A/N : This chapter is a LENGTHY one. My gift to you all for the long wait. Sorry if that's not your thing. It took some time because I didn't want to let anyone down with this chapter.

First Warning: Some scenes from S16 have been altered to better fit my fic (for example, Maggie didn't quit at the end of 16x09). Some minor case/medical dialogue is borrowed from Grey's. Don't sue me please :)

Second warning: I dipped my toe into smut. This is my first time writing smut; an exercise for me, if you will. So, it could be a total disaster of cheese puff proportions. If it's not your thing, skip it. No worries. But I'd love your feedback on it to improve.

Hope you enjoy. I so appreciate all your comments.

I've been waiting for the tides to change

For the wave to send you my way

I see you darling but you pixilate

It gets hard to take these days

But we'll hold the line, I won't let go

'Cause I'll be there when you can finally make it home

And I don't mind 'cause we both know

That I'll be fine when you can finally make it home

- Vance Joy (Missing Piece)

It's been a long time since a cloud of nervousness has hit Cormac this hard. But he's here, in Seattle, the land of blasted—and comforting—rain, chasing the promise of more. He chooses to see the touchstone to Ireland as a sign.

He took that leap of faith, a surge of bravery overtaking him, knowing full well the implications and understanding the message he was sending Meredith. This most definitely might blow up in his face. But if he didn't take that shot in the dark now, the swirling what ifs would have driven him mad out of his bloody mind.

His first full day at the hospital, he glimpses her name on the OR board for two lap choles at ungodly hours, smiling to himself at her junkie behaviour. First day back and already scrubbed in! Sometimes, fate smiles down on him. Her interlude in the OR gives him time to leave a little something behind in her office.

He makes his way up to the general surgery floor, wandering around from one end to the other until he finds his intended target. Furtively peeking left and right, he tries the handle and thanks Jesus for his good fortune as it opens. He sneaks in, trying to make this as quick as possible. Not a good look to be caught breaking into someone else's office on your first day, especially not someone whose name is plastered all over the hospital. The room looks unused, a stale scent in the air and a coat of dust covering every surface in sight. He places his gift on her coffee table in full view of her desk.

As he turns around to leave lest he tempt chance, that's when it catches his eye. A heart-shaped card poking out from under some files. He'd recognize it anywhere, having agonized at the store over which one to get.

He doesn't need to see the smile on his face to know it's there.

Maybe he doesn't need to be worried about that leap of faith, after all.

Her much-anticipated return starts off with a whimper. Barely a word or a nod of acknowledgment from anyone. That's what Meredith gets for sneaking into the hospital at four o'clock in the morning to scrub in to two lap choles.

Maybe the staff is used to her shenanigans by now. Fired, rehired, fired, rehired.

Or maybe she just needs to arrive at a decent hour? Like a normal human being.

Finally making her way to her office after all the first day jitters are eradicated from her system, she collapses in her chair and checks out the layers of dust that collected everywhere while she was "gone". At least Bailey didn't convert the room into a birthing suite!

Reclining back, her eyes spot a Kelly green gift bag on her coffee table, its brightness looking entirely out of place in her office. Curiosity piqued, she drags her tired body over to her couch and plops down. Grabbing the bag, in it lies a midsize box wrapped in sea glass themed paper.

Swiping her index finger under the Scotch tape, she makes quick work of discarding the paper like a kid on Christmas day.


She pulls the bottle out of the box to see if there's a note, or anything really, to give her a hint as to who sent her the gift. This isn't just an ordinary whiskey bottle. Whoever sent it took great care in packaging it, tying a beautiful red, white and blue bow around the bottle with a beachy little umbrella sticking out of the bow. The combination simultaneously intrigues and befuddles her.

This can't be for her. Can it?

There's no note attached to the package no matter how long she searches. Resting comfortably on her table, the bottle just stares at her, taunting her with its shroud of mystery. And then her phone buzzes in her pocket.

Cristina : Did you get the package yet?

Meredith : The whiskey bottle? Yeah, weird taste, though.

Cristina : Smooth. But no, look harder. Have surgery. Bye.

Meredith : What's smooth?

Her last text goes unanswered, confusion settling in.

If this is how the rest of her day is shaping up to be, she might need a truckload of coffee to get through it.

Finally, some people are happy about her being back, the residents celebrating her lauded return a solace to her vanity.

Probably ass-kissing to get on her good side, she laughs. But at least, they did it in style.

Meredith savours the cake in hand like it has to last her all day, which it very well might once the surgeries start piling up.

Rounding with the residents helps quiet her first day nerves some, but the niggling feeling she's had since she stepped foot in her office persists, lingering in the back of her mind like an annoying gnat. Her lengthy absence from the place she's called home for so long could explain it, but the space feels different, filled with unknown possibilities.

She goes from room to room, listening, correcting, examining. Trying to get back into the groove of things.

While walking to the last patient's room, the residents scurry ahead, giving her some much needed space. And then, away from their incessant fawning, she hears it. The faint change in the atmosphere. The surrounding air whistles with a familiar, bone-melting Irish lilt, the sound slamming into her chest. On the outside, she's a statue, her feet stuck to the ground like they're encased in cement, but on the inside, her body churns.

It can't be.

Her head swivels around the hallway back and forth, scouring to uncover the source of what must be an auditory hallucination. An alluring one, but a figment of her imagination all the same.

The gifts on her desk must be playing tricks on her mind, manifesting hope into existence.

Legs on the move, the search is on. She follows the fading timber like a child on the heels of an ever-evading balloon, always out of reach. The more she advances, the further away the voice gets until she's standing at the nurses' station looking like a paranoid fool.

Dusting off the stinging disappointment, Meredith finally makes it to the last patient's room.

"Good morning, good morning," she exclaims, trying for cheerful to quell the sudden ache in her heat. "What do we have?"

"Jamie Caldwell, 13—" Deluca starts.

"Jamie. I know Jamie. I took out your gallbladder two years ago. How are we doing?"

Phone in hand, the teenager grumbles in despair, like only a teenager can, "Zachary just commented on Tessa's post with a heart emoji. When I'm dying."

"You're not dying," the mom reassures. "She's not dying, right?"

Meredith turns to Deluca to continue his presentation.

"Jamie presents with a 3 by centimeter mass in between her ribs on her right side which—"

"Hurts like hell," the young girl interjects.

"Language!" The mom admonishes.

"Can you cut this thing off before Tessa's bat mitzvah? Zachary Schultz isn't gonna dance with a hunchback."

Meredith smirks at her former patient, the troubles of a young teen amusing her to no end. That's the only reason she doesn't notice him entering the room.

But once she does, the air shifts again, like a tsunami smacking her right in the face.

"Who's presenting?"

That voice.

That voice renders her utterly and completely speechless, his arrival out of thin air a sucker punch to the throat. He struts into the room with purpose, commanding everyone's attention like he's been doing it his whole career.

A flood of memories rushes into her in the split second it takes her brain to understand what's happening.

Drinks in an Irish pub.

Donuts at Boston Logan airport.

Walks on the beaches of Hawaii.

Pasta in a Chicago restaurant and nutcrackers in a hotel gift shop.

Despair on San Diego beaches.

Comfort and desserts in Zürich.

Endless phones calls and texts.

All the good, the sad and everything in between.

He hasn't noticed her yet, hidden against the wardrobe. Her mouth opens and closes like a fish out of water, words caught in her dry throat.

"Hi. Who are you?" Deluca finally asks when Cormac's initial question goes unanswered.

"Cormac Hayes," Meredith breathes, her vocal cords finally working again.

Cormac's head whips around. Their eyes collide and his face breaks out into a huge smile, a private smile reserved for her alone.

Goosebumps break out, cascading all over her skin, the moment almost too much to believe. She swears there's a whole lifetime of words in that warm, hypnotizing gaze of his. His smile turns into an amused, conspiratorial smirk at the look of utter shock on her face, the glint in his ensnaring eyes finally shattering her stillness. She blinks, her gawking bordering on unprofessional.

Cormac completes her introduction, saving her from her own awkwardness, "Chief of pediatric surgery."

If Meredith didn't know him so well, she'd have missed the imperceptible twitch of his lips.

"Since when?" She asks, voice stilted, completely ignoring the rest of the room.

"Since this morning," he replies, a full-blown cheeky grin now plastered across his face.

That little rascal! Somewhere exciting, my ass, she thinks.

Mocking fire burning in his eyes at her flustered expression, her ability to focus fades drastically. As Cormac introduces himself properly to Jamie and her mom, Meredith just stands at the foot of the bed, mindlessly nodding at whatever he's saying and doing, completely discombobulated and without a firm grasp on what's going on.

Her thoughts wander. Oh boy, do they wander to faraway lands of unknowns. Her mind has never gone there—the two of them in the same place at the same time. That's never been their relationship.

