Okay, so yeah, four months passed, and I finally updated. I've been busy. Hopefully, though, the next update will be much quicker.
Niko got home early, before I had to leave for the bar. I closed the window I had been using on the computer and sat up straighter as he walked in. I had to lie to him now.
Niko folded his jacket over the back of the kitchen chair and removed his shoes. He glanced up at me, probably surprised by my silence, and gave me an appraising stare.
"Did you do something?" he asked.
"No." Lie. "Actually, I was just thinking that it's been, like, two weeks since we ran into anything nasty. Our ass-kicking quota for the month is not going to be met at this pace."
"So you want to go looking for trouble?"
He didn't sound convinced, so I reverted to logic that he couldn't refuse. "I just want to make sure I stay in practice. In case, you know." That was pretty low, dragging the Auphe into my lie, but I knew it would work.
I could see Niko's protective brother guard go up. "Did something happen, Cal?" he asked in a voice that promised death if I was in danger and hadn't told him.
"No," I said quickly, then gave my story credibility. "I just had another dream last night, and it threw me a little." I shrugged, then sold it. "Forget it. I'm just being paranoid."
Niko stood. "Move the furniture," he ordered. "We'll spar until you have to leave for work, then I'll meet you at closing and we'll head to Central Park." If I had been telling the truth, and I really was feeling restless and unprepared, I would have been grateful for the way he made it sound like I was being lazy and that the use of his no-arguments tone was necessary. As it was, I just felt worse about it since he was being so understanding. He was going to be furious if he ever found out what Promise had told me at breakfast. She'd said that Vincent felt he had unfinished business, and that she should say goodbye to her boyfriend. Promise warned me to be on the lookout for signs of ghosts, and assured me that she would take care of Vincent. In the meantime, I was to say nothing to Niko, for fear of her wrath.
When 3 AM rolled in, I was dragging. Niko had not cut me an ounce of slack during our sparring session, and I guess I'd asked for it. I let out an audible groan when I caught sight of him. Ishiah glanced up at the sound.
"Problem?" he asked, pointedly eyeing a spot I'd missed when wiping down the bar.
I nodded up at Niko and ran my rag over the sticky mess again.
"Nik, I'm all better now. Why don't we just go home?" I said, sending him a pleading look.
Niko didn't even answer. He raised one eyebrow and leaned against the wall to wait for me to finish.
"Shit," I muttered and tucked the bar rag into my pocket. "Ish? I'm clocking out."
Ishiah grunted in reply and flipped the lights off. He followed Nik and I out and locked the door behind us. "Don't be late tomorrow," Ish said, then stalked off into the alley, to wherever it was that he spent the night.
"Why were you late you late to work?"
I glared at my brother. "Because it took my twenty minutes to hobble from the subway to the bar."
"They're less than a block apart."
"I know. So let's just go home. The only ass that's going to be kicked tonight is mine, unless the revenant we find has two older brothers who decided to make hamburger out of him earlier today."
Niko gave me a reproving look. "Don't you think it's possible that you'll someday need to fight while you're actually already injured?"
"Yeah, been there, done that. Adrenaline takes care of it. Tonight, I feel no adrenaline. Only pain. Please, Nik?"
"Don't whine," was his only reply.
I groaned and forced my feet to move one in front of the other, until we made it to the train. I followed Niko and collapsed against his shoulder in relief when I realized we were taking the one that went in the opposite direction of Central Park, towards home. "You're the best brother ever, Niko. Don't let anyone tell you different. Good night." I closed my eyes.
Niko let out an exasperated sigh. "Cal, if you're going to let your guard down that quickly, without even a glance to your surroundings, then maybe you don't deserve a break."
I opened my eyes. "Sorry." I straightened and looked around. A young mother with a sleeping baby sat across from us, and a fragile-looking man who had to be at least a hundred and ten was sitting at the front. Other than that, we were alone. "Okay," I said, "so do you want to be in charge of keeping an eye on Grandpa up there, or Nanny McPhearson?"
Niko snorted and placed an arm around my shoulders, giving me permission to relax. "Just don't fall asleep."
No matter how exhausted I was, that was easy to obey. As long as this ghost ex-husband of Promise's was still around, I wouldn't be sleeping. And, as my stomach twinged with guilt, as long I was lying to Niko, I doubted I would get any rest at all.