Title: I hate my Brother
Author: Obi the Kid
Rating: PG-13 (for a little Cal language)
Summary: Cal gets nailed with an illness that he thought his Auphe gene wouldn't allow and has only one person to rely on to help him through it.
FYI: There will be a sequel to this story. It will be posted as a separate story, not a chapter of this one.
What. The. Hell. Is. Happening?
I'm on fire and ice cold at the same time.
Every single bone in my body aches.
Every individual strand of my hair hurts.
Tried to open my eyes, I think I just went blind. Stay away from the light, Carol Ann.
Something is wrong. I mean something is just dead-ass wrong. I must be dying. I am dying. What other explanation is there? I didn't do anything supernaturally stupid recently. Well, nothing within the last day anyway. I didn't tick off any monsters, peris or pucks within the last – had to be at least two days.
If this is some type of revenge that Robin stuck on me for ruining his pimped out purple satin shirt last week…no, he wouldn't. Hell, of course he would figure out how to get back at me. This has to be his…what? No! Get off me! I don't need a bucket of ice planted on my forehead. What the…
"Stop moving, Cal."
I know that voice.
I know that ice. Niko? When the hell did your hand get so cold? And can you move it off my forehead?
I stopped squirming. Such was the power of my brother's voice, despite the glacial touch to my face. I was still, but I was still dying. Maybe I could convince Niko to put me out of my misery quickly.
I didn't open my eyes when I finally said, "Nik?"
Okay, that was so not anything like my voice usually sounds. Jesus, talk about pathetic and weak. If I'm not really dying, I deserve to if that's the best I can do.
Niko's ice cold hand settled onto my chest. I squirmed again. How could I avoid it? My skin was heading for heat records and his hands were fresh from the North Pole. And why the hell wasn't I wearing a shirt?
I hate my brother. I do. Well, at least at times like this - he just won't let me go in peace.
"Nik. Stop. Jus' lemme die," I mumbled in his general direction.
"You're not dying, Cal."
"Am too. Hot. Cold. Pain. Can't open my eyes, bright light. Is this was a slow agonizing death is like? Thought I'd be goin' to Hell, not upstairs. Nik. Move yer hand offa me…"
"My hands are not cold. It's you who is burning hot. You're sick, little brother."
What? Sick? Me? No way. I can't be sick. I don't get sick. Auphe genes say so. Niko's just trying to lessen the blow of my death. Pretending like it's just a virus that I'll get past in a week or so and go on about my blissfully, happy life.
I hate my brother sometimes. I really do.
I was in denial and shook my head no, because that was sure to help my cause. "Not sick. Can't be sick."
"You are and you can."
"Monster half says no."
"Human half says yes. Now, stop talking and stay still. Hold this thermometer under your tongue. I've got to see what we're dealing with. Your clothes and sheets are soaked through. My best guess is that you're pushing 105."
That Niko's best guess was usually dead on was my thought as he shoved the thermometer under my tongue and held it there despite my protests. Then he put another arctic hand on my face, laying it on my cheek and then feeling all around and eventually settling on my neck to check my pulse.
"104.7." Sounded like a radio station. "Not good, Cal. Got to get you cooled down."
Cooled? Was he nuts? I was already shivering like a wet dog. And how that was even possible when my skin had actual flames coming off of it, I had no idea, but being 'cooled down' wasn't on the top of my To-Do list for the day.
I'd put my foot down on this one. "No."
Okay, so as protests go, that qualified me as a pure-blooded wuss. And naturally Niko ignored me anyway. No one in the history of the world has mastered the art of ignore like my brother. I tried to squirm again. Yeah, that went well. It did change something though. My stomach. Stomachs weren't ever supposed to sound or feel like mine did right now. Something very bad was about to happen. I pushed a hand out to try and move Niko away from me.
Niko is the fastest human I know. And I figured if he put his mind to it, he probably could leap buildings in a single bound. But that wasn't enough – and he spent that much needed extra fraction of a second trying to figure out if I was saying sick because I was sick or because I was going to be sick.
I puked all over my brother.
And now panting as I leaned on my side, I finally opened my eyes and said, "Sick."
