“Josh, baby, I’m so sorry, had no idea you were so far behind me. Let me help you,” Justin called, dropping his pack and running back to him.
Justin reached him and hoisted him up in his arms, carrying him off the road. “I’ll just grab the pack,” Justin said and rushed to collect the heavy bag from where he had left it. When he returned Joshua had curled up on the ground and was hugging himself, tears seeping beneath his closed eyelids.
“Baby, why didn’t you ask for help?” Justin rubbed his husband’s back, guilt eating at his heart. How had he failed to notice how badly his husband was hurting?
“You were too far ahead and you said we had to keep the noise down, I couldn’t make you hear me.” Joshua hissed and began to cry as Justin eased his boots off, his socks were soaked in blood. Justin rolled the thick woollen fabric off his husband’s foot and blanched at the terrible sight. Joshua swooned, fainting away from the pain.
“ We’ve got to get you to St Charles. Baby, baby can you hear me?” Justin tapped his lovers face, rousing him from his semi-conscious state.
He filled a small pan with some of their fresh water, washing the worst away. Very tenderly he salved up the area again and used the last of the bandages. “I’ll be back in a minute,” he said. Joshua just whimpered and curled onto his side.
Justin took a look around, looking for somewhere he could leave his husband safely. After a little searching he came across a clearing that was hidden from the road. He went back to where he had left Joshua. “Put your arms around my neck baby,” he ordered.
The slim man wrapped his arms around Justin’s neck and was swept up into the air and carried to safety of the clearing, where he was laid on the ground. “You have to stay here, you’ll be perfectly safe.”
Joshua whimpered. “No, don’t leave me.”
Justin got down level with him and hugged him. “Baby I can’t carry you, it’s too far.”
“I can walk.” Joshua tried to stand up; he had to prove to his husband that he could carry his own weight.
“No baby you can’t.” Justin sighed and lifted Joshua’s face to look at him. “I don’t want to leave you baby, but you are going to end up a cripple if you go another step.” Justin kissed his husband softly, gently trailing his tongue across his lips. “I will come back. Get some sleep and I will be back before you know it.” Joshua gave a tiny sob and Justin squeezed him tight. He took off his watch. “Look its 1700 hours. I will be back here by twenty hundred hours.” Joshua looked at him, lost. “It’s 5 now, I’ll be back by 8.”
Justin caressed his husband’s cheek. “I promise. With or without transportation I will be back. I’ll leave you all the supplies. Just promise me you won’t wander off again.”
“Justin, I love you.”
The soldier smothered his lover’s lips once more. “I’ll be back,” he breathed. He kissed Joshua once more then stood up and walked away, leaving him behind.
Worry tormented Justin as he trekked back to the road. He looked over his shoulder in the direction that he had just come. This was pointless. He had already walked all this way once. There was nothing until St Charles. Justin stopped walking and looked up and down the road. On the spur of the moment he turned and headed into the woods, leaving the road behind him. Orienteering was one of his biggest skills as a soldier. He never got lost. He was incapable of it. Joshua needed help and he wasn’t going to get any by playing it safe. There had to be a house or even a barn. Just somewhere where he could give his young lover a place to recover. Justin went to check his watch, tutting when he remembered that he had given it to Joshua so that he wouldn’t misinterpret the time and think he had been alone longer than he really had been.
Justin took a swig of water as he jogged, careful not to waste the little that he had left. Mentally he calculated how long he had been running, and worked out how far he had travelled. The laws of probability demanded that he had to find signs of life or habitation soon. Before the war people lived all over this state, it wasn’t always the overgrown jungle it was now. There were networks of roads, warrens of houses, they had been told that when they had basic training and they had been taught how to recognise the signs of former residential areas. Justin stopped again and crouched down, fingering the dirt. He scanned the surrounding area and smiled. He stood back up and paced across the ground, counting off the distance. He paused, and then stamped his foot. A slow smug grin spread over his face and he stamped again. Shrugging off his jacket he got down on his knees and began to scrape at the earth with his hands and soon found what he was looking for.
