This is my piece for the Tumulus July 2008 Challenge using three of the following words: koala, magma, temptation, wish, and sangria. It's set while Cal is 13 and Niko has just gone off to college. I hope you like it!


I crept quietly into the kitchen, being careful not to make any noise and wake up Sophia or the john she had in her bed. I was being so careful, in fact, that I wasn't really paying attention to my destination, and I was startled by the sight of my brother in the room, pouring himself a cup of coffee.

"Niko!" I whispered excitedly, practically tripping over myself to get to him and fling my arms around him. Childishly burying my face into his chest, I took in the smell of my big brother. In him laid everything good and kind and decent that I'd ever experienced, and the past week had shown me just how very much I needed him. Nik had left for college exactly seven days ago, and while I had assured him that I would be fine, I had had no idea what I was getting myself into by being alone with Sophia.

Giving a half-worried, half-amused chuckle, Niko hugged me just as tight as I was hugging him. "Did you miss me?" he asked.

I had, but I retained some dignity and didn't tell him how much. Instead I reluctantly let go and shrugged. "A little," I lied.

"Oh, I see," he said, smiling. "Do you want some of this?" he offered, holding out his cup of coffee.

I accepted the mug and took a sip. "Still gross," I announced, grimacing and handing it back. "I thought you didn't like coffee, though," I said and followed him to the table.

"I don't," he said, sitting next to me, "but I can appreciate the caffeine in it."

"Yeah," I said, looking at the clock that read five AM. "Why are you here so early, anyway?"

"I wanted to be here when you woke up. Although I didn't expect that to be so soon. I'm not sure I've ever seen you awake before seven."

I scoffed. "I couldn't sleep," I said, shrugging.

"You couldn't sleep?" Niko said, raising an eyebrow. "I find that hard to believe."

"Yeah, yeah. You want some cereal?"

"Alright," Nik said, starting to get up.

"No, it's okay. I'll get it," I said, already standing and moving to get the cereal out of the cupboard.

I poured Niko a bowl of off-brand Raisin Bran and myself a bowl of off-brand Froot Loops and set them on the table. Grabbing the spoons and the milk, I brought those over too and sat back down.

Niko took the milk and unscrewed the cap before bringing it up to his nose and sniffing it.

"Still good?" I asked.

Nik nodded and poured it over each of our bowls, then he got up and put the milk back in the fridge and the bags of cereal that I'd left out into the cabinet. It was good to know that he was still an anal, obsessive compulsive neat freak.

"So how's college?" I asked through my spoonful of cereal.

"Well, it's…different," he said, pausing to take and swallow a bite. "We were forced to play that game where you go around the room, stating your name and thinking of an animal or object that begins with the first letter of your name, and then reciting everyone else's, for fear that you might forget what their name begins with."

"My name's Niko, and I'm a ninja; her name's Katie and she's a koala, and so forth?" I asked, grinning.

"Yes, something to that effect. It was all very collegiate," he said dryly.

"Sounds it. What else? Do you like your roommate?"

Niko thoughtfully ate another spoonful of raisins and sawdust. "He's tolerable. He's out often—he became a member of a fraternity, so he's usually gone at night, consuming vast amounts of alcohol and slaughtering chickens for sport."

"Hmm," I slurped up the remaining milk from the bottom of my bowl. "Sounds like a stand-up guy."

"Your table manners seem to have diminished in the seven days since I've seen you," Niko commented. "While disappointing, I can't say that I'm very surprised."

"I never actually had table manners, I don't think. I just pretended for you."

Niko gave a half-hearted snort, but I could tell that something was up. I gave him a questioning look, and he sighed. "It's nothing, Cal," he said.

"Caliban," I corrected.

"What?" There were very few times that I'd ever seen Niko confused, but this was one of them.

"I think I should be called by my real name," I told him. That was one of the changes I'd decided to make this week. Mommy dearest had made it very apparent to me that the deformed, crazy mooncalf of a man that Caliban was portrayed as in The Tempest was no better than the picture she saw me as. And looking at my father, she was right. Hell, I was probably even worse. And Niko leaving for college was just the first step. Soon enough, I was sure that he would be moving on to bigger, better things, and I knew that I would slowly creep into that slimy shell of the being that Sophia had named me for.

