What Lies Beneath

Chapter 7: Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?

Melora, on her way to her third and final physical therapy appointment for her left arm, stopped by the ER to say hello to Abby. She didn't see Abby at first, but did see Carter and Malucci near the admit counter. She hesitated at first, recalling her last visit with Malucci had ended strangely, but once they saw her, there was no turning back.

Malucci gave her an unconcerned smile, clearly oblivious to having caused any upset at all on her previous visit. And looking back on it, Melora had to admit, it was all quite minor, so she rolled with it. "Hey, Mel! What up?" Malucci greeted, saying to Carter, "I don't think you've met Mel – she's Dr. Romano's girlfriend."

"Who can forget?" Carter replied with a smile. "You were unconscious, but I helped out when you were brought into the ER after your dissection."

"I was dissected?" Melora blinked at them.

"Nah – that's what they call a TAA when it ruptures – a dissection," elaborated Malucci. Melora mused at how this street kid could utter medical jargon and yet still sound like he'd just wandered in off the mean streets. "And genius here thought it was a coronary."

"Well, it presented like one," Carter added in his defense, telling Melora, "Malucci and Dr. Weaver shed light on your case once they saw it was you, and that you'd been in earlier. You look well – I take it Romano's looking after you okay?"

"Yes, he's been taking great care of me," Melora nodded. "And thanks, by the way, for all your good work. It's nice to officially meet you, Dr. Carter." She knew Carter didn't remember her from her very first visit to the ER the night she first met Robert, but why should he? They were never introduced, and to him, she was probably just an anonymous background patient. "I'm just here for some follow-up physical therapy on my arm. I got the green light for playing cello last week, so I've been at it all week. And I've been driving and walking around a lot more; almost all healed up. Even the bruises are finally fading."

"I'd tell you to take it easy and give yourself time to really heal, but I'm sure you hear that at least once a day already," Carter remarked, adding, "Hey, Dave tells me you're in a band? Or did you mean quartet? We've got a bet going on that," he confided.

Malucci said with an eyeroll, "Yeah, he thinks I don't know the difference between rock and classical, apparently. So make me some cash and tell him?"

Melora had a laugh at that. "Ha! Yes, it's true. Well, both are, really. But I'm in a band that, while mostly strings, could be called alternative rock. We're called Metronome. Playing at the Riviera in February, a fairly big show for Valentine's Day." She avoided Carter's eye as she said that, knowing that Valentine's might have a lot of baggage still for him. To Malucci, she said, "You still planning on rounding up the County General Contingent to attend? I could put two of you on the list. Comes with a free drink ticket."

Malucci grinned and nudged Carter, perhaps thinking that this would be a good distraction for his friend on a difficult day. "Free admission and a drink? Hell, yeah! What d'ya say, man? We could round up some of the usual suspects and have some fun."

Carter remained seemingly undisturbed and shrugged. "Why not? We'll see what the schedule's like. It's still a month away."

Melora hadn't expected to be at the heart of an impromptu gathering, let alone to be netting a crowd for her first concert in nearly two months. Damn, she thought. Better get to practicing.

Dr. Weaver appeared then, and doctors and nurses alike started scattering before she could start assigning busy work. Melora took the hint and headed for the elevator.

After her visit to the ER, Melora went to her final physical therapy appointment and then to Robert's office. They'd planned to grab lunch if his schedule permitted. She saw the door was open a little, and inside stood Elizabeth Corday and a tall man with glasses and a knit cap chatting with Robert, who was leaning casually on his desk. Melora paused, as she wasn't sure if this was a patient.

"Mel!" greeted Robert, beckoning forward. "Come on in. You know Dr. Corday already. This is her fiancé, Mark Greene. He's an attending down in the ER. Mark, this is my girlfriend, Melora."

"Hello," greeted Mark with a smile, and Melora smiled back when she realized she wasn't interrupting a patient visit.

"Hi!" Melora said with a smile. "I was just down in the ER earlier, visiting with everyone."

"I'm not working there right now; I've been on medical leave for the past few weeks. I hear we should start a club?" He glanced at Elizabeth, who smiled and nodded.

Melora remembered that she'd heard Elizabeth was going through tough times, and when Mark mentioned he'd been on medical leave, she thought maybe that was related. He seemed quite well, but as she looked closer, she thought she saw signs of a bandage hidden under his cap, and a gaunt look that didn't seem quite right on him. "Definitely! We both seem to have landed on our feet. But are you as bored as I am?"