When Cormac's examination comes to an end, Meredith finally snaps out of her daze, "Okay, Parker. Let's get her up to CT."

"Like I said," Cormac playfully reminds her, his mirth-filled gaze finding hers.

Meredith narrows her eyes at him before turning back to Jamie, "We'll see you soon, Jamie."

As all the residents walks out, she sneaks up behind Cormac and grabs his elbow, pulling him into the nearest supply closet. Shutting the door behind him with a loud bang, she pushes him against it, her wagging index finger out in full force.

"How could you not tell me?"


He barely has time to get another word out before her geyser of emotions explodes. And then, she's rushing him, wrapping her arms around him in a tight embrace, hiding her glistening eyes in the crook of his neck. His arms enclose around her waist, a bubble of intimacy binding them together in ways no force could separate.

They stay like that for a minute, just entwined together, the tension in her body slinking away as his warm breath on her neck sends shivers cascading down her back.

He's real.

He's here.

In the flesh.

"Now I know what you were hiding," she mumbles against his chest.

Reality hasn't sunk in yet and she finds herself repeating the same sentence over and over again, "I can't believe you're here."

His blithe chuckle reverberates through her, finding its way to her much-too-gooey center.

"Good surprise?" He asks, the racing heart against her ear betraying his insecurity.

Despite the elapsed minutes, her voice still feels breathless, "Amazing surprise."

Arms still enfolded around him, Meredith pulls back slightly to look up at him in wonder, the shock still slow to dissipate. The small smile tugging at his lips cracks her facade a tiny bit.

They just stare at each other, their faces inches away. He lets her soak the moment in. He understands the shock has to be overwhelming for someone like her.

"This does solidify your number 1 stalker status, though. Congratulations!"

Bursts of laughter ring between them. "Do I get a badge or something? How does that work?"

Rolling her eyes at his lame joke, she smacks him on the shoulder. "I'd be careful if I were you. You're in my house now."

A boyish grin spreads across his features at her teasing threats. Before he can respond, her eyes widen, a light bulb going off in her head.

"The gift? It was from you," she spits out, accusations lacing her words.

"Aye," he replies, like it's the most obvious thing in the world and she should have put two and two together way before now. "The bottle, Ireland. The little umbrella, the beach. The bow, Chicago..."

"I thought it was from Cristina."

Cormac scoffs playfully, unimpressed with her conclusion, "I'll refrain from insulting your deductive skills."

"She said she sent a present! For not becoming a drifter." Meredith's head cocks to the side, the veil clouding her brain finally lifting. "She meant you."

"Ding, ding, ding."

His response merits him another smack. "Give my brain time to catch up!"

The hand at her waist squeezes lightly. "I'm only teasing you. I know it's a shock."

"To say the least," she murmurs, her hands coming to rest on his shoulders.

Why now?

It's only when his features soften and he starts to answer that she realizes the words escaped the hatch of her thoughts.

"I didn't want to watch my life pass me by," he whispers, pulling her a fraction closer to him. "When Yang told me about the opening," her brows lift at that little morsel of news, "my heart leapt at the chance. When it looked like I might not get it, I thought I would go bloody mad. I was so tired of not seeing you. Of living in the past and missing out on life."

The only thing holding her up are his strong arms around her waist, his confession turning her so pliant she might as well be a lump of clay.

Everything but him is forgotten.

What does it matter that she just got her license back when Cormac is here?

What does it matter that this is her first day back after a long absence when Cormac is here?

Cormac is here! To stay!

Her brain still hasn't quite caught up, but the silence in the room needs to be filled. So first thought off the top of her head, it is.

"Am I supposed to call you Dr. Hayes now?"

The corners of his mouth turn up at her innocent quip. "I have to get back to work. New guy and all. Can't be dallying about."

Stepping back, Meredith releases her hold on him.

Turning around, he flashes her a parting grin, "I'll see you up in CT in 20, Dr. Grey."

The cheeky bastard.

"You didn't answer my question," she yells after him, ignoring the looks from the nearby nurses and orderlies.

The door closes shut behind him with a thud, sealing her in with her twisted thoughts and her new reality. It's the first time they've treaded on the verge of physical intimacy; time, space and circumstance no longer an issue. But that reality, the reality of being around each other day in and day out, sneaks up on her. At that, her initial happiness abates, belied by the panic taking center stage.

Is he ready?

Is she?

Will they just pick up where they left off, like them living in the same place at the same time isn't a monumental shift in their relationship?

She's wanted this for so long and yet, when faced with the chance to finally go for it, she is paralyzed by her fear. And her desire.

What if this changes everything?

They always, always pick up right where they left off, but now, the nerves claw at her insides. She takes a deep breath to calm herself and slowly exhales it out.

For Meredith, it's the shock of it all. When reality will sink in remains a mystery. She's not sure how to treat him. There was always a certain comfort in the distance. A protection of sorts, a barrier, from the magnitude of what she knew awaited her. Now, everything feels real in a way she can no longer push off like years of past.

You can do this, Meredith.

Be his friend.

Don't overreact.

But mental pep talks have never helped at keeping her from spinning out. And so, in this cramped supply closet, the pacing starts. Her racing mind allows nothing else, just pacing and nonsense muttering to herself.

In normal circumstances, she'd be reaching out to him for advice. She would ask him what it means. Not really an option right now. Grabbing her phone from her pocket, she goes for the next best venting option.

Meredith : How could you not tell me about this?!

She doesn't have to wait long for her best friend to answer.

Cristina : Did someone take a picture of your face?

Meredith : I'm FREAKING out over here! This is not the time for jokes.

Cristina : Good present, no?

Meredith : Yes, but what does it mean?

Cristina : Whatever you want it to mean.

That doesn't help her at all.

Meredith : You're useless.

Cristina : You're welcome, btw ;)

Fifteen minutes pass, her nerves still frayed. But she can't hide any longer. Work calls.

By the time Meredith settles Jamie in for her CT, Cormac is seated, reclined comfortably in front of the monitors, waiting for the scans. Like he owns the place.

As she's closing the door, Parker runs in, "I checked with the mail room. No packages for you."

"Thanks, Parker. It found me."

She doesn't elaborate at the resident's confused look, choosing to perch herself against the wall. All she notices is the perpetual grin painted across Cormac's face.

The monitors blissfully beep, halting every conversation playing through her mind.

"Look at that. Mass between the ninth and tenth rib. That's easily accessible."

He nods, agreeing with her assessment, "Simms, book an OR. Make sure the lab's ready to run the biopsy."

The resident runs out, Meredith raising her finger to offer her differing point of view, "But it may not be a tumour."

Cormac spins around to pin her with a disbelieving stare, his brow arched in surprise, "Seriously? It has all the makings of a sarcoma."

She nods, "Yeah, but she's got no other clinical presentation. And I took out her gallbladder two years ago. Some stones may have spilled and migrated to her back."

"So, your medical opinion is you did shoddy work?" He says teasingly.

Parker's eyes volley between the duelling surgeons.

Returning Cormac's piercing gaze, Meredith squeaks out, "You know it happens in up to 30 % of lap choles!"

He reclines back even more, enjoying this back and forth between them. "Not sure they shouldn't revoke your Harper Avery for that."

"It's Catherine Fox now."

"Right, my apologies, Dr. Grey."

She rolls her eyes. "Parker, prep Jamie for a core needle biopsy. And don't say a thing to her mom about cancer."

Once the resident exits, Meredith perches herself on the side of the table, boxing Cormac in.

Worry springs from his every pore. "You really don't think we should warn them?" He asks.

"I get it. You know I do," she sympathizes, placing a hand on his shoulder in support. "I'm talking a few hours. Just until we do the biopsy. We'll know more then. I don't want to frighten them unless we need to."

He places a comforting hand on her thigh and squeezes. "I trust you."

And God, that just pierce her heart.

She's not too proud to admit she avoids him, stuffing her feelings down her emotional garburator. Her sanity and her nerves thank her for it.

After spending so many years in one lane, his sudden arrival has all the markings of a 100-meter sprinter sidestepping into her lane and completely destabilizing her stride.

The world around her hasn't changed but for one component. But it is a major one, one intended to upend her whole life. In a good way. She just has to convince her brain of that.

Hours later, they're scrubbed in for their first surgery together, the nurses prepping the room, double-checking every instrument and every tray.

Cormac is scrubbing so hard, she's worried for his hands. "It's gonna be ok," Meredith whispers, trying to ease his worries as best she can.

He hangs his head and breathes out a tense exhale, "I hate these cases."

Her arms ache to reach out, but the soap prevents her from reassuring him the way she wants to. "I know."

"It's not just that," he admits in the stillness of the room. A heartbeat later, his dredged-up memories come out, "It was the anniversary of Abby's death a few days ago..."

His words trail off and she wants to kick herself for not making the connection. They live with this. All the painful little reminders at the drop of a hat.

