Hi guys! Welcome to my very first ER fic! This story actually takes place after another one I'm working on in which Carol comes back to Chicago because I love her too much to let her go. But the first story is not finished, so it shall now be a prequel if I ever get it finished. I simply could not resist this idea, and since it's finished I had to share it. Important notes: I don't know any Russian, and only a very little Croatian. I rely heavily on the internet for translations, so if I made any mistakes please let me know. Especially with the Croatian since I am actively trying to learn. Enjoy! ~SG

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Carol Hathaway-Kovač was a nurse on her way to becoming a pediatrician, a very happily married wife, and the proud mother of three beautiful children. She loved her life, but everyone needed a little break now and then, and she'd been feeling a little run down lately. She didn't have to work tomorrow, so it was the perfect chance to get out of the house for a little while, leave the kids with her incredibly amazing husband, and have some fun. She was looking forward to dinner and a movie, followed by a sleepover with her best friend and fellow nurse turned med student, Abby Lockhart, but she seriously considered canceling for a moment as her heart melted when she stopped in the doorway of the playroom, and found her husband playing with their children.

Dr. Luka Kovač—her second husband—was sitting in the floor at a glittery pink and white plastic table, wearing a purple feather boa, and enjoying a tea party with the identical twin daughters she'd had with her first husband while Cookie, the Beagle they'd adopted from a local shelter, happily guarded their one year old son as he played with his blocks a few feet away. Carol pressed a hand to her chest because her heart ached over how much she loved them, and she stood there for a moment watching her family, and thinking about how she'd almost missed it all.

Ten years ago she'd let the demons in her head convince her that her life wasn't worth living, and she'd almost succeeded in ending it. Thank God her friends and co-workers had been able to save her, and she'd been able to get the help she needed. Thank God she'd been blessed with Tess and Kate even though her relationship with their father hadn't been quite what she'd hoped it would be. And thank God she'd been brave enough to leave Doug and come home to Chicago where she'd been able to build the life and family she'd always dreamed of with a man she never should have walked away from in the first place. Most importantly, thank God he'd been willing to give her a second chance.

"I'm heading out." she announced, her voice cracking a little because she'd managed to get herself all choked up.

Luka ignored the cup of imaginary tea Tess was pouring for him, and abandoned the tea party when he looked up and saw the almost pained expression on Carol's face. Forgetting the feather boa around his neck, he got up and crossed the room in three strides, needing to know that his wife was okay. He hadn't been there when she'd attempted to kill herself, but she'd told him about it after she and the girls had moved in with him. Even though he could see that she was doing much better than she had been he still worried. He'd buried one wife already, and had no intentions of burying a second.

"What's wrong?" he asked quietly to avoid alarming the children.

Carol smiled.

"Nothing." she assured him, giving his hand a comforting squeeze as the urge to cry tears of joy faded away. "I was just thinking about how lucky I am. You and the kids, med school, this house, hell, even the damn dog I didn't want. I almost missed it all."

"I'm glad you didn't." he said, smiling as he leaned down to kiss her, relieved to know that everything was okay.

"Yeah." she said, giving his hand another squeeze. "Me too."

"You look beautiful."

She wore a black leather jacket over a black halter top, red corduroy pants, a black belt and black boots. She'd taken a little extra care with her makeup, taken the time to choose and put on jewelry, and actually done something with her hair, pinning her mass of wild black curls back away from her face to show off the gold hoops Luka had given her for her last birthday. The waist band of her pants was a little lower than she would like, but it was the current style, so what choice did she have if she wanted something new? Plus she'd put in the effort to lose the baby weight she'd gained with Elijah, and she was happy with the way her body looked, so why not show it off a little? She may not be twenty anymore, but she was still young enough to pull off the latest styles if she wanted to, and it was clear by the look on his face that Luka wished he was the one she'd gotten dressed up for and not his ex-girlfriend. That was more than enough reason to show off in her book.

"Thanks." she said, smiling as she tugged gently on the purple feather boa. "So do you."

"What's a tea party without feathers?" he asked, shrugging.

She loved that the boa didn't bother him in the least. If his girls wanted him to wear it he would wear it proudly no matter what anyone else thought. Though it probably didn't hurt that there was no one around to judge him at the moment. But that changed when the doorbell rang, confusing them both.

