Lucas pulled himself from the ground, the pain in his head turning into a dull throb that didn't matter in the slightest. He staggered to his feet just in time to see his father's gun aimed at Riley's head.
She was still alive, laying in front of the the doorway with blood staining her yellow and blue t-shirt. She was clutching her stomach, crying silently. Lucas just couldn't take it.
"Dad, stop!" he put himself in between the killing machine and the girl he loved. If Daniel shot, he would be the one to take the bullet. Daniel might have been abusive, but he had a heart somewhere in there; everyone did. He wouldn't kill his only son... Would he?
He decided not to linger on the thought; if his miserable, worthless life was the price to pay for keeping Riley's safety, he'd gladly pay up.
"L-Lucas, what are you doing?" whispered Riley feebly from her spot on the office floor. She stared at him, terror alight in her wide, chocolate brown eyes. I'm sorry, Riley, he thought. I wish things could have been different.
Daniel didn't lower the gun, his finger not moving from the trigger. "Lucas, move. I said that anyone who interfered would pay the price, and I'm going to stick to my word."
Lucas trembled with fear. "So you're going to take her life? What's she going to do, huh? She's innocent. I won't let you hurt her, I won't."
"She's just a worthless little girl," growled Daniel. "Nothing special about her. The world ain't gonna miss her."
"That's where you're wrong." Lucas surprised himself. He was in no shape to fight, bleeding from his head, beaten and weak, going up against a man with a gun. And yet confidence suddenly surged through him; he could do this. If he played his words right, he could stall Daniel, keep him from pulling that trigger, until the police showed up.
"Eh?" this seemed to amuse the man, who raised his eyebrow.
"Riley... She's the one who first found out about you, and what you've done. And even before that, she treated me like an old friend when I moved here, she made friends with the new kid. She has helped me keep my temper in check more times than I can count. She's changed me, Dad, and for the better," he drew in a deep breath, staring into his father's icy blue eyes.
"You could have so much better, son," growled Daniel, his finger tightening around the trigger. "Now move."
Lucas's blood boiled. "But there's no one better!" he cried. "Sure, she's not as glamorous or sophisticated as some other girls out there, and maybe she's fifteen and still wants to be a princess, but she's special. She's my princess. So go ahead, shoot her. Because you'll have to shoot me first."
With a slight hesitation, Daniel pulled the trigger.
Excruciating agony shot through his shoulder, and in his shocked, angry, pained state he shouted out every single curse word he knew. Daniel lowered the gun, looking like he had no idea that he had just shot his son.
"Lucas!" Riley cried miserably, trying to sit up. Her shirt was stained with blood, two bullet holes visible in her stomach. Lucas ran to her side in an instant, ignoring the agonizing pain in his shoulder. His princess needed him.
Daniel stared at the two of them for what felt like a very long time, but was probably all of two seconds before the police showed up. They burst through that office door and at once started to yell.
The man turned to them with his gun aimed straight for one of their heads. But he never got the chance to shoot.
"NO!" Maya shrieked, becoming just a blur of blonde hair in Lucas's eyes as she launched herself onto her father's back.
Her legs wrapped around his neck, leaving her hands free to pry the gun from his hands. He let out a loud roar, turning into a shout of agony as Maya pulled the trigger, sending a bullet into his foot as she slid off of him.
Lucas could only watch in awe of his older ssister as she landed lightly on her feet, smirking at Daniel as the officers put him in handcuffs and read him his rights. He's been caught.. He can't hurt us anymore...
Paramedics swarmed them after that- Mr. Matthews must have called an ambulance, too. There wasn't enough room for all of them on it, so Riley, who's life was in immediate danger, was loaded onto a gourney and into the ambulance, while Lucas and Maya were put in a police car.
"Did you ever think you'd end up in one of these?" he tried joking with his sister once they were on the road. She rolled her eyes.
"You think Riley'll be okay?" she asked him after a few seconds of painful silence.
"I hope so," he told her softly, staring into her tired blue eyes. "I really hope so."
Riley groaned, fluttering open her tired brown eyes. This wasn't the first time she had woken up in the few days since the lockdown, but it was the first time she felt like she had the strength to keep herself awake for more than a few minutes.
She didn't really remember much of what had happened after being taken to the hospital, so her parents, being her most frequent visitors besides the doctors and nurses, had filled her in on what she needed to know. She had gone through surgery and had the bullets removed, which had been a success. The fact that she was alive at all was simply a miracle- if anything had been done differently... Well, she didn't want to think about that. Now she was in recovery, slowly regaining strength.
Her parents and Auggie, Maya, Farkle, Uncle Shawn, and even Katy had come to visit every few hours, even though she could hardly stay awake that long. They told her about what happened; Daniel had been arrested, and his children were safe, though Maya would carry three long, nasy scars for the rest of her life, stretching from the bridge of her nose, down her cheek, and curling under her chin.
"At least I have a life to carry them for," Maya had joked the day before, however, it was true. They were all lucky to be alive.
What really bothered Riley, though, was the absence of Lucas during these visitations, or even in conversations. She constantly asked about him, and never got a straight answer.
His confrontation with his father had really touched her. He had been willing to die. For her, little, insecure Riley Matthews, who could barely defend herself, didn't have any special talents, and had damn near gotten herself killed, was, in his words, a princess.
So where was her prince?