"I want to hug you right now, but..." she tells him, pointing to her dripping wet arms. Instead, she nudges his shoulder with her own, rubbing her upper arm back and forth against his to simulate a semblance of comfort. His soft smile warms her heart.

"Control yourself, Dr. Grey," he teases, redirecting the mood to lighter fare. But it has the desired effect, producing an eye roll out of her.

Her body feels it. The strangeness of the moment. They've known each other close to twenty years and this is their first surgery together.

"It's our first surgery together," she informs him with a lopsided grin.

"I'm aware. You ready?"

"I was born ready."

Stepping into the OR, she catches his airy chuckles just before the sliding doors close behind her.

"Pathology's saying they're just seeing inflammatory cells and cholesterol deposits."

"No malignancy at all?" Cormac questions, so sure he'd been right.


"Like I thought. Move over, hotshot," Meredith says, the smugness oozing out of her even through the five-layer surgical mask.

Cormac sidesteps her. "You're opening her up?"

"Cholesterol deposits," she reminds him, taking the lead, "I'm pretty sure it's a gallstone. Bovie!"

"You just had to school me on my first day here, didn't you?" He jokes, agreeing with her logical conclusion and letting her cut his patient open.

"Someone has to teach you the lay of the land in my house."

"And you so graciously offered out of the kindness of your heart?" He whispers in her ear.

She shrugs her shoulders, focusing on the open back and quizzing the resident in front of her for the next few minutes.

"Looks like some inflamed tissue. Can I get some light?"

Cormac adjusts the overhead fluorescent light to get better exposure. With steady hands, she cuts the tissue surrounding the hard mass and squeezes it out.

"Parker, what do we have?"

"It looks like—is that a large gallstone?"

"It's a large gallstone," she confirms.

"In the posterior chest wall?" Simms wonders incredulously.

"Her body reacted to it like it was foreign tissue and tried to push it out," she explains smugly. Much too smugly.

"I can't believe you saw that from the scan," Cormac says at her side, impressed.

Her gaze shifts sideways to him, finding his twinkling eyes over his mask.

How is she supposed to handle the power of his stare every single day? Can her heart?

The instruments in her hands bring her back to the present moment, reminding her of her surroundings.

"I didn't. Not really. It could have been any number of things. A sarcoma, a benign mass, a cyst. I knew her history. So, a gallstone just fit her lack of other symptoms. Shoddy work, as you said."

"You know I was kidding about that, right?" He apologizes sheepishly.

"I do," she reassures him. She compounds the sentiment, "You're so lucky this happened with me."

At his raised eyebrow, Meredith reminds him of their common friend, "I don't have time to leave pictures of gallstones all over your office or little notes saying, 'I was right, you were wrong'."

And just like that, chortles erupt out of him right in the middle of the OR.

After witnessing his unbelievable kindness with Jamie, Meredith hides. Again. Mental barriers and doubt firmly in place, the emotions of the day threatening to submerge her.

How is he so calm about this shift?

Shouldn't he be the one freaking out?

Getting on the elevator, Meredith tries to make her escape for the night in hopes of avoiding all the lingering awkwardness thrumming through her body and soul.

One, two, three floors down.

But in all her forty some-odd years, has luck EVER been on her side?

The elevator stops on the peds floor. Of course, it does.

As the doors slide open, she's met with the full storm of his powerful stare. For a second, his feet stay rooted as he takes her in from head to toe.

"On or off?" She asks, bemused.

That breaks his spell. He steps onto the elevator just before the doors close behind him.

"Definitely on," he answers, the double meaning woven in his words.

He brushes by her ever so closely, coming to stand shoulder to shoulder. His fingertips graze the sensitive skin of her wrist and then the back of her hand, sending tremors running up and down her arm. His teasing continues languorously, her skin catching fire. From the corner of her eye, he doesn't look the least bit contrite about the havoc he's deliberately wreaking on her body. She needs to pull her hand free for her sanity's sake, but what her brain says and what her heart wants diverge. As always.

Facing forward, he breaks her self-imposed silence, "You know I'm not always going to let you have your way in the OR, right? Even if this is your house."

She sneaks a peek at him and catches the tiny curve of his lips. He's enjoying himself far too much at the expense of her febrile nerves, she thinks.

"I know," she finally answers. "We'll figure it out."

They had to, she fears.

She takes the tentative first step into establishing a routine, "You want to—you want to grab a drink? Celebrate our first surgery together? There's a bar across the street."

"Great place for a pub," he laughs. "I'd love nothing more, but I can't tonight. I promised the lads I'd help them finish unpacking."

"Not even just one teeny tiny drink?" She asks, doing her best attempt at batting her eyelashes his way.

Peaking sideways at her, he snorts, "Not sure I can stop at just one drink with you, Siren."

She rewards him with her finest pout.

The elevator stops on the ground floor, and they exit side by side.

"I know you were trying to hide from me all day," he says, bursting her bubble.

"I—I—" She just releases a ragged breath at his spot-on insight, "I'm sorry. I'm nervous, I guess."

"It's okay. Really," he reassures her, shrugging his shoulders. "We just need time, an adjustment period, if you will...to learn how to live together."

Shouldn't she be the one reassuring him?

Maybe things don't really change. We just think they do.

Barely through her front door, Meredith doesn't even have time to take off her shoes before her phone buzzes with an incoming trauma.

A car crashed into Joe's bar.

Well, it seems God has spared her, just this once.

Back to the hospital, she goes. Nearing the entrance to the ER, she bumps into Link and Jo and a baby.

"Who is that?" Meredith asks, pointing at the little bundle of joy in Jo's arms.

"Jo stole a baby," Link admonishes.

Jo rolls her eyes at him, cooing at the baby, "I did not steal a baby."

"That's what I said when I stole a baby," Meredith interjects.

Flapping his arms in the air in disbelief, an exasperated Link huffs out, "Why are people stealing babies? No, you know what, I don't need to know. Jo's a safe haven volunteer. She's taking the baby to the nursery. Right?" Link looks to his best friend for confirmation.

Jo lies through her teeth, "Mm-hmm. Nothing to see here."

"You two are being weird..."

While the two best friends lock eyes in battle, Meredith spies Cormac coming in from the parking lot.

"You got called in? For the trauma?" She wonders.

"No. I'm on call. Got a page about a wellness check. There's a trauma?"

"Let's just say it's a good thing we didn't get that drink."

At his puzzled expression, she clarifies, "Apparently, a car rammed into the bar. Multiple traumas."

His eyebrows arch in disbelief. "I guess I evaded my first Grey-Sloan catastrophe."

"I haven't had any yet," Link pipes in. "Atticus Lincoln, Ortho."

Meredith and Cormac's heads swivel in the direction of the two interlopers.

"Pleasure to meet you. Cormac Hayes, Peds."

Not to be left behind, Jo pipes in, "Jo Karev, General." Motioning to the baby in her arms, she adds, "Wellness check baby."

"Right. We should get to it."

"I'll come find you when the chaos settles," Meredith tells Cormac.

And chaos it was.

First Helm. With her declarations of love.

Then Schmitt with collapses in the OR from cardiomyopathy and rambles seeking forgiveness and hand holding in the cath lab with a nosy Maggie. This night just keeps getting better and better.

"So, I heard you were pretty chummy with the new guy in surgery today. Care to elaborate?"

With a gleam in her eyes, Maggie's not half as slick as she thinks she is.

"Dr. Cormac Hayes, the new Chief of pediatrics," Meredith grumbles into her mask.

Even from her perch by Schmitt's side, Meredith picks up on Maggie's skepticism.

Injecting the dye into the blood vessels of Schmitt's heart, her sister doesn't let her off the hook, "Not like you to be nice to the new guy."

Meredith is pretty sure she hears a snort come out of doped-up Schmitt. If he weren't already on the table with needles in him, her ensuing scowl would put him there.

"I'll try not to be too offended by your intended insult. And people think you're the nice sister..."

"Deflect all you want, Mer. I know something's up. You have to admit it's not like you to warm up to people that quickly," Maggie's voice trails off, expecting an explanation.

A long beat of silence ensues as Meredith fails to indulge her sister.

"Come on! Would you rather tell me or have Amelia hounding you? Because I will tell her."

The threat has the desired effect as Meredith spills, "We know each other, ok?"

"Who?" Maggie asks, momentarily confused.

"Me and Cormac. We know each other."

Maggie stays quiet despite her deepest chatty instincts, hoping Mer will elaborate. She's rewarded for her patience.

"He worked in Switzerland before here."

"Is that how you know him?" Maggie wonders. "Through Cristina?"

Meredith mumbles a faint 'no'.

At her sister's bemused look, she confesses, "I met him twenty years ago. In Ireland."

