By J.D. and M.Blais
William knew it was no longer raining, but he wiped at his eyes again, just to be sure. Yes, this was his tent. He controlled the impulse to step outside and double check. That was his foot locker, his jacket hung up. His other
shoes on the floor. His daughter...on the floor. Asleep.
And in her cot, a tall, thin, wheezing form.
William sighed, feeling as if he'd stepped into a version of Goldilocks and the three bears. There was a strange man sleeping in his daughter's cot. Granted, he had long ago come to terms with the idea that his daughter would develop
romantic relationships, and that he'd see the evidence of that eventually. Even so, she'd always been circumspect, never giving him much to worry himself over.
To be fair, it wasn't completely damning. She was asleep on the floor, and still dressed as well. Her shoes were missing, as he saw a sock-clad foot sticking out from under her blanket. On the bed, however, the unknown man had a length of arm visible, and it made William wonder. Without hesitation, he went over and flicked back the top half of the blanket covering him. He was far from worried about the man's reaction should he wake...after all, he was the intruder in William's tent.
Any ideas he had about the man being his daughter's guest fled once he drew the blanket back. He was easily twenty pounds underweight, with multiple fresh cuts and bruises over his torso. His chest rose and fell unevenly, as if his
lungs weren't operating at their best. William recognized the signs of sickness on sight. The man's long, thick hair fell over his eyes, but William could discern the flickering of his eyes under the lids, rapid and strained. In deep sleep, dreaming most likely.
Damnit, he was a patient. He didn't know from where, or how Claire ended up with him in her cot, but.....out of curiousity, he lifted the blanket a little further. It exposed just more thinly-stretched skin.
To hell with this. He was waking up his daughter and getting some answers. Now.
Someone was shaking her shoulder. "Jus' little longer," Claire mumbled in protest at first, not opening her eyes. Although the cold of the ground was registering in her cramped legs, the rest of her was fairly warm, curled in the
blanket. She fisted her hands on the material, drawing it closer to her shoulder.
Abruptly, it was yanked away from her, and the sudden cold made her blink, disoriented. Her father stood over her, his face set in a deep frown, his eyes glittering the the dark. Claire looked up at him, and swallowed convulsively.
"Ah...Poppa.." she started, scrambling for words.
William tossed the blanket to his cot. "Would you care to stand up and explain what I am seeing here?" he said, deceptively mild and quiet. His eyes pointedly went to the still-sleeping Luka, on her cot, then back to where she sat on the floor.
"Ah....of course," she said, her heart hammering as she struggled to her feet. William stalked to the tent flap and held it open for her, and she stepped out into the night air. It was no longer raining, but the cold wetness still radiated from the ground. She wrapped her arms around herself, still chilled
from rescuing Luka in the storm.
"There is a strange man in your cot," William said, his words clipped. "A strange...naked...man."
"Poppa, I can explain-"
"This had better be good, Tsigi-lili," he snapped.
Claire winced. He only used her given Indian name when he was highly upset with her. "It's Luka," she started, shivering.
A little bit of comprehension entered William's eyes. "The refugee you were telling me about? He's a widower, you said...."
She nodded, quickly. "Yes, that's right. I had been visiting him, I told you. He lost his wife and his two children."
"And now he's naked and in your cot," William reminded her, ungently, as he crossed his arms over his chest. He seemed unconcerned with her shivering as he continued to glower at her.
"I...it's....uh...complicated," she said, realizing the hesitation only made it look worse. "Okay, I'm sorry...let me just tell you. He was being interrogated today." She clenched her jaw a moment to stop the chattering. "After it was over, he went missing. Ange-- I mean, Dr. Forquet said he didn't return to the med tent, and she was getting worried. She was sending out the volunteers to look for him."
William listened, but long experience with his daughter made him seize upon her words. "Did Dr. Forquet ask you to go look for him?"
"No," she admitted, cringing a little. "But I was already out looking for other patients....so I kept going. I found him, way out past the border, alongside the wire fence. He was soaked through," she added, worriedly. "You know he was just recovering from pneumonia."
"Which is why he should be at the med tent right now," he said, harshly. "You don't keep people like pets, Tsigi-lili-"
"He didn't want to go back," she interrupted him, and watched his face grow darker a moment. "Look, I'm not just playing around here," she finally snapped, feeling a little fire get into her at the dressing down. "He was traumatized by the questioning, and he was terrified the inquisitors would be
there, waiting for him when he got back." She continued to shiver, but she ignored it. "I couldn't make him go....but he needed to get out of the rain before he died, Poppa!"
