Title: For My Brother
Rating: T (PG) for language
Author: Obi the Kid
Summary: Cal POV. Takes place immediately after "Roadkill" (book 5). Cal realizes he must deal with the consequences of becoming more Auphe, and the consequences of Rafferty's 'fix' to his gating problem.
Disclaimer: The characters of Cal, Niko, Robin and the rest belong to Rob Thurman. I make no profit from the writing or distribution of this story.
We were on our way home. Our party of seven reduced to three. Rafferty and Catcher had taken their lives
to the wild. Salome, the mummy cat – she had vanished when things got crazy. All bets were that she'd be waiting for Robin back in New York. Delilah had donned her motorcycle leathers and human form and disappeared in a vast trail of muffled smoke.
That left me, Niko and Robin to make our way home the hard way – driving our latest clunker. This time though, there was no frenzied rush. No impending plague of doom waiting just ahead. It was just us. A changed us – well, me really – but just us. And I have to say that it was a relief. The crush of the last few days had left me twice on the verge of death and once threatening to give in completely and forever to the Auphe side of my genes.
I was ready for a lot of nothing exciting happening. I needed a lot of nothing. I needed to get used to the idea that my traveling days were over. No more instant escape. No more immediate feel-good exhilaration. No more feeding my monster side until dark thoughts turned me against my friends and family. Traveling – or gating – as Niko liked to call it, could and would kill me. Rafferty had made certain of that when he'd 'fixed' me. I could travel once and pay the price. Twice and I was on deaths door. Three times and I was six feet under.
Happy Cal was gone. Angry Cal was back. And I guess I could deal with that. I had for most of my life. Happy Cal had only been around recently. Honestly, I think we were all hopeful we'd seen the last of him.
Things were sinking in now. What I had done. What I had become. What I had thought about doing to my brother. Sure, I'd punished myself for those thoughts already, but I was pretty sure I deserved more brutal retribution than just banging my head against the back seat of our car.
I had practically been drooling at the thought of murdering my brother in cold blood. Picturing the exact method, manner and time – the rush that would come with it.
No monster like that should not be allowed to live. But still I was here. And my brother was still here. And still in all ways, my brother. But he didn't know about those thoughts I'd had. He couldn't possibly how much thrill just the notion of killing him had given me. Perhaps it was best that he didn't know. It was enough for me to live with. I didn't need to burden him anymore so than he already was. Plus, I had fought past those thoughts. Fought past that gleeful Auphe mind-set. I was me again - for now. But more determined than ever to do my damndest to stay there. Not for me, but for Nik.
I was resting quietly in my body's natural slouch position, passenger side of the car, when we pulled into a hotel parking lot. It wasn't yet dark, but it wouldn't be long. Niko thought it best for us to rest before we made the long drive home. I didn't argue. Niko knew best. Always.
Robin wandered out of the hotel's main office with two keys. He handed one to Niko and kept the other for himself.
"I figure you two need some time without me around. And…well, I should call Ish."
Meaning not just a phone call but – ah shit. I really didn't want to think about that right now. So I just nodded instead and followed Niko to the last door on the first floor. It was a small room. Reminding me a lot of the type of room we checked in and out of when we were on the run. Two single beds, a bathroom the size of a tub, a TV and a mini fridge. It's all we needed really. As long as the mattress was soft – hell, even if it wasn't – I was tired enough to sleep on nails.
I sat on the bed and smacked the pillow a couple of times. The pillow. There had been an image of a pillow in my 'killing my brother with happy glee' episode. An image that was still so very vibrant in my mind. Of all things to keep me from forgetting the events of the last day, I had to face the memories again simply because there was damn pillow on my bed.
I didn't see myself getting much sleep tonight. But a shower would do me good. I still had my own blood caked into my skin. Niko did too. And I didn't want it haunting him with nightmares of me dying again. I got up and pushed him towards the bathroom.
"You first, Nik. I can't stand the sight of blood."