"Oh My God! The heart-shaped card guy? The Christmas guy?" Maggie squeals, her eyes lighting up, hands temporarily frozen to prevent any nicking from sudden movements, even as her body vibrates with excitement.

The only response Maggie gets from Meredith is a pointed, narrow glare.

But Maggie's eyes widen even more as something akin to dawning comprehension flashes across her face, "Oh My God! He came here for you? That's so ro—"

Meredith doesn't let her complete her thought, "I—no. Not for me."

At Maggie's dubious expression, the niggling doubt is wrangled out of Meredith, like she has no idea what to do with the information, "I—I—maybe?"

"Did you two ever..." Maggie's wiggling eyebrows finish her sentence for her.


"But you've thought about it? How could you not?" That's the romantic in Maggie talking. "And he's here now. For you!" If voices could be described with emojis, her sister's would be filled with hearts, hearts and more hearts.

"Not for me!"

What little features she sees of in Maggie's face scream get real, her sister's fantasy overruling anything Meredith has to say.

"Can we please get back to me?" Schmitt interrupts them. "Am I dying?"

"Relax," Maggie assures the young resident, "You're not dying, Schmitt. It just felt like it. I haven't found any blockage. You have broken-heart syndrome."

Don't we all? Meredith scoffs.

As she scrubs out, she replays Maggie's words in her head. He came for you. The impact of his actions, put into perspective by her nosy sister, isn't lost on her. With the realization, comes the creeping pressure. The pressure of inevitability, the pressure of being his firsts. The inescapable bursting point doing nothing but fanning the flames of her sinking doubts.

He's here. Does that mean he's ready for something more or is he just looking for a friendly face?

Is she ready?

Does she really want to ruin what they have—as she always does—for the possibility of maybe?

One day blurs into another, and by the time she finally drags her sorry butt to bed, her head has given up trying to figure out what time or day it is.

But sleep deserts her, her nerves shot by the seismic shift in her life.

Has it really just been one day since Cormac's arrival?

She reaches for her phone and opens their text threads. As is her habit. In the hopes that the familiar action will bring with it the familiar comfort of the basics. And maybe reassure him about her skittish behaviour.

Meredith : I'm happy you're here. In case I didn't say it earlier.

His response takes but a few minutes.

Cormac : I could tell you were in shock.

Meredith : I thought my first day back was going to be the highlight of my day, but you just had to upstage me.

Cormac : I learned from the best.

Meredith : How are the boys settling in?

Cormac : It's been hard for them to start school in the middle of the year.

She doesn't need to see him to sense the guilt rolling off him.

Meredith : Talk to Bailey. She's got a son about their age. It'll help them acclimate if they have a friend.

Cormac : Dr. Bailey, my boss? The tiny woman whose glower scared me so much during my interview, she almost had me reconsidering coming here?

His question ignites spasms of laughter in her.

Meredith : She was probably just testing you. I promise she'll be gentle with you.

Cormac : You know, I heard a rumour about a nickname you used to go by at the hospital.

Meredith : All hearsay. You've been checking up on me?

Cormac : Getting the lay of the land.

Meredith : I'll show you all the best spots and the places to avoid.

Cormac : I look forward to it. And for what it's worth, I'm really happy I'm here too.

Her concerns quiet enough to let sleep overtake her.

Over the next few days, they settle into a comfortable rhythm of teasing and witty, mildly flirtatious banter. Mild being the operative word. Never more. Maybe Cormac senses her reluctance—her fear—to the change on the horizon.

Meredith gets to see a different side of him. The weathered version he is now. A side of him she could only observe in the nitty-gritty of the day to day. The consummate professional, a little gruffer with parents and patients than she envisioned, but grief will do that to a person. She only needs to think of her behaviour towards Jo in the aftermath of Derek's death to give him a free pass.

But beneath his brusque exterior, she does catch glimpses of the earnest, playful, kind man he once was—still is—and she realizes through every small action that she does know the real him.

Like when he brings her coffee just the way she likes it without even needing to ask for it.

Like when he subtly grazes her arms and hands when walking by.

Like when he seeks her out just to chat.

Like when he specifically requests her for consults, despite fearing the wrath of Bailey.

In all those little moments, she feels seen. The real her. Not some sanitized version, not a worshipped version. Just her, scars and all.

"Is my son dying?" The father asks.

Today, they're working the case of a sixteen-year-old male with the lungs of a sixty-year-old.

"No, he's not. But with his lungs in this bad a shape, our only definitive option is to repair the oesophagus and remove part of the lung," Meredith hears Cormac say as she passes by.

Interjecting herself into the conversation between her friend and the patient's father, she says, "I agree with Dr. Hayes. It's the only safe option."

They share a small smile at the memory, both on the same page.

Once the dad agrees, they walk away to schedule the surgery.

"Rubbish dumps, huh? You really like terrifying these parents."

Cormac rolls his eyes. "I was trying to terrify the kids." Gruff but kindhearted.

This, them working together feels like the natural progression of their partnership. Because that's what it feels like. A partnership. Painstakingly built over countless years.

After surgery, he invites her over to his office for a drink. Just like old times.

"Nice digs," she says, strolling into his office and looking around. But for a lone box in the corner, it looks like he's been here years and not days.

"I hate clutter."

While he retrieves a bottle of whiskey and two tumblers from his desk drawer, she plops down on his couch.

"Dr. Hayes? Contraband in the hospital? Who's the criminal now?" She reproaches teasingly.

Mirth lines his features. "Only one of us has had the pleasure of wearing an orange jumpsuit."

"I'll have you know it was more red than orange." His laughter at her expense doesn't help her cause.

He passes her a half-filled glass before taking a seat beside her. Turning sideways to face him, she tucks her left leg under her, resting the tumbler on her thigh.

"How's the first week been?" She asks meekly. She knows she hasn't been the image of the perfect welcome committee, her push and pull probably confusing to no end.

What she doesn't know is he expected this and takes it in stride. "It's been alright. The people here are quite friendly, actually."

Dig at her or not, she hears herself responding, "I'm sorry."

"For?" He pushes.

"For being weird. It has nothing to do with you."

His eyebrow quirks up at her obvious lie. "Really?"

She shifts a little in the couch cushion, unsettled by his sharp inspection, "Fine. It has a little to do with you. But in a good way. The best way. But..."


"I worry, you know? Change is hard for me."

He strokes the hand resting on her thigh, "You wouldn't be you if you didn't worry. But know this, I'm not going anywhere."

The subtext is clear.

There's something that's been on her mind since Cormac got here, his arrival clearly in the works for several weeks. The free-flowing conversation calms her enough to spit out her query, "What if I was still with Andrew?"

"What?" Cormac asks, tilting his head at her seemingly drastic pivot.

"You decided to come here before knowing about Andrew and me. What if I was still with him?"

He stares at her like she's under a magnifying glass, a faint smile flashing across his face. A smile laced with an intimacy that makes her chest tighten at the implications. A smile that reminds her of all the ways he's managed to sneak his way through the gates surrounding her heart, a little closer every time, while she wasn't looking.

"Even after all these years, I still have a hard time getting a good read on you, sometimes."

That wasn't the answer she was expecting, and she lets him know it, a pronounced scoff breaking the quiet of the room, "Me? You're one to talk."

He smirks at that, shrugging his shoulders like she's just given him a compliment. "I know my presence here has unnerved you," he acknowledges. "I'm giving you time. To get accustomed to the inevitable."

As the promise of his words hangs in the air, he pierces her with a look that could only be described a smouldering, the heat coming off her threatening to incinerate her.

"You never answered my question," she mumbles into her raised glass, redirecting the conversation to safer territory. Or so she thinks.

"Some people are worth fighting for, Meredith."

He says it like it's the most obvious thing in the world. Like he didn't just upend her life with a few words.

He didn't come to play.

The tension between them races along her skin, the same tension they've been nurturing for years and yet sidestepping all at the same time. The tension more present now than ever.

"How are you, really?" He pivots, saving her from getting lost in the dark recesses of her mind. He doesn't miss the look of appreciation on her face at the subject change.

"I'm okay. I'd be better if Alex would answer my calls."

"Evil spawn?"

She laughs at that, "Yeah. He's helping his mom in Iowa. Allegedly."


She blows out an irritated sigh, "I don't know why he wouldn't answer his goddamn phone, especially from me, if he was just having a family emergency."

"Maybe just busy sorting things out?" Cormac offers.

"Too busy to just type out a 'yes, I'm alive' text?"

"Want me to kick his arse for you when he comes back?"

Loud snorts burst out of her. She scans her friend from head to toe, eyeing him dubiously, trying and failing to keep her skeptical, amused smile under wraps.

He narrows his eyes at her, "What?"

"I don't want you to take this the wrong way, but Alex is kind of a brawler."

He unleashes a fake gasp of offense, "Many a person has underestimated me. Nothing I wouldn't do to defend a friend."

