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Perchance to dream

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2001

Abby learns early on in their fledgling relationship that he doesn't sleep well. It's not uncommon for her to wake in his bed, alone, only to find Luka sitting in the chair across the room, or standing at the window, looking out across the city.

She'd think it's her – and she does, at first – but always, when he sees her eyes open he smiles and returns to bed and covers her body with his. It's heady and overwhelming, his body on hers, in hers, and the way he keeps his eyes locked with hers as they make love is like nothing she's ever experienced before.

After, when he falls asleep with his arm encircling her body, she's always gratified as she feels his breaths even into the soft snores that tell her he's finally sleeping soundly.

They've been together for several weeks when it happens for the first time. She's woken from a deep sleep by the sound of his voice and she groans, burying her face into the pillow. “Luka, come on, it can't be morning yet...”

He doesn't immediately answer, and she sighs in relief and allows herself to fall back towards sleep. But then she hears him speak again, and this time his voice is a bit louder, his tone urgent, even bordering on panic; she can hear his breathing stutter in its rhythm, faster as if he's been running. She sits upright suddenly, heart pounding though she doesn't know what to be afraid of, yet.

“Luka, what is it?” She reaches to switch on the lamp on the bedside table and as she does, she realizes she does not understand a word he's saying. As the hotel room is bathed in dim yellow light, she sees him on the bed beside her, chest heaving with exertion even though he's still laying down. “Luka?” As she watches, he begins thrashing his body, clutching the sheet in his fists as he kicks his legs. His voice, a keening sound, interspersed with words she doesn't understand.

Abby gets to her knees and grasps one of his hands in hers, squeezing hard. “Luka,” she places her other hand on his shoulder, trying to quiet his body even slightly. “Luka, wake up,” she instructs, voice stronger in hopes of reaching him, wherever he's gone.

It takes a couple rounds of her saying his name, rubbing his chest and touching his face, before his body calms and his eyes fly open. “Hey,” she says, quieter now, “it's okay, you're okay.”

Chest still heaving, he blinks up at her. He says something but she still doesn't understand.

“I don't speak Croatian, Luka,” she reminds him gently, and when his brow furrows – not in panic now, but confusion, she adds, “It's me...it's Abby.” She squeezes the hand she's still holding. “Um, you're in Chicago...” She trails off as recognition blooms on his face.

“Oh, God,” he murmurs hoarsely, and drops her hand to scrub his over his face. He's still trembling as he pushes himself up to sit against the headboard. She scoots back to sit next to him and watches him out of the corner of her eye. He wipes at the beads of perspiration at his temples and mutters a few quiet words in Croatian, under his breath.

After several long moments, she clears her throat. “You were...you were dreaming?”

He nods, looking at her. “I was...I...They...” A shudder runs through him and he shakes his head sharply, as if to dispel the nightmare. “They...”

As she sees the panic begin to settle on his face again, Abby shakes her head. She lifts her hand and presses her fingertips to his lips. “Luka, it's okay.” She places her hand against his cheek, feeling the tension there as he clenches his jaw. “You don't have to talk.”

Luka lets out a breath and there's relief in his eyes as he takes her face in his hands and kisses her, slow and deep. He makes love to her that night like she's going to be the one to exorcise his demons – and he tells her she doesn't have to talk, either, so she doesn't tell him about her own.

It becomes their routine, their habit, their litany of protection and self-preservation: you don't have to talk. And later, after it all has gone to hell, Abby wonders if it hadn't been their biggest mistake, as well.


 

2003

He's not even been back to work a week after his recovery from the malaria. They've kept him at half shifts until now, but tonight he's insisted on staying on for a full twelve hours. Abby knows he hates all the looks and the whispers and the coddling. She gets it, so she swallows her worry for him and his health and how pale he still is, the way he sometimes rests both palms on the counter in the trauma room for a few moments longer than usual before turning to the table and their patient.

