Title: Beautiful

Rating: I'm going to go with FRT (for teenagers) simply because of subject matter (even though there's nothing "bad" in this story)

Disclaimer: ER and its affiliated characters do not belong to me.

Spoilers: There's no specific episode that I discuss in this story, but I do mention important happenings from season 13.

Summary: Reela story. Neela and Ray attend a formal benefit, which makes them question their recent relationship.

The machine beeped a long, screeching beep. The noise was meant to alert everyone that something bad was happening, but everyone in the ER had gotten used to hearing it, recognizing it, and practically ignoring it.

"Clear!" Neela shouted.

She pressed the paddles against the elderly man's chest and pressed the button. The man's body jerked and the constant beeping turned into a series of bleeps.

"Welcome back Mr. Harlow," Neela said, putting the paddles back on the portable defibrillator. She listed off a number of tests to be conducted and stripped the gloves from her hands. She threw them in a specially marked waste disposal container and pushed the swinging doors open, walking out into the bustling hallways of the ER. She made her way to the front desk and began scribbling notes on the man's chart in her usual, illegible doctor handwriting.

"Mr. Harlow's family is on their way," Jerry announced.

"Find me when they get here," Neela replied, without even looking up. She left the chart at the desk and made her way to the doctor's lounge. Immediately she headed for the coffee maker and poured herself a cup. She took a sip, scoffed at how awful it was, and drank it anyway.

"I think that's been here since yesterday," Abby stated as she walked into the lounge.

"It's still caffeine," Neela responded.

"We should all just start giving each other IV's and injecting the caffeine directly in," Abby joked.

"It would never work. We'd get tangled in the tubes."

Abby smiled and dumped out the coffee that was left in the pot. She quickly rinsed the pot, filled it with water, and scooped coffee grinds into the top to make a fresh pot.

"Hey, have you heard of this benefit event?" Abby asked.

"Benefit?"

"Some rich guy who got brought into the ER last week for food poisoning was extremely pleased with the care he received, but was horrified with the lack of room. He's throwing a benefit event to build a new wing onto the ER."

"A new wing?" Neela grabbed a stale doughnut from the table and nibbled on it.

"I didn't catch all the details, but it has something to do with his distaste for some of our patients spending the day on gurneys in the hallways."

"And who does he expect to staff this new wing?"

Abby shrugged. "Don't know, but it's supposedly going to be a huge event."

"Yeah, a huge event with rich people who have nothing better to do than eat fish eggs and snails."

"He invited the entire ER."

"What?" Neela threw the rest of the donut away and brushed the white powder on her hand on her lab coat. She had learned early on that eating white powdered donuts didn't stain lab coats so she had stuck to eating just them.

"He wants all the doctors and nurses to be there to show all those rich, fish eating people who we really are."

"He sounds insane to me."

"Oh come on, you're not the least bit curious?"

"Yeah, I'm curious but not curious enough to go." Neela paused. "Are you?"

"I don't know. It could be fun. Free food, free drinks."

"And what do you expect to wear?"

"Oh, I don't know. I think I could dig up an old prom dress from the back of my closet."

They both laughed as the door opened.

"Mr. Harlow's crashing again," Haleh said, rushing out of the room.

"Think about it," Abby shouted as Neela raced after Haleh.

-------

Neela had thought about it, but as she stood in front of the floor-length mirror in a pink, puffy Cinderella-like dress, she began to have second thoughts. Abby opened the door to her dressing room and came out in an equally as puffy, light blue dress. They both looked at themselves in the mirror and couldn't help but laugh.

"Why are we doing this again?" Neela questioned.

"Free boos," Abby replied.

"I knew there was a good reason. Unzip me."

Abby pulled down the zipper on the back of Neela's dress and then Neela did the same to Abby's dress. They had both agreed to go shopping together for the benefit, but so far, they hadn't had much luck. After going to three stores and trying on several dresses and failing, they decided to try on a few of the ugliest dresses they could find to make themselves feel better. Even though they did it for a laugh, all they managed to do was remind themselves that the search was near hopeless. All of the dresses that they could find seemed to be made for sixteen year olds going to the prom or were for fifty-something year old women who covered themselves from head to toe. Abby and Neela wanted, and needed, to find something in the middle.

They both went back into their dressing rooms and took off the silky, lacey dresses that had more layers than they ever knew could exist on a dress.

