Maura Tierney and Goran Visnjic, <EM>ER</EM> Maura Tierney and Goran Visnjic, ER

Their tumultuous courtship has survived intrusive lovers, multiple near-death experiences and four icy-cold feet. But this week, determined doctor Luka Kovac (Goran Visnjic) finally makes it legal with nurse turned resident Abby Lockhart (Maura Tierney) on NBC's ER (Thursdays at 10 pm/ET).

Talk about waiting to exhale. These characters — along with the actors who play them and the fans who love them — have been holding their breath for eight long seasons. "One of the benefits of being on a show for so many years is that the characters have real history," Tierney says. "These are people who have been through a lot and come out OK."

Not that the tribulations are over just yet. First there's the little matter of Abby not really knowing about the wedding: She thinks she's attending a department dinner. "Luka organizes everything," Tierney says. "He even buys her a beautiful Yves Saint Laurent dress!" Seems someone has been paying close attention to every reference Abby has made about her dream nuptials.

And on a much bigger note, the fictional couple's wedded bliss is threatened by a real-life development: Visnjic's contract is up, and he'll be back for only a few episodes next season. (Tierney has a full year left on her pact.) Luka's absence will be explained by "family issues" back in Croatia.

But first there's the wedding, which, in true ER fashion, doesn't come off without a big surprise... or three. Nearly the entire cast of characters take part. "It was a tough shoot," Visnjic says. "We were on location, with a lot of people in a confined space. We're all good friends, so we were being very noisy on the set, talking and talking. It was fun."

As for those surprises, one involves a violent showdown between Tony (John Stamos) and Ray (Shane West) over Neela (Parminder Nagra). Someone's bound to get hurt.

All looks pretty good for the newlyweds, despite the impending trip to Croatia and ER's nasty habit of killing off grooms (RIP Drs. Gallant and Greene). "I don't think anyone's dying anytime soon," Tierney says. "And definitely no one's dying at my wedding. The writers want [Luka and Abby] to end happy. They really like the relationship."

OK, everyone, now breathe.

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