As he sat in the darkness of the livingroom, staring at the twinkling lights of the Christmas tree, Luka found his thoughts drifting.

For so long the coming of the holiday season had been a time that he had dreaded. It wasn't just because their approach followed so closely on the heels of the anniversary of Danijela and the children's deaths, though he knew that likely was part of it. For so long he had held those few brief years that Danijela and he had shared as a marker, a marker that in his mind nothing would ever again equal. All of the memories of those short years they'd shared together he'd cherished for so long, capturing each fragment as a snapshot in his mind, that he only needed to close his eyes to see again. It didn't matter how many years had passed, they were there as a reminder of what he had lost, the life he was sure he would never again find.

He'd tried of course, tried only to fail. In those early years he'd foolishly thought he could reclaim the feeling by going home to the things that used to be safe. Abandoning Vukovar and then the camp that became his home in the months after it fell, he'd returned to live with Tata. He'd somehow thought that if he were with him and Niko, surrounded by the familiarity of traditions he'd grown up with he'd find again what he'd lost, but, it was too soon and the pain was too great. There were far too many reminders of Danijela there, too many memories of Jasna's smile, and later her excitement as she discovered all the holidays had to offer. There were memories too of Marko, but far too few, as he lost his life before he'd even had a chance to live it. As difficult as it was to leave Croatia and those he would leave behind, it would have been even more painful to stay. He had no choice, he said his good-byes and hoped one day Tata would understand why he had to go.

It wasn't until he found his way to Chicago that he gave myself permission to start living again and even then it wasn't intentional. He went into County expecting it to be like every other hospital he'd picked up shifts at, another place to escape his past, another place to hide, and then he met Carol. Even now he couldn't say he thought about there ever being anyone else in his life but Danijela until he met her. Looking back on that time now, it was clear he'd never seen what developed between us as anything more than a friendship until it was too late. In Carol he'd found someone willing to listen as he relived the parts of his life that were lost to him, and he liked to think his presence in her life filled a need she had. She allowed him to laugh again, and through her daughters he was given the gift of fatherhood even if it was only for an hour or two a day. Sharing that first Christmas with her and the twins allowed him to believe that maybe Tata had been right, but, then she was gone and he was back where he started, or so he thought.

His thoughts were brought back to the present as Joe's laugh drifted down the stairs. Listening more carefully he heard the splash of the bathwater, then the give and take of first Abby's, then Joe's voices as they talked about the evening to come. This would be his son's first Midnight Mass, and while Abby wasn't Catholic herself, she had agreed to share this moment with them. Turning back to the tree, he allowed the lights to draw him back into his thoughts...

He never could have predicted what came next, Abby was so different from Danijela, so different from Carol, and maybe he'd needed that. He couldn't help wondering if things might have turned out differently had they not been attacked by that mugger on that first date. He had no doubt that his actions that night changed him, they had to, He had another man's blood on his hands, he took someone's life to protect theirs, to protect Abby. He'd replayed that night so many times and he'd wished it could have ended differently, but, the fact remains, he'd killed him, and his death forever bound them together. He wanted things between Abby and him to work, but, the truth was, he wasn't ready for a relationship, she was right, He was married to a ghost, and until he could come to terms with his past he couldn't begin to think of a future with anyone else.

It was easy to see his mistakes now, he couldn't then and because of that his life had begun to spiral out of control. It wasn't enough that he became someone that even he no longer recognized, he became someone that he was ashamed of. He was out of control, in every sense of the word and he'd reached the point where his actions began to affect those around him. If there was any bright spot in all of those months of darkness, it was seeing Abby happy, because, as hard as it was knowing they'd had their differences, it couldn't change the fact that he still had feelings for her. He was sure that was why he bought the snowglobe that year, there was something about the world inside of it that gave him hope and there'd been so little of it during that time. Abby wouldn't know it came from him until much later, but he would know, and it gave him something to cling to in the weeks and months that followed.

When he'd left for the Congo, he honestly believed he had gone as low as he could go in his life. Everything he had worked for, everything he had believed, he'd betrayed it all. If he were to look back on the man he was then, it wasn't just that he didn't recognize myself in what he'd become, it was how much he hated him. While he hadn't even admitted it to himself, he welcomed the threat of danger he was going to face, and went so far as to taunt it, without even caring about the consequences. In his mind, he had nothing to lose, he had already lost everything and he was ready to die. If only he could say he knew the moment that everything changed, but, he didn't. It might have been when Patrique sacrificed his life to save his, it could have been when Sakima risked the lives of both herself and her daughter. He honestly didn't remember much about those last days, those last weeks. There was no question that he was there, or that it changed him. It was only that he owed far too many people to begin to thank them all.

