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Dec. 28th, 2014

congo collage

Thanks for your patience

I just wanted to drop a note here to thank those who have found my journal and are enjoying what I've written...ill health and other things have put my writing on hold, hopefully one day I'll be back.
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Sep. 30th, 2008

Vukovar

Ghosts 12/37

Chapter 12


An ER fanfic that takes place following the "Bishop Stewart" Arc


She couldn't leave him...not like this, so instead Abby moved to sit on the bed, cradling Luka's head in her lap once she was settled. How long had it been? She'd long ago stopped looking at the clock aware that each fall of his chest seemed to her an eternity in itself and not needing that as a confirmation. He was like ice now...his face almost devoid of color. As she stroked his hair Abby found herself whispering nonsense to him. Crooning to him as she might have a child, in hopes he would hear her and wake, offering a smile at her actions, and chasing her fears away as so much foolishness. She'd given up trying to hold back the tears and they fell freely now, dampening her cheeks so she no longer wiped them away. As much as she would like to admit otherwise, she was scared...scared for Luka...scared for herself. He was supposed to be the strong one...he was the one who took care of everything...what was she supposed to do? What if he never found his way back from wherever he had gone? What if she was left without him? "Luka.... please... come back...."


Luka Kovac...case number 176392, here it was. Father Joe pulled the sheaf of papers from the middle of the third folder, well aware of what he held in his hands. He had been a priest long enough to have known others like the young doctor, men and women who's entire lives had been changed by war. There was always more to it then that, some came alone, other came with familles intact...far too many bearing only remnants of their old lives. However they came they all bore the scars of what they had endured...the violence...the death. Not all of their pain was physical and though those wounds might heal others would remain for the rest of their lives. He had seen them try to bury it, to move on, discarding it like it were no more then a torn shirt, but it always returned. Sometimes in dreams..sometimes in actions, a word here, a glimpse of someone who unleashed a reminder. Many would find the help they needed... others... would lose themselves and he couldn't quite shake the fear that the young doctor might be one of those. He had seen the pain in the man's eyes...the fear..there was no doubt in his mind that his past had returned to haunt him. The Priest laythe balance of the folder aside as he rose and carried the sheaf of papers that held the secrets the young doctor concealed across the room to the couch. He held the man's past in his hands and the importance of that was not lost on him. For the Bishop...he had to keep reminding himself...it was for him he had to know. He settled against the corner of the couch and dropped his eyes to the papers, registering the fact that it was heavier then most before he began to read...


Case number 176392...Kovac, Luka...male...age: 25...widower...wife: Danijela, age: 23, deceased...daughter: Jasna, age: 5, deceased...son: Marko, age: 18 months, deceased...city of origin: Vukovar


He paused to cross himself, the prayer coming without thought as he ran his finger across the entry..."In the name of the Father," He crossed himself again. "and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. Bless us, O Lord, and preserve us from all evil, and bring us to eternal life; and may the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen" There was little more he could do for them, they were in his hands, all save one, he dropped his eyes to the papers again and continued reading.


The truck rumbled slowly down the pitted road, the headlights cutting through the remaining morning fog. The night's chill was still with them and both men could see their breath as they spoke..the heater, while on, barely seeming to make a difference. Though their vehicle was clearly marked with the cross proclaiming them no threat the driver and his passenger still found themselves watching the roadside warily. They had heard of isolated attacks, soldiers needing vehicles..or looking for those they tried to carry to safety despite being told not to. The rain had left the road muddy and almost eerily empty, and both knew that it was that which they didn't see that they should most fear.


"Stop the truck..stop the truck!" Rene Vachon had been working for the International Red Cross Relief agency for less then 3 months, his companion Andre Renou had been with them over a year. "Back up, there..by the trees...in the ditch...see it?" He searched for the glimpse of fabric that had caught his eye. "What is it?" The driver brought the truck to a halt and with agrinding of gears slid it into park as he followed Rene's gaze. "Is it a body?" The younger man asked unsteadily as he swallowed the wave of nausea that rose without warning. "I think so, come on...we have to check." The older man climbed from the truck, they'd found too many bodies lately. "I don't think he's been here long..." Even as he spoke the younger man had approached the body and crouched next to him..placing a hand on his shoulder to turn the body so they could see his face. "Jesus and Mary, Holy Mother of God..." The man almost fell backwards into the water that filled the ditch. "He's still alive."


He could hear the baby crying...he'd forgotten what it was like...with a sigh he rolled over towards his wife. "Danijela....the baby." He barely opened his eyes...his hand finding her as he tried to cling to the remnants of sleep. The fatigue of almost 48 hours on duty had drained him and even the child's cries of hunger were not enough to fully rouse him. "Want me to get him?" He asked the question knowing the answer before it was spoken. "No....go back to sleep...I'll get him before he wakes Jasna." He smiled as her lips brushed his then closed his eyes, snuggling deeper under the goose comforter as she tucked it around him.


If she wanted him to sleep why was she pulling on him? He didn't want to leave the warmth of the bedding...he wanted to sleep, she'd said he could sleep, why did she want him awake now? He tried to ignore the hands that pulled at him...."You said I could sleep..." He murmured the words in Croatian...not registering that he was anywhere but where his mind saw him being.


"What was that...did he say something?" Rene moved closer to help Andre pull the man from the water..."I can't understand him, I don't speak Croatian...I think that's what it is. He's almost frozen though...I don't think he even knows we're here...help me turn him over ...careful...his pantleg is soaked with blood." The older man continued to talk as they worked, hoping to distract the younger from the other things he'd already noticed, among them the smell of death that clung heavily to the man's clothes. "How long you think he's been here?" They had managed to get Luka turned onto his back and Andre had begun to access his injuries. "The leg looks bad...can't say how long ago it happened but it's swollen...probably infected...from the sound of his breathing I'd guess he's working on a case of pneumonia as well. We better get him back to the camp..let the docs see if he stands a chance...but I would say it doesn't look good"


to be continued...

Vukovar

Ghosts 11/37

Chapter 11


An ER fanfic that takes place following the "Bishop Stewart" Arc


He was done...let them find him...kill him. As he lay in the mud, he could feel the numbness of shock moving in on him and as much as he feared it, he found himself welcoming it as well. This place would be his grave...there would be no marker pronouncing him beloved Husband...Father...Son...he would be one more nameless corpse, left to bloat...to rot. He released a sigh of acceptance, lifting his cheek from the mud before he slid his hand under it. Suddenly it seemed that nothing else existed but the layers of pain, hunger, and fatigue that were drawing him away from all he had known.


An onset of coughing went unchecked as he lacked even the energy to muffle it. When it had subsided he closed his eyes...he was so tired, and he pulled the layers over him like welcoming blankets. Pain...it was the strongest...the warmest. He imagined the tendrils of infection moving through his bloodstream...rivers of death among the life's flow. The cuts and the scratches left by stone and brambles...fragments of glass... small slivers under his skin...all small remnants to mark the journey that had brought him here. His lungs seemed to scream for air now...each breath threatening to tear something loose...or so it seemed.


