A/N : As the summary suggests, I will be posting Merhayes one-shots.

First up is a New Year's Eve one-shot set after their Christmas drink in the season 17 finale.

Thank you for reading. Hope you enjoy :)

Disclaimer : This is a work of fan fiction using characters from Grey's Anatomy, which is trademarked by ABC Studios, Shondaland, etc. I do not own Grey's Anatomy.

If anyone had told Meredith that she'd be thrilled to spend New Year's Eve at the hospital instead of at home with her kids, she'd have laughed right in their face. But nearly facing career death can do wonders to a person's perspective. Strength building day by day, her body no longer awash with exhaustion, the renewed energy at the hospital intoxicates her, and in turn brightens her mood. Her optimism, eclipsed for so long by the turbulent events of her wayward life, injects a much-needed breath of fresh air in her life.

Burrowed deep in the couch in the attendings' lounge, Meredith completes patient charts, enjoying the unexpected reprieve from the usual hustle and bustle of being on-call. She's been relatively lucky today. New Year's Eve is generally a free for all in the ER. People finally seeking help for whatever ailments they ignored while celebrating Christmas, drunk drivers, slips and falls. You name it, they see it.

This year, the pit has been relatively quiet—as expected—what with celebrations being put on hold thanks to COVID putting a wrench in most plans. The calm feels nice for a change, a well-deserved peace in a sea of perpetual turmoil.

Free of shrieking pages, of machines beeping erratically and of annoying interns, Meredith's wandering thoughts break their hold and run wild. The past year has spanned a decade. There's no other way to describe it. The thought that 2021 is just around the corner is unfathomable to her. Nightmares on the COVID floor, Andrew's bipolar diagnosis, his tragic death, her struggles following her own COVID diagnosis, the bombardment of long-repressed memories, her painful recovery, her familiar straddle between life and death, Amelia's drama and Maggie's wedding planning... How is the New Year upon them already?

And then there's her own turbulent, love life. Or lack thereof. Andrew's diagnosis had put things in perspective for her. Friend and friend only. But simmering beneath the surface, waiting to grab hold of her, were her boxed-up feelings for Cormac Hayes. Obnoxious Irishman turned unexpected friend turned flirtatious who-knows-what. Just as things were starting to become clearer for her, COVID upended all that progress. And now things felt...unsettled between them. She still misses him even as they cross paths every day—an unnerving sensation for someone whose feelings are typically kept locked up tight under lock and key, lest they threaten to overwhelm her.

It's the little things she misses. The quirk of his eyebrow, his smooth Irish lilt, the unexpected glint in his eyes when she catches him staring at her, his teasing, the profound intimacy that arises in every conversation. She felt stuck during her home isolation, uncertain of her standing with him. Their Christmas drink easing some of her discomfort, but not all.

And now, she wonders...just wonders—all the damn time. So many scenarios running through her mind. He's bravely put himself out there. She knows he has, but knowing and understanding are two very different things. Even with years more experience than him with widowhood, he finds ways to show her up. For so long, she's been paddling in the kiddie pool, trying desperately to keep her head above water. Every time she thinks she's ready, doubt inevitably creeps up.

But with him, the shadows are slowly receding, almost of their own volition. She finally feels ready. No more trudging in perpetual muddy waters. Just straight talk. No longer is she the scared-of-intimacy resident, no longer is grieving widow her most definable feature. Next time she sees him, cards will be laid out—for better or for worse.

He's working today. Yes, she checked before leaving her house. She can admit to herself she wouldn't mind catching a glimpse of him—and more, honestly. But her legs just won't cooperate, even through sheer force. That dreaded first step seemingly insurmountable. If she waits any longer, the little gift she got him, collecting dust at the back of her cubby, will have to wait until next Christmas!

Meredith is so lost in thought, the opening of the door stuns her out of her musings.

Well, she just might get her wish sooner than anticipated. No looking back now as she spies, cheeks flushed, the Irishman on her mind not a moment ago.

