A/N : From the bottom of my heart, thank you to everyone for your continued interest and thank you SO much to those who leave such thoughtful comments. They nourish me when I'm feeling down about my writing.

For those disappointed this isn't the expected chapter, I hope this long one still brings you a little bit of joy. There is a reason for this chapter that I hope becomes clear once you finish. My promise to you...THE RELEASE is coming in the next chapter.

The opening lyrics are from the song "Here with me".

"So many miles between us now

But you are always here with me"

- Susie Suh x Robot Koch

It doesn't take long for him to keep his promise. When her plane finally lands in Seattle, at 9 pm no less, Meredith powers up her phone to find a text from him waiting for her.

Cormac your #1 stalker : Text me when you land. So I know you're ok.

She has to bite down hard on her lower lip to stem the smile fighting to break through at his simple thoughtfulness.

Meredith your #1 stalker : Just landed.

That's all she has time to text before she has to wrangle her kids and every imaginable belonging they took out of their "kid-sized" backpacks.

It's only once she gets home and settles everyone in bed that she checks her phone again.

Cormac your #1 stalker : Glad to hear it.

Taking a seat on the edge of her bed, her fingers hover over her phone's keyboard. This feels like a turning point for them, the possibility of talking regularly, and the responsibility weighs heavily on her shoulders.

Meredith your #1 stalker : Thanks for checking up on me. It means a lot.

She places her phone on her nightstand and goes to brush her teeth to get ready for bed.

As she's about to lay down after her exhausting travel day which has spanned way too many time zones, she checks her phone one last time, making sure it's plugged. The incoming text surprises her.

Cormac your #1 stalker : Isn't it late there?

Meredith your #1 stalker : Very. Almost midnight.

Cormac your #1 stalker : Go to bed.

Meredith your #1 stalker : Already there, bossy.

Her desire to add a winky face emoji at the end of her text almost wins over her self-control. The only thing restraining her from pressing send...she's not sure how it would be interpreted.

Cormac your #1 stalker : Sweet dreams.

She tries to follow orders—she really does—but the adrenaline of the day thrums through her veins with no clear exit plan.

Meredith your #1 stalker : I didn't think these text names through...

Cormac your #1 stalker : I thought you were going to sleep.

Meredith your #1 stalker : I tried. My brain won't listen to me. I'm changing your name in my phone.

Cormac : Even your brain is bossy, then?

Meredith : Rude!

Cormac : The truth stings sometimes... Goodnight ;)

Once they start texting, it becomes second nature, any little thing up for discussion. Like they've been doing it their whole lives. Or maybe like they've been wanting to do their entire lives, now fed after being starved for so long.

Meredith : Is Cristina sending you pictures of resected lungs?

Cormac : Worse... She's leaving me notes all over the place. 'I was right; you were wrong'. Pictures taped to my desk.

The photo of his desk covered in Cristina's handiwork has Meredith howling.

Meredith : Prepare yourself. It's gonna get worse before it gets better.

Cormac : Can't wait...

Meredith : Leave it to me.

Cormac : That doesn't sound ominous at all.

Without an immediate response, he grows worried.

Cormac : Meredith...

Meredith : Don't worry. None of this will fall back on you.

Cormac : That's not even remotely reassuring.

Meredith : I'm just going to give her a taste of her own medicine. She forgets how long I've known her.

Cormac : Should I take a leave of absence while this psychological warfare takes place?

Meredith : No! I'm going to need you to describe her reaction in explicit details. Pictures would be a nice bonus.

He's imagining her with glowing eyes and a sneaky smirk dangling from her lips. Maybe even drumming her fingers together like a supervillain.

Meredith : And you need plausible deniability.

Cormac : Bloody hell! You sound diabolical right now.

Meredith : You've been warned ;)

Two days later, Cormac sends her multiple pictures from every angle imaginable, detailing her prank. Cristina being serenaded by a singing troupe in the lobby of the Klausman Institute and presented with a wide variety of sparkle pagers. The look of shock and horror on her best friend's face followed by a grin makes Meredith's day.

Cormac : That was bloody brilliant. How did you do it so fast?

Meredith : I can't reveal all my secrets. Just in case I need to use my powers on you.

Cormac : I don't ever want to get on your bad side. What's the story with the pagers?

Meredith : Just a reminder that she's not always right. We had a competition when we were residents. Whoever got the most points won. We'd get points for the number of sutures, for scrubbing in on surgeries, for diagnosing medical mysteries.

Cormac : Let me guess...you won?

Meredith : Victory was mine! I won a sparkle pager. Anytime a resident got a surgery, they had to call the sparkle pager and offer it to me first.

Cormac : And Yang let you survive?

Meredith : She loves me.

Cormac : Or she's playing the long game. Lulling you into a false sense of security. I don't think I've ever seen her get so red.

Meredith : Ask her about vent burns.

Cormac : ?

Meredith : Burn marks someone might get, doing something with a partner they shouldn't be doing, in a place they shouldn't be in...

Cormac : Jesus! I didn't need to know that, Meredith!

Back resting against her headboard and legs folded up to her chest, Meredith is settled in with a magazine after putting the kids to bed for the night when she gets his text.

Cormac : Do you have a minute to talk? Not urgent.

She checks her clock and does the mental gymnastics of figuring out what time it is in Switzerland. Despite his 'not urgent' note, she frowns, quickly pressing the call button under his name.

"Hey! Sorry to bother you," he greets her, answering after barely one ring.

"I was worried. Isn't really early there?" She asks.

He exhales loudly, "Aye. Best time to talk without little ears listening to everything."

"Gotcha! Been there. Don't want a repeat."

"I don't know who to talk to about this..." His voice breaks off, leaving Meredith to imagine the worse. Or the dreadfully embarrassing if his sheepish tone is anything to go by.

"Hit me with it."

He blurts out, "Liam has a crush on a girl."

Chortles spout out of Meredith's chest. She slaps a hand over her mouth, thankful Cormac can't see her.

The sigh he heaves sounds practically existential. But she gets it. They're supposed to be navigating these tricky situations with their other halves, their intended partner-in-crime by their side to deal with this stuff. The little things seem so much bigger when you have to deal with them on your own. But maybe they don't have to anymore.

She digs deep to figure out where his head is at. Diving in, she hopes she's not too far off-base. "And you want to know what to say in your sex talk?"

