Not sure at first whether Einar was sincere in wanting breakfast, or whether he might simply be making light of his situation as he so often did, to his great hilarity and her usual distress, Liz simply sat down beside him and took his heart rate for starters. Still far too low—in the 20s, and she wondered how he was managing even to sit up—nearly impossible to find a pulse at the wrist, hands a bad shade of purple and feeling like ice, but at least he was alive and conscious. And apparently quite serious about wanting food, for she saw how his eyes lingered on Susan’s basket of fruit as he scanned the kitchen, remembering, perhaps, the concoction which he’d managed to get down before falling so fast asleep that past evening.
“You can have breakfast, can have whatever sounds good, but let’s start with some more tea, Ok? Just something to drink.”
A nod from Einar as he rose to retrieve the mug which had ended up on the kitchen counter, but she stopped him with a hand on his shoulder. “Sit. I’ll get it. Have to make some more tea, anyway.”
Will still slept on the couch which he and Liz had shared for the night, but Muninn the raven, who had spent the night perched on the back of the dining room chair nearest to Einar’s sleeping mat, was wide awake and ready for some breakfast of his own, tilting his head and rasping in seeming displeasure when Liz brought nothing but a mug of tea. Not exactly what the bird had been picturing, and Liz soon returned with a heel of bread, which proved far more satisfactory to the hungry creature. Einar could smell the bread, wanted it, watching intently as Muninn devoured every last crumb and pressing an elbow into the great hollow of his stomach until it nearly met his backbone, seeking unsuccessfully to dull the suddenly overpowering sensation of his own gnawing, twisting hunger. Hadn’t felt that for a while, had not allowed himself to acknowledge it, anyhow, and the strength of the thing alarmed him some. Needed to make it go away again, just for a little while, so he could concentrate on what was going on around him and take stock of the situation.
His memories of the past day or so seemed unduly fuzzy and intangible when he tried to bring them to mind, the familiar presence of Liz, Will, Susan’s kind, concerned face framed with its silver-dusted black curls all jumbled up with images which he knew had no place there in the house of his friends—darkness, a terrible thirst, chains on his arms and a desperate but fruitless struggle to free himself before his captors could come back again and do to him the things they had been threatening—memories all tangled and superimposed upon one another until the entire things was one convoluted and terrifying mess, perhaps best forgotten. Yet he must not forget, not until he’d got it all sorted out.
The tea was ready, Liz returning with a mug and setting it in front of Einar as she shooed away the raven, not wanting the bird to interfere. Einar started at the stuff, knew he’d have some trouble getting it down, could tell by the way he was feeling that morning, the responses of various muscles when called upon to act, figured he might well have to resort to drinking it the way he had previously done, allowing each sip to run down his throat like a bird. For some reason he didn’t want Liz to see this—which made no sense really, considering that she had been well aware of his complete inability to get anything down, the day before—so tried drinking normally, but with little success. Frustrated but determined, he kept at it until his choking and coughing brought Susan hurrying in from the other room to find Liz clapping him on the back in an attempt to help get his breathing going a bit better again.
“Whoa there, fella. You Ok? Let’s slow down, take it easy and see if we can’t avoid drowning you, alright?”
A nod from Einar, a grin—seemed to Liz she was seeing an awful lot of that grin, between the previous evening and that morning; she’d missed it—as he eased the mug down onto the table, worn out but not particularly discouraged. So. Not working that way. No matter, he knew what to do. Hadn’t wanted them to see that he’d been reduced to such a thing, but if it was the only option, well, so be it. “No drowning. Found a way to…make it work.” With which he grabbed the mug in both hands, got some of the liquid in his mouth and tipped his chin up towards the ceiling so that the tea ran down his throat. No gagging or choking this time, Liz and Susan watching in silence as he finished nearly half the mug before wearing out and having to take a break. Susan was fascinated by his ingenuity, if a bit taken aback that he would have to go to such lengths just to manage a sip of liquid.
“Is that the way you did it before? Yesterday?”
“Yeah. Only way it works.”
“That’s not a real great sign, you know. I’m very glad you’ve found a way to get some fluids down, but the fact that you’ve got to do it that way…”
He shrugged, but she didn’t intend to let him get away with it. Could not afford to. “Well, what do you think needs to happen so you can drink normally again, start to get enough and see some improvement?”
“Stick my…head in a pail of water for half an hour?”
“Smart aleck. I’m serious.”
“Tried to have some breakfast, but Liz said…”
“I only said you ought to have a drink first! Breakfast is a great idea. How about some of that banana stuff Susan made for you last night? Seemed it was a little easier to swallow, and maybe wouldn’t require you to look at the sky every time you need to swallow…”
Einar did not remember anything about bananas, and that really alarmed him. What else had he forgotten? The session with Bill stood out clearly in his memory, but everything after his return to the house had gone all ephimeral and slippery. Had perhaps some of the things he’d dismissed that morning as nightmare-images perhaps been real, after all? Not liking the thought, he eyed the women suspiciously, studied the un-bandaged portions of the backs of his hands, arms; hard to tell what was what, but it certainly did appear that someone had been poking around there, and then he saw the unused IV bag hanging from a nearby kitchen cabinet.
So. Some of that had been real. Which realization seemed to bring with it the memory, fuzzy and indistinct, of a conversation, Liz’s voice, low and urgent as she did her best to convince him, his own weary consent… Hated not knowing the details, not remembering. Wanted very badly to be outside at that moment, holed up under some rocky ledge or wedged in the center of a cluster of friendly, sheltering little spruces, but here he was, here he would be staying, and now they were saying it was time for breakfast. He nodded, shook his head in an attempt to clear eyes suddenly gone blurry, sat up a bit straighter. Why not? A fellow needs to eat every two or three weeks or so, and it had probably been…oh, he couldn’t say for sure, but had been quite a while since his last real meal. Better have something while it was available, see if the nutrition thus acquired—provided he could get it down without choking to death, first—might help clear his head some, allow him to remember.