A/U : A follow-up to "Conversations in the dark". Snippets of Meredith and Hayes's relationship as it deepens. Should be read after part 1.

This ended up being much longer than anticipated (probably a bit too long). I apologize for the choppiness in some sections. I tried really hard to blend all the different elements together.

Thank you all for reading. I love getting everyone's feedback. Hope you all enjoy part 2.

The surgery high never gets old. In a life plagued by constant turmoil and everlasting grief, it's comforting to know that while everything in her world has changed, that still hasn't. That means everything to her.

Another successful surgery; one of many since she's recovered from COVID. This one brings with it an exciting dancing partner. Her first surgery with Hayes since she's been back.

Maybe that's why her guard is lowered, and her eyes glimmer with excitement. The adrenaline can explain some, but the rest can definitely be attributed to the Hayes factor.

Scrubbing her fingers, hands and elbows meticulously, her mind struggles with the best way to approach her dilemma. He's given her time to settle back into her life post-coma.

How much more time is he going to give her? Does she have to make the first overture? Should they even try to take their relationship to the next level? What they have going is nice just the way it is, isn't it? God, this is too complicated.

All too familiar with that little voice in her head—her constant, dreadful companion—that warns her she'll screw this up, Meredith can't help but wonder if this is a spectacularly bad idea given how close they've gotten. After losing Cristina and Alex, she's not sure she can handle parting ways with another friend, especially if it's avoidable.

She's jolted out of her deliberations when the door separating the scrub room and the OR slides open. He breezes into the enclosed space, eyes bright from his own post-surgical high and a big smile his surgical mask can't hide.

"How did that feel?" He asks.

She shakes her head in wonder before locking gazes with him. The jubilation in her eyes ensnare him. "Amazing."

She keeps on scrubbing, adding quietly, "I really missed it. That rush, that buzz crawling all over my body, the shivers slithering along my skin..."

There's a certain glow around her that was missing during those months she recuperated. He's glad to see it back.

"Told you you'd be back in the OR in no time."

"It took long enough," she grumbles under her mask.

"Take the win. I'm still miffed you ditched me at the wedding, though," he jokes.

"Well... it was a double lung transplant or a wedding? Not really much of a contest." She nudges his shoulder to let him know she's kidding.

"I see how it is," he answers, eyes dancing merrily.

He gently removes his mask as his foot steps on the pedal to activate the water. Grabbing the soap, he scrubs his hands alongside her for a few, silent minutes.

She sneaks furtive glances his way. In the OR, she's a daredevil who stares fear down in the eyes. Everywhere else, her nerves and her endless second-guessing have a strong hold on her. Still... to this day.

"Umm... so I know we haven't really talked about it recently, but has your situation changed?"

Her words come out like a jumbled mess; staccato, interspersed with 'umms' and uncharacteristic pauses. Her whole demeanor shifts as she shuffles on her feet.

Eyebrow arching at her words, his curiosity is piqued. "And what situation are we referring to exactly?"

Under the force of his penetrating stare, she glances down to study her soap-filled hands.

His mouth twitches at her clear nervousness. Fidgeting on her feet, Meredith continues scrubbing every little inch of her limbs, avoiding his scrutiny with all her might.

"Your dating situation," she mumbles.

For once, she's happy her mask covers most of her face. In this post-COVID world, a strange sense of awkwardness now fills her in the absence of a shield. No longer can she hide behind the comfort of a face cloth, phone calls or even texts.

Halting his scrubbing, his head tilts to the side in dawning comprehension. "Nothing has changed. Why?"

"I want to go out. On a date," she blurts out, her chest exhaling a huge gulp of air that's been trapped for far too long.

She's never been the pursuer, usually leaving that up to the men in her life. An odd prickling sensation slinks through her body. The longer this uncomfortable moment lasts, the bigger the chances are she'll spontaneously combust if he doesn't answer her.

"Huh... With anyone in particular or will anyone do?" He teases, mischief swirling in his eyes.

He's enjoying himself far too much for her liking. She rolls her eyes at his joke. It seems to do the trick to break her out of her awkward spell.