"Since it's on you. Just go, please?"
He went and when he was done, tossed me into the bathroom he'd just vacated. I came out feeling a little better. I'd checked in the mirror – I had gotten used to them again – to see my eyes. I needed to make sure they were still gray. Rafferty had been able to change them back. Back from the speckled Auphe-red they were becoming after my brutal attack on Bambi. Of all things he'd ever done for me, I was most glad of that. Silly as it may seem, it kept the human part of me sane because it allowed me to keep a part of Niko with me constantly.
No signs of red. Only gray. The breath I released was deep and shuttering so I allowed myself a couple extra minutes to regain composure. Niko tossed a shirt to me as I thumped onto my bed, the one furthest from the door. Easier for my brother to keep an eye on me, I knew.
I tried not to think about the pillow.
The bed wasn't comfortable. The comforter was one of those itchy types that hotels probably bought in bulk and had shipped from overseas by the billions. But the TV worked so I couldn't complain too much.
Niko watched me for a minute before saying, "There's a vending machine full of clogged arteries near the office. Cheetos?"
"I'll never eat another Cheeto again after this trip."
"Liar. I'll find you something. You need to eat. And at this point, if you'll eat crap, I'll feed you crap."
"I'm not hungry, Nik." I think Bambi-the-raw was still sitting in my belly.
"Tough. I'll be right back."
Okay, I'd lost that round. I had to admit though, it felt good. It felt right. It felt comforting. Niko wasn't treating me any differently than he ever had. I'd worried about that. Not sure why though. Niko would pull my ass out of the fire time after time, usually because of crap I'd gotten my own self into, and he'd never think less of me or think differently of me. Even now when he'd seen me turn into a villainous, murdering creature from hell…even now, he was my brother.
Every kid should be so lucky to have a Niko in their life.
He came back with several small bags and two drinks. He tossed one to me. I stared at it. "Apple juice? Really? This was the best you could do?"
"Carbonation isn't good for you, so no soda. Apple juice, well at least it has the name of a fruit in the title. Drink it. And here."
Two bags flew my way. Pretzels – I could deal with that. And…unsalted almonds? What the hell? "Nik, come on. You said junk food. Or you implied it."
"No, you just assumed it. I said the vending machine was filled with it. I didn't say what I was buying. These were the least threatening of the snacks. I thought you weren't hungry anyway."
"Good. Eat both bags. Drink the entire bottle of juice. Then you can sleep."
As a rule, younger brothers generally don't roll over and obey orders thrown around by older brothers. This younger brother knew better. I'd already fed the Auphe side of me. Sorry, Bambi. My human part though - however much of that was left in me - needed nutrition as well. So, I obeyed, and was glad I did. The human
in me was hungry now that it was feeling less like murdering my road mates and destroying the world. Pretzels, almonds and apple juice. Not exactly what I would call fine dining – by my standards – but it did the job. Niko was pleased with my effort and rewarded me with a tiny curling smile. After all we'd been through in these recent days, I was glad at least one of us had the ability to find some good in something.
I flipped through the TV channels for ten minutes before I drifted off. I was on my side, facing the wall. I could feel Niko's eyes on me, staring at my back. As closely as he used to watch me, he would be keeping an even closer eye on me now, looking for any signs that I was becoming something that neither of us could allow. I trusted him to do what was right if – when – the time came.
And I did sleep, for a few hours anyway. I was startled awake by a nightmare. Nothing unusual for me, but this one was new and a glowing rehash of my evil side plotting to kill my brother. Great. It wasn't bad enough that I dreamed about Auphe and Auphe hell and whatever else was out there. Now my nights would be filled with visions of Niko dying at my own hand while a smile of pure joyful satisfaction merrily caressed my face.
Hell no, this was so not going to happen. I couldn't live like this. I could deal with Auphe dreams. But I could not allow this new mental picture of me executing my only family to become a permanent part of me. No, the nightmares about my brother would stop or I would stop them – by any means necessary.