To his credit, Niko accepted the new liquids as though it was a normal every day part of his daily life. Look up the term outward calm in the dictionaryand you'd see a picture of my brother. He didn't yell or even raise his voice. He simply continued on as if this was all part of the plan.
Hell, maybe it was. After all, my super-ninja brother is completely human. He's been sick with this crap before. He knows the limits of the body when it comes to this monstrosity known as the flu. I just wanna know how the hell I got stuck with it!
I tried to roll over onto my back again. I tried and was denied by Niko, despite the layers of disgusting that coated his shirt and pants. He kept me settled on my side.
"Cal, stay. I'm sure you're not done expelling your bodily fluids just yet, it's safer if you're on your side."
He put a pillow behind my back to keep me in the position. It felt cool on my scorching skin. Again I wondered why I wasn't wearing a shirt and realizing this was one reason I was so cold.
"Nik, wha'happen t'my shirt?"
"You waterlogged it. You've been sweating like a pig for hours. If not for the vomiting, I should've thought you dehydrated by now. I've got an IV bag ready."
Oh great. Dr. Oz and his new toys. Last month, Nik had conned Robin into confiscating several full IV bags for our first aid cabinet. He must've known something. That is my brother after all. Super-Human-Wheat-Grass-eating-Ninja fighter by day and predictor-
of little-brother's future by night. Damn him.
"Not stickin' me w'needles."
"Like you're in any position to argue this. Just…trust me, Cal. Okay?"
Not a trust issue, Nik. If you told me I'd sprout wings if I dove head first off the Golden Gate Bridge during a hurricane, I'd believe you with every fiber of my being. But this…ain't that.
I wanted to say all that, but all I managed was, "Better get a bucket."
"Right here." He pushed the bruised and battered container next to the bed. Where he got that thing from in the 4.5 seconds he'd left my side, I can't even begin to know. And really it was the least of my concerns.
Upchucking my guts out - now that was A#1 on my priority list.
Good thing thee bucket was five gallons.
I couldn't move my head back from it's now hovering spot over the bucket. Probably best to stay there anyway. Direct flights are always best. It just wasn't very comfortable. Niko was there though. Always there. He helped me back to my side position, took the bucket away and brought it back clean in less than a minute.
Efficiency, thy name is Niko.
"Not even close, little brother. This is the worst of it. Might last for a while."
"B'ing human sucks. Dunno why m'sick. Not supposed t'be."
"We only assumed that all these years because you haven't gotten sick. You've been different lately though. Much more…active…and stressed. Stress is a killer when it comes to fighting ailments. Maybe you finally did yourself in."
He was referring to my partial gating as of late. I was pushing the limits of Rafferty's 'cure'. I discovered I could get away with two gates and still live through it. I didn't dare try three unless I was ready to truly see if it was upstairs or downstairs that had put in the highest bid for my soul. Three was out of the question. But the double gating, that was putting unnatural pressure on my body. And not just a small amount of pressure. We're talking big time demands. I knew it. I couldn't stop it. I didn't want to stop it. It fed that needy side of me where only monsters tread.
I knew Nik was right. When's he ever wrong? I just didn't know how to break my addiction. I felt a lecture was in order from big brother, but I knew he'd wait until I was upright and exorcising less bodily fluids before laying it on me.
Right now, I was in no condition for a lecture of any kind.
My eyelids sat at half mast as I watched a determined Niko look after me.
He cleaned the bucket. Wiped my face. Swapped out wet blankets for dry. Cleaned the tiniest droplets of vomit off me and my surroundings. And he went about every single one of these disgustingly tedious tasks without the slightest notion of frustration or anger or…ah, hell.
I suddenly felt absolutely horrible. Not physically. I was beyond feeling horrible physically. This new feeling hit me everywhere else.
Here I'd been gallivanting around, feeding my addiction and pushing it as far as I could go, tempting death and stressing my body to the absolute maximum, until even my Auphe side gave in to the germs. And here was Nik, knowing all this - that this flu crap was feeding on me because of my selfish need to feed the ecstatic high that gating gave me. This was completely my fault, and yet there he was still…still taking care of me without a second thought. I puke on him; he cleans me up. I sweat through clothes, blankets, sheets and mattresses; he dries me off. I complain about it all; he listens.
