Iziah cried out, expecting another bolt of pain to shoot through his body. But instead, Ian released him, toppling over. For a split second, all the activity in the room froze. Iziah fell forward, his hands slapping the wooden floor. He gasped for air, shuddering, and looked over at Ian. There was a wound on the side of his head gushing blood. Iziah stared at the man in horror, his jaw dropping.
Gray took a step back. “What the...”
More gunshots. One hit Gray’s shoulder, and he fell back with a pained yelp. The room exploded into chaos. Teens bolted toward the doors while the more experienced men and women ducked behind crates and support posts for cover, scrambling for their weapons. Gray dragged himself behind a discarded crate, clutching his shoulder. Iziah threw his arms around his head as bullets sprayed across the room. One hit the container to the side marked Gasoline, and there was a sudden ear-piercing explosion, knocking Iziah flat. Fire and stinging fumes blasted across the room, followed by a wave of smoke and heat. He thought he heard sirens in the distance. Iziah cringed, looking around frantically for their attacker.
He turned to see a man running toward him with a rifle in his hands.
Terrified, Iziah scrambled back, his leg shrieking in protest. He turned to Ian and scrabbled at the man’s jacket. He’d had a gun. Where in the hell was it? A smeared pool of blood was forming beneath Iziah, and he felt weak and dizzy. There was a hard lump in Ian’s jacket.
Iziah’s hands were just closing around the pistol when an arm locked around him from behind.
Nicolas had been waiting for his opportunity when he heard a gunshot and a scream. His heart leaped inside his throat, and his blood ran cold. As he watched through the crack in the door, he saw gang members hauling crates out the door. Gray had gotten off the phone and looked agitated. Still no sign of Iziah. That was when he’d heard the scream.
“Shit...” he hissed. He slipped out the door, holding the semi-automatic rifle, scanning anxiously for any sign of Iziah. The Crimson Serpents were either busy or high, so they didn’t notice him lingering in the shadows with a red scarf around his neck. He wanted to run out and find Iziah, but he knew he only had one shot at this, and a single mistake could be fatal.
A few moments later, the yellow-eyed man came through one of the doors, hauling Iziah along beside him. There was a wound on his leg, and it looked like it was broken. Blood smeared across the floor as Iziah struggled to stand, his face contorted in pain. The man threw Iziah in front of Gray and said something that Nicolas didn’t quite catch. Then Gray kicked Iziah. Anger boiled inside him, and he raised the gun, aiming at the yellow-eyed man. He was tempted to make him suffer, but he knew he needed to take a clean shot. He couldn’t risk that man escaping again. Ian pulled Iziah to his knees, and the boy wobbled, his face twisted into a grimace. Gray said something, and Ian’s hand came up to Iziah’s lips.
A snarl twisted Nicolas’ expression, and he fired.
The gunshot left his ears ringing. Iziah fell forward, and the man dropped to the floor. Everyone seemed to freeze, turning on him with shock and confusion. Nicolas sprayed bullets at them, and one bullet struck Gray in the shoulder. The group suddenly scattered. Nicolas ran forward as he took aim and shot at a large tank of gasoline. It exploded, blasting out fire and smoke and fumes. Even with it raining outside, Nicolas knew it wouldn’t be long before this entire place was in flames. The wood was old and dry, and fire was already licking up the walls next to the exploded tank.
Iziah threw his arms around his head. Several gang members attempted to return fire, but they were temporarily blinded by the fumes, and many of the younger members had fled. Nicolas shot at them whenever he saw a face appear from behind one of the crates, rushing toward Iziah. Iziah looked at him in terror and scrambled back, not recognizing him in the tumult. He started digging at Ian’s coat.
Nicolas grabbed him around the middle and hauled him toward a large stack of crates. Running right now would be a fool’s errand. They had to wait for the right moment, maybe until the gang members fled from the fire.
Iziah thrashed against him, a pistol in his hand. “No! No! Let go!”
“It’s me!” Nicolas shouted. He dragged him to the stack of crates and dove behind it as several bullets whizzed past their heads. In the process, he dumped Iziah on the floor and almost landed on top of him. It was already becoming hard to breathe as fire spread across the walls and gnawed into the wooden floor.
Iziah stared up at him through shocked, tear-filled eyes. The pistol lay beside him. “Nick?”
Nicolas gave a worried frown. Iziah hadn’t looked so bad from a distance, but now he wondered how much blood the boy had lost. His face was pallid, and there was a blue hue to his lips. The boy’s hands shook.
“It’s okay. I’ve got you. We’re going to get out of here,” Nicolas said, hurriedly pulling off his belt and binding it tight around Iziah’s leg, above the wound. Iziah winced.
Nicolas pulled back and peered between the crates before sending a spray of bullets toward the Crimson Serpents. Several cries of pain sounded out.
Someone dragged into their hiding spot. Nicolas whirled, pointing the gun, and the boy yelped. He had small eyes and thick glasses, sweat soaking his large shirt. Several bruises marred his face, and blood trickled from his nose. He threw his hands up.
“Wait!” Iziah croaked, slowly hauling himself into a sitting position. “H—he’s on our side. His name is Shawn.”
Shawn nodded, gulping.
