AN - This was written for Dani, who was having a bad day today. It's not much but hopefully it makes you feel a little better my dear. Anyway, I dedicate this story to you.
Set pre-nightlife. Essentially, it deals with the days after Cal comes back from Tumulus when he's fourteen... and sixteen... lol I can never wrap my head around his age. Anyway, it's a missing scene that was begging to be written, and I would have liked to take it further, but time is not my friend so its just a one-shot. Hopefully, you all enjoy it nevertheless.
All mistakes are certainly mine, and I own nothing... not even my own time any more.
The car was quiet, silent with an unseen tension that hung heavily in the air like a storm cloud looming on the horizon. Tightening my grip on the edge of my seat, I swallowed the lump in my throat, forcing my bubbling emotions back down. I wasn't about to crack up in front of my brother. He had enough shit to deal with as it was.
Rubbing at gritty eyes, I shifted my gaze to the side window and focused on the darkness outside. I was exhausted, but there was no way in hell I was shutting my damn eyes. I'd walked out of a waking nightmare; I wasn't willing to walk into a sleeping one. Shit, I was never sleeping again. I had no idea what time it was, not that I cared. What the hell did time matter when you had aged years in the space of forty-eight hours? I pushed that thought out of my head, not willing to go there, not willing to ever go there. I didn't want to think about that shit. Not yet. Probably not ever.
"Cal?" Niko's voice was quiet, but I could hear the emotion in his tone. That he hadn't bothered to hide it should have worried me, but right now I didn't have the headspace to even think about it. "Do you want to stop for the night?"
I didn't even try to respond. I wasn't sure I could have anyway. My brother sighed deeply, the gesture laced with deep-rooted weariness. Slowly, I shifted my gaze. Niko was gripping the steering wheel so tightly, his knuckles were practically popping out of his skin, his eyes locked on my face.
"Cal?" He tried again.
"Sure," I pushed the word out through numb lips. Sentences were still bypassing me at the moment, but at least I'd stopped snarling like a rabid dog. There were other side-effects of my little tumble with the Grendels, however. My hands were shaking. Shit, I don't think they had stopped since I had dropped onto the grass in front of our trailer.
Had that been last night?
Or the night before?
I wasn't sure. My brain was muddled and overwrought. I was also nauseous as hell. I'd lost count of how many times I'd made my brother pull over so I could heave my guts out. This was definitely not one of the most pleasant car rides in history. Between my projectile Exorcist-style vomiting, and my creepy dead-eyed staring, I was guessing my brother was losing his own mind worrying.
Letting my head fall forward, I frowned as my hair dripped into my eyes. It was long… longer than it had been before… before they took me. I scrubbed a hand over my face, and then pushed a few stray strands of hair behind my ears. It was just another reminder, another reminder I didn't need.
My childhood hadn't exactly been a Disney movie to-date – unless it was a Disney movie with teeth, fangs and test-tube monster babies. Ok, so I wasn't grown in a lab, but on my more maudlin days I could create any crappy story and stick to it like a fly to shit. How I had come into the world was bad enough that I wished I had been part of some crazy-assed scientists experiment.
The reality was worse.
Knowing you weren't wanted was one thing, but knowing your mom had screwed the devil and despised you from your first breath really played havoc with your self-esteem. Luckily, I had Niko to stop me from sliding too far into self-pity city. He wasn't above kicking my ass when occasion called.
I frowned deeply, my thoughts taking a dark turn. I didn't remember a lot about the night the Grendels had come for me, but I remembered enough.
Dear old Dad had turned up in the middle of the night, like all monsters did, and had taken me god knows where. I'd seen Sophia die. That had been bad enough, but I'd thought my brother was dead too. It was last coherent thought I'd had before I came around on the lawn in front of the trailer a few days ago. I figured it was probably the last coherent thought I was going to have for a long time.
I had no idea what had happened once they had taken me through the gate, but my subconscious knew it was bad - bad enough to bury it in the deepest, darkest hole my mind could find. Whatever had happened to me, I'd left those memories on the other side of that gateway, and I had no intention of trying to drag them up.
