When Iziah wakened, he had no idea where he was. The last thing he remembered was the burning building, the suffocating smoke pressing in on him, Nicolas’ arms as they struggled to reach the exit. White light glared at him, and he could barely open his eyes. He lifted his hand to shield himself and felt the tug of an I.V. His head ached, and he felt too heavy to move, but relief washed through him as his memories returned to him. He relaxed back into the hospital bed, closing his eyes. They’d made it out. Nick had come for him. After all his stupid mistakes, Nick still kept his promise.
A shiver ran down his spine as he thought back over everything that happened. Ian and Gray were dead. The thought gave him a faint sense of comfort.
Iziah opened his eyes again. There was no other bed in the room, and, through the window, he saw the dark evening sky. His leg hurt, but the pain felt dulled. Medical equipment was scattered about the room, and a plastic packet of liquid hung next to his head. The hospital gown and blue sheets were scratchy and thin. Through the open door, he heard nurses bustling about. As he lay there, he became aware of steady breathing nearby.
Straining, he lifted his head. Nick sat on a chair with his head resting on the edge of the bed. One limp arm lay across Iziah’s thin blankets. His lips were parted slightly, and an ugly row of black stitches marched across his forehead.
A faint smile worked its way across Iziah’s face. He leaned his head back, resting a hand on Nick’s arm, trying to take in the fact that they were going to be okay.
Nick shifted, and he heard him take a deep breath. The man lifted his head, eyes hanging half-open.
“Sorry,” Iziah said. “I didn’t mean to wake you.”
“You’re fine.” Nick rubbed his eyes, then leaned back in his chair, looking at Iziah. “How do you feel?”
“Pretty good. How long have I been out?”
Nick looked at his watch, squinting. His hair stuck out on one side. “Gawd, I have no clue. A day or so.”
Iziah frowned. “W...what happened?”
“The police were there when we got out of the building. They were arresting Crimson Serpents, and they took us to the hospital.” There was a moment of silence, then Nick continued, “I talked to your friend. Shawn. He’s in a room down the hall. He said he called the police when he saw them drag us in.”
Iziah shook his head in disbelief. After a moment, he braced his hands into the mattress and slowly hauled himself into a sitting position. A wave of dizziness and nausea washed over him. His leg throbbed.
“Careful,” Nick’s brow furrowed. “Don’t overdo it. You lost so much blood that they had to give you a transfusion.”
Iziah lifted a hand to touch his face. His cheek was tender where Ian punched him, but nothing seemed swollen. He was in much better condition than he’d been in during his last trip to the hospital.
Iziah looked at Nick. “Does that hurt?”
“What, this?” He gestured to the stitches on his forehead. “Nah.”
“How did you get away? Gray told them to kill you before they locked me up, and when I heard the gunshot... I...I thought they’d killed you.” Iziah felt tears welling up in his eyes, and he quickly blinked them back.
“I took out the guys that were trying to kill me.”
“But the gunshot...”
“One of them tried to shoot me, but he missed.” Nick smirked. “Really, they were amateurs.”
Iziah chuckled, leaning back. His body still felt weak and heavy like it had when his blood was draining away. There was a moment of silence between them, then Iziah asked, “Why didn’t you just leave me and escape yourself? You can’t have known you could take them all on.”
“If you have to ask that, then I’m not going to be able to explain it to you.”
Iziah stared at his lap. “I’m sorry I didn’t trust you.”
“Hey, don’t worry about it.” Nick leaned forward, resting his elbows against the mattress. “We’re home free. Gray is dead, and the Crimson Serpents lost their hideout.”
A smile slowly spread across Iziah’s face as the meaning of the words sank in. They could disentangle themselves from this mess now. They would be safe.
“I talked to the police while you were out. We have to testify in court, but it shouldn’t be a big deal. They’re going to put us into Witness Protection, but after that, we can leave the city.”
“We can be done with all this?” Iziah asked eagerly.
“That’s right, kid.” Nicolas grinned. “I was thinking we’d head up to Seattle. Then, if we wanted to, we could move on from there. I’ll find a job there and pay for you to finish up high school.”
