Charlie’s head hurt. Well, his everything hurt, but his head especially, like it was trying to compress his brain. Each step he took down the hallway made his mind feel like it was going to start leaking out of his ears but it didn’t matter. He just had to get to the door, one goal at a time, Dad used to say. Goal one was finish high school. Goal two was get into the police academy. Goal three was get assigned to Dad’s station...Why had he never completed goal three, he wondered, each step down the hallway feeling like his feet were bound in cement shoes. He’d never been assigned to Dad’s station, he’d been assigned to Ballarat, to Matthew Lawson’s station. Not that there was an issue there, he loved working at Lawson’s station. He loved working with his friends, he loved the community but - Oh. He came to a stop in the middle of the hallway, panting heavily as he did so. He’d only walked down the stairs and do the door but he felt like he’d run a marathon.
He leaned to the left, his head coming to rest against the wallpaper and just below a picture of a bird that adorned the wall. Under his feet, he could feel the rug shifting ever so slightly. He was soaked in sweat, he realized, belatedly. It clung to his face and hair. Disgusting. He would have to change his clothes before he found Lucien...No good to turn up looking like a drowned rat he supposed. But it was no good waiting around here, he had to keep moving so he pushed himself up. Dad was dead, but Lucien didn’t have to be, he thought to himself, pushing onward, past the surgery to the front door where he tried the handle. Locked. Of course, it was, he thought, but it could be unlocked from the inside he realized, seeing the key on the table right over there.
He pushed off the door, woozy and feeling like he may be sick, and managed to make his way to the table. There, attached to Mrs. Blake’s lanyard was the key to the front door. Perfect, he just had to get it from the table to the door which was easier said than done. His wet, unco-ordinated hands struggled to grasp the key, and breathing was remarkably difficult as the world around him started to become drenched in a thick, smoky haze. He just had to get out the door, one goal at a time. Once he was out the door he could worry about getting to Sydney but for now, he just had to get out, maybe breathe the clean outside air rather than the smell of illness that permeated his bedroom upstairs. Jesus, when he got back with the Doc he’d have to get back up the stairs. He didn’t think he was strong enough but maybe if Danny helped? Ugh.
His skin was hot and cold at the same time as he finally managed to wrap his clammy palm around the key. Now to get to the door. He managed to make the two steps without falling, and then he had to get the key into the lock. He didn’t realize this first goal had so many steps to it, damn. Maybe when he got outside he’ll sit for a minute first. The first attempt at getting the key in the door fails. Damn, he thinks, as it clatters to the ground and he has to crouch and get it. His knees hurt at the movement, demanding that he get back up, or sit down all the way. The ache is deep in his bones, but he persists. If nothing else, he’s always been persistent. People have always told him that, he’s persistent. Persistently wrong, perhaps but he keeps trying just the same.
He wrapped his shaking hand around the key and pulled it up then used the door to haul himself back to his feet. Again, he tried. The key is slippery, and he blinks preparation out of his eyes as he lines it up as best he can with wet, shaking fingers.
Another miss. This time, he keeps his grip on the key as it bounces harmlessly off the side of the lock. Damn. Again, miss. Third time’s the charm, he forces the key into the lock and turns it. The mechanism clicks and Charlie is free. He pushes the door open and is hit in the face with the blissfully cool air of an August evening. Closing the door behind him, he ventured forward down the front steps. The air is pleasant on his overheated skin, the cool breeze a pleasant relief from the encompassing heat of the house. He makes it as far as Matthew’s new Buick, before collapsing down onto the ground. He just needs to sit for a minute, he thinks, tilting his head back against the grill. Overhead the stars are very shiny and his eyes are very heavy. A fifteen-minute nap won’t hurt the Doc, he thinks, allowing his eyes to fall shut.
Just fifteen minutes….
“Oh Charlie, thank God! Lucien! He’s out here!”
Charlie startled awake at the sound of someone exclaiming his name. He sat up against the car, blinking at the early morning sky, pink and beautiful as the sun began to climb the horizon. Damn, he must have slept for longer than fifteen minutes, he thought, as he started to struggle to his feet. Someone’s arms grabbed him from behind pushing him back to the dirt of the driveway.
“Wha -” He asked, gracefully.
“Just sit down for a minute.” The woman, Jean insisted, “Just wait for Lucien.”
“The Doc?” He asked, confused.
“Yes, the doc.” She assured him and pressed her cool hand against his forehead. It felt nice, it all felt nice, especially the gentle breeze coming over the horizon. She was wearing her pink dressing gown pulled tight around her, barefoot on the gravel. Her feet must hurt, he thought, before looking at his own. He noted that the fronts of them were scrapped up from where he must have dragged them when he was walking. Speaking of, if Jean would just let him get up then he could go find….What had he been looking for? It’s hard to remember that far back, his head is full of cotton balls.
“Charlie!” Lucien entered his field of vision, crouching down and touching his forehead like Jean had. “Jesus, when we saw you weren’t in your bedroom we were so worried.” He sounds like he’s scolding but his arms are very comforting as he helps Charlie to his feet, one arm draping one of his across his shoulders, and Lucien’s arm coming around his waist to hold him close as they limp back to the house. Charlie thinks he could walk on his own, and he almost voices that fact, but nausea sets in as they go up the stairs makes him think otherwise. Anyway, having some help up the stairs is nice. He mustn't be as much help as he thought he was being because Lucien grunts as he finally gets Charlie to his bedroom. How did they get here? They must have flown, Charlie thinks.
“Into bed.” Lucien orders, peeling back the blue sheets of his bed. Charlie looks at the heavy quilt tepidly but the doc’s annoyed hand gesture makes him think he better obey. He does so, turning his head just in time to catch a white face staring back at him from behind the door. Her red hair is styled in fashionable flips, and she eyes him with a serious expression.
“Is he okay?” She asks, softly.
“Charlie’s okay,” Lucien confirms, tucking Charlie in so firmly he couldn’t escape even if he wanted too. “I think he just thought he would take a little walk.”
“I wasn’t going for a walk.” He says as Mattie vanishes from sight, and he can almost hear her talking to someone outside.
“You weren’t going for a walk?” Lucien asks and then layers Charlie’s forehead with a damp cloth. It feels good, almost as good as sitting outside had felt. His back arched up into it against his will and he found himself a little more willing to settle down. He looks up to see Lucien dragging the chair from behind Charlie’s table over to beside the bed and lowering himself into it. “Then, aside from giving myself and Mrs. Blake a heart attack, what were you doing outside in August?”
“Looking?” He prods, and Charlie supposed he brought this upon himself but he could only settle a little deeper into the bed, arms pressed by his sides. He watched Lucien pull one leg up so he was sitting with his legs almost crossed. He’s tired again, from walking up the stairs. His bones hurt, he thinks, restlessly, and tosses slightly trying to get comfortable. Lucien leans over, disconcertingly close, and puts one elbow on the bed, his chin resting on it while the other hand soothes Charlie’s hair. “Settle down.” He orders, gently. “What were you looking for outside, Charlie?”
“I was going to Sydney. I was looking for you.” Something crosses Lucien’s face, something melancholic.
“Well, you don’t have to do that anymore.” He says, “I’m here now, and I’m staying right here.”
“I thought you were gone.”
“I’m not gone,” Lucien says, softly. “Settle.” He adds, when Charlie shifts again, this time trying to find a better place for his feet. He follows the order, stilling and accepting that he was stuck in this position for now at least.
“I’m tired.” He says, people playing with his hair always makes him tired.
“Then go to sleep. I’ll be here when you wake up.”
Charlie obeys, not sure if he believes it.