Sometimes I suck as a little brother.
I should tell him that. I'm sure he already knows, but sometimes to hear it, makes all the difference.
"Right here, Cal." The words were said with a calmness that would've made Yoda proud.
"I suck as a little brother."
"Sometimes you do."
I snorted at his reply. "Sorry."
"We'll talk after."
There was no recrimination in his voice. Not a drop. I don't know how he did it.
The strongest person I've ever known. The strongest I'll ever know.
His voice was soft. His voice was home. And I stumbled to respond to him in my flu infested state. All I could come up with was to apologize again. I slurred to him, "M'sorry, Nik."
My eyes burned, and not from flu.
Niko palmed a clean damp cloth and dabbed it over my face, chest, back and neck. If there was the slightest nip of tension in his touch – there wasn't - no one would ever feel it.
Crap. I didn't deserve Nik.
Now I felt worse – helped along by his calmness and comfort. I didn't just feel worse, I felt like shit. Niko gave more of himself to protect me and care for me than any pain-in-the-ass little brother ever deserved. And in the mist of all I was going through right now, it broke me down.
The physical turmoil on my body combined with these damn thoughts of unworthiness going through my mind and I gave in, if ever so briefly, to the pressure of the moment. And damn if a few rogue tears didn't plan their escape at just the perfect time. Just a few. But they were real. I can't count the number of emotions mixed into them either. More than a lot. Niko of course didn't acknowledge my partial emotional collapse - at least not verbally.
His response was to set his hand on top of mine and just leave it there. The simple touch was enough and I settled before complete collapse reared its watery head. I had enough on my plate without bawling my eyes out right now.
Everything stayed quiet for a time. No puking. No whining. No groaning. I was a well behaved flu-ridden Leandros brother for about fifteen minutes.
Then the cycle began again and I swear I puked up a lung this time. Thankfully it didn't land on Niko.
I drifted off after that. Not sure for how long, but when I woke up, I had a needle plugged into my arm, a tube arching into the air and an IV bag slowly dripping life back into my sad bed-ridden depleted self.
But I still felt like crap. Just crap with a tube sticking out of his arm. I knew he'd do this to me. I hate my brother sometimes.
"You druggin' me with the good stuff, doc?"
Niko's turn to snort. "I promise you that this bag is free of grease, sugar and all things you hold dear."
"Not to worry, Cal, you'll be ingesting your artery-hardening goodies soon enough. Feel any better? You slept for about two hours."
I realized I was on my back again. Nik must have thought it safe for a time. I'm sure he didn't leave my side for one mini-second while I was oblivious to the world…just in case. My back didn't ache as much lying like this. That had to be an improvement.
"A little less cold maybe. M'toes and hair still hurt. I stink too."
"You do. But in case you forgot, we don't have a bathtub. Just a shower. And unless you can stand on your own two feet for more than thirty seconds, I don't think an attempt is in the cards. Besides, if your stomach is still doing flips, cleaning up now would be pointless."
"Niiiiiik…" My best whine was met with a gray glare.
"You'll live for a while longer, now stop talking."
I tried to stop talking. I tried to deal with the smell of me, but Jesus did I smell bad. Dumpsters had nothing on this kid.
"Nik, please. Smelling me is making me more nauseas than I already am. I can't take this. I can stand up. Really. It's just the flu. If I can fight off Ford truck sized spiders, I can beat the flu." Okay, yeah, no. I didn't believe a word of what I was saying, but still…my eyes pleaded with my brother.
A small sigh - the only sign of annoyance he'd allowed to surface during this ordeal. And it wasn't so much annoyance as big brother just knowing he had to give in to me on this one thing. I mean, I did manage to win a small battle every so often - every few years.
