Authors Note: I read Rob Thurman's Cal/Niko stories and instantly fell in love with her books so this is my attempt at a fic. Honestly, I have no idea how she writes like this but hats off to her. Its wonderful to read but difficult to write.
Huge thanks to Beth for all her help with this chapter. Your words of wisdom were truly invaluble. And you truly are the voice of Niko, my friend!
Warning: Set after Nightlife but before Moonshine. Spoilers only for Nightlife.
Summary: One job, it should have been easy but Cal and Niko should have known nothing is ever easy, and all actions have consequences.
Disclaimer: I don't own any of the characters, blah, blah, blah, words.
I was flying.
Well, actually I wasn't, but I didn't really have time to argue semantics. Flung might have been a better word. Either way, when I finally stopped my human dart impression it was only because gravity won. Newton's law of motion – even I couldn't argue with that. What goes up has to come down, and I came down hard.
I hit the asphalt heavily, my entire body jarring with the impact, but I barely allowed my ass to touch the ground before I was up again. I stumbled to my feet as quickly as my aching limbs would allow me to – which, to be honest, wasn't as fast as I would have liked. Blood streaming down my face, I dragged the sleeve of my jacket across my left temple, trying to stop it from dripping into my eyes. I was already seeing stars without the curtain of crimson that was threatening to occlude my sight as well.
"Time to die, little Auphe." I glanced up at the hissing voice and took a couple of involuntary steps back as the Draugr glided towards me.
It looked human on first glance. On second glance it was obvious the thing was something… else. Needle pointed teeth were poking out beneath thin slitted lips and its eyes –? Christ, even I was a little freaked out by them.
Pools of sanguine glowed from deep-sunken eye sockets, pinning me with its deathly glare as it swept closer towards me. Pale skin was stretched over its emaciated frame and skeletal ribs threatened to pierce through the waxy flesh. However, it was the smell of the thing that hit me the hardest; rotted flesh. I gagged as the sensitive receptors in my nostrils tingled with its stench. It was disgusting.
The Draugr snarled, clawed fingers reaching out, trying to find purchase on its next victim – which, in case you hadn't guessed, was me. Although I had to admit I wasn't too keen on the idea.
"Nowhere to run. Nowhere to hide, little Aupheling."
I wanted to refute its words but, as the ground disappeared beneath my left foot, I realised the Draugr was right; there was nowhere to run. I had reached the edge of the building and behind me the roof opened onto nothing. Nothing except for the ten-storey drop to the street below.
Almost stumbling over the edge, I quickly pulled my leg forward and was glad when it found something solid beneath it. Plummeting off a high rise wasn't exactly on my to-do list – at least not to day.
With a brief flicker of my eyes, I saw my gun lying discarded on the ground… behind the Draugr. I rolled my eyes heavenwards. Like the open sky behind me wasn't enough, now I had to get passed a corporeal flesh-eating monster to retrieve my weapon. I was a walking-talking beacon for trouble. Niko told me I could find trouble in an empty room. Hell, I didn't even need the room – empty or otherwise. Trouble followed me everywhere I went without an invite.
I'd known something was wrong the moment I'd put the key into our apartment door. I should have run then. I'd smelt the thing before I'd seen it – but the Draugr had moved surprisingly fast for the undead. There was none of that lumbering, slow foot-dragging zombie crap from the movies. Christ, it had crossed the living room in less than a second and nearly taken my head off with one swipe of its clawed fingers.
I'd avoided a potential beheading but I still wasn't quick enough. It lifted me off my feet by my shirt in one fluid motion and threw me across the room like I was nothing more than a minor irritation. My fall was broken by the coffee table. Not so lucky, it was the second one we'd had bought this year – and it had a glass top. I knew that was a mistake when we bought the damn thing. Niko had insisted it was reinforced glass. Reinforced my ass. It probably could withstand most things. Being thrown into it by a creature with super-strength wasn't one of them.
Lying in the fractured remains of splintered wood, my brain reverberating around my skull, I pushed myself onto shaky legs, and brushed the glass off my hands, ignoring the cuts and nicks in my skin that were bubbling blood.
