Fandom: Cal Leandros series
Pairing/Characters: No pairings. Niko, Cal, Robin, Promise
Warnings: Swearing, angst, talk of death and suicide, a little bit of gore
Summary: Niko has a purpose. One purpose, that he's understood since he was four years old. It's too bad no one else bothers to ask him about it.
Disclaimer: I do not own. If I did it would be a lot different. Trust me.
Word Count: 7,495 (that translates into 12 pgs folks in 10pt font)
Dedication: Meh, to Air-Red, the reason I actually finished this monster of a thing
Excerpt: Something deep inside Niko, something savage and protective comes alive and he blurs into motion with barely a thought. He moves so fast that even the Grendel is surprised. He ducks under a grasping arm coming up, and with a burst of strength he didn't know he had, he cuts through the arm. The Grendel howls, loud enough to wake the dead, and snarls in anger. Niko snarls right back.
A/N: So I started reading Nightlife. Finished it in, like, three days, this idea hit me. While I was in the middle of this (day two) writer's block hit. So I started Moonshine. More inspiration struck. This is the product of three days writing and two days of writer's block. 7,400 words, that's my longest so far. Yeesh. The reason I finished this is Air-Red who wanted a Cal Leandros fic. That was my has spoilers for the first two books and tentative delving into the Leandros siblings' childhood. Mostly Niko-centric. Mostly a brother fic. I may or may not do a sequel depending on how well this is recieved. There are diect quotes from Moonshine in here. They are not specified but they are from chapters 15 and 17. Review if you wish. Flame if you wish. Still never been flamed. Hope you enjoy.
He was four years old, the very edge of five, when he became a big brother. There was no big fanfare when Cal was born, no one happy mother, nor weeping father. Cal was born by a midwife and named by Sophia. Caliban, she'd said eyes dark with some emotion that at four he did not yet know. It's name is Caliban.
Then the two hour old infant had been placed in his hands and he'd been told "Take care of it." An infant who had barely stopped crying and had just been put into this world given to a four year old. Later Niko would be amazed that he hadn't killed them both, although the midwife had come around for the first year. (He wondered later why she never reported them, never stepped in to take them away and why one day she just never came back. It's one of the few things he'll never know that sincerely bothers him.)
He'd looked at that small, pink bundle in his arms. He'd never seen anything more beautiful and that was when Niko knew. Cal (already nicknamed, even fresh out of the womb) was his purpose. His one purpose in life.
It was a realization that he felt was validated every time he saw the glimpse of Grendel in Cal's window, when he learned the reason behind Cal's name.
Cal was his purpose, from the day that he'd been born to the day he died, Cal would be his purpose.
And that was completely and totally fine with Niko
The first time Niko held a knife in defense of Cal, he was six years old. Cal was two, still a toddler and small for his age. A product of the fact that Sophia had barely acknowledged her oldest son and his needs let alone her youngest's. Niko had been watching over Cal in the makeshift crib while doing his math homework when Sophia came in and for the first time since he had been born acknowledged Cal. In true Sophia fashion it was possibly the most derisive acknowledgement she could have bothered to make. The door slammed and Niko winced slightly at the tell-tale shattering off one of the few things in the front hall that have survived their years with Sophia.
He could almost sense her presence as she moved closer to the room where he sat.
"Wha'cha doing, brat?" Her voice was slurred and the heavy smell of alcohol wafted off her.
"Homework, mother." He disliked her greatly, but still believed that she deserved that tiniest sign of love. She was his mother and you were supposed to love family. (Even if he didn't really love Sophia.)
She snorted derisively and opened her mouth to say something except her attention was caught by Cal. "That little monster still here?" She slurred unhappily. "Thought it'd died or somethin'. Shoulda killed it when I had the' chance." Niko narrowed his eyes at the pure hatred in her own, almost identical, eyes.
"Little monster, ain't it? Shoulda smothered it, better off without the stupid thing. Bet it's just gonna end up a monster like it's father. Nasty thing, better off dead. Like a sick kitten, drown it like a sick kitten." She moves closer to the crib, something dangerous in her eye.
"Mother. Stop." He knows she's going to try and hurt Cal. She turns and looks at him, sneers nastily, drunkenly.
"Don't tell me you like this thing. Want to keep it. You saw it's father. You sayin' you want something outta that?" She moves closer to Cal again even as she looks at him disbelieving.
"Move away from him, mother." He doesn't deign to answer her question. She's not the one who matters, all that matters is keeping her away from Cal.
