A/N: Thanks to everyone for reading and reviewing!
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"Do you actually know the second-to-last column of the periodic table?"
That question had come out of nowhere, just like the thought, and I got just what I had expected. A half-amused, half-supercilious raised eyebrow that made my question seem rhetorical and more than a little stupid. Yeah, Nik knew. He knew everything else, why not this? I, on the other hand, couldn't seem to commit more than 5 minerals to memory, no matter how many hours I spent staring at that damn table. My intelligence level was admittedly nowhere near that of Niko, the all-knowing.
But, seriously, the second-to-last column, from memory?
I leaned back in the passenger's seat and stared skeptically at him as he drove, taking our hunk-of-junk car down scrubby Wisconsin roads. Finally I announced, "No, you don't."
Niko's eyes left the road to glance at me, still just as amused and supercilious. "Where is your faith, little brother?"
"No one knows the second-to-last column of the period table offhand," I insisted, refusing to be swayed. "It's impossible."
"Yes," I stressed. "Go ahead, do it."
"How can I, if it's impossible?"
"So you admit it!"
"Those are your words, not mine."
I groaned. "You're hurting my already-tired brain."
"Anything it takes to pound some sense into it," he said, and on cue I ducked to miss the blur that was his hand aimed at my head.
"Hands on the wheel, Cyrano," I advised when it looked like he might try again. Instead he sufficed by nodding at the history textbook that had been lying forgotten in my lap for a precious number of minutes. With a sigh of remorse, I picked it up and continued reading. I was silent for about 11 seconds before letting out a short laugh and muttering, "Imagine being named 'Wilberforce'."
"Terrible," Niko agreed blandly.
7 seconds. "I don't think the Age of Enlightenment was all that enlightening. Unless they're counting 'enlightenment' as the addition of about 20 million new philosophies…"
"I mean, no one even agreed on most of them, so they couldn't have been all that enlightening…"
I snorted. "Fine, just stop distracting me."
That actually got a laugh out of him, and I read contentedly and in silence for about 2 minutes before I was thinking of something else to say. There wasn't much left; since we'd packed up our motel room and left four hours ago, I'd pretty much exhausted my vocabulary… a relatively new feeling, as I didn't usually feel the need to talk so much. Hell, a matter of months ago talking was still painful. But today felt good. We were leaving Wisconsin, a place that I'd inexplicably despised, one that was cold, and I was impatient as ever to reach the border. Still, having to do my school a scant foot away from Niko, under his ever-watchful eye, was no treat. He was the Taskmaster from Hell – all-in-all a terrible teacher. So I had to balance things out the only way I could… by being a terrible student.
And that meant finding something else to say. "I'm starving." Not original, but valid. We hadn't stopped to eat yet, after all.
Niko let out a long sigh, his breath in unison with the rush of the heat. "Do you ever stop talking?"
Score. "We haven't even stopped for lunch."
"It would put us too far out of our way," he said, and then thumped my history book with one commanding finger. "Back to Wilberforce, little brother."
"You still haven't answered my question," I accused, ignoring him.
Longsuffering was practically coming out his pores. "WHAT question?"
"Do you know the second-to-last column of the periodic table?"
"I'll make a deal with you. If I can recite it from memory, you will sit quietly and read your History like a good little student until I decide to stop for lunch. Notice I said 'quietly'. However, if I can't recite it from memory, we eat at the nearest fast food place."
I considered, eying him suspiciously. "You wouldn't have made this deal if you didn't know you'd win."
"Take it or leave it."
My stomach growled – getting testy now that lunch was on the line. But there was no way around it. Giving in, I bent over and rummaged around the mess of schoolbooks on the floor before and under my seat, in search of my Chemistry book. Fishing it out, I thumbed my way through to the periodic table, and grumbled, "Go ahead."
"Fluorine, chlorine, bromine, iodine…"
I did History for three hours straight.