And the smoulder is back.

Why does he always know just what to say to get her heart thumping against her ribs?

She purses her lips, hanging her head to hide the flush burning up her cheeks.

"You've got some stiff competition in that department," she stammers. "Alex lost his job defending me, he took care of my kids when I was in the hospital, he flew to San Diego when I had an emergency C-section."

"I'm sure it wasn't one-sided," Cormac says, before adding, "Just so we're clear, I just got this job. So, you're on your own if the temptation to commit insurance fraud suddenly grips you again."

She grabs the pillow behind her back and throws it his way, hitting him square in the chest.

"Some friend you are!"

Laughs abound between them.

He takes her joke in stride, "I once jumped over an electric fence to get to a girl."

"Was it a crime?"

A furrowed scowl of confusion mars his features. "No."

"Come talk to me when you're ready to commit a crime for me."

Gaze boring into her, he doesn't shy away, "That's the barometer? A crime? A crime is easy when passions are high enough. Like committing insurance fraud without thought to the repercussions in order to save a child's life. How about willingly leaving a better-paying job to come here, in the land of perpetual rain? How about leaving a comfortable situation to wade into the unknown? How about risking our friendship for the chance at more?"

Her breath hitches. It takes her a few seconds before she can finally rasp out, "You're not playing fair."

"Who said I came here to play fair?" He stuns her, a tiny smirk tugging at his lips.

She can't help but see him in a new light. Even now, the mystery still hasn't evaded them...a blessed rarity.

During the next two weeks, Meredith's resistance wanes against Cormac's full-on gentleman fest. But her fears don't crumble completely, her fiercest ones withstanding his best moves.

The twinkling eyes.

The cheesy jokes.

The genuine devoted dad routine.

The thoughtful gestures and the helping hand.

On days when he's not at work, she finds herself drifting, reaching for her phone to text him. Today's case...today's case is one that actually helps her embrace the changing tide.

As she and Schmitt explain to Irene and Norman that the former's CT scan showed the spread of her cancer, Meredith's heart doesn't break like it used to at these types of cases. She's learned—through her hardships—that there's a certain beauty in living a full life together, even if the problems of old age eventually get you. A certain comfort she didn't get to live out. But she knows the pain of losing a spouse, even after decades together, never fades.

But maybe not all is lost, she thinks.

An hour later, Schmitt comes to find her in her office.

"You want to do what?" She asks him to repeat.

"I want to co-opt the cafeteria so Norman can stage a ballroom dance for Irene."

"And you're telling me because..."

"To make sure I can."

"Schmitt, in my experience, it's better to ask for forgiveness than permission."

At the resident's befuddled look, she rolls her eyes, seemingly needing to lay it out for him more clearly, "Just do it. And if you get in trouble, say you didn't think it would be a problem." She adds as an afterthought, "Just don't mention my name."

When Schmitt texts her the time, she can't help her burgeoning curiosity. What she finds in the cafeteria melts even her stodgy heart. Lit candles, Norman looking dapper in a tux, Irene looking radiant in her gown, both of them dancing their hearts' out.

A crowd gathers around the couple, that little infusion of love a welcomed reprieve from the sadness this hospital experiences all too often. In the back of the room, she spies Cormac taking it all in. The rollercoaster of emotions plays out across his face. The sadness, the grief, the unexpected calm and finally, the kinship.

A minute goes by, and he spots her. They eye each other for a moment, feeling all those feelings. They see each other in a way no one else can, in ways that render words futile. This is their shared space.

He weaves his way through the crowd and sidles up next to her.

"I thought you had a parent-teacher conference," she says, adding jokingly, "or did you not find the boys?"

He smothers a chuckle. "I did. They were hiding in a game room. I got called in for a case."

"Everything okay?"

"Aye. Just an overeager resident a little too quick to page."

Irene's giggles bring them back to the couple at hand. They watch as Norman twirls his wife around the makeshift dance floor.

"So, is this the kind of stuff I can expect at Grey-Sloan?" Cormac whispers in her ear.

Meredith snorts, "I thought this would be right up your alley. Grand romantic gesture and all."

"Oh, most definitely! I just need to know if I have to step up my game."

"I'm not sure the poor ladies of Seattle could handle you if you go full-throttle."

"I'm only interested in what one lady in Seattle thinks."

She feels his burning gaze on her as she stays focused on Norman and Irene.

The moment gets to him. How can it not?

"Meredith?" Cormac says.


"Have dinner with me."

He doesn't imagine the look of surprise on her face when her head spins his way.

"I—I—okay. I can invite some people over to my place. You know, so you can meet more people," she rambles, deliberately missing his point by deflecting his obvious intention.

"Come with me."

A hint of a smirk surfaces in his eyes, but he doesn't let her escape, sliding his hand through hers, interlocking their fingers together and pulling her out of the cafeteria like a man on a clear mission. A mission he plans to see through.

"Where are we going?"

"To my office. We're having this out, you and me."

Is that her heart thrashing against her ribs or her blood throbbing wildly against her veins?

He leads her quietly to his office, hand in hand, acutely aware of the nerves running through her body as evidenced by her clammy, jittery hand.

Finally seated on his couch, he waits for her to do the same, to have the talk that needs to be had and lay all their cards on the table.

Instead of following suit, she paces. Back and forth around his office. His eyes trace the cavalcade of erratic emotions painted across her face, the internal warfare on center stage for him to see in the swing of her troubled movements.

His opening gambit, his most forthright and to the point. "You know why I came to Seattle, Meredith. You have to."

Her stride falters momentarily, acknowledging his words, before her pacing resumes.

Everything is so simple for him, so black and white. Still, even now, never disillusioned by life. A little beat up, rough around the edges, more gruff than she remembers, probably from life's pummeling. But never disillusioned. She wonders where his quiet confidence comes from and if he would so kindly spare some her way.

How is he not freaking out? How is he always so sure of himself while her mind devolves into the putrid waters of every worst-case scenario; while her fears trap her in, slow vines slithering up her legs, intertwining around her and preventing her from moving forward?

He sees her freak out coming, maybe even before she does.

"Hey," he whispers, breaking the silence of the room. "Talk to me."

When she finally turns to face of him, he sees the years of fear etched on her face.

His features soften, settling into the understanding she's become accustomed to and desperately craves at this moment. When faced with the actual choice in front of her, the clawing doubts creep up, sneaking into her psyche despite her best intentions to live in the moment and not be saddled with the unease tiptoeing in her mind. If there wasn't any panicked confusion or hesitation, she wouldn't be her.

And then the fear regurgitation begins.

The first, about him.

He's not ready, the thought forces itself to the forefront of her mind.

"How do you know you're ready for this?"

"Meredith, I took the leap of faith. I'm here, aren't I?"

She gives him that. Isn't he the best judge of his own readiness? Maybe she's just projecting her own fear of readiness on to him.

The ramble continues. No turning back now, just rushing on.

"I'm scared of being your first after your epic love story," she confesses. Isn't it just bound to disappoint? "You need to rebound with someone else first."

He scoffs at that, "There is no one else. Not for me."

Her pacing resumes up and down the length of his tiny office, a caged tiger needing to be unleashed to calm the unyielding hammering of her heart.

She shakes her head at his nonchalant certitude. "I don't want you to regret your first time. Not like I did."

"How could I when it's with you?"

At that, she freezes, finding his eyes. An answer for everything. Her fears pass the first barrier on their quest for freedom. But she has to get every excuse out of the way, her subconscious wondering—dreading—one will stick. Better to know now, right?

On to the next. Everything has to be out before they can cross that invisible line they can't come back from. She thinks she'll stump him with this one.

"Who's to say it would work?"

"Who's to say it wouldn't?" He volleys back her way, confidence lacing his every word.

"Do you really want to take that chance on a maybe? And wreck what we have?" She implores, her hands gesticulating like a mad woman.

"Yes," he replies so fiercely.

Barely hearing him, she bulldozes through, her thought process as chaotic as a Jackson Pollock painting, "Is it worth it? The inevitable pain. Why complicate things? Maybe what we have is great because we never muddied it."

Cormac's eyes slice to hers, the intensity flaying her. "What are you really afraid of?"

Quiet fills the room as she desperately tries to will away the tears pooling around the edge of her eyes.

"You know how you can have that one TV show you just love for years and years, and then suddenly, the obsession fades? Or that band you once worshipped and now you can barely remember their lyrics? Or that friend you barely talk to who once knew everything about you?" She doesn't wait for confirmation from him, just pushing through her neuroses, "I don't want that to happen to us. This thing between us, it's the one thing in my life that hasn't changed, hasn't lessened. Not for me." Her voice cracks, the tears reaching her throat, "I can't bear to lose you."

She's endured enough, and this change...this change scares her to death.

"I'm scared that if we went for it, we'd lose it."

