A/U : First and foremost, this is an alternate universe (AU) friendship fic between Meredith and Hayes. However, I am not changing either of their respective histories. Derek will remain the love of Meredith's life and Abigail will remain the love of Hayes's life. I mention this in case anyone is worried about that.
I'm aware of the many reasons M/H fans might not like this AU premise. I get it.
I have a really hard time gauging how people will respond. If you think you'd be interested in reading the rest, let me know in the comments. If not, I have more ideas for one shots. AU's are not for everyone, this one included. If it's not your thing, I completely understand. I'll wait to see where the dust settles before working on the second chapter.
I really hope you all enjoy. Can't wait to see what you think :) All comments are welcomed and appreciated.
Your life can change in an instant. That instant lasts forever.
Dublin, Ireland (1999)
Meredith can't quite believe this is her last day in Europe. She's not ready to leave. Not even close. Especially not after her mom's bombshell.
It feels like all the gods, of every single religion, are smiting her, cursing her, condemning her to eternal damnation. This moment, in a hole-in-the-wall pub in Dublin, is when reality hits her smack-dab in the face, the universe dragging her away from the utopic fantasy of the last few months.
She was seeking a crowded, boisterous environment to drown out the harsh voices in her head, intent on rehashing her past failures at every turn.
As her crummy luck would have it, she stumbles into the one pub in Dublin that's about as quiet as a mausoleum. Beggars can't be choosers. A drink is a drink, especially in these parts of the world.
With nothing better to do to pass the time, her mind seems intent on replaying her mom's derisive words over and over again—words uttered with such conviction. Her brain starts by dissecting them before examining them under the microscope to discover if there's any grain of truth to them.
What a disappointment you turned out to be, Meredith. The first strike, and easily her mother's favourite.
It's a calling, Meredith. Not something to dabble in. I don't need you embarrassing me. The second strike. It always comes back to how this will make the great Ellis Grey look. Maybe she's jinxed, doomed to live in her mother's shadow.
You're not cut out for this. You don't have what it takes to be a doctor, let alone a surgeon. The third and final strike. Absolutely meaningless coming from someone who doesn't even remotely know her anymore and doesn't even have the inclination to try. And yet, the one that stays with Meredith the most, constantly lurking in the back of her mind, ready to pounce when the perfect opportunity presents itself.
And boy, is this the perfect opportunity. Her internal war is feasting today. Every word leaves an imprint on her soul; a scar so deeply ingrained it's determined to stay open.
Even thousands of miles away, her mother is still dictating her life choices, the tether between them bound tight. If she could only cut the cord, how different would her life be?
The pressures of her mom's constant barrage of insults, her passive-aggressive put-downs and her clear disapproval had already pushed her once to escape her life. Meredith actually believed she'd evaded the clutches of her only parent's control. For a few months, she lived free of judgment and expectations ceased to exist.
But as much as she hates her mom, as much as she wants to let her deal with this shitstorm on her own, she can't.
Resting her head in her hands, the full weight of the last two days crashes down on her like a tsunami.
Her mother calling her was strange on any given day. But a call to her hotel in Ireland in the middle of her night, Minnesota time? Actually tracking her whereabouts down? That was the first clue to impending disaster.
Receiving a call from her mother on the hotel landline put the fear of God into Meredith. And her intuition didn't deceive her. As Ellis relayed the matter-of-fact news of her diagnosis like it was any other patient but herself, Meredith struggled to contain her disbelief.
The notes of trepidation in her mother's quivering voice will stay with her forever, long after her mom's forgotten about the life-altering conversation.
Arrangements have to be made for the great Ellis Grey. Conversations have to be had; conversations Meredith doesn't feel remotely equipped to handle yet. On top of all that, she's going to have to seriously buckle down. No more binge-drinking. No more partying every night like it's her last. She could totally do this. How hard can it be to stop?
Probably a Herculean task. Meredith can basically wave her life as she knows it goodbye.
Drowning her sorrows before leaving for home and trying to release the anxiety griping her, she sits in this pub, mourning the life that was and trying to find a way to survive what comes.
