The Hurting Game

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Chapter 34

Iziah got back to the apartment as quickly as he could, but it still took longer than he’d hoped. In his attempt to be unseen, he’d taken several round-about ways and passed through multiple alleys to make sure he wasn’t followed. Every time he saw a suspicious figure, he changed direction, joining a group of people and trying to look like he belonged. His legs hurt from jumping off the roof, and his broken bones hadn’t appreciated the jolt either.

When he finally made it back, he was tired and aching. The apartment complex was silent. His footsteps padded against the thick carpet. The door was unlocked, just as he’d left it, and he walked inside, closing the door and collapsing against the wall.

A relieved sigh escaped his lips. Somehow, he’d managed to pull it off, and Nick was safe.

He wondered what Nick had thought happened. He couldn’t have seen Iziah, so he must have thought it was a happy coincidence. Iziah issued a light laugh, pulling off his shoes and tossing them next to the door. The lights were still on, and the apartment was quiet. Now that the adrenaline and fear was wearing off, his stomach rumbled. The pizza would be cold by now, but that didn’t matter. Iziah walked into the living room and was about to pull off his hoodie when he froze. Nick was sitting on the couch in a relaxed position, watching him quietly.

Iziah opened his mouth several times only to close it again. There was nothing he could say. Nick had arrived before him, and he was caught red-handed. Maybe he hadn’t put the pieces together, but he would now, from Iziah’s pale face to the pistol-shaped lump in his jacket.

Nick looked at him without expression, his hair sticky with dried sweat. Then he leaned his head against the back of the couch and closed his eyes.

“Aren’t you going to say something?” Iziah asked, confused.

Nick grunted with a shrug of the shoulders. “Would it do any good?”

As he realized that Nick wasn’t angry, a grin spread across Iziah’s face. He shook his head in bewilderment and walked into the kitchen. The pizza box was open now, and a half of it was gone. “Damn. Stress-eating much?”

“Shut up, kid.”

Iziah smirked, grabbing a slice and taking a bite. It wasn’t very appetizing now that it was cold, but he was too hungry to care. He walked over and sat next to Nick, leaning against the back of the couch. A wave of exhaustion washed over him, and there was a long moment of silence.

Nick put out his hand. Iziah stared at it for a moment, then pulled out the pistol and gave it to Nick. Nick placed it on the couch beside him.

“You do something that stupid again, I’ll kick your ass,” Nick said.

“Likewise,” Iziah replied. “You didn’t tell me you were going to kill them.”

Nick sighed, rubbing one hand against his face. “I’m used to dealing with a different breed of people.”

“Gray Hanes can hardly be called a person.” Iziah fixed his gaze on the floor, something cold seeping into the pit of his stomach.

Did he tell you what my men did with him? Sounds like they had quite the time of it.

Iziah shivered. The words stung him. Every time he thought about what happened, he felt sick. He hated Shawn for his involvement, but Gray was the one responsible, and he loathed him all the more. The sight of the thug made nausea rise up inside him. He wished his aim had been better.

Nick’s arm, which had been resting across the back of the couch behind Iziah, slid down around his shoulders. Nick looked over at him. “You okay?”

“I’m fine,” Iziah said. “I was afraid they were going to kill you.”

Nick smirked and tipped his head back again. “We’re going to have to leave.”

“When?”

“First thing in the morning. We’ll pack up, and I’ll try to figure out where we can go.”

Iziah frowned, turning slightly so he could face the man. “What about your apartment? And your job?”

“Katharine will take care of it for me. I’ll find something new to do wherever we settle down. I’ve got enough money for us to live off of for a little while.”

Iziah fell silent, unable to believe that anyone would give up so much for him. Unable to believe Nick wasn’t fed up with his antics. “Aren’t you angry? Aren’t you going to yell at me for leaving the house and putting myself in danger? Why don’t you hate me?”

“Oh, trust me, I’m angry,” Nick growled.

“Then why haven’t you lost it yet?”

“Because you saved my skin! Now shut up and stop trying to provoke me. You can’t make me hate you.”

Iziah stared at him for several seconds, then shrugged. Nick’s arm tightened around his shoulders, and Iziah let himself lean into him. It felt good being safe. Secure. With Nick around, he didn’t feel like he had to be afraid. “Where are we going to go, Nick? They’ll come looking for us.”

Nick rubbed his hand against his face in contemplation. “I don’t know yet. But I’m open to ideas.”

Iziah didn’t know either. He’d never considered leaving the city, especially after joining the Faceless. This place was familiar. Homey. But it was different now that things were so tainted with darkness and violence and sin. He wanted to go somewhere purer and more friendly. Nick obviously wanted that too. But where? Endless possibilities stretched before them.

“We should pack tonight so we don’t have to worry about it in the morning,” Nick said.

“Yeah.”

But they were too exhausted to move. It was past eleven. Iziah was tempted to take another pain pill, but he wanted to wean himself off them. Besides, they made him sleepy, and, if they had to clean up and pack tonight, that wouldn’t be a good idea. Iziah was silent a long moment before venturing, “Nick?”

“Hmm?”

“Do you think I’m...girlish?”

“What?” Nick frowned, looking at him. “Why would you ask that?”

Iziah didn’t meet his gaze. Before, people had referred to his looks as a blessing, but the men had called him “pretty” and “smooth”, along with other effeminate things he didn’t want to repeat. Besides that, Matthias’ words were echoing in his mind. You gave up your manhood. Nausea rose inside him. “I...heard what Gray said.”

Nick’s gaze hardened. “Iziah, that man is sick. He’s sick in the head and sick in the soul, just like those other men. You shouldn’t care what they think. What happened isn’t going to matter in the long run. I know that it’s still fresh right now, but you’ll overcome this eventually. One morning, you’ll wake up without thinking about it. Then you won’t think about it for the whole day. After a while, it’ll just be like any other memory. One day, you’ll be stronger for it.”

Iziah nodded, staring at the floor.

After a moment, Nick’s eyes softened, and he gave Iziah’s shoulders a squeeze. “And, anyway, I don’t think you look girlish.”

“Really?” Iziah asked doubtfully.

“Really.”

Iziah’s lips twisted in a faint, grateful smile.

“Those assholes are the cowards,” Nick snarled. “With five of them coming after you, there’s no way in hell you stood a chance. I wouldn’t have stood a chance.”

Iziah flushed. It was still embarrassing, the fact that Nick knew what had happened, but he took a deep breath and tried to force back the nausea. Holding everything inside didn’t feel any better, and Nick was trying to help.

Nick was quiet a moment, then looked at Iziah. “Did you shoot Gray?”

“No. He got out of sight too quickly.”

“Damn.”

“It was the first time I ever shot a gun,” Iziah scoffed. “You’re lucky I didn’t shoot you by accident.”

Nick chuckled, a grin spreading across his face. “I suppose that’s true.” He put his hand on Iziah’s head, rubbing his hair into his face, and Iziah twisted away playfully. “Come on. We need to get this place cleaned up before we doze off. It’s going to be a long day tomorrow.”

“We’re leaving first thing in the morning?” Iziah asked. The prospect of getting out of the city as soon as possible appealed. Getting up early, however, did not.

“We should. The sooner we leave, the better. The longer we stay, the more we risk being found. Now come on.” He hauled himself to his feet, and Iziah followed.

The two began the process of cleaning the apartment and packing their things, simultaneously anxious and excited.

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