It was too loud. He was aware that his companion was tugging at his arms but he was trying valiantly to ignore the boy. He wanted the younger boy to just go away- just take his noise and go away. He tightened his hold around the knees he had tucked to his chest and buried his face further against the demin jeans he wore. He could hear his ragged breath underlying all of the chaos that was being thrown around. So many voices- so many of them from this small form that was yanking at him desperately, trying to get him to get back on his feet. He didn't see why the boy bothered to tug so fiercely; as soon as they started fleeing again the boy would need to be carried. He was more tired than Niklas, due to both the child's age and their flight after the scene they had walked in on just half an hour ago.
No. He wasn't going to think about that. Breath hissed through clenched teeth and he felt his body give a convulsive shake as he fought back the mental images of people sprawled in blood. Pen's parents- those people had killed them.
"Niklas, Niklas," the younger boy whispered. Niklas looked up to see the boy throwing a fearful look towards the far wall. "They're coming, they're coming. I'm scared."
Niklas unwound himself from his ball and pushed himself to his feet. His muscles protested; they had run so far already. Niklas was starting to think they wouldn't be able to run far enough. These people- there was something wrong with them. He could feel it; he could hear it. He grabbed one of Pen's hands in his own, closing his larger finger's over the boy's. The people who had murdered the younger boy's parents were now chasing the boys. It was hard for Niklas to hear them. He could hear so many things, but what he received from those five men was fragmented. It made it harder to run from them, but Pen seemed to be doing a somewhat better job in tracking their movements.
He took a deep breath, struggling to quiet the mental chaos. He and Pen were the only ones that could hear the noise. The ones chasing them did not make a single sound. Their feet flew over the snow covered ground without a single crunch of ice. Even the drunks of this small town had called it a night and locked their doors. The streetlights were dim and the windows were dark. The animals were hiding, trying to find warmth. It was as if he and Pen were the only living things- he and Pen and those monsters behind them.
He couldn't hear them. He would have to trust Pen again. "Let's go," he said, and the younger boy gave a nod. His red eyes were terrified and he looked back in the same direction as before. Niklas gave a warning tug and started running, weaving down the alley and turning onto the street it emptied into. He did not look around- he had no time for that. Instead he picked a direction and ran, dimly aware of the gasping breaths of his companion. The weight the boy was on his arm was growing steadily heavier as Pen tried and failed to keep up. Niklas gave a sharp tug, half-turning. Pen was ready with his arms out- Pen always seemed to know what was coming next- and it took just a moment to pull the child into his arms. Pen secured his hold around Niklas's neck and the older boy continued their flight.
It was slower going now, and Niklas had to grit his teeth as the noise in his mind grew louder. It was Pen's voice without Pen moving his lips- it was always's Pen's voice that was the loudest. It was stumbling over itself, running in all directions and overlapping itself. It almost drove Niklas mad at times. Many times he had had to abandon his young friend to sit in solitude and try to recover from the drain the boy's voice was on him. He wanted, needed, a break from the boy. The need ate at him strongly now and he clenched his teeth, struggling to handle the mental onslaught. They were in danger. He had to deal with this. He had to get them safely away.
Pen's parents were dead.
Back to that again. Bodies sprawled in blood flashed before his eyes as he turned blindly onto another street. Pen had wanted to leave his house that day. He hadn't been quite sure why but had cried and cried until his parents had let him go out. They did not really approve of Niklas- how many parents would trust their child running around with a wild-looking orphan?- but they had allowed him to take Pen around town with him for the day. They had returned to find both parents dead and had just barely escaped the sudden ambush of five men.
What did they want?
That was what their minds said; that was what he could get from them. They wanted the boy. They had no name to follow that, no mental description. Just 'the boy.' Niklas knew they were after Pen, but he did not know why. What could the child have that they would want? Most steered clear of the child. Many were frightened of his red eyes. That was what had first attracted Niklas to the boy's side- the fear. People were afraid of him because he knew what they were thinking. It wasn't a steady thing- he could just hear snatches, mostly. What he heard from Pen was constant, and at first he had felt a sort of glory in finding another with so much mental noise.
Right now he wished Pen's brain would just shut up.
"Duck!" Pen gasped in his ear. "Duck!"
Niklas didn't bother to question it but threw them both down into the snow. Something whizzed by overhead and stuck into a nearby trashcan. It looked like a long dart. Niklas uttered a curse, throwing a half-wary, half-fearful glance over his shoulder. He could not see the one who had fired the weapon. He scrambled to his feet and hauled Pen up. The boy was shivering from the cold and looked positively miserable. Niklas tugged him onwards.
"We're not going to get away," Pen wailed.