Shaking her head to clear her thoughts, dwelling on the past won't help her now. Refocusing on the present is the only reasonable solution.
In this present, alcohol is a beautiful companion until the harsh realities of the world come knocking tomorrow. One last hurrah to enjoy herself...
The guy at the end of the bar, clearly checking her out in the least subtle way possible, is a nice, added bonus.
Alone in this quiet, dimly-light pub in the city, Cormac needs some time to celebrate his life-altering news before facing the disappointed looks awaiting him at home.
It's strange to feel so exhilarated with elation when your family is chomping at the bit to drag you back down to earth.
In any other world, being accepted into the best medical school in the country would gift a person with a giant feast and party. In his neck of the woods, it's lectures about family responsibilities, money and the real world.
He hates that there's even a choice to contemplate. So for now...ignore, deflect and rejoice in private it is.
Perhaps not totally in private.
He glances around the pub, eyes trained with a burning focus on the hypnotic, sprite-like girl slumped over the bar, lost in her own world.
Beneath her veneer, there's a sadness encompassing her, travelling with her. Her dejected posture is unmistakable; her features clear against the faint light of the bar.
The abrupt swerve of his thoughts is a welcome reprieve from his previous worries. If he can escape his life if but for a moment, it will be a night well spent.
His leisurely gaze settles on her, studying the bleakness surrounding her. She looks the way he feels. The internal struggle she's experiencing lives all over her face. From her quiet huffs to her drooping shoulders, this is a person who's going through it tonight.
Maybe a drinking partner wouldn't be the worst thing in the world.
For both of them.
"This seat taken?"
Meredith's eyes flick to her right at the unexpected interruption into her precious moments of wallowing.
The handsome intruder sidles up to her with kind eyes, dimples out in full galore and eyebrows lifted in question. With unkempt, dark spiked hair sticking up in every direction, he carries an air around him that screams "boy next door". Way too tame for her.
"Go for it," she replies gloomily. Not in the mood to chitchat with a stranger, good-looking or not, she lowers her gaze to focus on her whiskey, lifting the tumbler to take a swig before mindlessly twirling the glass around.
Eyes drifting across her face, something about her forlorn expression calls to him. Maybe it's the despair clinging to her like a child to his parent. Or the fact that she's clearly wrestling with something.
As he slides into the bar stool next to her, dragging his beer with him, an explosion of nerves makes themselves at home in his belly.
"Cormac," he offers shyly.
Side-eyeing him and sending him an irritated glare at his continued interjections, she purses her lips before huffing out, "Meredith."
"Beautiful Welsh name for an American. Are you even old enough to drink?" He jokes with a glint in his eyes, trying desperately to tease a reaction out of her.
Quirking an eyebrow in mock horror, eyes flickering to life, she quips back, swivelling in his direction, "Is there even such a thing in Ireland?"
Laughter rumbles in his chest, pleasantly surprised at her quick wit. "I reckon you'll fit in quite nicely here."
And that melancholic look is back in her eyes at his words.
Peering down at her glass, she shrugs, exhaling languidly. "I wish... Heading back home tomorrow morning."
Invested now, Meredith turns fully to face him. "Why's that?"
"Ireland's beautiful this time of year. We could have had some fun together."
The shadows in her eyes recede—just a little, his disarming voice having an unexpectedly calming effect on her.
She chuckles at the impressive presumption of this stranger. "Kind of forward, don't you think? You think that highly of yourself?"
"On the contrary...you look how I feel. We could have cheered each other up a little."
The merriment dancing in his expression, his velvety Irish accent, his boyhood dimples out in full force are far too inviting to ignore. This man is chatty, full of life, lightness and mirth, and for the first time in a long time, it intrigues her rather than irritates her.
"You're way too smooth for your own good."
Chuckles escape his chest at her far-fetched assessment of his skills. "Never heard anyone say that about me."
"So what's special today, then? Why am I getting the honour of your slick moves?" She scrutinizes him for any sign of insincerity.
The earnestness in his eyes lets her breathe easy. "You had an air about you...you looked so unbelievably sad."
