Vanya woke up to the sound of thunder. She sat up with a start, heart pounding even after she'd reminded herself it was only the storm. After a minute, she decided she needed to use the bathroom, so she got out of bed. It was on her way back to her room that she heard another noise, distinctly different from the roaring storm outside.
She paused, listening for the sound again. Just as she was about to brush it off and return to her room, she heard it once more in the direction of the kitchen. It was a soft clinking noise, almost entirely hidden by the sound of thunder outside, but unmistakable all the same. Her heart pounded in her chest as she grabbed the nearest thing to her and hefted it like a bat. She crept through the hallways as silently as possible, until she was just outside the entrance to the kitchen.
In the darkness, it was nearly impossible to see anything. Suddenly, the intruder opened the fridge, illuminating a part of them. Vanya stilled, realizing the figure was unnaturally small, and after careful deliberation while they rummaged through her fridge, she finally switched on the lights.
The person froze before whipping around and facing her. It was a little boy, no older than nine, with lanky limbs and a tiny frame. His eyes were shrouded by his scraggly dark hair, and he was unnaturally thin. He looked like a deer in headlights, his legs shaking in what was likely a mix of fear and malnourishment.
Vanya slowly let her guard down, realizing that it was probably just a homeless kid in need of something to eat, and cleared her throat. "Hey there," she said, as softly as possible. The boy didn't seem any less spooked, eyes trained on the item in her hand.
Vanya blushed when she noticed she was holding a bathroom plunger, and put it down to further communicate her lack of a desire to hurt him. "Are you okay? I'm not going to hurt you, I promise. You just scared me, is all." The boy still didn't respond, though he seemed slightly less scared than before.
"I'm- I'm Vanya," she smiled kindly. "What's your name?" More silence. After a while, she said, "If you like, you can eat, I won't stop you. You're obviously very hungry." She chuckled nervously, and something in those words seemed to finally do the trick, because after another pause, he pulled out the sandwich meat he'd been reaching towards.
The boy looked at something hidden behind the fridge door. After another moment of deliberation, he grabbed the leftover Chinese takeout as well and closed the fridge, revealing yet another child. This one was in nothing but a bright yellow raincoat, huddled in the far corner of her kitchen with their knees tucked into their chest. The boy kept the meat but handed the takeout to the other child, who snatched it up without hesitation and devoured the leftovers. The lights in her kitchen flickered while they did so, though it was over so quickly that Vanya brushed it off as the fault of the raging storm.
Vanya edged her way into the kitchen in as nonthreatening a way as she could. Once by the stove, she took out a pan, watching the two interact as she went about her business. Upon closer inspection, she noticed that the both of them were covered in dirt. She decided then and there that she'd get them to bathe while they waited out the storm, and from there she'd see about calling the police when it was all over.
"I can make you guys something more to eat, if you're still hungry." Almost as if on cue, the duo's stomach rumbled in unison, and Vanya smiled softly, her heart breaking just a little. "I hope you guys don't mind breakfast food, 'cause I think that's all I can make right now." There were only a few things in her fridge, since she was supposed to go grocery shopping the next day. Neither of the children complained, so she made omelets with a side of bacon. After encouraging them to sit at the table, the two tentatively slipped into chairs closest to the exit.
Despite how cautious they were, they immediately scarfed down their meals once in front of them, as if they hadn't eaten in days- judging by how thin they were, it was highly likely. While they were eating she broached the topic of showers to them, which they didn't seem to be fans of- in fact, they seemed to take it as a threat. The boy immediately snatched raincoat kid's hand, who gripped back so tightly their knuckles went white.
"It's just- you seem like you guys might enjoy a nice warm shower," Vanya quickly explained, "It's storming out, and assuming you were out there this whole time, I figure you might get sick. That's all." The kids huddled closer together in response, and something clicked in the woman's mind. "You can shower together, if that would make you more comfortable."
Eventually, after more coaxing, she managed to get them to the bathroom, before leaving to get towels. When she came back, they were both still standing in the middle of the room, staring at the door as if awaiting her arrival.
"Is something wrong?" She asked. Raincoat Kid then pointed at the Boy's feet, which is when, with a hitch in her breath, Vanya noticed the rusty shackle on his right ankle. She fought the bile threatening to rise in her throat, and nodded, trying to appear casual. "I can see if I have anything in the tool kit, but if not I'll run to the store tomorrow and find something that'll get it off." With that, she left the towels with them and stepped out of the room.
In the kitchen, she collapsed on the floor and sobbed into her hand over the implications. God, shackles? She knew that a couple of malnourished runaways could never result from anything normal, but even then she'd hoped against all hope that they were just some really, really lost kids looking for their loving parents, or maybe even ran away from a kidnapper and were on their way back to their loving homes at the absolute worst. She knew that the situation was likely way worse than what she'd imagined, but shackles? The story behind that couldn't be anything but wildly horrific. Even Reginald never used shackles.
