By J.D. and M. Blais
He didn't know how long he lay there in the dark before he let himself slip back into the sleep the drug offered, all he knew was that even there he failed to find the escape he needed. The knowledge that he had been spared while the others from the hospital had died stirred the memories and he found himself fighting his escape again...hearing the warnings..seeing the trucks...he tossed restlessly, only to moan as he jarred his leg.
A firm hand came down on his shoulder, grasping it to calm him down.
The touch was unexpected and in his mind he thought the Serbs had found him, his eyes flew open thinking his luck had finally run out, the hand belonged to one of them and death had finally come to claim him. At the sight of William a tremble of fleeting fear rolled through him before he caught his breath and fully registered him.
William tightened his grip a moment, having brought in a lamp with him and set it on the table so it illuminated the dark tent. "Luka," he said, quietly. "You need to calm down...you're moving too much."
"The dreams..." He offered the explanation even as he tried unsuccessfully to slow his breathing.
"I know. I don't want to redose you so soon if I can help it." He smoothed his hand over his jaw, with a small breath, and settled onto his stool. "Bad tonight?"
"They all died..." He lifted his hand, rubbing sleep and spent tears from his eyes.
William leaned forward slightly, concerned. "Your family?"
"Yes...but...not only them, I was back at the hospital...the day I finally had to leave, it was so real..."
"You're here now, Luka. It's just a dream, right now."
"I ran away and left them there to die..." He moved his eyes to Williams, expecting to see disgust in them, the same disgust that he was feeling in himself.
William regarded him intently, although he didn't look more than just worried. "There was no other option for you, Luka. It was under attack."
Luka shook his head. "We didn't know what would happen, others stayed behind...for the patients...I should have been one of them." His breathing had finally slowed but his voice remained unsteady.
William sighed, interlocking his fingers together, his elbows resting on his knees. "You can't dwell on what could have happened, Luka. There's no guarantee you could have altered a thing by staying there."
Luka rubbed at his eyes again...clearly doing battle with himself. "Why am I the one who keeps beating death? What makes me so different then the rest of them?"
"You're not the only one," William answered. "This camp is full of survivors who think they are alone. Who have lost whole families and friends."
"Three...four times it should have had me...but it didn't...and I don't know why."
"I can't tell you why...I wish I could." William kept looking at him, his face drawn and serious.
He drew a shuddered breath..his emotions fraying..."I don't want anyone else hurt because of me...I just want it all to end."
"Sshh, calm down," William murmured, rubbing Luka's shoulder with his hand. "No one else is going to be hurt....you're safe here."
"Claire was hurt...she got too close...if she hadn't...God...I'm sorry...I never meant for her to be hurt..." His breathing grew unsteady again as he started to work himself up.
"Everyone I touch gets hurt or dies..."
William hesitated, surprised at his words, but drew him to his chest as he sat on the edge of the cot. "Luka, calm down...I know you didn't mean for anything to happen.." His voice sounded thin.
"I'm sorry...I'm sorry..." He murmured the apology over and over as the man held him, at first unable to bring himself to return the hold.
He smoothed back Luka's hair, his hand trembling. "It's not your fault.."
"I let her get too close...I can't let it happen again...I can't risk anything else happening because of me...not to you...not to her..." Despite his words he found himself finally giving into the need for the security the man's closeness offered, knowing he was trying
to pull away in his head but unable to do so physically.
William didn't loosen his grip. "You can't get rid of us that easily," the older man said gruffly. "We're not going to abandon you."
Luka's body trembled under the man's hand as he fought what was proving to be a losing battle to maintain the last of his control on his emotions. In the end it was too much for him and as he lay his head on the older man's shoulder the tears came,and with them the repeated apology "I'm sorry...I'm sorry.
No one blames you," William murmured, soothing. "Not me....and not Claire. She doesn't blame you.."
There weren't anymore words for the moment that would explain what he was feeling so he simply gave into that base need for comfort that a child seeks from a parent no matter their age and in lieu of his own being present he allowed William to serve in his stead.
Reassuring, he continued to hold him, murmuring low consolations to him to help him calm down.
He wouldn't know what what it was about this man more then others that allowed him to let go with him when he couldn't with others...maybe it didn't matter, but under his hand and his words he gradually relaxed and with it he once more edged closer to sleep again.
He finally allowed Luka to pull away, to lie back again on the cot. "You shouldn't worry about us right now," he said, gently. "We're not going anywhere."
Luka blinked...a final resistance to giving fully into sleep...but soon even that battle was lost, he searched William out with one hand...grounding himself in that simple touch then finally released himself to it, and as he closed his eyes, sleep claimed him.
The late morning sun was slanting light across the bare floor when Luka next awoke to the sound of William inside the tent.
As the sounds of the tent and voices outside filtered in he stirred...turning a bit on the cot.
William touched him, first on his shoulder, like a notice that he was there, and then to his forehead, a habitual gesture checking for fever.
