By J.D. and M. Blais
Luka eased his grip, enabling him to draw the blanket fully over himself as William turned to the door at the sound of his name. Another older doctor, this one English, poked his head in the door when William gave his assent. "I could use your help just a mite...have a few difficult cases coming in. Do you have the time to spare?"
William rose, pulling off the glove. "Claire, why don't you help Luka rewrap that?"
Luka kept his eyes on the stranger a moment longer..not sure how he would react to his presence in the Northstar's tent.
The other doctor smiled, toothily. "Thanks...I appreicate it. I'll have him back in a jiff," he said, throwing off a quick salute to Claire and Luka.
Claire didn't react, just staying where she was on the edge of the cot.
"If you can get me the bandages I can wrap it."
William eyed them both before stepping out. As silence fell over the tent, Claire bent down and retrieved the bandages from William's bags. "Did he check the entry site?" she asked, almost listlessly.
He was already sitting up and exposing the leg again as she moved away. "No...it's probably okay though."
"Probably doesn't work in medicine, Luka. Let me see it."
He released an exasperated sigh and reluctantly turned away from her..revealing the back of his leg before he fixed his eyes on a random stain on the tent wall in front of him.
She took another pair of the latex gloves from her father's bag and pulled them on, almost like a habit, then tested the entry wound with her fingertips. Her touch was very careful, more hesitant than her father's. Her forehead felt hot, so she paused to wipe it with her forearm.
He bit his lip at the touch and the muscle tensed, but he made no sound with it.
"It does seem to be fine," she said, absently. "None of the looseness you can feel in a lot of entry wounds."
"Was worse before...you can go lay down..I can wrap it myself."
She gestured for him to relax. "Already sitting up....anyway, bullet wound is a hell of a lot better than knife wounds, when it comes to the leg."
He shifted onto his back again before sitting up. "I really can do it...you should rest"
"I don't want to rest," she almost snapped, then was instantly contrite, closing her eyes. "Sorry. Just...wrap it and I'll check it."
He tore open two gauze packets and lay the contents aside as he picked the roll up. "Just thought you looked tired..." He dropped his eyes to his leg..placing the gauze at the back as he began wrapping then doing the same to the front wound as he reached it...lastly circling the thigh several times to hold them in place.
"Make sure you don't do it too tightly." She stayed where she was, like she couldn't move very far. "You always look tired too, you know."
Once he was finished he tied it off...looping the end under one layer then knotting it.
He raised his eyes to her..."I dealt with worse then this in Vukovar."
She tested it with her fingertips. "Are you saying I can't handle it as well as you?"
"It's not a game...no winners here."
She set her jaw, removing her fingers from the wrap. "I didn't say it was."
He lay back..only to set another coughing barrage into motion and quickly raised up."
He reached behind his back...bunching the blanket under him slightly.
"You should be back on oxygen."
"You should be in bed."
She lifted her eyes to him. "No sleeping isn't going to kill me."
"I'll go back on the oxygen if you go back to bed."
Claire lifted an eyebrow. "Are we back to that game again?"
He coughed a little more harshly. "I guess so."
She eyed him, her look suspicious. "Go on the oxygen first."
"I don't think so."
She tilted her head. "I can't help you with the oxygen if I'm in bed already."
"Turn it on..then get back in bed." His voice came a little more hoarse as he offered the compromise.
"You can adjust it on your own?"
He simply looked at her. "Yes."
She looked like she would protest again, but after a pause, she leaned over to turn the machine on. Her fingers slid down the side and turned the equipment on, but stretching out made her yelp suddenly, and she drew her arm back to her chest, her other hand sliding over her ribs.
"What's wrong? He immediately sat up...ignoring the cough that broke at the action and his own spasm of pain.
"It's nothing," she said, through clenched teeth. "Look, it's on. Hold up...your end..of the bargain....put it on." She hunched over, her hand still pressed to her ribs. She had
closed her eyes.
"Yeah...right..." He reached to touch her side..."Drop your arm."
"No!" she said, retreating a little further down the cot. "Put the damn oxygen on."
He frowned...then as she moved away forced his leg off the bed...making the move to stand despite the consequences.. "If you won't let me I'll get your Father."
She took a few breaths, reopening her eyes and relaxing the tightness of her shoulders a little. "What are you doing? Luka!"
He groaned as he put weight on the leg...the crutches out of reach. "I'm not playing games."
She started to stand up, but had to hunch back over and sat on the cot again. "Fine, fine....just sit down."
