Sunday, July 31, 2005

Healing 20/30

Chapter  20

A follow-up to the Congo arc, this story interweaves with the actually aired episodes

It was the sun creeping across the room that woke him and as it warmed his face Luka cracked one eye, only to close it again with a groan.  Instantly, his eyes reopened and he frowned as his mind struggled to identify the unfamiliar surroundings. 

"You're awake."  Mrs. Johannesson's voice put the missing piece into place and he sat up as she appeared in the doorway.  "Good morning, feeling better?"  Her eyes swept over him quickly with the question.

"I think so..."  He pushed the covers aside in preparation of getting up.

"No, you don't..."  The older woman stopped him, a tone of warning in her voice.  "You stay right there in bed, as bad as your fever was last night you can stand the rest.  I'll go down to the kitchen and get you something to eat."

"You don't have to do this, I've imposed on you enough."  He made the attempt to rise again only to stop at the glare the woman leveled on him.

"It's not an imposition, if you need the restroom it's next door, otherwise, you'll stay there until Martin says differently."  When he made no further attempts to get out of bed, the woman smiled.  "I'll be right back with some breakfast for you...and don't you dare say it isn't necessary."  She silenced the protest he was about to make before he could voice it.

Resolving himself to his fate, Luka waited until the woman had left before venturing to the bathroom.  As much as he hated to admit it, she was probably right, even the short walk to and from the room managed to be an exhausting chore, and by the time he returned to the bed his legs were weak.  The continuing fevers seemed to take away whatever gains he was making and it was a frustration he couldn't deny. 

No more then ten minutes later he heard the sound of footsteps and Ingrid reappeared carrying a small tray.  "I wasn't sure what you'd like, or what your stomach might handle."  She offered the apology as she settled the tray on his lap. 

"I'm sure it'll be fine, thank you."  Luka took in the choices open to him.  A bowl of oatmeal shared space on the tray with toast and eggs, as well as tea, and glasses of both milk and orange juice. 

"Eat what you can, Martin should be done soon and then he'll be up to check on you."  Unable to resist any longer she touched his forehead in an attempt to check his temperature, then, seemingly satisfied she moved away.  "Just leave the tray on the table next to the bed when you're done, Luka, I'll pick it up later."

"Thank you, again."  He managed a smile for the woman that only deepened as she offered one in return.

Only when he had begun to eat did she answer, "You're welcome, Luka." Then, with a second smile she disappeared from the room.

His appetite was light but Luka forced himself to eat, a few bites of oatmeal, a forkful of eggs...a swallow of juice, only the milk seemed to totally agree and as he finished the glass he returned it to the tray.  As much as he regretted admitting it, what he wanted most was to go back to sleep.  With great care he maneuvered so he could transfer the tray from his lap to the table without upsetting what remained on it.  There was no way of knowing how long it would be before the doctor appeared, and while he could easily leave, he knew he wouldn't.  Settling back against the headboard he prepared himself for the wait, and within minutes he had fallen back to sleep.

When he woke again the sunlight had faded and the room had settled into shadows.  How long had he slept?  He glanced at his watch then shocked by what he saw looked couldn't be right, could it?  He pushed the blankets aside and swung his legs over the side of the bed, giving himself time to steady himself before standing.  Once he was in the hall he could hear the voices downstairs and after a momentary detour to the bathroom, he made his way towards them.

"Look who's up?"  Martin Johannesson was the first to notice Luka's appearance and he smiled as he greeted him.  It took his wife a moment longer as she was in the middle of preparing dinner and had her back to the door.

"Good afternoon."  Luka's greeting held a touch of embarrassment to it.

Good afternoon, look much better."  Ingrid's smile seemed to fill her face as she turned and dried her hands on the apron she wore.  "I'm making dinner, if you're hungry now though I could fix you something."

"I'm fine, thank you.  I guess I slept through my session."  His attention turned to the doctor as he spoke.

"That's all right, you needed the sleep...we can talk now if you'd like?"  He watched the young man carefully for his reaction to the offer.  "Perhaps about the dreams?"

Luka knew his face had paled at the mention of the nightmares...uncertainty at just what and how much had slipped out overriding even the trust he had for the man.  He swiped his tongue around the inside of his mouth, far too aware of what his silence was saying.

"I think we should talk about it while it's still fresh."  The doctor rose and headed towards him.  "Let's go in my office."

"Martin..."  Ingrid's concern left her unable to resist intervening.  "Let him at least have a a few minutes to wake up."

"I'm all right..."  Luka found himself momentarily torn between the two, but after offering the reassurance to the woman he followed her husband into the office.  Dr. Johannesson waited until Luka had taken a seat on the couch before sitting himself, selecting the chair adjacent, rather then the one behind his desk.

"How often do you have the nightmares, Luka?"  He folded his hands in his lap as he waited for the younger man to respond.

"I don't just kind of depends."  He lifted one hand in nervousness and began to gnaw at the side of his thumb.

"Depends on what?"  Gently, gently, the doctor found the reminder to himself coming automatically.

"How tired I am...if my temperature is up...sometimes..."  He hesitated without meaning to.  "If I've been thinking about things too much."

"The dreams aren't about what happened to you in Croatia are they?"

"No...not usually."  He didn't want to go here...not yet.

"You were speaking in French..."  The doctor continued employing gentle interrogation to advance them.

"I guess."  What all had he said?  His eyes darted between the window and door, the need to flee surging unexpectedly.

"You also mentioned something in told me to leave you alone...that I wasn't safe with you.  Who were you talking to Luka?"  Whatever the dreams held they were a key to much more, and unless the man chose to talk about them, he couldn't even begin to help him through it.

He wasn't ready for this...the panic rose quickly, fear of what he might have said overriding even the trust he felt towards the man.  "I don't remember..."  He swallowed, the feeling of nausea becoming even stronger with the avoidance.

"I think you do, Luka.  You've trusted me before...."

"Patrique..."  The name came out little more then a whisper.  "I told him to leave...I told them all to leave but they didn't listen."  His voice was unsteady and he found himself tucking his hands between his knees as if that might steady him.

"Who's Patrique, Luka?"  The doctor resisted the urge to reach over to his patient, as much as he wanted to offer the sense of grounding, he knew there were times he had to stand back. 

"If he'd have just listened..."  Luka's voice took on a faraway tone.

"Listened to what?"  Baby steps...he cautioned himself.

"I told him to leave...he wouldn't listen...because of me."  He wasn't even aware of the rocking he had begun as a means of calming himself.

"What happened to Patrique, Luka?"  Dr. Johannesson's attention was fully on the man in front of him as he watched the progression of his retreat into himself.

"He was killed..."  He continued the rocking as he forced the words out.  "They shot him, because of me."

to be continued...

Healing 19/30

Chapter 19

A follow-up to the Congo arc, this story interweaves with the actually aired episodes

"How is he?"  Ingrid Johannesson's worry was no longer anything she was hiding, and as her husband stepped out of the guest bedroom she immediately confronted him.

"He's resting again."  He motioned his wife to the stairs as he spoke.  "Let's go back to the kitchen.

"Martin, that isn't resting...there has to be something more we can do."

"He was awake long enough to take his pills, that should help."  He started down the stairs in hopes that his wife would follow and after a moments hesitation she did.  "He's a doctor, Ingrid, I'm sure he would have said something if there was more that could be done."

"The least we could do is sit with him then, I don't like the idea of his being up there alone."  The older woman's attention went back up the stairs as she spoke.

"Has it occurred to you that he might not be comfortable having someone in his room while he's asleep?"  Martin lifted an eyebrow with the question, then smiled as his wife started to speak again.

"Martin...the boy is running a temperature, someone should stay with him, if you won't let me do it then you should do it yourself."  As his wife's hands settled on her hips he realized she was past backing down on the matter.

"All right then, I guess I could do some of my paperwork in there just as easily as in my office."

"Thank-you.."  Ingrid moved over to kiss her husband.  "I'll make you some tea."

"You know you're a stubborn old woman, don't you?"  Martin chuckled softly as he spoke.

"A perfect match for you, old get your papers, I still don't like the idea of his being left alone, no matter how long it is." 

The next several hours were ones that found Dr. Johannesson getting very little of his work done.  Luka's sleep continued to be restless as his temperature spiked and what little sleep he was getting continued to be filled with dreams.  Retaking his seat after replacing the blankets that had been pushed away for no less than the sixth time, he felt, rather then saw, Luka's eyes on him.  Before he could do anything more then bring his eyes back to him, the man began to speak.

"Should go...not safe here."  The words were quiet, and though Luka seemed to be looking at him, Martin found himself left with the feeling that he was looking far beyond him.

"Where's here, Luka?"  The doctor asked the question cautiously, unsure of the awareness of the man in front of him.

"Should all go...leave me here...safer not to be found with me..."  The warnings continued as if he were either unwilling or unable to say more.  "Should all go..."  His words trailed off, the energy to speak gone as quickly as it had appeared. 

Johannesson found himself at a loss for how to respond as Luka's eyes remained open and on him for a moment longer, until, with a sigh of seeming defeat he closed them again.  What was he to make of this?  He reached for the young doctor's file and opened it, no one knew exactly all he had been through, they could guess, even use the statements given by the two others that had survived the capture by the rebels, but only if the man before him chose to talk could he know the full truth.  He flipped through the file until he found the medical records from the clinic in Africa.

Malaria...anemia...contusions...excessive bruising indicative of physical abuse, nothing of his mental state, that could only be left to speculation.  He'd been unconscious when found, dehydrated, his condition reflecting abuse and neglect.  