She moves quick as a snake, picks Cal up. He eyes snap open and he stares at her for a handful of moments before he opens his mouth and starts to wail. Sophia snarls in anger. "No one's gonna tell me what to do." She shoots at him in anger, eyes dark with it.
"Shut it up!" She shakes Cal in anger turning away. "Gonna kill it. Gonna be gone forever." She mutters and something in him shatters. (Red, red, red and he can't see anything but her shaking his baby brother, his, his, his, she's not going to hurt him, Cal is his.) He grabs a knife off the kitchen counter and quick as lightning has it digging hard into her back. She freezes and turns her head to look at him balefully.
"Don't move, or I'll kill you." His voice is steady and colder than he's ever heard anyone before.
"You couldn't do it." She tells him, but there's a note of uncertainty and he wonders if it's because she can- or she knows his father can- kill easily and wonders if that passes through genes. He digs the knife harder against her back.
"I swear, Sophia, I'll do it. He means a hell of a lot more that you do." She snorts derisively but puts Cal back in his makeshift crib and steps away, out of the range of Niko's knife.
"Keep it out of my sight." He keeps the knife in his hands until she leaves, slamming out in much the same manner as she slammed in. Then he tucks it into his belt, he'll never be unarmed in this house again. He knows he'll never call Sophia 'mother' again. She would've killed Cal, the small bright spot in Niko's generally dismal life.
He picked up the two year old. "Don't worry, Cal," He whispered into dark hair, pressing a kiss into it. "Your're safe with me."
At fourteen he's mastered himself mostly out of necessity. If that first time protecting Cal from Sophia taught him nothing else it was that he had a dangerous temper. Sophia had been apathetic at best towards Cal, cruel and nasty at worst. She had taken the treat to heart and stayed away from him, though there were a few times when she was drunk that Niko had to threaten her once again to keep her away. She had channeled her hate into her words towards Cal and had, in Niko's opinion, totally screwed up his self-esteem and self-image. It pissed Niko off beyond all measure but he couldn't keep her from talking to him.
She called Cal a monster but Niko didn't believe it, although Cal had started to insist that Niko call him by his "real name." Caliban. To remind him of the monster he was. Niko refused and stood fast on the matter, introducing him to anyone as Cal and generally refusing to comply with Cal's stupid idea.
Monster Cal wasn't. Niko had seen monsters. Had seen his father all three times that the man had dropped into his life. Known, even at three that this man wasn't safe. Had seen Sophia and his father snarling at each other, animalistic and savage as any Grendel. Niko had been there when Sophia had made the deal with Cal's father, the Grendel. Had seen the horrible twisted expressions, the greed in it's eyes. There was no humanity in it's gaze, no mercy, only cruelty. He'd seen his mother, his flesh and blood, sell herself to a true monster for nothing more than a little bit of gold and silver, a little bit of booze money. He'd seen her eyes as she tried to kill Cal, a child, still innocent. Watched her every day as she tried to taint that innocence. Those were the monsters, those were the ones to be wary of. Not Cal, whose humanity was a bright and shining star in Niko's dismal world.
At fourteen he would take on the world for his brother. Gladly.
He was making his nightly rounds to make sure that Sophia was staying away from Cal's room when he heard the noise. Niko's ears were exceptionally sharp even for a human's. He slipped silently into Cal's room, only to be met with an image from his nightmares. Leaning over Cal was the monstrous form of a Grendel. The Grendel. Cal's father. And Niko didn't know how he recognized him, but he did. He snarled, a dark sound ripped from deep inside him, that surprised him. The Grendel turned to look at him, red eyes burning maliciously.
"Get away from him!" He might have been surprised at how steady his voice was if not for the fact that he was burning ice-cold with an anger that shattered his peacefulness.
"Mine. My spawn. Mine." The voice was otherworldly and all manners of frightening. Niko just snarled again.
"You get away from him. He's not yours!" The mouth twisted into a ghastly imitation of a smile.
"Mine!" Something deep inside Niko, something savage and protective comes alive and he blurs into motion with barely a thought. He moves so fast that even the Grendel is surprised. Niko strikes, once, twice, three times, with his hidden knife. Blood arcs in the air and Niko has never been more glad that Cal is a heavy sleeper. He ducks under a grasping arm, coming up and, with a burst of strength he didn't know he had, he cuts through the arm. The Grendel howls, loud enough to wake the dead, and snarls in anger. Niko snarls right back.
The Grendel opens up a gaping whole behind him and snarls again. "Don't worry, little sheep. My spawn is mine."
