For One Life
By M. Blais and J.D.
Luka had grown almost silent on the walk back to the Northstar's tent..retreating deep inside himself again... his breathing coming a little harsher by the time they finally reached the tent.
William opened it for them, letting both stagger through and retreat to opposite cots.
Instead of fully entering Luka found himself hesitating as he came even with the elder doctor. "Maybe I should go back to the clinic...you have enough to do with Claire now." He followed the words with a deep cough as he attempted to clear his lungs.
Claire sank into her father's cot, only having the energy to lay the crutches on the floor before she laid down.
William shook his head, shooing him in with a hand gesture. "I'm not moving the oxygen tank yet, and I don't like shifting people before I have to,"
"I can get by without it." His argument was made even less convincing by the even deeper cough that followed it.
He moved over and turned the power on to the tank, before picking up Claire's discarded crutches. "We're going to use it while it's here, Luka."
He hesitated a moment longer..debating the chance at winning the argument, then
swept his eyes over the man...trying to read him from his body language.
Claire started to curl up on the cot, drawing her knees up, but William patted her shoulder as he went by. "Don't fall asleep yet, ageyutsa." He glanced over at Luka, with a patient look. "You can't stand in the doorway all day, Luka. I might need that door."
He released another pent up cough and gave up the battle...making his way back to the cot as it eased. Using the crutches to support him he lowered himself to sit on the side then lay them down before bending over to untie his shoes and slide them off.
William moved over, getting the oxygen tubing ready and moving to place it around his neck.
He raised his eyes to William as the man settled the oxygen again...then lifted his splinted leg onto the bed with his hands before drawing the other up. Too tired to even undress, he accepted his defeat and lay back.
"There, that's settled for now." He adjusted the flow, looking over the dials. "How did you like your first try at field doctoring?"
He shifted uncomfortably on the bed..."I don't think I can do this."
William looked at him, curious. "Why not?"
He shook his head...then slid his hand in his pocket to confirm the picture was there. "I can't..." He paused for a second before answering. "I can't be there the way they want someone to be there for them."
"You seemed to do well enough today."
He fingered the photo..his hand still in his pocket. "I sewed some stitches...nothing more then that."
William moved over to Claire's bedside, pulling up his stool. "Sometimes, that is all they need. Someone to get them back on their feet." At his gesture, Claire pulled herself sluggishly to a sitting position, and William took out his penlight again.
"They need someone who can give them a reason to do that...I'm not that person." His voice grew quieter before he withdrew the picture and turned onto his side before laying his head on his arm as he looked at it.
"Luka, to be blunt, I think you are overstating your effect in this case. Most people already have a reason to get back on their feet, they just need a hand. They don't need you to give their life purpose. They just want you to save it." William peered into Claire's eyes, first her left than her right. "Can you close just your right eye for me?" he asked, mildly. Claire had to blink a little, but with some squinting she was able to close the eye as asked. William held up his penlight, off now, about a foot away from her. "Can you focus on this?"
He pulled his eyes from the picture long enough for him to look at William as he spoke...then dropped them again...not quite ready to accept the truth in his words.
Claire cleared her throat. "No."
William made a hmm sound, his lips pressed together thoughtfully, and used his fingers again to probe the gash hidden by her hair. "It seemed to me that those people you helped today, Luka, needed you just to do something they couldn't do for themselves. It's not always saving the soul you need to worry about." William pulled his bag closer, rifling through it for supplies. He brought out a large bottle of hydrogen peroxide, several gauze pads, and a suture kit.
Luka lifted his eyes again..then coughed as a prelude to speaking. "Why does it have to be me? Why does it matter so much to you what I do?"
"Alright, Claire, the best way to do this is have you sit on the floor, here in front of the cot." As she scooted over and onto the floor, stretching her leg out, William looked up at Luka. "Because I don't wish to waste your talents, not when your hands could be the important ones in someone else's life."