The doctor shook his head as he continued to read through the records, all of this on top of what he had already experienced before going to Africa.  Letting the file drop on his lap, Dr. Johannesson slid his fingers underneath his glasses to massage the bridge of his nose before returning his attention to the man in front of him.  So many things for one person to endure, he let his hand drop and sat back in the chair so he could study his patient more closely.  Even in sleep he was restless, chasing the memories that continued to haunt him.  He'd thought they were making progress, that the young man was beginning to open up, but here were things that had not even been touched on, how much more had he kept to himself?

to be continued...

Saturday, July 30, 2005

Healing 18/30

Chapter 18

A follow-up to the Congo arc, this story interweaves with the actually aired episodes

As the session ended Luka still found himself still battling the chills, but even worse was the dread of facing the evening alone.  He'd felt this way before after a particularly difficult session, but he'd always been able to shake it off, why was tonight so different?  He kept the afghans pulled around him as he willed the warmth they should hold to find him.

"Luka, are you all right?"  The doctor's voice broke into his thoughts and he lifted his eyes to him.

"I don't think so..."  The admission came quietly.

"Is it the malaria?"  The doctor reached over to lay his hand on Luka's forehead with the question, only to frown with the results.  "You're running a temperature again."

"It comes and goes..."  That was the truth wasn't it? 

"Luka, do you have anyone who can stay with you tonight?"  Dr. Johannesson made no attempt to keep the concern from his voice.

"Not really..I'll be okay.."  The shivering only seemed to be worsening and Luka knew the night would be another of those he would spend huddled under every blanket he could find.

"I don't think you should be alone tonight."  The doctor rose from the couch.  "I'll ask my wife to turn down the spare bed, you can stay here tonight."

"You don't have too...besides, my meds are at home."  Luka's protest came without conviction.

"I know we don't, but I'll feel better being able to keep an eye on you tonight, or at least until your fever breaks.  As for your medicine, if you tell me where they are, I can go get them for you."  The doctor's voice assumed the tone of persuasiveness he'd found useful when working with the younger man.

Luka knew that whatever protest he'd offer now would only fall on deaf ears, and lacking the energy to argue further he instead leaned back against the couch, he was just too tired to fight.  "Keys are in my coat...meds are by the sink in the kitchen." 

"I won't be long, Luka, I'll let Ingrid know you're staying and then I'll go pick them up, do you need anything else while I'm there?"

When Luka simply shook his head and let his eyes close, the doctor found himself smiling, the trust was coming...slowly but surely.

He must have fallen asleep and at the touch on his arm Luka's eyes flew open, the disorientation at where he was clearly on his face.

"It's all right, Luka."  Mrs. Johannesson's voice was quiet, offering reassurance as she allowed him time to recognize her.  "Let's get you upstairs to bed."  She waited for him to stand then slid her arm around him for support.  He was warm, too warm, she could feel the heat coming from him despite his continued shivering.  "Martin will be back soon."

He was past having the strength to answer, and instead he put what energy remained into obeying the woman's words.  By the time they reached the top of the stairs he was sure he could go no further, and he grabbed the top of the bannister to steady himself as his balance faltered.

"Just a little ways more, Luka, then you can rest."  Ingrid managed to coax him the remaining steps, and as they entered the room she helped him to sit on the bed. "Let's get your shoes off."  She released him so she could kneel and unlace both then slipped them off, before rising again.  "Lay back's all right." 

"Maybe just sleep for a little while."  The words came slowly, as if the very effort of forming them was exhausting and once he was done, Luka gave in and stretched out on his side. 

"I'll just get you covered up and then when Martin gets back I'll have him check in on you."  The woman continued to talk even as she realized that Luka had fallen asleep and as she drew the last of the blankets over him she found it hard to resist the urge to plant a kiss on his forehead.  Smiling at her own actions she slipped out of the room, leaving the door ajar so they would hear if Luka woke.

The hands were pulling on him...jerking him roughly to his feet before the IV was ripped from his vein...even before he was fully conscious they had grabbed his arms and begun to wrap the wire around his wrists.  Why couldn't they stop the screaming?  He struggled to comply with the shouted orders despite his weakness, forcing himself to kneel then raise now bound arms that felt like they weighed a ton over his head.  He was going to fall...he could barely hold his balance, the chills leaving him unsteady.  "Don't hurt the little girl..."  The words came without his even realizing he had spoken when he heard the screams of Chance and her mother, then came the blow meant to silence him.  He fell forward, unable to stop himself, only to once more struggle to his knees at their command.  Patrique's voice, warning him to silence...but how could he stay silent.  "Please..don't hurt the little girl..."  He begged for her safety in the French they would understand and suffered yet another blow for the effort.

"Luka...wake up."  Dr. Johannesson sat on the side of the bed, aware that his wife had followed him upstairs.  "Luka..."  He touched the young man's head, frowning at the heat that radiated from him.  "It's just a dream...just a dream."

At the touch on his skin Luka's eyes flew open, the panic of the nightmare clearly etched in his eyes as he had yet to fully escape the memories.

"No one can hurt you here,'s just a dream."  The doctor withdrew his hand, giving Luka time to adjust to his surroundings.  Despite what they had accomplished in the last month there was still so much left to do.  The dream obviously tied to things he had yet to share.  "I have your you think you can take the pills now?"  At the slight nod he helped Luka sit up enough that he could take two of the tablets and a few sips of water.  "That's it, why don't you get some more rest, and if you need anything just call."

The nightmares were draining, never more then bits and pieces of what had happened, but always exhausting, and despite the fear that remained he knew sleep was what he needed most.  Without protest he closed his eyes and within moments he was once more asleep

to be continued...

Healing 17/30

Chapter  17

A follow-up to the Congo arc, this story interweaves with the actually aired episodes

Why did it all have to be so hard?  As he heard the door close, signaling the doctor's exit Luka opened his eyes.  He had known that it wouldn't be easy facing all the mistakes he'd made, but he'd never thought it would be like this.  The thought brought on a fresh bout of chills and he leaned forward before pulling the afghan more tightly around himself.  He'd been afraid to look at the doctor, afraid that he would see in his face the same things he felt about himself, and that would be far worse then anything else. 

How long had it been since he had worried about how others might see him?  Too long...the realization was a painful one to admit.  It had used to matter, when he'd spent time with Carol, even with Abby, but then he'd begun to self-destruct, as if he didn't deserve to be happy.  He'd been aware of the rumors about his behavior at the hospital, how could he not have noticed, worse, how could he have not expected them?  He'd changed, and not for the better, self punishment for allowing himself to think he deserved to move on with his life.

"Luka?"  He lifted his head as the door eased open and he heard the doctor's voice.  "Ready to continue?" 

The inner battle reared it's head, he could stop now if he chose to, the man wouldn't push him farther in a session then he was willing to go, but what was the point in hiding from the truth anymore?  "I think so."  The words lacked conviction but they were honest and as he spoke he sat up, meeting the man's eyes despite the fear of what he might see in them.

As he fully entered the room the doctor moved over to switch the light back on.

"Could you leave it off?"  The need to hide was too strong to ignore and the lamp seemed to offer a manageable compromise if he was going to go on.

"If that's what you want."  Dr. Johannesson let his hand drop and returned to take the chair he'd left earlier.  "How are you feeling, Luka?"  He swept his eyes over the man in front of him with the question.

He shook his head, "I don't know."  If he could only stop shivering, he drew the afghan tighter.

"Don't you?"  Gentle coaxing came with the question.

"I can't get warm."  There was a hint of panic in Luka's words that prompted the doctor to rise and retrieve the second afghan.

"You have to let the feelings out, Luka...I know it's hard, but it's the only way."  He draped the blanket around the younger man's shoulders before taking a seat on the couch beside him.  "You hid from this too long, it's time to confront it."

"What if I can't?"  The chattering of his teeth seemed deafening. 

"Luka, trust're stronger then you think."  Despite the difficulty the doctor resisted the urge to touch the man before him.  He had to let him take this step alone, no matter how hard it was.

The room fell to silence for several long moments as Luka dropped his eyes to the floor, the war going on inside him all to clear.  "I hate myself...what I've become."  The words came so quietly the doctor found himself struggling to hear them.

"It's not too late to change, Luka, your coming here proves you want that."  He took in the younger man's appearance, the fear at the worst impossible for him to hide any longer.  "You have the chance to start over, not many people can say that."

"What if I can't be anyone else?" 

"I don't think you really want to be someone else, do you?  You are who you are, Luka, you've made mistakes like all of us have, but you can't continue to dwell on them.  Acknowledge that you made them and then let them go, don't keep punishing yourself with them."

"You make it sound so's not..."  He stopped himself as his tone rose to include more of the frustration he found in the situation.

"I never said it would be easy, Luka.  You've had, what, ten years to become who you are now?  Why do you think you can undo it overnight?"

"I don't..."  Even as he said it he knew it was a lie, he did want a quick fix, the magic pill that would make all he had done disappear.

"I think you do, we all want that, but it's not going to happen, as much as we want it to."  As Luka huddled into himself the doctor reached over and lay a hand on his shoulder.  "Give it time,'ll come."

"How can you be so sure?  What if this is how I'll always be?"  The words held the unsteadiness of the fear he was feeling despite his efforts to control it.

"Because I know, and I believe that within you have the strength to let it happen if you want it to."  With the words he tightened his hold on the younger man's shoulder, letting his touch do what his words had begun.  "You don't have to do it alone, Luka, I'll be here for you as long as it takes."