"I thought you were picking Abby up from work." Luka said.

"I am." Carol replied, glancing toward the door. "Did you order pizza or something?"

"No. I was going to heat up leftovers."

"Then I guess we have a visitor." Carol said, wondering who it might be.

"I guess so." Luka agreed, stepping around her to go answer the door.

He opened the door to reveal the man known in their house as Uncle Carter standing on the front steps, looking adorably hopeful in his adorable Carter way. It was clear that he was hoping to be invited in even though he hadn't been invited over, but he need not fear having the door slammed in his face. He was part of the family, and as such he was always welcome in their home.

"Thought you could use a hand with the kids." Carter explained as Luka moved aside to let him in.

"I don't buy it." Carol said, calling him out as they stood in the foyer while the kids continued to play in the next room. "You just don't know what to do with yourself when you're not working or with Abby."

"Maybe." Carter admitted, not looking the least bit ashamed of the fact that he had absolutely no life outside his job and his girlfriend. "You look great!"

"Thanks." she said. "And I really should be going, or we'll miss our reservation."

Leaving Luka and Carter in the foyer, she ducked into the playroom and crouched down to kiss both girls goodbye. "You two be good for Tata and Uncle Carter, okay?"

"We will." Tess assured her.

"Bye Mommy!" Kate exclaimed, throwing her arms around her mother's neck. "I love you!"

"I love you too, Baby Girl." Carol said, kissing Kate once more before turning to drop another kiss on Tess. "I love you too!"

"I love you, Mommy." Tess said, squeezing her hard.

Carol untangled herself from her first born, petted each twin's hair, and went to scoop up Elijah, giving Cookie a quick scrub as she did.

"You be good too. Okay, Little Man?" she said as she carried her son out into the foyer, where she kissed him and passed him to his father before she could walk out the door with him. She had her hand on the knob as she pegged both men with a serious look. "You two better behave yourselves too. I'm counting on you to keep my kids alive and not burn my house down. Carter."

"Set one curtain on fire by accident, and you never hear the end of it." Carter teased. "I mean, really, Carol. Isn't it time to forgive and forget?"

"Keep him away from the candles." she ordered, looking at Luka.

"I wasn't planning on lighting them." Luka replied. "Everything will be fine, moja ljubav. This is not the first time I've been left alone with my own children. Go and have fun."

Carol smiled. "I'll do my best."

Realizing she'd left her purse on the hall table, she ran to grab it, and swatted Carter's butt just to irritate him on her way out.

"Did you see that?" Carter asked as Elijah reached for him. "She just spanked me!"

"You probably deserved it." Luka said, handing his son over. "You did set her curtains on fire."

"One curtain." Carter corrected as he followed Luka into the playroom. "I accidentally set fire to one curtain."

"One curtain that she worked very hard to make."

"I bought her a house to make up for it, didn't I?" Carter countered, referring to the lovely three-story brownstone they were currently standing in. "I think we're even."

"Good luck convincing her of that." Luka said, remembering that they still owed Carter a rent check for the month.

Carter sighed, and proceeded to trip over the dog on his way to the kitchen. Carol would be pleased to know that her son—and her curtains—remained unharmed during the incident. Cookie, on the other hand, was far from thrilled, and nipped at the clumsy doctor's ankle to express her discontent as Tess and Kate dissolved into hysterical laughter, and Luka crouched to console the wounded pup.

%%%

After Carol left and the kids were fed, washed, and tucked into their beds, Luka and Carter settled down in the living room to hang out and watch a movie that was more suited to their tastes than whatever the girls might be enjoying at the theater. It was all very domestic, and Carter couldn't help but appreciate the friendship he'd managed to build with Luka over the last couple of years. He hadn't really had a close friend like this since Gant. Sure he considered most of the people he'd worked with over the last ten years his friends, but it wasn't like this. Mark, Benton, and Kerry were his bosses and mentors, Lucy had been his student, and the sexual tension there certainly hadn't helped to foster a real friendship. And the relationships he had with everyone else weren't exactly the kind of friendships where you call up your buddy to go have a drink after work. He'd never really been able to hang out with anyone he worked with, and because of his job he hadn't had too many opportunities to make friends outside the hospital. Deb and Susan were probably the closest thing he had to real friends, but he'd dated Susan, and if he were being honest he would've dated Deb as well had the opportunity presented itself.