Arms folded across her stomach in protection and shoulders curled in, Meredith shrivels under the inspection of his sympathetic gaze. She anticipated a freak-out. She just didn't expect it to be her own. In all the scenarios she'd concocted, and she'd conjured up quite a few, this one hadn't come up.

"I've seen the most honest version of you, Meredith, and I'm still here."

She hasn't moved an inch, but there's a full movie playing out across her features.

Maybe this is what they need, he thinks sadly. To dig deep and get to the root of the thing. Everything out in the open before they start, so there are no surprises down the road.

He sees the fear swirling in her eyes, holding her prisoner, and he seeks to unlock its grasp on her to eradicate it completely. But he's aware of its power on her.

"Tell me everything. Lay it all out." To get it all out of the way so our future together can begin.

He knows just what to say to talk her down. Bleed the wounds dry, air them out, strip them and begin the healing process.

Searching the labyrinth of his eyes for traps, her gaze finds none. In safety, she goes forth and splays herself open.

"How do you know our bond isn't rooted in trauma?"

He's silent for a minute, a puzzled expression playing across his face. But not for long.

"We've shared so much together. Not just our traumas. Those are things that happened to us, and they might have defined us for a pocket of time, but they're not who we are. I know who you are, Meredith."

"What will a relationship between us look like during ordinary times, when we're together every day?"

He can't help teasing her now, so sure they will get past this panic-induced episode, "Meredith...have you ever heard of taking a relationship slow?"

"Slow is not a word in my vocabulary," she huffs out at his laughing smirk.

At the tiny release of pressure, he gets up, slowly inching his way towards her.

"Listen, we'll fight sometimes. It's inevitable, but I truly believe our friendship is strong enough to weather those storms. Don't you?"

Despite the dry tears marring her face, a faint smile emerges, at long last.

Now it's Cormac's turn to wonder, "Are you worried about Derek? About his memory?"

Meredith's body tightens up, no answer forthcoming, but the bite of her bottom lip gives her away.

Maybe it's something he worries about as well.

"You know I would never dare take away the love and time you had with Derek. The moment I try, this—whatever this is between us—will be destroyed."

Gazing at him, a wave of relief sweeps through her. She'll never have to wonder if he understands.

He gets it, she realizes, he really gets it. Why did she think it would be any different?

The breath she's been holding in for too many minutes finally finds a small passage to slither through the constriction of her lungs.

And now, on to the absurd.

"We've never even kissed. Our chemistry might be awful," she exclaims.

A smug smile dangles from his lips at that, his eyes betraying his amused skepticism. "Or it might be the stuff of legend."

She snorts, "Okay, Romeo. Simmer down." The optimism of old slinks in.

Cormac steps closer and closer to her, invading her space slowly but surely.

The ridiculous reasons just keep tumbling out of her, quick as lightning, "I'm messy. And I can't cook to save my life."

He continues his slow approach, relentlessly ogling her as every one of her reasons gets less and less believable.

Gulping, she backs away, taking tentative steps to try and put some distance between them, but the small office allows for none of that. Her mind gets all fuzzy this close to him. It always has. She just used to be better at controlling it. Or maybe he's never truly given her the full force of his magnetic stare before. Not like he is now.

The prowling persists, like a predator to his prey.

He practically laughs at her now, "Meredith..."

His approaching steps weaken her resolve, closing the distance between them as her back hits the wall. Her reluctance, her excuses, they feed something in him. The way he sees it, she wouldn't be fighting against a relationship so hard if the depth of her feelings wasn't so profound.

"Who can you trust more than me with your heart?"

And with that, he takes away what little breath remains in her chest. Sometimes, she forgets that he knows he so well. That they've shown parts of each other to the other they've never dared show anyone else.

A lock of her hair springs forward, escaping the ponytail keeping it in place. Mere inches from her now, so close she can breathe him in, he brushes the strand away from her eyes.

"I know—I know it's been twenty years of this, and to suddenly change course and possibly ruin what we have...it feels daunting. But I'm right here with you." Gone is the glint in his eyes. In its place, a pleading fire dancing in their depths, so intense it steals her breath.

And finally, the world stops spinning.

Her resolve crumbles, every fear she's lined up losing steam at his words. Panting after her ramble-filled anxiety vomit, something shifts inside her, the mountain of her fears finally conquered. Grounded by the wall resting against her back, her body exhales, finding peace, a calmness that's been on vacation for far too long. Surprisingly, Irene and Norma pop into her head, their love story giving her that final push.

The distance between them evaporates, hip to hip, chest to chest. Cormac stares at her like he never wants to stop, like he could do it for the rest of his life and be satisfied, his raw intensity stoking the embers inside her. The air around them crackles with decades of simmering tension, the pounding of her heart against her chest deafening to her ears.

His hands land on the small of her back, drawing her closer into his orbit. Hers follow suit, clutching at his neck. As the stillness of the room envelops them, they just stand there, eyes glued to one another, the electricity between them charging their blood as they gaze into the depths of their souls and hold on to each other for dear life, nothing but the sound of their mingling breaths covering the silence between them.

A minute turns into five that turns into ten, so many emotions passing between them, so many walls coming down and so many doors opening.

A lone tear trickles down her cheek, past her fortified defenses, the sheer exhaustion and relief overwhelming her. As with everything else, he catches it with the back of his finger. Always catching her. He doesn't ask; he doesn't need to. The emotions of this moment, years in the making, just became too much for her. That's what twenty years of knowing her will give him—fierce insight.

His hand stays affixed to her cheek, stroking, calming, comforting. And fueling the fire as her skin prickles in awareness. She kneads the back of his neck, doing some stoking of her own if his faint grunts are anything to go by.

"Are you sure?" She asks, her eyes flickering down to his lips.

Please be sure before we start something we can't come back from, her expression beseeches.

No hesitation from him, which confounds her to no end but really shouldn't, his strength a beacon of hope for her.

"Aye," he breathes against her lips, her bravery a balm to his fragile soul.

His voice drops, the husky timber rumbling through her, "I think this moment has been engraved in stone since the day we met. Fated, if you will. It will be strange no matter what. Might as well be strange with someone I lo—"

Her lips crash into his mid-sentence, the sheer anticipation of this moment boiling past the point of no return. Not days, weeks or months. But for years. The culmination of two decades of enduring friendship, mixed in with gratifying relief. Even with all the unknowns, she throws caution to the wind, at long last surrendering and trusting that he'll catch her.

And he does, responding in kind. He slides his lips across hers, tasting, savouring, like a starving man relentless in his pursuit. Frenzied in a way only twenty years of eagerness can build. Flares of heat spread throughout her body, every inch of her vibrating under his touch. She should have realized he'd be a conductor. Guiding, harmonizing, setting the tempo and making her body sing. No fine-tuning needed.

His hands curl around the back of her neck, his nimble fingers finally tangling in her locks and massaging her scalp. Clutching the back of his scrub shirt and lifting it slightly, her hands graze the skin at the small of his back, his body quivering with every feverish stroke she lays upon him. Their lips part only long enough to gasp for air before chasing ecstasy again, carried by the lust pooling low in their bellies. His tongue duels with her, turning her brain to mush. She's pretty certain the unbidden moan she hears comes from her own mouth.

Revelling in her whimper, he drowns in desire, the feelings almost too much for him. Angling her head, he prolongs their kiss with a desperation seeking release, her soft lips devastating his.

Finally, she pulls back slightly to stare at him in wonder, the swirling emotions leaving her body quaking. Their eyes align, the what ifs disappearing into the ether and the shields crumbling under the weight of the inevitable.

"How's that for chemistry?" He pants, sweeping his thumb slowly over her lips.

Her mouth curls up a smidge at his self-satisfaction, "Might need another example."

Seconds later, he dives back into the searing kiss, capturing her bottom lip and sucking on it gently, like a flame has been lit and is only picking up steam. He tries to take his time, but the heat roaring inside him will have none of it, urging him on more ardently. Their tongues dance that quickstep together, matching stroke for stroke, extracting every bit of longing pleasure out of the other.

His rhythmic exploration rouses the onslaught of sensations invading her body. But when his hand sneaks under the hem of her shirt, the contact against her skin emboldens the blazing fire coursing through her to new heights. But he still doesn't take pity on her, barely giving her a moment to breathe. Mouth travelling to her neck, he lavishes it with feverish nips, his rough stubble scratching her sensitive skin ever so deliciously, leaving her a quivering mess of a puddle. Consumed by the need thrumming through her veins, Meredith grinds her hips against his, the friction providing only mild release to her aching core. She feels him respond in kind, the coil in his jerking groin unleashed as he thrusts into her pelvis. Her roving hand can't help but stray, cupping his growing erection through his flimsy scrub pants.