"Not while I'm alive! Cal is mine." Niko tells it and even as the great whole closes in front of it's face Niko can tell it's pissed. But it's gone, although Niko doesn't know why it was there in the first place, and now he's coming down off of the adrenaline. Which is when he realizes that both he and the floor is covered in hot blood. It shines silver in the moonlight and the smell gags him. He's just glad that he didn't get any on Cal and that the floor is wood not carpet. That'd be a bitch to get out.
His hands didn't stop shaking until he'd cleaned the blood of the floor. Niko stripped off the shirt he'd been wearing, glad that it was not one of hi favorites. It was definitely unsalvageable. Slipping both it and the towel he'd been using into a garbage bag he tried to calm himself. Niko had never been squeamish, in fact he was vicious and a little cruel and he knew he'd have no trouble killing if it was to protect Cal. But first blood was always hard even if it was a Grendel and he was still freaking out about the fact that a Grendel had been in their house and looming over Cal.
Claiming ownership of Cal. He shuddered. Cal was not anyone's property, especially not a Grendel's, especially not that Grendel, and if Niko had to fight them a hundred times he'd make sure they knew it.
The worry was still heavy in his mind though and he slipped into Cal's room silent as a ghost. Sitting on the edge of the bed helped but he had the sudden urge to touch his brother, to make sure that Cal was still there and not some illusion. Against his better judgment he slipped a hand into his younger brother's soft, dark hair. It grounded him back to reality and he let out a breath he hadn't even realized he was holding. Losing Cal was his greatest fear, a fear not helped at all by the horror of tonight.
Closing his eyes he inhaled slowly before exhaling just as slowly. Working quietly to build up his careful control in the dark helped him dispel the image of the Grendel leaning over Cal with possession and cruelty heavy in it's face. It was an image that would haunt his dreams for months, probably years, but he could keep it from his waking mind.
Niko sighed quietly to himself and gently lay down next to his brother. He didn't normally do this but, well, he needed the comfort that was Cal right now and he woke early enough, far earlier than Cal, for his brother to ever discover that he was doing this and ask awkward questions. Because there was no way he was telling Cal about the Grendel that was Cal's father coming to loom over him in a truly stalker-ish manner.
Which if he thought to much about it might be a mistake but screw it. Cal knowing would be worse and Niko had proved tonight that he could handle at least one Grendel.
He was going to keep Cal safe, no matter what.
Cal was screaming for him and he'd seen Sophia catch fire and burn. Her death didn't bother him so much as the cruelty of it. Burning alive was a horrible way to die, cruel and painful. Of course the Grendel's were anything but merciful. He came around the house, anger boiling under his skin, Cal had stopped yelling for him and that worried Niko (terrified him). He was angry and scared, blaming himself because he should have known that the Grendel wouldn't give up and would come with back-up so it could overwhelm him, them, not risking itself again. (He hoped growing back that arm had hurt the bastard.)
He came around the house just in time to see a limp, but still conscious, Cal being pulled back into another one of those damn holes in the universe. Watched as the Grendel, Cal's father, met his eyes with triumph and pride and ownership and the hole closed, disappeared from existence as if it had never even been there. Niko, who had been running, trying to get to Cal, collapsed to his knees on the spot where it had just been, only moments to late.
He screamed, grief heavy in his voice. He bowed his head so it was touching the ground and let out a desperate sob. Cal was gone, gone, and it was his fault for not being able to protect him. And Sophia was dead as well. He didn't, hadn't, liked her, had hated her even, yet she had been his mother and losing them both like this was breaking him. He let out another strangled sob, his oh so vaunted control shattering under the weight of his grief.
It was a time, immeasurably long and terribly short before thought became possible again. He's going to come back. A whisper of a thought that passed through his mind. He has to come back.
The thought too weak to explore, his normally disciplined mind too scattered to even think upon it to deeply.
He'll come back. It's Cal. Cal will come back. Stronger this time, more confident, although he wasn't sure where the confidence came from. There was no proof that Cal wasn't gone forever, taken by monsters, because Niko couldn't protect his little brother. That thought crippled him again his grief spreading a hazy film over his thoughts.
Another time, unmeasured in it's passing. All you have to do is wait and he'll be back. Patience, that's all you need. He'll be back. Strong now, gathering his thoughts from the corners of his mind. An idea that seemed to have planted itself deep inside him, nurturing a tiny, tiny bud of hope. He didn't know why he was so sure (not confident, just sure) that Cal was coming back. He just was, and he was not moving from this spot until it happened. A good thing he had a water bottle shoved into one of his inner jacket pockets.
He straightened, moving from a kneeling position to a cross-legged one. His legs, long ago gone numb from lack of circulation, made their displeasure known. He made no noise of pain and did not move once he had again settled.