"Try on that dark purple one," Abby urged, as she struggled to pull a light yellow dress over her head.

"I'm not trying on the purple one," Neela insisted, staring at the purple dress that hung on the hook in her dressing room. Abby was the one who had grabbed the dress off the rack and insisted that Neela would look great in it. Neela had to admit that it was pretty, but it wasn't exactly her style.

"It's a gorgeous dress."

"Yeah, and it also looks like it'll give me more cleavage than I'll know what to do with and I bet you'll practically be able to see my butt since it's so low cut in the back."

"But it will grab someone's attention," Abby teased.

"And whose attention is it that I'm supposed to be grabbing?"

Hesitantly, Neela took the dress off the hook and removed it from its hanger. She began to step into it.

"Do I even need to answer that?"

Neela rolled her eyes. Ever since she had broken up with Gates weeks before, Abby had been urging her to try to mend things with Ray. Abby was even the first to break the news that Ray and Katey had stopped seeing each other just days after Neela and Gates had called it quits. Even though she knew she shouldn't be, Neela had been comforted by the news of Ray's breakup, but it hadn't changed hers and Ray's relationship like she hoped it would. They still barely spoke and remained distant from each other. They barely even conversed when they were working on the same patient.

Neela secured the straps of the dress that went around her neck and stepped out of her dressing room. She stared at herself in the mirror. Abby came out of her stall a few minutes later, holding up the bottom of the light yellow dress that was much too long for her and made her look like Little Bo Peep.

"You look hot," Abby announced as she looked at Neela in the mirror.

Neela couldn't help but stare at herself. The dress might have shown a little too much cleavage than what she was normally comfortable with, and was a little low cut in the back, but she had to admit, she did look hot.

"I can't wear this."

"Yes you can and you will."

Neela turned around to go back into her dressing room. Abby immediately put her hands on Neela's shoulders and turned her back around so that she was facing the mirror again.

"You look radiant," Abby complimented. "And, if you really want a chance to get Ray back, you'll wear the dress."

"Who said I wanted him back? And besides, we were never together in the first place so there's no back to get to."

"Just wear the dress," Abby stated.

Abby went back into her dressing room to try on yet another dress.

"I'm not wearing it," Neela insisted as she too went to change. This time, though, she was changing back into her T-Shirt and Jeans. She was sick of trying on dresses. "And I'm not going to the benefit."

"Yes you are."

"No, I'm not."

"Yes, you are."

"I don't even have a date."

"I don't have a date either," Abby explained as she put on the last dress that she had picked up off the racks.

"What about Luka?"

Neela sat down on the bench inside her dressing room and put on her shoes.

"Luka's working."

"Well, tell Luka I'll work with him. Or better yet, I'll baby sit for you."

"I've already got a babysitter."

"But I'm offering to baby-sit for free. How can you give up the chance to have a free babysitter?"

"Neela, you've barely left my apartment since you and Tony broke up besides to go to work."

Neela had expected a certain emotion to run through her at the mention of Tony's name. She expected to be sad and hurt thinking about him, as people normally are when their ex-significant others are mentioned soon after a breakup, but she wasn't either of those things. She had been fine after their breakup. If anything, she had been happier after they had broken up than she had been while she was with him. He was nothing more to her than a much needed, quick, physical relationship. After Michael's death, she needed someone to be there for her just to make her less lonely, but she wasn't ready for a real relationship and, even if she was, she knew that it wasn't Tony that she wanted to be with. Tony hadn't been very accepting of their breakup at first, but he had learned that she wasn't going to take him back and he had at least become civil to her in the ER. He had also gone running right back to Meg, even though he was still trying to convince Neela that the relationship was totally platonic.

"And, believe me," Abby continued, "I know it's not because you're heartbroken over Tony."

Neela was going to reply with a 'you don't know what you're talking about' comment, but she bit her tongue because that was exactly what she had been thinking. It wasn't because of Tony that she had stayed home alone crying. Sometimes it seemed as if Abby knew her better she knew herself.

"You are going to that benefit and I am not going to argue," Abby finished.

"I'm not going," Neela whispered to herself as she stood up.

"You're going!" Abby shouted back.

-----

Ray stood awkwardly at the bottom of the large, red carpeted staircase that stood before him. He adjusted the bowtie around his neck and looked up the stairs. Even though he tried to deny it, he knew exactly who he was waiting for. He couldn't wait to see her walking down those steps.

