By M. Blais and J.D.
Luka rested on the bench outside of the main medical tent, having brushed off Angelique's attempts to look him over. It was hard for him not to be nervous, and not just due to his worry for Claire. As irrational as it was, whenever anyone in uniform passed he tensed as if expecting to be confronted by the soldiers demanding still more questioning over all he had seen. He made no attempts to engage anyone passing in conversation. Why should he? All it brought was more reminders of what he had lost. That he sat here now waiting for Claire to finish inevitably brought back memories of his first meetings with the woman. Who had thought then that she would become so much a part of his life? There was slight movement of the door, then Claire slipped outside, closing it behind her.
He glanced up as the door opened, pushing aside the lingering thoughts, then reached for the crutches to pull himself to his feet. "All finished?"
"Yea," she said, sliding her hands into her jean pockets, almost nervously, with her shoulders hunched. She looked out across the camp instead of at him.
"You all right?" His tone held the note of concern and the hesitation of not wanting to pry.
Her lips pressed together, her eyes dropping but still not looking at him. "I don't know....I guess."
"You want to be alone? I can walk you back and go somewhere." He punctuated the offer with a brief cough.
"Not really." She swallowed, looking back over the camp, at the wan sunlight. "Walk sounds nice though."
Luka wet his lips, letting his eyes roam the area around them before returning to her. "Okay."
Finally, she looked at him. "But I don't think that would be ideal for you....maybe I should walk you back to the tent, put you back on the oxygen."
"What about your leg?"
He forced himself to look at her and not the people around them. "It's not too bad," he said offhandedly. He adjusted the fit of the crutches under his arms. "I can do it."
Her eyes searched his for a moment, her own tired and strained. "Alright....short walk."
"I don't know..." She ran her fingers through her hair. "Not much to look at around here."
"Could go out to the fence?" He didn't mention that it was his choice because it meant no people around them.
"Yes..." she said slowly. "I'd like to go outside the fence. Can we get around it?"
He nodded in response then began to walk. It took him a bit to find his pace and his eyes settled on the ground at first as he avoided rocks and such. "I don't know..." She walked alongside him, with a small limp, much less noticable than his own. At first he said nothing, giving her a chance to get her thoughts together as well as him a chance to do the same with his own.
"I suppose I shouldn't make you do too much. I can see later, if there is a way to walk outside it."
He raised his eyes from the ground and looked over to her. "Not much on the other side but field. I don't even think I knew it was there the other night." He made the confession quietly. "I'd just started walking...didn't know where I was going."
"I know." She avoided the eyes of people passing them, but kept her gaze on the camp at large. The tents thinned as they walked, slowly but surely, towards the edge of the camp. "Good thing for you it was there," she pointed out, quietly.
"It was." She set her jaw, almost stubbornly.
He lifted his eyes to her again, trying to read her before saying anything. "How long would you have looked?"
"As long as I had to."
"Because I didn't want you to die."
He ran his tongue inside his lips.."I wanted to...after reliving all of it...I thought I could just keep walking and it would all disappear...the fence stopped me."
"I suppose I just had to be selfish then."
He had no answer for her clipped words. Once they actually cleared the camp, he seemed to visibly relax as if just the idea of there being no one watching him made a difference in his whole posture. The fence materialized, rickety and sparse, bordering one side.
"I need to start working again tomorrow," she said finally.
He nodded to her statement. "Where at?"
"I'll be doing the same thing I was before," she said, as they approached it, slowly. "Helping here and there...running supplies..."
"Be hard to go back.." He said it for himself as well as for her, knowing he wasn't sure he could go back to Vukovar...not with what he had seen, and lost. He paused as they reached the fence, resting the crutches against itas he caught his breath.
"Yes," she agreed quietly. One of her hands just touched the fence, although she didn't grasp it. "Just keep walking....it sounds appealing, doesn't it?"
"Before they found me I was doing that..." His voice was quieter. "I didn't know where I was even going...only that I had to keep walking until I finally couldn't anymore."
"What did you think you would find?" She let her eyes roam over the unending fields past the fence.
His eyes drifted to the field and his gaze seemed to unfocus. "Think...or hope?"
She looked at him. "I already know.."
"It wasn't there...isn't there.."
"What if..." she started to say, but then shook her head. "It will be hard, going back."
"Least you have something to go back to...people who are there for you."
She moved to the fence and rested her arms atop it. "Yea.." She glanced at him. "You mention that a lot." He coughed lightly, then shifted his eyes to her. "About my having a place to go back to. People, all that," she continued.