"Yes," he groaned. "I still have another few weeks before I can get back to work. You?"

"Same," Melora replied. "At least I can play my cello again now. And I can finally drive myself around and climb stairs and do things other than shuffle back and forth between bed and the sofa and the kitchen."

"Mark and Lizzie don't live too far away from us," Robert said, inadvertently saying 'us' instead of 'me', but letting it slide. To Elizabeth and Mark, he added, "I'm in Glencoe. You two should come for dinner."

Elizabeth looked surprised by the invitation. "Seriously? You want to have us over?"

Robert was feeling generous, although the surprise registering on the others' faces made him hesitate for just a moment before speaking. "Sure, why not? Look, it's been a stressful time for everyone. I don't know about you guys, but New Year's was sort of a bust this year. Maybe a Late New Year's is in order. So what are you guys up to this weekend?"

Melora was nearly as surprised as Elizabeth and Mark appeared to be, but not wanting to scare this kinder, gentler version of Robert away, she quickly jumped on the Dinner Bandwagon. "Oh, yes, please come over!" She laughed then, adding, "Did that sound like I'm desperate for company? Because I'm not. But still…it would be nice to have something to dress for other than doctor appointments." She looked to Mark, adding, "Slippers are welcome, if it helps."

Elizabeth laughed warmly, adding, "No! No more slippers outside the home, please." She raised her eyebrows at Mark. "What do you think? A little dinner out?"

"A Romano dinner is not to be missed," Melora added. "Maybe I'll finally get to learn some of his culinary secrets."

"You may," Robert told her, adding, "But you have to actually come into the kitchen and help if you want to learn anything."

"Details!" Melora rolled her eyes. "It'll be fun. I never learned how to – how do you say it – 'cook'? My forte is in the ordering delivery department."

"You and me both," Mark said, looking pleasantly perplexed. Elizabeth had told him that she and Romano had mended fences and he'd been suspicious up to this point. But now that he'd met the possible cause of Romano's smoothed edges, he was beginning to get on board. "If Lizzie says yes, then who am I to say no?"

"Yeah!" Melora cheered, happy to have something fun to look forward to. "I didn't realize until just now how much I've missed being around people. I love Hotel Romano – it really is like a spa vacation there – but with the Romano part being at work most of the time, I was going a little stir crazy."

Mark seemed to understand exactly what she was talking about. "Maybe we really should start a club. Have you gotten sucked into watching soap operas?"

"I hate to admit it, but yes. All My Children, with a One Life to Live chaser. You?"

"General Hospital, of course," he laughed. "And a really sad addiction to old Perry Mason reruns. Okay – I'm sold. Saturday?"

Robert and Elizabeth exchanged glances – apparently, their significant others were getting on like a house on fire. "Saturday it is," Robert agreed. "Six o'clock?"

Once the time was set, the two couples parted ways, leaving Robert and Melora to head out for lunch at a nice place near the square. In his car, Melora gave Robert a questioning look. "So, not to sound like I don't think you're a wonderful person normally, but…"

"Why am I being so nice to work people?" Robert filled in for her as he maneuvered through the traffic. "I don't know. I guess I'm just seeing that life is full of close calls. And after what Elizabeth and Mark have been through, they deserve to be cut a little slack. Also…you're doing very well. One might even say, snow-shovelingly well."

Melora had a laugh at that. "You know what? I think I might be." The smile travelled straight to her eyes then, and she added in her best Elizabeth Corday voice, "I'll have to just listen to what my body tells me."

"Don't even do that to me here," he only half-joked. "Or I'm taking us straight home. Screw lunch. Literally."

"You've got surgery after lunch, huh?" Melora asked, and he nodded. "Okay, I'll try to be super unsexy for all of lunch. Umm… YOUR MOM. There, how's that?"

"That's a very strong start," he admitted. "What else have you got?"

"Okay, moldy bread? Killer clowns? Dog poop? Is that good enough, or should I just start blowing my nose loudly?"

"Ugh, no. Mission accomplished." He told her as they neared their destination. "For now."

Robert returned home to a sound he was getting used to: a cello being played in the study. Today, it was the Bach Cello Suite, which he'd learned was Melora's go-to for practice right after running the scales. Wanting to get Gretel taken care of, he fed her and made sure the doggie door was unlocked before joining Melora in the study.