He drew the next layer over him...hunger...the hollowness holding it's own pain within it, the acid burning a reminder in case he forgot. The final layer...fatigue...even more numbing then the blanket of pain, a weighted ache that made each limb seem too heavy to lift. He was warm now, wrapped in the layers, oblivious to the rain...to the mud...to the night's frosted chill. Sleep was beckoning him...it was safe there...there would be no ghosts...he could retreat to the dreams...to the time when his world was intact. He felt the world fading...a cloud of nothingness billowing around him until it seemed to envelope him...and he couldn't help thinking that this must be death...and he wasn't afraid.


Her slap had silenced the almost animalistic moan but with that gone he seemed to slip even farther away from her. "Oh, God...Luka...don't do this.." She found herself begging him, her fingers digging into his bare arms as she shook him. "Luka...please... fight... whatever this is...please...fight Luka...Damn you...Luka...fight." She let the tears fall unchecked as he failed to respond..."Luka...I don't know what you want me to do..."


Having finished his mass Father Joe found none of the comfort he usually felt at day's end. The young Doctor haunted him...and he knew he would find no rest until a resolution to his situation was found. It was that which brought him to the Bishop's office..to the files he had collected...survivors stories he had called them...snippets of lives of people he would probably never know. So many lives....he'd never understood why it was so important for him to gather the tales...stories passed from person to person, recollections of times most would rather forget. They were all here though... loves lost...lives forever changed...families destroyed...but there were always survivors... those who had lived to keep the memories alive. His most recent work still sat in the in basket...envelopes he'd never had a chance to read still there, unopened. He had worked daily on them...and even after his death the answers to his queries still arrived. He picked up the most recent envelopes and packages...El Salvador... China... Afghanistan... Croatia, he returned the others to the bin as the last caught his eye. Had the young man touched him enough that he would ask more about him on his own, before the doctor himself had told his story?


He took a seat in the Bishop's chair and reached for the letter opener that still lay on the desk's surface, then sliced the package open. It was larger then the others, a testament to what it held and as he withdrew the cover letter he settled back into the chair slightly. The International Red Cross letterhead was one he had seen before, it made sense he would start there, slowly he began to read. When he was finished he lay it aside and withdrew the first of the many files it held. How had the Bishop begun the search knowing nothing more then his name? As he glanced at the first sheet the answer was clear...Search Criteria: Croatian Males, Catholic, aged 23-27, Medical Students or Doctors, Vukovar, arrived Displaced Persons camps late 1991-early 1992. The list of names of possible matches followed and as he scanned them he couldn't help but be struck by the enormity of what he was reading. There were so many...he found the thought bringing tears to his eyes...if these were the ones who survived, how many more filled the lists of those who had not? He swiped his hand across his nose, willing the tears to stop even as they dropped on the paper he held.


Page after page of names, young men who's lives had been altered forever by war...all the expectations, all of their dreams broken like fragile pieces of glass, shattered beyond repair. Father Joe suddenly stopped reading...he was here. His finger traced the young doctor's name in the list of entries...Luka Kovac...case number 176392. The folders...could he hope that they held the case files? How had the Bishop managed to persuade them to release copies to him, more curiously, why had he asked for so many..why not just the one he was interested in?


Father Joe lay the list aside and opened the first file...case number 79845...Danko Vrdoljak, aged 24. They were all here...the stories..fragments of lives...young men who had endured horrors he could never fully grasp. He closed his eyes, whispering a silent prayer of comfort to the young men on the list and those they must have lost and left behind. As he finished he glanced back to it..locating the name...Luka Kovac...case number 176392. God forgive me...he glanced to the ceiling...I have to know...I have to do what the Bishop was not able to finish. Slowly he began to search the files for the case he needed...the file that held the secrets to unlock the mysteries of the young doctor's past.


to be continued...

Vukovar

Ghosts 10/37

Ghosts 10/37


Chapter 10


An ER fanfic that takes place following the "Bishop Stewart" Arc


Warning: This chapter contains material that some readers will find disturbing.


Father Joe tossed the pencil on the desk then frowned as he looked at the sermon that lay on the desktop in front of him. What had he been thinking? For the past 3 hours he had struggled to put the message down on paper and this was the result. He picked the sheet of paper up, his frown deepening as he tried to decipher the almost illegible notes before him. Any other night and the words rushed from him like waters cascading over a waterfall, but not tonight. He lay it back down and pushed the chair away from the desk.


Who was he trying to fool? His mind wasn't on the sermon. truth was, he hadn't been able to concentrate on anything since the Bishop's Doctor had fled his office. Would he ever forget the look of panic that had flooded the man's eyes? What had possessed him to drop the subject of the seminar on him without even talking to him about things first? He should have known what to expect...he'd listened to the Bishop as he'd talked about the "young doctor from Croatia." Granted he didn't know the specifics of what he had endured in his past but he could guess, he'd spoken to enough survivors to realize what it might have been like for him.


Father Joe found himself smiling slightly at the memory of the doctor and the Bishop's early encounters. There were few people who could stand toe to toe and argue with the Bishop without backing down, he had seen then the Croat was one of them. He'd challenged the Bishop, a lost lamb that had given him a reason to fight when he might otherwise have given up in those final weeks. This was how he had repaid the man that gift.


Standing, the Priest walked over to the window, it was still raining, what had the nuns told him when he was a boy? He closed his eyes a moment as he searched for the memory, then opened them again. The rain is God crying...that was it...had he believed that it could only be because God felt the pain that the young doctor was feeling now and had chosen to share his grief.


Did he dare go to him, offer him the comfort he knew he must so desperately need? The Bishop had heard his confession, had absolved him of his perceivedsins, and welcomed him back into God's loving arms, but who was there for him now. Who was there to ease the pain that he still clung to?


There wasn't any escape...he was sure of that now. Fear had wrapped itself so tightly around him that he seemed barely able to breathe and he was sure the strangled gasps would bring death to him. Panic was driving him and as he stumbled blindly through the trees all he wanted to do was get away from the bodies...away from the grave that was meant to hide the secrets.


The ghosts...he couldn't stop the ghosts..they were all around him now...circling him, beckoning to him. His stomach lurched and his mouth was filled with the taste of the bitterness as the image of the small foot surfaced as he ran. He could touch it...oh, God, it was still warm. He sank to his knees, clawing the mud away as if the boy was still in front of him...he couldn't breathe. He felt his own breathing alter in response before seeming to stop completely as he uncovered the small boy's face. His stomach recoiled...oh God...Marko. There was nothing left for his body to give and still it demanded more...he retched until his throat was raw..then almost gratefully he collapsed to the mud in exhaustion.


Abby found her nerves becoming more and more frayed as she watched Luka plunge deeper into his nightmares. He was beyond her reaching him now...no longer even seeming to register her whispered reassurances. His restlessness having left his bedding soaked and his skin slick with sweat. How many times had she reached for the phone, meaning to call someone only to replace it as she realized there was no one she could trust to call. His breathing was coming faster now...strangled gasps that frightened her still more. She tried to hold him still as he pushed at the sheets around him..."Isuse Boze." He repeated the words over and over and she was sure too she heard the name of his son. When he suddenly jerked out of her grasp she nearly fell off the bed..her own panic rising as his breathing almost seemed to stop with the terror on his face..."Isuse Boze...Marko." Moments later the keening began...


