Chapter Title: After
Series Title: After
Author: Obi the Kid
Summary: Cal makes his first verbal communication with his brother. Snippet of my "After" series. A string of non-chronological short stories that focus on the 1-2 years after Cal returned from Tumulus.
Disclaimer: All hail Rob Thurman! No profit here, I'm just having fun
*All grammatical errors are my own. Please forgive them.*
I look at him; he looks away.
I reach to touch him; he pulls back.
I talk to him; he flinches.
The temperature is too cold. The sun is too bright. The road noise is too loud.
He is nothing more than a fetal ball, cowering in the corner of the car seat, terrified of his own shadow.
The clothes he wears are mine. Wrinkled and worn, but necessary because the few items I have of his are inches too small for his no-longer-fourteen-year-old frame.
Two days was all he had been gone. But where he'd been during those two days, had aged him in years.
He won't speak. He won't eat. If not for the constant chattering of his teeth and his panicked rapid breathing, my brother would be nothing but absolute and distressed silence.
I would get him back, no matter how long the recovery. It was he and I against the world now. No longer stifled by a drunken-whore mother who spewed nothing by hate on her youngest son day after day for fourteen years. However far this old car would go, however long it could aid us in running, we would follow. Those things – those Grendels – they'd taken my brother once. Somehow, he'd returned.
We would keep moving, keep going until we'd lost them forever; hiding for the rest of our lives if needed. But no way in hell would I lose him again.
Driving for hours, I finally found a quiet rest-stop to park. It was shaded from the brightest of the sun and enough off the road to mute the worst of the traffic noise.
I tried talking to him again. Absolutely needing to make sure that at the very minimum, he recognized me. That, even he couldn't find words or accept the touch; he knew he was home – with me – and that those monsters couldn't hurt him anymore.
"We've stopped for a while, Cal. A rest stop just off the interstate. It's safe here. I took enough detours and back roads to have lost anything that may have been following us. It's just you and me now, little brother. I'll take care of you until you get better."
Aside from a temporary pause in the teeth chattering, there was no response.
"I'll keep you safe, little brother. I'll do whatever it takes to push myself; train myself in every nature of weapon I can get my hands on; do everything in my power to stay healthy and fit and…I'll keep you safe. I swear it."
The rapid breathing hitched slightly, but enough that I noticed. Cal's head didn't come up from the tucked position it was in, but I could see he was listening. That meant something.
No, not just something, it meant everything.
Doors locked, rest stop scanned and knife in hand, I rested my head against the back of the seat. I couldn't sleep – for more reasons than one. But I needed the respite, if only for a short time. Hours passed. I focused on the cars in the distance, speeding by, each a vehicle seated with a person on their way to living a life. Jobs, families, friends, gatherings. All those usual things that normal people do…whatever normal was.
My normal was the present. My entire life was right here in this car. My entire life was curled in the seat next to me, eyes lifted towards mine.
Cal was seeing me now, for the first time since coming home.
"It's me, little brother. You're safe."
Time passed again. The eye contact didn't. He continued watching me with eyes that revealed so many different emotions that it was impossible to count them all.
And when he finally spoke a word, voice rusty and low, it was the only word I'd expected. The word that for fourteen years had meant protection and security from the world that had tried so hard to reject him. The first word he'd ever said.
I closed my eyes at hearing the sound. That first word since his return…was everything. It was the whole damn world.
As a baby, a first word starts a child into a new realm of existence. Doors open. Life accelerates.
As a traumatized and tortured teenager, it was a single forward step into healing.
"Yes, Cal. It's me. I'm not leaving you, okay? Everything will be…"
The word came again; this time in the form of a question.
"Here, Cal. I'm right here."
Another extended pause, then one last word.
The eye contact ended and he returned to his fetal corner.
As much as I wanted and needed to reach out for him – for myself as much as for him - to make absolute sure he understood that I was here, that he was protected…I didn't dare do it. Less than a day into this – only hours after he'd come home - there had to be trust before anything else.
There had always been a blanket trust between us. There always would be.
We left the rest stop two hours later. It was another day before Cal uttered another word. It was a week before he allowed me to touch him. Five days after that, he cried himself hoarse in my arms. Complete trust.
That promise I'd made long ago, holding him in my toddler arms as a screaming and crying newborn, was now, after the hell, wholly reaffirmed.
We would get through this. I would get my brother back to what he used to be.
There was simply no other option.