Could he ever have imagined that he would be where he now was? The question lingered as he climbed to his feet, Joe's laughter drifting down the stairs, too much of a draw to avoid any longer.

"What are you doing Joe?" The words were out of his mouth before he reached the stairs, and it took barely a moment more for the toddler's answering squeal of delight to reach him.

"Tata...Tata! Escaping his mother's hold as she tried to finish dressing him, Joe darted to the stairs, only to wrap himself around his father's legs as the man reached the landing.

"Joe, come back here." Abby appeared in the doorway, the boy's coat and tie in her hand.

"You're not helping you know?" She gave Luka a look of exasperation as he picked their son up.

"We've got time yet, but, if you need to finish getting ready, I'll take over here." Shifting Joe to his hip, he extended his hand for the boy's coat and tie, then, as Abby came close, he leaned in to kiss her.

"You smell nice." He gave her a smile as he straightened again.

"I smell like bubble bath thanks to your son's joy of splashing." The smile on her face betrayed the anger in her words.

"Well, I like it. I'll take him downstairs with me. You want to go down and see the tree, Joe?" Ducking Abby's answering swat, he turned his attention to his son as he carried him down the stairs.

"Tree." As he caught sight of the blinking lights Joe pointed to it, then attempted to wriggle free of his father's hold. "Joe, down, Tata."

"Okay, but, let's finish getting you dressed." Setting the almost 3 year old on the ground in front of him, he knelt so he was close to his eye level.

"Stand still now so Tata can do this." As he caught his son's eye, Luka clipped a red and green striped tie to his shirt, then helped him into a red double breasted suitcoat.

"Go bye-bye?" Joe pointed to the door as Luka finished and released him.

"Pretty soon, we're waiting for Mama. Do you want to get your book while we wait?" He pointed to a chunky book that sat on the coffeetable.

"Book." Joe offered the word as confirmation before picking up the treasured picturebook, but, stopped short of carrying it back to his father as he noticed something new on the table. Almost simultaneously Luka and Joe both seemed to register the appearance of the compass, though the toddler couldn't know the significance of the object. As it caught his attention he let the book drop. though as he went to grab for it, he found his efforts thwarted by his father.

"Mine..." The wail went up as soon as the item disappeared from view, and he moved closer to Luka in an attempt to snatch it away from him.

"No,'s Mama's."Luka tried first to hide the compass behind his back, then slid it away from view into his pocket, as Joe continued his attempts to get it away from him.

"What's Mama's?" Abby's voice on the stairs announced her arrival, while at the same time providing the distraction Luka needed to move the compass out of his son's reach.

"Mama!" As Joe saw Abby, his interest in the item was forgotten, and he ran to greet her as if it had been hours instead of minutes since he'd last seen her.

"Hey, Joe, did Tata get you all dressed up?" As her son stretched his arms up to her, Abby picked him up before giving him a kiss.

"Are you ready to give Tata your surprise?" Abby leaned her head closer to the boy's to whisper in his ear.

"Santa, Santa...down, Mama." At her son's demand she set his feet back on the floor before going to the bookshelf and retrieving a brightly colored paper bag which she handed to him.

"There you go, Joe, give it to Tata." Abby's smile began before she finished the instructions, as her husband knelt so he was at Joe's eye level it only grew broader. When Luka pulled it from the bag she lost it, they had come so far, been through so much, and now, to experience this moment. It was hard to know if the tears that were wetting her cheeks were ones of joy or ones drawing off the sadness of how close they had come to losing it all. Watching Luka now as he hugged his son, the child's gift in his hand, she was left to wonder, could their life be any more perfect?

Joe's gift to Luka

Muse: Luka Kovac
Fandom: ER
Words: 1943
Give a little love to a child, and you get a great deal back. - John Ruskin, The Crown of Wild Olive, 1866

It's hard to believe that we finally have Joe home, but, here he is. After all those weeks of worry, of the endless hours spent listening to the hissing and beeping of the monitors and vents in the NICU. I can't stop thinking about all of the times that I kissed him good-bye and wondered if it might be for the last time. Or how many sleepless nights I spent worrying over whether his fate would be the same as Jasna and Marko's? But, here he is, all of my fears were for naught, he's finally home, and he's healthy, and happy, and that's all that matters.