Whether that alone was what he had been waiting for Luka would never know, but at the man's words he felt a weight lift from his shoulders.  He wasn't alone anymore unless he wanted to be and that had always been his strongest fear among all the others. 

to be continued...

Friday, July 29, 2005

Healing 16/30

Chapter  16

A follow-up to the Congo arc, this story interweaves with the actually aired episodes

"Can you tell me about it, Luka?"  Sensing that they were entering another sensitive topic Dr. Johannesson, went back to gentle coaxing to ease Luka into it.  "Why did you think you shouldn't be at work?"

"There'd been a Christmas party, I shouldn't have even gone, but I did, and I drank too much...said some stupid things...I wasn't supposed to work the next should have been okay."  His tone became more defensive the longer he spoke.

"It's all right...take your time."  The doctor allowed himself to interrupt with the quiet reassurance.

"I was too drunk to drive, Erin offered to take me home, and I let her."

"Who's Erin, Luka?"  He filed the new name away for reference.

"She's a med student, was a med student...nothing happened with her, but I think I tried." 

"How does that make you feel?"  Johannesson kept his eyes firmly on Luka, watching the nervousness in his actions.

"Disgusted with myself...she was only trying to help me and I tried to get her into bed."  He rubbed wearily at his eyes with his fingertips .

"Why do you think you did that?"  Gently, he reminded himself, he was walking the tightrope again, and he would have to move slowly if he was going to keep the man talking.

"I don't know."  It was an easy way out, even he knew it as he spoke the words.

"I think you do know, Luka, it's the same reason you kept going back to the other women, what was it?"  Things were getting more dangerous, he could see that in the young man's eyes as they darted between the window and door, everywhere but on him.  "Luka?"

He couldn't find the words.  Luka reached for the now cold tea and took a sip before sitting it back down, he was so dry...but it was just another way of delaying things.  He had to talk about it if he wanted to get past was just so hard.  "When I was with them...I felt alive...they didn't care who I was, or what I had done...they just wanted to be with me..then after, they were gone...I didn't have to talk about any of it, or see them again."  His eyes fell to his hands as he rubbed them together.

"That made things easier for you?" 

"I thought it did...but I think in other ways it made it worse."  He was suddenly freezing and as he lifted his eyes he wrapped his arms around himself.

Without asking, Dr. Johannesson rose and retrieved one of the afghans from the closet only to drape it around Luka's shoulders before sitting again.  "How did it make things worse?"

"I began not to care anymore, I would just show up for my shifts and do my job, I didn't even see my patients as anything but their symptoms."  He pulled the blanket more tightly around him though it seemed to be doing little to stop his trembling.

"This was before the party?"  The doctor felt the need to ask for the clarification.


"What about after the party?"  There couldn't be any turning back now, he had to get the young man to confront what he'd been avoiding.

Luka wet his lips, then swiped his tongue around the inside of his mouth, delaying the inevitable.  "Erin stayed the night...nothing happened...I had passed out, they called from work and she answered, they wanted me to come in.  I knew I shouldn't...I was hungover, but Kerry ordered me to.  When I got there it was a mess...and I missed things...things I should have seen, would have if I hadn't been drunk the night before. I could have left a couple times, I just kept staying...and because of that I ruined a kid's life.  Then, when I did leave I almost killed Erin because I was so angry with myself."  The confession was exhausting and Luka leaned back against the couch and let his eyes close for a moment.

"Luka, we all make's part of being human."  He watched the man in front of him carefully.

"But most people's mistakes don't kill someone, or worse."  He opened his eyes when he spoke.

" can't expect yourself to be perfect all the time, and you can't know that whatever happened, wouldn't have happened regardless of whether you had been at that party the night before." 

"I can't know that it would have happened either..."  The truth was out, and that was it wasn't it?

"No, you can't know that, but if we all lived everyday second guessing every move we made where would we be?"  The question wasn't meant to have an answer and even as he asked it, the doctor continued.  You can't keep punishing yourself like this, holding yourself up to a higher standard for blame." 

"But..."  Luka started to protest only to have Dr. Johannesson silence himwith a raised finger.

"No, buts, Luka, you have to stop second guessing yourself.  Things happen, they aren't always the things we want to happen, or even good things, but they're still going to happen.  All you can do is learn from them and move on, but nothing is served by you repeatedly punishing yourself."  The words were difficult ones to say and likely ones he would repeat on many more occasions, but they seemed to register as Luka leaned back against the couch again and closed his eyes.

He might have run a marathon for the exhaustion he felt.  "What if I can't?"  The question came hidden behind still closed eyes.

"I think you can, you're a strong man, Luka, stronger then you're ready to admit.  Give yourself time, it'll come."  The doctor let his voice soften.

"What if I'm not?"  He still wasn't persuaded to the truth of the older man's words.

"Trust me, are."  He rose and walked over to the desk to switch the light on it's surface off.  "Why don't you rest for a few minutes, think about what we've talked about."  He read the fatigue in the young doctor as he spoke, then offered the permission he knew he needed before he would willingly let go.  When Luka did little more then nod, the man knew he'd been right.  The young doctor had come a long way in the weeks he'd been seeing him, but it was clear they had much farther to go before he could begin to claim the young man healed, if he would ever truly be that.  At worst though he could find a way to help him manage his past, and for the first time in far too long perhaps even see a future.  The thought made the older man smile, if he was successful in nothing else he wished that for the dark man in front of him.

to be continued...

Healing 15/30

Chapter 15

A follow-up to the Congo arc, this story interweaves with the actually aired episodes

"So how are you today, Luka?"  Dr. Johannesson closed the door of the office after the man had entered before him.

"I'm good..."  It felt just as strange saying it to the doctor as it had to his wife and that thought prompted a small smile.

"Why does that strike you as funny?"  He motioned Luka to the couch before taking a seat in the chair opposite.

"I don't know...I guess because it's been so long since I could say that."  He took a sip of the tea he had carried in with him and then leaned forward to put the cup down.  "I know we've barely gotten started, and I know things could get bad again..."  His voice trailed off as he paused to wet his lips. 

"How does that make you feel?"  The older man read Luka's mannerisms, looking for clues to what he might be holding back.

"Scared."  His honesty clearly radiated in the one word response.

"Why does it scare you?"  The probing was gentle, a technique the doctor had discovered best suited the young man.

"It's hard to explain..."  The nervous sweep of his tongue around the inside of his mouth preceded his continuing.  "I'm afraid of the nightmares worsening, I mean, I've tried not to think about some of these things."

"Do you think that helps?  Did it help with your family?" 

"In the beginning it does..."  Luka almost smirked as he answered.

"Then what happens?"  The doctor's voice remained serious.

"I have to shut myself down...if I don't talk about it I can kind of pretend it isn't there."  He wet his lips again as his mouth went dry.

"But it is still there, nothing you do can change that, Luka."  It was still a gentle give and take, the trust increasing but not fully there.

"I's always still there."  The acceptance left the words with a hollow ring to them.

"Luka...look at me a moment."  The doctor waited until the young man lifted his eyes to him before continuing.  "We all have good and bad things in our lives, we've all done things we regret, it's a part of being human.  No one can deny that you've had more then your share of tragedy, or that you've seen things that no one should have to see, but, you have to allow room for the good things among all the bad."

"How do I do that?  If I pretend it hasn't happened...if I..."  He stumbled over the words he wanted then stopped, giving himself time to catch up with the conflicting emotions he was riding.  "If I don't remember what happened, it's like it isn't important's like they're not important anymore."  The words carried a shakiness he couldn't conceal.

"That isn't true, Luka...we all experience loss, it doesn't mean we have to end our own lives because of it.  Cherish the good memories, allow yourself times to grieve, but you can't continue to put your life on hold, or punish yourself because you lived and your family didn't."  The doctor moved his chair closer so he could lay a hand on one of Luka's.  "You deserve a life, and from what you have told me of Danijela, I think she would want that for you as well."  He closed his hand, offering quiet comfort as he allowed the young man to process his words.

"It feels like I'm betraying her..."  His words came quiet and unsteady, and his eyes remained directed at the floor.

"What does, Luka? " The gentle prompt eased him to continue.

"If I let someone in...if I start to let myself feel something for someone else, it's like I'm betraying the vows I made to her."

"Is that how you see it?"  The doctor kept his eyes firmly on Luka.

"I want to feel again..."He paused, knowing he would have to tell the man about the thing he was most ashamed of.  "I needed to have someone make me feel something again."  He stopped again, unable to look at the doctor for fear of reading the disgust he felt at himself in the man's eyes.  "At first, I didn't think I could do it...but I felt so alone, and she was there, I didn't know what she was...then it didn't matter...after that it was easier."  He swallowed, the momentum making him unable to stop.  It felt so have someone make me feel something besides the loneliness and not want anything from me in return.  It was like a drug...and I couldn't get enough, it was so easy to get someone to go home with me...most of them I never saw again..."  As quickly as the burst started it ended and Luka found himself exhausted by it.

"Luka, look at me."  Dr. Johannesson waited until he had raised his eyes.  "There's nothing wrong with wanting physical comfort...but it wasn'tenough was it?"

Luka shook his head.  "No.  After they would leave...I'd feel so dirty...I hated myself for what I was doing, but I couldn't stop myself.' 

"But you did stop didn't you?" 

"Not soon enough."  Luka's words grew quiet again.

"What do you mean, not soon enough?"  The older man leaned closer, his hand still covering his patient's.

"I was drinking...too was one of the ways I could tell myself it was ok, that I didn't know what I was doing even if I did.  I shouldn't have gone to work I knew I wasn't in any condition to be there, and once I was there, I couldn't make myself leave..."

to be continued...