"If you have an in with George Clooney, that would be great. If not, I guess you'll do," she sasses him.

Lips hooked to one side, a devastating smirk alights his features. It's not often she sees him smiling so openly and freely. The sight warms her heart.

"Are you sure you're ready? Don't rush on my account," He asks.

She nods firmly, no doubt in her eyes. "Are you?"

His grin deepens as he resumes his hand-washing to precision. "I am. I'll probably never be a hundred percent sure until I do it. But I wouldn't want it to be with anyone but you."

Her cheeks redden at his sentimental words. It's a side of him she's glimpsed in the past, on rare occasions—a side she wouldn't mind seeing more of.

"How about Saturday night?" He proposes.

"Let me check with Maggie and Amelia, but that should work. Who's planning?"

"You asked. I'll plan." He winks at her, taking his foot off the pedal while shaking his hands over the sink to let all the water drip from his hands.

"I'm... I look forward to it," she confesses with fire in her piercing eyes.

If she's managed to convey to him even just a tenth of the emotions washing over her, she chooses to take that as a victory.

The night before their first date, her nerves uncharacteristically take hold of her body. She can't seem to sit still, her legs feeling so unsteady under her as anxious energy settles in her bones.

Her whole wardrobe is strewn across her bed in anticipation for tomorrow. The choices are endless. Without more information, she could be here forever.

Meredith: What's the dress code for tomorrow?

His mouth jerks in amusement at the incoming text. It's nice to see this unexpected side of her, and it's nice to know he's not the only one thinking about their date.

Hayes: Can't a man plan a few surprises?

Meredith: You have to tell a woman what to wear on a date! Common courtesy and all. I don't make the rules!

A bubble of chuckles bursts out of his chest.

Hayes: Casual, I suppose.

Meredith: You suppose? What am I supposed to do with that?

Hayes: Casual. Period. Do with that what you will.

Meredith: If I'm not dressed appropriately when you pick me up, there will be hell to pay.

His chuckles now reach full-blown laugh levels.

Hayes: I can assume you're not going to intentionally dress unsuitably to avoid turning me down again?

Meredith: You're hilarious. A girl passes out one time...

Hayes: One time too many, if you ask me.

Meredith: Not going to hear me argue.

Hayes: That would be a first.

Meredith: Is this gang-up-on-Meredith day?

Hayes: No. According to the memo I've just received, that's next week.

Meredith: FYI, you shouldn't switch to a career in comedy.

Hayes: See you tomorrow. Appropriately dressed, of course ;)

Meredith: I hate you.

The next morning, Cormac wakes up with nervous excitement vibrating inside him. That is, until his phone rings ominously early with a call from Meredith.

"Calling to back out already? I thought you'd wait until afternoon for that."

His teasing is met with deafening silence. A silence from her that has him wincing.

He hears a painful, sorrowful huff through the line before she says, "Ellis just projectile vomited all over me."

He doesn't mean to laugh, but the scene playing out in his head makes it impossible to restrain.

She allows him this much-needed laugh. "Go on. Let it out."

"I'm sorry. Truly. I don't mean to laugh. How's the little one doing?" His tone softens so she understands he's sincere.

"Needy. I think she has a stomach flu. I sent Zola and Bailey to Maggie's. Hopefully, they don't catch it. But I'm going to have to cancel tonight," she says in a resigned, flat voice.

If their luck could be measured with a number between one and ten, theirs would definitely come close to negative ten. "I'm so sorry," she offers.

"Good lord, don't apologize. What can I do? Can I get you anything?"

"I think we have everything we need. Maggie brought over some supplies."

"Are you sure?"

"Yeah. I... I just wanted to let you know so you can make other plans. Again... I'm sorry."

"Stop apologizing to me. You're an excellent mum," he consoles her softly.

In the distance, on the other end of the line, he hears shuffling and a muffled, shaky 'mommy'.

Meredith tries to put her hand over the microphone, but only manages partially. "I'll be right there, Ellie-Belle."

He smiles at her loving pet name for Ellis. "I'll let you go. Call if you need anything."

"I will. Thanks for being so understanding. Not everyone would be." A comfortable silence settles between them before Meredith asks timidly, "We'll reschedule, right?"

