RR#38: Building Bridges

Gideon Sterling, Miles Sutherland and Lucas

___________________________________

Evening February 12th Rapatoka Island

Gideon yawned, stretched, ran a hand through his hair and scratched his scalp. God, what a bugger’s muddle of a day, he thought, glancing at the clock to see it was knocking on for 20:30, and he still hadn’t finished the reports. After his coffee in the afternoon with Lyle, they had parted on amicable terms, although Gideon was far from relaxed around that man these days. Lyle had a subtle sexuality that enticed, and Gideon had to admit a burning curiosity to experience that for himself. He really didn’t care about the man’s transgendered state. Gideon took folks as he found them, always providing they did the same with him and had no designs on putting a ring on his finger. If they were offering then Gideon didn’t mind taking, as long as what was on offer was acceptable to both sides—no strings, no ties, no permanency.

He got to his feet and stretched again, wondering about finding something to eat. He didn’t fancy anything the restaurant might offer. He eyed the bottom drawer of his desk. Maybe the solution in there was a better alternative? He really needed to get Miles and Gil back to Mystery. He needed their expertise, their no-nonsense pragmatism, and Miles needed to take some responsibility for that damn dog of his. It was his decision to bring the mutt, the little bugger should be under his supervision instead of getting under Aggie’s feet.

Gideon had read Eidolon’s file on Miles Sutherland from cover to cover; seemed like they had one a foot thick on the doctor. The man and his late partner, Darren Peterson, had both worked for Medicin sans Frontiers, risking their necks on the front line on more than one occasion. Finally, after six years of service in the different trouble spots in Africa, their luck ran out, and they were kidnapped by a Somalian warlord. Gideon had paused at that. It hadn’t made very nice reading and some unwanted memories of his own had floated unhelpfully to the surface.  Sometimes he wished he didn’t have such perfect recall. He knew Eidolon didn’t have nearly as much information on him, though. It would have made interesting reading if they had, but he had managed to suppress most of it. With a little help, of course, but there was no way in hell he was allowing Pierce to find out the truth.

In Miles’ case, Eidolon were able to get hold of the official and the non-official reports on the Somalian episode, both military and medical. Before being ransomed, the two doctors had been subjected to weeks of imprisonment and torture. Gideon knew what that was like. He strongly suspected that this environment wasn’t doing Sutherland any good at all. No doubt that accounted for the expression on Miles’ face when he arrived, not to mention his attitude when they brought Gillespie to him for treatment. Suddenly the doctor’s irritability and reticence began to add up.

An idea began to form. According to the psyche reports, none of the suggested treatment had done much good. Bleeding heart do-gooders were a pain in the ass, but there were a few who truly believed what they were doing was right and gave of themselves selflessly. They were usually the ones who suffered; the ones who went unappreciated by folks who were safe in their affluent homes; the ones who ended up dead or damaged in the line of duty, often inflicted by the same people they were trying to help.  God knew there were enough aid workers who had given up most of their lives to a cause that eventually resulted in their deaths, tarred with the same brush as enemies of the state. Sutherland–and his partner–seemed to fit into that category.

Unlocking the bottom drawer of his desk, Gideon withdrew the bottle of whisky he had been saving. He held it to the light and admired the deep amber glow. It was a good one; it deserved a worthy companion to share it with. Gideon stepped outside into the warm night, following the path down to the shore. Moored to the jetty, the inflatable bobbed gently on the wind-ruffled waves.  It took him only moments to untie her and jump in. He started the engine and guided the craft out into the dark waters of the lagoon; it was high time he continued his dialogue with Doc Sutherland.

@—}–}—–

Miles sat on the top wooden step of the small hospital building, enjoying the coolness of the night air. The soft whisper of wind rustling in the coconut palms was the only sound he could hear. Peace and quiet for a change. The residents of Rapatoka were a noisy crowd, laughing and joking as they went about their daily tasks, but now they were all in bed.

Gil had also pleaded tiredness. Not really a surprise. He was still recuperating, and it was taking a while. Watching the young man, his long limbs spread out on the bed, clearly visible under the light covering was too much of a temptation for Miles. Since the blow job on the beach, Lucas always seemed to pop up like a bad penny whenever they were close, so all they’d been able to do since then was exchange a furtive kiss or the occasional grope. Mind you, that didn’t prevent the promises and teasing of what else they could get up to when they finally had a bed big enough for both of them and some privacy.