Sitting here, now, in the quiet darkness of the early morning, with him in my arms, it's hard to believe he's real. I've dreamed about moments like this for so long, and now that it's here, it's hard to explain how it makes me feel. I keep thinking I should pinch myself to make sure it's not a dream, but, then he smiles at me, or coos, or he grabs my finger and whatever thoughts were in my head are gone and all that remains behind is my love for him. How can someone so small command so much power over me? But, he does, and I think he always will.

As much as I love Joe, I worry for him. God, please tell me how do I get past my fear for him? I look into his eyes and I can't help but wonder if he knows that as much as I love him, there's a part of me that is still afraid of losing him. I look back on those weeks he spent in the NICU, I look back at his surgery, and I have to force myself to believe that he will never know anything worse then that in his life. I never want Joe to know the sacrifices that Jasna and Marko were forced to make, I never want him to know that kind of hate, I never want him to experience that kind of fear. A father's supposed to protect their children from harm, and while I know what happened to Jasna and Marko wasn't really my fault, I still carry the guilt of having failed them. I don't want Joe to feel like a caged bird, I want him to experience everything life has to offer, but, there will always be that part of me that wants to shelter him, and to keep him safe. Please, God, help me know when to stop, I couldn't bear it if at some point my over protectiveness were to chase him away.

I want to believe that my need to protect Joe will fade as he gets older, as he passes the ages that Marko and Jasna were at their deaths, maybe then I'll be able to finally let them go. As I look at my son's face, and into his eyes, I realize that we have so much to learn from each other, and this time, I know that we'll have a lifetime to do it in. Please God, please don't let me be wrong.

Muse: Luka Kovac
Fandom: ER
Words: 528
When I first met Danijela she was only 16, and she was still living at home, and going to school so, the times I saw her was limited to some evenings or weekends, and holidays. Another thing that separated us for a time was my obligation to complete my required stint in the military, something I wanted to do before Danijela and I married.

When I was in college, I was friends with several other students. We'd all met when we were pre-med, and our friendship continued through med school. I don't know if it was because our studies were so intense, or if it was just because we were all taking such heavy loads of classes, but, when the weekend hit, it was our time to unwind, and that usually meant consuming large amounts of alcohol. Because Danijela was younger then the rest of us, in the beginning she wasn't always included and that was the case on this particular weekend.

Tomo, Stipe, Gordana and I had driven to Vukovar one weekend right after finals were over, we had ended up partying the biggest share of it, and on the way back we hit a goat that was standing in the road. We jumped out of the car and I started to do CPR on it, but Stipe refused to do mouth-to-mouth, when that didn't seem to be working, Tomo wanted to put a chest tube in. It didn't happen, and despite the our best efforts our patient didn't make it, of course, we weren't quite so hungover that we were going to overlook the secondary outcome of our failure either. I have to preface this by saying that Gordana did try to talk us out of what came next, but we out numbered her three to one, and besides, the three of us had slept off quite a bit of our hangovers and we knew that by the time we got back to Zagreb we were going to be seriously hungry. We drew straws and Tomo lost so we wrapped the goat in his coat and loaded it in the back of the car, lucky for us the damage to it wasn't too bad. To the car I mean, not the goat. The rest of the drive was uneventful, and it wasn't long before we all fell asleep again, leaving Gordana to do the driving with only the radio for company.

Muse: Luka Kovac
Fandom: ER
Words: 410
I knew my return to Croatia to nurse my father would stir memories of the past I had left behind. It wasn't just that I knew my brother Niko and I would finally be forced to deal with the things we had said all those years ago when I'd left Croatia for the United States. No, as much as I knew we'd have to resolve the differences between us, or at least find a way to set them aside for our father's sake, it went far deeper then that. I think I knew coming back for more then a few days would mean I'd encounter people I hadn't seen since medical school, people who likely had last seen me while I was still consumed by grief from losing my family as well as the horrors I'd witnessed in Vukovar.

In those first weeks home, when I wasn't at my father's side, it seemed every place I went stirred some new memory of my past. How could they not? Even something as simple as a trip to the market offered reminders of times I'd spent with Danijela. It was so hard, and there were days when I questioned my decision to return even though I knew I really had no choice. While not as frequent, I was finding too that some places would call up remembrances of Jasna when she was very small and that surprised me even more then the recollections of Danijela. For so long all my memories of my daughter have centered around those final hours of her life. Out of nowhere I found myself being asked to push those memories aside and remember happier times as I was confronted by snapshots of her life that, in some cases, I'd forgotten completely. It wasn't easy, worse though was realizing how much of her memory I had lost because I chose to dwell on those final hours instead of the five years leading u to them.

