He doesn’t remember getting on the train, or the long, sleepy ride to the station. If there was still enough daylight left to slant in through the windows, or if he made the trip in semi-opaque darkness. The mechanics of getting to his feet and hauling his body up and along the narrow aisle.
No, it almost seems as though Holden King comes to at the sharp stutter of his feet hitting the cement platform, comes aware as the cool evening breeze twists into the rat’s nest of his hair and creeps under his filthy, battered clothes.
He opens one eye only, the other crusted over with blood and pus. When he turns his head, he catches the sick scent of illness on the air. It's there and gone again, peripheral but certain. He almost remembers how it happened, but it's hard to think clearly; he probably has a fever. He feels hot, from his face to the sore soles of his feet, and vaguely wonders if he hallucinated the journey here wholesale.
But then, in the dying dusk, backlit by a rust-red sunset as seen through grimy green windows, Holden finds Lucky. Her hair is thick and clean and black, longer than when he saw it last, and the tips curl around her shoulders like loose shadows. His world snaps into focus, shifting layers locking into place. She gets to her feet with a grace a woman so heavily pregnant shouldn’t possess; and all Holden can think is how, in the endless years he has known her, he has never seen her falter a hand or a foot.
He almost makes it, step by perilous step, but his knee wobbles unsteadily and gives out. Lucky catches him like it’s nothing, bracing her thighs to leverage his weight, making up in wiry control what she lacks in true strength.
“You smell terrible,” she says, her lips in a thin line even as her sharp eyes cut over every inch of him.
How did you even know I was alive, he wants to ask. Instead he huffs out, “No worse than I first found you, I bet.” His voice sounds exactly as it feels: rotted through, a dull rasp.
“I bet,” she parrots lightly. She’s wearing a sundress Holden recognizes from her last pregnancy, and a heavy hoodie he can’t place at all. It’s ice-blue with silver snowflakes stitched onto the sleeves. “Can you walk, or do I have to drag you?”
“You’d carry me,” Holden murmurs, swallowing around the desert of his esophagus. It’s about this point he realizes he’s dehydrated.
“Don’t move,” Lucky sighs, and settles him almost-gently on the ground. Then she shuffles over to a vending machine and hits a series of plastic buttons in a particular order, deft and unhurried. She doesn’t put any money in. The machine spits out a couple of water bottles.
She passes him the first. It’s cold. Holden drinks half of it straightaway, throws it up in a silver flare over the concrete with Lucky’s hand soothing on his back. Sets himself to drinking it more slowly. When he’s finished the second, Lucky pulls him up onto his aching feet. He realizes, abstractly, that he isn't wearing shoes.
“Come on,” she says tiredly, the first time she’s let her exhaustion show. It’s been a long year for both of them, Holden figures. “I’ve got a place.”
“Okay,” he says, and follows her out into the night.
In another life, he’d take the way her pale fingers flutter over the doorknob as something else entirely, but as the lock clicks open and she bundles him inside, he can’t think about anything but the familiar smell of her hair. Then the kitchen light flickers on and blinds his remaining eye.
"Ugh," Holden grunts.
Lucky ignores his discomfort. “Take off your clothes,” she commands imperiously. “You’re a mess. I’ll run a bath.”
He isn’t sure how long she’s gone, or maybe he just loses time; but he’s down to his ratty jeans before she reappears.
“Did you know,” she says, tugging those off, too, and leading him into the bathroom, “that you’re legally dead?”
“Legally,” Holden repeats, awkward and stiff and, now that he’s warmed up some, in quite a lot of pain. “You don’t say.”
Lucky shrugs out of her hoodie and hangs it on the door, spends the next hour quietly scrubbing Holden from head to toe. She’s kneeling on a crumpled towel to spare herself some bruising, and pretty soon her arms are a muddy red up to her elbows from the filthy water.
“I think this is infected,” she sighs, and Holden hisses as she runs a thumb gently over his swollen eyelid. She starts unpacking a more comprehensive first-aid kit than is typically found in an uptown apartment.
