A Tall and Small Collection | Soren |

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Negotiations

Of all the reactions available to him, Soren never expected himself to start laughing; disbelievingly, but laughing. It wasn’t a heartfelt chuckle, but it was more or less a breathy exhalation spasming with the shaking of his body. He looked down shaking his head, as if this motion would dismiss his initial response. Ashlynn’s silence denied him the relief he so desperately wanted. He glanced back up at Ashlynn, an amused and stunned expression on his face.

“That’s not really up to me, is it,” Soren stated. His confusion rubbed off on Ashlynn as she stared at him for several seconds. “You’re joking, right? I don’t really have a say in what happens to me at this point.”

“Why not?” asked Ashlynn, a slight hesitation in her voice. “Is it because I’m bigger than you?” Soren was silent and watched as it sank into Ashlynn’s mind. “You think you’re trapped here?”

“I… am though, right? I mean…” Soren’s voice faltered as Ashlynn cut in.

“Sorry, sweetie, but you’re the one who came back here after I watched you leave. If you had the strength to stand or, heaven forbid, if you asked for help from me, I wouldn’t stop you and would do what I could. So, whatever this ‘trapped’ feeling you’re getting is all on you pal; and I don’t appreciate you accusing me of being some kind of people snatcher or captor.”

Soren couldn’t believe his ears for a moment. [She can’t be serious. She has me in a box and my leg is broken. But…] Soren glanced back up into her eyes. Try as he might, he could sense no ill will, no malice or menacing presence, coming from Ashlynn. His gut feeling which had protected him for so many years was either sicker than the rest of him or she was telling the truth. Both were equally possible.

[But… I did come back here; and she’s taken care of me twice now for who knows how long. Would she really let me leave? Again? No. What if it’s a trick? I don’t want to make her mad, but that would probably be the quickest way to determine her intentions.]

“So, if I asked, you would help me leave?” asked Soren, pushing himself up slightly against the box. Ashlynn shrugged.

“I don’t see why not,” she replied. Soren bit his lip. He needed to think quickly to ensure his relative protection.

“And, if I asked, I could lay some ground rules?” asked Soren hesitantly. Ashlynn nodded. “And you’d follow them?” Ashlynn partially rolled her eyes and sighed, an action which made Soren’s hair stand on end in preparation for whatever was going on in her mind. He flinched back involuntarily as she looked at him again.

“Yes,” she muttered. “So, what are these ground rules?” Soren’s heart was pounding against his chest at this point. His breath halted in his throat. [I can’t make too many, or else she won’t want to abide by them. Hit the essentials. I can do this.]

“First,” he said, summoning what courage he could. “You can’t ask anything about me. What I am, where I’m from, nothing.” Soren watched Ashlynn’s eyes narrow, but she didn’t say anything.

“Second, don’t… touch or grab me, please.” Just the thought sent chills down his spine. As Ashlynn opened her mouth and raised a finger to interject, Soren felt a compulsion to continue. “At least!... not without permission.” Ashlynn closed her mouth, curling her finger back, and set it in her lap silently.

[She’s losing patience already; or, at the very least, she doesn’t like the rules. I have to wrap this up quickly. Blast it! I wish I had more time.]

“Finally, when the time comes, you let me go on my way – wherever that may be.” Soren knew there were too many Borrower rules broken at this point to care about them – speaking to a human being the primary one. Be that as it may, the circumstances could not be changed. Soren, body tense, watched as Ashlynn leaned forward and placed her head in her hand as her elbow rested on her knee.

“This deal seems really one sided,” she grumbled. Soren’s breathing increased rapidly. A new wave of nausea swirled inside him. [She’s not going for it. I knew it – I…] “I have a slight counter-offer which should work for both of us. For your first point, you said I can’t ask any questions about you. Does that mean all questions? Like, for example, how are you feeling? That’s a question about you. What if you’re in severe pain from your leg and I can get you medicine or something that will help? A question about you prompts this, right?”

Soren had to admit that no questions about him did jeopardize his recovery. He knew enough about first aid to patch up scrapes, bruises, and busted noses; legs and arms were more difficult.

“My proposition is this,” Ashlynn continued, pulling a reluctant Soren into negotiating. “I get to ask you questions, but you don’t have to answer them. Or, better yet, if I listen to your requests without incident, then I get to ask a question – like a reward. You don’t have to answer, but I still get to ask. What do you think?”

