Friends and Lovers


AUTHOR: Stormwatcher
EMAIL: Stormwatcher77@aol.com
CATEGORY: LKo/JC/Ensemble Drama
RATING: PG
SPOILERS: this is written as an episode occurring about two months and two weeks after May Day.
DISCLAIMER: These characters belong to Warner Brothers, etc. and are used without permission. This story is for entertainment only, to occupy our time until Season Seven starts, etc. etc.
AUTHOR'S NOTES: the medical situations in this story were researched and are based on information found on various medical web pages and reference texts. However, I am not a medical person and my research does not guarantee a correct interpretation.
Thanks: my appreciation to three extraordinary friends who give me constant encouragement, feedback, and inspiration.
SUMMARY: this is written as an episode occurring about two months and two weeks after May Day. It explores a variety of relationships between lovers and friends within the staff at County ER. Although not necessary, it might be helpful to read my previous two fanfics: "Aftermath" and "Uncharted Territory."



*********

Friends and Lovers -- Teaser 12 noon

"HHS has issued some new criteria for federal reporting of domestic abuse and suicide cases," Haleh was saying as she and Kerry walked down the hallway, dodging the usual crowd. Chairs were crowded as well.

Kerry sighed. "We just redid the categories for motor vehicle accidents and infectious diseases two weeks ago. I'd like to see those people at HHS come and spend a day working here." She was building herself up into rant mode.

Haleh looked at Kerry expectantly.

"Please put them on my desk and I'll look at them," Kerry acquiesced. "And I'll put it on the agenda for the staff meeting next Tuesday."

"Have you had a chance to look at my suggestion for reorganizing the drug lock-up?" Haleh asked.

"Yes," Kerry answered tiredly. "Late last night. Looks fine to me, so go ahead. How's the indigent case load study going?"

"Lydia should have it ready for the Social Services meeting on Thursday," Haleh answered.

"Good," Kerry answered, shaking her head. "And I've got the Practices and Protocols meeting in the morning. The paperwork is starting to throttle us."

"Yeah," Haley said, raising her eyebrows as they passed Malucci working on a chart at the end of the admit desk.

"Hey Chief," he called out.

Kerry gave a nod of appreciation to Haleh and diverted towards Dave. "Malucci, you actually have a question?" she asked.

"Yeah," he answered sincerely. "Patient with pinworms. Should I use albendazole or piperazine."

"I've found better success with piperzaine," Kerry answered. She stopped and looked at Malucci. "You do seem to be settling down, Dr. Malucci, really working with your patients."

Dave beamed.

"Don't lose your humor," Kerry continued, smiling a little. "But keep up the dedication."

"Thanks, Chief," he answered, pleased with the praise, and moved off.

Kerry reached over to the charts rack, replacing the chart she was holding and taking another. She headed towards chairs. "Camile Petry?" she asked to the crowd.

Mark and Elizabeth came in the ambulance doors. "That was a good lunch," he was saying. "Don't tell anybody else about that place or it'll get too crowded."

Elizabeth nodded distractedly. Outside the lounge door, Mark grabbed her hand and pulled her close.

"Mark," she started to object.

He kissed her quickly and then lingered close to her face.

"Not in front of patients," she continued when he was done.

"What's your schedule?" he asked, ignoring her protest but backing up just a little.

"I've got follow up on my morning surgeries and a meeting with nursing and anesthesiology on operating room protocol," she said.

"I should be done here at seven," he said. "I was thinking of going to that new Italian place on Highland Drive."

Elizabeth slowly nodded. "If we can have a quick dinner. The new ACSP quarterly is in and it has an article about some new hip replacement techniques I want to read."

Mark nodded, not hiding his disappointment. "Okay." He leaned in for another kiss.

Elizabeth resisted the public display of affection a little bit, and when the kiss was over, smiled wanly at him then headed towards the elevators.

Mark watched after her until she was out of sight in the crowd of the hallway, then turned, and went into the lounge. Abby was sitting at the table looking at a formal business letter, barely noticing Mark as he came in.

"Abby," he remarked as he opened his locker. "You look at little peaked."

She looked up and immediately began folding the letter, placing it in an envelope. "I'm okay, Dr. Greene." She stood up, crossing to her own locker. "Just some medical school business."

Mark nodded as he put on his lab coat over his green scrubs. "If there is anything I can do --" he offered.

"No thanks," she said, putting the paper on the top shelf of her locker. "My break is over." She quickly hurried from the room.

Mark nodded, closed his locker, and headed in the same direction. At the lounge door, he nearly ran into Dr. Romano.

"Dr. Greene," Robert began. "Have you seen Dr. Weaver?"

"No, I haven't," Mark answered, suspicious.

Romano nodded and started to turn away, but then he stopped. "By the way, I could see the input you had on the equipment list last week. Good job."

Mark was a little taken back by the praise. "Well, Kerry and I worked on it together," he started in.

