A/N : This is the final chapter of this fic. Through all 11 chapters, I hope I've been able to convey the abiding friendship that turned into so much more.

Thank you all for coming on this journey with me and giving this AU a chance. May this short epilogue bring you as much comfort as your comments have brought me.

I will continue writing for Merhayes if some of you are interested. I have some ideas for post 18x10 fix-it fics.

We found each other by accident, by which I mean every power made it so.

- Nicholas A. Browne

"This seat taken?"

Cormac glances sideways at the intruder.

His anchor. The woman who saved him from drowning in sweeping grief, the woman who helped him find a purpose, the woman he's rebuilt a wonderful life with and the woman who's made him laugh and smile in ways he thought were long past.

A tremble along his cheeks follows, and he has to shift his jaw to conceal his blossoming smile. He senses what she's doing, the role reversal of it all in this same Dublin pub they met some twenty years ago, and he decides to play along.

"Go for it."

Her own smile transforms her face into that youthful lass she was back then, her entire demeanour brimming with lightness and joy.

Meredith slides into the stool next to his as Cormac motions to the bartender for another whiskey.

"So, what brings you to Ireland, fair maiden?" His accent thickens as it always does whenever he's back in his home country. It feels good to just let the words come out as they want and not have to smooth them out just to be understood.

Meredith snorts under her breath. The idea of him calling her a maiden after what they did all last night... preposterous.

"Family trip. You?"

"Same," he answers, his lips quirking mischievously to the side.

He holds his hand out. "Cormac."

She stares down at it, the memories swirling back to the forefront of her mind.

"Meredith," she answers, slipping her hand in his a little too sensuously.

"Beautiful Welsh name for an American."

At that, her scoff can't be contained, "I forgot how corny you were that night."

And their game is over just as quickly as it started.

He tries to defend himself, as he always does when she attacks his romantic side, "I was only as cheesy as you warranted. You brought out that side in me."

"Sure... Blame the innocent woman in the scenario."

"I'm not sure you've ever been innocent."

She bumps her shoulder against his, while he wraps his arm around her waist, dropping a kiss on her forehead.

"Let's get a booth."

"Ooh, someone's feeling frisky tonight."

He snorts at her childishness. Grabbing their drinks, they settle into a darkly-lit alcove, him sliding in first and then her, settling her back against his chest. One of his arms snakes around her waist and pulls her closer to him.

"The kids settled?" He asks.

She nods against his shoulder, her voice dripping with incredulity and wonder, "Liam's a child whisperer. He got them to agree on a movie. All of them!"

"Even the little one?"

"He had her eating out of the palm of his hand. Kind of like his dad," she adds playfully.

Cormac turns his palm up, waiting. She doesn't disappoint. Her hand slips into his, lacing their fingers together.

One long hand squeeze. Still. Even after all these years. The comfort it brings... immeasurable.

"What are we going to do when he goes off to college?" He voices her concern aloud.

Meredith tilts her head back to catch Cormac's gaze. The pleading, wistful hope in her voice lifts his spirits a fair bit, understanding that he's not alone in his worries, "Pray he stays in Seattle and is open to being on speed-dial when any of the kids have a tantrum?"

He snorts playfully, knowing his son all too well, "Fat chance of that happening! The farther away he is, the better in his book. He's even looking at Unis in Europe."

He feels her head shake vigorously against his chest. "Nope, nope, nope! We have to forbid it."

We. A team, always. The we soars in his chest and his unoccupied hand moves to her chin, tipping it up and to the side to brush a feather-light kiss on her lips. Unsurprisingly, she tries to deepen it despite their surroundings.

Pulling back to faint mewls of protests and pouts worthy of their youngest, his lips gently graze a final kiss against her hair. "Not here, minx."

Minx. He laughs under his breath at the recollection of Meredith's successful attempt at an Irish goodbye.

He steers the conversation back to Liam and tries to reason with her, "Don't you remember what you were like at that age? Imagine if your mum had tried to forbid you from going somewhere..."

