It would have been so much easier if there'd been someone to blame.
The Templars. The industrial giants who didn't care enough to check building plans when it saved a few scraps for their splitting pockets. The gangs who used the slums as an arsenal in the first place. Someone. Even Jacob. If she could have blamed Jacob maybe the throbbing pain in her chest would ignite and she wouldn't feel it through her anger.
But there really was no one to blame but her brother's own bleeding heart.
By Altair, she hoped that phrase was only metaphorical.
Evie crept through the wreckage, blinking away tears caused by the acrid smoke still rising in lazy serpents from the blackened rafters. Her fingers burned with each light touch as she navigated deeper and deeper, gasping for a sign of her twin. A cough, a curse, the groaning of a beam as he pressed it heavenward with his strong back, anything at all-just so he remained in his body and wasn't headed heavenward himself. She swallowed and coughed and grit her teeth as she shoved another great beam out of the way once she was certain Jacob wasn't nearby for it to crush.
She was going to find him. She had to find him.
"I'm going to kill you, I hope you know that," she said curtly, hoping he would actually hear her and retort back. There was little venom in her tone. She knew why Jacob had rushed into that doomed building in the first place, and no matter how sick she was about its collapse on top of him she couldn't be angry at him for doing it.
She would have done the same. She just didn't quite see things the way he did.
It was the kids. Jacob had always had a way with them. Ever since they reached independence in the brotherhood Jacob had been using his influence to take extra attention to the orphanages. Boys, girls, shy or bold, small or nearly grown, they all loved him and he spent as much time with them on his shoulders as he did training those shoulders to brace the world so the children could have a childhood.
She played her part from a distance, focused on the job, the bigger picture. She wasn't callous, but she didn't see the children like he did. She couldn't make them light up at a wink or calm with a whisper. She was content to watch how her brother cared for them and keep an eye on his back so he could do so in relative peace.
"Andrew?" she called, hoping the boy Jacob had dove in after was conscious, could help her find the both of them before the flames had a chance to flare again. "Jacob?" She heaved aside a warped support strut and it scared her because the heat must have been intense to bend the metal so violently.
If only she'd been able to get inside quicker, but it was that same heat that had prevented her from entering the wreckage hours ago when it had first happened. She had no idea where Jacob and his young charge had gone
Andrew was a serial run away. He lost his parents at seven and with them the home he and his sister had known their entire lives. No place was home for them any longer, and when his sister died the winter before from a terrible cough Andrew started running. She still remembered the first night Jacob had come back to the den holding a shivering bundle against his shoulder. The boy was fast asleep and soaked to the bone, his fist skinny and white where it was twisted in Jacob's waistcoat. He was wearing Jacob's favorite top hat and Evie only smiled sadly as her brother strode past her with that mix of anger and compassion lighting his hazel eyes.
He'd dried the boy off, wrapped him up in some of his own clothes, and tucked him into his bed, watching over him until dawn as he scraped his methodical way through cleaning and honing every piece of equipment before placing it back on his person. To anyone else he looked relaxed, but Evie could tell he was angry. For the sake of whomever had angered him, she hoped they were already dead.
Andrew had continued to run from almost every orphanage in the city until he was on the street near constantly, and every time Jacob found him again and brought him back to the den where they would talk and he would eventually convince the boy to return to his room at Emanuel's. Normally no harm was done. This time something exceptional must have happened because when Jacob tried to bring Andrew back he had run from him and into an abandoned building in the outer slums of London.
There was no one to care when the powder store kept there by the Rook's rival gang caught Andrew's dropped lantern and decimated half the building. Evie's heart had stopped when the concussion of the explosion threw her back because only moments before her brother had disappeared inside.
The others attracted by the blast had given up on Jacob and Andrew long ago, but Evie had paced and searched, worming her way into the wreckage an inch at a time as it cooled enough to approach, unwilling to comprehend a world where her brother wasn't at her side.
She stepped across the charred dusting that used to be some kind of bedpost and swallowed more ash, blinking furiously as a spew of smoke fouled the air.
"Jacob!" she called again, coughing harshly, crouching suddenly as part of the building that was still standing creaked ominously. Her only hope was that Jacob had found Andrew and was unconscious or trapped somewhere on the fringe where the heat would only leave him with minor burns and some difficulty breathing. She couldn't stomach the thought that she should be sifting through the wreck for human ash and a warped gauntlet, rather than straining hard for the croak of her brother's voice.
Her head snapped in the direction of the weak call and she stumbled as she tore her foot free from a thatching of splinters, racing for the voice. "Andrew?!" she called, dropping to her knees in a clearing. It ended abruptly in a precarious pile of beams and shivers, mostly shrapnel from the blast rather than dust from the fire. She found breathing a little easier when she spoke again. "Is Jacob with you? Are you all right?"