"Yeah, but it had a man's perspective," Robert said, almost conspiratorially.

Mark started to object. "I don't really see how a man --"

Robert cut him off with a wave of his hand. "Just accept a little praise when I give it, Greene." And with that, he was off down the hall.

Mark shook his head and continued towards the admit desk, passing Malucci leaning against the wall, talking in earnest to Jing-Mei.

"A bunch of us are getting together at this new club, The Light," Dave said. "Maybe you'd like to come along. It's on the water -- it'll be a nice August evening."

Jing-Mei looked dubious. "Who's coming?"

Malucci danced around the subject. "Two guys I know from medicine," he answered. "And a couple of nurses, one from OB and the other from the surgical ward."

She peered at him again. "I'll think about it."

Dave nodded, trying to keep the smile from his face from being too broad. "It'll be fun. And if we don't like it, we can go somewhere else."

"What time?" she asked.

"We're meeting at 8:30 in the ambulance bay," he answered.

"I'll think about it," she said again and moved off.

The broader smile came to Dave's face and he headed towards the admit desk.

********

Act One 1pm

"Josh Parker?" Jing-Mei called out to the people seated in chairs.

A young man in his late teens stood up, a worried look on his face as well as a bright rash. Holding Josh's hand, his date also stood up, her face with a similar condition.

"Can -- can she come too?" he asked tentatively as they approached Jing-Mei. "She's got the same thing. I think its poison ivy."

Jing-Mei surveyed them both and sighed. "Follow me," she said and turned to lead them down the hall to Curtain Three, passing Cleo escorting man in his twenties towards the door.

"This is a prescription for amoxcillin. Take one tablet three times a day. And see your own doctor within seven days," Cleo was saying to the patient. "No sex for at least 30 days, and then use protection. Please."

The young man nodded solemnly and quickly headed for the door, anxious to escape. Cleo watched him go, then turned back to the admit desk to return the chart.

"Cleo," Malucci said coming up to her. "A bunch of us are trying to go to this new club tonight. You interested? A little dancing, a little drinking?"

"I like the dancing part," Cleo pondered, her interest piqued. "Been a while since I played a little. I've been studying every night this week."

"Good," Dave expressed his joy with a broad smile and a little bounce. "We're all meeting at 8:30 in the ambulance bay."

"Okay." Cleo smiled at him, picked up another chart and headed out, passing Luka coming in.

"Dr. Kovac, I sutured the motorcycle accident," Dave reported to him as he approached. "And I started another IV on the heat exhaustion."

"Good, I'll check on them in a minute," Luka answered, opening a large reference book and flipping the pages.

Suddenly, a tall nurse appeared at the desk. She had cascading long brown hair and a mischievous look on her face. "Hey Dave, I hear there's a party going on," she said with a teasing smile. "You inviting everyone."

Dave looked up and smiled broadly at the sight of her. "Melissa, you are always invited. That's why I called you. Dancing at The Light, leaving here about 8:30."

Melissa looked up at Luka. "Everyone?" she asked coyly, the twinkle in her eye expanding by the second.

Malucci looked at her, and then looked at Luka, then back at the nurse, the smile dropping from his face. Nonetheless, he rose to the occasion. "Dr. Kovac, this is Melissa Townsend."

Luka looked up from the reference book, his finger holding his place.

"She's a nurse on the surgical floor," Malucci continued. "Melissa, this is Dr. Kovac, an attending here in the ER."

Melissa stuck out her hand. "Very nice to meet you, Dr. Kovac." She smiled sweetly, moving directly in front of him.

Luka, not fully comprehending what was taking place, reached out to shake Melissa's hand in return. "Very nice to meet you," he answered politely.

She held on to Luka's hand. "A bunch of us are going dancing tonight, Dr. Kovac. Do you dance?"

Luka tilted his head and looked at her with a little surprise. "No, no, no, I don't dance." His surprise turned to wariness.

"Well, then, come and sit with us. We can talk, get to know each other," Melissa continued, undeterred.

Dave shifted uncomfortably as she flirted with Luka.

"Oh, no, thank you," Luka said quickly, trying to take his hand back.

"I'd love to learn more about your accent," Melissa persisted as Luka abandoned the reference book and took a step backward almost running into Chuny behind him.

"I'm sorry, I'm sorry," Luka stumbled through the words, looking at Melissa and then Chuny. "But thank you," he said, and then hurriedly left.

Chuny stepped up to Melissa and Dave. "That's not the way to get him," she matter-of-factly reprimanded her counterpart.

Melissa shrugged. "It was worth a shot," she said philosophically, turning back towards Dave and flashing her smile again. "Besides, I like a man who doesn't struggle too much." She reached out and touched Dave's cheek. "See you tonight."

Dave nodded enthusiastically and Melissa walked away.

"You sure let her play your violin," Chuny offered with a smile.

"Yeah," Dave said equally philosophically but grinning. "But she always plays in tune."

