"I hear Derek offered you a fellowship in Seattle." Addison stepped close, confusion in her voice. "But you came back to LA."

"He sure didn't waste any time enlisting your help." Amelia replied, she side-stepped past before Addison could so much as extend a solicitous hand.

Since Amelia's return from Seattle, she'd had phone calls from every member of her family asking why she insisted on staying in LA. "You'll ruin your life!" Her mother had exclaimed, repeatedly. Derek did not play fair. Of course, who said no to a surgical fellowship at one of the leading teaching hospitals in the country? Maybe they were all right. Even Lexie, who's feelings had to be mixed about the possibility of Amelia coming to live in Seattle had voiced her own albeit cautious concern.

"Hey sexy, what's hot in Seattle?"

"Big deal it's seventy degrees in LA. Are you really so desperate for anything to do with yourself you call me and gloat." Lexie whispered into her phone.

"Well, yes actually." Amelia replied, honestly. "I haven't had so much as a consult in two days. Why are you whispering?"

"The Shepherd-Grey's are fighting." Lexie covered her mouth as though to better direct the sound. Her voice sounded no less muffled and hoarse.

"Shepherd-Grey? Wow, I never thought Der'k would re-hyphenate." Amelia laughed, "I take it you are discreetly listening." Lexie tip-toed, sounds of a heated argument emanating from the closed door that had captured her focus. "Apparently they got into it at work, middle of a craniotomy. It was all over the hospital. They beat me home by four hours and they're still at it." Across the hall, Kepner peeked disapprovingly out of her bedroom. Lexie paid little attention, offering no more than a dismissive wave and tipped her head to listen. "I feel like I'm spying on my parents."

"What are they saying?" Amelia asked, rapidly ensnared by the drama.

"Shh, I can't hear." Lexie muttered. "I'll call you back after. I don't want to get caught."

"Aw, you scared of big sister, you wuss?" Lexie bristled, somewhat embarrassed at the taunt's accuracy.

"What are you twelve? And … yes. When angered she can be scary."

Amelia sighed, pretending to concede, "Okay fine, if you don't want to collect intel we could always just have phone sex."

"Meredith is saying that Derek should go visit you in LA." Lexie rushed over the sudden sound of dramatized heavy breathing. "Something I couldn't make out … and now she's saying, she's your sister, you should act accordingly and then something about the fellowship you turned down. By the way, in case no one else has mentioned it thus far, that ranks pretty high on the scale of idiotic decisions." Amelia started in on porn music sound effects, heavy with the fake bass licks. With a huff of frustration, Lexie hurried to expound further on the eavesdropped conversation, "Now Derek is criticizing. He says that Meredith isn't exactly a reliable expert on sibling dynamics." Lexie pursed her lips in agreement, "He's got a point there. Oh …" Lexie stepped away from the door as the volume of the argument increased significantly, "And now Meredith is shouting that ovulating or not he'll sleep on the couch for a week." Lexie laughed at the extended retching sounds in response to that revelation. She snuck back to her bedroom, closing the door softly behind her.

"So who's Uncle Jim?

"Where'd you hear that name?" The amusement in Amelia's voice sounded suspiciously like shock. Intrigued, Lexie divulged the information wondering what Amelia might let slip in return.

"Apparently this whole thing started when Meredith gave Derek the business over refusing to return one of your uncle's multiple phone calls." Amelia made a knowing sound in the back of her throat.

"That sounds about right. He and Der'k aren't very keen. He's my Mom's baby brother, yet another doctor in the fam trying to convince me to get serious and take a more ambitious approach to my career."

"You Shepherd's sure have a hard-on for the Hippocratic oath."

"He's a Wilson, not a Shepherd." Amelia corrected, argumentatively. Lexie puttered around her room preparing for bed. In the wake of Amelia's recent visit, she'd discovered her favorite shade of lipstick, her niftiest hipster messenger tote and a worn tee shirt from her alma mater had gone missing. Amelia maintained she was innocent the crime of theft and insisted that if Lexie made a minimal effort to clean her room she might uncover these wayward and sundry articles. Lexie preferred to devote her free time to catching up on sleep. Lately, these odd little dialogues she shared with Amelia had also taken an inexplicably profound degree of precedence in her schedule.

"Where's he work?"

"Princeton-Plainsboro. He's the head of Oncology."

Lexie hummed, clearly impressed, and mentioned pointedly, "PPTH, huh? They have an amazing diagnostics unit there." She was unsurprised to hear the indifference in Amelia's response.

"I know. It seems Uncle Jim wants me to meet the guy who runs it, um … Church?

"House. Doctor Gregory House. The man is infamous, Ames." Lexie shook her head, deciding not to give in to frustration. She was sure Amelia had her reasons, whatever they might be, to ignore so many fine opportunities in favor of remaining in LA. What could be appealing about relative obscurity when she could be lauded by the medical community at large? Amelia had yet to illuminate her motivations on Lexie's behalf.

"Yeah, whatever. Uncle Jim thinks it would be a good fit." Amelia gave a sigh of practiced disinterest. Lexie knew it would do no good to press but made a token effort nonetheless.

"Maybe you should go check it out." Amelia laughed, somehow delighted at Lexie's willingness to interfere in the matter.

"East coast? Could you stand it? I'd be twice as far away."

"I think I might be able to live with that." Lexie countered, a touch of amusement entering her tone despite every attempt to keep her response as bland as the ambivalence it suggested. Amelia seemed to interpret every rejection from Lexie's lips as challenge. However, when Lexie indulged Amelia's quick wit in a moment of unabashed amusement, she proved impossible at length.

"You just keep pretending you're hard to get Alexandra Caroline Grey. Eventually one of us might be convinced."

"Too late." Lexie smiled, unavoidably tickled. It wasn't exactly unpleasant to hear Amelia light-hearted and joking. Lexie might even go so far as to admit that it was a bit charming.

"As much fun as this has been precious, I've got a thing."

"What's her name?" Amelia laughed again, heartily and Lexie couldn't help but giggle immediately certain she had the woman dead to rights. Spontaneous visits to Seattle aside, Amelia Shepherd was undeniably predictable in accordance with Lexie's astute observations.

"Never-you-mind nosey." Amelia efficiently ducked the inquiry. "Just keep me posted. In the unlikely event that my big brother actually takes someone else's advice and is headed to LA, I want notice well in advance."

"Yeah, what's it worth to you?" She could practically hear the arrogant smirk as Amelia chuckled.

"Oh Baby, don't tease. All you have to do is ask." Lexie could not suppress her grin as she hung up without comment.

If nothing else, Amelia's phone calls and text messages to the younger Grey sister served as a reminder that if she was half as eager as she refused to admit, she could have something she'd always wanted. She'd have the career success certainly. In addition, there might also exist a feeling restored that she couldn't quite recall since she was a small child - family.

"You're here and we need to talk about this." Amelia pushed past thoughts of Seattle, faced with Addison's stubborn persistence.

"We've already talked. There is no this. There can't be." Amelia fussed over coffees and pastry bags for lack of anything else to do. "I love you Addie, enough to know that we would be a mistake and I can't afford to spend the rest of my life with that kind of regret."

"Then why come back, Bits?" Addison demanded, unable to perceive the source of this unanticipated rejection. When had there ever been so much unsaid between them? She couldn't stand that a single act could bear such cost. Amelia turned with a half smile, a shrug hinting at her old self underneath the sorrow.

"Where else could I go, Addie? This is my home and you're my family."


All Their Little Ones and All Their Wives Humbled

Part Two

"The sons of Jacob came upon the slain, and spoiled the city, because they had defiled their sister. They took their flocks and their herds and their asses, and that which was in the city and that which was in the field; and all their wealth, and all their little ones and their wives, took they captive and spoiled, even all that was in the house."

1. The Rape of Dinah, Genesis 34:27-29



Amelia knocked, waited patiently, knocked again. The door opened nearly under her hand. No one really knocks on doors in this neighborhood of LA, not that Amelia had ever seen. Visitors came solely by appointment. It was such an unassuming little suburban street lined with sizable contemporary homes. Agents, writers, midlevel Hollywood bureaucracy with just enough money to buy something chic lived here. Amelia wagered no one really knew their neighbors. If they did, she wondered how the suits and ties, the single professionals and first wives would treat her mistress.

"Where have you been?" It wasn't much in the way of a greeting. Amelia found it hard to picture Mistress Samas Macabre jovial as opposed to her typical stern. Even now, dressed in what appeared to be yoga pants and a zip up, her dark hair bobbing in a ponytail, the woman exacted deference. Amelia straightened, halting the drift of her hands towards her pockets. She all but shuffled her feet in a moment of swelling nervous energy. The door widened in invitation but Amelia declined, remaining where she stood.

"Vegas, Seattle, drifting."

"Not coming in?" Her voice broke like discipline across the senses. Mistress Samas folded her arms, the sole slip in her posture. "I was not under the impression that you were given to disappearing acts." The surprise wasn't accusatory, just a statement, almost bored really. Amelia shook her head, eyes dropping to brush against the mat at her feet. It was a thick woven work of art in dark brown and red. It did not read welcome. It marked the structure as a haven with the crest of the House Macabre.

"No, Mistress, I am not … I guess." Amelia watched the raising of eyebrows in expectation as if to say, that's it? A sub didn't just fall out of contact with his or her dominant and pop back as though it were nothing. It was a serious offense. It said blatantly, I do not respect your authority. "Look, I came because I wanted to thank you. You helped me." Samas bathed Amelia in astute appraisal. Tantamount to a physical search, she felt as though the Mistress had reached in and rifled through her mind, examined her motivations and found her claims deficient.

But what if Charlotte had been right? How could Amelia spend her whole life clinging to the hope that submission to someone else's wrath, no matter how glorious, would bring her peace? Her body might always crave a bit of kink, the familiar bite of the whip; but starting today she would no longer use it to replace some other addiction. Samas took Amelia's announcement for what it was, a request. If Amelia wished to be set free or cast adrift, Samas tilted her head unperturbed, so be it.

"You're welcome. I guess." The door closed firmly. Amelia blinked, having expected something more. Not so much as a good luck, good health, or go safely, and here she was headed back down the front path to the street. It was anticlimactic to say the least. She felt the buzz of her phone as she set off in search of a cab and pulled it out of the back pocket of her jeans. She smiled upon reading the caller-id, Catherine Willows.

"Hey." Amelia listened, smile broadening. She walked caught in a moment of exhilaration to hear a voice so recently populating her thoughts. Several yellow taxis slowed then continued past escaping her notice and Amelia responded to the warmth that greeted her across the connection, simply with, "I was hoping."

One week earlier

"How are you?" Amelia glanced over at the elegant profile. She'd seen more of the drive between McCarran International and downtown Las Vegas since her arrival for AAN than she'd seen of the famous Vegas strip despite the fact that her hotel was located on it. Most of her view had been from this very perspective, peering out the passenger-side of Catherine's government-issue SUV. She considered the question, feeling very much like a small child dwarfed in the expansive leather seating.

"I'm not sure how to answer that question." Amelia felt the apology before it slipped free. "I'm sorry. I'm fine, I guess. I hope I haven't caused you to worry." Catherine Willows was a mystery behind sunglasses.

"I had my concerns." She remained diligently focused on the road. Amelia shifted in the seat, reacting to the discomfort of maiden disclosure with a virtual stranger.

"I went to Seattle to see my brother."

"That's some day trip." Catherine remarked, wondering at the spontaneity. Thus far her profile of Amelia Shepherd seemed the product of personality extremes. "You look …"

"Exhausted? I am." Amelia offered a wan smile. "Buy me breakfast ?" Catherine grinned, tossing blonde locks over her shoulder.

"There is the matter of that rain check and I so rarely break promises." Amelia sat back, closed her eyes. Maybe she would rest for just a moment.

"Then I suppose it best you didn't test that practice with one of mine." She mumbled around a yawn.

"Nice color by the way." Amelia turned her head, squinting inquiry. Catherine pursed her lips and blew a demonstrative kiss.

"Oh." Amelia's eyes slipped closed as she recalled the bubblegum pink tinting her mouth. "Thanks. I wasn't sure it was really my shade." Catherine hummed in agreement.

"You can always hope."



"Why are you still awake?" Amelia mumbled soft evasions, trying to craft a reasonable answer. "Me, I'm a beleaguered surgical resident stuck in the middle of a thirty-six hour shift who has been ordered to update charts and check vitals all night. You, on the other hand, are a surgeon without a fellowship. Why are you awake?" Lexie sounded peevish, aggrieved. Amelia had correctly anticipated the ill-reception for her general ennui.

"Couldn't sleep. Besides it's not like you don't welcome the distraction."

"Be that as it may …" Lexie shuffled charts, waiting for Amelia to elaborate. "Bad dream?" She ventured, knowing Amelia's insomnia was rooted more in the conundrum of choosing not to sleep rather than any inherent inability to be claimed by it. At the continued silence, Lexie muttered, "You know the prevailing intent in placing a phone call is dialogue not creepy silence and heavy breathing … well, unless you're into that." Amelia chuckled.

"I just couldn't sleep Hal."

"I hate that nickname." Lexie groaned. "That computer went insane and succeeded in killing all but one of its crewmembers."

"You remember everything you read and you spent like a week in physical restraints. It's accurate." Amelia replied. "Besides Hal is cute and Alexandra Caroline Grey is such a mouthful."

"Funny, that's what Mark Sloan said last night."

"Dude." Amelia deadpanned as Lexie giggled at her own joke. "Lame. I will not have the intelligence quotient of our conversations devolve into - that's what he said."

"You're just mad because you didn't get to say it." Lexie countered. "And yes, by the way, Mark Sloan as you may recall is a remarkably skilled linguist. In fact …"

"Aw … hey Hal? I've got another call." Amelia interrupted. "You just hold that thought indefinitely."

"Likely story Jinx." Lexie laughed. "Later." Amelia clicked over to the waiting call, willing to let Lexie think it a fabrication if it meant she could avoid listening to an undoubtedly lengthy enumeration of the finer points of Mark Sloan's oral prowess.

"Hey, it's late. What's up?"

"Pete just called.  He's at St. Ambrose and …" Angry, Addison's voice roused an uncomfortable flutter in Amelia's chest. Internally she listened to herself explain in serene clinical detail that these feelings were commonly associated with panic. Amelia shook herself, concentrating on Addison's voice. In her anger, Addison seemed unable to formulate a coherent explanation for her call in between her use of the same two expletives in shocked repetition.  Amelia could not override the temptation to interrupt, patience rescinded by the fear crawling uncomfortably along the walls of her chest.  Anxious, her voice rose over Addison's stilted attempts to inform.

"Is everything okay? Is it Violet or Lucas?"

"That psycho fuck Lee McHenry. Shit!" Addison raved breathless and struggled to regain her composure enough to calmly convey, "Is in the ER."

"Jesus." Amelia whispered. "Is Charlotte …"

"… at home with Cooper. Pete called me. Thankfully she has no idea." Addison swallowed reasserting calm as she added "Violet was called in for a psych consult on a John Doe and almost had a heart attack. Pete went in to help her cope."

"I'll call you when I get there." Amelia was up, fumbling for clothes in the darkness.

"Ames, there's no reason for you to go." Addison felt hysteria devour her calm at the thought of Amelia in close proximity to the sociopath that had brutalized Charlotte King. "Sheldon is already on his way. He'll put McHenry on a seventy-two hour hold. Hopefully in that time the hospital can arbitrate a more permanent solution based on his persistent presentation of psychiatric symptoms. It is unlikely a judge will deny an order of commitment. There's clear evidence of his danger to others." Addison continued, her reason taking a sharp edge of desperation, "Danger to others Ames, or have you already managed to forget those hours you spent sewing up Charlotte's lacs?"

"That's … not fair Addison. I think I remember those hours a bit better that you do. If I were the least bit able, I'd be more than happy to forget placing a hundred and thirty-six plastics sutures without anesthesia." Amelia yanked on a pair of jeans and slipped into her tennis shoes. Hair pulled back, she grabbed her bag and keys, and hurried out her front door. "His persistent presentation of symptoms might not be psychiatric. What if it's neurological?" Remembering the late hour, Amelia eyed the near empty street, cursing the immediate lack of taxis. "Shit."

"No cabs?" Addison asked, her suspicions confirmed at the responding huff of frustration.

"What if they find no psychiatric means to hold him and in three days he's back out on the street? Do you want to bear the responsibility for the next woman he savagely rapes and beats?" Amelia paused, every word suggesting she already felt an inordinate degree of accountability. "I don't."

"I'll be there in five minutes." Addison hung up, barely hearing the relieved thanks. She hurried her steps, absently throwing on whatever clothing was close at hand. She was a doctor, and she'd vowed to work tirelessly at the occupation of healing. But every natural instinct rebelled against the case of Lee McHenry.

"Tumors can cause aggression."

"Tumors can cause a lot of things. You need a more specific diagnosis." Addison yawned. She'd grown weary of Amelia's confabulations. After running a battery of tests and hours spent scouring McHenry's charts, thus far Amelia's studious consideration of the material had only managed to conceive these mysteriously generic tumors.

"What did you say?" Amelia looked up from the spotty family history obtained from a confused and delirious Lee McHenry by the admit nurse.

"Tumor is vague. You need a diagnosis that pinpoints what type of tumor might cause this unique symptomology." Addison made a face taking a sip of her tepid latte. "And I need a decent cup of coffee." They were camped out in Addison's relatively bland office at St. Ambrose waiting for the results of an MRI. It would be some time yet before they heard back from Sheldon in relation to the success or possible failure of court proceedings to have McHenry committed. Meanwhile, Naomi and Violet were at Cooper's delicately encouraging Charlotte to call in to work for a few days. Amelia found herself loathe to admit she wanted no part of that parlez.

"You said diagnosis." Amelia murmured, thoughtful.

"Yes, that's what doctors call it when we have a specific name for something causing the symptoms. Rather than just, maybe it's a tumor." Addison wasn't often snide. Amelia reminded herself, albeit testily, that there were circumstances extenuating Addison's impatience for the exercise.

"I need to make a phone call." Amelia rose, quickly departing from the office. Scrolling through her phone, she rang the number in question, and waited for an answer as she strode toward a bank of elevators. "Uncle Jim? Hi, it's Amelia. How've you been?"



"Listen, Amy."

"It's Amelia, Uncle Jim. Only Der'k calls me Amy anymore." Amelia unbuckled her seatbelt, hand on the door. Her expression belied her impatience. Dr. James Wilson drummed a nervous tempo on the steering wheel of the car, eyes fixed on the entrance of Princeton-Plainsboro Hospital. Amelia granted him an expectant look in spite of his transparent effort at stalling.

"Amelia." He corrected, solicitous but failed to propose any further impetus to conversation other than the prolonged clearing of his throat.

"I'm listening. But couldn't we plausibly walk while I listen?" Amelia ventured, eyebrows peaked and opened the door. She slipped out of the car and nearly swooned at the frigid temperature, shivering under a stiff wind. Her boots sketched a preemptive jerky slide on a patch of black ice as she slammed the car door shut, bracing herself at the sting of the meteorologist's foretold wintry mix upon her face. The thin weave of the faux pea coat she'd bought at the chic traveler's boutique on her way out of JFK did little in the way of contending a New Jersey freeze. Layered over the hoody that had notably become indispensible since Vegas, she hoped it would stave off frost bite for the duration of her short stay. Proceeding carefully towards the hospital entrance, she could hear her uncle's hurried steps close behind.

"You should know …" Wilson reached forward, pulling the door open for his niece and following her into the immediate relief of blanketing heat. "Well, you see …"

"House is a reputed misanthrope. Yes I know." Amelia reported, abortively. She turned a disinterested eye on her uncle. "Who hasn't heard the stories? He's famously difficult to work with and has a near perfect success rate with patient prognosis. I assume you thought the only reason I'd take you up on the offer to meet with him about a position on his team was if I was wholly ignorant to his reputation for being a complete ass?"

"Well I …"

"Last I checked that was a prerequisite for practicing medicine." Amelia gestured forward, stalwart. "Now can we get on with this?"

"Dr. Cuddy! Uh … hello." Wilson shifted uncomfortably, glancing away from Amelia's intent gaze to focus on a slightly less troubling countenance.

"Wilson." Lisa Cuddy smiled a greeting that Amelia found it difficult to ignore despite her desire to hasten progress towards Dr. House's office. "Hello, I'm Dr. Lisa Cuddy, Dean of Medicine. You must be Dr. Shepherd. Wilson speaks very highly of you."

"Yes, it's a pleasure to meet you." Amelia offered a firm handshake and a wide smile in spite of herself. "First female and youngest Dean in Princeton-Plainsboro history, clearly this facility has quite a lot to boast beyond its diagnostics department." Amelia's grip lingered, drawing thorough appraisal from Dr. Lisa Cuddy. "Stunning." Amelia heard her uncle cough in nervous embarrassment, stepping forward to interrupt but her attention was encapsulated by Cuddy's grin of amusement.

"I'm sorry?"

"The clinic," Amelia murmured, breaking eye contact long enough to gaze pointedly at their surroundings. "It's really quite modern, altogether stunning." Cuddy retracted her hand, chin dipping enough that her hair obscured a momentary flush across broad cheeks. Amelia felt herself leaning forward. It was what hid within the hint of the movement that nurtured seduction. Flirtation, she knew, could be as subtle as reaching forward to innocently brush away an imaginary piece of lint. Hand raised, Amelia's fingers extended mere inches away from contact, suddenly withdrawn as Wilson's arm heavy around her shoulders directed her towards a flight of stairs.

"Yes it's a marvel really." Wilson, unnecessarily loud, disrupted the enchantment. "We were just headed up to meet with House. Best not to keep him waiting."

Dr. Cuddy, lashes fluttering as though dazed, lifted her head to call, "Perhaps a tour later."

"Yes, definitely." Amelia contorted her neck to look back with an awkward wave.

"Some things never change do they, Amelia." Wilson muttered under his breath. "Here's a word of advice, since you were in such a hurry to meet House right before you cast your Svengali-esque influence on the Dean of Medicine, the DEAN, apparently it is imperative I remind you of that fact. It presents a fairly abysmal first impression to make a pre-interview pass at the girlfriend of your potential future employer." Amelia stumbled to keep up with the accelerated march of their joined steps.

"No kidding?" Amelia pursed her lips intrigued. "Well that explains how a man with an alleged sweet tooth for prescription pills can keep a job as prominent as this." Wilson drew to a sudden stop, giving Amelia a stern once over.

"Where did you hear that?" Amelia met her uncle's regard with an expression that clearly said, come on.

"That's not judgment. It's just the facts, allegedly. It's not like I don't have my own cross to bear." Amelia shrugged away from Wilson's loose grip. She'd lost her patience for his manhandling. The flirtatious warmth she'd exhibited in Cuddy's presence evaporated into a cool approximation of sculpted reserve. "Can we please get on with this? I don't have a lot of time to waste."

As much as Amelia appreciated the well-designed comfort and rich furnishings Oceanside Wellness boasted, PPTH consistently reinforced its established rep for being cutting edge by fully embodying the part. Amelia readied herself, eyes fixed on the name etched in the glass doors designating the offices of Dr. Gregory House. The man was hardly indistinguishable even before Amelia caught sight of his cane and the pronounced gait associated with it. He bore the company of three men, one middle-aged, and a young woman whose very posture projected naiveté. House sat in mute contemplation of the ceiling while the other seated occupants of the small conference table argued petulantly back and forth. Amusement brightened his wizened features and his was quickly the only gleeful expression presiding over what sounded like a swift deterioration into personal insults.

"Ah Wilson, just in time to weigh in." House eagerly waved them forward. "We're arguing the merit in the assertion that Superman can reverse time by reversing the rotation of the planet. Taub insists that Hawking is the Tony Blair of Theoretical Physics. Your thoughts?"

"House, I'd like to introduce …" Wilson began, only to be summarily interrupted and dismissed by a look from Taub.

"We have a case." Taub barely spared a glance before returning his attention to his colleagues. "Twenty-two year old male patient presenting abdominal pain and vomiting." Taub insisted to the immediate mutual disagreement of Foreman and Chase.

"Did you even bother to read the chart? The lab work shows positive serologies for Hepatitis A." Chase's arguments lost some heat as his gaze drifted to Wilson and his guest. He smiled, eyes meeting Amelia's in open assessment. Foreman persisted, in his stead.

"Leave it in the clinic where it belongs and let's move on to my sixty year old female patient with tunnel vision, memory loss and nausea." Foreman countered.

"Chalk that one up to glaucoma and old age. My twenty-two year old shows no current signs of liver inflammation, which rules out Hepatitis A. There is such a thing as a false positive on serology."

"False positive!" Foreman threw up his hands. "Right, because that happens fairly often, just like literally being able to turn back time." Amelia stepped forward, reaching between the bickering men to pick up the charts in question. She paged through them as House looked on in mild interest.

"If there is no corresponding rise in liver enzymes, then prior vaccination can account for the presence of Anti-Hepatitis A virus immunoglobulin M and an associated rare but possible false positive. Let me guess, your patient bears the hippy stink of patchouli? Wears Berks, loves his shirt in that particularly offensive to the eye shade called tie dye?" Amelia's interruption draws startled silence from the table.

"Uh, yes actually." Taub shrugged. "So what?"

"So." Amelia continued offhandedly as she flipped the chart closed. "Lack of inflammation, plus low level lymphocytosis and abdominal symptoms points to Ginseng overdose, your guy needs decon not a differential diagnosis." Amelia paused turning her attention to Foreman, "And your sixty year old grandma's got a tumor of the meninges. Oh look!" Amelia gestured in mock surprise to her uncle. "An oncologist, how fortuitous!" Amelia dropped the charts on the end of the conference table with obvious disregard.

"Who are you?" Masters glanced from the charts to Amelia and back again, a bit put off.

"More importantly where have you been all my life?" House stood, making his way around the table to lean suggestively over Amelia. Amelia couldn't help but grin, extending her hand.

"Killing the universe." She smiled prettily, as House clasped her hand.

"House, a word." Wilson grabbed House's arm, bringing an abrupt halt to yet another inappropriately long handshake. House turned a wickedly eager smile on his colleague.

"Aw, Dad can I keep her?" Wilson shuffled the semi-protesting House into his office, sliding the door closed in their wake. Amelia turned her back in bored commentary on the machinations she pointedly failed to observe in progress behind her. The ensuing discussion, animated by several choice gestures, waged on as she directed her attention to the somewhat slack-jawed members of House's team.

"I've got your case." She tossed a stack of files onto the center of the table, retrieved from her messenger bag. The bag had become her travel staple since her return from Seattle. Lexie seemed to have little expectation of its return. Not that she'd been afforded a moment to pack anything other than the paperwork she'd just unceremoniously deposited for review. She'd forfeited the priority of spare undies and toiletries when she booked a last minute flight east earlier that morning. Absconding without the consolation of a quick stop to her apartment, she'd traded LA for New Jersey with little more consideration than a phone call to her uncle and an online booking. "Forty year old male vet, intermittently unemployed construction worker, presents with pain, dementia, sudden bouts of clarity, possible fever from indications of profuse sweating as noted by admit staff …"

"I'm sorry, we don't even know who you are." Taub called an abrupt halt to recitation, watching Masters pick curiously through the pile of reports and patient histories.

"Dr. Robert Chase." Chase stood, leaning across the conference table to extend a hand in greeting. Amelia nodded, giving his hand a quick shake. Taub and Foreman looked on nonplussed. "This is Taub, Foreman, and Masters."

"House decides which cases we take." Foreman added, scouring Amelia with a somewhat dismissive up and down. Amelia paced over to the white board, plucking a marker from the caddy.

"Doctor Amelia Shepherd. I'm a neurosurgeon and your Dean of Medicine approved my privileges this morning while I was on a red-eye from LA." Amelia wrote in speedy block text then underlined with a careless swipe. She turned, shrugging out of her coat. "Don't worry. He'll take this case."

"Aggression." Masters read the word scrawled in red with obvious skepticism. "Is that supposed to be a symptom?"

"No." Amelia's confidence in her next revelation was immutable. "It's THE symptom."

"Lee McHenry?" Foreman plucked one of the files from the center of the table, interest undeniably piqued. "What makes him important enough for you to hop a plane here?"

"He viciously raped and battered the Chief of Staff of St. Ambrose Hospital just over a month ago. Then he got a free pass from the LA county District Attorney. You know what he did to celebrate his good fortune?" Amelia asked, perusing the shocked and simultaneous curious faces around her. "He walked back into the ER late last night as though none of it happened." Amelia dropped her coat and bag on the back of an empty chair, regarding each of the doctors in turn. "He presents with identical symptomology to the visit that coincided with his attack of Dr. King."

"And? He's a violent criminal with a headache. What you're looking for is a district attorney willing to prosecute not a diagnosis Dr. Shepherd." Taub sniffed, retaining a bit of anger from Amelia's swift dismissal of his own case. "Try lodging a complaint with your local assemblyman. I don't see how wasting our time is going to help put a criminal in prison where he belongs."

"If you could overlook your bruised ego Dr. Taub, I have just under forty-eight hours to figure out the cause of that symptom." Amelia gestured to the white board behind her. She fixed them each with a stare that brooked no further impulse to argue.

"What happens in two days?" Chase asked, drawing Amelia's attentive gaze.

"The fifty-one fifty will be commuted and he walks." Amelia swallowed, her tone grave. "Untreated, he is a proven sexual sadist with a penchant for violence and free reign to repeat offend."

"Your niece is a hottie. Think she'll let me hit that? After the interview I mean." House asked, peering past Wilson into the conference room. It appeared that Dr. Amelia Shepherd had managed to retain an attentive audience. "Conflict of interest?" He scratched the stubble around his beard making a fair attempt at confounded.

"House." James Wilson took a deep breath, making a point to ignore the jibe.

"And when I say interview," House continued as he took a seat behind his desk. "I mean sham."

"Amelia is perfectly aware that I asked a favor to get you to see her."

"Oh, you thought I meant my part was a sham." House chuckled. "No I was talking about your niece. She has no express interest in working here."

"That's not true House. She's very excited to be here. She didn't stop talking about you on our way from the airport." Wilson insisted, blinkingly earnest. House shook his head, adding further drama to his pitying sigh.

"Think back, did the high, femininely pitched voice in the car talking about me the entire trip from the airport belong to your niece, or was that you?" Wilson frowned. The expression on his face spoke volumes.

"She'll out perform any one you've ever hired since you created this unit, including yourself." He deflected, unwilling to acknowledge House's dissection of the circumstances. "One thousand dollars says I'm right."

"I'll take that bet." House sat forward and placed his elbows on the desk. "Best odds in town."

"By the way," Wilson smirked, secure in the knowledge he for once had the superior hand where House was concerned. "She was fired from her fellowship in neurosurgery for claiming she was a better surgeon than Geraldine Ginsburg." He took his leave, unsurprised at having flouted any response with this epiphany. House was willing to admit that a grudging favor to a friend had just become undeniably intriguing. Wilson called over his shoulder from outside the office door. He made no attempt to hide his satisfaction. "And she proved it."



"Let me guess. My uncle told you to stay away from me." House leaned heavily on his cane taking in the activity in the lab with notable interest.

"Do you think that would stop me if he had?" Amelia turned from her examination of a slide under a microscope with a wry grin.

"No. But the fact that you're in love with your girlfriend would." Amelia smirked, seemingly enjoying House's need to take a moment and reevaluate his approach.

"What about you?" Amelia turned back to the microscope, her desire to converse with House having swiftly dissipated. He leaned against the lab bench, reaching over to knock the adjustment of the microscope out of focus. Amelia took a deep breath, favoring him an indulgent look as though humoring a small child.

"Am I in love with your girlfriend?" Amelia shrugged, readjusting the microscope and peering down the lens. "We had a moment." House flicked off the power switch on the microscope's base then arched his brows all innocence at the exasperated glare he received in response.

"Surely you aren't deterred by overprotective uncles or competition?" Amelia tilted her head, piercing House with observant blue. This wasn't flirtation, she knew. This was predation. Amelia leaned back, giving him her undivided attention. House winked.

"You're right." Amelia readily admitted. "I rarely back down from a challenge. Unfortunately, I'm a bit short on time."

"And here I thought the purpose of your visit was to convince me to hire you, not take over my team." House placed an overly dramatic hand against his chest.

"It would be a waste of your time talking to me now if you hadn't already read McHenry's chart, wouldn't it?" Amelia smiled, an expression that deadened as it reached the solemnity of her eyes. "I diagnose his aggression, you'll want to hire me."

"Everybody wins?" The irony was not lost on Amelia. Nevertheless, she returned her attention to investigating the magnified specimen. House limped further into the lab, looking over the shoulders of his suddenly super industrious team, though some of their present effort seemed fabricated for his benefit. "I see you brought enough goodies to share with the class." House nudged Taub with the head of his cane. "Is that all your loyalty is worth - frozen urine and a pretty face? I'm thoroughly disappointed."

"She said she had privileges. Besides, Foreman insisted and he's in charge when you're away." Taub immediately caved. House sent an amused glance in Foreman's direction.

"See, now how does that feel?" Foreman simply rolled his eyes and focused on setting up a set of bacterial cultures.

"Are you here for a reason House?" Foreman inquired.

"Yes." House raised his hands expectantly, "Astound me already."

"Generalized mental symptoms, disorientation, violence and pain says acute intermittent Porrphyria." Chase posited, crossing his arms in obvious pride of his diagnosis. Amelia spared him an indifferent glance that said all it needed to in regards to her estimation of his excitement at the theory.

"Ah, well he's nice to look at anyway." House stage-whispered behind his hand and Amelia quirked an amused smile, inexpertly hidden as she remained preoccupied by her work prepping specimens on slides.

"The patient didn't exhibit any of the gastrointestinal distress that would encourage that particular diagnosis." Masters pointed out for Chase's benefit. House slow clapped mock congratulations.

"Nice job Gidget." Then with a deliberate slicing motion across his neck instructed, "You're dead to me Barbie. Go cover the clinic."

"What?" Chase stood incensed. "Come on, I was just warming up."

"Ah …" House held up a finger in warning.

"Fine." Chase sulked, leaving behind a collection of unfinished blood tests.

"How about a frontal ventromedial lesion?" Foreman suggested with the good grace not to appear too pleased with himself.

"Or a tumor?" Taub managed a spiteful look in Amelia's direction which she dutifully ignored.

"Sounds great. You and Tattoo hop the plane! the plane!" House gestured for them to get going. "Let me know how those pan out." Taub's expression was far less than excited as he dogged Foreman's steps out of the lab. Foreman seemed far more resigned to the order to fly cross country and run tests on a sociopath. House turned rapt attention on Masters who appeared eager as ever to please. "Meanwhile Sufiah Yosof is going to follow up on the possibility of Encephalitis I take it?"

"Who?" Amelia asked, with minimal demonstration of actual curiosity as to the response to her question.

"Child prodigy accepted to Oxford University at the age of thirteen to study mathematics." Masters rattled off with ease. "It's a bit more accurate than Gidget." She muttered, preparing a series of tests. She was a bit surprised that House had so readily anticipated her guess. She was more perturbed though that she hadn't actually been given the chance to voice it.

"Right." Amelia nodded, then asked "I imagine you'll want to make a point of assigning me to do something as well?" The fact that she didn't raise her head an inch from her current endeavors seemed to adequately convey her readiness to acquiesce to any such objective from House.

"Oh my no!" House seemed quite pleased with himself as he strode toward the door, arm extended. He waited patiently for Amelia to join him. "You have a job interview."

Amelia settled uncomfortably into the office chair in front of House's desk. She watched him lean back, legs propped up. He balanced a small ball on the hook of his cane and afforded her little attention as the silence lengthened between them. "Dr. House?" He tilted his head impassively in her direction. "Perhaps we could chat about my qualifications later."

"No, let's start now." House countered, chipper. "Let's see here." He paused as though toiling over consideration of his first question. Amelia closed her eyes breathing deeply. "There's always something on these applications about prior criminal activity. Have you ever been convicted of a felony Dr. Shepherd?"

"No, Dr. House. I have not." Amelia ground out.

"I see." House hummed, and began tossing the ball lightly and catching it on the handle of his cane. Amelia watched increasingly vexed.

"But you have no problem lying to family?"

"No, apparently I do not." Amelia agreed without hesitation. House looked at her fully, not expecting such candor.

"Wilson, your uncle, is either completely ignorant of this fascinating capacity you retain for deception or is so accustomed to it that he barely reacted earlier when you revealed the true motivations for your visit."

"Good odds. You've got a fifty-fifty chance on guessing which one it is." Amelia dipped her chin, and gazed up through dark lashes. House gazed back in acknowledgement of a dangerously seductive power lurking just beneath the surface. Unbidden, his heartbeat quickened with familiarity. "I'll give you a hint. I was sixteen the first time he caught me forging prescriptions on one of his pads." Lopsided, Amelia's smile was wicked but her voice cloying in sweetness as she revealed, "I told him they were for a sick friend." Blink and you would have missed it, House thought as Amelia's expression turned, now favoring a bland smile. "What do you think? Did he believe me?"

"I ignore a hundred emails a day of so-called decent people whose lives depend on the intervention of a gifted diagnostician such as myself." House tipped his cane so the ball rolled to sit placidly in the middle of his desk. "Most of them will die without wasting a moment of my team's time. Of course, presumably none of them have beaten and raped one of your colleagues." House watched the slight tightening of Amelia's jaw, despite the uninterrupted mirth in her expression.

"People are far from indecipherable, their motives and the lies they tell to wreath themselves in disguise. You know that better than I, Dr. House - that anyone can concoct a reasonably touching plea for assistance. Yet to manufacture a truly enigmatic symptom, that is well beyond these pleading patients, or even you or I. What matters more to you, all those emails full of sad stories or the symptoms?" Amelia's regard was a hot spot, digging past the cover of jest to the roots at the center of House's touted doctrine. "It's one thing to name a man an unrepentant sociopath and throw away the key." Bemused, Amelia shrugged, elaborating, "It's easy. But if a man is sick, damaged or diseased, you look for a way to treat him." She leaned forward, elbows on her knees. Fingers steepled, she pointed at House, confident in her rhetoric, "If there was a reason for a crime as horrific as rape, wouldn't you want to know it?"

House marked her, feeling a momentary flicker of unease at seemingly being deciphered. He offered a banal façade in response and ordered, "Go help Dr. Chase in the clinic."

Amelia rose to her feet and asked tersely, "If I say no?" House grinned, back on proven ground, an expression of frustration in the ill-thought challenge.

"I'll tell my girlfriend, whom as you know I love dearly, to revoke your privileges." His smile was placid as he added, "And you can spend your flight back to LA formulating some dubious means of keeping a psycho off the streets."

"Ah Dr. Shepherd, fallen out of House's good graces I see. Welcome." Amelia refrained from snapping in response to the greeting from Dr. Chase. She'd relinquished her jeans for scrubs and a white lab coat. It was actually nice to be out of the clothes she'd been wearing since her late night phone call from Addison. Nevertheless, she wasn't exactly ecstatic to be busting charts in the clinic like some lowly resident.

"Dr. Chase." Amelia, foregoing any formalities, grabbed a chart from a pile at the admit desk. "It would appear that we'll be enjoying the pleasures of exile together. Awesome," Amelia nodded at the chart for emphasis, "Uncontrollable diarrhea in exam room three. That's this way?" Chase chuckled and confirmed the direction with a gesture.

"Welcome to Princeton-Plainsboro. Enjoy your stay!" Chase headed in the opposite direction to reduce a fever in exam one.

"Why are you awake?" Lexie yawned loudly, causing an inadvertent smile of amusement to grace Amelia's features. "More importantly, why am I now awake?"

"I'm in New Jersey."

"It's even more disgustingly early in the morning there than it is here." Lexie pointed out. Snuggling deeper under the covers in her bed, she asked. "Where's my tee shirt, Jinx? I haven't caught a decent surgery since you thiefed it. Do you have any idea how much scut duty I've pulled in the last week?"

"How do you know it's not mine Hal? You're not the only graduate of Harvard Med in the fam." Amelia's laughter easily filled the claustrophobic interior of the on-call room. She'd stolen away from the clinic during a lull to catch a nap. She'd lain in the uncomfortable bunk staring at the ceiling until her eyes felt gritty and dry. When she'd finally given up on the prospect of rest and dialed, the expectation had been that Lexie would be in the middle of late night rounds in Seattle. What surgical resident actually slept at two in the morning?

"Because it's mine. It has my initials in the collar!" Lexie cried, incredulous. "Wait." She paused, rewinding her outrage back to Amelia's introductory statement. "New Jersey?" She asked, then, "Princeton?"

"Yeah." Amelia confirmed, toying with the stiff hospital sheets in the darkness. She wondered when last they'd been changed.

"You could have told me Jinx." Lexie's voice changed, no longer sounding muffled. Amelia guessed the woman had given up on dozing through their conversation choosing to sit up in bed and listen. "Your brother will be relieved. He was planning a trip to LA next week."

"This is what you call advanced notice." Amelia scoffed. "Useless."

"I was going to tell you." Lexie didn't try very hard to make it a convincing lie. "How's the interview going?"

"It's … not ideal."

"Already catching a glimpse of the seedy underbelly of diagnostics?" Lexie's quip was uncanny in its accuracy. "You cannot actually be sulking about being vetted for the next most promising position to a neurosurgical fellowship with Ginsburg."

"You could say that."

"Or you could just tell me." Lexie breathed her exasperation across the line. "What's going on Jinx?" Amelia faltered, not so much for words as an adequate beginning. When tragic endings loomed in profusion, it seemed impossible to trace one's way back to the source, as though in it one could defray the retribution of consequence. "Hey, you okay?" Lexie's voice was tender, and for a moment Amelia could imagine lying next to her in the dark laughing and trading gossip. For a moment, she could almost feel safe.

"Remember what happened to Charlotte King?"



"How are things going with Dr. Shepherd?" House regarded Cuddy at the extra note of interest despite the pretense of checking her makeup in the bathroom vanity.

"She was timid at first but after the rohypnol it was all …" House closed his eyes, thumping bass emanating from behind the overtly seductive pursing of lips. Brow raised, Cuddy watched his reflection gyrating in the mirror. Slipping a tasteful diamond stud into her ear, she persisted over the sound of DJ House, MD.

"I notice you decided to let her assign your team a case." Cuddy turned, adjusting her pencil skirt and brushed past House in the doorway. "When did you start extending that privilege to anyone, much less a doctor visiting for an informal interview?"

"I think what you meant to say was that Chase whined to you about his punishment for being vapid." House followed Cuddy into the bedroom where she slipped a tailored blazer over her blouse.

"I was happy to extend her privileges House. I've read her work and she's a very talented neurosurgeon." Cuddy hedged, "She is, however, reputed for being a bit capricious. Her success, though impressive, comes on the tail of taking highly irregular and unnecessary risks."

"Does that mean you're saying yes to the threesome?" House pressed his palms together, comically eager. "Pretty please?"

"If you're serious about this, I will happily approve her hire. However," Cuddy paused to take one last look in a full length mirror. Slipping her attaché under her arm, she adjusted a stray lock of hair. "The hospital's legal representation is kept quite busy deflecting spurious litigation in response to the stunt medicine of one obstinate doctor. I don't rightly know if they can accommodate another."

"You're absolutely right. We'll trade Masters for her." House nodded as though it were the obvious conclusion. "You wanted a star. Shepherd qualifies with the added benefit of a board certification to practice medicine." Cuddy's expression as she favored him in lackluster appraisal encouraged his own swift self-assessment. He reconsidered the decision not to wax his chest. Twisting his shoulders, he tilted his hips in an indecent approximation of an underwear model. The fairly cool ambient temperature did little in the way of aiding his standing ovation for Cuddy's business attire. "Now, about that threesome ..." Cuddy was little more than disappearing fabric through the bedroom doorway, as she responded.

"I'll see you at work House. Try not to be too late." His response echoed down the hallway, chasing the rhythmic click of heels on hardwood.

"I thought we were carpooling!"

Amelia rolled her head on her shoulders trying to ease the pinched muscle in her neck. Heeding the impatient sigh directly before her, she opened her eyes refocusing her attention on the long line of sutures that jutted across pale chest. When Amelia had questioned her patient, skittish college student with a handlebar mustache, he had intoned cryptically, "Fishing accident." Ignoring the fact that it had been snowing outside from the moment she'd arrived, Amelia cautioned herself against inquiring what kind of fishing hook tore three perfect sixteen inch gashes that more closely resembled the careful work of a blade? Whatever. This kid could have his secret Zorro reenactment. As long as he was breathing, she couldn't care less about the undoubtedly convoluted exposition that had landed him here in the first place. She was about one hundred stitches in or about four inches and her hands were already starting to cramp.

"Uh Dr. Shepherd." Amelia looked up from her work, observed a disorienting shift in perspective at the sudden change of focus and closed her eyes. "Are you alright?" Amelia nodded, opened her eyes with a deep breath and offered a patient smile despite the morass of mounting frustration since House had essentially placed her on punishment.

"Yes, I'm fine. What's up Dr. Masters?"

"Oh, I'm not a doctor." Martha Masters sketched an awkward gesture with a chart. "Med student actually." Amelia's head dipped, eyes slipping closed as she bit her lip in disbelief.

"You've got to be kidding." She stood abruptly, discarding her gloves in biological waste, and walked past Masters into the main admitting area.

"Hey doc? Is this finished? Can I go?" Mustache called from the exam room. Muttering, Amelia cast about looking for Dr. Chase.

"I'm doing sutures and enemas, and House has a fucking med student running my labs."

"Um, Dr. Shepherd?" Masters offered an uncertain glance to the patient but left no choice followed.

"Misty is it?" Amelia eyed the nametag of the admit nurse and forced a smile when she looked up inquiringly. "Could you direct me to Dr. Chase please?"

"Uh yeah, he's with a patient in exam four." Misty all but batted her eyes wantonly for Amelia who pursed her lips. If the flesh was willing, the interest was weak. Ignoring the attempt at flirtation, Amelia pressed on, preserving her head of steam. Misty hadn't been the first nurse, male or female, to offer the distraction of a sultry smile or side-long glance. Amelia's resulting suspicion and not the least bit sneaking in nature, was of a broadening conspiracy. Anywhere else, it would have been a paranoid suggestion but here she was caught under the net of a man for whom manipulation was an art not an act.

"Thanks Misty." Amelia turned her steps toward exam four. The unfortunate fact was that no matter how sultry her demeanor or coquettish her wardrobe, she'd never observed this much success trapping the desires of potential suitors.   Either the entire clinic staff of PPTH were statistical outliers or there was a much simpler explanation.

Masters trailing after, mumbling about the tests she'd thus far completed in the lab, drew to an abrupt halt at the exam room door where Amelia knocked then entered without pause. Chase seemed little affected by the unexpected intrusion and waited for Amelia to elaborate on the dramatic interruption.

"Dr. Shepherd, Masters, to what do I owe …" Amelia interrupted, uninterested in niceties.

"Did you change?" She assessed him up and down, cheeks sucked in as though she might whistle rather than rant out loud. Attractive man that he was, Amelia was far more tragically aware that under his lab coat he wore a fresh shirt and tie.

"Apparently so did you." Chase indicated her wrinkled scrubs.

"Yes in the locker room before spending all night treating every puking, dehydrated freshman with the flu." Amelia explained. "I took an hour long nap in an on call room and then drank coffee out of a vending machine so that I could come back here and suture some kid who says his clearly self-inflicted knife wound," Amelia sketched the letter Z across her chest with her index finger. "Is the result of a fishing hook gone awry. How about you? Hmm?" Her tone suggested the question was rhetorical. Chase humored her with a smile and nonetheless answered when she asked, "Where did you change?"

"At home, after I slept and showered, of course. And then I had breakfast." He had rarely seen his charms land inaccurately. "Toast and eggs. Oh! And a latte." The tightening of the pale skin around Shepherd's lips discouraged any further levity on the subject. Sobering, he glanced at Masters, standing in silent judgment. "What's up?"

"Med. Student." Amelia stated ominously. Chase nodded in unnecessary confirmation.