He twitches in her palm, all his blood rushes south as he contends with the uncomfortable tightness in his pants. Lord, help him. And help, he receives, the code blue warning in the intercom breaking the shared haze they find themselves in.

Lips swollen, bearing the marks of their strokes, they break apart, barely a sliver of space between them.

First kisses aren't supposed to feel like home. And yet...

"Are you going to take me out on a date before you try and jump my bones?" He whispers breathlessly against the shell of her ear.

She huffs out a snort, the familiar teasing settling her. They stay tangled in each other's arms, hers draped around his shoulders and his around her waist, simply breathing each other in and refusing to let go, basking in the relief of the moment and savouring it.

"I think I can do that," she happily rasps out against his heaving chest, pressing a final kiss right over his heart. "Friday? My place. The kids are having a sleepover at Teddy and Owen's."

He nods against her head, kissing her temple tenderly as he takes her hand and holds it against his heart, "I'd love nothing more."

A second later, he adds, "If you run...I'll follow."

She doesn't disappoint, mumbling into his scrub shirt, "I would expect nothing less from my stalker-in-chief."

Her glow lasts all of one day before Andrew's unexplained insubordination stomps all over it.

Congregated with nurses to prep for the pro bono surgery day, she looks over the paperwork and spots a smirking Cormac.

Before she can reciprocate, Andrew accosts her. No hellos, no excuse-me-Dr-Grey. Just shuffling papers, trying to find some notes amidst his disorganized stack of charts, gesticulating wildly, thoughts all over the place and asking her questions about an old patient of hers.

"When's the last time you slept, Andrew?" She asks, eyeing him worriedly.

The resident looks at her like that's the most ridiculous question he's heard all day. "What's that have to do with anything?

"You can't help Suzanne if you're exhausted. You need to take a break."

"Can you just answer my question, please?"

"I think Fred's rash was propofol-infused syndrome."

"Okay. Thank you. It didn't need to be that hard," Andrew says, stalking off and already forgetting about her.

She's too busy shaking her head at the whiplash caused by the resident to notice Hayes brushing up against her at the nurses' station.

"So, that's your resident? Charming..." He notes sarcastically.

Her head whips around at the intrusion. "He's not my resident anymore. And don't be mean. I think he's going through something."

A fierce look of defense crosses Cormac's face. "That doesn't excuse the way he was talking to you."

"I—I know," she mutters, before adding huskily, "but I'd rather think about happier things. Like our date."

His mouth hooks to one side at the change in tone. Fingers graze, zings abound, and a well-placed quick kiss along her cheek lights her up.

This date can't come soon enough.

"What should I wear on our date?" He murmurs in her ear. This is a different side to him. The happy, openly flirting side, not hidden behind veiled words and innocent glances.

"Isn't the woman supposed to ask that?"

"You're the one planning the date. I need to be presentable, lest you try to find another excuse to back out."

She flicks his shoulder with her pen. "Those were all legitimate reasons, Cormac!"

He winks at her in teasing. "Some. Not all."

She mock-glares at him.

"Come on. 'I'm messy. I can't cook to save my life,'" he chortles out.

"I hate you."

Practically invading her space, his breath fans her neck as his lust-filled voice says, "No, you don't. You like me. Deny it all you want. Your memorable display yesterday says otherwise."

Cheeky bastard.

"Don't get cocky," she says, adding quickly with a finger wag to his face mere inches away, "Don't stay it!"

As he begins to retort, they're interrupted.

"Dr. Grey, Mr. Martinez is prepped," Helm informs her.

"Thanks. I'm on my way."

Always an eager-beaver with heart-filled eyes, the resident pushes, "Do you need anything? A power bar or water?"

Meredith smirks, "I'm good, thanks."

Helm smiles back with rosy cheeks, nodding before turning around and leaving Cormac and Meredith to their conversation.

"Didn't know I'd have to fight two residents for your attention."

"No one said you wouldn't have your work cut out for you," she jokes.

"Some people are worth it."

Why must he turn her into a puddle right before surgery? Who gave him that right?

Oh, right.

She did.

The doorbell rings at 7 pm on the dot. Just as Meredith knew it would. And just in time to prevent the massive freak-out on the verge of happening.

She can't believe she did this. He's going to think it's so cheesy.

Every corner of her living room is set in a different theme. To show him what he means to her, to show him what their moments together have meant to her and to apologize for her emotional lump of doubts.

When she opens her door, Cormac, in all his smiling glory, is patiently waiting on the other side. Her gaze slowly roams over his tight dark jeans and form-fitting peacoat.

"Are you done objectifying me?" He taunts, winking at her.

She narrows her eyes to slits and playfully purses her lips before grabbing the edge of his coat and dragging him in her house, "Get in here."

"Close your eyes," she commands.

At his raised eyebrow, she softens her tone to an almost-convincing sweetness, "Please?"

He gives in to her pleading, as he always does, resistance futile. Meredith gets to work unbuttoning his coat and shrugging it off his shoulders. The way his t-shirt stretches across his shoulders robs her of thought, the objectifying back with a vengeance.

"Are we already at that portion of the evening? Bold," he says, sneaking a peek.

She shakes her head quickly, expunging his casual sexiness from her mind. If such a thing is possible. "Shut up. Keep your eyes closed."

"Aye aye, captain." If his smirk wasn't so blindingly bone-melting, it would be infuriating.

Before the urge to steal a look overpowers his control once again, she grabs the lei she bought at the flower shop and delicately places it on his neck.

"Okay. You can open them now."

His eyelids blink in rapid succession, adjusting to the light. He looks down, his hand inching up to feather the white petals around his neck. A ghost of a smile is accompanied by the quirk of his brow.

"Don't say anything yet. Come with me." Nervous, Meredith takes him by the hand and his touch immediately grounds her. She leads them to her converted living room with the couch and chairs pushed back against the window, leaving a wide open space for the transformation.

In one corner, a little makeshift tiki hut with colourful, umbrella-filled drinks, surrounded by two fake blow-up palm trees. In the opposite corner, a table adorned with a white cloth, two candlesticks, what looks like Italian food and a bottle of whiskey. In the last corner, throw pillows encircling a dessert lover's feast: a Dunkin' Donuts box and a tray full of beautiful macarons.

His eyes flit around the room, realization setting in. No words are said as he simply stares at the whole room designed to recreate their shared moments. He shakes his head, a little in awe and a little in disbelief.

His gaze meets her. For once, he's the one who rambles, the feelings flooding him, "If I didn't know any better, I'd say this looks like a grand romantic gesture. But the Meredith Grey I know hates them. So, I've obviously stepped into an alternate universe."

Meredith rolls her eyes at his attempt at humour.

"You love them," she finally answers. As simple as that. This is all for his benefit, not her own. In her eyes, she hopes he sees everything he's given her. She hopes he sees her regret at her earlier misgivings, her amends and the depth of her gratitude.

He turns back to the room to gawk some more, clearly touched, his voice low and tight with emotions, "I can't believe you went to all this trouble."

"You can't believe this came from me or you don't think you deserve it?"

"Definitely the former."

She pinches his side for the cheekiness at her expense, the jokes diffusing the magnitude of her gesture.

"As the guest of honour, the choice is yours," she says, swinging her arm to showcase his numerous options.

He licks his lips in anticipation. "Food, definitely food. I've been trying to concentrate on you and how amazing you look, but the smell has been calling to me since I walked through the door. Clearly not cooked by you."

That earns him a well-deserved elbowing to the ribs. His smile morphs into a full-blown grin.

"Come on, then. We can't keep the King of England waiting."


After dinner and a few too many macarons, they settle inches apart on her couch, empty tumblers on her coffee table.

"Irene wants to come for a visit." Cormac's tone brims with wariness, hesitation and grumpiness.

"And you don't want her to come?"

"It's not that. Our relationship is miles better than it was, and the lads adore her. It's just..." His sentence trails off, a languorous sigh escaping him.

"It's hard to be reminded?" She finishes for him, her own reminders all too present with Amelia living with her.

"Aye. I just keep putting her off."

Meredith places her palm on top of his hand and squeezes her fingers under his palm. "I would try to give you advice, but my sister-in-law, who's basically a physical carbon copy of Derek, is living with me, and I don't think that's what you need."

He snorts at that.

"But think about Liam and Austin."

Cormac rests his head back against the couch and leans towards her. "Do I have to?" He pouts, so unlike him.

Meredith presses a quick kiss to his lips, "Yes, you do."

He pulls his arm up and drags her against him. Knees bent to the side, Meredith snuggles up against his warm chest. They sit in companionable silence, him stroking her arm up and down and her absentmindedly playing with his shirt.

"Do you ever think—" He stops himself to dwell, just dwell on his forever-lingering thought before putting it out there, "Do you think we would have worked out if we'd gotten together back then?"

She tilts her head up to read his face. A wistful smile graces his lips.