Behind them, Carter and Jing-Mei walked into the lounge.

"It was the first time I have really felt vulnerable, that I could be helpless in preventing something bad from happening to me," John said. "I mean, things have upset me before, but those things always happened to other people. Even when they were close to me, I was able to keep the emotion at a distance."

"Like with Chase?"

"Yes, Chase. And what happened to Gant." He looked down. "But this time, it was Lucy, someone I was responsible for. And it was me."

Jing-Mei sighed, but held quiet.

"I've never come close to dying until this. It's hard to accept that I can be no different from the people we treat here."

"And that you're not super-human."

"Yeah," John reflected solemnly, but then his voice rose in amazement. "And what's really strange is that I never thought that I would feel good talking about it. But I learned that we do have to talk about things, lean on each other from time to time. Instead, I bottled it up, let it eat at me inside."

Jing-Mei nodded.

John shrugged. "So I was grappling with the PTSD and with survivor's guilt, and I was embarrassed. So I didn't tell anyone about it, thinking the drugs would help me over the hurdle."

Jing-Mei nodded and then took a breath. "My uncle served in Vietnam," she said carefully. "He was diagnosed with PTSD."

John nodded knowingly.

"So when you began acting strangely, at first I thought you might be bipolar. I should have recognized the signs, John," she said, looking away.

"Deb," John began quickly. "Please don't worry about things you think you should have done. Dr. Weaver and Dr. Greene are doing the same thing."

She looked back as him as he searched for the words.

"I don't think there is anything that anybody could have said to me that would have worked before you all did the confrontation." John lowered his voice and narrowed his eyes. "I think that, somehow, things worked out the way they were supposed to. I have learned so much."

Jing-Mei slowly smiled at his words, then John smiled as well.

"You know what," she said playfully. "You need to have a little fun for a change."

"What?" he asked, intrigued.

"Malucci is organizing a group of people to go out dancing tonight."

"I haven't danced in a long time. I don't know if I'm any good anymore," John countered. "And I don't want to drink because of the medication I'm taking."

"Tell you what," she broached the idea. "If you'll come and protect me from Malucci, I'll come and neither of us will drink. And we'll leave when you want to. How's that?"

John smiled at the remark about Malucci, then nodded slowly. "It would be nice to get out and do something with some friends."

"Good. Friends it is then," Jing-Mei smiled and held out her hand.

"Friends," John agreed. He shook her hand in exaggeration and they headed back out the lounge door, passing Peter and Cleo.

"What do you mean you want to go dancing tonight?" Peter asked. "You've been studying all week and I want us to go out alone."

"Peter, it'll be fun," Cleo countered. "You could use some fun. You've been much too serious lately." She smiled sweetly, trying to cajole him.

"I don't want to go to a dance club," he argued. "If we go out, I want to hear some decent music."

"You mean jazz," she said as Abby rushed past them into the ambulance bay.

"Yeah, jazz." Peter was firm.

"Please, Peter. We've been to two jazz clubs this month. And we've had Reese most every other night. We've never gone dancing. Come on," Cleo tried again to cajole him.

"And I've got Reese tonight. No, no dancing."

Unseen to them, Kerry started to step out of the lounge door with a cup of coffee, but paused when she heard their voices.

"If you have Reese, then we're not going to be alone," Cleo objected. "You're trying to make me into Reese's full-time mother, and I'm not ready to do that." Cleo shook her head at him.

"But I am his full-time father," Peter answered, lowering his voice as he quickly looked around the room to see if they were being overheard.

"You just keep him as much as you do so Roger won't have him," Cleo retorted, emotions starting to get the better of her.

Kerry slipped back inside the lounge and let the door close quietly.

"That's it," Peter said, and he turned and stormed away. Cleo was already off in the opposite direction as a gurney burst through the ambulance bay doors.

"Attempted suicide," the EMT said to Abby. "Cut her wrists but did it in the wrong direction. Lost perhaps a quarter of a liter in her bathtub. Pressure is now one-ten over seventy, pulse is one-forty-eight. She's only semi-alert. We found a brand new prescription of zolpdem, a 14 day supply and only two are missing."

Abby nodded as they moved down the hall towards Exam Two, passing Luka at the desk.

He looked up. "You need help Abby?"

"Yeah," she answered back over her shoulder.

Luka put the chart in the rack and headed into Exam Two with them as Kerry arrived at the desk and started punching at the keyboard of the computer. Very shortly, Mark arrived and started doing the same.

"Mark," she acknowledged him.

"Kerry," he answered.

She turned and leaned on the desk. "You got a minute?"

Mark nodded. "Sure."

"I was interested in your assessment of John," she started. "It's been a week, and while he seems to be doing very well, there's something I can't put my finger on."

Mark furled his eyebrows in thought. "He's good natured, upbeat, energetic. He's providing good care of his patient and has a good bed-side manner."