"And you didn't want to let me drink in peace?"
"That's not the Irish way, I'm afraid." His lips curve up ever so slightly. "My ma would have my head if I didn't help a lass out. Or at least try to."
She shrugs at his kindness, a wistful smile gracing her lips. "I'm so beyond help at this point."
"That bad? Is that why you're leaving the country so reluctantly?"
"My trip got cut short. Family emergency." She shifts in her seat, tucking her elbows close to her abdomen, seeking comfort from any source she can.
Concern laces his features as her pain is clear to see. "I'm sorry."
It should sound hollow coming from a stranger, but maybe it's the Irish lilt or his gentle eyes. "Is it serious?"
Something flashes in her eyes at his question, something he can't quite grasp because her gaze quickly flits around, avoiding his scrutiny at all cost, before finally landing on her glass like it's the most fascinating item in the room.
Her hair falls across her face, masking her features and offering a piece of safety she yearns for. A swallow creeps along her delicate throat, the words stuck for fear of voicing her new reality.
"Life-changing," she finally whispers hoarsely. She hasn't mentally unpacked her mother's diagnosis yet. That will come later. In the coming days, weeks, months and years. For now, she tries to enjoy one last day of serenity before she succumbs to the chaos of life.
The despair in her eyes traps him. "Want to talk about it?"
She snorts. "Not even a little bit."
"It might help if you unburden yourself." His full attention is aimed at her, genuine interest pouring out of him.
Her gaze locks on his, wonder swirling in her mind.
"I really shouldn't be telling you any of this. My mom would kill me if she knew." She usually holds her words close to her chest, accustomed to them being used as weapons against her. "I'm sure she'll forbid me from telling anyone. Probably make me sign something the second I get home." She rolls her eyes just thinking of the likelihood of that happening.
He doesn't so much as blink; simply stares at her with warmth seeping in his penetrating eyes. "We'll likely never see each other again."
It feels like the magic words to get her talking. The final push she needs to release the pain threatening to explode and incinerate her.
The word is hushed, lifeless, burrowed deep in her heart by now. A single word symbolizing an agonizing journey towards a death-sentence for someone like Ellis Grey. A tortured, downward spiral from the mental anguish more than the physical turmoil.
"Late-Onset or ..." The hopeful tone in his voice is almost too much to bear.
"Early-Onset." She stares straight ahead, lest she glimpse that pitying look in his eyes. She feels more than sees his hand's slow approach, inching gradually towards hers, but stopping just short of touching. It's the sentiment more than the gesture that gets to her. More compassion from a stranger than her own mother.
His slight wince confirms the dread awaiting her. There's no more sugarcoating this. For the past two days, she's tried to convince herself that things wouldn't be as bad as she expected. But if a virtual stranger in a bar can see what she's been trying to ignore, well...the drinks better keep on coming.
"Do you have anyone to help you?"
She laughs wryly, shaking her head as a sobering smile lifts the corners of her lips. "Just me. My mother's not what anyone would call a people person. She's alienated practically everyone in her life."
"So it's all on your shoulders, then?" The empathy in his voice strangely warms her heart, never one prone to sentimentality. She doesn't feel so alone for these few moments, and the powerlessness isn't so overwhelming.
She nods, turning her gaze back to his. "I'll manage. Somehow, I always do." She carries around an air of solitude he wishes he could alleviate.
Taking a swig, she puts an end to that conversation by asking, "So why are you here? Alone, from the looks of it."
He bites his lower lips unconsciously. Dragging a hand across his messy hair, his answering huff perfectly describes his own state of affairs, far from sunshine and rainbows. "Not ready to go home and face reality just yet."
Her mouth quirks up in commiseration. "Guess we have that in common. Where's home?"
"Galway. A town about two hours west from here."
Interest lines her eyes. "What brings you so far, then?"
"I had a final interview for Uni yesterday."
"God, I hate those. I think they're designed to destroy our confidence and make us feel totally inadequate."
He chuckles. "A rite of passage, I suppose." He tosses back a large mouthful of his beer before adding, "They have to know we're made of tough stuff."