I've had these images of Jasna frozen in my head, memories of those hours when I knelt next to her small body, trying to keep her alive, images that play out like a movie. They always start with me seeing Marko's hand as I entered the apartment that day. I knew he was gone, but I can't help wondering how long he survived buried under the rubble. He was such a tough little boy, but not tough enough to survive being buried alive, and even after all these years I wonder if he called out for me, if he understood that he was going to die there, that his Tata and Mama couldn't save him. It was so hard leaving him there, stepping over his body as if he were nothing but more of the debris, but, Danijela and Jasna were still alive, and I thought I could save them, that's what doctors are supposed to do.

Jasna's condition wasn't good, and she needed cpr to keep her alive, I needed to get her to a hospital, but, as I started to pick her up, I saw that Danijela was seriously injured as well. How was I supposed to chose between them? Danijela gave me no choice, I started to breathe for our daughter, if I could keep her heart beating until help came, but they never did, and I lost them both. I don't remember how many hours I stayed with my family after they were gone. I remember laying Jasna beside Danijela before finding the strength to free Marko from the prison that had taken his short life. It was only after I put him in his mother's arms that everything finally registered with me, and as I lay down beside my family, I gave into my grief and prayed they would forgive me for failing them.

The memories of that day have been my constant companion for over 16 years, to suddenly find that other memories are taking their place is something I never thought would happen. I'm not so naive as to think that they'll ever disappear completely, but, after all these years, I'm finding that it isn't the first memory that surfaces when I think of my family. Who would have thought that it would have taken something so serious in it's own right to create such a positive change in my life. How do I tell my father that the same thing that may well be taking his life has given me back a part of mine that I thought was lost forever? How do I begin to tell him how grateful I am for having my family back in a way I never thought I'd know again?

Muse: Luka Kovac
Fandom: ER
Words: 781
If I thought watching Abby drive away from Joe and I that night she'd decided to enter Rehab was hard, it didn't begin to compare with how difficult things would get once she revealed the rest of her betrayal. Of course at that time I didn't know there was anymore to what had happened then just the drinking. I know too that it isn't exactly fair for me to call her back-slide into drinking a betrayal, though I admit, it does feel like one now.

I've never felt it was my responsibility to keep Abby from drinking, she's an adult, and more then capable of taking control of her own life. I also don't think, despite what others might believe, that I should stop drinking just because she has a problem. In the time that I've known her, I can't remember ever seeing Abby drunk. So, if she had the major drinking problem that she now claims to have, she was either doing a really good job of concealing it, or it progressed into more then it was in the time I was away. Now, if that is the case, and I'm not saying it isn't, there is no way I could have known about it. So, yeah, having her tell me just how much she'd been drinking while I was away was a surprise, but not as much a one as hearing that she put our son's life at risk while doing it. Nothing in this world means more to me then Joe's life, and when I say nothing, I mean nothing. Not our marriage, not my life, not her life, nothing. I've already lost two children, to think that I could have lost him, that we could have lost him. I just don't understand how she could have put his life in danger like that.

I was separated from Abby and Joe for close to six months. As if it wasn't hard enough just being away from them, I was also dealing with my father and everything that revolved around his cancer diagnosis and treatment. In an ideal situation I would have simply arranged to bring him back to Chicago for that. Unfortunately, my father was a stubborn man and set in his ways, and he wasn't leaving his home and friends. I'm sorry if I couldn't pick up on the hints Abby might have been dropping in her phone calls to me, I'm sorry if I didn't hear what she wasn't saying because of all the other distractions going on around me.

I can't begin to describe how relieved I was when when my father's health showed signs of stabilizing. I grabbed hold of that ray of hope and made the decision to go back to Chicago long enough to convince Abby to take some time off so we could take Joe back to Croatia. I'm not naive, I knew that my father's illness was terminal, but, I wanted to give him the chance to meet my wife and to see my son, his grandson, before he died. For the longest time I know my father believed I would spend the rest of my life alone, and it was important for him to see that I had finally healed enough to move forward. I'm not sure why I decided to bring my brother back with me. I think part of it had to do with the differences that have existed between Niko and I since I made the decision to come to America in the first place. I don't know if I'll ever completely forgive myself for making those decisions, and knowing that Tata died alone because of them. Niko and I had been in Chicago less then 24 hours when we received the call of our father's unexpected passing. How could we know?