"And he's following my instructions to the letter," Kerry added. "It's as if he is too happy, too euphoric."

"Well, he's happy to be back at work," Mark offered. "He always was enthusiastic and out-going."

Kerry screwed up her face. "Yes, that's true. I guess I just expected more hesitancy, more embarrassment about what happened."

Mark nodded in agreement. "Yeah, I see your point. I had a long talk with him yesterday, and he started telling me a lot of details about his treatment, how he felt. Couldn't get him to quit talking."

"Yes," Kerry concurred. "The literature says that people react differently in returning to their workplace. I just don't want to miss anything again."

"You want him to be 'Carter' again, and he will be," Mark said quietly. "I think that he'll be able to put this behind him, and in a while, we'll all be able to look at him and not have what happened be the first thing we think about."

Kerry nodded pensively. "I hope so."

********

Act Two 3pm

"What you have to do is separate feelings from reality," John instructed as he walked next to a young orderly who looked less than thrilled with this information.

John continued enthusiastically, his hands gesturing and pointing. "It's a conscious thing -- to stop and look, realize where you are, what reality is. Then you go through this self-assessment checklist. It slows down your mind and makes you concentrate."

As John took a break for a breath, the orderly started scooting away, apologizing as he went. "I have to get back to work, Dr. Carter, but that was very interesting."

Surprised, John nodded after the orderly and then spied Luka walking towards Exam Two. He changed his direction. "Dr. Kovac?" John yelled out.

Luka looked up to see John approaching with a warm smile.

"I've been meaning to talk to you," John started in as he got closer. "I don't want to interfere, but -- were you a member of that counseling group last week and left because I was there?"

Luka looked down and tried to think about how to answer the question honestly. "I've known Steven for nearly three years," he finally said. "But, I wanted you to have that support on your first day back. I hope it was a positive experience for you."

John nodded. "Yes it was very good, and I agree, Don and Steven seem like great therapists. But I feel bad that you had to leave."

"It was the least I could do, Carter. Obviously, I should have recognized what was happening to you last May," Luka said quietly. "Done something to help."

Carter chuckled. "I wouldn't have listened to you even if you had tried." He swept his arm back at the people working in the hallway. "Everyone here thinks they should have done something, but they couldn't. Only I could do something." He looked back at Luka with a positive face.

"Well, consider it my contribution to your future health, okay?" Luka gave him a small smile and started to move down the hall.

"Dr. Kovac?" John spoke up again. "Everyone here knows about your wife and children."

Luka stopped walking but still looked away from John, stiffening a little, waiting for what he knew was coming.

John continued. "But to be in that group, there has to be more. You have PTSD because of the war in Croatia," he voiced his conclusion.

Luka slowly turned to look at John. "I am sorry, I don't mean to seem -- unfriendly. But you know the rules of the group, huh?" Luka's voice was not angry, but soft and understanding.

"Why not share with us?" John asked, his voice becoming a little more imploring. "People in the ER have been wonderful to me since I've come back from rehab." He looked expectantly.

Luka sighed and relented just a little. "What happened still has a lot of political repercussions, in my country, in all the countries involved, and it is not good when people start taking sides."

John nodded but knew there had to be more and waited.

"John," Luka began gently, stepping a little closer to him. "You are one week out of rehab. Right now, you are very, very happy about your accomplishments, and you should be. But you must be careful about trying to solve every problem you think you see."

"I know," John answered, calming a little. "I learned that."

"Good." Luka reached out and touched John's shoulder. "We should get to work before Kerry sees us loafing around," he said gently. Then he smiled and went into Exam Two, leaving John to look after him.

"Abby, how's it going?" Luka asked her but looking at the young woman sleeping on the exam table. The patient was in her middle twenties with perky, short blonde hair.

Abby looked up from her suturing. "Almost done with this. Her blood pressure is fine, her pulse is slower and stronger, pulse ox is good by mask, and the other vitals seem stable."

Luka turned from looking at the monitors and examined Abby's suturing. "Good job. Nice and neat," he said.

"I called Psych," Abby added as she went back to suturing. Then she looked at the young woman sleeping on the gurney. "I wonder why she did it?"

"It's hard to know why," Luka answered.

"She didn't choose a very effective manner," Abby lamented. "There are much quicker ways."

Luka looked at Abby, curious about her statement. "Maybe she really didn't want to die," he probed. "Maybe she wanted to be found, yes?"

"I hope so," Abby agreed pensively.

"Let me know when she wakes up," Luka said.

"Okay." Abby went back to the suturing.

Luka took one last look at the patient and left the room, passing Mark and Elizabeth talking at the windows next to Exam One.

"Mark, he's an old friend of my father," she argued imploringly. "You are more than welcome to join us."

"Why did he call at the last minute?" Mark countered. "I mean, doesn't anybody in your family plan ahead, let people know they're coming? Or is it a British thing?"

Kerry came out of Exam One and began filling out her chart just outside the door.