He'd tried to be friends with Abby, but that had become something much more complicated that they were only just now starting to really figure out and settle into. So he was glad that Carol had come back, and he and Luka had been able to put the Abby drama behind them so that they could really and truly become friends. Actually, Carter felt like they were more like brothers sometimes than just friends. Like Mark and Doug had been. He loved being Uncle Carter to Elijah and the girls. He loved the playful sibling like rivalry that had developed between himself and Carol, and he loved that he could show up at the house whenever he felt like it and watch an action movie with his best friend after reading Tess and Kate a bedtime story about princesses.

But he wasn't exactly sure how Luka felt about the whole thing, so he decided to keep his thoughts to himself as a car exploded on screen, but he was pretty sure he wasn't the only one who cherished the odd little family that had evolved since Carol's return to Chicago. Luka was the sentimental kind after all.

When the movie ended he didn't feel like driving all the way back to his apartment to spend the night alone, and briefly wondered if it was time to start thinking about asking Abby to move in with him before asking Luka if it was cool if he crashed on the couch.

"You know we have a guest room with an actual bed, right?" Luka replied.

"Yeah, but I don't feel like walking all the way upstairs, and I gotta say, your couch is pretty damn comfortable." Carter explained.

Luka shrugged. "Suit yourself. Just don't set anything on fire."

"One curtain!" Carter exclaimed as Luka walked away, knowing his friends were just teasing him about the curtain incident. "It was one curtain!"

Luka simply chuckled and told him goodnight before going up to check on the kids one last time.

Carter helped himself to the cozy blanket Carol had crocheted that lived on the back of the couch, and settled in to ponder the idea of asking Abby to move in with him as he drifted off to sleep.

At some point during the night his bladder woke him up, and he stumbled to the other end of the house to help himself to Luka and Carol's bathroom. Unfortunately it had two doors—one leading back to the hallway, and one leading to the bedroom where Luka was currently sound asleep in his own bed—and Carter's partially awake zombie brain lead him through the wrong door. Forgetting that he wasn't in his own apartment, he crawled into the bed, where Carol found him snuggled up with her husband and two of her children the next morning.

"Aw." she said as she stood in the door taking in the scene before her. "How sweet."

Luka was sprawled on his back as usual, snoring quietly with his mouth hanging open, and Carter was lying on his stomach, using Luka's shoulder as a pillow, and drooling a little with his arm flung across Luka's torso. The blankets were a mess as if they'd been tossing and turning all night, and both Elijah and Kate were tucked in between them. It looked like someone had wet the bed, and she knew Luka had to be at work in about two hours, but she couldn't resist giggling as she dug her digital camera out of her purse to snap a picture.

She'd bought the camera to make it easier to send pictures and videos of the kids to Doug and Luka's parents, but right now it was the perfect tool to capture this sweet and comical moment between best friends. She'd send it to Abby later.

"Luka." she said once she'd taken the picture, sitting on the edge of the bed and giving him a gentle shake. "Wake up."

"Did I forget to set the alarm again?" he asked as he pulled himself out of his dreams, looking at her through sleepy eyes, and rubbing the hand that wasn't wrapped around Carter over his face.

"Looks like it." Carol said quietly, not wanting to disturb Carter or the kids just yet. "You've got about two hours. Want to explain what's going on here?"

Luka looked over to find Carter sprawled across him, and was confused for a moment until the fog cleared out of his brain some and he remembered what had happened the night before.

"I left him on the couch last night." Luka explained. "He was in bed with me when Elijah woke me up, and I was too tired to make him leave, so I just brought Elijah down and left Carter where he was. I guess Kate crawled in sometime after I went back to sleep."

"Well, it looks like someone wet the bed, so I think we'd wake up your snuggle buddies so we can change the sheets." Carol said, amused at the whole situation as she got up to extract Elijah from the pile of people in her bed.

%%%

While Luka was getting ready for work, Carter volunteered to clean up the kids while Carol cleaned up the bed. Once she had the sheets in the washer and baking soda soaking up the wet spot on the mattress she dragged Tess out of bed, and went downstairs to fix breakfast for everyone. She may not be the master chef in the Hathaway-Kovač household, but her skills had improved considerably since she'd moved in with Luka, and she was just about ready to serve when Carter came in with Kate and Elijah, looking like he was the one who'd been given a bath.

