He consulted the mental map that hovered at the back of his mind, and decided it had to be the nunnery in the hills behind Maubara. Which meant the flash-flood had dragged him a long, long way from his patrol. They'd come to find him. Without doubt. But the mission was screwed. They'd spent the last three weeks in the Timorese jungle - on patrol as part of Operation Astute, a United Nations initiative led by Australia to keep peace in East Timor - and now, just when they'd had concrete reports of the militia stirring up trouble, this accident would drag them away from where they could do any good at all.

He groaned, quiet, deep in his chest.  There was going to be hell to pay when he got home.  He'd be sentenced to paperwork for months.

"Not far." The schoolteacher nun misinterpreted his groan for one of pain. "We're going to the infirmary. We'll stitch you up there."

The thought of stitches made him queasy and he glanced at his arm again. Everything had a strong dreamlike sense of unreality about it. He realised he was in shock and shivered. The movement made the horrific wound tense and stab. This time he did groan in pain.

In the infirmary they irrigated the wound to clean it and stitched the hanging flesh into place as best they could. They had no pain relief to offer him, and he would not have accepted drugs anyway. Alone, in an area where there may be milita activity and local violence could break out at any minute, he wasn't taking anything that'd slow him down.

He sat in a hard wooden chair, arm laid across a table draped in a clean white sheet. He squeezed his eyes shut, but found it only made it all worse, so instead distracted himself telling Sister Mary Francis – the schoolteacher Nun – about his home in Sydney. She sat beside him, not near enough to touch, but he found her presences as comforting as a hug.  A younger woman stitched his arm, dressed in a plain tunic, he guessed she was a novice or maybe from outside the nunnery, and there to provide medical support.  She knew what she was doing, but even so, he had to stop speaking each time she did anything.

When she'd finally finished, and bandaged him from wrist to elbow, Sister Mary Francis offered him a room with a bed to wait until his patrol found him. He accepted gratefully.

"Wash first." She flared her nostrils and directed him to a utilitarian bathroom. He washed in a basin of cold water carefully, keeping his bandaged arm dry. The pain made him hazy and he had to concentrate to stop it becoming overwhelming.  The thought of passing out and being found half-naked on the floor by a group of nuns was enough to keep him upright.

Someone tapped on the door and he sucked in a breath in fright. Stupid reaction. He knew his nerves were worn, and the vast reserve of calmness he drew on under pressure was starting to run dry.

"Clothes," said a voice. The door opened a crack and clothes were dropped on the floor. He pulled them on. They were far too small. As he zipped up the trousers he decided if he had to sit, the pain of squashed testicles would take his mind of his arm.

Sister Mary Francis waited for him when he emerged in his new outfit. A ghost of a smile flittered over her lips when she saw him. "This way. You can sleep now. I'll send a Sister in with some tea. It's herbal, and will help with the pain."

"Thank you," he said, sincerely.  Tea would be good.

Mick glanced out the window of the room they'd given him. Dawn crept over the hills to the east. Another nun came quietly in.  He nearly startled again and silently wished they'd stop wafting about and make some noise instead of creeping up on him all the time. Shy and withdrawn she didn't look at him and he stepped back, into a corner of the small room, cradling his arm and trying to give her as much space as he could.

Being over six-foot tall, he was keenly aware that his size frightened the local women. Poor diet and practically no modern medical help meant that the average height of a man in Timor was around the five-foot mark. His dark red hair and motley three week old beard made them hesitate as well.  He'd must look like a giant bear, or a Yeti to them.

Sincerely hoping that no more nuns were planning to drop in, and unable to stand the tight trousers or his distressed testicles a moment longer, he peeled them awkwardly off. Sliding between the clean sheets of the narrow bed, felt like lying on a cloud, after weeks of roughing it.

The pain in his arm intensified quickly when he lay down, clawing at him. So he struggled up to sitting, and that seemed to ease it a little. It felt like a thousand ants, under the bandage were biting him, and he was sure an infection brewed there.

He glanced at the tea, realising how thirsty he was. It was herbal. How much harm could it do? He sniffed it. It smelt like hay. Grassy and outdoorsy. It was a nunnery, they were hardly going to be giving him something laced with opium.

He sipped the tea. It tasted completely innocent, so he finished the cup. After a few minutes the pain in his arm began to fade rapidly and as day broke outside the window he drifted to a weird semi-conscious sleep.

When he woke it was pitch dark again. He'd been dreaming vividly about ants crawling into his arm and biting him, and woke with a start. Heart pounding, his skin feeling hot and tight. A breath, cool against his cheek and smelling like mint made him reach out.

Someone was there.

Something was very wrong.

He never slept deeply enough for someone to creep up unawares. He tried to sit up and jarred his arm, pain screamed through him. The covers slid off his heated body, he reached out again, silken hair brushed against his fingers, and the velvety curve of a breast.

Hazy desire shot through him. This was one weird dream. It must be a dream... what the hell had been in that tea?

She pressed her lips to his.



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