"Aye. Let me know what works best for you."



"Thank you. It means a lot to not have to defend my choices."

A few hours later, she finds a text from him letting her know to check her front door. A brown paper bag sits on her doormat. Once in her kitchen, she can't open it quickly enough. In it, she finds a big container of chicken noodle soup with salted crackers.

She's not sure her thawing heart can stomach this act of kindness from him. She clutches that feeling close to her chest, before finally letting it reverberate all over her body.

Pulling up their text thread, her fingers hover over the phone keyboard, her tear-filled throat in no condition to talk to him.

Meredith: Thank you. 3

The jitters and exhilaration whirling inside her feel like a distant memory brought back to the surface.

It's been a long time coming, and yet, the anticipation surprises her in a way. She's missed it, like an old friend you haven't seen in forever. There was a time when thrills were the norm, but lately, her life has been devoid of such foreign concepts.

Friends for so long, the step into the unknown—the dive, really—has her stomach twisted up in knots and her entire nervous system on edge.

She longs for certainty, the conviction that they're not making a monumental mistake by trying to take their friendship to the next level. Have they waited too long? Is it going to feel awkward after spending so much time as friends? Will their chemistry translate past the friendship stage?

Staring back at her reflection in the bathroom mirror, her eyes tell a harrowing story. She's never had the inclination to dwell on her life choices for too long, preferring to ignore and deflect at every turn. But with him, she can't help her tumultuous thoughts.

Hayes: I'm on my way. Should be there in 15.

The corners of her lips tip up at his incoming text as she embraces the interruption with open arms. Just a few words from him can ease her fears, fears ingrained into every fiber of her being. It's strange to think that darkness can coexist with light. But she lives it—every single day.

As she heads downstairs to check on the kids one last time, joyous shrieks of laughter welcome her. They're building their millionth pillow forth under the supervision of newly-returned roommate Amelia, and Maggie and Winston are in the kitchen, preparing dinner.

Can she trust her sisters not to embarrass her if Hayes comes to the door? Her kids? Not a chance in hell.

Pulling her phone out of her pocket, avoiding a snooping disaster becomes imperative to the success of this date.

Meredith: Do NOT come to the door. I repeat. DO NOT COME TO MY DOOR.

She prays he sees her message even though he's driving.

Hayes: Any particular reason?

Breathing a sigh of relief, she texts back quickly.

Meredith: The mob in my house will be spying on you. Are you texting while driving?

Hayes: Voice activated text.

Meredith: Good. Text when you get here and I'll come out.

"You look good," Maggie says, startling Meredith as she enters the foyer, leaving Winston to his cooking. "Dare I say happy? Excited about your big date?"

"Maybe," Meredith answers coolly. "Nervous is more like it."

Bright smile stretching wide, seeing her sister like this is new for Maggie—and enlightening.

"Mer... You deserve this. After everything you've been through, just go have fun. Stop thinking about everything bad that can happen and just let go."

"Am I making a huge mistake? What we have works. Why change it?" Meredith's pitch increases tenfold as her breathing becomes shallow.

Bringing her hands to Meredith's shoulders to pat them comfortingly, Maggie offers some words of wisdom, "Because you like each other. Plain and simple. Not everything needs to be complicated."

An incoming text interrupts them. "He's here. I have to go."

Maggie frowns. "He's not coming to the door?"

Meredith purses her lips, mumbling sheepishly, "I told him not to."

Maggie rolls her eyes at her predictable sister. "Have fun. No curfew tonight," she says, wiggling her eyebrows.

Blush creeping up her cheeks at the words, Meredith opens the door, immediately startled by Hayes standing on her porch, looking way too good.

She quickly closes the door behind her. "What are you doing here?"

"Picking you up..." He enunciates slowly.

"No, I mean at my door. You didn't have to come up."

"I can't give you any reason to turn down the next date because of a perceived slight. Can't have my perfect gentleman card revoked. "

"Next date? Pretty confident in yourself there," she says with a hint of teasing in her smiling voice.

His eyes brim with delight. "Definite requirement to keep up with the likes of you."

