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relapsing and remitting

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“I hate happy people.”

The couch cushion sinks a little under her weight, the side of the bottle colliding with the side of her glass, hands full. Not a drop of liquid spills even with the jolt.

She’s lived this night dozens of times, in this house, with this man, and particularly with this brand of liquid solace; she’s gotten pretty damn good at it by now.

Strong fingers work the bottle out of her hand and she lets him, watches him pour some of it into an identical glass on the coffee table. Meredith lets her head loll to the side, into the cushion behind her – her head is inches from his shoulder but that’s just not the way people like them seek comfort, heads resting on shoulders or hand holding; they’re a different breed altogether when they’re not trying to be reformed.

“I like you better when you’re like this.” Alex considers the glass in his hands; she’s drunker than he is and distantly she wonders how and when that happened. “Dark and twisty suits you,” he adds, half a second before he tips his glass back.

She waits for the click of glass against the wooden table before she says, “You’re the only one.”

 

---

 

It was a stupid thing.

There had been some yelling, a lot of it from her, and it wasn’t about anything in particular. There was whatever going on with Mark and Lexie, and her and Derek ended up on opposite sides with their built in and finally steadfast loyalties. Then there was a patient and some amount of strong disagreement in regards to treatment of said patient, and since they were both still a little irritated from the first thing they didn’t blow it off. She ended up not scrubbing in. Little things started to compound after that.

Later she ended up in the bar with Cristina, then Cristina’s apartment. Derek made the executive decision to hole up at Mark’s for a short while in the name of support, but also in the name of giving each other a break.

With him gone, just like that, she reverted back to the Meredith whose closest friend was tequila, a little cynical and a little bitter.

Alex had already come unhinged weeks before, when Izzie left for the second time, and so that part of the equation came naturally.

 

---

 

Callie and Arizona, the happiest of all of them, had been the one to throw the party. It was Lexie’s birthday; they said they thought it would make her feel better.

Meredith nodded and said she’d be there, even if she didn’t necessarily believe it (she also doesn’t bring up the part where Callie is basically Mark’s other best friend and shouldn’t that cause a conflict of interests either).

It was her who thought to drag Alex out of the trailer.

“No.” He was reading outside, some medical textbook, the name obscured by his hand and the shadows that were cast where the light didn’t hit it right; it was far too cold for fresh air and light reading.

“Come on, it’s freezing out here and they’re calling for rain tonight.” She crossed her arms over her chest, regretting leaving her jacket in the car now that she’d said it. If he’d been invited to this thing, he hadn’t said so, but then he hadn’t said much of anything to her in the past few days, despite their increased contact. She didn’t imagine it mattered very much whether or not there had been some formal offer extended; they all knew each other here. “There’ll be booze.”

“I think you’re better stocked than they are,” he replies, too much confidence in his voice. She wishes he wasn’t right but he probably is.

“Fine. So we go to the party and hang around just long enough that people are too tipsy to notice when we slip out.” She made the whole thing sound like something grand, like they were hatching a plan to steal diamonds or rob a bank, when in reality they’d just be trying to act like well adjusted adults instead of emotionally stilted people whose childhoods ruined them long before their relationships did. “Then you can raid my stash.”

His finger serves as a bookmark in the textbook but he’s focused on her now at least. “We?”

“Shut it. I have to go. You should go.” She closes the remaining distance between them, placing a hand on his shoulder and pushing him gently. He stands with some grumbling, depositing the book inside and grabbing his keys, surrendering in a way as he allows her to lead him to her car.

 

---

 

Once, she told him that she was seeing someone. Sort of.

They were new, green, naïve, stupid – variations on the same idea.

She told him she was seeing someone, once in the gallery, the second when he was in her personal space in an empty locker room, the third against the wall in her also empty house with her leg wrapped around his waist and his lips on her neck.

His laughter had vibrated against her skin and she let her fingers press hard enough into his shoulders and the expanse of his back to leave colorful marks later on, temporary as they were.

In the morning, she wore a turtleneck to work, her hair cascading down her shoulders.

(Unlike those alcohol soaked nights they keep coming back to, this does not repeat itself initially)

 

---

 

Lexie’s smile is bright that night, and maybe it has to do with the wine and maybe it doesn’t.

She hugs her sister, something playing at natural, and remarks about how Callie and Arizona definitely know how to throw a party, and then spends the rest of their stay there alternating between casual conversations with her co-workers and mirroring Alex’s casual lean up against the wall.

Cristina isn’t here tonight. She’s still at the hospital. It further unbalances her.

The smiling faces and the general atmosphere have them out of there half an hour later. Misery loves company – just not happy company.

---

 

She doesn’t pretend to be surprised when he leans in to kiss her; this has been coming for days now.

Her hand comes up to his jaw, fingers spread over his cheek, and after a moment his own hand covers hers, moving it so that her palm now curves over his shoulder.

(there’s a brief flicker of a memory then, while he’s toying with the hem of her shirt, hands itching to slip underneath it, up her back, to flick the catch of her bra – they know this routine after all, and she recognizes the significance of the forced lack of contact; it’s the way Izzie kisses, same hand placement every time, and she’s been an accidental witness to those moments enough times to recall it)

The appropriateness of the noise she makes against his mouth is merely coincidental, that time, and she decides then to put the final nail in their coffin. Nimble fingers undo the button of his jeans, pulling at the zipper, and it leaves no question as to where this is going.

