Jack woke slowly. Everything hurt. He exhaled slowly, trying to breathe through the pain in his lungs. It took everything he had to open his eyes. He was surprised to see a high ceiling with wood beams. In his periphery, there was something that looked like a chandelier. He tried to shift his head to look, but pain shot through him, so he lay still.
Now that he thought about it, he wasn’t on a bed, or a gurney. He twitched his fingers on the surface, and frowned when he felt cloth. What the hell?
Turning his head to the left was less painful, so he carefully shifted his gaze to try and get his bearings. Crown molding, cabinets, window, sink. Dev. Jack blinked. Dev was sitting with his back against the cabinet, his eyes closed, his arms loose in his lap, one leg crooked. He was wearing a hoodie that was covered in dried blood. All around him were bandages, gauze, wrappers, and for some reason there was a mug on the counter. Jack stared at him for a long time, uncomprehending. How was he here? Where was he? A house, he could see that. Dev’s house? The last thing he remembered was saluting Jasper.
He shifted a little on the hard surface, and pain shot through him, and he gasped. He heard a crinkling and then cool hands on his left cheek. “Hey, don’t try to move. You’re in pretty bad shape.”
Dev’s voice was soft, and his hands were wonderfully cool on Jack’s burning skin.
“Where am I? Where’s Elle?” He croaked.
Dev’s hand left his face for a moment and Jack missed it instantly. He heard the sound of water, and then Dev was back, hand on his cheek. He pressed a straw to Jack’s lips. “Slowly. You’re at my house, in my kitchen. Elle is in the guest room on the second floor, asleep. Ross said he had to go back, took Stephan with him. You’ve been unconscious for almost five hours. It’s about six AM right now.” His voice was warm, and the water was lifesaving.
He finished all of it and Dev took it away, placing it on the counter behind him. “What happened?”
“Your ribs are luckily still bruised. You protected yourself well. It was your fall from the Ring that did the most damage. You have two deep cuts on your back. I stitched them up. You also had a gash on the right side of your face, which I also stitched. Everything has been sterilized, so you’ll be fine. Just feel like hell for a couple days. Hang on.”
Dev left again, and Jack closed his eyes. All in all, not as bad as it could have been. Thrown fights were so dangerous. He hoped that Jasper had gotten his money’s worth. He shifted again, and his arm brushed against the cloth on the table. He had to resist flinching. Tilting his head slightly, he saw the deep, raw nail marks on his forearm. The boy.
“Hey, hey, you’re okay. Shhh, you’re okay,” Dev was back in an instant, his cool hands smoothing over Jack’s warm, wet cheeks. His thumb brushed at Jack’s closed lids gently.
“I had to kill him, Dev. What they would have done is so much worse. I had to,” Jack whispered, his chest compacting from the pain of the memory.
“It’s okay, Jack. You did what you had to do. Just breathe. You’re going to hurt yourself,”
Dev’s calm voice was like a balm on his pain. The fact that there was no censure, disgust, or judgement in his voice, just concern, eased the knot of guilt that coiled in Jack’s stomach. He exhaled, and was rewarded by Dev’s soft laugh. “Good. Now, inhale. It’s going to hurt like hell, but we can’t have you catching pneumonia.”
He inhaled, and tried not to flinch in pain. Dev held him securely. “Do that a few more times, then take some meds for the pain.”
Jack exhaled and slowly let it settle into a rhythm. Dev left, and Jack tilted his head a little to continue watching him. He stood by the counter, by an open cabinet, reading a medicine bottle as he held a glass in his hand. He put the bottle back and picked up another one. He shifted, and Jack saw that the cabinet was full of medicine bottles.
“My parents are doctors. I can get whatever medication I want, so I collect them to drop off at shelters.”
Jack glanced at Dev’s back. “That’s nice,” he said weakly, not quite sure what else to say.
Dev half turned to him, smiling slightly. “Try this one. It doesn’t need food. You’re in no shape to eat anyway. Can you sit?”
“Not by myself,” Jack admitted, and Dev came over, wrapping his arm around Jack’s shoulders. He gently encouraged Jack to sit up. It was agonizing. He swung his legs over the side of the table. Dev handed him two pills, and Jack took them. He took the glass and chased them down. The water was slowly easing the pain in his throat. He looked down. He was shirtless and he had thick strips of fabric taped expertly around his ribs.
