TITLE: Picture AUTHOR: Alyssa DATE: March 1, 2003

SUBJECT: Abby/Luka Romance/Angst RATING: PG-13 DISCLAIMER: Do I look like Michael Creighton? I don't own the wonderful song either: Picture, by Kid Rock and Cheryl Crow.

This is the first time I've ever written a fanfic inspired by a song-but the song was just too good to waste. Review please! And I'm still working on Les Ravages, really :).

Picture ~*~*~*~*~*~

~*~*~*~*~*~ Living my life in a slow hell Different girl every night at the hotel I ain't seen the sunshine in three damn days Been fueling up on cocaine and whiskey Wish I had a good girl to miss me Lord I wonder if I'll ever change my ways ~*~*~*~*~*~

Luka unlocked the door to his empty apartment and stood in the entranceway, shivering. God, it was colder inside than outside.

Although, that might have something to do with the fact that for the first time in weeks, he was here alone.

Not that random hookers made the place any warmer.

He closed the door behind him, making his way into the kitchen. Keys landed on the counter with a satisfying clatter, and he pulled open the refrigerator, retrieving a bottle of Jack Daniels. Hadn't gone to bed sober in weeks, either.

No use starting tonight.

Luka slumped onto the couch, the coldness of the bottle chilling his very soul. It had been a bad day. Of course, every day was a bad day, but that didn't make them any easier to handle. Good days you could get used to, take for granted. A string of good days was as normal as a string of sunny days-you stopped noticing them after a while, because they were so commonplace. So expected.

Bad days, on the other hand, were like rain, or snow, or dead children. No matter how many times you saw them, they never got any easier to handle. No matter how many you had, you never expected them the next day.

Luka resigned himself to the fact that he was having a bad month. Maybe even a bad year.

Bad decade?

Lifetime?

No, he thought, swallowing a generous gulp of alcohol. It had not been all bad. There had been bright spots.

Of course, one of those bright spots was dead, buried in a cold, frozen grave thousands of miles away.

The other was a few blocks away, very much alive, but equally inaccessible.

He was starting to wish he hadn't come home alone tonight.

Luka finished his drink and stood up to get another one, and wondered how much he could take before he just passed out.

Died.

Wondered how much longer he could keep living like this.

The phone rang. He ignored it. Phone calls, he'd discovered, never had any real importance. Telephones and all their useless spawn-cell phones, pagers-were just another way of curtailing your freedom. Of allowing you to be found when you didn't want to be found. Of invading your life when you wanted to be alone.

He sank into a kitchen chair, holding another bottle-Coor's Lite this time. American shit, but it was all he had. The answering machine picked up. "This is Luka, leave a message."

There was a long moment of silence over the recording, and Luka turned his head slightly toward it. "Hi, uh," Abby's voice said. He frowned anxiously, waiting for her to continue. She sounded upset. "I, um."

And then she hung up.

Luka considered calling her back, then decided against it. She was probably just worried about him.

Didn't mean she cared.

Didn't mean she missed him the way he missed her.

He pulled another six pack out of the refrigerator and headed for his bedroom.

No use passing out on the kitchen floor when he had a perfectly good bed.

~*~*~*~*~*~ I called you last night in the hotel Everyone knows but they won't tell But their half-hearted smiles tell me something just ain't right I been waiting on you for a long time Fueling up on heartaches and cheap wine I ain't heard from you in three damn nights ~*~*~*~*~*~

Abby hurriedly hung up the phone, brushing the tears away from her cheeks. She took a careful sip from the wine glass in her hand, berating herself for not leaving a message.

Of course, leaving a message hadn't been what she wanted.

Needed.

She needed to hear his voice, something besides the stupid, "This is Luka, leave a message," he had recorded on his answering machine. It didn't matter what they talked about-she had no intention of telling him of her loneliness, her fears, or the nightmares that plagued her sleep. She had no intention of telling why she needed him-but she had a feeling he wouldn't mind talking to her, anyway.

And besides, she was worried about him. He'd had a bad day, she knew. She'd seen his face when they'd lost that kid, known exactly what he was thinking. She'd tried to catch him then, but she'd been pulled into another trauma.

And had ultimately ended up having a bad day of her own. A very bad day.

Not that everyday wasn't somehow a bad day. The smokescreen of contentment she put up, the ruse of being happy with Carter-it didn't help. It drained her energy, sapped her strength. And when Luka's drunken "You don't look happy," had taken a sledgehammer to her brick walls, it required all her self-control to keep her defenses up in front of him and Carter.

And so, wine. Not her first glass, either.

Wine, because it drowned the demons in her mind, at least for a short time.

