Author: Obi the Kid
Rating: PG (for language)
Summary: Niko POV. Companion piece to "Surface", but from Niko's point of view. Takes place at some point after 'Deathwish' as Cal deals with the aftermath of remembering specific images from his time in Tumulus.
Disclaimer: The characters of Cal, Niko and Promise belong to Rob Thurman. I make no money from the writing or distribution of this story.
I was out of Promise's arms and out the door in a blur that would have put many of her vampire kind to shame. I knew she'd follow, but I had no time to wait for a car to be brought around and then deal with city traffic for God knows how long. The few words I'd heard on the phone from my brother were as desperate as I'd ever heard from him. He didn't show fear often, but when he did, I knew it was real. And this time the fear was sparkling clear in his garbled voice.
Something was wrong. Horrifically wrong.
My sprint across town got me to our apartment and inside in eleven minutes. Cal was on the floor of the bathroom, curled into a corner. He was covered in his own vomit, the trail having led from his bed to the ceramic floor. The pale skin, courtesy of his Auphe half-heritage, was shades lighter than it should have been. The tremors in his body were almost violent. His clothes were soaked with several fluids.
I closed my eyes briefly as I knelt towards him, careful not to touch before he realized it was me. My little brother reached out for me first, distressed and frail.
I reached back to him. "I'm here, Cal." I pulled him to me, caring little about the fluids coating his skin and clothes. As I did when he was younger, I pulled him against me and cupped my hand around his head, holding him safe until his mind and body could settle.
It reminded me so much of when he'd returned from Tumulus. I had seen the same terrified look in his eyes. Felt it surrounding and devouring him. The simple fact that he offered no resistance or sarcastic remark to the embrace scared me more than anything. I couldn't allow him to feel that same fear in me. Cal needed me. He'd admitted more than once, that I allowed him to feel safe when the world got too heavy. He needed my strength and my levelheadedness. He needed the feeling of family. He needed all those things, or he would crumble before my eyes as his sanity disintegrated into blackness.
I would not allow that to happen. Not as long as I had the strength to prevent it.
So I sat with him. And I held him as the tears came and his emotions spilled like blood. And I began to bring him out of his nightmares to focus on me. "Stop thinking so much, Cal. Whatever started this, you'll tell me. We'll work through it. But give your mind a rest. Stop worrying about what you can't control right now. I mean it." I could feel him begging to relax as I moved my hand back to his head and rubbed my thumb in slow circles through his hair. It was something that had always worked to settle him when he was a child. It still worked and when his shaking became less violent, I eased him upright and against the cool tile wall.
Promise, having followed me in her car, drifted past me to run the tub. I was grateful for her quiet help. Cal's eyes wandered to me and then to Promise. Exhausted. Uncertain. Nervous. So many emotions. But I could also see that he was fighting the odors around him. His monster half had given him a keen sense of smell many times better that that of a human. The trail of vomiting he'd left behind was beginning to wear on his senses. I needed to get him clean.
As carefully as I could, I stripped him of his soiled clothes, tossing them in a corner. This wasn't a new experience for either of us. Many times in the past, I've had to help him through more embarrassing moments. And I knew part of him might feel humiliated that he wasn't strong enough or sane enough for so simple a task as undressing. This was me though and as much as his cocky spirit might want to rebel, he trusted me to look after him.
During the task, I turned to Promise briefly to thank her and ask her to offer Cal what little privacy he had left. She nodded a sad smile and said she'd strip the bedding and dispose of the sheets. My attention was quickly back on my brother as I took his arm to help him up. He shook his head.
"Legs don't work, Nik. Not yet." His words were strained with no sign of the sarcastic humor that was such a part being Cal.
I lifted him as gently as I could, moved him to the tub - easing him into the ideally temperate water. Pushing him back against the tub wall, I washed him as thoroughly as possible. As I washed, I worried. Worried that he could spare not a bit of energy for an annoying comment about my herbal soap and organic shampoo as they foamed and lathered his body. A quiet Cal was so very un-Cal like.