As she agree he did as she had asked..the muscles in his leg spasming
slightly. "Move back down here and let me see."
"Put the oxygen on first," she said, looking at him through one eye.
"I'll just get your Father." He pushed himself up off the bed..ignoring his half dressed state as he used the cot to steady himself and worked his way around it.
"Oh, for....fine!" She nearly shouted it, then moved her arm. In one swift movement, she yanked her shirt up and over her head. She was wearing a bra, but there was a large, blossoming bruise that started at the lower edge of her ribs and extended up under the edge of her bra.
Reaching the end he grabbed his jeans and fumbled them on at the same moment she agreed. Then cussed softly in Croatian at the sight of her injury.
"There, now we're both going for half-dressed," she said, shutting her eyes again and putting her hand over the bruise.
He reached for the crutches. "I'm going after your Father."
"No!" She started to rise off the cot, and reached for him with her other hand. "You can't...."
He finished fastening his pants then reached for his crutches, with them to steady him he started for the door."
Her eyes were panicked. "Luka.....don't get him. Please."
He stopped as she reached for him. "I have to."
"No, you don't." She managed to stand, taking deep breaths. She still kept one hand over the bruise. "The ribs aren't broken, I already checked. There's nothing that can be done."
"Could be inside damage. You need X-Rays."
"Internal." She corrected automatically. "If there was, there would already besigns." She took another breath. "I've been watching for anything to indicate internal bleeding.
It's just the bruise."
He looked between her and the door...his loyalty obviously torn over what to do.
She trembled a little. "I don't want anyone seeing it. If you go and get him, then I'm leaving. You won't be able to return before I'm gone."
It didn't come from the tent..." He stated the fact quietly. "That's why."
"And what difference is it going to make?" she asked, in a near whisper. "What do you think can be done now?"
"If you won't let me tell your Father...you have to let me do the exam...all of it." His tone left no room for negotiatian.
Her eyes widened. "You're....not in any condition...to do that."
"Me or him....or I tell Angelique." The third compromise was added after a momentary delay.
She closed her eyes. "What are you trying to prove?"
"That you're all right...no..you'll never be all right again...but this happened because of me...and I have to know that nothing else is wrong."
Two tears slipped out from under her closed eyes. "Nothing else is wrong," she insisted.
He trembled slightly...his own fear and weakness mingling together as he stood there.
"Let me do the exam...or someone else can...if you're worried, you won't be my first."
"I don't want..." she started, before swallowing. "I just don't understand the point. I survived, didn't I?"
"Physically...but things could still be wrong...there are things to look for."
"I know...don't you think I do? I know what to look for."
"Let me get Angelique...let her do it. You can trust her, I trust her..."
She moved slowly, sitting down on her cot, her hair falling forward as she leaned over.
"It won't be long..."
"I don't know..." she whispered.
"You have to be seen by someone..."
"She'll tell Poppa. I don't want him to know."
"No one else has to know. I'll tell her...no file."
She lifted her eyes. "She'll tell him..."
He shook his head.."No..I don't think so. Let me get her."
She lowered her eyes again, her shoulders trembling. "Poppa will be back soon."
He shifted the crutches..."Then I need to hurry."
"Luka....do you have to?"
He started for the door..then turned and walked back to her...handing his picture to her. "I'm leaving this with you...I'll get it when I come back..my word to tell no one else..on their memories."
Her fingers shook a little as she took the picture, carefully. Looking up at him, she seemed confused. "You'd....leave it here?"
"I trust her...I trust you."
As she looked at him, a few more tears slipped unheeded down her face. "Okay..."
He turned and headed for the door before he changed his mind..the panic at walking away already registering if he proved wrong in his reading of her. He disappeared out the door...five minutes...ten minutes...fifteen minutes and the flap rustled..the older woman came in with Luka not far behind her...she carried her own medical bag. "Claire?"
She was still sitting in the same position....in fact, she was holding the picture just as carefully, as if it were a bomb and she knew moving would set it off. Her eyes hadn't moved from it either, and she hadn't wiped any of the tears away either.
Angelique moved over beside her..taking a seat beside her and folding her arms around her like a mother holding a child...
Without answering Angelique, she turned and held out the picture to Luka. "H-here. I didn't lose it." She didn't seem to register the hug, just kept her eyes on the photo.
"Shh...she whispered to her in French...nonsense meant to soothe for a few minutes..
"I didn't lose it," she repeated, quieter.