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Healing 14/30

Chapter  14

A follow-up to the Congo arc, this story interweaves with the actually aired episodes

Over the next several weeks Luka found that he began to look forward to the visits with Dr. Johannesson.  While he was not free of the nightmares by any means, he found the intensity of them had begun to weaken the more he spoke with the doctor of his past.  Most importantly, on at least a few of the nights their strength had not even been enough to waken him.  His days were spent alone for the most part, visits from Abby the only bright spot outside the daily walks he'd begun to to take in order to rebuild his strength, and his visits with the Johannessons.  With Mrs. Johannesson's doting he also found he'd begun to put on some of his lost weight, her daily care packages helping him refind the appetite he'd thought he'd lost.

The day had begun sunny, the warmth in it's rays prompting his decision to take his walk before his appointment.  The distant didn't seem that far, his strength was improving daily, and if he kept a steady pace he should easily arrive on time for his 2pm visit.  As he stepped onto the porch he felt the chill of the not quite spring day, but after buttoning his coat he was sure the walk would be enough to warm him up.

The sessions had so far centered mostly around his family, what his life had been like, his feelings following their deaths.  They'd spoke about life after as well, his escape from Vukavar, his time in the resettlement camps.  It was hard even now to think of those times, the loneliness that had been his constant companion, the pain that was a part of every day as well.  They'd spoke of his decision to resume his medical career, and how difficult it had been for him, and most recently how hard it had been to leave his father and Croatia.

His pace was brisk as he began the walk, and when he shoved his hands in his pockets he barely noticed the bite in the air.  They were ready to delve into more recent events and that thought sent a shiver through him that he couldn't blame on the cold.  He would have to talk about Carol...about killing the mugger.  That alone was enough to send yet another shiver through him, and he pulled his collar up as if that might somehow help.  There would be more to talk about,  Abby, the string of one-nighters, all the things he had used as a means of escape.  He would have to face his failures to Rick and to Erin as well, and then, worst of all he would have to confront what had happened in the Congo.

He felt the inner fear rising as he ticked off each item, wishing he could pretend none of them existed but knowing as well he wouldn't betray the Doctor's trust by concealing them from him.  None of the subjects he had left to discuss would be easy ones, all were things which had played major roles in how he had gotten to where he was now.  As much as he might like to downplay some of them they were all still pieces in the puzzle and until he found a way to put them in proper perspective the nightmares would continue.

He was determined not to fall into the habits he had relied on before going to the Congo, he owed that to Patrique, to Chance and her mother.  How could he devalue all they had suffered and lost by returning to how things were as if nothing had changed.  He'd told Abby he had changed and he had meant it, and if that mean laying his soul bare for the doctor then he was willing to make that sacrifice, no matter how terrified the thought made him.

He paused as he realized his journey had taken him almost directly to the doctor's house, his thoughts seeming to dictate the direction he had needed to go.  He paused on the front walkway and glanced at his watch...he was too early, but where could he go?  He glanced up one side of the street and then the other, all too aware that it had grown colder as he'd been walking.

" that you out there...come in before you catch your death."  It was Mrs. Johannesson's voice that made the choice for him and he looked to the porch as he heard his name.  "Come on now..."  She held the door open, sure he would comply.

"I'm afraid I'm early...I could come back."  He offered the apology as he reached the top step.

"That's not necessary..come in, I've just made some cookies, you can have some and I'll make you something hot to drink, you look near frozen."

He given up trying to turn down her offers to feed him, her manner reminisant of his Baka and the comparison brought a smile to his face.  "Thank you."

"Let me take your coat, I'll hang it up while you go into the kitchen."  She closed the door as she spoke then took the offered coat.  "Go on now, I'll be there in a minute."

The smell of the fresh baking filled the warm kitchen andLuka's stomach responded to the scent with a low rumble.  Pulling out a chair he took a seat and obligingly reached for the top cookie on the plate.

"Martin is still with his last patient...what can I get you to drink?"  Ingrid was already talking as she entered the room and Luka hurridly swallowed the mouthful of cookie he was chewing so he could answer.

"Whatever you have is fine. "  Luka found himself taking another bite, the comfort he felt in the woman's presence making nervous talk unnecessary.

"I'll put some tea on.  How are you doing today, Luka?'"  Her question left him with none of the panic he might once have felt when presented with something so simple, yet complex and he swallowed the bite before answering.

"Good."  It felt strange saying that but he knew it was true, and he couldn't help believing part of that was directly attributable to the woman before him.  "I actually slept in this morning, quite a change."

"I'm glad to hear that...I worry about you."  She filled a cup for him and carried it over to the table before filling her own and taking the seat opposite.

"You don't have to worry about me."  He let his eyes come to rest on the woman's face.

"I know, but I do.  Martin and I don't have children to worry about, I think I always missed that feeling."  She reached across the distance between him and patted his hand.  "You don't mind the attentions of an old woman do you?"

Luka's blush was immediate and his face creased in a smile as he shook his head at her words.  " I think I can get used to it.  You remind me of my grandmother."  He offered the translation then dropped his eyes not sure how she would take the comparison.

"Then it is my turn to thank you, Luka.  You know you are welcome here anytime, I enjoy your company."  She patted his hand again then withdrew hers.

The sound of a door opening and then closing stopped any further conversation and both looked to the door as footsteps signalled Dr. Johannesson's approach.  "'re here already, I hope I haven't kept you waiting long, I'm afraid we ran a bit over..."

to be continued...

Healing 13/30

Chapter  13

A follow-up to the Congo arc, this story interweaves with the actually aired episodes

The he drew closer to consciousness Luka once more became aware of the scents around him, different this flowers.  A rumbling of his stomach narrowed down the most prominent of the smells...someone was cooking.  He pushed the afghan that had somehow come to cover his head off, then rubbed at his face before creasing his forehead as his mind registered the second scent in the room.

"You're awake..."  Luka pushed himself up on his arm as the doctor spoke and looked towards the desk where the man sat smoking a pipe.  "You've smitten my wife...I should be jealous."  A smile spread across his face with the teasing.  "She made me promise to let you sleep until you woke on your own, and she insisted on saving supper for you so I hope you're hungry."

"That's not necessary..."  He shook off the rest of the drowsiness as he sat up, but the chills remained.

"You may not think so, but it's been sometime since my wife insisted on anything.  She also told me that you were running a temperature."  He lay the pipe in the ashtray on his desk before moving over so he could check the accuracy of the information himself.

As he had with the man's wife Luka suffered the hand to his forehead in silence, only speaking when it was withdrawn.  "I've been fighting comes and goes."  Without realizing he was doing it Luka pulled the blanket more tightly around his shoulders with the admission.

"Is there anything I can get you?"  He frowned slightly as Luka shook his head in dismissal.

"I have medicine at home I'll take...and I just need to rest."  His response was followed by a louder growling of his stomach which caused the older man to replace his frown with another smile.

"It would seem you need to eat as well.  Let me show you the washroom and I'll let my wife know she can take your plate out of the oven."  He brought a steadying hand to Luka's arm as he rose, only releasing him when he was sure the man fully had his legs under him.  "This way then.."

Ten minutes later and Luka found himself seated at the small table in a kitchen awash in the smells of a homecooked meal.  "You didn't have to do this..."  He shook his head in amazement as the woman sat a bowl of homemade soup in front of him. 

"It was my, stop talking and looks like you could use a good meal."  Still not finished, Ingrid added a plate of freshbaked bread to the table.  "There's more then enough for seconds, so dig in."  Her eyes remained on him until he dutifully picked up the spoon that lay beside his bowl and began to eat.  Satisfied, she turned away just long enough to fill a glass with milk. "I think you could probably use this too." Ingrid added as she sat the glass on the table as well.

"No use protesting son..."  The doctor seemed to be taking a particular delight in his wife's doting and Luka couldn't help wondering if he and Danijela might have been like them had she lived.

He lowered the spoon a moment as the thought surfaced, then aware of the couple's eyes on him he raised it again.  With the second bite his hunger took control and it was as much a surprise to himself as them when he finally lay the spoon to rest in the empty bowl.  "It was very good...thank you."

"You're not done yet..."  The woman shifted her eyes between the two men in the small kitchen. 

"Ingrid..."  The doctor's tone held a touch of warning his wife read correctly. 

"Let me put what's left in a bowl can take it home to heat up later."  She waved a finger to discourage his beginning protest.  "It's better then canned and you need to eat, now drink your milk." 

Luka's mouth turned up in a smile before he reached for the glass, and after giving the woman a look of resignation, he drained it.

"That wasn't so bad, was it?  Now..will you have dessert?  I made some cherry cobbler, just the thing to fill you up." She had already begun to scoop the still warm treat into two bowls his answer given whether he realized it or not.

"I haven't eaten like this in a longtime."  Luka took the bowl from her as she handed it to him.  Too long he thought.

"Then it's come over anytime you want a homecooked meal."  Ingrid sat the second bowl on the table near her husband.  "I knew you'd want a second helping..."

"You did, did you?"  The doctor walked over and gave his wife a gentle kiss before taking the seat opposite Luka.  "When you're done I'll give you a ride home.  Will you need me to give you something to help you sleep as well?"

Luka shook his head as he swallowed the bite of cobbler he'd put in his mouth.  "I'd rather not...getting to sleep really isn't the problem anyway." 

"Ingrid..could you?"  Dr. Johannesson motioned his wife towards the door as it appeared that Luka might want to talk.

