Chapter Twenty-Two | Offering
Rey didn’t remember drifting off to sleep. What he did remember was the rhythmic thumping in Soren’s chest and his calm, deep breaths. It was hypnotizing and soothing. Rey stirred, awaking to the same sounds that lulled him to sleep. Soren remained in the same position Rey had fallen asleep to as did Dorian.
He was the only one awake. That being the case, Rey’s thoughts began swirling in his mind.
For the past two weeks, Rey didn’t know what really happened to Soren. He didn’t know if he was captured and injured or if he was even alive. It was a scary feeling – terrifying even. Listening to his oldest brother breathe reminded him that Soren was okay.
For the past two weeks, he didn’t know how they were going to survive – especially without Soren. Rey was young – he knew that – but it didn’t take much for him to see Soren’s efforts were far greater when compared to those of his dad. He hated that the thought of his dad not knowing what to do crossed his mind. It made him ask questions.
What would they do without their dad? How would they survive? If Soren never came back, if he didn’t escape, what were he and Dorian going to do? The thought made him shrink and whimper quietly to himself.
For the past two weeks after seeing the human with Soren, Rey wondered what Soren was going through. Was he okay? Was the human hurting him? Was the human changing Soren? Was he ever coming back to them? At least, would he come back the same as when he left?
Soren stirred, inhaling deeply and pulled he and Dorian closer. Even though they were in a human’s room – discovered and injured – at least they were together.
A terrible thought crept into Rey’s mind. How long would the human let them stay together?
Soren didn’t seem worried about the human. Was that because he changed? Or was it because he had worked out some kind of deal with her? Rey knew Soren would do whatever it took to keep them safe. Would he make a deal with the human to stay as long as she let him and Dorian go? There was no doubt in Rey’s mind and he refused to let that happen.
If the last two weeks told Rey anything, it was that they needed Soren if they wanted to stand a chance in their dangerous world. He made up his mind. He wasn’t going to leave Soren again, and he wasn’t going to let someone take his oldest brother away.
Rey pushed himself up carefully and looked around the room. No human. As quietly as he could, he slipped out from Soren’s grasp and headed to the edge of the table. He found a hook and climbing line, electing to borrow it for the time being. Just like Soren taught him, he secured the line and rappelled to the floor. He picked up the line and brought it with him, a weak determination driving him forward. He traced along the side of the wall, through the propped open door, and into the main room.
The sheer size of the room was dizzying. The ceiling was impossibly high. The furniture was immense. Everything made him feel so much smaller than he already felt. It took no time at all for him to spot the human – Ashlynn – sitting on the thing Soren called a so-fa.
Rey felt his limbs triple in weight as though they were filled with sand. His chest tightened. Eyes watered. He had to stay focused. This was for Soren. He wiped his eyes and nose with the back of his hand and marched timidly forward.
He approached closer and closer with each step, unsure what to say. His heart pounded in his chest. Each pulse felt like it was going to break through his ribs.
He began to fret. What if she said no? What if she got angry? What if she lashed out? Was there something, anything, that he could do? What if something happened to him and Dorian and Soren never found out?
“Hey, glad to see you’re walking around okay.” The sudden female voice, though gentle and soft, startled him out of his fretting trance. His breath hitched as he stared up into two large blue-grey eyes. He quickly glanced around and took a few faltering steps to the nearest place to hide, but then stopped. [For Soren] he reminded himself silently. He stood his ground and looked back up to Ashlynn.
Ashlynn, seeing how she startled the small boy, retracted. She had been relaxing on the sofa for the majority of the day after cleaning the apartment. She hoped to give Soren and his brothers some space but, apparently, one of them didn’t seem like he wanted to be left alone.
She realized she was back at square one and needed to earn her new house guests’ trust, which was okay. She never expected to see who Soren classified as his younger brother to wander about on his own. He looked scared, but also a hint of determination burned in his eyes.
“Sorry,” she said hurriedly, trying to diffuse the situation. “I didn’t mean to startle you.”
Rey nodded and choked out the words, “It’s okay.” Ashlynn eyed him, curious as to why he came outside the room without Soren, and, once again, he flinched.
Rey didn’t like being on the ground. He didn’t like the way she loomed over him, but that would mean taking his eyes off of her. There was no other option. He took his borrowed hook and threw it with all his might onto the table. It flew through the air but did not gain purchase. It clattered to the ground loudly. He tried again and again, becoming frustrated, until he heard Ashlynn speak again.
“Do… you want some help?” she asked. Rey’s shoulders slumped. He wanted to do it himself – and he didn’t want to be held – but he didn’t want to prolong the inevitable conversation he was determined to have. Rey nodded slowly. He saw Ashlynn smile and nod. “Okay. Hang on to your rope tight, okay? Keep your foot on your hook.”
