By M. Blais and J.D.
Luka's sleep had been restless due to the worsening of the congestion in his lungs...and was further marred by frequent coughing as he tried to relieve it. He had rolled onto his side, one arm across his ribs as if that might make them hurt less when he coughed. The other hand somehow maintained a hold on the small black and white picture even through it all.
One of Angelique's assistants had wheeled in the portable oxygen machine, about the size of a suitcase, but less boxy, and William took it after thanking the man. He set it up next to Luka's cot. The older man got the oxygen ready to go, then put his hand on Luka's shoulder, gently.
At the touch he opened his eyes, though it took a minute before he seemed to connect with where he was.
"You don't need to move too much," William said, low, as he perched on the edge of the cot. "We're going to do this nasal, so I just want to loop the tube between your neck and shoulder so it's not obstructed."
"The oxygen...came?" He croaked the words out.
"Hey, I'm high on the totem pole here," William said, with a low chuckle. "I got it."
"Do I have to go back?" He raised his eyes to William's face with the question.
The older man shook his head. "The only thing you need to do is go back to sleep. Can you lift your head a moment for me?"
His chest rose and fell markedly as he fought the congestion in his lungs. "Yeah." He raised up slightly for him.
William expertly threaded the clear tubing under Luka's head, then tucked it behind the curvature of his ear and settled the nasal prongs into his nose. "There." He fixed the other side as well, and leaned back. "You can relax now..." He adjusted the outflow on the machine for a moment.
"Can I have some water?" Luka lay back as William finished.
"Sure." William stood, moving over to a pitcher he had set aside, with the cup from the small table, and refilled it. He brought it back to the bedside, settling onto his now familiar stool. "Need something to lean against?" He reached behind him for the bedroll, in case Luka wanted to sit up a little longer.
He failed to hold back another onslaught of coughing..and as it finished he nodded to the question.
William waited patiently for the younger man to sit up, then pushed the bedroll behind his back.
Pushing himself up on one arm, Luka leaned forward to allow him to put the roll behind him then lay back fully on his back.
Holding out the cup, he said, "Feeling about the same?"
The younger man nodded as he took the cup, then took a sip, swallowing it with more then a little difficulty as it moved down his raw throat.
"Hmm. I was hoping the antivirals would have more of an effect, but they are iffy at best."
"Why are you doing all this for me?" He asked the question quietly before taking another drink.
William glanced at him, unfazed by the question. "Because I can. And I won't stand aside when someone could benefit from my help."
"Why not someone else?" That he was confused as to why he was chosen was reflected in the tone of his question.
William allowed a smile. "You're the one I found in my tent. Very undressed, I might add."
He flushed slightly at the comment and dropped his eyes, then lifted them again. "Claire took my clothes." He offered the defense even more quietly.
William laughed outright, a deep sound. "Did she, now?"
His blush deepened. "She doesn't give up easily..."
"Now, that's the truest thing I've heard from your lips, Luka," William admitted, his laugh subsiding to a smile. "But it's my own fault. I raised her, alone after her mother died."
"I can dress now..." He straightened up a bit as he coughed then took another drink before he lay back.
"Don't waste your time. You'll just be sleeping anyway." He looked around. "And I may be wrong, but I think she actually took your clothes."
His eyes widened at that. "I don't have anything else."
William idly rubbed at his chin. "I wouldn't worry. Knowing Claire, she's getting them cleaned, or replaced even."
He seemed to accept that. "Angelique found those...not much around she said."
William nodded. "Things come in all the time. I guess she thinks she can find something better."
He nodded again with the explanation. "You worry about her here?"
William stretched his legs out, considering. "I always worry about Claire," he said aftera moment. "Not just here. It's natural, as a father. And not just about her physical health. I worry about whether she's happy or not, if she's being treated well, if she is doing what she wants to do. I doubt that will ever stop. But Claire's rather independent. I think that was because of losing her mother so young. She had to grow up quickly. I can't do much except offer her advice. She likes to do things on her own."
He swallowed as he listened, his eyes intently on the man as he spoke.
"She was always a mature child, but after her mother....." He paused, recalling. "I worried quite a bit about her after that, but she seemed to be all right in time."
"I don't know why it matters to her what happens to me....what makes me different then the others?" He ran his finger around the rim of the cup with the question.
"That I cannot tell you, Luka. Claire has her own way of doing things, and she sees things others don't. If she's chosen to pay more attention to you, she probably believes you need her."
He let his eyes drop at that. "I don't even know what I need..."
"Then perhaps she's trying to help you figure that out."
He drew a shuddered breath, not sure what to say. "There have to be others who need her more. "
"Does it bother you to have her around?" William asked, speculatively. "I can speak with her....I know she can be tenacious..."
He coughed, then took a moment more to choose his words. "I didn't want anyone around...but she kept coming anyway."
William nodded, waiting for him to continue.
"Kept pushing me to get out when I wanted.." He paused a moment then continued. "When I wanted to be left alone...she would just stare at me until I did what she wanted."
William chuckled, at that. "She's a stubborn girl."
He coughed yet again as the volume of words caught up with him. "I just don't know why she picked me..." He released a soft sigh with the comment.
William nodded again. "I'll speak with her tomorrow. In the meantime, you have probably a few uninterrupted days before you need to return to the med tent. Why don't you go back to sleep? It's rather late."
He nodded, offering the cup to him. "Keeping you up..."
William took it, setting it aside. "Doctors keep odd hours. Doesn't wear me down."
He coughed again laying the arm across his chest as he did.
"Sleep, Luka. No one is going to bother you tonight." He removed the bedroll so he could lay fully on the cot.
"'kay..." He rolled back to his side, the position seeming to suit him more then laying on his back. Then his hand found the picture before he let his eyes close.
To be continued...