"It's all right..."  Luka lay the spoon in the bowl again as he caught the look exchanged between the two.  Could this have been what it might have been like?  The thought again broke the surface of his thoughts, momentarily interrupting his concentration.  "Maybe it's the malaria...I dream a lot lately is all."

"Dreams can be a good thing, Luka...but not if they make it so you don't sleep.  I hope I can help you with that. In the meantime, you have my number, and I want you to feel free to call no matter what time it is."

"That's not necessary."  Luka offered the protest as he finished off the dessert.

"Let me decide that...okay?  In the meantime, let's get you home so you can get a good night's rest."  The doctor finished off the last bite of his own cobbler before rising.  "I'll get our coats."  He slipped past Luka with a smile.

"These are for you, you can bring the dishes back when you're finished.  Mrs. Johannesson carried two containers and a foil wrapped package over and sat them on the table beside Luka.

"You don't have to do this..."  Luka's protest again fell on deaf ears.

"I know...but I want to, and besides, I'm an old woman...humor me."  Without thinking she brushed her lips across his forehead before she straightened.  "It was a pleasure meeting you, Luka, come back anytime."

"Thank you..."  What else could he say?  He allowed a smile to say what his words fell short of.

"Here we go..."  The doctor handed Luka his coat then picked up the dishes from the table.  "I'll carry these for you."

"Thank you, again..."  Luka looked between the couple.  "Both of you." 

"You're welcome, Luka, now let's get you home so you can get some sleep..."

to be continued...

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Healing 12/30

Chapter 12

A follow-up to the Congo arc, this story interweaves with the actually aired episodes

He smelled perfume...he was sure of it, and somewhere within his memories Luka tried to find the source for it.  It wasn't the smell of Danijela...he was sure of that, the scent was too much of flowers.  He moaned softly, hovering on the edge of awareness and the desire to sink back into the comfort of oblivion.

Ingrid Johannesson rarely intruded on her husbands sessions with his patients, it was an understanding they had developed over the long years of their marriage.  Perhaps that was why she'd been surprised when her husband had asked her to keep an eye on the dark haired man who slept restlessly on the couch.  Martin had promised only to be gone long enough to run to the store and back, the patient would most likely never know he was gone, but he wanted to be sure if he did wake it was not to a sense of being alone.

She had taken to looking in on him each time she passed the door and when she'd noticed the afghan had slipped from his shoulders it seemed only natural to recover him with it.  Without thinking she found herself brushing his hair off his face with a soft smile.  She never asked her husband about his patients, that too was an understanding between them, but without the words being exchanged she knew this young man to be different then most of those before.  Moving away she gathered the cups of coffee and replaced them on the tray, the slight chiming of the china on it's surface the only sound breaking the silence.

She felt his eyes on her rather then saw them and with the tray still in her hands she turned to find him watching her, the drowsiness of half sleep still reflected in his face.  "I'm sorry if I woke you...I'm Dr. Johannesson's wife."

Luka blinked, then began to raise himself up on his arm, in preparation of sitting up.

"You can go back to husband will be a while longer."  Ingrid replaced the tray on the table, unwilling to leave the man now that he no longer slept.

As if the permission was enough he eased himself back down again before speaking.  "What time is it?" 

"Not late...almost 5."  The white haired woman smiled as she took a seat in the chair he had earlier occupied.

"Should go..."  He said the words without commitment.

"You don't have to, Martin doesn't have any more patients tonight.  You should rest."  She found herself easily warming to the young man, realizing how vulnerable he must be feeling, and sensing his need for reassurance.  "Would you like another blanket?" 

"No, thank you."  Luka found himself refusing the offer even as he pulled the one that now covered him more tightly around him.

"Why don't I get one for you anyway."  He was shivering, and even if he denied the need she could see he could use it.  "Are you feeling all right?" 

"Just a little cold."  It was more then that though, and without revealing it to her he was sure his malaria was spiking.  When she rose and retrieved a second afghan from a small closet he resolved himself to her fussing.  When she had covered him and then lay a hand on his forehead he offered no protest.

"You, my boy, are running a temperature."  Her voice became more motherly with the observation.

"Been sick."  It seemed easier to admit the undeniable and at his admission he watched the woman's face take on a look of concern.

"Can I get you anything before my husband gets back?"  She adjusted the covers around him with the question.

"Not anything..can do..."  His thoughts were drifting again, making it hard to find the words he wanted to use to answer her.  "Think...sleep again..'kay?"  He was barely keeping his eyes open now and he knew he was losing his hold on staying awake.

"I think that would be a wonderful idea."  Ingrid Johannesson smiled at the man again then brushed her fingers across his forehead before trailing them over his eyelids as they slid closed.  "You sleep now, and if you need anything you just call me."  She doubted he heard the end of her words, his breathing had already slowed and most likely he was already asleep before they were out.  She'd needed to say them though, just as she felt the need to straighten the afghans that covered him before she picked the tray up again.  Just once she might ask her husband to break the agreement they'd held between them for so many years.  Just once she would ask him to tell her about the young man who without meaning to had warmed up a part of her heart she'd held empty for too long.

to be continued...

Healing 11/30

Chapter 11

A follow-up to the Congo arc, this story interweaves with the actually aired episodes

Once inside Dr. Johannesson helped Luka to a chair in his office, he was openly shivering, his arms still wrapped around himself.  "Let me get you a blanket."  The older man moved across the room to retrieve an afghan from the couch then returned to drape it around him before refilling a coffee cup and offering it to him.  "Take this, Luka."

It took him a minute to register the doctor's actions and still another before he could draw himself out of his thoughts to react to the offered cup.  "Thank you."  Not trusting the steadiness of his hands he used both to cradle it.

"Can you continue?"  The question was yet another risky one, but they were too far in to stop now.

"I...I don't know...I'm so tired."  He was, that much was true...and he was cold...too cold.  Raising the cup he took a tentative sip before leaning forward to sit it back on the table.  As he sat back again he pulled the afghan more tightly around his shoulders.

"Luka...tell me what happened after your wife and daughter died.  Tell me what makes talking about Marko so much more difficult then talking about them."  That he didn't phrase the requests as questions left it assumed that the man before him would answer, and when he began to speak the doctor wasn't surprised.

"No one came...I called to them...but I had to keep breathing for my daughter."  His words came quietly, the accent even thicker then it had been before.  "There was smoke, I knew the building was burning, but I couldn't stop...I couldn't leave them there alone."  He drew the afghan even tighter around his shoulders for comfort.  "I finally had to stop..."

"Knowing when you did your daughter would die."  Dr. Johannesson offered the words he know would be most difficult for the man to say.

"Yes...and then I realized I had lost Danijela too."  He was beyond stopping the tears that wet his face now.  "I couldn't leave them.  I don't know how long I held Jasna...she got so cold."  His eyes had grown distant as he continued to talk and without asking the doctor know that his patient was seeing far beyond what was in the room.

Luka cradled his daughter to him, she seemed so small in his arms different from the girl who only hours ago had begged to go to the market with him.  How many hours had he been holding his firstborn?  His firstborn...oh God, how could he have forgotten about Marko?

"I'm sorry Beba..."  He lay a kiss on Jasna's forehead before arranging her carefully in her mother's arms and kissing his wife as well.  "Take care of her Danijela...I'll get Marko."  The smoke in the room burned at his throat but he barely noticed...all that mattered now was getting to his son.  Stumbling to his feet he backtracked to the door and then dropped to his knees by the remains of the crib, oblivious to the debris that he knelt on. 

"I'm sorry...Tata will get you out."  He offered the reassurances as if the small boy could hear him before beginning the grim task ahead.  Maybe there was a chance...if he hurried.  The hope gave him a renewed strength and Luka hurriedly pulled the chunks of cement and broken wallboard from atop the crib.  By the time he was to the point he could lift the side of the crib away his hands were raw and bloodied.  Let him be alive.  The prayer was repeated over and over in those moments despite the hopelessness of it, and then he was free..and it was all too evident his prayers would go unanswered.  Marko might have been sleeping for the care his father used in picking him up.  "Tata's here, Marko...Tata's here."  He cradled his son to him before he gave into the exhaustion and shock of it all.

"I was still holding him when they found us...I knew they were gone...but I didn't want to believe it.  I begged them to let me die with them."  He turned red rimmed eyes to the doctor, his awareness now fully back on the room. 

"You can't keep blaming yourself for can't keep punishing yourself."  The doctor offered the words of comfort easily.  "You did everything you could to save them, more then many might have been able to do."

"Did I?  Maybe if I had left Jasna, Danijela would have lived...but I couldn't." 

"You couldn't leave your children, were their could you make that choice?" 

"I couldn' I lost them all."  Luka buried his face in his hands, giving into the grief of the losses as deeply as if they had only just happened.

"Let it go, did everything you could for them."  The doctor rose and moved over to where the younger man sat, then lay his hand on his shoulder in comfort.  The first of the carefully hidden pieces of his past were out, and it would take many more sessions before he came to terms with what was revealed.

"I'm tired..."  Luka's words were almost to quiet to hear.

"You need sleep...let me help you to the couch."  Had the young man before him not lived alone he might not have made the offer, but his state was too fragile to let him go home to an empty apartment.  When there was no protest in response to the offer, Dr. Johannesson helped him to his feet and across the room.  Once Luka was settled on the couch and recovered with the afghan he moved over to pull the blinds, letting the room retreat into darkness.  As he took a seat behind his desk the older man let his eyes come to rest on the young doctor.  That he had come so far said much about him, but at what price?  He had been in pain for years...wounds that had been scabbed over only to fester as they remained untreated.  He could change that though, he could give the man what he had failed to find until now, someone to listen, someone to understand, and with it all a means for healing.

to be continued...

