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The Unstoppable Force Paradox

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What happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object? They say it's an impossibility. It's imaginary. That's why it's a paradox.


(Maybe not.)

"Look, I didn't know Meredith was your girlfriend." Mark's low, rumbling voice has an undercurrent of a whine to it.

As if he's sorry.

As if Mark Sloan knows how to be sorry.

What Mark does know how to do, in Derek's experience, is overstay his welcome.

So Derek just ignores him, focusing on his chart; Mark just continues.

"When I was flirting with Meredith this morning … I didn't know."

"Interesting." Derek doesn't look up from his chart. "Did you also not know Addison was my wife? Because I swear I remember seeing you at the wedding."

"Derek, I really … ." Mark stops speaking, mercifully, but starts again too soon: "I'm sorry, man."

With that, Derek slaps shut the chart he was using to distract himself and half turns to see if Mark is serious.

He is. He's staring at him with that faux-mournful look.

"That's all I came here to say. I'm really sorry. For everything."

Derek studies his face for the half second it takes to know how to respond.

"Leave, Mark."

He hears the voice he's trying to mute calling out as he walks away.

"There's something else we need to talk about."

"We're done talking!" Derek snaps back over his shoulder.

But Mark follows him anyway – of course he follows him, the sheer arrogance of him sends blood pounding in his ears.

"Get away from me." Two hallways later, frustrated, Derek spins around. "This is your last warning."

"Derek, I'm trying to help you – "

"Help me?!" He glares, lowering his voice when he realizing they're attracting attention. "You don't help. You're not a helper. You're a destroyer. You destroyed my marriage and you destroyed our – "

But there's no word for what they had. Friendship? Brotherhood?

Most of his damned life?

"Derek, I'm sorry."

He says it in that intense whisper of his, cajoling, that makes Derek even angrier.

"Get away from me," he grits between clenched teeth.

"Derek. Derek." Mark is staring at him like he can will him to listen. "I'm not the bad guy here. Not the only one, anyway."

"You're not the – " he has to lower his voice again. He doesn't look back at his former friend. "Is that a joke? You're not the bad guy? You?"

"We all made mistakes."

"Leave, Mark. Leave now, or I'm calling security."

Mark stares at him for a moment, unblinking. Even with the stitches on his cheekbone he looks unruffled. Unharmed. Mark's a destroyer – but nothing, it seems, can hurt him.

"You have one minute to leave," Derek informs him coldly. "One minute, before – "

"It wasn't a one-night stand."

It takes a moment for Mark's words to sink in. At first he thinks it's some kind of play on words, you have one minute to leave and it wasn't a one-night stand.

And he has to untangle them. To try to make sense of something that makes no sense at all.

One night.

One minute.

One day.

One second, unblinking, Mark's eyes on his, and the hallway narrows to a black tunnel. He hears the rest of the words – in that husky, intense whisper – as if they're coming from very far away.

"We were in love. Addison and I … we were in love. She stayed with me after you left town. I know she didn't tell you. I know you didn't know what we had. I thought you deserved to know. And I'm sorry. That's what I wanted to tell you."

He's sorry. Mark is sorry.

Derek … is just trying to breathe.

Just trying to speak, but it seems he's forgotten how.

"She's still in love with you," Mark continues. "Addison is in love with you. That's what she says. But you're in love with that intern, that's what I told her, because everyone knows it, and if we could all just – "

"Shut up."

"Derek, come on, the three of us have so much history."

"Too much history." He still can't quite breathe, can't quite see, but he knows the way you know a storm is coming, the way you know a driver is about to make an unsignaled turn, that he has to get out of here. He has to leave. "Walk away, Mark."

"At least tell me you understand."

"That I under – you're unbelievable." He shakes his head. "Go."

Mark starts to leave, then turns back.

"I just thought you should know the truth," he says quietly. "I thought I owed you that. As a friend."

"You're not my friend."

Finally, Mark looks hurt.

It's small comfort … but it's something.


He stays.

He stays until Mark has left the hospital.

He stays until Addison has left the hospital.

(Derek, I haven't seen you all day, just wanted to check in.)

(Derek, I was hoping to catch you, but I'm going to head back to the trailer. I'll see you there?)

Like that, with a question mark.

Their whole fucking marriage – what's left of it – is a question mark at this point.

And then, once he knows they're both gone … he stays longer.

He accepts a procedure he doesn't need to take, checks every patient twice, and charts until his hands are sore. If he belonged to a gym he'd punch a heavyweight bag.

If he weren't a surgeon he'd punch Mark again.

And again.

It's the thought of driving his fist back into that arrogant face that keeps him on his feet, keeps him from slumping over a barstool at Joe's and filling the hole in his midsection with scotch.

He drives home on espresso and rage, vibrating with tension, loads his car onto the ferry and for one wild moment considers what it would be like to vault himself over the railing and not have to face his problems ever again.

It's one second, before he regains his sanity, grips the damp rail in shaking hands and stands there on the rain-slick shifting floor, letting misty rain roll down his cheeks.

One second.

One night.

One minute.

He parks on an angle. He doesn't wipe off his boots. Inside the trailer, he turns on lights carelessly, not minding if he wakes her, not feeling particularly considerate. Doc, who was sleeping curled up on the bed, leaps off to greet him. He's quiet about it, apparently more concerned for his mistress's sleep than Derek is.

He rumples the dog's fur.

His pulse is fast under his fingers when he flexes them.

When he blinks, he sees Addison leaning over him in the NICU, in the elevator, luring him back to her with wide eyes and assurances of regret; he hears what he now knows to be lies: it was one time. I made a mistake, Derek, people make mistakes.