"Don't say such things," Niklas bit out, sending a fierce glare at the boy that was being dragged behind him. Was that from Pen's future-guessing ability or just the frightened thoughts of a nine year old boy? He did not know and was afraid to find out. "I won't let them get hold of you."
"Niklas..." Tears were rolling down the boy's cheeks.
"Stop crying! You don't have time to cry!" Niklas gave the hand he was holding a shake strong enough that the boy almost lost his balance and fell. "Scheiße..." He yanked the boy into his arms once more and ran. As he was about to turn onto another street he paused, eyes landing on the neon lights to his left. He changed directions and dropped Pen right outside the door, grabbing the boy's shoulders.
"We have to run!" Pen cried, looking around and wondering why Niklas had stopped them.
"Shut up and listen to me." Niklas gave him a shake. "Go inside now and head upstairs. Wake up Herr Schulz and tell him what happened to your parents." The mention of the child's parents only served to make him cry more and Niklas gave him another shake, casting a wild glance around. "I'll get their attention and lead them away, all right?" Pen was shaking his head. "Do it, Pen!" Niklas shoved him towards the door of the pub.
"Come with me!" Pen demanded.
"I can't, you dummkopf! They'll find us; they want to and they won't stop until they get us. Just go!" He gave the boy another fierce shove that sent him spilling backwards through the doorway. He paused for just a fraction of a moment more, taking in the boy's wide red eyes and disheveled brown hair, then tore off. Pen would listen to him. The boy always had. The boy trusted him, and Niklas would take advantage of that trust now.
The ones chasing them wanted 'the boy.' They had seen Niklas at Pen's house- he had been the first to walk through the door because he had sensed the fragmented minds of the intruders. They had seen him running- he was older and taller and more easily seen. He had not been able to get a mental image of their target, so perhaps they did not know who they were chasing. If they caught him, Pen would be safe. If they figured out what had happened, then he would do his damned best to keep them away from the boy.
His lungs were crying for more air and his legs were screaming now as he fought to bring distance between himself and the pub. His thoughts were racing- what if they had been close enough to see him shove the boy inside? Would they follow Pen or would they follow him? Damn it, should he really have left the boy unguarded? If they had killed Pen's parents why would they hesitate to kill the Schulzes?
He spun wildly at the foreign thought suddenly intruding upon his, eyes raking the dimly lit street with its dark attached alleyways. Found who? Him or Pen??
A hand closed on his shoulder and he jumped, yanking away and turning. He stumbled and fell, landing on his rear on the cold snow. Wide eyes stared up into cold eyes and a colder smirk. His mind was quiet, broken only by the infrequent whispers of success. He could dimly hear the crunching of snow over his ragged breathing and he turned his head to watch as the remaining four murderers closed in around him. Fear laced through his veins, icy cold, and he realized he was shivering.
The first man lowered himself to a crouch. "You led us on a fine chase," he announced, "but now it's time for you to admit defeat."
"What do you want?" he asked, fear making him bold. He leaned backwards as the man leaned forwards and bumped into a pair of legs. He jumped and sent a startled glance upwards. The other four had closed ranks until they were a human wall separating him from the outside.
The smirk widened. "You'll soon find out, my young friend." With that, he reached out and touched the boy, and everything faded away.
Pen scrambled up the stairs on his hands and knees, nearly choking on his tears. He finally reached the door that separated the pub from the living area and began pummeling its wooden surface with his small fists. His thoughts were running in wild circles; it was hard to concentrate. Niklas- what about Niklas? Where had Niklas gone? Where were the men? Niklas would come back for him- Niklas would be safe and Niklas would come back because he would never leave Pen. He beat harder, tears blurring his visions. His hands were warm and part of his mind registered that there was now blood on the door.
At last it swung open to reveal a very tired and grumpy looking Herr Schulz. The man frowned heavily as he stared down at Pen's small frame. "What's this?" he asked.
Pen tried to explain, but he couldn't breathe. His chest felt like it was being squeezed unbearably tight. His mouth moved soundlessly and he finally buried his face in his hands and let out a wail. His parents had been so still. He had only seen them for a moment before Niklas had grabbed him and tore away from his house. They had run so far. Those men- they terrified Pen. He had seen a little of what would happen to the two boys if they had been caught, if they had moved any slower or made a wrong turn. They were bad men, and Niklas was still out there with them.
"What in God's name is going on?" Herr Schulz's wife shoved her way past her husband to see what was causing so much noise. She reached down and lifted Pen into her arms. He immediately latched onto her neck and cried into her long hair. She carried him further into the living quarters and he could hear the bolt of the door sliding into place behind them. Lights were being turned and the rest of the Schulz family lifted curious heads from their pillows to openly stare at Pen.