It was all his fault...they were all dead because of him. Danijela...Jasna...little Marko, he was the reason they were dead. Why hadn't he left Vukovar when Danijela had begged him to take them away? Why hadn't he sent them ahead if he'd felt himself unable to leave? How could he have placed his career above their lives? He couldn't breathe...he had known what was happening, he'd heard the whispered stories in the halls and the wards. He had treated the injuries and seen the bodies and still he hadn't believed it could happen to them. How could he have thought they would be immune? How could he have ignored it all? He drew his knees to his chest, oblivious to the mud, and the rain, and the cold. He could hear the keening of the victims...they were screaming their pain...they were dead because of him...he had killed them all...the keening grew louder.


She'd lost him...something inside of him had snapped and she'd lost him. As Luka seemed to curl into himself Abby grabbed for him, surprised at the iciness of his skin despite the sweat that covered him. He had to know she was here...he had to know he wasn't alone. "Luka!" She tried to break through to him with words alone and when that failed she choked back her own tears she did the only thing left to her. "Luka!" She slapped him hard across the cheek. "Luka, come back to me...please..."


to be continued...

Vukovar

Ghosts 9/37

Chapter 9


An ER fanfic that takes place following the "Bishop Stewart" Arc


Warning: This chapter contains material that some readers will find disturbing.


Abby hadn't had a chance to even think about sleep...Luka's restlessness had kept her awake until near dawn. His breathing had grown more labored and she listened for the signs of congestion in his chest, then frowned as she heard the almost strangled wheezing that she knew was the signal to it. At times his breathing seeming to rattle his chest as he struggled to catch his breath, and she was torn over how much longer to wait before calling for help. Didn't he have enough to worry about?


How many times had she debated waking him, thinking that at least if he were awake it would be one less thing for him to fight? He had tossed the covers aside repeatedly, soft whimpered cries mingling with moans in response to whatever haunted him.


She rose and dampened one of the washcloths, then sat on the bed...wiping the sweat from his skin. "What are you seeing Luka?" She asked the question quietly, not really expecting an answer but feeling the need to voice it nonetheless. How much more did he have to give before he had given enough? She raised her eyes to the ceiling as if she somehow expected an answer to the unasked question, then glanced back at him. Hasn't he given you enough? She brushed the damp tendrils of hair from his forehead, before laying the washcloth on it in an attempt to hopefully soothe him. "You're safe Luka....nothing can hurt you here." Did she really believe that?


Drawing the covers over him again she rose, tucking him in as if he were a small child. "Sleep Luka..." She smiled to herself as he seemed to calm, only to wonder how long it would last, then waiting a few minutes more before moving back to the couch. Rubbing her own eyes she settled back against the cushions...catching sight of the small box and wadded sheet of paper on the table as she did. It didn't matter...she pulled her gaze from them and looked across the room. Why now?


When Luka's cry broke the silence of the room she jerked awake...she hadn't planned to sleep...how had she let it happen? Scrambling to her feet she started for him only to stumble into the coffee table in the darkness of the room. "Shit." She grabbed her leg with a wince then released it before moving to him. "Luka...shh..." She lay a hand on his bare shoulder only to have him recoil from her even in sleep...a frightened whimper his response to her touch. Drawing her hand away as if it had been burned she tried to reach him with words alone. "Luka...it's Abby...you're safe..."


"Isuse Boze..ne." His eyes dropped to the ground in front of him...the mud...they were in the mud. Had it not been for the rain he would have smelled it. He wiped his hands on his shirt in a vain attempt to rid himself of the mud, knowing in truth it covered him. At the realization of what he had found his stomach had already started to heave. "Isuse Boze..." He felt the bile rise and knew the battle was lost... doubling over he spent the next several minutes emptying his stomach of what little nourishment it had held. He was at it's mercy and it's grip was strong...first the grass and turnips, then bile. When he was sure he had nothing left to give he was wracked by dry heaves that threatened to steal what little strength remained to him.


As it finally eased he straightened, dragging his arm across his mouth as dulled eyes registered the carnage in front of him. They hadn't fled...he felt his stomach rise to choke him again as his eyes took in the bloated corpses half buried in the mud around him. What kind of monsters could do this? He swallowed back a fresh wave of nausea as his eyes settled on the foot of a small child less then an arm's length away from him...he had to get away...


His breathing quickened and his restlessness seemed to increase in tandem to it...and in response Abby felt her own panic rising. She couldn't do this...not alone...but who could she call? Who would Luka trust enough? That was it wasn't it...who could Luka trust with his past? He had never shared it with her...but then she had never asked him. Why had she never asked him? She wiped her cheeks as she realized they were wet with tears she hadn't even known she was shedding. How many times had he given her the signals that he wanted to talk about his life in Croatia only to have her ignore them?
She pressed the heels of her hands into her eyes as if that alone would stop the tears from falling...how could she have been so blind to what was happening with him?


He retreated slowly...scrambling to his feet in realization that even the ground he knelt on was not safe as his hand came in contact with still another body. Was this his fate? Would the soldiers return only to make him one more anonymous corpse in to be found by the next person who stumbled into this clearing? No...he couldn't think that...he had to believe he would find safety...he had to believe he would survive. He staggered through the trees...aware that he no longer seemed to feel anything. He could hear his labored breathing...he felt the wetness of the reopening of the bullet wound in his leg...he could smell the stench of death permeating his clothing. This was his world now...he paused as a wave of coughing hit him...knowing that that simple act could be enough to signal his death.


As it eased he started moving again...stumbling blindly through the darkness...what if he was going the wrong way? What if instead of moving closer to safety he was returning to those that would kill him? He found his mind circling around thoughts of death...how would he die? Would he be shot on sight? Would they take him prisoner only to torture him before he was killed? Would he be left to starve...to meet death slowly? He tried to push the thoughts away, knowing nothing could be gained from them but unable to fully banish them either. Would his fate be that of those in the forest...or of those he had left at the hospital? He groaned at the thought that so many he had known...so many friends...and even family, were now dead. He bit his lip to hold the anguished cry back...the memories piercing him as deeply as if he had been stabbed by a knife.


Luka groaned in his sleep...tossing the blankets aside again as if that might somehow free him from whatever held him. "No, Luka...you need those.." Abby drew the covers back up over him then reached for the washcloth she'd left on the nightstand. How much longer could this hold him? She wiped the sweat from his face, drawing her lip between her teeth in expectation that he would draw back, then releasing it as she found he did not.


"Who would you trust Luka?" She asked the question without thinking that there was very likely no one..then knowing in the end he would have trusted the Bishop. A smile found it's way to her as she thought of the times Luka had spoken of the man. There had been a hatred there at first, he had blamed the man for the failings of his God. Later she knew his words had been laced with a love he would have had difficulty admitting even to himself. The Bishop's death was the beginning of this..or if not the beginning at least the trigger. Her eyes moved to the table again only to settle on the wadded ball that had been in Luka's coat pocket...was that the answer? Would whoever had given him that hold the key to putting an end to this?


to be continued...

