by J.D. and M. Blais
Luka's breathing had settled into a raspy wheeze and at least for now his sleep seemed uninterrupted by the nightmares. Strangely enough, he did not dream either, for this brief sleep, but his body was attuned to each movement in the room that affected his cot. Once or twice, a grip on his wrist or pressure on his arm wormed it's way into his conciousness. He stirred at the attentions..soft moans in protest but not enough that he fully woke. As he drew closer to waking, he became aware of the soft sound of two voices in minor argument, obviously attempting to be quiet. As their discussion persisted he finally opened his eyes. Two figures were silhouetted by afternoon light in the tent. William stood, with his arms loosely crossed, facing Angelique, who looked equally stubborn.
He shifted slightly..emitting a soft groan as he jostled the IV in his hand...IV? He hadn't had one when he'd gone to sleep...the puzzle at how it had come to be was still out of reach. William merely turned his head in Luka's direction, but Angelique dropped her pose and moved over to his side, perching on the edge of the bed. "Good afternoon, Luka," she said, with a quiet smile. Her hands took his a moment, smoothing the tape over the IV site.
He cleared his throat..or tried to only to find that it was barely there. "Sorry about...not going back...last night."
Her smile faltered slightly, but she merely patted his hand. "You're fine now, that's all that matters."
"Not her fault..." He raised up as he coughed...then lay back again.
Angelique's mouth tightened, briefly, into a thin line, but she sighed, and it relaxed into a smile. "You should be resting, Luka. You're rather far from recovered right now, even if you are on the path, sweetie."
He nodded then followed it with another cough..
"If you really wish it, you can stay here with Dr. Northstar. He's willing to keep an eye on you."
"Only until they leave, don't want to talk to them anymore..." He fought to get what he needed to say out in as few words as possible.
She rubbed her fingers over his hand, affectionately. "Very well. We will say you are....how they say it, AWOL? Maybe that we sent you somewhere else for a little while, yes?"
He nodded...letting another wave of coughing roll over him before he shifted to his side in hopes of finding some relief.
"I'll be sure to let you and William know when they have gone, mon ami."
He nodded again...the battle was lost, even as his eyes slid closed sleep was already reclaiming him.
His breathing as he slept remained ragged..and though he never fully woke, what sleep he was getting was far from restful. The wheeze of struggled breathing mixed with hoarse coughing as his lungs filled. At some point the smell of food drifted through the tent, accompanied by the occassional footfall as William moved about. It was finally one of the extended coughing spells that roused him fully...seeming to tear into him. He raised himself up slightly on one arm as he fought to catch a breath.
William moved over, drawing up his stool once more. "Evening, Luka," he said, automatically pulling his stethoscope from his neck.
"How late..is it?" He asked the question in a hoarse whisper.
"Hmm, about 8 or so, I would guess." There was what looked like a hotplate set on the floor by Luka's bed, and it held a pot of water that was boiling, setting steam to rise right by his head.
He forced himself to sit as the man settled next to the bed. William placed the scope on Luka's back, listening intently, although his expression didn't give away anything he was thinking. "You needed the sleep....I wouldn't worry about the time."
"Claire's not here?" He cast his eyes around the tent.
William flicked his eyes up a moment. "No....she's been given some duties on the other side of camp, so we arranged for her to sleep in a tent over there as well."
"Because of me?" He again punctuated the words with several deep coughs.
"Yes and no," William said, mildly, as he switched the scope to his chest, again trying to isolate a few of the worst sounds. "This tent doesn't sleep three very well. But Angelique also thought she needed a change of environment." William smiled once. "Claire didn't agree, but then, she usually doesn't."
"She all right?"
He looked up, removing the scope and replacing it around his neck. "Claire?"
Luka drew a couple of breaths to try and fill his lungs only to cough again at the effort, then nodded at the question.
"I may need to put you on some oxygen tonight." William scooted the stool away a little. "She's got a mild cold, but otherwise, I'm not worried."
"It's not that bad..." He couldn't stop the cough that followed.
William chuckled. "Until you finish medical school, young man, let me decide that. We'll play it by ear tonight, though. I'm not going to make you do it. We're scarce on tanks right now anyway."
"I think that's done..." He remained sitting, as if that made his finding his breath easier.
William reached for two cups on the small table, one with water, and held it out to him. "I don't see why it would have to be done already. You've done the hard part, the initial tests."
He took the cup...letting the liquid cool his raw throat. "I can't afford to go back." He left unsaid that there was nowhere to go back to.