"Feck no! He's thirteen," Cormac shouts through the phone. Like thirteen is too young to be thinking about such things.

Well, she got that one wrong, so far off-base she might as well be on another planet.

But, she circles back, "Umm... Don't you remember what you were like at thirteen?"

There's a lengthy pause that feels all the more pronounced on a phone call, when you can't see the other person's facial expressions.

"Bloody hell, I need to have the sex talk."

"Look on the bright side, at least you have two boys. And they're close in age. You can probably get away with giving the talk once." This is in contrast to her brood, two girls and one boy, years apart. "Lucky bastard."

Hearty chuckles rumble through the line and she senses his tension ease a little.

"So, what's got you freaked out if it's not 'the talk'?" Meredith asks, emphasizing her last two words.

"What do I tell him? I feel like I need to make a list."

This is who he is. Pragmatic to a fault. Everything black and white.

She follows his lead. "Okay, get a pen and a pad out, and we'll make a list of everything we can think of."

"Really?" He breathes, voice brimming with hope.


"Give me a sec. I'm putting you on speaker." Rustling noises echo through the phone as she waits for him to get what he needs.

"I'm ready." She can totally picture him sitting at his kitchen table, geared up to take notes.

She gives him the woman's perspective, what she wishes more men were conscious of. And in the process, tries not to sound like an after-school special, no matter how true and patronizing her words may be. "Before anything else, you have to talk to him about respect and consent. Not just physical but emotional."

He hums his agreement, the scratching of pen to paper heard through the line.

"Is there a way not to sound like a dinosaur when I talk to him about this stuff?" His worries are splayed out for her to see, even though he couldn't be further away.

"Imagine when I'm going to have this talk! I'll be even older than you," she snorts, "But to answer your question, I guess acknowledge the changing times. Acknowledge that no parent is hip on all the new technologies and the dating practices of teenagers, but some things are universal and transcend time. Respect and consent are one of them."

Maybe it was something in her tone that pushed him to ask. Or maybe it's because they see it all too often in their profession.

"Did anything ever—"

"NO!" She cries out before he can finish his sentence, shaking her head vigorously even though he can't see her.

"I've seen it, though. Too often," she clarifies.

The silence on the other end of the line feels deafening, almost instigating a buzz in her ear and she can feel the thousands of miles between them.

"I had a case my intern year..." She leaves it at that, stuffing the details back down.

"Respect and consent," Cormac reiterates steadfastly.

"Respect and consent."

"And then?" He pushes. When it's your own kids asking questions, every rational thought leaves your brain.

"Aren't you the peds surgeon? Don't you have pamphlets on this stuff?" She jokes.

"Surgeon being the operative word, Meredith. I don't know how to talk to him about feelings. This was always supposed to be Abby's domain."

And there it is...the painful reminder in all its glory. She gets it. Derek was supposed to be the emotional parent, the one who knew what he was doing because he had a good example growing up.

"And now, we have to do the job of two." Her explanation is succinct, but the emotional baggage behind it wreaks havoc on both of them.

She tries to get them back on track and simplify things for Cormac, "He's thirteen and it's a crush. Tell him to take it slow. There's no need to rush into anything."

She stammers through the next part with all the finesse of said-dinosaur he was alluding to, "But if he feels...you know...those urges, tell him it's natural and something he can take care of on his own."

The blind leading the blind. That's what it feels like to Meredith.

"Oh, bloody hell. I'm not equipped for this."

She bursts out laughing, "You're more equipped than me! How am I supposed to explain this to Bailey when the time comes? They better have created an app that does all the work for me by the time he's old enough."

"Any other words of wisdom?" He huffs out.

"Don't forget to mention that he shouldn't feel pressured to do anything he's not ready to do."

"Aye, good. That's brilliant."

They strategize a little more, almost like they're preparing for a G20 summit and not discussing the inner-workings of a teenager's crush.

Two days later, she receives a welcomed text.

Cormac : It went ok. I think...

Meredith : Really?

Cormac : We avoided eye contact for a day, but everything's back to normal. Or as normal as they can be.

She sends a thumbs up in response.

Cormac : I do think he wanted more information about how to approach the girl than about all the nightmare scenarios we conjured up.

Meredith : That's how it starts... And then, things evolve quickly.

Cormac : I miss when times were simpler.

Meredith : You mean back in the dinosaur age?

Cormac : Laugh it up, but I'm sure you miss it too. When we didn't have our phones attached to our hands.

Meredith : You and me would have a hard time communicating without those phones.

Cormac : We could have written letters.

Meredith : That's the romantic in you. I don't have time to write letters.

A week later, a heart-shaped card with a Switzerland return address waits for her in her mailbox. The ice surrounding her own heart cracks a tiny little bit.

Meredith : Ok. That was a nice surprise.

She doesn't expect a quick response as it's 3 am in Zürich, but he answers almost immediately.

Cormac : I told you it could be fun.

Meredith : Did I wake you? Sorry.

Cormac : Night shift.

Meredith: My kids are jealous, btw. And Maggie's asking all kinds of questions. This is what you started.

Cormac : It was worth it if you smiled.

And boom goes her heart.

Some patients, a surgeon meets an hour before surgery and once for their follow-ups, and that's it. Others...others linger, imprinting themselves on a surgeon's soul so deeply not even a pair of pliers could dislodge them. That's what Cece Colvin feels like to Meredith.

Meredith : I have a matchmaker for a patient.

It's afternoon in Switzerland, so she expects a quick reply, but it takes a few hours before he responds.

Cormac : Sorry, I was in surgery. A matchmaker, eh?

Now it's her turn to play tag, a complication in surgery delaying her answer. Sometimes, the time difference between them is a killer. By the time her surgery concludes, she locks herself in her office, away from all distractions.

Meredith : She's trying to convince me to be a client.

The infamous three-dot bubble pops up quickly before disappearing just as fast. A swarm of nerves twists her up inside, waiting for his reply.

Is it too weird or painful for him to talk about this? Fuck, she's such an idiot.

Finally, when Meredith is sure her heart has travelled up to her throat, he ends her misery.

Cormac : And you don't want that or you do?

Always with the hard hitting questions.

Meredith : I do and I don't. I'm scared, but I don't want work and my kids to be my only priorities. I'm not ready to give in yet.

Cormac : I get that. Or I'm starting to. So what's stopping you?

