Author: Obi the Kid
Summary: Sequel to "I Hate my Brother". Cal hasn't yet recovered from the flu when tragedy strikes the Leandros brothers.
The knife landed with a dull thud as my world went into slow motion.
I blinked my eyes, unbelieving what I didn't want to believe.
He fell, landing hard on his stomach and face. The knife still stuck where it was jammed into his back. Blood quickly surfaced and stained his dark gray shirt.
I couldn't move.
Frozen in place until shouts from behind brought me back to normal speed and a rough hand pushed me in the direction I didn't want to go.
Niko was there - where I didn't want to go. It was his back that the knife protruded from. It was his blood that stained his dark gray shirt.
My brother. My protector. My whole damn life.
And he was dying.
The hand behind pushed me again and the familiar – but stressed - voice screamed at me to 'go to him.'
I finally did.
Niko's body still had the rise and fall of breath. I wasn't too late.
I touched his shoulder and set my left hand on the knife hilt. "Easy, Nik." The knife slid out so easily. Too easily to have caused such fatal damage.
Numbness began to set in even before I turned Niko over and into my lap. I held my arms under his and pulled him to me. Then, ignoring the chaos around me, I just held on.
The closest hospital was too far and the trip would be pointless anyway.
So, instead, I sat there, hugging my brother to my chest, trying to talk to him through the emotions, not even bothering to wipe the sudden monsoon of tears pouring down my face.
This was the end then.
The end for my brother.
The end for us.
And the world slowly rotated around me – mere seconds playing out in what seemed like endless, torturous minutes.
Nik opened his eyes and I turned him a bit more so he could meet mine. A weak and uncoordinated hand – so not Niko – flopped around until I caught and gripped it hard.
He didn't show any pain. Not that there wasn't any, but even in death, Nik had to be Nik. He had to be strong for his little brother.
I didn't dare break our eye contact. So much was said - words and emotions that no crappy-ass chick flick could ever compete with and then after the quiet, Nik said my name. Said it in that calm, soothing tone I knew so well. Damn it all. This wasn't happening. It just wasn't. It couldn't happen.
Through my semi-controlled panic I responded back. I had to. This was the end game.
"Right here, Nik. I'm not leaving."
"Hurts some. S'okay though."
In Niko language, some meant that the pain was 30 on a scale of 1 to 10.
In other words; agony. Agony that my brother could never deserve, even on his worst day.
And with the agony, came the final seconds of his life. Final breaths. Final words. I tried to put him at ease and let him go, despite the emotional spear impaled in my heart.
"You don't have to be strong for me anymore, Nik. It's okay to let go. I'll see you soon enough, okay? I'll be right behind you, big brother. You know damn well, I'm not doing this alone. I can't."
His eyes clouded as they struggled to stay open. He choked on my name.
"I'm here, Nik."
I can count on one hand the number of times I've ever seen tears in my brother's eyes. Always though, they've been for me. Just as they were now.
His water works couldn't compete with mine though as my heart and soul were in the process of being physically and emotionally ripped from my flesh bit by excruciating bit as the slow motion end to this crazy-ass life of ours ran its final scene. In general, life sucked. In my case, the only reason I had to live in his crap-hole of a world was lying in my arms, sucking in his last gasps of air. All the good Niko had done in his life. All the good that he was. None of it was enough to stop the inevitable of a purposely placed knife wound in the back.
His olive-skinned hand tightened on mine one last time and he forced one closing look at the kid brother for who he'd given up a chance at a life of normal and safe. I've always regretted what Nik gave up for me. But I've never regretted that he was there with me…for me…
The grasp on my hand began to loosen and his head slowly leaned to the side. And then, my brother, my protector - said his last words to me.
"See you soon, little brother."
…And Niko Leandros died in my arms.
I lost it. Completely lost it. I've never cried that hard. I don't know if anyone ever has. Eventually though, I did manage to pick my head up and look around. My gun. It was here somewhere. I'd dropped it amidst the chaos. Yes, there it was. Just a few feet away. I scooted myself in that direction, still holding Niko in my arms. I couldn't let him go. We'd always been together. We'd always be together.
The gun settled into my trembling hand. It felt different than I remembered. Lighter. Didn't matter, as long as it did the job. This wouldn't take long. I knew the exact position to place the gun to make sure I did the deed right and didn't end up some vegetable in a mad scientist's lab. The only thing that could get in my way was…
"Caliban, put it down."
Robin. Damn it!
This wasn't going to happen – Robin's interference. I'd made a promise to Nik a long time ago and he to me. This was our end.
And so I did what I never thought I could do. I pointed the loaded weapon at the kill spot on Robin's head and cocked it, ready to fire. Robin. The only person other than Nik that I'd ever truly relied on for anything. My friend. I could barely see past the water-blur in my eyes, but I could see the look on his face. And I could find that kill spot even with the damn tears that wouldn't stop. I was good with guns. Very good.
