He wakes up in a hospital room.
He knows what a hospital room is. He knows that one of the machines hooked to his body is measuring his heartbeat- there is a tube down his throat and he panics, and the beeping of the heart-monitoring machine goes wild. Nurses rush in and hold him down, sedate him, remove the tube and gently prepare him for the doctor.
The doctor finally comes in and takes a seat next to him, staring hard at him, as if trying to find something there. He blinks, curling his arms around himself, and asks, his voice ragged, “Why am I here?”
“You... were discovered, in a ditch, on the side of the road, with multiple head wounds,” the doctor tells him sternly. “You've been in a medically-induced coma for the past three months now.”
“That sounds... serious,” he says, after a moment. He tries a smile, looks down at his hands, and scrubs his palms over his mouth for a few seconds. “Why was I in a coma?”
“You required several surgeries to remove pieces of your skull from your brain,” the doctor tells him, leaning forward. “What do you remember?”
He stares at the man until it becomes uncomfortable, until he can't meet the man's eyes anymore.
“I remember... things. That's a chair, and you're a doctor. I remember stars... I remember stories.” He closes his eyes, sucking on his lower lip. “For yards about the steps extended an insane tangle of human bones, or bones at least as human as those on the steps. Like a foamy sea they stretched, some fallen apart, but others wholly or partly articulated as skeletons...”
He opens his eyes, frowning. “That... sounds unpleasant.”
The doctor frowns slightly, a finger on his chin. “Who wrote that?”
“It's... The Rats in the Walls,” he says slowly, looking down at his hands. “Lovecraft. I've read that story, I know I have, it's like it's... it's there, if I look for it.” He looks up, fighting off a sudden surge of panic. “I don't- you know my name, though, don't you, Doc? I mean- I had a, a wallet on me, didn't I? Some kind of... identifying papers, or something, right?”
“...you did,” the doctor says slowly, and gets up to pick up the man's charts. He sees a flash of an ID tag hanging from the white coat he wears, and the name means nothing to him, Strange, Stephen. It's alliterative, though, and he finds that oddly soothing. The doctor clears his throat, and for a second the man thinks he sees the faintest glow of pinkish light around his fingers. He blinks and the glow is gone, was never there, and that, actually, makes sense, he's been in a coma with brain damage for the past three months, a little light hallucination is to be expected...
“I have a name, right?” he asks, going for playful to mask his growing worry, wondering what the hell is taking Dr. Strange so long to find the pertinent information. “I mean... I'm not just some, some John Doe in here, am I?”
“Lucas Blake,” Strange says, reading it off a paper. He leans over to show it to the man, who feels... nothing, no sense of relief or homecoming at seeing his own name.
“...when is it going to start ringing bells, Doc?” he asks weakly, finally, and the doctor sighs.
“We're going to have to run a battery of tests to determine just how extensive the damage was, Mr. Blake. Don't... don't worry,” Strange says, barely loud enough for the man- Lucas- to hear. “We won't just turn you out on the streets, alright?”
“Alright,” Lucas says quietly, and he isn't sure why but he is overcome with the urge to sleep, and it's far too hard to keep his eyes open or his head up just yet.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Dr. Strange, Lucas thinks, sure is involved in his patients. He sees the man several times a day, whether it's to observe Lucas's grueling physical therapy sessions or to meet personally with him and quiz him on how he's going and what it is he remembers, which isn't much.
“How do you know my name?” Lucas asks once, after an hour of trying and failing to walk six feet without collapsing.
“It was written on the inside of your sneakers,” Strange replies softly, smiling a little. Lucas looks down at his pale, bare feet, and sighs.
Another day, Lucas crawls over and steals his charts from the foot of his bed, reading what little there is to say about him. Strange comes by later, while Lucas is messily trying to wrangle spaghetti noodles onto a fork, and Lucas looks up from his hopeless task, remembering something he'd read on the paper about himself.
“Approximately eighteen? So I could be older or younger than eighteen?” he asks, and Strange shakes his head, leaning over to cut Lucas's noodles into shorter, more manageable sections.
“I sincerely doubt that you're younger than eighteen,” he says, but offers little more than a small smile when Lucas demands to know how Strange could possibly know that.
The nurses give Lucas a huge pen, the size of his forearm, and he practices forming the letters and words dancing manically through his head, until his hand cramps and his wrist aches. It's completely worth it, though, for the day that Strange walks in, a man just behind him, and Lucas holds up a paper, nearly breathless with excitement.
