Title: For One Life
Author: M. Blais and J.D. Gillispie
Summary: Summary: This is a joint fanfic that my friend Mel and I wrote in 2004, a large section in fact was actually written while we were in Croatia. The story revisits the events surrounding the deaths of Luka's family in Vukovar, his escape from the City, and what happens after that. This entire series takes place in a fictional Croatian refugee/displaced person's camp. The characters of William and Claire Northstar are copyright M. Blais, and Angelique Forquet is copyright J.D. Gillispie.
For those new to this site it is advisable that you go back in the archives and read "Ghosts" before reading this fic.
Claire moved over to the hospital tent, coming from a mess tent further away. She carried a small bowl with her, and had a wad of bandages under one of her arms, as she approached the bench cautiously. The young man, no older than she was herself, was sitting on a bench outside, against the wall of the hospital tent. Angelique....Doctor Forquet she remembered, as her dad wanted her to stay polite, had said that it had been only about four days since he'd arrived. He was terribly thin, fighting pneumonia and on crutches because of a bullet to his thigh. His crutches were leaning on the bench beside where he sat. The Red Cross provided clothing was ill-fitting, although he didn't seem to notice.
He looked haunted, the dark circles under his eyes and his drawn face a testament to suffering. He didn't want to be outside, she could tell. He didn't want to be anywhere, but the doctor had persisted and rather then argue with the woman he had submitted to enduring the fresh air. He leaned his head against the tent's fabric and closed his eyes.
"Luka?" she said gently, as a question. Angelique had told her a little about him and had given her instructions. At the sound of his name he flinched, his eyes opening even as he unconsciously tensed. He swept his eyes over the woman before him, saying nothing in response at first as he tried to place her from among the faces he had yet to put names to. She gave him a neutral,closed-lipped smile. "Can I sit? I brought you something to eat...."
"I'm not hungry..." His response was in Croatian. He left her question unanswered, though he did reach across to move the crutches to the other side of where he sat. Her forehead crinkled just slightly as she took the seconds to mentally translate his words...her skills were still rusty. Not protesting his response, she just sat on the bench next to him, putting the bowl on the wood between them, as much as barrier for his sake. In strained Croatian, she asked, "How is your leg?"
He shifted his injured leg with a soft groan..the minor movement alone enough to send pain through him. He swallowed and waited for it to pass then offered a shrug in response to her question. "You don't have to watch over me...if that's what she is worried about," he answered, in his native tongue.
"I see," she said gently, staying in the same language although she has to pause between her sentences. "You know that Angelique sent me."
"I thought she probably did.." He kept his voice quiet..his eyes on the ground in front of him.
"Well, is that so bad?" She watched him, her eyes sympathetic. In English, she said, "My name is Claire Northstar. My father is a doctor here....but I am only a volunteer. So I did not have to come over here and speak with you." She paused. "Do you understand my English?"
He offered a shrug again at her question before finally shifting dulled eyes to her as she turned to English. "Da..." he answered in Croatian, some vestiges of stubbornness, or uncaring, in his tone.
"I wanted to come speak with you."
"Why?" He moved his gaze back to the trampled dirt in front of him.
"Because I care about you." Her words were simple, and without guile.
When he answered his voice was even quieter then it had previously been...and still in his native language. "You don't even know me..." She had to lean in a little to hear him, trying still not to get any closer than he wanted her to.
"I know enough," she said, matching his very quiet tone, as if they were children, plotting mischief together. She could see he understood every word she said. Well, if it's what he wanted, she would act as if there was nothing unusual about the dual-language conversation, and stick to her English. "You are hurting.....you are tired, and I know you are hungry even though you say you are not. It's because you are grieving."
The talking was more then he had done in days, and as if to emphasize her words he found himself succumbing to a wave of coughing that seemed to tear into his lungs. Gently, she put a hand on his back, rubbing in small circles to soothe. When it eased his voice was more ragged. "She told you that?" he asked, low.