She laughs and it feels so good. Any tension she carried just moments ago seems to disappear at a moment's notice in his presence. There's something so safe about him... Like nothing can't be fixed with him by her side.

"You ready?" He asks.

"Lead the way."

He places his hand on her lower back, guiding her towards his car. Again, that feeling of safety invades her, back in full force.

Settling in the passenger seat as he walks around to the driver side, she takes a moment to breathe in deeply before exhaling.

"So what are we doing?" Her curiosity can no longer be contained.

"Ben mentioned the Seattle Street Food Festival. I thought it'd be fun if you're up for it." His shyness is endearing. She's not used to seeing him second-guess himself.

"You had me at 'food festival'. I've actually never been."

"So a first for both of us then." His words are whispered, a fire dancing in his unwavering gaze.

Their eyes lock as a rush of emotions surges through them. Memories of the past and hints of the futures meld together, tightening the bond worth fighting for.

The wet asphalt gleams beneath their feet as they stroll side by side from booth to booth and truck to truck.

Their hands brush up against each other, by chance at first, and then, with clear intentions. She feels him finally reach over, lacing their fingers closely together.

"Is this okay?" He asks shyly.

She gives their entwined hands a fleeting look, a whisper of a smile lighting her features.

Glancing up at him, she nods, tightening her clasp as she rubs her thumb along his knuckles.

It's the strangest kind of torture to just hold her hand. After hundreds of grazes in surgery, the spark has already been lit and burns bright. The simple touch threatens to send his heart into Afib. Can she feel it hammering wildly against his rib cage? How can she not? He might need medical attention before the night is over.

Shaking his head to clear his thoughts, he asks, "So where to first?"

"Seafood. Definitely." The way she licks her lips in eagerness sends his mind right to the gutter. Get a grip, man!

Tilting her head to the side, her eyes narrow in question. "Any allergies?"

He shakes his head. "None. Lead the way."

As the night wears on, they settle into a comfortable rhythm of easy banter, soft smiles and prolonged sneaking gazes. Before they know it, they've sampled food from most vendors, their stomachs rumbling in satisfaction.

As he walks her up to her door, the tender look in his eyes calms her nerves. She's been worried all night that a freak-out was imminent.

"So... How was it? Easier or harder than you thought?" The question pops out of her, the need to know too strong to hold in any longer.

Memories of Abigail flash as her query stirs up emotions he'd shoved deep down. "Easier in some ways, and harder in others. It's strange, you know? I feel her slipping away. Like I'll forget her if I move on. Like I'm betraying her if I kiss you tonight like I've been wanting to all night."

"A bit presumptuous, if you ask me." Her humour deflects from his bold confession, alleviating the tension running through his body, putting him at ease.

She adds, "But in all seriousness, I basically scarred for life the first man I was with after Derek. It's okay to not be ready at this exact right moment. All those feelings... they come in waves. One minute you're fine and the next... you're ready to throw up."

"You're not too disappointed, then?" He genuinely wonders.

The mirth in her eyes warns him of teasing to come. "I think I'll live to see another day, even if my lips are deprived of yours tonight."

He laughs at his own assumption. "But how will you ever survive?"

She pats him on the shoulder before sliding her hand up his neck, settling on his cheek. "Counting down the days until it's a reality will keep me going." Her bright jade eyes are trained on him with the widest grin illuminating her face. The jokes at his own expense just keep on coming.

His smile broadens just staring at her, amplifying the light-hearted mood. They can't contain the chuckles breaking free.

Finally, she wraps both her arms around his back to pull him closer into a hug. He follows suit, burrowing his face in her neck and inhaling deeply. They relax in each other's embrace, savouring their last few moments of the night together.

"I had a really good time tonight," she murmurs against his neck.

"Me as well. Thank you."

She laughs, pulling back to look into his eyes. "You don't have to thank me. You did all the work."

She doesn't even know it, but to him, her courage in the face of all the adversity in her life shines brighter than the stars in the sky. Encouraging, empowering, uplifting. He sees her resilience, and he seeks to match it.

