Chapter Forty Nine – Day Forty One
I am the first one up and I am already making breakfast. I rose early today, earlier than I have for a month… but staying in bed alone has no attraction for me, especially this morning.
I slept well. I know that should be cause for celebration because it means I am really better, but no matter what we tell ourselves, it changes things.
Tonight, when we get home, if Wheeler and I continue to sleep together it will be with the knowledge that we are doing so because we want to, and not because it is necessary. I know he will believe that it is because I am still afraid, if I tell him so, but I cannot fool myself. The trouble is, for all I tease him about his flirting and immaturity, it is me that is not sure whether I am ready for the sort of relationship that implies... that it would no doubt lead to.
My focus is, and always has been, the responsibility Gaia placed on our shoulders. Our fight for the planet is so important, we cannot jeopardise it by putting our own feelings first. We are too young anyway… and too different.
So why does the thought of telling him that make my heart ache and open a chasm in my stomach?
"Is something wrong Linka?" My uncle's voice startles me out of my reverie and I jump, conscious of the frown I was wearing and the fact that this is the first time Uncle Dimitri has spoken to me with any hint of kindness in his voice since… for too long.
"Nyet, spasiba, I just have a few things to think about." I am blushing.
My relative comes and sits opposite me at the kitchen table. "Do those things have something to do with that American of yours?"
I am immediately on the defensive, he can think what he likes about me but Wheeler, in this matter, is above reproach. "Please, do not say anything against Wheeler, you do not know him and I do not want to hear it."
"I am sorry." He puts his hand on mine as it rests across the table, to stop me from leaving, but it is his words that keep me in my chair. "… for, for a lot of things Linka. I do not have anything against Wheeler, not really."
There is a look in his eyes that tells me this is not quite true, but at least he is trying and he has obviously come a long way. "He saved my life, I am sorry we could not save Boris too."
"I know… I." He swallows and releases my hand, leaning back and staring down at the table. "I heard you… talking to Boris yesterday. I did not mean to!" his head shoots up so that he can lock our gazes. "I was simply sitting there on the other side of the tree, thinking, but you did not see me and once I realised… I did not know what to say."
"It is okay." I am blushing and trying to remember what I said.
Uncle Dimitri looks a lot older than he did six weeks ago, losing his son has taken a toll on him that I do not think he will completely recover from. "Nyet it is not. I should not have taken out my guilt on you and your friend, especially when you needed me the most."
"Your guilt?" I ask, surprised. "But you did nothing."
"Exactly!" The word is wrenched from him. "I did nothing. I saw there was something wrong, I just assumed it was the usual teenage reactions, but I should have asked. I should have made him tell me. I should have done something! I am his father, I should not have put the responsibility on you, if I had brought him up better… I failed him, and I failed his mother."
I have been shaking my head through half his speech but he does not see and at the last word, buries his head in his hands and sobs.
"Nyet." I get up and move to the chair next to him, placing my hand on his back, unsure of what to do. "Nyet Uncle, do not blame yourself he… he was a good person, he just made a mistake."
His face is wet as he turns to look at me and I see in his eyes that no words of mine will lessen what he is feeling, his son's weakness and his own failure to help him will always be on his conscience.
It is my turn to cry as he pulls me into his arms, something I thought I would never feel again, and now I am sobbing too as I cling to him. "Can you ever forgive me, my little Linka? I know I do not deserve it."
"I want my Uncle back," I tell him. "I forgive you, but you have no need to apologise to me."
"I do… and your friend too." He pulls back and takes my hands instead. "Do you think Wheeler will accept my apology?"
I hesitate. Wheeler is incredibly forgiving but this is different. "I think so… he is very protective of me though… you might have to give him some time."
"I can see how much he cares about you, he does not try to hide it." This time he sounds more approving, and I find myself releasing a breath I did not know I was holding. "I believe I should be thanking him as well, if what you said yesterday is true."
I nod. He was not doubting my word, it was not even really a question, it was just his way of bringing it up.
Uncle Dimitri reaches round to pull me back into his arms and we are still sitting like that when my grandmother enters a few minutes later. She beams at us and starts buttering the toast that has gone only slightly darker than it should while I have been talking.
"Do you need any help?" I offer, reluctant to get up and end what can only be a brief moment with my Uncle anyway.
Grandmuska shakes her head, she is obviously very happy to see that Dimitri and I have made up. "You are fine, just where you are. The bathroom is occupied so I think Wheeler will be joining us soon, I assume he will eat this...?"
"Scrambled eggs, da he loves it." I grin at her. "It is early for him though, I hope he slept okay."
