Title: I did it, Nik!
Author: Obi the Kid
Rating: PG-13 (for a tiny bit of Cal language)
Summary: A trip through the life of the Leandros brothers as some of Cal's minor accomplishments are recalled. (Present day part of the story takes place between
Roadkill and Blackout.
Starts out in present time and then floats back to when Cal was 5 and Niko was 9; then goes up from there. Ages are in ( ).
"I did it, Nik. Eight miles. Running. Without dying. Take that and stuff it!"
"There is still plenty of time to die during the let down of the run, little brother. Don't let the initial thirty seconds of the continuation of intake and outtake of breath fool you."
"You truly are Mr. Sunshine, aren't you?"
"I do my best with the people that surround me."
"How about an 'atta boy, Cal!' at least? I mean, I jogged eight friggin' miles. Eight, damn it!"
"Atta boy, Cal."
"Droll, Nik. Very droll."
Yes, this is my brother. Cal and his moments. He's certainly had his share in the past. Some of those times were edged with pain and struggle, but a few held a childlike innocence that one might never expect from my glowering, snarky younger sibling. I remember every single one of the good and the bad. Honestly, when it comes to Cal, there is little I've forgotten. He is my brother after all. I've raised him and cared for him all his life. His memories are as much mine as they are his.
Cal (5) Niko (9)
"I did it, Nik! I ate all my fish sticks."
"You did a good job, Cal."
"Can I have z'zert now?"
"Yes, and it's your favorite, chocolate cupcake with white frosting. Here."
"There's only one though, so eat it slow."
"You get half."
"No, you get to eat the whole thing, because you've been good today."
"Y'never eat z'zert, Nik. I'll share it with you."
"Okay, just a bite though."
I remember not taking much of a bite. Not because I was into my healthy eating at that age, but because this was Cal - my little brother. I needed to keep things as normal as I could for as long I could. And to be truthful, the cupcake wasn't really a cupcake. It was a couple of mashed up brownies from the cranky old blue-haired woman three trailers down. And the frosting? Just a knife-slab of cream cheese with sugar shaken on top. She'd made brownies every Sunday for herself and would set one aside for me, leaving it on her front step. I'm not sure why she did it. Perhaps it was pity or just missing family that never came around anymore. Whatever it was, I was just glad to have it. Sophia never tossed around the money she'd conned or 'worked for', so if we had water, expired milk, a beat up box of generic cereal, and off-brand fish sticks, we were living on crumbs. Any chance I had to get a little something extra for Cal – something that would allow him to be a kid for a while longer - I'd take it in a second.
Cal (7) Niko (11)
"I did it, Nik! All fifty states. A+! See my paper?"
"You actually got them all correct. I am…surprised."
"Good job, Cal. I'm proud of you for the A. See, it's not so hard to pay attention in school."
"Well, I get bored a lot, and my butt get's numb from sitting still that long, and I think I swallowed my pencil eraser today in math class."
"Learning is never easy."
"I like it better when you teach me."
"I can't teach you all the time. I'm in school too and it's better for you to get away from home for a while every day. You need to be with other kids your age and I want you to be able to stay away from…"
"But the kids in this school, they don't like me. They call me names and threaten to beat me up. They say that one day when my big brother isn't around…"
"What did I tell you about the bullies?"
"I know, you told me. Walk away. But, I can fight back, Nik, I…"
"No. You walk away. You've gotten in trouble already for fighting at the last school you were in. You've only been in this new school for a week and it's not worth a fight and we don't want the teacher getting Sophia involved with school things. I take care of all of that. I don't want them to ever separate us, Cal. So you need to do what I tell you, okay?"
"Yeah, okay. Sorry."
"And, I don't want you strangling any of the other kids either, even if they are mean to you. Remember Monday, I had to pull you off that big kid's neck just before the teacher came outside. That's a bad thing, in case you forgot, especially on your first day. Don't do it again. And leave your knife at home. The knife is only for weapon practice with me here at home when Sophia isn't around."