"Shush now," Katharina chided him, setting him down on a bed and crouching in front of him. "What happened to you? You're soaked through." She fingered his shirt, frowning, before taking his small hands in her larger ones. "And you're bleeding. What has got you so worked up, child?"
"Mutter, Vati," Pen managed to gasp out. He was shaking and he couldn't stop. The tears came faster and he scrubbed at his cheeks, smearing blood and tears on his face. "They...they..." They were so still. So red. He knew they were gone. He had seen what would have happened if he had gone up to shake one. "The bad men...they're chasing Niklas..."
"What about your parents?" Katharina asked, wiping at his cheeks with her thumbs.
"They're dead, they're dead, they're dead," Pen wailed. "The bad men got them! They chased us and we ran and ran and ran and now they're after Niklas and he told me to come hide here!"
Schulz's frown deepened and he grabbed his coat, tugging it over his arms. Katharina looked over her shoulder at him as he sought out his slippers. He saw the glance and explained. "I'm going over to the Braun's to see for myself what's going on. It could be a nightmare for all we know. That devil Niklas could have been scaring him."
"They're chasing Niklas!" Pen repeated frantically. "They're going to hurt him!"
"Shhh, child, calm down." Katharina ran a hand through his hair before looking back at her husband. "Should I call the emergency services just in case?"
"Not just yet," was the response. The aging man slid the bolt out of place on his door and disappeared down the hall.
Katharina helped Pen off the bed. "Come on. We have to get you out of those wet clothes before you catch a cold." He held tightly to the hand she offered and stumbled after her. She flicked off one of the lamps as she passed it, sending the large bed where her three children were a sharp glance. "Go to sleep, all of you. There's school in the morning."
They obediently flopped down, but Pen saw one head lift slightly from the pillow to watch as Katharina brought Pen into the bathroom. She flicked the handles on the tub to allow hot water to spill forth, testing the temperature on the back of her hand and backing away as it filled. "Give me those clothes and soak," she told Pen, and he obediently turned over the dripping outfit. She left him as he sat in the tub, waiting for the water to warm his chilled skin. The shivering continued even when he no longer felt cold, so he remained where he was.
~Niklas...Niklas...Run, Niklas. They're going to hurt you. Don't let them get you, Niklas. Come back to me. Don't leave me here alone. Come back.~
There was a crash as the front door banged open. "Katharina, get me the phone!" Herr Schulz urged. The door was slammed shut once more and he threw the bolt into place. Pen looked towards the bathroom door, listening to the footsteps back and forth. "God in Heaven..."
"What's wrong?" Katharina asked. "What happened at the Braun's?"
There was a pause, then, "Children, go into the back room and shut the door." There might have been some murmured protests on any other day, but Herr Schulz's voice sounded funny. It was deep, strangled, scared and angry at the same time. Pen slid from the tub and padded towards the bathroom door, listening. Another door clicked shut. "They're dead, Katharina, both of them."
"Dead, Daniel?" Katharina choked.
"Ja," he answered shortly. "Jesus Christ, there was blood everywhere...Hello, police? We have an emergency."
Pen pushed the door shut the rest of the way and backed away from it. The shaking had returned and suddenly he doubled over, throwing up violently onto the floor. The image of his parents was burned into his eyelids, flashing through his mind every time he closed his eyes. He pressed a hand to his mouth, not bothering to stop the tears that slid down his cheeks once more. His mother, his father...
~Run, Niklas, run. Don't let them get you!!~
Katharina came in to check on him. He half-expected her to fuss at him for messing up the rug on the bathroom floor but she said nothing. She crossed the room and knelt before him, tugging his wet body against her in a tight hug. He cried against her and she rubbed his back soothingly, whispering broken words of comfort. They remained that way until the night was torn with sirens, and then she lifted him in her arms and carried him into the bedroom. She sat him gently on one of the beds and rummaged around in a dresser for a few moments before producing a nightgown that must have been an extra one of one of her daughters. He let her dress him; he was too tired to do it himself. Daniel Schulz went downstairs to speak to the police and Katharina tucked Pen into bed.
"Sleep, child," she urged him softly. "You need to try and get some rest."
He shook his head. How could he sleep with such a horrible picture painted in his mind?
She kissed his forehead. "Try, little one."
He grabbed at her hand before she could leave, small fingers curling desperately around hers. "Make them look for Niklas?" he pleaded. "Make them find him?"
"I will," she promised, and he reluctantly released her. She studied him for a few moments more before turning and leaving the room. He watched the door swing shut behind her and buried himself under the blankets.
