By Jo
Part 5 in a series

Luka looked up from his paperwork. Five o'clock was coming much too slowly; this lull had come too soon. He just knew he would get stuck on some trauma; some difficult case that would take too long, that would cause him to miss his rendezvous with M.E. He realized he should have called her- but the day had been too crazy, with too many patients and not enough doctors, not enough time. Things had finally slowed, but he knew it would pick up soon enough. Hopefully they'd all wait until his shift was done....

It was 4:45- almost time- when the paramedics called. Male GSW to chest and abdomen, ETA seven minutes. Luka checked the board- Weaver and Carter were with patients- everyone was busy with a patient but him. And no sign of his relief. Luka knew he would have to handle it.

"Connie, call Dr. Benton- we'll need a surgical consult." he said, sounding defeated. Then he turned to Randi. "What's the extension for pediatrics?" he asked. He had to try and call M.E., to tell her why he'd be late, to see if she'd wait.

"Pediatrics- Jacquis speaking." The voice said.

"M.E. Robertson, please." Luka said, wondering if Danielle would recognize his voice. She didn't.

"I'm sorry- she's left for the evening."

"Are you sure?" Luka asked, a note of desperation creeping into his voice. She couldn't have left- it was too soon...

"Yes, I'm sorry. Maybe I can help you."

"No- thank you." he answered, his hope leaving him. Maybe M.E. had changed her mind- he didn't even want to think about it.

Luka turned, and saw a sign of hope again- Dr. Dave was coming through the door. He didn't care for Malucci's personality much, but he knew Dave had good technical skills- at least as good as any of the residents. Luka decided to do something he'd never done- at least not since his residency days- pass off a case. The in-coming trauma was right up Dave's ally- Luka knew Malucci would probably jump at the chance to take it.

"Dr. Dave," he said, trying to sound natural, "I'm glad to see you. It's been a busy day."

"Yeah, well I'm not on for another 10, Dude." Malucci replied.

"Too bad," Luka told him, "We've got a multiple GSW coming in five. I guess I'll just have to have all the fun." Luka saw Dave pause, calculating the odds of getting another trauma like this that night.

"Um, Dr. Kovac, " Malucci said to Luka as Luka pulled on a yellow gown and gloves, "You know, you've had a long day- it's almost five. Why don't ya say I take this one for you, and you can go on home." Luka smiled to himself- he had known he could count on Malucci.

"Are you sure? " Luka asked, having to play it all the way out, "It could get a little tricky..."

"Tricky's my middle name, Doc." Dave answered, "I can handle it."

"Well, ok." Luka told him. "Thanks." Luka could see Connie just looking at him, and he shrugged at her. "Have to give the residents a chance." She shook her head- he wasn't the first doctor to hand off a case at the end of a shift, she just hadn't expected it from Kovac.

Luka didn't really care what she thought, however: he had more important things to do. He felt as if M.E. had the key to his future, and that if he missed her tonight he'd miss her forever. He needed to tell her how he felt, that he felt the same way she did. He didn't want the moment to pass, not now when they were both ready. Luka took his coat and the box with his precious pictures from his locker. He wished he had his shoulder pack, but he rarely used it now that he was no longer subbing. Instead, he tucked the box under his arm and headed out of the lounge. A pang of conscious made him turn back and check on Malucci. Dr. Dave saw him at the trauma room door and gave a thumbs-up- everything was ok. Luka nodded, satisfied, and headed for the elevators.

But his mind was playing tricks on him; Luka could picture himself stuck in the elevator, so close to M.E., yet so far. The stairs would be a better choice, he took them two at a time, as eager as a teen-ager. He paused when he reached the door to the lobby; they had rushed too much before, he had to slow down. He checked his hair in the glass; brushing back the strand that would never stay in place- he hoped he looked ok. He checked his watch- 5:05. She had to be there.

But she wasn't. Luka scanned the lobby- there was no sign of her. His heart sank as the despair rose in him; the blackness was pulling him down again. He reached for his pocket to check her letter, to make sure of the time, of the place- he was where she said to meet. Yet M.E. wasn't here. She must have changed her mind- been too ashamed or too afraid- he couldn't know. He stuffed her letter in his coat pocket, utterly defeated, feeling his life fall to shambles again, and he turned to leave.

"Luka." Her voice came from behind him, quavering, tentative. He turned to face M.E., his hope starting to return. "I was afraid you wouldn't come," she told him,her voice barely above a whisper. Luka stepped closer to her; she was studying his face, looking for a sign to encourage her, afraid of her feelings for him. He searched for the right words, but could only find hers, the ones she had written.

"Your letter, "he said finally, taking a deep breath. Her eyes begged him to continue. "It- it says what I- wish I could say." he managed. M.E. smiled up at him softly, and suddenly Luka felt the awkwardness leave him. They spoke without words, remembering the letter and what it said about love and starting over, and of finding the joyful parts of each other's lives. They were right about each other, right for each other. Luka knew that better than he had before; they had reset the rules; they could start over again. M.E.'s eyes where sparkling again; Luka could feel the warmth spreading in his heart.

"What do we do now?" Luka asked.

"How about some dinner?" M.E. asked lightly, "I know a great seafood place near here."

"Sounds perfect." Luka offered her his arm and they walked out together, full of life again.

They spent the evening talking of everything, revealing themselves to each other. They found they had each grown up by the sea, that they shared a love for salt water and sailing and seafood. They spoke of parents and brothers and school and good times, and as it got later they dared speak of their marriages, the good parts, of how wonderful it felt to be so much a part of another person, to share so much. What they didn't say was that they felt the same way now, with each other. Luka knew he hadn't felt so close to anyone since Irina; he could sense that M.E. felt the same way towards him.

It got late- the waiter's stares had gone beyond icy; they had to go. Luka left a large tip as a peace offering- he knew they'd come back to this place and he wanted to be remembered well. He and M.E. walked back to the apartment, hardly feeling the December chill, warmed by each other's presence.

"Looks like our evil troll is in for the night, " M.E. said when they reached the apartment, laughing. Luka laughed, too, glad that Andrews was nowhere to be seen. He didn't need to deal with the super leering at them- the night had been too perfect.

They walked up the three flights and stopped by M.E.'s door. "I had a really wonderful time," she told him earnestly.

"Me too." Luka replied. She was intoxicating, standing so close. He didn't want to leave, but he knew that he had to, tonight. He stepped back, needing space to breathe, to think.

She took a deep breath as well, not wanting to go, knowing she had to. "Are you on early tomorrow?" she asked finally.

'Yes, 6:00." Their eyes locked, longing.

"I'll see you about 5:30 then, ok?" M.E. turned quickly and opened her door, trying to break the spell. Then she turned to him again. "Did anyone ever tell you you have the most beautiful eyes?" she asked, brushing back his stray lock of hair.

"Yes, "he whispered, remembering. He bent and kissed her quickly, not trusting himself with more, and she was gone into her apartment.

"See you tomorrow," she called.

"See you." He placed his hand on her closed door, missing her already.

Luka went into his empty apartment, alone but no longer lonely. He knew that M.E. would be there for him tomorrow and all the days after that. He took his family's picture from its box and placed it gently on the bookcase, where he would always see it. He touched each of their faces, thankful to have had them in his life; still missing them, but at peace with them now. The ghosts were calm, they seemed almost pleased. Luka knew it was because of M.E. He slept well that night; his first good sleep in four years, dreaming of the future instead of the past. Renewed.

To be continued...

To Finale

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