Vukovar

Ghosts 8/37

Chapter 8


An ER fanfic that takes place following the "Bishop Stewart" Arc


He awoke to pangs of hunger he could no longer ignore, and a cough that signaled the start of even more concerns. As long as the rain continued he wouldn't go thirsty, but rainwater alone wasn't enough to sustain him, he would have to find food at some point tonight. He pushed his wet hair back off of his face, only to lose himself in a wave of coughing, how many days had it been? How many days since the remainder of what had passed as his life had crumbled around him like the walls of this small house? The grumble of his stomach reminded him again of the moments overriding concern..he had to find food...when had he ate last? He'd found those two turnips at the edge of a field... yesterday? No..that had been two days ago..what had he eaten since...had he eaten since? He rubbed his hand across his face, then clenched his jaw as he forced himself to his feet.


Abby, looked over to the bed as Luka moaned, then rolled to his side, the sodden wad of paper she had pulled from his pocket still clenched tightly in her hand. What are you doing? She found herself questioning her own actions as she unfolded it...it's his business... even that reminder wasn't enough to stop her as she began to read...


10 Ways to Recognize Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder


Oh, God, was this what it was about? Abby clamped her hand to her mouth as she continued to read. Was Luka sicker then even she imagined? She found herself looking across to where he slept with even more concern then before, why now, why couldn't things have continued like they were? She dropped her eyes back to the paper...what were the signs...how many had she seen and done nothing about?


[1) Re-experiencing the event through vivid memories or flash backs ] She had no doubt she had seen this. All those nightmares he'd passed off as nothing...the times she'd caught him staring out a window and seeming unaware of her even being there. All this time they had been signs that he needed help and she'd failed to see them. Had he even acknowledged them to himself? She dropped to the next symptom.


[2) Feeling “emotionally numb ] ” Could she consider him this way? He went through the motions of saying he cared, had it been an act. All this time had he been pretending to make things better for her? Luka..please tell me this isn't what you've been doing? She glanced back at the bed as the plea to him moved through her thoughts.


[3) Feeling overwhelmed by what would normally be considered everyday situations and diminished interest in performing normal tasks or pursuing usual interests ] Was this Luka? Abby found herself leaning back against the couch...staring at the man she thought she knew and feeling like she was looking at a stranger. How could she not have seen any of this? Without thinking she wadded the paper up again and tossed it on the table next to the box...she couldn't do this now. He needed her and if she knew too much, if she thought too much about the lies he might have told her, she couldn't be there for him. She shifted her gaze to the ceiling, oh please...I don't want to lose him, what am I supposed to do?


Eyeing the fields as he stood outside the wall he had to force himself to think. This was a farm, what crops would they have grown? Was it possible some had been plowed under...that there might be something left for him to find? Which way? Where should he go? The sea...if he got to the sea he could catch a ship..but were there any guarantees that he would find safety even there? Did it even matter what direction he went? He brushed his hand back through his hair as his eyes slowly panned the landscape around him, then dropped it as they settled on a short outcropping of trees.


He had to try...with fresh resolve he moved towards them, keeping his gaze on his feet as he walked through the field. Nothing, he found his frustration mounting, not a potato...a turnip, not even a wild onion survived, it had been stripped bare like too much of his country. Out of necessity he stooped and pulled a handful of grass that had taken root, balling the blades he popped them in his mouth. It was something, maybe he could fool himself into thinking it was more. As he chewed he started walking again, his gait a shuffling limp as he favored the injured leg.


How much longer could he do this? Sleeping by day, existing on next to nothing, he spit the wad of grass out as he walked, the juice only seeming to irritate his throat. God, please..not something else to worry about, if only the rain would stop, or he could find something warmer to wear. He found his mind wandering as he tried to find ways to distract himself, anything to keep himself from giving up. He could be warm in the memories...he could be sleeping under thick blankets wrapped in Danijela's arms. He could return to the times before rationing when going for food didn't mean risking your life. He barely noticed the rain as he walked now, his hunger satiated by thick stew and warm buttered bread...if only it could last.


As he crested the rise his vision was down to little more then his hand in front of his face, the worsening rain now joined by a thickening fog brought on by dropping temperatures. He should stop...should find somewhere to wait it out. As he stumbled and fell Luka was sent sprawling, a cry of surprise breaking before he could stop it. Another root...he grabbed his leg...gritting his teeth as he waited for the pain to subside. As it finally eased he groaned and forced himself up from the muck and to his knees, his eyes searching for the offender. The cry that broke next was unstoppable...Oh, God, he scrambled back..ignoring the pain of his leg and rocks that tore into him, his eyes locked firmly on the pale hand that now rose from the ground in front of him.


to be continued...

Vukovar

Ghosts 7/37

Chapter 7


An ER fanfic that takes place following the "Bishop Stewart" Arc


He might have been sleepwalking as he returned to the hotel, a warm numbness having replaced the freezing chill left by wet clothes and falling temperatures. "Dr. Kovac, what happened, couldn't get a cab? I swear sometimes that they pull them off the streets when the weather takes a turn for the worse." The doorman's voice brought his thoughts to the present and he mumbled a half reply in acknowledgment as he moved through the opened door and into the lobby. Any other time he would have stopped to talk to the man, but not tonight, and as he continued across the lobby to the elevators he barely saw anyone else. Punching the button to for the car he found himself inwardly hoping that Abby was not waiting upstairs, all he wanted was to escape everything and he couldn't do that with her there. When the doors opened he stepped inside, leaning against the wall wearily as they slid closed again. As he watched the numbers tick off above the door he found his eyelids drooping, the warmth of the small box lulling him farther and farther away from the ghosts. As it jerked to a stop he started..yanked back suddenly and shaking his head he forced himself away from the wall and out into the hallway.


When he reached his room it took several tries for him to get the door open and as he entered the darkened room he wanted nothing more then sleep. Lowering himself to the couch he leaned back and closed his eyes, too tired even to remove his coat. "Luka?" Abby had come awake as the door opened, sitting up on the bed she watched in confusion as he paused uncertainly then sat. "Luka?" She repeated her call to him, then when he still didn't respond crawled off the bed and moved to his side. "Luka?" She lay a hand on his arm as she took a seat on the couch next to him. "You're soaked..." If her words reached him he didn't show it and lifting a hand she touched his cheek gently. "Luka...my God, you're like ice. Come on...let's get you warmed up..." When she began to tug on his coat he opened his eyes but the look she saw made her wonder if he was even seeing her.


He offered no protest as she coaxed him forward, pushing the sodden coat off his shoulders and then pulling his arms from the sleeves before letting him lean back again. Tossing it to the floor she loosened his tie and slipped it off before moving to the buttons on his shirt, frowning as she found it soaked as well. "Luka, what were you thinking? Let me get a blanket." She said softly as she stood, hating to leave him for even the short time it took to cross the room and pull the blanket from the bed. Almost as an afterthought she detoured to the bathroom, filling a glass with hot water before returning.