As Ray stared at the stairs, someone came up behind him and placed their hands over his eyes. He knew exactly who it was, but it wasn't the person he wanted it to be. He turned around as the person took her hands away from his eyes.

"Miss me?" The tall, red-headed woman asked.

"Of course," Ray lied.

He had met Lauren a few days before at a bar. She had come on to him strongly and, although he wasn't interested, he had eventually taken her home with him. When he had woken up with her the next morning, he couldn't help but ask himself what he was doing. She may have been undeniably attractive and everything that a man could want, but he knew that she just wasn't the person he wanted to wake up next to. She was just another fill-in, much like what Katey had been. Ray had tried to do everything to make it work with Katey. He knew that they made a good match, but he knew that she would never be the one for him when his heart already belonged to someone else. Although she was saddened by their breakup, Katey had also known that it was coming. She had known all along that Ray's heart had never belonged to her.

"The bathroom here is bigger than my apartment," Lauren stated.

"It's a nice place," Ray replied, barely paying attention to her.

"You haven't said one thing about my dress," Lauren pouted.

Ray glanced at her quickly. Her dress was a dark green and complimented her light, Irish skin well.

"You look nice," he said, looking back at the stairs. If he had met Lauren at some other time in her life, he wouldn't have hesitated to tell her that she was drop dread gorgeous, but she was nothing compared to her.

"I'm going to go get us some champagne," Lauren decided.

She could sense that Ray's mind was far from her and her very revealing dress, but she wasn't going to let it go to waste. There were plenty of other bachelor doctors in the room and the night was still young.

As Lauren disappeared into the sea of multi-colored dresses and black tuxedos, Pratt walked over to Ray.

"You looking for someone?" He asked, noticing that Ray kept starting at the stairs. Ray shook his head. "Your date's hot. Where'd you meet her?"

"Tucker's," Ray answered. It was a bar that everyone in the ER was more than familiar with.

"I think I should start hanging out there for often."

"And I'm sure you brought a drop dead gorgeous woman with you," Ray said.

"Nope, flying solo tonight."

Ray finally turned away from the stairs and looked at Pratt.

"What? The Dr. Pratt doesn't have a date?" Ray joked, wishing that he had opted for going stag, as well.

"I figured there's no need to bring a date when there'll be beautiful women already here."

"Well, have fun with that."

"Yeah, you too," Pratt said, patting Ray on the back. "And speaking of beautiful women…"

Ray turned his attention back to the stairs. Neela, in her beautiful, dark purple dress with her hair half up and half down in curls, was standing at the top. She nervously looked around, and spotted Ray. She could feel the butterflies fluttering around in her stomach. Abby appeared behind her in a simple, black dress and gave her a friendly push to get her to start walking down the stairs.

Neela held on to the railing as she began her descent, unable to take her eyes off Ray. He stared at her.

As she reached the bottom, Ray was only feet away. They stared into each other's eyes, but neither of them spoke.

"You ladies look beautiful as always," Pratt complimented, kissing Neela on the cheek and then Abby.

"You clean up pretty well yourself, Pratt," Abby replied.

"May I?"

Pratt offered Abby his arm and she hooked her own arm through his. As they walked away, Pratt winked at Ray.

Although there were dozens of people around them, Neela and Ray felt as if they were all alone. Neela finally broke their gaze and stared down at the floor nervously. She felt self-conscious in the dress, especially standing in front of Ray. It had taken more than an hour of arguing in the dressing room in the store with Abby before Neela decided to buy the dress. It took another two hours of phone conversations for Abby to persuade Neela to wear it. Despite Abby telling her that the dress was unbelievable, Neela still felt unsure about it. She wasn't used to dressing 'sexy.'

Flooded with emotion, Ray opened his mouth to speak, but no words came. Just looking at her left him speechless.

"I brought our champagne," Lauren announced, coming up beside Ray. She handed him a glass and he hesitantly took it. Lauren slipped one arm around Ray's back and looked at Neela.

"Oh, I'm sorry, was I interrupting something?" She asked. "I'm Lauren, Ray's date," Lauren explained. She shook Neela's hand. "Do you work with Ray?"

Neela nodded. "Neela Rasgotra," she replied quietly.