You're not ready, she whispers to herself.

Meredith : I guess matchmaking seems like a lot of effort. And weird. She's asking me SO MANY questions.

Cormac : That must be fun for someone like you.

Meredith : Someone like me?

Cormac : Reserved, I suppose.

Meredith : Smooth...

Cormac : Always ;)

Meredith : What if no one wants to go out on a date with a widowed mom of 3?

Her fears are finally spelled out.

Cormac : I don't think you'll have any problem finding a taker...

She sucks in a quick breath at his insinuation, her cheeks heating from his words and punctuation alone. Those three little dots telling a story unto themselves. She waits until her hammering heart has somewhat died down before answering, sidestepping his loaded text.

Meredith : Are you thinking about it? Moving on.

Minutes go by without a word and she's worried she's scared him off.

Cormac : A little, but it's like there's a mental block where I can't actually imagine what that will look like.

Meredith : I get that.

Cormac : Abby told me it was ok to fall in love again.

Closure in a way...something Meredith never got. But upon further reflection, she can't imagine watching Derek wither for years, having hope painstakingly snatched away.

Meredith : Must not have been easy to hear.

Cormac : About tore my heart out.

Meredith : If you ever want to talk about it...

Cormac : Thanks.

A week later, he receives a text out of the blue while he's heading into work.

Meredith : Abort, abort, abort. Don't go on any dates. They're awful.

He pushes the button on the console of his car to use voice-activated text.

Cormac : How bad?

Meredith : I've-decided-to-become-a-nun bad.

Cormac : Oh boy.

Meredith : And I think you should support me and agree to my pact. I become a nun and you become a monk?

Laughter bubbles out of him at hearing the strange voice his car uses say Meredith's words out loud. She doesn't stop there.

Meredith : It's like I'm back in college. Dating is awful. Especially at this age.

Cormac : So this is what I have to look forward to?

Meredith : I'm telling you, nun and monk.

Cormac : Aren't you a little young to be swearing off love completely?

Meredith : You didn't sit through these dates!

Cormac : I'm kind of happy about that right about now.

Meredith : I hate you!

Cormac : No, you don't.

No, she doesn't. She really doesn't. But she does send him a side-eye emoji.

When Richard tells her the news about Thatcher, Meredith doesn't know what to think or feel, a blast of different emotions slamming into her. Jackson and Maggie prove to be just as useless as her own conflicted thoughts.

There is one person she wants to talk to. One person who's thoughtful, who understands her complicated relationship with her father, whose advice always lands just right. Someone who's become a necessary part of her life, with her everywhere she goes, just a click of the phone away. Then, she thinks about the can of worms her news will most definitely open up for him, and he doesn't want to be the cause of resurfacing memories.

But her impulse to reach out to Cormac escalates past the point of no return. Settled in for the night, she snuggles into the chair by her bed with a blanket draping her lap, legs sprawled on the ottoman, her unlocked phone in her lap. Her fingers type before she can forbid them.

Meredith : My dad is dying.

The waiting game begins. He's probably on his way to work anyway, she tries to rationalize.

Mere seconds later, the buzzing in her hand followed by the loud FaceTime chirp startles her enough to fumble the phone between her fingers. It takes her a moment to calm her jitters enough to answer. Once she does, the first thing the camera captures is his concerned face, his solemn eyes trained on her. And then, she notices the background.

"Where are you?" She wonders, observing what looks like the inside of a car behind him.

"I pulled over." Just to talk to her. Just to be there for her. Like it's the most natural thing in the world.

She shakes her head, strands of hair escaping her ponytail. "Sorry! I didn't mean to—"

"Don't. Don't apologize." It's the warmth in his voice that gets to her, the familiarity of it that she was yearning for moments ago.

The emotions of the day finally crash into her, her gaze glancing down and avoiding his.

"He has AML," she finally whispers, "And he's in hospice."

The hammer lands. There is no return. They both know that. Cormac more acutely than her. But he's able to separate himself from the situation to help her.

He hangs his head, exhaling a deep breath before lifting his gaze back to her.

"How did you find out?"

Meredith snorts loudly enough to resonate in his car, "From Richard, the man my mother was having an affair with."

Cormac probably hears the unspoken words lurking beneath the surface. Her father didn't even tell her.

"Are you mad, sad or indifferent?" He asks.

He gets it. He really does.

She finally looks at him, really looks at him to catch any outward sign of recoil at her confession, "All of the above?"

He nods, a ghost of a mournful smile gracing his lips at her honesty, "Are you going to go visit him?"

"I don't even know if he wants to see me! How messed up is that?" Her near-disbelieving hysteria shines through.

"Do you want to, then?" This. This is why she texted him in the first place. Always so level-headed, despite his own pain.

She can see her face twist with uncertainty in the little corner box of their FaceTime call. "Maybe?"

"Then go. You don't want to have regrets later on," he practically pleads. Like maybe he's talking from experience. "I reckon at that point in their life, most people want to make amends."

He lets her stew in silence for a few minutes, never rushing her off.

"I feel like every bad thing that ever happened in his life was my fault. My birth, me seeking him out decades later, his wife dying, the drinking, Lexie dying—"


She frowns. "What do you mean, 'no'?"

He shakes his head back and forth vigorously. "That is not your burden to carry. People die and a lot of the times, there's no one to blame. We try to pinpoint a source because it gives us some twisted sense of comfort, but it's a fool's errand. It's taken me a mighty grand time to come to terms with that. Your father...he chose his own path."

Maybe it's time she reckoned with that fact.

Just like texting, once they've FaceTimed, seeing each other proves to be a temptation they can't resist. They start sharing second breakfast/dinner dates every two weeks.

"Irene's driving me mad!" Cormac huffs out, "And she's only been here a day!"

Meredith munches on a mouthful of muffin, chewing as quickly as possible before talking.

"Why?" She finally chokes out.

"She's questioning every decision I've made." He takes a sip from his whiskey glass, laying it back down on his kitchen table loudly, taking his frustrations out on the poor piece of wood. "She thinks we should move back to the States. To be closer to her."

The sigh of exasperation he releases speaks volumes. He's thought about it, Meredith surmises, but he doesn't want to be pushed into something he's not ready for.

"Are you really upset with her or—" she prods gently.

"Or?" He pushes, a furrowed scowl marring his features.

