For Isakar, it was just any other day. He was walking home from work after a long day, jacket hood low over his eyes to shield from the rain. Despite the fact that Mr. Forgen had told him to go home before his brain exploded, he couldn't stop thinking about his latest project: a new type of power generator that would completely change the city.
If it worked, anyway. That was the problem so far, his experiments had not proved as effective as he had hoped.
Mr. Forgen had said that it was alright. Big projects like this didn't get built overnight. But Isakar couldn't stop thinking about it. There had to be a way to amplify the output.
He was so distracted that he didn't see the puddle before it was too late. Shin deep in filthy rainwater now, he forced himself to look around.
Good, at least he was still on the correct route home. Occasionally when he was lost in thought, he would just walk and walk, and by the time he came to his senses, he would be halfway across the city.
With a sigh, he crossed the street, shaking his shoes free of water as best he could.
He almost missed it, and kept walking home, but out of the corner of his eye he saw a blood smear on the corner of a building leading into an alleyway.
He blinked, surprised, but knew that he could not, in good conscience, keep going without checking.
So carefully, because he wasn't stupid, he walked into the alleyway. There were a few garbage cans and dumpsters, as well as shipping crates and a handcart. Isakar checked behind each one, not entirely sure what he was expecting to find.
Just as he was crouching to look behind a large dumpster that had been pushed away from the wall, a hand grabbed his hair, and cold steel was pressed to his throat.
"You're not taking us back, you son of a-"
"Wait, wait!" Isakar yelped, holding up his hands. "I'm not here to hurt you, or hunt you, or whatever! I saw blood and I just wanted to make sure everything was alright!"
His throat wasn't slit instantly, so they were off to a good start.
"Prove it," the voice hissed. "Right shoulder. Show me it. Now."
"Alright, alright! Just don't hurt me." Slowly, Isakar reached up and bared his shoulder. There was a moment's silence, then his hair was released and the knife removed. Isakar sighed in relief, rubbing his throat. With a slightly hysterical chuckle, he turned around to face his attacker.
It was a kid. Well, not a kid kid. A teen, maybe around sixteen. He had sandy hair, and dark eyes that gleamed in the dim light. The knife was still in his hand, a wicked thing that probably could have cut Isakar's head clean off.
They stared at each other for a moment. The kid was like a coiled spring, hand gripping the knife so hard his knuckles were white. But he didn't seem afraid, just… strung out.
The kid suddenly slumped, hand falling to his side. "It's my brother," he rasped. "He's hurt. If you're really not with them… I need your help."
Isakar felt his heart tug at just how tired the kid looked. "Where?"
He gestured behind him to a pile of crates. "No funny business," he warned.
Isakar nodded solemnly, and wondered what exactly he was getting into. He followed the kid to where a second figure was wedged in-between two crates, small hands pressed to his thigh and covered in blood. This kid was younger, more like ten, with the same sandy hair as his brother.
"Rowan?" The little one whimpered. "What happened?"
The older kid—Rowan, presumably—patted his shoulder. "It's alright, Kee. This man's going to help us."
Isakar nodded, forcing down his shock. "What happened? Were you guys attacked?"
Rowan hesitated, then nodded. "Something like that."
Isakar eyed him. "Don't lie to me, kid."
"I can't tell you," Rowan said flatly. "It's for your own safety."
Isakar began to protest, but another look at the two kids stopped him. They had no jackets or hats, and their clothes were both worn and patched. They only fit because both boys were thin. Too thin.
Reluctantly, Isakar nodded. "What can I do?"
Rowan's lips tugged upward slightly, and the relief in his eyes was visible.
"I can patch him up," he replied. "I just… need a few supplies and a place to do it. We left in a hurry, and-" he stopped with a shuddering breath, and reached for his brother's shoulder.
Isakar didn't hesitate. "You can come to my place."
Rowan nodded. "Good. We should hurry." He went to pick up his brother, but Isakar stopped him.