"Good, you're here! I was hoping to run into you," Hayes says, storming into the room, voice brimming with joyful relief as he makes a beeline for her.

Why can he just say these things out loud? No hesitation, no doubts, no fear. Seemingly completely comfortable in his own skin. Every word, every sentence, seems to roll off his tongue with complete ease. She's been sitting here for the better part of an hour, agonizing, torturing herself as is her habit, and he just breezes into the room so confidently.

Meredith tilts her head to the side, brow rising. "You've been looking for me? Why?"

Motioning to the wrapped package in his hand she'd initially overlooked, he walks over to her and takes a seat by her side. "Got you a little belated Christmas present. A real one this time! Wrapped and everything," he exclaims, poking fun at himself.

"Unopened? Are you sure? What did I do to deserve the honour?" Meredith teases, fighting off a cheeky smile. They clearly had the same idea, she surmises.

He rolls his eyes at her reminder of his first, poor attempt at a Christmas gift. "Another thing I'll never live down, I see. Go on... Open it!"

She starts by shaking the present lightly. Hearing swooshing, her eyes brighten up with unexpected delight. "Ooh. I think I'm gonna enjoy this." She unwraps her gift like a toddler anticipating their favourite toy. As she discards the crinkling wrapping paper on the floor, she holds the box up to get a closer view. Herradura tequila...her favourite.

Eyebrows quirked in consternation—and a tiny bit impressed, if she was honest with herself, Meredith wonders, "How did you know?"

"A little birdie might have mentioned your questionable taste in alcohol. How you might hide it behind your cookie jar at home—we'll talk about that unhealthy habit another time. Figured I owed you one after my pathetic effort at a gift."

She snorts, lips curling up against her better wishes, "Questionable taste? Look who's talking! I'll have you know tequila is actually healthy. Very low calories, sugar and carbs."

"Pfft. Whiskey has antioxidants and ellagic acid which, as you know, has anti-cancer properties!"

"Tequila mixes well in lots of drinks. It's versatile. Whiskey overpowers any drink it's used in. It is so one-dimensional!"

Eyes narrowed in mock frustration, Hayes huffs out, "Whiskey doesn't need embellishment. It shines on its own, leaving that smooth burn as it slithers down your throat."

Their gazes lock for a beat before they burst out laughing. Who knew a debate about preferred spirits could turn so fiery?

"Do you think we might have a teeny, tiny little problem? Are we closeted alcoholics deep down?" Jokes Meredith, placing the bottle on the table facing the couch.

Hayes winks, an endearing smirk settling on his lips. "I won't tell if you don't."

She laughs, "I've never seen you so passionate about something other than your patients."

"Where I'm from, whiskey's a religion. Nothing more sacred—not even church, to be quite frank."

Meredith eyes the bottle in front of her before gifting Hayes with a soft smile. "Thank you for this. Must have been hard for you to buy."

He scoffs jokingly, "You have no clue! Almost put it back on the shelf five times."

She stares longingly at the bottle. "I'd open it right now if I wasn't on-call."

Hayes chuckles softly, "Long shift?"

Rolling her eyes, she sighs loudly, "Ugh! Long month, honestly. Hopefully, things will settle down a little, once more people have access to vaccines."

Wringing her hands in her lap, nerves churning in her stomach, she sneaks a peek at her locker, gulping down the knot in her throat. Just do it, Meredith! In one swift move, she stands abruptly, determination pushing her forward, absolutely exhausted of second-guessing herself at every turn. No more waiting.

Head tilted to the side in wonder and surprise, Hayes stares up at her from his perch on the couch.

"Don't move," she finally says, glimpsing back at him. "You're not the only fancy one around here." She scurries towards her cubby, fishing out a festive looking gift bag. Twinkle in her eyes, she heads back over to Hayes and reseats herself—a tiny bit closer to his side.

"Here," she mumbles shyly as she hands him the present.

Eyebrows arched in surprise, he takes the bag from her. "For me?"