She's sleeping when he stands over her, red hair spread out on the pillow. Apparently the banging screen door didn't wake her, or the electric lights. From the looks of her face, she's been crying.

He doesn't feel particularly sorry for her.

But he does note how, in repose, she looks almost innocent.

Which is another lie.

One more for the pile she's been telling since she arrived in Seattle.

He says her name once, sharply, and she blinks awake, looking confused to see him standing above her.

"Derek?" she asks blearily. "When did you –"

"Get up."

Her brow furrows with confusion.

"I said, get up." In one sharp movement he's stripped off the covers.

Addison seems more awake now, maybe a little nervous. But she still doesn't get up.

"Derek, what are you – "

He takes her arm and pulls her to her feet. Not roughly, he doesn't think, though she stumbles a little before she regains her balance.

When she's standing, backed up against the bed, he sees her lips part; he speaks before she can.

"You have one minute," he tells her.

"One minute for what? Derek, what's wrong with you? What happened?" She's rubbing her upper arm through the sleeve of her pajamas.

"What happened?" He has to inhale mindfully as he repeats her question, forcing oxygen into his lungs. "Mark happened."

Concern creases her face. Or guilt, maybe. "Mark … did something?" she asks warily.

"Mark said something," Derek corrects her. "And now it's your turn."

"What do you want me to – "

"… to say something that will convince me not to throw you out of this trailer," he continues as if she hasn't interrupted him.

If only he could continue his life, here, as if she never interrupted him at all.

"Well?" He waits, his breath loud in his ears.

She doesn't say anything. Her pupils are dilated, her gaze moving around the room as if she's evaluating her escape options. Her melodrama irritates him.

"Fine." He reaches for her arm again but she stumbles out of his grasp, sitting down hard on the bed and then looking up at him with something like surprise.

"He told you," she says slowly, and he sees color rise in her cheeks.

"He told me. Now you tell me."

Her teeth scrape over her lower lip. "Derek, I'm so sorry, I never wanted to –"

"I said, now you tell me."

She's gone silent at his tone.

"Tell you?" she repeats in a small voice. If she's trying to get him to pity her, it's not going to work. "What do you mean?"

"I mean, tell me."

"Derek, I'm sorry," she says again, her voice trembling, and he has to clench his still-smarting fist in his pocket.

"Tell me, or get out."

"Tell you what? Derek, please." Her tone is bordering on panic now.

He lowers his eyes to study her for a moment, from the twisting hands in her lap to the swift rise and fall of her collarbones. "You can start with what the hell you were thinking."

"What I was thinking … I wasn't thinking, Derek, like I told you!" She releases her grip on her own hands so she can make a characteristically expansive gesture to punctuate her speech. "You were never there, I was lonely, I missed you. I needed someone and Mark was there."

"Like you told me," he repeats her words with disbelief. "Like you told me? You told me it happened once."

"It did," she whispers. "I swear, that was the first time, the night you – the night you saw us, it only happened once. It was true when I said it."

"But it's not true now."

"Derek, please." She stands up in the little room he's given her and then suddenly she's sitting heavily back down again and he's staring at his raised hands, not sure if he pushed her or just wanted to.

She looks surprised when she turns her face up to his, maybe a little frightened.

And then the words spill out.

"Derek, I'm sorry, I'm so sorry. I never meant for you to find out this way."

"You never meant for me to find out at all. Did you?" He doesn't wait for an answer. "You let Mark fly out here and do your dirty work for you."

"No, that's not – I didn't ask him to fly out here."

"Maybe," Derek says, "or maybe you're lying about that too."

"I'm not." Her voice shakes.


"Derek, I'm sorry. I made mistakes, I know that, and I am more sorry than I can express, but you have to know it's you I want. Not Mark. You have to give me a chance to make this up to you."

"I don't have to do anything."

"I know. I know that." She takes a deep breath, looks down at her hands where he can see her rings catching the light, and then turns her face to look up at him again. "Mark wants me to go back with him to New York. He's – he was waiting for me, at Joe's, but I didn't go, Derek. I don't want to be with him. I want to be here, with you."

And then she stops talking, and he can see in her eyes the moment she realizes she's made a tactical error.

She makes so few of them, in his experience.

But when she does…

He steps back from the bed.

"Derek," she says, gazing up at him uncertainly. She seems unwilling to stand up from the bed, but desperate to do so anyway; he finds that her anxiety pleases him and he's too angry to question what that means. She softens her voice; her tone just irritates him. "It's been a long day," she cajoles. "Can we, um, can we just sleep it off maybe, and talk in the morning – "


"Derek, I'm sorry you found out this way, I'm so sorry, but let's not do this now. Not like this. Not when we've already come so far. Tomorrow is a new day, and we can – Derek?"

He doesn't respond, just pulls her to her feet with one movement – it's easier the second time. She doesn't even question it this time, but her voice is rising higher, sliding into panic register, when he doesn't let go.

"Derek – what are you doing? Derek?"

"Your one minute is up," he tells her coolly. "Get out."

"No." She tries to pull her arm out of his grasp, then tugs at his wrist. "Derek, let go."

The memory assails him and he doesn't care; she's not cowering on the stairs, she's standing her full height in apricot silk pajamas, her eyes huge under the electric lights. Light rain drums the trailer windows; he can tell they both hear it at the same time.

"Get. Out," he repeats, each word a sentence.

"Derek, please."

She's smarter this time than in New York, possibly, trying to block him earlier, but he's stronger this time too, possibly, and in the small space it's only steps to the door.

