Disclaimer: I hereby disclaim.
A/N : This one-shot takes place during Blackout, in between where Cal falls asleep at the tattoo parlor and wakes up in his apartment. Enjoy, Happy Belated New Year, and if you feel like brightening someone's day, leave a review!
Dedicated to Kooie – who has brightened many of my days :)
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I was warned – "This is going to hurt" – and sure enough, in a few moments, the pain came. Ripples of it crawled up my shoulder and down my bicep when the needle punctured my skin. Not that I minded. It did exactly what I'd hoped it would do … it took some of the internal aching that racked my soul and transferred it to my body. And actual, physical wounds were easy. The inside ones – those you just couldn't shake; those were the ones that really hurt.
Robin had warned me too, days ago, when we'd only just been speculating about Cal's fate. We named every single possibility except the most likely one – that Cal was dead. It was almost tradition now. Waiting for Cal, looking for Cal, pretending Cal was alive. Of course, he always was. I hoped to God I was always so lucky.
One of our speculations was, of course, the memory loss. Robin had explained to me about the spider venom, and what it might do. Not kill him, thanks to the Auphe resistance, but only wipe his mind – make him forget me and everything else. "The memories would come back eventually," Robin had told me. "But that doesn't mean it wouldn't be difficult for you. If we are correct and this is the case, it's going to hurt."
I'd known it. And God, how it hurt.
I lifted my eyes from the blood-stained needle and rested them on Cal, who was still sprawled in that little plastic chair with his head thrown back, and thoroughly intoxicated, damn him. Or rather, damn that Robin Goodfellow for letting him do it – and then performing some kind of disturbing song-and-dance strip-tease while Maicoh tried to claw Cal's throat open. Not that Cal hadn't taken care of himself, even when he wasn't himself, even when he had some unfathomably high BAC. I'd taught him well.
After a while, the red-skinned tattoo artist took a few steps back and gazed proudly own at my arm. "It's done," he announced. "Do you want a picture taken before the gloss goes on?"
"You have hardly looked at it," he protested, spine stiffening with indignation.
I didn't answer. Cal was fidgeting in his sleep, trying to get comfortable and all the while slipping further and further off the slippery seat of the chair. He was going to fall in a minute. That would be amusing. But there was something about his face as he slept – it was almost peaceful. No, not almost. It was peaceful. His mouth wasn't bracketed, his brow wasn't furrowed, his body wasn't convulsing and twitching unnaturally. There were no monsters in his head tonight.
The tattoo artist applied the gloss, covered my bicep in gauze and bandages that were surprisingly and annoyingly sloppy, and then patted his work with some misbegotten pride. After he was paid and moving on to his next customer (something with too much makeup on and far too much "dandruff" to be human), I slipped my shirt back on, arose from the seat, and approached Cal. Miraculously, he hadn't fallen yet, and I was too impatient to wait. I shook his shoulder. "Cal."
He muttered something incoherent and then sighed slowly.
"Cal," I said firmly, smacking the back of his head.
His murmur became more annoyed and I caught the low growl, "Leandros". That pushed me over the limit. I grabbed him by the back of the jacket and pulled him right off the chair. "Stand, little brother, or I'll make this new experience very unpleasant for you." He did stand, for less than a moment, before swaying into me, still barely conscious. Where was all of that Auphe resistance when you really needed it most?
Sighing patiently, I slung his arm over my shoulder and maneuvered him to the door of the tattoo parlor. I may have been putting off that "unpleasant experience" for now, but I still entertained thoughts of ice-cold water and wheatgrass tea for when we got back home.
The second I opened the door a freezing wind hit us and Cal stiffened against me, his eyes opening for half a second before he melted back into half-consciousness. Only now I could understand what he'd been muttering, over and over, like a mantra. "Not a bad guy … not … a bad guy …" Oh, damn. That was it – my whole problem. Cal wanted to be a good guy, for once. And the thing was – he actually could be. This kid wasn't half-Auphe any more than I was. But when that half of him went, so did my half. My brother.
"You're not a bad guy, Cal," I said absently, half-dragging him to the curb where I hailed a cab. "You never were."
He made a disgruntled sound in his throat and stopped babbling, for the moment. I gave the cab driver our address and sat Cal down inside. He flopped onto the bench seat and looked blearily around in the dim lighting of the taxi, slightly confused, as if he were struggling to remember something. Then he looked right at the back of the cab driver's head and muttered, "Asshole."
I snorted, amused, which made him notice me. After eying me a moment in drunken scrutiny, he murmured, "You happy?"
I eyed him back and then answered. "No, I'm not. I miss my brother."
"O-oh yeah," he slurred, rubbing his eyes and then running his fingers through his hair and that ridiculous haircut. He stiffened, back arching, before he relaxed again against the seat. "God, I can't remember. I wish … I just can't …"
I didn't say anything, just watched him silently. This was killing me, but I had to deal with it. I had to get used to it. This was all just therapy.
In only a few seconds, he was asleep again.
. . . .
When the cab pulled up in front of our apartment, I climbed out first and handed the cab driver his pay. Then I leaned into the back and "helped" Cal out after me. Needless to say, he woke up again, still blearily but this time visibly annoyed as he glanced in my general direction. "I wasn't drinking," he said defensively, managing to stand on his own, if a bit unsteady.