Vanya pulled herself together, moving to find some tools. Eventually she found bolt cutters that she didn't know she had, and took them back to her bedroom to search for the smallest clothes she could find. Vanya was far from being large in any sense of the word, but even her incredibly petite frame seemed to dwarf those two kids.
While she was rifling through her clothes the shower was turned off, and she turned to come face to face with two soaked kids. They were swaddled in their towels, eyes still shrouded by their hair, though the boy's wild locks were about two shades lighter with all the grime washed out. Raincoat Kid appeared to be a girl, and was even paler than the boy, which contrasted with her pitch black hair.
"I've, uh, I've got some clothes," Vanya said, holding some out to them. "You can wear what you like best." The boy tentatively took them, and they sorted through the clothes while Vanya pulled out the bolt cutters. After they dressed themselves, Vanya tried getting the shackle off. It took lots of effort and sweat, but eventually she managed to pry the metal off his ankle.
"There you go," she murmured, watching as he rubbed his ankle in near wonder. The skin there was discolored, indicating that he'd had the shackle on for quite a long time. "Is there someone you've got waiting for you? Anybody you want me to call?" She asked softly. The girl shook her head, scooting closer to the boy. "Okay," Vanya said. "Alright, well, it's still storming pretty badly outside. I don't think it'll be over til tomorrow, so how about I get you guys some blankets and you sleep in the living room?"
As much as she wanted to let them sleep in a proper room with their own beds and be able to watch over them, she didn't have nearly enough room for that- there was only her own room and the living room. She also had a feeling that offering them her room might make them feel cornered, since she'd be sleeping by the front door. There was also the inkling of doubt she had, which made her feel guilty, but she couldn't help but worry that she wasn't safe- she'd heard stories about the kinds of ruses criminals would come up with to trap and take advantage of innocent people. Just in case, she was planning on locking her bedroom door.
Vanya coaxed them into sleeping on the couch with the fluffiest blankets she owned. After they helped her set everything up, she got them settled on their makeshift bed (they were small enough to comfortably fit on the sofa together). Just as she went to turn on the lights, the girl tugged on her hand. "Yeah?" Vanya asked, leaning in. The girl murmured something, a breath of a whisper. "What?" The girl got closer, and Vanya could barely make out her words.
"...Six," she muttered.
"Six?" The girl nodded. "What's six?" The girl pointed at herself, and a chill ran up the woman's spine.
"Is that your name?" Six nodded. Vanya smiled tentatively. "Alright. Thank you for telling me, Six."
The boy appraised her for a second, then added, "Seven."
"It's nice to meet you Seven." With that, Vanya bid the two good night, turned off the lights, and returned to her room.
Vanya honestly didn't know what to expect the next morning, though she was admittedly surprised when she found the two of them still in the living room.
The entire night, she worried about those kids, and what she was supposed to do with them. It was obvious enough that they'd run from something terrible, and they made it fairly clear to her that they had nowhere else to go, with no one looking for or missing them. Still, it wasn't like she could just keep a couple of random kids whose faces she couldn't even see. She thought, at first, that their hair obscuring their eyes was more of just a maintenance problem, what with them being covered in rainwater and grime the night they met, and even later when they'd stepped out of the shower it could be explained by the water dragging their locks down to hang in front of their faces.
However, Vanya was beginning to think that that was only convenient, and that their bangs covered their eyes at least partially on purpose- after all, few could be recognized by only the bottom half of their face. If their intention was to escape a kidnapping, it was possible that they were using their bangs as a makeshift mask.
She wasn't sure how she should approach the matter of their circumstances- she didn't feel comfortable just letting them leave on their own, but she also knew that they'd never agree to going to child services (which was pretty shit in their city anyways) or police, but it wasn't like she could keep them, either. What was she to do?
Instead, she set about making breakfast for the three of them, trying to take her mind off the dilemma. She'd cook for them, and they'd have a nice meal together, and only then would she talk things out with them nicely.
Six wasn't sure what she thought of Vanya.
The woman made it quite clear that she didn't have any intentions to hurt them, and had in fact taken care of them quite well- she'd fed, bathed, clothed, and sheltered them without anything more than basic (logical) questioning. However, that didn't mean that she couldn't hurt them by accident, or that she wasn't planning anything.
The night before, Six and Seven took turns sleeping in shifts. Despite not wanting to miss out on the rare opportunity Vanya's kindness gave them, they knew better than to implicitly and completely trust her. Still, both found that they had few problems sleeping that night, stomachs full of good food for the first time in ages, and bodies ensconced quite gently in cloud-like blankets.