Mostly, it feels right to have him back; she can't help but grin at him from across the gurney as they work a code and he looks at her, surprised and pleased. And she takes it as a victory when he quirks a half-smile back at her, before turning to Chuny with instructions for meds and tests. His voice is steady and strong and she breathes a little easier, then.

It's three-quarters through her shift before there's finally a lull in the action and she's able to duck into the lounge. She's pouring herself a cup of hopefully-not-stale coffee when she sees him; he's sprawled awkwardly on the couch, his long frame bent at an odd angle, head back too far as it rests against the back of the furniture. She smiles a little, glad he's getting some rest, uncomfortable as it seems, for however long this calm may last.

She's turned back to the counter, grabbing a packet of creamer from the bowl beside the coffee machine when she hears it, a sound she knew well, once: his breathing quickened, his voice muttering, panicky, in sleep.

When she turns she sees his brow is furrowed as he moves his head agitatedly against the back of the couch; his hands are clasped in front of him, as if in prayer. The words coming from his mouth aren't in English; she recognizes Croatian and then, after digging deep to recall her high school language class, something that might be French, she thinks. She doesn't recognize any of the words he's using; they're slurred as if in panic.

“Luka,” she says, quietly but urgently, a glance at the door of the lounge. She leaves the creamer and coffee where they are and goes to the couch, crouching down beside him. “Hey. Luka.” She puts a hand on his shoulder and shakes a little, willing him to wake. “Luka.”

He startles awake abruptly, and she squeezes his shoulder in hopes of grounding him, bringing him back from wherever he's just been. He straightens his body on the couch, bringing a hand up to rub the back of his neck. “Abby,” he murmurs as his wide eyes meet hers, his breaths still coming in short gasps. “I didn't mean to...”

She shakes her head and frowns as she notices a sheen of sweat on his brow, new worries about malaria and fevers and dreams, but as she presses the back of her hand to his forehead, she's relieved to feel it clammy but cool, no sign of fever. She sighs and clears her throat, dropping her hand and sitting back on her heels to give him space.

“It's fine, Luka. You okay?”

She wants to ask what he'd dreamt of. She's pieced together bits of what had happened to him in the Congo, through a strained phone call with Carter after Luka's return, and from the little that Gillian has said, but she finds herself wanting to know more. It's no longer her place, though – hasn't been for years.

He quirks that now-familiar half-smile at her and she can see he's calming now, elbows on his knees and breathing steadily. “I'm fine, Abby. Thanks.”

She returns his smile and gets to her feet, walking back to the counter. “Coffee?” She dumps creamer and sugar into hers and pours him a mug, black, without waiting for his answer.

“Yeah. Coffee sounds good.”


 

2006

She wakes as Joe begins to whimper over the baby monitor and she rolls over to stare at Luka in the dark. He's sleeping, as usual, mouth slightly open as he snores quietly. She looks at the monitor on her nightstand, its red lights getting progressively more insistent as their son's fussing turns into screams, and shakes her head.

How had she ever thought he slept lightly, she wonders, and she even gripes it aloud, semi-seriously, to his sleeping form, “Don't you ever hear this?”

He answers with a sigh, his eyes still closed, breaths still even.

“Right,” she mutters, but then the pressure in her breasts, throbbing to the rhythm of Joe's wails, reminds her that he'd not exactly be able to help, anyway. She pushes the covers aside and rolls out of bed, swearing under her breath as she feels two wet spots already spreading across the front of her tank top.

In the nursery she scoops Joe up, murmuring soothing nothing into his ear, patting his diaper-padded bottom and bouncing her body gently as she settles into the rocking chair. “Heyyyy, kiddo, I'm sorry,” she murmurs, tugging her tank up. It's damp and milk-stained and she attempts to get it over her head one-handed, but as Joe wails harder at being held back she gives up and leaves the shirt around her neck and the baby finally finds her breast, one of his tiny hands grasping at her skin.