Niko hadn't been in his bed when I screamed and about jumped out of my skin upon waking from my nightmare extreme. He'd been on the floor, leaning against my bed. As close to me as he could get because that's who he was. He was there. Always there.
After my vocal and physical jolt upright, he'd been off the floor in half a second and sitting on the side of my bed. The mattress sank softly under his lean muscled weight. The first thing he did was reach for my face, grabbing my chin in one hand, and propping my eyes wide with the other. He found what he was after. Gray.
Me - after I remembered where I was - pushed my back against the headboard to try and catch my breath. With my shirt sleeve, I wiped at the sweat collected on my forehead.
Niko said nothing for moments, then, only one quiet word. "Talk."
Maybe someone else could refuse that tone, but I couldn't. Although I wanted to. I wanted to desperately.
"Yes, I can see that. Details."
"Cal, we're entering a new stage here. You can't fight me. You bottle it up, it could help destroy you. Now talk."
I hated it when he was right. And of course, that was all the damn time.
"After I'd gone Auphe, after the deer. When I was in the backseat, before Rafferty fixed me. I had thoughts. Happy, fun-filled feelings of murder and mayhem. I…thought about…I…"
"Me. My death at your hands."
Damn it. How could he know that?
"Yes. It just, my thoughts ran away with me. They weren't my thoughts, they were the Auphe…but…they were my thoughts, weren't they?" He didn't say anything. Instead he patiently waited for me to continue. "I almost lost it completely. I was on the edge of running – traveling. If Rafferty hadn't…I'm sorry, Nik. So damn sorry for everything. I don't know if I can do this. What if I turn? What if I lose it? What if I'm never me again? I can't…just thinking about all of that shit is enough to want to make me escape it all. One final escape and all the hurt ends. And I can do that now. I can. Rafferty said two gates will just about kill me. A third absolutely will. I can…"
The hand that grabbed my shirt collar was so fast, I hadn't seen but a blur before Niko had me pulled towards him, nose to nose. Our eyes locked together. His voice was a tone he reserved only for me. An impossible combination of anger, determination and love for his pain in the ass little brother.
"You will not do what you are thinking. And I don't ever want to hear you say it again. Or think it. Because I will know. You can do this, Cal. We can do this. When our time comes, it comes. No sooner. You gave me your
word a long time ago that you would never do that to me. You damn well aren't giving up now. Understand?"
I nodded. Our noses touching as I did.
"We are brothers. That will never change. You aren't in this alone, Cal. Never."
"I know," I whispered, as his hand relaxed and halved its grip on me. He didn't let go completely, for which I was grateful.
"I'm here, little brother. Always will be."
He finally did release his hand, but not to push me back into the bed. Instead he drew me towards him into one of his rare hugs. It was that gesture of family that ultimately pushed me to the edge and over it. I gave into all the feelings, emotions and events that this road trip had brought about, let it all go, and I cried in my brother's arms. And I can't say that I felt foolish or less of myself for it. It was something I desperately needed. Niko was all I'd ever had. My entire life, he was everything to me. And now, during what had become the most complicated part of our lives, he still was. Emotionally, he was strong enough for the both of us. I fed from that strength as I leaned into it and held on.
He released me at some point. I'm not sure how much time had passed, but my eyes felt more tired than ever. I wiped at them pointlessly. Niko tilted my head up and checked them again. Still gray.
"Is this our new thing, you checking my eyes every few hours?"
"On occasion." He lightly shoved me back against the headboard and said, "Move over."
I was about to protest, especially with the bed being barely big enough for my skinny ass, but we both needed the contact right now. So I scooted over somehow managing room for him to sit next to me, shoulders touching. The TV was on, but it was more or less background noise as we talked.
"You think Rafferty and Catcher will be okay, Nik?"
"They will. Even when Catcher looses what remains of his humanity, he'll still have his family with him. In the end, that's all that matters."