There was a gasping little sob and Evie swallowed hard. "Andrew?"
"Sorry Miss Frye…" Andrew said weakly, and she could hear a slow scraping as someone tried to move. "Mr. Frye is here he—he ain't movin'…"
Evie blinked and took a steadying breath through the nose, crouching into the stance that let her peer into the debris and process what Andrew was saying. Not moving did not mean not alive. She nodded slowly, feeling her heart surge with adrenaline even as she kept her body still.
"Don't think about that," she said as firmly and gently as she could. "He's going to be fine. Are you all right?"
There was a sniff and she could sense Andrew collecting himself. "It's hard to breathe, an' my arm hurts but I think so."
"Okay good. That's very good. Be careful with your arm, in case it's broken. Can you see Jacob?"
There was another weak cough and a pause. "Yes ma'am. I'm trapped beneath 'im…"
Evie closed her eyes for a moment, blinking away a tear. Jacob had covered Andrew with his body when the explosion had gone off. She took another breath. "You're doing brilliantly Andrew," she encouraged, swallowing the tremble out of her voice and steeling her muscles. "Do you know how to check for a pulse?"
"Yes, but my arm is trapped, n' I'm on my stomach. E's too heavy for me to turn over…" he said, a tremble of apology in his answer.
"That's all right Andrew, don't try. I don't want you to hurt yourself or cause the beams to fall any further. Just lie still and listen for a moment, can you hear him breathing?"
There was a bout of breathless silence before Andrew called again, his voice laced with fear. "I—I can't tell…Miss Frye there's blood. I've only jus' seen it—I, I think it's Mr. Frye. I think he's bleedin'."
Evie cursed under her breath. "He may have hit his head. I need you to stay calm Andrew, all right?" she said even as everything inside her wanted to break her assassin's calm and start ripping away boards. "I'm going to try and start shifting the pile to get to you. If anything feels heavier, tell me right away. I want you to focus on Jacob, tell me what you can about him. If you can't reach his pulse listen for his breathing, anything you can give me to tell me how he is will really help. Sooner we can wake him up the sooner we can all get out of here," she finished lightly, trying to be encouraging.
"A-all right," Andrew said, and there was a shuffling as the poor boy tried to move beneath her brother's body and the wreckage on top of it. Him.
She began picking her way around the pile, assessing it carefully, critically, keeping her breathing precise and her thoughts pointed. She couldn't afford to panic and her training wouldn't let her. Jacob needed her, and that was the end of it.
"E's warm," Andrew said after a moment. "I can feel it through my back. E's real warm."
"Good, that's a good sign. You're doing very well," Evie said, trying to be encouraged though she'd known since she was thirteen how long it took for a body to cool. If Jacob had remained alive for any part of the last few hours the heat wouldn't have had enough time to leave him. She gripped a lose beam and heaved it up, gritting her teeth as she tossed it away. "What else can you tell me?"
"I—"there was a harsh coughing and a gentle groan as Andrew moved again, and this time something in the pile shifted ominously. Another, more distant sound accompanied the settling and Evie froze, spur of wood braced in her hands.
"He coughed!" Andrew shouted, his voice elated with relief. "Miss Frye, did you hear 'im? He coughed! Twasn't strong but 'e did, he's alive!"
The relief that flooded Evie tailed her adrenaline and made her shaky. She rested her forehead against her forearm and breathed out. "Oh thank you," she whispered, barely aware of the tears beading at the corner of her eyes. "Thank you."
She cleared her throat. "I heard you Andrew, that's wonderful news. Just keep still and see if you can wake him, I'll be to both of you in a minute."
"Ay, Miss Frye. I'll try."
She had to smile at Andrew's eager energy. She really was very proud of him for how brave he was being. Not knowing whether he was trapped beneath his friend or a body would have paralyzed most kids, but Andrew kept his head through it. Maybe that's why Jacob had taken to the boy so fast—he was tremendously strong at heart.
"Mr. Frye, can you hear me sir?"
Evie kicked away more debris, keeping an eye on the pile for a threatened collapse. The haphazard stack was holding—for now.
"Miss Frye?" Andrew called after several minutes of quiet work.
"Yes?" she said, standing back to re-evaluate for the next section of clearing, wiping her cheek on her shoulder as she tucked her hair back under her braid.
"I don't think he's going to wake."
She could hear how Andrew was trying very hard not to let his voice tremble. She rolled her shoulders and set into the next section. "He will, just maybe not yet," she said calmly, gasping as dirt and beams suddenly rained down from the remaining roof. She backpedaled, heart in her throat until the dust settled, leaving a new gap in the pile. "Andrew?" She called, scrambling back to her spot. "Are you both alright?"