"Or are you maybe not ready to hear what she has to say?" Meredith offers alternatively.

"Which is totally fine," she rushes on. "But you know her heart's in the right place." Wow, she's come a long way since her fights with Amelia.

His gaze turns away from his iPad screen to his window, searching for answers anywhere he can.

"I've been where you are," she reminds him, "when I was in San Diego."

At that, his eyes find hers again. Kindred spirits always seeking each other out.

Meredith drives her point home, "You're not sure you did the right thing by uprooting your kids. It felt good in the beginning to get away from all the memories, but by now, you've realized they just follow you everywhere. And you have to start dealing with them."

As her ramble continues, his eyes well up and before he knows it, a lone tear escapes, the back of his hand reaching up to gingerly wipe the evidence away.

"Are you thinking about it? Moving back," she asks softly, trying to wrangle his desires out of him.

The confession feels like pulling teeth, like admitting defeat, "Aye, a little. For the lads, mainly."

She nods, expecting that response, "You'll know when you're ready."

"And until then?" He wonders.

"Until then, tell Irene to give you some space to figure things out."

They eat in companionable silence for a few minutes before Meredith eases the tension.

"Look at it this way... It could always be worse. Irene could be living with you year-round."

At that, Cormac chokes lightly on the piece of pasta in his mouth, clearing his throat a few times before hoarsely stammering out, "Thank Jesus for small mercies."

When Cormac gets out of surgery, checking his phone for any missed text or call becomes second nature. Like a habit he can't quite seem to break.

Meredith : I think my friends are trying to set me up in a love triangle with two men who are way too young for me.

An uncomfortable twinge constricts his heart at Meredith's latest text, the same twinge he gets every time she talks about her love life, a topic always hard to stomach.

He wants to call her, but seeing her wide grin when chatting about other men might a step too far. Not might be—definitely. But he can't ignore her comment, so he jokes through the ache.

Cormac : I thought love triangles were just something that happened on the telly.

Her reply is almost immediate, like she was sitting on top of her phone waiting for him.

Meredith : Is it weird that I'm talking to you about this? It's weird, right? You can totally ignore me.

So, it's not just him, he muses.

Cormac : Maybe a little... But then again, we've talked about practically everything else.

He tries to be reassuring, but he thinks his false nonchalance might just confuse her. So, he pushes on with the teasing to alleviate her obvious tension.

Cormac : How young are we talking? Almost-go-to-jail young or you're-just-overreacting young?

Meredith : Oh God! This is a terrible idea. I shouldn't even be entertaining this. But it's flattering, you know?

Her panic amuses him a little, even through the persistent pang. One good thing comes out of this. Her outward ease with dating again does give him hope that he'll one day get to that stage in his life.

Meredith : To answer your question, could-be-confused-for-their-mom young...if people squint hard enough.

Her text is accompanied by a facepalm emoji.

Meredith : One is barely a resident and the other is an overgrown man-child masquerading as an attending.

He raises his eyebrows at his phone.

Cormac : That sounds promising...

Meredith : Stop laughing!

Cormac : How did you know I was laughing?

Meredith : Because I'd be laughing if the situation was reversed!

Cormac : Jokes aside, what do you want? Someone serious or someone to have fun with?

Meredith : Good question. When I figure it out, I'll let you know.

Does he really want to know? He thinks. He gives her one last piece of advice.

Cormac : Be careful with a resident. You remember what that power imbalance was like for you.

Meredith : You're so right. Why am I even contemplating this?

Cormac : Couldn't tell you. Haven't gotten to that stage yet.

Meredith : It's exhausting.

A few beats pass while he searches for the words to help her through her dilemma, but his mind blanks. She saves him from having to placate her with lies.

Meredith : Another thing... Everything is so dramatic with them. It feels like they're two weeks away from proposing marriage and I don't even know why they like me.

Cormac : What's not to like?

He hits send too quickly, his own bursting emotions taking control of his keyboard and getting the best of him. But it's not untrue.

Meredith : It feels more real coming from you than them.

Her text stumps him, rendering him unable to think of a quick reply. They've both consciously skirted around this thing between them, but it's becoming harder and harder to ignore. He stews for a few minutes before answering.

Cormac : You know I mean it.

He really hopes she does.

The sun is just getting ready to set when she gets home from Thatcher's, the day taking its toll on her. There's only one thing she feels like doing, but she's a mom first and foremost. So, she puts on that mask and tries to weave a happy tale for her kids about the grandfather they never met.

Once night has set, Meredith escapes to the safety of her bedroom, locking the door behind her. Pulling out her comfiest pyjamas, she discards her clothes on the floor, not even bothering to put them in the hamper. The bed calling her name, her head hits her soft pillow with a thud. She snuggles under her blanket, waiting for the warmth to wrap itself around her and ease her into the dream realm.

But luck is not on her side. Has it ever been, she grumbles thirty minutes later, her eyes opening wide while she huffs out a tired breath. Sleep evades her as her mind runs a mile a minute.

Turning on her side, she stares at the phone on her bedside table. Impulsively, she grabs it.

Meredith : My dad died today.

If she knows him half as well as she thinks she does, the call will follow shortly.

He doesn't disappoint. Never does, really.

"Hey," he breathes softly.

His Irish lilt, so familiar now it feels like home, ignites a light in her heart, resurrecting what's left of it.

Phone against her pillow and her ear, she manages to croak out, "Hi."

He doesn't ask how she is, knowing that the chaotic, unfurling emotions sweeping through her could fill a football stadium.

"Did you—Were you able to—" Words dodge his every attempt to complete his thought.

But they understand each other on another level.

"I was with him when he died."

Cormac releases a shuddering exhale, his relief palpable through the line.

"Almost like he was just waiting for me to come before he passed." She closes her eyes, forcing the tears to remain in their rightful place.

The words just tumble out of her, ragged breath and all, "He had clippings of me, of my accomplishments. And we talked about Lexie."

She snorts before rambling on, "I even told him about Maggie. You were right about me going. The regrets and all. I got closure, finally. After all these years."

She hears the solace in his voice when he says, "I'm glad."

Silence stretches, compounded by the distance. Cormac's voice soothes, but his warm embrace would be better. Craving his comfort, she wishes he were here with her, burrowed under the blanket.

The next morning, there's a bottle of tequila, a gourmet gift basket she wants to devour and a note signed CH waiting for her on her doorstep.

