Square One Again
Rey yawned and rubbed his eyes. For the first time in several weeks, he had a restful sleep and he felt at ease once again being with his oldest brother; however, it was short lived. Upon opening his eyes, he suddenly realized that Soren wasn’t beside him – Dorian was.
Before his mind could race and send him spiraling into panic, he looked around to see Soren sitting at the edge of their makeshift bed.
“Hey,” Soren said softly. “Good morning.” Soren smiled warmly. He had missed how Soren’s smile spread all the way through to his eyes. The moment would have gone unspoiled if Rey didn’t spot Ashlynn sitting up in bed.
His eyes widened and he naturally shrunk back into the covers, bringing them under his chin and over his mouth. Soren noticed this shift and glanced back to Ashlynn. Without a word, she folded the covers off of her body, got up, and headed for the kitchen. Soren and Rey both let out an involuntary exhale, each for different reasons. Soren shook his thoughts away and looked to his youngest brother.
“Did you sleep okay?” he asked. Rey pulled the blankets from his face and played with the edges of the fabric. It was very soft between his fingers. He couldn’t help but look at the door where the human left through.
“Yeah,” he murmured. His eyes eventually found his brother’s eyes, for the first time noticing the circles beneath them.
“You… stayed up all night?” he asked. Soren nodded.
“I told you I would,” Soren replied. Their speaking, though still low, was enough to stir Dorian. His brown furrowed as he inhaled slowly and deeply. He winced as he stretched, undoubtedly tugging at the wounds beneath his bandages. Dorian’s eyes flittered open before he became instantly alert and sat up.
“Soren? Where’s the… is she…” Dorian looked around. Soren felt a hint of pride in his brother’s vigilance and concern.
“It’s okay,” Soren soothed, pulling himself further onto the makeshift bed. “She’s making breakfast. It’ll take a while.” Both of the younger brothers exchanged a nervous glance – and Soren could guess that there were a few reasons behind it. “I know she makes you nervous, but it’s really okay.” This didn’t seem to reassure them. To his surprise, Rey spoke up first.
“We… well… dad said that you might be different; that humans had this effect on us over time.” Rey’s statement was reminiscent of what Dorian said the night before. It stung. Soren sighed and shook his head, jaw clenching and unclenching involuntarily. Soren shook his thoughts away. He couldn’t think about that right now.
“I’m going to tell you what I told Dorian yesterday,” he started. “I haven’t changed – no matter what Brady said. I had to improvise to survive and made some difficult choices including staying with Ashlynn because I could not take care of myself with my leg injured like this.”
Soren breathed in shakily. “Which brings me to something I know we need to talk about, and you’re not going to like it. We have to stay here a little longer.” Dorian and Rey glanced at one another and then back to him, their slightly dulled blue eyes conveying nervousness and uncertainty.
“S-stay? For how long?” asked Dorian. His thumb absentmindedly traced over the bandages Soren placed on his forearm. “Why can’t we leave?”
Rey nodded in agreement. “Yeah, we’re together now. We have you,” agreed Rey. Soren nodded and smiled. He didn’t want to shatter their perception of him. He was the older brother – the undefeatable hero always able to pull through at the last possible moment. Perhaps it was selfish, but Soren coveted those moments.
“Yes, we’re together – and that’s not going to change; however,” Soren sighed heavily, and his brothers took notice. “I am still hurt. My leg is on the mend and it should be better soon. Until then, I can’t borrow. I can’t run. I can’t carry my bag or anything I find. I can barely climb.” The brothers’ faces began to fill with worry. It was heart crushing.
“B…but… what are we going to do?” whimpered Dorian. Soren leaned forward and clasped his brothers’ hands. Their eyes fixed onto his.
“We’re going to stay for just a little bit longer,” said Soren calmly. “I’ll talk to Ashlynn – she’s the human – and have some arrangements made. We can put our beds on the ground under the bed or just inside the wall; but, until I get better, we have to stay nearby.” They looked reluctant and still unsure, but nodded. To Soren, it looked like they were possibly accepting their perceived fate of captivity.
Soren knew there was nothing he could say in that moment to calm them further. Even he was unsure until very recently about Ashlynn and her intentions. Guard always at the ready. Fate accepted in the worst-case scenario. Soren could hardly say he was as okay as he let on. He shook his thoughts away. There was no time to think about such things now.
His eyelids grew heavy and threatened to close on him. Was he really that tired? The yawn that crept up on him was barely stifled as he returned his attention to his brothers. He needed to find out what happened to that pathetic excuse of a dad, Brady, and fill in the pieces that only Dorian and Rey knew.