Wine, because it helped her forget Brian's fist connecting with her face. Helped her forget the baby she'd callously killed. Helped her forget her mother's abuse, her brother's pain, her father's abandonment. Helped her forget the possibilities of what could be happening to Eric right at this very moment. Helped her forget who she was, and the history she couldn't seem to get past.

Wine, because it reaffirmed in her mind Luka's beliefs about her-she was an ugly, drunken whore.

At least she was being honest with herself.

She had no doubt that Carter cared about her. She couldn't make herself believe, however, that she was anything more than a project to him. His token of gratitude for her help.

His Carter Family gift of Christian charity.

Sometimes she felt a lot like Eliza Doolittle.

Abby poured herself another glass of wine, staring contemplatively at the refrigerator. She should probably eat something, she realized. She couldn't remember the last time she had.

Didn't care that much either.

She considered calling Luka again, but thought better of it. He was probably with someone. Seemed to be doing that a lot lately. Although he thought she didn't know about it.

For a wild, fleeting moment, she considered actually going over there. Knocking on his door, and begging for help, and offering her shoulder to cry on. Leaving Carter alone in her apartment in the middle of a cold February night to hold her ex-boyfriend in her arms.

But what would she do there? She pondered that question as her feet involuntarily left the couch, although her hand never released its grip on the wine glass.

There were no answers. Nothing she could do. She could kiss him and beg for forgiveness. Sleep with him, maybe?

But since her relationship with Luka had failed so dramatically, and her advances on Carter had been angrily rejected, Abby had resigned herself to allowing other people to make the first move.

No reason to change her ways now.

She sank back down onto the couch, pouring herself another generous helping of Merlot, and sat in the quiet loneliness of her living room, silently getting plastered.

~*~*~*~*~*~ I put your picture away Sat down and cried today I can't look at you while I'm lying next to her. ~*~*~*~*~*~

Luka sat up in bed, allowing his bare feet to touch the coldness of the wooden floor. Casting an indifferent glance over his shoulder at the voluptuous blonde asleep on the other side of his bed, he reached for the sweatpants resting on the nightstand, roughly pulling them on.

He walked to the window and gazed out at the sky. He'd always hated the Chicago sky-light, cloudy, with only faint glimmers of stars. It was so unlike the sky he'd grown up with in Croatia. He could still picture it- black as velvet, dotted with twinkling Christmas lights. He remembered evenings spent with his wife gazing up at the constellations. Remembered Jasna's delight at witnessing her first shooting star.

Abby would have loved the sky in Croatia.

He hated that all his thoughts went to her. Tonight, lying here in his comfortable bed, a warm body beside him, he should have been happy. Sated, at least. Instead, he felt emptier than ever.

Luka walked quietly out into the living room, his feet taking him directly to the silver frame above the fireplace. He stared at the photograph, smiling. It had been during their brief interlude of relative happiness- after his demons had been vanquished, before hers had reinvaded her life. The two of them had gone to an exhibition soccer match-the Croatian national team playing Major League Soccer's Chicago Fire. The game had been pretty abysmal, but it had been one of the happiest days of Luka's life.

Looking at the snapshot, Luka allowed his mind to drift back to that evening. He gently traced the line of Abby's cheek in the photo of the two of them mugging for the camera, big grins on their faces. Typically American, Abby knew very little about soccer-football-and Luka had delighted in explaining the intricacies of the game to her. He'd teased her about her inability to comprehend the rules, to which she'd laughingly retorted that next they'd have to go to a Cubs game.

They'd never gotten around to that baseball game. A week later, Abby's mother had come back into their lives, and Abby had closed herself off more and more. And Luka had finally snapped.

He'd regretted the words as soon as they were out of his mouth, more so because there was no way he could ever take them back. He'd destroyed Abby's trust, and he knew he would never be able to convince her that'd he'd been lying-that she was beautiful, was special.

That he hated Carter "having" her.

He traced Abby's smile with his finger, feeling the nostalgic grin slip from his face. She'd never smile for him again. He looked longingly at his own smile, wondering if he'd ever again feel that happy.

Trembling, he took the frame and put it in a drawer full of rarely used kitchen utensils-rarely used, because Luka rarely cooked. He couldn't see her face anymore. Couldn't see an impression of her smile.

Allowing his knees to collapse beneath him, he sank to the floor, buried his face in his hands, and sobbed bitterly.

~*~*~*~*~*~ I put your picture away I wonder where you've been I can't look at you while I'm lying next to him. ~*~*~*~*~*~

Carter had fallen asleep with his arms around her, but Abby couldn't stand to be trapped within them any longer. Careful not to disturb him, she slipped out of his embrace, tip-toeing awkwardly out of the bedroom and into the brightly lit kitchen. Running a hand through her knotty hair, she sat down quietly on a kitchen chair, resting her chin on her hands.