Nicolas gave the boy a suspicious look, then turned and peered out from behind the crate. Over the roar of the fire, he heard sirens. A group of Crimson Serpents were running for the door. Nicolas sent a spray of bullets after them. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw a flash of movement. Gray had dove out of his hiding spot and behind a nearby stack of crates. Nicolas waited, his eyes scanning for any sign of movement. It was becoming uncomfortably hot in the room, and the fumes were making Nicolas’ eyes water.
“Gray!” he bellowed. “Show yourself!”
Iziah curled up behind Nick, leaning against the crates. Shawn cowered behind him with a look of terror on his face. The entire left side of the building was in flames. Smoke billowed toward them in a stinging cloud, and Iziah coughed, pulling the collar of his shirt over his mouth. He was desperate to escape this place, but if they left the cover of the crates they could be shot. Nick pointed the gun around the crate, waiting for one of them to show themselves, his eyes narrowed.
Relief washed through Iziah. He had been so sure that Nick was dead.
The pistol still lay beside him. He wanted to get up and help Nick, but the world was swimming around him. Despite the stifling heat, Iziah was shivering, sweat bathing his forehead. His limbs felt liked they were constructed of lead.
Nick pulled the trigger with a bang, making the boys flinch, their ears ringing. While they were shaking and sweaty, Nick looked calm and calculating.
“I—I thought you were dead,” Iziah rasped.
Nick snorted, his eyes flitting about, and the corners of his mouth twitched upward. “As if a few gang members could take me down.”
There was a sudden gunshot, and Nick yelped, falling back.
Nicolas had seen Gray pop out a second too late. He tried to pull back, but pain ripped at his forehead. Losing his balance, he fell back, crying out. The rifle clattered against the floor. Blood streamed into his eyes and blinded him. Nicolas wiped at it, trying to measure the extend of the damage. For a moment, he thought he’d been shot in the head, but then he realized he’d managed to dodge. The bullet only grazed him.
“Nick! Nick, are you okay?” Iziah asked frantically.
“I’m fine,” he grunted. Half-blind from the blood and smoke, he twisted upright and reached for his gun.
A boot came out of nowhere and kicked him in the ribs, knocking him over again. Pain wrenched through his body, and curses rose to his lips as he struggled to clear his vision. The rifle lay out of reach. Gray loomed above him and stomped on his chest, pointing a pistol at his head. Nicolas scowled. He was so furious he couldn’t bring himself to feel afraid. Gray was bleeding from the shoulder, his chest heaving in the oxygen-deprived air. Nicolas wanted to reach up and hit the man, to pound him with all his might. But if he died, Gray would be free to do what he pleased with Iziah, and he couldn’t allow that. He wanted to start again with a second chance.
Gray snarled, “You bastard. I’ll teach you to mess with the Crimson Serpents.”
There was a gunshot, but Nicolas felt nothing. Gray’s eyes widened, and he looked at the wound in his chest. Blood soaked his shirt and dripped down onto Nicolas. The man staggered to the side, wheezing, the gun falling from his hand with a clatter before he collapsed. Nicolas scrambled around to see Iziah holding the pistol in his shaking hands, wide-eyed. Shawn had taken the opportunity to run for it. Everyone else seemed to have fled. The flames pressed in on them, and Nicolas felt like he was suffocating.
“Are you...okay?” Nicolas demanded, his lungs heaving.
Nicolas looked past the crates, scanning, but there was no sign of their assailants. He scrambled to his feet and offered Iziah a hand. “Come on!”
Iziah took it, and Nicolas pulled him to his feet. The boy groaned, leaning against the crates. His broken leg hung beside him, a useless appendage, and there was a horrible, defeated look in his eyes.
Without giving him a chance to protest, Nicolas scooped up the boy and ran toward the door. He could hardly see through the smoke, coughing. His limbs felt weak as his chest heaved for oxygen. Iziah was surprisingly thin, shaking as he clung to Nicolas. Several Crimson Serpents lay on the floor, the result of his precise aim. He almost tripped over one of them. Iziah’s arms tightened, as if afraid Nicolas might drop him. His legs wobbled beneath him, and he didn’t have a free hand to wipe the blood from his eyes.
“Nick...” Iziah’s voice was faint.
“We’re almost there,” Nicolas choked. “Hang on.”
Then, all at once, they emerged into the cool morning air. A wave of oxygen washed over him, making him light-headed. It took him a moment to make sense of the scene before him.
Police cars were pulled up in the parking lot outside the warehouse with an ambulance and a firetruck. He had no idea who called them, but he couldn’t have been more relieved. Police officers were arresting gang members and searching the truck outside. Firemen rushed forward in an attempt to put out the flames, attaching a huge hose to a fire hydrant nearby. A cool wind dragged past them, carrying moisture. Nicolas hacked and coughed as he staggered forward, tripping and hitting his knees. His head pulsed with a throbbing pain. Several officers rushed toward him.
“Iziah...” Nicolas croaked. “It’s gonna be fine... The police are here...”
He looked down at the boy only to realize that he had gone slack in his grip, his arms draped over Nicolas’ shoulders and his head lolling against his chest. How much blood had he lost? Nicolas jostled him, raising his voice, “Iziah?”
Nicolas stumbled to his feet and hurried toward the ambulance.