"Can I just say that I've been a member of this team on several cases now and I don't believe my current academic status is germane to my continued proof of performance as …" Amelia held up a finger halting any further word. Masters' mouth snapped shut, scandalized at Shepherd's nerve.

"Kindly go finish the sutures in exam one." Amelia wrestled her ire into a polite Stepford smile. Masters balked, gazing at Amelia askance. On what authority did this woman expect to harass command? "Am I correct in assuming someone taught you how to do sutures at some point in your …" Amelia paused mouth working, then forced, "education here?" Masters tried to manufacture a bit of her own bluster.

"Yes but …" She was swiftly deterred before the indignant rant she was mentally composing could manage any traction.

"Great!" Amelia held her hand out, patience waning. Masters glanced at Chase only receiving a noncommittal shrug in response. She handed over her lab results and retreated to do as instructed.

"Kids." Chase chuckled, returning to the ear exam he'd been conducting prior to Amelia's entrance.

Brow arched as though any temptation to deflect the following question would be met with dire consequence, Amelia drew Chase's attention again, asking, "Now, where might I find Dr. House at this time of day should he fail to be in his office?" Chase checked his watch. It was only eight.

"A bit early for House …" Nothing in Amelia's expression suggested she'd appreciate the conclusion of that sentence. Chase cleared his throat biting off the comment to answer, "If not Dr. Wilson's office or Dr. Cuddy's, I'd say the cafeteria." Chase relayed helpfully. Turning, Amelia departed without another word.

"She's a bit scary, isn't she?" Chase looked into his patient's face painted in disturbed wonder and nodded once as he resumed the exam. Amelia Shepherd was demonstrating herself to be quite capable of running House's gauntlet. In fact, she seemed to be outperforming the procession of those who'd clumsily traversed it before her. Chase noted this fact as he recalled his own first meeting with House in a startlingly honest self-assessment. For Amelia, the clinic was a test, not a punishment. House didn't set traps with unexpected twists. All questions were rhetorical, including how Dr. Shepherd would respond to a night in the clinic set to the soundtrack of the unsolicited advances of over half the hospital staff. Clearly this meant House's expectations were either abysmal or, Chase started in shock, House had stumbled upon an addition to the team he both liked and respected.

"Yes she is."

"Uncle Jim! And Dr. House how lovely to find you eating breakfast! I wish I could say my time here had thus far been characterized by such carefree enjoyment. What are those fries? Now that's not a very healthy breakfast Greg." Amelia chided in mock consternation. She pursed her lips and revealed in a conspiratorial lilt, "I have had such a warm welcome in the clinic." She added, with a wink for House's benefit. "PPTH has definitely cornered the market on naughty nurses. I certainly hope they've been compensated accordingly."

"You should direct your questions about the budget to Dr. Cuddy." House grinned and Wilson looked dismayed. These were not positive indicators for Amelia's early impressions of PPTH if she was already so deeply in the midst of waging a pissing contest.

"How are you finding, uh, everything?" The vague inquiry wasn't exactly the most effective attempt to dissolve the tension. Undeterred by this fact, Wilson gazed expectantly at his niece hoping to circumvent what House would interpret as a challenge and Amelia would respond to as she might any threat, undaunted.

"Unfortunately my concentration seems preordained to drift again and again to a lab full of specimens sitting woefully ignored." Amelia pulled a seat up to their table, eyeing the contents of their breakfasts before turning a plastic grin on House.

"Aren't you supposed to be handing out aspirins in the clinic?" House delicately nibbled on a fry with practiced disinterest in Amelia's posture.

"I delegated." Amelia placed the chart she'd retrieved from Masters on the table. "Your med student ruled out Encephalitis. Oh and I went through your rolodex. I needed a phone number." Amelia placed her cell phone on top of the chart. "Go ahead. You're on speaker."

"Uh, House?" Foreman's voice rose tinny in the middle of the table. House regarded Amelia with grudging respect while Wilson chuckled.

"Sorry. No one here by that name." House feigned a listless gaze and continued to slowly feed french fries one by one to his mouth.

"See ya House." Wilson rose from the table, deciding it better not to become collateral damage. Amelia was plenty well-suited to this battle of wills or game of wits she had engaged with House. She certainly didn't need her uncle running interference. "Amelia." Amelia nodded, watching him depart before Foreman's voice recaptured her attention.

"Right." Foreman continued undeterred. "Taub and I finally managed to get in to see McHenry. No sign of lesion or tumor in the frontal lobe." Foreman added a bit miffed, "By the way, we've had a couple of bureaucratic scuffles with local docs. Cuddy put a call in and secured privileges but getting these tests done would be a whole lot less difficult if we weren't treading around so many tempers." Amelia sighed, having anticipated there might be some form of reprisal when Cooper learned McHenry was being held in St. Ambrose's psychiatric unit. "Shepherd, do you know a Doctor Freedman by any chance?"

"Yeah, Cooper. Look, he's not hospital administration. He has no authority over this case. He's a pediatrician, a glorified kindergarten teacher for goodness sake. " Amelia noticed the sudden interest from House at the veiled recrimination and continued. "Just keep working. I'll make a call, try and keep him out of your way."

"Alright." Foreman, added. "We're on our way to McHenry's apartment now to check for evidence of possible contaminants."

"One of you stay behind. I need a full neurological exam. Masters ruled out Encephalitis and I'm thinking maybe Epilepsy. The bouts of disorientation in his history could be Petit Mal." Amelia listened to the muffled sound of Taub arguing in the background. The connection went unnaturally silent as they were temporarily placed on mute. Foreman's voice returned a moment later.

"Taub will stay and do the neuro exam. I'll go and check out the apartment. Anything else?"

"Genetics test." House offered, a thoughtful expression crossing his face.

"The giant speaks." Amelia muttered. Annoyance transformed into puzzlement, and finally into comprehension, "You're thinking Alzheimer's type ten."

"Memory loss, his return to the hospital is a symptom." House pointed out, his excitement for the diagnosis apparent in his tone.

"Caused by a genetic defect of chromosome ten," Foreman interjected, "it works."

"Yeah, it works for the dementia, aggression, intermittent clarity, but what about the pain?" Amelia asked, acknowledging the one piece that didn't fit.

"It could be unrelated. Simple headache?" Foreman offered. "It doesn't hurt to run the test Dr. Shepherd." Amelia heaved a sigh, not entirely convinced.

"Fine. Text me if you get anything."

"Sure thing." Foreman replied and disconnected the call. Amelia fiddled with her phone before dropping it into the side pocket of the lab coat she wore.

"I have tests of my own to run." Amelia glared at House who smiled placidly.

"Do you?"

"Yes." Amelia insisted, "I do."

"I was relatively certain you had clinic duty." House replied easily. Another shakedown, Amelia resolved not to be driven from her purpose.

"Something you want, Dr. House? Something I can do for you?"

"This Dr. Cooper, the - pediatrician," House emphasized with finger quotes then gestured to Amelia's pocket. "Call him."

"Why?" House tilted his head at the inquiry and shrugged as though Amelia should have gathered by now that House wasn't in the practice of illuminating his whims.

"Because he misses the sound of your voice and you have free nights and weekends." Amelia closed her eyes and offered the confession.

"He's Dr. King's fiancé. I'm the last person he's going to want to hear from at the moment." Sighing she redirected her gaze, showing the beginning of strain in her voice. "I'll call one of the senior partners at the practice to reel him in."

"Don't be silly." House minced, hand to chin as though this were his first time considering information he'd undoubtedly been privy to for some time. "You're colleagues, there's never a reason to equivocate among friends. Go on. Call him." Every machination seemed so very scientific, as though to gauge and record the data coded within each reaction. Amelia refused to just give in and mindlessly participate in House's manipulations, no matter how artful. That is, not without ensuring her own motives.

House indicated the pocket of her coat again while Amelia gazed back, unfazed. "Certainly he'll want to hear that your flight arrived safely. Call." House leaned forward, raising the stakes, "Or go back to the clinic." Amelia reached into her pocket, retrieved the phone and scrolled through the phone book for Cooper's entry but paused. She pointed the phone in her hand offering a resolution.

"I call. I don't go back to the clinic." House nodded, acquiescing to the condition. Swallowing sudden anxiety, Amelia pressed send. She raised the phone to her ear, waiting.

"Put it on speaker." Amelia nodded, half-expecting the instruction. She engaged the speaker function and placed the phone down on the table. They sat together in the relative silence of the cafeteria listening to it ring.


"Cooper, listen." Amelia cringed, as her attempt to placate was immediately over-ridden by shouting.

"God damn it Amelia! What the hell are you doing playing witness against the prosecution in New Jersey?" Catching the startled glances of the cafeteria's other lunch patrons out of the corner of her eye, Amelia reached out to pick up the phone intending to turn down the volume. House stayed her hand, indicating she should listen. "You do realize you're setting this psycho up for an affirmative defense?"

"Cooper, he's a sick man." Reason sounded every bit as forced and unnatural in her tone as the calm she struggled to maintain, confronted by Cooper's obvious anger. "If the DA isn't going to prosecute and put him in jail what other option is there? We have to make sure he doesn't hurt someone else."

"You'll find any excuse won't you. Supplant every reasonable process in favor of the improbable, farfetched, and perilous just so you can prop up that minefield you've mistakenly called a career."

"Jesus Cooper, this isn't about me." Amelia found herself shouting and blushed as again she received surprised and curious looks from the surrounding occupants of the cafeteria.

"No shit Amelia!" Cooper's retort rose in pitch, tirade intensifying as Amelia, jaw-tightening, listened. "Just admit you saw an opportunity here and you took it without thinking about how it would affect Charlotte."

"You know that's not true." Amelia refuted, only to be overruled.

"What the hell is wrong with you? I mean for fuck sake, you're supposed to be her friend."

"I am her friend." Amelia argued, lowering her voice she repeated. "I am. I'm doing this for her Cooper. If the DA won't put that creep away, she at least deserves to know that she's safe from him."

"And you think you can do that by making the statement that he raped and beat a woman savagely not because he's a violent criminal but because he was sick and needed a cure that could only be discovered through your brilliant powers of deduction!" The sound distorted into static. Cooper's voice was louder with each accusation.

"Technically, diagnostics is an inductive process." Probably not the time to split hairs, Amelia absently considered even as the words tumbled from her mouth. Across the table House made a noise suspiciously reminiscent of a giggle, simultaneously entertained and impressed.

"Fuck you Amelia. You fucking selfish bitch!" Amelia may not have put much faith in his character assessment, but could not deny the impact of his anger.

"Cooper, please …" Amelia struggled against the urge to fire her own accusations in return. She closed her eyes, wishing for the means to fix the consequence she'd benignly overlooked when she'd focused singularly on the goal of McHenry's diagnosis.

"Stay there." Cooper's voice dropped, lowering into a surprisingly low register as he seemed to suddenly collect himself or perhaps remind himself of proper phone etiquette. "Don't board a plane. Just cash in your return flight and restart your miserable life out there. Cause I swear Amelia, if you do come back …" Cooper hung up. The dial tone stretched out in a tunnel of sound, a hollow echo underneath the heated rush that filled Amelia's ears. She watched numbly as House reached out and ended the call with the press of a finger. She looked at him jaw set, wiping roughly at stray tears as they escaped the corners of her eyes. House nodded, getting to his feet, and made his way to the cafeteria exit in his awkward step.

"Go ahead. Do your tests."



"Is House letting you run differentials? If he is, does that mean you're part of the team now?" Martha Masters waited for an answer. When there was none forthcoming, she continued, asking, "What are we even looking for right now? Taub and Foreman can do more conclusive tests with direct access to the patient." As the silence persisted in the lab, Masters blew out a breath then asked, "Why are you even doing this? I mean, this guy raped one of your colleagues. Don't you want to see him pay for his crime?"

"Please. Be quiet and concentrate on what you're doing." Amelia murmured without looking up from prepping a slide.

"Fine." Masters wrinkled her nose at the overpowering smell of the urine samples she was carefully unpacking for analysis. Distracted by a vibration in the pocket of her lab coat, she pulled out her phone. "Oh! Text message from Taub." Amelia glanced up, and Masters marveled that this was all it took to warrant a bit of interest from Dr. Amelia Shepherd.

"And?" Amelia prompted, impatient.

"It says - tell Mini Me negative on the Alzheimer's test. Waiting for neuro results." Masters grinned. "Get it, Mini Me, because you and House are so …"

"I get it." Amelia interrupted, rolling her eyes and returned her full attention to her work.

"Grumpy." Masters muttered and then brightened, realizing Shepherd might appreciate a bit of insider's gossip. "If you are coming on as a member of the team, you should know that Dr. Chase is a whore."

"Excuse me?" Amelia looked up, nearly distraught with disinterest. She really did not want to hear what made the rounds behind closed doors at Princeton-Plainsboro.

"I … well, I mean. He sleeps with anyone." Masters looked uncertain, then emphatically added, "He slept with three women at a wedding reception once."

"Oh my god." Amelia whispered realizing that no amount of wishing would wake her up.

"And Dr. Taub cheats on his wife. But she had an online affair with this guy so now he wants a divorce."

"Please." Amelia cringed at the sound of her own begging. "Please. Be quiet."

"Fine. Geez." Masters turned back to the samples, visibly miffed. Amelia couldn't imagine it was more than five minutes of diligent work before she heard. "Uh, Dr. Shepherd?"

"Not here. She coded five minutes ago." Amelia's flat utterance was met with uneasy silence. "Alright, by all means share."

"The litmus test on the urine, it's off. The pH is significantly basic." Masters held up the small rectangular, piece of paper, the light blue coloring serving as evidence.

"Basic …" Amelia looked off in the distance, trying to remember. Masters watched the other woman's lips move in silent calculation, ears straining to hear that she might also piece together whatever was presently puzzling Shepherd. "That's it!" Amelia whipped out her phone in excitement at a sudden realization. Redialing one of her most recent calls, she only had to wait a moment. "Dr. Foreman? You're at McHenry's apartment, yes?" Amelia, noting Masters' disappointment at not being able to hear both sides of the conversation, placed the call on speaker. "Have you checked the bathroom yet, the trash and medicine cabinets?"

"No, not yet. Have something in mind?" Foreman asked. The rustling sound of him walking was transported over the line.

"Yes. Look for aspirin, an empty bottle."

"Okay …" Amelia and Masters listened, breathing shallow, awaiting the results of Foreman's search be it fruitful or in vain. "Got it." The result was quick; and, Amelia could not hold back a shout of triumph.

"It's Alkalosis." Amelia posited with conviction.

"But we don't have any evidence pointing to diabetes or lung disease, and his ALT already confirmed his liver function is fine." Masters pointed out.

"Salicylate poisoning from an aspirin overdose can also cause Alkalosis." Amelia explained. "And it covers all of our symptoms, including the aggression."

"Yes it fits." Foreman warranted, "But we need confirmation."

"I'll call the ER. If he attempted suicide, he would have been brought in to St. Ambrose."

"Wouldn't that be on one of the patient histories you brought with you?" Masters asked and Amelia shook her head, confidence unshaken.

"Not if he was admitted unconscious as a John Doe. Just like he was …" Amelia glanced at the time on her phone trying to count back. How long had she been awake? "Thirty-six hours ago."

"And if he left AMA before being detoxed … it would explain the poisoning." Foreman readily added. "He'll need a day or two in a hyperbaric chamber and that's it. I'll head back to the hospital. Send me a text if you get anything from records." Amelia hung up and was scrolling through her list of numbers for St. Ambrose when she stopped, fixing Masters intently.

"What?" Masters caught up in the excitement and shock of the sudden diagnostic triumph, gazed back a bit flummoxed at Amelia's sudden change in demeanor. "Is something wrong with your theory?"

"You know McHenry," When Amelia spoke, it wasn't with the same fervor she lent a theory of the patient's diagnosis. It was a bit haunted. "He was unemployed with a wife and a kid." To Masters, Amelia seemed disturbed to be relaying such personal information and yet committed to the necessity of her awareness of it. "He's a vet, who served his country and came home to empty promises that he'd be able to make a life for his family. When he couldn't, he swallowed a bottle of pills." It was a story now, not just a patient history. Masters listened, following the cadence of the exposition with undisguised interest. "When he didn't die because his wife or someone else who cared about him called 911, he walked out of a hospital without treatment - probably because he couldn't afford to pay for it." Amelia's voice was hoarse, soft in the empty lab above the ever-present electronic hum of the accumulated scientific apparatus.

"His decision to brutalize another human being," Amelia paused here, stricken by the past, what she'd seen that night in Charlotte's injuries. McHenry was also a character at the center of the story told by Charlotte's battered body and broken bones. That story was horrific. This one was less about human cruelty than it was about sorrow. "Was made by a man suffering suicidal bouts of depression, PTSD and alkalosis and in the absence of judgment he possibly would have had were he healthy." Amelia continued, shaking herself free of the hold of the past. She trained her voice in an appeal not to Masters but to reason.

"Lack of judgment isn't an excuse. Lee McHenry isn't innocent. He committed an abhorrent act of violence and he should have been brought to justice. But he wasn't and because of that miscarriage, we've had the opportunity to learn that he is sick." It wasn't that Amelia hadn't thought about Masters' question, about her own loyalties and obligations. How does a doctor deliberately choose the care of a patient over the debts one owes in friendship? "What you'll learn, should you ever manage to scrape your way beyond the level of med student, is that doctors heal the sick." Amelia paused, for this point was particularly important. "If you want to pass judgment," She assessed the comprehension in Masters' eyes. When she did not find it lacking, continued, "You should quit." Amelia looked away, no longer interested in holding Masters in thrall of her recitation. "Right now." She pressed the send button on her phone and while she waited for someone at St. Ambrose ER to pick up, she added, "Try law school instead."

"I never got that tour." Dr. Lisa Cuddy smiled, watching Dr. Amelia Shepherd stride across the hospital lobby. Relinquishing the papers in her hands to lay unattended on the reception desk, Cuddy stepped out to meet Amelia's approach.

"It's a shame, what with it being such an incredible facility. What did you call it?" Cuddy replied noting that Amelia's casual stance leaning against the tall partition was well within the circle of familiar.

"Stunning." Amelia answered, her smile infectious. She had drawn close enough to make a formality like shaking hands uncomfortable. The limited distance between them was more suited to an intimate gesture like a hug, or the caress of a soft cheek while displacing that one errant lock of hair.

"Ah Cuddy, I see you've detained Mini Me before she makes her escape west." Cuddy jerked her hand back, the flickering heat of her fantasy doused by House's excessively jovial greeting.

"House." Cuddy acknowledged as he strutted up appearing as if from nowhere.

"House." Amelia's greeting was a toneless echo.

"I take it the interview went well?" Cuddy's gaze bounced off the unspoken tension between the two doctors. Choosing not to interfere, she offered Amelia a final smile. "It was a pleasure meeting you Dr. Shepherd. Perhaps your next visit won't be quite so abbreviated." She glanced pointedly at House, before giving Amelia's shoulder a warm squeeze. It wasn't quite the farewell gesture one expected exchanged between a potential employer and the interviewing candidate. It was surprisingly intimate. Cuddy retrieved her stack of papers from on top of the reception desk and headed towards her office. She called pleasantly over her shoulder, "Have a safe trip, doctor."

"You putting the moves on my old lady?" House arched an eyebrow.

"Didn't we already discuss my lack of concern for competition?" Amelia responded, starting for the entrance, she offered simply in lieu of a goodbye, "I have a flight to catch and my uncle's waiting."

"When you performed that stent on your coma patient, your paper delineated the risks as significant for multiple fatalities when considering the fetuses involved." House raised his voice to be heard. Amelia paused, mid-step.

"Yeah, so?" Her voice was soft, and House moved forward, again closing the distance between them.

"So." He deliberately spelled out as though speaking to someone with less than half Shepherd's mental acuity. "There was a significant chance that you would have failed." Amelia's expression was terse as House enunciated slowly. Seeing she wasn't impressed, he gave up the ruse, adding, "Statistically, that chance was far more significant than your subsequent success. Is this difficult, or are you now following?"

"The woman was in a coma. She had a husband and three kids at home." Amelia moved to continue her progress but stopped short as House slipped around to block her path. Using House's own ploy, Amelia relayed with deliberate lack of speed. "Any chance that she could return to her life with her family made the surgery worthwhile." Before House could comment on this presumption, she held up her hand to deter him. "I already know what you want to say to me." House surprisingly appeared interested.

"Oh? I usually do the mind reading bit but feel free to take a crack at it."

"You want to argue bystander behavior, not because you want to convince me that what I've done here was folly but to impress upon me before I return that my colleagues naturally just want to see this guy buried under a conviction of rape." Amelia sought to dissuade any inclination to argue from House, elaborating, "Don't mistake my intent, Dr. House. If life were ideal instead of real, he'd already be in prison. And even if the DA hadn't acted so obviously in McHenry's favor, his maximum sentence wouldn't have exceeded five years without parole." Amelia had little in the way of intention to sway House's opinion of her tireless effort over the course of nearly two days at Princeton-Plainsboro. But she would make him understand her compulsion. "Five years for what he did is almost as disgusting as his actual crime." Amelia swallowed, momentarily closing her eyes. She could see Charlotte, beaten and broken behind her lids. Regaining her balance, she locked on House and with robotic efficiency, reported, "The recidivism rate for violent sex offenders almost guarantees that the next time McHenry saw the light of day, because we were too lazy to be doctors, his next victim might not simply endure being beaten and raped. She might also be killed."

"And if your diagnosis is used to prove he isn't culpable for his crime?" House asked. "Is that chance also worthwhile?" Amelia's response is succinct as again she headed for the door.

"The L.A. county DA has already made McHenry's excuses, culpability aside; and you know perfectly well this diagnosis does not excuse his crime."

"And what if you've reinforced the convictions of those acting in his defense?" House countered, causing her steps to falter long enough for a reply.

"That is the responsibility of defense and those sworn by oath to do so. Nothing I could say or do could sway their purpose in either direction." Amelia shook her head, wishing she could be noncommittal but remaining quite sure. "Mine is the responsibility of healing, by oath; and I'd rather be accountable for him never serving a day of time in prison than be responsible for him destroying another life." Amelia's hand on the door a conduit to the cold outside, frozen as House's voice echoed through the lobby, causing a sudden halt in activity.

"You are the only doctor I've ever interviewed capable of running this unit." Amelia glanced back, caught for a moment at the announcement. His expression earnest, he continued, "I'd like for you to be my Assistant Chief of Diagnostics." Nurses, doctors, patients all seemed mesmerized by the scene, waiting for Amelia's response as though watching the drama play out on television. Amelia's head dropped, resting against the glass. Her shoulders sagged, discouraged by the weight of yet another burden to bear up or let pass and carry ever widening regret. She pushed the front door open, stepped out into the freeze, where the wind snatched greedily at her response.

"I have to get back."

James Wilson shrugged out of his coat, hanging it and his scarf damp with snowflakes on a rack just inside his office door. He was unsurprised to find House seated behind his desk. House carefully balanced a check book between the splayed fingers of his hands. It looked unerringly familiar. Wilson checked the pockets of his coat then rolled his eyes.

"I win." Wilson dropped into one of the guest chairs, extending his hand for the checkbook. "I've already filled it out for you. You only need to endorse it." House handed the small leather billfold over absent the accompaniment of his usual gloating.

"Somehow you don't seem very excited about that." Wilson plucked a fountain pen out of a holder near his blotter and flipped the book open to the check in question. House shrugged, willing to concede to the reality of the situation.

"In all fairness, she performed much as you anticipated." Mystified, House shook his head. "You should have won."

"Well, I didn't account for one thing." Wilson tore out the check, waving it in the space between them. House snatched it easily from his fingers, regarding the loops and flourishes of his colleague's signature.

"What's that?" Genuine interest sparked off his inquiry. Wilson leaned back in his seat, regarding House as though the matter were quite obvious.

"As much as the two of you are alike there's one glaring difference. She's still holding on to her conscience." House seemed unimpressed. His brow drooped darkly as he got to his feet pocketing the check.

"And how long do you figure that will last?"



Amelia couldn't be happier to avoid the crush of bodies at the baggage claim and beat the rush for cabs into the city. She hung off the curb, waving for the attention of the drivers as they sped past, fresh fares ensconced in the backseat. Shifting her messenger bag, bulky with its contents of hastily purchased Pea Coat and the remnants of a bag of travel toiletries she'd purchased at Princeton Plainsboro's illustrious gift shop, she huffed impatience. Hoping the blurred edges dimming her sight would improve after a long shower and sleep, her shoulders sank in relief as a sporty little sedan painted yellow out of tradition virtually screeched to a halt in front of her. Amelia opened the door and collapsed into the back seat. Any luck, there'd be no traffic and she'd be home in fifteen minutes, maybe less.

"Seventh and Arizona, Santa Monica off the promenade." Amelia sunk low in the relatively plush bucket seats as the driver accelerated into the flow of airport traffic. Taking a cue from the uninterrupted monologue on his hands free device, Amelia reached into her bag for her own phone. She turned it on, thinking it prudent to send Addison a message of her safe arrival. As the mobile ran through its choreography of start-up applications, the distinctive tone of multiple messages rang shrilly. Amelia reduced the volume and scrolled through the list of missed calls, mostly Addison. Surely she'd known Amelia was in the air. What could possibly possess her to call and obsessively leave messages knowing Amelia wouldn't receive any of them? She shook her head, tempted to wait until she got home and had the chance to relax before checking the voicemails. If her suspicions were correct, Addison had prepared an extensive lecture on why Amelia should accept the job offer at Princeton-Plainsboro. Amelia just hoped the news about how she'd impulsively rejected it had not as yet reached her brother. She dialed her voicemail, and waited patiently for the first recorded message.

"Jesus Amelia, call me as soon as you get this." Addison's uncharacteristic panic planted an aching chill in her chest. Amelia closed her eyes as the first message ended and the next one, relatively identical in wording commenced. Message after message, all full of eerie foreboding filled her mailbox, until finally.

"Cooper's in jail." It was a ghostly approximation of Charlotte voice. The typically confident intonations sounded fragile. "He killed McHenry. Is this what you wanted, Amelia? Is this how you intended to help?" The message was abrupt, much like the click signaling the hang up at the end. A computerized voice, strangely similar to Charlotte's for its lack of emotion, announced that Amelia had no new messages.

"Uh, change of plans." Amelia rapped on the back of the driver's seat. "I need to go to Pacific Palisades, Hilltree and Latimer."

"Your dime lady." The driver replied easily, changing lanes to adjust their course accounting for the new destination.

"Hurry, please." Amelia placed a hand over her chest, feeling the frantic beating of her heart through the fabric of her tee shirt. She was finding it incredibly hard to breathe and recognized the early signs of a panic attack. She leaned forward putting her head between her knees.

"Hey, you okay back there?" The driver's voice drifted back over the seats. She couldn't see him, but could easily hear the concern.

"No." Amelia coughed, sputtering. "Please, just drive."

The cabbie asked if he should wait. He'd looked in her eyes rather than at the cash she handed over as she exited the cab stiffly silent. She'd thought about it, pinned by the care in his gaze. She'd thought she could just get back in, tell him to take her home after all and she could pretend she'd never heard Charlotte's voice on that message. Instead, she'd shaken her head. Shutting the car door was all the convincing he needed, and he was a dim yellow spot down the road by the time Amelia turned to make her way up the front walk. She stood on the stoop five minutes, wrestling with what to say before she knocked.

"Amelia?" Naomi's voice pitched low as she stepped out onto the stoop pulling the door mostly closed behind her. There was as much worry as disbelief as she whispered carefully. "You cannot be here. Do you understand?"

"I have to see her Nay. I have to explain." Amelia pleaded. Naomi held up a hand, shushing. Amelia was unsure if it was meant as comfort or as concern that her voice would carry past the tiny crack that opened into the foyer of the apartment.

"Now is definitely not the time for that. Just go home, okay?" Naomi reached out to calmly direct Amelia from inaction with a touch to her shoulder but was startled by the door knob being yanked from her hand. Charlotte stood, vibrated more like, framed by the doorway. Naomi spun, already placating, hands up as though to ward off any further advance. "Charlotte, why don't …"

"Charlotte, please, I need to explain." Amelia stepped up from behind Naomi. She tracked the ruddy rimmed evidence of tears, and reached out in wordless comfort or apology. The hand that knocked hers away was quick, even quicker to enact a slap that left a dull ringing in her ears. There was no recoil in shock or even in pain, as Amelia watched time dilate around her. Charlotte's mouth moved and Amelia was buffeted by a muted awareness. She watched rather than heard the shouting. She observed Charlotte's rabid struggle in Naomi's careful embrace, micro-bubbles of air and saliva bouncing from the pink corners of her lips stretching painfully wide. Amelia marveled how the depth of Naomi's brown eyes could convey command as she awkwardly shuffled Charlotte backwards into the apartment.

Time only seemed to resume its natural course and speed when the door slammed and Amelia once again stood alone on the step. "This is your fault. How could you? How could you do this? You go to hell. You hear me! You go to hell!" Amelia closed her eyes, hands clutched over her ears. Now, surrounded only by silence, Charlotte's words were unambiguous. Sobbing, she tried to shake them from her memory.

Amelia paid the cab driver, wished him a good night, and walked slowly up to the house.  She inhaled deeply, closing her eyes for a moment to listen to night sounds of the sea.  It was invigorating and calming all at once.  Inside, door locked behind her, she discarded her keys, shoes, bag right by the front door.  Her steps were quiet as she paced the length of the first floor to the glass doors that stood open over the deck.  She watched  mesmerized, eyes locked not on waves crashing in the distance but on several strands of copper fluttering in a soft breeze.  Her gaze traced freckled shoulders and the movement of a long arm extended, hand capturing a delicate glass painted ruby in the soft glow of the deck lamps.  Mouth dry, she swallowed, de ja vu.  "Hey."

Addison didn't respond to the intrusion. Though, she appraised Amelia's haggard appearance, foregoing a formal greeting. Reclining on a chaise under the descending dark of night, she sipped idly from a glass of wine. "Sheldon has a meeting in the morning with Cooper's lawyer and the DA. They're trying to broker a plea bargain to get him released on … on a temporary insanity plea." Amelia stood, shifting on her feet. She was so tired but too restless to relax a moment, even to sit.

"This is surreal. I just don't understand what happened."

"After your two doctors from Princeton-Plainsboro left, Cooper slipped into McHenry's room at the hospital and pushed a lethal dose of Morphine." Addison's recitation, blank as the look cast in Amelia's direction preceeded another placid sip from her wine glass. Amelia shivered, unsettled by her sudden inability to read the older woman.

"You couldn't just leave well enough alone could you Amelia?" Amelia spun, jumping as Sam appeared behind her. Dressed casually in tee shirt and sweats, he must have been upstairs when she'd arrived.

"Sam." She greeted swallowing. Arms folded, his gaze was open disdain. "What?" She glanced from Sam's visible contempt to Addison's inscrutable expression in astonishment. "Please tell me you're kidding. How exactly do you arrive at the conclusion that Amelia's at fault after Cooper commits murder?"

"You give McHenry an airtight defense to whatever horrendous act he has yet to reveal in his repertoire and you expect Cooper to just sit back and wait for the next phone call bearing bad news? He was trying to protect Charlotte. That's what you do for family." Sam threw up his hands, squaring off between Amelia and Addison. "Somehow I'm not surprised you don't know that." Amelia gazed between them, finding Addison's reticence an unpalatable nuance of the encounter. Hackles rising at Sam's antagonistic posture, she felt the stress of the last two days seeping from her in a sudden outpouring of rage.

"I did what was expected of a doctor and albeit Cooper may have done what was expected of a man, that does not make his decision right by any defunct interpretation of the word!" She directed the dissonant chords of her contempt broadly so they encompassed both Sam and Addison. "Cooper's decision was catastrophic, mine was rational." Her closed fist met her chest with an audible thump of emphasis. "We have an obligation to heal, to protect the patient. I did that while simultaneously protecting Charlotte, protecting every woman out there McHenry may have victimized. Every woman who chose not to come forward and report the crime, I made the decision to protect." Amelia gestured, pointing wildly to the world beyond Addison's enclave buffered by the sound of waves crashing on the darkened beach. "Those countless women out there McHenry may have yet brutalized, I stepped up for all of them. But who cares right?" Amelia shrugged, in forced indifference. "Why protect so many women by healing when killing is so much easier, so immediate and effective?" She could not comprehend how anyone could govern murder inconsequential. These people she'd worked with, people who had sworn themselves as she had to this calling. How could they be so content with Cooper's vigilante meting of verdict and execution?

"If McHenry had been admitted and his chart funneled to my service, I would do what was required of any doctor and save his miserable life. I would not, however, waste undue effort trying to rationalize his deviant behavior." Sam paused, making his point. "And if Charlotte asked, I'd stand back and let him code on my table."

"And that's murder, Sam." Pleading, Amelia stepped forward, gripped the elbows of his tightly crossed arms. She so needed him to understand. "There is no redemption or honor in a death that you or Charlotte or Cooper call down on McHenry's head." Sam shrugged, stepping away and Amelia hiccupped against a sob, searching for some response from Addison, who merely blinked. A breeze carrying salt from the sea, stung Amelia's cheeks and she pressed the fingers of both hands against her lips as though she could contain her own shock and disappointment. Breathing calm, she tried again to reach these people she so admired and yet who now seemed utterly unfamiliar. "If Cooper's lucky, he'll spend the rest of his life in prison paying his debt. But if a jury finds him guilty and sentences him to death what then?" Disdain rising in contradiction to Sam's outwardly pervasive condescension, she drew herself up, refusing to acknowledge the tears that threatened. "Charlotte is abandoned. What kind of family man values his own desire for vengeance over those who love and depend upon him?" Her chin jutted in Sam's direction. "Is that what you'll do for Addison some day? Love her just enough to abandon her?" Addison stirred as though waking to the middle of the argument, drawn in by the sorrowful crack as Amelia's voice went hoarse. "I know plenty about that kind of decision-making when it comes to family, more than I care to know."

"What if some well-meaning doctor charged with her own morally bankrupt mission, argued that it was a tumor that caused the man who killed your father to pull the trigger?" Sam asked, his voice the quiet aftermath of Amelia's frenzied speech. "What would you do then?" Stung, Amelia let the implication ripple through her.

"Sam!" It was Addison's only contribution, a somewhat apathetic warning that enough was enough. Amelia had never experienced a moment of disappointment in Addison in word or deed, until now, this virtual inaction. Even when she'd discovered Addison's infidelity and promised not to say a word, the woman hadn't diminished an iota in Amelia's eyes. How many times and how many ways had she asked over the years, 'even though we're not technically related anymore, you're still my sister right Addie?' Always, had been the automatic answer from Addison, without hesitation, always. And Addison had never faltered, until this moment when disavowed of starry-eyed worship, Amelia regarded the deflated remains of a hero.

"I … I have to get out of here."

"Amelia, please don't do anything …" Amelia could not temper the revulsion she felt, and gave it free reign in her words.

"What Addison? Don't do what?" Amelia no more wanted to believe that her solitary idol could fall so far in her estimation so very swiftly, as though the elevation had been a farce or never truly existed. She considered it retaliation in vicious excess to the crime of such simple knowledge, this guileless destruction of a long-held paradigm. "Do you believe I did the right thing?" It was a challenge. It was a prayer that all this was a mistake and Addison could reclaim her crucial place in Amelia's towering estimation.

"There is no right thing." Addison unwilling to meet Amelia's gaze, failed miserably. Amelia laughed. It was an asymmetric blasphemy of actual delight or amusement. She cleared her throat, nodded, resolved.

"That's a conveniently evasive assertion." She looked at her hands, feeling love that had burned steadily, at last begin to wane. "I know it's impossible as doctors not to be self-righteous. We truly believe we manipulate destinies, wield the power of life and death, charge fate and laugh when it missteps. But we aren't divinities, in spite of our collective god complex. We are as craven and profane as every other human being, and for every instance we proclaim otherwise, we are worse." She spat her farewell with little concern for its suspiciously innocuous meaning, "Have a pleasant night. You two sleep good."



Amelia opened the door to her apartment, squinting from under the curtain of her hair. She acknowledged the silhouette cast in the bright light of the corridor with a nod.

"What are you doing here?" The croaking residue of sleep weighted the words deep in her throat.

"Couldn't sleep." Amelia left the door open as implied invitation and retreated back to her bedroom. She was a motionless lump under a mess of sheets by the time Lexie bolted the door and traced her steps through the apartment shaded in darkness. She kicked off her shoes and crawled onto the bed, just a mattress really in the middle of the floor. After a moment, the amorphous shape next to her reconstituted itself into a head on her chest. Lexie wound her arms tight, pulling Amelia close.

"I'm tired, Hal."

"I know." Lexie stroked the soft curling ends of tresses that tumbled black as miner's coal. Patiently, she waited for the heart beating in such close proximity to her own to yield the subtle signs that Amelia had finally succumbed to the rest that continually eluded her. "Know what I love about you?"

"Heh, you love me." Amelia's taunt was half-hearted. Underneath the playful deriding, lay muffled wonder. Lexie contemplated the dark head tucked snugly under her chin.

"Yeah Jinx, we're practically family, right?" Amelia was quiet; and patient, Lexie waited.

"Well, what do you love about me?" Amelia asked softly. There was an unchecked innocence in the inquiry.

"I love that you smile even when you cry. You laugh even when your hurt is sitting right there on the surface." The low rumble of Amelia's chuckle ignited Lexie's fingers. They shivered against a damp cheek and soaked in tell-tale tracks of the wet rolling past.

"I thought … I thought I was doing the right thing." Lexie learned the desperate notes of heartbreak in Amelia's voice.

"There is no right, sweetie. There's what you did."

"Funny. That's what Addison said." Amelia sniffed, making clear her opinion of Addison's contribution. Lexie placed her lips firmly against Amelia's forehead. She whispered, soothed and promised.

"For all the victims and their villains, and the doctors who ache for their patients, what you did is make them better. And maybe there will be one less next time because of what you did, how you've made us all want things to be better, to be different."


"Meredith … Mer, wake up." Lexie reached out, nudging gently. Meredith continued to snore lightly, heaving a stout breath in Lexie's face. Lexie turned slightly away, coughing lightly as she considered the plausibility of sleeping with a tic tac. "Mer!" Meredith jerked awake at the firmer nudge. She blinked in surprise, then glared at the figure crouched in shadow next to her bed.

"Lexie?" She hissed. Meredith glanced over her shoulder to confirm Derek hadn't been roused. "The hell?"

"Shh. You'll wake Derek." Lexie hadn't quite tackled subtle. Meredith responded with an expression that clearly read I'm pissed. She winced as Lexie continued in her stage whisper. "I need for you to drive me to the airport."

"Why? Where are you going?" Meredith sat up on one elbow, back combing stray hair out of her face.



"Shhh!" Lexie shushed loudly. Meredith rolled her eyes, slipping out of bed carefully so as not to wake her husband. She pulled Lexie out into the hallway. Once the door was closed on their conversation she turned her full attention on her sister.

"Is it Amelia? Is she okay?"

"Have you seen the news?" Lexie seemed astonished by the question.

"No, Lexie. But I have seen the backs of my eyelids." Meredith made a motion to hurry up and produce whatever information Lexie was harboring. "I've got rounds in like four hours. How about cut to the chase."

"One of the doctors at Amelia's practice killed a patient … as in murdered."

"A terminal patient?" Meredith asked. She yawned, not particularly curious about the answer.

"No, there was nothing benevolent about this act." Lexie shook her head clearly disturbed.

"I still don't understand. What does that have to do with Amelia?" Granted, Meredith thought, it was rather sinister knowing one of your co-workers had pulled the plug on a patient.

"It was Amelia's patient." Meredith's lips rounded in uneasy recognition. Lexie nodded equally perturbed.

"Amelia didn't …"

"No! No, of course not!" Lexie was adamant. She was a bit surprised that Meredith would humor as possibility the culpability of Derek's sister. Even if she didn't know the woman as well as Lexie did, Meredith had seen how dedicated Amelia was to the practice of medicine. She would never take a life nor in any way serve as a party to murder.

"Shit." Meredith murmured, hit by the absolute lunacy of having one's own patient killed by a colleague.

"I know right." Lexie shuddered emphatically. "This guy jumped the shark."

"Well why the hell would he arbitrarily choose to kill one of Amelia's patients?" Lexie shook her head unprepared to relate the circumstances in their tragic entirety.

"It's a long story Meredith and I have a plane to catch."

"Well, wait. I'll wake up Derek. He'll want to go." Meredith reached for the door knob and Lexie immediately returned to her strident whispering.

"Shhh. No!" Lexie grabbed for the knob, holding the door closed against Meredith's progress. "Amelia wouldn't want that." Meredith gave Lexie yet another look that plainly said, you are making me very angry.

"What if she needs …"

"Family?" Lexie guessed correctly and shrugged as though the answer were obvious. "Why do you think I'm going?"

"Alright." Meredith conceded, and stared meaningful instruction at Lexie's hand clutching the door knob. "Give me five minutes." Lexie stepped back and Meredith halted the copious gratitude waiting to spill from her sister's lips with little more than a look in warning. She didn't understand what it was with this family and spontaneous air travel.



"Jinx, you've been in there an hour. Trust me, it's clean." Lexie called toward the bathroom as she pulled open the front door of the apartment. Amelia had a propensity for taking far longer at her daily ablutions than could strictly be relegated to a shower and shave. She hoped whoever had knocked so early in the morning was prepared not to encounter a squeaky clean Amelia for at least another thirty minutes. Lexie marveled at the open doorway, wondereing if her own expression mirrored the surprise that tagged the face of Dr. Addison Montgomery. "Dr. Montgomery." Lexie greeted and stepped aside. "Good morning."

"Morning." Addison stepped just inside the threshold, hands working nervously. She wasn't exactly sure what she'd expected when she'd finally mustered the courage to knock. She certainly hadn't expected Lexie Grey. "Is Amelia … available?"

"She's in the shower." Lexie closed the door and gestured toward the kitchen. She ignored the sharp intake of breath at so simple a revelation. "Coffee?"

"Thank you, no. I can't stay. I'm on my way to the practice." Addison babbled. "PR nightmare. The press has been salivating at the front door since day break trying to get the first official statement on our very own Doctor Death." Lexie blanched, horrified. Amelia appeared from the bedroom in a skimpy pair of boy shorts, vigorously buffing wet hair. The motion of the thick bath weave obscured much of her face but did little in the way of covering bare chest.

"Hal, I've got a great idea. We rent a car and drive to Vegas. I know this showgirl named Riva … no, actually I think it's Reese and I'm willing to bet she has a coworker or a roommate or something. The two of you can make really close friends … Riley, maybe?"

"Jinx …" Lexie murmured watching Addison's cheeks slacken, puff and slacken with the exertion of sudden fury.

"You're right. Riley is definitely not a stage name. It's Raven …" Amelia's head popped out from under the towel as she gave her long locks a toss to clear her view. She froze in blunt awareness of this unexpected tableau - Lexie awkwardly paused in the kitchen and Addison hyperventilating by the front door. "Addison."

"Are you serious right now Amelia? I mean come on - Little Grey?" Addison shook her head in disbelief.

"Point of fact it's Lexie … uh, Dr. Grey that is. Anyway, what exactly is that supposed to mean, is she serious? Am I somehow ridiculous?" Offended, Lexie awaited clarification.

"Oh for … it's not what you think Addie." Amelia interjected, ignoring Lexie's rising temper.

"With you Amelia, it's always exactly what I think." Addison drew herself up, charged by her spontaneous assumption, she prepared to unleash the full brunt of her judgment. Looking first upon Lexie, she asked, "Does your sister know you're down here?"

"You do realize you are talking to a grown up, right? I didn't require a signed permission slip to come visit." Lexie resumed searching through cabinets for the necessities to make coffee.

"Does her sister know she's down here?" Addison redirected the question to Amelia who seemed fixated on Lexie's movements through the kitchen.

"What are you doing?" Amelia asked distracted.

"I'm trying to make coffee but you don't have anything in here." Lexie gestured pointedly at the wretchedly bare shelves of yet another vacant cupboard. "It's like a model unit, you know, except … empty." She snickered, taking in the vast expanse of bare floor beyond the kitchen. Amelia couldn't help her grin at the accurate jibe.

"Cause in between transcontinental flights and curing a dead man I had an abundance of time to grocery shop and decorate?"

"Is this funny?" Addison stepped forward, her frustration bringing her well into Amelia's personal space.

"No." Amelia allowed, moving away with a shrug to perch on one of the stools around the kitchen island. "Wait …" Amelia paused, pointing at Addie with the towel in her hands. "It might be. Are we talking about the coffee she isn't going to find because actually that gets pretty funny the longer she looks."

"I take it Derek doesn't know about this." Addison gestured between Lexie and Amelia, to which the women regarded each other with matching shrugs.

"Does he?" Amelia asked confusion plain on her features. Lexie shook her head playing along.

"If he does, I didn't tell him." She replied easily, then earnestly inquired "Uh, by the way, what is …" She gestured between Amelia and herself, miming Addison's previous action. "… this?"

"Right." Addison turned headed for the door. "You're on your own. Do not mention my name when he shows up. Cause you know that he will show up and I plan on feigning ignorant."

"Come now, I'm sure you won't have to feign." Lexie muttered giving in to an overwhelming impulse to goad. Amelia snorted then inadequately covered her amusement with a cough. Incensed, Addison spun to regard Amelia.

"I came here so we could talk. Waste your own time working out your stand-up routine with Little Grey." Addison frowned, indicating Amelia's bare chest. "You've already wasted far too much of mine."

"Again with the Little Grey." Bristling, Lexie slipped out of the kitchen headed for the bedroom. "I think I'll find some way to occupy myself while you two chat."

"It may not exactly be funny Addison; but this certainly is a joke, especially if you think this dreadfully late announcement that you've retracted your support is some kind of a threat." Amelia waved her hands and mocked, "You're on your own." Dipping her head to dry the ends of her hair, she asked with little concern for Addison's response, "Will I be on my own like I have been the last three days trying to help a friend that now believes, and I quote, I can burn in hell with McHenry? Or will I be on my own like I was last night when your boyfriend told me my efforts were less honorable than murder? Cause you seemed drastically more interested in your wine than you did in supporting me." Amelia shrugged. "I'm going to hazard a guess that I'm probably much better off on my own."

"You're not a victim, Amelia. You are the arbiter of your own circumstance." Addison remained bewildered at Amelia's unshaken sanctimony. "What did you expect from Charlotte, from any of us, a pat on the back?" Addison gave every appearance of being pained, tormented by her inability to fully endorse Amelia's actions. "You went out and decided that you knew what was best, just like always. Without consideration to the many consequences of your actions, you gave a sociopath a pass. You don't get a gold star for that."

"I'm pretty sure Cooper's not getting a gold star for first degree murder." Amelia snorted indelicate laughter. She'd wasted the last of her energies on anger. Now it was all just absurd. "Tell me, did he stop to ask your opinion before he pushed a lethal dose of morphine into the veins of said sociopath? No?" Amelia pursed her lips. "Therefore, in your grand scheme of the universe is Cooper a victim given McHenry is the one who's dead?"

"Amelia." Addison closed her eyes. It seemed their lives had a penchant toward the perpetually tragic.

"What else is there to say, Addison?" Amelia asked, letting her hands fall to her lap. The cool air in concert with the damp strands of her hair prickled her skin.

"You know, Bits." Addison's eyes seemed stuck to the slim digits lying idly above Amelia's bare knees. She could not meet blue, pert but exhausted, watching her resignedly. "Even if I don't agree."

"I know." Amelia whispered, willing sorrow to dwell as far away as needed to be indiscernible peering from this moment. This moment, a true transition into adulthood, when hero-worship tasted bitter on the lips. She was no longer innocent the crime of knowing Addison's shortcomings or forging scruples against them. This would not be mourned, but celebrated. Bearing mute witness to Addison's departure, Amelia sat as long as the lengthening planes of morning crossed the floor to climb determined steps up to her face, stony for unspent tears.