When had everything gotten so screwed up?

Tears glistening in her eyes, she pondered her misery, retracing her steps to find its root.

As always, it came back to Luka. And the fact that he'd mysteriously taken two weeks off of work, telling Kerry he needed to sort things out.

She missed him like hell.

She never missed Carter when they were apart. Missed being with someone, yes. But she didn't miss him. Missing Carter was more fear than love. She was desperately afraid of being alone. And since Luka didn't love her.Carter.

It wasn't fair to him, she knew. And she hated using him like this, but, as with alcohol, she couldn't stop herself. It only made her despise herself more.

Not that doing so required much effort, or reason.

She moved over to the couch in the living room, reaching for the book on the coffee table-a volume of poetry her brother had given her when she graduated from college. Between pages 44 and 45-her favorite poem, The Road Not Taken-was a picture of her and Luka. The two of them at a Croatian national soccer team game-although she couldn't for the life of her remember who they'd been playing, or why the Croatian national team had been in Chicago. She didn't remember much about the game-the score, or even who won-but she remembered feeling safe. Comfortable.

Happy.

It was strange, because she didn't have many happy memories of their relationship. Every grain of happiness she'd felt then had been crushed by his unbearable truth-you're never happy. I don't think you're even capable of being happy.

Did that mean she was going to feel this way forever?

Abby frowned, gently brushing a speck of dust off the treasured photograph. She had been happy with him. She must have been, because she'd felt so much better then than she did now. She hadn't seen her face with an expression like that since-well, since they'd broken up.

She ran her finger along his smile. She hadn't seen him quite that happy, either. She wondered if he missed her.

Tears stung her eyes. He couldn't. He didn't care.

"Abby?" Carter called from the doorway.

She hurriedly slipped the picture back between the pages of the book, composed her face, and turned to look at him. "What are you doing up?" she asked, awkwardly.

He shrugged, smiling. "Can't sleep without you," he said, walking towards her and sitting down beside her. She felt claustrophobic. "I should ask you the same thing." He looked at her with concern.

"Oh," she said, when she realized he was waiting for an answer. "I just.couldn't sleep." He waited for more, but she didn't offer it.

"What time is your shift tomorrow?" Carter asked.

She smiled bitterly, secretly. "Seven," she said.

He yawned. "It's three am," he said, as if she didn't know. "Come to bed."

Trying not to look reluctant, she took his hand and followed him to bed, trying to exorcise Luka from her mind.

It didn't work.

~*~*~*~*~*~ I saw you yesterday with an old friend It was the same old same how have you been Since you've been gone, my world's been dark and gray ~*~*~*~*~*~

She walked into the lounge the next morning, head spinning from lack of sleep, and there was Luka. Sitting on the couch reviewing a chart, as if he'd never left.

Abby stood in the doorway staring at him. God, she missed him. He looked tired. Weary.

But, God, she missed him.

The door clicked shut, startling both of them. Luka looked up to see her standing by the window, eyes wide. "Hi," he said.

She opened her mouth, and closed it again, working up the courage to speak. "How are you?" she managed.

"I'm okay," he lied, trying to smile. "How are you?"

"I'm okay," she lied. There was an awkward moment of silence. "You're back," she laughed weakly.

"Yeah," he said, nodding vigorously, avoiding her eyes. "I, uh, I needed a vacation."

"That's.good," she said. She stared at him, lost in his eyes. "I.um.I should get to work," she said, trying not to blush.

He nodded. "Me too."

She headed for her locker, and he headed for the door, but he stopped before he could leave the room. "Do you want to get some lunch later?" he asked hopefully.

Abby's heart lifted. She turned to see if he was serious, and upon seeing that he was, gave a genuine smile. "Yeah," she said. "That would be great."

He nodded, a grin playing at his lips. "I'll see you later then."

Abby watched the door close behind him, feeling almost happy.

~*~*~*~*~*~ You reminded me of brighter days I hoped you were coming home to stay I was head of the church I was off to drink you away ~*~*~*~*~*~

"Sorry," Luka said, hurrying into the seat opposite her in the small Doc Magoo's booth. "MVA."

Abby laughed. "I snuck out before they could find me."

"You're smarter than me," Luka chuckled. "Coffee and a cheeseburger, medium rare," he told the waitress, who'd been hovering by their table.

She looked expectantly at Abby. "Um, coffee," Abby stuttered. "And a cup of chicken noodle."

"That's all you're eating?" Luka asked with concern, as the waitress walked away.