Meredith : Thank you.

The reply comes instantaneously, almost like he was waiting for her acknowledgment.

Cormac : You're welcome.

Meredith : Why the food?

Cormac : To help absorb the alcohol, of course. And you call yourself a surgeon!

Always looking out for her. Smile painted across her face, she rolls her eyes at his dad-like worry.

Meredith : That's surprising coming from an Irishman...

Cormac : Not everyone can have my legendary tolerance.

Meredith : Next time we're together, you're on, laddie! Did I use that right?

Cormac : Still cheeky, I see. I look forward to making you eat your words.

A week before Christmas, Meredith sends him a picture of her Christmas tree surrounded by Zola, Bailey and Ellis grinning like fools, garlands and lights wrapped around them. Perhaps she had a sixth sense he needed the silliness during this time of year.

Three days before the actual festive day, a package arrives at his office, courtesy of the hospital mail room. Well, two packages. One small, neatly wrapped gift with cheerful, holiday colours and one heavy gift bag.

He starts with the bag, removing the tissue paper and finding a welcomed bottle of whiskey and a card.

For the dark nights.—MG

His lips quirk up at Meredith's gesture, so like her. Placing the bottle back in the bag, he eyes the smaller package, his curiosity rising steadily. Setting the bag aside, he sits down at his desk and starts unwrapping his gift. A small box with another note attached to it.

So a little piece of Abigail is always with you.—MG

With trembling hands and a racing heart, he slowly lifts the lid. His breath hitches at the sight of the exquisite nutcracker resting in the foam insert. His fingers trace over the edges before pulling it out and resting it in his palm. Memories rush at him. For once, not in pain but in pleasure.

Swallowing around the thickness clogging his throat, he wants to hear Meredith's voice, but his own has escaped him. So he reaches for their text thread instead.

Cormac : Thank you, Meredith.

She responds pretty quickly.

Meredith : You're welcome :)

Cormac : You don't know what this means to me.

Meredith : I have an idea.

At that, his chest squeezes tightly. Is there a way for both of them to fast-forward past the holidays?

Maybe they can help each other through it, he ponders.

Cormac : Call you on Christmas Eve?

Meredith sends a thumbs up in return. Maybe by then, the clot in his throat will have dissolved.

"Merry Christmas," Meredith exclaims upon answering his FaceTime call. Cheeks flushed with a disarming grin, either from the alcohol or the holiday cheer heard in the background, Cormac doesn't think he's ever seen her look more radiant.

"Merry Christmas Eve to you," he replies, highlighting the distance between them.

"Kids, say 'Merry Christmas' to Cormac." She turns the camera around the kitchen table. Enthusiastic waves and loud squeals follow her pronouncement.

The little 'Merry Christmas Mac' from Ellis reaches deep into the drawer of his soul, lighting a candle that's been extinct for far too long.

Meredith excuses herself, grabbing her wine glass in the process and escaping to the living room for some much-needed privacy if Maggie and Amelia's shared puzzled looks are anything to go by.

"What are you still doing up? Waiting to catch Santa in the act?" She jokes, reclining on her couch.

"Already ate all the cookies, I'm afraid. The lug's gonna be mighty disappointed. I'm wrapping some last-minute presents. Sorry if I rang you at a bad time."

"You didn't."

She takes a sip from her glass, her mouth glistening with remnants of wine. Darting her tongue out to catch the errant drops, his heated gaze fixes on her lips before he catches himself.

"How are the boys? How are you?" She asks, oblivious to his wandering thoughts.

Her question brings him back down to earth. His lungs drag out a ragged puff of air, his words coming out a little shaky, "Hanging in there, I suppose."

A moment of silent reprieve ensues, giving him time to gather his feelings.

"It's hard, you know... Especially because Abby had all these Christmas traditions I'm complete rubbish at."

"Have the boys complained?"

"No," he admits reluctantly.

"Exactly! They know you're doing the best you can." And then she gives him the exact piece of advice he needs to hear. "You don't have to be perfect."

It won't always be like this, she had told him not so long ago.

Cries of 'mommy' and 'dinner' can be heard in the distant background.

"Go. I won't keep any longer," he says.

"Merry Christmas, Cormac. And remember what I said."

"I will. Merry Christmas, Meredith."

On New Year's Eve, she sends him a picture of herself with the kids. She doesn't anticipate a quick reply since it's well past midnight in Switzerland, but she gets one anyway.

Cormac : Jesus, that outfit woke me up!

A flush creeps up her neck at his unexpected praise.

Meredith : Sorry for waking you.

Cormac : A nice image to wake up to. Happy New Year!

Meredith is just scrubbing out of surgery when she feels the buzz of an incoming text in her right pocket.

Cristina : What are you doing with the resident? Seriously.

She waits until she's ensconced in her office before answering. On the defensive, she goes, because thinking about her questionable—read abysmal and already regrettable—life choices is not on her list of favourites things to do.

Meredith : Weren't you the one sleeping with an intern not so long ago?

Cristina : I didn't have a nice guy mooning over me halfway around the world...

Meredith : He's not mooning!

But her mind brews, wondering about said-man.

Meredith : Is he?

Cristina : There's been a switch in him ever since you were here. I've never seen him smile this much.

Meredith : We're friends.

Cristina : Don't hurt him.

Meredith : I told you, we're friends. He's not ready, Cristina.

Cristina : And when he is? Because he will be, one day. He's not dark and twisty.

Meredith : Maybe not like us, but if you knew him before his wife died, you wouldn't say that.

Cristina : So what? You don't want to wait?

Meredith : I don't know that he'll ever be ready. He feels things deeply.

Cristina : He'll get there. In the meantime, you're wasting your time with this resident when you know it's going nowhere.

Meredith has no response to that. Maybe because the truth brooks no arguments.

One thing is clear. Cristina's words linger with her.

Two weeks into the new year, Meredith finally gathers the courage to tell Cormac about Andrew. Something her brain refuses to acknowledge she's been putting off for too long.

Meredith : I'm dating the resident.

His response is instantaneous.

Cormac : Talk in an hour.

That sounds ominous. No hope of hiding behind the protection of the written words.

An hour and a half into charting her cases, the shrill ring of her phone spells her impending doom.

"Hi," she greets nervously.

"Sorry for the delay. The lads needed help with their homework."