“Trust me,” he said finally with another reassuring smile. He saw them nod in acknowledgment, which was enough for now. “Now… I know it only happened yesterday, but I need you to tell me what has happened while I was gone. Where did you go? Where have you been living? Where is Br… I mean, your dad?”
Dorian and Rey both shuffled under the covers closer together, as if their simple proximity with one another would make the situation better and make them more comfortable. Rey was the first to speak up.
“After we got back in the walls, we did like you said and ran a good distance away back toward camp just in case; and we waited and waited,” began Rey. “Dad came back and… and…” Rey sniffed and wiped his eyes with the base of his palm.
“And I wasn’t with him,” finished Soren. They nodded.
“We begged dad to go back and even offered to help, but he said the human got you and that you were captured,” finished Dorian.
Both boys spoke slowly, voices crestfallen as if they were admitting guilt to some kind of crime. Soren clasped their hands harder and pulled himself closer just as they pulled themselves closer to him.
“He said he would keep an eye out and that we would rescue you when the human wasn’t looking; but, before that, we had to move camp. Dad thought the human would make you tell where we were. So, we moved,” said Dorian.
“Yeah,” added Rey. “He had us climb an entire floor up so we could stay in the ceiling.”
“He had you what?” Soren didn’t mean to interrupt. It was completely involuntary, but he couldn’t believe what he had just heard. [An entire floor? They only just learned how to climb a line properly. It’s a miracle they didn’t slip and fall.] He watched his brothers nod again.
“Dad said it was safer there. There was a place with sturdy wood, and it was warm. We moved everything and made camp,” finished Rey. Soren exhaled slowly as Dorian continued the account.
“We did see you from the ceiling. Dad found where you were after the first week or so and took us to see. That’s… when he told us that you might be different…. We saw her doing something to you, but dad made us leave,” said Dorian. Soren felt himself roll his eyes, disguised as a long blink. [At least Brady has that much going for him. He didn’t make them witness everything that happened to me.]
“After that…” Dorian’s voice snapped Soren back to the present. “He went out and tried borrowing what he could, but there wasn’t a lot since we couldn’t go where you were for safety. We tried rationing the food, but… dad… he was having a hard time bringing back rations.”
“After a couple weeks, he said there was a new family he was watching and he was going to try and get food from them. He left, told us to be safe, and to not go to the apartment where you were,” said Dorian.
“How long ago was that?” asked Soren. The brothers exchanged unsure glances. They could tell time, but the family watch was at their last home and was too heavy to bring with them. Soren was impressed that his brothers remembered the account and were able to convey it without losing their nerve – at least for now. He knew there was more to the story.
“Maybe… four days? Five? I don’t remember,” said Rey.
“I don’t remember either,” muttered Dorian.
“Okay. Then what happened?” prompted Soren. They shifted uncomfortably. [That’s what I was waiting for. This next bit is going to be rough] thought Soren as he braced himself for what was to come.
“Well… dad… he said he would; but – he didn’t come back…” muttered Rey. Tears were gathering in his and Dorian’s eyes. [That’s what I thought. Sounds like something happened with the new humans who moved in.]
“We didn’t know where to go and we were so hungry. The lines were still up – the ones you put up. So, we climbed down to see what happened. We thought we could get to the place you took us with all of the chips. I had my hook and we both had line; but, we got turned around and ended up in the old lady’s apartment,” said Dorian.
Soren watched as both of their breathing became shallower. Their eyes darted around as if they could see the events happening again and again in front of them.
“That’s when Rey got stuck?” asked Soren.
“It was so scary Soren,” whimpered Rey. “I… I was trying to be careful and quiet and I just tripped under the cabinet.”
“I tried to get him out,” added Dorian, lower lip quivering. “But the more we struggled the harder it got. I-I-I tried to find something to help pry him off, but that’s when…” His hand involuntarily grabbed at the bandages and wounds on his arms.
“I didn’t see the cat and it got me. I… t-th-thou-ght that it was gonna e-ea-t me, but it l-let me go when the human came in the room. I ran as fast as I could back to R-r-ey to hide, but the cat followed me and so d-did the human,” sniffed Dorian. “That’s when she grabbed the sticky trap with Rey and took him away.”
“It was so scary Soren!” Rey choked partially on a sob as he whipped his eyes with the back of his free hand.
“Shhh… it’s okay,” soothed Soren as he leaned forward and rubbed his brother’s shoulder. He finally had a better idea of what had actually happened and, whether it was fortunate or unfortunate, it was just like he suspected.
“So, after that,” said Soren. “You came to find me?” Dorian nodded silently. “I’m glad you did.” Dorian glanced up at him almost disbelievingly, like he was disappointed in himself.
“Even though I was seen and now we’re here with a human?” he asked quietly. Soren nodded.
