By J.D. and M. Blais
Luka was dozing, the medication eventually numbing the pain enough to allow him that luxury. He lay on his back with the leg immobilized, one hand splayed on his chest, the picture reassuringly under it. Even though it had been only two weeks since his transfer to Thomas' tent the effects were already evident on both his face and body leaving no doubt that his diet had suffered from the move.
The tent was still dark, meaning it was either late night or early morning. A slight figure moved in the dark, making a small amount of noise although was obviously trying to be quiet.
He twitched slightly in his sleep, caught on the fringes of a dream...not deep enough to pull him fully into it, but enough that it seemed to stir him.
There was the click of one of the lockers, as it shut, and Claire rose from it, holding a small bundle of things in her arm.
Whether it was the click..or something deeper he came awake with a start..sitting up too suddenly then releasing a quiet moan as the action jerked his leg. He drew a couple quick breaths as he braced his hands on the cot, calming himself before he looked around.
Claire froze, her arms cradled around some of her clothing, standing a few feet from the door. She looked chagrined that she woke him.
It took him a moment to register her presence and what she was doing then his brow creased as he made the connection. "You're leaving?" He didn't immediately register that his words came in Croatian.
She glanced down at her clothes, as if debating a lie to tell him, but instead, she answered, in English, "We can't all sleep in here."
"I should go back...you don't have to go." As he came more fully awake and oriented his words shifted to English.
Setting her jaw, she took a few stiff steps over to the cot. "We can't move you yet, not unless you want to lose use of your leg, Luka."
He blinked not having realized the severity of the injury. "Lose the use?" His gaze shifted to the bandages wrapping the knee then back to her.
She dropped her clothes on the other cot in a heap, and knelt next to his cot. "Yes, lose," she repeated, using her hand to indicate where the injury was. "Poppa said the ligament was stretched again, weakened in that fall. It can still attach back to it's original spot, if we leave it alone and don't strain it. If we move you, any bending of the knee over the next few days might make it come off completely. If we were in the States, we could surgically reattach it...but we can't do that here. And until we could, the knee wouldn't work."
He rubbed his forehead and released a frustrated breath. "I messed it up...mess everything up." His voice trailed off as if the end of his words weren't meant for her to hear.
"It's just a knee injury, Luka," she said, evenly. "It's hardly everything."
"You shouldn't have to go..." He picked his picture up off the blanket as if he thought it might somehow get misplaced, an action he knew was simply a distraction to keep him saying more
She looked away, then rose to get her clothes. "A lot of things shouldn't happen, Luka."
"I don't understand." He lifted his eyes to her, knowing she had to be talking about more then leaving but unable to grasp what, the drugs still clouding his mind enough that he couldn't separate what it was.
"It's not the first time I've had to go, and it won't be the last." She glanced back from gathering up her things. "It's still dark, you should get some sleep while you can."
He shook his head. "I don't want to sleep...there are too many things there now."
"You were asleep when I got here," she pointed out, gently.
"Your father gave me something to make me."
"And it should still be working."
He blinked to clear his vision..a good sign she was right though he wasn't ready to admit it. "I didn't mean to say the wrong things before. Do the wrong things..." He added the last more quietly.
Her eyes went down, away from him, drifting over the cot. "You didn't do or say anything wrong," she said, thickly.
"Made your father mad at you...at me for being too close. He thinks I use you to not think about my wife." He dropped his eyes from her and to the picture.
"He what?" She sank down onto the other cot, obviously caught off-guard.
He drew a breath before he could continue. "He was here...he said I called you Danijela..."
"When..?" Her voice was very low.
"The day I left. It was a dream...I know you can't be her."
She continued to look down, at the floor.
"I think he's not too sure that isn't why I talk to you."
"Why do you talk to me, Luka?" Shelifted her eyes after a moment. "You don't want my help, and a lot of the time you try not to answer me when I talk to you."
He released the picture so he could rub his eyes, the other arm still keeping him upright. "It isn't easy to explain...at first it was because you kept coming...no matter how much I said no...later ..." He shrugged, then continued more carefully. "You didn't make me talk...you were just there." He paused to draw a breath before he forced himself to continue though his words came even softer. "I didn't want to let anyone else close to me...to get anyone else hurt because of me. I didn't want to risk losing anyone else." The last was barely audible and his eyes had once more fallen to his picture as they came.
"Well, you don't let me get close to you, Luka," she said, with a soft sigh.
He shifted his eyes to her before he responded. "Closer then anyone else."
"I had thought so," she answered, her voice strained, "and then we don't speak for days, and when I try and help you again, you pull away from me as if I'm a stranger all over again. When only days before I was crying on your shoulder."
"I didn't see anyone...I thought ...when your Father found us...he wanted me away from you....because he thought I would see you not for you. Then when you didn't come I thought maybe you thought that too."
Her shoulders hunched, as if there was a great weight on them. "I wanted to give you a break. And then I did come, but you weren't there..."
"I know...that was why I came to find you." He swept his tongue across his lips as he struggled not to avert his gaze.
To be continued...