"Does bath time always include a tidal wave?" he asked.

Carol couldn't help but laugh. "It's gonna be really fun when you have kids."

"Why do you think I'm practicing on yours?" he teased. "I'm pretty sure I got Elijah's diaper on the right way, but I'm afraid I owe you an apology for the current state of your upstairs bathroom. I can clean it up if you want."

"It's fine." Carol assured him. "I'll deal with it after breakfast, but if you want to do the dishes for me I wouldn't complain."

"You're not gonna hit me over the head with a frying pan if I don't load the dishwasher the right way, will you?"

Carol considered for a moment, and decided that it was best if she did the dishes. "You know what? I'll deal with it."

"Carol, I can handle the dishes." he insisted.

"No, you can't." Luka said as he breezed into the kitchen, and dropped a kiss on each child's head.

"I know how to load a dishwasher." Carter argued. "I have one. I don't use it often, but I do use it."

"That may be, but trust me." Luka said, scooting around the island to kiss his wife. "Her anxiety prefers it if you just let her do it herself. The only reason she let's me do it is because I've learned how to do it her way."

"So, then why'd you ask?" Carter inquired, looking back to Carol.

She shrugged. "I don't know. But breakfast is ready, and as long as you rinse your plate and put it in the sink I promise I won't hit you."

"Deal." Carter agreed.

"Uh-uh." Carol said, grabbing the back of Luka's tucked in shirt as he tried to make a run for the door. "You sit down, and have breakfast with your family."

"I'm going to be late." Luka replied.

"You have plenty of time to sit down and eat a decent breakfast, Luka." Carol argued. "If you en up late it shouldn't be by more than a few minutes, and if Kerry has a problem with it she can take it up with me."

"Oh." Carter said, sounding impressed that Carol was willing to go toe to toe with the ER chief.

Carol rolled her eyes. "Oh please. Kerry Weaver isn't nearly as scary as everyone likes to think she is. I mean, yeah, she runs a tight ship. Or tries to at least. I imagine it's a little difficult at times with this bunch, but she's just trying to do her job, and keep things running as smoothly as possible. Technically that does require everyone to get to work on time. However, I am not a nurse or a med student at the moment. I am a mother and a wife, and I do not care if Kerry's employee gets to work on time. I care about my husband sitting down, and taking the time to have breakfast with his family. So sit, Luka, or I swear I will tie you to the chair. You've skipped out on too many meals with your family lately, and I'm not okay with that. Kerry's working you way too hard."

"Yes, ma'am." Luka said, and turned away from the back door to herd the kids into the dining room, trusting that Carol could handle anything Kerry felt the need to dish out, and understanding that she was upset because this was the sort of thing Doug had been doing before she'd left.

But Luka wasn't turning into Doug. The truth was that he'd been voluntarily working over-time lately in hopes of saving up enough money to take her and the kids to Europe for a family vacation. But he couldn't tell her that because he wanted to surprise her, and he didn't want her to feel that he was having to work over-time and sacrifice time with his family because she'd wanted to become a doctor.

If it weren't for her tuition he wouldn't need to work extra hours in order to afford a vacation, but he didn't want her to think of it that way and end up blaming herself for his missing time with the kids.

They'd spent their honeymoon in Croatia with the girls and his family, but Carol had always wanted to see Italy and Ireland, and Luka intended to make that dream come true. If he had to work over-time to do it, then he would, and he would do his best to make it a surprise. He was hoping to make it a birthday present. Carter was aware of this, and had been coming up with reasons to have Luka cover his shifts as much as he could without getting himself in trouble. Luka was extremely grateful for the help, and for the fact that Carter kept his mouth shut about it now.

"Hvala." Carol said as Carter helped her carry everything into the dining room, rewarding Luka with a kiss as she moved toward her seat at the other end of the table.

"Pozhaluysta." Luka replied.

"Translation please?" Carter requested.

"Mommy said thank you in Croatian." Tess explained.

"And Tata said you're welcome in Russian." Kate added.