William unclenched his jaw, taking a short breath. "I understand that, but you are not his doctor, and keeping him in our tent was not a decision for you to make."
I had one chance to get him out of the rain, and probably save his life, and I took it," she insisted. "And yes, I had to get the wet clothes off him, to keep him from getting a worse chill. I was going to come find you...I just fell alseep."
Dr. Forquet is going to call for you to leave the camp, Tsigi-lili," he said, harshly, pointing a finger at her. "The only thing saving you right now, after basically abducting a patient, is that you did it for his health, and that I am here to treat him. If she had found him here before I did, rest assured you would be on a plane by morning. This is not a game. You are here to learn...not to be foolish and idiotic!"
Claire set her jaw, but swallowed the defensive words she wanted to say. "I'll tell Dr. Forquet what I did, and I'll apologize," she said, with a long breath. "But I think I did the right thing. He was going to die, out there, because he didn't want to go back to the main tent. He's an adult....he had made his decision to just stay out there until it was over." She was getting emotional, and she knew that would damage her case with her father, so she set her lips in a tight, pressed line.
William regarded her a long moment. "I'm going to take a quick look at him, then go tell Dr. Forquet he is here, so she can stop worrying. In the meantime, I want you to gather together a few of your things. You will be staying elsewhere while Luka is being treated in our tent. Despite the fact
that he is gravely ill, it does not do for you to sleep in the same tent as him, without supervision." His tone was even, and brooked no argument.
Claire nodded meekly, following him back into the tent. She was inwardly cheered that he'd started calling Luka by his name, instead of just 'that patient'. She perched on the edge of her father's cot as he silently checked on Luka's breathing and his pulse. After a few moments, she said, very low, "You had wanted to meet him, Poppa. You believed he might be... different."
William did not spare her a look. "That does not excuse it, Claire." He set his scope to his ears, listening to Luka's lungs, careful not to disturb him from his deep sleep.
At least he was back to using her common name, she thought, relaxing some. "Because of how he lost his wife." Her voice got lower. "Just like with Momma."
William rose to his feet, sliding the scope back around his neck. "Yes, I did. But this is not the time nor place. Right now, my priority is going to be saving his life."
Her breath left her. "Is it...that bad?" she whispered.
"He's got a lot of excessive fluid in his lungs, and I don't like the sounds. I believe he may have a fever, but it's not spiked very far yet. At least his rhythm is regular." He rubbed at his chin. "But...pneumonia is the most pervasive thing, in these camps. Sometimes I think I lose more patients to that than to any actual fighting." Before she could say anything more, he
barked, "Stay here, pack your things. I need to speak with Dr. Forquet." With that, he left the tent, with her to watch Luka with increasing worry.
Although it was dark, William picked his way with ease through the darkened tents, knowing the path from memory. His uncharacteristic anger with his daughter had given way to deep-seated concern, and introspective questioning. Ever since she had mentioned Luka to him, he had felt this....drive to find and talk to the man. Was it something more than how he lost his wife? Only a day or so ago, he'd found out that Luka had been attending medical school in Vukovar. So, he was also studying to become a doctor. And the way Claire
described him, and her efforts to help him..
Perhaps he saw a little of himself in the younger, wounded man. It had been years now since his wife Amelia had died in that accident, back when he was so young. And Claire too....just a child. It felt as if the gifts he'd been given in his wife and daughter were just as suddenly yanked away from him. When Claire told him about the widower struggling with pneumonia, William had felt those same dark emotions in a way he hadn't in years.
He couldn't ignore the signs. Something, or someone, was telling him that this Luka was crucial, that developing a rapport with him was beyond important, but necessary. Claire had brought him to the tent, violating several rules she was very aware of, and he knew Claire well enough to know she wasn't the rebellious sort. He was going to use a little damage control on the situation to keep his daughter's reputation intact, both as a medical student and as a woman, but he also knew what he was going to do. He was going to call in a little favor with Angelique and get her to agree to leave Luka recovering in his tent for now.
He couldn't put his finger on the moment he'd made the decision. At the same time, he wasn't truly interested in taking over the case fully from Angelique. She was more than welcome to come and go in the tent. But he'd still have
plenty of time to spend with Luka...one on one. Time to explore this unsettling situation, and figure out if he was here to help Luka...or Luka was to help him.
To be continued....