"Promise wants to take you to dinner, Cal," that was what Niko had told me last night, coming over to where I was sprawled on the battered couch and promptly shutting off the TV.
"Just me?" I asked suspiciously. "What is this, brother and sister bonding time? I don't think I'm ready for that, Cyrano."
"This was Promise's idea. She just wants to spend some time. Talk. Buy you artery-clogging grease at some fancy restaurant," he said, thumping my head with the handle of a duster and toeing our coffee table suggestively. (The coffee table probably had about … seven dust mites on it. Yes, my brother is a neat freak.) "Sound appealing?"
"Alright," I gave in. "If that's what the lady wants, it's what the lady wants. But I'm not singing Kumbaya and I'm not holding hands under the table."
It was agreed. Promise and I met at some insanely fancy restaurant, with her looking basically like the latest most expensive fashion trend and me, in comparison, looking basically like poodle shit on the bottom of somebody's shoe. At least I'd brushed my hair. To her credit, she didn't turn and run right back to her limo when she saw me, but instead smiled graciously and gestured to a table near the back of the posh room. She must've been very early … she already had some kind of champagne ordered and poured in two identical glasses.
I was actually supposed to be at work (I'd barely escaped Ishiah with my life once I told him I couldn't finish my shift, and considering all the time he's given me in the past). I'd stopped off at the apartment to do something with my clothes and something to my hair – which didn't turn out to be much of anything, as Nik was teaching some late class at the college and wasn't around to criticize me about my appearance. But honestly, why trade in perfectly good blue jeans for stiff dress pants that do murderous things to one's crotch? It doesn't add up.
"Good evening, Caliban," said Promise with a smile, sitting in the chair I pulled out for her.
"Hey, Promise," I said, sitting across from her. I'll pull out chairs, sure, but a gun-toting badass like me isn't going to be caught dead saying "good evening". She handed me my glass and asked softly, "Shall we toast? To Niko."
"Yeah … to Niko." I guess it was a pretty normal toast – we sort of shared Niko, the two of us did. But there was something strange about this whole atmosphere. She wasn't saying very much – not that you ever had any trouble getting Promise to shut up – but this was supposed to be her idea. She was hostess, therefore she made conversation, right?
I drank slowly, using the champagne as an excuse not to sit stammering about the weather. I was only planning to put it down when Promise spoke, but she just sat serenely and watched me for the longest time. Finally, when my throat was really starting to burn from the wine, she smiled and said, "I haven't seen you at all recently, Caliban. Since you recovered." (That was a sweet and unobtrusive way of saying, "since you discovered Niko was poisoning you with Nepenthe spider venom and got all your traumatic monster memories back".)
I put my glass down and nodded. "Yeah, I had a lot of work time to make up for at the bar. Ishiah's given me more days off than I can count."
She lifted her glass, and I followed, downing the rest of my champagne. It channeled its warm way into my belly, and I settled back, feeling a lot more relaxed. "So … how've you been?" I asked. A weak attempt on my part, but still an attempt.
"Just fine, Caliban. Just fine."
Now she was being repetitive. Something was wrong. I could almost smell it. So, like the sweet and unobtrusive person I am not, I said, "What's wrong with you?"
"Nothing. Why do you ask?"
"You seem …" not agitated, quite. Just … "… weird?" Ouch. This is the first and last time Promise was ever taking me to dinner.
She laughed softly. "I assure you, nothing is wrong. I live a very peaceful life, Caliban, albeit a lonely one." Soft violet eyes stared off into the distance. "I don't ever miss my husband, you know, but I miss … his presence, if you understand. Being alone all the time … can be very …" the eyes met mine, strange and far-off. "… damaging."
Damn, was she going to confide in me? I didn't do well with things like that, with anyone other than Niko. I nodded, trying my best to look understanding. My hand had fallen asleep while she was talking and I gave it a few slaps against my chair.
"A week ago," Promise continued. "I asked Niko if he would come and live with me."
Wow. Unexpected. And just like that … it all made sense. The dinner, the arrangement. Niko had refused, as of course he would have, and now Promise would want me to talk to him. I suddenly felt sick. "I …"
"You can guess what he said. He said … 'I have to stay with Cal.'" She leaned forward, face intense. "I said nothing. But yet, I've been thinking … the Auphe are dead, Caliban. Can you not protect yourself? Can Niko not go out and live his own life?"
Now my legs were tingling. Was this nerves? I opened my mouth to say I would talk to him, I would try to work this out, but she cut me off again. "He can't," she said simply. "We both know it, Caliban. You are his first priority. You have always been first."
My head was swirling. I felt odd as hell and even sicker than before. I did not want to have this conversation.
Promise gave me a smile and said slowly, "But I'm tired of living alone."
"Promise –" I started, but hell, my tongue wasn't moving right. I felt like my whole body was falling asleep … I …
My eyes flew to my empty champagne glass, and then to Promise's still, porcelain face. What had she done? "You … poisoned me," I said, breathing hard, moving my hand to my jacket to reach for a weapon, any weapon, but my hand wasn't obeying. My body was freaking out and Promise was just sitting there watching it happen.
"No," she laughed softly. "I didn't poison you. Just a drug. It won't even knock you out for too long. No, I want you to live. I want you to live through the hell I'm about to bring."
"What are you saying?" I gasped, horrified beyond measure. This was so not happening.