Since he's dropped her off, she's spent the last hour with a permanent grin on her face, her cheeks so high they're starting to hurt. Maggie's ecstatic about it; Amelia's weirded out by it. But honestly, so is Meredith. She tries to stop, but it's beyond her control.

As she's settling into bed, her phones alerts her to an incoming text.

Hayes: The lads are disgusted by the beaming smile on my face.

Her cheeks warm at his message. Her grin is definitely not slinking away anytime soon.

Meredith: Amelia thinks I need to be committed. Maggie's all for it, though.

Hayes: I had a good time.

Meredith: So did I. I'm relieved.

Hayes: ?

It's easier to admit through text without the heaviness of his gaze on her.

Meredith: Honestly? I was nervous.

Hayes: Why?

Meredith: We have a good thing going. I was scared we were pushing for something that wasn't going to be there. And we would ruin the good thing we did have.

Hayes: That makes sense.

Meredith: You weren't scared?

Hayes: No.

So sure of himself. She likes that about him.

Meredith: How come?

Hayes: You and me... We've seen the worst in life and we've survived it. We understand how quickly everything can change at a moment's notice. And frankly... I'm tired of watching my life go by me like a passive participant. Even if it doesn't work out between us, I want to know I tried. And... I really like you.

She's been living with these tragedies longer than he has, and yet, he still has her beat on emotional maturity and clarity.

Meredith: When did you become so wise?

Hayes: After months of therapy...

Meredith: Only months? Better than me! Every time I go to therapy, I feel like I'm crawling through glass just to get to the smallest breakthrough.

Hayes: You can't see me right now, but I'm laughing at that image. Pretty spot-on analogy.

Meredith: Glad I can be of service. Anyway, thanks for a great night. It was fun. And I haven't had that in a long time.

Hayes: So you're ready for a second date?

Meredith: Eager, are we?

Hayes: Is this you trying to avoid turning me down? Again...

Meredith: Kidding. I'm planning the date this time.

Hayes: Have at it. We'll see if you can top mine ;)

Meredith: You're on.

Going to bed with a smile on their faces has never felt this good—and well-deserved.

The next few days pass by quietly at the hospital. Or so they think. Their secretive, shared smiles don't fool anyone. There's a distinct buzz in the air, the energy around them different.

Sitting in the OR gallery watching Meredith perform a flawless Whipple, Cormac doesn't notice Bailey enter the room until she settles into the seat to his left.

"Chief," he acknowledges, before turning back to watch the surgery. Right... the surgery... Elbows resting on his knees and chin in hands, his concentration is held by the formidable surgeon's smooth and precise movements.

"Mm-hmm." The sideways glance Bailey gives him would terrify the average doctor. But Hayes is clearly in another world.

She clears her throat to get his attention. His focus snaps, heat rising to his cheek as he's been caught staring for far too long. Eyeing her curiously, his eyebrows raise of their own volition.

"I was looking for you. Colour me surprised to find you here... Reviewing your Whipple technique?"

He's used to the teasing by now. He's been subjected to it enough in the past few days to last him a lifetime.

He gives it right back. "Never took you for one to gossip, Chief."

"You should never make assumptions. Especially about me."

The corners of his lips curve up. "You learn something new every day, I suppose."

Long moments of silence follow, unbroken only by the sound of Meredith interrogating Schmitt in the OR.

Hayes eventually asks, "You were looking for me?"

"Is this going to be a problem for me?"

The lines in his forehead deepen in confusion. The questioning look in his eyes compels her to elaborate. "You and Grey."

"Why would it be a problem?"

Rolling her eyes at his clear obtuseness, the scoff she's been holding in expels itself out of her chest. "That's what you're going with? Really?"

He smiles bashfully at her insinuation. "Look, Chief... I don't know what this is yet. Neither of us do. But we'd like to see where it goes. Preferably without everyone's interference."

"Hmm," she hums, turning back to catch the tail-end of the surgery. He catches that tiny hint of a smile quivering at her lips.

"Is that it, then?"

"No, that's not it. I... I think you'd be good for each other," she grumbles.

Warmth spreads to his belly. This nurturing side of Bailey is surprising—and refreshing. "What makes you say that?"