"I really don't like her." Wandering in from the bedroom, Lexie remarked matter of fact. She tossed a worn tee shirt in Amelia's lap. She was learning, much to her own chagrin, that her sister's sister-in-law had an exhibitionist streak. Amelia slipped the tee shirt over her head, seemingly roused from contemplation as a wicked grin pierced porcelain cheeks.

"You Grey sisters just don't seem to mix well with Addison Montgomery."

Lexie snorted, earning a wet towel in the face, she asked, "Unlike you Shepherds you mean?"

"I see you found my tee shirt." Amelia smoothed her hands provocatively down the front and rubbed circles across the dull lettering, emblazoned Harvard.

"You mean my tee shirt." Lexie watched unfazed as Amelia hopped off the kitchen stool, taunting. She danced her way back to the bedroom, her voice drifted, high and lilting.

"Not anymore!"



Unsurprisingly, the offices were quiet. The immediate effect of the avalanche of negative press had been a flurry of canceled and rescheduled appointments. Even patients loyal to the practice weren't keen on the idea of being featured on the evening news. The path in front of the building had turned into a perp walk, rife with rabid journalists shouting questions at unsuspecting pedestrians entering and exiting the offices. The phone had been buzzing all day in reception and Addison had been hidden behind her office door fielding requests by the press for official statements. Amelia sat in her office contemplating the vacancies in her diary of appointments. At the moment, it seemed her career would be far better served presenting her paper ad nauseum on the conference circuit.

"Ames." Amelia looked up surprised to see Naomi standing in the doorway. The last time Amelia had seen the woman had been right before the door slammed on Charlotte's screaming invective. Amelia waved her in, coming out from behind the desk. She didn't enjoy holding conversations with such an unwieldy physical obstruction in the way.

"Hey Nay." Amelia gestured for the older woman to sit in one of her office chairs. Naomi shook her head and held up a hand to deflect the hospitable offer.

"You have a guest in the lobby." Naomi informed her, expression curious. "Patient?"

"No." Amelia sighed. "My appointment book is a grievous indictment against my skill as a neurosurgeon." She leaned back over her desk to glance at the time on her laptop. "Nope, that's just Lexie. Der'k's sister-in-law, she's in town checking up on me." Amelia explained, ruefully. "I made a reservation for lunch at Katsuya. She's hoping we'll run into Bruce Willis or Nicole Scherzinger. Don't ask me why those two specifically. Though I'm pretty sure it's not in hopes of getting an autograph." Amelia's grin slipped at Naomi's negligible reaction to the joke. Inhaling deeply, Amelia gauged the older woman. The receptionist could as easily have delivered the message of Lexie's arrival. With exception to any limited set of extenuating circumstances that may have encouraged Naomi to take on the task of message delivery as it was somewhat outside the purview of one's boss, Amelia wagered there was some other intent behind this unsolicited visit.

"I see." Naomi paced toward the door, cleared her throat, turned back. "I may not be the person you would hope to hear this from, but it should be said." Amelia stilled, waiting. She'd anticipated sanction from Naomi. The scene at Charlotte's apartment seemed insurance that it was coming. "I'm proud of you." Amelia blinked, shook her head.

"I'm sorry, what?" Naomi watched the muscles of Amelia's face work as though physically willing her mind to comprehend.

"It's my guess you don't hear that very often." Naomi stood stolid, the grim character of her expression as serious as the anticipated subject. "What you did … it's what's expected of us as doctors. Few of us ever fully meet the expectations of our true calling. I'm proud to have you as a colleague Dr. Shepherd."

"I …" Amelia swallowed, overwhelmed by a feeling she didn't readily recognize. She knew the feeling of accomplishment, of satisfaction. But this was foreign.

"Enjoy your lunch, Ames." Naomi was a brisk figure in the corridor before Amelia could formulate any words of gratitude.

Walking past, Naomi glanced at the shuttered blinds of Addison's office denying prying eyes. When she'd first hired Amelia, it had been with considerable trepidation. Despite obvious talent and demonstrated skill as a neurosurgeon, introducing the young woman's brazen personality to the practice seemed a bit like tempting tragic luck to draw its unerring sights on Oceanside Wellness yet again. What she had not anticipated was the chilly silence that now stretched between Addison and Amelia. If she didn't know any better, she'd think Addison's somewhat out of character behavior wasn't actually disappointment. From what Naomi had observed, the widening chasm between the two women only seemed to grow wider when Amelia showed up with an attractive new companion. Naomi wondered if Lexie wasn't presently in town, would Addison be quite so pointedly indifferent when it came to speaking out in support of Amelia's recent actions?

The debacle of McHenry deceased and Cooper imprisoned had no direct implication upon Amelia's conduct as a doctor which rationally remained beyond reproach. The young woman was drawing a great deal of criticism for events way beyond the scope of her influence. Naomi couldn't completely understand Sam's persisting declarations that Amelia had crossed a line. She understood the man she'd married and later divorced, adamant about family and obligation. But his indirect defense of Cooper's actions and his unwillingness to concede Amelia's any traction, seemed somehow targeted as though he were fervently defending his own. What was far more puzzling to Naomi, was Addison. Why did she insist on saying nothing in Amelia's defense? Naomi couldn't fathom a justifiable excuse for her reticence. Amelia's staunch advocate for years against accusation far more damning than this, Addison had suddenly gone silent. Naomi did not relish awakening to disturbing realities such as this where each moment drew her further away from motivations of her once closest companions.

Disturbed at the possibility the practice might soon come under fire by the press, Naomi turned her thoughts to deliberating far more pertinent matters. Whatever the issue between Addison and Amelia, Naomi hoped for once the true nature of this latest controversy might remain unspoken. Then perhaps things would improve for a change, rather than progressively worsen as it seemed was the natural tendency at Oceanside Wellness.



"Somehow, given all that's happened, I can't say that I'm surprised to see you here." Amelia peered across the nondescript metal table sitting between herself and Dr. Cooper Freedman. She considered his anesthetized appearance in prison coveralls and handcuffs. The subdued tone in his voice was a perfect soundtrack to the episodic drama their lives mimicked.

"I am." Amelia replied. She stared hard across the table unwilling to drop Cooper's gaze. "Surprised that is."

"That I'm here?" Cooper raised his hands to display the cuffs linking his wrists. "Like this?" Amelia shook her head.

"No. That is a far from surprising turn of events. Given …"

"What you did …" Cooper hissed, the accusation forced through gritted teeth.

"Stop. Talking." Cooper ground to a halt at the low rumble. Satisfied she wouldn't be interrupted further, Amelia continued. "I've had so many people tell me what I did, in the last few days. I rather not listen to any additional thoughts on that subject." Cooper leaned back, unimpressed. His eyes jumped in a calculating flicker across Amelia's face. It was an inconclusive attempt to visually determine what either of them could possibly have to say to one another.

"Why are you here?"

"Oh." Amelia actually managed a smile. "I wanted to tell you face to face and not over a phone that you're a selfish prick." Before Cooper could respond, Amelia pressed, "In the time I've known you, granted that hasn't been very long, you've demonstrated the maturity of an unchecked self-indulgent six year old prone to temper tantrums."

"You'll excuse me if I don't hold your opinion in very high regard." Cooper spat. He looked away, first to break eye contact. Amelia did not rate it a notable victory.

"Well, you have plenty of fine company where those with little regard of my opinion hold themselves significant. Meanwhile, your fiancée gets to pay for your …mistake? Is that what you intend to call it when they prosecute you for murder?"

"Is this gloating?" Cooper sneered, "I'm not going to listen to any more of this."

"You're right. You should go back to your tiny cell where you can reflect in silence about how all of this is my fault." Amelia shrugged. "It's not like you don't have the time."

"It is your fault!" Cooper's sudden shout raised the attention of the guard overseeing their visit. His concern, more menace than care for Amelia's welfare, was easily communicated in a look. Cooper lowered his voice and stated with strained calm. "You should never have treated that psycho."

"And you should have paid closer attention to what it meant when you swore to first do no harm." Amelia got to her feet, nodding to the guard. The clicking of her heels coincided with the resonant metallic chatter of the bars sliding open to let her pass. Cooper, in turn, was silent as she departed with one last barb. "Enjoy your stay, Cooper. You've earned it."

Standing outside LA county lockup, Amelia took a deep breath. As a teenager, she'd earned herself one night behind bars. The smell and the haggard faces of the strangers that joined her in that cell were a highly effective argument against her return. In her heart, Amelia pitied Cooper even as she blamed him. Waving down a cab, she absently scrolled the names in her phone book. She hit send and waited patiently as the phone rang. "Hey Nay, listen." She began without hesitation, hearing the call connect. Naomi did just that, she listened as Amelia explained following a succinct announcement, "I'm going to need some time off."



"Hal!" Amelia called. She kicked the door shut behind her, juggling bags of take out. "I've got Thai and a bottle of ridiculously expensive red wine."

"Mmm!" Lexie poked her head out of the bathroom, wet hair dripping, clad in only a towel. "What's the occasion?" Amelia set her packages down in the kitchen with audible relief and shuffled towards the bathroom , hopping to rid herself of her heels while walking.

She hovered in the doorway, watching Lexie wipe steam from the mirror and announced, "I'm taking a leave of absence."

"You're …" Lexie spun, bewildered. Amelia stood hands on her hips, for all intents and purposes very proud of the declaration.

"I don't have a single patient on the books for weeks Hal, nothing, not so much as a consult." Amelia's smile broadened and she intoned with just enough enthusiasm to incite every instinct Lexie had to protest, "Road trip." Lexie closed her eyes shaking her head. She'd known when she'd boarded that last minute flight to LA that she might be contending with Amelia in a shattered state. She'd expected a depressed shell of a human being, given to bouts of screaming or crying or eating whole pints of ice cream. A reenactment of Thelma and Louise was not at all what she'd envisioned. "Don't try to argue Hal. This is happening. So you might as well just go with it." Amelia tipped a self-satisfied smirk over her shoulder as she headed back to the kitchen. "Lucky for you I'm feeling generous and I'm going to let you pick our fair destination." Lexie trailed after Amelia, a contemplative expression erasing the panic that had ruled her features mere seconds earlier.

"I get to pick?" Lexie repeated, already sounding semi-convinced.

"You get to pick." Amelia confirmed, as she searched the drawers of the kitchen island. "Shit!" She exclaimed as Lexie looked on amused and expectant. "I don't have a wine key." Lexie laughed at the aggrieved expression Amelia cast at the wine and takeout.

"No kidding."

"Fishing Hal?" Amelia's nose scrunched in couched disgust. Aghast, she glanced from Lexie to the brochure she'd been handed in response to inquiries of where they were going on this spontaneous vacation. "Two intrepid travelers on the great American expanse of asphalt wind in our hair and nothing but adventure between us was my irresistible proposition; yet somehow our destination becomes any flight under five hours and now this? Fishing?"

"Yeah well, when Christina Yang went bibildy Derek took her fishing." Lexie explained urging Amelia to move forward in line. Why was LAX always so busy? More importantly, why did those camera guys from that gossip show TMZ seem to be lurking everywhere. It was creepy.

"Exactly. Pay attention to the - I could have done this with Der'k. Remember how I didn't call him?"

"Technically Jinx, you didn't call me either. I showed up unannounced." Lexie muttered. Amelia was perched on top of Lexie's roll away luggage in the middle of the American Airlines queue. All she'd been troubled to pack was a messenger bag that looked incredibly familiar. "Where is your luggage? I told you to pack for three days." Amelia pointed at the bag slung across her shoulders as though Lexie had suddenly lost the power of sight or the power to recognize melodrama. She continued, her argument accented by the fervent waving of the brochure directly under Lexie's nose.

"This is why I didn't call. Do you have any idea how many crap fest fishing trips I was forced to go on when I kicked drugs?" Amelia shook her head sadly, lip trembling for dramatic effect. Instantly, Amelia was transported back to hours subjected to Derek's silence, shivering and all but stranded in the middle of a frigid lake in upstate New York. The pinnacle of those excruciating hours, a quiet ride back to civilization, during which Derek implied or threatened more of those therapeutic outings to follow should he suspect she needed a sympathetic ear. "I'll never get that time back."

"I'm devastated for you." Lexie tilted her head reading the initials ACG carefully stitched on the strap of Amelia's somewhat inconsequential luggage. "That's my bag."

"Oh?" Amelia looked down at it supremely nonchalant. "No kidding? Your sister gave it to me."

"Unbelievable." Lexie frowned and pushed Amelia none too gently off her suitcase as the line again moved forward by one passenger.

"I swear I will relapse if you make me sit in a boat and talk about my feelings." Amelia rolled the suitcase forward a half a foot then reclaimed her seat. "Do you want that on your conscience?"

"Fine." Lexie conceded with suspicious ease. "No fishing." Amelia clapped her hands delighted.

"Great! Vegas it is."

"Definitely no Vegas." Lexie's gaze met Amelia's in a battle of wills that lasted until a woman behind them cleared her throat impatiently.

"Excuse me. Move forward!" Amelia popped up, rolled the suitcase another half a foot of freed up space and sat back down. Lexie gritted her teeth.

"No, Jinx." Amelia began to softly whistle. Elvis, Lexie intuited unmoved.

"There's a thousand pretty women waitin' out there. And they're all livin' devil may care. I'm just the devil with love to spare." Amelia flirted wantonly. "Hal?" Lexie sighed, pushed Amelia forward one last time. Shoulder to shoulder, they hitched up, providing their id for the attentive agent behind the counter.

"Viva Las Vegas." Regretfully wondering when she'd lost her spine, Lexie sang a doleful rendition, horribly out of tune.

"Ladies." Smiling, the agent confirmed the authenticity of their identification and asked, "How may I help you?" Amelia flashed a grin and handed over her credit card.

"Two," Amelia held up her fingers in demonstration, "Business class. Vegas."

Lexie fiddled with her seat belt, sparing a glance to watch Amelia lean further into the aisle amidst a lull of boarding passengers. Attentions riveted on chiseled jaw and quick smile, she watched the captain in interest as he surreptitiously ignored the male passengers only to greet the myriad women on the way to Vegas with unrestrained enthusiasm. Lexie cleared her throat, "So this Raven …" Amelia's gaze reluctantly abandoned her vigil to pierce Lexie with undisguised surprise.

"What about Mark Sloan?" Lexie shrugged, eyes dropping to fixate on the malfunctioning mechanism of her seat belt.

"There is no Mark Sloan."

"Hmmm." Amelia hummed thoughtfully. Profile wound into a tight mask, Lexie outwardly stiffened under Amelia's regard, dispelling any suggestion she might willingly expound further on this startling revelation. "There is no Raven." Amelia replied simply, concentrating again on the pilot. Her smile was a decidedly indecent challenge as she caught his gaze.

"But you said … oh." Lexie grinned with sudden comprehension. "That was for Addison's benefit."

"Voices carry in an empty apartment." Amelia pursed a kiss at the pilot, laughing at the aggressive blush that spread steadily upwards from starched white collar to the well-trimmed salt and pepper marching above his brow. "I couldn't resist. She was such an easy target." She turned smugly to face Lexie.

"Mission accomplished." Lexie snickered remembering the look on Addison's face when Amelia had appeared from the bathroom half-naked and oblivious - brilliant. Amelia reached across the arm rest and swatted impatiently at Lexie's hands. She swiftly fastened the belt then leaned back, looking past Lexie at the tiny slice of tarmac visible through the window. "Then why are we going to Vegas?"

"Why wouldn't we go to Vegas?" Amelia replied. "I packed a bikini and my toothbrush. The only other place that minimalist approach applies is Cancun." For someone who blatantly placed more value in shock than intrigue, circumspect wasn't exactly Amelia's forte. If that answer wasn't circumspect by Amelia's standards, Lexie couldn't place what was. Mouth widening, Lexie gave voice to the prompt light of comprehension.

"Ah." She allowed herself a smirk of her own. "I thought you didn't do second dates."

"I don't, technically. This is more like a first date." Amelia's cheeks had taken on a rosy tinge Lexie would not soon dismiss.

"It is?" Brow arched, everything in Lexie's posture dared Amelia to rationalize the argument. "And what am I intended to be, your chaperone?" Amelia studiously avoided Lexie's gaze, seemingly finding further distraction in her own lap as she fumbled to fasten her seat belt.

"Our other attempts were all preemptively aborted by her work obligations." It may have been a convincing explanation if Amelia wasn't beaming a fluorescent shade of crimson under cover of the unruly tumble of her dark locks. Lexie snorted and reached across the armrest to fasten Amelia's seat belt with an emphatic snap. Amelia finally looked up, rolling her eyes at the amusement that met her gaze. "Neither sleeping with someone nor sharing coffee at a diner before a flight home, count as a date." Lexie made no verbal effort to refute the assertion beyond an undisguised chuckle. Visibly ruffled, Amelia muttered florid invective under her breath drawing a scandalized gasp from a gray-haired matron seated across the aisle. Lexie's grin widened.

"As I understand it, you can have Elvis officiate your ceremony at any of the chapels along the strip." Amelia dug under her seat for her messenger bag. Lexie droned on about the importance of a simple gown with a modern edge and absolutely no pastel colors in the flower arrangements. Amelia retrieved her ipod and earbuds firmly inserted, she drowned out the persistent rumble of wedding plans interspersed with laughter.



Headed for the coffee pot, Addison peeked over Naomi's shoulder as she walked past. A discarded pile of mail on the counter before her, Naomi was gazing at a barrage of gaudy color in a postcard depiction of the Las Vegas strip.

"What do you have there?" Addison waited for an answer while she topped off her steaming mug with creamer.


"No kidding." Addison rolled her eyes and joined Naomi at the island. She sipped gingerly and waited for elaboration.

"It's from Amelia." Naomi handed it over, glancing up at Charlotte's timely entrance. "This one's for you." Naomi pulled another card off the top of the pile of mail. Charlotte gazed in clear disinterest at the card Naomi had extended. "Just take it." Naomi waved the card, feeling the fragile remnants of her patience unravel. "What does it really hurt to read a postcard?" Charlotte snatched the card unceremoniously and scanned the back in a quick flick.

"What's yours say?" She asked glancing over at Addison who had lost any interest in her coffee. Eyes locked on the simple block lettering of the address of the practice, she'd read the entire message in an instant. Naomi's gaze seemed far away though her eyes were trained on the rectangle of cardstock in Addison's hands.

"I quit." Naomi murmured.

"I beg your pardon?" Charlotte raised a brow. Naomi hadn't been overt in her support of Amelia's actions given the catastrophic events that all had assumed directly followed in the young doctor's wake. However, she had found a way to make it clear to all of her colleagues that she firmly believed in Amelia. She hadn't made any such overt endorsement for Cooper since his incarceration. Perhaps Naomi had tired of her quiet show of support in the hopes of easing tensions. Charlotte guessed Naomi intended to turn the volume up on her lobbying. In anticipation of this expected turn, Charlotte had been preparing vitriolic comments at length knowing Naomi would eventually broach the subject of how Amelia was blameless in all of this. She sucked in a breath waiting for the onslaught of pro-Amelia sophistry that would no doubt follow this exasperated declaration.

"That's what it says." Addison supplied dropping the card face-down in front of Charlotte. "Well, it's a bit more politic isn't it Naomi … thanks for the opportunity to work with such a fine cadre of medical professionals, etcetera ad perpetuity." Oh, Charlotte thought, well then that would mean no well-meaning lecture from Naomi. Gazing at the text of the missive, eloquent and unapologetic for its paucity of perfectly selected words, Charlotte uttered a bored grunt. "What about yours?" Addison inquired, attempting to steal a glance at the back of the card in Charlotte's hand. Charlotte's response was to toss it in front of Addison with a look of disgust plain on her features.

"It's about as worthless as, I quit." She muttered and stalked out of the kitchen. Written on the postcard addressed to Dr. Charlotte King was a far simpler message though less robotically poised for its intent. I'm sorry. Addison felt a sudden wave of revulsion that human relationships could deteriorate to something of so little consequence. That was it? Two postcards and nothing else to explain why Amelia had abortively chosen to leave LA, Addison struggled as anger or sorrow crested. She felt herself submerged as the impact of the last few weeks finally subsumed her.

"How could she leave like this, without a word?" Addison shoved the postcards away. They slid off the counter and floated, dipping and swaying to the kitchen floor. Naomi paid little attention to the outburst. It was too little too late. From what she'd observed of Addison's refusal to contribute more than two of her own words in the wake of McHenry's murder, Amelia's was an appropriately stinging response.

"Somehow," Naomi shuffled through the rest of the mail with shrugging finality, "I'm not surprised."

"And the meaning behind that esoteric response?" Addison turned livid gaze on her best friend. "Did she tell you before she went on this latest debauched pilgrimage?"

"She didn't have to tell me anything." Naomi stared Addison down. "McHenry was a weak excuse not to stand up for her. And more than anyone else in this office, you betrayed her with your silence." Addison blinked and it was more than Naomi needed barring a full confession. "And just so we're both on the same page here, yes it makes it many times worse that you slept with her." Addison stiffened. This woman, her best friend, had known and carried it in secret. Shock ripped the composition of denial from Addison's lips as she watched Naomi shake her head. Unbridled disgust rode the angry crest of her words. "Overlooking for a moment that you're with Sam, she's practically your child Addison."

"She's a surgeon that hardly makes her a child Nay." It undoubtedly was a spurious exaggeration to suggest any level of incompetence where Amelia was concerned. As if Amelia Shepherd had ever been childishly clueless, an interminable characteristic even more apparent in the brazen woman that had developed over the years. Though she may not outwardly add up to much of a categorical adult, Amelia had developed well beyond the level of mental and emotional consent to which Naomi referred and Addison wouldn't be chastened like some predatory deviant.

"Not a child, Addison, but certainly yours in that you were there as much as Carolyn Wilson Shepherd was in the last twenty years." Naomi reminded in admonishment. "You are in such a hurry to trot out how Amelia will never change and here you are," Naomi gestured, glancing up and down at Addison's strikingly vulnerable posture. "Same old Addison."

"I love Sam." The vow wilted under Naomi's judgment. Not quite so dramatic as Charlotte's exit had been, profoundly different for the irrevocable damage it intimated, Addison felt it as though the air was sucked from the room on a chill wind. Naomi brushed past as she asked.

"Is that meant to be convincing?"



A thin blue folder fell, slapping with just enough spin that it slid off the conference table and into Gregory House's lap. Amelia stood at the other end, regarded with a mix of curiosity and apprehension by the doctors on each side of the table. News of House's job offer had spread with the lightning efficiency of juicy gossip accompanied by drama and the help of rampant speculation over the last two weeks. The hospital was rife with wagers, none of them thrifty. From the looks on their faces, at least three of her brand new colleagues just lost a hefty sum of money.

House spared a glance for the contents of the folder, marked - Autopsy Report McHenry, Lee. In it, the primary cause of death was confirmed as homicide via morphine overdose. Underneath, however, prior condition of patient was outlined as severe alkalosis. House closed the folder on the report and tossed it into the center of the table. Amelia took that as an invitation to sit, hanging her coat and bag on the back of her seat.

"Welcome to your life." House broke the silence. "There's no turning back." Amelia quirked a lopsided grin.

"It's my own design. It's my own remorse." Her reply drifted across the table, meeting House in the middle of his smirking approval. "By the way my uncle told me to tell you, and I quote, I win."

"What are they talking about?" Masters asked, gauging the resigned expressions of her male colleagues.

"It's Tears for Fears. Everybody Wants to Rule the World." Taub explained, with pained impatience. "And please, it's in your own best interest not to ask - who's that?" Foreman offered Amelia a curt nod of welcome. She leaned forward, folded her hands on the table as the moment gave way to business as usual.

"Right then." Chase rubbed his hands together, proctoring an expectant gaze for everyone, but to House in particular. "Do we have a case?"

"Yes minions." House directed to the table at large, "Entice me." Amelia reached forward to randomly pick a chart off a pile scattered between the doctors sitting to her left and right.

"Thirty year old female, presents photophobia, flu-like symptoms, unsteady gait, disorientation and memory loss. Sounds promising." House made his way over to the dry erase board to list the symptoms as Amelia recited each one. He turned and mimicked the cocking of a shot gun with his cane. Pointing it at each of the doctor's in turn, he raised his brow in expectation.

"Subarachnoid hemorrhage."


"Brain tumor."


"Secondary Encephalitis caused by HSV 2?" Amelia's voice rang out last, confident. House tossed his imagined weapon behind him.

"Mini Me comes out swinging."

"Where'd you learn how to do that?" Amelia glanced back over her shoulder and smirking, offered only a wink in response. She could feel the lock give under the gentle pressure of the tools balanced lightly between her fingers. She gave the door a nudge with her shoulder and with a flourish invited Chase to precede her into the darkened interior of the small apartment. They were lucky the neighborhood wasn't the overly vigilant kind where two suspicious types skulking in doorways would garner notable attention.

"As entertaining as that was," Chase jingled a set of keys in the air before Amelia's nose as he passed, "we usually just bring the patient's keys with us." Amelia snorted laughter and tipped her head in acknowledgement. "I'll take the bedroom and bathroom, if you take the kitchen and living room." Chase called, disappearing down a stubby hallway toward the rear of the cinderblock dwelling. Amelia kicked the door shut and noted with a sniff that if they were looking for contaminants, they wouldn't be disappointed. Flipping on the overhead light, she eased past an over flowing trash container into the kitchen and began rummaging through cupboards. For a moment, she mistook the buzz in her jacket pocket for the flickering sound of the half dead fluorescent bulb above her head.

"He can't possibly expect results already." Amelia muttered reaching into her pocket to retrieve her mobile phone. House had proven a bit overbearing at times. His obsessive need to be aware of everything, including the minutiae of his staff's personal lives had been an unpleasant wake-up call for Amelia. Thus far, she'd been interrupted in the middle of three separate sexual encounters by House's personalized summons to work. She'd learned very quickly from those experiences. The first time she'd arrived at a differential clad scantily for a night out and smelling like smoke, lesson one - never flinch when under House interrogation.

"Shepherd." Amelia barked into the phone, not bothering to check the caller id.

"Amelia?" Though tentative, the voice was immediately recognizable and Amelia paused, hand on the door of a cupboard for balance. "Amelia, it's Naomi."

"Uh … hi?" Amelia squinted, pulling the phone away from her ear long enough to confirm what she'd just heard.

"Addison's mother died." Amelia hadn't exactly expected small talk. Why else would Naomi suddenly condescend to a phone call? In the weeks following her impromptu resignation, Amelia hadn't received missives of good luck as one might from former colleagues with whom one remained in amicable standing. In fact, she'd read the collective silence as a good riddance. Nothing broke silence quite like tragedy. "We're all headed to the Connecticut house for the funeral. Can you come?" Amelia cleared her throat, trying and failing to find the words to respond. "Are you there? Amelia?"

"Yes. I'll …" Amelia swallowed, her voice inexplicably hoarse. "I'll be there as soon as I can." The dial tone was a jarring note in her ear.

"Hey." Chase looked up startled at Amelia's sudden appearance in the bedroom. He was struggling to upend the mattress.

"Are you already finished in the kitchen?" His question came out breathless huffing as he bent at the waist and strained to push the mattress off the bed frame.

"I thought you might need some help." Amelia drew next to him, close enough that their shoulders bumped. He gave her a knowing grin at the implication of her close proximity to which Amelia rolled her eyes and helped him lift. Chase gave a disappointed sigh when their combined effort revealed nothing. Of course, it was a bit of an obvious hiding place for anything illicit.

"I'm going to go finish up in the living room." Amelia announced, the suddenness of which didn't seem at all odd to Chase as he shrugged and let the mattress drop back into place.

"This is the less than glamorous side of what we do Shep, but it inevitably pays off." Amelia managed a smile in response to his well-meaning encouragement.

"I'm sure it does." Amelia retreated from the bedroom as Chase turned his focus to rummaging through drawers. Out of his immediate sight, she swiftly made her way to the front door of the apartment, clutching the keys to Chase's car secreted in her hand. Yet another oldie but goodie from the toolkit of a reformed teenaged delinquent, she thought with a smirk. She'd been as deft at slipping the keys from his pocket undetected as gauging his response to her intentional body check as flirtation rather than coercion.

Stealing away in tiptoed silence, Amelia retraced earlier steps down the ill-lit corridor of the apartment complex. Behind her, Chase's voice seeped out of the open doorway of 17 G, potentially the last official address of their dying patient before the cemetery. It never took long to go full maudlin when suddenly confronted by death, Amelia thought. "Hey Shep, I think I found … Shep?" Amelia missed the rising note of concern in the inquiry as she darted into the stairwell and down the steps toward the parking lot.



Shivering, Amelia sat perched on the overstuffed arm of a couch next to three people she wouldn't call friends. Yet there they all were, gathered together like some dysfunctional support network. She didn't have the stomach to laugh and had made a pact with herself she wouldn't cry in deference to Addison. Watching the Captain inhale G & T's while Archer laughingly played on his friends sympathies required an emotional response beyond her current depth. "I'm grieving, so everyone stays." Amelia winced, trying desperately to reign in her instinct to make light when Archer soon followed with, "Who's doing shots with me? Come on, dead mother." Everyone looked on uncomfortably as Archer brandished a dwindling bottle of Jack until Naomi hooked his arm and they disappeared outside, to the snow-covered manor grounds.

Addison had been absent since Amelia's arrival, barely sparing a glance in greeting. Initially, Amelia had mistaken the cool regard as bygones but if there was any relevance to the scuttlebutt between Sam and Pete, Addison had gone full Stepford in the days since Busy's death. If nothing else, the pearl necklace was a fair indicator that the real Addison had retreated well beneath a chilly mask. Sam had seemed somewhat reluctant to budge from the relative warmth of the couch when he'd finally gone in search of Addison.

Amelia jumped, startled by the vibrations of her mobile phone in her back pocket. She barely acknowledged the text before deleting it and returning the device to where it had been resting. Chase must have an unlimited data package. Amelia mused over the number of increasingly profane threats he'd sent in the hours since her abrupt departure from their little field trip. When the phone calls and voicemails had deteriorated into anxious text messages, she'd deigned to answer with a request to borrow his car and a surreptitious, 'brb'. Apparently he hadn't bought the 'brb' and the fifty or so messages since seemed to directly support that fact.

"Dangling a carrot for your latest conquest?" Charlotte's eyes blazed despite the low tones. Amelia shifted, mustering a wan smile.

"Think we might be able to put aside your irrational hatred of me for the duration of the weekend? You know, what with Busy being dead and this not being the forum to trot out unrelated events like my alleged culpability in Cooper's deserved incarceration following an indefensible act of murder?" Amelia murmured tersely. In the virtually empty room, their verbal stand-off quickly drew attention.

"Amelia." Pete warned. He stood, interrupting the line of sight between the two seated women. "It would be best if ...."

"I made myself scarce?" Amelia forced another smile and offered a dual-handed wave of surrender. "Right then, snacks it is." Amelia thought that the sound of Pete's voice, soft and comforting was most apt to dissipate Charlotte's anger and a far better choice than her own, resoundingly bitter with resentment. Given the circumstances, the kitchen was a brilliant choice. She could escape the tension and the sorrow filling this place, devotedly scrounging nibbles for the heroic effort of supporting those grieving. More importantly, they would need something to soak up all that dutiful imbibing.

Amelia stood in a pantry the size of her uncle's guest room. Actually, she thought, pacing from one wall of over-laden shelves to another, it was much bigger. Underwhelmed by rows upon rows of confusion, no matter how well ordered, she began a survey of tins of caviar and boxes of water crackers. "This does not require my undivided attention." She muttered to herself, and reached for the only available distraction.


"I'm scrubbing in on a double lung transplant in twenty minutes. You?" Lexie sounded rushed, but pleased. These days it was rare that Amelia got a not now and hang up in response.

"I stole Chase's car, drove to Connecticut to attend Addison's mother's funeral and am now standing in the pantry of the Overlook Hotel deliberating over munchies while waiting to be axed to death." Amelia imagined a theatrical hand to mouth to accompany the harsh gasp over her phone. She chewed her bottom lip and traced a finger along the label of a glass jar. Neither the yellow tint of the contents nor the illegible eastern European print gave any indication what it might serve. Of course, if she added translating obscure food labels to the ways in which she could lend a helping hand, it meant one less moment trying to make conversation with Busy's rotary ladies or college classmates.

"Jinx!" Times like these were well-suited to Lexie's intuitive choice of nickname. Amelia sighed.

"All the best people."

"Ugh." Lexie groaned. "Creeper." She paused listening to Amelia's silence over the line. "You okay?"

"I'm surrounded by people that hate my guts at the wake of the mother of the woman who has been the one unrelenting source of support in my life recently unequivocally withdrawn." Amelia offered.

"So, good then." Lexie returned. Voices echoed over the line. "That's my scrub nurse Jinx, I gotta go."

"Hal, I …" Amelia wanted to say the one right thing that would subdue her fear, that would broker peace, even temporary. She wanted to be Addison's respite from such unforgiving loss, to joke about the time Busy had happened upon Amelia playing a very informed game of doctor with the gardener's niece, Tessa. Tessa was two years older at eleven and sprouting. Addison had been speechless, shocked and visibly embarrassed. Busy had just smiled and remarked, "Well I've never had a medical professional perform that procedure but I wouldn't complain about her bedside manner if she had." If anybody had been blind to Busy's Sapphic leanings, from that telling moment it certainly hadn't been Amelia.

"It'll be okay Ames. It will." Lexie reassured. "She's family." Amelia listened to the tone for a moment after Lexie hung up, finding it oddly comforting. Always there, even when she wasn't right there. That had been Addison for so long. Now, to Amelia's great relief, there was Lexie.

In what would be the first of several care packages from Seattle, Lexie had included a shrink-wrapped set of thermal underwear. When Amelia had complained that she wasn't partial to the teddy bear and hearts motif, she'd received another pair overnight in hot pink. She'd retracted further complaint. Dressed in these and what she'd once thought an all purpose pair of tennis shoes, she picked her way across the snowy expanse of the back lawn. Unidentifiable shapes formed, writhing in the massless dark until they loomed well above her head and Amelia was embraced within the labyrinthine twisting and turnings of towering garden hedges. The canvas of her sneakers had stiffened under the snow as it melted and seeped frigid between her toes. She was a comic strip pratfall of audibly chattering teeth by the time she wandered from the corridors of the maze and into a small clearing. At its center, lived a stone-laid garden plaza that bloomed in the spring and sang all through the summer. Tonight, it simply shone underneath the unmasked brilliance of the moon, firing the corner shadows in cool illumination.

Amelia diligently cleared the snow that had collected on a concrete bench overlooking a fountain of frolicking nymphs, now still. She sat, drawing her arms close against her chest, quiet a moment. Winter so prudent it smothered the night sounds into a silence easily associated with death. There again lighting efficiently on the magnet that had polarized the flocking mourners with their weepy, sympathetic eyes. Amelia could not draw a fine enough point on how ill at ease she felt in the midst of funereal traditions. Taking a breath she whispered, "It was the sweetest most mysterious looking place anyone could imagine. The high walls which shut it in were covered with the leafless stems of climbing roses which were so thick they were matted together.(Burnett 97)"

"That was your favorite book as a child." Relenting to the hint to be as noiseless as the night that slipped up and surrounded them, Addison's voice barely broke, rendering the quiet intact. It would have been easy to give in to this imperious suppression of sound and just sit, be as servile as the motionless winds and misplaced insects to it. But here in this place they'd shared nearly as long as Amelia could remember, long enough to know with confidence that she'd find Addison right here, these words inevitably must be spoken between them.

"Only because you made it so." Amelia replied, looking for the first time at the profile of the woman who shared the small bench. "It was the only book you ever read at bedtime."

"You liked it well enough." Addison smirked. "That first time you laid eyes on this place …"

"At the reception." Amelia murmured, remembering that day so long ago. Magnanimously presiding over arriving guests, Busy had haughtily introduced senators and their wives to Amelia's plainly unimpressed mother. There was a thin air of stern disapproval with which Busy had regarded Addison's choice. She might as well have printed it in the wedding announcement – Derek Shepherd was disappointingly neither rich nor connected. Amelia suspected the woman had her fingers crossed in her pristine white gloves hoping for an annulment.

Derek tried not to look uncomfortable in a tux that had been fit a bit too snug in the crotch while fielding inquiries by ancient ladies about their sciatica. Meanwhile the Captain kept the cocktail servers on the run and flirted shamelessly with Amelia's sisters. That had been uniquely entertaining to watch, as Busy pointedly ignored it and Addison seemed unable to decide between acts of violence or wedding day tears. Despite the rising tension between Shepherds and Montgomerys, Addison tried not to appear aggrieved and abided little more than an hour of small talk with childhood acquaintances before grabbing Amelia's hand and whispering a suggestion that they disappear.

Clutching the skirts of her dress, Addison's bare feet were a pale flash across a redolent carpet of green. Breathless, Amelia struggled in the choking taffeta of her bridesmaid's dress, barely managing to keep up but screeching laughter at the top of her lungs. They'd crossed the grounds, desperately fleeing, and made their escape into a land Amelia had only seen between the pages of one book, a story Addison had read to her religiously each night before bed well into the years marking her pre-teen. They'd ducked through the hedges, thriving and fragrant to erupt like as characters reconstructed. Their landscape too leapt from Frances Hodgson Burnett's ink to frisk and gambol clandestine, an enchanted privy in secret, their garden. At fifteen, Amelia had long since lost any concept of fantasy. Fairy tales had braved a quiet death and unremarkable burial. At fifteen, she was not jaded just a studied realist. Nevertheless, her eyes rounded in wonderment, she had breathed the word magic and for the first time could truly comprehend what it meant.

"That was the only time I ever saw you behave as a child." Addison noted the trembling of Amelia's shoulders under the checkerboard weave of thermal pajamas. Opening her coat, Addison drew Amelia close attempting to wrap them both in Burberry.

"That was the only time I ever felt like one." Amelia sighed under Addison's arm hugging the slim waist. How familiar this sensation of untold moments comforted exactly like this. "I miss you Addie."

"I miss you too." Addison's chin dropped, bumping Amelia's forehead. Feeling the damp of tears against her skin, Amelia rubbed a soothing pattern into Addison's hip.

"I wish …"

"I know." Addison interrupted, halting any further reference to their recent past or these new heartaches that found them reunited. "Me too."

"I had a moment to talk to Sam while you were in with the funeral director." Amelia revealed.


"Well, I talked anyway." Amelia's soft laughter was an even mix of amusement and self-deprecation. Sam was nothing if not stubborn, which made him a perfect match for Addison. "But he listened. He's good for you Addie. Better than I could ever be." She'd always intended to say it and still a shock to now speak this long-coveted admission.

"Yes. He is." A truth, a powerful truth for how it settled deep and stung in spite of relief that this was all Addison would say. Honest though not unkind, Addison's agreement was closure that could allow their friendship to go forward, bruised but not broken. "So …" Addison sniffled, forcing a light-hearted tone into her voice. "How was Vegas?" Amelia murmured uncomfortably, trying to come up with an adequate diversionary topic. "Hey, I'm grieving, now tell me about Vegas."

"You and Archer are going to wear this dead mother excuse down to the last putrefying bone." Amelia retorted and when Addison genuinely laughed, thanked those frivolous deities that saw fit to grant her unfailing irreverence. It was a sound she'd long missed.



"Hey." Sara seemed breathless, eyes a bit wild and Catherine had to work hard to put her pleasure at that observation in an appropriate context.

"I'm okay. You didn't have to …"

"Don't say that." Sara drew closer, allowing a PA and a patient in a wheelchair enough space to pass. Catherine breathed deep, feeling woozy and attributing it to fluctuating adrenalin levels and not the fact that she could feel Sara Sidle's breath against her cheeks. "You're a supervisor not a super hero." Sara arched a comic brow, pleased with her pun. "You might remember that the next time you decide to test whether or not you are impervious to explosives." Catherine rolled her eyes.

"Shall I write that down somewhere?" Apparently almost exploding transformed wit into snark. She grimaced, digging absently through her pockets.

"You should get that cut over your eye checked out." Sara instructed and in what was for her a decidedly conspicuous maneuver, placed a steadying hand on Catherine's arm. Catherine halted picking through the pockets of her department issue vest long enough to glance from the unexpected gesture to its unlikely bestower. Sara managed a half smile and withdrew her hand looking sheepish and self-conscious. She glanced up the corridor outside of the intensive care unit as though looking for an emergency exit.

"I'm on my way to get it stitched in the ER now." Cataloguing Sara's unease with curiosity, Catherine nodded at the glass entrance to the ICU. "I just dropped in to check on Vartann." Discomfort seemed to peak though tempered by genuine concern as Sara's gaze tracked back to Catherine's face.

"How is he?"

"Alright. He's holding up considering." Catherine shrugged. "He's tough."

"So are you." Voice pitched low, a warmth of deep regard entered Sara's eyes. Catherine swallowed, looking away and murmuring in triumph as she recovered her cell phone from its somewhat out of reach home of her rear utility pocket. She tried not to make a show of scrolling through the missed calls though she used the moment's distraction to calm the flustered wave that had submerged her thinking.

"I have to call Linds in case she's seen the news … and Amelia." Catherine looked up then and as expected caught the clouding of Sara's features at the mention of the young doctor.

"She-Doogie?" Catherine couldn't suppress the snort of amusement at the jibe and Sara seemed pleased to inspire a moment of levity, even at the price of her own envy. "I guess there's points for longevity."

"Perhaps it's easier for both of us to invest when dating requires crossing half the continental United States." Catherine lifted her brow. Sara acknowledged the allusion to the similarity Catherine's "situation" bore to the geographic accommodations made in constructing a commodious marriage to Gil Grissom. "She'll want to know I'm alright." Sara begrudgingly shrugged a shoulder in concession.

"Assuming she even knows you tread dangerously close to an honor guard and gun salute today." Sara muttered. "She might as well be half a world away." Turning, she seemed intent to depart but held herself, at odds with the dismissal in her own statement. "Look Catherine, I …" Catherine stepped past headed toward the ER, phone already on its way to her ear.

"I have calls to make."

"Her life and her responsibilities don't include you." Sara reached out again, this time hoping to detain rather than comfort. For once her tone was just forthright rather than angry.

"No." Catherine openly agreed, continuing on her way. "I suppose they don't." Sara watched Catherine's steps as she retreated down the hallway.

"Well, they should." She murmured for her own benefit and moved for the exit.

"You know this thing between us won't last." Amelia blinked at the sequentially conspicuous statement. Having inquired in pertinent detail as to the specifics of Catherine's day as opposed to the reflex, 'how's work?' she'd expected a response detailing why the hell Catherine was currently waiting to get stitches. According to the clipped summary of events, Catherine sustained an inconsequential scratch on her forehead in pursuit of a suspect. Realizing it took less energy to elaborate on the vague details of her injury than it did to convince Amelia to relinquish her concern, Catherine eventually narrated the events leading up to her team triggering an explosive device that nearly took their lives. No big deal wasn't a likely sell after that.

Amelia willed her rocketing anxiety level to equalize and attempted to pinpoint a response that split the difference between hysterical and caustic. Clinical was what she'd settled on though admittedly she was overreaching when she insisted Catherine immediately get an MRI for 'just a scratch'. Unsurprisingly a tough act, Catherine didn't much enjoy being fussed over from the monosyllabic responses to Amelia's inquiries. She kept insisting that life and death were part of a civil servant's job. Meanwhile, Amelia tried and failed to comprehend how sometimes that meant almost getting blown up.

Breathing deep, Amelia attempted to switch gears to this impossible to anticipate turn in the conversation, the circumspect timeline of their interaction. She glanced around the empty kitchen, plates stacked and lights dimmed since the conclusion of the wake. She suspected that all others currently occupying the sprawling Montgomery mansion had retired. Exhausted from the day's events, she'd hoped to do the same soon enough. However, this untenable discussion had manifested in direct opposition to those plans, materializing out of the ether to terminate the casual component of their dalliance with extreme prejudice.

"I know." Amelia grit her teeth, focusing on the bent things had taken. Talking about Catherine's insanely hazardous job and the coinciding injuries was more than enough serious for one phone call. Wrestling with why she was right now in Connecticut and not in Las Vegas after the woman she was sleeping with was literally blown up should have been a sufficient test to conclude Amelia's evening. Talking about the label or the meaning of their pseudo-relationship was double jeopardy, overtime, roaming charges apply.

"Then …" Catherine hedged, expectant. What Amelia heard in that tone, that single word, was that Catherine needed something, some confirmation of conclusions she'd already drawn or possibilities she'd considered. Amelia wasn't sure she'd given much thought to either conclusion or possibility with Catherine. Thus far, Catherine had been lovely weekends in Vegas in between the absolute hottest phone sex. That was plenty for Amelia. What more did either of them need to confirm or confess? Romantic declarations were a mess of contradictions and hastily avoided missteps at which Amelia had never been adept. Why would she? They rarely came in handy impromptu mornings after.

"You have any issue with enjoying it for as long as it does?" She asked, flagging her rarely used 'it's getting serious' discourse. It hadn't leant her much success in the few times she'd made use of it. Understandably, Catherine didn't sound remotely convinced.

"No." Silence weaved itself into the conversation for several moments, interrupted by a revelation. "The last few years of …"

"Fighting crime, super hero?" Amelia offered garnering a dry chuckle.

"Yeah fighting crime." Catherine half-heartedly allowed thinking back to her conversation with Sara. "This place, this job has more than taken its toll." Amelia waited a beat, listening. "Maybe this is it. Hand in my notice and train my replacement."

"What would you do?" What does one do at the end of a career? Amelia pondered her own question, seeking answers she didn't possess herself. Move forward? Where?

"Travel." Apparently, Catherine was equally puzzled by the mystery of her future. Amelia could hear the shrugging uncertainty in Catherine's words. "Teach."

"Ever thought about moving east?" Blinking, she tried to pinpoint the origin of a proposal posed as innocuous inquest. It sounded as though it had come from her, and yet Amelia's mind could offer no direct evidence of having fabricated it.

"I … what?" When had Amelia ever born any indication she was the type to jump right into something permanent? What Catherine heard had nothing to do with the odd weekend visit every month.

"You're telling me that you are ready to move on." Amelia summarized the conversation and still couldn't pinpoint this impulse, not how it had taken root or why she'd given herself over to its command. Nevertheless, she cast loose the reflex of temporary to break new ground. She wondered if this was how one began thinking of a history of being with someone else, someone permanent. In a moment, in a whimsical question that is no less impetuous broaches something terrifying and serious for it is unprecedented. "Perhaps you need a change of scenery."

"What exactly are you asking me?" Catherine needed this to be plain. If she tallied all the disappointments, they'd likely line up the same, as ambiguous passion without intent. She couldn't allow Amelia to slide about on misdirection.

"I just started my third job in under a year. I'm living in my uncle's guest room. I recently stole my colleague's car to drive to Connecticut to attend the funeral of the mother of my ex-sister-in-law who is also my ex-lover." Catherine laughed, feeling decidedly less composed the more Amelia spoke. "I'm a recovering addict. I've never had anything permanent or anything serious with anyone; and people who would call themselves adults tend to call me a ridiculous person."

"This is literally the worst proposal I've ever heard." Catherine hadn't had poetry and romance the first time around either. There'd been passion but that had soured, quick and violent. She wondered if Amelia really had much more to offer than her late ex-husband. Amelia's voice was a silky entreaty and for once was filled with something beyond sultry propositions.

"How about you and I spend some time together improving it?" Amelia waited, anxious as she'd earlier been listening to Catherine decry the stale hazards of a job ever short on fulfillment. And different this new savor of fear she felt unfurling to press its bulk against the confines of her ribs. Suspicions of this risk as a yawing precipice eased on a trembling breath in and released as they each opened to promise.

"I'm listening."

Can't Find My Way Back Home

Come down off your throne
and leave your body alone.
Somebody must change.
You are the reason
I've been waiting so long.
Somebody holds the key.
But I'm near the end and
I just ain't got the time
And I'm wasted and
I can't find my way home.
Come down on your own
and leave your body alone.
Somebody must change.
You are the reason
I've been waiting all these years.
Somebody holds the key.