Neela held back that tears that began to form in her eyes. She had somehow convinced herself that this night would be the night she and Ray would reconnect, but with meeting Lauren, that dream shattered.

"You look very lovely," Lauren commented.

"Thank you," Neela said. She knew that she had to get away from Ray and Lauren as soon as possible. She couldn't bare to see them together. "Excuse me, I have to use the bathroom."

Neela quickly maneuvered her way around the people that surrounded them and disappeared into the crowd.

"Well, she was a little odd," Lauren stated. "Do you know her well?"

"No, not anymore," Ray muttered.

Lauren grabbed his arm.

"Come on," she said, "let's find the dessert table."

She dragged him off as his mind wandered to Neela.

-----

Hours later, Neela sat at one of the many large, round tables that were set up to the side of the dance floor. She had to admit that if she had been in better spirits, the benefit was one heck of a party. The band that was playing was incredibly talented and played most anything that anyone requested. The food was like nothing Neela had ever tasted and everyone seemed to be having a great time. Everyone except for her.

Neela chugged her fourth glass of wine as she watched Ray twirl Lauren around on the dance floor. Abby and Pratt were dancing next to them.

"Hey Mayday."

Neela turned in her chair and saw Tony walking up to her. He sat down in the chair beside her.

"I asked you not to call me that anymore," Neela said, hoping that a waiter would come by again soon with another glass of wine.

"You look beautiful," he said, leaning in towards her.

"Don't," Neela commanded, turning away from him. The only problem was, as she turned, she was facing Ray and Lauren and, even though seeing them hurt her, she couldn't take her eyes off of them.

"Don't what?"

"Don't try to get close to me and convince me that our breaking up was the wrong thing to do."

"But it was the wrong thing," he said, placing his hand over hers.

She jerked her hand away and turned back to him.

"Look, Tony, I'm sorry if you still have feelings for me, but I don't have those same feelings for you and you are just going to have to get used to that."

"He doesn't love you, Neela."

"What are you talking about?"

Tony pointed to Ray and Lauren.

"If he loved you, he wouldn't be with her. Don't give up what we have for him."

Tony rubbed her cheek with his hand. Neela stood up angrily.

"Get away from me!" She yelled.

Neela stomped away, not sure where she was going, but knowing that she just had to get away. A thousand thoughts filled her mind. What if Tony was right? What if Ray didn't have feelings for her anymore? What if she had waited too long and had lost him? What if she had been wrong in breaking up with Tony because he was the best she could?

Neela pushed her way through the crowd as tears began to fall freely from her eyes. She ran up the staircase as fast as her high heels would let her go. She burst through the front doors and stopped as soon as the fresh air filled her lungs.

"Neela!" Abby yelled, coming through the front doors. She had seen Neela run from the table and new immediately that something was wrong. "What happened?"

"What was I thinking?" Neela cried, ripping her shoes off her feet. She threw one of her high heels to the ground.

"What do you mean?" Abby asked.

"What did I think coming here would accomplish? What did I think wearing this would accomplish?" She threw her other heel on the ground. "He hasn't even said one word to me all night! He doesn't care about me!"

"Neela…"

"No! This was a mistake! This has all been a mistake!"

Neela began to stomp away.

"Where are you going?"

"Home!" Neela yelled back.

As she walked barefoot down the street, she realized that she didn't want to go home to Abby's apartment where she had been staying. She wanted to go back to the apartment that she and Ray had shared. That was the only home she had ever really known.

Even though Abby yelled her name once more, Neela kept walking. She knew that she couldn't turn back. She couldn't go back to see Ray dancing with that woman. It was too painful.

"Neela." His voice rang out and Neela immediately stopped. She couldn't resist him. As she turned, she saw him standing nearly twenty feet away. His eyes never left hers. "Don't go."

"Why?" She replied angrily. She was tired of denying what she felt. She was tired of skirting around the issue. She wiped the tears from her eyes, determined to really speak her mind for the first time in her life. "There's nothing left for me in there."

"Just come back inside," Ray beckoned.

He walked closer to her. He could feel his heart pounding and his mind racing. He hated the thought that he had, in some way, made her cry, but, he thought, he had been crying inside ever since the day she got into that taxi.

