Hello people! I know that it took some time to get this up but school is keeping me busy. My writing just has to take a back seat. Also, sorry about the typos, I usually just write something all in one sitting, read it through once and post it. I don't have the patience to keep checking and rechecking it. Oops. But oh well, I'm sure that you all get what it going on. I'll try to read through more carefully in the future.
Thank you for those who review for this story! It means a lot and keeps me actually posting the silly little things I write. So thanks for the encouragement! I hope you all enjoy this chapter.
Disclaimer: I do not own the Cal Leandros series, it is property of Rob Thurman.
I watched as Cal crawled out from under the bed. Ever since he had returned from… that place he had been different. He didn't talk much, hardly at all, but I had come to understand that he didn't remember what had happened to him in the time he was gone.
The time that I had lost him.
I put my face in my hands and dug the heels of my palms into my eyes. I had lost him. Cal was only fourteen, at least he was when they took him, and he had screamed for me and screamed for me and I didn't come. I could remember every second of it because it was seared into my brain and I was branded with it, but also because it was only about two weeks ago for me. For me…. Cal had been gone for what I guessed was about two years. Two God damn years they had him and what had I done? The same as I always had done when it came to him. Absolutely nothing.
The trailer was burning around me. The smoke filled the air and scorched my lungs and throat as flaming bits and pieces fell around me, seemingly determined to take me down with them.
I wondered distantly if this was what hell was like.
I could hear them screaming. Cal and Sophia, but all I could focus on was Cal's voice. I had to find him. I had to, even though I already knew that we were all going to die. There were too many of them, there must have been almost fifty out there. That's what my brain kept trying to tell me, too bad the rest of me didn't and wouldn't understand the concept of defeat when it came to my little brother.
Something was different…. Sophia's voice had stopped. I would think about what that meant later.
"C-cal." I tried to call back to him to let him know I was here, that I was coming for him. But I couldn't my lungs were burning and the heat was so strong that I now felt it pressing down on me like a blanket of sweltering pain.
I had to get to Cal.
I forced my way through the burning wreckage, I felt like my skin was melting off. Yes! The window, I could see it. I worked faster now, navigating between pieces of the burning, melting trailer. I was so close that I could almost taste the cooler air outside. So close that I would be with my brother any second now. Any second now…
It was strangely quiet outside. I could hear the awful screeching laughing of the Grendels and they watched the world fall down around us. I could hear the cracking of the trailer and the sounds of bodies thumping into each other. I had made it to the window by now. My vision was blurry so my first kick missed. I started coughing making it more difficult to focus. Something was wrong. This whole situation was wrong but something… something…
Cal. He wasn't screaming anymore.
I felt desperation choke out what was left of the air in my lungs. The window shattered under the force of my blow and I tried to call for Cal
"Cal!" My throat must have been burning… but I couldn't feel it. I couldn't feel the glass of the window as it tore my skin when I climbed through, I couldn't taste the ashes that I knew filled my mouth. Unfortunately my vision was still perfectly in tact.
I fell out the window and ran toward my brother's form as it disappeared through a sickly grey light. I knew where it led, to the Grendel's home… to hell. No! Denial swept through me so strong that my whole body became refusal, disbelief. I pushed myself faster. God I ran like I have never run before in my whole damn life. And it still wasn't enough. I wasn't enough.
I ran right by several of them and they let me. They were laughing… laughing. But I couldn't even focus on the hatred… I couldn't feel anything over the despair.
Suddenly it was gone. It was all gone. The Grendel's disappeared through their portals… just like my brother had. There must be somewhere to run… something to fight… something…. Something to do. But there was nothing, just a flaming trailer and an empty field. They had taken him from me. No.
I had lost him.
Had I thought I was in hell before? I was wrong, this was hell, hell was losing what meant the most to you in the entire Goddamn world and having it be all your fault.
But I couldn't leave and I couldn't give up. So I sat down and I waited, because he would come back to me. I couldn't live with the idea that he wouldn't. I couldn't live without Cal. Without Cal there was only a void… only blank emptiness. So I stayed in the spot where I had fallen. Waiting for my brother to return.
Waiting for Cal to come back from hell because if he didn't, then neither would I. We did everything together, and this would be no different.
I pressed my palms harder into my eyes to try and erase the vision…. to try and push it out of my skull. I didn't have time for guilt and despair, I only had time for making my brother better and that I would do. I wouldn't let him be lost to the Grendel's forever. I would wait for him to come back.
I looked down at him as he sat on the floor before me. He had come back last time and he would come back again, because Cal was the strongest person that I knew. He could do this.
I took a deep breath and stood up. Today was the day that Cal and I would resume our training. He was too… broken in the beginning to attempt it. I wasn't sure that he was ready even now but he needed to start training anyways. It could save his life someday, save it when I couldn't. Just like last time. I pulled on my clothes and laid some out for Cal to put on. He still needed reminding of the mundane things, because they were things that he hadn't had a chance to do in at least two years.
"We are going to the dojo today. It's time that we start practicing again." Cal just nodded, he didn't speak much anymore. I missed his sarcasm, and even his complaining. The absence of them just reminded me why they were gone… the place where he had left them.
I had done some research… on that place. I hadn't devoted much time to it between work and my brother, but I had discovered that the home of the Auphe (The technical name for the Grendels) is called Tumulus by outsiders. No one knew the Grendel word for it, and even if they did it may be impossible for a human mouth to say. The Grendel language didn't hold much similarity to any human languages.