When he seemed not to have moved at her return she found her concerns for him mounting. "Luka, look at me." She tried to draw his focus as she set the glass on the table then draped the blanket around his shoulders. "Look at me, please?" She fought for some sign that he was even aware she was there then released a soft sigh of relief as he finally drew dull eyes to her. "Luka, what happened to your face?" The question was out before she realized and a part of her wondered how she hadn't noticed it before. When even that question gained no response she let it drop, resisting the urge to touch his face as she reached for the glass and held it to his lips. "Luka, I want you to drink some of this...we need to get you warmed up...just a little, please?" She coaxed him through several swallows before he turned his head away from her. "It's all right, Luka...it's okay." She sat the glass on the table then brushed his wet hair off of his face. "Let's get the rest of these wet clothes off of you and get you into bed, okay?" She might have been talking to a child as she spoke and without thinking she let her voice reflect that, holding her fears at bay as she worked with him.


Pulling him to his feet she led him across the room to the bed. "Stand here, Luka." Bracing him with one hand she fumbled with his belt then unfastened his pants and pulled them down. "Luka, step out of them...that's it, okay...good." She talked him through each step before guiding him to the side of the bed and on to it. "That's it, Luka, you just need to sleep." When she had pulled the blankets around him she lay down beside him, only then aware of his eyes on her. Managing a soft smile she brushed her fingers through his hair. "It's okay, you can sleep." She whispered to him quietly.


"Too many ghosts.." She almost didn't hear him when he spoke, "What was that, Luka?" She touched his forehead lightly withher fingers, already feeling the start of a fever there. "Can't keep them away..." The words came unexpectedly and she drew her hand away for a moment. "What can't you keep away, Luka?" What ever else he might have been about to say was lost as he closed his eyes and slid closer to sleep, and Abby found her worries deepening. This was more then his dealing with the Bishop's death...much, much, more.


When his breathing had slowed and she was sure he was asleep she eased herself off the bed and picked up the phone. She knew he was supposed to work tonight and that wasn't happening with him like this. She quickly punched in the number of the hospital.


"Mark Greene, please." She shifted her eyes to Luka as she waited for the call to be picked up on the other end, then found herself continuing to watch him even as she talked. Hi, Mark...it's Abby. I'm calling in for Luka, he's supposed to work tonight but he's not in any shape to come in. Fever, chills...could be flu." She paused as she listened to the voice on the other end then nodded. "He's sleeping now, I'm going to stay at least for a few hours in case he gets any worse. Sure, I can let you know. Thanks, Mark." Replacing the receiver in the cradle she stood unmoving watching Luka. He had barely moved since she'd gotten him settled in bed and he'd fallen asleep and she couldn't help wondering if she should be worried or happy at that. Not wanting to wake him she reluctantly moved to a nearby chair and settled into it to keep vigil.


As the first streaks of dawn creased the sky he knew that he had gone as far as he could without sleep. After the first day he had taken to traveling by night to avoid the patrols, and while it was safer, it also meant the travel was slower. When he saw the ruined walls of what had been part of a small house he stumbled towards it warily. Part of his mind warned him to be cautious, the rest saw as a place of shelter from the seemingly endless rain that had been falling. It could be a trap...they could be watching even now...waiting for just that right moment to take him prisoner, or worse to kill him.


He crept closer...stopping every few feet as his eyes swept the fields around it for any signs of movement, then moving again as his ears registered only the steady rain that fell. When he reached the house he paused again, taking in the pitted plaster and crumbled brick that bore witness to the destruction that had driven the family from it's walls. Little remained behind, what hadn't been destroyed had long ago been salvaged by others in need. Only a corner of the roof remained, but it was something and he gratefully sought shelter beneath it.


Groaning, he lowered himself to the ground acknowledging what he had already known as his leg's stiffness told him he had neglected it for far too long. Unfastening his pants he raised himself enough to ease them down, then bit off a strangled cry as the blood soaked fabric tore itself loose from the wounds. Gritting his teeth he settled again and probed the wounds...his muscles tensing at the daggers of pain the action brought. Other then being dirty the wound was better then he expected, the bullet seemed to have exited intact, and at least that was in his favor. Tearing several strips of fabric off the bottom of his shirt he packed both wounds then bound them tightly, it would have to do..at least for now. With a weary sigh he eased his pants back up and over the makeshift bandages and leaned back against the damp wall willing himself to rest.


As Luka slept, reliving parts of his past he'd rather not revisit, Abby continued to watch him with increasing concern. She'd been with him before when he'd wrestled with nightmares, but they had never haunted his waking hours like these seemed to be doing. Sliding her leg out from under her she slipped off the couch and walked across the room to the bed. The fever was worsening, she could tell that by looking at him and as if seeking relief he had pushed the blankets aside as he slept. Pulling them back over him she found herself half wishing she knew what kind of dream he was locked into. Laying a hand to his forehead only confirmed her feelings and she frowned in response to the heat that radiated from him.


With a sigh she moved away again, retreating to the couch and picking up his discarded coat before sitting. There was so much about his life she knew nothing about, so much of him that she knew he concealed from her. Would he ever reach the point where he trusted her enough to fully share it? She brushed her hand across the still damp coat only to stop as she felt the box in the pocket. Okay..maybe she shouldn't but her curiosity was peaked...she glanced to thebed then withdrew the soggy box, wondering if it held some clue to what he was going through. "Luka, what were you thinking?" She voiced the question softly before reluctantly setting the box on the table and checking the other pocket...


to be continued...

Vukovar

Ghosts 6/37

Chapter 6


An ER fanfic that takes place following the "Bishop Stewart" Arc


The Priest met Luka's gaze and held it as he rose and walked around the desk then took a seat on the corner of it. "Dr. Kovac...Luka..." He slipped into the less formal address before continuing, "the Bishop told me you were from Croatia...how long have you been in the States? A year..maybe two..your accent is still fairly noticable so I'd say not much longer then that." He paused his eyes still on him as he rested his hands in his lap.


"Almost two...but I don't understand why that matters."Luka lifted his hand again to the bruise on his cheek...if only it would stop throbbing so he could think. Why had he come here in the first place? He wasn't in the mood to talk to anyone about what was going on...if he could just leave now he could pretend he hadn't even been here. He shot his eyes to the door then back, fully aware that the Priest was still watching him.


"Luka...you made quite an impression on the Bishop...no one had done that in some time. I wonder if you realize how many people a man of the Bishop's standing dealt with in the course of a week." He paused as if he expected an answer and when none appeared forthcoming he continued. "We are a large congregation and we have people of many nationalities among our members. Many of those who find there way to us are looking for ways to understand why God would allow unspeakable tragedies to fall on his children."


As the Priest kept talking Luka could feel the panic rising...he was getting too close... he had to go now before the ghosts were released..."Father..." He lay the bible and then the rosary back in the box then replaced the lid on it. "That was a long time ago..." He brushed his fingers across the surface of it, unable to bring himself to look back up at the man.


"It may have been a long time ago Luka..but I don't think it's over for you yet...I can see the difference in you from the last time I saw you..." Luka shook his head...squeezing his eyes closed to keep from letting the emotions out. "The Bishop made arrangements for a speaker to come talk to the congregation...I think he'd want you to attend as well." He rose again as he spoke and walked back around the desk then pulled a piece of paper out of the basket on the corner of it. "This has all the information...you have nothing to lose by coming and hearing him..." He slid it across the desk, "If you won't come for yourself...come for the Bishop."