"No more strangling and no more knife at school. I promise. I don't want you to get in trouble. And I don't want them to take me away from you. Not ever."
"As long as we stick together, that will never happen, little brother."
Cal was feisty about school. He wanted to go, but he didn't at the same time. He just really couldn't understand why just yet. The kids there didn't know the truth about him, but some of them did sense that he was different in some way. Sophia laid into him every night after school with spiteful and hateful words – as she had since the day he was born. By the time he was seven it was constant and he was absorbing every malicious syllable. Emotional and verbal abuse is difficult to comprehend at any age, but when it's aimed at a child…I could see him learning to channel his anger and not fight back against her, trying hard not to yell back or try and harm her physically. Always, I told him that he had to focus on ignoring her taunts. I told him to just close his eyes a think about better things. I lived my days scared to death that one day someone would see or hear something and it would take us from Sophia. Of course, that's not the part that terrified me – no, that was the thought that if they took us from her, they'd split us up and take us from each other. Cal would have never survived that. I would have never survived that. Living with her was hell enough, but at least we were together. At least I could protect him.
Cal (8) Niko (12)
"I did it, Nik. I punched Robert in the mouth."
"Damn it, Cal!"
"Hey, you told me I couldn't cuss. How come it's okay for you?"
"I'm the big brother and that's not the point. You can't punch other kids in school."
"But he punched me first!"
"I don't know. I was just sitting there minding my business and…"
"Stop right there. What have I told you about lying to me? You don't do it. Sophia lies to us all the time, she lies about everything to anyone. We can't be like that. We have to be better, especially with each other. So, tell me the truth about what happened."
"Okay. Okay. I wasn't minding my own business, not exactly. I was being a pain-in-the-ass."
"Well, I had to cuss to be my point across. It's the truth. You said tell the truth. That's what I was being. And there weren't any teachers around, so…I kicked him."
"No, I kicked him until he stood up and told me to stop."
"And naturally, you didn't stop."
"I kicked him again. I was trying to remember that ninja kick you taught me last week."
"The one where I kicked you in the shin and it made your shoulders twitch?"
"Yeah. I can't do it, Nik."
"I could have told you that. So, you kept kicking him in the shin and he eventually punched you in the face?"
"No, he pushed me and tried to knock me over."
"That was all?"
"And he called me white trash."
"Just a name, Cal. You need to stop reacting to that. Kids can be mean. You know that. You are that sometimes. You need to think before you act."
"I don't like to think, Nik."
"So I've discovered. Anyway, he pushed you and then you punched him?"
"Yes. Just once though, but it was a good one, right in the nose with one of those karate moves you taught me. He ran away crying."
"And you do know what all this means, yes?"
"Good. Six chapters before bed. I will quiz you on what you read after you finish."
"Six? But, Nik...I didn't…"
"Don't start, Cal. You do stupid things you have face some type of punishment. And since you have this incredible aversion to reading and studying, it's the best way to get points into your eight year old brain. Punch him or anyone else again and next time it'll be twelve chapters."
"I didn't do it to be mean. I was just trying…"
"No excuses, Cal. You can't hurt people for no reason. It doesn't matter who they are. Now, go outside, sit on the front stoop and start reading. Sophia won't be home until late, if she comes home at all tonight, so it should be quiet out there. Go study."
I always hated punishing Cal. I was never that great at it anyway, but I tried to make it something learning related. He had enough emotional and verbal abuse from Sophia every day of his life; he didn't need my spouting harsh words to him about the trouble he usually managed to find at school. And punishment-via-books seemed to work well enough. He hated it then and to this day, his feelings about it remain the same.
Cal (10) Niko (14)
"I did it, Nik! I asked Jenna – you know that tall skinny girl - for a kiss."
