Disclaimer: The characters are the property of Rob Thurman. This is nonprofit fan fiction.
Warnings: Character death. First-person narrative.
No specific timeline is given, but allusions are made to "Nightlife" (first book).
I woke to darkness and immediately felt hands stroking my face.
"I'm here, little brother."
The voice was Nik's, as were the hands that petted along my jaw before retreating away. It was a comforting touch, if not one to weird me out, too. I growled something nondescript.
"You've been out a while," he said. "How are you feeling?"
"Cold." I had said the first thing that came to mind. With cold, came another feeling. "Numb."
"Are you hurting?"
That was definitely peculiar. "Why? What would I be hurting for?" I started to get up, but the ground stayed parallel. Damn ground—something was wrong with it. I started to get up with more vigor, but nothing happened.
The tense breathing wasn't mine. I'm not faint of heart, but apprehension was starting to take place. Time crawled. "Nik? Why can't I get up?"
This time, I felt Nik's hands shake. The effects of my observation were reverse than expected. Instead of being rattled, I opted for being overly rational. "Nik, I'm not panicking. I was just wondering: if you were going to comfort me, or something, why aren't you holding my hand?" Which, for the record, would still have been pretty weird, but more socially acceptable.
"I did, little brother." And there I heard the rock that shook me far worse than tetraplegia, and it egressed from Niko's voice. "You couldn't feel me."
I turned my head to the side, and saw bodies of dead Auphe. The mad, red light had died from the monstery eyes for good. We had robbed them of their world, and they had robbed us of our lives. An equitable trade, don't you think? Cadmus of Thebes would have been awed. Worse than Macbeth—jeez, I thought the word now; hope it doesn't make us strike bad luck...
The place looked like a well. Gray bricks spiraled into distance and ended in an escape route in the heights. The water was gone, but the unpleasant dankness emanated from the walls and saturated the air.
Robin was lying only feet away. His limbs were distorted on the ground. Face down, his neck was twisted in a way that told me it wouldn't be any use to call out his name.
"What are you thinking?" Niko asked.
Nik clucked his tongue in annoyance. "'The Scottish Play' would have been the more appropriate."
My brother, the polymath. Even at death's door, barely dodging the scythe and gleefully not paying up ol' man Kharon—had he been friends with Robin?—he still found it necessary to correct my knowledge of timeless classics. Funny how Caliban could be so unaware of Shakespeare's most raucous plays. That was an amusement Nik had never shared. "What are you thinking?" I asked.
That was the admission of ultimate defeat. Not even Nik could convince me that Tom Dooley was a sign of anything short of a failure.
"That's not the Beatles." That was my attempt at levity.
Tom Dooley. This one took a longer leap of faith to grasp at than Shakespeare, but once the western lilting stuck in my head, it was impossible to get it out. Tom Dooley's demise had been at the hands of Mr. Grayson. Grayson... Grendels. I laughed.
"What is it?"
"Grayson," I said, still giggling spasmodically so that my body must have shook. "Hansel and Grendel."
Niko brushed the side of my head lightly, and I didn't say anything more.
Except, of course, I said more. Maybe the giddiness was making way for rational thinking. I was dying to get out of here. Why wasn't Nik doing something? Why wasn't he trying to escape? Nik the Invincible, Nik the Great, Nik the Barbarian... the man of the modern day, the Renaissance man... Why aren't you escaping?
That was a new one, and, for once, Nik didn't seem to mind the nickname. He had only done so once before, after we had thwarted the plans of Auphe world domination for the first time, hence leading to our current predicament. He had let me get away with names, even if I had slept with a baseball cap on my head to avoid becoming Novak II.
"—why haven't you gotten us out of here?"
"I am sorry, Cal. I have tried. I couldn't do it." Niko wasn't malingering. He never malingered. Two hands sailed into my vision. The scraping marks blurred at the close distance. The bricks on the walls had left their mark. "I couldn't do it with just my hands."
Something occurred to me; even though I was supine, my head was elevated. "What am I lying on, Nik?"
"Aren't they numb?"
"It's all right. I can't use them for anything else," Niko said humorlessly. "They broke at the fall."
I took a moment to absorb this new piece of information. "Are you in pain?"
It was killing him.
I let my mind wander to other options. Rafferty hadn't wanted to wait until the last minute for a cure that could never be found. He had made his choice long ago.
George... there was irony, if ever. It had been a traffic accident, and nothing more. Couldn't look at the palm and tell if something like that was gonna happen, now could she? Couldn't look ahead and see the bus coming. Knowing her, she had probably embraced her fate placidly, like a lamb to the slaughter. I didn't know—I hadn't been there.
Promise was no longer around. A lady to the end, she had gracefully informed Niko that she would be off to find rich husband number six. Nik hadn't said a word, but he had dug into my shoulder, leaving me to watch her receding back so he wouldn't have to.
Robin... had been a friend. I didn't want to look that way.
No one would come to our rescue. No one was left to miss us. Nik had tried climbing up—countless times, if I knew my brother, taking more damage by each fall. I could see the means he had exhausted trying to get help, only to have struck out. The seriousness of our situation was beginning to dawn on me. More was becoming evident.
"How many times have we had this conversation?"
"This is the third," Nik said neutrally, but his hand stroking my face tipped the scales in panic's favor.
There was something I had overlooked. I no longer had the use of my defective body to find out for myself, so I had to ask. "Nik?"
"Are you wearing your jacket?" The momentary silence told me all I needed to know. In a way, it was something I was happy about. I said needlessly, "You are."
I was content in the way that men make the best of the morbid and dance with the devil. Something had bothered me ever since Loman opened his big mouth. My life span was decades longer than a human's—by centuries, even. Nik, for all his craftsmanship and preternatural prowess, had no demon to mangle his deoxyribonucleic acid. We were young now, but we wouldn't always be. I had always dreaded that day when I would be left alone. I didn't think I had Loman's endurance to go on living after everyone was gone, and it was the puck's fault: I had thought it, but he had said it.
"Good thing we're not Catholic."
I didn't think Nik was going to say anything, so long passed before I heard his answer. "It's enough I'm not."
My spine was broken; I was immobile and paralyzed, but my brother, dead... it upset me more than anything.
He dabbed away the lacrimal fluid. His hands were dirty, even if he was undoubtedly trying to find the cleanest spot in them. At the moment, though, an eye infection hardly constituted a concern. I looked up at my brother and found only calm confidence projected my way, even when there weren't grounds for any.
"Sonny," I mumbled. I realized that sounded off when his brow shot up, but he refrained from commenting. Cyrano went out the window when the Fabio look died, and he no longer qualified as Kojak, so I had been forced to leap into sockless loafers and flamingo shirts. So, Sonny it was, but this was no Crockett's Theme. Funny—I tried to remember how it went, and nothing came to mind, not even the sound of the electric beat. What should it have sounded like?
I didn't hear anything else, either. The noise from the surroundings had faded. The mental space was completely empty, leaving only a still hum. I was finally alone there. I jolted only when the view started fading. Nik's immediate reassurance was muffled. I closed my eyes, but opening them didn't seem to make much of a difference. There was so little to see.
Keeping awake was a losing battle, but for once, I battled going to sleep. "Nik?"
"It's all right, little brother. I'll hold on to you."
Feedback: Thanks for your attention! Any thoughts on this, please share.
Enormous thanks to Gypsie (Gypsie Rose) for the proofreading!
Published June 29, 2011.