You may not want to read this if you haven't read Nightlife by Rob Thurman, and if you haven't read that, then you really should get off the internet and zoom over to the bookstore and buy yourself a copy.
Anyway, I don't own Nightlife or any of the characters, plot lines, etc.
"Robin! What the hell happened?" I heard Niko ask.
"Ah…he…uh, well," said the usually articulate Puck. "Is there somewhere I can set him down?"
I felt myself being lowered onto something soft.
"Cal? Cal? Look at me, Cal," Niko's voice was as near to panic as it ever gets. I wanted to go back to sleep, but Niko kept slapping my face. I forced my eyes open. My whole body felt heavy and painful, and I wanted to go to sleep. I tried to tell Niko this, but my mouth didn't want to cooperate with my brain. Instead, I just flopped my mouth open and closed like a fish.
"Cal. I'm going to need you to sit up for me," Niko said calmly. Apparently my fish imitation calms people.
Sitting up sounded worse than going to Tumulus at the moment. I passed out instead.
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I slowly creaked one eye open, and was met with the face of my brother inches away from mine. Both eyes now wide open, I didn't move. Niko was watching me, and he looked mildly concerned, but not alarmed. I was having difficulty breathing, and my ribs felt like they were being pressed against each other. I began to move to look around me, but Niko's hand on my chest stopped me. My mind still foggy, I accepted it and leaned back onto the bed.
A small cough racked through my body, setting my tight chest on fire. Niko's hand hadn't left my chest, and was now moving to my back, rubbing softly. I swallowed several times to get the tickle to go away, and Niko removed his hand.
"Where are we?" I mumbled softly, still not fully awake.
"Home," he said at a volume that matched mine.
"Oh," I breathed, relaxing. Home was good. My eyelids were slowly falling back down, but I pushed them open again. "What happened?"
Niko shook his head with the slightest of movements. "Everything's fine. You fell off a cliff. Do you have a headache?"
Did I have a headache? That was a good question, and one I should have an answer to. I tried to sort through the fuzz in my mind, and—yes, there's the pain. "Mmm," I answered.
The corner of Niko's mouth perked up in an affectionate gesture, and he reached out a hand to tug on my ear.
I grumbled something incoherent even to me, annoyed that he was taking amusement in my pain, and sorely turned over on my other side. Niko took this as a sign that he should play with my hair, and did so. I didn't really mind though, even if it was causing my eyelids to get the upper hand in my battle against them to stay awake.
I shivered, and realized that there was no blanket over me. Where were we? I'd assumed we were on my or Niko's bed, but those usually come with blankets, and the couch was too small for the both of us. Niko continued his petting, and his hand brushed my hair out of my eyes. His hand was warm. Niko was probably warm. I was cold. Freezing, really. I made a mental note to talk to Nik about his assumption that keeping the apartment at frigid temperatures equated it to the sterility of a hospital. With a sigh, I rolled towards my big, warm, brother, and pressed the back of my head against his chest. He smoothed my hair back, and rested his hand on top of my head. It felt nice. Once again, my eyelids were closing, and this time I just let them.
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When I woke next, my ribs were screaming at me. Cut me off! they were pleading, and I was considering obliging them. I was laying on my back this time, my body half slung over Niko's. His elbow was propped up on my chest, holding a book up that he was reading. His arm held my torso still, and my head was on his chest.
"Hey…Nik?" I said, trying to lean my head forward without hitting his chin.
He peered down at me. "Finally decided to grace me with your consciousness?" he asked without moving his restricting arm.
"Care to stop reading for two seconds to let me sit up?"
He shifted the book into his left hand, but laid his palm against my heart. "Slowly," he cautioned.
Waving off his hand, I tried to push myself up. My ribs, they didn't like this. I gasped, audibly, and felt Nik's hand pushing against my back, forcing me upright.
"Ouch," I said.
Niko stuck a bookmark in his book, and sat up too. "Hey, let me look at you," he commanded softly.
"I don't think I can move to turn around and face you," I said pathetically.
"Whiny," he commented as he got up to move around to my side of the bed. We were on a bed, I realized. A stripped down bed with no sheets or blankets, but a bed nonetheless.
Nik knelt down in front of the bed, and I made myself pivot so that I could look at him, my feet dangling off the edge of the frame. He methodically grasped my shins, working up my leg, feeling for any jarred bones. "Nothing hurts here?" he asked, and I shook my head. He stopped at my knees, giving them a slight squeeze before informing me that he was going to take off my shirt. I scowled, and reached up to do it myself, but was stopped by the metaphorical knife in my ribs when my left arm was barely raised halfway in the air. Raising an eyebrow, Niko gently pulled my shirt up, careful not to brush my sides, and worked it over my arms and head. Setting the garment aside, he met my eyes.
"Cal," he said, and I answered with a questioning look. "This is going to hurt."
Well thanks, Nik, for informing me of that. Considerate of you.
Glancing down, I saw that he must have wrapped my ribs once already. Blood stained through the gauze, and he began to peel away the layers of red and white cloth. Sighing, I drummed my fingers against the bed as he unwound layer after layer. He must have pulled away twenty layers of wrapping before I really felt anything. Niko was nothing if not thorough. He had arrived to the part that was bonded to my skin by my own blood, and he was now ripping it off.
"Thank you, big brother, for treating this as if it were a band-aid covering a paper cut," I said bitterly. Nik just shook his head and pulled a bottle of peroxide out of nowhere. "Oooh, I take it back," I said quickly, "you're the best brother ever, and please be nice."
Niko met my eyes. "Relax. It'll be quick." Yeah, like tearing off a layer of my skin with the gauze had been quick.
