Chapter Twenty-Six | What's Fair and What's Right
Ashlynn watched, now growing increasingly concerned with Soren’s reaction to seeing the other injured Borrower. Soren was stiff and shaking, eyes locked and unmoving from the small, injured man. Ashlynn had seen some bad injuries before – not including Soren’s busted leg – but had never worked as a medical professional. It was a miracle she was able to get Soren standing. She suspected Soren hadn’t seen these kinds of rough injuries; however, she didn’t expect this reaction – shaken.
“Soren… I know I’m asking a lot, but…”
“I can’t… I can’t help him…” interrupted Soren. Soren was still shaking, his shoulders rising and falling visibly as he inhaled and exhaled deeply. Ashlynn felt her chest tighten. This can’t be easy seeing someone like him injured like this.
“Soren, I know this is tough for you to see, but…”
“No…” Soren interrupted again harshly, this time taking defiant several steps back. “You don’t get it. That’s Brady.”
Ashlynn had to stop and think for a minute. Where had she heard that name before? Why did it sound so familiar? It finally dawned on her – it was that Brady. This was the Brady who Soren had muttered about and curses when he was unconscious. This was Brady, the father of Dorian and Rey who had seemingly abandoned his two young sons.
“Wait. This is that Brady?” asked Ashlynn. Soren’s hands bunched into fists as his features hardened. He nodded slowly and forcefully. It all became much clearer now. Soren’s reaction wasn’t out of shock or fear for his brothers’ father – it was out of anger.
Suddenly, Ashlynn thought that bringing Soren in to help was a bad idea. Ashlynn kept her voice low, glancing over her shoulder to make sure Dorian and Rey were still under the bed before speaking to Soren again.
“Soren, look, I get you’re angry, but I really can’t do this alone and I can’t bring Dorian and Rey into this. Please, I need your help,” urged Ashlynn.
“Angry? I’m furious!” seethed Soren, turning his blazing hazel eyes to Ashlynn. “You’re asking me to help him? HIM! After everything he did? I can’t – I won’t – help him.”
“It’s not his fault. Austin is a rambunctious kid and he was probably caught off guard. He didn’t abandon Dorian and Rey like we thought,” argued Ashlynn, still keeping her voice low as to not alert the boys.
“No, but he abandoned me!” spat Soren. “He left me to DIE, Ashlynn. Die! He knew what it meant to be seen and captured by a human. He left me in that mousetrap knowing full well what would happen to me; and if the human was anyone other than you, I’d be in worse condition than he is right now.”
Ashlynn understood Soren’s frustration. The fear Soren must have felt being left alone in the condition he was in. The pain from his injury preventing him from escaping. If someone like Austin had gotten a hold of Soren when he was injured, her Borrower companion would not be there with Ashlynn now. She wished desperately that she could do something for friend; but could she let someone else suffer when they did nothing to her?
A dozen memories flashed before her eyes. In each, she stood idly by – a bystander doing nothing. Yes, it was cruel and horrible what Brady did to Soren, but she had to convince Soren it was worth saving him or, at the very least, to try. If he didn’t help, he would regret it for the rest of his life. This much she knew for certain.
“Soren,” Ashlynn muttered. “I… can’t imagine what you’re going through and I am so sorry. I wish I could do something to help, but you need to listen to me on this. You have to help.” Soren turned away running his fingers through his dark brown hair.
“No. After everything he’s done?” spat Soren, turning defiantly and pointing to Brady’s unmoving form.
“I get it,” Ashlynn hissed as she caught Soren’s eyes. “Believe it or not, I actually get part of what you’re going through, whether to help someone or not, and I would love to give this scum bag a piece of my mind for leaving you the way he did. Standing up for one another – that’s what friends do for one another; but I also know this. If you don’t help him, you’ll regret it for the rest of your life; not because you owe it to him, but you owe it to Dorian and Rey.”
This statement earned a scowl from Soren. Ashlynn knew she had hit a nerve, but he needed to hear this.
“Don’t you bring them into this,” growled Soren. “I’ve been looking out for them for years while this useless scumbag did nothing for them.”
“So, you’d leave them in the dark? Let Brady succumb to his injuries, slip away, and go on letting Dorian and Rey think they were abandoned by their dad or that he’s still out there alive?” challenged Ashlynn. Soren shook his head and turned to the edge of the desk.
