“I’ll be fine, Zo, I promise,” Zeb said. He looked into his sister’s eyes and saw how much she wanted to stay with him to the end. But he couldn’t allow that. Seve was getting closer. He rolled onto his hip, excruciating pain lancing through his back from the bullet and through his head from the migraine.
Yes, Seve was almost on top of them now, his eyes fixed on Zeb’s helpless form. “Go, Zoe!” he looked back and yelled to her. With a sob, she turned and ran. He tore his gaze away from her and faced the man who was about to kill him.
Seve stopped at Zeb’s feet and tilted his head to regard him. “This is the second time you’ve been at my mercy, señor,” he said calmly. “I should have killed you the first time I had the chance.”
Rage and fear made his heart nearly dash itself to pieces against his ribs, like a storm-tossed boat against unseen rocks. But then, a calmness spread over him, and it seemed to say, ‘Don’t worry, you will be fine. I promise.’
He looked at Seve. “Maybe,” he agreed. “But we’re here now.” Seve brought the gun up. “And I forgive you,” Zeb said, closing his eyes.
Seve growled and reached down to grab him by the shirt. “Look at me!” Zeb opened his eyes and Seve hit him across the face with the gun, eliciting a shout of pain as Zeb’s migraine-tortured head felt like it was splitting open.
“You don’t get to die quick,” Seve said, pressing the muzzle of the gun to Zeb’s left leg, just below the hip. “This is going to hurt like hell.” He pulled the trigger.
Blackness filled Zeb’s eyes, agony tearing a throat shredding groan from him. His body, unable to process the overload of pain from so many sources, shut down. He lost consciousness as his life blood pumped out onto the ground.
Pain woke him. Pain like nothing he’d ever experienced, or ever thought possible. It was a sea, and he was dropped into its center, waves pounding over him and trying to push him down into the abyss.
He was freezing in its swell.
There was a pinpoint of heat, too, however; a burning so intense inside his skull he felt it must surely be on fire.
The heat was a familiar pain, unlike the alien coldness spreading through him, and he clutched at it like a piece of driftwood to keep himself afloat.
The light that entered his eyes blinded him momentarily. He let them adjust and saw the reason for the cold that seized him: there was blood -his blood – everywhere. Urgency kicked in and he tried to move, but this only brought on more waves of pain. He lay still a moment, bracing himself for what was to come.
Then, gritting his teeth and with tears streaming down his face, he rolled onto his right side and began to crawl toward the direction he had last seen his sister go.
Zoe, he chanted her name mentally. He had to make sure she was safe. He thought he heard her voice then, but it was too…clear and a bit too high to be hers. Zoe’s voice was deeper, with a touch of grit to it, like their mother’s. but this voice was familiar, as was the name it called.
“Hector! Don’t!” It was Addison, he thought. Gail.
He was nearly to the corner. The slanting sunlight was briefly obscured by a tree and the scene that presented itself to his eyes confused his perceptions.
Seve was on his knees. Espinal was holding a gun to his head. Beyond them, Addison had her gun drawn, but it was aimed at Espinal, not Seve. He had to get closer, to put a stop to what he could foresee would happen.
Espinal looked his direction, a small smile tugging at his lips, and Zeb thought he was saved, then. But Espinal looked back at Seve and said something he couldn’t really hear through the pain and the fullness in his ears. But he could tell by his body language that he was about to do the one thing Zeb feared he would.
“Don’t,” he said, his voice barely audible.
Espinal hesitated, looking over at him.
Seve’s shoulders sagged. He turned his head just enough to glance back. In them, Zeb saw hatred and surprise.
“He killed my boy,” Espinal said, his voice sounding hollow and far away.
Zeb closed his eyes. So, Andres was dead, too. Zoe would be devastated when she found out.
He weakly opened his eyes again. “Don’t do this, Hector,” he said, using Espinal’s given name for the first time. “This is not justice.”
He could see that everyone had sort of frozen, all eyes on Zeb and Espinal. He couldn’t see Zoe anywhere, but he knew she was near. Addison still had her gun trained on Espinal, but her eyes were riveted on him. Behind her, paramedics waited to get through to treat him; they knew, just as he did, that he was dying.
“I can’t think about justice,” Espinal said, wiping the back of his left hand across his eyes.
“Vengeance is mine, sayeth The Lord,” Zeb whispered. “Let God handle this, Hector. He will, I promise. But that means that you have to give up trying to play God, you hear me?”
Espinal struggled with his emotions, his hand repeatedly squeezing and relaxing the handle of the gun. “Please, Hector, don’t kill him. Don’t end your life like this…” It was an effort of supreme magnitude to stay awake now. He had to keep Espinal from doing something he could never come back from.
“For me,” he said, “if nothing else.” Espinal looked at him in confusion. “I’ll die if they don’t help me, Hector. All that’s standing in their way is you.”
Espinal gasped in a sob as he seemed to register the presence of the paramedics for the first time. He looked at Addison aiming her gun at him, then down at Seve. He hesitated for a long moment, but then, finally, he relaxed his grip on the gun, pointing it away from Seve’s head and tossing it on the ground at Addison’s feet.
She holstered her gun and signaled to the paramedics, who immediately rushed to Zeb and began treating his wounds. Soon he was no longer able to see what was happening, but he did see Addison take Seve into custody.
He was put on oxygen, they packed gauze onto his wounds and inserted an IV into his left arm. He was loaded up into the ambulance, and they were about to shut the doors, when he heard her voice. “Zeb!”
He laid a hand on the closest paramedic’s arm and pointed to Zoe, who was running toward him. “Wait a sec, Ray,” the medic said.
Then his sister was there, in the ambulance with him, holding his hand. He closed his eyes, focusing on her hand and only her hand, pushing away the pain, the fear and the cold, numbing weariness that threatened to tear him away from himself.
“You are fine, Zeb. As I promised.” He couldn’t be sure who said it, but it definitely wasn’t his sister’s voice.
And he wasn’t entirely sure anyone else would have been able to hear it.