She's not crying, just breathing in sharp gasps. He pulls open the door and scans her face, maybe waiting for her to say something else, and she says, "Derek, it's raining," in a small voice, and he says, "I don't care."

Now her words are short puffs. "Can I at least – can I at least have my – "


"Derek, please don't do this – "

And then he pushes her over the threshold.

When he releases her she just … stands there on the trailer's tiny porch, unmoving. Doc is leaping excitedly around his legs, apparently thinking Addison is going to take him for a walk, and he has to grab his collar and pull him back into the trailer.

He puts a hand on the door, ready to close it.

"Derek, wait – "

He doesn't.

He closes the door behind her and leans against it, breathing hard.

One minute.



It's different, from the last time.

She's not crying, for one – it's raining out there, but the walls are thin – paper thin, as she likes to comment snidely, so he would hear her if she were. Whatever she's doing, it's mercifully quiet.

Which is good.

He leans against the door, catching his breath. Wondering what to do next. Replaying the one minute that changed more than just his day.

They lived together.

Addison and Mark.

They lived together. He's lived with both Addison and Mark. He knows what it means. This wasn't one night of misguided screwing.

Far from it.

It was razor-sharp overpriced shoes filling up the closet and Mark's insistence on doing a hundred pushups every morning – if he had an audience – and more teabags in the kitchen than any one woman needed.

It was a relationship.

… but she came back to him. She flew out here and asked him to take her back. Does that mean that she and Mark – broke up? Broke up, the term nauseates him. It's too legitimate, too authentic, for what he's just now untangling.

It's a blow as wind-stealing as the one the night he left New York.

Except now he can't leave. He's already left. And there's no guidebook for what to do when the life you created to replace the shattered remnants of your old one blows up yet again.

All he can do is breathe. So he does that.

And then he hears it.

A knock.

Tentative at first, and then firmer.

He ignores it.

When he closes his eyes he sees her flushed face apologizing, begging, lying, and he ignores that too.

And then she knocks again.

He rests a hand on the knob, not quite ready to let her back in. Of course he will, eventually – he'll have to – but he decides as he stands there that he'll let her cool her heels a bit first. Literally and figuratively, he thinks when he opens the door a crack and sees her bare feet with their pink pedicured toes curling on the wet wood of the little porch.

"Derek," she says, her voice breaking on the second syllable.

He doesn't move an inch from the threshold so she won't mistakenly think he's letting her back in. Doc, immune to the tension, barks joyfully at the sight of her.

No one ever said dogs are discerning.

"What do you want?" he asks. He doesn't look at her. He looks past her, into the undifferentiated darkness of the woods.

"I want my things," she says quietly, her voice shaking. Her arms are wrapped around herself as if she's cold.

He's unmoved: it's spring. She's been outside for mere minutes. She's fine.

"You can get them in the morning."

"In the morning?" Her eyes widen. "What? Derek, that's hours from now!"

He's silent and she keeps talking. He doesn't really intend to leave her out there all night, but in fifteen years together he's learned it's the best way for her to dig her own grave. To give her enough rope that she can hang herself without his help.

(She'd say he's mixing metaphors; he wouldn't care.)

He closes the door.

Next to the bed, lined up neatly, are her satin bedroom slippers. He picks them up, crosses the few steps to the door, and opens it just wide enough to toss the slippers onto the porch.

She looks at them, then back at him.

"Derek, please." Her voice is still warbling, sounding over his thoughts. "Derek, I can't stay here all – look, I get it, I'll go, I'll leave tonight, if you just give me my purse and my – "

He closes the door on whatever comes next.

This time, it stays closed.


She doesn't knock again.

He waits by the door for a few moments and then, he doesn't hear another knock.

Alone in the trailer – the way it was meant to be, the way he intended when he purchased it, when he bought the acres of empty space surrounding it – he pours a drink.

And downs it, and then pours another, downing it even faster.

It helps, somewhat. It's warming, a curl of heat around his midsection where before he felt only emptiness.

When it's still silent outside – Addison, patient? Are miracles possible after all? – he lowers himself onto the narrow strip of couch to down a third shot. Doc pads around him with interest, whining a little; he scratches the dog's floppy ears until he's soothed to sleep, his warm head pillowed in Derek's lap.

He glances at his watch.

Five minutes, he decides.

Five more minutes, and he'll let her back in.

He closes his eyes briefly, willing away the images that keep flickering by: Addison hunched on the stairs, gripping the banister. Addison begging at the doorway. Addison sobbing on the threshold, both hands raised in surrender. I'm sorry, I'm so sorry. Addison pulling at his grip. Let go. Addison at the door again. Derek, don't do this. Addison on the threshold, tearless, watching him toss her slippers onto the porch.

Still no knock. He inclines his head slightly toward the window, but with the kitchen light on, he can't see anything outside. Inching a hand away to avoid waking up Doc, he flicks off the last light switch, plunging the trailer into darkness. When his vision settles he can make out some undistinguished greyness outside the window, and then a flash of something light. She's sitting on the porch, he assumes.

He doesn't lock the jeep. She must know this.

After a moment, he hears her get up and when no knock is forthcoming, he assumes she's finally gone to the car to wait.

He checks his watch.

Three minutes left on the five. Doc shifts, his floppy puppy paws kneading for more space, and Derek finally stretches out so they can both accommodate each other on the couch. He strokes the dog's head rhythmically, counting down the minutes as his eyelids grow weighty.

Two minutes left.

One minute.

His heavy eyes slide shut.


Whining is the first thing he hears. Whining, and scratching.

