Niko remembered every day, hour, week of the time after Tumulus, after Cal's two days (two years) in Hell. Some of his worst memories lived in that time, in Cal catatonic and shaking, in Cal lashing out wildly in his sleep, in the way Cal's nails ripped into his own skin and he hardly seemed to realize he was drawing blood.
Now his nightmares were silver eyes and a grin too wide for Cal's face, of Cal's fingers wrapping around his over the hilt of the katana and red, red blood spilling out too fast to keep in. Rafferty had been merciful, but mercy wasn't enough to erase the past. He knew that the first time Cal, still half asleep, crawled into bed beside him and pressed his face against Niko's shoulder, the soft sounds in his throat too close to whimpers.
Neither of them mentioned it, but the first time wasn't the last time.
He did what he could. Ran Cal ragged at every opportunity, sparred until they were both exhausted, tried to keep them both busy with work even if the pay was miserable and the hours were long and mostly it was tedious. Most eerie about the whole thing was the fact that Cal didn't even complain. He ran and he practiced and the hollow look lingered in his eyes. Making Niko uneasy. Making him worry.
He caught Cal in the living room stitching up his own arm, or rather taking a break in doing so to rest his head against the back of the couch. He'd made a mess of the coffee table, but at least the stitches were even.
"Hey Nik," he said, and grinned, a little sloppily. "Thought you were asleep."
"I was," Niko said tersely. "Please tell me you're not drunk."
"I'm not drunk," Cal said agreeably, and then frowned. "Maybe a little." Another pause. "Maybe a lot."
Niko took a deep breath through his nose and let it out through his mouth before saying, "I guess that's why you thought it would be a good idea to do your own stitches. What happened?"
"I didn't kill anyone," Cal said, and grinned too widely, making it almost grotesque. Niko wanted to wince.
"I know you didn't."
"You say that like it's such a foregone conclusion." Cal looked down at his arm, still leaking blood. Niko followed his gaze, noticed it, and pressed his lips together, moving closer. Cal jerked away. "It's really not."
"It really is," Niko said, flatly and firmly. Cal ignored him, gaze drifting over to the windows.
"I can't remember if I killed anyone," Cal said. "I should remember that. If I don't remember it's like – I need to remember. But I don't. And I don't want to. S'that wrong?"
"Cal," Niko said, and stopped. "What happened?" Cal shrugged, and Niko hardened his voice. "What. Happened?"
"Got in a fight," Cal said, then shook his head. "No. Started a fight. Wanted to see…what would happen."
"And somebody what, pulled a knife?"
Cal snorted. "Broken glass. He'll be sorry, though." He sounded slightly proud. Niko sighed.
"Let me see that," he said, holding out his hand for the wounded limb. "Make sure it's clean."
"I can take care of myself," Cal snarled, and Niko didn't take it personally.
"I know," he said, "But give me the chance to take care of you? Since I'm up anyway." Cal subsided, and Niko moved in, checked the wound (clean, not too deep) and finished the stitches. Cal closed his eyes, breathing slowly and evenly.
"I'm sorry," he said eventually. "M'a bad brother."
"Are not," Niko contradicted mildly. Cal lifted his head.
"I'd've been more pissed if you'd missed." There was another silence. Niko got up and got a glass of water, shoved it into Cal's hands. He held onto it without drinking, eyes somewhere far away.
"What would you have done if I'd died?" Cal asked, and Niko shook his head sharply and murmured, "This is why I don't let you get drunk."
(Pretended he hadn't thought about it. Hadn't thought about it, and hadn't been utterly lost.)
Cal fell asleep on his shoulder. He snored softly. The cut was livid on his forearm. It would probably leave a scar.
Robin came by while Cal was out running. Of his own volition. That was a bit disturbing. The Puck seemed almost awkward, and Niko took pity on him and let him inside, though he felt certain he'd regret it.
"How's the kid?" Robin asked, rather abruptly, and Niko stared at him until Robin looked away. Cal's mental state wasn't something he wanted to discuss with anyone. Not even Cal, particularly. (Not when he was already worrying and didn't need more reasons to do it.) "Yeah," said Robin after a moment. "Figures. Can't blame him. Having something like that in your head…" He shuddered. Niko just waited.
"You?" Robin said, after a few moments.
Robin blinked just once, then said, "Yeah, I guess you are," and fled. Niko stared at the wall and swallowed hard a few times.