1. Blind Faith, "Can't Find My Way Back Home"

Amelia bit her lip, paced a bit, then moved back to examine the scrolling list of arrivals above her. The baggage claim had emptied and the trundling machinery bearing the luggage of travelers was silenced. Amelia had watched and paced and waited. Giddy with excitement and queasy with the realization months of phone calls and deliberations had coalesced into this moment. Not to mention the monumental effort involved in getting the day off to accommodate this trip to the airport.


"Either you find fifty year old divorce mom irresistible or you have a fetish for authority." Amelia smiled placidly across the conference table as House crumpled her time-off request between his hands and arched it into a nearby waste basket. "For the three pointer at the buzzer … it's good!" House raised his arms, looking to the table for applause. Taub, Foreman and Chase regarded him with stony silence while Masters made a token effort to check her amusement.

"She's forty-five and both actually." Amelia produced a folded piece of paper from the pocket of her lab coat, a second copy. She waved the creased page in the air and dropped it on top of a haphazard stack of patient folders.

"Watching Shepherd and House flirt is like watching two parasitic worms fight for dominance of a host body." Chase stage whispered, glancing from one end of the table to the other for dramatic effect.

"Disturbing?" Taub offered in clarification.

Chase shook his head, intoning, "Hypnotic." Foreman gazed in bewilderment at Amelia, who met his gaze expectantly.

"Fifty?" Every once in a while Foreman could be struck incredulous despite his long-standing history working under House. Amelia found it a touch ironic that the details of her currently mundane sex life could be fodder for a group of professionals so thoroughly disabused of such notions as shock, titillation or awe. Placid smile hinting at something feral barely hidden underneath, Amelia couldn't resist a rare opportunity to scandalize.

"Forty-five." Amelia corrected, again. "Trust me, you'd bang her."

"That's inappropriate." Masters exclaimed in obvious distaste. She directed a disapproving shake of mousy forelocks in Amelia's direction. The action gave her the appearance of one of those odd little dogs that was ninety percent hair and in this case ten percent confusion.

"You're old enough for the NC17 version, princess." Masters rolled wide eyes drawing herself up for a sanctimonious huff.

"Actually I just meant it was demeaning and anti-feminist language unfit for the workplace although disgusting also rates pretty highly."

"And that's homophobic!" House exclaimed receiving a skeptical look from Masters in response. Taub had been vacillating between feigned boredom and what was courting a fairly slimy expression of unrestrained voyeurism. Amelia uneasily assumed he'd mentally recast the tableau with himself in the spotlight.

"Was your mother cold, emotionally withholding?" Taub asked. "I mean, because of your predilection for older … er, partners." Everything in Amelia's expression read 'not a chance', bringing the fantasy raging in the dark recesses of Taub's mind to a succinct close.

"House's," Amelia winked at her boss, "undoubtedly. Mine, not so much." House leaned forward over the table, teeth bared in a predatory grimace as he snagged the second copy of Amelia's request between his fingertips. Before he could do anything more than glance at it, Amelia again reached into her pocket producing yet another folded copy of the very same request. She raised a brow in challenge and waited patiently for the stalemate to progress to her victory or to probable escalation.

"In a completely unrelated note," Foreman interjected waving a patient file in his hand. "Patient presents with ischemic bowel and intense head pain."


House had proven a particularly cumbersome hindrance until Amelia had resorted to several horrifying pranks and a threat that her next target would be Cuddy, inferring she didn't intend madcap hijinks. As though dogging House's steps with a thousand individual copies of that request, including wall-papering his entire office with it, hadn't been enough. Possibly due to outside pressure from Cuddy, House had ungraciously given in and granted her time off. It was the first salvo in what would develop into a bloody campaign. Amelia expected some form of humiliating retaliation in the near future. In the interim, she had far more pressing matters to attend.

"Hello?" Anxious she answered the mobile phone clutched in her hand on the first ring.

"Hey! She there yet?" Lexie's voice is tremulous though it doesn't seem to bubble with the same dyspeptic excitement Amelia's experiencing. "Derek still can't believe you bought a condo and proposed to …"

"I did not propose!" Amelia protested though she expected given the last few months that Lexie's phrasing was intentionally implemented to aggravate this very reaction.

"You asked a woman to move halfway across the country for the purpose of indefinite cohabitation." Lexie argued lightly, her amusement obvious. "Common law says …"

"She's not here." Amelia interrupted, unwilling to revisit this incredibly old and subsequently boring argument.

"What? Wasn't she supposed to arrive …" Lexie paused, clearly checking the time. "An hour ago. Was there a delay?"

"No." Amelia could hear the anxious inflection of panic slip into her tone. "I just watched the entire cast of Ocean's Eleven pick up their luggage at the baggage claim."

"Well maybe …" Lexie halted. Unwilling to level reassurances when nothing she was thinking at the moment would comfort or assure. "Amelia."

"Fuck Hal, I was fairly convinced you didn't even know my name." Amelia tried unsuccessfully to laugh her way past the seriousness of Lexie's tone. Lexie cleared her throat, steeling herself and tried to remember the fine space between sincere and stern - the confident space where she could finally say the one thing she'd been thinking since Amelia had unloaded this shock that she was settling down.

"Jinx, there's something I've wanted to say for a long time now."

"It's going to have to wait a bit longer." Amelia replied. "Call waiting. It must be Catherine."

"Jinx …" Lexie persisted to no avail.

"I'll call you later Hal." Amelia hung up without waiting for Lexie's reply and answered the call in queue. "Cath?"

"Hey Amy." Catherine sounded distant, not by virtue of the connection; and Amelia immediately knew, granted an instant of emotional precognition that caused her stomach to clench painfully.

"You never call me Amy." Forgoing a greeting, Amelia's statement was somber. Catherine hesitated then replied simply.

"I'm not coming." Blinking, Amelia gazed upward at the ceiling, resignation automatically settling itself, a weight she truly believed she could feel pulling against her shoulders.

"I'm standing in JFK waiting for a plane to arrive you never even boarded." Amelia muttered. "I really wish you were joking."

"We both agreed a long time ago that this thing between us wasn't supposed to last."

"I wouldn't identify this moment as an ideal time to decide to revisit that particular agreement." Amelia placed a hand over her eyes. "Holy shit, I just bought an insanely expensive condo."

"I'm just not the partner you had in mind when you bought it." Catherine sighed. "You don't plan, Ames. Nothing in your life before or even directly after you met me suggests much in the way of planning."

"The thirty year mortgage I just signed says different." Amelia paused on a sigh of recognition. "This is because I couldn't get away for your farewell party, isn't it?" Catherine had seemed so understanding about Amelia's last minute cancellation. She'd taken the explanation in stride, told Amelia to go save a life. In fact she'd insisted, diminishing her excitement for Amelia to meet colleagues and friends in a moment with the rationale that in comparison a party could never be as important as the work to which Amelia was supremely dedicated. "You know House is insane. A fact I thought he'd adequately demonstrated when he convinced that Internal Affairs skell to give your jacket a second look. That was the low calorie entertainment of House-Lite." Amelia tried to calm her rising temper. She couldn't believe they were rehashing this. "Cath, I was in a lab for seventy-two uninterrupted hours. When exactly was I going to hop on a plane to Vegas?"

"It's not about the party Ames." Catherine's unperturbed response was unexpectedly grating. Amelia could not restrain the heat in her retort.

"What then? Last night you were excited."

"And you?" Catherine's question was far less inquisitive than it was accusatory. She had little concern for the formality of Amelia's answer, whatever it may be. She sat awake all night grappling with the truth and convinced herself there was no risk in moving east unless she embraced the role of blind fool.

"Yes I was there." Angry, Amelia allowed herself the sarcasm though imagined it didn't improve Catherine's assessment of her level of maturity. She gazed around the empty baggage claim and made a genuine attempt to listen. "What about me?" Catherine's calm wasn't unshakable and the soft inquiry was nearly enough for it to come undone in favor of the anguish that had inspired this decision

"Were you excited?" Months ago Amelia had spontaneously appeared in Vegas with that fawn-like child in tow, her brother's sister-in-law she said. Together, they were an entertaining pair and Catherine admittedly relished the three days of playing tour guide with their vaudevillian antics leaving her breathless and teary-eyed.

"Lexie, why do you call Amelia Jinx?" Languid, Catherine reclined on a poolside chaise. Perspiration pebbled bronzing skin she turned, wide sunglasses glinting as she faced the young woman on her right.

"Well …"

"That's easy." Amelia interrupted from Catherine's other side though she didn't budge. Head pillowed on her arms, she relaxed meditatively under the excoriating waves of heat. She gave every impression of dozing behind her shades. "It's because I allegedly stole her favorite tee shirt and she subsequently suffered an agonizing week without surgeries at work." Amelia exaggerated a sympathetic tone. "Poor little lamb." Lexie straightened, pulling her legs under her and leaning conspiratorially toward Catherine.

"Pipe down Jinx." Lexie instructed dismissively before turning her full attention to Catherine. "Actually it has nothing to do with the tee shirt, which she did in fact steal."

"Allegedly." Amelia sing-songed lightly.

"Oh?" Snickering, Catherine could not subdue the humor at their exchange. "So …"

"You ever play that game as a kid?" Lexie asked in reply. "You know when you and a friend said the same thing simultaneously."

"Sure." Catherine and Amelia chorused and laughing shouted. "Jinx!" Lexie chuckled.

"Right, well that's Ames and I." Lexie offered the explanation with shrugging simplicity as if it were not the profound confession Catherine recognized in an instantaneous shock. "We're a weird two of a kind in our extended Shepherd-Grey clan. Every time Amelia pops up all I can think is Jinx."

Catherine had yearned and hoped over the intervening months since Amelia's proposal that her instincts were wrong just this once. Perhaps she'd misjudged relative youth for impropriety, and affixed an erroneous label on that first meeting. But there was no denying the difference between what she'd witnessed between Lexie and Amelia and what Amelia had with Catherine. Maybe it hadn't been a meaningless tryst, but she was willing to concede that maybe this wasn't love.

Acts of surprise were Amelia's natural superlative and an unplanned visit leant negligible strain on her repertoire. It was lovely, their time; and Amelia revealed an unanticipated instinct for the decidedly romantic. As enthusiastically as Catherine wished it was more than a novelty, a plastic trinket sold along the strip; she'd come to comprehend that Amelia wasn't the kind of beau who got down on one knee or promised a white picket fence. More importantly, Amelia would never commit to anyone if her heart had any true stake in it.

"I …" Catherine anticipated the deflection and succinctly cut Amelia off.

"Don't tell me you were tired or distracted. I know how you sound when you've been at the hospital for days at a time trying to diagnose a case."

"What do you want me to say?" Amelia couldn't argue. She hadn't been wholly present in many of their recent conversations over the phone and it wasn't exhaustion as she so often plead. There was more honesty in what Catherine had said in courage than what Amelia had fearfully left unsaid.

"The right thing." Catherine urged, and instantly Amelia was incensed. As if anyone could know in this moment what the right thing was?

"What the fuck is that?" Amelia hissed, took a deep breath and tried again. "I don't know what you're expecting me to confess."

"That we aren't in love." Catherine answered roughly, her voice scrambled clumsily over the gravel-strewn obstruction of disappointment and tears. "There may be just one person you could spend the rest of your life with babe, but it's not me." Amelia cringed at the aching desertion as anger left. This, she had never expected. That it would feel hollow to hope and find oneself ultimately lost. And what was there to say? Amelia closed her eyes and listened, waited with unprecedented patience knowing that once it begun what she felt, an ever widening chasm had no end. "The right thing to say would involve you telling me that you aren't in love with Lexie. You tell me that and mean it and I'll be on the next flight."

"I … I can't . I can't." Stumbling Amelia hiccupped, her words feeling incongruous, her mouth at odds with her tongue. In this moment nothing fit. What had happened to warrant heartache? Catherine had neither absconded nor deceived, and yet here Amelia was capsizing in grief. Catherine had asked for the truth and with that inquiry, no matter the intention, it had hurt the both of them. What was honest? Did Amelia admit she'd been falling in love with Lexie every moment since that night spent shoulder to shoulder sharing secrets? Catherine would not understand, would believe that single revelation diminished any other feeling Amelia had tenderly sheltered since. Catherine assumed Amelia allowed herself the comfort of self-ignorance, wandering blithely forward, falsely calling her connection with Lexi friendship. Yes, certainly it was more, and Amelia knew it always had been. But that knowledge, shared or secreted, changed nothing unless Catherine let it.

"I know." Catherine sniffed, laughing a bit and managed even to sound light-hearted. "But that doesn't mean I didn't enjoy it while it lasted." Amelia never thought she'd be a cliché, sobbing in an airport, with nothing left to say except …

"Good-bye Catherine."

Dramatic urban sprawl is given to secrets, niches hidden boasting esoteric delights for initiates. Manhattan concealed many such treasures, a hoarded trove, a miserly stash, hidden from those spared covetous reflex in their ignorance. It was this, a nondescript brownstone in Saint Marks that escaped uninvited notice. It should have lived on the neighborhood streets of Brooklyn, Park Slope perhaps. But misplaced, it had sprouted and grown between the storefronts offering imports from Asia or classic tee shirts printed with the names of 70s rock bands obscured by history. There between stood a cornerstone of a quirky neighborhood populated by gaunt goths and pierced punks, where it defied the murky interior of its neighbors. Inside its blazing bright of crystal chandeliers called welcome with walnut and crimson soaked in unsullied warmth. It suggested a boudoir of the sort should one surmise an encounter between a cigar lounge and a wine bar. But then, House Macabre was exclusive for all its warmth and shining welcome, and it had been nearly a year since Amelia had ventured here.

In the reception area, a cozy foyer that suggested little of the business that existed behind an antique bureau that intimately served dispelling the perception of a front desk, portraits of the House's most influential members, a lineage lined the walls. Steps halted, Amelia gazed upon these and remembered the first time she'd ever beset echoing steps along gleaming hardwood.

"Good Afternoon Miss. Do you have an appointment?" For all intents and purposes she was the secretary at the dentist Amelia had visited as a child. Perfectly coifed bun and pin stripe jacket, she smiled at Amelia from her station, beckoning with finely arched brows.

"No, I …" Amelia stepped forward, balling her fists in the pockets of her jacket. She tossed her hair, indicating a portrait that hung central to all others. "I'd like a moment with the Mistress Macabre, if that's alright." Her very expression a pleasantry, the receptionist pursed her lips.

"Domina only accepts assignations by appointment." She tilted her head in what was intended to be placating if mechanical. "There is a somewhat rigorous process to become acquainted as her duties overseeing the house keep her very busy. If you are seeking instruction, perhaps I could direct you to one of our other esteemed members?" Amelia shook her head, stepping closer to the desk. In an instant, the receptionist was imperious, shoulders stiff, warning Amelia not to transgress with a steely gaze.

"No." Insistent, Amelia repeated firmly, "No. I just would like to see …"

"Now there's a familiar face." Two pairs of eyes and locked wills dissipated. Enthralled, solemnity fled Amelia's face as interruption pulled her attention to the very subject of their discussion. The head of House Macabre, New York's premiere S&M club, was a mesmerizing sight to behold in flesh. Ruby lips wide in a marvelous grin, her dark eyes flashed as she strode into the foyer. She gripped Amelia's arms and bestowed kisses to each cheek until they flushed ruddy as the upholstery's rich fabrics and brocaded curtains.

"Domina …" Amelia dipped her head, bending to pay respect at the feet of one of the world's last formally trained courtesan's. Millicent Macabre tsked and maintained her grip, thus halting the act of obeisance. Amelia swooned. Tightly embraced, the familiar scents of lavender and jasmine filled her senses and she pressed her face against the intricate stitch-work of Millicent's high collared coat. She reveled in the hypnotic scent wafting from plunging neck and gratefully remembered the associated yearnings of home.

"Too long you've been gone from us, menina. Como vai voce?" Millicent leaned back, the cocoa tones of her hands shone like rich brass against pale cream as she cupped Amelia's chin. "How was California?" Amelia blinked, unable to meet sultry brown as tears unexpectedly spilled onto her cheeks. "Ah." Murmuring comfort and sympathy, Millicent wound an arm around Amelia's waist. "Suki, cancel my appointments. I'm not to be disturbed." Command flowed as silkily as seduction on Millicent's lovely tenor, harkening the southern regions of Brazil.

"Yes Domina." An attentive foot soldier eager to receive, the receptionist presented a mini bow more than a nod in confirmation and offered Amelia's tears deference by discreetly redirecting her gaze.

"Come, beleza." Millicent gave Amelia a squeeze, voice lilting with amusement. "We'll catch up." Amelia nodded, wiping briskly at her eyes and tried desperately for a smile. An admirable attempt, it wobbled and her voice shook as she accepted.

"Yes please, Domina. Thank you."

Millicent's private salon, unlike the rooms where assignations were conducted by members, was a heady mixture of comfort and titillation. House Macabre was a business by necessity though not by nature. The House was a lifestyle. These rooms, plied with finery and fragrant with the exotic were intended to woo penitents and pilgrims alike. It was a delicate negotiation that began with the senses. Enticed by a poetry designed for the eye, those who ventured within Millicent's sanctum would never be touched by a descriptor as cold and callous as the word client. Men and women joined her in worship, the exchange of pleasure and pain were prayers sent heavenward. House Macabre was a temple and Millicent was its priestess.

"My student tells me you found enlightenment." Amelia observed the careful movements of Millicent's tea preparation. She'd missed watching these practiced steps that were as much an artful performance as a tradition.

"I was an imperfect adept for Mistress Samas. I do not think she was very impressed by me." Amelia thought back to the awkward good-bye she'd shared with the Mistress in LA. Samas was Millicent's second, handpicked to expand the interests of the House in a new territory. When Millicent learned that Amelia was moving west, she'd delivered strict directives to her devoted student as to how Amelia was to be welcomed. It was not uncommon among the upper ranks of the House for certain penitents to gain a preferential status, honored, chosen to train exclusively with one Mistress. It was rare that such a relationship was transferred nor certainly broken. Another Mistress might become a trustee to a penitent under unique circumstances, such as those governing Amelia's unexpected relocation.

Millicent demonstrated great confidence in her student to entrust her with Amelia's instruction. However, as a submissive handled henceforth only by the head of House Macabre, Amelia had quite a reputation to uphold in her own right. A handful of random calls in the middle of the night for thirty quick minutes of discipline did little to advance that reputation. She'd treated a Mistress like a stand-in, a disembodied hand to deliver lashes at her whim. Thinking on it now, Amelia fought a rising tide of remorse, certain she'd imparted a wealth of shame in her impulsive decision to disconnect herself from the family. "I thought I'd found something else. I thought my reasons for submission were no different than those that once fortified my addictions." She tried to find the right words to explain but feared they fell woefully short. "The only thing I've discovered in retrospect is how I diminished the respite and welcome so generously offered by this House."

"When you first came to me, trying to find a way to feel something that didn't involve …"

"Pills." Amelia readily inserted. Millicent nodded, gesturing for Amelia to partake. Amelia lifted her tea cup and bowing her head, let the fragrant steam wash over her in wanton appreciation. Millicent had often noted that Amelia had an admirable talent for hedonism, the ability for absolute surrender. She watched amazed at how effortless immersion was for this penitent in whom she'd always harbored an exceptional fondness.

"I explained that the exchange between a dominant and a submissive, the interplay of pleasure and pain is in your control. You create the parameters of the relationship. You make or break the rules of our little fiefdom with one word." Millicent sipped, humming with pleasure and settled back against the cushions of the chaise on which she perched, effortlessly seductive. Amelia enjoyed the play of movement as Millicent curled her legs up and under until her hips rounded deliciously under her slim skirt. The first time she'd seen Millicent in person after months of correspondence had been a fiery revelation, a sultry conflagration of her limbs that debunked burning in brimstone as punishment. Hell was an ugly defilement of the fire of true punishment. Being set aflame by discipline was a beauty she'd never imagined.

"I don't mind chaos. I don't want to be in control." Millicent had always been a patient teacher. Her lessons were as much an act of love as education. Even now, she smiled indulgently.

"The strictures that impaired your youth may have encouraged you to defame control. But that does not mean you don't desire it." Millicent gestured around the lavishly decorated space. It flickered enchantingly, painted by the rosy glow of a dozen tiny, jumping flames at the end of tall wicks. Behind the antique cabinets and within the hand carved trunks that permeated corners, ducked behind the couches and under the curtains, the heart of this house beat. It wasn't simply whips and chains or ball gags and latex. These were the reverently cared for instruments of a calling. They waited in boxes lined with satin, shining like new though well used for generations. "It's why you come here." Millicent explained. "Out there you may enjoy life as spontaneous and unexpected." She paused, making certain the point. "But in here, you wish only to be bound by the structure of domination and submission."

"When I yearn to be safe, it's this house I think of first. I think of only." Amelia placed her tea cup down, wringing her hands in an uncharacteristic display of nervousness. "I've learned too many hard lessons of how dangerous it is to depend on anything."

"Dependence isn't always addiction, little one. Sometimes, it's just taking comfort in reliability." Millicent reached across the distance between them, over the tea service on its diminutive table. She stopped the anxious action of Amelia's hands with a touch that drew Amelia's attention. Sometimes, it is the will of the Mistress to comfort and love like a mother though she is most often called upon to tend her offspring with the distant omnipotence of a goddess. "You know you can always come here and I will always be waiting."

"Yes Domina." Amelia clutched slim fingers that on numerous occasions with deft manipulation wrenched the thundering sounds of submission from deep within her flesh. Under those loving ministrations, Amelia had discovered the only definitive proof of freedom beyond the concept of a word like truth or justice, poetry leveled at the unarmed logic of crusaders and idealists. She'd found freedom in submission and craved it more fervently than the addictions of her past or untenable desires of her future.

"Come. Finish your tea." Millicent urged with a pat and returned to her own neglected cup. "And tell me my darling. Have you a new safe word?" Sipping delicately, Amelia demurred.

"I won't need it."


Kiss Kick Cry




Catherine's overall response had not evolved beyond the arching of a delicate brow since she'd opened her door. The wordless gesture of invitation that found Lexie seated stiffly staring across her reflection in the glossy walnut coffee table from an otherwise comfy living room couch, had not exactly opened a floodgate of communication. She cleared her throat, prepared to proceed with equal unannounced temerity into this very necessary conversation as she had into Catherine's new home.

"Nice place." Lexie made little effort to hide the sarcasm at the generic furnishings of the extended stay suite Catherine was occupying in Pentagon City. Two metro stops outside the capital, it was convenient if cold. The commute was certainly shorter than it had been in Vegas. The unpacked boxes stacked against the wall seemed to illustrate Catherine's lack of commitment to tracking down a white picket fence any time soon. In that, she and Amelia seemed to have a great deal in common, Lexie smirked.

"Thanks." Catherine's response was equally lacking in authenticity to Lexie's lackluster compliment. "How'd you happen to find it?"

"Oh." Lexie offered a shrug, smiling beatifically. "That Greg Saunders, love him!" She exclaimed. "We're Facebook friends." Catherine frowned. Lexie didn't have much hope for Saunders' continued good health.

"Fascinating." Catherine gestured ambiguously, as though encompassing the whole of the greater DC, Maryland, Virginia metropolitan area and not the very small corner in which she currently resided. "Just in town and struck by an inoperable urge to venture by and say hello."

"Visiting my sister Molly and my niece Laura, she just turned two." Lexie smiled with momentary pride before her expression turned serious. "And …"

"She loves you." Lexie pursed her lips, pre-empted from further speech by the very words with which she'd intended to begin when Catherine had first opened her door and offered only that eyebrow as greeting.

"I … that's what I was …" Clasping and unclasping her hands in her lap, Lexie wrestled with the sense of having been sent to the principal's office as she fidgeted a moment under the heat of Catherine's uncompromising gaze and the underlying accusation of the other woman's statement. Taking a deep breath for a second attempt, "She's my best friend." Catherine's eyes seemed to Lexie to be finely sculpted from some deeply buried core of glacial ice, smoky and crisp. The minute shiver that tripped along her spine was not easily attributed to the indistinguishable hum of HVAC sheltered in the quiet. It would almost be nice if their stilted conversation were met with some mundane distraction like the creak of a quaint little house settling as the system kicked into action, battling the humid summer climate. No such luck at the Ladotel. "She's like no one I've ever met, and she's usually a mess. But with you she's a masterpiece." Lexie swallowed, gathering her resolve. "And I know that you …"

"You love her too." Catherine interrupted.

"Please stop hijacking my brain!" Lexie cleared her throat, startled by the sudden volume of her own voice as once again Catherine purloined with pinpoint accuracy exactly what Lexie intended to say. Catherine rolled her eyes, relaxing her stiff posture to sit back against the cushions of the couch. She really hadn't intuited this brash visit from Amelia's … what was this girl to the woman whom Catherine had so recently offered everything? So menial the passage of time betwixt this moment, this inevitable confrontation and all of it ultimately she perceived negligible in the shadow of disappointment. She'd stacked a mighty tower of these predicaments, these endings, the pinnacle of which swayed above her from a dizzying height. Heartache was a giant in her mind, a hollow echo clawing at her and still very much a part of her like the cadence of flesh still warm with life.

Two months since she'd failed to board a plane and here was this doe-eyed child shouting in her extended stay hotel room. Perhaps if she'd done as intended, moved to a cute little condo in the city and taken a tenured Professorship at NYU, she'd be ecstatic and in love. She wouldn't, as Lexie had observed, be living in some shitty hotel suite full of unpacked boxes still labeled with the half-heartedly scratched out address of Amelia's New York City Condo. She wouldn't have a scar in her left side from a bullet that damn near stole her life. She wouldn't have a presidential commendation from the Department of Homeland Security. She wouldn't be a Special Agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation's Behavioral Analysis Unit. Her life since Amelia had been filled with mixed blessings. Catherine was grateful for most, if not entirely happy. And the only misstep for which she continued to hold herself accountable was not boarding that plane. If only she'd meandered past the outward calm, the shock, the numb perhaps she could muster a bit more ire or envy, something mean or ugly to thrust in Lexie's face and say - See how love has mistreated me?

"Why are you wasting my time?" Catherine breathed, these words no less exhausted than the utterance that directed them to Lexie's waiting ears. Blinking, Lexie was perplexed even awed, never having expected to encounter a passive, broken Catherine. This was all wrong and far from what she'd planned. She'd hoped to bear witness to resentment or something to evidence the harm Catherine wrought was motivated by intent. This woman, who sat with eyes rimmed in crimson, leveled a retreat not an attack. How had they, Catherine, Amelia, come to so thoroughly misunderstand? It was as though someone carelessly lit a match just to watch it burn and the flame had leapt and eagerly lapped at a foundation already treacherous, ready to crumble.

"Why are you giving up so easily? It's as though you have nothing but time to waste." Lexie countered. She leaned forward, balancing on the edge of her seat that her words might better reach their target.

"I'm too old for love triangles." Catherine muttered. She looked away, jaw tightening, her gaze immediately alighting on a conspicuous column of boxes nearby. She hadn't exactly had a plan in place when she'd hung up the phone after uttering a last goodbye to Amelia Shepherd. Life made choice nonsensical. And she'd ended up here. If she allowed herself to consider this odd dichotomy with any insight the sound that to her wheeling intellect wasn't quite laughter echoing through her mind, could easily be identified as self-recrimination. Catherine chided herself, the fear that had ignited the impetus to discard her plane ticket and make that phone call. What were you thinking?

"What you're too old for is temper tantrums." Lexie countered in open reproof. "What the hell were you thinking?" Catherine blanched, startled. Who was reading whose mind here? "You strike out and break Ames's heart because you think she and I are somehow oblivious to one another's feelings?" Blinking Catherine shook her head as if the gesture could somehow shake the stark shade of vulnerability cast upon her features. "I love Amelia Shepherd more than almost anyone on this planet. That's the truth and this truth allows me a unique capability to distinguish when there is someone else out there who loves her just as much." Lexie challenged Catherine to sully the moment's honesty with denial. She was unperturbedly relieved to see no such urge towards prevarication when Catherine's shoulders dipped acceptance.

"I'm not in the habit of receiving lectures in my own home."

"You mean your hotel room?" Lexie retorted rising to her feet. "I'm not in the habit of having to travel quite so far to deliver one. And last I checked," Lexie looked pointedly at the boxes cluttered around the sterile space. "This wasn't your home. If I'm not mistaken, commuter flights leave for New York several times a day."



Moonlight breached the waxy dark, barely illuminating a pile of dirty clothing cast at the foot of a bed crowned by text books open but resting face down on their pages. Meredith navigated the hastily discarded tennis shoes, scrubs, the odd pair of dirty socks until her thighs collided at the edge and crouched. For several long moments she observed the transforming shadow of Lexie's face, eyelids fluttering in dreams. Fingers reaching she stopped, holding her breath as Lexie stirred. Brown eyes eased open and tracked Meredith's face in a moment of shock.

"Jesus, Mer, what the actual fuck?" Lexie cursed jerking backward, startled by the unexpected figure at her bedside.

"I …" Meredith murmured, confusion seeming to ripple across her features. Lexie sat up, calm arriving quickly in the face of Meredith's unaccustomed panic. "I had a dream … it was awful, an awful dream." Her fingers, unfrozen from their initial path, sought out Lexie's cheek. The touch, tentative as though unsure of the reality of Lexie's substance, drifted to cradle tenderly. Lexie gasped in momentary shock, finding her face buried against Meredith's chest. She listened to whispered reassurances, surely more for Meredith's benefit than Lexie's own, "You're okay. You're okay."

"I'm fine Mer." Lexie pulled gently away looking up into her sister's face, stumped by the sight of tears accompanied by stark relief. "I'm fine." Lexie reached up brushed at the streaming damp beneath her sister's wide eyes. "I'm fine."

"I know." Meredith huffed, attempting a calming breath and pulled Lexie close once again. Lips planted against the dark crown of her sister's head, Meredith allowed herself one last squeeze of confirmation before swiftly letting go and retreating back the way she came. Lexie watched bewildered, perched in the middle of her bed, any dwindling remnants of drowsiness banished from her system. She leaned back against her headboard, gazed out the window and wondered if … her mobile rang, interrupting the thought as if on cue.


"Hal, I just had …" Lexie's brows crept towards her hairline as she jumped to the ready conclusion inferred by the voice on her phone.

"Bad dream Jinx? Seems to be in season." Lexie listened rolling her eyes at the snort of amusement, quickly dousing the seriousness that had permeated the room since her waking.

"Uh, no." Amelia's tone held the telling spark of arrogance that could mean little else on a Friday night. "Best sex of my life … well the week anyway. " She paused, interrupting her own recap to ask, "What the hell are you doing up? Don't you have six a.m. rounds?" Lexie scooted down to her pillows, snuggling under the duvet.

"Mer just gifted me with the creepiest midnight wake up call, ever - something about a bad dream." Lexie stifled a yawn. "It was weird. She was really freaked out Ames."

"Seriously!" Amelia quipped in her best imitation of her sister-in-law much to Lexie's involuntary amusement. "She's a Mom now Lex. What doesn't freak her out? Take our munchkin to McDonald's for a happy meal and see if you don't get another middle of the night visitation."

"Yeah maybe." Lexie murmured, not entirely convinced that Meredith's bad dream had anything to do with the typical anxieties of parenthood. She yawned again, feeling weariness return. She estimated she could grab another four solid hours of sleep tonight with any luck. "I'm crashing Jinx. Call you tomorrow for whatever sordid tale you have to share?"

"Night Hal … hey, I uh …" Lexie listened, noting the distinct hesitation on Amelia's end, silence rolling across the line interrupted only by a cautious breath. Lexie swallowed immediately understanding the sentiment.

"Yeah, me too. Night Jinx."



"Nice place." Amelia winced at the reverberating echo against floor boards and unfinished brick. The empty space felt endless. She felt every sound, in unique, pitiable empathy. "Maybe, you should get some furniture, you know? A few knick knacks …" Amelia glared.

"I didn't ask you here for decorating advice."

"Apologies." He shrugged, hands up in mock surrender. "Just making chit chat, fully servicing the customer. I hate to be all business."

"And I hate to have my time wasted." Amelia tossed an envelope. It spun through the empty space, landing with a hefty thump before pristine loafers. He was well-manicured, head to toe, with a hundred dollar hair cut. And he was pretty, saucy lips and sparkling eyes, just her type. He bent, retrieved the package without the flair of inspection; but grinned with all the nonchalance of his youth.

"A pleasure." He turned for the door, no ceremony, no flirtation, just the basics. "Next week?" Head bent over the kitchen counter, Amelia licked her teeth, utterly absorbed and didn't offer an answer. Her credit card tapped against granite, loud, resounding to obscure his exit. The light changed, grew into richer, deeper browns along the floor until it touched her bare feet. Glassy eyed, she watched, waiting for it to retreat, waiting for it to change, for the darker shadows long after day.

Her phone rattled, anxious, pitting lazy attention with another text from Chase. She was late and there would be another case, another distraction. Amelia manufactured an appropriately witty response, an excuse that would meet her team's expectation. Another night with another girl, always another tale to tell, to dispel those harmless inquiries of - "how are you, really?" She bent, snorted, rubbed her nose briskly, and tossed lengthy chestnut draughts spilling over bare shoulders to contemplate what remained. Her perfect powdery regimen of relief from this loud, this empty, this whole world would keep indefinitely. Until tomorrow, or the next whenever she found herself again framed within this memorial to a life that slipped away so unexpectedly. Cause sorrow, never decayed like so many other sentimentalities. A shower, fresh clothes, coffee from that hip little roaster down the street, and who would know? Who would ever guess at her terrible, echoing, empty.



Lexie awoke to a light touch on her brow. She'd fallen asleep with Zola cuddled like a softly snoring miniature heater on her chest. She opened her eyes and blearily considered her sister. Meredith had seemed far from tender at first blush. But motherhood had certainly mellowed her.

"I didn't want to wake her." Lexie whispered in explanation. Meredith nodded, eyes rapt on her sleeping daughter.

"I love you Lex." Meredith murmured. Her tone bore a stark contrast to the woman Lexie had seen gyrating to LMFAO mere hours before. In the morning, she'd be on a flight to Boise to perform ground-breaking surgery at the elbow of newly board-certified surgeons half hungover and flying high on their recent credentialing success.

"I …" Lexie swallowed, struck by a deep sense of foreboding. "I love you too Mer."

"I need a favor." It seemed to take all of her strength to redirect her gaze; but when she did, Lexie felt absolutely immobilized by its depth. "You are the sole person in this world I would ever consider asking." Attentive, Lexie nodded.


"Tomorrow, I need you to take Zola and go visit her Aunt Amelia." Meredith instructed simply. "There's an afternoon flight, I've already booked it."

"Uh, no." Lexie smirked, then laughed, not entirely understanding what had to be an intricate joke. "I know you had a lot to drink but come on Mer. Boise? The transplant team?" Lexie's protestations swiftly stalled. There was little means to characterize Meredith's expression other than dire.

"I've asked Kepner to take your place." Meredith interrupted.

"You mean just failed my boards, fired from my job, headed back to the farm Kepner!" Outraged, Lexie took a deep breath in consideration of her sleeping niece. She glared unmitigated disapproval, unwilling to voice the words she was so clearly thinking - that's not fair.

"You'll do this for me because I'm asking you, Lexie." Meredith murmured, patient but taut with an unnamed anxiety. "Because there's nothing I love more in this world than what is in this room right now." Meredith paused, meeting Lexie's frustration with no lack of determination. "I need to know that you're both safe." Safe, it defied Lexie to understand what Meredith could possibly mean by that. Why the hell wouldn't they be safe? Safe was a ready assumption, but for the desperation in her tone. It was impossible to deny such a request even if it meant missing a surgery that could easily make Lexie's career.

"Okay." Lexie shifted, adjusting to Zola's slumbering weight on her chest.

"Okay?" Meredith arched her eyebrows in expectance, tracking Lexie's gaze. It was never Lexie's intent to lie. But in that moment, pinned by Meredith's odd mix of anxiety and authority, Lexie could only offer token submission.

"Yes. Okay, Mer." Lexie muttered, easing Zola into her sister's arms. She offered her niece a quick good night kiss in deference to meeting Meredith's gaze in affirmation.

"Hey." Meredith caught Lexie's hand before she could slip from the room. Lexie gazed at their intertwined fingers before finally, with a sigh, offering Meredith a patient look. The relief on Meredith's face was palpable, and as uncomfortable the thought of acquiescing to this ludicrous request, Lexie could not deny her sister a moment's peace. "Thank you Lexie."

"Yeah." Lexie mustered a lopsided smile. "Night."



Those first tentative weeks, she'd walked the halls of PPTH and pretended there wasn't a timer steadily ticking down to zero just for her. That was back when Catherine had shown up in her office behaving as though little or no time had passed and a chasm hadn't been carved between them.

"Hi." Catherine's greeting hadn't exactly eschewed the level of sentiment that would explain the desperately anxious beating of Amelia's heart. Nevertheless, Amelia had simply grinned, as ever reliant on charm and relishing the instant monumental relief to suddenly be in Catherine's presence again.

"Hey Cath." Ever-haunting, Amelia's eyes had danced, hopeful and cunningly confident that casual could erase good-bye when Catherine had arisen like an apparition long from sight to perch in Amelia's office doorway. Lips fertile with saucy replies to the inquiries hinted in Catherine's eyes, Amelia sauntered and dodged the truth looming behind an easy smile. "How are you?"

"How am I?" Catherine's hands seemed frozen a moment, hovering between pockets and hips. Amelia had been rifling through a clutch of papers when Catherine had eased into the doorway, watching, waiting for that pinpoint focus to take notice.

"You look good." Amelia strolled forward, hands in the back pockets of her jeans. She fought the indecision that warred inside of her, planting her in front of her desk, unable to move forward, unwilling to retreat.

"Jesus Ames." Catherine breathed. Amelia was unsure whether it was shock or fury that stole those words, neglecting their sounds. She swallowed and still not quite finding the steel with which Amelia had become so familiar. Catherine remarked, "You'll forgive me saying you look like a mile of bad road." Amelia tossed her hair forward, gazing unerringly up at Catherine through dark lashes. She could not deny the weight loss or pale complexion that had no doubt caught Catherine's attention.

"And you're gorgeous as ever, Cath." She sighed, licking her lips and meeting Catherine's blunt appraisal with indifference. She winked, noting the infinitesimal reaction on Catherine's face. If there was one thing Amelia had learned early on, it was that Catherine Willows had an obvious tell. "Congratulations, by the way."

"I should say the same of you." Catherine gestured at the office recently vacated by one Dr. Gregory house.

"Well, my promotion had a little less to do with merit and more to do with the incarceration of my boss." Amelia grinned, shrugging at the undetectable levity of the subject. "Senior agent at the FBI after cracking an international arms smuggling ring, now that is impressive."

"Lexie didn't mention …" Catherine murmured, inching further into the office, closing the distance between them.

"You spoke to Hal?" Amelia startled, for a moment she was a perfect rendition of devastation.

Catherine drew even closer, nearly within distance to reach out, smooth the sorrow from Amelia's tented brow. Amelia swallowed looking away. She'd made what she thought was a sound attempt at nonchalant phone calls reminiscent of their early friendship. That had been a time populated by a carefree Amelia and an innocent Lexie, a Lexie unable or unlikely to read deception in Amelia's laughter. "She sent you." Amelia's true curiosity inquired, does she know?

Catherine, closer now, close enough to search for the source of the hurt behind Amelia's fear, leaned just short of an embrace, head dipping under an unkempt cascade of honey strands. In such close proximity, Amelia was assaulted by the myriad minutia she craved, like the whisky-tempered burble of full-throated humor that would boldly erupt when Catherine could be caught off-guard. It was not here in this room, this stifling moment that pressed unrelentingly against Amelia's chest. She waited for Catherine's reasoning behind this surprise visit with only dread and no palliative balm to soothe her wanting.

Catherine cleared her throat, hearing the unsteady rasp, "Are you …" She gazed at Amelia, cataloguing the evidence she observed before her with unsurprisingly swift recognition. "You're sick."

"So I've heard." Amelia chuckled. She typically stopped off at a pharmacy on her way home. She preferred the anonymity of having her prescriptions filled by a pharmacist four blocks from the one simultaneously impulsive and adult purchase that had changed her entire existence. One would have thought such change would inevitably be for the better - if one can accurately gauge better as temporary emotional fulfillment and happiness rather than any semblance of physical longevity. She'd signed the closing papers, said the hardest good-bye of her life, then spent two months in a blacked out haze.

"Your sense of humor doesn't seem to have suffered." Catherine shook her head looking away. Two months, what could have changed, she wondered, feeling angry at the unceremonious opening of wounds far too fresh to admit. "I'm here because I … I need to tell you that I can't let this." She reached out placing a gentle hand, like a tin roof above the anxious beating of Amelia's heart. "I won't let this go." Catherine found what she'd been searching for in the depth of Amelia's attentive gaze, and knew with sudden anguish that the road back to what they had would not be easy. "Do you really want to hide from me? As long as you need me, I'm right here." What Amelia knew, not from the succinct clarity of Catherine's tone, or the steady piercing quality of her attention, was that as surely as she'd snorted a line of oxy off her desk not thirty minutes prior, Catherine was an astute assessor. There appeared a bounty of evidence reflected in Amelia's weight loss, the dark circles under her eyes and the slight tremble in her hands.

"You're using." Catherine announced, intent to make Amelia understand. "And you will die." Catherine placed her hands to cup Amelia's gaunt cheeks, to impart the love and caring she felt with each word through this simple touch. "And we don't have time. We are all out of time, Ames. Do you get that?" Drawing her close, Catherine pressed a chaste kiss against Amelia's lips. "I'm not asking. I'm telling you that we walk out this door right now, together and fix this." Catherine emphasized this last with a shake, reawakening Amelia's attention in spite of the drugs at work in her system. Amelia realized, as she shook with sudden unchecked emotion, that this never was going to be a stalemate. Not from the first.

"I'm sorry." Amelia choked on the words. She bit her lip, unable to halt the sudden flow of tears. "I can't bear …" She could say that she couldn't bear any of it, the waiting for that final wound that would just as surely end the remnants of a life she'd barely had the strength to hold onto since Catherine's departure from it.

"What?" Catherine asked, "What can't you bear?"

"To spend another moment …" Amelia pleaded, barely drawing breath. "alone." The caricature of grief pulled unsympathetically, edging away the last remnants of a carefree Amelia Shepherd. She could not hide her own horror at her descent behind twitching fingers and trembling hands. "I'm broken."

"You're not baby." Catherine held on, patient, waiting, determined. "I promise you're not alone." This time she wouldn't rescind the promises her heart had so eagerly made. This time, she was resolute. It would be more than she'd ever wanted, far less than she'd ever asked for; but she was damnably in it.

Damp fingers slid cool along the back of Catherine's neck, and squeezing, Amelia pulled her in not for a kiss, but for surrender. She turned herself over to the will and control, to the shelter Catherine offered. It would never be promises of eternity; and for that, Amelia was relieved. Anyone willing to persist through this could have as many right now's and today's as necessary until forever stopped counting.

"What if I can't .." Amelia whispered into the perfumed skin underneath Catherine's collar only to be halted, the admission of her fear unrealized.

"You will." Catherine drew away, steady hands aligned along the hypnotic planes of Amelia's face. "You will."



Lexie studiously avoided Meredith's gaze, finding the pamphlet on what to do in case of a water landing absolutely engrossing.

"You promised me." Meredith glared pointedly at Mark Sloan until he had the presence of mind to relinquish the seat next to her sister.

"You had a bad dream and April was more than happy to babysit." Lexie muttered. "Admittedly, I found it difficult to take your tequila-soaked prophetic crazy at all serious in the sobering light of morning." Meredith sat for a moment in stony silence and regarded Lexie's profile.

"I'm just trying …"

"To convince me to miss out on one of the most important surgical opportunities of my internship?" Lexie offered, turning finally to meet Meredith's gaze. "On the basis of a bad dream at that."

"You're my sister Lex." Meredith conceded with recognition of how absurd her behavior must have seemed in the last twenty-four hours alone. "I just want to …"

"Protect me, I know." Lexie injected.

"Or finish a sentence." Meredith rolled her eyes, but allowed an indulgent smile to emerge.

"Besides, nothing's going to happen." Amelia returned her attention to the pamphlet, shaking her head at the unintentionally humorous representations of passengers in distress. "Statistically, what's safer than flying?" Whatever dry retort Meredith had to offer was interrupted by the ringing of Lexie's mobile phone. Meredith gave her a look.

"It's Ames. I'll be quick. There's time." Gesturing toward the front of the cabin where several of her colleagues were still getting settled, Lexie shrugged at Meredith's exasperation. As if she had any control over Ames' impeccable timing. "Hey Jinx, can't talk now. We're getting ready to take off and Meredith is mid-lecture so …"

"Actually, this is Catherine." Lexie blinked at the unexpected voice over the line.

"Oh. Um, hey." Lexie quirked her lips, preening. "So you took my advice."

"Your less than subtle, I told you so, aside" Catherine quipped, glancing at Amelia dozing in the passenger seat of her rental. "I wanted to let you know ..." She paused, grasping for the words. How does one break such damaging news over the phone?

"I knew." Lexie murmured, breaking the silence to lend voice to the unsettled feeling that had crept further and further to the forefront of her thoughts with each passing call from Amelia. Jinx had been masquerading behind cheery phone calls, confessions of her latest escapades embellished to distract. "I knew."

"It's going to be alright." Catherine's voice is as staunch in its belief as her reassurance intends. Lexie looks up at a forceful nudge from Meredith, distracted from the call, her questions, promises she wants to make. The co-pilot is gesturing pointedly for Lexie to hang up.

"They're making me hang up." Lexie felt a sudden, indescribable urge not to miss this chance, as though somehow this goodbye held greater finality than any preceeding it. "Cath!"

"It's okay." Catherine replied. "I'm driving Ames to a rehab facility in Connecticut. It's highly recommended. I'll call when she checked in."

"But Cath, how will I … when will I see her?" Lexie swallowed the unmistakable weight of tears gathering in her throat, determined not to cry.

"In a month, you and I both will see her when she's clean." Catherine, sensing Lexie's turmoil, offered the only reassurance she knew how. "She's going to be okay, Lex. I promise."

"Tell her I love her, please. Tell her, I'm sorry I'm not there." Lexie, surprised at her own desperation and the sudden tears in her eyes. "Cath, I'm sorry."

"Lexie." Meredith eyed her sister, unexpectedly distraught, and placed a comforting hand on Lexie's shoulder. "What's wrong?"

"Miss, could you please?" The pilot's voice drifted toward them as he approached, ducking in the somewhat confined space. Ignoring the sudden attention of their colleagues, Meredith waved him off.

"Please, sir, just a minute." Meredith offered him a conciliatory smile. "Lexie, what is it?" Lexie shook her head, overwrought by sudden emotion. She relinquished the telephone, covering her mouth in an attempt to stifle her own sobbing.

"Hello?" Meredith inquired into the phone. "This is Doctor Meredith Shepherd Grey, Lexie's sister. Who is this?"

"Hi, Meredith. We haven't met. This is Catherine I'm …" Catherine paused, rolling her eyes at the semi-absurdity of referring to herself in such a juvenile term at her age. "Amelia's girlfriend."

"Ah yes, Catherine." Meredith squinted confusion as Lexie hiccupped and covered her face to hide her degenerating control. "Good to meet you. Lexie's speaks quite fondly of you. You'll pardon my abruptness, but we're getting ready to take off, you know just to go save some lives. Could whatever earth-shattering news you've called to share possibly wait until we land? Further, is there any particular reason why my sister is losing her shit right now?"

"I … I didn't intend to upset her." Catherine demurred. "Amelia and I are headed to Connecticut."

"To get married? Mazel Tov." Meredith offered, rolling her eyes and thought, leave it to Amelia. "We'll send a gift basket."

"Mer!" Lexie chastised brokenly on the tail of a half-restrained sob. Meredith looked askance, shrugging.

"Actually no." Catherine bristled, swerved unrepentantly into the passing lane around a slow moving vehicle, then forced herself to calm and focus on her driving. "I'm checking Amelia into rehab."

"Great. Even better. Amelia is nothing if not predictably unhinged at the most inconvenient moments. I'll let her brother know." Meredith muttered.

