A Mouthful of Air


AUTHOR: JD
EMAIL: pirate_nerd_radio@hotmail.com
CATEGORY: AL/LK angsty friendship
RATING: PG-13/R [for language only-can't imagine there'll be any "dirty parts" (tee hee) in this as-yet-unfinished-but-nearly-completely-plotted-out fic]
SPOILERS: Through all of season 8; this idea came partly from a couple of season 9 spoilers (BUT ONLY FRILLY, UNIMPORTANT SPOILERS-NOTHING SUBSTANTIVE, I SWEAR) and partly from my own twisted brain
ARCHIVE: just let me know, thx
DISCLAIMER: Hmmm, what to disclaim, what to disclaim? 1. Have no money (well, I don't live in a van down by the river, exactly, but you know what I mean). 2. Own nothing (see above parenthetical). Short version: don't sue me, TPTB.
AUTHOR'S NOTES: First fanfic ever written for public consumption. If it sucks, all I ask is that you (1) don't flame me (although if all of you flame me, it'd be interesting, hypothetically speaking, to find out just how many irate emails my hotmail account can withstand before crashing), and (2) direct your wrath toward the fabulous c. midori, who for whatever reason convinced me I should write fanfic.... Now I'm wishing I had just ignored her... :-) The story title "A Mouthful of Air" comes from a Catherine Wheel song of the same name: "Deeper and deeper I go/Your heart's drowning, I know/All my intentions are clear/I need to rescue my dear/So I dive, don't despair/Coming down with a mouthful of air/To share..."
FEEDBACK: Yes, please (*but ducks to avoid thrown kitchen appliances, shoes, random household tools*). pirate_nerd_radio@hotmail.com
SUMMARY: In a Carter 'n' Abby world, Luka tries to come to terms with his feelings... and yes, there *is* a long-overdue girls' night out.



Chapter 1: Lay the Blame on Luck

Dr. Luka Kovac ambled down the hallway toward the admit desk to hand in a finished chart, eyeing the small group amassed behind the counter. Frank was there, passionately arguing with Jerry about the benefits (or lack thereof) of a meatless diet. There was Susan Lewis, rolling her eyes in disgust and sneering at the back of Kerry Weaver, who was walking away in the other direction. Susan then turned to gripe about something-Weaver, no doubt-to Abby.

Abby.

She was behind the desk, smirking at Susan's tirade, her eyes light and energetic. Luka smiled slightly. He couldn't help it-he smiled whenever she smiled nowadays.

He was just about to walk up to her and ask how she was doing when a large figure in a white doctor's coat suddenly grabbed her from behind, wrapping his long arms around her. She half-heartedly struggled against Dr. Carter, giggling at her inability to get out of his iron grip.

"Carter, let go," she said, trying to get the words out as she gasped for air, her lungs constricted by his limbs and her own laughter.

Carter released her but stole a chaste kiss on her cheek, grinning as he picked up a new chart and walked off in the direction of curtain 3. As he sauntered off, he started singing: "... aw, baby, just for you I'd steal anything that you want me to ..."

"Jesus," Susan said, looking first to the exiting figure of Carter and then to the elated Abby. "You two are really disgusting, you know that? When I'm chief of the ER, my first mandate will be: 'No public displays of affection.'"

Luka tried quietly to drop off his chart, hoping to stay under their radar.

"Oh, will this be a 'Do as I say, not as I do' kind of mandate?" Abby asked, her eyebrows raised.

"What?" Susan asked with an exaggerated air of innocence.

Abby crossed her arms over her chest, and leaned against the desk. "Shall I remind you of a certain kissing incident with a certain doctor that occurred in the lounge...."

"Ohhhh," Susan replied, sheepishly. "Let me amend that. No public displays of affection at the desk or in the hallways. The lounge, the suture room, and the bathrooms are OK..."

"The BATHROOMS?" an astonished Abby interrupted, her face plastered with a ribald grin. "Something you'd care to share?"

"Not really-LUKA, how's it going?" Susan was glad to use the Croatian as a diversion. As soon as Abby turned her head to look at him, Susan hightailed it down the opposite hallway. Abby turned again and watched her friend-a relatively new albeit good friend-make her getaway.

Abby chuckled at how Susan outsmarted her, then laughed harder at Luka's confused expression as his eyes followed the departing Dr. Lewis.

"Why did she ask how I was and then leave?" he pondered out loud, more to himself than to Abby.

"She was trying to get out of answering a difficult question." Abby answered.

"Ah." He walked to the board and erased the name of the patient whose chart he'd just handed in.

"So how are you doing?" Abby asked without a trace of insincerity.

"Good," Luka smiled, hoping to convince her of his answer.

"Are you off now?"

"Yeah."

"Have anything fun planned?"

Luka considered how much to tell her, then decided he didn't want to give her an answer that might lead to more questions. "No, not really."

Abby shrugged her shoulders, pursing her lips a bit. "Well, I guess I'll see you later, then."

"Yeah, see you later," he responded, then made his way to the lounge.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

He opened up his locker, took off his stethoscope and placed it on the shelf inside. As he took off his white coat and hung it on the hook, his mind played out the past several days like a grainy movie he really didn't want to watch.