Lucas, his constant shadow, sat on one of the lower steps. Acting as a watch-dog to make sure I don’t leave, or does he just like having some company, Miles wondered. The young boy’s quiet presence brought back memories of the other companion who used to sit patiently at his feet, Roofie. A pang of guilt and regret shot through Miles. Hopefully, someone was looking after his mutt.

Apart from being a nuisance when Miles wanted to get up close and personal with Gil, he didn’t mind Lucas being around. He had wanted to read him the riot act for sneaking up and spying on them while they were making love, but Gil quietly pointed out that Rapatoka belonged to the Islanders, and the lad had every right to be there, not to mention he was at the age where curiosity would get the better of him. At least Gil didn’t seem to regret anything Miles had done or said. He was more concerned about exposing a boy of that age to the raunchy sex he planned to get up to.

Not that Lucas was a virgin or anything. Judging from Caroline’s earlier comments, the sixteen year old had already been sexually involved with one or more of the former residents of Mystery Island. But youthful curiosity or not, neither of them felt right about continuing his sex education.

Sleep would be a long way off while Miles was so frustrated. Perhaps he could have read a book? Caroline offered to lend him a couple, but as Rapatoka’s only generator was linked to the hospital, to conserve fuel, they rarely stayed up for long once the sun set. Over on Mystery Island, the lights shone all night. Did the people there have any clue about the difference between the two islands? One still trapped in the third world and the other boasting all the latest mod cons. It wasn’t bloody fair. He had tried to get his point across to the Ice Queen but failed to move her; she had skin thicker than a crocodile and a smile as false.

A new sound intruded into the quiet. At first Miles thought the buzz was a large mosquito, but then it became louder. A motor, an outboard motor. Lucas stirred and glanced up at him enquiringly. The young boy no longer pretended he couldn’t understand what Miles was saying, but he still didn’t speak to him in English.

“Stay here. Keep an eye on Caroline and Gil.” Both his patients had been asleep when he came outside.

“Tommi, Jerri.”

Lucas started to get up so he could fetch the huge identical twins who acted as the island’s main enforcers and bodyguards. Miles put a restraining hand on the young boy’s arm and shook his head. The man getting out of the boat didn’t seem to be armed. He might still be dangerous, but somehow Miles knew he didn’t pose a threat. Not tonight at least.

Gideon pulled the boat up onto the sand, hoping he didn’t have to keep an eye on the damn thing. After the previous show of force, the islanders might have been persuaded to keep their hands off it. He hoped so anyway. Despite Pierce’s lack of tact, Gideon wanted to try building bridges not create gulfs. He had witnessed Sutherland at work, admired the man’s single-minded determination to save Gillespie. Gideon well knew the man was good at his job. He was also a dedicated ‘bleeding heart’, he had taken up the Islanders’ cause and challenged Pierce on their welfare. Despite Gideon’s own ambivalence toward bleeding hearts, there was a pragmatism and an honesty about Sutherland that lifted him above the majority. He had stood up to the Bitch Queen as well, which made him okay in Gideon’s book.

Glancing around, Gideon decided to make for the dark bulk of the hospital building first. Before he could move, though, a figure detached itself from the shadows and walked toward him. The shape could only belong to one person. He tensed momentarily then mentally berated himself. He had to stop seeing hostiles behind every bush. This wasn’t Iraq.

“What’s wrong?” Miles eyed Gideon warily. Although they’d spent hours in the cockpit together during the seaplane flight, and then Gideon had donated his blood to Gil to help the man get through the surgery, Miles really didn’t know much about the man. Only that he worked for Eidolon and seemed to think guns were the solution to everything.

“I come in peace, oh Great White Chief…” Gideon intoned. He chuckled and held out the bottle. “I bring fire-water… Actually,” he dropped the humorous front “I was looking for a chat, and someone to share a drink with?”

Miles raised his eyebrows. The man had at least four bodyguards at his beck and call, plus who knows how many other people on the island by now. The seaplane had done plenty more trips since their arrival. “What? You didn’t want to share it with Ms Pierce?”