"I'm surprised they came to you, then," she jokes, attempting to alleviate her own anxiety. And to delay the inevitable.

"I'll have you know I majored in math in Uni."

Her eyes bug out at that. "How did I not know you were a math geek?"

A snort of laughter pops out of him, "Seemed like something you'd torture me with. And I have a reputation to uphold."


"A posh, debonair surgeon, obviously."

Guffaws explode out of her, "I hate to break it to you, but you're in peds. That's about a fluffy as it gets."

He vehemently disagrees, "Peds is hardcore!"

A smile spreads across her face, her mouth jerking in amusement. "Alex says the same thing."

"Good man. Yang talks a lot about him. She calls him the devil or something?"

"Evil spawn," Meredith corrects.

"Aye, that's it. Evil spawn. You see...hardcore!"

After their laughter gradually fades, they lapse into silence, the elephant in the room rearing its head.

"So, you chose the resident," Cormac starts, plowing through her awkwardness.

And it's out there. The reason for the call.

She sighs, "Yeah."

"Interesting..." His voice trails off. Instead of balking, he seems amused.

What did he mean by 'interesting'?

"Why interesting?"

"Well, you chose the resident over the attending. The younger lad, less established lad. The least likely to fit in to your lifestyle. So either you really like him or—"

"Or what?" She genuinely wonders where Cormac is going with this.

"Or maybe you chose the person you don't really see a future with."

Or I'm waiting for the real thing to be ready, she muses.

His statement has the same effect as a bomb dropping. And perhaps, that's why she told him. So he could talk some sense into her in a way no one but Cristina can. Silence clings to them almost an unbearable amount of time.

"I'm sorry! I shouldn't have said that," he apologizes profusely, fearing he crossed some sort of line.

"No, no, it's okay. Really."

"Don't listen to me," he rushes on, regret filling his voice.

"No, I wanted to your opinion." She pauses, blowing out a frustrated breath directed at her own indecisive actions. Finally, she concedes his point, "Honestly, you're not wrong. I have no idea what I'm doing. Andrew—that's his name, by the way—he looks at me with stars in his eyes, like I'm some sort of saviour or hero. I don't know what I got myself into."

"I'm not sure what you want me to say," Cormac finally admits truthfully, words and tone tinged with resignation.

"Nothing. I—I guess—I guess I just don't want to keep parts of myself hidden from you."

And what started out as a painful twinge has settled into a blossoming pang of trust.

Despite the miles between them, the energy between them crackles with her loaded confession, so many words left to their imagination. So many words laced with a baggage full of hope. Even now.

Once she's back in the land of the living after her record-breaking surgery, she lounges on her couch and checks her texts. Plenty of congratulations, but one stands out.

Cormac : 27 hours?! That's it? I really thought you had more in you... Congratulations, btw ;)

It was sent hours ago while she was conked out on a gurney.

Meredith : Thanks. One day, you can aspire to achieve my greatness.

A few minutes later, her phone buzzes in her hands with an incoming call.

"Jealous?" She says, bypassing the usual greetings.

"That I didn't get to stand for 27 hours straight? I think I'll get over the fierce disappointment." She can practically feel the smug smile tugging at his lips.

"How was it, really?" He asks, interest lacing his question.

She goes into great details about the procedure, in a way only a fellow surgeon can truly appreciate.

"And now, I can only assume you're going to want to break your own record, aren't you?"

"Most definitely."

They share a laugh at his honest assessment. It never ceases to surprise her, the depth of his knowledge about her, how far they've come. The stretch of time has been long but the meetings, few and far between. Maybe it's the nostalgia that forces a long-standing question out of her.

"What made you approach me that night in Ireland?"

His voice vanishes, stolen by the complete one eighty in conversation scrambling his thoughts. How a congratulation call veered into this territory is something only Meredith's brain could comprehend.

She doesn't press, waiting uncharacteristically patiently.

And finally, the truth comes to light as he whispers, "There was a sadness in your eyes I couldn't let go of."

And with that, their shared memories circle back to a different, somewhat simpler time when sadness was measured by one event and not an amalgamation of one traumatic episode after another.

"It's kind of crazy, right? That we're here now?" Her tone drips with disbelief, but the ways of the universe have a strange habit of sneaking up on a person.

"A touch of luck," he believes.

A moment passes before he adds teasingly, "And sleuthing skills, undoubtedly."

Snorting at that, the straddle between light and serious is ever-present in their every conversation. "You're not my number one stalker for nothing. You've earned that title fair and square!"

"And I wear it with pride," he boasts.

As the day slowly creeps up on him, so does his anxiety. Until he needs to release it somehow. And what better time than at 11 o'clock at night when sleep eludes him.

Cormac : It's Abby's birthday tomorrow.

Meredith is the only person who will get it and who won't offer him meaningless platitudes. The ringing by his bedside jolts him out of his musings. Sitting up in bed, he answers the FaceTime call.

He strains to see her face, her features hidden by a dimly-lit room.

"Where are you?" He asks, voice hoarse with unfulfilled sleep.

"Hiding in a supply closet. Talk to me."

He just slinks his shoulders. "I don't know what to say."

She gets the ball rolling, "Do you have anything planned for tomorrow?"

He nods, "Aye. The lads want to go biking along the lake. Abby loved being near the water." His voice turns thick as his feelings threaten to overwhelm him.

Eyes brimming with sympathy, she says, "The firsts are hard."


"First birthdays, first anniversaries, first Christmas. The seconds aren't much better, maybe just less debilitating."

"Hope is not a thing of the past, right?" A strange mixture of emotions runs through him, remembering her words from not-so-long ago.

"There's hope. And coming from me, you know it's true." Jokes aside, he believes her.

The reality hits him with her next words. "Get through the day for the boys. Then at night—at night, you can fall apart. And call me if you need to."

"Thank you for this."

"It's about time I repay the favour for the countless times you've been there for me."

In truth, she'll never be able to repay him.

A few days later, she texts him frantically as he's getting ready for bed.

Meredith : I did something...something really, really bad!

Cormac : Scarred-your-kid-for-life bad or help-you-bury-the-body bad?

Meredith : I-can't-write-it-in-text-in-case-the-court-seizes-my-phone bad.

At that, he rings her up in a matter of seconds.

"What's happened?" He asks hurriedly, skipping their usual banter.

"I committed insurance fraud. On purpose."