I slid a side-long glance at my brother. Sophia hadn't exactly been a great role model, but she was our mother, and she was dead. She was dead because of me. I had no idea why Nik hadn't just packed up and left. I had no idea why he had sat and waited. He should have gone while he had the chance. I was nothing more than the demonic ball-and-chain around his ankle. I wouldn't have blamed him for pitching in his chips and hitting the road, but Nik would never give up on me. I shouldn't have been surprised that he hadn't this time, even when I'd been dragged into -
Closing my eyes tightly, I let the numbness take me once more. I didn't even want to go there. Something's were better left forgotten. This was definitely one of those things.
I don't know how long we drove for, but it seemed like only minutes had passed when Niko was shutting off the engine. Sparing a nonchalant glance out of the windshield, I barely gave the flashing neon motel sign a first look, let alone a second. I didn't care where we were. It didn't matter, as long as it was Grendel free.
My brother squeezed my arm gently. "Cal? I need to book us in."
I knew what he was saying. He didn't want to leave me alone in the car. He didn't want to leave me alone period. I was fine with that. I wasn't exactly ready to be left alone myself.
Slowly, I reached for the handle and opened the car door. The resounding creak seemed obnoxiously loud, and once I had climbed out onto stiff legs, I took more care shutting it.
Niko moved around to the passenger side, and wrapped his fingers around my wrist. I glanced up at him through dark hair, wondering if my own eyes were as haunted as his.
"We'll get through this, little brother," he said firmly, "trust me."
And I did trust him. I really did. I didn't trust myself, however. Sophia had told me I was a monster, and now I had to wonder how right she had been. I'd seen my paternal family up close and personal and they were about as monster as you could get. And I had a part of that in me.
I closed my eyes and nodded slowly.
"I know," was all I managed to say, but Niko seemed satisfied with the response. Perhaps he was just grateful that I had moved from one word answers to two.
He steered me towards the reception, his hand pressed against the small of my back. I barely remembered booking in, but I remembered the wide-eyed stare the small, bespectacled man behind the desk gave me. In all honesty, I didn't blame him. I could only imagine how I looked.
We'd been driving non-stop since I had clawed my way out of the Grendel gateway. There hadn't exactly been time to stop and shower. Hell, I was only clothed because my brother had dressed me. Judging from the thick dirt coating my hands, I was surmising the rest of my body was just as filthy. I think Nik had been too scared to find a motel until we had put some distance between us and the Grendels. Not that I was complaining. The more distance, the better.
Key in hand, Niko led me back into the cold, night air and guided me towards a small room on the far side of the lot. Pushing the door open, he flipped the light switch and stepped into the room in front of me.
It was small, but there were two single beds pushed against the nearest wall. A tiny kitchenette lay on the opposite wall, comprising of a suspicious looking fridge and a microwave that had definitely seen its last day's decades ago.
Niko moved through the room, his eyes sweeping over every inch before he ducked into the door that presumably led into the bathroom. Satisfied that there were no unwanted guests, he crossed the floor in three strides and steered me towards the bed furthest from the door, lowering me onto the mattress. I let him do it, too tired, too numb to help. If it wasn't for my brother I probably would have starved to death in the days following my return. If Nik hadn't survived the attack, I probably wouldn't have cared anyway. I was frigging lucky to have my brother, and I knew it. He was the only person on this stinking planet who gave a shit about me, and in my eyes that made me the luckiest sonofabitch in the world.
He moved from my side hesitantly, returning a moment later with a bowl of warm water, clutching a face cloth and towel under his arm. Sinking onto his knees in front of me, he dumped the cloth into the water and wrung it out. Then he started cleaning me, like he had done when I was younger. He washed the dirt from my hands and face first, not speaking a word other than instructing me what to do. I complied with every request he asked, not one smart-assed comment leaving my mouth in that whole time. I didn't have the energy to speak, let alone come up with my usual level of witticisms. I found solace in my silence. It was easier than having to deal with this crap.
Niko tossed the cloth into the water once more and stopped, his head hanging low onto his chest. I frowned deeply. This was hard on my brother too. Probably harder. For two days he had sat and waited for me… sat and waited, not knowing if I was coming back or not. He had been completely alone for two days.
And then I had come back. Older, scarred and crazed. I still was a little off-the-wall now. I was guessing it was going to be a while before I was able to deal with this shit enough to become a 'normal' again.
"Nik…" I spoke his name quietly, my voice cracking with lack of use. I'd barely spoken a word in the last two… three… how ever many days it was since I'd returned.
He raised his head, blond hair dripping into his eyes, and swallowed hard.