Doc trying to get out.

"Okay, Doc, just hang on, boy," he mumbles, trying to drag himself awake.

It's still dark – Doc has been better about this lately, but he's not perfect, and the last thing he wants is to interfere with his nascent house training.

And then he barks.

"Doc, settle down." He pushes himself to a sitting position – and his hands scrabble at nothing. He's not in bed. He's … on the couch?

He flicks on the light and blinks into the unnatural brightness.

He's on the couch, and he's alone.

Doc scratches at the door, barking again.

Addison isn't here.

Addison isn't here.

The previous night comes back to him with a graceless slam, rocking the edges of his current reality.

One look at his watch and he sees he's been sleeping for a few hours.


Cursing silently, he shoves his feet into the boots he keeps by the door and pushes his way out onto the porch.

"Addison. Addison?"

No response.

He treks his way to the jeep. She's probably fallen asleep inside it, but the car is empty.

She's not there.

He stands there, Doc circling his ankles anxiously, looking into the uninformative darkness.

He doesn't see anything.

Correction: he sees nothing.

There's nothing outside the trailer.

It's why he bought it.

It's why he liked it.

It's why Addison didn't, and why a small part of him relished her discomfort.

Maybe not such a small part.

"Addison!" He tries again. His voice sounds thin and useless in the vast darkness. He should have brought a flashlight. He should go in and get one, but there's something about returning to the trailer alone that feels wrong.

Where the hell is she?

Briefly, he considers her options. If she ever paid attention when he talked to her about the woods, about camping and exposure and what to do … but of course she didn't.

Why didn't she go to the jeep?

Why didn't you let her back in? asks the small part of him he prefers to ignore.

Why didn't she knock?

Why didn't you give her her things?

Without a phone, a wallet – where could she be?

He rubs his arms, unconsciously, to warm them, suddenly aware that the temperature has dropped and it doesn't feel much like spring out here. It's damp and cool, the air slicing through the thin fabric of his shirt. And he's wearing more than she was.

"Doc …"

But the dog seems to be distracted, and he's no bloodhound – that's for sure.

She has to be close by. Why would she go further into the woods she hated?

His heart speeds up for a moment.

What if someone –

But no, he's never seen another soul anywhere near his property line. It would take a stunning and supremely unlikely coincidence for this to be the first time a stranger entered his land.

The odds are impossible.

Like the odds of walking in on Addison and Mark their one time – their first time, anyway.

"Addison!" he shouts.

It's either his imagination or it's echoing.

Doc has wandered away, to do his business, he supposes – dogs are loyal, but they're practical too. He knows this.


She's screwing with him, maybe – angry that he left her out here, even though it was obviously unintentional. He welcomes the anger; it tamps down the fear.

"Addison, answer me!"


"Addison! Where are you?"

Mostly it damps down the fear.

Doc barks again.

That settles it: he's going to go back inside to get a flashlight.

"Doc – Doc!" He pushes the dog away from him when he nearly trips him. "Settle down, boy."

But Doc doesn't settle. He jumps up on Derek, leaving muddy paw prints on his shirt, whining, and keeping him from getting to the trailer stairs.

"I need a flashlight," he tells Doc, feeling like an idiot for explaining his motives to a dog, but Doc barks furiously, stopping him again.

Then he turns and canters away.


Derek has taken one step closer to the trailer when Doc is back, leaping up on him again, whining –

He found her.

"You found her."

It comes out as a hoarse whisper and this time he chases Doc when he runs away from the trailer.

Doc leads him through the trees, and he's starting to think they're on a squirrel hunt and all he's doing is wasting his time, maybe getting them both lost – when Doc barks loudly.

He catches up and sees her.

Crouched against the wide trunk of an old tree, arms wrapped around herself, head drooping, half obscured by Doc, who is frantically licking her face.

"Good boy," he breathes, dropping to his knees in front of her.

"Addison. Addison."

She doesn't respond.

He shakes her. "Addison. Wake up."

Her eyes open, slowly, and even in the darkness he sees her flinch when she realizes how close he is.

He says her name again, half exhale. "Addison, wake up."

"I'm … awake," she mumbles, but she doesn't do a particularly good job forming the words.

He touches her cold face when her head starts to loll.

"You're freezing."

"No k-kidding." Her teeth are chattering and she has to stutter out the words. Doc is whining, butting into her hand, apparently trying to warm her. She doesn't respond – Addison always responds to Doc; he's seen her stop putting on makeup to pet him, and he used to tease her that even nuclear war couldn't stop her from perfectly completing an eyelash curling session.

That – more than the shaking and the bleariness and the cold skin on her face, frightens him.

"I didn't mean to," he blurts. "I was going to open the door, I just – I just fell asleep."

She doesn't say anything.

"You need to go inside." She doesn't move. "Get up," he says, offering her a hand.

She just stares up at him, shivering violently. He can feel the muddy grass making wet patches at the knees of his pants. Her pajamas feel damp when he reaches out a hand to touch her.

"Addison, come on."

When she makes no move, he stands up himself and then takes her arms and pulls her to her feet; she winces and he decides to read it as a shiver. Her teeth are still chattering audibly. He didn't bother to put on a coat or he'd give it to her now; he has only the dress shirt he wore to work, already decorates with damp muddy footprints from Doc.

She feels like dead weight – he shakes her a little, trying to wake her up, and when she doesn't seem any more alert, he slings one of her arms over his shoulder, wraps his around her waist, and half-carries, half-drags her back toward the trailer.