The Draugr moved towards me, its lips curled upwards into a sickly smile. Most people would have freaked out. I didn't. The Draugr had nothing on the Auphe. Sure, they were freaky as hell but they didn't make me want to crawl into a ball and start rocking incessantly back and forth; not like the Auphe did. The moment the Draugr lunged at me again, I ran. I didn't bother to stop and ask it what the hell it was doing in our apartment – honestly, I didn't care. I'd hit the door to the stairwell at full speed, practically flinging it through the wall and promptly skidded to a halt. The bastard had friends. Shit, shit and holy shit! Coming up the stairs were two more of the living undead.
I had no choice. It was up or have my head ripped off.
The roof won.
I raced up the stairs, taking them two at a time. I could hear the Draugr snarling beneath me, getting closer, but I didn't stop and I didn't look back. The cold night air was a welcomed relief as I flew through the emergency exit onto the roof top of our apartment building. My oxygen deprived lungs burnt from the chase but I didn't have the opportunity to think about my abused body. One of the Draugr had made it through the door and the bastard was moving like lightning. I barely managed to turn and raise my gun when it slammed a frigid hand around my throat, tossing me like a rag doll. The weapon flew from my hand and clattered across the asphalt, lost in the shadows.
In hindsight, coming up to the roof hadn't been my best plan but at the time it had been the only one I'd had. This thing was vicious and it was angry as hell. I wasn't sure why it was waiting in our apartment for me, but either way, I figured it wasn't to crack open a six-pack and talk about the good old days.
Thankfully, its two friends' hadn't made it up the stairs yet. I had no idea what was keeping them – and I didn't care. I was a good fighter, but three on one wasn't good odds and I liked to keep an even playing field. Well, as even as it could be under the circumstances. Even one Draugr was a force to be reckoned with. They were hardly kittens - and the bastard was still moving towards me.
But I wasn't going to let a small matter like a huge, undead, stinking piece of shit take my ass out of the game. I'd survived worse and was still here to talk about it. So I ran… at the Draugr.
Mark two on my stupid plan score sheet but I was running out of ideas. Niko was at Promise's, and I doubted my brother would bow out early to come back and baby-sit my sorry ass.
However, I wasn't completely reckless – or suicidal for that matter. Thanks to my run in with Darkling and the Auphe, I was armed to the rafters. Pulling a long-hilted blade from under my black leather coat, I slashed ferociously at the Draugr's throat. Niko was the brains of the operation and, although I would never admit it to him, I was the damn monkey. But I knew enough to know removing its head would kill the son of a bitch. Yeah, I read too. Granted, not as much as my geeky older brother, but Niko was forever drilling the importance of knowing this stuff into my head. For once I was glad he was such a bossy son of a bitch.
The Draugr was quick. He shifted backwards and my knife cut the empty air where his throat had just been. I wasn't letting it go at that. I was already lunging forward with the blade again but the Draugr hissed and jumped out of my reach, its red eyes flaring hungrily at me.
"Little Auphe too slow." It chuckled menacingly.
Yeah, yeah, stink bucket! Laugh it up when your head is ten meters from the rest of your body! Ok, so maybe I got ahead of myself. This thing was twice my size in height and width. It could snap me like a twig without a second thought but that wasn't deterring me. Nik always said I was an arrogant bastard but hey, self-confidence - feigned or otherwise - had kept my ass alive all these years – well, that and having a Terminator for a big brother.
The Draugr flicked an arm upwards and it caught me in the face. My nose exploded – metaphorically and literally. Cartilage and bone crunched beneath the blow. It was akin to having a wrecking ball thrown in my face, and it was enough to stagger me. I lurched backwards, tripping over my own feet in an effort to distance myself from the Draugr. Pressing my left hand to my broken nose, I tried to ignore the blood dripping off my fingertips and pooling in my palm. Through water filled eyes, I raised my knife again and slashed blindly at the Draugr but the creature kept just out of reach, laughing gutturally under its breath.
And then… I was flying… again.