Cal stumbled into the bathroom still half asleep one morning while Niko was making breakfast, and a moment later there was a yell that had Niko jumping to his feet and running down the hall even before the crash that followed. He burst into the bathroom and found Cal pressed up against the bathtub, staring at the remnants of the mirror.
Stupid, Niko thought viciously, Stupid, you should have gotten rid of it. Should have-
"Cal?" he said, carefully. Cal shook his head.
"Thought I saw something," he said, "Thought I…fuck. It was the last one. It said so. It said so." He was shaking, and Niko felt a surge of desire to kill something, anything, but particularly Darkling. He was almost sorry Cal'd gotten to it first.
"It's dead, Cal," Niko said. "It's not coming back."
Cal nodded jerkily, and glanced at his hands. "Hey," he said, and Niko followed his gaze and actually swore when he noticed they were bleeding. "Should've used a jacket." He grinned, lopsided. That made Niko want to hurt something too.
"Wash," he said, roughly, gesturing to the sink. "I'll go get the tweezers and gauze."
"It's not so bad," Cal said, still staring at his hands. "Doesn't even really hurt."
Niko's stomach lurched and he said, "Cal," in his best warning voice. Cal glanced at him with eyes too deep and hollow and Niko wanted to take it all away, make it better, and hated that he couldn't.
"Yeah," Cal said finally. "Yeah, okay."
(Later, taping his hands back together: "What if it's still in me? Somewhere way down deep-"
They went after a pack of revenants, something stupid, easy, but enough of them that they were becoming a nuisance-
"Come on!" Cal yelled, eyes wide and wild and grin like a skull. "Come on, you fuckers, what are you waiting for!"
Cal hadn't brought a gun. He'd brought a motherfucking (the word tasted sour and harsh and unnatural in his mind but it was warranted, oh hell was it warranted) knife. Charged right into the middle of the pack, almost howling, wild and reckless and almost animal-
"You want to die, huh? You want to bleed?" All he could catch among the writhing mass of dead things was a flash of leather, a flash of metal, and Cal's voice.
Niko got a few, but Cal took the rest. All the rest. Niko knew that Cal was good (really good, he'd trained him after all) but this was something else. Not what he'd trained. Not grace and move flowing into move. This was blood and fury and Cal standing in the middle of it, covered in blood and dirt and looking at Niko like he didn't know where he was.
"Jesus," Cal said. "Jesus."
And threw up.
His shoulder was bitten and Niko doused it in hydrogen peroxide, not even wanting to think about what those things had on their teeth. There were claw marks on his chest and stomach and more bite marks on his legs, most of them not too bad. Cal was pale and too quiet, and Niko could feel his stomach and thoughts churning.
"Are you okay?" He asked, finally, shoving some water into Cal's hand and staring at him until he drank it without losing his thousand yard stare.
"Huh?" Cal looked up slowly, dazed. "Oh. Yeah? Um." He was looking down, and Niko realized that his eyes were stuck on the thin line of white scar tissue on his stomach. Niko glanced away, his eyes hurting.
"Thank you," Cal said, suddenly. "You know. For killing me. Or almost. Someone had to do it."
Niko said nothing. He shrugged one shoulder.
"You know," said Cal, after a few moments. "I think I'm going to be okay." The corner of his mouth quirked up. Niko breathed out.
"Good," he said.
He found Cal standing in the bathroom in the middle of the night when he was unable to sleep (blood on his hands Cal pale and too still on a table and if this didn't work, what then, what then) and paused in the doorway. Caliban was looking at the empty space where the mirror had been.
"It's just a mirror," he said, but didn't sound all that sure of it. Niko watched him silently for a few moments before saying, "Not anymore."
"Yeah," Cal said, and turned his head to give Niko one of those lopsided grins. "I killed it."
There was a brief silence. "Jesus fuck," Cal said finally. "I don't want this to be…this. I don't…" He shook his head sharply. "It's just a fucking mirror."
They were both silent for a little while. "You'd put the world ahead of me, right, Niko?" Cal said, and momentarily Niko felt a flood of rage. He shoved it down.
"Would you?" He asked, quietly. Cal snorted.
"No," he said, "But I'm not you. I'm not a good person."
"Than neither am I," Niko said, and walked out of the bathroom and down the hall. He opened one of the windows. It smelled like smoke and rain outside. He closed his eyes and just breathed. They were still here. They were both still here.