Okay, the first thing he actually sees is a big, blurry mass of white also known as the ceiling, but that’s irrelevant and unmemorable.
There’s no way on Earth Esca could ever be irrelevant or unmemorable, not to Marcus, so whenever he thinks of this moment, Esca will always be the only thing he remembers.
It’s all wrong. Esca shouldn’t be here – where’s here, anyway?
Smells like a hospital. It must be a hospital, there’s no other place that could be so clean. But why are they here, is he hurt?
Is Esca hurt?
Marcus wants to sit up, but his body won’t obey him, he can’t move at all.
Was that his voice? It must be, there’s no one else here and then Esca raises his head and Marcus is lost in time, he’s fifteen again and staring straight at the skinny little fucker who picked his pocket at the mall.
It’s all wrong, Esca shouldn’t look like that. He doesn’t like it when Esca looks like that, for all that it impressed him back then, he has done his best to keep that look off his face for the last eight years.
“Sssh,” Esca says, his voice surprisingly gentle. “You were shot. You need to rest, now.”
Marcus frowns. He remembers something – the club, his phone ringing. Esca was on his phone, so he wasn’t there, he’s okay.
But he heard Esca scream – why was he screaming if he’s okay?
There are so many things he wants to know, but he can’t line up the words to make them into questions.
His thoughts keep slipping away from him and his eyes won’t stay open.
“Rest. I’m here now. I won’t fail you again.”
Marcus would really like to snort at that, even if Esca’s voice has that hint of steel that means he’s not joking, underestimate at your own risk – what is he talking about, like Esca could ever fail him.
Sadly, even that little thing is beyond him at the moment.
Marcus closes his eyes.
His last coherent thought is about his parents and where they could be – whether he’s 2 or 22, wild horses couldn’t tear Theresa Aquila from her son’s bed when he’s sick.
He dreams of running after Esca through a crowded amusement park. Sometimes he’s 11, like the day they met, and sometimes he’s 19, but it doesn’t matter: Marcus never catches him.
Marcus drifts in and out of sleep for days.
When he wakes up, Esca is always there. Sometimes there are other people in the room with him: nurses, doctors, other guards, even uncle Flavius.
His parents never come, not even once.
It’s more than a week before he can stay awake for more than five minutes at the time – before he can bring himself to ask.
Uncle Flavius tries to stall for time, but Marcus is tired of waiting.
“Please, uncle. Don’t make me ask Esca.”
The ghost of a smile flashes on his uncle’s face. “You trust him this much. Good.”
Family lore says he turned grey overnight, when his beloved wife Julia was caught in the crossfire during an attack on the family – killed by a stray bullet from their own side. He couldn’t even take revenge.
He looks even older now.
“It was all a trap. We didn’t see it until it was too late.”
It’s kind of him to say we, even though he was miles away and there was nothing he could have done.
When it comes down to it, it’s a fairly simple story: Marcus was just bait – or maybe they actually meant to kill him, even if he’s not much of a threat, just a kid taking a year off of college, still learning the ropes but the son of Victor Aquila nonetheless, so maybe he was lucky.
His parents had been the real targets all along: when they rushed to the hospital to be by his side, they walked straight into an ambush.
They were dead before Marcus was out of surgery. There’s nothing he could have done – uncle Flavius makes sure to repeat that several times.
Marcus just sits there and listens. It’s the hardest thing he has ever done.
He doesn’t ask for details – uncle Flavius wouldn’t give them anyway – but there’s one thing he must know.
“I want the name. You must know by now.”
Marcus closes his eyes. “The Irish, then.”
Figures. Nobody had expected trouble from that side – that was why it had worked. And Liathan O’Shea is the only bastard crazy enough to try.
“What do we do now, uncle?”
Flavius Aquila raises his eyebrows. This is not the reaction he was expecting from his nephew, it’s plain as the day.
Marcus opens his eyes again and deliberately meets his gaze. “If I could walk out of here,” he says, his voice deadly calm. “I’d find Liathan O’Shea and shoot him.”
Esca shifts restlessly against the wall.
“You’d just get yourself killed.”
Marcus smiles coldly. “True. Good thing I can’t walk, then. So what do we do?”
Flavius glances to his right. “Esca, boy, leave us for a few minutes.”
Esca doesn’t move. “If you think I’m ever letting him out of my sight…”
Marcus sighs tiredly and interrupts them. “Esca, stop it. Uncle, you can speak freely in front of him. As you said, I trust him. And my parents always treated him like a son, it’s his revenge as well as mine.”
More like how he deserved to be treated, but Marcus knows better than to voice that thought. Besides, thinking of Moira MacCunoval is bad for his blood pressure even when he’s not already confined to a hospital bed.
“So you would go after the Irish?” Flavius asks, his voice and face betraying nothing.
“Yes. Can we do it?”
“Right now? It can’t be done. We’re barely holding on as it is and the other families weren’t as lucky as us.”
“Other families don’t have you.” Marcus’ smile is there and gone in a flash. His uncle may have been retired for 25 years, but family is family. O’Shea is an idiot to underestimate him.
“I’m trying my best, my boy. But I’m not a man of war, not anymore.” His eyes suddenly look sharp. “You will be, though not yet.”
Marcus frowns. “What do you mean?”
“I’ll stay here, salvage what I can and try my best to put us back on our feet. You’ll leave for California as soon as the doctor allows it.”
“What! Uncle!” He tries to sit up, but the quick movement sends dark spots dancing across his vision and his head spinning.
When his eyes finally clear, Esca is by his side, gently guiding him back down. Marcus tries to push him away, but he won’t budge – worse, he simply plops himself on the edge of the bed and lays a hand on his shoulder, both comforting him and trapping him.
“Right now you need to take care of yourself and we both know that you’d only think of revenge if you stayed. Even if your swore to wait, New York isn’t safe for you.”
“I’m my father’s heir,” Marcus growls. “I can’t just…”
“You can and you will. I have already arranged for the best care.”
“I won’t run from Liathan O’Shea!”
Flavius glares. “Think of it as a strategic retreat, then. Your wounds….”
“So I’m too much of a cripple? What about our family business, then?”
“Now you’re just being dramatic.” He sighed tiredly “Believe me, my boy, I know exactly how you feel. I wouldn’t let you go after O’Shea even if you hadn’t been shot: you’re still too raw, too hurting. You need time to heal, not just your leg. You’re allowed to have it, you know? Go to California, take care of your leg, go back to university as soon as you can and then, when you’re bit older, you’ll come back home.”
Marcus clenches his fists. “There isn’t anything I can say to change your mind, is there?”
“Exactly.” Flavius turns to leave. “You’re all the family I have left now, Marcus. I’m going to take care of you whether you like it or not.”
Two weeks later, Marcus is out of the hospital and on a plane bound for Los Angeles.
He missed his parents’ funeral and uncle Flavius forbid them from stopping at the graveyard, even for a moment. It’s too dangerous.
It still feels too much like running away.
Esca tries to put a hand on his arm, but he shakes him off.