Skeletal fingers curled into my shirt and propelled me through the air for the third time in five minutes. It was getting old really fast. I was sick of having no solid ground beneath my damn feet. I tried to keep hold of my knife but it slipped through my fingers like sand in an hourglass.
This time my elbow took the full brunt of my fall. I had thrown my arm out break my fall but the shockwave that shot up my arm was torture. Gasping, spots danced in front of my eyes momentarily before I was able to blink them clear.
I wished I hadn't.
The Draugr was moving again. His fetid breath was hot against my skin as it hoisted me off my feet by my throat once more. Sharp clawed nails dug into my flesh painfully as it crushed my windpipe beneath its huge hand. My left arm was a mess, but that wasn't going to stop me from kicking this thing's ass. No way was I going down without a fight.
With my right hand, I mauled at the creature's death grip. It was an exercise in futility. I was screwed. This thing was a killing machine. Christ, the Hulk had jack shit on the Draugr.
Murky shadows were stealing into the edge of my vision and my head felt heavy, my neck suddenly objecting to the weight of it. My protests began to lessen to a pathetic swiping at the Draugr's hand and I could feel the tug of unconsciousness calling to me. I wanted to close my eyes so badly. I wanted to give into the darkness and sleep.
Then something warm splattered on my face. I blinked heavily as the grip on my neck loosened a little and dragged a desperate gasp of air into my aching lungs. My chest was throbbing and my heart felt like it was being crushed in a vice. Pulling my head off my chest, I raised my hazy eyes and tried to focus on the Draugr. It tilted its head to the side, an expression of pure confusion marring its ghostly face, its red eyes narrowing. It took my oxygen-starved brain a moment to realise why.
The silver tip of a sword was protruding through its waxy chest, right through its heart. The Draugr lowered its gaze to the point and then snarled.
"Let him go." Niko said flatly but there was a hint of anger that registered – barely - in his tone. I recognised it immediately; most people wouldn't have noticed it.
I had no idea what Nik was doing here – not that I cared. I had never been so damn grateful to see my brother in my entire life.
The Draugr threw its head back and screamed. That sound-? Christ, it made the hairs on the back of my neck stand on edge. I might have faced the Auphe – and lived to talk about - but shit, I wasn't completely emotionally stunted. It was freaky as hell. The Draugr dropped me to the ground like a dead weight, my legs folding beneath me as I collapsed into a heap of tangled limbs. I barely hit the ground before my eyes were seeking out my brother.
Ripping his sword out of the Draugr's back with the sickening squelch of tearing flesh, Niko had just cleared the blade when it lunged at him, shrieking wildly. Being impaled by Nik's favourite weapon hadn't even slowed the son of a bitch down. Niko, however, seemed unperturbed as he danced backwards, avoiding the creatures snarling advances.
Nik wasn't worried because he didn't need to be. My brother was almost as fast as the damn Draugr. Side-stepping it, Niko slashed in an upward motion, catching the creature across the ribs before he leapt back out of the reach of its clawed fingers. Sometimes I wondered if Niko was completely human. He was a law unto himself.
Grey eyes, hard and cold were completely focused on the skeletal monster growling at him as he shifted his grip on his sword. The Draugr was pumping a black tar-like substance from the wound in his chest. It trailed his emaciated torso, collecting between the prominent ribs like tiny pools of darkness. Niko might have speared the son of a bitch like a shish kebab, but the Draugr didn't seem to have noticed. It might have been hurt, but shit, it could still move like the speed of light and even Niko couldn't defy the laws of physics – at least I didn't think he could.
The Draugr got a swipe in. My brother managed to avoid the majority of the blow but he wasn't quick enough to escape it completely. It hit him on the left side, tearing his clothes into a ragged mess. Niko didn't even flinch. The only reaction he gave was a slight tightness around his eyes.
I already was pushing myself onto wobbly legs, however. Damned if I was going to leave my brother to fight the Hulk on his own. Ok, so I was hardly in any shape to fight anything, and Nik was more than capable of slicing and dicing Skeletor on his own, but I couldn't sit on my ass and watch whilst my brother was being taken apart piece by piece.