He was pleasantly surprised to see that she'd even dressed up for him – it was an outfit he recognized – a new corset replacing the one that had been ruined the night they met, but the rest was the same. Victorian bloomers, a gauzy skirt over that, masses of white-blond curls piled atop her head…even make-up. She'd been recuperating and housebound for so long he'd almost forgotten how ridiculously well she cleaned up. "Hello," he greeted her with a smile as she set aside her cello and bow. "You're expecting someone?" he joked. "Because I can come back later…"

She smiled a sly smile of her own and stood. "Wanna shovel some snow?"

He didn't need any further invitation. He was standing close enough to her that in no time, he'd pulled her to him, inhaling her scent and finally knowing that nothing was going to get in their way. He wrapped his arms around her and kissed her. "You need to ask?"

It took them very little time to make it to the bedroom and toss aside all carefully chosen garments in favor of feeling the warmth of one another's skin. Melora had missed all of this while her body healed, but in a way, that just reminded her of the passion they were still very capable of conjuring. As they settled in together on the bed, he kissed the spot on the side of her neck he knew made her melt, and he felt her hands on him and felt her sigh and move her body against his. Some things, he thought, would never get old.

They moved perfectly together, enjoying each other over and over, with a few much-needed breathers. They'd had more than enough time to miss one another, and now, as they lay collapsed in each other's arms in bed quite a while later – spent for now, at least – they caught their breath.

"How are you?" Robert asked her, a hint of doctorly concern in his voice.

She chuckled softly at that, resting her head on his chest. She looked up at him. "I'm awesome. How are you?"

He grinned, smoothing her hair away from her face. "Really, though. No chest pain or anything? Back pain? Any pain?"

"Absolutely no pain. At all," she assured him, kissing his chin. "You may stop being a doctor now. I promise I'll let you know if I feel any sort of pain. But right now, all I feel is pleased that the drought is over."

"That makes two of us," he agreed, enjoying the sensation of having her pressed against him and not having to just say good night or sleep well. "I missed you, Mel."

"I know what you mean. I missed you, too." Nobody made her melt like Robert did. He could draw her to him with nothing more than a look.

His tone changed a little. "Hey, did I actually invite Lizzie and Greene over for dinner Saturday?"

"You did," Melora grinned, shifting onto her side, facing him with a teasing look. "So what're you cooking for us?"

"We will think of something," he replied, groaning, "See what sex deprivation does to me? Temporary insanity!"

"I would have thought it would make you grumpy, not pleasant."

"Oh, believe me, I'm plenty grumpy. The nurses have noticed it and have been asking after your recovery pretty consistently for the past two weeks. Besides, it was the prospect of things to come that prompted it. I saw you walk into my office and…I don't know. I just wanted to make you keep smiling." He laid his hand on her hip and leaned over to kiss her gently.

She smiled contentedly. "Job well done, sir. Care to continue? I've lots of smiling to catch up on."

He pulled her closer, needing no encouragement. He didn't care about Saturday's dinner or even what the next day held. He just wanted to make love to her. And that was just what he did.

They were all lingering at the dinner table, having enjoyed a lavish dinner. Melora was enjoying herself, although she was trying to be mindful of her wine consumption, since their guests could not have more than a splash of wine each. Mark took a bit more with dinner, confiding he could have wine, but since his cancer treatments sapped him of his energy, he kept it to just a glass. And since Elizabeth was pregnant, she had club soda instead, confessing that pregnancy killed her desire for wine.

This interested Melora. "Really? It changes your appetite?"

Elizabeth nodded. "It does. I find liquor and coffee particularly disgusting, which I suppose is a blessing. And if I so much as smell Chinese food, I feel instantly ill. Anything pungent becomes magnified in strength."

Mark nodded. "Yeah, that's fun. I end up eating in the car on my way home half the time."

Melora made a face. "Wow. Life without coffee or wine, let alone Chinese food…" She shrugged. "I don't think I could pull it off. Besides, I think I like sleeping too much to really make it as a mom." She glanced at Robert; she'd always assumed he was not interested in children, but maybe he was. She was not. At least, not now. Considering her family history, she'd never felt a desire for them, and truth be told, the idea scared more than appealed to her. And she thought that Robert was far too busy with work right now to consider it.

Elizabeth chuckled a little at Melora's statement. "I'm already used to not sleeping as much as I should. I'm Associate Chief of Surgery, after all."

As the evening stretched on, they traded more stories, including Robert and Melora's first meeting and trip to the ER a year previous.