"Of course you weren't," I said as the cab drove away with a squeak of tires against pavement.
"My head hurts," Cal grumbled.
I sighed. "Yeah." I reached over and laid my hand on the back of his neck. He was too drunk to feel uncomfortable and yank away, as he had so many times these past few days. An upside to this little annoyance, perhaps – except he was also too drunk to even notice I was there. Gray eyes stared down at the frozen sidewalk as he slurred meaningfully, "I just can't remember …"
"I know," I whispered, my words escaping in a cold silver vapor. I moved my thumb, rubbed the back of his head, letting whatever little part of him that was left know that I was still here. I'd always be there, even if he wasn't.
And he wasn't. Not really.
I'd told myself he was, over and over, insisted that there was really no difference, but I was just lying to myself, as usual. That practice I was painfully familiar with; by now I knew how it felt, and how the lies tasted in my head. This person here just wasn't the same Cal I knew, there was no way around it. And looking into these empty eyes now was somehow even worse than it had been all those months ago when I'd seen him dead on the floor of our apartment. Then, he was out of my reach, gone for good. But now – I could still have him back. My brother was just a step away, waiting right there for me to grab his hand and pull him back, except I couldn't.
"That guy is not happy and that guy is not right."
I knew he wasn't right. I knew he wasn't. But it didn't matter to me. That was how I knew him, that was how I loved him.
"I don't want to be that guy. I really don't."
Obviously, it mattered to Cal. This Cal, anyway. And for once in my life, I could protect him from the one thing I most wanted him safe from. The past that had all but destroyed him. The memories. The monsters in his head.
But there was a payment to be made. Nothing in this world was free.
I let him go, then moved a pace away to unlock the front door. When I turned back around, Cal was asleep. On the sidewalk. I rolled my eyes to the dark starless sky. Whatever had I done in my past life to earn this kind of karmic debt? I knelt down next to him and gave him an encouraging shove. "Cal. Up."
He was generally unresponsive, all except for the drunken singing that made its debut for the second time. "Oh Danny Boy .. the pipes … the pipes are calling …" Oh, Buddha save me. This was it. Cal was drinking nothing but wheatgrass juice for the next six months. And if he so much as looked at anything remotely alcoholic, there would be serious consequences.
I didn't wait for the second verse, but promptly grabbed his jacket and yanked him into something of a sitting position. "Wake up, Cal."
His eyes opened and he looked right at me. No longer singing, but dead serious, somehow. "Nik …?" he whispered, like it was a question, like it wasn't quite right.
And for a moment I was selfish. I didn't care how he felt or how happy he was – I shook him hard and said, "Yes. Yes, damn it!"
He blinked, confused, then shuddered, like he was in pain. And his brow furrowed and brackets appeared around his mouth.
I fisted his jacket again and dragged him up to his feet, where he stood, surprisingly steady. I kept one hand on his arm, but he walked on his own into the apartment. Bleary. For now, just confused. But before had been different. The dam had weakened and part of him had rushed back – both parts. Shit, I'd seen the monsters come back. And I had to keep them away.
I slammed the apartment door behind us and locked it again, double-checking the locks. When I turned to face Cal again he had his eyes closed and was swaying minutely. Holding his arm, I walked with him inside, down the hall, and into his bedroom. He didn't make it to the bed. He dropped to the floor, landing with his face in a wrinkled T-shirt. I was glad. Let him sleep. Therapy was over.
I bent down and pulled off his jacket, then his shoes. I'd put him to bed, but first I needed a minute.
I walked into the kitchen and stood there a moment in the silence, breathing, trying to clear my head. Thoughts hurt just now. I needed to meditate, except how could I meditate with a mantra that was a lie? Meditation worked only with the knowledge that Cal was still alive and safe and with me. But he wasn't with me.
I opened the refrigerator and eyed Cal's beer bottle for a moment. Only a moment – and then I reached for a container of soy milk and poured myself a glass. But I didn't drink it. I just stared at it, inanely, as if it held all of my answers. It was white – like Promise's pearls. I'd missed her too, these past few nights. But that was just one distant ache behind the blinding pain. I'd cross my bridges when I came to them. I'd –
Movement. In Cal's bedroom.
The glass was out of my hand and replaced with my katana in instants as I pounded back into Cal's bedroom, expecting bright golden eyes and spider legs and Ammut. But there was nothing – only Cal. He was lying on his stomach, head bobbing listlessly, a red pen clamped in one hand. He was writing on the wall.
I sheathed my sword. "Cal, don't do that –" I said, kneeling down to take the pen out of his hand.
I reached for it. Until I saw what he'd written. Abomination.
"Fuck," I said aloud, voice shaking.
Cal's gray eyes were barely open, just slits. But his hand kept moving, fast and jerking – Abomination. And then again. Abomination.
I didn't try to stop him at first. I just sat there and watched him make his way along the bottom of the wall, and then start a new row above it once he'd finished that one.
"Wake up," I said finally, angrily, smacking the back of his head. No response. I looked at the death grip he had on the pen, and decided not to try forcing it out of his hand. But that didn't mean I didn't try to wake him.
For a long time, I tried.
He just kept writing the words, red like blood, the monsters that had found their way back into his head again. But that was fine … tomorrow he'd wake up abomination take his dose of venom abomination the monsters would go away abomination I would keep them away …