"We will try," he said as he stuck the thermometer back into my mouth. Then, "Damn it. Yes, we will try, but not because you smell, but because a fever knocking at 105 is walking a line of danger that I don't care to walk. Normal people would be in the hospital with a number like that." He sighed again and gave in. Gave in only because failure to do so would be in his mind, a failure at the one job he'd tasked himself with his entire life. Protecting me. And with Niko, when it came to my well being…well, failure wasn't an option that was even allowed on the table. "The water should help your temperature. Let's get you into the bathroom."
Yes! Hot, flowing water to layer my aching bones from head to toe. I could just stand there and let it drown away all my chills and...
…And I should stop living in a dream world. It's a world that can't even flirt with my actual reality.
My shower wasn't anything like I imagined.
Did I mention that I hate my brother?
I was stripped and set into the shower stall. I didn't think a body could shake with cold as much as mine did, I felt like I was standing on a fault line and directly above the earthquake zone. How could I be so friggin' cold but running an almost 105 temp at the same time?
Then the water hit me.
"Jesus Nik! What the hell!"
I about jumped out of my blazing skin when my brother adjusted the water temp to his desired level. Not the hot wonderful feeling I'd been looking for. The water was…well, let's just say I swore I saw icebergs floating past my feet.
My brother was trying to kill me. He really was. And there wasn't a damn thing I could do about it. Just standing upright took more energy than I had, so escape wasn't an option, especially with Niko keeping a close eye and hand on me.
"Got to get your temperature down, remember? The water is lukewarm by the way, not freezing. Can't drop you that fast, that'll lead to more problems."
If this was lukewarm, then freezing must come with ice cubes actually jetting out of the shower head. This was torture, simply put. And I was stuck. I wavered a lot and fell on my ass at least twice. Niko, bless his super-human strength never lost a step in getting me standing back up. Shampooed and soaped from the tips of my toes to my still aching hair, I eventually got clean.
Then the water turned off and in the ten seconds it took Nik to grab a large towel to wrap me in, earth shattering shakes took over my body. My teeth chattered. My knees knocked. Honest to God icicles started forming at the ends of my hair.
And I thought I was cold before!
Niko wrapped a huge towel around me, sat me on the closed toilet seat, and then proceeded to rub my arms and back through the towel to warm me up. After a few minutes the tremors lessened – although I was still frozen solid.
I was moved to the living room, not my bed. I love my bed more than life, but the smell and mess left behind in there must be pretty bad for Nik to put me on the couch – a couch covered in towels in case I started sweating again.
The mummy-toweled version of me sat there shivering, working out words around my still chattering teeth. "E-easier ways t-to k-kill me, N-Nik."
"But not nearly as entertaining. Stay here, I'll get you dry clothes."
"W-Winter p-p-parka w-would be nice."
It wasn't a parka, but the best pair of sweats I owned – which didn't say much about the class of my wardrobe. But these only had a single hole in the knee! That was quality!
Quality didn't help me dress though. I tried on my own. Niko watched my comedy of errors for about two minutes before he took over. Again, there was no frustration there. No anger. Just Niko. I stayed quiet as he dressed me. I owed him that much.
"You look better. A little." Thermometer under the tongue again. "104.2. Better. I think it'll stay down now. Here, take these." He handed me three Tylenol. "This should help knock it down a bit more. If we can keep it from spiking towards 105 again, you'll be okay in a couple days. Feel sick at all right now?"
I shook my head.
"Good. I'll make you some broth. Warm you up and help keep you hydrated."
Hopefully that meant no more IV.
"IV's going back in too."
I did mention how much I hate my brother sometimes, didn't I?
The broth wasn't half bad for something that Health-Boy cooked up. It helped stop the worst of my chills too. Niko watched my every move as I spooned from the bowl to mouth, making sure I actually ate the stuff. He was also watching me just because.
Because I'd never been so sick in my life. Didn't think it was possible. Neither of us was prepared for it, although you'd never know the way my brother had handled it so far. And he was right, that type of temp was dangerous and had it gone any higher, possibly life threatening.
I could see it now, all the supernatural crap I've taken down and dealt with in my twenty-something life and I'd get nailed by the damn flu. Wouldn't that be the way to go?
Nik was worried about me; that was easy enough to see even without his mother-henning to back it up.