At William's touch he opened his eyes...there was the momentary confusion from the meds then the clearing as full consciousness came to him. "Morning..I think." His voice was deep with sleep.
William smiled, straightening up. "Barely....but yes, still morning. How are you feeling?"
He shook his head slightly...even with the man having said nothing he knew what had passed the night before was over, it would never be mentioned again unless he chose to relive it, which he didn't, not now. "Hard to think..." He rubbed at his face...then started to push himself up on one arm.
"I think I'm going to start easing up on those sedatives....we lucked out." He pulled something off the table, what looked like a brace with metal supports, and several straps. "This will hold much better than the splint."
Luka followed his actions as he retrieved the device. "How did you get it?"
"Same way we get most of our supplies...donated or retrieved from locals." He hefted it and brought it over. "It's worn, but still in very good condition."
He raised himself up with his other arm so he could get a better look at the brace. "I'll be able to get up with it?"
"I think you may even be able to walk with it." William rested it on the bed next to him, then moved the covers over his knee. "Let's try it out."
"With the crutches?"
"Depends on how you manage with it." He started to unwind the bandages, but only enough to remove the splint, then started to rewrap. In minutes, he had it in place and was adjusting the cloth straps, testing the give of them.
Luka watched carefully...managing to keep his leg relatively still as well despite the pain the movement caused him.
Finally, he leaned back. "Alright. Want to give it a whirl?"
"Okay...he bit his lip as he fully sat up..it took him a minute more to find his picture and after getting his pants on he was ready to stand. He turned so he could put his good foot on the floor.
William stood first, offering his hand for support.
He lifted the other leg with his hands...shifting it so it was over the edge before looking up at William and taking the offered hand.
William pulled him to his feet and steadied him, letting him find his footing.
When he was on his feet he was a bit unsteady..the weakness of the bedrest and lingering medication evident.
"Fresh air will likely clear your head better as well."
"Can you walk on it this way?"
He moved his eyes to William..the hesitation to bear weight on the leg visible. "I can try..."
"The brace will keep it immobile...it's just a matter of it paining you now. I think you can still use the crutches with it too.."
"It's not so bad..." He wasn't sure how much pain was being covered by meds but knew he had to stop relying on them.
William waited while he tried a few steps on it, eyeing him critically.
He looked at William then bit his lip and took a tentative step...then another...his balance still unsteady but not bad.
William nodded, almost to himself in satisfaction, then picked up the crutches. "Here...to steady you until you get used to the brace."
Luka took the crutches and settled them under his arms.."Thanks." His appearance reflected the days of bedrest...his hair shaggy and his face lightly bearded. The shirt he wore wrinkled from continually sleeping in it.
"I've got to get back to a few patients soon....maybe you want to go have a shave?" William asked, with a wry smile.
He lifted a hand to rub his chin and nodded. "Yeah..sure. You can go..I can get there. Can I shower with this?"
William nodded. "It shouldn't hurt it, and Angelique wanted to stop by and see you once you were more awake," he mentioned.
"But not Claire?" He shifted his eyes to William with the question.
William glanced back, his smile giving way to a more somber look. "Are you asking if she wanted to come see you as well?"
He let his eyes drop to the floor..."She wants more from me then I can give her..." He tried to explain.
"What does she want from you, Luka?" he asked, concerned.
He wet his lips..."She wants me to let her in...to be able to forget with her...but it's too soon." He stopped and lifted one hand from it's crutch to scratch his head. "It's hard to explain."
William nodded, rubbing his chin a moment. "Maybe...she understands that now. I'm sorry, but she hasn't asked about you, not since I started you on the sedatives. She's in the med tent right now, anyway."
He lifted his eyes to William as he took hold again.
William knelt a moment, adjusting one of the straps, before standing again.
"Long story. You've been out about four days...we had a bad run of new pnemonia cases, and she was helping out where we were short. You know Claire...persistent. Last night, we had to start treating her for exhaustion, dehydration."
"You should be there...not with me."
"I have been there, Luka. But I can only stay in the med tent so long...I have many other duties. She was asleep when I left."
He eyed him, not fully sure if he believed him but not ready to call him a liar either. "I can go back to the tent...let her be here with you."
"Maybe tomorrow," William relented. "I doubt she'll be released from care today."
He nodded, seemingly satisfied for the moment. "Okay."
"You could go visit," William hedged. "Angelique is there as well."
He nodded again.."I guess I should clean up first then."
William allowed a smile. "Indeed."
"Claire brought me some things...a small bag." He glanced around for the bag as he mentioned it.
"It's on the locker at the foot of your cot," William gestured.
Settling the crutches he made his way over to pick it up...then turned and made his way back.
"I'll be back here shortly...take it slow, and get used to the brace," William cautioned.
SetsunaLuna: He glanced around. "Actually, let me help you with your shoes before I go." He retrieved them and knelt to help slide them on.
To be continued....