“He deserves to know he failed his sons,” Soren shot back as he began walking to the edge of the desk where Ashlynn had attached a line for Dorian and Rey to practice climbing.
It was impulsive, but Ashlynn didn’t think of that in the moment. She reached forward over Soren’s head and blocked his path with her arm.
Soren, who was still shaking with frustration and rage, felt his heart leap into his throat. That innate, primal fear of humans swelled in him, seizing his entire body. His heart tripled in pace. His breath hitched in his throat. He whipped around, an instinctual fearful expression plastered onto his face, as he backed up an additional few steps from Ashlynn’s face. He felt cornered and small. It had been a long time since Soren felt this fear, this helplessness.
Ashlynn regretted it the moment she did it, but she was already in this deep. Seeing Soren back away in fear like he had done when they first met all those weeks ago hurt her. The trust so delicately and carefully earned possibly shattered in a single moment. No going back she thought.
“Dorian and Rey look up to you. You are all they have. Keeping something like this from them will ruin their trust and their faith in you forever – that much I do know,” hissed Ashlynn. “I had a brother who looked up to me. We were as thick as thieves and he thought I could do no wrong. There’s a lot that led up to it, but, long story short, I told him that our dad was a piece of trash and was never coming back because he was dead. I thought I was sparing his feelings. Well, dad came back – with a new wife and kid. I wanted to protect his feelings and now I’m the one who is ousted. The truth hurts, but more often than not it is better than believing a lie.”
Soren, heart pounding in his ears and breath lost somewhere between his lungs and his head, barely heard what Ashlynn said, but he heard just enough.
“It doesn’t matter what Brady deserves. You’re right. He deserves to know he failed – but I’m pretty sure he’s realized that after his little stint with Austin. Dorian and Rey need this. At the very least, they need closure and to say their good-byes if Brady takes a turn for the worst. We can’t rob them of that.”
Ashlynn was right. The pounding in the eldest Borrower’s head subsided just enough to realize that Ashlynn did have a point. He hated to admit it. He hated thinking Brady would get some satisfaction out of this encounter, but he couldn’t stand the thought of Dorian and Rey not being able to say good-bye if something were to happen. Soren knew he wished he had that moment with his own father.
The overwhelming frustration whitened the clenched knuckles of the Borrower. Why couldn’t he have this one thing? Why was it always up to him? Why did he have to make the tough calls? Why did he need to do the right thing and be responsible? Soren, breathing heavily, let his legs give out so he could slump to the ground.
“It’s not fair,” muttered Soren. The tension eased, dissipating like a mist in the morning. Ashlynn knew she was playing a risky game, but she had gone all-in the moment she confronted her small companion. Ashlynn moved her arm from behind Soren and placed the palm of her hand against his back.
“I know,” she echoed. “It’s not fair.” Soren leaned back into Ashlynn’s hand and let his head tilt back until it bumped against her palm. They stayed there for a solid minute before Ashlynn heard a pounding on the door which made everyone in the room nearly jump out of their skin.
“Ashlynn! Are you in there? What are you doing?” called out the muffled voice of Austin. Ashlynn glanced back to Soren who was now crouched position, ready to bolt for the line but remained motionless tucked into the palm of her hand. She let out a sigh of relief.
“I had to grab something. I’ll be right out,” replied Ashlynn. The human glanced back at her companion and smiled sadly but reassuringly. Then, much quieter, she continued. “I’ll be back in a few minutes with some things to get him cleaned up. Do you want to be up here? Or back on the ground to tell Dorian and Rey?”
“Here for now as long as you’re back soon,” replied Soren. “I need to think about what I’m going to tell the bobbins.”
Ashlynn nodded and moved her hand. “Hey… look… sorry about the… arm thing. I didn’t mean to scare you.” She looked away shyly, suspecting she scared Soren half to death after showing him his worst enemy. He offered a weak smile in response.
“Thanks,” he mumbled. He watched Ashlynn smile, brace herself, and open the door to face the boy who had inflicted such pain on the Borrower. Soren didn’t know what would happen to the boy, if anything. Chances were the human boy Austin would live the rest of his life not knowing what he did.
Meanwhile, Soren was left on the standing desk with the still wheezing Brady. The day started with such promise. Now, Soren prepared himself to attempt to save the one person he loathed and to tell his brothers what happened. Yes. The day had certainly taken a turn, but maybe some good would come of it yet.