She huffs, quickly conceding his point. "It's precisely because I know what I was like that I want him close to us. Is that so bad?"

Cormac always imagines his love for this woman will stop growing one day, but then she says things like that. The way they've enmeshed themselves in each other's lives, blended their families together in a loving—and at times, boisterous home—continually warms his heart. "No, luv. It's not at all a bad thing. But we have to let them grow when the time comes. And know that they always have a safe place to come back to if they need it."

"When did you become the mature, reasonable parent?"

"I'm sorry to break it to you, but I've always been the mature one."

Grunts gurgle out of his chest when she elbows him sharply in the ribs.

"Need I remind you of your reaction when Ellie fell off the monkey bars last year?"

He shudders against her at the terrifying memory, at that feeling of utter powerlessness to stop Ellis' tears when she was in pain. Streaming waterworks, gut-wrenching cries combined with wailing sobs and moans of pain from the youngest of their bunch had inspired such fear in him, it's stayed with him to this day, ingrained in his soul with nary a hope of scrubbing it out.

"Who was the level-headed parent then?" Meredith asks much too smugly for his liking.

She can practically feel him rolling his eyes at her.

He concedes her point, "Fine. We all have our moments. And this one—this one is yours."

"I'm just..." Her words trail off with a heavy sigh.

"What?" He pushes.

Meredith appreciates her position right now, away from Cormac's intense, soulful gaze. The full power of which usually renders her speechless. And useless.

"Liam is—he's such a stabilizing force for the kids, you know? The one everyone looks up to, the one everyone goes to for guidance, the one who can calm anyone. They all finally got used to each other and now, he'll be leaving. I'm going to miss him so much."

Cormac remains quiet for a beat, letting her words marinate with his own feelings about the impending change.

Finally, he breaks the silence, "They'll adjust. Kids are resilient that way, especially our bunch. Someone else will fill the void. And Liam will only be a FaceTime call away."

His words only serve to amplify her sadness. And her skepticism. "Like he'll answer when he's off partying until 4 am."

A disbelieving gasp and a few chuckles sputter out of Cormac, "Don't tell me that! A father should be able to remember his sons as they were when they were babes."

"You better get used to it because the illusion's cracked. Soon enough, he'll be bringing home a serious girlfriend."

He pinches Meredith's side. "Bloody hell! You're determined to obliterate what little sanity I have left, aren't you?"

She peeks up at him from her comfortable perch against his chest, a smirk dancing across her lips. "No. But it is a nice little side benefit. Let me enjoy not being the only one freaking out for once."

He doesn't even try to keep the sarcasm out of his voice—not that he tries too hard, needling her his own way of deriving joy, "Always happy to provide some form of entertainment for you."

She pivots, "And you do it so well, judging by your marvelous performance last night. A performance that left nothing to be desired, by the way."

She lifts herself off his chest and leans against the backrest of the booth to study him. His cheeks colour instantly. His fast-spreading flush never fails to inspire her wanton side. Her hand settles on his lap, inching into dangerous territory as his widening eyes attest.

His own hand quickly halts her thoughts, "I actually like this place. You're not getting us kicked out of this one."

She rolls her eyes at his "demure", straight-laced nature. If only people saw him in the bedroom. "That happened one time. And if memory serves, you enjoyed yourself. Quite well!"

Through his stammering, his blush deepens as she knew it would. He narrows his eyes at her, circumventing her narrative as words finally reach his mouth, "That's not the point."

Wiggling her eyebrows, her hand tries to snake back into place, "It should be."

He meets her halfway, raising their joined hands to his lips in a show of tenderness. "Let's dance."

She purses her lips in fake annoyance at his usual attempt to keep her in line and tame her rowdy side in public. Scanning the pub, her forehead wrinkles.

"There's no music. And no one's dancing."

"It's Dublin. Everyone here is probably drunk off their arses. They couldn't care less."

Cormac scooches to the left, inciting her to follow his lead. And in truth, she can rarely say no to him, not with those eyes.