Doc leads the way, cantering ahead and then back and circling his ankles in a way that he thinks is likely to trip all three of them – but he can't exactly complain right now. Holding her like this, it's clear how damp her pajamas are, and how cold the skin underneath. Her body feels heavy and sluggish against his.

When he manages to get the door open and maneuver all three of them inside, they're met with a blast of warmth. He flicks on another light, trying to get a look at her.

She's shivering hard, her hair hanging in damp tangles around her face, her teeth chattering audibly.

But she's awake.

He grabs the closest throw blanket and tosses it over her shoulders. She makes no move to hold onto it and it drops to the floor. He picks up and this time wraps it around her himself, in both directions, the way he's seen her arrange her scarves for years.

"You're fine," he tells her, and he can tell from her expression, sluggish though it might be, that she'd make a sarcastic comment if she could get her teeth to stop chattering.

He sits her down on the same strip of couch where he fell asleep before, and rubs her arms until she shoulders him away.

Satisfied that means she's warmed up past the point of danger, he takes a deep breath.

"I didn't mean to leave you out there." He focuses on the plaid wool of the blanket around her, not on her face. "I was going to open the door again. I fell asleep."

She doesn't respond.

"I was tired," he says, though she didn't ask for an explanation.

"You were - drunk," she says, her voice hoarse and still stuttering with her shivers.

"I wasn't drunk." He follows her gaze to the empty tumbler of scotch on the little table. "I had a drink. Anyone would after yesterday."

She doesn't respond. She's still shivering, and he knows he should do something more to help. He reaches out to rub her arms again and she ducks out of the way – clumsily, but he lets her.

"Look, I wasn't trying to – "

"You could have - given me my things. I c-could have left."

She's not completely wrong. He could have. She asked for them, didn't she?

He wanted to leave her out there, fine. He was angry, and –

But he hadn't meant to fall asleep.

He was never going to leave her out there the whole night.

He was going to let her back in.

In five minutes.

In one minute.

He was going to let her back in.

"Why didn't you sit in the jeep? I don't lock it."

"You - always lock it."

In New York, he locked it.

"Not here, I don't," he says.

"Forget it. Just - do it now. Give me - m-my things now," she orders him, though she doesn't sound very authoritative since her voice is shaking so hard. "And I'll - go."

"You don't need to go," he mumbles.

"Derek," and she manages his name through her chattering teeth, "you just – you locked me out!"

"You could have knocked."

"I - did knock."

She did?

"I didn't hear you," he admits.

But he heard her the first time. And he can tell from her expression that she is thinking the same thing. He heard her when he answered the door and tossed her bedroom slippers onto the porch. He could have given her a phone, her wallet, her purse.

Her eyes are huge over the top of the blanket, which is now concealing half her face.

"I didn't mean to," he says finally, weakly.

"Neither did I."

He's not sure how to respond to that.


"How are you feeling?" he asks after long moments have passed, side by side on the couch but not touching.

She ignores him.

"Answer me," he says, annoyance and concern battling for first place. "Do I need to take you to a hospital?"

The blanket moves a few inches down on her face. "You don't - need to do - anything for me."

He grits his teeth. "Addison …"

She exhales hard, frustrated, her breath shaky. "Derek. This - was a mistake."

"What was?"

"This. You, me, us – all of it. I shouldn't - have come to Seattle. I shouldn't have l- ied to you."

"But you did lie," he counters.

"And now you figured out how to h-hurt me back." She breathes between words, more fluidly now. "Are you - happy?" He sees her arms move within the blanket, wrapping around herself. It does a little to stop her shaking, but not much. "Just give me my things and I'll find a hotel room."

"You need to warm up first."

She ignores him and he sees her trying to make her way to her feet; her arms are still inside the blanket and she staggers, off balance. He takes hold of her to prevent her from pitching face-first onto the table.

She's stiff under his hands but lets him lead her away from the couch. The blanket falls and he sees her gripping her arms, white-knuckled, patchy wetness and dirt on the pale fabric of her pajamas. She's still shaking.


He should have made her change. Damn it.

"You need to take off your wet things."

She ignores him but isn't coordinated enough to protest much when he guides her toward the bed.

"Don't," she says when he reaches for her again.


"Don't touch me."

She pushes him away this time.

"Settle down." He's still annoyed, but her hands are like ice and her damp clothes can't be helping.

"I said, don't touch me!"

She's off balance when he tries to take her arm and pitches back on the bed. Her eyes are wide, looking up at him, and when he reaches for her again she kicks out at him with one slippered foot. The wet silk shoe slides off – it can't have been much protection outside – and the foot he grabs to subdue her is so cold it almost burns.

"Stop it. Stop it," he hisses when she continues to struggle. The temperature of her skin is alarming. He should have made her strip when she got back to the trailer. He should have done a lot of things.

"You stop," she pants.

"I'm just trying to – stop it, Addison." It's easier to subdue her in her cold-numbed form but she still puts up a fight, struggling to her feet.

"Let go of me." Her voice is sliding high, into panic. "Let go."

She frees an arm and is halfway to backhanding him with it before he restrains her.

"Let go and I'll leave."

"You're not leaving yet. You're not in any shape to go anywhere. You're freezing. Look, would you just stop – "

But she won't, even though her body is still shaking alarmingly; when he pushes her down on the bed she just seems to spiral further, rolling away and clumsily trying to kick again.

Finally he has no choice but to get on the bed with her, wrapping her in a bear hug of sorts to try to warm her and contain her at the same time.

Her body is worryingly cold against his, trembling violently.

"Let go of me," she hisses between chattering teeth.

"Would you just calm down?" he mutters into her damp hair. "People die of exposure, you know."