"I'll carry him."
Rowan hesitated, his hand drifting towards the knife on his belt. Then Kee whimpered again, eyes screwed shut now, and Rowan gave in. "Alright. But you go in front of me."
"Fair enough." Isakar reached down, sliding one hand under Kee's legs, and one behind his shoulders. "Sorry, Kee. This might hurt," he murmured.
"Kenan. Only I call him Kee," Rowan corrected distantly cupping his brother's face. "Just hang on a little longer, kiddo, alright? I promise it will be over soon. Keep your hands where they are."
"Okay," Kenan whispered.
With a grunt, Isakar lifted him, staggering a bit under the weight. After a moment, he got his balance, and nodded to Rowan.
"It's not far. Only a couple blocks."
Together they went back out to the street. The rain had lightened a bit, thankfully, and so they started walking without too much trouble.
As he'd said, Rowan walked behind Isakar, and a little to the left. Out of the corner of his eye, Isakar could see him looking around, once again tense as if he was expecting an attack at any moment.
His nervousness had Isakar imagining shapes in alleyways and windows, and the darkening sky didn't help.
The three of them walked in silence, except for the voiceless whimpers that Kenan would make whenever he was jostled.
It was with great relief that Isakar turned the last corner and saw his apartment building.
"This is it," he said. "Get the door?"
Rowan did, and they headed for the elevator. Isakar prayed that he wouldn't encounter any neighbors. He had no idea how he would explain this away.
Thankfully, the elevator was empty, and stayed that way until the fourth floor, where they got out.
His door had a fingerprint lock, so he passed Kenan to Rowan and opened the door.
"Okay," he said, flipping on the lights. "What do you need?"
"Can I put him on the couch?" Rowan asked.
"Go right ahead." The thing had questionable stains when he'd first gotten it. Another few wouldn't hurt.
Together, they got Kenan as comfortable as they could on the couch. The boy was pale now, and had fallen silent in the elevator. Isakar was no expert on medicine, but that probably wasn't a good sign. Judging by the tightness of Rowan's lips, he agreed.
"Now what?" Isakar asked.
Rowan ran a hand through his hair. "Dental floss, and a sewing needle. A lot of towels. And alcohol, if you have it."
Isakar nodded. "I'll get them." He rushed into his bedroom, and started digging through his closet for the old sewing kit that he knew was still there.
Eventually he found it, and the rest was easy. When he returned to the living room, Rowan had removed Kenan's pants, leaving the kid in just his shirt and underwear, and was using bloodstained cloth to keep pressure on the wound.
'It's going to be alright," Isakar heard him murmur. "We're out. We're never going back there."
Isakar resisted the temptation to ask where, and brought over his armful of supplies. Rowan inspected each one with his free hand, then gave a nod of approval. "Let's get started. You might need to hold him down."
They got into position, then Rowan quickly instructed him on how to hold the towels to wipe the blood to keep the wound clear for Rowan to stitch. Internally, Isakar wondered at his steely calm. The kid didn't seem nervous at all now.
After he was done explaining, Rowan quickly dipped the needle in the whiskey that Isakar had brought, then threaded a long length of floss through it. After taking a deep breath, he removed the pressure on the wound. Immediately blood began to sluggishly fill the space and drip down Kenan's leg. Isakar dabbed gently with the towel, and then Rowan got to work.
"Sorry, Kee," he murmured, then inserted the needle.
Kenan gasped, eyes snapping open. He arched, trying to escape, but Isakar quickly leaned an arm against his chest to hold him down.
"Hang tight, kid," he muttered.
Rowan moved quickly, and by the second time that Isakar had to dab the blood away, he was halfway done.
Isakar tried to avoid looking at the wound as much as possible. He had glimpsed bone before, and the sight made his stomach roll. Thankfully, he had enough to distract him by keeping Kenan still. The kid was weak, but his cries pulled at Isakar's heart. A glance at Rowan revealed the same; his lips were tightly pressed together, and his neck was rigid.