"You were in the ER?" Mark asked. "I must not have been there. I think I'd remember you."

"I was there, but tucked away in an exam room and sort of on the hush-hush, since it was on Robert's dime." Melora said. "Oh, wait, I think you were there, actually. But we weren't introduced." She remembered more about the aftermath of the trauma Robert had aided in Greene's absence, and added, "You'd been 'on a remote' or words to that effect. Terse words were spoken, if I recall correctly."

Mark winced, but with a bit of a smile, remembering. "Terse words are spoken every day in the ER. It's just part of the scenery."

"I'd apologize, but then I'd have to do it all the time," Robert added, glad that Mark didn't seem affected much by Robert's work persona.

"So, Robert swept you off your sprained ankle and into his life?" Elizabeth asked. She wondered just how that transition worked.

"Something like that," Melora chuckled. "I think we both were a little conflicted by the end of that evening. We're from very different walks of life, but beneath the superficialities, we have similar approaches to living. Neither one of us suffer fools gladly, and we're pretty up-front people. Is that always awesome? Probably not. But at least we're both honest."

"To a fault, on occasion," Elizabeth remarked with a smile at the couple. She was starting to understand what they were about and what they shared. And when she looked at Mark, she felt that for herself and her fiancé, as well. "Has Robert never shared the story of how he brought Gretel into the OR for surgery?"

"Wait, seriously?" Melora giggled.

"Why does this surprise you?" Robert asked. "You know she's my only child."

"And I love the both of you. I just would have thought that if a surgeon isn't supposed to operate on one they love…"

"Jealous?" he grinned at her, raising an eyebrow at her.

"I'm just saying…" Melora teased, looking at Elizabeth and sighing. "That must have been something. Are doggie insides that similar to a human's?"

"No!" exclaimed Elizabeth. "They're not at all similar. But there's a heart, and lungs, and for the most part it was fairly straightforward."

Robert added, "She's omitting the part where I put my foot it in with Elizabeth's mother." To Mark and Melora, he explained, "She was visiting that day and mentioned she was on her way to a lecture on lasers. I suggested she go shopping rather than bore herself with such a topic."

"I think you may have used the word 'gobbledygook' in reference to the lecture," Elizabeth added, and Melora started straight-up laughing.

Mark laughed. "Let me guess – she was giving the lecture?"

"Yup." Robert grinned, seeming oddly satisfied with this achievement. "If looks could kill…."

"'Gobbledygook'?" Melora gave Robert a fond yet pitying look. "You didn't!" She rolled her eyes at him. "And I thought you were doing so well at not making sweeping assumptions based on gender."

Elizabeth couldn't help but wonder at what she was seeing here tonight, and about what might have been had she considered Robert's courtship of her years ago. But perhaps it took Mel, specifically, to bring this out in him. She knew that Mark did so for her. All was for the best, she thought, as they retired to the living room for tea and biscotti.

Melora and Mark started talking music as they selected an album to put on the stereo; Mark had gravitated towards an early Rolling Stones release. Melora smiled widely at the selection, explaining, "I've been working on adapting a cover of 'She Smiled Sweetly.'"

"No kidding!" He seemed genuinely pleased by this, and grinned. "Can you play some of it? I'd love to hear it."

"Sure. Cello's in the library. I don't really have it all worked out yet, but maybe you can tell me what works and what doesn't?" She nodded towards Robert. "He always tells me he loves it."

"That's because I do," Robert replied, nodding at her to go ahead.

"We'll be back in a minute." Melora didn't like to make captive audience members of guests, but figured since Mark actually asked, she could bend her rule this time.

Robert watched as Melora, clearly excited to have a new person to talk music with, led Mark off towards the library. He looked to Elizabeth, remarking, "No one can accuse her of being shy, at least." He wondered how Elizabeth was really doing, beneath her strong surgeon exterior. "Looks like you guys are doing well."

Elizabeth glanced down briefly, composing herself in a way that Robert recognized because he himself had done the same for a lifetime. "We're optimistic," she said with the smile one gives to those with no idea of what is really happening.

Robert shook his head with a look that said he wasn't going to let her off so easy. "C'mon, Lizzie," he said. "You can't bullshit the Master Bullshit Artist. How's it really going?"

At first, Elizabeth was taken aback, not by Robert's ability to see through her polite answer but by his calling her out on it. Most people recognized the party line when they heard it but didn't press her for details. Robert Romano however...well, as he said, he knew a line when he heard it. "Do you really want to know?"