"Can I maybe just speak to your sister or barring that anyone else who gives half a shit about Amelia?" Catherine hissed, struggling to lower her voice despite her rising temper. Amelia stirred, head nodding against the cool glass of the window, but did not wake.

"Like I said we're taking off. Safe travels." Meredith disconnected the phone without waiting for a response and waved it in the air for the pilot's benefit. "And now we can go."

"Fuck sake Meredith …" Lexie sniffled.

"Really Lexie? Seriously?" Meredith shook her head, digging in her pockets for the abundance of spare Kleenex she now seemed to perpetually have since the onset of motherhood. She handed one to her sister. "You were the one who insisted on my crazy and came. And you were right. I was wrong. Now, let us collectively get our shit together. No one on this plane has sufficient time for Amelia's truck load of drama at the moment. We have a life to save, remember?" Meredith glanced across the aisle at Derek, his expression speaking volumes of curiosity. She shook her head subtly. She'd tell him when they landed, or perhaps after the marathon surgery that awaited. No point in worrying him. There would be too many distracted doctors on the team as it stood. She slipped Lexie's phone back into her sister's front jacket pocket, marveling that she could stand to be so bundled up in the somewhat stuffy airplane cabin. "Not a word to Derek until we are on this plane headed home, understood?" Lexie wiped her eyes with the Kleenex, and nodded. She turned to gaze out the window as the plane began its steady trip along the tarmac toward the runway. "Everything is going to be fine." Meredith sighed, leaning back and closing her eyes.

Lexie watched as they inevitably picked up speed, the ground fell away, and she was pressed back into her seat. It felt like foreboding. She grabbed Meredith's hand and held on tightly.



Meredith startled awake, blinking. Tree branches stretched well above her, poking at the night sky, blotting the spill of starlight, dampening the moonshine. Even in the dim, the receding warmth of coals cooling from what had been a fire, she could see her breath condense, misting on frigid air. To her left, Derek stirred and grumbled in his sleep as though this were simply another night at home, tucked safely in their bed. If only, she thought, stifling the urge to weep.

In the dark, she could hear ominous rustling, growling, howling of an untempered wild beyond the clearing cut by their unscheduled plummet from the sky. This was no shelter. Yet she did not wager any of their chances wandering in the dark beyond it. A sudden shift in the intensity of the nearby sound drew her to the relatively quiet manifestation of Christina, as if by magic. She loomed, clutching a makeshift torch that lent an all too eerie light upon her unkempt features and wild eyes. Under her arm, miraculously, she carried one of the medical bags they'd packed from Seattle Grace. It held emergency supplies, guaze and disinfectant, sedatives and even minor surgical implements in abundance. Despite this discovery, Christina appeared as feral in that moment as the restless sounds emanating from the darkness. Meredith hesitated, unsure of what greeting might suffice in this moment.

"Christina, where …" Meredith began, relying on the comfort of the obvious, only to be interrupted.

"She's not breathing." Christina cast the torch aside, and knelt by the still figure on Meredith's right. Directed by Christina's unerring attention, Meredith fixated on her sister's face, slack in what she hoped was slumber. She reached out, palpating the cool skin of Lexie's neck and finding a pulse, weak and thready. Nonetheless, Christina was correct. Despite such positive evidence to Lexie's vitality, the blue tint of pale cheeks grew steadily more pronounced.

Meredith watched Christina in the dancing light of the torch, unnerved by the sudden appearance of a ten blade from the medical bag. Why couldn't this be the nightmare? Meredith wondered, wishing only that Lexie had heeded desperate instructions and escaped this hell inching along in surreal depravities of death.

"Christina." Meredith intoned slowly, halting in her frantic and thus far futile ministrations to clear Lexie's airway.

"It's her lung." Christina lifted Lexie's shirt out of the way to paint her chest in betadine, for all the good it would do. She tossed the bottle and switched the scalpel to her dominant hand only to be stilled by Meredith's firm grip around her wrist.

"Christina." Meredith repeated, garnering undivided attention. "A chest tube in the field is a death warrant. We're having enough trouble keeping maggots out of Arizona's leg. You want to consign my sister to worse?"

"What I want is to save her life." Christina fumed, eyes transforming from hollow to livid in an instant. "If you want me to stop, then you want her to die." She wrenched her arm free to gesture out into the darkness where the cacophony of an untamed wild feasting on the remains of their dead colleagues rang with disturbing potency. "So let's sit here and wait and in no time, she will die; and we'll drag her body out there, with Mark Sloan's, and the co-pilot and we can spend tonight listening to those animals fight over your sister also."

Meredith choked, trying not to sob. No crying. She'd promised. She'd cry when this was over. When they were all home safe, and all of this could truly just be a nightmare, she'd hold her daughter in her arms and cry for days. But now … She took a steadying breath, nodded and watched as Christina, steely as ever, cut.

Two months later

Lexie grimaced, blinking back tears, as she carefully maneuvered onto her back. She stared at the ceiling of her darkened bedroom waiting for the pain to recede, then waited in the quiet for the screaming to begin. Muffled by the walls, she could hear her sister's nightly torment, and at the heart of the wailing the ever-present mantra, "Lexie!"

Abruptly the screaming stopped. Some moments of silence passed, wherein Lexie imagined Derek comforted Meredith, even now after months enduring this same nightly drama. It all went off by the clock tick, Lexie could virtually count the seconds until she heard the footsteps outside her door, the quiet turning of the knob. Lexie carefully adjusted, sliding to make room, feeling the bed dip beside her. Meredith, just as careful, slid into a place that had become familiar since those nights in the forest, vigilant at Lexie's side. It was not as bad though, not as it had been. When Lexie was first released from the hospital, Meredith didn't sleep at all. She hovered, constantly checking Lexie's vitals.

Downstairs, wakened by the disturbance, Zola's voice rose with the same pitch of displeasure that her mother's bore mere moments earlier. Derek would surely do his best to put Zola back to bed; but her insistence and determination would not win over his exhaustion. Zola soon snuggled between Lexie and Meredith. Presumably, Derek, alone, returned to bed to face his own demons. Lexie, even with the benefit of such company beside her, felt certain she did the same. Glaring up at the ceiling, she waited until Zola stilled and Meredith dozed, and she pondered the ceiling, awake and alone.

"You can't keep doing this, Mer." Lexie whispered into the quiet. "I can't." In the resounding silence, for a moment, Lexie was unsure if Meredith might actually be asleep.

"I almost lost you." The Meredith Lexie met at the bedside of her dying mother was not this person. This person was truly a stranger, unknown and unfamiliar in ways Lexie was loathe to place. "I did lose you. You were gone so many times before those helicopters came."

There had been so many times that Meredith had nearly pulled the tattered remains of Lexie's jacket to cover her sister's pale, scratched face. That jacket, with the phone she'd slipped in the front pocket, Lexie had worn through the flight shivering but not complaining about the cabin temperature. And after that furious sound, the unspeakable violence that had ripped Lexie's hand from hers mid-flight, Meredith had found Lexie by a glimpse of that jacket, a flash of color against muted forest tones. Broken ribs and a collapsed lung, doesn't seem like much until you spend four days in the remote wilderness, praying for life to hold sway.

"But I'm here now and you are still behaving as though I'm barely hanging on to life." Lexie reached across Zola, searching for Meredith's hand in the darkness. "I did not die in that place. You cannot keep living as though I did."

"I will not lose you." Meredith's voiced hitched, but never gave way to sobbing. "I knew. I knew and you never should have been on that plane." Meredith clutched tightly to Lexie's fingers, a lifeline had been forged between them in a much colder, darker place than this. "I will not lose you." Not now, Lexie finished the unspoken thought. After two field surgeries, three more directly following the rescue, and the most recent only two weeks ago, not now, was Meredith's hope given the precise cocktail of steroids and antibiotics intended to defend against the lurking lung infections and rebuild deteriorating muscular tissue. But now or not, Lexie knew, that these therapies had thus far only been minimally successful. Meredith's anxiety was as telling as Lexie's persistent pain, her struggle to simply breathe.

"I'm going to visit Ames." Lexie squeezed Meredith's hand, intending to dissuade the coming argument. "I need to see her before …"

"You can't get on a plane." Meredith argued, voice rising, hinting at hysterics. Lexie hushed her, thinking of Zola sleeping between them.

"No you can't get on a plane." Lexie had no intention of allowing this latest tragedy to rule her as effortlessly as the last. She would not give up control so easily. She hadn't the time for such considerations as hysteria. "And you can't sleep through the night. And you can't accept that trying to keep us all right here in Seattle is not somehow going to keep us safe and alive. Christina left. Mark is dead." Lexie struggled to keep her voice even. "I'm alive Meredith. We are both alive. We survived and we have to … we have to start acting like it." She was glad of the dark, glad that Meredith would not see the tears, the uncertainty that she still felt so plainly on her face. In the morning, she'd pack and leave, possibly not to return. And tonight was the last time she'd cry, tonight was the last she'd grieve the tragedy given the miracle that had become her life.

Lexie contemplated the fancy, one cup Keurig Coffee maker. It was difficult to determine whether this piece of brand new kitchen equipment out-classed any of the other recently purchased machinery populating the Shepherd-grey home. Derek's post-suburban, mini-chalet was brimming with the interior design interventions of a true modernist. It was all cutting edge technology down to the self-cleaning toilets and android app-driven appliances. Derek liked to boast that he could do a load of laundry and cook a roast while performing a craniotomy. Not to imply that Lexie wasn't impressed. But for all the hands-off efficiency this genius home promised, Lexie anticipated the likely minimalist furnishings of Ames' Greenwich condo with anxious fervor. The new house and all its compliments felt like one more symptom of the prevailing disease that whittled away the veneer and left only the reminder that nothing in Seattle was "alright".

Reevaluating the choice of a stimulant before boarding a five-hour flight east, Lexie settled at the breakfast island to await the airport shuttle. Over the course of the intervening days since her decision to depart, Meredith had wrangled, badgered, lectured, and finally threatened until Lexie relented to a new round of tests and the latest course of treatments. Poked, prodded, drained and scanned, Lexie had subsumed frustration until some terrified first year intern had blundered and failed three times to insert a line for an IV. They'd had to call Meredith out of a consult with a pre-surgical patient to calm Lexie's tirade. By the time Meredith managed to talk her way into the exam room behind a locked door and myriad sounds of broken equipment, Lexie had kicked a hole into a wall, but was sitting serenely in the middle of the havoc she had wreaked. "Okay." Was all Meredith had said, coming to grips in that moment knowing that her anguish could not begin to compare to what her sister was carrying. She'd discharged Lexie, clocked out and driven her home to pack.

Lexie's phone buzzed an alert and she read the text announcing the imminent arrival of the shuttle. Passing through the quiet with consideration to her family slumbering in the rooms above her head, Lexie startled at an unexpected sight - her single rolling suitcase by the door and Meredith standing silently by its side.

"I thought you had a shift." Lexie whispered, frozen some feet away. In the minimal light of the foyer, shadows shifted and Meredith drew closer.

"For the record," Meredith stated, "there is nothing false about my hope."

"Can you fix me?" Lexie challenged, incredulous. "Can you save me? Help me cheat death one more time?"

"I can try." Meredith countered, intent. "I can."

"If you want to carry the guilt of supposed failure when I'm gone, that is solely your decision. I refuse to participate any further." Lexie made for her bag, the door, the escape that waited beyond, only to be halted by Meredith's hands, her arms. Meredith held on surely, desperately.

"You call this trip whatever you like. But I will not give up." Meredith gave one last fervent squeeze before letting go. She didn't look Lexie in the eye, just stepped aside. Lexie sucked in a steadying breath, eyes fixed on her luggage. With finality she didn't entirely feel, she opened the door on the early morning and took the first step toward leaving Seattle behind.



"So glad that flight didn't end like the last one I was on."

"Me too." Catherine managed a wry smile as she pulled into the tight traffic on the turnpike. Gaunt, pale, Lexie seemed little recovered since Catherine had seen her last, unconscious in a hospital. She'd flown out to visit, fulfilling a promise to Amelia who had been struggling with sobriety in treatment. Amelia had cursed her own addiction as though it were at fault for how wily tragedy struck not just her inability to be there as comfort in its aftermath. Derek and Meredith had been duly surprised at Catherine's largely inexplicable arrival. She'd only been able to offer that her presence at Lexie's bedside put Amelia's mind at ease.

"Does she know I'm here?" Catherine startled at the naked assessment in wide eyes, and tried to distribute her focus between the road and Lexie's hungered inquiry. Amelia had described Lexie once, her voice transforming a bedroom curtained in darkness into a confessional. Amelia had called Lexie's beauty terrifying; and Catherine marveled, wondering what Amelia could possibly mean. Terrifying, like breathless moments Catherine had fought and clawed just barely edging past death. How, Catherine didn't understand, but Lexie was beautiful like the unknown universe and it all seemed anchored in warm mahogany. Lexie was beautiful in a way that orbited an incalculable instant between love and terror, with a pout that nearly drove Catherine off the road into a ditch not two miles from JFK International.

"She been on a case the last two days and couldn't get away. But she promises she'll be home for dinner." Catherine smiled with no small amount of pride. "She's doing well. She absolutely loves running that department."

"No surprise. She's good at running. After all, she ran away from me." Lexie sounded petulant, and the heaving of shoulders to slump down in her seat completed the sudden characterization of a child's displeasure. Even in the shadow of the crash and her flagging recovery, Lexie found it hard to let go of Amelia's deception. Why hadn't she been able to be honest and tell Lexie she was inhabiting such a dark place? Amelia had relapsed and routinely high on whatever cocktail of shit she'd managed to score, continued to call Lexie to exchange pleasantries and gossip like as nothing had happened. And Lexie, goddammit it, was pissed. All else aside, she and Ames were friends, the best. Leaving Lexie to obsess these last months over one thing that had nothing to do with her own dreadful plight – how could she lie to me?

"Don't venture the mistake of insisting this is about you." Catherine chided, not particularly pleased at the scolding note seeping into her own tone. She winced, all hopes of neutrality dashed and transported back to every moment she'd mothered or smothered Lindsay, each lecture one penitent step away from pre-teen delinquency into adulthood. From this perspective it wasn't exactly flattering. It didn't escape Lexie's notice.

"What makes you an expert all of a sudden?" Lexie sniffed as if hard-pressed not to add, you're not my Mom! "You as good as left her at the altar."

"At the airport, more like; and that was ..." Catherine paused, breathing, counting, calming. "A mistake."

"That doesn't exactly make it ancient history." Lexie muttered. Catherine smirked, eyes trained on the road, wishing that the one thing she missed about Vegas was the traffic. Even late on a Sunday Night, the drive from the airport was stop and go.

"Yeah, but isn't it old enough?" Catherine glanced Lexie's way long enough to arch a pointed eyebrow before concentrating again on traffic. "Besides, I don't have any adorable nicknames for Ames. It's still a serious point of contention." Lexie managed a wan smile in spite of herself, caught in Catherine's periphery.

Funny, a year ago there was one person with whom she could share the anxiety she was feeling. Derek still turned a bit grim at the simple mention of Amelia. He'd lost his faith in her when he'd at last learned Ames was back in rehab. That news had come at the worst time. He buried Mark alone while Lexie still slept. Meredith never left the hospital, much less Lexie's bedside, waiting for some change. In that time, Christina Yang had ultimately pieced herself together and disappeared half way across the country. How had Meredith coped losing that one person who just knew at such a pivotal moment? Lexie couldn't fathom. Had she not taken a chance and landed on Catherine's doorstep who knows, Mark Sloan might not have been the only loved one lost this year. Catherine had arisen, the joy restored in Amelia's life. Her love the miracle that rescued Amelia from that hopeless brink, that perhaps now Amelia could be the joy restored in Lexie's.

"Fuck off." Lexie gazed out the window, admiring the lights of New York City. "You remember that last trip to Vegas, Ames and I?"

"I took ya'll to my Daddy's ranch in Montana for the weekend." Catherine replied, the memory surfacing unbidden in her mind.

"No showgirls?" Amelia asked, winning a caustic look from Catherine in the driver's seat. She waggled a thumb back at Lexie curled up and dozing in the SUV's wide rear passenger bench. "Cause Hal was anxious about tassles. I just wanted to make sure for her."

"How about fishing, Cath?" Lexie murmured sleepily, earning an equally caustic look, this time from Amelia.

"It's a horse ranch, Hal."

"It was … so peaceful there." Lexie could almost see beyond the flashing lights of the city the snow capped Rockies and endless acres of rolling hills, and that lake, just beyond the ranch house reflecting Montana sky and all of heaven above.

"I do believe this is mine." Lexie swung the tee shirt above her head, grinning in triumph. She stood on the bed in the master suite. Amelia, newly emerged from the shower, glared undeclared vengeance, loosely clutching a towel around her dripping frame.

"No head starts, Hal."

"I don't need one, shrimp." Lexie retorted, bouncing on the mattress in expectation. Amelia lunged, losing her towel in the process. Lexie jumped easily out of her reach and was off, cackling breathlessly as she pelted from the house headed toward the dock and the lake beyond.

"It was a bit like we had our own piece of paradise for a whole weekend." Catherine had not given in to moments of irrational fear or jealousy that weekend. She'd watched how playful Ames had been, carefree and earnest and loving. That had been worth sharing with a woman she'd later, albeit mistakenly, consider a rival for Amelia's affections.

Amelia reached the dock seconds after seeing Lexie dive off the end. There were only a few ever-widening ripples by the time Amelia gazed down on still water underneath a sky deepening navy to purple to jet. Nervous, she looked on. "Hal!" A moment passed with no answer and Amelia, fighting panic, jumped. It felt like an eternity, breaking the surface to dive for the fathomless bottom again and again to no avail. Amelia tread water, chest tight, barely able to draw breath and felt something indescribable, something horrid rising, like a monstrous swell toward her throat. She swallowed, head whipping to and fro to peer across the water. Above her star light winked and flickered as though a trillion trillion switches were being thrown in tight succession "Please. Please. Please." Amelia murmured desperately and suddenly startled by arms around her waist, uttered a terrified screech, twisting in Lexie's embrace.

"Goddammit Lexie!" Amelia tried to catch her breath, then feigning humor, muttered, "You've got so much pay back coming Hal." Lexie shrugged treading water and grinned with a devilish charm Amelia could not quite recall ever having seen from Alexandra Caroline Grey. Arms locked, Lexie pulled Amelia close, spinning them in slow circles while Amelia held tightly on. "Let's just stay here Hal. We can raise horses, make our own wine, be happy, grow old without tragedy or disappointment." Lexie considered the moonlight and the rich luster of Amelia's hair beneath it.

"That sounds beautiful Jinx. Just one problem." Amelia arched her brow in unspoken inquiry. "You're a damn good surgeon." Lexie illuminated matter of fact. "Be a shame to let all that talent go to waste." Amelia couldn't help but grin at the compliment. For all her well-deserved arrogance, Amelia couldn't deny the warmth of pride that flushed her cheeks knowing Lexie thought so highly of the skill she'd toiled to perfect.

She shook her head in confident assessment and replied, "No, not a waste." Perhaps she'd never contemplated that Lexie's lips would taste sweet, like spring water and moonlight.

"When it's time …" Lexie hesitated, her voice hoarse with what was so unthinkable but a necessary consideration.

"We'll go back." Catherine nodded her assent, blinking away sudden tears. "The three of us."



Amelia squinted. In the arc of morning sunlight, she uncurled to yawn, stretch and cast an unimpressed smirk at the far corner of the mattress.

"Am I intended to be shocked?" Amelia rose from under the blankets, carelessly scratched her rear and aimed her steps for the bathroom door. Literally yanked off her feet, she squealed in protest at the arms locked around her waist, squeezing as they tumbled in a knot of limbs back onto the mattress. Struggling to gain the upper hand, she wrestled, only to find her opponent quickly weakened and barely able to utter a mumbled "I give." Glaring, unrepentant, Lexie arched an expectant brow.

"Where's my tee shirt brat?" Planted heavily on Lexie's thighs, Amelia glared right back. Lexie huffed, catching her breath from the abbreviated tussle and glanced up at Amelia's stereotypically negligible sleepwear. "Barely a year in New York and you already look like a Twilight reject. It wouldn't kill you to buy a bottle of spray tan, Morticia." Amelia pursed her lips struggling unsuccessfully at the smile that cracked, broke and disintegrated in laughter.

"What took you so long, Hal?" Amelia pulled Lexie up into a hug, unspeakably overwhelmed at the relief to feel Amelia's arms snake around her back. She wiled too many nights of worry and debate, excoriating her conscience with accusation that she'd allowed Amelia to just slide into the oblivion of her relapse.

"I must have overlooked my invitation." Lexie shrugged, "You know what with being in a coma. How was rehab?"

"Meh." Amelia grinned, "Not unlike a coma." Lexie allowed a short chuckle. Amelia would ever be brave if stupid, denying a place at her side for everyone she'd wagered her love would only hurt as each counted down to an inevitable good-bye. Lexie didn't want that for what remained of her time, no matter how short.

"Well here I am, and you'll have a hell of a time getting rid of me again."

"You know Derek and Mer will inevitably accept offers in Boston, move here with Zola and leave you by yourself as caretaker in the house of a dead woman who undoubtedly would have hated you if she knew you." Only half listening, Lexie raked dinner remnants into the trash and sighed mightily as she handed the plate over to Amelia to place in the dishwasher. Amelia nodded sagely, arranging the plate with a degree of care that surprised and confused Amelia. "Can't say I'd be stoked to occupy dead mommy house." Amelia pursed her lips, "Even with roommates that sounds like the premise for the next installment of Paranormal Activity."

"And your point?" Lexie paused in the middle of raking dishes to offer Amelia a perturbed glance.

"Perhaps you should consider a move." Amelia offered sagely.

"You're right. Let me just start looking for competitive surgical residencies. Oh wait." Lexie rolled her eyes handing off another plate.

"I grant you that every spot in a competitive residency program is already full." Amelia grinned, "But I didn't imply a residency was your sole option.". Lexie arched an inquisitive brow, semi-curious. "How about a neuro fellowship?". Lexie chuckled, turning back to the trash as though it were far more diverting.

"Cause unlike surgical residencies, surgical fellowships are up for grabs right now.". She muttered, waving a dish impatiently for Amelia to relinquish it. In the midst of adjusting her prior arrangement of dirty dishes, Amelia's focus was resolute. Finally turning to offer Lexie her undivided attention, she ignored the dish until it dropped heavily to Lexie's side.

"No, Alexandra, there is exactly one surgical fellowship available and it most certainly isn't up for grabs." Amelia smiled, unaccountably entertained by Lexie's apparent confusion and held her hand out for the dish.

"As much as I enjoy it when you are unnecessarily cryptic, Amelia ..." Amelia took one look at the dish, shook her head and offered it back.

"Rinse it.". Snatching the dish back, Lexie waited expectantly.

"House has an uncanny ability to diagnose the entirety of which was predicated by the unique capabilities of his mind, capabilities you share Hal." Amelia began, peremptorily.

"Are you really going to invoke your brother's recently paroled boyfriend, sorry housemate, with the revoked medical license as a rational argument here?" Amelia simply gazed back placidly, with negligible other response. "Fine." Lexie allowed. "Having an eidetic memory is not a sufficient indicator of anyone's propensity toward a field like diagnostics." Lexie argued then paused, eyes widening in sudden comprehension or horror. "Seriously Jinx?"

"Being able to remember ... well, everything, serves as the fine articulation of a demonstrated skill for these healing arts."

"And this neuro fellowship?" Lexie paced to the kitchen sink, reaching for the spray gun to eliminate the residue that had so offended Amelia. "What, I just phone it in for however long I have until my …." Lexie grimaced, "condition forces me to quit? Just because you walked out on yours ..."

"Was fired from, not walked out. You're right that memory of yours isn't so perfect after all." Amelia corrected impatiently. "Besides last thing these family outings need is another arrogant neuro god fresh off a failed fellowship. I'll be your advisor with the understanding that at the completion of your training, I want you by my side in Diagnostics. I need a second in command and you have the skill." Lexie chewed her bottom lip, concentrating on the spray of water against the surface of the dish.

"Second in command? What possible sense does that make when I can hardly be your successor despite the expeditious turnover rate at PPTH." She murmured. Amelia blinked. It was more accusation than inquiry and Lexie's eyes brewed a potent storm of hurt. "Again my condition ..."

"Yes your condition Lexie is an ever accelerating downward spiral." Amelia shrugged, noncommittally. "Not long now."

"Tool." Lexie ground out, before continuing, "My doses indicate ...". Lexie plowed onward, leaving the dish to sit neglected in the sink.

"What they indicate is hardly of any consequence to this conversation. Besides, if we don't get this dishwasher filled in a timely fashion Catherine will hardly be pleased." Amelia nodded toward the pile of dishes that remained. She paused, contrary as ever, then added, "I'm not the internist in the family after all. What does Meredith say about a transplant? Cause I could probably spare a lobe, lobe and a half maybe."

"And that is a topic we are not discussing." Lexie determined she could be equally as stubborn, if not as flippant. Amelia's grin slipped and if for only a blink, not even a moment just a fraction of an instant, she was by all appearances a woman with a terminal prognosis.

"You don't want a little piece of me forever inside of you?" Amelia blinked as though stunned at the refusal.

"Never, ever bring that up again." Lexie snorted. She would not entertain what she considered flights of fancy despite Amelia's obvious concern, and Meredith's, and Catherine's, and everyone. Everyone knew that Alexandra Caroline Gray was quite possibly dying, most of them doctors and yet unable to cope with what Lexie viewed as reality. These friends, this family would grieve a thousand sorrows when they finally learned that Lexie Gray had succumbed to the inevitable, and even then too late to acknowledge the futility of hoping for yet another rescue from the dark and the cold that hadn't left her since those nights in the woods. "We really don't have to talk about this Amelia."

"No, I suppose we don't Alexandra." Amelia conceded in a tone that was anything but conciliatory. "At the moment, we have to wash and dry and that's about it.". Amelia reached past Lexie to snatch the dish from the sink. She shoved it haphazardly into the washer and moved as though to complete the chore on her own. The telephone ringing halted her steps.

"I'm changing the sheets on the guest bed, could one of you get that please." Catherine's voice drifted into the kitchen. It was hardly a subtle tactic for changing the subject. But Amelia was certainly not above implementing it. She nodded encouragement toward the kitchen extension.

"You heard her." Amelia turned back to redesigning the dishes in the washer. "Be a dear and grab that won't you pal?"

"Who still has a fucking landline?" Lexie snorted, but picked up the cordless with every intent of continuing their conversation afterwards.

"Good evening, Shepherd-Willows residence."

"Uh we are neither gay-married nor hyphenated!" Came Amelia's shrill dissent from the kitchen quickly followed by –

"Oh we're not? And it would be a problem if we were?" As Catherine sidled past the living room extension from the guest room to engage what seemed a half precarious negotiation, half furious argument in the kitchen.



Please wake up, Lexie.

I made a promise to keep you safe.

I'm so sorry.

I'm so sorry.

I'm so sorry.


Lexie startled awake, "Mer!" Swallowing, she eyed the darkness, intent on her bearings. She remembered the flight east, spent in a wooly Xanax-Cognac cocktail haze. She remembered the drive into the city with Catherine. Initially tense, though she'd seen far tenser moments pass between sharks and surfers on the Discovery Channel. She remembered dinner in the artfully, well-appointed Shepherd-Willows brownstone. Dinner, in this surprisingly domestic environs, had been unexpectedly sitcom sweet, with laughter ringing around the table. Lexie had relaxed into the warmth and welcomed herself to a few moments of peace.

Amelia's Uncle Jim, currently in co-residence with Amelia's parolee ex-boss House, but supposedly not in a gay way, just in a heterosexual life partner way, had recommended an amazing decorator friend (again not in a gay way). Lexie was just relieved that she wasn't sleeping on a mattress in the corner given Amelia's lack of decorative ability. In spite of a recent stint living amongst unpacked boxes in an extended stay hotel, Lexie suspected that Catherine had been the driving force behind the condo's new vitality. As Lexie recalled, the Willows home back in Vegas was modern, stately and sophisticated much like its owner. Even the Montana ranch could have easily graced the pages of any interior design periodical.

Lexie had observed Catherine's pre-packed overnight bag by the front door, evidence of her recent return from tracking a serial killer in Phoenix. Unmistakably the BAU wasn't exactly the desk job on the tail end of an exciting career at Vegas Criminalistics Catherine once envisioned. Yet by all indication Catherine and Amelia's experiment in cohabitation, had not suffered. Lexie had marveled, thinking over and again, how beautiful this life.

Lighting up the darkness from the bedside bureau, her phone buzzed. Lexie reached for it and read the incoming text message, and grinned with a roll of her eyes. She could expect 3 am calls and texts from but one source, even from the other side of the guest room door a few scant yards away.

"Hey." Amelia greeted. Lexie blinked in the wan light of a single lamp breaching the shadows of bookshelves and sitting room furniture. Hard wood cool under her bare feet, Lexie tip-toed over to the throw rug where Amelia sat, cross-legged at the center of the luminary bubble. She tucked under Amelia's arm, and a quilt Lexie recognized from the ranch in Montana. Cuddling close, they resituated to lay on their stomachs, snug under the blanket, in that warm pool of light.


"Called in." Amelia gestured with her cell phone before tossing it onto the rug. "They'll fly tonight. I'll know where tomorrow."

"It is tomorrow." Lexie replied. She rested on her elbows, chin in her hands and remembered the last time she'd lain with Amelia just like this on a dock, under the stars. That place felt a lifetime from here.

"I heard you, um … wake up." Amelia replied.

"Yeah, that screaming bit is disturbing, isn't it?" Lexie dipped her head, lacing her fingers behind her neck. "Usually Mer has the nightmares, and I just lay awake all night waiting for her screams … waiting like she waited for me."

"I have pretty shitty, wake the neighbors, jump off the balcony, scale the fence, bleed in the widow Johnson's pride perennials night terrors from time to time." Amelia offered. "Catherine's still getting used to them."

"Good luck with that."

"Paragon of sympathy." Amelia rolled her eyes at Lexie's wan response. Sobering, she confided, "The dreams and whatever haunts them don't matter. I think sometimes, when I wake up and see how helpless Catherine feels faced with my nightmares, that I am helplessly in the grip of my past. I didn't have any control over what happened back then and somehow, now when I dream I've relinquished that control again."

"We crashed an hour by helicopter southeast of Boise." Lexie shook her head, struck by how unlikely it all still seemed. "It took four days for rescue teams to find us. When they did, we were med-evaced to the very same goddamn hospital we'd been headed in the first place. How's that for irony?"

"I think Alanis Morrisette would find that a little too ironic." Amelia's soft snickering was quickly infectious. Lexie chuckled, the last remnants of her earlier unease fading.

"I slept through it all. Arizona, Yang, Derek and Meredith lived it. I'm not the survivor. They survived it." Lexie shook her head, stiffening against the threat of an onslaught of tears. "I slept."

"You died, Lex. You endured three field surgeries and died twice." Amelia argued, feeling the words fill her throat like a horrible blockage. "I wouldn't exactly call that peaceful slumber."

"Well now I can't sleep." Lexie shrugged. "Not through the night, not knowing that soon enough I might not wake up."

"Your stats are strong. We aren't there yet." It was the voice Amelia practiced in front of the mirror, the intonation that accompanied her surgical scrubs and the assurance that she was a neuro god, the best in her field. It wasn't lost on Lexie, who couldn't blame Amelia for relying on what had become instinct in a moment that was too real. "From now on, you and I are focused on solutions. I'm not going to give in to panic, nor should you."

"I'm exhausted." Settling against the rug, arms crossed to pillow her head, Lexie pinned Amelia in a gaze hardened by the recovery as much as the loss. "When will this all be over, Jinx?" Amelia shook her head with a shrug.

"Don't be quite so quick to fast forward to the end, Hal."



"Calling home?" Aaron Hotchner nodded to indicate Catherine's mobile phone. By his observation, she'd been fiddling with it since take off. Catherine glanced and couldn't help but feel caught in his gaze. He'd struck her as dour and authoritarian, not particularly amiable, at first blush. He was a by the books professional and but for the pictures of a young son displayed on his pristine desk, he reminded her uncannily of a certain CSI back in Vegas. Catherine marveled that somehow her life might be magnetized to attract lanky, inscrutable brunettes.

"No, just checking messages." Catherine replied, indicating her phone. "My daughter got an A on her first official exam at Holyoke, English."

"You must be proud." Aaron managed the not quite neutral relaxation of facial muscles that Catherine had come to recognize as his approximation of a smile.

"I am, very." In fact, Catherine had been scrolling through texts hoping for news from Lexie and Amelia. Three days in the field so soon after Lexie's arrival and little or no time to call home. Amelia had been … Amelia, upon Lexie's arrival. She'd cracked jokes like dinner around the kitchen island was open mic night at the café around the corner. Lexie, between discreet puffs on her inhaler, had joined in, laughing til she was tinged pink and coughing heavily. Catherine had struggled not to appear disturbed. How could she intrude on their reunion, tainting the evening with fear and concern? She'd been almost relieved to receive the late night text calling her into the BAU. She hadn't been prepared, but she would be. She could play any part she was called upon to dispense, even in this.

"I suppose cases like this last one …" Hotchner interrupted her thoughts, again drawing Catherine's attention away from the small, digital screen.

"Hmm?" Catherine murmured, then catching his meaning shrugged. "Ah yes, well I suppose I am prone to some worry as a mother of a co-ed." They'd been called to a small liberal arts college just outside of Phoenix. The scene had been ritualistic, brutal and evidenced a pattern of prior behavior. Catherine had walked countless crime scenes in her career and still felt the urge to weep for victims. That poor girl, a mantra preceding every thought as she examined the evidence, was enough to banish thoughts of home for three days. Now, she was again consumed by them. "I worry, because I know that no matter what I've passed on to her with my own experience and knowledge, there is no way to keep her safe. I wrestle with that and yet I know that safety is hardly an even exchange for the experience she's having right now."

"You've been lucky." Hotchner reading in her posture, in the resolution of such consideration, the trials survived over the last ten years in Las Vegas.

"Perhaps I have." Catherine allowed, noting something similar to her own struggle and survival in Hotchner's steady composure. They shared the unique responsibility of raising a child while keeping the memory of a dead parent alive. She wondered if Aaron Hotchner lived with identical demons to her own. Was she doing enough to fill the empty spaces left in Eddie's absence with love and attention? If Amelia's struggle could serve as any indication, there was a finely wrought formula to surviving. Catherine would be ecstatic to bear witness to Lindsay's successes should she lead a life dictated by potential and drive as stunning as Amelia's; were that at all possible to attain while discarding the disappointments and heartaches that plagued Amelia every day. "You know luck is only a small part of it."

"Oh?" He turned curious eyes to scan Catherine's face for deeper meaning. Catherine willingly confirmed with a nod.

"You spend any time in Vegas; you know luck inevitably runs out." She smiled. "You can't rely on luck." Hotchner considered for a moment, allowing that particularly in this line of work, luck had escaped his team on occasion, had escaped the victims, had certainly escaped the unsubs they'd put behind bars and in the ground.

"Then what do you rely on, Agent Willows?" Catherine pursed her lips, thoughtful and considered. There really was only one constant. Her phone buzzed alerting her to the arrival of a new text as if on cue. Amelia wishing her a safe flight with a see you soon, babe. Her life had never been governed by the predictable, certainly not lately. Predictable or no, she'd always relied invariably on, Catherine smiled and slipped the phone into her pocket.




"She doesn't want to die in a hospital, Amelia."

"She doesn't want to die at all, Meredith!" Amelia glanced surreptitiously over to where Derek and Lexie stood collecting the mountain of luggage that had accompanied them from Seattle. Zola, half asleep, pillowed her head on her mother's shoulder and watched the exchange with minimal curiosity. "She doesn't have to because I won't let her. It's decided, I'm starting the tests this week to get her put on the transplant list. It's more time in hospital, yes; but, it's More Time. That's all that matters."

"Amelia, be reasonable." Meredith had changed since the accident. The woman who had hung up on Catherine in exasperation or disgust upon learning of Amelia's relapse, was not the woman who emerged from the plane crash. As a survivor, Meredith had come to see the importance of her family, all of it. By default, that included Amelia and it had been, miraculously, as though their relationship reset to neutral. In the intervening months of rehab for Amelia and recuperation for Lexie, Meredith could not deny that her sister and sister-in-law were likely the most effective non-medical intervention to each other's well-being. Nevertheless, that didn't preclude any agreement on the part of Lexie's prognosis.

"What's reasonable about letting your own flesh and blood die?" Amelia clutched at her stomach, feeling sick, dizzy at the thought. "You're her fucking sister." Amelia winced at Meredith's pointed glare, acknowledging her niece. "Sorry."

"I promise you Amelia, if we get back from Boston and she's reciting limericks. You and I will have a problem." Meredith intoned. Amelia nodded, accepting in that moment that Lexie was right, Meredith could be quite terrifying. "Listen to me very carefully, because I want you to understand." Meredith's voice, dangerously low but unerringly clear cut across the connection. "There is no one on this Earth whom I love in the very same way that I love Lexie. She's not my child. She's not my husband. She is my sister, whom I have protected in every way that I have been capable for every moment that I could." Meredith paused, swallowing audibly. "But I am not capable of protecting her from her own death, no matter how much I ache with that knowledge. And when she is gone, there is a part of me that will be so unquestionably broken for the rest of my life." Amelia blinked and looked away, knowing the awful truth that was gnawing away at her, that had inspired the sudden dizziness, the pain in her abdomen.

"What do we do?" Amelia's voice was a fragile notion, much as the limited control that remained between her and the hysteria that threatened.

"We do as she asks." Meredith replied, handing a sleepy Zola over to Amelia's waiting arms. "Whatever she asks."

"We ready?" Lexie wobbled more than walked, weighed down by several bags and pushing Zola's stroller. "They have to make their connection and you've got to make rounds before clinic hours."

"We." Amelia corrected. "We have to make rounds before clinic hours. You're shadowing today. I did mention that, right?"

"Amelia." Lexie's stern face did little for Amelia's resolve in comparison to Meredith's. Amelia waved it off like as nothing.

"Everything alright?" Derek noted the tension between his wife and his sister.

"I've just explained to Amelia that any colorful additions to our daughter's vocabulary will not be dealt with lightly." Meredith smiled, placed a quick kiss on Derek's lips in that exceedingly domestic way that made Amelia want to both grin and gag. She deposited Zola into her stroller, nodding sagely.

"Yes, Catherine and Lexie are instituting a swear jar at the condo." Amelia winked at Lexie, mustering levity in spite of the overwhelming desperation she felt. "Fuck me, if they're not trying to juice me for a Caribbean cruise."



"How exactly did you expect her to react?" Amelia gaped waiting for Lexie to answer her own rhetorical question. Clearly it hadn't been the obvious assumption if Amelia keenly felt the shock of being hung up on mid-sentence radiating through her. Lexie spoke slowly as if instructing a child. Though, point of fact, Amelia could not recall Lexie ever speaking to Zola with this particular tone. It insisted with little effort that she had the IQ of over-ripe produce. "You tried to convince Cath to drive out to Montauk to drop Zola off at your mom's so that you could drag me to a d/dx with Ken and Barbie at Scores?"

"And?" Amelia shrugged and held the door to PPTH's nursery for ... the intern in Ortho. Never having met the young, single mother of a five year old boy did not impede the easy recognition based on the vivid descriptions offered collectively by the diagnostics department recently over lunch. Lexie swallowed, redirected her gaze from hypnotic swaying at chest level as the woman slipped by only to catch the knowing look of the five year old as he passed clutching his mother's hand. Halfway down the hall he offered a gesture no five year old should have in his arsenal behind his mother's back. Laughing, Amelia made a quick grab and pulled Lexie through the door before she could respond in kind.

"And," Lexie's tone was all stern reproof and no concession, "I spent an hour on the phone with your mother promising that both you and I would drop her granddaughter off and stay for dinner." She glanced away to scour the toy-strewn play area, trying to pinpoint their niece amongst the raucous horde of human beings in miniature. Waving a hand in an attempt to catch the eye of one of the handful of overwrought attendants milling through what to Lexie was virtual chaos, Lexie added. "I also promised you, meaning we, wouldn't be late. Kindly help me find our niece."

"I'm still at a loss as to why Meredith and Derek couldn't have just ..."

"And no." Lexie glared exasperation. "We are not having that conversation again. We were lucky enough that they could get a connecting flight through Kennedy on their way to Boston. Else surely they would have had to rent a car and drive, in order to drop Zola off at your Mom's. But how that inconvenience serves anyone's purpose but your unrelenting desire to associate the process of differential diagnosis with lap dances, I can't say."

"Fine, we won't revisit that shoddily constructed argument." Amelia pouted, then added. "Just because Catherine has to board a flight to some survivalist compound in Utah doesn't mean she wouldn't be willing to run a quick errand for us." Amelia muttered eyes quickly landing on their solitary niece playing amongst what was easily every building block known to man. "It was a reasonable inquiry. Why she got all huffy is beyond me."

"Perhaps because you asked her to delay her flight and come pick Zola up while she was driving to the airport.". Lexie replied, off-handedly. "Will you go fish her out, please? I swear that one kid with what I hope is chocolate on his hands is staring at me with intent of malice."

"Aw look at you all eager to make a perfect first impression on my mommy." Lexie cast a self-conscious glance down at her carefully chosen ensemble, pencil skirt, cardigan, pumps. It had nearly brought Amelia to tears when Lexie materialized from the locker room fully regaled at the end of a long day shadowing the team. "The hell have you done to yourself? You look like a paralegal." Amelia had snickered, shaking her head thus consigning herself to spend the subsequent ten minutes directly thereafter convincing Lexie not to drive back into the city to find something else to wear.

Amelia waded forward, carefully picking her way across a floor teeming with little bodies, and called back over her shoulder, "Dinner, no dessert and definitely no staying over. Maybe we can make it back in time for the Jiggle and Jerk Chorus. After all, it's always a late show. I'll text Thirteen and Chase." Amelia bent to scoop Zola from amongst her blocks, exclaiming over how amazing the piles and mounds were as though the child had been engaged in an architectural masterpiece. Zola clapped her hands, giggling happily. Returning to Lexie's side, Amelia couldn't help but notice the undivided attention of the other adults in the play area and the deepening crimson roaming to the tips of the Lexie's ears. "What?"



Amelia moaned low in her throat, shutting her eyes tight against the few streaming rays of sunlight fighting their way past curtains and blinds. The rising peristaltic action in her stomach a foreboding reminder of a night spent on her knees, bathroom tile cutting cold little lines into her skin. She turned her face into the mattress resisting the urge to heave, too weak to rise. Her pain was a splinter driven deep, beyond retrieval. So she sobbed and shook and perspired, wishing every moment was its expulsion and her freedom from a terrifying agony.

Amelia blinked, as though waking, gazed dazedly down at her hands. She half-recalled emptying Lexie's bag on the bed but had frozen mid-search. She had enough memories of withdrawal in rehab for two lifetimes. She'd sworn, as she had after her first release, never again. She watched the trembling radiate from digit to wrist, marveling that these could be surgeon's hands.

"What are you doing?" Amelia barely acknowledged the voice, so accustomed now to the tone of suspicion after so many years. She rose from her perch, further scattering Lexie's clothing and toiletries. She brushed past her mother in the doorway. Carolyn's eyes betrayed the tears of shock and fear shed even if all they hinted at now was anger and disappointment. Already halfway down the hall and headed for the stairs, Amelia thought back to the last explanation she'd ever offered Carolyn Shepherd along with every hope that maybe they would never have to share a moment like this ever again. Hope had never rung so false.

"Going for a walk, Ma." Amelia muttered.

"She was looking for these." Carolyn turned, surprised at Lexie's stealthy approach even with the baby in her arms. Zola clung, head pillowed on Lexie's shoulder and blinked drowsily. Lexie nodded at the mess Carolyn had already begun to tidy and held up a crumpled pack of cigarettes. "She promised Addison a year ago that she'd quit."

"Sit down before you fall down, child." Carolyn admonished, and gently took Zola from Lexie's arms. She set the toddler down on the bed, and watched with a pointedly arched brow until Lexie gingerly took a seat next to her. "As you certainly know my daughter has quite a bit of difficulty keeping that nature of promise." Carolyn continued to carefully rearrange Lexie's things back into her bag. Coming across a fairly scantily appointed thong Carolyn raised a questioning brow to which Lexie blushed deeply. Carolyn grinned, amused at the girl's discomfort, offering a clue from whom Amelia had inherited her well-developed ability to torture. "For all she's accomplished and in all the ways she's grown, my daughter will always be a troubled child.". Carolyn folded a shirt placing it away and shook her head. "I just never knew how to help her. She was so little, my baby girl. Maybe I thought she'd be the most resilient, even forget." Lexie could read a lifetime of regret as shoulders slumped and Carolyn folded jeans and rolled socks with the same focus Amelia demonstrated putting away dishes or scrubbing for surgery. "I was just wrong."

Lexie watched in amusement as Zola, who had immediately taken to her grandmother, upended Carolyn's careful work as she climbed across Lexie's bag and reached out sleepily for the other woman's arms. Carolyn had cradled and nurtured, raising four other children into fine adults, doctors, parents who cradled and nurtured, raising their own children now. That Amelia should be excluded from that four was unthinkable, damn her struggles and missteps.

"Maybe I'm biased." Lexie murmured softly, drawing Carolyn's attention. Lexie rubbed a gentle finger against Zola's cheek and watched her eyes drift closed. She loved her family fervently. There would never be enough tears to shed if tomorrow or the next day she might be expected to rescind all final hope and accept that her whole world was collapsing. "I love Derek dearly. He's my big brother, the father of my niece." Lexie wiped haphazardly at tears. "And I know without a seedling of doubt that Amelia is your life's greatest success. She's ...". It felt impossible to put into the right words, the words that would forever erase Carolyn's doubt, leaving only the love and pride that Lexie knew every day. But she could try. "She's my everything.". Lexie nodded, gratitude shining in her eyes through her own fear and sorrow. "You did that and I am so grateful.". Had no one ever expressed such love to Carolyn, Lexie wondered. Had no one ever said thank you for your child, to this woman? That was the failure, not Amelia and certainly not Carolyn Shepherd.

Carolyn grasped Lexie's hand, tight enough to bruise. She wasn't the kind of woman given to a great deal of sentiment. She wasn't hard, just practical. She hadn't neglected a single duty in rearing her five, a man among them. She'd worked and even educated herself to provide a life she felt they deserved. Not once in all those years of hardship had she given herself over to wanton sentiment. Nor did she do so now. But she gripped Lexie's hand like the lifeline it was and sent up every prayer in her arsenal to protect all those she loved, near and far.



"Doctor Shepherd, if I could just trouble you for your undivided attention." Amelia rolled her eyes, offering an uninterested glance Foreman's way. It wasn't that his promotion to Dean of Medicine had made him insufferable; however, there were times when Amelia couldn't bear the thought of listening to one of his prudent lectures about avoiding the pitfalls of her predecessor's choices. As Formen prattled on about what she did not know, Amelia had been sneaking glances to the conference room next door to her office. Chase and Thirteen were either deliberating over a case or laying bets on how long she'd be regaled by the latest in Foreman's lecture series. Lexie, observing as part of a tour and what Amelia would later reveal to be an informal pre-employment interview, was either contributing diagnoses or bookkeeping Chase and Thirteen's wagers.

"Yes, of course Doctor Foreman." Amelia folded her hands on top of her desk, regarding Foreman what she hoped appeared to be her unmitigated concentration. Reclining in a guest chair, Foreman crossed his legs and continued with a nod of approval.

"I think it would be in the best interest of the diagnostics department and the hospital at large to add staff and thus broaden the experience …"

"I'm already on it." Amelia interrupted, gesturing towards the conference room. "I was in the midst of an interview when you called me in here." Foreman cast a wry glance in the general direction of Chase, Thirteen and Lexie.

"Isn't that your sister-in-law."