For two days he did not move other than to take small sips of water. He did not sleep, or eat, or make noise, hardly even blinked. He sat in silent vigil and waited. He waited, soft voice in his head telling him it would be alright, Cal was coming back, he just needed patience. (Once he would have worried he was going mad, but now it hardly mattered at all. Nothing mattered but Cal.)
Before dawn of the third day of his vigil, in silent twilight, a dark hole appeared. Niko tensed ready to fight if it came down to it (he would not be moved from this spot until Cal came back or he was dead.) He was both surprised and not to find a body spit from the hole and deposited by his side.
The person was naked and snarling, nearly rabid with fear. A mad glint to his eyes. And Niko recognized those eyes if he recognized nothing else about that body, two years older than it should have been.
"Cal?" Voice cracked with disuse and shaky with disbelief and hope attracted Cal's attention. For a terrible, heart stopping moment those eyes held no recognition. Then something flicked on in them, some far away light.
"Niko? Nik?" Cal's voice raw in a way that came only from near constant screaming. Niko lunged forward, pulling an unresisting Cal into his lap and hugging him hard. Cal's body was new to him (he'd figure out how Cal had aged what looked to be two years in the space of two days later) but it was still Cal's and his movements were the same, if a little more desperate when he returned the hug. Both were holding onto the other with some desperation, and Cal was crying into Niko's shoulder. Niko was grounding himself with the warmth of Cal's skin, and the tight press of his brother's body against his.
They sat together like that as dawn struck, the sunrise more beautiful than any either had seen before, although neither paid much attention to it. When the sun was fully up, Niko finally spoke.
"We need to go. Let's get you some clothes." Cal moved from where he was near sitting on Niko's lap and both stood up. Niko lace their fingers together, unwilling to let his brother break contact, even if it was something Cal wouldn't have allowed before (only two days and yet so much longer.) His younger brother only looked down at their hands before grasping tighter and letting himself be led to the car where all their stuff had been packed. Lucky that, because nothing in the house was salvageable and driving into the nearest town with a naked man in the car probably wasn't the best idea.
He rifled through his clothes pulling out a pair of sweats and an old sweatshirt. Cal put them on carefully, his eyes still a little wild. He only let go of Niko's hand for a moment to slip the sweatshirt over his head and then he was grasping it again a little harder. Niko pulled him into another rough hug, and Cal returned it with his free arm.
Niko let go so they could both get into the car, fitting his hand over the pulse point in Cal's wrist as soon as they were both in and the car was started. Not quite hand-holding but still comforting.
Then he drove. Drove for hours and hours and hours. Drove without an idea of where he was going, just going for the sake of getting the hell away from that house. Sometime past noon Cal fell asleep, curling in on himself in the seat. He twitched and whimpered with nightmares only a few hours in, and Niko had to gently shake him awake. Cal's eyes were scared and desperate as he first woke, searching desperately. When they found Niko they filled with relief and the tension drained from his body.
"Thought it was a dream." Voice whisper soft and heart-breaking and still raw.
Niko's hand tightens over Cal's wrist, not enough to hurt but enough to reassure his brother that he is there.
"No," he murmurs, "Not a dream. I'm here, little brother."
Cal's mouth twitches in the tiniest of smiles, unfamiliar with the motion, and Niko offers a smile in return. They speak little after that and Cal dozes several times, with only a few nightmares. Niko wakes him from each one. Niko has to stop eventually because he hasn't slept or eaten in nearly three days straight and Cal looks very underweight, although not completely emaciated.
They get fast food, although Niko would normally protest. He doesn't because he doesn't think that Cal can deal with any large groups of people right now and even he finds the thought a little intimidating. Then they drive to the nearest hotel.
Cal comes with him to check in because neither of them want to let the other out of their sight for even a moment and Cal will brave crowds if it means keeping his brother in sight. Niko doesn't hold his hand or keep his hand on Cal's wrist, instead he lets a comforting hand rest on the small of Cal's back, gently guiding.
The person at the desk looks at them a little suspiciously, which is actually understandable. Niko's barely moved, let alone showered, in three days and he looks very scruffy and the slightly wild light in his eyes from grief hasn't faded completely. Cal looked, well a little feral and was dressed in too big clothes, still uncomfortable with his new body. But she gives them a room without comment, and he's more than a little grateful.