"Cal, you are ten years old. You shouldn't be kissing anything. And why do you have a black eye?"
"She said no and she hit me. But, I didn't hit her back!"
"But you tried to kiss her?"
"No, I asked first then I tried."
"When you asked, did she say yes?"
"Then why did you try?"
"I thought she was kidding."
"So, you kissed her and she hit you."
"No, I tried to kiss her."
"And then she hit you."
"In other words, you got beat up by a girl."
"Well yes, no…yes. No. Wait. She didn't beat me up, just hit me."
"Same difference, Cal. At least you didn't hit her back. You didn't hit her back, did you?"
"No! I told you. I don't hit girls. You told me never to do that."
"Good. I'm glad you listen to me sometimes."
"I think she likes me."
"And you say that because…?"
"She smiled after she hit me."
"I am fairly confident that wasn't because she likes you. You and I have to have a serious talk about girls. I thought we went over part of this, birds and bees and all that stuff."
"We did, but you didn't mention anything about girls giving me black eyes."
"No, I didn't. An obvious error on my part. I forgot who I was teaching at the time. Not some normal boy, but a hard headed pain-in-the-butt one."
"At least she finally talked to me. She doesn't know I'm a monster, but even then normally she just turns and walks the other way when I say something to her."
"You are not a monster. Don't say that. And the next time a girl walks away from you, Cal, please allow it. Fights at school are a bad thing. Remember, I've told you before how they could separate us if Social Services finds out about Sophia?"
"Don't ever forget that. Ever."
"They can't break us apart, we're brothers!"
"Don't trust the system, Cal. We are brothers and we'll always be brothers, no matter what, but for now…just no fighting, okay?"
"Okay, but you have to tell her that. She said she'd meet me in the cafeteria tomorrow at high noon."
"Yes, and you will not be at the cafeteria. If you go, I will know. And trust me you do not want me to know."
He went. I knew. I flicked him on the ear and then dragged him out of the cafeteria by that same ear. That whole thing could only have ended badly. Not for the girl, but for Cal. As much as I had tried to keep him normal at that age, he was still a child. A half-monster, mother-hated child with escalating anger issues, but a child nonetheless. It was the first time I was actually glad that Sophia up and moved us again to another town the next day. It took care of the Cal-getting-beat-up-by-a-girl problem.
Cal (14) Niko (18)
"I did it, Nik."
"What do you do?"
"I stood up to Sophia and told her that I wasn't a monster after she finished yelling at me today. I stood up for myself."
"And she cussed at me, spit at me and hit me with a glass bottle. It's okay though."
"Where did she hit you?"
"On my neck. I stopped the bleeding with the first aid you taught me."
"Are you okay?"
"I guess so."
"You know you are not a monster, Cal."
"I try to know that. You tell me that, but she…and those Grendel things that keep showing up, she tells me that I'll be like them someday and how evil they are and that I'll become…."
"Doesn't matter what she says, only what I say. Understand me?"
"Yes. But…the Grendels…
"Stop it, Cal. Don't listen to whatever garbage Sophia or the Grendels say to you. Just don't. Okay?"
"Okay, I won't, but do you have to go back to school next week? It's…better with you around. They don't come as often and Sophia, she's so much worse when you're gone, Nik. I can't stand it anymore. Do you really have to leave again?"
"I do. You'll be okay. Once I'm done with school, it'll be what I need for a good paying job and then you and I can get away from her forever."
"I hate staying here when you're away. She just…I hate it, Nik. I hate it!"
"I know you do, little brother, and I'm doing the best I can to get us away."
"Not much longer."
"It'll be okay, Cal. I promise you."
"But…every second of every day, she hates me, Nik. And…and you don't. I don't want to be here. I want to come with you. Please, Nik."
