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falling for you and you're worlds away

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Taxi cabs and busy streets
That never bring you back to me
I can't help but wish you took me with you

And this is when the feeling sinks in
I don't wanna miss you like this
Come back, be here
Come back, be here

 

“Walk you home?”

Kai’s voice breaks Amelia out of her own thoughts and she blinks, refocusing on where she is, refocusing on them looking at her with raised eyebrows with a faint concern on their face.

For a second, she thinks about saying no. She thinks about it, because the two of them have got a good thing going here, within the walls of this lab. But outside, beyond that- there’s something charged when they leave. It becomes uncertain, and it scares her, and she’s been trying out rationality lately as an idea, as something to work on. 

But it’s this day in particular, of all the days, when she just wants to say yes. And Kai’s been looking at her like that more and more recently, like she’s some complex puzzle they’re trying to work out, and she just doesn’t know what to do with that really. 

“Sure,” is instead what she lands on with a half smile, and they raise their eyebrows in a silent question at that moment of hesitation. But Amelia just shakes her head a little, the universal gesture for another time, and they let it go. 

They’re in the cold of the evening less than five minutes later, and she’s never been more simultaneously glad and pissed off that the hotel is so close. She is glad however, that she'd thought to bring a jacket. 

Her arm brushes Kai’s as they walk and it’s a comfortable sort of quiet, it always is here. It’s barely a walk to the hotel, a direct line down one of the quieter streets of the city centre. So she doesn’t need them here, not really but- it’s nice, and it’s become a habit. 

And as habits go, Amelia reminds herself, it's certainly not the worst.

“When’s your flight home?” Kai asks her as their arms touch for a second again, and it takes her three seconds to remember she’s supposed to answer that question with actual English words, preferably in a coherent sentence. Get it together Shepherd. 

“Tomorrow morning,” she says with a faint smile, and they just nod, glancing at her with something almost unreadable lingering in their eyes.

“Shame,” they say, carefully neutral, and something in her stomach flips, and fuck being casual and calm when they keep unknowingly knocking the air out of her. “Can we take a raincheck for drinks?”

She smiles slightly, not letting herself overthink or second guess the next words. “I don’t drink.”

Kai, to their credit, doesn’t miss a single beat, just smiling at her in a way that makes her knees feel weak. “Okay, so dinner then.”

Amelia blinks, still a little confused. “We had dinner plans?”

Kai just gives her a smile, lifting a shoulder in an imitation of a shrug, and she can’t take her eyes off them, the grace that makes up every movement. “We could have dinner plans.”

She bites back a smile, some unsaid tension in her shoulders dissipating at the calm of all of this, of them. “Oh yeah?”

They turn fully, fingers brushing her elbow as they pull her to a gentle stop outside the hotel. She’s been too caught up in the conversation to realise where they are, feels something a lot like a jolt of electricity at the contact, even through the jacket, sparks lighting across her skin.

“Maybe when you haven’t got a flight to catch the next day,” Kai murmurs as she turns to face them, and she realises they’re still holding her arm. She thinks they notice at the same time, their hand drops a moment later, but their eyes are still steady on hers. They seem taller here, and Amelia clamps down on the urge to step closer. “That way there’s no rush.”

“Yeah,” she breathes, searching their face for something she can’t quite pin down, wondering if she’s reading too far, isn’t reading enough. Something in their eyes is sparkling. “I’d like that.”

She doesn’t know when it started snowing, but they look so goddamn beautiful here, smiling at her in the middle of the city. There’s something in her that doesn’t want to leave now, that doesn’t want to go to bed and let this moment pass , one where Kai is looking at her like she’s someone worth seeing, really seeing.

“Do you want to-” Amelia cuts herself off before the rest of the sentence gets out, before she does something insane and irrational. But Kai is just looking at her with a gentle sort of curiosity in their eyes. “I just meant-” she knows what she meant, she thinks they do too. “It’s snowing.”

There are three seconds of silence, the silence that comes hand in hand with decisions, and then Kai pushes open the door to the lobby with a half smile, stepping inside and holding it open for her. “Sure, I’ll wait it out for a bit.”

The warmth hits her immediately as they make their way up to her floor, a comfortable quiet falling again. Her door comes into view and too quickly for her to keep up and then Kai is saying goodnight with those goddamn eyes, that look that feels a little bit like she’s drowning.

“Your flight,” they remind her gently after a second, and she just nods, hesitating for a moment. Another heartbeat of the charged, electric silence that’s been hanging between them all night, every concept of rational thinking is diving right out of Amelia’s head. Fuck smart decision making when Kai is standing in front of her like that and smiling at her like that

“Shepherd?”

“Flight can wait,” Amelia says quietly, heart pounding, and something flares to life in their eyes. She doesn’t really know who moves first, but for once she’s not stopping to think. She’s just tangling her fingers in their hair and their hands are on her hips and they’re kissing her breathless in the dim light of the hall.

Kai’s grip on her waist is tight as they press her back against the door, and this isn’t slow and sweet it’s all tongue and teeth and they’re everywhere, hands sliding under the hem of her shirt, but somehow it’s all so gentle something in her feels like it’s about to break and- 

And then they’re pulling away, one hand reaching past her for the door handle and clicking it open with a flash of a smile, and Amelia still feels like her knees are about to give out.

“What are you-” she’s trying to catch her breath, trying to wrap her head around what just happened and wanting absolutely nothing more than to pull them straight past the threshold and towards the bed that’s about five feet behind her currently, really it’s the only thing she does want to do right now.

“It’s late,” they say with that same smile, and they’re playing with her, a quiet amusement dancing in their eyes, hands still tight on her waist. “You should get some rest, it’s past midnight.”

Amelia just stares at them for a long second, processing the words, heart still racing. She feels suddenly uncertain, a little shaky, and the last thing on her mind right now is rest . Rest? “You kissed me.”

They’re giving her a look that’s making her face feel hot, but there’s something steady in their eyes too as they draw patterns into her hips, fingers tracing over the skin under her shirt. Warmth, they’re so warm, and god she’s never considered herself desperate but she’s feeling pretty close to that right now. “Well technically you kissed me. I just encouraged it.”