"If you feel up to it you can shower," my brother said. Nice change of subject, Nik. Apparently, I wasn't the only one hiding shit.
"Nik, we need to…" I broke off, grimacing. I didn't know what the hell we needed to do. "How long was I gone?" I asked finally.
"Two days – two days here, at least," Nik replied gravely.
I glanced down at my hands, turning them over to study the palms. I hadn't looked at myself yet, I hadn't dared. I couldn't. I was afraid of what I would see looking back at me. I don't know what I was expecting. Horns and fangs maybe, perhaps a forked tail, and a crazed look in my eyes. Either way, I wasn't ready to deal with seeing my changed appearance. The last time I'd looked at myself I was an awkward-looking kid of fourteen. Niko had barely recognised me when I'd come out of the gate; I wasn't ready to deal with looking at a complete stranger in the mirror yet. But that didn't stop me from being curious.
"How… how old am I?"
My brother didn't frown, but there was a tightness around his eyes. I knew he was holding all this shit together for my sake, but I wanted him to… I don't know - I guess I didn't want him to be strong for the both of us. I didn't want to be the weak, pathetic and needy one, but right now I was all of those things, and I couldn't stop it. I was barely holding it together.
"As near as I figure it… two years older, maybe. Possibly three," Nik replied solemnly.
I nodded dully, attempting to process that. After a moment, I gave it up as a bad job and let out a long, suffering sigh instead. How the hell was I supposed to wrap my head around that anyway? I was pretty sure there was no self-help group for aging over-night.
"Cal, do you remember anything?" Niko asked tentatively.
I shook my head fervently. Even if I did remember a goddamn thing, I wasn't sharing it. It wasn't exactly a bedtime story, and I was traumatised enough as it was.
"Sophia…" I frowned, averting my gaze. "She's..." I winced. "It's my fault."
My brother breathed deeply, and cupped my face, raising my eyes to meet his grey irises.
"Let's get one thing clear right now, Cal. None of this is your fault, little brother," he told me firmly. "None of it. Understand?"
I nodded, not really sure if I was agreeing because I did understand or if I was merely doing what my brother wanted me to do.
"The Grendels…" I stumbled over the word, unable to keep the fear or the shake out of my voice.
It's funny how a name, a name we had fabricated ourselves, carried such trepidation. I'd never really been afraid of them - even when they were watching me, following me. But then they'd never dragged me off through a gateway to god knows where before. I figured I now had a good reason to be scared.
My brother grabbed my wrist, and squeezed it. I soaked up the warmth from him, soaked up all the comfort I could. I desperately needed the reassurance, desperately needed to know I wasn't alone. I couldn't do this shit alone. I didn't want to do this shit alone.
"They aren't getting you again, Cal. Not ever. I'll take care of you, I promise."
I glanced at the resolve in his expression and knew that he meant every word of it. Nik had always watched over me, had always protected me from the big, bad world outside our four walls, but this time was different. This time he'd nearly lost me completely, and that wasn't something he was going to let happen again. Not that I was exactly hankering for a repeat performance, but Nik's words did melt the chunks of ice that had settled in my stomach a little.
I turned to my brother and without even thinking about it, I wrapped my arms around him and hugged him. There was only so much words could do, and I needed the physical contact. I didn't care that it was pansy-assed as hell; I didn't give a shit that I looked like a five year old kid needing his boo-boo's kissed better. I needed the contact. I needed to know my brother was real. I needed to know this nightmare was over.
Niko held me against his chest, brushing his fingers through my hair, like he had when I was younger.
"I'll take care of this, Cal," he murmured softly into my ear. "I'll never let them have you."
"Nik, we can't run forever." I pulled back from him, my fear growing. The world wasn't big enough and wherever we went in the past, the Grendels had always found me. I didn't think this time would be any different. "We can't fight them, they're stronger."
My brother's lips tugged into a small smile.
"Let us dare, little brother," he said, his eyes hardening, "and let them dare. I'll kill them all if I have to."
From his expression, I tended to believe he would carry out that threat. I'd never even seen him throw so much as a punch before, let alone kill someone – or something - but I was also smart enough to realise we were both changed by this. Nik might not have gone through that gateway with me, but he'd suffered just as much. He'd practically raised me, and just as he kept me sane, I did the same for him. I could only imagine what those two days alone had felt like.
I agreed with my brother, though. I was never letting the Grendels take me ever again.