Rey blinked a few times, feeling slightly confused. “You… you’re… not going to…” Rey felt his mouth dry like he had stuffed cotton in his cheeks. Ashlynn, understanding his meaning, shook her head.
“Not if you don’t want me to,” she said reassuringly. “Soren laid the ground rules, but feel free to add what you think you need.” With that, she picked up the end of the string and lifted it so the hook barely rested on the ground in front of Rey.
Rey felt like he wanted to cry. His nerves trembled and made him shake in his shoes, but he couldn’t back down now. He clutched the line in his hands and stepped onto the hook. It swayed slightly under his weight. He mustered a timid nod and felt the line pulling him up into the air.
It was surprisingly fast and smooth. Rey glided through the air from the floor like he was on the old lift at their old home. Ashlynn set the line onto the coffee table in front of her and let go, leaving Rey standing on a vast wooden and glass surface. He looked up at Ashlynn, her smooth and slightly rounded features consuming his focus.
He knew what he needed to say. He knew what he needed to do. Yet, in this moment, he could not muster the words he wanted to say. So, there he was, looking terribly determined alone on the glass and wooden table, wondering if the right words would hit him; and they weren’t.
Ashlynn, on the other hand, felt a wave of concern flooding her thoughts. The little one looked terribly focused, but also at a loss for words. It was like he wanted to ask her something but was reluctant to. She remembered Soren had a similar look on multiple occasions when he was trying to figure out how to list off his various rules and how to best interact with her.
“Are… you okay? I mean, do you need anything?” asked Ashlynn. Ashlynn watched as Rey’s breathing became shallower, eyes welling with tears. “Oh… oh no. Oh no no please don’t cry. It’s okay.” Ashlynn wanted to comfort him, but knew it was probably her presence alone that was overwhelming the small being. Rather than reach out as she had done with Soren, she pulled a tissue out from the nearby tissue box and tore off a piece before placing it on the table a safe distance away.
“There’s a tissue for you. You can use it to wipe up your eyes and blow your nose.” Ashlynn was certain Rey knew what a tissue was used for, but she needed something to cling onto in order to keep the conversation friendly. Rey nodded and stepped over to pick up the tissue. He still seemed upset.
Ashlynn tried thinking of something to make him feel better. For one reason or another, she remembered what her dad used to do – think of the positive things.
“Hey, it’s going to be okay. You’re all good. You’re safe and not trapped anymore. Your brothers are okay. Soren is getting better. You’ll get to leave as soon as you’re all better. See? You’re okay,” encouraged Ashlynn. She heard Rey sniff pitifully into the tissue fragment. He clutched the frayed piece in both of his hands and kept his arms close to his chest.
“For now,” he muttered, barely audible to Ashlynn’s ears. After a few more stuffy sniffs, he looked to Ashlynn, his soft blue eyes still red and puffy.
“Always. You’re always welcome to stay or go as you like,” reassured Ashlynn. Rey eyed her skeptically.
“And… what about Soren?” he asked.
“What about him?” asked Ashlynn, partially confused.
“H-h-how l-long are you going to keep him?” Rey was having a hard time with each word. He hadn’t anticipated his emotions choking his words the way they were. Ashlynn stared at him curiously, which seemed to make him uncomfortable.
“I’m… not keeping him though,” said Ashlynn slowly. “Do… you think I’m keeping him here?” She heard Rey whimper quietly before clenching his fists and lowering his arms.
“I… I know he would do anything to protect us and that he doesn’t seem worried around you.” He spoke as loud as he could, keeping his eyes pinched tight. It looked, to Ashlynn, like he was trying to rip off some kind of verbal band-aid. “I… I just want to tell you that you can’t keep him. Please, don’t change him anymore. We need him. He’s the best Borrower there ever was. Y-you… you can keep me instead.”
Ashlynn was completely stunned. Did this little guy really think she was keeping Soren? Brainwashing him? And what on earth was a Borrower? Based on the pitiful stance he was taking, she assumed the answer was yes to both questions. Then, it clicked. Was “Borrower” what they were? Dorian and Soren and Rey were Borrowers? She barely managed to contain a grin at how the name seemed to fit all three of them perfectly.
“Sweetie, I don’t want to keep you. I don’t want to keep your other brother or Soren,” she said gently.
“B-b-but, m-my da-dad and Soren said that humans would want to k-ke-keep us as pets,” whimpered Rey as he tried to collect himself. Ashlynn’s brow furrowed. She could definitely imagine something like that happening. Based on her initial interactions with Soren, he was obviously terrified of being trapped and kept against his will. It was only natural his brother would see it the same way. It still hurt though.