After a while he asks, “How long was I gone?”
“Nine days,” she says. “They closed the case a week ago, after they determined the male body fit your description. It was hard to tell under all the acid, but some of your DNA was spattered on the walls.”
“Enough to verify my identity,” he reasons slowly, “but not enough to make it look intentional?”
“She does good work. For an old lady,” Lucky allows, twisting her fingers through Holden’s hair. “Hold still.”
A sharp pain eases through the thick, heavy ache over his eye. There’s wetness; a slow leak; a gradual release of pressure, and a clean rag pressed against his temple.
“Gross,” Lucky murmurs, wrinkling her nose. Then she sets aside whatever sharp thing she’d been lancing the area with and gets a firm hand under his jaw. “This is gonna sting a little. Close your eyes.”
Holden does so. She tilts his head back and pours rubbing alcohol over the infected area.
“Quit screaming,” she sighs.
“I’m not screaming. Oh god, stop, stop.”
“You are an infant child,” she says testily, “and you shame our family.” She screws the cap back onto the plastic bottle and returns it to the first aid kit. Then she unplugs the drain and runs fresh water, cupping her hands under the faucet and carefully rinsing Holden’s face.
“Thank you,” Holden says quietly.
“Shut up,” Lucky says fondly. “Can you stand?”
“Maybe?” Holden tries. He does not succeed. Lucky helps him with spare, practical movements and leans him against the tile wall. Then she pulls off the hoodie and tugs her sundress over her head, hanging both on the bathroom door. She steps into the shower on narrow feet and slides the curtain closed.
He hasn’t been gone so long, and it’s not as though she’s never been pregnant before—but you forget things, sometimes. Lucky has always possessed this intensity, sharp throughout her entire being, that makes you overlook the obvious. But it’s hard for him to see her as a skinny nine-year old girl, half-starved, and at the same time full-bodied at twenty-two. Whip-thin during their lean years, all soft curves and round-faced when it’s suited her. Fierce and hard with sharp knees and elbows, with lean muscles tightening in her arms as she breaks a man’s nose or his wrist.
Holden sighs and closes his eye, inclining his head. The water pours over him like a firestorm, almost too hot to stand, and Lucky’s fingers scrub him thoroughly all over again with antibacterial soap and a clean, coarse washcloth. It burns over his cuts, pulses achingly over each swollen bruise, and leaves no stone unturned.
“Goddamn it, could you be more careful with those?”
“Mister I’m-going-to-fake-my-death,” Lucky snorts, reaching for the shampoo. “Mister come-on-it’ll-be-fun. Mister it-won’t-hurt-at-all.”
“I never said,” Holden growls, “any of those things.”
“May as well have. Come here, I can’t reach.”
Holden leans down and Lucky scrubs his hair, the third or fourth time she’s done so. The water runs clean when she’s finished, and she works through the tangles with a huge gob of conditioner.
Finally satisfied, she turns off the water and helps Holden out of the shower. She dries herself off briskly before helping him out of the bath like a child, the towel soft around his arms and torso. Her hair is damp, her body warm from the heat, her fingers like iron bands at his elbow.
“Bedroom,” she says. “We’ll see about shaving that shit off your face in the morning.”
Holden chokes out a laugh, dry as dust. “It’s barely a week and a half of stubble.”
“It’s awful.” She pulls on a long t-shirt and a pair of boxers, low under her belly, and passes him some loose, cotton pajama pants. “Don’t put these on yet.”
Holden doesn’t. He sits on the bed, fever-aches flickering through his body and souring his stomach. Lucky fetches the first aid kit again and begins the long, thorough process of disinfecting his cuts and applying bandages where necessary.
She does his eye last, a faint frown creasing her dark eyebrows. She edges her thumb just below his lashes. “Holden. Can you open your eye?”
He can’t. “I can’t.”
She presses her lips together thoughtfully, then carefully splits the lid with her fingertips. It doesn’t hurt.
“Fuck,” she breathes. “Well, that answers that. You’re gonna have a bitch of a scar.”