I feel a little guilty at that, I am not the only one who has nightmares…. Hmmm perhaps that is the answer, I will let him sleep with me because he needs me. I try not to betray my thoughts to my family by smiling, but it is much easier to justify my desperate need to share my bed with him on such terms. Any excuse, in other words.
Uncle Dimitri releases me as my Grandmother places our plates in front of us and we thank her in unison, making us all laugh. It feels good and gives me an appetite for the food.
"Did I hear Wheeler correctly last night?" My Uncle asks, "He said something about you visiting Thailand?"
"Da," I nod enthusiastically, mostly trying to cover my initial gut wrenching reaction to his first question, though I have no idea what I thought he was going to say. I suppose his recent behaviour has made me expect the worst, and that will take a little time to go away. "It was very beautiful, though we did not get to see very much, we were looking for a water spirit that took the shape of a large dragon."
The looks they give me are pretty much what I expected and I laugh, explaining the trick that was being played on the locals but purposely leaving out the danger involved. There is no need to worry them.
My relatives interested questioning continues until Wheeler joins us. "Good morning."
"Wheeler! Good morning," I forget myself completely and get up to give him a hug, wanting him to see how happy I am, and only remembering as I reach my feet that it would be inappropriate. My Uncle might have decided to treat us both more fairly but the last thing I need is for him to think we have been lying about our relationship. In my confusion my speech starts to stall. "Umm, we were just…talking…and eating…do you want breakfast?"
He says something, which I assume is an affirmative, and I quickly move to fill a plate for him. I am so flustered that I completely forget the toast and I cannot get up again without drawing more attention to myself.
Fortunately my Grandmother speaks to him and gives me a chance to collect my thoughts. I jump back in when I realise what they are saying though, still trying to protect them by controlling what they hear.
"Nyet, you are correct… I was telling you the nice things, the beautiful places we have seen and leaving out the parts where we come home covered in mud and smelling like garbage!"
Wheeler seems to get the message, thankfully, but then my Uncle asks him where he's from and I am back to worrying where the conversation is going to go. Uncle Dimitri is trying to be nice but my Yankee is not making it easy for him... at least they are both being polite.
Again Grandmuska comes to the rescue. "Would you like some toast Wheeler?"
"I'll make it Gram. You don't need to wait on me. Just relax…I'm not a guest, remember?"
I smile at the exchange between them, ridiculously happy at their acceptance of each other and only wish that Mishka were here to make my family complete... what is left of it.
As my two relatives leave to do their chores, I take my plate over to the sink, and begin to wash it, leaving Wheeler to finish his breakfast in peace. It doesn't take long before he joins me, standing behind me and wrapping his arms around my waist, and placing a chaste kiss on my cheek. "Thanks for making me breakfast."
I smile at the comfort the contact brings and lean back into him, holding him in place... it feels natural even here. "I made breakfast for everyone."
"Yeah, but I got the impression that this isn't a normal Russian breakfast."
Again I smile, and turn in his embrace to slide my arms up and lock my hands together around his neck. "Nyet."
"Did you sleep alright?" He asks, and I do not want to answer.
After a moment I shrug, playing it down as much as possible. "I guess. I was pretty restless…you?"
"Same," he confirms.
Guilt and relief war within me, "Da…that took some getting used to."
A few moments go by with us just standing there, companionably gazing at each other, and then I remember what else I forgot. "Do you want some orange juice?"
"Yeah." He does not move.
Amused, I prompt him, "You will have to let me go so I can get it for you."
"Then no, I don't want any."
I cannot help my reaction so I lower my gaze to lessen my embarrassment at the way the corners of my lips turn up.
After a moment Wheeler releases me and I let him fetch his own drink and return to the table before going to join him. "When do you want to leave?"
"Whenever you're ready… things seem to be ok with you and Dmitri… he's being less of a dick to me too."
"Wheeler! Shhh!" I glare and lean back in my chair to look out of the door and make sure my family are not close enough to hear. I know my Grandmother would understand but things with my Uncle are too fragile yet, "And da, he seems to be ready to forgive us."
I know I have said the wrong thing as soon as it leaves my lips. Wheeler's temper ignites and I am more afraid than ever that he will provoke a conflict with Uncle Dimitri. I do not want to have to pick sides between them, I need them both!
"Wheeler, please…calm down. He was grieving and hurt. He was not thinking clearly, he was looking for someone to blame. Skumm was not here for him to direct his anger at so we were the next closest thing to the situation."
"I can't believe you're defending him."