Elizabeth fumed, wide-eyed, surprised at his attitude. "That's not fair."

"We had plans for dinner," Mark continued to implore, his voice rising.

"And you are welcome to come to dinner with us," she insisted and then peered at him. "Why are you being so possessive."

"I'm not being possessive," Mark argued back. "I'm just trying to have a relationship here."

Kerry looked at the two as they argued and decided to move to the admit desk.

"We have a relationship," Elizabeth answered, trying to keep her voice reasonable. "But I don't understand you any more. I just want us to have dinner with a friend of my father."

"Then you don't have to understand me at all," Mark stated in anger. He turned and walked back towards the admit desk.

Seeing Kerry, Mark glared at her and tossed the chart from his hand to the desk, then walked hurriedly to the lounge. Kerry looked beyond to Elizabeth who was still standing near the window, a look of shock on her face. The two women locked eyes for a moment, a shared understanding passing between them. The Elizabeth headed out the exit.

Kerry shook her head, trying to lose the concern she felt and continued with her work. Behind her, Chuny, Connie and Malik were talking.

"I've got this great red dress," Chuny was saying. "I'm gonna dance up a storm!" She smiled in anticipation, wiggling her hips in a small demonstration.

"Oh girl," Connie laughed. "Wait till you see mine. My sister-in-law was wearing it when she met my brother. She says it is 'guaranteed'."

"Hey Chief," Malucci said, walking up.

"Dr. Malucci," Kerry began, then looked at him. "Where ever did you come up with the term 'Chief'?"

"I dunno," he answered. "Just seemed to fit." He grinned at her.

"How's your patient with ringworm?" she asked.

"Doing fine, released him about twenty minutes ago with a referral to the free clinic."

Kerry nodded, and Malucci appraised her as she worked.

"Chief," he started. "I may be out of line by asking this, but we've got a group going out to a new club tonight. Some dinner, drinks, dancing." He looked expectantly at her.

Kerry glanced at him, surprised, then mustered a smile. "Thank you, but no." she responded. "Not only do I have a lot of paper work to do, but it wouldn't be appropriate --"

"For the chief to be out with the staff," Malucci finished for her.

"Exactly," Kerry confirmed. "But thank you," she said pleasantly.

Malucci smiled and nodded, then took another chart and left.

Kerry's smile faded quickly and she stared into space for a while, then looked at her crutch. After a moment, she took her chart, put it in the rack, picked up a stack of folders and walked away, passing Abby on the phone.

"Yes, I was calling to see if I might arrange an extension," Abby was saying. She waited a moment. "Yes, yes, I understand. Only one week. Yes. Thank you." She expelled a breath, her shoulders slumping and mouth grim.

********

Act Three 6pm

"You're going to have to go to the Psych Department for assessment," Abby said gently.

Julie nodded mutely, sitting up slightly in bed, her forearms wrapped in gauze and no longer requiring oxygen.

"Why'd you do this, Julie?" Abby asked. From his position against the wall, Luka looked up to see the answer.

"What else," Julie answered quietly. "Love."

Abby looked expectantly, hoping she would continue.

"My husband left me, met someone else." Julie started to cry. "We dated for three years and have been married for three more. I really thought he was the one -- the one person who was strong enough to create an enduring marriage."

Abby folded her arms, visibly moved. "I'm sorry."

Julie looked up with tears spilling down her cheeks. "You know, you hear about these people who come from dysfunctional families, and how hard it is for them to live as adults because of what happened in their childhood. And I'm sure it is."

Julie wiped her nose and Abby continued to hold herself.

"But it is just as hard to have come from a happy childhood with loving parents -- and then discover the real world is so big and so complicated, and you can't replicate that happiness." Julie looked at Abby then Luka with wide eyes.

Luka glanced at Abby, who was working to hold her emotions in.

Julie stared at her bandaged wrists. "I can't even do this well."

Abby looked away and Luka stepped to the bedside. "Thank goodness you didn't do it very well, huh?" He smiled at Julie.

Suddenly, Abby turned and started leaving the room. "Excuse me," she said in a whisper and stepped out the door just as Carl DeRaad came in.

"Julie, this is Dr. DeRaad," Luka introduced the psychiatrist. "He's going to talk to you for a while. I'll be back later, okay?" Again, he gave her an encouraging smile.

Julie nodded tentatively as DeRaad pulled up a stool next to the bed and Luka backed out of the room. He looked for Abby in the hallway but she was nowhere to be seen. He headed toward the admit desk.

"Have you seen Abby?" Luka asked Randi.

"Yeah," Randi answered. "She went right by me without stopping."

Luka raised his eyebrows at her.

"She went outside," Randi answered, rebuked by his look.

"Thanks," Luka said and headed out the doors. He saw her at the end of the bay.

"Abby," Luka asked as he approached. "Are you ok?"

She sniffed, wiped her face, and nodded. "I'm sorry, that was not very professional of me."