“Look, Doc! I wrote my whole name and you can read it! That's got to be a champagne-worthy accomplishment, right?” Strange smiles at him, and the new guy- Lucas pauses, because the new guy's wearing dark glasses and is holding a white and red cane and Lucas knows that means the guy's blind. “...uh, hey, just so you know, Mister, my signature's gorgeous,” he informs him, and the guy snorts.
“Lucas, this is a friend of mine, Matt Murdock,” Strange says in that way of his that manages to be sweet and gruff at the same time. “He's a lawyer and, with his help, we're going to see about getting you some ID, okay?”
“Really?” Lucas asks, instantly curious, but this blind Murdock guy clears his throat.
“Nothing is set in stone, Mr. Blake... we need to exhaust every avenue towards finding what, if any, legal records there might be out there,” and something in Murdock's voice makes Lucas worry a little, because he knows he's pretty much homeless if he can't get proper identification, but Strange seems pretty confident.
Murdock sticks around, even after the nurses bring Lucas's dinner, and Lucas is extremely glad this blind guy can't see the way he struggles to hold the fork, or the way Strange has to help him with actually getting the fork to his mouth. It's nice that Strange does it, really, but it's also frustrating and exhausting.
By the time he's done eating, Lucas can barely keep track of what the man's saying, and it is with some embarrassment (but not a whole hell of a lot, because he suspects most people with brain damage have to go through this stage, and Strange has never acted weird about it) that he tips his head back and lets his eyelids droop closed, and whatever Murdock is saying is so muffled and pleasant that it merely ushers him further into sleep.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
The nurses bring Lucas paperback novels to read- Earnest Hemingway and Stephen King and the Bible and Shakespeare, Dan Brown and Terry Pratchett and Mary Shelley and Kurt Vonnegut. Strange brings him textbooks from the local high school- history and geography and calculus and biology, and once, on one of his rare visits, Murdock puts a hardcover copy of the complete works of HP Lovecraft into Lucas's lap. Lucas actually hugs the man's arm before he can remember himself, but he thinks he sees the guy actually smile on his way out.
By the time Lucas has been awake for five whole months, he's walking- on crutches, sure, but he can get all the way to the end of the hallway and back. Strange beams at him until Lucas thinks he might die a little, he's so happy and proud of himself.
By the time he has been awake for a total of six, Murdock's apparently a fantastic lawyer, because Lucas has a whole array of paperwork in front of him- social security card, New York state ID, a stack of forms that, as it turns out, tell Lucas that he's successfully gained a GED.
“What is this?” Lucas asks shyly, and Strange smiles down at him, looking just a little too kind for that knowing expression to reach smugness.
“I took care of most of the paperwork, actually... and I might know a few people downtown,” Strange adds, and Lucas grins at him.
By the time Lucas has been awake for eight months, he can walk with a cane and shave without help and he's learning to use chopsticks and Strange has a small, plain apartment arranged for Lucas to use. It's pretty close to the library where, thanks to Strange, Lucas has a part time job, and there's a nurse who comes in every day to check up on Lucas, morning and evening, and after the initial tour of the place Lucas sits down on the bed- his bed- and put his cane across his knees and feels totally humbled and bewildered and grateful.
“Why are you helping me like this?” he asks, and it's weird but it really is the first time Lucas has ever questioned this guy. At some point, Lucas knows, things went beyond what a doctor would normally do for a patient.
“Well... you don't really have anyone else, Lucas,” Strange says after a moment or two. “No family that we've been able to find, anyway. I don't have so many cases that I can't spend extra time looking after my patients, and you didn't have anyone else looking after you.”
Lucas blinks back tears, and grins a little. “Doc, you're- you're a kitten. You're a kitten made of marshmellows. Soft and sweet and- fuzzy.”
“That's enough of that,” Strange smiles, and gently pats Lucas's shoulder. “I'll help you unpack. Your first day at work is Monday.”
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Lucas's nurse is Nina and his boss is Bobbi and Strange actually meets the three of them downtown on the anniversary of Lucas Waking Up, which has become Lucas's unofficial birthday. They eat pizza and Bobbi gives everyone cupcakes and Lucas announces that he's all signed up to go to college, there's apparently a degree you can get in library science, and even though Lucas is legally nineteen he sips a little champagne and lets Strange help him get home.
Lucas thinks he sees something- or someone- lurking outside his window, long after Strange leaves. It's impossible, of course, because there's barely any ledge outside that window and it's six stories up anyways.
