This time, there was no mystery as to why Nick had awakened. This time, he didn’t have to lay around waiting for the source of his interrupted sleep to make itself known. There was no bang or thud, there was no blinding sunlight, and there wasn’t a bad feeling in his gut. This time, it wasn’t even the powerful, heated throbbing in his side that had caused his sleep to turn fitful enough for him to wake from it.
This time, it was the discomfort caused by his racing heart that woke him.
Nick slowly rolled onto his back, his breathing fast and shallow, and his entire chest feeling like it was held in a vice grip. He blinked rapidly to clear the haziness from his vision and lay there for a long moment, trying to ignore the chills throughout his body, the weakness and pain that plagued seemingly every inch of him. He swallowed hard, fear stealing what little air his lungs were managing to bring in.
Was he about to have a heart attack? Or was something else terribly wrong with him? The heart attack theory didn’t really make sense, as his heart had been beating rather fast since yesterday. Not as fast as it was now, sure, but one would think that it wouldn’t take twelve hours or more from the onset of symptoms for the actual heart attack part.
You need Megan. Get up.
He slowly sat up, not wanting to faint like he had the last time he’d attempted to get out of bed. His side felt like it was on fire compared to the rest of his frigid body, and every slight movement aggravated the pain. It seemed to have gotten worse since the last time he’d actually stopped to look at it, and the notion that he hadn’t been taking care of it sent a brand new shock of fear through him. He had told himself to keep an eye on it so it wouldn’t get horrifically infected, so that he wouldn’t have to worry about needing IV antibiotics and a hospital.
He hadn’t made it more than a few steps across his room before the world slowly started to spin around him. He didn’t stop, pushing through the pain that was slowly spreading through every part of him and the wave of dizziness that was filling him with nausea. His hand sought out the wall and he leaned heavily against it to try and steady himself for a moment. As soon as he realized that holding still wasn’t helping at all, he started moving again with one hand still ghosting along the wall in case he needed to catch himself.
He was beginning to feel dizzy and extremely light-headed. Nick leaned against the wall, pressing his back to it and sliding to the floor before he collapsed and actually hurt himself. The fear that he’d been trying to push down and replace with cold logic returned with a vengeance, reminding him that he had fainted once already, and that it was beginning to look like he was the kind of sick that would likely result in his demise. He pressed a hand to his chest, trying to catch his breath and barely registering the fact that his eyes were filling with tears.
His shallow breathing caught on a quiet sound of distress, and he distantly heard the birds singing outside. It was earlier than he had thought. No one would be waking up for a couple of hours. His let out a small sob that nearly made him choke, his vision filling with spots of darkness. He was sweating despite how cold he was. He felt nauseous.
He knew he was panicking but the knowledge didn’t help him to settle his thoughts. It felt like his lips were moving but he couldn’t hear anyone speaking. He needed to get to Megan. Or Dal. Or Ellis, even. Someone. He needed to get help from somewhere, and Nick wasn’t the kind of person to admit that he needed help in any situation.
His awareness spiraled away into darkness, and Nick fainted.
Dal hadn’t been able to sleep before the sound of Nick wobbling out of his room had reached him. He’d lain in bed, still and silent. It had been strange to him that Nick was awake. The guy had been sleeping close to nonstop for the past three days. He hadn’t woken for anything that he hadn’t had to wake up for, and so it had been both odd and worrying that he had risen at seven thirty in the morning with an apparent destination in mind.
Of course, the fact that he had been sleeping nonstop for three days was also worrying, especially since he didn’t appear to be feeling any better between the time Dal had taken out his stitches and the time Dal had woken him up by hurling his speech board at the wall.
His confusion at Nick’s sudden awakening had turned into concern, closely followed by a shock of panic, when he heard the man slide down the wall and then start to cry. First of all, the fact that Nick had felt the need to sit down after making no more than ten to fifteen steps from his bed suggested to Dal that he was a lot sicker than he had been letting on the previous afternoon.
Second – and most important – Nick didn’t cry. That just wasn’t something he did. So when Dal heard his quiet sobs start and then suddenly stop after less than thirty seconds, he practically fell out of his bed in his haste to find out what had happened. He crossed his room and pulled his door open from its almost-closed position, searching mostly blindly for Nick. It was always relatively dark in the hall way in the morning, as the sun wasn’t at the right angle to reach that area of the house. He groped around for the light switch that sat between his door and Ellis’, and flicked it on.
Nick was lying on the floor on his side, completely still. His face was ashen and covered in a sheen of sweat, and Dal could see that he was shivering. He swiftly stepped out of his room and crouched down by Nick’s head, grasping his shoulder and shaking him lightly, but the man didn’t rouse.
Growing ever more worried, he pressed his hand to Nick’s forehead, feeling his heart jump into his throat. Nick wasn’t feverish, like he’d been expecting. No, Nick was cold. It wasn’t a simple result of the air being chilly. Nick’s body temperature was dropping, and if Dal had to guess, he’d say that was a very bad thing.