Gideon had to laugh at that. “Ms Eidolon might think she’s some kind of…” he paused. What the hell does she think she is? He sighed. “Not sure what she thinks she is really, but whatever it is, she’s the last person I would want to share this with.”

“I can relate to that. A first class bitch if ever I saw one. What have you brought with you then? Some Johnny Walker Gold Label I hope?”

“How does twenty-five year old single malt sound, old man?”

The ‘old man’ jibe stung for a second until Miles suddenly remembered the guy was a Brit. Most of the time Gideon’s accent seemed non-existent, but he’d lapsed into his more natural speaking voice when he’d made that remark. Miles could just picture him in a pub in Camden Town, downing a few pints of Guinness before heading off to the soccer. “Anything would be better than Lipton and out-of-date instant coffee. Did you bring anything to drink it out of, or should I fetch some medicine glasses?”

“Alas, the butler didn’t pack the cut crystal. Wouldn’t have survived the journey.” Shit, if they went up to the hospital, he’d lose his chance to speak to the Doc alone. “We can always share.” Gideon opened the bottle and held it toward Miles. It wasn’t the right way to drink the good stuff, but it would have to do.

The rounded sides of the inflatable made a comfortable perch as they sat side by side and passed the bottle back and forth in silence for a few minutes.

“Ah, that was worth waiting for.” Gideon let the liquid burn a trail to his stomach, allowing him some time to consider the man beside him.

“Somehow, I don’t get the feeling you came all this way just to share your whisky with me, excellent though it may be.” Miles reluctantly passed the bottle back and wiped his lips. Since giving up the grog in an effort to lose weight he’d almost forgotten how good it tasted. “What’s on your mind?”

“First, how’s Gillespie doing? We’ve not been in touch since.”

“He’s doing fine…. “ Miles’ eyes lost focus for a moment, and Gideon saw what could be a slight flush rising to the doctor’s cheeks, a slight darkening of his flesh in the moonlight, but Miles shook himself and finally gave his report. “I’m satisfied with his progress. He’s back on his feet anyway.”

“Good, that’s very good. Look, there was another reason I came here…” Gideon took the bottle back again and sipped it. “I have something I want to…discuss with you. We didn’t get much chance to talk when you were dealing with Gillespie. I read your file after…”

Miles stiffened; the warm whisky in his stomach immediately turning into molten lava. Shit, was his ulcer flaring up again? “And…” He couldn’t prevent the anger from seeping into that single drawn out word. Pierce had made a crack back in Haven Falls about his failure in Somalia. Yes, he’d failed. Failed to be strong enough for Darren’s sake. Was this man going to rub his nose in it yet again?

“My apologies if it makes you uncomfortable.” Gideon noted the tense line of Miles’ jaw, the rigidity in his body, the wariness in the dark eyes. That had hit a nerve. More than one, to go by the reaction. “You should know, I’ve read everything Eidolon has on all of you.”

Miles snorted. “What they have on me will hardly be a secret. The press didn’t get all the details, but from the looks of things Eidolon seems to be able to prise their tentacles into every hidden crevice.” He refused the bottle the next time Gideon offered it to him. His liver had already had enough, and he wasn’t sure he could stomach any more reminders of Eidolon or any of its employees. He pushed down on the edge of the boat and started to stand.

“Miles, I know you have no reason to trust me, but don’t go. I’m not here at Eidolon’s behest. I’m here because…” Gideon sighed. “I’ve been in your position. I understand…”

“How can you understand?” In the silence, Miles’ response, unnaturally loud in the quiet, sounded more like a shout. He walked a few steps along the sand and stared across the water at Mystery Island, barely able to keep a check on the anger that made him want to lash out sometimes.  “Have you ever caused the death of the man you love?” He glanced at Gideon. “Or the woman?”

“If I said it wasn’t your fault, you’d not believe me. Would you?”

“No. I’ve been told that many times lately, but nothing alters the facts. If I’d been stronger, he’d be alive today. Simple really.”