She pins him with a pointed stare. "I think she's finally ready for someone like you." Her voice takes on a wistful quality. "And she'll help you in her own way."

"Someone like me?" He wonders.

"Someone to build a future with. Not just someone to pass the time with." Her gaze turns back to her former student, growing nostalgic as she watches her close the patient.

"Any other piece of wisdom to impart?"

"I'm not your damned therapist. Do I look like Dr. Phil to you?"

"No one would ever mistake you for Dr. Phil..." he teases, fighting off an amused smile.

She gets up, making her way towards the gallery exit. Turning back, she leaves him with some parting words. "For the love of all that's holy, keep it PG in my hospital. Can't have my attendings acting like fools in front of the residents."

Curiosity blooms in his eyes, one eyebrow arching in question.

"Believe me, you don't want to know." The implication is clear—and comical.

In preparation for their second date, she texts him to meet her at the corner of 1st and Stewart. That's it; nothing else. She's clearly not as opposed to surprises as she let on. At least not when she's on the other side of the surprise.

He's intrigued by the little hints of her excitement she's been exhibiting the last few days. At the hospital, in their numerous FaceTime calls. Her poker face is the stuff of legends. It took him weeks to even get her to crack a smile. But once he did, he never wanted to stop.

Waiting for her at the agreed upon rendezvous point, ideas for their date run wild in his mind. The initiative she took lights a fire in him. For so long, he lived with the uncertainty of his feelings. Knowing he's not the only one who's in this anymore is a welcome relief.

"Hey!" His head whips to the side at her greeting as she makes her way towards him.

The joy in her eyes and the blinding smile playing on her lips knocks the breath out of him. Every single time. He's not sure if he'll ever get used to it—or if he even wants to.

After years of pain followed by numbness, this blast of happiness is a beautiful reprieve. Like spotting that first ray of sunlight after months of nothing but rain.

"Hi," she repeats once she's reached him. Grabbing his shoulder, she pulls him forward, placing a kiss on his cheek. "You ready?"

The sweetness of her affectionate gesture catches him off guard—and might just push him over the edge. The irrevocable fall with no safety net. It's a new side of her he's eager to explore.

"Where are we going?"

Her eyes shine with hopeful tenderness. "A patient told me about an Irish pub crawl. Thought it'd be fun. What do you think?"

His heart would never be described as fluttering, but at that precise moment, he's pretty sure that's what's happening.

When he takes too long to answer, simply gazing at her in wonder, doubts rear up, "We don't have to go if you don't want to. There are a lot of restaurants around."

"NO! No. Sorry, it caught me off guard. An incredibly thoughtful gesture... especially coming from you," he teases.

She doesn't want to encourage him, but she can't rein in her smile around him. "I can be thoughtful!"

Snickering under his breath, he places a gentle kiss on her cheek, drifting ever so closely to the corner of her lips. "It sounds lovely. Truly. A little comfort from home."

Interlocking their fingers together, she pulls him towards the first bar, a twinkle of delight radiating from her features. "Come on. I'm thirsty."

As the night goes on, they decide to stay at the third pub, food no longer optional as their forty-year-old bodies have come to learn. Hayes has also grown quieter, much to Meredith's consternation.

Not ready to end the night, she suggests they walk around a bit, needing to get to the bottom of his mood.

Hand in hand, she wonders if she should push him to reveal the obvious tension that's been emanating from him as the night has slowly progressed.

Deep down, she knows. She's been there. But she doesn't want to push him. It has to come from him.

An uncomfortable question burrows deep in his chest. As he turns to face her, her sympathetic eyes shift something in him. It's as if she can read his mind.

She decides to help him out. "You want to know how it will feel. To kiss someone else." She pauses, gazing at him with nothing but quiet understanding. "For a split second before our lips touch, you'll feel like you're betraying your wife, your memories and everything you loved. You'll hate yourself, and you'll rage against the universe for putting you in this position."

She gingerly blinks away the tears forming in her eyes. The faint quirk of her lips gives him comfort. "Eventually... with the right person... those feelings will pass."

It was the last thing he expected to hear. The tension in his shoulders falls away, a quiet sigh relaxing the tightness in his chest.