She nods, a smile unfurling upon her lips. "You're not the only one who can give gifts, you know. Open it."

He takes his time, delicately retrieving the tissue paper for the colourful bag. Brow arched, Meredith eyes him speculatively, "You're one of those, aren't you?"

"One of what?"

"A surgeon through and through. You open your gifts meticulously like you're opening up a patient's abdomen." She can't help her sweeping flush as the thought of him skillfully unwrapping other things embeds itself in her mind and sets her body on fire.

He bestows an intimate, heated gaze upon her. "So what if I am? I happen to be patient. Nothing quite like the anticipation, you know. The delayed gratification, the yearning, the hope. I like taking my time." The glint in his eyes an unspoken promise to her.

Blushing fiercely at his veiled admission, Meredith inhales sharply, her hands clasped tightly in her lap, biting her lower lip to keep from sighing at his scorching words.

Smirking at her sudden bashfulness, Hayes finally retrieves the item in the gift bag.

Eyes wide, a slack-jawed Hayes emulates a statue, still as can be, simply staring at the revered bottle in his hands. The Devil's Keep Irish whiskey. Words lodged in his throat, heart drumming in his chest, he can only stare at the bottle, enraptured.

Furrowed scowl marring his face, Hayes finally glances up at the general surgeon by his side, soft gaze in her eyes.

Fighting to keep his heart from bursting into flames and his gushing emotions tamped down, he croaks out, "How?" He shakes his head, carefully placing the whiskey bottle on the table in front of them. "Jesus, Grey! I can't accept this."

She retorts, "Of course you can! You're the only one who'll actually savour it the way it deserves."

"Do you have any idea how much this bottle costs? I can't even fathom how you got it. They only make around 300 bottles a year. And with COVID, no less! Are you secretly in bed with the Irish mob?" Clearly flustered, he simply continues staring at Meredith with questioning eyes.

She laughs loudly at his absurd suggestion. "Don't have enough time to be enmeshed with the mafia. I think I'd fit in, though."

Fighting off an amused smile, she replies to his queries. "Don't worry about the price. I didn't actually pay for it. A patient gave it to me a while back—a grateful and clearly wealthy patient from the looks of it. Jackson tried to steal it."

Humbled, Hayes wonders, "Why me?"

Perpetual flush travelling up her neck, she murmurs, "Seemed useless to hang on to it when I knew you'd enjoy it way more than anyone else I know. And...there was no one else I wanted to give it to, really."

Shielding her gaze from his bone-melting smile, she busies herself cleaning up the tissue paper.

"Well...we certainly make quite the pair, don't we? Tequila & whiskey. Think they can get along?"

The subtext behind his words too obvious to ignore, she answers with a twinkle in her eye, leaving nothing to chance, "They can make it work."

Collective smiles widening, both surgeons lapse into a comfortable silence as they gather the remains of their gifts.

"Thank you for this." He stares back at the bottle, picking it up and seemingly inspecting it.

"Do you want me to give you some private time together? To get to know each other?" Meredith chuckles out.

"Laugh all you want. You've no idea what you've just given me. That's a twelve thousand dollar bottle in my hand."

Mouth hanging open in mock shock, she teases, "Twelve grand? Maybe I should call that patient... I think he was single. A bit old, but I could deal with that."

He jokes back, "Poor bloke. Only sought after for his money."

"And his good taste, clearly," Meredith volleys back.

Their laughter peters out as the uncertain tension of the last few months seems to dissipate. Hayes surreptitiously wraps his arm across the back of the couch, a beckoning invitation Meredith finds too hard to resist. She leans back gently, resting her head against his alluring limb, tipping her head to get a better view of him. "So, was Christmas as hard as you expected?"

"It wasn't, actually. Having Irene around helped. Didn't feel so lonely for the boys." Hayes explains.

"Good. Family will do that for you," she replies, curling her body slightly towards him, settling in comfortably as she snuggles closed to him.

He mindlessly plays with the tips of her hair. "What about yours? They must have been ecstatic to have you back."