"No!" Neela shouted. She took a deep breath. "I did this for you!" She yelled, pulling on her dress. "I didn't come here…I didn't wear this…for me. I did it for you! I did it so that you would notice me! And you didn't say anything to me! You couldn't even be bothered to tell me that you thought I looked nice!" Tears steadily streamed down her face. "All I needed was something from you…a word…a gesture…to…to tell me that we were going to be okay…to tell me that we could at least be friends again!" She looked down at the ground. "I have feelings for you, Ray. I've always had feelings for you. You once told me that I was the best friend you've ever had. But it's you who has been the best friend I've ever had." She paused, hoping that he would say something or that he would run over to her and hug her and tell her that she wasn't too late. When he said nothing, she wiped the tears from her eyes and sighed. "I get it…I'm too late.

Neela turned around and began to walk away slowly. As she could feel her bare feet hitting the cool pavement, she silently prayed that she would hear him coming after her, but he stayed as she got farther and farther away from him.

Ray watched her walk away. He felt the urge to go after her, but he couldn't leave the spot he was standing in. She had hurt him for so long and he had finally convinced himself that he could go on without her. He had even tried dating and, even when he had Katey had broken up, he told himself that it had nothing to do with the fact that Neela and Gates had broken up just days earlier. He tried to tell himself that he and Katey broke up simply because Katey just wasn't the right person for him, but, in his heart, he knew that wasn't the real reason.

And now, here she was, standing before him, telling him that she had the same feelings for him, like he had always dreamed she would, and he was paralyzed because he didn't know if he could go through the pain of possibly losing her all over again.

-----

Neela laid on Abby's couch, holding a used, wet tissue in her hand. She dropped the tissue on the floor. It landed on top of a pile of dirty tissues that had been slowly growing over the last few hours. Neela grabbed another tissue from the box. She dabbed at her eyes and blew her nose. No matter how much she tried, she couldn't stop crying.

Abby had stopped by less than an hour after Neela herself had arrived home. Instead of taking the subway back to Abby's, Neela had opted to walk. It was halfway across the city, but Neela needed the fresh air and time to think. She had even though about going to Ray's apartment just to finally feel at home, but she knew that there would be no point. She wanted to see him desperately, but even if Ray had returned from the party, he was probably with Lauren and seeing them together again would kill her.

Neela felt bad that Abby had rushed home from the party to comfort her, but Neela had put on a strong face and had convinced Abby that she was fine. Even though Abby hadn't bought it, she left Neela alone to go home to her baby, telling Neela that they would talk at work tomorrow.

Neela reached for another tissue. As she dropped it to the floor with the others, she saw the smears of the makeup that she had been wearing on the tissue. She ran her hands through her once perfect looking, but now matted hair, and looked at her dress, which she hadn't bothered to change out of.

"What were you thinking?" She said aloud to herself.

She glanced down to look at her incredibly dirty feet. Walking home barefoot most definitely was not the best idea, but she knew that she had to do it. She needed time alone to clear her head.

Neela stood up, sniffling. She walked towards Abby's bedroom to finally change, when she heard the knock at the door.

"Abby, I told you, I'm fine," Neela said as she approached the door. Neela unlocked the dead bolt on the door and opened it. Her eyes widened as she saw that it was not Abby who was standing in the hallway, but Ray.

"Neela…"

"I don't want to see you right now," Neela interrupted, beginning to close the door all the while knowing that the truth was that she did want to see him, but couldn't tell him that.

Ray placed his hand against the door, keeping her from shutting it. He pushed it back open.

"We need to talk," he said, more as a command than a simple statement.

"Please go, Ray," Neela pleaded, knowing that she could break down at any moment.

"You don't get to say the things that you said to me without letting me respond," Ray argued.

Neela stopped pushing against the door. She backed up away from it and went over to the couch. As Ray entered the apartment, Neela began pushing the dirty tissues under the couch to hide them.

"Whatever I said," Neela began, not facing him, "I had a little too much to drink and I was…" She didn't continue.

"You were what?"

Neela closed her eyes and sighed. "Jealous," she answered quietly. "I was jealous and I was out of line and I'm sorry."

Ray slowly walked up behind her.

"Neela," he whispered. Even though he was close to her, she did not turn around. "I should have told you."

"Told me what?"

For a moment, he did not respond, trying to compose his thoughts. Like Neela, he had spent the last hour walking around the city, trying to think of what he would say to her. But, as he stood before him, nothing came to him except for one thing.