"So neither of us - got lucky this time."

She still manages to sound sarcastic with her teeth chattering so much she's barely recognizable, with spaces between her words that suggest the difficulty of breathing through her body's attempts to warm itself.

He pulls her closer, trying to contain her shivering.

"Addison, would you just- "

"Let go. Let go."

She restarts the chant, attempting a few more times to wrestle her way out of his hold before she finally seems to give up.

He's relieved at first, then somewhat concerned at how little she's moving.


She was the queen of dead man's float.

"Addison!" He turns her around to see her eyes are closed.

She could hold her breath longer than either Derek or Mark.


She could fool them all.

"Addison, wake up."

He pats her cheek firmly, then a little more firmly, and finally slaps her sharply enough that her eyes fly open.

"Stay with me," he says, automatically. He'd say it to anyone. To a patient, even.

She doesn't seem to notice his words.

"You hit me." She stares at him, her hand rising toward the blossoming rosiness on one cheek.

"I didn't hit you. I was just trying to wake you up." He shakes his head. "You need to take off your pajamas."

She's a little sluggish to respond and he shakes her shoulders.


"Just - leave me alone," she mutters. "I'm leaving."

"Damn it, Addison." He shakes his head. "Why do you have to make everything so hard?"

He's still holding her shoulders; she's still shaking.

"You're the one - who tried to - freeze me to death."

"And now I'm trying to un-freeze you, so would you just let me help you take off your wet things already!"

She makes no effort. Impatiently, he slides off the bed and then pulls her toward him and starts unbuttoning her pajama top himself. She slaps his hands down, annoyed, but when she tries to do it herself her fingers are still shaking too badly to manage. Then it's his turn to push her hands away so he can finish the job himself.

He strips off his own clothes next, summoning his outdoor exposure training. By the time he finishes she's staggered to her feet, arms wrapped around her bare chest.

He turns back to the bed. The blankets are still crumpled at its foot; the sense memory of jerking the covers off her when he arrived back at the trailer hits him.

She hasn't moved much, her hands hanging useless at her sides now. He can see red smudges on her upper arms; he decides they're from the necessary roughness of hauling her back into the trailer, of trying to calm her once inside.

It's a quick hook of two fingers before the damp silk pants puddle at her feet. When she still doesn't move, he grasps her forearms, purposefully, to guide her toward the bed.

She's pliant – and cold, so cold it nearly burns his hands to touch her – and then she stops, looking over a bare white shoulder at him.

"What are you doing?"

"Trying to warm you up."

Her eyes travel the length of him, apparently noticing they're both naked. "Derek…"

"It's the fastest way to warm someone up," he reminds her, feeling oddly awkward about it, someone he's been naked with more times than he could count.

She resists. She was easier to move when she was more sluggish, although being more alert is probably better all around. Still, he declines to respond to his name when she protests, concentrating on muscling her into the bed instead. He drops down beside her before she can move much, draws the blankets up over both of them, and pulls her into his arms.

"What are you - doing?" she asks again, her voice higher now, laced with anxiety. Ice-cold hands push on his bare chest, on his arms.

"I said, I'm trying to warm you up. You're freezing. It was cold out there."

"It's spring."

"And it's damp, and the temperature dropped overnight, and you weren't dressed for the weather."

He doesn't let himself feel guilt. He wasn't trying to hurt her; he was trying to prove a point.

That's all.

He reminds himself of his … rightness as he holds her stiff, cold body against his. She's still shaking, in a way that concerns him: little shudders from each individual portion of her body and then larger ones that rattle her entire frame. He pulls her closer, trying to still her trembling and warm her skin at the same time.

He massages her icy fingers, gently, but she still hisses uncomfortably.

"I'm sorry," he says automatically.

"Me too," she says after a moment.

He continues to rub warmth into her hand.

"Are you really?" he asks after a moment. "Sorry, I mean."

"Are you?" she counters.

He doesn't say anything, just takes her other hand in his to try to warm it. It's her left, and the stones cut into his fingers.


When she goes quiet, too quiet (she's never quiet), he speaks her name.

"I'm tired," she says.

"I know. Stay awake anyway."

"You didn't," she reminds him.

"I'm awake now," he points out.

"I'm warm enough. Let me – sleep." Her words are still staggered, though, and he doesn't let her.

"You threw me out," she says softly, a few minutes later.

"But I brought you back," he counters.


She's getting warmer.

It's physiological. Bare skin against bare skin: just like he was taught.

It's physiological, and it's working.

It's so gradual he wouldn't notice except for a few small things: the spaces between her words grow shorter, the chattering teeth that distorted her familiar voice slow down, his own shaking – induced by the shivers of her body pressed flush against his – lessens.

"Better?" he asks her quietly. She's settled on him now, not struggling anymore. The thighs that have draped over his are still cold, but not terrifyingly so. The chilled flesh of her cheek has come to balance with the skin of his shoulder, his neck.

She's not so icy now and he's not so warm.

"Better?" He repeats question when she's silent.

"Than what?" she asks finally.

It's enough of an Addison response-non-response that it answers his question.


It's physiological.

That's all.

The blood he's massaged back into her hands, her arms, has made her warmer, maybe calmer too, because the weight of her on him is heavier now.

More of her touching more of him.

He's a man. That's all.

A naked man in bed with a naked woman, who happens to be – technically speaking, anyway – his wife.

Technically speaking.