He moved over to take the picture back..then retreated again. "I knew they were safe with you." He offered quietly before he slipped out the door, leaving the two women alone.
She managed a nod before he left, then closed her eyes, seemingly wilting into Angelique's embrace. A long while passed, an easy forty five minutes, before
Angelique made her way outside the tent. "Luka? Are you well?" She said it the way others said okay, rather than meaning non-sick.
He was leaning on one off the posts nearby...looking a bit shaky but holding his own.
"Better I think."
She moved over to regard him closely, although she smiled, motherly. "You are looking better now, oui."
"She going to be okay?" He asked the question very quietly.
She took a breath. "I believe so....there is some pelvic tenderness that is bothering me, but she agreed to come to the medical tent tomorrow for more testing. Her ribs are not broken, but are definitely bruised."
He nodded..."I told her only you would know...she doesn't want her Father to worry."
"It's understandable," she said, in her lilting voice. "She is very loyal and protective of her father...she does not like to see him upset. I would take her to the main tent right now, but he is still there, and will wonder if I do that."
He nodded..."Is she sleeping?"
Angelique tilted her head slightly. "She is lying down, but I do not know if she is sleeping yet. She said she is not supposed to take anything because of her concussion."
"Unless you agree..."
The older woman shifted her grip on the medical bag. "As long as she rests, I dont see the need yet to prescribe anything. She still has some lingering shock too."
He nodded..."Should I leave her alone? I could move to a tent..."
"It's really up to you, Luka. She does seem to trust you, however. And your moving might alert William that something more is wrong."
"I didn't think of that." He released a breath and a cough .."I'll stay
"It would serve twofold. You can keep an eye out for things that others may miss."
She rested her hand on his shoulder, squeezing lightly. "You are a good friend," she murmured.
"Thanks for coming."
"Of course. And try to keep her from moving around too much. She has several actual cuts that are bothering me...moving seems to aggravate them."
He pushed off the post as she spoke. "Cuts?"
"On her thigh. Only her right, for some reason. If they don't start closing properly, I may stitch them."
"She didn't tell anyone."
Angelique nodded. "She believed it would go away if she didn't speak of it....common reaction. Also.." She smiled a little. "Claire always struck me as a fairly stubborn woman."
"I should have seen the signs...I've seen it before..."
She made a clucking sound with her tongue, reassuring. "You've had a lot to concern yourself with, mon chere. And someone like a med student knows how to hide those signs."
He released a breath. "I should go inside..before her Father comes back and wonders what is going on."
Angelique glanced around. "A good idea. I will see you soon....oui?"
"Thanks again..I'll makesure she is there tomorrow." He gave the woman a rare smile before turning and heading for the tentflap. Claire was lying on her cot again, but facing into the room rather than at the tent wall as he entered. Her eyes were open, but dry, with no indication that she had cried before. Angelique had apparently helped her
put her shirt back on, but her shoes were sitting neatly on the floor.
"You going to lay down?" He moved over to the cot...switching the oxygen back on as he had agreed he would before sitting.
For a moment, it looked like she hadn't heard him, then she shifted her eyes to look at him. "You going to put that oxygen on?" If her tone wasn't so quiet, it might be teasing.
"I said I would."
"So you did," she said, quietly.
He drew a breath and eased the pants off...forgoing his earlier efforts at modesty due to his own growing fatigue. As he sat on his own cot he fished his picture out of the pocket before dropping the jeans into a pile next to it. That done, He coaxed his leg up and covered himself before finally slipping the tubing over his head and adjusting it.
Her eyes were still open, but she seemed oblivious to his changing, like she didn't see what was right in front of her. After a moment, she said, very low, "Did she talk to you?"
"Only to tell me to watch a couple things...I said she wouldn't tell."
"Watch a couple things?" She shifted, sliding her hand up under her head.
He lay back..only to cough then sat up to bunch the blankets again so he was only half reclining. "Yeah..shock mostly. You should rest..."
She absorbed that, drawing her knees up slowly. "Luka?" she said, very low.
"Yeah?" His voice came equally subdued.
She was quiet for a while, as if she'd forgotten what she was going to say.
He tucked his picture near his head.
She closed her eyes. "Thanks," she finally murmured, faintly.
"You're welcome..." He lay his head on his arm...settling his eyes on the picture as he listened to her breathing across the room. Only when he was sure that she was asleep did he allow himself to consider the same luxury, and within moments of it being given he too was asleep.
To be continued...