“And now you want to leave?” She's toeing the line between a faint annoyance and amusement now, hyper aware of how close they are, how little space there is between them.

They laugh quietly, kissing her again, slowly this time. She can feel their fingers on her jaw, their hand on the side of her neck, and suddenly her knees feel fucking weak. 

“You asking me to stay for a sleepover Shepherd?” They murmur, and Jesus, she doesn’t have the self control for this. 

Amelia hums, fingers brushing over the nape of their neck, tugging them down into another kiss. 

“Maybe,” she whispers against their lips, and their eyes are dark when they pull away. 

“Don’t people say something about the value of patience?”

“Didn’t we establish that I'm not a patient person?”

They laugh, ducking their head a little, and suddenly Amelia isn’t sure she could call it no strings with them looking at her like this, all these damn butterflies in her stomach. Her head spins a little, and all she can think about is how they’re so beautiful it hurts . And there’s a part of her unwilling to rush, to jump too hard, fall too fast.

She lets them step back this time, slipping their hands into the pockets of their jacket as they flash her a grin. “I’ll see you in a couple of days.”

“Yeah,” she says quietly, biting back another smile, she can’t stop fucking smiling and their eyes look like goddamn stars. “Okay.”

Kai gives her a half smile that’s achingly soft when she meets their gaze again. “Happy birthday Amelia.”

They’re walking away before she realises it’s the first time they haven't called her Shepherd, and out of sight before she has a chance to ask them how they know it’s today.

 

Kai starts picking her up from the airport when she lands in Minnesota. 

It starts slowly, a claimed mix up, wanting to see her, needing to pick her brain about work, so what if I want to kiss you in my car? So what if i drive you to your hotel, if you stay an hour, if you stay the night, if-

Within a month it’s just a time for them to drive for an hour, to sit, to breathe. They’re good company even beyond the obvious, make her laugh, make her feel awake. 

It’s a different Kai from the colleague she knows from work, someone whose eyes are just as deep, just as dark, but a little softer too. 

It’s someone she’s been seeing more of recently. 

 

“Anything interesting in there?” Kai murmurs, dragging their fingers through her hair as she flips over to the next page of the case file and tries in vain to focus on the work in front of her. 

Amelia gives in and closes her eyes for a second, letting a feeling of calm wash over her that’s becoming more and more familiar. They’re in Kai’s apartment, a little over a month after that first kiss. Her head is resting in their lap and she’s trying desperately not to fall asleep there and then, tension easing out of her shoulders. 

“No,” she says after another second of that peaceful silence, shifting slightly to get more comfortable. “Mostly minor procedures.”

Kai hums in answer, untangling a knot gently, fingers graceful, careful. “Are you staying tonight?”

Amelia opens her eyes, watching the look of quiet concentration on their face as they start braiding strands of her hair together. 

“I’ve got a hotel room,” she says carefully, setting the case file to one side, suddenly uncertain in a way she hasn’t been in a while, uncertain about where she stands, where they stand. “I can-”

“You could stay” they say, expression carefully neutral as they finish one braid and move onto the second, the feel of it strangely soothing and god, she’s down bad for them. “Saves you paying for that room.”

If she’s honest, Amelia has no desire to move from here, doesn’t want to leave this apartment that smells of vanilla and feels for the first time like a place where she’s safe. But- but the uncertainty is still there, the hesitation. 

“It’s not an issue really, i can just-”

They cut across her gently, something soft in their voice. “Amelia. It’s late, you’re half asleep here. Just stay the night, stay for as long as you need. It’s not a problem or a burden, okay?

She looks up, searches their face for it, for the lie, the catch, something. But there’s nothing apart from a quiet sort of calm, and that familiar look of something so warm in their eyes. 

“Okay,” she whispers, and this time she lets herself lean into their touch fully as they brush hair away from her face, closing her eyes again. “Okay.”

 

Less than four months after Kai Bartley kissed her senseless for the first time, she’s sitting on one of the counters in the lab with a takeout cup of coffee, just watching them work. Should she be doing her own work? Sure. But she’s enjoying herself far too much just watching, taking in the look of focus on their face, the piercings glittering up and down their ears, the way they move, graceful even in such a professional environment. 

After a minute, the tapping of keys stops and they look up from their computer, raising their eyebrows in silent question. Amelia just shrugs, taking a sip of her coffee with a half smile, eyes flicking over their face. They’re made of softened angles in the half light here, a strand of hair falling forwards into their face. 

The tapping of keys returns, but then after another few seconds it stops, and Amelia hears the telltale sign of a computer shutting down. She watches Kai as they walk towards her, as they make their way over to where she’s sitting on the counter top, coming to stand between her legs. 

“And what are you looking at?” They ask with that quiet smile, hands bracing on her hips. They always have warm hands, she can feel the contact through her shirt. 

Amelia puts her coffee down deliberately slowly, reaching up to drag her fingers through their hair, brushing it back as they lean absentmindedly into the touch. These moments they share here are quiet, so quiet they feel almost sacred. 

“I like watching you work,” she says eventually, swallowing a little, suddenly feeling nervous, like she’s been caught doing something she shouldn’t. 

They raise their eyebrows again, expression gently teasing.

“Shepherd, we work together pretty much every day.” 

“Don’t be a smartass.”

A flash of a smile, this one is a little sharper, and their answer comes in the form of a kiss, then another, and their hands are sliding down her hips and onto her thighs and oh she’s really not going to get anything else done tonight. 

Amelia closes her eyes as she melts into it and their grip tightens, and then Kai is kissing her like it’s their only objective of the day, like the two of them aren’t trying to cure something almost entirely incurable on a ticking clock. It’s only when her jacket is halfway across the lab and her shirt is about three seconds away from following that she somehow finds it in her to pull away. 

“We are not having sex in the neuro lab,” Amelia says, breathless, heart racing, really wishing that the walls weren’t made of glass right now. 

Kai just gives her that goddamn look again, and their hair is a mess and their smile is edged with something a little dangerous and downright sinful , and now all she can fucking think about is just how badly she does want to have sex in the neuro lab.

They flash her a grin. “You sure? These are very clean surfaces.”

“We’re at work.”

“Oh please, it’s after hours.”

