Letters from Home, Chapter 12 ~Epilogue~

The sun is out for the first time in what seems like months and the snow is finally starting to melt, leaving piles of slush in the street. A car speeds down the busy street and dirty water sprays everywhere, nearly missing the pretty brunette jogger carefully making her way down the sidewalk.

Step, step, step; one, two, three, she counts in her head, as is her custom when nearing the end of a run. When she can see her building up ahead she puts on an extra burst of speed, anxious to be home. Almost there.

She reaches her destination and collapses on the front step, breathing heavily. She can see her breath clouding the air in front of her and the cold from the concrete step bites into the flesh of her thighs through her thin, nylon pants. Spring is coming, but it's still a little too cold and messy to run outdoors, for her taste anyway. She's considering buying a treadmill so next winter she can run inside for the cold months. She used to have one, back in another life, but sold it when she moved to a slightly more temperate area. Now she's moved again for the second time in as many years, and while she misses the warmer weather of her last residence, she has to admit that's about all she misses.

She's been back in Jersey for almost a month now and she still can't quite believe this is her life now. It's not all sunshine and roses, but really, she wouldn't want that anyway. If she was that kind of girl, she wouldn't have fallen for him in the first place. But she did, and every morning when she wakes up, she holds her breath before opening her eyes, half convinced that instead of his (their) bedroom, she'll see her old room in that place she'd run to when she'd given up on him. So far it hasn't happened and if she's dreaming, well, it's a good dream for the most part and she wonders why she resisted making the move back for as long as she did.

And sometimes she wonders how things would have turned out if she'd never left in the first place. There's some regret there to be sure, but mostly she's convinced that they needed the time and physical distance in order to overcome their individual demons and achieve the emotional closeness they found through their letters. He's never really explained what prompted him to write that first little note to her, but she's so grateful that he did. She thinks he is too.

The first time he'd visited her, after a year of correspondence and one ill-timed phone call, he'd wanted her to come back with him right then and there. This is real, he'd insisted after the first time they'd made love. Why wait? She hadn't had an answer for him, not one he could understand anyway; she only knew that if she let him dictate the course of their relationship, she'd end up losing some part of herself. In the end, when he hadn't been able to bully her into giving in, he'd gone back to Jersey without her and she thought for sure she'd lost him again.

She'd cried for a week, but, not for the first time, she hadn't been giving him enough credit. He'd turned up on her doorstep again the next weekend, an envelope of plane tickets in hand. Every other weekend, he'd told her, you come to me. In between, I come to you. This is going to be an expensive relationship for awhile, but fortunately world-renowned diagnosticians are very well-paid. Whenever you're ready, we switch one of those return tickets for a one-way.

Her first visit to Jersey was like coming home and when she walked in to Princeton Plainsboro Teaching Hospital for the first time in almost two years, she thought she might drown from the memories. She stood in the lobby and let them wash over her. Her job interview with her future employer in which he'd barely said a word until the - you start Monday; don't be late - at the end. Her first day, their first case, and the first time they'd lost a patient. The day she'd discovered his reason for hiring her – you are extremely pretty. The day she knew she'd love him forever, and the day she knew she had to leave.

She'd shaken her head to clear the memories and followed a familiar path to his office. Her former co-workers were surprised and happy to see her and their chins hit the floor when their cantankerous boss greeted her with a smile and a kiss. His best friend watched from the doorway with a twinkle in his eye and a grin on his face.

It had taken her three months and several more visits to decide he was right about her moving back. What they had was real and there was no reason to wait any longer. She'd quit her job and applied for several positions at various hospitals near his home. But not at his hospital and not in his department, which was the beginning of another standoff between them. I can't be your subordinate at work and your equal at home, she'd tried to explain. And besides, you can't just start firing people to make room for me. Despite his insistence that he damned well could, she'd held firm and accepted a position in immunology at a hospital across town.

It didn't keep her from informally consulting on his cases in the evenings, and he hadn't given up on trying to convince her to come back and work by his side. She figures she'll give in eventually, but not until she has the experience required to come back as something closer to his equal. She's knows she's not there yet.

The sound of the door opening behind her brings her back to the present and her lover pokes his head out.

"What the hell are you doing out there?" he asks. "Get in here before you freeze your stunning little ass off." The door closes again before she can respond. Smiling to herself at his brusqueness, she gets up and goes in. She's happy to be home.

The End.

A/N: Well there you have it, folks. I hope you enjoyed the ride. The response I've gotten to this fic has been truly overwhelming and I thank each and every one of you! ~E.