Soren bit his lip as he contemplated quickly. All things considering, it was a minor request which mostly adhered to his initial rule about asking personal questions. There was no way around it. Even though he suspected he could say no, Soren wanted to ensure each interaction was a smooth one. Seeing no reason why Ashlynn couldn’t ask and he avoid responding, Soren nodded.

“That sounds fair enough,” muttered Soren. Ashlynn nodded in return.

“Good,” she said softly. There was a buzzing sound, which jolted both of them out of their unspoken staring contest. Her attention was instantly redirected to a strange, boxy device. She held up a finger and gestured to the door. “I have to take this. I’ll be back. Oh, just so you can mentally prepare, we’ll need to check your bandages and make sure your leg is healing straight.”

With that, Ashlynn left the room with the device and Soren was alone.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Soren didn’t like the idea of being handled or touched, but the thought of dealing with his leg himself was slightly more unnerving. He had a limited knowledge of broken bones and, from what he could tell, Ashlynn had more resources and wherewithal to do it. He could hear her in the other room speaking loudly. Whatever was going on, it was angering her.

[Do I really want to say no to an angry human? Not really. Do I really want an angry human working on my leg? Not really.] Concluding it would be in his best interest, Soren reluctantly made up his mind to allow Ashlynn to help him with his leg. Just as he did, Ashlynn entered the room with several large containers – at least, large from Soren’s perspective – and set them on the bed. Soren could see hooks and scissors and rolls of cloth as long as his leg.

“Alright,” sighed Ashlynn. As Soren looked at her, he could’ve sworn that her hands were shaking slightly. “Question of the day, would you like my help in changing your bandages and checking your leg?” Soren nodded, feeling a sickening acid in the back of his throat. Ashlyn gave him a hard look.

“You know, you can say no if you want,” she said softly as she turned her gaze away.

“I know,” replied Soren. “But if it’s as bad as I think it is, I…” Soren didn’t need to say anything else. Somehow, Ashlynn knew how Soren wanted to finish his sentence and approached cautiously.

“It’s okay. If you could, I need you to uncover your leg,” instructed Ashlynn.

For a human and for being an angry human not too long ago, Ashlynn had a very delicate touch. Soren couldn’t help but recoil as her looming hands and outstretched fingers reached for him. It was pure instinct, shying away the way he did, but Soren had to admit he expected worse. His head swirled and his breath was rapid, body screaming for him to get away. He resisted the urge, barely.

The way it went was simple. There were a few placed Ashlynn left so she could easily remove the bandages. Soren, after several unintentional flinches, elected to lay on his back, close his eyes, and wait for Ashlynn to finish unwrapping his leg before looking. Each flinch sent a nauseating pulse coursing through him and his leg ached and throbbed. Laying back and closing his eyes seemed to alleviate her nerves despite feeling the occasional pressure of Ashlynn’s finger-tips on his leg.

When she had unwrapped his leg, he managed to catch a glimpse of the injury for the first time. Based only on visual appearance, it was not the worse injury he possessed. The area was bruised and swollen, but nothing protruded from his leg. There was a bandage near his shin where it had been pinched under the bar and had broken skin. The air itself stung his leg, making it feel like tiny needles.

Borrowers were sturdy – Soren was well aware of this fact – and injuries tended to not last long on him or any other Borrower he encountered in his life. Still, the damage done would leave him out of commission for longer than he wanted.

With Ashlynn’s help, Soren helped reinforce and stabilize the brace. Ashlynn explained, while wrapping his leg, that she was hesitant to wrap his leg while he was unconscious because she didn’t want to cut off blood flow from his leg. Now that he could provide feedback, she could reinforce it and make it stronger. More importantly, it was reinforced to the point he felt confident enough to put pressure on it.

Soren, the entire time, tested limits. He paid attention to Ashlynn’s reaction when he winced or asked for a moment. Each time, she retracted her hands and patiently waited for the go-ahead; which Soren gave after a few seconds. Something else happened while he and Ashlynn worked in tandem – she didn’t seem overly uncomfortable or surprised that someone his size existed.

Soren dared not bring it up, but tucked it away. It made him wonder though; was he the first Borrower Ashlynn had ever encountered?

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