Luka sighed. "That's okay. You are having a bad day, huh?"

Abby took a breath and started in. "The medical school is knocking at my door because my ex-husband spent all my loan money instead of paying my tuition. I don't know what to do. I have one week to pay it or they're not going to let me continue."

"I'm sorry," Luka said quietly.

Abby broke down again. "I'm just like Julie. I grew up in a loving home. My parents are still married, after 35 years. I did all the right things. Now I'm divorced, in massive debt in order to go to school, and now I'll have to drop out."

Luka looked at the traffic in the street. "Can your parents help with the money?"

Abby wiped her face and looked up at him. "A little, but they are just working people. I need ten thousand dollars and they don't have it. I have been moonlighting as a nurse to earn some, but medical school is so tough I just don't have the time."

Luka looked back at her and then nodded.

"It just keeps getting worse and worse. It's the money, but it's also my ex-husband. I did love him," Abby sighed and sniffled again, then looked at Luka with a growing realization, the words tumbling out unchecked. "I'm sorry. My problems don't compare to losing your family." She quickly looked away.

Luka stiffened slightly in surprise at her statement, but then cleared his face. "We all have things that we struggle with. What are you going to do?"

"I don't know," Abby sniffled again, not knowing really what to say. "But I'm not doing a very good job right now."

Luka watched the traffic for a while again. "Maybe you could try to know that you are lucky," he finally spoke.

Abby looked up surprised. "Lucky? Do you feel lucky?"

Luka looked down. "In my life, I have known the unconditional love of my family. So I try to think I am lucky, and that it will be enough." Luka's voice was husky with emotion.

Abby nodded.

"You have had luck too, huh? The love of your parents. You will have more luck." Luka smiled at Abby and she brightened a little through her wet eyes. "Come on, let's go back to work," he said.

They headed back through the doors to see a commotion inside and two people in eveningwear standing at the admit desk. Romano turned around, his tux sharply pressed. Luka and Abby stopped to witness the spectacle.

"Well, page her," he was saying to Randi. "I need to talk to her about the proposed revision in the laparotomy protocol."

The woman with Romano reached out and straightened his tie, smiling and cooing at him. She was wearing a form-fitting, blue sequined gown that emphasized her long legs even though she was only an inch or two taller than Robert. Her cleavage was equally exposed. The pair elicited a large number of stares from the staff and patients gathered in the area.

"Dr. Romano," Jing-Mei spoke up bravely. "A big event tonight?"

Robert beamed and took his date's arm. "Yes, we are going to the ballet fundraiser -- by-invitation-only cocktail party, dinner, and performance." He looked at the crowd. "I would like to introduce Ms. Catharine Jenkins."

A few smiles went around the group.

"I didn't know you were a supporter of the ballet," Jing-Mei responded with a twinkle in her eye. "My parents are members of the Artistic Circle because of their donations."

"Of course I support the ballet," he answered in mock disbelief of her question. "In my position, I need to be seen at all the right events."

Chuny leaned over to Haleh and whispered conspiratorially, "But with a woman that looks like a date from an escort service?"

Haleh grinned. "I wonder if she'll figure out she hasn't been paid enough for her services tonight."

"I hope so," Chuny answered, trying to smother a laugh.

"Robert," Kerry said as she came close. She appraised Romano and his date. "What brings you to the ER. Did you page?"

"Ah, Kerry," he turned to greet her. "I wanted to let you know that I need the laparotomy protocol revision for tomorrow's meeting instead of next week."

Kerry immediately objected. "Robert, I've got the paramedic data to review for tomorrow's meeting. I don't have the time to get the protocol recommendations ready too."

"Come on, Kerry," Robert cajoled. "Be a team player."

Kerry tried a different tack. "Robert, I appreciate and support your sensibilities about moving things quickly through the committees. But I simply can't have it ready by tomorrow."

"Sure you can," he countered.

"Robert," Kerry continued to object. "Just like you, I have plans for this evening."

"Come on, Kerry," he leaned towards her, but his voice still resonated through the room. "We all know this place is your only life."

Romano turned and linked his arm in Catharine's. "Shall we?" he asked her. When she quickly nodded, he yelled over his shoulder, "See you all tomorrow." They walked past Luka and Abby and left through the ambulance bay doors.

The crowd started to rapidly disperse. Without looking at anyone, Kerry moved as quickly as she could to the lounge and went to the corner window, simply staring into space. Her face was expressionless in shock and anger. After a moment, she shook her head.

Suddenly, the door opened and Mark stormed in. He moved directly to his locker and threw open the door, then noticed Kerry in the corner.

"I didn't see you there," he said, fumbling in his locker. "Sorry you had to hear that argument with Elizabeth earlier."

Kerry shook her head again in disbelief, her mind shifting gears. "Mark, sometimes you can be so stupid."

Mark's mouth dropped open and he turned around. "Just maybe you shouldn't be eavesdropping."