"She's my brother's sister-in-law, actually." Amelia leaned forward as though sharing particularly juicy gossip. "She's visiting from Seattle Grace where she is a Neurosurgical intern." Foreman hummed, impressed. "I shared with her that we might have a fellowship opportunity available for the right candidate."

"And is she," Foreman pointedly inquired, "the right candidate?"

"I'll have my brother forward her complete CV." Amelia boasted, "Trust me. She's spent the last few years under the instruction of Doctor Derek Shepherd in the most competitive surgical program in the country. You aren't going to want to pass up the opportunity to secure her as a resident this year."

Lexie couldn't deny a fascination at the fast-paced, inductive work of diagnostics and had even presumed to contribute her own insights to the process thus far.

"They are clearly talking about the new phlebotomist." Chase tapped his index finger on the table for emphasis. "I'm willing to bet a week's worth of clinic hours."

"Just because Foreman's reportedly been seen skulking around the labs the last two weeks is hardly evidence of an impromptu Frat meeting over who can out pull who." Remy shook her head. "It's budgets. I heard through very reputable sources …"

"Donna in accounting is a reputable source now?" Chase guffawed. "Isn't she the one that you said had the …"

"That's neither here nor there." Remy countered, offering a nervous glance Lexie's way. "It was just that once and most of her hair grew back."

"That's … nice?" Lexie murmured, only half listening. She glanced up to peer at Amelia through the glass that separated office from conference room. Uncannily, she likely knew why Foreman had beckoned from Amelia's office in the midst of d/dx. Amelia wasn't exactly subtle in her machinations. Their gaze met for a moment, and it was all Lexie could do to keep her seat at Amelia's mischievous smile.



Lexie curled her toes, waking slowly. Sheets and blankets bunched around her ankles, the dim light of morning cast the bared skin of her torso and thighs in ghastly shades of blue-grey. She glanced toward the open blinds, catching the first hints of sunrise beyond the glass and with a deep breath pitched herself forward off of pillows, angling her body away from the mattress. Her shoulders spasmed as if in response to the abrupt movement and her feet landed on the floor with a slap barely audible for the harsh sound of wet coughing.

Lexie dug her fingers in, slim digits curling into cramped fists. Her ardent grip punished the side of the mattress. Hunched forward, lips rounding to scour the air for breath, her body squeezed a woefully insufficient rasp expelled with the violent unrest of hatchets. Lexie trembled and stiffened, startled by the sudden pressure of a warm hand against chilled skin. She relaxed, recognizing the unexpected presence at her back.

It was easy then to focus. Her noisy, breathless panic overcome by the shh-shh-shushing whispered just beyond her ear. Calmed, she leaned forward, reaching for the shadowed surface of the bedside table. Her fingers closed, the hard plastic casing cool against her palm only a moment as she brought L-shaped canister to her lips. Sucking deep, she waited for the medicine to do its work, resisting the explosive pressure in her chest. She held it all in until at last the urge relented, and she could collapse, fully into warm hands. Fingers stroked through the mess of her chestnut locks and brushed soothingly against her skin.

"I didn't hear you get in." Lexie whispered as much in deference to the shadowed surroundings imploring quiet as her much abused throat. She turned against the palm that rested on her forehead to place a kiss on a slim wrist. In the subtle brewing of morning, she could just make out Catherine's wrinkled blouse and the dull metallic shine of her badge still clipped if askew upon a haphazardly unbuckled belt and unbuttoned slacks. She sat, cross-legged in the middle of the bed, fully dressed but for her sensible pumps as though she'd collapsed, too weary to shed even her pants.

"I didn't want to wake you." Catherine murmured, added, "You looked exhausted." Lexie arched an amused brow, finding the statement absurdly ironic.

"You're sleeping in your clothes, Cath." Wheezing, she closed her eyes and hitched a stilted breath that yielded negligible results from the plastic mouthpiece between her lips. Her cough was far less aggressive as she noted the telling rattle before discarding the container on the bedside table.

"I only just got home." Catherine countered, reaching past Lexie for the empty inhaler. "Where's your backup?" Lexie tilted her head indicating the device dispatched and useless beyond its noise-making capacity in Catherine's hand.

"Slipped my mind I guess." Lexie muttered. Her shoulders slouched, suddenly weary and she leaned forward to rest her elbows on her knees. She felt arms snake around her waist, gently pulling her back into bed. It seemed impossible to resist turning into the comfort of Catherine's body.

"I'll run by that twenty-four hour Duane Reed on Hudson." Catherine's lips brushed rhythmically against Lexie's forehead.

"I missed you." Lexie whispered, eyes already half-closed, feeling herself drifting towards slumber. "I wish you could just …" Catherine waited until Lexie's breathing slowed, waited for the surety that Lexie was again asleep. Careful, moving so as not to reawaken her, Catherine slipped free, but mourned the abbreviated embrace. She untangled the bedding and tucked it tenderly up to Lexie's chin, furrowed in dreaming. It felt as though she'd only just kicked off her shoes and dropped, nearing exhaustion at Lexie's slumbering side. Had it only been minutes? She buttoned her slacks and tightened her belt, scooping her shoes off the floor to pad barefoot from the bedroom. How many lost hours of sleeping, she could not count. Instead, she focused on real things, manageable and quantifiable, the lists and errands that ceaselessly kept her moving like the empty inhaler in her hand.

Her keys jangled a moment as she exited the brownstone and gazed out from the stoop at the earliest morning commuters headed for the Christopher Street station. Inhaling deeply, she marveled at the swirling birthday cake colors of the brightening sky above the tip tops of buildings and a crisp breeze with the pungent aroma of autumn. She never thought she'd find herself here and all that meant – a west village cliché, in spite of her shiny new badge courtesy of the Bureau. Of course, if she tied herself up in thoughts of what shouldn't have been, counting down the final months and days caring for a dying lover wouldn't exactly top that list either.

After the crash, she'd barely slept then either. Catherine had fought to persuade Amelia to remain in rehab, knowing the steep cost of the alternative. Then, the only option had been to drop everything and fly out to Seattle for every surgery, to sit by Lexie's bedside so she'd have ample news come Amelia's meager allowance of phone calls. She'd shared in Meredith's palpable anguish as Lexie slept, and observed the grief of their loss first hand. Then the red eye back east for weekend visiting hours at the rehabilitation center to engage with Amelia, barely hanging on to hard fought sobriety.

There had been exhaustion, and there had been anger. Catherine, despite her own struggles and in spite of the sympathy she bore Amelia, she had lashed out in accusation, surprising even herself.

"If you ever do this again, so help me God, I'll pack your ass on the first thing smoking." Amelia had nodded, stunned by the fire in livid blue eyes. "You're not wasting what should be our happy ending snorting oxy and buying lap dances in midtown. I came back to you. I came back for us and for better or worse, I'm committed."

"I wish you'd felt that way two months ago, you know and maybe gotten on that flight."

"Who says I didn't?" Catherine whispered, rubbing fiercely at her cheeks though unable to hide her sorrow. Amelia was a rarified creature, brazen, not at all this shadow self that had been backed into a corner by twenty-five years of grief. It had been a faithless act to cower from her from the undisguised yearning for her. Catherine could perhaps abide what she'd abandoned even press on absent any regret to remain in Vegas. It wasn't her first encounter with heart ache. Circumstances being what they were, she'd stumbled unconsciously back into Amelia's orbit, carrying the unexpected baggage of a gunshot wound and impromptu career change.

"Your decision to give up on us serves as sufficient implication." Catherine had spoken of doubt, not of what Amelia felt, but of whether what they both felt was worthy of this effort. And Amelia, looking back, could not think of one moment to hold up as precedent, to contradict Catherine's fear with proof.

"I'm sorry." Catherine shook her head. She closed her eyes, sighing at the complexity of what she had hoped for and yet still could not reconcile to the endless misgivings clamoring in her thoughts even now. "Perhaps this isn't the time to rehash all this."

"This is rehab. What better time could possibly exist?" Amelia sniffed. She was so small, contained behind the barrier of her knees drawn to her chest. Nonetheless, her words left her vulnerable, the truth writhing in the space barren between them. "You were right. Lexie's my best friend. I love her more than …" Catherine looked up sharply, waiting for the confirmation she'd feared and run from those months ago. "… more than I can pretend to understand." Amelia finished in uncompromised honesty. "But that has negligible impact on how gone I am on you."

"You wanted me to just let you have both?"

"Yes." Everything in Amelia's demeanor asked, why not? Because why shouldn't she be able to love them both desperately. "I promise you wouldn't have had any less." Catherine couldn't pretend naiveté in the face of love's countless vagaries. What Amelia was capable of was boundless devotion and her palpable focus was unlikely to diminish if divided. It certainly didn't in any way dilute the concentration of what Catherine could feel in the young woman's presence right now.

"God Amelia, just when I think maybe I could get over you …"

"Infuriating, isn't it?" Amelia grimaced more than grinned. Catherine could just make out the pale line of Amelia's lips stretched wide in humor from across a wide neutral expanse of cushions. Everything had felt indisputably grey, until that moment disrupting the safety of the opposing edges they occupied on a nondescript couch in a therapist's office. It wasn't the auspicious catapult into a new life anyone might dream, but it wouldn't dissuade her from seizing it.

"It's not perfect." Catherine shivered, feeling the anger depart as unceremoniously as its explosive arrival. "But it's ours and it's good." The seemingly innocuous nature of this statement and its meaning was as distant a comprehension in Amelia's perception as dying had once been, before plane crashes and damaged lungs had put an expiration date on Lexie's future. It left a perplexed crease on her pale brow and unasked questions as she regarded pursed lips easing into a tentative smile. Catherine for all her previous ire looked as nervous as a young lover promising a fairy tale. She determined to make the most of what lay ahead, be it hardship and struggle or their long-awaited time and the joys that might be packaged in it. She stifled the tears that threatened. "Our life, the one you planned for us, the one I abandoned when you when I ..." Struggling, Catherine shook her head and wiped fiercely at her eyes. "Ah hell."

"Well …" Amelia's grasp was warm and sturdy, neutrality be damned. She abandoned her side of the couch, intent to occupy rather than simply invade this chance territory. Catherine focused a moment on their entwined fingers and willed herself not to sob as Amelia promised, "Timing isn't everything, Cath; but, I'm yours by the clock tick."

"Willows." Ignoring the Caller ID, Catherine answered on the first ring. Unconcerned at the time, well-worn familiarity with the ceaseless demands of work in law enforcement had stretched her flexibility for when and how she accepted phone calls.

"You home?" Catherine couldn't help but smile in spite of the equally clipped greeting.

"Nope." She replied wearily. "On my way to Duane Reed."

"I had a feeling … I already called in a refill to Hudson street." The tone shifted, sounding apologetic. "I was going to stop on my way home."

"Well come home, and don't stop. I've got it." Catherine jogged across a busier street against the light to the disgruntled honking of advancing traffic. "You're coming now, yes?"

"Is she …"

"Sleeping. This fellowship of yours is taking a lot out of her. Maybe it would be best if …" Catherine hedged, then knowing what would be Amelia's response, wisely retreated. Three weeks ago, Amelia had presented her intentions simply.

"Listen Cath. I have absolutely no desire to simply sit back and watch Lexie slip away, regardless of what Meredith thinks." Amelia whispered into the dark of their bedroom. On her back, Catherine felt Amelia shift next to her and soon the press of Amelia's body over hers.

"I wouldn't exactly consider this pillow talk, Ames." Catherine murmured against Amelia's full lips.

"I'm multi-tasking."

"That's so romantic." Catherine deadpanned.

"No, Cath. I mean Lexie being here." Amelia nibbled the long column of Catherine's neck, her breath a winding caress against jaw, then earlobe. "Derek and Meredith aren't going to stay in Seattle and there's no reason why Lexie shouldn't remain here. She's perfect to fill that vacant spot on my team and the hospital budget has room for a Neurosurgical Fellowship. Meanwhile …"

"Meanwhile, you have every tool at your disposal to mediate her prognosis, not least of which a willing patient on account she doesn't yet know that's exactly what she is intended to be." Catherine interjected, running her hands up the planes of Amelia's back to sink her fingers in thick, locks.

"Multi-tasking." Amelia mumbled, capturing Catherine's mouth with bruising intent.

"She's asleep as you should be. You've been on for …"

"… for as long as you have." Amelia countered and Catherine could hardly deny the truth in the rejoinder, even if she had grabbed a nap on the jet, and one on the quick commuter flight home. She slowed to a stop outside of the pharmacy, busy even at this hour. It had been hard to keep her focus this last trip. Her work was demanding of her attention, that its sole focus be the details as could ultimately pertain to the lives or deaths of potential victims or their would be killers. She'd been in Philadelphia last week, Houston the week before, had just returned from Milwaukee, and could be flying as soon again as tomorrow night if there was no ebb to the recent tide of violent offenders. So many police departments requested the skilled intervention of the BAU. Catherine had struggled initially to adjust to the frantic pace, but soon found the logistics not entirely dissimilar to her life as a CSI. She was always on call, perpetually ready to be on seen with her kit. Only with the BAU, the scene could be anywhere in the country rather than a quick jaunt down the Vegas strip.

Despite her swift adaptation, Catherine's new team was a group of highly astute observers and had undoubtedly picked up on the weighty burden she carried behind her professional countenance. She'd been allowed some privacy, her newness mitigating their natural curiosity. But she imagined, after the natural grace period one might allow out of deference, the questions would come. They would dig only so far as needed before they uncovered the truth, that Catherine was preemptively mourning a loss for which she was grievously unprepared.

In the intervening weeks, figuring out how to intermingle their lives, Amelia refused to talk about Lexie's condition. Catherine vacillated between careful sympathy and low level frustration at Amelia's tacit denial. That was until Lexie inadvertently forgot the medication. Out for a spontaneous evening of beers and bowling with a pan of greasy pizza thrown in for good measure, Amelia's shameless flirting and Catherine's amusement had given way as Lexie had paled, turned blue, and slipped unconscious in the space of a moment gasping for breath. Shocked back into consciousness with a syringe full of adrenaline in the back of an ambulance, Lexie's shrugging "oops" in explanation was not met with Amelia's typical mirth.

Amelia had been tearful, screaming at Lexie loud enough to stop traffic and the EMT's threatening to call the police as a crowd gathered outside the ambulance. Lexie just lay in shock, unsure how to calm Amelia's tirade and Catherine flashing her badge to get the medics to reconsider that call out. It had not been anyone's finest moment. Together they were passing through the stages of grief as applicable to Lexie's condition. Life goes on, even if Lexie's quite possibly didn't. Meredith and Derek had been hinting at relocating east, Boston as predicted by Amelia. They were intent to make the most of the time this family had left. They did not claim to understand the dynamic at work in the West Village brownstone - "You've reached the Shepherd, Willows, Grey residence." but they accepted it at face value. Lexie had a home with Catherine and Amelia that was built on love. And there was no better place for her to spend her last days.

"Come home." It brooked little argument and yet Catherine could already hear the perfunctory arguments beginning on the other end of the line.

"I have …" It would be work, as ever, serving as excuse but Catherine had expended the last of her patience for this particular dance some time ago.

"You have a highly capable staff that knows to call you in case of an emergency." Catherine yearned not to rely on the tired tropes of what was now a familiar argument. Softening she added, "Tell the skinny one and the slutty one to manage this case without you." Responding to the exaggerated silence to her descriptions of Amelia's coworkers, Catherine made a weak attempt at innocence. "What? Is slutty an inaccurate qualification?"

"No, slutty is correct." Amelia confirmed, lowering her voice. She placed her hand over the mouthpiece of the phone and gestured indicating she'd be taking her phone call outside. Thirteen and Chase barely registered her departure in the midst of hitting on co-eds in their most recent favorite d/dx venue. Its selling points according to her companions were that it had a phenomenal brunch buffet on weekends and phenomenally hot women. So far they'd spent their night discussing medical interventions over hot wings and lap dances. Most of the personnel looked like they still went home on the weekends to do laundry. "Which one's the slutty one again?" Amelia chuckled as she moved toward the exit. She winked as she was ogled by a group of barely post-adolescent girls clicking past in heels and the minuscule fashions of their employment. It was nearly as noisy out in the fresh air on the back patio as it had been in the bar. Plainsboro's only claim to entertain, the active strip of bars and nightclubs drew a sizable crowd at all hours on summer weekends, all of which seemed to be milling about semi-intoxicated on the back patio of this very adult establishment at not yet five o'clock in the morning. Amelia could readily admit this had been a far better option than the twenty-four hour dining alternatives around two in the morning when they'd lost steam in the conference room and voted for a change of venue. Raising her voice to be heard, Amelia continued, "Is that Remy or Chase because honestly today they seem to be neck in neck for most numbers scored off of what I have to assume are teenagers carrying fake IDs."

"That's so not funny. Linds could be one of those girls." Catherine replied.

"At Holyoke? She's probably sitting in her dorm room listening to Tegan & Sarah, getting real acquainted with her roommate." Amelia deadpanned.

"Again, not funny." Catherine couldn't help but snicker, loathe though she was to think about her daughter's inevitable sexual escapades now that she had matriculated as a freshman in college. "Remind me what the stakes are again. Are the phone numbers their own reward or do you actually bet money on this charade?"

"Hardly a charade, it's highly competitive sport." Amelia huffed at the deleterious assertion.

"Are you headed home soon or do your plans lean more towards edging out the competition? I was thinking breakfast before Lexie heads in for rounds, maybe?"

"I never get tired of the sound of that." Amelia sighed, deeply. "Home." She thought back to those first weeks back at PPTH, after Cuddy had resigned and House was in jail. Diagnostics was undeniably hers. Fuck the circumstances. She would remain in House's magnanimous stead uncertain as to the laurels involved in succeeding a power-obsessed man-child who thought driving his car through his ex-girlfriend's bay window was a mediated response.

She'd shrugged at the news, had her time to fall apart and piece it all back together.

"Is it some kind of prerequisite for the head of Diagnostics to be a drug addict." Had been Master's snarky greeting on Amelia's first day. To which Amelia had shrugged in reply.

"No, but a medical degree is a prerequisite for employment as a doctor in my Diagnostics department." At the blinking silence Amelia had nodded. "Yes. That means you're fired." In the next breath Amelia had congratulated Foreman on his promotion to Dean of Medicine and gotten right back into the work of saving lives. Taub expectedly departed with little fanfare. Subsequently, Chase had offered Amelia a number saying, "Thirteen, perfect way to round out this disaster area since you should probably lend some consideration to hiring." When Catherine had first arrived to help piece her life back together with flawless timing, all Amelia had to do was fall into the embrace of this dream. Home. And it was almost perfect as far as Amelia could figure.

"Me too." Catherine's voice was a soft affirmation of nothing Amelia had ever dreamed but of which she was a damned appreciative recipient.

"I love you." This was met unexpectedly by silence, the breathy wordless communication of tears soon tamped down to offer a water-logged reply.

"Love you too." Catherine murmured, wiping swiftly at her eyes.

"I'll be there soon. And for your information," Amelia added, "We compete for clinic hours and I always win."



"God damn Okefenokee." Catherine muttered under her breath, trying with all her might to slog noiselessly through two feet of muck. The sunlight creeping to the edges of the senses as day slowly faded above provided the perfect visual accompaniment to the wild call of the swamp. It was unfortunate that both of these beautiful renderings of nature conspired so aptly against her attempts at pursuit. Her service weapon, grown slick against the palm of her hand, dipped under a low hanging branch. Cautious, she ducked her head to peer into the shadows cast by the tree and gulped suddenly breathless. On her back, sinking into the black water, Catherine fought against unconsciousness trying to find her feet. It was all she could do not to thrash, uselessly expending energy. Blinking star light, her vision swam into focus in time to see a shadow break away from underneath the tree, reconstituting itself into Lionel Garret Hess.

Hess grew up in the four hundred and thirty-eight thousand acres of reserve straddling the Florida-Georgia line. He knew it better than any park ranger or tour guide. Lacking any formal education beyond elementary school, Hess hadn't been able to transform his years of life experience into a position with the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge. Instead, for a time he'd washed dishes in the small cafeteria of Okefenokee Technical college. His rap sheet was littered with infractions associated with trespassing on the refuge on the rare occasion he was caught. In his mind he had every right to walk that land and live off it however he should choose. It was his home, a home he in fact knew so well that it was pretty unlikely anyone would ever find the limbs wrapped in hefty trash bags buried below the surface of the largest black water swamp on the continent. He'd preyed on hitchhikers and runaways, disposing of their bodies with a savvy that escaped notice nearly twenty years. Or he had, until one young woman escaped with a story about a kill room full of trophies and a trip to the swamp that should have been her last.

Thus Lionel Garret Hess was the reason Catherine ventured in the swamp's waning light tracking a tip. There had been countless such friendly suggestions from locals called into the small PD where she and the rest of the BAU had quite nearly lived for two weeks. It was rare the BAU walked onto a case where PD already knew with unswerving confidence the identity of their unsub. Hess bore a distinctive look that had burned itself clearly into the victim's psyche. A childhood accident leaving him disfigured, Hess was as the victim described, a giant with half a head. He was the monster that haunted children's dreams here in the Okefenokee. Be good, less Lionel come some night and bury you in the peet. Early evenings, small voices echoed from sleepy cul de sacs across town calling "Lionel!" Five times they called just before dusk, daring him to come and snatch them from the safety of their beds. He was an apparition in a tiny podunk where strangers stood out but serial killers faded into the scenery.

Fourteen uninterrupted days of no leads and no welcome, wore heavily on the team. Even their victim had run home, thankful for her life and unable to provide any further actionable intel. There was nothing to profile but the spotty recollections of a traumatized teenager, leaving Catherine's colleagues grasping at straws. Two days ago, JJ made a statement to the local news station, hoping to flush Hess out. Instead of the typical useful lead this approach seemed to produce, they'd received intermittent tips from pranksters, dozens of voicemails filled the message board, all bearing the same eerie singsong calling from the streets in the evenings, "Lionel …"

Perhaps these small town southern folks didn't rightly trust the motives of rank and file government officials invading their quiet little hamlet. Perhaps they didn't entirely believe that their local folk hero was capable of much more than scaring children into behaving as little girls and boys should. Perhaps they figured that Catherine and her colleagues would lose interest or hope of finding Hess out in all that endless swampland. Subsequently, there hadn't been much to occupy the last two weeks beyond knocking on doors and waiting for a break in the case. They'd been offered quite a few indulgent smiles and cool glasses of sweet tea on shady front porches but not one reliable lead. Catherine had holed up at the local lab, the antiquity of its equipment a testament to its overall needlessness here in the Okefenokee where time stopped and crime didn't exist. She'd run the trace evidence herself, in the absence of a reliable tech, and built her own profile that entailed a detailed picture of the swamp from which the victim had narrowly escaped.

Trained to follow the evidence, Catherine proceeded to do just that with all that she'd compiled from the girl's clothing, hair, finger nails. She had pieced together a much more eloquent narrative than what the victim seemed to dimly recollect. Perhaps it had been instinct, after the evidence had finely narrowed their focus, leading Catherine out to the swamp.

"Need some company?" Derrick Morgan had asked, watching Catherine gather her side arm and the GPS coordinates for the stretch of highway described in their most recent tip. Catherine shook her head.

"Nope. Why don't we call this follow-up what it really is, justification for a coffee run to the next county over." Catherine smirked, sharing a moment's levity to dispel his concern. Morgan shrugged, acknowledging the reality of their current circumstances. He appeared ready to argue the prudence of Catherine pursuing a lead on her own, but seemed to think better of it. Reading it as an opportunity for Catherine to get a bit of space, none of them had taken a moment to step away and make a personal phone call all day. "Any requests?"




Catherine offered her suddenly attentive teammates a wry grin. JJ, Rossi and Reid were pouring over missing persons reports that could possibly coincide with Hess's modus operandi. It was a gamble, really. There was no reliable way to know if any of those reported could be victims, the possible owners of assembled parts, hands, teeth, eyes pickled in jars as described in the statement given by Casey Teague, their escaped vic.

"How about you Morgan?" Catherine couldn't help the twinkle in her eye. Derrick who reminded her at times of one who fate and the treachery of this job had swept out of her life. "Need a pick me up."

"Just a regular coffee, and one for Hotch." Morgan gestured toward the Sheriff's office where Agent Hotchner had been in heated conference for the last hour. There was some level of dispute about the BAU's effectiveness or the PD's commitment to this process.

"And donuts?" One of the deputies, a small portly man whom Catherine was fairly certain had been playing Angry Birds for the last two hours, added hopefully.

"Coming right up."

This had not turned out to be a glorified coffee run. Catherine had driven to the coordinates for the mile marker reported in the tip.

"I seen Ole Lionel's car alright. It's out there on two-forty right up passed mile marker fifteen. I get a reward?"

"Yes, you get the warm, fuzzy feeling of doing your civic duty." Catherine had remarked, writing down the info.

"Well that ain't nothin'." The caller huffed.

"Tell me about it." Catherine had hung up resigned to following another dead end.

She'd crept up on mile marker fifteen at barely twenty miles per hour, the GPS pinging softly, "You have arrived" astonished to find Hess's reported vehicle, a 1986 Oldsmobile with a whole lot of mileage. It was, by the looks of it, abandoned on the side of the road around a blind corner. Surely it could have escaped notice here the last two weeks. Rural route 24 wasn't exactly a main thoroughfare.

She'd backed up and pulled the rental almost into a ditch in an effort to conceal it and called the abandoned vehicle into the PD.

"Dispatch be advised, I'll need a tow for evidence vehicle. Over."

"Advised, we have an eta of an hour on that tow, Agent. Over." Catherine sighed, nothing exactly happened expeditiously in these parts. She slipped out of the black suv, and grabbed her kit from the trunk.

"Might as well make constructive use of my time." She muttered.

The doors of the vehicle had been left unlocked, keys in the ignition. Apparently the Okefenokee was that kind of trustworthy place, Catherine mused. She had been in the midst of spraying the trunk with luminol, expecting from the strong odor of decay that the, albeit empty storage space, had a lengthy story to tell. Rustling from the trees off to her right had pulled her attention away and she'd drawn her gun tracking stealthy movement in the shadows.

"Federal agent, I'm armed." Catherine shouted, only to be greeted by silence. She waited, listening, weighing her options. She pointed her weapon, strode carefully forward into the swamp. She'd almost given suspicion over to the ironic certainty that she'd been tracking a bird when she had been met by Hess. Lionel, who towered like a nightmare and now watched placidly as her swamp-soaked gear pulled her beneath the shallow surface. Catherine struggled, shoving hard against the reedy bottom, to pop sputtering, chin barely out of the water. She scrambled back, heels digging in, tried to spin onto her knees. She could hear him above her own wild splashing, the watery sounds of Hess's approach. Then his hands in her hair, yanked her painfully up and back. She felt like she was being pulled in two directions, the swamp intent on her lower half. She gagged, Hess's thick arm slipping around her neck but kicked back, aiming where she warranted his knee might be. Missing, Catherine received an almighty shake for the effort. She dangled limply, feigning acquiescence.

"You be nice." Hess growled, lips close against Catherine's ear. "You and I are gonna be real good friends." He waited for a tick, expecting some response. None forthcoming, he loosened his grip until Catherine sagged against him, her toes barely brushing the glassy, ripple of the swamp water that brushed just below his knees. Bracing, breathing, arching her back, Catherine's hand whipped backwards, questing for her target and planted her thumbnail deep in Hess's eye. A second later she was hands in knees in the muck while Hess cursed and thrashed above her. Turning swiftly to sit, she aimed boot heels for his crotch. Hess dropped, catapulted backwards with a yelp, hands leaving his face to cradle his groin. He dove, head and shoulders below the water and flailed as though caught in a riptide. Pushing back for a bit of distance, Catherine breathed a sigh of relief at her own anxious grip as she yanked her side arm up. Shedding cascades she trained her weapon. She felt heavy, like she carried the swamp and all its secrets, and her chest ached from the impact of Hess's greeting. Don't focus on the pain, she admonished herself. Focus on anything but the pain.

"Hands!" Hess grinned, shaking a finger at Catherine. He stumbled to his knees.

"Ah ah ah." He chastised. "That's no way to treat a friend, miss. You do want to be my friend, don't ya?"

"I've seen how you treat your friends, Lionel. I'll pass. Now put your fucking hands where I can see them." Catherine spat, finally gaining her feet.

"Don't call me that." Hess shouted, startling birds out of the canopy. The life sounds around them froze and with it time seemed to stop. Catherine wheezed against the pressure of her vest, eyes locked on Hess as he brought his right arm out from his side. "I hate it when they call me that." Catherine fired.

"I think Hotch is still trying to decide whether or not to grant you a commendation or a suspension." Derrick Morgan remarked sidling up to the ambulance. Catherine perched blouse open while she endured tentative prodding to her ribs by an EMT. She had a spreading patch of mottled bruising just below the fabric of her bra. Past experience and the sharp pain accompanying each breath suggested to Catherine she had at least one broken rib.

"As ecstatic as we'll all be to put this place in the rear view …" Morgan let the thought drift, eyebrows tented in expectation of some form of explanation.

"Two weeks of dead ends and this just so happens to be the credible tip?" Catherine countered a bit incredulous at the chances her early evening coffee run had disintegrated into a show down with their unsub. "My guess Hess called it in himself."

"Expecting you?" Morgan countered with obvious doubt.

"Expecting any of us." Catherine clarified. "He set a trap and I walked right into it." That certainly could have had a far less happy ending. Morgan fingered the hole in her discarded vest and then offered the scar on her side a pointed look.

"Think you might be running short on lives?"

"Maybe." Satisfied with his examination, the EMT confirmed Catherine's suspicions.

"Two broken ribs. You'll need x-rays." Catherine nodded her thanks, buttoning her blouse.

"I'm no cowboy Morgan." Catherine slipped off the ambulance tail gate. "I have no aversion to the word team." Derrick made a thoughtful noise in the back of his throat and handed over her vest.

"I almost lost a colleague two years ago. She wasn't a cowboy. She believed in this team. But with a … timely enough distraction …" By the look of him, Morgan would be happy to wait in the growing shadows of the Okefenokee Swamp for Catherine's confession. He reached out offering an arm of support. Catherine took it without hesitation as they made their way along a lengthy dispersion of emergency vehicles.

She hadn't exactly stumbled upon Hess unloading trash bags from the trunk of his car and traipsing into the swamp package-laden like some grim approximation of Santa Claus. That would have warranted a call for back-up per SOP. She'd expected to spend an hour waiting for a tow truck while she secured the scene and gathered evidence. She'd expected to be headed to the Seven Eleven for lattes and donuts after chasing down another poor approximation of a joke played by some bored teenager. She certainly hadn't anticipated Hess laying a trap for her in that copse of trees. Nor had she anticipated having to end his life so succinctly. It was a good shoot. Even in death Hess had a firm grip on the forty-five that had put a sizable hole in Catherine's vest. Yet the sour churning of her stomach was undoubtedly remorse and something told her she'd be wrestling with Ole Lionel for a while in her dreams.

After a moment's consideration, Catherine managed, "I could use quite a few Ibuprophen. How about you? Fancy a beer?" Derrick nodded.




"Cedar Grove Cemetery, you have arrived.". Lexie murmured in concert with the GPS. She'd could remember the directions to the gravesite from google maps, but had relinquished navigational responsibility in fear that her mind would wander. She couldn't spend the day circumnavigating Queens. She had promises to keep.

Altogether used to harsh winters, she welcomed the change to days that felt altogether summery for the sunshine in comparison to Seattle's unrepentant gloom. She did not miss the rain or streets frozen in sheets of sparkling ice. New York might as well have been a tropical climate, even with the wind gusting off the Hudson. Lexie turned her face up toward the sun even as she pulled her coat tight and set forth across well-manicured lawn crackling with frost.

Mark had been laid to rest in an otherwise empty family plot. His father had been a union man, construction, and a real son of a bitch. He drank, cursing the wife that disappeared one night in the car of another man leaving him to raise their kid. He brawled, trading punches with the husbands of the women he seduced at the local after hours. He outlived the son whose five minute phone calls had dwindled to Thanksgiving and Christmases. He hadn't had to shed a cent for the funeral attended by friends, colleagues, patients, countless women. He hadn't known any of them and only a handful had acknowledged him as the father whom Mark never mentioned.

Lexie probably wouldn't have known, never having met him, but could think of no other likely visitor. Given the man was swigging from a poorly concealed bottle in a brown bag, it a narrowed the possibilities. He didn't flinch at her approach. He offered her no more than a disinterested glance.

"You one of his girls?" Henry Sloan coughed, then spit voluminously into a melting snow pile just to the left of Mark's grave stone. "He had a lot of girls, a couple of lesbians even.". Henry snorted, taking another substantial knock from the bottle and tossed it, empty into the snow. "Kid's dead and he's still reeling snatch. Just like his old man."

Lexie silent watched him go, trudging like a poorly animated monolith. But for the salt and pepper temples, but for the dull slate of his eyes, he was chiseled granite, an earlier replica of his deceased progeny. Where do any of us come from really, she wondered.

"So I was dying in the woods, and you were already gone, and Meredith was screaming. She was screaming at me to fight. She said all I had to do was fight and she'd do the hard part. She'd believe for me, and she'd breathe for me, and she'd keep my body warm and alive."

Lexie gazed above at the cloudless sky. Was he there? Could he hear her? Would he understand that she was still fighting?

"But I had to fight. Even though I'd never done that before, not really, not for anything so desperate and never for anything so dear.". Lexie made a thoughtful noise in the back of her throat, considering the truth within her words. "I think I would have fought, for love, for you, if it had ever been worthy. If it had only been right with you just one time instead of always so conflicted, I'll-timed, and painful, I would have fought to hold onto you."

Lexie gave herself over, letting the anger come first before the sadness. After all, Mark had earned it.

"You fucked your best friend's first wife, two of his sisters, and his sister-in-law. Yet Derek never truly hated you even when you defied his every plea to think beyond your own desires, to simply lend consideration to the fact that you and he were brothers." she shook her head astounded that this was the man he'd chosen to be. This was the man whom she had loved unapologetically. "I cannot fathom hurting Molly or Meredith like that. I couldn't fight for a life with someone who sneers at the concept of loyalty no matter how much I loved you.". She'd known that even as she'd bristled with envy at Mark's attempts to find happiness elsewhere.

"Maybe you wanted me to fall in love with you. Maybe that made you happy knowing you had my heart to do with as you pleased." Lexie felt the sadness of every loss preceding Mark's passing. "Maybe I would have been okay the first time you truly broke it. But I couldn't spend a lifetime like that.". In the cold, even on a day so still, her face felt chapped and the tears blazed upon her cheeks. She didn't dare wipe them away but sniffed, as chilled, they dripped steadily from her chin.

"My Dad fell in love with Meredith's mother and broke his own heart tearing himself away from a woman who couldn't love him back." Breath hitching, Lexie drew deep for calm, willing herself not to need the medication in her side coat pocket. After a moment, feeling the muscles ease and her chest lift, she continued, "He drank himself through that grief, even after he and my Mom met, even after my sister and I were born. Don't mistake me." She shook her head to the contrary. "He loved my mother dearly, just not desperately."

Love, Lexie was learning, was not wasted energy expended on doomed crusades. Some ill-advised matches are better failures than object lessons on defying expectation. Mark had only ever been what was expected, even when he wasn't quite so charmless as the man to whom he'd designed himself in contrast.

"It wasn't enough to fight his demons, because the kind of love that leaves you in mourning the rest of your life is desperate, like fighting for your life." Lexie sobbed, "I know how it is that I loved you, and I know I won't mourn it, not forever, not for the rest of my life, only in these moments while the world seems an implausible place without you in it.".

She'd walked away from Mark Sloan twice, plagued each time with uncertainty. Perhaps love didn't crash over your head and drag you, flailing, away from where you'd planted your feet to gaze upon the scenery. Why conceive of love in opposition to the mechanism by which one broke the surface, gasping, and braced for shore.

"But the world, Mark, it's still turning, burning just as brightly without you. So the only implausible part, is me never getting over you.". Lexie brushed the tips of numb digits over pale lips, then reached out to caress smooth-edged script. The stone felt unreasonably warm, even with consideration to the direct line of sun it faced.

"I love you and I'll miss you." She whispered and drew her hand away with none of the reluctance she once had saying, "Good-bye, Mark."



"I should call home." Catherine finished the dregs of her beer, returning the bottle to the table with finality that hadn't quite stuck over the course of the last three rounds. She glanced at her phone, noting the time. "Actually, I should go home." She'd missed two commuter flights and was well on the path to missing a third. Outside the airport bar where she'd spent the last two hours listening to Morgan and Rossi regal her with tales of BAU exploits, passenger traffic had dwindled to a trickle. She'd be lucky to make it home by midnight.

"You must be spending a fortune on commuter flights." Rossi noted sipping at his own near empty bottle. "Have you thought about getting a place here? If you're intent to be in the city Georgetown offers the quiet of the suburbs and your commute out to Quantico will certainly rival flying back and forth to New York every day." Catherine shook her head.

"No it's not that bad." Then shrugging in response to Rossi's arch-browed disbelief allowed, "Okay maybe it's a bit pricey but it's not about the money."

"And what is it about?" Morgan asked, motioning to the bartended for another round. Catherine waved her hands I surrender.

"No, no more rounds. I really can't." Catherine pulled out her wallet, offering her credit card just as the bartender arrived at the table with three more frosty bottles. "I got this." Morgan and Rossi deferred, noting Catherine's resolve.

"New agent buys the beers." Morgan nodded acceptance. "That's a tradition we can hold onto."

"Get a lot of new agents in the BAU?" Catherine asked.

"Not so many." Rossi looked thoughtful a moment, gauging Catherine. "I don't have to tell a ten year veteran that not everyone is cut out for this work."

"Vegas CSI had its share of serials but profiling is an exercise in immersion." Catherine offered the answer to the question it seemed Rossi was deftly skirting. "I've been consumed by cases. I've empathized with victims. But I've never had to get quite so deep inside of the killers." Rossi and Morgan remained silent, acknowledging the burden they all now shared. "I'm not a profiler. I work leads and IDs and I'm damn good at what I do." Catherine looked at her partners, men whom she would learn to work beside and trust as she had trusted Nick and, with a painful skip of her heart's beat, Warrick. "I know how to turn it off and I go home." The bartender returned with the receipt and Catherine signed, leaving a generous tip before rising to her feet. Overnight bag in hand, she offered a lopsided smile. "It's about family. I get on a plane and go home to my family."

"As it should be." Rossi tipped a beer in her direction. Morgan reached across the table and Catherine grasped his hand in a warm shake.

"Good job today Agent." Morgan relayed, meeting her eye with sincerity. "And don't worry about Hotch. He'll let you off the hook soon enough."

"After that tussle with Hess, I don't mind a couple of days on desk assignment." Catherine confessed earning a chuckle. "See you in the morning guys." She took her leave to well wishes of a safe flight.

"Hi, is this Lindsey?"

"Uh no, this is Lexie. Who may I ask is calling?" Lexie idly glanced at the Caller ID, noting the DC area code.

"Sorry, I'm Penelope Garcia. I work with Agent Willows and I could have sworn she said your name was Lindsey."

"Catherine's daughter's name is Lindsey. I, on the other hand, am Lexie." Lexie paused, glancing back into the bedroom tracking the rise and fall of Catherine's easy breathing in slumber. She pulled the door softly closed to dampen the conversation. "She just got home three hours ago. Is she being called back in for a case?"

"No we don't have anything pending. I'd intended just to leave a voicemail, didn't want to wake her unnecessarily." Penelope bubbled to which Lexie rolled her eyes. She'd grabbed Catherine's buzzing mobile and tip-toed out of the bedroom. Catherine had trudged in the front door looking like death would be a welcome alternative. Lexie had simply hustled Catherine into a hot shower. She'd seen the livid bruise across Catherine's mid-section and didn't ask for details as she palpated the pulpy evidence of broken ribs.

"You need your rest. We'll go in for X-rays in the morning and just wrap them tonight." She'd murmured searching through bathroom cabinets for Ace bandages. Catherine didn't talk about cases at home. It was the cardinal rule in the Shepherd-Willows-Grey household. Their work was never to infiltrate these safe confines. This was to be their sanctuary, no exceptions.

"Is there something I can help you with Ms. Garcia."

"Penelope is fine." She exuded an effervescence that carried over the line and didn't exactly hint federal agent. Lexie allowed her imagination some artistic license as she pictured a princess with a pixie cut and a gorgeous Vera Wang suit chasing down criminals in four inch heels. Elle Woods with a gun, Lexie snorted at the visual, covering up the slip with feigned coughing.

"Pardon me. Something in my throat." Lexie demurred. "What can I do for you at four o'clock in the morning, Penelope."

"Put in the simplest terms I'm the Technical Analyst and Communications Specialist for the BAU. Part of my job is to call the team in and debrief them when we have a case."

"I thought you said you weren't calling Catherine in for a case." Lexie interrupted, already deflating at the thought of rousing the woman after so little sleep.

"Oh I'm not." Penelope reassured. "Section Chief Strauss just notified that our team is on leave through the weekend given the length of our last post in the field. If Agent Willows needs to file any paperwork, she's been granted privileges at the Manhattan bureau office. In the meanwhile, I hope she enjoys her time off and those ribs feel better soon."

"I'll let her know." Lexie sighed unexpected relief at having Catherine home for four days. As much as she respected the rules that governed the peace they enjoyed at home, Lexie could admit that living in the dark about Catherine's dangerous job caused far more anxiety than it was intended to relieve.

"Great!" Penelope exclaimed. "And I suppose we'll finally have the opportunity to meet you at the friends and family picnic next month?"

"Uh …" Lexie's mouth worked, grasping at frustratingly evasive sound as the moment grew uncomfortably silent. "Yeah, okay. What you said."

"This entire family is plagued by sleepless nights." Lexie murmured softly, returning Catherine's mobile to the bedside table. Starlight from a bank of windows facing the condo's small backyard illuminated Catherine face. Propped against the headboard, she watched Lexie carefully climb back into bed, careful not to jostle Catherine's injured ribs in the process. It was nice to have someone there. Lexie had found herself anxious and alone without Meredith slipping in next to her each night. She'd spent several consecutive nights curled on the living room coach, staring listlessly through the night time hours before Amelia had thrown up her hands in exasperation.

"It's creepy Hal, you wandering the halls all night like the Ghost of Christmas Past." Amelia had manhandled her under the covers to Catherine's arched-browed surprise then slipped in the middle with a satisfied sigh.

"If this is your way of asking for a threesome …" Catherine had quipped as she returned her attention to steadily type on her laptop.

"No, I already told you Misty that nurse in the clinic with the …" Amelia paused meaningfully, "charming personality, has first dibs." Amelia yawned, snuggling deeper under the covers.

Since then, the guest room had returned to being just that, a room for guests. Lexie was home.

"Garcia?" Catherine asked, already formulating the time it would take for her to get out the door and offer her boss an ETA on her arrival.

"Yes." Lexie nodded. "What's this about a picnic?" Catherine looked askance.

"Oh … um, what?"

"She mentioned a friends and family, something or other." Lexie smiled lopsidedly. "She thought I was Lindsey." Catherine rolled her eyes, imagining exactly what it would be like to show up at the FBI picnic with Amelia and Lexie in tow. How exactly did one start that round of introductions?

"It's next month. I wasn't sure if …" Catherine let her doubts hang obscurely.

"I get it." Lexie nodded. She hesitated, bit her lip unsure if she would proceed. Catherine, unexpectedly curious to retread what could potentially be another point of contention between them, fixed Lexie with open regard.

"You can ask." Catherine had never seemed unapproachable to Lexie, quite the opposite in fact. In comparison to Ames, Catherine was wide open and receptive. Ames could be prickly at best, despite her good humor, a deceptively introverted. Unafraid of conflict as long as it didn't reach past the well-guarded boundaries of those key emotional vulnerabilities that crept forward at the mention of family, Ames frequently advertised warnings about the depths which she preferred remain unplumbed. No one was readily allowed into Ames's trust. Catherine, however, seemed invulnerable in many ways. There was little hidden of her true nature, even her fear.

"Back in Vegas when you were shot …" Lexie began, not entirely sure yet what it was she intended to ask.

"Was I scared of dying?" Catherine offered at Lexie's persisting uncertainty. "Scared yes, I'm often scared on the job. But I've never truly been scared of dying." At Lexie's look of incredulity, Catherine smiled. "Dying is part of the whole package of loving, of fear. Fear can be focus when you're fighting for your life." Hess grew in sudden prominence, reconstructed from the events of the last twenty-four hours. Catherine shook her head, training her eyes on Lexie's and breathing through the anxious beating of her heart. "Without fear, you take survival for granted and you make fatal mistakes."

"Meredith …" Lexie began. She gulped a breath as though to hold onto the truth, keep it secret for just a moment longer. She forced herself to exhale, letting the words come with it. "She thinks I don't remember. She thinks I've been miraculously spared." Catherine understood. It was wishful thinking to which the families of victims often turned themselves over.

"No one is entirely spared." Catherine considered Lexie and the nightmares that plagued her nights. She had hardly been spared.

"It feels as though I remember every moment." Lexie curled her knees up to her chest, shoulder brushing Catherine's in a moment that felt like companionship. To Catherine, Lexie seemed smaller, a frail spector of the young woman she'd first met over a year ago. Catherine reached out, her hand clasped in Lexie's without a moment of consideration. "Mer can't sleep through the night. But at least now she can board a plane. She just," Lexie paused, then continued her words bordering distraut, "She can't bear the darkness." She lay her head against Catherine's shoulder, eyes slipping closed. "Four days I lay struggling against what felt inevitable, against the cold. And every moment, with the torture of breathing and the god awful pain of Christina cutting, I begged for death to take me., to spare me that endless waiting." Catherine squeezed comfort into the fingers held securely threaded between her own. She listened, offering nothing else.

"I could hear them arguing over my life, trying to sustain it. And there I was wishing that every attempt would be futile, that Christina would finally give up, that Meredith would let me go." Sniffling, Lexie wiped angrily at her eyes. "I wanted warmth and comfort and light. I wanted my Mom to be there waiting for me. But all there was for me was the darkness and the cold. There was the pain and the terrible part was the waiting, the wishing for it all to end." Lexie covered her mouth, clutching at control. "Meredith fought so hard for me, when I had given up and she's still fighting. And all I can think is that as long as she does, I'll be waiting an eternity in the dark of those woods until death comes."

"Death may be lonely and it may even be long, but it's not what any of us imagine." Catherine whispered, feeling Lexie's desperation like a contagion thickening the air around them. "Lex." She cleared her throat, concern shining through as she searched out Lexie's eyes in the bedroom's unintentional gloom. "I want to believe that whatever may await us in death, it will be respite, a relief from the struggles we've faced in life. I have to believe that."

"Hey babe." Later, with Lexie asleep and welcome weary dreams coalescing, Amelia planted a good morning kiss as she slipped quietly into bed. Catherine, drifting, awoke enough to offer a smile in greeting. She slid carefully into Amelia's arms despite the complaints of her ribs.

"Tell me there's something you can do." Catherine murmured, half-asleep. Amelia, lips against the crown of Catherine's head, searched for an answer to the only question that had plagued all of them as they anticipated Lexie's deterioration. Tell we aren't going to spend days and weeks and months watching her die."

"Wouldn't you rather I tell you the truth?" Amelia asked flatly. "Meredith and I have come at it from every possible angle. She'll have years Cath, a couple, maybe five, and they won't be easy." Amelia reached out to run a hand along Lexie's arm, draped across Catherine's hip in slumber.

"It's unfair." Catherine mumbled. "She's scared and she came to us."

"A family full of doctors and not one of us is capable of saving her life." Amelia gritted her teeth, willing away the anger she felt, anger to which she didn't have the right. Lexie was alive. She bargained with gods in whom she'd sworn not to believe, begging for Lexie to wake up from that coma. These days her gratitude had taken on a bitter pique.

"So we wait?" Catherine asked, eyes shut so tight, and cheeks still surprisingly wet.

"We wait." Amelia confirmed, watching the receding darkness in the first bright hints of dawn. What hopes they might have for miracles could be written plainly in each breath that passed Lexie's lips and made Amelia's heart trip and beat faster.