Holding my left arm across my chest, I staggered across the roof top and retrieved my knife from where I had dropped it when the Draugr had flung me. I was half-running, half-stumbling but the creature was so preoccupied with Niko that it didn't notice me coming up behind it.
I jabbed the knife into the Draugr's neck, thrusting it in deeper until I felt it hit bone. It threw its head back and gave a blood-curdling scream that almost pierced my ear drums. I winced at the noise, my aching head protesting vehemently. I wanted to fist my hands over my ears but I was otherwise engaged. My knife was still stuck inside a rather pissed off Draugr's neck. Using all of my weight, I managed to drag my knife back out, ignoring the flesh and tendons stuck to the serrated blade. Black-blood sprayed across my face as the viscous fluid pumped out of the wound in rapid, almost frantic, pulsation. If the stench of the thing wasn't bad enough, being completely covered in its blood was hell. I gagged and staggered back, dragging a hand over my face, attempting to scrub it off my skin. It didn't move however. The creature's blood was so thick it was almost like gum and it was adhered to my cheeks, neck and arms.
"Shit." I muttered irritably under my breath, struggling to breathe in through my nose because of the goddamn smell. This was un-friggin-believable.
The Draugr spun to me, red eyes flaming angrily.
"Die, Aupheling!" It shrieked, stalking towards me. I propelled my feet backwards, trying to get away from the psychotic Draugr, but really, there was no need.
It didn't even make two steps.
Nik's sword whistled through the air and the Draugr…? Well, let's just say its head ended up three meters from its body. I glanced up at my brother. His grey eyes watched as the headless torso slumped to the side and crashed onto the ground. The Draugr without warning vanished into a plume of smoke that dissipated into the atmosphere as if it had never existed. My lips parted in shock. That was freaky as hell! Niko, on the other hand, merely watched the proceedings with indifference. He raised his brow momentarily before he sought me out and then moved towards me.
"I thought you said you would be ok whilst I was out." Niko said quietly, but his eyes were critically examining me. I shifted under the scrutinizing gaze.
"Hey, I was handling that thing just fine before you showed up." I muttered half-heartedly, wincing as I clutched my left arm to my chest. I was pretty sure it was broken. Well, if the balloon-like swelling and oddly distorted elbow joint were anything to go by.
Niko lowered piercing grey irises to my arm.
"It needs setting." His gaze was already moving to the cut on my head, my bleeding nose and the bruising to my neck. "Are you hurt anywhere else?"
"My pride sure as hell took a kicking, but other than that, no. I'm fine." I grouched, wiping the blood from my top lip on my sleeve. "What about you?"
Niko shrugged nonchalantly, fingering the slashed material of his shirt. There was a small amount of blood staining the waistband of his pants but in true Niko style, he ignored it.
I grunted and then winced as I took a step towards the stairwell. My right leg almost crumbled beneath me, my knee nearly grazing the asphalt but Niko reached out and steadied me, his fingers curled into my shirt.
"Can you continue?" My brother asked gently, his eyes studying me carefully.
"Yeah. Just… just give me a second, Nik." I said, shifting between my limbs, trying to gain traction in them. It took a moment, but with Niko's aid I was able to stand unsupported again.
Everything was aching. My arm was the worst of it but the decaying stench of the Draugr's blood, which liberally coated my face and torso, was a really close second. I wanted to remove my own nose, just so I didn't have to smell it. It was disgusting.
"You smell – badly." He added. Niko evidently shared the same sentiment about my new Eau de Cologne. Nothing like the smell of freshly rotted flesh to make a guy irresistible to the girls.
I started to quip back but decided on another approach at the last minute.
"What are you even doing here? Not that I'm not goddamn happy to see you, but I thought you and Promise were having a business meeting." I couldn't help but say the last part slyly.
Ok, it was completely childish but I lost two years of my life to the Auphe… Two years that had passed in the blink of an eye on earth. I think I was owed a little immaturity now and again. At least until Niko decided the snarking wasn't funny any more and stopped rising to it. I wasn't about flogging dead horses.
