A Christmas Carol for Cal
So I screwed up, yeah, I'll give you that. What else is new? It happens all the time, and Nik knows that, and he lives with it, and we move on. But, this time…he yelled at me for it. It hadn't been a half-stern, half-smirking lecture like usual, it had been a full on, raised-voice tongue lashing. Predictably, I yelled back before storming off into my room and slamming the door, and he'd let me. I'd pretty much expected that, but I'd been sure that he would come knock on the door before long to make up. It was Christmas Eve, after all. Except, he hadn't. Not twenty minutes after I'd retreated, I heard his door close too, and it didn't open again.
When I woke up the next morning, Christmas morning, I tentatively slipped out of my room and into the kitchen. By the looks of the still hot tea kettle on the stove, Niko was already awake, but his door was shut, and that worried me. Biting my lip, I made coffee and stood awkwardly in the kitchen, not sure what to do. Goodfellow saved me from having to stand there like an idiot for too long, because he was ringing the doorbell before I'd poured my first cup. I rushed to the door before Niko could emerge, and pulled it open to a very festive-looking puck.
"Merry Christmas, Caliban," Robin said, letting himself in.
"Merry Christmas," I mumbled back and closed the door.
"Where's that delicious brother of yours?" he asked.
"Ah…he's in his room."
"Still asleep?" Robin asked with such an anticipatory look that I was almost sorry to crush his hopes.
"No. He's just avoiding me, I'm sure."
Robin scowled. "Oh dear, that does not bode well for a happy holiday. Did you put sugar in his cereal again?"
I glared at him and poured my coffee. Robin was watching me though, and by now he knew me better than I'd like, and could tell that this wasn't a matter I found amusing.
With a glance to the hallway, he said quietly, "Tell me what happened, then."
I sighed and turned to face him. He looked sincerely concerned, having never seen us in anything less than cahoots. I leaned against the counter and decided that I might as well tell him. "Nik wanted to put up a little tree because this year, he knew that you and Promise would probably stop by, and he said that he didn't want to hear your complaints about how we didn't have any decorations again, and I didn't want him to, but he did it anyway while I was at work." I paused, and Robin jumped in.
"Why didn't you want a tree? Surely even you, in all your glorified emotional detachment and general bah humbug-ness, could appreciate one little, cleverly decorated and lighted, Christmas tree."
"Because I didn't."
Robin huffed. "Well, I don't see any tree."
"That's because I took it down while he was at work."
"That's…mature of you."
"I'd told him that I didn't want one, but he didn't listen to me. Hell, he'd decorated half of the damn apartment with lights, and he didn't even tell me."
Robin began to look wary. "I'm assuming that you didn't neatly put everything away, or try to politely explain to him that this irritated you."
I sighed. "Well, sure. I mean, I put everything in one place, anyway, and I told him about it when he asked me."
"Where did you put it all? Or do I even want to know?"
I glanced down at my coffee cup. "I may have torn it down and…thrown it all out the window."
Robin's eyebrows shot up. "You threw it out the window?"
I winced and nodded. "That one," I said, jerking my thumb toward it.
"Well Jesus, Cal, no wonder he's giving you the cold shoulder. It takes quite some time to do all of that, and none of it is precisely thrifty."
I bit my lip again. "I'm not done. That's not why he's still in his room. It's why we got into a fight."
"You two were in a fight?"
"Yes," I admitted.
"An actual fight?"
"Yes, Loman. An actual fight. Because he was pissed at me, and I was still pissed at him for putting them up in the first place, and when he started lecturing me, I lost it and I shoved him, and…well, usually he would just ignore it, but being irritated already, he shoved me back, and we, you know, went at it."
Robin gave me a once-over. "I don't see any bruises."
"We were fighting about a few strands of Christmas lights, Goodfellow. It wasn't exactly a brawl."
"Then why is he still angry?"
"Because, after the fight, I left for a while. When I came back, he was waiting for me, and he wanted to talk about it, and I didn't, so…" I shrugged. "He started yelling at me."
"Niko yelled at you," Robin repeated slowly.
"Yeah." I met Robin's eyes, then quickly looked down again.
"Has that…happened before? I've never seen it…"
"Sure, when I was a kid and throwing a tantrum, and he was trying to get my attention, but it definitely doesn't happen often, and always for more much more than Christmas lights. He actually seemed mad at me."
Robin opened his mouth to speak, but was stopped by the sound of Niko's door opening. "I believe that's my cue to go."
"No," I said quickly. "You can stay."
Robin glanced over my head at Niko, who was probably standing in the entranceway by now. "Merry Christmas, Niko," he said. "I was just leaving. I actually came over to invite you and Cal and Promise to my apartment for dinner. I'm sure Clarisse is preparing a feast. There will be plenty for all."
"Thank you for the invitation. I'll pass it on to Promise, and you can expect Cal and I." Niko's voice sounded tired, subdued.
"Splendid. I'll see you at seven." He looked at me. "Goodbye, Cal," he said, offering a slight smile in apology.
"Goodbye," I said, and he left.