That had been six months to the day before the Auphe had taken him from me. Cal was
as distraught as I'd seen him in a long time after the run in with Sophia. Everything was crashing in on him. I remember doing everything I could to counter the feelings he was having. Eventually I stepped close and just hugged him. He didn't return the embrace, but he did stand there motionless, his head leaned against me, and accepted the small comfort I could offer. I knew what was ahead for us once I got through school. I had a plan that would get us free from our childhood from Hell. The extra classes I was taking would get me through faster and the dojo jobs I had on the side paid the way. It was just a matter of time…
Six months later, the Auphe changed that future - and our lives - forever.
Cal (16) Niko (18)
"I did it, Nik."
"You ate the whole stack of pancakes and hash browns. Great job, Cal. I know you hate it right now, but you need to eat to keep your strength up and recover the weight you lost. Here, wipe your hands clean."
"We can get you another blanket at our next store stop."
"The Grendels? No, I think we've eluded them for now. It'll be all right. You'll come into the store with me and just stay close."
"People will stare."
"Doesn't matter. They don't know us, we don't know them. They can stare all they want."
"No, Cal. The Grendels won't take you again. Not ever. I swear. I'll be ready for them if they try. They are never taking you away from me again."
That was the terrified version of Cal a few months removed from what we eventually found out was called Tumulus. Auphe Hell. To clarify, that was Cal on a good day after Tumulus. His erratic bad days were far more frequent and completely unpredictable. He was constantly cold and constantly scared to death and had this rage about him that hadn't been there before, but that could come and go at a moment's notice. He'd made progress by that third month though, allowing me and only me to touch or get anywhere near him, although I did what I could to expose him to others. Our quick trip inside the Wal-Mart to buy his blanket was uneventful, but nerve wracking enough that Cal vomited up the meal I'd worked so hard to get him to eat. But I couldn't not take him to these places. He needed exposure to the world again and I wasn't able to leave him in the car unattended; one bloody foot incident was enough to make sure I didn't ever do that again. So, we slowly and awkwardly muddled through each hour of each day. And as he remained crippled by what he'd suffered, I pushed myself beyond limits – limits I'd set years before Cal had been taken - to become one of the most skilled persons on the planet with regards to swords, daggers and knives. Guns weren't tops on my priority list, but I would come to know them inside and out as well. With everything that I was, I'd meant what I'd told him - that I would never again let the Grendel take him away from me. And I'd keep that promise until my last breath.
Cal (17) Niko (19)
"I did it, Nik."
"I can see that. Slept on top of the bed all night."
"It's warmer there."
"I told you that, remember?"
"It's a joke, Cal. It's difficult, I know."
"I like the new knife."
"I knew you would. It's perfect for your height and weight and skill level. You're already more proficient than most with a knife and this will take it to another level, and we'll keep practicing every day."
"I'm much better practicing knives than studying school work."
"Yes, and speaking of…there's a history museum in town. The time for learning is upon you."
"Damn it! You know I hate history."
"And I'm certain that history has similar feelings about scowling seventeen year olds too, but too bad. Be grateful that it's not a math museum."
"They have those?"
"I'm sure somewhere. But your talent with math is…well, never mind."
"Nik, do you think all this running and moving from town to town will keep them away?"
"We haven't seen them in a while, so we must be doing something right. We'll just have to stay one step ahead."
"And if they do find us…you'll protect me from them."
"Always, Cal. Remember that."
"I will. I do. But do we still have to learn history today?"
We'd gone a month without a Grendel sighting at the time. Then they'd found us a few days later. Cal didn't see them, but he knew something. He said he felt something. The rest of that day and the next couple that followed, he'd practically stuck himself to my side. Often keeping one hand clutched to my jacket as we moved to a new town to shake them once more. At the time, we'd believed that our running and hiding was working – finding out later that that wasn't the case. They knew where Cal was every second of every day. But for our purposes then – ignorance, while it wasn't truly bliss, it was as close to bliss as Cal and I would ever come.
Cal (18) Niko (20)
"I did it, Nik! Nailed it with my eyes closed! Beat that one, Ninja-boy!"