"Call it what you want, Mark, but you've got a great find in Elizabeth and you're blowing it."

"Blowing it?" Mark puffed. "I want to be more serious with her. I want to get married."

"Well, you're not demonstrating how you'll act when the two of you disagree, how it will be when you are married."

Mark looked at her, the wind suddenly dropped from his sails.

"Relationships are so valuable, Mark." Kerry took a step towards him. "Don't blow this because you have to have everything your way. Show her that you are, in fact, a mature human being. Don't end up all alone."

Mark had no response as he watched Kerry leave the lounge. He turned and slammed his locker shut.

Kerry paused at the admit desk, put a chart in the rack then searched for a folder under the counter. Finally she found it and walked away, passing Abby at the end completing her chart.

Malucci came up behind her. "Hey Abby," he said. "We're getting a group together to go dancing. Wanna go?"

Abby wiped her nose with a tissue and turned to him. "How many are going?

"We've got at least six, maybe more."

Abby nodded slowly, then decided. "Yeah, I do want to. Where do I meet you?"

"At the doors, 8:30 sharp," Dave answered, smiling.

"I'll be there," she smiled. "We'll have fun."

"Good," Dave agreed. He patted her on the shoulder. "See you then."

He moved down the hall as Abby maintained a small smile, then went back to work on her chart.

********

Act Four 7:30pm

The elevator door closed as Julie was waving goodbye, mouthing the 'thank you' words, DeRaad standing next to her. Luka nodded and turned to see John sitting at the desk in the hallway. After a moment of hesitation, he crossed the hallway and stood next to the desk. John looked up.

Finally, Luka spoke. "I have been thinking about how to give you a better answer to your question."

John stood and started to say something but wisely held his words.

"I'm not going to talk about what happened, but you did ask why I don't." Luka leaned against the wall. "I don't talk about it with people here, partly, because you and I are different, huh? You find it easy to be open with people. I -- have always been a very private person."

John nodded. "We learned about extraverts and introverts in rehab, about how we each deal with things differently. Most people don't understand introverts."

"Yeah," Luka said. He narrowed his eyes, looked directly at John and took a breath. "But even more -- the people here know you, what you were like before. And what happened is not how they define you as a person." Luka looked away.

"You think that everyone will see you as a victim," John acknowledged, but then tried to counter the argument. "But Dr. Weaver and Dr. Greene are good people, they will understand."

"Yes, they are very good people," Luka agreed, searching for the right words.

"But what?" John interjected.

"Please try to think of it this way. What are you going to say to a woman you ask on a date? Someone who does not know anything about you. Will you tell her first of your childhood, your dreams, your accomplishments? Or will you tell her that a patient stabbed you, a medical student died, and why you went to rehab?"

John shifted uncomfortably.

"When will you tell her the whole story -- the second or third date? After you are married? And how will you know if she stays with you out of pity or -- out of love?"

John was taken back, thinking about the scenario. "I don't want the pity."

Luka nodded. "Good, because after a while, that pity is very disruptive to what you are trying to do, who you are trying to be."

"Is that why you left Croatia?" John asked.

"There was no one left there who really knew me before, who could see all of me." Luka sighed and looked at the crowd of people in the hallway. "I left France, and England, and probably will leave here someday soon because -- when people find out what happened, they see only that."

"Was it that horrible?" John asked in a small voice.

"Every act of violence is horrible," Luka answered with conviction.

John nodded in agreement.

Luka looked down, closing his eyes to gather strength and to bring the words forth. Then he looked directly at John. "I am much more than what happened to me. And you are more than what happened to you. I will make sure I see all of you," he said quietly.

John gave a small smile in return. "And maybe I can do the same for you."

They both held the other's eyes for a moment then Luka nodded slightly, turned, and walked down the hall.

********

"The evidence indicates this is just a lung bruise, Mr. Parker. But I want to admit you to the surgical ward so we can observe you for twenty-four hours," Elizabeth said, standing up from her examination of the car accident victim. She swung her stethoscope over her shoulders as the patient nodded with wide eyes.

Lydia stepped close. "Do you want the diuretics continued?"

"Yes," Elizabeth responded as Mark stepped into the trauma room. She looked up, surprised.

Mark nodded his head towards the door, asking her outside.

At first, Elizabeth was reluctant, but then agreed. She turned toward Lydia. "And make sure he has cefotetan every twelve hours."

Lydia nodded as Elizabeth stepped away.

Mark led her out of the door and down the hall towards a less crowded area near the elevators. He turned around and took a huge breath.

"Elizabeth, I am sorry," he said. "I've been acting like an ass, an immature jerk."

She immediately lost her apprehension and anger. "And -- I've been reacting like a twelve-year-old child."

"It's just," Mark struggled to find the words. "I am missing my daughter. And my father. And my mother."

Elizabeth nodded sympathetically. "Just as you really got to know your dad, he died."