He grabbed Nick’s arm and pulled him up to a sitting position, before turning around and maneuvering him carefully into a piggy-back position. It would’ve been a lot easier if Nick had actually be conscious and capable of being helpful, but he managed to get the man safely back into his bed within a few minutes and without too much more trouble. Once Nick was lying on his mattress, Dal hastily ripped the covers out from under his legs and threw them over him, noticing that Nick seemed to have accumulated more blankets than he’d had before. At some point, he had been waking up cold and pulling ever more blankets out of his closet.
Dal turned on the lamp in the corner of the room, not wanting to make it too bright lest Nick wake up with a killer headache. Then again, considering how completely unresponsive Nick was, Dal would’ve been amazed if a bomb going off could wake the man. No one had been checking in with Nick while he’d been sleeping, as everyone had just assumed that the blood loss had left him tired, and then perhaps he was just avoiding everyone after Dal had run away from home.
They hadn’t realized he was getting sick, and they most certainly hadn’t realized just how sick he was becoming. Dal didn’t know what was wrong with him. He didn’t have a fever – he nearly had hypothermia, and the teen didn’t know of any diseases that would have that effect. He wasn’t that well-versed in the medicinal field anyway.
“We’ll have to keep a really close eye on that. It could kill him if it gets really bad.”
His heart plummeted from his throat to his stomach. He had given Nick one dose of penicillin and doused his wound in iodine once, and he hadn’t bothered to check in with him on it since. And sure, he’d been sort of busy censoring his thoughts and terrified of looking Nick in the eye, but he should’ve at least asked Ellis to keep an eye on Nick. He pulled back the blankets that covered Nick up to his chin, and lifted his shirt so he could see the extent of the damage.
His heart may very well have stopped.
The wound was about thirty times worse than it had been the last time Dal had seen it. The ugly red discoloration had spread probably six inches out from the wound in every direction, spiderwebs of the same discoloration scattering further out. Dark yellow pus that had mostly dried filled the wound itself, the smallest possible patches of what Dal thought looked like dead flesh scattered haphazardly around the edge of the injury. It smelled like rotting flesh, and he gagged, covering his mouth and taking a couple steps back.
“We’ll have to keep a really close eye on that. It could kill him if it gets really bad.”
His heart was hammering in his throat. This was bad. This was really, really bad. This had to be what was causing Nick’s sudden onset of illness, but that didn’t tell Dal how to fix it. The best he could do was pour a bottle (or six) of penicillin down Nick’s throat and soak the wound in iodine for a hundred years, and even then it might not fix the problem.
He took a few stabilizing breaths, trying to clear his head of the panic. What was the first thing he ought to do? (Megan. Go get Megan.) Right. Megan. He pulled the blankets back up to Nick’s chin after returning his shirt to where it had been, and headed down the hall. It wasn’t even eight in the morning yet, so Megan probably wasn’t awake. He hated having to disturb people like this, but the situation called for it. He couldn’t wait until she woke up this time.
He balled up his fist and started banging on her door, hoping with all his heart that she would know what to do.
Megan woke with a start when she heard someone start banging on her door as if the house was on fire. She sat up quickly, throwing herself out of bed and wrenching the door open, surprised when she found Dal standing there, his face white as a sheet and expression stricken. Her gut twisted, and she had a feeling she knew who Dal was panicking about.
“Is it Nick?” She asked, and when he nodded mutely with a trembling lip, Megan’s nauseating bad feeling only tripled. He stepped aside so she could walk past him, hurrying down the hall to Nick’s room. He was in bed, an absurd amount of thick blankets pulled up to his chin. He didn’t wake when she placed a hand on his shoulder, and she found her hands clenching with anxiety.
“Nick,” she called, but he didn’t so much as stir. He was completely unresponsive, suggesting that he wasn’t sleeping – he was unconscious.
Dal appeared at her side, and she turned to ask him if he knew how long Nick had been unconscious, but the boy was already reaching for the blankets, pulling them back. She watched, gut twisted, as Dal lifted the Nick’s shirt to show her the grotesquely infected wound on the man’s side. Her stomach took a page out of her heart’s book and dropped clear through the floor, leaving her feeling sick. She swallowed hard, remembering how ill Nick had looked the previous afternoon. Why hadn’t she had the sense to put a hold on her rage to ask him if he was alright? To force him to show her his wound?
It could kill him if it gets really bad.
She took in a shaky breath, not knowing what to do. They weren’t equipped to deal with this. Nick needed IV antibiotics. Nick needed a clean room. He needed to have the spot of necrotic tissue removed, he needed the pus cleared out and the wound packed with iodine-soaked gauze…
Nick needed a hospital.
And they couldn’t bring him to one, because there weren’t any. She wasn’t a doctor. None of them were doctors. She didn’t have a witty solution for a wound this badly infected. She didn’t have a quick fix. She didn’t even have anything that could potentially prolong Nick’s life. She didn’t have anything that could help. She was completely useless, and because of that, Nick was going to…
“Wha’s wrong wit’ Nick?”
She didn’t look up. She didn’t want to look at either of them.
“His wound is…” so infected that he’s going to die and there’s nothing I can do about it. Ellis crossed the room, standing at the foot of the bed. She heard him suck in a breath as he caught sight of the damage.
“What d’we do?” The young man immediately wanted to know.
