Miles Sutherland, Caroline Halapati and Lucas Olutopu
with mention of Carter (Gil) Gillespie and Gideon Sterling
Before sunrise 27th January
Miles woke from a deep sleep, sure he’d heard barking and Gil calling out to him. He hoped to God they were alright.
In the dark, all he’d seen when he looked out the window was a collection of lights where the resort was. That mean they must have got the electricity working at least. As the sky brightened with the approaching dawn, the outline of Mystery Island started to emerge from the blackness surrounding it. He’d been gone for nearly two days now.
Yesterday, when Caroline summoned Jerri and Tommi and gave them a dressing down for kidnapping him, he’d suggested they take him back so he could collect some gear and reassure everybody he was okay. There was better medical equipment there he told Caroline: drugs and proper splints. Gideon had mentioned that everything on the plane would need to be unloaded so they could fit in more stuff on the return trip. Anyway, knowing Gil, he’d probably packed everything he had.
The unintelligible conversation between the islanders had gone on for some time with much shaking of the two curly heads. The huge men might be scared of Caroline, but they were more afraid of going back to the island for some reason. She seemed to understand and didn’t yell at them. Before they left, her command had been to: “Look after the doctor.” That had met with a much happier response. Their identical faces transformed instantly from sullen misery to wide grins.
Miles had yet to discover what “looking after” meant. He’d always connected those words to his looking after Darren.
“You’ve been staring out that window for three hours.” Caroline’s soft voice shattered the silence.
Miles moved quietly over to Caroline’s bedside. He could just make out her form in the gloom. “Sorry, if I disturbed you.”
She blew him off with a dismissive wave and struggled to get into a more comfortable position. “No, it’s just the leg.”
He reached for a packet of oxycodone.
“And I don’t want any more painkillers until the morning,” she bit out sharply.
He replaced the tablets on the bedside table. “Would you like a cup of tea instead?”
She shook her head slightly. “If I do, I’ll just need to pee again.”
Miles smiled and changed the urine collection bag. She was one of those nurses who had no hesitation in providing that sort of care for her patients but was loath to accept help herself. Her leg had to stay as immobilised as long as possible. At least for another 24 hours. One of the reasons he’d resigned himself to staying.
She grimaced. “I need to move, get the circulation going. I can’t afford to get bedsores or a clot.”
“But, not yet.” Miles tightened the ropes supporting her elevated leg. He’d managed to rig up a sling between two IV stands. If only he could get some of the gear over from the island. They didn’t even have a wheelchair here. That was another thing he’d seen on the plane.
“I wish I had some heparin at least,” he muttered as he plumped up the pillows behind her.
“Well, we don’t have any. This island needs a lot of things as you’ll discover if you stay for a while, Mister.” Her waspish comment surprised him, she was usually pretty calm and collected.
“Are you sure you don’t want some more painkillers. We still have a few of those.”
She shook her head. “No. Talk to me; distract me for a while.”
Miles checked the other occupied bed in the ward. Lucas seemed to be fast asleep. Miles edged a little closer, careful not to move her leg. “What do you want me to talk about?” he asked softly.
She stared at him for a while, then her gaze shifted slightly. She seemed to be looking at something over his shoulder. He twisted around, thinking Lucas might have woken up, but there was no-one there.
“Who is he?” she asked quietly when he glanced back at her, a feeling of dread in his stomach.
Some of the colour had gone from her face, but she didn’t seem afraid, more… concerned. A cold chill swept through him, exiting with just a tingle from his toes. “Who is who?” He barely managed to croak the words out.
“While you were staring out the window, there seemed to be someone standing behind you. Shorter, slimmer. He looked like he wanted to touch you, comfort you.”
Miles closed his eyes and tried to prevent the tears spilling out. Shit, he so didn’t want to go there. He glanced at her, thinking he could fob her off with some smartass reply, but her lips were set in a grim line. It was strange. Sometimes Darren did seem so real to him; he’d find himself turning to share a funny joke or have a bitch about something and be surprised he wasn’t there. Maybe she could see a presence, a ghost. He sighed. “I was thinking of Darren.”
She glanced down at his hands.
He followed her gaze and noticed he was twisting his wedding ring round and round. He hadn’t even been aware he was doing it. “My late husband,” he added almost defiantly.
She nodded as if she’d expected as much. Obviously she wasn’t prejudiced about gays. Probably why she hadn’t been shocked by Lucas’s behavior.
“What happened to him?”