Very quietly, she said, "No, Angelique only told me that you could use someone to talk to. The rest I can tell from looking at you."
"She doesn't want to understand that I don't want to talk...I don't want to be here..." Whatever his reason he had yet to switch from the familiar Croatian, and she was not getting everything he said. Maybe he was trying to convince her to leave him be...he coughed again as he attempted to clear his lungs.
She hesitated, deciphering what he said. "But this is where you are now, Luka," she answered slowly. "And I don't think you can go back to where you were."
His response was little more then a whisper..an admission of his deeper feelings. "They should have left me to die on the roadside.."
She absorbed that for long moments. The loss in his voice was unfathomable, and for the first time, Claire felt the foundation of her ideals begin to shake. This was the first time she'd even been exposed to this level of atrocity. And this man, the same age as her, had obviously gone through more than she could begin to understand. Carefully, she said, "That's never a choice for us, Luka....it's human nature to want to save someone." What more could she say? He closed his eyes and leaned back, the weight of her words settling on him. Taking his silence as a cue, she continued, "We can't always do it, but we have to try. I had to come over here and try to talk to you, even if you didn't want me to." Lifting a hand he rubbed his eyes then looked across the compound again, either unwilling or unable to answer, and she sighed softly. "Why dont you try eating? I can leave you alone for now, if you wish." Apparently, it was as close as she could get today, on their first meeting. He gave into yet another coughing bout before he looked at her again, then to the bowl that sat on the bench between them. With a half-smile, she said, "Don't worry, I didn't cook it myself. It's good."
Lifting his eyes again, he released a breath in resignation and picked the bowl up. "You eat it? " His question came quietly, in Croatian...and in a way unexpectedly as he initiated conversation rather then send her away.
"Yes..." she replied, caught off-guard. "It does actually taste good.....really.." As if weighing her words, he stirred the spoon through the broth...ladling a small amount onto it before letting it spill back into the bowl and then finally taking a mouthful.
Stifling a smile of satisfaction, she said instead, "I'm not a doctor, you know, and you're not my patient, so if you want to talk to someone without being poked and prodded, you can ask for me."
He took a second mouthful before lowering the spoon again and looking at her. "Why come here then?" He asked the question in English...his accent flavoring the words as he did.
She gave a small shrug. She was grateful he switched to English, but she didn't want to give it away, and distract him from opening up like he was, little by little. "I thought I might be needed here. I wanted to help. Someday I'll likely be a doctor, but what's the rush?"
Abruptly, he sat the bowl on the bench again. In Croatian, he said, "I'm really not very hungry."
Right away, she knew she had misspoken, although she wasn't sure what it was that did it. Her expression fell. "You really are, Luka. You have to put aside these other things for now, and concentrate on getting well." It had an auspicious beginning, the talk, and starting something like this with an obviously hurting person....there were bound to be mistakes, she told herself.
He reached for the crutches, his desire to be anywhere but here growing. In harsh Croatian, he said, "I'm tired...I should go back inside..." Even as he said it he was forcing himself to get to his feet, a soft groan his only admission to the pain as he put too much weight on the leg before getting the crutches under his arms.
She rose, slower, helping him with the crutches. In his same language, though it didn't flow off her tongue as well, she asked, "Can you remember my name, Luka?" Gently, she adjusted the crutches with him.
"I can do it," he said, in angry Croatian, referring to her help with the crutches. "I'm not a child."
"Say it, then," she replied, stubbornly, knowing he had ignored her comment about her name. "And I'll leave you be." She knew if he just said it, he would have to give in, have to recognize her from now on, whether he wanted to ignore her or not.
He raised his eyes to her. Had she not stood in front of him, he might have simply walked away. He released a breath before saying her name. "Claire."
She touched his shoulder, lightly, but stepped out of his way. "Thank you."
He couldn't stop the initial tensing as she lay her hand on his shoulder, and didn't relax it. Nodding in answer to her, he moved to the tent's entrance, his gait slow and determined.
to be continued...