The loss of my father has been difficult for me to come to terms with, having Joe with me, and being able to reconnect with Niko and my home, my language, has helped somewhat. I'm not sure if it's because I'd been away for so long, and then, having come home, and having spent the last six months with him, essentially 24 hours a day, realized how much I missed him. I don't know, I just wish he could have had the chance to see Joe, to hold him, and to meet Abby.

Niko and I buried our father before Abby arrived in Croatia, her time in Rehab was something she had to do for her mental and physical health, and while I wished she could have been here I understand why she wasn't. In the days after the funeral Niko and I worked at rebuilding our relationship, while at the same time taking care of the business end of our father's estate.

When Abby arrived in Croatia I went to the airport with the expectation of finally being able to put aside all that had happened while we'd been separated. I was ready for Abby, Joe, and I to focus on re-building our lives together, instead of shaping it around work. I had all of these expectations for our life together and in an instant they were shattered when Abby confessed that she'd been hiding something besides her drinking from me. Abby confessed that in the midst of her drinking, she had slept with her boss, and I'm supposed to be able to just forgive that because she's been through Rehab and is no longer drinking. I wish I could say I could do that, but I can't, it's going to take time, this isn't something that can be rushed, there's too much at stake for that. I'm willing to try and work things out, I don't want Joe to have to choose which parent he wants to be with. I still love Abby, but, I don't know what this is going to do to us, I just don't know.

Muse: Luka Kovac
Fandom: ER
Words: 992
The first time I saw Danijela I knew she was the woman I wanted to spend my life with. I know, most people don't believe in love at first sight but, there is no doubt in my mind that those are the feelings I felt for her on that very first day. Danijela was only 16 when we met, I was barely 18 myself, we were sure we'd have a lifetime to spend together so we thought nothing of waiting until she herself turned 18 to get married.

In the two years we waited to begin our lives together we talked about everything and nothing, we made plans for our future, and shared our hopes and dreams. We talked about the children we knew we would have, my career, the importance of our families to each of us, and yes, we even talked about sex. With both Danijela and I being Catholic, and her age at the time we met, we both agreed we would wait. What was our rush, we had a lifetime to be together? If there remained any doubts in our sincerity, they were gone by the time Danijela turned 18, and within days of her birthday we were husband and wife. We had our entire lives ahead of us, and we couldn't have been any happier.
Muse: Luka Kovac
Fandom: ER
Words: 221
I remember the moment that Abby asked me if one child would be enough for me. We had nearly lost Joe, her own life had been in danger, and she was worried that I would somehow be disappointed in finding out that she could no longer give me another child. How do you answer someone when they ask you something like that? She had already given me the gift of a son, a son I never thought I would have and of all the things she should be worrying about, her concerns were for me. How do I tell her that her decision to keep Joe meant more to me than anything she's ever done? How could I possibly show her how much I love her?

For as long as I can remember I've wanted to be a father. In the two years before we married, Danijela and I often spoke about the size of the family we wanted, how quickly we'd start trying after we were married, and how important it was to both of us that we stay close to our families. I'm sure it was no surprise to anyone when within a month of our marriage, we broke the news that Danijela was pregnant with our first child, and nine months later Jasna was born. It would be almost three years before Danijela became pregnant again, and while we had desperately wanted Jasna to have brothers and sisters, in the years she was our only child, she was loved and spoiled by grandparents and great-grandparents on both sides of our families.

When Marko was born, we knew we had been twice blessed and the joy we had felt at being parents of our daughter were now doubled with the birth of our son. At 3 1/2, Jasna delighted in her new role of big sister, and where once she was content to spend her time mothering her favorite doll, it soon became clear, especially in those early months, that none of them compared to her new baby brother.

I wish I could say that our lives from there only continued to get better. I wish I could say that all of the hopes and dreams Danijela and I had for our future, and that of our children's came true, but I can't, and they didn't. I had 7 years with my first love, Danijela, 5 with our baby girl, Jasna, and only a mere 18 months with our little boy before the war stole them all from me. After 17 years all I have left of them is a small black and white photo of my wife and daughter, my memories, and the gaping hole that seems only to grow larger with each passing year as time steals away pieces of those memories.

So, as Abby asks me if Joe will be enough for me, she may as well be asking me if life itself is enough for me, for in a sense that is what she is giving me, she is giving me back the part of life I thought was lost to me forever. Every moment I spend with Joe, no matter how small, is a gift to me, and if my life were to end tomorrow I can now say I am once more whole, I am once more a father and of all the things I might be in my life, I can think of none that makes me prouder.

Muse: Luka Kovac
Fandom: ER
Words: 580