There's a beat of shocked silence. He swallows furiously, his breath catching before his lungs force the gulp of air out of his chest.

"Meredith!" He finally cries out.

"I know, I know! You don't have to yell at me."

Unmoored, she recounts the whole sordid tale with a shaky breath. A four-year-old girl without insurance who came in with an ileocaecal mass, which turned out to be cancerous. Every new detail chips away at his slowly-breaking heart, the injustice of the whole situation infuriating him.

"I might lose my medical license. Or go to jail." Her voice catches on the last word.

"Did you get a lawyer?"

"No," she whimpers.

He tries to reassure with a soothing tone, even though his insides are scrambled up, "You need to get one, Meredith."

She groans a heavy sigh, "I know."

The silence resonates through the stillness of the line. He hates the blasted distance, being so far away from her he can't just hold her hand or take her in his arms.

Her timid tone breaks him. "Can you stay on the line? Just for a little while?"

"Of course!" He promises, hoping his conviction seeps through the phone and into her soul.

"It'll work itself out," he adds, always on her side. "It was brave what you did. Foolish, but brave."

After her shit show of a week, Meredith finally texts Cormac from her kitchen counter to fill him in on the repercussions of her shenanigans, not expecting a reply as it's 1 am in Zürich.

Meredith : It's out. I got two of the best men in my life fired. On top of myself, obviously! And Andrew got himself thrown in jail by trying to take the fall for me.

But Cormac surprises her, calling only a few minutes later.

"How are you?" He says, loud noises in the background.

"I'm not in jail, so there's that." She rests her hand under her chin, sighing deeply.

"If it makes you feel any better, I'm at the wedding from hell."

She scoffs, "Voluntarily?"

"Yang forced me to come as her plus one," he grumbles under his breath, barely audible.

A burst of much-needed laughter explodes out of her. After a beat, the noise quiets down as he finds a secluded area to talk.

"How are you, really?" He asks, concerned.

"My lawyer thinks they'll give me community service. I'm not so sure about my medical license."

"The community service isn't too bad, all things considered. The medical license..."

He gets it.

Voice low and strained, Meredith whispers, "What if I can never practice surgery again?"

"Then you'll move to a remote island where a license is just a fancy piece of paper or open a mobile clinic on the side of the road. No, no, you can start working as a mob doctor. They must need loads of general surgeons, what with the gun shots wounds and whatnot."

He genuinely tries to make her laugh, with alternatives growing more and more far-fetched.

"Would you come keep me company on said-island?" She's veering into unsafe territory, her helplessness and lack of control over her own situation pushing her there.

"I'd find my way there. Eventually."

And somehow, with a simple sentence, he eases the stress she's brought on herself.

Cormac : How was your first day of community service?

In lieu of words, she sends him a few angry face emojis.

Cormac : That good?

Meredith : I'm picking up trash on the side of the road instead of doing clinic volunteering because the judge is angry with me.

Cormac : Send a pic next time. For learning purposes.

Meredith : You're not funny.

Cormac : I'm a little funny.

A week later, her humiliation is complete.

Meredith : The mom of one of Zola's friends caught me picking up trash and told her teacher I'm a criminal! I'm never living this down.

Cormac : It could be worse.

Meredith : How?

Cormac : You could be in actual jail, having to become someone's bitch to survive...

Meredith : I'd never be someone's bitch.

Cormac : That's what everyone thinks until they're getting shivved in the bathroom unless they comply.

Meredith : You watch way too many prison movies. And if anything, I'd be the one doing the shivving. Surgeon, remember?

Cormac : Any word on that?

Meredith : The medical board is pursuing a case against my license. Yay!

Cormac : Remember the island.

Meredith : The island I'm most definitely not already searching for online? That island?

Cormac : Aye. Good choices so far?

Meredith : I'm thinking the Maldives. No extradition treaty with the States.

Cormac : Already thinking like a criminal. Maybe that mum from Zola's class wasn't so far off about you.

Meredith : You're still not funny.

Cormac : I'll change your mind, soon enough.

Her phone chirping incessantly with text arrivals wakes her up. That, compounded with Andrew, Maggie and Amelia's reactions to the article, spell her impending doom.

Cormac : "Hospital hell at Grey-Sloan Memorial"?

Meredith : Not you too!

Cormac : I didn't know you were suffering that badly.

She can hear the sarcastic tone as if he were speaking the words right in front of her.

Meredith : I didn't write it! They took every idea I sent them out of context.

Cormac : That's what happens when you're a big shot!

Meredith : If I had any hope of getting my job back one day, that's shot to hell now. And that's if the medical board ever stops postponing my hearing.

Cormac : Aren't you being a touch dramatic? It's just a silly article.

Meredith : You don't know Dr. Bailey... Pray for me.

As her lawyer drives her to jail, Meredith takes her last remaining moments of freedom to text Cormac, and she hopes like hell he'll see the message in time.

Meredith : Well, I'm going to jail.

He doesn't disappoint, phoning her mere seconds after reading her text.

"Bloody hell! What happened?"

She releases a shaky breath. "I skipped community service because Zola wasn't feeling well. She ended up needing a shunt revision."

"Is she okay?" He asks, switching gears pretty quickly, as any parent would.

"Yes, thank God. Zola's fine. Eating jell-O like it's about to expire."

Cormac wonders how jail fits into the scenario. "And jail?"

"I missed my hearing because of the surgery," she explains, resigned to her fate. "Pissed off the judge, as usual. Now, he's having me make up my missed hours of community service in jail. Like a common criminal."

"You did the absolute right thing! What any parent in their right mind would have done. If the judge doesn't understand that, then he's bonkers." His voice has the same fierce tone she's clung to in times of despair.

Tears gather in the corners of her glistening eyes at his unyielding support for her divisive actions. Quite the contrast to Andrew, she can't help but think.

"Thank you," she finally chokes out.

"Will you be able to send me a picture of you in the orange jumpsuit?" He teases, trying to lighten the mood.

She groans loudly, "Don't remind me. Orange is not my colour."

He laughs at her vain comment, "I think you could pull it off."

The car stops and she notices they're parked in front of the prison.

"I'm here. Catch you on the other side?"

"Unless you get shivved."

"You're going to regret saying that when you read about me in the news."

"Ring the second you get out, will you?"

"Of course," she promises.

Cormac's not sure he's ever felt as relieved as when Meredith texted him she was out of prison.