"Yes," Mark said, looking down. "Even though I lived here, and my folks lived in San Diego, they were always there, always part of my life. And my daughter was always here." He shifted on his feet but looked directly at her. "I think I've been trying to reach out and grab you, hold you close to me, to make sure you don't leave either. And that's not what I really want to do."

"I think I understand, Mark," Elizabeth started in. "And in return, the tighter you tried to hold on, the more I struggled to get away."

Now Mark looked confused.

"My parents were my role models growing up," she said. "The two of them were jealous of each others accomplishments, were always playing games with each other. It makes me wonder how they ever married. And that didn't last long."

Mark nodded, listening.

"And you've met my mother," Elizabeth shrugged. "She's not the best example of motherhood -- she had her career, and then she had me." Now Elizabeth shifted her weight and searched for the words. "And I think I reacted the way I did because I don't want to repeat what my mother did -- live her life in jealous competition, and holding herself emotionally apart from her family." She looked Mark in the eyes. "But I need time to really believe that I can behave in a way of which I approve."

Mark took her hands, then leaned in and kissed her gently. After the kiss, he stayed close. "I don't want to make the same mistakes I made in my first marriage, or repeat these mistakes I've made with you. I want this to work."

"We have time, Mark, to get to know each other, to learn to trust each other, to trust ourselves. Are you game?"

"I am," he said, smiling. He cleared his throat. "How about some dinner tomorrow night, after your friend leaves?"

Elizabeth smiled warmly. "That sounds lovely."

From behind them came the sounds of a crowd forming. They turned to see Cleo, Jing-Mei and Carter waiting as Malucci and Abby walked up. Their faces were excited and they chatted in anticipation. As Elizabeth and Mark moved toward them in curiosity, Chuny, Connie and Malik arrived from outside.

"What are you all up to?" Mark asked.

"Going dancing," Chuny said enthusiastically. "You guys wanna come?"

Both Elizabeth and Mark laughed. Elizabeth answered, "No, no, but it sounds fun."

"Okay," Malucci said heading out. "Your loss."

"See you all tomorrow," Mark yelled after them, a smile on his face. Then he turned to Elizabeth. "Come on, we've got to get ready to see your family friend."

She smiled and they headed into the lounge.

********

Dressed in street clothes, Peter entered the hospital day care. Spotting Reese playing with blocks on the carpeted floor in the corner, he crossed quickly and signed, "Come on, let's go home."

Reese looked up excitedly at the sight of his father. He signed, "Daddy."

Peter gathered Reese in his arms and with a nod to the attendant, headed out the door. As he held the boy closely in his arms, Peter started talking to himself.

"You know, Reese, I just realized something. Yes, your old dad just realized something about his life. I've -- never cared for someone more than they cared for me. I'm sorry to say that it was that way with your mother -- she would have married me if I wanted to. You know what, now, Reese? Now -- I know how it feels."

Peter kissed the boy on the cheek and kept walking down the hall.

********

Luka stood in a shady spot a small distance up the ramp leading from the helicopter pad to the roof, looking out at the Chicago shoreline when he heard the door at the bottom of the ramp open. He turned quickly to see Kerry coming out. He cleared his throat lightly to let her know someone was there.

"I'm off duty," he started to explain as she looked up to see him.

She waved away his explanation. "Of anyone here, Luka, I don't worry about you working too little." She walked up to the ledge and looked out.

He noted her demeanor, the way her shoulders were slumped, the way she leaned on the wall. He stepped a little closer to her, but still ten feet remained between them.

Suddenly she turned to him. "Most people go to the other side to look at the city. Do you like to look at the lake?"

"Yes," he began, stepping a foot or two closer. "I grew up near the coast of the Adriatic Sea." Luka smiled. "On clear days, we liked to think we could see the coast of Italy, even though the closest point was maybe one hundred and fifty kilometers away."

Kerry looked at him, glad to have something else to think about.

Luka sensed her desire to have him continue. "I miss the ocean, so -- I come look at the lake. It is only a little smaller than the Adriatic. I looked on a map -- the point due east from here is perhaps one hundred kilometers."

"So it reminds you of home?"

Luka took a breath and tilted his head. "It reminds me that the world is very big and very old." He looked out at the water. "It is always in motion, always changing. But it has been here for all of history, and so I think it will be here for all the future."

She gave him a puzzled look.

"Do you really want to know?" he asked.

Kerry nodded. "Yes, I do."

"The water has seen all the past and will see all there is to come. It links time together," he answered, looking at her.

Kerry gave a small nod.

Luka paused for a moment and looked back out. "People come and people go, things happen. But the sea is always here, holding all the tears, and reflecting all the joy that ever was and will be again." He paused. "So it gives me some peace to think of the sea that way -- and then," he shrugged, "then the current moment is not so important."

Kerry thought a moment. "I think I understand."

The two stood quietly, looking out at the water reflecting the gold and orange and pink of the setting sun behind them.

FADE OUT




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