She stood up with a rustle of silk, and said with evident delight in her eyes, "I'm going to take Niko away from you." And with that one sentence, my world froze. "It's already mostly done. Now all I have to do is go to him, offer myself, and take him. He will be mine."
Already mostly done? What the hell? "Nik …"
"Do you realize how much I've needed your brother in the past?" she demanded suddenly, cold and glorious in front of me, her helpless and newly paralyzed victim. "So many times I've needed him, wanted to be near him, but he couldn't. Believe me, I know he wanted to, but he couldn't. Because every part of his being was held in the hand … of a monster. You, my dear little brother." She reached across the table and fondled my hair. "I realized that the only way he would ever truly be mine, was if he no longer had you. So I took you away from him. I killed you in his mind, so that right now, he doesn't even remember who you are."
"No …" I said, my voice thick and garbled. That was impossible. That was fucking wrong. "That's not … happening …"
"It's done, Caliban. I've just come from the college. Don't you think I have monster friends who can do what I ask? Your brother's mind has been played with before, but this time – it will be permanent." She paused, then said softly, "When your brother killed Cherish, he took my monster away from me. And now, I'm taking away the monster … that belongs to him."
Then a smile lit up her face, and she came around to my end of the table. "Come. Let's call him and see what I've done to him."
"No …" I was going to puke. I was going to kill her, except I couldn't move. I watched with hitching breath as Promise reached into my pocket and pulled out my cell phone, then hit Niko's number. She held the cool phone against my ear, and I could only sit there and listen as it rang … one, twice …
"You bitch," I hissed. Nik always picked up on the first ring, he was always ready – right on the spot. Another ring. And another –
And then he picked up. It was Niko's voice, saying, to my total and complete mind-wiping horror, "Who is this?"
My head swirled. Promise's smiling face broke into a thousand little blurry pieces as my eyes filled with tears. "Nik …" my voice came out thick and garbled, but he would hear, he would understand. "Nik, it's me …"
"I'm – sorry –"
And then I cried out, a broken yell of fury and grief. Nik. Bloody hell. Nik … My head swirled. Promise disconnected the phone, then tipped my chair so that I fell onto my side on the floor. My vision was crumpling, becoming black, as her whisper caressed my ear – "I'll be waiting for you in front of the college with your brother. And I promise you … you will know how it feels … to be rejected …" and then, I was gone.
. . . .
My eyes flew open.
I was on a couch in the back room with several members of the restaurant's staff standing around me. "We've called an ambulance," said a man that looked like the manager. "Try not to get excited. You passed out on the floor …"
Bloody hell. It didn't take long for the pieces of my memory to float back together again. And for the second time, I was punched in the gut with the horror of it. Promise. Promise had betrayed us. And then I thought – "us"? Oh, please, whatever God is listening, please let there still be an "us".
And then … I was so out of there. At first I fell, my body still heavy and disoriented, but I picked myself up and bolted out the door even as the staff tried to stop me. I was on the street and running like hell in less than a moment. And at this moment, I was just as fast as Niko.
I tried to remember the last time I'd seen him, the last thing I'd said to him … it was when I'd left for the bar, earlier today. He'd been in the kitchen cleaning his sword. I'd said, "I'm going to the bar. And if Robin Goodfellow is there and he has feathers on him, I'm leaving the bar." Nik had rolled his eyes, said, "Good bye, little brother," then whacked the back of my head as I'd passed.
No. Please, no.
It was raining by the time I reached the college. I wanted to find him and I didn't want to find him. And I realized for the first time that my gun and knife were both gone. Promise had stripped me of my weapons. She'd known I'd come here right away … weaponless or not. She knew how much I loved my brother.
It still blew my mind that all this time she'd been looking at me and hating my guts … she'd been one hell of an actress, although I guess with hundreds of years' experience it was entirely possible.
I found Niko.
I found him standing in front of the college, just where Promise had said he'd be. He was standing with her, as rain fell softly around them. They were talking. Promise had her pale hand on his shoulder. Niko was looking at her, enraptured, but also confused. He never looked confused … always so sure, always in control. But at this moment, he looked lost. And I didn't damn it know if I could bring him back.
But this was Nik, confused expression or no, so I couldn't hold myself back. He had to know me. "Nik," I cried, stumbling toward him and seizing him by the front of his coat. Promise did not intercept me. She just took a few steps back and watched, serene as ever. And that scared the shit out of me.
Niko stepped away … my brother, stepping away. "I – don't –"
"It's Cal, Nik, it's Cal. Please, please know me. She messed with your head, this bitch, she messed with your head." I didn't let go. I clung on for dear life because I was just sinking so fast. I looked up and stared into gray eyes that registered no recognition and I wanted to curl up and die. It wasn't real, it wasn't happening. I said again in helpless disbelief … "It's Cal."
He shook his head. I'd freaked him out. He looked wary, scared. It was an expression I saw way too often on way too many people looking in my direction, but never on Niko. He shook his head harder. "Leave me alone."
Like hell I would. "Nik," I cried, shaking his coat so hard it was a wonder I didn't rip the lapels off. "Please." And then, just because I was so damn desperate, I turned to Promise and begged, "Please!"
"Come, Niko," she said, tipping her head to where her limo was parked down the street. "This man is disturbed. Come with me."
And then Niko shoved me away, and I fell unresisting to the wet pavement. Then I watched … watched as the world died, as Niko turned his back on me and walked off with the vampire who had killed my brother. I wanted to scream my guts out, but I couldn't move. The car started, and drove off into the rain, and I just watched … frozen, and completely alone.