"I doubt many can, at this point," William agreed, handing over the second cup, which held two capsules. "I'm starting you on some antiviral antibiotics tonight. Anyway, the fact remains that doctors are needed here, which makes it much more likely for regional schools to accept unpaid students."
He glanced into the cup then to the man before lifting his hand to take them and popping them in his mouth, then followed them with a drink of water.
"From my experience, they structure it as a work-for-learn program. Not a bad idea at all." Luka nodded, then took a final drink before handing the cup back. William took the cups, setting them both on the table again. "Mind you, it'll be a while before you are strong enough." He stood, moving over to the far, larger table mostly obstructed in the corner of the tent, and brought back a bowl. "Here...you slept through lunch, but dinner is still getable."
He leaned back again as the man walked away, only to roll to the side as that seemed to make his breathing worse. "I'm not hungry...just tired."
"I guessed your appetite wasn't too strong. However, you'll need the liquids to help loosen up your chest some." He continued to offer the bowl, having a second one for himself in his other hand.
He looked at him...gauging how far he could go then forced himself to sit up again.
"Here, hold this," he placed the bowl in Luka's hands, then set his own down for a moment, taking up a bedroll from the other cot to place behind Luka's back.
He took the bowl...his hands a bit unsteady
"There. Not so bad sitting up now." He resettled back on the stool, picking up his own bowl. The spoons rested just inside, in the stew.
He leaned back against the roll...then dropped his eyes to the bowl again before picking the spoon up and stirring it .
William took a spoonful of it, seemingly unconcerned with Luka's lack of enthusiam, and then said, "I hope you don't mind that Claire told me a lot about you."
He lifted his eyes..."What did she say?"
The older man's eyes crinkled a little at the corners, giving away his smile although he was eating. "That you didn't like to eat."
He released a breath and ladled some of the broth on the spoon and brought it to his mouth...in concession to the comment.
William continued to eat, unpeturbed. "Glad to see you're willing to prove her wrong, for once."
"What else did she say?"
William shrugged. "What did you tell her?"
He raised his eyes again...then dropped them to the bowl as he forced himself to take another bite. Laying the spoon down he touched the IV..."You did this when I was asleep."
The older man nodded. "Does that bother you?" He simply shrugged. "You were sleeping rather heavily. It seemed counterproductive to wake you." Luka seemed to accept the answer and picked the spoon up...taking a bit more of the broth before giving up on it. "Claire told me some about your family," William admitted, still quietly eating the rest of his stew. Luka dropped his eyes to the bowl at the mention of his family and released a shaky breath. "I doubt she's mentioned it to anyone else, so I hope you don't think too poorly of her for it."
"It's in the file now.."
"That's hardly common knowledge."
Luka turned his head to locate the picture and picked it up...swiping his tongue across his lips before he handed it across to him. "My wife and daughter..."
William set the spoon in his bowl, and took the picture. "Danijela and Jasna, right?"
"Yes..." Almost sadly he added. "I don't have one of my son."
He set his bowl down, studying the picture, then reached into his back pocket, pulling out his wallet. Flipping open the folds, he handed it over to Luka, opened to a picture of a young woman, with light brown hair and green eyes. "My wife. It's been fifteen years, so the picture is a little worn out."
He took the wallet as it was handed to him..dropping his eyes to the picture. "Does it hurt any less?" He asked the question too softly.
"In a way," he said. "Not really less, just differently. Rather like a sore spot, in my heart."
He seemed to accept that and handed the picture back with a sigh.
"She was in an accident...my wife, I mean."
"I'm sorry.." He offered the words automatically...knowing they weren't enough from experience. He made no attempt to eat anything else from the bowl he held...though his eyes had dropped to it again.
William nodded. "No need for sympathy. It's been long enough, and speaking of it doesn't bother me as much anymore. But I think perhaps Claire thought I could understand what you were going through."
"All my training and I couldn't save any of them..." He made the comment so quietly he might have been offering it for himself.
William sighed. "I do know, Luka. It seems like you know all the answers, you can see everything that is wrong with them as it happens, but none of your solutions work the way they should. As if just knowing what to do was enough to stop them from dying."
He raised one hand to press the heel into his eyes..then swallowed as if that would somehow stop the grief from finding him again.
"I thought I had saved my wife, but there was much more to her injuries than I knew at the time," William added.
He cleared his throat..then gave into a cough as he let his words sink in..."I keep seeing it...over and over...if I had done things differently..." He let the thought go unfinished.