There's a card on his dresser in the morning- Strange must have put it there, after Lucas passed out- and it's from Murdock, expressing his congratulations. Lucas carefully shaves the stubble on his jaw, still failing spectacularly to grow an impressive Van Dyke like Tony Stark. Lucas doesn't own a TV, but sometimes he watches clips of the news on his laptop, and the CEO of Stark Industries is always doing something super cool to get national press.
Lucas's walls are lined with bookshelves and his bookshelves are overflowing, with the books he got in the hospital and the books the library will occasionally give away. He's read everything in his little apartment twice. College is a challenge, but enough of his courses are online that he doesn't really have much of a problem with them.
Nina tells him he should try to get out more and Bobbi tries to get him to sign up for an online dating service, but Lucas resists their efforts. He's getting out when he has to go to work and to the store, and he's not really up for dating anyone, and he tells them that he's happy and it really is the truth.
Lucas is shelving books and contemplating the shelves that seem to be nothing but books on the care and feeding of farm animals when he notices a kid staring at him- not really a kid, probably closer to Lucas's age than he looks. His hair is messy and brown and his eyes are wide and brown and for such a regular-looking guy, he's also frankly adorable.
And he looks like he's about to have a heart attack, which is mildly disconcerting, so Lucas smiles and leans on his cane a little to give the kid a wave.
“Need any help?” he asks, and the teenager takes a step back.
“Uh, no, I'm just- what are you doing?” he blurts, which takes Lucas by surprise.
“Well... in general? Working, going to school, physical therapy,” Lucas says slowly, blinking. “Right now I'm just putting away some books about sheep. Apparently there's a lot to say on the matter.”
“Haha, okay,” the kid says nervously, and Lucas looks away, because it's suddenly awkward. He clears his throat, rubbing the back of his neck a little.
“Well... uh, I do work here, so if you need help finding anything, just give me a yell.” He pauses, then smiles shyly. “Or a really loud stage whisper. We are in a library, after all.”
“Right, okay,” the kid says, still in that painfully nervous tone. After a moment, he sticks his hand out, looking a little like he thinks Lucas will bite it off. “I'm... I'm Pete, by the way.” Lucas grins, taking it gingerly and giving it a little shake.
“Lucas. So! You looking for something in particular, Pete?” Pete flinches a little, which is getting real old, but he nods at the question.
“Uh, yeah, actually, but I- I found it, already. So I just have to do some homework.” He hesitates, gesturing a little at Lucas's cane. “What... uh, what happened?”
“I... think I was in a car accident?” Lucas blinks, because nobody ever did figure out what happened. “At least, they think that's what happened. Apparently I was in a coma for a while. I mean, my legs work fine, I just broke my brain a little.” And he smiles, because his life, despite this, has been great, so far as he can tell. Pete seems a little shell-shocked, which... Lucas sort of understands, actually. Most people in Lucas's position don't seem to end up doing as well as this.
“Oh, wow, okay, that's- where are you from, again?” Pete asks, and Lucas has seen a few romantic comedies, so he thinks Pete might be flirting, but if he is, it's certainly the most awkward flirting he's ever witnessed firsthand.
“Well- right now I live in Hell's Kitchen?” He asks because it seems- well, presumptuous of him to just say it, it makes him feel like he's blandly announcing that he lives in Badass Apartments on Motherfucker Street. “I mean, I don't know where I was from before the accident, but that's where I live now. I take the train,” he adds, smiling. “What about you, Pete?”
“Oh, uh- Queens, I'm from Queens,” Pete babbles, and then looks weird and cagey for a moment. This conversation gives Lucas a small headache, so he clears his throat and leans on his book cart.
“Okay, well... it was nice meeting you, Pete, but I really have to get back to work now,” and that's that. Lucas does think he sees Pete around every so often afterward, but it's beyond embarrassing to go up to some cute young guy and ask him if he remembers that time you were both awkward in the library together.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Lucas is curled up on a small, comfortable chair with his laptop, finishing some of his coursework, when someone clears their throat behind him and he turns awkwardly to look. It's Pete, a bunch of crazy-big textbooks under his arm- Applied Quantum Physics and Advanced Genetic Theory have their spines towards Lucas. He grins faintly up at Pete.
“You're stalking me, but it's okay because you're actually a genius,” he says, and Pete laughs a little. “What's up, Pete?”
“Just doing some homework, uh, Lucas. Are you working?” he asks. Lucas motions him over, and he takes a seat nearby, perching in the chair as if ready to jump right back up again.