Niko shot me a level stare that would have made most people's stomachs turn inside out but me…? I grinned harder. It wasn't often I got any sort of response from Nik. I took what I could get, when I could get it.
After we had defeated the Auphe, we had set up a bodyguard business with Promise. Yeah, I was Kevin Costner through and through. I guess that made Nik Whitney Houston. Not that I would ever say that to his face. I liked my legs attached to the end of my body and not wrapped around my neck. But we figured we could make some money out of our less than ordinary skills and, although a lot of our jobs involved babysitting rich, pretentious assholes, from time to time we lent our talents to the preternatural world. Niko and Promise had been having 'meetings' to discuss the business side of the project but I wasn't an idiot. Ok, I was immature and brainless sometimes, but I knew the business was only a small part of their agenda at these so-called meetings. For some reason, however, neither one of them wanted to admit to me what was going on. Sly dog, my brother. Sly dog…
"I had a feeling…" Niko said slowly after a moment. I whipped my gaze to my brother.
"A feeling? Like some kind of big-brother spider-sense thing?"
"More like I knew you couldn't be left on your own without having half the preternatural world turning up on our doorstep." Niko sighed and glanced at the blood dripping off his blade, his lip curling. "Do you have any idea what these creatures wanted with your head, little brother?"
Did the preternatural world ever need a reason to come after me? The Auphe hadn't. Darkling hadn't. Why would the Draugr be any damn different? Well ok, that wasn't strictly true. The first two had a reason for hunting my ass down – or did I forget to mention the Gateway to the past I had tried to open, the gateway that almost ended the entire human race.
I shook myself physically. It had been Darkling… not me. I wasn't sure if I should be worried that I still thought of us as one entity. Niko probably would have reamed me a new one for even thinking I had been responsible for what happened with the Auphe. My big brother was completely overprotective of me and my personal self-loathing. I wasn't allowed to brood about my monster half. Not ever, and especially not in front of Nik. Besides, as long as it had taken me to come to terms with it, the incident with Darkling hadn't been my fault. Not really. I had been possessed at the time and not in a Linda Blair the-power-of-Christ-compels you kind of way. My head may or may not have rotated three hundred and sixty degrees, I don't know, Niko never said and frankly I didn't ask. Some things were better left in the past: Darkling and the Auphe being two of those things.
Niko was eyeing me still. I shrugged at him and started towards the stairs. I was freezing and my arm was killing me. I wanted to grab a couple of Tylenol and hit the hay. I didn't need to turn around to know that my brother was following me, I just knew he was. Just like I knew the sun would rise tomorrow. My brother was nothing if not predictable.
He allowed my silence for the moment before he pressed me for details again.
"Cal?" My name was said softly but for Niko the tone was equivalent to yelling. I stopped mid-stride and turned to my pale haired brother.
"What did they want, Nik?" Grey eyes were studying me carefully. "I don't know! I didn't exactly stop to chat. I was too busy trying not to die."
"Did they say anything?" Niko persisted. There was anxiety in his face, an anxiety I hadn't seen for a while. Not since-
Not since Niko had stabbed me. I gingerly pressed my fingers to the blood rushing down my face and winced. Head wounds bled like a bitch and this one was trickling like a babbling brook down my cheek. Niko frowned deeply and pulled a dark piece of cloth from his pocket. Gently, he folded the material against my temple, applying pressure to the cut. I hissed and recoiled.
"Shit, Cyrano!" I grouched, trying to push his hand away. Niko didn't budge however – not that I had expected him to. Not whilst I was bleeding so heavily.
"Don't whine, Cal." He berated softly, still maintaining the pressure on the cut as he pulled my good hand over the make-shift bandage. "Hold this."
I gave into his request but gave him a long hard stare.
"Your bedside manner sucks, Nik." I muttered irritably.
"You're hardly Florence Nightingale yourself, little brother." he replied pleasantly.
Well, it was true but I was too tired to throw down the gauntlet and start a word war. Besides, Niko had read the dictionary back to front and swallowed a thesaurus. He could come up with more intelligent abuse than I could, and I was betting most of his contained more than four letters.