But the emotional distance between them – the technicality of it all – is compromised now by sheer physical proximity. His anger hasn't vanished, even if some of it has elided with the fear he felt when he saw her crumpled in the grass. It's still there, quietly throbbing like a heartbeat even as he can't seem to help responding to the silky skin of her thigh against his. The persistent trembling in her body is far slower now, but he can still feel each vibration of muscle against him. He's clutching her tightly to his chest, and the pebbled skin that brushes his own is making him hypersensitive to her touch.

"Derek," she says quietly.

It's all she says.

He doesn't want to hear any more; he fists a hand in her still-damp hair and drags her head far enough back from his shoulder that he can capture her lips with his. Her lips are cold but her mouth is warm – hot, even – and the contrast is enough to banish any thought of keeping his response discreet.


It's all she says again, breathy this time, when he's let her go. One hands is still knotted in her hair; her lips are redder, swollen, when she speaks his name.

"Do you want me to stop?" he asks.

He looks at her face when he asks it, as if to confirm that she knows what he means: Last chance to back away.

As if to confirm that she knows that he knows he can't really mean that.

As if to confirm that they both know he actually does.

Slowly, within the confines of his grip on her hair, she shakes her head.

Side to side.


And it's enough.

His flexing fingers to contract around the damp strands that thread between them, exposing the soft skin of her jaw.

Her cold fingertips trace the muscles of his back, first carefully and then less so.

(She'll leave marks. Addison always leave marks, even when they're invisible.)

His lips track her unsteady breaths, the butterfly of her pulse under his mouth.

For long breathy moments they transition, like this, exploring.

And then the dam bursts: he flips them both over, covers her still-colder body with his still-warmer one and swallows her gasp of surprise. She arches under him, a version of the way she struggled when he pushed her onto the bed earlier, and he feels a drip of shame along with the flood of arousal. He holds her down for a moment – for one minute – because he can, and imprints the skin of her neck hard enough to make her hiss.

Hard enough to remind her that she was his first.

That whatever they are now, and whatever happened in the blank two months of space that intercut their marriage like a missing tooth –

She was his.

First, she was his.

She writhes, kicks with icy feet, and he spreads his thighs wide enough to pin her to the mattress. Her breath is pounding over him in waves. Every arch of her back drives her hips against his and he can see her fighting the sensations. She twists her wrists within his fists.

"Let go," she says.

He does.

He lets go of her just long enough to take holds of her again, to seize her trembling wrists and stretch her arms out to either side of the flushed skin of her chest.

Her palms are facing upward, like surrender.

Derek, please.

"You love this," he says.

It sounds like an accusation.

Maybe it is.

Either way, she doesn't deny it.


It's physiological, that's all.




And it's new.

It's new … but it's not.

They've had sex since Mark, but not like this.

They've had blank, dutiful sex.

They've had technically competent but distracted sex.

They've had the kind of sex you have after eleven years of marriage where the afterglow is sixty percent memories of youth to forty percent secrets you'll never tell.

They've gone through the motions. Perhaps, once or twice, a hair beyond.

But nothing like this.

This is what they used to do.

(This is what they've never done.)

Fighting for breath and dominance all at once, leaving scarlet trails down the side of her neck, the kind of coupling that, in New York, would sometimes follow a fight.

The kind of coupling that is sometimes indistinguishable from a fight.

He forgets that she was cold until her still chilled thighs threaten to cut off his own circulation; he forgets the marks he saw on her arms and he pins her wrists over her thrashing head until she surrenders.

She is stronger than she looks – and warmer too.

A core of heat that saved her, out in the woods, maybe.

A core of strength that could save them both … maybe.

They cover the space of the mattress, dampening the sheet even as they pull it loose from its hospital corners. He drags her back when she threatens to thrash right off the side; she crawls over his back and sinks her teeth in where shoulder meets neck. He bucks but she hangs on, cold forearm pressed to his neck.

He lets her, knowing she'll soften and as soon as she does he tosses her off him easily, pins her to the mattress and kisses her deeply enough that she has to shove at him for air.

She was the first one, for him, to weaponize a simple kiss. Anything was a competition with Addison, anything and everything. I'm going to kiss you. Not if I kiss you first.

They were so young.

They're not young anymore.

She uses her teeth more than he prefers; he pulls on her hair harder than she likes.

She kisses him like she's looking for something; he takes back control, gripping the sides of her head to hold her still and sweeping unfamiliar corners of her mouth. He takes a handful of hair to free up his other hand and feels her whole body contract when he reaches his destination. Fifteen years – sixteen? Almost sixteen. In almost sixteen years you learn exactly how to touch someone.

How to touch them when you want something.

How to touch them when you need something.

How to touch them when it's about them, how to touch them when it's about you.

How to touch them so you win.

He's just this side of hurting her – millimeters, fractions, the kind of you get after sixteen years, the kind you don't get after a one-night stand.

Not even one that lasted for two months.

"Derek. Derek."

She gasps it against his mouth; he doesn't stop the movement of his hand, but he does pull back enough to look in her eyes.

She's scarlet-faced, undone, sweaty tendrils of hair stuck to her long neck, glaring pinpricks of red along her chest.

Sex isn't pretty.

Not like this.

Not the way they do it.

She's panting for breath, draws a shaking hand across her mouth.

"Are you done?" she asks.

"Are you?" he counters.

Neither of them answers.


Here's what he doesn't ask: can he do this for you?

Here's what she doesn't answer: no.


She's slippery with sweat, but he's still holding on.


She says it almost shyly, almost teasingly, almost inaudibly because he's buried beneath the covers; in response, he buries himself in her, seeking warmth, holding her hard against the mattress when her body jerks under his lips.

