Gideon Sterling, Ragnar Bjornson, Miles Sutherland and Carter ‘Gil’ Gillespie
Late night/early morning, 27/28th Jan, Rapatoka
“What’s your prognosis, Doc? Are you going to survive?” Gideon’s quiet enquiry broke into the silence that had fallen as they finished clearing up.
Miles straightened and rubbed the back of his neck.
“You look wiped out.”
Miles flinched as a warm heavy hand landed on his shoulder and squeezed gently. “I’ll live,” His voice was a harsh rasp. He needed a drink. “Been there, done that, as they say.” He sighed, unwanted memories dredging up again. He shoved them ruthlessly away before they could drown him. He still had work to do. Abruptly, reaction set in and he started to shake. Gideon had an arm around him before his legs gave out, and he was guided to a bed.
“Sit down before you fall down and take a minute,” Gideon advised quietly. “Rag can carry on with the clean-up.”
“I’m fine,” Miles growled.
“Get some rest, or you’ll be no good to anyone. We can watch him for you.”
“To be perfectly frank, I’m still worried. We took what precautions we could, but performing surgery like that in conditions like this is far from ideal. I’ve left a drain in and given him antibiotics, but he’s not responding as he should. When his heart gave out….” Miles shuddered. “He ought to be airlifted out to a hospital on the mainland…”
“No can do,” Gideon insisted. “I wasn’t lying for Pierce’s benefit, you know?” He gestured toward the window. Rain was already pouring down outside and the wind was whipping through the trees again. “There really is another storm front on the way. This is just the leading edge. Everyone is battening down over on Mystery. I’ve left Garvey in charge over there and we’ll just have to ride it out here until Clarke can can make it back in the boat. That should be early tomorrow, always supposing the Met boys are right and it blows itself out by then, but while we’re stuck here, we might as well all get some rest.” Gideon glanced toward the kitchenette. “I could kill for a cuppa, though,” he said eagerly and then frowned. “On the downside,” he added thoughtfully, “it gives the White Witch time to throw her weight around, although hopefully she’ll be as pinned down in her bure by the storm as we are here…” On cue, a rumble of thunder reached their ears, and lightning flashed through the windows. “Thar she blows, Capt’n,” Gideon grinned.
Miles stared over at the still unconscious form of Gil on the bed. Between them, Rag and Miles had brought him back from the brink a couple of times. “From the sounds of things he fell a fair way. As far as I can tell, he isn’t bleeding internally, but a normally fit and healthy man shouldn’t have reacted like that. I was all ready to blame you, you know. Wondering if my trust was misplaced. For a while there I thought he must have reacted to the wrong blood group or some other factor, but that takes days to happen, not minutes. The trap must have been coated with something. I checked with Caroline, and all she could tell me was that the natives use toxins on their spears to kill fish quickly. They get them from one of the local cone shells. She didn’t think it would be strong enough to kill a man, though. After all, they have to eat the fish afterward….”
“Perhaps he had an allergic reaction?” Rag suggested, turning up with a tray on which three mugs steamed invitingly.
“Who knows how long the bloody thing had been there or even who put it there. Might not have been the same poison as the one they use to kill fish.” Gideon took a mug and sniffed appreciatively. “Ah, tea. You’re a life saver, Rag. We should get some food inside us, I could murder a curry. Could the toxin have changed over time?”
“Possibly. Who knows. We don’t even know which one it is. And how the bloody hell do you propose to find a curry over here?”
“Is the toxin still in his system?” Rag asked as he rummaged in another bergen for something. “He was in that hole for a long time, overnight at least. The stuff on the end of that spear had more than enough time to get into his bloodstream.”
“I flushed the wound out as well as I could after removing the spear. But that’s just a part of the problem. The extraction itself was a bitch. I won’t know for a while whether I was successful or damaged some nerves in the process. Nerve damage takes a bugger of a long time to heal too.” Miles tried to imagine how Gil would react if his arm was permanently affected. Anyone with his degree of devotion to his job would be devastated. If he regains consciousness. No, when he regains consciousness, not if, Miles reminded himself. He wouldn’t allow himself to think in any other terms. He turned to face Gideon. Eidolon might be full of shit, but the big man had proved his worth a couple of times over. His offsiders had been a big help, too. “Thanks, mate. Thank your men, too, would you? First off for not trying to pull the spear out, and then, helping during the operation. Rag, you were great, thanks.”
The man nodded and smiled.
“Where in the blazes does that name come from, anyway?”