“It's my day off, but it's a nice place to do my homework, too.” Lucas and Pete meet gazes for a moment, and they both try an awkward smile at the same time. It's stupid, but it gets them snickering (quietly) and when they fall back into silence it's not at all awkward, merely the sound of two people doing their homework in the library.
It becomes their thing- once a week, sitting quietly, not really talking, but as time passes Lucas feels more comfortable with the idea of having a friend his age. Lucas is almost disappointed by the time the semester ends, if only because the break from class means no excuse to hang around doing homework with Pete.
But, as it turns out, Pete manages to make time for Lucas anyway- they start going to the park instead, eating hot dogs and feeding ducks. Sometimes they talk about school or the news, but it usually ends up being a conversation about books or movies or music they like. Pete is actually really funny, once he opens up to Lucas a little. They get coffee and hang out on park benches, or get ice cream and play chess, Pete's hands gently guiding Lucas's fingers over the small pieces.
The sun is setting, a slight chill in the air as they people-watch, and Lucas inhales sharply as he is hit with a sudden thought.
“Pete, are we dating?” he asks, panicking, because he does like Pete and he thinks Pete's cute and all, but they're friends and that would be- that would be really weird. Pete almost drops his hot pretzel, eyes huge.
“Uh- no, I don't think so- I mean, we're cool and all, I don't- I just, I have a girlfriend and I thought- I just thought it was nice hanging out, you know, and not getting shushed every time one of us feels like talking-” Pete stammers, and Lucas breathes a sigh of relief.
“No, man, it's cool, I just- I don't know what it's like, I've only seen it in movies,” he explains, although he's not sure why Pete would make such a pained expression at that. “You know, the whole... montage where they start hanging out and doing fun stuff and most of the shooting happens in one day so they cram all kinds of stuff at the same location so if you're not paying attention, it looks like these people were dating for sixteen hours straight and then got engaged.”
“And- we look like a dating montage?” Pete echoes, sounding a little dazed. Lucas shrugs, tossing a piece of his pretzel at a duck.
“Well, kinda. I think if we ever went on a carriage ride we would for sure,” Lucas reflects, licking mustard off his fingers. “Or if you brought me flowers while there was an impromptu concert behind us, definitely.”
“Why do I have to bring you flowers?” Pete asks, wrinkling his nose. “You should be bringing me flowers, I'm adorable. And broke, don't forget broke.”
“Well, okay,” Lucas grins, glancing fondly over at the other student. “Tell you what, I'll bring you flowers, you arrange the carriage ride, and-” Then some ducks come waddling over, and whatever Lucas means to say to Pete gets lost in the moment. That's alright, because the only thing that matters is that they are friends and it's all cool.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
“I don't think you can take this on the train with you,” Pete says carefully. Lucas is leaning heavily on a cart, eyes huge as he takes in everything that is the IKEA store for the very first time.
“But I like it,” Lucas repeats, petting the cool bed-over-desk contraption as if it is a skittish animal. “And then I can move the bed I have over to one side and then, you know, if I have friends over they can sleep there.” Pete hesitates, glancing briefly at Lucas's cane.
“Can you- can you climb the ladder, Luke?” he asks, and Lucas... isn't sure if he can or can't, but he shrugs a little.
“Can't hurt to try,” he says cheerfully, but he knows the look on Pete's face- it's the same one he wore when Lucas got the idea that he could probably take one of the ducks home from the park and let it live in his bathtub. It's actually a lot like the look Doc got when, back at the hospital, Lucas tried to suggest that Scrubs had a background in medical fact and that he needed a box full of kittens. So Lucas sighs and edges away from the bunkbed, his shoulders slumping a little. His hair is getting long, and Pete must notice, because he reaches over and ruffles it a little.
“You need a haircut,” he says, sounding a little more serious than he ought to. “Don't you get your hair cut somewhere?”
“I don't think so,” Lucas replies, feeling a little faint, because it's- it's nice, physical contact has never been much more than the warm but clinical duties of doctors and nurses, or the gentle help he's gotten from Doc or Mr. Murdock or Pete, and it's practically extravagant, and that makes Lucas feel... off. He shrugs a little, focusing on a stack of bright, boxy bookshelves. “I think the last time it got cut was in the hospital, when Doc was getting me cleaned up for my state ID picture.”
“Oh,” Pete says, glancing at some wicker chairs. “You should probably get your hair cut, though. Don't want it getting too long, it'll make you look like-”
“A rockstar,” Lucas says firmly, nodding decisively. “And once my Tony Stark beard grows in, I will be the most attractive man in the city.” Pete actually starts choking at this.