They don't bother to unpack their stuff, Niko grabs a duffel bag from the trunk that he know has enough clothes for the both of them. On their way to the room Niko grabs Cal's hand again, Cal flashes a grateful look at his brother. Niko kicks off his shoes as soon as their in the room, as does Cal. Then he carefully locks the door in all the ways possible. He's immeasurably glad that this hotel has deadbolts, and fairly heavy ones at that, as well as much smaller window than most hotels are known for.
Paranoia is running high in Niko at the moment. He drops his keys as well as the key to the room on the bedside table, and lets go of Cal's hand long enough to shuck his jacket. Then he takes it again and pulls both of them to one of the twin sized beds. The thought of sleeping separately doesn't even occur to him and though he doesn't' know it Cal is more than glad that they aren't. Cal moves into something near a fetal position as soon as he lays down and Niko curls around him protectively.
"Cal?" His voice is low and rough and apologetic. Cal can already tell what he's going to ask.
"I don't remember anything." Niko doesn't say anything else just moves closer and Cal marvels at the warmth. They're pressing together, still looking for comfort and assurance that the other is real. Niko's still heart-broken with grief, but that eases with the warm body laying next to him and the tight grasp on his hand.
"They're never getting you again, little brother. I swear, never again." If Cal hears the desperate edge he doesn't call him on it, just hums in grateful acknowledgement.
"I know, Nik." He murmurs, and Niko presses his face into Cal's shoulder to stem the tears that hearing Cal's shortening of his name brings.
They both slide into sleep, warm and safe and comfortable and healing.
The pain in his chest doesn't even rival the pain in his heart. He's lost Cal to the Grendels again. After he swore that he'd keep Cal safe. Then Cal shot him, except it wasn't Cal, it was Darkling. Except from every thing he'd heard about Darkling, there was no Cal left. Darkling took everything, melded it together. Which is why fighting Darkling was impossible, because Cal knew his every quirk and now Darkling had the power and speed to take advantage of this knowledge.
Niko was lucky he was always prepared. Right, lucky.
"Niko?" That was Robin. "We're back at your apartment." Niko looked up, surprised. Oh. He hadn't even known where he was going.
"Niko?" This time it was more worried. Robin had never seen Niko in anything other than perfect control. Never seen him dealing with the grief that crashed down around him, caused him to close up.
"I'm fine, Robin." His voice a little too dead to be believable. Robin didn't push though, just followed Niko up the stairs. Niko didn't stop until he stood in front of the sink. Sophia's voice slurred with alcohol came back to him. It's how we honor our dead. Cut your hair for the dead. Cut your hair and mourn. A whisper, faded over time. The one useful thing she'd told him over the years of hatred and abuse she'd offered him and Cal. Cut your hair and mourn.
He took the knife that sat on the counter, ignoring Robin's worried "Niko!" and brought it up. One sharp movement and all his hair, his one vanity, tumbled away, cut at the base of his tight braid. It falls unevenly cut.
Yes, Niko would mourn this way. It was better than the complete break down that was waiting at the edges. That could wait.
"Let's go." He turns to Robin, voice calm, eyes flat. He knows that Robin is eyeing him worriedly. It's worth worrying over he supposes. He can't bring himself to care. All that matters is finding Darkling and making him pay. And when Darkling and Cal die it won't take long until he follows suit.
Cal was alive. Cal was alive. Alive and free of Darkling, who had been tricked away from Cal's body. Niko could barely keep himself together, he was exhausted and frayed at the edges. He'd barely slept the entire time Darkling had Cal's body as it's own. He knew better than that, the nightmares would not have allowed him rest even if he'd wanted to sleep.
Which is why he's pissed when Rafferty send the subtle push of Sleep into his mind. Or he would be pissed if he wasn't wavering out of consciousness. Sleep. Rafferty urges him and he's glad he's sitting down because tumbling to the ground would just be embarrassing, even if he did just get ambushed with mind magic. Sleep. He's succumbing now, although reluctantly, but he can feel the slightly frustrated edge to the voice and know that this is the longest anyone has managed to resist the insistent nudge. The briefest flair of triumph and then he lets himself slide into darkness as the fourth push, the strongest push, hits him. Sleep.
There are no nightmares, there are no dreams, only the unending passage of time and the vast feeling of grief and loneliness. Niko's grief will fade, but it will fade slowly, and there will be many times he needs reassurance of the continuance of Cal's life.
Unfortunately for him Cal will notice his quiet breakdown, although he doubts anyone else will. He's too tranquil for anyone else to notice.