I took a long drink of my coffee before turning around to face my brother. "Merry Christmas, Cyrano," I said, surprised when my voice came out barely above a whisper.
I dared a glance up at him, and I found that I couldn't seem to look away. Nik held my gaze, his own being hard and level while I'm sure mine was similar to that of a terrified rabbit's. Nik had unnerved me last night, and I wasn't completely sure why he had been so thoroughly pissed off.
"I shouldn't have yelled at you," Niko stated. "I forget how much it bothers you when I display an unhappy emotion toward you."
"It doesn't bother me," I said immediately.
A corner of Niko's mouth quirked slightly. "Okay."
"So…are you still, um, feeling unhappy with me?"
"I am feeling frustrated with you, I'll admit."
"Oh." I looked down at my coffee cup again, and Niko reached out and took it from me. I met his eyes.
"I'm not angry with you Cal," he said softly. "I was just…unhappy…because it's been an awful year, and I'd hoped that…"
"That a decorative Christmas would make up for it?" I offered.
I took my cup back. "You could have said that, you know," I muttered. "I would have left it."
"No, you wouldn't have. Cal, you have retreated so far behind this mask of apathy you've made for yourself that any gesture of happiness offends you, and that worries me."
I rolled my eyes at Niko's fancy words. "If I'm so apathetic, then why did I care that you yelled at me?"
"Because it showed that I give a damn about you, which you seem to have recently forgotten."
"I haven't forgotten, Niko," I argued.
"Then I guess you just don't care, because if you did, then you wouldn't have been behaving the way you have been ever since Georgina was taken."
"And what way is that?"
"As if you have no concern for yourself. As if you don't deserve anyone's concern for you."
"And if I don't?" I challenged, the deprecating thoughts of how anyone close to me was in danger slinking their way to the front of my mind.
Niko's face was suddenly an inch from mine. "I told you in Florida that I did not want to have this conversation again, but you are obviously in need of a reminder." He didn't give me a chance to respond. "I will not allow you to do this to yourself again, Cal."
"Niko, I'm not doing anything," I insisted. "Really. I just didn't want a tree."
"No, you didn't want a Christmas," he said.
I shrugged. "So? Neither did Scrooge, and he turned out okay."
"Do you remember what it was that ensured Ebenezer Scrooge's 'okay'-ness?"
I walked right into that one. "Why don't you enlighten me?"
"Being kind to people, and forming a relationship with them."
I sighed. "I'm very kind, Cyrano, and I have more friends right now than I ever have before."
Niko stared at me for a few, measuring seconds. "Then let yourself be happy, Cal. Stop punishing yourself for what happened to George. It wasn't your fault."
"I know," I said automatically.
"It wasn't your fault," he repeated evenly.
I took a deep breath, let it out.
Niko nodded. "Let it go, Cal," he said, his voice so quiet that I wouldn't have heard it had he not been standing so close to me.
Niko rested a warm hand on the back of my neck. "I don't like to see you so unhappy," he said in simple explanation of this whole episode.
"So you'll stop?" he asked.
"Yeah," I breathed.
"Good," he said, squeezing my neck and moving past me to refill his teacup.
"Nik?" I asked, turning around to see him.
He looked up from the kettle at me, all traces of sternness from last night gone. "Yes?"
"I'm sorry about the tree."
Niko nodded. "You'll make it up to me."
That didn't sound good. "I will?"
Niko smiled a little. "Bet on it."
We arrived at Robin's a few minutes before seven, and Nik rang the doorbell while I shook the very cold snow off of the new coat he'd given me. It wasn't as sharp as my second gift, but it was just as needed, according to Niko. Robin opened the door, wearing a bright red silk shirt with emerald green suspenders to hold up his black slacks. I was about to comment when Robin pointed upwards. We looked up. Mistletoe.
"I wanted to make sure that you two kissed and made up," he said with his lips curled up into a evil smile.
I looked at Niko. He looked at me. He leaned over and kissed me on the forehead, and, in the spirit of proving to him that I wasn't trying to be bitter, I let him. "Merry Christmas, Cal," he said.
"Aw, that's much better," Robin said, grinning wide. "Now, Niko, how about one for your host?"
Niko raised a deadly eyebrow. "I'm sorry, Robin, but I didn't quite hear what you just said."
Robin's smile disappeared. "I said that dinner is almost ready, and Promise is waiting in the dining room."
"That's what I thought."
Niko went on to greet Promise, and Goodfellow turned to me.
"I'm not kissing you, either, Robin," I said, putting my hands up in defense.
Robin ignored the jab. "So how many lumps of coal have you earned from Niko?"
"About seven, I think."
"I take it you're still not on his naughty list?"
"No. Well, not for today, anyway. He has a lot of fun things planned for tomorrow because I threw away his tree."
Robin shrugged and led me into the dining room. He hadn't been kidding when he said that his cook was preparing a feast. There was more food than we could have eaten in three days, and yet he hadn't invited anyone else. Niko's not-so-subtle glances throughout the meal reminded me to relax and enjoy myself, and, for the first time in a long time, I did.