Isaac walked quickly, his head down and his gaze fixed on the sidewalk. He could feel the brush of those around him, passing by without so much as a second glance. But above that...fevered glances burned at his back. The eyes of the others who had dipped into the same sort of 'family' Isaac had just dropped out of. They were the ones that noticed the bruises. They were the ones that noticed the cuts. Whereas everyone else passed it off as just another accident. They were the ones who knew.
And this alone put Isaac in a very dangerous situation. From his wounds the onlookers could draw one of two conclusions. Either the kid knew how to fight and carried the bruises as battle scars. Or the kid had quit his family. He was open. He was vulnerable. Nobody had his back anymore. Free game...strike now.
Isaac had never been good at lying.
And that's why every last threat in the school knew the truth.
* * *
Shark bait, Isaac muttered, glancing down the hall at a group of older youths who were sizing him up and making no effort to hide it, that's what you are. Turning his attention back to the marred metal that served as his locker, Isaac pushed his entire backpack inside without bothering to get any folders or assignments. He needed to get out of there. Better alive and absent then present and dead.
The pasty school walls blurred together as he walked. It still hurt to move, though considering how much longer the beating would have continued if that damned aristocrat hadn't shown up, things could be a lot worse. The main entrance door opened with a sigh, the faded glass throwing slashes of light against the office nearby. Isaac thought he saw the secretary throw him a disapproving look and hoped that they wouldn't send anybody after him.
He crossed the parking lot and cut off onto the football field, heading for a lesser known entrance in the chain linked fence. A solid throb stopped him in his tracks, his teeth gritted to the point of grinding as a flare of pain lanced up his side. He pressed a hand under his ribs, feeling the warm heat of the fresh blood that was now snaking down his hip. Gingerly, he lifted the edge of his shirt, groaning at the sight of the broken scabs on the cut that arced along his stomach.
Silently cursing his former family, Isaac pressed his palm firmly over the cut and continued walking. It wasn't a major cut...if he could just make it home it would be fairly easy to patch up. The wind shifted direction, a flutter of voices rising on its wake. Isaac glanced over his shoulder, his heartbeat picking up tenfold. The group from the hallway...following him, of course.
Shit, Isaac breathed, breaking into a jog. At the very least he could hope that they would quit the chase once he was off school grounds. From the corner of his eye he could see them, running now, and gaining fast. His side screamed its disapproval as he hit the fence, sliding through the alcove between the gate and the post it was locked to. He rounded the corner, eyes fixed on the group. Allowing himself to slow as the group faltered to a stop, their interest in the chance forgotten.
He hit something hard, stumbling back and nearly falling if what he'd run into hadn't caught him. Dammit! Isaac squeezed his eyes shut. He knew those hands.
Isaac shoved Cain away, walking around him while sliding his hands into the pockets of his jacket, What's it to you? Cain shrugged and fell into step beside him, drawing a hating glare from the younger boy. I saved your life...I think I have the right to know. The blood froze in Isaac's body, his hand clenching against the cut on his stomach, You did not! I could've handled it just fine on my own. Cain's brow arced in disbelief, brushing the comment aside, Why are you skipping, Isaac?
The sidewalk narrowed out into an alley flanked by the west wall of the school and the east wall of the public library; a chain linked fence ran between them. Isaac sized Cain up quickly. He was taller than Isaac and probably wouldn't fit through the hole that had been cut through the bottom of the fence. Not only that, but he was dressed as though he was going to a party; white button-up shirt and black slacks. Definitely not appropriate attire for crawling through holes.
I have my reasons, Isaac replied stiffly, ducking down and swiftly slipping through the hole. Cain folded his arms over his chest, making no move to follow. Is that so? How old are you? Isaac glanced back, offering the older boy a stiff middle finger and a smirk.
Mind your own business, aristocrat.
* * *
It was dark by the time Isaac returned home. He'd spent the majority of the day weaving through the territories of the 'families' he'd left behind. A great deal of them didn't pose as a threat. They could care less whether or not a family member had been thrown out. However...there was a small hand full that drew up little red flags. The next couple of weeks would be touch and go. These families would either take full advantage of his weakness, or attempt to recruit him for their own.
He didn't particularly favor either option.
The public buildings faded into run-down suburbia, the place that the map-makers had forgotten to mark. The white picket fences were mostly brown, the fancy green lawns running wild with toadstools and broken lawn gnomes. Isaac's father had always called their area of town 'one step above the projects, and a great fall below fine living'.
Isaac glanced up at the house he'd called home for the last nine years and suppressed a groan. His father...would be angry. Chances are the school had already called in his absence. He could only hope that the old man had been asleep when the phone rang. Walking slowly, Isaac's step faltered and then stopped; his heart giving a swift kick to his lungs. Cain was waiting next to the front gate, his head tilted back toward the sky.
What the hell was this guys problem, anyway?
Hey! Isaac called, still a good thirty yards from the gate, Are you following me?
Cain turned to look at him and smiled, the skin along the edges of his eyes wrinkling with the motion, Yes. Isaac scowled, quickly covering the distance between them and shouldering open the gate. Well, stop it, he snapped, just leave me alone. His attempt to brush passed the older boy crumpled as Cain's hand fastened around his upper arm, halting him completely. You're bleeding, he muttered, the concern etched in his voice surprisingly genuine.
Isaac winced and pulled back hard, Don't touch me! God, what the hell's wrong with you?
You never answered my question, Cain said quietly.
Isaac stared at him, his brow coming together in a scowl, What question?
Cain shifted, placing himself between Isaac and the gate, his hand still gripping tight on the younger boy's arm. About how old you are. You've got a small build, and your voice still cracks when you talk. I'm guessing...twelve, thirteen? Isaac felt the blood rush into his face, The only reason my voice is cracking is because that asshole stomped on my throat! Let go of me. Cain's hold released.
Isaac stepped back, rubbing the spot tenderly, I'm fifteen.
Cain's face broke into a smile, You know...you haven't even asked my name yet.
That's because I don't give a damn, Isaac muttered, turning his eyes to the cement. His side was throbbing something horrible, making him anxious to get inside. He'd treated cuts by himself before. The fever brought along with infection was definitely something he'd prefer to avoid. Maybe he'd underestimated this guy. What if he was a member of another family? Sent to mess with his head before the whole pack closed in and tore him apart? Isaac's shoulders dropped in defeat, Fine. What's your name, oh malicious bastard that insists on stalking me?
Cain will do just fine, thank you.
Isaac shivered, the chill of the night beginning to sink in. Great, can I go home now? Cain stepped aside, sweeping his arm at the gate as if it were his duty to give him permission. Isaac stepped passed him quickly, waiting to feel the grip on his arm reform. It never did. Cain leaned against the fence, watching the younger boy shuffle up to the door with a smile tugging at his lips.
He hesitated, then looked back.
I've made up my mind. You're the one I want...I'm going to save you.
Isaac balked, his eyes narrowing, Who said I need saving?
Cain shrugged, his smile remaining, I don't need an invitation.
He pushed himself off the fence and turned away, walking with his hands in his pockets. Issac watched him leave, hand frozen over the doorknob. He could still feel the spot where the older boy had held him, his release leaving a fine line of goosebumps on the skin. Despite the anger that burned in his face, Isaac found it very difficult to look away from his retreating back...
Surprisingly difficult, in fact.