He wakes up aware that Cal is watching him. He's still bone-deep weary and he knows it shows in his eyes, in his movements. He keeps his eyes on Cal constantly throughout the conversation. Even as he reassures Cal, Niko is reassuring himself. That Cal is alive, that Cal is free from Darkling, that Cal is still there. It's hard to keep himself concentrating on the conversation and to not draw his little brother into a hard hug. Physical touch is still Niko's favorite way of grounding himself, but the days of being able to hold his brother's hand for comfort are long past.
For all that Niko is glad of it, for it means that Cal is healed, he is also a little regretful. Being allowed to keep a hold of Cal was what had kept him sane in the months after Cal's short (long?) disappearance. He keeps these thoughts to himself.
There is little to do the next couple days, Niko sleeps little, watches Cal most of the time, although discreetly. Cal knows, and he knows that Cal knows. This does not stop him, just causes him to be more discreet. When he does sleep it's filled with nightmares. Of stabbing Cal, of watching his heart stop, of his own hands covered in his brother's blood. He wakes up from each one of them breathing heavy and pulse racing, adrenaline and fear high.
He hates it because he controls every other part of himself and yet the horrible dreams still slip through the cracks. And he can tell Cal is worried, for once their roles are reversed.
One night, after they are back in New York and settled into a new, slightly better apartment, he wakes up to find Cal's comforting hand on his shoulder. Heavy and solid and definite proof that Cal is alive and not laying dead in Rafferty's house, dead by Niko's own hand. The dream images pound against his mind, making him nauseous and more than a little upset.
"Nik?" Cal's worried voice pulls him back to the present.
"I'm fine, Cal." A lie, and they both knew it. Cal paused, on the brink of saying something or doing something. Niko lay still, trying to keep nightmare images away.
"You're not fine, Nik. The nightmares aren't getting better and we both know it." A short pause, then. "You're worrying yourself to death, brother. I'm worried about you."
Niko pauses, a lie, an absolution on the tip of his tongue. But he wanted the comfort of his brother staying with him, if only for tonight. It was a weakness, one he should have hated, but he was too tired to care.
"Stay." A startled and worried look from Cal. "Just for tonight, stay." Struggling to keep himself conscious until he felt Cal settle on the bed with him, his brothers smaller body pressed to his.
"Sleep, Nik." Cal whispered leaning forward so their foreheads were touching. "Sleep, brother."
And Niko did.
He hated trolls. If he ever saw Abbagor again he would slaughter the troll and no one could stop him. No one. He would wreak havoc on every troll he ever came across and on Caleb and The Kin and anyone who got in his way. Anyone who could have been associated with the mess that had lost him Cal.
Fury was better than grief, even if it would soon burn through him leaving him with nothing to take refuge behind. For him there was little point in living if Cal was not there as well and he knew Cal felt the same. Not even Promise would be enough of a consolation.
He was desperately digging, ignoring Robin. His brother, his little brother, was buried beneath this rock and he would find him, or keep trying until he passed out or was dragged away.
"Niko, stop. Stop. I have Caliban on the phone. He's all right. He's home. Safe. Here, talk to him."
Relief so stark it left him nearly breathless. He reached for the phone, nearly dropping it with uncharacteristically clumsy hands.
"Cal?" The disbelief slips in to his voice although the panic does not, luckily. Sometimes he is very glad for his self control.
"It's me, Cyrano," Cal tells him, quiet and steady. "I'm okay. I'm back in the apartment."
It takes Niko a moment to slow his breathing, frenzied from both exertion and panic. Then he asks the question, mostly to distract himself. "How?"
"Like father, like son." A little bitter, mostly weary. Niko understands at once the implication.
"Ah. Unexpected." He rubs his face, suddenly weary himself. "Stay there. We'll be back as soon as possible." He hesitates, as out of character as it is, then asks a little more quietly. "You're not hurt?"
"Not a scratch." Is the immediate answer. Perhaps a little to immediate to be complete truth, but it is enough for now. His brother is alive and well and talking. That is more than Niko had expected only five minutes ago.
"Good." A careful exhale, relief evident to Cal but no one else. "Good. Then you can have lunch ready for our return. We'll discuss what we've learned then."
He hangs up then and hands Robin's phone back to him. It takes only a moment for him to gather himself before he stands up, briskly wiping the mud off his hands. Robin is looking at him with understanding. He's seen Niko before, when Darkling had taken Cal's body, and knows the grief that drove Niko then. Recognizes it in the tense set of Niko's shoulders now.
Robin does not say anything though, a fact for which Niko is grateful for. The puck just leads them to the car and offers to drive. The full body ache has just set in so Niko agrees, he doesn't want to be distracted enough to drive them in to a building, or something equally as stupid.