Riley sat up and looked around as the door creaked open. A nurse with long blonde hair and a bright, almost too cheerful smile poked her head in. Riley recognized her as Nurse McKinley, who had been tending to her for the past few days. She was one of those people who was annoyingly cheerful all of the time. Riley liked her, but she did get on her nerves sometimes.
"Oh, hello, Riley!" she chirped. "You're awake! How are ya feeling?"
Like I've been shot. Oh, right. "A little better," Riley croaked softly, biting back the sharp, almost Maya-worthy ccomment, though she quite honestly didn't feel much different from when she had first woken after the surgery.
"Are you hungry at all?" the nurse asked, and Riley nodded. "Alright. I'll go get some for you."
"Thanks," Riley called, but the cheerful nurse was already gone. She sighed, surprised she had managed to stay awake this long. She usually passed out after only a few minutes.
When the door creaked open once more, it was not Nurse McKinley who entered with the steaming hot breakfast tray. Nor was it any other nurse, for that matter. It was a teenaged boy with dark hair and sparkling green eyes and a glowing white smile that only widened once he saw her. There was a bandage on his head and another on his shoulder, but none of that mattered in the slightest.
"L-Lucas?" she stammered softly, chocolate brown eyes widening in disbelief. "What the- where did you- the nurse- my food?"
He chuckled. "They let me in early since you've been asking for me. Why, do you not wanna see me?" he smiled teasingly.
Riley opened her mouth to reply but before a sound could leave her mouth, her tray of food was set on the bedside table and Lucas had pulled her into a tight embrace.
"Lucas!" she cried in surprise. He buried his face into her shoulder, crying, and she stroked his back comfortingly with her left hand. "Shhhh... It's okay..."
"I was so worried," Lucas pulled away, wiping at his tears with a shaky breath. "I thought... I thought I had lost you..."
Riley flashed him a weak smile, her own eyes swimming with tears. "I know, but look, I'm fine!" she tried pointing put the bright side of things. Staying positive in this dreary hospital room was the one thing keeping her sane. "I'm going to be alright. You won't lose me, I promise. I'm not ready to go just yet."
Lucas looked down, as if he were gathering his thoughts. He drew in a deep breath. "I know... It's just.. I don't know what came over me... I'm just so happy you're alive..."
"I'm kinda happy about that myself," Riley giggled softly.
"So how are you feeling?" Lucas asked her, sitting down on the edge of the bed.
Like I've been shot. "Eh," she subconsciously ran her fingers over the bandage wrapped around her stomach. "They've got me on a bunch of pain meds, so I don't feel it all that much. But they do make me kinda drowsy. I'm happy to be awake right now. What about you?"
"They released me a couple of days ago... I would've come sooner, but... But I just couldn't... I would have cracked.
Riley frowned, understanding where he was coming from and deciding not to push the issue any further. Luckily, Lucas changed the subject for her, grabbing her breakfast tray and placing it in her lap for her. "Here's your food."
She looked at it, her stomach lurching. "No thanks," she said with a sheepish smile, "I'm not really all that hungry..."
"Eat it," Lucas damanded firmly. "At least some of it. You have to eat if you want to get your strength up."
Riley tried to glare at him, but it faltered. She took a few nibbles of the burnt, crunchy bacon, and a small swig of orange juice. Her stomach lurched in protest. Oh, what I wouldn't give for some of my mom's pancakes right about now... "There. I ate. Happy now?"
"No, ma'am," he tipped an imaginary cowboy hat. "More."
"You know most of this probably won't stay down, right?" Riley's stomach gurgled its agreement. "How much more."
"At least half of those eggs. And your orange juice."
"Fine. But if I puke all over you it's on your conscience."
Lucas grinned. "I can live with that."
The eggs were bland and tasteless, and there was no salt or pepper to add any sort of flavor to them, but the ice cold orange juice was not bad at all. Eventually, the juice was gone and half of the eggs eaten, but by that time, Riley's head was lolling and her eyelids drooping.
"Getting a little tired?" Lucas was asking her just as Nurse McKinley was walking in to collect the tray. She smiled at the two of them, then looked at the food with wide, surprised eyes.
"Hey!" she cried with that overly cheerful grin of hers. "You got her to eat! How'd ya do that?" Lucas returned the smile.
"I dunno, ma'am."
The nurse shrugged, noticing Riley's tired eyes. She gently stroked the girl's hair. "Why don't you get some rest, hon? You've been awake for a while now.
Riley nodded tiredly, laying back down and letting her head sink into the fluffy white pillows. She turned to Lucas a bit. "I guess you'd better be going too, huh?" she asked. "I'm sure you've got better things to do than hang around little old me, right?" she smiled weakly.
Lucas laughed. "Alright, alright. I'll get Farkle and we'll come see you again later, okay?"
"Sure," Riley's smile widened. "And I'll try to stay awake a little longer, too." she told him, but he shook his head.
"Sleep as long as you like," he said softly, leaning down close to her. With only a slight moment's hesitation, Lucas pressed his lips against hers in a passionate kiss. "I'll be here when you wake up."
Riley blushed as he pulled away, warmth spreading up her cheeks and her heart happering against her chest as her eyelids drooped even further. She tried to speak, but no words would come out.
"Sweet dreams, my little princess," Lucas whispered, his breath tickling her ear. He flashed her a smile before leaving.
Riley sighed dreamily and closed her eyes, letting herself slip into a deep, dreamless sleep.
To Be Continued...