"Hey Lex."

"Karev?" Lexie blinked in surprise at the unexpected Face Time call from 'Never Call While Drunk' on her contacts list. "Were you trying to reach Meredith?" She asked grasping at straws. "She and Derek are still in Boston getting wined and dined by BU. Did you hear the school offered them each their own individual research lab? You can tell me the truth, you're jealous, right? Cause I'm a little jealous."

"Actually, no I'm not calling to talk to Mer. And no I'm not jealous of your sister and Shepherd. I have my own very important shit right here in Seattle." Alex scoffed.

"You let me know whenever you manage to think up a point to all of this." Lexie smirked.

"Hey, I didn't call to …"

"Spare me. What do you want Karev?" Lexie interrupted.

"So you're dying right. Bad lungs." Karev waited, while Lexie contemplated the worth of pointing out his lack of tact.

"Thanks for your consideration but I am pretty up to date on my prognosis."

"Untwist your thong snatch-grabber, I'm calling to save your life." Karev grinned charmlessly.

"Snatch-grabber?" Lexie intoned, "The hell?"

"Yeah, aren't you and Shepherd's little sister shacked up?"

"Wow, apparently I'm not the only one calling shenanigans on you and Shep's platonic friendsies. Who's that?" Remy peered over Lexie's shoulder. "Hmm, he's kind of cute, in an entirely overt smug, self-assured way. Let me guess, Surgeon?"

"Hey there. Doctor Alex Karev, Pediatric Surgeon, actually." Alex introduced himself, oozing charm in spite of diminished line of sight as Lexie canted the phone away from Remy's prying eyes. Lexie marveled at the sudden change. Here she thought Karev trapped all his conquests by being broody and unattainable. This was a new look.

"Doctor Remy Hadley, pleased to meet you." Remy beamed, sliding in close to Lexie's shoulder for another sneak peak. Lexie glanced at the woman, pretty sure she was batting her eyes.

"I literally thought your name was Thirteen." Lexie hummed, thoughtfully. Remy barely offered her a look, making a successful grab for the phone.

"So, Doctor Alex Karev, perhaps I can be of some help since Lexie's indisposed." Remy danced away, dodging Lexie's attempts to retrieve her mobile.

"Call me Alex." Karev replied. "I was just calling to tell Lexie that I emailed her some promising research she should check out. Actually, if you'd like to give me your number, perhaps we could … you ever make it out to Seattle?"

"Do I? I'm in Seattle like, all the time." Remy offered Lexie an unctuous wink.

"I swear I will murder you both and won't serve a day." Lexie launched herself. Remy was surprisingly spry, and just barely stepped out of the way. Glancing away from the phone, Remy tilted her head to gaze down upon Lexie's latest vantage point on the conference room floor. Remy stepped gingerly over Lexie's prone form only to have a pant leg caught in a surprising sound grip. Remy stumbled, yanking on her leg.

"Everything okay?" Karev, receiving the suddenly upended perspective on his end watched as the screen jerked wildly back and forth. "Wow, the facilities over there at Princeton Plainsboro are impressive. Modern, really."

"That number is nine one seven." Karev could hear struggling over Remy's voice in the background then another sudden pitch in perspective as a table top and a white board wheeled past followed by the sudden disconnection of the call.

"That was a productive five minutes of my day." Karev muttered slipping his phone back into his pocket.

"You broke my phone." Lexie muttered, skimming the files Karev had attached to his email citing the limited risk and high potential of regenerative medicine interventions. He'd worked on that case last year growing a trachea for a nine year old and subsequently ended up co-authoring a paper.

"Did I? Or was that you who chucked it at the wall. I can't clearly remember since I was being choked out during the time in question." Remy replied. "Check it, here's an abstract on lung tissue graft grown from adult stem cells by the Regenerative Medicine Center at Wake Forest." Lexie lent a cursory look at the abstract then opened the entire article.

"Check out the bio on the principle investigator." Lexie murmured navigating through a link to the faculty home page of the Wake Forest Institute of Regenerative Medicine.

"Surgeon with a research focus in clinical translation of tissue engineering and cell-based therapies," Remy read aloud. "I think James Yoo, MD, PhD just might save your life, Grey." Lexie contemplated Remy as though considering walking into oncoming traffic.

"Assuming a life, much less mine, can be saved."

"Let's go, slugger." Remy stood, shedding her lab coat and headed for the door. She sighed at Lexie's reticence. "We got a plane to catch."

"Seriously?" Nonplussed, Lexie returned to paging through Karev's research. "I'll write him an email."

"I know. Last thing you want to do is board another plane." Remy flashed her prescription pad, already scribbling away. "Don't you worry about a thing. I've got it covered." Lexie's expression only seemed to darken in response.

"Were you the one?" Lexie asked unwilling to accept as Remy extended the slip of paper scribbled with authorization for several doses of Aprazolam.

"One what?" Remy asked waving the slip impatiently.

"When Ames relapsed and Catherine had to drop in her some rehab in Connecticut a couple months back," Lexie paused waiting for an answer. The fine line of Remy's brow arched in as much confusion as curious expectation. "Were you the one keeping her supplied with fresh scripts for oxy." Remy pursed her lips as if trying to decide whether to be offended. Folding the paper delicately, she slipped it into the front pocket of Lexie's jeans. Up that close, it was impossible not to meet Lexie's gaze. Remy's fingers lingered, an unexpected warmth on Lexie's waist.

"Shep wasn't coming to me to score back then." Disbelief flashing across Lexie's face, Remy added, "In any sense of the word."

"She must have been a mess." Lexie brushed Remy's hand away, folding her arms but unwilling to step back for the distance she craved. "Did you even care? Ames isn't some asshole boss who thrills at the opportunity to screw around with your life. She's your friend. You saw the signs. I know you did." Lexie watched the tightening of Remy's posture, could sense the preparation for lies or omissions. "Why didn't you do something about it the first time you suspected she was using?"

"My last boss in this job was a Vicodin addict who openly popped pills all day with indemnity." Remy threw up her hands at the absurdity of such a thought. "Before my hiatus from Diagnostics last year –"

"You mean the six months you spent in jail." Lexie interrupted knowingly. "Could that have possibly been for some form of prescription fraud?" Remy winced, discomfort rolling through tense shoulders at how unexpectedly accurate the gossip fueled by her time away from PPTH had proven.

"I spent my nights off taking E and screwing around." Remy deflected the accusation in Lexie's question with feigned lack of concern, "We are all a mess here, Grey, no exceptions. Amelia kept her shit together and ran the unit competently. Anything beyond that was her own damn business."

"I don't buy that." Lexie shook her head.

"Try." Remy nodded at Lexie's hip, "In the meanwhile, get that filled. We have a plane to catch."



"That suit, those heels, and that pristine fucking ballerina bun are making me want to do things to you that are illegal in half the states located south of us." Catherine's reflection beamed saucily at Amelia from the bathroom vanity. Amelia tossed wet hair forward, drying it vigorously with her towel before wrapping it all to the curling ends so that it sat in a haphazard swirl on top of her head.


"No?" Amelia repeated in scandalized disbelief.

"Only one of us in this bathroom is technically due in to work today." Amelia crossed her arms under her bare breasts. Heaving a belabored sigh as wet hair and towel unwound itself to fall back into her face, she cast aside the towel and flipped limp strands out of her eyes. Catherine glared warning of reprisals as cast off droplets rained across the bathroom. Amelia only smiled. "And it's not the one of us currently wearing panties …" Pursed lips, she paused only to inquire with obvious consideration "You are wearing panties …?"

"As keen as I am to rack up a few infractions of evangelical southern morality legislation, I have an incident report to file on this last case." Catherine's expression turned momentarily grim in the reflection and her eyes dipped away from Amelia's. "I don't get to just go home and fuck my girlfriend after an agent involved shooting, Ames."

"So romantic. Who needs flowers?" Amelia held up her hands, noting the fine edge of irritation working its way into Catherine's expression. "Well Lexie will pitch a bitch if you don't come in to have your ribs examined." She waited a beat, watching revelation dawn and Catherine's all business morph into semi-amazed disbelief. "Of course if you had another doctor to offer a second opinion suggesting that X-rays were unnecessary to continued treatment ..." Amelia shrugged, "Perhaps Doctor Grey might be persuaded to overlook your inability to follow her very clear directive. Refresh my memory, what was it she said this morning as she left?"

"Don't even think about heading into the Manhattan field office without stopping by the clinic first unless I liked the idea of a month of all raw vegan meals." Catherine quoted, rolling her eyes. "You do realize you're bribing a federal agent, don't you?"

"She said she'd throw away every single bag of Snyder's honey pretzels that came through the door, indefinitely." Amelia shook her hair out, tossing the towel into a laundry hamper in the corner. "Every single bag, Agent Willows."

"She's bluffing." Catherine turned to rest her hip against the counter, coolly assessing Amelia from head to toe. "She's equally as fond of Snyder's as I am." Amelia shrugged and Catherine threw up her hands, hardly buying it. "She's not even vegan! Her staple food groups are meat and sugar."

"She's stress eating." Amelia rationalized. "But would you really want to chance it when you could just submit to my incredibly professional cursory examination, simultaneously avoiding the drive out to Princeton and thus saving yourself time on your way into the file that report this morning?" Amelia nodded in wide-eyed sympathy. "I know it's a dilemma." She minced forward to place fingertips on the buttons of Catherine's charcoal blazer. "Let me help you with that Agent Willows." Catherine leaned forward, hungrily catching Amelia's lips with her own.

"God I can just imagine delinquent Amelia age sixteen deftly weaseling her way out of a tight spot." Catherine muttered shrugging out of the jacket as Amelia started on the blouse.

"Baby, I've only got one tight spot on my mind right now." Amelia latched on to the junction between Catherine's slender neck and elegant clavicle, hands thrusting skirt to waist and yanking aside panties.


"Huh?" Amelia mumbled around Catherine's neck fingertips traveling the soft curve of inner thighs.

"Your phone." Catherine huffed in frustration, grabbing Amelia's wrist to guide her questing hand back out into the light. "That god-awful sound is not my ringer." Amelia cocked her head listening to the melodic tinkle drifting from the bedroom. Recognizing Right Said Fred's I'm Too Sexy, Amelia shook her head turning to nuzzle Catherine's shoulder.

"That's Foreman's ringtone and he is hardly an emergency."

"He's your boss, Ames. Answer the phone." Catherine lightly pushed Amelia away and turned to the mirror to survey the damage of their interrupted tryst. Perfect. "And now I'm going to have to change." Amelia sulked, watching Catherine disrobe from the corner of her eye as she went in search of the irritating tones.

"Foreman, this better be some earth-shattering type shit because ..."

"I'm hardly concerned with whatever mother-daughter lesbian exchange with your own personal branch of the federal government I've interrupted." Foreman broke in heedlessly. "Why is there no one in your department?"

"I just came off a seventy-two hour shift. Chase is in the clinic. Lexie and Thirteen should be in Diagnostics." Amelia reported with no small degree of impatience. "I know you didn't interrupt what had been an incredibly promising morning for answers you could have gotten directly from the source with a simple text." Foreman muttered indistinctly as she directed the sounds of her resignation into the phone. "I know you miss me when I'm not there; but you will learn to manage in my absence … eventually. Just give it some time, okay pal?" Amelia sighed, adding with nostalgia evident in her tone, "Hey, who's my big guy?"

"Yes, Chase is in the clinic." Foreman ground out as though counting slowly with each carefully enunciated syllable. "However, Doctors Grey and Hadley are nowhere to be found. Nor are they answering my pages."

"Well, whatever you need them for, assuming it's not too pressing. For example, if this is another case of a full set of hush-hush labs following a questionable weekend tryst with and I quote." Amelia lowered her voice to a conspiratorial whisper, "Some girl you met in a bar," She let the memory of that particular request hang in the air a moment before continuing with bland disinterest, "just pull Chase off of clinic duty and I'll be there in an hour."

"It's not a diagnostic team if there's only one doctor present in the conference room." Foreman cleared his throat, eager to bypass what they both agreed to never ever speak of again. Amelia's memory, however, tended to run a bit short. "Besides, admittedly, Chase is not exactly your strongest team member and should not be left to do your job handling a differential diagnosis solo." Amelia could hardly argue that point. "How do you plan to handle your missing doctors?"

"I'll track them down." She replied, offering Foreman a terse good-bye and hanging up in time to watch Catherine strut from her closet in a fresh new suit. Mmm, Amelia hummed in appreciation, black this time.

"Uh, uh" Catherine shook her finger, warning Amelia's cheeky fingers away from the buttons of her recently donned black blazer. She patted the back of her bun, catching one last glimpse of her reflection. "I'm late."

"But baby," Amelia, gorgeous though she was, instantly became quite irresistible when whining. Catherine's stony expression brooked little in the way of argument though Amelia tried. "When's the last time we've been in this condo alone?"

"Like that makes any difference." Catherine snorted remembering a very recent event where she'd been soundly fucked in the shower while Lexie slept or had the good grace to pretend slumber some four feet away. "I'll be home early. And I'll even wear my reading glasses." She blew Amelia a chaste kiss already halfway out the door.

Amelia grumbled the entire drive into work. Small wonders, she mused, relieved to have a cup of coffee and relax behind the steering wheel of her car rather than be jostled and squeezed between strangers for an hour on the subway. Lexie undoubtedly carpooled with Remy that morning and Catherine had taken a cab to the field office, leaving Amelia the keys to the car. It was Catherine's one indulgence – a silver Audi R8 that cost roughly half as much as Amelia's undergraduate education. It was like driving a rocket that purred and offered you indecent favors when you accelerated. She felt like Tony Stark every time she slid behind the steering wheel. Reminded of itinerant hooligans and truants, "Where are you and why aren't you answering Foreman's pages?"

"My phone is broken and I am so fucked up right now." Lexie's voice slurred over the line. Is this bitch drunk, Amelia nearly spilled her coffee, quickly returning it to the beverage holder. She'd never here the end of Catherine's complaints about the upholstery if she so much as dribbled coffee anywhere within the interior. Over the ambient noise of the line, speakerphone Amelia deduced, she could hear giggling and Ke$ha screeching about youthful indiscretion. If there was glitter and booze and some unidentified after after party involved in the failure to be at work doing the jobs for which they'd been hired, Amelia would certainly throw a fit. But more importantly, she had to wonder why she didn't get an invitation. What kind of bull shit was that?

"We're in North Carolina!" Remy exclaimed then added soberly, "There was probably a better way to break that news." So much had changed these last months back at Princeton under the behest of Doctor Amelia Shepherd. It was impossible not to ease into the comfort of a day to day scenario untouched by the kind of hyper-vigilant concern for one's privacy or even safety working for House had inspired. Days were ticking by and Lexie was an unforeseen companion to watch the approach of those ominous clouds gathered upon the horizon. Remy had proposed this spontaneous trip south as her thoughts had turned to the moment she'd stepped out of prison. She'd counted down six months of her swiftly dwindling life locked away and stepped out into a new light of day only to be greeted by one Doctor Amelia Shepherd and a dirty martini. Thankless, she'd downed the martini in a gulp and sworn she wouldn't go back. Amelia had shrugged, a mystery behind dark sunglasses and proposed they go forward instead. An impromptu road trip can do wonders for one's perception of things.

Remy tugged on her scarf, sweat beading on her forehead. Lexie leaned close, blinking blearily at the phone in Remy's free hand. Her head dropped, bouncing none-too-lightly on Remy's shoulder.

"Jinx? It's me. You call me Hal cause I'm a scary robot." Remy grimaced at the slow introduction of drool down the collar of her shirt as Lexie's head lolled, her open mouth landing against Remy's neck. "I'm scary." She whispered lips brushing rhythmically against the quickening pulse under Remy's skin.

"Thirteen, what is wrong with her?" Amelia questioned, deathly serious.

"What?" Remy exclaimed, "Nothing. She's fine. She's great." She paused, adding, "I may have slightly overestimated the dosage on her anti-anxiety meds." Remy laughed lightly, trying to alleviate Amelia's concern. If the vitriolic round of cursing that followed was any indication, Amelia wasn't buying it. "Hey!" Remy interjected. "Calm down. It's not like she's driving and she's understandably a nervous flyer. Trust me when I say, those drugs were a worthwhile investment. It was a choppy flight." She confided, shrugging to lift Lexie's head off her shoulder.

"Why the Fuck …" Amelia exhaled, trying to find the calm. This is what it meant to manage doctors who had been groomed under the tutelage of Gregory House, plus Lexie Grey who apparently was far too susceptible to negative influence for her own good.

"Listen, it's actually pertinent medical business. I think we've found a way to save Lexie's life." More giggling in the background, then, "Lexie, put your shirt back, okay. The other drivers don't want to see those."

"Guess who's maybe, potentially not dying." Lexie shouted, then waiting for an interminable moment added. "No seriously, Jinx, guess." Amelia rolled her eyes.

"I don't know Hal. Please by all means enlighten me." Remy grunted muffled amusement at Lexie's unbridled enthusiasm.

"This girl! That's who. Wait … yeah okay." Lexie hummed along to the music, apparently no longer interested in continuing the conversation.

"It was a lot of drugs," Remy admitted, clearing her throat, "for such a short flight."

"I'll cover with Foreman." Amelia hated that put upon adult sound that she now associated with her voice after certain conversations with Chase and Thirteen, and now even Lexie. "But I need some form of official report by the end of the day."

"Oh Em Gee, Thirteen, I am so starving! Yo Quiero Taco Bell! Yo quiero it!" Lexie's voice, obnoxiously loud, drowned out Remy's agreement formulated as good-bye followed by the phone's abrupt disconnection.

"Un-be-fucking-lievable." Amelia muttered, fabricating excuses she'd unrepentantly spew in Foreman's office at the looming completion of her once relaxing commute.



"Agent Catherine Willows, Section Chief Strauss, the Bureau Chief over the BAU at Quantico notified your SAIC of my arrival." Catherine extended her hand, assessing the field agent who'd come to greet her in the lobby of Manhattan's FBI field office.

"Agent Dan McAvoy, pleasure to make your acquaintance." He flashed a gap-toothed grin appearing quite young in spite of a whispy gray comb over and a broadening midsection. "I recall the paper you presented some years ago on IEDs at the International Forensics Science Symposium. You were still working out of Vegas CSI. Really fascinating work you did there. I thought we would have snatched you up here at the bureau even sooner."

"Well, it seems the FBI got me soon enough." Catherine nodded humble gratitude falling into step beside him. "As I recall, the cases leading up to that paper were a uh, … blast." Catherine winked earning a polite chuckle for the effort. McAvoy held the door into the bullpin, not entirely aflutter with activity.

"Lot of empty desks huh." McAvoy noted Catherine's puzzled gaze. "We have a briefing underway at the moment. It's pulled a lot of agents. In fact," McAvoy gestured for Catherine to follow, leading a winding tour through desks and cubicles. "You might find this of interest." The command and control center was packed. Every spare agent attentively listening as the SAIC debriefed to a projected background of crime scene imagery.

"What am I seeing?" Catherine whispered squeezing in shoulder to shoulder with McAvoy behind several rows of standing agents.

"Seven victims, all female, mid-twenties to thirties, kidnapped, drugged presumably on their commute into work. The victims were later discovered at home seated at their dinner tables dressed as though attending a formal meal." McAvoy reported, lowering his voice as he drew the displeased attention of those nearest them.

"Throat's cut." Catherine murmured eyes darting over the photos. "Why doesn't NYPD have jurisdiction?"

"Unsub holds them for three days." McAvoy offered Catherine a grim look. "It's ours because until that last meal, it's a kidnapping."

"And he has another victim?" McAvoy nodded confirming Catherine's suspicion.

"As of yesterday."

"Agent Hotchner, this is Willows." Catherine paced down a dull gray corridor away from the briefing. The federal government wasn't exactly known for its creative use of the color wheel. Nonetheless, for what it was worth, the bland interior design was a comfort after the assault on her eyes. Those women had been bled in their homes like cattle. The brutality of it mocked the staunch civility of a table set with linens, candles, and fine china. For reasons Catherine couldn't entirely fathom, the scene had angered her beyond reason. She wanted to find this monster and put an end to his gruesome activities.

"Agent Willows." Even over the phone, Aaron Hotchner had a cautious way about him that made Catherine wonder if there was ever anything the man didn't see coming.

"I'm at the Manhattan field office and a case has come to my attention that might benefit from the expertise of the BAU."

"We haven't been requested by local PD, agent." Hotchner replied warily. "That's not exactly how we do things."

"It's a federal case, seven kidnap victims held for three days then executed in their homes." Catherine attempted to reign in her own sense of urgency, ignoring the fact that a young woman out there somewhere was hanging onto only forty-eight more hours. Agents like Hotchner who lived and breathed SOP, would not be swayed by the ticking clock. He needed to know, after the debacle with Hess, that Catherine didn't abjure the rules, that Catherine could be a part of a team. Fifteen near impeccable years at Vegas CSI as part of not just a team but a family, it was disconcerting having to prove herself thus. "It's already a federal case sir, ours if we want to help." Catherine waited, listening to Hotchner breathe on the line. She could practically hear him weighing the pros in cons.

"Who's the SAIC there, Graves?" Hochner asked to which Catherine hummed confirmation. "Have him forward his briefing to Garcia. I'll call in the team. We're wheels up in an hour."

"Yes sir." Catherine could not deny the sudden rush of satisfaction, and allowed herself a sigh of relief.

"And Willows?"

"Sir?" Catherine held her breath, thinking perhaps her that sigh could have held a moment or two.

"Your work on the Hess case was beyond reproach." Hotchner intoned, his lack of warmth irrelevant in comparison to the sentiment. "You're a fine addition to this team."

"Thank you, sir." Catherine wavered then amended. "Hotch."



Lexie glanced around the small lobby of the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine. Winston-Salem was a small town with a prestigious school that boasted a cutting edge facility. Lexie had easily been charmed by its warmth. Unaccountably stuffed with processed meat product and not feeling quite so drunk from Remy's heavy-hand indication of alprazolam, Lexie could well appreciate the appeal of "Southern Ivy" especially seated in the most comfortable lobby furniture she could recall. Under tempered lights, feet sinking into the plush depths of a designer rug, Lexie took note of the effort expended in creating a sophisticated yet genuine welcome. Plaques and prints commemorating WFIRM's progenitors and triumphs dotted walls tastefully rendered in rich wooden paneling. The design appeared to be a fond nod to the mid-century modern movement of the seventies resulting in a nostalgic return to recollections of sitting in her Father's study back home.

"Ma'am, I'm sorry." The dulcet southern tones of the security guard floated over to the waiting area. The marble floor didn't even ring and echo with the anesthetized sounds of a clinic or research facility. Lexie rose and approached the security desk. She'd signed in with Remy content to wait given the amiable greeting they'd received and considering the reality that managing to gain entry might be the most uncertain part of their gamble south. The guard offered her a genuine smile and shook his head. "I haven't been able to reach Dr. Yoo. His assistant insists he is currently out of the office. Did you have an appointment?" Not so much, no, Lexie bit her lip scrambling for an excuse.

"I …"

"Hey, are we headed up?" Remy appeared at Lexie's elbow, returned from a trip to the restroom.

"Dr. Yoo is out of the office." Lexie turned to her, a look of burgeoning disappointment drawing dark brows tightly together. What had they been thinking? Spontaneity aside, what could she truly expect to happen here?

'But we came all this way!" Remy exclaimed in a tone of voice Lexie had never heard the woman utter over the course of their relatively short acquaintance. Remy turned a comically distressed expression on the security guard and it was all Lexie could do not to roll her eyes. "Whatever will we do?" Lexie watched the security guard gobble the incredibly transparent act without hesitation, eyes wide in instant sympathy.

"Don't you fret, ma'am. I'll track Dr. Yoo down." Fighting the urge to gag at Remy's simpering Lexie gestured impatiently.

"Give me your phone."

"Um, day time minutes." Remy otherwise ignored her, leaning forward onto the security desk to watch the guard search for a list of the personal cell phone numbers of building occupants. "Thank you so much Officer … Mmmmmills." She hummed, earning a flustered cough from the guard. He nodded, noting her proximity with nervous fingers practically ripping through the pages of the small note pad he'd shucked from his pocket in his search. Lexie avidly wished chivalry were dead if only to spare her witnessing this charade. A deep crimson crept up from the collar of the guard's uniform and he cleared his throat casting an eager glance up at Remy.

"I just know I have that number here in my notes."

"You're as bad as Ames." Lexie muttered, reaching deftly into Remy's jacket pocket to snag her mobile. "Fuck your day time minutes. I mean really, who doesn't have an unlimited calling package?" Lexie stalked toward the front door, waving the phone.

"I prefer to communicate via text. It's a cheaper plan." Remy watched with patented boredom. "You should consider it."

"You owe me a new iPhone, consider that." Lexie slipped outside, not bothering to wait for a response and dialed one of the few numbers she'd bothered to commit to memory.

"I've been calling you all morning. You promised."

"I'm sorry, Mer." Lexie shifted her shoulders uncomfortable with the weight of disappointment in her sister's voice. She proceeded to pace the edges of the building's courtyard feeling an initial twist of anxiety. Meredith's constantly prevalent anxieties had become contagious. They'd brokered a deal in the light of Lexie's relocation wherein Meredith had agreed to back way off. No more compliance checks and prescription adjustments or calls in the middle of the night presumably to reassure herself that Lexie still drew breath. One call per day, was what Lexie had submitted, to keep abreast of things not simply to nitpick about her condition. Admittedly, Lexie felt now that she could talk to Meredith in a way they never had as sisters, but as friends. It was a relief, honestly, for their conversations so rarely delved into the realities of Lexie's sickness. Instead, she heard about the trials of potty training and Derek's recovery from his recent surgery and how absolutely insane the Shepherd women apparently were without exception. Meredith had married one man and gained an overbearing mother and four meddling sisters. It was enough to question her commitment to Derek with the holidays on the horizon and an inescapable obligation to spend them in Montauk with the entirety of the Shepherd clan. "My phone is broken and I was traveling. This is the first free moment I had to chat."

"Traveling?" Lexie sighed exasperation at the abrupt change to a decidedly interrogatory tone. Meredith was cool control, intent not to shout into the phone. "Where?"

"I'm fine. It's no big deal, honestly." Meredith wasn't Mom, Lexie thought; but she wondered sometimes, after her mother had died. Perhaps Meredith felt responsible in that regard. She hadn't been able to save Susan Grey's life. What had she promised to make amends cosmically? Had she promised to save Lexie's? Feeling uncharacteristically maudlin, Lexi wondered if Molly would grow as close to Meredith when … Lexie coughed, breathless. Tuning out Meredith's persistant inquiries, Lexie searched the pockets of her jeans. "Fuck!"

"Where's your inhaler?" Calm, Meredith's voice on the line was no longer a needling older sister but the surgeon who stood by the beds of those almost dead or nearly dying with confident assurance. Meanwhile Lexie wheezed and recounted the steps to the distant parking deck where her meds, packed in her carry-on, ineffectively remained after they'd parked and trekked half the campus of Wake Forest University.

"I … I …" Lexie coughed, turning back towards the building and judged her ability to negotiate the flight of stone steps before her. "I don't …"

"Stay on the line. Tell me where you are." Meredith urged. There was a rustle and fuzzy murmuring in the distance as Meredith spoke with someone just beyond the range of the phone's reception. "I can get someone to you. Lex?" The first two were manageable, but the third, Lexie blinked feeling as though every molecule of breathable air had been sucked from existence. She placed a hand to her chest, feeling as though a belt were constricting tightly around her. The next step seemed mountainous and the distance to the entrance stretched vertiginously. Lexie gulped, retched, felt the phone slip from her fingers. She imagined she could hear Meredith calling in the distance as she sucked anxiously for any infinitesimal modicum of relief. Both hands to her chest, Lexie's head fell loosely on her shoulders as the steps and the building and the ringing in her ears twirled away while the dark edge broke swiftly inward.

"Yeah she's fine. She fainted on the stairs." Remy chuckled, with obvious amusement. "Like a little princess."

"You say you're a doctor? Cause fine isn't exactly the assessment I would apply to my sister's current situation." Meredith's voice was tinny alarm as darkness gave over to a mossy gray like dusk.

"Is Meredith here?" Lexie groaned roused by the dissonance of arguing voices. She mumbled hoarsely, willing her vision to catch up to her hearing. "How long have I been out?"

"Lex?" Meredith's voice set off a painful reverberation in Lexie's skull. She winced, suddenly feeling nauseated and thick between her ears.

"Speaker phone." Remy clarified, appearing as a blur in Lexie's line of sight. "You're fine. You hit your head on the steps and you've got a bit of a cut. But we are quite capable of checking you out for a concussion." Remy's voice rose for Meredith's benefit. Lexie winced, attempting to put some distance between her and the awful throbbing every single noise was eliciting in her head. She felt the decadent cushion of the lobby rug underneath her fingertips and marveled that Remy could have carried her all the way inside.

"Miss, uh … Lexie? An ambulance is on the way. You should lie still." Lexie turned toward the accented male voice, blinking to bring his concerned face into focus.

"Dr. Yoo here saw you take the tumble, and carried you inside." Remy grinned, eyes alight with the convenience of such timely circumstances.

"Dr. James Yoo." He was a middle-aged man of Asian descent with laugh lines and graying temples. He smiled as he patted Lexie's hand, held in his in favor of a formal shake. "I understand you've come a long way to meet me."

"Hello Lex! What's going on?" Meredith's voice cut off abruptly. Remy pursed her lips with a shrug and slipped her phone back into her pocket.

"Too many surgeons …" The near immediate ringing of the phone dulled by the material of her jacket went ignored.

"You hung up on my sister." Lexie gaped, astonished. "She is going to hate you for pretty much always."

"Yes." Remy nodded sagely. "You're welcome."

"Dr. Yoo." Lexie held onto the man's hand before he could move away at the arrival of first responders to the lobby. "I truly must talk with you." He gave her hand a squeeze.

"Yes, and you will. But first," He moved away, allowing the emergency medical technicians to step in and take Lexie's vitals. "You really must see to that cut."

"Let's get you some time consuming tests, shall we?" Remy held the door for the medical technicians. "Dr. Yoo?"

"You have my number." He nodded in the direction of Security Officer Mills who stood behind his desk in rapt observation. This was far more excitement than the lobby had seen in his recent memory. "I await your call."



She remembered the empty echo before the furniture and the photos and rugs. Before they'd painted, with playful arguments over color schemes and made love as swirls of oranges and blues, greens and browns disappeared down the shower, draining away the empty before in place of a happy now, Amelia remembered. She tossed her keys across the granite counter of the kitchen island and perched on a stool remembering how she stood naked, shivering for she never thought or bothered to turn on the heat. Her bare feet had been like ice against the kitchen tile, hardly even noticed. Intent only upon the white lanes of powdery traffic stretched before the tip of itching nostrils, Amelia had been dull-eyed and absent those months that now rose, towering in memory. Time seemed impossible to leave behind, empty, echoing time that revisited and bleached the color out of her happy, out of her now.

Amelia wiped her hands over the cool granite surface, imagining palms gritty and white. Everything that mattered was so far from reach. Catherine had left a terse voicemail, back on a case. She hadn't needed to go into detail, regardless of what the regulations of her job allowed. The strain in her voice said it all. She'd be sallow, haunted and grimly silent whenever she returned. And she always did, return, Amelia rationalized; sometimes with new bruises telling tales of how tirelessly she'd fought for someone else's life, or perhaps her own.

Remy had sent an eloquent and informative text in the absence of a report legitimizing her and Lexie's conspicuous disappearance. "Princess fainted, LoL. All is well. Consultation with Yoo tomorrow. Laters." Lexie would be … was fine the most apt conclusion to that thought? Lexie would be, was all there really was, no qualification necessary. Amelia could not push the threat of violence or death impending. The lives her family lived in her absence were beyond her control as though fated to tragedy. And Amelia, gazing around her silent home, did not think she could abide alone.

Amelia stood, obscured in shadow, hands trembling. It was cool, not terribly so, but crisp from a storm early evening. She fumbled with the rumpled package of cigarettes, finally shoved them back in the pocket of her jeans in frustration as two slipped her grasp and tumbled to the concrete steps at her feet.

"Perhaps you should quit." Amelia smiled, rueful. She glanced up catching crystalline blue eyes, shining brilliant even from the dim street light.

"What did you track the GPS signal in my phone?" Amelia challenged, watching.

"No." Catherine tread carefully up the steps from the sidewalk until they were face to face. "I know you Ames."

"I don't need a lecture, Cath." Amelia straightened the sleeves of her hoody, extending the cuffs over the heels of her palms. She doubted Catherine had glimpsed her bruised wrists from the street. Nevertheless, her presence on the stoop of an inconspicuous brownstone in St. Marks was quite the intuitional leap.

"I'm not Addison." Catherine gazed frank appraisal at Amelia's slightly stooped posture, her anxious trembling. "So believe me or no, I understand why you do this." Amelia hadn't exactly sworn off her visits to Madam Macabre's soiree since she'd committed to a life of domestic bliss. They'd had a very clear conversation about the therapeutic benefits Amelia gleaned from these sessions. Catherine hadn't batted an eye, just insisted that Amelia be upfront about her appointments and that they didn't supersede AA meetings or group therapy sessions. For Catherine's lack of judgment, Amelia might as well have been divulging a history of Chiropractic interventions. Unwavering acceptance had been an odd adjustment to which Amelia still felt the need to test the boundaries.

"Then why are you here."

"Damn it, because it's what I promised Ames." Catherine released a note of frustration. "It's what we promised each other, sickness and health."

"I'm not sick." Amelia glowered, crossing her arms defensively. This was starting to sound suspiciously like one of Addison's diatribes.

"No." Catherine readily agreed. "You aren't sick; but Lexie is, and if this is what you need to deal with it …"

"I need you," Amelia railed unable to hold onto the calm of emotional exhaustion she seemed only able to achieve at the end of the lash. There had been no other reprieve in the months since the crash except this. Unconcerned whether she drew the attention of patrons inside or passersby, she cried out at the helplessness to which she had never chosen to cede control. "I need you, Catherine; and, you're not here!"

"I am. I am right here! Right now!" Catherine reached forward to grasp Amelia's shoulders. She was careful, aware of what Amelia concealed underneath the hoody. "You don't get to use my job as some bullshit excuse when we both have responsibilities." Catherine dipped her head following Amelia's meandering attention until their eyes once again met.

"Those victims, their lives will always be sacrosanct." Amelia wanted to turn away, deny the strength she felt in their connection, in Catherine's supreme patience and the undeniable force of her love.

"Isn't it so with the lives of your patients?" Fully aware of the answer, Catherine posed the question with a tentative but knowing smile. Amelia could not reconcile the call of duty to the aching need for Catherine's unique comfort in her life. She felt the guilt at her accusations pierce her consciousness. It had not been fair to somehow expect Catherine to sacrifice or neglect an oath that Amelia could hardly ignore herself.

"I can't do this, not alone." Catherine stepped closer pulling Amelia into her arms. They hadn't started out as star-crossed, nor could they have claimed to be devoted. But here they were, connected. What did the condo or the commitment mean if not as a symbol of this moment shared? Catherine had taken vows with Eddie and seen them all broken. She'd readily admit to having broken quite a few of them herself. But with Amelia, she bade promises that felt as substantive as her own limbs. She'd prosper with them, and perish without.

"I promise, Ames." Catherine's breath brushed the shell of Amelia's ear. Amelia shivered, the nervous tingle that trickled along her spine felt less unsettling than it should. It felt firm, like forever. "As long as I'm here you won't ever have to."

"And your case?" Amelia asked pulling away to examine Catherine's face.

"I'm on my way to meet Morgan to run a few leads. I told him I needed to swing by the condo." Catherine explained taking Amelia's hand and directing her down the stairs to the street where a black SUV with government plates had been parked illegally. "I requisitioned it from the field office."

"How much time do you have?" Amelia asked, letting Catherine open the passenger side door. She climbed in gingerly, hissing at the painful reminder of her session with the mistress.

"Just long enough to get you home and into bed, I think." Catherine shut the door carefully, hurried around to the driver's side and got in as carefully as Amelia had, favoring temperamental ribs. "Catch me up while I drive?"

"Let's see." Amelia smirked. "Hal and Thirteen are in North Carolina. And no they did not bunk off to one of the country's leading bastions of anti-gay marriage legislation to elope." She snorted at the doubly unlikely scenario, gay marriage in the Bible belt or the equally unlikely possibility of a 'Hal-Teen' ship.

"Ha!" Catherine chortled and glimpsing Amelia's curious look out of the side of her eye temporized, "Well if anyone would …"



It all starts with the dying. Every ten minutes a name is added to the national organ transplant list. Every day, due to insufficient availability of transplant organs and tissues, eighteen people perish. A year ago, ten people boarded a plane from Seattle to Boise in an effort to save a life through surgical transplantation. As a result, five of those people died; and I became one of the dying. Luckily, I'm not one of the one hundred and twenty thousand patients waiting for a savior. I already have one. Me.

"In the old days, we would surgically remove the damaged organ and decellularize the tissue with a protein protectant detergent. Subsequently, the organ scaffold would be placed in a protein substrate and implanted with biopsied induced pluripotent stem cells. Over the course of two to three weeks, the organ would regenerate healthy cells and eventually be surgically re-implanted into the patient."

"This is the process by which all organ regenerations have been conducted for the last ten years. However, we found that for patients suffering from pulmonary failure, the removal of both lungs was so excessively traumatic as to significantly inhibit the patients' capability for recovery. And so we thought, if only we could make the surgical removal of the organ unnecessary."

"Of course the organ decelluraization and recellularization process had to take place in a neutral environs outside of the body. But what if healthy cells could be grown in an artificial scaffold then grafted to replace damaged tissue through a minimally invasive laparoscopic procedure? Statistically, if such an approach were possible, the complications associated with surgery and recovery could virtually be eliminated."

"Thus the question became, is this possible? Our colleagues in Spain innovated a material from plant fibers and resins that can be manipulated into a precision mold matching the characteristic dimensions of the patient organ. The biopsied progenitor cells are injected into the mold along with a cocktail of growth specific proteins that encourage differentiation. After a month, there is sufficient tissue to conduct the surgical implantation."

"Our research into this approach has yielded favorable results. The patient does not require antirejection drugs commonly prescribed in association with transplants. These drugs, though imperative to the success of transplanting foreign tissue, have been found to be equally detrimental to the patients' health. Due to the elimination of the need for such chemical interventions, long term prognosis is significantly extended. Further, the minimal invasion necessary for surgical implantation of the artificially generated tissue severely diminishes recovery time and reduces the possibility of surgical complications to negligible levels of significance."

"What are you watching? Ted Talk?" Catherine glanced up from the eerie glow of her tablet. In the dimmed cabin lights of the BAU jet, she could make out the slumbering figures of her team members, all but one. Spencer Reid had managed to slip into a seat across the aisle, escaping her notice. His eyes were fixed on the YouTube presentation that had eclipsed her focus since their take off from JFK. She turned a weary gaze his way, not feeling entirely capable of mitigating his curiosity.

"No." Catherine kept her voice low, severely disinterested in drawing further attention. "It's a consultation."

"Oh?" Spencer seemed doubly intrigued. "With the Wake Forset Institute for Regenerative Medicine? I didn't know your interests delved within the area of biotechnology. Are you planning a paper?" Catherine gritted her teeth. Setting the video replay on pause, she reluctantly removed her earbuds.

"So what, you read lips?"

"No, I actually read the video title. I have phenomenal visual acuity." Spencer grinned, pointing across the aisle at the tablet.

"It's personal, Dr. Reid." Catherine sighed, replacing her earbuds. "And no, I don't want to talk about it." Catherine marveled at how young her colleague could appear, particularly in a moment of looking unaccountably injured. Lexie bore that same look at breakfast last weekend when Catherine categorically refused to make scratch-made waffles on a Saturday morning after spending a tireless week seeking a serial murderer whose twenty-seven kills had errantly been written off as gang violence. He turned away, respecting Catherine's dismissal for what it was.

"If you change your mind ..." Catherine pursed her lips, eyes locked on the screen, but nodded in response to the soft-spoken declaration. Spencer was well-meaning and Catherine couldn't fault him that. But she'd spent the last four days chasing a sadist through the streets of New York City while her family struggled to make due with her absence. Now there was this. Lexie's life finally pulled out of a treacherous balance by something that sounded so miraculous and completely beyond Catherine's comprehension.

Amelia was spinning on a fine edge of anxiety, unable to leave her department in anyone else's hands. Stuck in New Jersey, she waited for not a family member but a coworker to relay critical information about progress in North Carolina. Amelia had sent tons of articles for Catherine to read as well as videos such as this. They had yet to relieve any of Catherine's overarching confusion. But now wasn't a time for senseless panic, Catherine could readily admit, trying to absorb Dr. Yoo's detailed lecture on just how he intended to save Lexie's life. There was no better time for hope than this, even if she were unavoidably distant.

There was a lung biopsy scheduled in two days. Meredith and Derek would finish up their business in Boston and make their way to Winston-Salem in time for the procedure. And Catherine, much like Amelia, would wait too impatient to hear whatever news may come. Garcia already had a case waiting upon the BAU's arrival back in DC. Thus Catherine would be headed to chase down whatever grotesque perversion of humanity had risen to the surface of late. She'd focus her energy on the job she'd sworn to do. She'd be committed to it. But there would remain hope in every moment that Catherine waited until she knew Lexie's life, not unlike one the victims in garish photographic evidence, was no longer forfeit.

One month later

"You ready, Dr. Grey?" Lexie hissed a breath through her teeth, like a persistent leak. She closed her eyes, feeling the pillow under head, the rough texture of the hospital sheets under her fingertips.

"Hey." Lexie opened her eyes and silently regarded the surgical prep nurse. "I'm going to go ahead and push your general anesthetic and you on oxygen. You're going to slip off into dreamland and we're going to roll you into the procedure room." Lexie knew the steps for she herself had choreographed and practiced them on numerous occasions. Nevertheless, she felt the calming beat of her anxiety at the Nurse's recitation. The diffusion of liquid into her IV was negligible but the effect was immediate. Lexie murmured, blinking woozily as the nurse adjusted the oxygen on her nasal tube.

"And I'll see you in the twilight." The ceiling above her shifted with these words and Lexie imagined she could feel the jerky movement of the gurney's wheels traversing inconsistencies in the linoleum. She could more likely feel herself slipping away.

"Hal," Lexie turned toward sudden warmth on her wrist. Amelia grinned down at her, confident in everything but her eyes. "Hey pal. I'll be here when you wake up. So don't stand me up, alright?" Lexie swallowed mouth working with effort. Amelia leaned close, straining to hear. As she straightened, Lexie's face was slack in slumber. Amelia's last hopeful look stolen by closed lids. The nurse, smiled kindly, inordinately patient. A moment more and Amelia nodded ready and watched as the gurney drew away down the hall.

Outside the glass security doors to the unit, Derek, Meredith, Catherine and even Molly, Lexie's oft absent baby sister, waited, ready to offer comfort as Amelia rejoined them.

"Did she …" Meredith cleared her throat, holding onto composure as tightly as she gripped Derek's hand. "What did she say?" Amelia placed her fingers to her cheek, pressing the warm place where Lexie's lips had fleetingly brushed.

"Nothing." Amelia shook her head. "She didn't say anything."




"Addison." Carolyn stepped back, allowing this unexpected guest across the threshold. "You never could bear the thought of calling me Mom."

"Perhaps because my own mother never could bear hearing it." Addison replied. She closed the door behind her and trailed Carolyn through the house. She noted the walls where once photos of she and Derek had enjoyed pride of place among a brood of nieces, nephews and in-laws, new photos had carefully been exchanged. Conspicuously absent wedding photos replaced by family portraits of Derek, Meredith and Zola. "I took the family jet as soon as I ..."Addison called, then paused stepping into the kitchen. She watched. Carolyn rounded the cozy space caught in the tight pace of habitual hospitality, familiar enough to be done without thought. It was unsettling to watch, knowing the internal siege that served a dreadful contrast to the comfort of routine.

"I told Kathleen, Gillian and Nancy there was no need to come. Or else they would all have been on planes too." Carolyn set the kettle on the stove with some force. "Derek and Meredith are here with the baby and that is more than enough to keep my hands full." She began gathering her tea service, passed down from Shepherd matriarch to Shepherd matriarch for a hundred years to hear Derek tell it. Porcelain rattled foreboding and Addison feared it might not see another generation. "That Catherine is out west, doing goodness knows what. You know she was shot and had to leave her last job in Las Vegas of all places."

"I think she actually ..." Addison flirted with the idea of continuing that interruption before recognizing Carolyn's rampage for what it was.

"What self-respecting woman of her age sleeps with a girl in her twenties, I don't know." Addison blushed, pursing her lips and found her nails terribly interesting when Carolyn paused in her bustling to land an inquisitive look. "Cream and sugar?"

"Uh, yes ... Yes, please." Addison cleared her throat. "Thanks." The kettle on the stove began to whistle and Carolyn returned to her stream of consciousness rant. Recalling Amelia's late night phone call, Addison halted in the midst of rethinking her impromptu visit to her ex-mother-in-law's Montauk home.

"So now not only does my brother call you to check on me, but Meredith calls you to check on Lexie?"

"Yes." Addison sounded amused, in spite of how awkwardly those phone calls from Meredith had been.

"Because it makes less sense for him to call me and Meredith to call Lexie?" Amelia snorted wondering how uncomfortable the topic of a phone call to her or Lexie had to be in order for Meredith to choose to give Addison a ring instead.

"I'm guessing." Addison agreed. Her voice softened as she listened to Amelia's harsh breathing over the line. "Bits?"

"We're at mom's in Montauk. Cath's on a case, and I … Can you come?" Addison hoped it never cost Amelia anything to ask. She should know, Addison would always just be a phone call away.

"Is there something going on between Alexandra and Amelia?" The note of concern, perhaps fear in Carolyn Shepherd's voice drew Addison from her thoughts. She sat sipping tea with her back pointedly to the stairs as though a glance alone might be a revelation as to what transpired above their heads. The relative silence of her Montauk home was little disturbed by chatty gulls perched on the deck. The cool waves of the North Atlantic danced noisily outside and wind tapped relentlessly at the windows. But inside, quiet lurked with the patience of the dead and dying.

Addison had winced, unable to concoct a lie though to be honest not entirely clear on the truth herself. She'd simply shrugged, "If there is, neither of them are telling." She'd braved the stairs in Carolyn's stead and peaked from the doorway through the dim shadow of early morning at two slumbering figures on the bed.

Amelia's dark head lifted from the pillow, as though disturbed. Addison's creeping steps had not been the alert. Lexie coughed raggedly attempting to roll on her side. She grimaced, half asleep and blindly reaching for the bedside table. She huffed, sucking on an inhaler until calmed then laid back with a hand against her chest, eyes shut and serene as if she were simply dozing. Amelia, balanced on one elbow, and closely observed the now gentle rise and fall of Lexie's breathing. Addison swallowed, tentative to disturb; and whispered a hoarse greeting.

"Hey." Amelia turned, flicking the hair out of her eyes and stared with semi-disbelief. She did not reply, simply stared, face slack. Addison was unsure of her welcome until the subtle shaking of Amelia's shoulders betrayed the silent journey of streaming tears. Addison slipped into the room to perch on the edge of the bed. She hushed and murmured and held with a familiarity that seemed never to leave her body where Amelia was concerned. "Hey now, it's okay. I'm here." Lexie stirred, opening her eyes and gazing in momentary confusion at Addison who offered a surprisingly sympathetic smile.

Lexie rose, rubbing at her right eye with the heel of her hand. She gazed at Amelia, seeming even smaller tucked under Addison's chin as though she were constructed to fit perfectly right there. Addison mustered a minute smile.

"Hi." She'd drawn a hand through Amelia's hair and now she reached out. Lexie contemplated the gesture, thinking how ironic it was to be here after that last encounter in LA. She clasped Addison's hand, thankful for it.