She was happy now, he figured. Happy in a way she'd never really been when she was with him. Ever since the ER's brush with smallpox a couple of weeks ago, Abby and Carter had been together as a couple. Luka supposed it had a lot to do with them being quarantined together during a such a stressful period in their lives-as a veteran, he had seen how bonds between people strengthened under fear-fraught situations. In Carter and Abby's case, they'd already been incredibly close to begin with. Their being virtually locked together for more than a day just pushed them over the edge, Luka guessed.

And he was happy for her, he had to admit. He cared so deeply for Abby, despite how infuriating she could be sometimes. Seeing her smile lifted his heart.

But when he was completely honest with himself, he knew it was a bittersweet contentedness he felt. For as much as he wanted her to be happy, why couldn't she have been happy with him? Why did John Carter have to be the one to brighten her mood, to break through her shell, to just simple be with her the way she wanted someone to be with her? Seeing the two of them at work together, smiling, laughing, touching . . . He tried to wipe those images from his mind, but he couldn't. Even though he had convinced himself he didn't want to get back together with her, it still wounded his pride to see Carter succeed where he had failed.

"Shit," he quietly murmured, berating himself for this barrage of self-pity. Abby was his friend now, just as she had been for the past few months, and that was a good thing. He had to grant that he truly enjoyed the familiar, almost familial, give-and-take they'd had ever since she moved in with him. Hell, they'd had longer, more personal talks after their breakup than they ever did when they'd been sharing a bed. More selfishly, he was glad he could finally be there for her when she needed him-offering her a place to stay, lending her a sympathetic ear, helping her move back into her own apartment, placing locks on her door to make her feel safe. He was able to be there for her, just as Carter had been there for her so many times before.

Finally ready to leave, his black bag over his shoulder and car keys in hand, he slammed his locker door and left the lounge. As the ambulance bay doors opened, the Indian-summer heat latched onto his skin, making him wince slightly at its oppressiveness. He reached into his bag, pulled out his sunglasses and put them on. With a weight on his shoulder and a heavier weight on his mind, he strode toward the Viper.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

"He said what?" Susan asked incredulously.

Dr. Lewis had just finished her shift and was grabbing a soda out of the fridge in the lounge. Jing-Mei Chen, reclining back on the couch with her feet propped up on an armrest, was regaling her with the latest of Dr. Pratt's lame come-ons.

"He said, 'Heaven must be missin' a couple of angels, 'cause I can see them in your blouse.'" She threw her head back and laughed heartily, her ebony hair swishing over the back of the couch.

Susan rolled her eyes as she popped open the Diet Coke and took a swig.

"He says crap like that and gets away with it. Meanwhile, I innocently peek into someone's duffel bag, and I'm saddled with the all-day sexual harassment seminar from hell. Does that seem fair to you, Chen?"

She took another sip from the can, then shook her head. "This just isn't doing it for me."

"What do you mean?" Jing-Mei inquired.

"I mean," Susan continued, "that I could use a real drink after the day I've had. Weaver's got it in for me, I swear."

"Well, obviously," Jing-Mei answered, intrigued as to how Susan could be so obtuse about something to blatant. "The only person she hates more than you is me."

"Granted. So let's go drown our Weaver-induced sorrows in some alcohol, what do you say?"

"I'm in. Technically, I'm already off-just curious about the results of some labs I ordered."

Susan smiled. "Great... Have you ever heard of a place called the Lava Lounge?"

Just as Susan got those last few words out of her mouth, the door to the lounge swung open.

"Someone say something about the Lava Lounge?" Abby piped in as she shuffled into the room.

"Yep," Jing-Mei answered, turning her head to look at the newcomer. "Susan and I were just talking about heading there tonight. You up for it?"

Abby took less than a second to ponder the offer. "Of course. I'm still pissed that I never got my free tiki mask from last time."

Susan, using her facetious mother-hen voice, asked, "Are you sure your boyfriend won't mind?"

Abby mock-glared at Susan, the glint in her eyes betraying inner amusement, not anger. "He's on for another seven hours or so. And even if he wasn't, it's not like I need his permission. I'm not completely whipped, you know."

"Whatever," Susan dismissed Abby's protestations with a wave of her hand. "So if we're all ready to go, what's keeping us?"

"Nothing!" Jing-Mei chimed in, a little too excited. "But I'm not designated driver."

"Hell," countered Susan, "no one is designated driver. That's why God invented the El and cabs..."

The three women bounded out the lounge door, turned and walked out of the ambulance bay doors, and were absorbed into the warm night air.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
END NOTES: Chapter title comes from Love Spit Love's "Am I Wrong?" The song Carter walks off singing is "Suck My Kiss" by the Red Hot Chili Peppers-since we already know he owns the "Blood Sugar Sex Magik" CD. And Pratt's come-on is actually a Joe Garelli line from "NewsRadio" and was originally directed at Catherine Duke (played by Khandi Alexander, who of course played Benton's sister... yes, it *all* comes back to "ER" in the end...)



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