“Miles…” Gideon paused, flexed his shoulders and winced. “Damn…My shoulder has been playing up…” He chuckled. “Think I might need a doctor. Wouldn’t blame you if you didn’t want to help me though.”

“Bullshit.” The implication that he might withhold treatment because of who Gideon worked for actually made Miles madder than any implication he’d made earlier… the half-joking jibe about age and his failures. “After a lifetime dealing with casualties from both sides of the battlefield, you think I’d refuse treating your injuries if you needed help? What’s wrong?”

“It’s an old injury; maybe nothing you can do at this late stage.”

A sudden memory flashed through Miles’ mind of his stand-off with Gil back at Haven Falls when the injured Jason Biggs had refused treatment. Army shit. Gideon had obviously seen action. Probably been wounded at least once. “One of the legacies of being soldier, I would imagine.” He turned back to contemplate the way the three-quarter moon shone on the ripples of the lagoon; the waves were smaller now the wind had dropped. “Comes with the territory,” he added softly. Hopefully Gideon wouldn’t detect the sarcasm in his voice. He found it hard to sympathise with people who believed that conflict could be cured with guns.

“Would you take a look anyway? In case?” Gideon stood and turned on the spotlight perched on the front of the boat’s awning, angling it to shine downwards.

“Do I get to undress you, or do you think I have X-ray vision?” Miles smirked at Gideon. He wasn’t bad looking in a blunt, macho way. Not really his type though. Nothing like Darren or even Gil who were just downright beautiful.

Gideon laughed at Miles’ comment. “That’s a leading question, doc, should I ask you what colour underwear I have on?” He stripped off his shirt. “Or even if I have any. Most folks assume I go commando.”

Miles gave a quick smirk at the joke and moved to stand behind Gideon, making sure his body didn’t cast a shadow. “What happened?” The skin on the soldier’s left shoulder was puckered. Ugly. Cheloid scarring had built up around the wound site. He twisted the man around slightly and looked at the opposite side. Gideon just caught his eye for a second and then stared straight ahead, probably remembering the incident that caused it: a small bullet wound, neat in comparison, only inches above his heart. Miles grunted in recognition. The one on the back was the exit wound. A high calibre bullet from the looks of things, the wound had healed untreated. The guy was lucky to be alive.

He fingered the rough skin for a minute. Why hadn’t the man tried some of the newer remedies, silicon strips and creams that would reduce scarring no matter how old it was? This was just what he could see though – the surface. Who knew what the tissue inside his shoulder was like. He twisted Gideon around further so he could see the rest of his back. Raised welts stood out. The guy had worn a black T-shirt on the plane and he hadn’t seen any of these, but their precise criss-crossing placement could only mean one thing.

Miles turned away and barely managed to resist throwing up the expensive whisky he’d just drunk. He retrieved the bottle from the seat where Gideon had placed it and unscrewed the lid. The large gulp helped to settle his stomach. Seemed like hair of the dog was working tonight.

Gideon reached for his shirt. “I’m sorry, Miles, but I wanted you to know. I’ve read your file, I know all about what happened to you. Now you know why I understand.”

Sorry? That’s my line. No, I’m the one who should be apologising.” Miles shook his head and handed Gideon the bottle after taking another swig. “At least the bastard who did the same thing to me made sure he didn’t break the surface of my skin. You need someone to rub oil into those. There are ways to reduce the scarring.”

“You assume I want to.”

Miles glanced up, alerted by the change in Gideon’s voice. The softness he’d heard during the apology had been replaced by bitter certainty. He could relate to that. “Ah,” he sighed. “I think I’m beginning to understand. It’s not only the torture we have in common, more the need to remember.”

A bleak stare met Miles’ gaze. “Three of us were taken.” Gideon settled himself down on the edge of the craft again and pulled his shirt back on. “I was injured, but the others wouldn’t leave me. Sure, I got medical treatment, enough to make sure I survived. I can’t tell you much, official secrets crap. We weren’t officially there. Suffice to say, I’m ex-SBS. You’re an intelligent man; you can imagine what kind of missions I went on.” Gideon watched the doctor’s face as he spoke; a flash of something—disgust?—appeared and vanished almost instantly. “The men who were with me, we’d been in the regiment since training. I knew them both well; we were drinking buddies. Our captors thought they might get a better result by making us draw lots. I was the lucky one, if you can call it that. I got to live.”