The car ride takes too long. He wants to be back at the apartment right now and the pain isn't helping him keep his impatience under control. He keeps control, although he's developed an almost imperceptible twitch in his right hand. Luckily it's hidden from the sight of Robin, therefore the puck cannot share his insight with anyone unfortunately observant and/or knowledgable about him. Like Cal.
He's never been more grateful for this piece of crap apartment then he is when he walks in to find Cal sitting at their table munching on pizza. There's a mess that used to be a coffee table in the living room, presumably where Cal landed, but other than that everything seems normal. Niko cannot help but feel a rush of relief.
Well it seems as if he's just traded one set of Cal's death related nightmares for another. This had been a very bad year.
He heard them before he saw them, Promise's voice cool and merciless.
"-would you try to face what is before you? Not even for the one who has thrown away his life for you?"
Words meant to motivate, words meant to sting enough to get Cal to help, words she didn't understand. Unacceptable words. He had decided the moment he'd set his eyes on Cal, that Cal was his purpose. Without Cal there was nothing and that did not mean that he'd "thrown away his life" for Cal.
He was getting really tired of people saying that. No one knew his mind except him and maybe Cal, who didn't count because of his propensity to blame himself for anything that happened to Niko. No one else knew why he stayed with Cal and he would thank them very much to stop making assumptions.
"Promise. Don't." He saw by the flash in her eyes that she realized she'd gone to far. Cal's eyes were burdened by guilt, he too was thinking that he had caused Niko to throw his life away. Was probably blaming himself for the fact that Niko was closing off from Promise at this very moment. Because that was Cal, annoyingly self-blaming little bother.
"No. No, she's right. I should tell you what I can, even if it's only guesses... impressions."
Niko recognized the change in the air even as the gate formed. Understood why it happened. Hell, it wasn't hard to figure out since the last time he'd tried to get Cal's memories of his time in Tumulus it had ended with Cal cowering in a corner, unaware of anything or anyone that was around him and lashing out like a wild animal. If he hadn't been worried he would have rolled his eyes heavenward. This is why you didn't make decisions when you didn't have all the information. Even Promise forgot that she wasn't all-knowing and always right.
Sadly, the propensity to believe you know best seemed to be just as heavily there in the supernatural community as in normal humans. It occasionally made Niko want to bash his head into a wall.
Then Cal's eyes went far away and Niko could have cursed. It took far longer than Niko wanted but not nearly as long as he'd feared to bring Cal back to the land of life and warmth. Even if he did have to slap him.
"Cal, can you hear me? Stay with me, all right? Stay with me." His eyes focused, first on Niko, then on the gate.
"You don't want to go there. But I guess maybe it wants to come here."
A morbid thought if ever there was one.
"Can you close it?" A question with a purpose. He hoped the answer was yes. It wasn't, he knew as soon as Cal's face tightened into worried lines.
"Knock me out. Now." Voice sharp and urgent. Not panic, but not too many steps below it. Niko understood the implication. The gate was not under Cal's control. Understandable since he'd just had a minor flashback. Niko did not hesitate.
When Cal was safely situated on the bed, Niko settled himself on the floor next to him. Despite what many would assume it wasn't just to keep the nightmares away that he sat with Cal, it was as much to comfort himself with the fact that Cal was there that he did it.
Promise came and settled all too gracefully onto the ground with him, staring with grave eyes in a grave face. He did not hold back on the explanations. By the time he was finished she had paled a shade lighter and was looking apologetic, worried and troubled.
"I am sorry, Niko." The faintest whisper of lips against his cheek before she left him to sit with his little brother. He did not reassure, unsure if he was willing to forgive just yet. So he sat silent vigil.
Darkness. Not sleep, just unconsciousness.
Then light, too harsh, and shadows and pain. A puck, immeasurably old if the eyes say anything and more than a little insane, stands before him. Harsh beauty an echo, though not a copy, of Robin. No one could mistake this puck as Robin Goodfellow.
It hurt, having a crown sized hole carved out of him. He did not scream which seemed to greatly displease the puck. The Hob he'd referred to himself as. If anything indicated his self-importance and arrogance it was the stress he put on 'the' when he said it. Arrogance which demanded he play with his food before he ate it. Arrogance which would be his downfall, Niko knew.
He'd seen George out of the corner of his eye. Seen her subtle wink. Had known, without needing George's abilities, that the moment Hob (because damned if he was going to refer to him as the anything) had taken him he'd signed his own death warrant with a nice, fancy signature. Cal was as irrational about and protective of Niko as Niko himself was of Cal. This made it unlikely that the puck would survive it's next encounter with Niko's little brother.