Amelia laughs, the sound bright, and it breaks the simmering tension hanging between them as she leans forward, resting her head against their shoulder. 

“Aren’t you the one preaching patience all the time?”

She can feel warm fingers trailing over her own. “Never said I wasn’t going to be a hypocrite with you looking like this.”

“Dr Bartley, are you trying to sweet talk me into sex?” She murmurs against their skin, knows they can feel the smile even without seeing it. 

They brush her hair back from her face, hand curving across her jaw to tilt her face up gently. 

“No comment. Is it working?”

Amelia bites back a smile, their hands are warmer than she expected as they lean down to kiss her again, lips gentle. “No.”

“Then absolutely not, I’d never do such a thing.”

“Oh I’m sure,” she says, tugging gently to pull them closer, all previous objections rapidly disappearing. “A real saint.” 

“Now that’s just a little insulting,” Kai says with a smirk, ducking their head to kiss her again, this time with a new sort of intensity that takes her breath away. It’s only when they pull her shirt over her head with a surprising amount of speed, hands everywhere in a way that makes her toes curl, that Amelia thinks oh, and that saint might not have been the right word to use at all. 

 

She starts staying at Kai’s when she’s in Minnesota. 

There’s no process to this, it just happens. Slowly at first, a gentle request that she stay the night, and then suddenly she isn’t booking hotel rooms at all, and she knows her way around their kitchen without having to ask where anything is. They cook her dinner sometimes, food that makes something in her feel warm, feel safe .

It’s safe here, the whole place smells like vanilla, and there are windows that look out over the city, hundreds of twinkling lights to watch when she’s not quite ready to sleep. And this thing, whatever they were, whatever they started as, gradually softens into something more

It’s weeks later when Kai finds her in the kitchen just after four in the morning, staring at a mug of tea. They’ve got a day of running tests in the morning, but she can’t get her brain to shut off, and it’s too late to drag herself out to a meeting. One side of the mug is her phone, messages still lit up on it, the other is the tiny metal chip that doesn’t often leave her wallet.

It’s quiet tonight, quiet enough that she hears their footsteps as they approach, but she doesn’t quite care enough to acknowledge it. 

“Amelia?”

She knows dimly that it’s- well, worrying to someone who doesn’t know the full story, worrying even with the full story. Maybe more so. Their voice makes her blink out of the heaviness for a moment and reach for the tea cooling rapidly in front of her. 

“Hey,” she says quietly, forcing a smile, and Kai’s gaze is scanning her face, a faint semblance of worry here. They’re not convinced, she can see that much from their eyes. 

“You okay?” They say quietly, and she just shrugs, dodging the question more easily than she’d care to admit. 

“Did I wake you?” Amelia says quietly, twisting in her seat quietly to face Kai properly, noting the concern visible in their eyes. She waits for the questions, for the pushing, for the curiosity layered with-

They shake their head, and the questions never come. All they do is step around the counter to take a second mug from the cupboard, and she watches them in silence as they reach for the battered box of tea bags she’d found, dropping one in. A minute later, they push themselves up onto the counter opposite her, taking a sip of the tea, and that's it. 

It’s raining outside, she can hear it against the window. It’s gentle, but it’s persistent. 

“My mom’s in New York for a week,” Amelia says quietly, eyes flicking up to meet Kai’s, and they’re still not pushing her, she doesn’t think they will. “Staying with my sisters.”

They just nod, nod like maybe they get some of this, maybe they can hear the undertones without an explanation, like maybe it’s something that would pull them out of sleep for a while too. 

“Are you going to see her?” They ask quietly, because every moment here is quiet. Softer. 

“She wants to see me,” Amelia says, closing her eyes with a sigh. “Dinner. Said they’d pay for the flight and everything. I don’t have a good track record with family dinners.”

When she looks again, Kai meets her eyes and she’s surprised to see a gentle sort of amusement there. 

“Don’t think many people have a good family dinner track record.”

Amelia hums quietly. “My sisters are a whole new breed, there are three of them. I think the last few years just made them worse. But they’re not in the same city often.”

Kai’s watching her carefully now, and she gets the distinct impression that they’re trying to read all of those unsaid words she’s not quite managed to get out. 

“So, dinner?”

She shakes her head. “Same problem as always. If I don’t go when they suggest it, I’ll regret it when I see them next. It’ll become a thing, and I like to avoid that where possible.”

“Okay,” they say, tilting their head to one side. “So when are we going?”

She blinks. “What?”

Kai offers her a half smile, and she wonders for a moment if they realise just how beautiful they really are, if that’s something they can see.

“Dinner. You think I’d let you deal with that shit alone?” There’s something dancing in their eyes, something brilliant. “Plus I love a challenge, and it’s an excuse to dress up.”

Amelia blinks against a sudden burning in her eyes, because she knows that dressing up isn’t the reason they’re asking to come. And she wants to say yes, badly. But she also knows that dinner comes with history, and history comes with- everything, all of it.

“They’re lethal Kai, and New York is more than just a drive away, you don’t have to-”

“I’ve dealt with a fair share of lethal,” they say with that same smile, softer now, and she thinks that there’s a chance this could be a good thing, maybe, if she let it. “It’s dinner, you fly that much more than twice a week. We’re both due a break, why not make a weekend out of it.”

Amelia searches their face for a long second, trying to find the joke there. But there’s nothing, and as she says yes, tells Kai that they’re okay to come with, a part of her wonders if she should stop waiting for the catch, stop searching for something that isn’t there. 

“Okay,” she says quietly, offering them a small smile, and they just incline their head, gaze steady as Amelia pushes to her feet and rinses out the mugs, something in her suddenly so exhausted.

She’s half-way to the door again when they stop her, voice still soft. 

“Amelia?”

She pauses at the clink of metal, as they pick up the chip she’d left on the side and make their way over. 

Something in her chest feels suddenly tight as their eyes flicker over her face, and there’s an uncertainty coiled in her stomach, a fear. She’s never hidden this part of her, not actively, but it’s not come up either, not like this.

But carefully, so carefully Amelia thinks she might fucking cry , Kai just reaches out and takes hold of her hand with that careful, familiar grip. She tries to remember how to breathe right as they press the small metal chip into her palm, curling her fingers around it gently. Their own are warm, soothing something restless in her. 

