“When you hold onto something for too long or too hard, you corrupt it.”
- Nick Clark S0208
“What he needs is help.” Nick closed his eyes hearing the rising anger in his mom’s voice as she talked to his counselor at the rehab. An ache was growing in his skull and his body felt heavy, like his limbs were made of iron. All he wanted to do was go back to sleep.
“We’re trying to but you have to understand that he needs to want to help himself as well.”
Nick snorted. He didn’t feel like he needed help. Not until the drugs were out of his system and the world stopped making sense again. His mom didn’t get that, though, she didn’t see how he couldn’t make himself fit in the world the way she wanted him to.
She wouldn’t give up trying though. She was always trying to pull him back to where she wanted him to be.
Nick didn’t really remember how he got off the bridge. He knew Daniel helped him, but considering the fact that the man had been threatening to torture him just earlier that day he hadn’t felt comfortable sticking around him for too long. A part of him was still riding the thrill of having lied to him. He never thought he’d be able to get one over Daniel Salazar; the man had tortured a guy to get the truth out of him and Nick doubted that had been a one time thing.
Still, he wasn’t looking to press his luck. He’d convinced Daniel that it had been Jake who led the herd that had ended up killing Ofelia and not Troy. At the time, he had been desperate to keep Troy alive. Because he knew if Daniel went with his gut reaction then there was no doubt in Nick’s mind that he would have killed Troy.
Not that that mattered anymore. Troy was still dead. His mom had slammed a hammer into the side of his head right in front of him. Nick had been so desperate to throw Daniel off Troy’s scent that he hadn’t seen it coming.
He never would have left him alone with her if he had.
She had done it so easily too. Made that choice for Nick like she’d been doing his whole life. Like she knew best, like the only lead for him to follow was hers and if he strayed she’d do anything in power to get him back on the right path.
He wished she’d just let him go. Not just loosen her grip a bit, but also see that he didn’t need her making decisions for him. He knew Troy was dangerous. He also knew how to handle him, better than his mom did, at least. Because when his mom looked at Troy she’d just seen a way into the ranch, a loose cannon to work in her favor, something to be managed… like she managed Nick.
But Nick saw Troy; he saw pieces of himself mirrored in Troy. Sure, he was dangerous but the world they lived in now was dangerous. Lethal, even. Troy got it, he got it in the way Nick had instinctively adapted to. Troy needed someone to follow and Nick, seeing himself mirrored in Troy, needed to know he could be saved.
Troy had been an addiction for him too, something different from the drugs he could pump in his system but just as freeing as chasing a high.
Maybe his mom had seen that.
Because once she’d stop seeing Troy as a tool to be used, and started seeing him as a threat to one of her kids, she had disposed of him. He’d been Nick’s friend. If she could do that so easily what else wouldn’t she do if she thought it would benefit her children? Nick didn’t want to know that, didn’t want to live his life as the catalyst for destruction just for them to survive.
He’d seen his way out on the bridge. He could protect his mom and he could protect his sister and he could even protect Strand. Because even if Strand had sold them all out, he was still his friend and Nick didn’t want to see him dead too.
He wasn’t afraid of dying. He didn’t particularly want to but he wasn’t afraid of it.
And they had destroyed so much. Left a path of destruction in their wake and would continue to do so if they kept on like they were.
And he didn’t want to.
He’d shot Jeremiah so his mom didn’t have to. Because she was going to and even though she was hesitating the outcome would be the same. They needed the ranch and with Jeremiah in charge, Walker and his people would burn it down around them. He would never compromise; Jeremiah Otto would see everyone dead before he gave it up.
So he shot him because it had to be done.
Because his mom was going to anyway.
He found Alicia.
He’d been sticking within sight of the water, moving deftly through the groups of people coming to gather it now that it was flowing freely. The sun had been setting when he saw her stumbling from the water. She was soaking wet and her eyes were glazed over.
She was holding her left arm close to her chest.
Their eyes had locked and a moment later she was in his arms and his jacket was around her shoulders trying to get her warm. He’d started to lose hope he’d find any of them. To know his sister was okay, to see the proof of it when the last thing he’d seen was her disappearing into the water almost made his knees buckle.
They walked together, gathering what supplies they could and staying close to the water. Sometimes they would retrace their steps as new groups came, slipping in and out of them as they exchanged information and looked for their own.
No one had seen anyone resembling his mom or Strand.
On the third day, the dead had started to move in, attracted by the large groups of unprotected people. Men and women with guns came, greed started popping up as the relief from having water went to the desire to keep what they had for themselves.
“Strand can take care of himself; he’s done it before.” Alicia handed him some food and Nick bit into it gratefully. They were huddled close under a blanket by a small fire. They didn’t want to attract attention but they needed the warmth.
“Mom can too.” She didn’t look at him as she said that. He’d told her about Troy, what their mom had done, what Troy had really done. Alicia’d been angry he’d lied to her but had accepted it in the way she had always accepted so many things about him.
What had happened to her in the bunker had changed her. Made her quieter, made her weary. Nick hadn’t wanted that for her. Troy had done that to her, their mom had done that to her, maybe even Nick had.
“I hate you.”
And he had known. Every time their mom came running to him, Alicia got left behind, overlooked. She was the golden child. She had such a bright future. Everyone could see that. But the only future their mom seemed to focus on was his. He saw it in the way Alicia would watch their mom every time she looked away.
Nick didn’t want it to be that way. He didn’t want his sister to be forgotten.
“We could go north. Mexicali,” he offered, expanding when he saw her confused look. “It’s where Luciana said she was heading when she left.”
Understanding dawned in her eyes and she nodded. “We could.”
Nick swallowed looking into the fire. “It’d be nice to build something.” He could see the fire at the villa, the chaos at the colonia, the bodies at the ranch, the destruction of the dam. Maybe they could create something that would last.
His mom had never given up on him. But Nick was feeling ready to give up on her.