"Leave it alone, Robin. Please. I'm not leaving my brother."
"He's gone, Cal."
I heard my voice trembling as I said, "He's not going alone. I promised him. I promised me. I can't do this without him. Just let me go, Robin. Just walk away. Please…just walk away."
Stubborn bastard that he is, Robin didn't listen. I blinked away a few more tears, held one arm snug to Niko, and…fired at my friend. It hit. He fell. I turned the gun to me.
Snail's pace cut to real time. Another shot rang out. The world went black.
When I opened my eyes, I was on the floor of the apartment clutching a pillow to my chest with my gun in my hand, pointed at myself. My finger hovered on the trigger. The gun wasn't loaded, I noticed. The clip was gone. That's why it felt so light when I shot Robin with it. But you can't shoot someone with an empty gun. Right?
A hand reached down amidst my confusion, gently unfolded the death grip I had on the weapon and moved it away from my reach.
I knew that hand; the olive skin tone. I just didn't comprehend what was happening.
That same hand returned, and settled on my other hand, unclenching it from the pillow. No. No, no, no, no, no. I refused to let go of my brother. I couldn't. Nik…
That's when I heard what I thought I'd lost forever.
"Right here, little brother."
What the hell?
No, it couldn't be. I watched…I saw…I held him as he took his last breath; his last words…
Soft hands landed on each of my knees, which were pulled to my chest now that the pillow was gone. And then home called to me again. "Cal."
I didn't understand. If this was some sort of sick joke…but it wasn't, was it?
Proverbial gray eyes found mine.
"It's okay, Cal. You had a nightmare. Fever induced. You're okay."
A nightmare? I watched the life get sucked out of my brother dying in my lap, not being able to do a damn thing about it…and it was just a nightmare? A friggin' dream? No. No, that wasn't right. It had been real. It was real. I was there. I lived it. It couldn't be…or could it? No. Niko wouldn't lie to me, not about this.
Could he really be…"N-Nik?"
I grabbed the gray shirt – the blood soaked one he'd been wearing in my nightmare – and pulled it, and him towards me. I snatched him into a bone breaking hug. And I didn't let go.
After a few minutes of emotion, I was muffled against his shoulder when I finally said, "In my dream, you died bloody in my arms." I steadied a few breaths, then, "Don't ever goddamn do that again, you bastard. Nightmare or not."
My brother hugged me back just as tight as I held onto him.
"I'm not dying any time soon, little brother."
"Good, because I'll kill you if you do, damn it. You hear me?"
"I hear you, Cal."
This time when I completely broke down -chick-flick moment be damned - it wasn't some nightmare induced dream world. It was pure-blooded reality. I wasn't letting go.
Eventually I ended up on the couch with a mug of warm tea in my grasp. My hands trembled as I lifted it to my lips, but I managed to get most of the liquid in the general mouth area. I'm sure it probably had some type of kelp-seaweed wheat germ buried in it somewhere, but I at this very moment of my life, I'd eat or drink anything my brother put in front of me…as long as he was alive.
Niko gave me another when I finished the first cup. Then he sat next to me and nudged my shoulder. "Talk."
Hell, no. I'm not reliving that nightmare again.
Damn it all!
"It was real, Nik. As real as this cup. You got knifed in the back. Fatal. You died in my arms; last words and all that dramatic movie-type crap. I lost it. Just flat out lost it. Then Robin tried to take my gun. He tried to stop me from what I had to do. I shot him. I killed him." My head dropped forward, chin touching my chest. "I wasn't going to leave you, Nik. I wasn't."
A comforting arm went around my sagged shoulders. "It wasn't real, Cal. I'm okay. Robin's okay."
"No, it was real. It was more real than some of my actual reality. You know how vivid my dreams can be. This was top of the pops, brother."
"Well, it's over. My bigger concern is that you can't put this flu behind you. Your temperature shot up so quickly, there wasn't anything I could do. You were teetering on 106 at the peak and nothing I did helped. I thought I was going to lose you."
I huffed out a breath and turned my gaze to Niko's gray eyes -the eyes so perfectly matched to mine. "I lost you instead."
"You didn't," he said purposely as he got up and refilled my tea again. "Keep drinking."
"Intake eventually leads to outtake, you know."
"Just let me know ahead of time so you can make it to the bathroom."
My gaze fixated on my mug as I said, "You messed with my gun."
"I did it when this whole thing started days ago. Pulled the clip and emptied the chamber."
In the event of a whacked out Cal moment, I'm sure. Always prepared. One of Niko's many mottos. The man is a pure-bred boy scout if there ever was one.
"Thanks. You saved my ass again, even if I failed to save yours."
"A dream, Cal. Just a dream."
