That was the only thing that crossed Nick's mind as he lay flat against the bed, trying hard to regain his breath after Howie's punch.
Okay, he knew Howie'd been working out like a maniac everyday. But still. The guy was a foot shorter than him! There is no way he should be that damn strong. It just wasn't fair. Wasn't height good for anything?
He gasped again, trying to draw enough air into his lungs to move. Dully he heard Kat's shriek and felt her pull him into her arms, but all he could do was lean against her, wheezing.
Then suddenly she wasn't there anymore and he almost fell on his face.
He blinked rapidly, clearing the tears out of his eyes. Howie had her by the hair, pulling her backwards and he knew there was no fucking way he was going to let Howie leave with her.
No way he was going to ever trust his best friend again. Not now. Not after this.
He tried to get up, panting her name, trying to reassure her - and himself if the truth be known. He was going to get up and he was going to pound the shit out of Howie, no matter how strong the little freak seemed to be all of a sudden. He was going to get up, dammit, and…
Howie kicked at him and his damn foot connected, knocking the wind out of Nick all over again.
This time he went down flat and there was nothing he could do as Howie dragged Kat out of the room.
The thing about lying flat on the floor, unable to catch your breath long enough to get up is that you notice a few things. First, your cleaning person wasn't doing a great job and this carpet sure could use a good vacuuming. Second, just how important being able to breathe is. And third, the muscles in your stomach connect to every other muscle in your body and if you can't move them easily doing anything was damn near impossible.
As least the cleaning thing he could fix.
He tried again to clamber to his feet, tears running down his cheeks as he heard the front door slam and a car revving in the driveway. "Come on, Carter! Get your ass in gear! He's going to get away and you have no freaking clue where he'll take Kat and what he'll do." And after the last few minutes he was pretty sure he wouldn't like the answer to either of those questions.
He crawled to the doorway, using the frame to pull himself up to his feet. A little shaky, but he was upright and moving forward. He was startled to hear the loud burst of a car horn, and it made him move faster.
Which was a mistake as he drew too much air into his tortured lungs and ended up stumbling down the last few steps.
Fortunately Jay was there to catch him.
"Holy fuck! It looks like you got hit by a two by four!"
Nick was just vain enough to start feeling his face, noticing for the first time how tender it was. "Howie's a strong motherfucker," he wheezed.
"No shit." Jay slowly lowered Nick to stairs. "He took off like a bat out of hell when I came in."
"Gotta. Stop. Him," Nick panted, still having trouble regaining his breath.
"You aren't going anywhere, man. He did a number on you."
"Got. Kat. Angry. Mad. Hurt her."
Jay glanced back, through the open door. "Fuck." He held his hand out. "Come on, bud. We gotta hurry."
Nick nodded and, leaning heavily on the other man as they hurried to his SUV. Nick scrambled into the passenger seat while Jay started the engine quickly. He then deftly exited the driveway, turning in the direction Jay had seen Howie's car turn.
The other car had a few minute head start, but with Jay's aggressive driving and the fact that, for the first little while at least, there was only one way to go, the Escalade made good time.
"I think I see them," Nick shouted, pointing straight ahead. Jay nodded, glancing over at the other man. Nick had managed to regain his composure, though he continued to absently rub his stomach. Judging from how much difficulty Nick had been having when he arrived, Jay was certain that the man's stomach would hold as many bruises as were currently forming on his face. He was sure that Nick gave as good as he got, but it still looked like he'd been hit hard. And repeatedly.
"Shit. What is he playing at?" Nick gasped, and Jay returned his eyes to the road. He could see Howie's car clearly now - a purple sports car was easy to spot when you are riding high in an Escalade - though it was still way ahead. Howie was darting in and out of traffic, swerving back and forth.
"Think he sees us?"
Jay shook his head. "Doubt it. We're far back and I am sure he isn't expecting to be followed. I bet he thinks he took you out back at the house."
"He nearly did. Little fucker."
Nick sighed. "I fucked up. He was there when I got there, pushing her around. I asked her if she was okay, only I said her name. Her real one and he lost it. Started punching her. Then punching me. He freaked out big time. I thought I could take him; he's only little, but…"
"Only in size now. I seen him at the gym a while back. He's a lot stronger than you'd think." Nick rubbed his stomach again. "Yeah, I figured that out."
Jay took pity on the younger man. "Hey man, I saw him bench-pressing more than his own weight. You did good to hold him off as long as you did."
"Not long enough," Nick muttered miserably.
"Shit!" While Howie had slowed down as they entered a construction zone, he still managed to execute another swerve and dart manoeuvre. Jay was getting closer, but he just wasn't close enough and with the traffic starting to slow he wasn't sure how he'd manage to catch up to the smaller car. "Do you know where he'd going? Any way I can try and cut him off?"
Nick shook his head. "If I knew I'd tell you. I have no freaking clue. He's… Holy fuck!"
Both men watched as another car veered in front of Howie's car, bumping it and causing it to turn into oncoming traffic.
They saw Howie try frantically to regain control of his car and avoid being hit but with the construction on one side and the approaching cars on the other he didn't have anywhere to go. Anywhere except over the embankment.
It was chaos. Everywhere, cars were honking horns and trying to pull over quickly. Jay ignored them and simply drove the wrong way up the oncoming lane, manoeuvring as close as he could to where the car had gone over.
Nick jumped out of the car even before it had come to a complete stop. Howie's car was still rolling down the hill, careening out of control. Jay joined him, shoving onlookers aside. Their eyes met and they both took off running down the hill.
Nick wasn't sure exactly what had happened in the car, but suddenly the passenger side door swung open and Kat came tumbling out. From where he was he could hear her screaming Howie's name, hands reaching out to him, in the car, rather than trying to stop her own fall. That stopped as soon as her body hit the ground and she was suddenly scrambling, trying to slow her tumble.
Even as he ran towards her, Nick could tell she was getting banged up pretty hard. Her head has snapped down against the ground a few times before she finally managed to pull herself to a stop. And when she struggled to her feet, trying to chase the car as it continued its roll down the hill, her arm unnaturally loosely at her side.
Nick continued to slide down the hill, angling now towards her rather than towards the purple car. Her eyes widened in amazement to see him there, and she winced at the sight of his battered face.
"Howie! You have to get Howie," she gasped as he slid to a stop next to her.
"Are you okay?"
"Fine," she lied, body waving slowly as the shock of the impact slowly started to set in. "Get Howie!"
"Jay will," he replied quickly. "Are you…"
They both turned at Jay's sudden roar. The car was almost at the bottom, but it had hit a large rock. The car jerked unexpectedly and he could see Howie being thrown from the car. He flew a few feet, and then landed in a crumpled heap.
"Oh fuck!" He glanced at Kat and she nodded, tears running down her face. He scuttled to his feet and took off running. He didn't like the way Howie just lay there, unmoving. Jay was moving quickly towards him, but he was going to need help. Nick just had to…
Howie's car had hit a big rock and the one that slid under Nick's foot was small. It was just as effective though. He went flying, tumbling head over heels before bouncing down hard on his left leg. A flash of pain flared and he tried frantically to land with some more control the second time he came down. Instead, he landed on his left leg again and this time he heard a crack. And the pain he'd felt a moment ago was nothing compared to the explosion that sounded now.
Through the haze he heard Kat calling his name, and felt the shower of pebbles that heralded her arrival. This time it was he who told her to 'get Howie', pushing her away.
And she tried. Battered, bruised, though perhaps not as broken as Nick knew himself to be, she tried. Only to get pushed back by the sudden outburst of dirt and pebbles as Howie's car burst into flames.
Nick knew no more.