A/N: I do not own the Cal Leandros series.
Do not ask me how nursing school homework somehow equaled cute-baby-Cal fic. I really don't know.
Cal, Niko decided, was a good baby. Niko wanted to plug his ears to stop hearing the baby screaming on the bus, but he needed his hands to hang onto Cal, who was sitting complacently in Niko's lap and chewing on the collar of his shirt. After six months, Niko had gotten used to a shirt that was constantly damp, though his neck was getting chapped in a strange scaly pattern. Cal never screamed, not like that, loud and constant and wailing. No, Cal was a very good baby.
Niko was glad to see his stop, and hefting baby brother and backpack, he stepped off and headed over the hot sidewalk. Cal's tiny chubby fingers twisted in Niko's shaggy hair and he winced at the pull. He needed to cut his hair again but it was awful hard to do and he'd been so busy with Cal, well, it was right down past his shoulders now. Maybe he'd see if he could get some rubber bands or something, and he pattered into the dollar store without hesitation. Formula and baby food for Cal, more baby wipes, and something for Cal to teeth on, maybe. He had one tooth, Niko thought, or one trying to come in 'cause when he'd been chewing on Niko's thumb Niko had felt something sharp.
Niko decided that there probably wasn't an inch of him that hadn't been covered in baby spit at some point. He'd done his best to wash them both off before coming to town, but Cal was drooling all over again.
Carrying Cal and the basket of baby-items was a hard workout. Niko had to stop and sit down on the floor for a few minutes, dizzy. A concerned woman stopped to lean over him, but Niko smiled and mutely shook his head and she went away. Good. He gathered himself back up. Cal chirped and Niko shushed him automatically, bouncing the baby on his hip. Quiet again, Cal stared solemnly at the cashier while Niko one-handedly counted out his crumpled dollars and coins. The older woman crooned nonsense at him but Cal was quiet and still, his grey-blue eyes tracking her motions.
Niko thanked her gravely and left. He headed down the street and used his last two dollars to bribe an older homeless man to get a tray from the soup kitchen - Niko by himself would get in trouble. He'd already figured that out. The man was actually nice and did bring out the food and Niko sat down in the pinestraw-strewn depths of the ornamental flowerbed to eat in the shade of the bushes. Cal sat beside him and happily chewed on the new teething ring, utterly silent. Niko's hands shook as he ate the sandwich, slowly, bite by bite. If he ate it fast like he wanted to he'd be sick. So, slow, and careful. He needed to find a way to earn more money...it was hard to feed himself and Cal just picking up cans and recycling old glass bottles. Sophia spent all her money on whiskey and drugs, with none left over for Niko or Cal. And this week there just wasn't any food, and the power was out in the apartment, so what Niko'd had was spoiled now.
Niko ate half the sandwich and drank all the milk and saved the chips for later. He put them in his backpack. Cal was still playing, leaning on Niko's lap, thumping the teething ring off Niko's leg. Niko grimaced as he hit the bruise on Niko's knee with unerring accuracy. Ow.
"Cal," Niko whispered, softly.
Cal's head turned and his big grey-blue eyes brightened. He was a beautiful baby, Niko thought with pride, with round pink cheeks and bright big eyes and a feathery soft thick down of black black hair. He smiled widely at Niko, delighted, and Niko couldn't help but smile back.
"Cal," he called again.
Cal made one of his oddly birdlike chirps, a soft noise. "Nehneh," he whispered, and gurgled quietly with a laugh. Niko couldn't help but chuckle too and pulled Cal up into his lap to cuddle him and tickle him and make him laugh that little laugh again - it was, Niko thought, one of the best noises in the whole wide world.
Besides, he was saying Niko's name now, and that was best of all! At least, Niko was pretty sure that's what "neh neh" translated to. Cal was creeping too, and sleeping longer at night, which was really really good too.
Niko cuddled Cal again, then grimaced as a familiar smell wafted up.
Ten minutes and a diaper-change later they were out of the bushes and heading off to wait for the bus again. Niko squirmed his way up onto the bench and sat with Cal in his lap, chewing busily on the teething ring. Niko stared down at his dark downy head and tried hard not to feel so sleepy. Eating had made him tired now that he wasn't hungry anymore. He was almost always sleepy anyway, because Cal didn't sleep all night.
The bus came, and stopped, and Niko hopped up with Cal to make the baby giggle, just for fun. Except hopping up fast made him dizzy again and he sat right back down on the hot pavement and had to sit there a minute. Two of the people who'd been waiting for the bus leaned over him and the driver even came out to see. Niko brushed off his Good Samaritans with some difficulty; he was having to pant for breath a little when he got back up, still just a little dizzy. Through it all, Cal was silent, clinging to Niko with pinching chubby fingers and watching everyone. But they got up, Niko got on the bus, and everything was okay. They'd go home and Niko could get into the fort under the bed and have a nap, maybe, because Cal couldn't push away the used milk-crates and escape or get into anything.
Niko got off the bus slowly and walked to the apartment with his head high, completely unaware of the figure he cut, or the impression he'd left in the eyes of his would-be helpers: a child of five with too-pale, hollow cheeks and dark sleepless marks under his solemn grey eyes, all narrow bones instead of childish dimples, with shaggy thick blonde hair and spit-up smeared down the shoulder of his shirt, carrying a perfectly plump baby just as solemn and uncannily silent for a baby that age.
A haunting image of determination, of poverty, of selfless devoted love.