And I still felt like crap about bringing this on to myself. At least that's the best I could figure. The stress from my gate-playing reeked havoc with my immune system and crashed it. Stupid-ass fool that I am.
I cradled the warm bowl my hands and caught my brother's eyes. I didn't need to explain when I said to him, "I'll stop, Nik. I will. I…I need help though."
His blonde head nodded. "Help I can do, Cal. But I need the effort on your part."
There it was - the smallest of rebukes. Something so subtle that it would slide by most people. For me though, it hit home. And it hit hard. Niko. The one person – the only person – who'd ever given a crap about me – who had given up a normal life for me – who had worked his entire life to protect me – Niko was disappointed in me. It was worse than anything this flu could chuck my way.
He was all I had.
He was everything.
He was staring at me.
"No. Don't say anything. You show me by actions. You're stronger than what you allow yourself to be driven to, Cal. I know you are. And if I know it, it's true, right? Good. Still cold?"
I shook my head again.
He came to sit next to me on the couch. Shoulders touched. It was all I needed - to know that Nik didn't hate me for what I'd been doing. That he still did give a crap about me. That he'd still walk to the ends of the earth and beyond for his little brother.
The bowl was taken from my hands and set on the table.
"You need to rest, Cal."
No argument there. I fell to my right to set my head on the pillow that my brother had provided. My legs were lifted up and set into the spot recently vacated. I felt the prick of a needle going back into my arm. Two blankets settled on top of me. There was the sound of a book being removed from the shelf; the soft thump of someone sitting in the nearby chair, and then the quiet noise of pages being turned.
Niko was here to the end of this thing. No matter how long it took me to get back to being me.
"You're not gonna get this stuff, are you?"
Did I ever mention that my brother has a way with words?
"But the flu is usually contagious and you've been with me the whole time with sweat and puke and…"
"I won't get sick, Cal. I promise."
"Okay. But if you do, I'm gonna kick your ass for lying to me."
I'd earned myself a rare Niko smile for that one.
"You can try, little brother."
"If you do get sick…" Why did I suddenly feel like I was a little kid again?
"Cal, I'm not getting sick."
He can say that as many times as he wants, but he can and will get sick with the best of them. Maybe not this time, but just because he eats organic cow kibble and drinks seaweed smoothies, doesn't mean squat. It can happen. It has…and it will again.
There was the exasperated sigh I was looking for. About damn time.
"You know, if you do get stick, you don't have to worry about things."
"Not getting sick. Have you cleaned your ears lately or should I stick a candle wick in there and burn the wax out?" He said all this without looking up from his book. Then finally, he glanced up and over, blinking slowly and seeing into my soul with that ability that only Niko has. He said simply, "I know, Cal."
With Nik, there are times when I swear he's a mind reader. He's not of course. He just knows me better than I know me. I took a deep breath and let it out slow. The aches were better. The flames on my skin had become less bonfire and more gentle coals. My chills had all but stopped for now. All of this because of the care I'd gotten from my big brother.
I didn't have to tell him what he already knew…if he did get sick. That'd I'd be right there with him, every step of the way, just like he'd been for me.
Maybe I wasn't the world's best caregiver, but if Niko needed me…
I felt myself sliding. There was something in this IV bag - something other than Make-Cal-Feel-Better-Juice. Damn my sneaky brother. I slurred his name one last time.
"Yes, I did drug you. You appear determined to prevent its effectiveness however. Let go for a while, Cal. It'll help you sleep."
"Very sneaky when I need to be. Now shut up and sleep. I'm not going anywhere."
I shut up. I slept. Slept good too.
Nik was there when I woke in the morning – in the exact same spot, on the exact same chair, reading the exact same book.
Seems that everything was okay in the world of the awake and vertical.
I smiled to myself. Nik was a predictable as the sun when came to me. And he was safe. And he was comfort. And the fact that I knew he was still there looking after me, it gave me the reassurance I needed to allow my eyes to close again and drift into the world of the unaware from where I'd just come, content with the impenetrable cloud of protection that surrounded me as I slept.
A cloud that had been there since I first popped into this crazy-ass world.
Did I mention how much I Iove my brother?