"Shooting a revenant from a range of three inches with a fully-loaded Glock is not an achievement that I'd gloat too much about, little brother."
"Don't be jealous, Cyrano. It's an ugly thing. I took down ten of those bastards in less time than you knocked out four."
"Yes, but mine are actually dead. Yours are able to regenerate. It only counts if you kill it."
"Killing something that's already dead seems so redundant."
"Careful. Using those big words might burn up your remaining and functioning brain cells. Proceed with caution."
"Give me the damn sword, I'll finish them off."
"You might want to worry about the five behind you."
"Bastards are everywhere! It's like a giant litter of putrid…okay, they're just nasty. Let's finish this so I can go home and become one with the couch. How about I shoot them and you whack off a few heads? Ready?"
That day had been a good one for us, and as strange as it may have seemed it had been a relaxing one. Cal always functioned better – dare say he was happier - when he could do a little harmless revenant hunting. Kill some evil and save some poor innocent souls at the same time. A win-win. We'd liked the new place at the time; New York. Millions of people paying absolutely no attention to anything going on around them at any given time. Made for great hiding and better hunting. More importantly, Cal was content in New York. At least as content as he was capable of being. And for him that was a big deal. For me, just seeing him upright and functioning without being terrified every second of the day was a good enough reason for me to stay.
Present Day – one day later
"I did it, Nik."
"You haven't removed your slouching self from the couch all day long, what could you have possibly done while stationary in your prone position?"
"I will have you know that I meditated."
"Checking my wrists, I seem to have possession of all four bracelets."
"I didn't need one of those. I did it on my own."
"Let me feel your forehead. No fever. Okay, what gives? Who are you and what did you do with my brother?"
"Is it that impossible to think that I can't do anything on my own?"
"You can do many things on your own. Kill. Mouth-off. Sleep. Be late to work. Insult your boss. Sulk. Scowl. Digest grease. I could go on."
"Hilarious!. You do know how uproariously funny you are, right? Yes, I can do all those things, but I also can do this. At least today, I could."
"And why exactly did you meditate? We've had a calm week. Nothing has tried to kill, maim or devour us in over six days."
"There you go!"
"Ah, boredom. Living the simple life of work, home, work home, doesn't suit my little brother. So, you are antsy. Oh and don't think I haven't noticed. But you're a bit more controlled now, ever since Rafferty fixed you. You can get by with two gates and live through them, after a minor recovery each time. But it doesn't always feed your need."
"So, I've been dealing in other ways. Aren't you proud of me?"
"I'm amazed first, but proud as well. Same mantra?"
"Cartoons and fish sticks. I remember that, you know. I remember more of it now. Just thinking about it, I can actually taste the yogurt. I hate yogurt. That was so wrong what you did, Nik. Feeding your cute little innocent brother cruddy generic fish sticks dipped in cruddy generic yogurt. How wrong and how disgusting."
"Yet, resourceful and necessary."
"True. I was happy then, wasn't I?"
"You were. I kept hold of that as long as I could. For you."
"So I am learning better to deal with my…issues. For you."
Yes, underneath that snarky exterior was a good brother. A good man. He tried hard. Cal did try hard every day to overcome what he was and what he was trying not to become. Some days were more conquering than others, but it was never for lack of effort when it came down to the life and death of it all. Cal would fight for me, because I had fought for him for so long. And if fighting meant mediating on the couch for half a day to keep the genetics of evil away…
"I did it, Nik!"
Well, then, Cal was always prepared for a good fight.
"Yes, Cal? What great accomplishment did you partake in this time and within the last five minutes since your last triumph? Counting the number of dust bunnies currently housed under your lazy ass?"
"You know, Nik, you are getting funnier as you age. So, very very funny! Remind me to laugh out loud later. I must be rubbing off on you. Anyway…look what I did…check this out…"