“And we can visit Martha?”
Unease entered Nick’s expression, but he nodded. “Sure thing.”
Iziah hadn’t known it was possible to be this happy. In the past, whenever he had the slightest hope, it was ripped out from under him. Happiness was a scary thing because it could disappear in an instant. He’d learned to fear it. But right now, he felt so safe. His heart swelled inside him until he thought he might burst.
Nicolas looked down at the mattress and said, “Thanks, kid.”
Iziah frowned. “For what?”
“For saving me.”
“But... You’re the one that rescued me. I just laid there and bled.”
Nicolas chuckled, looking at him. “That’s not what I mean. I was doing all the wrong things, and I didn’t have any reason to change because there was nothing in my life to care about. Hell, I wouldn’t have cared if things had fallen down around me. But then you showed up, and I had to stop making excuses for myself. So... Thanks.”
Iziah stared at him for a long moment, then a faint smile spread across Iziah’s face. Perhaps Iziah wasn’t the only one that learned a thing or two about trust.
Footsteps stopped in the doorway, and Shawn peered in through anxious eyes. Iziah frowned. Shawn wore regular clothes, unlike Iziah’s hospital gown. His nose was broken, and an ugly bruise marred one side of his face. His right eye was swollen and puffy. Iziah was tempted to be angry at Shawn for abandoning him to Ian’s rage, but he was too happy from the turn of events. And Shawn had tried to help him, despite their difficult relationship.
Iziah grinned and lifted a weak hand in greeting. “You look like shit.”
Shawn smirked as he stepped inside, looking uncomfortable. Nicolas stood, stretching, and walked across the room. “I’m gonna get some coffee.”
Iziah watched him go, then leaned back, looking at his visitor. Shawn stood in the center of the room another moment before sitting by Iziah’s bed.
“What are you doing here?” Iziah asked.
“They’re checking me out,” Shawn replied without looking at him. “I had some broken ribs, and they wanted to keep me overnight. My parents are talking to the doctor, but I thought I’d stop by.”
Iziah felt a pang of discomfort as he thought about Mr. Davis standing nearby, hungover from a night of drinking, his eyes red and bloodshot. What would they do if they knew he was here? Iziah couldn’t help but remember the throbbing pain that filled his cheek as Mr. Davis slapped him.
Shawn seemed to notice and continued, “They won’t come in here. I didn’t tell them where I was going. They probably think I’m at the cafe or something.”
Iziah’s lips twisted in a faint smile. After a moment of silence, he said, “Thanks for trying to help me.”
Shawn shrugged, rubbing his hands against the front of his trousers. “I owed it to you. I’m sorry about what happened.”
“It’s okay.” For once, Iziah meant it. The anger was gone. “What are you going to do?”
“I don’t know. I can’t go back to streets now. Maybe I’ll see if I can get a job. Try to make something of myself.”
Shawn looked lost. Iziah suddenly wondered what would become of Harley and Matthias, if they would continue with their present lifestyles or if they would come to their senses. He wanted to find Harley and convince her to leave, to convince her she wouldn’t find what she was looking for among those people. But it wouldn’t be any use. If someone had told Iziah that two weeks ago, he would have laughed. That was a journey they had to make alone. Some would see through the game, some wouldn’t. That was just the way it was.
Shawn’s voice snapped him from his thoughts. “I hated you because I was jealous. It wasn’t because there was anything wrong with you.”
Iziah stared at Shawn in surprise. He remembered asking Shawn the question, but he’d never expected an answer. At least, not that answer.
Shawn stared at the floor, his cheeks turning red.
“I hated you for the same reason,” Iziah admitted haltingly. “At least, at first. You had a family, and I would have given anything for that.”
Shawn looked up and met his gaze, and a feeling of mutual respect settled over them. Then Shawn stood. “I better go. I guess I’ll see you around.”
“See you.” Iziah wore a faint smile as the other boy walked out of the room.
Shawn saw through the game.