Miles winced and returned to sit beside the still figure who was again clutching the bottle of whisky, but this time his knuckles were white with tension. I got to live. He knew just how that felt. The guilt, the remorse, wanting to turn time back or slip into an alternate version of the universe. “What happened?” he asked quietly.

“They threatened that unless I told them everything they wanted to know, they would shoot my friends. Of course, I didn’t tell them anything. The irony was I didn’t have much to tell, but I wouldn’t have, even so. So, in my case I got to see my colleagues executed in front of me.” Gideon glanced out across the lagoon again and took a hefty gulp of the whisky. He didn’t share with Miles how it felt to see someone’s brains blown out in front of him, specially someone he knew. They weren’t in an I’ve seen worse than you competition. His eyes lost their focus for a moment as he silently drank to the men he had known. It didn’t help to know that neither of his fellow soldiers had blamed him. He had, at least, shared a last glance with both of them. Their eyes had told him all he had needed to know.

The tragic story triggered memories Miles would rather forget, but it was good to be reminded he wasn’t alone. He waited while Gideon swallowed his whisky. He could tell that the man beside him was still deeply affected by the incident. Soldier or not, he was still a human being. The trouble with the world was too many people believed violence was the cure; in fact it was usually the cause of the problem.

Gideon turned and placed a hand on Miles arm. “Miles, when I said none of it was your fault, I meant it. My mates’ deaths were not my fault. I could have made something up, I could have lied. Maybe it would have worked, maybe it wouldn’t, but if our positions had been reversed, they would have done the same thing. ” Gideon expelled a gusty sigh and sat back, taking another pull on the bottle. It gave him a moment to think. “I know all the arguments, believe me. Why were we there? We had no business to be; it was their country, we were invaders, heard it all. Fact is, we were following orders. That’s what we signed up for; that’s what we trained for. War is like that, ugly, as you know. Point is, the fault lay with the men who chose to do that to us. They are to blame. The blood is on their hands. I might feel survivor’s guilt that I’m alive and my mates aren’t, but I didn’t pull the trigger. I have no guilt over what happened to me and neither should you. Fuck it, we were trained to deal with shit like that, you weren’t. I know how hard it was on me even with all my training. I keep these scars to remember how fucking short life is, not just to remember the people I served with.”

“And those physical scars don’t cause you pain? Stop you functioning at a hundred percent? Seems a bit stupid if they can be fixed.” Miles thumped his chest with a closed fist. “My scars are in here, and you can’t get at those.”

“You know, in the old days, if a soldier transgressed, he was flogged, and the transgression was done with…I know you’re not a soldier, but if you feel you fucked up…”

“I’ve tried that, doesn’t work, or are you offering to wield the whip? If you’ve read the report you must know I get turned on now by a bit of kink.” Miles knew he was being stroppy, but he didn’t care. Too many people were trying to ‘fix’ him; that was half the problem. “Look, mate, I appreciate what you’re trying to say. Rationally, I agree with you. Trouble is love ain’t rational.”

“I know love isn’t rational; if it was, it wouldn’t be love, would it?”

Miles studied Gideon’s face for a while and wondered whether the man had ever been in love, and if so with whom? Maybe he was married to the job. A lot of soldiers were. Finding it hard to let go of all the adrenaline and excitement and that thrill of just surviving each encounter. “Thanks for the whisky.” Holding the bottle up to the light, he wasn’t surprised to discover they’d managed to polish off half of the contents. He handed it back to Gideon without regret. Alcohol wasn’t the cure either. He’d tried that and failed abysmally. All he’d done was put on weight and rip holes in his stomach lining. He’d probably be feeling the effects there tomorrow.

Gideon sensed the conversation coming to an end. There was more he wanted to say, to offer. At least he’d made a start at building bridges, with Miles at least. “Well, is there anything I can do to help? You know, if you need a drinking partner, someone to listen, a firm hand perhaps…?” A corner of his mouth quirked up in a smile.