Once standing, he wraps one arm around her waist and tugs her shamelessly close. She melts in his embrace. As they begin to sway back and forth in silence, he brings her clutched hand to his heart. Where it belongs.

The silence doesn't last long. It never does with Meredith. Something for which he is eternally grateful.

"Is it crazy that we've known each other for so long and I still haven't seen where you grew up? That I still haven't met your family?"

Even though she tries to hide it, Meredith's face is drawn in uncertainty and worried confusion weaves through her voice.

Grip tightening, he hums in thought, stroking up and down her back to ease her adorable nerves. Uncharacteristic nerves these days, but nerves still reminiscent of the woman he's now known more than half his life.

"Not really," he finally answers. "That's why we're here now. Everyone will just be happy to meet you. With five kids and all the chaos that entails, they understand that we can't drop everything to fly over whenever we want. It feels like all the stars have to be aligned just right for us to get lucky and find the right time to plan a trip of this magnitude."

Meredith rests her head on his shoulder, folding her arm around his neck.

"Do you think they'll like me?"

The soft, hesitant quality in her voice stirs something in him. It's been a long time since he's seen her this unsure of herself. And that it's because she's putting herself out there for him melts his insides.

"They'll love you," he whispers in his ear. "If only because you brought me back to Ireland for a visit." He can't help wanting to lighten the mood.

"So, not because of my winsome personality, my bright smile, my surgical accomplishments?"

He pulls back slightly, a fighting smirk dancing across his face, always ready to bring her back down to earth, "Are we talking about the same Meredith Grey? The one who can't cook to save her life? The one who can't get the telly to work no matter how many times we explain the remote to her? The one who's so disorganized an intern had to be assigned to keep her in line and on schedule?"

She smacks his shoulder lightly, her own features settling into amusement before she rests her head back against his heart. "You've made your point."

They sway back and forth a little longer, no one paying them any heed.

"This place hasn't changed much, has it?" She wonders aloud, her gaze darting around.

"Welcome to Ireland, where people love their pubs just as they are and change takes many moons."

"Hmm. Did you ever—have you come back here? You know, since we..." Her sentence trails off with the unsaid words lingering between them, the swell of nostalgic memories rushing back to her.

"I did. Once."

"With Abigail?" She murmurs.

The hand stroking her back stills momentarily, before resuming its soothing rhythm. "No... After Abby." His voice croaks on his wife's name, remembering the lost daze he was in when he stumbled on the pub in an odd twist of fate.

Perhaps not so odd, he now thinks. Perhaps Abby had worked her magic and guided him there.

"I wandered by happenstance. I left the lads with my sister and just wandered the streets. For hours and hours. And all of a sudden, I glanced up and found myself in the last place I expected. I stood outside that window, just staring up at my past. I couldn't bring myself to step inside. But..."

"But?" Meredith pushes gently.

"But standing there, I felt closer to you somehow. Our last meeting came to mind... the one in San Diego. And it gave me the push I desperately needed to uproot the boys to Switzerland."

He feels her humming against his chest.

Time stretches as they dance in companionable silence, simply enjoying the kid-free night. But even after all these years, Meredith has rarely found a quiet she doesn't want to fill, her brain always on overdrive.

"I'm happy you talked to me. Twenty years ago."

A few light chuckles escape his lips. "So am I. Don't know what courageous devil possessed me, honestly. But I'm really glad I did."

She nods. Knowing him the way she does now, it does seem a little uncharacteristic of him to have approached a stranger in a bar.

"I think we found each other at the right time, in a similar mood. Your sadness called to me in a way I couldn't ignore."

He snorts before adding, "It's funny. For the longest time after, I kept thinking our timing was always off. I was sad you scampered off that first night without so much as a goodbye. But when we kept bumping into each other, it just seemed like serendipity. What if you and I were meant to part ways, only so we could find each other again when the moment was finally right?"

He swears he feels her smile grow against his chest.

"That's the romantic in you talking," she says with a lightness in her voice that calls to him.