He gave another glance to the picture and then slid it back in his pocket..almost as if he could prevent those in it from seeing more then he wanted them to see. "What talent, my talent to kill people?" His words came off harsh...and he lifted his hand to rub his face as he released them.
He stretched on a fresh pair of latex gloves, then carefully parted Claire's hair around the gash, pulling at individual strands where they were stuck. Claire closed her eyes, wearily, seemingly unaware of Luka's words, but William glanced up. "I'm sorry?"
"Nothing..I'm tired..." He rolled to his back..then shifted enough that he could almost turn away from them before closing his eyes, hoping to escape any further discussion in sleep.
Instead of William, it was Claire's voice that broke into the silence, although it sounded slightly slurred. "Did you kill someone, Luka?" she asked.
"My family..." He didn't open his eyes or look to either of them as he answered.
William sighed, a little heavily. "You didn't kill them, and you know it, Luka."
He drew a breath...then turned his head and opened his eyes to look at William. "Do I? I didn't save them...I held their lives in my hands and I failed them. I was tired and because of that I stopped breathing for my daughter. I was tired so I gave up on her. They died because of me." He rubbed his hand over his face, embracing what he saw as his own failure before then turning away again.
William looked right back, unflinchingly. "How long, Luka before you gave up?"
"I should have kept going...until someone came." His voice was very quiet.
William continued to work on Claire's gash, his face drawn. "I'm sorry you had to learn your lesson the way you did, and as young as you were, Luka, but to ignore it is worse. You cannot save everyone, no matter how much you might want to. And in the meantime, you are deciding that you're no good to anyone else, and to refuse to help your fellow man in his time of need because of your own perceived failures...that is the last thing anyone should ever do."
He squeezed his eyes shut...the words hitting hard and silencing him for the moment.
William finished cleaning the wound with the antiseptic and the gauze, and peered at the spot again, now more visible. "Claire, hand me the scissors in my bag, please."
It was quiet for a long moment, then William said, "...Claire? Wake up, ageyutsa."
He turned fully to his side with a soft groan, jarring his leg with the action. He didn't want to hear anymore, the blame was his, and he wasn't ready to hear let alone believe anything different.
William set aside the bottle of antiseptic and the gauze, rising up off the cot and picking Claire up. He stretched her out on the cot, and shook her shoulder. "Claire....come on, wake up."
Try as he might he found himself unable to block out the sounds around him. As he listened to William try and coax Claire into action, he opened his eyes then turned his head to watch what was happening.
William was sitting on the edge of the cot, leaning over Claire as he slid back each of her eyelids in turn to check her pupils once more, then tested her pulse.
He watched silently...not willing to interrupt his concentration. After a moment more he forced himself to sit, his guilt wasn't going anywhere anytime soon. Pulling the oxygen off, he cleared his throat. "Should I go get someone?"
William said no more, but the look on his face was serious and forbidding. "Just a moment." He retrieved a cold pack from the side pocket of his back, crushing it with his hands to activate it, and placed it under Claire's neck.
He was already fishing for his shoes..a cough breaking as he leaned over for them. Once he had found them and slipped them on he reached for his crutches.
William slid his fingers around her neck, placing his thumbs to spots under her chin so he could turn her head either way, checking her ears and the back of her neck for swelling or bruising. After several long minutes he sat back and glanced over at Luka. "I'm going to take Claire over to the clinic, I want you to stay here and put that oxygen back on, you've done enough for one day."
If Luka had meant to protest, the look from the older man silenced him before he could. Releasing an exasperated sigh he slid out of his shoes and pulled his legs back onto the cot before reaching for the nasal tubing.
As if sensing the younger man's worries William offered a smile of reassurance. "If there's any change I'll send someone for you, but right now you need to think about yourself and what you need is sleep."
He was right of course, his leg throbbed and his arms ached from using the crutches, but it didn't make the truth any easier to accept. He would though and in silent protest he refused to give into the need until William and Claire had left the tent.
To be continued...