Seeing as how nothing was covering the bed, and it had seen worse than peroxide anyhow, Nik just tilted the bottle one-handed over the wound. Mercilessly. He left the other hand lying on my leg, just in case I should want to grab it and attempt to break his fingers. He pried his hand loose from mine, recapped the bottle and placed it onto the end table, sacrificing his now empty appendage to me. I squeezed it once to let him know I wasn't holding this against him, and then let go.
"So…what happened?" I asked as he started redressing the wounds. "And why's the bed stripped?"
"Well, when Robin carried you in, he set you down in your bed on top of the blankets and everything, and you had the manners to bleed all over them."
"Wait—Robin carried me? Why the hell would you let him do that?"
"You couldn't exactly walk."
"But Robin…hell. You know he enjoyed that."
"Better you than me, kid," Niko said lightly.
"But what happened? It feels like something tried to gnaw me in half."
Niko finished mummifying my torso, and I flopped back onto the bed—and when I say 'flopped', I mean that I very gently, very slowly, lowered my body back onto the bed. It hurt to be upright.
"I'm not exactly sure, actually. All Goodfellow would say is that you fell off a cliff. Do you remember anything?"
I thought back. "I remember that you had a date, er, business meeting, with Promise." Niko answered this with a pointed look and a barely raised eyebrow. I continued. "And so I had to console Robin, naturally. I made him eat a chili cheese dog." I smiled as Niko made a face. "After that…I think we went to a bar. Right, yeah, Robin wanted to get me drunk. He was curious about Auphe/human blood alcohol levels. Anyway, we did that for a while…" I glanced at Niko, who looked disapproving.
"How many drinks is 'a while'?" he asked.
"Not many. I swear. See, Robin met this girl and he forgot all about our little experiment." I frowned as the memories came back completely. "Maybe 'girl' is exaggerating a little. She wasn't exactly human. She was one of those…what's it called? I can't remember the name. You know what I'm talking about?"
"Not in the least."
I rolled my eyes. "Yes you do. We saw one in Cleveland, remember?"
"All I remember about Cleveland is you insisting on celebrating your fifteenth and sixteenth birthdays on the same night. You wanted two cakes, thirty-one candles…"
"I missed out on the years, but that didn't mean I had to miss out on the parties. But you know, at the bakery, that slimy thing in the dress. Robin was going to hook up with one of those."
"I really have no idea what you're talking about. Maybe if you used proper nouns to describe her."
"You use adjectives to describe things, college boy."
Nik raised an eyebrow and gave me his 'don't mess with me' look. I heeded.
"Anyway…we all ended up at this cliff at some national park—I don't think we were in New York anymore—"
"Wait, you remembered something from geography? The ability to tell when you leave one state and enter another? I must say Cal, I'm duly impressed."
"—and anyway, I guess she took offense at something I said—"
"—because she grabs Goodfellow, who'd really just been playing along with her the whole time, and she starts sucking his face, and she just pushes me right off the ledge."
"She just pushed you off a ledge," he said slowly, not believing me. "Surely you did something to provoke her. Hell hath no fury…"
"Like a woman scorned, yeah, yeah, I listened one day in English class too. No, I didn't do anything. She was just a bi—" Niko cleared his throat, and I rolled my eyes. "Well she was. I mean, I may have made a comment about her dress, but it was all in good fun."
Niko bit back a sigh and pulled a flashlight out of…well, I really have no idea where he hides anything, but it was somewhere on his person. He then proceeded to lean over me and shine it in my eyes. I impulsively snapped them shut, which, under ordinary circumstances, would have earned me a cuff to the head, but Nik was feeling generous—or his hands were full. Either way, he turned off the flashlight and pried my eyes open.
"Cal," was all he said, but when he uses that tone of his…well, I kept them open and endured a very bright light being shined into my eyes. "Stare at my left ear," Nik said.
I raised an eyebrow, but obeyed. "Is this really necessary?" I asked as I tried not to squint.
"Yes. You fell off a cliff. A cliff with rocks at the bottom, and I'm not taking the chance of you having a concussion."
Rocks, huh? So that's where the bruises came from. Or was that the impact? I opened my mouth to ask Nik, but he would probably scowl and tell me that I learned the difference between impact bruises and rock bruises in school, even though I'm pretty sure I didn't. Either way, I kept my mouth closed.
I let Niko do all of his little tests that he needed to do to convince himself that I was a hundred percent A-okay, or stable for the moment, before I tried to sit up. He helped me, and then sat down next to me. He laid a hand on my knee and shook it slightly to get me to look at him. I gave him a questioning glance, and he held my gaze, never breaking eye contact. Nik was like that. All about searching deep inside my eyes to find any hidden angst.
"I'm okay, Nik," I said reassuringly.
"You fell off a cliff," he said somewhat shakily, allowing himself a few moments of disbelieving concern.
"Please don't do that anymore," he said.
I let my mouth slide into a small grin. "No promises, but I'll do my best. And that's all you can ever ask of me, right?"
"That's what they tell us in Guardians 101, but I don't believe it." His eyes lost a little of that forty-year old worry, and he relaxed ever so slightly. "You won't fall off a cliff again?" I think it was a question. I couldn't be sure.
"Fine. But I reserve the right to fall off of all diving boards, staircases, airplanes, and buses."
Nik chose to ignore this and got up. "If that's settled then, I'm going to call Robin and tell him it's safe to come over again."
"I really wish you wouldn't."
"And I really wish you'd done the dishes this week," he said over his shoulder on his way out the door. "Get some sleep, Cal."
The end. What'd you think?