"I wouldn't ask if I didn't," he readily replied. "You know I don't fake concern. It doesn't help anyone."

"Well then," Elizabeth began, her tired smile giving way to something akin to exhaustion. She leaned back against the sofa, shoulders slumped. "Just remember - you asked for it."

He nodded. "Fair enough."

Elizabeth shook her head in exasperation. "The truth? Every day is a battle. A battle for time, for better health, for the universe to cut us a bit of slack. For Mark to get the chance to see his child born. He says we can be selfish now. 'God owes us one,' were his exact words, actually."

Robert nodded, feeling that he was now getting the real story. "He's right," he told her. "But it's not like you can afford to be selfish all the time. He's sick. He needs to be selfish. It's expected. You're pregnant, and it's still kind of a secret, right?"

Elizabeth nodded glumly. "For another few weeks, until we get into the next trimester."

Robert raised his eyebrows, as if she had just made his point for him. "So, how are you coping?"

Elizabeth's shoulders dropped, as if she'd been carrying the weight of a thousand people on them and now someone had offered to help. Tears formed in her eyes and she swiped at them with her fingers. Her voice wavered a little as she struggled even now to hang onto control. "How? I don't know how. By crying quietly in the restroom at work? All I know is I have to be here, be present, and be strong, not just for me and Mark, but for our baby."

"Hey, whatever works. I'd say maybe think about taking some time off together. To get that rest that you need to keep being everyone's rock. A weekend away, even."

She looked up at Robert, saying, "A holiday? What will that change?"

"Nothing. But it might give you a chance to recharge and rest. To maybe not worry for a brief period of time."

Elizabeth seemed to consider it now. "It may actually help, when you put it that way. I have to be so many things that it's hard to remember who I even am."

Robert looked at her, understanding what she meant. He'd been there, albeit for different reasons and to a lesser degree. "I can tell you that."

"Oh?" Elizabeth steadied herself for a Romano-ism then, and looked at him.

"You're Elizabeth Goddamn Corday, that's who you are. And you will run roughshod over anything or anyone stupid or clumsy enough to interfere with you and yours. Speaking from personal experience, here."

Elizabeth half-laughed, half-sobbed at that statement, wanting to believe it. "I'm just so bloody tired, Robert!"

He nodded, leaning forward a little so she'd hear him - really hear him. "You do realize that you're surrounded by people who want to help you, right?"

"I don't want sympathy," Elizabeth said dismissively.

"Just tea then? Hold the sympathy?" He sighed, struggling for a moment to find the right words. "I've never been a touchy-feely sort of guy. And I don't think you are, either. But speaking for myself, and maybe some other people in your life, sometimes you need to accept help when it's offered."

"Oh, as if you would ever accept help!" Elizabeth snorted with a smile, dabbing away the last of her threatened tears with a tissue.

"When it's really important, of course I would, and have. I asked you to operate on Mel, didn't I? I didn't want Benton or Dale messing around in there. Mel's insides needed to matter to her surgeon. She's not a simple aortic dissection to whip through in order to get back to golf or a kid or whatever those guys obsess over in their down time. I wanted you to do it because I know you give a damn about the patient. I asked you, and you did it, despite every shitty thing we've put each other through. I knew you would be there for the patient, and you were." He tried again. "So, on those days when you feel like you've taken the very last sucker-punch from life or God or whatever, and you need someone's help, I just want you to know that there's a lot of people who are rooting for you. I'm one of them. I actually want to help." He winced a little as he heard the words fall from his mouth. "And I hate saying it, so please don't wait for me to offer it again."

Elizabeth was touched that this man whom she'd been at odds with for so long was reaching out to her, without any hidden personal agenda or strings attached. She reached out, at first to just pat his arm, but that felt so inadequate that she ended up hugging him. "Thank you, Robert."

He was a little less surprised this time, and simply hugged her back, thinking just how odd it was that they'd finally reached this level of comfort, now that they were both firmly planted in relationships with other people. Maybe this was what was needed to allow their friendship to take root, he thought. "Hang in there, Lizzie."

Lizzie released him, meeting his gaze and joking, "Who are you and what have you done with the real Robert Romano? You know, the one who always expects a kind gesture to be repaid threefold?"

Robert had to chuckle at that. "That guy? He aged about ten years in one night about a month ago," he told her.

"You've mellowed with age and mental anguish, then?" she said.