He plays her like a familiar instrument until her shudders have nothing to do with cold and then he crawls back up her shaking body and covers her lips with a kiss that tastes only half-welcome.

And he only half minds.

When he draws back she's looking at him, her gaze intense.

"I might hate you," she confesses.

Her voice isn't shaking anymore, but she still doesn't sound particularly convincing, which might be because her still chilly hand – but Addison's hands are always chilly, her hands and her feet – has worked its way down his body and wrapped around his heated flesh.

"Yeah, I might hate you too." He pulls his fingers through her hair – it's damp, more perspiration than rain now, starting to frizz as it dries. He likes it this way, better than the stiff curls she prefers. He's a tactile person. He needs to feel her, taste her, remember her scent to recall the person underneath the portrait. Those times were starting to feel fewer and farther between back in Manhattan.

Her body is vibrating.

"Tired?" he asks.

"No." She's twisting the hair at the base of his neck, a little more tightly than he'd like. "Are you?"

"No," he admits.

But don't overexert yourself after exposure. He remembers this – from scouts or medical training or some combination. So he scans the blush rising in her cheekbones, hears her staggered breathing, feels the perspiration in the hollow of her collarbones.

With his tongue.

She tastes like salt.

She seems … sweet. That's what you were going for, wasn't it? The anti-Addison?

He flips her over, pinning her to the mattress, punishing her for a memory she can't see. His fingers hover at the base of her neck – she's breathing rapidly, but doesn't struggle. They played this way sometimes when they were young and stupid. Everyone's immortal at twenty-five.

Even the ones who don't survive.

He just turns them both half around, needing more but willing to take on more of the exertion, and then drags her back against him so they're both on their sides.

"You don't want to look at me," she challenges; she's not looking at him either, but he doesn't point it out.

He doesn't dignify it with a response at all, or wait for her signal, just moves them even closer until he's sheathed in heat so intense he thinks this must have been the key to warming her in the first place.

For long moments they exchange no words, speaking only with their bodies: his flexing hips and the minuscule movement of her muscles drawing him in. He has to force himself to take it slowly, to keep the covers around them. They're hardly moving at all and yet whatever don't overexert yourself fantasy he might have had is long gone. Their muscles are trembling in tandem, his and hers; it takes immense force to counter each other. To move this little.

What happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object?

He's in control, gripping her firmly against him, deciding the angle and speed of his hips. But the softness of her flesh against him is a paradox; inside, where her core of strength frightens him sometimes, she's the one in control.

They battle for stamina, like they used to. He doesn't touch her. That's cheating.

(And cheaters never win.)

Hands are off limits. It's hips only.

She'll tire out first, after her ordeal, and he'll feel guilty.


Except she doesn't. She braces herself to take him and he finds himself having to slow down.

"Give up?" she asks.

"Do you give up?" he counters.


"You don't feel cold anymore," he observes, finally breaking their joint panting silence, releasing his lips where they'd sealed themselves to her neck.

It's a cheap joke, the kind of thing he might have used to make her laugh in medical school, when sex was still half giggling at the newness of their intimacy.

He tried to use the idea of this to get her to go camping with him, he remembers. It's a different challenge, for two people who tended toward the acrobatic and the creative, to move as little as possible … but move together.

He doesn't give up.

She doesn't win.

The covers stay around their shoulders as he eases his hips carefully, holding one of her trembling thighs in his hand. It's cool to the touch but not terribly so.

He's slower now, more gentle – not purposefully. Maybe he's tired too.

Maybe their exertion is each other's.

She's not helping much, but not protesting either. And she's not shaking anymore. And then she's shaking again – but not with cold – when he draws her back against him with more pressure than force and lets gravity finish his work while his teeth decorate her bare sweating shoulder.

(She's not the only one who leaves marks.)


"You scared me," she says.

She's been so quiet, for so long, that he assumed she'd fallen asleep. She's not in his arms, exactly, more like arranged carelessly against him, long limbs everywhere, like laundry she forgot to fold.

You scared me, that's what she says.

He doesn't ask: when?

And she doesn't clarify.

It could be the night in New York when she cowered on the stairs. It could be tonight's muted repeat performance. It could be realizing how close she came to the woods she's never liked actually taking her life instead of just ruining it. It could be the way they battled for dominance on the damp forgiving mattress, her head pressed into the pillow.

"You scared me too," he says.

She doesn't respond.


He makes her a cup of tea.

He can't remember the last time he made her a cup of tea – and he certainly didn't buy the teabags that have found their way into his kitchen cupboard – but he does own a kettle and he turns it on and waits for it to boil.

The mug is steaming when he hands it to her.

She takes a sip. "It's too hot."

"Just drink it, Goldilocks. Beggars can't be choosers."

"You're mixing metaphors, Derek," she says.

"And you're trying my patience, Addison." He points to the mug. "Drink."

She starts to say something, then stops and takes a sip of tea.

And then another.

She holds the mug in her hands, the tag dangling over the side, and stares into it like she's looking for answers.

Slowly, he eases himself down next to her, shoulder to shoulder with he thick robe wrapped around her body.

She drinks quietly, occasionally shifting her gaze outside the trailer, and then staring back into her cup.

"Do you still want me to leave tonight?" she asks, not looking at him.

"Do you still want to leave tonight?" he asks.

Neither of them answers.

She stays seated, slowly drinking her tea. It's so quiet in the trailer he can hear the faint creaking of its metal sides, the quiet tapping of the pipes.

He's not sure how much time passes before his eye is caught by a little patch of light crawling its way across the narrow trailer couch. He can see she's noticed it too, and knows what it means: the sun is coming up.

It's a new day.