"It's true...isn't it?"
"Why does it matter?"
"It's worse to be alone." His voice grew softer. "To lose everything and everyone."
"Do you think I'm going to tell anyone about what happened here?" she said, quietly.
"You don't have to tell them...they'll still be there."
"People come and go," she answered, vaguely. "What about your father?"
He looked back over the field and wet his lips. "I don't know..."
"We should try and find him."
"I'm not even sure where to look," Luka admitted. "I know where they were...but...he had to leave.."
"We'll try," she repeated, still quiet. "There are ways."
"I sent a letter after...but I never heard anything back...I don't even know if it found him."
"Maybe it didn't....but you can always write more letters."
"Maybe it's better like this...not knowing." He looked off into the field again.
He rubbed his eyes before answering. "I don't think I'm ready to know for sure that he might be gone too."
"You can hope that he's still alive." Claire watched him, still somber. "Nothing wrong with writing a letter."
"Not yet...not so soon...if it finds someone who knows..." He shook his head. "It's better with a little hope..."
"Okay," she sighed. "But...someday you have to try again."
He nodded slightly and sighed. "Yeah...someday."
She watched him another moment, then said, in his native tongue, "Help me with my Croatian.."
He looked over to her and lifted an eyebrow.
She blinked at his direct look. "..Please?" she added, unsure.
"Help you what?" He slid easily into his native tongue and the hesitation and halt that was present in his English faded.
"Speak it better," she replied, now the one with the hesitation in her voice. "We could...speak it from now on....sort of....all Croatian, all the time." She offered a wan smile.
"Better for me..." He offered one of the infrequent smiles. "What about your father?"
"Well....we would have to use English with him," she admitted, although her words in his tongue were slow. "It's just for...you and me."
"He doesn't speak it at all?"
"Some...he learned..after me." She struggled for a few of the words.
He nodded and looked up at the sky, frowning at the darkening clouds. "We better go back before he worries."
Her grip tightened on the fence. She seemed hesitant.
He settled his eyes on her. "He's your tata...he won't say anything to hurt you..."
"You can go back," she said, still in Croatian. "Get some rest. I'll stay out here a little longer."
He shook his head and shifted his position some. "Bad idea...then I have to explain why I left you here by yourself and he's not my tata."
"He likes you," she protested, her tongue getting better. "He's not going to be upset. Besides, it's still morning...not the middle of the night.."
"Says you..." Luka answered, repressing another smile.
She frowned a moment, deciphering the syntax. "Ah....yes, I say so."
"Not sure I believe you though..."
"I do not lie," she murmured, her accent a little off.
"Not lie...but if he was mad anything could happen."
She looked at him. "Anything could happen?"
He shrugged, the slight smile winning out.
Claire sighed. "You can't let me stay out here?"
He shook his head. "Nope...like you couldn't let me."
"It's not the same."
He looked over the field. "It's a place to hide...but it can't change things...or make any of them go away."
"I'm not going to die out here."
"Maybe not outside...but you can still do it inside..." He stopped, getting far too close to his own truths.
"Do you think...that is what I am doing?"
"Only you know that."
"Is that what is happening to you?"
Luka closed his eyes a moment, then opened them though he didn't look at her. She always turned those tough questions back on him, but perhaps it was what he needed. "Yeah...I think maybe...and it's a painful way to go..."
"How do I stop you from doing that?" she asked, very quietly.
Luka stared across the field a moment more, then dropped his eyes to her. "I don't know."
"Will you tell me when you do know?" she asked, with a sad half-smile.
Would he even try to know? He looked back out over the field a minute more before answering almost reluctantly. "Yeah.."
Claire watched him. "Now I do not believe you."
He forced himself to look at her and repeated her words to him. "I do not lie."
Slowly, she nodded. "Alright. Then you have to tell me when you know. When you know what I can do."
"Guess that means we're stuck with each other awhile. Ready to walk back?"
She let out a short breath, reluctantly. "I do not think I have a choice."
He released a rare laugh, then reached for the crutches. "Nope...not really."
"Now, honestly, I don't think you could actually make me," she teased, grumpily, looking at the crutches.
"Probably not, but I could try." He pushed off the fence, then settled the crutches under his arms before he turned his back to the fence. It was only when she did the same that he moved away, though he paused to assure himself she was at his side. Neither said much on the way back, each settling into their own thoughts as they walked. There would be time for talk later...
To be continued...