Before Isakar expected it, they were done. Rowan sat back on his heels and rubbed at his eyes, then stared in numb surprise at the blood on his hands.
Kenan whimpered. "Rowan…"
Immediately, Rowan was up and at his side. "Hey, Kenan. Sorry about that. You'll be alright now. You did a great job keeping pressure on it."
"Okay," Kenan whispered. "I'm tired."
"You sleep, then. It's been a long day."
Kenan nodded weakly, and reached for his brother's hand. Isakar moved away to give them some privacy, and began to clean up.
After a minute or so, Rowan stood up with a sigh. Kenan was asleep, his face peaceful now.
Rowan just stared down at him, a tired slump to his shoulders that spoke volumes.
Isakar came and stood beside him.
They were quiet for a moment, then Isakar decided to break the silence.
"Wherever you were, I'm glad you got out."
Rowan took a sharp breath, then his face crumpled. Suddenly he was just a scared, exhausted, vulnerable sixteen year old boy, who needed someone to comfort him the way he'd comforted his little brother.
Acting on instinct, Isakar reached out and pulled Rowan into his arms. Immediately, Rowan began to sob uncontrollably, an ugly, desperate sound that made Isakar hug him tighter. Inside, he was terrified. The thought of what might've happened to these kids shook something inside of him.
"They were going to- going to kill him," Rowan forced out between sobs. "They were going to kill my baby brother all because I disobeyed. I had to go. I had to get him out. I couldn't let them- I couldn't let them do it!"
Suddenly, his legs gave out beneath him. Isakar followed him to the ground, keeping them both upright. He had no response to Rowan's confession. What did you say to that?
Rowan continued to cry, his tears wetting Isakar's shirt, but Isakar did nothing. He felt shaken to his core. What sort of horrible group of people would kill a child as a punishment for his older brother?
But after glancing down, Isakar forced himself to brush that aside. This kid needed him. This outpouring of emotion was like a burst dam; one that had been under pressure for far too long.
And now may be beyond repair.
Yet even if that was the case, Isakar decided that he would protect these two. He wasn't sure exactly what Rowan and Kenan were running from, but it had hurt them, both physically and emotionally. They deserved to have someone who cared. So Isakar held on tight, and prayed that he would be enough.
Slowly, painfully, Rowan calmed, but he didn't move from Isakar's arms, surprisingly. Isakar was about to speak, and give voice to his promise, but Rowan broke the silence first.
"I took us there because I thought we'd be safe. We'd have a home, off the streets. Kenan was sick, and I… I couldn't do it anymore. So we went. I had no idea…"
His voice trailed off.
Isakar pulled back from the hug, hands on Rowan's shoulders. "It's not your fault," he said softly, meeting Rowan's red-rimmed eyes. "You were trying to protect him."
"I should have known better. Should have seen-"
"How old were you?"
Rowan hesitated, and his gaze slipped to the floor. "Ten."
Isakar closed his eyes. Ten. Ten years old.
"He's all I have," Rowan whispered. "I'm supposed to protect him, and I took him there-"
Isakar shook his head. "No. No. I may not know your story, but I do know this. You are not to blame for what happened. You escaped. You saved him. That's what matters."
Gently, he lifted Rowan's head to meet his gaze. "You're safe here. I'll protect you. And Kenan."
"You can't," Rowan said, slumping. "They're everywhere."
"Then we'll leave."
Rowan's eyes filled. "Leave? For good? You would do that for us?"
Isakar nodded firmly. "Yes. I would."
The question caught him off guard. "Because I… because you need it. You deserve to have someone who cares for you. Someone who will take care of you."
A fresh tear slipped down Rowan's cheek as he reached for his brother's hand. "Thank you," he whispered. "Thank you. Thank you."
And for the first time since Isakar met him, Rowan smiled.