"How are you feeling?" Addison squeezed Lexie's hand, warm and encouraging. This was not the Addison who'd shot daggers in Amelia's vacant apartment back in LA. Lexie sniffed, unsurprised despite her determination to find tears brimming her eyes yet again. If people insisted on being so nice, she was just going to spend her days sobbing.

"Like someone cracked open my chest and fiddled with my lungs."

"Well, I've read Dr. Yoo's work in the Journal of Medicine. You can hardly call what he does fiddling." Addison smiled. "Meredith says your prognosis is good."

"It's great compared to what it was." Lexie contended.

"With any luck, she'll outlive all of us." Amelia sniffed, wiping her eyes.

"I will if you keep sneaking cigarettes in the parking lot outside the clinic." Lexie countered with a knowing look. "Yeah, you're not slick." Lexie smirked adding, "And now, everybody knows."

"Ames, I swear." Addison sighed exasperatedly.

"Snitch." Amelia grumped. "Be glad you already have stitches."



Her cheeks slack, Catherine freed the air from her lungs in an explosive exhalation. Like wind whistling through a hollow, she blew and sucked in shallow through her teeth, hyperventilating. The balls of her feet sped in rapid cadence, ta-dap, ta-dap, ta-dap against the ground while her arms drummed the air in compliment. She enlisted every spare molecule of energy, pulling her knees high and kicking back with all mighty force for just a little extra, for one last push. Would it be enough to reach forward, to lean past and …

"I win!" She gasped, throttling back to a jog. She grinned at the frustrated huff just over her right shoulder. It had been close.

"I know you're just training for the bureau's PT regs, but maybe you should consider the senior Olympics." Amelia wheezed. Bent over, hands on knees, she reconsidered the position and collapsed, dropping to the track on her back.

"I got your senior Olympics, brat." Catherine strode over to prod Amelia in the side with the toe of her sneaker.

"Don't be such a sore loser." Lexie chimed in, pulling her right heel tight to her glute in a hamstring stretch. "There's no shame in third place Jinx." Amelia blinked in the glaring sunlight of morning, the heat of the track an urgent reminder against her back that summer was not quite over.

"Fuck you both." She coughed, reached out for a hand up and was steadily ignored.

"Maybe you should consider the nicotine patch." Lexie suggested innocently. "You know since you can't seem to keep up with senior Olympians and patients recovering from lung surgery."

"That was a seven and a half minute mile." Catherine grimaced, consulting her sports watch. "I need to shave another thirty seconds."

"I think you're waiting too long on that final kick." Lexie appraised the recent difference in Catherine's legs, clad in compression shorts. She'd eagerly jumped on board Lexie's rehabilitation efforts, mixing cardio with high intensity interval training and Olympic weight-lifting workouts. They'd both emerged from the last three months leaner. A newfound definition of strength had not exactly gone unnoticed in either of their workplace. Lexie had stopped receiving the sympathetic doe-eyed looks from PPTH staff and was instead receiving solicitations for coffee or a nightcap after shift. It was quite the stroke for her ego.

Amelia had taken some convincing to get on board. Her argument had been that exercise cut far too heavily into her highly demanding schedule of playing video games and watching porn after work. Lexie could contend that at least one of those activities was accurate. But Amelia had eventually given in after confiding complaints of not being able to keep up with Catherine anymore, to which Lexie had side-eyed and begged to be spared any details.

"You might be right. I'm too conservative in that last four hundred meters." Catherine shook her head. "The assessment is next week."

"You've got time." Lexie reassured casting an impatient look Amelia's way. "Get a move on Jinx."

"Can't we just …" Amelia whined, sitting up.

"Do not start." Catherine held her hand up. "We agreed." Lexie slipped her hands under Amelia's arms simultaneously hefting and tickling. Amelia wriggled, giggling uncontrollably, then clamped her mouth shut and wrenched herself out of Lexie reach. She glowered an indisputable warning to which Lexie grinned throwing up her hands in an only slightly convincing signal of truce.

"Derek has that neuro consult at PPTH and Meredith has a conference call to work on a proposal for her new internal medicine study. Catherine is going to meet them and take Zola off their hands for the afternoon."

"Plus I have a few last minute errands to run, so Lex is going to go pick up Lindsey from the airport." Catherine added.

"Why can't I just pick up Zola?" Amelia countered falling into step beside the other two women as they meandered towards the exit to the university's track.

"Because you will find any excuse to remain at the hospital and forego our little get together entirely." Lexie deadpanned. "Besides the deal was, loser gets the best duty of all."

"Setting out hors d'oeuvere with Carolyn." Catherine didn't bother to hide the self-satisfied smirk on her face.

"Technically, we both lost." Amelia amended, still not convinced. Lexie and Catherine both snorted amusement.

Lexie offered Amelia a pedantic pat, and replied, "Not from my perspective."

"Hey thanks for this." Derek greeted. He'd been standing outside the front entrance of the clinic, glancing surreptitiously at his watch when Catherine pulled up. According to the dash, she was five minutes early. That being said, of the entire Shepherd-Grey clan with which she'd thus far been acquainted, Catherine had been made to feel most welcome by Derek. Christmas had been a nightmare of ill-concealed assessment from the Shepherds as well as the Greys. Inexplicably none of the overprotective women in Amelia or Lexie's life had been very fond of Catherine.

"I think your sister just called me a slut." Catherine paced the length of the deck, the contrails of several calming breaths winding behind her. Crisp was woefully insufficient in description of the evening air. She was beginning to regret her decisive compromise. She'd encouraged Lindsey to head straight home to Las Vegas for winter break while Catherine remained. At that very moment, her daughter was likely poolside at the Odyssey working on her tan. If only, Catherine stopped, leaning against the railing and gazed out at the beach blanketed in snow. In Vegas, you can't see night sky clear enough to coat your fingertips in stardust. Who missed neon and the cacophony of a hundred thousand slot machines, or award winning steak and eggs at two AM on a Tuesday morning?

Christmases were magical when Jeremy and Lindsey were still little enough to carry. Catherine and Nancy would wake them up just before midnight and head over to the Bellagio. They'd gather with the crowds to watch fireworks above the fountain at the first strokes of Christmas Day. The kids would be over the moon, catching a glimpse of Santa in every burst of red across the night sky. Catherine would hold Lindsey's hand, and Lindsey would hold Jeremy's, and Nancy would hold his. That was the sum total of Catherine's family, back before Lily gave in and moved back to Vegas. The four of them would have pancakes at a homey little diner on the strip and drive home as the sun came up. The kids would be exhausted, fall asleep in the back of the car; and Catherine and Nancy would slip them, dreaming, into their beds.

Christmas was Kahlua and coffee in front of a tree just small enough to fit into their three bedroom apartment, laughing about the old days back in Montana. When they were kids, Lily Flynn had scraped by waiting tables and Christmas had been thin times for her and her girls. But Christmas morning, before she'd head in for her shift, there were pancakes and gifts under the tree. Neither Catherine nor Nancy ever had much, but on Christmas they had their family.

These days, Christmas was five star dining and a floor show. Afterwards, there would always be fireworks at the Bellagio and pancakes at that same old diner on the Strip. Only this year, Catherine wouldn't make it home until Christmas dinner. In the interim, she was freezing in Montauk, drinking horrible Egg Nog. She hated Egg Nog. Catherine tossed the contents of her cup into the snow just as Derek Shepherd shouldered up next to her.

"I'll let Kathleen know just how much you enjoyed the Egg Nog." Derek smirked, taking a sip from his own cup. "And yes, I'm pretty sure she did whisper slut as she refilled your mug."

"When I agreed to this, I never thought for a moment there would be" Catherine shook her head, "Christmas carols, and monogrammed sweaters, and …"

"Enough questions for a credit check." Derek joked. "By the way, someone may have gone through your purse in search of damning evidence."

"I'm relieved I left my service weapon at home." Catherine shivered at a strong wind kicking up around them, as if she needed any further reminder that winter in Montauk wasn't ninety plus degrees and sunny. "So." Catherine regarded Derek plainly. "Did you come out here to ask me what my intentions are with your sister?"

"Hardly." Derek returned an equally uncompromising gaze. "I see that you stuck around. You made a home here with her. That says enough."

"Does it?" Catherine shrugged, hardly fazed by recent trials.

"If you love her." Catherine tilted her head as if to indicate how patently obvious that was. "You'd have to though, considering." Derek hunched to lean against the railing, looking into the distant dark where waves crashed invisibly.

"She's always going to be your biggest disappointment, no matter what. Not because you aren't proud of her, who wouldn't be proud." Derek stiffened, already preparing his counterargument, surely one that had been trotted out on occasion to justify his reticence where Amelia was concerned. Catherine radiated calm, picking at the horrendous sweater she'd acquired early in the evening. Scarlet with a bright green C stitched over the heart and white piped snowflakes fluttering across the front, it was a masterpiece of holiday cheer in god awful taste. Apparently one of the husbands was a stay at home Dad and spent a significant part of his year knitting in preparation for the family dinner Christmas Eve in Montauk.

The Grey sisters had accepted their scratch-made Christmas-wear with startling aplomb. Catherine's expression, on the other hand, had been all too telling in spite of her polite gratitude. Amelia had snickered indelicately behind her hand and disappeared to play video games with her nieces and nephews, while Carolyn and her daughters commenced the interrogations. Meredith had stood frozen in the middle of the frenetic activity inside the kitchen looking as though she'd never set eyes on a cutting board or a measuring cup. She'd answered questions about her relationship with her father in clipped monosyllables until focus was redirected to Catherine's prior marriage history. Catherine fully intended to recount the experience in lurid detail the next time she had need of an adequately coercive guilt trip.

"But," Catherine flicked red lint into the wind, and asserted matter of fact, "because that once, that one time so very long ago that has touched every subsequent moment of your lives, when you couldn't protect her, now for every time she slips and falls, you blame yourself."

"You learn that at Quantico, Agent Willows?" Derek straightened, putting some defensive distance between them. Allusions to the violent death of their father were ever a prickly subject. Composed under a chilly surface, Derek's rage was a pale approximation of Amelia's. But it was there, and potent despite an edge grown dull with time.

"No, Doctor Shepherd." Catherine turned, steps headed back towards the house. It cast a warm, healthy glow against the night. If any place could shine with the love of family, it seemed this home could tonight. "You make that clear as day, even now, checking on me. What I think you understand Derek," Catherine paused, waiting for his steps to join hers then continued, "is that with women, you're all in regardless the circumstances." Catherine slipped her hand into the crook of his arm in a moment of camaraderie. After all, their situations were virtually identical, weren't they? "I didn't plan for any of this." She surmised with a shrug. "But here I am." Derek gave her hand on his arm a squeeze, thinking how unlike any of his sisters she'd turned out to be. Much to his unchecked relief, Catherine Willows was a unique a proposition.

"Here we all are."

The holiday had felt eerily similar to an investigation by Internal Affairs. Next year, Catherine was planning on being called away by a case.

"My pleasure." Catherine stepped out noting his puzzled look at the s-class convertible mini cooper. "Ames rented it so I could run some errands. It has great gas mileage and it's really safe, perfect for chauffeuring my favorite niece." She scooped Zola out of Derek's arms, letting him figure out how to maneuver the child seat into the car. "Hey pretty girl." Zola beamed throwing her arms around Catherine's neck, babbling excitedly. "Although I must admit I have been considering getting one for my daughter before she heads back to school in the fall."

"What happened to the Audi?"

"Lexie has it. She's picking Lindsey up from the airport." Catherine bounced Zola, eliciting enthusiastic laughter.

"I hope this didn't put you out any. We could have managed with Zola." Derek tightened a final strap and stepped away to visually gauge the completion of his work. After a year and a half he was growing fairly confident in his child-seat installation prowess.

"No it's fine. Trust me I understand how difficult it is to juggle work and childcare, especially when you have two. This way you and Meredith can focus a bit more on your appointments and I get some quality time hanging with Zola. Right Z?" Catherine put her hand up for a high five which Zola slapped in glee. "How are Bailey and Meredith, by the way?"

"They're both great." Derek beamed with all the pride of a father and husband. "Meredith's juggling Bailey and getting squared away in Amelia's office." Derek reached out to relinquish Zola from Catherine's arms. The little girl looked at him and the child seat askance, expression darkening with the promise of a tantrum. "No tears. Big girls don't cry in the car seat." Zola bit her lip and submitted albeit reluctantly to the restraint.

"I wasn't angling for two pubescent throwbacks out of this arrangement." Catherine balanced Zola on her hip and tossed a white prescription bag at the feet of the two sweat clad lumps occupying her bed, a half-demolished family size bag of tortilla chips sitting between them. Their collective attention focused on the television flickering and squawking animatedly behind her. "In case it escaped your notice while so focused on whatever video game in which you are uselessly entrenched…"

"Fallout: New Vegas." Lexie murmured absently.

"Lovely." Catherine responded, nonplussed, carefully pulling Zola's fingers from where they were tangled in her hair. Zola yawned big, turned round eyes on Catherine and whimpered an early warning of distress. Leveling narrowed gaze on Lexie and Amelia, she continued. "I may have mentioned before I left to shop for the horde that is about to invade our quiet little hamlet, we have guests arriving at seven. It is now six o'clock and while tortilla chips may be the staple food of most video game obsessed, cave-dwelling creatures, they are undoubtedly lacking key nutrients that can be supplanted by the groceries currently waiting to be unloaded from the trunk of my car. Further, your niece requires a bath, dinner and bed. I suggest …"

"I think my Mom and Lindsey have all the prep covered." Amelia interrupted offhandedly as her thumbs sped over her controller.

"You know they get along unexpectedly well." Lexie observed thoughtfully, then exclaimed with a fist pump. "Eat it Shepherd!"

"Aw, come on!" Amelia exclaimed. "It's luck. That's all and you know what always triumphs over luck in the end?" Catherine turned, and rendered the television screen blank with a quick wrench to the power cord. When her gaze found Amelia again, the sporadic dancing of digits froze as though time had stopped. Amelia bit her lip and discarded the controller in exaggerated deference. Lexie visibly wilted, hopping hastily from the bed to relieve Catherine of her charge. Even Zola, as if sensing the sudden change, quieted.

"Talent." Amelia murmured suddenly hoarse in the face of Catherine's imminent ire. She smiled plastically, offering "Why don't Hal and I finish up on those dinner preparations for our guests. We'll put Zola to bed and you can just relax? Take a shower, quick nap perhaps?" Catherine wordlessly turned, disappearing into the bathroom on the wake of a disquieting hush.

"Scary." Lexie muttered, bouncing Zola a bit, earning a small wordless smile for her efforts. Amelia grinned.


"Zola's asleep in the guest room." Lexie greeted her sister with a hug, careful not to jostle her newborn nephew in his carrier. "Laura's in there too." From the sunken living room joined by several suited men and a blond woman Molly looked up at the mention of her daughter, greeting Meredith with a half-hearted wave to which Meredith grimaced.

"She hates me."

"Yeah, baby steps, Mer." Lexie smiled at Derek, offering a ginger hug in consideration of the ton of baby memorabilia he was attempting to port into the condo.

"I don't get it."

"She's a little jealous at how close you and I have become." Lexie shrugged it off closing the front door behind them.

"I just don't understand why every time she's introduced as my sister she has to clarify it with, but it's not like we grew up together or anything." Meredith rolled her eyes allowing Lexie to relieve her of Bailey's carrier.

"I'll just get my main man Bail's settled with my nieces." Lexie replied, uninterested in rehashing the very same gripes she'd listened to just an hour ago upon Molly's arrival.

"I don't understand why she has to introduce us as her sisters. Did I miss something or was there an invisible specter at the dinner table growing up?" Molly had groused to Lexie's tight-lipped dismay as she placed Laura down in the crib next to an already sleeping Zola.

Derek followed awkwardly, gripping diaper bags and toys for dear life. He nodded in the direction of the kitchen.

"I'm pretty sure there's a sizable glass of something with your name on it." Meredith perked, smiling thanks and went in search of fortification before any thought of broaching any social interaction with Molly.

"Meredith, you're looking well." Carolyn Shepherd greeted, offering Meredith a tall glass of red wine in Catherine's stead. Meredith took a lengthy sip and contemplated the ornate spread of nibbles on the kitchen island. She couldn't exactly fathom Amelia putting together anything quite so … well, tasteful. "I dropped by a bit early to help organize things a bit. Try the hummus, it's amazing." Carolyn pointed. "I got it at a Palestinian Deli I just adore in Park Slope." Meredith grabbed a pita chip with a shrug, why not. It's not like the baby weight wasn't dropping right off.

"Mmm." Meredith murmured appreciation around a mouthful. "That is amazing."

"Are you really going to hide in the kitchen making small talk over hummus with my mother?" Amelia interrupted with a grin, entering from the living room where Meredith could just see Molly telegraphing awkward messages toward the general direction of the kitchen. Stay Away, seemed to be the gist. "Breakfast Club is a hoot, by the way." Amelia gestured over her shoulder with a chip.

"Who?" Meredith contemplated a platter of egg rolls with open interest.

"I got those from this great Chinese restaurant. They deliver right to your door." Carolyn confided, with an encouraging pat to Meredith's shoulder.

"Ringwald." At Meredith's bland look, Amelia elaborated. "Molly, your sister but you know not like you two grew up together or anything." Amelia offered a comically over-stated eek face and nodded at Meredith's half-empty glass. "I'd finish that and maybe another before you attempt to tackle that conversation."

"Stop shit-stirring, Jinx." Lexie appeared from the hallway entrance. "Kids are sleeping peacefully. You should come meet Linds. She's home for summer break." Meredith, mouth full of egg roll glanced between Lexie and Molly in the living room attempting to pay attention to a conversation with the suited blond woman rather than peer into the kitchen.

"Oh, more entertainment." Amelia exclaimed at the sound of the doorbell.

"I'll get it." Carolyn Shepherd stopped her daughter in her tracks. "Go see to Catherine's co-workers. Refill their drinks. Be a polite hostess." She instructed sternly. Amelia straightened at the tone.

"Yes ma'am." She headed back down into the living room much to Meredith's astonishment.

"I know right. If only I'd known long ago that was all it took." Lexie grinned. "Come on. Cath and Linds are outside. One of Cath's coworkers is grilling kabobs." Meredith's eyes virtually glazed in anticipation as she followed Lexie out a sliding glass door leading onto a gorgeous sanded deck. Meredith had easily come to admire the home Catherine, Amelia and Lexie had built together. It seemed out of place in the middle of the city for all its serenity. The backyard felt more like a meditation garden with carefully tended brick pathways and its quaint assortment of fruit trees. Catherine had argued vehemently to justify the landscaping saying she'd always wanted to step out of her home and into an oasis but living in a desert for years had rendered that dream relatively impossible. So they'd vetoed Amelia's motion for a Jacuzzi dedicated to the Hefner legacy and gained a backyard that surely should have graced the cover of Home and Gardens.

Meredith nearly groaned aloud at the fragrant aroma drifting from the far side of the deck. An older dark haired gentleman stood in rapt attention to several sizzling sticks of meat and veggies. Catherine reclined on a chaise in obvious good humor. A young woman not quite out of her teens sat on the chair's edge in mid conversation with a young African American man kicked back on the next chair. He raised his beer in welcome at Meredith and Lexie's entrance.

"Meredith, so glad you could come." Catherine greeted, waving them forward. "Come sit down."

"Thanks for having us." Meredith swallowed, mouth watering. "And whatever smells so incredible, I'll have two." The older gentleman turned his attention from the grill to offer a good-natured smile.

"David Rossi." He plated a couple of kabobs and stepped forward to shake Meredith's hand. "Please to meet you." He offered her the plate raising expectant eyebrows. Obediently, Meredith took a sample bite, closing her eyes to relish the burst of intermingling flavors.

"Incredible." She mumbled around a mouthful.

"Linds, Rossi, Morgan, this is my sister Meredith. Please excuse her manners." Lexie chided, then continued introductions. "Mer, Federal Agents Derrick Morgan and David Rossi of course, and Cath's daughter Lindsey." Lindsey smiled in greeting. She was a heartbreaker just like her mother, Meredith noted with little surprise.

"I'm very pleased to meet you all." Meredith swallowed, pinking with embarrassment.

"What smells so incredible?" Derek poked his head out of the sliding door. "The bathroom window was open and … uh, I mean hi. I'm Derek. We skipped lunch."

"And my brother-in-law, Doctor Derek Shepherd." Lexie rolled her eyes, turning to head back into the house. "Make yourselves at home guys while I grab a few more beers …" She pointed to Morgan and Rossi in inquiry, both nodding confirmation.

"Thanks Lex." Catherine called after her.

"I just don't understand why she …" Lexie rolled her eyes, cornered by her little sister as she dug in the back of the refrigerator for the coldest bottles.

"Molls, enough already." Lexie straightened, cradling an armful of Heineken and absently counted under her breath trying to recall who needed a refresher.

"But Lex," Molly argued oblivious.

"Could we maybe not air out this family dispute in front of Catherine's coworkers?" Lexie shouldered the refrigerator door closed attempting to slip around Molly and back outside to the deck.

"Family?" Molly snorted incredulous. She stood arms crossed pointedly in the way until she gained Lexie's full attention. "After Mom died, you stayed in Seattle for Meredith. And after …" Molly paused, acknowledging with her silence what she hesitated to mention. The plane crash, it would forever be the painfully unspoken subject among friends and family. Lexie sighed, resigning herself to listen even as the condensation of six beers soaked into her t-shirt. "You moved here for Amelia." Molly continued growing more incensed with each word. "What about me Lex? I'm your family, have been long before either of them. When are you going to remember that?"

"Cocktail?" Amelia wandered in waving a Martini shaker in one hand and balancing a tray of glasses on the other. "I've got pomegranate mojitos." She sang glancing eagerly between Molly and Lexie. Picking up on the rising tension, she raised her brows in inquiry, "What? I made them with the sugar cane like that cute little Cuban place you like for brunch." Amelia nodded, "Oh yes, you want one. You too Ringwald, bottoms up. You could use a little lubrication if you know what I mean." Lexie closed her eyes in abject horror, so much for quietly diffusing Molly's temper tantrum. Lexie adored her baby sister, but couldn't think of a single instance since childhood wherein one of Molly's rants didn't go nuclear if she sensed her grievances weren't being afforded the deference she firmly believed they deserved.

"Seriously? Fuck your mojitos Amelia!" Molly bristled, offering Amelia a choice gesture with both hands.

"Well looks like you and Mer have one thing in common." Amelia interjected, turning away to look for some clear counter space to relinquish her tray.

"Amelia." Lexie warned, shaking her head.

"No." Amelia grinned glancing back at the sisters and intoned, "SERIOUSLY." Lexie stifled laughter, immediately regretting the nervous response at the inconsolably livid turn Molly's expression took.

'Oh, Molls …" Lexie hedged, "Come on. Let's not, okay?"

"I can't believe you Lex." Molly screeched, indignant. "How can you stand there chuckling it up with this … this …"

"Use your words." Amelia nodded encouragingly.

"Ugh God, you two are doing that thing again, aren't you?" Addison leaned in the kitchen doorway arms crossed and shook her head. "I'm not saying it isn't amusing, you reinventing Hayley Mills in your own personal Parent Trap-esque double team. Maybe it's a bit over used. That's all I'm trying to convey here."

"Addy, when did you get here? And just in time for a lecture even." Amelia sashayed over to the doorway to reach up and plant a kiss on Addison's cheek. "Mojito?"

"Absolutely." Addison snagged a glass from the tray and the shaker to pour her own. She winked at Lexie. "I take it Meredith is outside avoiding this scintillating family feud, Little Grey versus Littlest Grey apparently." Addison acknowledged Molly receiving a distinct look of 'Who the Fuck are you' for her trouble.

"Addison." Lexie greeted, still on the fence about their nascent peace since her surgery.

"Sam's in the living room getting the third degree from Carolyn about our relationship and how it relates to the dissolution of his marriage. She was always very fond of Nay." Addison took a very healthy sip from her glass, followed directly by another, and topped it off before handing the empty shaker back to Amelia. "I'm going to go find somewhere else to be." She wandered off down the hall, glass raised and called over her shoulder. "Find me soon with more of this."

"And now it's a party." Amelia bit her lip, taking a moment to appreciate the awkward silence. "Alright more mojitos." Lexe watched Amelia slip away, subtle as a car bomb. She turned a placating gaze on Molly who honestly looked more shell-shocked than angry.

"Get the door for me, please?" Molly had been Lexie's ever underfoot baby sister. Two steps behind whining to be included in big kid games, she had always been Lexie's one true responsibility. And Alexandra, take care of your sister, their mother would add as Lexie sprinted for freedom, eager to be outside and away, only to thus have her steps waylaid. She'd stop just short of the door, wait for Molly to catch up, and vow without fail, sure Mom, always. Meredith's entrance into their lives had only strengthened Lexie's resolve to those promises she'd made.

"You'll always be my family." Lexie murmured as Molly slid the door aside. "Don't think for a second there's anyone who knows that better than I do." Molly's eyes were locked on the affable scene outside, like an Old Navy commercial shot in the magical twilight of a summer evening. Derek and Meredith seemed to fit easily into an equation where, Catherine's coworkers notwithstanding, Molly wasn't entirely sure where she fit. "I'll tell you what Meredith told me once." Lexie offered Molly a few of the beers to carry. "You are my sister and I love you. Now grow up." Lexie remembered that moment clearly back in Seattle when she'd feared the possibility that there would never develop to be a connection between herself and Meredith beyond the genetic. Even then that fear had been baseless. "She's our sister, Molls. That's it. That's all that matters because this," Lexie gestured with her free hand to Catherine and Lindsay, Meredith and Derek. "This is us, our family and it was our mother's dying wish. So you need to be okay with it." Lexie stepped out onto the deck, raising her voice over the conversation, "Alright folks I've got beers. Who needs one?" Molly followed stopping at Meredith's deck chair to hold out a bottle. Meredith looked up, meeting Molly's gaze with gratitude beyond any appreciation for the beer.


Amelia was pleasantly surprised. She truly hadn't anticipated the eclectic mix of Catherine's coworkers, Lexie's family and the Shepherd clan to yield a successful social event. The soft strains of background music that early greeted their guests had since morphed into loud driving rhythms. A few neighbors had since drifted in along with a handful of friends and colleagues from PPTH. Under a darkening sky, patio furniture had been cleared and perhaps influenced as much by the liberal distribution of mojitos as by the music, the deck had filled with bodies moving in earnest to the beat.

Amelia stood off to the side, happy for a moment just to observe. Catherine was a born dancer. Seeing her unbridled in the arms of Agent Morgan, Amelia was struck with wonder as though she'd been thrust back, dodging the events of the last year and a half, to lay eyes upon Catherine that first time in the casino. A marvel to behold, Catherine twirled and pranced barefoot, dazzling to those around her. All sultry lips and scandalous eyes, she enticed as much by the extension of her arm and the twist of her hip. Agent Morgan drew her close to whisper something undoubtedly complimentary in her ear to which Catherine threw her head back, a brilliant cascade of gold shining in her wake. Her laughter was a playful sprite rising on the late breeze of earnest night.

"Wow." Amelia glanced to her left and nodded at the latest arrival.

"Yeah, I know." Amelia acknowledged, with a careless sound not unlike fulfillment.

"Lucky bitch." Remy remarked in appreciation. "Where's Lex?" Amelia tipped her head to direct Remy's attention.

"Dancing with one of Cath's coworkers, Reid I think he said. I don't entirely know. His introduction was followed by a monologue on the modern greeting and common colloquialisms implemented in differing societies to signify hello." Amelia shook her head, "I swear I fell asleep for a second there just remembering it."

"Are you sure they're dancing or is he having some kind of fit?" Remy commented, gulping down a hefty swig of beer. The smile that crossed Amelia's face wasn't so much smug as it was knowing. It hadn't taken long for them to become a team. It hadn't taken long at all. In the time since, Amelia could confidently say she knew her colleagues, these friends better than any others she could claim.

"Don't worry, Pal." Amelia reassured, turning to shimmy. She beckoned Remy out onto the dance floor. Gamely, Remy followed, drink raised above the crowd.

"Worried?" Remy shook her hips, Amelia's hands on her waist. She turned, moving in sync with Amelia against her back, and cast an eye out to track Lexie with that FBI agent. Much closer now, Remy could detect the half-amused, half-panicked look on Lexie's face as she tried to keep up with her dance partner's arrhythmic spasms. "Why would I possibly be worried?"

"Exactly." Amelia replied with a shove. Remy stumbled barely remaining upright. She threw her arms out wildly, wheeling for a moment trying to preserve the integrity of her beer as she wobbled in her heels, and landed haphazard in Lexie's sure grip.

"Uh, hey Thirteen. Glad you could make it." Lexie greeted, and slipped the bottle from Remy's hand. "Perhaps you should slow down on these."

"That was subtle." Catherine appeared behind Amelia, arms sliding around her waist. Catherine wound her hips expertly, leading Amelia into a smooth Latin break as if taking direct instruction from Elvis Crespo. She hummed along to the music spinning Amelia away and back into her arms face to face in time to sing, "Besame." Grinning, Amelia moved in close to place a kiss on Catherine's lips.

"I thought they needed a little shove in the right direction," Amelia murmured, adding "in the literal sense, of course." Catherine watched over Amelia's shoulder as Remy and Lexie squabbled over lead until finally coming to an agreement. Reid, oblivious, continued to froth to the music just at the edge of the dance floor.

"I give them two weeks." Amelia ventured craning her neck to watch Lexie lead Remy in an awkwardly distant ballroom hold.

"Two weeks?!" Catherine smirked, "You make another pitcher of mojitos we'll be bidding Remy good morning over breakfast."

"So it's okay that I've been explaining to your coworkers that Ames is my other Mommy, right?" Lindsay asked, dancing up on their right. Amelia visibly blanched.

"No quicker way to dry up my ovaries and ensure you never have a younger brother or sister than that question right there." Amelia offered Lindsay a flat look and an equally banal smile. Catherine abandoned their ballroom hold to run a loving hand along the crown of Lindsay's head. Amelia could nearly see in Catherine's fond regard the child she raised and not just the young woman standing before them. It was fascinating how mothers of Catherine's caliber never seemingly outgrew that love even as their children outgrew the need for parental vigilance.

"Hey, Bug. Having fun?" Catherine pressed a kiss to her daughter's temple. Lindsay rolled her eyes at the terribly childish nickname, but slid under Catherine's arm for an impromptu snuggle.

"I wish Aunt Nancy, Gran and Jeremy could have made it."

"I know sweetheart. I do too." Catherine swatted disapprovingly at Amelia. Shaking her head mouthing an emphatic, I don't, Amelia easily dodged Catherine's hand at a distance. Amelia hadn't exactly hit it off with Nancy or Lily Flynn. Catherine maintained that compared to her own ordeal at the Shepherd home on Christmas Eve, Amelia's experience was notably less arduous. This in spite of the fact that Nancy may have implied Amelia was after Catherine's inheritance and Lily still hadn't quite absorbed the fact that Catherine was in a committed relationship with another woman. Lily's persistent confusion voiced, but I don't understand Catherine, dear, had resulted in a fairly lengthy and anatomically correct description from Amelia while seated around the table during breakfast. Things had devolved somewhat from there.

Luckily, Amelia had found an erstwhile companion in Jeremy. What teenage boy won't bond gleefully over video games? Moreover, Amelia even seemed to have made some headway with securing Lindsay as an ally when faced with Nancy's sniping comments. Catherine had admittedly guarded some doubt on the likelihood of that ever happening when she'd first informed Lindsay of her pending move to New York. She'd expected angry words and a lengthy silence from her daughter, impenetrable from the distance college had inserted between them. But Lindsay had been refreshingly supportive, halting Catherine's justifications with a simple, "You deserve to be happy, Mom."

By the time Lindsay came home for Christmas, she and Amelia were suspiciously amicable. Lexie had eventually let it slip that Amelia had made a few covert weekend trips to Holyoke. Whatever bonding experiences had ensued were classified. Even Lexie, under extreme duress, maintained she had no idea what transpired on those trips. The only evidence was that Lindsay and Amelia were complicit and by all impressions near inseparable.

"But they'll be here for Jeremy's birthday and when we drive him up to Boston for Freshman orientation." Catherine continued, giving Amelia a pointed look of warning. Amelia merely shrugged. She'd booked a hotel in advance. She fully intended to be mysteriously absent in a suite at the Plaza for the duration of that hostile takeover of their home.

"I can't believe the squirt's going to MIT." Lindsay grinned. "Aunt Nancy is so proud."

"I know the feeling." Catherine smiled, giving Lindsay a squeeze.

"Aw, Mom." She slipped out from under Catherine's arm, sufficiently embarrassed for the moment.

"Hey kid, I don't know how you do things at Holyoke, but no keg stands tonight." Amelia chimed, perfectly serious with the clear exception of the twinkle in her eye. There had been questionable Facebook pictures following spring break to which Lindsay still disavowed direct knowledge, claiming faulty tags. "I didn't spring for the insurance in the event you miscalculate your dismount." Lindsay blanched momentarily but managed a wobbly grin of rather far-fetched innocence. Wide-blinking blue eyes virtually inquired, What's a keg stand? Amelia snorted, as if. She'd seen that same look on Catherine's face recently after asking if the dry-cleaning had been picked up as promised. Dry cleaning, what's that?

"Cross my heart." Lindsay mimed, then placing a thoughtful finger on her lips, added, "Hey Ames, remember that time you convinced me …"

"We don't talk about that." Amelia interrupted, wrapping an arm around Lindsay, she whispered conspicuously in the ear of the younger Willow's. Lindsay smirked unrepentant but nodded submission. Suspicious, Catherine narrowed her eyes, at a loss for what possible scheme could have rendered the two so thick.

"How do I get Catherine's grown adult daughter to give me the time of day?" Amelia slumped in an office chair in front of Foreman's desk. He barely looked up from whatever paperwork had his brow furrowed. He'd turned into such an ideal bureaucrat since his appointment to Dean.

"Here I thought getting women to give you the time of day was not an issue for you." Foreman muttered.

"Are you still holding onto that?" Amelia chuckled. "What can I say, Janie likes the idea of exploring her bicuriousity with petite brunettes a little more than she likes the idea of being picked up in your new BMW Z3, which I'm sure you know is just pretentious."

"And you were just leaving?" Foreman afforded her a bitter glance.

"Okay sorry. I will refrain from further defamation of your ill-conceived pussy wagon." Amelia deflected. "I have twelve nieces and nephews. Twelve. And that's no problem. I can be the cool aunt that lives just far enough away to exist only as a well-chosen birthday present and a visit at Christmas. This whole Lindsay thing is different."

"It's not like you're going to be co-parenting. You just said she's a grown adult." Foreman countered, scribbling his signature across several pages before stapling them. He shifted the packets of his pile of work and sighed somewhat forlornly. "Trade you this for a few hours of clinic duty."

"Not on your life." Amelia snorted. "Heavy is the head that wears the crown."

"Why don't you just I don't know, call her or something," Foreman stretched cracking the vertebrae from his neck right down his back with a relieved hum. "Make use of that ineffable charm. I imagine it works as well on step-kids as it does on everyone else."

"That's not an awful idea." Amelia nodded thoughtfully, then whipped out her phone.

"You know you have an office where you can do that." Foreman pointed out.

"Hey, Lindsay, this is uh, your Amelia." Foreman grinned, instantly changing his mind. "So, how's it going?"

"I take that back. Listening to this train wreck will be far more entertaining than paperwork."

"I …" Lindsey wrestled in silence over what could only be shock, before settling on, "Look, you really don't need to do whatever this is." Lindsay clarified, "I already told my mother I was fine with you two shacking up or getting gay married and adopting a bunch of ..."

"We're not getting married and we're certainly not adopting." Amelia glared across the desk at Foreman's scandalized look. She'd be hearing that bit of gossip making the hospital rounds soon enough.

"It's cool, okay? We don't have to be best friends or anything."

"Well, why couldn't we just be regular friends?" Amelia cleared her throat, embarrassed by the earnest, lilting tone her voice had taken. Foreman virtually giggled.

"You're sleeping with my mother." A statement that rolled off Lindsay's tongue with surprising ease, Amelia imagined Lindsay subduing her own gag reflex as she said it. Although Amelia had to admit, from her observations Catherine had a phenomenally adult relationship with her daughter. "Trust me when I say that's a deal breaker on the whole friendship thing."

"I'm going to buy you a car." Foreman snorted, clapping in glee as he leaned back in his chair.

"I really wish I could hear the other side of this conversation. I am begging you to put that on speakerphone." He whispered, pleading. Amelia shocked at the words that had come out of her own mouth, gaped momentarily like a fish, waiting for a response.

"You're ?" Lindsay sounding far too smug for her eighteen years, paused as though trying the words on for size before attempting to repeat them.

"I'm buying you a car." Amelia confirmed. It could work, she thought. The kid was too old for a bag of candy or a new bike. A car, however, was an adequate device for pissing Catherine off, she rolled her eyes bouncing her head repeatedly off the back of her chair.

"You do understand how a bribe works, right?"

"This isn't a bribe." No, a bribe would be a very bad idea. Amelia considered just how deep she was going to be in the shit when she mentioned this conversation to Catherine.

"No, you're right, it isn't." Lindsay agreed with no small amount of sarcasm. "Because bribes are incentives to action and I've already signed on to Mom's new family plan." Oh man, Amelia could feel her heartbeat skittering uncontrollably.

"And yet it is an incentive." She cleared her throat, trying to reign in the high pitched nervousness. She opened her eyes to see Foreman shaking his head in disbelief.

"To do what?"

"To get to know me." Foreman pointed at Amelia and exaggeratedly mouthed, Catherine is going to kill you. He drew a slow finger across his neck and mimed the resulting arterial blood-letting with his fingertips.

"Sunday brunch over Thanksgiving break wouldn't suffice?" Lindsay asked in obvious amusement.

"Look, you're going to need a car to come and visit on school breaks, right?" Amelia glared at Foreman, rationalizing as much for his benefit as Lindsay's. Foreman just shook his head pityingly. "I'm saving you the leg work of convincing her it's a great idea. Cause, to be quite honest, it's probably not a great idea. But I'll get on board. Hell, I'll buy the damn thing."

"Can you even afford a car?"

"I'm a surgeon. Of course I can afford to buy a car." Foreman snickered.

"And yet you still take the subway to work." He interjected thoughtfully.

"Well you look kind of young, that's all." Lindsay justified logically.

"I bought a condo." Amelia shot at Foreman, who shrugged his shoulders as if to ask, and?

"No kidding?"

"Where exactly do you think your mother and I are living?" Amelia drew a deep breath. This thing was getting away from her. "Are you trying to talk me out of buying you a car?"

"No, I mean," Lindsay allowed herself a moment in the confusion of this very weird out of the blue phone call from her mother's girlfriend. Abandoning any pretense she confessed, "I'm just curious why you would want to buy me a car."

"Do you have this much trouble keeping up in class?" Grown impatient backing over the same issue again and again, Amelia ground out edgily. "Last I checked Holyoke was expensive. You could not listen at a state school and save Catherine quite a hefty sum."

"Wow." You're definitely smug, self-important, and patronizing enough to be a surgeon." Lindsay definitely had Catherine's fight. Amelia couldn't help but grin in appreciation.

"Touché. And to reiterate, the car is an incentive for you to get to know me, because I imagine you think I'm just another temporary stand-in." Foreman leaned forward on his desk, completely ignoring the remainder of his paperwork to offer Amelia his undivided attention. Amelia narrowed her eyes at him in implied promise. There would be recompense if she heard any of this repeated from the hospital grapevine. "You watched your mother date plenty of those growing up, right? After a while, you learn to lose interest given the transitory nature of her love life. After all, it's not like any of them were going to stick. And if they did, it's not like you'd be some kind of Brady Bunch equivalent, right?"

"What's the Brady Bunch?" Amelia felt her heart skip a beat. Had she just been implied to be old by a teenager. Next thing she'd be staring in the bathroom vanity plucking gray hairs and eating dinner at four pm. Lindsay giggled at Amelia's silence. "Kidding."

"Since Catherine and I are pretty convinced this is it for us," Amelia continued, swallowing with sudden emotion. "It might be nice if you saw it that way too."

"Alright." Lindsay sounded genuinely convinced. "Why not just take me out to lunch after a shopping spree to IKEA?"

"IKEA? Yeah, I can do IKEA. Are you into that?" Sitting up eagerly, Amelia nodded, pointing at the phone for Foreman's benefit. Foreman pursed his lips, surprised at the seemingly successful outcome despite having taken such a disastrous turn so early. In future, he'd stick to telenovellas. He returned to slogging through the remaining stack of budgetary reports on his desk. "Cause we can do that. We can absolutely do IKEA."

"Yeah, we'll do IKEA and lunch some place fancy." Lindsay's sounded delightfully agreeable and Amelia found herself expending a sigh of relief. "We'll talk about what kind of car you're going to buy."

"Okay, this is you renegotiating." The deadening of Amelia's tone instantly regained Foreman's attention. Nothing like an unexpected plot twist to reinvigorate the action. "I can accept that." Amelia realized, belatedly that this might be the first of many concessions in a very lengthy process. This was Catherine's daughter not just some random coed. The grand-daughter of Sam Braun, a titan of the Las Vegas economy, wasn't going to let a brilliant opportunity slip through her fingers. There was a very real chance that Amelia was woefully outclassed. "I'm going to start with a thirty thousand dollar cap on the entirety of this process."

"No." Lindsay said simply, sounding decidedly bored with Amelia's attempt at setting hard boundaries so early. "That might not even cover your travel expenses up here and our negotiation. I'll send you a link for my Amazon Wishlist to get you started. That will give you a better idea just how ridiculous that cap is. Mom's car cost over four times that much."

"I didn't buy Catherine's car!" Amelia checked herself. Whining wouldn't get her anywhere. Visibly hardening, she countered. "Your mother is the one who inherited half the Vegas strip, not me. You've somewhat overestimated my largess. I take the subway to work, thanks."

"She does." Foreman chimed in, to which Amelia brooked his further silence with a finger.

"The last thing you need is a precision sports vehicle designed for the Autobahn. You live in Western Massachusetts." Amelia snorted, as if uncontrollably amused at the very idea. "You should be happy to get a pickup truck covered in cow shit, kid."

"Fine." Lindsay huffed, not expecting Amelia to come back swinging. "Thirty thousand."

"See, that wasn't so hard, was it?" Amelia sat back in the chair and crossed her legs feeling unaccountably pleased with herself. "How about I come up next weekend for that lunch?" Foreman raised his eyebrows impressed. Lindsay's response was delayed in coming, as though she were mulling it all over again in her head. From the look on Amelia's face, it was hardly the answer she'd expected.

"Only if I can call you Daddy Warbucks in front of my friends."

"No well," Amelia paused considering, then shook her head firmly, for no other purpose than to clear it of visions of co-eds calling her Daddy, "No."

The first time Lindsay had slipped and called Amelia "Dad" in front of Catherine, there had ensued a very strained conversation locked behind their bedroom door. "The fuck, Amelia?" Catherine had struggled to modulate the stridence of her tone, with consideration to the neighbors and the complications involved when explaining a domestic call to her home next time she walked into Hotch's office at the BAU. Amelia had seemed hypnotized by the dwindling echo of the door being slammed or the picture frames askew on the adjacent walls. Eyes as wide as the moon, she hadn't breathed an inch, hands out thrust as though conducting symphonic movement.

The passing of Lindsay's father still felt like an open wound to the Willows women. To hear the endearing if humored way that word had passed from Lindsay's lips, irreverently aimed at Amelia had been too much of the good thing Catherine had watched evolve between the two most important women in her life. "Cath, it's not like that. She didn't mean anything by it." Amelia had explained that it was a private joke between them Lindsay herself had started. Amelia was anything if oblivious to the pain of loss and clearly recognized the minefield strewn around the questionably preserved memory of Lindsay's father, particularly that of his violent death. Eddie Willows had been a son of a bitch long before he'd been a dead man, but Lindsay had been his little princess. It wasn't exactly the territory Amelia would choose for an idle stroll. It was her preference to chat about Catherine's good old days snorting cocaine with mobsters and billionaires in between sets shimmying to Aerosmith. That was great bedtime fodder, especially given how divorced Catherine remained to that part of her past. Eddie Willows, the man whose name Catherine still bore, was a restless ghost whose killer had never been brought to justice. Catherine wore that almost as plainly as she did her badge and gun. Amelia knew very well where not to tread.

Catherine had dried her eyes, chin still trembling with unspent tears and fought the rise of conflicting emotions in search of acceptance. This was, after all, what she most wanted. She just hadn't fathomed Lindsay and Amelia being such fast friends or even faster family. "Just a joke, huh?" She'd asked. She'd bitten her lip and wrung her hands, momentarily frantic with guilt over the unresolved past in direct conflict with her newfound happiness. Amelia had simply slid her hands along Catherine's shoulders, fingers questing the elegant column of her neck until buried in blonde silk at the base of her skull. What does one say? There aren't any adequate apologies for I'm sorry he's not here. I'm sorry I'm glad that I am. Lindsay had ventured knocking an hour later to remind them that they had dinner reservations and, "Ew, guys. Seriously, ew."

"Clock's ticking." Lindsay offered a smarmy wave. Amelia paid this little attention, simply shooed her away. Lindsay hadn't missed an opportunity to mention the photo of a sales receipt for a royal blue convertible Mini Cooper S she'd received via text after owning her finals. Amelia had yet to fully inform Catherine of the true nature of the transaction that had been presented as a rental. Amelia expected she'd be sleeping on the couch for a while. She grimaced with a conciliatory nod. Lindsay did nothing to conceal her delight as she twirled away to be swept up by Uncle Jim.

Amelia had seen House sulking by the piano earlier in the evening, banned from entertaining the gathering with his jazz stylings. Amelia had made it very clear in her invitation that if House so much as cracked his knuckles near her piano their tentative armistice would immediately be rescinded. When House had returned from the deep freeze vowing vengeance against the system that put him away much like a comic book villain lacking practical reason or a truly deserving target, he'd launched a petty war of decisive pranks against Wilson, Foreman and the Diagnostics Department as a whole. Cuddy was too far out of reach and any contact with her would certainly have been a breach of his parole. Amelia, despite the urgings of all involved to turn the proverbial cheek, had no choice but to unleash holy hell in return. Things very swiftly deteriorated from that point forward and the true victims had been Wilson, Foreman, Thirteen, and Chase. After a prank for which no one was claiming responsibility yielded several million dollars of broken equipment, the flooding of multiple floors, and Thirteen in an elbow brace; the armistice had been sewn as a preventative measure against police involvement. Now it was effectively peace of mind that your new car wouldn't be sold for parts or that you wouldn't wake up from a procedure in which you'd been tagged with a GPS tracker.

"It's disturbing, you and my daughter plotting in secret." Catherine confided. "I'd love it if you could put my mind at ease. Anything to share?" Sliding behind so she could rest her cheek against the soft skin of a bare shoulder, Amelia wrapped her arms around Catherine's in a double embrace.

"Linds was right. This is a great party." Amelia remarked dreamily.


"And you look incredible." Amelia lent the backless red cocktail dress some worthy appreciation. "I may not be able to wait until all these people leave." Catherine swayed gently with Amelia to the music, content to just live in the moment.

"Fine, don't tell me."

The End


Burnett, Frances Hodgson. "The Secret Garden" New York: Frederick A. Stokes, August 1911.

New International Version, Bible. Kenneth L. Barker, ed. Biblica Online www.biblegateway.com/versions/New-International-Version-NIV-Bible: Zondervan, 2011.

End Notes:

Dear Readers,

As we come to the end of this journey I respectfully ask that you please take a moment of your time to comment. Shiloh is the second fanfic I've ever written. Your editorial critique will serve as a necessary tool to help me grow and improve. Kiss Kick Cry was initially intended as a sequel to Shiloh; but evolved into a conclusion and the long anticipated culmination of this project. Thank you so much for your consideration. I hope Shiloh was as entertaining to read as it was writing it.

With gratitude,


Return to C.S.I. Fiction

Return to Grey's Anatomy Fiction

Return to Miscellaneous Fiction

Return to Main Page