Takes place after the end of the first book. (Spoiler-ish!)
To Alan, things were as back to normal as they could be. Jamie and Mae had (reluctantly) gone back to their home, he and Nick were packing themselves up for yet another move, and Nick was back on speaking terms with him. In fact, he had even gotten Nick to smile and laugh just a few nights ago, at dinner. Alan had made the mistake of asking whether Nick was less anxious without his mother upstairs. The topic was obviously still too sensitive, so he had needed a battalion of jokes to break the silence and tension that followed.
This morning, though, things were different. Alan woke to the sounds of glass breaking and not-so-muffled curses. He immediately thought, "Demon," and rushed to untangle himself from his sheets. In three seconds flat he had grabbed his glasses and gun, already limping towards the bedroom door and the stairs beyond.
Descending the stairs at a dangerous rate, Alan slammed himself into the wooden doorframe of the kitchen and assessed the room with wide eyes. His trigger finger was already tightening, the muscles of his arm tensing and ready to go at the first sign of danger.
But the only danger was Nick's furious glare, directed towards a shattered dish laying halfway between Nick's feet and the open oven door. Nick's eyes flickered up to meet Alan's and the glare softened by a fraction.
"What…happened?" Alan asked, dumbstruck. Nick didn't have his sword or knives in hand, the kitchen wasn't in complete tatters….but why was the oven open?
Nick's gruff rumble of, "Nothing," prompted Alan back into action. He sat his gun on the table after checking the safety and limped over to the pantry, bringing out the dustpan and broom.
"It couldn't have been nothing," he replied calmly, "or the casserole dish wouldn't be broken in the middle of the floor. Were you trying to make something?"
"No." The hissed reply was immediate. Nick hadn't moved since Alan entered the kitchen, but at that moment he angrily kicked the oven door shut. The loud slam made Alan wince. Nick was too busy grumbling to himself to notice.
"It's fine if you were," Alan continued in his calmest voice. He began to sweep the shards into a small pile. Nick reached down to pick up some of the largest pieces of glass and Alan bopped him over the head with the dustpan. "Don't even," he warned.
Nick returned his concern with a glare, but the younger obediently backed away and sat on the edge of their kitchen table. Alan finished sweeping and emptied the dustpan into the trash. Planning to interrogate his sibling further he leaned the broom against the countertop but paused when he noticed a big lump of…something in his big, plastic mixing bowl.
Nick had an excuse the instant he noticed Alan looking. "That's the remains of the demon I just valiantly slayed."
"…And you put it in my mixing bowl?"
Oops, busted. Alan sighed. He had seen the look that had flitted across his brother's face. And when he made Nick feel guilty, he felt guilty too.
"Hey, I'm sorry," he said gently, limping across the small floor space to lean against the table next to Nick. "I was just really worried – and kind of freaked out – when I heard crashes coming from down here. I am making you wear that pendant for a reason, you know." With tentative fingers Alan reached out to brush over the slight bulge at Nick's neckline.
Nick stiffened, but relaxed a little after he confirmed that Alan wasn't going to mess with the charm. It already stung him enough as it was – he didn't need his dear older brother pressing it into his skin and causing any more pain, even if it wasn't at all on purpose. "We both know I can take care of myself," he retorted. "If anyone needs extra protection, it's you."
"Hey, don't pick on me!" Alan chuckled weakly. It was so hard to argue when Nick had a valid point. "I'm the older sibling here, you know!"
Alan flinched when Nick's eyes flickered to meet his own. The twin pools of cool darkness bore into him. In a calm, almost hollow voice, Nick replied, "I really wonder if that's true."
A shocked silence followed. Nick must have realized that he said something insensitive, but neither could think of a way to break the once again tense atmosphere.
In a moment of panic (and possibly even caring habit) Alan blurted out, "Are you hungry? I might as well make breakfast while I'm down here." He broke the eye lock with his brother and turned to look at the clock. It was only 6:34 A.M., but the sun was already starting to rise and peek in through the kitchen curtains.
Nick started to shake his head "no", but then changed his mind and shrugged his shoulders. Alan missed the scowl aimed at the mixing bowl, mostly because the older of the two was studying the blue plastic with apprehension. "Do you think the garbage disposal would survive if I dumped this thing down it?" he asked, slowly approaching the bowl. "It looks rather globby…oh, nevermind." He had tipped the bowl to one side, the mixture inside moving smoothly in return. It was more liquid than solid, and not sticky at all, though there was a thin layer of dark brown sediment piled on the bottom, along with a thinner layer floating around the surface.
"It was going to be part of my apology." The startling words made Alan drop the side of the bowl and whirl around. Nick had his arms crossed, gaze directed across the room, but Alan knew the words had been meant for him. (After all, who else was there for them to belong to?) Nick opened his mouth again, closed it, then tried once more. "I felt bad….for before. So I was going to apologize, but since I'm bad with words I wanted something else for backup. Something that'd be a bit more obvious, if I couldn't get things right the first time…"
He trailed off into silence and it took a moment for Alan to realize he was supposed to reply. "I would've understood, you know. Although, I do appreciate the thought." He smiled reassuringly. If Nick were five or six, now would be the time for Nick to run over and jump into a brotherly embrace. As it was, the younger sibling just gave a stiff nod. It saddened Alan to remember the past, but he and Nick were still together, so everything was good.
With resolve, Alan took control of the kitchen once more. "So! If you get rid of that "demon" and rinse the bowl out, I'll get some breakfast started. Are muffins okay? There might even be some blueberries in the freezer…" Nick just gave a shrug of approval and slipped off the edge of the table.
Entering the pantry, Alan searched among the orderly shelves for a box of muffin mix. Eyes resting on an empty slot at the front of the baking shelf, Alan's lips twitched into a small smile.
A box of cake mix was missing.