We were both lost in our own thoughts as we walked down to the dojo. The trip seemed much shorter when my mind was occupied. Of course I didn't allow myself to get too distracted, I would never let myself get caught unaware again. If I wanted to protect Cal I had to be vigilant, there was no room for daydreaming in our lives.
Cal paused in front of the door for a moment too long before reaching for the handle. All the little things that were no longer natural to him were telling of the time he had spent gone…
That and the messy network of scars that covered his body. There were so many marks… he suffered so much. I slowly ran through my mantra in my head until I was as calm and at peace as I could possibly be in our current situation.
Cal followed behind me closely as I led him to one of the more secluded practice rooms. We didn't want an audience for the fighting we were going to be doing. To say that it wasn't regulation was putting it lightly.
I shut the door silently behind me and rolled the faded and torn blue mat out over the floor. There were no mats in real life, but I wanted to start him off slowly… and at the moment I couldn't stand to see another mark on his body. It would be a lie to say that I was starting slow merely for his sake.
I kicked off my shoes as motioned for him to do the same.
Alright. It was time.
I came at him, not as fast as I could but fast enough, he dodged out of the way and twisted behind me. I aimed a kick at his torso and he twisted to the left to avoid it. He was a little faster than before, but his technique seemed much the same. I could feel the relief like it was a solid entity being lifted off of me. Now was time to move at my full potential, to see what he could really do.
I turned and caught him with a punch to his shoulder throwing him off balance. I hooked my foot around his knees before he could correct the instability and he hit the mat. I gave him no time to recover.
I aimed a kick at his chest, making sure that I wasn't going to hit with enough pressure to seriously damage anything.
My concerns were unfounded.
Cal twisted with speed like I had never seen him use before…. Speed I didn't even know he was capable of using before. Speed I had only seen from one creature before…
He was across the room and in the corner in a movement so quick I almost couldn't follow it. He sat eyes wide open but seeing nothing, or at least not seeing the matted practice room.
He was hunched on all fours and breathing in quick rapid bursts. Cal was hyperventilating.
I rushed to his corner and fell to my knees beside him. He flinched away from my touch and stared up at me terrified. I knew that it wasn't me he was scared of, I knew that he knew I would never truly hurt him, that didn't change the fact that suddenly I knew what it felt like to be thought a monster.
But now was not the time for myself. Now was the time for Cal, my broken little brother, who I was trying my hardest to put back together. Somehow every time I thought he was getting better something like this would happen to remind me that no matter how quickly the scars were healing on the outside, the ones on the inside may never heal, and if they did they would take a hell of a lot longer than the physical ones.
No…. no. There is no 'if', he would heal. I wouldn't let him be broken.
I scooted farther away from him and his trembling quieted somewhat.
"It's going to be okay Cal. It's just me. It's just Niko. You're big brother." I tried to calm him with my voice. It was all I could think of. I didn't know what to do, and no one could help me with this. There was no book I could read, nothing I could kill. Nothing. So we would both just have to settle for the best I could do.
It seemed to be working. His crouch became more of a squat. I kept talking to him, reminding him of who I was and where he was.
"It's just us. We're the only ones here… unless you count the infestation of rats or the cockroaches. Though I suppose those things are scary enough in there own right." Desperate humor for desperate people.
It was apparently helping Cal though. He fell into a sitting position and his eyes seemed to refocus on what was really around him, the here and now. He had won this battle, just as I knew that he would.
"Cal, can you tell me who I am? Can you tell me where you are?" I shifted a little closer to him but didn't try to touch him yet. I didn't want to push him too hard too fast in case he relapsed.
I saw him swallow and open his mouth a few times trying to get his throat muscles to cooperate with him.
"You- You're Niko and we're at a dojo." His voice was slightly gravely but he seemed more okay now. There was no immediate danger of a relapse. I let myself relax slightly and I let out a breath I hadn't been aware that I was holding.
I shifted close enough so that our shoulders were touching and sat next to him. I think that we both needed the contact right now. Cal needed it to remember where he was and whom he was with, I needed it to remember that he was here with me. He wasn't lost anymore.
It took a moment, but eventually Cal relaxed into the touch. We sat there on the floor of that dirty dojo staring into space and trying to hold ourselves together. It was difficult, so difficult.
I had pushed him too fast and had forced him back to that place that he never should have gone to in the first place. The place he never would have if I had been better, if I had been able to protect him. Instead I let the Grendels escape with the only thing that mattered to me, my little brother.
My fists clenched and my breathing sped up. I had to calm down or Cal might start to panic too. It was shocking how bad I had become at controlling my body lately. The nightmares, as if I needed any with the memories, and the shaking were things I could usually stop. They were things I could usually control.
I glanced at Cal.
It seemed as though I was losing control on all fronts. My fists clenched even tighter and I felt Cal tense beside me. I needed to calm down. Now.
So I felt for the beads around my wrists and I said my mantra. I said it again and again until my breathing slowed and my body relaxed and I felt Cal's muscles slowly unclenching beside me.
I leaned more heavily on him and continued the repeating for a long, long time.
Eventually Cal shifted and I realized that we must have been here for quite some time. I stood and offered my hand to help pull him up. He eyed it anxiously for a second before taking it and letting me help him. It was a step.
We headed out the door and onto the dark streets outside. Cal fell into step with me as we walked silently back home.
All the while I kept repeating my mantra.
Cal is with me.
Cal is with me.
Cal is with me.