"Cal," he said, putting emphasis on the word, "you aren't a monster." I hadn't even had to state my reasons—Niko got it right away.

"I'm half one, and to be honest, the other half isn't that great, either."

"I don't know who my father is," Niko said, looking serious, "but let's say that he is a murderer, or a rapist. Does that make me a murderer or a rapist?"

I swirled my spoon around my empty bowl. "That's different," I muttered.

Niko's hand flashed out, removing the distraction of my bowl as he pulled it toward himself. "It's not. Cal, you are not going to label yourself as something that you most definitely are not. Understand?" His voice promised a dire ass-kicking if I said otherwise, but I did anyway.

"I want to be called by my name."

"And I wish for an emotionally adjusted little brother. We can't always get the things that we want."

"I'm emotionally adjusted," I protested.

"If you say so," Niko said, eyebrow raised dubiously.

"Will you call me Caliban, then?"

"Not a chance," he said, matter-of-fact.

I hmphed petulantly but didn't say anything. To be honest, it was nice to know that Niko had so much faith in my humanity, however tainted it may be.

Niko looked at me in amusement and mussed my hair as he walked by to place our bowls in the sink.

"I'm assuming, then, that this past week hasn't been stellar for you," Niko said, measuring his words. "Has Sophia been any worse than usual?"

I shrugged. "She hasn't tried to kill me or anything."

As if on cue, we heard a crash and the slamming of a door that told us that Sophia was awake. I groaned, disappointed that my time with Niko was going to be interrupted so quickly.

"Go take a shower, Cal," Niko said quietly.

"Why?"

"Because the dirty, tangled hair look isn't good for you," he said, tugging on a piece of said hair.

"You're one to talk, Rapunzel," I said, retaliating by pulling on his long, blond ponytail.

"Mine is clean, which is more than you can say," he said, pushing me gently out of the kitchen.

I passed Sophia in the hall, but she ignored me. She reeked of cigarette smoke and alcohol—probably from the pitcher of sangria that she'd drunk last night. Pushing past her, I entered the tiny bathroom and took a shower. Even over the sound of the water, I could hear her voice as she talked to Niko. She was probably hounding him for more money, I realized, and took my time finishing up. I felt guilty every time I saw him hand her his money, but I knew that he would not be pleased if I said so.

After the voices stopped, I turned off the shower and wrapped a towel around my waist. I went into my room to get some clothes and found Niko sitting on my bed.

"Nice legs," he commented.

"Thanks," I said easily, picking up some clothes from the floor and getting dressed.

"Have you done laundry at all since I've been gone?" he asked, eyeing the various articles of clothing that littered my floor.

"Of course not." I collapsed onto the bed next to him, feeling tired again.

"I guess we're making a trip to the Laundromat today, then."

"I guess so," I agreed, looking up at him. He was watching me. "What?"

"I was merely realizing how very quiet and rather dull my life is without you around to annoy me."

I shrugged and grinned. "I'm very missable."

"So you are." Niko reached over and pulled my favorite sweatshirt off the floor. "Here," he said, "put what's left of this on."

Pulling the slightly tattered, slightly full of holes sweatshirt on, I asked, "Where are we going?" It was still really early, and my bed really was looking very good.

"To the convenience store so that you can rot your brain and waste my quarters playing that insipid arcade game that you seem to enjoy with an unreasonable amount of energy." He pulled a small Zip-lock baggie full of quarters out of his pocket and held it out to me.

"Really?" I asked, forgetting about a nap.

"Unless you've come to your senses and no longer want to…"

"No, I want to!" I said and grabbed the bag of quarters.

Niko placed a hand on my back and ushered me out the door. I knew that he felt guilty about leaving me alone, but I decided that, while it pretty much blew that he wasn't here all the time, it was worth it that he got to go college. And, apparently, raid the vending machines to steal quarters for me. I could deal with Sophia blowing smoke into my face and pushing me around, especially since I knew that it was only for a year. Niko had promised from the beginning that he would get me out as soon as he could, and my brother never went back on his promises.