She shakes her head in rebuttal. "They just want to torture us like they were tortured." There's a story there, he's sure of it. But he doesn't want to spook her away.
He twists his whole body towards her, his arm resting on the bar top. With the conversation flowing, he's invested now. "So what brought you to Ireland?"
Her brows furrow at his questioning. "I feel an inquisition coming. I'll need a lot more drinks for that."
Smiling, he gestures to the barkeep for another round. "Not an inquisition. A friendly chat, is all."
"Are you usually so chatty?"
He shrugs, a smirk playing on his lips. "What can I say? I'm curious by nature. It's the future doctor in me." Completely oblivious to the effect his words were having, Cormac downs the rest of his drink in one last gulp.
Meanwhile, Meredith freezes at his words. What are the odds?
"Really?" She asks.
He bobs his head, tinges of pink inflaming his cheeks, all while pride laces his words. "Aye. Just got the news today that I'm likely in."
"Congratulations." It's not the most enthusiastic congratulations he's ever heard, but he can hear the sincere sentiment in her voice.
The pensive expression on her face and the slight furrow of her eyebrows tempt him.
"Did I say something wrong? Not a fan of doctor?" He wonders.
"I...no, it's not that. Sorry." She tilts her head in stunned disbelief. "It's just...I'm going to med school in the fall."
His mouth hangs open as his brows lift to the heavens.
"Exactly," she says.
Incredulity churns in the depths of their eyes as they let the common thread between them settle.
They ignore the bartender as he places their next round of drinks on the table before leaving them.
Cormac's curious stare sends shivers slithering down her body. This shared interest opens up a whole new world to their conversation.
Questions dance in his eyes.
"Where?" He finally asks.
"What med school?"
She laughs at his boldness, cocking her head in amusement. "I'm definitely not telling you that."
His shoulders lift in acceptance, never really expecting an answer. "It was worth a try. Do you know what field you want to go into?" There…much safer territory.
Or not. A hint of something flares in her eyes as she lowers her gaze for a beat. Pessimism, maybe. Her jaw grows tight, her thoughts manifesting all over her face.
Strained smile on her lips, she glances back at him, his earnestness tempting her to answer. It's been a long time since anybody looked at her and hasn't wanted something from her.
"Surgery," she murmurs. There are always opinions that follow that confession. Usually judgmental ones when it comes to her.
The glimmer in his expression surprises her and strangely comforts her.
"Me too!" The childlike giddiness in his voice endears him to her, his response so exuberant she smiles at it. She's a guest in his home, and his welcoming nature feels like the cure she needs right at this moment.
"You seem excited about it. Why aren't you out celebrating with friends and family, then?"
Now it's his turn to deflate a little. Sobering thoughts hit him as his close ones enter his mind.
"For the longest time, it's been a dream of mine to become a doctor. But it feels like it's been just mine, you know?"
Her eyes soften at his words. She gets it all too well. Nodding at him, she shifts slightly to face him, placing her temple on her fist to listen to his confession.
"In my family...no one's ever been to Uni. I'd be the first. So, they don't grasp that desire, that calling."
"They don't want you to go?" She voices quietly.
"They want me to stay and run the family business. They think it's a waste of time and money." He gives his head a slight shake. "So, I'm here instead. I've just received the best news of my life and I'm here celebrating alone before I have to face the music; stand my ground, if you will."
"You're not alone. Not anymore." She's surprised by her boldness, and the absolute conviction she feels in her words. Two ships passing in the night, at just the right time and place to aid each other.
This time, her hand is the one that inches closer to his, offering any bit of comfort she can.
The hint of a smile emerges. "And you? Excited to start?"
"I really am. But you're probably the only person who would believe me." She lifts her shoulders in a hopeless manner, pushing a breath out. The sheen in her eyes inflames his heart.
"Why's that?" He asks.
"My own fault. I've probably given everyone around me enough reason to doubt me. My mother most of all."
She brings her hands to her laps, examining them as a long bout of silence presses between them before words finally prevail. "My mom is a surgeon." Biting her lower lips, a begrudging admission follows. "A great one. And an exacting one."
