(Chapter 1)

Breath...

The voice spoke to him gently but with just enough worry to let him know they were concerned as he felt the tightness in his chest start to ease up.

Breath...

His eyes were shut so he couldn't see the speaker but he wanted to, something about the voice drawing his curiosity. He knew this person but how...

His eyes popped open quickly glancing around the dimly lit room, his breath hitching some as pain hit him. It hurt more than he could imagine anything could hurt, his eyes turning to see the makeshift bandage around his shoulder as he lay back on the dirty pile of newspapers and tarps. It was all he had at the moment to sleep on as he had been on the run. He wondered if the others had gotten away, mind forgetting the odd dream and getting back to reality.

"Andy? Are you sure he went this way?"

He turned his head, too tired to move otherwise but recognizing the voice as one of his friends. He opened his mouth to speak but only a low wheeze came out as his strength started to leave him. Footsteps creaked along the wooden floorboards of the old building until finally he sensed someone nearby and gazed up to see two boys there. One had dirty blond, short spiked hair and dark brown eyes while the other one had jet black hair, straight and hanging down to his shoulders with hazel eyes. They crouched beside him as one whistled and sighed.

"He's hurt badly, Jacob. Baker told us in and out. You got him shot!"

The blond kid was upset, reaching to check the wound which made Andy wince in pain as he felt the other teen gently poke at the wound before tearing off their own striped button up shirt and ripping it up into a new bandage. The darker haired teen sighed sarcastically.

"Baker told me he was the best. I was just testing him. New guy has to carry his own weight, Eddy. Now, get him fixed up and we have to get back before Baker gets worried."

Eddy continued to fix his hurt shoulder, the bullet had gone through it seemed but it still stung like a muther as he sat up with the other kid's help and managed to make it to his feet.

"Andy?"

Eddy was concerned, his voice evident of that as he nodded tiredly back. He'd survive even if this hurt like hell now, something told him he had been through worse although when and how didn't make sense. Jacob looked at them both derisively, waving a hand towards the exit.

"Come on already! Baker is waiting for us."

()()()

Baker was not happy, the story evident about what happened as the boys returned home and he glared at them all. Andy slumped back against the sofa obviously more hurt than he appeared. Eddy was fussing over him like a worried parent, a medical kit beside him as he worked on Andy's injury. Meanwhile, Jacob was getting chewed out.

"You've been here the longest, Jacob. You should have been watching out for your brothers. Do you want me to send you back?"

Andy tried not to listen but he could see that those words bothered the darker haired teen more than anyone could think. They were all adopted by Baker, the only name they knew him by when they each showed up on his doorstep. They had been runaways from all backgrounds although Andy had little memory of how he had showed up here. The years before he showed up on Baker's stoop were blank, making him think he had been in some kind of accident to have forgotten his past. Maybe it was worse than he thought. Why else would he have run away?

"No, Baker. Please don't send me back! I..."

The man held up a hand, shutting up Jacob who seemed less than his usual cocky self in front of the man who took them in. Even Eddy was acting a little more upset than usual although he kept a steady hand cleaning his wound and wrapping it with fresh gauze and bandages, leaning over and speaking quietly.

"Don't watch."

Andy turned his eyes back to the blond kid who seemed far more mature than someone of his age. They all seemed older than they were, all of them anywhere between 14 to 16 he thought but then it could just be the arrogance of youth. They had pasts no teen should have and independence from adults most kids never had to deal with. Except for Baker, they would be their own people. He nodded tiredly, his face feeling a bit more warm than it should as he shifted for a more comfortable position on the lumpy couch. A hand touched his forehead and whistled quietly.

"Take these and go sleep. You'll live."

Eddy handed him some aspirin and a bottle of water as he stood and left, picking up the medkit and taking it with him. Baker had finished his talk with Jacob who looked more than upset about the parent / son type chat although it was more bullying and threats if he had to put it into adult terms. There was an odd dynamic to their little group that made him wonder why he stayed and how he had arrived. The idea stuck with him as his mind wandered off into the haze. Someone touched his shoulder and he opened his eyes again, not realizing he had dozed off.

"Do as Eddy says. He knows his stuff, Andy."