“I can see that. A lot of people are really terrible; but, a lot of people are really good too. I mean, how many humans have you met?” stated Ashlynn. She did have a point. Rey hadn’t met any other humans other than her and had only heard stories about what happened to other Borrowers from his dad and Soren. Was this the kind of argument that persuaded Soren?
“It’s probably safer to see humans as dangerous; but, if it’s okay with you, maybe you could let me try and prove that I’m okay,” said Ashlynn. Rey looked up into her blue-grey eyes, for the first time concentrating hard on the enormous orbs gazing at him. For the life of him, he couldn’t find any deception in her statement. She genuinely wanted to prove herself.
Rey, though still on his guard like Soren said to be always when beyond the walls, nodded. “I think I can do that,” he said quietly.
The moment was brief, but meaningful, and would have continued had they not heard Soren’s call from behind the sofa by the bedroom door.
“Rey! Rey!” he called. They heard the rhythmic tap of a cast and a walking stick. “Ashlynn! Rey’s missing! Have you seen…” Soren hobbled up around the corner and spotted Ashlynn sitting on the sofa leaning slightly forward with her elbows on her crossed legs and Rey standing on the table.
Soren, who had woken up with a missing brother, felt instantly panicked. He clambered down the nightstand using the electrical lamp cord after ensuring Dorian was still asleep. Though he wasn’t sure why Rey would go off on his own, he was relieved Rey wasn’t doing something crazy like go back to their campsite on his own.
“There you are! You scared me to death! You know that?” Soren scolded in his classic brotherly tone, letting out a relieved sigh and approaching closer.
“I’m sorry Soren,” Rey called back. “I didn’t mean to scare you. I just…” He wasn’t sure how to finish his sentence. How could he say that he left while Soren was asleep to offer himself to a human in his place when it was completely unnecessary.
Thankfully, Ashlynn stepped into the conversation. “He had some questions and wanted to make sure everyone was okay. Sorry. I should’ve made sure you were awake and knew he was out here. We didn’t mean to worry you.”
Soren nodded. “No, it’s okay. It just took me by surprise. That’s all. Um…” he glanced back toward the bedroom. “I want to make sure Dorian doesn’t wake up on his own. I should make it back. Rey, do you want to come with me?” Rey nodded eagerly and grabbed his rope to rappel down when Ashlynn once again stepped into the conversation.
“Do you need a hand?” she asked. The words left her mouth before she realized how that must sound to a person – a Borrower – like Soren. “I… I’m sorry. That’s not how I meant it. I just thought…” Soren chuckled and shook his head humorously.
“It’s okay,” dismissed Soren with a smile. He and Rey both turned to glance at one another. While they both seemed uncertain, the both also seemed to dislike the prospects of walking the whole way back and climbing back onto the bedside table. They were still comparatively exhausted and were trying to regain strength. Rey looked apprehensive and waited for Soren’s signal.
“I… think we’ll be…”
“Soren?” Rey chirped. “I… well… I’m still kinda tired…” Soren felt himself tense imperceptibly for a fraction of a moment but nodded.
“Well, Ashlynn, I think we’ll take you up on that offer, if that’s okay,” said Soren. Ashlynn nodded and stood carefully, crouching and offering an open hand to Soren. After a moment, he stepped forward and sat on the edges of her fingertips, allowing his legs to dangle.
Rey, eyes wide, took a few extra moments to collect himself before joining his eldest brother. Rey, shaking like a leaf in a windstorm, pressed himself once again into Soren’s shoulder tucked under his arm.
“We’re okay. We’re going to be okay,” Soren muttered as Ashlynn stepped carefully back to the bedside table. She set them down silently and watched them slip back onto the bed before she turned and walked away.
“What was that about?” asked Soren after Ashlynn had left the room. “You’re not usually the one going off on your own.” Rey sniffed, keeping his eyes averted.
“I… well… I thought that… she was keeping you and that you… may have made some kind of deal to let us go while you had to stay,” muttered Rey. Soren knew Rey was often quiet, but that did not stop his quick-thinking mind. Even for how young he was, he was still clever and very intuitive.
“So? Do you think she is?” asked Soren. Rey thought for a moment but shook his head.
“No,” he muttered. “She wants to prove herself. So, I think she’s probably one of the good humans.”
“I think so too,” echoed Soren. “I think, for what its worth, that she’ll do what she can to keep us safe.” They sat together in silence until Dorian began to stir. With two brothers convinced, they now had to wonder what Dorian was thinking about their friendly neighborhood host.