The confession usually triggers questions, but he seems attuned to her needs in a way not many are. Now's not the time to push.
He nods, understanding dawning in his features. "And she doesn't want you to follow in her footsteps?"
Meredith snorts, a dry chuckle bubbling out of her. "Not even a little. I'm basically an embarrassment to her. One she doesn't want tarnishing her legacy."
"She sounds awful."
Her head rears up at his words. It's the compassion in his voice that gets to her. Albeit, he doesn't know who her mom is and his opinion might change if he did, but she decides to bask in the feeling for a little while. Enjoy the sensation it provides.
"Not awful per se, but not particularly motherly."
She shifts in her stool, nervous energy gripping her. "Not in the picture."
That less than feeling resurfaces at the memory of her dad; her mommy and daddy issues splayed out for this unsuspecting stranger.
"One is enough for me, honestly," she adds on dryly.
He recognizes the deflection for what it is and doesn't press her on it. "If you want my two cents, don't let your mum control your life. What do YOU want to do?" The emphasis is plain in the firmness of his voice and the pleading in his eyes.
She's never been asked that, not from someone without a hidden agenda. A faint smile dances on her lips. "I've never wanted to be anything other than a surgeon."
The revelation is out in the open now, like a weight lifted from her heavy heart. It's the first time she's finally acknowledged the truth to herself.
"Then prove her wrong, Meredith. What have you got to lose?" They'd feel like shallow, Hallmark greeting card words coming from most people in her life. From a stranger with no skin in the game? It feels like exactly what she craves.
But doubts inevitably creep up. She wouldn't be her without hesitation ruling her life from time to time.
"What about you? You're here drowning your sorrows too," she notes cynically.
He taps his fingers on the table. "Aye…but I'm still going for it. I'm done living my life for other people."
He continues on, grabbing his glass and bringing it forth in a raised toast. "So what do you say? To proving people wrong?"
She owes it to herself not to waste her life seeking fruitless endeavours just to avoid her mother's destiny for her. She can choose to be haunted by the ghosts of her past, or decide on a new course altogether.
He owes it to himself to find his own path, away from his family's wants, and follow his dreams.
A small grin unfurls on her lips as she grabs her drink and clinks it with his. "To proving people wrong."
"And being the best damn surgeons we can be."
As they take a celebratory swig, their gazes hold over the rims of their glasses. As they both commit to new adventures, they understand they won't walk that road together. But after this chance meeting, their shadows might stroll side by side on a parallel plane of memories.
Maybe the universe wanted them to find each other tonight; maybe it pushed them, knowing they could help one another stave off the clawing loneliness for a little while. This moment might seem like a small blip in a few years, but for now, it's that breath of air they need to keep from suffocating.
"Fancy a game of darts?"
The smirk alighting his eyes alerts her to incoming mischief. "You're a shark, aren't you?"
The glint intensifies, dimples darting out to make her succumb. "No clue what you're talking about."
"Right…" she draws out the word. His mirth is infectious, her body surrendering to his boyish charm. "You have no idea what you just started."
The amusement settling into her features gives him a good idea.
"My goal is to move to the States one day. Practice there."
"Why?" The allure isn't obvious to someone who's lived there her whole life. But to someone who lives in a country where opportunities are scarce, the draw is strong.
"I'm from a small town. I want to see the world, get lost in a big city. Practice medicine in a true urban center."
"Why not London, then?" She throws the dart dead center, smirking over her shoulder at him.
He rolls his eyes at her besting him once again. "You sound like my ma."
He shrugs. "It doesn't mean I won't ever come back and work here. There's just more growth in America at this point."
"And fierce competition..." she points out.
He nods. "Aye. Hopefully, that'll bring out the best in us."
"Why surgery?" She asks, in between their third round of drinks.
"I love problem-solving, but I've worked with my hands my whole life. I don't see that changing anytime soon. I need the physical aspect of the job, that active approach." He snorts, trying to envision himself in internal medicine. "I don't see myself just studying charts and labs all day long."
