Summary: Everyone knows the Leandros boys didn't have the best childhood in the world. Still, as Niko finds out one freezing winter morning, some moments were less tolerable than others...like getting flu shots. Oneshot.
A/N: I was actually asked to put this one up here by one of my favorite authors, Laughing (I don't know if Laughing's screen name is different here...) It was written for a fanfiction contest on a Rob Thurman fansite, and I got some ferocious competition from not only Laughing, but a talented individual who goes by julia. I was sitting on this idea for a while, but not quite sure how to execute it, since leaning too much one way would make Niko seem insensitive, but leaning too much the other way would be bordering on pathetic Hallmark TV special. Well, anyway, this one's for all those people out there who can't get enough Leandros childhood - but especially you, Laughing. Thanks for the kick up the ass, lol!!
Even at his tender age, Niko was shocked that a seven-year old kid could be such a pain in the backside. Caliban – Cal, he silently corrected himself; he just knew Sophia had picked that name because it meant something bad – didn't seem to understand that there was a difference between him and Sophia. Niko had been looking through child psychology books in the library, trying to understand why Cal wouldn't mark a difference between the two of them.
He'd found an answer in a book by some Asian doctor who had studied his field for twenty-seven years before writing his book. "Children identify anyone older than them as authority figure. If an adolescent develops a negative association with one 'grown-up,' they will very likely think that all of them behave the same way. Even if there is a drastic difference between the figures' behaviors, as long as both elders do something the child finds undesirable or unacceptable, they are both 'bad.' This is because a child sees the world only in terms of black and white until they reach the age of ten – sometimes as late as thirteen for boys. They need time to collect their thoughts and put realistic differences in perspective," he murmured aloud. Niko snorted at the last sentence; he'd had a good grip on the world since he was eight. Then again, the book openly identified him as a 'special case;' he'd read all about children like him in chapter seventeen.
Niko frowned. This explanation didn't make sense. He didn't make Cal do anything he didn't want to do…except maybe eat his vegetables…and, well, clean his room. But did that really put him on the same level as Sophia?
Niko didn't really think so.
How such a loud noise came from such a tiny body, Niko had no clue. They stood in line for fifteen-dollar flu shots in front of the grocery store (Niko had saved for these during most of autumn). He hadn't originally told Cal where they were going, since the boy would have anchored himself to the trailer door and never let go, but now that Cal had figured it out, he was raising holy hell. "I don't want a shot!" he wailed. Niko could feel the curl of Cal's little fingers around his wrist, nails digging in hard in the soft part between his bones. It hurt like crazy.
"Cal, please be a little quieter…" he began, noting the disapproving look of a pair of Band-Aided old women passing by.
Tears ran down Cal's ivory cheeks (which were fast flushing a deep scarlet; red showed very badly on Niko's younger brother). "I don't want a needle, Niko~ooooo!!!" he squealed. It was that glass-shattering pitch that only children and castrato opera boys could hit, and Niko felt his guts twisting.
Niko looked around, a slight pink flush to his own cheeks. Sophia never took them for immunizations. He'd asked her once, when he was Cal's age, and she'd responded with a drunken, 'Why? That's forty-five fuckin' dollars out of my pocket, Niko. Besides, if you can't live through some puking and a hot forehead, you're too pussy for me to care anyway.' So now it was thirty dollars out of Niko's, which was always awkward for him – getting the money wasn't easy, and Cal didn't make him feel good about his decision. But he'd never kicked up this much of a fuss before. This was really embarrassing. Everyone in line was staring at them, and the nurse-in-training was starting to get that 'someone else had better take over' look on her face.
Of course, it hadn't helped that Bucky the Rainbow Clown was there to cheer children up after their sticking. Niko had to hold Cal to his chest and politely ask Bucky to leave to stop Cal from having a panic attack.
