Sunset was the best time for salvage.
It was still hot, the heat absorbed from twin suns still dispersing from scorching sand in undulating mirage. But diminished glare meant greater visibility for a short, precious period between too-bright and too-dark, and encroaching nightfall meant the flow of people moving toward bars and cantinas or seeking last-minute market bargains drew attention away from one skinny boy moving with the tide and out of the streets to the junkyards and scrap heaps.
Honestly, there was only one thing keeping him from scrap-hunting in peace. Hiro grimaced and sighed as familiar steady footsteps sounded an angry cadence behind him, pulling his hood up higher.
Maybe he wasn't recognized yet.
So much for that. He hunched his shoulders slightly but otherwise pretended he hadn't heard, ducking behind the charred hulk of what might've once been an ion engine and picking up the pace.
Tadashi was faster, and Tadashi knew the junkyard, and Hiro glanced behind him just in time to walk straight into Tadashi as he stepped around the engine from the other side. Hiro grunted in surprise at the impact and then threw himself backwards, hitting the ground with a not-entirely fabricated yelp.
"Tadashi! Ow! You trying to kill me here?"
"I might." Tadashi leaned forward to haul Hiro up, brows lowered stormily. "Better me than whatever else you run into out here. You remember the junk dealer from last week? Because I do."
Hiro rolled his eyes.
"He was a big whiner and so are you. I wasn't stealing anything."
"That's pretty relative in these parts." Tadashi ran a hand over his face. "What are you doing sneaking off anyway? You're a terrible sneaker."
"Am not." Hiro stuck his tongue out at Tadashi and sighed when his brother only glared. Time to change tactics. "Look, it's just... you've been working so hard on... on your droid, and I know you just needed a little more, and you did all those chores after the junk dealer clocked me..."
He lowered his chin, gazing up at Tadashi through his bangs with eyes as large and sweet as he knew how to make them.
"I just wanted to surprise you with the right stuff."
Tadashi snorted and rolled his eyes, but his expression was softening.
"Sure you did. And I'm sure that's the only thing you had in mind."
Hiro couldn't suppress a grin at that; to his relief, neither could Tadashi.
"Hey you know me. Expert multitasker."
"Yeah yeah." Tadashi reached out to lightly cuff the crown of Hiro's head. "Come on. Let's get looking while the light lasts."
"Yeah?" Hiro brightened, glancing around at the treasure trove of possibilities.
"Yeah. Might as well get some salvage in before I drag you back to Aunt Cass. Wonder how happy she'll be about this sneaking around?"
"Well, I dunno... you gotta catch me for that!" Hiro broke and ran as soon as Tadashi reached for him, scrambling up a heap he deemed too unstable for his brother's greater weight, and grinned as he heard Tadashi start to give chase and then stall out as he looked for a way up that wouldn't bring the whole thing down on them both.
"Hiro, no! Get back here!"
"Catch me then!" Hiro laughed, leaping for the next pile, scrabbling as he slipped and then laughing with both nerves and exhiliration as he regained footing. Below, Tadashi groaned and swore under his breath, picking his way amongst the scrap as he searched for a way to catch him.
Hiro, he decided, was probably going to be the death of himself, Tadashi, and possibly their aunt too.
"I'm gonna chain you to the bar for a week you little womp rat. You'll play the fanfar for table scraps and if you're still hungry we'll feed you unclaimed left shoes-Hiro!"
His little brother had finally lost his footing. Tadashi froze in horror as he heard Hiro go sliding and crashing down from his perch.
For a few seconds after the crashes ended he still stood frozen. Then-
There was an urgent crack in Hiro's voice and dread blossomed in Tadashi's gut as he finally moved, dodging around debris and fully expecting to find his brother broken and bloodied and-
Hiro was bruised and scraped but largely unharmed, back pressed against the heap he'd slid from and eyes wide as he stared at a shapeless bundle among the loose debris; when Tadashi knelt beside him to look him over he finally looked up, seizing Tadashi's arm.
"I... I landed on... a... a dead guy!" There was a note of hysteria in his voice, and he clutched Tadashi's arm tighter as he looked back at the awkward bundle. "Is he dead? What- who-"
Tadashi frowned, turning to follow Hiro's gaze. Much as he and Cass and their friends tried to shield Hiro from the harsher elements of Mos Eisley, it was impossible to be completely unaware; much as Hiro seemed to believe himself immortal, he knew full well that disappearances happened.
That such disappearances were rarely random.
"That one dealer who thought I was taking from his stores... did he just move? He moved!" His fingers dug harder into Tadashi's bicep, his voice rising steadily in pitch. "Tadashi..."
"Shh." Tadashi laid a hand on Hiro's shoulder, squeezing gently as he carefully pulled his arm free. "Stay put."
He rose to a crouch, slowly shuffling closer to the prone figure, wincing as he heard Hiro scoot in close behind him because of course he didn't listen. As they knelt beside the stranger, Hiro clutching the hem of Tadashi's tunic, Tadashi carefully lifted the cloth away, hissing through his teeth in wordless apology as it clung to dried blood from lacerations along thin arms and torso.
It was a young man, Tadashi's age or very close, dark blond hair plastered to his face by blood that had oozed from a long, shallow gash across his forehead. That cut, and the ones along his forearms, were surrounded by deep, ugly bruises, one arm curled against his chest and swollen between wrist and elbow. His clothes were unsuited to Tatooine heat and the cloth that had shrouded him looked torn from a wall or perhaps furniture; it had largely shielded pale skin, though a few exposed strips were blistered with sunburn and rough and dry with dehydration.
Hiro frowned, releasing Tadashi to lean in closer. The man was hurt, yeah, but it didn't seem methodical; he'd heard plenty about revenge violence and had plenty of imagination and this didn't match up, the injuries too random and, while not precisely light, not really thoroughenough to back the consistent gossip of criminal vengeance. Besides that, the stranger's position would have put him in shade in Tatooine afternoon, sheltering him from both suns, and he somehow didn't think it likely that gang violence would be so considerate.
"Tadashi, you think-"
Tadashi was leaning forward, palm hovering over the man's face; after a moment he shifted to lay fingertips over the stranger's throat, keeping count with light taps of his opposite hand for a moment before nodding.
"That he got himself here somehow? Yeah, sorta."
He sat back on his heels, considering both the stranger and his brother. There was no question of leaving the stranger to die in the scrapyard, but there was the question of how safe dragging a stranger home really was - particularly a mysterious stranger with mysterious injuries, dragged in from the desert.
But what else was there to do?
Tadashi's hand had fallen lightly onto the stranger's collar as he considered; the unconscious man shifted under the touch, a raspy wheeze of a groan escaping, and Tadashi's heart clenched with pity.
He locked eyes with Hiro and saw his own thoughts mirrored: they could worry about potential fallout if - when - they got the stranger up and moving and coherent. Tadashi leaned forward to gather the man up (they were nearly the same height but the stranger was slimmer, slighter, all bones and angles), Hiro helping him keep steady as he got to his feet, and they hurried home in the failing light.