A/N: So, as I said in the summary, I decided to write a series of drabbles revolving around the years Niko homeschooled Cal. I have no idea how long it's going to be, but here's the first installment anyway – with more to come. I hope you enjoy, and please leave me a review so I don't decide I'm not being appreciated enough and stop writing ;-)

Disclaimer: I do not own the Cal Leandros series … a most amazing woman named Rob Thurman does.

. . .

The textbook seemed to drop out of nowhere – landing hard, heavy, and dusty in my unsuspecting lap. For most of the morning it had just been me, the damp shadows of the apartment, the creak of the plumbing, and the monotonous buzz of the television set. The fact that a book had somehow managed to find its way into the equation could mean only one thing: Niko was home.

"You're early," I said blandly, ignoring the weight in my lap.

"I don't work Thursday afternoons," Niko responded, stepping behind the couch where I sat and efficiently raising the blinds off the tiny window. Unwelcome sunlight rid the room of shadows and illuminated the cover of the textbook – Chemistry. I blinked at it rather stupidly, allowing it a few spare seconds of my time before lifting my eyes to the TV once again. Which is when the screen went black. Damn.

Niko stood in front of me then, remote in one hand. "You're not yet seventeen, Cal," he began after assessing me for a moment. "Imminent death and destruction is no excuse for a wasted mind."

I eyed him warily, literally not getting it. I'd never been a morning person … never mind the fact it was past 1:00. To my shame, a blank "Huh?" managed to escape my lips.

"It seems I am too late," Niko mourned, rapping a knuckle against my skull. "Let me attempt to simplify this: get off the couch, we're starting school."

I was horrified. Never mind that I'd spent several months fleeing from the darkest nightmare this world has ever known; never mind that I'd lived with them for two years of my life. The idea of school still sent a chill of out-and-out terror up my spine. "School?"

He took the chemistry book and shoved it under my nose. "School."

"What the hell are you talking about?"

He sighed patiently. "I may not be able to make a scholar of you, Cal, but you're finishing high school whether you like it or not."

It was almost ridiculous – as mundane and unimportant as birthday presents, shiny new bicycles, and frigging lunch money. We'd never fit in with that kind of life before, never mind now. But the thing was, to Niko it wasn't ridiculous. Education was gravely important to him, I knew that. He'd already finished high school, and he would've finished college too if it weren't for, if I hadn't …

"As much as I'd love to stand here and watch you mull it over," he said, dry annoyance seeping into his voice as he took a handful of the back of my gray sweater and lifted me off my lazy ass.

"But Nik –" I fumbled desperately for an excuse. "You can't teach me everything yourself!"

He leveled a look at me.

Okay, so maybe that was a dumb excuse. But I had more. "I lost two whole years! I was just a freshman when …" I let the sentence fall unfinished.

"We'll make up for those two years," he affirmed.

"You work, Nik," I pointed out. "And I'll have to too, later on, to help make ends meet."

"I'll school you around our schedules, and you can study when you're not working."

"We're always on the move …"

"You can't read in the car?"

He was so smug, damn him. And I was fast running out of excuses. The most obvious one hung in the air between us – that I was a mentally crippled freak that had, only a matter of months ago, come tumbling out of hell snarling and growling like an animal … or a Grendel. But "mentally crippled freak" … those were my words, not Nik's. With Nik, it wasn't about second chances. It was about second chances, third chances, fourth chances, fifth, sixth, seventh, and on. No matter what the circumstances, Niko always believed in me. And surprise, surprise, this was just him doing it again.

I reluctantly took the Chemistry book from him and tried not to gag at the nauseating swirl of colors and numbers that coated it. "Are you sure about this?"

"Quite," he said, releasing me and folding his arms across his chest, obviously pleased with himself. Sure, this was him not giving up on me, being a good brother, yada yada, but I could nevertheless see that wicked glimmer in his eyes – one that said all too clearly Niko was going to enjoy this.

Damn it.