Susan and Liz did not immediately know where to look when they returned to find Einar missing, had not even realized he was capable of getting up at that point, but then, he was always surprising them... Susan wondered if, in some desperate last-ditch attempt to avoid the IV—he’d seemed only half aware during her last few attempts, might not realize that the whole operation had been, for the time, a failure—but Liz was sure he wouldn’t have gone back on his word to her, left the place in order to avoid the procedure. Not if he was in reasonable possession of his faculties, at least, and she well knew there was no guarantee of this, under present circumstances. He might very have found himself in that little jungle hut, surrounded by guards and with only a minute’s respite before his interrogators returned to perform upon him who knew what fresh horrors…which would have left him little choice but to attempt escape while the possibility existed.
Another possibility, Liz had to admit to herself as she hurriedly checked the front door, finding it, to her relief, locked, was that sensing the end near and seeing no remedy to stay the progressing hand of death, he might have decided to find himself a secure little corner of the house in which to await alone its coming. That would, she believed, be like him, a place with a view of the trees, most likely, of his beloved peaks, and though the picture was a pleasant one in its own way—who, after all, would not want such a thing?—she could not abide the thought of him perhaps even then lying in his chosen spot, breathing his last while she stood only feet from him. The house was only so big; he had to be found.
Quite unaware of the frantic search being conducted at the other end of the house, Einar stood swaying in a corner by one of the front windows in Susan’s sunny little library room, braced almost comically between the wall and a bookshelf with one elbow and both knees, striving not to fall as he maintained an iron grip on that mug of tea. Muninn perched on the back of the chair nearest him watching in silent, beady-eyed fascination as the man methodically raised the mug, got some of the liquid into his mouth and tipped his head backwards so it could trickle down his throat, much as a bird would have done.
Numerous times Muninn had observed the operation, captured more by the strangeness of the man’s behavior than by the fact that it mimicked something birdlike—the raven was intelligent, but perhaps not so intelligent as to have made that connection—and now the mug was nearly empty. The realization that he’d nearly finished the tea came with a great sense of relief for Einar, to whom the task had proven a major ordeal the completion of which had more than once nearly led to his drowning, but he’d kept at it, knowing and refusing to accept the only apparent alternative.
At the time, he’d been glad when Susan’s attempts at starting the IV had failed, his dread at being thus compromised and controlled by outside forces far outweighing any fear he might have harbored at the thought of his own imminent demise. But in the quiet after the two women had left for their conference in the pantry, something in him had rebelled at the thought of going so quietly to the end, animated him to a resistance of which he had only a moment prior no longer thought himself capable, and he had risen, carried the tea to a concealed spot, and tried on thing and another until he had managed to drink.
Now, hearing them coming, calling, searching for him, Einar moved too quickly to polish off that last big gulp, upset the delicate balance by which he’d managed to down the rest of the stuff and ended in a fit of gagging and choking which brought both Susan and Liz running at full tilt to his rescue.
He held up a hand, triumphant as it bore the empty teacup, waving it about as he held them off.
“No, I’m Ok. Just…little too fast on that last part.”
Liz had him in her arms, easing him out of his hiding place and into a sitting position on the floor. “Last part? You mean you drank all of this?”
A nod and a grin. “Sure. Sure I did. Most of it. Just got to…” More coughing then, and by the time he managed to get it under control he was far too winded to attempt speech, exhausted, sitting with chin resting on his knees and a jubilant if weary radiance gracing the deeply etched lines of his face, did it, not gonna let this thing get me, not yet, and when Liz moved to help him to his feet he went willingly back to the kitchen with her, sat on the mat Susan had prepared for him there, but still would not lie down.
Already Susan was busy with something at the kitchen counter, chopping, mixing and warning of a loud noise as she briefly switched on the blender, coming away with a ceramic bowl full of something tan, bubbly and smelling of bananas. She added a straw, sat down beside Einar on his mat. The smell made him hungry. “I’d like you to try this. It’s got bananas, milk, a little peanut butter, and I think the texture might be easier to get down without accidentally inhaling. Now that you’ve had some success with the tea, it’s time to try and go a little further.
To Liz’s surprise he nodded, took the bowl and laboriously consumed nearly a third of its contents before stopping, completely spent, and setting it aside. Couldn’t keep his eyes open, made a quick check to see that weapons were close at hand and his little family safe for the moment before allowing himself to crumple onto the mat, already fast asleep. It was, Liz could tell from his breathing, a true sleep, rather than the restless dark of unconsciousness which he always seemed to her to be fighting, deep, blessed sleep; she covered him with a quilt, laid a hand on his head and turned to Susan with tears in her eyes.
“What was that?” She whispered. “What just happened?”
Susan shrugged, smiled. “He decided to fight. To live, Lizzie. He decided to live.”
“He needs more…”
“Oh, yes he needs more. He’s still in mighty bad shape, could still benefit from having a lot more fluids on board, but it’s a start, and he did it himself. Now, let’s do what we can to get him warm while he sleeps, maybe go ahead and start the IV if it will work now, maybe not, and keep a real close eye on how things are going for him. In the meantime, the sleep is good. I don’t think he’s really slept since you guys arrived here.”
Together they changed the dressings on those of his wounds that needed attention, set him up with an additional blanket and two hot water bottles and did their best to ease him into a position which it seemed would prove the least uncomfortable considering his injuries, which meant, in the end, settling him on one side with both arms stretched out before him. All the remainder of that day Einar slept, Liz keeping watch as Susan entertained little Will and prepared an evening meal which Liz hoped might tempt him to wakefulness, but Susan advised her to leave him be, let him rest while he could.
Einar was up the next morning before the others, moving with halting to sit at the kitchen table, bandaged arms stretched out strange and stiff before him and a hollow, haunted look in his eyes, but when Liz joined him he greeted her with a big grin.
“What’s for breakfast?”