"Thank you, ladies." Carter said, bowing theatrically and making the girls giggle at his antics. He couldn't help but be impressed that his five-year-old nieces were learning two foreign languages as he seated himself. He was also impressed with Carol's dedication to learning Croatian as a way of connecting with Luka while rededicating herself to learning Russian to connect to her own heritage. And of course Luka was learning a little Russian as well, which made Carter think that maybe he should consider learning a little more Spanish since they always seemed to need a translator in the ER, and it didn't seem fair to rely so heavily on Chuny all the time.

Carol smiled as she fixed a plate for Tess while Luka fixed one for Kate, thinking that Carter really was great with kids. Despite her teasing earlier she thought he really would make a great father someday. Like Luka.

"What?" Luka asked when he glanced up and caught the way she was looking at him.

"Nothing." she said, smiling at him. "I'm just happy."

"Good." Luka said, smiling back.

"Careful." Carter warned, watching the sparks fly from one end of the table to the other. "The children are present."

"Shut up, Carter." Luka and Carol both replied, and everyone but Carter laughed.

%%%

After breakfast, Luka headed off to work, managing to walk through the doors two seconds after his shift started with no repercussions. Carter went home to do whatever it was Carter did when he had a day to himself, and Carol sent the kids to play while she cleaned up the kitchen and the girls' bathroom. She finished the laundry, made the bed, and then settled down in the parlor where she could keep an eye on the kids while she transferred pictures from the camera to her laptop so she could e-mail Abby about what she'd come home to this morning.

By the time she got the pictures uploaded to her laptop and opened her e-mail she realized the kids had been too quiet for too long. She had her cursor poised over the link for the e-mail thread between her and Abby when she glanced into the playroom, and momentarily regretted having kids.

When they had been babies, Kate had been the troublemaker as Luka had pointed out once upon a time. But now that they were a little older, Tess was usually the one creating mischief, and at the moment, it was clear that both girls were equally guilty.

Tess was holding her baby brother in her lap, keeping him from squirming away while Kate was preparing to draw on his face with a Sharpie. Elijah didn't seem to realize he was in danger, and Carol wasn't sure exactly how they had gotten a hold of the marker, but right now it didn't really matter. Her primary objective as she tossed her laptop aside, clicking without meaning to, was to rescue her son.

"Katharine Danielle, drop that marker!" she shouted. "And Tessa Emmalyn, unhand your brother right now!"

The marker was not dropped, and Elijah was not released, but both girls froze at the sound of their mother's angry mom voice shouting their full names, so Carol considered the intervention a success.

"We do not draw on our brothers with permanent markers." she said firmly as she snatched the marker away from Kate. "Where's the cap?"

Kate handed it over, and both girls had the good sense to show that they knew they were in trouble by looking remorseful.

"You draw on your face." Tess said.

Carol sighed, covering her face with her hands as she realized it was a red Sharpie, and they had been attempting to drawn lipstick on their brother.

"That's different." she explained calmly. "I wear makeup because I'm a grown up. Markers are not makeup, and this is a permanent marker. It doesn't come off."

"Yeah, and boys aren't supposed to wear makeup." Kate said, using her know-it-all voice as she stuck her tongue out at her sister in an attempt to make Tess look like the ringleader and get herself off the hook. "Right, Mommy?"

"Kate, don't stick your tongue out at your sister." Carol chastised. "It's rude, and you're every bit as responsible here as Tess is. If we don't want to do something because we know it's wrong we say no, right?"

"Right." Kate nodded, her bottom lip poking out as she realized she wouldn't be getting off quite so easily.

"Did you know it was wrong to draw on your brother?" Carol asked.

Kate nodded again. "I'm sorry, Mommy."

"Me too." Tess added. "Do we have to go in time out?"

"Do you both understand why you're in trouble?" Carol asked.

Both girls nodded.

"Are you ever going to do it again?"

Both girls shook their heads.

"Then we can skip time out this time." Carol said, hoping she wasn't making a mistake, and, deciding that she needed to make sure this particular event never happened again, she held up the marker and pointed to the brand name printed on the side. "See right here where it says Sharpie?"

The girls were just beginning to learn how to read, but she had no doubt they could recognize the design at least. They confirmed this by nodding.

"Okay." Carol said. "And do you see how it's shaped? It doesn't look like the markers you color with, does it?"

"No." Tess said as Kate shook her head.