“It doesn’t bother me,” they say after a second of silence, hands still soft on her own. “None of it.” 

They search her eyes, and Amelia can’t find a lie there, can’t see anything other than how damn genuine they are, and it’s making something in her chest ache. 

“So if you ever want to talk,” Kai continues with a faint smile, letting go of her hands and stepping back slightly. “I’m here.”

It takes Amelia longer than she’d ever admit to swallow past the sudden tightness in her throat. 

“Thank you,” she says quietly, and that’s it. That’s all there is to it, all it takes. Kai just smiles a little, reaching out to push a strand of hair behind her ear, pressing a light kiss to her forehead. 

“You should get some sleep,” they say with that same half smile as they pull away, something softening in their gaze. “Crazy day tomorrow.”

She nods, leaning further into their touch and closing her eyes for a moment, exhaling slowly. 

“Can we just-” there are too many unspoken things, but she thinks Kai hears it without her saying it, because they just nod, pulling her closer in the quiet. 

 

Despite the reassurance, despite everything, she’s still wide awake for hours the night before they fly.

“You’re still awake,” they murmur as she twists slightly, pressing a kiss to the palm of her hand. “You okay?”

Amelia just nods, moving so that she’s closer, tucking her head further into the space between their shoulder and jawline. She feels safe here, in this moment. But sometimes her head doesn’t really care about safe , doesn’t want to know about those reassurances, the logic. 

“Yeah,” she whispers against their skin, closing her eyes against all those spinning thoughts. “Yeah I’m fine, go back to sleep.”

Kai shifts then, and she feels a sudden loss of warmth as they move away a little, turning to face her properly in bed. Their voice isn’t sleepy anymore, but still achingly soft, eyes searching hers in the half light of their room.

“You know you’re a shit liar right?”

She huffs a laugh, closing her eyes, and doesn’t really know what to say to that. “Yeah, well.”

“Hey.” Warmth again, and she feels their hand curve around her face, thumb brushing over her cheek. “I’m not going to push you. But you can talk to me, always.”

She leans into their touch, swallowing a sudden urge to cry. But it’s easier here, in the dark, when all she can feel is them, to let something give, let them in a little.

“I’m worried about dinner,” Amelia mumbles, taking their hand gently. They’re still wearing their rings, she can feel the lines of metal under her fingertips as she twists them absentmindedly.  “My sisters- it doesn’t end well with them, never has.”

Kai makes a faint humming noise, thumb tracing across her cheek slowly, just waiting. 

“They knew me at a time in my life that I don’t- There’s a lot I don’t talk about, that I don’t like to think about. And now I'm sober-” she shakes her head, and they don’t falter, haven’t faltered once. “They tend to talk about it on my behalf.”

“Amelia,” they say quietly, threading their fingers through her hair with a feather light touch, “Look,” a quiet exhale, and she realises that for the first time in god knows how long, she doesn’t feel like she’s bracing herself before, during and after every difficult conversation. She just listens, breathes . “I don’t know the full story, and you’re under no obligation to tell me. I'm not going to think any less of you, not because of anything they could say.”

“You might,” she whispers, blinking against a sudden burning in her eyes. “They do.”

“You’re not boxed in as who they perceive you to be, and I’m not them,” Kai says, something so steady in their gaze as they tilt her chin up gently to meet their eyes, and she knows there’s something more important than she wants to admit in those words. “Come on, trust me.”

She leans into that touch, nodding slightly. “You know I do. I just don’t trust them.”

“Well,” they say quietly, “I’ve got your back with them tomorrow. Worst case scenario we walk out of there early.”

She laughs a little at that. “I have a track record of walking out on these dinners early.” 

“Then it won’t be too much of a shock,” they say with a half smile. “But that's the worst case.”

“Right,” Amelia breathes, closing her eyes again and just listening to the sounds of the city alive around them, trying to let herself relax, “It’ll be fine.”

You’re not boxed in as who they perceive you to be.

Kai hums, tucking her hair behind her ear, voice soft. 

“You’re by Lake Washington in the spring,” they say softly, and she can’t help but smile a little, keeping her eyes shut. “The sun rises slowly, it’s just about warm enough that you don’t need a jacket.” 

Amelia lets herself relax a little, tucking her head into the space between their shoulder and neck and just breathing. For the first time in a while, she just breathes. 

“You can feel the sun on your skin,” they whisper. “There’s a calm here as the light hits the water. You can breathe easily here.”

Amelia doesn’t open her eyes, feels them press a kiss to the top of her head as she drifts off to sleep. 

 

New York is beautiful as it gets close to Christmas, beautiful in a sort of untouchable, unreal way. It’s making her nerves feel frayed, that familiar whisper of run, run, run crawling up her spine in the cold air of the evening as they pay the driver and climb out of the taxi.

But as Kai’s arm curves around her waist, tugging her closer as they make their way up the drive to Nancy’s house, some of those jarring nerves settle. They look incredible in blue tonight, and she brushes a strand of hair out of their eyes, reaching up to kiss them briefly. Their fingers graze her hip, a silent reassurance as she takes a deep breath, asks for any semblance of courage, and rings the doorbell. 

She counts all of two seconds before the door opens, and then suddenly Nancy is tugging her inside with the fakest darling, you made it! Amelia’s ever heard in her fucking life. 

She’s lost Kai’s hand somewhere in the chaos of her sisters, and as she untangles herself from Nancy, she spots Liz’s dark head disappear into the kitchen, the sight quickly replaced by her mother. 

“Let’s have a look at you,” she says with that smile that still reminds Amelia so much of Derek, and Amelia gives and lets her mother spin her around, examining her hair, her face. “You seem well.”

She smiles a little, and feels a warmth at her back as Kai steps back into range, touching her waist lightly. She sees her mother’s face shift into something more surprised, smoothing out in another split second. 

“And this is-”

“Kai Bartley,” they say with that quiet smile, “a pleasure. This is a beautiful house.”

Nancy laughs at that, pleased as she ushers them towards the kitchen, and Amelia remembers to brace herself as Kathleen comes into view, bottle of wine in hand. At least, she tells herself ruefully, you know she hasn’t changed much. 