As he opened his eyes he couldn't help seeing the heading on the paper and despite himself he found himself reading it...


10 Ways to Recognize Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder


Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is in many ways a normal response to an abnormal situation. After a tragic event, it is likely that you will experience a variety of symptoms and emotions. Sometimes, however, these symptoms surface several weeks or months after the tragedy. This is called post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Recognizing these symptoms in yourself or others is the first step toward recovery and finding appropriate treatment.


1) Re-experiencing the event through vivid memories or flash backs
2) Feeling “emotionally numb”
3) Feeling overwhelmed by what would normally be considered everyday situations and diminished interest in performing normal tasks or pursuing usual interests
4) Crying uncontrollably
5) Isolating oneself from family and friends and avoiding social situations
6) Relying increasingly on alcohol or drugs to get through the day
7) Feeling extremely moody, irritable, angry, suspicious or frightened
8) Having difficulty falling or staying asleep, sleeping too much and experiencing nightmares
9) Feeling guilty about surviving the event or being unable to solve the problem, change the event or prevent the disaster
10) Feeling fears and sense of doom about the future


Compiled by The American Counseling Association, its 18 divisions and 56 branches
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
No...this wasn't him...he'd just been tired. He lifted a hand to his face as he ticked off the symptoms...how many of them had he fallen victim to? Oh God...he couldn't handle this now...almost too abruptly he pushed the chair back and stood..shoving the paper in his pocket before picking up the box. "Will you at least think about it? I know he would have wanted youthere." The Priest knew better then to push too hard..he'd seen more people like the man in front of him then he wanted to admit. Many were far worse...he couldn't risk losing him now...not when he was so close. "Just come and listen to the man Luka...that's all I'm asking of you...that's all the Bishop wanted."


Why did he have to kept reminding him of what he owed the Bishop? Luka wanted nothing more then to flee the room...leave the Church and find the nearest bar... anywhere he could lose himself in the alcohol again. He drug his hand back through his hair...his inner turmoil written in his actions and on his face. "I don't know if I can..." He dropped his eyes to the box again. "Do this for me then..at least think about it...you won't be the only one there...all I'm asking is for you to come and listen to what he has to say." There was no point pushing him any more...already the man looked like a deer caught in the headlights and it wouldn't take much to send him running...he had to give him some time. "Tell you what..take the paper home and read it...even if you only attend for what it would do for you as a doctor...just think about it." He walked around the desk again...


He was wearing him down and almost reluctantly Luka nodded, "I'll think about it.."As he spoke he started to back towards the door. "Look..I really should get going..." Father Joe smiled. "I understand...I'm glad you came by Luka...and my door is always open to you." Had he been speaking to anyone else he would have offered a hug.. something to let him know he was there for him. That the man was physically distancing himself already said more then words could have and instead he held his ground, reinforcing his words instead with a broader smile. "Stay safe Luka..."


"Sure...thanks for your time Father." If the Priest had wanted to say anything else it was lost as he turned and left the room...he needed air...needed to be anywhere but here. He lengthened his stride as the church seemed to suddenly close in on him. By the time he reached the Chapel he was barely aware of what he was doing...the need to flee filling his thoughts completely. Once outside he broke into a sprint...he had to get away...had to find somewhere to think...


He left the church with no direction in mind, his thoughts twisting around themselves so he could barely think. For the next several hours he walked the city in a daze, reality tangling with images of his past until he could no longer separate them. At some point it had begun to drizzle and by the time he found himself on the river's bank he was soaked to the skin and shivering from the cold. The rain and falling temperatures had chased most people indoors and it was that too that seemed to be fueling the sense of isolation around him. As he reached a metal bench he stopped and ignoring the water that pooled on it he finally allowed himself to rest. Staring out over the gray water it was easy to forget where he was and it wasn't long before his mind returned to the past.


It had been raining for most of the night but he knew he had to keep going...he had to put distance between himself and the city...between himself and those who would kill him. Keep to the trees...keep off the main roads...he tried to remember the warnings that had been whispered in the halls and ward rooms of the hospital. Why hadn't he paid more attention to them? The thought was lost as he caught his foot on a half buried root and he found himself falling. A cry of surprise replaced by a choked one of pain at impact and he clutched his leg as he prayed for it to subside.


He couldn't do this anymore. He lay there for what seemed like hours but in truth was only minutes trying to catch his breath as the new pain mingled with that which had settled deep inside of him. Pulling his hand from his thigh he felt the stickiness of the blood from the reopened wound...how much longer could he leave it untreated before it was too late? Biting his lip he forced himself first to sit and then to stand...he had to keep moving...


It was the drizzle shifting to sleet that roused him, the sting of the ice striking his face the only thing able to break that hold to his past. Even as he stood the remnants remained, for whatever reason the ghosts were back and they would not rest until he learned what they wanted from him. Pulling his collar up he slipped his near numb hands into his pockets, his fingers sharing space with the Bishop's gifts to him. The words on the flier filtered back to him as he looked across the water and he raised his eyes to the sky as if expecting the man to be looking down at him. "I'm not like that..." He voiced his disagreement even as deep down he knew they rang with amixtureof untruth. There was no turning away from this...there was no place to hide. With a sigh he turned his back to the river and began the walk back to his hotel.


to be continued...

Vukovar

Ghosts 5/37

Chapter 5


An ER fanfic that takes place following the "Bishop Stewart" Arc


The tolling of the church bells reached deep within him and Luka blinked as if awakening from an unexpected nap. His face took on a momentary look of confusion as he first oriented himself, then realized that he was standing in front of the old church....the Bishop's church. He raised a hand to massage the dull ache that had settled into his temple as he tried to remember what had led him here. He remembered leaving the hospital...walking up the steps to the El, even climbing into the train when it had stopped. Why couldn't he remember how he had gotten here? He dropped his hand as his memory released nothing else and from somewhere he heard the voice whispering again...reminding him of the fine line between sanity and insanity he was walking.


Shaking the thought off he climbed the steps slowly, then opened the heavy door that would lead into the safety of the church. For several minutes he stood silently looking over the chapel as if expecting the old man to be watching him. He allowed a small smile to cross his face at the memory of the Bishop and what had been returned to him at knowing him. As suddenly as it appeared though it faded, and he was left knowing that the man represented yet another loss in his life and he would never see him again.


Moving further into the chapel he paused to genuflect and cross himself before slipping quietly into a rear pew. Ten years he had been away from his faith, ten years of laying blame where none was due. Luka leaned forward to lower the small padded bench then moved to kneel on it. As he crossed himself again he found his eyes drifting to the flickering candles in the alcove. He should light one for Danijela...for the children...for the Bishop...then suddenly he was faced with another realization, there weren't enough candles for all the deaths. He rested his forearms on the back of the pew in front of him and closed his eyes as he tried to block the thought in one of the familiar prayers.