Not content to keep still any longer, I continued over to the roof exit and began the descent back down to our apartment. I had barely made one flight when I came across a pool of black-tar like blood. There were no corpses however. Like the one on the roof, the bodies had vanished once the head was removed. I stopped and glanced back at my brother, arching my brow.
"You killed both of them?"
Niko's own brow twitched, but his reply was as stoic as ever.
"You sound surprised, little brother." Surprised? Try astounded. The Draugr were huge. Fighting them in such small proximity…? It was nothing short of a miracle that my brother hadn't been skewered like a hog-roast. Me? I was leaving a crimson trail all the way down the stairs from my scuffle. I glanced at Niko's blood-stained katana, my stomach clenching painfully.
My brother gave me a perplexed look, before he shrugged nonchalantly. "They were in my way."
"Christ, Cyrano. Suicidal much?" I muttered.
"You're avoiding the subject, Cal." Niko said pointedly. I grunted and then sighed deeply, but Niko hadn't finished talking. "What did they say?"
"You know, the usual – that they wanted me to die." Which was the usual script for the preternatural world when it came to me. Hey, bigotry was just as prolific in the monster world, and the Auphe were despised. Being part-Auphe didn't exactly get me off the hook in that department. I was still something to be reviled and detested.
"The Draugr aren't exactly noted for their superior intelligence." Niko replied.
My brother moved in front of me and continued down the stairs. I followed him more slowly, and far less gracefully. I was too busy trying to keep my broken arm still, while maintaining pressure on the gash to my head. My nose… well I would deal with that later.
"One of them was waiting inside the apartment when I got back from Loman's, Niko." I told him quietly. My eyes were locked on the steps beneath my feet as I continued the long descent down to our floor. It hadn't come through the front door and none of our windows opened… I didn't have a clue how the hell it had got in but I was sure Niko would figure it out. "They're not that mentally challenged."
My brother halted and turned back to me, his face pulled into a frown.
"That doesn't make sense. What did they want?"
"What do any undead creatures of the night want?" I demanded sourly. "Frankly, I don't know, Nik, and right now, I don't really care." My arm was pulsating angrily and my patience – what little I had – was wearing out.
Niko's expression wavered between concern and amusement.
"The Draugr wouldn't just come here by themselves, Cal. That means someone sent them. What I want to know is why."
I guess I should have wanted to know that too, but I was tired and aching. I merely made a mental note to add them to my shit list of monsters that wanted my ass on a silver platter and moved on. I would deal with this crap in the morning.
Our new apartment was on the fourth floor and as Niko pushed the door open onto the corridor I stopped suddenly. My brother took a half-step before turning back to me.
"Cal? What's wrong?" Niko's sword point was already raised, grey eyes darting around.
Good question, Cyrano, good question. I wasn't sure what had stopped me in my tracks. Perhaps it was nothing. Perhaps I was being paranoid, but over the years I had learnt to trust my instincts. They had kept my scrawny ass alive long enough to reach nineteen – which, under the circumstances, was nothing short of a frigging miracle.
And then I smelt it.
I frowned. It wasn't human – definitely not, but I knew what the hell it was. I didn't have the opportunity to articulate that to Niko however.
It dropped from the ceiling, right onto my back. I thrashed backwards, lurching at the unsuspected weight on my shoulders, but the surprise was enough to stagger me. My legs folded beneath me and I dropped onto my knees.
Fat, sausage-like arms curled around my neck and pulled back against my windpipe, systematically trying to choke the life out of me. My arm was burning, but I didn't have the luxury of feeling that pain. The Drache had pulled a knife and held it against my throat, a small trickle of blood running down my neck as it brushed the skin.
This all happened in less than a millisecond. Niko raised his katana at the creature attached to me, his granite eyes flicking from the knife at my throat to the Drache holding it.
"You killed my brothers." The creature hissed in my ear. I wanted to pull my face away from its hot, rancid breath but the blade dug deeper into my throat as I moved. I kept still, hardly daring to breathe. One slip of the knife and I would be cashing in my chips and taking the highway to the otherside.
Niko frowned and then his lips parted in realisation. It took my brain a second longer to catch up. I put that down to having a knife at my jugular.