My concern aside, within ten minutes he began smelling human again.
The water he sat in was not so fresh smelling however, so I drained and refilled it with water that he could soak in for a short time. Cal was clean. The water was clean. But the bathroom was anything but that. I put a hand on my brother's chest and gave a single order I knew he'd obey. "Stay put."
It didn't take me long to have the bathroom useable. Tossing his dirty clothes in a trash bag, they'd be thrown out with the garbage along with the bedding that Promise would trash. I toweled the floor and disinfected any areas that needed extra attention. Within minutes it was a picture of perfection.
I heard a snort from behind me and turned to see Cal trying to laugh at my anal-retentiveness. His effort was short lived as his head lolled to one side before bouncing back up again. Our eyes met and he focused – or he tried to focus. The effort wasn't very pretty.
I knelt alongside the tub without breaking eye contact. I posed to him one word, which I knew he would read correctly. "Ready?"
Cal's response was simple. "Not really, no."
He needed to talk about this. Soon. We both knew his negative response wouldn't fly with me. I was patient, but firm in my answer. "Tough. You need to. I've got clothes for you. Promise is trashing your bedding. I'll put you in my bed tonight. I'll take the couch."
Couch, my ass. We both knew - hell, Promise probably knew that there was no way I would be leaving his side tonight. Perhaps for the next several nights, depending on the depth of what had caused all of this.
Pulling him carefully from the tub, I wrapped his shivering body in a large terry towel and sat him on the closed toilet seat. One eye on him always, I drained the tub, put away the soap and shampoo. Cal began faltering from his upright position. I reached out to catch him and stood slowly, holding him up and tightly in my arms. The need to know that my little brother was safe and in one piece was sometimes a desperate reaction in me. Probably unhealthy on some level, but that was a worry for others. I held him for a moment.
We edged our way to my bedroom. Promise had left clothing out. My clothing, but it would work just fine. The baggy sweats and tee shirt would fit comfortably, and give him a sense of me at the same time. I made him comfortable, head elevated slightly. I put my hand around his wrist and found his eyes again. They were filled with conflicting emotion. Cal could never hide from me when I looked into and past his eyes. They were his soul. And as much as I hated to do this, I had to push him to talk – for his own sanity.
"Talk," I said simply, in a tone he could never refuse.
His reply was a weak, determined effort. "I can't."
"You can." It pained me, but I had to press him. There was no easy path out of this.
The two words were whiny, yes, but so distressed and so hopeless. I hated to have to keep on him. But I did.
"You said something on the phone, or started to, about Tumulus. Did you remember something?"
He said nothing for a time. But I could see his mind battling beyond his gray gaze. If this was any other person asking him this, he would have been able to resist or he could have talked around it. He knew me better than that. I would not allow him to hide from his nightmares, especially not those dealing with his two years of living hell in Tumulus. So I sat patiently, waiting for him.
Then, he told me. The details remembered of what he'd called feeding time in hell. Being forced to eat not only what they threw at him, but then being forced to eat what he'd vomited up. And finding out at some point exactly what he was eating and proceeding to vomit again and again. Now I knew why I'd had such a difficult time getting food into him when he'd returned from Tumulus those years ago. That first week was especially difficult and worrisome. He would eat enough to sustain him – barely. But with time and patience and a lot of junk food, he eventually found his appetite. Now, having to relive what he'd been able to keep hidden for so long...it was enough to tear him down again.
I lost his words for a moment. What he was saying. It was his weak attempt at humor, I think. I did manage to bring myself back to his attention as he said, "I woke up with these crystal clear and gut-revolting memories of that. Feeding time. I don't know why it surfaced now. It was like living it again and it scared the shit outta me, Nik. I think I yelled for you before I remembered you weren't home. At least I remembered the phone. Sorry about the mess."
My hand tightened on his arm and my eyes cast downward for a moment. "I'm sorry I wasn't here, Cal. I should have been."
