A/N: To be fair, I must warn you, this will probably be depressing. I'm the writer, and I'M depressed. So you may read it at your own risk.
Disclaimer: I do not own the Cal Leandros series, or any of the characters.
Another A/N: If you end up enjoying this, please don't just click "favorite" without leaving a review. If you have no account or don't feel like logging in, I accept anonymous reviews whole-heartedly! It would really brighten my day to get feedback.
Okay. You can read now.
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The photograph was yellowed.
It was wondrous, heartbreakingly wondrous, how fast a perfectly new and shiny photograph could become creased and yellowed, and with Promise just as new, just as shiny. Sighing, she touched one buffed nail against the glass-covered photo, right where Niko's heart was. He was wearing dark jeans and a black T-shirt, and his dark gold hair was slung in a wet braid over his shoulder. He was, if she remembered correctly, almost 32 when the picture was taken. He had that small, obscure smile on his face, both exasperated by the flashing camera and affectionately amused that Promise had been so eager to capture his face. She was so glad she had been.
She took her hand away from the picture and found herself reliving that horrible memory for the hundredth time, thousandth time. Those vivid, knife-sharp days that would take generations to forget.
It had been a terrible afternoon. Icy air, swirling gray sky. Promise was at the Leandros house awaiting Niko's return from the dojo, and she and Cal had argued. Not severely, but with a cold calm that seemed to distance them miles from each other. She didn't remember how the argument had started, but it was, as always, about Niko. What was good for him, what was bad for him, and – a new development – where he was going to live. Promise was tired of getting Niko every other weekend as if she and Cal were divorced and Niko was their shared child. She wanted him permanently, but Cal wasn't going to give him up. And Cal… Cal was having problems. Not too much of a surprise, but they were bigger problems than they'd ever been before. Almost every time she was with him she could smell the Auphe leaking out around his ragged edges. It was consuming him. And Niko was pretending he didn't notice.
But did any of it matter? Niko never got to the Leandros house. A shriek of wheels against the icy road and a Diesel truck had swept the taxi straight off the street. Neither Niko nor the taxi driver had survived.
Cal didn't believe it at first. Niko – dead in a car crash? It was inane, ridiculous, and impossible. Niko had to be alive… and Cal would go looking for him. Robin and Promise had to take care of him, both of them dying on the inside, but not about to give up. Promise had never liked the puck especially, but the death of Niko and the unraveling of Cal had bonded them somewhat, although neither of them were compelled to talk about it.
In those days after the crash they were constantly out trying to find Cal. Once Promise found him in Central Park, standing in the scrubby grass where the two brothers used to spar, growling, "I'll kill him. Where is that bastard? I'll kill him." Another time he was at Niko's dojo standing outside, as if waiting for Niko to walk out. His escapades had seemed harmless enough, but they'd gotten worse. And when Promise had found him with a dead human lying in front of him, well, that had sealed the deal. Promise and Robin kept him at his house at all costs, did everything they could to keep him there, dissuade him from gating, talk to him, help him. Sometimes that involved taking the gun barrel away from his head or the combat knife away from his throat, and he hated them for doing it and because they weren't Niko. The suicide attempts were half-hearted, though, and Promise knew why. Cal may have wanted to die, but his other side, what Cal would often call "Caliban", didn't.
Then one day, Cal woke up and had Caliban's eyes.
Promise hadn't made any sign of shock or surprise, but just stood there, watching him. When minutes passed and he didn't speak, she just said his name, softly… "Cal" … and he gated away. Only this time he didn't come back.
The absence of both Niko and Cal had a stone-cold finality to it. Promise went home … Robin went home. They'd dealt with it.
That was 60 years ago.
But those years hadn't passed without event. Promise had started hearing tell that the Auphe had returned. Reckless monster killings. A thing with red eyes. She and Robin communicated every once in a while to relay pieces of information back and forth – locations, names, sightings. The fact that Cal was still alive kept both of them shackled in an ever-present bond that was there whether they liked it or not.
17 years after Niko's death, Cal had visited Promise. She knew when she saw his face – mature but not old, and still too young to be nearly 40 – that he had inherited the Auphe longevity. She couldn't quite say what she felt upon seeing him. Surprise, fear, apprehension, anger, and yet a tinge of warmth because the sight of him reminded her of Niko, no matter how red Cal's eyes or how silver his hair. He didn't say why he'd come, and Promise didn't care. She immediately began appealing to him. "You have to stop this killing. It has to end." And, even though she didn't believe it – "You are not Caliban. You're not Auphe."
It was like bouncing words off a stone wall. She'd needed a reaction, a crack in his armor, anything – so she'd seized her framed picture of Niko and held it up to his face. "Think of what Niko would have wanted," she'd appealed, but the end of her sentence was lost in Cal's scream of more than rage. He'd ripped the picture from her hands and hurled it against the wall. The glass smashed. Then he'd gated from her apartment, for the last time, dissuaded from whatever wicked intentions had driven him there, and Promise had bought a new frame.
And then, for the next 43 years, she didn't see him. But she heard of him. Robin's contacts were always receiving new information, and Robin would relay it to Promise. Cal was out of control. Something had to be done. Out of desperation, Promise had gotten in touch with Samuel, part of the Vigil, for help. The Vigil had unlimited resources, even enlisted the help of other monsters … there had to be something they could do. Samuel's reply was simple: "Mr. Fellows called. We're doing all we can."
After that, Promise simply lived her life. She engaged in parties, fundraisers, social functions, but she wasn't yet interested in another marriage. Robin, meanwhile, had a falling out with Ishiah, who closed down the Ninth Circle and moved to California. She half-expected Goodfellow to pack up and disappear himself, except he never did.
And here she was.
Touching the picture one more time, this time her finger slanting down his braid, Promise sighed heavily and turned away. It was getting dark, and she had a fundraiser to attend in half an hour. She'd instructed her chauffer to be waiting outside for her in a few minutes, so she needed to dress…
Her phone rang. When she looked at the Caller ID and saw that it was Goodfellow, she almost didn't want to pick up. Not because she didn't want to speak to him – it was the first time in 3 years he'd called her – but because she didn't have the stomach for anymore news of Cal. A massacre in Washington, a child killed in New Hampshire, a nest of monsters murdered and left scattered along Virginia Beach … she didn't want to hear it.
But she picked up anyway. "Robin?"
Clipped, jaded, Robin's voice. "They found him."
The sentence was strange … "found" him? And he hadn't left? Had there been a fight? Lost in a blurry, purposeful ignorance, she asked tentatively, "They can handle him?"
"They already have."
Promise let out a breath and dropped her eyes to the floor. A heavy, heavy weight lifted off of her back and disappeared. It was a good feeling, a relief, and yet she could feel Niko's photographed eyes watching her, searing the side of her face. She couldn't look back at them.
"Now if you'll forgive me," Robin continued, forcing a tinge of cavalier carelessness into his voice. "I'm off to the nearest bar to drink myself into painless and oblivious sleep. Perhaps if I'm lucky I won't wake up."
"Good bye, Robin," Promise responded, and waited until he hung up. She knew that Goodfellow would survive this, as he'd survived everything else in his long life, but she knew without a shadow of a doubt that it was the last time they'd ever speak. Their bond had been severed; the Leandros brothers were gone.
Promise had outlived them both.
She set down her phone, violet eyes still avoiding the gray ones in the photograph, and disappeared into her bedroom to dress for the evening.