Part of him knew that the police were not going to find Niklas. The voice in his head told him so.
He hated the voice, and he cried some more.
The police did not find Niklas.
Pen stood between Katharina and Daniel Schulz, watching the burial service for his parents without really taking in what was going on. The week had been long and terrifying. He had had nightmares all week when he was both awake and sleeping. The police were scaring him. They asked him many questions: about Niklas, about his parents, about how everyone got alone with everyone else. They asked him about the bad men and the mental noise both boys suffered from. They could not find the bad men and they could not find Niklas. They could not bring his parents back.
He was staying with the Schulzes temporarily. The police were looking for a foster home for him. They wanted to take him away from here and put him with strangers. He felt his lower lip begin to wobble and he bit it, struggling to stop himself from crying. He did not want to go.
Someone was watching him.
The realization cut through the rest of his thoughts and slowly he turned, looking over his shoulder. There were a few gazing at him with pity, but his eyes finally landed on the one person he had sensed. The man was not German; he did not look it. Shiny black hair was pulled back into a short ponytail and eyes as yellow as a cat's stared at Pen very intently. Pen faced front again, feeling small tremors start in his body. Past the reverend that was speaking words Pen couldn't focus on, the crowd parted and Pen caught sight of another foreigner. This one had shaggy blond hair and his mouth was curled in a wide smirk. He, too, was staring at Pen.
Pen took a step back and felt Katharina's hand squeeze his sympathetically. She did not realize his sadness had changed to fear. He looked over his shoulder again, seeking out the first man.
The man had moved closer.
The air suddenly exploded with gunfire and screams. Katharina spun around wildly to look in the direction of the gunshots. Pen knew exactly when she would loosen her grip briefly before squeezing tighter, and the moment her fingers went slack he jerked away and ran. He thought he heard her scream his name, but she called only once before trying to round up her own terrified children. Pen ran with the panicking crowd, struggling to not trip and fall. He knew what would happen if he were to fall- his voice told him no one would stop to pick him back up.
Someone was going to grab him, coming from the right. He lunged left, darting a glance to the side. The blonde man was shoving his way through the crowd and was reaching for Pen. Luckily for the child he had put just enough distance between them that the stranger's clawing fingers came up short. The boy did not look back but took off once more, latching onto someone's belt with one hand to help get through the crowd.
Now that people had left the cemetary grounds and were racing wildly through the streets there was more room to run. Pen released the man he had been holding and darted off, running for his very life.
~He is going to catch you.~
The air in front of him shimmered and suddenly the blonde man stood there. Pen screamed and retreated. The sudden shift in directions made him stumble and he fell to the rocky ground, cutting one palm on the stones there. The man laughed, amused, and stepped forward, reaching towards him. Pen grabbed a handful of the rocks and threw them, scrambling to his feet and running back the way he'd come.
A hand latched onto his upper arm in an iron grip and he began to kick and scream, beating at the blonde stranger frantically. The man gave him a violent shake that almost knocked him from his feet. "Stop making that infernal racket."
Pen screamed louder.
The world whited out in front of him in a sudden, icy wave. It lasted for a few endless seconds and when it left Pen stood rigidly in place. The black-haired man was approaching; Pen could see him past the blonde's arm. His voice was warning him urgently, "If you fight him, he will hurt you. He will hurt you very badly."
The new arrival lowered himself to a crouch in front of Pen, amber eyes studying Pen intently. Pen stood frozen in place with fear, staring back with wide red eyes. He was shaking again. His arm hurt where the first man was holding it. His chest hurt more, because he was afraid to breathe too much with this new man before him. The man lifted one hand to touch Pen's face, fingertips trailing along Pen's cheekbone.
"He has the devil's eyes," the man commented to his partner.
The blonde's fingers tightened a bit more. "He's very pretty." The blonde's voice was hungry. It scared Pen.
"You won't touch him, Nuboshi." Yellow-eyes sent a warning look up at his companion. The one holding him gave a quiet sigh of regret. "All right. Let's go." He rose again and beckoned for the two to follow.
Pen dug in his feet but the man was stronger. Gunfire was still echoing off the buildings. Pen cast a wild look over his shoulder, searching for anyone that could help him. Every door was shut as the townspeople hid from whoever was shooting. He tried calling for help anyway, clawing at the hand holding him frantically. He didn't want to go. All he could see of these people was a darkness that threatened to eat him alive. "Let me go let me go let me go let me go let me go!!!"
"Make him shut up, Meirth," the one called Nuboshi growled, giving Pen a shake.
Meirth glanced over his shoulder at the boy. Their eyes met and everything blurred before going dark.
To Be Continued...