Meredith : I'm a free woman again

He couldn't help but joke back.

Cormac : Has prison hardened you? Turned you on to a life of crime?

Meredith : I'd stay on my good side if I were you.

The last few months of her life have been hell, but his admiration of her, of her resilience, has only grown tenfold.

"You got a minute?" Yang says from his office doorway, interrupting his wandering thoughts.

Her asking instead of just barging in gives him his first clue that she's up to something.

"Aye," he answers tentatively.

She moves to stand right in front of his desk like a principal preparing to chastise a student.

"So, how do you like it here?" She asks.

Mindless chitchat from the likes of Yang is his second clue. No awards for her acting, he snorts internally.

"Out with it. What's this about?"

Crossing her arms, she narrows her eyes at him from across his desk, taking a moment to stare him down before answering.

"There's an opening for a Chief of Peds position at Grey-Sloan," she casually mentions, trying for an air of nonchalance she doesn't possess and failing miserably.

But her statement does have the intended effect, landing like a grenade in his hand.


"Evil spawn got fired because of Mer's insurance scheme," Yang notes.

"He'll get his job back eventually, no?" Cormac wonders.

She shrugs at first but then shakes her head upon reflection. "He got a hospital to hire him as Chief of Surgery. He's not looking back."

Her statement just sits between them, in his quiet office.

"Look, you don't have to do anything with what I told you. If you're not ready, you're not ready. But the option is there, if you want it."

Before she came into his office, he would have said he wasn't ready. It's only been two years. But new information has a way of putting things in perspective. Mighty quickly. Hiding in Switzerland no longer holds the appeal it once did, and with the enticing offer presented before him, he feels an overwhelming realization urging him forward.

Just as Yang is about to leave, he calls her back. "Yang? Thank you."

A smirk stretches wide on her lips. "You're welcome, Hayes."

"Maybe don't mention anything to Meredith. Not until it's decided."

The day takes its toll on her. Getting her medical license back, unintentionally killing someone and having your boyfriend break up with you because he can't handle your twistiness will do that to a person.

But right now, the only feeling coursing through her is splendid relief. It didn't have to be this way, but her stubbornness remains a stain hard to get rid of.

The whirlwind day should make her sleepy, but as she lays in bed, all she wants to do is talk to Cormac. Grabbing her phone, she texts him to see if he's available.

A minute later, her phone rings with a FaceTime call. When she swipes right to answer, she's greeted by his smiling face.

"I heard the good news. You're a surgeon again! How does it feel?"

A weak smile flashes across her tired features. Even in the small box at the bottom of her phone, her exhaustion takes center stage. "Like a huge weight's been lifted off my shoulders. Like I can breathe again. Like I'm not drifting anymore. Like I'm no longer hanging on by a thread." Like one of her greatest purposes in life is back.

His grin widens with every word. "So no island, then? I was packed and everything."

A few soft chuckles break out of her, "Not this time."

She enjoys the stillness of the moment for a few minutes, and he lets her, always in tune with her feelings.

Switching her phone to her left hand, she closes her eyes and repeatedly runs her right hand through her hair, massaging her scalp as she goes, hoping to lessen the headache starting to pulse at the back of her head.

"Tell me."

Opening her eyes, she tilts her head to the side in question.

"It's obvious something's bothering you."

The worn out breath she's been holding in all day finally escapes, "I—I—I accidentally killed one of the judges on the committee by yelling at him."

The image on her screen rapidly blacks out, and all she hears for a moment is the click-clacking of his phone hitting the ground, probably from shock. A few seconds later, Cormac's incredulous face is back on the line.

"Sorry about that. I'm going to need you to elaborate."

And so she does, telling him about Dr. Costello, his link to her (He's the doctor that killed Derek, she explains), her spitting anger at his judgment of her medical decisions and that little bit of shame gnawing at her for the death she inadvertently caused. She spills her guts for what seems like hours but is really only a quarter-hour.

"Where are you?" She asks after finishing her long-winded account, finally noticing the big windows in his background and his wireless earphones.

He hedges, so unlike him, "Airport. Last minute trip."

"Somewhere exciting?"

"I like to think so. Next time we talk, I'll tell you all about it. So, did you get your job back?"

She feels her entire body brighten up and come to life. "You're looking at the newly-reinstated Chief of General Surgery at Grey-Sloan Memorial."


She pauses for a second before admitting, "I don't want to deal with the awkwardness."

A momentary frown pinches his features, beckoning her to expand.

Her head bows, averting her gaze from the phone. Pursing her lips, she finally murmurs, "Andrew broke up with me."

That's not what Cormac expected to hear, if his stunned silence is anything to go by. After a few too many beats, he finally chokes out, "What happened?"

Pulling in a deep sigh, she describes in great detail the demise of her relationship, if she could even call it that.

"What a tosser!" Cormac declares.

A pop of laughter bursts out of her, shaking her head at him, "You don't even know him."

"I don't need to, after everything you've just said. Clearly, he couldn't handle the differences between the two of you."

"Maybe it wasn't fair of me to ask him to."

"What now?" Cormac wonders.

"Zola asked me once if I think I'll ever fall in love again," she breathes, her voice sounding lost in the faraway land of memories.

Remembering Dr. Carr's words to her, she confesses to herself and to Cormac, "I don't want to be a widow for the rest of my life."

As she says this, she stares into Cormac's eyes. For once, she truly lets him see everything.

His blossoming heart radiates in his features, and she finally understands the heart-eyes emoji. "Meredith..."

Her stomach in free fall down a cliff, she can imagine him whispering "Meredith" in another context, in that smooth Irish accent of his that never fails to elicit shivers.

"You won't be," he states with such unshakable certainty, like he knows something she doesn't.

Their gazes lock, promises of a not-so-distant future passing between them.

"I'll talk to you soon, yeah?" He asks, his bright blue eyes sparkling with amusement. At what, she's not sure. Something is amiss, like he's hiding something from her.

"Okay... You're being really weird," she says, her brows furrowing in consternation.

"Probably just your exhaustion talking."

"I will get to the bottom of this!"

The twinkle in his eyes glimmers to disco ball status. "I'm sure you will, Detective Grey."

"A comedian, you are not."

He bites back a smirk, his expression a mix between amused and determined. "One day, I'll get you to laugh. Maybe sooner than you think."