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Healing 10/30

Chapter 10

A follow-up to the Congo arc, this story interweaves with the actually aired episodes

The first moments spent in the garden were ones of silence.  If Dr. Johannesson had recognized nothing more in his newest patient, he had recognized the man's need for time.  All that had happened to him, since the loss of his family had been carefully hidden away, and like small treasures he would only reveal each when the time was right. 

He'd seen similar behaviors before, usually among older patients, among those who were sure no one could possibly understand the tragedies and horrors that had taken so many around them but allowed them to live.  When he had first been asked to see the young doctor he hadn't thought his treatment could mirror the Holocaust survivors he had treated.  He had been wrong, even so early he recognized the guilt, and pain, time alone with him would be the only way of knowing how deeply it ran.

He brought his gaze to where the tall, dark man stood in silence.  With his hands in his pockets he had paused just before the point where the patio touched the cobbled walk.  After several minutes of watching him the doctor broke the silence.  "Tell me about Marko, Luka?"

His shoulders slumped at the question, resignation replacing everything else. What was he supposed to say?  Did he tell the man that his son had a laugh that could erase whatever anger you might have had with his misdeeds?  Did he tell him that he walked with the staggering gait of one still unsteady on his feet?  Did he tell the man that his son shared the same dark shock of bangs that fell constantly across his eyes? 

Luka found himself drawing a steadying breath before he dared speaking.  "Marko...he."  He paused, unsure where to begin, why was it so much harder to speak to him of Marko then it had been to remember Jasna only moments before?

"How old was he, Luka?"  It was always risky interrupting, but there was a catch here, something that made talking about his son, harder then it was for him to speak of his wife and daughter.

"18 months...he was 18 months old when he died."  Luka withdrew a hand so he could wipe his eyes before replacing it in his pocket.  "He'd barely had a chance to live...neither of them had." 

"I know, Luka..."  Without giving his actions a second thought Dr. Johannesson approached, then came to a stop to the right of where Luka stood.  After giving the man a moment to adjust to his closeness he began to speak again.  "Accepting the death of their child is one of the hardest things a parent will ever be asked to do.  It was harder for you because you lost not one, but two children and in a way that left you no means to say good-bye to them.  Am I right?"  He turned his head so he could read the expressions that passed over the younger man's face with the question.

"Yes...Marko..."  His voice shuddered and threatened to break before he could steady it enough to continue.  "They were killed when our apartment building was bombed... Marko...he must have been asleep in his crib.  He was buried under the rubble...I knew." He pulled his hands from his pockets and wrapped his arms around himself as he forced himself to continue.  "I saw his hand...when I entered the apartment, he was reaching through the railings of the crib...but it was too late, and Danijela and Jasna were still alive."

"That was the hardest thing, seeing him like that and knowing you had to leave him, knowing your wife and daughter needed you."  As he spoke the doctor brought his hand up to rest on Luka's shoulder, very much aware of the tightrope he was walking.

"Yes...I wanted to uncover him...wanted to believe that he could still be alive..."  Luka's voice grew increasingly unsteady and his accent thickened with the telling.

"But you knew better, and in the meantime there was hope for your wife and daughter."  He tightened his hold slightly as he felt the shiver run beneath it.

"Yes...Jasna...I thought if I picked her up...I could get Danijela and her to a hospital, but they were too badly injured..."  It was getting to be more then he could handle, he could feel the lightheadedness, the weakness in his legs.  Drawing a breath that did little to help he lowered himself to a squat in hopes that he could regain some control and keep from falling.

" need to sit down..."  Dr. Johannesson, recognized the changes as Luka did and he moved to take hold of the younger man's elbow before getting him to his feet again.  Sliding an arm around him in support he could feel the trembling the man was fighting to control.  "Let's go back inside Luka..."

Exhausted by the very act of standing, Luka simply nodded. He was so tired.  Was this what he had to expect from every visit?  How could he keep coming back, knowing this was how it would be?

"That's it...take your time."  The older man lowered his voice as he offered the comment, and in voicing it knew that the words might well apply to himself and his treatment of the young doctor as well.  Time would be the key here, of that he was even more sure then he had been earlier.  Each session with the man beside him would be a test of patience, small steps that would someday allow him the freedoms that he had denied himself for so many years.  The thought made the doctor smile and he couldn't help glancing to the person responsible.  "It'll get better, just have to give it time."

to be continued...

Healing 9/30

Chapter 9

A follow-up to the Congo arc, this story interweaves with the actually aired episodes

Dr. Johannesson studied the man in front of him for a moment before speaking.  "Where are you comfortable starting, Luka?" 

"I wish I knew...."  That was the truth wasn't it?  His past had always been something he'd kept to himself.  Oh, sure, there had been some people who he had shared small details with, Carol, the Bishop...but rarely had he offered them anything that would allow them to see the person he used to be.

"What if I ask you some questions?"  He made the offer cautiously, not yet sure how much he could push before the younger man closed himself off.

Luka swallowed as immediate fear surged...what if he asked the wrong thing?  What if he asked about something he couldn't share?

Reading the wave of reactions that passed through the man in those few moments gave him a clue to how risky his request was. "If there is anything I ask that you feel you're not ready to answer, just say so, I won't hold that against you in any way."

A slow nod followed the additional reassurance before he dared reply.  "All right."

"Good..."  The doctor offered a smile before taking a sip of his own coffee and then setting it aside again.  "You're not from America, how long have you been here?"

"Close to six years..."  His response came quietly and there was a brief hesitation before he volunteered, "I was born in Croatia...I left a few years after the war."

"That must have been difficult, leaving all you knew...your culture...your language...your family."  How far could he take this?  He stopped as his mention of family caused the man to tense...he would have to be more careful.

"Yes...and was time for me to leave."  That much was truth.  How could he have stayed?

"Why was it time, Luka?"  Dr. Johannesson watched him even more closely with the question.

"There wasn't anything left for me there..."  The words were out before he could stop them.

Why, Luka? What had changed things for you?"  It was a risky question, one that could open him up as much as it might close him down, but it had to be asked.

Luka's initial responses were all ones of nervousness, the wiping of his hand over his face, a glance to the window, and then finally a wetting ofhis lips.  "The war...nothing was the same afterwards."

"War is always difficult."  The sadness in his patient's eyes seemed to have deepened and he knew his thoughts would be drifting...he needed reassurance, needed to know someone understood.  "Who did you lose, Luka?"  At the asking of the question, Luka's eyes shot to the window, then flicked around the room...the need to flee clearly evident to one who had seen the look before.  "It's safe to talk about here, I promise."

He had known this question would come, he'd just never expected it so soon.  Raising his hand he chewed at the side of his thumb as he debated with himself how much to reveal.  When the decision was finally made he let his hand drop and ran his tongue over hip lips.  "My family..."  The words came slowly and he would have sworn his mouth was filled with cotton, he wet his lips again.  "My wife, daughter, Jasna.."  His voice broke but he forced himself to continue.  "and Marko, my son."

"I'm sorry, Luka...I can only imagine how hard that must have been for you.  Can you tell me something about them?"  It would get harder from here, he knew that, but it was also evident that this was something the young man rarely spoke of, something that even after so many years, still weighed heavily on him.

Luka nodded as he struggled for the words to answer...he'd kept them to himself for so long.  "Danijela...she was beautiful."  He blinked back the tears before they could start.  "We met while I was in college..."  He wiped his hand over his face with the pause.

"Take your time, Luka..."  The doctor offered the reassurance quietly so as not to break the spell of the moment.

"I think I loved her from the moment I saw her."  His smile came easily with the recollection.  "She had long dark hair..."  He squeezed his eyes shut as her image came so clearly to mind, then opened them again.  "She was just 18 when we were married, and within a month she was pregnant with Jasna.  She was so happy...all she wanted was to be a mother."  It was so hard to remember the good things...he lifted his hand to his face as he fought to hold the tears back.

"You're doing fine,'re doing fine..."  Was there no one he'd been able to share these memories with?  All the years that had passed and he had kept them all to himself?  "Tell me about Jasna, Luka." 

He let his hand drop with the man's request.  "She was her mother."  His words came unsteadily.  "They had the same hair...and eyes...she deserved so much more then I could give her...they all did."  It was too much...without another word Luka rose and looked first to the door then around the room before his eyes settled on the window.  He needed air..."Could we take a break?"

Dr. Johannesson rose as Luka had, watching his reactions carefully, at the request he nodded.  "Would you like to go out and see the garden?"  Let him take the time he needed...there was no need to rush him only to have him leave and not come back.

"Yeah...I think I just need some air."  The relief shown clearly in his response.

"Then we should take a break..." He motioned Luka towards the door then lay his hand on the young man's shoulder.  "You're doing fine, Luka." 

Was he?  That was his first his own mind he was a wreak...but maybe this was what had to happen before it could go the other way.  He had to trust someone, for too many years he had tried to make it on his own.  "I don't know."  The admission came barely audible.

"But I've held these things in for too many years, let me help you let some of the weight go."  Without intending to he tightened his grip on the man's shoulder and was rewarded by a relaxing of it under his hand.  "Let's go outside now.."

to be continued...

