Transient. A word Luka Kovac knew well. It's what the detective called the
man who had attacked them, had hit him with a pipe and then gone after Abby.
Transient. A nice way to say "bum." A nomad. A no-man, with no name, no family, no home. At least no one had come forward to claim the man; no one seemed to notice that he was gone, that his life had ended at the hands of someone who should be saving people, not killing them. Luka stared at those hands now, trying to remember exactly what had happened. But only flashes came, only bits and pieces, as if there had been a giant strobe light illuminating only parts of the night. Laughing, talking, flirting with Abby. Then suddenly he was on the ground, and something- some one was grabbing her, pulling at her. He couldn't remember standing, couldn't remember grabbing the man, could only remember thinking, "I have to protect her. Protect them. Save them. I have to, have to..." And then a voice, pleading in the wrong language, "Luka, Luka, stop it. Stop it."
How many times had Abby said it? How many times had he slammed the man into the concrete? Too many, too many, he knew. He looked at his hands, and willed them to stop shaking, but it didn't work. Finally he ended up burying them in his pockets to hide them from the detective.
"Dr. Kovac," the detective was saying, "It's not up to me, but I'd say it's obviously self-defense. I wouldn't worry about it too much." Luka looked at him incredulously- don't worry about it? Doesn't he realize I've just killed a man? Luka nodded dully, trying to force the bile back in his throat.
"Why don't you get some sleep, Doc? Go home, take care of yourself. We'll handle everything from here. Just keep yourself available, okay?" But Luka just ignored him.
"You don't know his name?"
"No, there was no ID. Not too unusual with these kind of people. Just some transient thug, out to score some drug money." That word again-transient. Luka shuddered involuntarily.
"So no one cares what happens now?" Luka asked.
"Frankly, Dr. Kovac," the detective said, standing and opening the door, "No. This guy was a throwaway, a no-good criminal. Honestly, no one will miss him." The word chilled Luka to the quick. No one will even notice he's gone. Wordlessly Luka headed out of the interview room, out of the police station, and into the street. Just a transient. No one will miss him.
It was as if the detective was describing him, describing his life. Look at me, Luka thought, living in a hotel, with only the most tenuous of relationships, pretending its fine, pretending that all is well. And yet he
knew it wasn't. He was no better than the man he killed, and most likely infinitely worse. He caught a glimpse of himself in a shop window. Killer! it screamed at him. Murderer!
But can you kill a no-man, he thought- then quickly pushed it away. Some one, somewhere, surely cared that the man was dead. There had to be some one...
But Luka knew that that was a lie. There could be no one. He had come to the lake, and he looked out over the churning waters. Naturally he had come here, without even thinking. Always, always, the water called to him. Even if it could offer no solace to him today.
If I had died last night, Luka thought, if he had killed me, instead of the other way around, what difference would there be? Who would care that I was gone? Oh, the ER would be in turmoil for a few days, but a year from now-hell, a month from now, who would remember me? Really, truly remember? It would be, "That crazy liberal foreigner. That good-looking doctor from- where was it again? So sad, he never caught a break. Such a shame. Oh, well, did you see the new head of the PICU?" There was no one in the world who would really care that he was gone....
What's happened to me, Luka thought. Once I had a life, a family, a home. Now I'm a no-man, just another man, another doctor, filling in time at the ER. Lost in the world, just like that mugger, just doing the minimum to survive, to stay alive.
Luka shivered against the chill wind; he had used his coat to cover the man last night. Since then, he hadn't been "home", hadn't eaten, hadn't slept. His head ached, his body ached, but mostly his heart ached. How could I do such a thing? How could I? He reached up and touched the spot where he'd been hit; he could feel the dried blood around it, could feel how deep it was. Abby had been right, he should have had it stitched; but now it was too late.
Abby. Luka thought of her and his head started to spin. He found a bench and sat down, putting his head in his hands. Abby- so sweet, so kind, so, so-he couldn't find the words. She was obviously interested in knowing him, had wanted him, pursued him- not that he minded. He smiled at her awkwardness, at
his awkwardness. He had craved her company, longed to get to know her. But he had been afraid. He had made a fool of himself with Carol, had chased her and her girls even though he had known-known that they could never be his. After she had gone, gone to where he had known all along she would go, he had cursed himself, had tried to figure out why he had stayed by her. Was it because it was safe? Because he knew he could never have her? He didn't know.
But Abby- Abby was different. She was free, available, willing... He couldn't fight back the tears. What must she think of me know? Surely she hates me; who could care about a murderer? Or worse- maybe she's afraid of me. Shes seen my rage, seen what I'm capable of. She probably thinks she'll be a target, too. How can she ever trust me?
Luka took a series of deep breaths, steadying himself; finally he stood. He would have to leave Chicago, as soon as the police said it was okay. Go some place where they didn't know he was a killer, some place where he could hide again. He couldn't stand the thought of people being afraid of him, of Abby being afraid of him. He could still feel her hand in his, so small and cold, yet trusting; could still feel her touch as he shut her out, could still hear her voice, edged in concern, compassion, as he ran away.
"Luka-Luka- are you okay?" And she was in front of him, looking up at him. Luka blinked once, twice, trying to determine if she were real, or just a vision. But she was there, right there.
"Abby," he rasped through lips that were too dry. He searched for words, but could find none except, "Abby..."
"I was so worried about you," she said; the words were sincere, not empty platitudes, and he dared have hope.
Abby took his arm and lead him down the street, speaking not with words but with looks and touches, showing that she cared. She brought him to her car and helped him in.
"Where are we going?" he asked, no recognizing where they were.
"My place," she said softly. You need a shower, food, sleep..." Luka nodded silently; he was shivering again even though the heater was on full blast.
Abby parked in front of her condo and lead Luka inside; she showed him where to shower and handed him some scrubs. "I thought you might need these," she said simply. "Take your time- I'll make you some soup."
The hot water felt so good, but it was Abby's demeanor that did the most for him. She wasnt afraid at all, wasn't pitying- just concerned. Concerned about a friend. She had gone out of her way to find him, to help him, and it warmed his soul. He toweled off, dressed and found his way to the kitchen.
"Feel better?" Abby asked softly. Again words wouldn't come; he nodded and sat at the table. "My one talent- homemade soup," she said lightly, placing a big bowlful in front of Luka. He ate ravenously, the soup warming him even more. Abby watched as he ate, refilling the bowl when he finished, touching him lightly, soothingly. He smiled his gratitude, getting groggy from the warmth and food and caring. His eyes were heavy; he felt he would fall asleep right here at the table. But he could feel Abby's hands guiding him, heard her whisper gently, "You're safe here," as she tucked him into bed, as a mother might do for her child.
"Thank you, Abby," he managed to whisper before sleep caught up with him, her words ringing in his ears, comforting, soothing: "You're safe here." And he knew he was no longer alone.
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