“It’s short for Ragnar,” the big man said, amiably. “Swedish father, English mother. There you go.” He held up the results of his rummaging. “What do you fancy? Irish stew, chicken curry or Lancashire Hotpot?”
“Pardon me? You’ve got food as well?” Miles stared incredulously. “What the hell are you guys?”
“It’s nothing special, I’ll warn you,” Rag grinned. “It’s survival rations, you rehydrate it with boiling water. You can eat it, but it tastes like shit.” This last was uttered in a fake Crocodile Dundee accent.
Miles waved his offer away; food was the last thing on his mind at the moment. He stared after the blue-eyed blond as he walked into the hospital kitchenette. He wasn’t just a pretty face. For a second there before Gil’s heart restarted, everything Miles had ever learnt or done just seemed to fly out the window. If it hadn’t been for Rag’s calm actions and prods of what they should do next, Gil might have died.
Now his legs were a bit steadier, Miles stood and checked all Gil’s vitals again. “He needs more rehydration.” Miles checked the level in their last drip bag. “Trouble is, there’s not much IV fluid left as I had to use so much to flush out the wound.”
“Coconuts,” Ragnar said succinctly.
“I beg your pardon?” Miles wasn’t sure he’d heard correctly.
“Coconuts, we’ve got plenty here. You could set up a coconut IV,” Rag repeated.
Gideon saw Miles’ blank look. “You’ve never heard of that one? In an intact coconut, the fluid inside is sterile. Shove a needle in through the soft eye, fix it to an IV line with a drip chamber and Bob’s your uncle. Instant rehydration.” Miles was looking at him as if he’d grown an extra head. “Promise you, it works. Rag can show you while Lucas and I boil some water, then we can all eat something.”
“Okay, you’re on.”
It did work. They sent Lucas out to gather a few husked coconuts and Rag showed Miles how to hook one up to an IV line. Gil immediately started to respond better as the rehydration took effect.
Consciousness was vastly overrated, Gil decided. He was awake, in pain, feeling nauseous, cold and thick-headed. He kept his eyes tight shut, he had no wish to see the dark, the hole, his arm… Abruptly, he remembered people, voices—Lyle’s?—movement, flashes of lucidity in an otherwise delirious fog. Panicked, he jumped, eyes flying open, whole body tense and shaking. Pain assailed him from somewhere, sharp and hard, unyielding. He gasped and grunted, and felt a weight pressing him back to the bed.
“Easy, my friend, take it steady.” The oddly-accented voice was calm and reassuring, even if it belonged to a complete stranger sitting beside him on the bed. The blond giant had one big hand pressed firmly on his chest. “You’re safe…”
“Gil, rest easy, you’re in hospital,” Gideon reassured, looming over the bed, gaze fixed on their patient’s troubled brown eyes. “You’re safe,” he reiterated. “We found Miles. He’s here, he’s going to look after you. You need to rest now, come on, relax…” Gideon kept up the monologue of reassurance, easing Gil back onto the pillows.
“Miles…” Gil’s memory was playing tricks. They couldn’t have found Miles, Miles was lost…
Miles was shaken awake from a deep sleep. Gideon was gazing down at him, a hand on his shoulder. “He’s awake…”
“Huh?” It took a second for Miles to work out where he was and who was speaking. As soon as memory returned, he swung his legs out of bed and rushed to Gil’s bedside. It seemed that his heart wanted to burst out of his chest. He’d had to keep such a tight rein on his emotions, now hope was on the horizon he almost became dizzy with relief.
He stared at Gil for a couple of seconds, noting the eyes flickering behind the closed eyelids. Relief became guilt as he remembered how he’d treated the young man after their night of glorious sex. He almost felt ashamed to touch him, but he needed to reassure himself that he would live.
Gil felt the hands on him, exploring, examining… That hurt. “Ow.” He was ashamed at the whimper that escaped as the fingers touched a sensitive spot. His arm felt as if it was on fire. His head was throbbing, and there was a dull ache behind his eyes. His whole body seemed to be sore, bruised. He felt pathetically weak.
“Hi, mate, how are you?”
Gil’s eyes opened and focused on the doctor as he sat on the bed. “Miles…I’m dreaming… or dead… “
“You very nearly were.”
“Oh fuck… it’s real…?”
“Take it easy, stay calm. There’s no need to get upset now, you’re safe.”