Monday, July 25, 2005

Healing 8/30

Chapter 8

A follow-up to the Congo arc, this story interweaves with the actually aired episodes

Dr. Johannesson's decision to leave him alone was a mixed blessing to Luka.  True, a part of him saw it as a means of postponing the questions he knew would come with his return, but there were other feelings as well.  Walking across the room he took the man up on his offer to look around and found himself at the window.  The view it offered was nothing special, a small backyard with the remains of the previous year's garden, a small cobbled path.  The kind of yard a family might enjoy...a place for children to play.  He let the thought drift without meaning many times had Jasna wished for a yard such as this?  How many times had she and Marko begged to play outside only to be refused the request again and again?  What he wouldn't have given to have been able to give Danijela and the children a place such as this...

"Luka?"  Dr. Johannesson had hesitated as he entered the room.  That the young doctor had not turned in response to his initial entry made it clear his thoughts were somewhere other then on the view outside.  The temptation was there to leave him to the memories or thoughts that held him, but he knew too that it would serve no purpose.  He sat the tray down on the coffeetable before speaking again.  "Luka. would you like anything in your coffee?"

For the briefest instant he was sure he could see them there and he raised his hand to lay it on the glass as if that could bring them even closer.  Danijela standing on the cobbled path, the flowered skirt she wore blowing gently in the breeze, nearby, Jasna and Marko playing in the small grassy area.  He tried to get a firmer hold on them but as quickly as the images formed they were gone, replaced by the emptiness of the yard. 

"Luka?"  The doctor repeated the man's name as he saw his shoulder's slump a moment before he lowered his hand from the glass.

It took Luka a long minute before he felt it safe to turn, the fear that his face would reveal  more then he wanted it to holding him back.  "Pardon?"

"Please, have a seat, would you like anything in your coffee?"  It would have been easy to make assumptions from the change in the young man, there seemed to be a sadness in his eyes that had not been present when he entered,and he filed that fact away to ask about when they began to talk. 

"Black is fine, thank you."  Luka moved back across the room then took a seat in the chair beside the couch.

"You'll have to come and see the garden when it's in full bloom, my wife has a special touch with it."  The older man's feelings for his own wife shown through as he spoke of her, and he made the offer without expecting a response.  Once he had poured both coffee's and handed Luka his he took a seat opposite him.  "Luka, I know this isn't easy for you...coming here, talking to me, you do understand why it is necessary though, yes?"

"Kerry's worried I might screw up again."  The response was almost too quick, and he regretted it the moment it had been voiced.

"Is that really the reason?"  The doctor took a sip of his own coffee.

Luka found himself shrugging before he sighed and shook his head.  "I don't know, maybe that's just part of it.  This hasn't really been a great year for me..."  He let his eyes fall to the cup he held between his hands.

"Can you tell me about it?"  There was no pressure in the request, all he could do was ask and see if the man before him answered.

"I'm not sure where to even start."  That much was true...where could he start?  When had his life started falling apart?  Not in the, it was gone long before that.  When he'd nearly killed Erin...when he had killed Rick?  When his sexual needs became more important then the care he gave to his patients?  No, even that wasn't the far back did he really have to go to reach the single moment that had changed him from the man Danijela had married to the one he was now?

to be continued...

Healing 7/30

Chapter 7

A follow-up to the Congo arc, this story interweaves with the actually aired episodes

Make it stop.  Luka groaned as the unidentifiable buzz intruded on his sleep, then pulled his pillow over his head as if that might silence it.  When the act had no affect on the seemingly worsening sound he groaned again and sat up.  His alarm...that was what was making the noise.  As soon as he had identified it he reached over to silence it, then blinked in amazement as his still sleep addled mind registered the time on it's face.  12:30pm?  He had slept for close to six hours without waking?  Slept for almost six hours without the nightmares waking him he corrected. How long had it been since he could claim that without the influence of the drugs?  Rubbing the sleep from his face he allowed himself a few more minutes to comprehend what he still didn't quite believe.

He'd fallen straight into bed after the doctor had dropped him off, not even sparing time for more then removing his shoes.  He hadn't even thought about the meeting once there.  No...he remembered laying down...then what?  Nothing...everything else until the moment the alarm had woken him was a blank.  If he had dreamed he couldn't remember it, and unlike most days when he woke, the blankets weren't tangled around him or cast to the floor.  He rubbed at his face again, still not quite accepting it was true.  Maybe the doctor was right...maybe this was what he had needed.

It wouldn't be easy even if it was...he would still have to be wary...couldn't say too much, the risks were still too great.  Maybe it had just been a fluke..he knew he had been tired when he'd gotten back...way too tired.  As the doubts began to intrude on the positives of the visit he felt the fear creeping back in.  He has to be careful...he had learned that by now hadn't he?  How many more times did he have to fail before he learned his lesson?

No...he wasn't going to do this now.  Casting the blankets aside he rose and pulled a change of clothing from the dresser...jeans and a sweater...nothing the doctor could read anything into.  He'd shower, then keep the appointment..and then...he drew a breath, if only he knew what to expect.

While Luka had slept, Dr. Johannesson had not.  Once back at his office he had found himself struggling to recall all the details of the visit...on paper they seemed so few, but sitting across from the man at the time he felt as if they were scaling a very steep mountain.  He'd made several calls and after he had Luka's consent he had been assured the files could be sent over.  That in itself, would be a sensitive matter, without them coming right out and saying it he'd been left with the impression that the men who'd offered earlier counsel had been anything but enthusiastic about their sessions with the young doctor.  Granted he was not a patient who willingly offered information, but he had seen none of the hostility that at least one had implied he exhibited.  The man was an enigma...very different to everyone he seemed to know.  It would take time to unravel him, to discard all the facades he had built to conceal who he really was.  How long had it taken for him to become the man who had stepped into the office this morning? 

The sound of the doorbell stopped him from making any further notes and laying the pen on the tablet he rose to answer it.  A quick look through the peephole in the door revealed a very nervous Dr. Kovac on the porch and he immediately opened it before the man acted on what seemed to be a battle with himself over fleeing.

"Luka...I'm glad to see you, you're right on time, please, come in."  He opened the door fully so the man could enter past him. 

"Dr. Johannesson." Luka found himself extending his hand to the man.

Clasping it tightly the doctor offered a smile in return.  "You were able to sleep when you got home, yes?"

"Yes...thank you."  Luka's hands went into his jean pockets to conceal his nervousness.

"Good, very good...can I offer you some tea, or coffee maybe?"  He lay his hand on the young doctor's shoulder as he motioned him towards the office.

"Coffee would be fine...thanks." 

"Make yourself comfortable and I'll be right back, it won't take me a minute."  Dr. Johannesson withdrew his hand and offered a warm smile as he caught Luka's hesitance to immediately sit.  "Feel free to look around while I'm gone if you like."

"Thank you."  He didn't think he could manage the return smile to the doctor, but he had and he was sure the older man's own broadened in response before he hurried off.  It had been so long since he felt willing to trust someone, but maybe he could try again with this man...

to be continued...

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Healing 6/30

Chapter 6

A follow-up to the Congo arc, this story interweaves with the actually aired episodes

Nothing was said on the short walk to Dr. Johannesson's car, the bond still too fragile to test with conversation outside the safety of the office.  "This is it." Releasing the hold he had kept on Luka's arm he unlocked the door then walked around to the driver's side.  "I hope you don't mind, I looked up your address when we spoke earlier, so I would know how long it would take you to arrive."

"It's okay..."  It was too late for it to be anything but now anyway Luka found himself thinking as he climbed in then reached for the seatbelt so he could secure it.  Propping his elbow on the armrest he let his head drop into his hand...he felt exhausted.

"It shouldn't take too long to get you home..then you can sleep...and I'm sure you will feel much better."  The doctor fastened his own belt then slid the key in the ignition, when there was no reply he simply smiled and turned his attention to the traffic as he pulled into the street.

It would have been easy for him to let his own thoughts go back over the earlier conversation, he would have to when he returned home, especially if he were to document it.  But there was something in the moment that kept him from allowing himself to.  There would be no easy answers as he worked with the young doctor, whatever he was battling within himself went farther then what had happened to him in the Congo. 

He knew from the doctor's personnel files that he had been through a particularly difficult year, and that twice he had been asked to seek counseling, he would need to get access to those files.  Dr. Johannesson found himself glancing over to Luka as the thought surfaced, would he see him having that knowledge as a sense of betrayal?  Maybe he should wait...let the young doctor speak for himself before he biased his opinions with the impressions of others.

He had no doubt in his mind that the man's method of retreating within himself would be seen negatively by many.  Why was it different for him?  No, it was simply a means of protecting himself, he was sure of that?  What are you hiding from Dr. Kovac?  He let his eyes return to the road with the thought.

While Dr. Johannesson questioned what made Luka tick,he did the opposite.  He didn't want to think about the visit now...about what he knew had to eventually be spoken about.  He needed simply to forget...if only it could be so easy.  Luka moved his head so his chin rested in his palm and let his eyes take in the passing scenery.  He wasn't fully ready to admit it to himself, but he felt that maybe he could trust the man at his word.  Maybe...there wasn't any certainty yet, there rarely was...but was he willing to try?  The fear surged and then receded again...why was it so hard for him to trust?  Not since Danijela had he felt that he could open himself completely.  He had tried of course...or as much as he could...with Carol, then Abby..but in the end it was hopeless and he had failed miserably.  No...he couldn't do this now.  He wiped at his face as if that could erase the thoughts and then sat up, letting his eyes flick to the older man to see if he had given himself away.

"Almost there."  The man's face moved easily into a smile as he felt the young doctor's eyes on him.

"Yeah."  Why hadn't he noticed the familiar scenery himself?