Redoubling his efforts Justin soon cleared a three-foot by three-foot area. He picked up a broken piece of wood and scraped around the edges, revealing the true nature of the piece of land. He looked around again looking for something to use as a lever, spotting a broken branch. Justin wedged the thinner end in the crack he had uncovered and pushed down. The trapdoor lifted with very little effort, swinging open on its hinges and revealing a deep, dark stairwell. Cautiously he tested his weight on the first step and then descended down into the darkness.
Joshua was beginning to feel sick. His heels throbbed relentlessly and every muscle in his body ached. He tried to relax and take a nap but was roused by every little sound. He soon began to check the time, counting down the minutes until his husband said he would return. He was beginning to think that the watch was a bad idea, the time was creeping closer and closer to eight o’clock and Joshua was beginning to feel panicked that maybe, just maybe Justin wouldn’t come back. He rolled over on his side, pulled his knees up to his chest and closed his eyes, picturing his baby brother. Seeing his father give birth was the most eye opening experience he had ever had. It scared him a little too. Now he was married it would only be a matter of time before Justin would want to start a family. He wasn’t sure that he could survive the pain of childbirth. He remembered again the feeling of holding the tiny human being in his arms, the softness, the unique baby smell, and he sighed softly. He let his mind wander, imagining what a child that he and Justin created would look like. Would he have dirty auburn blond hair like his paternal father or the thick unruly brunette curls that he himself was cursed with. One thing was for sure; he would have beautiful blue eyes. Justin’s eyes were the same colour as the ocean and his own eyes reflected a myriad of colours, varying with his mood. Joshua’s eyes began to feel heavy and suddenly it was just too much effort to try to keep them open. He wrapped his robe around him, snuggling into the soft fabric. It afforded little heat but the comfort factor was there. The robe was still the one stabilising thing in his life, whether in the north or south it protected him, letting people know that he was special, he was a creator and nurturer of life. Joshua yawned and rubbed his face on the dark material as he drifted into a dream filled sleep.
The stairwell led to a large living chamber. Justin felt around on the wall, smiling to himself when his fingers found a switch. He flicked it on and the place was illuminated. Lucky break number one the solar panels were still in working order and had a full charge. Later when he had Joshua settled he would track them down and make sure that they were fully exposed to the sunlight. The lights coming on in turn made the air fans spring into action, sucking out the damp, stale air and replacing it with fresh. Justin pulled a dustsheet off of the couch and grinned. Who ever had stayed in the air raid shelter had taken the time to furnish it with items from their home. They had probably stayed there until the bombs had stopped falling, and then joined the endless wave of nameless refugees on the long trek north, probably heading to the relative safety of St Charles. He went around the room uncovering the rest of the furniture and folding the dustsheets. Then he opened one of the four doors that led from the main chamber. The first turned out to be a bedroom complete with plastic covered double bed, on top of it was a sealed clear plastic box filled with bedding. He closed the door and opened the next one. This also turned out to be a bedroom. A set of bunk beds stood against the wall and the floor was littered with abandoned toys. Justin picked up a threadbare teddy and sat it on one of the beds before closing the door again. The last two doors turned out to be a fully fitted kitchen and a bathroom, complete with a freestanding bathtub. Justin turned on the hot tap and clapped his hands with joy when it spluttered and a cascade of steaming hot water sprang forth, lucky break number two, running water.
Lucky break number three came in the form of a stocked storeroom. Although some of the stuff was past its good by date, there was a good amount of sterilised and sealed emergency rations. They weren’t very tasty but they were nourishing and had an indefinite shelf life. The shelves also contained a supply of dried sterilised milk, suitable for adult and child consumption. Justin went back into the main living area, he had found somewhere for Joshua to rest and recover now he only had one problem, how would he get his exhausted husband here.
Time was getting on and he had promised that he would be back before 8pm. Justin turned off the lights and ascended the stairs back to the world above. He closed the trapdoor and covered it with fallen branches, making sure it was hidden from casual view. That was another job he would have to address when he came back. He took a final look around then started the long walk back to Joshua.