Cal snorted again, finding a bit of his old self to give me a piece of his mind. "No, you were having a life. Remember, that's what we're allowed now that the Auphe aren't tailing our every move. You've taken care of me long enough. You are permitted a life beyond your monster-crazed little brother, you know."
I didn't reply. There was some truth to his statement. There was no doubt that it was nice having Promise in my life. It allowed me something other than Auphe and other monsters to worry about. But if Cal thought for one damned minute that I would take a normal life over a life with him in it...well, I'll be running him around the park several times for even thinking that.
My suddenly hardened glare softened as I watched Cal's sleepy eyes in a battle to stay open. We both knew he wouldn't sleep. I wouldn't either. That's just the way it was and had been since Sophia gave Cal life, and promptly tossed him into my hands telling me that she'd done her part spitting the little monster out. Now he was my responsibility.
Little did she know how deeply I would take that responsibility, even though I wasn't yet five-years-old. I made a promise to Cal right then and there that I would always protect him. That I would always keep him safe.
And now, twenty-one years later, I still held a death grip on that promise.
That night I sat with him. One hand on his arm. The other thumbing through a mythology book. The hours were slow to pass, but neither of us slept. The next few nights were the same, although slowly Cal found bits of sleep. I tried to sleep when he was awake, so that I could be alert and ready during his sleep, should he need me.
I gave up my planned time with Promise that week. By now, she understood how important it was that Cal came first in my life. She knew that without Cal, I would not survive. I wouldn't want to. She accepted our situation allowed us our space.
For Cal, the memories of Tumulus faded again, collapsing into that hole in his mind that held life altering darkness and despair. Perhaps he'd unknowingly learned how to push them away after a time. Or perhaps they just faded on their own. Whatever it was, I just hope the damned things stayed where they were.
His appetite returned too and by the sixth day, he was inhaling a grease-laden pepperoni pizza in record time. It was enough to make me gag. And he had the nerve to criticize my food.
And he did, briefly before turning serious and thanking me for saving his ass yet again. I shot back at him how hard a habit it was to break, especially since the importance of it was thrust on me as a four-year-old. He made another smart-ass Cal comment, to which I responded with a hard thwack to his head.
Cal being Cal, he made a dramatic gesture of pain, but followed it quickly with a smirk.
It was our way of maintaining sanity in this wearisome world. We had each other. If that wasn't enough to get us through life, then there wasn't much point in living it.
After a prolonged head rubbing scene, Cal gave up on the rest of his pizza and caught me before I left the kitchen.
"You are going out with Promise, tonight, yes?"
I lifted an eyebrow.
"Don't give me that look, Nik. You are going, if I have to push you out the damn door. You need some time with her. You need some time for you. I'm serious."
"I can see that. And yes, I am spending the evening with Promise, if you must insist."
"Good. Trying to get you out of the house anymore is like pulling teeth on a boggle."
I rolled my eyes. "Nice analogy. Why don't you try it someday. I'm sure Boggle and her little boglets would be happy to oblige."
"You'd like that, so you and your super ninja collection of sharp, pointy, metal objects can come to my rescue again. No chance, Cyrano. I'm going back to work tomorrow, I need my rest."
I smiled, glad at the word play between us and the fact that Cal was getting back to his normal routine.
Before I headed out that evening, Cal sat on the couch, flipping through TV channels at warp speed. I stopped behind and set a hand on his shoulder, pressing gently. I didn't want to mother hen him to death, but if I could see him, I could keep him safe. If I wasn't here, well...
I sucked it up though. I had to, for both our sakes. "I've got my phone. You know where I'll be, Cal."
To my surprise, he reached up and placed his hand over mine, patting it once. "I know, Nik. I know."
Only I could have picked up the slight reflection of relief in his voice. There was still some underlying fear there that the images – or worse – would return. For my own piece of mind, as much as Cal's, I wanted to be certain he knew I wouldn't be far.
My fully-charged cell phone handy, and my body armed to the bone – per my usual – I left our apartment to enjoy an evening with Promise.