“Especially now. If you didn’t come and be as brave as you were facing Ashlynn not knowing what would happen, Rey wouldn’t be here. Dorian, you helped save your brother. That’s nothing to be upset or beat yourself up about,” said Soren before scooting closer and pulling his brothers into a tight hug. They leaned into him, wrapping their arms as tight as they could around his shoulders.
There were two conflicting sensations happening simultaneously. The first was the warmth of the embrace with his brothers. He was finally able to help them after being taken out of commission. The second was a sickening feeling in the pit of his stomach. Brady’s whereabouts were still unknown and the pain his brothers went through could only heal with time.
What made the matter worse was the moment was interrupted when both brothers inhaled sharply and shrank in Soren’s grasp. Soren turned to see Ashlynn poking her head through the door, a tray in her hand. He exhaled to relax himself.
“It’s okay! Just give us a minute,” called Soren. Ashlynn, barely hearing his voice, nodded and ducked back out of the room. “Ashlynn made breakfast. So, she’s going to come into the room and bring in a tray of things. Knowing her, she’ll probably have bandages too.”
Dorian and Rey both whimpered and pulled themselves slightly under the blankets. Their lack of trust was making Soren uneasy. He remembered the fear they were going through, but hardly felt it anymore. Was Brady right? Had he really changed so much? The thought of a human seeing him used to terrify him, but now it felt simpler; like he could be at ease with someone he could trust.
He couldn’t think about that now. Instead, he shook those thoughts away and prepared his brothers.
“Okay, here’s how this is going to go. I’m going to call her back in. She’ll drop off breakfast and whatever is on that tray, I’ll thank her, and then she’ll leave for a while. Okay?” Dorian and Rey nodded, but also looked like they’d rather duck under the covers to hide. “It’ll just be a minute.”
Soren stood and hobbled to the edge of the nightstand. “Ashlynn! We’re good. You can come in now!” His voice carried across the vast room to the door. Once again, Ashlynn came in with the tray.
“You okay?” she asked softly upon seeing the way Soren kept glancing back at his brothers. He nodded and watched her set the tray onto her bed. Much to her relief, Ashlynn let Soren point and guide where she placed the different elements which included several bottle caps, a roll of foil, and a two bowls.
The first bowl was filled with finely chopped scrambled eggs with bits of different elements in them which Soren guessed were different meats and vegetables. The second bowl was steaming slightly with warm water. Ashlynn also placed some bandages and cream nearby.
“Ashlynn,” called Soren as she turned to retrieve the tray. “Thank you.” There was a reassurance in her smile, but also a slight hurt that she was back at square one in gaining trust. “Are… I mean… what are your plans for the day?” Ashlynn gave a partial shrug and sighed.
“Not sure just yet. It’s my cleaning day, so I’ll do that for sure. You?” she returned the question. Soren felt a small smile tug onto his lips.
“I’m going to make sure they’re okay and,” he paused as a yawn snuck up on him. “I think I may lay down. We could all use more rest.”
“Not a bad idea,” replied Ashlynn. “I’ll go ahead and leave you to it. I’ll be back later.” With that, she slipped out of the room.
The warm food was much appreciated, especially since missing their meal the previous night. They ate in silence, enjoying the first meal they had together in what felt like forever. After they finished, Soren took the time to change Dorian and Rey’s bandages before washing their dishes in the rest of the warm water.
At this point, Soren was exhausted. His eyes were drooping. Each thought he tried to form faded into the abyss of his mind. There was only one cure – sleep. He needed sleep, but he couldn’t bear the thought of his brothers worrying while he slept. He couldn’t go without sleep though.
He stayed conscious as long as he could as he staggered back to their makeshift bed and flopped onto the soft, cushiony fabric. Dorian and Rey rushed to his side and shook him.
“Soren? Soren! Are you okay?” they asked in unison. Soren nodded.
“Don’t worry bobbins. Just tired,” yawned Soren.
“B…but… what if she…” started Dorian. Soren reached up with both hands and ruffled the hair on their heads.
“Don’t worry bobbins,” he smiled as he dragged himself back into the same place he was the night before. The moment he was situated, Dorian and Rey tucked themselves into his sides, heads resting on his shoulders. Soren’s arms draped over their arms as he pulled them in tight. “We’ll be alright. If she come back in, you can ask her to leave nicely or just wake me up. Okay?” He felt them both nod and mutter an “okay.”
It took moments for Soren to be pulled into a deep sleep. Dorian and Rey both glanced at one another from across his chest. Was this their life now? Were they really going to be set free? Or had Soren pulled them into a trap set by a human?
For now, all that mattered was that they were together; and, soon, they too drifted off to sleep.