"It happens to the best of us, Lizzie. You'll see." He offered her another tissue from the box on a nearby table, and she accepted it. "So if you need someone to vent to, consider me rather than an empty stall in the ladies' room. If nothing else, I listen better."

Melora and Mark rejoined them soon after, deep in discussion about current music genres, although both picked up on the vibe that Serious Things had been discussed in their absence. Later on, after their company had left for the evening and the clean-up was finished, Robert and Melora settled in on the comfy sofa in the den with the last of the evening's wine.

Relieved that she could really dig into her wine at last and not have to worry that she might say something stupid, Melora remarked, "That was really nice. Mark's a sweet guy – I can see why Elizabeth likes him."

"He does have his charms," admitted Robert. "And he's a solid trauma doctor. If he makes a full recovery, it'll be good to get him back in the ER. Lewis and Kovac are good, but they need him as an attending for balance."

"Did you two have a good talk?" Melora asked him, curious as to what he would say.

"Yeah. She's possibly more stubborn and resistant to asking for help than me."

Melora donned a look of mock surprise. "I don't think that's possible!"

Robert looked at his glass of wine, lost in thought for a moment. "Yeah. It's kind of built into the surgeon's DNA, I think. Asking for help is a sign of weakness, and most of your colleagues are waiting for a chance to swoop in and take advantage. At least, that's what I'd do. Maybe not so much anymore. But it's a legitimate concern. Hopefully she knows she doesn't have to worry about that with me."

Melora looked at him as if studying him. Every time she thought she understood him, he'd show her some aspect of his personality that she hadn't realized was there. "You think he won't make it," she observed sadly. He was usually right about these things.

He looked up, surprised by how quickly and easily she picked up on it. He decided denying it was pointless, and shrugged. "It's just that it's GBM. There's a very, very low survival rate, even with early detection. Once it's there, it's going to spread, no matter what. That's why most surgeons won't operate – too much risk for too little benefit. But…hey, I hope I'm wrong. And if I'm right, maybe he's still got a year or maybe a year and a half left in him. That's a pretty great prognosis, compared to what it was a few weeks ago. By the time most people get diagnosed, they're down to weeks, not months or years."

Melora felt a pang of sadness then. "But they've got a baby on the way." She thought of Elizabeth's child, not yet born, and imagined what life without a dad might be like. Her own father may have had his problems, but Melora couldn't picture her life or who she'd have been without him. Even though she was the caretaker for much of the latter part of his life, it still gave her purpose and strength.

Robert looked at her; sometimes he forgot how deeply she felt other people's losses. "Sorry. That's how things go sometimes."

"I know," she sighed. "I just wish things didn't always have to be so hard." She leaned against him, and while she felt sad for the struggles that Elizabeth and Mark were facing, she took some comfort in knowing that they still had some time together. "Nobody really knows what's around the corner, or how long they've got."

"Hey." He nudged her, and she looked at him, lost in his eyes again. "Don't go getting all morose on me." He draped an arm across her shoulders, kissing her forehead. "You're supposed to be the lighthearted one, remember?"

She finally smiled. "Really? I don't remember reading that in my girlfriend job description."

"No?" He finished his wine. "Well, we'll have to update it, then." He kissed her, and before he realized what he was saying, he said, "Why don't you move in?"

She blinked a few times as she processed the unexpected proposition. "Move in? Here? Like, with you?"

"Yeah. Well, Gretel, too. Naturally." His eyes searched hers, wondering if he'd overstepped. Was this too soon? Was he letting Elizabeth and Mark's situation influence his actions? But then, he didn't make a habit of saying anything he didn't really feel. It wasn't as if he'd never considered it before.

Melora could see that he was trying to judge if he'd said the wrong thing. He hadn't. She kissed him then, softly, and smiled at him. "Naturally," she echoed. "Of course. I can't think of anyplace I'd rather be."

He kissed her back, sensing that the risk of asking her was worth it for this outcome. "I just want you here with me, as much as possible." Time was fleeting and fate, he knew, had a very twisted sense of humor. "I like coming home and hearing you play or finding you watching a movie or reading or…well, just being here. I know it's a big move, and it's removed from the city. But…"

"But it's got you, and that's a big selling point," Melora said, cutting him off. "Plus, you have way fewer hair products cluttering up the bathroom than Serena does. How can I say no?" She looked into his eyes and saw her future there. She liked what she saw there. It was true that there was no telling what the future held, but that only meant that they should hang onto each moment while they could, and make it really mean something.

THE END…For now!