Baker stood there, his eyes were a glittering green beyond the usual emerald making him seem almost less than real as Andy nodded and swallowed the two pills with the water. Once he was done the man handed him an energy drink. He wasn't familiar with the brand beyond seeing it in the fridge here but he took it gladly. Baker seemed to have lots of them, giving them to the kids instead of the usual soda. They drank them more than water or even eating food.

"Here... Drink this. You need it."

Andy glanced at the can a moment before he took it and sipped at the already open drink. The man smiled kindly at him although he could sense some other motive behind that seemingly nice expression. Baker mussed his hair in a friendly manner before he moved away.

"Rest up boys. We have another job soon. Andy... you can sit this one out as look out. Ok?"

()()()

You can be a con or a man... you can't be both.

Odd conversations with that mystery voice from before ran through his head. Andy didn't know who the man was or how he knew him only hearing the voice talking to him or maybe it was something he invented to get through the rough times... He wasn't sure as he shifted uncomfortably in his sleep. His wound hurt and despite the comfort of the futon he slept on, Andy continued to struggle as his face grew warmer and his body shivered slightly from the onset of fever. The odd dreams continued, hints of brown eyes staring at him disappointedly making him think of a father figure upset with his son but there was more to it he couldn't make sense of.

"I never lied to you..."

His voice was soft, waking him as he sat up in bed and glanced around. The other boys were still up in the other room, the hint of light flickering indicating they were probably watching TV or playing games. Jacob was into Grand Theft Auto while Eddy went along with whatever the other wanted. He seemed pretty non-confrontive at best while Andy who was the newest boy to come here was still trying to figure out what his role was. His memory was sketchy at best but he remembered Eddy had been the boy he met after the theft of some clothes. The blond haired boy had helped him escape the cops, telling him he had a safe place to go if he wanted it. He was hungry and cold so he took the offer, his new friend leading him here to Baker's home. The man seemed nice enough.

I inherited this home from my father. He died suddenly and I had nowhere else to go. I took Jacob in when he needed a place and Eddy. We're our own little family.

Andy liked the idea of that: family. Something about the word stuck with him but he also wanted to move on, a pull to be elsewhere deep within him he didn't understand. Baker told him it was just his fear and worry about his father finding him. That seemed reasonable enough... a deep seated fear of being found. He could think of no other reason keeping him there with the boys and man unless he could think of something better. His current dreams were mixed up with images of a prison cell, a flash of fire and people he wasn't sure were real. Could this be his past?

You'll get over that loss. They can't hurt you anymore, Andy. You're safe here with us but if you want, you can leave whenever you like... no strings attached.

He liked that idea, the memory whirling through his head as he fell exhausted back onto the mattress. Eddy had helped him get comfortable, finding him a bed and then he had met Jacob, the older boy giving him a once over that made him think he was getting judged by a much older person. The boy felt a little old for the teen that he was but maybe it was just his background speaking.

"I'm going to go check on Andy. He wasn't looking so good earlier."

He heard Eddy's voice and then the creak of someone getting up off the ratty sofa they had in the living area before another voice chirped in.

"Leave him be. He's a big boy. If he can't deal with a little graze to the shoulder, he's not worth bothering with. Besides, you owe me a second round on this game."

The voices grew quiet again, sounds of the game playing drowning out any other sounds as he lay in the darkness listening. He wasn't sure why he didn't feel like he belonged here, something drawing his mind back to the voice in his head.

You can be a con or a man... you can't be both.

The voice was worried if not concerned with him, unlike the story Baker told him of his sleep talking about a bad father. Maybe this was an older brother he was hearing? The voice sounded much more mature than just a brother would. Andy wondered why he was remembering now when his dreams had been quiet the last month. He sat up again and reached for the energy drink beside him, the citrusy liquid still cool but slightly flat now that it had been sitting open a few hours. He drank it anyway, something in it making him feel like he could forget about the voice and everything else around him. He was independent wasn't he? Nobody told him what to do, Baker allowing them to go out and steal what they needed with only an occasional suggestion to places he thought might have something more. It was the least they could do for the man who took them in and he was good at it. Andy was the best pickpocket in the bunch, scoring them lots of extra cash but leaving the cards when he returned the same wallets. This last score should have been easy but Jacob wanted to get at the top shelf in the library where some alcohol was. Andy had nothing against drinking but it wasn't a risk he would take to get caught. The owner found them, pulling a gun as he pointed it at Eddy. He had pushed the younger teen out of the way feeling the burn of the bullet cut through his shoulder. They had split up after that, the man scared when he realized he had shot a kid. He could only imagine what the man was thinking as he let them go, dropping the gun to the floor.