We had worked a job a week ago. Our client had, begrudgingly, told us the details of what the gig was, but it turned out the asshole was a lying bastard. We'd walked into a warzone. The Drache had some kind of power struggle going on amongst their kind and our client had paid us to get rid of the competition. Not that he had told us that. According to him they were abducting and killing children. That was enough to get us on side.
Niko and Promise did the research and checked out the guy's facts. His story had checked out. He was a clever son of a bitch, I had to give him that, and if Niko and I ever caught up with him…? Well, I was all for removing his clever head permanently from his shoulders and sending it back to his Drache brothers for them to feast on. Nik's response was no less violent, but somewhat more discreet. I preferred the shoot now, ask questions later approach. Niko favoured stealth. Either way, dead was dead. I hated being lied to.
I wished we had never taken that damn job, but we had been pretty desperate. The rent was due, Nik's tuition was over a month late and our bare cupboards could have given Mother Hubbard a run for her damn money. Cash didn't grow on trees and we weren't exactly employees of the year.
My last boss had been shredded like paper by the Auphe and I doubted he'd bothered to write me a glowing reference before he had been eviscerated. Not only that, since Darkling's possession of me Niko hadn't let me out of his sight. Nothing like having to kill your half-monster kid brother to make you worry.
So we had taken the job.
Great pay, short hours – it sounded too good to be true, and it was. The bastard had failed to mention we were essentially assassinating a group of innocent preternatural creatures. They hadn't killed the missing children – although we were still trying to work out what had. Sure, the Drache were violent as hell, lethal and vicious, but only to their own kind. Christ, they were only four foot high and in the preternatural world size mattered. Especially when you considered how huge most things that went bump in the night were.
The Drache preferred to hire others to do their work – like the Draugr… or us. Our client had been Drache through and through. He had sent us to do a dirty job. He had essentially sent us to murder his brothers so he could take over. We'd killed a good chunk of his competition before we realised the truth. Too little, too damn late. Evidently the Drache was here for revenge and he had brought the Draugr to help him. I couldn't blame the guy; I would have done the same, only I wouldn't have recruited help. I would have done it my damn self
"It was a mistake, Drache." Niko said softly. "We were lied to."
"Killed them." The Drache snarled from behind me, its grip on my neck impossibly tight. "Killed them. All but two. All gone."
"We were hired by one of your brothers." Niko flicked his gaze to me briefly. I could see the apprehension in his grey eyes. He didn't want to kill the Drache but if it came down to it, Nik would do whatever it took to pull my stupid ass out of this in one piece. "He told us you were killing children."
"Young ones?" I felt the Drache shift behind me, clawed toenails digging into my back, trying to find traction. My spine arched of its own accord, trying to pull away from the piercing talons but the knife stopped me moving too far. "Don't kill young ones. Don't kill humans."
No, the Drache were too busy killing each other to give the rest of Manhattan a second glance.
"We know." Niko said, shifting his grip on the sword.
"You want the bastard's name? Hey, I'll even come with you to hunt the son of a bitch down" I growled, but the Drache pulled the knife further under the fleshy part of my chin, forcing my head back till I was staring at the ceiling, the bones in my neck protesting at the unnatural position. Evidently the Drache didn't want to discuss us helping him get revenge. I wouldn't have entertained the idea either if I was him, but then I was a stubborn bastard.
"Don't talk, Aupheling." It snarled. "Bloodthirsty. Your kind kill. Kill for fun of it."
I guess that stick was always going to be the one I was beaten with. Blood was thicker than water and apparently my Auphe heritage was thicker than that even.
"You die now." It pushed the knife into my throat, releasing warm blood. It wasn't a deep cut, but it was enough to enrage my brother – a mistake by all accounts. We might have been lied to and, as a result, got involved in something that really was none of our damn business, but Niko wasn't going to let my life be forfeit for that. Not now. Not ever.