"Try eating a bit more, Luka," William said, setting the wallet picture back in his lap, after another look at it. "I know that path, the one you keep wandering down. It's full of a million possibilities...but that's all they are, I'm afraid."
"I thought I could do this without them...I tried...but I don't think I can anymore..." He kept his eyes on the bowl but still made no move to eat any more.
"You are doing it already, Luka. Living. It's nothing more than waking, moving, feeling." His dark eyes were serious, fathomless. "There isn't any trying to it. Life is something your body takes care of even when your mind is still coming to grips."
He raised his eyes to him as his mind prossessed the words. His breathing still carried the wheeze of his congested lungs...and his chest seemed to strain as it rose and fell with each breath.
"Your body is created for this purpose, to continue on when your soul cannot. That is what it is for. It's to house your spirit until it heals."
"I don't believe in God anymore..." He voiced the admission quietly as if confessing something akin to murder.
The older man smiled slightly. "You don't have to believe in Him to know that what I am saying is true. And thankfully, I don't think He's given up on you."
He raised his hand to wipe his eyes again. "Like he did my family. I begged him to save them..." He let his head drop again...the tremble there in his shoulders as he tried not to lose his hold on things.
"He saved their souls, Luka, even if He did not save their bodies. It is the one saving grace we have in death."
He looked at the bowl...his breath seeming to be coming a little rougher as he fought not to give into the grief again..."Is it?"
He placed his hand on Luka's shoulder, rubbing with his knotted fingers. "Those we love will die, my friend. It is the price of life, and it's what makes it worthwhile, to know that it is often fleeting. We cannot live without death." He paused. "Light without shadows is blindness."
He rocked slightly under his hand....the tears he'd fought so hard to hold back wetting his cheeks...though they came without the choked sobs he'd endured earlier.
"You cannot deny it, Luka. But accepting it will take a long time."
He raised his uninjured knee...then rested his forehead against it..as he gave into the grief of his loss...and the effect of the man's words. William leaned forward so he could press his own forehead against Luka's head, to stay connected to him while he grieved.
As he felt the man against him he couldnt help but turn into him...desperate for the comfort so needed so badly in those moments. William moved to the edge of the cot so he could wrap his arms around Luka like he might to a child, drawing him closer. He went willingly into the mans arms as he would have his own father..his fingers wrapping themself in the fabric of his shirt. With his right hand, he deftly pulled the bowl from Luka's lap and set it back on the seat of the vacated stool, then replaced his arm around him.
He had no idea how long the tears fell...before he could once again force himself to accept that he was alone...and he choked back breaths to calm himself. William held him until he was quiet, calm again. He drew a shuddered breath before trusting himself to pull away and sit back again.."I'm sorry.." He sniffed back remaining tears.
"You shouldn't be sorry, Luka. I wish I could tell you that was the last time that would happen, but it won't be." He moved back but not off the cot.
Luka wiped the wetness from his face even as he gave into a round of coughing that tore at his lungs.
William handed the cup of water to him again.
"But it gets easier?" He asked in hoarse expectation. He took the cup as he finished speaking...taking a drink then slowly swallowing.
"Yes. It does."
Luka nodded before taking another drink.."It hurts to breathe..." He finally admitted what he had known for sometime.
"It's a little bit of everything," William said. "The pneumonia, the strain on your throat from the coughing....I would like to put you on oxygen later."
He nodded his acceptance of the inevitable..."Angelique will want me back there if you do."
"Not necessarily," William countered, his voice even. "There's one or two portables making the rounds, and I've already planted the seed in her mind."
"Okay.." He was already feeling the pull to sleep again as he accepted the answer...and after battling another round of coughing closed his eyes. The older man leaned forward, taking the bedroll away so Luka could lay back again. He opened them almost as quickly.."You going to be here?"
He nodded, matter-of-factly. "I'm in for the night, myself. One of my nurses has instructions to bring one by when it frees up."
He nodded again and turned to his side...a momentary panic filling his face as he searched for the picture on the cot.
"Luka," he said gently, holding out the small picture. "I hadn't let go of it yet."
He flicked his eyes to him..the relief immediate as he took it from him.
"I know how important it is to you."
"It's all I have..."He offered the words quietly as he lay it on the cot and placed his hand over it, then closed his eyes again.
"Don't worry," William murmured, drawing the blanket up on him. "You have Claire and myself now, too."
His breathing slowed with the words and he let sleep take him with the comfort of them.
To be continued...