If it'd been Cal taken, Niko wouldn't have let Hob survive.
Cal was both beautiful and horrible to watch in the battle against Hob. Too reckless, too loose with his form. The anger had made him both sloppy and not. It made Niko ache to watch his brother fend off the monster. When George joined the fray it was with a completely George-like movement. Graceful and silent until the heavy candle stick nearly took Hob's head off. Niko would have crowed with triumph if he wasn't still chained and kept from helping.
Niko understood his brother's plan before anyone else in the room did. Doubled the strain against his chains, trying to get to his brother so as to stop him. If Cal threw himself into that gate so as to pull Hob with him, Niko would kill him. Then Cal did exactly that and something primal ripped at Niko's throat. Half growl, half scream.
Then Promise and Robin were there, from nowhere, pulling him back into this reality, this life, back to Niko. Niko thought he could faint with relief. This had not been a good three weeks for his heart.
He's not entirely sure how they get him into the car, and is surprised to find Flay waiting for them there. Pleased but surprised. The small puppy must be Flay's son, Slay.
He sleeps. He sleeps for a very, very long time. Not nearly as long as Cal, but that was expected. Cal had kept a gate, a gate, open for nearly a half and hour. The first one had sapped him enough to sleep through the daylight hours. This would most likely be much longer and just as coma-like.
The whole ordeal had just been fodder for more Cal's death nightmares. Two separate incidents within a week of each other. Niko sighed silently. Really bad month wasn't it.
"Cal?" Soft question, not demanding, just curious.
"It's a bad idea, Nik." He knew what Cal meant immediately.
"Her choice, Cal." Response as placid as a lake on a windless day.
"Mine too." A pause. "It's not about being older, or being a monster. We live in different worlds, Nik."
"She would try, for you, to live in ours."
"That's part of the problem. She doesn't belong in ours. Hell, Nik, it's my fault you're in this, I can't bring her in too."
"I will not try and convince you to accept Georgina's offer. It is your own choice and I respect it. However, you are not the one who brought me into this world, little brother." Cal recognized that voice, cool and razor sharp. Niko was angry, although not at Cal.
"I did by being born." It sounded a little less logical once stated out loud. Niko just raised an eyebrow, identical grey eyes boring into Cal's.
"If you are to blame anyone," voice soft and firm, "you are to blame Sophia. She is the one who fucked an Auphe and brought you into the world." A small burst of suprise at the uncharacteristic use of such harsh language.
"But-" The protest was cut off in what qualified as an explosion of temper for Niko. It being Niko, that meant a lowered and intense voice, but Cal was surprised by just how intense it was. His hand moved faster than sight and grasped Cal's shirt causing the younger to step forward so as not to be pulled off balance. Unnerving eyes stared at him for just a second before he began to speak to Cal.
"Understand this, Cal, if nothing else about me. I did not throw away my life for you!" He hissed, eyes flashing. "You were given to me, barely out of the womb. Placed in my hands. I took you then fully understanding what I was doing. I had seen monsters by then, little brother, and not all of them had been your sire. You are my purpose. I have known since I was four years of age. Do not spoil that knowledge with accusations of throwing away my life. You are my life, the very reason of my being. "
There was a stunned silence in the wake of Niko's rant. It was one of the longest things Niko had ever said. It stunned Cal. They were standing close enough together that Cal could feel Niko's breath puffing against his cheek.
"I'm sorry, Nik." More contrite than he's ever felt, or sounded, before. Niko seemed to deflate, slumping against Cal a little in extremely un-Niko-like behavior.
"It's okay, Cal. I shouldn't have snapped."
"You're not sleeping well." It wasn't a hard conclusion to come to. Niko worried to much anyway and there had been two incidents in a week where Cal had nearly died. That would be feeding nightmares for months. Niko just shrugged faintly against Cal. His body was relaxing against his will and he was nearly falling asleep standing up.
"Come on, Nik. Let's get you to bed." Leaning heavily on Cal, Niko managed to get to his bed. Following which he flopped, decidedly gracelessly, onto the mattress. Bringing Cal with him, who squawked indignantly. When Cal squirmed, he burrowed a little further into his brother's warmth. He knew he'd be faintly embarrassed in the morning when he realized he'd given into his baser need for physical touch, but right at that moment he could care less. Especially when Cal seemed to give in.
"Alright, Nik, I'm staying apparently." Niko did not reply, only burrowed deeper and breathed in the comfort of his brother. Quickly losing his battle with consciousness he struggled to say one last thing.
"Love you, Cal." Cal's grip on him tightened.
"Love you too, Niko."
Both slept without dreams.