"I should have told you…that you were the most beautiful woman at the party."

A tingle went down her spine. She closed her eyes and felt the goose bumps rising on her skin. She felt his presence moving closer to her. His hand lightly reached out for her waist. He applied a slight pressure to her waist and she turned slowly to face him. His face was only inches from hers. She could feel his warm breath on her forehead. He wrapped his arms around her back and brought her closer. He dipped his head but stopped right before his lips met hers.

"I should have told you that you are the most beautiful woman I've ever seen," he whispered before closing the gap between them.

The kiss was soft at first. But, as she brought her hand to the back of his head, the kiss deepened and she parted her lips to meet him full force. Fireworks exploded in her head and her whole body came alive. She raked her fingers through his hair and swore that she would melt right there at their feet.

Ray didn't want to, but he pulled away from her, leaving his lips tingling. He looked at her; her eyes still closed, her cheeks flushed, and her lips still wet from his own lips.

"Goodnight, Neela," Ray whispered.

She finally opened her eyes and watched him walk out of the apartment. As the door closed behind him, Neela collapsed onto the couch.

-----

"That's it? He kissed you and you let him walk away?" Abby asked, looking through the medicine closet for the medication her patient needed. Neela stood in the doorway with her arms across her chest. She rubbed her forehead slowly. She had a slight headache from all of the champagne and wine she had had the night before and the lack of sleep she had gotten after Ray had left the apartment.

"I didn't know what else to do," Neela responded.

"Well, for starters, you could have asked him to stay."

"I couldn't. I mean, I wanted to, but I couldn't."

"You're going to have to talk to him, Neela."

"I know."

Abby found the medicine she was looking for and took the box off the shelf. She looked at Neela, who was staring at the floor with a saddened look on her face.

"Go," Abby said.

"What?"

"Go to his apartment and tell him that you love him."

"Abby…"

"You've been absolutely miserable without him. Now's your chance."

"I'm on until 7."

"Then you owe me."

Neela smiled and ran out of the hospital, still wearing her lab coat and stethoscope.

-----

She stood outside of his door, rehearsing what it was she was going to say. She was going to tell him that she loved him and that she was sorry for walking away from him so many months before. She was going to tell him that she understood if she was too late, but that she needed him to know her true feelings because she just couldn't go on the way things were.

Neela took a deep breath and knocked on the door.

A few seconds later, the door opened.

"Ray, I…" Neela began.

"He stepped out," Lauren answered, wearing one of Ray's T-Shirts and a pair of his boxer shorts. Her hair was wet, obviously from a shower. "Do you want me to tell him you stopped by?"

Neela nearly gagged. She managed to shake her head 'no' and she raced down the hallway. When she made it outside, she leaned against the building and began to hyperventilate. She could feel her heart breaking inside her chest.

After minutes of just standing there, Neela finally composed herself enough to stand up without the aid of the building, and she began to walk back towards the subway. With every step, another tear poured from her eyes. She berated herself for thinking that she could just go to his apartment and expect him to be waiting there for her with open arms.

"Neela!"

She heard him shout her name, but this time, it only made her walk faster. She couldn't face him.

"Neela wait!" He shouted. She broke out into a run, but he was faster. He grabbed her arm and spun her around so that she was facing him. He was holding a box from the local donut place that Neela loved so much in his hand.

"Let go of me!" She shouted, using her other arm to try to pry his fingers off of her.

"Let's just go inside," Ray said.

"Why? So that you, me, and Lauren can sit down and have breakfast together? I don't think so!"

She sprung free from his grasp and began to walk briskly away from him.

"I spent the night on the couch," Ray said, walking beside her.

"I don't want to hear where you did it," Neela replied coldly.

"She was plastered after the party," Ray explained. "I didn't want her to go home alone so I let her stay in our apartment." Even after she had moved out, Ray had never gotten used to the fact that it was just his again. He would always think of the apartment as their's. "I let her have my bed, but I stayed on the couch, Neela, I swear. Nothing happened."

"You don't have to explain yourself to me, Ray. You don't owe me anything."

"Would you just stop so we can talk?"

Neela abruptly stopped walking and whirled around to face him.

"I have nothing left to say."

"You obviously came here for a reason."

"A reason that turned out to be a mistake. Look, Ray, this is crazy. If this…if us…if we were meant to be, it wouldn't be this hard so let's just forget it."

