He wakes to the sound of footsteps. They sound strange, far off – and then it hits him, nearly knocking the breath out of him. I'm alive.
The footsteps stop. They heard it, the sound of him breathing and moving again. He opens his eyes and finds himself in a ragged apartment with torn, musty wallpaper and low stucco ceilings. A pearly shade of moonlight wades across the gutted linoleum floor. Stuck in Zone 12 again, like he had once been (bright-eyed and clinging to the hopes of a future outside of the ghetto). He'd been trapped. Not much has changed since then.
He keeps listening, careful not to let his guard down for a moment. Movement behind him, toward the right. A faucet switches on for just a moment. They're moving again – coming this way. Then, he seems to remember himself, the incident, and the face of a clock still ticking beneath the flesh of his arm. He raises it to take a look at what time he might have left when a terrible white-hot pain cuts through his shoulder. It leaves a dull, throbbing ache behind.
"Careful there, slugger." The voice slithers out of the darkness, a slow, slinking sound. "No use throwing out a perfectly good arm moving about like that. You'll need to do a bit of healing up first."
Long years of making enemies and watching shadows has taken its toll. His entire body stiffens, a sharp and merciless vigilance rising to the surface. It sound familiar, but where has he heard that voice before? He's heard so many during this endless lifetime of his, too many to count and much less remember. But this one seems to resonate with him. If only he could just think. His head is still caught in that dreamy haze that comes in the wake of a brush with death.
A shadow falls over him, blotting out the moonlight for half an instant. The bed springs beneath his prone body heave a metallic sigh as more weight presses down on it. He rolls over too quickly, nervous about having even the person's shadow out of sight. Another shooting pain cripples him and saps what little strength he has left. As he collapses on his back, cringing, a small white hand presses against his chest.
"Take it easy, would you?" The figure snaps irritably, reaching over him to set a glass of water down on the night stand. "You'll rip your stitches."
The light flickers on, hesitantly at first, but soon the room is flooded with a warm easy glow. He's too tired to lift his head, to see who it is that he seems to know (from another life? another zone?).
"You took a nice big slug to the shoulder-"
That voice. He remembers now – big brown eyes like a doe with freckles on her nose.
Her face slides into view as the memory seems to glisten in the light of clarity. It's her, the little girl, from a long time ago.
"- consider yourself lucky you weren't awake while I was digging it out. Nasty little fucker wanted to stay in there. Took me a while, but I got it. You wanna see?"
He's still gaping at her, wondering how it could be the same little girl. But it's her all right. He recognizes the doe eyes. They're a little smaller now, wide as ever, set in the wizened face of a girl already tired of living.
She's changed. Taller, filled out a little, her hair longer and her cheeks even thinner. There's a gauntness that hangs off her slouched shoulders like an old skin that she just can't seem to shed. But it's her. And here he is – the same as ever. Same cold calculating stare that sets peoples' teeth on edge and their nerves on fire. He hasn't changed a bit.
His thoughts are interrupted with the feeling of something pressing against his sore shoulder. The pain sobers him up. He blinks – once, twice, and the blurriness begins to fade a little until he can see her face again. She's surveying the damage.
He watches her as she does it. There's worry flitting around underneath that smattering of faded freckles. Her brows are pinched together. She keeps biting her bottom lip - over and over and over until its red and swollen. She's worried about him. How weird. As if she should care whether he lives or dies. They're enemies, aren't they? Sworn from the moment he chose his fate and the second she settled for hers. It has always been that way. Ghetto rats like her always hate him for what he does and how efficiently he does it. He doubts it will ever change – much like everything else around here. Changeless. Eternal.
"Left a pretty big hole…" She mutters to herself, prodding the stitches. He catches himself before the painful groan escapes the pit of his stomach. "You'll definitely have a nice war wound to show the ladies."
Then, she snorts. "As if you have time for the ladies, huh, Lee?"
He hasn't stopped watching her; it's funny she hasn't noticed him staring. Undaunted, she tears an old sheet into strips to use as gauze. It's all so surreal. How did she even get him here? A little rat like here dragging him all the way across town to her apartment, through the heavy double doors, and up the stairs before tossing him on the bed? She must have had help…there can be no other explanation. But why go through all the trouble. One less Timekeeper would be considered a stroke of luck to most. It seems to be a different case altogether for her. Why – she couldn't have remembered after all those years passed…
"Why are you doing this?"
Their eyes meet. Not a sound to mark the collision of soft brown and hard, unyielding blue. She sighs then, looking away to return her attention to his bare shoulder. "Because I owe you. I figure we're even now."
"Even for what?"
Her cheeks flush with anger. "Don't play dumb with me. I know you remember it as well as I do."
His body goes rigid as her fingers, at first light and delicate as they cleaned the wound, had grown rough. She realizes this and, with a satisfied look, mutters furiously at him, "oh, am I hurting you, Lee? Well good."
But he's still trying to grasp everything, take it all in, with one thought sticking in the forefront of his mind – she remembers, I can't believe it. She remembers.