Abby shrugged. "I'm not that hungry," she said.

Luka didn't believe her, but he nodded. "So how's Carter?"

"He's good," Abby said carefully. "He's off today," she added quickly.

"And your brother?" Luka asked gently. "Any word?"

There were those pesky tears again. Abby shook her head. "No," she said. She made the mistake of glancing into Luka's eyes, and suddenly she didn't feel like being strong anymore. She'd casually commented to Carter that Eric was like a bear hibernating, but the truth was, she was terrified. "I, um." She shook her head, fighting off tears. "He hasn't called anyone, or anything, and I.I don't know what.what could have happened to him." She decided not to outline the possibilities that were running wild in her imagination.

Luka nodded. He didn't offer empty words of comfort. "How's your mom handling it?" he asked.

"She's doing okay," Abby sniffled. "She's doing better than me," she commented, laughing sadly.

Luka covered her hand soothingly. "You can always come talk to me, you know," he said seriously.

Abby nodded. "You can come talk to me, too," she countered.

Luka sighed. "It wasn't something you could help with," he said contemplatively. "I just needed some time to think. I needed some space, I needed to be by myself."

"Did you?" she asked. "Think?"

He considered that for a moment. "When I wasn't drinking," he admitted, choosing not to tell her about the prostitutes.

The waitress reappeared with coffee and food, and Luka hurriedly changed the subject. "Do you remember that soccer game?"

Abby grinned. "The Croatian team? Yeah," she laughed. "I was just looking at that picture yesterday."

Luka's smile faded, guiltily remembering the photo he'd hidden in the drawer weeks earlier. "We had so much fun that day," he sighed.

She nodded, wrapping her hands around the coffee mug. "We looked really happy."

Happy.

He studied her face, searching for clues. "Are you happy now, Abby?" he asked, knowing the truth, but also knowing the she wouldn't speak it.

"Yes," she lied, avoiding his eyes. "I-I'm happy." Defensive. She sounded defensive. "I'm happy," she repeated with a sigh, as if trying to convince herself.

"Okay," he said, deciding not to push. "How's your soup?"

She hadn't touched it. She took a hasty spoonful. "It's good," she said. "How's your burger?"

He shrugged, and they both laughed.

"Who won that game?" she asked. "The soccer game."

Luka chuckled. "Croatia," he said. "Our team won."

~*~*~*~*~*~ I thought about you for a long time Can't seem to get you off my mind I can't understand why we're living life this way ~*~*~*~*~*~

Abby lay awake in bed, relishing the quiet. Carter was working a graveyard shift, and she was enjoying the opportunity to be alone with her thoughts. Which, since that lunch last week, had increasingly been on Luka.

She was having trouble remembering why they'd broken up. Who dumped who, and what they'd fought about.

She remembered the fight like it was yesterday. Remembered the angry words they'd thrown at each other, they naked insults they'd hurled. But she couldn't remember what they'd been fighting about. Couldn't remember why they hadn't made up.

"You're not pretty," he'd told her. "You're not special."

But hadn't he told her every morning before that how beautiful she was?

She let her mind drift back to the Christmas party. She replayed their encounter like it was a videotape. "I miss you.I miss you.I miss you."

"I miss you, too," she whispered.

She crawled out of bed and padded into the living room, sitting down on the couch. She carefully wound the snowglobe, then reached for the poetry book. Smiling at the happy photograph, she allowed her eyes to travel to the page beneath it. 'Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, and sorry I could not travel both.'

She'd had a second chance. She'd traveled both roads, and she knew which one was fairer. 'Oh, I kept the first for another day! Yet knowing how way leads on to way, I doubted if I should ever come back.' But she could go back.

"What now?" she'd asked him, the day after they'd split up.

"You tell me," he'd said.

She grabbed her keys and jacket and ran out the door.

~*~*~*~*~*~ I found your picture today I swear I'll change my ways I just called to say I want you to come back home. ~*~*~*~*~*~

Luka rolled out of bed, unable to sleep. His mind drifted, as usual, back to Abby. He couldn't stop thinking about her.

His feet took him to the kitchen, as if by their own power, and he found himself digging through the utensils drawer. Underneath a spatula and a never-before-used egg beater was the picture he'd buried last month, unable to look at.

She wasn't happy. No matter what she said, he knew she wasn't happy. He wasn't sure if he personally could make her happy-but Carter sure as hell didn't.

And she made him happy.

Decision made, he grabbed his keys and wallet and flung the door open.

She was standing there, hand poised to knock. He smiled. She smiled.

Wordlessly, she stepped into his embrace.

~*~*~*~*~*~ I just called to say I love you Come back home ~*~*~*~*~*~