"I wish I could toss it out as just a dream. I still feel it."
"I've been there."
He had - a waking reality that saw me torn to bits on the floor of our previous apartment. Took him six months to truly get past it.
"Yeah, well, I'm not sleeping anymore until this damn flu is gone."
Translation? I would sleep and he'd be right there to immediately shake me out of my own head if needed.
Thermometer went under my tongue. Topped out at 104. If Niko had been right about the 106 thing, this was a definite improvement.
Improvement continued the next day. And the next. By the end of the week, I was firmly planted at 101. Weekend's end, 99 baby! I was me again.
Niko slept for a long time then. That's how I knew things were okay. He allowed himself off babysitting duty.
I didn't do much of anything that day. Mostly just alternated between slouching on the couch in front of the TV or watching my brother sleep from the doorway of his bedroom. It's what he did for so long with me after he'd seen me die.
In my own head, Niko's death showed no signs of getting the hell out of dodge. I was thinking about it a lot and dreaming about it more. And always, it came with that horrendous slow motion feeling that stabs me with a thousand needles of emotional denial. I can't deal with what didn't really happen. I can't accept the thought of my only family dying. Hell, I didn't even want to think about seeing Robin for the first time since the nightmare. If Nik is my only blood family, Robin at least qualifies as non-blood. I know for damn sure that I won't be able to look him in the eye for a time, not after what I did to him – even if it wasn't real. It was real enough.
Nik would explain it to him. He'd know that I couldn't do it. Still not sold on the entire caring and sharing thing with anyone but Niko. Robin would accept it though. It's what he did where I was concerned. There's no changing me.
But worse though than Niko's imagined death and Robin's bullet-to-the-head demise, was the underlying fear that all of this could come true. Yeah, maybe not in that exact way, but Niko was human and Robin was loyal to us. Both things that could easily get them killed…either by me or because of me.
My stomach turned at the thought as a stood quietly at Niko's bedroom door. He was awake, although no one else on the planet would ever have guessed it by his body language. But I knew. He faced away from me, lying on his side, inhaling slow, purposeful breaths. He was waiting for me to stop worrying over him and go back to the monotony of cartoon watching and pizza eating.
I couldn't leave just yet. Just…I just couldn't.
A few minutes passed and I heard him sigh; not wanting to get up and drag me away from the doorway, though he would if necessary. I closed my eyes and leaned on a bit of the meditation crap he'd forced on me in the past. Crap that I'd be dealing with again after this eventful last week. The fun never stops.
Another sigh and I resigned that I should leave him be. Wrapping my knuckles lightly on the door frame, I said to him in my not-so-confident, not-so-adult, not-so-manly voice, "Don't die, okay, Nik?"
His returned words were slightly muffled by the pillow he was communing with, but I heard them.
"Never, little brother."
Simple and succinct. I'd expect nothing more from my brother. I smiled and felt better. Well, a little better. Being who I was, there was only so much of that happy feelings crap that I could absorb.
A well aimed projectile flew passed my head as I was contemplating momentary happiness. I hadn't even seen Sleeping Beauty move to throw it. His message to me was clear enough though - Snap out of it.
And…"Get out of my room, Cal."
"Okay, but dinner's in two hours. I'm cooking."
"I thought you asked me not to die."
"Then I am not eating anything you mix up, cook or throw on a plate."
"Yeah, yeah, that 'whole my body is a temple' thing. Whatever, Cyrano. Fine, we'll go out then."
"Come on, Nik. I can't take any more of those veggie-on-a-stick places you take me to. They lack the necessary and nutritional needs I need to get though my days.
"Grease and sugar are neither necessary, nor nutritional."
Another projectile whooshed past. I swear he didn't move from the bed. Damn it!
"Now, get out of my room."
I pouted. Something I'd mastered long ago and one of the few things I did consistently well. I pouted and relented, leaving my brother to sleep off the remainder of his exhaustion.
His voice stopped me as I moved away from the door.
He'd turned over from his side to his back so our gray eyes could meet.
"A compromise. Pizza - vegetable style. Health with a little grease mixed in."
I grinned. "Deal. I'll wake you in a couple hours."
I didn't need to. Not really. Mr. Perfect's internal alarm clock was more than capable of that, but I said it anyway.
He responded with, "Good. Now, I mean it, get out of my room."
This time I did leave and for a few moments at least, images of my brother dying bloody in my arms were replaced by images of cheese and grease-laden pizza. I'd just pick the healthy crap off, take the cheese off Nik's piece and slop it all down. And well, if the mood hit me right, maybe I'd gag down a piece of broccoli or green pepper for my brother's sake.
My brother, who was the only reason I existed in this world and was the only reason I was still sane.
My brother, who gave everything of himself – for me.
My brother…who promised me he wouldn't die.