Chapter Thirty One: I'm Right Here

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James returned to the warehouse with a bag of breakfast burritos and a bottle of water. He was tempted to just eat them himself but knew he needed to keep the little tyke fed or something bad would happen. He didn't want to be cruel, just keep him long enough to score his payday.

The burritos had been a gift, sort of. He'd grabbed the bag from an unsuspecting teen and run off with them. Such snatch and grabs were easy. He'd found the bottle of water in one of those drink vending machines. Apparently someone had forgotten it, or the machine had dropped two when no one was looking. He made sure the seal was still intact before taking it.

With his note safely delivered, thanks to a random kid he'd met on the street, he could safely return to base. It had been a couple of hours and the toddler was likely hungry. That and he probably needed a potty break. James had thought about shoplifting a small package of diapers from one of the dollar stores but hadn't. He didn't know what size the kid wore, nor did he want to have to deal with them. He just hoped the kid hadn't had another accident while he was gone.

Gaining access to the main part of the warehouse, James couldn't help but feel a tingle of energy run up and down his neck. It almost made him feel like an icy finger had run down his spine. He shivered slightly. Where had that come from? Had a window somehow been opened, or was one of those massive turbines still working enough to send cool drafts of air into the building? He shrugged it off, continuing on to the set of stairs at the far end of the building. He'd placed his hostage on the next floor, where the offices might have once sat.

Heart thudding a bit more than usual, he made his way up the stairs and down the hallway. At the end was a sort of storage room where he'd stashed the kid. It was the only secure room in the building. He had to put down the back of burritos and water bottle to push aside the utility cart he used to keep the door closed. The lock had proved too much of a hassle, the mechanism rusted, making it hard to turn the key. He had to put his shoulder to it to get the solid metal to move, the rails screeching against the concrete as he did so.

A bit winded from the exertion, James had to take a moment to recover his breath. For whatever reason, it had been harder to push the thing aside than all the previous times. "It's fine," he told himself. "You're just a little out of shape. Shouldn't have snitched those donuts."

With more effort, he pulled the metal door open. "Hey, little boy," he called out. "I've got some food. You hungry?"

When he got no response, he looked towards the nest of blankets and saw the child lying not on or in them, but next to them. He was facing upwards, his arms spread out from his body, legs slightly bent in front of him. And his chest seemed to be heaving.

Cautiously, James moved into the room. Had something happened to the kid? Or was he just having a bad dream? Anything was possible. He walked over to the boy and nudged him with the toe of his shoe. When the child didn't respond, James bent down to look closer.

Hiro's skin was covered with droplets of sweat. His breathing came out in shallow huffs, despite the fact that his chest rose and fell as if with great effort. James placed a hand on the boy's forehead, only to pull back. It was cold.

"Not good," James muttered as he reached for the nearest blanket. "Can't let you get sick." He rolled the boy into the blanket, hoping that would help warm him up, though he wasn't sure if it would be enough. Why had things gotten so complicated all the sudden? This wasn't supposed to happen. Was it colder in the room than it had been earlier? He wasn't sure. Then he remembered the cold chill he'd felt earlier. Maybe it was colder than before.

"Come on, kid," he urged as he grabbed for another blanket. "Warm up already." He noticed the boy's lips were tinged a slight blue. It could be because of the chill or some other reason he didn't want to contemplate. "You gotta warm up for your parents, okay?" He hoped to all deities he could think of that this kid wouldn't die on him. That was the last thing he needed.

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