“He died a couple of years ago after a long battle with AIDS.” Too many people made the assumption Darren had been sleeping around. Usually Miles didn’t give a hoot what they thought, but for some reason he couldn’t bear to have Caroline think that. He swallowed, the truth was even harder to admit. “We were both working for Medecins sans Frontier in Africa….”
As he told the tale, she listened without interrupting. Her gaze never flinching from his despite the horrific scenes he was describing: their capture by a Somalian warlord, the rough treatment he and Darren received while being moved from one location to another as ever more ridiculous ransom demands were made. The beatings and brutality were the easiest part. Heck, at least they were still alive; their native borne helpers had been slaughtered immediately. At night, they’d tried to keep their distance from each other, knowing that any hint they were lovers would make matters worse.
In the end, it had been Miles’ fault. He’d had a particular vicious whipping by their captor’s sadistic leader. It was a wonder he hadn’t been scarred, but the man was clever, careful not to leave any marks so that when negotiators came he could always pretend they were being treated well. But that night, Miles couldn’t help himself. He’d broken down and cried like a baby.
Despite the fact he tried to push him away, Darren had wrapped him carefully in his arms, avoiding touching the welts and cuddled him. Rocking him like a child, muttering soothing words in his ears. Telling him how much he loved him.
A guard had come in and just laughed. Moments later, Darren was dragged away. When the door opened again, hours later, he was thrown into the corner like a sack of potatoes. At first Miles thought he must have been beaten too, but Darren just shook his head and refused to answer, gesturing for him to stay away. It was only in the light of day that Miles discovered he’d been raped repeatedly. Miles would never forget the look on his face. The unshed tears glistening in his eyes as he tried to smile, but wincing instead as he muttered, “They forgot the lube.”
Maybe one of their captors felt they’d gone too far and tipped the authorities off to their whereabouts. Whatever happened, a surprise raid by forces loyal to the government freed them a couple of days later, but the damage was done. One of the men must have been infected and with the rough treatment Darren received and his weakened state from their time in captivity, the infection took hold.
“Why hadn’t it been me?” Miles pleaded, uttering the question that had plagued him ever since.
Caroline just shook her head and didn’t answer.
“He was so gentle, so loving. Even afterwards, he refused to hate them, trying to get me to just let it go.” He bowed his head, no longer capable of witnessing the sadness in her eyes. He snorted. “Let it go,” he repeated quietly under his breath.
“What could you have done?” Her voice contained none of her usual tartness. The uncharacteristic gentleness nearly set off his tears again.
“If only I’d been stronger, taken my beatings like a man.” Miles glared at her, but in the pre-dawn gloom all he could see was a dark shape in the bed. She’d closed her eyes. What could he have done? Once they’d returned to the States, they’d both undergone counselling and he’d even experimented with BDSM, trying to come to terms with his guilt. After a while, Miles had welcomed the restraints. He wouldn’t cry or even scream, just accept whatever they gave him for Darren’s sake. Promising himself that if it ever happened again, he’d be stronger, able to cope. But it was never enough.
One shrink had suggested Darren do the whipping, but that hadn’t worked either. His lover had refused to hit him hard enough to make it hurt. Miles wanted it to hurt. Needed it to hurt. At least the ‘treatment’ had rid him of the horror of being bound.
A slight whimper made him look down. In the dark he hadn’t even been aware that Lucas had joined them, sitting cross legged on the floor in his usual position at his feet. Miles had even been stroking his fingers through his hair without realizing it, lost as he had been in the past.
“Tea, Lucas,” Caroline snapped, and her command broke the spell.
With his hand free, Miles returned to twisting his ring round and round his finger again, forcing the memories back into the padlocked section of his brain. “I’ve never told that story to anyone except my shrinks before.”
A single tear, slowly slid down her cheek. “You have to believe him when he says it’s not your fault.”
At her words, Miles sprang to his feet and paced up and down beside the bed. “Of course it’s my fault. Weren’t you listening? If I hadn’t been weak, he’d still be alive.” The harshness of his reply didn’t even cause her eyelids to flicker. This time she was looking over his shoulder again towards the window, focused on whoever, or whatever was behind him.
Miles wanted to turn around, but just couldn’t. Torn between wanting to see something and scared that he wouldn’t. Even a ghost would be better than the complete absence he’d had to endure ever since Darren died.
Maybe if they’d been like most couples he knew, he would have been alright, but ever since they’d met, Darren had been that other half of him. His better half. He was scared that if he let him go, as well-meaning people, his sister, Siobahn, for one, urged him to, the bit that was left would be found wanting, inadequate.
“Maybe, it’s time you did listen to him.”
Miles sank to his knees beside the bed. “How?”