I barely saw Niko move but the Drache was on my shoulders one minute, a knife to my throat, and in the next he was on the floor in front of me, Nik's katana sticking out of its guts. It writhed and screamed, its ugly face contorting angrily as thick crimson began to seep from underneath his body, staining the dirty brown linoleum. Niko ripped the sword out and in one swift movement took the Drache's head off. I cringed and wrinkled my nose. This was gonna be one hell of a clean up job.
The Drache's headless body shuddered and then went still. My good hand immediately went to my neck, my head rolling forward so it was nearly on my chest. I wasn't sure if it was the pain from my arm, my head wound or my throat that was causing the swirling spots dancing in my vision. Either way, I was starting to feel as if I was sinking into the floor beneath me. Blood trickled between my fingers, but in all honesty it couldn't have been more than a teaspoon full. Didn't mean it didn't sting like hell.
Niko stepped over the body of the fallen Drache and crouched in front of me. Slowly, he placed both hands on my face and raised my head. I blinked lazily at him, trying to make the other two Niko's in front of me disappear. They did, after a moment.
"Let me see." Niko commanded, carefully prising my hand from my neck. I dropped a blood smeared hand into my lap and took a shaky breath.
"How's it look?" I muttered thickly. My tongue felt too big for my mouth.
"Not bad." Niko said, his eyes meeting mine. "You're dizzy."
It wasn't a question. Niko could read me like a book. Of course it probably helped that my eyes were rolling around my head. I guess that was a pretty big hint that I wasn't a hundred percent with it.
"There were two of you before…" I replied slowly. "Now there's four."
Niko's tone was so matter-of-fact that I didn't dispute his diagnosis. He was probably right anyway. My other injuries weren't bad enough to explain the fuzziness I was feeling right now and I had hit my head hard when the Draugr had thrown me into the glass topped coffee table. I made a note to talk to Niko about that later. Reinforced glass, my ass.
My brother slipped an arm under my good side and helped hoist me onto my feet. I wasn't sure when my legs had stopped complying with my demands but as I straightened to my meagre five-foot-eight height, the air got thinner. I lurched to the side unsteadily but Nik's fingers curled further into my shirt and kept me up right.
"Easy, little brother." He murmured encouragingly.
"It's passing." The words folded out of my mouth clumsily. I wasn't lying, it was passing, just not as quickly as I would have liked.
"You keep hitting your head like this and I'm going to have to re-teach you everything I ever taught you."
"You don't have that much time, Cyrano." I replied sluggishly, pulling slowly out of Nik's grip and finally standing on my own – the wall's assistance didn't really count, did it? My head was still jigging a little but I was already steadier on my feet. I was going to have the headache from hell tomorrow.
My brother glanced down at the Drache. I winced at his distant expression. As much as Niko knew me, I knew him just as well. He wasn't brooding in the usual sense of the word, but it was a Niko version of brooding. It was infinitely worse.
"Nik… You did what you had to." I told him firmly and really, it was the truth of the matter. What was he supposed to do? Let the Drache kill me? The problem was Niko had so many morals and frigging scruples that shades of grey didn't really register in his mind. This situation presented a problem for him. We had screwed up a job and the pile of blood at my feet was the result.
My brother let out a long exhale and raised his gaze to me.
"You need to sit down, Cal, before you fall down." He said softly.
I scowled but followed him back towards the apartment. Stepping through the door, I couldn't help but raise a brow at what greeted us. If I'd had the energy I would have yelled but, hey, I could do stoic as well as Niko.
Ok, not that well but I think the situation justified some cursing.
The apartment looked like a tornado had hit it. There was a bloody finger print on the doorframe that I know belonged to me from my meeting with the coffee table. I could only imagine what my brother's thoughts had been when he stepped into the apartment and saw the scene before us now. Books littered the floor where they had been dragged off the shelving unit, and glass sparkled on the dirty brown shag carpet. I glanced around at the carnage and sighed. It didn't look much worse than my room in all fairness but Niko's OCD must have been giving him palpitations.
Niko, however, ignored it all. He led me across the lounge into the kitchenette area and pushed me into a chair at the plastic table before he disappeared down the hallway towards the bathroom. He reappeared a minute later with the first aid kit and like he always did, my brother began to put me back together again.