"They were. It was nice to see them so happy, free of all that burden. Especially Zola. She worries a lot."

"Aye, I could tell...when she would FaceTime you."

Meredith lifts her gaze to his. "I never thanked you for everything you did."

"No need. But please don't make me have to do it again," he teases, lightening the moment.

"I promise to try. That's about as good as you're going to get with my luck."

"I'll take it."

"So, what was your day like?" Meredith inquires.

"Lads woke up at 10. We opened gifts, ate way too much food, then promptly fell into comas. Anything exciting happen at yours?"

"Actually, yes! Get this. Owen and Teddy came early in the morning so the kids could exchange gifts. Owen prepared this whole, elaborate fake snow extravaganza in my backyard to propose!"

Frowning lightly, Hayes asks, "Weren't they...? Wait, didn't she...while he was in the OR?"

Clearly at a loss for words, Meredith gives him an out, pursing her lips and fighting off an incoming smirk, "We don't mention that."

"Alright... Well, it's nice they found their way back to each other, I suppose," trails off a bemused Hayes, eyes bright with laughter.

"The kids were ecstatic. Another wedding for them to dress up to, dance and stay up late." She rolls her eyes. "The joys of childhood! Actually being happy about having to attend a wedding."

"You don't like them?"

"Does any adult actually enjoy going to weddings? God, don't even get me started!"

Hayes wondered, features settling into interest, "Not even yours?"

Shadows in her soft eyes, she reveals, "We didn't have one of those commercial spectacles. Got married at city hall...right before our friends' wedding, actually. I...I was skittish back then—to say the least. In the end, I think Derek was just happy to get me that far."

"I can see that." With penetrating eyes, Hayes looks down at her wistful face, pressed against his shoulder. She looks up and asks, "You?"

Picturing joyous occasions hurts his chest less and less as time passes. "It was a melting pot. Two truly different families coming together. But happy, you know."

"That sounds nice."

"Aye, it was," he agrees.

They lapse into silence, enjoying the quiet together. She trembles a little as he gently interlaces their fingers together, slowly at first, to give her time to retreat. It's a small touch, yet fire blazes through her entire body down to her core, threatening to incinerate her.

No longer able to resist, Meredith asks, "Hayes?"

"Hmm?" He grunts.

She bites her bottom lip nervously, trying to stamp out her worry. A beat of silence follows as she taps her fingers against his hand. Glancing down, Hayes' curiosity gets the better of him, as it inevitably does when it comes to the general surgeon.

"Go on. Out with it?"

She inhales deeply before voicing her thought out loud. "Are we ever going to go out on a date? In this lifetime, you think?"

He chuckles at her innocent yet loaded question. "God, I hope so! But I haven't the faintest clue why you're asking me, Grey! You're the one who keeps dodging me at every turn." His eyes sparkle with mirth as he unleashes a grin on her.

She needles him in the ribs, nearly shouting, "I collapsed, you jerk!" She's acutely aware that despite his somewhat teasing tone, niggling doubt lurks under the surface of his words, doubt only she can erase.

He scoffs teasingly, "My lads have better excuses than that."

Her eyes widen, a quip ready at the tip of her tongue when her pager goes off, interrupting their lighthearted battle. She reluctantly untangles herself from his warm embrace. Eyebrow raised, she grumbles, "This isn't over."

Meredith gets up, gathering her papers and tablet. Unveiling a mischievous smile, at last at ease with her feelings, she musters up the courage to finally cross that invisible line drawn in the sand. Not bothering to hide her desire, for once on full display, she asks, "Meet me back here at a quarter to midnight?"

Lips curling ever so slowly, his eyes blossom to life at her proposition. He nods tentatively, soft gaze fixed on her retreating body.

Reaching the doorway, glancing back at Hayes, Meredith adds, "We'll crack open that bottle of whiskey. Celebrate the new year in style..." She winks at him, the intensity in her eyes igniting both their hearts and offering him an enticing preview of things to come.