"Now, I will see you at 2pm this afternoon, and we will talk some more, yes?"  He pulled to the curb in front of Luka's building with the question.

"You don't have to."  Luka released the belt and reached for the door to open it.

"No, but I want to, and I think maybe you want to know you have someone you can talk to as well."  He let the smile deepen.  "Even if you are maybe not ready to admit that yourself.  Now, go sleep...and I will see you at 2."

"All right...thanks for the ride."  He was too tired to argue, and a smile of his own was more then he could manage now but he hoped the doctor would accept the words in it's place.

"You're welcome...sleep well, Luka, and if you need to come see me sooner you have my number."  The offer was a genuine one and he had voiced it without knowing why.  As he watched the man move towards his apartment Dr. Johannesson knew his new patient was unlike anyone he had seen in sometime.  He also knew he would require special handling if he wanted to get anywhere with him.  They had made a start though and that alone had made their first visit a success, the rest would come in it's time, and that, fortunately was something he had a luxury of these days.

to be continued..

Healing 5/30

Chapter 5

A follow-up to the Congo arc, this story interweaves with the actually aired episodes

" can trust me."  The words came easily to Dr. Johannesson as he watched the younger man.  He was scared, that fact was far too obvious to his eyes, but what else?  He studied him further, there was a nervousness to him, the fear of letting anyone inside the walls he surrounded himself with evident.  His friend Gillian had told him he spoke little of his past, or his future...that he was a man who lived only in the moment, not because he wanted to but because he had to.  What had made him feel the need to shut himself away from the things that made him who he was?  More importantly, what had made him decide that he wasn't worthy of a future?"  There were so many questions and so few answers in the meager notes he had been able to obtain on his new patient.

An extended sigh brought his attention fully back to the man in front of him and he allowed himself to closely take in his appearance.  His face held a paleness to it, no doubt due to the anemia he was still battling, but there was more to it then that.  The dark circles under his eyes could be excused by the interrupted sleep, the thinness to his recent illness.  The nervousness was there, from the way he licked his lip, to the chewing of his thumb when his hands weren't cradling the cup. He had to find a way to get past the fear if he was going to be able to help him.

"How can I be sure?"  The question came after some hesitance.

"Because I give you my word."  The doctor's reply came in full honesty.

"Your word?"  Luka failed to withhold the snort of disbelief that followed.

"Yes, my word.  Luka."  He leaned forward, then rested his forearms on his thighs.  "Not everyone you meet is someone you have to distrust.  Not everyone you meet is out to hurt you.  I know you find this hard to believe right now, but it's true."  How long had the young man in front of him been drowning in this fear?

Luka raised a hand, then wiped it over his face as he pulled his eyes from the doctor's face and to the window.  Windows were a means of escape...had always been that to him.  How many times had he looked out a window and lost time to memories of his past? 

"Where did you go, Luka?"  The doctor's voice broke into his thoughts and he blew a breath out before shaking his head to clear the thoughts.

"Pardon?"  His eyebrows knitted together in confusion as he tried to put the words into perspective with the earlier conversation.

"I asked where you went, just now, I think you were not here, in this room.  Where do you go when you shut the world out?"  He was pushing again, but it seemed right at this moment.

"Nowhere..."  It was true, he hadn't been here, but he hadn't gone to his past either, that much was a relief.

"Is that the way you make things easier?  The way it becomes less difficult to face things?"  His notebook was forgotten as he kept his full attention on reading the hidden signals the young doctor sent through his body language.

Luka shrugged...he was tired, and it seemed easier then denying what he knew was the truth.

Dr. Johannesson caught the slump of the man before him's shoulders and glanced at his watch...6:30...had so much time already passed?  "Luka, I would like to talk more with you, but I think now, maybe, you need rest."

Luka nodded to the words, already feeling what little energy he'd had receding. 

"I would ask if you wanted to rest here but I think you would refuse, so I will offer you instead a ride home, and then ask you to come back this afternoon to see me again."  The offer came easily, the return appointment set before there was a chance of refusal.  Standing he waited for the younger doctor to follow suit.  "I will get our coats and be right back."

Luka had intended to protest, but as soon as the thought hit the man had already left the room, by the time he returned he'd forgotten the intention.

"Come, let's get you home before you fall asleep."  The doctor's tone was reassuring and when he put his hand on Luka's arm the younger man didn't feel the need to shrug it off.  Dr. Johannesson found himself smiling with that was a start, a small one perhaps, but still a beginning, and if that was the most the man could give he was willing to take it.

to be continued...

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Healing 4/30

Chapter 4

A follow-up to the Congo arc, this story interweaves with the actually aired episodes

It would be so easy to just leave.  The thought haunted Luka as the man disappeared from his sight.  Didn't he know how easy it would be for him to just walk to the door and back out into the night?  He wouldn't though...couldn't, and maybe that's why the doctor wasn't worried about leaving him alone. 

As he glanced around the man's office he was struck by the many personal touches that decorated it.  More then he even had in his apartment...what would the man say to that if he told him?  He wouldn't though...couldn't.  Drawing a breath Luka walked over to the window, it was deserted, the light that had lit his way up the steps no longer there.  It would be so easy to lose himself in his thoughts if he remained here...but he couldn't yet bring himself to move.

"Dr. Kovac...Luka."  The doctor's voice behind him...when had the man returned?  As he turned to his name Dr. Johannesson was already setting the teapot and cups on the table.  "Please, have a seat.  Do you take milk...or perhaps sugar or lemon in your tea?"  He had already begun to fill the cups and Luka sensed his question was yet another way to break the silence.

"Nothing...thank you."  He didn't really want it, but as he sat he knew he would take it, if only as a way to hide the unsteadiness of his hands. 

"If you change your mind feel free to help yourself."  The doctor settled himself in one of the chairs and took a sip of his own tea before setting it aside to pick up a small notebook.  " is all right that I call you that?"

"That's fine."  He lifted his eyes from the cup with his response.

"Good...I know a little of what you have been through..."

Oh, God.  Luka felt his stomach surge as the man started to speak.  How much had they told him? 

"I'm hoping you can help me to understand better, and perhaps together we will find a way to help you...yes?" 

There was no pity in the doctor's words...maybe he didn't know the worst.  Maybe he hadn't been told everything.  "I'm not sure what there is to tell."

"Luka...I know from Gillian that there have been nightmares.  I know too that you were very ill...and that you saw things no one should have to see."  He let his eyes register the effect of his words on the young man before him.

"I don't know what that has to do with my going back to work."  If only he didn't feel like the man's eyes were seeing inside him.

"Don't you?  I think maybe you do.  Tell me about yourself, Luka?"  The doctor held his pen poised over his notebook with the question.

"There's nothing to tell...  I'm an Attending at County General."  That was who he was, all he was...there wasn't anything else to say.

"That's all?  Do you have family...friends..a pet? Do you have any hobbies?  I know you are not from the United States...where do you come from?  Tell me who Luka Kovac is?"  It was hard to know how much he could do.  How far was too far to push him.  That he was afraid of saying too much was obvious.  It would take time to get him to open up.  Time to get him to talk about more then the very basic parts of his life.  Even this early he could see that the young doctor was not one to wear his heart on his sleeve.  Not one to let people too close, and certainly not inside. 

Luka wet his lips and dropped his eyes to the cooling cup...why had he done this?  The man seemed willing to wait for him to say something....but what was he supposed to say?  His questions...he could start with those...he wouldn't be saying too much if he simply answered the questions.  "I'm from Croatia..."  He wet his lips again as he began to speak.  "My Tata...father."  He corrected the slip as he caught the hint of a smile touch the older man's face.  "My father is still Zagreb."  

"Do you miss Croatia?"  The question came easily as he heard something in the man's words.

"No..."  He did though...sometimes so much that it hurt.  "'s not the same here."

"Then why do you stay?"  The doctor's question was one he had asked himself too many times, but also one he knew he couldn't answer...not yet, maybe never.

"I have a job here."  That was a safe reply.  Luka lifted the cup and took a sip, wishing the cup held something stronger then tea.

"I think maybe that's too easy of an answer."  There was a hint of humor in Dr. Johannssen's voice.  "But, perhaps you are not ready for me to know that, we can talk of it later.  Your friend, Gillian is very worried about you...and I think she cares very much for you."  Better to let him know what he did know instead.

"I know..."  The tea had left a bitter taste in his mouth and Luka leaned over to sit it back on the tray.  "I told her not to."

"Not to what, Luka?  Not to worry, or not to care for you?"  The question was a risky one, he knew that the minute he asked it and saw the flash of fear across the other man's face. 

The words couldn't have struck any harder had they come as a punch to his stomach.  "I tried to tell her."

"Tried to tell her what, Luka?"  He had to get the doctor to open up to him, but how far could he push him before he went too far?

"What does it matter?  She went home, she's gone now."  That was it wasn't it?  Gillian was gone just like everyone else and he was back to being alone.

"I think it matters to you.  I think it matters more then you want to admit even to yourself."  Dr. Johannesson kept his eyes on Luka as he spoke and he saw the confirmation in the other man's eyes before he dropped them to his hands.  This wasn't going to be easy...there was far more here then what Gillian of the hospital records had told him.  "It's okay for you to talk to me, Luka.  Whatever you say remains only between the two of us."

"Does it?"  The question came quietly, the distrust in the words.

"Yes, it does.  I will have to give your superiors my opinions on your fitness for work, but whatever you say to me remains in strictest confidence.  I give you my word."

How could he believe him?  How could he believe anyone?  What had he done?  If only he hadn't made the call...

to be continued...