"They do come in different colors like your markers, but markers that are shaped like this and have the word Sharpie on the side like this one are permanent." Carol explained. "If it comes off it's very, very hard to get it off, so we don't write on anything but paper with these markers, and they're not for coloring. These are grown up markers. Understand?"

"Yes, ma'am." both girls confirmed.

"Good." Carol said, picking up Elijah as she stood, and holding out her hand for the girls. "Come on. I think it's time for lunch, and then a nap. How does that sound?"

"I want peanut butter and jelly!" Kate exclaimed, galloping into the kitchen after her sister.

"And cookies!" Tess added.

"One cookie." Carol compromised, placing Elijah in his high chair before lifting each girl up onto a stool at the counter. "After your lunch."

"Mommy?" Tess asked as Carol dug a jar of peanut butter out of the pantry and grabbed the loaf of bread from its place on the counter.

"What is it, baby?" Carol inquired, opening the fridge to get the jelly—grape for Tess, strawberry for Kate.

"Is makeup just for girls?" Tess asked, wanting to know if her sister was right or not.

Carol took a moment to consider how to answer as she put the sandwiches together.

"No." she decided. "A lot of people think only grown up girls should wear makeup, but some grown up boys wear it too, and that's okay if it's what makes them feel like themselves."

"Is that why you wear it?" Kate asked.

Carol nodded. "Yep. I wear it because I like the way it makes me look and feel. And if you want to wear it when you're old enough, you can. If you don't want to wear it, you don't have to."

"When are we old enough?" Tess asked.

"Probably about ten more years." Carol said. Kate pouted a little, Tess didn't seem to care. Carol couldn't help but wonder which one was going to be more of a handful in ten years.

She added carrots, celery, and cheese to their plates, poured milk for Tess and apple juice for Kate, and served the girls before turning her attention to Elijah's lunch. Once the kids were fed, she herded everyone upstairs for a nap, and decided to feed herself after she e-mailed Abby.

When she cleared away her screen saver—a sweet picture Jerry had snapped of Luka kissing her under the mistletoe last Christmas while she held their Elijah, who was dressed as an elf—she discovered that she had managed to open her e-mail thread in the process of saving Elijah from ending up with permanent lipstick. Pleased with the discovery, she uploaded the picture, hit send, and went to back to the kitchen to feed herself.

Five minutes later, the home phone was ringing, and she hastily swallowed the mouthful of leftover spaghetti she was chewing before answering the phone.

"Hello?"

"Hey." Abby said. "It's me."

"What's up?" Carol asked, walking toward the window to look out into the little backyard she and Luka had been working on. Neither one of them were all that great at gardening or landscaping, but it didn't look too pathetic, and they were having fun with it. "Did you get my e-mail?"

"Yeah." Abby said. "That's why I'm calling. Did you mean to send it to just me?"

"Yeah." Carol replied. "Why?"

"Because you sent it to the entire ER staff."

Carol gasped. "What? No! Crap! Oh, Carter's gonna kill me."

"You're not worried about Luka?" Abby inquired.

Carol scoffed as she waved away the idea. "You know Luka. He'll think it's funny. Carter's the one with the fragile ego."

"True." Abby agreed. "It is pretty funny though."

"I can't believe I did that!" Carol groaned, pressing her hand to her forehead in embarrassment.

"Carter'll get over it." Abby assured her. "Kerry and Romano might have a thing or two to say, but you know how it is at County. Something crazy'll happen today, and by the time we get in tomorrow everyone'll have forgotten about Carter and Luka's little sleepover."

"True." Carol said as the phone beeped. "That's Carter."

"Good luck."

"Thanks." Carol said. "See you tomorrow."

"Hey." Abby said, catching Carol before she could switch over.

"Yeah?"

"Love you."

"Love you too." Carol said, smiling as she switched over to the other line to deal with Carter, glad to have found friends who felt more like siblings. "Hi, Carter."

"Why?" was all he said, sounding pained.

"Consider it payback for my curtain." she replied, and hung up to finish her lunch.

Carter stood in his living room, grinning at the phone in his hand. "Okay. Two can play that game, Hathaway."

Carol had no way of knowing she'd just started a prank war.

So...thoughts? Comments? Y'all know I love the feedback! Most importantly, any ideas for the prank war because I'd like to write more if I can. Let me know, and as always thanks for reading and making my little writer's heart happy! Y'all are awesome! ~SG