"Yeah. It is." I'd never meant any three words more in my entire life.
"And I think we can safely say that Robin has gone where no puck has gone before. To monogamy."
"Yes. And thank you for that thought. I was worried I might not ever be able to sleep again."
"No problem, little brother."
"Think Salome will be jealous?" I snorted thinking about the freakish mummy cat that had adopted our boastful friend.
"That's Robin's problem." Niko paused for a moment before mentioning another female in our lives. "What will you do about Delilah?"
"I guess just see what happens. I'm more like her than she really guessed. That can't be good for the future. But it has to play out." I shrugged. "I don't know. For now, I'll keep my distance, especially since I have some new problems of my own to work out." Of course I was talking about the urge not to gate, unless I really did go suicidal. And Niko had just lectured me on that. Addictions are hard to beat. But now that this one came with side effects that could stroke out a human brain…I might not need a twelve step program after all.
I watched the black and white images on TV. It was showing an old western from the 50's. My eyes followed the figures on the screen, but I listened vigilantly to what Niko said next.
"Don't hide, Cal. From me, I mean. If you start getting those feelings, I want you to tell me. And I want you to meditate as soon as those feelings start. We'll work on more meditation methods. Get you deeper. I think it'll help. I know it's boring and takes away from your TV and nap time, but I want you to try. For me."
How could I say no to the one who had spent his life doing for me? I couldn't. It might be boring as hell, but I would try. No, I would do more than try. For Nik, I would do everything I could to make this new me function like a human. I had to after all he'd done for me. If this was my way of giving back – I would work my ass off to get there.
Hours later, my eyes sagged and my head lolled sideways until it dropped onto Niko's chest. I tried to lift it back up, but felt pressure against my temple. Niko had wrapped his arm around me and placed his hand on my forehead.
"Keep still, Cal. Let yourself rest. You're safe."
And I knew I was. I just kept fighting sleep because of what it brought with it hours ago. But my body was craving what my mind knew to be terrifying. Ultimately my body did give in and I felt myself drifting further and further away from consciousness.
I slept soundly until morning. No happily horrifying images of my own hand bringing death to my brother. No images at all really. It was the most solid sleep I'd had in a long time, thanks to Niko. I'd no doubt that his presence next to me was responsible. He'd stayed near and awake all night…for me.
I felt better. I felt good. I felt my shoes being hurled at my head. "Ouch! Jesus, Nik! What's wrong with you?"
"Get up. Four miles today. I'll go easy on you. I don't want you antsy in the car. We've got a long ride."
I so hated running. I so hated exercise - period. But my shoes went on and I followed Niko outside. We stretched briefly and then he shoved me forward. "You set the pace, but you run like a turtle and I'll tie you to me and drag you along. Go."
I went and found a pace we were both content with. Afterwards, I was exhausted and drenched in sweat. Niko was barely pulling in breath. Bastard. He tugged at my ponytail as we returned to our room.
"Grab a shower, I'll get us checked out and find Robin. Between the three of us, I think we can drive straight through to home."
I turned and looked at Niko. He looked at me. Gray to gray. Brother to brother. My only family. My lifeline.
I tried to convey all the words I couldn't say into that look. The depth of what he'd already done for me - what he would do for me – what he meant to me and my sanity…I put it all out there.
I knew he understood. He didn't have to say it, but he did anyway.
"I know, Cal. We'll be okay."
I let out a breath and blinked slowly before heading to the shower.
We'd be on our way home soon. With challenges like I'd never faced before. The battle to keep my Auphe half from taking control of me would be difficult enough. But we still had to make a living and maintain our responsibilities to our jobs and our friends.
I didn't know what would ultimately come of all this. I knew what I was – what I was capable of. But I also knew that the human side of me had something left to offer or it would have collapsed a long time ago.
As long as I had Niko, I'd work my ass off to be all that he thought I could be.
We could do this. I could do this. I had to do this. For my brother.