Nicolas went over the possibilities in his mind over and over as he read the email. There was no guarantee that that Gray wouldn’t shoot him on the spot, but that was a chance he had to take. Nicolas had Katharine get some explosives from their supplier and drop them at the apartment.
They weren’t going to get away this time.
While Nicolas sorted things out in his head, he tried not to look troubled. Iziah had shut down, sitting in front of the TV and watching through dull, expressionless eyes, his mind a thousand miles away. Utter terror.
Nicolas got angry every time he looked at him. As much as Nicolas hated to admit it, he felt like a cornered animal. If Gray had Nicolas shot, there would be no one to protect Iziah. In fact, they might try to tackle him and extract Iziah’s location by force. He shook himself. That was where the explosives would come in handy. The moment they made a move for him, he would blow them up. If he hid them well enough – perhaps inside the walls of surrounding buildings – they would never see it coming.
The reality of the situation was that he couldn’t know what would happen. He just had to make a plan and hope for the best.
After thinking through the whole thing, he sent an email to Gray, agreeing to meet tomorrow night, but he negotiated for a quieter end of town, far from Crimson Serpent territory. Neither of them wanted to meet too close to City center, where the police would respond to the first sign of violence. They agreed to meet near a bar that Gray Hanes owned. Nick knew the spot well. Many of the buildings were abandoned and falling into disrepair. If he cornered himself in a dead end, they could only approach from one direction, and he would place the explosives accordingly.
Nicolas cleaned all his guns. Since he knew Gray would be coming with backup, he planned to take two. A shotgun that he could sling over his shoulder and a smaller one to conceal beneath his jacket. He also left one in his desk. As much as he wanted to separate Iziah from the situation, it would be wise to show him how to use the pistol. Iziah listened patiently, saying nothing, his lips sealed together.
That night, he sat up in bed with his laptop, looking at maps of their location. Through the door, he saw the lights from the television flickering across the living room.
Nicolas yawned. His head ached with stress. He couldn’t stop reliving what happened to Micah. This wasn’t just about protecting Iziah. This was about proving to himself that he could protect him. That he was still strong enough to stand up for what was right. He’d had enough of all the sickness and corruption and evil surrounding him. The moment this hellish ordeal was over, he planned to move himself and Iziah into another town. Maybe to Seattle, where he could try to talk to Martha. He could start over with a legitimate job.
Without really meaning too, Nicolas drifted to sleep, still fully-clothed with the laptop beside him.
Iziah couldn’t bring himself to turn off the television, knowing it would only lead to unbearable silence. Sweat soaked the back of his shirt. He ran a hand through his damp hair, taking a long breath, trying to calm himself. It was too hot in the apartment. He heard Nick’s steady breathing in the other room.
Iziah’s eyes wandered the room as he flicked through channels. The light of the television created ominous, flickering shadows. A sense of suffocation and panic pressed down on him. What had he been thinking? How could he have believed the Crimson Serpents would let it go? He knew they were vengeful, yet he’d dragged Nicolas into it. Iziah took a long, shuddering breath, rubbing his hand against his face. He was afraid of what would happen if the Crimson Serpents got a hold of him, but he was more afraid of them getting to Nick. They could just shoot him when he drove to that back alley, and Nick wouldn’t be able to stop them.
Iziah didn’t think he could handle that. Nick was the only person that cared. Without him...there was no reason for any of this. A wave of nausea washed over Iziah, and he scrambled to his feet, running into the bathroom. Seconds later, he was embracing the cold toilet, vomiting up what little food remained in his stomach. His head pounded. Tears welled up in his eyes and streamed down his face.
Everything in his mind screamed.
Iziah leaned against the wall, wiping his mouth and flushing the toilet. He was so tired of being afraid. So tired of the constant torment his memories inflicted on him. For a moment, he wondered what it would be like to walk to the top of the building...to go to the roof and stand in the cold night air. Something about it appealed. Being high above everything, isolated from his troubles. He would approach the railing and swing his legs over. Flirting with death. Wrestling his fear. It would feel so good to plunge down, the wind cooling his aching body.
He shook himself. He couldn’t do that to Nick. After all, he’d promised Nick that he would trust him.
He was so tired. So very tired...
Iziah stood, his legs wobbling, and limped back into the living room. It was lonely with Nick asleep. Just like his apartment had been. Iziah sat on the couch and looked out the window, his eyes tracing the patterns of streets beneath them. Headlights streamed past in a constant flow. The brightness of the city blocked out the stars. Iziah pulled his knees to his chest, taking a long breath and closing his eyes. Trying to find some peace and serenity. Trying to fight back dark urges that threatened to consume him.
He wanted to be strong, like Nick. Nick didn’t look scared. He didn’t look like he was on the verge of fleeing to the black embrace of death.
His hands tore through his hair as he struggled to embrace what was happening. Questions surged through his mind. He didn’t understand why Nick would risk his life like this. Was this a trick? Maybe he wanted to get money out of the deal. Maybe he would drag Iziah forcefully to the car, bind him with tape, and shove him into the dark, stuffy trunk. Then he would be rocked and jolted as the car moved, waiting for the inevitable torture to come.
He didn’t know what to think. Nick seemed so sincere, but he was too scared to believe in him.
Iziah opened his eyes, watching the city lights, trying to silence the conflict raging inside his mind.