"I think so," Andrew called, but his voice was strained. "He's gotten heavier—I think something's fallen on 'is back."
Evie cursed quietly, pulling at another beam with a mighty heave. Suddenly it came away and she stepped to the side, letting it drop with a thud. At last there was a window into the wreck and she crouched, waving away settling dust until she could see Andrew a few feet away, and on top of him, his head dusty and bare, was Jacob. He wasn't moving. Both were face down, but Andrew had managed to work one arm free and was holding his head up weakly, peering at Evie.
"Miss Frye!" he said, his smile tinted with worry.
"I'm going to get you both out," Evie assured him, scanning the wreckage on top of Jacob. Sure enough, a beam was pressing hard on Jacob's back, pinning him heavily to the ground and preventing Andrew from getting any further. She studied the pile, noting a solid chunk of rock a few feet away. If she could get Andrew out, the beam would have enough distance to fall and it would rest on the rock, giving Jacob enough leverage to pull himself free.
If they could wake him up.
"Andrew, I have a plan, but you're going to have to get your other arm free. Can you do that?"
He nodded. "I'll certainly try, Miss Frye."
"Good, good boy. I know there's a lot of weight, but you need to press as hard as you can into Jacob's ribs with your elbow. Whatever you have to do, just press hard."
Andrew's brow furrowed in concentration and concern. His teeth grit together and sweat made tracks in the dirt covering his face, but he gave a mighty heave and suddenly Jacob gave a weak cry, jerking as much as their cramped situation would allow. He brought his head up slightly, his fingers tensing against the ground. Andrew's head snapped up.
"I think I hurt him—" he said, his face suddenly pale. "Something moved when I hit 'im…"
Broken rib, Evie thought faintly, realizing that she could have just killed her brother with her instruction. If that rib dislodged and punctured his lung…she nodded, keeping her face neutral. "It's alright Andrew. Jacob?" she called, wishing she could reach him herself. "Jacob can you hear me?"
Jacob groaned, his fingers twitching again. He let out a strained breath. It was little wonder he'd been unconscious, he could barely draw anything into his pressed lungs. "Evie?"
The elation she felt at hearing her brother's voice again was almost as strong as her relief at finding him alive. "Yes, it's me. You were in an explosion, Andrew is underneath you but he can't get free. You have a beam on your back, and if you can press upward long enough for Andrew to get free the beam will fall and rest on a rock. Then you'll have enough room to breathe and I can help get you out."
Jacob's head turned weakly and she could see him blink in the lowlight, as though processing. He was panting shallowly, unable to do more than that. Andrew's breathing was strained as well, and he was craning his neck back to look at Jacob as best he could.
"Please Mr. Frye, I'm sorry for runnin', if you can just shift a bit I'll pull myself out and you'll be alright—" Andrew's voice sounded more like a prayer than a plea.
Jacob didn't answer, and for a moment he was quiet and still. Evie feared he'd passed out again until he suddenly braced his hands against the ground and pressed up with a mighty heave, a roar of pain ripping from him. Andrew scrabbled free, and a second after he was up Jacob's entire body shuddered and he collapsed along with the rest of the pile. A great cloud of ash and dust filled the air, and when Evie finally stopped coughing and she blinked away the sting her only relief was that she'd been right about the beam. It was resting at a harsh angle against the rock, taking most of the pressure off of Jacob's back.
Andrew was staring down at Jacob, his back still bent harshly to manage the cramped space. "Andrew," Evie beckoned, snapping the boy out of his shock. "Come on lad, crawl on out and I'll go in after Jacob. We can't both fit in that space."
Andrew nodded curtly, and when Evie helped him out through the small space she saw how pale he was, tear tracks and sweat marring the dirt on his face. She took a moment to grip his shoulders encouragingly, catching his attention. "You did brilliantly Andrew, and you have nothing to be sorry for. This wasn't your fault and Jacob is going to be just fine."
He sniffed and nodded, but he couldn't quite meet her eyes. Evie's heart softened and she kissed his forehead, pressing him gently towards the safer outside. "Go on out, run to the corner, make two lefts and knock on the red door. Give this to the man," she said, bowing her head as she took a carved shilling hanging from a cord from around her neck. On one side it was an ordinary coin, on the other the assassin's symbol glinted faintly. "Tell him what's happened and lead him back here. By the time you get here I'll have Jacob free."
Andrew clasped the necklace and nodded, darting away.
Evie watched him go for half a moment before turning back to her brother, who still wasn't moving. She felt a chill in her chest and prayed that her promise to the boy wouldn't be broken.