The memory ended and he put the drink aside and lay back, head slumping against the pillow as Andy started to sleep again.

Cappuccino in the clouds...

The mystery man's voice whispered one last random thought before he fell into a feverish sleep, thoughts of a beautiful city view and the smell of coffee filling his nose as he passed out.

()()()

Andy... wake up man!

The voice spoke to him but he couldn't respond, his body cold and trembling while his face seemed to warm under some unseen heat lamp. He dreamed of the desert and sand, an endless walk through a foreign land with no water in sight... A hand gently touched his forehead then pulled quickly away.

He's not waking up and his forehead is burning up. I think we need a doctor, Baker.

He heard voices speaking quietly, Baker's evident as he started to come to but his eyes wouldn't open.

He'll be fine. Just a little fever. You boys go do the usual and I'll watch him. Let him sleep this once.

Footsteps moved away as he sensed someone close to him, their breath evident in the now quiet room. It was Baker, those green eyes looking into his as he finally glanced up semi-conscious at the man. It was only a quick look before his eyes rolled back and he felt his body going back to sleep. He was passing out, a hand on his arm.

You are not like the others, Andy. They don't remember but you do. Forget...

The comment made him curious but he was too tired to fight the darkness as he passed out again. Andy dreamed of running, and then of a woman crying as he peered through the crack in the door. It must be his mother but where was his father? Was it the man he kept hearing in his head? Why had he run away from home? Why had he stolen clothes, a vague memory of being naked when he did it and the coldness of the air on his skin when he ran through the darkness to escape something he could only sense but not pinpoint. He had been foolish and set off the alarm, his mind telling him he could have easily disarmed it had he done this one move but he had been desperate and desperation made him reckless.

You do bad things for the right reasons... You could balance it out.

A woman's voice spoke this time and he felt a sisterly vibe from her although it was more than that. She was kind to him whomever she was and he sensed that he felt safe talking to her. The man and her, they were somehow joined but he couldn't think how as he opened his eyes again and glanced around. He was alone, Andy seeing more of the energy drink beside him unopened. It was still cold so he held it to his forehead, the coolness of the aluminum making him feel a bit better if only for a moment.

"I think he suspects something but he's sick right now. I'll take care of it. Yes... sick. I've been giving him the drinks like the other boys. These three seem to be doing very well under the system."

Andy doesn't quite understand what the conversation is about but it's not positive. Baker's voice was different from his usual fatherly tone but after the bullying last night of Jacob, he suspects the man is only acting at best. He sits up quietly and moves to the door on his knees to listen, leaning up against the wall as the call continues.

"Yes. You were right to try it on them. Jacob is much less violent than he was but he's still has a few tendencies. If we could fix that up in the next batch... Yes. Exactly! Eddy... well, he was never the violent type and only a minor offender at best. His skills are useful and it helps we have a medic even if he's not sure how he knows so much. This can work... I just need to make sure Andy is on board. He's the wildcard."

He's listening to the man and thinking something is very wrong with this conversation. He glances at the drink in his hand and looks at the ingredient list. There is none but the can is obviously professionally printed, the logo looking like a drink one would see in the stores. What was in these cans that was so important they had to drink it and nothing else? He had drunk more than his share of this during the time he'd been here. He'd found it odd that these drinks were most of their diet short of the usual food, water... but now he was beginning to think there was more to it than just Baker catering to teens. What was the man up to? Andy was trying to formulate an idea but he was still too tired, the fever hitting him hard, his shoulder aching from the bullet graze. Was he in danger?

"I'm just glad it works now. The last ones... well they were the unlucky test subjects. Yes, I'll keep you up to date with the boys. No problem. Thanks."