Throughout his explanation, her head bobs in understanding.
It's a loaded question, and an intimate one for her.
"I...I...I just love everything about it. The feel of the scalpel in my hand, that first cut...even the suturing and the rhythmic beeps of the machines." The scene fades in and out of focus, as her mind travels back to memories of the past. "The calm that settles in your body right before you enter the OR, the rush of repairing what needs to fixed."
"You have experience, then?"
"It's what I imagine it will be like. I've been practicing my suturing since I was eight. I've watched so many tapes of my mom's surgeries, I know them by heart. There's no other feeling like it."
The reverence and awe in her voice sends chills cascading down his spine. Definitely surgery.
While his back is turned to her, fetching the darts from the board, thoughts linger as Meredith ponders what her life will look like in the future.
The timidity in her low voice has him glancing back at her. "Aye?"
She puts her question forth, allowing her hidden preoccupations to the forefront. "Do you ever wonder how you're going to manage a relationship with the demands of the job?"
The air between them tightens, charging at the change in direction. Even though he doesn't even remotely know her at all, everything from her reluctant tone to her downcast eyes tells him his response is important—not to be recklessly thrown about.
"Is that something you worry about a lot? Because of your parents?" His timbre takes on a soft quality, like consoling a hurt animal.
She nods before hanging her head down to hide her glistening eyes.
"I imagine it will be just as hard as the actual surgical residency. We'll fail a lot before hopefully getting it right."
Her glance rises to meet his, a small smile playing on her lips.
His own mouth curves up in answer. "I truly believe that when you find the right person, you'll make it work."
They might end up being empty words, but the hope they provide swells her heart twofold.
As the night drags on into the early hours of the morning, the conversations flows so naturally that the thought of never seeing each other again is painful. Friends are hard to come by in her world.
"Told you you'd regret suggesting darts to me." The unabashed grin lighting her features is a nice contrast to her earlier demeanor.
"Gloat all you want. My fragile heart will find a way to recover." Setting his beer on the table, Cormac says, "I'll be right back. Another sip and my bladder's likely to explode."
As she watches his retreating form heading to the bathroom, the innocence radiating from him intoxicates her.
Everything about their interaction has been honest. No hidden motives, no pushiness. Just refreshing honesty. And yet, she doesn't mistake the discernible undertones of futile interest from both of them, but interest nonetheless.
What she wouldn't give to just live in this moment forever? To have the freedom to explore the world and follow her whims to her heart's content?
She knows she can't stay. Prolonging the inevitable will only hurt them more in the long run. And she has absolutely no desire to ruin it needlessly with her usual messiness.
It's kind of fitting. An Irish goodbye in Ireland.
This way, she gets to remember this peaceful moment in time exactly as it is; bringing it forth like a childhood blanket, finding solace in it when the world throws every obstacle in her path, determined to unravel her life.
Her decision is made. Hurrying before he comes back, Meredith grabs her backpack, swinging it over her shoulder. She drops some bills on the table before heading towards the door. Pausing at the threshold, she closes her eyes, fighting the urge to glance back.
As he makes his way back to his seat, Cormac sees her fleeing, whispers of her golden strands waving goodbye in the distance. The minx.
He can't help himself from sneaking what is most likely his last glimpse at this kindred spirit. Something tightens across his chest. An unexpected fondness for a person his memory will hold dear. He could catch up to her, but he understands what tonight was, and what it will remain.
He prays to capture another glimpse of her face. She doesn't disappoint, looking over her shoulder and training her eyes back for one last glance.
Tilting his head to the side and delivering a smirk befitting his Irish origins, their gazes connect in a heated moment; embedding the emotions of the night to memory, cherishing the unexpected intimacy they shared, not knowing if they'll ever meet again.
His stare warms her skin, roaming over every inch of her, owning her in this moment, transfixing her in place.
As they take each other in one last time, sorrow filling their hearts, he can't help but think he'll miss her from his life. This passing visitor...
She dips her head in acknowledgement, quirking her lips to the side.
Some friendships are meant to be fleeting—ending before they even began.
Theirs wasn't one of them.