"It was awful for me. The first time." Her scars are on full display for him to see. "I wasn't ready. Like not even remotely. Sometimes, it hits you when you least expect it; something triggers you. A smell or a distant memory flashing through your mind. If you're not ready, it's okay."

It feels nice to know she's made progress since that fateful night her carefully-constructed life was forever disrupted. She's not sure she would have been able to guide Hayes even a year ago.

Suddenly, the distance between them evaporates. Figuratively and literally. He wraps his right arm around her waist, his left hand slowly lacing tendrils of her hair between his fingers before brushing them out of her face.

"That's not it." She can barely hear his whispered words even though he's so close to her.

He's been ready for a long time. For too long, really. He's been waiting so long for this; the anticipation nearly taking the breath out of him. His real worry? Now THAT, he can't seem to voice. It feels so juvenile.

Meredith frames his face with her palms, sliding her hands along his jaw, stroking his cheek in a rhythmic, soothing motion. "What is it, then?"

His nervousness hits him with full force, passing through his chest like a dark cloud. The truth spills over his lips. "I'm worried I've built up this moment so much in my head that it's bound to disappoint."

She stares at him in wide wonder. It's her turn to be taken aback. A snort-like giggle bursts out of her. He tries to step back, but her grip around him tightens. "Hayes... I can honestly say I've never been in a situation like this."

"A situation like what?"

"I've never waited this long to kiss someone I'm interested in. If you knew me back in the day..." Snorts abound again. She can't help herself. "I'm more of a kiss-first-ask-questions-later type of person."

"So you're not nervous?" His scrutinizing curiosity demands honesty.

"Not about the mechanics of the kiss itself." She bites her lower lip before admitting, "More about the fact that it's your first. The let-down from the comparisons you're bound to make, the looks of confusion and fear I might see. But I'm ready. I know what to expect and I can handle it."

Their gazes never waver, studying each other as they come to terms with some things and leave other things behind.

Finally, he pushes errant strands of her golden waves off to the side of her face. The power in his stare ratchets up the intensity she's feeling, robbing her breath. The intimacy of the moment wraps them both in a spell.

His hands slide across her cheeks in feather-like caresses, before settling on her neck. He barely needs to pull her forward, her body drawn forth like a magnet.

Her trembling hands find his waist, securing herself to keep from falling. His breath fans over her lips as his head descends agonizingly slowly towards hers.

At long last, their lips fuse together in perfect bliss, a burning sensation rippling through their bodies. Any longer and she would have combusted like a phoenix reborn. A pleasant coil of desire unfurls through him, unleashing a roaring beast he long thought locked away for good.

The thought that he was nervous about his is so far beyond him now. The touch of her lips, the taste... A familiar sensation spreads through his body, igniting it in its wake.

He's grateful she lets him lead the kiss at his own pace as a blast of fire sears his insides. His mouth craving the pleasure of her lips.

His hands thread through her hair, desperately needing to feel every inch of her. Her mouth opens wider; their tongues duelling in perfect harmony, air no longer required to keep them alive, the kiss sufficient.

A new passion sparks them, their movements growing frenzied as his hands tug at her hair and hers slide under his shirt, needing to feel his bare skin. Shivers rush along his back at her touch, setting off matching goosebumps along her own body.

Panting heavily against his mouth, Meredith pulls back, resting her forehead against his, her hands pulling out from under his shirt and resting on his back. He breathes in her exhaling whimper, revelling in the fiery tremors slithering all over him.

After a few languorous moments, she leans back, eyes roving over his features, taking in every single shift of his expression.

His breathing is laboured, his heart pounding rapidly against her chest.

Her eyes beckon, asking the silent question she's not sure she wants the answer to. What reflects back at her is amazement. Gaze alight with hope, he nods, his lips curling ever so slightly in reassurance.

"About those nerves..." she teases, her breath still quivering from the intensity of their kiss.

A burst of laughter spills out of him at her words. He sneaks in small nips along her jaw before reaching her lips once more. The tenderness threatens to overwhelm her.

"I think I'll get over them," he says between playful pecks. He pulls back, smirking at her. "With some more practice, obviously."