Her sister has never been much of a hugger, and Amelia can’t say she’s sad about it as Kathleen smiles, eyes flickering between the two of them, lingering on where Kai’s hand is light on the small of her back.

“You bought a guest.” There’s a pointed pause, and Amelia isn’t a violent person, she isn’t, but she has the sudden overwhelming urge to hit her for that look. “Not who I expected.”

It’s not a question, but it’s certainly a loaded statement. Amelia just forces herself to do nothing more than nod with a faint smile, raising her eyebrows and biting back the rather powerful impulse to tell her sister where to shove whatever opinion is currently sitting on the tip of her tongue.

“Yeah well, it’s been a while.”

“It certainly has,” Kathleen mutters, but then her face smooths out again. “Well, at least it gives me a chance to open the wine when you’re late, that way we avoid any awkwardness .”

Amelia fights to keep her expression neutral, forcing herself to breathe, and Kai’s grip tightens almost inexplicably.

It’s just dinner. One night.   

You’re not boxed in as who they perceive you to be.

“Well, I wouldn't want you to feel uncomfortable on my account,” she says after a moment of quiet, and she can feel Kai’s gaze on her, a silent sort of comfort as Kathleen just hums. 

“I think there might still be some soda in the fridge,” her sister says with another one of those fucking saccharine smiles, taking the bottle of wine and heading back into the dining room, and bites back the urge to give the finger to her retreating form.

When she turns back to Kai, they’re looking at her with raised eyebrows and she just shakes her head, grabbing a bottle of sparkling water out of the fridge.

“Is she always like that?” they murmur, and Amelia just nods.

“Honestly? That was pretty mild by her standards,” she says with a grimace, gesturing towards the door. “Shall we?”

 

They get through two courses without major incident, and though no one is exactly being overly welcoming, there’s been no shouting, no swearing, and no broken glasses. Amelia’s just beginning to think that maybe, just maybe, it might be a dinner that doesn’t end in someone storming out. 

Kai is just reaching across the table to hand her a fruit bowl as Kathleen comes back from the kitchen with another bottle of wine, pulling the cork with a pop that makes Amelia’s nerves feel stupidly, inexplicably, infuriatingly frayed.

“There’s cream liqueur in those,” her sister says mildly, slipping back into her seat, and Kai’s hand pauses on the glass of the dish. “In case that’s not fine.”

Four sets of eyes snap to her, there’s something that feels a lot like a tight knot of anxiety growing in her chest, and she can feel the beginning of a headache forming. 

“You know it’s not fine,” Amelia says quietly, reaching for her glass of water, grateful her hands are still steady despite this, despite the fact that she can feel any lingering control of the evening slipping. A pause. “But thanks for the warning.”

“I didn’t think it would be that much of a big deal,” her sister says with another one of those smiles, glancing between the others with raised eyebrows. “But okay then.”

She can’t bring herself to look at Kai, can suddenly hear her heartbeat in her ears and- not a violent person Shepherd, breathe . “This isn’t me trying to be deliberately difficult.”

“Well that would be a first,” Nancy says, raising her eyebrows, because of course she has to get involved now. “It’s very much on par for the course, no?”

Amelia hates herself for taking the bait, for that nagging little part of her that wants to slam the self-destruct button just to get the inevitable out of the way faster. “Please,” she says, voice hard, and she still hasn’t looked at Kai. “Don’t hold back on my account.”

Nancy won’t jump at the chance so quickly, but she knows Kathleen will. And true to form, seconds later, her sister fills up her glass with a raised eyebrow.

“I’m not sure I even know where to start.”

“Get creative,” Amelia bites out, because this is inevitable, her patience is fraying alongside her nerves now, and maybe provoking her siblings has never been the smartest move, but she’s currently a little beyond caring.

Her sister just laughs quietly, and it’s a testament to how many times she’s heard it really, that their mother barely even reacts.

“Remember the time she drove Derek’s car drunk and crashed it because we disagreed about the colour of bridesmaid dresses?”

Liz’s eyes are flicking between the two of them like she’s watching a particularly interesting sports match, and she can feel Kai’s gaze on her and there’s a sudden kick of panic because they don’t know. Not fully, not really, not about everything.

“I was seventeen,” she says quietly, and maybe provoking this had been a mistake. Maybe. “I made amends for that a long time ago.”

“And did Addison ever find out about you getting high and sleeping with one of the staff at her wedding? Or is that another family secret.”

“Girls,” Carolyn says with a frown. “Is this-”

“Yes,” Amelia cuts across her mother, something scathing creeping into her tone, and Kathleen’s blue gaze is steady on hers. She’s got lighter eyes than Derek had, there’s a closer resemblance to ice.

“Yes to being too high to think straight?” A twist of a smile. “Or yes to telling Addison about that particular extra curricular.”

Silence, and she feels Kai’s knee press gently against her own.

You’re not boxed in as who they perceive you to be.

“Yes to both,” Amelia says flatly, and suddenly she’s done, she’s exhausted and she wishes they’d never stepped foot in this damn house. “Finished?”

“If I kept going we’d be here all night,” her sister says with a cold laugh. “And you have a… guest.” She’s looking right at her, and she thinks that maybe it’s Kathleen who’s always been able to read her so well, maybe even more than Derek. “I wouldn’t want to bring up anything uncomfortable.”

“How considerate of you,” Kai says calmly as they reach for one of the discarded fruit bowls, speaking for the first time in a while, and there’s a beat of surprised silence from Kathleen before she keeps talking. 

“Definitely sleeping together,” she says with a laugh, and Amelia opens her mouth to tell her where to shove it, but Kai beats her to it. 

“Well thank god we cleared that up early on,” they say, quietly amused, but there’s something a lot shaper layered under their voice too, colder. “Wouldn’t want this dinner to be awkward.”

Kathleen blinks, and Amelia sees the resolve in her eyes before she opens her mouth again, and her stomach fucking drops. 

“Amelia knows a lot about awkward ,” her sister says smoothly, holding up a hand and ticking things off on her fingers with a smile that makes her feel sick. 