He glanced up at Dev. “Did you do this?”
“Yeah. Elle said it was too expensive to take you to the hospital. Do you want me to get her?”
Jack shook his head. “No, let her sleep. Where’s my phone?”
“Charging in the next room. I’ll get it. You okay to sit?”
Jack nodded. “Yeah. Feels better than laying down.” He looked down at the cloth under him. “Is this a tablecloth?” He asked, rubbing his fingers on it again. It felt stiff and expensive. The ripped edge got his attention.
“Yup. You’re wearing the rest of it.” Jack looked up at the teasing edge in Dev’s voice and found that the other’s gaze was warm, with a glint of mischief in his brown gaze.
Jack smiled lopsidedly; the right side of his face hurt too much. “Like Ariel,” he mused, ruffling his cherry red hair.
Dev laughed at that. Jack liked his laugh, though it sounded rusty, like he hadn’t laughed in a long time. His gaze and smile were warm. “Guess that makes me Prince Eric,” he replied, and spread his arms out. “Welcome to my castle, princess,” he winked, and turned, leaving Jack to sit alone on the table.
He didn’t want to try standing yet, but sitting was starting to pull at his sore muscles. He looked out the window. The predawn was making the surrounding grounds a light blush pink. He glanced to the left, and saw the kitchen kept going. This one room was bigger than his entire apartment at the dorms.
“Here. Are you okay to miss school?”
Jack looked over at Dev, who came back in with a thick cushion and his cellphone. He took the phone. “Yeah. The school just kind of expects the worst from us, so they don’t really care. Plus, pretty sure Jasper pays them to-” he froze, his gaze firmly on the phone in his hand. He hadn’t meant to say anything about his world. He couldn’t drag Dev into it.
“So long as you aren’t going to get in trouble. I have to call out though. I can’t leave you alone and I didn’t get much sleep.” Dev said easily, as if he wasn’t even remotely curious about why Jack suddenly froze.
Jack looked up cautiously. Dev was looking at his own phone, then went to a drawer. He opened it, rifled through it, and pulled out a spice jar. He dumped some in his hand, and tossed it back. Jack stared at him as he coughed roughly. Then watched, fascinated, as Dev made a phone call.
“Hi, Ms. Arrlington, this is Devlin Smith. I am not feeling very well today, and I’d like to stay home.”
Jack stared. The spice Dev had knocked back had succeeded in coating his throat making him sound like death.
“Yes, I know you require a doctor’s note, but I already talked to my mother. Yes. Yes. She’s in a surgery right now, and then has a board meeting, but you’re more than welcome to call her. Ah, is that so? Thank you, Ms. Arrlington. Yes. I will. Thank you.” He hung up, and took the glass Jack had been sipping out of and gargled. He spat into the sink, and turned, grinning at Jack. That was the sharpest change in expression Jack had seen yet, and it made his stomach flutter.
“That was impressive. Let me guess, Ms. Arrlington didn’t want to be the one to interrupt a busy doctor?” Jack said, smiling.
Dev looked smug. “Yup. Besides, if she does decide to check, there’s a 98% chance I’m not wrong.”
“What if your mom gets worried though?” Jack couldn’t help but ask.
He regretted it as the warmth left Dev’s face. He shrugged. “I brought a cushion for you to lie against. Should be better than straight table. I’ll go check on Elle.” He said instead, taking the cushion and putting it on the table. He put his hand on Jack’s shoulder, leaning him forward. “The bandages should be changed in an hour or so. I’ll wake Elle up so I can go get more medical stuff. Try and get more rest, if you can.”
He walked out of Jack’s field of view, and Jack listened as his footsteps echoed. Jack was no stranger to broken households. It was how he and Elle had ended up in the West Haven Ring. But despite that, they had always had each other. Always had someone to worry about them. And that hadn’t changed when they had been made a part of the Ring. All the fighters were like family. They had to be in order to survive the brutality they were put through every night. That kind of trauma was not something one could go through alone.
Clenching his teeth, Jack maneuvered himself into lying down. It hurt, but the cushion helped eased the muscles. His injuries and his loyalty had gained him two days to rest. But after that, Jasper would demand he come back. A fighter who couldn’t fight was useless to him.
Jack closed his eyes. Two days. Two days to pretend, just for a moment, that he was free.