He dips her unexpectedly, eliciting a surprise giggle out of her, her face splitting into a broad smile. His strong arms hold her steady as he sneaks in a few kisses along her neck and her laughing lips. Before long, he brings her back to a standing position.

"It's grown on you, my romantic side. Admit it?"

She shakes her head, her widening grin at his expense giving her away, "Never!"

"So, I reckon that means you don't want to hear about all the nice surprises I have in store for you?"

Her head cocks to the side in interest, her eyebrows following suit and quirking up. "What surprises?"

Her genuine curiosity cracks him up. "Oh, now you want the fun surprises? Admit you like my romantic side."

She pouts up at him, whining, "Do I have to?"

"Think about the happiness your gratitude would bring to this poor chap..."

Rolling her eyes at him, she relents, cheekiness out in full force, "Fine! Your loving, tender, cheesy side has somewhat grown on me."

His mouth nips at her ear, "You just had to sprinkle in 'cheesy', didn't you?"

Her own lips brush up against his chiseled jaw, "When the word fits. So… the surprises?"

"There might be a few day trips planned to the wild moors of the north country in all their vivid glory and the touristy—but always breathtaking—Cliffs of Moher. There might even be a food festival for the little ones in the village. For the rest of the surprises… well, you'll just have to be patient. Which I know is, shall we say… a challenge for you."

Meredith ignores his smirk in favour of concentrating on the intricate details of his preparations. "Is there any chance you might have arranged an epic picnic in the famous barn in these elaborate plans of yours? Or better yet, a plan to see the infamous electric fence?"

One eyebrow catapults to the heavens in amused disbelief, and before long, his mouth hangs open. "How long have you been holding on to that?"

"Never mind that. Answer the question."

"The electric fence is long gone, I'm afraid. The barn, however…"

Interest lines her eyes. And he hooks her in. "There might be a little surprise waiting for you. But my lips are sealed."

She leans in and steals his breath away with a kiss filled with molten desire, a kiss meant to strip him of all his senses and faculties. A kiss she uses all too often to get her way. Pulling away all too quickly, she uses his dazed state to compel an answer out of him against his will, her voice laced with the most saccharine tone, a tone used in the most extreme cases to get what she wants, "Are your lips unsealed now?"

His spell is broken. That might have worked when they first got together, but experience has built up his endurance. "Not quite."

She narrows her eyes at him, pursing her lips in dissatisfaction, knowing the jig is up when he brushes his lips against her forehead.

"Thank you for coming."

Meredith's forehead creases in confusion.

"To Ireland. To meet my family," he explains.

"Are you kidding? After everything you've put up with from my crazy family? It's the least I could do. And if the kids ever found out I deprived them of a trip to Ireland, I'm convinced I would have woken up with one eyebrow. Or drenched in pig's blood. And I'm excited to see where you grew up, to see the country through your lenses. The way any outsider should."

"They're a rowdy bunch, my family," he tries to warn.

"Rowdier than a dinner party at my house?"

Guffaws blow out of him. "Once they're a few pints in, no question. But I have to admit your dinner parties have prepared you well."

She shrugs happily, "This should be fun. I think I might fit in."

He snorts, "Oh, you'll definitely fit right in."

She squints, sending a weak glare his way, a glare packing absolutely no punch. "No need for snark."

Cormac tries and fails to keep his budding smirk in check. It's always a pleasant struggle around her. He spins her some more to distract her. But the idleness only lasts so long with her.

Hands now around his neck, she kneads his muscles, gazing up at him in wonder, "You know... I've been thinking about that Nelson Mandela quote a lot since we've been here."

"Not like you to be so philosophical," he teases.

She rolls her eyes at his attempt at a joke. "Shut up."

He chuckles. "Which quote?"

"The one about returning to a familiar place. 'There's nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered.' I've never felt that more than in this moment, here with you."