The ground was littered with debris, shards of glass, broken bricks, plaster, all creating the cushion he lay upon, but none drawing his notice now. As he lay there stunned by the shock of the bullet and the subsequent fall he realized how close death really was. He could just stay here...let them come for him and it would all finally be over. He had no doubt in his mind if he were captured now it would mean his death. He would be like those at the hospital, or the man who's screams had reached him in hiding, but more importantly, he would be back with his family. He closed his eyes at the thought, no more worries about the dangers of going for something as simple as food or water. No more cold because you were living in a building that no longer had heat or electricity. He moaned softly as even those thoughts were pushed away by the pain that forced itself into the forefront of his consciousness.


Shifting so he could prop himself up on one elbow he looked first to see if they were coming for him before he brought his other hand to his thigh. How bad was it? He groaned as numb fingers probed the wound, a mixture of relief mingling with renewed pain as he registered the second opening in the back of his leg that marked the bullet's exit. Voices drew his attention back towards the city and his decision was made on survival instinct alone...he had to get moving.


He forced himself to his feet, a cry of anguish escaping as sensation screamed through the leg at the weight on it. He could see the headlights of an approaching vehicle....he knew it meant death was coming for him....for a moment he was frozen a strange fascination remaining at the realization. A bullet striking the ground near him sprayed gravel and broke his trance...his gaze immediately broke and his eyes moved to see where it was fired from. As if to confirm it, a second shot rang out and without thinking he began to run, his gait a staggered lope as he favored his injured leg. If he could reach the treeline he could be safe...safe...alive...


"Dr. Kovac?" The memory abruptly ended as he felt the hand on his shoulder and without thinking he shrugged it away. "Dr. Kovac...are you all right?" As he shook off the last remnants of the dream and turned to identify the voice he raised a hand to his face and across his eyes. Father Joe...the Bishop's aide...oh, God, had he said anything he might have heard? What could he have seen? He swallowed the fear as he let the hand drop again.


"Dr. Kovac, I thought that was you, I'm glad you decided to visit us again." The Priest let his eyes sweep over the man's face, unable to stop the frown that found him as he registered the swollen bruise. "Mother Mary." He uttered the words without thinking, "Were you mugged...do you need me to call the police?"


Luka shook his head as he raised his hand to gingerly touch his face. "No, Father, it happened at work...I'm afraid I let my attention wander with a patient. It was my own fault it happened, I'll be fine." Would he be? The thought lingered as he tried to focus on what the Priest was saying. "Bishop Stewart left something for you, I meant to give it to you at the funeral, but you were gone before I could talk to you." As the man spoke Luka nodded, then stood, his mind left with the question of what the Bishop could have wanted him to have?


As he followed the Priest back through the rectory his thoughts flashed to his last visit here when the Bishop was alive. If only the man hadn't insisted on leaving the hospital, maybe he could have done more. Had his prescribing the steroids made his condition worse...had it hastened his death? He could justify it by saying he had only done what the man had asked of him...but how much of that had been influenced by what the man was? "This is my office, Dr. Kovac." He let his doubts recede as the Priest stopped, then motioned him into an office. "Please, have a seat." He smiled again before moving around the desk that was the room's centerpiece and taking a seat in the large wooden chair that say behind it.


"Bishop Stewart was very concerned about you Dr. Kovac." As he began he leaned down to open a bottom drawer, "In his last few days he spoke often about the burdens you seemed to carry and about your having moved away from your faith." As he continued he straightened and lay a small white box of the desk across from where Luka had sat. "The Bishop appreciated your honesty with him, not many people could do that. He asked me to make sure that you were given these when the time came for him to join our Father." Resting his eyes on Luka he pushed the box across the desk, then sat back silently watching his reaction.


At first Luka wasn't sure what to think and it took him several minutes before he was able to bring himself to take the small white box. What was he so afraid of...it was only a box...what could it possibly contain that he should be afraid of? As he continued to look down at it he wet his lips. Why hadn't theBishop said anything to him about it? More importantly, how had he even known he would come back? He raised his eyes to the Priest then dropped them back to the box before opening it.


As he lifted the lid and saw the contents his eyes teared and he was forced to set the lid down to wipe his hand across his face before he could continue. "Did you know?" He asked the question quietly, as if it didn't matter if the other man heard him. "He told me of his intentions, yes." Luka raised his eyes to the man at his response then returned them to the box as he lifted the rosary from it. He blinked the tears away quickly as his fingers moved across the worn beads. Why him? As he saw what remained half hidden under the tissue beneath it the question became even more important. He lay the rosary on the desktop as he slid the paper aside then withdrew the Bishop's bible...the bible that had offered him comfort in those final hours of his life.


He dropped his face into his hand as the tears he had fought so hard to hold back finally fell. "Would you like some privacy?" He shook his head at the Priest's question then sniffed and wiped the tears away before bringing his eyes back to him. "He must have family who would want these." The Priest shook his head with a soft smile. "He was very definite about my making sure you got them, and you know how he was about getting his way." The Priest's smile broadened. "Dr. Kovac, the Bishop did not break the sanctity of your confession with me, but he did ask me to offer you my counsel. I hope you will allow me to accept that gift from him as you accept this one." Luka lifted his eyes to the Priest as he realized what he was asking. "Father..." he paused, what could he say? He brushed his fingers across the worn leather cover of the Bishop's bible as if it somehow held the answer, then lifted his gaze again. "I'm not sure that I can..."


to be continued...

side look

Ghosts 4/37

Chapter 4


An ER fanfic that takes place following the "Bishop Stewart" Arc


From the moment he had walked through the doors of the ER, Luka had not stopped running. A 6 car pileup had thrust him into the middle of a series of traumas that had kept him occupied for several hours, and where on any other evening he might have minded, tonight he welcomed them. As he finally got the driver of the vehicle that had initiated it stable enough to send him off to surgery he was ready for a breather. He'd just started for the Doctor's Lounge to grab a cup of coffee when he found himself cornered for an incoming GSW.


He had hoped for the chance to talk to Abby at some point before her shift ended, but he had yet to see her. Maybe he could ask one of the nurses if they had seen her. He found his mind wandering, drifting to how he'd left things with her, what was she thinking right now? "Dr. Kovac?" Lydia's voice drew him out of his thoughts and back to the man on the table in front of him...


45 minutes later he resigned himself to the futility of their attempts and with a frown he handed the paddles back to her. "Hold compressions." He watched the monitors grimly for a moment then moved his gaze to the clock. "Time of death...2:56." He took the offered chart and signed his name to the bottom of it before handing it back... only vaguely hearing the "He didn't stand a chance, " that was offered in consolation. "I know..."He agreed as he pulled the bloody gloves, then gown off and tossed them aside. "Is the family in chairs?" At the nod he headed for the door, pushing his way through, readying himself mentally for what was to come. He set his jaw as he entered the room...looking across the expectant faces as he stopped.