My stomach rolls, I do not want to be fighting with Wheeler now, especially not about this, not after all he has gone through for me, but I cannot let it go, it is too important to me and as I continue to defend my position, I pick up steam. "He is my family… I do not have much left and I want things to go back to normal. I know with Boris gone, that will never happen, but I at least want to have a relationship with my uncle. He is the closest thing to a father that I have left. Maybe you do not need a father or care about family, but I do!"
The silence is deafening and I think the fact that he is not denying it makes it that much worse that I said it. "I am sorry, I did not mean it like that."
"No, don't apologize. You're right. I don't need a father. The only family I need are the ones on Hope Island… and here. And I know that Dmitri was important to you before, and I know how badly you want him back… I'm glad he's making an effort. I just don't want to see you get hurt."
My heart lifts at his words and I reach across to hold his hand, trying to convey both gratitude and reassurance. "I will not. He is done being hurtful. He is ready to start healing."
As always, just when I think I know all there is to know about my American friend, he says something to remind me there is so much more to him. In this case, his concern at leaving my grandmother is genuine and heartfelt and it makes me beam with happiness.
Judging by the look on his face, I do not have to explain my reaction, so I say something else which I think will make him happy. "I am going to strip the bed sheets on our beds and take them to the laundry room so Grandmuska has one less thing to do after we leave. You finish your breakfast while I do that, and then we can leave. Does that sound good?"
"Whatever you want, Beautiful." He replies casually, though I am still sure he wants to go home. It hasn't been as bad as last time but it has still been stressful and I think we will both be happier when we only have each other to worry about again.
"If you keep telling me those lies, eventually you are going to make me believe you!" I retort, trying to keep things light but his response has me going all soppy on him again… though hopefully it is not too obvious.
"Good! Because I'm not lying. I wish you could see yourself the way I see you."
I thank him softly and quickly leave before I can say something stupid, like 'Promise you will never leave me', or 'I need you', or… something worse.
When we are ready to leave, Wheeler volunteers to take our things out to the 'cruiser. As he disappears into the hallway, my Uncle gets up and goes after him.
Slightly alarmed, I am about to follow them as well when my Grandmother stops me. "Nyet Little Bird, let Dimitri say his piece."
"I am not concerned about that…" I just wanted to be there when Wheeler says his! "I want them to get along, it is important, Wheeler…"
"Is family now," she finishes for me, clearly happy about the prospect.
I nod in agreement, she is right about him being family, it is just not in the way she thinks.
My Grandmother keeps talking and I nod without really listening. My eyes keep straying to the door as I fret over what might be being said.
"Trust them Little Bird." Grandmuska smiles, obviously noticing my inattention, "They both care for you a great deal, whatever they are thinking about each other, they will not say it and risk hurting or losing you."
"I hope you are right." I tell her, "But however well intentioned my Uncle might be, Wheeler has a tendency to act on whatever he is feeling and I know his feelings are not very charitable towards Uncle Dimitri at the moment. He would have kept me away from him if he could."
Her brow furrows with concern and I see in her eyes the first doubt about where my relationship with my fiery friend is going... I suppose that is good, she will be less disappointed if things do not work themselves out... I suppose.
"You find him trying at times," she says slowly, and when I nod, "Well darling, he is a man. You probably do not remember but your Grandfather had his moments too."
That makes me laugh and I go over to give her a hug. "Spasiba Grandmuska. I just do not have the energy to play peacemaker right now."
"I thought you said you were better?!" She is alarmed and I make haste to reassure her.
"I meant emotionally. I need things to get back to normal, or to work out what normal is for me now." I shrug, "Boris is gone, things with Uncle Dimitri are better but they are still different, and Wheeler... It is different with him now too. I cannot sort out their relationship with each other when I do not know what mine is with either one of them."
Grandmuska is nodding, relaxed again. "Of course, I should have thought, but you should really just give Jason a chance Linka, he..."
I will never know what she was going to say because she broke off as my Uncle re-entered the room and just for a second I consider a panicked dash to see if Wheeler is ok, but then my brain clicks in and I see that he is smiling.
"Is everything ok?" I ask nervously.
He nods and I hear my Grandmother mutter something that sounds suspiciously like 'I told you so.'
"I think your American and I have reached an understanding," he chuckles, "I will not do anything to hurt you and he will not do anything to hurt me."
My face pales visibly, "He did not say such a thing!"
Again Dimitri laughs. "Nyet my dear, of course not, though I am inclined to think he thought about it, and I do not blame him one bit. I feel much better knowing that he is looking after you."