Honesty spills from her, "If we had gotten together in our twenties, we wouldn't be here right now. At best, we'd be footnotes in each other's lives."

His eyes glimpse down at her in inscrutable silence.

She feels compelled to add, "I wasn't ready. Did you ever wonder why I never kissed you all those years ago?"

Cormac bobs his head just a fraction of a centimeter up and down.

"I felt it. Even then. The importance of what we could be to one another. Maybe in the back of my mind, I wanted to preserve it."

She knew from the outset he was special, and she doesn't shy away from telling him, "I'm not the same person I was when we first met. And that's why this will work now."

He drops a kiss on her forehead, clutching her tighter against him.

It's her turn to contemplate, "Do you think we would be here if we'd met for the first time when you came to work in Seattle?"

He snorts, "I'm almost positive we would have ruffled each other's feathers at first. But eventually..."

"Eventually?" She coaxes.

"Eventually, it would have been beyond my control. I'd have been charmed. Against my better judgment."

She pinches him again, "Rude!"

His hearty chuckles warm whatever parts of her body haven't already melted. By now, there isn't an inch of her that hasn't felt him in some way, shape or form.

It's that time of the night when her brain fights the mental prose of what comes next. This first...this first can easily derail them.

"So," he slyly starts, "we have this grand house all to ourselves?"

At that, she glances up at him through heavy lids, finding the fire burning inside her reflected in his gaze.

"We do," she tells him, squinting at him to gauge his intentions.

"Seems foolish not to take advantage. A missed opportunity, if you will."

Palm on his chest, she pushes herself up to see his features more clearly. His smouldering blues smirk at her.

"Is that so?"

Cormac responds by dragging a squealing Meredith into his lap, pulling her flush against him. Her body sinks into his, her hands weaving themselves around his neck before caressing his cheeks lovingly. His hands inch their way up her straddling thighs and settle on her lower back.

The hesitation is gone. Their lips inch closer to home, brushing then melding together in perfect sync, pulled together by a force stronger than them. Just as with their first kiss, they delve into it, the years of yearning gushing out of them. But they take their time, no longer racing to satiate their desires as if the world is ending tomorrow. With every kiss, their mounting hunger for each other boils over until the evidence of their rising lust is unavoidable.

Breaking apart, a small sigh leaves Meredith's lips as she rests her forehead against his. She gets lost in his eyes, surrendering to his power. Surrendering to his gaze that could light a fire with its intensity, steal what little air she has left in her lungs and heal the broken parts of her soul. She melts against him, finding home once again.

"What happened to slow?" She teases.

The out she gives him is there if he wants it, but he only has so much self-control as proven by his heavy breathing and the tightening sensation in his groin. His answer is to fuse her center closer to his.

"There's no rush. We don't have to do anything if you're not ready," she assures him.

His bottomless blue eyes trap her. "Tell that to my body."

She giggles. Giggles! The sound of her laugh envelops him, his face splitting into a carefree smile. A new and old intensity sparks between them. A new lightheartedness stemming from the disintegration of the line that was always between them and an old passion that's been bubbling for too long.

"I think we should take this upstairs," he breathes out.

She didn't expect him to initiate this, but maybe she should have, this moment long overdue. With a quick peck to his lips that speaks of intimacy, Meredith climbs out of his lap before he tries to chase for more.

She holds her hand out. There have been numerous barriers to cross to get to where they are, and this is simply another. An important one but a barrier, nonetheless.

He enfolds his hand in hers, following her lead up the stairs and into her bedroom.

Once the door closes behind her, she pulls back from him to give him one last out, her hand feeling so bereft without his, "Are you sure?"

He nods, so self-assured.

The air between them thickens as seconds pass in tense silence. It's the trust reflected back at her that finally pushes her over the edge.

Their impatient hands grasp any piece of clothing within their reach. Frenzied, hurried movements meant to erase anything separating them. Frenzied in a way only twenty years of wonder can build, so much time to make up for. By the time the back of her knees hit the bed, she's down to her underwear and he, his boxers.

Gone is the will to overthink this.

Cormac gently pushes her down on the bed, his eyes roaming over her body like it's on display for his enjoyment and his energy inflicting a feather-light touch to her skin, unadulterated lust flooding his gaze.

It's the scars and nicks from all of life's events that make her the real masterpiece to him. Every moment they've talked about reflected in her skin. Two decades between them. He sees her and he wants her to know he sees her.

Standing at the foot of her bed, his eyes trained on her the entire time, his rough palm lifts her leg to his shoulder, gliding up in a thrilling touch. Something so small, and yet, every inch of skin he touches leaves goosebumps in its trail. His hand is followed by his warm mouth, leaving traces of nips and kisses in his wake that have her gasping for breath.

He's working her up, and he knows exactly what he's doing, she muses.

He falls to his knees before her and tugs her down to the edge of the bed, slowly sliding her underwear off. Pulling her legs apart, his ministrations continue, kissing and licking his way up her legs, electrifying every one of her nerve endings. The bristles of his jaw graze skin, leaving blooming burns along her thighs as a nice parting gift for tomorrow.

Dampness floods between her legs, her core clenching in need. She's consumed by her gripping desire for him, consumed by how much she wants this. They've ignored it for so long that nothing could have prepared her for the intensity coursing through her. But a passion ignited by twenty years of anticipation cannot be tamed.

Relentless in his teasing, he buries his head between her legs, his tongue finally sliding into her folds, licking, flicking, sucking her dry in search of a treasure. His every touch, every nip, every stroke, a match to gasoline. He knows what she wants without a word needing to be uttered. Back arched, she presses herself more firmly against his mouth, clenching her thighs around his head in search of euphoric relief. Cormac draws out her torment, alternating between fast and slow, fast and slow, bite and lick, flick and blow, kiss and pinch, lapping up everything she's giving him. Her body lingers on the edge of nirvana, but when his fingers get involved, she flies apart. Curling her hands around her blanket, she cries out in pleasure, unable to hold back her garbled cries as the coiling heat inside her comes undone. Chest heaving, her head rolls to the side, the hairs around her temples a wet, tangled mess.

Cormac kisses his way up her body, leaving no sliver of skin untouched. He peels her bra off, lathering her chest with attention, determined to unravel her completely, before finally making his way up to her face.

"Was that alright?" He asks, his worried breath washing over her face.

A strangled sound escapes her chest. "More than," she croaks out, a sated smile reassuring him. "Come here."

As Cormac pushes himself off of her, she links their fingers together, locking gazes with him. Just to check on him. Even in the darkness of the room, his eyes are searingly blue.

Crushing her lips against his, she pours her soul into the kiss, hoping every message she wants to convey is delivered.

Thank you. For being there for me. Always.

Thank you. For guiding me out of the darkness.

I want to be for you what you were for me.

I want this with you. So much.

I love you.

When he breaks apart to stare at her and nuzzle his nose against hers, she convinces herself that the significance of the moment isn't lost on him.

"Condom?" He pants, his words ghosting over her mouth.

She quickly shakes her head, "Tubes tied."

Peeling his boxers off in one fell swoop, his hips line up with hers, teasing her opening, tantalizing her even still. He chuckles at her glare and that just makes her squint her eyes even more. And then, he ends his siege, entering her in one smooth stroke, her legs wrapping around his waist and holding him in a stranglehold. Eyes fixed on her, he glides in and out of her, pumping languidly with far more control than she expected, his hips a machine never interrupting their perfect rhythm.

"Faster," she whimpers in the air, her nails digging crescents into his back he's sure to see tomorrow. Moans of 'more', 'God', 'again' echo in the air.

His control snaps, thrusting into her like a demon unleashed. He angles her hips up, penetrating her so deeply, she sees fireworks. Her inner muscles clench over and over again, bleeding him dry.

"Come," his guttural voice wills, her body responding to his command. An explosion that can only manifest itself after two decades of low-simmering heat pushed to the boiling point. Her walls clamp over his shaft, sending them both over the precipice of their wild climaxes, his own release chasing hers. His primal roar reverberates through her body, amplifying her shuddering bliss, ragged moans torn from her own lips.

She squeezes him tight, enjoying the feel of his weight on her. Nestling her lips to his neck, she asks, "Was it okay for you?"

In answer, he lays soft kisses along her jaw. After a few more peaceful moments, his glimmering gaze finally finds hers, "More than."

He rolls over to his side, and she does the same, bringing their faces inches apart. Nothing between them but the energized air.

Her hand cups his cheek, the final out pouring out of her, "If—if you feel like you need to leave, you can. Don't worry about my feelings right now."

He clutches the back of her hand, turning his head to kiss her palm. Once the genie has been let out of the bottle, there is no putting it back in.

"I think I'm going to need to do that a few more times," he confesses, promises lacing his words.

Promises he keeps as they explore each other for hours, tumbling in pleasure. Their hands and lips saying everything they couldn't say for so long.