"Mrs. Gardner?" He watched the people sitting there for some sign of recognition, then as a woman nodded he approached her. "My name is Dr. Kovac, I treated your husband. Are you here with anyone Mrs. Gardner?" He asked the question quietly, hoping to give her some privacy despite all the people.. The woman nodded, "My daughter, she went down the hall for coffee, how is Daniel? He only ran to the store for some cigarettes...he wanted a pack...he was supposed to have quit..." The woman was rambling, filling the silence with trivial information as if that might prevent hearing what she somehow knew was coming. "Mrs. Gardner, your husband's injuries were quite severe." He slid his hands in his pockets as he spoke, aware that every eye in the room was on him now. "We did everything we could, but there was too much damage...Mrs. Gardner, I'm sorry, we couldn't save him, your husband died."


He heard the anguished cry that broke from her and the second that followed the sound of something hitting the floor behind him, a moment before a younger woman folded the older into her arms and lowered her to a chair. "Is there anyone that I can call for you?" He hated this part of the job, no matter how hard he had worked to save the man, the family would always feel he had somehow not done enough. "No, thank you," The daughter shook her head, then moved her attention back to the sobbing woman besides her. "Mrs. Gardner, would you like to see your husband before we take him downstairs?" Both women looked over at him, mirrored nods saying what words could not. "Follow me then..when you get to the room you'll see a lot of tubes..." As they rose and he walked them back, he began to describe the scene they would face....


Informing family members of a patient's death was always difficult and his time with the Gardner's had only served to accentuate that. As he finished his final notes on the man's death Luka wanted nothing more then to find a quiet room alone to finish out him shift. Sleep itself was not an option so instead he grabbed the stack of charts he still had to review. Where to go? He rubbed his eyes wearily as he first cast his eyes to the door of the Doctor's Lounge, and then to the board...the suture room was empty, that would work. Dropping his hand he grabbed the pile of charts and made his way down the hall, willing himself invisible as he passed each trauma room until he reached the end. Juggling the charts he pushed the door open then slipped inside, hoping to find the solace he needed.


Dropping the stack on the gurney he pulled the nearby stool over and sat. The day shift would be arriving soon, the thought registered for no real reason as he rubbed his fingertips into his eyes before reaching for the top one Releasing a weary breath he flipped it open and bracing his head with his hand, he began to read. Male...24... presented with broken..he skimmed the notes for anything thatseemed unclear, then added comments where needed before signing off on it. If someone were to ask him two days from now, could he even attempt to put a face to all of these? He frowned at the thought then flipped the cover closed before laying it aside and reaching for the next. Margaret Becker...64...complains of shortness of breath...10 minutes later he was asleep.


His lungs screamed as he ran...and as he zigzagged across the field, dodging bullets and debris, all that mattered was reaching the wall and getting over it. Watch where you're going. He shielded his face as a bullet striking nearby sent a spray of gravel up towards him. Get to the wall. He found he had to keep reminding himself of the main objective as he barely avoided the bricks and rubble of bombed out buildings that had once been home to people no longer there. He almost made it. He released an audible groan as a barb of the wire bit into his hand as he grabbed it. Too late to stop...he hoisted himself up and threw his leg over the top wire. The memory of the next few minutes played through his mind in slow motion, he felt the bullet rip into his thigh, the momentum so strong that it easily carried him over the top and to the other side.


"Dr. Kovac...paramedics are on their way in...drunk with a head lac." Malik's voice brought an abrupt halt to the memory and Luka jerked his head up with the suddenness of it. "3 minutes out...can you take it?" Wiping his hand across his face, Luka nodded as he turned to face him. "Sure, let me finish this chart and I'll meet you in the bay." As Malik closed the door he looked back at the chart that still lay open in front of him, he didn't even remember reading it. Without fully admitting it he knew he needed a few more minutes to draw the rest of his thoughts away from the dream. Dropping his eyes back to the chart he began again and as he read his hand absentmindedly massaged his thigh. As he realized it he pulled it away and stood..scrawling his name on the chart and closing it as if it were the reason for the action. He forced the lingering images of the dream aside and scooped the charts up then headed for the door.


"How far out now?" He asked as he joined those outside after dropping the charts at the Nurse's Station. Wrapping his arms around himself in concession to the morning's chill, he shifted his gazetowardsthe street. "Should have grabbed your coat Dr. Kovac.." Malik said with a grin...as he tightened his own around him. Whatever reply he was about to give was forgotten as the ambulance backed in and the two men immediately pulled the doors open, listening to the paramedics as they tried to update them over the drunk's protests as they wheeled him into Exam 1.


"Sir, you'll have to be quiet," Luka tried to access the man as he fought the hold the paramedics and Malik had on him.."Get your hands off me." The man tried to push him away as he wiped some of the blood away to allow himself to get a better look at the wound. "Sir," Luka took a deep breath and tightened his jaw as he fought to keep his temper under control. "I have to see how bad it is," He leaned in again to look just as the man brought an elbow up...


"Son of a bitch..." Luka clasped a hand to his face as he staggered back against the blow...his eyes watering with the intensity of it. "Haldol...5 mg.." He waved off the resident who had moved to his side then stepped back in to help Malik restrain the man. "You're going to get a blackeye from that one..." Malik assessed optimistically as he handed the syringe across the table. "Great...just what I needed to finish the night." He commented icily as he jabbed the needle into the drunk's upper arm. Passing the used needle off he stepped back so they could tie restraints on the man.


As he watched them his hand moved to cover the swelling bruise on his cheekbone. "I'll order films, but I don't think it's going to need more then stitches." Malik nodded..."Go get some ice for that..I can watch him until they come for him." Knowing he was right Luka nodded, then moved to the drawers and pulled one of the gel bags. After smashing the vile inside he grabbed the man's chart and headed back to the Nurse's Station.


"Luka, let me see it." At the sound of his name he opened his eyes and lowered the pack. Kerry...she wasn't due on until...what time was it? He started to rub his fingers into the bruise only to have her grab his hand to stop him. "Let me see how bad it is." He sucked air through his teeth, unable to withhold the wince as she gently probed along his cheekbone. "Nothing broken...how's your vision?" He wanted to wave her off...he should have been able to tell that the man might do something. "How many fingers, Luka?" Kerry had moved to stand in front of him, once more trying to get his attention on her. "Luka, how many fingers?" She asked as she held them a short distance from his face. "3...I can see fine...I just have a headache" He brought the gel pack up to cover his face again, unable to hold back the irritation at his own carelessness. "You should get a cat scan done." He shook his head at the request. "I don't need a cat scan." Weaver frowned at him then let her eyes settle on him. "Fine, take something for the headache and go home...call me later and let me know how you feel so I know if I need to schedule someone to take your shift." Luka lowered the gel pack again. "Don't start Luka...your shift is done..go home."


He wasn't ready to go home...that was the thought that lingered as he stood and walked into the Doctor's Lounge to put his coat away and grab his bag. His head was throbbing, but that wasn't it...or was it? He hung his stethoscope and lab coat on the hook before pulling the peacoat out and slipping it on. As he caught sight of his reflection in the mirror he might have been looking at a stranger. It wasn't the darkening bruise though that caused the reaction...it was his eyes, he closed the door, unable to look at himself anymore. He'd seen the look they held before...he knew what it meant. The ghosts were getting too close again and he had to find somewhere to escape from them...


to be continued...

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