I glare at him, which after all I said about Wheeler's reaction's is perhaps a little hypocritical but I cannot help it, "I can look after myself."
After all, it is not as if I would have accepted suspicious food from one of the eco-villains, it took someone I trusted to nearly destroy me... Fortunately for my relationship with my family, I stop myself from saying that. It makes me think though, it will be a long time before I trust anyone so completely again, if ever. Even with Jason, there is something still holding me back, doubts coming between us when he has done so much to show me that he cares.
My Uncle nods, oblivious of the thoughts running through my head. "Everyone needs someone they can go to now and then, I learnt that the hard way. It is too late for Boris but you have good friends, do not forget that."
I am crying as I launch myself into his arms, and sob as he returns my embrace. He holds me tightly until my burst of emotion subsides but shakes his head when I offer to stay.
"Boris has moved on now and so must we." My Uncle wipes away my tears and I see that his eyes are glistening with moisture too. "The world needs you out there Linka, and I am so proud of you."
I hug him again, unable to hide how happy his words make me and then turn to embrace my grandmother as she echoes his sentiments, adding the assurance that they too will be there when I need them.
"I should go." I say, wiping away the last of my tears. "Wheeler is probably waiting for me by now."
"Ready?" Wheeler asks as we approach the geo-cruiser, and I tell him that I am.
My Grandmother holds her arms out to him and he obliges, making me smile. I shake my head affectionately and turn again to my Uncle. "You will write?"
"I promise." He nods. "We have some time to make up for."
I agree, but as I see him glance behind me, I follow his gaze just in time to see my Yankee kiss Grandmuska's cheek. "I guess I have some competition."
He laughs, knowing that I am not serious, and puts his arm around my shoulders as we re-join them.
"Take care, Uncle Dmitri." He releases me to shake Wheeler's hand and I can tell that he is pleased that my Yankee chose to address him as Uncle... So am I. "You too, Wheeler. Thank you."
Wheeler gets into our craft first and extends a hand to help me up. I do not really need the help but it is a thoughtful gesture and I am too much in charity with him to be anything but touched by his kindness. We both wave as the 'cruiser lifts off, and I smile to myself when I see my family wave back.
Everything is definitely going to be ok now.
Once we are on our way we slip into a companionable silence, but eventually my curiosity gets the better of me and I have to ask, "So… you spoke to Uncle Dimitri?"
It is a stupid thing to say because of course we both know that he did, but I cannot ask outright what was said and I am hoping the prompt will be enough to get him talking about it.
"Yeah, he asked if I needed any help with the bags." He shrugs.
"And that is all?" I am frowning, he was gone for longer than that and from what he said, and the way they acted when we parted I am sure that something more must have passed between them. When he does not answer I prod a little, wondering if I read too much into it and feeling a little disappointed. "I had thought things seemed better between you."
Wheeler sighs. "We talked about you, about how much you mean to us, and he apologised for the way he's been acting." He shrugs. "So yeah, things are better between us."
"But?" I ask, because it sounded like there was one.
"But… it doesn't really matter does it?" He looks at me and smiles, probably to let me know he's not actually upset about anything. "I mean, he's not my uncle and it's not like we'll be spending a lot of time together. As long as he's being nice to you and you're happy, that's all that matters."
I hesitate, too long and he looks over at me. "Isn't it?"
It is my turn to shrug. "I suppose it is, I just… my family is an important part of my life and so are the Planeteers." I lick my lips, wondering if I can explain without causing more problems than I solve. "You are a part of both now… I do not want there to be a divide, I do not want there to be friction where there does not need to be. We have more than enough to deal with in our daily lives."
"I'm not gonna cause any trouble…"
"I know that!" I interrupt quickly. "I did not mean that, I just cannot help wanting you to like each other."
He smiles at me but there is a sadness there that I think goes deeper than anything my family could have done. "I accepted his apology and if he's good to you I'll like him for your sake, maybe when I get to know him I'll be able to like him for his own sake, but he'll have to make good on his promises first."
I am not the only one who has been hurt by the people I am closest to, I forget that sometimes, even now. Am I being selfish?
"Give me time Babe." He adds, with just a hint of worry in his voice.
"As much as you need." I promise him earnestly. I should probably tell him that it does not matter but he smiles at me and settles back in his seat so I suppose there is no need, and the conversation soon after turns to other things and my uncle is forgotten, at least for the time being.
To be continued…
A/N: And don't forget, to get the full effect of the story, you HAVE TO read Wheeler's side of the story in Becks7's Co-dependents Chapter 49! Let us know what you think!