“Kathleen,” Liz says quietly, placating for once. “I don’t think-”

“She slept with three of my boyfriends,” Kathleen says, cutting her off, and even Nancy winces a bit. No one’s moving anymore, no one’s breathing. “Ruined every dinner we’ve ever had together, lied about your ex husband, screwed up my wedding, screwed up Addison’s wedding, got arrested, stole from Derek, stole from me. Do I need to go on?”

Amelia bites her tongue, bites down on her pride, but can’t quite bring herself to say no, can’t bring herself to ask her to stop, to give it up, to tap out of this now, not even to put a plug in this burning sort of humiliation. Kai’s knee presses harder against her own. 

“You’re unreliable,” Kathleen says, and there’s something sharper there now, something less amused, and Amelia suddenly feels the urge to get out, to run - “You always have been. You just fuck around without thinking about who gets hurt, drag everyone into your mess. It’s a wonder you have anyone left that still manages to give a shit.”

Amelia swallows the urge to flinch, and Kai has gone very very still beside her. 

“That’s enough,” says Liz again, and dimly she can see her sister’s eyes jumping back and forth between them all. “Kathleen, come on, just-”

“I can see why Meredith didn’t call you the night Derek died.” Kathleen says, a final blow, and Amelia physically recoils, stunned. She knows her sister can be a bitch, has known this for years, but she’d never thought Kathleen would ever say something like-

The whole table has gone silent. 

“Kathleen,” her mother says quietly, and it’s the closest to a reprimand she’ll give, only for something this far out of order. 

Kai’s eyes are flicking between them, piecing together the last puzzle pieces, and Amelia’s hands are suddenly shaking so fucking badly she doesn’t trust herself to reach for a water glass, from anger or something else she doesn’t know. She swallows against the tight feeling in her chest, focusing on how the scratched wood of the old table feels beneath her fingertips. Breathe. Count to three, count to five, breathe

I didn’t get to tell him goodbye, because of you. 

There’s nothing but an aching silence in this room, in her head. 

No sound other than a gentle clink of rings against glass as Kai reaches for their drink, the first to break that stillness, bring her at least partly back down to earth.

“Well,” they say after a second of deliberate quiet, and Kathleen’s words are still echoing in the space around them all. “Glad we’ve cleared up the fact that you’re all shockingly insecure.”

Amelia’s eyes snap to their face, and there’s a glimmer of concern in their gaze, a much deeper concern for her, she realises, before they turn their attention back to her sisters. 

Kathleen looks like she’s just swallowed something incredibly sour, and Amelia would be lying if she denied the very small kick of satisfaction at the sight.

“Excuse me?”

Kai flashes her sister a smile, but underneath that iron clad facade of quiet amusement, there’s a hard, blazing sort of anger that she doesn’t really recognise, one, one she hasn’t really seen before.  

“Insecure.” Their fingers are graceful around the glass of wine, they’re elegant, confident, have been from the moment she first saw them. “Granted, I don’t know you well enough to pass judgement on your lives, but if you’re going to be overly and visibly jealous of someone else’s success, I'd try to make it a little less glaringly obvious.”

Amelia doesn’t think she’s taken a full breath in over a minute. The absolute total shock on her mother’s face is almost worth this entire hellish nightmare of evening. 

“What are you-”

“She’s better than you,” Kai says quietly, and there’s no room for argument in their tone, for questioning, and Amelia’s face suddenly feels hot. “She’s better than you In about a thousand different ways. And it makes you feel like shit because you’ve probably spent your whole lives using her struggles to feel better about your own incredible lack of potential, so you’re lashing out with cheap shots to try and ease some of that unattractive amount of jealousy.” Dead silence as they take a sip of the drink, a centre of calm. “She turned her life around, and now she’s ten times the doctor and the person any of you could ever hope to be.”

Amelia swallows hard, something aching in her chest, and her mother is suddenly avoiding her gaze like her life depends on it. 

“Anyway,” Kai continues with a half smile, leaning back in their seat, anger still simmering on the panes of their face. “You should probably try to get over that eventually. Jealousy isn’t the win you think it is, it just makes you look pathetic.”

Silence. Nothing but silence. Amelia can feel her hands shaking as she presses her fingers against Kai’s knee. 

“Come on,” she murmurs, pushing to her feet, and she’s not sure she’s ever seen her sisters collectively look this shocked. “We should go.”

No one moves to stop them, no surprise there, and Kai touches her waist gently as she slips on her jacket and heads for the door. She gets as far as pulling it open before a voice sounds behind them. 

“Amy, wait.”

And despite it all, despite everything, Amelia pauses, turning to face Liz as her sister emerges from the dining room. Kai casts a quick glance between them and inclines their head towards the door.

“I’ll be outside okay?”

She nods slowly before she turns to face her sister, and the door shuts quietly behind Kai. There’s something so exhausted in her now, a bone deep sort of exhaustion, and nothing really in her head except static and the faint urge to break something.

“I’m tired,” Amelia says instead with a shake of her head as Liz opens her mouth to speak. “I just want to go home okay?”

“I’m sorry,” she says, something open in her eyes for the first time in a while, and that one gives her pause more than anything. Amelia remembers that Liz more than anyone, had always been the one to step in, to break up fights, to call Derek when it got bad, to call Addison. “She was out of line.”

“She barely even knows where the line is anymore, you know that.” Amelia says with a shake of her head. “Come on, she blew past that without thinking, and we both know she’d do it again without apology.”

“She’s not evil Amy,” Liz says quietly, and Amelia just nods, nods because she knows , she knows her sister still feels Derek’s loss, the lack of him at tables, still clings to all of that pain instead of facing the grief. 

You did the same, she reminds herself gently, for a long time.

“Yeah,” she murmurs, some of that raging anger dimming slightly, just replaced with more exhaustion, “she just-”

“Pushes too hard, too far.” Liz finishes with a rueful smile. “Yeah. I’ll talk to her.”

Amelia laughs a little, it’s humourless. 

“Doubt that’ll do a lot.”

Her sister just shrugs, eyes scanning her face again. “Even so.”

There’s a moment of silence, and Amelia realises she’s not even sure she remembers how to talk to her siblings outside of the raging, blow up arguments they have, and it’s an uncomfortable feeling, she doesn't like sitting with it, doesn’t like how it feels in her chest.