In a nutshell: they’re going to fuck each other, quite possibly in more ways than one.

It works about as well as the wave of a flag, green light go, and his hands are warm along her spine.

 

---

 

Afterwards, they never talked about it.

There was never any pining, never a twinge of jealousy when she played best man for him. She’d smoothed his tie and smiled up at him and told him with absolute certainty “you can do this” without him needing to ask her to.

He in turn was her sounding board when Cristina wasn’t, the one she could tell her worst ideas to (hoping her mother had cancer all those years ago wasn’t something she could’ve ever said to George or to Izzie – they wouldn’t have understood). They had the common ground of neglectful parents, uneasy and unstable relationships, a penchant for screwing things up all by themselves. She’s gotten better at not doing that; he’s still working on it.

Their past indiscretion goes largely unnoticed; if this were a television show, it would’ve been left on the cutting room floor, later packaged with the rest of the outtakes.

 

---

 

They keep to the couch, not bothering with the stairs or the discussion of her bed versus his bed.

His fingers slip along the edge of her underwear, teasing downwards and she moans against his neck. They’re in various states of undress; her pants are in a pile on the floor, his shirt tossed on the arm of the couch right where it landed.

When they finally slide inside of her, her underwear lost along the way, the raspy “fuck” that passes through her lips gets eaten up by his mouth and she swears she sees the shine of headlights through the closed curtains.

Problem is that she’s looking at the backs of her eyelids and the feeling is nothing more than a manifestation of guilt.

 

---

 

(It’s worth noting that a similar situation will occur in May of three years later.

Izzie will be gone for good – despite the third, fourth, and fifth times that she came back and then left – and Meredith will still not be married on anything but a framed post-it note, though her and Derek’s relationship will often be referred to as a ‘thing’ rather ineloquently through the halls of Seattle-Grace-Mercy-West-whatever.

Alex’s anniversary (she left no forwarding address, just like with the medical bills, and he doesn’t feel like bothering with paperwork; calls it divorce even if he means separation, on the odd chance he bothers to speak of it or her) will be mourned with alcohol and a generally rude attitude towards every person who gets in his way that entire week. She expects this, allows for it.

She’ll have her own bad memories, anniversaries to mark: George will have died three years to the month and she found some old stuff of his in storage a few months ago; it sits in the attic and she doesn’t go in the attic, doesn’t plan to, until the month is over.

Derek will live in the house most of the time. The trailer will be vacant and Alex will be back to his old room. Lexie won’t seem to pick where she lives, so some days she’ll be here, some days and some days she won’t. It will be a familiar kind of chaos, the kind that she thrives on and the kind that Derek has always tried to steer away from; this is another complication between them, another strain.

One night, she’ll be a jittery mess of nerves, even with the alcohol, and Alex will be the same pushy asshole he’s been for days now. He’ll prod her, sarcasm spiked comments, and he’ll say something stupid about her and Derek that’ll come out wrong, hit the wrong nerve, and she’ll scream something at him that’s meant to be bitter but sounds strangled, a defense from someone who’s tired of offering them up.

Her glass will shatter on the floor because she’s standing in the doorway to the kitchen now, shaking and halfway to tears, apropos of nothing, and she isn’t thinking about keeping her grip tight around it.

Alex won’t bother cleaning it up. He’ll leave it, brace his hands on her shoulders, and the flicker of concern that will cross his features will quickly be masked by something feral and lust-driven. Her back will hit the wall hard enough to hurt and he’ll pin her there, with fairly little struggle on her part.

Where Derek would’ve pressed a soft kiss to her forehead, said something soothing about everything being okay and maybe she should sleep – the healthy reaction – Alex will have his hand on her ass as she searches for a good angle and works it, shedding clothes hastily right there in the doorway with an unlocked front door several feet away.

It might be the unhealthy reaction, depending on who is asked, but it will remain the reaction she needs, the one that dries her tears and calms her nerves, a quick distraction that rides a fine line between pleasure and pain.)

 

---

 

When he comes, her knees are bent and tight around his waist and her back is arched just so, his mouth on her collarbone.

She comes seconds after, when his hand has slipped between them, thumb against her clit – she was close to begin with from earlier, his fingers inside of her, teasing until he flipped them and elected to finish what he started this way; it didn’t take a whole lot of effort to get her there.

 

---

 

Rain falls in sheets in the morning and Lexie shows up at her door, chirpy and with her umbrella in hand.

Alex is in the kitchen making coffee, in only his jeans, and the living room is still disheveled from last night. Her bra is suspiciously missing but neither one of them has tried very hard to find it.

“Okay,” she says, with a confused frown, upon seeing the bottle and the glasses on the coffee table, his shirt still on the couch. Meredith hadn’t been expecting company; she’s hung-over enough that she doesn’t care so much what Lexie knows and sees right now.

“Strip poker,” Alex covers, gruffly, and nobody mentions the absence of cards or the fact that Meredith’s pretty sure she doesn’t even have a full deck (wow could that be a metaphor here, she thinks briefly).

Lexie smiles, says she brought muffins, breakfast, something to that effect, and Alex nearly chokes on his coffee at the mention of baked goods. This goes relatively unnoticed by Lexie.

When Meredith comes up behind him, reaching for a glass from the cupboard, she mutters “happy people” low enough that only he can hear her, and he gives her a raised eyebrow and a nod of the head.

And so starts the remission period.