The silence that filled the room was deafening. She knew that all eyes were on her. She knew they were waiting for her to come up with a solution. She wished she had one. Megan moved jerkily, reaching out and pulling Nick’s shirt back down, before taking the blankets and pulling them back up to his chin. His face was ashen, but he looked as relaxed as he did when he slept.
She stepped back from his bedside, wrapping her arms around her middle and staring at him. She hated this feeling the most. The feeling of having no control over the outcome of a situation. The feeling of knowing she couldn’t fix this. The feeling of helplessness. She hadn’t thought she would be going through this so often after her mom’s death. She hadn’t thought the world would go to Hell. There were so many things she had no control over now, it was terrifying.
I still haven’t gotten a chance to talk to you, Nick.
“Meg?” Ellis’ voice reached her, and she slowly looked up at him. She had wondered if her expression would give away the facts of the situation, but now that she was actually looking at Ellis and Dal, she knew. She didn’t have to say anything. She watched as their expressions shifted from fearful to shocked. Dal’s eyes widened, his whole body seemingly locking in place. She couldn’t tell if he was even breathing. Ellis’ lips parted silently, and for a moment she thought he was going to speak, but he didn’t. She could tell that he wanted to, but there was nothing for him to say. There wasn’t anything for anyone to say, except:
“There’s nothing we can do.” Megan finally said. Ellis’ eyes almost immediately started to water, his face taking on a pained look that made her heart hurt. Dal slowly shifted his gaze from Megan’s face to Nick’s, and she could tell that his mind had completely blanked. She wished there was some comfort she could offer either of them. She wished there was something she could do for them. And while she was sure they would welcome her false comforts with open arms, she couldn’t bring herself to offer any.
Not when she was so completely, shamefully useless.
Dal had vacated the room because he hadn’t been able to bear staring at what he had thought would remain be a recurring nightmare for at least a few years longer. Megan hadn’t specified how long she thought it might take for Nick to die. She hadn’t told them how much pain he was probably in. She hadn’t told them whether or not he would wake up at any point in time. She hadn’t told them anything. She had just told them that there was nothing they could do, and none of them had spoken since.
Nick’s going to die.
He was sure the pain would come soon enough. At the moment, he was sinking into his shock and letting it bleed all coherent thought out of him, until his mind was left bone dry. He didn’t want to think. He didn’t want to consider. He wanted to be empty, and for once he was getting his wish.
Nick’s going to die.
He was seated in his mom’s armchair, curled up in it the way she used to. If he pulled up the dredges of his earliest memories and worked his imagination extremely hard, he could almost imagine himself curled up in her lap. He could almost imagine himself small and helpless like he’d once been, so many years ago. He could almost imagine that she was holding him, comforting him so he could mourn his loss.
Nick’s going to die.
His throat ached. It almost felt like there was a huge apple lodged in it. He knew it was the emotions he couldn’t feel yet, the ones that were waiting for the shock to pass. He knew that when he stopped being so numb, he would feel the pain a thousand times over, and this time he wouldn’t be able to censor his thoughts and hold back the tears. This time, he would start, and he very well might not stop until he passed out.
Nick’s going to die.
He had dreamed of it more than once. He had dreamed of Nick meeting his untimely demise, but never like this. Usually, it was something that made sense based on Nick’s previous disclosures about his past. Usually, it was something along the lines of Nick’s past catching up with him, of someone shooting him in the gut and watching him bleed to death on the pavement. Sometimes, he dreamed that he and Nick would get into a fight and Dal’s unrivaled strength would be the thing to end Nick’s life.
He had never dreamed of an infected bullet wound being the thing to take out the conman. Part of him wanted to slaughter whoever had shot him in the first place. Part of him wanted to shoot the guy in the same spot and arrange the conditions so he would die the same way.
He still didn’t know who had shot Nick. He still didn’t know why they had shot Nick.
At this point, it didn’t matter. Nick was dying, and there was nothing they could do. Nick, who had been the second person (the first being his mom, ages ago) to show him any level of kindness. Nick had been the first person to threaten to kill him, too. Nick had been the first person to touch him since he was little. Nick had been the first person to stick up for him. Nick had been the first person to protect him.
There’s so many things I won’t get to tell you.
He hadn’t told Nick the rest of his story, and he hadn’t heard Nick’s story. He hadn’t told Nick all of the ways he had saved Dal. He hadn’t gotten a chance to explain why he’d freaked out at the prospect of Nick leaving upon their first encounter with one another. He hadn’t told him that he wanted Nick to lie to everyone and tell them whatever he wanted to get them to believe that Nick and Dal were family of some sort. He hadn’t been able to express to Nick how important he was to him. He hadn’t told him that he wanted to stay.
He hadn’t even gotten the chance to show Nick that he could call him by his name now.
The apple that had been lodged in his throat seemed to grow in size, until it was practically choking him, and all at once the shock he had sunk into disappeared. The blanket of thoughtlessness vanished, leaving him exposed like a raw nerve, and his bright green eyes filled with tears. He pressed a hand over his mouth, his lower lip trembling as a tsunami of pain slammed into him.
I wanted to stay with you.