Miles raised his eyebrows at the last offer. Was the man serious? Now was not the time nor the place to find out, but he’d store that suggestion away in his brain. As for things he needed. “Maybe I’ll take you up on the offer later, but now you mention it, there is something you could do to help. Not me, but the islanders. I told Pierce what I wanted her to send over: a couple of wheelchairs and some of the equipment that came with the seaplane. You know… stuff that was supposed to be used for disaster relief.” He let the sarcasm shine through his words. He’d taken ages to calm down after his encounter with the bitch.

“I’ll see what I can do. Anything else?”

Miles glanced back at the hospital. Lucas was still sitting on the step, eyeing them warily. “The younger islanders need assistance. Non-stop games of pick-up rugby are well and good, but they have too much time on their hands; they need their brains stimulated as well as their bodies. I’m also concerned that if they’re not kept busy they might be tempted to visit Mystery Island, and given Pierce’s reaction, that would only lead to trouble.”

Gideon nodded. In light of the White Witch’s reaction he had to agree. A thought occurred to him. The teacher, Aiden whatever-his-name-was. He was at a loose end, moping about something. He was taking his enforced stay on the island much harder than the others. As a teacher, he would have more than enough experience of dealing with young people. Maybe, Gideon thought, I can persuade him into helping here, jolt him out of his depression. “And what about you and Gil? Isn’t it time you came back to Mystery Island?”:

“I suppose so; I miss Roofie. The silly mutt’s sort of grown on me.”

“He’s a character alright, but he needs his master. My lads have grown quite attached to him, I think he might be missed if we sent him over here, but he’s getting under people’s feet. The Akita is a bit like his owner, a little too quiet, whereas Roofie is up for anything…” The inference was not lost on Miles as Gideon began to push the boat back into the water. “And for the record, I never say anything I don’t mean… Sleep well, Miles, I’ll see you soon.”

Miles just nodded and took over the pushing as Gideon jumped in. He stood there for a while, watching as the boat sped out of sight, back across the lagoon. Should he take Gideon up on his offer of a firm hand? The man looked like he could deliver on his promises. The skin on his back tingled with anticipation.

Tonight, he’d learned a lot more about the man who had brought them to the island than he’d expected. The details had been gruesome, but in a weird way they stopped him from feeling so alone. Most of the other people around here didn’t have that sort of dark past. The water rippled around the bottom of Miles’ legs, chilling him. No, he was wrong there. Flynn obviously had a past full of darkness. Lyle had secrets he preferred to keep covered, so finding that Gideon also had terrors that no doubt kept him awake at night shouldn’t have come as that much of a surprise. Life was like that; the longer you lived, the more likely it was that shit happened. The important thing was to learn from the past and move on.

Silence descended once more as the sound of the boat’s motor diminished into nothing. Miles turned and walked slowly back up to the hospital with only his thoughts for company. Lucas had disappeared. Already in bed most likely. Miles yawned. That was where he should be, he’d had precious little sleep of late. He sat on the stairs and brushed the sand off his feet, surveying the primitive huts and buildings that had been his home for the last few weeks. Despite the fact that he enjoyed being amongst the friendly natives, maybe he should follow Gideon’s suggestion and return to Mystery Island. He couldn’t speak for his fellow ‘refugees’ from Haven Falls; they would have to sort out their problems in their own way, but it was time he took responsibility for his own. Roofie for starters. Miles wasn’t needed on Rapatoka anymore. Carolyn was well enough to resume her role and with Aiden’s help, the children would be better educated and kept out of mischief.

Miles stared toward the flickering lights on the other side of the dark lagoon and thought about the circumstances that had brought him to this island paradise. Gideon had hinted that he should give Eidolon a second chance, and he respected the man enough to know that at least his heart was in the right place. The prospect of being trapped on Redemption Reef didn’t fill Miles with so much dread now that Gil was firmly lodged in his heart and by his side. It remained to be seen what sort of life they could build together, but even if all he did was ensure that the Rapatokans didn’t suffer from the organisation’s presence, he would feel he had accomplished something. Still championing the underdog, Miles? Darren’s voice sounded in his head, clear as a bell, amusement tinged with pride, and was that an approving Woof he heard from the other side of the lagoon? Miles smiled, dusted off his hands and went inside to be with the man who had given him a second chance on life and love.

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