“Your neuroscientist,” Liz says after a second, and Amelia’s gaze snaps back to her. “They’re- you’re happy? They make you happy?”

A beat, and she tries to remember the last time she’d talked to any of her sisters like this, so openly.

“Yeah,” she says, swallowing against a lump in her throat. “Yeah they do.”

Liz smiles slightly, and it’s hesitant, but it’s there. 

“I’m glad.”

Amelia nods, offering a faint one in return. “Thanks. It was good to see you.”

“Liar,” her sister says, raising her eyebrows with a flash of a grin as Amelia opens the door. “Take care of yourself.”

“You too,” she manages to get out, quiet, and with one more awkward smile, Liz is gone, vanishing back into the kitchen. 

The door closes behind her after another moment and then suddenly, finally, they’re alone in the snow. There’s a quiet she can’t put into words blanketing everything this late at night, even so close to the city. 

Amelia can feel Kai’s gaze on her face, can feel them watching her, waiting for her to say something maybe. But right now there’s a lot of white noise and she can’t seem to make sense of it, can’t seem to work out what she’s thinking. She knows it’s a delayed reaction to that shitshow more than anything, knows there’s no logical reason for this now. 

“Are you okay?” They ask, and it’s not really a question, but there’s no pity there either. It’s just soft, and they’re steady, they’re always so-

“Give me a minute,” she manages to get out around the sudden tightness in her throat, closing her eyes against that overwhelmingly fast rising wave of fear, of tight anxiety. 

“Amelia,” they say quietly, and they reach across that aching empty space, reach for her. But she can feel something heavy sitting in her chest, can’t work out how to breathe around it. 

It’s a wonder you have anyone left that still manages to give a shit.

She steps out of range, steps back because now there’s a familiar urge to bolt lighting up in her chest, and she can’t run fast enough, knows from experience where that road can end, knows it’s nowhere good. “Can you just-”

Breathe. 

Kai moves back without question, eyes steady on her face, and Amelia knows deep in her bones that they won’t push her tonight, won’t push her until she’s ready, not like this. 

You’re not boxed in as who they perceive you to be.

She forces herself to take a breath, then another. They’re here, but she can’t feel the weight of expectation that would be there from anyone else. It doesn’t feel suffocating. 

Slowly, Amelia counts to five, then back from ten, then up to five again. By the third round, her heartbeat has slowed back down to something more normal, and when she looks back at Kai, they’re quiet, hands tucked into the pockets of that fitted jacket. 

“I didn’t know about your brother,” they venture. “I’m sorry.”

She just shakes her head, a humourless laugh escaping before she can bite it back. The snow is falling around them now, and Amelia doesn’t know whether to scream or cry right now, so laughing seems like a better option. “In fairness, you didn’t know I’m a drug addict either.” 

A twitch of a smile as they scan her face. “Maybe we should work on our communication.”

She laughs again, but it comes out more like a sob as the last few hours start to catch up to her, and Kai just steps closer, tugging her into a hug without asking, without question.

“Hey, I've got you,” they murmur, and she doesn’t even know what time it is anymore, only that they’re somehow holding her together in the snow. “It’s done, it’s over.”

“I’m sorry,” she whispers into their jacket because she’s a mess, and that dinner was a mess, and this is all a mess and now they’re seeing it all laid out in total clarity and she wouldn’t really blame them if they wanted to run as fast as possible in the other direction. “I shouldn’t have-”

“Amelia,” they say quietly, and they’re not running as they press a kiss into her hair, not jumping ship. “Please stop apologising for shit that isn’t your fault.”

Breathe. “Thank you,” she says instead after a beat, eyes still shut tight, “for-” 

She doesn’t know how to say it really, how to get it into words, how to explain how much what they’d said had meant to her. 

“Don’t have to thank me, ever.” They say with that same quiet smile, she can hear it in their voice. “I’d say it all again if I had the chance.”

She laughs shakily, gently disentangling herself from the hug and brushing a hand over her eyes. 

“Maybe we steer clear of family dinners for a while.”

Kai raises their eyebrows, slipping an arm around her shoulders as they start the walk down to the road to call a taxi. 

“Terrible idea. No idea why you’d suggest such a thing. They’re definitely our forte.”

She shoves them gently, biting back a smile, and it’s a credit to how easy this feels with them that she’s feeling lighter than she was ten minutes ago. “Oh yeah, we’re great at this shit.”

They just laugh, pulling her closer in the snow as a taxi stops beside them, reaching for the door handle. “Sure. I’m taking you for dinner myself next time.”

Amelia laughs despite herself, trying to put all of those barbed words out of her mind, letting herself just sink into the warmth of their hands, of that smile that makes her feel fifteen again. She lets herself sink into being filled with butterflies and fucking sunlight, because someone who looks this goddam ethereal in the city lights just kissed her breathless in the snow. 

 

The flight home is quiet, aside from one pissed off voicemail from Kathleen and six missed calls from her mom. She ignores them all for now and feels better for it, a little bit lighter. 

The next morning is quiet too.

She knows it’s quiet, because Kai is quiet. Unusually so. 

Amelia wakes up in their apartment in Minnesota, and the bed next to her is empty. 

She frowns slightly, fingers tracing the sheets next to her. Tangled, soft, reminding her of somewhere safe, but empty. 

Don’t jump to stupid conclusions because you’re tired, idiot, she tells herself firmly, swinging her legs out of bed and padding across the wooden floor into the kitchen. 

She sees them immediately, sitting at the table by the window looking out on the city, and they don’t turn when she walks in. 

“Hey,” Amelia says, and they do turn then, eyes scanning her face briefly before they smile a little. But there’s something tense there, something that looks achingly familiar, something she can’t put her finger on. “You okay?”

They just nod, and for the first time in a while, she thinks there’s something unreadable in their eyes. 

“All good. Overtired.”

Amelia just moves closer, moving so that she’s standing between their legs, and their hands come up to brace on her waist despite unsaid things between them, despite those dark, unreadable eyes. 

‘Kai,” she says softly, brushing a strand of their hair back gently, “look at me.”

They look up, and there’s something hesitant there, something else she hasn’t seen before. They don’t say anything for a second, and she watches the silent battle play out on their face. 

