Time was going by really, really slowly.
"Twenty-three year old male, gunshot wound to the chest!"
There were lights flashing overhead, whizzing by too quickly to see.
"BP's dropping; he's losing blood too fast. We need to get him to an OR, stat."
His chest hurt, but only a little. It just felt like there was a heavy weight sitting on top of his ribs, making it hard to breathe.
Was there something pressed over his nose?
He reached up to try to pull it away, but his arm was suddenly shoved back down by someone else's hand.
"Stay with me, buddy, you have to leave the oxygen mask on," a muffled voice said, distorted as if they were speaking through a glass wall.
Why was it so hard to think…?
He couldn't tell how many people were around him, and their voices were starting to break up, cutting in and out like bad reception on a cell phone.
"—put pressure on there— need 50 CCs of— crap, his lung's collapsed— SOMEONE GET A CRASH CART—"
His limbs felt oddly light and heavy at the same time. He was floating, but he wasn't sure where or why.
Gradually, the noise faded from his eardrums, the world going quiet overhead as he started to sink. His eyesight was blurry, the few colors and shapes he could make out smearing across each other like paint.
And then, bit by bit, everything slowly vanished.
Claire Burnham, a plainly dressed black woman who happened to be the only female social worker on staff at The Christ Hospital, stared through the glass door into the isolated room where her ten o'clock was waiting for her in his hospital bed. She studied him from afar with his file clutched in her hand. The kid wasn't aware she was watching him, and instead was looking out the window and appearing deep in thought.
"He looks pretty tall," she said to Dr. Thompson, who was standing beside her in the hall. "You're sure he's not twenty-three?"
"Pretty sure," Thompson replied, his hands in his lab coat pockets. "The license we pulled off him was fake and had him listed as Doug Wiseman, a hundred and sixty pounds, five feet seven inches tall."
Claire huffed a half-chuckle through her nose. The kid she was looking at had to be at least six-foot-two. He did look like he could easily be twenty-three, though.
"What makes you think he's a minor?"
"EMTs found him in a back alley in Over-the-Rhine," Thompson answered, scratching at the back of his balding head. "Lot of runaways involved in a lot of nasty business over there, and his blood tested positive for high doses of heroin. Not to mention the track marks on his arms." He shrugged. "That stuff ages you pretty quick."
Claire pursed her lips, glancing over the information filled in by the doctors. There were a lot of blank spaces. The kid was probably a runaway, like Thompson said, but Claire wasn't going to make any assumptions just yet.
She snapped the folder shut and placed it back into Thompson's hands (she'd found over the years that walking in with a file made nervous runaways even more uneasy and less trusting). "Okay," she said, tugging on the sleeves of her suit. "I'll go get to know him, see if I can get his real name before the withdrawal symptoms hit him."
Thompson gave her a short mock-salute with two fingers to wish her luck as she crossed the hall and pushed open the door, allowing it to slide shut behind her. The kid turned his head away from the window to frown at her, his neck and shoulders tightening almost imperceptibly. He had unevenly spiked dark hair and the hospital gown made him look more pallid than he probably was, even considering the blood loss he'd suffered. His arms and legs were long and gangly, almost too long for the bed. He needed a shave, but Claire could see from where she stood that the stubble was growing in thin patches – Thompson was right, this kid might be ridiculously tall but he hadn't quite finished puberty.
"Hi," Claire said with an easily practiced unassuming smile as she pulled a chair from the corner up a little closer to the bed. "I'm Claire." She didn't bother to try to shake his hand.
"Are you a cop?"
"No," Claire replied evenly, folding her hands in her lap. "I'm a social worker with the hospital."
His mouth twitched slightly to the side, but he didn't speak.
"Do you remember what happened to you?"
He swallowed, shrugging with one shoulder and turning to look back out the window. It was raining. He scratched absentmindedly at the edge of the bandage taped to his chest.
"The bullet missed your heart by half an inch; you're lucky to be alive."
"Will you tell me your name?" she asked gently.
"Your real name."
He rolled his eyes, sticking his forefinger in his mouth to gnaw on the nail.
Claire draped one leg over the other and waited a few moments before trying again. "Do you know why I'm here?"
Again, no response.