Andy moved back to his bed quietly, slipping under the blanket and curling up on his good side. The door opened up not too long after, the feeling of someone looking down at him from behind overpowering before the door shut again and he opened up his eyes. He couldn't stay here. Something felt wrong.

"Why do I have to be a babysitter when I could be living the life! What I do for a little spending cash..."

Baker sounded angry, disgruntled and nothing like the man who had taken him in. Was he living with a Faganish savior who would only stab him in the back later? Andy waited for the man to leave before he got up, packed up his little bit of clothes and possessions as he headed for the door. He listened a bit then opened the bedroom door quietly, his shoes in hand, backpack over his good shoulder as he tiptoed to the back door and started out. Nobody was around, the sounds of the city loud enough to hide him as he slipped on his shoes and started down the street. It was late enough in the day he could fake being a student out of school, other teens walking past as he blended in and hopped a bus. He still had a bit of cash from some of their exploits, Baker paying them a cut when he sold something the boys stole. Andy had saved his money where the others bought booze or games, junk food and other crap that wasn't necessary. Maybe he was an oddity for his age but he invested in a used iPhone from the pawn shop, classic music on the device making his so called brothers laugh.

Frank Sinatra? Why don't you get some real music like Rap or maybe a few dance tunes? You're not an old man, Andy!

Jacob was the one who teased him the worse, the boy seemingly much older than his years and yet the least mature. There was an unmistakable wildness there that made Andy wary. Eddy on the other hand just went with the crowd, liking his music but he was less aggressive. He liked shiny objects but he didn't steal from Andy like he did from Baker and Jacob. It was their secret. Eddy was the only one he regretted leaving behind but he had to get out of that place. He felt a bit worse for wear as he hopped the bus, paying the fare and moving to the back. He got comfortable, riding it until he fell asleep and the bus driver finally woke him up.

"Hey kid... end of the line. You ok?"

Andy nodded, grabbing up his stuff quickly as he jumped off. He stood on the corner noticing the daylight had faded to early evening. It was getting darker as he stepped away from the bus stop and glanced around. Brooklyn. He must have ridden the line far longer than he thought, his eyes wandering the scenery and curious where he would go. Something felt familiar about this part of the city as he trudged tiredly up and down streets before stopping on a stoop to rest. The sky was getting darker now and his head ached from the fever. He was ignoring the pain in his shoulder, closing his eyes as he pulled his knees close to him and rested.

"No... just tell them the lace doilies are all we have. She can't change them the day before, Yvonne. Be firm! Yes... thanks for that. I'll see you in the... morning. Yes, bye."

The woman's voice was close by, footsteps nearing as he continued to sit there. A gentle hand touched his shoulder as he opened his eyes and glanced up. Her face was fuzzy, or maybe it was the fever as he blinked up at her. He felt cold but his face was so warm, her blue eyes glancing down at him worriedly as she smiled curiously at him.

"Hey... are you lost?"

He shrugged, pulling his knees closer to him, sweat forming on his brow. Andy felt tired, too much so to move as he closed his eyes again and remained where he was. He sensed her sit beside him, her hand touching his forehead and sighing.

"You have a fever. Do you have someone I can call?"

Andy saw her staring at him with kind blue eyes, a connection there that made him want to trust her but he had to keep moving. He stood shakily, nearly falling forward but for her catching him as he tried to leave.

"I'm fine... Sorry, ma'am."

He started to move forward but her hand caught his arm and made him pause, staring back at the woman who was just slightly shorter than he. She was kindly, he could see that much but cautious of him. Her dark hair was pulled back in a French braid but he knew she probably wore it down more times than not, although he wasn't sure how he thought he knew that. She wore a simple pair of dark blue slacks and a simple matching blue tunic top with black heels. Something about her was familiar but he was certain he shouldn't know her, couldn't as he started to move away.

"I'm sorry... I should go."

He walked away, her hand letting him go as he trudged up the street and didn't look back. He felt her watching him but what could he do. If she reported him either he would be returned to his unhappy home he ran from or to Baker's hands. Right now he just needed to be alone to think.

oOoOoOo

Author's Note: Curious, who is this kid named Andy and why does he seem so familiar? More story coming soon!