Hey folks! This is going to be a series of Cal and Niko moments, usually dark, usually involving the Auphe. Mostly this is just a way to let my muse off of it's leash. Hope you like it! Let me know what you think.
Disclaimer: The Cal Leandros series is property of Rob Thurman, I do not own it.
I sat at the table doing my homework. It was the middle of the day and luckily, due mainly to her nocturnal activities, Sophia was in bed. I glanced out the window at the cloudy sky. It was a comforting grey today, light like my and my brother's eyes. It was the one feature we had in common; storm grey eyes.
Speaking of which… It was five o'clock, I didn't have a watch on me but I had a nearly infallible inner clock. Which meant Cal was late, he should have been home ten minutes ago. First graders had to stay late today for projects and Cal insisted that I let him walk home alone today so I didn't have to wait at the school. I didn't object because the school is only a mile away and it is in a relatively good part of town. And also because my brother, only six, almost seven, years old, was already developing an independent streak.
He was at the age where almost all I heard was "Let me do it! I want to try". I felt a smile tug at my lips and turned back to my homework. It was an English essay, nothing that required much work or attention.
Yet somehow I couldn't even give it the meager attention it deserved at the moment. I had never been one to fidget much, unlike Cal who was so good at squirming he could be the next Houdini if he put his mind to it, yet suddenly I couldn't seem to control the urge.
Late Cal was late. It was now a quarter past five unless my inner clock was wrong, and I sincerely doubted that it was. Independent streak or not I was going to go get him. I felt an uneasiness in the pit of my stomach and forced myself to be calm rather than to think of all the things that may have caused Cal to be late.
I was jogging down the path to school very quickly, I was almost running. I must be about half way there by now, still no Cal. My heart sped up, but it had nothing to do with the workout I was getting.
My eyes desperately scanned the horizon.
Where is he?
Then I finally saw him. Relief rushed through me hot and strong and for an instant I was only happy, relieved that my brother was alright. However, anger quickly followed.
I jogged until I caught up with him intending to give him a serious talk about tardiness.
"Cal, you cannot just meander home any time that you please. Any number of things could have…" I cut myself off abruptly as I finally really looked at Cal.
His head was down and his shaggy mop of hair was covering his eyes. His small hands gripped tightly onto the straps of his backpack, so tightly that his fingers were blanched even whiter than his normal milky color.
"Cal?" I rested my hand on top of his jet black hair and I felt that he was trembling.
"Are you okay?" I dropped to my knees to put us on the same level and tried to look at his face, but he stubbornly turned away. I felt the uneasiness return with a vengeance.
Why won't he look at me?
"Cal, whatever is wrong I can fix it, but you have to tell me. Are you hurt?" He gave a slight negative shake of his head. I hoped he was responding to my question and not my statement that I could fix it. I gripped his chin and gently coaxed his face towards me. I was unprepared for what I saw.
Terror. Pure unadulterated terror was written across every line of his face. His grey eyes were dark and filled with it. Not like a child whose seen a scary movie, more like one who just had a real confrontation with the one under his bed. Before I could process anymore he flung himself at me and threw his arms around me neck. I almost tumbled backwards since the move caught me off guard but I managed to right myself before we went all the way down. I wrapped my arms around him tightly. He was still shaking violently.
I held him for a moment before twisting around and hefting him onto my back. I didn't know what was wrong, but I knew by the look on his face he wouldn't be talking soon and I didn't want to have this conversation out in the open.
I hadn't given Cal a piggy back ride in years, he never let me pick him up anymore, more of his independent streak. I was glad that he let me do it now. I needed the contact just as much as he did at the moment, I needed to know that I had him here, safe from whatever was scaring him.
Fear kept me very alert on the walk back. Every movement drew my eye, every shift of light pulled my gaze, because I knew what this was about. I didn't have to ask him, I knew. It had something to do with the Grendels.
It was the only thing that could have him so afraid, and if anything was to be feared it was the Grendels.
We reached the trailer just as the sun began to set. There was still plenty of light, but it was waning. And as anyone well informed person knew, the dark was certainly something to be afraid of. I crouched down and let Cal slide of my back, but I didn't let him go. I held on tightly and we sat down on the dirty lump masquerading as a mattress. We both sat silently for a moment, gazing out the window at the slowly darkening sky.
"I saw one today." Cal's voice was quiet and trembling, as though they may hear him if he spoke too loud. I felt fear clench at my heart again, though I already knew what was coming. It didn't matter if you knew, no one was ever prepared for Grendels.
"I-I thought maybe," he wet his lips and tried to continue "maybe they weren't really so bad. They look so scary and we call them monsters, but I'm a monster too and I'm not so bad." My throat closed up but I didn't stop him and correct him yet, or he may not get up the courage to talk again.
"And I know what it's like to have no friends and to have people think you are a monster. So I-I walked after it and followed it into that alley behind school."
I had to keep reminding myself that he was okay, that he obviously made it out just fine.
" It smiled at me, but it was a scary smile. I-It was no good at all, and then it grabbed my arm and I screamed and no one came, and it didn't let go. Then all of the sudden the… the air broke and there was a grey light and there was another one." He was talking fast now, the words were almost unintelligible.
"They said something, I don't know what though. Their words were awful." He shuddered. "And then the other one let me go and the grey hole gobbled them up. After the were gone I ran for a while and hid in the trees, then I remembered that you were waiting for me so I started to walk home."
For the first time since he started talking Cal looked up at me. "But they're gone now, they won't come back." It sounded like a question. I gave him the answer he deserved.
"Of course not, you're fine now. Your safe." Not the first time I had lied to him, and as much as I hated it I doubted that it would be the last.
After a while I managed to coax him out of his jacket and saw the bruises that marred his thin arm. The angry purple's and blue's stood out in stark contrast against his moon colored skin. They were just bruises, they wouldn't scar, but I knew that his memories would. I could already see that he was changed, that he was more wary of the world. His eyes were already much too old for someone so young. And there was nothing that I could do. I felt my fists clench so tightly they shook, I could put ice on the bruises but I couldn't numb the pain from his eyes. I tried desperately not to think about the new development in our knowledge of the Grendels... the grey light that Cal described. I let it flow over me now, something I rarely allowed myself to do, and promised that I would think about it later.
I glanced over at him and saw that he had fallen asleep. The adrenaline had finally left him and drained what was left of his energy. I picked him up off the couch and carried him to bed. He stirred and his eyes cracked open.
"You're not a monster Cal, you know that now right?" I couldn't be sure if he really knew what I was saying but he nodded anyways and for the first time today he gave me a slight smile. I felt the ice around my heart thaw slightly as I took in his face, peaceful with sleep.
Then I did something I hadn't done in a long time. I crawled into bed with him. I had my own now, but tonight I didn't want to be even a room away. I wouldn't let anything happen to him again. He was never going anywhere without me. I would watch him all the time now, and I should have known better than to leave him alone in the first place. It was a mistake I intended never to make again.
I vowed to myself that as long as I was breathing a Grendel would never touch him again.
The bruises from this encounter would fade, I only wished the mental ones would too. Unfortunately I knew better.