“What’s going on?” 

They meet her gaze steadily, and it clicks then. She looks, sees the guilt that she recognises more than anything else, the guilt so often mirrored in herself, and gets it. 

She lets them both sit in the quiet for a second, just waits, doesn’t push. Their fingers draw circles on her hips, absentminded mouvements, and she can feel the contact through her shirt.                                                                      

“I didn’t want to-” they shake their head, a flicker of frustration in their eyes, not knowing how to word it maybe, “I don’t want to make things worse, between you and them, I just-”

Amelia cuts them off with a kiss, feels the grip on her waist tighten a little in response. 

“Listen to me, Kai you don’t have to apologise,” she murmurs when she pulls away, hands curving across their face, tipping it up to kiss them again once, twice, falling into that familiar warmth. “Not to me, not for this.”

They exhale slowly, leaning into her touch and Amelia thinks that it’s the first time she’s seen Kai like this, vulnerable. 

“I just don’t want to screw anything up further,” they say with a half smile, closing their eyes. “Your siblings won’t be inviting me anywhere any time soon.”

“Fine by me,” she whispers, leaning their foreheads together, closing her eyes. “Zero desire to go near them for a while anyway.” 

Kai kisses her then and it’s gentle, their eyelashes brushing her cheek as she sinks into it, lets herself fall a little further, a little harder. 

 

“Well, good morning.”

Amelia turns from pouring coffee and fuck , there’s Kai leaning against the door frame in a blue sweater and jeans that fit unfairly fucking well , gaze trailing over her, that half smile tugging at their lips.  Suddenly she’s never felt more aware of the fact that she’s in one of their shirts and not a lot else, and now she’s thinking about sex, and it’s really not helping the situation at all. 

“Hi,” she says, determined not to back down as they make their way over, some sort of unreadable amusement flashing in their eyes, because with her luck they’re a goddamn mind reader probably. 

“Hey yourself,” they say, hands warm on her waist as they pull her forward with a smile. “You okay?”

Amelia just hums, nodding slightly, fingers toying with the belt loops of their jeans. The unfairly well fitting, tight jeans. “Tired.”

Something that looks a lot like amused satisfaction flares to life in their eyes. “Oh yeah?”

She chokes on a laugh, hands trailing over soft denim, tugging gently at the material of their sweater. “Yeah, really messing with my day.”

“I wonder,” Kai says, tucking her hair behind her ear with that dancing smile, fingers brushing her jaw, “what the reason for that could possibly be.”

Amelia almost wants to look away because suddenly they’re so damn close, eyes still so steady on hers. 

“No idea,” she breathes, and she can still feel their fingers hovering by her cheek as they move closer, near enough that she’s closing her eyes. 

“Do I make you nervous Shepherd?” Kai murmurs, those careful fingers tilting her chin up, and the room is bathed in gold as her own tangle in their hair and she pulls them into a kiss. 

“No,” Amelia says, but it comes out breathless and they laugh into the kiss, hands moving to slip under her shirt, trailing over her hips, pressing her back against the counter and-

Her phone buzzes on the side, and Amelia ignores it as they start to kiss down her neck. When it goes off for the second time, Kai pauses , raising their eyebrows. 

“You gonna get that?”

“Nope,” she says, pulling them back into a kiss with a sharp tug, sharp enough that they make a noise that makes her legs feel a little weak. 

“Someone’s impatient,” they murmur, shifting slightly to walk her back towards the bedroom, and Amelia can feel her cheeks heating at that fucking tone, at the way their grip tightens.

“Not on call for another two hours,” she says between breaths, and Kai just laughs, lifting her with a surprising amount of strength for the last few meters, hands warm on the bare skin of her legs as they kick the bedroom door shut behind them. 

 

Amelia opens her eyes to sunlight. 

She can feel it warming her face as she turns to face Kai, sheets twisting as she moves. They’re asleep next to her, their legs tangled together, and the whole room is bathed in gold. For a second, Amelia just lets herself watch, eyes scanning their skin, the slope of their collarbone. 

Kai shifts slightly, doesn’t open their eyes. 

“You’re staring,” they murmur. “Is something wrong?”

“No,” Amelia says softly. “Go back to sleep if you want.”

Kai hums, reaching out blindly to trail their fingers down her spine, hands warm on bare skin.

“You okay?”

“Yeah,” she breathes, closing her eyes again as Kai hooks an arm around her waist and pulls her closer. There’s a moment of quiet, and then their fingers pause the drawing of invisible patterns down her back, a beat of realisation.

“You were watching me sleep,” they say, amused, and she doesn’t think they get it, how fucking mesmerising they are like this, all softened angles and dark eyes and that smile that makes her heart do stupid fucking gymnastics .

She half smiles and doesn’t know how to voice any of it, so just reaches up instead, tucking a strand of hair behind their ear, thumb brushing the line of their cheekbone. “You look peaceful.”

Kai raises their eyebrows with a grin, tilting their head to lean into her touch, something wicked flashing in their eyes. “Well, you tired me out.”

Amelia feels her cheeks heat, sitting up with a laugh. “Shut up.” 

They’re tracing the contours of her spine gently, eyes following her as she moves, sheet slipping away, and she feels goosebumps rise on her arms at the fucking intensity of that look. “Sure.”

She reaches for her shirt, amused, heart beating faster than she’d be willing to admit . “Admiring the view?”

Kai just shrugs as if to say well sue me, a familiar smile on their face as they sit up to face her, hair enough of a mess that she has to clamp down on the urge to run her hands through it. “Don’t you have surgeries to do?”

She elects to ignore that comment, pulling them into a kiss. “Maybe. Thoughts on staying here for the rest of the day?”

They hum as they pull away, lips grazing her neck. “You’d probably lose your job Shepherd.”

“Jobs are underrated,” she says, tilting her head back to give them better access, and Kai just laughs, giving her hand a sharp tug and pulling her back down into bed. 

 

Later when they’re tangled together, Kai’s fingers trailing absentmindedly over her thighs as they look far too pleased with themselves, Amelia thinks maybe this is what not wanting to jump ship and run looks like, the reality of it, the feeling of calm that exists here.

And she thinks that maybe, just maybe, it’s a feeling that she likes.