Roofie? The man’s barely conscious and already he’s thinking about someone or something else. Miles gave a wry smile and shook his head. “He’s okay. Gideon told me that the mutt found his men, apparently did the whole Lassie thing. They found you down a hole…”
“Roofie was down the hole…”
Miles looked puzzled.
“I was looking for you…” Gil explained. “Along the beach. Roofie barked and…I couldn’t see him. Then I fell through the leaves. Roofie was down there and I managed to boost him up and out before I collapsed. I thought he might piss off again and forget me…” Like you did, Gil thought, but didn’t voice.
“So, you were on a mission of mercy?” Miles flinched at the wary look that crossed Gil’s face when he made his flippant comment. “Sorry, I always seem to say the wrong thing where you’re concerned, don’t I?” He brushed a lock of hair away from Gil’s face and stared down into the brown eyes that seemed to look straight into his soul. “Thank you for rescuing him,” he said softly, and thank you for rescuing me, was the thought that immediately followed, but he couldn’t express that conclusion yet. One day, if things improved between the two of them he might actually be able to say the words to Gil out loud. The conviction that the young man had saved him from a life of misery was growing stronger day by day. He hadn’t felt this alive since Darren died. He shook his head and laughed. “Anyway, trust Roofie to survive. Smart little mutt. Gideon’s men brought you over here. I had to stay to look after Caroline.”
Miles indicated the lady in the bed next to Gil’s. She’d gone back to sleep, her face relaxed and serene. “Caroline is a native of this Island.” Miles explained about her sojourn in New Zealand and her injuries. “She’s seen the big wide world and come back here. Personally, I can’t say I blame her.”
“Why, Miles? Why did you leave…?”
Miles winced at the hurt he detected in Gil’s voice. “It wasn’t exactly by choice. Look. we’ll talk later, when you’re feeling better.” He needed to tell Gil how he felt but now was not the time nor the place. “Right now, you need rest. When you’re stronger, we can talk properly, in private. I think I need to explain some stuff. Now, are you in pain?”
Gil paused before nodding. “My arm feels like it’s burning. My head… aches. I’m sore…”
“Obviously you’ll have pain from the operation. We had to make a pretty deep cut to extract the spear. The thing was covered in these narrow barbs. It is a pretty diabolical weapon; once the shaft penetrates the victim, the barbs in the tip are released, much like a spear gun but on a smaller scale. We couldn’t just push it through though as there were other barbs going in the opposite direction.”
Gil looked sick. “Sounds great…”
“Then to complicate matters, when the barbs came out they brought with them a toxin. I suspect it’s from one of the cone shells found in the area. Each species has a different method of action, basically they are neurotoxic peptides. They’re pretty deadly things at the best of times, with no known antidote.”
“So…how long before I’m back on my feet…?” Gil hated how tentative his voice sounded but that comment about “deadly things” with “no known antidote” scared the shit out of him and Miles’ next words did little to reassure him.
“It’s going to be a case of wait and see, I’m afraid. In the meantime I need you to tell me each and every symptom you have. No great heroics, please. If it hurts or it itches, you tell me, right.”
“Right…” Way to go, doc, Gil thought. Great beside manner.
“I mean it, Gil. Any symptom you have might relate to some different effect it’s had on your system. We don’t know what it is or how it works, but believe me when I tell you, you nearly died. At least twice. Your heart went into shock.”
Gil couldn’t prevent the anxiety from showing on his face. “But I’m okay, right? This isn’t going to be permanent? I mean… it’s not killing me slowly, is it? You know, liver or renal failure? Cell breakdown? All I need is a strep or staph infection from it…”
Sometimes ignorance is bliss, Miles thought. Gil was a knowledgeable medic who couldn’t be fobbed off with bland reassurances. Maybe he’d divulged too much information, but Gil would expect to be told the truth. “I won’t lie to you, I have no idea what this stuff does, so don’t expect miracles. Your vitals are stable right now, so my guess is you’re over the worst. I think all the factors conspired to weaken you. You knocked your head as you fell, you lost quite a bit of blood, and you were exposed to the elements all night. But you just lie there and let someone else look after you for a change, right?” Miles stared at Gil, trying to assess whether the man would do what he was told for once. “Right?” He repeated.
“Right. If I have to…”
Miles smiled at the young man’s grudging response. In a way he looked forward to the opportunity to spoil someone again. “Warm enough?” Gil nodded. “Okay, let’s keep it that way.” Miles drew a blanket over his patient’s legs and sat down on the end of the bed.
“Now, I want to introduce you to your new nurse. Lucas!”