She began to walk away.

"I can't forget it," he yelled after her.

She stopped walking.

"I can't forget you, Neela," he said. He sighed. "But I also can't forget that you hurt me, Neela."

"Ray…I…"

He put his hand up to silence her. He needed to say this. "When you got in that taxi…when you stared seeing Gates…I had to watch you jump into another man's arms and…and…"

"Gates was a mistake," Neela said quietly, turning around to face him.

"Whether he was a mistake or not…when I saw you with him, I wanted to hurt you the way I was hurting so I started seeing Katey. But when I was with her…all I wanted was you. And then, I thought things would be different between us when we…were both single again, but nothing changed. So I brought Lauren to the benefit to make you jealous. But when I saw you on those stairs…Neela…you took my breath away."

"Then why, when I was pouring my heart out to you on the street, did you not say something to me? Why did you let me walk away?"

"Because I can't stand to be hurt again, Neela! I can't give you my heart until I'm sure we can make it through this."

"Why come to Abby's apartment? Why kiss me and leave?"

He sighed. "I went to Abby's apartment to talk to you…to tell you all of these things, but I was afraid. When I'm with you, Neela, it's like I forget everything and I can only see you. The only thing that I knew for sure was that I had to let you know how beautiful you were, how beautiful you are…because that was the one thing I couldn't stop thinking all night. Nothing else made sense in my head except that you were so amazingly beautiful last night."

"I'm sorry," Neela whispered as a tear rolled down her cheek. "I'm so sorry for hurting you. I loved Michael, Ray, I did, but I started having these feelings for you and I was so afraid of them. And when he died…I wanted nothing more than to be with you, but I knew that that was wrong, so I tried to distance myself from you. Then there was this…void in my life and I tried to fill it with Gates, but he wasn't the one I wanted…he isn't the one I want. I want you. And I understand if you're still angry and if you can't forgi…"

Ray brought his finger to Neela's lips, silencing her.

"Neela, I love you."

"And I love you."

He took her hand. "This isn't go to be easy," he said. "We have a lot of things to work out.

"I know," she replied, squeezing his hand reassuringly. "But we'll work on it together. We can do this, Ray, as long as we have each other. And I promise you that I will never hurt you."

Ray dropped the box of donuts he had in his hand and wrapped his arms around her waist. He pulled her towards him and kissed her.

"You are so beautiful," Ray whispered, before their lips made contact again.

"Get a room," a stranger mumbled a few seconds later as he passed.

Neela and Ray both parted, laughing. They had forgotten that they were standing on the sidewalk just a block from the busy subway station and that people had begun to stare at them.

"Come on," Ray said, placing an arm around her waist. "Let's send Lauren on her way home and make up for some lost time."

Neela giggled out of both nervousness and excitement.

"There's one thing I have to ask you," Neela said as they walked.

"What's that?"

"Can I have my old room back? Living in Abby's apartment is killing me."

Ray laughed. "I have a better idea. How about you move into my room?"

Neela smiled seductively. "I think that's a very good idea."

Author's Note:

I always told myself that I would never write a story with Gates because just thinking about him makes me want to puke, but, unlike my other stories that really didn't fit into the time-line of ER, I wanted this one to really make sense in the context of everything else that's going on in the actual series. On a totally unrelated note, I wanted to address the lounge scene from the beginning of this story. I stated in the author's note of "Together On New Years" that I would stop writing scenes in the lounge with coffee, but, in my defense, I actually wrote the beginning of this story before I wrote "My Protector," and any of the "Together On…" stories, so this one does have a lounge scene with coffee and someone announcing a trauma. I guess I just can't get away from them.

Anyway, this story was…different for me in a sense. For one, I added the element of Katey and Gates and two, this was a 'short' somewhat angsty story. If I'm going to write an angsty story, I usually make them longer ones and my short stories are usually just romantic and fluffy. So, this was a challenge for me not to keep writing and writing about emotions because I wanted it to be a shorter story. I'm pretty proud of this one, even though the story itself is not my favorite. I basically started with the idea of wanting Neela and Ray to go to some formal event and it just took off from there.

Thank you to everyone who has been supporting me and reading my stories! As always, I appreciate comments and suggestions! And, lookout for some more Reela stories (hopefully) coming soon!