Cormac's quiet for a minute, taking time to let her words settle in. And then, he can't help himself, "It does feel like we've lived ten lifetimes between us. I mean, nine of those are yours but still…"

She pinches him in the back of his neck for his impertinence, but her puckered lips and quivering cheeks show no offense is taken at his words.

"It feels like that moment changed the entire trajectory of my life. Is that strange?" She asks, mystified wonder threaded through her voice.

A tinge of a smile tugs at his lips, his hand snaking up to brush away non-existent strands of hair out of her face. "No, it's not strange at all."

"I'm so happy I didn't sleep with you that night," she blurts out, never ceasing to amazing him. Even now, twenty some odd years later.

His eyebrows lift in mocking mirth. "Was that an option? Damn! Had I known, I'd have worked my charm much harder."

Meredith stands on her tips of her toes and brushes her lips softly against his. A kiss of comfort.

Her hands snake around his neck to rest on his cheeks and cradle his head in place. Eyes locked, she waits a beat, the enormity of his influence on her life can be brushed aside no longer, "You gave me exactly what I needed that day. And every meeting after. Through all the weird, difficult, traumatic times in my life. And every day since we've been together. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. I know I haven't said it enough. But thank you." Every thank you followed by a kiss to a different part of his face. His forehead, his cheeks, his neck, his lips.

Tears glisten her eyes. Seconds pass in silence and a few spill out, but he's there to catch them. Always.

He shakes his head slightly, but the glow in his own eyes reassures her. "You know it's a two-way street, right? I found myself again. With you."

A wistful smile flashes across her face. "Thank you for saying that, but you know it's not true."

It's his turn to adopt a solemn expression. His voice however... his voice is all fierce conviction. "You don't see yourself the way I see you. It's one of the things I love most about you. Your inner strength, your perseverance in the face of adversity, your absolute resilience. It's not always pretty, but it's real and it's honest. I can't tell you how much I clung to that after Abby died. How much our talks helped alleviate the pain just a wee bit when nothing else even made a dent. Knowing I could turn to you for advice—judgment-free advice at that. There was nothing more precious at the time. Nothing I craved more."

Silence clings to them. Tears well up and threaten, the years between them overwhelming her and comforting her at the same time. She just wants to wrap this man in a cocoon and never let anything happen to him.

So pure, so loyal, so noble, so beautiful, so loving. A rare, kind soul. What did she do to deserve his enduring love? She wonders.

"You were the first person I told about my mother. You rarely let me off the hook, but you never pushed too hard. I don't know that I would have had the courage to let Derek in completely without your nudge. You think I'm strong, but you have this quiet, steely strength that guided me through... everything. And—and you put up with my craziness! That alone deserves a gold medal."

He cackles at that, a few lone tears escaping from the corners of his eyes. She pulls his head down and pours everything she can't say into her kiss, everything he needs to know from her, everything he needs to finally grasp for her to feel settled. Their lips duel for what feels like hours but is only a few brief minutes as the hooting and hollering surrounding them pierces their bubble. She ducks her head sheepishly into his rumbling chest as his arms enfold her in his protection.

He pivots, learning a few things from her over the years, "How about a round of darts for old time sake?"

The joke comes out of her almost involuntarily. Meredith couldn't have stopped it even if she tried. Which she didn't. "You really want to get your butt whooped that badly? You brave man."

The condescension would aggravate a lesser man, but to him, the lightheartedness after everything they've survived has his soul beaming.

"How about this? Loser has to plan an extravagant date night when we're back home. So everyone's a winner in the end."

She can't hold her giggle in. "Pfft. Now I think you're going to lose on purpose just to get your way with me."

He fake gasps in jest, bringing his right hand to his "wounded" heart, "Meredith Grey, I would never! Don't you have more faith in me?"

She narrows her eyes at him, her chin trembling as she tries to keep her bubbling laugh contained. "When the romantic in you comes out to play, no one is safe. Not even you can withstand its force."

"You make me sound like a simpering sod."

She shrugs her shoulders, brushing her lips quickly against his, "Yes, but you're my simpering sod. And I wouldn't have it any other way."