“Oh god, oh jesus,” he wheezes, looking at Lucas like he's lost his mind. “No. No, Luke, okay, please, no. Tony Stark is a douchebag. You don't want a douchebag beard on your face. Everyone will assume you're a total douchebag.”
“That's gross,” Lucas informs him loftily. “And Tony Stark is super cool. I wouldn't mind growing up to be a billionaire. I could build a mansion and we could fill the pool with money and just, you know, swim around in money. I will bet you five dollars that Tony Stark has done that.”
“I know for a fact that he's done that,” Pete grimaces, handing over a five dollar bill. “Seriously, Lucas, you look fine without a beard. Even your stubble has a very nice, innocent look to it, and you'll ruin your babyface if you grow that beard. And it's called a Van Dyke, actually.”
“I know what it's called,” Lucas replies, fingering a neat little lamp with a growing smile.
It's later and they're sitting and eating meatballs and sipping tea when Pete glances over at him, as if struck with a sudden thought.
“How do you have an ID if you don't remember who you were before the accident?” he asks, and Lucas shrugs, concentrating on spooning up some mashed potatoes.
“I had a good lawyer? Well. The surgeon in charge of putting me back together had a good lawyer.” Lucas shrugs again, using his spoon to cut a meatball into quarters. Pete asks to see his ID, and after a moment of fumbling Lucas hands it over, because- despite Strange and Nina repeatedly telling him not to trust so easily- it's just about impossible for Lucas to just assume that someone might have less than noble intentions.
Pete just looks at the ID for a few minutes, before tucking it back into Lucas's wallet.
“Who's the guy who got this for you?” he asks, and Lucas glances up at him. Pete's face is unreadable, which is weird- after months of friendship, Pete is usually an open book to Lucas.
“You need a lawyer, Peter?” Lucas quips, his smile fading when he realizes that Pete is actually kind of serious about this. “Uh... guy named Murdock. Some friend of my doc's.” Pete nods, just a little, and it's all a little weird and Lucas is about to ask what the hell this is about, but Pete stands abruptly and when he comes back, he has cookies, so Lucas figures it must not be all that important.
Pete is quiet for a while, but he comes over to Lucas's place- he's been there before, so it's not that big a deal- and helps Lucas put his new shelves together and assemble his cute new lamp, and they drink some tea because Lucas is a bit of a fanatic about it. Pete promises, before he goes, to take Lucas to get a haircut, and asks him to please, please shave before he starts actually looking like Tony Stark.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Lucas gets up in the middle of the night, to use the toilet and because he had a dream, something he can't remember now, but he thinks it was pretty good. He rummages through his fridge until he finds some Greek yogurt, carrying it over to his desk to eat while he reads. He has a nice new book of short stories, so he could probably blaze through one or two of them while he polishes off his late-night snack.
His desk faces the window, though, so it's only natural for him to look up when he spots movement outside. Lucas is almost unsure of what it is he's looking at, before his mind supplies him with a few snippets of information from pop culture and the news.
Spiderman is hanging out across the alley, literally hanging off the side of the building, and perched on the fire escape next to him is Daredevil. Lucas's mouth goes dry, because in all these months of living here, he's never actually seen any of the superheroes who live in the city before, at least not this close up, so Lucas does what anyone would do. He dives for his phone and snaps a picture- only it's blurry, because his hands are shaking and the glass of the window is slightly dirty.
He opens his window and leans out a bit, so engrossed in trying to take a better picture to show Pete that he doesn't notice at first that both of the masked men have turned to look at him, apparently noticing the commotion. The picture is less blurry, but the light is bad and, on closer inspection, Lucas realizes that the heroes moved.
He looks again for them, but they're nowhere in sight.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
A week passes, and when Pete takes him not to a salon or barbershop but to a small, pleasant little house in Queens, Lucas is... confused, but happy, because he's never been to Pete's house before. A sweet old lady answers the door, ushering the two of them in and fussing about wanting to feed them before Pete clears his throat a little.
“Aunt May, could you cut my buddy Lucas's hair the way you do mine?” he asks, and she immediately starts puttering around, complimenting Lucas's hair, it is lovely, dear, but a haircut will make you so very handsome. Lucas blushes and sinks down into the kitchen chair, and it's nice.
Lucas feels strangely, happily at home with Pete and his old Aunt, and the haircut ends up looking a lot like Pete's, exposing more of the scars on Lucas's scalp than he would have thought. He rubs the back of his head, a finger tracing a line where Doc must have stitched him up, looking into the small bathroom mirror and thinking that he's been really, really lucky.