By J.D. and M. Blais
The tent had darkened considerably with a fresh storm rolling in and Luka rolled to his side, drawing the blanket over his shoulder to compensate for the chill. The sound of his breathing was rougher despite the oxygen and he only half slept as he listened for Claire to make any sounds or for William's return. William came into the tent, pushing back one of the flaps. There was a tenseness to his shoulders, a deadly seriousness that hadn't been there when he had left. At the sound of the rustle he opened his eyes...pushing himself up on his arm and forcing a cough to rise. William paused, looking him over, his eyes dark and fathomless. He didn't say anything yet, just moved over to check the oxygen level and set his bag down.
"Something wrong?" Luka's voice came rough but quiet.
He seemed very faraway, almost like he was holding himself in check. "What did Angelique say about how you were doing?" He drew the stool over, but didn't sit on it yet. He glanced to Luka, his voice low and modulated. "She did come to the tent, didn't she?"
He coughed..then forced himself to sit...drawing the blanket around him as he did. "She didn't..." He coughed again, almost doubling himself over before it eased. "I went after her." He flicked his eyes to Claire then back to her father. "For Claire, I thought she might be more willing to talk to a woman."
William looked away from him, picking up his bag and setting it on the table so he could withdraw a few things. "And..?"
He coughed again..as he shook his head. "I don't know, I left them alone..."
"Did Angelique do the exam?" He started replacing some of the dimished gauze in his bag from supplies.
"What did she say?"
"Do you always answer questions with another question?" he asked with a deceptively mild tone.
That he was torn over what to reveal was obvious and as a way of avoiding he let a particularly strong attack of coughing delay his response.
William sighed, although it was strained, and went over to adjust the oxygen. "Are you still taking the anitvirals?"
"Only what you gave me. I'm sorry...I said it was hers to tell." He leaned back slightly trying to draw more of the oxygen into his lungs.
William adjusted the prongs, then retrieved a small medicine bottle from his bag, and poured a cup of water. "Someone else saw Angelique come to the tent, and they saw you outside while she was here. " he said, evenly. He shook two capsules out into his hand, and offered them to Luka.
He tolerated the attentions...though he couldn't help the feeling of betrayal he felt over not sharing everything. Raising up he took the pills.
William held out the cup, silently. "I'm not....angry with you," he finally spoke, although it had a deeply strained sound to his tone.
He eyed them a minute then put them in his mouth before taking the water and drinking. "It's my fault...you can blame me."
"What is your fault?"
"If she hadn't started seeing me...brought me here...she wouldn't have..gone..."
The muscles in William's jaw tightened a moment, but despite the flash of something in his eyes, he said, quietly, "You don't know that."
He lay back with a resigned sigh..."No one is...safe around me...better I go." He started to lift his hand to the tubing as if he was going to remove it as he sat up.
"Luka." William sat down on the edge of the cot, as if a great weight were on his shoulders. "I'm asking you....not to go." His voice was very low, and sounded tired, hollow.'
"It'll be better...I make too much trouble for everyone."
William smoothed his hand over his eyes. "You're wrong....and I'd like it if you stayed."
"She needs you...I'm just...in the way." He did lay back again though he still protested.
"She doesn't want me to know," William pointed out, his shoulders tight. He didn't look at Luka. "One of the men who had gone with her, he was the one who saw Angelique come here."
"He knows?" His question was followed by coughs that forced him to sit until they eased.
William was quiet for a long moment.
"How could they just watch?" His question was so quiet it might not even have been meant to be voiced aloud.
William cleared his throat, quietly. "As I suspected, there were guns involved." After a moment more, he said, "He told me he was glad she finally spoke up."
Luka swallowed..."So...they chose their lives over hers..." He fought the emotion in his voice knowing he would have sacrificed himself had he been there in hopes he could reunite with his family.
The lines along William's arms stood out in relief, as if he was ready to spring up and move, but he remained where he was. "You never know what someone might do in that situation," he finally said, although it sounded rote.
"I do...there are.." He drew a ragged breath. "There are worse things then dying."
William took a short breath, then indicated he wanted to see how the leg was wrapped. The need to do something was clear in his expression. "He told me all of it," he said, after another pause.
Luka nodded...pulling aside the blanket to reveal the bare leg..
"That's why I had asked you about the exam." He slid his fingers under the bandage and tested it, but still didn't look up at Luka. "I can't ask anyone else."
He nodded..then looked to Claire and back before lowering his voice. "She's going to see Angelique again tomorrow."
"Angelique won't tell me anything either," he said, noncommitally. "But I suppose that is something."
He swallowed a fresh cough..."Maybe she needs time...before she can talk...like I did."
"Be that as it may..." He readjusted the blanket over his leg. "I'd prefer it if you stayed here for a little while longer. Let's say that...I need you to."
He nodded.."There are things I haven't told...even to the soldiers." The confession came quietly.
William had to clear his throat again. "You know you can talk to me...." He smiled, weakly. "Be nice if someone did."
He drew a ragged breath as he rubbed his eyes. "Doesn't change it...to talk about it...but those are the things that come in the nightmares..."
"I see. Well, if it will help." William glanced at him. "I know it would help distract me. I..." He let his voice trail off, rubbing at his chin a moment.
"I don't know if anything can help..."
"It's not that." One of his hands made a fist on his knee. "I'm trying to keep from going after that volunteer that told me all about it."
"I know...after my family..." He stopped himself from saying more then restarted. "I wanted to become a soldier...I wanted to kill all of them...to make them all of them pay."
"And now?" he asked, quietly.
"I don't know...sometimes I wish they would find me...finish me...I almost let them...but I promised someone to get out." He squeezed his eyes closed to stop the tears he knew were close withthe knowledge that the man was likely dead now as well.
"Do you still want to be a soldier?"
"I don't know what I want..." He let his eyes settle on the man..."I want someone to pay...but I know it won't change anything.."
William nodded his acceptance of that, putting a hand on Luka's shoulder. "Yes...I need to remember that as well."
"No matter how many I would kill they would all still be dead." He leaned his head to the man's arm...a silent acceptance of the contact. "At least you still have her...it's more then I have."
William smoothed a hand over Luka's hair. "Maybe," he started, quietly, "maybe this is why it was so important that I meet you." He said it more to himself than anything.
He stifled half a cough but said nothing..letting his own fatigue draw him to it again.
"Alright," he murmured, quietly. "It's late. You should be sleeping."
He nodded.."So should you...no beds left though..."
William smiled, although it was worn. "I can always take the floor."
"I can sleep on the floor." He drew back from William's touch. "Slept worse places."
William shook his head. "Not until the last of the cough is gone."
Luka settled his eyes on him weighing his chance of arguing then conceded without a fight as he lay back.
William actually smiled. "I see you are giving in more often where Claire and I are concerned."
"Can't win..." His words came with the hint of drowsiness signalling the approaching sleep.
"You're wrong," William said, very quietly, drawing the covers up. "You've won us over, pretty much."
If Luka heard he didn't comment, his eyes having closed so the dark lashes rested against the bruising under his eyes. William remained at his side until the silence of the darkening room was broken only by the wheeze of his breathing and the whisper of the oxygen.
To be continued...