After the initial pain of latching on and when she settles into the still-strange sensation of suckling - they are still getting the hang of this without the NICU and feeding tubes and pumping and bottles - she gazes at him as he feeds.

At birth, he'd had his father's hair, a shock of thick black that belied how tiny and ill he'd been, that'd made the nurses and med students and anyone else who stopped by comment on it. It's since thinned away and then grown back into something lighter, more her own natural color, and she strokes her fingers through it as he works his mouth against her. The shape of his eyes is hers, too, and his nose, but his chin and his ears are all Luka. And, she thinks, in a sudden midnight, sleep-deprived fit of hilarity, he's got his father's fascination with her breasts.

Joe's displeased at her abrupt gasp-shake of laughter at the thought, and he pulls off of her with a screwed-up face and the beginnings of a wail. She shushes him gently, shifting him to her other breast and sighing in relief when he finds it and calms.

After the baby's full and satiated, and she's risked waking him again to change his diaper, she's reaching to lay him back down in the crib when she hears an unmistakable sound from the bedroom down the hall. She pauses for a moment, considering settling Joe first, but then, feeling the comfort of his warm body snuggled into her chest, his wispy hair tickling her neck, she straightens and walks with him down the hallway.

Luka's thrashing on their bed, covers askew, breaths coming short and fast as he cries out, quietly, in his sleep. She hears her name, and Joe's, and she says his from the doorway: “Luka.”

He's too far gone to hear her from across the room, and as she approaches the bed he tosses again and in the faint light coming from the hallway she sees the glint of tears on his face. He murmurs Joe's name again, then a litany of “no, no, please, no...” and when he switches languages, she recognizes the same prayer in Croatian, still their son's name interspersed between his pleadings.

She shifts Joe to her shoulder and perches on the edge of the bed, reaching with her free arm to place a hand on Luka's chest. “Luka,” she tries again, padding her fingertips against him, feeling his heart's staccato beat beneath her hand. “Luka, sweetheart, wake up.”

When his eyes fly open she touches his face, leans closer to him so he can see it's her in the near-dark of the bedroom. She strokes his cheek, brushes his hair off of his brow. “You were dreaming,” she murmurs, soothingly. “It was just a dream.”

He lets out a strangled breath and moves closer to her, reaching an arm out so it encircles her waist. She shifts towards him to accommodate the makeshift embrace as he presses his face to her side; she can feel his cheek, damp against her skin.

She doesn't have to ask him what he dreams these days. It's the stuff of her nightmares now, too, the shooting, being trapped, injured...and always, always their son, the debilitating terror, the horror of almost losing him, time and again. She turns her head briefly to bury her face in Joe's hair, inhaling the powdery, milky scent of him, warm and alive against her.

“Joe?” Luka asks hoarsely into her waist and she shifts away from him a little so she can hold the baby in both arms, lowering him to his father's chest. Joe stirs and smacks his tiny lips just slightly, before settling again on Luka.

“He's here,” she assures him, and Luka brings both his hands up to cradle the infant against his body. She's relieved to see Luka relaxing, the residual nightmare tremors easing as he holds his son.

She brushes a kiss over Luka's forehead before getting up from the bed, peeling the milk-stained tank over her head as she does. At her dresser, she tugs on a clean shirt and watches the two on the bed in the mirror over the dresser. Luka does what she'd done, lowers his head to breathe Joe in, and in the low light of the room Abby sees his lips moving. She opens her mouth to ask him what he's saying, but soon closes it again, thinking better of it. Whatever it is, it's between Luka and his son.

Perhaps, she considers, between Luka and his God.

She returns to the bed, straightening the sheets that'd been tangled and kicked out of place by Luka's thrashing. Slipping into bed beside him, she presses her body against Luka's side, her hand coming to rest on Joe's back as the baby sleeps against his father's chest.

Luka keeps one hand securely on the baby and brings his other arm to encircle her, fingers resting on her hip. Abby presses her lips to Luka's shoulder, and his heart beats steady beneath their son.

Between them, no words are needed.