It only got worse as they got closer to the table. Two people away from the front line, they had more rubber-neckers than a head-on collision between two eighteen-wheelers. Niko was now flushed thoroughly red with shame, and Cal was having himself something close to a conniption fit. He was thrashing and crying the way only a difficult child could, making a scene that had some of the employees leaving their stations to watch the show outside. Niko could hear the whispers and snide comments as if they were being shouted into his face. He looked around desperately, wishing someone would come to his defense, but they all just looked annoyed. Even some of the mothers toting three or more kids weren't having this much trouble…one person left now, soon they'd be getting their shots…
Suddenly, Cal sank his tiny teeth into Niko's hand and demanded to be released.
It was the last straw. Niko turned on him like a cobra, shook Cal's hand fiercely, and shouted, "You could die if you get the flu, okay?! If took me forever to save up for this, so I don't have any money for medicine! It's only going to last a second, so stop making a scene! One more peep out of you, and I'll stick you in a corner until you're fifty! And don't you dare bite me ever again!!"
He promptly turned to the crowd and said in a softer tone still fit for any furious parent, "None of you are helping. By giving him attention, you throw fuel on the fire. You act like you've never seen a temper tantrum before. If you please!" His eyes narrowed into a sharp glare. It should have been comedic…in fact, it would have been were it not so obvious that this child were serious as death itself. It worked. Cal's gray eyes went wide in shock, and his mouth snapped closed. The crowed looked a bit cowed at having been chewed out by a boy barely in his double-digits, but they went back to their own business.
But while the popular conversations were about the young boy and his amazing ability to handle such a mature situation, Cal was silent as the grave. He whimpered slightly when the needle punctured his skin, and he sniffled when the nurse put a Band-Aid on his arm, but remained quiet when she patted him on the head and assured him that the Bugs Bunny-themed item would 'make it all better.' Niko retained his parental glower when he got his own shot. He gave Cal a firm knock on the back after the nurse patched the puncture, and said in a forgiving tone, "Let's go home, Cal."
They walked in an unusual silence. The only sounds were Cal's occasional whimpers, and the crunching of snow under their feet. Soon, Niko was feeling guilty about having startled his younger so badly. He rarely verbally punished Cal so thoroughly that it kept him quiet for longer than a few minutes. He must have really upset him this time.
They walked for maybe ten minutes. Another ten, and they'd be home. On the outskirts of the building bundle, at the edge of the clearing that led to the trailer park, Cal suddenly stopped in his tracks. Niko paused and turned to look at him. His face was no longer a mask of frustration and anger, but of worry. "What is it, Cal?" he asked gently, trying to comfort him with his tone.
Cal snuffled for a little while and scraped at the ice with his feet before asking softly, "H-How come you never hit me?"
The question was like a baseball bat to the chest for Niko. "What?" he asked.
"You…you never hit me. Sophia hits me when I make her angry. Sometimes I don't even have to do anything. But no matter how bad I am, you never hit me. Why not?" he was looking up at Niko now. He looked terrified, like the answer was something far more horrible than anything Sophia could tell him.
In a flash, Niko understood. The answer wasn't in any of the books.
Cal was confused. He couldn't fathom why the grown-up had such a short fuse, whereas the person only a few years older than him had patience beyond his time. Cal was pushing his limits, seeing how far Niko could bend before he broke. It just didn't make sense that Niko wasn't like Sophia in that way, since as far as Cal knew, that was how these things were taken care of.
The blonde sighed and kneeled next to Cal. He could feel snow soaking through the knees of his jeans, but he didn't care. This was so much more important than cold knees. "Do you want me to hit you, Cal?" he asked.
Cal shook his head energetically.
"Were you very sorry when I yelled at you in front of all those people?" he asked.
Cal nodded. "It was embarrassing."
"I'm sure it was, Cal. I was very embarrassed, too. It was a very bad thing you did."
"So why didn't you hit me?" Cal asked again.
Niko sighed and placed one heavy hand on his shoulder. "There are lots of ways to make someone sorry for what they did without hitting them. Sophia just doesn't use any of the other ways."
Niko sighed. There really wasn't a good answer to this question. "Sophia…is not a very nice person."
Niko stood and hugged Cal close. "I'll never hit you, Cal. Never."
"Cal. Let's go home."
He grabbed Cal's hand and started across the field of snow.