"I'm here because we believe you're underage, which means that the police will have to be involved," Claire explained, noticing how the tendons in the kid's arm went rigid for a moment. "Now, I can keep them back for a while, but only if you talk to me."
"If they're just going to get involved sooner or later, then what's the point?" he countered. It was the most he'd said with a single breath so far. "Why should I talk to you?"
"Because the police are sloppy," Claire answered steadily. If the kid didn't trust the police, then the best thing she could do was distance herself from them as much as possible. "The police don't give a crap once they've put you in the foster system. They won't pay attention to where you go."
The kid's eyes narrowed suspiciously at her.
"Will you tell me your name?"
Claire pressed her lips together. "Listen, I don't know your history and I'm not going to pretend to know you, so here's what I do know." She intertwined her fingers, calmly leaning back in her chair. "The doctors found high doses of heroin in your blood, along with trace amounts of cocaine and evidence of alcoholism. That's a lot to be dealing with at any age, so what's going to happen before anything else is you will be placed in our rehabilitation facility and your parents will be found and notified of your whereabouts. If we can't find your parents, you will be placed in foster care after you're clean."
As she spoke, the kid's face barely changed, but she could see a brief shadow of fear slip into his eyes.
"You need to let me help you," Claire pressed. "I can make this easier. And you don't have to tell me everything, but I'd like to know your name."
His cheeks hollowed out as he clamped them between his teeth, his fingers tightening around the edge of the thin blanket covering his legs. His Adam's apple bobbed in his throat.
Claire waited patiently in silence. She was good at waiting.
The kid tugged his fingers through his hair, looking away from her. "It's Finn," he admitted softly, almost too quiet to be heard. "My name is Finn."
Carole Hudson swatted a bee away from her ear as she knelt in the garden in front of her house, enjoying the early summer sunshine as she weeded the earth around her rosebushes. She had a rare day off from work, and she was determined to make the most of it. A light breeze blew through the rose branches, and she reached up to push her hair out of her eyes with the back of her forearm.
She lifted her head to see her stepson leaning out of the front door, waving the cordless phone.
"Call for you!"
Carole pulled her gardening gloves off and dropped them on the ground next to her trowel, pushing herself up off her knees and walking back up to the porch.
"Thanks, honey," she said, brushing her hands off on her jeans before taking the phone from Kurt. "You making progress on your homework?"
"Yeah, I'm almost done," he nodded.
"Good, I'll help you revise your essay in a bit if you want." She smiled as Kurt went back into the house, then put the phone to her ear. "Hello?"
"Ms. Hudson, my name is Claire Burnham. I'm a social worker with The Christ Hospital in Cincinnati."
Carole frowned, fairly sure this woman had contacted the wrong Carole Hudson. "…How can I help you?"
There was a weighted pause on the other end, one that Carole didn't like the sound of, and then the woman spoke again.
"This may come as a shock, but we have reason to believe that your son Finn is undergoing treatment here."
Carole's brain screeched to a halt, and she nearly dropped the phone. The pit of her stomach went ice cold.
"We have a patient who matches the profile listed for Finn Hudson," the woman elaborated. "I'm obligated to tell you that we can't say for sure whether he's your son until a DNA test has been done, but in the case that you are his mother, I'm going to have to ask that you come to Cincinnati to meet him."
Carole grabbed the porch rail, not sure her legs would support her. Her heart was almost painfully beating against the inside of her ribcage, and she wasn't entirely certain she could breathe. "I – I don't understand," she stammered. "How could he fit the profile? That – that was sixteen years ago. He was a baby."
"He's the right age, brown hair, brown eyes, and his facial structure is similar to the photograph listed with your son's file."
"It's been sixteen years," Carole repeated numbly, sinking onto the wooden porch bench.
"Well, as I said, we can't be sure it's him until we do a DNA test."
Carole shook her head, her sinuses tight and her stomach churning. "Ha-have you talked to him? Is he okay?"
"He's expected to make a full recovery."
Forcing a slow breath out of her lungs, Carole tried to swallow the boulder lodged in her throat, her fingers clenching around the phone.
"Ms. Hudson?" the social worker prompted after a moment.
"I'll be there as soon as I can."